Thursday, August 25, 2005


***Post edited due to discretion***

Sorry, I guess it was a limited engagement.


Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Abby Woodhall

I haven't been in touch with the school that I used to teach at for a while. I stopped there two years ago, and while I visited in January 2004, the last time I talked to anyone there was almost a year ago.

Today one of my former students IMed me to tell me about Abby Woodhall. Abby was an English teacher at the school, the daughter of the Head and Founder of the school, and my neighbor (we shared a house, though with no communicating doors between apartments). She was in her 30s, and she had a son who is probably about 5 now.

Abby and I had our share of misunderstandings. More than our share, actually. And to call them misunderstandings is putting it nicely. She didn't like me and I didn't like her. She didn't like that I was living in her house, and I didn't like living in her house. No matter how quiet I was being, she always called to tell me to be quieter. She wrote me a scathing faculty review that directly contributed to my wanting to leave.

Well, I found out today that Abby died in April. She had brain cancer, which we all knew even when I was there. And no matter what my feelings were about her, it's a sad thing like crazy. Nobody deserves that, and never at such a young age.

So I'm sorry for all the bad feelings, Abby, and I hope you're at peace.


Thursday, August 18, 2005

Satan's Belly Button

Well, I didn't believe it, but the Washington Post has confirmed for me that Andy Milonakis, star of MTV's The Andy Milonakis Show, is indeed 29 years old.

My bad.



According to this poll, math is the most hated subject in school. It's also, however, tied for the most loved subject in school. I'm in the second category, obviously (otherwise I'd be some kind of masochist, right?). I find it all fascinating. And really, the feeling you get when you work on a hard problem for a while and can't find an answer, and then suddenly it comes to you, in a flash of inspiration...nearly indescribable.

In college, my junior year, we had a problem. Let me give you a little background. There is a sequence of numbers called the triangular numbers. These are pretty easy to understand. The first one is 1, the second one is 1+2=3, the third one is 1+2+3=6, the fourth one is 1+2+3+4=10, and so on. The sequence goes 1,3,6,10,15,21,28,36,45,55,66,78,91... and so on, to infinity. It turns out that there's a very easy formula to find the "nth" number in the sequence of triangular numbers. Say you want the fifth number in the sequence. Then you have: 5*(5+1)/2. That's it. 30/2, or 15. Go look in the sequence, if you don't believe me. In general, to find the nth number, you have: n*(n+1)/2. There's a simple way to derive this formula, but I don't have the notation and you don't have the interest.

Anyway, the problem in college was this: We had to come up with a formula for the tetrahedral numbers. Just like the nth triangular number is the sum of all of the integers up to and including n, the nth tetrahedral number is the sum of all the triangular numbers up to and including the nth one. It's just like putting another layer on the problem.

Well, I struggled and struggled, and I played with things, and nothing seemed to work. I was disappointed in myself, and a little dejected. My class was the next day, and I'd have nothing to show for it. I decided to take a shower. But while I was in the shower, my mind was still working on it, and all of a sudden, out of nowhere (that I could tell), it was there! I had it! I thought on the first couple of examples, and it worked! I finished showering, went to my room, and wrote down: n*(n+1)*(n+2)/6. It's really just an extension of the formula for the triangular numbers. Look at the sequence of triangular numbers again: 1,3,6,10,15,21,28,36,45,55,66,78,91... From that, we can get that the sequence of tetrahedral numbers ought to be: 1,4,10,20,35,56,84,120,165,220,286,364,455... So we can use my formula to see if, say, the fifth one is right. It ought to be 35. So 5*6*7/6=35. It worked!

If you didn't understand any of this, that's OK. I just wanted to explain what it was like to have a real moment joy in mathematics. That moment when the formula came to me was just indescribable, it was so neat. Like for just a second, I'd been allowed to tap into some intelligence much bigger than myself, or something. Or into reservoirs of intelligence that I normally don't get to use. Something. Anyway, it was pretty cool.


Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Intelligent Falling

I love the Onion. That is all.


The Aristocrats

So I just went to see The Aristocrats last night.

For those of you who don't know, this is a "documentary" by Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller) and Paul Provenza about one of the most famous dirty jokes ever. It goes like this:

A man walks into a talent agent's office and says, "Pardon me, could I have a minute of your time? I've got a family act that you're just going to love." The agent says, "You've got two minutes. Let's hear it."

*unspeakable obscenity, including, but not limited to, bestiality, incest, necrophilia, pedophilia, coprophilia, etc.*

The agent says, "That's quite an act. What do you call it?" The man says, "The Aristocrats!"

It's a bad joke. The punchline isn't really funny, except in how inappropriate it is, being attached to such a depraved "family act." But this is showbiz's most famous backstage joke, and the joy is in the middle part. Several comedians in the film (there's over 100) describe it as almost like a free-form jazz thing. You know the beginning, you know the end, and you make up the middle as you go along.

That all having been said, there were several moments in this film that had me clutching my stomach from laughter. From George Carlin's overly detailed opening version of the joke, to Howie Mandel's entirely deadpan telling, to the Smothers Brothers two man routine, to Billy the Mime's version, to the animated South Park version, to Gilbert Gottfried's telling at Hugh Hefner's roast, to the climax (in my opinion) of Bob Saget's hopelessly depraved telling, we see a few things.

One, there are as many variations of this joke as there are people who tell it. There are a couple of "inverted Aristocrats" jokes thrown in (same setup, except the guy describes a completely innocent, happy family act. Agent says, "What's it called?" Guy says, "The Cocksucking Motherfuckers."), and a couple of variations on the theme (a hilarious one told simultaneously by Drew Carey and Robin Williams, and versions told by Andy Richter and Doug Stanhope to their infant children). Each telling is unique unto itself.

Two, more than just the details being different, the joke really plays into what each individual comedian finds funny. Carlin clearly revels in the deadpan revelation of disgusting details, as does Howie Mandel. Saget is right at home with the most disgusting stuff you've ever heard (and can't stop laughing through the telling of it). Drew Carey emphasizes a little flourish at the end, which he feels "makes the joke." With each person, the emphasis is in a different place. Sometimes it's all sex, sometimes it's all violence, sometimes it's all excretory stuff, most of the time it's all three.

If you like a good dirty joke, I'd guess you'd like this film. To me, it's worth it just to hear Saget request a copy of his version to send to the Full House girls.


Double Murder

I always knew those Power Rangers were up to no good. Evidently this guy, his wife, and a couple of Crips were trying to steal a yacht from a wealthy couple. They tied them up and threw them overboard, where they drowned in the ocean.

Dammit, upon further investigation, it looks like this guy was an extra on Power Rangers. CNN, why have you so misled me? They made it seem like this was the damn Yellow Ranger or something. Skylar Deleon is not even credited on IMDB.

I'm still a little wary of those Power Rangers, though. This does nothing to stop that.


Tuesday, August 16, 2005


I don't think I'd ever written anything in here about Six Feet Under, so I'll see where my mind takes me and just write. Sorry I don't have an outline, or anything specific in mind. I'll do my best.

I started watching Six Feet Under while I was teaching high school at The Woodhall School. We didn't have HBO, but I got ahold of the episodes on the recommendation of my father. It was into the third season by the time I started watching, and through the wonders of the internet, I'd caught up by the summer of 2003. I watched the entire fourth season On Demand in a day and a half in September, 2004, and the fifth (and final) season is just wrapping up next week.

I've shared my dad's love for this show ever since I first saw it. I thought it was novel and gritty and real, even in the face of what sometimes seem like absurd plot twists. Basically, I think of it as a soap opera with cursing, occasional nudity, a big budget and amazing acting. I could take you through Nate and Brenda's relationship, and it could have been something out of Guiding Light or As the World Turns, but for the incredible writing and acting.

On Sunday, July 31, I felt like I lost somebody I've known for a long time. It disturbed me a little bit, to see how close I'd gotten to a television show and its characters. I shed more than a few tears the next week, watching an episode that felt as much like a memorial service for the viewers as for the characters. I knew that what happened would happen (or I'd strongly suspected it, anyway), but that didn't make it any easier to accept when it happened.

I'll be sad when the show's done, but it's also nice, at the same time, to see a show's producers quitting when they're ahead. The show was great, and it had a good run, and it's going to end on its own terms this Sunday.

Now for the frustration. With Six Feet Under ending, and Sex and the City gone, you'd think that HBO would have the good sense to hang onto an amazing show like Carnivale. But no, they cancelled it unceremoniously, saying that they thought they'd told the story they wanted to tell. That, my friends, is bull, pure and simple. Watch the show, and you tell me if there's resolution of any sort at the end of the second season. What makes me sad is that there's virtually no chance of it getting picked up again, so we'll never know what happens.

I also have been watching Freaks and Geeks, which my roommate purchased and I'd never seen. This is a great little show, and again, there's no reason why it should have been cancelled. It's clever, it's well-acted, and there's something for people from ages 13 to 60 in it. In a way, I'm glad I never got into it when it was on, because I just would have been disappointed when it was gone. Same with Futurama, to tell you the truth. A show from the creator of The Simpsons, more clever than The Simpsons on its best day (which really is saying something), and with virtually limitless possibilities, killed in its prime by a network that thought Skin and Temptation Island were better bets. Thinking about the fate of Futurama makes me almost as sad as watching the episode "Jurassic Bark," and for those of you who know me, that's saying something as well.

My guilty pleasure, so far as television is concerned, is Smallville. I've always been fascinated by comic book mythology, even though I've never in my life read a comic book. I've read books about comic books, watched movies about comic books, and read websites about histories of comic book characters, but I've never had the stones to get into comic books. For all of its similarities to Dawson's Creek, and all of its cliche "villain-of-the-week" episodes, there's something about Smallville that really shines through. It's great to see the origins of a character like Superman. We all know where the story comes out, but the writers have all sorts of room to play around before they get there.


Friday, August 12, 2005

Intelligent Design...

...makes me angry. Its proponents pretend it's scientific, but there's nothing to prove or test about it. It's a metaphysical thing, a philosophical thing. They don't demand standards of proof for belief in ID, because you can't prove anything about it. But at the same time, they demand impossibly high standards of proof for belief in evolution, and say that if you can't provide those standards, then the only thing you can logically believe in is ID (which, as I mentioned before has no proof behind it).

I look at it like this. It's like you've got a bunch of data points on a plane, and you want to make a guess at what kind of curve links them all. So you make your best guess, based on what points you have, and you work from there. All of a sudden a data point comes along that doesn't fit on the curve you projected, so you modify your guess. That's science. Flexible and self-critical. That's evolution. It's the best fit they have for the data that they have. Intelligent Design is nothing but a collective throwing up of hands in the air, saying, "It's too complicated!"

Maybe it's just me, but I don't think that science, and what should be taught as science, should be subject to the whims of a populace which is terribly uneducated on the subject. We wouldn't go asking John Q. Public about whether he thinks his children should be taught about irrational numbers and functions in class, or whether he believes in them, because that would be junk math. Why do we think that the public should be able to force junk science into the classroom?

Nobody can logically disprove the existence of a Creator, or an Intelligent Designer. The idea cannot be considered by any to be completely dismissed, at least with any logical consistency. There's always the possibility. But science studies what we can measure, what we can observe, and what we can conclude from these measurements and observations. An Intelligent Designer would have to live outside our observable universe (otherwise, he/she/it would necessitate his/her/its own Intelligent Designer), and as such, we cannot ever hope to observe or measure anything about him/her/it.

Philosophy classes are the places for such discussions, and I'd encourage them to take place there. It's an interesting topic, but one that's ultimately not viable as a scientific topic.


Thursday, August 11, 2005

A Random Question, to Some

I was wondering if anybody could help me find a way to get reliable information about the descendants of Louis B. Mayer. Particularly, I'd like to see if he had any children other than the two daughters I've read about in the limited biographies I've been able to find.

See, here's the thing. There's this girl that I know that claims to be the granddaughter of Louis B. Mayer. She has the same last name as he does. That, I guess, is supposed to be part of what makes us believe her. Oh, and she's rich. Rich people don't lie. But on IMDB's biography of Louis B. Mayer (for those of you who don't know, he's a huge movie magnate, one of the three founders of MGM), it says that he was born in 1882 and died in 1957, at the ripe old age of 75. What's more, the Wikipedia biography says that his two children, from his first marriage (which ended in 1947) were both daughters. They were Irene and Edith. Irene was married to David O. Selznick, the legendary producer of Gone With the Wind.

Here's my point. This girl could not have retained the Mayer name directly through Louis B. Mayer. It's not possible, because he had only daughters who married and took the names of their husbands.

Here's the slightest bit of doubt, though. Mayer was married again in 1948, according to IMDB. According to my own research, this girl's father graduated from college in 1970, which would have meant he would have been born in 1947 or 1948. The only possible scenario I can imagine where this man could be the son of Louis B. Mayer is if Mayer had a tryst between his two marriages wherein he impregnated a lady that he did not go on to marry, but who gave the baby Mayer's name anyway.

If anybody can help me get the final details to close this case once and for all, please let me know.


Wednesday, August 10, 2005


Remember when...?

I wish things would go back to how they were when...

Things were so much simpler then...

Nostalgia. It seems to be part of the human condition that we all must necessarily pine for the ease, simplicity and joy of the past. It's in everything. It's in the "retro" phenomenon, where the past is deemed cool. It's in our speech, when things get tough. Most insidiously, in my opinion, it's in the minds of a lot of religious folks who want lawmakers to restrict what we get to see.

You see, folks, the past wasn't this rosy, sunny land of milk and honey. It feels like the religious right wants to drag us back into the 1950s, when language hadn't become so foul, sexuality hadn't become so open, and evolution was just something that those pesky scientists were using to try to get under the skin of the true believers. They watch Leave It to Beaver and Lassie and pine for those simpler times. It's escapism.

But you know what? It was escapism then, too. That world never existed. In the 1950s and 1960s, there were race riots going on, there was a presidential assassination, there was a Cold War, and there was a "red scare" being led by Ann Coulter's "indispensable Joseph McCarthy." Just as those family-friendly shows (and others today, like Seventh Heaven and anything on the PAX Network) offer conservatives shelter from the storm of the perceived immorality of the present, so they offered everyone shelter from the massive problems that were going on in the 1950s and 1960s.

Nostalgia is pointless. It's looking at the past through an unrealistic filter. I look at it this way: When somebody says something like, "They don't make 'em like they used to," in all likelihood, they still do make some of 'em like they used to. It's just that the only ones (of whatever we're talking about, whether it be cars or movies or houses) that we remember, the only ones that have held up over time, are the ones that were made well in the first place. Every era in history has produced its fair share of crap, but that crap has been mostly lost in the mists of time, and we only see what stood tall enough to show past those mists.

My point? Embrace the changes in society. There's nothing better or worse about a particular time period in history. Every one has its problems, and every one has its advances. Trying artificially to push us into a past that never existed can only be harmful.


Thursday, August 04, 2005

Ben Folds!!!

Tonight I'm going to my first concert in over two years. Who's playing? Same guy that I saw a little over two years ago.

The concert's at Prospect Park Bandshell in Brooklyn, NY. I'll be taking the train in from Morristown, NJ, which will be a nice little trip without the unbelievable hassle of driving in the city (if you've never done it, please, never do). I'll let y'all know how it is when I get back.


Wednesday, August 03, 2005


I guess we can all be thankful that we're not living in North Korea, at least if we're talking about the media. North Korean propaganda reports that Kim Jong Il scored 11 holes in one in the first round of golf he ever played.

I'd rather go with Mitch Hedberg's assessment, golf-wise:

I played golf... I did not get a hole in one, but I did hit a guy. That's way more satisfying...You're supposed to yell "Fore!" I was too busy mumblin', "There ain't no way that's gonna hit him."
R.I.P., Mitch.