Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Da Vinci Saturation

The The Da Vinci Code movie, starring Tom Hanks, is set to become one of Hollywood’s all-time blockbusters. With only a few weeks remaining before its release, however, it’s STILL getting less press than the bestselling book that began it all.

And the constant attention to Dan Brown’s book is starting to get on my nerves.

Earlier this month, London judge Peter Smith ruled against two authors who claimed Brown stole much of his book from their nonfiction work The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. But Smith left a little surprise embedded within his ruling: a secret code of italicized letters, decrypted only a few days ago by a London lawyer and The Times newspaper.

These sleuths used a substitution pattern based on the Fibonacci sequence—a series of numbers in which each figure is the sum of the two previous ones—to reveal the message “Jackie Fisher who are you Dreadnought.” It’s an obscure reference to an equally obscure historical figure that Smith admires, British Admiral “Jackie” Fisher, who apparently helped developed the Dreadnought warship in the 1800s.

I have a hunch Judge Smith doesn’t get out much.

Dan Brown is probably chuckling about this, but the laughter has not inspired him to complete the long-anticipated follow-up to The Da Vinci Code. Brown’s publisher originally aimed to have the novel—which supposedly does for the society of Masons what The Da Vinci Code did for the Catholic church—in stores this year, but it is now not slated for release until at least 2007.

Brown reportedly has dropped the new book’s working title, The Solomon Key; a better name, given the delay in writing it, might be The Time Machine. Or, if Brown desperately inserts a boy wizard in his hurry to finish the manuscript, perhaps we’ll end up getting Harry Potter and the Resting-on-His-Laurels Author.

And there’s yet more related news, an additional excuse for Brown’s writer’s block: a new lawsuit, this one out of Russia.

St. Petersburg art historian Mikhail Anikin claims that back in 1998 he shared his theory about a coded theological message in Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa with colleagues in Texas. Anikin admits he granted one of them permission to share the idea with a “detective book author” as long as the writer gave attribution if he employed Anikin’s concept.

Any guesses who Anikin suspects that author was?

I have to be honest with you: After the deluge of Dan Brown book news this past week, I’ve had enough.

These trials and tribulations are enough to make me do something rash. Like run—not walk—to the closest theater on the day The Da Vinci Code hits the screen and lock myself inside to watch it over and over and over again.

At least in there, I won’t hear any more news about this damn book.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Colin Hay: In Concert

There are only a few directions pop stars from the 1980s can go.

If you’re like Sting, you can maintain the same commercial approach, albeit with a few twists, and carry your success forward twenty years. On the opposite end, if you’re like David Lee Roth, you can fade into obscurity—with only an occasional foray into another career, like talk radio, to remind the world you’re still around.

But there is a happy middle ground somewhere between continuous pop stardom and insignificance. Artists on this path replace their youthful I-want-it-all-and-I-want-it-now vibe for something mellower and play from the heart.

Seeing Colin Hay perform live this week in a small theater, it’s clear that the former Men At Work frontman is a contender for king of this third group.

You probably remember him only because of the band’s two most catchy—and campy—tunes from the 80s, “Down Under” and “Who Can It be Now,” at least one of which makes an obligatory appearance on nearly every Best of the Decade compilations.

Or maybe you just remember him as the kind of creepy, bug-eyed lead singer.

But don’t let that background fool you. Armed with only his guitar, striking voice, and witty stories, Hay offered the crowd more than a few 80s flashbacks. For much of the show, he seemed more a stand-up comedian than a musician. And it worked; his long tales only rarely SEEMED long.

The crowd learned about Hay’s encounter with Jack Nicholson that inspired his solo song “Looking for Jack.” We heard how Scrubs star Zach Braff asked Hay for permission to include the touching “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You” on the Garden State soundtrack, introducing the singer to a whole new generation of fans.

He also admitted that he wrote most of Men At Work’s hits under the influence of a certain weed. As if we didn’t already suspect it.

Hay showcased not only his songwriting talents but also his amazing vocal control with post-Men At Work songs like “Beautiful World” and “Waiting for My Real Life To Begin.” My lack of familiarity with most of these tunes didn’t keep me from tapping my foot and enjoying them immensely.

But, knowing what many in the crowd wanted to hear, Hay also belted out impressive versions of those two certain Men At Work standards. And another old band song provided one of the highlights of the show: an impressive rendering of “Overkill,” which he admitted is his favorite from the “old days.”

All in all, the quality of the man’s voice was a pleasant surprise; in fact, it alone would drive me to see him again, even though I had debated attending this show in the first place.

But the biggest shock of the night was my realization that although I’d heard Colin Hay’s voice hundreds of times during the past twenty years, I had never before appreciated just how talented he was.

Let’s hope this former 80s star doesn’t change direction anytime soon.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Yellow Fever

I keep hearing about the looming Chinese threat.

Every few weeks, someone is bitching about it. Beijing’s military and economy are growing, they say. A challenge to American hegemony in Asia … a disgruntled giant that might soon muscle its neighbors around like a bully on the playground.

But I’m not concerned. Why not?

I’m resting easy at night because I recently discovered how weak that country really is.

China, I’ve learned, is losing a war. Not to invaders like Russians, Japanese, or even Mongolians. No, the Chinese are losing to moths.

The geniuses in Beijing planted thousands upon thousands of trees around the capital in an effort to put on a “green” Olympics in 2008. Only one problem: These trees attract the American White Moth, which breeds quickly … and eats quickly, too. The little buggers are able to take down a fully healthy tree within a few days.

And therein lies the problem. Chinese officials don’t want their country to look all brown and withered while the world’s eyes are on it. So forestry experts are employing measures ranging from insecticide lamps to bees to get rid of these spawns of Mothra. (Apparently Godzilla was unavailable to help out; maybe the People’s Republic keeps him out because of his new-found love for Falun Gong.)

You shouldn’t be surprised to learn that China isn’t alone. Other nations around the globe are scurrying to counter similar pests:

-- Nepal faces thousands of vermin, those pesky citizens just wanting something resembling democracy.

-- In the UK, the royal family annoys even the most patient Brits.

-- The US endures waves of Baldwin brothers, Simpson sisters, and American Idol winners.

-- As if these plagues weren’t bad enough for North America, Mexico is seeing fewer Mexi-cans and more Mexi-can’ts, while Canada is rapidly losing its battle with mind-numbing boredom.

Nothing else around the world, however, compares with the hellish invasions threatening continental Europe.

-- Germany, for example, just can’t shake its case of David Hasselhoff.

-- And France has the worst pests of all: French people.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Always Do Your Beast

Secret, secret, I’ve got a secret …

No, Curare Z, I’m NOT Mr. Roboto, though I do occasionally dress up as a creepy robot and chase kids around the neighborhood with an axe. But I digress.

My skeleton in the closet is much less sinister—and much less of a true secret.

As many of you probably already know, I’m a beast. I am admitting here, for the first time, to my repeat offenses over on the Beauty vs. the Beast blog. Because I’m busy this week and will not have a new post up here for a few days, I will direct you to there for a laugh or ten. It’s full of insightful, and usually hilarious, male and female perspectives on important questions of sex, dating etiquette, or … well, sex.

If you feel the need for proof that men and women are different but can express their differences with tongues firmly in cheek—their own or someone else’s—check out BvtB. Here are links to my three posts there so far:

1. Back in January, I addressed these questions with Jane: When will the United States be led by a woman...if ever? Would a woman make an effective president? Enjoy the banter here.

2. Then last month, I foolishly chose to match wits with Curare Z on this doozie: What can a man or woman do to make sure they leave a favorable impression when meeting someone for that first date? Add a dash of sarcasm, stir, and serve.

3. And today’s new post poses the following dilemma, which I was honored to spar with Ella M. about: Jack and Jill, the two final candidates for a job, are identical in every way—except Jack is married with two children and Jill is a single mother of two. Who do you pick and why? Come watch the fur fly.

And if reading BvtB posts inspires you to pen your own smart-ass opinions, Fuzz and Siren are always looking for clever beasts and beauties—join the fun!

Friday, April 14, 2006

An Ode to April 15

When I was younger, I felt bad for April 15.

You read that right—I actually had sympathy for tomorrow's date. I was an odd child, sure, but hear me out. There was a reason.

You see, March 15 had that cool “Ides of March” vibe. And once I learned that the Romans only called the fifteenth day the “ides” during FOUR months (March, May, July, and October), I had two thoughts.

First, April got stiffed—it was the first month of the year to follow one with an ides on the fifteenth and yet not have the same. Poor thing.

Second, the Romans sure had some odd calendar designers.

But I grew up a bit, and I came to feel less sorry for April 15. To appreciate it. Because the day, it turns out, has an amazing history of its own.

In the US, of course, we primarily think of tomorrow as Tax Day—the date by which we file our returns if we know what's good for us. But there’s much more. Did you know the RMS Titanic sunk on April 15, 1912? That Jackie Robinson broke major league baseball’s color barrier on April 15, 1947?

As the years went by, I discovered that it was not just a memorable date for Americans.

Our friends in England remember April 15 as the anniversary of the worst disaster in British sport—the crushing deaths of 93 football fans at Hillsborough in 1989.

No need to fret, though; Brits can take pride that this day witnessed the births of prominent UK natives like author, MP, and scoundrel Jeffrey Archer; Dead Again’s talented actress Emma Thompson; chesty 80s vixen Samantha Fox; and budding Harry Potter minx Emma Watson.

(It’s also Dodi Al-Fayed’s birthday, but that’s a sore subject with many Diana lovers.)

I became aware of the date's dark side, too. John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln on April 15, 1865. The Nazi concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen was only liberated, finally, on April 15, 1945. Responding to Libya's sponsorship of attacks on Americans, US airplanes struck Tripoli on April 15, 1986.

In the Asia file, it’s known as former North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung’s birthday—and the day that the Cambodian butcher Pol Pot finally died in 1998. Remember the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing? They began on April 15, 1989.

And, in the most infamous association of all, the first McDonald’s opened in Des Plaines, Illinois on this same day in 1955. Read Fast Food Nation or watch Super Size Me; you’ll understand my scorn.

Yes, April 15 is special. It’s so remarkable that even the French like it. After all, it was on April 15, 1450 that the Frenchies soundly defeated English forces at the Battle of Formigny, ending English domination in northern France.

That probably explains why President Chirac didn’t wait a few days, until April 15, to buckle under the recent protests of spoiled French workers.

He didn’t want to spoil the anniversary of the last significant battle that the French fought while facing FORWARD.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Caught Between a Rock and a Drunk Place

You may recall my recent post discussing the Peoria police that somehow overlooked a dead body in a parked car.

Most of you thought that was a big oversight. You’re right, it was. But just wait until you hear THIS one.

Imagine you’re driving for hours through Australia, across one of the flattest and most desolate landscapes on Earth. You’re looking for Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock: a huge sandstone formation, five miles around, which towers almost 1000 feet above you.

But you just can’t find the damn thing.

So you stop to ask the police where to find the rock, and their jaws drop. They stare at you like you’re drunk.

Well, actually, you ARE drunk. And they are in shock because you don’t see the massive monolith that looms only a couple of hundred feet in front of you. It's that colored mountain right there. Yes, that thing in your headlights.


This scenario played out recently to this man from New South Wales. Now I must say, driving while under the influence is rarely a good idea. (I’d say never, but then you would surely come back with a story of how an axe-wielding murderer would have slain you had you not sped away while intoxicated. So I’ll stick with “rarely.”)

But flagging down the police to help your inebriated ass find the huge rock that’s right in front of you is … well, I imagine it’s in the legal dictionary next to “self-incriminating.”

I am not going to use this, however, as a chance to bash Australians. Nor will I take advantage of the opportunity to poke fun at bad drivers everywhere. Instead, I hope that each of you will simply learn from this man’s mistakes.

Follow some basic advice: Try to be more aware of your surroundings. Don’t self-incriminate. Get yourself a good map.

And rock on.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

To the Victors Go the Spoiled

When your team wins, you get excited.

I’ve seen you. You jump up and down, giggling like a toddler. You flail about, spill your drink, and stain the new couch. Maybe run outside and scream like a banshee.

If you’re a University of Maryland student, though, this all sounds a bit tame. You’d rather wreak havoc on the citizens around you. When you’re a Terrapin, the cool thing to do when your team wins is to riot.

Last night, those bastions of respectability tore through the university’s host town of College Park. They set fires. Almost tipped over a shuttle bus—while passengers were inside. Struggled with university, state, and local police for hours to maintain their right to shut down the streets and panic local residents.

Geez. You’d think I was writing about Paris.

During Tuesday’s post-game riot, a car struck a woman, giving her life-threatening injuries … and the ambulance couldn’t get to her because the mobs wouldn’t step aside. Now that’s class.

All this because the women’s basketball Terrapins—or “Terps,” as locals lovingly refer to them—won their national championship. The fine 21st century tradition of Maryland celebration thuggery and mayhem has not died.

If you don’t have a good memory for the worst of college basketball-related unrest, you must not live near College Park. Here’s a refresher.

Back in 2002, police arrested more than a dozen people after Maryland won its first and only men’s basketball championship. Why? Only because rioters started fires in College Park, broke windows along city streets, and injured cops with bottles and other objects.

But local homeowners considered themselves lucky. The previous year, fans went on a rampage after the Terps’ loss to Duke in the Final Four, overturning cars and setting fires that caused about half a million dollars in damage.

Fans at the games themselves exhibit a similar lack of class. In recent years, students have worn obscenity-laced t-shirts, shouted “F--- you, J.J.” at Duke star J.J. Redick, and directed chants at him suggesting sexual assault against his sister. In 2004, university administrators had to go to the Maryland Attorney General for advice on how to rein in fans’ behavior.

Other schools have had energized crowds with nasty chants. They have seen celebratory bonfires and occasional disorderly conduct charges after big victories.

But no other colleges I can think of have spawned the consistent attacks in recent years on the surrounding community—or visiting players’ families—as the University of Maryland.

Hey Terrapin fans: Shame on you.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Cleaning Our Parks, Allegro Molto

Most big city parks in America have become havens for those on the fringes of society.

Stroll through the average urban green space, and you’ll find not only the homeless but also drug pushers, pickpockets, and prostitutes. Not the average person’s idea of good, clean fun.

How can we effectively and humanely sweep crime out of our parks?

In an increasing number of cities around the world, the answer is as simple as it is novel: play classical music.

Not a typo, folks. According to this article, Hartford, Connecticut is investigating the symphonic approach after municipalities in Florida, Australia, and Canada have employed it to great success. The music of Mozart and Beethoven apparently drives both drug dealers and ladies of the evening away.

Supporters of this tactic say it has decreased crime up to 40 percent in other parks while making them more pleasant for law-abiding citizens to walk through.

Color me confused. Why is classical music so pleasant to law-abiding citizens … but so disturbing to criminals?

I can imagine some better musical options:

1. Anti-drug anthems, like Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel’s early rap breakthrough “White Lines (Don’t Do It),” would push unwanted elements out of public spaces more quickly than old symphonies would. We can recruit William Shatner to record a new version to give it an extra kick.

2. We could try the pure ad simple approach of loudness. Just modify the brilliant military tactic from the late 80s, when Panama’s Manuel Noriega gave up only after blaring pop music assaulted his ears for days. I say we push the badguys out by turning the volume knob on the heaviest death metal up to 11. Any suggestions, Metal Mark?

3. Yodeling would do the trick. About ten seconds of that hideous warbling is enough to drive anything with ears from the parks. After all, you don’t hear about serious crime in the Swiss Alps.

4. Perhaps the parks should blast some Kelly Clarkson—only the most disgusting sociopath would survive THAT. But I’m sure it’ll never fly; we have that pesky restriction on cruel and unusual punishment.

Sadly, cities like Hartford have not adopted any of these tactics. By choosing the symphony route, they are forcing citizens to live with a system that associates the music of the masters with punishment, thus tarnishing our classical heritage.

I say such a course is crap.

Like Beethoven’s last movement.