Monday, April 30, 2012

Jimmy Kimmel at the 2012 White House Correspondents' Dinner

And here's the guy Pres. Obama was opening for:

So funny! Here's one: "Mister President, I know you won't be able to listen to my jokes abou the Secret Service, so cover your ears, if that's humanly possible."

And the one about the GSA after-party: "...Don't be late, or you'll miss out on your complimentary white tiger club."

One more: "Mister President, remember when the country rallied around you in hopes of a better tomorrow? That was hilarious....You know, there's a term for guys like President Obama. Probably not two, but one term."

Pres. Obama at the 2012 Correspondents' Dinner

I loved watching Pres. Barack Obama's speech at the 2012 White House Correspondents' Dinner:

This version has the supposedly unscripted "live-mic" comments, too. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Fiction Friday: April 27, 2012: Seymour An Introduction

With apologies to Aunt Louise's readers for being late with this post, Madame L is finally getting around to writing about J.D. Salinger's second short novel about Seymour Glass. Seymour is the oldest brother of Buddy (the narrator), Franny, Walt, Waker, Boo Boo, and Zooey. These seven are the children of Les (an Australian Jew) and Bessie (an Irish American) Glass, vaudeville performers.

In "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters," Buddy has gotten leave from the Army to attend Seymour's wedding. The problem with that---one of the problems with that---is that Seymour does not attend the wedding. Eventually Buddy finds out that Seymour just couldn't stand the thought of the fancy wedding, so he waited for his bride to come home from the big church and hundreds of guests, then took her away to be married quietly.

But, as we learn from the short story "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," which appears in J.D. Salinger's "Nine Stories," Seymour's marriage has not been any happier or more successful than his wedding.

In "Seymour An Introduction," we learn more about Seymour but even more about Buddy and the rest of the family. We find out even more about them in the "Nine Stories" and in "Franny and Zooey," all of which Madame L recommends highly.

Madame L won't say more about them now because does not want to give away the plots of these interconnected stories and novels. Read for yourself, Dear Readers. For starters, you can read "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," "Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut," "Franny," and "Teddy" online. If you don't like them, don't worry, Madame L will not be offended. (Warning: Some of Madame L's acquaintances have been offended by the language used by the Glass siblings.)

At the website you'll also find links to some other great short stories, articles about the art of fiction, and even a prose rendering of the great "Romeo and Juliet." If you have a chance to read any of those, and if you enjoy them, please let Madame L know.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Steigerwald, Again

I forgot to mention that we also saw river otters there on Saturday. We were too far away to get any photos of them, but the refuge has kindly put a great photo on its site:

We went again for Family Home Evening on Monday, and here are some of the things we saw:

Osprey in Nest

Just One of Many Turtles

American Bittern

Canada Geese Settling In For the Night

We kept hearing a booming sound that we thought was a huge frog, but then we saw this bittern and realized it was making the noise, which the Wikipedia entry describes as "a call that resembles a congested pump."
You can hear the call for yourself here. 

As we walked back to the car, we met a woman hiking in. She asked us if we were driving a black Honda, and when we said yes (and you know how you worry when someone asks you that!), she said, "There's a male Mallard under your car, right behind the front tire. I tried to move it, but it only moved a little."

We thanked her profusely, and when we got back to the car, we saw the Mallard and saw why it was staying there: it was eating something, apparently some tasty ants or grubs in the gravel.

 I carefully shooed it away and across the parking lot toward the refuge, but it came back as we left.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

More on the Penderwicks (and Jeanne Birdsall)

Dear Readers of Aunt Louise,

Madame L wants to share with you this passage from "The Penderwicks on Gardam Street" to show you the skill and brilliance of Ms. Birdsall's writing. You know how hard it is to convey in a few words, a few READABLE words, the feelings and behaviors of young teens? Here's how the master does it. In this passage, Rosalind is going to the neighbor's house to pick up a white toy duck for the little boy she's babysitting, when the neighbor's cat, Asimov, streaks out the front door, which worries Rosalind.

"...but a moment later she'd forgotten about Asimov, because all of her attention was being used up on pretending she didn't notice the Geiger brothers drivng up Gardam Street and pulling into their driveway. She pretended so well not to notice that she would have sworn it never happened, but all the pretending fell apart when Tommy ran across the street and stood in front of her. And looked at her, even.

"She looked back at him.

"Then he even talked to her.

"'I want to tell you something. You don't have to listen, but I'm going to tell you anyway.' He had a footbal with him, which he was anxiously tossing from one hand to the other---back and forth, and back and forth, and back and forth, until Rosalind tok it away from him.

"'I can't listen while you do that.' She tucked the football under her arm. 'Now what?'



"'Oh, sorry.' He gulped a few times, then calmed himself by fixing his gaze on the football. 'Trilby and I broke up today. That is, I broke up with her, because --- never mind why.'


"'I said never mind why.'

"'Fine. I don't care anyway.'

"'Because she was boring. Unfortunately, I couldn't tell her that, so she may have gotten the idea that I broke up with her because of you, even though I definitely told her that you're just my neighbor, and even though you're prettier now than you used to be, I hardly ever notice and---'

"Rosalind interrupted him. 'You think I'm pretty?'

"'I guess so. I mean, Nick says so. Actually, a lot of guys say so, and don't ask me what guys.'

"'All right. Good grief.'

"'So that's all I wanted to tell you. I'll leave now.'...

"[Finally Rosalind says,] 'I'm glad you broke up with her. I mean, not because I missed you or anything.'"

"'You didn't miss me.' It wasn't a question.

"'Gosh, no. Maybe a tiny bit, but no, probably not.'

"'Of course, I didn't expect you to miss me.'

"'No, of course you didn't'...I'm sorry, but I'd better go. I have to get a duck.'"

Friday, April 20, 2012

Fiction Friday: April 20, 2012: The Penderwicks on Gardam Street

Dear Readers and Friends of Aunt Louise,

Madame L's favorite line in this book was "Holy bananas, I hope not,"  a line spoken by Skye when it's suggested that she might eventually become friends with a person she thoroughly detests.

Oh, Dear Readers, why are you not laughing your heads off? Probably you had to be had to be reading this line in context...

...which you simply must do.

"The Penderwicks on Gardam Street" is the sequel to "The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy," which won the National Book Award, and the sequel should win another one. (Both, by Jeanne Birdsall, have already become bestsellers.) A third book, "The Penderwicks at Point Mouette," will be coming out next month, and Madame L can't wait to get her hands (and eyes) on it.

In the first book, four charming girls (Rosalind, 12, Skye, 11, Jane, 10, and Batty, 4), and their widowed professor dad, and the family dog (Hound), take a vacation in Massachusetts.

Do you ever wonder about all the books where the mom is missing? Dear Readers, wonder not: As a literary device, it has worked for ages, and it's necessary for stories about children who get into trouble and grow up (because if there were a mom around, none of that fun stuff could happen, now, could it?). 

So, set that aside and let yourself enjoy this book, which is a Yearling book, for third- through sixth-graders (age 9 and up), and of course people who used to be third- through sixth-graders; it will remind you of the books you loved when you were a child and will be fun to pass on to your young friends.  

The first Penderwicks book is available new from for $6.99 and used for prices starting at one cent (that's ten mills). The Gardam Street sequel is available at for $7.99 new and prices starting from 28 cents used; and the Point Mouette book can be advance-ordered from for $7.99 new. 

The first two book are certainly available in your local library, too. Holy bananas, I hope you'll read them because you'll be glad you did!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Planet? Or Another Plane?

I've had my fair share of weird air-travel experiences, but I'm glad I wasn't on this flight, where a sleepy pilot (just wakened from a long nap) put the plane into a dive because he thought the bright light ahead was another plane heading straight for him.

It was Venus.

An important detail about why so many people were hurt in the incident: "The airliner dropped about 400 feet before the captain pulled back on the control column. Fourteen passengers and two crew were hurt, and seven needed hospital treatment. None were wearing seat belts, even though the seat-belt sign was on." (I added that emphasis!---Guess who's going to keep wearing her seat belt all the time while sitting in her seat on a plane, even when the seat-belt light is not on!)

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada has already posted the full report of the incident. 

From that report:

"Fatigue reduces performance levels and increases the desire to obtain sleep. This effect is magnified during circadian lows, which are encountered by people who normally sleep at night and work during the day (diurnal). For example, North American pilots flying eastward at night across the Atlantic experience circadian lows that magnify performance decrements and increase desire to sleep.

"Night flights from North America to Europe have an inherent risk of fatigue for North American–based pilots. Most of these pilots fly a small number of night–time legs per month and revert to sleeping at night when not working. The circadian system of pilots who fly only a small number of night–time legs will not adapt to working at night  and these pilots are likely to display performance decrements during the night–time legs in spite of any countermeasures.

"To counter fatigue, some pilots will try to nap before a night–time leg. While this can be helpful in some cases, it cannot prevent fatigue in all pilots. Moreover, it is not always possible to obtain an adequate amount of good quality sleep during the day and, coupled with a small number of night–time legs, performance decrements will persist."


I've got to see this movie! (In theaters starting Friday the 20th)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Using Physics to Fight a Traffic Ticket

I saw it on the Rachel Maddow, sub-hosted by Chris Hayes, on Monday (April 16), and found more details in this article at Physics Central Buzz Blog.

Dmitri Krioukov, a physicist at the University of California, San Diego, argued successfully in court that the speeding ticket he received was issued in error. Then he posted a paper online detailing his argument.

He said, "It is widely known that an observer measuring the speed of an object passing by, measures not its actual linear velocity [but] the angular one. For example ... watching a train approaching us from far away at a constant speed, we first perceive the train not moving at all, when it is really far, but when the train comes closer, it appears to us moving faster and faster, and when it actually passes us, its visual speed is maximized."

And he illustrated his point with some graphics. I can't get copies of all of them, but here are two he used to show that he was really slowing down really fast because he sneezed as he approached the stop sign and that there's a difference between his actual speed and what the traffic officer thought he saw:

"Therefore my argument in the court went as follows: that what he saw would be easily confused by the angle of speed of this hypothetical object that failed to stop at the stop sign. And therefore, what he saw did not properly reflect reality, which was completely different."

Some commenters have pointed out that he could have just said another car was blocking the police officer's view of him stopping and then pulling forward from the stop. And some cynical people have asked him if he really did stop. (He always says yes, he did.)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bumper Sticker

Best I've seen yet. Oh, yeah, these people around here with their "Keep Portland Weird" and "Keep Vancouver Normal" bumper stickers think they're so cool and whatever.

But this one says it all, especially on this day, which the IRS has ever so graciously allowed us all to submit our 2011 tax returns, giving us a couple of days after the usual Ides of April:

"I work hard and pay taxes 

so rich people won't have to."

Monday, April 16, 2012

Growing Up

Just had to share this great quote:

"The day the child realizes that all adults are imperfect, he becomes an adolescent; the day he forgives them, he becomes an adult; the day he forgives himself, he becomes wise."
-- Alden Nowlan

Sunday, April 15, 2012


Today's laugh, from my daughter in Iowa:

Friday, April 13, 2012

Fiction Friday: April 13, 2012: Raise High the Roof Beams, Carpenters

...and "Seymour: An Introduction," both by J.D. Salinger, are about the best short novellas or long short stories Madame L has ever read.

They go along with "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" and the rest of Salinger's "Nine Stories" and "Franny and Zooey."

You know that list Madame L has on her own blog site, the list of books she wishes she had time to re-read?

Well, every year or two Madame L takes the time to re-read these books, all of them, because they remind her of what really good writing is.

Yes, Salinger was apparently not a fun person to spend time with, not a  happy camper, not a great dad, and all that. But Madame L forgives him on account of these books.

(On the other hand, Madame L has never been able to force herself to finish Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye," from the first time she was supposed to read it as a high school freshman through just the other day when she found an old copy of it in her bookcase. Picked it up, put it down. Madame L has no explanation or justification for this and would love to hear from her Dear and Kind Readers some/any kind of encouragement they can give to help her read this book. Contrariwise, Madame L would be happy to hear from any of her Dear and Kind Readers who, having finished the book, want to offer some/any kind of encouragement not to keep trying.)

Garden Wall

,,,will require more work

...after the rain stops

...not that I'm complaining about the rain!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Which Came First, The Dinosaur or the Egg?

Another enlightening explanation of scientific conjecture about evolutionary processes, this one from another young boy:

Grandma: "Which came first, the dinosaur or the egg?"

"R" (with a shrug to indicate how obvious the answer is): "The egg. Some dinosaur had babies, and then they grew up to be different. So then when they laid their eggs, the babies that came out were different. And they came out in an egg. So the egg was first."

Grandma thought it was interesting that this reasoning is not very different from that of evolutionary scientists answering this question, as in this Wikipedia article: 

"The theory of evolution states that species change over time via mutation and sexual reproduction. Since DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) can be modified only before birth, a mutation must have taken place at conception or within an egg such that an animal similar to a chicken, but not a chicken, laid the first chicken eggs. These eggs then hatched into chickens that inbred to produce a living population...

"Not any mutation in one individual can be considered as constituting a new species. A speciation event involves the separation of one population from its parent population, so that interbreeding ceases; this is the process whereby domesticated animals are genetically separated from their wild forebears. The whole separated group can then be recognized as a new species..."

Of course that's not the whole answer to the question. In fact, that same Wikipedia article shows that the answer depends on your view of the world, the view in which you frame the question.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Avatar 2 (?!?)

For all of you who have been waiting, enjoy:

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Monkeys, Bananas, and Little Boys

"S": "Did you know that we're descended from monkeys?"

"F": "Huh?"

"S": "Our great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents were monkeys.  It's called evolution."

"F": "No way."

"S": "Yeah, like a long time ago there was a monkey that married something more like a human and then it had a baby that was more like a human and then that married something that was more like a human and then it had a baby that was more like a human and then it married something that was really close to a human and then the baby was a human."  

"F" (skeptically): "I don't know about that."

"S": "It's true!  My dad told me."

"F": "Well... monkeys like bananas, and I like bananas..."

"S": "Yeah, and we're good on the monkey bars, and so are monkeys."

"F": "Monkeys aren't good on the monkey bars."

"S": "Yes they are!  They're professionals on the monkey bars. They're *for* monkeys."

"F": "Oh yeah, I guess that's true."  (Then, cheerfully:)  "OK, I guess we do come from monkeys!"

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Empty Quarter Expeditions

How many people do you think have tried to cross the Empty Quarter (Rub' al Khali)? 

Well, this website tells what it's like. I still want to do it, don't you?

"As the sun would set, we would set up tents in the late afternoon sand-storm, some of us wearing swim-goggles to protect our contacts from the stinging grit. Dinner was almost always mixed with flying sand; you could feel it grinding in your teeth: sand-burgers, grit-goulash, sand-pudding. Sleeping at night consisted of first securing the tent against scorpions and camel-spiders, which would leave tracks during the night showing that they were constantly searching for a way in. We then slept on top of our sleeping bags - the temperature normally didn't go below 40 degrees C (100 degrees F) during the night. We had to carefully brush the grit from our eyes before we dared to open them, and burning throats in the extremely dry conditions (down to 2% humidity) forced us to drink from our individually-issued water-jugs at least 5 times every night."

(From Jeff Wynn, one of the people to cross the Empty Quarter most recently, who has set up a blog to keep track of the various expeditions. Jeff set up the website after helping Hajar Ali as she planned the first all-women expedition.)

Fiction Friday: April 6, 2012: Hugo (the movie) and The Invention of Hugo Cabret (the book)

Imagine a book that has as many pages with just pictures as it has pages with words. You, Dear Reader, get to tell the story yourself, and it's fun!

It's a lot like a movie, in fact.Still, Madame L was pleasantly surprised at what a great movie Martin Scorcese made from the book. Yes, of course, he's a great director, but Madame L didn't expect him to be able to make a movie that would appeal to children and adults. He told an interviewer, though, that having a twelve-year-old daughter helped him see the world from a child's point of view.

The black-and-white book is transformed into a beautiful and carefully designed world of colors that match every scene and mood. Madame L didn't even get to see the 3-D version in the theater, just the regular DVD on a small screen at home, and she was blown away by it.

Madame L would love to show here a deleted page from the book so you can Oooh! and Aaah! with her over the intricate drawing, but in order to avoid copyright problems, she instead hopes you'll follow this link to see the picture yourself, Dear Reader.

The author, Brian Selznick, describes the research he did to make this drawing: "On one of my research trips to Paris I spent an entire day visiting old camera shops and photographing cameras from the 1930's and earlier, as well as the facades of the shops themselves. I researched original French camera posters and made sure that the counter and the shelves were accurate to the time period. I did all the drawings in the book at 1/4 scale, so they were very small and I often had to use a magnifying glass to help me see what I was drawing."

He hated to delete the drawing, so, he writes, "I'm glad to see it up on the Amazon website because otherwise no one would have ever seen all those tiny cameras I researched and drew so carefully!"

The book and the movie are about movies and photographs and mechanical men (automata), and about the early history of movies, but also about love and devotion; and about how lives can be transformed by all these. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Australia's Golden Orb-Weaving Spiders

Thanks to everyone for your comments and questions on my photos from eastern Australia.

Ellen, I'm glad you asked about the spiders because they're so interesting and beautiful in a kind of creepy-deadly way, and I'm always glad to learn more about the natural world.

I found out that the spider I posted some photos of is a golden orb-weaving spider. I don't know which species, but all these spiders (named by the way not for their color but for the golden color of their webs) are part of the Nephila genus (Nephilidae family, Aranaea order, Arachnida class, Arthropoda phylum, Animalia kingdom). Here's another photo taken by someone named Mark David (fourth photo down the page).

The one I photographed would have overlapped the palm of my hand (if I'd wanted to hold it, which, of course, NOT).

You can find more photos and information on the Australian Museum website. Here's the answer to your question about what they eat:

"Golden orb weaving spiders prey items include flies, beetles, locusts, wood moths and cicadas. Sometimes their strong webs manage to trap small birds or bats, and the spider will wrap them and feed upon them."

And indeed I found several photos and even some YouTube video of these spiders eating birds. I'm not adding any of those here: too grim for me, and I'm sorry I even glanced at them once.

Some of the spiders' potential prey manage to even things out, though:

"Predators of orb weavers include several bird species and wasps of the family Sphecidae. The wasps land on the web, lure the spider to the perimeter by imitating a struggling insect's vibrations, and then carry the spider away to be paralysed and stored as live food for their young."

Are these spiders dangerous to humans? The Australian Museum reports:

"Orb weavers are reluctant to bite. Symptoms are usually negligible or mild local pain, numbness and swelling. Occasionally nausea and dizziness can occur after a bite....Seek medical attention if symptoms persist."