Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Carving Initials on the Colosseum

A Russian tourist was caught this past weekend carving his initials on the Colosseum. There, where gladiators battled for their lives, epic sea battles were reenacted, and people were executed before audiences of over 50,000, some dimwit decided to deface it with graffiti.

photo by Paul Zangaro

He was fined 20,000 euros. And if he can’t pay it, he should be thrown to the lions. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Book Review: The River of Doubt

Candice Millard’s The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey is a pleasure to read. This is a comprehensive account of the former president’s exploration of an unknown river in Brazil, using the journals of a number of people involved in this dark and almost disastrous journey.

Theodore Roosevelt was a man’s man who plunged himself into vigorous pursuit of outdoor danger after any disappointment in life. After his father’s death, he explored and hunted in the backwoods of Maine. When his mother and wife died on the same day, he went out breaking horses in the Dakota Territories. When he finished his terms as a Republican president, he explored and hunted in Africa. And when he failed to regain the presidency as the Bull Moose candidate, he explored a river in Brazil infested with caimans (a South American alligator) and piranha.

It’s hard to convey the tremendous work involved. They rowed their dugouts, yes, but when they encountered falls they had to portage those same dugouts. This involved hacking away with machetes through the jungle beside the waterfall, then using ropes to haul those dugouts down. They did this several times, giving an idea of how hardy these men were.

Woefully ill-prepared, the expedition had to go to half-rations, yet continue the same arduous work of rowing and portaging, not knowing if they would starve to death if this river of unknown length outlasted their rations. They tried to hunt game, but the Amazon rain forest usually defeated their efforts to spot any.

At one point, Roosevelt lay near death, feverous from disease and from a large abscess that developed from a leg injury during portaging. His son Kermit, an engineer whose skills were vital for the expedition, expected his father to die.

Since I’m leaving a link for Teaser Tuesdays, a bookish meme at Should Be Reading, I will include two random sentences from The River of Doubt:

When the expedition reached Tapirapoan just before noon on January 16, Roosevelt stepped off his boat expecting to find a well-organized army of oxen and mules prepared to carry heavy loads and make a quick departure for the River of Doubt. To his amazement and dismay, what awaited him in the little riverside village was not military precision but utter chaos.  —p. 85.

A companion volume is Roosevelt’s own account, Through the Brazilian Wilderness. It discusses in great detail how the expedition suffered the most from insects. If a man’s knee pressed against the mosquito netting overnight, that would allow access to the mosquitoes’ snouts, and the knee could look like cauliflower the next morning. There were ants whose bites stung like fire, black ants an inch and a quarter long, termites that would eat their clothing, and multitudes of stinging flying insects.

And besides the insects, there were spiders who did not so much spin webs as lower weblines down to the forest floor, as thick as ropes. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Comet Probe Lands in the Shade

The European Space Agency probe Philae is in trouble. Yes, it just successfully landed on a comet, but it landed in the shade. It relies on solar energy to recharge its batteries, so it will run out of energy sometime this Saturday.

Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko

The ESA is wary of trying to move the probe around, since it might tip over. Will they risk it?

Bold ventures face success or failure over such odd happenstance, like landing in the shade of a huge rock. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Richelle Mead at the Bookstore

Richelle Mead is the author of, among other things, Vampire Academy, which was recently made into a movie. She’s also a friendly and accessible author and did a reading at the Barnes & Noble bookstore last Saturday to promote her more recent series, Bloodlines and Age of X.

This was less eventful than a previous time I saw her, which I made into a mythical journey. Richelle had a more cozy turnout this time (about twenty-five people, instead of a huge mob), so she was able to take the time to speak to each one of us—I asked her questions about incorporation—and for photos.

So if you hear of Richelle Mead doing a reading near you, make the effort to turn out and get the opportunity to ask her questions about her books or writing in general.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Movie Review: Nightcrawler

Stringers are independent cameramen who make their living getting unique pictures or film and selling them to news outlets. Those who follow celebrities are called paparazzi. But there is a different breed, those who have police scanners in their cars and who race to car crashes and violent crime scenes, sometimes beating the police. In this movie the Los Angeles breed are called nightcrawlers. Their motto is “If it bleeds, it leads.”

Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a fast learner. Once he gets his scanner and camcorder, he is right there, recording the bloody faces of victims and bargaining with the late night shift of a news station for money. What helps is Lou is a total sociopath.

Nightcrawler turned out to be a lot more disturbing than I bargained for. I thought it would show Lou becoming more cynical as he learned the trade. Nope, he’s a sociopath from his very first scene. At one point, when he’s accused of not understanding people, he replies, “Maybe I just don’t like them.”

It’s hard to convey what Jake Gyllenhaal did in this movie. For one thing, he lost thirty pounds to play the part, and the makeup does not cover up the lines in his face. But for most of the movie we see him perceiving the world around him in this unsympathetic, unblinking stare. In other words, the subject of the movie happens to be what a stringer or nightcrawler does, but it really is a study in how a sociopath survives and thrives.

This is not a negative blog, so I really wish I could recommend this movie. What I can say is if you’re a real Gyllenhaal fan, or if you want to see how a master actor portrays an unsympathetic character in an unflinching way, see Nightcrawler. If you want a movie where you see how violence sucks the soul out of a man, or a somewhat dramatized view of a news stringer, you’ll get something different from what you expected. 


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