Maphead

[Amazon Link]

I've been a Ken Jennings fan since his winning streak on Jeopardy! back in 2004. I recognized kind of a kindred spirit, I think. Except that he's smarter, funnier, more interesting, and (worst of all) younger. Also (as this book demonstrates, a better writer.

(Not that it matters, but I got Ken to sign my copy of Maphead when he spoke up at the University of Southern Maine in Portland last year. ("To Paul! Who is Ken Jennings?") And discovered, in addition to all those other things, my kindred spirit is also a far better public speaker than I. Oh well.)

But still: kindred spirit. Case in point: this book sprang out of Ken's longtime love of maps. And, as he describes his youthful encounters with atlases, schoolroom pulldowns, globes, etc., I found myself saying: Hey, I remember doing that too. Ken's touchstone is his old Hammond World Atlas; mine would be my National Geographic Globe. One of my perennial complaints with novels where the action involves the characters traipsing over the countryside, or even a building, is: this book could really use a map or two. Tolkien did it, why don't today's authors?

In addition, both Ken and I have wives that are totally hopeless mapwise.

This is not a textbook: each chapter is an exploration of some map-related topic, but it's not systematic or exhaustive. The chapters are filled with interesting trivia, interviews, anecdotes, and yarns. Topics include the general geographic illiteracy of US students; visits to the Library of Congress's map collection and Britain's Royal Geographic Society; people who map imaginary lands; the National Geographic Bee; Google Maps and Google Earth; geocaching. And more.

The index is funny too. ("Trebek, Alex; after a few drinks: 147")

If you've ever spent idle hours in Google Earth, or with physical maps, I think you'll find this book to be entertaining and edifying. Go ahead and do the Amazon clicky thing over there, you won't be sorry.

Sleepwalk With Me

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I watched Mike Birbiglia's hilarious stand-up routine ("What I Should Have Said Was Nothing") a few years back on Comedy Central. It really stood out amid the standard dreck: he's gifted at telling as-far-as-I-know true stories about his life and activities. ("Chalk up another save for the Eck!")

Since then, he's put on some big-boy pants, writing and starring in this actual movie. Well sort of. It has real actors (e.g., James Rebhorn and Carol Kane as his parents. Yes, Carol Kane.) It's based on a play, which (in turn) is based on his stand-up. Mike plays a character named "Matt Pandamiglio", who, at the beginning of the film, is a dreadfully unfunny and unsuccessful comedian, making do by tending bar at the same club at which he performs. He also has an eight-year relationship with Abby, who's beginning to chafe at the lack of long-term commitment.

Matt accidentally discovers a key to professional success: to talk honestly, but amusingly, about his personal life. (His first big laugh comes when he blurts out "I'm not going to get married until I am 100% sure nothing good can happen in my life anymore." Oh oh.) Professional success dovetails with personal turmoil, as he develops a nasty sleep disorder (see title) and gets stampeded into a marriage engagement.

Now there's a lot of funny stuff here, but the funniest stuff is when Birbiglia talks directly to the camera. This leads me to suspect I would have laughed more at his stand-up routine.


Last Modified 2013-01-21 10:24 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2013-01-20

  • Maxwell_Neanderthal Are you an adventurous human woman? You're in luck! "Scientist Seeks 'Adventurous Human Woman' For Neanderthal Baby". No, it's not the National Enquirer, it's Slashdot.

  • In a saner world, the folks running Politifact, the site that self-proclaims its purpose as to "help you find the truth in American politics", would simply shutter the site, turn out the office lights, and go find honest jobs.

    But instead: Politifact awarded its 2012 "Lie of the Year" to Mitt Romney, who made a campaign ad pointing out that Fiat, the company that owns Chrysler, was planning on making Jeeps in China.

    Only problem is: that "lie" was (ahem) actually true. At the Weekly Standard blog, Mark Hemingway analyzes Politifact's defense. Buried in Politifact's self-justifying bullshit is:

    The Romney campaign was crafty with its word choice, so campaign aides could claim to be speaking the literal truth, but the ad left a false impression that all Jeep production was being moved to China.

    (Emphasis added.) That crafty Romney campaign! Speaking the literal truth! But we heard lies, precious!

    Perhaps Politifact could rebrand itself. Might I suggest the "Ministry of Truth".

  • There are lies, and then there's bullshit. And Jacob Sullum found plenty of the latter in President Obama's press conference last week, where he talked about his gun proposals.

    Obama said the gun control task force headed by Vice President Biden has given him "a list of sensible, common-sense steps that can be taken to make sure that the kinds of violence we saw at Newtown doesn't [sic] happen again."

    Jacob's retort:

    Sensible and common-sense! Who could be against that?

    These words are, indeed, reliable markers of Barackrobatic bullshit. Overuse is a mark of ineptness, though.

    But that's the window dressing. Jacob notes Obama's proposals are also excrement-based in substance:

    Still, note that Obama, who a month ago conceded that "no single law [and] no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence," is now promising just that. He reiterated that unrealistic goal later in the press conference, saying he wants "sensible steps that we can take to make sure that somebody like the individual in Newtown can't walk into a school and gun down a bunch of children in a shockingly rapid fashion."

    It's worth clicking through, if only to see the mouse-over on the picture accompanying Jacob's post. No spoilers here! Jacob's is the kind of "fact-checking" you won't see at places like Politifact.

  • The Bad Lip Readers have been watching them some football. For Patriot fans, there's a lot of Tom Brady.

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Last Modified 2013-01-21 5:32 AM EST