Cleolinda Jones (cleolinda) wrote,
Cleolinda Jones
cleolinda

And then they go BOMBING!

Been reading, mostly, in between bouts of cleaning. Have I nattered on about what books I'm reading at the moment yet? I got through the new Antonia Fraser, Love and Louis XIV shortly after Christmas Day and then moved on to Flora Fraser's Princesses: The Six Daughters of George III (which is amazing in that it starts out before Britain loses the American colonies and Marie Antoinette loses her head, and it ends with Queen Victoria, mother of eight children, at the last remaining princess's deathbed some 80-90 years later). After that I moved a few decades forward: Jim Steinmeyer's Hiding the Elephant, which you would love if you liked either The Illusionist or The Prestige. Steinmeyer--an ingeneur himself--doesn't give away every little last detail of every trick he discusses; he points out that if you really want to know about the ones he glosses over, the secrets have been published and they're out there if you look for them. But it turns out that Bautier deKolta first originated Angier's disappearing birdcage trick, and Eisenheim's orange tree was performed in real life by Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin (yes, you find out how it was done. Mostly). The title refers to a Houdini trick--one whose solution was apparently lost or not recorded, but Steinmeyer puts together a persuasive case for how it was probably done, and even recreates the similar Disappearing Donkey illusion himself. The book I'm on now is The Secret Life of Houdini, which actually claims that no one really knows how it was done, even though this book came out this past fall and Steinmeyer's dates back to 2003, I think. Given the massive amount of research the two Houdini authors assembled (seriously. They put the footnotes online rather than stuff them into the book), this seems a little disingenuous, but all right.

The "secret life," by the way, refers to the fact that Houdini actually spied for Britain and the U.S. in Russia and Germany prior to WWI under the guise of his jail-cell escape publicity stunts; during the war itself he taught young soldiers how to escape from German ties, handcuffs and prison cages, having tested them all firsthand. Apparently early spy agencies employed a lot of skilled amateurs for various reasons--many of whom were magicians, which I find endlessly fascinating. (The book's foreword is by former CIA director John E. McLaughlin. Who is also an amateur magician. No, really.) Also, one of the chapters opens with the death of Chung Ling Soo--either he or his rival Ching Ling Foo, I forget which, appears as a character in The Prestige--who, get this, dies performing the bullet catch in China. At which point it was kind of discovered that he was actually Billy Robinson, a Westerner who had faked being a silent Chinese mystic for umpteen dozen years, mostly because he burst into fluent English on being shot. And we thought the goldfish-bowl limp was impressive. Seriously.

After Houdini : Erik Larson's Thunderstruck. I don't even really know what it's about, and I don't really care because he wrote The Devil in the White City, which I loved, and apparently it's a similar juxtaposition of crime and scientific advancement, so it's all right by me. I'm trying to get all books of reasonable length out of the way before I tuck into Carter Beats the Devil.

Linkspam: I accidentally pressed "post" too soon, so there was a giant uncut (and unformatted) linkspam entry that may have appeared on your friends list for the two frantic seconds it took me to recopy and delete it. So, uh. Extremely sorry about that. Because it is kind of giant.



kateshort: "norabombay just created the community the_white_whale for posting sections of Moby Dick. Read through the context of modern times, the sections she's discussed in her journal have been OMGWTFBBQ slashtastic. And unintentionally funny in myriad other ways. Even if you ignore the snark, it's still reading a novel online in nice little manageable chunks." If you liked dracula1897, this might be for you.

Also from kateshort, an article utilizing the exact same data as the "Total grumblepants gloom-and-dooming about the new year" article: AP poll: Americans optimistic for 2007.

(Scientists say 2007 may be warmest yet. Sigh.)

Saddam execution video leads to arrests.

6 of 75 cities get top disaster rating; only four big U.S. cities ready for crisis: report. I always hate this kind of article, because while we do need to know, and possibly be scared into doing something about it--surely terrorists keep up with their target's newspapers? "DEAR TERRORISTS: I HEAR ELBOW, ALABAMA IS TERRIFIC THIS TIME OF YEAR."

Two headlines that go together: US Senate to get first socialist ever; Congressman to be sworn in using Quran ("Rep.-elect Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, will use a Quran once owned by Thomas Jefferson during his ceremonial swearing-in Thursday"). Cue much hand-wringing and pearl-clutching about the way this country's finally accepting some diversity going to hell in a handbasket, if you're into that kind of thing.

Two headlines that probably aren't related, but you start to wonder: 7 New Orleans cops surrender amid supporters' cheers; Coroner: Mayor-elect's death was suicide. ("The first black mayor-elect in a largely white Louisiana town committed suicide days before he was to take office, the coroner said Tuesday.")

Two more: Unidentified metal object crashes through N.J. home; A UFO at O'Hare? Some pilots thought so.

220 pounds of explosives found in Spain. In Basque country. I totally just had a flashback to my Spanish classes in high school, when our teacher would talk about the Basques. She made them sound like superlative nutters, but underneath that, I suspect she admired them. "They're just up there on their own, wanting to separate, and they're speaking this language that no one even knows where it came from! It's not related to any other language! And then they go BOMBING!" Note: this lesson plan reproduced for entertainment purposes only.

Report: United Nations troops raping children young as 12 in southern Sudan. I just... don't have anything I can even say about this.

Man saves teen who fell on subway track. "Wesley Autrey faced a harrowing choice as he tried to rescue a teenager who fell off a platform onto a subway track in front of an approaching train: Struggle to hoist him back up to the platform in time, or take a chance on finding safety under the train." Now that, right there, is a good opening sentence.

Student shot to death at Wash. school.

Toyota creating alcohol detection system.

Scientists may have found evidence of Medici murder. Ooo, I love a good old-school poisoning.

FEMA: Calif. levees worse than thought.

FTC fines weight loss pill firms $25M.

Nixon vowed to 'ruin Foreign Service.'

SHUT DOWN THE MIDDLE SCHOOLS. I love this headline because there's just something so "ATTICA! ATTICA!!!" about it. The real argument is, instead of herding multiple schools' worth of junior high students into one school at a cruel crucial stage in their development, leave them dispersed at their elementary schools, which would now go back to being K-8s, as things used to be:

"Folks have been aware, in achievement terms, that what happens in the middle grades is disappointing," Douglas J. MacIver, a principal research scientist at Johns Hopkins University's Center for the Social Organization of Schools, told Education Week. "But I don't think they realized how stressed middle-school students are."

An influential 2004 Rand Corp. study looked at international data comparing American students to their peers in 11 other developed nations. American students rank near the bottom on measures of emotional health, including whether students feel their school is a pleasant place, and whether they find classmates to be kind and helpful. On that last question, only Czech students reported less kindliness from their peers. Only students in Latvia, Israel and Lithuania reported feeling left out, lonely, helpless or bullied more often than American students did.

This June, Pittsburgh closed seven middle schools and doubled the number of K-8 elementary schools. One advantage of the K-8 model is that it tends to spread the potentially problematic middle-graders around. "It's like 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' when they hit sixth grade," Assistant Principal Gina Robinson told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Plus, when kids stay in grade school, they tend to stay "younger, longer," reports a Long Beach, Calif., principal, and that's been my experience, too. I didn't pick a Catholic grade school for my younger son because of the K-8 structure that most Catholic schools retain, but I immediately noticed the benefits. Same kids, same principal, same parents for eight years -- it does build community. And maybe it's a "kibbutz effect," but kids who have been in class together since kindergarten seem less eager to launch into the distracting peer torture of premature dating games.

"It turns out the onset of puberty is really a bad reason to try to move kids to another structure and to another school altogether," the Rand report's primary author, Jaana Juvonen, told Education Week.

I find this interesting because they make several good points, as well as offer solutions to the problems they bring up, and also, middle-school was hellish.

cassildra: "I predict this will explode like the Terri Schiavo story did."

Resolve to Exercise Your Brain. How about playing mah-jongg? Does that work?

Dawn simulator curbs wintertime blues.

How Women Pick Mates vs. Flings.

From Oscarwatch: Little Miss Sunshine makes a mid-season surge as the Producers Guild (regarded as a clear predictor of Best Picture nominees and sometimes even winners), Screen Actors Guild, and BAFTA (long list) nominations come out.

Another headline pair: Fox's once-hot 'The O.C.' is canceled; Celine Dion Las Vegas show to close. Ah, sic transit gloria mundi.

New restoration brings movie classics to life: "When watching the DVD re-release of Gone With the Wind, what once appeared as simply a green cloth shawl worn by Vivien Leigh is revealed as a garment of dark emerald velvet so rich it beckons touching."

Police reunion rumors reaching fever pitch. As in, The Police. I got kind of confused when I first saw the headline myself.

katesti: "Don't fuck with John Black, kids." For those of you who don't watch Days of Our Lives: Drake Hogestyn, the actor who plays the current (I think?) love of Marlena's life, and who was (the character, I mean) at one point a priest, or possibly pretending to be one, and also I think he was a mercenary at some point and may have been brainwashed (or amnesia...?), and may have been the one who exorcised Marlena when she was POSSESSED BY SATAN, well, He of the Mighty Eyebrow...
...says he was with his family in the backyard of their Malibu home when Carl Raymond Cheney of Portland, OR came onto his property and ran at his daughter carrying a Bible screaming "Where is he? I will cast him out!" Hogestyn says Cheney was "calling me by my stage name... recalling past storylines, especially the demonic possession of several years past. But more important, he thought I was dead, because the show that aired on Friday 12.29.06 left my character John Black shot and presumed dead." Hogestyn, who was on a ladder painting his house, says Cheney grabbed and pushed his wife backwards on their patio stairs. At that time, Hogestyn "grabbed him by the hair, spun him around, delivered a right cross to the chin that sent him down the stairs." According to the restraining order the struggle continued for 10 minutes until Hogestyn and his 25-year-old son Ben were able to subdue Cheney by duct-taping the intruder's hands and feet until police arrived.
Yes, not only is Mr. Cheney insane, he also can't even remember which character was actually possessed. I'm thinking someone needs to go back to crazy school here.


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Tags: book discussion, books, movies, stage magic, the illusionist, the prestige, tv
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