Mystery Science Theater 3000 Puzzle

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Shout! Factory and the folks who run Mystery Science Theater 3000 have teamed up to produce a new puzzle, and it looks like a fun addition to anyone’s collection.

I hope no one gets the wrong impression of Patton Oswalt or Felicia Day, however. They are playing characters! They’re not actually that maniacal in real life, or so I have been led to believe.

Paint By Numbers

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I did paint-by-numbers work when I was younger. It’s a wonderful way to train yourself without getting bogged down in the details that would otherwise thwart you from doing something with art.

Dan Robbins, the inventor of the paint-by-numbers kits, has died aged 93. 

His kits inspired generations of budding artists to pick up a paintbrush and create multi-coloured wonders. Here, BBC News website readers share their artwork and stories about how the method helped them.

I would have guessed that these things were much, much older and dated from the Victorian era. But, no. Robbins invented them in the 1950s.

Here’s why I mention this:

Painting-by-numbers literally saved my life when I had a breakdown last year. 

I could barely function and my anxiety was through the roof. I was crying all the time and everything felt like an overload. 

Painting-by-numbers helped me to heal and gave me a break from the pain I was in. The act of painting each shape with a colour and being able to shut my brain off except for painting within the lines made such a difference to my recovery time, and I credit it with getting me to where I am today. 

I chose the image because I like animals and the colours were attractive to me. There is also a slight sadness in the deer's eyes which spoke to me. 

I believe this image took me about three weeks to complete, doing about one or two hours a day. 

It was my first adult paint-by-numbers kit. I used to do them as a child. I do a little bit of drawing and I like the idea of being able to paint but don't feel confident enough to start a picture myself from scratch. I like the fact that all the hard work is already done with a paint-by-numbers kit, and at the end you know the image will be beautiful.

Please click over to the BBC and read the rest. You’ll see things like this:

Nancy Pope

Nancy Pope

Wonderful.

Thanks again, Mr. Robbins.

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R.E.M.

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Now, this is a wonderful subject for a book:

Begin the Begin is the first biography of R.E.M. wholly researched and written since they disbanded in 2011. It offers by far the most detailed account of the group's formative years--their early lives, their first encounters with one another, their legendary debut show, early tours in the back of a van, initial recordings, their shrewdly paced rise to fame. The people and places of the American South are crucial to the R.E.M. story in ways much more complex and interesting than have previously been presented, claims Robert Dean Lurie; he explores the myriad ways in which the band's adopted hometown of Athens, Georgia--and the South in general--shaped its members and the character of their art. The South is much more than the background here; it plays a major role: the creative ferment that erupted in Athens and gripped many of its young inhabitants in the late 1970s and early '80s drew on regional traditions of outsider art and general cultural out-thereness, and gave rise to a free-spirited music scene that produced the B-52's and Pylon, as well as laying the ground for R.E.M.'s subsequent breakout success. Lurie has tracked down and interviewed numerous figures in the band's history who were underrepresented in, or absent from, earlier biographies--they contribute previously undocumented stories and cast a fresh light on the familiar narrative.

There are so many myths around R.E.M. They were just like every other band, but they broke through and reached a level of commercial success that probably made them feel excited and horrified at the same time.

The value of this book is likely going to be judged on several levels. Will it honestly address the efforts that the band made to keep their secrets from getting out? Will it deal with everything that happened to Jefferson Holt? What was the price of fame? Did Peter Buck spend 1985 wearing a bathrobe?

The Cheap, Tawdry Trump Era

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This is the emblem of the Trump Era, writ large and laid out on a fine table in the White House.

Cheap, disposable piles of garbage food, set out in the midst of American History.

Imagine, if you will, the White House during the Kennedy years, presented in this fashion. Oh, I’m sure they had hamburgers in the White House, but not like this (but, really, did they? I have no idea). This is such an abomination.

I would imagine there have been many formal meals served here, and some informal ones. I can imagine what this room was decorated like during the Coolidge years or during the presidency of William McKinley. Would it have been adorned with such slop? Probably not.

Think of all the history that this particular room has seen over many, many decades. This is where Eisenhower, both Roosevelts, Lincoln himself (you see him on the wall, and you can imagine the laughter), and a whole host of founding fathers, lived their lives and conducted themselves. You can see the ghosts in the corners, just staring at the debacle of the Trump era. Even Andrew Jackson would have been appalled by how flinty and demeaning this food would look to visitors. He threw open the doors and let the common people stomp through the whole house, of course, but would he have served something so demeaning? Ah, no.

Nothing is more Trump than a priceless wooden table covered in pyramids of cold fast food containers, rotting at room temperature. Nothing is symbolizes the Age of Trump better than a squishy, tartar sauce drowned fish patty in a stale bun.

Trump is the president who thought that the best he could do was serve his fellow Americans a shit sandwich. What a fiasco.

Wakanda Forever

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It’s been more than a year since the beautiful, wonderful, and talented Sara Benincasa put up her own money in order to bribe journalists to ask Trump if he thought Wakanda was a “shithole country.” Or maybe it was just to ask him what he thought of Wakanda. Or maybe it was all about figuring out if he knew what Wakanda really was.

Who cares? Trump’s a stupid ass and Wakanda forever, baby:

Want to know what would happen if a reporter seriously asked President Donald Trump how that bilateral trade agreement with Wakanda is panning out?

You’re not the only one. On Saturday, a widely shared tweet from Sara Benincasa, a screenwriter and author, called for a journalist to “very seriously” ask Trump “his opinion on our nation’s relations with Wakanda”—the fictional country from Marvel’s Black Panther comics.

It’s no stretch of the imagination to believe that Trump would deliver an answer. This is, after all, the same man who made up a whole-ass African country (“Nambia”—whose health system is “increasingly self-sufficient,” apparently). 

Benincasa offered $300 of her own money and, after many users chimed in with their support, said that she would start a “crowdfunding or Venmo situation” that would allow others to contribute to the purse. The stipulations: The question needs to be asked by a member of the media, and the question and answer must be recorded live on video.

Of all of the worthless comic book movies, there are but a handful that are worth something besides Wonder Woman. I thought Black Panther would get more recognition for the complexity of the story line and the resonance it has had in the consciousness of the country. Yeah, there really is a battle between good and evil going on, and evil wins far too often for my taste.

Albert Finney 1936-2019

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The great Albert Finney has died, and it had to happen on a Friday when the bad news just keeps rolling in. His achievements are too numerous to mention and his range and capability as an actor are just beyond comprehension. Here was a man who, for all of his life, took what he was given and made it his own.

His criminally ignored and under-appreciated turn as Leo O’Bannon in Miller’s Crossing (the greatest of all the gangster movies, of course) brought him no awards and no special recognition. It was yet another Coen brothers movies that gets talked about again and again but I don’t think people appreciate how Finney had to play the role. He is understated and calm and, while that usually looks like indifference on the screen, his every look and emotion in that film add up to absolute magic. There are no bad scenes. The pace of the film is astonishing and perfect. The whole thing falls apart if Finney plays him like all the other gangster bosses that came before. It doesn’t work if he hams it up or lashes out like a psychopath. Everything hinges on how he purrs through the dialogue, a man caught between hanging on to what he’s built and a woman who doesn’t love him.

For the great actor, it was just another role in a vast career. He did it, and it mattered, and he just went on to the next thing and kept working. He should have won three Oscars, but they snubbed him, just like they snubbed the late Alan Rickman.

Finney did so much to advance the art of acting. He is already missed.

Wolves Hunt Fish

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This is remarkable:

In another stunning revelation of wolf behavior from Voyageurs National Park, researchers Thursday announced they have confirmed park wolves hunting for and eating fish out of streams as a regular part of their diet.

The researchers released the first-ever video of wolves eating freshwater fish, and said GPS data shows one pack spent about half their time during several weeks in April and May "hunting" in creeks for spawning suckers and northern pike.

The revelation comes just one week after the News Tribune first reported the same researchers confirming wolves spent weeks on end in blueberry patches, eating blueberries at peak summer ripeness. The same researchers also are the first to document wolves' consuming large numbers of beaver, when the animals are available in summer months, and that wolves will leave deer and moose alone if they can get beaver as meals.

There's some speculation that the wolves focus on beavers — and maybe now on fish — has helped keep the park's moose population stable at the same time moose numbers have crashed across most of their Minnesota range.

The Voyageurs Wolf Project, a collaboration between the University of Minnesota and Voyageurs National Park, has followed GPS-collared wolves from over seven different packs since 2015. The fish revelations were recently published in the journal Mammalian Biology.

Using GPS collars, the team collects location data from wolves every 20 minutes. That data reveals not just wolf behavior but also pack territory boundaries.

Researcher Tom Gable first noticed the wolf-fish interaction in April, 2017, when he hiked to a creek where GPS data showed one of the collared wolves was spending a lot of time. "As I approached the area, I briefly saw a wolf trying to catch a fish before it ran into the woods," Gable said. He then found fish remains and wolf tracks scattered along the creek.

The image above is a trail camera capturing a wolf in the process of stalking and removing a fish from a creek. This is the first time we have acquired scientific proof that wolves take fish out of the water. Up to this point, no other proof existed.

Given all of the work that has been done to study and conserve habitat for wolves, it is without question a major scientific discovery that, in the context of our current disinterest in preserving our planet, renders it tragic in a way. We are watching the slow-motion destruction of the planet and we are entertained by foolishness and the utterly crass. A handful of people remained dedicated to figuring out how the world works and we owe them a huge debt.

Get On a Bike

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This is a fascinating look at how the Dutch redesigned their cities to accommodate cycling. This casual style you see depicted above looks hilarious at first, but, consider this—these people are off their asses, doing something and they don’t care what you think.

They banished cars and they went with what works—special lanes, ride share opportunities, and they’re well ahead of us in terms of not destroying the planet. When I lived in Europe, I saw this on a large scale in Munich, Germany. There were so many bikes, it just didn’t make sense to think about cars. If you could live your life and only have to drive your car once or twice a week, wouldn’t you do it? Could you convert your thinking to make walking and cycling your primary means of getting around? And don’t forget public transportation. In Europe, you can use all manner of buses and trains. Could you change your mindset about getting from here to there?

I live in Texas now. Unless we’re talking the downtown area of Dallas or San Antonio, I don’t see how this works without ending up in traction because here, cars will just run you over. It’s a sad fact of life. With the advent of the pay-as-you-go scooter business, I suppose it would be possible to see people changing how they do things, but still. It’s really hard to see dramatic change happen without an investment in making it possible to drive less in cars and to get around more on foot or on a bike.

I am very much the kind of person who can’t envision riding a bike with a helmet. I don’t know what it is—a lack of common sense, my own ridiculous ideas, or just plain stupidity. It could be all of those things. The idea of riding a bike with a helmet has never made any sense to me. I would rather just do what these folks are doing and ride around.

Oh, and none of these people are fat, are they? Take that, Americans.

The Fall of Gondolin

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Christopher Tolkien has published what appears to be the final book written by his father, J.R.R. Tolkien. No one expected to see The Fall of Gondolin, so it is quite a surprise:

While this story may be the last Tolkien book to be published, it is actually an early tale and foundational to the author’s entire concept of Middle-earth. It was first written in 1917 while Tolkien was recuperating in a hospital from trench fever after the Battle of the Somme. “It’s a quest story with a reluctant hero who turns into a genuine hero—it’s a template for everything Tolkien wrote afterwards,” John Garth, author of a book about Tolkien’s experience in World War I tells Alison Flood at The Guardian. “It has a dark lord, our first encounter with orcs and balrogs—it’s really Tolkien limbering up for what he would be doing later.”

Christian Holub at Entertainment Weekly explains that the new book tells the tale of Tuor, a man living in an age where the world is dominated by the dark lord Melko—known in other Tolkien books as Morgoth. Only one place, the hidden Elvish city of Gondolin has resisted his reign, and Tuor is sent to find the place. He does, but so do the dark forces of Melko. In the grandest Tolkien battle scene outside of The Lord of the Rings, the author describes a mechanized army, similar to the newly introduced mechanized warfare he’d witnessed during the Great War, falling on the city.

I am not a fan of the Hobbit movies; Tolkien gave us battles, but not of the size and scope that were depicted. I do not believe Peter Jackson was ever the right filmmaker for The Lord of the Rings, either; his movies are beautifully framed junk and everything is a near-miss and, hey, what if we spin the camera around this way and that way? Everyone seemed stiff at times, but you really have to credit what Elijah Wood and Sean Astin did to make it all seem like an actual epic quest. It wasn't all bad, of course.

The best description for Jackson's approach would be to call it expensive fan fiction. Beyond that, everything I actually liked about the books disappeared. If they can make a movie about Han Solo, why the hell can't they make a movie about Elrond?

The Fall of Gondolin explores the history of Middle Earth, and gives you a sense of Tolkien's decision to build the languages, the different inhabitants, their entire, well-imagined back stories, and their place in the story. It's not enough to talk about the tribes of Elves or Men or Dwarves--their foundational epics and their sense of who they were had to be built, painstakingly, one generation at a time.

Aside from George R. R. Martin, who does this anymore? Plenty of writers make the attempt, but Tolkien, being an academic, had the knowledge to create the framework that his son has spent decades trying to organize and preserve for proper release. His achievement as a curator is no less of an accomplishment than his father's as the creator.

If someone else decides to make films of these stories, I'm fine with that. I really don't need to see any more of Jackson's vision. To me, it was always about the history and the relationships, and not so much the sword play and the massed formations of troops. Having seen the horrors of war, I don't think Tolkien wanted it to be fetishized in the manner in which it was, I really don't. There was always a purpose to the violence, and that's where all of the effort went.

Tom Arnold is Full of Shit

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In case you were wondering, no, Tom Arnold does not have any "tapes" where Trump says the N-word:

in December 2016, Arnold said: “I have the outtakes to The Apprentice where he says every bad thing ever, every offensive, racist thing ever. I have that.”

I can’t wait to see those tapes. We all want to see them. Footage of Donald Trump using the N-word would be seismic. It would be Pussygate times 10. It would permanently damage, and maybe even end, his presidency.

I know! So where are the tapes? It’s complicated.

He doesn’t have them, does he? The bad news is no, he doesn’t. According to a new Rolling Stone interview, Tom Arnold says that the N-word tape was just an online link, and the video has since expired.

If anyone produces a file or proof that Trump regularly says the N-word, he will claim that it has been doctored and that it if fake news. His supporters won't care, because they secretly want him to say it so that they can say it and not have to lose their jobs, too.

For Tom Arnold to try to make money off of this is proof that we live in an awful country made worse by the fact that the garbage residing in the White House is probably the worst human being of the 21st Century.