The Mission: Impossible Episode That Doesn’t Work

While I absolutely adore the old TV classic Mission: Impossible, I have to admit my suspension of disbelief will only go so far.

Greg Morris’s amazing techno-gadgets seem plausible now that we have cellphones and computers in every home. I can grudgingly roll my eyes and go along with the fact that blue-eyed, white Martin Landau is supposedly playing an Arabic person or an Asian person on the show, in order to deceive the bad guy and accomplish whatever the mission of the week is. I can buy that every male in the world apparently wants Barbara Bain, or that every woman wants Peter Graves, even though people’s tastes actually do differ.

Photo from here.

What I cannot buy is that the Impossible Missions Force has somehow trained a cat to fetch.

Yes, that’s right, my friends, episode 9, season 2 is the dealbreaker. The IMF trains a cat to walk across a long beam, retrieve a priceless jade seal from a transparent display case, and then walk back across the beam carrying the seal.

They trained a cat to fetch.

It’s an adorable cat, sure, and cats are smart, sure. But I don’t know any self-respecting cats that are willing to walk across a narrow beam and grab something for some silly human political reason.

So while I’ll still be watching and enjoying Mission: Impossible in the future, that particular episode will always stand out in my mind as the straw that broke the disbelief camel’s back.

They trained a cat to fetch.

Updated: North Dakota Has Lots of Escalators

Apparently some people have been making fun of Wyoming for only having two escalators in the entire state. I’m not sure why, but it’s prompted someone to count the six escalators in South Dakota–three of which are in Sioux Falls.

One of them doesn’t have steps, but is a moving ramp–that’s the one at the Sioux Falls airport, a pleasant, simple place to fly out of that lacks the confusing layout and complex structures of the airport in Minneapolis. That’s probably mostly because of its size, admittedly, but still, it’s much nicer to fly from Sioux Falls if you can, escalator aside.

Anyway, the whole discussion led me to wonder how many escalators North Dakota has. Apparently Medora has one, and as of 2009 we had another one somewhere else that had stopped.

Leaving aside the question of whether this means anything–which it probably doesn’t, given how accessibility means that elevators are more in favor than escalators–are there other escalators in North Dakota?

Updated, 3:05 p.m. Tuesday:

Preliminary List of Escalators in North Dakota:

So far, several people (thank you, Rob Beer, Eric, marann, Dan, Brad, Brent, Aaron) have responded with locations of escalators in North Dakota. They are:

  • Medora
  • Scheels, in Fargo
  • JC Penney, West Acres in Fargo (two sets)
  • Ralph Englestad Arena (two sets)
  • Fargo Airport (two sets)
  • Fargodome lobby
  • Grand Forks Airport
  • Alerus Center, Grand Forks
  • First National Bank, Grand Forks (was listed as defunct as of 2009, can anyone confirm?)

Does anyone else know of any more? Are there any in Bismarck?

Bad Ideas on Television: An Antivaccination “View”

FILE - This Feb. 4, 2013 file photo shows American comedian, actress, and author Jenny McCarthy posing for a portrait, in New York. The actress and former Playboy playmate was named Monday, July 15, to join the panel of the ABC weekday talk show "The View." Barbara Walters, who created “The View” in 1997 and has since served as a co-host, made the widely expected announcement on the air. (Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP, File)

This Feb. 4, 2013 file photo shows Jenny McCarthy posing for a portrait, in New York. (Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP, File)

Jenny McCarthy has been hired as a “personality” on “The View,” ABC’s morning TV show, and this is, most likely, a very bad thing.

It will give her a platform from which to proclaim bad ideas, primarily the idea that vaccines cause autism.

Vaccines do not cause autism.

Multiple scientific studies have found no connection between vaccines and autism, because there is none. And the person who initially claimed there was, in a scientific study, Andrew Wakefield, falsified his research on the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine, and is no longer permitted to practice medicine in his home nation, the United Kingdom.

Let me say this again: Vaccines do not cause autism.

That’s not to say vaccines don’t cause side-effects. They can and they do. Most of them are minor (itching, redness at the injection site), but in very, very, incredibly rare cases there have been serious complications of vaccines.

It is much rarer, however, to have such a thing happen than to have a serious complication from most of the diseases that vaccines prevent, such as measles.

Measles encephalitis killed the young daughter of Roald Dahl, one of my favorite children’s authors, for example. And measles has had a death rate of about .2 percent, or 1 in 500 people who contract measles. That doesn’t sound like much, but there have been between 37 and 140 cases each year since 1996.

In comparison, the MMR vaccine causes encephalopathy in fewer than 1 in 1,000,000 cases. Fevers, rashes and other side-effects are more common, and the vaccine is still far, far less likely to be fatal than that 1/500 number.

Autism is not a side-effect of vaccines.

Unfortunately, Jenny McCarthy has continued to believe that vaccines cause autism, despite all the research done since the 1990s that indicates otherwise, and she promotes this particular “view” in a big way, even speaking at antivaccine rallies.

She encourages people to believe that vaccines cause autism, that they are more dangerous than the diseases they prevent.

But vaccines don’t cause autism.

And many people have protested McCarthy joining the cast of “The View” for that very reason–it could be very dangerous if she promotes her bad idea and people believe it. We could see a resurgence in dangerous infectious diseases such as whooping cough, which is especially dangerous to babies, or German measles, which, ironically, does increase a child’s risk of developing an autism spectrum disorder if a mother contracts it during pregnancy.

It has been very irksome to see McCarthy’s “view” as being “controversial.” It is not. The medical and scientific establishment is nearly unanimous on the subject: Vaccines don’t cause autism.

Her view isn’t controversial. It’s simply incorrect. It was very reasonable at one point to believe that vaccines could cause autism, because Wakefield hadn’t been caught yet, and the scientific studies hadn’t been done to show otherwise, but since then many studies have been done.

McCarthy isn’t controversial at all, she’s just wrong. And it’s easy to see why; her own public statements show a very hazy grasp on science:

“Think of autism like a fart, and vaccines are the finger you pull to make it happen.”

Yet you can pull on somebody’s fingers all day long and not cause them to pass gas, because the two things aren’t actually related at all, unless the person concerned deliberately makes that happen.

To that extent, it’s a good analogy, because finger-pulling doesn’t cause farts, just like vaccines actually don’t cause autism.

I feel so silly for even writing that sentence, but it’s not me being silly here, it’s McCarthy’s poor understanding of cause-and-effect that’s silly.

And it’s not funny at all. If even a few kids aren’t vaccinated because of McCarthy’s incorrect idea, some could be blinded, deafened, or even killed. And not just the kids that aren’t vaccinated, either. Those kids can spread those illnesses to others–children who can fight it off, but also children who can’t, elderly adults, people who are immune-compromised because they’re on chemotherapy, or just people whose vaccines didn’t provide them full immunity.

If McCarthy airs her incorrect “view” on TV, and people–not doing the research, or finding one of the many websites filled with false information–believe her, it could really hurt people. It is even possible that it could harm people if she doesn’t talk about vaccines on television–just having a position on a TV show could lead people to believe what she has already said in other venues.

And that’s a bad idea.

Invasion of the Lake Snatchers mussels have apparently invaded the lake my grandparents’ cabin is on.

This is not good news, as the mussels are an invasive species famous for encrusting everything put into a lake, including docks and boats and water outlets, and they aren’t good for native species of the lake, either. The water will get clearer, but people’s feet will get cut by their sharp shells, and they’ve even been responsible for bird die-offs.

It also means that anyone boating the Whitefish chain of lakes is going to have to be incredibly careful when moving equipment–or risk transmitting the darn mussels to some other habitat they can wreck.

This is bad news.

There’s more information here.

Book Review: A Drowned Maiden’s Hair

A Drowned Maiden's HairLaura Amy Schlitz has written a fantastic book, though I’m honestly not sure what makes “A Drowned Maiden’s Hair” a “young adult” book.

I suppose the story of slightly-bratty, lonely Maud, an impoverished orphan taken in by a trio of mysterious old ladies is a tale that has no sex, little if any swearing and a child as a main character, but as often seems the case with well-written “young adult” books, the story and characters are engaging enough to please any adult willing to give it a go.

I recently spent a week at my family’s cabin in northern Minnesota, and my mom was kind enough to bring “Drowned” with her because she thought I’d like it. She was right–I loved Maud right from the start. She’s smart, but she reads like a real kid–cute at times, smart at times, naive often, kind at times and unduly harsh at others.

Not only did I read the book that week, but my grandmother and aunt read it too, and all of us had great fun with it.

A word to the wise, however: if you’re looking for this book on Amazon, every summary I’ve looked at has spoiled the chief surprise of the plot. Maud doesn’t initially know why the three elderly ladies have taken her in, and while I generally dislike surprises, in this case, I think the book would lose a bit of its impact if the reader wasn’t trying to figure it out along with Maud.

I definitely recommend the book, however. It reminded me a bit of Agatha Christie’s mysteries, with a dash of childlike curiosity and enough historicity that the little details from the book’s 1908 setting shine.

Music Review: Modern Vampires of the City

Modern Vampires of the CityVampire Weekend’s third album, “Modern Vampires of the City,” released earlier this year, has drawn some criticism because some believe its tone and style differs from the group’s previous work. “Modern” is darker; its tunes reek of existential doubt and cynicism, its lyrics speak of death, time, God, identity and betrayal.

However, if you were paying attention during “Contra,” you almost certainly noticed that those things were there all along. “Diplomat’s Son,” for example, sounds like a cheery upbeat tune, but it seems to be about a one-night stand, told from the perspective of someone who just wants to use somebody else. The album’s title track, “I Think Ur a Contra” is a paean to disillusionment, and the singer complains “You wanted good schools and friends with pools/You’re not a contra.”

The seeds of “Modern,” in other words, are present in the decay-ridden “Contra,” and it’s a short step from “Diplomat’s Son” to “Diane Young,” a song that dares to pun about death. (Read the name out loud.)

“Diane” is one of the standout tracks, a peppy, fast tune with a beach-rock guitar riff that matches its wordplay but not its dark themes. There’s also “Step,” which seems to pair lyrics about a rivalry with thoughts about, again, death. Then there’s “Hudson,” an almost-menacing, claustrophobic tune about death, betrayal, shifting identity and the inexorability of time.

There are other gems as well, but overall, the album is well worth a listen, especially if you’ve enjoyed the other Vampire Weekend tunes. I think it makes a fitting final entry in the group’s debut trilogy. That said, I can’t help but wonder what’s next…

What Should a Princess Look Like?

Belle, Reimagined --- Photo by: Claire Hummel

I had the best princess role model when I was a child. Although she had beautiful dresses and ornate, stylish hairdos just like the Disney lineup of princesses, she also carried a blaster, didn’t take any lip from any scruffy nerfherders, and actively participated in her own rescue.

Yes, she was still a bit of a damsel in distress by today’s standards, but Princess Leia was no shrinking violet, and she didn’t take any guff even from Darth Vader and his foul hench(stench?)man either.

And at that time, women were not allowed to be Jedi. (Or at least, no female Jedi had been seen in the Star Wars universe, which was later rectified–about the only good change from the old trilogy to the new, really.) But even if they had, I would’ve wanted to be Princess Leia.

People often remember her armored bikini. For some reason they forget that she personally strangled the guy who forced her to wear it with his own chain.

I digress. Disney’s current lineup of princesses seems to fill that princessy void for many of today’s girls. While I like many of those characters–Ariel and Belle are probably my favorites personality-wise–I don’t really think any of them are quite as spunky, audacious and clever as Princess Leia.

And there’s been controversy about how some of them are … well… sexed-up… for the princess lineup. It’s not quite as bad as bikini armor, but the issue of making Brave’s Merida “more beautiful” got a lot of parents riled up.

I can see why. Part of the issue with the Disney lineup is lack of diversity. Sure, there’s a Native American, a Middle Easterner, a Chinese woman, an African-American woman. With the possible exception of Mulan, however, there aren’t any tomboys. (And she wasn’t even really a tomboy; she dressed up as a man to save her father’s life.) Merida has a bow, though, and she’s a more adventurous type.

It would be great for girls to see the princess lineup, and see that there are lots of ways to be a woman, not just one way. You can like dresses or not. You can like blasters or not. You can be pretty or not–but there are lots of ways to be pretty, too.

I actually do like dresses, though I don’t often wear them. And so I would like to direct your attention to this beautiful gallery of Disney princesses (and a villain), reimagined in more historically-accurate costumes, just like the Belle shown at the top of this post.

Dinosaur Terrorizes Very Small Part of Newsroom


So, I bought a dinosaur today.

It’s actually a Jimmiesaurus, meaning that its colors are those of Jamestown College. It matches my desktop, so I put him on top of it.

Kids are selling them, as well as a few other neat things, at the Mini-Society Summer Camp this week. The idea is for students to create their own businesses and their own “town,” and then visitors stop by, receive a certain amount of “currency,” and buy stuff with that currency.

I bought a few other cool things too, and talked to some awesome students about their work!

If you want to join the fun, visit room 107 of the Lyngstad building on the Jamestown College campus (map here). They’ll be open from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Friday. Check it out!

Learning to Shoot Zombies

Dead ZombieI learned to shoot over the weekend, with the help of my colleague, Logan Adams. While I’m not sure if I ever hit the target with the larger guns (that’s larger in physical size, not um, bullet size), the handgun seemed to work better for me, as you can see above.

With zombies you mostly aim for the head.

I figured with as many guns as there are in North Dakota, it would probably be best for me to learn how to at least hold one without shooting myself in the foot. By the end of the expedition I felt reasonably confident about that, although I don’t think I’ll be going hunting any time soon.

Many thanks to Logan for his patience and tutoring, as well as for the use of his guns and ammunition!