Monday, October 28, 2013

Purging Mischief

As a sleepless midnight rolled around last night, I turned on The Purge, a seasonally appropriate thriller, on satellite TV. The plot: in a near future, a single 12-hour night is set aside each year in which law is suspended. (Star Trek fans may recognize the plot device from The Return of the Archons episode of the original series in 1966.) There is no legal consequence to any crime, including murder. Government workers above “level 10,” (a level not defined in the film) are off limits, and there is some restriction on weaponry (again not specified), though all handguns, shotguns, and semiautomatic rifles apparently are OK. Otherwise, citizens are free to commit mayhem to their hearts content in whatever way they please. This catharsis is regarded as good for the popular psyche, good for social harmony on the other 364 ½ days, and good for the economy – not least because the most dependent and costly citizens are also the most vulnerable, and so most likely to be weeded out in the Purge. The movie focuses on a well-to-do family; they think they are safe in their fortified home, but they are not.

The movie is passable – not much more than passable, but passable. It does bring to mind, though, a real but (generally) milder version of the Purge that has faded in recent years, though not vanished. Mischief Night (aka Devil’s Night, Gates Night, Mizzy Night, et al.), dedicated to pranks, was once a much bigger deal. The origins of this very unofficial holiday are uncertain. The earliest known mention in print dates to the 18th century and referred to the eve of May Day – the German version of Mischief Night is still the evening before May 1. In regions where Halloween was celebrated, however, including the USA, it eventually shifted to October 30, the night before Halloween, a holiday already associated with tricks as well as treats.

The most common pranks since the 1930s (committed mostly by tweens and teenagers, unsurprisingly) are often dismissed as “harmless”, e.g. eggings, soaped windows, toilet papering, pumpkin smashing, and the like. Anyone who has tried to wash eggs and soap off his car or house probably has a less tolerant opinion. Nonetheless, these offenses are fairly minor. Others are not. Arson became such a problem in Detroit by the 1980s – with hundreds of fires set in some years – that thousands of volunteers patrol the streets on what is now called Angels Night. Since 2000, this has been largely successful in deterring fires.

My dad was a builder, and when I was growing up he always had new homes under construction. This meant he never was home on Mischief Night (or on Halloween) because of the need to guard those properties. They needed guarding. Construction sites seem to be a special draw to marauding kids and teens. Since one can’t watch everything every minute, they could and did break windows, spray paint obscenities on walls, pour tar on stairs, slash tires of construction vehicles, etc. It used to puzzle my parents that other parents let their kids go out on Mischief Night: What exactly did they think their kids were going out to do? By the time I was out of high school I had joined in guard duty on the new homes on Mischief Night and on Halloween; I did this from the 1970s into the 1990s. If you want to spend a spooky Halloween, spend it alone (with no cell phone) in an unlit, unfinished house on a dark wooded lot.

This experience probably gives me a different perspective of The Purge than many viewers might have. I’ve experienced the downside of a mild form of the practice. On the other hand, in the movie the targets can fight back. I was pretty much confined to shouting, “Hey you kids! Scoot!” I like to think I wouldn’t take advantage of an opportunity to do more, but one can see the attraction.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

One Man’s Trash

I don’t often watch programs such as Antique Roadshow, but I understand the appeal to those who do. Who wouldn’t enjoy learning that the old junk in the attic is really a treasure? So far, I’ve been told, my old junk is merely junk. Well, perhaps the tastes of buyers will change someday.

Sometimes the value of old stuff changes not because of the whimsies of collectors, but because of the prices of the underlying materials. During the run-up in gold prices a few years back, lots of people cashed in their old bracelets and school rings. I didn’t buy a school ring in 1970 – $40 seemed too much. That lump of gold would be about $1,500 today.

Gold, as a defensive investment, swings in price largely for psychological reasons, but most materials are priced more on the basis of supply and practical utility. Utility can change with technology. Bauxite (aluminum ore) was all but useless before the Hall–Héroult process made large scale aluminum production feasible in the 1880s, for example. Rare earth elements in recent decades have been boosted thanks to their use in electronics. Many of the byproducts of making kerosene and lubricating oil from petroleum were little more than waste before the internal combustion engine and the petrochemical industry made them the most valuable parts. Probably the most fateful detritus, though, was the slag from radium production in Oolen, Belgium, in the 1920s and 1930s.

In the first few decades of the 20th century, radium was (as it still is) extraordinarily pricy. In the 1930s it fetched $27,000 per gram ($437,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars). The best source of radium was pitchblende (uranium ore); even in the best deposits, tons of ore had to be processed to extract a single gram of radium. The uranium was tossed aside as garbage. Some was used by ceramics manufacturers for glazing, but not much.

In 1915 Robert Rich Sharp, prospector for Union Minière du Haut Katanga, discovered the world’s richest uranium deposit at Shinkolobwe in the Katanga province of the Belgian Congo, presently the Democratic Republic of the Congo – the mine, which operated until 2004, never has been surpassed. The uranium didn’t matter, but Sharp was excited when the assay showed trace amounts of radium. After World War 1, Union Minière shipped the ore to Oolen for radium extraction.

Starting in 1934, some of the most talented physicists the world ever has known (Enrico Fermi, Leo Szilard, Lise Meitner, Otto Frisch, Werner Heisenberg, et al.) were experimenting with uranium. They bombarded samples with neutrons and hoped to create transuranic elements. We now know that they succeeded in splitting uranium atoms in multiple experiments, but somehow missed that this was what they were doing. (Most likely, there was a simple and very human reason: they weren’t looking for fission, and so they didn’t see it.) This is sometimes called the “Five Year Miracle”: these incredibly brilliant people failed to make sense of what they were seeing until 1939 when Hahn and Strassmann in Berlin identified the fission byproducts from their uranium experiment; this led to the correct interpretation of the results, including the significance of the U235 isotope and the possibilities of the transuranic element 94 (plutonium). Had this happened earlier (e.g. by Fermi in 1934 – he later was amazed at himself for not having seen it), World War 2 in Europe very likely would have been an atomic war.

Most politicians were clueless about the research on radioactive elements, but many interested lay people were not. Science fiction authors were quick to speculate on the possibilities. HG Wells got the jump on the field with his 1913 story The World Set Free about atomic bombs and nuclear power. Robert Heinlein’s 1940 Blowups Happen about a nuclear reactor accident (the first real reactor was built in 1942, and was a secret) and his 1943 yarn about a full blown nuclear war are almost tardy by comparison. Another forward thinker, fortunately for the West, was Edgar Sengier of Union Minière du Haut Katanga, who realized that the tossed-aside uranium ore might be more than just slag after all; he shipped 1200 tons of it from Belgium to the US just before the outbreak of war, thereby keeping it out of the hands of the Germans who occupied Belgium in 1940. The unguarded ore remained for two years in 55 gallon drums in Staten Island until purchased by the US government for the Manhattan Project.

So, what trash is lying around my property today with such hidden danger and potential as the Oolen garbage heap? There is always lots of fur from my constantly shedding cats on all the furniture. Somehow I don’t see cat fur as a breakthrough wonder material though. Maybe stink bugs. Stink bugs are invasive insects that have overrun many US states, including NJ. When annoyed, the bugs emit an odor. They annoy easily. The stink is so powerful that it must do something incredible other than just drive me out of my own house. Maybe I should start storing the bugs in 55 gallon drums against the day someone discovers what the something might be – perhaps just putting enough of them in a drum together (plus a little radium?) can create a smell so strong it will open a wormhole to another dimension. It smells plausible. There might be money in that.

From 1955, Uranium by The Commodores

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Philly Fillies Filet Foes

In a surfeit of wheeled riches, two Morristown NJ women’s roller derby teams had bouts Saturday night, both tangling with PA teams. One was an away game, however. Indolence cannot be underestimated in my decisions, so I opted for the nearby bout: Corporal Punishers vs. Philly Block Party.

I’d seen Philly skate victoriously last May against the NJRD (290-166), and knew the team to be a formidable one. The Punishers knew, too, and were braced for a good fight. They got one.

Philly scored 23 points in the first jam. It was harbinger of things to come. Voldeloxx, Lil Mo Peep, and Pretty Khaotic jammed gamely while Maggy Kyllanfall showed her usual skill at exploiting (and sometimes creating) holes in opponents’ defenses. They put points on the board for the Punishers. Punisher blocking was strong, with special mention to Raven Rage. Yet there was no denying the simple power of the Philadelphia team.

I like to mention stand-out skaters, but in the case of Philly one might as well read the team roster: As a jammer Twiggy Smalls was extraordinarily smooth as well as fast. Wendy Whiplash, Holden Killfield, and ZZ Top Heavy were effective, whether jamming or blocking. So was everyone else on the team. At the 15-minute mark Philly led 95-18; by half time the lead expanded to over 100 points.

Faced with a strong opponent and daunting point gap, a match becomes less about winning than about fighting the good fight. The Punishers did just that in the second half, upping their game while adding points jam by jam, slowly raising the Morristown score to 90 points. Philly also continued to score. In the final jam of the night, Voldeloxx added 11 points to tip the Punishers over 100. The bout ended with a Philly victory of 349-101 – a strong win, but the PhillyBlock Party knew it had been in a bout. MVPs were Voldeloxx for the Punishers and JK Trolling for Philly.

(Note: Block Party roster is from an earlier bout and doesn't include all of last night's skaters) 

Ginger need only take down Fred with a clean hit to prove her chops as a derby queen

Sunday, October 13, 2013

So It Goes

Kurt Vonnegut’s novels, though easy reads, are notoriously difficult to translate into film. The only attempt Kurt himself thought successful was Slaughterhouse-Five (1972), though the plot is the most nonlinear of any of his books. Critics agreed with Kurt, but audiences did not: the film won the Prix de Jury, Hugo, and Saturn awards, but flopped at the box office.

The plot: Billy Pilgrim becomes “unstuck in time” and randomly relives different parts of his life in non-sequential order. One moment he is in the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge where he is captured by Germans, the next he is reliving his wedding night, the next he is a child, the next he is being abducted by aliens, the next he is at a party of fellow optometrists, the next he is a POW in Dresden during the Allied firebombing, the next he is on the alien planet Tralfamadore with fellow abductee and porn star Montana Wildhack, and so on. Despite reliving the episodes over and over, he can change nothing. He relives them as a passive observer because the past, present and future must exist only as they are. As the Tralfamadoreans (who can see all time at once rather than merely one single moment of it) tell Billy, “that is the way things are structured.” Though a person may be suffering or dead at particular moment in time, he is perfectly well and happy in other moments – and all moments exist simultaneously. Time is an illusion created by the limitations of human senses, they tell him; humans cannot see beyond the moment just as they cannot see beyond a limited spectrum of light. The broader spectrum nonetheless is there. “Just concentrate on the good parts,” is their advice.

This fatalistic philosophy is comforting to Billy. He, like the Tralfamadoreans (who, Billy’s daughter believes, are a figment of Billy’s mentally unbalanced imagination), is able to deal with horrible events with the phrase, “So it goes,” because he knows that things are hunky-dory somewhen else. The phrase “So it goes” occurs 116 times in the novel according to one critic – I’ll take his word for it. (Vonnegut, by the way, was a POW in Dresden in 1945, and witnessed the firebombing.)

All this was hard enough to bring to a screen, so the idea of bringing it to a small off-Broadway stage with a minimal set seemed to me utterly preposterous. Yet, that is what the International Fringe Festival did at The Players Theater in Greenwich Village. They pulled it off, too, once again showing that a good script can overcome almost any other limitation. (Yes, good actors help as well, but they can do nothing without the script.)

So far, so good. The play and the company of three friends made for a pleasant evening – until I left the garage at 8th Street and discovered my Jeep Cherokee no longer had power steering – except to the degree I supplied the power. It still was possible to wrestle the machine home, I figured, but by the time I reached 7th Avenue, the engine temperature gauge needle had slammed to the right. (The mechanically inclined among the readers might be saying, “It’s the belt!” Almost right: the belt was intact, but one of the parts which should be turned by it was not.) As you can imagine, getting a vehicle off the streets of NYC and out to a far suburb on a Saturday night is neither simple nor cheap. The play ended at 9:30 PM. I got home at 3:30 AM, hundreds of dollars poorer. So it goes.

A close examination of the Jeep reveals enough problems to conclude that it has reached the end of its useful life – the cost of repairs would exceed its value by far. So it goes. Until last night the Jeep had served long and well. Somewhen else, I’m enjoying those pleasant times and a quasi-niece (that designation is a long story) is learning to drive in it. Tomorrow, all those Columbus Day auto sales will be of some use.

As for last night, I just concentrate on the good parts.

Trailer Slaughterhouse-Five (1972)


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Plus Six, by Juno

Bad reviews are fun to write, but a collection of good movie reviews probably is more useful to anyone pondering the next Netflix option. I always consider user reviews when making picks (though I don’t always rely on them). So, below are a few recently viewed films, on or soon to be on DVD, all of which nudged my thumbs upward. Below these are six more starring an interesting young actress.

Kick-Ass 2 (2013) – Chloe Grace Moretz doesn’t often play a normal human being, but when a script calls for a homicidal costumed vigilante (Kick-Ass), a vampire (Let Me In), or a werewolf (Dark Shadows), Chloe is likely to be at the top of the casting director’s call list. In Kick-Ass 2, released this past summer, she reprised her role as Hit Girl. I own the Kick-Ass comics (yes, I’m one of those) by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr., both of whom previously honed their skills at Marvel. For all the reputation of mainstream Western comic book/graphic novel publishers as purveyors of violence and adolescent sexual fantasies, they are surprisingly antiseptic in their portrayals of such stuff, even today. Millar and Romita are unabashedly septic with their own comics, which nonetheless have clever plots, characters, and dialogue. Overall, Kick-Ass (the movie), in which characters dress up as superheroes to fight crime, followed the comic book pretty closely – with a couple of significant deviations I’ll leave as a surprise for the reader. The film adaptation didn’t pull any punches. The tongue-in-cheek violence offended some viewers (including Roger Ebert), but, in general, Kick-Ass met with positive reviews from critics and from audiences.

Kick-Ass 2 (the movie) is adapted from the two subsequent graphic novels Hit Girl and Kick-Ass 2. Chloe, as she was in the first film, is the most enjoyable presence in it. This time the movie does pull its punches, leaving out two very disturbing episodes present in the printed version including an attack on Katie, the would-be girlfriend of Dave (Kick-Ass). Despite this, the second film is more violent than the first – to the point that Jim Carrey expressed regret for appearing in it. I’ve read numerous viewer reviews saying the sequel is better than the original; this is such a puzzling reaction that I don’t quite know what to make of it – other than to guess that the grander scale of the action scenes is responsible for it. The movie is not better (or nearly as good) on any other basis. Nevertheless, if you liked the first movie, as I did, you’ll probably want to see the second just in order to finish the story arc.  It is good enough, but, if you see only one, see the first one.

The World’s End (2013) – Five unlikely high school friends try to drink in every bar on the street in the town of Newton Haven. The quantity of alcohol is too much, so they never finish their pub crawl. 20 years later, at the insistence of the one total failure among the five, they try it again. Their goal is to reach the final pub this time, named The World’s End. While drinking their way up the street, they discover the town has been taken over by alien robots. Are the aliens plotting the world’s end? The premise sounds incredibly silly, now that I write it, and it is. But it is also quite funny. Give it a try – the movie, that is, not the pub crawl.

Igby Goes Down (2002). 17-year-old Igby (Kieran Culkin) is a member of an upper-crust family, but his mother (Susan Sarandon) is a callous pill-popping alcoholic and his father is insane – though fortuitously he had his breakdown only after solidifying the family fortune. The movie opens with Igby and his older “neo-fascist” brother Oliver (Ryan Phillippe) plotting to kill their mother. The film then flashes back. The misfit Igby fails in a series of tony private schools because of his disrespectful attitude. The problem is just his attitude, for he makes far too many intellectual jokes to lack academic ability. (When asked why he calls his mother Mimi, for example, he says “‘Medea’ was taken.”) Sooner or later, he provokes almost everyone in his life into lashing out at him. (Oliver: “I think if Gandhi had had to hang out with you for any prolonged period of time, he'd have ended up kicking the shit out of you.”) Igby sees no reason to show respect to the disrespectable. There is a reason though, as many (not all) of us after adolescence learn. Having had a kinder mom probably would have saved him a world of trouble, but warmth was outside Mimi’s capacity for reasons of her own. This is a dark and quirky coming of age film with an understated commentary on class. Recommended.


Not a Preface but a Midface: One of my favorite newer faces on the screen is the young English actress Juno Temple, who – whether by good fortune, good advice, or good judgment – always seems to be in films that are, at the very least, interesting. She shows up in supporting or minor roles in mainstream Hollywood movies from time to time (e.g. as Catwoman’s girlfriend in The Dark Knight Rises or as Patsy in Lovelace), but her forte is playing major characters in smaller independent productions. It’s not that she is irreplaceable in any of her roles. She isn’t. But there is no reason to replace her, and her presence is a good sign that the script has something to offer. She is a busy actress, and, in truth, I’ve not seen the majority of the movies in which she has a prominent part. The ones I’ve viewed, though, are listed below, and there isn’t a bad one in the bunch. I’ve mentioned a few of these in previous posts, but it’s worth putting them all in one place.

Dirty Girl (2011) – For her role as a troubled teen in 1987 Oklahoma, Juno Temple nailed a Border State accent – as did Russo-Serbian actress Milla Jovavich, playing her mom. It would come in handy in future parts. The film barely flickered across big screens, but critics noticed it anyway, and with good reason. Dirty Girl at first blush seems to be yet another lowbrow high school comedy of the sort we’ve all seen many times before, but it quickly morphs into a very different animal. Danielle (Juno), raised by a single mom with marginal finances, thinks the father she never met might save her from her unhappy life. She studiously avoids asking herself why he is absent now. Her gay friend Clarke meanwhile needs to escape from his homophobic dad and his insufficiently assertive mother. A road trip and a very 80s sound track ensue; offbeat humor mixes with high sentiment along the way. Sentiment in teen movies doesn’t always work well, but this time it does almost perfectly.

Little Birds (2011) – Two teen girls (Juno Temple and Kay Panabaker) live in a dreary run-down former resort town on the Salton Sea. They meet boys from Los Angeles who are there to skateboard in an empty pool that is well suited for the purpose. The girls “borrow” a truck (one of them reluctantly) and run off to LA to join them. The boys are waifs who live in an abandoned motel and get money through petty crime. The arrival of the girls gives them an idea for a more ambitious scheme. What could go wrong?

Killer Joe (2011) – Matthew McConaughey is Joe, a Texas police detective who is a contract assassin on the side. Trailer park resident Ansel lives with his daughter Dottie (Juno Temple) and his new squeeze Sharla; at the urging of his son Chris, Ansel hires Joe to kill Ansel’s ex-wife. They believe her life insurance money will go to Dottie. Dottie is indeed dotty – not firing on all synapses – but she is a sweet young thing who is innocent and seductive at the same time. Joe normally demands a $25,000 fee up front. Chris and Ansel don’t have the cash, but Joe accepts Dottie as a “retainer” pending the insurance payoff. This film caught heat from critics for degrading way Joe treats Sharla at one point to establish his authority, but the scene does tell us clearly who Joe is. This is a disturbing movie, but, if you’re not easily offended, it is worth a look.

Magic Magic (2013) – This odd movie is categorized by IMDB as a “thriller.” I’m not sure that’s right, but it is close enough. Alicia (Juno) is a young woman with some mental health problems, but at first they don’t seem severe or debilitating. We learn during the course of the movie, however, that she takes a lot of pills. She arrives in Chile from California to vacation with her cousin Sarah and Sarah’s friends. One of those friends is a creepy character named Brink (Michael Cera) who displays an unwelcome interest in Alicia. Suffering from insomnia, Alicia grows unsure of the boundary between dreams and reality. Are her suspicions that these people are playing sadistic games on her justified, or is she being paranoid? When Alicia’s mental and physical health deteriorates seriously, will local magical folk customs and remedies help her, or will they drive her over the edge? The film achieves a spooky mood, but if you want all questions to have neat answers, Magic Magic isn’t for you. The movie reaches a grim conclusion, but some loose ends are left deliberately untied.

The Brass Teapot (2013) – As so often in Juno Temple movies, a hackneyed premise twists into something unexpected. A young Indiana couple (Juno Temple and Michael Angarano) is struggling financially. Juno discovers her Bachelor’s degree is useless for landing the sort of job she wants. Michael loses his salesman’s job. Is a magical teapot the solution? Unfortunately, the teapot rewards them with cash only when they hurt themselves or each other – and not just physically. They later learn they can profit from the suffering of others, too. How far will they go down this sinister path? How far would you? This is a better dark comedy than it has any right to be.

Afternoon Delight (2013) – If you blinked, you might have missed this little comedy about a couple, Rachel and Jeff, whose marriage has grown tiresome and nearly sexless. In order to spice things up, Rachel goes to a strip club. Rachel, without consulting her husband, invites one of the strippers (Juno Temple) to move in with them. Once again, against any reasonable expectation, the film pulls the viewer in. It has unoriginal (and debatable) but noteworthy things to say about what is and isn’t important in personal morals and in relationships. Quentin Tarantino, of all people, picked it as one of the top ten films for 2013.

IMDB lists four Juno movies either filming or in post-production for 2014. I see no reason to avoid them.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Thumbing It

A few blogs back I noted one man’s quest to expand his knowledge by reading the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica. It’s nice to learn the facts. Sometimes, though, we don’t have that luxury. We just don’t have all the relevant information about something in front of us, and neither the Britannica nor our latest generation iPhone can provide it for us – at least not in the requisite time window. We nonetheless have to make our decisions based on our sketchy data. On those occasions we rely on Rules of Thumb.

The phrase “rule of thumb” has existed for centuries in several languages, and apparently derives from the use of thumb width for rough-and-ready small measurements. Thumb also means “inch” in several languages including Dutch (duim) and Sanskrit (angulam). Using your thumb in this way is inaccurate, but, for many applications, good enough. That is the whole point of thumb rules: it is better to be approximately right than to be wrong with a high degree of precision. Rules of Thumb are not facts, they are not laws, and they are not 100% reliable, but most of the time they will get us where we want to go, more or less. Sometimes that’s the best we can do.

Some years ago, Tom Parker set out to collect a bookful of Rules of Thumb. Calling himself the Alpine Planetarium (which he hoped would sound serious enough to stir responses), he sent out inquiries to people in all walks of life from economics professors to gravediggers. He published the results in a book titled, unsurprisingly, Rules of Thumb.

The list is oddly intriguing, even though I’ll never have any use for the bulk of them. It’s at least possible some might come in handy, for example, #797 “seven quail eggs equal one chicken egg” and #798 “one ostrich egg will serve 24 people.” I’ve never cooked any eggs other than chicken, but I suppose it could happen. Some of them are esoteric, e.g. ”a Learjet 25g will float about an extra 100 feet down the runway for each knot over its proper landing speed” and “inviting more than 25% of the guests for a university dinner party from the economics department ruins the conversation.”

Random excerpts:

103. PLAYING POKER. Don’t enter a poker game unless you have 60 times the betting limit in your pocket. When you have doubled this amount, quit.

314. USING DYNAMITE. Wait at least an hour before investigating a charge of dynamite that didn’t go off.
[I might wait two.]

322. BUILDING WALLS OF ADOBE. The height of an adobe wall should be less than ten times its thickness unless reinforced with buttresses.

357. USING A HOT TUB. Soaking in a hot tub adds two to three pints of perspiration per person per hour to the water.

386. TAKING A FEDERAL EXAM. On any government multiple-choice test, the longest answer is usually the correct one.

480. MAKING CRIME PAY. Commit a federal crime rather than a state crime. Federal judges are more worldly and less likely to send you to jail, or for as long. Also, federal prisons are nicer places to stay.

539. THE TRAVELING RULE OF TWO. Take twice the money and half the clothes you think you will need.

544. DEBUGGING AN OFFICE. Checking an office for electronic bugging devices takes at least 4 hours for every 5000 square feet of office space.

682. SHOPLIFTING. One out of every forty to sixty people in a store is a shoplifter.

746. LEADING A SEMINAR. Allow six seconds for a response to your questions. If someone is going to respond, they’ll do it with six seconds.

896. DEALING WITH DOUBT. When in doubt, don’t.

As I’ve grown older I’ve embraced #896 more, though without ever verbalizing it that way. I know I’ve missed golden opportunities thereby, but I’ve also avoided stepping into an abyss or two.

We make most of our decisions by such rules, not least in matters of politics and personal relations. Our rules save us too much time to do without them. I’ve learned the hard way, though, (as yet another rule of thumb) that they do – not might, but do – lead us astray sometimes. Jonathan Swift is, after all, being satirical in Gulliver’s Travels when he is fitted for clothes by a literal rule of thumb: “Then they measured my right Thumb, and desired no more; for by a mathematical Computation, that twice round the Thumb is once around the Wrist, and so on to the Neck and Waist, and by the help of my old Shirt, which I displayed on the Ground before them for a Pattern, they fitted me exactly.”

Uma Thurmon rules with a spectacular thumb in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues