Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Twelve Days Of Christmas

[Y Note: I dinna know if this is true or not, but got it in an email chain and thot it was cool, so here ya go.]

See the first comment, this is all a bunch of malarkey. Thanks Sharon!

I kinda sorta suspected this was BS, and here's why: It seemed to me that it would be easier to memorize the things that this myth says all the lyrics are mnemonics for rather than the mnemonics themselves, as mnemonics are supposed to suggest the thing you're trying to remember. I can see the little tot now asking, "Can't I just remember it's Jesus and not a Partridge?"

The "oppression" thing struck me as odd, too. I know in Britain there was some silliness in that regard, and Catholics have certainly been made to feel unwelcome in some places, but this myth made me wonder where the oppression had been so bad they'd had to go into stealth mode. Glad it's just myth.

Makes one wonder what the song is supposed to really mean, or if it was just alliterative devices and that's it.

This is one Christmas Carol that has always baffled me.

What in the world do leaping lords, French hens, swimming swans, and especially the partridge who won't come out of the pear tree have to do with Christmas?

Today I found out, thanks to the Internet.

From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics. It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of their church.

Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality which the children could remember.

* The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ.

* Two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments.

* Three French hens stood for faith, hope, and love.

* The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

* The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament.

* The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.

* Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit: Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.

* The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes.

* Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.

* The 10 lords a-leaping were the 10 commandments.

* The 11 pipers piping stood for the 11 faithful disciples.

* The 12 drummers drumming symbolized the 12 points of belief in the Apostles' Creed.

So, there is your history for today. This knowledge was shared with me and I found it interesting and enlightening and now I know how that strange song became a Christmas Carol... so pass it on if you wish.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Ennui or Apathy?

I used to make a point of seeing every movie nominated for an Oscar© in order to make the horse race of the show more fun.

It's not the list of nominated films, because that hasn't happened yet, but Ebert's "best of" list usually contains a lot of those nominated, so I consider it kind of a "first look."

This year, I just can't seem to get up the gumption to care. I don't know if this is a function of age (something I wonder about a lot these days) or the fact that what movies tend to be about lately just doesn't get me all that excited.

Allow me to respond to Ebert's list re why I'm awash with inertia on each. (The brief description after each is Ebert's; my response follows. Captain Obvious reminds you that I have not seen any of these.)

1. "Crash": Much of the world's misery is caused by conflicts of race and religion. Paul Haggis' film, written with Robert Moresco, uses interlocking stories to show we are in the same boat, that prejudice flows freely from one ethnic group to another.

I think a lot of us have empathy fatigue on this one. Most of us try and succeed at not being racist, so a navel-gazing exploration of encounters between racists just doesn't strike me as a reason to wade through the crowds with my $10 bucket of popcorn, or even stand in line at the video rental store. Besides, I consider a lot of Hollywood types WAY out of touch with average America, so when they attempt projects like these, they usually have nothing to do with the planet I'm on.

2. "Syriana": Stephen Gaghan's film doesn't reveal the plot, but surrounds us with it. Interlocking stories again: There is less oil than the world requires, and that will make some rich and others dead, unless we all die first.

I'll probably see this on DVD, but only after the library gets it (and they will because it's a serious film, donchaknow) and when I have time to watch it by myself. Normally I wouldn't have trouble getting my lovely wife to watch George Clooney in anything, but she's already goes "pffffft" when she sees market hoo-ha on this one. Everything I've read says this centers on the corruption and blood involved in the oil market; which strikes me the same way a movie centered around the fact that plutonium is radioactive would.

3. "Munich": Stephen Spielberg's film may be the bravest of the year, and it plays like a flowing together of the currents in "Crash" and "Syriana," showing an ethnic and religious conflict that floats atop a fundamental struggle over land and oil.

Oooo, another serious issue movie with culture clashes and doom everywhere. Gosh, sigh me up. Not. And even though they usually contain something worth seeing (the taking of Normandy Beach, chained slaves being dumped from slave ships, the causal killing of concentration camp victims), Spielberg's serious flicks are like everyone else's serious flicks: Tedious from being too serious and ultimately a consummate bummer.

4. "Junebug": At last, a movie about ordinary people. Or put it this way: Phil Morrison's "Junebug" was the best non-geopolitical film of the year. In simply human terms, there was no other film like it. It understands, profoundly and with love and sadness, the world of small towns; it captures ways of talking and living I remember from my childhood, and has the complexity and precision of great fiction.

Ebert's always been kind of a sucker for these quiet-observation-of-small-events-in-people's-lives movies. I'm more of a fan of actual quiet observation, and movies of it tend to bore me past apathy and right into annoyance.

5. "Brokeback Mountain": Two cowboys in Wyoming discover to their surprise that they love each other. [My correction: "that they like to fuck each other." There is a difference between sex and love, mon amour.] They have no way to deal with that fact.

China called recently and complained about a pounding noise, so I have desisted.

6. "Me and You and Everyone We Know": The previous films have waded fearlessly into troubled waters. Miranda July's walks on them. It's a comedy about falling in love with someone who speaks your rare emotional language of playfulness and daring, of playful mind games and bold challenges. July writes, directs, and stars.

This is the only film in this group I'm pumped to see because everyone who's seen it talks about what a wonderful oddball experience it is. I loved Amelie and Primer, which also got the same sort of reaction, so I'm enthused.

7. "Nine Lives": Rodrigo Garcia's film involves nine stories told in a total of nine shots. The best story involves Robin Wright Penn and Jason Isaacs as two former lovers, now married to others (she pregnant), who meet by chance in a supermarket and during a casual conversation, realize that although their lives are content, they made the mistakes of their lifetimes by not marrying each other.

Lovely. Next!
(Or, if you've seen the original Bedazzled: "Bpbpbpbt!")
(And am I the only one tired of seeing the luminous Robin Wright Penn play haunted, done-wrong romance victims over and over again? Is she trying to get a point across to Sean, perhaps?)

8. "King Kong": A stupendous cliffhanger, a glorious adventure, a shameless celebration of every single resource of the blockbuster, told in a film of visual beauty and surprising emotional impact.

Until the reviews came out screaming WOW!, I had all intention of catching this on DVD. I'm still not all that thrilled, having seen the original and its first remake several times. (I worked a theatre that was contractually obligated to show the remake for over a month in a small town, long after people completely stopped coming to see it. So I sat in an empty theater over and over again watching Jessica Lang's dress being pushed down by a big robot gorilla hand while Jeff Bridge's beard made a stab for "best supporting actor.") But MPC1 wants to see it, and I'm not opposed, so I've applied for financing for popcorn and a coke.

9. "Yes": An elegant Irish-American woman, living with a rich and distant British politician, makes eye contact with a waiter. He was a surgeon in Lebanon. Sally Potter tells their story in iambic pentameter, the rhythm of Shakespeare.

I suspect this is like many entrants on the list: It exists primarily because the romance or plot engine has to do with interactions between European-descent straight people and (pick one) a "minority" (how I dislike that word)/gay/foreign/anything-but-a-European-descent-straight person. Please just stop already. Gad, half to a third of the people on my block fit this "odd couple" definition. Same for where I work. Same for my city. And I live in the west/Midwest and not a larger melting pot like the coasts or huge city centers, where it's even more common. These days, I more surprised by myself when I register someone's race or ethnicity at all. (Though a thick Irish or Scottish accent still tickles me. They're sexy as hell.) Will Hollywood ever get the memo that the rest of us have pretty much moved on here?

And even if that's not the case, to quote "Hades" in Disney's Hercules: "Oy. Verse. Oy."

10. "Millions": The best family film of the year is by the unlikely team of director Danny Boyle and writer Frank Cottrell Boyce. Nine-year-old Anthony Cunningham and his 7-year-old brother, Damian (Lewis McGibbon and Alex Etel) find a bag containing loot that bounced off a train and is currently stuffed under their bed. With limitless imagination and joy, the film follows the brothers as they deal with their windfall.

This will be another library procurement when I suspect the MPC1 and I can sit down and watch this together. But, 'til then...

So, they're just not doing it for me. How about you?

In other news, Ebert had this great bon-mot in his review of a movie I do want to see very much: Ellie Parker.

"We understand why Hollywood is such a hotbed of self-improvement beliefs, disciplines, formulas and cults. I walked into the Bodhi Tree psychic bookstore one day, and saw a big star rummaging through the shelves. What was she looking for? Didn't she know those books were written to help people get to the point she was already at? Maybe the star was trying to reverse the process. Maybe self-help bookstores should have a section named "Uninstall."

LOL! {snort!}

I'm stealing that one for my next party.

Friday, December 16, 2005

It's just my month to be a contrarian I guess.

So the death penalty is on the minds of many bloggers at the moment. Dave Trowbridge (aka Redwood Dragon) has an articulate and heartfelt argument against it, and the comments in Patrick's post on Making Light are the intelligent pro and con you'll usually find there.

I myself support the death penalty as an option for punishment of violent crime, and violent crime only.

Potheads, crackheads, Enron-like evil CEO bastards, and theft where no one was threatened do not merit the taking of a life.

Some warriors of the drug war have tried to drag the death penalty into drug dealing cases, which to me is unconscionable, and there will be a special circle of hell for anyone who succeeds at this endeavor. If we kill people for selling a bag of pot, or even crack, then we are truly lost.

My reason for supporting the death penalty is this: Some crimes are so heinous as to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt the irrevocable damage the perpetrator must have to their mind or soul, therefore it is only for society's best good that they are dispatched into the void. I no longer care about their fate as they have effectively rendered themselves toxic to the human race, so my primary concern is the society's safety.

To be crude and inappropriately flip: Buh bye. Thanks for playing.

Mr. Trowbridge has a good point in that if our means of putting these criminals to death is cruel, and that seems to be the case since we won't even use those means to put animals to death, we should correct that situation and make sure our means are as humane as possible. We cannot correct the torture brought upon the criminal knowing they are facing death and when, but the means of death itself should be painless and swift.
My People, Part 2

In what I hope will be a continuing thread.

Eino - a Finnlander from Cook County in northern Minnesota - was an older, single gentleman who was born and raised a Lutheran.

Each Friday night after work, he would fire up his outdoor grill and cook a venison steak.

Now, all of Eino's neighbors were Catholic and since it was Lent, they were forbidden from eating meat on Fridays. The delicious aroma from the grilled venison steaks was causing such a problem for the Catholic faithful that they finally talked to their priest.

The priest came to visit Eino, and suggested that Eino convert to Catholicism. After several classes and much study, Eino attended Mass and as the priest sprinkled holy water over Eino, he said, "You were born a Lutheran and raised a Lutheran, but now you are Catholic." Eino's neighbors were greatly relieved, until Friday night arrived, and the wonderful aroma of grilled venison filled the neighborhood.

The priest was called immediately by the neighbors, and as he rushed into Eino's yard clutching a rosary and prepared to scold Eino, he stopped in amazement and watched...

There stood Eino, clutching a small bottle of water which he carefully sprinkled over the grilling meat, and chanted: "You were born a deer, and raised a deer, but now you are a walleye."

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Wanted: New Worry Stone

Caution: Mild spoilers ahead, though no endings are given away.

Once more into the breach!

Since there's a darn good chance I will never voluntarily see the film of Brokeback Mountain, which just got was awarded best film by Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the New York Film Critics Circle in what looks like another The Hours kinda critical clusterfandango, I took the opportunity to read the original short story by Annie Proulx when Kottke.org provided a link to it (which is now broken, so I reposted it on my vanity site). I'm willing to commit half an hour to something I'm probably going to dislike (fairly or not) in the comfort of my living room, as opposed to two squirming hours in a darkened theatre.

Well, it left me ambivalent.

I thought the language/style was replete with somewhat forced, reheated Hemingway/Ring Lardner/Larry McMurtry cowpoke cliches, though ultimately it almost achieves the cowboy story tone it's aiming for. Still, the inflections and the clipped sentences are troweled on a little thick. I've met these guys - Wyoming and generally Midwestern cowboys - and their brogue just ain't that thick, and neither are they. It really smacked of someone who was raised and educated on the East Coast and relocated to Wyoming, which accurately describes Ms. Proulx (pronounced "Proo").

The sheer obtuseness of the characters is a common trope of people outside the Midwest trying to depict Midwesterners. She says years of observation informed the story, and I don't doubt that, but ask any astronomer about accurate observation and they'll tell you that it's crucial that first and foremost you're looking at the right part of the sky. These kind of guys aren't the type to gas on about their feelings, even after a few whiskies, but that shouldn't be confused with stupidity or a lack of self-awareness. Closer to the truth is this observation by Kathleen Norris in Dakota: A Spiritual Geography: "On the plains ... we also treasure our world-champion slow talkers, people who speak as if God has given them only so many words to use in a lifetime, and having said them they will die."

The story itself attempts to be what the press packages for the movie claim it is: Just a sweeping romance. And, y'know, it gets close after the initial shock, I'll admit. You do get a sense of the yearning and loss these two guys feel, so on that level, the story succeeds.

The problem I have with the story, besides the implied IQ of the characters, is that the two seem surprised by their sexuality. I don't know a single gay person who wasn't aware they were gay from at least the onset of puberty on. To be SURPRISED! by that fact strikes me as specious. They aren't aware of this until, as it's phrased in the story, "Jack seized [Ennis'] left hand and brought it to his erect cock."

This abrupt left-hand turn with no signal from the boredom of sheep herding into a "Penthouse" letter is jarring in a way I'm not sure the author intended. In this way she misses the lessons of McMurtry (who wrote the screenplay for the movie, btw), Irving, and the like who can segue straight into a carnal scene and not make you feel as though a homeless person suddenly opened his trenchcoat to expose his nakedness in your general direction during a casual walk through the park.

The final aftertaste was that it felt contrived. And I couldn't put my finger on it until I read this quote in the interview on the story on Proulx's site:
Where did the story come from?
I write almost exclusively about rural North America and rural social situations. Brokeback began as an examination of country homophobia in the land of the Great Pure Noble Cowboy. Years of accumulated observation went into the story.

So, Lileks was right: This is literary spinach. (Not to disparage spinach, a fine and noble vegetable.)

Gosh, every single piece of fiction I've ever read where the author had an agenda, a lesson, a moral, it just falls flat and leaves an aftertaste that's akin to skunked beer.

This is just a sloppy second-guess, but perhaps the misfire is that Proulx teed-off with the sex and not the love. Her agenda was primarily to bitch-slap the reader with homophobia, and only secondarily to tell a love story.

Why didn't they at least display affection before this moment? One of the themes of the story is these guys aren't very articulate, so they wouldn't be shouting sonnets at one another across the valleys. But they could have touched, or sat closely to each other, or leaned in and whispered - you know, basic flirting. A love story typically emphasizes that, but this goes from sheep, to a shot of porn - doggie-style no less (or would that be sheep-style given the context?) - and them caroms into the supposed love. (And here I'm breaking Ebert's rule, or is it Siskel's?, where I'm not critiquing the story as written, but offering how I think it could have been better. My bad. Apologies to Ms. Proulx.)

So the main engine of the story is not really about a deep, abiding love. The deep, abiding love is tacked on somewhat after the fact to get past the fact that the author used a tactic much like the late, great Buddy Hackett's dirtiest joke where he would pretend to offer a little old lady in the audience a joke she could tell at the bridge club, and then say, (and I quote): "These two fags was fucking a dead alligator..." (And the use of the word "fags" was intentionally self-aware critique of using it as a slur and ahead of its time, like most of Hackett's stuff). It killed in the clubs (and usually nearly killed the poor little blue-haired victim), and it works as a joke, but not the beginning of a love story.

So stylistically Brokeback Mountain is close enough that we'll call it horseshoes and say Proulx pulled off (har har) the writing side of it, but she spliffed in making the characters as dumb as sheep, and then trotted them out for a cheapened morality play, denying them any respect as people because she made them too stupid, and as lovers because they were blindsided by boners before any sense of mutual affection was apparent (to us at least).

On a final note about the story, and please forgive me as I temporarily lapse into an egregious postmodern/deconstructionist analysis of the names Jack Twist and Ennis del Mar, but "Ennis" is awful close to "penis." Babelfish says that "del Mar" is Spanish for "of the sea," like a sailor. Is this yet another "40 men go down but 20 couples come back up" Navy joke? "Penis of the sea." Hmmm. Thanks to instructions found on the lid of every disposable drink container, the words "twist off" are forever linked in word association for anyone who understands English, and you don't really need that Freudian game to replace Jack's last name with "off." Was Proulx playing word games with their names, again sorta at their expense? <loony toons voice>Mmmmmmm could be<loony toons voice>.

While doing research for this post, I came across Roger Ebert's recent interview with Ang Lee. This quote of Mr. Lee's took me aback:
"This story is Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove in everything but its sexuality. I discussed this with McMurtry, who wrote the screenplay. Lonesome Dove was ripe for a homosexual love story. It took a foreigner like me or a woman like Annie to tip that over and spill it out and get rid of the metaphor and just see it. It's just there."

Uh ... no it's not. <Quavering Dan Quail Voice>I know Lonesome Dove, and sir, you are no Lonesome Dove</Quavering Dan Quail Voice>

One of the issues that seems to be confusing to some gays is that straight men (and women) can have deep love for each other without it ever being remotely sexual. I've seen a LOT of the gay friends have trouble grasping that, and it makes sense. As Billy Crystal's character maintains in When Harry Met Sally, men and women can't be friends without the issue of sex coming up eventually, which I agree is more or less true. In my entire life, I've had ONE female friend where I had no passing interest in her sexually, and she was a hottie, too. I suspect it's the same for some gays, and perhaps they can't fathom that heterosexuals can love someone of their own gender deeply and not have any eros attached to it. I think Lee is making that same mistaken assumption.

Finally, before accusing me of yet another anti-gay rant, I wrote up my views on the topic, which you can read here, if you're interested. I'll invoke the typical Lileks warning in that if such things are going to upset you, bore you, or otherwise cramp your happy, I suggest that you skip it altogether.

Apparently the movie does a better job at portraying the relationship as a universal love story. Which, you might be surprised to learn after reading my posts on the topic, I think is great. That was my primary criticism of the short story. If I were to hazard a guess, I'd bet McMurtry's involvement helped a lot.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Narnia vs. Cowpokes

Y'know, I had wondered when I wrote this original post if I should mention the concurrence of the release of the "alternate lifestyle" movies and "The Chronicles of Narnia" and if someone out there had a plan. An "Us" and "Them" kinda plan. But, then I thought that just might be a little too far into tinfoil hat land (which have been proven not to work, by the way), and let it go. But since Salon.com and James Lileks also made similar connections, maybe I wasn't noticing something that wasn't there.

Heck, Salon made sure they weren't perceived as being subtle:

Since Lileks more or less mirrors what I think, I'll liberally quote him from his Bleat on the topic. But then I have a couple more thoughts after his:

Well, in retrospect my big essay turned out to be 94% typing and 6% thinking, so nevermind. It had to do with the fact that EW put “Brokeback Mountain” on the cover this week instead of that Nornio or Neeneria movie or whatever it’s called. For all I know next week's issue will eschew all things Kong for a big happy Narnia-o-rama, and my whole point will be moot, so there's no need to make a fool of myself. Again. The second feature in EW was a movie about a transsexual who discovers the existence of a son; for all I know it’s a fine movie too - but I do not think these are two subjects that necessarily grip the public mind. BUT THEY SHOULD! And that’s the sense that I got from the EW issue – not that you MUST see “Brokeback” to prove you’re not homophobic, but that you should, because it’s helpful. In some vague sense. Seeing Narnia is not necessarily unhelpful, but it gives off those Bible-y Christy vibes somehow, and while that’s fine, we must encourage movies about cowboys in love, because somewhere in some small town a gay youth looks at the box office grosses, and decides to stay in the closet out of fear he will be eaten by a computer generated lion who manifests the stigmata. Or something like that. As if the two movies are somehow in a meta-competition for the Soul of America; as if disinterest in a gay cowboy love story means that 99.98 percent of America HATE GAYS.

But disinterest does not mean intolerance.

I have no problem with EW putting it on the cover; I have no problem with the movie whatsoever. I do wonder why the editors chose that movie instead of Narnia, though, and I suspect that it was a matter of which provided the proper dose of societal spinach. Narnia appeals to them; Narnia isn’t helpful.

There. You’ve been spared two thousand words.

This all kinda strikes me the same way the bullshite debate about science vs. religion does. The only folks who have a horse in that race are the creationist fundies. The rest of us accept the theory of evolution (mostly), and go grab a cold one. Some scientists drink the koolaid and think there's a point to debating with Creationists/Intelligent Design guys, when in fact all they have to do is point out that Creationist/Intelligent Design theories aren't even science.

Well, again, religion is not the antithesis to homosexuality. Sure, some fundies think it's wrong, and that's their prerogative. Even I will allow that the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments say the same gender shouldn't have sex. But, then, it can be legitimately interpreted that it means heterosexuals shouldn't engage in same gender sex for the sheer perverted fun of it. And, a broader point is that we are all sinners who need forgiveness and love, so that kind of trumps the sin that may or may not be the act of gay sex (to really, really oversimplify it).

Therefore, religion - traditional Christianity in particular - is not the enemy of gays and lesbians by any stretch, or vice versa.

So seeing these two movies and their subtext juxtaposed in nearly all the media recently just makes me wonder who thinks it proves some sort of point or makes any statement other than some folks must think them there windmills are really giants who need a good poke or two.

Ok, it's not just me (and Lileks) who thinks this alignment of entertainment planets seems to be running a little retrograde into the pink. From Salon's "The Fix" article of Dec. 14, 2005 (emphasis added):

Award season continues: The Golden Globes list was announced yesterday and, not surprisingly, "Brokeback Mountain" picked up a bevy of nominations, including ones for best drama, best director (Ang Lee), best actor and best supporting actress in a drama (Heath Ledger, Michelle Williams) and best screenplay. Two themes everyone seems to note: All five of the best-drama nominations went to indies -- "Brokeback," "The Constant Gardener," "Good Night, and Good Luck," "A History of Violence" and Woody Allen's forthcoming "Match Point." And several of the films nominated feature gay or transgendered characters. Felicity Huffman gets a nod for "Transamerica," as does Philip Seymour Hoffman for "Capote" and Cillian Murphy for "Breakfast on Pluto." Even Pierce Brosnan picked up a nomination for his portrayal of a bisexual hit man in "Matador." Let the culture wars, er, continue. (Associated Press, Variety)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


Saw Gus Van Sant's Elephant, which I conclude was a brilliant mistake. Not to say I wasn't warned by the reviews, but this is really half a movie.

The subject is essentially the Columbine high school shooting here in Colorado, though no place is specifically mentioned in the movie.

This movie is all about the vibe. It's 80 minutes long, and for most of it, we follow the students around, experiencing the tedium and banality of their day. By the time the shooting starts, it does have the (probably) intended effect of conveying the complexity of dismay and terror felt.

But then it spliffs it by essentially ending in mid-note. Had this had some semblance of an ending - and it could have been as non-conclusive as the actual current "ending" is - this would have been a minor event of a film.

If you want to see a movie that achieves the atmosphere it's going for, and you're an aficionado of experimental (but ultimately a failed experiment), I recommend it halfheartedly. If you wanna see a good movie, see something else.

Read Ubik by the acclaimed sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, who wrote the stories that gave us the movies Bladerunner, Total Recall, Minority Report, Paycheck, and the upcoming A Scanner Darkly.

He's never been known as a great stylist, and this book supports that assertion. Man, his stuff is hard to plow through. I only acquiesced because it was on Time's list of 100 best novels, like, ever. I admit, he's a hell of an idea man, but he writes like crep.

I didn't enjoy the novel primarily because the jacket copy completely gives away what's going on (and secondarily due to the bad writing). When the big plot twist occurred, I thought, oh, they all must have [blah de blah], because it says so on the cover.

It would have been an interesting twist had it not been spoiled.

Still, wait for the movie if they ever make one.

The best thing I've seen lately was Madagascar. Very amusing. The plot telegraphs coming complications from a mile away, but the execution saves it.

And it gets the award for the best ever use of the line, "Well this sucks."

Check it out.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Oh That Woman

We were listening to a radio station that was playing Christmas music this weekend whilst decorating the tree and discovered that both my daughter and myself really really dislike "The Little Drummer Boy." I like the tune, but hate the lyrics (playing drums for an infant? C'mon), my daughter just dislikes it, period.

I told you that to tell you this:
Then they played something from one of the animated Christmas specials they play every year, and my wife noted how they don't play animated "The Little Drummer Boy" anymore. I surmised that it was probably too overtly religious for today's tastes.

To which my wife retorted, "So it's probably going to be replaced with 'A Transgender Christmas'."

Here's why that's funny, he explained to the room full of crickets...

We had on the TV during dinner prior to the exchange above, and before we got around to turning off "Entertainment Tonight", it dogpiled onto the media push this weekend for the two big movie releases besides "Narnia" (they were literally in every magazine and on every entertainment/news show we watch):
1) Brokeback Mountain, about two cowboys hired to tend sheep who haul off and fuck one night, but nay, 'tis forbidden love, so apparently the rest of the movie is two cowboys with thick redneck accents talking incessantly about the porkfest and wouldn't it be nice if cowboys could sometimes be pirates. Unrequited lust, etc.
2) Transamerica in which one of the actresses from the TV show "Desperate Housewives" plays a man who's transgendered and wants a "gender reassignment," but hilarity ensues when his/her long lost son shows up. Life's complicated when you don't know if you're a boy or a girl, etc.

Around my household, we're experiencing a little fatigue regarding movies, shows, etc. on "alternative lifestyles." We've grundingly had to explain what "gay" and "lesbian" were to our nine-year-old (back when she was eight), since there's really not a TV station that doesn't have it on commercials, teasers, in reports, previews, and what have you. We feel that sexual orientation belongs strictly in the adult realm, and little kids shouldn't have to be aware of it unless their parents decide they do. Well, unless we were to completely go into media blackout, which we don't feel is a good thing - all the kids we knew growing up who had that happen were a mess - the media has removed that decision from us. Forcibly. So, we cope.

I have no quarrel with movies, etc., about being gay/lesbian. In fact, my ambivalence about it, as long as it stays in the adult world, is nearly complete. I just hope those who produce entertainments don't misjudge the potential audience for the same. As I recently opined on a 2Blowhards thread, I usta love theatrical plays, but just before and during the onset of AIDs, Broadway and the New York scene kinda went "all gay, all the time" (as another person put it on that thread), and I lost interest. So, I hope movies and TV don't go that direction.

A small part of it is that I've yet to see/read an entertainment where the main engine of the plot was that someone/everyone was gay that I found at all intriguing. The same goes for opera, the rap/hip-hop world, costume dramas, or the new action genre where a bunch of tough assholes get together and be tough assholes during an adventure (see the last two "Alien" travesties). Yawn, baby, yawn.

TLD: One element of gay/lesbian dramas I think the people who make them assume is: The rest of us view them as subversive or controversial, so putting them all up in our face is only for our own good, so that our minds will be expanded, etc. Well, sorry dudes, but those days have past for the most part. We've all seen the dance card, and most of us are happy with you being happy. Rock on with your bad selves, already. Frankly, Brokeback Mountain would have been more subversive in these days of PETA if they'd hauled off and fucked a sheep. Really.

Here's one of the true things about fiction: For a reader/consumer/viewer/audience member to be invested in the fiction, they have to be able to see themselves as one of the characters or be empathetic with one of them (this can include merely hating a bad character). Since I dig the ladies, stories of great loves between those who love their own gender (Gods and Monsters comes to mind, where Gandalf wants Brandon Fraiser to wear tight things and bend over a lot) just bore me.

In other words, I don't really want to see "A Transgendered Christmas" any time soon, thanks, even if it is a good punchline. Nor do I want to see "Christmas with the Rock" (the former pro wrestler turned action nubbin), or "A Christmas Carol Opera", or "Snoop Dog's Pimpin' at the North Pole", or "A Downhome Christmas Buggering Sheep". Hey, you can make'em. Just don't expect me to tune in, K? More for you.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving!

For us, the holidays started in earnest when we visited Santa this past weekend. Our city has a wonderful holiday kick-off celebration, with music, food, puppet shows, speeches from local celebrities, reindeer for petting, a nativity with live animals (the camel looked cold), and of course Saint Nick hisownself.

MPCs 1 and 2 visit with Santa. I believe he's talking to me in this shot. If I recall, I believe I asked for honest elections.

This is a bittersweet year regarding the big red guy because it's likely the last year MPC1 (in the middle there) will think he's real. One of those little snots who revels in slaying belief in Santa happens to be in my daughter's class this year, and she's gone so far as to say her parents admitted they hid the presents and stuff. My daughter and one other boy in the class are the only holdouts who still believe, God bless'em. (Our cover story is that if you don't believe in Santa, he no longer exists for you and doesn't visit your house, and sometimes parents feel bad for kids like that and take over for Santa. It's worked so far.)

My favorite Santa was the one at my daughter's Montessori preschool. The groundskeeper and husband of the woman who owned and operated the school looked just like Santa - even more so than the one in the picture above. Even though the kids saw him all the time, when he showed up at the yearly Christmas party (the school was wise enough to admit that's what it was, even though it had children of many religions attending), he was transformed, and even as an adult I was impressed with the illusion. It made me think of how those fictional people never connected Clark Kent with Superman, even though the only difference were clothes and a pair of glasses.

Even better, he had a great story about why you would sometimes see him around town throughout the year. He said he had to go around and make sure the kids were being good, so if you saw him cruising around in his white Chrysler sedan with the red interior (his real car, btw, a sight to behold), he was just doing the Santa thing, so you'd better watch out, etc. He was a consummate storyteller; so much so that you could see the tweens in attendance have to mentally remind themselves this was just pretend.

At work this week we had our little obligatory Thanksgiving party, which was interrupted by a small drama. No, it didn't involve the vegan who yearly champions the rescue of a turkey or two (though we did have that). One of our lucky crew was just informed that she'd won a neat little gadget via a drawing at a conference she'd attended. She bounced around shouting yippie I've never won anything, this is so cool, etc. Well, envy and the general Office Space vibe conjoined and our version of Roz from Monster's Inc. rasped:

"Company policy states that we own the [device] since we sent you to the conference."

And then everyone dogpiled on her, asking if she'd used a company printed business card to enter (she hadn't), a company pen, perhaps? (nope), and so on. It was a shitty thing to witness. And allow me to connect the dots for you: These are the clods who couldn't wait to go to school one day and tell everyone there's no such thing as Santa.

TLD: It just dawned on me that there's a striking resemblance between Roz and Dick Cheney.

"Company policy states that if you joined the National Guard, we can send your ass to Iraq to be blown off, even if you're middle-aged with kids. Suck to be you."
Seperated at birth? Hmmm.

Ok, I guess I should be counting joys rather than sorrows in light of the season. Lessee... Ok, here's one: At the guy's poker game last Friday, I saw someone pull a natural straight flush. Never seen that one live before. We had so many guys that we were playing with two decks, and in that same hand, someone got five of a kind. Well, there is no such hand in poker, so the straight flush won. But what a hand.

But then that reminds me of the kurfuffle before the game. We make fliers for our parties, campouts, poker games, what have you. For the ones that are guys only, we have the admittedly juvenile tradition of putting a tasteful nude (typically a 50s pinup girl) somewhere on the poster. (And to demonstrate how tasteful, one of the guy's pastor saw the poster for the guy's campout on his fridge and remarked on how clever it was and how wonderful it was that we have such a close group of buddies.) It's supposed to be a little playful tweak to the wives, but the main in-joke is that nothing of the sort (girls, particularly naked ones) will be in evidence at the bash. In other words, it's supposed to be a backhanded reassurance that while boys will be boys, we'll be good boys where it counts.

Anyway, the one wife on the block who won't let her husband attend any "guy only" thangs got her ruffles in a bunch over this poster because someone from outside the circle of friends saw it. (This poster in question had a topless girl playing cards in keeping with the poker night theme.) Oh, the wailing. Oh, the gnashing of teeth. All the old, hoary cliches were trotted out: Demeaning to women, Pornographic, Tasteless, this should stop immediately, blah de blah. They say that when you talk on the phone, people can somehow tell if you are smiling. When my wife got the call, I'm pretty sure Ms. Underbunch could hear my wife's eyes rolling throughout the call. We've now planned to always produce a second poster now, just for her. It will be entitled something like "Shiny Happy Puppy Time" or some other sticky-sweet engrish concoction. And I'm sure we'll hear about that, too. (Maybe I'll Chuck Jones' old, sneaky trick and get a cartoon characters whose eyes look just like breasts.)

Ok, I'll stop. It's time for shiny happy turkey time. Though its reaffirmation by way of negative expression, I've always loved the line from U2's "Acrobat": Don't let the bastards grind you down.

So, this year, I go into the holidays doggedly reminding myself of all the blessings in my life. I have a wonderful family. I could not ask for a better wife and daughters. Everyone's healthy (knock on wood). Our house has new carpet and tile, so it's looking pretty spiffy. I have gainful employment, of which I'm grateful. And of course, I have God on my side, too.

I hope each and every one of you who reads this can find as many blessings in your life as well. Have a joyous holiday season, why don't you!


(Btw, I used Dooce's "Lovely Glow Effect" for these photos. It's a nifty little trick.)

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Uh-uh. No you didn't!

Salon has a post referencing an article in the Guardian about UC-Berkeley performing a study on what goes through men's minds and what distractions they may face whilst they are self-pleasuring. (You've gotta click through the ad to read, but please do, o.m.g!)

When I encounter such reports, I invariably flash to the particulars of such a thing, such as:

- Who determined how the test would be administered; how they set up the steps and so-forth? Wouldn't that have been a meeting to experience? ("No, Tommy, we have to consider that one hand is busy, so how do they record responses? I don't want to have to be in the room to assist.")
- How did they solicit participants? What did the ad or flier look like?
- So you're the person who has to instruct the young buck on what to do (at least the part he's not had plenty of practice at). How do you not die of embarrassment, or not burst out into laughter?
- Did they plan for the contingency of having accidental, uh, spillage on the recording mechanism and/or forms? (Anti-stick paper, perhaps?)
- Why no women? (Or is that rhetorical since most women would respond with "You want me to what?" and that'd be the end of it.)
- Apparently, they record what the dominant hand is.
- You are the guy who decided to stroke for science. What the hell?
- Who in the hell thought of doing this in the first place and why?

Ya'll have any additions/thoughts on the topic?

Monday, November 14, 2005

The Joys

The joys of parenting are sometimes briefly overshadowed by the troubles. I speak specifically of the stomach flu.

I have a major vomit phobia, so I have lived with the small dread of the inevitable visit of that particular disease to our household. Yea and verily on Saturday morning at 12:31 A.M. it splashed into our existence. Melted chocolate, anyone will tell you, makes a carpet stain that even the darkest red wine envies. Just off of Halloween, and having to make chocolate chip cookies for school, the tummy in question (MPC1) was choc full ... well, you get the drift.

Thus far (as I imagine we are not through the storm yet - the baby (MPC2) hasn't evidenced symptoms YET), I have had discovered that I have more of a tolerance for cleaning up accidental personal protein spills than I once thought. I still gape in horror during the actual event itself - especially that as caused by the stomach flu. Someone yarking from drinking too much has a relative elegance to it. They display a confused look, ralph it up, have some dry heaves, then we're done. The flu causes one to experience a long and miserable lead up to the event, and then the actual retching is much more tearing. The whole body convulses. Other things occur that just shouldn't be described, so I won't.

The resulting puddles, should the victim not make it to the designated receptacle as was the case this weekend, just didn't throw me as much as I thought they might.

And here's why, I think: Our damn dog.

Our dog has a wonderful personality. He's a sweet, little West Highland Terrier. His only personality fault is that he barks ALL THE TIME when he's outside; we've run through two entire shock collars and over 10 $20 batteries to power the same.* Other than that, he's a sweetheart. But, he pukes nearly every night, and if something further upsets his sensitive little digestive tract, he follows that up with voluminous turds which transition to sprayed diarrhea. (Some of his more extreme trails bring to mind an example of evolutionary changes as demonstrated in poop.) Being one of those who think that nearly everything happens for a reason, I feel God gave me this dog so I would become inured to cleaning up vast canvases of gloppy, malodorous bodily products.

I was on the couch at the end of the weekend, musing over the fact that the hurl cleanup hadn't really thrown me, when my daughter, the recently pukey one, says, "The dogs smells like diarrhea." My sinuses were clogged from cleaning product fumes, so I had no idea, but the dog chose that moment to wander away (perhaps sensing the upcoming event) and sure enough, his butt was caked with stool. I chased him down, pulled, scraped, and cut it off, all the while thinking of how much worse this was than mopping up hurl, and that's when I put it together.

My next hour was going through all the places he'd sat down, leaving little shit kisses on the carpet. MPC1 trailed me anxiously, pointing out the sites of destruction, and asking if we were going to get rid of the dog. What was intriguing about that last line of query is that usually her tone is "dad, you had better not get rid of the dog," but this time it was, "Even I now understand that this is a bit much, and I still hope you don't get rid of him."

Not to fear, the dog is safe for now. His upside still outweighs his downside.

But, dog, if you read my blog (and I wouldn't put it past the sneaky little shit, since we have to have a toddler gate on the basement stairs so he doesn't sneak down there in get into territory marking wars with the cat (where the catbox is), consider this fair warning. Keep that "pro" list on the heavy side, my furry little friend.

*TLD: When my wife and I finally decided we had no choice but to get a shock collar or give up the dog, we shopped around and tried to find the one that seemed the most humane. It starts out with a small warning shock, jumps up three levels if the barking continues, but then shuts off after the forth level, under the assumption that if the dog is still barking, it's serious and someone should come check out the problem. I don't think our dog has made it past the second level more that a couple times, and never to the fourth. Nonetheless, we felt we couldn't be comfortable having him wear it if first we didn't know what it felt like.

The instructions warned against applying the collar to exposed skin, because it was intended to be shielded by the fur of the animal, so we decided not to try it on our necks.

MPC1 was only about three at the time, and we didn't want to do this in front of her for several reasons, the two main ones were we didn't want to model the behavior and later catch her shocking herself, and we didn't want her to see us in pain and hear the inevitable profanity that would most likely result. So, we put her on the couch, cranked up a cartoon, told her to stay put, and retired to a bathroom to hold it to our bare thighs and set it off. I went first because I'm the man of the house and so wish to protect my family from harm (if it hurt too much, the wife was to be let off the hook), and because I'm the bigger weenie regarding pain, being the man of the house.

At first, it was high comedy, because there we were, holding this collar to my bare leg, both barking at it loudly. This drew MPC1 from the couch, "Mom? Dad? Why are you barking in the potty?" My wife replaced her on the couch saying we'll explain later, hoping that her attention span would wander far enough that we wouldn't have to. We finally discovered that rapping your fingers across it quickly fooled it into thinking it detected a bark, and it shocked the holy heck out of my leg. I tensed up, dropped the collar, and hissed an expletive through my grit teeth. Of course, nothing is funnier to a wife than that category of husbandly behavior. (That's why all dads on sitcoms are slapstick idiots.)

Verdict: It hurt less than putting your finger in the wall socket (something I had managed to do at three years old while trying to plug in my record player), but it hurt just a little more than the dry, Colorado static shock you get after taking off a fleece jacket and touching a light switch, which usually results in a bright, painful three-inch arc. The dog could handle it in my opinion.

Of course, after recovering from her guffaws, the wife disagreed, given my reaction. So I reminded her that that was why she's going next. After quasi-intense renegotiations which drew the MPC1 again (this time I took her back), I won on the fact that we could never leave the dog outside unless we had something to stop the barking, and this was probably it. So, she went through with it. Being a woman, she didn't do much more than say, "Ouch! ... Dammit!" and after another pause: "Yeah, he'll be fine."

For those of you who would try to connect the dots between the shock collar and the constant barfing, let me save you the trouble right now. He barfs because he refuses to eat his dogfood dinner at night because when we first adopted him, we would give him table scraps after our dinner. After a year or so of this, he developed the screaming monster-turds-transitioning-to-power-squirts I wrote of above, so we had to stop this indulgence. (One liquid turdfest took two days to clean up, and a week for the smell to dissipate, it was so huge.) But, thank you Dr. Pavlov, the conditioning was complete. He now will not eat his own food after our dinner because he waits for the scraps, thus his tummy fills with bile in anticipation, and rather than just eating, he arises around midnight, hurks it up all over the floor, then goes back to bed. It helps if we remember to give him a milkbone at night, but sometimes we get in the habit of forgetting.

However, we're getting new carpet since our old is so trashed. Perhaps we'll remember from now on. I know I will.
The Hours

Man, if this kind of thing is what passes for deep (what with critical hosannas and the Pulitzer Prize and Academy Award nominations out the woz), puddles around the world can now harbor aspirations to greatness.


Here's the plot:
Suicidal Virginia Woolf pens a novel, Mrs. Dalloway, where apparently the heroine commits suicide because the agonies of living in quiet suburbia are too much for her, which of course is what really happens to Woolf. (I've not read the book, nor will I, so I may be wrong about the plot.) Years later, a woman experiencing the same thing (oppression of the suburbs, the demands of making a birthday cake, and suppressed lesbianism) while reading said novel nearly commits suicide, but instead just abandons her family. The boy who's abandoned grows up, meets a girl, they have a child, but then he realizes he's gay, leaves her for his lover, but gets aids, writes a terrible novel, then dies by diving out of a window in front of the very same girl he left. All these years she's pined for him, and so nurses him as he dies of AIDS (and inexplicably has become a lesbian herself*). He calls her "Mrs. Dalloway" after the novel (hence the inclusion of this storyline), because she, too, is suicidal over the events in her life: Primarily planning a party for him as a last hurrah before he succumbs to the disease (not knowing he's planning to go skydiving), all the while becoming distressed over the tedium of it all. His death somehow releases her, as his mother's abandonment released her, and as Virginia Wolf's suicide released her. Lovely. The end.


All of this is relayed through achingly slow scenes where everyone either 1) stares at the other person in the scene who's talking, 2) cries, or 3) both for the really intense scenes. In short, excruciating. And, yes, I watched it all the way through, only fast-forwarding through the middle part of a fruitless argument at a train station (as I've said before, sometimes I'll hang with something I hate because of the very fact that I hate it so much, as it arouses my interest in it).

Thus I beseech you to save two hours of YOUR life and avoid The Hours.

*I have a theory about this, since it's not really explained in the movie. I didn't know previous to viewing the flick that the author of The Hours is gay , but this plot point made me suspect he was, and he is. A plot device I've identified that is common to gay fiction is someone straight inexplicably "turning gay" for either the convenience of a plot line, and/or because it's a gay fantasy to be able to turn someone gay out of sheer desire or love. I think the thinking behind it is a gay trope that "everyone is partially gay, they either just don't know it or won't admit it if they do," so the idea is we are all fungible. Well, we're not. It's silly that this woman is now gay, especially since she admits the love of her life is this gay man who left her. Action does not equal reaction in such things. (Of course, someone straight is not allowed to come out and say these things, so I apologize in advance for any flames in the comments.)


Let's pound it to China:
If you ever are faced with the choice between The Hours and Scooby Doo II, like, go with the Scoob. I kid you not.
The Candy Man

Saw the remake Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It was more charming than I thought it would be, and MPC1 dug it enough for repeat viewings. I still like the original better because I think the songs are superior and Gene Wilder manages to radiate charm, even when he's being gruff. Johnny Depp continues to be a revelation as an actor, because he's charming, too, but he invests Wonka with the kind of charm you find in a savant; they're just so who they are that you enjoy that mere, but overwhelming fact. In other words, Wilder's Wonka was an adult in control, and Depp's was an everlasting child whose genius provides a means of functioning in the world, even though he's clueless about that world.

For the record, MPC1 opined that she likes both versions equally.

The primary problem critics had with Depp's performance was that he appeared to be using some Michael Jackson in the mix. I believe it was in there, but it's not the primary engine to the performance, imho. There are many creepy parts of the performance (though it's only just creepy enough and does not overwhelm), and the Gloved One's element is just one of them. I believe Depp did it intentionally to invoke that specific brand of man-child creepiness. Though there is not one hint, not one iota, of pedophilia, so parents shouldn't be concerned.

Some of the set pieces are excellent. The squirrels in particular were one of the more awesome sequences ever filmed (given that they had to be computer generated). The oopma-loompas were better in the first flick, but Deep Roy - the Eastern Indian dwarf used to play all of the oopma-loompas - invests his tribe with a hinky sort of charm.

Really, though, the star is Depp. I would recommend this even to folks who don't have children, as Tim Burton's films are all interesting in some regard. And, again, Depp is something to see, a must for fans of his. Check it out.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

When someone puts a universal truth out there, I am compelled to pass it along:

Garrison Keillor on why men need a shed of their own.

(Click through and watch the commercial; it's worth it.)

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Truth
by Al Franken

Pounded through The Truth in the last couple days. Al Franken is a national treasure. I honestly hope he never runs for office because he's much more useful as a pundit. Anyone who can communicate like he can needs to keep doing it. Someday he will have a statue or two raised in his honor, and it's my fervent hope that they make him look tall.

As the title implies, this is the sequel to his historical take-down of the wingnut movement ( ... "movement" ... yeah, that has a nice fecal ring to it), Lies, and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. Even though this is as good, it has the feel of anticlimax because of course we're living in the second term of Turd Blossom's puppet. Yes, we have the comfort of the indictments finally rolling in, but we all know that even though maybe one or two of these crooks will go to Martha Stewart prison, it will not change the administration. We even have the ignored-by-the-mainstream-media fact that the last election was stolen, too. We are stuck until the next election.

Still, it's good having down on paper all the mind-boggling and mind-numbing corruption and abuse that is the current Republican regime. I finally feel sorry for moderate Republicans. Being a Christian and having to live with the animosity stirred up by fundies, it must be galling to be an honest, decent Republican (yes, dear reader, they do exist) in this age.

Franken is a superior humorist, so regardless of his topic, he's a fun read. I recommend this to everyone. I would especially love a few wingnuts to read this, though I know I'm essentially wishing the moon were cheese. A few times I would laugh out loud while reading, so heads would swivel to see what I was reading, and thus the instant litmus test would ensue. Moderates and liberals would smile and nod when they saw the cover, wingnuts would frown and look at me as though they were memorizing my face so I could be one of the first ones up against the wall when the revolution comes. I take comfort in the fact that I'll be standing next to the likes of Al Franken the Dixie Chicks (I think Emily Robison, the tall one, is freakin' hot!). We'll have songs and laughter before the bullets fly.

I especially like the light touch he has with religion. He's essentially a Deist (def: there's something bigger than us out there, I just don't know what it is) by way of Judaism, with a dash of Minnesota polite thrown in. His stories about his experiences with religion, and this recent post by Sharon on church music, brought to mind an experience of mine. We haven't had a Third Level Digression in a while, so here goes:

TLD: When my wife and I first moved to our new town, we went church shopping because our old church was now over an hour and a half away. There is a Presbyterian church just a few blocks away, so that seemed the natural choice. We attended the all-important Easter service as our introduction.

When we entered the vestibule, we saw a big box of rocks with a sign that said "Take One." I shot an "uh-oh" look at my wife; she shrugged and picked up a rock. So we sat down and started trying to busy our first daughter, who was three at the time (I think), part of which included explaining why she couldn't have a rock. The pastor got up to deliver his sermon and its message was, and I paraphrase: "Sometimes in life we get bogged down by troubles, so I want you to imagine all of your troubles going into this rock, take it home with you, and then toss it away somewhere as a symbolic gesture of laying your troubles down."

I imagine the look on my face was something close to this:

This was Easter freakin' Sunday. If we were to hear anything about rocks, it should be about Jesus rolling one back to emerge triumphant into everlasting life. But no, we were supposed to project our troubles into a piece of landscaping material (not even bringing into consideration that viewing inanimate objects as receptacles of anything living was spelled out pretty clearly as a big no-no several places in the Bible). If I want squishy, feel-good pop psychology, I tune into PBS during a pledge drive. My Easter service had better come with a big helping of steaming Jesus, maybe with some shocked apostles on the side. I'm not even sure if Christ was mentioned even in passing...

Anyway, about the only thing I admire about that sermon was the fact that he had the stones (heh heh) to give everyone a rock and then deliver a sermon like that on Easter Sunday. Perhaps I can take solace in the fact that it turned into an unintended lesson on resisting temptation. (And 20/20 hindsight, maybe I should've given my daughter a rock after all. You can at least plead innocence when a baby chucks a rock at someone.) The only thing that would have made the experience complete would have been if one of the songs we sang were Dylan's "Everybody must get STONED!" (aka "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35"). Mwaharhar.

Anyway, Franken rocks. Check out The Truth.

Monday, November 07, 2005

In Through the Out Door

Three of the best movies about working in an office are:
- Office Space
- Brazil
- Galaxy Quest

Office Space nails the inanities that everyone faces in the workplace with an accuracy such that you'll find yourself matching movie characters with people at your job.
Galaxy Quest is an allegory about what happens if you pretend you know what you're doing: Someone will appear and actually expect you to do the real thing.
Brazil is about the hopelessness brought about by incompetence rising to the top - an pre-Dilbert take on "The Dilbert Effect" - and the inevitable outcome for those who try to do the right thing in spite of it all.

I bring this up like our cat brings up a hairball because I have faced a waterloo at work and spent one night distractedly bumping into walls from being overwhelmed with the tsunami of stupidity I'd endured. Coming into work the next day, a compatriot reminded me that I'm still getting paid to do the inanity I've been asked to do, so at least there's that. A reasonable perspective, I decided, and so I put the box of shells back into my trunk. (I kid. I kid.)

This brought to mind the worst job I'd ever had to date, that being a clerk at a chain bookstore. Helping customers, basic shelving, and the incessant tidying up after customers have pawed through a rack (as they should) were actually not all that unpleasant, in a raking-the-Zen-rock-garden sorta way. No, what made things bleeding gums and clumps of hair falling out was bizarre company policy and a manager who simply thought that if someone asked you to pound a railroad spike to China, well they probably had a good reason, so don't ask why.

The main culprit of woe was a stack of paper literally a foot high that was a list of all the books in the store, generated from computerized inventory list the main office kept of all books in every store, that was maintained by our cash registers and shipping centers. Our job was to go through the entire store, write the number of copies we had in the little square next to the title, and if the price on the list differed from that on the book, we had to change the price mark on the book. This in itself was not a bad idea, or a bad thing at all, because over time shite happens and the computerized inventory becomes incorrect. What was silly is we had to do this twice a year, and it took about a month to do, resulting in the discovery of maybe 5 to 10 "lost" books, and maybe 15 price changes (of about $1 each). The sheer cost of printing this had to have outstripped the gains of exercise. This was a thing that should be done every third year on the outside, and once a year at most. The biggest sin was because it was so labor intensive, customer service suffered directly for those two months a year. If you're in the middle of counting 27 copies of something and a little old lady wander up to ask if you've got the new Harlequins in, you couldn't give her the "wait a minute" gesture, finish and help. No, you had to drop everything and help, which made us begin to hide out, or literally run from customers just to finish some notes or a count.

And that was just one of the many insults we had to endure for minimum wage (and even less during the month of December, where we were expected to put in an extra 10 hours a week for free).

I think the sole reason I had that job (and I'm one of those who thinks most everything happens for a reason) was to give me perspective on the relative suckitude of jobs later in life. As much of a pain as things are right now, at least I'm not in the midst of marking up one of Bill O'Reilly's blowhard tomes only to have a mother appear around the corner of the shelves announcing that her child with Dizzy Gillespie cheeks is about to barf and where's the bathroom?

(Which reminds me another challenge of the bookstore job; we didn't have a public bathroom. Moms were always running in with a desperate child asking to use the bathroom. We were told we could under no circumstances (even Dizzy Gillespie cheeks) allow a customer to use the bathroom; one item on the multi-page list as to reasons why not was that our stockroom was a hazard what with all the stacks of books lying around. (It was safe for us because we were professionals, and had apparently signed something upon hire that bereaved families were forbidden to sue the company should one of us die due to a case of terminal papercuts should a stack attack.) Once, out of the sheer goodness of my heart, and the empathetic fact of actually having a bladder, I let someone take their child back under full escort from me to guard from malicious book assault. I was alone in the store and thought I'd be safe. Well, an employee of another store across the way in the mall spied my deviation from policy, and made sure my manager found out. I was taken into the back room and given a severe tongue-lashing and a warning in my file. Sometime later an elderly and terminally annoyed regular customer asked if she could use our bathroom. She got very angry (I'm surprised she didn't pee on the carpet) and said the policy was stupid. I agreed and even told her what had happened the one time I'd transgressed. Well, mentioning my manger gave her an idea, and of course she called her. The next day I was taken in the back room for another tongue lashing for angering a repeat customer for not letting her use the bathroom.)

One of the things that stick in my craw is the futility of being able to do much when the train jumps the track at work. As an employee, you pretty much have to find another job if you don't like the way things are going because:
1) If you try to present the situation to upper management as an issue that needs fixing, you are the messenger and you will be shot.
2) If you take it to Human Resources, you will simply be viewed as a problem employee and it will go in your record (unless sexual harassment's involved). Chances are if they talk to upper management, they will only mention that you are a problem, and won't mention the problem you're trying to bring to light.
3) If you try to "transform it from below," this will merely provide an opportunity for those who are responsible for the bad policy in the first place to pinpoint you as someone not following the rules, and you will be reprimanded or fired.

No matter how many assurances from the company that this is not the case, this is the case 99% of the time. This is because organizations that are broken enough to allow the situation in the first place are typically broken to the extent that fixes will not occur without great trauma to staff (loss of jobs, for those of you in the cheap seats, even for those who are trying to correct things - the great correction machine is blind to who's helping and who's hurting, because it's often considered too objective a thing to really ascertain in time), and this is only after trauma to the bottom line has occurred.

I've always wondered if it's better to search for a job at the end of the year or the beginning in regards to layoff odds. Companies tend to balance the books on the backs of their staff these days, meaning that if in the 4th quarter things aren't going as planned, a lot of companies will simply schedule layoffs, which is why there are so many layoffs in American at Christmas. My theory is that if they hire you in the 4th quarter, it indicates that they're doing well enough to do so, and so you probably have a safe year, at the very least - more if they are competent enough to manage their finances accordingly. If a company hires you early in the year, while the budgets are flush, it means you are a step below contract work because you have no indication if the company is one of those that does egregious Christmas layoffs (and they certainly won't tell you that in the interviews even if you ask). You are one step below contract work because at least they know their job has an end date, and they even know what it is (in theory, because I imagine companies can just tell a contract worker to just leave, too - I've not done contract work, so I don't know firsthand).

That's it for now. This guy in a jumpsuit just showed up in my cube to invite me to work on a software project located somewhere in the belt of Orion. I hope they have good benefits...
Misc. Elsewhere 11-07-2005

These are about the coolest Flash menus I've ever seen. I like the artwork they lead to, too.

Speaking of artwork, I enjoyed this large collection of "picture postcards" on artnet (that I'm guessing are like a "pic of the day/week/etc." since they're not explained).
- 2005
- 2004
- 2003
- 2002

Goshdarnit, I really like this new CD called Thunder, Lightning, Strike by The Go! Team, but it's so damn silly, I will probably be alone in the crowd on this one. It's like a bunch of band geeks got together and formed a rock band. It's got those rolling drums that high school bands specialize in during the football games, it's got cheerleaders chanting, it's got surf guitar, it's got samples, it's a freakin hoot.

So, here's their site, which has some samples of their stuff under "music" (and I kinda like the flash menus). Here's their label's site, with more stuff. And finally, if you want a small sample of every tune on the disc, you'll find them here.

I think this is either a love it or hate it kinda thing.

But, everyone loves Magical Trevor!

Finally, I won't make you surf there and will include it whole. This item in Salon's gossip column "The Fix" amused me greatly:

'In an exchange we have a hard time imagining, when Ozzy Osbourne ran into Prime Minister Tony Blair at a Downing Street party recently, all Blair -- who apparently plays guitar -- wanted to talk about was old Black Sabbath riffs. "All this Iraq thing's going on and I was amazed that he turned round to me and said, 'I could never quite understand how to get the riff to Iron Man,'" Osbourne said. "I'm going, 'Kids are dying, people are getting blown up and you're talking to me about f**king Iron Man'"'

Indeed. Obviously Ozzy just doesn't grasp the importance of being able to nail the riff in "Iron Man." Being the vocalist, he just can't see the point of worry about the guitar stuff, I'd imagine. ;)

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Evil Bastards

Not a big surprise, but still totally disheartening; according to the GAO, Bush and his cronies did steal the 2004 election, too. Here's the GAO doc itself. (Links from Moby.com)

This last weekend, we got the sad news that one of the dads on our daughter's soccer team has to go to Iraq for 18-month tour. He's in his 40s, and he's got a wife and little kids. He's in the National Guard, and I don't know if you know this or not, but they're essentially doing what's been called (somewhat inaccurately) a backwards draft where they're sending these older, married guys to the war because they can't get enough recruits. I know these guys signed up to serve, and I'm not disparaging their contribution by any means, but in past wars our nation didn't stoop to this kind of thing.

And all of this from a two-term, illegitimate president, and his under-indictment team.

I used to wonder in history class how citizens of various nations in the past felt when their government was blatantly corrupt and abusing its power. I no longer have to wonder.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Talk about a bad hair day

Do you suppose anyone had the guts to tell Condi that her hair looked just like Darth Vader's helmet? Maybe someone just did, which would explain the look on her face. I bet if this came with audio, we'd hear that very minion gasping for breath as their bronchia was being crushed by the dark side of the force.
A comment on comments.

I love it when anyone comments on a post of mine - even the snarky ones that take me to task for a political view, or correct an erroneous statement (one incident lead to the corrector forming her own blog, which rocks), so I don't want to make it any harder than it has to be.

Here comes the big but...

I have been getting so much comment spam for milfs and truck rallies and other crap, and it pisses me off. (Do these folks really think a single person is going to give money to them when they use such tactics?)

Therefore, Blogger has this neat feature where you have to enter a verification code when posting a comment, which means they'll show you a series of letters that look like something the caterpillar blows out of his hookah at Alice, and you just have to type them in. It's one extra step. Yes, it's an additional pain in the ass. Yes, I deeply apologize.

Keep the comments coming, though. Most humble thanks in advance.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Miscellany, Mid-October 2005

Sometimes life presents brief interludes that bear resemblance to that particular rollercoaster ride somewhere in your late 30s to early 40s where you realize that you don't enjoy rollercoasters anymore. That is to say, there are stretches where you think, "I'm too old for this crap," but like the rollercoaster ride, all you can do for now is hold on and try not to puke.

I think one of the most brilliant verses in all of pop music that describe this state come from Paul Simon's "The Obvious Child":

I'm accustomed to a smoother ride,
Or maybe I'm a dog who's lost his bite,
I don't expect to be treated like a fool no more,
I don't expect to sleep through the night.

Yeah, man.

It's been a while since I've posted because of insanity at work, being out of town, finding myself trapped in software training classes, having all my girls sick, and a big yearly party that involves a Martha Stewart level of preparation (not including the prison time).

Work has been so ridiculous that for a while now that I experience regular contemplations on the meaning of life. For fear of being Dooced and to spare you the boredom, I'm not going into details. Let's just say it's a lot like the parrot sketch of "Monty Python's Flying Circus," because it's far beyond the absurdities of Office Space. Yes, what we have is a deceased parrot. Now if the shopowner would acknowledge that, we'd have something.

On the home front, gas prices have added at the very least an additional $200 to our monthly costs. So we've cancelled the cable, the newspaper, Netflix, and other little services that have accumulated into quite the cumulative bill over the years. Cable was over $40! This, over an infrastructure (network) that has been established for years (so they had to have recouped those costs by now), that has the temerity to put shopping and evangelical shows on over a third of the channels. Buh bye. The Denver paper does this insidious upsell crap, where we originally just got the Sunday paper, but then they offered the weekend for free, only to start charging us for it a few months later when they promised not to, then did the same thing with the weekdays to where the bill was eventually HUGE. Gone, baby. (Reporters haven't been doing their jobs anyway.) Netflix was great and I recommend it, but my local library has over 2/3 of the same stuff for outright free. Can't beat that. Aloha Netflix, I'll miss you. So, we evened out the car gas bills. However, the local power monopoly is doubling natural gas prices yet again this winter (just because they can, there's no shortage), so that'll probably be another $1,000 we'll have to find somewhere. Here's to anti-gouging legislation.

Our co-pays went up to $30 just to see our primary care physician, so of course everyone promptly got sick. And they had to visit twice because the doc said the first time, "Doesn't look that bad. Bring her back if it gets worse." Lovely.

So, with this free-floating angst, I boarded a plane to a conference in Portland, Oregon. (Motto: "Gayer than San Francisco!" Think I'm kidding? Check out the visitor's website. How many cities have a special gay section on their site? Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course.)

Nice city. Their public transportation system is what a public transportation system should be. The variety of restaurants was phenomenal. The one blatant blemish they have in common with San Fran is the sheer about of beggars per square foot. And since the downtown trains are free, every other ride you have some scuzzy individual working the train for handouts.

My favorite crazy person was this woman in her 50s who had a huge, white beehive wig perched atop her head, with her own grayish hair draping out the sides. The wig must've been 2 feet high, and she was probably only 5 feet herself, so it brought to mind the woman costume the aliens wore in Mars Attacks!, but much aged. Poor dear. (Unless, of course, she's being outrageous on purpose.)

Sharing the hotel with our software convention was a convention of hairdressers. Did you know they even had conventions? Neither did I. What a trip.

First of all, they have completely different social mores and rules than do your standard convention goers - that is, sales people and computer geeks. Y'see, business folks and geeks may exchange a brief pleasantry when passing someone they don't know - though most likely they won't - and that's about it. Apparently hairdressers view the world as their personal zoo. When someone they don't know walks by, they halt all conversation, and STARE at this person, heads tracking their progress. When I first encountered this, I stopped by a mirror to make sure I didn't have a boog hanging, toilet paper trailing my shoe, or some other valid reason to be gawked at like a bug in a jar. Nothing out of the ordinary with my appearance. Then another non-hairdresser strolled past, same naked stares. So in short order I got used to the folks with a single streak of some color not found in nature in their coif to drop everything and examine me like I'm boarding an aircraft wearing a turban with fuses hanging off the backs of my shoes. I also found out that if you returned the gape grope, they got a little offended.

When they weren't giving we geeks the stink-eye, they were competing in these iron-chef-like competitions, slicing and binding out wacky hairdos in timed heats. How this applies to actual hairdressing I don't know. I mean, if I wanted my hair messed up in record time, I'd give my 9-year-old some strong cough medicine and hand her the scissors. (I kid. I don't dose the child for my amusement. Anymore.)

Funniest of all was after they checked out. I was riding the elevator down to the next session, and one of the hotel managers was holding a wighead in a bag and had a bemused look on her face. I asked her what was up, and she said many of the hairdressers had left behind their mannequin heads, and guests were happening upon them in closets and such, so the hotel staff was having to sweep the rooms to ensure new guests didn't drop dead of a heart attack. You can't make this stuff up.

On the flight back home, I took solace in the fact that I was on a model of plane that so far had only one crash to it's reputation, and it wasn't due to mechanical failure, and it didn't explode into a fireball when it did finally have its terrain conflict. I walk into my house only to see that exact model of plane circling LA because the front landing gear didn't deploy correctly, and was seized with retroactive scrotum tightening.

But that weekend I segued into the yearly chili cookoff held by some good friends, and I won second place! (First place going to the chef on our block, as always.) My secrets: Grill up pork chops liberally sprinkled with chili powder and cumin, cut to preferred size, put it slowcooker with chicken stock and let it cook for an hour or so. Chop (all fresh) one onion, one green pepper, on chili pepper and one jalapeno and saute all for 10 minutes, add to pot. Once those have cooked for a while, add 1 can green chilis, 1 can chili beans (drained), 2 cans black beans (whole can including sauce), 1 can diced tomatoes, and 1/2 bag of frozen white corn. Add 1 tablespoon each chili powder and cumin. Salt and pepper to taste. Cook as long as needed. Enjoy.

So I came off the weekend with that success only to watch a movie I'd been avoiding, with good reason it turns out: Wit. I generally avoid cancer movies, because the inevitable slide into death is invariably romanticized, and dearhearts there's nothing romantic about it at all. It hurts and then you die; I've seen that up close and personal. But Wit stars the wonderful Emma Thompson, who collaborated with usually great Mike Nichols, and the reviews are universally positive. Well, just goes to show ya, everyone's a sucker sometimes. It's yer standard romantic reflections punctuated with vomiting and visits by the doctors, then she dies. (If you consider that a spoiler, most humble apologies. But if you see a movie with "Batman" in the title, except to see a guy in a batsuit, k?) I'm not sure what others might get by watching someone die a horrible death whilst dispensing bon mots, but it does nothing for me other than harsh my buzz.

But, things have leveled out for the most part. The coaster rides seems to have returned to the starting line for now, so I'll leave you with interesting things I've happened upon while surfing lately.

- The 2Blowhards linked to, get this, a Vegan BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, and Sado-Masochism) site. Let's think this through ... it's immoral to exploit any animal for our use, even to the point where taking milk is exploitation because the cow (or goat) can't give its consent, but you can whip the snot out of a fellow human being within an inch of his or her life for erotic jollies. (Guess it hinges on that consent thing.) I walked around giggling about this for two days.

- Via Firefox's cool "StumbleUpon" extension, found this wild thang. If you've got a good set of speakers on your unit, turn it up.

- Also via "StumbleUpon", found a compendium of factoids.

- Since James is a rightie and I'm a leftie, his screeds usually just fill me with weltschmerz. This one I can get behind.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

My People

I hail from the Dakotas/Minnesota area of the nation, and the other day I came upon a joke about my people. What's so funny is that if this were true, it would've happened just like this:

Swedes to the Rescue

One dark night outside a small town in Minnesota, a fire started inside the local chemical plant and in a blink of an eye it exploded into massive flames. The alarm went out to all the fire departments for miles around.

When the volunteer fire fighters appeared on the scene, the chemical company president rushed to the fire chief and said, "All our secret formulas are in a vault in the center of the plant. They must be saved. I will give $50,000 to the fire department that brings them out intact.

But the roaring flames held the firefighters off. Soon more fire departments had to be called in as the situation became desperate. As the firemen arrived, the president shouted out that the offer was now $100,000 to the fire department who could bring out the company's secret files.

From a distance, a lone siren was heard as another fire truck came into sight. It was the nearby Swedish Rural Township Volunteer Fire Company, composed mainly of Swedes over the age of 65. To everyone's amazement, that little run-down fire engine roared right past all the newer sleek engines that were parked outside the plant. Without even slowing down, it drove straight into the middle of the inferno.

Outside, the other firemen watched as the Swedish old timers jumped right off in the middle of the fire and fought it back on all sides. It was a performance and effort never seen before.

Within a short time, the Swedish old timers had extinguished the fire and had saved the secret formulas. The grateful chemical company president announced that for such a superhuman feat he was upping the reward to $200,000, and walked over to personally thank each of the brave fire fighters.

The local TV news reporter rushed in to capture the event on film, asking their chief, "What are you going to do with all that money?"

"Vell," said Ole Larson, the 70-year-old fire chief, "Da first thing ve gonna do is fix da brakes on dat damn truck!"

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Tom Delay Indicted

YAY!: Freakin A!

Friday, September 23, 2005

The Wit and Wisdom of Roger Ebert

I've always loved Roger Ebert the movie critic since the day I found him and Siskel on PBS on a backwater show buried in the schedule directly after my favorite show at the time about Canadian Animation. (Winner: Most tortured grammar in one sentence for the week.)

Lately, though, he really seems to be coming into a new era of excellence. I think the interaction with everyday folks provided by the web and the political atmosphere in which we find ourselves (all of the paranoia but none of the intellect of the Nixon years!), plus maybe his bout with cancer, have made him one of those priceless elders chock full of wisdom and fun.

For instance, check out this recent exchange on his "Answer Man" column:

Andrew Zimmer, Los Angeles: Q. Recently you have come under fire from readers who don't get the humor in your columns, as in your "Dukes of Hazzard" and "The Aristocrats" reviews. The print media is the absolute hardest place to be witty. A little piece of me dies every time one of your witticisms is mistaken for a sincere attack.

Ebert: A. I hope it is a very small piece. A depressing number of people seem to process everything literally. They are to wit as a blind man is to a forest, able to find every tree, but each one coming as a surprise.


I'm dealing with an especially egregious example of one of these obtuse literal-minded people these days, and this describes them to a "T". Now, each time I deal with them, I'm going to be hearing in my head the sound of someone thwacking into a tree.



Thursday, September 22, 2005

Introducing: The Opinionated Homeschooler

Constant readers may recall the guest postings on the new Pope by Sharon, which I enjoyed very much. As I have also had the pleasure of reading many a cogent and entertaining missive from Sharon on many discussion groups, I knew she would be an awesome blogger, and so suggested she consider it. She did, and as usual had a great idea in addition to just blogging for the sake of it (comme moi): She would use it as a dual-purpose lesson discussion forum for her circle of home schoolers, focusing on Roman Catholic information.

Since that's the theme, I wanted to be able to properly introduce it, and so asked what kind of Catholic she was. See, all religions have many types (denominations/sects) within them who consider themselves part of the larger group (and who almost always think of the other types in their groups as misguided members, or not even members at all).

Frinstance, I consider myself a mainstream* Protestant, mostly of a Lutheran/Presbyterian bent. By "mainstream" I mean primarily "not fundamentalist", but someone who believes that the Gospels contain the true and literal story of Jesus Christ (with some leeway allowed for the typical amount of disparities found between the stories of eyewitnesses). By "but," (in the last sentence) rather than "and", I mean that many fundamentalists try to paint the Christian world as "us and them" - them often being other Christians - and they try to float the lie that if you don't believe their version of the faith, you don't believe at all, and therefore aren't Christian. Now, there are groups who call themselves Christian, but then qualify it by saying Jesus was just a great teacher, and not really God in the flesh and so on. And there are other groups who call themselves Christian, but really follow a charismatic leader that said only THEY have the true understanding of Christ and everyone before has gotten it wrong (including, presumably, the Apostles). These last two groups aren't really considered Christians by the rest of us Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox. See, you've gotta believe that Jesus was what he claimed he was to really consider yourself part of the body.

Anyway, Sharon considered the question, and said in a nutshell that she was just Catholic.

That works for me, so, here it is: The "just Catholic, thanks" Opinionated Homeschooler.

Do enjoy!