Archive for February 2007

Catching Up On the Oscars (not so “Not”)

Our Drinking Liberally chapter screened An Inconvenient Truth last night at its regular meeting and, since we hadn’t seen it, we headed down there (I walked, Mrs. Perils drove).

It’s an odd, plodding film, unadorned with quick cutting and dazzling special effects. But it seldom drifts from its stated purpose, and I think its pace is best suited to Al Gore, its narrator. With the exception of a couple of personal asides that require some mental gymnastics to reconnect to global warming, the evidence in support of the fact of accelerating climate change, and the need for action, accretes inexorably throughout the film.

For me, the film fails in one glaring respect: he mentions population as a problem growth in only one short segment, and, when he’s suggesting specific actions at the end of the film, doesn’t include anything about family planning. People are always going to burn shit, and, the more people you have, the more shit they’re going to burn. You can Kyoto until you’re blue (or red) in the face, but until you take on the ultimate political discomfort, jawboning against religious and cultural biases toward reproductive profligacy, there is no resolution to this issue.

In many ways, it’s also a showcase for Gore’s doggedness, intelligence and sincerity. It’s amusingly ironic that these are the very qualities that probably lost him the 2000 election. Unlike others on the left, I’d rather not see Gore embark on another presidential quest. For one thing, I like him too well, and there are others I’d rather see punished by the campaign process. For another, I don’t think this issue is a winner either by itself or as a cornerstone for a campaign, even if people begin choking and expiring in the streets. One day, of course, we won’t be able to ignore it, and if Gore has advanced that day with his efforts so far, I think I’d like to see him keep doing it.

Which brings us to perhaps another inconvenient truth - the untimely announcement yesterday by the Tennessee Electric Swift Boat Committee that Gore, in his Tennessee residence, may be a profligate user of both electricity and gas. Why did this have to come out on the very day I finally hie my ass off to see the film? If true, it’s disappointing, because it dilutes Gore’s effectiveness as a messenger, and gives license to those who prefer to ignore the message.  And I can’t really give him a “pass” just because he may have purchased some ameliorative green energy on a website somewhere, and still maintain a position against industry being allowed to create a faux currency in “pollution credits”.

Who knows, he may be using his basement to charge up a fleet of electric vehicles for the disadvantaged in his community. Or, since the family eschewed growing tobacco, perhaps they’ve had to make up the income with an indoor pot farm.  Besides that, he should be president right now; if he were, he’d be living in the White House (I’d like to see those energy consumption figures) and flying on Air Farce One instead of trudging through security scanners as he was in the film.

I’m willing to wait for Gore to respond personally, even if it’s a Powerpoint with a flashback to his days as the president of his high school audio-visual club.


Some images from weekend walkabouts:

Gutter journalism alive and well in Seattle
Click any photo to enlarge
At least something here is enjoying the drizzle

Catching Up On the Oscars (Not)

I’ve watched a few movies in the last couple of weeks, not something I do all that often. Somehow, I can never justify spending that solid block of time. That doesn’t mean that I don’t waste at least that much time anyway - no, it falls out of my pockets like a drunken sailor’s paycheck. It’s just that when you commit yourself to a movie, you’re upping the stakes, because if the movie turns out to be a waste of time, the waste is so glaringly apparent.

Anyway, I just got it in my head that week I was in Milwaukee that I wanted to see something, and, when you have been so sporadic, there gets to be a big reservoir of “good” movies that you’ve never seen. For instance, I haven’t seen any of the Oscar-nominated movies.

I was paging through Movielink, the movie download service, I saw two movies that were renowned, but that I hadn’t seen: Network and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and I grabbed them both.

I know, you’re probably wondering about Tiffany’s. But all through middle school and high school, people were always playing Moon River and the soundtrack by Henry Mancini. It just struck me as odd that I had never watched the movie, and there it was, a click away.

As for Network, I’ve seen so many references to it as a “good” movie, and the cast - Robert Holden, Faye Dunaway, Peter Finch, Robert Duvall - seemed sort of a sure thing. Another click.

I thoroughly enjoyed both films, but there was an interesting contrast. Tiffany’s was probably dated even before it came out, but at this remove, it seems to be trying so hard to be cool, hip, blase, maybe even shocking to most people at the time - Audrey Hepburn and her $50 “cloakroom” tips, the straight-lacedly dissolute cocktail party. There was a point where it could have leaped forward a couple of decades, when Hepburn is in a taxi on her way to the airport, and Peppard is pleading with her to stay. He keeps saying, “but you belong to me!”, and I suppose that sounded perfectly normal when it was released, but it was fairly dissonant to these post-feminist ears. Hepburn at some point turns to him and says something like, “I don’t belong to you, no one belongs to anyone!”. To emphasize her lack of sentimentality, she has the cab stopped, and tosses her pet cat into the street, and they drive on.

But they don’t leave it at that. She basically acquiesces to the idea that she does belong to him, they retrieve the cat in the pouring rain (though her mascara and makeup never budge) and the principle is dissipated.

Network, on the other hand, seems like it could have been made last week. For one thing, the language and dialogue are comparable to some of the best stage drama I’ve seen. You probably know the story, since I’m probably the only person in the blogosphere that hasn’t seen it. If you don’t, beware - spoilers ahead.

A TV network that’s losing out in the ratings stumbles upon the concept of using its evening news, heretofore sacrosanct and untouchable, as a ratings leader when its anchor, Peter Finch, comes apart on-camera and starts raving. Soon, the entire nation is leaning out the window and chanting along with him, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” like a continent-sized insane asylum. The show is redesigned as an entertainment vehicle, and is tremendously successful.

At some point Finch learns that his network is about to be acquired by a multinational company, and starts inveighing against the merger on-camera as an ill-advised betrayal of the public trust in media. The CEO of the network comes unglued, and Finch is summoned to meet with him. What follows is a brilliant piece of soliloquy in which the CEO unveils the secrets of the global economy to Finch. We always smile and nod knowingly when someone opines about how visionary Orwell’s 1984 was, but the truth is that 1984 didn’t really come true in 1984, or ever, in the way that this boardroom scene has come to describe the climax forest of capitalism, with the U.S. economy trembling against the day that the Chinese government loses its taste for T-Bills. The trenchant soliloquy begins about a minute or so into the clip. Savor it!

[Ed: And I wrote that before I saw that the stock market was tanking today!]

Heavy Petting

A couple weeks ago, as I sat in a cafe in my neighborhood, I looked across the street and was intrigued, and then amused to see this sign:

For about a half-second, I thought it could be a startlingly candid hair salon. I mean, it’s about as hard for a salon to distinguish itself around here as it is for espresso shops and Thai restaurants, they’re so abundant. A tick later, though, I knew it had to be about pets, and I was right - it’s a store stocked with products targeted at owners of female dogs that feel compelled to pamper and anthropomorphize them.

The sign, and its use of the word “bitch”, has caused a little outcry in my urban, blue-state neighborhood, although it’s more of a PC-based complaint than a “family-values” one. My first reaction was that it was cute and clever, and to urge the application of a little humor; for instance, in the interest of inclusiveness, I’d pair the shop with one for cat owners called The Persnickety Pussy. We also have some chicken-keepers in the ‘hood who might be drawn to The Discriminating Cocksman.

But then, if you read some of the reader comments to the article, you can start to appreciate the position that a certain permission has been granted to those who use the word in a hateful fashion, and that perhaps there’s a slippery slope[Ethnic references redacted]. But it’s going to be a problem for a neighborhood that is home to Dick’s Drive-In and a bakery that sells marzipan penises to make a “community standards” argument against this sign.

One thing I can’t get beyond (if you click on the photo) - that dog’s ears are pierced.

Weekend Update

I had a pleasant visit with my mom over the weekend. As she usually does, she had a cherry pie waiting for me Friday night, along with a hearty homemade chicken noodle soup.

On Saturday, we attended the production of Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat I mentioned in an earlier post. The cast seemed to be entirely made up of college-age kids who were having a great time on a national tour, and their performance reflected that enthusiasm. I find the “musical” form kind of odd. There are some numbers that are obviously set-piece songs; but then, there are other stretches where they have to convey a chunk of narrative information and, even though it’s set to music, the effect is a helter-skelter torrent of words. The story itself is a parable from Genesis, but the production isn’t religious in the least. Still, I suppose the biblical provenance helps draw a “family values” demographic to the show, and the place, a fairly large auditorium west of Toledo, was packed. Even so, there were some dance numbers where the women’s costumes were, oh, alluring, I guess, and that fact didn’t escape the notice of one of my mother’s more conservative friends. Didn’t escape mine, either. I’m not sure if every musical does this, but the final two numbers were peppy, hand-clapping rousers with everybody onstage, and it almost guarantees a standing ovation. It would take a real curmudgeon to sit it out.

Later that afternoon, my mom’s sister arrived from her home in Myrtle Beach. She’s there to assist my mom after her spinal injection this week. She’s about 6 years younger than my mom, and has some interesting perspective on their family life. I may delve into some of that later.

We had snow both Friday and Saturday nights there, and I shoveled off the driveway and walks both days as a way to get a workout. I felt kind of old-school, because everyone else in the neighborhood was running snowblowers, something I’ve never had occasion to use. I also did some other “son” chores, like hanging a large painting, drilling molly anchors for some new curtains and unsuccessfully declining various foodstuffs.

Just to go all Currier-and-Ives on you, here’s photo evidence of my frozen precipitation engineering endeavors:
Click to enlarge

Parental Interlude

Well, the work week’s over, but not the travel.  After work this afternoon I hopped a plane from Milwaukee to Detroit, and drove down to Toledo (Perrysburg) to visit with my mom.  She’s been battling shingles since November, and still has burning and skin irritation.  It’s really frustrating her, but I tell her that I still have itching on my scalp and some strange sensations left over from my own bout with anthropomorphized building products that started last June.  Oddly, she doesn’t find this comforting.

She’s had much more intense pain than I did - mine started in my eye (!) and traveled over my forehead and scalp, hers branches out from her torso.  While treating her for her pain, her doctor began to suspect other causes, and ordered some imaging that disclosed a crack in one of her vertebrae and some disc damage.  This coming week, she’s having some sort of injection that is supposed to provide some cushioning.

While she was speculating on several incidents that could have caused the fracture, I told her that I and my brothers were squabbling over which of us had stepped on a crack, and whether it was on purpose.  Luckily, she found that amusing.

It’s actually a pretty busy weekend for my mom.  Her sister is flying in from Myrtle Beach tomorrow and will stay with her for a couple of weeks to be sure that the injection procedure is stabilized.  She also has subscription tickets with some friends to a play tomorrow and an opera on Sunday.  When she heard that I was planning to stop by (I had purchased my plane reservations without consulting her), she actually tried to dissuade me from coming because she was afraid she’d have too little time to spend with me.  I checked to see what it would cost to change the reservation to just fly back to Seattle tonight, and the price was virtually the same, so I told her I’d go to the play with them if I could get a ticket.

So that’s how I’ll end up going to see Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat tomorrow afternoon.  I don’t have much history with musicals since seeing movies of My Fair Lady and Sound of Music in high school, and this production, apparently, is entirely sung, with no spoken dialogue.  I’ll let you know how I like it.

‘Casting for Love

As I think I mentioned before, I’m working in Milwaukee this week, unfortunately missing Valentine’s Day in the company of Mrs. Perils. Dear, since I can’t present you with some of your favorite chocolate delights, I’ve instead created a Valentine’s Podcast of some of the best love songs on my iPod, with you in mind. Any of you who stumble by here are welcome to grab it as well.

Apple didn’t make it easy. Unlike my old Creative Zen Xtra, I can’t just copy mp3 files from the player to my hard drive, not even the mp3 files I ripped from my own collection and didn’t buy from iTunes. The iTunes software will let you do this, but only if you are connected to your “home” music collection, even though all the files exist on the player. Unfortunately, my “home” collection really is at home, sitting on an external hard disk.

Here’s how I beat the system sitting here in my hotel room. You can opt to allow the iPod player to be used as a hard disk. This makes it appear as a lettered drive on My Computer. It also lets you browse the player, and you can find the directory that contains all your iTunes-imprisoned music. However, all the music files are scattered around in multiple subdirectories, with all the helpful filenames encrypted in 4 or 5 characters of alphabits.

I saw that each file would display its music properties when I waved the cursor over it, so I set my “View” parameters to show Artist, Album Name and track number in the browser window, sorted by artist and made the view permanent for all files on the computer. Long story short (right!), I located the songs I wanted and liberated them to the friendly confines of my laptop hard drive.

I used Audacity to make the podcast. Download the podcast here or listen here:

(you should probably download & save) - it’s 32mb, so don’t try it with dialup. I’ll also link to files for the individual tunes for a day or so.

Here are the tunes that await your pink and shell-likes:

  • Amado Mio - Pink Martini. China Forbes has great pipes, and Thomas Lauderdale’s grand piano makes this the classiest tune on the ‘cast - but listen on:
  • Advice for the Young At Heart - Tears for Fears.
    • “Love is a promise, love is a souvenir - once given, never forgotten, never let it disappear”
  • Small Wonders - Dog’s Eye View. This band broke up several years ago, despite our unwavering support. This is an unfortunate pattern. If you’re in a band, and you see us at more than one of your performances, pay a bouncer to have us whacked. Peter Stuart, the lead singer, had a short solo career afterwards, but I’ve no idea what became of him.
    • “Walkin’ side by side, with our fear and our hope and our love and our pride; two steps forward, and no lookin’ back”
  • Lovesong - The Cure. Unabashed, in-your-face adoration. With a little bit of groveling.
    • “However far away, I will always love you; however long I stay, I will always love you; whatever words I say, I will always love you.”
  • Great Expectations - Elbow. A memorable bus ride, fanciful nuptials, unexplained absence and longing.
    • “Spitfire thin and strung like a violin, I was; yours was a face with a grace from a different age”
  • Crush - Garbage, from the soundtrack to Baz Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet. Borderline stalker song, but “I’d do time for you” is really another way to say “I love you”, no?
  • Blue - Joni.
    • “Blue, here is a shell for you; inside, you’ll hear a sigh, a foggy lullabye: Here is your song from me.”
  • Corcovado - Everything But The Girl, from the Red Hot + Rio collection, just to lighten up. I don’t know what they’re saying, but if it’s not hot, it’s false advertising.


Calendar Question

Does anyone know what day Valentine’s Day falls on this year?

Stroll & Shoot

Off to Milwaukee today, where it’s a balmy high of 22F. “Balmy” because they didn’t get much above 0F last week. Yesterday, we were strolling around the neighborhood in the high 50s (the temperature, not..well, yeah, us, too). I’m sorta tongue-tied these days, so I’ll just post some photos from yesterday’s stroll.
Click any photo to enlarge

These are shot through the window of a little business on Fremont Avenue that makes lawn & garden statuary. On the left appears to be Beauty and the Beast, although the Beast seems the more viable of the two. On the right - who knows? Queequeg and Ishmael? There’s always something nutty on display here.

In Fremont itself, the Burke Gilman bicycle trail runs along the Ship Canal. I really like the line of poplars, but I think Weyerhauser/Quadrant (the owner of the adjacent property and the trail easement) and the city are jonesing to cut them down, positing that their fragility presents a danger. Not sure of the validity of that argument, but they really are striking in the meantime.

In the other direction, the trail comes to an abrupt halt due to construction on the Fremont Bridge. I was amused by the unintentional aptness of the yello warning sign.

On the canopy above a Fremont video store is a diorama-like tableau with miniatures of various city icons.

The architect for this new condo seems to have had a sense of humor.

Finally, a couple of funny bumper stickers I hadn’t seen before.

More Snickerdiddle

OK, now that I’ve seen where Snickers has taken this, I’m not so inclined to laugh it off. When I first saw the ad, I just thought of it as an extension of those Dodge commercials where this yokel is engaging in idol-worship of some manly man with a big Dodge truck, and has buddy-road-trip fantasies that involve a hot-tub experience (with girls, though), but ends with an overextended adoring gaze.  Or, actually, as a send-up of ritual homophobia.
It seems like the Snickers people have engaged in something more mean-spirited, though:

The Snickers Web site also showed video of players from the Super Bowl teams reacting to the kiss.

and the ration they’re getting about it is well-deserved.

The whole episode probably won’t have any effect on Snickers as a product unless it’s really the start of a campaign to Snicker at various segments of the population such as the mentally ill, the homeless, Alzheimer’s sufferers and people dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease.

And how disturbing can it be as an indication of how marketers view the marketed-to? From PT Barnum forward, advertising has never resembled an acceptance letter from Harvard in terms of flattering the intellect.