Thursday, December 16, 2010

Saxophone Memories

About 7 weeks ago the eleven year-old started sax lessons.  The first 2 weeks he couldn't even get a pure note out, and I was, like, WTH are they teaching him in that class?  At the end of his first week, I had to retrieve him from school because he had been suspended for the day by his music teacher for misbehaving.  That's not like him at all, and I'm thinking that this music class is a bust. Well, 7 weeks later and somehow we have a 180--I don't know what happened; he is actually quite good.  His music teacher says he has improved tremendously--he is in the first seat most of the time.  And he seems motivated--last night he took his sax out and practiced before AND AFTER he did his regular homework.

At this point, I'm actually getting excited.  He's not particularly athletic, and I told him if he kept at it and became really good he could maybe get a scholarship to a good college.  I thought, hey, let's look online for some examples of musicians who make a living at this, and listen to how some of their work sounds.  Among other things, I found a blog from a guy who did a rating of various sax solos from the 80's.  He included some applet that allowed you to play the sax solo from each song he "rated."  Here's the link if you're interested; you might be surprised and pleased at the gems you find:

But the online excursion was good news and bad.  Bad news, I couldn't get the kid interested in the music we found--I'm not sure what his niche will be if he does in fact become a sax aficionado.  On the good side though, it reacquainted me with some great tunes from the 80's that, as it turns out, had at least one thing in common: sax solos.  I never realized how many great songs had a sax interlude.  They ranged from a basic, moody bridge, like in Tear Us Apart by INXS; to the manic, integral instrumentation of one of my favs, Trouble in Paradise by Huey Lewis and the News.

Below is another fav, Icehouse's Electric Blue. The talented lead singer and song writer Iva Davies sports the absolute last word in mullets.  He co-wrote this song with John Oates of Hall and Oates, another mullet pioneer.

Every list of top sax players I found has Charlie Parker, now deceased, as number one.  I plan to find some of his stuff and try it out on Jake.  One guy I've listened to a lot is David Sanborn--he does jazz-fusion stuff and he's pretty amazing.  However, I really must embed Trouble in Paradise.  As an example of popular work, the sax in this is absolutely nuts, and is integral to the song overall.  For one thing, it's too much for one guy--there are two different soloists, and two more players on harmony!  God I love this song--and I love the 80s!

 Ah, it seems nobody does this stuff anymore...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I Really Like Peggy. But Shame On You! Me!

I just finished Bob Newhart's memoir "I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This," a quick and fun read.  Newhart is one of the pantheon of "original" comedians, meaning his style was unique and refreshing when he came along. Over the years my family has enjoyed telling me how much I look like him, or he looks like me, or whatever. It would be a compliment to say I was funny like him; but looking like him--not so much.

But I do love to laugh, and I chuckled out loud a couple times reading his book.  Bob said he didn't feel humor should be analyzed too much, parsed and dissected so as to become un-funny.  His public humor is of the gentle sort, but privately he is capable of some perversity, as he claims are all comedians--such is the nature of the comedic mind.  Still, it would be a stretch to say any of Bob's humor has ever offended anybody.

There have always been comedians who reap laughs using shocking statements, often leaving the audience with some guilt feelings about their response.  Ethnic humor has haunted the shadows for many years but still sneaks into the daylight from time to time and may even be making a comeback (SNL actually used a Polish joke last week, I have to say I didn't see it coming).  And some TV commercials also brush with the ethnic taboo; enter Peggy.

Peggy is a foreign-outsourced phone service operator for a bank card.  Reinforcing  the obvious extreme cultural disconnect, Peggy is not a woman, but instead a misnamed Caucasian teddy-bear of a man with a voice that should be reading children's stories on Public Radio.  His English is broken and he omits some verbs, articles, and the odd participle.  He seems to be based in some frozen East European country, working from a slap-dash shack with a support staff right out of the Beverly Hillbillies.  My guilt confession: Peggy is hilarious.

There are 4 or 5 ad spots of consumers dealing with Peggy.  After briefly digesting the name/voice disconnect, the earnest customer attempts to conduct business over the phone but is met with obfuscation, misdirection and inevitable disappointment.  Peggy is willing to do something, but that something will assuredly fail to meet the need.  Peggy is alternately simple, confused, and/or downright devious, and the message is clear: outsourcing is inherently evil and substandard service will ensue. It is also (gasp), funny.

Should I really be laughing at this?  Maybe if I break it down, I'll find I'm not laughing at ethnicity.  Let's see, the name--yeah, that could happen to anybody, lots of things are lost in translation.  How about the English?  Well, I can only imagine how I'd sound in Paris after 4 years of C+ high school French, but I'm not trying to resolve someone's over limit fee, either. Maybe the real villain is greedy corporate America, for sending jobs overseas and making a mess of it.  Come to think of it, they are real life villains. 

Ok, lets cut to the chase.  I, too, have dealt with outsourced call service centers, it wasn't funny.  None of them were evil, per se.  Any problems I had stemmed from language pronunciation, which tended to drag out the conversation.  What these commercials do is make fun of a situation, and they want you to use their product.  In this regard Peggy and company are guilty of an unforgivable sin--the commercial is so funny you forget to  associate it with the product.  After seeing these ads for months I had to look up the product for this blog--it's the Discover Card. Apparently those guys keep it real, and keep it in the States.  Too bad, I still won't be applying for the card.

Well, I better close, NBC is running episodes of "Outsourced" back to back, and I don't want to miss one minute of those crazy Indians.  Oh that Manmeet!  Where do they get those names?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Buy Anxiety

Well I made it, but just barely.  It took copious amounts of chocolate and a drink or two to distract me, but I survived Black Friday without leaving the house.  It wasn't pretty though.  There are claw marks on the door-jamb...
I still have doubts.  I have to catch my breath if I let my mind ponder what I must have missed out on.
And I most certainly missed out.  Look at the extreme--if I had camped out at the local Best Buy a week ago I might have scored a free I-Pad or something from management--some bozos pulled it off elsewhere, I saw it on the news.  I could have bought a dvd-tv combo with 120 Hz refresh and backlighting for a song; practically stolen a TomTom GPS for $59, or a palm-held Video camera for $49.
What?  What's that you say, I didn't need those things?  Fool!  Of course I didn't need them, I WANTED them!  I mean, they were so cheap.  God help me, they were CHEAP.   And, and, there would have been countless impulse buys to be had!  It's the wonder, the awe, the... the OPTION, dammit!  Who knows what all I missed.
Besides the crowds, that is.  Oh, and the lack of items because of the minimum number kept on hand for the flyer ad.  Yes, that...and the traffic, too; and lack of parking.  And getting up early--ugh.  But especially the unruly crowds, yes there have been a few of those. Some disagreement over the last Cabbage Patch doll on the shelf, etched into my brain long years ago.... Ah, perhaps that lady has forgotten the, er, momentary ugliness that transpired as my wife clenched her fist and beamed certain doom toward all present. Or was that me doing the beaming?
It's no use, even the uncomfortable memories don't dim the knowledge of opportunity lost.  At some point, I will doubtless buy something for significantly more than I might have spent on that unctuous day.  I will somehow have to live with that certainty, and reconcile myself to the loss of some other important bauble I will now not be able to afford.  Curse this consumeristic universe!  I buy, therefore I am... but, if I don't buy?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ok Ok, I watched your damn commercial

We should pay for the things we enjoy as a result of the work of others.  I acknowledge there is no free lunch, it simply makes no sense to believe otherwise.

So consider the "free" homepage and e-mail offered by various internet services.  My homepage has been MSN forever; initially I paid $10 a month for MSN Premium with services I never used; but it felt right that I should pay something for the e-mail and the news feeds. Fast forward and, with times so tight, I dropped the paid service (I don't think they even offer it anymore).  Surprise, the free version didn't lose any of the functions I used.  In fact, there was no useful difference between before and after.  But now, some guilt creeps in as to how the good people who daily administer this service are recompensed. Wait, of course, it's the advertisements!

Parts of my homepage and e-mail are always streaming an ad. And when I surf, I might roll the mouse over a cleverly concealed popup activator that easily defeats my paid-for blocker.  OK, I can handle the distraction and occasionally, I even get the message--I really should check that pesky credit score.

I try to avoid video clips though.  Hey, what up with sitting through a 30 second pitch for 2 minutes of content?  But often the story I want isn't in print.  I'm just gonna have to get it from Matt Lauer.  So, after 32 seconds of a blue bear singing to his toilet paper roll whilst picking pieces of tissue off his ass (kudos there, Charmin), I'll get the Today Show version of a hot story.  God forbid it should refer me to another video; wherein I ponder "Can 15 minutes with GEICO can save me hundreds of $$?"  Oh silly me, "Does a bear s%#* in the woods?"   Not blue bears, according to Charmin.

Oh yeah, take that bitter, over-sized horse-pill. I owe SOMETHING to "pay" for this info; no free lunch, balance in the cosmos, Yin and Yang--and all that.  BUT...

Lately, I take more medicine than I "need." Worse, take medicine with no payoff.  Often the commercial plays and only AFTER do I get a message that the content is "temporarily unavailable."  Say what?  Why you dirty rotten...

And don't get me started on BING, the intelligent search engine.  Well, if you insist.  All these teasers in the corner of my home page are not stories, but searches, and hidden within their links are important messages, like that one thing that can give you washboard abs.

Yes, I could ignore BING but... Lady Gaga and Vladimir Putin did WHAT?  Oh man, click on that puppy, I gotta know...  Ummm, ah yes, BING has given me a short blurb, and I have only to CLICK ON 8 HI-LITED  #%&*@  KEY-WORDS TO GET THE WHOLE STORY, EACH OF WHICH DIRECTS ME TO NUMEROUS $%#&@ ABBREVIATED ARTICLES WHICH.... I knew I should've stayed off BING.

I have a choice, I know.  I could subscribe to a newspaper; dated as the info may be.  It is there at my leisure.  It will not deny me promised content.  It will not insult my intelligence with toilet tales.  Alas, I choose instead to add inertia to the decline of the printed word; such is my need for breaking news and pointless celebutante trivia.  I paid my dues, I watched your damn commercial, now give me my fix.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

It really is A Perfect Day

I sit on a number of draft blog entries, waiting for the time I feel like posting them. Mostly it's because I start a thought, then can't find the right finish.  But I'm feeling a little melancholy today, so I'm finishing this one.
A couple months ago I came across an amazing music video, and wanted to find the right theme to put it in the blog.  Then something odd happened, and I didn't know if I'd ever use it--I'll explain.  It's Lou Reed's "A Perfect Day," performed by a startling array of artists.  And yes, it made western hemispheric news over a purported snub wherein Lou Reed supposedly prevented Susan Boyle from performing it, after she had made a trans-Atlantic and trans-continental flight for the express purpose of singing it on America's Got Talent.  That whole mess happened about a week after I found it on the web, and rather than let people think I posted because of that flap, I just dropped it.  But a happy ending demands attention; it turns out Lou Reed had nothing to do with refusing Boyle, and in fact, directed the video which now accompanies her version.  Its a good one, but I'll just include the link here, because I want to embed the BBC version:

A little background:  the BBC is funded by a TV tax in the UK, which is forever decried by a tax-weary public.  So from time to time BBC puts something together to demonstrate the superiority of non-commercial driven TV entertainment--freedom of artistry.  This video however was also the BBC's centerpiece in 1997 for the charity they sponsor, Children in Need.  Check out Bowie, Dr John, and my man, Tom Jones...

The charity sold this version, and versions featuring just the men, and just the women.  Don't know where to find them now, but wouldn't they be cool?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Pumpkin Pix

I did try the fancy design after all, and it was tedious work--I'll let the viewer decide if it was worth it.

 And here's a cool sunset from a couple weeks ago--don't know why but we get some spectacular skies here.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Election Day, Don't You Dare Ruin My Halloween

Anyone who knows me at all knows I love Halloween.  One of my earliest blogs (Oct '08) explained my feelings about October 31, so I won't repeat it here.  Instead, just a few observations and reflections on this year's activities.

First, there are two pumpkins in my garage that await my carving attention.  Each year I am torn between attempting one of those amazing templates that you can buy or copy from the internet, and simply going with my instinct on the choppy scary face.  The latter always wins because the former requires more patience than I am willing to expend.  The result however has always been satisfactory, once I put that votive candle inside and turn off the lights.

Some of the neighbors are really into the season--one guy has several enormous blow-up and animated creatures in the yard; the black cat has glowing eyes and stands about 6 feet tall, and its head moves side to side.  Very cool.

At school, this was a funny week.  Jake, the 6th grader, forgot to tell me that each day was a different spirit day--hat day, camo day, etc.  This being a short week ending today, I figured out for myself it would be costume day.  Last year he was berserk about Freddy Kruger, and he did it up big; hat, face mask, clothes and claw glove.  This year he made no plans, so last night I bought him one of those cheap Groucho Marx glasses/nose/mustache combos so he'd have something to wear today.  He loved it, and put on his fedora to complete the "costume." I told him if anybody asked, he was every adult's worst nightmare, the Tax Man from the IRS.  When I dropped him off at school this morning, there were the usual witches, princesses and ball-players (somebody always wears their football or little league uniform).  One little girl had a great costume: a fake picket fence surrounded her and was full of plastic flowers.  Jeez I love Halloween.

Many TV shows have a Halloween theme this week, usually very creative.  Last night "Modern Family" was an all-out hoot, and possibly my favorite line ever uttered on a sitcom was said:  asked if a neighbor and his wife were coming over for an over-the-top Halloween celebration, the neighbor shockingly replied his wife had left him.  After a stunned and awkward moment, the crestfallen desertee said "I better go, I have a dish to wash."  Classic. And so to the point.

I suppose I should mention the "Succeeding Holiday Encroachment" phenomenon.  As we all love to marvel at the rapidity with which that most commercial of holy holidays hits the stores, I think we have a watershed this year.  At the local CVS, you can find Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas merchandise on the aisles simultaneously.  K-Mart also.  Frankly, I think Thanksgiving is only in there to remind people of Black Friday (the massive sales event).  Another shameless plug for my favorite holiday, Halloween is the ONLY holiday for which blatant commercialism is absolutely appropriate!

Last comment--the coming election is sucking attention away from Halloween.  Don't do it, Election Day.  Stop it, right now.  Boy, you are really ugly this year, with possibly the most egregious mud-slinging ever.  What happened to the issues?  Aw, screw it, attack ads have a proven track record, so that's where we are spending those hidden-donor and corporate campaign funds.  There must be A LOT of $$ in the coffers.  Thanks a lot, Supreme Court.  I am struggling about whom to vote for, because I only know the skeletons in the closets of the candidates, not their stand on issues.  Wait a minute.  OK, skeletons are appropriate for this time of year--maybe politics is finally getting into the spirit of the season.  And politics are scary...suddenly it makes sense why Election Day is always so close to Halloween.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Jeez, I Keep Finding This Stuff

Confession:  The main reason I can't resist embedding videos here from time to time is it makes it easy to find those that I want to see again.  A close second, I also find some that I want to share out of pure perversity.  So here are two, one from each category, hope you enjoy.

First, a charming little remix ditty from the movie Up.  Ummm, if you have not seen this Disney/Pixar inevitable classic, be forewarned (as I was not), the first 10 minutes are hard to watch--at least for me, gut-wrenchingly bitter-sweet.  In fact, I don't ever want to see that segment, ever again.  Not ever. Yeah, how does Disney manage to... darn those people...Nevermind, I am going to stop talking about it RIGHT NOW.
Sorry.  Actually, it necessarily sets up the rest of the movie.

OK, this clip was put together by Aussie DJ Pogo, and I believe he said it took him 2 months of sampling words to get the chords right.  To me, it sounds like something Sade might have sung if she was, you know, like, happier.  It's worth a listen if for no other reason than it's the closest you're going to get to hearing Ed Asner sing.

Now for the perverse.  More intellectually-charged than a Kardashian Family Reunion; more thought-provoking than a BassMasters TV marathon; more topically cogent than SpongeBob Squarepants--I present the artistic medium known as... the "Long-form Advertisement."  Slightly reminiscent of SNL's skit "The Continental," this could not have been creepier if Christopher Walken himself did it.  File this one under "Idon'tseewherethisisgoingohmygoddidhejust..."

Saturday, September 25, 2010

10 Things You Didn't Know About Your Parents

There must be a million things we don't know about our parents. Even if they were teens when we were born, they must have had years of grown-up experiences before we even cared to know. If my dad were still here, I'd ask him a lot about WWII, and my mom too--she was a Naval Officer, a WAVE. I'm sure there is plenty we DON'T want to know... but I thought it might be interesting to come up with 10 things my kids either didn't know, or didn't know the whole story, about their mom and/or me.
So here is a list, in no particular order:

1. My eyes each see colors slightly differently, probably because I mishandled a UV light when I was 11.
2. Before we were married, your mom volunteered helping patients at a free medical clinic in Gainesville, FL.
3. At age 14, I almost got my family kicked out of an apartment building after walking on the edge of the roof.  It was about 10 stories up.
4. Your mom was a Store Detective at AAFES in 1979-80, and was a natural at catching shoplifters.  After receiving threats from some people she caught, she switched to working in the warehouse--her shoulders and arms got so muscular she had to buy new shirts.
5.  She spent her first AAFES paycheck on me--to buy a Fairchild video game, it was one small step above "Pong," but state-of-the-art at the time--we were the hit of the neighborhood.
6. Also in 1979, we owned a green moped and your mom rode it to and from work.  I think it was a Honda.
7. My parents started me on 3 musical instruments in school before the last one "took;" first piano, then flute, finally trombone.
8. When your mom owned a craft consignment business in Michigan, she sometimes secretly bought the artists' work, to encourage them when business was slow.
9. Your mother used to have a random tooth positioned in front of her right upper canine; I loved her for it, she, of course, hated it.  As a couple, it was our first major expense to get it fixed.
10. I flunked my first written drivers test in Florida at age 17--misidentified a traffic sign.  Then I barely passed the actual driving test, so naturally, my first job after High School was as a car parts delivery driver.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Chant Songs I Have Known

Everybody's heard of Gregorian chants, but I just learned that they are not sung only by men--how chauvinist of me. Apparently they have always been sung by both sexes of monastic orders, sometimes even in mixed company, for over a millennium. Named for Pope Gregory I from the 7th Century, who was credited with ordering the simplification and cataloging of music assigned to specific celebrations in the church calendar.

I recently heard on Public Radio that a search by a major record company resulted in the selection of nuns in a convent near Avignon, France, to produce a CD of their chanting. They sound pretty amazing from the sample I've heard. As happens it got me to thinking about chanting songs I'm more familiar with, and I've included three below.

This is the first one I remember, Witchi Tai To; interestingly it is a Native American peyote chant set to mellow music--adding to it's popularity? It came out when we were becoming aware of pollution to our environment, which was popularly connected to native respect for the land. "Water spirit feeling springing round my head... makes me feel glad that I'm not dead." Catchy, it's one of those things that stayed with me for a long time. Jack Johnson made a cover of this.

Next is the one I think everybody has heard, Return To Innocence by Enigma. What I just found out is that the chant was illegally sampled from a--get this--indigenous Taiwanese "Jubilant Drinking Song" that was recorded by two native Taiwanese on CD as part of a cultural exchange program in France! Almost as odd, the drum beat was sampled from Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks." I played this song so much in the car it drove my family nuts... all the time thinking it was Native American.

After doing a little research I found many Native American chants set to music. I thought this one was particularly representative and beautiful:

Hope you enjoyed!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Following up the last entry so as to actually write something

Gotta get back into the blog habit and, as usual, I feel I must tie up issues from the last one I posted no matter how untimely it has become.

Well, as all know by now Abby Sunderland was found safe shortly after my last posting. I was very glad to hear it, and then allowed myself a brief excursion back into the "how on earth could her parents have allowed this" frame of mind. Aha, perhaps I was not alone. Turns out her family was shopping around a reality show based on the Sunderland kids and their love of life and all things adventurous. The dad said they pulled the idea when it became apparent the takers were going to go after the same slant I would have--namely "how on earth could her parents have allowed this."

At the heart of it is my, and apparently others, thought that a 16 year old girl shouldn't even be out of the house after midnight with her pals, let alone circumnavigating the globe alone. It just screams a certain naivete that no parent in the 21st century has any right to possess. All that aside, I wonder at a world where a full third of the population is starving, and yet a certain contingent spends their lives thrill seeking and "self-actualizing" as in the afore-mentioned stunt. Getting into the Guinness Book of records has taken up the time available for such idle pursuits as, say, community service, for one.

I sure couldn't talk if such people donated a part of their time serving on a soup kitchen line, for example. And, well, I can't talk anyway, since I'm not contributing either; having stopped contributions to the several charities I used to support. So at this point I'll drop the subject, and maybe contemplate why I myself am not a better person.... ah, this world in which we live...

I am usually optimistic at heart, and that included my assessment of the current recession--I was fairly certain it would turn the corner, and very soon too... but lately I have picked up on several things that have me a little worried.

First, there's been talk of calling this a double-digit recession--referring to the number of years it may continue, I believe. But that's not the most telling bit, especially since there have been nay-sayers on recovery all along, and always have been through the years. No, what worries me is the undertone that we are becoming less productive, more of an entitlement based society with unrealistic expectations on the part of our young work force. That's not good--we will never recover if we become lazy in comparison to the rest of the world.

Our productivity in terms of what we accomplish in an 8 hour day, compared to other "first world" countries, has always been high if not the highest. It, along with technological advances, has been the main mast of our "Ship of State." But a perfect storm of laziness, combined with stagnant technology advances and growing economies in Asia, will permanently break the mast.

Something pretty spectacular would have to come down the pike to get us through that storm. We better hope we master fusion energy or teleportation pretty darn soon...

So here's hoping that succeeding generations of Americans find their roots again in a good old fashioned work ethic--about that, I am still optimistic.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Praying for Abby

As a father, and maybe just as a caring person, I am a little distraught by the current situation of young Abby Sunderland. Abby is a 16 year old girl who was attempting to be the youngest to circumnavigate the globe in her sailboat, Wild Eyes. I say was because maintenance issues forced her to miss that hurdle, but she continued on anyway. Now, her two manually activated emergency beacons have gone off while in the remote southern Indian Ocean just a few hours ago. Hearteningly, her automatic beacon has not activated, leaving hope the boat is upright and she may yet be safe. We don't know, and because of her remoteness help is 40 hours away and communication via radio is 11 hours away.

Having just returned from the wedding of my oldest daughter, I have been catching up on a lot of work here and that includes computer work--I've been falling behind on my blog too. Anyway, home page MSN just splashed a story about Abby, and searching a link I found myself in an article about the latest trend in young people doing very dangerous things with their parents' permission, like that 13 year old who scaled Mt Everest. The slant of the article was "what were they thinking?" I felt the same way, it got me angry--this business of wanting your children to "realize their dreams" and somehow placing that above common sense.

Hey, when I got back here from the New York wedding I found that my 11-year old stepson had finagled a 3-inch blade Buck Knife for his birthday by purchasing it with his own money--that thing is now in my possession. He has wanted a pocket/hunting knife for a long time but er, uh, HELL NO. What is an 11 year old doing with a "hunting knife" here in suburbia? Why does a 13-year old need to climb Mt Everest, a path which, last I heard, is still littered with 3 frozen corpses?

Anyway, here I was hating on permissive parenting while clicking on another link, this one Abby's on-scene blog via satellite link, and guess what? She uses Blogger, and among all the many choices available, her blog looks identical to mine, The Truth Eludes Us. Same colors, layout, background, etc. It was a shock that brought me back to earth and one simple sentiment--please God, bring her in safely. I don't care anymore what her parents were thinking--they are terrified but hopeful, and whatever their reasons for supporting this endeavor, it just doesn't matter anymore. All that matters is that Abby be found safe.

While I am not the devotee I once was to organized religion, I still suspect there's a Big Guy who sort of manages things according to His own inscrutable rules. I don't pray as much to Him as I used to, and now when I do mostly it's a quiet thing wherein I close my eyes and think it. But I am not averse to humbly asking Him to watch over the young and naive, the helpless and the hopeless, or the lost souls of the Modern Age. And maybe intervene once in a while, as I feel sure He sometimes does. Please Father, help this child. Amen.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

First to Die, Alternate Ending and Cancel!

I wonder what it's like to be a TV actor who dies in the first 10 minutes of a new show. Particularly if it ends up being a hit like "Lost," it must be like that drummer who left the Beatles mere days before they went global phenom. For example, lots of people died in the first episode of "Lost." Actor Greg Grunberg was among them--uncharacteristically, but fortunately for him he immediately hit gold with "Heroes." Maybe the rest of those those guys should start a club, "Actors Who Came Thaaaat Close to a Hit." They could call it AWCHIT for short.

Recently I started watching Happy Town, a murder mystery/paranormal mix, in which the opening scene features a very familiar character actor (always remember the face, never the name!) being killed. I remember thinking "man, if this series takes off, that will suck major for him." He need not worry, after 3 episodes ABC is dropping it--to be honest, it was a little uneven though the cast was pretty smart.

Speaking of "Lost," apparently a number of alternate endings were made, probably to minimize the chance of spoiler leaks. I don't like that because they are sure to end up on the DVD collection, and like so many other disc Special Features, we will be left wondering what the original intention REALLY was. After all, once you have options, you can do audits, field tests, and so on to "pick" the end; and really, there should be one ending to anything--love it or not.

Bummer, so much of my enjoyment of life these days is commercial TV. Though I have HBO I rarely watch it, and I'm trying out NETFLIX but finding that much of the content is sub-standard indie fare. No, for catharsis, mostly I look forward to the handful of TV shows I follow. I am one of those people who start up with a show and quickly decide if I'm going to commit or not. Sadly, my commitment often means cancelation. Liked Flash Forward, it's canx'd (and likely no planned ending), hate "V," but that's coming back. ABC hasn't figured out that anything that follows "Lost" is going to look better than it really is.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

It's as bad as you always thought--car buyer be afraid, be very afraid

For the first time in over 2 years, I awoke this morning without a Nissan 350Z in the garage. I finally got up the courage to trade in that all-but-useless ego-pumping rocket toy for something nominally more practical, a Chevy Impala. It is a "pre-owned car" and of course, the buyer must always beware; I accepted that risk. What I was not prepared for was the degree to which they tried to screw me, which was unbelievable--worse, it was almost, dare I say it, evil. I'm not kidding. Let me explain.

Not A Complete Dummy.

First off, I did my homework. I scanned the papers and the internet for 3 months searching out the kinds of cars available, and the "sales" price versus the estimated value by net sites like Edmunds and Blue Book. Secondly, I lined up financing and did all the calculations so I knew what I could afford vs what value I could receive. The biggest variable was what to expect on the trade-in for the Z--internet estimates do not guarantee the dealership offer. For several reasons, I felt the time to act was now. I was leaning toward the same dealership we bought our last 2 cars from because, perhaps stupidly, I figured hey, they have to treat me right, I'm a repeat customer. Also being local, they could expect to see me again if I had a good experience and when I needed service. Heck, I might even get the "inside deal" like on "Seinfeld." I picked two vehicles off the internet to look at, and went there.

First Visit.

I admit, this should have been my first clue--none of the vehicles in the Used Lot had the prices in the window. Immediately I was suspicious--I mean come on. But I was armed with the internet prices the dealership had posted so I figured they could not duck their own numbers. Unfortunately, the internet lags reality and the primary vehicle my wife and I wanted was already sold. After getting a very non-specific estimate on the trade in value of the Z, I told them I would have to talk to the wife and regroup. I noted they didn't jump through their butts to try to shove something else down my throat, which I took as a symbol of good faith that I knew what I wanted and would be treated well when I came back.

Second Visit.

Sheila and I looked at 6 cars on the internet and picked two possibles, and three days later I went back. This time I took a free ride in the Impala, brought it home and showed Sheila. When I took it back, I said I liked it but Sheila was unsure. The salesman said "the wife has to be happy or there will be trouble down the line"--we both laughed and I said I'd be back the next day with a decision. Again I left without feeling pressured--I am definitely an "insider!"

Third Visit.

Sheila said OK to the Impala, so when I went back we immediately started the paperwork. In passing time, I told the salesman my target payment (let's call it X) and the reason I had to get a more functional car (Sheila's illness) and why the payments had to be near my goal (I can't work). Also that I couldn't do this if I didn't get close to the payoff on the Z, and lastly, that I had no money for a down payment (both because I don't have the cash!). I mean, these are the facts man, no bull, bottom line. I got knowing nods and mumbled assurances, and when the salesman went to the manager to get their offer, I was fairly sure it was all set. Mind you, at this point we had not mentioned the price of the Impala. I assumed their opening bid would be the internet price.

The Horror.

He returned with this offer: Monthly payments $X + $179, plus a down payment of $1500. And this is a good deal, he said. Completely dismissed everything I had told him. I was stunned--then I saw the price of the car--a full $5000 more than the internet price. And the Z trade-in was $1000 lower than the lowest internet estimate for a bare-bones Z, which mine is not. I calmly told him this was completely out of line, and he actually tried to convince me this was "the deal" and they couldn't do better. I asked him if he had internet on his computer, then showed him the internet price--that stopped him cold. All he could say was "they really need to tell us what they put on the website." Yeah, sure. I stood up and told him he was nowhere near what I could do and headed for the door--not dramatically, mind you, just convinced that I was wasting my time. He jumped up and asked me to wait while he told the manager about the internet price. When he came back, he said they could shave another $50 off the monthly price. Emphatically, I repeated everything I had said earlier about what I could realistically do, and was actually opening the door to leave when he got the Sales Manager to intervene.

The Sales Manager

Well, this guy was smooth, a whole lot more personable. He started by saying how much they had shaved off and couldn't we meet somewhere in the middle on good faith, etc., and I just said "whoa. It doesn't matter what you're telling me, I know what I can do," and I gave him the whole sob story. He must have seen my determination and said I was right, and he was going to meet my requirements. In fairness, he got me the payment I originally felt I could do--given the low end of the internet Z trade-in. I shudder to think what they would have done to me had I not been prepared. They knew I was a repeat customer, maybe they had computer notes saying "retired military, govt employee, lots of money, and so on," and just proceeded to highball me. I am still processing whether I will use them for servicing in the future.

In Closing

Years ago I test-drove a used van in Abilene TX; just happened to check all the pockets and cubbyholes and found an old registration. Uh-oh, the odometer noted on the paper, dated a year before, was 90k, while the odometer on the van was 35k--hint, time doesn't go backward and neither does an odometer. I pointed this out to the salesman, who feigned ignorance and distress, and announced he could never sell this vehicle and would immediately yadda yadda yadda. Yeah. I am absolutely convinced you will never get a "good deal" on a used car unless you buy from a private party or are in the business itself. It feels like the ultimate victimization, and must happen thousands of times every day. I didn't go private party because I was worried about selling a car I still owed so much on--I was worried about releasing the banks lien. Maybe I shouldn't have. My advice, if you want new, go with a buying service like AAA, Carsdirect or USAA; if used, do your homework and buy from real people.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

On "Pitching a Bitch"

Not long ago
I had an itch
To chuck it all
And pitch a bitch.

The moment passed
but not for free;
said one crass word,
or maybe three.

It happened quick
when I let go,
At someone close.
And don't you know

they took it hard.
And unexpected,
was not accepted.

Though days ago,
it figures large
in things like chores,
and who's in charge,

and whether I'll get
for wounded pride
or injured knee.

I don't know;
if we wait a while,
will we still joke
and share a smile?

Or has it changed
a verbal scar,
unsettled score.

I'd take it back
if such could be
but nothing works
that easily.

So pitch that bitch
go on, dispense
without a thought
to consequence.

Or down the line
instead reflect,
bad things unsaid
don't feel neglect.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The narration of our lives

I recently saw The Great Buck Howard, a movie starring John Malkovich and Colin Hanks. While I watched, I couldn't help but think about Colin trying to get out of his father's shadow. Tom Hanks is like the male Jennifer Aniston or Sandra Bullock; an iconic, person-next-door kinda, much beloved actor/celeb. His son just doesn't have the same magnetism, at least not yet. For instance, the kid tells nothing with his eyes or face.

While I mused over whether Colin is any good, or at least watchable, I realized part of what bugged me was the narration. Colin is narrating his own story, the movie being a tad more about him than his quirky employer. As if his acting isn't enough to carry the story, he tells us what he's thinking, or about to do. Is it harder to write a screen play in which the characters' lines and acting carry the story without the spoken insights? Can a good actor overcome insight gaps with facial expression, movements, gestures? Does Kevin Costner overcome his narra...--nevermind. Don't don't get me started on Costner. I love Field of Dreams, BUT... guess I need to think on that some more.

What are examples of narration in a good story? A number come to mind. The Princess Bride, The Big Lebowski, The Shawshank Redemption. I can't imagine any of them without the omniscient narrator embellishing things. And hey, I'd listen to anything Morgan Freeman narrates, including a Denny's breakfast menu.

In making a story, there are two kinds of narration: reliable and unreliable. The three examples above are reliable, the narrator is giving you true insights; an excellent example of unreliable would be The Usual Suspects. The narrator there, Kevin Spacey, is making things up as he goes along but you don't know it (for sure) until the end. His unreliable narration IS the story. The same is true of Edward Norton in Fight Club. So maybe I'll make this generality for the moment--while reliable narration EMBELLISHES a story, unreliable narration tends to BE the story.

If art imitates life, what does that say about our narration of our lives? That voice in our heads, our stream of consciousness, the avatar of our self image. Are we reliable or unreliable narrators? I'm thinking we pretty much reliably embellish our stories, and here's why.

I once received a real gift in the form of a blind personal evaluation conducted by a military school I attended. I was in my 40s at this point and well established in my career. The evaluation included opinion sheets filled out by by at least 3 each of my subordinates, my peers and my bosses. The results would be anonymous except by group, and revealed to me only after I left my job, so as to prevent any hard feelings. After attending this school, you move on to a different job posting.

My own opinion of myself was pretty good--that I was overall competent and valued, responsive to my bosses, loyal to my peers and just a hell of a great boss to subordinates. To mix the poll up a bit though, I sent one to a boss I "knew" didn't like me, a friend I considered my "very closest," and subordinates I thought would at least be a spectrum of opinion, from great to so-so.

I'll get straight to the point--across the board I was almost universally average at best. In a couple areas, a little below. That means the boss that hated me didn't destroy me, my best friend didn't elevate me, and worst of all (I thought), not one of my subordinates worshiped me. In hot-button areas like competence, fairness, personality--average. It gets worse, because there may have been a "halo effect" in which people tend to be a little kinder than completely truthful. Well, I refuse to believe I'm a complete ogre, but clearly my self image was wrong.

What to do, what to do. I like to think I adjusted myself both to be more realistic and to improve the areas I already thought were good. I don't know how I did, because I'll never get blind honesty again like that again; but I know for sure that like the saying goes, never believe your own press.

As far as movies, most narration is not a cop-out, and mostly reliable--but you're not being painted into a corner like we probably do in real life...

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Once Again, Health Care

Found this site called while searching the web for pro and con arguments for the current health care bill. Though his primary focus is finance, he wrote an excellent article "What's wrong With THIS Health Care Reform."

Darwin's not a fan, and makes some disturbing points about "to ration or not to ration" (6 kidneys, 10 transplant patients, who decides???). He takes big exception to some shameful back-room deals made to get this legislation, like the deal made with unions--grrr.

Yeah, it's a little ugly. But don't lose the main point for a bitter sidebar. Yeah, making side deals sucks, but always had 'em, probably always will... what about what we achieved?

Truthfully, after reading up a bit, I see a lot wrong with this bill. However, I've taken the viewpoint that suck or not, we had to get SOMETHING on paper, or we would never even BEGIN to address this heinous problem everyone agrees will bankrupt the country some day. Are you forgetting that since Nixon, we have been trying to "fix" health care with no luck? Even back in '71, they could see the train wreck coming.

It's a good thing we can agree it will bankrupt the country if we do nothing--because from that point on, there is no agreement. So how do we move forward? Better off trying to fix a program in place, than to get one off the ground.

For good measure, Darwin references several pro and con blogs: My Journey to Millions (gist: is this constitutional?), Len Penzo (gist: we'll have buyers remorse) and Financial Samurai (gist: insuring the uninsured is worth it). It is worth reading all three to get some other viewpoints; you may find that each of them makes good points, or contains at least a little emotional argument, incomplete logic or questionable "facts." There may be legitimate concern on how the insurance companies will fight back. There will almost certainly be unintended consequences. If you want a really depressing viewpoint, do a search on "what nurses say about Health care reform." Man, who to believe...

Lest we forget, we are already sharing the costs of basic health care for all in the form of Emergency Room's that can't (and rightly shouldn't) turn away patients. So, Mr. and Mrs. Entitlement, quit bitching about footing the bill. And get better informed about what you stand to lose by this legislation, which in most cases is little or nothing.

GOP got you riled up? Guess why, they aren't in power; and elections are at stake this year. How are we going to pay for this? Is it really going to "save" us money in the long run? I personally find much of what the Dems do is distasteful, I am in fact a registered Republican. But it is worth mentioning that a GOP controlled congress and GOP president didn't even try to address health care. Nor did they reduce the federal budget, deficit, or the size of government. Does it bother you that not one Republican reached across the aisle in an effort to get something passed, for the greater good? It bothers me. Some things really should transcend partisanship.

It's interesting to see the demographic that comprises the organized protests... all I'm saying is do some research, listen to both sides, and check your facts people. You may still disagree with what's happened but at least you won't be parrots or sheep.

I hope this damn post makes sense...

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Stuff I Love

I don't know how much this blog is read by others than my family, but I noticed my profile got 10 quick hits right after I wrote something on health care. Well, I like getting comments and it's gratifying to know someone is reading these, so more is coming on health care shortly; but, I'm giving serious thought to starting a second blog just to embed music videos for my own reference. Most of today's music just feels soul-less to me, for me there is no comparison to the 70's and 80's.

So anyway.... here's three. I found this stuff that I saw on British television when I lived there in the 80's. These videos didn't get much play, if any, in the states.

First up is Kate Bush, who does some weird stuff but also some beautiful stuff. It's called Breathing, from 1980, and it's about a baby afraid to come out of the womb due to the threat of nuclear weapons.

Next, one of my '80s favs, Howard Jones. This is not one of the songs for which he is well known. But after seeing this performance, he is probably the first musician that started me thinking of musicians as artists, and this is definitely artful. And spooky. From 1985, Hunger for the Flesh (forgive him the flat moment or two).

Last one, just for fun, Nik Kershaw. Though there is a definite message here, this is just light pop fare, and Nik was definitely publicized as a teen idol-type. But don't take him lightly, he was a solid arena performer, he wrote great stuff and still performs, and if you find a video of this song in his acoustic version, you will be very impressed.

Hope you enjoyed. OK, next post, something with a political slant.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Healthcare--Who is the enemy?

In 2003, Tony Blair, former UK Prime Minister and one of my favorite politicians, addressed a group of British Ambassadors with this speech (in part):

"I am not surprised by anti-Americanism; but it is a foolish indulgence. For all their faults and all nations have them, the US are a force for good; they have liberal and democratic traditions of which any nation can be proud. I sometimes think it is a good rule of thumb to ask of a country: are people trying to get into it or out of it? It's not a bad guide to what sort of country it is."

To be fair, he wasn't the first to espouse this sentiment. George Will called it "the gate test" in '92, and in '94 Timothy Ash called it "the Statue of Liberty test." Neither of them was referring merely to Mexican border incursions; in truth, the US limits immigration in both number and in terms of what the prospective immigrant brings to the table, due to the incredible number of applications each year.

I feel this is kind of a "bottom line" to which we should defer when doubting some of the stuff that is happening in our country. Some people I know, who shall remain nameless, are quick to jump to the negative stuff and cry "our nation is falling apart" or some-such. Why do we keep supporting Israel when they openly snub us? What in the heck is Texas doing with their history books? Why do we still have racism and homophobia in our country? I'm not going to stand for this health care legislation...

Ah, there it is--such unbelievable divisiveness, not seen in our country since social security legislation, this "first step toward communism..." Now that it has passed the House, a number of states are taking it to court for 10th Amendment violation of state's rights, and more specifically, the lack of authority to force the american people to buy something (health care). Don't kid yourself, if you look at the vote along party lines, it is obvious special interests are playing a part in damning this legislation. My research is not complete, but it looks like most of the states filing this are being led by GOP Governors or Attorney's General. As has been the case since Nixon, everybody agrees on reasonable health care for all, but not on how to do it--end result, until now, is it never happened.

My point in opening this blog with Blair's quote is simple; we are a country with flaws despite our greatness, but what makes us great is our consistent track record to make corrections that always bring us within tolerances so attractive to immigrants. Shouldn't we be proud of our actions to legislate and improve tolerance of all kinds? Don't we stand for human rights in the world? Aren't we constantly providing aid of all kinds to other nations?

We have our setbacks--we should have learned something about our actions in Iraq from our actions in Viet Nam perhaps; but the threat of international NGO terrorism is something new we are learning to deal with, with sometimes faltering steps. We will get better at it.

I think the same will hold true with health care. Is it perfect? No. Adjustments are forthcoming, with time. We are not our own enemy; we are the force of balance that will fine tune the thing everyone wanted, a fair and equitable universal health care system. We just had to start with something, and finally--we did. Have faith...

Monday, March 1, 2010

Where are all the good horror movies?

The most prolific horror movies today are pure crap. The whole "slasher" genre. As much as I love a good scare, somebody sold my beloved horror world to pure unadulterated sell-out profit mongers. They care nothing for the craft. They keep rewriting the same "murder the good-looking people" plot lines. They are even remaking them; Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elmstreet, Texas Chainsaw. Why are people going to these movies? I love a good horror story but I am appalled by the idea that simply killing a long string of attractive young people in gory ways immediately before, during or after sex is somehow entertainment. It's just disgusting, but worse, and more unforgivably, uninteresting.

People, true horror is not sci-fi, mass-slashing or cataclysm. You have to build horror, it has to creep up on you, not ride in on a bullet train during an earthquake.

How about the classic monsters? One of my fav books of all time is Salem's Lot, possibly the rightful successor to Bram Stoker's Dracula as the quintessential blood sucker tome. However, vampires have been done to death and, as far as TV and movies goes, thanks but no thanks. Frankenstein monster? Over-cooked. The mummy? I say "let's call it a wrap." Werewolves? They used to be my favorite because of the tragic dimension to the curse. But that oil field is drained as well; I'm told the recent remake of The Wolfman is a real howler...

So I'm not fingernailing the chalkboard for any more of those movies. My fear is that many folks are quick to lump zombies in with that overexposed crowd and stop making those movies--and here, I cry foul.

People overlook one fact about the zombie milieu; it is actually two genres in one--monsters and the apocalypse--lending itself to many more permutations. Werewolves, vampires and ax-wielding sexually-frustrated nut cases make for very personal dramas played out, most commonly, in a near claustrophobic stage setting. Zombies are almost by definition pandemic and near-global. The essential zombie movie inescapably deals with heroes and/or anti-heroes scrounging off a lost civilization while dodging horrific caricatures of their previous lives. Think of the possibilities!

There are variations, i.e. fast and slow zombies. A zombie story can be claustrophobic or span a continent, or most likely both. (SPOILER WARNING IN THIS PARAGRAPH) Recently released to DVD, Zombieland reinvents the genre by painting zombies almost as backdrop to a buddy story with a romantic interest. That movie delivers comedy and a few good scares without ever losing any of the main characters to the imminent threat. Refreshing change from most horror entries.

Another variation, the original zombies were not flesh eaters. The result of voodoo practices, zombies were meant to be people whose free will has left them, possibly they are dead. But ultimately they are being punished, or used as slave labor, and the horror comes purely from the threat of becoming a zombie, not being victimized by one. Movies from the '30s through the '50s were populated by that genre.

So lets not close the door on this most fertile territory just yet. You know what they say: "When there is no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the earth..." Well, how about we temporarily rent the freespace in Hades so we can get a few more of these little treasures on celluloid, or disc, or whatever media?

At least until World War Z hits the theaters...

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Gotta stop imbedding videos...

I'm really trying to quit this but I keep coming across the neatest stuff. I'm not even looking really, just clicking around the web and finding things that I can't ignore. Keepin' it short here, first up is an educational tutorial. When's the last time you cried? For me it was watching this. Grab a Mountain Dew and prepare to enjoy the fruits of the World Wide Internet. Word! What?

Next, Mike Nesmith's Cruisin'. Considered quintessential '70s LA wackiness, it is one of the first music videos made, predates MTV and considered by some to have hearkened it (rather than go into all that here, check his wiki page). Also fascinating--his mom invented liquid paper. Great world!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Reverie of the absurd... or is it.

From the files of Story! True!!

My day begins early. Well, earlier than I'd like; getting up at 6:30 to run the 10 year old to school because--no bus service. Maybe you've noticed, and this is confirmed by sleep studies, there is a "sweet time" after you awaken, for whatever reason, during which you can likely slip back into sleep fairly easily--but wait too long and you will stare at the ceiling in a supine form of non-water torture.

Since I am about to drive, I force myself into wakefulness to make sure I'm sharp and safe. On rare occasion, I nap when I get back. That happened today when at around 8:30 AM, I slipped into reclination and promptly found myself at the end of a check-out counter in a brightly lit grocery store. I don't normally remember dreams, but, well, you'll see...

A voice says, "You have to check her pouch."

OK, let's get some situational awareness. At the customer end of the counter is a kangaroo holding a shopping basket tightly to her chest with both forepaws. Below the basket, it is clear that her pouch has a slight pooch. The kangaroo is kind of short--so, maybe it's a wallaby.

The voice belongs to the cashier, who appears to be an enormous beaver. Well, I can't see the tail so it could be a giant otter or some other rodent-ish relative. Beave looks me square in the face and repeats "you will have to check her pouch." I guess we're assuming kangaroos or wallabys are prone to shoplift.

My first reaction is whoa, hold on Tex... why do I have to check her pouch? Clearly I am just a bagboy, situated at the end of the conveyor. I am making minimum wage here. Why doesn't Beave do it? Aren't cashiers higher on the food chain for that sort of thing? Maybe Beave is peeved or has marsupial-envy or something.

Beave patiently waits. No, I'm not feeling pressure from Beave, but I am feeling pressure... more accurately, it's a kind of creeping horror.

I don't want to stick my hand in that pouch. No. I don't even want to look. What if there's a joey in there nursing? Ugh, kangaroo milk. Or, it might be a huge wad of belly-button lint with...stuff in it. I mean, you know, what the heck-all can be in a kangaroo's pouch? How do they clean it? Think in terms of what's behind your sofa cushions, behind the fridge, or on the floor of your car. I am thinking "Listen Beave, if you want to rescue that bag of Doritos or some such, call the manager--and tell him to bring welder's gloves or a ten foot pole. I think that's like a Code Six."

Suddenly the phone rings, for real, and I am awake and spared further reflection on pouch detritus. I don't recognize the number on caller ID. However, I do note the area code is one number off from my own and so, expect to tell the caller they miss-dialed. Maybe they realized that when I answered, because no one spoke. While I listen to silence, I briefly think hey, what if my number is one-off from John Mayer's and this is Jennifer Aniston calling to bitch me out for the Playboy interview? In that case, guess I don't sound much like John Mayer.

Whatever. The interlude is short enough I am able to close eyes and slide back to the grocery and, sure enough, I do. Apparently the crisis has passed--because kanga/wallaby has left, Beave is scanning a Lunchable and I am back to bagging for minimum wage. Phew, close one, eh Beave? That's pretty much where things end.

Some people I know would be all over this as sub-conscious, sub-textual, sub-something. What did the pouch represent? And why the beaver? I prefer to ask simply, why ask why? If you google "why ask why" you might find this little gem:

Food for thought.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

My Favorite Joke, and a Cool Vid (I think)

I am a member of the cult that worships Steven Wright. I first saw this guy in the UK, of all places. Brit TV is not at all like ours. For one thing, they have mastered the art of actually limiting a story arc and satisfyingly concluding a TV series, rather than milking it into banality or worse, getting canceled before conclusion. For another thing, they still have variety shows.

I think it was in '85 when I saw a variety show featuring "three very unusual American comedians." The host actually warned the audience to be prepared for something they had never seen before. One was Richard Lewis, and I think the second was Sam Kinison. To be sure, the audience didn't know what to make of either of these guys, though there was polite laughter. But the third was totally alien to them--Steven Wright. His one-liners were so unlike anything they'd ever heard that the first four jokes fell flat in silence. I thought they were funny, but it took the Brits that many to adjust. I think one of them was: "It's a small world... but I wouldn't want to paint it."

My favorite goes like this: "I woke up this morning and noticed everything in my house had been replaced by exact replicas." ... pause... "I shook my wife up and said 'honey, someone has replaced everything in the house with exact replicas.' She said 'who are you?'" Completely deadpan delivery--it just doesn't get anymore random than that.

An aside, years later I found out there is mental disorder in which people actually believe someone very close to them has been replaced by an exact duplicate. It's called "illusions des sosies" french for "illusion of doubles." Right out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Creepy, huh?

OK, from the "Ahead of it's Time" department, a video dedicated to the '70s culture involving non-tobacco cigarettes, pipes, hookas, sugar cubes, stamps and mushrooms, to name a few. I love the guitar, you only hear that variety today in smooth jazz. Pre-Stevie and Lindsey Fleetwood Mac:

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Pastoral Moments at the Cardio Clinic

Sometimes businesses use decor and/or background music to enhance a customer's pleasant experience, or alternately sooth a jolting one. Sometimes it's just the workers there who take this initiative, and lucky for me, such was the case with my recent visit to the cardio clinic. As I lay on a table sliding into some kind of tomography thing with a radioactive thallium drip attached to my right arm, I was strangely calm. Part of it was the reassuring presence and friendly demeanor of the technician, but I realized I was also relaxed by the music.

Noting from my records that I was a veteran, the tech mentioned in passing that he was a Viet Nam vet who had survived the Tet offensive. That got immediate respect from me even before he detailed the bullet wound that earned him medical retirement. We briefly traded stories of those who did not pass unscathed through that '60s hellish nightmare; his, much more cogent for having been there. But mostly he was quiet. My mind settled on to the background sounds, which comprised the machine's magnetic hum and a CD of old jazz and blues tunes. For the next 20 minutes I heard Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday, and others I could not place.

That's not music I usually listen to, though I can still appreciate it. During a test that can tell if your heart is screwed up, it's the kind of music that nicely distracts. It was from a CD the tech had brought in on his own. If it had had any Fats Waller on it, the tech might have been surprised I would have recognized it. How many average white guys have ever even heard of Fats Waller? My dad got me interested in him when I was a kid, and he bought me one of Fats' albums--wish I still had it. Hold tight, brother.

After the test, the tech took it a step further by showing me examples of typically bad results vs my results. Although not technically qualified to comment, this is what he does for a living 5 days a week, so you got to give him respect. He said it wasn't really rocket science since the test pretty much spells it out in obvious pictures. Anyway, I now have about an 85% opinion that I'm not going to spar with a stroke in the immediate future. I'll get the 97.4% confidence (no kidding, that's the stat the doc quoted) opinion in the near future from my PCM.

Well, I can't say enough for bedside manner. This was the most pleasant, potentially disastrous experience I've ever had. I honestly believe I was even prepared for bad news, and will remain so up to seeing the PCM. Should there be more to deal with along these lines, I know a few songs I'd like to listen to...

Friday, January 22, 2010

Searching Youtube et al

Altho I don't have a facebook or youtube account (still a social network chicken), one thing I've really enjoyed is searching old songs I heard in the 70's and 80's and watching videos of performances and remixes. Youtube has a bunch but there are many sites to scan.
Just goofing around today, I came across a fun item that captures one of my favorite Yes songs with an imaginative video, actual origin unknown. I'm experimenting with embedding stuff, so here goes--maybe? This one is from Metacafe...

Owner of A Lonely Heart (Klonhertz Remix) - Click here for the funniest movie of the week

Thursday, January 14, 2010

What to tell a 10-year-old

I started this entry the day after the earthquake hit Haiti, and am just getting back to it now. Because such large scale disasters all have a very similar pattern, it's not hard to predict what would come next, and sure enough this disaster held true. It runs something like this: disaster, gather your senses, try to help self/others, find hospitals inundated/destroyed, try to find food/water/shelter, experience widescale looting/lawlessness, tent cities with sanitation and disease threats, large refugee movement, problems with communities absorbing refugees, and so on. It takes time to move help in and get organized.

A 7.0 earthquake hitting the poorest country in the western hemisphere is a double hit. 7.0 is the equivalent of a few nukes going off; and the logistics of helping people in a disaster of this magnitude are daunting, made worse by a modest infrastructure even before the quake almost completely scragged most of what they had.

The situation was updated minute to minute with more bad news, such as airplanes, the fastest form of immediate aid, being turned away. That's predictable too, since large planes need gas, a parking space and vehicles to offload them--logistics 101. (It rankles me a bit that the media almost immediately asked why it was taking so long for the US to mobilize help. Few understand the sheer immensity of what this entails.)

In the midst of this I got concerned about what I should be telling the resident 10-year-old about it. The news can inundate young minds with horror images even in a passing glance of TV or paper. I asked him every day what they were telling him in school, and closely monitored what he saw on TV; thankfully the direst images were not randomly splashed on Nick or Cartoon Network.

Surprisingly though, the schools here did not choose to discuss this with the 5th graders, so he is not getting any perspective except from his parents/guardians. So, I told him about the nature of the disaster, and a little about what it means to the people there (without being graphic about the tens of thousands of individual horrors being experienced). He was attentive but not deeply concerned, and I think that is probably typical for a 10 year old. However, the fallout of this earthquake will descend for quite some time and may eventually pierce even a grade schooler's simple world.

So what should we teach about this? It is an opportunity to compare to our own circumstance and see what we'd do to prepare; also to understand the challenges of keeping civilization on track in the midst of utter chaos. A major point would be on sympathy for the victims, how we might help them, and our obligation to do so. Lastly, not miss an opportunity to tell once again how fortunate we are to be living as well as we do, and not take it for granted. Preparedness, empathy, charity, community.

It would be great if kids never had to face the cruel side of nature, or the fact of our mortality, before they were ready as young adults. But, just not realistic. So, I will calmly ask each day what my fifth grader has heard about Haiti, and take a moment to touch on the points above. We'll see how it goes.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

10 Things to do in 2010

New Year's resolutions? A good and bad thing. Good that you have good intentions, something to strive for, and I want always to improve. However, bad in that they say you will likely fail at all or most and the attendant psychic and/or emotional damage decreases your satisfaction with life in general, or something like that. There's supposed to be some statistic supporting that statement, but I don't need it; I only have to look back...

Actually, there was that one year I lost weight. It was a significant amount too, and I was quite pleased with myself, thank you Weight Watchers. Add in a couple years in which I was actually very fit, in the 90th-plus percentile for the adult male population according to AF statistics. But by and large, I set goals that were probably unrealistic or at least, deemed unimportant as the year elapsed. But I also know most were doomed because they were just intentions, without a solid game plan.

This year, I'm going to try a to-do list, not resolutions--there's a difference, though slight. These would still benefit from a plan but I will not outline that here--suffice to say I am in the planning stages--first comes the list. Not surprisingly, it starts with food.

1. Try the Taco Bell Al Fresco menu. I do love The Bell. This may be the classic marriage of less guilt and less taste, but maybe it won't disappoint, ... much.
2. Dump the 350Z. You'd think any man in his 50's would shuck a gonad over one of these, but not this guy. Disappoints on so many levels...
3. Watch more TV (well, every list really should have at least one sure-fire thing on it, and this is Lost's final season).
4. Go for walks, maybe start jogging. Yeah, the classic and perennial resolution, but I really want to do this; if it doesn't happen, there's always number 3.
5. Write something really intelligent on my blog. Hey, I'm trying.
6. Take down the Christmas tree. You might think this one is a sure thing too.
7. Hit the beach. Believe it or not, I only went once last year, and it's less than a mile from here.
8. Hit the local Chucky Cheese. It's not about the food this time. OK, it never was. But you got to have the requisite 10-year old with you or it's just creepy...
9. See an adult movie. I mean, a movie aimed at adults, not 10-year olds!!!
10. Go to my daughter's wedding. It's the least I can do since I'm not paying for it. Seriously, it will be like doing one of the 12 tasks of Hercules for me to pull this off, but don't worry honey, I will be there.

So. we'll see how the kick-off of the second decade of the new millennium goes for this fortunate soul. It is certainly started with the best of good intentions.