Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sorry to hear that you're dead

You see, this is my life! It always will be! Nothing else! Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful little people out there in the dark! ~ Washed-up silent star actress, Norma Desmond, played by Gloria Swanson in the film, Sunset Boulevard. 1950
I think the only thing that could top the overwhelming presence of Michael Jackson’s death in the news media would be confirmation of contact with aliens from another planet. Don’t get me wrong, it is sad that th
is man’s tortured life was cut so short. I think the poor guy never had a “normal” childhood – pushed into a show business career by aggressive parents. It’s no wonder the guy was somewhat eccentric, to say the least.

What bothers me most about the news coverage, particularly in the death of any celebrity, is their immediate exhalation to mythical proportions… something we as a society don’t often do when the person is still alive. Consider the following excerpts from the news:

Michael Jackson was probably the most famous person on the planet. He was possibly the most misunderstood. And he was, without question, one of the most gifted music artists of his generation, of all time.

NBC's "Today" show, where one moment Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira were describing how Jackson was the most compelling entertainer they had ever seen.

"Michael Jackson made culture accept a person of color way before Tiger Woods, way before Oprah Winfrey, way before Barack Obama,
" said the Rev. Al Sharpton.

No matter what evidence is thrown up, it would not subtract from the mystery and incredible persona of Michael who was more than an idol. To millions across the world, he was a demi-god.
Demi-God? Made culture accept a person of color? Uh, didn’t he spend an inordinate amount of time trying to look more white than black? Were he still alive, would you allow your 8 y/o son to have a sleep-over at "Wonderland" estate? And on whose authority was Jackson anointed the "King of Pop"?

The underlying question is, why do we do this -- Why do we raise the death of a celebrity to become t
heir greatest lifetime triumph? The answer is two-fold: Guilt, and the desire to be connected to something bigger than ourselves.

One news article spoke of the cessation of Michael Jackson jokes following his death. That’s guilt. Celebrities are pretty fair game while they are alive. Jackson was the brunt of a lot of jokes, many of them fairly mean-spirited. We exalt him now because his death makes us feel guilty.

The second issue I find extremely puzzling. When Diana, Princess of Wales died, Buckingham palace was smothered in flowers from ordinary well wishers. Even in small local accidents, say where a child is killed in a traffic accident, people with no relationship to the deceased leave flowers, flags or teddy bears. I believe these people revel in experiencing grief because their own shallow existence is bereft of emotion, passion, love, attention and the like -- they clamor to grasp at any visceral feelings they can. Better if the person is a celebrity, which then somehow elevates their lonely anonymous status (in their mind) to that of the widely adored celebrity.

We love them, but the truth is, were we actually to get anywhere close to them, their bodyguards or security people would drop us to the ground like yesterdays laundry. In truth, celebrities have no intimate or emotional connection to us. -- They really couldn’t care less about us “wonderful little people out there in the dark”.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Creativity Takes A Break

And now for something completely different. From the same warped people who brought you "Charlie the Unicorn" ...
... you're either going to love this or hate it -- and Yes, this will count toward your final grade.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Is Yielding un-American?

I have concluded that most American drivers have no clue what “Yield” means.

For some, all they know is that it’s NOT a Stop sign. It also doesn’t say “Slow” or “Caution” so for these people, it’s essentially an “Ignore This Sign” sign.

For the Yield maneuver to work effectively, the driver has to understand the higher concept of “merging”. For many, this involves deeper thought processes which, my observations conclude, ar
e clearly beyond the capacity of a significant number of drivers.

Merging involves observation of converging traffic, calculating their velocity and attenuating yours, to allow for the safe insertion of your vehicle into the adjacent traffic pattern without having vehicles come into contact with one another… uh, well I was told there would be no math.

The capacity to successfully merge is further complicated by the overriding personality of the vehicle operator. For example, some driver’s mental capabilities are maxed in just operating their own vehicle. There’s the steering wheel to deal with, then all those peddle thingies for your feet, knobs, switches and incoming text messages. For these individuals, their sphere of consciousness does not extend much beyond the shell of the car itself. These folks are more likely to approach a yield situation by closing their eyes, stepping on the gas and hoping for a positive outcome.

Still others (men mostly) view the automobile as an extension of their physical being – their penis, actually. These guys view the yield as an invitation to insert their dominance in a social environment; charging ahead through the yield as if to say: “Yield to me, suckers” and challenging others to see who brakes first.

In an ideal world the Yield sign instead would read: “If there is no other traffic, proceed – otherwise slow down, look for other traffic and allow it to pass first; come to a complete stop if necessary”. Unfortunately a sign of this clarity would need to be the size of a billboard.

A few years back when we rented a car and driving around France, I saw this sign pictured here. I had no clue what it meant. So I just drove very very slowly.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Physics of Revenge.

My best friend in junior high school was David Hockabout although everyone called him “Hocky”. He was my best friend primarily because I was one of the smallest guys in school and he was one of the biggest who was NOT a bully. It was a friendship built more on the need for survival (mine) than anything else… had the two of us had been caricatured, we would have made a hilarious cartoon pair.

Hocky was a real marshmallow; his body mass didn’t intimidate anyone in the least. My vicarious protection was mainly due to the fact that, if the bullies zeroed in on us, he was usually the bigger target.

I think the worst period of any kid’s childhood is probably junior high. At this age, the adoles
cent brain hasn’t developed sufficiently to be skilled at weighing the consequences of one’s actions; it’s pretty much overcome by the “depravity lobe”. As a result, junior high personalities generally fell within two categories: predators and prey.

The hunting grounds were the school yard, a place where even teachers dared not venture. So there we were Hockey and me, attempting to survive another recess on the playground.

Todd was one of many bullies. He was usually accompanied by a cadre of henchman; however, on this particular day he had apparently decided to freelance. As luck would have it, Hockey and I crossed his sights as convenient targets of opportunity. Todd circled briefly then went in for the kill -- His weapon was a partially-eaten fudge ice cream bar which he smeared generously on the inseam of Hockey’s butt. Now to be candid, Hockey had somewhat provoked this attack – he was wearing a freshly laundered pair of white jeans.
White! He might as well have thrown blood in shark filled waters.

A crowd gathered taking in the entertaining spectacle, everyone was totally amused with the stunt -- including myself, I am ashamed to say. But in junior high school, empathy is an obscure concept among teenage b
oys; and as I said, the line between entertainment and depravity is indistinct at best. I laughed right along with the rest of them as Hocky wiped the brown ice cream smear from his butt with an empty lunch bag.

Just as quickly it was all over; Hockey and I turned away in indignant escape, away from the school building across the blacktop to take refuge in the baseball field. Hocky was a walking mess of rage and sadness; clenched teeth and tears – angry indiscernible mutterings interspersed with expletives. I just walked beside him like the good friend I pretended to be.

We had made our way some distance onto the outfield when Hockey looked down and spotted an apple with a bite out of it, discarded on the ground. Without missing a beat in his spew of expletives, Hockey reached down, picked up the apple and flung it back in the direction we had just come.

Todd was now far off in the distance leaning against the corner of the school building; completely unaware of the powerful forces which had just been unleashed in his direction.

To digress a moment, I must admit that I have experienced occasional moments of immaculate splendor in my life where, one could say time slows almost to a stand-still. Filmmakers often employ these poignant moments by projecting them in slow motion – and so it seemed this was one such moment.
In perfect geometry and in complete adherence to Newtonian laws, the projectile arced through space, whereupon having reached its zenith against the blue sky, seemed for a brief moment to hesitate, then yielding its inertia to the force of gravity, continued its trajectory in precise mathematical regression downward, whereupon it encountered the side of Todd’s head, detonating into a splattering impact of applesauce and hair.

Hockey, inattentive to this point, had let the missile fly without regard to its flight and destination. Excitedly, I grabbed his arm and turned him around in time to witness the vision of Todd, fists clenched in rage, looking quickly left and right in a vain attempt to determine the origin of the attack. But alas, Hockey and I were so far out on the schoolyard, his attackers had disappeared into anonymity of kids actively running about in all directions.

We sat on the grass and watched from a distance, trying not to be obvious in our delight -- Todd pulling bits of apple out of his hair and angrily fuming with no one to direct his anger to. It was one of the best days in memory of my two years in junior high school… and I believe Hockey’s too.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Advertising is killing the Internet

I still watch TV the old fashioned way - that is, actually sitting in front of it staring at that tube. When I tell my kids I don’t get The Daily Show on Comedy Central with my “basic” cable, they ask why I don’t just watch it on the computer.
… Because the computer is small and I don’t like watching video the dimensions of a postage stamp, thank you very much!

Still, the networks are really working overtime to make TV unwatchable. I was recently watching a TV movie one morning while exercising. During the commercials they announced that they "will be returning to today’s feature after 'limited' commercial interruptions". Apparently they meant just THOSE specific five commerc
ials just shown. The film ran only another six minutes after which I was treated to another ten or twelve (I lost count) commercials.

Watching network crap ONLINE, however, is quite an eye-opener. For one thing the little Flash player thingy actually reveals to you how long the clip runs. So one can discover that a “30-minute” episode of The Simpsons, for example, actually runs just under 21 minutes. An hour show typically runs about 43 minutes. So roughly a third of any program is advertising -- mostly for products I will NEVER buy! TV commercials even run advertisements for other TV shows... which, of course, will also be chock full of commercials. I am not following the logic here -- do the network executives NOT want me to watch their shows? Hell, why don't the network bigwigs run just commercials; I mean all commercials all the time. It turns out that they already do: Home Shopping Network!

Advertising is pervading every corner of escape. I'm less interested in going to see movies at the
theater any more primarily due to advertising. I am greatly pained by the thought of PAYING ADMISSION to watch commercials on the big screen. Theaters get paid to run commercials, so why aren't we getting FREE admission? That was the promise of TV... it's free IF you watch the paid sponsorship. Seems like theaters are eating out of both ends of the trough.

And it's getting bad Online also. Now the little TV show clips you watch on computer have commercial
s embedded in them with increasing frequency. Sure they are short, running only a few seconds... now! But just wait -- Advertisers have ruined TV and I don't believe they will be satisfied until they ruin the Internet with advertising too.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

National Archives

I’m staring blankly at the TV, specifically focused on the permanent smirk perpetually pasted on the face of one former Vice President, Dick Cheney. He is extolling in his consolatory, used car salesman monotone about how successful “enhanced interrogation techniques” (which he had years earlier denied our government was using) have been in keeping our country free from terrorist attack. Naturally, he won’t (cannot) cite specific instances we have been spared because they are, of course, tippy-tippy-top secret. I am easily and often disgusted by what I see on TV, so I migrate to the computer and brows some of my favorite blogs.

Most blogs are, to put it kindly, rather uninteresting. But tonight my mind craves intelligent discourse and gravitates to one of my favorites, the excellent blog “Resident Alien,” written by Mary Whitsell.

Mary is currently living in Turkey, and her recent entry is about Kemal Mustafa Atatürk, one could say, the father of modern secular Turkey. Specifically she writes about being moved emotionally by a quotation by Atatürk carved on a monument in dedication to him. You can read her specific blog entry here.

I note how similar Atatürk’s speech is to Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Within two seconds Google p
resents it for me to read -- tears well up in my eyes as I take in the words.

The tragedy of September 11th, horrible as it was, pales in comparison to the American Civil War. For us, the Civil War was just one of endless subjects we learned about in history class. But it remains the most horrendous time ever to befall our nation. All the actors, all participants, butchered and maimed, physically and mentally, were perpetrated by the hand of our fellow countrymen. Not foreign faces hiding beyond our borders. 2,740 died in the 9/11 attack - over 620,000 died in the Civil War -- Americans all.

When looking at photographs of President Lincoln by this time in the war, his face belies the immense personal burden he bore at this awful moment in our history. By November 19th, 1863 the war had begun to wind down; he was asked to speak at the dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. I can just imagine as he penciled his thoughts on the back of an envelope on the train approaching Gettysburg how deeply, by this time, he must have fallen into a “enough bullshit” frame of mind. His words were drawn from his heart and laid out by this eloquent mind.

Lincoln never lost sight of WHY and HOW this country had come into existence only 87 years previously. The men who drafted our Declaration of Independence and later our Constitution knew viscerally and personally the inhumanity of imprisoning men merely for their ideas, of imprisonment for no cause or with no recourse for indeterminate periods of time, and of “enhanced interrogation techniques”. So abhorrent were these practices to these men that they resolved to construct a government where these things would be forever stricken from human consciousness and practice.

I wonder: is Dick Cheney really that stupid or did he somewhere just lose his way? Reading the words of Atatürk and Lincoln and others I believe that the ultimate underlying strength of our country lies in the principals on which it was founded. Any time that we stray from those principals, or even simply become complacent about them, we demean ourselves and the people who relinquished their precious individual lives for these ideals.

I wince at the smirk on Cheney’s face, and at the garbage that spews from it, and I struggle to contemplate my response. But I don’t need to -- the 16th president of the United States already has: “It is better to be thought a fool than to speak out and removed the doubt.”

Monday, June 1, 2009

A stitch in time

Several years back my wife convinced me to buy a new suit. My job didn’t require that I wear one at the time, but the thinking went something like: well, you never know when you might need to wear a nice looking suit (like maybe for your funeral). So my step-son and I hit the local mens boutique and outfitted ourselves (under the wife’s oversight, of course) with nice new charcoal double-breasted wool suits. My set of dress ties date back to the 70’s; some of them I inherited from my father. I opted for a “tie-less” white shirt that buttoned at the collar – no tie required. We looked rather dapper.

I have always been a bit puzzled why mens (dressy) fashions never seemed to change over the decades. You can look back to the turn of the century (the earlier one) -- mens suits still look pretty much the same. I am not sure why that style held for so long; the suit jacket really doesn’t provide any significant practical protection against the elements, and the standard business tie has no function whatsoever that I can determine. What’s with that!??

For a short period of my career working in a bank I had a "leisure" suit, it was blue - that is "sky" blue!. It was the Disco era -- What can I say; I was only following orders!!

Further back in the 70’s they tried to get Nehru jackets into the public consciousness. How stupid was that?! The hard fact is that the standard business suit is the uniform of the American Male; we don’t take kindly to influences, either political or fashionable, from Europeans or anywhere else. Adopt or die. I just saw the Chinese ambassador discussing the world tensions mounting with Korea in a press conference on TV -- he was wearing a snappy looking western business suit. China probably knocks-off millions of copies of the latest Yves Saint Laurent design daily. Still, one international man of mystery is indeed trying to break the business suit mold -- Hamid Karzai, president of Afghanistan. Check out his suit here - this is a guy who clearly likes to chart his own course.

Forbes Magazine came out with an article about the most expensive business suits. Turns out you can pay upwards of $10,000 for one. I’m not all that sure it would look all that much better than one off the rack at Sears…but probably a woman could tell the difference.

I hadn’t worn my double-breasted suit in a while so I pulled it out of the closet and looked it over… discovered a moth had eaten a hole in the lapel. [sigh] I guess I can just pin a carnation over the hole. God knows I sure don’t need another new suit right now.

Men stopped wearing hats, it is so claimed, when John Kennedy went without one on his inauguration. Too bad, I wish President Obama would have reversed the trend and worn one to his inauguration. Hats are cool.