Friday, August 08, 2014

It was 40 years ago today...

Everyone, as I think I've pointed out here before, remembers exactly where they were when certain events occurred. Mine include the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the announcement from Lyndon Johnson that he would not run again for president, the 1971 Sylmar Earthquake (it would be difficult for me to forget that one, as I was right in the middle of it - it made a hell of an alarm clock), the Challenger explosion. There are more, but you get the idea.

And then there is an event that occurred 40 years ago today. I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when Richard Nixon made his televised announcement that he would resign from the presidency, effective at noon the next day. It was all I could do to refrain from jumping up and down and cheering; I was never a Nixon fan. But, that wouldn't have been an appropriate thing to do, standing as I was in the middle of the electronics department of the K-Mart on Rosecrans Boulevard in Bellflower, California. Yes, I know that is an odd place to be watching from. I was at work at my first job out of high school, and happened to be on break from a busy evening at one of the registers. The announcement just happened to be coming on as I was on my way to the break room for my 10-munite break in the middle of a four-hour evening shift. So, because I was a bit of a news geek even then, I stopped to watch.

It wasn't really that much of a surprise that Nixon was resigning, even though he had repeatedly denied that he was going to do that. He was not only going to be impeached; it was fairly clear that the Senate would vote to remove him from office. It was, basically, a simple "I quit" before he could be fired, just like people do every day, from all kinds of jobs. But it came after a scandal that turned the country upside down. Ever the politician (and ever the ass-coverer), he proclaimed that he wanted to remain and fight through the mess, and that his family had urged him to do so, but that he had lost his base and was resigning in "the interest of the Nation". He said he regretted "any injuries that may have been done" during the course of the scandal - what has become the standard script of the "non-apology apology" - and then proceeded to list all of his accomplishments in office, invoking his "legacy to you, to our country" as if he hadn't left a legacy of divisiveness, of lies and deceitfulness that still reverberate today. He never did admit any wrongdoing, in his resignation speech or later on. He famously insisted, in one of a series of interviews with David Frost, that "when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal."

It's interesting what this legacy has meant in my own life. I am a registered Democrat (well, not now, because I'm in the process of moving for the second time in just a few months, but when I finally get settled in at my new location, I will once again be a registered Democrat) directly as a result of Nixon's legacy. You see, I was able to register to vote for the first time just fifteen days after Nixon's resignation speech, when I turned eighteen. I deliberately chose to register as a Democrat specifically because I did not want to be associated with the party of Nixon. I had followed the whole mess fairly closely, and didn't want any part of a political party that used the tactics that Nixon condoned as part of the Watergate break-in and it's aftermath. I won't even get into Nixon's long history of using dirty tricks to win elections and get his way. Even in his earliest campaigns, he implied that his opponents were Communists. Jerry Voorhis and Helen Gahagan Douglas, anyone?

This is not the time nor the place to comment on what has become of the Republican party since then, except that I will say that we've come to a fine pass when it would be necessary, if Nixon were alive and running for office today, he would probably have to run as a Green because he would be considered too liberal for many of the current Republican leadership. After all, Nixon was the president who signed the Clean Air Act of 1970 and under whose administration OSHA and the Environmental Protection Agency were created.

Nixon was an enigmatic individual, to be sure. Or, in today's terms, he had issues. He came across, at all times, as awkward and overly formal. He appears, from the evidence, to have been paranoid. Yes, he did some things as president that could be considered progressive. But he also did things like calling his opponents Communists and adopting the Southern Strategy, appealing to the racism of white Southern voters in order to win the presidency. And he was, even though he denied it many times, a "crook". It really is difficult to see him as anything other than morally bankrupt.

I certainly was not sorry to see Nixon resign, even though by doing so and through the graces of Gerald Ford's pardon of Nixon after Ford became president, he largely avoided any consequences for his actions as president. There was no impeachment, no Senate trial, no real accountability for leaving his country in much worse shape than when he entered office. And, I think, there should have been consequences other than the public humiliation of being the only president thus far to resign his office. Not because I like to see anyone get piled on, because I don't. But the reality is that Nixon violated his oath of office to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." It doesn't quite seem fitting that he ended his life with the status of elder statesman, despite all the things he put his country through in the name of winning an election.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Broadsided by Life...

Have you ever felt like life has broadsided you and then run off like a hit-and-run driver?

Well, that's how I feel right now. I was just living life, minding my own business and trying to find a way to make a living, and then, wham...I found out that I'm losing my place to live by the end of August. Just like that. Nothing I did. What happened was that when my cousin invited me to live with his family, he forgot to check the rules of the reverse mortgage on the house. Turns out, no one who is not on the mortgage is allowed to live here. So, combined with a couple of other things he forgot to take into consideration, I'm out. I guess I'm lucky that I've got until the end of next month to get a plan in place.

And I do have a plan. You can read about it here. I think it is a good plan. But it is going to take some money, money that I don't have right now, which is why I've started the campaign that the link above leads to.

I'm not asking for a handout so much as for a hand up. And I'm doing all I can to help myself. I'm trying to sell my belongings, which I can't take with me when I move to the East Coast, anyway. Unfortunately, the yard sale I had on Saturday as part of this effort earned me a total of about $90. This isn't even enough to buy my train ticket, which is the only essential right now. I've got to get to where the jobs are, since there clearly aren't any jobs - at least for me - here in California. If there were, I suspect that I would have found at least one of them in two and a half years of looking.

The reason I set my goal for my fundraising efforts so high - at $5,000 - is that I'd like to be able to put a roof over my head and a little bit of food on the table while I'm looking for work once I arrive in the East. I don't think that is too much to hope for, as it is very difficult to find work from the streets. I will actually start to apply for jobs before I leave; I'm just waiting until I have my train ticket in hand so that I can let prospective employers to know when I will be in the East and available for interviews and to work.

I hope you will click over to the link above and read all about my plan. If you can't help, I understand. It's tough for everyone right now. And I want to thank those who have already helped. If you can help, even a little, I will appreciate it greatly.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Paper cuts, paper cutting, and music that is louder than necessary...

Yeah. I intended to be back on a more regular basis. Really.

But, you see, I got this paper cut on my finger...

No, it isn't the beginning of a joke. I really did have the paper cut from hell. Right on the tip of that most useful of fingers (that would be the one in the middle). And, even with a Band-Aid on it, keyboarding was, well, uncomfortable. And, I don't know why, but my paper cuts always take forever to heal. Other stuff - my cuts, scrapes, bruises - always heal really fast, but not the paper cuts.

But now I think I'm all healed. At least, I hope so.

Now, this is funny. Just for the shits and giggles, I searched "paper cuts" in Bing images. I do these things sometimes when I'm bored. And there were a couple of people displaying actual cuts from paper. But mostly what appeared were things like this:

And this:

Both very pretty, and both things I'd never be able to do - I didn't get the graphic arts gene - but very much not what I was expecting to see. But I thought I'd share.

The things I do to amuse myself on a Saturday night. Then again, I have to do something to distract myself from the local neighborhood noise polluter. For the past three hours or so, there has been what sounds like live music blasting from somewhere in the neighborhood. It wouldn't be so bad if it was good music. Alas, it is not. It's probably a good thing I had a long nap this afternoon, because I'd hate to try to go to sleep with that going on.

Ah, well. Because I try to find the silver lining in every situation, I can say that it least the music is better than the joker who was setting off firecrackers last night. Sounded like a cannon going off. Repeatedly.

Hope you all are having, or have had, a Saturday night that is as exciting - or not - as you want it to be.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Down on Santa Monica Pier...

This is where I went yesterday:

And I rode on this (it's from the 1920s, I think):

And I watched this:

And I saw this (and had lunch at the place behind the sign...the burgers and fries are wonderful):

Passed this on the way to the pier while driving through Topanga Canyon:

Theatricum Botanicum was founded in 1973 by actor Will Geer (you might remember him as Grandpa Walton on "The Waltons" television series in the 1970s), but its roots to back to the 1950s when Geer was blacklisted during the McCarthy era and opened a theater on the property to give other blacklisted entertainers a place to practice their arts. After Geer died in 1978, his family and others decided to turn the facility into a professional repertory theater. Apropos to my visit to Santa Monica Pier, the main stage at the theater is built from wood salvaged when the Pier sustained serious damage in a storm in 1983. To all appearances from when we drove by on Sunday, the theater is alive and well, with an event going on as we passed by.

And saw this while traveling down Pacific Coast Highway:

This was once actress Thelma Todd's home (upstairs) and a café she opened (downstairs). It's also where she died, in 1935, in the garage, with the car still running. It was ruled an accident (or possibly suicide) at the time, but some say she was murdered although a grand jury was not able to find any evidence to prove it.

So, that's my Sunday, and a little bit of film history and gossip for Movie Monday. Actually, the Pier itself has a place in film history, with appearances in many films and television episodes over the years.

How was your weekend?

Just a note: None of these are my photos; Bing Images is my friend.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

I said I'd do it, and now I have...

I recently finished reading my way through J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels.

I had already seen the movies, so I pretty much knew how things would turn out. And so the did; the movies, as it turns out, were in the main faithful to the books. I know that there were arguments among diehard fans of the books about what was left in, what was left out, and what was changed. As I read the books, I was aware of some of the changes and omissions, but they mostly didn't bother me as I read. My philosophy about books into movies, whether I saw the films first or read the books, is that what is on the page and what is on the screen are two different worlds. It's how I'm able to enjoy the television series "Bones" and also enjoy the books written by Kathy Reichs that provided the inspiration for the series, which share pretty much nothing but the name of the title character.

This, of course, is not the case with the Harry Potter books and films. The thing that surprises me, really, is that the films are so like the books. It was a difficult thing to achieve, I think, in the face of the fact that in adapting such a long and complex (yes, despite being written for a young adult audience, the books as Rowling wrote them comprise a pretty complex whole) series of books for the screen meant that it would be necessary to pick and choose the details to be retained and those to be omitted. I've only seen a couple of other films based on books that I've read, that have been able to retain the illusion that it was the book up there on the screen. It is an illusion, of course, in all cases, and the ability to create that illusion is a rare and wonderful thing.

However, as faithful as the films were able to be to the books, enough had to be left out that there were things in the story told by the movies that I just didn't understand, even after repeated viewings. Which is why I've finally read the books. Friends who had both read the books and seen the films had told me that things would be much clearer after I read the books.

They were absolutely right.

Now, I have to say that some of the explanations came in bursts of info-dump that Rowling might have been able to find other ways to accomplish. On the other hand, I'm glad those scenes were there. I don't know how many times, while I was reading, I found myself saying to myself (sometimes out loud), "So, that's what that was about." Or, "Now I understand why that happened that way." Now, however, I need to go back and watch the films from the perspective of having read the books.

The quibble about the info-dumps, I hasten to add, is just that: a minor quibble. I think that J. K. Rowling accomplished something quite amazing in her books. While writing for a younger audience, she was able to weave a story that has also kept millions of adult readers entranced over a period of many years. She has been quoted as saying that she came up with the idea for the story of the Boy Who Lived while on a train in 1990. The first volume was published in the UK in 1997 and in the US in 1998. The final book was published in 2007. She managed, as far as I could see in my reading, to retain the consistency of the story she was telling through all that time and work, and especially through all the hype as the books found and audience and became so immensely popular.

I'm glad I read the books. I'll probably read the series again. But, to be honest, I'm also glad I waited to read them until well after all the books had been published. I would have hated waiting between books to see what happened next. I'm going through that right now with another series of books I've been reading, and it's driving me a bit crazy that the third book won't be out until mid-July. It's driving me so crazy that I've recently re-read the first book and am working my way through the second book again now. If I had known when I picked up the first volume, "A Discovery of Witches", by Deborah Harkness, I would have just left it alone until all the books had been published, as I did with the Potter series.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Once again, a school decides that "Athletics good, Arts bad"...

Excuse me while I pick myself up off the floor.

You see, I just read a news story that made me roll my eyes so hard that I fell over backwards.

It seems that a primary school in Elwood, New York, has cancelled a two-day, year-end kindergarten show, citing the need for the kindergarteners to spend the time preparing for "college and career" and "concentrating on preparation for first grade". The school suggested they attend a later "Game Day". While the article (from Today Parents) did not specify what that Game Day will entail, in my experience grammar school game days focus on athletic events.

The cancellation of the kindergarten show, which involves the children singing and performing plays and the required rehearsals beforehand, caused an uproar as both parents and students protested. After the protests, the school's interim principal sent another letter which further justified the decision to cancel the show this way:

The reason for eliminating the Kindergarten show is simple. We are responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers and problem solvers

Please do not fault us for making professional decisions that we know will never be able to please everyone. But know that we are making these decisions with the interests of all children in mind

So, the position is that participating in performance arts do not give children "lifelong skills"? What about the discipline and dedication needed to prepare and give such a performance? In the documentary "Shakespeare High", which is about high school students participating in the annual Shakespeare Festival put on by the drama teachers group in Southern California, actor Kevin Spacey (who took part in Festival when he was a student at Chatsworth High School) says that participation in the performing arts is not just good for students planning on going into show business, but gives benefit to students going into non-performance careers by giving them the confidence they need to be successful in whatever field they eventually enter.

Maybe especially, in this case, what about the students who aren't good at or just don't enjoy the athletics required in Game Day activities, but who enjoy and are good at dancing, singing and acting? Don't they count? Why are these athletic events being privileged over performance arts?

Oh, yeah. Now I remember. Athletes are revered in our culture as heroes, while actors and singers and dancers are often viewed as soft, coddled and self-indulgent. Except, you know, that it takes a lot of discipline and dedication to succeed in the ultra-competitive world of the performing arts. Dancing, for example. I've worked with a ballet company before as a props handler, and dancers are the best-conditioned, most disciplined people I've ever seen. I've also participated in theater productions in backstage capacities and I've seen first-hand all the skills that are necessary to put on a production that are applicable to all areas of life. As just one example, a performer in a play has to memorize his or her lines. If those school administrators cannot see that an ability to memorize material will help their students in college and career, they don't know their business very well.

As usual, arts activities are the first to fall while athletics are always among the last things to go.

Don't get me wrong. I love sports, not so much as a participant any more (although I used to compete in both softball and volleyball), but definitely as a spectator. But I get kind of disgusted sometimes at how athletics and athletes are privileged in our culture over the arts.

The only thing that dismays me is that one parent quoted in the article I've linked to above blamed the cancellation of the kindergarten show on Common Core. This dispute is not the fault of any particular teaching system or philosophy. The attitudes behind it have been around since long before Common Core was a gleam in some educator's eye and will be around long after Common Core has gone the way of the New Math and every other educational fad.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

And they call the wind...


The East Wind is blowing today. You have no idea how happy this makes me. Even though it also means it's going to be very hot, I've been waiting for this every since I moved back to Southern California.

I love the wind. I always have. I grew up with it, and I missed it all the years I lived in Central California, where the wind almost never blows. What they call "wind" can be just a slight breeze.

Oh, the San Joaquin Valley gets a breeze sometimes. But a real wind? Once or twice a year, maybe. Which is probably good for them, because a lot of people there (including the weather forecasters) freak out when there's even just a little bit of a breeze.

I've had people criticize me for my affection for the East Wind (which you all might have heard called the Santa Ana Winds, but when I was growing up, we only ever called it the East Wind). I am fully aware that it can create havoc. Really. Trees down. And it comes with low humidity that increases fire danger, especially when the state is in a drought as it is presently. Then, if a fire does start, the wind makes it more difficult to control and extinguish.

I know all that. I lived with it as I grew up.

On the other hand...

This particular sort of wind makes me feel invigorated (even when it comes with excessively high temperatures). I get stuff accomplished. This is all good, although my teachers all through school hated it, because the wind apparently had the same effect on all the kids, making it very difficult to teach anything. But, when I was a kid, I didn't see that as my problem.

You also get views like this:

Although I have to admit that the view is like this a lot more these days than there were when I was growing up and the air quality around here was much worse than it is now. Back when I was growing up, East Wind days were often the only days you could see the mountains. Here in the San Fernando Valley, you can see the mountains nearly every day now.

In any case, I've got wind today. Here's hoping for none of the negative repercussions that can come with the East Wind and lots of the advantages.