Friday, November 30, 2012

None of my business, nor the media's, nor yours...

If you read here very often, you might know that I wrote a couple of days ago about the odds of winning that big Powerball jackpot as opposed to the odds of some other things that might happen to you or me. You also probably know by now that it has been announced that two winning tickets were sold, to someone in Arizona and to someone in Missouri.

If you don't know that, you might have been hiding somewhere for the past day or so. The news was all over the morning shows today. I know. I was watching one of them. And, yes, I know that is sometimes a mistake. Be that as it may...

Something has been bothering me all day about the coverage on the particular network I was watching, which shall remain nameless to protect the guilty.

A lot of time was spent on trying to figure out who the winners are, to the point that one of the talking heads went on and on about how "we now have new clues", or something to that effect, about who the winners are. As if there is some primal need for all of us to know who those people are.

Well, no.

At least that's the answer for me. I really don't need to know who those very lucky people are who are now very rich by any normal standards. And, I think that if I had been one of those people, I wouldn't be keen to have everyone know that I had won.

This is not because I would fear having everyone and their cousin coming out of the woodwork to try to borrow money from me. I'm fairly good at saying no, so even though I know that would happen to one extent or another, it goes with the territory and I am confident that I could handle efforts like that in appropriate ways.

I wouldn't want people to know just on the general principle that it isn't anybody else's business. No, really. Just like it isn't anyone's business what salary another person makes or what clothing sizes they wear, or a thousand other details of their lives, it isn't anyone's business how big my bank account had grown if I won the lottery.

I certainly wouldn't keep it a secret from family and friends that I had won. I'm a little less clear on whether it would be any of their business just how much I got to keep after taxes, but the people who are important to me certainly have a right to know about something so life-changing as a bit lottery win. But everyone else? None of their business.

The fact is, when someone wins a big lottery jackpot like this, their lives change. They suddenly have problems that they couldn't have imagined at the beginning of the week. Adding to that by having the press crawling after them, looking for "clues" to who they are, what they do, what their family and friends think about the whole thing, and whether they showed up for work or not the day after learning of their win, just isn't necessary. It's invasive. It's rude.

I know what it is, this media push to find out everything about lottery winners. It's all about our celebrity-driven culture and how our culture worships money. Put the two together, and you create an expectation that anyone who comes into a great deal of money by beating the odds and winning a lottery needs to be our next instant celebrity.

Again, no.

Celebrity should be reserved for those who have accomplished something. I honestly send all my good wishes to those who won this latest Powerball jackpot. I hope they are able to avoid the problems that some earlier big winners of lotteries have been reported to have run into. But they really haven't accomplished anything that rates fame. They walked into a store and spent a couple of dollars on a lottery ticket and had the great good fortune to pick the winning numbers. That's all. Nothing to see here. Move along.

It would be nice if the media would get off their backs and let them figure this out away from the glare of the lights and cameras. Because, they really do have some serious decisions to make in the next few days and weeks.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

What I learned today

I've written here before about how I really hate reading the news these days, because so much of what is reported is so upsetting. Nothing has really changed on that front. But, some days, there are some interesting things to learn by browsing through a newspaper (yes, they do still publish those) or surfing a few news sites on the Internet.

In my reading today, I learned some very interesting things. Or, at least, they were interesting to me.

Yahoo! News informed me that the planet Mercury has water ice on its surface.

This seems a little counterintuitive considering that Mercury orbits the Sun at a distance of 29 million to 43 million miles, less than half the 93 million miles that separates the Earth from the Sun. Granted, even 29 million miles sounds like a long way, but the Sun is very hot.

The temperature extremes on Mercury are vast, with temperatures on the surface of the planet ranging from minus 279.67 degrees Fahrenheit to 800.33 degrees Fahrenheit. Minus 279F is surely cold enough to freeze water, but 800F seems about hot enough to vaporize it. The thing is, the poles of Mercury, where the ice was detected, rarely come out of shadows and remain very cold because the planet has no atmosphere.

The presence of water ice on Mercury has been suspected for a couple of decades, but the Messenger spacecraft that has been in orbit around the planet since last year, has reportedly confirmed its presence.

Back down on Earth, CNN is reporting that men in the Mideast are increasingly having surgery to enhance their moustaches. One plastic surgeon in Turkey claims to be doing up to 60 such procedures every month, while another plastic surgeon, this time in France, claims that men from around the Middle East fly in for the surgery.

The same report also says that moustache styles in Turkey have taken on a sort of second life as a political code, with the way a man wears his 'stache often indicating whether he is a conservative or a left-wing nationalist.

In another "who knew" story, it turns out televangelist Pat Robertson is not a young earth creationist after all. Young earth creationists believe that the planet has only been in existence a short time, generally between 6,000 and 10,000 years as opposed to the scientific consensus that the Earth is around 4.5 to 4.6 billion years old.

While answering a question from a viewer on his "700 Club" television show on Tuesday, Robertson acknowledged that some people were not going to be very happy with his answer before he said that dinosaurs clearly lived longer ago than 6,000 years, "before the times of the Bible," as he put it. "So," he is quoted by CNN as saying, "don't try to cover it up and make like everything was 6,000 years."

And last, but certainly not least, CNN also reports that the original Batmobile, created in 15 days by designer George Barris for the television series "Batman", which ran from 1966 to 1968, is going to go up for auction in January. The thing that makes the car unique is that it was the only one used in the series, making it unequivocally the original Batmobile. In most TV series and movies, several copies of a vehicle are created, making it difficult to call any of them "the original". Even more unique, Barris has been the only owner of the car, so it is difficult to say just how much bidders will be willing to pay for this particular piece of television history.

So...this is what I've learned today. What new piece of knowledge have you picked up today?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

I should've just stayed in bed...

NBC News online has a feature story on its website today about the odds of winning the current record-setting Powerball jackpot. Reading the story kind of makes me want to go back to bed and stay there. Forever.

Not because it sets the odds of any single ticket winning the $500 million (or whatever it's risen to by now) jackpot at 175,223,510 to 1. My odds of winning are much longer, since I don't play the lottery at all. But, even if you do play, there are some things that are much more likely to happen to you than winning.

Some of them aren't very cheerful-making.

For example, the article says that your chances of getting hit and killed crossing the street are 1 in 701, citing the National Safety Council. I always get nervous crossing the street. That probably has something to do with all those warnings to "stop, look, and listen" when I was young. This statistic isn't going to help me get over that anxiety.

And, after reading NBC's article, I'm really glad that I don't fly. The article gives the odds of dying in an air or space transport accident are at 1 in 7,178. I'm also really glad that I no longer live directly under a take-off or landing path for the local airport. Just because I'm on the ground doesn't make me feel safe. Those things can fall out of the sky, you know. When I did live under a take-off path, there were three or four times when a plane flying over sounded so bad that I just closed my eyes and held my breath until they were safely past.

The odds are longer than you'll get struck by lightning, at 1 in 134,906, but it's still a lot more likely that you will get your lightning bolt than that the lottery ticket you bought this morning on the way to work will be a big winner.

What about getting eaten by a shark? The odds of a shark attacking you are 1 in 11.5 million, although I'd guess they're probably greater for you if you live near the beach and go swimming or surfing on a regular basis than if live somewhere landlocked like, say, Kansas. Still, much nearer odds than winning Powerball.

Not all the odds reported in the article are related to bad things that could happen to you, although I suppose "bad" is a relative concept.

For example, the odds of winning the Presidency of the United States is about 1 in 10 million presuming, I assume, that you are a US citizen and old enough to run for the office. I guess there are people who actually want to be president. I'm not one of them.

You've got better odds of becoming a movie star, at 1 in 1,505,000, than of becoming President of the United States. The article doesn't really define "star", though, so it isn't really clear whether these are the odds on reaching the Elizabeth Taylor level of stardom, or merely managing to become well-known enough to be offered leading parts in films. Again, I guess there are people who would like this to happen to them, but I'm really not one of them.

Although, I do wonder what the odds are of me becoming a bestselling writer. Now, that's something I could get enthusiastic about.

The oddest statistic in the article, and maybe my favorite, are the odds of being born with extra fingers or toes. This probably interest me so much because I remember being in elementary school and discovering that there was a boy in school who had six fingers on each hand. It was awful for him, as he was teased and bullied mercilessly. So, not such a positive thing. But, after reading this article I think that the kids shouldn't have been so quick to judge him. The odds of this happening to you - not now, of course, because you're already born, but to the children you might contribute your DNA to - are given as 1 in 500.

That means that you had more of a chance of being born with extra digits than you do of getting run over by a car crossing the street. And really, very little chance of winning that $500 million jackpot.

So, you know, don't get disappointed if your numbers don't come up in the lottery. You'll be in very good...not to mention

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

I read blogs...and sometimes I recommend one

I'm in the process of spiffing up a few things here at "I Was Just Thinking", and while I was playing around with my blogroll (see "Places I Go, Blogs I Read" on the sidebar), I realized that I've never linked to "Whatever", John Scalzi's blog. That's fixed now.

What I really want to do here and now is urge you, if you never have, to go over and read Scalzi's blog. It is a rare and wonderful thing, and I think everyone should read it. First of all, Scalzi is a very, very good writer. Trust me on this, and if you don't trust me, just know that he has won some of the biggest awards in the science fiction world and has had books on the New York Times Bestsellers List. He's smart, he's funny, and when he needs to be serious, he's very good at that, too.

Second, if you only know Scalzi's name as a science fiction writer, and you don't like science fiction, don't let that put you off of reading "Whatever". He writes about science fiction, to be sure. But, he also writes about other things, like life and politics and, occasionally, the absurdities of the world we live in.

Third, he doesn't let commenters on his blog get away with stuff. He wields what he calls his Mallet of Loving Correction with sureness and skill. And he's had practice. Several times, he has written controversial posts on controversial topics that have gone viral and brought in all kinds of people who don't ordinarily read his blog, people who think they can step into his virtual living room and act like hooligans. They learn very quickly that it's his living room and his rules. And one of those rules, as I understand it, is Be Excellent. You aren't being Excellent when you try to start a flame war, and that sort of thing doesn't fly on "Whatever".

Fourth...oh, just click over and read a sample of what goes on over at "Whatever". If you enjoy a combination of silliness and serious commentary on serious subjects, plus some stellar recommendations of books to read by other authors (Scalzi hosts a feature called "The Big Idea" on "Whatever", in which he gives over space for writers to write about where the ideas for some of their latest work came from), I think you might like "Whatever".

Scalzi doesn't need me to boost his signal. "Whatever" is a very popular and long-established blog (he's been writing the blog since 1998). But, you know, I really enjoy reading over there, and I thought you might like it too, if you haven't already found your way there.

I hope you will continue to come by and read "I Was Just Thinking" on a regular basis. Of course. But I hope you'll go over and read Scalzi's blog, too. Because I do, every day.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Movie Monday: The Documentary Edition

Documentary films.

Say that, and a lot of people's eyes will glaze over, their attention will wander, and you will have to change the subject in order to regain their attention. But I'm here to tell you that documentaries vary as widely as any other genre of film, and they don't deserve to be dismissed just because they are often not seen as "entertainment".

I suspect that the widespread opinion that documentaries are boring (and that's the description of them I hear most often) comes from the memories most people have of seeing educational films in school. And, goodness knows, many of those are horribly boring - although I always quite liked the Bell System Science Series, which had unusually high production values for their time, which I saw in elementary school and junior high.

For example, there was "Our Mr. Sun", the first film in the series, made in 1956 and directed by legendary film director Frank Capra. This film was still being shown in the public schools, at least in Southern California, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and I remember seeing this one several times in classes during those years. The whole thing is available on YouTube, but I found this clip of the last few minutes of the hour-long film to be really eye-opening on a number of levels:

I think it is fascinating, how much time in the film was given over to the possibilities of solar power and how, while nuclear power is mentioned, it is ultimately dismissed as not as important as solar power. I hadn't remembered how much religious imagery was included, but I think it's interesting that no conflict is found between religion and science as the film explicitly endorses asking questions to understand how the natural world works. And, is it just me, or does that prayer-like narrative at the end of the clip sound more like a prayer to the Sun than anything else, despite the reference to St. Francis? Also, there is a bonus female role model, something I'd forgotten from my viewings of the film. This is very progressive for the time the film was made.

But, so much for my trip down memory lane. Educational films are not what I'm talking about here, although documentaries can be educational if you watch them critically and understand that they are not usually objective, but carry the messages and biases of those who make them. Nobody is ever going to mistake Michael Moore's documentaries for anything but subjective surveys of his subjects, for example. Anyone who has seen "Roger and Me" (1989) or "Bowling of Columbine" (2002) or "Fahrenheit 9/11" (2004) knows that, whether they agree with the positions Moore takes in those films or not.

That sort of bias has existed in documentary films ever since they began to be made, at the dawn of filmmaking itself. In fact, many of the first films were documents of moments in time: a train entering a station, factory workers leaving their shifts for the day, a couple kissing. As the technology improved, travelogues, or what were called "scenics" at the time, became popular. But, very soon, filmmakers realized that they could tell real-life stories on film as well as they could tell fictional stories. But, they also realized, stories have more of a structure than real life does, and so they began to construct their documentaries as they would any other film. This led to manipulations and the inclusion of the biases of the filmmakers that often go unnoticed because the viewer assumes they are watching reality.

Except that as we all now know from the proliferation of "reality TV", "reality" on film is what one makes it.

This is not to say that all documentaries are a sham. It is important, however, to be aware that the reality within documentaries is often a managed reality, manipulated to tell a specific story. Which was the case as early as 1922, when Robert J. Flaherty made his classic documentary, "Nanook of the North" and made sure that a walrus that was being hunted was shot with a harpoon rather than the shotgun that his subjects also possessed. There are whole classes on the anthropology of images that study such manipulations, both in film and in still photography.

Documentary films are also, always, edited documents, just like any other film (or book, for that matter). A case in point is the documentary I watched yesterday, and which spurred the idea for today's Movie Monday post. "Looking for Richard" (1996), directed by Al Pacino, is one of my favorite documentaries and I was delighted to find it just starting a showing on the Sundance Channel yesterday afternoon when I sat down to see what was on television.

"Looking for Richard" is a wonderfully entertaining, if sometimes a bit scattered, attempt to find a way into Shakespeare's play "Richard III", who is, in fact, the Richard that the film is looking for. But it isn't just looking for the character that Shakespeare wrote. It is also looking for the meanings of the play, for the history behind the play and the character, for a way to make the play relevant for - and comprehensible to - modern audiences, for a way to stage the play, and for ways that the actors involved can relate to and best portray their characters. The actors involved in this effort, both as part of the cast and in commenting on the problems posed by playing a character in Shakespeare's plays generally, are an interesting lot. The film is worth watching just to see them arguing on behalf of their characters as a way of finding their way into their roles.

But, the point I started to make a couple of paragraphs ago is that it is a highly edited film. Over 80 hours of film were shot, which were then edited down to the 112-minute running time of the final cut of the film. That is a lot of material, over 4800 minutes of film reduced to less than two hours. And, at one point in the film, one cameraman comments to another that they need to make sure that Pacino doesn't find out that they have a few reels of film left over, because if he discovered that, he'd want to shoot those, too. So, there could have been more footage. One wonders what, exactly, was left on the cutting-room floor, and marvels that the finished product manages to hold together.

Mostly, you will be able to see documentaries only on television or on DVD. Unless you live in a large city, you will rarely find a documentary being screened in a movie theater. Offhand, I can only think of one non-music documentary that I've ever seen in a theater. That was director Errol Morris's "A Short History of Time", an exploration of the life and work of theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking. When documentaries do come to cities like mine, they often play only for a few days, and only for a screening or two per day. I think this one might have played for a week locally.

The argument I want to make here, though, is that you should seek out documentaries. You should be careful to identify their biases, but you shouldn't avoid them. Depending on their subject matter, they can be, yes, educational, but also relaxing (I'm thinking "The Endless Summer" [1966] and "The Endless Summer II" [1994], Bruce Brown's two surfing documentaries, which I could watch all day long), eye-opening ("The U.S. vs. John Lennon" [2006], directed by David Leaf), and just plain wondrous ("Cave of Forgotten Dreams" [2010], directed by Werner Herzog).

Here, for example, is a short taste of what you'll see in "The Endless Summer". I'm feeling more relaxed just having watched this few minutes of film. Think what watching the whole movie might do to improve your day:

This is the trailer for "Cave of Forgotten Dreams":

And here is the trailer for "The U.S. vs. John Lennon":

Now, go see a documentary.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Music Sunday: The Musicians Talk Edition

To be honest, I'm not really feeling the music thing this week. So, this week, Music Sunday is going to be a little bit different. There may or may not be any actual music. What there will be are musicians talking, and not necessarily even talking about music. What they say might or might not make any sense, might not feel relevant. But this week, I'm dedicating Music Sunday to remembering that musicians can talk, too.

I'm not going to provide any commentary on these clips. I'm just going to leave them here, to speak for themselves.

First up is Arlo Guthrie, talking about the Sixties with Tom Brokaw:

I found this portion of an interview with John Lennon, by Tom Snyder on "Tomorrow", from 1975, where Lennon shows his serious, thoughtful, intelligent side. The conversation is about drugs in the music business and Lennon's then-ongoing immigration case:

In fact, Tom Snyder interviewed a lot of people in the music industry on "Tomorrow". This short interview, plus two songs, comes from what was probably U2's first appearance on national television in the US, in 1981. The interview is short, and isn't especially serious, but it was more than most bands, and especially most new bands, got on late-night television in those days:

This next clip isn't an interview, but an excerpt from an MTV show where Marilyn Manson steps in as a guest instructor in a class at Temple University. I'm not a huge Marilyn Manson fan, but I think the value of this clip is that, whether you agree or disagree with what he says here, it's pretty obvious that he has put some thought into what he shares with the class:

Saturday, November 24, 2012

On this day in 1859, a controversy was born...

If you read here often, you might recall that just after the election I wrote about a Congressional race in Georgia where the Republican candidate was running unopposed but had riled up some voters because of his statements against evolution. In protest, over 4,000 voters wrote in Charles Darwin on the ballot to make the point that the candidate's statements were not universally approved in the district.

Well, today is the anniversary of the publication, in 1859, of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, the book, that started the modern controversy over whether the Christian God created all species as is, or whether Darwin was correct and life has evolved over the millennia.

Not that Darwin was the first to propose that species change and become new species, of course. But his book took the question wide, as one might put it if it had been a movie. It was written not just for other scientists, but for the general public. And the general public bought it in droves. The first edition sold out immediately, and a second edition published on January 7, 1860, also sold out within the day. In total, six editions, each with revisions, were issued before Darwin's death in 1882.

Reaction to the first edition was immediate but, surprisingly considering the history of the controversy over Darwin's take on the idea, not completely negative. Even some clergy immediately seized on Darwin's concept of natural selection and declared it simply God's mechanism for the creation of species. Still, there was much negative reaction and the erroneous charge that Darwin had written that humans descended from monkeys started circulating almost immediately. This occurred even though Darwin did not address the origin or evolution of humans at all in the Origin, except in his conclusion, where he wrote that "Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history." He did not apply his ideas on natural selection, in writing at least, to humans until a later book, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, published in 1871.

The debate over Darwin's theory has raged, with greater or lesser heat, pretty much ever since, although the volume of those religious voices raised in opposition to evolution give a slightly inaccurate picture of religion's official stance on the subject. I wrote in my earlier post about a survey that showed most Christian denominations having no real argument with Darwin and evolution, and I'm reading an interesting book right now, Joel W. Martin's The Prism and the Rainbow: A Christian Explains Why Evolution Is Not a Threat (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010; 170 pages), which expands on that conclusion. Martin is a scientist by training. He is also an ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church USA, where he teaches Sunday school and confirmation classes.

Martin's book takes time to show which Christian denominations in the United States officially accept evolution and which denominations reject it or have not made official statements regarding Darwin's theory. His conclusion is that denominations claiming 45.85 million members in the US have come out as opposing evolutionary theory, while denominations claiming 94.05 million members in the US have issued statements saying that there is no conflict between Christianity and evolution, and denominations claiming 8.5 million members have not come out clearly one way or the other (Martin, p. 10). Martin is careful to say that his numbers are not complete for various reasons, including but not limited to the fact that it is sometimes very difficult to determine memberships in denominations and that some denominations are so small that they do not make it onto lists of US Christian denominations (Martin, p. 11). He also points out that not all members of denominations agree with every official position of their denomination (Martin, p. 12). However, the thoroughness of Martin's research lends credence to the numbers he has arrived at on this topic.

So, the controversy remains, even as scientists find more and more evidence confirming that evolution does occur. Which brings me to another of the day's anniversaries - the discovery of "Lucy", a 40-percent-complete skeleton of an species called Australopithecus afarensis, by Donald Johanson and Tom Gray in Hadar, Ethiopia, on November 24, 1974. Famously named for the Beatles' song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", the find led to the naming of her species, although some partial specimens of her species had been discovered earlier.

Lucy lived around 3.2 million years ago, while her species has been determined to have existed from around 3.9 to 2.9 million years ago in East Africa, primarily in Ethiopia but also in Kenya. There is still discussion over whether Au. afarensis is a direct ancestor of modern humans or a close relative of our species, a cousin of sorts, but whichever position on the evolutionary tree Lucy and her species occupy, they give further fossil confirmation that our species did evolve.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Happy Doctor Who Day...

Today is Doctor Who Day.

That will mean nothing to many people. But, to me and many people like me, today marks the 50th anniversary* of the first broadcast of the British science fiction series "Doctor Who" which, after a rocky start and a few years away, is still going strong.

That rocky beginning included having to re-film the first episode of the series, "An Unearthly Child" after technical problems during the first filming. And,that was just the start of the trouble. The first airing of the show happened to be scheduled for the day after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in the United States, when most people around the world were focused on other things besides the debut of a new show aimed mainly at children. Additionally, parts of England were hit with a power outage that day, so the number of households able to receive the broadcast was limited. Because of these circumstances, the first episode was re-aired a week later, just before the second episode was broadcast.

After three seasons, with the health of William Hartnell, the first actor to portray The Doctor, failing and faced with the loss of their lead actor, those in charge of the program came up with a novel way of explaining why the character didn't look the same once Hartnell left the role. Being an alien, The Doctor had the power to regenerate (they originally called it "renewal") into a different form in case of serious injury. And so Hartnell was replaced by Patrick Troughton, who became the Second Doctor. In turn, Troughton was eventually replaced by Jon Pertwee, who was replaced by Tom Baker, the most famous of the Doctors from the classic series. Following Baker, Peter Davison became the Fifth Doctor, then Colin Baker (no relation to Tom) took the role, followed by Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor.

At that point, the series seemed to have run its course and production was ended in 1989. It had remained mostly a UK phenomenon, although there were fans in the United States who had been introduced to the show when PBS ran episodes on its stations around the US. It was not the end of the Doctor Who phenomenon, however, with the characters kept alive in novels and comics.

In 1996, the Eighth Doctor appeared, portrayed by Paul McGann, in a movie co-produced by the Fox Network, Universal Studios, and the BBC and shown first in the United States and then, a couple of weeks later, in the UK. The intent had been to follow up the film with a series, but the film did not bring in the hoped-for ratings in the US, although it was one of the top-ten rated shows the week it was shown in the UK, and no series followed.

A couple of further plans were made to bring The Doctor back to television, and the plan that finally reached fruition was announced in 2003 and made it to television screens in the UK and the United States in 2005, with Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor. Eccleston left after only one season, followed by David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor. After three seasons and a year of specials, Tennant was replaced by the current Doctor, the Eleventh, who is portrayed by Matt Smith.

That's the short and very incomplete history of Doctor Who. During the classic series, there were also a couple of movies made, with Peter Cushing portraying The Doctor, as well as audio episodes that have been produced in parallel to the new series. Additionally, the fandom never went away, even during the years between the classic series and the new series, with conventions for fans of the show being held in the UK and the United States.

There have also been spin-off series: "The Sarah Jane Adventures" for adolescents and "Torchwood" for a more adult audience, both produced in the UK, and an unofficial series, not produced by the BBC, featuring the robot dog K-9, aimed at younger children. Also, a tradition has grown of making and airing a Christmas special featuring The Doctor every year.

For those of us who are fans - and, yes, I am a big fan of the Whoniverse in all of its manifestations - all of this provides a rich legacy as well as continuing enjoyment as the series goes forward.

Those of you who are not fans probably wonder what all this is about, and why fans are so devoted to the series and all its spin-offs. Truthfully, it is difficult to explain fully to the uninitiated. For me, it is the idea that because The Doctor is a traveler in both time and space, the stories can take the viewer and reader virtually anywhere in the universe (more than one universe, in fact) and to any point in time - past, present, and future. The story possibilities are limitless. Also, although the character of The Doctor is an alien, he is also a most human character, capable of great compassion and great humor, but also of great rage and great sadness.

Late-night television host Craig Ferguson, who is a Whovian, put it this way: "Doctor Who is all about the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism." For me, that encapsulates the Doctor Who experience very well. I've been accused of being naive, but if I had to choose, I'd want intellect and romance to win out over brute force and cynicism any day, even on those days when my own cynicism is out and active.


*To be clear, this is the beginning of the 50th anniversary year of Doctor Who, a big deal for Whovians. I don't think I made that clear enough, and so I am doing that now. I can count. Really.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving...

On Monday, one of the films I wrote about was Alice's Restaurant. I mentioned there that the film was based on Arlo Guthrie's song of the same name, which is the only real Thanksgiving song I can ever think of offhand.

As far as I'm concerned, Thanksgiving is not complete without a listen to it, and so today, I'm going to share a live version from sometime in the 1990s. It's longer than the original but just as funny. I especially love the part where Arlo speculates about what was on the eighteen minutes and twenty seconds of Nixon's White House tapes that were erased, and that it is probably just a coincidence that the original recorded version of "Alice's Restaurant" was exactly that long.

And so, without further ado and for your listening pleasure while those of you in the United States are cooking your turkey, or perhaps nibbling before dinner, here is Arlo Guthrie and "Alice's Restaurant":

Happy Thanksgiving, and you're welcome.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

An open letter to my Facebook friends...

Dear Facebook friends:

I love you all. I really do. I would not have friended you unless I like you and enjoy your company, online, in real life, or both. In fact, I've only got only a very few out of nearly 100 friends on FB whom I have not at least met in real life, and of those who I have not yet met in meatspace, at least half of you have come to me through real-life friends.

Also, I respect all of you and your right to hold and express opinions on your FB feed, even if I don't always agree with those opinions. You might not even know if I disagree with you because, in general, I don't like to argue about those things on FB. If you have posted something that has really and truly offended me, I have quietly hidden in on my feed and let it go at that. It was really difficult, in some cases, to do that during the run-up to the recent election, but I tried very hard to just let those things go. Because I do love you all.

There is one thing, however, that really bothers me about FB. And that is the posting of things - messages or photos or photos with messages - that are accompanied by the admonition that if I don't share them or re-post them, that I'm uncaring or evil or stupid or lazy.

In fact, I might agree with you and care very much about your cause or your opinion. However, I try to make it a practice not to share or like socially or politically or religiously charged messages, even if I agree with them. I have made a couple of exceptions to this in cases of messages regarding bullying. This is because I was bullied as a child and adolescent and I know how harmful it can be.

Other than that, I try not to share those "message" posts. I am probably not perfect at that, and I don't claim to be, but I am very careful even when I do share or like something not to request re-posts or shares, because I don't like being asked to do that, and I really believe in that "do unto others" thing.

In fact, I have to admit that those messages about "if you don't share, you just don't care" feel an awful lot like bullying sometimes. Even if I agree with everything else in the post.

So, please, next time you post something, even something you feel very strongly about, think very hard before you attach a message that essentially attempts to bully others into sharing your message.

Please. And thank you.

Love you (and I really do, you know),

Your Facebook friend

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The history geek has fun with dates...

Joe Biden, currently and just re-elected Vice-President of the United States and Norman Greenbaum, who was a one-hit-wonder with the song "Spirit in the Sky", were born on the same day, November 20, 1942.

This has nothing to do with anything.

Well, except that it has to do with the fact that I'm fascinated with dates and the things that happened on them. When I see a correlation like this, I feel compelled to mention it. I'm a little OCD that way sometimes.

I think I developed this fascination after I discovered one day that the first moon landing and Edward Kennedy's auto accident that led to the death of Mary Jo Kopechne happened on the same weekend, with the accident at Chappaquiddick occurring on July 18, 1969 while the first moon landing took place on July 20 of the same year.

Those two events have nothing to do with each other, of course, unless you take into consideration that it was Kennedy's brother, John F. Kennedy, who put the US on the course for the moon landing with his speech on May 25, 1961, in which he called for "landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth" by the end of the 1960s. But with the way that the moon landing will reverberate throughout history, and the way that Edward Kennedy's misadventure reverberated through American politics and the rest of his life, it's just interesting to me that those two notable events occurred to close together.

Probably just the history geek in me.

I suppose there are some conspiracy theorists who could spin some sort of huge significance about Chappaquiddick and the Moon landing being on the same weekend. There are some, I suspect, who would even find something sinister about Biden and Greenbaum sharing the same birthdate.

For me, the fun of it is just in seeing the coincidences, pointing at them, and saying, "Hmmm. That's interesting."

Just proves that I'm easily amused.

And, for your amusement, and in case you aren't familiar with "Spirit in the Sky", here it is, in a promotional video apparently made at the time the song came out in 1969.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Movie Monday: The Thanksgiving Edition

I'll be honest.

I'm not really a holiday sort of person. Never really have been. Oh, Christmas was fun when I was a kid and we mostly had my Dad's side of the family around. But my Mom's family, or the members of that family I was around the most in my adult years, were dysfunctional in major ways. That included the fact that holiday gatherings were command performances and often not very pleasant experiences. Dealing with those sort of put me off of family holiday gatherings of all sorts.

Even when I was a child and more or less enjoyed holidays, however, I wasn't a fan of holiday movies, especially Christmas movies. They always seem to expect everybody to be all happy and everything, no matter how much family conflict is going on either right out in the open or quietly, behind the scenes.

Oddly enough, however, there are two holiday movies I really like. I think this is because they both acknowledge that holiday get-togethers, whether they involve only biological family or the extended families we build for ourselves as adults, usually include some sort of angst. Something - sometimes a lot of somethings - end up going wrong. And, even if we love our families, there are times when we don't really like them very much.

Both of these films, instead of being constructed around Christmas, revolve around Thanksgiving dinner. The first of these, "Home for the Holidays" (1995), has this scene, which shows a slightly exaggerated (and maybe only slightly exaggerated) picture of what a disaster the actual Thanksgiving dinner can be. I need to drop a warning here that the language in the following scene is probably not for kids:

We never had anything this drastic happen at the table during a holiday dinner, but I can still imagine something like it happening very easily.

And then there is "Alice' Restaurant" (1969), which is based on the song by the same name, from `1967, by Arlo Guthrie. It revolves around the events after a Thanksgiving dinner attended by a large group of friends in the mid-1960s. This original trailer from when the movie was released will explain exactly what those events were. Again, I will put in a language warning:

As a matter of trivia, along with Arlo Guthrie, folk singer Pete Seeger, Officer Obie, and the judge at Guthrie's trial for littering all play themselves in the movie, which is based on actual events.

"Alice's Restaurant" is very much a product of its time, and a viewer today might find it a little dated. But I think it makes my point, that holiday get-togethers are not all roses and sunshine, quite well.

I don't know. It may say something not entirely flattering about me that I have a fondness for both of these films. It might also say something about my view of family gatherings that I had to put language warnings on both of the clips I shared here today. But I really do find both movies more realistic than the many "feel-good" holiday movies we all have to wade through if we watch any television at all this time of year.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Music Sunday: The Birthday Potluck Edition

The holidays are coming up quickly now, and since birthdays are personal holidays (and sometimes you get your birthday off from work, making it more of a holiday), I decided to have a look and see who is celebrating a birthday this weekend.

Sadly, Jeff Buckley is no longer with us to celebrate his birthday (he would have turned 46 yesterday), but he left us with what many people consider the definitive version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", which he recorded in 1994. This recording was ranked at 250 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". You've probably heard this version of the song even if you don't know it, as it has been used in a number of television shows and films.

Yesterday was also Gordon Lightfoot's birthday. It is difficult for me to decide which of his songs to share - I'll admit to being a huge fan. One of the things Lightfoot is known for is his story songs. "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" is probably the best-known of these, and it is a very good song, but I also like "The Canadian Railroad Trilogy". The song was first recorded in 1966 and released in 1967 after being specially commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for a broadcast celebrating the beginning of Canada's Centennial year. The song commemmorates the building of the Canadian Pacific Railroad:

The first Lightfoot song I ever heard, as far as I can remember, was "Don Quixote", and it remains one of my favorites. It was recorded in 1972.

And then there's the other Lightfoot song that everybody knows (aside from "Edmund Fitzgerald"), "If You Could Read My Mind", which was released in 1970. This live performance is from the BBC in 1972:

Celebrating a birthday today is guitarist Kirk Hammett of Metallica. Hammett was listed 11th on Rolling Stone magazine's list of "The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time". I like a lot of Metallica's music, but for me their standout song is "One", from the album "...And Justice for All", released in 1988. The video for the song is as remarkable as the song itself, successfully incorporating footage from the film "Johnny Got His Gun". The band, so the story goes, bought the rights to the film so that it wouldn't have to contend with licensing issues to use the footage going forward:

Saturday, November 17, 2012

And what did you do this week?...

I'm just coming off a very busy week. Four out of the past five days I've been either doing volunteer work at Central Valley Professionals (which I've referred to here before) or finishing up preparing the proofreading workshop I presented at CVP on
Wednesday. It's been a fun few days, working on the workshop, presenting the workshop, and then participating in two days of practice interviews for the new members of CVP who just did the week-long seminar that CVP offers every month.

What we on the Interview Committee do with the practice interviews is provide a panel of three or four interviewers for each seminar participant so that they can get a feel for what will be coming up as they apply for and interview for jobs in the real world. We have a series of eleven sort of generic, frequently asked questions that tend to appear in job interviews. Then we give them feedback on the things they did and said during the interview that went well and on the things they might need to improve on. All of this is put on a video card and then transferred to a thumb drive for each interviewee so that they can go back and watch their interview and the feedback and work on the parts of the interview that didn't go so well.

This isn't the only practice CVP members get interviewing, however. After the initial practice interview, if a member has an interview coming up that they are worried about, they can get in touch with the chair of the committee and ask for a practice interview focused in on the job they are applying for. The chair gets a panel together and interviews the job-seeker to get them ready for that specific interview.

Yesterday, we had the rare experience of interviewing a new member for the first time with the goal of preparing her for a real interview she had later in the morning. So, we were able to tailor her practice interview for her upcoming interview. I don't know if she got the job, but she did come back by CVP after she finished and I hear that she felt good about the real interview and that she felt that our practice interview had helped get her ready for the real thing.

Some people, of course, choose not to take advantage of the practice interview.

I was almost one of those people when I did the seminar in June. It had been at least fifteen years since my last job interview, what with going to school, then taking care of my mother, and then having a job sort of fall into my lap without having to apply for it or interview for it. Furthermore, I hadn't liked interviewing when I had to do it and I was afraid to try it again. But, I took a deep breath and went through the process. I am very glad that I did. It went better than I had expected it would. That alone gave me more confidence in my ability to interview and not make a blubbering fool of myself.

It also put me more at ease about being assigned to the Interview Committee, something that I was skeptical about when we received our assignments in seminar. I wasn't sure that being on that committee was going to really benefit me, or be much fun. I wanted to get involved in something that seemed more active - like the committee that puts on seminar every month, or the Resume Committee, which gives the same kind of help to CVP members on their resumes that the Interview Committee does with interviewing. I figured that Resume would be a natural for me as a writer.

I'm happy where I am now, though, as long as I haven't found a job yet. I can help others in my position, looking for a job, and I can improve my own interview skills while I interview others. I'm on the Interview Techniques subcommittee, which means helping write workshops and training classes about different approaches to interviewing for jobs. I am also helping the Desk Coordinator out, doing things like making sure that materials are in order for our part of seminar and for practice interview days. It is all keeping my quite busy.

I'll be happier still when I've found a job of my own, of course, but until then I at least feel like I'm doing something other than just carrying out the daily (and so far unsuccessful) job search that gets more frustrating by the day.

I guess I should consider myself lucky, though. I've only been looking for a job for just short of a year. There are others at CVP, skilled, competent professionals, who have have been looking for far longer than that.

Friday, November 16, 2012

A good way to spend an hour and a half...

If you've ever wanted to just take off and go somewhere completely new to you, just to have the adventure, I've found the documentary for you.

It's called 180 South (Magnolia Films, 2010) and follows the adventures of Jeff Johnson as the attempts to recreate the 1968 journey of Yvon Chounard and Doug Tompkins to Patagonia, at the bottom of South America. Johnson discovered film footage taken by Chounard and Tompkins on their trip and was inspired to follow their footsteps and see were it led him.

It all started when Chounard and Tompkins, who the film doesn't ever tell you are the founders of the companies Patagonia and The North Face, respectively, were living in Ventura, California in 1968 and decided they wanted to go see what Patagonia (the geographical region) was all about. They took off in a van, surfboards and climbing equipment in tow, with only two weeks' preparation.

Johnson, on the other hand sailed from Mexico and ended up shipwrecked for over a month on Rapa Nui (Easter Island) when the boat he was crewing on snapped its mast. But he finally made it to Patagonia and met Chounard and Tompkins there, with the goal of recreating their ascent of Cerro Corcovado.

I won't tell you what the outcome of that task was. You'll have to see the film.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I feel bound to tell you that this isn't just an adventure film. Chounard and Tompkins have become dedicated to the preservation of the environment of Patagonia, and this effort is explored extensively in the film. The filmmakers have a point of view, and they don't make a secret of that fact.

They make a good case for the idea that not every square inch of the Earth has to be tamed, fenced off, tied up, and made part of some big company's revenue stream. It is a good point and should be made. That the film makes that point should not dissuade you from seeing the film, which is worth it just for the view of that part of the world, which I would be willing to bet that most of you don't know much about.

I thought I'd leave you with the trailer to the film, which, for those of you with access to Showtime OnDemand, is available through December 12.

If you don't like the environmental message, watch it for the pretty pictures.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Romney is just digging his hole deeper...

In a phone call to some of his campaign donors on Wednesday, Mitt Romney managed to dig his hole even deeper than it already was and has, in the process, started to turn even those who supported him in the election against him quite vocally.

Making excuses for his loss, Mitt first and foremost said that he thinks Obama won the election last week because he gave stuff to minorities and women. Essentially, this is his "47 percent" argument all over again. It doesn't work any better now than it did then.

But that isn't his only excuse. He also blames too many debates during the primaries, which "opened us up to gaffes and to material that could be used against us in general." He wants his party to cut short its primary process to avoid this.

My reaction to this? Mitt, if you hadn't made those "gaffes" in the first place and hadn't said things that were stupid and changed your positions on issues on a distressingly regular basis, maybe the Democrats wouldn't have had so much to use against you. Just sayin'.

Mitt also criticized the networks that hosted his debates with President Obama, saying those networks, including CNN and NBC, were just showcasing "liberals beating the heck out of us." If that was what was going on, Mitt didn't seem to be hesitating to give them plenty of ammunition to beat him with.

Meanwhile, at a meeting of the Republican Governors' Association in Las Vegas (what? they figure that after how the election turned out for them, their luck has to get better, and soon?) Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour both rejected Mitt's assessment.

Jindal also said that the Republicans need to "make serious changes" and called for his party to "modernize". Of course, this does not mean that Jindal, or any Republicans on the right have had a change of heart about their core values, and it could well be that Jindal especially is mostly about positioning himself for a run at the White House in four years.

However, he did also distance himself from campaign remarks made by losing senatorial candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock regarding rape, comments which many found shocking and lost both men their races. He called those comments about "legitimate rape" (from Akin) and that if a woman gets pregnant from a rape "that's what God intended" (from Mourdock) "offensive and inexcusable."

No matter his agenda, Jindal is the first anti-choice officeholder, as far as I can recall, to repudiate these remarks, and he should be given credit for that. Jindal went on to say, "I'm pro-life. I try to follow the teachings of my faith and church [Jindal is a Roman Catholic], but I don't think we have any business trying to demonize those we disagree with. I think we can be respectful."

If I've never agreed with anything else Jindal has ever said (and as far as I know, I haven't), I completely agree that demonizing "the other side", on any issue, is the wrong way to go about public discourse.

For both sides, because I'm realistic enough to know that the left often doesn't hesitate to demonize, too. It's just as wrong when they do it. I'll call all sides for doing and saying stupid things. But demonizing anyone in an argument is not a productive way to win your oppposition over.

It remains to be seen exactly how seriously Jindal means his remarks, and if any others in the Republican right will follow his lead and repudiate the "I'm right and you're evil and God hates you" approach so much of the far right seems so fond of. But at least he, and at least for the moment, isn't following lockstep the "we didn't say anything wrong" line that Akin and Mourdock asserted in the wake of their comments.

Not that the GOP is really playing nice, even in the wake of their defeats last week, hurling very ugly charges over the recent attack in Libya. But that's another discussion for another post. Right now, I just want to believe that somewhere, some Republican politicians are becoming a little more reasonable. I really don't understand why they can't be...most of the Republicans I know in real life are really very reasonable people.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

I've got a quick question for you all...

I just read a post on an online forum that I frequent. It was written by a woman who was accosted by a total stranger earlier in the day. While she was waiting for a train, a strange man came up to her and picked her up and hugged her and kissed her on the top of the head. When security came over to see what was going on - her reaction had been to flail and scream and hit out at him - the man's excuse was that she was "cute" and "looked like she needed a hug".

Say what?

Maybe I'm the strange one, but in my universe it is not acceptable to run up and touch in any way, much less hug and kiss, someone you do not know at all. I have trouble with people who crowd up too close to me in lines at the grocery store. I just don't understand why anyone would think it is okay to run up and hug a complete stranger.

What I'm looking for here is an opinion. Is my attitude, that something like this man did is inappropriate, out of line? Should she have reacted differently? Is my admittedly very large personal space requirement typical? Or is it excessive?

The consensus over at the forum where these comments appeared was that, no, such behavior is not acceptable, but I'd really be interested in a larger sample of answers.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


I was supposed to write a blog post today, wasn't I?

And now it's nearly 5 p.m., and I haven't even thought about it, except to put it on my list of things to do this morning when I first got out of bed.

Funny, how time flies when you're having fun.

Or, when you're just busy.

I can't claim that I haven't been having fun today, actually, for all that I've spent most of the day putting the finishing touches on a workshop I have to present to a group of fellow job-seekers tomorrow morning. I really enjoy putting workshops like this together and presenting them. On the other hand, they are a lot of work.

I didn't even put this off until the last minute. I started writing it the middle of last month, when I first got the go-ahead to do it. And I've been working on it along the way. It was substantially finished three or four days ago. Yesterday and today, though, I've been fiddling with it, making a list of the content on the PowerPoint slides that will go with it, and generally making sure that I didn't forget to put anything in.

Well, I've probably forgotten a few things, but at this point, that's just too bad. It will have to stand as it is.

So, tomorrow morning I'm going to be talking to a group of people, many of whom I know, about proofreading resumes and cover letters, and how it isn't a good idea to rely on spell-check and grammar-check programs to do your proofreading for you. I won't bore you with the reasons why it isn't a good idea, but if the point is to submit a professional-looking resume and cover letter, you'll want to do more than that before you send it off, either electronically or by snail mail.

It really is about ready to go. I've got the thing written. I've even gone over it a couple of times. I've got three handouts, including one proofreading exercise, ready to be reproduced and handed out. Participants are also supposed to bring along a copy of their own resumes for another exercise. I don't believe in "workshops" where the attendees just sit and listen to someone talk for an hour and a quarter or however long. I present introductory material, and then the participants...participate.

And so, I'm going to step away from the whole thing for a couple of hours before I get back to the final, final look at it. I better not be making changes at this point, but just seeing that everything is in order.

And tomorrow, after the presentation is over, I'll try to find something of more general interest to write about.

Oh, and if you find any typos or misspellings in this post? I really don't want to know about it.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Movie Monday: The It Was a Good Movie, But Never Again Edition

Just in time to give me something to write about for Movie Monday, over on Ravelry today some of my sister (and brother) knitters are talking about the movies they don't ever need to see again, even though they were perfectly good movies.

It is an interesting discussion, mostly because I'd never thought about movies that way before. There are parts of movies that I won't watch - the first twenty or thirty minutes of Up, for example. I don't need to sit there and cry for all that time because it reminds me too much of watching my mother slip away with dementia. That took years, and I feel no need to relive that.

But, I'd never thought before about whether there are whole movies that, though they were good, well-written and well-acted, that I just won't sit down and watch again. But, reading the responses over on Ravelry and thinking about it for a little while, I realized that, yes, there are movies that, while perfectly worthy, I really don't need to see again.

There is The Birds, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Good movie. Suspenseful and all that. But I never, ever want to see it again. Once, on television, when I was still pretty young, was more than enough. Even after all these years, I'm still suspicious of more than two or three birds together in a group. It was a very effective movie, if nothing else.

Another movie I never want to see again is Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull. I probably wouldn't have seen it on my own, because I really despise boxing, but it was one of the movies shown in a community college film class that I took about twelve or fifteen years ago. So, I didn't have much choice but to see it. It was a good movie. Brilliant. But I have no desire to watch it again.

Same thing with Schindler's List. I probably would have seen it eventually, but it was another film I saw in that same class. Again, a brilliant movie in every way - writing, direction, performances. But it was so disturbing to me that I really don't need to ever watch it again.

Tom Horn, which was one of Steve McQueen's last films (he was already ill with the cancer that would kill him when he made it), is another movie that I thought was a good movie but will not see again. Others would probably argue with me about how good it was; it got poor reviews and did poorly at the box office when it was released. But, it is one of only two movies I've ever seen (the other was The Godfather) that gives the impression that the film crew actually went back in time and filmed it on location in the past rather than recreating the past for the film. It's really remarkable to be able to create that impression, I think. But, while I thought it was a good film, it was also a bleak film, very depressing, and I won't see it again.

And then there's the English version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I just saw that recently. It's a very good movie. But, it was difficult to watch, especially a few very disturbing scenes. If you saw it, you know which scenes I'm referring to. I don't know yet whether I will not watch it again. I'd like to, because it is a good piece of film making, and I'm sure there are things I missed because I watched it late at night and was tired when I saw it. But, I've started to re-watch it several times and I haven't quite been able to make myself do it. So, it might turn out to be one of those films that I just can't watch again.

I don't feel bad at all about not watching movies a second time if they were just bad movies. But I feel sort of disappointed in myself that I won't re-watch movies that were good but that I found disturbing for some reason.

How about you? Are there good movies you won't watch again? And, do you feel uncomfortable in some way that you won't watch them again, even though they were good films?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Music Sunday: The Gram Parsons Edition

Had he not died of a drug overdose in a motel room at Joshua Tree National Monument in 1973, Gram Parsons would have turned 66 years old last Monday. This leaves open the question of whether or not he would have found wider success as a musician and songwriter, had he lived longer. Oh, he was in bands that were known, including some time spent as a member of The Byrds. He was a founding member of the Flying Burrito Brothers. But his solo career never really took off. He only recorded two solo albums, "GP" and "Grievous Angel". "GP" did not make the charts at all,and "Grievous Angel", released after Parsons's death, only rose to 195 on the album charts.

So, why am I even bothering to devote a Music Sunday post to Gram Parsons?

Parsons might not have been what anyone would consider a star in his 26 years of life. He is, however, considered by many to be the father of country rock and alt-country, even though he is said to have hated the term "country rock" and preferred to call his vision of music "Cosmic American Music". Well, it was the late 1960s and early 1970s, and lots of things got called "cosmic". But, silly-sounding genre name and all, Parsons is seen today as an incredibly influential figure in music. Several tribute albums have been recorded and tribute festivals have been held in his honor. A number of books have been written about him and his life and death have inspired both a play and a film. There is a feature-length documentary about his life and music. This is a lot of noise after the fact generated on behalf of a drug-addicted singer and songwriter who died at the age of 26.

I'd say that constitutes having had an impact.

It has been said that one either "gets" Gram Parsons and his music, or they don't. I do, apparently. I didn't know his work when he was alive, but I remember the news reports in the wake of his death, when a friend of his stole his body and took it out to Joshua Tree to cremate it, as had apparently been Parsons's wishes. This all caused quite a sensation at the time. To my knowledge, however, I had never heard his music until a few years ago, after I read one of the books about him and sought out his work to see what all the shouting was about. Now, I've never been a huge country music fan, but I like what has become known as country rock. But even though a lot of his solo recordings sound more country to me than rock, I immediately connected with the music.

One of the first bands Parsons was in was The International Submarine Band, which he helped form while he was a student at Harvard University for about ten minutes. The band made one album, "Safe at Home", which didn't sell very well. One of the songs on that album was "I Still Miss Someone", a cover of a Johnny Cash song from 1958:

Parsons moved to California, The International Submarine Band broke up, and he ended up spending a few months as a member of The Byrds during the time they were recording "Sweethearts of the Rodeo", which has been called the first country-rock album by a recognized act. It caused quite a stir at the time and is considered a classic today, although at the time a lot of music fans didn't quite know what to make of it and it only went to number 77 on Billboard's album chart. Due to conflicts and legal issues, some of Parsons's vocals were taken off the record, but his influence remained evident in the song choices on the record. Two of the songs there were either written or co-written by Parsons.

After his short stint with The Byrds, Parsons founded The Flying Burrito Brothers with Chris Hillman, another member of The Byrds. Again, while the band's work during Parsons's time with them gained notice, their albums didn't sell well. Also, Parsons's interest wandered again and, after differences with other band members (including the fact that Parsons was spending a lot of his time hanging out with members of The Rolling Stones), Parsons left, having recorded just two albums with the band. Part of the legacy of that time was a performance at the infamous free concert headlined by The Stones at Altamont Speedway in California in 1969.

The second of those two albums, "Burrito Deluxe", includes a cover of the Rolling Stones song "Wild Horses", although it is difficult to call it a cover in that the version on the album was actually released before the Stones released their version on "Sticky Fingers", a year later. I prefer Parsons's version:

After leaving the Flying Burrito Brothers, Parsons pursued his solo career. About that time, he had been introduced to Emmylou Harris, and some of her first recorded work was on Parsons's two solo albums. My favorite of the songs on those two albums is their cover of "Love Hurts", on "Grievous Angel":

Also from "Grievous Angel" is this song, "Las Vegas" co-written by Parsons and Ric Grech, proving that Parsons could do upbeat just as well as he could do melancholy:

One could say that Gram Parsons pissed his life and talent away. But, handicapped as he was with substance abuse issues that were endemic in his family (both his parents were alcoholics; his father committed suicide and his mother died from alcohol-related issues, both by the time Parsons graduated high school), maybe he did the best he could with what he was given. It was a pitifully small about of work that he left behind, but it was enough to help jump-start a whole genre of music.

And that isn't trivial.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Non-serious on a Saturday...

I don't write about sports much around here.

This doesn't mean I don't like sports. It just means that I'm aware that on a general interest blog like this one, a lot of sports talk tends to be a turnoff for some people. Also, I don't really follow the sports I like the most - primarily baseball, basketball, and tennis - as closely as I used to. Certainly not closely enough to write about them on a regular basis.

However, I saw a headline today that caught my eye. I've been vaguely aware that the Los Angeles Lakers have gotten off to a dismal start this season, and had heard that, barely more than a week into the season, the team had fired their new head coach. Since I'm a Lakers fan (the one and only professional basketball game I have ever attended was a Lakers game, a very long time ago), I was dismayed to hear that the season was starting so badly, but I hadn't realized just how badly until the news of the coach's firing.

So, today as I was looking through my usual news sources, I saw a headline speculating that Phil Jackson might be coming back to coach again. I like his style (he wins, and he makes his players read books occasionally), and so this is a good thing as far as I'm concerned. While it certainly isn't a done deal, reports say that he is interested in returning for his third term as the Lakers' coach. If he does, it will definitely increase my interest in the season.

It would make me happy to have a sport to follow with a little more interest this winter. I am not a football fan (and by that, I mean that I am so not a football fan). I don't follow hockey (are they even playing yet?). And I'm a little sad right now that baseball season is over.

As a little informal poll among my readers - Do you like sports? Do you follow sports? If you do, which sports do you follow?

Friday, November 09, 2012

Religion and science, and a clever electoral protest...

Do you remember, back in September, when Representative Paul Broun (R-Georgia) was revealed to have given a talk to a religious group in which he called Darwin's theory of evolution, embryology, and cosmology "lies straight from the pit of hell"?

Well, he won his seat again on Tuesday. Not a difficult thing for him, since he was running unopposed in his district. However, he had an unexpected write-in opponent: it seems that at least 4,000 people in his district voted for Charlies Darwin.

The write-ins were suggested by critics of the physician/representative, and were apparently first suggested by plant biologist Jim Leebens-Mack to protest the remarks.

I like this. It is a non-violent and creative way of telling Rep. Broun that they don't agree with his characterization of settled scientific principles. This is especially important, considering Broun's position as a member of the House Science Committee. He needs to know that not everyone agrees with his characterization of the sciences.

Now, I understand that some people sincerely hold the religious belief that God created the Earth, indeed the whole Universe, in six 24-hour periods less than 10,000 years ago. And that's fine. However, it should also be noted that this belief is not universally held by the religions of the world, nor even by all Christian denominations.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has, on its website, a summary of several religions' and denominations' positions on evolution. There is far from consensus on the subject.

Just among Christian denominations, while the Southern Baptist Convention and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, have rejected evolution, the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the Roman Catholic Church have all affirmed that there is no conflict between their theologies and the theory of evolution.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has not issued a definitive statement, but has said that while they believe that God created the universe, he did not necessarily do so in six 24-hour days and may have used evolution in the process. When it comes to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), it kind of depends on who you ask, but as early as 1931, the First Presidency of the church issued a statement asking the membership of the church to "leave geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research..." In other words, believing in evolution is not an impediment to being a good Mormon.

There is similarly "no inherent conflict" between Judaism and belief in evolution, and the same is true of Buddhism. The Pew organization also found that while there is no single teaching on evolution within Hinduism, most Hindus do not see any conflict between their religious beliefs and evolution.

Muslim belief is not united on the matter of evolution. Those who interpret the Qu'ran literally reject evolution, but theologically liberal Muslims do not necessarily see any conflict between their beliefs and evolution.

As it usually happens, rank-and-file members of denominations and religions do not necessarily follow the lead of the religious organizations they belong to. The Pew Forum did a survey in 2007 which found that, overall, 48 percent of Americans agree that "evolution is the best explanation for the origins of human life on earth". That means, of course, that more than half of those surveyed either do not believe that evolution explains how we got here or have no opinion on the matter.

But, more than half of American Catholics (at 58 percent), Orthodox Christians (at 54 percent) and mainline Protestants in America (at 51 percent) do believe that evolution explains the development of human life. That's a lot of observant Christians who have no problem with evolution. The numbers are smaller among members of historically Black Protestant churches, with only 38 percent believing in evolution, while among Evangelical Protestants surveyed, just 24 percent agreed with the statement that evolution explains how we got here. Just 22 percent of Mormons and 8 percent of Jehovah' Witnesses agreed that evolution is the best explanation for how we got here.

The highest numbers of agreement came from non-Christian religious respondents and from those unaffiliated with any specific religion or denomination. Among Buddhists, 81 percent of believers agreed with the statement approving of evolution, while 80 percent of Hindus believed in evolution, 77 percent of Jewish respondents agreed, and 72 percent of those unaffiliated with any religion did so. Forty-five percent of Muslims surveyed agreed that evolution can explain the development of humans.

Yes, that's a lot of numbers to go through. I think it is important, however, to look at that information in order to understand that, despite what those like Rep. Braun who are vocal proponents of creationism and Intelligent Design seem to believe, it is not a given that in order to believe in God and be a religiously observant person, one must reject evolution or believe that Darwin's theory is of the Devil.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Enough, already...

Is there some reason why the media in this country can't at least wait a week or two before they start talking about the next presidential election?

The election was two days ago. Not all the absentee and provisional ballots have even been counted yet. But it seems like all I've been hearing and reading today are speculations about who will run for President in 2016.

Since Barack Obama can't run again in 2016, names from both parties are being mentioned as possible contenders. On the Republican side, and since few people expect Mitt Romney to make another run, the most commonly-mentioned names are Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, Florida senator Marco Rubio, and former Florida governor Jeb Bush.

There are troubles with most of these names. The Romney campaign all but hid Paul Ryan in the last weeks of the election. I suspect that they did not trusting him to stay on-message. New Jersey governor Chris Christie made points for fighting so hard to make sure the residents of his state got the aid they needed after Hurricane Sandy, but he lost points among the hierarchy in the GOP and the Romney campaign for appearing to be too friendly to, and saying nice things about, President Obama during that time. Jeb Bush, the son of one president and the brother of another, still has questions hanging over his head in some people's minds (including my own) about just how much of a role he had in the electoral shenanigans in his state during the 2000 presidential election. I don't know much about Marco Rubio, so I can't say what his strengths or handicaps might be should he decide to make a run for the White House.

On the Democratic side there is, of course, talk that current Vice President Joe Biden might run for President next time. There is also much speculation, especially after Bill Clinton took such a vocal role in the Obama campaign this year, that Hillary Clinton might be thinking about running again in 2016. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's name has also been mentioned. Another name I've been hearing, although he is apparently considered to be a longer-shot as a candidate, is Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villarigosa.

All the speculation is interesting, I'll admit. But I don't really care right now.

What I do care about is hearing about how the Republicans in Congress plan to dial back their ideological rhetoric and start doing the business of the country rather than simply trying to obstruct any legislation proposed by the Obama administration in the name of trying to deny Obama a second term. Since that plan failed and he can't run again, continuing to hold up important legislation will only be seen as mean and spiteful.

I also want to know what the leaders of the Republican Party are going to do to disassociate themselves from the misogynist, racist, and classist rhetoric we heard so much of during the run-up to the election. How are they going to step away from the excesses of the Tea Party? I want to hear them say that, yes, Barack Obama is a Christian and not a Muslim. And that it wouldn't matter if he was a Muslim. I want them to put a stop to this "birther" nonsense coming from the extremists in their party.

And, dear God, I want them to put a muzzle on Donald Trump, who holds no position in the GOP, but walks around like his money and notoriety give him some special dispensation to interject himself into the political conversation, to the point that he clearly retains only a tenuous grasp on reality.

I would also like the Republicans to step away from Rush Limbaugh, but I suspect that that's asking too much.

But, mostly, I'd love it if I didn't have to hear about politics at all for at least a little while. I'd like to see all the campaign signs down. And I'd like to pretend that the next campaign for California governor won't start ramping up in about six months, since it's just two years until that election. This is especially something I' like, considering that by the time that's over, the next campaign for President will be strating in earnest.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

What I did today...or, good thing I don't have a public speaking phobia

I'm still trying to absorb the results of the election, so I'm not ready to write much about that yet. I'm glad President Obama won re-election, and I'm glad the our local Measure B, which provides money for libraries, won. Taxes for schools won here in California, which means the kids of California won. That's good. There were some other good results, and a few I'm not so wild about. I'll probably write more about all of it in a couple of days, once I've had a chance to sit down and read some stuff and digest what it all might mean.

I haven't really had time to do that yet because I had other things to attend to today. It kind of felt like the world stopped yesterday for the election, but it's the day after now and we've all got to get back to everyday life now.

Which is what I did today.

I don't know that I've mentioned it much around here, but I'm currently out of work. Well, out of paying work. I've got a couple of writing projects that are ongoing, but those will pay when and if I can get them published. And while I'm looking for a paying job, I'm doing volunteer work for Central Valley Professionals, the group that puts on the week-long job search seminar I attended in June. In exchange for the volunteer work, I get use of their office facilities for my job search - phones if I need them, copy machines, and so forth - as well as a wonderful support system. It's a really cool deal. In exchange for 16 hours of volunteer work per month, they make their facilities available to their members. The way you become a member is by participating in the seminar.

When I was finished with the seminar, I was put on the Interview Committee. This means that I help with practice interview days the week after seminar week every month. I also help with the presentation on interviewing that my committee puts on every month at seminar, and I've been helping write and present some other workshops, as well. It's all a lot of fun.

Today was our seminar presentation for November, and it went pretty well. I've helped present enough times now that I can do it off-book (I don't need notes), just using the PowerPoint slides as prompts. The seminar participants laughed in the right places today, asked good questions that I was able to answer while not getting too far behind in the presentation (we have an hour and a half to present, which sounds like a long time, but really isn't), and I think my "um" count was down some this time. All of this is good.

It's interesting what comes out of my mouth sometimes when I'm doing my part of the presentation, which takes up about twenty minutes of the whole. I talk about actually interviewing for a job, as opposed to preparing for the interview or following up afterward, and one of the things I talk about is how it isn't good to just randomly fill silence with talking. There are times of silence within a job interview. Sometimes it is quiet while the interviewer or interviewers are making notes about what the interviewee has told them, and sometimes the silence is strategic, with the interviewers trying to see if they can get the interviewee to say something they shouldn't.

Today, the example I used came from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. If you've seen the movie, you know that when Frank-N-Furter invites Brad and Janet up to his lair, he has the line about "antici............pation". Even watching the movie, the silence in the middle of that word drives some people crazy. In the movie, Janet doesn't say anything to fill it, but she leans forward as if urging him to complete the word. As. Soon. As. Possible. I didn't plan to use this example. It just popped into my head and I used it. I'm not even sure it was really appropriate in the circumstances.

On the other hand, it worked. The seminar participants got the message I was trying to communicate about the urge of fill silences and the better practice of avoiding doing that. Additionally, it was interesting how I could tell which of the participants have seen the movie by the way they smiled at the reference. I think I might have confused one man, but he finally figured it out. And, no one from my committee said anything about the use of that as an example, so I guess it wasn't too out of line.

Maybe the best thing about the day is that I had fun presenting today. I finally know the material well enough to feel comfortable with it. I presented off-book last month as well, but even with rehearsal the night before I was not completely at ease while I was presenting. This time, I didn't rehearse; I was too busy watching the election returns last night. Despite that, it was fun and I think I got my points across.

Still, I'm glad that the seminar presentation is only once a month. Because of its nature and its purpose, it's very structured. I have more fun with the workshops because, although I write a script for each workshop, I don't necessarily have to stick to it so exactly.

I've got a workshop coming up soon, in fact. It's about proofreading resumes and cover letters, and I'm going to try to make it a little more fun and interesting than it sounds. It's a natural for me, as proofreading is one of the things I do very well, and I'm having fun writing it. I want to have a fake resume for the workshop participants to proofread, complete with planted mistakes, as an exercise that doesn't involve them having to go over their own resume yet again. We'll do that, too, but I thought having a resume to read for, say, someone who is applying for a job as a rat-wrangler, would make the exercise more fun.

What? There are rat-wranglers. I've done rat-wrangling. But that's another story for another day. Remind me sometime, and I'll tell you all about it.

In the meantime, since I'm looking for a job, without much luck, what was the weirdest job you ever had?

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Election Day and other random thoughts

It's Election Day. Finally.

I voted this morning as one of several things I had to do this morning. The polling place, which is just about half a block up the street from me, was busy but not crowded, and so I only had to wait for a couple of minutes before I could check in and get my ballot. I was in the polling place, from walking in the door to feeding my ballot into the machine and thanking the poll workers for their service, for maybe fifteen minutes total. Probably less. I'm sure things will pick up as the day progresses.

I'm now avoiding watching or listening to the news. I'm nervous about the outcome of the election, not only in the presidential race, but for a couple of statewide propositions and the local proposition that would ensure continuing funding at present levels for the county's libraries. I love libraries, and worry about reports that if the proposition doesn't pass, up to half the branches countywide will be closed and hours at the remaining branches will be cut drastically. I'm trying not to worry too much about it; the same proposition has been passed twice in a row.

I'm also avoiding the news because I really don't want to hear any more news about a workplace shooting that happened at a processing plant this morning that is less than three miles from where I live. The latest report I saw said that there was one dead and three injured. In addition, the shooter shot himself, but reports are unclear about whether he is dead or alive.

There is also no indication yet about what prompted the shootings, but other workers at the plant have said that the shooter showed up for work about 5 a.m., acting "not himself". Then, about 8:30 a.m., according to reports, he pulled out a weapon and started shooting.

In most cases, this sort of things boils down to either a disgruntled employee or a domestic dispute. This might have been either or neither, but whatever it turns out to be, I cannot even begin to explain the depth of my inability to understand why so many people seem to think that getting angry about something entitles them to go out and start shooting people before they (often) shoot themselves. I really just don't understand.

Not everything today has been quite so dismal as this local shooting, though. Thank goodness.

On the way home from doing my errands, I stopped at the grocery store. As I was leaving, I saw a car with a political bumper sticker. This one was a sticker with a difference, though. It read, "Willie Nelson for President". Made me smile, although I'm pretty sure that Willie doesn't want the job. Goodness knows, I wouldn't want it.

But, I did do my duty and vote, and I hope that if you are eligible, you voted as well. And I hope the line you had to stand in wasn't too long.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Movie Monday: The Which Movie Songs are Your Favorites Edition

I didn't really intend on extending yesterday's Music Sunday discussion of music in movies into today's Movie Monday post. I really didn't. But last night, after I was finished writing yesterday's post and finished with dinner, but it was still just 8:30 p.m. and too early to go to bed (thanks, time change), I started looking at some lists over on the American Film Institute's website in preparation for today's post. And I found their list of America's Favorite Movie Music, "100 Years...100 Songs". It's an interesting list, with some entries that I wouldn't have expected.

The top ten, of course, is fairly predictable. For the most part. I was a little surprised that "Stayin' Alive", by the Bee Gees, from Saturday Night Fever (1977) ranked at number nine, above "The Sound of Music" from that 1965 film, which came in at number ten. Otherwise, there is nothing here that really surprises me. The full top ten list is as follows:

1. "Over the Rainbow", performed by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz (1939)
2. "As Time Goes By", performed by Dooley Wilson in Casablanca (1942)
3. "Singin' in the Rain", performed by Gene Kelly in Singin' in the Rain (1952)
4. "Moon River", performed by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)
5. "White Christmas", performed by Bing Crosby in Holiday Inn (1942)
6. "Mrs. Robinson", performed by Simon and Garfunkel in The Graduate (1967)
7. "When You Wish Upon a Star", performed by Cliff Edwards in Pinocchio (1940)
8. "The Way We Were", performed by Barbra Streisand in The Way We Were (1973)
9. "Stayin' Alive", performed by the Bee Gees in Saturday Night Fever (1977)
10."The Sound of Music", performed by Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music (1965)

As far as I'm concerned, the AFI got most of this part of the list correct, starting with number one. "Over the Rainbow" is the perfect song for Judy Garland's voice and for the movie, which is what a good movie song should be:

But, getting past the top ten, I found some songs on the list that I really didn't expect, although many of them make perfect sense to me as choices. The thing is, stuff that makes perfect sense too me doesn't always make any sense at all to anyone else.

Barbra Streisand, singing "Evergreen" along with some help from Kris Kristofferson in A Star is Born (1976) shows up at number 16 on the list. It didn't surprise me that the song is on the list; it functions perfectly within the movie. What surprised me is that it is just three spots below Streisand's highest song on the list, "People" from Funny Girl (1968), at number 13.

I'm not really sure why it surprised me that "Born to be Wild", by Steppenwolf and appearing over the opening credits in Easy Rider (1969) appeared on the list, at number 29. It certainly sets the tone for the movie that follows. I suppose I just wasn't expecting much in the way of hard rock on the list, especially that high up on the list:

I was surprised to find "Aquarius", from the film version of Hair (1979) on the list, and especially surprised to find it as high as it was, at the number 33 spot on the list. My surprise is not necessarily because it doesn't fit its spot at the beginning of the movie well, but because of the movie's sort of counterculture vibe. But, it is a superior performance, with a solo by Ren Woods:

One song that surprised me, but only in that it wasn't higher on the list, was "The Windmills of Your Mind", performed by Noel Harrison in The Thomas Crown Affair (1968). It doesn't show up until number 57, even though it also serves the movie perfectly. There is an urgency in Harrison's performance of the song that fits the relationship between the characters played by Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, but it contrasts in just the right way with the scenes of McQueen flying a glider that it plays over in the film:

Putting songs into movies can be a tricky thing. Sometimes the choices work, as I think they do in all the instances I've shared here, and sometimes they just don't. There are no lists for that, as far as I'm aware, but you know those songs when you come across them in a film. This list from the AFI which, along with other lists, is available on their website, is a good way to find the ones that work, and work well.

There are, by the way, other lists on the AFI site that are worth exploring if you are a movie fan. There is a link at the beginning of this post to the AFI site.

So, which movie songs are your favorites?

UPDATE: I had included a link to the list, "100 Years...100 Songs", but it didn't work, so I removed it. You can get to the list by clicking on "Links" at the general site and then navigating from there.