Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Right now, I'm reading Tom Brokaw's book Boom, about the baby boom generation. It's an interesting book.
Last night I read the section on the women's movement in the 1960s and 1970s, and how there was a rivalry between Betty Friedan, who wrote the book The Feminine Mystique (1963), and journalist Gloria Steinem. In the book, Brokaw relates writer and director Nora Ephron's impressions of this rivalry, especially as Ephron remembered it from a meeting of the National Women's Political Caucus at the 1972 Democratic National Convention, but in general as well. Ephron observed that the younger, thinner, and more physically attractive Steinem got more - much more - attention than did Friedan, mostly because Steinem was all of those things.
In some ways, women in the United States have come a long way from the early days of the women's movement. In other ways, things have not really changed much at all. In truth, I think it might be worse for older, fatter, and less physically attractive women now than it was in those days - and it was very bad in those days. The thing that makes it worse now is that we have to live with what I call the tyranny of youth and perfectionism.
I've written about this before here. The media are constantly telling women, especially, that they have to be perfect to be of any worth at all. I saw an advertisement online the other day that said something like "Mother, 57, looks 27". This headline was followed with copy implying that this is what all women want, or should want. I'm not sure of the wording, but the ages are those that appeared in the ad's copy. We are expected to be thin, cover any gray we have in our hair, and go to any lengths necessary - including surgery - to make sure we have no wrinkles. In short, we are all told we are expected to look like we are in our 20s, at the oldest.
This morning I saw another ad, on television this time, for some sort of face-lift procedure. The ad is not clear about exactly what the procedure involves, but it exhorts women to take advantage of the opportunity to look young and "healthy", as if there is something inherently unhealthy about being, or looking, old. This is an attitude that I see and hear more and more - that age is something that can, should, and must be cured.
There is a flaw in this plan. We are all aging, all the time, and people who are 57 years old should not look like they are 27. It isn't natural. This, however, does not stop the media from regularly running stories encouraging older job seekers (I see lots of this stuff because I am currently looking for work) to color their hair, to make sure they diet and go to the gym regularly, and even to have plastic surgery. The implication is that if women don't do these things, we will not be able to compete in the job market.
This attitude is ludicrous. I just do not understand - I never have and I never will - why so many people believe that what someone looks like should trump their skills, experience, and ability to do a job. Certainly, if I were a personnel manager, I would prefer that an individual I hire be able to do the job they were hired to do rather than just be able to stand around and look nice.
What this all brings to mind more than anything are the not-very-funny jokes I used to hear in the 1960s, as a young girl, about men hiring secretaries (one of the few jobs most women could get at that time): "Well, no the girl [and they were always "girls", not women] can't type of take dictation, but she sure looks good around the office." Even then, when I was not a teenager yet, I couldn't figure out why anyone would hire someone based on their looks rather than their skills.
I'm not sure whether I should feel sad, angry, or depressed that some things have changed so little since the time of job advertisements that were divided by gender and of high school counselors attempting to steer every female student into three professions - teacher, nurse, or secretary - and asking the young women why they were bothering with college, anyway, when they were just going to get married and have babies. That, certainly, was part of my high school experience in the early 1970s.
Yes, there are more women executives now than there were (but still not anywhere near parity with men), and more women are graduating from law school and medical school. Women are nearly half or more than half of the U.S. workforce now, depending on whose statistics you look at. But no matter how intelligent, skilled, and experienced a woman is, she is often still expected to fit certain physical criteria in order to be considered for a job. And, even if that is not always true, Madison Avenue wants us to believe that's the way it is.
We may have come a long way, baby, but we've still got a long way to go, apparently.
Monday, January 28, 2013
Yesterday, I wrote about music in 1968, so today I thought it would be interesting to see what was going on in the world of movies that year.
Looking around a little, I found a listing of the top grossing films of 1968 and was interested to see that of the top ten money-makers of the year, I've seen eight of them, all but one at the time they came out. The ten films that made the most money in 1968 were:
1) 2001: A Space Odyssey
2) Funny Girl
3) The Love Bug
4) The Odd Couple
6) Romeo & Juliet (this is the Zefferilli-directed version)
8) Rosemary's Baby
9) Planet of the Apes
10)Night of the Living Dead
Of these films that were the most popular at the box office, "Oliver!" won the Academy Award for Best Film, Barbra Streisand's performance in "Funny Girl" tied with Katherine Hepburn's turn as Eleanor of Aquitaine in "The Lion in Winter" (which was the twelfth-highest grossing film of the year) for Best Performance by an Actress in a Lead Role, and Ruth Gordon won as Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her performance in "Rosemary's Baby".
I think it's interesting that such a wide variety of films did so well. Looking at that list of most popular films, there is science fiction, musical romance, children's fantasy, comedy, police procedural/crime, Shakespeare, another musical - based on Dickens, horror, more science fiction, and more horror. Compared with the ten highest grossing films last year:
1) The Avengers
2) The Dark Knight Rises
4) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
5) Ice Age: Continental Drift
6) The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2
7) The Amazing Spiderman
8) Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted
9) The Hunger Games
10)Men in Black 3
I don't think I need to expand too much on the differences between these two lists and the differences in the variety of the audiences the films on each list are aimed at. The first list contains films aimed at a variety of audiences and demographics. The second list...well, those films might be aimed at slightly different audiences, but at no age demographic about the age of about twenty-five years old. Not that older audiences haven't enjoyed some of those films. I saw "The Avengers" and liked it a lot, and I'm looking forward to seeing "Skyfall" and "The Hobbit", and I'm considerably older than the target demographic for them.
Still, as a group of films, the 1968 list has much more variety than the 2012 list, and I think that is a sad thing. Certainly, a much wider variety of films is being made. The question is, why aren't they attracting larger audiences in the theaters? Is it because, except for big action movies, people would rather see them at home on cable or on DVD? Is it because the distributing companies only really put their money behind the expensive blockbusters such as those that make up most of the 2012 list? Is it because audiences are only willing to part with increasingly more expensive box-office prices for films in franchises that they know ahead of time they enjoy?
I've got no answers for these questions. What I do have are some trailers from films on the 1968 list. I am personally of the opinion that trailers for older films were much more likely to give a better indication of what the films they advertise really are about. Even this trailer for "2001: A Space Odyssey", which is more than a bit abstract (appropriate for what is in many respects an abstract film), makes me want to see the film again:
Here is a trailer for "Rosemary's Baby":
And one for "Planet of the Apes":
Even this action-filled trailer for "Bullitt" shows that the movie is about more than just its justly famous chase scene:
Oh, yes...and the two of the ten top-grossing films of 1968 that I did not see? That I have still not seen? Those would be "The Odd Couple" and "Night of the Living Dead". I've never had any real interest in seeing "The Odd Couple". As for "Night of the Living Dead", the trailer convinced me that I did not want to see it, ever. I mean, really, if the trailer scared me that much, I couldn't see any point in seeing the full movie.
Sunday, January 27, 2013
I've been reading a lot about 1968 the past couple of days, so I thought it would be interesting to see what was going on in music that year.
The first thing that jumped out at me about the year was that 1968 was when The Beatles recorded their double album, "The Beatles", known nearly universally as "The White Album". The recording sessions for the album when on from May 30 to October 4, and the record was released on November 22.
The first song on the first side of the album (remember when there were "albums" and they had "sides"?) was "Back in the U.S.S.R.", and it was predictably controversial, with some right-wing political groups, including the John Birch Society, insisting that the song was the band's way of declaring that they were in sympathy with Communism. What is so funny about that was that the U.S.S.R.'s official position was that The Beatles were "the belch of Western culture", and as late as 1980, Paul McCartney was refused permission to perform there.
While The Beatles were, by that time, not a new group and yet still had some time to go before they broke up, the other notable thing I found about 1968 were the comings and goings of bands.
Led Zeppelin performed together in front of an audience for the first time On September 7, albeit under the name The New Yardbirds. That performance was at a teen club in Gladsaxe, Denmark. Later on, on October 25, they played their first show under the name Led Zeppelin, at the University of Surrey.
Zeppelin also recorded their first album in 1968, and it was released early in 1969. One of the songs on that album was "Dazed and Confused", here in a live performance at Royal Albert Hall in 1970, with bonus Jimmy Page playing electric guitar with a bow, which is just always amazes me:
Another band that had their first performance in 1968, on August 4, was Yes. I have to admit to not being a huge Yes fan, but there are some of the band's songs that I do like. The first one I recall being aware of was "Roundabout", from 1971. Here is a live performance of the song from 1973:
But there were bands who also turned in their final performances in 1968.
The Buffalo Springfield, for example, performed together for the final time in Long Beach, California, on May 5. The band had formed in 1966, and while it had a short run, it was hugely influential as one of the first North American bands to hit it big in the United States in the wake of the British Invasion. Probably the band's best-known song is "For What it's Worth", written by Stephen Stills, recorded in 1966 and released in early 1967. Here is a television performance of the song from 1967, with bonus Neil Young acting silly:
That Long Beach performance in 1968 was not, in reality, The Buffalo Springfield's final final show. In 2011, the band reunited for six concerts, beginning with a June 1 show in Oakland, California.
Later on in the year Cream, often cited as the first rock supergroup, played its farewell show at Royal Albert Hall, in London. They, too, reunited, however, for their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 and again in 2005. Like the Buffalo Springfield, Cream only lasted for two years, from 1966 to 1968.
I think my favorite song from Cream is "Tales of Brave Ulysses", from the band's second album, "Disraeli Gears". I always love it when classical literature finds its way into rock music, so that's probably why I like this so much. This performance of the song comes from The Smothers Brothers Show on May 17, 1968:
Saturday, January 26, 2013
So, I'm currently reading Boom! Voices of the Sixties, by Tom Brokaw. Interesting book.
The reason I mention this is because I came across a quote that I feel compelled to share. It comes from John Lewis, who is a member of Congress from Georgia. Rep. Lewis has a long history in the civil rights movement, including having been the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) from 1962 to 1966. He was also one of the original 13 Freedom Riders, participating in the attempt, in 1961, to break illegal segregation in interstate transportation accommodations in the South.
The US Supreme Court had ruled in 1946 that segregation on interstate public transportation was illegal because it violated the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution. That case was Irene Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia. Then, in 1960, the Court further ruled, in Boynton v. Virginia, that segregation was not only illegal on the modes of transportation itself, but in the terminal facilities as well, citing violation of the Interstate Commerce Act. Despite these rulings, transportation and associated facilities were still routinely segregated in the South.
I won't go any more deeply into the history of the civil rights movement right now, nor into the significance of the Freedom Riders to the history of the movement. I will say that it is all very interesting, and doesn't get talked about enough, and I certainly recommend learning more about those struggles in the early 1960s.
Anyway, during his interview with Brokaw for the book, Lewis said this:
"...we need to return to the tenets of nonviolence. It's not old-fashioned to be nice to each other."
I believe that this is a very important principle, especially in today's political climate. We really could use to be more excellent to one another.
Friday, January 25, 2013
I am a child of the Sixties.
I was 3 years old when the Sixties began, and 13 when they ended. I remember a lot of that decade, putting lie to the oft-stated conventional wisdom that "If you can remember the Sixties, you weren't there." Of course, while I was alive in the Sixties, I was too young to participate in the excesses of the decade, so it makes sense that I might actually remember more of that time than people who were older and did participate more fully.
Maybe it's just nostalgia, yearning for what seemed to be a simpler time (although the Sixties were not simple at all), but I'm fascinated by that decade. So, when I was at the library the other night and, while browsing the shelves, found What They Didn't Teach You About the 60s (Presidio, 2001; 360 pages), by Mike Wright, I picked it up immediately. I'm also doing some research into the decades following World War II, so I also had research aims in mind. But I mostly picked it up because it just sounded like something I would enjoy reading.
And I did. Now, I have to point out that it is not a perfect book. I found a few really obvious but probably minor errors. For example, Wright says that the actress who first played Catwoman in the 1960s "Batman" television series was Julie Newman, when even a non-fan of the show like me knows that it was Julie Newmar who played the role. This might even have been a simple typographical error; there are several of those in the book. Overall, these errors did not spoil my enjoyment of the book.
Wright covers almost every aspect of US culture in the Sixties, from music and television to politics, the Vietnam War, and the protests of that non-declared (from the US standpoint) war. He also covers the Cold War, the space program, the political assassinations that seemed all too common during the decade, and the Civil Rights movement that continued into the Sixties from its roots in the 1950s.
That's a lot to cover in the course of less than 400 pages, but Wright does a pretty good job of balancing completeness and detail. Having lived through those years, I have to admit that there wasn't really that much that he wrote about that I didn't know about, at least in outline. But I can see how someone who wasn't there might not know a lot about many of the events of the decade. In high school history classes, there is generally some attempt to stay away from controversial issues, and there was much in the Sixties that remains controversial even today. So, unless the student who was in high school in the Eighties and the Nineties and beyond, or even, really, in the Seventies, might not know a lot about the events of the Sixties unless they have deliberately sought out the information. While I wouldn't recommend this as the only book someone might read about the Sixties, I think it's a good starting point for anyone who doesn't know much about that decade and would like to know more.
I already mentioned the main drawback of the book, in the form of some mostly insignificant errors. One of the things I most liked about the book as I was reading is that Wright is very good about providing fairly specific dates when different events happened. Perhaps this is just the researcher in me, but I like to know specifically when things happened, not just the month or the year involved. There is some of that here, but there are also a significant number of specific dates. It makes it even more interesting when you can, as I was able to in a couple of instances while I was reading, to be able to say, yes, I know exactly what I was doing on that day, when this or that event took place. But, as I've noted here before, I have a particular fascination with different events that happened to occur on the same date.
It is going to be interesting as I continue my research and fact check the information here against information from other sources (here's a research hint: always fact check, no matter how authoritative a source seems to be), to see just how accurate Wright's dates are, and how his evaluations of events match up with other writers' perspectives on those events.
Which, I suppose, is just another indication of the extent of my geekiness.
Thursday, January 24, 2013
Sometimes you just have to wonder what people are thinking.
I ran into a story over on NBC News online which reports that a county in Ireland is proposing that some people be allowed to drive after drinking up to the equivalent of three pints of beer, so long as they stick to rural roads that cannot be driven on over a speed of about 25 or 30 miles per hour.
The Kerry County Council passed a motion to that effect by a five-vote to three margin, with seven abstentions.
The reason for the proposal? It's supposed to be meant to combat depression in people who live alone in rural areas by letting them come out to the local pub and hang out with their friends and still be able to drive home after drinking. Danny Healy-Rae, the council member who introduced the proposal (and who happens to be a pub owner - go figure) cited the incidence of depression and of drinking alone at home as reasons for his idea.
Healy-Rae said of his proposal, "It would allow these people to meet with their friends and neighbors and to discuss the topics of the day, the price of cattle and whatever."
Fair enough. As someone who doesn't get to get out of the house and socialize as much as I'd like, I can appreciate that being able to get together with friends for a night out is a good thing.
But it raises one question in my mind: "Is it absolutely necessary to drink alcohol in order to hang with friends?" Now, understand, I don't have any problem with people drinking. I don't drink much, but I do enjoy a beer from time to time. But I also have never found it is necessary to drink to have a good time.
I imagine that some people reading this will think I am horribly out of step with contemporary culture, or that I'm some sort of bluenose who wants to impose some sort of abstinence-based way of life on other people. Believe me, that isn't the case.
I repeat: I'm fine with people drinking if they wish.
I don't know about Irish culture (I'm not willing to fall back on the stereotypes of the drunken Irishman), but I know that drinking to have fun is deeply ingrained in much of American culture. But I have to say that I just don't understand the idea that you have to at least have a buzz, or you're really not having fun.
Anyway, aren't there other ways to get these rural residents out to the pub without having to give them permission to drive after drinking? Couldn't several friends to out together, in one vehicle, with one being the designated driver? I mean, the same person doesn't have to take that responsibility every time they go out. I can't see how it would be that difficult for the pubs to serve non-alcoholic as well as alcoholic drinks to accomodate the chosen non-drinker for the evening. Or, couldn't the pub - or the local council - hire a driver to safely pick up and deliver back home those isolated people who want to drink? Call it a cost of safely doing business.
To be fair, most government officials in Ireland, including the country's transport minister, are firmly opposed to Healy-Rae's proposal, with the mayor of Kerry, Terry O'Brien, calling allowing people behind the wheel after drinking "absolute lunacy". Additionally, the county council reportedly does not have the power to enact the proposal unilaterally.
I wonder what you all think about this. Am I overreacting? Or is the idea of letting drivers loose on rural roads after drinking because otherwise they might get depressed, a little over the top?
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Ever have one of those day where you'd rather just hide, stay in bed, and curl up with a good book?
I'm having one of those days. The weather has turned cooler again (not that it warmed up much from recent seemingly arctic temperatures), and it looks like rain. That's the kind of day when this usually happens to me. Also, I'm reading a good book, and when I find a good book it is sometimes very difficult for me to pry myself away from it.
Now, I didn't get to stay in bed with my book. I had a meeting and a workshop to go to. So, not only did I have to get out and about, I had to wake up early in order to get a ride to the 9 a.m. meeting. Add to the fact that I knew ahead of time that the meeting would not be the fascinating highlight of my week and the fact that my eustachian tube has been plugged off and on for the past couple of days, which means an earache. None of this helped my mood this morning. Neither did the prospect of riding home on the bus. I don't mind riding the bus generally, but in cold weather and with all kinds of creeping crud going around, I'd just rather not.
Now, though, that I'm back home and could, technically, head for bed and that book, I'm not in such a bad mood at all, even though I'm not in bed and not reading my book.
What's the difference?
The difference is, while the meeting was as underwhelming as I'd expected, the workshop I attended afterward was energizing, interesting, and helpful. It wasn't one of those deadly dull affairs where the presenter gets up and lectures to you for a couple of hours, maybe flashes a few PowerPoint slides on a screen or a whiteboard. There wasn't even a set topic for the session.
I think that, back in the Sixties, it might have qualified as a "rap session". Am I the only one here old enough to remember those?
The whole purpose was to generate topics for workshops for members of CVP. We're all looking for work, many of us at an age that makes employers less than eager to hire us. Toward this end, the facilitator asked each of us (there were maybe fifteen of us in the workshop) to introduce ourselves, talk about our area of expertise, and then say what one thing would we find most valuable to take away from a workshop.
Because we were a fairly diverse group in regard to our backgrounds of education and work life, just listening to each participant talk about what they have done and what they would like to do going forward was quite interesting. What was instructive, however, was what each of us said we would like to take from the workshop, that would help us in getting where we want to be. It turns out that many of us have very similar worries or issues, despite our diverse backgrounds.
My "takeaway" suggestion was that I would like to be able to discuss my abilities and talents without feeling like I'm "blowing my own horn" or bragging about myself. I have a great deal of trouble with that because my upbringing was such that I was taught that one just does not brag on what they can do, that doing so is unattractive and unseemly. Because of this, I have a tough time in job interviews trying to sell the interviewers on my potential worth to their companies.
To my surprise, I was far from the only one who had similar issues with either feeling self-worth or communicating their worth to potential employers. Our issues came from different places, to be sure. Along with my upbringing, the fact that communicating my worth to a company feels like I'm selling myself to interviewers is uncomfortable to me. Also, I did not get the sales gene, and selling myself and my talents has always felt even more uncomfortable than trying to sell a product. I've tried sales jobs before (I was even an Avon Lady for awhile, back when Avon Ladies actually went door-to-door in an assigned territory; it was an awful experience). Sales is just not a good fit for me. In other words, I'm miserable at it.
The facilitator said something that might make it easier for me. She said that what is really needed is that I share myself rather than think of it as selling myself. And that makes sense to me. I don't know how that readjustment in my outlook will work in practical terms, next time I apply for a job, but the concept is one that I appreciate. I can share much more readily and successfully, I think, than I can sell.
So, I'm in a much better frame of mind this afternoon than I was this morning.
All of this has me thinking, though...when you would rather just stay home and read a good book, or do whatever it is that you enjoy doing when you would rather just hide from the world, what does it take to get you out of hermit mode?
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
How many times are we going to have to do this?
No, seriously. I'm sitting here, watching live coverage of another multiple shooting. And people keep asking the exact same questions: How can we guard against this? What happened? How many shot? Why?
Since it is still an ongoing situation, there aren't a lot of answers. The talking heads, at least on MSNBC, which is the coverage I'm watching, keep throwing out the same old platitudes, including that the shootings might have been "gang related". They're also making a big deal out of the fact that this campus is a community college, as if it should be self-evident that something like this is more likely to happen there than on a "real" (my word, not theirs, but clearly their implication) college or university campus. There's lots of mention of the fact that there are vocational and technical classes taught on campus, with more unspoken implications (you know these - that it's "lower class" people who take such courses, who might be more likely to carry guns and shoot people). It is also being mentioned that it is a "commuter school", another code word for "not a real college".
As someone who got a good academic general education at a community college before transferring to a four-year school for my upper division courses, none of this is making me happy.
There have also been numerous eyewitness reports that in this latest incident there was an argument taking place, and then the people who were arguing whipped out weapons and started shooting. It is still early days, and it may turn out that this is not the case. However, if that is what happened, I feel compelled to remind people that we do not live in the Wild West. We do not resolve disputes by meeting in the middle of the street, with twenty paces and guns.
I know. I've been harping on this since the Sandy Hook shootings last month. But, somehow, we've got to realize as a culture that violence - shooting or stabbing or strangling or poisoning or whatever - is just stupid and that we've got to cut it out. How did we get to the point where just offing the person who pissed you off, or offing a bunch of people if you're just pissed off generally, is seen as a logical, viable solution to the particular snit we are in.
Maybe I had an unusual upbringing, but I was taught, and I believe, that violence is never an answer to anything. And, I'm not just talking about firearm violence. I was brought up to believe that you don't go and punch someone if they've made you angry. So, I'm not just here to moan about the problems with guns. I'm here to say that if you're first impulse when you are angry or disappointed or upset about something is to hurt someone in any way, you need to examine your assumptions.
This isn't something that I started thinking about today. It is something I've felt strongly about for a long time, but it was brought into focus after a meme came across on my FB feed the other day (yes, I'm back to memes, too). It read:
Life should be more like hockey. When someone pisses you off, just beat the shit out of them then sit in a penalty box for 5 minutes.
I really don't think this is a healthy attitude. Not even in jest.
Or is it just me? Am I unusual in not wanting to hurt people, either physically or emotionally (which is just as much bullying as physical violence)? Am I out of step? Am I the one who doesn't "get it"? Do I need, as I've been told in the past, that I need to "grow a sense of humor" about violence? Or, am I not alone in thinking that maybe we need to start advocating more constructive methods of conflict resolution at school, in the workplace, and in life?
Monday, January 21, 2013
I'm sitting here, even as I write this, watching one of my favorite movies of all time, "To Sir, With Love". It's from 1967, and stars Sidney Poitier, Christian Roberts, Judy Geeson, and Suzy Kendall, and concerns a teacher (Poitier) who goes to teach in a state school in a poor section of London.
There are complications from the time he takes over a class, whose students drove their previous teacher to resign. These are rough kids, from a rough background. They are basically, most of them, good kids, but life is tough for them and they are about to leave school pretty much unprepared to face the real world of work and relationships and family. So, Mr. Thackeray (Poitier) starts from the beginning with them, and tries to teach them skills that will help them get along in the world. He also determines after a short time that the only way to get through to them is to treat them as the adults they will soon be, rather than the children that the rest of the staff considers them to be. He demands that they treat him, and each other, with respect. The film follows their progress, slow at first, until they leave school.
Some reviewers have called the film "sentimental", complaining that it isn't very realistic. While it might be sentimental, it is based on the 1959 novel of the same name by E. R. Braithwaite, an autobiographical telling of Braithwaite's experiences in teaching in an East End school in London directly after World War II. My view is that, while it does seem that the students' turn-around in their behavior comes awfully quickly, the film does look at realistic problems students of those circumstances in the mid-60s, which the film updates from the book's setting.
At any rate, this film does one of the things that I love films for - it gives a glimpse into a concrete time and place that the American viewer probably knows little about.
Another film that does that, that I watched again last night, is the original Japanese version of "Shall We Dance?", a Japanese film from 1996, the inspiration for the 2004 American version of the same name, which starred Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Jennifer Lopez, and Stanley Tucci. The 2004 film is okay, but the Japanese version, (which has nothing to do with another film of the same name from 1937, which starred Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers) is superior in every way. It concerns a Japanese businessman who starts taking ballroom dancing lessons because he has seen one of the teachers at a studio standing in the window and looking down on his train home from work at night. His wife, who has encouraged him to go out and have fun, nonetheless comes to wonder if he is having an affair after his manner changes as he progresses in his lessons. She goes so far as to hire a private investigator to follow him.
Here is the trailer, in Japanese but with no English subtitles (it is available on DVD with English subtitles). Even if you don't understand Japanese, this trailer gives a good feel for the film, which is a sweet comedy that I recommend highly. I first saw it in a class right after it came out on DVD, and I've seen it a number of times since.
So, to review: If you haven't seen "To Sir, With Love" and the Japanese film "Shall We Dance?", you should.
Sunday, January 20, 2013
Well, it looks like YouTube is working again, and so here is the rest of this week's installment.
As I said, The Animals are one of my favorite British Invasion groups. This is one of their first songs, released in 1965, "We Gotta Get Out of This Place". I'm not sure where this live performance comes from, but it must be from right around the time the song came out:
There were actually two versions of the song, and this is the UK version, with the words, "Watch my daddy in bed a-dyin'...", rather than the "See my daddy in bed a-dyin'", as it appears in the US version. The source I was reading wasn't really clear on why there are two versions, but I think it is an interesting bit of trivia.
Also from 1965 is "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood". This is a cover, as the song was first recorded by Nina Simone in 1964. This is another live performance clip, this time from an actual concert rather than from a TV appearance, in which Eric Burdon gets a little dramatic mid-song:
This early line-up of the band had broken up by fall of 1966, but by the end of the year, a second incarnation of the band, still fronted by Eric Burdon, had formed. Besides the changes in personnel, the music was a bit different, as well.
In 1967, this new line-up produced a couple of songs very much influenced by Burdon's time in California. First, this live performance on a CBC television show of "San Franciscan Nights". This is a really interesting performance in that it is clearly truly live, and not lip-synced. I like this song a lot anyway, and I really like this performance of it:
Also in 1967, came "Monterey". The Animals performed at the Monterey Pop Festival, and this song came directly from that experience. This live performance looks like it came from the same CBC TV broadcast as the previous one:
And, just because I can...
In 1970, Eric Burdon recorded a song with War called "Spill the Wine". It is a surrealistic song that I loved when it came out when I was in the eighth grade and that I still have a huge amount of fondness for today. And so, here it is, in all it's glory:
I've been doing some reading about the 1960s recently, and so I thought it might be nice, this Music Sunday, to revisit the British Invasion, with an emphasis on the bands who were not The Beatles or The Rolling Stones.
Not that there is anything wrong with either band. It's just that they have gotten plenty of time and exposure here in the months that I've been writing my Music Sunday posts. But there were plenty of other bands that also brought their music from the UK to the United States that those of us who were there at the time remember quite fondly.
Of course, there isn't enough time or space to share work from all of the British Invasion bands today, so I'm going to focus on some of the bands and songs that I particularly liked at the time and that I still like today.
Donovan came out of the British folk scene. One of his first songs was 1964's "Catch the Wind", in which he sounds remarkably like Bob Dylan:
A little later on, in 1966, Donovan produced one of the first of the "psychedelic" records unleashed onto the world. This was "Sunshine Superman":
Another early Invasion song was "You Really Got Me", by the Kinks, from 1964:
I'm not sure exactly what that is at the end of that video, but it is very, very sixties.
The Kinks followed up in 1965 with "A Well Respected Man", although listening to the song one can't help but get the feeling that this is not exactly what the members of the band were actually shooting for in their own lives. And that attitude would be very Sixties:
I like early promotional films for songs, like this one, from 1967, for the Troggs' song "Love is All Around". Who says that the music video didn't appear until the 1980s?
I had planned on sharing some songs from The Animals, one of my favorite British Invasion groups, but it seems that YouTube is having issues all of a sudden, and so that will have to wait for another Music Sunday.
Meanwhile, enjoy your day, and if you're in the US enjoy your day off tomorrow, if you get one, for the Presidential Inauguration and for Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.
Saturday, January 19, 2013
Sometimes, you just pick up a book because it's there, and you aren't sure you're going to like it, and then you end up loving it.
That's what happened to me with Julie Powell's Julie & Julia (Little, Brown and Company, 2005; 359 pages in mass market paperback). I was at the library one day and couldn't find anything I wanted to read. Nothing. My last stop was at the "free" paperbacks rack, where they put the donated paperbacks that aren't even really part of the library's collection. You don't check them out; you just take them home and then bring them back whenever you've finished reading, or you bring back another in its place.
Well, I'd seen the film version of the book, starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, and liked it all right. So, I figured I'd give the book a try.
For those of you who aren't familiar with the book or the movie, this is the (mostly?) true story of Julie Powell, a secretary for a government agency in the wake of 9/11, not really loving her job and looking for something fulfilling to do. So, she decides to cook her way through volume one of Julia Child's' "Mastering the Art of French Cooking". That's something over 500 recipes, some of them very intricate and involved, in a year. Not only did she decide to do this, she decided to blog about it.
The blog eventually brought her a bit of national media attention, as well as a book contract to write Julie & Julia.
I was leery of the book at first. I'm not much of a cook, but more the heat and assemble type. I'm getting better. In fact, after I finish writing this post, I'm going to put on some potatoes and eggs to boil for potato salad. It's a simple potato salad, but it's good. Just the potatoes and eggs, plus salt and pepper, mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, and a little water. Oh, and some wedged black olives if there are any in the cabinet. It's the potato salad my grandma taught me to make when I was very young. Every once in awhile I get a craving for it.
Oops. Sorry for the tangent. The book...I was afraid that there was going to be too much cooking detail that I wouldn't understand. Well, there's cooking detail there, but not too much, and I actually understood most of it. But there is also Julie's life for that year, and the life of her husband and her friends. And there's the blog, which kind of became a character all its own, in a good way.
What the book isn't, is just like the movie. There is much more Julia Child in the movie than there is in the book. There are vignettes between most of the chapters from Julia's life and the life of her husband, Paul, taken from his letters, but they are brief. I would have liked there to be a little more Julia in the book, because the parts about Julia's life in the movie were what I liked most about it.
On the other hand, we learn a lot more about Julie in the book than in the movie. As it turns out, I like Julie much more in the book than I did in the movie. She's plain-spoken and opinionated, and when she screwed up the cooking, she lets you know. She's profane at times - and writes about how some of the readers of her blog were uncomfortable about her use, especially, of the word "fuck". But that's Julie, and it wouldn't be the same book if she reined herself in.
I suspect that Republicans, or at least those without a sense of humor, might not like the fact that Julie isn't enamoured much with the Republican Party, and is plain about that fact in the book. This comes out mostly in her writing about her job, which was for an agency dominated by Republicans during a Republican administration. But, again, that's Julie, and the book wouldn't be the same if the reader didn't get to know that part of her.
This is a good book. If you like cooking, and if you like good writing, you should probably read it. If you don't like cooking, read it anyway. It might make you want to try to do some more cooking. That's the effect it had on me. When I was finished reading, my first instinct was to go grab a cookbook, any cookbook, and see what I might make.
Friday, January 18, 2013
Just for laughs, since it's Friday and I'm not in the mood to be serious, I'm leaving this for all of you, and espeically for all of my fellow Whovians.
It's called "The Ballad of Russell and Julie", and I first saw it at Gallifrey One last year.
Thursday, January 17, 2013
Sometimes, something from childhood stays with us so vividly that, even in adulthood, it makes us sit up and take notce whenever we find a reference to it. With me, one of those things is Popeye the Sailor Man.
No, really. Popeye was one of my favorite cartoon series when I was a child. Not as much of a favorite as Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends, but still a favorite. So, when I was looking around for something to write about today, the fact that today is the anniversary of Popeye's first appearance in a comic strip, way back in 1929. Way, way, way before my time, to be sure. Although I knew that the character had been around for a long time, I didn't know it had been that long.
Popeye was created by Elzie Segar and first appeared in a comic strip called "Thimble Theater". He (Popeye) stayed in the pages of the comic strips until 1933, when he began to appear in a series of animated shorts out of Fleischer Studios in New York. Among the other characters first brought to animation by the studio were Betty Boop and Superman.
In fact, Popeye's first appearance in animation was in a Betty Boop cartoon, named simply "Popeye the Sailor Man". Betty Boop has only a cameo in the short, which runs about seven and a half minutes, while the audience is introduced to Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto.
Viewing that first cartoon today it is amazing to see how much our culture has changed since 1933. There is one scene that depends on racist stereotypes for its laughs. There is brutality and bullying. And, in her small role as a dancer in a carnival sideshow, Betty Boop appears to be wearing nothing but a lei. Well, that's not exactly unheard of today, but the rest of it, to modern sensibilities, is kind of out there. In fact, I was planning on sharing that first cartoon here, but because of the racist bits, I'm not going to do that. If you're really curious, you can find it on YouTube.
After the first Fleischer Studios/Famous Studios series of Popeye cartoons, that continued until 1957, a new series of animated Popeye cartoons meant specifically for syndication on television, appeard in 1960. 220 cartoons were made by the end of that series in 1962. Another series of Popeye cartoons, this time in an hour-long format and produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions, which also gave us Huckleberry Hound, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, and Scooby-Doo, among many others. This series ran until 1981, when it was cut to a half-hour format until it ran its coures in 1983. It was back again briefly in 1987 and again in 2004, this time as a computer-animated special. IN 2010, a new 3-D computer animated film was announced, with a released date of September 26,2014.
Popeye has appeared in other media, as well. There were several series of Popeye series on three different networks between 1935 and 1938. In 1980, Robert Altman directed a live-action movie with Robin Williams playing Popeye.
So, that first outing Popeye, despite later political incorrectness and all in his animated form, spawned a continuing legacy that is still with us today.
There are some other notable - and far more important - anniversaries today. On this day in 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered his farewell address ahead of the inaugration of John F. Kennedy as President. As farewell addresses go, his was historically notable as the speech in which he warned of the dangers of allowing the "military-industrial complex" to proliferate. Not as much fun as cartoons, but very, very important. It would have been nice if someone had listened. Here is the clip from that speech in which Eisenhower delivers his warning:
It is also the anniversary of the 1994 Northridge earthquake in Southern California. Being a native Californian, this is is an important anniversary to me even though I wasn't in the affected area at the time. I can remember driving around the area some months, even a couple of years afterward, and there was still damage in evidence.
There are birthdays today, as well. Benjamin Franklin was born on this day in 1706. Al Capone was born on January 17, 1899. Mumammad Ali was born on this day in 1942. There are others, including Michelle Obama and Betty White, born in 1964 and 1922 respectively.
And so, if its you're birthday today, Happy Birthday. Since today's post is late, I hope you had a good day.
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Have you noticed how rude people are getting to be?
No? Have you been living in a cave? Because it seems like more people are getting to be more rude...or, as I have been known to put it, rude, crude, and socially unacceptable...every day.
This is especially true on the Internet. I know; big surprise.
I'd like to say that it's the anonymity that the Internet allows, but it isn't that. A lot of the rudeness that I've been running into is on Facebook (I've written about my FB complaints here before, especially the "If you don't post this you're [fill in the blank...evil, heartless, and so forth]) are put up with the poster's full, real name. But it isn't just that.
There's also the memes, which seem to pop up on my feed with ever-more regularity, that say, generally, "If you don't like my opinions, screw you."
Well, I have opinions too (you know that if you've read here very often), and I don't often care much if people don't agree with me. I'm used to that; many people don't agree with me most of the time, me being one of those horrible flaming liberals like I am.
But, you know what? I also don't feel the need to preface or follow any of my opinions with an explicit declaration that anyone who doesn't agree with me needs to go screw themselves. Because they are allowed to their opinion, too.
The thing that bothers me about these declarations is that the implicit message, as I read them, is: "My opinion matters, but yours doesn't because mine is the only really important opinion." I take exception to that, because opinions are like assholes...pretty much everyone has one, and unless you have special expertise in whatever your opinion pertains to, yours isn't any more valuable than mine is. And mine isn't any more valuable than yours.
I don't know. Maybe it's just because I'm in a foul mood generally today, but I've had it up to here with this sort of thing.
So...it's your turn. Who's being rude in your life? Have you had it up to here with the whole thing? Do you speak up, or do you back off so that you aren't perceived as being rude, as well?
I promise: I'll try to post something more positive tomorrow.
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Enter the conspiracy theorists.
In the wake of the shootings last month at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, there is a cottage industry growing up around a few conspiracy theorists who are claiming that there was no shooting there at all. No one died, they say, and all those grieving parents? Just what the theorists are calling "crisis actors", brought in by the government to serve their nefarious purposes.
One of the theorists is a professor at Florida Atlantic University. This gentleman, whom I choose not to name because I don't think he deserves it (you can Google "Sandy Hook Conspiracy Theory" and find him, and the others; also, Salon seems to be doing a good job of reporting on this phenomenon online), claims he is only doing what a good academic should do, delving "more deeply into controversial public events," according to some reports. Another is a news reader at Cincinnati's Fox affiliate. He has taken to posting videos on YouTube advancing his views on the shootings, and has widened his theory, as have some others, to include the Aurora, Colorado, theater shootings and the Sikh Temple shootings in Wisconsin. Among his contentions: the Aurora shooter and the Sandy Hook shooter are connected through their fathers, both of whom he claims are scheduled to testify in a banking scandal.
The various theories take different tacks. Some contend that the shootings, at least in Sandy Hook, did not happen at all. Others allow that they might have happened, but that they were not the result of a lone shooter. Instead, they claim,, the shootings involved multiple gunmen and are the result of a government conspiracy. The bottom line of these theories, whether admitting that people were killed or not, is that the events were orchestrated in order to whip up sentiment for increased regulation of firearms.
The theories, from what I've read, get even wilder, but there are always wild conspiracy theories, stupid but of no real harm. It isn't even the first time that it has been proposed that what the public has been told happened never happened at all. We've all probably heard the theories that, on 9/11, no plane hit the Pentagon and no plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. There are even those who insist that John F. Kennedy didn't die on November 22, 1963 in Dallas.
I've written here before that I am fascinated by conspiracy theories and that they can be entertaining. I still believe that. But this current round of theorizing is not amusing, is not entertaining, and is in fact dangerous. It is being used for political ends, to try to convince the public that the government is out to get their guns. And although these theories are absurd on their face (how do you fake the deaths of twenty schoolchildren and six teachers, or of six people in a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, or of twelve people in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado? Really?) there are people who are going to believe it is true.
Now, I'm not saying that the people advancing these theories should be silenced. I'm as big a believer in the speech and press rights conferred in the First Amendment as Second Amendment absolutists are believers in that Amendment. And while it makes a certain amount of sense to ignore their delusions, or their calculated attempts to influence public opinion, I think that in the long run, it is necessary for the mainstream media to stand up and say, this is what these people are saying and, damn it, they're trying to put something over on you, and here's why.
Maybe I'm the one who is delusional, looking for a voice of sanity in all this. But sanity is what is needed right now.
Monday, January 14, 2013
Another day, another awards show.
Yes, it is that time of year. I wasn't kidding the other day when I wrote, in this space, that the awards season is upon us. In the past week or so, we've seen the People's Choice Awards, awards from the Broadcast Critics Association or whatever they call themselves and, last night, the Golden Globes.
I think I'm already awards-show'ed out.
Well, not really. I sat all the way through the People's Choice broadcast, for reasons that I can't quite articulate. I think I probably just wanted to see if the show was as bad as it has been in the past. Yeah, kinda, was the answer to that. I think it's nice that there's a set of awards that is theoretically voted by "the people". I don't know the actual mechanism for the voting for those, though, so I can't vouch for how fair it is or isn't. By that I mean that I don't know if people can vote more than once, or how the nominees are determined, among other things. Whatever the situation surrounding that, they really don't put on a very exciting show.
As far as the Broadcast Critics and Golden Globes awards shows, I didn't see all of either broadcast. I didn't even know that the Broadcast Critics were having a show, or were giving awards, until I happened on the show while I was looking for something to watch the night it was on. And, while I knew the Golden Globes were on, I was doing other things and only saw the last hour and a half or so of the broadcast.
So, yeah. Not completely over the awards shows yet, but it could happen soon.
What I am over is the whole red carpet/infomercial for designers that goes on ahead of so many awards shows. I don't usually watch those (well, except for the Academy Awards, but only because it is tradition), but the headlines on the morning after the Golden Globes caught my eye as I was looking through the news sites this morning. I fail to see why it is so important to comment on how people attending these things are dressed.
Once in awhile, someone will wear something so completely stupid or silly or outrageous that comment is appropriate. Bjork's swan dress. That ridiculously low-cut green dress that Jennifer Lopez wore to one of the awards ceremonies one year (and that Matt Lauer recreated at the next Today Show's Halloween costume extravaganza...and didn't one of the creators of "South Park" also show up on a red carpet with that dress or something like it as well?). And that see-through thing that Barbra Streisand wore to the Academy Awards one year when she won. I can understand comment on those sorts of outfits.
But there has grown up this cottage industry of critiquing the way the stars dress, and of feeling free to make fun of anyone who does not meet the critics' particular taste in formal dress. But it doesn't stop there. There are often also snide remarks if someone does not wear a dress or suit from a sufficiently trendy designer, as if not spending enough money - or, more likely, these days, not borrowing garb from the "right" designer and not borrowing jewels worth enough for the commentators.
Yes, I know. We live in a capatilistic society, and some folks have the idea that if you aren't selling something, and aren't exhibiting a sufficient amount of conspicuous consumption, then you aren't being patriotic enough because you aren't trying to persuade people to spend money on things they don't need.
Personally? I think the whole "fashion" aspect of these awards shows is, well, boring. I'm much more interested in the work that is being recognized by the awards. What people wear to the ceremonies is irrelevant, as far as I'm concerned.
I'm sure the people who get turned on by this stuff think my opinion is irrelevant. I suppose that makes us even.
The Big Four awards ceremonies are yet to come, and I'm looking forward to those. For movies, that would be the Academy Awards, coming up next month. Those are going to be interesting, if for no other reason than to see how the Best Director statue gets awarded, considering that Ben Affleck, who was not even nominated for the Academy Award for his direction of "Argo" has already won both the Broadcast Critics award and the Golden Globe award for his efforts.
The other three of the big four, The Grammys, for music; the Tonys, for theater; and the Emmys, for television, are also still to come. And I'll probably be right there to watch them, too. But not the red carpets, which have, in any case, only in the past what, decade or decade and a half, started to be broadcast as more than a five or ten-minute introduction to the awards shows themselves.
Me? I blame it all on cable TV.
Sunday, January 13, 2013
It's Music Sunday once again, and for the first time, the post I had planned on doing is not going to happen because I couldn't find appropriate videos on YouTube to share with you all. I'll keep looking, and that might happen sometime in the future, but for today I'm going to do a quick change of direction, and venture off into country music, which I haven't delved into to much here in the past.
It actually took me years to get over my aversion to country music, and I'm still picky about the country I listen to (a statement which you may well laugh at after this post), but I like it, or some of it, much more than I used to. But, since a quick look around the Interwebs showed me that today is Trace Adkins' 50th birthday, I thought I'd share a few of his songs that I like a lot.
First off is "Just Fishin'", which I suppose I like so much because it reminds me of my childhood and my relationship with my father. The fishing was off the pier at the beach rather than on a riverbank, but it took me a long time, into adulthood, to realize that our fishing expeditions more than just fishing trips, but a bonding experience that shaped my life and my attitudes in many ways:
"You're Gonna Miss This" is another song that speaks to me, not in specific terms but in the general sense that I can identify with looking back and wishing that I had paid attention more, been in the moment more, and not been so damned anxious to grow up:
Adkins' songs are not all introspective, however. Thank goodness. There's this one, which I love in spite of myself, "Ladies Love Country Boys", which is just a fun song and a fun video:
And then there's "I Got My Game On", which is over-the-top silly, probably politically incorrect, but also very funny. My theory is that what makes this video a gem is the fact that the poor guy does everything wrong and still ends up with the girl, which is more true-to-life than the path to success with women that the "Dr. Love" character that Adkins plays in the video is selling.
Now, from some of the interviews I've seen with Adkins, I suspect that he and I would not see eye-to-eye on a lot of topics. But I've always made it a practice not to throw an artist's work out with the bathwater of their personal shortcomings or political or social beliefs. It would be a boring world if everyone held the same beliefs, and I'm not interested in limiting my viewing and listening to artists I know I would agree with all the time. I mean, I thought it was stupid back in the 60s when people wouldn't go see Jane Fonda movies because they didn't agree with her political stances, or wouldn't go to John Wayne movies because they didn't like his attitudes. I would be a hypocrite if I took the attitude that I wouldn't listen to and enjoy someone's music just because I'm not sure I would like their politics.
It really shouldn't even be a question.
Saturday, January 12, 2013
Sometimes, in this world of YouTube and Twitter and Facebook, of 24-hour news cycles and the ten-second sound bite, we occasionally decry the fact that anything and everything can be out there for the world to see and hear nearly instantaneously, and that once it is out there, it's out there forever.
However, there are times when this state of affairs does a service to society, because anyone with access to a computer and the Internet can go back and confirm exactly what was said, and when, and why.
This is one of those time.
As you probably remember, back on December 21, Wayne LaPierre, the executive director of the National Rifle Association, stood up at a news conference and said, "The only thing that stops a bad buy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." Here is the quote, at the 1:11 point in this clip:
Notice the emphasis on the word "only", and the number of times he uses it during this part of his message. La Pierre clearly wants us to believe that more guns are the only answer to things like school shootings.
Now, here is another clip, with two California law enforcement officers speaking in the aftermath of yet another school shooting, just last Thursday, at Taft Union High School, in Taft, California:
In case you didn't hear this story, a student showed up on campus at Taft High oon Thursday morning with a shotgun and a grudge, looking for two other students who he claimed had bullied him. He shot one student, but quick-thinking science teacher Ryan Heber, with the help of another school employee, managed to distract the student with the firearm long enough to let the other students flee the room and then talked the student into putting down his shotgun.
Now, there is another aspect to the story. According to local news reports, there is ordinarily an armed officer on campus at Taft High. Ordinarily. However, that officer was not at the school...some stories have said that he was not able to get to work because he was snowed in. Whatever the reason, he was not there. The teacher was there. The teacher was not armed, and yet he managed to keep that student from using all of the at least 20, according to reports, shotgun shells he had in his pockets.
So, there were injuries. That is indisputable. But, it is also indisputable that Wayne La Pierre's statement, that the only thing that can stop a gunman is a gunman, is inaccurate. One would hope that La Pierre would learn from this that very few things are as absolute as he would have us beleive.
Honestly, I don't hold out too much hope for La Pierre. He is, after all, a shill for US firearms manufacturers, and his plan is clearly a ploy not to protect school children so much as to generate sales for his masters. The take-away for the rest of us, however, should be that the solution to violence is not more violence, and that the solution to guns is schools is not more guns in schools.
I'm not sure why this is such a difficult concept for some people to grasp.
Friday, January 11, 2013
I love it when different events in different years but on the same day have a resonance of some kind with each other.
Today is one of those days. Well, depending on which calendar you use, but still...Let me tell you a story.
Nicolas Steno was born on this day in 1638. Kind of.
The Gregorian Calendar, the calendar we use today, was decreed by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, and was pretty much immediately adopted by the European Catholic countries. However, Denmark, where Steno was born, was a Lutheran country and so kept on using the Julian Calendar and resisted adopting Gregory's calendar until March 1, 1700. So, according to the calendar used when and where he was born, Steno was born on January 1. But, not only because we use the Gregorian Calendar today but because Steno converted from Lutheranism to Roman Catholicism (in 1667), it is appropriate to mark his birthday on January 11.
Before his conversion and ordniation to the priesthood, Steno had studied both anatomy and geology. Besides having taught anatomy, he is considered to be one of the founders of modern geology. In 1669, published a work in which he recognized the basic principles of stratigraphy, the basis of all modern geological studies. These were 1) the law of superposition, which says that in undisturbed geolgoical layers, the lower strata are older than higher strata; 2) the principle of original horizontality, the idea that tilted strata were horizontal at their deposition; and 3) the principle of lateral continuity, which says that material in a stratum was continuous unless a solid body stood in the way. He also recognized the principle of cross-cutting relationships, the idea that a discontinuity or body that intrudes into a stratum is younger than the stratum, as well as articulating the theory that fossils represent the remains of life in different geolgical eras.
Today in the Roman Catholic church, Steno is known as the Blesssed Nicolas Steno, having been beatified, the last step before sainthood, by Pope John Paul II in 1988. I don't know if that status makes Steno unique among scientists, but I'm pretty sure there are not that many scientists on their way to sainthood.
But that isn't what makes the fact that today is Steno's birthday interesting to me. What makes it interesting to me is the fact that January 11, in 1908, is the day that Grand Canyon National Monument was created. It had been named Grand Canyon Game Preserve in 1906, but would not be created as a national park until 1919.
Nicolas Steno would have loved the Grand Canyon, considering that it contains one of the most complete geologic columns in the world. This is true even though down near the bottom of the canyon there is what is called the Great Unconformity. At that point, there is a gap of around one billion years between rocks that are 1.5 billion years old and rocks that were depostied about 500 million years ago. The Unconformity represents a period of erosion between depositions.
Can you imagine how much fun Steno would have had studying all those strata in the Canyon? It seems to me that there is some sort of poetic justice in the Canyon being created a national monument on the 270th anniversary of Steno's birth.
Which only goes to prove, I suppose, that I am both a science geek and a history geek, and that if I try really, really hard, I can manage to combine them.
Thursday, January 10, 2013
The Academy Award nominations were announced this morning.
I haven't seen even one of the nominated films or performances. I hadn't even heard of two of the nine films nominated for Best Picture before the announcement (those would be "Amour", which is also nominated as Best Foreign Language Film, and "Beasts of the Southern Wild"), and of the seven I have heard of, there's really only two - "Argo" and "Lincoln" - that I really have had any interest in seeing, although the amount of controversy that "Zero Dark Thirty" is generating makes it a little more interesting to me. And, to completely honest, my main interest in seeing "Lincoln" has to do with the fact that when a film gets that much attention, I get curious about whether it's really that good.
None of the acting nominations have me that excited, since I haven't seen any of the performances, but those aren't the interesting categories for me, anyway.
I'm always much more interested in the Documentary Feature category. If you've read here much, you know that I love documentaries. I had to go look up this year's nominees, because I had not heard of any of them (which isn't unusual; documentaries are not really publicized in the United States nor much respected by the general public here). Now that I know what this year's nominees are about, I'd like to see all of them.
There's "The Gatekeeper", which is the story of Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service, from the Six-Day War in 1967 to the present. There's "How to Survive a Plague", about the early years of the AIDS epidemic. Another nominee, "The Invisible War" documents the issue of sexual assault in the US military. "Searching for Sugar Man" sounds especially interesting. It is about the efforts of two South African fans of a US musician who was relatively unknown in the US but became very popular in South Africa to find out if reports of his death were true, and if it wasn't true, what had happened to him. Finally, "5 Broken Cameras", co-directed by Emad Burnat, a Palestinian and Guy Davidi, an Israeli, documents non-violent resistance in a West Bank village threatened by Israeli settlement. They all sound interesting to me.
Being a writer, I'm naturally also interested in the Adapted and Original Screenplay categories. Between the two categories, all the films nominated for Best Picture, save one, appear. In fact, every film nominated in the Best Adapted Screenplay is also nominated for Best Picture, including Tony Kushner for "Lincoln", Chris Terrio for "Argo", David O. Russell for "Silver Linings Playbook", David Magee for "Life of Pi", and Benh for "Beasts of the Southern Wild".
The nominess for Best Original Screenplay include Mark Boal for "Zero Dark Thirty", Michael Hakeke for "Amour", and Quentin Tarentino for "Django Unchained", all Best Picture nominees, along with John Gatins for "Flight" and Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola for "Moonrise Kingdom".
The only Best Picture nominee not nominated for a writing award is "Les Miserables".
Despite the fact that I know so little about this year's nominess, I'm still excited for the awards. I always am. I know people who think it's kind of silly for me to get so wrapped up in all the hooopla surrounding the awards. It's not my world, after all. But, in a way, it really is. Growing up in Southern California as I did, the Academy Awards were a local event, with lots of build-up and coverage in the local media. That, and loving movies, keeps me interested in the awards. Additionally, there is the whole history that surrounds it all.
It'll be interesting to see who wins and who doesn't, and whether or not the awards are distributed among most of the nominees or if one film walks away with the vast majority of the prizes.
Watch this space. I'll probably be writing more about all of this in the run-up to the awards ceremony in February.
Wednesday, January 09, 2013
After I wrote yesterday's post, about trying to be more positive in my blog posts and not just naming and defining problems but propositing solutions and alternatives instead, I had to run out to the grocery store. On the way, I listened to National Public Radio.
When I turned the radio on, there was a report on concerning the death of Ada Louise Huxtable, who (I learned when I Googled her when I got home) was an architecture critic. She became the first full-time architecture critic at an American newspaper in 1963 and was the recipient, in 1970, of the first Pulitzer Price for Criticism. As part of the NPR report, someone was talking about how Huxtable was very blunt in her criticisms and felt that no architect was above criticism.
I don't think there is anything wrong with pointing out the shortcomings in something, be it in the arts, in culture, or anywhere else. On the other hand, it sometimes seems like too many critics have the notion that their status as a critic gives them license to be unpleasant. Well, unpleasant is being kind in reference to some criticism I've read. Snotty (this is a technical term) is a better, more accurate description. And rude. I'm sure, if you read much criticism at all, you've come across, say, a book or movie review in which the critic not only does not like the work he or she is reviewing but goes on to call the artist (writer, musician, painter, director, for example) unflattering names and infers...or says right out...that the artist is stupid, inept, and unworthy to live. Well, I might be exaggerating a little. But not by much, in some cases.
It bothers me when I read criticism like that. I keep expecting the critic to end the review with "...and your mother wears army boots" or something. It's like the critic is personally offended that the artist has had the gall to make something that the critic doesn't like.
I've thought about this a lot, especially since I do write book and film reviews from time to time, and have done so since I wrote for the student newspaper at Reedley College (it was Kings River Community College at the time), many years ago. I always try to evaluate the work, and the artist's success or failure to produce an interesting book or movie, rather than trying to claim that the artist is a bad person, or stupid, or has no talent generally. I'm not sure I'm always successful in this, but I try to be fair and civil and I try to avoid the critique becoming personal.
Maybe it's my upbringing, being told over and over and over that if I can't say anything good, just don't say anything at all. And sometimes I feel that I don't make a good reviewer because if I can't find something good to say about a movie or a book, I tend not to write about it at all.
Which is why I will never write a review of J. D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. Well, that and if I did, I'd have to read it again, and I'd really rather not. I've already had to read it at least three times for different classes since junior high, and that's at least three times too many as far as I'm concerned.
See? I can edge over into snarkiness. I just prefer not to most of the time.
What I'm wondering here is, what do you think? Do you think that criticism demands that the critic be brutal about work he or she does not like? Do you think that it is fair game for the critic to say personal things about the artist rather than sticking to a discussion of the merits or lack of merit of a work? Is snark more effective in criticsm than the critic simply saying "I liked this" or "I didn't like that" and explaining why?
I know snark is more entertaining. That isn't the question here. The question is, is snark good criticism, or is it bad, lazy criticsm?
Drop a comment and let me know what you think.
Tuesday, January 08, 2013
I've started writing today's blog post twice - well, this is the third time - today.
The first one was complaining about the proliferation of ads on television that try to convince people that no one is going to like them or love them if they aren't perfect, and then offering a variety of very expensive goods and services that we are to believe will make us thinner, better-looking, younger-looking, and just plain more desirable. I think I've probably complained about this sort of advertisement around here before, and so I abandoned that effort.
The second one consisted of me complaining about a meme that came across my Facebook feed a day or two ago, one that implied that anyone who is in favor of any kind of control on firearm or ammunition ownership is just as bad as Hitler. But, you know, complaining about ignorance on Facebook will do just about as much good as complaining that the Sun comes up in the morning. And so I abandoned that post as well.
I try, though, I really, really try to keep this blog from being a venue for my complaint of the day. Because it could be that. It is that, sometimes, despite my determination. God knows there is enough stupidity in the world to support a blog like that. But I'd like to be more positive than that.
Back in the sixties...yes, I remember the sixties...there was a saying, might be called a meme today, that went like this: "If you aren't part of the solution, you're part of the problem." While I'm not sure who said it (sources differ), I think there is some merit to that position. A part of that, of being part of the solution rather than part of the problem, is not just sitting around and complaining about things, but actually suggesting ways of solving the problem.
This is not to say that pointing out the problem is out of bounds. How will anyone know the problems exist outside of their own frustration if no one defines and outlines the problem? But you can't, either, just state the problem, announce that it bugs you, and leave it at that.
I'll be honest. I can't think of any solution to my first complaint. Well, I can, but Madison Avenue, as an cultural phenomenon, is not going to go away anytime soon, as much as I'd like it to. So, if any of you have any suggestions about how to get the diet industry and the cosmetic surgery industry to quit "going negative", I'd love to hear those ideas.
I'm not sure, either, how to get people to quit trying to argue their position on issues like, but not limited to, gun control, without resorting to insults and name-calling. They might try to make an actual argument rather than merely demonizing their opponents, but that could be too much to ask.
I have a much more difficult time staying positive in the second instance. How do you have a conversation with someone who takes the position that they are entitled to what they want and anyone who disagrees with them is either stupid or evil? And, when they can't accept that limitation doesn't necessarily equate to elimination? Believe me, I've had this argument enough times to know that there are those who take the position that there is no middle ground.
This is not a declaration that I'm never going to write a post complaining about something ever again. It is a statement of intent that I am going to try to go positive at least as often as I go negative. It's sort of the difference between how Keith Olbermann used to do a feature on his show, when he had it, called "The World Person In The World", and how Rachel Maddow does a feature on her show that she calls "The Best New Thing In The World".
There is a place for both, but balance is a good thing.
Monday, January 07, 2013
I'm sure you've heard it before. Maybe you've even said it yourself.
"There's nothing on television."
Bruce Springsteen even wrote a song about it, back in 1992: "57 Channels (And Nothin' On)".
I've come to the conclusion that he's correct. At least for today.
I was looking for a good movie to watch this afternoon. Nothing. Crickets. At least, nothing I want to watch. One channel teased me with a listing for The Thomas Crown Affair. Right. It's the 1999 remake, not the 1968 originial, which I would be very happy to watch. TCM is showing a Paul Newman movie. Good, right? Well, no. It's Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956). It's a boxing movie, and I really don't like either boxing or movies about it. The Departed, which is a good movie, was on, on Fox Movie Channel. Don't subscribe to it.
So, I decided to look for a good series repeat to watch. There are several channels on my cable system that primarily show re-runs of old series. Just, at this time of day, apparently, not the old shows I want to watch. Really. I didn't much like All in the Family when it was on originally.
Documentary? I like documentaries. Anyone who has read here regularly knows that about me. Only, what's mostly on right now are "reality" shows and true-crime series. I guess I could always watch the news - it's that time of day, but half the time these days most of the news sounds like re-runs.
What's that? I should go read a book? Work on my writing?
Yes, you're right. I could do that. Actually, I've already done those things today, and will probably do more of them later. I kind of wanted a break, which is why I turned on the TV in the first place.
Well, since it is Movie Monday, here is a trailer for the 1968 version of The Thomas Crown Affair, starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. It's a good movie. You should see it when you get the chance:
And, finally, I'm going to leave this for you, the song that Springsteen wrote, that could be my theme song today:
Maybe it won't be quite so true tomorrow.
Sunday, January 06, 2013
I found a book at the library the other day, Rock Chronicles (Firefly Books, 2012; 576 pages), edited by David Roberts. Interesting book, and a valuable reference, as far as it goes. It's title, though, points up its limited nature: it includes what its editor and contributors consider rock acts. Purely pop acts are mostly missing, which serves to leave out most female acts. In a way, this makes sense. Of the 22 contributors to the volume, only one is a woman.
Well, rock has traditionally been a male stronghold. The men make the music, and the women are mostly relegated to minor roles when they have any role at all. There are exceptions, of course, which is the point I aim to make here today.
Looking through the book, I realized that I've been emphasizing male acts here on Music Sundays. That is difficult not to do, considering that the vast majority of acts, especially in the rock era, are made up predominantly of men. But, having noted the lack, I decided that today is a good day to highlight women in music.
I have to start with Janis Joplin, simply because she was so remarkable a singer. Probably best known for her recordings of "Me and Bobby McGee" and "Piece of My Heart", I really love her cover of "Summertime", here in a live performance in Stockholm in 1969:
Another remarkable performer, from another generation, is Pink. Pink can rock with the best of them and make on-point social comment at the same time, as here, in "Stupid Girls":
On occasion, women have taken a prominent place in bands. For example, who thinks about Fleetwood Mac without thinking about Stevie Nicks? Here, Nicks takes the lead on "Rhiannon" in a 1976 live performance on "The Midnight Special":
I might actually be sharing this next clip because I want to have ready access to it without having to hunt around for it on YouTube. However, I think it is a wonderful example of women, in this case Ann and Nancy Wilson, from Heart, taking a song written by men, for men to perform, and doing as good a job of performing it as anyone ever has and probably ever will. This is the performance of "Stairway to Heaven" from the recent Kennedy Center Honors tribute to Led Zeppelin:
Earlier, in the 1960s and 70s, women were active in the folk music scene, although, as always, the men got most of the recognition. Meanwhile, women like Joni Mitchell were writing and performing songs like "Both Sides Now" (which was a hit for Judy Collins) and "The Circle Game". Here is Mitchell performing both songs on Canadian television in 1968:
Of course, I've just scratched the surface here with examples of women in rock and folk and blues. I haven't even gotten to Motown yet, or to women in country music. I think I'll leave that for another Music Sunday. Goodness knows, the men have gotten and will get enough time in the spotlight here, as sthey do in the music industry generally.
Saturday, January 05, 2013
Now that I'm feeling better...and it's about time; colds are not supposed to last this long...I figured this would be a good day to refresh and recharge. So, I headed to the library.
Ordinarily, a trip to the library can fix just about anything. An hour or two browsing the shelves or reading magazines always makes me feel better.
Not today; I couldn't find anything I wanted to read.
Well, not completely. I came home with two books that look like they're going to be interesting. One is How to Build a Dinosaur: Extinction Doesn't Have to be Forever, by Jack Horner and James Gorman. As near as I can tell, this one is about reverse-engineering dinosaurs from chickens. It purports to be non-fiction, and Horner is an internationally recognized expert on dinosuars. He also was scientific advisor on the three Jurassic Park films. I can't help thinking that perhaps that job didn't teach Horner that bringing the dinosaurs back might not be such a good idea. Still, it promises to be an interesting read.
The other book I checked out was Thieves of Baghdad, by Matthew Bogdanos, with William Patrick, about the effort to recover ancient artifacts stolen from the Iraq Museum during the fall of Baghdad. I've heard a bit about this effort, and I'm interested to read more about it.
So, two books that promise to be good reads. However, it took me an hour and going through fifteen or twenty possibilities to find those two.
Maybe it was my mood. Maybe it was because there were so many people in the library while I was there. Maybe I should have gone to a larger branch that has more of a selection. Maybe I'm just too damn picky.
Whatever it was, it's a good thing I found the two books, at least. It's supposed to rain tomorrow, and I can't think of many things I'd rather do on a cold, rainy day than curl up in bed and read a good book.
So, what are you reading right now? And, what is your favorite reading on a rainy day?
Friday, January 04, 2013
I've got a confession to make: I grew up watching talk shows on television, and I love them.
Not, I hasten to add, the crap that passes for talk shows today. I'm talking about the shows that were on in the 1960s and 1970s, where people actually talked about things, and told stories, and didn't necessarily show up only to plug their latest project or to see which celebrity could be the most outrageous. My favorites were always Merv Griffin and Dick Cavett, who would often get a guest on and just let them talk.
So, when I was in the library the other day and saw Talk Show: Confrontations, Pointed Commentary, and Off-Screen Secrets (Times Books/Henry Holt and Company, 2010; 279 pages), by Dick Cavett, on the shelf, I had to check it out and read it.
Cavett has had talk shows on a variety of networks and in a variety of formats through the years, but I mostly watched his show when it was first on, on ABC late at night, from 1968 through 1974. I had one summer, especially, when I was about thirteen years old, when I had horrible insomnia (there was a reason for it, which is another post for another day), where I slept maybe one night per week. Cavett's show got me through that sleepless summer. He had all the best guests, including many figures from the rock world as well as literary guests who wouldn't have turned up on any of the other shows. If I had to be awake, watching these interviews was a great way to pass the time.
Talk Show is comprised of a series of columns written for The New York Times online between 2007 and 2010. Some of the columns recall Cavett's talk shows and the guests he hosted, while others are personal recollections from his childhood or exercises in political or social commentary. A few are disappointing - the man has an aversion to fat people that he isn't shy about expressing - but most are fascinating. I was disappointed that he didn't write more about hosting people like Janis Joplin and John Lennon. On the other hand, he writes at length about interviewing Richard Burton (you can see those shows on YouTube, if you're interested, and some of Cavett's interviews with others), about the show in which writers Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer appeared to nearly come to blows.
The audience at the time, of course, loved it. Cavett's interviews were sometimes not for the faint of heart, at a time when political correctness had not yet been invented.
Surprisingly, perhaps, some of the most moving columns revolved around when Cavett met John Wayne during the time when Wayne was already sick with the cancer that killed him. At the time, Wayne was making his final film, The Shootist, and Cavett recalls being on the set during filming of the famous scene where a doctor, played by James Stewart, tells Wayne's character, who was also dying of cancer, exactly what he could expect the rest of his life to be like. It was no secret that Wayne was sick, and according to Cavett's description, some of those watching the filming had difficulty holding it together during the filming of the scene, including, I suspect, Cavett, although he doesn't say so.
I really liked this book. I must have; I was awake until three this morning finishing it. Maybe you have to have been there, in the sense of having seen Cavett's interviews at the time they were first broadcast, to find his recollections interesting. I'm not silly enough to think that someone who was born in the 1990s is going to be fascinated by Cavett's apparent delight at having been at least a casual member of Richard Nixon's enemies list in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The thing is, Cavett is at least as good a storyteller as some of the guests on his shows, some of whom were consummate storytellers. That alone makes Talk Show worth reading.
I started with a confession, and I'll end with another. It has taken me an unconscionably lengthy period to write today's post. I got distracted by You Tube clips of Cavett's old shows and spent quite a bit of time watching them rather than writing. If you're interested, I'd recommend going over to YouTube and finding some of these clips and full shows. You might be surprised, especially if you weren't around in the sixties and seventies, at what a real talk show could be.
Thursday, January 03, 2013
Apparently, I am not capable of reasoned commentary today. I've been trying, for the past oh, forty-five minutes or so, to write something about the day's hijinks in US politics. Something, you know, coherent. But the only thing that keeps coming out of my fingers and onto my computer monitor is anguished but incomprehensible moaning and tearing of hair.
Because those people are insane.
The only other alternative is that it's me who is insane, but I refuse to believe that. Because, you know, I'm fine with disaster relief going to those whose lives have been torn apart by Hurricane Sandy. And because I don't think the solution to violence against women is to let the Violence Against Women Act, passed in 1994 and renewed twice, expire.
It would be slightly amusing - if it weren't so horrible - that some of those the House GOP leadership has pissed off in regards to not bringing a bill to fund disaster relief to vicitms of Sandy in a timely manner are members of their own party. For example, this statement of righteous indignation from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie:
Now, I'm not a huge fan of Chris Christie, and I'm fairly sure that he has politidcal reasons of his own for saying what he said, but he still has the right of it here, and refused to pull his punches just because it was the leadership of his own party that is the problem. This is as it should be. It is ridiculous that Speaker Boehner, who was relected to his post in the House today, but only barely, would not even take Gov. Christie's calls over the issue.
There are things I have to say about all of this and more, but I'll be damned if I can figure out how to do it right now without the liberal use of profanity. The House GOP leadership doesn't want to help women who are victims of violent crime. They don't want to help people whose homes and livelihood were destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. Some GOP Representatives have said that they are quite willing to hold the government hostage by shutting it down over the budget and the debt ceiling. And, now, House Speaker John Boehner has said he will no longer negotiate one-on-one with President Barack Obama.
I think someone needs to remind the GOP leadership of a couple of things. First, while they maintain a majority in the House, they lost seats both there and in the Senate in the November election, and their presidential candidate was defeated by the incumbent president, the one they vowed to limit to just one term. Second, they need to be reminded that they work for the citizens, all the citizens, of their respective districts and states, and that they are there to serve them, not to carry out their own personal and political agendas.
Wednesday, January 02, 2013
Just before Christmas, a report came out in the Boston Globe that got limited comment, mostly in the form of jokes. But, in the shuffle of the holidays, the contention by Tagg Romney that his father didn't really want to run for president, and didn't really want to win the election, got mostly buried.
Tagg was quoted as saying that his father "wanted to be president less than anyone I've met in my life", and that "he would have been ecstatic to step aside." Tagg also said that he and his mother, Mitt's wife, Ann, had to talk Mitt into running for the 2012 Republican nomination after losing the nomination in 2008 to John McCain.
On one level, this interpretation makes a lot of sense, especially after comments from pundits at certain points in the campaign, when it seemed to many people as if Mitt Romney was actively trying to lose the election. On the other hand, it seems like a convenient excuse for a poorly executed campaign that was littered with gaffes and missteps that seemed tone-deaf at the very least.
But, leaving that excuse-laden smell of, "Oh, he didn't really want to win", aside and assuming that this is true, that Mitt really didn't want to be president, there is a serious question to be asked:
Why, then, did he run?
It seems sort of counterintuitive that someone would take on the exhausting and expensive proposition of running for president just because one's spouse and child wants them to do it. Would you do that? Especially if, as Tagg describes his father, you are essentially a private person, made uncomfortable by the very idea of revealing your personal life to the world, would you do that? Would you spend your own money to do it? Would you feel comfortable going out and asking other people to sink their money into a campaign that you didn't really want to win? I don't think I could do that. I don't think an honest person could do that.
There are a couple of possibilities here. It's possible that Mitt, maybe with some persuasion from his family, decided that God wanted him to be president and, per the conventional attitude in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, one does not turn down a calling, because it is ultimately from God. On the other hand, Mitt could have decided that being president is the ultimate status symbol. Clearly, wealth and status are things that mean a lot to Mitt Romney, so this is a possibility.
As far as I'm concerned, neither one of these reasons are very good reasons to run for an office as important as the presidency, if one doesn't really want to hold that office.
I'm on record, here on this blog, I think, as beleiving that Mitt didn't want to be president so much as he wanted to be able to say he was president. We made a lot of fun of George W. Bush, when he was president, for his continual statements that being president was hard work, considering the fact that he never looked like he was working very hard at all. But the truth is, if you're doing it right, being the President of the United States is hard work. You don't want someone in the office who isn't willing to put in the hard work necessary to run a large and powerful nation. I'm not convinced that, had he won, Mitt would have been willing to put in that work, especially in light of his son's contention that he didn't really want to be president in the first place.
In my opinion, going ahead and running for the office of president under these conditions is an insult to the American people.
Running because "God wants me to be president" isn't any better a reason, I don't think, even if the person running believes it to be true. It might even be a worse reason if the candidate believes that. This is not a theocracy; it is, depending on your political philosophy, a democracy or a republic (or a little of both). I don't want someone running the country who believes that his decisions are endorsed by his God. That attitude could lead to abuses all too easily.
Having said all this, however, I don't believe for a minute that Mitt Romney didn't want to run and didn't want to win. He might not have been interested of doing the hard work a president must do, but he wanted the status of the office, and he wanted to win very, very badly. If he hadn't wanted to win, he wouldn't have gone through that whole charade on election night of having his people raise the possibility of challenging the election results in one or more key states.
The whole question of whether or not Mitt wanted to run does bring up one chilling question, though. What if he had won? Would he have gone the Sarah Palin route and done what she did with the governorship of Alaska? When the charm had worn off of being president, when he realized that he would have had to work at the job, would he have just quit? And where would that have left the country, if he had done that?
I'll tell you where it would have left us. With Paul Ryan as president.
And that is a truly frightening prospect.