Monday, April 29, 2013

Movie Monday: "When the Movies and Real Life Intersect" Edition

Did you ever see someone and just instinctively know he or she had a story to tell, a unique and interesting story. Not because they looked extraordinary, or did anything out of the ordinary, you understand. Just because they gave off a vibe or something.

(Bear with me. This is going to turn into Movie Monday eventually.)

I've had that experience, and it is an odd one. Maybe it seems odd to me because of the circumstances in which it happened in this case - my father was in the hospital, and ultimately died there. But, he was in the hospital for ten days before he died, which means that my mother and I spent a lot of time there during that ten days, much of it sitting in the lobby and waiting. And while we were waiting, I spent a lot of time watching people come and go.

One of the regulars in and out at all times of the day and night was a man who just had that "something" about him that screamed out to me that he had a story to tell. I had no idea what it was. He was not remarkable in any way, really. He was not very tall, he was heavy-set, and he had a face that made it look like he had been through some things. Since he wore a big wooden cross around his neck and was usually carrying what looked to be a Bible, I figured he was the chaplain.

I never talked to him, just watched him come and go. And after my dad passed (for context, this was in 1977), of course, there was never any reason to go to the hospital again, and I forgot about the chaplain and the feeling that there was something interesting about him or his life. Completely forgot.

Then, months later, I was reading a magazine (I want to say it was People magazine, but I can't recall now), thumbing through and seeing if there was anything interesting in that issue (What? I was 20), I noticed a photo that went along with one article. It was in a hospital room, and instead of having a TV mounted on the wall, there was a small TV on an extending arm mounted right on the bed. I noticed this because the only place I had ever seen a set-up like that was at the hospital where my father died. So, I read the article...and noticed that the guy in the picture looked an awful lot like the chaplain at that hospital.

And it was, I discovered as I read the article. And, boy did he have a story.

It turned out that the chaplain was Ferdinand Waldo Demara. If you don't know the name, maybe you know the movie "The Great Impostor", which starred Tony Curtis. The film, which was made in 1961, starred Tony Curtis playing a character that was based on Demara's life. I had seen the movie on television once when I was younger, and it's not a bad movie. But I certainly hadn't connected the movie with the chaplain as I watched him walk in and out of the hospital lobby.

As it turned out, Demara's deceptions (he impersonated, among other things, a monk, a psychology professor in one college, a teacher at another college and, perhaps most famously, a trauma surgeon on a Royal Canadian Navy destroyer during the Korean War) caught up with him and after he played a small role in the film about his life, he worked as a counselor at a rescue mission in Los Angeles, went to a Bible College in Oregon, and then became a chaplain.

Which is how he turned up working at Good Samaritan Hospital in Anaheim, California. The story goes that he nearly got fired from his position there in the late 1970s, when they found out who he was (he was not, I assume, using his real name). However, one of the doctors there spoke up for him and he was allowed to stay on.

Demara died in 1982, but his story - the one I knew he had, even though I didn't know what it was at the time - lives on in two books and, in fictionalized form, in "The Great Impostor".

Monday, April 22, 2013

Movie Monday: The Jack Nicholson Birthday Edition

Every once in awhile I'm really glad that I chose Mondays to be movie day here at I Was Just Thinking. This is one of those days, because in means that I can discuss the work of Jack Nicholson on his 76th birthday.

The thing is, Nicholson isn't just one of the best actors the world has seen in the past fifty years or so. He has also written, directed,, and produced films. He's been nominated for twelve Academy Awards, eight times as Best Actor in a Leading Role and four times as Best Actor in a Supporting Role. He has won twice in the Leading Role Category and once in the Supporting Role category.

Yet, it all started with his debut in the title role of "The Cry Baby Killer", a Roger Corman-produced film in 1958. Nicholson went on to work with Corman on several films, probably most notably in the small but memorable role as Wilbur Force, the masochistic dental patient in the original 1960 "Little Shop of Horrors". This is the film that was reportedly made on a budget of $28,000 dollars, which wasn't very much even in 1960, and for which principal photography took only two days and one night (although the cast rehearsed for three weeks before shooting began). It's an odd film, and Nicholson plays the oddest character among some pretty odd ducks, but his one scene is unforgettable. The quality of this clip isn't perfect, but you'll still get the idea:

Watching this scene back in 1960, when "Little Shop" first came out, the moviegoer might not have imagined that Nicholson would go on to act in some of the most iconic films of the 1970s and 1980s. But that's just what he did. But before he got his big break (and a Best Supporting Actor Ocsar nomination) from "Easy Rider" in 1969, he wrote the screenplay for "The Trip" (1967), which also starred his co-stars in "Easy Rider", Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, and co-wrote the screenplay for "Head", the film that starred The Monkees and was such a departure from their television series.

Here's Nicholson in a scene from "Easy Rider":

And in "Five Easy Pieces":

He was nominated for an Academy Award for both performances, for Best Actor in a Supporting Role and Best Actor in a Leading Role, respectively.

And here Nicholson is in a scene (with John Huston) from "Chinatown", another film for which he was nominated for but did not win a Best Leading Actor Oscar:

Nicholson finally won his first Academy Award, as Best Leading Actor, for his role as Randle McMurphy in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1976). He won another for his role in 1998's "As Good As It Gets". In between, he won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1994 for his role as retired astronaut Garrett Breedlove.

Nicholson's turns as director included "Drive, He Said" in 1971 and "Goin' South" in 1978. Nicholson also starred in "Goin' South", a western comedy about what happens when horse and cattle thief is saved from the gallows by an obscure ordinance that says that any man about to be hanged for anything short of murder can be saved if an unmarried woman agrees to marry him and take responsibility for his behavior.

"Goin' South" also stars Mary Steenburgen and was the film debut of John Belushi.

Nicholson has even been in a musical, the rock opera "Tommy", in which he plays "The Specialist":

I'm not going to try to review Nicholson's full filmography here. He's been in a lot of films. But, do yourself a favor and go watch one of his films to celebrate his birthday today. You've got most film genres to choose from.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Music Sunday: The 1968 Edition

Clearly, I have not been keeping up this week. Apologies for that. Part of it has to do with the fact that this week was Practice Interview Day at CVP. That means that from Sunday night through Wednesday evening I was sending reminder e-mails to those involved, both interviewees and interviewers, answering e-mails back, making schedules, and generally feeling like tearing my hair out (or bashing my head against a brick wall, whichever is least painful). Actually, this month's interview day went fairly smoothly. Only one of the newbies didn't show up, and his cancellation was due to his having gotten a real interview, which is much more important, because real interviews sometimes end up in real jobs, which is the whole point of the exercise at CVP.

Another part of it has to do with getting ready for an SCA event next weekend. For me, right now, that's mostly in the thinking phase at the moment. Still, it takes time to think. And still another part of my not keeping up here is that I'm actually making good progress on my writing project. I'm still behind, but making up ground.

So, that leaves us with Music Sunday. Which was missing in action last week.

During the week, I've been spending a lot of time in the Sixties thanks to the work I'm doing. Actually, I've been bouncing back and forth a lot between the Sixties and the Eighties. Talk about historical whiplash. Anyway, part of the research involves the music of the time I'm looking at. Lots of good memories in the Sixties music. Not so much in the Eighties music, although things started to improve as the end of the decade approached. Still, Sixties music is what I grew up with, and is still my favorite. Which is why I decided to share some music from the late Sixties today, beginning with a song I'm sure I've shared here before. That's okay. It's one of my favorite songs, ever, and I want to hear it.

That, of course, was Otis Redding and "Dock of the Bay". Which was released in 1968, after Redding died. It was recorded just a few days before he died, in fact, in 1967.

Another song from 1968 is Marvin Gaye's version of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine", here in a live performance at Montreux:

The Rolling Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash", here in a live performance in Texas in 1972, was also released in 1968:

I have to confess that I don't really get the appeal of Mick Jagger, much like I don't get the whole Elvis Presley thing. Jagger just isn't interesting to me. I like the Stones' music well enough, but I've always found Keith Richards to be a much more interesting and compelling character than Jagger, for all of Richards' infamous misbehavior.

If I include the Stones, I have to also include The Beatles, who released "Hey Jude" in 1968. This is the official promotional video for the song, which was first shown in the United States on "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" on October 6, 1968. This means I know what I was doing on that evening, because I remember seeing this on that show:

Also from 1968, here are The Grass Roots and "Midnight Confessions". My 12-year-old, seventh-grade self loved this song:

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

"Greed is good", preschool style...

I saw this on "Good Morning, America" today, and I am appalled.

Apparently a number of preschools are going to a "no sharing" policy, in which the children there are not forced to share anything, the theory being that the children who are shared with will develop a sense of entitlement and the belief that they will get everything they want, when they want it.

The problem, as I see it, is that they are instilling a sense of entitlement not in the kids who are shared with, but in the kids who are not forced to share. By not teaching that sharing is a good thing, something they should do, they are teaching those children that once they have something it is theirs, and those who don't have that thing are SOL*, that the possessor of the thing is entitled to it and too bad for all the others.

As far as I can see, it's a variation of the other golden rule: "He who has the gold makes the rules", in which the have-nots can only have things when and if those who already have them decide that they can. And this has implications far beyond the sharing of toys in a preschool classroom. In a wider sense, it gets to the all-too-prevalent idea today that if someone doesn't have something they need, then it's just too bad for them.

As part of the story a purported "parenting expert", Po Bronson, explains that what he wants is that children learn "giving for the right reasons", but I didn't really see any definition of what those "right reasons" are. I worry that "because it's the right thing to do" will not be included in those right reasons, and limited to things like "when that person has earned it" or "when that person has proved that they are worthy" to be shared with.

Maybe my reaction to all of this grows out of the fact that I was taught to share as a child. In fact, because I am an only child, I was taught that if I did not share, I would be seen as spoiled and selfish, and that no one likes a selfish child or a selfish adult. Which, of course, puts me out of step with many in today's world, where being selfish is seen as a virtue, where "looking out for number one" is seen as the highest, sometimes the only, good. I think of that attitude as the Gordon Gekko school of selfish thinking. If you don't know what I'm referring to, here is a clip from the film "Wall Street":

It is not a school of thought that I subscribe to.

Certainly, I'm not saying that you should give up everything you have, or that you should have no ambition. Not at all. I'm just saying that while we all need to take care of ourselves, we should keep others in mind as well. And that that is what we should be teaching our children from as young an age as possible.

Learning to share seems to me to be a key part of that.

*"Shit out of luck", for those not familiar with that acronym.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Now, why did you go and do that?...

I don't really want to write about what happened in Boston yesterday. We don't really know what happened, aside from the facts that bombs went off and people were hurt and killed. What we don't know is who did this or why they did it, and now is not really the time for speculation. Lots of people have lots of ideas, of course. I've even thought about what the possibilities are. But I don't know anything concrete and nobody else really does, either.

However, I do want to take a moment to talk about what turned up on my Facebook feed in the hours after the bombings, and what some people were posting makes me so angry.

A few people could not resist the urge to post and re-post graphic, bloody photos of some of the victims of yesterday's events. I guess they, I don't know what they were thinking. If they were thinking. I do know that those photos are not appropriate to post on Facebook. Or anywhere else, for that matter. I question even the media use of those photos. Apparently the "if it bleeds, it leads" school of journalism is alive and well in the twenty-first century. But that's beside the point right now.

The point is, if people think they are "honoring the victims" of this tragedy by posting those photos, they're just wrong.

They are doing a couple of things. First, they are making the injured and dead, along with their families, victims all over again. Those photos are an invasion of the privacy of the victims, and of their friends and loved ones. If it were you, or your family member, or your friend, would you want to happen on one of those photos unexpectedly? I suspect not.

The other thing the people who post these photos are doing is playing right into the hands of whoever planted those bombs. They are giving them attention and they are spreading fear, which is exactly what whoever did this wants to happen. They want the attention, and they want to terrify people. That's why it's called terrorism.

I got so angry about this yesterday that I posted this, which says pretty much what I said here, on my FB page:

Please, do not post graphic photos of the victims of the events today in Boston. When you post those photos, you are not honoring the victims, you are violating their privacy. Also, when you post those photos you doing just exactly what whoever did this horrible thing wants you to do: you are giving them attention and spreading fear.

We all know that what happened was horrible. We do not need to see the bloody, graphic photos of the dead and injured to know that. So, please, send all the prayers and good wishes you want, but do not post graphic photos that only serve to victimize the victims and their families all over again.

Thank you.

I will re-post it there as many times as it takes to get people to stop this re-posting crap. I don't believe we need to see the graphic nature of the carnage in order to understand that something horrible happened in Boston yesterday. We are not stupid. We understand that this is something that should never, ever happen, but that happens all too often in the world. Re-posting those photos is not going to stop it from happening again.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The would you answer?

Well, it looks like no one was moved to answer the questionnaire from "Inside the Actors Studio" that I posted yesterday. But, I promised that I'd answer the questions today, so here goes:

1. What is your favorite word?

I'm a writer, so I pretty much like all the words. But, if I had to pick, I'd say "amygdala". It's a structure in the temporal lobe of the brain that has a role in processing emotions. I think that's an appropriate favorite word for a writer, since writers have to process emotions for their characters when they're writing fiction. However, the reason it's my favorite word is that it's just a lot of fun to say.

2. What is your least favorite word?

"Exclusive", for the reasons stated in yesterday's post.

3. What turns you on?

Ideas. Exploring them, discussing them, and just generally playing with them. I think that's probably another writer thing.

4. What turns you off?

Stupidity, especially willful ignorance. I'm not talking here about just not knowing something. Instead, I'm taking about people who are proud of not knowing stuff and who specifically avoid learning new things or who refuse to acknowledge anything that conflicts with what they personally believe.

5. What sound or noise do you love?

Ha! The sound of a chainsaw. No, really. I don't like the part that consists of knowing that the chainsaw is probably being used to cut down a tree. However, when I was very young my father had a tree service and firewood business, and he owned a couple of serious chainsaws (not those little things that pass for a chainsaw these days, and that you can buy at Sears or wherever). So, the sound of one reminds me of my childhood and makes me happy.

6. What sound or noise do you hate?

People yelling in anger. Also, sirens. Sirens because they mean that things aren't right somewhere, for someone. People yelling in anger, because I was not brought up around that. We did not yell and scream in anger in our house when I was growing up, but were civil even when not everyone was happy about things.

7. What is your favorite curse word?

"Shit." Easy to say, conveys my disapproval appropriately.

8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Physical/biological anthropologist. That was actually what I was going to study at university, but my grades in anatomy and physiology were such that I realized it probably wasn't a very good idea. Still, I try to keep up with the latest developments in the field.

9. What profession would you not like to do?

Anything medical. I have very bad medical anxiety, and just have no desire to be around anything like that.

10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?

"Welcome. The library is just down that way. We've got comfy chairs, big work tables, all the writing equipment you'll ever need, and every book ever published." Because, I really could spend eternity reading and writing.

So, now that I've answered, how would you answer these questions?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Exclusivity...Do Not Like...

If you've ever seen "Inside the Actors Studio", you know about The Questionnaire". This is a set of ten questions that host James Lipton poses to each of his guests at the conclusion of his interview with them, before they take questions of the audience, which is made up of students in acting, writing, and directing. Lipton's set of questions is an adaptation from a similar list created by French television presenter Bernard Pivot, which was itself inspired by something called the Proust Questionnaire (go look it up).

What, you're probably asking yourself now, does this have to do with anything?

I was reading something yesterday that reminded me of the second question of Lipton's list: "What is your least favorite word?" The reminder came because I ran into one of my least favorite words (what? I'm a writer, I have more than one least favorite, as well as more than one favorite, word). That word is "exclusive".

Merriam-Webster online offers several definitions of the word "exclusive". The very first one is "Excluding or having power to exclude". Others include "Excluding others from participation", "snobbishly aloof", and "accepting or soliciting only a socially restricted patronage (as of the upper class)".

Now, I ask you, how is any of this good? Leaving people out - because of how much money they have, or because of their religion or ethnic background or how they wear their hair or for any other arbitrary reason - is not, as far as I'm concerned, something to be proud of. Yet many people are. They talk about the exclusive club they belong to, or to the exclusive restaurant they ate at last week, or the exclusive college they attended as if these are good things.

They aren't, really. They're all just ways of people trying to assert that they're better than others, are entitled to special stuff that others don't deserve, and are just more deserving than all but a few others they want to be assoicated with.

I guess my point of view on this comes from the fact that I'm more of a "the more the merrier" kind of person. I like diversity. I like being around a lot of different kinds of people. I was also raised to believe that no one is any better than anyone else just because of where their ancestors came from or how much money they have or what social class they belong to or which political party or religion they espouse or what job they have (or don't have).

I know that this isn't always a popular point of view. We live in a culture here in the United States where, for all of our insistence that we don't have a "class system", many of us spend a lot of time trying to collect what I think of as "presitge points" and striving to be considered part of some elite. It used to be called "keeping up with the Joneses". Maybe it still is. It has a lot to do with being seen in the right places, with the right people, and presenting the appearance of having a lot of material stuff, whether we do or not. The truth is, our capitalist economy encourages things like conspicuous consumption, and that feeds into the "exclusivity" mindset as well.

It all just irritates me. I suppose some would say that is just because I'm near the bottom of the ladder. I don't have the means to engage in conspicuous consumption. I don't know a lot of powerful people. I didn't go to an Ivy League university. Perhaps worst of all, from others' point of view, I don't aspire to the ladder of "ever more". I don't want all the money, all the things, all the power. I don't aspire to belonging to the country club. I don't aspire to being part of the jet set (wow, that's a Sixties phrase, isn't it?). I don't want a position of power so that I can tell other people how to live their lives. I just want to be able to earn a living, to be able to have a roof over my head and food on the table and clothes to wear. They don't have to be the fanciest clothes, or the fanciest food, or a roof in the most prestigious neighborhood.

No, I don't think exclusivity is a neat thing.

I much prefer including as many people as want to be included in any particular thing. It's much more interesting.

Now, back to the list. Here is the complete list of Lipton's questions:

1.What is your favorite word?
2.What is your least favorite word?
3.What turns you on?
4.What turns you off?
5.What sound or noise do you love?
6.What sound or noise do you hate?
7.What is your favorite curse word?
8.What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
9.What profession would you not like to do?
10.If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?

My question to all of you is, how would you answer these questions? Leave your answers in the comments section. I'll post my answers tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

A day to write...

I finally got a day to work on my book today. Not much writing, but lots of timeline-building, which is the backbone of this project. Everything else flows from knowing what happened when. Because, among other things, context is important.

Maybe that should be in all caps: CONTEXT IS IMPORTANT.

But that's not what I have on my mind today.

What I have on my mind is fact-checking, and it's perils.

For example, I've just been taking a list of films from 1945 and checking (mostly with the Internet Movie Data Base) to see exactly when during that year those films were released. And, predictably most of them have more than one date. This makes sense, since movies often have a New York City premiere and a Los Angeles (Hollywood) premiere. Sometimes, the premiere takes place somewhere else (there's one on this list that had its premiere in Washington, DC). However...

There is one film on this list, for 1945, that IMDB and Wikipedia agree premiered on November 3, 1944, although IMDB also lists a New York City premiere on January 26, 1945. Because I treasure accuracy and the full story (and because I can be a bit obsessive about research) I want to know what's up with the difference in dates. So far, I can't find anything to indicate why there is such a discrepancy. The Turner Classic Movies website only gives the release date as 1944 and says that information on the premiere is "not available". The little information box that comes up in the right-hand corner when you Google the film (which is "The Woman in the Window", directed by Fritz Lang) agrees with the January 1945 alternate date on IMDB as the release date. Rotten Tomatoes, on the other hand, agrees with the November 3, 1944 date.

It isn't that I haven't come across films before that have an early premiere and then are released more widely a significant amount of time later. But I rarely cannot find some story about why the lag between premiere and wide release occurred. This one is obviously going to take some digging.

It probably doesn't matter in the long run. There's no guarantee that I'll use the information in what I'm writing. In fact, chances are I won't use it. But now I want to know.

Ah, well. Even if I never do find out what the story is behind the disagreement in release dates, what I have learned from this particular little tour around the Interwebs is that I'm probably going to have to track this movie down and see it. I've got a weakness for film noir, and I've seen a couple of good reviews of it as I've been looking around for the real, authentic, and authoritative release date.

And meanwhile, I need to get back to my research. I had promised myself that I would be done with major research on this project by the end of March. Well, March was really busy and I was being extremely optimistic when I set that deadline. Well, it will get done, and I'm still far, far from the Tim Powers (if you aren't familiar with Tim Powers*, you should be, especially if you like reading urban fantasy) prescription for knowing when you're done with research. I was able to ask him one time when he knew when his research was done. His answer was, when he had been doing research for a year.

I'm only a couple of months into my research on this project, so I'm not worried yet.


*Tim Powers is a really good writer, one of my favorites. He writes fantasy, often urban fantasy. Start with Declare, like I did. Or with Last Call (which is the first volume of a loose trilogy, that also includes Expiration Date and Earthquake Weather. Or, if you like your fantasy a little less modern, start with The Drawing of the Dark. Or, if you want to start with something shorter, start with his novella A Soul in a Bottle. They're all good.

Really. This is good stuff.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Movie Monday: The "Parent Trap" (1961) Edition

I watched part of "The Parent Trap" last night. Not the remake, but the original film released by Disney in 1961. What is known in my universe as the "real Parent Trap."

Not that there is anything wrong with the remake, which starred Lindsay Lohan and Dennis Quaid. It isn't a bad movie. I just isn't the movie that I grew to love as a child. There's just something missing. I don't know what that something is, just that whatever it is, it isn't there.

The original version, if you haven't ever come across it, stars Hayley Mills as Susan and Sharon, identical twins who don't know each other exist until they end up at the same summer camp as adolescents.

Now, stop right there. How could this be possible? Well, their parents divorced shortly after the twins were born, with each parent taking one child. They live on opposite coasts, and neither parent talks about the other or about their marriage. It sort of makes sense in a pre-Internet world. Anyway, it's a Disney movie. Disney has managed to get away with all sorts of things over the years that other studios wouldn't have been able to make work.

Anyway, Susan and Sharon don't like each other much and a series of pranks against each other eventually gets out of hand at a dance with the boys from the camp across the lake (no, I'm not telling what the prank is; you have to watch the movie), and so they are moved into an isolated cabin with the hope that they will resolve their differences. They end up figuring out that they are sisters (not telling you how they do that, the movie) and hatch a plan to trade places so that Susan can meet her mother and Sharon can meet her father.

Yes, again, I know this is far-fetched. That's what the willing suspension of disbelief is all about.

There is also, of course, the hope that Susan and Sharon can somehow get their parents back together. Only when Sharon arrives in California, she discovers that Mitch (played by Brian Keith), her father, is engaged to a younger woman. The wedding is coming up soon. Alarmed calls go back and forth across the land, and back in Boston Susan ends up 'fessing up to her grandfather (played by Charles Ruggles) that she's not Sharon after he overhears her talking to Sharon on the telephone in the middle of the night. Here's that scene:

Back in California, Mitch's housekeeper, Verbena (played by Una Merkel, who is wonderful) thinks that something is up, but hasn't quite figured out what it is.

At any rate, when the truth comes out in Boston, Maggie, the girls' mother (played by Maureen O'Hara) sets out to return Susan to her father and to bring Sharon home, after some shopping and a make-over instigated by Ruggles' character, who has a pretty good idea that Maggie is still in love with Mitch.

Much hilarity ensues once everyone is in California. Not the least of that hilarity comes from Reverend Mosby, who is slated to perform Mitch's wedding ceremony. As Rev. Mosby, Leo G. Carroll is wonderful in his amused reaction to the whole situation. Vicky, the woman Mitch is going to marry (played by Joanna Barnes), and her mother, who are mostly just interested in Mitch's money, are not nearly so amused, which is also pretty funny. As is the camping trip...but I'm not going to say any more about that.

You have to see the movie.

Yes, the story is unbelievable. Yes, the movie was made in the early Sixties and looks it. Doesn't matter. It's still a good movie and you should see it.

I feel compelled to mention, under the circumstances, that the film's title song was performed by Tommy Sands and Annette Funicello, who were making the film "Babes in Toyland" at the time. Funicello passed away today at the age of 70, and judging from my FB feed, will be sorely missed.

Anyway. Yes. Go see the original version "The Parent Trap". It's on Showtime right now if you've got it. Otherwise, find a copy. It might mostly be a reminder of a slightly more innocent time. But that isn't a bad thing from time to time.


I also want to mention the passing of film critic Roger Ebert, who died last Thursday, also at age 70. I didn't always agree with Ebert's movie reviews, but I always enjoyed reading them or listening to them on "At the Movies". It was so obvious that he loved film - loved watching them and loved talking and writing about them. I understand that while he was a Roman Catholic, he wasn't convinced of the existence of God. However, ever since I learned of his passing, I've had this mental image of him arriving at the Gates of Heaven to find St. Peter with a huge smile on his face and two huge "thumbs-up", welcoming Ebert to heaven with a huge bowl of popcorn and an invitation to the movie theater that never closes.

I'm going to miss seeing Ebert on my Twitter feed.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Music Sunday: The Fleetwood Mac Edition

It's been a long, busy couple of weeks. I didn't know if I was going to be able to get a Music Sunday up today. But, I woke up this morning wanting to hear some Fleetwood Mac, so I'm at least going to post a few of their songs that I like the most.

And, since my favorite of their songs, more or less, is "Little Lies", from the 1987 album "Tango in the Night", I'll lead off with that even though it is, at least the last I heard, their final top 10 single in the US:

And then there's "Tusk". Maybe I only like this song because I know its history. It was recorded live at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California, a place I know and love well, with the participation of the University of Southern California marching band. I have this odd love for marching bands - odd because I was never in a marching band - so that's probably also part of it. At any rate, this video of the song was made during that recording:

"Rhiannon" is another of Fleetwood Mac's songs that I like a lot. Here is a live performance that appeared on "Midnight Special":

"Go Your Own Way" is from the legendary (and mega-million-selling) album "Rumours", and was released in December 1976 ahead of the album's release in 1977.

There are more songs, of course, but these are some of my favorites. I hope to be back to a full schedule of Music Sunday posts next week.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Now, why would anyone get discouraged hunting for work?

I just happened on an interesting AP piece on unemployment on Yahoo! News. It talks about the "discouraged", those who have been unemployed for a considerable length of time. They get so frustrated with the situation as it is that they just give up looking and survive however they can. They depend on the social safety net. They move in with family or friends. They just can't bear one more rejection. And they fall off the government's radar regarding the unemployed.

The article points out that the unemployment rate in the US dropped from 7.7 percent in February to 7.6 percent in March. This sounds like good news, right? Except not so much. In the same period, the "participation rate", the number of adults in the labor force (those who are either working or looking for work) dropped to 63.3 percent, the lowest it has been since May 1979.

You see, the dirty little secret about the unemployment rate that no one wants to talk about is that if you stop looking for work because you've given up on finding something, anything, that will bring some money in, the government no longer considers you to be unemployed in the sense that you no longer count in the statistics on employment. So, the drop in the unemployment rate last month doesn't mean, necessarily, that more people are working. It can mean, and in this case probably does mean, that fewer people are looking.

That is why, when I talk about the local unemployment rate in the county where I live, I talk about the official rate and the unofficial rate. The official unemployment rate in my county was at 14.6 percent in January of this year, then jumped to 15.4 percent in February (if the local numbers for March are out yet, I haven't been able to find them). As far as any of us who are looking for jobs around here can figure, the real figure is closer to 20 percent, when you figure in people who have just given up looking.

The thing is, it's really easy to become discouraged looking for work these days, and it isn't just from being told "No" so much. It's the not hearing anything. Most companies take applications and resumes electronically now. At a lot of businesses, even fast food restaurants, you can't walk in and fill out an application, get interviewed by a manager, and get hired or not. Instead, if you walk into one of these places, they'll give you a card with an Internet address on it, which you are expected to go home (or to the library or wherever you can find Internet access), log on, and fill out an application there. Further up the employment ladder, most companies today require prospective employees to fill out an application online, submit their resumes online, and then sit and wait for a response.

It's a response that often never comes. A lot of them don't acknowledge that they've received your resume or application. Some of the have a message that comes up at the end of the process that more or less says, "Don't call us; we'll call you." If your resume or application does not get through their key-words filter, it gets binned and you never know if anyone has seen it or not. If you're lucky, you'll get a call a week or a month or several months later (hiring processes often seem to take a very long time) for a telephone interview. This is the second step in the weeding out process. If you don't say the right things during the phone interview, which after often as short as ten minutes or so, you'll never hear from them again.

If you're very lucky, and you do say the right things, you might be called for a second phone interview. You might even be called in for a face-to-face interview. Even then, even if you go in and talk to an actual interviewer or panel of interviewers, this does not guarantee you'll get a "thanks but no-thanks" call or letter or e-mail. It is apparently acceptable workplace etiquette in the twenty-first century to just ignore anyone you aren't hiring. Now, I'd call that rude, but I'm old-fashioned, apparently.

This is convenient for the Human Resources people, the ones who do the hiring, apparently. It's easier to just ignore people than to have to actually tell them you aren't going to hire them. But it leaves those of us who are looking for jobs just hanging, not sure what our status is in the hiring process. Yes, we usually get the message when we don't hear anything for an extended period of time. Still, in the short term it leaves the applicant in a limbo of "is there hope/is there no hope" of being hired for any particular job they've applied for/interviewed for.

I hear these stories all the time among my network of fellow job-seekers. They've send their applications, they've been interviewed, they feel good about how they've performed. And then...crickets. They hear nothing..

And people wonder why people looking for work in this economy get frustrated, get discouraged, just give up.

I fight that frustration and discouragement all the time. I get to the point where I can't see why I should even bother to look for work. It might be more difficult for me than some others, because my skill set is more limited than someone who is in sales or management, fields where the basic skill is applicable in a wider number of positions and industries. Still, it isn't easy for anyone looking for work, and the urge to just give it up is often strong. I hear it all the time from my friends who are also looking.

Personally, I'm looking more to entrepreneurship, making my own job. But there are drawbacks there, in self-employment, as well. Say you do get something off the ground. Or, you're actually working for a company, but they hire you on not as an employee but as a private contractor (which was my situation in my previous job). And, suddenly, your business isn't doing so well, or the company you're contracting to doesn't need your services any more. Not only are you looking for work again, but you aren't even eligible for unemployment compensation. Additionally, as I've noted here before, a lot of companies don't want to hire people who have been self-employed.

Still, if no one else is going to give me a job, I've got to either put something together for myself or end up hungry and on the street. I'm much fonder of the idea of making my own job, even with the potential drawbacks. And that, the idea that I might be able to put myself back to work rather than relying on corporate America to hire me, is the only thing that keeps me from giving up and becoming, well, not even a statistic, but one of those left out of the statistics - or at least the unemployment statistics - altogether.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

In which I attend another meeting, which makes me think thoughts...

I participated in another interesting discussion at CVP today during a committee meeting.

We were talking about extending our practice interviews to cover telephone interviews as well as in-person interviews. One of the committee members - the one who came up with the idea to do this last week, in fact - was talking about how most businesses have gone to using phone interviews as a screening technique. It is cheaper and takes less time, apparently, to call applicants up and ask them some basic questions in order to cut the number of applicants down to a manageable number rather than trying to call tens, or sometimes hundreds, of people in for in-person interviews.

And that makes sense. If you have two hundred and fifty applicants for one position - which isn't exactly unheard of these days - there is simply no manageable way to give them all in-person interviews. But you can call the ones who aren't judged unsuitable for the position based on their application or resume alone and ask them a few basic questions. What hours are they willing to work? Are they able to work weekends and holidays if necessary? What kind of wage or salary are they willing to accept? If applicable to the position, are they willing to travel? Are they willing to relocate if necessary?

And, honestly, there are advantages to phone interviews for the the job-seeker as well. The most obvious is the opportunity to make a good impression on the company without having that impression depend on visual cues: How tall or short is the applicant? Is the applicant outside the socially acceptable range of weight? How old does the applicant appear to be? How does the applicant wear their hair? There are others, and I could go on. Of course, it's really unfair that these sorts of judgments are made, but people do make them every day, and they make them as they are making hiring decisions. If an applicant has made a good impression over the phone, however, the judgements once he or she appears for an in-person interview might not be as harsh as they would be if the same person, minus the good impression, walked in for an interview.

But, what I thought about during the dicusssion today wasn't really about any of that.

I started thinking, instead, about the recent kerfluffle over programs that provide no-cost or low-cost phone service to the poor, the unemployed, and the homeless in the United States. There have been programs like this in place for years, but right around election time some Republicans decided that furnishing cell phones to those who could not otherwise afford them was just a Socialist Obama rip-off. Never mind the fact that such subsidized phone service was first introduced during Ronald Reagan's (not a Socialist) administration and was extended from just landlines to cell phones during the time George W. Bush (not a Socialist) was president. The fact that Obama is not a Socialist either is lost on them.

The thing is, the people who were complaining about this so-called "handout" to the poor and homeless un- and under-employed (because there are homeless people who are employed) were the same people who were calling the unemployed and the homeless "lazy and shiftless" and accusing them of just looking for a handout. They accuse them of not wanting a job and then try to deny them an essential tool for getting a job.

No phone, no interview. No interview, no job. This isn't a difficult equation to figure out, and it puts the people who claim they aren't in favor of creating a permanent underclass in the position of advocating policies that will certainly lead to the creation of a permanent underclass.

My question to them is this: Do you want people who are poor and/or unemployed to be able to get a job, get off the welfare rolls, and become what you consider to be a productive member of society? Or, are you so opposed to giving any sort of assistance to those whom you accuse of being lazy, stupid, and immoral, that you are willing to pretty much guarantee that those folks will not be able to do the things they need to do to get a job?

Because, you know, you can't have it both ways.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I can hear them now: "They don't want jobs anyway, so why give them the phone that they're just going to use to call up their dealer and score whatever drugs they're on." I suppose there is no hope for the people who think like that. They are so caught up in their worldview that there isn't any room for any other possibilities. But they are trying to have it both ways, whether they are able or willing to admit it or not...trying to say that people don't want to work and then turning around and closing that possibility off to them, except perhaps for a few low-paying jobs that don't lead anywhere but to frustration and continued poverty.

I don't know. I just don't understand people sometimes. They proclaim, without any hard evidence, that people who aren't working don't want jobs, but then they complain when someone proposes a way to give them something they need to get a job.

Yes. I've said this about three different ways in the course of this short post. It's because I'm trying to understand that mindset, and I'm not having much success.

Could someone explain it to me? There is no justification, but there should be an explanation of this behavior out there somewhere.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Some days the news just gives me a headache...

It's getting more and more difficult to tell the real news from The Onion.

No, really. There was this story that ran on The Huffington Post today, reporting how two Republican legislators in North Carolina have filed a bill declaring each state "sovereign", so that states are perfectly within their rights to establish a religion within a state. The claim is that the First Amendment (I don't know how they feel about the other amendments that make up the Bill of Rights, or the amendments that have been ratified since the Bill of Rights was enacted) applies only to the federal government and so the feds can't stop a state from enacting and enforcing laws that are unconstitutional.

The text of the bill, as published by The Huffington Post, reads:

SECTION 1. The North Carolina General Assembly asserts that the Constitution of the United States of America does not prohibit states or their subsidiaries from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.
SECTION 2. The North Carolina General Assembly does not recognize federal court rulings which prohibit and otherwise regulate the State of North Carolina, its public schools, or any political subdivisions of the State from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.

I guess, basically, the two North Carolina lawmakers and the nine other Republicans that are also supporting the bill, are thumbing their noses at the federal government, and at the Supreme Court of the United States specifically, and saying "Neener, neener, neener. You're not the boss of us."


I guess these guys have never heard of a little case called Everson v. Board of Education (1947) 330 US 1, which applied the Establishment Clause - "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion" - to the states. The Supreme Court did this via the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. I don't know how many of the state legislators supporting this bill are lawyers, but all of them who are need to get themselves back to law school and repeat their constitutional law class. Everson is not an obscure case. In effect, the Supreme Court ruled in that case that, regarding the establishment of religion, the First Amendment is the boss of the states.

Reading the article, my first thought was that either this was a day-late-dollar-short April Fool's Day prank, or that it was a reprint from The Onion. It appears to be real, however, and meant to counter a suit filed recently that seeks to stop county commissioners in one North Carolina county from opening their meetings with prayer.

When you think about it, the whole thing is just silly. The government can't declare an established religion (that's what the Establishment Clause means) for some very good reasons that are rooted in the origins and history of the United States. All this legislative hissy fit is accomplishing is making these gentlemen look petty and ignorant.

On the other hand, as the Huffington Post story points out, North Carolina also already has a law on the books that disqualifies atheists from holding public office. This law has been unenforcible since 1961, when the Supreme Court ruled in Torcaso v. Watkins 367 US 488 that neither the federal government or state governments can require any religious test for public office.

So, silly it may be, but the state of North Carolina has a history of insisting on flouting the law of the land.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Back at It...

Now that the holidays are over...well, not here in California precisely, since today is Cesar Chavez Day here today, celeberating the birth of the labor and civil rights activist (Colorado and Texas are celebrating, as well, I believe), I'll be getting back on track with posting here.

See, the thing is, when you aren't working, "getting days off" doesn't really have any meaning. I've still been working, but I have also had only intermittent internet access, because my laptop still isn't speaking to the wi-fi, and so I have to use my roommate's laptop to get online. She, being a teacher, has been off for the past week, and so I, properly, have to defer to her use of her laptop. It isn't a bad thing...I've gotten lots of other things done. I just haven't been here much.

But I've got plans for the days and weeks ahead for this place, so stay tuned.

Meanwhile, I've got potatoes on boiling for potato salad for dinner, so I need to go check those.

Happy Monday.