Saturday, August 31, 2013

A hot August night and a baseball game...

I love baseball.

You know that if you read here regularly.

So, I was really happy when my roommate came home in the middle of last week and said she had been given two tickets to Friday's Fresno Grizzlies game. The Grizzlies are the San Francisco Giants' Triple A farm team, I'm far from being a Giants fan - I was raised to be a Los Angeles Dodgers fan, and the Dodgers and the Giants have an intra-state rivalry that sometimes gets rather boisterous. However, Grizzlies baseball is baseball, and they're the home team here, and I'll root for them so long as they aren't playing the Albuquerque Isotopes, which is the Dodgers' Triple A team. So, when I go to a Grizzlies-Isotopes game, I cheer for the Isotopes because they're Dodgers. Oh, and because Isotopes is a fabulous name for a baseball team.

However, last night the Grizzlies were playing the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, the Triple A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies. I've got no loyalties to anything in Colorado, so it was all right to cheer for the Grizzlies.

It was a great game, and we had great seats on the field box level. Where I was sitting, I could look directly across home plate and down the first base line. They were, perhaps, the best seats I've ever had at a baseball game. The Grizzlies won 7 - 5 on a late-game rally. The game got a little slow in the middle innings, but that burst of scoring late in the game livened things up considerably. An argument between the home plate umpire and the Grizzlies third-base coach that got the coach thrown out of the game made it even more fun. I'm a big fan of baseball arguments, which tend to be really colorful. In this case, the coach was really ticked. When he walked off the field and down into the dugout and slammed his batter's helmet down onto a cabinet, we could hear it hit from where we were sitting, on the other side of the stadium.

Also, since it was Friday night, there were fireworks after the game. The Grizzlies do fireworks after every Friday night home game of the season. I love fireworks, and I didn't get to see a Fourth of July fireworks display this year. Last night made up for that. The biggest problem of the night is that it was really hot and fairly humid. We could have done with a good breeze, and that just wasn't happening.

One thing that really interested me during the game, however, was that the Grizzlies seem to be trying to get more of a female audience out to the games, and they've put a really fascinating tactic into action.

As each batter comes up to the plate, there is a display of the player's season statistics and a photo of them up on the stadium's big screen. And I noticed (boy, did I notice) that they've started putting up photos of some of the Grizzlies' players without shirts, pumping iron. They are really very nice pictures. They've never done this before, and I can only imagine that it is a bid to get more women to come out to the games.

As far as I'm concerned, whoever came up with this idea came up with a winner. I mean, I'm a big baseball fan. I love the game for the game. But it has not escaped me over the years that there are some good looking men down there on the field.

So, now that you know how my long holiday weekend began, how is your weekend shaping up?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Movie Monday (a few days late): The Ingrid Bergman Birthday Edition

Here's a bit of movie trivia for you: Ingrid Bergman died on her birthday, August 29.

And more trivia: although Bergman played both a nun (in "The Bells of Saint Mary's" (1945) and a saint, in "Joan of Arc" (1948), she was unable to get film work in the United States for a number of years because she unapologetic about an affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini and the child she gave birth to out of wedlock as a result of that affair. Ed Sullivan refused to have her as a guest on his variety show and she was denounced on the floor of the US Senate for having a child without being married.

US culture has changed a lot since the middle of the 20th century. That is for the better, mostly. Oh, people like to get moralistic about things that celebrities do from time to time - the Miley Cyrus/Robin Thicke performance at the MTV Video Music Awards is only the latest thing that people are pretending to be shocked about - but I can't remember the last time anyone got upset because someone in the entertainment industry had a baby without being married. And this is all to the good; as I've commented here before, a celebrity's private life should be just that - private. It's hard to believe, locking back, that there was such a violent reaction to Bergman's personal choices.

Bergman was a wonderful, graceful actress. She won three Academy Awards, out of something like seven nominations throughout her career. In 1945 she was named Best Actress for her role in "Gaslight" (1944). She won again as Best Actress as "Anastasia" (1956). She won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in "Murder on the Orient Express" (1974). Her other nominations came for her roles in "For Whom the Bell Tolls" (1943), "The Bells of Saint Mary's", "Joan of Arc", and "Autumn Sonata" (1978). Only Katherine Hepburn has won more Academy Awards, and only four others (and only one other woman, Meryl Streep, have won as many).

Here is a clip from "Casablanca" (1942), which is probably the film Bergman is best-known for in the United States. She did not receive a nomination for playing Ilsa despite the film itself winning a Best Picture Oscar:

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

"Show us your papers"...

If you follow along here, you probably remember my post the other day about how the Birthers are at it again, as I wrote about how some people are questioning Texas Senator Ted Cruz's eligibility to run for president, and about how even though I wouldn't personally vote for Senator Cruz for anything I think the Birthers are going somewhere they really shouldn't.

Just as when some of the same people have asked to see President Obama's birth certificate, Cruz felt it necessary to produce his birth certificate to prove his citizenship status. And, I had not thought of it this way, but after Chris Matthews mentioned it in these terms today on his MSNBC show "Hardball", by making these claims, the Birthers are asking to see President Obama's and Senator Cruz's papers.

Is it a coincidence that one of them is African-American and the other is Hispanic?

Did I hear you answer that, yes, it is a coincidence? Wrong answer. There is no way that this is a coincidence. Despite a little bit of conversation when he was running for president because he was born in Panama, I don't recall anyone ever standing up and demanding to see John McCain's papers. If they did, it certainly didn't pick up any traction. I'm pretty sure that, back in the day when George Romney (yes, Mitt's dad) was running for president, while there was comment about the fact that he was born in Mexico of parents who were US citizens, no one made any serious claims that he should have to show his papers. On the other hand, President Obama is into his second term in the White House, and there are people still demanding to see his papers.

The difference? McCain and Romney: both white. Obama? Black. Cruz? Brown.

Especially on this day, the 50th anniversary of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech during the March on Washington, the Birthers should be ashamed of themselves. And the Republican leadership, which is where most of the Birthers come from, politically speaking, should be ashamed of themselves for not being willing to call out the Birthers on their racism. But, apparently, the leaders of the Republican Party are afraid of offending their base.

Which seems kind of weird to me, since most of the Republicans I know out here in the real world are absolutely not racist. Which would indicate to me that the Republican leadership needs to be catering to a different base. You'd have thought that was their take-away from the results of the 2012 presidential election.

Instead, they seem to be sticking to the infamous and deplorable Southern Strategy and tactics like voter suppression to attempt to regain power.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

I read a book, and it was frightening...

I've been saying for years that Helter Skelter (1974), by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry, about Charles Manson and his cult and the murders that were committed in Manson's name, is the most frightening book I've ever read.

Well, I may well have found a more frightening book, Prophet's Prey (2011, Bloomsbury; 323 pages), by Sam Brower.

Brower's book is about the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, widely known as the FLDS, and the search for its leader, Warren Steed Jeffs, after he was charged with a number of crimes that he claimed were simply him following the dictates of his God. Among other things, Jeffs was "married" to perhaps as many as one hundred women, some of whom were as young as twelve years old at the time of their marriage. Along the way, Brower provides details about the beliefs of the FLDS, a bit of their history, and some of the things that Jeffs's followers have done and say they are willing to do should their prophet (Jeffs) ask them.

Brower makes comparisons along the way between the FLDS and cults such as the Peoples' Temple and the Branch Davidians, both of which came to bad ends. But as I read Brower's book, I was reminded more of Manson and his group, especially in the willingness of the members to commit what they know are crimes in the name of their leader.

It's difficult to say how many members of the FLDS there are, and even more difficult to know how many of those members remain faithful to Jeffs even after his incarceration on his conviction for sexual assault of a child and sentencing to life in prison. The FLDS is a closed group that does not solicit conversions and whose faithful members will not readily speak to outsiders. It is also important to note that not all FLDS are followers of Jeffs but who continue to practice polygamy.

The FLDS grew out of the decision by the mainstream Latter-Day Saints, headquartered in Salt Lake City, to abandon the practice of (but not the belief in) polygamy in 1890 as a prerequisite for the Utah Territory to become a state. The polygamous group came into its own in the 1930s, when the mainstream LDS church started excommunicating members who continued to practice polygamy around that time.

Some of the things that are scary about the account of the FLDS in Brower's book include how very young girls are assigned as wives to much older men, and that when a man is excommunicated from the FLDS, their wives and children are "reassigned" to other men; that younger men, called "Lost Boys", are kicked out of the church on flimsy grounds such as talking to girls or listening to rock music, so that they will not be around to compete with the older men for wives; the decrees from Warren Jeffs that there be no television, no radio, no books or magazines for members, and that the children are not to have toys; the elimination of all holidays; and, the decree that there be no pets followed by sending out men to kill all the cats and dogs that remained after the order that members get rid of all their pets.

Brower also points out that Short Creek, the original name of the towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, which straddles the Arizona/Utah border north of the Grand Canyon, is home to over half the known cases of a genetic disease called Fumarase Deficiency. This disease interrupts the Krebs cycle, which generates energy to keep cells in the human body running. Those children with the disease that do not die within months of birth do not grow at a normal rate and usually develop developmental disabilities that leave them subject to crippling seizures and unable to care for themselves. Because the gene pool is so small there, marriages in Short Creek occur frequently between individuals who have the recessive gene for this disease. FLDS members in Short Creek refuse to be tested for presence of the recessive gene that causes Fumarase Deficiency, which would help avoid perpetuation of the disease.

Prophet's Prey is a disturbing book. As depressing and disturbing as the information in the book is, however, I think this is a valuable book that points out some very good reasons for not privileging religious practice the way it is in the United States. This is illustrated graphically in Brower's description of the aftermath of a raid made in 2006 on the FLDS community built in Texas. That raid resulted in the removal from the community of nearly 450 children due to allegations of abuse. The Texas CPS workers who participated in the raid described the deplorable conditions the children were living in. However, most of those workers were either fired, forced to retire, or were reassigned to other cases after their superiors decided not to pursue the cases, at least partly due to pressure brought to bear from conspiracy theorists and other fundamentalist religious adherents who accused the state of violating the First Amendment rights of the FLDS to practice their religion as they saw fit. In consequence, the children, including one twelve-year-old who had been married off to Warren Jeffs, were returned to the group. At least twenty percent of those children were given back to adults who were not their parents, and in the case of over a dozen children, Texas CPS handed the children back to adults without ascertaining who those adults were. The official reason that the cases were dropped was that it was going to cost too much money to find out, through DNA testing, which children belonged to which parents and then to adjudicate whether or not those children had actually been abused.

As much as I am a believer in the First Amendment religion clauses in the US Bill of Rights, I believe there is a difference between religious belief and practice. Anyone can believe anything they want, but I cannot believe that the free exercise clause was intended to allow parents and other adults to abuse children, or to hand girls over to men twenty, thirty, forty or more years older, to become wives to them in every sense of the word. I cannot believe that the free exercise clause allows a religion to kick teenage boys out of the group and literally abandon them on the side of the road in the middle of the desert when they become a threat to the older men's ability to take young brides. It also was not intended, I'm sure, to allow the assignment and reassignment of adult women to men as wives without their consent. To act as if these practices are legitimized by saying that the people who do them believe it's okay as part of their religion is a perversion of the First Amendment. You can't take away some people's rights in order to let other people practice their religion.

I'm happy for consenting adults to make whatever arrangements they wish: polygynous marriages (one man, multiple women), polyandrous marriages (one woman, multiple men), group marriages, same-sex marriages, one man/one woman marriages - as long as all parties to the arrangement are consenting adults. Parties to the plural marriages in the FLDS, at least the female parties, are often neither consenting nor adults. The fact that doing this is a tenet of their religion does not make these non-consensual and underage marriages any more acceptable.

And, yes, I am aware that I've gone from reviewing Prophet's Prey to pontificating about the material in it. And I'm fine with that. What I read in Brower's book spurred very strong reactions in me. This is especially true regarding the vehemence with which certain groups defended the FLDS and their practices that would not be tolerated in any other context, and the cavalier and callous way in which the state of Texas was so quick to wash its official hands of what had been obvious abuse of children. Yes, the state did raise its age of legal marriage with parental consent from fourteen to seventeen. And, yes, the state did convict Warren Jeffs and sentence him to life in prison. Good for them. Jeffs belongs in prison; he's a pedophile, a narcissist, and a sociopath. But they abandoned all those children to a religions system that is still controlled by Jeffs from his prison cell - which by the way, was encouraged by the state of Texas when they placed Jeffs, when he was first taken to Texas to face charges, in a "for-profit" prison. As Brower explains it, per the rules of that prison, any inmate who can afford it is allowed to have a private phone line in his cell, and is allowed unlimited use of that phone. Because of this, Jeffs was able to reassert his control over the FLDS and order the continuation of his policies, including his vision of what is called "blood atonement." Blood atonement is the principle that sometimes people have sinned so badly (and Jeffs has some peculiar ideas of what such sin consists of, including disobedience of his proclamations) that the only way they can be saved is to have their blood shed in their death. In Jeffs's vision of blood atonement, this includes ritual killing in the temple and the drinking of the blood of the victim.

And how, exactly, do we know all this? Well, as with the mainstream Mormons, the FLDS are obsessive about record-keeping. As part of this, Jeffs kept what he called the "Priesthood Record of the Prophet Warren Steed Jeffs", in which he kept a detailed record of his life, including of activities that were illegal. This was found in the basement of the temple the FLDS built in Texas. Also discovered during the investigation into Jeffs and the LDS was - and this might be the most disgusting thing of all - an audio tape that recorded his rape of a new twelve-year-old bride (Jeffs was fifty years old at the time) two weeks after their "sealing" (marriage) ceremony.

It is also disturbing to know that for years, ever since a law-enforcement raid on Short Creek in 1953, which had much of the press and public siding with the polygamists due to First Amendment considerations, much like happened after the later raid in Texas, officials in Utah and Arizona pretty much turned a blind eye to what was going on in Short Creek. Even when women who did not consent to their forced marriages escaped and then were taken back by the men and "disappeared" for months or years at a time (and sometimes forever), no one could interest law enforcement in looking for them or even checking that they were still alive.

The FLDS, besides being compared to the Branch Davidians or the People's Temple, have also sometimes been called the "American Taliban". I think that is a fair comparison. FLDS women, like women where the Taliban rules, have no freedoms to speak of. Anything that might bring in outside information - newspapers, magazines, radio, television - have been banned by the leadership. I think the story of the FLDS is the real answer to those who say that "it could never happen here" of the loss of freedoms on a wholesale scale.

It not only can happen here, it has happened here. And it is still happening today, despite the jailing of the leader of the FLDS.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Music Sunday: The Elvis Costello Edition

I have to confess, first off, that I don't know Elvis Costello's music very well, although I've liked what I've heard of it. And, through a couple of interviews I've seen, he seems like an interesting artist. And so, since it's his birthday today, I thought I'd share some of his music.

First, of all, the song of Costello's that I'm most familiar with, "Everyday I Write the Book" (1983). Costello has claimed that he wrote this song in about ten minutes. Maybe so, but it's a good song nonetheless, and makes me wish I could be so productive and with such a good outcome in such a short time.

Looking around on YouTube, I found this cover of the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses", a live version by Costello and Lucinda Williams. This is a song I like a lot, although I've never been wild about the Stones' version. My favorite cover of this is by Gram Parsons, while he was with The Flying Burrito Brothers. I think this cover (I'm not sure when or where it was recorded) is going to become my co-favorite. It's very, very good:

Here's a live performance of "Watching the Detectives" (1977) from a performance in Germany in 1978. This song is from early in his career. It has been used at the theme song for the PBS series "History Detectives" (which is a good and interesting show that you should watch if you have the chance):

Costello's cover of Nick Lowe's "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding" is very good. Here is a live performance of that song from 2003 on The David Letterman Show, which Costello was co-hosting that night, with bonus Costello being silly while introducing himself:

Costello has an Academy Award Nomination for writing, along with T-Bone Burnett, "The Scarlet Tide" from the film "Cold Mountain" (2003). Here is a performance of the song, which was sung on the film's soundtrack by Alison Krauss by Costello and Emmylou Harris:

Friday, August 23, 2013

I read this article...and I think you should, too

Lindy West wrote this and posted on the other day. It's about body-shaming and how doing that is not acceptable no matter the size or the shape of the body that is being shamed for not being perfect. I'm passing it along to you. You need to read it, whether your are fat or thin, male or female. It is important.

I'll probably have more to say about it someday soon. But, today is my birthday, and I'm taking the day off. Sort of.

Oh, and hat-tip to Michelle Hermark for bringing Ms. West's article to my attention.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

In which my inner film geek escapes for an afternoon...

I get laughed at from time to time for my affection for "making of" documentaries and the extras on DVD editions of films like commentaries. But, you know what? You can learn stuff from them. Especially, as a writer, it is instructive to see how films are put together as a method of storytelling. Because storytelling is storytelling, no matter what the method, and putting together a story or a novel, or even a non-fiction piece of writing, has things in common with putting together a film.

And then, sometimes, it's just interesting to see how different people approach filmmaking, and how they do their work in general. Cruising YouTube today, I found an example of that. As I'm sure I've mentioned here before, I am a huge Steve McQueen fan, and "Bullitt" (1968) is one of my favorites of his films. I came across this short "making of" documentary that covers, among other things, the shooting of the famous chase scene, which took three weeks to shoot, in that film:

A point is made during the clip, which was produced by Warner Brothers, of the care that was taken to make sure that civilians were out of the way as the high-speed chase made its way through San Francisco. This is in huge contrast to the clip I also found today discussing how the car-chases-train scene in "The French Connection" (1971) was shot. Just watch and listen:

The first thing that becomes clear is that the chase scene in "The French Connection" didn't exist in the original shooting script for the film and was created specifically to outdo the chase in "Bullitt". The second thing you notice is that the director of "The French Connection", William Friedkin, specifically did not do anything to protect bystanders from getting hurt, and as Friedkin says in the clip, "nobody planned anything" and "it was all improvisation". Nobody knew a car was going to come down the street, pedal to the metal, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. You'll also notice that quite a bit of the conversation in the clip is devoted to rationalizing the decision to just shoot the sequence, no matter the consequences.

There are a lot of people who will argue that the chase sequence in "The French Connection" is "better" or "greater" than the chase sequence in "Bullitt". I disagree. So, here is what I consider to be the greatest chase scene ever. Still:

What many people don't recall, however, is that there is another chase scene in "Bullitt", this one near the end of the film, that is also pretty neat. It is mentioned in the "making of" clip above, and takes place out on the runways at San Francisco International Airport. I couldn't find a clip of the whole thing, but here is part of it:

You might be right if you suspect that all of this is just a huge excuse to spend some time entertaining my inner film geek.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

You're still wrong, Wayne LaPierre...and here's more proof

First, a little review:

Shortly after the shootings last December at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, where 20 young students and 6 others were killed by a young man with weapons and a lot of ammunition, National Rifle Association Wayne LaPierre famously said while proposing that all US schools be protected by armed officers that "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." He said that on December 21, 2012.

On January 10, 2013, Wayne LaPierre was proved wrong.

On that day, less than a month after his pronouncement, a student had entered Taft Union High School in Taft, California, with a weapon and shot and wounded another student who he said had been bullying him. The armed guard who was customarily on campus was absent that day because he was snowed in and couldn't make it to work. In his absence, an unarmed science teacher, Ryan Heber, talked the student into putting down his weapon and surrendering after distracting the shooter long enough for the rest of the students in class to escape. Yes, the one student was injured, but nobody died.

I wrote about this here shortly after the events in Taft.

Now, fast forward to yesterday, Tuesday, August 20, 2013, to Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Georgia. A 20-year-old young man entered the school with an AK-47-style weapon and close to 500 rounds of ammunition, took a couple of school employees hostage, shot a hole in the floor of the school's office, and exchanged gunfire with police. But there were no injuries as the 870 students at the school, pre-kindergarteners through fifth graders, escaped.

They were able to escape not because the police shot at him, but largely because one of his hostages, the school's bookkeeper, an unarmed woman named Antoinette Tuff, engaged the young man in conversation, then talked him into putting down his weapon and ammunition and surrendering.

Again, an unarmed school employee managed to do what armed officers could not do - end a dangerous incident with as little violence as possible.

So, you know, Wayne. Once again we see that you were wrong in December and you're still wrong now.

And, once again, everybody lived. That can't be a bad thing.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

And...the Birthers are at it again

It looks like the birthers are not going to go away anytime soon.

Only this time their target is not Barack Obama. They aren't even railing against a Democrat or a liberal this time.

Instead, there are those insisting that Texas Senator Ted Cruz, part of the rightest right of the Republican Party and a darling of the Tea Party, is not eligible to run for president, as he is showing every indication of wanting to do. These people are contending that he is not a "natural born citizen", as the US Constitution requires to be eligible to hold the highest office in the land.

Here's the deal: Cruz was born in Canada to a Cuban father and a mother who was a US citizen. He holds both Canadian and US citizenship. This, some people say, means that he is not eligible to be President of the United States, based on criteria outlined in the US Constitution.

Now, I have to admit that it's tempting to sit back and watch the Tea Party be hoist on its own petard. There is something satisfying in the idea of having them have to see how it feels to have one of their own accused of not being qualified. on this technicality, to lead the country.

I also have to confess that there are many reasons why I do not want to see Ted Cruz in the White House, not the least of which is the fact that he seems to think the comparisons that have been made between him and late Senator Joseph McCarthy, who led the way in causing so much misery in the 1950s as he saw a Red under every bed, are complimentary. He's been quoted as saying that the comparisons mean that he must be "doing something right." He won't go so far as to say publicly that he admires McCarthy's attitudes and tactics, but it seems clear that the assumption that he does admire Red-baiter McCarthy is not far from the mark. Also, the Libertarians like him, and I'm not a big fan of that particular political and social outlook on life.

But, as much as I'd hate to see Cruz elected to, well, almost anything, claiming on this technicality that he is not eligible to run is not a smart way to keep him from running. Unless there is a clear ruling from a court saying that to be considered a "natural born citizen", a person has to have been born on US soil, having a parent who is a citizen should be the standard for citizenship. Period.

Just as trying to make sure that only people you think will vote for your candidates can participate in the electoral process (voter suppression) is not a legitimate tactic, neither does trying to prove that candidates whose positions you don't like aren't eligible to run at all constitute an acceptable way to stack the electoral deck in your favor.

Not in the America I grew up in. In the America I grew up in, we were taught to play fair.

Taking a birther position in a case like this is not anywhere near playing fair.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Movie Monday: The "I'm Really Looking Forward to this Movie" Edition

I have just one thing to say today, and that is that I want to see this movie:

This is "Rush", directed by Ron Howard and starring Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt and Daniel Bruhl as Niki Lauda, rivals in Forumla I racing in the 1970s. In 1976, Lauda was nearly killed in a crash at the German Grand Prix. Just a month and a half later, Lauda returned to racing, coming fourth in the Italian Grand Prix.

That's all. I'm really looking forward to seeing this movie when it comes out in late September. I can't remember the last time I was so looking forward to a new movie.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Music Sunday: The "Woodstock" Edition

Let me try this again. My computer just up and burped and sent what I had written of this week's Music Sunday post off into cyberspace somewhere. I hope it's having fun floating out there somewhere.

But, as I was saying...

Today is the 44th anniversary of the end of the Woodstock Festival. I was not old enough at the time to go to Woodstock, but I was old enough to spend that entire weekend wishing I was there - crowds, heat, rain, mud, and all. It was a singular event in the history of music, and it became a cultural and historical icon. Sometimes, though, I think the actual music that was played gets lost in the event's legendary status. Because of this, I decided that this is a good time to share some of the music from that weekend that could never be repeated, although god knows people have tried.

One of the songs Crosby, Stills, and Nash performed at Woodstock was their version of The Beatles' "Blackbird". Many years later, I saw CSN in concert and they started the performance with this song, only that time they sang it a capella:

The Jefferson Airplane were at Woodstock, singing "White Rabbit":

And The Band performed, singing, among other songs, "The Weight":

Protest music was there. This is Country Joe & the Fish and the "I'm Fixin' to Die Rag". Just a warning, though, if you have little ones in earshot: this clip includes the infamous "Fish cheer", which is what got the first Woodstock compilation album banned from my house when it came out. It's the only thing my parents, specifically my mother, ever forbade me to read, watch, or listen to. Ah, well:

The Who were there, singing "My Generation", with bonus Pete Townshend throwing a guitar to the audience:

And Jimi Hendrix performed "Purple Haze":

There were a lot more acts and a lot more music at Woodstock than I've shared today, of course. Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, Santana, Joe Cocker, Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, and many, many more. But there is only so much time and so much room on a Music Sunday. At least that means that there will be plenty to share this time next year. Or, maybe, even before that.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Reince redux...

As promised by chairman Reince Prieebus, the Republican National Committee has voted unanimously to not allow CNN and NBC to host presidential primary debates among hopefuls for the Republican nomination during the 2016 presidential primary season.

In an AP story, Priebus is quoted as saying, "Our party should not be involved in setting up a system that encourages the slicing and dicing of candidates over a long period of time with moderators that are not in the business of being at all concerned about the future of our party."

Ummm, Reince?

It is not the job of debate moderators to be "concerned about the future of" the Republican party, or the Democratic party, or any other political party. Instead, their job is to make sure that the voting public has an opportunity to learn where all the candidates from all the parties stand on the issues. The whole point of the debates, at least from this voter's point of view, is to show where the candidates stand on the issues so that the voters can make an informed choice when they enter the voting booth to cast their ballots.

What Reince and the RNC are really concerned about here is making sure that whoever ends up getting the nomination, and therefore all of the candidates running in the Republican party's primaries, are not asked any tough questions and are not embarrassed in front of a national audience. As far as I'm concerned, this is the responsibility of the individual candidates, who need to not say and do embarrassing things and instead make sure they are educated on the issues and are able to talk about their positions on those issues. This goes for the candidates of all parties, not just the Republican candidates.

The problem we have here is that Reince doesn't actually want Republican candidates to answer any questions about their positions on the substantive issues. All he cares about is putting a Republican in the White House. Which, I suppose, is his job. But...and this is a huge is not his job to game the system in order to achieve this. And that is exactly what Reince and the RNC are doing - attempting to game the system.

The vote today by the RNC is a big step in that effort, in that keeping CNN and NBC out of the debates is part of the effort to choose debate moderators who won't ask any hard questions of Republican candidates. But it isn't their only move in this process. This is also why debate audiences (and, in truth, it isn't just the Republicans who use this particular tactic) are packed with individuals who will only cheer anything any of their candidates say and, if audience questions are taken by the candidates, the questioners and their questions are vetted ahead of time to make sure that they serve the party rather than the voters. This is also why the Republican party has been introducing legislation in many states that attempts to do things like require voters to present photo ID in order to be able to vote, to limit or eliminate early voting, and similar measures that limit access to voting for groups - the poor, the elderly, students, and minorities - that traditionally do not vote Republican.

It's clear to me that the Republican leadership doesn't want to win elections fairly. Instead, they want to win by any means necessary, even if those means are unfair, dishonest, and against everything I was taught that the United States stands for.

The thing that makes me really angry and sad is that the RNC doesn't even seem to be interested in hiding the fact that they are attempting to game the system.

Instead they, and especially Reince Priebus, seem to be proud of what they're doing.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Busy, Busy...

I've been kind of busy the past couple of days, doing scheduling for our monthly Practice Interview Day for the newbies at CVP, and so I haven't had much time to think about blog posts. has come to my attention that today is the anniversary of the US release of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show", which opened on August 14, 1975. So, I'm just going to leave this here for you (with bonus Italian subtitles):

Also, it's David Crosby's birthday today. I'm a big fan from way back. And so, I'll leave this here, too:


Practice Interview Day is tomorrow, and is pretty much an all-day thing. After that, I should have a little more time to think about other things, including writing blog posts.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Movie Monday: The "Skyfall" Edition

I've been watching James Bond movies for decades now, since long before people were getting their panties all in a twist about the scantily-clad women and violence in those films that might be inappropriate for, say, an 8-year-old to see.

We had a family tradition of going to the drive-in every Friday night (and that meant every Friday night, since where I grew up in Southern California, the drive-ins were open all year long), and that included whenever a Bond movie came out. Well, in practice, we didn't get to go every Friday night, because my father had to work late some nights, but we made it there as often as we could.

Accordingly, I saw my first Bond film - it was either "Goldfinger" (1964) or "Thunderball" (1965) - when I was eight or nine years old. I can't recall for sure which one it was. At any rate, my parent's didn't seem too concerned that seeing what sex and violence were in those films would warp me for life. So, when they started showing the Bond films on network television accompanied by frequent warnings that some of their content might be inappropriate for children, it gave me a good laugh. I had seen them before there was any such thing as the MPAA ratings system, which went into effect on November 1, 1968, when I was 12 years old.

All of this made it interesting for me when I finally got to watch the latest Bond film, "Skyfall" (2012), that I noticed that the film was rated PG-13, which warns "Parents Strongly Cautioned - Some Material May be Inappropriate for Children Under 13", and that the reasons listed for this rating for this film were "for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language, and smoking."

Smoking? Yeah. Okay, we all know that smoking isn't the healthiest thing a person can do. But, "Parents Strongly Cautioned" because people smoke in a movie? It isn't as if kids don't see smoking in the wild, probably every day of their lives. Somebody is clutching pearls because some people are smoking in a movie? This, apparently, has been part of the ratings rubric since 2007 or so. Somehow, it seems like society at large, at least in the United States, might finally have lost all sense of proportion. Do they really think that showing smoking is as bad as showing people mowed down by automatic weapons that fire who knows how many bullets a minute with just one pull of the trigger?

Never mind. The ratings system has always been slightly strange. If you don't believe me, go watch a documentary called "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" (2006), that explores the US film rating system. But that's not what I'm here to write about today. Still, see this documentary if you're at all interested in how the ratings system really works.

But, first, see "Skyfall". It's really a good movie.

Besides all the action (read: shooting and subway derailments and fights on top of trains and chases and explosions and so forth) that are part of all James Bond films, "Skyfall" explores some interesting themes. One is accountability in the spy game, and what happens when, as M says at one point, when your "enemies are not nations, but individuals." Another is, what happens when a spy starts to get older and might not really be up to his or her A-game any more? These are fair questions, to be honest. To discuss this much further, or really, to talk about the plot much at all, would be to give away the game, and I don't want to do that even though I know I've come to the game with this quite late and that most of you have seen the film if you're going to.

I will say that Bond finds himself it a bit of trouble. Besides being shot, falling off a train on a bridge, falling to the water below and going over a waterfall (this is in the first few minutes of the film, so I don't think I'm giving away too much by saying this, especially considering that much the same thing happens at the beginning of every Bond film), James has been drinking too much and relying to heavily on pills to control his pain after all this. He isn't necessarily the crack shot he used to be.

I have to say, as the 23rd official Bond movie in a franchise that has been with us for half a century now, "Skyfall" isn't having the same problems that Bond seems to be having in the film. The film is at the top of the 007 game. Daniel Craig is superb as the seemingly aging Bond (although at 45, the actor is certainly not what you'd call old). He brings us a suitably cheeky Bond. Javier Bardem, as Raoul Silva, does a great turn as the latest Bond villain, bringing just the right tone to the role. Now, he isn't my favorite Bond villain - that honor goes to Klaus Maria Brandauer in "Never Say Never Again" (1983), where his portrayal of Maximillian Largo is sinister yet not as physically repugnant as many of the Bond villains; he's the only Bond villain where one gets the feeling that the women around him haven't had to be coerced to be there - but Bardem's Silva comes close. Although I really wish that Bardem would find some roles where he doesn't have such unfortunate hairstyles. This seems to have become a theme in his career that really isn't necessary. Dame Judi Dench is wonderful as M, as is Ralph Feinnes as Gareth Mallory, the head of the government committee that is investigating MI6. Q is back, this time in the person of the wonderful Ben Whishaw, who plays the role with just the delightfully perfect amount of geekiness, and an almost unrecognizable Albert Finney is perfect as Kincade, a figure from Bond's past.

There's so much more I want to write about "Skyfall", but there might be some of you who haven't seen it yet, and I really don't want to spoil it for you. I went in knowing very little about what was going to happen, and I think that's the best way to approach the movie.

Just take my word for it. If you like action flicks, and if you like James Bond films, this is the one you want to see.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Music Sunday: Another Birthday Edition, with bonus historical trivia

Before continuing with our regular Music Sunday post, I've got a couple of questions for you: Are you using Wi-Fi to read this? Have you talked on your cell phone today?

Well then, you might be interested to know that the patent for the Frequency-hopping spread spectrum communications system that is the basis for today's wireless telephones and Wi-Fi was granted on this day in 1942. The thing is, if you're picturing a group of geeky scientists laboring long hours in a lab somewhere working out this system - a system that I couldn't even begin to describe the workings of, by the way - you'd be wrong. The people the patent was granted to were George Antheil, an avant-garde composer, and glamorous actress Hedy Lamarr.

And, it turns out, avant-garde is exactly the word for one of Anthiel's best known works, a collaboration with filmmaker Fernand Leger. I found this while looking around to discover exactly what kind of musical work Antheil did. I have to admit, this is really not to my taste at all, musically speaking, although the film work is interesting if odd. Don't feel obligated to stick around through the whole 16 minutes of the clip if it isn't your cup of tea, but I think it is interesting to see and hear the kind of thing that the co-inventor of Wi-Fi technology was doing when he wasn't enabling our (future) communications addictions.

Here's another long, but as far as I'm concerned much more pleasing, piece of music. I'm fairly sure I've shared this here before, but it is a favorite. It's Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida", all 17 minutes and 3 seconds of it. I figured it would be appropriate to share, being that today would have been Erik Brann's birthday, had he not died of a heart ailment in 2003. Born in 1950, Brann was only 17 years old when he played guitar on this classic, and epic, song:

Today is also Bob Mothersbaugh's birthday. Bob, born in 1952, is the lead guitarist for Devo, and lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh's younger brother. And so, here is "Whip It", one of the oddest hit songs I have ever heard (although not nearly as odd as the Anthiel composition):

Yesterday's most notable musical birthday is that if Ian Anderson, lead singer and flautist for Jethro Tull, who was born on August 10, 1947. Anyone who can turn the flute into a rock and roll instrument is okay as far as I'm concerned. His birthday gives me the excuse to share a couple of my favorite Tull songs. First is "Locomotive Breath", from the album "Aqualung", which was released in 1971. This particular clip is from a live performance in 1982:

And then, of course, there is the album's title song, "Aqualung". It always seems strange to like so much a song that includes the word "snot" and describes a bum "sitting on a park bench/eyeing little girls with bad intent", but the lyrics of this song are some of the most evocative I've ever heard. They paint such a concrete picture of a particular set of scenes. This clip is a live performance of the song on the BBC from 1977:

Saturday, August 10, 2013

It's Do What You Want To Do Saturday

Ever have one of those days when you deliberately ignore everything that you're "supposed" to do and just do what you damn well please?

Well, that's what I did today. I slept in reasonably late. I read for awhile...I'm reading an interesting book right now. I watched a couple of movies. I worked on my writing project. Working on that project does not count as "supposed-to-do" because I'm doing it on spec and don't have a hard-and-fast deadline on it. Plus, I'm happiest when I'm doing that. I had hot dogs for dinner. I played with the cat.

I did all those things instead of writing a proper blog post today.

I'll be back with Music Sunday tomorrow. Meanwhile, I hope you had a nice Saturday, wherever you are and whatever you did.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Movie extra: The "Artists and Models" Edition

I've never liked Jerry Lewis, nor much of anything he's been in. I don't think he's particularly funny, and his recent insistence that women shouldn't do comedy because it "diminishes" their "qualities to the lowest common denominator" both puzzle and offend me, and not just on behalf of the all the really funny women in the world. I'm not sure it says much about him that he thinks it's okay for men to diminish themselves in that way, or that they are already so debased that it doesn't matter what they do.

Yeah, I know, he's an old man now, and I probably shouldn't say bad things about him.

If that's true, then this is my mea culpa. This evening, I happened to watch "Artists and Models", a 1955 film he made with Dean Martin, Shirley MacLaine, and Dorothy Malone. Ordinarily I wouldn't have watched it, but my roommate turned it on so that her 5-year-old granddaughter could watch it. But, we were eating dinner and it was either watch the movie or go eat by myself. I've been eating alone all summer while my roommate has been on vacation, so that wasn't an option that I really liked. And so I watched the movie.

It was hilarious.

No, really. It's that laugh-out-loud kind of funny that is difficult to come by, in my experience.

It still had too much of Lewis's mugging. That isn't my taste in comedy, and it doesn't look any better these days on Jim Carrey than it did when Lewis was doing it on a regular basis. And I find his "Hey, Lady!" voice, which he uses in this film, to be particularly grating. But, even with all this, I laughed out loud repeatedly during the film and recommend it just on that basis alone.

Also, any movie that can find comedy in the Cold War and the popular culture of the 1950s is my friend, and this film manages to do that. They send up the furor over what comic books were supposedly doing to the sensitive minds of children with style and bite, and they poke fun equally at the Soviets and at US overzealousness in rooting out all the Reds under all the beds. And there's a quick, blink-and-you'll-miss-it, tip of the hat to "Rear Window", one of the top grossing films of the year before "Artists and Models" was made, that is just hilarious. There is also a scene that begs the question of whether whoever invented the game "Twister" was watching it when they first thought of the idea for the game. They also manage to send up the then-fledgling space race as they laugh at both the spying of the Soviets and at the sometimes comic overzealousness of the US in guarding against that spying.

Here's the trailer for the film, courtesy of YouTube:

It really is a funny film, and you should see it. It doesn't make me like Jerry Lewis any better, to be honest, but it proves that him just being in a movie is not necessarily a reason for me to avoid it completely.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Nixon resigns 5 years after The Beatles cross the street...

Today is a day of great note in the history of American politics, at least for those of us who are around at the time.

I suspect that there are lot of you younger people out there who don't quite understand the big deal that those of us who are older make around the Watergate scandal and the resignation of Richard M. Nixon from the presidency that those of us who do remember what went on during that time do. But, if you were there and followed the whole string of events, you know that it was a big deal. Not just Nixon's resignation, but the distrust of the political system in the United States that the events leading up to it awakened. People might have had their doubts about what gets called politics as usual, but Watergate brought all that dirty laundry out into the open.

Pretty much everyone who has taken a US history class since 1974 knows the basics of the story of the break-ins at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate building in Washington D.C. on May 28 and June 18, 1972 that culminated in Nixon's nationally televised announcement on August 8, 1974 that he would resign the presidency, effective at noon the next day. After a long and checkered political career, "Tricky Dick" had finally gotten caught with his hand in the cookie jar, metaphorically speaking. The succession of events is pretty commonly known: the break-ins, the televised hearings that popularized the phrase "what did he know and when did he know it", the tapes Nixon had made of conversations in the Oval Office, Nixon's insistence that "I am not a crook", the articles of impeachment that were passed against him, the admission that he really did know a whole hell of a lot about what had been done on his behalf after a long battle to get the Oval Office tape transcripts released, and then his resignation, the first (and so far only) time a US president has resigned in disgrace from office.

For me, Nixon's resignation speech is one of those "I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when it happened" moments that crop up occasionally in history. I was less than two months out of high school and working as a cashier at the K-Mart a couple of blocks from my house. I was working that night, and happened to be on break. So, I watched the resignation speech. on a bank of televisions in the electronics department on my way back from the break room, trying mightily to keep from jumping up and down and yelling, "It's about damn time."

Yeah, I was never really a fan of Nixon, to put it mildly, especially after watching the whole sordid saga unfold through most of my high school years. And, I've always wondered why anyone was surprised that Nixon participated in the cover-up that followed the break-ins. As far back as the 1940s, when he first ran for office, Nixon had used underhanded tactics to undermine his political opponents. His favorite tactic back then was Red-baiting, accusing opponents of being Communists or Communist sympathizers. He began using that strategy as early as his first campaign for a seat in the US House of Representatives. Again, when he first ran for the US Senate in 1950, he did the same thing as he campaigned against Helen Gahagan Douglas. Nixon won both races, but Gahagan Douglas gained a revenge of sorts as legend says that she is the one who popularized the nickname "Tricky Dick", which followed him for the rest of his life.

Despite Watergate, Nixon's resignation from office, and a history of questionable political tactics - besides Red-baiting, he put to use what is called the "Southern strategy" of gaining votes in the Southern United States by exploiting the racial prejudices of some white voters - Nixon left a mixed legacy. He supported creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the legislation that requires environmental impact statements before Federal projects can be implemented. Despite his use of the Southern strategy, he implemented the first Federal affirmative action program. He endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment. He took the first steps to regularizing relations with China.

Still, I figure that having to resign the presidency was Nixon's come-uppance for being "Tricky Dick."

Exactly five years before Nixon announced his resignation, on August 8, 1969, a much more positive event took place. That was the day that the photograph that became the cover of The Beatles' album "Abbey Road" was taken.

You know the one, in which the members of the band were crossing Abbey Road, the street outside the Abbey Road Studios in London, where the album was recorded: John Lennon was in the lead, in a white suit, with Ringo Starr following behind him in a black suit. Paul McCartney came next, barefoot, in a blue-gray suit, carrying a cigarette. George Harrison brings up the rear, in jeans and a blue work shirt. The result of a ten-minute photo shoot, the album cover is one of the most famous in the history of recorded music. The zebra crossing (crosswalk to those of us in the States) in the photo now has official status in the UK as a spot of "cultural and historical importance."

Despite it's status as a pop-culture icon, the taking of this photo is not exactly what you'd call an earth-shattering event. On the other hand, I find it worthy of note because "Abbey Road" is my favorite Beatles' album.

It isn't Music Sunday, but as long as I've mentioned it, I thought I'd share a couple of songs from "Abbey Road". First, here's "Come Together":

And, maybe my favorite song on the album, "Oh! Darling":

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Some days, it's all about the weather...

Only in Central California in the summertime.

One of the local weather forecasters just said that it's "a little on the cool side" today. The high here today? 90 degrees F, with forecasts for the next seven days not going any higher than the high 90s.

Well, compared to what it could be, it isn't exactly hot. The record highs here for the next seven days hover between 110 F and 112 F. Now, that's hot.

The 30-year average for today is 98 F. In fact, this is the day in August when the daily averages start their downward trend toward fall and winter after hitting a high average of 99 F during the period from July 13 through August 6. By the end of August, the average high will be down to 95 F, and by the end of September the average high will drop to 86 F. Then, the average high temperature really starts falling; by the end of October it is down to 72 F. This isn't necessarily an indication that things are going to cool off, though, since the latest day in the year with a record high of over 100 F comes on October 5, when the record high is 101 F. Still, it's not nearly as likely to get so hot by October, and the drop in average highs is even steeper in November, when it goes from an average high of 72 F on the first of November to an average high of 59 F on November 31. The period of the lowest average high here runs from December 23 through January 8. But even during that period, the record highs run between 68 F and 73 F.

The things you can find out at

Not that I'm obsessed with weather or anything. It's just that my father was very much interested in the weather, coming from a farming background as he did. In fact, he was able to predict weather trends, at least in Southern California, where he spent most of his life, better than the weather bureau could most of the time. With my father watching the weather all the time, and commenting on it, I suppose it's natural that I got interested in it, as well. These days, I'm mostly interested in it because I live in this place where most of the year it is either too hot or too cold for my taste.

And so, I do things like pay attention to daily weather reports. I joke sometimes that here in Central California's San Joaquin Valley it's always either summer or winter, except for the two weeks of spring and the two weeks of fall we get in April and October, respectively. But, often, that's just about the truth. I've seen it go from winter temperatures to summer temperatures, or the other way around, and stay there, within the space of two or three weeks. This is far from the climate I grew up with in Southern California, where it can pretty much be any given temperature on any day of the year - I've seen it cold and cloudy in July and August, and I've seen it in the 90s on Christmas Day there - but the weather rarely remains the same there for more than a few days at a time. It's what I got used to in my childhood and adolescence, and that is the kind of weather I like. It isn't that way here.

Ah, well. We get what we get, in regard to the weather. And what we've had here today isn't bad. As I write this, at nearly 7 pm local time, it is 86 degrees F outside. There were days at the end of June and through July when the temperature didn't get down that far until well after midnight.

So, today, at least, I'm not going to complain about the weather we've got.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

In which Priebus threatens to flounce...

At this point, the Republican National Committee is just acting childish.

Reince Priebus, the chairman of the RNC has laid down a challenge to CNN and NBC: cancel planned projects about former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, or the Republicans will not "partner with" either network "in 2016 primary debates nor sanction primary debates they sponsor."

The quotes are from letters Priebus sent to the two networks, by the way.

So, basically, what the RNC is saying, "if you don't play by our rules, we're going to take our toys and go home." In essence, they are threatening to flounce. Kids flounce. Divas flounce. Responsible adults, and organizations run by responsible adults, do not flounce.

Of course, what the RNC is claiming is that the programs, a feature-length documentary to be aired by CNN sometime next year and a four-part miniseries scheduled to be shown on NBC in 2015, are really just elaborate campaign ads, efforts to promote Clinton ahead of the 2016 presidential campaign. Which I find kind of funny, considering that there is no indication at this point from Clinton or anyone else that she is going to make another run for the White House.

To their credit, both CNN and NBC have said they will continue to participate in the projects, while NBC has pointed out that the mini-series they plan to broadcast is under the auspices of their entertainment division and has nothing to do with their news division.

I think there a couple of things going on here.

First of all, this is just another attempt by the ruling right wing of the Republican Party to control the national conversation. This is nothing new. They have previously shown a willingness to do anything they need to in order to be able to define the rules of the campaign and control the information that the American people are allowed to receive. They want, specifically, to have the deciding say in where the primary debates are held, who can participate in them, who can moderate them, what questions are asked during the debates, and who can broadcast them.

The issue of who can participate in primary debates, which are between members of one party, is particularly problematic for the Republicans, who complained during the 2012 primaries that, especially early on, too many Republican candidates were allowed to participate, taking the focus off the two or three candidates in their party who the RNC wanted to be perceived as the front-runners. Here, again, the RNC's control issues are apparent, with them wanting to be able to decide even which candidates should be taken seriously.

This is not to say that I think all of the candidates among the Republicans in the last election cycle should have been taken seriously. Clearly, some of them were not only not really serious but not even close to qualified. But I also think that there were candidates who had serious qualifications who were quickly marginalized by the party leadership because they were not seen as sufficiently to the right. I think that during the primaries any candidate who can put together enough money, enough supporters, and enough media attention to be visible nationally should get to participate in debates, at least until the various primaries, caucuses, and state conventions start showing who the public considers to be the viable candidates by winning votes and endorsements.

The other thing, I think, that is going on, is an attempt to sabotage the existence of primary debates altogether. The Republicans, or the leadership, at least, have very vocally complained about the number of debates last primary season. I think the problem they see is that, in the debates, the candidates started to say what they really believe and, in some cases, showed themselves for who they really are, and in some cases (I'm looking at you, Rick Perry) how incompetent they really are to run anything, much less the most powerful nation in the world.

I think the Republican Party apparatus would be just as happy if their candidates did not have to participate in any debates, did not have to talk to the press at all, and didn't have to make any statements about where they really stand on issues. Look at the end of the 2012 presidential campaign, after the conventions. How long did Mitt Romney go without making any statements to the media at all following the revelation of "47 percent" comments that got him in so much trouble? The RNC knows that their candidates' positions on many issues do not resonate with many, many people in the country, including many, many Republicans. They realize that their candidates have a better chance of being elected if the voters don't know their candidates' positions on the issues.

There is a third thing going on, I think, around this attempt to prevent the airing of projects concerning Clinton. Ever since Bill Clinton was elected president, actually ever since before that election, the Republican leadership has made no secret of their hatred for the Clintons, both Hillary and Bill. I think something else they are trying to do here is to erase, to the extent they can, all mention of the former President and the former Secretary of State. It's kind of like the thing that used to happen in ancient Egypt, where an incoming ruler would sometimes to back and obliterate all mention of the former pharaoh by physically scratching his (or her; there were a few female pharaohs) name from every monument they ever had erected.

So, the Republican leadership are showing their asses again. This really should not be a surprise. But you'd think that they would at least hire spokespersons who can conduct himself like an adult, rather than employing people like Reince Priebus, who sounded like a child in a report about this issue, broadcast by ABC News, where he is seen saying that "we are done playing in the sandbox..." in relation to his demands to CNN and NBC.

Priebus might as well have thrown a tantrum, stomped his feet, and come right out and said, "Do what we want, or we're taking our toys and going home."

Monday, August 05, 2013

Movie Monday: The "Doctor Who, Introduction of the Twelfth Doctor" Edition

And, lo, the Twelfth Doctor was made manifest by Auntie Beeb on the fourth day of the eighth month of the two-thousand and thirteenth year of the Common Era, through all the realms of the Earth at the same moment(ish). And much ado was made, and the media went "ooh" and "aah" while the debate began among the fans as to weather the Grand Moffat had made a good choice or a bad.

And some wondered at the exceeding great attention from the mainstream media, which had until recently treated the succession of Doctors with hilarity and comments about geeks and nerds, if they paid any attention at all.

And then the wait began, for it would not be until Christmas Day (or so) until the fullness of The Doctor's new persona would be revealed for all the world to see; and only then would the fullness of the greatness of (or disappointment in) the new Doctor would begin to be revealed.


If you follow along around here, you probably have tripped to the reality that I am a huge "Doctor Who" fan.

I became aware of The Doctor, in his Fourth incarnation, sometime in the mid to late 1970s, when his episodes were aired on my local PBS station here in the States. I also saw a few of the Fifth Doctor's episodes around the time they were originally aired. But I did not become a big fan of the show, however, until the series was revived in 2005, with the Ninth Doctor. Even though I saw the Fourth Doctor first, the Ninth Doctor is MY Doctor.

(For those who are not familiar with the show, it's fans, and it's traditions, most Doctor Who fans have a favorite Doctor, who becomes "their" Doctor. Many times, a person's first Doctor is their favorite; sometimes, as with me, another doctor ends up becoming their favorite. There is much discussion between fans over "their Doctors. There are different Doctors because when an actor in the role decides, for whatever reason, to leave, he - so far, the Doctors have all been male, which is upsetting to some fans - regenerates into a new form. It's a great way to explain why The Doctor looks different, all of a sudden.)

Fans of the show, which has been around on an on and off basis for nearly 50 years (no, really; the first episode of the show aired for its first showing on the BBC on November 23,1963, the day after US President John F. Kennedy was assassinated). It ran from 1963 until it was cancelled in 1989. It was not seen on television again until 1996, when an American-produced made-for-television movie aired on Fox Network and then a couple of weeks later on the BBC. Some sources say that it was aired on Canadian television a couple of days before it turned up on Fox. At any rate, it had been missing from the airwaves for seven years, although it had been kept alive in the minds of the fans of the show through a series of original books.

The 1996 movie did not make the splash that had been hoped, and plans for a new series fell through. Then, in 2005, the BBC revived the series, and it has been running ever since. Despite this long, if interrupted run, while the show is an important part of culture in the UK, it has, until recently, gotten very little attention aside from that of fans.

Something his changed in the past few years, however - largely, I think because of the airing of the show on BBC America here in the States, the show's visibility at the past few San Diego ComicCon extravaganzas, and the mainstreaming of geek culture. And so, the announcement yesterday of who is going to replace Matt Smith and portray the Twelfth Doctor, got quite a bit more attention in the American press.

Some fans are kind of wary of that attention. I'm ambivalent about it. It's a good thing in that more people will have the chance, because of the expanded exposure, to discover the show. On the other hand, it seems like all too often, once a nice, small, cozy cultural phenomenon becomes a Big Media Deal, it seems to go awry somehow. And those of us who are long- or medium-time fans really, really, really don't want that to happen. From my own point of view, it seems kind of weird for so many people to even know about the show. Up until recently, the most common response to a mention of "Doctor Who" is, "Who? What? What the hell are you talking about?"

Now, there are shout-outs to the show in popular American series: "Criminal Minds" has had mentions or plot points related to "Doctor Who" on an ongoing basis; "The Big Bang Theory" has, as well, and so has "Leverage"; an argument between two people over buying "Doctor Who" memorabilia formed a whole subplot of one episode of "Gray's Anatomy". I won't go on; the point is that the visibility of "Doctor Who" in the United States has gone up exponentially in the past few years.

And so, the announcement that Peter Capaldi will replace Matt Smith as The Doctor made a certain amount of a stir yesterday. Capaldi is much better known in the UK than he is in the States, but fans of "Doctor Who" have seen him before. He played a Roman of some social standing whose family is saved from Volcano Day in Pompeii by the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant), and he portrayed British government official in the very dark "Torchwood: Children of Earth" mini-series ("Torchwood" is a spin-off of "Doctor Who".) Capaldi is also an Academy Award winner; "Franz Kafka's It's A Wonderful Life", which he wrote and directed, tied with another film in the category of Best Live Action Short Film.

I'm provisionally happy about the choice. First of all, it's nice to have an older Doctor again. Based on the few other things I've seen him in (the two previously mentioned shows in the "Doctor Who" universe and a role in the second series of the British drama "The Hour"), he's a good actor. Some people are disappointed that a woman or a person of color was not chosen for the role. While I think such a choice would have been a positive and interesting thing, I don't think that it's much of a surprise that the showrunners went in the direction they did. At least they didn't keep up the trend toward younger and younger Doctors. If they had followed that strategy, pretty soon we would have been subject to "Doctor Who - The High School Years". Maybe I'm just getting old and cranky, but that would be a dismal turn of affairs.

We will see, I suppose, where this choice leads. As always with The Doctor, this is likely to be a grand adventure.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Music Sunday: Another Movie Music Edition

I'm not really sure whether this is really a Music Sunday post or a Movie Monday post, but since it's Sunday, I'll classify it as a Music Sunday entry and call it good.

I've been watching the 2007 film "Zodiac" this afternoon. Based on the true story of the hunt for the Zodiac killer, the film stars Jake Gyllenhall, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Robert Downey, Jr., and Brian Cox. It focuses mainly on the crimes attributed to the killer, who was never caught, in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1960s and early 1970s, although there are other crimes at least provisionally attributed to the same man in other regions of California, including a murder in Riverside and two murders in Santa Barbara, and an attack on a woman in Modesto. The Zodiac wrote letters to several newspapers in the Bay Area, giving himself the name "Zodiac" and claiming credit for several murders. Some of the letters claiming to be from Zodiac, especially those after the main crime spree in the Bay Area, were later called hoaxes or from copycats.

Anyway, the movie is a good one, and landed on a lot of year-end "Ten Best" lists in 2007. The film is based on a book, also called "Zodiac", by Robert Graysmith (published in 1986). He was a political cartoonist at the San Francisco Chronicle at the time of the search for the killer, and became interested in (some would say obsessed with) the case at that time, trying to decode the cyphers in the letters received by his paper. In the film, he is portrayed by Jake Gyllenhall.

The other main character in the film is the lead detective on the case, David Toschi, who was on the San Francisco Police Department from 1952 to 1983. He is portrayed in the film by Mark Ruffalo. The interesting thing about Toschi is that he has become sort of a mainstay of portrayals of San Francisco police detectives in film. He was the major inspiration for Clint Eastwood's "Dirty" Harry Callahan in "Dirty Harry" (1971), which was loosely based on the Zodiac case, including using a threat from one of Zodiac's letters, that he would attack a school bus filled with children, as a major plot point. Before that, it is said that Steve McQueen modeled his character in the movie "Bullitt" (1968) largely on Toschi.

Apart from being a good film, the "Zodiac" soundtrack includes some really good music from the period, which is what turns this post into something appropriate for Music Sunday. First of all, because I will use just about any excuse to include a song by Eric Burdon and the Animals in these posts, the band's song "Sky Pilot", from 1968, appears in the film. Here is the long version of the song:

Another song featured in the soundtrack is Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man", also from 1968. As a piece of trivia, Donovan's daughter, actress Ione Skye, plays a small, uncredited role in the film. Here is a live performance of the song from 1968:

There are at least a couple of songs used in the film that are from other movies. First, there is Three Dog Night's version of "Easy to Be Hard" (1969), which comes from the play and film "Hair":

Also originating in another film is Oliver's version of "Jean" (1969), which was written by Rod McKuen for the film "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie":

A third song that was originally written for another film ("Lizzie", from 1957) but that appears on the "Zodiac" soundtrack is "It's Not for Me to Say", with the performance in both films by Johnny Mathis:

There are a lot more good songs on the soundtrack of "Zodiac", but I'm running out of room for this week. I'll end this for today, then, by sharing "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)", from 1971, by Marvin Gaye:

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Medium weirdness while watching a baseball game...

I love baseball.

One of the things I love about baseball is how willing the game is to do promotions that don't, strictly, have anything to do with baseball.

Where, you might ask, did this come from?

Well, first of all, I do love baseball. I was raised to be a baseball fan, and a Los Angeles Dodgers fan specifically. And the Dodgers are doing well this year. So far, at least. As much as I love them, the Dodgers have always sort of had a talent for managing to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. When they're good, they're very, very good, but when they're bad, they're...really, really bad.

But, I didn't come here to talk about the Dodgers today. Because I can't find a Dodgers game to watch at the moment, I'm watching the San Francisco Giants play the Tampa Bay Rays (which used to be called the Devil Rays). Being a Dodgers fan, I don't really like the Giants much, although I've gotten a little more tolerant since Fresno became the home of the Giants' Triple A team, the Grizzlies. Still. I wanted to watch a game, and this is the only one I can find.

During the game, they've been promoting an upcoming special day when the Giants return to San Francisco, a day when they are going to be honoring the Grateful Dead.

Yeah. I know. Made me stop and pay attention, too. I mean, it makes sense. Bay Area team, Bay Area band. But still. The idea just kind of tickles me. And, really, that isn't any odder than ballparks having Stitch and Pitch promotions, where they actively try to get the knitters out to a game, don't hassle us about bringing in our pointy sticks, erm, knitting needles. And it's no stranger than the time I went to a California Angels game (before they became the Anaheim Angels, and then - dear God help us all - the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, all without ever moving stadium) and Alice Cooper sang the national anthem. It made sense; he was promoting an upcoming concert at the stadium.

Baseball has always been an eccentric game, which is one of the reasons I love it so much.

Now, I'm going to watch the game.

Friday, August 02, 2013

What were they thinking?

It's been one of those days, folks. A day that leaves me wondering what to post about because all the things I have considered writing about have an excellent chance of setting me off on a rant. But it's a nice day here, relatively speaking - as it gets close to 5 pm local time it's just 93 degrees F out, with the humidity so low that, the local weather channel tells me, it only feels 87 F. The average high here this time of year is 99 F, so 93 F is more than acceptable. On a nice day like this, I'm reluctant to bring everyone down with a rant.

But...I'm still thinking about yesterday's post, and the thing I heard today come from the mouth of that idiot (Ariel Castro, for those who have not been following along) at his sentencing hearing, something that escaped me when I was watching the news reports yesterday. While he was standing in front of the court justifying himself and blaming everybody else for the things he did, he not only said that his victims had asked him for sex, he also mentioned...just mentioned, mind you...that what he had done to them was okay, since they weren't virgins, anyway, but had had "many" partners before him.

Where do stupid attitudes like that come from, anyway? Who is so ignorant - or thinks they are so entitled - as to believe that if a woman (young or old) who is not a virgin (and I don't know that any of those young women weren't virgins at the time, anyway) is fair game to have anything done to them that some ass like Castro wants to do to them? Really?

So that's got me pissed off.

And then there are the Republicans in the House of Representatives, who are trying their best to cut more and more money from funding for food stamps. First, they wanted to cut about $20 billion from the program. Now, they want to cut $40 billion, setting up a situation where millions of people who need that help could be thrown out of the program.

I guess it's part of their continuing determination to punish the poor for being poor. Or, their delusion that everyone who gets help from the government is a stupid, lazy deadbeat who wants a handout so they can continue to sit around home and get drunk all day. Or whatever it is they think people on government assistance do. I'm not sure why they are unwilling to admit the fact - yes, fact - that the vast majority of food stamp recipients are either children or employed. Yes, Republican leadership, there are working people in this country who make so little that they have to make a choice every day of whether they are going to put a roof over their families' heads or put food on the table, because they cannot do both even though they are working, often two or three jobs. Other food stamp recipients are victims of the economy, people who were formerly employed but lost their jobs in the wake of the Crash of '08, maybe holding on to their jobs for a year or two after the crash but ultimately being downsized by their employers...or being made redundant, as the Brits put it. Many of them are looking for work, but cannot find it. Some have been looking so long that they've spent all their savings and still have no new job. These are people who are professionals, but who would be willing to flip burgers or work a cash register except that employers won't hire them because they are "overqualified."

So that's got me pissed off, too.

And then there's the column I read on Huffington Post today, from the mother who had her son attacked by an adult male during a shopping trip to Wal-Mart because the child was wearing a pink headband. According to the story, the man ripped the headband off the boy's head and started yelling, calling the child s very bad word for homosexual that I will not use here and warning his mother that "he'll get shot for it one day."

First of all, way to be judgmental, jerk. Second, adults do not get to go around touching children who are not theirs. Third, he not only touched the child, he threatened him. And then he just walked away as if what he had just done was natural, normal, respectable, and acceptable. This was a two-year-old child that this adult assaulted. And, to add insult to injury, apparently no one did a thing to help the child, or his mother and little brother who were also there, after the man had departed the scene.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that I probably wouldn't have confronted the man directly if I had seen this occur. There's way too many people running around armed for a confrontation like that to be safe On the other hand, I've got a voice that carries and carries and carries if I choose for it to do so, and I'm not afraid to use it. It was Wal-Mart, for Pete's sake. Wal-Mart has security, and I would have been yelling for it at the top of my lungs. Something like this: "Security! We need Security here! An adult is attacking a child!" And if security didn't arrive quickly enough, I would have made sure the police were being called. But no one even offered the mother assistance or comfort after the man had walked off.

There are multiple issues that this story raises, of course. Why wouldn't anyone get involved, even after the fact? That's one issue. But also, what in the name of all that is holy, would possess anyone to do that - to assume the sexuality of a child, and then attack them if they came to the conclusion that his (or her) sexuality was of a kind that the adult does not approve of? What makes them think it is any of their business?

So, yeah, that story has me pissed off, too.

People are always telling me that I shouldn't get so upset over things like this, since I can't do anything about any of it. I can see their a point. Because, yes, I know there is nothing I can do about any of the things I've ranted about here today. On the other hand, I just can't quite get my mind around not being upset over stuff like this. Because, you know, every time someone gets away with something like attacking a child, or when they can act as if it is fine for our leaders to take away help from people who desperately need it by cutting assistance programs but doing nothing about high unemployment, or when a convicted felon is allowed to stand up before God and everybody and blame his victims for the things he has done...every time someone can do one of these things, it just encourages people to do these things more often.

I know, in the case of Ariel Castro's recitation at his sentencing hearing, one commentator I heard earlier today said that there was nothing the court could do to prevent him from saying the things he did because it was his right to say anything he wanted to at his sentencing. What? The court was powerless to prevent him from torturing his victims one last time?

Like yesterday, I'm calling bullshit.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

I have no words. Well, maybe a few words...

There are no words.

No, really. No words at all.

Ariel Castro, the Cleveland, Ohio, man who kidnapped three young women - Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus - and held them hostage for more than 10 years, was sentenced today. The judge gave him life without parole plus 1,000 years, which, as far as I'm concerned, is probably a lot less than he deserves. Not that I'm a proponent of the death penalty. I'm not. But, you know, even if Castro lives a thousand years, he won't have paid for what he took away from Knight, Berry, and Dejesus.

What I have no words for is what Castro said in court before sentencing. Not going to quote him here. He doesn't deserve that. But, in short, he blamed everything - everything he did, even to his wife before she died - on the women, claiming that he was only a poor sex addict who couldn't help himself. He went so far as to say that the young women he kidnapped asked him for sex. All he did, he said, was not let them leave the house after he took them. He said they lied about what they said he did to them. He said that he isn't a violent person.

Excuse me? What is "not violent" about keeping three young women tied and chained for years? What is "not violent" about repeatedly beating one of the women when she was pregnant so that she would, and did, lose those pregnancies? What is "not violent" about forcing them to play Russian roulette? What the very hell is "not violent" about repeatedly raping his victims?

He also said, as an excuse, that he was sexually abused as a child. That, he apparently thinks, makes what he did not his fault. Except, you know, most of the children who are unfortunate enough to be abused, sexually or otherwise, as children do not grow up to be kidnappers and rapists and all the rest.

He said (I've decided to quote him after all), "I'm not a monster." Yes. Yes, you are. There is, in fact, no other word for what you are. A monster who is using your own misfortune as an excuse for making even more victims. You're as bad as Charlie Manson, who has insisted for decades now that he is only what society made him. You are misogynist who took out your hate on defenseless girls who, if I recall correctly, were all teenagers when you kidnapped them and started to systematically abuse them. You said repeatedly to the police, after you were arrested, that you knew what you were doing was wrong. I think the jury is probably still out on whether or not you actually believe that. If you were capable of understanding that what you were doing was wrong, you had the capacity to seek help rather than just going with the flow and victimizing three young women for more than a decade.

Huh. It turns out that I apparently have words for this after all. Not to mention a whole lot of anger. I might not be so angry if Castro had taken responsibility for any part of what he did. But, no. He chose to place the blame outside of himself. There are a lot of things that people do in this life that aren't completely their fault. This is not the case with Castro. He made conscious choices every step of the way and now chooses to portray himself as the victim in all of this.

I'm calling bullshit.