Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Nice, put those claws away

I had every intention of posting here yesterday.

The cat had other ideas.

A little background: About three weeks ago, my roommate brought home a cat. She'd been looking for a cat to adopt for awhile, and talking about it even longer. So, when a cute little stray turned up in her classroom and kept coming back no matter how many times she took it out and let it go off school grounds, and after it kept coming up to her while she was out supervising on the blacktop, she decided that she had been adopted. Also, the school's administration was going to call animal control, and that wouldn't have been good, so she asked them to put it in the boiler room until the end of the day and then she'd take it home for the weekend, until she could find out if the cat belonged to anyone.

It didn't, as it turned out, and so we got a cat.

The cat, which appears to be a female, had obviously been living rough for awhile. While she is not emaciated, she's skinnier than she needs to be, and so we're feeding her on demand for the time being, until she gains a little weight. But, despite having been on her own for awhile, she has clearly had people in the past. She's cuddly and affectionate and very sweet most of the time.

Most of the time. Which brings me to why I ended up not posting here yesterday.

Apparently, Frost (because she reminds my roommate of her first cat, Frosty) decided yesterday that my function is life is to be her entertainment director. You know, sort of like Julie on "The Love Boat". (Look it up. It's on Wikipedia.) If I tried to read, she'd get between me and my book, wanting attention. If I tried to write on paper (some of us still do that), she'd sit on the paper and try to wrestle the pencil out of my hand so that I'd have both hands free to pet her. If I tried to do something on the computer, she'd sit on the keyboard.

At one point yesterday morning, I wasn't quick enough to pet her, so she nipped my arm just enough to draw blood.

Bad kitty. She got a time out for that one. She got another time out for trying to jump-attack me from the back of a chair in the living room, with claws out. She's still got to learn that she needs to keep her claws and teeth to herself.

No. She really isn't a bad cat. She's just still new to the household, not especially pleased to find that she's now an all-indoor, all-the-time sort of cat. And she is, to all appearances, a teenager. And you know teenagers; their main job title is Tester of Boundaries.

This is all new to me, too. I've never lived with an indoor pet before. And so I'm learning, too...and mostly what I've been learning is that a young cat is like a young child. Frost needs kindness and gentle handling, but she also needs to realize that the Feline Overlord act isn't going to cut it and that she has to learn that there are rules to be followed, and that repeatedly breaking the rules isn't going to make them go away.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Movie Monday: The Academy Awards Edition

I've pretty much decided, after reading some of the comments about Seth McFarlane's turn hosting the Academy Awards last night, that no one, ever, is going to get good reviews, ever again, for doing what is turning out to be a thankless job.

Yeah, he did some tasteless jokes. And while the "Boob Song" wasn't really that funny, people seem to be missing the point that it was supposed to be offensive. It was, sort of. But it wasn't the worst part of the evening. I suppose some people were also offended when McFarlane said that Rex Reed would be out soon to review Melissa McCarthy's stint, with Paul Rudd, as a presenter. The way I read that joke, though, he was insulting Rex Reed and not McCarthy at all after Reed's recent review of McCarthy's most recent film, in which he called McCarthy "fat", among other things, thus confirming the impression Reed gave when he was a regular on all the talk shows in the late 1960s, which is that he is an insufferable jerk.

In fact, to be honest, when I read about the kerfluffle over that review, my first reaction was, "What? Is he still alive?"

This is not to say that McCarthy's and Rudd's routine when they presented the award for Best Animated Short film was any good. In fact, I was disappointed in it and think it was one of the lowlights of the evening. Right up there with John Travolta mangling the pronunciation of "Les Miserables" and the silly thing that the cast of "The Avengers" did when they presented the award for Achievement in Cinematography (I think; I'd slowed way down on taking notes by then).

On the other hand, as far as I'm concerned, there were more highlights than lowlights in the show. Honestly, it was the first Academy Awards show in several years that kept me interested enough that I didn't end up channel-surfing by about 45 minutes into the ceremonies. For one thing, there didn't seem to be a big gap between any of the awards. Usually, there comes a place in the middle of the show when they seem to go for ages without presenting an award. Last night's show, however, kept up a decent pace all the way through, from the opening on.

I've also noticed from the morning-after reviews that I saw, that some people objected to the inclusion of William Shatner as Captain Kirk, traveling back in time from the 23rd century to warn McFarlane that he had gone down in history as the worst host ever. Well, I'm not anything like a Shatner fan, but I am a huge "Star Trek" fan, and I loved that aspect of the opening. I also liked Charlize Theron and Channing Tatum dancing, as well as Daniel Radcliffe and Joseph Gordon-Levitt's song-and-dance to "High Hopes", not a song I generally enjoy. The Sally Field thing was a little muddled and a bit too long but, as usual, nothing is perfect.

Overall, I didn't think Seth McFarlane was a wonderful choice to host (then again, I miss Johnny Carson, who hosted several times), but I'll take him over Billy Crystal (who I'm not a big fan of) any day. Maybe this is because I am apparently the only person in the known universe who, before last night, was not familiar at all with any of McFarlane's work and so did not have an opinion of him going in. At least, he wasn't anywhere near as objectionable as Ricky Gervais in his recent turns hosting the Golden Globes.

The thing is, McFarlane did get off some great lines, such as when he addressed all the nominees by saying, "So, you got nominated for an Oscar. Something a nine-year-old can do." Because, you know, that's just what Quvenzhane Wallis did, for her role in "Beasts of the Southern Wild". But his best wasn't even really much of a line. He said, "The next presenter needs no introduction." And then he walked off, and Meryl Streep came onstage. Brilliant, only because he didn't go on to introduce her and because she really does need no introduction.

I was especially surprised that the show last night held my attention because I haven't seen any of the nominees. Or so I thought. It turns out that I have seen two of the nominees for Best Animated Feature. I recently saw "Para-Norman", and I also recently saw the winning entry, "Brave". Still, that's not much. I've heard enough about the nominees, though, that I did have some favorites, and some of them even won.

Chief among those favorites was the winning Best Picture, "Argo". It is the only one of the films nominated for Best Picture that I'm really looking forward to seeing. Oh, I'd like to see "Lincoln" and "Zero Dark Thirty", but other than that, not so much. I think "Silver Linings Playbook" might be a good film, and I'm sort of interested to see "Django Unchanied", but I mostly want to see that Tarantino film because I'm curious to know if it is as objectionable as I've heard it is.

And, even though I've heard it is very objectionable, I was kind of glad to see that Quentin Tarantino won the award for Best Original Screenplay. This is mostly because I have no interest in any of the other films nominated in that category, with the possible exception of "Moonrise Kingdom", but that's only because Wes Anderson's films (he was nominated for writing this one along with Roman Coppola) seem to always be so eccentric. Coppola, by the way, is the sixth person in his family to be nominated for an Academy Award.

In a bit of a surprise, Best Director went to Ang Lee for "Life of Pi". I think most people thought, with Ben Affleck not getting nominated for his direction of "Argo" even though he seems to have won just about every other directing award this season for his efforts on the film, that Steven Spielberg would probably win for his direction of "Lincoln".

Because I was rooting for "Argo", I was also happy to see that Chris Terrio won Best Adapted Screenplay for that film, again just because it seems like such an interesting movie. I was also glad to see that the Best Documentary Feature award went to "Searching for Sugar Man". Again, I haven't seen it but, as I've written here before, I've read some things about it that make it sound very interesting to me. I'm kind of left wondering, though, if "The Invisible War" was handicapped by the fact that there has been so much controversy surrounding it. There were some very vocal objections to it because the documentary, which is about sexual assault in the US military, focused almost exclusively on the women who have been assaulted and almost completely ignored that there have been men who have also been subject to sexual assault in the military.

I was a little disappointed that "Fresh Guacamole" didn't win the award for Best Animated Short Film. I saw what I suspect was the whole thing on CBS "Sunday Morning" yesterday, and it is brilliant and cool. I don't know anything about the other nominees in the category, but I can't imagine how they could top this little gem.

I really didn't have any favorites in the acting categories, other than I kind of hoped that Philip Seymour Hoffman would have won as Best Supporting Actor, for his role in "The Master", just on general principles because he is currently my favorite actor and has been wonderful in everything I've ever seen him in, from "Twister" (which is the first thing I ever saw him in) on. He didn't win; Christoph Waltz did, for his role in "Django Unchained". I was happy to see Anne Hathaway win for her role in "Les Miserables", because I've never seen her in a role where I didn't like her acting. On the other hand, it would have been interesting to see what Sally Field would have said if she had won, since her line about the Academy "really liking me" the last time she won has become so iconic.

It was really no surprise that Daniel Day-Lewis won the award as Best Actor in a Leading Role. I think everyone was convinced that it was the only logical outcome, although there was some buzz both for Hugh Jackman and Bradley Cooper. I loved Day-Lewis's comments when he accepted the award, which was handed to him by Meryl Streep. In case you didn't watch, he did this extended comment about how originally, he had been slated to play Margaret Thatcher (which Streep did recently in "Iron Lady") and that Streep had been scheduled to play Lincoln. And then he said, "I'd like to see that version." Day-Lewis also thanked his wife, saying that in the 16 years they've been married, she's had to live with quite a collection of strange men, commenting on his reputation that when he's making a film, he stays in his character 24/7. It is also worth noting that with last night's win, Day-Lewis becomes the only actor in history for winning the Best Actor in a Leading Role award three times. The other two were for "My Left Food" and "There Will Be Blood".

Day-Lewis is going to to have to come up with another award-winning leading role, however, to even equal Katherine Hepburn's four Academy Awards as Best Actress in a Leading Role. She won for "Morning Glory" in 1933, for "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" in 1968, for "The Lion in Winter" in 1969 (when she tied with Barbra Streisand, who won for "Funny Girl"), and for "On Golden Pond" in 1982.

Best Actress in a Leading Role went to Jennifer Lawrence for her role in "Silver Linings Playbook". The audience gave her a standing ovation after she stumbled on the stairs as she made her way to the stage to accept the award.

"Skyfall", with music and lyrics by Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth, from the James Bond film "Skyfall", won as Best Original Song, which also pleased me, simply because it sounds like a Bond song should sound. "Skyfall" actually won two Oscars last night, the other in a tie with "Zero Dark Thirty" for Best Sound Editing. As many have commented this morning, that's a lot of Academy Awards for a Bond film..

There was also a tribute to 50 years of Bond films, with Dame Shirley Bassey present to sing what is probably the best-known of the Bond songs, "Goldfinger". At the beginning of her performance, her voice sounded a bit shaky, but I'm going to blame that on nerves, because she soon sounded more confident and gave a performance that received a standing ovation. It is also notable that Barbra Streisand sang "The Way We Were" in a tribute to composer Marvin Hamlisch, who died recently. Streisand was in great voice and, at age 70, doesn't seem to have lost a bit of her voice to age.

I think I've covered most of the major categories, most of the highlights, and most of the lowlights. "Life of Pi" won the most awards on the night, with four. "Argo" won three awards, as did "Les Miserables". "Lincoln", "Skyfall", and "Django Unchained" each won two. So, none of the films can claim to have swept the awards.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Music Sunday: The "Best Original Song" Edition

It's Music Sunday, of course, but it's also Academy Awards day, so it probably isn't difficult to figure out that I'm going to be writing about songs that have been nominated and/or have won the Oscar for Best Original Song.

I haven't got a clue what songs have been nominated this year, other than the fact that the song from the newest Bond movie, "Skyfall", is up, along with something from "Les Miserables" is nominated. The past few years, not to many of the nominated songs have been especially memorable. The last winner that sticks in my mind is the song from "Hustle & Flow", "It's Hard Out There For a Pimp", and that is memorable mostly because of all the hype surrounding the performance of the song on the awards show that year. That was nominated for 2005.

Looking over the list of winners and nominees since the award was first given at the 7th Academy Awards, for movies released in 1934, I'm interested in the songs that have won, but in some cases more interested in the movies that didn't win.

For example, in 1980, "Fame", from the film of the same name, about a high school for the arts in New York, won the award. On the other hand, Willie Nelson's iconic song, "On the Road Again", which he wrote for the film "Honeysuckle Rose", in which he also starred, was nominated, but did not win. Here is the way the song appeared over the opening credits in the film:

Another very popular song, from a very popular film "Nine to Five", was also nominated that year, but did not win. The song, also titled "Nine to Five" was written by another icon, Dolly Parton. I'm not having any success finding a clip of the song as i appeared in the film, but here is a live performance of the song, sung by Parton and Melissa Etheridge:

In 1996, "You Must Love Me", from the film "Evita", with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, won the award. Here is Madonna, who played the title role in the film, singing the song:

I can understand why this won that year. On the other hand, one of the other nominated songs that year was "That Thing You Do!", with music and lyrics written by Adam Schlesinger, from the film of the same name (with bonus subtitles in Spanish:

Yeah, it's just a pop song. But it is a pop song very much of the time the story takes place and, I think, fits the film and it's vibe perfectly. And, call me old-fashioned, but I think that's part of what should be taken into consideration when thinking about voting for this award.

And then there are they years in which all the songs nominated seem to be on an equal footing. Take 1984, when "I Just Called To Say I Love You", written by Stevie Wonder, from the film "The Woman in Red", won Best Original Song. The other nominees were "Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)", by Phil Collins, from the film of the same name; "Footloose", by Kenny Loggins and Dean Pitchford, from "Footloose"; "Let's Hear It For The Boy", by Tom Snow and Dean Pitchford, also from "Footloose"; and "Ghostbusters", by Ray Parker, Jr., from "Ghostbusters". My favorite of the bunch is the Phil Collins song from "Against All Odds". It was a so-so film, but the song deserved to be among the nominees and, I think, should have won:

Yes, I know. The winner was Stevie Wonder. Still, and again, I'll go for the song that fits the film the best every time.

Not that it's always an easy call. In 1968, "The Windmills of Your Mind", with music by Michel Legrand and lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, from the original version of "The Thomas Crown Affair", won the award. I've shared that here before, more than once if memory serves, but I haven't shared this full version of the song, which appears in a shorter version in the film:

And I'm just fine with it getting the win. But it was up against "Funny Girl", with music by Jule Styne and Lyrics by Bob Merrill, from the film of the same name and starring Barbra Streisand:

As far as I'm concerned, this one could have won easily as well. Great song, fits the vibe of the film, does its job telling the story.

I could go on, but this has gotten long enough for one day, and the cat keeps wanting to walk all over the keyboard.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

It's a mystery to me...

Someday I'm going to figure out why I keep reading Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta mysteries.

I'm not saying that they aren't good books, and I'm not saying that Cornwell isn't a good writer. It's just that there is something...I don't know...unsettling is the best word I can come up with, something unsettling about her books.

I just finished Scarpetta (Berkeley Books, 2008; 579 pages), and once again I'm not sure how I feel about the novel. This is the same place I find myself after reading most of Cornwell's books. On the one hand, I finished reading it, in fact found the last half of the book so compelling that I read until I fell asleep last night and woke up at 6:30 this morning to finish reading it. The first half, on the other hand, took me about a week to get through, partly because I was busy doing other things that needed to be done, but partly because I could only take so much of the book at a time and kept having to put it down.

At least this one wasn't written in the first person, present tense which, as I've said here before, probably in connection with other books by Cornwell (since I can't think, off the top of my head) of another novelist who uses that form), drives me crazy. On the other hand, the vast majority of the nearly 600 pages of the novel take place in just about one 24-hour period. Either that, or the time sense of the book is so off that I wasn't able to tell that more time had gone by.

Having almost the entire action of a novel take place in one day or so isn't a problem in and of itself. In fact, I'd like to try to tell a story that way at some point. It's just that those are a lot of pages to take to describe the action taking place in a single day. To Cornwell's credit, she manages this without unneeded details while she moves the story along at a quicker pace than one would imagine, given the time frame occupied by the story.

My biggest complaint about the book is that I figured out who the bad guy was fairly early in the story. On the other hand, after I was fairly sure who the murderer was, the game became to try to figure out exactly how everything fit together. Cornwell did a pretty good job of concealing that until close to the end of the story. It was an enjoyable read, especially the second half of the book.

Still, as always with Cornwell's books, I was somehow unsettled the whole time I was reading, and I still feel that way a little bit now that I've finished reading the thing. I don't know. Maybe she sets out to do that to the reader. If so, she has succeeded beyond her wildest dreams, at least with this reader. I'm not sure why a writer would set out to do that, but I'm sure stranger things have happened.

Despite the unease I felt reading the book, I do recommend it for those of you who like mysteries. Cornwell will probably never be my favorite writer but, despite the experimental feel, stylistically speaking, of some of her work, she is undoubtedly a very good writer.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

And what did you do today?

Have you ever had one of those weeks where you think it must be Friday, but it's only Wednesday?

I don't know what it is this week, but it has just seemed like the longest week in the history of the universe. What makes it even stranger is that my roommate, who is a teacher, had Monday off for President's Day, and so it should really only feel like Tuesday today. But instead, it seems like the week has just dragged on for ever.

Maybe it has something to do with having to arrange schedules and confirm appointments for Practice Interview Days at CVP, where I'm doing volunteer work while I look for a job myself. This is the first time I've done this, and so it's been kind of labor-intensive while I figure things out. I got good, helpful instructions from the gentleman who usually does this, and so it's gone mostly smoothly. Not completely smoothly, but well enough for a first time out, I guess.

Well, we will see just how smoothly or not it has gone. the actual practice interviews take place Thursday and Friday.

And the point of telling you all of this? The point is, I've been so wrapped up in getting the finishing things done on this project that I just realized a few minutes ago - at about twenty minutes to 9 pm local time - that I hadn't written a post yet today.

Maybe tomorrow I'll be less distracted, once day one of the interviews are over.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

What did you say?

Something I read today made me starting thinking about "dirty" words and how we relate to them.

Being a writer, I love all the words, and I don't mind using most of them. What we consider dirty words, or cussing, or whatever you want to call it, don't bother me at all, in principle. Now, I have to admit that it can get on my nerves when someone can't manage to use those words correctly or can't spell them, it bothers me. That's just the grammar snob in me. That includes using them every other word, because that's just not creative. But the words themselves? They don't bother me.

I can remember being in the eleventh grade and having a very serious conversation with a couple of other students in my mythology class about this. We decided that words are just words, and that none of them are "bad" in and of themselves. They only take on the meaning we assign to them as a culture and as users of whatever language we happen to speak.

Which brings me to what I read today that made me think about all this. In the (online) conversation, which had to do with which form of a particular phrase was correct, someone mentioned some of what they thought of as silly expressions used where they live, or used to live (that wasn't quite clear) in Utah. They named several that I was familiar with, such as "Oh, my heck." But I lived in Utah for a short while a long time ago, too, and they missed my own personal favorite substitute word.


As in "What the fetch?" Or, as in "Oh, fetch."

I'll bet you've already figured out what word fetch stands for in both of these phrases.

I always found it very silly when I heard those coming out of the mouths of the Mormons I knew who used "fetch" as a substitute for "fuck", both in Utah and here in California. I suppose some other cultural or religious group might use the same substitution, but I've never heard anyone not Mormon use that particular one. Because, of course, they were good Mormons, and couldn't possibly allow the word "fuck" to cross their lips. God might get mad at them.

It used to drive the people I knew who used that substitution to distraction, because I would always call them on it. "You know," I would say to them, "just because you don't say "fuck" doesn't mean you aren't thinking it. And isn't thinking it as bad as saying it, according to the church?"

"Oh, no", they would always insist. "As long as I don't say that word, it's fine."

And I would insist right back that what mattered was what they were thinking, and explain my theory that a word means whatever meaning we assign to it. So, if they were saying "fetch" where anyone else would say "fuck" - and they were - that was their meaning and their intention and, according to their religion, they shouldn't be saying it.

I got a lot of tortured rationalizations from them about the use of "fetch", and I doubt that I ever really convinced any of them that saying "fetch" was the moral equivalent of saying "fuck", and so using their word was just as much a violation of their religious beliefs as going ahead and saying "fuck". I'd tell them that as long as that was the meaning they were conveying, they might as well use the correct word. Because, you know, "fetch", in general usage, doesn't mean anything near what they are using it for. Really. "What the go get me that thing over there and bring it to me?" That is absolutely not how they were using the word when the said, "What the fetch?" There are other meanings of the word "fetch", too. I went and looked it up. But none of those meanings make any sense at all when it is used in "What the fetch?"

It's like using "darn" for "damn" or "heck" for "hell". You aren't using the correct terminology. And I am enough of a grammar snob that this bothers me. A lot.

You know, if someone doesn't want to swear or cuss out of a philosophical or religious opposition to doing so, that's fine with me. But if that's the case, they shouldn't turn around and just use other words in the place of what they consider to be curse words. It defeats the whole purpose of not swearing when they do that.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Movie Monday: The "Charlie Wilson's War" Edition

Not much time today; I've been busy doing CVP stuff, getting ready for Practice Interviews later this week and doing other real-life stuff.

However, I got a chance to re-watch one of my favorite movies of the last few years, "Charlie Wilson's War" (2007), directed by Mike Nichols and starring starring Tom Hanks, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Julia Roberts. No matter which side you come down on regarding the politics of the time involved - and it is based on actual events, so there are sides to come down on - it is a great movie, very well written by Aaron Sorkin.

First, a trailer for the film, which I think relates the flavor of the film very well, and gives context:

If you get the feeling that one of the messages of the film is that the lunatics are running the asylum, I don't think you would be too far off. Sadly, I also don't think the film is too far from the truth in that respect.

I also thought that I'd leave a couple of scenes with you, rather than try to summarize the events.

First, my favorite scene from the film is this one, featuring Philip Seymour Hoffman, who is an amazing actor. This scene shows why, I think, as he completely disappears into his role as a CIA agent. He is very unhappy with his immediate boss in this scene. I do have to WARN you that there is LANGUAGE in this clip that you might not want your kids to hear:

And then there's this scene, where Hanks's character, Congressman Charlie Wilson, finds out that he is in danger of being indicted over misconduct at the same time as he is trying to make a deal with Hoffman's character to obtain funding for the Mujahideen fighting Soviet troops in Afghanistan. This scene contains my favorite quote in the film:

I mean, really. "I wasn't listening at the door. Don't be an idiot. I bugged the scotch bottle." How great a line is that?

So. See "Charlie Wilson's War" if you have the chance. I'm a sucker for movies that are serious and funny at the same time. I recommend this one highly.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Music Sunday: The 1964 Edition

1964 was an important year for me, musically speaking.

It was the year I became aware of rock and roll, at the tender age of seven. I think I've probably written about that here before, about how I watched The Beatles the first time they were on The Ed Sullivan Show, peeking from around the piano because I was supposed to be in bed. It was a school day the next day, after all. It was quite an awakening for me, and after that, when my friends from second grade were running home after school to watch cartoons, I was running home to watch the local music/dance shows, mostly in the same tradition as American Bandstand.

I was a sickeningly precocious child, I suppose. But it was good music.

The Beatles, of course, hit the charts with several records that year. There was "She Loves You" and "I Want To Hold Your Hand", of course, as well as "Can't Buy Me Love", "I Feel Fine", and "Twist and Shout". My favorite from that year, though, was "A Hard Day's Night", from their first film:

The Animals released "House of the Rising Sun" in 1964. Here they perform the song for a television show in the UK in July of '64:

Meanwhile, on the US side of the Atlantic, The Beach Boys released "I Get Around". In this clip, from November 6,1964, the band performs both "I Get Around" and "When I Grow Up", on Ready Steady Go. It was their first television appearance in the UK:

It wasn't just the men who were making the charts in 1964. Here is Mary Wells, singing "My Guy", in a promotional clip from that year:

Also released in 1964 was "Dancing in the Street", co-written by Marvin Gaye and performed by Martha and the Vandellas, here in a performance on Ready Steady Go:

Rock and roll wasn't the only music that was popular in 1964, though. For example, Shirley Bassey had a big hit with the title song from the James Bond film "Goldfinger". Here is how it appears over the opening credits in the film:

1964 was a good year for music, and there are a lot more songs I would have liked to share, but I think these are enough for now. Enjoy.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Look! Up in the sky! It's...a meteor

I had a busy day yesterday. The details aren't important. And I only mention that fact in order to explain why I didn't write about the Russian meteor yesterday. Because I would have, if I had had the time.

I woke up to reports of the meteor, which exploded over the city of Chelyabinsk, in Russia early Friday morning their time. For such a serious event, some of the reporting and expert commentary was kind of, oh, casual. This included comments from theoretical physicist Michio Kaku on one of the morning shows, calling the event "as good as it gets". I understand that from the point of view of astrophysicists and such, it was an interesting event. However, I doubt that the residents of Chelyabinsk, a city of something over a million people just east of the Ural Mountains, would call the event "good". I mean, lots of windows got blown out (not a good thing when the nighttime temperatures were set to go below zero), a lot of people were injured, mostly by flying glass, and even more nerves were shattered.

There are a couple of things that interest me about this event. Well, three at least.

First, there is the coincidence of this happening on the same day as an asteroid was scheduled to pass within about 17,000 miles of earth. And, according to all the experts I've heard, it was a coincidence. People who know about trajectories and such studied the video footage of the meteor and said that the two were not traveling the same path. Adding to the coincidence, at the same time the meteorite exploded, a UN conference was being held in Vienna to discuss the creation of an asteroid early warning system.

Second, it was said that this was the biggest event of it's kind since the Tunguska event, in 1908. That was a much bigger explosion that flattened an estimated 80 million trees over an area of 830 square miles. If the event over Chelyabinsk had been that powerful, there wouldn't be a Chelyablinsk left. While the most accepted explanation for the Tunguska event is that an asteroid exploded in the air over the region, much like the smaller meteor explosion yesterday, there are still a number of theories floating around to explain Tunguska, some more plausible and serious than others. What interests me about this is that, while it looks on the map like there is quite a bit of distance between Tunguska and Chelyablinsk (in a quick search, I couldn't find the distance between the two), the two events did take place very much in the same part of the world.

Third, I am amused by the rapidity with which the conspiracy theories about yesterday's event began to propagate. Not that this is unusual in and of itself. It seems like just about every event has a few conspiracy theories to go with it. But one report I saw on claims that a voice can be heard on one of the videotapes of the event saying, just after the event that "It must have been the Chinese!" Others speculated in the Russian press that it wasn't really a meteorite that caused the blast, but a US weapons test. Others speculated that, while it was a meteor that exploded over the city, the blast was not spontaneous but instead the result of it being shot down by the Russian military. It will be interesting to see, in the coming days and weeks, what other theories will make the rounds.

I'll keep an eye out, and if anything interesting comes up, I'll pass it along.

Meanwhile, I'm about to go out the door to attend a job fair this morning. I'm not convinced of the utility of job fairs for actually finding jobs, but I'm at that point where I'm willing to give most anything a try in relation to finding actual work. We're still way above the national average for unemployment here in my county, and I don't know anyone who actually believes the official numbers. I've heard speculation that the real unemployment rate around here is closer to 20 percent that the 14 percent or so in the last numbers I heard from the government.

Wish me luck.

And keep an eye on the sky.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Not your usual Valentine's Day dance...

I love tap dancing.

I've loved it ever since I began taking dance lessons when I was in the second grade. I took both ballet and tap, and while I enjoyed doing both, tap was a lot more fun for me. I only kept up lessons until I was in fifth grade, at which time I quit because it was a deeply uncool thing to do. Also because I couldn't really progress any farther in ballet, as I've got very high arches and my teacher refused to put me in pointe shoes because, she said, it would have ruined my feet. So, quitting ballet made sense, but I really wish I had continued with tap.

And yes, there is a reason why I mention this today, particularly. In looking around the Internet to see what is going on today, I discovered that February 14 was Gregory Hines' birthday. Hines might be better known to many people as an actor, but he was a tap dancer first, starting to tap at the age of three and beginning to perform at age five. He had an act with his brother, Maurice, and together they were known as "The Hines Kids" and then as "The Hines Brothers". When their father joined the act in 1963, they became known as "Hines, Hines, and Dad".

When Hines began acting, his dance talent found its way into some of his films, including in "White Nights", where he played an American dancer who had defected to the Soviet Union who gets mixed up in the action when the plane carrying a Soviet ballet dancer, played by Mikhail Baryshnikov, crash-lands in Siberia. Although it is primarily an action movie, there is dancing, as well, as here:

And then there is this, in which Hines pays tribute to, and then shares the stage with, Sammy Davis, Jr.:

Gregory Hines left us in 2003, and that is a huge loss. But thanks to film and videotape, performances like these of his will last. And so will the clip I will leave you with today, which is one of the coolest and most amazing things I have ever seen. It is from the 1955 film "It's Always Fair Weather", and if you stick with the clip to about 2 minutes and 19 seconds into it, you'll find Gene Kelly, another great dancer, tap dancing...on roller skates.

I had to pick my jaw up off the floor the first time I saw this. Besides taking tap lessons, I also took roller skating lessons at about the same time as my dance lessons. It would have never occurred to me, however, that anyone would even attempt to tap on skates.

It occurs to me that I should put a "don't try this at home" warning on that last clip. So, you know, don't, unless you have better balance than I do.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Not so perfect after all...

Did you have perfect attendance when you were in school? Do you make it to work every single day, no matter what?

Even when you're sick?

Don't do that. And now, some schools are de-emphasizing their awards for students with perfect attendance, finally recognizing that sick kids don't belong in school. And that is a very good thing.

Yes, it is important to be in class. I'm old-fashioned that way. Unless a class was so dismal or ill-taught that I just couldn't stand it, I was in class every day I could be. And, believe me, there were classes like that. The upper division history course, for example, where all the professor ever did was show bad videos. I skipped the whole last half of the semester and apparently didn't miss a thing, since I ended up with an A on the final and for the semester. This is not, however, the recommended way to do school.

But, you know, if you're sick, you need to stay home and take care of yourself, whether we're talking about school, work, or just going out shopping.

The community college system I attended here in California had a very strict attendance policy: If you missed more than a total of a week of classes, the instructor could drop you. That meant, for example, if you were taking a Monday/Wednesday/Friday class, you got three absences for the semester. If you were taking a once-a-week night class, you got one absence. Some instructors made the whole thing even more draconian, docking one grade for every absence over the allowed number, whether you had a good excuse or not.

This led to people coming in to class with fevers, contagious, coughing and sneezing. In one night course I took, it led to a woman showing up the week after she had given birth, new baby in tow. She had only missed the week before because she was actually having the baby during the class period.

Now, I know why the district had such a strict policy. Because the community college system in California is technically part of the K-12 system, they generate their money from the state through FTEs. This means that the schools get their money by having students' butts in seats, just like elementary schools, junior high schools, and high schools. If a student is absent on a particular day, the school doesn't get their money for that student for that day. It isn't exactly one-to-one like that, and there is a formula to figure FTE's, but it essentially boils down to that. The schools, then, have a vested interest in having every student in school every day.

But, as the linked article points out, some schools here in California are looking at whether having awards for perfect attendance encourages kids to come to school even when they are ill, which isn't good for the ill student and isn't good for the healthy kids, who might get sick when a contagious child shows up for class anyway. I don't know how many colds I got when I was working in the tutorial center at communnity college and got sneezed or coughed on by someone who had come to school, and to their tutorial sessions, sick. I would have had countless cases of the flu, as well, probably, except that I don't get the flu through some fluke of my immune system.

Personal experience makes me believe that employers should also rethink their sick leave policies. Now, if you're employed full time, you probably have some sort of system where you get to take a day or two or three off when you're ill. However, many retail stores who employ lots of part-time help, don't have any mechanism for sick leave for their employees.

This was the situation when I worked in retail. Part-time workers (which was everyone except management) could not accrue sick days and had to take off without pay if they were sick. First of all, many of those hourly employees could not afford to take a day off and so showed up sick. Above and beyond that, management discouraged workers from taking days off even when they were sick.

I got sick at work one day, with a horrible cold. I was miserable, sneezing and coughing, and the sore throat that came along with it made me completely lose my voice by the end of my shift. The next day, I called in sick - or rather attempted to, and finally had to have my mother talk to the person on the other end of the line because I couldn't make myself understood. I was told that I had to come in anyway, even though I couldn't talk. I wasn't sure how I was supposed to interact with customers (I was a cashier, and that was part of the job), but they wanted me there.

I told them no, that I would not be there, that I was going to the doctor if they wanted a note, but that there was no way I could work. I was threatened with firing if I didn't show. In the event, they didn't fire me, but my hours were cut back for a couple of weeks after I came back (I only missed that one shift that I was scheduled for), as punishment for being sick, I guess.

It will probably be a long time before some employers get the idea that having employees working sick is not good policy. But, with even a few schools leading the way, maybe the rest of the schools and at least some of the employers around the country will get finally get with the program and realize that a sick student is not going to learn well and an ill employee is not going to be very productive.

It will be interesting to see how this new paradigm develops, especially in an age when we worry more and more about things like flu pandemics and emerging diseases.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

"No" is a full sentence...

There were many reasons why I left the LDS (Mormon) church. One of those reasons was that they just can't take no for an answer.

Take callings. While they'll tell you that callings (jobs in the church) are voluntary, when I was in the church I was taught that turning down a calling was something that a good Mormon just doesn't do. The theory is that it isn't the bishop or the stake president who is doing the calling. It is "The Lord" himself who has decided that you are the correct person for the job, and if you say no, you're saying no to God, which will disappoint him mightily.

When I was a Mormon, I had several experiences with this principle. I usually said yes, even when it wasn't a job I wanted or would be good at. At one point, when I was just out of high school, I was called to teach Sunday School to the three-year-olds. I tried to explain to the bishop that I am not good with toddlers. "Oh," was the reply, "but it will be good practice for when you have your own children." What I wanted to say was that I had already decided that I wasn't having any, but that would have not been wise. Good Mormons don't say no to having children, either. So, being young and inexperienced, I caved and said I'd do it.

I'm not sure why that calling ended, but it didn't last long. It probably had something to do with the little golden boy in my class whose parents thought he was the be-all and end-all of the universe and, as such, should be catered to at all times. Of course, that meant that he was constantly disrupting class activities and being a general butt. I suspect that Mom and Dad didn't like that someone was saying no to their little darling and had me replaced. Fine with me.

Some years later, I was called to work with the little ones again, this time as a Primary teacher. At the time, Primary was held on an afternoon during the week as a teaching and activity day for children to the age of twelve. I can't remember what age I had that time; it seems like it was the five-year-olds, but it was years ago and I can't recall for sure. At any rate, I was put in charge of fairly young children again. Again, when I protested, I was told it would get me ready for my own children. I think I might have rolled my eyes, but again I didn't say anything about being childless by choice. And again, I caved and said yes. I was miserable the whole time I had that calling.

A bit after that I was called to be the Single Adult women's representative for my ward (congregation). Well, I wasn't actually officially extended the call. Instead, one of the stake Young Adult officers, whose mother had been friends with my mother since before either of us was born and before either family had any idea about Mormons, called me up to sound me out about taking the calling. By that time I had fallen into semi-activity in the church. Callings are one of the ways the Mormons use to reactivate members who don't come to church much.

That time, I said no. I wasn't interested. By that time, the Church had been instrumental in defeating the Equal Rights Amendment in the states, and I had no desire to participate in a leadership role in an organization that had done that. I recall there being lots of angst that I had said no to The Lord (you could hear the capital letters in people's voices every time they said that). But, I finally convinced them that I was serious and would not take the job.

But, it isn't just callings. Once I left the church for good (I was in and out a lot before I finally managed to say no to the church itself; for reasons that I can't quite fathom now, I really wanted it all to be true for a long time), I told them that I didn't want any contact from the church. They are supposed to honor that. However, I still get a call or a letter or a knock on the door at least once a year from people from the church, contacting me to see if I really mean that I don't want any contact.


Who does that? What part of "No" they don't understand is beyond me at this point. Perhaps they think I'm so stupid that if I did decide I wanted to go back to church, I wouldn't be able to find the proper ward to attend. Mormons, as I might have mentioned here before, do not get to pick which congregation they attend, but are assigned a ward based on where they live. Or maybe they think I would start giving them money if I went back. Good Mormons are very serious about tithing ten percent of their increase (which is defined differently by different people) to the church.

I don't wish individual Mormons ill. And I know that as individuals, some Mormons deplore that their church goes out and bothers former members who don't want to be bothered, even if they don't go through the motions of asking to be taken off the church's rolls. But the institution just doesn't get it. They think that if you don't jump through their hoops to resign from the church, that gives them the right to bother you as they see fit.

But, you know. I said no to them. As far as I'm concerned, that's all I need to do. A church is a voluntary organization. If I say I'm not interested any more, I'm not interested. Part of saying I'm not interested is that I am removing my permission for them to contact me. If that bothers their bean-counters, that isn't my fault and it isn't my problem.

I don't go knock on their doors, or show up at their church services, or call their members, and make them listen to why I don't attend any more. I expect them to respect me enough to extend the same courtesy to me, and quit bothering me.

Of course, that's probably too much for me to ask of the institutional church.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Music Sunday on Monday: The Record of the Year Edition

Pretend it's Sunday. No, really. Just for a few minutes, pretend that it's Music Sunday and this post isn't a day late. Blame it on the cat that adopted my roommate at the end of the week.

Since last night was the Grammy Awards (boring show, as far as I'm concerned, but that's beside the point), I thought I'd review some of the past winners of "Record of the Year", one of the most anticipated awards each year when the Grammys are handed out.

In 1960, Bobby Darin's version of "Mack the Knife" won as Record of the Year. This Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht song from "The Threepenny Opera" is one of my favorite songs, and Darin's version is my preferred version of the song. This clip is a live performance, but I'm not sure where or when it was given:

An instrumental, "A Taste of Honey", by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass won Best Record in 1966, beating out, among other songs, The Beatles' "Yesterday". This video of the song is from about 1966 or 1967, depending on which source you believe:

The next year, Frank Sinatra's "Strangers in the Night" won this category. Among the other songs nominated in 1967 were "Monday, Monday", by the Mamas and the Papas, and something called "Winchester Cathedral", by The New Vaudeville Band. I'm not sure, again, exactly when this live performance of the song was given, but it was years after the song first came out:

Just in case you've never heard of "Winchester Cathedral" (the song, not the actual cathedral), it is best described as a novelty song, which might leave you wondering exactly how it got nominated for any kind of a Grammy, much less Record of the Year. It was popular at the time, but, well, just listen and tell me if you think this is really award material:

Fast forward a couple of decades, to 1986, when Grammy voters awarded Record of the year to USA for Africa's "We Are The World". I suppose just the fact that they got that many artistic egos into the same room at the same time was an accomplishment of epic proportions. The fact that they got a pretty good song out of it, I think, is even more astonishing given the wide variety of singing styles involved.

Among the songs "We Are the World" beat out for this award were Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA", Don Henley's "The Boys of Summer" and Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing", all very good songs that might have won in another year.

Perhaps the most surprising Record of the Year winner, given that it was so political, was in 2007, when "Not Ready to Make Nice", by the Dixie Chicks won. It was the song they recorded in the wake of the controversy over singer Natalie Maines' comments regarding then-president George W. Bush and the (at the time of the comments) impending invasion of Iraq. But it is a wonderful song:

Since it is Monday, and since I should be writing Movie Monday instead of Music Sunday today, let me just recommend the documentary "Shut Up & Sing", about the controversy in the aftermath of the comments that led to the song. No matter what side you are on regarding those comments and the fallout from them, it is a good film that deserves to be seen.

There are many other songs I could have included here that have won Record of the Year over the years, but these are some of my favorites.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Live fast...

Had he lived, James Dean would have turned 82 years old today.

Of course, had he lived to see his birthday this year, he would probably not be the acting legend he is. He would have gone on to appear in many more films than he did, and some of them would have been bad films, and probably some of his performances would not have lived up to the standard he set in the three roles he is famous for: Cal Trask in "East of Eden", Jim Stark in "Rebel Without a Cause", and Jett Rink in "Giant". I say this not to discount the obvious talent he displayed in those roles; it's just the law of averages.

Those three roles, of course, are not the only ones Dean played in his short, legendary career. He played (mostly minor) roles in a fairly lengthy list of television dramas in the early fifties. However, some of those performances have been lost, and most of the ones that aren't lost are rarely seen. He also appeared on Broadway twice, in "See the Jaguar" in 1952 and in "The Immoralist" in 1954, and in three off-Broadway productions. In films, besides the three he is famous for, there were uncredited roles for him in four other films during 1951 through 1953.

And then there is this (very silly) Pepsi commercial, which was made in 1950:

But, these are the films, the performances, that will stand as James Dean's legacy. First, a scene from "East of Eden":

And from "Rebel Without a Cause", along with Natalie Wood:

And, from "Giant", with Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson:

James Dean received posthumous Academy Award nominations for his performances in both "East of Eden" and "Giant".

While, had he lived, James Dean would undoubtedly, as I said earlier, turned in performances that would not have been anywhere near award-calibre. But, I wonder, what would he have done with his talent, had he managed to survive to act another day.

I think it's interesting. I avoided seeing any of James Dean's movies for years simply because I had heard so many glowing descriptions of his work in them, and I didn't think anyone could live up to those kinds of accolades. But, then, one night "Rebel Without a Cause" was on, and I watched it. And, yes, the movie is definitely a part of it's time, and seems dated in a lot of ways. But still, Dean's performance in it is compulsively watchable. So I sought out "East of Eden" and "Giant" as well, still expecting to be disappointed on some level. But I wasn't.

If you haven't seen these three films, you should. I'll confess that "Giant" is not my favorite of the three, and I don't recommend it as highly. But "East of Eden" and "Rebel Without a Cause" are both worth watching, and James Dean's performances in them are a major reason why they are so watchable.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Please explain...

I've got a question for you all today.

What's the deal with Elvis Presley impersonators and tribute bands, specifically the kind that try to look and sound exactly like the band they are imitating? Because I just don't get it.

The thing that brings this up is that this week is Elvis impersonator week on The David Letterman Show, although I'm also curious about this because I've been seeing ads for a week or two on local television for a band of Beatles imitators that are going to be coming through town soon. Neither one interests me in the least.

Now, I'll be honest here. I've always figured that I don't get the Elvis impersonator thing because I've never been an Elvis fan. I know that this puts me in a distinct minority, but there it is. The only Presley song I like even a little bit is "Heartbreak Hotel", and I think that's at least partly to do with the fact that it came out the year I was born. Other than that, I'm just "meh" about him - his singing, his performance style, his acting, the whole package. I understand that he was very influential on other performers, some of whom I like a lot, and that's fine. It doesn't mean I have to like his work.

But, then, I started to see Beatles impersonators. I'm a huge fan of The Beatles, which you've probably figured out if you read here much. But I have no desire to go see a show with people on stage trying to look and sound like them, which is the vibe I'm getting from the ads for the show that's coming to my town soon. From what I gather from that ad, these folks appear during different parts of the show in costume and hair from all through the time The Beatles were a band.

Really. I just don't see the point.

So, what I'm looking for from you, dear readers, is for you to explain this phenomenon to me. Because I know it isn't exclusive to Elvis and The Beatles. There are a raft of tribute bands, some of which I assume try to get the look and the sound exactly right, while others just play a band's or a singer's music because they like it so much. Apparently there is even a Led Zeppelin tribute band that plays the band's songs in reggae style, with a lead singer who is...wait for Elvis impersonator.

I want to understand. I really do. And I just...don't.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

I read the news today, oh boy...

I've been sitting here for most of the day, trying to find something to write about here today.

No, really. My general routine is to look around at some news sites, read the blogs I usually read, and then, if all else fails, to look at some "This Day In History" type sites. Generally, by the time I'm about halfway through the list of sites I visit, something has jumped out and yelled, "Write about me!"

But not today. It isn't that there isn't anything going on in the world. There are some interesting topics being discussed over on Ravelry, including the Catholic school in New Jersey that asked their female students to take a pledge not to swear but, initially at least, did not ask the male students to also refrain from cussing.

In the news, there's the debate over whether John McCain was racist when he compared Iran's president to a monkey in a Tweet he posted a day or two ago, which caused some others in the GOP to call McCain out for being a racist, or at least for sounding like one. And then there's the memo that has come out of the Obama administration that apparently justifies sending drone attacks against US citizens abroad who are suspected of engaging in terrorist involvement, even if there is no evidence that they are actively involved in plotting attacks against the United States.

And, just so no one gets the impression that Americans are the only idiots, a report published today in Ireland shows that the government there was complicit in sending girls and women to laundries run by Catholic orders over a period of 74 years, where they were forced to work for no pay for periods of up to 10 years each, sometimes for simply being poor or homeless, and some were sent there for the horrible crime of having physical or mental disabilities. The average age of the women committed to these laundries was 23, but the report found that the youngest was 9 years old and the oldest was 89 years of age. Far from being something that happened in an earlier, unenlightened age, this practice did not stop until 1996, according to the reports I've seen.

There's more, but the thought of going back and reviewing it all is kind of repulsive right now.

What it all makes we want to do is go out on the roof and scream, "What in the hell are you all thinking?"

I don't even know which of these three items bothers me the most. It would be easy to say that it is the administration's justification of killing US citizens on foreign soil without any sort of judicial review and in the absence of evidence that the people targeted are actually materially aiding in attacks on the US. It just sounds so much like the Bush II administration that it makes me sick. I mean, I'm not going to sit here and say it is okay for people to hang with terrorists, because it's not okay. But justifying what are basically executions without due process, which is, just wrong. It disappoints me very much that the Obama administration would go down this road.

As far as the McCain thing...Maybe he really did mean it as a joke. However, I grew up with relatives who thought it was just fine to belittle people of other ethnic groups by calling them "animals" and "monkeys" and similar things. I hate to even admit that I have had relatives like that, because they were straight-up racists and often didn't apologize for it. Hell, they were often proud of it. If John McCain hasn't figured out yet that comparing a person to a monkey is racist, there is no hope for him at his age, and calling him on it probably isn't going to do any good. Then again, as far as I'm concerned, McCain used up all his good will when he ran for president. I hate saying that, after all he went through for his country, but I don't believe that even the most heroic deeds can't carry a person for the rest of their life when they start just being ignorant. The thing is, he made it even worse by telling people to just "lighten up" after he was criticized for the incident. So, Ahmadinejad seems to be sort of a horrible person. Big deal. That doesn't mean that it is permissible to aim racist statements at him.

Yes, I know. Politics doesn't work that way. Well, maybe it should. Treating someone with a little respect goes a long way to engender good will over time. It's just too bad that it isn't possible to turn back the clock and repair bad behavior on the part of all the governments of the world, including our own.

Which brings us to the situation in Ireland. The report released today shows that the Irish government was involved in more than a quarter of the upwards of 10,000 girls and women sent to these places, which were run by Catholic nuns. While 61 percent of those sent there were there for less than a year, 7.7 percent spent 10 or more years there. Often commitment to these places was "informal" with, for example, homeless women taken there by police without any sort of formal legal proceedings. Basically, these women were being put into slavery for however long a time they were kept at these facilities, some of which were doing laundry for the Irish military, for the nation's health service, and for the department of education. Wrong, wrong, wrong, and WRONG. Okay, so maybe the world was different in 1922, when this thing started. But it didn't end until 1996...less than 20 years ago. Ireland's prime minister is reported to have said he is "sorry for those people that they lived in that kind of environment", but did not actually offer an apology. Great. Just freaking great.

I thought that maybe sitting down and writing about these things would make me feel better. But it didn't work; if anything, I'm more pissed off about these items and particular and about the world in general than I was when I started writing.

Maybe by tomorrow I'll be a little calmer. Maybe.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Movie Monday: "The Devil Wears Prada" Edition

I watched "The Devil Wears Prada" again last night.

It's a good movie, with good performances from its stars - Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway. But its one of those movies that I have a sort of love/hate relationship with, for a number of reasons which, I must warn you now, must contain spoilers for me to discuss them here.


The first reason that I can't completely love this movie, and came close to hating it on first viewing it, is that I could not care less about fashion. Although Andy Sachs, Hathaway's character also claims to not care about fashion, she ends up conforming to the fashion sense apparently required to work at the magazine where she works as an assistant to the editor of the fashion magazine Runway (said to be based on Vogue, and on its editor). Additionally, there is this scene, in which Streep's character, Miranda Priestly, proselytizes for the control of the fashion industry over what everyone wears:

I guess the movers and shakers in the fashion industry really believe this. I think it is a load of crap. Sure, choices are made by clothing manufacturers of what to make and what not to make, and what colors to use, but the implied attitude that we all follow blindly along is, well, overblown, as far as I'm concerned.

Another thing I don't like about the movie is that, while Andy is supposed to stand in for all of us who ultimately do not drink the corporate Kool-Aid, the whole model of being married to one's work, being available 24/7, and being willing to do anything to advance, up to and including lying, stealing, and being vicious, is presented - on the surface, at least, and for most of the movie - as acceptable to all but the misfit. The noble misfit, whom we are expected to root for, to be sure, but the misfit all the same. The recurring line in the film, variations on "A million girls would kill for your job" emphasizes this over and over.

But then there is the scene at the end of the movie, where Miranda tells Andy that she sees much of herself in her and that the two of them are really very much alike. Andy objects to this idea, and asks, "I mean what if I don't wanna live the way you live?" Miranda replies, "Oh, don't be ridiculous. Everybody wants this. Everybody wants to be us."

There are clearly people who really believe this. That they are so fabulous that everyone wants to be a slave to their job, work hours that make it next to impossible to have a life, be expected to be rude and ruthless and cold-hearted, and who have no problem stepping on whomever they have to, to claw their way to the riches and acclaim at the top.

I don't want to be that. And this is where I love "The Devil Wears Prada" and movies like it, that masquerade as a bit of fluff but actually present issues that are important to think about in today's world. Movies that are promoted as comedies, films that promise a couple of hours of escape from the real world, but that really do make a point beyond the surface of points that someone who doesn't view thoughtfully might miss.

What saves the movie, for me, is that Andy does walk away, leaving Miranda alone in a crush of photographers and reporters and having to fend for herself for the first time in many years, puzzled that Andy, in the final analysis, did not want to be her.

Some movies never manage to get over their surface message. One example I can think of is "Phenomenon", which starred John Travolta as an average man who suddenly becomes super-intelligent and, as an extra-special bonus, suddenly also has telekinetic powers (he can move things with his mind). Except that it turns out that the quantum leap in his intelligence and the other powers are the result of a brain tumor that is killing him. Intelligence, therefore, is presented as a pathological condition, unnatural and dangerous.

This plot could have served as a springboard to think about what intelligence really is, and the ways in which those with great intellects can both help and harm society, depending on how it is used. But the opportunity is missed, and "Phenomenon" becomes just a story, and one that manages to marginalize the intellectually gifted.

Fortunately, "The Devil Wears Prada" manages to overcome its surface to become not only entertainment, but something to think about as well. Although I'm sure that there are those who see the film and think that Andy is a fool to walk away from what could be a promising and lucrative career, but those are the people who are not looking beyond the surface of the film.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Music Sunday: The Simon and Garfunkel Edition

Some Sundays, I wake up with no idea what I'm going to write about and share for Music Sunday. Other Sundays, I know exactly what I want to do with the post of the day.

This week, I've known for a couple of days what I'm going to share today.

I spent a good part of the past week reading Tom Brokaw's book from 2007, Boom! Voices of the Sixties. Somewhere in the pages of the book, Simon and Garfunkel were mentioned. My first thought at that reference was that I haven't heard any of their music in quite a long time, and that Music Sunday would be the perfect reason to go looking for some of their work.

And so, that's the plan for today.

Simon and Garfunkel actually met when they were in elementary school, in 1953, and started writing songs together in 1955. They recorded a single, "Hey, Schoolgirl", in 1957, calling themselves Tom & Jerry. The song got enough play that they appeared on American Bandstand. It doesn't sound exactly like what would become their signature folk style:

After some later success on the Greenwich Village folk scene and recording several songs that did not initially get much notice, the singers went their separate ways, with Paul Simon moving to England. While he was there, however, "The Sound of Silence" began getting some airplay. When Simon returned to the US, the duo got back together. I found this live performance of "The Sound of Silence", from a 1966 television broadcast:

They followed in 1965 with "I Am A Rock". I think this live performance might be from the same 1966 Canadian television broadcast as the previous clip. In the clip, Simon introduces the song as perhaps his "most neurotic" song:

One of my own favorites of Simon and Garfunkel's songs is "Scarborough Fair", from 1966. They manage to make the traditional ballad from Britain sound as antique as it is, even in this performance from the duo's 1981 reunion concert in Central Park:

Along with "The Sound of Silence" and "Scarborough Fair", the song "Mrs. Robinson" appeared in the 1967 film "The Graduate". This is the 1968 recording of "Mrs. Robinson", on the album "Bookends". It is a different, more complete version than appeared in the film:

"Bridge Over Troubled Water" was Simon and Garfunkel's biggest hit, here from the Concert in Central Park in 1981. It has never been one of my favorite songs, but this particular performance is very good:

"Cecelia" is also from the "Bridge Over Troubled Water" album, and I like it much better. The conventional wisdom is that the song is about a girl, but Paul Simon has indicated that it is actually about St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music and has more to do with trouble writing songs than with girl trouble. Take your pick; the song works either way:

Simon and Garfunkel broke up, mostly for good, in 1970, but they have reunited several times for performances, including an appearance on the second episode of "Saturday Night Live" on October 18, 1975, and for the previously mentioned Concert in Central Park in 1981, which was attended by over half a million people.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

What Super Bowl? Spring training is just around the corner...

I really wish they would just play the Super Bowl game and get it over with.

It's time for a confession here: I don't like football, I don't care a thing about it, and I'm tired of hearing about it.

Ordinarily, football and I do not clash. I can avoid the games, avoid the references to it, and everything is fine. But, for the past week, at least, that's all I've heard about. Every time I turn on the television. Every time I turn on the radio. Nearly every time I get on the Internet. Really. And I'm tired of hearing about it.

I can understand the constant promotion on CBS outlets. They're carrying the game tomorrow, so it stands to reason that they would be promoting the crap out of it. Not that there's much chance that it won't get top ratings. It always does. But the network wouldn't be doing it's job if it didn't do those promotions.

I'm not quite so sure that I understand all the programming around the actual game. As I understand it, the game starts in the middle of the afternoon, at least in my time zone. I think they mentioned 3:30 p.m. as the start time. But they also have been emphasizing that their pre-game programming will start at 8:00 a.m. Maybe it's just because I'm not a football fan, but I can't quite imagine how they are going to get seven and a half hours of pre-game programming out of one game.

Plus, they are, in truth, starting the pre-game programming today. On CBS' weekend morning newscast, they were already broadcasting from the site of the game, and mostly talking about the game. And then, tonight, there is going to be some sort of football-themed awards show broadcast on the network, according to some advertisements I saw.

I do get that there are a lot of football fans out there. But, are what amounts to a day and a half of pre-game programming really necessary? Really?

I'm not writing any of this to criticize football fans. You like your game. I understand that. I hope you enjoy the game tomorrow. I'm just not sure why, in the past few years, Super Bowl Sunday has come to be treated like it's a national holiday.

There is hope for people like me, however. It's February. Spring training is just around the corner, and before we know it the baseball season will be starting.

But, I can pretty much guarantee that there will not be a day and a half of programming on a major broadcast network before the first game of the World Series. And, as much of a baseball fan as I am (I was raised to be one, from as long ago as I can remember), I wouldn't want there to be.

Since tomorrow is Music Sunday anyway, and because it makes me feel better, I'm leaving this with you, John Fogerty's "Centerfield":

Friday, February 01, 2013

In the air...

If you're a regular reader, you've probably noticed that I haven't posted anything here for a couple of days.

I've wanted to write. I've had things I've wanted to write about. But, with the sinus headache from hell that I've had, I haven't really felt much like writing.

It's strange, too. I don't usually get allergy/sinus problems in the middle of winter. Spring, summer, and fall - yeah, sure. While I live in the middle of town, town is surrounded by agriculture. My county, in fact, is - economically speaking - the biggest agricultural county in the nation. In 2007, the last year for which I can find the numbers, agriculture production in the county was worth $5.3 billion. Among the crops grown are citrus, stone fruit (peaches, nectarines, plums, and so forth), grapes (for wine, raisins, and the table), cotton, and lots of others. And, it sometimes seems, I'm allergic to at least half of the local crops. Although, with the cotton, I think it's the defoliants they spray on before the pick the cotton that's the problem.

But, in the middle of the winter, there really isn't much floating around the be allergic to. Except, this year, the mold count in the air has been particularly high. And mold is another one of the things I'm allergic to. That's why my allergies are the worst in the fall, when the raisins are out to dry. You did know that they still make raisins by picking the grapes and laying they out on the ground on paper trays to dry in the sun, didn't you? That inevitably leads to mold, which gets in the air and causes people like me, who are allergic to the mold, absolute fits during that part of the year (usually late August through September, and maybe into the very beginning of October). But not during the winter. Usually.

It would be okay if I didn't have to actually go outside when the mold count is high. But, my roommate has also been sick, sicker than I've been, so I had to go out on Wednesday and take her to the doctor. And then, yesterday, because her doctor told her not to go back to work until Monday, I had to take her assignments and substitute instructions to school so that her students would have something to do yesterday and today. And then, I had a meeting that I had to go to yesterday morning. So, by the time I had been outside for a little while each day, the headache had descended.

I've been inside now since about 2 p.m. yesterday, and had a good night's sleep. Despite that, I still woke up with my sinuses feeling, well, not good. But, I wanted to at least sit down and post something here. Even if it is just me, complaining about how lousy I still feel.

I think it's supposed to rain sometime next week. Maybe that will wash some of the crap out of the air and I'll feel a little bit better. But, either way, I'm going to try not to let it get in the way of posting. Because I really miss doing this when I have to miss a day or two.

I just hope that if you're allergic to anything, it isn't giving you fits like this mold in the air is giving me. Oh, and I hope that there aren't too many typos in this post. For some reason, my spell-check isn't cooperating this morning, and I really don't have it in me to do a good proofread.