Thursday, October 31, 2013

There's more than meets the eye in unemployment statistics...but you probably knew that already

The United States Labor Department reported today that first-time unemployment claims dropped by 10,000 last week to "just" 340,000. Here's how Market Watch reported the story.

On the face of it, that is a good thing. Fewer people asked for help from the government because they lost work.

But, as the linked report points out, this doesn't really say much about how many people got jobs during the week. However, they do claim that the report gives a good gauge of layoffs, how many people are being put out of work. I'm not so sure that is true.

The thing is, you have to be eligible for unemployment benefits to receive them. Just applying does not mean that the individual will receive them. And maybe some people who aren't eligible go ahead and apply, although I'm not sure why they would. Unemployment might be a huge bureaucracy, but it's really difficult to fall through the cracks in a manner that will give benefits to a person who does not qualify for them. I assume that most people who know they aren't eligible take the road I did and don't even bother to apply. It really is a lot of paperwork to do for nothing.

And, a lot of people aren't eligible. In my state, eligibility requirements include:

Having received enough pay in the base period
Being unemployed through no fault of one's own
Be actively looking for work
Be physically able to work
Be available to go to work immediately

These are not all the requirements, but they are the ones that are most tricky. There is another not on the list, which is the one that tripped me up: The applicant has to have been employed by someone else. In other words, if you were self-employed, you aren't eligible for benefits.

To review - you have to have made a certain amount of money in the "base period", which changes based on when the individual applies for benefits. If you didn't make that much during the period, tough luck. You can't have just up and quit your job because you don't like it. You have to be willing and able to work, immediately - that means no going out of town to visit relatives for a few days and not being so sick that you can't go to work. And you have to be actively looking for a job - and you have to document that. Just saying, "Yeah, I've been looking" won't cut it with the Employment Development Department.

So, what this means in regards to layoffs is that the number of people applying for benefits doesn't equal the number of people who lost jobs during the week in question. So, last week, while 340,000 people applied for unemployment benefits in the US last week, it's certain that more than 340,000 people lost jobs during that week.

The reported figure for new jobless claims, which is always the one that is reported, also doesn't say anything about how many people are receiving benefits on an ongoing basis. This category is called "continuing claims", and is usually reported far down in the story, if it is reported at all. In the week ending October 19, the last week for which this number is known, 2.88 million people continued to get unemployment benefits. In other words, nearly 3 million people who have been out of work for a while still did not find jobs. Or, at least that many, because the labor department doesn't even track those who remain unemployed who are not getting benefits.

I've written about this problem here before, in relation to how the unemployment rate is figured. Basically, if you aren't looking for a job, the government doesn't consider you unemployed. It also doesn't count people who are underemployed, or working part time but want to be working full time. I won't belabor that point here, but it's important to keep that in mind: the unemployment rate is always higher than the figures in the official reports.

The point is, the government reports the rosiest numbers possible regarding who isn't working.

In August 2013 in Fresno County, California, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics information) I'm using, for example, the latest month for which data is available, the official unemployment rate was reported at 11.9 percent. This is much better than the 15 percent to 16 percent the rate was running at for a while, but still not the real number, which is widely considered to remain above 15 percent, possibly substantially above that level.

Certainly, I'm not saying that anyone is cooking the books in regards to how unemployment statistics are gathered and reported. This has been the way these numbers have been figured for as long as I can remember. What I am saying is that it is important to look beyond the headline numbers to the whole picture and to realize that things are not as rosy in regards to how many people are working - and how many people cannot find work - in the United States.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Questions...and answers

I've been running into a lot of casual misogyny lately, and it's kind of driving me crazy.

It doesn't really surprise me, I suppose. I've had experience with these sorts of attitudes ever since I was young because I started very young to answer the question, "So what do you want to be when you grow up?", with answers that were not considered the "right" answer.

You see, back in the Sixties, when I was growing up, little girls were still most often expected to answer that question with, "A mommy."

But that answer never came out of my mouth, as far as I can recall. Depending on when the question was asked, the most common ways I answered that question were, "A teacher." Or "A writer." Or "An astronaut." For a long time, I was convinced that I was going to be the first woman on Mars. Oh, well. For awhile, while I was a teenager, my answer was even, "Color commentator for broadcasts of Dodger games." No, really. I love baseball, as those of you who follow along here might have noticed, and I thought that would be a very cool job. I still think that would be a very good job.

Often, when I came up with one or another of those answers, the follow up question was, "But, don't you want to get married and have babies?"


I wasn't quite sure why everyone seemed so certain that being something else and being a wife and mother were mutually exclusive propositions. After all, my dad always told me I could be anything I wanted to be. My mom, not so much - I greatly disappointed her by never giving her any grandchildren - but even she didn't try to discourage me from the other plans I had.

As the women's movement gathered steam, gradually I ran into less and less of those attitudes, at least in some venues. On the other hand, I even left a church at least in part because they kept trying to shove me into that "wife and mother" mold to the exclusion of doing anything else. But, out in the world away from that particular circumstance, people seemed to be more willing to concede that a woman might want to do something else. Or something else, too. Sure, there was talk of glass ceilings and the mommy track, but it was at least admitted that women could do other things if they wanted to.

Now, though, I see more of the attitude that women should "know their place." And, yes, granted, that never really went away completely. But even in situations where women are part of the workplace, I see more of the same "know your place" attitudes directed at women - and not always just by men - than I did for a while. There is expectation - still? again? - that women are supposed to be deferential to men just because they are men. There is a lot of "mansplaining" going on, in which men seem to assume that women don't really know anything and have to have every little thing explained is overly simple terms, much like things must be explained to a child.

Excuse me while I roll my eyes.

I don't know. Maybe it's just where I live. But the fact is, I run into this crap on a regular basis, and seemingly more now than I did, say, ten or fifteen years ago.

When I came on this video clip shared on my Facebook page today, I decided I needed to talk about this and to share the clip. This is from several years ago, 2006, I think, but everything in it still holds true today. And it seemed appropriate since it grew out of the evolving answer to one question that writer and director Joss Whedon keeps getting asked and explains the evolution of his answer when asked. The question concerns why he keeps writing "all those strong women characters". Bear with the introduction to get to his explanation. It's worth the few minutes to get to the meat of what he said:

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Reading Update: Reached one goal, and my other goal for the year is in sight...

Yay, me!

Today I passed my goal to read 13,000 pages this year.

As a bit of explanation, over on Ravelry, the knitting website where I hang out a lot, there are discussion boards about many more things than just knitting, crochet, and other fiber arts. One of those boards is the Book Challenge, which challenges members to set goals for their year's reading each year. It also encourages members to list the books they've read so that everyone else can follow along and see how others are doing as far as progress toward their stated goals.

This year, I set my goal at 40 books and 13,000 pages read. Now, you have to realize, I've never reached any of my goals for the challenge before (I think this is my third year participating). And, not everyone sets page goals as well as setting a goal for the number of books they want to read. So, I'm kind of excited that I have reached one of my goals, and that the other goal is in reach, as I just finished reading my 34th book of the year, which leaves six to go to reach my goal. That would be three each month in November and December, which is doable, especially considering that I read 7 books in June and 8 books in July. By contrast, I didn't finish any books in March and only finished reading one in April.

The longest book I've read so far this year had 662 pages, while the shortest had just 210 pages. Sixteen of the books I've read so far this year are fiction, while the other 18 are non-fiction treatments of various topics. Many of those have been read as research for some writing I'm doing. Four of the books were re-reads, which is a pretty low number for me. And I'm actually in he middle of reading book number 35 for the year - I often keep two books going at once, usually one fiction and one non-fiction, or else one for home reading and one for carrying around with me to read when I have to wait for something or someone somewhere. Although, to be honest, I'm having issues with that one, which is a techno-thriller that hasn't quite completely grabbed me yet. But, I'm 209 pages into it, so I'll probably end up finishing it at some point.

At the end of the year, I'll do a final review of this year's reading, complete with my reading list for the year. But, since I did pass my page goal for the year, I thought I'd leave a milestone update to celebrate that.

It's also an explanation for why today's entry is short and late. I was busy finishing up the book I've been reading the past several days.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Movie Monday: The Edith Head Edition

One of the parts of movie making that doesn't always get talked and written about, at least on a popular level, is costume design. And, since I'm a not a costumer (although I have friends who are), I'm not going to try to say anything technical about costume design.

However, I am going to write today about Edith Head, probably the best-known name in costume design for film in the United States. For a long period, it seems like she did designs for nearly every movie made. And, in fact, IMDB lists 438 costume design credits for Head. True, she designed from 1924 until nearly the day she died, in 1981, working for Paramount from 1924 until 1967 before leaving that studio to work at Universal until 1981. Still, that is a lot of movies (and a few television shows) to design costumes for.

Edith Head was not just a dressmaker, however. Before she became a designer, she taught French in La Jolla and then in Hollywood. That was after she had graduated with a BA, with honors, in French, from the University of California at Berkeley, and then with a MA in the romance languages from Stanford University. Even before that, Head was born on October 28, 1897, in San Bernardino, California.

Out of all the films she designed costumes for, Head was nominated 35 times for the Academy Award for Best Costume Design, including getting a nomination every year between 1948 and 1966. That's 18 years in a row, for those of you keeping track. Out of those nominations, she won 8 times, more than any other woman in the history of the Academy Awards.

She even won twice in one year, 1951, when separate awards were given for costume design for black and white and for color films. That year, she won in the color film category for "Samson and Delilah" and in the black and white category for "All About Eve" (which is one of the best films of all time, as far as I'm concerned).

The full list of films she won Academy Awards for includes:

"The Heiress" (1950; black and white)
"Samson and Delilah" (1951; color)
"All About Eve" (1951; black and white)
"A Place in the Sun" (1952; black and white)
"Roman Holiday" (1954; black and white)
"Sabrina" (1955; black and white)
"The Facts of Life" (1961; black and white)
"The Sting" (1974)

Head designed costumes for all kinds of films, including several Alfred Hitchcock thrillers, including "Rear Window" (1954), "The Trouble With Harry" (1955), "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (1956), "Vertigo" (1958), and "Family Plot" (1996). She also designed for several of John Wayne's films, including "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" and "Hatari!" (both 1962), "Donovan's Reef" (1963), "The Sons of Katie Elder" (1965), "El Dorado" (1966), and "Hellfighters" (1968). So, she clearly did not just design sophisticated gowns for elegant ladies, although she did that, too. She also designed the costumes for at least two science fiction films, "When Worlds Collide" (1951) and "The War of the Worlds" (1953), as well as for "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (1969) and for "Sometimes A Great Notion" (1970), which was about a dysfunctional family of Oregon loggers which starred Paul Newman, Henry Fonda, and Lee Remick, and based on the novel of the same name by Ken Kesey. I mention that last film because I think it is one of the great underrated films of the 1970s. The last film Head worked on before her death was Steve Martin's comedy, "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid", directed by Carl Reiner.

Here is the trailer for the Blu-Ray release of "All About Eve", one of two films Edith Head wan an Academy Award for in 1951:

This is the trailer that was created for the re-release of "The Sting" after it won the Academy Award for Best Picture - and also the award for Best Costume Design, Edith Head's final Academy Award:

...and the original trailer for "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", for which Edith Head also designed the costumes:

This is a scene from "A Place in the Sun", which starred Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift, another one of the films Edith Head won an Academy Award for, for Best Costume Design:

Edith Head also designed for some science fiction films, including "When Worlds Collide":

Here is an original trailer for "Sometimes a Great Notion", another film Edith Head designed the costumes for:

There is no way I could ever do justice to Edith Head's long career in one blog post. However, this sample of clips at least begins to show the wide variety of films she designed for.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Lou Reed: 1942 - 2013

I was trying to figure out what I was going to do for today's Music Sunday post when I came across the news, reported by CNN here, that Lou Reed has died at the age of 71. Apparently, there was a hoax death report regarding him a day or two ago, but it appears that since the news is now coming from his publicist, the new report is true.

I'll be honest. I don't know Reed's music well. But I do know what an influence he has been on the music world. And I do know that when I first heard "Walk on the Wild Side", when it came out when I was in high school, I was astonished. I had no idea that anyone could say things like that on a song on the radio. On AM radio, even.

Certainly, "Walk on the Wild Side" is not a "pretty" song, either in sound or in subject matter. But it is a singular song, and amazing in its own way. And so I will leave this here and leave it at that for Music Sunday this week:

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Take your hands off that pregnant woman's belly...

It has come to my attention that Pennsylvania has passed legislation making it illegal to touch a pregnant woman's belly without her permission.

All I can say to that is, "Right on, Pennsylvania lawmakers!"

No, really. I've never been pregnant, but I've seen this happen to enough women and heard enough women complain about it that I know what a sore point it is with them. I've also been on the receiving end of another case of people feeling entitled to touch because I have very long hair.

I can't count the number of times complete strangers have walked up to me and started petting and caressing my hair. And while I understand that they are (mostly - I also get the odd hair fetishist) doing this because the like my hair, I hate...let me repeat this, I HATE...having my hair touched. And I also hate the people who have told me that I should just get over it.

Both are symptoms of the fact that here in the United States, we live in a culture where all boundaries are dissolving. Random people touching others intimately without permission. And make no mistake, touching a pregnant woman's belly is intimate touching. Random strangers asking people questions I wouldn't ask a family member, much less a stranger. Complete strangers walking up and trying to instruct others about what they should or shouldn't be doing regarding things that they have no idea about in relation to those strangers' lives.

These things frustrate me and make me angry. And I don't know what to do about it because I don't know why it happens, why some individuals feel entitled to touch, to advise. To crowd me in line at the grocery store.

You know what I mean. There is a group - a very large group, if my experience is any barometer - of people who will walk right up behind someone in a line or a group of people waiting for something and stand so close that you can feel their breath on your neck. Sometimes they stand so close that they are actually touching the person in front of them. I used to put up with that. Now, if someone is standing too close to me, I will turn around and tell them they need to back off.

There are also the people who think they have to get right up in your face - and I mean that literally - in order to talk to you. In those cases, because I usually have some sort of casual relationship with them, even if it is just someone I'm doing business with in a store, I will start by taking a step back. If they step right up and get back in my face, though, I'll tell them to back off, too.

On the whole, though, these are minor violations of personal space. Most of the time, anyway. There was the time when I was at Disneyland, waiting for the "Fantasmic" water-and-light show to begin, when a became aware that a man was standing right up against my back. Yeah, there was a crowd, but no one else was standing that close. I moved forward. Almost immediately, he was standing right against me again. I moved forward again. Again, he was right up against me almost immediately. I turned around, said something like, "Hey, watch it!" in an unwelcoming voice and moved forward again. Again, he was right up against me in a matter of less than a second. I sighed. I caught my mother's attention (she was standing right in front of me, and had also been moving forward) and said, in a voice that was loud enough to be heard by the man and by the people standing around us, "If this guy behind me doesn't back off right now, I'm yelling 'rape' as loud as I can."

He disappeared immediately.

Now, I know that bringing up rape is not a light matter, and I kind of feel bad that I did so. On the other hand, the guy had not backed off after a warning and me moving away from him several times. It was obvious by then that he was doing what he was doing on purpose. And, yeah, I resorted to being passive-aggressive. But, short of actually calling for security - which in retrospect is what I should probably have done - I couldn't think of any other way to get rid of the guy. And what would I have told security if I had called them? I would have probably gotten the same thing I usually get when I complain about people violating my personal space - "get over it."

My contention is that I shouldn't have to get over it. It's my personal space, and I'm entitled to enough of it at least that I'm not being physically touched by someone I don't know. It's the same when random strangers touch my hair without asking. And it is most especially the same when people touch a pregnant woman's stomach without permission.

And so, I'm glad that Pennsylvania passed the law they did. Somehow, people are going to have to start realizing again that if they don't have permission, they shouldn't be touching a complete stranger. And pregnant women's bellies are a good place to start.

I should probably add a note here saying that I don't have any problem with people I know touching me, for the most part. I like a good hug. But, you know, people I don't know don't have any business touching me, or anyone else they don't know.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Running behind today...

It' after 6 pm, and it just occurred to me that I haven't posted anything here today.


I guess that headache isn't as gone as I thought it was.

It should be gone. I slept late today (the first day this week I haven't had to be up and out early). Other than doing some housework and reading, I haven't really done anything today. The weather is nice - in fact, this was the first day it really, really felt like fall around here, for all that it was still 79 degrees for the high today. Despite that, when I went out to take some bottles to the recyclers, there was something in the air that made it feel like autumn rather than summer. And I'm really glad of that. I'm over the whole summer thing for this year.

Except, I lied. I did do something else today. I did homework. Well, kind of.

I'm learning how to work with Excel. It's something I need mainly so that I can put it on my resume to increase my chances of getting a job. Not that I can really imagine myself in any job where I would have to do anything even vaguely like keeping books. Yeah, I know, spreadsheets are used for lots of things besides bookkeeping. But numbers are often involved and I have what you might call an adversarial relationship with numbers in general and manipulating them in particular. It isn't that I can't do math, understand. I just don't like it much.

Although, one thing I've discovered that I really like about Excel is that it does your math for you. Yes, you need to understand what needs to be done to the numbers (add them? multiply them? a little of both?), but once you figure that out, you just put the equation together and apply it, and you've got your sum or your product or whatever. Yay.

The thing that I'm finding interesting is that it isn't the numbers part of Excel that is giving me fits. Instead, it's the formatting. Putting in and taking out borders. Centering things in cells. Adding titles and colors.

Drives me crazy. I think I broke my brain on the stuff I was working on this afternoon. Now, I feel a definite sense of accomplishment at having finally conquered the project. Yes, I do. But my headache, which has been with me for pretty much all week but had seemed much better after sleeping in this morning, was back by the time I was finished. Along with a bonus tic.

No. Literally. All the muscles around my left eye were in spasm by the time I printed out my final product and shut the computer down. No clue what that was all about, but I was really happy when it stopped.

I'll figure out all this spreadsheet stuff eventually. I haven't worked with spreadsheets since I took my very first computer class, back in about 1989. I don't remember much about it. Might have been Lotus? It's really been a long time.

At any rate, I've been good, I've worked on Excel and I've written, and I vacuumed the carpets. Now it's almost time for dinner, so I'm going eat and maybe do some knitting, and let my brain rest. It is the weekend now, after all.

Friday after 6 pm does count as the weekend, doesn't it?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Auctioning Off History - Part III (or IV; I can't quite remember)

If you follow along here regularly, you'll remember that I've written here recently and also farther back about auctions of historical memorabilia, and especially about such items that are connected to some of the darkest parts of history.

Well, I just saw an article here that it's going to happen tomorrow (Thursday, October 25, 2013). In this case, the items to be auctioned are all related in one way or another to John F. Kennedy. The article does not contain anything like a catalogue of the nearly 300 items to be sold, but from what the article does list, it seems like a lot of the items are specifically related to JFK's assassination in 1963.

For example, Lee Harvey Oswald's wedding ring, which he left home on the day he allegedly shot the president, will be up for auction. The ring belongs to Marina Oswald Porter, who was married to Oswald at the time of the assassination. The ring found its way into the files of a Fort Worth, Texas, attorney in 1964 and languished there until 2004. Porter is said to have gotten the ring back "relatively recently". A photo of the ring accompanying the article shows an engraving of what is said to be a hammer and sickle, the symbol of the Soviet Union, where Oswald met and married Marina Oswald Porter.

In a letter written in May 2013 by Porter that details the history of the ring, she says that the does not want the ring anymore because she wants to let go of the part of her past that is associated with the assassination. And that makes sense, I guess. What doesn't make sense to be is why anyone would want to buy the ring, which is expected to fetch upward of $100,000 in the auction, to be held in Boston.

Among the other items to be sold at the auction is a window, said to be the window on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository that Oswald allegedly shot from, and that was apparently removed from the building shortly after the assassination. Also to be sold is Oswald's Marine Corps rifle score book and a hat once worn by Oswald's assassin, Jack Ruby. Not directly related to the assassination but to be sold at the auction is JFK's rosary.

I won't go on again, as I have before, about how I don't understand the compulsion to own the past in the form of such items. Suffice it to say that I think it is an odd thing to do. What I am fascinated with, however, are the items that end up coming up for auction and how they went from whatever point they became a footnote to history to the auction block. In that sense, the letter written by Marina Oswald Porter, that outlines the history of the wedding ring, is more interesting to me than the ring itself.

The auction house made an agreement with Porter not to release the complete contents of the letter, which will go to whoever purchases the ring. But, I would be very interested to read it, to find out what she claims for the history of the object.

Which, I suppose, makes me just as strange as those who will bid on the ring, and as strange as the person who ends up winning the bidding. On the other hand, studying primary documents like that are how history is written, and that is something that interests me very much.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

When Talk Shows Were Fun: Happy Birthday, Johnny Carson

I always seems kind of weird to mark the birthday of someone who has already died. But sometimes, you just have to, and today is one of those days.

Today is Johnny Carson's birthday. He was born on October 23, 1925, in Corning, Iowa. For those of you who are very young, or who have been out of touch for the past few decades, Carson was the host of "The Tonight Show" from October 1, 1962 until May 22, 1992, a run of just under thirty years, nearly unprecedented in American television, perhaps in television anywhere. He wasn't the first host of the show - he was preceded by both Steve Allen and Jack Paar - and it wasn't really a departure in form. Generally, he did a monologue, followed by some sort of comedy sketch, after which he would interview guests and, often, present a musical guest or a stand-up comedian. The guests were usually celebrities, although he did sometimes interview "regular" folks or people who did things that were of interest to him. Which is how astronomer Carl Sagan came to be a regular guest on "The Tonight Show". Carson was an avid amateur astronomer and was friends with Sagan, and invited him on the show numerous times. Carson's show is where Sagan's signature phrase, "billions and billions", became popular.

One of the highlights of the show were the sketches, where Carson took on a number of personas. My own personal favorite was Carnac the Magnificent, who appeared in a robe and an elaborate turban and "answered" questions that were sealed in envelopes. Other characters included Art Fern, the "Tea Time Movie" television host, and Aunt Blabby, an old lady who was supposed to be an expert on the affairs of the elderly and who would be interviewed by Carson's long-time sidekick, Ed McMahon.

The approval by Carson could make an stand-up comic's career. Carson would signal that approval by asking a comic to sit down in the interview chair for a few words after their performance on the show. Among the comics that received this stamp of approval from Carson were David Letterman, Roseanne Barr, Ellen DeGeneres, Tim Allen, and Robin Williams. Here's a clip of the invitation to sit that Carson extended to Robin Williams on Williams's first visit to "The Tonight Show" on October 14, 1981:

The thing that really made the show, however, was Carson's easy rapport with his guests. Reportedly shy in his real life, Carson always seemed to be able to get anyone to talk to him and could seemingly hold a conversation on any subject. It was always relaxing to watch Carson, unlike some talk show hosts (and I won't name names) that are work to watch.

It was never work watching Johnny Carson host "The Tonight Show". It was relaxing. It was fun. And I it, and him. Maybe the jokes weren't always in the best of taste. And perhaps they seem dated if you watch clips from the show now. But it was late at night. The kids were supposed to be in bed. And, this was a show for adults (although I watched from a fairly young age, usually during the summer once I got a television in my bedroom and was allowed to stay up late enough to watch). This was as close to the edge as people could get on TV, before Saturday Night Life came along and before cable TV was a thing.

The point is, Johnny Carson did his job beautifully. I miss his brand of hosting, as opposed to the more forced, confrontational hosting of some of today's crop of late-night talk show hosts.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Taking a headache day

I'm on the third day of a headache. I've attempted to write the day's post a couple of times, but it isn't happening. With any luck the headache will be gone tomorrow and I'll be back to write something more than this apology for going missing in action for the day.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Movie Monday: The "Right There in Black and White" Edition

Several times, I've had people tell me that they just won't watch a movie that is in black and white. Won't do it. Has to be in color for them to even think about watching.

I have to be honest, here, and say that I just don't understand that sentiment at all.

I mean, look at how many great movies they are denying themselves. And not even old movies. Of course they'll miss "Casablanca" and "It Happened One Night" and "The Passion of Joan of Arc" and "King Kong" (the original" and "The Mummy" and "Dracula" (both of those the originals, too). There is "Double Indemnity" and all of the other film noirs that came out of the 1940s and 1950s. And virtually all of the films from the silent era, although there are some partial exceptions. The list could go on and on and on.

But they'll also miss out on movies like "Ed Wood" (from 1994) and "The Elephant Man" (1980) and "Schindler's List" (1993). Well, "Schindler's List" has a bit of color in a couple of scenes, but is primarily in black and white. There's even the very new version of "Much Ado About Nothing" that was made in black and white.

I love black and white films. Some of my favorites are in black and white, in fact. There's "The Mummy" (1932), which I mentioned previously. And "Casablanca" (1942), also referred to above. And, from more recently, there is The Beatles' first film, "A Hard Day's Night" (1964). I just watched that again the other night and enjoyed it as much as I do every time I see it.

The thing is, it isn't just the story content of those films that make them so good. In the best films, the black and white photography itself is gorgeous, especially if you're seeing a good print. A couple of examples are probably in order.

First, here's a scene from the final moments of "Casablanca":

In this scene from "Stagecoach" (1939), there is a much bigger problem between the quality of scenes shot in the studio versus the beautiful photography of scenes shot on location in Monument Valley than there is with the fact that the film is in black and white. This isn't even the best quality black and white photography I've seen in films, but the location photography is beautiful even so:

Here is the trailer for "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (1951). This clip shows how black and white photography handles different environments - daylight, nighttime, inside, outside - and how well it does so. Bear with the few seconds of blank screen near the beginning of the clip. It is intentional:

Although this scene from "A Hard Day's Night" makes my point about black and white photography, I'm mostly including it because it is one of my favorite scenes in the film:

And, finally, I'm including this short clip from the most recent black and white film that I know of, Joss Whedon's production of "Much Ado About Nothing":

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Music Sunday: The Tom Petty Birthday Edition

Today, according to Wikipedia anyway, is Tom Petty's birthday. So, in recognition of the day, I thought I'd share a little bit of his music - by himself, with the Heartbreakers, and in association with other musicians.

First up is "Free Fallin'" (1989). I like the song, and I also like this video, which is very San Fernando Valley - part of my own stomping grounds when I was growing up:

And this is "Runnin' Down a Dream", also from 1989, another song I like a lot. I don't think I've ever seen this video for it, though. It's intereting, and a little strange (like a lot of Petty's videos, actually):

Petty did a duet with Stevie Nicks in 1981, "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around". Here's a live version of that, with a bonus song, "I Need to Know" at the end of the clip:

Tom Petty was also a Traveling Wilbury, along with George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynne. Among the songs they did was this one "Handle With Care" (1988):

Finally, here is a fairly early song from Petty and the Heartbreakers, "Refugee", from 1980:

Saturday, October 19, 2013

My day in the park...

This is what I did today, or should I say what I watched today:

Not this particular fight. This is from another SCA event. But the same sort of thing; armored men beating each other with rattan swords. Because today was Pirate Tourney in the local Barony. And this is also why my post today is so late.

If you don't know what the SCA is, it is the Society for Creative Anachronism, which was founded in the 1960s in Berkeley, California. The SCA promotes medieval reenactments, education in all sorts of medieval arts and sciences, and related activities. We sometimes say that we re-create the Middle Ages as they should have been, and to an extent that is true. On the other hand, many in the SCA are very serious about doing things and making things and learning about life as it actually was from around 500 CE to about 1500 CE. What we do has even been called experimental archaeology. Anthropology geek that I am, I like this characterization a lot.

What we are not are the same as Renaissance faires. Those are much more in the way of performances. If you see combat as in the clip above at a Ren Faire, it is probably choreographed. What our fighters do is not choreographed. They are real fights. The bruises they get are real, too. And isn't just the men who participated in the fighting. There are women fighters, too, who get into their armor and battle right along with the men. It's one of the things I like most about the SCA; there is no discrimination in who fights with whom.

It isn't all about fighting, though. Not even for the fighters. For a recent Festival of the Rose in our kingdom, the Horsemen from the neighboring Shire of Wintermist, put together the following performance:

And that might be the best thing of all about the SCA...many of our participants are talented in more than just one art or science. And most of them are readily willing to share what they've learned with others. there's a good thing.

Friday, October 18, 2013

I just don't know sometimes...

It's been a busy couple of days for me, and I've been pretty much staying away from the news. But a story caught my attention that I just couldn't let go by without comment. It belongs under the category of "What the hell were they thinking?"

Several Boy Scouts leaders pushed over a rock formation that had been standing for thousands, if not millions, of years in a state park in Utah. They did this during a Boy Scout leaders and did this during a scouting campout. They should have known better, as many people more eloquent than me have pointed out. Instead, they made a video of their action and posted in on the internet. The Boy Scouts of America have confirmed that the men are part of their organization, and a spokesman for the Scouts has called their actions "reprehensible". Meanwhile, state park authorities in Utah are investigating the incident and the county attorney where the park is located is looking at whether to charge the men with anything.

Well, actually these idiots explained what they were thinking, or at least have tried to rationalize doing something that was about as stupid an act as I can think of.

Oh, yes. I mentioned that they have come up with an excuse. The man who shot the video, one Dave Hall, was quoted as saying that "This is about saving lives. One rock at a time." He also said that some of the scouts in the troop were jumping on the rocks and that he and the other leaders noticed that one boulder was loose. He also said that his conscience wouldn't let him walk away without doing something about the hazard.

Ever the pragmatist, Hall also claimed that what he and his fellow scoutmasters did wasn't a bad thing because erosion will eventually cause all the rocks there to fall. "One more rock falling to the ground is not going to destroy the beauty of the park."

Really? What makes you the person who gets to decide that, Mr. Hall? What this reminds me of, more than anything, is when Ronald Reagan was governor of California and said, in the context of a controversy over whether or not, or how much of, California's old-growth redwood forests should be protected from commercial logging interests, " know, a tree is a tree, how many more do you need to look at?" (Thanks to Snopes for that quote.) That sort of attitude was stupid in 1966, when Reagan said that, and it's a stupid attitude now.

Here's a clue, Mr. Hall (and the other scoutmasters). First of all, what you should have been doing was keeping your scouts off of these fragile landmarks. Second of all, it's too late now to be trying to apologize by saying that you should have gone to the park rangers instead of taking things into your own hands. And third, what is wrong with you that you are trying to turn your disregard for the natural world into some sort of heroic act?

I'm not going to post the video the men made, or a link to it. I don't want to give them that satisfaction. You can find it if you really want to see it.

NOTE: This story was edited due to a link that did not work.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A deal is reached...but will they vote on it?

News organizations are now reporting that a deal has been reached to re-open the US government and to avoid default by the US government on its obligations. This is how CNN is reporting the deal.

According to these reports, the deal will fund the government through January 7 and raise the debt limit until February 7. Which is something, but not exactly a lasting solution to the arguments that have been going on. The Tea Party Republicans who had been holding the government hostage in order to try to defund or reverse the Affordable Care Act were thrown a bone in the form of strengthening verification for those receiving subsidies for their coverage under the ACA, apparently allowing them to claim some sort of victory for their efforts.

Of course, I'll believe all of this when I see it. But, it is also being reported that Ted Cruz, one of the leaders in trying to repeal the ACA, has said he will not attempt any procedural strategies or revisit his filibuster in an attempt to derail votes in the Senate and House, which could, it is said, come as early as tonight. However, Cruz did pledge to continue his campaign against the ACA.

What remains to be seen, if course, if John Boehner allows this plan to come to a vote in the House of Representatives, is how it will affect his Speakership in the House of Representatives. Basically, he has lost a fight that at least the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party was seriously invested in. That wing of the party will not be happy with him. But he has also let this farce go on for much too long, and the moderates in the Republican Party, who have been warning about the dangers of taking the tack Boehner and the Tea Partiers have (shutting down the government and risking default) all along will not be happy with him, either. Both groups could well seek to strip him of his leadership position.

Like I said, I won't trust this deal until it is done, voted on, and the government resumes full operation. And I definitely don't trust the Tea Partiers not to try to pull the same thing in January if no lasting agreement is reached before then. Because, you know, I don't trust that wing of the Republican Party any farther than I can thrown two elephants sitting on a grand piano.

If this had been a real issue, this insistence they have on repealing the ACA, I might not have such a problem with this whole thing. But it really isn't. As I've said before here, the ACA was passed legally after lots of wrangling and some concessions by supporters of the program. It was signed legally by the President of the United States. It was even upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States. Additionally, the ACA's opponents have tried somewhere between 40 and 45 times to defund or repeal it. In all those times, they have not been able to muster enough votes to do anything near repeal. And yet, there they stood, stomping their feet like toddlers and obstructing the operation of the government unless they got their way.

That's just childish.

Not that the results have been childish. People's lives have been disrupted. Government workers were put on furlough, losing their pay, or worse, were required to work without pay. And when some worried how they were going to pay their mortgages and other bills, Representative Steve Pearce (R-New Mexico) suggested that they go down to the bank and get a loan to pay their bills. Let me suggest that Pearce, who is a millionaire, is a little out of contact with how the real world works. I suppose Pearce and those like him also didn't care much that the WIC program, which provide nutritional assistance for women, infants, and children who would otherwise have to go without certain basic healthy foods.

I have to admit that this whole episode has left me upset. I don't understand how our system allows a small minority of legislators hold the country hostage in an effort to get what they want. I also don't understand the mindset that has them do this and then some of them threaten that if the President did not knuckle under to their demands and the government went into default, that they would begin impeachment proceedings against him because he wasn't doing his job. This, after the Rules Committee in the House of Representatives changed the rules so that instead of any member being able to bring a vote on reopening the government to a vote on the floor, only the Majority Leader or his designee were allowed to bring the issue to a vote. So much for democracy.

We'll see what happens later today and in the days go come. I'm not monitoring the news right now; I'm sick of hearing about the whole thing. However things go, I'll likely have more to say as events develop.

JUST BY WAY OF A QUICK UPDATE: Both the Senate and the House of Representatives have voted to reopen the government and temporarily raise the debt ceiling. The measure passed the Senate by 81-18, while the House passed the agreement by 285 - 144. Of course, we get to do the whole thing over in January and February. It's more than I expected this morning, however.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

62 years on and still never outdone...

It has been said that there is never a time when an episode of "I Love Lucy" is not being broadcast somewhere in the world.

I'm not sure that is literally true, but if it isn't, it is probably very close to the truth. Certainly, reruns of the show (and, more on reruns later) run often and widely, even now. This is quite an accomplishment, considering that the show debuted 62 years ago today, on October 15, 1951.

"I Love Lucy" was a pioneering show in quite a few ways. For example, it was the first scripted television program to be shot on 35-mm film in front of a studio audience. It was the first show to be shot in the three-camera format that has become standard for sitcoms filmed in front of a studio audience. And, it was the show that gave rise to the rerun.

The thing about that was, when Lucille Ball found that she was pregnant with her second child, it was clear that she would not be able to film the full order of 39 episodes for the season, and it was decided by producers Jess Oppenheimer and Desi Arnaz that they would rebroadcast some of the most popular episodes during the time Ms. Ball could not work after she gave birth. It turned out that these rebroadcasts got high ratings, opening up the idea that this could be done for other shows.

Because the show was filmed on 35-mm film, it meant that the west coast could see the show as those on the east coast and in the middle of the nation could see it without distortion. Previously, shows were often broadcast live to the eastern and central time zones but the rest of the country had to see them via kinescopes, in which the show was filmed from video monitors. This preserved the shows only in a dim, degraded form.

And the cinematography of the show, the way the show looked on film, deserved to be seen in as good a quality format as possible. The cinematographer for the first 149 episodes of the show, from 1951 through 1956, was Karl Freund, who had been cinematographer on such landmark films as "Metropolis" (1927) and "Dracula" (1931). Freund also directed the classic 1932 version of "The Mummy".

There are complaints from some quarters that "I Love Lucy", seen today, seems hopelessly sexist. And it is a product of its time. However, I think the thing that means the most is that the show is funny. Much funnier, in fact, than all but a very few of the many, many sitcoms that have come after it. Personally, I have many favorites. There are, of course, the episodes when Lucy announces that she is pregnant and the one in which she goes to the hospital to have the baby. Here is the clip, from "Lucy is Enciente", when she lets Ricky know that she's going to have a little Ricardo:

I'm not sure exactly what that is at the end of the clip, but despite that, I think this is one of the sweetest scenes I've ever seen on television.

Another one of my favorites is the mirror routine Lucy did with Harpo Marx on one episode:

And then there was the time that Lucy and Ethel got a job in a chocolate factory:

So, yeah. Kind of sexist. Kind of dated. But still, one of the best, all these years later.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Movie Monday: The Authenticity Police Strike Again

There is a lot of talk about "Gravity", the new science-fiction film starring Ssndra Bullock and George Clooney that is tearing up the box office and getting some pretty darn good reviews.

Some of the talk, however, is coming in the form of the authenticity police - people who have criticized some aspects of the film for not being factually accurate enough. On the other hand, some people are firing back with comments about how "Gravity" is a movie, made for entertainment's sake, and not a documentary that needs to be completely accurate on all counts.

This is an argument that has been had before, and it will come up again...and again...and again.

It is an argument that I kind of hate, mostly because I come down squarely in the middle of discussions that are usually very polarizing. Most people either say, "Damn it, if they're going to make a film, they need to get it right." Or they say, "Oh, come on. It's a movie, it's entertainment, and mostly nobody knows what is completely accurate and what isn't, anyway, so don't sweat the details."

As far as I'm concerned, both are sort of right and both are sort of wrong.

First, the authenticity police. Yes, I know. You have an area of expertise, and you want to see something you can believe up on the screen without having to completely turn off all your critical facilities as an astronomer, or as an historian,, or as a doctor, or whatever. And I understand that. I'm enough of a history geek that I hate it when an historical movie gets its history completely wrong. Even when it's trivial history. I yelled out loud at the screen when I saw "Jurassic Park" and the statement is made about when Disneyland first opened, "in 1956". Before I could help myself, "It was 1955, you idiots," or something very close to that came out of my mouth. Loudly. In a full theater. It was a first-day-of-release, first showing of the day, and lots of people had been waiting to see the film.

I'm not proud of myself for yelling in the theater like that. But, you know, it was an easy fact to check, and it would really have been nice if Spielberg and company had gotten it right. In fact, it seemed to me like it was even worse because it was Spielberg who had gotten it wrong. There really is no good reason for getting that fact wrong, other than laziness and sloppiness.

This is how serious some people are about finding errors of all kinds in movies, a clip I found on YouTube listing something like 36 errors of various kinds in "Jurassic Park". It's amusing, but I'd like to see whoever did this make a movie of their own rather than just criticizing those who do actually make movies. Also, all this picking of nits, and they didn't even catch the Disneyland detail:

And the truth is, most people won't know the difference most of the time. I could well have been the only person in the theater that day who knew, offhand, what year Disneyland opened. I probably only know because I'm a big fan of the Happiest Place on Earth and I've got a brain that collects trivia like picture frames collect dust.

On the other hand...there are some movies that could do with a little more authenticity and fact-checking. I'm talking here mostly about historical films, those that aren't documentaries but are going to be taken by people who see them casually as more or leas the real thing. Let's pick on Spielberg again, this time regarding his 2012 film "Lincoln", which was widely although not universally praised by critics and was a box-office success. It was also nominated for a long list of awards, and won a few of them. But historians argued at length about the film and it's historical accuracy, with some saying it did better than most Hollywood productions in getting it right, while others called it wildly off the mark, historically speaking. Some of them said that they mistakes were mostly small ones, while others claimed that it got some of the big things wrong.

My feeling is that while films generally should be viewed as the artistic pieces that they are, films like "Lincoln" that claim to be or are perceived to be "telling it like it was", so to speak, need to be held to a higher standard, simply because most people don't know the difference and are going to take what they see on the screen at face value and think that the depictions are mostly historically accurate. being a bit of a history geek, it sort of bugs me when people recite facts and then cite as their sources things like films and historical novels that are really art and not history.

This can get a bit sticky when it comes to films like Oliver Stone's "JFK", which is full of speculation. However, the speculation is historical in nature in that the charges it depicts were really made, in the 1960s and later, by the real version of Jim Garrison (portrayed in the film by Kevin Costner). So, yes, the film is mostly accurate in that way. On the other hand, nobody but some (and by some, I mean certainly not nearly all) conspiracy theorists. Stone was widely criticized for making "JFK" and sort of planting ideas that most people, certainly most historians, think are a bunch of garbage.

I guess sometimes you have to judge a film like "JFK" on its fidelity to the story it is telling more on its fidelity to consensus history. And the thing is, "JFK" can be interpreted in two different ways. One of those ways is that it was Oliver Stone's version of what really happened to John F. Kennedy. And that might have been what he was doing. But, the film could also be seen as telling the story of Jim Garrison's single-minded, and possibly wrong-headed, search for an answer to the question of what really happened to John F. Kennedy. either way, I think it is a good illustration of the problems and pitfalls of making a film based on historical events. Because of the nature of history, you are never going to please everyone. People interpret facts, and in making a film based on historical incidents the filmmaker will inevitably step on the toes who don't interpret the historical facts in the same way the filmmaker does. That was where Oliver Stone ran afoul of many critics and not a few politicians and political pundits. That is also where Spielberg ran into some trouble with the historians who didn't like his choices in "Lincoln".

As for a film like "Gravity", which is not based on anything that ever really happened (is not history, in other words) and is meant to be a good science fiction yarn, I think the critics need to just take a breath and calm down. This is especially true of the ones who reportedly got upset that Sandra Bullock's hair in the film did not float like it would in real zero-gravity. The reality is that short of using the Vomit Comet (as Ron Howard did when he directed "Apollo 13") to film scenes meant to take place in zero-gravity, there is probably no good way to recreate a detail like that authentically.

Here's the trailer for "Gravity". From the looks of it, the filmmakers did a more than adequate job:

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Music Sunday: The "The Beatles Go Their Separate Ways" Edition

1969 ended on a down note, as I've written about before here, with the disastrous December 6 free concert headlined by the Rolling Stones at Altamont Speedway in California.

Things didn't get any better in 1970, which was the year the Beatles broke up. Actually, John Lennon had told the group he was leaving in late 1969, but agreed to keep his departure quiet until after "Abbey Road" was released so as not to hurt sales of the record. The first public announcement that the band was breaking up came on April 10, 1970, from Paul McCartney, ten days before he released his first solo album, "McCartney", which he had started working on after Lennon made his announcement.

"McCartney" was truly a solo album, with every instrument on the record played by McCartney. The only contribution from anyone other than McCartney himself were some background vocals and sound effects by his wife, Linda. The most memorable song from that album was "Maybe I'm Amazed". It got considerable radio airplay in the US when the album came out despite the fact that it was not released as a single at the time:

The Beatles' last studio album, "Let It Be" was released on May 8, 1970, followed on May 20 by the release of the documentary film "Let It Be". The documentary is interesting in that it shows the band in the process of breaking up. The film didn't get very good reviews, but it managed to win an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score, and is remarkable for the rooftop concert that the band gave, the last time all four members of the band played in public together. This clip is "Get Back" from that performance:

It wasn't just Paul McCartney who released a solo album that year. In fact, Ringo Starr released two solo albums in 1970. The first, "Sentimental Journey", had come out on March 27, 1970 in the UK. It was a collection of old standards, and was a project that the rest of the band members are reported to have encouraged him to do. Later in the year, on September 25, he released "Beaucoups of Blues", with more of a country-music flavor. Here is the title song of that album:

George Harrison released "All Things Must Pass" on November 20, 1970, but it was not his first solo effort. It was his third solo album, after 1968's "Wonderwall Music", the soundtrack from the film "Wonderwall", which was mostly instrumental in nature, and 1969's "Electronic Sound", which consisted of two long tracks featuring the use of a Moog synthesizer.

Harrison's 1970 effort was ambitious, with three discs and 23 songs, including "My Sweet Lord" and "What is Life". The album did very well both critically and popularly, reaching number 1 on both the US and UK album charts. "What is Life" wasn't as popular as "My Sweet Lord" (it only reached number 10 on the Billboard singles chart, while "My Sweet Lord" hit number 1), but I like it better:

Despite being the first of the Beatles to say he was leaving, John Lennon was the last of the four to release a solo album, with "John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band" coming out on December 11, 1970. It was well-received critically at the time it was released and has been named to several "best album of all time" lists, including placing at number 23 on Rolling Stone magazine's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In 2006, Time magazine rated it one of the 100 Best Albums of All Time. It is a remarkable album. My favorite song on the album, and one of my favorite songs of all time, is "Working Class Hero":

All of the members of the Beatles went on to make interesting music, although John Lennon and George Harrison left the world way too soon. Paul McCartney is still recording and touring; in fact, he has a new album, "New", set to be released tomorrow (which I just found out as I was researching this post). Ringo Starr last released a new album in 2012 called, appropriately enough, "Ringo 2012", and he and his band, the All Starr Band, toured the Pacific Rim earlier this year.

Still, it's sometimes difficult to fathom that it has been 43 years since the rock band that changed the world broke up, and a bit longer than that since all four were in a recording studio together.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

NLCS: The TBS Baseball Comedy Hour...and some decent baseball

I'm sitting here waiting for game two of the NLCS to begin.

I wasn't happy with the outcome of game one last night, all 13 freaking innings of it. I have to say, I'm not really all that fond of baseball games that have a bunch of action in innings 1 through 3 or so (as last night), then nothing much really happens until, oh, extra innings. And, of course, since the Dodgers didn't win last night, I'm not happy with that. Although, right at the end, I got to the point where I didn't really care much who won, so long as the game ended. Soon.

On the other hand...

If they hadn't gone to the 13th inning, those of us watching the game on TV wouldn't have been treated to that shot of the Dodgers' catcher grabbing himself. Twice. He was sending signs to the pitcher, but I'm not really clear on whether they've integrated grabbing himself into the signs, or whether that was punctuation that the catcher inserted himself, just for shits and giggles. Certainly, he got giggles here, from my roommate and myself. I started laughing and said, "Did you see that?" Roommate looked at me and said, "I'm glad you saw that, too. I thought I might have been imagining it."

No. It was no hallucination. And it was very, very funny. I just wonder if anyone called TBS or the league or the FCC to complain. Because, you know, some people just have no sense of humor.

This series is interesting in another respect, at least in this house. This is because I bleed Dodger Blue and my roommate, who grew up in Missouri, is a dyed-in-the-wool Cardinals fan. It's just a good thing that we both have a sense of humor about the fact that both the Dodgers and the Cards have shown themselves entirely too good at snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory. Sort of like the Dodgers did last night.

So, if the Dodgers don't win this series and go on to the world Serious...erm, Series, I won't be happy. On the other hand, I won't be surprised. I won't be like they've never done that before.

On the way, there will still be lots of entertainment...even if the Dodgers' catcher doesn't repeat his performance from last night. Because there are always stranger and silly things that go on in baseball games. Like the plague of long, scruffy beards.

What is that all about, by the way? I know that baseball players are an incredibly superstitious bunch, and will do things like not change their socks, or their underwear, or not shave if they are on a streak. But some of these beards have clearly been around much longer than that. And, are they all on streaks of some kind? We got a good laugh from the Dodgers' (and formerly the Giants') pitcher Brian Wilson last night, though, whose beard is now so long that he had a rubber band around the bottom of it, presumably so it wouldn't get in the way of his pitching.

Yes, I know, Wilson is eccentric. I just didn't realize there were that many eccentrics in the Major Leagues. But, from the proliferation of scruffy beards, it's starting to look like I was wrong, and there are plenty of them.

Well, the game is on now. I'm going to go watch.

Go, Dodgers!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

What would you pay good money for?

Every time I think that our celebrity-obsessed culture has finally jumped the very last shark possible, somebody goes and does something even more egregiously weird than the last time, or the time before that, or the time before that.

If you follow along around here, you know that this kind of thing drives me crazy. I've written about it before. Back in 2010, I wrote about somebody's plan to auction off Lee Harvey Oswald's original coffin. I don't recall if that sale ever happened, but the prospect of it was reported at the time.

I thought I had also written about another plan to auction off the bathtub that James Earl Ray had supposedly stood in while he shot Martin Luther King, Jr., but I can't find that post right now, so that might be a figment of my imagination. The sale of the tub, however, is not a figment of my imagination: NBC news reported on its sale to a casino in 2006.

Both sales are just inconceivable to me. Morbid. And just plain strange.

What, you might wonder, brings the subject up again?

Well, this does - a story on CNN's website reporting that someone is planning to auction off six of Marilyn Monroe's facial x-rays. To make this even more of a draw, I suppose, for some people, the x-rays were apparently taken just two months before her death. In the story, a representative of the auction house handling the sale justifies the sale by citing "demand". The auction house expects to bring in between $20,000 and $30,000 from the x-rays and says that it has already identified interested parties.

I'm really not sure how to even respond to this, except to say that I think it is horribly invasive. Yes, Marilyn Monroe has been dead for over 50 years. Even so, this still strikes me as nothing but wrong. And then there's the further revelation in the article about other specific things that her medical records reveal about her - things I'm not going to repeat here because I don't think it is anyone's business what is in her medical files. I even feel kind of bad about providing the link to the article online, and I'm really only linking to provide proof that this story is not all in my head.

Morbid curiosity drives these sorts of auctions, and morbid curiosity is not anything like a good excuse for an auction like this. Even in the cases above, of Oswald's coffin and Ray's bathtub, with the connection to actual history, I don't see anything but morbidity at play.

I'm not going to belabor the point any further. But, if you've got another perspective on this, I'd like to hear it. Because I just don't understand why anyone would want to buy Marilyn Monroe's x-rays. Or, really, anything else relating to a celebrity. It just doesn't make any sense to me.

One other question before I go for the day: What would you pay good money for? An autograph? A piece of furniture that belonged to someone you admire? Something else? Let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Guest Post: We All Have our Happy Places...

Today's post is a guest post from Gloria, who writes at EdgeofGloria and at Recovering Bankrupt. You'll find links to both of her blogs at the end of this post, so go give her a read after you've read this post, about some of her favorite places. I'm happy to welcome Gloria and I hope you enjoy her post. I did.


I was thinking about favorite places. I was inspired by something I read on Elaine's blog, I was just thinking. I complain a lot, but there are some places that really make me happy. Here they are, in no particular order.

My bed: I do need a new mattress, but I love my bed. The box springs are Stearns and Foster, which used to belong to my parents, which give you an idea of how old it is. They probably bought it in the mid-50s. So the mattress is shot, but I love my bed. I have a down comforter, and I like having my room on the cool side so I can snuggle under the comforter. I use the comforter even in the summer; where I crank up the fan, and sometimes even the air conditioner, so I can slide underneath. I use a CPAP machine, so sometimes I pull the comforter over my head, blocking out the light, but totally being able to breathe.

My house: I hate it sometimes, but I love it. It's familiar, as I never left the house I grew up in, and now I own half of it. It's the only place I've ever lived. It's conveniently located, and I love my backyard. Sometimes I sit in my backyard and grill out, and I look up at the sky through the trees, and I feel blissful.

Cedar Point: This place is an amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio. I love roller coasters, and Cedar Point has some of the best in the world. Millennium Force is the best, in my opinion. It's a very smooth coaster (steel) and the first hill is so steep, (it's an 80 degree angle) it feels like you are moving inward towards the base, instead of outward. It doesn't go upside down, so there's no over the shoulder harness. Instead, you are held in by a seat belt and lap bar. I always try to sit in the front seat. Since I usually go by myself, I have the whole row to myself. I spread out my arms, and flying down that first hill, I feel like I'm literally flying like a bird. It's fast (93 miles per hour) and the overbanked turns really do make me feel like I'm swooping around like a bird. There are two hills that are zero G, so I feel like I might come out of my seat when I hit those. I feel so happy when I ride this ride. It's the closest I can get to feeling like I am a bird that can fly.

Right after I am done with this ride, I feel like I can enjoy the rest of the park. I usually don't play skill games, but I might try a few video games. I enjoy walking on the beach of Lake Erie. It's fun to see what people are wearing and what prizes they've won. I usually try to avoid the food. It's quite expensive, and this last time I went, I packed a bunch of stuff to take with me. I did break down and have a Coke and some French fries, but the fries weren't that great. I take lots of pictures, and those are my souvenirs. I've been broke for the last four years or so, so I've had to watch my money when I go to Cedar Point. It's usually enough for the ticket, gas there and back, tolls (it's easier to navigate the turnpike than to try and figure out the highways to get there) and enough for a small meal. And that's it. This time, I had a little more money, so I had a snack, and also paid to play a ring toss game. I didn't win anything, but because I bought a hatful of rings, I got to keep the hat. At least I got something out of it, which is more than what you get from most skill games.

But Cedar Point also reminds me of trips I took there from childhood. Some of the rides and things they had back then are long gone, but I'm so glad my parents took me there. For a long time, I didn't go to Cedar Point because I didn't have anyone to go with. But then I decided I didn't need anyone to go with me. So I started going by myself and enjoying it very much. I just wish I could bottle the feeling I get from riding Millennium Force and take it whenever I needed to.

Cedar Point is open through the end of October, and of course from about mid September until they close, they have Halloweekends. I always enjoy the tombstones of rides/attractions they no longer have. I'm sad they got rid of the Funhouse before I got old enough to enjoy it.

But there it is, some of my favorite places. Check out my blog for some candid opinions of what makes me happy, sad and pissed off. I'm also writing a bankruptcy blog, and you can check that out at Thanks to Elaine for exchanging guest posts with me, and I hope you will see more in the future.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Conspiracy theory poll, with some interesting results...

I've written here before about how fascinated I am with conspiracy theories and the people who subscribe to them. While I do not tend to believe them, I think a good conspiracy theory can be a fun thing to think about. More and more, I am coming to the conclusion that some such theories can be dangerous if too many people start to really believe them, but in general and in an historical sense these theories can serve as interesting thought problems. I've often thought that it would be interesting to teach a critical thinking course based on conspiracy theories.

Given all this, my interest perked up when I heard news this morning (on MSNBC, so hat tip to that network) that a group called Public Policy Polling has done a new survey on people's attitudes regarding conspiracy theories. I found PPP's press release regarding the survey on the 'Net, and it makes for interesting reading.

First of all, they covered an interesting variety of conspiracy theories in the questions they asked. They solicited opinions on questions including the perception that President Obama is "trying to take everyone's guns away" to whether or not national sporting events are rigged to the possibility that the US government has secretly allowed space aliens to take over society in exchange for a leg up in technology. They also covered black helicopters and Men in Black, false-flag operations, banking and money issues, the possibility that the US uses assassination to get rid of people who are too vocally political or countercultural.

The results are interesting, as well. The big general conclusion PPP came to based on the results of their polling is that Republicans are more likely than Democrats to accept conspiracy theories. This is not a huge surprise to me, considering recent developments. For example, the survey found that while just 14 percent of Democrats believe that President Obama is trying to take away people's guns, 62 percent of Republicans believe this is so, while of those self-identifying as Independent or Other 38 percent believe that Mr. Obama wants to relieve them of their firearms. The thing that was more surprising to me was that there wasn't much difference on this question between women and men, with 35 percent of women overall believing that there is an administration move to take guns away, while 38 percent of men think this is so.

The survey asked two questions regarding the possibility that the US government engages in assassination to rid itself of public figures who espouse beliefs that the government might find inconvenient. First, PPP asked whether respondents think that the government has used assassination to kill "entertainers who have tried to spread a counterculture message they didn’t like, such as John Lennon, Kurt Cobain, Tupac Shakur, and others." Fairly predictably, just 12 percent of respondents overall believe this to be true, while 72 percent do not believe this assertion and 16 percent were not sure.

But then, the survey went on to ask if respondents believe that "the US government has engaged in the assassination of political leaders who tried to spread a political message they didn’t like, such as Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and others." Here, 23 percent - nearly a quarter of those surveyed - said they believe that the US government has done this, while 61 percent said they don't think the government has assassinated domestic political leaders. Again, 16 percent said they were not sure. That figure - 23 percent - is fairly significant, I think.

A related question, whether respondents believe that the US government engages in "false-flag" operations. As the question explains, a false-flag operation is one in which the government carries out "mass shootings or terrorist events" and then makes it look as if another group or government actually planned and carried out those acts. Overall, 13 percent of those surveyed said that, yes, they think the government does that, while 70 percent said they do not believe that and 17 percent were not sure. Among Democrats, 9 percent said they believe that, while 21 percent of Republicans agreed that they think the US engages in false-flag operations. A little more surprising, to me, was that more women than men think these operations happen, with 14 percent of women and 12 percent of men believing these operations occur.

I was also a little surprised that 55 percent of those self-identifying as "somewhat conservative" and 74 percent of those who say they are "very conservative" accept that the US government carries out false-flag operations. My surprise at this is not so much that conservatives hold this attitude, but that I remember the reactions to suggestions that the 9/11 terrorist attacks might have been a false-flag operation. The conservative and very conservative people I know were horribly offended that anyone would suspect that the government would have done something like that, and reports in the press showed the same thing. Perhaps their point now is that "we" wouldn't do that (remembering that a very conservative administration was in the White House in 2001), but that "they", the Democratic administration certainly would. I'm not so sure they can have it both ways, but that could just be me.

On a less serious question, I also find it really interesting that so many people believe that major national sporting events are "sometimes" rigged by "referees and league offices" in order to create better ratings, more money, and more publicity for their sports (the NBA playoffs and the Super Bowl were specifically named in the question). Overall, 32 percent of respondents said that, yes, they believe that some sporting events are thrown, while 49 percent do not believe this and 19 percent are not sure. That's a huge number of people who believe that some big sporting events are rigged. Are these people being pragmatic in thinking that, or are they just very, very cynical? I have no idea, but I also have to admit that aside from boxing, which has a tradition of rumors of fixed fights, it never occurred to me that this might happen on a regular and widespread basis. Of course, I've heard about the Black Sox affair, so I know it has happened. But as a regular thing? It just never occurred to me. Maybe I'm just naïve.

Then again, maybe it's just my general ideological leanings that lead me to this attitude. The survey also showed that those who say they are somewhat or very conservative are more likely to think that big games get thrown than are those who say they are very or somewhat liberal. While 27 percent of those who consider themselves very liberal said they believe this happens, 41 percent of those who say they are very conservative believe it. Those who say they are somewhat liberal and somewhat conservative are much closer in their beliefs about this question, with 20 percent of those who say they are somewhat liberal and 23 percent of those who say they are somewhat conservative believing that games are sometimes fixed. Maybe the most surprising is that those who say they are moderates are nearly as likely as those who are very conservative to believe that some games are thrown, with 39 percent of those who claim to be moderates saying that they believe this.

The question that got the least amount of respondents answering yes was the issue of space aliens and the US government. The question was asked this way: "Do you think the US government has secretly allowed aliens to take over our society in exchange for help with industrial technological advances, such as electric power and the microwave, or not?" Overall, just 3 percent of respondents said they believe this, while 86 percent said they do not believe this and 10 percent said they are not sure. When the answers to this question are broken down by ideology, of those who claim to be very conservative, 5 percent said that, yes, they believe this, while 3 percent of those identifying as somewhat conservative said they think this is true. Among moderates, 2 percent answered yes to this question while 6 percent of those who say they are somewhat liberal said they believe this. No respondents self-identifying as very liberal said they believe this.

Something else that surprised me is that more women than men believe that the government has allowed the aliens to take over, with 5 percent of women respondents answering yes to this question, while only 2 percent of men said they believe this. I'm not sure why this surprises me, but it does. It is also interesting to me that while just 1 percent of Democrats say they believe this, 7 percent of Republicans and 3 percent of those who identify as Independent or Other say they think this is true. Something else that I found interesting is that while just 2 percent of those who self-identify as white believe that the aliens have taken over, 5 percent of African-American respondents and 9 percent of Hispanic respondents said they believe this. Again, I'm not sure why this came as a surprise, but it did.

There is much more to this survey, with other serious issues addressed along with issues such as Men in Black and black helicopters. You can find the press release from the PPP here (it is in PDF form). I guess my question to you all is, do you find any of this information surprising? Also, do you think that surveys like this have any real validity? And, how do you feel about these issues?

Feel free to leave a comment answering any or all of these questions.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Movie Monday: The "I've Seen That One, and That One, and, Oh, That One, Too" Edition

I found this really cool book at the library the other day, Son of the 100 Best Movies You've Never Seen" (ECW Press, 2008; 304 pages), by Richard Crouse. Crouse is a Canadian film critic who, I assume has written another (first) book about great unseen films. Considering the "Son of" in the title of this one and all.

I picked up the book primarily to see which films Crouse had listed that I haven't even heard of, much less seen. It was no surprise at all that there were some films listed that I haven't heard of. Quite a few in fact.

A few stood out, just because of their titles. "Amphibian Man" (1962)? "The Brown Bunny" (2003)? "The Cars That Ate Paris?" (1974)? "Switchblade Sisters" (1975)?

To be honest, I'm a little surprised that I had never heard of "The Brown Bunny". Apparently, it set off a feud between the filmmaker, Vincent Gallo (who also starred), and renowned film critic Roger Ebert after Ebert called it "the worst in the history of Cannes" after it was shown at that festival. The feud went so far as for Gallo to put a hex on Ebert's colon, and ended only when Ebert softened his opinion of the film after he viewed an edited version. This is the sort of story that usually comes to my attention, one way or another.

The other thing that surprised me about the book is that I have actually seen several of the supposedly unsuccessful and/or obscure films on Crouse's list.

Six of them in fact.

Those six are: "The Astronaut Farmer" (2006); "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" (2002); "Fantastic Voyage" (1966); "The Last Laugh" (1924); "Serenity" (2005); and "Titicut Follies" (1967).

I only saw two of the films - "Titicut Follies" and "The Last Laugh" - because they were shown in college courses I took. "The Last Laugh" is a German silent film that I saw in a film history class. Directed by F. W. Murnau and starring Emil Jannings, it is an exquisite look at how some people become so defined by their occupations that when they lose their job they disappear, even to themselves.

"Titicut Follies", on the other hand, is a documentary that takes a harsh look at conditions in a Massachusetts asylum for the criminally insane. It is such a harsh film that it was banned and virtually unseen from shortly after its release in 1967. The actual ban, which was handed down y the Massachusetts Supreme Court and allowed showings only to a few selected medical, legal, and education professionals, was lifted in 1992. Even then, however, filmmaker Frederick Wiseman kept his film mostly out o the limelight for years, although it was shown once on PBS after the ban was lifted. Now, of course, it can be found on YouTube.

I saw "Titicut Follies" in a class on the anthropology of images. I probably would never have even heard of it otherwise. It is difficult - sometimes nearly impossible - to watch, but it is a brilliant piece of filmmaking.

Neither "The Astronaut Farmer" nor "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" did very well at the box office, even though they were meant to be mainstream commercial films. I can kind of understand that lack of success in the case of "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind". It is an odd film, based on the memoir of the same name by game-show entrepreneur Chuck Barris. In the 1960s and 1970s Barris created such iconic game shows as "The Dating Game", "The Newlywed Game", and "The Gong Show". In his memoir, Barris claimed that he used his shows as a cover or his other job - as an assassin for the CIA. Who knows whether he really meant for any of the memoir to be taken sseriously. And, of course, the CIA claims they have no knowledge of him as an employee of any kind.

Still, it made a marvelous concept for a film. After floating around in development hell for a while, it got made with George Clooney directing (and playing Barris's CIA handler), and Sam Rockwwell and Drew Barrymore starring as Barris and his love int4erest. As I said, it's a odd film, but in a good way. Here is the trailer for the film, with a little taste of it's oddness:

I'm a bit more puzzled about why "The Astronaut Farmer" didn't do any better than it did at the box office. Starring Billy Bob Thornton, the film tells the story of an astronaut in training who was cut from NASA before he was able to go into space. Not to be denied, the builds his own rocket in his barn, risking everything he has to do so. Nobody notices until he starts shopping around for rocket fuel, which sets alarms going off at the FBI and the FAA. After numerous setbacks and near-disaster, he starts over again and eventually, with a launch crew consisting of his family, he manages to launch himself and his rocket into space.

A little unbelievable? Yeah, but it's one of the best "triumph-over-adversity" films I've ever seen. Thornton hits all the right notes as Charlie Farmer, and the supporting cast (which includes Bruce Willis in an uncredited role) do their jobs well. There is a message, but it is a good one: that you can do anything you set your mind to. This is a message that more people need to hear and believe right now, I think. But, I'll get off my soap-box and show you the trailer for "The Astronaut Farmer":

The final two movies on Crouse's list that I've seen - "Fantastic Voyage" (1966) and "Serenity" (2005) - are both science fiction.

"Serenity" is the film that gives closure to the Fox television series "Firefly", which was cancelled after just eleven of its episodes had aired but that still managed to find a devoted, if initially small, audience. "Firefly" came and went so fast that, as much of a science fiction fan as I am, I missed it on its initial run. I caught up later, but I still wish I had found it when it was new.

Yeah, it's premise is unusual - basically it's cowboys in space, and the ragged losers of a war for their part of the universe against the huge military corporation that won - but it works. When creator, writer, and director Joss Whedon puts a herd of cows on a spaceship for transport, or has a train robbery conducted out of a spaceship, you believe it. Or at least I did. The film features the same crew of outlaws, miscreants, and refugees as the series, and it feels like a bigger, better episode, just transferred to the big screen. And, just like the series, the movie will make you laugh and it will break your heart.

And then there's "Fantastic Voyage". I saw this one when it first was released in theaters in 1966, which made me about ten at the time. Even then, I could see that the story had plot holes you could drive a space ship through. Even so, it holds the viewer's attention (and, yes, I have seen it again since I was ten). The effects in the film, which tells the story of a miniaturized submarine and it's medical crew voyaging through the human body, were state of the art at the time - it won two Academy Awards, for Visual Effects and for Art Direction, Yes, it is very much a film of its decade. But given the shape the world is in, in this decade, a trip back to that less complicated time (well, relatively) isn't such a bad prospect.

The book Crouse wrote is fun. I'd recommend tracking it down. I know, I plan on finding the first volume, to see what is on that list and how many of those films I've seen.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Music Sunday: The "Year Before 1969" Edition

It occurs to me that a lot gets said and written about 1969 and the music it produced. It was a landmark year, after all, with Woodstock and Altamont, and all the hoopla that surrounded those events. But what about the year before? How was 1968, musically speaking?

Well, Led Zeppelin performed in public for the first time, as The New Yardbirds (just two months after The Yardbirds had disbanded). Calling themselves The New Yardbirds made some sense, as Jimmy Page had played with The Yardbirds. Other bands starting up during the year included Yes, Rush, Deep Purple, and Black Sabbath (as Earth). Cream disbanded, and so did the Buffalo Springfield. Before Cream broke up, the band played a farewell performance at Royal Albert Hall, the last time Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker performed together until 1993, when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Here is "White Room", from Cream's farewell concert. I'm not sure what the narration at the beginning of the clip is about:

And this is the band's performance of "Sunshine of Your Love" from the Rock and Roll Induction ceremony in 1993:

While not an immediate break-up, The Monkees ended the run of their television series, for which the band had been created in 1966. The show ran for 58 episodes. I've written here before about my belief that, especially once allowed to record their own music and have some creative input into what they were doing, The Monkees weren't really that bad a band. The movie they made, also in 1968, was not nearly as well-received as their TV series, but the band soldiered on, with some defections (Peter Tork left in 1969 and Michael Nesmith left in 1970) until 1971. There were reunions later on, of course, but very rarely did all four members of the band get back together for very long at a time.

The songs that were popular in 1968 ran a wide range of genres and styles. The biggest song of the year was The Beatles' "Hey Jude", and "Lady Madonna was also a big hit for the band that year as a single, although it did not make it onto one of their albums until 1970. "Lady Madonna" was the last Beatles' single released on the Parlophone label, with all subsequent recording coming out on the Beatles' own Apple Records:

And then there was this, "I Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)", by a band called The First Edition. It's hard to tell whether this song was advocating for better living through chemicals or warning against that way of life, but it's an interesting song of its time. And, yes, that is Kenny Rogers singing lead:

From the film "The Graduate", Simon and Garfunkel had a hit in 1968 with "Mrs. Robinson". Here is a live performance of the song from that year:

"The Weight" one of The Band's best-known songs, also was released in 1968. This performance is from their appearance at Woodstock in 1969:

Of course, there was music in 1968 that protested the involvement of the United States in Vietnam. One of the best of those was this song, "Sky Pilot", by Eric Burdon and the Animals:

So, there's a little taste of the music of 1968. As always, I encourage you to go find more on your own, because there is never enough time or room here to share everything I would like to share.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Saturday Special: One of my very favorite comedy things...

It has come to my attention that on this day in 1969, "Monty Python's Flying Circus" was first broadcast on the BBC.

I love British humor, and I love the Pythons. And so, because I have things to do today, and they are taking longer than they should because I still have this ridiculous allergy thing going on, I'm just going to leave this here for you to enjoy. It's my favorite Python sketch of all time, "The Argument Clinic":