Friday, January 31, 2014

On second thought...

I posted earlier that I didn't have much to say after a busy day.

I've had second thoughts about that, because there's something that is bothering me a lot the past few days.

In the past week, maybe week and a half, I've read not one but two books that I checked out of the library that both had the same problem - someone who checked them out before me felt the need to go through and edit the text of the books.

Now, I can sympathize with this urge. I've noticed in the past, oh, five or ten years that books, including some published by very big mainstream publishing houses, seem not to have the editing and proofreading attention that they should have. Typographical errors abound, weird grammatical constructions that I would have thought would be eliminated in proofreading have become more common, and the books just generally don't seem as professionally presented as they used to be. And as they should be, considering what the publishing houses charge for their product these days.

However, and above and beyond the fact that library books are not the property of the people reading them and the readers should therefore not write in them, whoever did the home "editing" in these two books clearly had no idea what they were doing. Not only that, they had no idea what they were doing in the very same way in both cases. If it weren't for the fact that these two books were in different subject areas - one was about the coming of age of the Baby Boomers, and the other was a memoir by singer Eric Burdon - and that they were from two different libraries in two different counties (I picked up one in a local branch and got the other through interlibrary loan), I would suspect that the same person was responsible for the markings in both books.

Whoever did it, they had issues with punctuation. There were commas crossed out, other commas added, and some commas replaced by semicolons. And none of the alterations made any grammatical sense at all. I'm not talking about the dispute over the Oxford comma here. My roommate kept laughing at me because I kept complaining this free-form editing and threatening to throw the books against the wall. In the case of the Baby Boomer book, I got so frustrated at one point that if I hadn't been close to the end of the book I probably would have just given up and returned it to the library before I finished it. It wasn't really that good a book, anyway.

I guess all of this is a long and roundabout way of saying that I don't care what you do with the books you own. I write in my own books all the time (as I think I've mentioned here before); that's my way of having a dialogue with the book and the writer. But, please, please, please...don't write in library books.

That's what God invented sticky-notes for, isn't it?


Not much to say, except that home internet issues have been resolved, and so I should be able to post more regularly again.

I'll especially be glad to be back to Music Sunday and Movie Monday.

Really not much else to say today, except that it's been a really busy day today, and so I have no idea what's going on in the world and so have nothing much to say about any of it.

Thursday, January 23, 2014


By way of explanation...I've got a lot on my plate right now (and, oh, how I hate that phrase, but it's the best way I can think of to say it right now), and so I've been away for a bit. This may continue for awhile. So, not seeing a daily post here right now is just a sign that I'm doing other things. I hope things calm down soon and I can get back here on a daily basis.

Probably a good thing I can't write very day right now, though. Most of what I would be writing would be me in rant mode.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Movie Monday: Short and sweet...and funny

I'm having a really crappy day today. In fact, I've had a really crappy few days, which is why I haven't been around here.

Since it's Movie Monday, I decided I needed to see something funny. This clip, from "What's Up, Doc?" (1972) is really, really funny:

"What's Up, Doc?", which was directed by Peter Bogdanovich, starred Barbra Streisand, Ryan O'Neal and, in her first screen role, Madeline Kahn. It is an old-fashioned screwball comedy about musical rocks, a convention of musicologists, mistaken identities, and all manner of silliness. It was the third highest-grossing film in the US in 1972. The writing is top-notch, which is why it earned the 1973 Writers Guild of America award for Best Comedy Written Directly for the Screen.

The film doesn't seem to be around much any more, but it should be. If you get a chance, you really should see it.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Some thoughts on current reading and current events...

As I mentioned here on Sunday in my Music Sunday post, I am currently reading - plowing my way through, really - a biography of John Lennon (Lennon: The Man, the Myth, the Music - The Definitive Life, by Tim Riley [2011, Hyperion; 765 pages]). It's an interesting and well-written book, but it's long. Very, very long. And, because I'm emotionally invested in it - I've been a Beatles fan for decades and, for all his flaws as a human being, a fan of Lennon and his work, I sometimes have to just stop reading for a while and digest what I've read and prepare myself to go back for the next bit - it is taking me some time to get through the thing.

Earlier this morning, I was reading a portion of the book where the author was writing about the time right after the Beatles broke up, about how the band had become by then a symbol of something larger than just a collection of four very talented musicians, and about how fans at the time were so unwilling to let go of the possibility of a reunion. If you were around during those years, between the break-up and when John Lennon was murdered, you know that there was always some rumor or another that the Beatles were going to get back together, either for the long term or for at least a one-off show. Of course, the reunion never came, despite occasional offers of huge amounts of money to do so. There were a number of collaborations by various configurations of the band's members through the years. The closest any kind of reunion ever came to happening, however, was on Ringo Starr's third solo album, "Ringo" (1973), on which the other three Beatles appear in various places, but never all together on the same song.

Even as a fan of the band, I never was really that enthusiastic about a reunion. It always seemed to me that it just wouldn't be the same as it had been, and it seemed kind of pointless. There had been the Beatles, and then there wasn't any more, and that was okay because all four men were doing other things. That's just the way the world works. It would have been nice if the band had stayed together, but since they didn't, I thought, it was time for everybody, fans included, to move on to the new reality.

Except maybe not so much.

I saw an item online a couple of days ago which said that the two remaining Beatles will be performing on the Grammy awards show, which will be broadcast on January 26. The occasion is the awarding of the Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award to The Beatles. None of the items I've seen - and I checked around the Internet to make sure I wasn't imagining that first item and that it wasn't just a rumor - have even said whether Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr will be performing together, just that they will both be performing. Still, when I saw the notice, I went from zero to "Oh, my god, I have to watch that" in about a nanosecond. This, even though I hadn't previously given a thought to watching the show at all. The Grammys, to be honest, have not been a viewing priority for me in years.

Apparently, a reunion of the remaining Beatles is something I've wanted to see more than I realized.

Or, maybe, I'm just getting old and nostalgic. I'm not really sure what the deal is. All I know is, I do want to see that. That, and I hope that the people who put on the Grammys show don't screw it up.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A little good ice skating can brighten up your whole day...

I had several things I was going to write about today. And it would have probably turned into a rant, since I'm having that kind of a day today - too much to do, not enough time to do all of it, and some crappy things in the news.

And then I found this on my Facebook feed. And it made me smile, and I don't feel quite so cranky now. So, instead of going negative here today, I choose to go positive and leave this here for you to watch and leave it at that for the day:

That was Jason Brown, on Sunday at the 2014 US Figure Skating Championships. He came second to Jeremy Abbott in the competition, which means that he's going to be going to the Olympics next month. At age 19, that's not a bad outcome.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Movie Monday: The "Gotta See Movies" Edition

I found a really nifty book at the library the other day, "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Jay Schneider. This particular copy is the 5th anniversary edition, which is, according to Wikipedia, actually the 3rd edition (yeah, it was confusing for me, too), published by Quintessence books in 2008. There are updated editions, the most recent being the 5th edition, published in 2012. It would be interesting to get hold of that and see what's been added since the edition my library has. But, you know, when you're dependent on the library for books, as I am, you learn to work with what you've got.

At any rate, it's a fun book, not necessarily the kind you read straight through (although you can), and certainly not the kind you tote around with you in the print edition (this edition is 960 pages and weighs a lot). But, you can dip into it if you're looking for a good movie to watch, and you can use it as a reference to see if the movies you like best made the list. Or, you can do as I did and sit down and count how many of the listed movies you've already seen.

I won't list all the films on the list that I've seen, because it turns out that I've seen precisely 221 of them, starting on the first movie included(they're listed chronologically), Georges Melies 1902 classic "A Trip to the Moon", and ending with Martin Scorsese's "The Departed" (2006). That's not the last movie listed in this edition; that distinction belongs to 2007's "The Atonement", which I have not seen.

This is not necessarily a "best of" list, at least as far as I'm concerned; certainly, there are films that I've seen on the list that are not among my favorites: 1997's "Titanic"; "The Rapture", from 1991; "Drugstore Cowboy", from 1989; "The Princess Bride" and "Moonstruck", both from 1987; 1984's "The Natural"; "The Sting", from 1973. You'll notice that there are Academy Award winners and nominees among those. "Titanic", "Moonstruck", and "The Sting" were all nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards; "Titanic" and "The Sting" both won the Best Picture Oscar, and while "Moonstruck" didn't win Best Picture, it did win several awards, including Best Actress for Cher. Additionally, "The Princess Bride" has become a cult favorite. I thought others on the list that I've seen were very well-made films, but I didn't personally like them for specific reasons. Hayao Miyazaki's anime classic "Spirited Away" (2001) and Martin Scorsese's "Raging Bull" (1980) are among those. "Spirited Away" bothered me for reasons that I can't quite put my finger on, even today; it was beautiful but I found it very disturbing. I don't like boxing, so "Raging Bull" wasn't really my cup of tea.

But, some of my favorite films are also on the list. Starting with the silents, "The Unknown" (1927) and "The Passion of Joan of Arc" (1928) are both on the list. So is Dreyer's "Vampyr" (1932), which is one of the most spookily atmospheric films I've ever seen. "King Kong" (1933), "Casablanca" (1942), "Double Indemnity" (1944), "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" (1947), and "White Heat" (1949) are all there, too. So are "Rebel Without a Cause" (1955), "Goldfinger" (1964), "A Hard Day's Night" (1964), "Harold and Maude" (1971), "The Godfather" (1972), "Chinatown" (1974), "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" (1975), and a whole lot of other films I love. All three "Star Wars" films made the list, and so did all three installments of "Lord of the Rings".

One of the cool things about the book is that it (or at least the edition I'm looking at) has a checklist of all the films included at the front of the book, so you can keep track as you see films on the list. This is appropriate; just since I checked the book out of the library, I've seen three films on the list that I hadn't seen previously - 1949's "The Third Man", directed by Carol Reed and starring Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles, the Lana Turner/John Garfield noir classic "The Postman Always Rings Twice" (1946), and Alfred Hitchcock's "Rope" (1948), which starred James Stewart, John Dall, and Farley Granger. "Rope" was especially interesting. It is an experimental film that Hitchcock filmed in long takes and then edited to appear as if nearly the whole film was done in one long take. Based partly on the Leopold and Loeb murder case from 1924, the mystery isn't much of a mystery - it's more a case of whether or not the murderers will be found out - and the acting isn't always that great, but it is nonetheless fascinating for the techniques that Hitchcock used to make the film.

Well, since I've seen 221 of the films listed in the book, I guess that means I've got 780 left to go. This is not to say that I plan to plow through the whole book and see every movie listed. I just can't see any reason why I'd be interested in seeing "Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" (1965) or "The Evil Dead" (1982). And as many times I've tried to sit through "Blade Runner" (1982), I've fallen asleep that many times, despite the fact that I'm definitely a Harrison Ford fan and I love science fiction. Still, this book is a good place to find suggestions if you're looking for a good movie to watch.

It is also a good place to discover film trivia. I didn't know until I started looking through this book, for example, that the first sound film in Britain was directed by Alfred Hitchcock. I also didn't realize that artist Salvador Dali was involved for a time in writing screenplays in collaboration with Luis Bunuel. And there's a lot more information where that came from.

As I said at the beginning of this post, the first "must see" film listed in "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" is "A Trip to the Moon". As it turns out, the full film is available on You Tube. This print is just under 13 minutes long (and its length can differ depending on projection speed), which doesn't seem like much to the modern viewer, but when you think that this was made at the dawn of filmmaking ("A Trip to the Moon" was made just six years after the first public exhibition of motion pictures) and that even at the time it was made, most films were not more than two or three minutes long, it becomes clearer how ground-breaking this film is:

All I can say is, try to find this book if you love films. And then, go watch a movie.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Music Sunday: The White Album Edition

I've been spending time lately reading a biography of John Lennon ("Lennon: The Man, the Myth, the Music - The Definitive Life", by Tim Riley [2011, Hyperion; 765 pages]). One of the interesting things about the book is that Riley goes into considerable detail regarding the recording process for each album The Beatles recorded. Last night, I reached the part of the book where he writes about the recording of "The Beatles", usually called the White Album.

I have interesting memories of the time the White Album came out. It was 1968, and I was in junior high. I had a quite permissive gym teacher, and she allowed us to bring records from home and play them during PE class whenever we had class in the gym (which seemed like it was most of the time), and one of my friends in the class always brought the White Album, and we listened to it a lot. But I've always had a sort of love/hate relationship with that album - I love some of the songs, and I really dislike some of the others. The less said about the songs I don't like, the better, but I thought it would be a good idea to share some of the songs I really like from the album for today's Music Sunday.

The White Album was the ninth studio album the band produced, and things were beginning to fray a bit at the edges. The members of the band were not necessarily getting along very well; in fact Ringo Starr left for awhile, there was a certain amount of bickering over what would and would not be included on the album, and many of the songs did not include participation by all the members of the band. Additionally, producer George Martin took a vacation during the middle of recording, leaving a young and inexperienced record company employee with a note to "feel free to attend" the band's recording sessions if he wanted to. That turned out not to be a bad thing, however, and in the end Lennon insisted that the young producer get a credit on the album.

Critical reaction was mixed when the White Album first came out. Some critics were not happy with the band's use of satire and parody in the songs, while others pointed out where Lennon's and McCartney's songwriting had improved and approved of their "back to basics" approach rather than the technical pyrotechnics they used on "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band". The band took it's lumps politically, from both ends of the political spectrum. The right wing accused the band of being "pro-Soviet" because of their inclusion of "Back in the USSR", while the left derided "Revolution 1" as a "betrayal", although by the time the band recorded the single version of the song, Lennon seemed to have altered his position about using violence as a tactic and changed the lyric to say "but when you talk about destruction you can count me out" with an addition of "in" at the end of the line after "out". In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine much later, Lennon explained that while his own personal preference was to not use violence, in some cases he didn't really know what he'd do.

Personally, I like the single version of "Revolution" to "Revolution 1" on the album. The album version is slower, sort of lazy and loopy and not really sounding like anyone wants to get up long enough to revolt against anything:

The single version, however, is faster, more energetic, and sounds like the band might actually be planning to participate in a revolution of some kind, even though they're still not sure if they want it to be a violent revolt:

I believe, but am not absolutely sure, that the clip above is the promotional clip recorded by the band in September 1968 and seen first in the United States on "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" on October 13, 1968.

"Blackbird" is an example of how the members of the band were, in some cases doing their own things on the White Album. This song is just McCartney, his guitar, and an overdub of birdsong:

I like this version of "Blackbird", of course, but one of the loveliest things I have ever heard is a live a capella version by Crosby, Stills and Nash when I saw them in concert once.

One of the simplest songs on the White Album is "Mother Nature's Son", another McCartney composition. He has been quoted as saying that it was inspired by the time he spent in India with the other Beatles:

Something that always takes me by surprise is that "Helter Skelter" is also a McCartney composition, and that it is considered to be an early manifestation of heavy metal music. Well, yes, it sounds like it. But, from McCartney? That's surprising to me for some reason:

Personally, I've always been fond of this cover of "Helter Skelter", by U2, which appears at the beginning of their concert film, "Rattle and Hum":

Much quieter is George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps". This song is notable in that it isn't any one of the Beatles who plays lead guitar on the song, but by Eric Clapton:

Friday, January 10, 2014

Unemployment numbers, again...and the news isn't good...

According to several reports, including this one at, the US Labor Department is reporting that the unemployment rate dropped to 6.7 percent in December, from 7 percent. This is good news, right?

Well, not so much. That's because the drop isn't a result of more jobs being created. Labor reports that just 74,000 jobs were created during December, while 347,000 people quit looking for work. Certainly, a few of those 347,000 were people who retired, but the vast majority of them are people who have been out of work for awhile and have simply given up hope that they will get hired for a new job and stopped looking.

The thing is, that isn't "just an excuse" or an unfounded assumption. Another report shows that, here in the United States, people who have been out of work for a year or longer have just a 9 percent chance of getting hired for another job. Even those who have been out of work for 4 to 6 months only have a 16 percent chance of getting hired again. This is a real problem when you consider that the average unemployed job-seeker has been out of work for 37 weeks - that's just over 9 months.

The other part of the December jobs report that doesn't really make for comforting reading is that a huge number of the jobs created in December were temporary seasonal positions in the retail sector. Most of those people are likely either already unemployed again or will be soon. A substantial portion of the other jobs created last month were also temporary, within the service sector.

And that illustrates another big issue for job-seekers; employers in many sectors are only hiring temporary workers now, or they are hiring for permanent positions, but those positions are only part-time. Additionally, many of the positions only pay minimum wage. In most states, even a full-time position that pays minimum wage still leaves the employee making a wage that flirts with the poverty line.

No, really. The minimum wage in California is currently $8.00 per hour. If a person held a full-time job (40 hours per week) that paid this wage, and worked every one of those available hours during the year (no time off for vacations or sick days, since most minimum wage jobs do not provide paid time off for either vacation or when the employee is ill), their pay would amount to $16,640 for the year. But, remember, that's before taxes - after withholding for income taxes and social security, their take-home pay would be several thousand dollars less than that. Their take-home pay, in fact, would probably be right around the poverty level for a single person, which was in 2013 figured to be $11,490 for the year.

But I's subject isn't really pay once someone finds a job. The topic here is how difficult it is to find a job in the first place.

And I am here to tell you exactly how hard that is, and how easy it is to get discouraged when you read the statistics on how difficult it is to get hired when you've been out of work for a while. It's something I know first-hand, having been out for work for just over two years now.

Now, I'm still looking, but I don't really have much hope that anyone is going to hire me. And I'm stubborn enough that I'm actively working on getting alternative revenue streams going. As anyone who follows along here knows, I'm in the process of writing a book, although that isn't the sort of thing that pays as you go. I'm also lucky enough that I can do things like knit and counted cross-stitch, and I'm the process of accumulating an inventory of items to sell.

But, I have to say, it makes me angry that employers write off job applicants simply because they haven't worked in a certain number of weeks. Some employers won't even consider an application from someone who is not already employed. My question to them is, what are the rest of us supposed to do? We get labeled as "lazy" and "just wanting to live off the government dole" by certain segments of the political spectrum, yet we aren't given a chance to even compete for jobs. In my own case, that means that the education on my resume (I have a four-year degree, earned with honors) and my skills don't even get taken into consideration. All the people looking at my resume see is that my last job ended two years ago and they toss it - and me - in the reject file.

Oh, I've been doing volunteer work in the time since I've been out of a paid job, but that doesn't really count for anything, despite what many people - most of them looking for volunteer workers - will tell you. I ran into that problem years ago, when I was fresh out of a two-year paralegal education program and looking for work in the legal field. As part of that very vigorous program, I was required to do internships. Well, one was required, but I ended up doing the required internship plus a couple of other internships with local government agencies. During the main internship, I worked for about six months for a judge. I did substantive work, rather than just filing papers and hanging around. Yet, when I finished the program and started looking for work, no one would even consider my resume because unpaid work, it turns out, doesn't count as work.

This leads to another issue I've been finding as I look for work: there are places that want my labor, but only if I'm willing to give that labor and my time for free. I'm good enough for work, just not worthy enough to be paid for it. And, indeed, I've been reading recently (and I'm sorry, but I didn't save the links) that this is how some corporations have started staffing their offices. Instead of hiring people they have to pay, they take on student interns who work for free, not only relieving the corporations of having to offer benefits to employees but removing the obligation to even pay these workers.

It makes me wonder if that's the way this country is headed - toward a new sort of corporate serfdom, in which only the lucky few can actually get paying positions, while the rest of us are pushed into employment that isn't really employment while the government subsidizes the living expenses of these new serfs. If the trends represented by current bad news on employment continue, it could get that bad.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Those "I've got to watch this" movies...

I might well have covered this ground before, but since I'm sitting here and watching "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" on SyFy, I figured I'd bring it up.

I'm a movie fan. Those of you who follow along here enough to know that I do a Movie Monday post every Monday already know that. I love most kinds of movies - old, new, most genres, black & white or color, doesn't matter. And I like good movies.

The thing is, there are certain movies that I will sit down and watch every time I come across them, whether or not the qualify as "good". There's just something about those movies that I like and will watch an infinite number of times, even if I should be doing other things (right now, I really should be working on my book project). One of those movies is "Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull", even though the critics didn't like it very well, and some people seem to be offended that it involves "aliens" and "woo-woo stuff".

I'm not even really sure why I like this one so much, although I find myself endlessly entertained by the completely unbelievable refrigerator scene near the beginning of the film:

Only Indy would be able to pull that off. And, you know, in reality there isn't anything entertaining at all about nuclear explosions. But in this case, an exception has to be made. And, really? The prairie dog is just perfect.

Two of the other three Indiana Jones movies also fall in the category of anytime, anywhere movies. Not "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom", though. I didn't like that one when I first saw it, and I tend to avoid it if at all possible.

Other movies on my "anytime, anywhere" list...

"The Day the Earth Stood Still". The original, from 1951. I've honestly lost track of the number of times I've seen this, partly due to the fact that they used to show it a lot on Channel 9 in Los Angeles when I was growing up. This is the ultimate science fiction film, and particularly the ultimate "first contact" movie, and I love it a lot. Here's the trailer (there's fifteen or twenty seconds of blank screen at the beginning, but hang with it):

And then there's "The Thomas Crown Affair" (1968). Yes, again the original. I didn't actually see this film until three or four years ago. And I will admit that I'm kind of obsessed by it. It's a caper film and stars Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, and it's very, very good. The same year, another McQueen film, "Bullitt" also appeared in theaters. I saw it when if first came out, and I'll still stop and watch if I come across it. Of course, there's the chase scene in "Bullitt", but that isn't the only attraction in the film. I believe I might have mentioned these when I wrote about how good a year 1968 was for films.

In a completely different vein, I'll also stop what I'm doing to watch "Empire Records" (1995). Yeah, it's aimed at a much younger demographic than I belong in. That's okay. The writer, who I understand worked in a record store at one time, managed to write characters that are sympathetic, and that always goes a long way to making a watchable film:

There are others. "Zoolander". Another '50s science fiction film, "Invaders From Mars". "Road House". "A Hard Day's Night". I've probably mentioned all of these around here at some time or another, and so I won't go on about them now.

What I am interested in, because I think most people have a list like this, is: what are the movies on your "anytime, anywhere" list? Which movies do you stop to watch whenever you get the opportunity? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Used, abused, and thrown away...

Please watch this video, which I found today at CNN's website. It concerns the number of college athletes in football and basketball programs at top-tier schools who not only are not equipped to succeed in the college classroom,, who are in some cases barely literate, and who never get the help they need to succeed in the classroom.

Okay. You've watched? Now I've got some things to say about it, and the first and most important thing is this question: Doesn't it ever occur to any of the universities that they are using those athletes who do not have the skills necessary to succeed in college and then throwing them away?

But, you say, some of them go on to lucrative careers in the NFL and the NBA.

Well, no. They don't. I don't have the figures in front of me, but the number of student athletes who go on from college to successful pro careers is really very small. There are only so many positions on each pro team each year to be filled, and there are a lot of student athletes vying for those few available spots.

You might also say, but the numbers of truly illiterate student athletes are very small.

That's not the point, though. The point isn't even that no student athlete - no student, period - should enter a top-tier, four-year university unable to do the work.

The point is, those schools are using those athletes - both the ones who can't manage to succeed in classes and those who do very well in their classes - to make money (and top-tier football and basketball programs earn lots and lots of money for their schools) but don't even bother to give real help to the students who can't cut the academic part of college. They put them in programs, as the video mentions, where very little work is required. Or the administration looks the other way when those athletes cheat. Or they bully professors to pass students who aren't doing passing work. They might provide tutors for those athletes, but how do you tutor a student who can't read to pass courses where they have to read material that is beyond their ability and generate papers and other written work when they can barely write?

I know this kind of thing goes on at all levels, from community colleges up to four-year schools, not because that CNN report says that it does. I've seen it in action.

I tutored for several years both on the community college and four-year university level, and I know people who have tutored in programs where I did not. So, I've heard stories about how student athletes are tutored, and I've seen tutoring in action myself. I've seen things like the basketball player who was being tutored in reading on the "See Dick. See Jane. See Jane run" level at the first community college where I tutored because he literally could not read at all. I've heard similar stories from other tutors.

I've also witnessed coaches demanding that an instructor give a student athlete a passing grade in a class so that he would be eligible under school and league rules to play in the next game. I was a student at a time and had just gone by the instructor's office to find out something about a class I was taking from him, and I was stunned when the coaches continued their lobbying for the student in front of me, a student, with no hesitation or embarrassment whatsoever. They were very matter-of-fact about it - they wanted the student to be able to play (I believe his sport was baseball), and they didn't care whether he was actually doing the work. They had no concern at all about whether he was getting educated or not. They were also not concerned about the message being sent to that student athlete, who was present at the time. I was not an athlete at all, so I guess that fact that I was present did not count at all in their eyes.

In that last case, at least, the instructor stood his ground and told the coaches, that no, the student had not been doing his assignments and had not passed the exams in class and that he was not going to say he was passing so that the student could play. The instructor did ask me, after the coaches and student athlete had left his office (I witnessed this because the instructor's office door was open while all this was going on) that I not speak to anyone on campus about the incident, but he also went on to complain to me about the frequency with which that sort of thing went on.

The point is, too, that if schools are going to admit student athletes to their institutions, they need to give the athletes the help they need to succeed in their education and not just on the field or the playing court. They owe it to the athletes to give them an education, not just a place to play their sport for a few years.

I do want to make one thing very clear here: I'm not in any way trying to perpetuate the stereotype that athletes are stupid. It is very clear that student athletes, as a class of people, are not any stupider or smarter than other students. I've known student athletes who also get top grades. I'm just saying that when schools see fit to admit student athletes who don't meet the academic standards that other students are expected to meet, that the schools should do everything in their power to help those student athletes achieve success in the classroom and not just on the field or the court.

Otherwise, the schools are just using the student athletes and then letting them go, often without any way to succeed in the real world if they don't or can't go on to professional sports.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Movie Monday: The "1968 Was a Good Year in Film" Edition

1968 was a really good year for movies. A really, really good year.

It was the year of "2001: A Space Odyssey", "Funny Girl", "Bullitt" and "The Thomas Crown Affair", the Zeffirelli version of "Romeo and Juliet", "The Lion in Winter", "Rosemary's Baby", "Planet of the Apes". And those were just some of the big money makers. There was also "Hell in the Pacific", "Monterey Pop", "Will Penny", "Yellow Submarine", "Paper Lion", "Hellfighters". Among the kids' movies, there was "The Love Bug", "Blackbeard's Ghost", "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang".

It was also, by the way, the year that the MPAA's movie rating system was put into use, although not until November 1. The original ratings were G (for general audiences), M (for mature audiences, R (Restricted), and X - which meant that no one under 18 was allowed to see the movie at all. I'll have to do a post about my thoughts concerning the rating system one of these days. But today is not that day.

But I digress...

I turned 12 in 1968, but I saw a good selection of these films when they first were released and then finally came to my local theater, which could take a few months in those days, when we didn't have multiplexes and there were only so many prints of a film that made their way from theater to theater, one week at a time rather than opening in multiple theaters in a town and sometimes staying on for weeks and weeks and weeks. In fact, it was a Really Big Deal the next year, when "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" came out and was held over at the (one and only) theater in the town where I lived for a second week.

I did get to see "2001: A Space Odyssey" before it went into general release and was only on at a few select theaters. My father, as I've written about here before, as a big science fiction geek and we went on a family outing to the closest theater where it was playing (that was about a 30 mile drive) in limited release. That never happened, so it means that my father really wanted to see it badly.

That was an interesting experience. By that time, I'd seen a lot of science fiction movies, but I'd never seen anything like that before. This is one of the trailers that was in theaters as "2001" started to get around to theaters:

1968 was also the year of "Planet of the Apes". That wasn't nearly as innovative a film, but still, it got my attention as something that was deeper than just a story on the screen. Something else got my attention that night at the movies, though, and that was the second feature, "Five Million Miles to Earth". It had come out the year before in the UK, where it was made, under the title "Quatermass and the Pit" and even then was the theatrical remake of a UK television serial that had been shown on the BBC at the end of 1958 and the beginning of 1959. In 1968, though, it started making the rounds of American theaters; seeing it on a double bill with "Planet of the Apes" was the beginning of my love of British science fiction:

Not that "Planet of the Apes" was a bad movie. It was very, very good and, for my money, much superior to the 2001 remake. As I said, it was more than just a sci-fi action film; it was an allegory addressing the racial tensions that the United States was then experiencing. That's one of the cool things about science fiction - it can address touchy issues that would be difficult to talk about in other formats. Here is one of the original trailers for the film:

"Planet of the Apes" starred Charlton Heston. It was not the only film Heston had in release that year. He also starred in "Will Penny", a western. It is a stark, realistic film in which he portrays an aging cowboy who hires on to ride the boundaries of a ranch over the winter but instead finds love with a woman he is supposed to have evicted from the cabin she and her son are living in on a remote part of the ranch. Also starring Joan Hackett and Donald Pleasance, "Will Penny" is a wonderful film, one of the first Westerns I ever saw that I really liked. Here's the trailer:

Steve McQueen also had two films out in 1968. The first out was "The Thomas Crown Affair", a bank heist film that starred McQueen and Faye Dunaway. McQueen plays a rich man who plans and hires a crew to carry out a bank robbery just for the fun of it, to see if he can do it - and if he can get away with it. Dunaway is the insurance investigator who goes after him - in more ways than one. Here is a scene from the middle of the movie, after Dunaway's character has started playing both sides of the street, so to speak:

Later in the year came "Bullitt", the movie with what I consider the best car chase scene in the history of film. In this film, McQueen is on the right side of the law, playing a police detective who has gotten caught up in a political game that he isn't altogether sure he wants to be involved in. For a lot of people, "Bullitt" is all about the big chase scene. Here is the scene after the chase:

And then there was "Romeo and Juliet". Another good film. This is the Franco Zeffirelli version, the first time the Shakespeare tragedy had been filmed with actors playing the title roles who were near the ages the characters were actually supposed to be. I was twelve at the time, so of course I cried through the whole movie the first time I saw it. Which, of course, meant that I had to go see it again so that I could actually see the thing. I've seen it many times since, and it hasn't lost its appeal. Here is the first meeting between Romeo and Juliet:

There just isn't enough room to show clips and/or trailers from all the good movies that came out in 1968. And that is a good thing, really - it's nice to know that there's just one year of movies that could take awhile to explore fully. So, my advice to you on the first Movie Monday of 2014 is to go find a movie from 1968 to watch...and then another one...and then another one. There's enough there to keep you busy for quite a while.

Music Sunday: The "One-Hit Wonders of the 80s" Edition, Part II

Last week, I had to leave a lot of songs that I like out of my review of one-hit wonders of the 1980s. But this is another Music Sunday, and I couldn't see any reason not to do Part II of that post today, rather than some other Sunday.

In 1981, Soft Cell recorded "Tainted Love", a cover of a song recorded by Gloria Jones in 1965. The song didn't chart for her then, or when she re-recorded it in 1976. However, when Soft Cell released the song it eventually (after looking like it wasn't going to go much of anywhere) topped out at number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 in July 1982, also going to number 4 on Billboard's Hot Dance Club Play list and to number 12 on the trade magazine's Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart:

It also took a long time for "Come on Eileen", by Dexy's Midnight Runners to chart in the US. It was released in June 1982 bud did not reach number 1 on the Hot 100 until April of 1983. It also hit number 6 on the Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and it made it as far as number 31 on the Got Adult Contemporary chart. Additionally, on VH-1's list of One-Hit Wonders of the 80s, "Come on Eileen" took the number one spot:

Big Country's "In a Big Country" was released in mid-1983 and by December it had peaked at number 17 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart. This was actually one of my favorite songs at the time it came out:

"99 Luftballons", by the German band Nena became the highest-charting German song ever on US charts. In it's German version - there is also an English version - the anti-nuclear protest song peaked at number 2 on the Hot 100 in 1984:

Oddly enough, the English version did not chart in the US, although it went to number 1 in the UK, Ireland, and Canada. The lyrics in the English version are not an exact translation of the German lyrics:

Another one-hit wonder in the 80s was Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "Relax". It's frankly sexual lyrics (although the band denied that for a while) got the single, released in late 1993, banned from the BBC for most of 1984 although other UK outlets were playing it. The ban didn't hurt sales of the single there, where it became the seventh-best selling single in UK charts history. In the United States, "Relax" peaked at number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100:

Saturday, January 04, 2014

In which I once again meditate on the cult of celebrity...

If you follow along here, you have probably noticed that I'm fascinated with celebrity and the culture that has grown around folks who are well-known in areas like film, television, politics, and sports. So, this story at bleacher report caught my eye.

It seems that basketball player LeBron James got carded in a hotel bar last night. Now, this is amusing, since he is a well-known athlete who is known to be of an age to drink and has been for a few years. I can see how that could get reported in our culture of watching every little move that celebrities make. But a few things caught my eye as being a little over the top in this story/blog post/whatever the hell it is.

First of all, one of the reasons the gentleman who wrote the post gave (there were five on the list) for why James shouldn't have been carded is that he is "one of the most in-shape-looking people in the world". Honestly? I'm not sure what looking in shape has to do with it. There are people in incredible physical shape who are under-age.

But the reason on the list that made me stop and think, "What the...?" was this one: "He's one of the most recognizable people on the planet."


Okay. I've heard the name LeBron James. I know he's a professional basketball player. But that's about it.

I wouldn't know him to look at him if my life depended on it, and that doesn't concern me greatly. I'll bet there are more people in the world who wouldn't recognize him on the street than there are folks who would. So, when the report begins to revolve around speculation that he was carded because either 1) the bartender wanted to "spend more time with the superstar" or that b) the bartender was "legally blind" and had to "rely on a seeing-eye dog" to do his job, I had to read that paragraph twice to confirm that what I was reading was really there on the screen rather than just me imagining it.

And I wonder a couple of things. Number one, is this writer really so blinded by celebrity himself that he imagines that those he sees as celebrities are universally recognized? The other is, where did he get the idea that it's cool to disparage people (he was basically calling the bartender ignorant) by calling them disabled? The first is just garden-variety celebrity worship, and I suppose it is possible that it was the reason the bartender carded James. Even though, it's still unsupported speculation.

But the second shot at the bartender? That's just unacceptable. I thought we got past that sort of thing long ago. Apparently not, though.

So, just a clue by four (or two) for the writer: No matter how famous someone is, there are still millions - billions, probably - people who have no idea who they are. And, more important, we don't equate disability with stupidity or ignorance. It isn't cool and it isn't cute.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Dodging bullets of the metaphorical kind...

So, I dodged the jury duty bullet this week.

I'm not quite sure why they even bother during the week of New Year's Day, especially when the actual holiday is right in the middle of the week. In fact, when I got the summons, at the beginning of the month, I thought they were joking. But, yeah, they don't joke about jury duty.

And so, I had to check the county court's website on Sunday night, on Monday night, on Thursday night, and again at 11:30 in the morning today. And every time, until this morning, the message was the same: "You're on call, check back at..." And then this morning, finally, it said that I would not have to appear and that my duty was fulfilled...until the next time. At least, here in California, "the next time" can't be within the next year.

I really wasn't looking forward to having to go. Aside from the inconvenience, the last time I had jury duty I actually got on the jury. It wasn't a pleasant experience.

First of all, it was a civil case - a personal injury suit. That meant medical testimony. The problem with that? I've got severe medical anxiety. During some of the testimony, it was really difficult for me to keep from twitching - or from running out of the courtroom because when I have anxiety attacks, my "fight or flight" response kicks in. It also didn't help that the medical expert witness for the defendant was an arrogant ass. So were both of the attorneys.

But the actual time in the courtroom wasn't bad, even with my anxiety issues, as having to spend time with the other jurors. Deliberations were ridiculous. The consensus was that one of the witnesses for the woman bringing the suit was unbelievable - and probably stupid - because she had a "funny" speaking voice. Which I found ridiculous in the extreme. Yes, she sounded a bit like a cartoon character (think Minnie Mouse or Betty Boop). That did not mean anything about her character or her intelligence, but the jurors, especially the male jurors, seemed to think that her speaking voice rendered anything coming out of her mouth either a lie or irrelevant.

The consensus of the jury (but not my feeling) was that because the woman bringing suit hired a lawyer directly after the accident that was the focus of the case, that meant that she was, from the time she got rear-ended, she was determined to make a killing in court. Now, it has always been my understanding that if you are involved in any kind of event that results in injury and involves insurance companies, it is wise to hire an attorney to protect your rights. Not this jury. But that wasn't the most suspicious thing the woman did, according to this group. Even more suspicious was that she went to a chiropractor rather than an M.D. after the accident. To many on the jury, that meant that she wasn't really hurt, but just wanted to file a lawsuit. I attempted to explain that some people go to M.D.s and some people go to chiropractors, and that there is nothing illegal or suspicious about that. I was also careful to explain that I've never been to a chiropractor in my life, and so I did not have a dog in the fight about it. Let's just say that I was ridiculed for my contention.

I also want to make it clear that I wasn't convinced enough by the argument of the plaintiff that I was willing to award her everything she was asking for. Not at all. I didn't think there was enough evidence presented that her injuries was severe enough that she would have to be on medication for those injuries for the rest of her life, which was most of what she was asking for from the defendant - the money to pay for those meds. However, I did think it was reasonable to award her the money she had to put out after the accident for the tests (and the chiropractor did send her to an M.D. for those tests, as I recall) to determine just exactly what the extent of her injuries were, considering that all the evidence presented in court (by a very interesting gentlemen who specializes in accident reconstructions) tended to support her contention that the accident was not her fault (she was stopped at a stoplight and was rear-ended by the woman she was suing. The rest of the jury was not even willing to do that.

The worst part was that during deliberations I was bullied by the jury foreman (and it was a man) when I tried to point out that they were going beyond the jury instructions, which set out exactly what sorts of things could be taken into consideration in deciding the case. I finally just gave up and let them do what they were going to do because it was clear that my arguments weren't doing any good.

The whole thing left me with a huge distrust of the jury system. I have no clue whether it is common for juries to be that dismissive of the actual stated jury instructions and just decide cases on the basis of their prejudices, but that's exactly what happened in that case and I suspect that it happens more often that most people suspect. I don't look forward to being in that sort of situation again. And that's why I wasn't thrilled with the idea of having to go to jury duty.

But, like I said, I dodged the bullet this time, and I shouldn't have to worry about it again for a year, at least.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

So, how was your second day of the year?

It's a really good thing I didn't make a resolution to post something substantive here every day.

It's been a busy day, and there just hasn't been the time to work up something substantial, write it, and put it up here. It's already 10 p.m. local time as I write this, and I'm about ready to give it up for the night and go to bed and read. That's just selfishness, though. I'm reading what is shaping up to be a good novel ("Guilt", by Jonathan Kellerman), and I haven't had time to read today, either. It's funny how a two hour-meeting that straddles lunch time can end up taking the whole day, energy-wise.

I also didn't get to bake the cookies I had planned on. My bed never got made. The dinner dishes are still sitting in the sink, unwashed, and they are staying there for the night.

But, before I go for the night, I'm going to leave this here for you because it makes me happy, and because I watched the full movie the other day and the soundtrack is still running in my head:

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Happy New Year - 2014 is finally here

We've always had a superstition in my family that goes like this: Whatever you do on New Year's Day, that's what you'll mostly be doing all year.

So...I'm sitting here working on writing projects and watching Doctor Who. I think I've got it covered. Well, sort of. I still need to find what's looking to be a non-existent job. But, still, I hope to find a job that uses my writing talents, so I'm still in the ballpark on that.

The other thing about New Year's Day: resolutions. Not making any. I rarely do, mostly because I believe that if something is worth doing, it doesn't need to wait until an arbitrary day to start it. No time like the present and all that. Now, I have signed up for the reading challenge again over at Ravelry, and set my goal at reading 45 books this year. As I wrote about yesterday, my goal last year was to read 40 books, and I exceeded that by one book. But, it's the first year in several that I've met my goal for reading, so we'll just have to see how the year plays out and if I can reach the new goal.

I guess setting a reading goal is sort of like a resolution. Still, I will not beat myself up over it if I don't reach that goal. I'm taking as more like an inspiration to do just a little bit more than I did last year.

I've also sort of promised myself that I'll have the book I'm writing ready for submission or self-publishing by the end of the year. But, being able to reach that goal is not completely under my control. While it's nice to have lots of writing time while I'm without job, I'd rather have a job that's bringing in money now rather than hoping that my book will make me some money eventually. And, I'll make writing time even if I do find a job, the writing just might go more slowly. So again, not a resolution just determination on my part.

I would like to say that I'm going to try to bitch and moan about stuff here - politics and culture war stuff - a little bit less this year, but I know that's not going to happen. For one thing, this year is mid-term elections and once the politicians get into full campaign mode, I'm sure there will be plenty of things to complain about. Also, I'm getting ready to do a little cultural criticism now, today, and so I'd be breaking the determination not to do that so much less than 24 hours into the new year.

Specifically, I want to have a little talk with all those people who think it's a grand idea to go out at midnight and welcome the new year in by shooting their firearms into the air, ignoring that little bit of physics which says that what goes up must, inevitably, come down. So, last night a friend of mine was going potty, as she puts it, last night, when a bullet came through the roof of her house and hit her in the back. Now, having to plow through the roof and the ceiling slowed the bullet down enough that all it did was leave a red mark on her back, and she wasn't hurt.

But she could have been. And that would have really pissed me off.

I don't understand the shooting off guns thing, anyway. There are plenty of ways to make noise to bring the new year in. Yell. Scream. Shout. Blow horns. Beat a bass drum. But don't shoot into the air. It's silly, it's stupid, and it can be lethal. And, you know, you always think that if something happens, it will happen so someone else. That's what I've always thought. But, last night, it happened to my friend.

Otherwise...Happy New Year. Make it a good one. Be excellent to yourselves and each other. No matter how busy you are, take some time to relax and enjoy. Read a book. Listen to some good music, whatever you think good music is. See a movie. Try something new once in awhile. Go outside and stand in the sun for a few minutes, maybe go for a walk - it really does take some of the edge off of a stressful day. Tell those closest to you that you appreciate them and give them a hug. Hugs are good for you, you know.

But also, don't let the bastards get you down. Learn how to say no when it is necessary. Do your best at whatever you do. You don't have to be the best at everything you do. Chances are, you can't be the best at everything you do because, really, nobody can. But - you're letting yourself down if you aren't the best you can be.