Sunday, February 23, 2014

Getting closer to moving day...

The packing is almost done.

This is a minor miracle, considering that it is still six days until the move actually happens.

Oh, I still have things to do. Last-minute packing, doing the change-of-address thing at the post office. A trip to the Laundromat just before packing the last-minute things. Taking the last two books I have out of the library back. Washing down the walls in my bedroom. Taking the cable equipment down to UPS to send it back to the provider. But, for the most part, I've got things ready to go, and many of those last-minute things can't happen until Thursday or Friday.

I can spend some of that time checking out the job situation where I'm going. That's one of the things I most love about the Internet. I can do things like look for a job before the move is accomplished. However, I'm not actually applying for anything until I am physically in the new location. Yes, it is often weeks before you get a reply back when you send out of resume. But it isn't, sometimes, and I'd feel really stupid to get an e-mail or call back the next day, saying, "Can you come for an interview tomorrow?" So, the actual applications/resumes will have to wait.

But, I can say that I'm excited about the possibilities. There are actual jobs in my field where I'm moving. And, if something doesn't turn up right away - and I'm realistic enough to know that it might not - there's always tutoring. I'll be living within a few miles of a 4-year college and a 2-year community college. That means a lot of potential students. So, I will work on getting the word out that I tutor as soon as I arrive and get settled in. Which should take a day or two, considering that I don't have that much to unpack.

The only thing that's really bothering me about the move is that it's going to take a little while for me to get a library card. The library system there requires a piece of business mail as proof of address before issuing a card. But I don't really get that much business mail. I'm going to check to see if they'll accept someone vouching for me instead; I remember that when I was a kid and living with my family away from home for a few weeks due to my father's job, the library let me get a library card with a note from the people we were renting from. We'll see. The good news is, once I get the library card, the local library branch is apparently just a couple of blocks away from where I'll be living.

So - that's the latest update. T-minus six days and counting, with most of the packing already done and only a few last-minute things left to do. Blogging should resume more regularly as soon as I get moved and get the Wi-Fi there figured out. Which might be a bit of a chore, as my laptop is sometimes reluctant to talk to new-to-it systems.

Now, if YouTube would just start talking to my computer again. After a few days of behaving itself, normally, YouTube seems to be going through another round of changes or something. Which is why there is no Music Sunday again. I'm looking forward to getting back to those, and to Movie Monday, and regular blogging in general.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Update and report on progress...

Well, it's now ten days until moving day, nine days until the day the moving truck will be loaded, and eight days until all the packing has to be done.

I've been busy. Which is why I haven't been here. But, the packing is nearly done - I've just got CDs and DVDs left, plus my SCA garb. There's also the last-minute packing which will not be done until the last packing day - clothes, bedding, and kitchen stuff - but there's not really much of that, either, and shouldn't take more than an hour or two.

I've also got a few last minute things other than packing to take care of - change of address at the post office, get the cable equipment back to the cable company, take the last couple of books back to the library, and so forth - but all those things are only time-consuming, not difficult, and those will be taken care of next week.

And, also, there are some more things to throw out, but that can't even be done until Friday after the garbage has come and there is room in the cans again. The neighbors to the north moved recently and no one has moved in to their apartment, and so we can use their cans, too. Miss the neighbors, but having the extra trash capacity is a good thing.

I don't know if I mentioned it in my previous post, but I've also been looking online at the job possibilities where I'm relocating to, and I'm pleased with what I'm seeing - actual jobs in my field. I haven't started actually applying for anything, yet, of course, since I'm not there to go on interviews yet. But I've identified several possibilities and expect more to come up if those are filled by the time I get down there and get settled in and am ready to start looking for work seriously.

Oh, and my computer appears to be talking to YouTube again, so Music Sunday and Movie Monday will both be back soon, I hope.

Now it's time to go get some more packing done, but I wanted to post this update, since it's been a week since I've posted anything.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


I know.

I said that I was going to be posting more regularly.

But, no. I didn't lie. Really.

Do you know how much time and energy it takes to get ready to move? Well, here's a hint: It takes a lot of both.

And, it isn't just the packing. It's all the other stuff that has to get done. Wrapping up stuff here, for example. I had a short writing job that I had to finish. And there's people to say good-bye to, and organizational ties to wrap up.

Which explains, I think, why I haven't been spending much time around here. And why I probably won't be for the next little while. I hope to look in from time to time, maybe give an update on how things are progressing.

Having said that, I do want to say that this move in a good thing. A very good thing, in fact. There are more jobs available where I'm moving. I like the weather better where I'm moving. I like the area where I'm going. Which makes sense. It's the area where I grew up. I still know people there. Not a lot, but enough.

Look at it this way. Once I'm moved and settled in (and I don't have that much stuff, so it shouldn't take me that long to get settled), I'll have lots of new things to write about, not least because I'm moving to the second-largest city in the United States. That means there are places to go, things to see, stories to tell.

But, for now, back to the sorting and packing.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Being a storyteller isn't always an easy thing, and here's one reason why...

I just happened onto the most interesting question. At least, from my point of view as a writer, I find it fascinating. Of course, it's controversial. All the best questions are.

The question is this: What country should fictional villains be from?

Perhaps it could also be asked as, What ethnic group should fictional villains be from, because the dilemma comes up in that form from time to time as well.

You know how it goes. Someone writes a book or makes a movie or an episode of a TV series, and someone gets bent out of shape because the bad guy is obviously from a specific nation or appears to be of a particular ethnic background, and someone starts shouting about stereotyping and bigotry. If the villain is specifically referred to as being from Mexico, some people get upset about that. Or the bad guy in a movie appears to be from an Arab background, other people start jumping up and down and accusing everyone involved of being both racist and prejudiced with regard to religion.

And, honestly, it isn't just nationality and ethnic groups. I've heard of cases where a fictional bad guy (person?) is a woman, and some people start complaining about sexism. Or the villain is referred to as or appears to be gay, and there are claims of homophobia.

See? This is a question that can get quite complicated. This is especially true because there is the potential for cries of "foul" no matter how you, as a writer or a filmmaker, identify your villain. Even the white guys can get mad, if you make a white male the bad guy. Talk about a no-win situation.

I wonder if there would be an outcry if the "bad guy" turned out to be a computer.

Oh,, wait. That happened. Remember "2001: A Space Odyssey"? I don't recall that anyone got that upset that HAL turned out to be homicidal, but I might just not be reading the right web sites.

I think the big problem here is that this dilemma is the Kobayashi Maru of writing/storytelling dilemmas. For those of you who are not "Star Trek" fans, Kobayashi Maru is a test of character given to Starfleet cadets. It posits what turns out to be essentially a no-win situation. Similarly, the writer cannot win in assigning a nationality or an ethnic background to their villain.

It isn't as big a dilemma for the writer. The writer can choose, if he or she wishes, to not write anything about the villain's nationality, ethnicity, or religion. Not so the filmmaker - whoever plays the villain will look like somebody, whether a specific background is intended or not.

I suppose that one can cut the knot of this question and say that this wouldn't be a problem if people would quit being so sensitive about things like this. Unfortunately, realistically, that isn't going to happen.

The realistic solution, I suppose, is to either stay away from as much identification of nationality or ethnicity as possible with regard to the villain, or else just make the villain whatever he or she must be to serve the story and just not worry about the inevitable fallout.

I know. I'm avoiding the real question, as originally stated. But that's part of the Kobayashi Maru. You can treat the issue as a no-win situation, or you can redefine the question.

I choose to redefine the question by saying that you don't have to search for a "safe" nationality for the villain. You can skirt the question, or you can just do what you're going to do with the understanding that someone might give you grief for it. Personally, I prefer telling the story without the villain having to be any specific nationality or ethnicity. But if you're writing a story in which that is integral to the plot, you can't do that. And in that case, you have to understand that there very well might be questions raised about why you made the storytelling choices you did, that you had to make your villain from such a specific background.

No, really. Does your villain really have to be black? Or white? Or Asian? Or European? Or male? Or female? Or gay? Or straight? Why?

And, honestly, if you can't take those questions, and if you don't have good answers for them, maybe you shouldn't be a writer.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

One less place to buy a smoke...

I wonder if this is the beginning of a trend.

News reports, like this one from MSN, are reporting that the drugstore chain CVS will stop selling tobacco products by October. This is kind of a big thing, considering that it is reported that CVS, which is the second-largest drugstore chain in the United States, will lose around $2 billion dollars in revenue by dropping these products. That's a lot of cash any way you look at it.

CVS isn't the first retailer to stop selling cigars, cigarettes, and chewing tobacco; Target stores do not sell them. However, Walgreen's, the nation's biggest drugstore chain, still sells them, as does Wal-Mart, which also contains pharmacies in its stores.

Spokesmen for CVS have said that the move to drop tobacco products from its offerings is part of a move to work with doctors and hospitals more closely to improve its customers' health. This is in line with the trend in recent years to install clinics right in drugstores that both CVS and Walgreen's have joined. These clinics do things like offer immunizations and help their customers manage chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure.

I think this is an interesting move, but I wonder if there is going to be any push-back from the tobacco industry. It isn't as if that $2 billion dollars worth of cigarettes and other tobacco products is going to put much of a dent in the earnings of tobacco companies - according to the article linked above, about $107.7 billion dollars worth of tobacco products are sold in the United States every year. This, even though only about 18 percent of the nation's population are now smokers, down from close to half of all Americans who smoked or chewed in 1970. Still, the tobacco industry has been fairly aggressive in the past about asserting its rights and about denying that there is anything unhealthy about its products. So, it will be interesting to watch how this unfolds.

I have to say, I suppose, as a matter of full disclosure, that I am not a smoker and I never have been, and that I don't really understand the appeal of sucking hot smoke into one's lungs. It isn't something that makes any sense to me at all. Even though I grew up with a father who smoked, I was never even tempted to try it. And I was never tempted when, in junior high and high school, a lot of my friends smoked. Which, of course, means that I also don't understand the militant non-smokers who seem to believe that smoking should never be shown in entertainment because, OMG, if the kiddies see it, they're going to want to try it. This wasn't my experience at all.

So, I don't see the CVS move as any sort of problem. And, you know, it isn't as if the retailer has any sort of obligation to carry a product - tobacco or anything else - if it doesn't want to. It isn't as if anyone who smokes is going to be denied access to their cigarettes because CVS will stop selling them. And, it does seem sort of incongruous for a business that is based around health care to sell something that, when used correctly, is harmful to one's health and to the health of those around them.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

More hiccups...

So...I had this whole post mapped out. It was to include some clips from YouTube. Which doesn't seem to be working for me today. Figures, considering how things have been going around here lately.

At any rate...I won't be doing that post. Not tonight, anyway. We'll see what happens tomorrow.

There are days when I hate technology.

Monday, February 03, 2014

A slight change of schedule, and a little social commentary...

I know that today is supposed to be Movie Monday.

However, I think the only proper subject for any post about film today is Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who died yesterday at age 46. I can't do that yet. Hoffman was one of my favorite actors, and while I'm past the denial phase I've pretty much moved on to anger about his death. Pisses me right off that something like that could happen to such a talented individual. His career, which was much, much too short, deserves a thorough retrospective. I don't think I can stand to do that yet. Yes, I'm that much of a fan of his work. And so, I'm putting off Movie Monday for a day or two.

Anyway, there are other things for me to be angry about, things that won't make me sad and miserable on top of my anger, and so instead today, I'm going to write about Super Bowl ads, and specifically about the Coca-Cola ad that has a few very vocal people so up in arms. This ad, in fact:

Apparently, there are people who are angry that Coke had the gall (as they see it) to make an ad in which the song "America the Beautiful" is sung in other languages than English. Something about it being "un-American" to do that, or something. Here's a liberal reaction to the angry reaction, from the website.

I have a couple of things to point out to those who were disturbed by the ad. First of all, look at a map. "America" does not equal the United States. If you do look at a map, you'll see that there is North America and there is South America. Covers a lot of territory, all of it "America" and a lot of languages spoken. Second, those of us who live in the United States come from a lot of different places and from a diversity of language backgrounds, and people who come here to live don't forget their native tongues just because they learn English when they come to live here, and sometimes they even use those languages even though they live here. This is not a sin. Third, Coca-Cola is trying to sell a product, not "Balkanize" the nation, as Allen West wrote on his blog this morning. He seems to think that because some people used different languages in a commercial, Coca-Cola is advocating that no one who comes to this country to live should ever learn English and that each culture group should keep to itself with some sort of an "us versus them" attitude.

I don't know what ad Allen West watched yesterday, but I'm fairly certain it wasn't the one I saw posted on YouTube (and just about everywhere else) this morning. But, as people like West to do on a fairly regular basis these days, he is reading things into the ad that just aren't there. And, honestly, I'd say that West and his comrades are the ones doing more than anyone to Balkanize the United States, by asserting that they themselves are the only "real" Americans and then going out of their way to marginalize and "other" every group they don't like: the poor, immigrants, gays, non-Christians, and anyone else who doesn't pass their political and social litmus tests.

You know, it kind of reminds me of the reactions to this, in 1968:

And this, in 1969:

There was a fairly huge outcry against both of these performances of "The Star Spangled Banner" at the time by those who seemed to feel that there is only One Correct Way to honor the United States. Which, as far as I'm concerned, is a bunch of crap. Whether some people like it or not, we are a huge and diverse nation, and "one size fits all" usually ends up not fitting anyone very well.

Personally, I enjoyed John Scalzi's take on the current controversy, which I hope you will read, and which includes some historical context for "America the Beautiful".

I don't know. I just have a difficult time understanding why some people get so exercised about things that really are trivial. Coca-Cola wasn't trying to be political. They were just trying to sell their product, and almost anyone who knows anything about advertising will tell you that getting political is generally going to upset more people than it is going to pull in to buy whatever it is that is being advertising. That's Coca-Cola's agenda - selling soft drinks - nothing more and nothing less.

I just wish Allen West and the others who seem to feel compelled to read political motives into everything need to lighten up a little bit and understand that not everything is a conspiracy against them and their particular political agenda.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Music Sunday: The "I've been off reading music books" edition


Due to unforeseen and unavoidable circumstances, I was mostly away from Music Sunday for a couple of weeks. But, I'm back, and in the meantime I've been reading books about music.

No, really. Since the middle of January I've read four music-related books and am now working my way through the fifth. The ones I've finished reading are:

1) 27: A History of the 27 Club Through the Lives of Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse, by Howard Sounes (2013, Da Capo Press; 359 pages)
2) Lennon: The Man, the Myth, the Music - The Definitive Life, by Tim Riley (2011, Hyperion; 765 pages)
3) Ticket to Ride: Inside the Beatles 1965 Tour that Changed the World, by Larry Kane (2003, Running Press; 272 pages)
4) Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood, by Eric Burdon with J. Marshall Craig (2001, Thunder's Mouth Press; 326 pages)

And right now I'm reading Beatles vs. Stones, by John McMillian (2013, Simon and Schuster; 304 pages).

These are all good books, although I suspect that Sounes just wrote 27 so that he could write about Amy Winehouse. Still, he does a good job covering the lives and deaths of the other 27 Club members that he highlights. Riley's book is long, but it is comprehensive, perhaps a little too comprehensive in its detail about recording sessions, but that is a minor quibble. I very much liked the way that Riley seemed to go out of his way to not forgive the times that Lennon acted like an ass, but also gave context as to why he might have been acting that way and also related that Lennon also had times when he was kind and generous and thoughtful. I've read other biographies of Lennon and have found that some writers either try to make him a saint or make him a demon when in fact he seems to have been a very complicated man. Kane's book was more historical in nature and, despite the title, covers both the 1964 and 1965 American tours (he was the only American journalist who traveled with the band the full length of both tours). He also goes out of his way to show that the members of the Beatles were full human beings rather than cutout cardboard figures. He didn't try to whitewash flaws out of existence, but he didn't try to portray any of them, or the support staff who toured with them, as completely flawed. And Burdon's memoir...well, it must have been good, because I more or less read it in one sitting. It seems to jump around in time a lot, but that is a minor quibble. I like that he doesn't approach his life the way some rock stars do, trying to play down the adventures and misadventures of their lives, but plainly says, "these are the things I did, and I might regret some of them now but I'm not going to deny them at this point."

The book I'm reading now, Beatles vs. Stones, is more academic in tone, but that's to be expected since McMillian is an historian and an assistant professor of history at Georgia State University. So far (and I'm on page 109 at the moment) it seems to me he's leaning more toward being as Stones fan than a Beatles fan even though he declines in his introduction to say which band he favors although he admits that he does have "a preference for one group over the other" (p. 5).

At any rate, these books highlight the lives of people who have made some classic music, and since it is Music Sunday, of course I'm going to share some if it with you. I will say that I have probably shared some of these songs before, but all these people have made music that stands up (I think) to repeated listenings.

But, I'm going to start out with something I know I haven't share before, because I didn't know it existed until a couple of days ago. Anyone who grew up in the 1970s probably knows the Three Dog Night version of Randy Newman's "Mama Told Me Not To Come". That 1970 cover went to number one on the Billboard Hot 100. But the first recording of the song was by Eric Burdon and the Animals in 1966, although it was never released as a single and ended up on the 1967 album "Eric is Here", and the band playing behind Burdon is not the Animals, but the Horace Ott Orchestra. This original version is edgier than the more commercial-sounding Three Dog Night version:

Here's a live performance of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" from Burdon and the Animals at Wembley Empire Pool at the New Musical Express poll winners' concert on April 11, 1965:

I found a clip of the Beatles singing "All My Loving" at the Hollywood Bowl concert on their 1964 tour of the United States. This show took place on my 8th birthday, I lived in Southern California at the time, and even at the age of 8 I was very bitter that I didn't get to go to the concert:

One of the notable details in this early clip of a live Rolling Stones performance of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" is that there look to have been a lot more males in the audience than in audiences for the Beatles' shows. And, if that young gentleman in the audience shown near the end of the song is any indication, some of them were as emotional about their favorite band as the girls were. This was the first single by the Rolling stones to go to number 1 in the United States:

Jim Morrison was not only a singer, but a poet as well. His poetry has gotten mixed reviews over the years, but I quite like some of the things he wrote. A few years after Morrison's death, the rest of the Doors got together and put some of his recorded poetry on record along with music. This cut from the resulting album, "American Prayer" (released 1978, with the spoken word parts recorded in 1969 and 1970), called "Stoned Immaculate", shows a crossover between what the Doors recorded as a band and what Morrison was doing with the written word:

Since I'm running out of room for today's post, I'll just end with this, my favorite Janis Joplin song. Don't get me wrong; I like all of her work. However, this song just seems...perfect. So, here is Janis, and "Mercedes Benz", from the album "Pearl" (1971):