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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in debido_shodo's LiveJournal:

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Sunday, November 22nd, 2009
10:13 pm
Again with the movies...

20091121 Blog - Again with the movies....

I watched Gattaca tonight. I’d heard good things from friends, and imdb comments also rate it well. I thought it was deathly dull. The premise is promising enough and even the plot is pretty good (with the sort of ridiculously improbably final twist that seems awfully unavoidable these days), but the director and or set designer had this vision of a cold, lifeless future society based on genetic social engineering. The architecture is all neo-fascist with hardly a tree in sight. I suppose in another mood, another frame of mind, I might have gotten into it, but I kept thinking, this could be a lot better. For one thing, I have a problem with movies where there are no likable characters. There were no likable characters. I didn’t care what happened to anybody. For another, I kept thinking, what would Hitchcock do with this script? The script has the potential for a ton of suspense. It pisses it all away.

As I mentioned in my status, I also saw The Mummy, the first Brendan Fraser one. It was certainly very different from the originals, more an adventure story. A co-worker independently suggested what had also occurred to me: it was meant to tap into the Indiana Jones vein. It upped the anti on the horror about a bazillian times worth, but on the other hand, was never particularly scary. Often in the middle of fighting these silly mummies or skeleton thingees, there was obviously intentional humor. I mean, WTF? Well, once again, they’re going for that fifth grade mindset. Kids books are all about that. Things that are supposed to be horrific turn out to be some not so scary thing.

That would be tolerable, except the Mummy in his initial state was just really, really hokey. Very cheezy. Ray Harryhausen, back in the 50s, could have done a better job. Even the shadowy images meant to convey the souls of folks, like the princess, were hokey. On the other hand, Rachel Weisz... Oh, that reminds me, in the The Mummy’s Ghost (1944), there was the most smolderingly beautiful pinup star you never heard of: Ramsey Ames.

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Not the greatest actress, I guess. When you look back, a lot of those actresses--and this is, for that matter, still somewhat true even now--were not all that great looking. I think, it turns out, they actually were/are successful because they could act! Who knew? Also, Ramsey Ames did a) have a lousy stage name and b) seemed even more depressive and moody than she needed to be....

Anyway, sorry to deliver so many critical movie reviews. I’m usually known for being very accepting of movies and their failures. But then, usually, I see better movies. I’ve been trying to catch up on some of the popcorn type flicks I’ve missed.
Tuesday, November 17th, 2009
11:03 pm
2012 delivers the goods
This is what a disaster movie should be. I remember those early ones like Earthquake and The Towering Inferno. You had to sit through the familial histories of about ten different families. And not particularly interesting histories, at that. But the idea was, it personalized the tragedy of the disaster or made you care about the characters or whatever. Well, there’s some of that here, but it’s limited to just a few of the characters, and usually handled in the context of the action. Say whatever else you like about 2012, this much is a great improvement.

This movie is to disaster flicks what Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill are to American folklore. Really Tall Tales! You’ve seen some of the epic destruction in the trailers, but it’s even more grandiose and dramatic in the movie, and there’s a lot of it. And it was pretty well-done. I did, though, have the sense that, if they could have waited another five years, the effects would really have been great. But I always feel that. I would say the effects technology was quite adequate. Not perfect, but nearly there. Special effects of large scale destruction scenes or, say, battles, run into the particularly challenging problem of depicting the people, the victims. Because the scenes were on such large scales--entire skyscrapers tumbling, buildings ripped open, highways torn in half--the people necessarily had to be pretty small. Rendering that convincingly is a bit beyond us at this point. The people often seemed to look a bit like stick people. I remember feeling the same in some of the LOTR battle scenes....

The cast was decent. Cusack makes a good everyman type. Woody Harrelson has a nifty little role as a conspiracy theorist radio host. Chiwetel Ejiofor (whose film career began with Amistad, but who still looks rather young at 35) did his best with an, at times, annoying character. Speaking of annoying, the kids were not so bad and actually grew on me, unlike the usual disaster movie brats of late.

I’ve avoided reading the scientific commentary on this, because I don’t like to know much about a plot going in. One thing I did read was that the central premise, about neutrinos melting the earth’s core, is nonsense. The premise did, however, make the grandiose action possible. There are some very real disasters that could well happen in 2012--the Yellowstone caldera blowing being my greatest worry--but they couldn’t match this disaster. Only a really, really huge asteroid impact could, I’d say. I don’t in anyway take the whole 2012-Mayan thing seriously, but some of these overdue disasters could coincidentally happen in 2012.

Anyway, 2012 did not disappoint. Near total annihilation was never this fun!
Wednesday, November 11th, 2009
11:23 pm
Some mini movie reviews
Charlie Wilson's War

Moderately entertaining. The writers really didn’t seem to know how they felt about the story. Philip Seymour Hoffman, always great.

The Incredibles

OK, but unusually unfunny for a Pixar movie.

Cloverfield

Really great. It’s got that Blair Witch jittery camera thing that annoys a lot of people, but I thought it was pretty cool. At least, once the aliens showed up.

Religulous

Definitely worth seeing. Aside from the part where a congressman essentially admits to being an idiot, my favorite part was where Maher interviews a guy who plays Christ at Christian theme park and Jesus explained the trinity in terms of water, which can be a liquid, a gas, or a solid, depending. Maher thought it was pretty brilliant. And it is. I remember Bishop Sheen comparing the trinity to Stripe toothpaste which, not so much...


The X-FIles- I Want to Believe

A lot darker and gorier and weirder than I anticipated. Believe it or not, this was the first X-Files thing of any sort I had seen. Great cast. Billy Connolly was terrific as a psychic pedophile priest.


National Treasure & Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

I’m lumping these two together because they’re kind of similar and they both suffer from being written for 5th graders, especially the man-woman parts. I couldn’t believe Spielberg actually directed the Indian Jones or that George Lucas co-wrote it. Sometimes it was embarrassingly bad, but it did have some moments.

Dark City (1998)

Of all the movies I’ve seen this year, this was the best.

Starship Troopers

Some of what I said about National Treasure & Indiana Jones applies here, too. I haven’t read the Heinlein novel.... Apparently director Paul Verhoeven intended this as a satire. Of what, I’m not sure. Old WW II propaganda flicks? Is there really any point in that? While the story begins in Argentina, it was all very American and I’m suppose it’s intended as a dig at the US and its military involvements. Although, as it came out in 1997, I’m not sure what in particular it might have been aimed at. And if intended as an anti-war movie, its effectiveness is kind of undercut by the fact that the bugs really did attack, wiping out whole cities. They certainly didn’t seem the sort one could negotiate with. Several people at work have seen this and some had read the book. They had equally negative opinions and were appalled to learn there were actually sequels. Frankly, I think Paul Verhoeven is doing a little too cute dance, suggesting satire, when really, he’s just making another flick of the same violent and OBTW really stupid sort.

The Illusionist

Watchable, mildly boring. I didn’t buy the ending, which is one of those endings that transforms everything before it.

Swing Vote

Pretty bad comedy. I guess it was supposed to be a comedy. There is far too much schmaltzy drama in what could only be an absolute farce premise. What a waste of a great cast.

Hancock

Intriguing. Actually, I could make the same comedy-drama complaint here. The premise of a drunken, super-destructive superhero could make a pretty funny comedy. Will Smith plays it for intense, depressing drama.

Actually, even without that, it would take some work to make it funny. I think perhaps all the destruction he causes in the beginning might have been, in the writer’s mind, meant to be hilarious. But the audience (at least me) reacts with the same sort of horrified shock the characters do to seeing a superhero be that destructive.

And then, about the time you get used to all that, the flick takes an utterly preposterous plot twist.


Watchmen

I had just finished Alan Moore’s graphic novel of this, so I don’t know what I would have thought had I not. The movie sets out to be very faithful to the comic book. As a friend of mine said, too faithful. Terry Gilliam (who wanted to film the story himself) made the same point, and I agree with everything he said about it:

“I felt a lot of it was so good,” Gilliam began. “It got the look of it brilliantly. But it suffered from some of the things I was having problems with when I was trying to write a script. It’s too short. It’s also too long! It’s a very weird thing and they had to make so many compromises and changes. I was always saying it should be a five-part miniseries. I still believe that.”

As Gilliam continued, he echoed the prevailing critique of the film: “But he got the look right, and the Rorshach stuff is really, really great. I think I felt if there was any fault, it was almost too respectful of the original.” Gilliam laughed. “It needed a kick in the ass, frankly.”

I have since read Moore’s V for Vendetta and look forward to the film of that. Most people seem to prefer the latter, but I think Watchmen was better, as a graphic novel. Moore certainly has a dark view of things--and problems with authority!
10:37 pm
Where or when
OK, so here it is, another holiday (Veterans / Remembrance /Armistice Day) and I have a cold. Clearly, all of my physiology is under the control of my mind. Let’s see... off the 11th, let’s schedule the common cold for the 10th. Yesterday would normally have been a day off as well, but I had an appointment with my dental hygienist and then a meeting at work. The meeting was no problem, because I sat by myself in a big auditorium. They brought in a brilliant economist to give us a look at the present and future of the area’s economy (not good).

You’re probably aware of the ARMS, the adjustable rate mortgages that started resetting a couple of years ago. But we’re heading into a new wave of ALT-A and option ARM loans that are just starting to reset. So that, at a point where maybe the foreclosures might ease and the real estate market start to recover, things will get even worse instead. So recovery might be over a five year or more period....

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/12/12/60minutes/main4666112.shtml

As I wrote that, I was thinking maybe the Chinese economy might float all our boats, but uh-oh:

http://www.businessinsider.com/jim-chanos-china-is-headed-for-a-huge-crash-2009-11

I liked this Businessinsider.com site so much, I went to add it as an RSS feed to my Google Reader. When I did, coincidentally, the top article to come up was about mortage resets, with a chart very similar to the one I saw yesterday:

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As for the dentist, well I warned them about the cold, but they’re all latex gloves and surgical masks already. My dentist’s daughter, fresh out of dentistry school, has joined as a partner and she is one pretty Chinese-American lady and will also be a great dentist.

Anyway, then I came home and more or less slept through till about 2:30 am. On Coast to Coast AM they had Dr. Brian Weiss who, for a past life regressor, comes with some major cred.

From http://www.brianweiss.com/

As a traditional psychotherapist, Dr. Brian Weiss was astonished and skeptical when one of his patients began recalling past-life traumas that seemed to hold the key to her recurring nightmares and anxiety attacks. His skepticism was eroded, however, when she began to channel messages from "the space between lives," which contained remarkable revelations about Dr. Weiss's family and his dead son. Using past-life therapy, he was able to cure the patient and embark on a new, more meaningful phase of his own career.

A graduate of Columbia University and Yale Medical School, Brian L. Weiss M.D. is Chairman Emeritus of Psychiatry at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami.

Dr. Weiss maintains a private practice in Miami. In addition, Dr. Weiss conducts national and international seminars and experiential workshops as well as training programs for professionals.

Weiss was very eloquent with the kind of voice that could easily sink folks into their comfy trances. So I spent the next couple of hours listening to him and the people who called in with their experiences, none of which were particularly interesting, actually. Of all the paranormal/supernatural ideas, reincarnation was the one that I most intuitively sorta believed in, even as a child. In the few, dreamed past-life glimpses I’ve had (or what I take to be such), I was in wars (American Civil War as a Southerner and Nazi Germany as a Jew). Not as a soldier, but as an immediate refugee/victim, fleeing or about to face the enemy....

I’ve never had any dreams or anything of the sort, but if I had to guess, I would say I probably lived in ancient Egypt and either Aztec or Mayan Central America and had particular bad experiences there, because I’ve just always been turned off by those two times and places. When I was a kid, I was supposed to be in a little play about ancient Egypt, playing some sort of evil priest or something. I couldn’t pull it off. And ended up staying home sick that day. 

Which is why, tonight, I watched the 1932 movie of The Mummy (which BTW involved reincarnation) --and it was the first mummy movie of any sort I’ve ever seen. I was surprised at how good it was. Man, those folks at Universal in the 30s really tapped into a cool horror vein. When I was a kid, they put out these plastic models of the Universal horror movie figures--I’m pretty sure I made models of The Mummy, The Wolf Man, Dracula and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. I don’t think I did Frankenstein. These were really models for the complete idiot. I think you pretty much glued two halves together. To the extent that any particular ability was involved at all, it was in the painting. Anyway, I think all those horror films were on about the same level except The Creature from the Black Lagoon, which was cheesy and rather boring, too.


I’ve seen quite a few movies lately. I’m going to give some very brief little reviews of them in my next blog.
Sunday, November 8th, 2009
12:48 pm
Election Notes 2: The Politics
There are two main spins to the election results, in which key states that went for Obama, New Jersey and my own state, Virginia, voted in Republican governors. (In Virginia, I don’t think there were Democrats who got elected to dog-catcher.)

The first spin is, it’s the economy, stupid. That much is true. The Democrat mediocrity who ran for governor, Creigh Deeds (his supporters are sometimes referred to as Creightards) ran virtually his entire campaign on a thesis his opponent once wrote which revealed some stances that Creigh felt women might oppose. Creigh, who comes from some rural backwater and so has no demographic power base) failed to realize that 1) Virginians are pretty conservative on social issues and 2) even if they weren’t they would never be as interested in that as they would be in the job they just loss or the mortgage they have that is more than the value of their house.

The second spin is that the vote against these Democrats was because they are too liberal. Well, the number one issue as far as liberalism goes is health care reform, and a wide majority support that. Far from being too liberal, Obama has done virtually nothing so far that would pass as liberal, while handing over money that might have been spent on health care to the likes of Goldman Sachs. While banks and brokerage firms have enormous influence over many members of the Democratic Party, from Christopher Dodd and Barney Frank to Obama himself, that hardly qualifies them as liberal.

My Congressman, Glenn Nye, was one of eight Democratic representatives from districts that Obama carried who voted against health care reform last night. I can virtually guarantee you that he will not be our congressman in two years. If we don’t defeat him in the primary (and there will be a ton of money coming in to do just that), we simply won’t vote for him in the general. I’m sure in this generally conservative district, the race will be close. We might just as well have a Republican if the Democrat votes with Republicans on something as crucial as that, for clarity’s sake, if nothing else.
Thursday, November 5th, 2009
10:32 pm
Election Notes I - at the polls
As I said in my status yesterday, I worked as an assistant chief election officer during that debacle of an election. There were a few odd moments. As usual, the guy who (for some reason) always services my heat pump (despite the fact that he works for a company with no doubt numerous workers) came to vote. But it turned out he had left the company and started his own business, so I actually got his business card. I wondered if he’d quit, been fired, laid off? Didn’t ask him, though.

Part of our procedure is to ask the voter to state his full name and address. One guy gave one of us his voter card but for some reason wouldn’t give either wouldn’t say it was his current address or wouldn’t provide his current address (I forget). So she had to keep asking him while he kept saying, “Just give me the card back.” After a couple of back and forths, she handed it over and he grabbed it, his hand visibly trembling, and rushed out. Later, I asked if he had ever looked at her and she said no. I thought maybe he was autistic. Then tonight I thought, maybe he was homeless. But like I said, I’m not clear on exactly what was said.

Fortunately, there was a steady trickle of voters, seldom enough to make more than a one-person wait, but also few stretches with no voters. So we kept fairly busy but were never stressed. The most challenging part for me was setting up and taking down the actual voting machines, which have a complicated assemblage of folding, telescoping legs. I have often felt that most of us could do most anything, and if we don’t /can’t/won’t, it’s due to our being programmed, as when people say, “I’m no good at math.” But really, I’ve never been mechanically inclined. I think, to some extent, how good you are at something depends on how much patience you are able to invest in it. For instance, I like playing guitar well enough, but I don’t have a lot of patience for playing the same chord changes over and over, etc. I have a lot more patience with writing. My problems with writing are of a different sort....

Anyway, after three Krispie Kreme donuts, three candy bars, some ginger snaps, a pot of coffee and an iced tea, I was actually pretty wired by the end of the day, long as it was. I stayed up till 1:30 a.m....
Tuesday, October 20th, 2009
7:02 am
Drinking less and enjoying it less-plus, a manga & lectures
20091020 Blog

Just some odds and ends....

Well, I’m still no longer drinking, although my heartburn problem is better. Not 100%, but better. Have you discovered that aging is actually not such a gradual process? It seems like now and then you go through a phase and when you come out, things are different....

Anyway, it doesn’t make that big a difference in my life, but I’d just as soon have a drink now and then. Just don’t think that would be wise just yet. I think perhaps I am sleeping slightly better. The main difference is I’m remembering my dreams somewhat more. Don’t know if that’s from not drinking. I had a clear-cut wish fulfillment dream where I had really long, red hair again. That was nice.
I finally found a manga that I thought was pretty good: Death Note I by by Tsugumi Ohba (writer ) and Takeshi Obata (artist).

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Great premise: this Death God (who is just one of many) drops a death notebook and a kid finds it, which confers on him the ability to kill anyone simply by writing his name in the book. He also has to know what the person looks like.

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So anyway, he starts killing off nasty criminals and plans to rule the world somehow. Unlike the last manga I read, Naruto I, this is a real page turner, very easy to follow. Naruto is very difficult to follow, and really has very little plot. I can’t imagine why it has been so wildly popular.

I’ve been listening to this series of lectures on psychology from The Teaching Company. They’re by Daniel Robinson of Georgetown University, who seems more interested in the history and philosophy of psychology, although he’s quite knowledgeable on many different aspects of psych. Anyway, I liked this guy. Great voice to listen to, a sort of Mid-Atlantic (he also is an Oxford fellow), maybe prep school Long Island accent. I agree with him a lot on psychology. But when I looked him up on YouTube, the only thing I found was him talking about the Terry Schiavo case. Not only did I disagree with him on that, he turned out to be a rumpled, bearded, very heavyset old guy, not at all the polished image I’d formed. Oh well. He inspired me to select a series of lectures on Plato & Aristotle for my next listen. (Robinson is well-versed in the classics.)

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One thing I like about Robinson is he has a very rare ability to present, say, the outlook of behaviorism as if he was a total behaviorist--and then turn around and handily criticize it. Very balanced approach.

Well, guess that’s enough for now. Got a couple of days off here, so maybe I’ll get back to blogging more again.
Monday, September 21st, 2009
4:38 pm
17 year-old Isamu Fukui's first novel, Truancy (2008)
This is really sort of a rough draft for a review that I'll probably have to write for work. Truancy was one of the top twenty novels for young adults selected by the Young Adult Library Services Association:

Isamu Fukui was a 17 year-old senior at Stuyvesant High School in New York City when his first novel, Truancy, was published in 2008. Best I can figure, he wasn’t too crazy about his educational experience there. For one thing, he dedicates the book to “every student who has ever suffered in the name of education.” For another, the story centers around a powerful, nearly totalitarian city government that that is particularly focussed on controlling the lives of the students in the city schools.



The system has grown so repressive, a group of teen guerillas has started an armed and violent resistance to it. This initial set-up is a bit weak, frankly. I don’t recall any mention of a state or national government anywhere in the book. Fukui wants to set up a simple hero tale and is willing to sacrifice some realistic details to focus on that, creating instead a closed city environment, much as Kafka (in The Castle and The Trial) or Camus (The Plague) do for their own purposes. You just have to go with that much.

Where Fukui’s age shows most clearly is in the development of the characters. The most vivid characters by far are all teens. The adults aren’t particularly believable, nor in some ways are the teens, but they’re pretty colorful: Tack (or Takan, the hero, out to avenge his his sister’s death); his nemesis, Zyid; Noni, Zyid’s formidable right-hand female; Edward, a cool, deadly opportunist; and, coolest of all, the Yoda-like Omasi, a detached, enlightened teacher of wisdom and martial arts.

Speaking of which, there’s a lot of fighting in this book, and Fukui is at his best when he’s describing it. It’s not an easy accomplishment, relating the blow by blow of fight after fight without growing redundant or tedious. Far from that, it’s the fight scenes that make this book. They are so cinematically drawn, you expect to see them in some future film version, faithfully reproduced. Some are of the swashbuckling martial arts sorts, others more the military battle sort. Fukui excels at both.

Probably most kids fantasize at some point or other of attacking their school, but there really haven’t been too many fictional accounts of such. The one that comes to my mind is the Malcolm McDowell movie, If, which ends in an actual battle. This is that, multiplied many times.

If came out in 1968, just as campuses and cities around the globe erupted in violence. You don’t hear so many students complaining quite that vocally about their schools these days. Is Fukui’s tale foretelling something? Not sure. But maybe somebody ought to look into whatever the hell is going on at Stuyvesant High School.

BTW, the prequel to the story, Truancy Origins came out in March, and there is definitely great potential for a sequel, as well.
Saturday, September 19th, 2009
11:44 pm
A few comments on The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)
I like end of the world flicks and so I didn’t exactly mind watching this one, but really, it was at best, mediocre. Rather than give any more of an overall review than that, I just want to make a few comments:

1) A robot like that was kinda cool in 1956. (Although I vaguely seem to remember thinking even when I saw that version that the robot was rather hokey.) It just seems silly now, even in the fairly awesome revamped version. Nobody, just nobody would really think any aliens would show up with such a thing.

2) Nanotech is not even remotely cinematic. This could pose some problems in the future.

3) I kept hoping the aliens would destroy that obnoxious little kid, but no such luck. Everyone despised Dakota Fanning in War of the Worlds. Did Hollywood not pick up on that? If you’re including a kid to appeal to kids, than have it be the kid who is sympathetic to the aliens, not the adult.

4) What are the odds that the main characters in two different end of the world alien movies would end up in an underpass in Central Park. (see Cloverfield).

5) One might think that the aliens would at least begin by communicating their message to the world’s leaders. They could easily have done so before even landing. If they really just came here to get rid of the humans, why didn’t they just do it? It’s all pretty stupid. One would think that a civilization that advanced would have at least as much sympathy for us as for the rest of the planet. And when you get right down to it, those aliens could easily have made technological suggestions that would enable the planet to survive without changing our natures. Perhaps that was the idea behind turning every thing off at the end. But if so, that's also stupid, because 6,785,283,326 people without technology would wipe out the rest of the living things a whole lot faster.
Wednesday, September 16th, 2009
1:37 pm
Some perspective: Joe Wilson, Kanyé, Serena
Seem to be down to blogging about once a week these days. Sometimes I blog, but don’t post them, as with my account of when a storm knocked down a huge tree limb, which put my driveway out of commission for a while. The blog was a bit mundane.

So I’ve apparently decided it would be more interesting to blog about not blogging it...

Well, let’s turn to, as Twitter puts it, Trending Topics. First thing I have to say to that is, most of Twitter’s Trending Topics don’t interest me. It has been interesting, all these celebrity blow-ups! Someday maybe the public will turn on all of them, like in Watchmen, where they turned on the superheroes. I would certainly relish seeing a lot of them in jail, especially the ones who think the thing to do is through stuff at hotel employees and then buy them off later. This guy created a website just to keep track of the subset, Celebrities Who Throw Phones at Underlings.

http://www.voipafriend.com/2006/04/a_brief_history_of_celebrity_p.html

This is sort of where Serena’s tirade blends the arrogance to workers with the blow-up, although, coaches yell at referees all the time in football, managers yell at umpires. The main difference is, aside from this gentile sort of ambience that comes with tennis, that networks long ago realized there was no way they could mic what the coaches and managers and players say in football and baseball. On the other hand, probably physically threatening an ump would get you kicked out of the stadium. I guess.

Kanyé’s thing was just weird because it’s hard to say he was motivated by any sort of compelling passion. He wasn’t Serena angry. I think Kanyé-gate took off because here, at last, was one thing we could nearly all agree on: he was rude.  My only comment on it was, when you consider all the genuinely evil things that happen every day, it’s hard to fathom why this is what got everybody angry. True, the networks seldom show the genuine evil anymore and a lot of it isn’t filmed, much less live.

One interesting thing about all three of the recent stories,  Joe Wilson’s “You Lie,” Serena, and Kanyé, is that, really, their offenses were within the context of their business environment. They really didn’t violate any actual law. (I don’t think Serena’s threat of physical violence would be taken seriously as a crime.) The three stepped out of the bounds of their organizations and have been censured by them.

My Brit friends, it occurred to me, must be rather mystified by the whole uproar over Joe Wilson’s remark, being used to their Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons! I guess here in America the president serves a sort of dual function as both a kind of royal figure and a working leader, so in some ways we accord him the sort of formal respect the queen gets, at least in person. It may be that the House of Commons could use a little more decorum. On the other hand, I sure would like to see the president subjected to the same sort of questions the P.M. gets.

 
Saturday, August 29th, 2009
7:10 pm
Computer class
20090827  Thursday

I wrapped up another series of computer classes tonight. I had to laugh because there was this one woman who was not so good with a mouse (she owned a laptop) or typing and she was a bit slow on the uptake....and this other woman just came to hate her guts because she was slowing down the class quite a bit. I ended up feeling like some dad trying to keep two kids apart. At one point, the more capable lady was actually laughing out loud at the slower lady. And. you know, I can understand the capable lady’s frustration and it is nice to have people who can follow what you’re saying, but on the other hand, it was all pretty nasty, childish stuff. Glad to be done with them.

Here’s another thing I’ve found disturbing: more times than I would have thought, I’d say at least once each time I start calling people to set up a class, I end up speaking to a husband, even when the wife is there. They’ll get on the line, or they’ll answer and start dealing with me as if it was they who were taking the class. I have to think, well, no wonder she doesn’t know how to use a computer.... Sometimes it works the other way though, with the woman doing the talking.
Tuesday, August 11th, 2009
10:03 am
Debido vs. FORMER Health Insurer. Can this really be the end?
What gets me about this latest correspondence is the thought that maybe they do this routinely, and a hefty percentage of their (former) customers might just pay the bill. The other thing that gets me is, it takes them a month to figure out I'm no longer their customer? And bear in mind, this policy was canceled three months ago.


Debido to his FORMER health insurance policy (7/14/2009)

I recently spoke to someone with my new policy and they said that indeed my old policy had been canceled as of May 8 and the balance applied towards my new policy so that I wouldn't have to pay a premium until November.

Then the attached premium bill for $198 for my old policy arrived. Not only do I not understand why I am getting a bill for a policy that was supposed to have been canceled in May, I can't make any sense out of any of those numbers.

What am I to make of this?




Insurer (7/15/2009)

This inquiry was directed to the appropriate personnel upon receipt. I have sent your latest message to them and asked that they respond no later than tomorrow.




Debido:

Anything happening on this? It's been two weeks.





Insurer (7/30/2009)

I have been notified of a system error regarding the balance. You, of course, do not owe any money to ___________. A systems operator is looking at this today.




Debido:

Thank you. (7/31/2009)





Insurer (8/10/2009)

I heard from Operations this morning. The program has been corrected and you should not received any more HMO bills going forward. The money has been transferred correctly to your Anthem account and there is no balance on ____________ . Please let me know if you should receive another bill so I can report that immediately. Thank you for waiting on the response.

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009
2:22 am
Keith Olbermann attacks Congressmen owned by the healthcare industry
I didn't know anyone actually said things like this on TV. An extraordinary attack on GOP and Dem Congressmen who have been bought and sold by the healthcare industry. Please watch this video venom from MSNBC's Keith Olbermann

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3036677/vp/32277034#32277034
Monday, August 3rd, 2009
12:46 am
John Sinclair
Back in 1972, John Lennon & Yoko came out with a politically radical album, Sometime in New York City, that Rolling Stone called “artistic suicide.”

I was pretty much at my radical peak at that time, so I had no problem with it at all. Just about all the songs espoused radical causes, from Angela Davis to Belfast, feminism to legalizing drugs. On that subject, there was “John Sinclair”:



Manager of Detroit’s punkish MC5 band, Sinclair was also heavily involved with the White Panthers, a radical group that backed the Black Panthers. Wikipedia does a good job of filling in the rest:

After a series of convictions for possession of marijuana, Sinclair was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1969 after giving two joints of marijuana to an undercover narcotics officer.[2] This sentence sparked the landmark "Free John Now Rally" at Ann Arbor's Crisler Arena in December 1971. The event brought together a who's-who of left-wing luminaries, including pop musicians John Lennon (who recorded the song, "John Sinclair" on his Some Time in New York City album), Yoko Ono, David Peel, Stevie Wonder, Phil Ochs and Bob Seger, jazz artists Archie Shepp and Roswell Rudd, and speakers Allen Ginsberg, Abbie Hoffman, Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, Jerry Rubin, and Bobby Seale.[3] Three days after the rally, Sinclair was released from prison when the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the state's marijuana statutes were unconstitutional. These events inspired the creation of Ann Arbor’s annual pro-legalization Hash Bash rally, which continues to be held as of 2009, and contributed to the drive for decriminalization of marijuana under the Ann Arbor city charter (see Marijuana laws in Ann Arbor, Michigan).

Well, here’s Sinclair, doing some poetry with jazz accompaniment:



Oh, and, as you can see, MC5 was a pretty exciting act:

Monday, July 27th, 2009
11:22 pm
A Few Words about the Bruce Willis movie, 12 Monkeys (1996)
Generally a pretty good movie! My main problems with it were:

a) Willis’ character was a major nutcase, violent, and not too bright, either. He’s supposed to travel back in time, not to prevent a biomedical event that kills most of humanity, but to seek information about the virus that would help those in the future deal with it better. Why on earth would you send him, of all people, back to the past on such an important mission?

b) A few of Terry Gilliam’s art direction choices, especially the lab in the future, were absurd and detracted from the believability. He did the same thing, in spades, in Brazil. That can work in the sort of flicks Tim Burton usually does, but it’s just a silly diversion with something like this.

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But I’ve always liked Willis, and Madeleine Stowe was very good.... Brad PItt is a bit over the top here. The fact that he was nominated for Best Supporting for this says a whole lot about how stupid and unfair the Oscars are....

This was “inspired by” the famous French short, La Jetée, which we watched in junior year honors English. (Our teacher was media-oriented, and we watched quite a few important (and cool) shorts in class.) Anyway, “inspired by” is a good way of putting it. The movie uses the basic paradoxical time -traveling ideas of the La Jetée storyline, but of course, adds a whole lot to it in the way of plot and characters.

I had actually written a little short story for 8th grade English class that was pretty similar (though a whole lot shorter). In that, the character travels back in time to prevent a nuclear war and ends up being the one who starts it.

No doubt, somehow my subconscious traveled two years into the future to draw inspiration from my viewing of La Jetée....
Monday, July 20th, 2009
1:08 am
Moby, Coldplay, Walter Cronkite

I’m wrapping up day one of a three day weekend. Spent rather a lot of time online today, in a fairly idle way. Listened to Moby’s new album, “Wait for Me.” If you’re on Facebook, you can listen to it at apps.facebook.com/mobydownloads. I thought it was kinda blah, actually. I liked Moby’s “18.” This is way inferior to that.

And then I downloaded, free, Coldplay’s live album. Only listened to the first song of that, so far, which was OK. That one you can get at http://bit.ly/WTgiP. It’s a zip file, but it’s OK. It’s definitely from Coldplay.

I also listened to all of a CD that had two old 1965 Peter & Gordon albums, “I Go to Pieces” and “True Love Ways.” Here’s the thing: when P&G are good, they are very good. When they are bad, they are just awful. Their cover of Elvis’ “All Shook Up” is about the lamest recording I’ve ever heard. But that “I Go to Pieces” is sweet! They were one uneven act. And fairly often, Gordon’s singing was just absurd.


This has been kind of a 60s day. The whole of CBS Sunday Morning was dedicated to Walter Cronkite, the legendary CBS newsman who just died. I wonder if my Brit friends have heard of him? While he was a consistently important and reliable newsman, he is generally famous for three broadcasts, and the reason he is famous for them is precisely because he deviated from his usual, meticulous, factual reporting. People trusted him because of that reporting, but also because they could see he was a real person, with real emotions that came out during the momentous events he reported.

The first, of course, was his reporting of the assassination of JFK. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen all of this. The guy taking the presidential seal off the podium where JFK was supposed to speak... Never saw that before. I was in the 4th grade, and I think I was home for lunch (I lived a few blocks from school and could walk home). I was (seriously) probably watching Bozo the Clown on Chicago’s WGN at the time. They probably interrupted it with a bulletin, which is probably why TV bulletins even now send a chill down my spine. But I really don’t remember anything until the part where I got back to school and the teachers were all crying and they had us watch TV all afternoon.




Couldn’t find a decent clip of his Vietnam speech, but what happened was, he’d been over there and was very troubled by the loss of American lives. It was after the Tet offensive, and he believed he had to editorialize against the war, because the government and the military were simply lying. After his speech, President Johnson famously said, “If we’ve lost Walter Cronkite, we’ve lost America.”

Finally, this is a short clip about his reporting of the lunar landing (which BTW happened 40 years ago today (when I was writing this)). In it, you can see his famous reaction, taking off his glasses and saying, “Oh, boy!” Overwhelmed:

Saturday, July 4th, 2009
11:22 pm
A Long Chain of 4ths / Robots for the Disabled
I’ve been thinking a lot about July 4ths in the past tonight. The amazing thing, given that there usually are, in some form or other, fireworks and picnics or cookouts, how different my memories are. There was an absolutely sweltering one down on the boardwalk with a lady friend, a sea of sweating humanity. But great fireworks: you could just lie flat on your back and they’d be bursting right over you, loud as hell.

There was the time we got stuck in a lengthy traffic jam and our old wreck of a car was having a hard time of it. And then, after all that, I got a call from my sister asking would I go back down to the beach and pick up my niece? Reasonably annoyed, I nevertheless headed back there, only to discover that she wasn’t where I was supposed to pick her up. Oh, I got really, really mad that night.

One of the nicer Fourths was a very quiet night, when I was staying with my mother at an old friend of hers. She lived in Guilford, Connecticut, on a fairly high granite hill, perched right about Long Island Sound. The more northern night was cool, my bedroom windows were open, and across the Sound, I could see all the fireworks of the little towns on Long Island. It was a very unusual sight.

Tonight, there were lots of amateur fireworks around my neighborhood as I walked my dog. When we reached one part of the shopping center we traverse, I discovered that I had a full, though distant (and completely silent), view of the fireworks down at the beach. In addition, to my left there was a private display back in my neighborhood that was really impressive, and--unlike the beach fireworks, I could hear that one. His finale was just amazing. The beach fireworks continued, but Sandy was impatiently whining and pacing. It wasn’t so much the noise, which hadn’t especially bothered her en route (I think she’s pretty used to fireworks at this point). She just didn’t like having her walk interrupted.

Earlier, as I drove into my neighborhood, coming back from dinner with a friend, there were two EMT vehicles leaving the neighborhood, their lights flashing and sirens on. I naturally wondered who it might be. Some dumbass blow a finger off? Some older person having trouble? Could of course be anything. I wondered about the Alzheimer’s lady on my block, but they had been out of town. As Sandy and I made our way back past her house, I noticed that they had in fact returned. The Alzheimer’s lady lives with her daughter and her daughter’s room-mate, and both cars were in the drive, so I figured it wasn’t the old lady. If it had been, they’d still be at the hospital, almost certainly.

Then it hit me that it was exactly two years ago today that I had to call the ambulance for my own mother, a trip to the hospital from which she never returned. I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t once thought of that night, even after seeing the EMT vehicles.

To change the subject, a while back I blogged about robots and how one of their best uses would be to help the disabled. This CNN video shows it actually happening already:

http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/tech/2009/03/16/eod.rewalk.cnn
Wednesday, July 1st, 2009
1:13 am
20090701 Sum-sum-summertime

My parents got married seventy years ago today! I guess what really strikes me about that is I remember their fiftieth anniversary party very well. It was quite the affair, with rented hall, many guests, etc. etc. I supplied most of the music, old Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington sort of stuff. Believe it or not, I still play those tapes now and then.... But then, I have tapes from when I first bought a cassette deck (in 1974) that still play, though generally not the greatest sound. On the other hand, many aren’t really listenable. One of the most common problems with old cassette tapes is that the little felt pad falls out or corrodes.

I have a tape from April 17, 1975, when the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh. The female announcer on Yale’s WYBC reported it with an air of satisfaction, little-anticipating the one and a half million deaths that would result from their nightmare reign of terror. But then, I was pretty satisfied about it at the time, too. History is best understood if you bear in mind that we are all animals, and particularly vicious ones at that.

Anyway, I really don’t listen to my tapes much anymore accept in the car sometimes. When I listen to music in the car, it’s still mostly on cassette. But mostly I listen to audiobooks. The one I’m listening to now is Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us.

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The premise is to ask what would happen to the earth if humans disappeared overnight. He had to put it that way, because it’s hard enough figuring that, without throwing in the effects of the more likely disastrous ways we will go.

For instance, he describes at great length the not-so-slow decay that would happen to a house. (I quite vividly pictured it as mine). I kept thinking, Jesus, I’ve really got to fix the roof of that porch.... The narrator reads it all with a passionate intensity reminiscent of old newsreel films.

I bought an OceanAire fan today. (Made in China, of course). I

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It’s like sitting in a wind tunnel. The low setting is really not as low as I would like, and it’s a bit noisy. On the other hand, I may be able to set my AC a bit higher. You know, the whole point of fans is what in the winter time we would call the wind chill factor. They make you personally feel cooler. If you leave a room and the fan is still on, the fan motor is actually making the room warmer. This fan comes with a remote control, which is a nice touch, although all I need in life is another remote control to look for.

It hasn’t yet been all that hot, by Virginia standards. Around 90 lately. I’ve really been enjoying the summer weather, doing a lot of yardwork and gardening. About half of my garden consists of either plants that just came up on their own or plants that I grew from seeds (or aging potatoes) of plants I’d eaten, like the cantaloupe and acorn squash. There was a pretty well-established tomato plant growing where they had chopped down a tree, mostly in my neighbor’s front yard. I dug it up and it turns out it’s cherry tomatoes. I already ate one, not quite ripe. Can’t imagine where that came from. I haven’t grown cherry tomatoes in years. I don’t know if anyone who’s lived in that house (they come and go) ever had a garden.

Today I downloaded the Firefox 3.5 browser, which does seem faster. It came with the ability to surf with no history. Well, even though I have no one to keep a history from, I’m on the paranoid side, so I gave that a go. I put up with it for maybe nine hours. It’s a real pain in the ass, having to log into every site each time you log off. Which I did at least twice, because unfortunately, the new Firefox, which claims to be so much better with videos, crashed twice when I played YouTube videos in my blip.fm.
Sunday, June 21st, 2009
3:02 am
Art Fair / UFO Update/ Prokofiev

There was this minor arts festival today that our teen group helped with, so I spent the morning mostly making popcorn, while the teens did a sidewalk chalk event, dressed up in costumes in sweltering heat, and later, did karaoke, which unfortunately I missed, as I had to be elsewhere to do my regular job.

I love stuff like this. We had a lady playing the hammered dulcimer, old ladies tap dancing, a folk duo singing, various crafters and painters, the Lions giving free screenings, etc. Too bad it was so freaking hot.

I was the one that recommended that the teen group buy the popcorn cart, a couple of years ago, with money left over in the budget that they had to spend or lose.

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It went relatively un-used until I became a co-leader of the group. It took me a long time before I could make decent popcorn with it! Sadly, the key is a whole lot of salt! Also, Orville Redenbacker Popping and Topping Oil.

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I was kind of happy that we could continuously crank out popcorn that actually got compliments.

In other news, I got a call back from the regional field investigator of MUFON, the Mutual UFO Network. He was very interested in my report, and it turned out that, in a way, I had sort of heard of him. He had sent us flyers to advertise meetings of his UFO club. He actually seemed like a nice normal guy, but his flyer wasn’t very good. I actually spend a lot of time making flyers and was sorely tempted to re-work his.... Also, I think he could do better than “UFO Club.”


My latest obsession: Prokofiev’s Dance of the Knights, from the ballet, Romeo and Juliet.



Awesome. I’ve been humming it to myself all day. (Which isn’t entirely easy!) When Prokofiev talks, I listen! Although, frankly, the rest of the ballet isn’t anywhere near as good. Earlier tonight on the radio, I heard a brief bit of solo piano music he wrote for a movie, probably a silent movie. The right hand was doing something just totally different from what the left hand was doing, and I thought, how do you do that? I play guitar, and I’ve never really been able to do much of that. I can either strum or pick a tune, but to do the the sort of thing where you have your right hand doing a lot of picking with different fingers.... Well, I guess it takes a lot of practice. I never had much patience for that.
Wednesday, June 17th, 2009
8:37 am
Fireflies, etc.
It’s a truly beautiful night here in Virginia. Just got back from walking my dog Sandy, and encountered several other people out and about. This is one of the best years for fireflies in a long time, here. I'm pretty sure I heard that the city is cutting back on mosquito spraying for budget reasons. It's an ill wind that blows no good.

☛Yesterday I went down to city hall and got my business license for my online bookselling business. I haven’t signed up with Amazon or Alibris or Abebooks yet. I’m not sure whether to do one, for the time being, or all, as my brother does. But I expect I’ll actually be online within a week. Wish I could get more into cataloging the damn things. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of gardening and yard work, mostly to avoid cataloging books, I suppose.

☛After all I went through with my health insurance company, my employer finally decided to give us part-timers access to group rates. I was astonished to find that, even though it’s an HMO, the premiums are half what I’m paying now. So here I go again....

☛I’m on Facebook now. I’m not crazy about it.

I kind of like Twitter, because it’s a constant stream of information. It’s no wonder that it’s played a role in the events in Iran or the Mubai bombing, etc. Everyone now has the ability to get instant updates on the news, but the media aren’t doing that. CNN and Foxnews just sit there, sometimes with the same stories up for days. The BBC and the NY Times are slightly better....
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