Sunday, December 31, 2006

299th Post Extravaganza: Another cloud picture

For this milestone post, we present a photo taken back on December 17.

Yes. More clouds, with the late morning sun peeking out from behind them.

Perhaps you can discern the spot where this was taken from looking closely at the lower left corner. If that's the sort of information that's important to you.

(You weren't expecting this celebration until the next post, weren't you? You and your base-10 obsession.)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Spam subject line of the day

The spammers insist on continuing to send me these messages and the filtering software continues to keep them from my inbox, but sometimes the syntax of correctly spelled, actual English words is too intriguing to let go unmentioned. Here's the best one from today:

To atop to marsupial

As with the previous posts about this, it's not quite intriguing enough to actually read the message.
That is likely to reduce the entertainment value, and why would we do that?

Saturday, December 23, 2006

And a Partridge in a pop song

Sometimes you don't know how ignorant you are while thinking you are informed until you look into it.

Last month while shopping for shoes in an outlet mall (and what else does one buy in an outlet mall but shoes?) in Smitheville, North Carolina, I heard amidst the slew of holiday music playing softly in the store the track "Thanks for Christmas". It's a more or less straightforward expression of gratitude for the spirit of the holiday (at least, I don't recall detecting irony in its tone when listening to it, but I could be missing that).

I knew the song from a album of b-sides (Rag 'N' Bone Buffet) by XTC. That's all I knew of it, because I tend to avoid the holiday music cavalcade as much as possible, and the Christmas songs I prefer are the "classics" (Bing Crosby, etc.). Thus, at the time I was in the store I was somewhat impressed to hear what I perceived to be a relatively obscure song by an English band that was never a household name in the U.S., especially in a semi-rural area of the South. However, I didn't find it that suprising that when trying to fill more than a month of continuous Christmas tunes, the programmers of the station were open to digging deeper to find material.

From what I heard played on the radio here in L.A. (and I listened to the station that played it a lot when the song came out in 1986), probably the biggest "hit" XTC had in the States was the acerbic deconstruction of the Almighty, "Dear God" (with the closing lines: "There's one thing I don't believe in/It's you, dear God"). At first glance, the sentiment of that song seems incongruous with a paean to the observation of the birthday of the Big Guy's son. However, a Christmas song is always a prudent career boost for any musician, so that's not so difficult to grasp.

[We've had well over a century of Christ's role in Christmas being reduced, and to a great extent (regarding the marketing) being completely excoriated. Thus, it's not out of the question that one could be an atheist but still celebrate December 25th—everyone else is.

Heck, it's tricky to get out of being involved, whether one has never so much as set foot in a building with a cross in front of it. It doesn't seem malicious on the part of those who seek to involve everyone—I'm sure their intentions are completely benevolent, and to be non-exclusory is in its own way admirable—but choosing to refrain from taking part in the celebrations turns one into a Dickensian villain; there is no taking "no" for an answer from these people.

I digress.]

Whatever the artistic motivation, one would think releasting a song not only critical of God but questioning His existence as well would get one banned from the radio in an area where there's more churches than convenience stores. However, clearly that was not the case, as "Thanks For Christmas" was definitely played while I was looking at loafers.

Again, at that moment of still relative ignorance, I figured it wasn't good ol' forgiveness of their "Dear God" to explain the inclusion of what I knew as the XTC holiday track in the mix, nor even that the people in charge didn't recognize the two songs as being by the same artist, but the real explanation of how "Thanks for Christmas" got in there has more to do with the nature of radio these days.

That concoction went along these lines: The signal was likely a satellite station piped in to the store because the corporate owners decreed that's what gets played in all their stores, regardless of location. Someone in New York programmed the songs, without concern for the religious associations of the listeners and how they may not jibe with the whole of the artist's catalog. There the only issue is whether the track in question is potentially offensive, and despite the so-called "war on Christmas" it seems unlikely the pro-"Happy Holidays in lieu of Merry Christmas" crowd is going to protest over this particular song.

Then when finally I did a bit of research, it turned out that the "Thanks For Christmas" song on the XTC b-sides album was originally recorded under the name The Three Wise Men, with songwriting credited to the names of the three kings. It was recorded as a single, in 1983, well before "Dear God". Apparently it got included on holiday sampler CDs throughout the '90s, and it gets played on those radio stations playing more "contemporary" songs during the holidays (the ones I don't listen to) with some regularity.

And somehow I completely missed that.

So, uh, nevermind. Stupid me.

I never did find an explanation for the lingering incongruity of having both a song in (at least ostensibly) honor of the big Christian holiday and one critical of their creator. However, it's somewhat easier to understand why those who would play it on the radio during the holidays would not notice that connection, once some research is done.

Don't hold your breath on me doing that again.

Spam subject line of the day

Today's most inexplicable arrangement of words in the subject line of a spam-filtered message:

chives headwind


Almost intriguing enough to make me actually read it, but I wasn't hungry at the time I checked my mail.

Open letter to my readers about a ficticious open letter to my co-workers

The following is something I just submitted to McSweeney's on Tuesday for possible inclusion on their site. Today they very kindly told me they're passing on it. (I was impressed to hear from them about a rejection, and so quickly.)

As my standards here are... well, let's just say not as discriminating... I present it here for your boredom alleviation (if not entertainment). I'll even change the font to imitate how it would have looked (sort of) on their site.

That's kind of pathetic, I know.


Open letter to the people at the office regarding my lack of attendance at the holiday party:

First, allow me to express my gratitude to those of you who keep insisting the festivities just weren't the same without me. I suppose I underestimated how much you enjoyed in past years my grand exhibitions on the dance floor, and how the pictures I snapped of all of us out there dancing proved to be the best way to capture the event. It's true: Those posed shots the "professional" photographer took of everyone as they came in, looking so nice, always seemed a hollow representation of the evening's festivities. Only a frozen moment of Sam from accounting doing the Macarena makes it look like anyone had any fun.

Thus, I feel some compulsion to apologize for not attending this year's party. I cannot help but think that in a way I let you down. From the reports I have heard, the party—while pleasant, certainly—was not as good as last year. Of course, with the cutbacks that forced the party to be held in an abandoned warehouse—I mean, "industrial ballroom"—it is perhaps unavoidable that some level of letdown was inevitable. Still, many of you have made it clear that my absence was definitely felt by those who were there. That's very flattering, I assure you.

However, I must get to the matter at hand. It has come to my attention that a rumor has been circulating that the reason I was not at the party was due to a photo I snapped of the boss at last year's party in a pose that, as best anyone could tell, was him attempting to "vogue" (and that it was taken when the DJ was playing "Baby Got Back"), and because of that I was forbidden by management from attending this year. That is a vicious rumor, started by those with a vivid imagination.

The reason I could not be at the party was due to out-of-town relatives visiting the evening of the party, and there was no other time when I would be able to see them during this joyous holiday season. Had the opportunity to reschedule with them been available, I most certainly would have made every effort to come to the party with you hideously dull people and taken more pictures of your drunken exploits so I could blackmail specific individuals, which in past years has allowed me to afford the gifts I purchased for my family and people I actually like.

Missing the party was quite a blow to my holiday budget, let me tell you. The holidays won't be quite so happy around my house this year.

I hope this clears up everything. Happy Holidays.

Doug

P.S. The DJ was actually playing "Dancing Queen" during that shot of the boss last year. Where these ridiculous details find their origin I'll never know.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Spam subject line of the day

Spam filtering keeps these unsolicited emails from my inbox, but their subject lines can still prove a source of entertainment. Here's the best one from today, exactly as it appeared:

Trust us your sexual problems for fast solving them


No, I have no interest in actually reading the message--that would only detract from the enjoyment. It could never live up to the expectations.

(I only pray that the syntax of that line doesn't cause sexual problems.)

Solstice alert

Winter kicks in at 4:22 pm (in the Pacific time zone). In the northern hemisphere, that is.

Just so you can acknowledge it in whatever way you do, which probably involves continuing to work, or watch TV, or sleep, etc.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Holiday lights

The Staples Center and Los Angeles Convention Center (which are right next to each other along Figueroa Blvd. just south of downtown) have lights to illuminate the exterior of the buildings at night. During December the lights have been hued green on both structures. I can only assume this was intended as vaguely holiday themed.

The top of the U.S. Bank tower (formerly known as the Library Tower) in the Bunker Hill portion of Downtown has panels that can display colors. During December, the colors chosen for the panels are typically white, red, and green.

The colors of the Mexican flag. And Cinco de Mayo isn't for months.

The Carl's Jr. restaurant in downtown where I occasionally have lunch was having a promotion where one if one purchased a 44-ounce drink, one got a collector's Coca-Cola cup, available in either red, green, silver, or gold.

I presume the association of green with the holiday season stems from the color of Christmas trees. Red I know comes from the color of what we associate with Santa Claus' suit. I also know that the typical image of "the man with the bag" was codified by the Coca-Cola company (not created, but codified) by the images they commissioned in the early twentieth century for their advertisements (so it's not surprising the cup promotion would include red).

I suppose the importance of the colors flows from the way they enhance "the holiday spirit" and that dwelling on the less than religious origins of some of them doesn't make anyone happier. It is through ignorance that most joy is found, and that's especially true of the time when Christmas decorations are overwhelming every area of our society.

It's a holiday tradition, and why it's a holiday tradition is not something with which we need be concerned.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

All aboard

Inside Union Station, L.A.

Storming out of the world

For many years now I've been part of a Microsoft Word listserv (yes, the same one mentioned in this post), and as such I've seen messages (both questions and replies) from a group of regulars, and from these pseudo-interactions we've sort of come to know certain of the more helpful and/or more interesting characters on the list.

One such person on the list over that time has been an Australian who identified himself as the Word Heretic (for he didn't go along with the dogma of Micro$oft), and he was not only very knowledgeable about the innards of the program (down to the level most people would never even know exists), he had a very colorful way of responding to questions; one might not understand his reply, but one was never bored by it. When explaining complicated subjects he'd often employ the religious metaphor; the heretical moniker was not merely a clever affectation.

It wasn't merely us on the list who were impressed by his knowledge; he'd even signed on with Microsoft in their MVP program, seeking to influence improvements in future versions. (Yes, perhaps ironic given the heretical metaphor. I digress.)

Today, he sent an email to the list stating that he'd had enough. Despite doing everything one should do to maintain a PC, his machine was going BSOD near daily, and he was quitting the MVP program and "giving up computers generally." Within hours, he said, everything (whatever that might include) would be boxed up, and that would be that. Shortly thereafter, as responses started pouring in (although not to be seen by the Heretic, who was offlist before his message hit the list), someone noted having checked the Heretic's website, which was no longer found. By all appearances, he wasn't bluffing: he'd really gone off the grid.

I concurred with the many who replied to his farewell message with words of praise and sadness that he was gone, and I certainly could relate to being fed up with computers (even without knowing them anywhere near as deeply as he did). Frankly, my thought really boiled down to this: Lucky bastard.

I was sincerely envious of being in a position to just chuck it after having one's last nerve be struck. That kind of freedom inspired genuine jealousy. I think he made a living as a freelancer, and I got the impression he was well into his middle years, so perhaps it was easy for him to declare his instantaneous retirement (from the tech world at least): no boss to give two weeks notice, etc. I don't know what will come of him, or what he'll do now, or whether it will be any better than dealing with the vagaries of these machines, but I thought being able to change one's life so dramatically that suddenly was pretty cool.

Perhaps the email to the list was his approximation of marching into the boss' office to give the "take this job and shove it" declaration, then walking out with a dramatic trail of papers following him out the door. I've seen that sort of thing in fiction, but this was the closest I'd seen in real life.

It was giving the finger to the device at which the entire industrialized world suckles. It was showing those often-godforsaken machines the comeuppance they've deserved for a long time. It was the step I could never take every time something went wrong with my computers; I'd thought of hurling the laptop out the window or bashing in the side of the desktop with a fireaxe.

It was the scene from Office Space where they get medieval on the fax machine, only without the literal destruction or the gangsta rap overdub.

And the thing about it is that one need not even have been frustrated by computers to appreciate the act. Anyone who has fantasized of just dumping one's job (read: everyone) can relate. The difference is that for the rest of us, we have to satisfy ourselves with the mere thought, being bound by our responsibilities.

The modern world, for all its conveniences and so-called advances, still has plenty to push one over the edge, to try one's patience and sanity. Moreover, it's too complicated for an individual to overcome; it's like the Borg have assimilated us already, without us realizing we were on a huge cube.

If resistance is futile, then giving up and getting out is heroic. Nay, heretical. In a very necessary way.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Cursed

"And what is literature, Rabo," he said, "but an insider's newsletter about affairs relating to molecules, of no importance to anything in the Universe but a few molecules who have the disease called 'thought.' "
- Kurt Vonnegut, Bluebeard, 1988

Feliz Navi-papa

The square by El Pueblo de Los Angeles, Olvera Street, Downtown L.A.
(Last night.)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

She knows this is for her


















Seen on a sidewalk in San Francisco (back in September).

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Decemberists is the cruelest month

I've listened to the latest album by The Decemberists, The Crane Wife. It's pretty good. I won't attempt any sort of review other than to say I'm enjoying it. I shan't even deconstruct why that is; let's just let the enjoyment speak for itself.

What I do find more interesting, given their "indie rock" roots (and quirky take on the pop song), is where I bought their album: Target.

Yes, the chain stores that aren't as evil as WalMart. (Not as evil.)

I can remember a time when the only music one would expert to find in the music section of that chain would be the latest from whatever pop flashes in the pan that are on the Top 40, or the greatest hits from established radio staples.

The Decemberists don't even get played on the so-called alternative rock radio (to the extent I pay attention to that). They are pretty far from household names. Yet, their disc was amongst the featured albums on an endcap display. Not only was it featured thusly, but it was on sale. (Yes, this is where they are somewhat evil like WalMart.)

That's the main reason I purchased it there. I wish I could be a bigger supporter of the smaller music stores, but I like a bargain when there's a moment like this where something I would have otherwise paid more for is available.

I know the world of popular music really did change in the wake of Nirvana—it may be glib to attribute it to that, but I remember what it used to be like 15 years ago to try to find music like the Decemberists, and that's why it still astounds me to find Target carrying them. And that Target would be the best deal on it, even lower than bigger music-only chains (of course, those are slowly becoming extinct, probably because they are losing what used to be their bailiwick—non-mainstream artists—to stores like Target).

However, I suppose I shouldn't be that surprised to see Target carrying their CD in light of the promotion they seem to be getting. I saw a bus stop bench with a big ad for The Crane Wife across the street from the Grove. And they got mentioned on The Colbert Report for having a contest on their website similar to one Stephen Colbert had.

So they quickly are approaching household-name status. Of course, having songs that are 11 minutes long may keep them off the charts.

Some things don't change. Thank goodness.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Sitting on a rock by the bay...

A distant sailboat on Monterey Bay (taken back in September), as seen from this alcove of the wall.

Look closer. It's a sailboat, I promise.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Um, yeah

For those observant readers who may wondered: Yes, the site has changed.

This area for the posts now features dark text on a light background. (With any luck this is easier to read than the old layout, with white text on a black background.)

Perhaps most important, thanks to finally upgrading to the Blogger beta, on the right there's a list of categories for the posts, so you can peruse what I've blathered on about by topic. (Note: At this time not all posts have been categorized. That will be an ongoing project.)

Please feel free to comment on the changes. That's what the "Comments" link below is there for.

(That's right. I ended a sentence with a preposition. I'm a grammar rebel.)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Remember the Ala-ho-ho-ho

In case you were wondering whether there was a large Christmas tree outside the Alamo (yes, the Alamo in San Antonio):

Maybe.

It was there the day after Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Hold on

I was thinking of posting something today, but I have no indication of my friend Tracy having read the last post, so I'm going to wait for her.

Or if someone else happens by and leaves a comment (to prove someone read it), that would also suffice.

(Embrace your fate, I say.)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

These aren't the droids we're looking for

The other day I posted a link to my friend Jim's diatribe against the first three (which were actually the second three) Star Wars films. He dissects the myriad plot flaws and poor filmmaking decisions that abounded in Episodes I – III. His list numbered 40 items by its end—and he wasn't just nitpicking little things—and he probably could have gone on longer (without getting nitpicky).

The impetus for his rant stemmed from his love of the New Hope – Jedi trilogy. The same love that enough people around the world shared to turn the franchise into a multi-million dollar enterprise, and essentially into a new mythology for our time. And then a couple decades later omnipotent George Lucas takes advantage of technological advances to produce prequels that ultimately disappointed the fans.

And not merely because the expectations were raised to levels beyond belief by the aforementioned worship of the fans.

Jim obviously watched them much closer and more times than I did, and he explicates the flaws much better than I'd ever have time (or inclination) to do. Like him, I don't purport to keep up with what others have said on the message boards.

I'll merely mention a thought I had, more than once, back when Episodes I – III were released: It would have been better had the prequels never been made.

The kid in me who saw the films in the theater back in the '70s and '80s, multiple times, hates to think that, but the kid in me is ultimately who makes me think that.

Not only did Episodes I – III subject us to Jar Jar Binks and the atrocious acting (even by Star Wars standards) of young Anakin, but it ultimately undermined the ominous cachet of Darth Vader (and the stormtroopers and Boba Fett). How can we be intimidated now when we see the ominous caped figure in A New Hope when we've seen what a whiny little kid he was? The legend of Vader (as built by Obi Wan when telling Luke) was far more interesting than seeing how it actually came to be.


The only aspect of Episodes I – III that was moderately satisfactory proved to be seeing Yoda kick ass with the light saber in II. That was more or less obligatory. But that alone doesn't justify the prequels. Not by a long shot.

Making Episodes VII – IX would have been better, inasmuch as at least we wouldn't have grappled with why the technology was better (as regards what we saw the characters have on screen, not merely the clarity with which it could be made to appear on screen)—it's in the future of where Jedi left off, so of course it advanced.

They would have been disappointing—that's a given, but at least they wouldn't just be fulfilling obligation, and might have actually had a story with some sense of wonder.

Like we had decades ago.

Oh, and it would be easier to refer to "the first three" as the first three.

I will say this about George Lucas deigning to make a bunch more money by producing the prequel trilogy: We could stop speculating about how cool they might be and start the endless analysis of bad they proved to be. I suppose that's something.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Autumn's survivor

Back to Durham, NC, for today's pictures. On the right is a tight shot of a leaf on the tree right outside my mother's house, showing its autumn colors.














And on the left, here's the whole tree. Can you find our friend from the picture above?

Friday, December 01, 2006

Home on the range II

Old horse trailer on that ranch outside of Austin.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Home on the range

On a ranch 19 miles outside of Austin, Texas.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Get Jar-Jar on speed dial

This isn't new, but my friend Jim's list of grievances with the Star Wars prequels is amusing and trenchant. Enjoy.

Something you don't see every day


"No, I've never driven the Weinermobile before, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night..."

Monday, November 27, 2006

We all won't go together when we go... sigh


A few Sundays back, as my girlfriend and I drove to breakfast, we heard a song on the Head Trip program on Indie 103.1. At some point into the song she commented how it sounded like Alphaville's "Forever Young"; I replied that it was that song, apparently being covered by a band called Youth Group. I followed that with a quip about how that's what the original needed: more of a beat.

My recollection of "Forever Young" is colored by the memory from high school, where one of my friends turned in the lyrics to the song as a poetry assignment in English class. It was abject plagiarism, but because the teacher was not familiar with contemporary music of the time, my friend not only got away with it, but got an A. Likely it was the only such grade he received the entire semester.

That is utter digression, but it is what first comes to mind when I hear that song (in any incarnation). It's probably why I recall the lyrics as well as I do.

When hearing the Youth Group cover in the car that day, I thought of the line at the end of the opening verse (or stanza, if we're sticking with the poetry theme) asking "Are you gonna drop the bomb or not?" and how it seemed so archaic in this era of targeted terrorist attacks. The song seemed essentially a wistful rumination on dying at a young age in a nuclear explosion—which, in the early '80s, was still a significant concern for the youth of the world.

There was something more easily romanticized about the possibility of mutually assured destruction. It's not that death was any more glamorous back then; the way we thought of such tragic death was different. Since the '50s the Cold War made for wonderfully dichotomous notions regarding how the possibility of wiping our species off the planet—the literal end of the world—was more likely than ever, which were combined with the strange comfort of knowing that because both sides had ICBMs pointed at each other, if they launched their missiles at us, we would do the same in kind, and thus our demise would be theirs as well, thus making it less likely to actually happen.

Now, we have the constant but indistinct dread from a small but significant number of us could be killed by terrorists. Not only is there no comfort to be gained from retaliation (lacking a convenient target to strike back against), there's no comfort to be found in what was ultimately the comforting aspect of all of us being destroyed in a climactic unleashing of the atom: Some of us have to survive.

Nuclear annihilation carries with it the implication of no survivors. Bear in mind, we're speaking in terms of romanticizing the event; this is not the same as what would actually happen, where some would die quickly and some would die much slower. This is the scenario where the missiles launch and we all have 30 minutes to lose our virginity with the nearest available person, and any actions taken have no consequences. Best of all, we all die together, so no one has to stay around and mourn, nor feel guilty for having survived.

This post-9/11 world hold less potential for "the bomb" to take us all out in one fell swoop. It's less tragic, on that ostensible front, but really it's worse, because there's nothing to romanticize about less than 1% of us dying together. There's only mourning.

Who can write a decent pop song about that? Especially one that'll be covered 25 years from now?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Something to be thankful for

So last week when I was in North Carolina visiting family we went to Jordan Lake, a large body of water to the south of Durham. Being November it wasn't particularly crowded; in fact, there was only one other person at the area where we stopped.

By the water's edge I spotted a sign, which when I read the text I chuckled aloud and knew I felt compelled to take a picture. When I showed it to my girlfriend she laughed as well and immediately stated, "That's going on the blog."

The sign had two empty plastic bottles (like the kind detergent comes in) hanging from it, and the text indicated they should be used to help someone in the water who is in danger of drowning. What possibly could be funny about potentially life-saving equipment?

If you can't make it out from the picture above, the bottles were called "Life Jugs" on the sign, and it carried the admonition:
Surely, this shows the insidious influence of Jay Leno on our society. He'd show that on The Tonight Show after a newspaper clipping of a recently married couple whose respective last names sounded amusing together.

Letterman would get Regis to float with them in a pool of water just off-camera for the entire show, cutting to shots of him getting wrinkled fingers when going to commercial.

Jimmy Kimmell would get his uncle Frank to pester tourists on Hollywood Boulevard with the jugs.

As I had no talk show hosts nor wacky relatives to amuse us while we were at the lake, I merely took the picture.

It's not enhancing society in any worthwhile way, but it's the sort of comedy that at least some of the country finds amusing, so perhaps it will garner me some of the Leno audience by posting it.

It was only a matter of time until I started to sell out.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Grasping at straws to stir this drink

A few weeks back my girlfriend and I hung out with some friends, and at one point in the conversation I told a tale from years ago (but still when I was well into my 30's) of going to a blues bar near where I live and drinking more than I should... on a weeknight. Once.

[Gasp! Shock!]

The story involved me going there by myself on a Tuesday evening after a particularly bad day at the office, intending only to stay for the band's first set and then returning home, but ending up there so long that the bartender was giving me free beers and closing the place down. This resulted in me going to work the next day somewhat hungover, although not really that bad (no one noticed, and it was really no worse than had I not slept well).

For some reason this act imbued me with a sense of rebellion, as though I'd gotten away with something; my straight-laced upbringing was not so strict that I needed to still act out well over ten years after I'd stopped living with parents, but going out by myself to a local blues club on a "school night" seemed to fall into the imprudent category.

Perhaps that straight-laced upbringing planted the seeds for latent compensatory rebellion, but such that it held absolutely no consequences (save a bit of a headache). There is no justifying it to someone who wouldn't understand. However, more important, there is no convincing anyone with an actual life where this not uncommon that the story is worth telling.

There are those who are the age I was at the time (early 30's) who go out every night, and who would have many better stories of debauchery. As I noted toward the end of relating the tale, I have very few stories, but those I have I milk for all I can.

Why would that matter? Surely it implies that there's some empirical standard for what constitutes an interesting life, and going out and having a time that wasn't necessarily that enjoyable at the time (and, as one of the friends interjected, could be seen as kind of pathetic—going to a bar alone) will be compensated later by the enjoyment of having the anecdote to tell; the point of what one does is less about the moment itself and more about portraying the moment later.

Being around other people necessitates having something to talk about, and this sort of tale works better than trying to make what one does at the office seem interesting.

Somehow mildly irresponsible behavior makes one seem more relatable (at least I presume that is its appeal), as it reveals flaws that make others not feel so bad about their flaws. An occasional step down off one's high horse achieves a humanizing effect, or something like that.

It's insecurity, ultimately.

As Halloween recently passed, it made me think of the destructive things that adolescents and teens do on that night, ostensibly out of that same aspiration toward rebellion as what I concluded was behind my midweek drinking incident. Why would it be funny to go around and set Jack O Lanterns on fire by spraying them with something flammable, or to throw rolls of toilet paper over a house and lawn, or stomping on the way someone decorated their house? It's not, of course. However, years later it makes for a delightful anecdote that, with the perspective of having grown out of such juvenile behavior, becomes amusing, and a story one can tell over and over, to make one not seem like such a worthless desk jockey.

It's something to do.

Life is only really good in retrospect, I suppose.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Theoretical construct: Extreme Makeover Edition (or not)

The thing about having these amorphous theories of mine is I lack any kind of scientific validation. As I'm not particularly interested in convincing anyone that what the theories propose is true, I feel no compulsion to do much in the way of research. I suppose I could offer my theory about why there's no convincing anyone of anything to explain why that is not important to me. (A philosophical theory is "true" if it jibes with what one already was inclined to believe. There is no actual truth, as interpretation lends itself much better to an interesting world than does absolution.)

("Absolution"? How I just used it is not what the word means. "Definitivism"? I don't think that's a word at all. What indicates there is no room for interpretation, that there is only one way of regarding something? Perhaps my greatest failing as a theorist is not lack of proof nor lack of interest in proof but lack of adequately impressive vocabulary.)

Oh well.

I also believe everyone should try to come up with his or her own theories, not merely accept those of others (certainly not at face value), so I'm not as motivated to share mine as I might otherwise be; they cannot steal from me what I do not show them.

All theories should be self-serving. How can someone else's theory, in an unmodified form, possibly be in your best interest (even in theory)?

I'd be hard-pressed to convince anyone to even consider my theories if I paid him to do so. There's no reason for any human to ruminate on these things; I cannot justify encouraging this madness in others.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Dougression Exclusive



Last month my friends David and Rebecca got hitched in a delightful ceremony.

When I shared with them the photos taken with my camera at the festivities, this shot of me is the only one I didn't include.

However, I know how my readership has been champing at the bit to see me in a dress shirt and tie, so this one's just for you.

Okay, calm down.

Boy, it's a good thing no one took a picture of me (where my head was cut off) when I had on the coat to the pinstripe suit I wore. That would push you over the edge, I fear.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Morning dance

Outside the door to the Burger King, Janice wiggled to the music coming from the blaring, crackly stereo of the old grey Ford Fairmont parked in the handicapped spot. The intermittent dance was interrupted by periods of sitting by the worn-down kids play area. At 8:45 in the morning there were no children around, but no children played there at any time, with all the indolent people like her taking up their play area.

~

Well, that could have been something. It didn't pan out, at least not yet, because I had nowhere to go with it. I'm not sure I had an interest in making those hanging out in front of the BK seem sympathetic, and if I'm mocking them there's little point in kicking them when they're already down.

Of course, it's only from the perspective of those of us with permanent residence and regular meals that hanging out in front of a fast food restaurant, possibly waiting for a drug dealer, seems worthy of scorn; I have to presume that someone approximating dancing by a major street in the morning must be reasonably happy. I'm not saying it is or is not chemically enhanced happiness, but I'm guessing that if asked she would claim to be so; if happiness is not the belief that one is happy, then what is it?

It serves my attempts at happiness to perceive my choices as superior to this woman I've fictionalized as Janice, but I'm not dancing this morning. And from what I observed, I'm a much better dancer than she is. She was not ashamed of her cottage cheese thighs, displaying them by wearing short shorts; clearly she did not suffer from a great many of the stereotypical hang-ups that afflict women in our society. Sure, if it was her car from which the loud music eminated, she was inconsiderate toward those who lived in the buildings near the BK, but I've encountered much worse oblivious behavior, and from people who didn't seem anywhere near as happy.

When I'm frustrated by the concerns of the choices I've made, I can imagine how loitering outside a Burger King on a November morning in an area where it's warm enough to wear shorts with nothing troubling me enough to prevent vague rhythmic movements could an improvement over what I am suffering at the moment. I'm sure waking up sober on a stranger's couch, or on a cold piece of sidewalk, would not seem so good, but I can understand the appeal of relinquishing all responsibilities.

The other night I caught a bit of a stand-up special on Comedy Central featuring comedian Ralphie May. Part of his routine talked about a friend he had growing up who was mentally challenged. Or as he put it, retarded. He mentioned envying the guy because the friend was always happy. He noted the only time the rest of us achieved that level of (ahem) "'Tard Happiness" was for those few seconds of euphoria during a really spectacular orgasm. Not during a regular orgasm, but the kind that leaves one incapable of speech. That's how happy the retarded friend was all the time.

Thought is the enemy of happiness. And I think way too much. But still I must delude myself with beliefs that it's better (approximating happiness) to be a thinking person and fit in with mainstream society, because it's what I've chosen to do.

That, and no one has had the decency to come up behind me and hit me in the head with a blunt object. People claim to care about my happiness, but do they take action to help bring it about?

I've left a note absolving the assailant of any culpability…

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The story of Election Day (not what you're thinking)

In 1987, the Replacements put a song on the B-side of a UK promo single for "Alex Chilton"; it was called "Election Day."

(I'm going to assume my audience is not so young as to be oblivious to how music used to come on vinyl discs which could be played on either side, and thus a song that wasn't good enough for the album would get released only because they needed something to fill the other side of the disc, on the off-chance that the purchaser of the single got tired of the "good" song and decided to turn it over.)

At some point in the early 1990s I went to a record show at a rundown mall in Buena Park, found the UK promo single with "Election Day" on it. As I was a big 'Mats fan, and as the song was otherwise unavailable (at least as far as I knew at the time), I purchased it for $15.

The song's a kind of sloppy little number with a wailing slide guitar playing over Paul Westerberg's semi-slurred singing. I'm pretty sure drinking was involved--which, if you know anything about the band from that period, is not much of a stretch to believe.

For not particularly clever reasons, today I present the lyrics to said song:

I meant to close the polls
In the chill night, bitter cold
Someone close the polls
On a chill night, in the cold

Election day
I can't stay
Wannabe, wannabe, wannabe, wannabe

I don't care who gets elected
I don't care who gets to find out
I don't care who gets elected
Till I find me a one (to love)

Wannabe, wannabe, wannabe
Election!
Election!
I said election!
I don't care
I don't care
Our election day


By 1997 the band had long since broken up and Reprise threw together a double disc best-of/rarities collection, All For Nothing, Nothing For All; the second disc of that included "Election Day" (and you can hear a sample here) amongst many other hard-to-find tracks. That album I found in the used CD bins of Aron's Records in Hollywood for around $12.

If only I could have been more patient.


In a sad postscript to that tale, I should admit that I have fallen so far from fanatical 'Mats collecting that when a new retrospective album, Don't You Know Who I Think I Was?, came out earlier this year--complete with two newly recorded tracks--I passed on buying it. I'm sure if I wait a while I'll find a used copy on the cheap.

I like to think I have learned a little over the years.




(If you prefer a lighter background with dark text, you can read this same post over on my test blog.)

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Halloween recap: Is make glorious Hollywood Western parade

This is how I looked at the end of the evening this past Tuesday.

That night my girlfriend proposed we head down to Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood to check out the Halloween festivities. We walked for an hour to get there, seeing many people in various costumes striding down the street with us, but nothing that impressive. By and large the women were "sexy" versions of everything from witches to girl scouts to police officers. However, we figured once we got down to where the street was blocked off the renown drag queens would be the real display.

After walking around the crowds, past the Chrystler/Jeep entryway (yes, corporate sponsorship has come to the WeHo Halloween), we saw some worthwhile costumes, but the event proved disappointing; it seemed (at least where we went) there were more people there to see what was going on (many not in costume at all) than there were people there to have much going on. The drag queens, alas, were not to be found. We turned and started heading home after only about half an hour.

Most disappointing. And definitely not worth the walk.

However, if you're wondering what was the most common costume we encountered, here's a picture to demonstrate (not for the squeamish) :


"Sexy time in U.S. and A.!"

I think now you understand how I ended up in the picture of me above.


Next year we will be avoiding WeHo on October 31st.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Freak out

What to be for Halloween? Every year it's the same dilemma: Any good costume idea comes to me way too late to actually pull it off in time for my friend's annual party. Trying to think of ideas with weeks or months to go makes the most sense, and we try that, but it never works out for one simple reason: Only the pressure of being down to the wire really inspires me. I can't fake those conditions ahead of time.

This is one of my many flaws. I shan't make a joke about it making me charming.

The costume should be clever enough so that when people see it and discern what it is they compliment it, but it shouldn't be so clever that it needs to be explained. It's perfectly acceptable for it to be somewhat disturbing, but given that it's a party where ultimately all we're doing is hanging out, drinking and talking, it shouldn't be nausea-inducing (which is different from nauseating). Referencing something in the popular culture can be the most clever, but can also backfire if it isn't recognized.

Most important, it shouldn't require staying in character all night. That's just annoying (not only for others but for me as well—I am not a thespian, as everyone knows).

For a while the leading candidate was zombie Dane Cook, but I feared I wasn't familiar enough with his style and mannerisms to really pull it off--and no one would get it without the act. ("You know what's great? Eating human flesh with some Pringles and a glass of milk—delicious in my undead belly." "You know who I'd really like to eat? My Employee of the Month co-star Jessica Simpson… oh yeah!") That'd get old fast.

My girlfriend put the kibosh on any cape-wearing. Considering I have three, that did reduce my last-minute idea possibilities considerably. (Perhaps I shouldn't admit that in this pseudo-public forum. Eh, oh well.)

Saturday, the day of the party, I still wasn't sure. However, my girlfriend is wonderfully creative, and it's easy to pick up some makeup and pull out the box of stuff from previous Halloweens and allow myself to be her canvas.

So, what did we end up going with? See for yourself:

I'm the one who's not Fat Elvis.
Undead... kinda punker... guy.

Gimme a cheeseburger. Or human flesh.



Focus on the neck wound. Yes, those are safety pins sticking out.

Someone asked how we did it. First, you get a serated knife...


Oh well. We hit nausea-inducing anyway. Next year I'll try to be something cute... like a teddy bear... a zombie teddy bear...

Happy Halloween everybody!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Summing it up

I've been observing this YouTube (we'll call it) revolution. Heck, despite being bought by Google, it has even infected Yahoo, where now that site's home page (via its annoying "The 9") features videos of regular schmoes from YouTube. Regarding the direction the web has been heading in general, and there's only one conclusion:

The only thing that the internet is good for is sharing video and pictures (including watching repeats of TV shows your Tivo failed to record).

This site, obviously, is largely out of step with this new paradigm, only occasionally posting photos.

Thus, I must offer this advice to those of you stopping by this site: Just look at the pictures. Words should be printed out and read on paper.

Please act appropriately, depending on what kind of post I've put up. Thank you.


This one was probably short enough that you don't need to print it.


(Recycle the paper you use to print out the longer textual pieces. 'kay?)

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

My sweet one

In the latest Esquire, the "10 Things You Don't Know About Women" feature was contributed by Liz Vassey (who's apparently on one of the CSI shows), whose rule #4 was:

We won't tolerate your lies. Exception: "You're the prettiest girl in the room."

Maybe I suffer some kind of disorder, but I was not of the belief there was an objective standard of beauty that every single person had to adopt; I thought there was something to that whole "eye of the beholder" stuff.

I concede there are certain tendencies that are common regarding what is interpreted as physical beauty, and that the media makes great efforts to codify our perceptions of beauty (although all they really do is declare who is "hot", which is separate from being beautiful). However, that doesn't actually force everyone to perceive beauty uniformly.

In any room full of people, there will inevitably be many (if not all) women who are pretty. However, there'll only be one who's the prettiest: the one I'm in love with.

Am I suggesting love alters my perceptions? Damn right I am. If it doesn't do that, it's not love. And not only does it do that, but it should do that.

That's how I know she's the woman for me: That when we're in a room full of very pretty women, I look at her and my genuine thought is that she is beautiful. Thus, were I to declare her the prettiest one there, it wouldn't be a lie.

I know the pithy remarks on the page aren't meant to be overly analyzed, but I get the impression Ms. Vassey was alluding to what guys who are just trying to get laid say. However, by suggesting the guy's statement was intrinsically untrue, I think she is too dismissive of the possibility that the rest of the women in the room ... could merely have good personalities (as they say), and that (statistically speaking) she really could be the prettiest one, in given situations.

As long as my girlfriend isn't there.

Jacaranda-palooza takes on new life

I've taken the "Jacaranda-palooza" posts from June - July and given them a spotlight in their own site, which you can see here.

This way, jacaranda fans can locate just those posts without having to trudge through all this varied-topic nonsense.

I'm so freakin' considerate. Intermittently.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

D-Town headwear dilemma


Although the Tigers are now in the World Series, back in 2004 my girlfriend and I attended a game a Comerica Park where the then-dismal Tigers lost to the Chicago White Sox.

(It would be easy to disparage a team for using "x" to replace "cks" but it was good enough for Boston, so it was not without precedent; the sports public has accepted this early version of text-message diction long before there were devices to allow text messaging. The seeds are sown early in some cases.)

Anyway, after the game we walked around the stadium—the whole thing—in search of a Tigers cap for me. I didn't want a standard fitted wool cap like the players wear, however. In my younger, more-serious days of following baseball, only a fitted cap would do, but now well into my apathetic semi-middle years, I have learned such hats are rather warm in the summer. The local friend who attended the game with us wore a Detroit warm-up cap, which had this mesh pattern of tiny holes in it to allow airflow, and didn't seem like a bad-looking cap, so we went in search of one of those in my size. Seemed a simple enough mission.



The circumference of my head has always been a bit small, relative to my height. I'm not sure why I feel reluctant to admit that; it's not like my head is freakishly small or anything, nor is there any supposedly correlation between one body part and another regarding the head. I consider my head to be perfectly normal, but it's the only one I've ever had, so I'm rather prejudiced in this area; why many others have larger heads I don't know, but I'd argue it's just as viable to state they are the unusual ones (despite their apparent majority).

The caps we sought were not adjustable, but semi-fitted with elastic or something. They weren't as narrowly sized as the wool ones; they came in S-M, M-L, L-XL (so it was a matter of determining in which range one's head fell). There were lots of the L-XL available, but that was too big for my head; we couldn't find any M-L, which we presumed would fit me. We came across a couple S-M ones, but those were, somewhat satisfyingly, too small. We went to every open merchandise store in the stadium (although there really weren't that many) and found no caps in the right size. Eventually we abandoned the search and I purchased a grey t-shirt with the old-type athletic department writing ("property of Detroit Tigers baseball club") on it.

This wouldn't happen at Dodger Stadium or Anaheim Stadium, I know that. Southern Californians may not stick around for the end of baseball games, but our stadiums know how to adequately stock merchandise.


I take the fact that we couldn't find any caps in the right size as proof that my size head is the common one, not the larger ones.

We did eventually find a Tigers hat for me--a cotton, adjustable one--in (of all places) Target. In L.A.

Of course.

Monday, October 23, 2006

TV Party: Overhype on the Sunset Strip

As a fan of Aaron Sorkin's The West Wing from its first episode through the finale (even through the second-to-last season), and before that enjoying his failed Sports Night, I was bound to watch Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip this fall. Not only does it feature many of the fine actors from WW, but in the months leading up to the S60 premiere the NBC marketing machine ensured that I was not oblivious to its existence; there were articles in every magazine and newspaper, there were spots on their network and their associates (Bravo, USA), there were billboards taking up the entire side of buildings on Sunset Blvd.

I knew it was coming.

Unlike Sorkin's previous series, where by my recollection I knew little about them before seeing an episode (truth be told, I caught the first episode of WW more by accident than intent, with nothing else on in that time slot that interested me; from what I'd seen in promos, I expected it was a sitcom), with S60 I saw a lot of hype for it. (It struck me as a bit odd at first that NBC would do this, as it had been my belief that they had given up on WW long before it actually finished, pre-empting its 8:00 pm Sunday time slot whenever possible—especially during sweeps.)

I liked to believe this indicated the network really believed in the show, and that the press really thought it was good. However, it did start to approach that level where it made me worry that the publicity machine was compensating for something.

Then last month S60 premiered. I watched it. I enjoyed it.

During its second week I was on vacation, but I taped it and watched it later. I have seen all the episodes thus far, and I fully intend to continue watching it. It's a decent show, featuring the standard Sorkin elements that all the magazines said it would have. (Matthew Perry shows how much he was wasted on Friends.)

The thing is, I don't find myself watching with the same level of interest that I did with WW. When I would watch those new episodes (and I watched them on tape when it moved to Sundays, as it was up against The Simpsons), I paid attention. I wasn't washing dishes or doing laundry or having it on while doing something on the computer. It required focus, and I wanted to give it that focus. S60… well, it keeps my attention, although perhaps not 100% of it.

I hadn't contemplated it that deeply, but after last week's episode, when I was trying to think of what was different between this and the previous series, and what came to mind first was: it's not funny. It's well-written, well-acted, well-directed, but for a show ostensibly about a comedy, it is alarmingly short on levity. That was part of what I liked about WW: it was a drama, certainly, but the repartee between the characters injected moments that were humorous (without being heavy-handed about it), albeit only inspiring a chuckle or perhaps a smirk. S60 has repartee, sure, but it's not the same, somehow; the show should be funnier, but it's just not quite working. Maybe I haven't gotten invested in the characters enough, or maybe they need to establish the milieu better first, but that's the sense I get.

Then I see how last week's Entertainment Weekly (which had already hyped it in the pre-season preview) was pushing it again, as one of the "5 Shows You Should Be Watching" and I thought:
Okay, now they're compensating.

Was NBC thinking a semi-erudite show about a television show would garner the ratings of a Lost or American Idol? Of course not, I assume.

Then by the weekend I saw two separate things that made me realize I wasn't alone (although apparently if I kept up better with reviews I would have seen this before).

The first was the hilarious "op-ed" piece (see link below) in the latest printed version of The Onion, where the writer reflects on how S60 used to be so relevant, for its first ten minutes, but after that has become formulaic.


The second was a bit on Friday's Best Week Ever episode where they also took the series to task for not being that funny, given that it's about a comedy show.

With that thought more or less validated (not that I require such things, but I'll take it when it comes on its own), I could move on. Or rather, move back.

I cannot help but wonder whether I went in a bit more ignorant about S60 as I had with WW, without the overwhelming publicity machine trying to convince me it was great, I might be perfectly happy with it being pretty good rather than being slightly disappointed.

I'll never know, however.

Next year I'll lock myself in a cave over the summer, just to be on the safe side.


(In the meantime, I'll concede tonight's episode, while still not that funny, had some decent drama.)

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Vacation highlights (of sorts), part V: A heartbreaking mecca

Highlights from two week ago's vacation (in no particular order):

Tuesday, September 26

San Francisco (more)



While in San Francisco, one of our stops had to include visiting "one of the top five pirate stores" David Byrne had been to: the shop in front of the writing project started by the McSweeney's folks, 826 Valencia.


It wasn't because I'm a sycophant for David Eggers (I'm not--although I have read and vaguely enjoyed his first book), nor was it entirely because I enjoy their Believer magazine. It's a store devoted to pirate merchandise (where the proceeds support helping kids become better writers); that's always a worthwhile stop.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

And now, this unnecessary deconstruction of our language

Extra means more. If you ask for something extra spicy, it should come spicier than mere spicy would be. When I order a burger with extra pickles, it should be made with more pickles than they usually put on one.

So, logically, extraordinary should indicate the thing being described is even more ordinary than what would be ordinarily described as ordinary. Something so predictable that it is inconceivable that anyone could be surprised by it.

Yet, what it actually means, of course, is something that is beyond ordinary, more than ordinary. Here "extra" causes the term being modified to become less of what it was rather than more.

There is no learning English. Stop trying.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Vacation highlights (of sorts), part IV: Another grammar town

Highlights from two week ago's vacation (in no particular order):

Tuesday, September 26

San Francisco


Sign seen in a window on 18th Street, between Valencia St. and Mission St., which would be in what is known as the Mission District.

Are you there, God? It's me, inadvertant irony.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Vacation highlights (of sorts), part III: Ghost dance

Highlights from the week before last's vacation (in no particular order):

Monday, September 25

Napa Valley, California (more)


After a day of wine tasting in the valley, what else would my friends do but break into dance? And in the process, they became semi-transparent.

But they stayed on the beat.

(Ah, the effect of using the night flash on my camera. Pretty cool, huh?)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Hollywood Hill


September 2, behind Carney's on Sunset in fabulous West Hollywood.

This part is not as fabulous as other parts, admittedly.


(What? You were expecting more vacation pictures or something?)

Friday, October 06, 2006

Vacation highlights (of sorts), part II: Roll out the barrel

Highlights from last week's vacation (in no particular order):

Monday, September 25

Napa Valley, California

Barrels of wine at the Sterling Vineyards.

After a weekend of dragon boating in the San Francisco Bay, some of us headed north last Monday to do some wine tasting.

(Don't worry: We bathed first. We're not completely uncooth.)

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Doing my part, in a manner of speaking

This morning I was not in a particularly good mood. Last night I didn't get home from work until roughly ten minutes before The Daily Show came on. And as I tried to get back to work today (for reasons that baffle me), the 9:05 train just never showed up; the 9:15 arrived on schedule, but that wasn't the one I should have caught.

Finally I got downtown and walked up the street from the station to the office. While in a crosswalk, I noticed coming the opposite direction two women with a man next to one of them, leaning his head and looking vaguely toward her, as though in something of a conversation.

As I passed, the woman broke off from the man and reversed direction to now be in step with me.

A 6'3" white guy in a medium blue striped shirt and navy slacks.

She started talking to me, even though I had not looked at her. "Is it okay if I walk with you?" she asked.

"I'm just walking this way. I really don't care what you do." (Bear in mind: Not in a good mood to start with.) I did not turn my head at any point while saying this, nor did I break stride.

She continued to explain: "I'm being harassed." (I suspect she meant she had been being harassed.)

"Then you should just talk back to him," I offered, my head still facing forward without swiveling to look at her. "He won't know what to do with that."

At this point she muttered something that, although I couldn't discern it, the tone of her voice implied I had bestowed her with an idea that had never occurred to her, and she broke off (or at least she disappeared from my peripheral vision), and I presume she resumed her original direction.

Before you judge me harshly for responding in what could be interpreted as a cold tone, I point out the implication of her action: I would defend her from this guy. Sure, she figured merely talking to me would scare him off without altercation, but she had no right to drag me, a total stranger, into a situation she had no idea how it would play out.

Moreover, how did she know I wasn't even more dangerous than the man she sought to lose? Strikes me as hideously presumptuous.

And as I suggested, she should be able to ward off such individuals herself. That's why those types seek her out; she projects fear, and they sense that. Frankly, I think I helped her more than she deserved.

Moreover, she needs to learn to stop harassing passers-by who aren't interested in hearing about her lack of self-reliance.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Blame it on hunger

Monday I drove in to the office, rather than taking the train. The reasons why are unimportant. What was noteworthy was how light traffic was for a Monday morning. Later in the day I realized it was Yom Kippur.

In the evening I passed by the desk of a co-worker who, being Muslim, was observing Ramadan. I knew it was Ramadan, having heard it on the news before I went on vacation. Also, I remembered it being around this time last year, when I made a point of alerting said co-worker when the sun had set each day. Not that he needed to be alerted, of course, but it made me feel like I was helping. He's an affable fellow, and I figure he was probably a bit peckish each day by sunset.

He mentioned how it had been many years since Yom Kippur fell during Ramadan (and hence the Jews and Muslims would be fasting together). He noted hearing something on NPR where the commentator mentioned how when it occurred 30 years ago the Mideast Peace Accords happened, and all seemed rife for peace; then the next time it happened was when Sadat was assassinated.

(We could be wrong about these things; he was just trying to remember what he'd heard, and I'm just trying to remember what he said.)

I quipped, "That means this time we're due for peace, right?" He laughed, because he has a good sense of humor (which is not implying that Muslims ordinarily don't).

Eventually, the conversation turned somehow to how light traffic had been, and I exclaimed in an exaggerated tone, "The Jews should take every day off! It must be their fault that traffic is bad the other days! Maybe Mel Gibson was right!" He laughed again, because he appreciated the absurdity of the quip, not because of anti-Semitism. (I'm sure it was just coincidental that traffic was unusually light that day. What do I know anyway? I take public transportation most of the time.)

I followed with, "If there were a Muslim or agnostic hell, we would certainly be going there for that joke." He chuckled at that as well. I was on a freakin' roll.

(Eh, you had to be there.)

Should I force myself to not eat for a day to repent, just to be on the safe side?


[Yes, technically, Islam does have a hell-like concept, but not in the same context of what I meant by the joke. Yeesh. You haters really gotta break my flow, don'tcha?]

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Vacation highlights (of sorts), part I: Grammar town

Highlights from last week's vacation (in no particular order):

Thursday, September 28

Monterey, California

Monterey
is a quaint town on the central coast of California, and seems fairly affluent. (There's no litter on the streets.) It has a very nice aquarium and something of an unhealthy obsession with John Steinbeck.

While strolling down Alvarado Street, the main drag in downtown Monterey, last Thursday morning, along the city's Path of History, my girlfriend and I noticed this sign commemorating where Casa Bonifacio used to be.

That was apparently a noteworthy adobe structure that was on this spot "prior to it's [sic] relocation" (to make room for the bank you see pictured behind me in the shot).

Go ahead. Look where I'm pointing.

I suppose there's nothing incongruous about a town highlighting a building that hasn't been there in 83 years and, in doing so, failing to find anyone in town who knows how to make pronouns possessive correctly.

(His. Hers. Ours. Theirs. Mine. Yours. Hmm... no apostrophes. Imagine that.)

What I wonder is why the bank (look under my arm) is called "Rabobank" (that is its name) when "Robobank" would be so much cooler.

Maybe it's only cooler to those who know grammar.

What the heck is going on in my head?

Last week while on vacation I didn't think about work at all. That's not terribly surprising, however, as I have trained myself to cease thinking about work as much as possible once I leave. Sure, sometimes I'll be fuming about something that pissed me off, and I'll vent about it on the ride home, or occasionally a work-related thought will float through my mind (which I suppress as soon as possible), but generally I leave the office at the office. As I have been informed by my supervisor, I don't get paid enough to stress out over this stuff. (I knew that already, however.)

A week of not thinking about work, or, with minor exceptions, even touching a computer, was quite pleasant. It was particularly disturbing, then, when the first conscious thought that came to mind yesterday morning after I awoke—and I mean the first thought—was about work. I couldn't stop it; it just popped in. The project I'm working on was far from as far along as it should have been before I left, and I figured things would be pretty screwed after a week of being away. However, that was something that should have steered clear of my consciousness and subconsciousness (and unconsciousness) until the point where I was in the shower, at the very least.

I don't have much, but some paltry semblance of dominion over my thoughts in such a context should be within that purview. I don't think that's asking too much.

Suffice it to say the situation in the office was roughly what I anticipated. To be fair, as such it didn't affect me as much (regarding frustration levels) as had my first thought been along the lines of Hey-it's-going-to-be-a-great-day. (Even the deepest recesses of my unconscious mind cannot perceive any day involving work to approach that territory.) The lack of disparity between my expectations (suck) and the results (suck) left me feeling… well, not good, but not necessarily bad either… even after staying two hours late (in a futile attempt to keep my part of the project from being a bottleneck).

(I was in a much better mood than the day before I was leaving on vacation, when I was desperately trying to get things in some shape to survive while I was away, and others kept interrupting with insipid questions. That day I expected to be awful, but it proved a clusterf*ck, so frustration could not be mitigated. Preparing for vacation is often so stressful that one needs a vacation just to try to recover.)

Still, I cannot think that the due warning my mind wished to provide me could have been presented more gradually and achieved the same effect. In case the part of my brain that controls those post-somnambulance moments is reading this.

For what it's worth.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Proof I'm still around, kinda

A recap of last week's vacation will be forthcoming... eventually. In the meantime, please catch up on the posts from the past weeks. Please stop back again soon.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Coming out for the Office

Back in May I expressed concern over where they would go on "The Office" after the way last season ended, but after seeing tonight's premiere, I must say: It's just as good.

That's all. I apologize to the writers for doubting them.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The new thing for the web: paper


Last month The Onion started publishing an actual weekly paper, and (the best part) it's free (like LA Weekly or City Beat). Sure, it has ads, but that's fine; finally I will have something to peruse at lunch that I would read even if it wasn't free. (The weekly rags are not without their interesting sections, but they're on my radar because they're convenient--available on street corners around downtown--not because they're the epitome of entertainment and/or information.)

I must admit I rarely remember to check the Onion's website, even though I know I would find it entertaining if I did. Not everything there is great, but it's at least reasonably funny. And by virtue of having not read the website, what gets printed in the newsprint edition is new to me when it comes out.

I am too old school in my reading habits, relying still on the printed page. Heck, sometimes I'll even print out entries from what I do "read" online to read when I'm on the train or at lunch.

I'm not sure whether it's a matter of the computer monitor being a less-than-ideal conduit for reading material, or that when at the computer one feels compelled to do something (engage in an activity requiring interaction) and so it becomes more difficult to wrap the mind around merely reading words. Perhaps it's a matter of being accustomed to reading from books or magazines and needing to readjust to reading online. With email, for example, that has only ever been on the computer, so reading that there creates no need to reconcile anything in the mind about what one is doing and the medium on which one is doing it.

As far as I can tell, there are those who are inclined to read text-heavy pieces on the screen (be they websites or manuals or documents and there are those who aren't. I'm not sure what makes one more likely to be one or the other. It may be fascination with technology that gives one a greater proclivity toward the former. For the latter, I imagine it may revolve more around the tactile satisfaction derived from turning the page with what's printed on paper. There's that tiny sense of accomplishment by having made it through another 250 or so words; it's not the same as finishing the piece, of course, but there's some semblance of milestone having been reached along the way.

There's no way to put slip of paper between pages to mark how far one has read when one is reading on a screen. (And any technological methods for approximating that simply aren't the same.)

It is inevitable that as the medium for reading changes more and more to being a computer screen (particularly in a web-based format) rather than being paper (be it newsprint or glossy or 8.5 x 11 white), the style in which what is written will change. That is, because it's more difficult to read longer pieces on a monitor (perhaps because one is not inclined, but also because it's trickier to keep one's place), what is written will become more succinct. Certainly that has already started, but I'm talking about the long-term ramifications of that. It has been argued that television has had the effect of reducing our attention span; might the expansion of "publishing" only to the web, not on paper, cause us to fail to be able to read anything longer than a few paragraphs?

(And oh boy, how screwed will I be then! No one will even get this far.)

Might it change the way writing is taught in schools? It seems impossible it wouldn't have some effect on the educational system. (I'd rather not consider that in depth now, because I can sense you're already fading this deep into this post.)

This is not a good era for me, and it will only get worse. Yet I try to adapt. Here's what I'll do: Keep blathering on, but try to not blather quite so much. And here's what I suggest you do:
Print out these posts, and read them during your lunch. It's a compromise for this new paradigm, into which it's questionable how well I'll fit, but I'll try.

And recycle the paper when you're done! Never let it be said I have no concern for the future, even though the one that internet is steering us toward is destroying my readership's ability to pay attention to the end. While, admittedly, simultaneously facilitating that readership.

Ah, the irony.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Quagmire


Why do we need alternative energy when there's plenty of sulfurous gas emerging from the La Brea tarpits? Can't we harness that? May have to move the mastodons, admittedly...

(photo taken July 1, by yours truly, for those of you who need such details)

Effective politics: Automatic for the propositions

There's a proposition on the upcoming California ballot that is drawing more attention than even the gubernatorial race (I can't believe I spelled "gubernatorial" correctly on the first try—trust me, I did): Prop. 87. It apparently involves taxing oil companies for drilling in the state, and using the money for researching alternative energies, but apparently creating a new under-regulated bureaucracy for this research. The proponents and opponents are trying to pick apart the other's argument in their ads, as one would expect, and I admit up front that's the only thing I have to comment on: their ads.

What is most interesting to me is the skill of their marketing, especially on the pro side. This morning, as I put on my shoes, I watched a few minutes of TV, stopping on one of the local station's morning "news" program. And during a single commercial break—that is, during one set of commercials interrupting the program—I saw an ad by the opposing side (where they use an actor in a firefighter's jacket to explain what a bad idea the tax is), then another ad (I don't recall for what), and then an ad from the pro side that specifically refuted the claims made two commercials previous (even showing a close-up of the end of the prior ad, zooming in on the fine print that notes those who paid for the ad and showing the name of one of the major oil companies).

I thought to myself, Egad, how much do they pay to schedule their commercial so that the other side's message doesn't even get to linger longer than 30 seconds?

I am not suggesting it's the most clever argument on the pro side; of course the oil companies are behind the ads trying to convince the voters the proposition is bad, because from their perspective it is. When it comes to trying to convince the voters it's good, the pro side seems to rely heavily on implicitly punishing the oil companies because they made a $78 billion profit last year. The use of the money raised by the tax seems something of an afterthought; my impression of their argument for the proposition (as opposed to their argument against the opposition), based on seeing their other ad many times, was more or less: Hey, the oil companies can afford to be taxed so let's do it; they've been sticking it to you at the pump, so here's your chance to extract revenge. Oh, and eventually it may actually have some benefit for the environment.

That's probably effective enough to get it to pass. Whatever pangs of guilt many might feel over just taxing them for being profitable should be assuaged by the suggestion of what might come. There's no effort at trying to convince the people it's necessarily fair—they made that profit because the voters purchased their product, after all—but rather at appealing to their emotions, both base and altruistic.

I seems like those same people who tried to organize the don't-buy-gas-on-this-day events (that were probably fake) finally realized that wasn't going to happen and devoted their efforts to getting this on the ballot. Which is smart. Because this doesn't require them to make any sacrifice for the greater good, other than bother to actually go to their polling place.

That, of course, is more than those interested in either punishing the oil companies or in allowing them to keep their lucre have reason to expect from the average television viewer, but since it's not a matter of one side or the other getting a majority of the actual populace to vote for their side but to get a majority of those who bother to vote to cast ballots in their favor, so it's still worth their respective whiles to spend the money on such advertising. They certainly need not worry too much about the average viewer who will likely vote to bother reading the particulars of the proposition (and even if that average viewer tried to read said particulars, it's not likely even a college-educated individual could make heads or tails of what it would really entail, if passed, or what consequences may emerge from it failing to pass).

That is a hideously glib statement about the nature of the process. Still, I think it more or less valid. I don't think the point of politics is for the average person to understand it, and I think the average person is probably far happier not understanding it. I am, it should be obvious, not one with much of an optimistic belief about the process of governing. The role of those in power is not to do what's best for those being governed but to do what allows those in power to remain so, thus ostensible benefits for the governed is as effective as actual benefits for the governed (and the latter are probably more coincidental than intentional). I don't expect my elected officials to be working in my favor, and hence I am not disappointed when they don't do so.

But the people working for both sides of the Prop. 87 are doing one hell of a bang-up job. If they work this hard after the election, something might actually get done.