Sunday, July 29, 2007

Learning something new every day

I ran across these Maps of War when I was checking out Acute Politics (where you will find some actually encouraging reports about Iraq now and then, including this for example.) These Flash animated maps are an excellent visual learning opportunity. Click on the "play" button.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Kockenlocker and Ratzkiwatski

I am a fan of the old time movies, the really old time movies. (Now and then I run across someone who admits they haven't seen Citizen Kane, or Casablanca, which leaves me full of The Sorrow and the Pity.) Since they "just don't make them like that anymore," it can be a little sad sometimes to think that you've seen all the classics, and if you're in the mood for an old time movie you'll just have to watch one you've watched before.

That is why I am pleased to report today my personal discovery of The Miracle of Morgan's Creek. I can't hardly say this is a little-known gem - most critics call it a Preston Sturges classic - but not having delved far into the Sturges library, this one came as a real unexpected joy. Especially since I have never found the greatness in Sturges' best-known film, Sullivan's Travels, though I have tried it more than once. After watching The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, I may have to try it again, because Sturges was really something special.

You can get the plot and the reviews other places (IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes for example) so I won't plow that field, but if you are an observer of American culture, and you like farce, this is a movie you should see. To call it subversive is on target - you'll be amazed that it got past the Hays Office - with layers of lampoons on politicians, religion, and small town America. It's a unique combination of old school knockabout slapstick and some of the most rapid-fire comedic dialogue ever seen.

I'm off to check my Netflix queue now. If you want to know about Kockenlocker and Ratzkiwatski, you'll just have to watch this movie for yourself.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

More questions than answers

Today's most intriguing news:

Full swimming pool stolen, not a drop spilled

Superman putting out a grass fire?

PGA TOUR Notebook: One golfer is on steroids, but they're legal

Like golf doesn't generate enough rage as it is?

Grim reapurr: The cat that can predict death

What's the deal here? Does this cat read the tracks in the litter box like tea leaves? Does this cat have a cable TV show? (If not, why not?)

Producers: `Cavemen' Not Racial Metaphor

Has this been cleared with Al Sharpton? Is it true the first episode features a cameo by Don Imus and Michael Richards?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and a furious anger - or not

It looks like the Napa PD has caught the punks who robbed our house. I'm glad to see them busted, but all my delicious thirst for vengeance was squelched when I read that one of the perps is only 15, and the apparent master-mind (Mr. Big, The Brain, The Big Boss of this outfit) is just 18. I guess now I am glad I didn't catch them inside the house with their arms full of our consumer electronics, or I might be living with the knowledge that I knee-capped a child to protect an iPod.

Strangely enough, I just had a dream last night (and yes, I know people mostly don't want to hear what follows that opening) where I had an encounter with an 18 year old kid who was high on something and wanted to pick a fight with me. It was a kid that I knew, and he knocked my cuff links and high blood pressure pills out of my hand. (There's some symbolism for you.) He was really spoiling for a fight. But instead of head-butting him, I picked him up in my arms and carried him down the street. (Our old block on Franklin, actually, and there's some more meaning in that I suppose.)

So the dream had a semi-happy, semi-poignant ending. And I guess the burglary story is the same. I'm happy they got caught and hope there are some consequences that scare these kids straight. More likely these are a couple of kids who will be in trouble again, and that's sad.

Moral of the story: Some people need to pay attention to what their 15 year-olds are doing at night. Other people need to make sure their windows are locked. And everyone needs to hang onto their cufflinks and blood pressure pills.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Frenchly speaking, I'm world weary

I laughed out loud when I saw this headline.

France needs to quit thinking and 'get to work'

PARIS (Reuters) -- France's love affair with ideas has gone too far and it is time for the country to quit thinking and get to work, Economy Minister Christine Lagarde said Tuesday as she plugged a tax plan aimed at boosting the economy.... "France is a country that thinks. There is hardly an ideology we don't have a theory on," she told parliament... "That's why I would like to tell you: that's enough thinking, enough prevaricating. Let's just roll up our sleeves."

There's a picture for you, a frenchman with his sleeves rolled up, getting down to work. Somehow I keep seeing Yves Montand in a perfectly tailored suit, pulling up to a chateau in his Audi, lighting a Gitane, and getting down to work is not what's on his mind.

Most stereotypes have some kernel of truth, hence the image of the cafe-bound French who are more interested in living on their own terms than being productive rings true. And yet, isn't this the exact quality many Americans want to replicate? Doesn't some part of us long to be that devil-may-care European who is unbound by the need to strive for success - or even show up for work, or use deodorant. But that's another topic entirely.

I surely see it here in California - "work is work, but what I am all about is lifestyle." Hell, I see it in myself. After all, if the Chinese are going to have their way with us anyway, we might as well slip into something more comfortable and open another bottle of the Cotes du Rhone.

There's something immensely sad about those diminished French. They had their glory days back when the....during the period of the...well, they had some good moments back before those mean old Germans got pushy. And now all they have is a reputation for being weak, and a faded empire, and a bunch of tourists they resent. A cautuionary tale, perhaps? Be careful what you wish for?

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Smile, you're ALWAYS on candid camera: A tale of Friedman and Freedman

Let's begin with this snippet (thank you Scotty) from Thomas L. Friedman's 6/27/07 op ed piece:

Three years ago, I was catching a plane at Boston’s Logan airport and went to buy some magazines for the flight. As I approached the cash register, a woman coming from another direction got there just behind me — I thought. But when I put my money down to pay, the woman said in a very loud voice: “Excuse me! I was here first!” And then she fixed me with a piercing stare that said: “I know who you are.” I said I was very sorry, but I was clearly there first. If that happened today, I would have had a very different reaction. I would have said: “Miss, I’m so sorry. I am entirely in the wrong. Please, go ahead. And can I buy your magazines for you? May I buy your lunch? Can I shine your shoes?”

Why? Because I’d be thinking there is some chance this woman has a blog or a camera in her cellphone and could, if she so chose, tell the whole world about our encounter — entirely from her perspective — and my utterly rude, boorish, arrogant, thinks-he-can-butt-in-line behavior. Yikes!

When everyone has a blog, a MySpace page or Facebook entry, everyone is a publisher. When everyone has a cellphone with a camera in it, everyone is a paparazzo. When everyone can upload video on YouTube, everyone is filmmaker. When everyone is a publisher, paparazzo or filmmaker, everyone else is a public figure. We’re all public figures now. The blogosphere has made the global discussion so much richer — and each of us so much more transparent.
The recent media-vs-cops incident in Napa is a case in point. KGO-TV's crew covering a fire on Atlas Peak was busted by some Napa County Sheriff's deputies. The reporter, Wayne Freedman, saw his cameraman getting strong-armed. Knowing that the cops bringing the hammer down on a TV news crew would be a better story than the puny fire, and realizing they'd never get it on tape since the camera was snagged by the deputies, Freedman whipped out his cell phone to grab the video that way. (As it turns out, there were other TV cameras rolling, although none seems to have caught the deputy knocking the cell phone out of Freedman's hand. Some reports say the deputy may have thought Freedman was drawing a weapon and reacted instinctively - KGO's reporting gives the impression it was a jack-booted kind of censorship action. Don't know if we'll ever get the definitve story.)

But back to the point that "we're all public figures now." It's not surprising that some intense raw footage is available from this incident. After all, it was a media staging area and plenty of cameras were on hand. But there are an equal number of cameras hiding in cell phones at every Starbuck's, street corner, bowling alley or car wash, and security cameras everywhere you look. It's surprising that any kind of crime in public places goes unsolved. If people kept their cool when there was a purse snatched there would be 17 photos of the perp available.

More here from Friedman (we're back to the writer now, not the reporter. Please try to keep up.)
The implications of all this are the subject of a new book by Dov Seidman, founder and C.E.O. of LRN, a business ethics company. His book is simply called “How.” Because Seidman’s simple thesis is that in this transparent world “how” you live your life and “how” you conduct your business matters more than ever, because so many people can now see into what you do and tell so many other people about it on their own without any editor. To win now, he argues, you have to turn these new conditions to your advantage.

For young people, writes Seidman, this means understanding that your reputation in life is going to get set in stone so much earlier. More and more of what you say or do or write will end up as a digital fingerprint that never gets erased. Our generation got to screw up and none of those screw-ups appeared on our first job résumés, which we got to write. For this generation, much of what they say, do or write will be preserved online forever. Before employers even read their résumés, they’ll Google them.

“The persistence of memory in electronic form makes second chances harder to come by,” writes Seidman. “In the information age, life has no chapters or closets; you can leave nothing behind, and you have nowhere to hide your skeletons. Your past is your present.” So the only way to get ahead in life will be by getting your “hows” right.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Serious thoughts on an important topic

Harrison Ford is making me depressed.

There is no bigger fan of "Han Solo" and "Indiana Jones" than me. Well, in the sense that I really like all those movies, not in the sense that I dress up like Star Wars characters and go out in public. OK, there was that one time in the Princess Leia outfit. But I digress.

Harrison Ford is making me depressed for at least three reasons.
1. He's not aging well. Still lean, and can probably run from jungle pygmies and do battle with stormtroopers and all that, but that face! Yikes! He just looks sad and tired. Maybe he looks sad because
2. He keeps making the same movie over and over. We're flipping channels last night and there's this movie called Firewall. He's a bank security expert and his family is held hostage by some bank robbers who force him to help them rob a bank. I did not need to watch it all to know he would act all scared for awhile, then come up with some clever ploys, and in the end there'd be a good punch up and the bad guys would be defeated. We know this because he has played this unfairly threatened or accused guy in Frantic, Presumed Innocent, The Fugitive, and Air Force One, and maybe others.
3. He's making another Indiana Jones movie. This prospect is somewhat less pathetic than the most recent Rocky installment, but still disturbing. Why must people tarnish their legacy by hanging on too long? Is it ego or the money? Fear of losing one's identity? "If I am no longer the unfairly threatened or accused guy, or the literate but rough and tumble self centered guy with the heart of gold, who am I?"

There's no mercy for Mr. Ford. Over on IMDB, there's a thread offering titles for the new Indy Jones movie:
"Indiana Jones and the Prostate of Doom"
"Indiana Jones and the Ravages of Time"
and my personal favorite
"Indiana Jones and the Giant Sack of Hundred Dollar Bills"

Bottom line - I'll probably look forward to seeing the Indiana Jones movie next spring, and it will probably be great, but Harrison Ford my friend, you need to start playing some grandpas and act your age. There's a big difference between thinking young and acting young, and pretending to be young. After awhile it's just depressing.

Monday, July 9, 2007


It never ceases to amaze me that so many people will happily take part in perpetuating crap email. There may be a better term for it - not spam exactly, but in the family - but crap email works for me. I refer not to worn out lists of "you know you're getting older when..." or "today's high school graduates never owned an 8-track." (In the pre email days, these things went around by fax. In earlier times, I suppose they were copied longhand by monks, or incised on wax tablets.) These hackneyed jokes may be boring, or annoying, or even a diversion now and then. The crap I'm talking about are the emails that are to intended to deceive, either with an altered photo or some lengthy text that is utterly wrong.

The latest of these making the rounds is a list of supposed new traffic laws that went into effect on July 1. For example:

Carpool lane - 1st time $1068.50 starting 7/1/07 (The $271 posted on the highway is old). Don't do it again because 2nd time is going to be double. 3rd time triple, and 4th time license suspended

Wow, imagine that third offense, a $3200 fine! Seems crazy, no? Well, it is crazy, and the real deal is this:

The minimum suggested fine for a carpool lane violation (i.e., driving solo in a carpool lane) has increased from $271 to $380 (not $1068.50). There is no provision for automatically increasing the fine or suspending licenses for subsequent violations.

You can take this to the bank, and read the full item at the Urban Legends Reference Pages.

So why are people so eager to believe these made-up proclamations that litter our in boxes? What kind of rational human will blindly forward these emails without even attempting to check the facts?

By the way, I hear a new law just went into effect that whenever you receive one of these emails with the tracks of 17 forwards on it, you must filter it through before resending. Failure to do so could result in revocation of your internet user license.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Fish? Jumping. Cotton? High.

This is post #104 on this blog. If this were a weekly newspaper column that would be two years worth, with no vacations. Since I've only been writing here for about 5 months, you could say I'm on a torrid pace. (Those are two words- "torrid" and "pace" - that almost always show up side by side. Comforting, isn't it?)

These facts, along with the fact that this is a holiday week (because it's no longer enough to just have a holiday anymore, we all tack on our vacation days and such and turn any week with a holiday in it into a "holiday week") and all I can really focus on is the impending visit of the kids and the grandson, leads me to declare that I will take a few days off from this blog. My goal will be to not write anything through the remainder of the holiday week, and get back to it July 9. I have to make a deal with myself because I feel sort of guilty when I skip a day or two, like I am violating an unspoken pact with you, the reader. So I just want to be up front about it, get it all out in the open. Then we can enjoy our 4th of July with a clear conscience.

Speaking of the 4th of July, did you know there's a 50/50 chance you'll eat a hot dog on that date? You may say your plans do not include hot dogs, but there's no sense in fighting the statistics. And speaking of hot dogs, as if there's something in the DNA that tells me the 4th is approaching, just last night I got a powerful hankering for a coney. (Some people would say "chili dog" but "coney" is the first word that comes to my mind.) Did you know that there are at least two different hot dog-based items known as conies? You'd better read this. There may be a quiz.

So here's to conies, cold beer on a hot day, water fights, fireworks, putting up the flag, and just simply being with your family. (Did I mention cold beer?) I hope you enjoy your holiday week at a torrid pace.