Friday, August 31, 2007

Lunar Eclipse Photos #1

Today I Learned Something About Iowa

A few weeks ago, I came across a blog called Advance Indiana, by way of checking out a couple of blogs that I heard about that time I was at Lazy Daze when I was asked about my own blog. It's run by a Republican, but manages to strike more of a populist tone than a conservative one. When I popped by there just now, I found that the most recent post was this one about an Iowa court that ruled in favor of gay marriage.

Yeah, give that one a second to sink in. A blog run by a Republican touts a decision by an Iowa court that strikes down a measure in that state's constitution that barred homosexual couples from receiving marriage licenses. I never would have guessed - either one, actually.

But here's what I learned about Iowa, after referring back to CNN's 2004 Presidential election results (yes, I am that much of a dork) and clicking on the state of Iowa: they voted for Bush 50% to 49%, which, quite frankly, surprised the hell out of me. I had no idea they even had Democrats in Iowa. (That's a joke. Mostly.)

Big, big props to Iowa, for overturning an illegal law - and big, big props to Advance Indiana for posting it. Those dominoes are falling, friends and neighbors - and it's about time.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

I'm Back - Duh Nuh Nuh Nuh Nuh Nuh Nuh Nuh Nuh Nuh Nuh

I was talking to my brother the other day, and he gave me a not-so-subtle hint that I should post more pictures of little Jackson (who is not really all that little anymore - you know how weeds grow, right? - now picture weeds that cry and shit a lot - bingo!) in the ol' Blog-O-Rama, so here they are. Three of them, anyway. I would do this more often, but it takes a bit of time. I don't have a blindingly fast computer - the processor is one of those dinosaurs the speed of which is still measured in megahertz, rather than gigahertz, although I have had this computer for going on four years now, which is the longest any of the four computers I have had since I graduated from college has lasted - so it takes some time to fiddle with the pictures and fiddle with the code and, of course, spew out all of these damn words. But anyway...on to the pictures.

"Get your game on - go play"

"Put 'em up! Put 'em up!"

"This vexes me! I'm terribly vexed!"

These pictures are all a few weeks old - I don't have many recent ones because I've been trying to catch him smiling, and it hasn't worked yet. Amy says he smiles more in the mornings, which is definitely not a mood he inherited from pops. I'll try to be a bit better about posting pictures of him, though. Speaking of pictures, I have some from the lunar eclipse the other night. They're not very good pictures, I don't think, but I'm going to toss them up there anyway, just to see what they look like.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Why Republicans Suck (#3)

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales resigned today, another in the long line of resignations of people who were involved with the firing of eight U.S. attorneys last year. Senators on both sides of the aisle have expressed a lack of confidence in Gonzales’ ability to run the Justice Department and the director of the FBI offered testimony to Congress that contradicted statements Gonzales had made to Congress - but Gonzales was still allowed to keep his job. Until today.

According to the article linked to above, Bush did not attempt to dissuade Gonzales when he called Bush last week to offer his resignation, but instead accepted the resignation with reluctance. Bush then went in front of microphones and said that it was “sad” that such a good person as Gonzales had to have his career turned upside down for political reasons.

Or, you know, for lying to Congress. Or for conspiring with the White House to fire at least one attorney who refused to investigate Democrats just before last year’s midterm elections. Wouldn’t that be turning someone’s career upside down for political reasons?

Like the Michael Vick circus has little to do with conspiracy and dogfighting, this resignation - and the resignation last week of Karl Rove - has little to do with owning up to crimes committed against the American people. These resignations have everything to do with helping the GOP avoid a bloodletting next November.

It’s possible that Bush himself knows - but it’s more likely that someone smarter than he is on his senior staff told him what he needed to know - that his influence on voters will not be significant if the current political climate is the same come election day as it is today. Just ask John McCain how it feels to have stuck with Dubya for so long. McCain was once the front-runner for the Republican nomination in 2008; he is no longer.

Supporting the President next year will be political suicide. The White House is lost, of course (and at this point it’s not even a question of which Democrat is going to win - the only question is what Bill will be called instead of First Lady) - but it’s possible that they can win back seats in Congress, although Bush will have to continue to make concessions like allowing Gonzales and Rove to resign. It is likely that Bush will never own up to his crimes or the crimes committed by his cronies; but by accepting their resignations he can plead “no contest” and hope to salvage some dignity for a once-decent party that he has helped to corrupt like no president since Nixon.

Had the damage not already been done, I might have commended Bush for "accepting" these "resignations" - and the "resignation" of Rumsfeld. But it's too little too late - and it's also a shame that people are going to credit Gonzales and Rove for stepping down. The damage has been done, and these guys get to step down with grace and dignity, like they've had some kind of positive impact. And I'm not sure which is worse - that this charade is being played out, or that there are people out there who actually believe it.

A Constant Buzz Of Low-Level Static

I suppose I’ll accept the fact that Michael Vick was supposed to appear in court to answer federal conspiracy and dogfighting charges on the day the Atlanta Falcons were to open training camp. That might have been a coincidence - but I doubt it. And from that point on, things get fishy. They get smelly - making one wonder about the freshness of the meat in restaurants in Copenhagen. The three co-defendants then fall like dominoes - first one, then the other two, agreeing to cooperate with the government and plead guilty, so that the government can go after the real prize - Michael Vick. Why? Because Michael Vick is a celebrity - and he’s really good at football! No other running back in the history of the NFL has ever been able to pass himself off as a quarterback for this long.

Michael Vick then pleads guilty, doing so formally today in Virginia. He was given a date for his sentencing hearing, and that date is December 10th. On December 10th, which is a Monday, the Atlanta Falcons play on Monday Night Football. But that’s not the only thing. If you’re the Falcons, a team that, prior to the Vick fiasco, was hoping to make an interesting playoff run this year - if you’re the Falcons, what’s going to be one of your biggest games this year, one of the biggest challenges?

That would be when you host the best team in your division. Every team in the NFL plays 16 regular season games. 6 of those 16 games are against the other three teams in your four-team division - you play each team once at home and once on the road. The best team in Atlanta’s division, which is the NFC South, is the New Orleans Saints*. Atlanta hosts the New Orleans Saints exactly one time this season, and that game will be played on - wait for it - Monday night, December 10th.

Michael Vick is far from innocent in this case - all you have to do is read the indictment to get a pretty good idea that he’s been up to no good**. But he’s still getting hung out to dry - he’s being made an example of because he’s a celebrity; and if anyone out there actually believes that this case is being handled impartially and with the search for truth and justice at its core, then’re just dumb. It so happens that the prosecutor in this case got it right, as opposed to the Duke case, when the prosecutor got it wrong. But nobody was out for justice in either case. The government in this case is not trying to punish people for conspiracy and for dogfighting. They are trying to crucify Michael Vick. The initial court date might have been a coincidence - the two taken together simply cannot be.

And even if it works - even if this case raises the spotlight on dogfighting and gets people to look at it differently and take it more seriously and finally do something about it - it’s still wrong. It’s being done for the wrong reasons. We used to have principles in this country, but now all we have is the lust for celebrity and money. Michael Vick is never going to be a poster boy against dogfighting - and who in their right mind would listen to him talking about it and believe him? Are you kidding me? If he was really against dogfighting, he never would have been involved. If he speaks up against it now, it’s only because he got caught.

Can I get away with one more offbeat Jurassic Park reference here? Ian Malcolm says to John Hammond, “I'll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you're using here: it didn't require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn't earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don't take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could and before you even knew what you had you patented it and packaged it and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now you're selling it, you want to sell it!”

All this boils down to is some lawyers who wanted to be famous, didn’t know how - or were unable - to do it on their own, and managed to find someone they could use. Granted, Michael Vick gift-wrapped it for them - but just because he wrapped it doesn’t mean that he can change what’s in the box.

“What’s in the box? What’s in the box?”

It’s not about dogs and it’s not about conspiracy. It’s about fame. When Myles Brand fired Bob Knight, it wasn’t about zero tolerance or that idiot kid or that idiot kid’s idiot stepfather - it wasn’t even about Bob Knight. It was about fame. Now Myles Brand is the president of the NCAA. Wonder where these prosecutors - the names printed at the end of the indictment are Chuck Rosenberg (U.S. Attorney) and Michael R. Gill (Assistant U.S. Attorney) - will be in another year.

* Aside for the Carolina Panthers fans - just stop. Don’t talk. You’re just going to embarrass yourselves. The Carolina Panthers are, and have been for years, the most overrated team in the NFL, among teams that do not contain Rex Grossman.

** And just in case anyone started foaming at the mouth right there, the indictment itself does not mean he is guilty. The indictment is simply a list of allegations. It is not evidence. The American justice system insists that the prosecutor prove the case beyond reasonable doubt. The vigilante system of justice says that the indictment is good enough. The American justice system says innocent until proven guilty. The vigilante justice system hijacks planes and flies them into buildings.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

I Blog The Billboard Electric!

Remember how the people on the right complained when the Supreme Courts in some states overturned laws banning gay marriage - how they liked to say that “activist” judges shouldn’t be allowed to legislate from the bench?

They don’t mind as much, though, when their cowboy leader tries to legislate from the Oval Office - which is part of what Bush was doing when he sent up John Roberts and Samuel Alito for confirmation to the Supreme Court, to replace William Rehnquist (dead) and Sandra Day O’Connor (retired, although she is still working hard - she served on the Iraq Study Group, whose report and recommendations Bush ignored, probably because Darth Cheney explained them to him using small words and told him it would be a good idea to ignore them).

Those on the far right hope that Roberts and Alito, both conservative, will help to steer the court toward overturning Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that confirmed that a woman has the right to have an abortion. They replace one conservative vote (Rehnquist) and one generally liberal vote (O’Connor, who was often referred to as the “swing vote” on a number of issues - a tag she did not care for) with two conservative votes, though that still leaves the righties one vote short.

So a woman’s right to choose isn’t precisely shrinking, since the number of votes to uphold the decision has no impact on the validity of said decision; but if you’re clever and into marketing, you could certainly read it that way. And if you are such a person and have the balls of a Pamplona bull in the streets, you can use that interpretation to dramatic effect - which is exactly what a company called Manhattan Mini Storage has done with a billboard in New York. To wit:

Letha sent me an e-mail with a link to this article that talks about the billboard and the related ad campagin - and there are several other links in this article that point to other articles and blog posts about it, with comments both positive and negative from New Yorkers. (Yes, Virginia, there are Republicans in New York - they just don't admit it to their friends, and they wear disguises when they go to vote.)

And yes, positive comments from me. I am half tempted to rent a storage unit from these cats and ship some of my stuff to New York just to be supportive. I blog the billboard electric! (Now that's esoteric!) I know! I'll buy a bunch of Rush Limbaugh books (easily found in the clearance section of your local used bookstore, on the Guys Whose Fifteen Minutes Are Up shelf) and ship them to New York for storage. Maybe they'll spontaneously burst into flames once the unit is locked!

Living here in Hillbillyana, I sometimes forget that there are other people in the country besides me who are ready to see Bush eaten by alligators - and it's always nice to be reminded that I'm not the only one. Thanks, Letha!

Allowable Pelvic Thrusts

So there's a new movie coming out called Lust, Caution, directed by Ang Lee, who can be forgiven for directing The Hulk because he went on to direct Brokeback Mountain - which was the best picture of 2005, even though the Academy voters mistakenly gave the award to Crash. Here's an article from CNN that talks about the film's rating and how the MPAA arrived at that rating.

The new film is described on the Focus Features website as "[a] startling erotic espionage thriller about the fate of an ordinary woman's heart." The film received an NC-17 rating from the MPAA because of graphic sexuality, and an appeal is impossible because some of the sex scenes violated a number of the MPAA's ratings board's "unwritten rules" (quoting the CNN article linked to above), including the number of "allowable pelvic thrusts."

And because Universal Pictures, the parent company of Focus, is a member of the MPAA, the film must be released with a rating, which means that they can't go with the "unrated" tag. NC-17, of course, is the kiss of box office death, although I suppose that having Lee's name attached to it might up the gross a bit, especially in more sophisticated markets.

Lee has final cut on the picture, which means that it's up to him whether or not to make cuts to try to achieve an R rating - something he is apparently not going to do, and it looks like Focus is going to back him on it, so props to both of them for not compromising the film for the sake of the box office take.

Now, having said all that, let's get back to the allowable pelvic thrusts, for just a moment, hmm? Is there some guy - or girl, I suppose - sitting in the auditorium during the screening, with a clipboard at hand, actually counting the number of pelvic thrusts? Or is this just one of those things that you "know when you see it," the way some people define obscenity? Was there a meeting after the screening? Did they have to confer in order to discuss whether or not there was too much pelvic thrusting - or whether there might, in fact, have been just enough?

And doesn't "allowable pelvic thrusts" sound like the name of a band that's going to headline at X-Fest one day?

Friday, August 24, 2007

I Traded Jackson For Some Deep-Fried Pepsi

Okay, I didn't really trade him for deep-fried Pepsi - but how many of you looked at that picture and thought for one second, "Gad, he's finally gone all the way off the deep end!" Hmm? Anyway, that really is deep-fried Pepsi from the State Fair. I sauntered up to the deep-fried booth for the first time and tried some deep-fried Pepsi. None of that other deep-fried garbage had ever appealed to me, and this didn't exactly appeal to me...but it was vaguely interesting in a way that a deep-fried Twinkie could never be.

Unfortunately, it sucked. In case you somehow did not hear about this latest State Fair abomination, it goes like this. They mix up what is basically doughnut batter, except that intsead of water they use Pepsi. I could barely taste the Pepsi, though. If you didn't know it was made with Pepsi, there's no way it would ever have occurred to you. Also, for something made with Pepsi, it was surprisingly dense.

We went to the fair last Saturday, during one of the few almost-normal days in this muderously hot August. I was afraid we were going to miss it because of little Snarky and because of the heat. But we made it. It wasn't quite as much fun as it has been in the past, maybe because of carting a baby around, but maybe not. Maybe next year won't be as warm and we can go during the week when there are less people around.

Rocket Science

Rocket Science is one of those coming-of-age movies that understands the basic premise that coming of age as a teenager is fraught with awkwardness. Indeed, the filmmakers seem so well to understand the concept that they felt comfortable with burdening their already awkward protagonist, Hal Hefner (Reece Daniel Thompson), a slight, skinny little kid from a remarkably (and equally awkward) dysfunctional and broken family, with a pronounced stutter - a condition that plagued writer/director Jeffrey Blitz when he was in school himself - thereby stacking the odds so high that failure at every turn is almost certain for this poor kid.

And that is, in fact, pretty much what happens. The film opens on a debate meet final that goes terribly wrong for über-debater Ginny Ryerson (Anna Kendrick), her subsequent recruitment of Hal as the replacement for the following school year, and the split of Hal’s parents. Fold into this mix Hal’s older brother, who is flirting with being a raving lunatic, and what you have is a station in Hal’s life that is simply unbearable. Unable to express himself as well as he would like because of his stutter, Hal does what he can to soldier on and make the best of growing up in lower-middle-class New Jersey.

Ginny is one of those people we all knew in high school - the one who is good at everything, never fails at anything, and cries when she gets anything less than an A - and Kendrick plays her with a fiery intensity that makes one think of animals in the wild that eat their young. And yet, when she recruits Hal for the debate team, telling him that she espies in him that certain je ne sais quoi which she covets, we actually believe that she sees something that we the audience do not; and we also find ourselves wondering how in the world she is going to pull it off, looking ahead to her success - and Hal’s improbable success - as the movie’s climax.

Alas, this is not to be. The fates of these two characters are destined to diverge - but it will be up to you to find the time to catch this film to see just what happens. There is a point near the end of the film when Ginny attempts to defend what she does to Hal - and this almost tender moment speaks quite eloquently to the quality of character, which is really at the heart of this odd little film. Ginny is set up almost as an anti-hero, but again, this is for the viewer to decide.

The third act is the train wreck, as Hal’s only real hope for normalcy comes crashing down around him - and there are humorous moments sprinkled throughout, though nearly all of them, in keeping with the theme of the film, are to one degree or another awkward. There is this, however - you are not likely ever to see another movie in your life that features two characters engaged in marriage therapy by playing the Violent Femmes song “Blister In The Sun” as a piano and cello duet. Nor are you likely to see too many other movies in which a cello is thrown through a window. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for these quirky little moments - they add a bit of flavor and color to a movie that plays life as awfully bleak and grey sometimes.

By the end of the film, however, one thing has become clear - even though Hal has failed at pretty much everything he has tried, the one thing he has not failed at is continuing to try. There is something built into him that will not allow him to quit, and this is what we see when he talks to his father in the car as the film closes, as Hal closes his eyes and seems to understand that this too - some day - shall pass.

I told Ryan after the movie was over, when he asked me what I thought of it, that I was not sure and that I would have to wait until I had the chance to write about it before I would really know what I thought. Sometimes you like a movie right away, and sometimes you hate a movie right away - many times this is something that you have decided before the credits even roll. Working for Landmark, however, I have had the chance to see a lot of movies - most of which I would otherwise have missed - that I could not make up my mind about immediately after the movie was over. I had to come home and write about them first. This is one of those - and after having written about it, I must conclude that I enjoyed it. It is certainly not the best movie I have ever seen, but it is a fine little film, a brave, thoughtful movie that far too many people are going to miss.

I do hope that there are some good crowds for Rocket Science this weekend, although that is, now, unfortunately, probably going to depend in large part on a positive review printed in the Star on Friday. I don’t have much faith that this will happen - the Star usually prints reivews by Christy Lemire of the Associated Press, and those reviews, for the most part, are less than favorable for the films we show. I was hoping that Ed would have a good review of the film in NUVO this week - but instead there is a decent review of Lady Chatterley, the other film we open this week. I have no real qualms with that, except to say that Lady Chatterley has more of a built-in audience than Rocket Science, due to its being adapted from a literary work; and it stands to benefit less from a positive review than does Rocket Science. Lady Chatterley is almost three hours long, has strong adult themes, and is in French with English subtitles. The people who want to see it are going to want to see it regardless of the reviews, and the running time alone is going to drive away most of the others.

Rocket Science has none of those potential drawbacks and is the kind of film that unsure moviegoers will need to be coaxed into seeing. There are quotes in some of the co-op advertising calling it “this year’s little movie that could,” a very-thinly-veiled reference to last year’s Little Miss Sunshine. I don’t think you can really talk about the two in the same breath - apart from the fact that they both feature quite a lot of F-bombs - but I’m hopeful that that kind of positive energy will get a few more people out to see this film than might otherwise have done.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Thanks, Aaron

That was a good comment (and I did not delete the post because of you), although your Shakespeare analogy is shaky. People can love Shakespeare, but it is not, generally speaking, a system by which people live; also, people are rarely killed or disowned because of Shakespeare plays (regardless of how well they are staged or filmed). With respect to the idea of the beauty of the art being lost in translation, though, your analogy is sound.

And, where religion as applied by one person causes pain or suffering to another, it ceases to be viable and becomes instead tyranny (or, when wrapped in a turban, terrorism). The course of two people's lives has been shattered because of one woman's application of religion. The state of Indiana offers Patrick's partner no recourse under the law - and this is, at the very least, a tacit endorsement of religion by the state. No system that tramples the rights of those who do not accept its primacy can stand in a society of the truly free.

Religion, when you get right down to the bare bones, is personal. As such, its correct application cannot be taught, per se. No one can be moved to action by the order of someone acting on beliefs that they believe are more right than the beliefs of that other person. In the secular world, that is tyranny. Fold religion into the mix and it becomes theocracy.

Religion can be very comforting for those who feel that they need it. On the other side of the coin, however, religion can be extremely dangerous - especially for those who have come to the airtight conclusion that they do not need it in the least.

People hold up freedom as an ideal in this country - maybe more than in any country in the world. What far too many of them fail to realize is that the idea of freedom includes the freedom to reject religion utterly. When the über-religious stop proselytizing to those whom they have not assimilated into the collective, then we can call our society truly free. When that happens, the religious will have stopped believing that the non-religious are wrong; and that will exterminate the possibility of theocracy. Until then, religion can be very, very dangerous.

George W. Bush has vetoed two stem cell bills based on his own personal religious belief. I have a big problem with that. He stood in the way of free scientific inquiry, prevented the going forward of a science that has a potential it will likely never realize (in large part because of his beliefs and the influence of those beliefs on his actions), because of the way he interprets religion. He is afraid, as are many religious people, that the goal of science is to trump religion. This is not the case.

Science seeks merely to explain, but it has the power to explain away nearly everything that religion has offered up as an explanation. The ultra-conservative religious people are afraid of science because they think it will subvert religion. If they believe their own arguments, however, then everything that exists came from their god, and that includes science. But they don't understand this because they are afraid. They are afraid that they are wrong. They are afraid that science will one day answer the biggest question of all.

Why are we here?

I don't believe that science will answer that question. Based on the size of the universe, its age, and the fragile nature of human beings, no human being is likely ever to get to the bottom of why we are here. If God did create man in His own image, then He tied up that loose end pretty nicely. And He gave people the free will to figure out the rest of it.

As for me, I could care less why we're here. I'm here...and that's good enough for me. I'm trying to make the most of it. I don't know why we're here, and I'm not interested in expending the energy to find out. I don't need a complex system of beliefs. I'll take a song...

Why are we here?
Because we're here.
Roll the bones...

Monday, August 13, 2007

It's Action - Reaction - Random Interaction

The world is not just small - it feels to me like it is also shrinking, collapsing in on itself like some bad Star Trek plot gone horribly, horribly awry. I go over to Lazy Daze this afternoon, on my way to drop some paper into the recycling bin in the library parking lot. While I am waiting on my coffee drinks, the owner, Jeff, comes in. We say hey to each other, as I go in there often enough that he has recognized me as one of the regulars - though I have not been around nearly as much since Jackson was born, I’m sorry to say (but I still haven’t set foot in that new Starbucks, so that’s something). He heads back out a few minutes later, then stops and looks at me and says that he saw my blog, thought it was pretty cool.

Well, right on. Don’t recall ever mentioning my blog to him, so he must have come across it in some other way. Okay. Now, do I think to ask him before he leaves how he managed to find me out there among the gazillions of bloggers in the world? No. That would have been too simple.

But then a woman sitting at a table and working on her laptop asked me what blog I had. Because I have this suspicion that I am not nearly as interesting as I would like to believe I am, I hemmed and hawed and said that it was nothing much, just a blog, yadda yadda yadda. She asked if I was someone called Jason, of the Four Square 266 blog. I said that I was not, though that rang some kind of bell in my head. She, in turn, mentioned that she has a blog called Hover, Don’t Sit, which did not ring any bells.

Got my coffee drinks, went home, dragged my computer downstairs because it’s way to hot up in the attic to be sitting at a computer up there - fired up the Internet, and googled “hover don’t sit.” Found that blog, and the Four Square one. Started reading the Four Square one first, got about five posts down and discovered that this guy had been invited to contribute to Colts Fan Blog by none other than Shane - who has also invited me to contribute to Colts Fan Blog, though I have not done so yet.

Now that is random - and almost certainly not the kind of thing that would ever happen at Starbucks.

They Don't Close The State Of Florida

Those wacky Germans teenagers. According to this MSNBC article, a wacky - by which I mean drunk - German teenager crashed a van into a shed that was filled with chickens. The shed, apparently, had about a thousand chickens in it. Well, this morning it had about a thousand. Now it's more like seven hundred. Seems that in their panic to escape, some of the chickens ran into the walls of the shed and died. Others, it is reported, had heart attacks. Who make that diagnosis? Who is it that meanders through life and then one day decides upon a career in poultry forensics? Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course - but at what point do you decide that your dreams are never going to come true, and then go for the gusto of CSI: The Chicken Coop?

In an unrelated incident, a Florida man was sentenced to five years in prison for driving and drug charges, as reported here by MSNBC. The odd part? The man is an amputee. Odder than that? He is a multiple amputee - both arms and one leg. Apparently he did have a valid driver's license at one point, but has done jail time for driving without a valid driver's license and for kicking a state trooper.

Um...kicking a state trooper? No arms, one leg...and he was kicking a state trooper? (No, the article does not mention the point in time when he was arrested for kicking the trooper, though it does mention that he lost his limbs at the age of thirteen - presumably before he would have had the occasion to kick the trooper.) Assuming the trooper wasn't party to his own battery, what exactly would this guy have been using to kick the trooper?

This is a goofy, goofy world we live in, people. Goofy.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Make A Joyful Blog!

Ah, there's not much I miss about working for Another Major Competitor. One of those things, however, is the good, quality conversations that used to take place with one Aaron Haag - and the Starbucks runs on Fun Night. Fun Night never really took off at Landmark, though, and I don't close on Thursday anymore, so the point is moot. And there's no more need for coffee runs since we have an epsresso machine. But it looks like the conversation might be back on - Mr. Aaron Haag has entered the blogosphere. He left a comment on my Wild About Harry post, and his profile reveals that he has a blog of his very own! Huzzah! So...head on over to Who Hates Goats? and check it out. Only one post so far, but I suspect Mr. Haag will make a fine addition to the neighborhood.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Oh, I'm Just Wild About Harry!

I feel bad for people, like this letter writer to the Indianapolis Star, who are afraid of the Harry Potter books. People of this mindless ilk must think that all of the rest of us are nincompoops and that we will take every word of the books seriously, as instruction on the way to live on earth.

What sort of person would take the every word of some fiction book seriously as instruction on the way to live on earth?

Of course, I was raised by parents who taught me the difference between what is real and what is make-believe. I learned that lesson. The Harry Potter books - as you might have heard - are make-believe. There are elements both savory and unsavory in the books - it is a story of good versus evil, after all. There are bound to be bits that are less than pleasant. The letter writer, of course, dwells on the unsavory bits and bemoans the fact that the following are missing from the books:

Obedience - such as all those instances when Harry follows Dumbledore’s orders to the letter.

Respect for authority - see above. Also, respect for authority - like all respect - must be earned, not granted arbitrarily. She refers, obviously, to Harry’s lack of respect for both Fudge and Scrimgeour - who do nothing to earn respect. They are painted as sketchy characters, and Harry sees them as such. He does not confer upon either of them any more respect than is justified - though it must be noted that when he learns of Scrimgeour’s death, Harry has a momentary twinge of sorrow. That’s integrity - taking the trouble to re-evaluate your position when new information is offered.

Truth-telling, honesty, pure words, self-control - apparently this letter writer would have all the characters in literature be just as perfect as she believes her make-believe Jesus was. But she’s not railing against all the characters in literature, just against the ones in Harry Potter. Gosh, I wonder why that is.

Avoiding alcohol - this is dumb. Is even the wonkiest teetotaler threatened by the concept of “butterbeer?” Give me a break.

Avoiding tobacco - decrying this without also talking about The Lord Of The Rings is simply disingenuous. But you won’t see these anti-Potter quacks railing against Tolkien. Wonder why? Oh, and the only kid who smoked? Dudley, and it was mentioned once in passing, in the fifth book.

Modeling clean living - uh...witchcraft is make-believe. That sharp pain you’re feeling is perspective stabbing you in the eye. Also, how many people got laid in the Harry Potter books? Exactly one person got knocked up in seven books, people. One. (And to go by her first name, we should be lucky it was only the once, huh? Then we might have had to worry about the abortion argument. Gad, can you even imagine? Accio fetus!)

These are the same people who complain that Michael Moore only tells one side of the story in his “documentaries.” Spare me. There’s nothing in the Harry Potter books to be afraid of, provided that you raise your kids with some measure of what is real and what is not. There is much worse in literature than the Harry Potter books when it comes to these “lessons” that this letter writer mentions - but maybe nobody has told her about Henry Miller and James Joyce and Charles Bukowski and Stephen King and Mario Puzo, and on and on.

Now, if you will excuse me...I’m off to my attic room to read Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows. I’m about halfway through my second go-round. I’ll see you in hell. You’re still driving the bus, right Justin?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Blue + Gold = Green

Yet another of my rantings that started out as a comment to someone else’s post - in this case, Shane’s post here about the story that former Indiana Pacer Reggie Miller is considering a return to the NBA, after being courted by the Boston Celtics.

I must admit, when I first heard about it, that I had a hard time getting around it - the idea of Reggie Miller playing for any other team in the National Bone-Thugz Association other than the waste of life formerly known as the Indiana Pacers. This item has been in the news the last couple of days, and the ESPN story can be found here.

After all, Reggie bled blue and gold for eighteen seasons and was the heart and soul of a once-great franchise. He helped the Pacers to several Eastern Conference Finals series and one NBA Finals series. In the mid-1990s he tested the waters of free agency, though not in a serious way, and wound up signing a contract with the Pacers that would keep him in Indianapolis for the rest of his career. He gave his entire NBA playing career to the Pacers, and for his efforts, he was rewarded with no championships. The last chance for the team came in the 2004-2005 season, a year after Jermaine O’Neal finished third in the league’s MVP voting.

Unfortunately, that was the year of the brawl - the year that Ron Artest, the biggest waste of talent to ever lace up kicks in the National Bone-Thugz Association, showed complete and utter disrespect to his teammates, the fans, and the league when he went up into the stands and assaulted an idiot who had thrown a cup of beer at him.

Artest was suspended for the balance of the season, and Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O’Neal, two other wastes, were suspended for a huge number of games - effectively destroying any chance the Pacers had to be competitive, and obliterating the last chance Reggie Miller had to win a championship.

After that season, the Pacers showed zero willingness or ability to learn from their mistake - that of signing Artest in the first place - and tried to soldier on with him. Donnie Walsh and Larry Bird obviously took President Bush as their leadership role model and displayed to those who don’t follow current events just how far into the toilet poor leadership and bad decision-making can take you.

The Indiana Pacers are embarrassing, and have been since the brawl. Donnie Walsh was grooming Larry Bird to take over his role as team President - and how hard it must have been for Walsh to watch what Bird was doing to his team and come to the realization that this last major decision of his career was, perhaps, the worst one. Larry Bird as a basketball operations guy is simply awful.

(I would actually like to witness Larry Bird in direct competition with George Bush in anything - any kind of contest. One of them would have to win, but since neither of them know how, the contest would just go on and on and on.)

Why would Reggie want to come back to this team? Its integrity? Its commitment to winning? The good decisions it has made over the years that have set it up for future success? No and no and no. This team is a shambles going into its first year with a new coach - and cannot hope to contend for at least three to four years, assuming, of course, that they stop pissing away all of their draft picks on dumbass trades. If they keep going pickless for a few more years, it could be a round decade before this team even thinks about contending again.

Another reason I hope it’s the Celtics - or any team in the East, for that matter: if Reggie does come back, and the Pacers somehow find a way to win (which will likely have to involve the kind of deal Keanu Reeves made with Al Pacino, because their talent and leadership aren’t going to do it), then there is a chance that Reggie as a Celtic could knock the Pacers out of the playoffs on his way to his first and only NBA title. And it would be so, so sweet to see Reggie Miller get some small measure of revenge against a team that fucked him so badly.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Carrie Newcomer At Irvington United Methodist Church

Last week when Amy got back from church, she asked me if Carrie Newcomer was someone whose music I enjoyed. There is a song of hers, “These Are The Moments,” on a Monumental Mix CD I picked up for a buck once at Back Home Indiana, which used to be an Indiana themed store on the first floor of Circle Centre, but which has since gone belly-up. Besides that, I have heard a number of her other songs, and she has for a long time been one of my favorite local artists.

I have always heard her referred to as a local artist, though I had not previously known exactly what that meant. During her brief introduction at the concert tonight at Irvington United Methodist Church, the woman who introduced her said that Carrie had been born in Elkhart but now lives “out in the woods” down in Bloomington. I knew that she made appearances in Indianapolis from time to time - most notably each year at the Spirit & Place Festival.

(As an aside, Spirit & Place is for sure the best festival of any kind that we have going on here in Indianapolis - take a look at their web site to see just how much there is to do with this festival during the first half of November each year.)

From looking at her schedule on her web site, though, it was always hard to tell just where she might be from - unlike a lot of artists referred to as local, she only pops up on the local radar from time to time, and her schedule is always full of appearances in cities all over the country. I was always under the impression that she had perhaps been born around here, but that she had long since called other environs home. This is not so, apparently - and so much the better. We need more thoughtful, liberal people like Carrie Newcomer around these parts.

Amy then informed me that Carrie was going to play a concert at the church on Saturday, August 4th. This was in enough time for me to ask off for that day, but I managed not to do that - and then got the day off anyway. So at a quarter after seven this evening, we set off - and I was hoping that there would be records on sale, because I’ve wanted to add some Carrie Newcomer records to my CD library, but have in the past quailed at the inflated prices Borders charges for them.

The concert was in the sanctuary, and there was a little table set up outside the sanctuary with - sure enough! - CDs and a new DVD. I picked up her most recent record, Regulars And Refugees, and was paying for it when someone off to my right took notice of Jackson and said what long, delicate little fingers he had. Turns out it was Carrie herself, oohing and aahing over our little kid.

There were something like fifty to one hundred people in attendance by the time she put on one of her guitars and started playing, and she was, in a word, amazing. If you haven’t heard any of her music, then you should know that Carrie Newcomer is a folk singer with a spiritual - though not precisely religious - bent. She was unaccompanied tonight, just herself and two acoustic guitars that she plays masterfully.

A righty, she was plucking with all five fingers of her right hand on most songs and dancing all along the fret board with her left - both in front of and behind the capos, three of which she had clipped to the headstock and two of which were attached to the fret board for almost all of the songs. Not that I’ve seen all the much in the way of live music, especially up close enough that I could really watch the guitar player’s hands (something I have been fascinated with since I started playing guitar myself), but I had never before seen someone use more than one capo at a time, and I had also never seen someone fret behind a capo.

Her voice is just as amazing as her guitar work - she has a voice like melted chocolate, incredible range, and remarkable tone and volume control. She’s also quite a bit more playful than I had previously thought - all of her songs that I had heard before had something of a serious tone, and the workshops and other things on her schedule led me to believe that she was one of those very serious musicians who was maybe a bit dark, a bit haunted by life. Again, not so. One of her songs opened with a bit about Jesus driving an El Camino (and then went on to say something about Jesus and Buddha pulling into a Starbucks), and another song was a sing-song sort of thing that rattled off all kinds of different names for groupings of animals - a parliament of owl, a murder of crow, that sort of thing.

She even got in one little political dig, when she was talking before one of the songs about how we as people sometimes waste time and resources on things that don’t really need doing, “like I-69.” She grinned mischievously and chuckled softly, but didn’t really get the laugh it looked like she had been hoping for. I missed the timing, only thinking after the fact that I should have given her a soft bit of clapping from where I sat near the back of the crowd. Probably there weren’t too many enviro-hippies in attendance tonight, but I was sitting there in a green t-shirt with the peace sign on it. Oh well...

After the show, I bought a second CD, her 2000 release called The Age Of Possibility. The link to her web site is up there at the top of this post, and you can also check out her record label at Rounder Records. (That record label is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Know anything about it, Jason?)

That’s pretty much all I have for now. August is clearly coming in like a lion here in the Blog-O-Rama. I wonder how long that will last...

Lunch At Petite Chou

Amy and I headed north this afternoon, so she could look for a summery dress sort of thing at Castleton Square - and we stopped for lunch in Broad Ripple. We parked on Westfield Boulevard and then stood on the sidewalk for a second, trying to decide between Bazbeaux and Petite Chou, which is a Patachou restaurant with a French twist.

I was feeling more like pizza and remembered being dissatisfied at the quality of food we got for the price we paid when we tried Patachou on the Park, the version of Patachou inside the new Simon building monstrosity downtown. However, we decided to check the chalkboard outside Petite Chou to see what today’s specials were. Their omelette of the day was filled with mushrooms, ham, pesto, and Gruyère cheese, and their soup special was tomato artichoke. That pretty much did it for me, and that was Amy’s preference, I think, before we even saw what the specials were.

I don’t know enough about interior design to be able to say anything really insightful about the décor, except to say that it felt quaint and rustic in a sort of precise, polished way. The cooks in the open-air kitchen were wearing berets, and the patio seating gave it the feeling of a place that very much wanted to evoke the spirit of a streetside café in Paris. I’ve never been to Paris, so don’t know if they got it right or not - but I suspect that if I ever were in Paris and were looking for a streetside café, something that looked like Petite Chou would work for me.

The service today was spotty - they were quick to seat us, but slow to do most everything else (though the entrées came out relatively quickly), and they forgot Amy’s iced tea. Amy just asked that it be taken off, which the server did - and then she brought the new check out, along with an unsolicited iced tea in a to-go cup for Amy. A nice touch.

Okay, now that I have that out of the way, we can get to the food - because I wanted to make sure that we ended on the right note; and the right note here is that the food is so good that it trumps everything else - and might make you want to go back for another meal the very same day.

Amy had the potato leek soup, which was sort of an odd color of green, owing undoubtedly to the use of the greener part of the leek (think regular old green onions, only grown up and much bigger) and the application of an immersion blender. Creamed just a touch, this soup had the flavors of potato and leek balanced in nearly perfect harmony. The garnish of chiffonade of basil was a fine complement. My tomato artichoke soup was also creamed just a touch, and had been subjected to the immersion blender, because actual pieces of artichoke were not to be seen. The flavors were, again, nearly perfectly harmonized, the bright taste of brined artichoke hearts working nicely against the dusky, smoky taste of what I suspect might have been roasted tomatoes. Underpinning the whole thing were slivers of parmesan cheese that had melted away to chewy perfection by the time the steaming cup was set before me.

For the main course, Amy had the goat cheese salad ($8.25), a terribly simple affair that was, nonetheless, most delightful - nothing but a bed of dark, leafy field greens dressed nicely in a sweet blackberry pear balsamic vinaigrette, topped with what the menu calls “warmed goat cheese croutes,” which is a fancy way of saying goat cheese melted over crusty little bits of bread that had been drizzled in olive oil, seasoned, and baked in the oven. Thanks to Amy’s lactose intolerance, she was only able to eat one and a half of the goat cheese croutes, which left the other one and a half for me. The cheese had softened the bread but left it a bit crunchy, and the flavors - yet again - came together perfectly, with the seasonings and the oil of the croute working nicely against the creamy, pungent taste of the very good goat cheese.

My omelette of the day ($8.95) - mushroom, ham, Gruyère, pesto - wasn’t quite up to the same quality as Amy’s salad, but was still pretty good. I was a little bit disappointed that the promised pesto seemed nearly nonexistent, and also a bit disappointed that this supposedly four-ingredient omelette turned out to be little more than a glorified ham bomb; but the diced ham was admirably smoky, and the mushrooms and Gruyère brought a nice, earthy counterpoint to the smokiness of the ham. The fresh fruit cup that came with it was chock full of blueberries, strawberries, apples, and oranges and was - for a guy who does not normally go in for cups of fresh fruit at meals - excellent. The blueberries, especially, were plump and tender and very ripe. Plus, they’re full of those popular antioxidants, those things that kill cancer and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and communism and all the rest of it. In fact, I’ve heard that if you eat enough blueberries in the vicinity of someone who has cancer - then you start to emanate a cancer-killing aura and can actually make that other person’s cancer go into remission. The other pleasant addition to my meal was the stack of brioche that came with it. Brioche is, apparently, a French word for huge stack of bread. Four thick slices of rich, slightly sweet bread that had been toasted, lightly buttered, and perhaps slipped through a cloud of cinnamon vapor on the way to the table - and it was the tallest thing on the plate.

There were a number other things on the menu - such as a chocolate ganache crêpe - that sounded so good that we almost entertained the notion of coming back for another meal later in the day - except that we had already planned to attend a Carrie Newcomer concert at Amy’s church (more on that in another posting). Suffice it to say that we will be back. The patio seating will be a great place to people watch when the weather isn’t set to broil and the leaves have started to turn.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Into The Blue Again - After The Money's Gone

For a wonder, no editorializing from me here, though the opportunities are certainly there. Just a brief click over to Reuters, for a quick story about a guy who has had some trouble getting a real estate project off the ground.

Seems this fellow, way back in the 1980s, was working on a development project and felt that he needed to cut through an Idaho creek to do so - to part the waters, if you will. A district court ordered him to stop, and the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday upheld that order, meaning that this guy will get eighteen months in prison for each of three convictions (by the district court) of violating the Clean Water Act.

Four and a half years in prison for parting the waters...and the guy’s name?

Charles Moses.

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