Monday, December 20, 2004

In Praise of History
I admit it, I'm a history fanatic. Give me a well-researched, well-written account of even the most obscure event in world history and I'm happy. Because of this, I'm a huge fan of the History Channel. While their programming is certainly not perfect (too many programs on the history of the Howitzer and such), it's still nevertheless television that never fails to teach me something I didn't know.

One of my favorite of their shows is Battlefield Detectives, a fascinating program that takes some battle (tonight, for instance, there were back-to-back episodes examining the Civil War battles of Antietem and Gettysburg) and explores issues such as how geography, soil conditions, and crowd behavior could have affected the outcome.

There's really no point to this, except to say that it's a good show that definitely deserves a bigger audience than American Idol.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Truth in Advertising
Have you seen those IBM commmercials where the guys are in Paris and look around and see things like "wireless internet" and "deals being closed?" Those always make me laugh. Having worked for IBM, I can say that behavior is exactly what IBM would like their ideal employee to do. Even if they weren't in Paris on business, the ideal IBM-er would sit in a sidewalk cafe and see, not history, art, beauty, or romance, but commerce, technology, and non-stop business. At last, truth in advertising. They're not kidding when they use the slogan "on-deman business," because when IBM demands it, you do business, dammit!

Friday, December 17, 2004

Fa la la la la
Here's my new favorite Christmas song!

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Protect Us From Dangerous Chess Players

Have you heard about this? Bobby Fischer, former US Chess Champion is in limbo in Japan because he's wanted in the US for violating international sanctions by visiting Yugoslavia in 1992 to play chess. His passport's been cancelled by the US, he's applied for citizenship in Germany (due to his German father) and has just been given asylum in Iceland. Don't we have bigger problems that trying to jail some guy who played chess over 10 years ago?

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The Plot Thickens...
Recently my beloved husband was, justifiably so, incredibly pleased with himself to have discovered the murderer early in the course of a murder mysery he was reading. Similarly, I was taken aback when watching a mystery movie to discover my prime suspect had, in fact, become victim number two.

What is it about mysteries that are so compelling? Is it as simple as the comfort derived from knowing that the bad guy will get caught and there will be justice? Certainly that's part of it. In today's world when everything seems overly complicated and justice often dictated by public opinion, there is a level of satisfaction in knowing that Hercule Poirot or Lord Peter Whimsey or whoever will solve the crime and the perpetrator will be punished.

And speaking of punishment, I am truly glad the Scott Peterson trial is over. I am, however, apalled at the people who aplauded when the death penalty was announced. Even more so when I saw a woman being interviewed by the local news about how glad she was he was going to die, and then driving off in her SUV with a pro-life sticker. Does anyone else see this as contradictory? If life is sacred to you, then all life should be sacred -- even the life of a conviced killer. And nobody's death, even someone who may have done evil things, should ever be a cause of rejoicing.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Man, Philadelphia is one tough town

Recently police in Philadelphia arrested and handcuffed a 10-year old girl for bringing a pair of scissors to school in her backpack. They have since apologized. Personally, I think they were right. How proud I am to live in a country where I am protected from children armed with arts-and-crafts supplies. Do you have any idea how dangerous glitter can be in the hands of someone determined to do harm?

Somewhere along the line, America has lost all common sense. OK, scary as it is, I understand that a few troubled kids may try to bring guns and knives to school with them. But a little girl with scissors? Please. What lack of judgement decides that this is an offense deserving of handcuffing and arrest? Take the scissors away, fine. Send her to the principal's office, not jail. Good lord, people, where are your brains? Laws against bringing weapons to school were meant to cover automatic rifles, not some poor kid innocently bringing in scissors with no intent to harm.

Perhaps it's just Philadelphia, a town so tough that they once infamously booed Santa Claus at a sporting event. A town where the previous football stadium had its own holding cell and courtroom. But I know it's not limited to the "city of brotherly love." All across the US people are overreacting. Grandmothers who can't bring knitting needles onto airplanes because they may decide to purl a flight attendant. (Personally, if you're so terrified of knitting needles that you'd rather give up control of the plane rather than be poked by one should pretty much prevent you from being a flight attendant in my book.)

It would all be hilarious if it weren't so terrifying. That hated class of people known as "spokespersons" are notorious for comments like "well, those are the rule and we can't make exceptions." To which I can only ask "why not?" Why not use a little common sense. Why not understand that there's a huge difference between trying to bring a stick of dynamite onto an airplane and someone trying to come on with a manicure set that includes cuticle scissors? And, above all, why not realize that we're more in danger by continuing to foster this climate of fear in which individual rights are trampled on than we ever can be by a 10-year old with office supplies?

Monday, December 13, 2004

It hurt me...but then I got better

What is it with publishers? Why is it the review quotes that they choose to put on the covers of books always make me want to throw the book across the room rather than part with $15 to buy the damned thing?

Today I went to the library (god bless libraries!) to get this month's book group selection (For Kings and Planets by Ethan Canin) and found this quote on the cover: "Shimmering...luminous...For Kings and Planets leaves you wounded and healed." This comment (from the NY Times) does not fill me with confidence.

I do not wish my books to wound me. I mean if they are going to wound me, it's very considerate of them to heal me as well, but I really don't want to be wounded, thanks all the same. I want my books to entertain me, make me laugh, make the think, take me away from my world and show me another world. But I do not want them to wound me.

I am, however, comforted by the fact that this book is hardly likely to wound me. I seem to be invulnerable to book reviews. I have yet to have my life affirmed by any book described as "life-affirming." Novels practically guaranteed to change me have yet to do more than make me nauseous. And anything that has the word "moving" in any of the chosen review quotes usually means, as far as I'm concerned, pretentious and dull.

For Kings and Planets has another quote that describes it as: "Masterful...a classic parable of the human condition."

Um...what exactly is the human condition? I've never been able to figure that out. Perhaps after reading this book and deciphering the parable I'll be able to understand what the human condition is, but truly I'm mystified. Various other novels have been touted as "touching on," "commenting on," "explaining," "challenging" and otherwise denting the ever-present human condition, and yet here I am, thousands of books later and still none the wiser about what this damned condition is. You'd think, as a human, that I should know this. In fact you'd think, as a human, it would be a requirement for membership in the homo sapien club. And yet here I sit, clueless about the human condition.

I think that's why I like animals so much. Animals rarely, if ever, have enough pretention to refer to an exploration of the "canine condition," or the "avian condition."

Plots, dammit, I want plots, not "a breathtaking commentary" on anything.

Why can't people write anymore?

Saturday, December 11, 2004

I do not want to be remodeled

What is with the current trend towards making over your friends? So-called "fashion experts" ambush poor innocent people because, according to their friends, they need help. If my friends tried to do that to me, I'd be pissed. Yes, I know I am not fashionable and guess what? I like it that way. I dress the way I do with malace aforethought -- because I prefer to be me and not some Nordstrom clone.

Houses too, are unsafe. A husband goes away for the weekend and comes home to find that his wife has brought in a team of decorators to turn their bedroom into an Arabian Nights retreat, or their living room into a "gracious entertainment space." I would never do something so drastic without my husband's input. Worse, they spring it on the poor guy on TV where he really cannot say "holy shit, this looks like crap," and must, instead, smile bravely while pretending that he's always wanted to sleep in a canopy bed.

I admit that I'd love to redo my house (well, buy a house and then have the freedom to redo it), but I would be incredibly upset if my husband snuck behind my back and turned our kitchen into a Tuscan bakery. No thanks.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Baby, it's cold outside...

OK, not Maine cold, but cold enough to remind this California native of her thin blood. For days now I've wandered around bundled up in layers and have begun a serious relationship with my hot water bottle. It's nicely atmospheric, though. There's something about the cold night air, fragrent with the scent of woodsmoke. The fugitive puff of air that I exhale. The coziness of soft gloves and a favorite scarf. It's a wonderful excuse for mugs of hot tea, rereading favorite books, and indulging in long, hot baths. With Christmas fast approaching, it also makes a nice accompaniement for the white twinkle lights that dot the neighborhood. But truthfully, I dread next month's heating bill.

Monday, November 15, 2004

I have nothing to say and I'm saying it
How is it possible that there are still books in my "to be read" pile and yet I can't find anything to read? Ever look at a book you bought years ago and still haven't cracked open and asked yourself "why did I buy this?" I have a few books like that for which I have no answer. Perhaps I should read them and find out what appealed to me in the first place.

I know the Republicans won the election, but do they have to be so damned smug about it? They're truly insufferable.

Why are old movies so much better than new ones? In part I believe it's because of character actors. We don't really have them anymore. Or sure, you might recognize the hotel clerk as the guy in the Mazda ad, but it's not the same as the stable of truly great and memorable character actors of the golden age of Hollywood. Thelma Ritter, Eric Blore, "Cuddles" Sakall, Mary Wickes...they made every seen they were in an interesting, frequently hilarious part of the overall film. Today so-called character actors get to be seen taking Tom Cruise's order in a restaurant scene and that's pretty much it. Back then the character actors were given life. Of course back then movies had scripts instead of just special effects and plots.

Lately my beloved has been playing lots of old jazz and blues vinyl. This makes me very happy. There's been some great music around our house recently.

You know the hardest thing about being unemployed and having to watch finances? It's not that I can't go crazy in's that I can't write large checks to every wonderful cause out there. I got used to that, now I have to not feel anything when I throw solicitation letters unopened into the recycle bag. It makes me very sad.

My husband is the greatest guy in the world. No debate.

Why did the people across the street start painting their house yesterday 20 minutes before the sun went down? Odd. People's behavior always fascinates me.

Monday, November 08, 2004

...the weather matches my mood. Gray. Cloudy. Overcast. It's that kind of day in my brain. Between 4 more years of Bush and my ongoing and, to date, fruitless search for a job, I must admit I'm not really in my happy place. Torn between my desire to make enough money to buy a house and my desire to save the world, I find I can't do either. Non-profits will only pay for Administrative Assistants (for which I'm overqualified) or Executive Directors (for which I'm underqualified). And in the business world, there's nothing going of any interest. Oh yeah, there are jobs, but one of the reasons why I quit IBM is because I was tired of working for just a paycheck. I need more. I need to feel like I'm doing something, not just taking up space. After having taken that stand, do I really want to go write tech manuals for a hardware company? Aside from the fact that the work and the industry (sorry geeks) sound deadly would be just another paycheck.

I want the impossible. I want to make a living as an artist. I want to be creative. I want to fight the forces of evil. And yes, dammit, I want a house!

So it's gray in my head. And outside.

Anyone want to hire a depressed writer?

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Damn, Damn, Damn!!!
Four more years of George Bush. I can't believe it. How stupid can America be? Apparently stupid enough to keep Bush in office for a second term. How in the name of sanity could anyone believe he's done a good enough job as President to be given four more years? An unjust war. Thousands of civilian and military casualties with no end in sight. A debt so large that it'll take generations to pay off. And yet he wins. I'm angry, confused, and just plain stunned. I guess every right-wing, SUV-driving, militaristic, Christian zealot in the US turned out to keep little Georgy in office. I'm furious and so very, very disappointed. I had hoped to wake up this morning in a new world, where humanity was valued, tolerance was preached, and sanity ruled. I was wrong.

Thanks to all the thousands of people who worked for the Kerry campaign. To all the people who made phone calls, staffed tables, went door-to-door, and gave up vacation time to visit swing states. Please know that your efforts are appreciated.

Truly, I could just cry.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Counting down...

Waiting for vacations is truly a painful process. Even for me, currently unemployed and loving every minute of it, the prospect of getting away, seeing new things and having adventures is almost too intoxicating to comprehend. A few days ago, my husband asked if I'd mind if we put our vacation off a week to give him more breathing room at work. "No problem," says I in one of my generous moods. And now it feels as if someone has put Christmas back a month. I can't wait. I find myself glancing at the maps lying innocently in a pile on the table and feeling that desperate sense of wanderlust come over me. I find myself doing laundry and thinking yes or no as each item makes the cut in my mental packing list. I'm spreading pre-trip errands out like some sort of shopping Advent calendar: today I get film, tomorrow I'll pick up batteries, on Thursday I should hit the library.

I feel like a little kid, stamping my foot and screaming "I wanna go now!!!" as I pass by the suitcase on my way to the exercise mat. And while I may be engaged in cleaning the kitchen or reviewing a CD, the truth is my brain is already on the road. It left last week and hasn't sent a postcard yet. I have no idea where it is, but it definately isn't here. I just hope I pass it on the road somewhere.

11 days to go...

Monday, September 27, 2004

Vote, dammit!

I was at a family gathering this weekend when the subject turned, dangerously enough, to politics. One of my brothers said he really doesn’t like Bush, but also doesn’t like Kerry that much…so he’s just not going to vote.

I wanted to scream.

Of all the possible decisions to make in this election, if you want Bush out of office, not voting is the worst thing to do. A non-vote is basically a vote for Bush.

There are only two people who stand a reasonable chance of winning this election (sorry Mr. Nader). So if you feel (as I do), that President Bush is a disastrous leader that has done serious damage to this country, then you must vote for Kerry…that’s the only way that Bush can lose.

Friday, September 24, 2004

The cats come back...

All of life’s rich pageant seems to get enacted in our backyard thanks to an ensemble cast of vagrant cats that pad endlessly through the property. At the moment, from the office window, I can see no fewer than three cats…none of which we own.

There’s the long grey stripy one stretched out in a patch of shade. The pale Siamese-ish one sleeping on the rail of the fence. And the brown one with the reddish hindquarters is curled up in an empty planter box.

At the moment, the cast seems to be resting between takes. Earlier this morning however, not a dry eye in the house could be found as the balcony scene from Romero and Juliet took place between a smitten kitten and a big orange Tom with a decidedly dusty air. With elocution worthy of a Victorian preacher, they delivered their lines so piercingly that they drowned out the Latin jazz I had playing on the stereo.

It all takes place out there. Love and death. Alliances and wars. The miracle of birth and the commonplace occurrence of cat poop on the lawn. We’ve had kittens and commandos fighting for supremacy of the most favored spots: under the lounge chair, on top of the fence, in the planter. We’ve had unwelcome midnight serenades that have kept us awake, and indignant mama cats have yelled us at when we’ve dared to water our own yard.

Conversation with our next-door-neighbor has led us to believe these strays are all fed by the neighbor next to them. Neighbors who do not, apparently, believe in spaying or neutering cats. We’ve had at least two and possibly as many as 4 litters of kittens in our yard looking untouchably adorable and causing us much worry. (Two animal lovers who can do nothing to protect little kittens wandering around next to a very busy street…very stressful).

My husband and I would love to have a pet, but we can’t. So until we have our own place, we live with the ironic fact that our yard has the pets we are not allowed to own. And, if nothing else, it keeps things interesting.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Thank you BBC America

Last night after watching the very funny comedy My Family, on BBC America, my husband turned to me and asked “why are the British so much better at television than we are?”

I think it’s because we have too much TV. The British don’t have 147 channels to choose from, so the availability of airtime is limited. I think, therefore, there’s a higher level of quality because in order for a program to fit into one of the few spots on TV, it has to be good.

In America television, like most other things in American culture, quality takes a back seat to quantity. If there are 100 plus networks trying to fill the airwaves 24-hours a day, you’re going to get a lot of crap. After all, the can only show so many reruns of I Dream of Jeannie and Different Strokes. So it seems that any lame idea has its chance at getting on the air, if only to do nothing much than to kill time.

It goes hand-in-hand with that odd assemblage of American society that seems to demand their 15-minutes of fame. Like the instant so-called “celebrities” that are created out of tabloid mini-dramas, bad television arises, captures attention like a fat woman in too-tight neon green Capri pants, and then disappears (one hopes) as quickly as they came.

And so since it’s all about filling time rather than being good, you find that television is crammed with programs featuring celebrities playing poker, talk shows hosted by has beens that you can’t remember, freakishly strong Norwegian men pulling semis with their teeth, and shows that teach you how to redo your bathroom for under $50 and using materials scrounged from garage sale leftovers.

But the English, bless them, still like good acting and intelligent scripts. Oh sure, they have their share of crap too, but even their crap has a brain.

So bravo for BBC America. For My Family, The Office, As Time Goes By, and all those yummy mysteries. And thank you for a job well done.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

I hate IBM

I think most people have an unwritten list in their heads of things they know they do no want to do, try, or eat. For instance, my list includes: I never want to spend time in a Cambodian prison, I never want to meet a Klan member, and I never want to have a bikini wax. Also on my list…I never want to work for IBM.

Once again, Kafka is my personal guardian angel and the company for which I worked was acquired by the very corporation I used to hold up as the example of all that is evil and wrong about huge megapocalyptic companies.

The fact that I lasted an entire year still seems amazing. Now that I am out, I cannot believe I survived that long. Of course, it wasn’t without cost. I was miserable every day for that entire year. The toxic environment (and no, I don’t mean asbestos ceilings and acid water…I mean an atmosphere of stress and conformity) was so bad that I (like others) began to exhibit physical symptoms (migraines, back aches, etc.) I hated the lack of creativity, the endless pointless rules, the constant demands to comply with this standard and conform to that.

IBM is no place for a creative, freethinking, rule-breaker like I. And I’m damned glad to be out.

So here’s some career advice. If you want to stay sane, have fun, be different, and try new things…don’t work for IBM.

Hmm…maybe I have spent time in a Cambodian prison…

Friday, September 17, 2004

A few of my favorite things...

The music of Django Reinhardt. The movies of Katharine Hepburn, Gene Kelly, Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, and Jimmy Stewart. Chocolate chip cookies warm from the oven. Hot baths. The unconditional love and endless enthusiasm of dogs. Chinese food. Red wine. Traveling. Taking pictures. Being with my friends. Reading a good book. Lazy weekends with my beloved. The ocean. Lying on a warm beach. Classic British mysteries. Hawaii. The smell of leather. Making people laugh. Writing. Dinner parties. Lake Tahoe. Convertibles. Louis Armstrong. Sourdough French bread. Cheese. Museums, aquariums, and zoos. History. Faded jeans. Buying presents. Book stores. British comedies. NOT WORKING FOR IBM!

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Still want to be an astronaut? How do you do it?

Somewhere there must be a cosmic recycle bin for discarded dreams. The worn, the tired, the hopeless – they all cast their plans for writing the great American novel or climbing Kilimanjaro into this receptacle where they are turned into fresh dreams for the young and the indestructible.

How about you. What are your dreams? What do you want? What have you already given up on? What are you holding on to?

I’m at one of those annoying crossroads that seem to afflict people of a creative mind. You must know them. Do I resign myself to being broke but live happily pursing my dream as a writer, or do I forsake the dream and get another job so that I can someday maybe even buy a house?

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone’s dreams came true? If we lived in a world filled with cowboys and ballerinas? OK, annoying, but a warm fuzzy “what if” all the same. I was going to save the world. I was going to win an Academy Award for Best Actress. I was going to be a photographer for National Geographic and go around the world taking pictures and writing stories. I was going to be a novelist. I was going to….well, you get the idea.

But somewhere along the way, we all give up. It’s tragic, really. I mean I’m not really a coward, but practicality does rear its ugly head and make you realize that as a responsible individual you have rent to pay that can’t wait until the world beats a path to your door and hands you the Nobel Prize for Literature.

It would help if the universe were cooperative. I’m not asking for a golden carpet, but fewer roadblocks would be nice. I mean it’s hard to stay focused on that last dream when your health insurance won’t pay for your physical therapy or you suddenly need to pay for car repairs that couldn’t come at a worse time.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

This is the best blog ever!!!

Thanks to the over-zealousness of the American advertising industry, words no longer mean anything. If a chewing gum can be referred to as “extreme,” you know that the vocabulary has changed.

Everything has become a superlative. And when everything is amazing – everything becomes exactly the same.

It’s carried over into the rest of the culture as well. Marketing has become such a force of cultural change that it has completely altered our perception of what things mean. “Superstar,” for instance. Can someone actually be called a superstar when 4 out of 5 people have never heard of that person? Talk about a loose definition. Some 19-year old silicon airhead makes one movie or appears on one Fox TV show and suddenly they’re a superstar.

It’s such a modern term, too. In the golden age of Hollywood, Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant weren’t called “superstars.” “Stars,” yes. But super? No, that came later. Which is ironic, because Katharine Hepburn actually deserved to be called a superstar. Alyssa Milano does not.

When exactly did everything become overdone? When did words like “ultimate,” and “amazing,” become so commonplace as to be rendered meaningless? The other day at the grocery store I heard a child refer to a breakfast cereal as “supreme.” Supreme? It’s processed corn with sugar and food coloring and it’s worthy of being called “supreme?”

It used to be that modesty, both personal and commercial, was a virtue. When someone complimented you on a job well done you were expected to smile deprecatingly and make some comment about how much help you’d received from the other guys. Today people don’t wait to be complimented, they point out their own accomplishments and demand all the glory.

A while back I came across some issues of Time Magazine from the 1930’s and in looking at the advertisements I was struck at how humble they were. Products were described as “good-tasting,” and “durable,” not “the best,” and the dreaded “extreme.”

Which just goes to prove, once again, that I was born in the wrong century.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Video, video

On Fridays it is crucial to get to the video store early. After 5, when people get off work, the lines snake through the store and all the new releases are gone – except for those that no one wants to see. Anything that looked marginally interesting in an ad, one of those “yeah, I’d rent that” films…they’re gone by 2. After that, you’re only in luck if you like Adam Sandler flicks or movies with 5, 6, or 7 in the title. It’s amazing the dreck that gets left behind in the wake of hoards of weekend movie-renters. All those early Jackie Chan films that they re-released, those can usually be found. Films featuring huge mutant mollusks are also usually available. Anything that stars a rodent. But the good stuff? Forget it.

I believe you can gauge a star’s status by whether or not you can find their films after 5 pm on a Friday night. There will be no Brat Pitt, Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Johnny Depp, Halle Berry, or Tom Cruise. There will, however, be an abundance of Angelina Jolie, Kevin Costner, Meg Ryan, Jodie Foster, or anyone who ever starred on Friends or Saturday Night Live.

Then there are the surprises. Why would both copies of Mrs. Miniver be rented at the same time? How is it that the complete Godfather trilogy is still sitting on the shelf? Why does my local video bother to stock no less that 4 copies of Brigadoon? These are epic questions. Philosophy-level. Surely they reflect somehow on the condition of modern man. Don’t they?

Why is Finding Nemo always on the monitor, and how sick of it is the staff of the store? Will it have a deleterious affect upon them? Ten years from now, will they sue for mental anguish because they can still quote entire passages of dialogue? Will it cause them to never want to reproduce?

And what is with the mystical filing system. I have a dim suspicion that the categorization of films was adapted from the system used in the Great Alexandrian Library (one of the ten wonders of the ancient world, you know.) For only the oracle at Delphi could understand how things are shelved. The Great Escape, for instance, is not in Drama. It’s not in Action/Adventure. It’s not in Classics. It’s in “Award Winners” because, as we all know, it won an Academy Award for Cinematography. Yes, of course, how silly of me. Singing in the Rain. Musical? Nope. Classics? Nope. Family Favorites of course, you dope. Ah, well then how about a few Hitchcock movies. Well, Rear Window is in Classics. Vertigo is in Mystery/Suspense. And The Man Who Knew Too Much is….yes….you guessed it, in Drama. I half suspect I’ll find The Birds filed under Documentary.

Monday, September 13, 2004

In praise of favorite books

Recently I’ve found my entire life put on hold while I read, for the 5th or 6th time, books by one of my favorite authors. Books, like food, go in cycles with me. I’ll munch on toast at odd hours of the day for a month and then, for no reason at all, I’ll stop craving toast and start longing for apples. It’s the same with books. For weeks on end I’ll pick up one Jane Austin after another until I get enough and move on to someone else.

I’m currently in a Dorothy L. Sayers phase. If you haven’t read her, please do. She’s one of the great stars of British detective fiction. But don’t get all snobby about dead Lords in libraries and maiden lady detectives. Sayers was a scholar, one of the first generation of women to get a university education in Britain (Sommerville College, Oxford). Her novels are not only interesting mysteries, they are also well written, highly literate books. I especially love the ones involving her detective Lord Peter Wimsey and his eventual wife, the wonderful Harriet Vane. Please do read one or two (start with Strong Poison, for the first of the Harriet Vane books).

But what never ceases to amaze me is the pleasure I can receive from a book that I’ve read multiple times. There’s something so reassuringly delightful about letting a book fall open to its favorite place, running your eye along passages that you’ve all but memorized and savoring once again a special scene or memorable bit of dialogue.

For a cynical atheist like I, a favorite old book is one of life’s blessings.

Friday, September 10, 2004

California, love it or leave it.

I want a house. I want one so badly that I very uncharitably envy all of my friends who have houses of their own. I want walls that aren’t white, a garden that I can control and, above all, I want a pet.

But I can’t have a house because I live in the San Francisco Bay Area where your basic 1950's tract home costs over a half a million.

So you’re probably thinking to yourself, well move then. Here’s the deal. I’m actually a native of this area. That’s right, born and raised. And, truth be told, I don’t want to leave. I love it here. More than that, all the people that I love (with the exception of a few folks on the east coast) live here as well.

But everyone wants to come here. They leave Ohio or Maine or Georgia and head to California where the weather is lovely, the high-tech industry still (more or less) reigns supreme, and where houses cost a ridiculous amount of money.

My complaint is this. Because everyone moves here and has pushed the price of houses way out of my reach, I’m naturally a bit resentful. And what makes it worse…is when people who aren’t from here, complain about it.

“Oh, it’s so expensive out here!” They exclaim. No kidding…you want cheap? Go back to Idaho.

“I miss the seasons. California doesn’t have real seasons.” Aw, I’m sorry you miss watching the leaves change color…you know, you could move back to Connecticut and watch the leave change to your heart's content.

“It’s so crowded.” You know, you’re right…it is crowded. Why don’t you free up some space by returning to New Jersey – I think they miss you there.

Now I have a great many friends (and a wonderful husband) who are themselves transplants. And of course, since this is my world, they can stay…but if you’re going to move out here, cause traffic, inflate house prices and compete with me for jobs, at least have the decency to stop insulting my home.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Why an SUV?

Does anybody really know why people would buy an SUV? Do they people who buy them really know why they are purchasing such an unhelpfully large vehicle?

I can understand them for people who really do have the SUV-commercial lifestyle. Rock climbing in Yosemite. Skiing in the Sierras. Rafting down the…uh…big wet thing. But it’s odd. I actually do know people like that and they have pickup trucks. Not even the big-ass, hay-hauling kind either. Just a Toyota big enough to throw a tent and some rope into.

So why the SUVs? Please don’t give me the “I’ve got a bad back,” argument. I’ve heard that one. Guess what? I have a bad back. I just got through two rounds of physical therapy for it and not once did my therapist recommend I shell out an obscene amount of money to purchase a monster larger than my garage.

And don’t say, “We’ve got kids.” My folks had 5 kids and managed just fine with a station wagon.

So what’s the point? Why do people actually want something that gets 15 mpg when gas is over $2 a gallon? Why will people voluntarily drive something that is nearly impossible to park? (Note: You know those parking spaces labeled “compact car only?” THAT MEANS YOU, IDIOT. If you’re not in a small car, go park in one of those spaces at the other end of the lot. And don’t complain about having to walk – it’s good training for all those camping trips you must be taking because you have an SUV.)

People are spoiled. And car companies (hell, every company in the world) panders to that. Now I’m not going to get all “in my day” over you, but I do recall doing just fine growing up in a station wagon that did not have cup holders, 5-disc CD changers, a DVD player, individual climate control, or any of the other conspicuous options that people feel they need. And tell me, what’s the point of having kids if you won’t even talk to them while they’re in the damned car with you. Road trips were not meant for the kids to be watching Shrek in the back while mom and dad talk to each other – they’re supposed to be about family bonding. Remember the stupid license plate game from your own childhood? Teach it to your kid. Sing silly songs. Count cows. Yeah, there are boring stretches filled with “are we there yet?” But they are more than made up for by the fact that you will actually be interacting with your children, not just keeping them busy.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

The Cheshire Mac

Computers are kind of like cats: they think they are smarter than you are.

Both the computer and the cat are wrong. They are not smarter than you are -- they are merely better at getting what they want than you are.

Consider the cat. A cat will blithely ignore you for most of your existence and then decide that it would like its ears scratched please and would you be quick about it. So, unlike a person who would like some affection, a cat does not make subtle conversation, laden with hopeful overtones and oblique hints too vague to be picked up by anybody other than Kreskin. No, a cat simply pours itself into you lap -- regardless of what you are doing -- and demands to be petted.

Now consider the computer. You are minding your own business, happily working away at a machine you once had to be convinced wouldn’t electrocute you. Then, you quite innocently do something that offends its delicate sensibilities. Now suppose you had similarly offended a person. A human would perhaps withdraw quietly, maybe with a little pouting for good measure, and save up the minor grievance (which would subsequently be heaped upon by other minor grievances) to be brought out and thrown into the offender’s face at a later date. However, a computer demands instant retribution. It beeps (or boings or hisses) at you insistently until you apologize for your transgressions by immediately fixing whatever was wrong. Silence is your only reward for jumping to its beck and call.

You see, in both instances, we the people like to think of ourselves as the master -- and in both instances, we are sorely mistaken.

Join me
I have just volunteered to visit swing states for the Kerry campaign in the hopes of doing something to get George Bush out of office. Please join me. This is not the time to sit back and wring your hands while you bitch about the state of the world. This is the time to do something. Help register people to vote. Volunteer to call people. Sign up to go door to door. Host a house party to raise money. Do something, anything to get involved. Just make sure that if the unthinkable does happen and Bush gets reelected, you don't end up kicking yourself for not doing more.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

All the news that fits

I have grown weary of the news. Mostly because we seem to be missing so much of it. Taking William Randolph Hearst as their patron saint, modern American news outlets have decided that telling us what they want us to know is more important than telling us what we need to know.

The worst crime of all, in my opinion, is the way the media decides there is one “it” story and that story will, above even wars and natural disasters, always have a place of prominence. Even when it’s no longer news.

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area the “it” story is the trial of Scott Peterson. And most of the coverage doesn’t even qualify as journalism, let alone “news.”

Let’s remove the personalities and look at this strictly as a crime. A woman disappears; that’s news. Her body is found; that’s news. Her husband is arrested; that’s also news. And when a verdict is reached, ok, that qualifies as news. However, taking up 5 minutes of a 30-minute local news broadcast with “interviews” with legal “experts” getting their opinions on the day’s testimony and what it means for the case is not news.

An interview with someone who went to high school with a murder victim is not news, and yet the media wants us to believe it is. Somewhere along the line, “opinion” became “news” and now it’s impossible to watch pretty much any television news without being told what might happen, what could happen, and what might happen if what could happen happens. (Follow all that?)

It’s not like these people have to struggle to fill up their news broadcasts, is it? The world is most obligingly supplying us all with non-stop material in the form of wars, genocide, terrorist attacks, crime, poverty, and other forms of mayhem. As if that weren’t enough, Mother Nature is kindly bestowing upon us hurricanes, locust invasions, droughts, and more. And yet there always seems to be room for the “it” story.

The problem is, that to make for the “it” story, the networks deny us full and impartial coverage of the aforementioned wars, genocides, droughts, etc. Ah…but who cares what happens in Africa as long as we can all get through the day secure in the knowledge that our media has qualified us to have an opinion about the behavior of Scott Peterson’s girlfriend.

Friday, September 03, 2004

I am not cool enough for the Bill Evans Trio. I have never visited a
nightclub wearing pearls and gloves. I do not like martinis, or other drinks
defined as "cocktails". I do not smoke. I have never sat in a below-street
club with blue spotlights and a coat-check girl. I have never held hands
across a small round table

There are some recordings that evoke an inescapable sense of emotion.
Mozart's Requiem, for instance, must cloak you in nostalgic melancholy. Some
create a sense of time -- "Eve of Destruction", for instance, will always be
the Vietnam War. But "Something for Debby" creates a sense of place. It can
only be New York. Specifically the New York of black before it was a fashion
statement, ever-honking taxi horns, steam rising from underground grates,
waiters in white coats, and women in red lipstick.

I am not cool enough for the Bill Evans Trio. But I "get" it in a way that I
hadn't ever really listend to jazz before. Perhaps because the multiple
tracks beg for repeated listening and comparison. Why is one version of a
song 15 seconds longer than another? How do three separate instruments
happen to sound so harmonious and yet so distinct? And why have I never
heard this music before?

This is jazz in a way that invites you in for a drink. So my assertion that
I'm not cool enough doesn't stem from the music's treatment of me -- rather
my assessment of the music. The quirky, beautiful, perfectly matched sound
is like something I want to be when I grow up. Unlike jazz that slaps you
with its uniqueness...and reminds you that you will never be a part of it;
this invites you to the party. It's your own fault if you lean against the
wall and feel only slightly like an imposter.

I want to belong to this music. I want to be one of those people
clapping in the background. I want to like drinks with olives in them, and
to close my eyes when the bass gets going. This music should accompany the
perfect romantic dinner at home. It's made to be listened to, closely, but
it won't be offended if it becomes a backdrop for conversation.

This is music to play on the stereo when you take your dream car for its
first ride. Music to cook to, before breaking into a spontaneous waltz in
the kitchen. Music to take you to New York, put you into that smoke-filled
club, and hold your hand across that small, round table.

There's only one problem with this music. I'm not cool enough.
For Fo, with love.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

White Chicks Can't Dance
While watching the closing ceremonies for the Olympics it occurred to me, not for the first time, that I have no culture.

I’m not talking about Chopin-listening, poetry-reading culture, I’m talking ethnic identity culture.

Like many Americans, I’m a mutt. I’m a little French, a bit of Scots, a tiny bit of Irish, maybe even a pinch of Native American. But I’ve never identified with any of those cultures, and so I have no cultural identity. I’m a white chick, and we have no history.

I envy my friends who have tradition. The Passover Seder. The Cinco de Mayo festival. Chinese New Year. I have no childhood foundation of traditional foods (unless you count Thanksgiving), traditional dances (I shall glaze over the years my parents took Disco lessons at the local Rec center), or traditional forms of dress.

I only speak English, much to my embarrassment. I cannot share with others a heritage of music and feasts. And, in spite of being raised Catholic, I don’t have any real holiday feelings – although I do love both the giving and receiving of gifts at Christmas. Especially the receiving bits.

There is something missing in my life, but it’s a gap that I find I am powerless to fill. I’m just not the kind of person who can adopt other people’s traditions just because I want to. It would just feel false, which is not what I’m looking for.

I just wish I had more of a culture. Oh sure, as an American, I can point proudly to jazz and the blues….but little else has arisen that can be called “American,” and that fills me with any sense of belonging. And even those, while among some of my favorite forms of music, hardly compare with what my more culturally rich friends have to offer. When was the last time you saw an ad for “The Annual White Chick Festival?” (And no, Lillith Fair doesn’t count.)

When I’m surrounded by Greek Festivals, Carnival parades, Cherry Blossom festivals, and the other glories of the wonderfully multi-cultural San Francisco Bay Area I must confess to feeling woefully inadequate in the heritage department.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Flip Flop Flap
What am I missing here? The Republicans keep bashing Kerry because he "flip flops." Oh dear. That's dangerous. What we really need is someone who forms an opinion and never lets go of that opinion even when the facts prove that the opinion is wrong. Yes, we can't have someone in office whose mind is open to change, who re-evaluates a situation based upon new evidence, can we? That would be suicidal.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Down with Reality! (TV)
Recently I spent a great deal of time watching NBC’s coverage of the Olympics. It was the most time I’d spent watching network television since the last Olympics. Frankly, I hate the quality of American television, and the ads I saw in-between sports did nothing to alter my opinion.

Whatever happened to scripts? What happened to good writing, actors who get hired for their talent rather than their hair, and plots? What’s so wrong with a good plot?

And what exactly is the appeal of so-called “reality TV?” Tell me, whose reality involves being given a million dollars to live in a mansion with 50 supermodels? My reality isn’t like that.

Real reality TV would be extremely boring. One hour of watching someone grocery shop. A house full of a family doing homework and cooking dinner. That’s reality. Reality has nothing to do with eating maggots, getting engaged to a total stranger, or working for Donald Trump.

When I watch TV, I want to either be entertained or informed. Preferably both. And I see no entertainment value in reality TV. I wouldn’t want to meet these people, so why would I waste an hour of my life watching them on television? And why would I go out of my way to see obnoxious self-absorbed losers when there are so many that I can actually interact with in real life?

I want comedy that makes me laugh because the scripts and the situations are funny, not something that is billed as a comedy simply because it has a laugh-track and a lot of jokes about obnoxious kids. And I want dramas that believe there’s more to life than car-chases and emergency room scenes. I never want to hear the word “stat” again.

I have a brain. I like to use it. I presume others are also quite fond of their brains, and yet American television seems to feel otherwise. Oh sure, there are pockets of intelligent entertainment, thank god for cable, but mainstream television, frankly, sucks.

Personally, I think it’s all part of the downward spiral of American culture. Fat selfish people raising fat selfish children on a steady diet of McDonalds, SUVs, and television programs that teach people that you will be rewarded for lying and backstabbing. Wonderful. Great lessons for our kids, don’t you think.

In an era when the word “hero” has come to mean someone who gets paid $15 million to play basketball it’s no wonder that so much of our entertainment seems to be about money, sudden fame, and the rewards that come from being selfish.

Monday, August 30, 2004

And so I rear my head once more...
I've been silent for far too long, I know, but I'm back. I needed to be isolated for a bit, figure out what I want to be when I grow up. Ever get that way? Like a sick animal that just wants to curl up in a cave by himself. That was me, broke and freaking out about it, trying to get the taste of that awful place out of my soul and wondering what the heck to do next.

So, on to today's thought...

I am a fashion conscientious objector (as opposed to victim), and as such, I’m proud to say that I just don’t get it. I simply do not understand how women can pay thousands of dollars for the privilege of torturing themselves with uncomfortable articles of clothing and footwear that will be out of style in a year. I fail to see the attraction of it all. And, personally, I just cannot believe that I will be mesmerizingly more attractive to the opposite sex if I wear shoes that I cannot walk in, jeans that I cannot breathe in, and sweaters that cost more than a month’s salary.

Nor do I understand the creative rationale behind fashion ads. Why do photographers insist on putting models into situations where the clothing they wear cost more than the entire building? Are derelict warehouses that conjure up the remembered scent of old urine and fresh vomit the natural landscape for hand-tooled Italian leather boots and English cashmere sweaters?

Do $300 dollar bathing suits get shown to better advantage against a graffiti-littered brick alleyway as opposed to, oh say, a beach perhaps?

Don’t they realize that the kinds of individuals who typically haunt these decrepit locales are highly unlikely to have platinum American Express cards – and the kinds of individuals who can easily drop $1000 on a blouse or a pair of shoes rarely find themselves surrounded by rusted chain-link fences, weed-spattered parking lots, and broken concrete?

Perhaps that’s what the “victim” in the phrase “fashion victim” means. Someone who, if they appeared wearing that clothing in that setting, would become a victim. A statistic. A “hey, I’m wearing more on my ass that you own in your whole life, so why not come over and rob me” kind of victim.

It just doesn’t make sense. Oh sure, a few marketeers actually put their models in the appropriate setting. Perfectly air-brushed androids posed majestically against one Hampton or another. Lounging languidly on a yacht. Sipping something frosty on a sun-dappled terrace in the south of someplace.

But all too frequently fashion ads resemble nothing more than crime scene photos, minus the chalk outline. Looking variously bored or miserable, anorexic mutant babes lean poutily against a scarred brick wall. Strong-jawed men, like show dogs, slouch into a chair with ripped upholstery in a tawdry motel room with an acid neon glow. Pseudo lesbian melodramas enacted with a freaky tableau vivant flair in empty and cracked swimming pools.

Like the hidden morality in 17th century Dutch still-life paintings, this emphasis on so-called beauty in the midst of decay seems to serve as a twisted commentary on life. But whereas the Dutch saw the presence of a rotting peach as a reminder of the fleetingness of beauty and the importance of a moral life – here the condemned warehouse seems to say “hey, life is short so you might as well blow an obscene amount of money on killer boots.”

In addition, it adds a touch of class to poverty that further removes the conspicuously conspicuous consumer from the homeless, the hopeless, and the just plain poor. After all, how bad can it be to live in a deserted garage if it’s good enough for Ralph Lauren? And how easy to walk by some hairy, cart-pushing bum when he’s walking past a building that could, at any moment, be filled with well-built, oiled-up young studs in $50 boxer shorts?

Nope, I just don’t get it. And I’m damned glad about that.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004


Well my deep and abiding loathing of "Soul-Sucking Software," finally reached the breaking point and I have quit. And no, I have nothing else lined up. Scared? You bet I am. Happy? Beyond words. I am so glad to be getting out of this megapocalyptic hell and back into the real world. And I cannot wait to see where I end up.

Wherever I end up, though, it will be due in no small part to the love, support, and help of my beloved husband. He is amazing. He's dragged me kicking and screaming through creating a resume and applying for a job. He's reminded me that I've made the right call...and tells me he's proud of me for choosing principles over paychecks. And he loves me. How in the world did I get so lucky?

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Music Hath Charms
But not when you're in a musically ambivalent mood. Do I want to listen to Chopin or Louis Armstrong? Garth Brooks or Khadja Nin? Salsa, Celtic, Afro-pop, or Japanese pop? Usually I love having a large music it's driving me crazy because I can't settle on one thing. Music is the one thing that helps me stay sane at work (well, music and my team), but today I'm in a state of confusion anyway, so it's carrying over into my musical choices. In the past hour I've listened to Henri Dikongue (from Cameroon by way of Switzerland), Caetano Veloso (too smooth for my busy mind), Dwight Yokam (nothing like a little shit-kicker music to jump start the brain), and Mozart. And so far....nothing is working.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

A New Year...
...has begun, and I'm still unsure of what I want to be when I grow up. I just know it's not what I am now. I still want to save the world, but I don't know how. And oh my have I become used to having disposible income. I love being able to take vacations, to buy CDs, to go out to lunch with my friends...and I'm just selfish enough to want to keep that. I'm a bad person, sometimes, but aren't we all?

So, do you make New Year's resolutions? I've decided my mantra this year is going to be "Lighten the fuck up." I had all these serious thoughts about changing my world, my attitude, my life...and realized that most of them can be accomplished by not being so serious. I need more "water off a duck's back," and less "focus on the details." We'll see if I can carry this through. So...what do you want to do with your year?