Monday, March 30, 2009

The Quick and the Slightly Miffed

I saw an advertisement for an upcoming movie about fast cars, street racing, and Vin Diesel. It's called "The Fast and the Furious". Haven't I... seen this movie before? I don't mean that in a ironic way, playing on the fact that there were two sequels to "The Fast and the Furious" that were basically the same movie. I'm being honest: haven't they already released "The Fast and the Furious" back when I was in Columbia?

Turns out I'm wrong. Sort of.

In 2001, they did release a movie called "The Fast and the Furious" with Vin Diesel. Then came two sequels. The second entry was called "2 Fast 2 Furious". It was movie number 2, in case you missed it. The working title for that movie was "The Fast and the Furious 2". The third movie of the "quadrilogy" (if said films can be called that) was "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift". No numbers whatsoever? The working title for this film was "The Fast and the Furious 3".

Now, in 2009 comes the next entry, which has the four main lead actors from the first movie. This new film is called "Fast and Furious". I can't think of another film (or the title of anything, really) that produced a sequential product and titled it by simply removing the definite articles. Imagine if "The Lord of the Rings" went "The Fellowship of the Ring", "2 Towers 2 Many", and "Fellowship of Ring". Perhaps it would have attracted a different audience.

This probably plays havoc in countries that have integrated definite articles or lack the proclivity English has for making nouns into verbs and vice versa (see the verb "to gift" or the noun "a happiness"). And behold: in Brazil, the original movie was released as "Velozes E Furiosos", which uses nouns and translates as "The Fast and the Furious". The new "Fast and Furious" is being released in Brazil as "Velozes E Furiosos 4", as you might expect. But in Portugal (where they also speak Portuguese), the new film is being released as "Velozes & Furiosos", with no number and the '&.' That's because in Portugal, the original movie was released as "Velocidade Furiosa", which basically translates as "Fast and Furious". Confused?

I think they missed a big teaching opportunity in the title of this, their fourth movie. They should have called it "Where4 Fast, Where4 Furious?" Vin Diesel plays Allegriano, a tough-talking Shakespearean actor about to play Hamlet. Paul Walker (the other lead) plays Presstissiventi, his streetwise driver with a passion for literature. They have to tear through the city in cars to make it to a festival, and by the end they realize that Allegriano can drive pretty well and Presstissiventi plays a good Polonious. Turns out the guy playing "Osric" is not only the leader of the rival street racing gang, he's the understudy for Hamlet, and it's HIM whose been trying to thwart Allegriano's arrival at the festival. But he dies impaled on a poisoned sword, which is called culture.

See, this stuff just writes itself!
.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

En anglès, por favor

So the local Best Buy has a department of musical instruments now. They've had keyboards for years, which makes sense because they're electronic. Now they've not only branched into electric guitars and amps, but acoustic guitars and drum sets.

In the local store, the music instruments are now in what used to be the car audio department. I'm not sure where all that stuff went, especially because the big-screen TV department is now approximately 40% larger. Maybe there are fewer refrigerators and vacuum cleaners. Those aren't very "sexy", from a retailers point of view.

This Best Buy is also largely bilingual. All of the department tags are mirrored in Spanish and there are probably some Spanish-speaking employees sprinkled around.

It made me laugh, though. Right below "Musical Instruments" is "Instrumentos musicales" (my spelling may be off). For the most part, Spanish and English are separate languages, but they converge in places that allows even non-speakers to get a pretty good idea what's happening.

I suppose this is my first taste of places with secondary language labeling, something that occurs throughout Europe, in Quebec, and (I would assume) the southern United States. With the similarities between Spanish and English, there are bound to be some redundancies. I don't feel that this is a bad thing; the labeling should apply to everything equally.

I just found it funny that if Best Buy had decided to use ONLY the Spanish, above a room filled with musical instruments, I would have known exactly what the sign said. My Spanish is absolutely terrible. I call it "Sesame Street" Spanish, but I don't even remember all the words used on the show. In the Best Buy, I would have assumed that it was a stylistic choice to give the instruments an "exotic" flavor.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

"It will be fun."

I have some attached friends who do happen to fit into the matchmaking stereotype. They're not overly anxious to package their single friends off to someone else, but occasionally they do look at me with thoughtful pursed lips thinking how fun double-dating would be if they could find a fourth. Thankfully, I've managed to stay away from having friends recommend too many prospective dates. It's bound to be odd, setting up friends with other friends; they've just set themselves up as the middle-men (or women).

My friend (let's call her Alex) is one such attached person. And she's made a ... perhaps "project" is too strong a word. She sent me a link earlier this week from the "woman" section of Yahoo. No, I didn't realize there was one, either. Apparently it's called "Shine", and if it's not specifically indicated to be for women, there are an awful lot of pink fonts and pictures of shoes.

Alex sent me this link, on Four Things Guys Notice About Women, and wanted to know what I thought. I'm not sure if there's a trick here I'm missing; I almost expect to start receiving relationship spam, as though answering obligates me to hearing about the local single bars. That basically happens anyway when I read "The Pitch". ["The Pitch" is the free local counter-culture paper in Kansas City, from Village Voice publishing; very similar to another VV publication in St. Louis, "The Riverfront Times".]

I assume that whomever writes these articles is being paid, which seems like an awesome job. Put together a small pile of anecdotal information, place it under a snappy headline emphasizing a number and both sexes ("Seven Things Women Don't Know About Men's Feelings"), and get paid.

Really, I'm just bitter that no one's paying me to write things like that. I do it for the sheer narcissism. On a completely unrelated note, let talk about me!

I have a sneaking suspicion Alex sent me this because she thinks I don't ACTUALLY think anything about the women I have dinner with, and she's trying to prompt me. "Other guys think about these things; you should, too!" In truth, I (like many people) can't stop thinking about all manner of things related to the date.

Ordinarily, I don't talk much (if at all) about my personal dating on this blog: you'll find no "Andy's Dates" tag in the right-hand column. That's partially a defense mechanism, since it wouldn't be fair to anybody to immediately post my GOOD/BAD list for each person the morning after, though if I were so catty, it would probably generate more traffic. It's also a matter of semantics: people don't really go on DATES in the beginning of a relationship. Well, they still do, but they don't call them "dates", because that sets up certain expectations. Tellingly, the people that talk about "going on dates" most often are already married; the date is just trying to make time for each other over food that isn't leftovers.

Let's go through the article author's list of what guys notice:

- What you order for dinner. I notice this. Sometimes it's because a date is going so poorly that by the time we've gotten around to ordering dinner, I'm desperate for something to do. Much more often, it's because whatever the woman orders sounds pretty good too, and do I possibly want that instead of what I got? Good thing she ordered first; I have time to change mine. Who cares if I'm a copy-cat?

- The First Date Outfit. This only gets notice from me if it's ... unconventional. Is she wearing a Bjork-swan? No coat, even though it's freezing? Does whatever she's wearing take more than two seconds to settle into place? These are all conspicuous. Other than that, I'm only occasionally struck by fashion impulses. I occasionally think, out of the blue, that the color someone is wearing is very flattering, but I couldn't say whether that's a measure of my own lack of fashion or other people's poor choices.

- How one smells. Good smells are very pleasing. Neutral smells are also pleasing. Bad smells are INCREDIBLY memorable and NOT AT ALL pleasing. This is stating the obvious, I'm sure. Seldom have I run into women who don't smell, at the very least, inconspicuous. For me personally: I have no idea what is or is not an expensive fragrance. Please don't spend a lot. Also, avoid scents that remind too much of food. A hint of vanilla is sexy. "You smell good enough to eat" is not. I went to the movies with someone who had a lemon fragrance so strong, I was torn between wanting to clean my kitchen or order a meringue pie.

- General politeness. Super huge. My perception of this is constantly "on", no matter what the situation or genders I'm near. People who don't engage in common politeness get a sort-of shocked scrutiny from me, because it is so foreign.

To their list, let me add a few others that I notice which may or may not be particular to me.

- Eye contact. I'm paying attention to this one lately because I'm trying to correct a behavior of my own. I noticed that I seldom made eye contact when I was talking to someone, which is a behavior I'd like to modify. I found that when people made eye contact while I was listening, I felt better connected with what they were saying. As always, moderation prevails: talking to someone whose head sympathetically bobs as my head slightly turns is a little creepy.

- Facial and oral piercings. I have a strange fascination with these piercings, which I don't feel is either negative or positive. I find them almost completely distracting in conversation, which is bad. But, I find them (and their stories) interesting, which is good. We don't have a cultural history of facial piercings, so I'm mostly curious what motivates people to get them. Surprisingly, I've encountered some people who are reluctant to talk about their piercings and the motivations, which surprises me. I'm so attuned to piercings that I was once able to diagnose someone's photograph as being backwards based on the position of a piercing. They hadn't noticed the flip.

- Ablative proxies. That's a gussied-up term for what I call "armor" in my conversational shorthand. I use the term to denote any method of protecting personal thoughts by the interposition of a shield. The shield can be physical, such as tattoos, piercings, or especially clothes or body postures. It is more common to be behavioral, such as an inflated attitude of frustration to mask other feelings, or disparaging an object one is worried about being ridiculed for liking. "Ablation" is the process of vaporization or abrasion of a material, such as a glacier, and a "proxy" is something that stands in place for something else. Ablative proxies function as lighting rods, because they attract the attention and critical observation away from something more fragile or less-desirous of being damaged.

- Smiling. In my opinion, this is like shouting "Heil Hitler!" at your wedding: it can instantly change the way someone feels about you. Questionable analogy aside, nothing improves a woman as fast as smiling. Again, moderation! Having been to dinner with the immoderatly dour, however, I can tell you it's like picking the way across a bog: every step is an effort because the ground pulls you down.

Friday, March 27, 2009

"That would be rude."

Source article located HERE, from AP/Yahoo.

The University of Notre Dame, located in Indiana, has invited President Barack Obama to speak during their commencement exercises in May. This decision, like just about all the others associated with this president, has caused a great deal of commentary.

Notre Dame is a Catholic university, first and foremost. There's a crucifix in every classroom, 80% of the student body is Catholic (93% Christian), and the Catholic mass is celebrated no less than 100 times every week in various locations on campus.

Having said all that, there's obviously no requirement of being Catholic to enroll; most colleges are content to take anyone's money. Well, they're happy to take anyone's money NOW: Notre Dame didn't admit women until 1972. Notre Dame has a history of broad political discourse: in 1987, the independently produced student newspaper was considered to be "too conservative", so a separate liberal paper was formed. And in 2003, the original newspaper was considered "too liberal", so a third "conservative" paper was founded.

The uproar over the invitation of Obama basically centers around his intent to fund embryonic stem cell research and his policies of support for international family planning groups that offer abortions or educate people about them. Official Catholic doctrine opposes both abortion and embryonic research. The local bishop has said he will not attend commencement in protest.

The president of the university, the Rev. John Jenkins, makes my argument for me. His position is that while the university does not endorse all of the positions of President Obama, it is important to have communication. Whether or not they want to make him a Catholic saint, Obama is THE PRESIDENT of the United States, a position that (for better or worse) makes what one says important and noteworthy.

When I was in high school, I had the opportunity to play for two sitting presidents: George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Each time was fun, exciting, and memorable. Why? Because it was the president. The president, that guy from TV, here within eyeshot! Cool.

The majority of Students seem to agree that it'd be "cool". Seventy-three percent of the letters sent to the paper support the invitation; 95% of senior class letter-writers approve. By contrast, 70% of alumni who wrote in disapprove. Several conservative student groups have announced their opposition. Even the bishop of Phoenix, AZ (?) weighed in, calling the selection a "public act of disobedience".

The title to this entry comes from a quote in the article. One student didn't think Obama should have been invited because of his policies, but that it would have been rude to "uninvite" him, once asked. It may be "impolite", but would that really be a concern if one believed he was essentially advocating sinful actions?

I've been to many more commencements than most people will ever attend in their lives; not just because I have three certificates under my belt, either. For the previous four years, twice a year, I attended many of the commencements offered by UMKC. Most commencement speakers are nothing special. They're local businessmen who talk about how important college was for them, how much their education helped with real life, and how much graduates should thank their families. If you're at a more prestigious school, maybe an actor from Star Trek will come. Or that guy from Family Guy to do a few voices and drink some scotch.

What's Obama going to say, anyway? "I command you, graduates, to go forth and kick babies while raping dogs! Do this for me!" No, he's probably going to cover the same ground everyone else covers, without mention of abortion or fertility or stem cells or even religion.

Maybe the Catholic institutions are looking at this the wrong way: they need to give Obama the rope to hang himself with. Remember when President Ahmadinejad of Iran came to Columbia University and said Iran had no homosexuals and no oppression of women? Do you think many people in that room thought he was completely correct about those statements? Most probably thought he was off his rocker.

Maybe Obama will thoughtlessly advocate the burning of Catholics as heater fuel while he's at the podium. Or maybe he'll just stand up there and come off as a likable and well-reasoned man.

Either would probably make the hard-liners nervous.

This entry isn't REALLY about Stephen Fry

You may already be familiar with Stephen Fry.

He's not known in the U.S.A. nearly as well as he is in his native Britain, but we've still managed to pick up some of his pieces here and there. He's acted in some movies we might have seen, done some voice work in video games we may have played, written some books that we might have read...

One of the best ways I know to describe him is an English epicurean. This is not to say that he's an epicurean from England (thought that is probably true), but more that he takes Epicurean delight in the language of English. He is well know for having a day-to-day vocabulary that sends many people fumbling for dictionaries. One doesn't just point a word like "quotidian" at someone else unless one plans to use it! His prepared works cavort from the highest of peaks of perspicacity to the lowest gullies of rampant indelicacies.

He's on my short list of people to have dinner with, in part because he always seems to be doing damn interesting things! For example, as I write this, he's in Indonesia doing a documentary about the last chance to see certain species before they go extinct. Or maybe that's what he's doing next month... He's continually sending back pictures from his iPhone of the berries he's eating and the strange birds that end up on his balcony. Who wouldn't like to hear about that?

Mr. Fry (it's that "Mr. Burton" problem all over again!) has an abiding interest in the life and works of Oscar Wilde. In one of the episode's of his podcast, he relates a brief story of Oscar Wilde being asked his opinion on why America had such a history of violence. As Fry relates it, Wilde's answer was "America is such a violent country because your wallpaper is so ugly."

The point Fry is making in his essay is about the essential nature of aesthetics. His interpretation of Wilde's remark is that, by virtue of surrounding ones self with ugly and un-beautiful things, one lacks the ability to appreciate them. Those who have at least a basic attempt at understanding art, music, and literature are much less likely to "think ugly thoughts".

It's an interesting thing to think about. Could we tamp down our societal problems by putting some Monet on the walls? What do we do about beauty being in the eye of the beholder?

Is it enough to just sit and THINK about stuff that's beautiful? Or is there truly some line in the sand where "beautiful" things begin?

Let's take Jackson Pollack. I'm not a fan of his works. They're certainly not something I'd pay to have on my walls. I don't consider them beautiful. There are many who do, however. Many people are willing to pay a lot of money to posses these works because they like them. Do I gain ground on the aesthetic "way of life" by simply sitting and thinking about the parts I like and the parts I don't?

Or what about Shakespeare? I find the plays to be a finely crafted production of the highest artistic merit. But I have many friends whose eyes widen whenever I bring my annotated edition of "Big Bill" on band bus trips. They wouldn't read it for a class (opting instead for the Cliff's Notes), let alone reading it multiple times FOR FUN. Do they receive an aesthetic benefit from simply thinking about how they don't like it?

It's easy to go to a museum and see the famous works and say you love them. The Mona Lisa is possibly the most famous painting in the world and is generally regarded as a masterpiece of art and beauty, if anything is likely to be called that. However, the average Louvre patron who stands in front of the Mona Lisa does so for about 15 seconds. 15 seconds, to appreciate one of the masterpieces in all of humanity's art history?

I'd love to see it in a group of 10 random people, while having about 5 minutes to spend talking and listening about the painting. But such an idea is hardly practical. Something like the order of six million people visit the Mona Lisa each year. Good thing there are good digital pictures!

I know that looking at things I consider beautiful has a positive effect on my mood and interactions. I've written before about the photograph on my wall of Kylemore Abbey in Ireland. It's a harmonious picture that balances water, life, and stones. Just looking at the picture calms me and reminds me of my travels in Ireland. I saw such natural and constructed beauty there as to keep me misty-eyed to this day, just thinking about it.

Are we sending our future down a dark and dirty road by cutting out music and art classes as non-essential while we push for sports and military service? Not that aesthetics is the solution to world peace, by any means: there are plenty of people who like to blow up works of art for various reasons.

I'm certainly of the opinion that the more exposure we have, the better. In my view, it doesn't matter whether people like or dislike things, as long as they take the trouble to explain why. As my friends with young kids always end up saying, "Use your words!" Forcing us to describe our feelings helps us learn how better to communicate what we think. It also helps us connect with other people, who need to be taught how better to listen and share their own stories.

I've spent a lot of time over the past few years in the company of a particular woman, and in all that time I've never heard her once access sincere and deep positive feelings and descriptions about anything. She's filled to the brim with sarcasm (as many seem to be nowadays) and is quick to describe things in negative terms or (more often) with a simple non-descriptive shrug. "How was your trip to Arizona? Ehh.... [shrug]" It frustrates me that she never talks about the things she likes. She never volunteers to talk about what a beautiful sunset was occurring outside.

Is she so narcotized from a lifetime supply of speeding past the non-essential parts of life? Has she never had the opportunity to connect to someone in a positive way, a way that yields actual conversation and exchange?

I'd pay money to be in the Mona Lisa group with her and get a real thought from her about it that didn't start and end with "meh".

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

First star I see tonight

I've been reclined on my couch for the last 10 minutes or so, thinking about what to write about while relaxing. Mostly relaxing, I confess, as I've had very little success doing any thinking. ....Actually, to be fair to myself, I've been very good at thinking, just not about any sort of writing topic. My mind has been busy with thinking about people.

Which is why it came as a bit of a shock to suddenly focus on a star. This particular star was seen through the upper left-but-one window pane. Had I been sitting up as a normal person might, I'd have missed it entirely. Which would have been a shame, since I can't see any other stars out my windows.

And for some reason, I starting thinking about the light that took all those years to arrive at just the precise angle to head in through my window and strike me in the head. The star is bright, bright enough to be the only visible star from inside, which means that it's either very close or very large. Both of those descriptors mean it's unlikely that there's life at that end.

Instead, my brain became occupied with the course this light beam took across the light-years. Somewhere out there in the great inky black is a raging thermonuclear fireball. It took millions of years for it to assemble into a star, took years for its rays to traverse the sky. And all so I could have the opportunity to give it a passing glance out the window.

Astronomy tells us that our galaxy contains somewhere between 200 and 400 billion stars like that dot outside my window. It is further estimated that there may be 100 billion galaxies in the known universe. That puts us in the neighborhood of 20 quintillion stars in the universe, give or take three or four zeros in either direction.

So. Out of all those stars (and however many trillions lie beyond our reckoning), I made eye contact with one for an instant, bridging the gap and allowing me to see across the distances into the past. A connection with an indifferent wanderer, who was old long before I was born, and who will be still be young long after I and everyone I know are no longer remembered.

Amazing.

EDIT: I looked again after finishing this entry and the star is gone. Must have been a satellite. Disregard all that other wonder and perspective.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Five things about my blog and me

This little thing started out on Livejournal, I'd bet. Livejournal is a semi-free blogging domain similar to Blogger. In the GREAT INTERNET TIMELINE, it seemed to peak about three or four years ago. In January of this year, the Russian media conglomerate that purchased it in 2007 announced that it was laying off the San Francisco staff and moving operations to Russia. Welcome to the global economy! So though the questions aren't directly appropriate to the features of Blogger and "Doctor Andy Speaks", I think you'll be able to follow along.

1. My username is ________ because ________.

Each of my entries gets signed "Doctor Andy". For the past five years, that's basically how people refer to me, but it's really only used by an "old" strata of friend. These old friends were actually around Kansas City when I started, thereby being in the position of having to deal with not one, not two, but THREE trombone players named "Andy" enrolled at once. The two other guys had been enrolled the previous year, so they were "Big Andy" and "Little Andy". Big Andy was the taller of the two, as you might guess. I arrived and was taller than Big Andy, so I received the appelation "Doctor Andy", on account of my doctoral aspirations. This nickname moved beyond the small social circle of trombone players, and at times it seemed everyone who knew me addressed me that way, often in complete seriousness. Soon, I'll earn my title fair and sqaure, and will no doubt be called something else entirely.

2. My name is _____ because ______.

My name is Andrew Jacob Schwartz. I was partially named for my maternal great-great grandfather (with perhaps another "great" or two thrown on), Johann Andreas Krall. My middle name comes from my father's side. My father had always been told his middle name was Jacob, but his birth certificate only states "J", with no period. There's a lot more to this story, but I can't remember it, despite having looked through the geneological records not TOO long ago with my mom.

3. My journal is titled ____ because ____.

Well, we covered the "Doctor Andy" part in question 2. When I was trying to come up with the name originally, it was tricky. Blogger will assign you an address "xxxx.blogger.com" of your choice, but that doesn't neccesarily have to be the title of your blog. I carefully considered the non-captialized run-on form the address would take, which is one of the reasons I didn't use "Dr. Andy": drandyspeaks. "Drandy" just doesn't have the same gravitas. Long time readers may remember the blog was originally called "A Great Eater of Beef", which is a title I still love in my heart of hearts: the bookmark in my browser has never been changed from that.

4. My friends page is called ____ because ____.

The list of friend's blogs over on the left is called "Other Points of View" because that's the way I perceive blogs in general. Each one reflects the author's point of view. The process of reading what someone else writes doesn't just inform me what they're talking about, it also gives me a chance to see HOW they think and argue. What's important to them?

5. My default userpic is ____ because ____.\

It's me at a New Year's Eve party in 2001, I think. Either that or 2002. I used it because at the time I started the blog, I only had access to a scanner, not a digital camera. Unable to take a picture of myself, I scanned on from a photo. It also preserved the barest hint of anonymity. People who know me can instantly see that it's me, but it's not going to get my face plastered on the evening news.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Incredi-baaaa-le



For better viewing, start the embedded video, then click on the "HQ" button that appears in the control bar to reload in higher quality.

In the tradition of the fantastic Sony Bravia commercials, comes this related concept from Samsung to promote their LED (light-emitting diodes). I love how much fun everyone seems to be having. And I find it shocking how much control the shephards have of their dogs, through basically whistles and shouts. I knew they could move sheep around and separate them into smaller groups, but this is some serious running.

It may or may not be fake, but I find it charming, regardless.

Lethal Injection

When I was in elementary school, waayyyy back in the 1980's, I knew a boy named David. He went to the same school I did and we sang in the same children's choir at church. He got teased sometimes because his nose was kind of a funny shape; it looked kind of like he'd smeared it down a pane of glass... and it had stuck like our mothers told us it might. I remember him being in trouble often enough that his name was synonymous with "in trouble". It was probably because he had a short temper, because I remember times where he'd be fun with me, then suddenly cold to someone else.

He was in my grade, but he was older. As a kid, it takes a fair amount of thought to figure out why that is. I seem to recall him bragging about already having been taught things we were just learning. It's the kind of subject that doesn't quite receive a straight answer from your parents when you ask.

On February 5th of 1996 (the year I was later to graduate high school), David murdered his adopted grandparents. The next day, David approached some police officers and confessed to the killings. He has been in the custody of the state ever since.

On February 5th, my journal talks about me wondering if a girl could be interested in me because she passed on a chain letter to me in band. She was "kind and gentle as well as very pretty", so I was in the midst of talking through whether or not I should think about having a relationship with her, and whether or not that would mean tacitly admitting defeat regarding the other silent relationship I'd been having with a different girl.

David was found guilty, sentenced to death, and was remanded to the Department of Corrections on May 2, 1997. Missouri does not have a physical "death row", so he and all other inmates are housed in the general prison population in Potosi.

In May of 1997, my journal indicates I was celebrating the fact that the girl I had a crush on (in college, this time; totally different) had finally broken up with her boyfriend. However, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to make my move before my sophomore year ended in June.

Since the day I graduated high school and began my adult life, David has been in jail. When I went to Ireland, he was in jail. When I told a girl I loved her for the first time, he was in jail. When I got in a fight with a Russian on the streets of Chicago, he was in jail.

David will never leave jail. I'll most likely outlive him. By freak accident, I may die before him, but he will never again be a free man. This is not one of those cases where his guilt is in doubt; where people march in the street and pass around bumper stickers with his name on them. David is guilty. And he will either die for his crimes or spend the rest of his life in prison if his sentence is commuted.

I can't help but follow David's life. He has to live in a hell of his own making. He is living his life "gone wrong". Not just one mistake to point at: a hundred thousand small and big oversights; ones he made, his birth parents made, his adoptive parents made, his friends made, etc.

It's sobering to think of all the things I've done in my life, while David has been sitting in jail. Not great and noble things: I'm talking about moving from city to city. Driving across Kansas just to audition for an orchestra. Spending a godforsaken 13+ hours on a bus in one day a couple of weeks ago! For all purposes, he surrendered the rudder of his fate on that day.

And while I have created this website about me, David also has a webpage with his story. It was generated by "the Missourinet", an objective program that seeks to act as a record of the past and present death row inmates. David's page has a Department of Corrections mug shot, taken in 2001, and the narrative court report of his crimes in detail. It's found HERE.

It's very surreal to be able to follow the appeals and court documents through the detached filter of a state archives web page. Reading the briefs of years ago as his appeals are rejected, one by one. Listening to audio recordings of hearings. It makes the life and death of someone I know seem very ... academic, almost like a chapter in a course at college. "Write an essay about how his story makes you feel."

Teacher, I've finished my essay.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Let me switch nerd hats...

While the picture thing (mentioned in the previous entry) is annoying, my number one annoyance with Blogger is the fact that I cannot TAB to indent my paragraphs. I've been writing here for more than three years and several hundred entries and I STILL try to indent the first line. With no success.

Perhaps they'll add that "feature" at some point.

Let me put on my COMPUTER NERD hat for a moment...

This picture represents all that can go wrong with micropayments and computing. The photo is from today's unveiling of the next update for the Apple iPhone software. One of the things they're adding is the ability for developers to add what are known as "micro-transactions" to any existing purchased application. This photo was a slide showing the transaction in the middle of a game.




















I'm not against micropayments. They're a good way for software developers to generate additional money after the initial purchase and, of course, continuous predictable income is handy. But I object to "add-ins" that are really rather essential. Let's say Microsoft lets you buy the entire "Word" software for a dollar. That'd be a fantastic deal, considering the current price is somewhere above $50.

But if you want to use bold text, that costs a dollar to "unlock". Underlining is a dollar more. Each font you might use, other than the baseline "system" font, costs $2.00. The ability to add a picture of any size or shape costs $5.00. Printing costs $10, because you don't really NEED to print to get some use out of the program. Naturally, you don't need any of those things to use the software for its basic function: word processing. But being constantly nagged for small bits of money whenever you try to add anything to your documents is silly.

Micropayments do have a home in modern computing. You can still buy fonts one at a time and add them to Word's supply. If you want to buy pets for your characters in "The Sims", you can. And there's the booming market for cell phone rings and wallpapers. But I think it starts a dangerous precedent if essential pieces of software are held out for the commercially-inclined. Is there a bigger advantage given to you if you spend more money in a competitave game that's supposed to be about an even playing field?

"Sure, you and I should play a game of chess. Just to let you know, I spent a couple bucks and now my pawns can attack in every direction and I have twice as many as you. Good luck!"

Some unrelated pictures

I collect little images in a folder whenever they strike me as particularly interesting. None of these is related to any other, but it seemed about time to air a few out. The other reason I don't often do posts like this is because Blogger doesn't have the best or most intuitive engine for dealing with inserted pictures. One in the corner (my usual style) isn't that difficult. The problem is that Blogger thinks you want to add each and every picture to the upper right-hand corner. So each time, you have to drag it from there and painstakingly drop it where you think you want it. WYSIWYG has not yet arrived, it would seem.





















Perhaps the combination of my of Christopher Walken and Transformers is running away with my emotions, but I can't help smiling when I see this image. It makes absolutely no sense, which is somewhat the modus operendi of humor relating to "The Internet". Him building a Transformer isn't really even FUNNY, but I think the absurdity crashes into my appreciation and creates a strange affinity for this shot. Since I have been informed by knowledgible sources that girls often find neither Transformers OR Christopher Walken particularly interesting, I may have discovered something about my social life.

Speaking of things I think are awesome, I give you this photo, which must be seen at full-size to be believed.


















Every person in that photo is the same guy. There are seven distinct copies of him, but he had to pose for more than that, because of the "through the looking glass" photo that's being taken. Every time I think about two different cameramen taking a shot of each other that includes the OTHER photographer's picture, it makes my head spin in a wonderful way.

Next:























I hope that somewhere behind the photograph-taker is a sign for bikers saying "Watch for signs".

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Quality of Life

[HEADS UP: This entry can be depressing, so if you're looking for something jolly to pass the time, I'd suggest leaving it alone for now.]


My mother called me earlier to talk about the latest family news from her end. Petulant behavior here, painful separation there... We haven't had this much family drama since one of my mother's cousins had his mid-life crisis by purchasing motorcycles and divorcing his wife in favor of his mistress.

Unfortunately, one of the other announcements was that our oldest family cat, Howie, had been put to sleep. I've been thinking about that off and on since she mentioned it; it borders on eight hours now. I don't want to give the impression that I'm distraught, because that would be incorrect. It is more appropriate to say that I've been distracted. I'll push the pages of a book around, unable to retain the words more than a few at a time. Then I'll put that down and pour myself a glass of juice, trying to let the flavor shock me back to operation. Juice glass in hand, I'll browse the internet for a while, until I realize I'm just going to the same three sites in a loop.

This particular cat had been remarkably lucky, ending up at the doorstep of a family who was willing to take him in. He lived a much longer life than he would have otherwise, and he certainly possessed the innate cat ability to look like he really enjoyed his life.

On the one hand, it makes me sad that he's dead. It's a personal loss -- an absence in the routine, as they say. I'm going through many of the same self-recriminations one does with a human loss: if only I'd done this more often. If only I'd told him that one more time. If only I'd scratched behind his ears just a little harder the last time I saw him. Yes, that last one is cat-specific, I'll grant you. Except one uncle who... well, maybe let that pass.

But while it is sad, it is also a sort of exhalation. The sigh of the end of term; the work accomplished. As feline lives go, Howie had an excellent one. But he was not in the best of health at the end of his life; his every movement seemed to cause him discomfort and he confined his motion more and more to the shuffling of an old man, avoiding stairs when he could. As my mom is fond of saying, cats don't have the mechanisms to tell us when it's time. It's left to us, their trusted people, to make their decisions for them.

I'm largely useless when it comes to this sort of thing. In the past, particular trips to the vet have reduced me to the most profound expressions of grief I've ever had. I feel guilty writing that sentence, during a season which has already seen the death of a friend's parent. I did shed tears for my grandfather's death. And my favorite teacher's death hangs in the back of my consciousness even to this day. But the most emotional outbursts have been reserved for the death of pets. It will not always be the case, I'd assume: the death of my parents or my brothers is sure to hit me harder.

That's the reason even an unconnected death can rattle us: it forces us to think about death in our own circles. We can all continue on quite happily for months or years without even thinking about the possibility of death. All it takes is a single ripple in the pond to shudder us at the core. It's helpful, in a way. We should never forget that it is everyone's common fate.

But neither should we live our lives to die. When Tybalt is killed by Romeo, Juliet's father waves away the grief of the death, saying "Well, we were born to die." (Act III, scn. iv) That is no way to live a life! Treating it as some sort of amusement park slide from cradle to grave; no. It is a sad fact that we die, true, but that shouldn't make us voluntarily suck the life and color from our existence because of the fear.

It's a kind of selfishness, my desire to keep the cat around even though it wasn't doing very well. When I look at it that way, it seems silly to let it get me down for too long. And that's the way it works, based on previous experiences. It's a fresh sadness in the beginning, but eventually the biting part of the hurt ebbs away, leaving me with the memories and a bittersweet smile for a variety of reasons.

Not the least of which is the mental image of my dad tucking Howie under his arm like a small carpet to transport him to his nightly bedroom (the garage) and hearing the cat (doing his best human impersonation) give a quick, single huff of frustration and impotent displeasure at being dislodged from his spot in the comfy chair.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Very tricky, spammer!

I just received a spam message saying I had been determined by computers that I was eligible for an $869 tax refund. Sure, I haven't filed my taxes yet, but I bet this is just a handy service for customer convenience. Never mind that the address didn't go to IRS.gov. Sure, the final line of the email was a copyright statement about the Internal Revenue Service. Does the IRS copyright their refund notices? Does that even make SENSE?

But I knew I was in trouble when they misspelled something very important:

IRS was spelled IRF. Which is where you ask for directions to buy Viagro, Eckstacy, and all the other misspelled drugs attempting to fool spam checkers.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Lost in time

I use the internet as my primary news source now, having left my subscription to the local Kansas City Star inactive for more than a year. I also frequently watch the 5:00 / 5:30 nightly news, if I'm close to my TV at that time.

My news consumption has a large blind spot, it would appear. On Saturday, I spent at least 13 hours on a charter bus being ferried up to Sioux Falls in South Dakota for a basketball tournament. Not that I play the sport, however; our women's team qualified for the first round of the Summit League. We arrived in a chilly Sioux Falls at about 1:30 pm, changed clothes, played in the pep band, watched the team lose, and were back in Kansas City by 1:00 AM. Had we won, the band would have been "invited" to stay in a hotel, but losers (and their musical groups) have no perks.

Before heading up to Sioux Falls, I checked on the weather. It's been unseasonably warm in KC, and I was almost certain that it'd be colder six hours north of here. I'm clever in that way. Sure enough, the forecast was below freezing (with occasional snow). I packed heavier clothing. Before the bus had even left KC, one of the cheerleaders (with whom we shared the bus) said, "I hope it's not cold up there; I'll be very upset."

She was wearing an article of torso clothing that I'd seen before, but I didn't know what to call it. After three minutes at www.oldnavy.com, I determined that it MIGHT be a cami (short for camisole). I couldn't find anything there that looked exactly right, so it will just have to be one of those things were the true image is locked forever in my head, without the words to effectively communicate. The actual article of clothing is irrelevant, as long as it is understood to be a very sheer garment with satin-like straps, fantastically unsuitable for South Dakota (or even Kansas City, amazingly) in March.

But enough about women's quasi-undergarments. After waking up at 5:30 AM on Saturday, and returning to bed at 1:30 AM on Sunday, I was pretty well tired. Despite the length of time on the bus, I had almost no opportunity to sleep. I've never been particularly good at sleeping in moving transportation, unless I'm completely exhausted. Plus, the cheerleaders kept feeding in increasingly strange movies continuously, with the volume forced high enough to command attention. I definitely need to invest in a good portable media player before too long.

When I woke up on Sunday morning, my bedroom clock said 8:30 AM or so. Being conscious seemed like a heavy burden, but I was paradoxically not tired, so I went into my living room and sat at my computer, still groggy with morning. I browsed the internet for a while before I noticed that the time was now 9:50! Had I spent more than an hour? It surely seemed like less. In fact it was less, because the time changed on Sunday morning.

I don't consider myself uninformed. As I alluded earlier, I consume a great deal of news on the internet and on the radio (via NPR). I know about the 9-year old's abortion and excommunication in Brazil, I followed the withdrawl of Sanjay Gupta from consideration for surgeon general, and I've been keeping tabs on the bailout payments to AIG. But somehow I missed the fact that this was the weekend for a time change. Caught me *completely* by surprise. Fortunately, it turned out I didn't have anything to do on Sunday morning, so my ignorance of the true time had no ill effects. Aside of making me feel like I'd been missing something.