Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Blogging disease

Is it real? I think it is, and I am infected. I just created a second blog on the slim pretext of journaling the life of our new popup camper. With us, I mean. Someone had to do it. I hope to get the picture thing worked out and add a few pictures to the new blog. Beware the blogging disease...my precious...

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Retired and discharged troops to Iraq?

Where will it all end? Are we all to go over there carrying our guns? Recalling retired and discharged Army veterans, what can possibly justify this? I had hoped for a troop reduction, NOW. All this about transferring power to the new "government of Iraq?" Sure. Well, they better not have jurisdiction over U.S. troops and we had better plan on getting out. When this first started it was "We will WITHDRAW and hand over power to the government of Iraq, but what happened to the WITHDRAW part? We will never solve the problems of the millenniums in the Middle East. Are we hurting our own security by sending troops to Iraq? I think so.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Bamboozled..."The play's the thing..."

Astounding film. I use the word FILM because Spike Lee deserves all the Oscars he can lug home and yet - where are they? A nomination for "Do the Right Thing" for Best Original Screenplay, and a nomination for Best Documentary for "4 Little girls". Golden Globes - nominations for Directing and screenplay. Yet no winners in these two prestigious venues. I can only compare Spike Lee to Woody Allen for genius in direction and writing. They are the two directors who will still be remembered far into the future as American film greats.

"Bamboozled" got such mixed reviews. I think that's because it is uncomfortable for everyone, and yet it is a story about greed, human failings, injustice and the wish of every human to be taken at his own value as an individual. I knew that the end could not be pretty, and I cried because of the death of the innocent Manray. Used and thrown out by the people who had only one idea of his personhood, and then killed by violence in the most terrifying way, starting a chain of violence ending in tragedy for all the main participants.

Unfortunately, I think the worst indictment the film makes is of the whole television thing. Television exists ONLY to sell product, and whatever that takes is seemingly O.K., and has caused the gradual eroding of what we are willing to allow into our homes. The racist, horrifying, dehumanizing picture of how the media (and Spike Lee suggests we all have internalized these concepts) and its minions are willing to use and abuse the African American Community rang true to me, and all those critics who thought it was too far out, too over the edge; perhaps they missed the art form the movie took, the "Show is the show", the poetry in film. "The play is the thing" and as in Shakespeare, so in the work of Spike Lee.

Email...what's the big deal?

O.K....so I have several email addresses. Who doesn't these days. Who needs the massive storage. One day you will have to clean that baby out and save the ones you want, so keep it clean now! I mean 1 GIG? I am drawn to try Gmail, but even though I got the invite, I am not really excited. Oh, at first I thought, "Why not?" but then I realized I already had a really great account at Fastmail, and then there is Yahoo, so because both of these are great, and I use them a lot, and I actually PAID for Fastmail, and then bought extra storage, well, nothing more is needed. My work email is the SPAMMYyest thing out there. No SPAM control at all, and it's Outlook - what more need be said. But as to Yahoo, they have upped the storage, and overall they have been the most reliable and have had the most uptime of all the accounts I have used for the last ten years. And I got my account that is now Yahoo about ten years ago. WOW, how time flies. But if you need an account, why not try Gmail? Everyone does need more than one so that you can POP the mail when your main server is on the blink, so give it a whirl.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Topper and modern life

Having almost finished reading Thorne Smith's "Topper", I can say that the whole message of the book is that modern life has smothered many a fine soul. Written in 1926, it resonates just as much in 2004, except that perhaps we have a finer sense of the eventual mess alcohol and fast driving brings, but then again, maybe not. Through the ghosts of George and Marian Kirby, Topper is introduced to wild living and breaks out just a bit from the deadening pace of his ritualized suburban life, each day of which he can recite from memory as well as in advance: meals planned by the day of the week, and all appearances to be carefully maintained.

Of course most of us have seen the movie, and the casting of Cary Grant and Constance Bennett couldn't have been better. The DVD, released in Feb. 2004, is excellent. The book is different than the movie, mainly in the transfer of the action in several scenes to other settings from those in the book. I don't know why, but really, the movie does an excellent job of capturing both the absurdly confused state Mr. Topper is in after seeing the Kirby's, and the ambiance of the whole story. I love the movie, and now I love the book. Just a wee bit dated, but still a romp.

Interesting note: Thorne Smith is credited with creating the "modern ghost", and with the general pop culture status of ghosts in movies such as "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir", "Heaven Can Wait", and even "Ghost". That last sentence is taken from the blurb on the back cover of the Modern Library paperback edition, published in 1999. Look for it. Read it.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Lottery with lives

"WASHINGTON - The Bush administration will give "50,000 lucky individuals" chosen in a lottery up to a 16-month jump on Medicare prescription drug coverage, paying for costly medications for cancer and other illnesses this year." [from Yahoo News]

I wonder if I even need to comment? Who wrote this terrible bill. Are we really sure that a lottery is the way to treat human beings? I am appalled.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

No health coverage!?

Recently I had friends visiting from Canada. Almost the first question they asked me was, "Do you really have people in the States with no health coverage? We hear that on television, but can it be true?"

I was amazed by the question because worrying about health coverage is one of the major problems in America today, and that reality we take for granted. Not only do we have uninsured people, but we have MILLIONS of uninsured people. I explained the whole system, and I want to tell you, when you hear yourself try to explain our system to outsiders who haven't lived with the worry of healthcare costs over their heads, you end up sounding to yourself like a citizen of some barbarous state.

I also quizzed them on their experiences in the Canadian system, and compared the two provinces I know about now, Ontario and Alberta, and apparently both provinces have an excellent word-of-mouth reputation. My relatives in Ontario tell me that they don't have long waits, they do have good care and they are satisfied. My visitors from Alberta tell me they have health care they are proud of, and they are scandalized by our system now that they know about it. A major concern was drug costs. Canadians know that lots of Americans have been buying their prescription drugs in Canada, and my visitors wondered why, and how the prices compare, and how we pay for drugs. Again...to have to say that some of our people have to chose heat over medicine, or medicine over food, or medicine over heat and rent, was very embarrassing.

Perhaps we should all take a long look from a distance at our healthcare system, as if we were foreign visitors, and then would we still think that the profit motive and the free enterprise ideal should be the way to treat the healthcare needs of our fellow citizens? Can our perception that the Canadian system is bankrupting the country, and that the care in Canada is less than it should be, be a product of clever drug and healthcare companies lobbying and advertising? Are these large corporations afraid that a national healthcare plan would really be detrimental, not so much to the populace as to their profits?

Footnote: Is this why all the Canadians and the Europeans who visit here seem to enjoy the time they are on vacation? They are not worried about getting sick "out-of-network"?

Back from trip

To North Dakota and Minnesota. Northern parts...the prairie. Beautiful country. You can see the clouds marching to the horizon. I think that's the place Christopher Columbus was when he decided the world was round. He looked out there and he saw the clouds going around the world in perspective, curving toward the other side. Weather coolish but very nice, family wonderful to see, and all in all a good trip. Didn't even miss the world of the internet for the duration. The very upper Midwest has a way of life (not a "lifestyle") that is a bit less fractious and a bit less frenetic. EVERYONE isn't on their cell phones at all times (but a few people are). On glancing around the town of Grand Forks, I see cleaner streets, cleaner yards and in general a better look to things - but to be fair, the SPACE on the prairie may allow less of a RAT-BITE feeling then the crowds of the metro areas. Driving isn't much of a problem with straight roads, easy curves and less congestion, although people have been known to fall asleep on the straight country roads, with sorrow resulting.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Donate your tax refund to your local library

This comes a bit late, but if you're wondering what to do with excess cash, think "LIBRARY." Your local public library will appreciate some funding. Most libraries today are severely underfunded, and many are understaffed. It takes money to payroll employees who can acquire, process and circulate materials, and these days it takes employees who understand and use technology as second nature. Libraries need funding to train and refresh staff, and to acquire new and updated technologies as they are released.

All these needs are so basic to meet public demands, but demands far exceed practical applications when budgets are hammered out in municipalities across the land. My own public library solicits funds and books, and must be content with a collection that contains lots of outdated materials. For both public and academic libraries today, the purchase of periodicals has become a nightmare as the subscription prices go dramatically higher and higher, and the library budgets go lower and lower. "Level funding" is the operative term for library budgeting these days, which of course means lower materials acquisitions, and less to offer patrons! Librarians are like teachers; they really care about their jobs and they go beyond the call of duty to serve. Librarians do all they can with less then they deserve, and the only ones to suffer are the public in search of information and education - the tools they need for functioning in the world today.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Along Came Polly

And, what a joy that was! To my amazement, Ben Stiller and Jennifer Anniston click in what might be the funniest movie Ben Stiller has made yet. I liked "Meet the Parents" it's true, but "Along Came Polly" is better, and stars Rodolfo the ferret for an even more enriching viewing experience. Hank Azaria is swell as the French scuba instructor, and Debra Messing, Alec Baldwin and the rest of the cast are all perfect! Philip Seymour Hoffman is hysterical as Ben's best friend, a sloth of a man without the least trace of couth. To see Michele Lee as Ben's mom, and Bryan Brown as the extreme sports loving Aussie businessman was a real romp. Ben Stiller has a penchant for over-the-top stuff, and it is not always successful, but here he plays it cool, giving the transition from uptight worry-wart to guy-who-is-willing-to-take-chances believability and flare! Five big stars for this fun film.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Observations on the reactions to Ronald Reagan's death

I look on in amazement at the incredible numbers of people who are lining the roads to catch a glimpse of the passing motorcade, and visiting the viewing of President Reagan's casket, and the outpouring of tributes and television specials extolling the former president as a great American leader. He is credited with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the fall of the Communist Empire. He is credited with having "saved" our failing economy, and in general, he is spoken of by pundits and admired by multitudes for his character and his smile. In fact, there is talk of replacing another president on a piece of U.S. currency!

All this comes as a surprise to me, as neither I nor my family or friends remember the Reagan era in quite that way. We remember the cuts in spending and the general draconian way that the Republican administration sought to dismantle many aid programs, as well as many cuts in other areas.

I can only surmise that the present feeling that pervades America is one of insecurity, and one of disillusionment with the last few administrations in Washington. The awful events of September 11, 2001, divide time as we know it into two parts, and we want to remember, maybe even fantasize, about an America before 9/11, an America before the Patriot's Act, and even an America before Bill Clinton was caught having sex in the oval office with Monica.

Maybe President Reagan seems to embody for us an "Apple Pie and Mom" time that never was, his smile giving us the same feeling of confidence in a man of integrity that John Wayne and Bob Hope also gave us. And so we mourn not just Ronald Reagan, but that decisive, confident feeling that all is well with America, and all is right with the world.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Reading old books...

Robert Lewis Stevenson's (it is a real pity that more people don't read old books) "Across the Plains" is an engaging commentary on his trip across American in 1879 or so. The many people and places are fascinating, and the droll wit apparent in every page is a surprise and a relief. He was not impressed with the grandeur of the plains, and found his trip across Nebraska and Utah and surrounds to be "that homely and unkindly world", a phrase he used to describe Wyoming.

There are several insights which resonate more with today's attitudes than those of his time. He expounds at some length on the plight of the Indian and the Chinese and the clumsy ruffians who dare to think they are better than these other races. Apparently he was not the typical result of an English upper class upbringing. He was a Scot, and maybe the relationship the Scots "enjoyed" with England all those centuries had made him more of an egalitarian thinker.

What you get out of old books is a picture of the society in which they were written. The general milieu of each work of literature is the "schema" prevalent in the era of its creation. No author can be free of the culture which surround him, even though he can try. In this trying is even more a picture of what formed the era in which he lived. Reading history may be a revised picture of an era, while its fiction may give a much more insightful reading, and in most cases a lot more fun! Oh, I am reading it in PalmReader eBook, and it was free! Another good reason to read old books.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Seriously...about national health insurance

Heard on Public Radio coming home from work today: Medicare's new "Drug Card" program has a 70 card choice people must make. Now that's a nightmare. Apparently seniors are having trouble differentiating between the 70 choices. Who wouldn't? Imagine reading "government-eze" about all those different cards. Apparently the Medicare recipient must discern which is correct for his or her needs. Luckily, as the radio people put it, there are people in each state at Departments of Aging to help one make the choice.

I can only surmise that the confusion will result in less usage of the cards at all which will save the tax payers money. Is this the diabolical scheme behind the whole thing? Let's make sure our legislators know that we want a one card system that covers drug costs fairly for all. And here's an idea - how about a National Insurance plan for all of us, not just a hit or miss attempt to placate the multitudes while keeping the drug companies and the hospital administrators happily raking it in.

Pop culture and Jennifer Lopez

Well, Jennifer has done it again. Married for the third time and apparently with all the hoopla usually reserved for the first wedding for the more sedate among us. May she and Marc Anthony (doesn't anyone remember Cleopatra?) live happily forever and ever. But don't you really doubt it? She always strikes me as a pretty bright girl really, and one I'd like, but WOW, her idea of going steady is to get married apparently - or at least have a wild ride of an engagement, then marry someone else!

Perhaps this illustrates the superficiality of today's culture. Jennifer Lopez is not alone in her inability to consider the gravity of life's larger decisions. Ordinary people make the same mistakes time after time. I even wonder why Jennifer Lopez gets married at all. I can see wanting a party, but really, she could live just fine on her income and just mellow out for ten years to come before she got into another marriage.

Edith Piaf...more please...

"Something's Gotta Give" inspired me to dig out my Edith Piaf CD, so here I sit listening to her wonderful voice. More French music, please! As for the movie update, skip "Timeline". Watched the DVD this weekend, and there is nothing to recommend this film. It is a rehash of too many bits of other plots to mention, contains gratuitous violence, and is almost all battle scenes, leaving only the very minimum of plot development. Development? No, hints really. Sort of a science fiction-middle ages-love-political film, leaving no core plot at all, not to mention the difficulties of the whole time-travel thing, which the plot leaves in limbo.

Friday, June 04, 2004

PalmReader...now eReader

PalmReader is the best reader for your desktop or your Palm PDA. I don't even have a PDA, but have been reading ebooks on what has now been renamed "eReader" for quite a long time now. You can check this out at the Palm Digital Media site. Then see Memoware for more titles. They have a free titles site and a commercial ebookstore as well.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Something's Gotta Give...WOW

WOW. "Something's Gotta Give" really blew away the "where-are-the-good-movies" blues. To be treated to stellar performances from Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson in the same movie was just the apex of evening entertainment. It doesn't get any better. By the time these two have come to "now", they have both become such flexible and professional actors, and they both have that easy grace about them. I was taken in at once, and just floated along all the way. A wonderful story within a story, really, and a good old-fashioned cry was not out of place. And say, Keanu Reeves isn't hard to look at either, and he has become such a good actor since the early "pretty-boy" years.

Mona Lisa Smile, X-Men and The Big Empty

"Mona Lisa Smile" is another successful film for Julia Roberts, and the performances of the women who are the Wellesley "girls" gives the film the support the story line needed. You almost believe the 1990s cultural template being laid over the 1950s storyline. All in all worth watching.

"X-Men" and "X2(X-Men United)" are both excellent. In a genre I hardly ever even pickup, much less rent, these were a happy surprise. There was something Harry Potterish about the whole thing as well. I guess that was the theme of saving children who are different. You just expected the word "muggles" to surface. MUCH better than the usual action-adventure. Maybe the comic book medium can influence Hollywood for the better, and with "Spiderman" and "X-Men", comics sure have a running start. I also had a very "Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay" feeling while watching "X-Men."

On the downside is "The Big Empty" which really was. Starting out there was a storyline, and it seemed to be going somewhere, but, much like my impression of "K-PAX", there was a dichotomy here. Was it science fiction or was the guy having hallucinations. Where the people in Baker, California aliens or were they not. Are we to assume the folks in the blue suits (and what the heck did the blue suits mean) were picked up by a space ship? And why was the neighbor killed? Why do we care? In the end, we really don't. An excellent performance by John Favreau saved watching this from being a huge waste of time. John is always good. Catch his short bit in "Something's Gotta Give".

Template mania

After tweaking templates left and right I am again back to this one. TicTac Blue by Dan Cederholm. The problem with such a wide choice is that I can spend hours just trying them out and tweaking. Isn't it supposed to be content over form at all times? I must try to stick to "deep thoughts" rather than techy fun. But really, isn't it fun to tweak? The work has been done so well by Blogger's template authors, thus freeing me up for worthy exploration of ideas and experiences. Today I don't have any thoughts because my coffee has been delayed.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

MacJournal blog now on Blogger....

Happily Dan Schimpf has his blog on Blogger. You can go here

  • Dan's Blog
  • and follow progress of this great program.