Friday, February 29, 2008

Gotta launder my karma

Well, no, I don't. At least, I don't think I do.

I think of Michael Plank as an alternate-universe version of me. Not that we've led parallel lives or anything, but we have very similar tastes in music. My first thought on realizing this would normally be, "Well, that's Generation X for you", but other members of our demographically insignificant generation - including Gort, Jen, and Michael Plank's sister-in-law, Anne from Almost Quintessence - sometimes have very different musical tastes from my own.

(Which is not to say my tastes don't overlap with those others. They do, a lot. But more often than not I get even the most obscure musical references Michael Plank throws out.)

This video, which I have lifted from a recent post on Michael Plank's Content, isn't obscure. At least I don't think it is. It used to get heavy airplay on MTV back in the days when MTV etc. etc., you know how that sentence ends. It's a nice, fun little ditty, with a higher-than-average amount of BDSM imagery thrown in, and one naughty adjective cut out. The song is "Battle Flag" by the Lo Fidelity Allstars.

For some reason that song links in my mind to another, very different song. I think it's because I once put them on the same mix disc, one after another. That song is "Porcelain" by Moby.

Note: This is, I believe, an "unofficial" video for this song, though it looks all kinds of professional. I vastly prefer it to the "official" version of the video - I think it captures the feelings of longing, loss, emptiness, and hope in the face of hopelessness perfectly. I was originally planning on bemoaning my dissatisfaction with the "official" video, and was going to note that the beat brought the DNA remix of "Tom's Diner" by Suzanne Vega to mind, and that the imagery from that video seemed to fit the Moby song better than the eyeball-in-space stuff. But this "unofficial" video made such a comment unnecessary. Almost.

Finally, for some reason "Battle Flag" brings another video to mind, from the days of MTV's 120 Minutes and Alternative Nation. It's a brilliant video for an OK song. But it's by Spike Jonze, so would you expect anything less? The band is Wax, the song is "Southern California":

BONUS BONUS BONUS: Because I love this commercial (which I only ever saw once on TV) so much, and because it took me a while to think of searching for "Spike Jonze Y2K" on YouTube, I'm throwing this Nike commercial by Spike Jonze in as a bonus. This commercial was one of the things I thought of whenever I saw commercials for Cloverfield, and it probably helped inspire bits of Shawn of the Dead:

Thursday, February 28, 2008

One year ago yesterday...

...I lost my job.

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end

It's been a long, rough year since then. I never imagined that I would someday find myself collecting Unemployment, but in fact I did, for quite a long while. I always somehow thought there were other, comparable jobs in this area that I could step into with relative ease...but there aren't. Things on the outside world are a lot harder and scarier than I would have believed.

It wasn't just me, of course. A lot of people lost their jobs at my company on February 27, 2007. Besides me, four other people from my department (which had had 13 employees, down from a high of about 20 in our heyday in 2001 or thereabouts) also were informed that their services would no longer be needed.

Two of us eventually went back to work at the company in other positions, for considerably less pay. Two others have found jobs outside the company. The fifth, I believe, has decided to take the opportunity to be a full-time grandmother, though I don't know exactly what she is up to right now.

It's hard. The company lost a lot of talent a year ago, and a vast amount of goodwill and employee loyalty. And those of us who have been forced to take jobs that pay less than we were earning back then - 1/3 less, in my case - are facing at the very least financial hardship in the form of greatly reduced discretionary income, the spreading-around money that goes into savings or, as is more often the case, is pumped back into the economy. And when less money is being saved and less money is being spent, the economy as a whole suffers.

(I almost completely forgot about this anniversary until a friend reminded me of it. My current job involves day-after data analysis for our facility, so I tend to be living one day in the past. But, honestly, today I would have remembered it. Besides, another post topic came up yesterday.)

Enough of this glum stuff! Time to jump on the bandwagon for something I've known about for a while. Last Friday, Michelle from sent me this message:

mhryvnak (6:53:28 PM): i think you'd like this
mhryvnak (6:53:30 PM):
mhryvnak (6:53:35 PM): i got it off of a fellow blogger
DataBoy Echo (7:12:55 PM): Oh MY GOD! That's brilliant! Who would've thought that Garfield was the strip's lone anchor to sanity?
mhryvnak (7:16:57 PM): lol
mhryvnak (7:17:06 PM): i knew of all people you'd appreciate it
DataBoy Echo (7:17:49 PM): I have to pass that on to the Comics Curmudgeon crowd! Can I credit you, and post your blog address?
mhryvnak (7:18:06 PM): if you want, but really i grabbed it from
So pass it on I did.

Harold, Christian Single und die Rheintöchter says:
February 22nd, 2008 at 7:54 pm
I just got this from a friend, and a Google site search suggests that it hasn’t been mentioned here before…

What do you get when you remove Garfield from Garfield? You get the site Garfield Minus Garfield!

“Who would have guessed that when you remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips, the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolor disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life?”

It’s a lot scary to think that Garfield is this strip’s main anchor to reality!

This past Tuesday, Josh at The Comics Curmudgeon featured the Garfield Minus Garfield site in a blog post. That same day Francesco Marciuliano, writer of the comic strip Sally Forth, also featured the site on his blog and put his own spin on it: Sally Forth Minus Sally Forth. And today Bill at Bill's Notes posted about the site, which he heard about from here.

This thing, as they say, has legs - a phrase which has nothing to do with walking and everything to do with hard liquor. But that is a post for another time. For now, just kick back and enjoy Garfield Minus Garfield. And thanks for letting me know about it, Michelle!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Courage of a Priest

This is an open letter to Joseph Martino, Bishop of the Diocese of Scranton, which appeared in today's Citizens' Voice. It was written by Reverend Patrick Sullivan, who, according to the information tagged at the end,"teaches sociology and theology at King’s College with an emphasis on labor issues (and) has written two books and is working on two more." The tag fails to mention that he occasionally fills in to say Mass at congregations where forced retirements are creating an artificial priest shortage, such as at my own. It also fails to mention, for some reason, that one of his sermons once once inspired me to write a blog post ("Shepherds and Sheep", February 3, 2007.) His letter concerns an ongoing dispute between the Bishop and the Catholic teachers of the diocese.

(Note: I do not know if a few apparent typos were in the original, or were perhaps introduced when the letter was reset for publication - perhaps by a dim-witted spellchecking program. I have refrained from correcting them.)

Bishop should allow teachers to belong to a real union

Editor: The following is a letter I (Reverend Sullivan) wrote to Bishop Joseph Martino, head of the Diocese of Scranton.

Dear Bishop Martino:

I write you publicly with great reluctance, as a priest of more than fifty years and as a teacher, researcher and activist of the Catholic Church’s ministry in labor-management relations for more than thirty years. However, after four efforts – offering assistance to your education staff, a personal letter to you, a letter to the Papal Nuncio, and a telephone request to chat with you, there has been only silence or refusal. I would have preferred to chat with you privately, person-to-person.

Your public statement reveals the handiwork of the management consultant firm hired to establish an “Employee Relations Program,” which is widely recognized simply as a “company union.” The phenomenon appeared in the early 20th century with the so-called “American Plan,” well articulated by oil magnate John D. Rockefeller. Patricia Cayo Sexton’s The War on Labor and the Left said, “Under the labor relations plan advanced by Rockefeller, barriers between employers and employees would dissolve, and the two opposing teams would become one – the company’s. Representing this solidarity would be the company unions.” [p. 209]

I need not rehearse the teaching of Leo XIII, the U.S. Bishops’ 1919 Pastoral, Pius XI and John A. Ryan in support of real unions. However, do recall that the 1971 World Synod of Bishops said those who preach social justice must first be just in their own
eyes, a corollary of which is support of real unions in Catholic institutions. The U.S. Bishops issued a pastoral on health care in the 1970s, which affirmed the right of all hospital workers to form their own union, despite financial challenges to those institutions. When Southeast Bishops (Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia) endorsed the J. P. Stevens Boycott in 1980, they did not support a “company union” but a real union, the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union. In 1981 when Pope John Paul II wrote Laborem Exercens (Human Labor) and said labor unions are indispensable in an industrialized world, he did not mean “company unions.” When the U.S. Catholic Bishops issued their 1986 Pastoral, “Economic Justice for All,” they supported real unions, not “company unions.”

“Company unions” abound in recent experiments in labor-management relations programs with such attractive titles as “Quality Work Circles,” “Human Resource Departments,” etc. Some have been successful when employees have a “bona-fide” grievance procedure, i.e. recourse to independent “outsiders” or to arbitration. Too often, such “company unions” gladly accept employees’ creative ideas but reluctantly their grievances. In your Employee Relations Program not only is the moral right of workers to form their own union taken away, but their moral right as adults to negotiate their wages, benefits, working hours, working conditions, job tenure (hiring and firing) and grievance procedure. Without those rights, the employees’ jobs and livelihood are at stake and they are afraid to speak out, to protest, to strike. Such company unions are referred to as modern day feudalism or worse. This intrinsic human right of workers to organize themselves was derived in no small measure as an antidote to the fear and intimidation which workers suffer in the policies and treatment of unfair, unjust, dictatorial and other oppressive employers.

You insist that the financial status of the Scranton Diocese is so fragile that a real union might bring about the collapse of the entire diocesan educational system. Yes, there is fragility, but why must the teachers have to suffer financially and be denied not only their moral right to unionize, but also their moral right to an adequate living wage – a bedrock of Catholic social teaching? Granted parents have a right to the Catholic education of their children. However, if parents cannot pay more tuition and the wider Catholic population of the diocese is unwilling or unable to contribute more money to the costs of its school system, the teachers still have a right to ample and detailed information, to forego their moral rights to form a union and to receive an adequate living wage. Your action pits the one right of parents against the two rights of the Scranton Diocesan Association of Catholic Teachers (SDACT) members. Furthermore, many teachers are already holding two jobs or living in four or five income families. Thus, a third right is challenged – the practice of Catholic family values.

Consequently, in canon law and justice there is an even greater burden of proof than alleged in the original and subsequent public statements. Records should be available not only to these dedicated teachers seeking a union, but also to the entire community. Otherwise, credibility is at stake. In your original statement you referred to the teachers’ association as selfish (recently revised to “self interested”) and unconcerned about the financial viability of the diocesan educational “ministry” -- the usual “pitch” of management consultants! The proof of such an outlandish charge beggars, unless the records of negotiation sessions and financial details are presented to the public. Otherwise, an unjust accusation is made about the teachers. Thus, what steps has the diocese taken to establish or enhance an endowment for Catholic education, as some dioceses have done? What steps has the diocese taken to enlist the support of interested and competent lay people to contribute and/or elicit donations and to guide diocesan financial and personnel policies, without the bias of a profit-making management consultant firm?

Such statements also reveal the management consultants’ slight-of-hand about unions today as passé, especially in non-profit organizations and/or service industries, such as education and health care. In the early 1970s the U.S. government did not think so when it placed health care under the Wagner Act.

Also, public and non-religious educational institutions are covered by many state laws. The United States Supreme Court decision to exempt religious schools from coverage by the National Labor Relations Board was based not on separation of church and state, but the failure of the Wagner Act to cover religious elementary and secondary education. The court punted! However, immediately after that decision there were weak efforts to seek an amendment to the Wagner Act and to establish diocesan personnel programs which included real unions, not “company unions.” However, such never ensued, because Catholic educational administrators in most dioceses failed to heed the urgings of the U.S. Catholic Conference (USCC) and the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA).

Now is the time for the Scranton Diocese to be creative. Whatever the arguments and differences, the feelings and memories of the past, let there begin again negotiations with mutual respect and cordiality. Add to the admonition that unions in Catholic institutions should be of a higher caliber than in industry or commerce, that so should the employers! If it means conciliation, meditation or arbitration, let the Scranton Diocese take the steps necessary to recognize and negotiate with the Scranton Diocese Association of Catholic Teachers.

An effective response would be to implement the creative “gain sharing” model of the respected former President of Scranton University and Catholic University, the distinguished economist and ethicist of “work and management,” Fr. William Byron, S.J., in Labor-Management Relations: A Catholic Perspective, edited several years ago by the present Cardinal of Detroit, Adam Maida.

Otherwise, the Diocese of Scranton will fail to heed the 1976 warning of the U.S. Catholic Church’s labor-management expert, the late Msgr. George G. Higgins.

Namely, in stalling for time in dealing with collective bargaining Catholic school administrators “will be asking for serious trouble and will do irreparable harm to the reputations of the Catholic school system and of the Church as a whole in the United States.”

One year later in 1977, the United States Catholic Conference, Subcommittee on Teacher Organizations’ conclusion, with the Administrative Board’s approval, was that the concept of the “community of faith” – to teach as Jesus teaches — should persuade school administrators to accept and welcome employee initiatives, to establish their own teacher organizations.

The church has already suffered from too many losses and scandals. May we not add more pain and shame!

(Rev.) Patrick J. Sullivan, C.S.C., Ph.D.

(Rev. Sullivan teaches sociology and theology at King’s College with an emphasis on labor issues. He has written two books and is working on two more.)

My own perception of Bishop Martino is that he is a shutdown manager, in the model of "Chainsaw" Al Dunlap. Dunlap was brought in as a crisis manager to companies in distress, whereupon he would make deep cuts, fire large numbers of people, and often leave the companies in worse shape than they were when he came to them. Martino has come to a diocese undergoing a transitional period, as a large proportion of many congregations...well, is old and dying, to put it bluntly, and the younger parishioners are moving out of the area almost as fast as they are leaving the Catholic Church, for reasons related more to a general crisis in the Church than to anything specifically happening locally (though the national scandal of pedophile priests has also struck home here), and at the same time a large number of immigrants - many of them legal, and from New York City - are placing an added burden on diocesan services.

Martino has responded to these crises by cutting back on services to the sick and elderly, closing parishes - again cutting back on services to those too old or infirm to travel to any parish church other than the one they had been attending - and consolidating Catholic schools throughout the Diocese into a centralized location, requiring miles of bus rides for students from outlying areas. (When it was pointed out that the student capacity of the consolidated school was considerably less than the combined attendance at the schools being consolidated, Martino - or his representative, I don't recall - simply noted that they were counting on a lot of students not staying in the Catholic school system after consolidation.)

On a personal note, I attended my cousin's son's Confirmation last year. It was a combined-parish Confirmation, and it was held at the church with the largest seating capacity in the area. But when these churches were built, having a parking lot with spaces to hold all the cars that would be used by all the people in the church was not a consideration - so people wound up having to park up to several blocks away. Elderly and infirm grandparents had to hobble through the rain just to get to the church - only to find that the church was filled beyond capacity, and was now standing room only. (Church pews do not make it easy for anyone not at the ends to give up their seat to someone whose need is greater.) To add insult to insult, the bishop - Martino himself, deigning to grace the boondocks with His Most Excellent Presence rather than sending an assistant bishop - decided to be fashionably late, strolling into the church a good ten or fifteen minutes after the designated start time for the Mass. He then commented on how wonderful it was to see the church so full of people, apparently not bothering to notice all the old folks forced to stand in the back whom he had just made stand even longer.

One criticizes a member of the Church hierarchy only at grave peril to your own standing as a Catholic - for the Bishops have the right to excommunicate those whom they so choose. Criticism is always welcome as a way of presenting yourself for chastisement - the correction of errors on the part of the flock by the priesthood. For a priest to criticize a bishop in so open a manner is almost unheard-of, and will likely lead to grave consequences. I salute his courage.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Scooter progression

It's been only a little more than seven months since Scooter came into our lives. I don't think I've shown these photos before.

This is Scooter on July 17, 2007, when he was just a few weeks old and had just been ripped from his mother by a neighbor who hated stray cats. (That's a paper towel he's on.) He spent most of his time at this stage in a rigid state of tonus, his neck arched back and his front legs fully extended. At this point he wasn't Scooter yet. He wasn't even Wiggles. We actually didn't think he had much chance of living, and were just providing him with a safe and comfortable place to die.

He didn't.

Your forehead has a flavor.

Here's the thanks I get for months of tender loving care, including holding the little guy inside my shirt and letting him fall asleep curled up against my heart. This is Scooter a little more than four months later, on Thanksgiving 2007. I would submit this to I Can Has Cheezburger?, but it's too blurry. (It was taken with my nephew's camera phone.)

Here's Scooter ten days ago, on February 16, 2008. He looks somewhat wary in this picture, perhaps even calculating. In fact he was probably just half-asleep. Not bad for a cat who wasn't expected to live at all!

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Mysterious Brown Puddle

I stopped at my house yesterday to do my weekly furnace dump and chimney sweep. My new, normal, Monday-through-Friday schedule means that I'm not spending as much time at the house as I'd like. When I was unemployed, I could have gone to the house whenever I wanted, yet I kept myself away for some, I felt like I didn't deserve to lounge around (or even get a night's sleep) at my own house until I had secured a job. I'm sure I must have spent a few nights there, but honestly I can't recall. (I'd have to check the blog records!) And during the nearly six months that I was on the 4x4 schedule, I could also have spent lots of time there - but didn't. Now pretty much the only night I can spend there is Friday, and I haven't done that yet.

Which doesn't mean I haven't been over there. I've been there several times this past week, to shovel the snow, salt the sidewalks, set up a new lamp on a timer, check the mail, and make sure everything was in order.

Yesterday when I went over there, everything was not in order.

I didn't sense anything was wrong when I entered the house. The thermostat was still set around 60 degrees, right where I had left it. Lights worked, windows weren't broken, doors were intact, heat came on when I turned the thermostat up (so nobody had stolen the water pipes yet), big brown partially dried-up puddle in the middle of the kitchen floor...

Wait. My mind leaped into action. That shouldn't be there.

OK, this is now a crime scene. Move nothing. Touch nothing. What do we see, what do we smell? Spider-Man's first rule: People never look up. Look up. No leak from the bathroom above...besides, there would be a bedroom above that spot, not the bathroom. The bedroom where my Uncle died. Whatever. There was nothing to indicate a leak from the ceiling.

Water sources? The kitchen sink was over thataway about twelve feet. The sink has a slow leak, and a leak in the drainpipe would really ruin my day...but there was no sign of a leak under the sink, no trail of water from the sink to the middle of the floor. Ditto on the radiator by the back door, and the window on the other side of the kitchen table.

The stove? Mmmmaybe. The water seemed to lead back to the antique coal/gas stove that I still use to make tea. Bernie warned me about condensation in the gas lines. However, the house was not full of gas, so I discounted this possibility.

The chimney? Again, a big mmmmaybe. But a scan under the stove in the direction of the place where the stovepipe joins the chimney didn't show any obvious telltale signs of water being on the floor.

Me? Could I have tracked in snow on a previous visit, snow which had melted and not yet evaporated? It seemed unlikely, since I hadn't stood in that spot recently. And why would it be brown? I have washed the floor several times since I bought the house. Water on the floor should not turn brown.

Intruder...with coffee? Not likely, unless they were very neat about breaking and entering. Besides, the whole place should smell of coffee if that were the case. It didn't.

I chalked it up to just one of those things, and got some damp paper towels to clean up.

I sniffed at the brown stuff that I picked up on the paper towels. Traces of coffee...and iron. Rust?

Whatever. I cleaned it up as best I could. It looked like it had left a stain.

Today I stopped at the house after work to see if the Mysterious Brown Puddle had reformed. It hadn't. But the previous puddle looked like it had possibly taken the gloss off the linoleum floor. Acidic? Maybe. I slipped an old paint tray under a point on the stove that I decided was as likely a spot as any for trapped, condensed water to be seeping out, carrying the residue of ten thousand breakfasts with it.

Just one of those things, I guess. Just another thing you'll encounter while trying to rehab an old house. I'll keep an eye out for further developments.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

RENT review

I forgot something I learned after writing about seeing Les Miserables in London in March of 2006: actors sometimes Google themselves to see what people are saying about their performances. So with that in mind, I offer this brief (and name-filled) review of RENT.

I saw RENT with a friend at the 2:00 matinee on Saturday, February 23, 2008 at the Scranton Cultural Center (formerly known as the Masonic Temple.) We sat in the third row on the extreme left - close enough to see up the actors' nostrils, though some of our view of the far left of the stage was obscured by a tower of lights and speakers, and at times a light picking out things happening on the far right of the stage shined directly in our eyes. (This is, however, the best place to sit for a closeup view of Maureen's bare butt - portrayed by Christine Dwyer's bare butt - when she drops trou to send a message to Benny the landlord, played by John Watson.)

Briefly put, everything about this production was fantastic, and I regret that this may have been my only opportunity to see the show, since it is closing on Broadway on June 1.

Real standout performances were given by Heinz Winckler as Roger and Kristen-Alexzander Griffith* as Angel. The part of Roger is very vocally demanding, and Winckler was more than equal to the task. Angel is perhaps the most physically demanding role, and Griffith performed fabulously.

Also notable were Anwar F. Robinson as Tom Collins and Jennifer Colby Talton as Mimi. Tom Collins (the only character called by both his first and last names throughout the story) is a character who provides a sort of emotional compass for the story, while the role of Mimi is as vocally demanding as Roger and nearly as physically demanding as Angel. Both Robinson and Talton gave wonderful, memorable performances.

I found the character of Mark, performed by Jed Resnick, to be the weakest link in the chain of RENT. Perhaps the character, who serves as the narrator, is written that way; having never seen any other portrayal, I have nothing to compare this performance to. Resnick's vocal performance was less powerful than those of Winckler and Talton, though his duets were beautiful and richly nuanced throughout the show.

As the story progressed, you really cared about these characters. The death of one of them brought real tears to the eyes of even the biggest and toughest audience members - not because a fictional character had died as the script demanded, but because the portrayal of the character's passing evoked memories many, many deaths that had been experienced in the real world.

It is possible, I suppose, to buy your ticket and go to see a play, or a movie, or a concert, and then walk out of the venue and carry on your life as though nothing had happened. It is a characteristic of a performance that is more than mere entertainment that the experience of what you have witnessed stays with you, and dwells in your head and heart and soul long after the set has been struck and the tour has moved on. RENT is such an experience.

Tonight is the final performance in Scranton. From here the tour moves to Grand Rapids, Michigan on March 4 and 5, and then leaps back East for performances in Baltimore, Maryland on March 7 through 9. (Who the hell came up with that tour schedule? In fact, the schedule gets even crazier from there - two days after Baltimore they're in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on the 11th and 12th, then two locations in Missouri from the 13th through the 16th, then back up to Ohio for a single day, then a week in Ontario, then three days in Tennessee, six in Virginia, then a nice long stay in Florida...really, I get dizzy just looking at that schedule!)

If the RENT tour comes anywhere near your town, I highly recommend going to see it! Tell them that d.b. echo sent you, and you read about it on Another Monkey!

*There was some discussion between us as to whether this was an actor portraying the transvestite Angel, or an actress playing a man who dressed as a woman, or perhaps a transgendered man playing a transvestite. I had hoped that the website listed in the biography section,, might be of some help in clearing this up but unfortunately - and ironically, given the thematic content of this story - this site has been cybersquatted!

Will I?

One song that really hit home in RENT was "Will I?" It is a very simple song - a round, really, consisting of just three lines, overlapped by many voices:

Will I lose my dignity?
Will someone care?
Will I wake tomorrow from this nightmare?

Here it is from the movie version:

This song isn't just about people facing the future of living with AIDS. It applies to us all. As someone who has spent so very much time in nursing homes, hospitals, and the VA, when I hear this song I see my great-aunt, my grandmother, my father, my uncle - all of whom had family and friends who visited them every day - and hundreds and hundreds of others who did not have even that. Unless the way end-of-life care is handled in this world changes, I fear the answers to the three questions are Yes, Maybe, and No.

The point has been made in music before.

Elvis Costello, Veronica:

Moby, Natural Blues:

Death sucks. Have I mentioned that before? I think I have.

Do what you can to help others keep their dignity at the end of their lives.

"Sometimes we'd just sit there, and she wouldn't say anything, and I wouldn't say anything. And you can try and work out what was going on in her head. But I think it's something we don't understand. Not yet, anyway."

- Elvis Costello, spoken at the end of the Veronica video

Saturday, February 23, 2008


Well, I saw RENT. So now I can understand a lot of references my friends are making.

I'm going to be replaying the play in my head for a while, trying to figure out what to make of some of the themes. I'm sure this will provide some good discussion material with my RENT-fan friends.

If you haven't seen it - well, this is your last chance. The show will close on June 1.

Ashley has been posting RENT clips from YouTube on her site, so go there to see them. (Specifically: "Out Tonight" sung by Mimi; "Light My Candle", a duet by Roger and Mimi; and "Seasons of Love", sung by everybody.) As for me, I've decided to post a video of another sort, one that this play's themes of love and death brought to mind. It's a song I first knew as a cover by My Bloody Valentine (which is a complete departure from their usual style) from the Peace Together charity album, and only later as a song from the soundtrack of the 1969 James Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service. The song is "We Have All The Time In The World", performed by Louis Armstrong:

Friday, February 22, 2008

Snow tired

It snowed again. This was supposed to be a murder-death-kill of a storm, but so far it's been pretty routine - a few inches of fluffy snow topped off with a layer of ice crystals, just enough to weigh it down. I used a shovel and a broom at my house across town, and a snowblower here.

Now I'm tired.

I wasn't going to run the snowblower until the morning, but I'm glad I did it now. Tomorrow afternoon I'm going to see RENT in Scranton with a friend, and I'll have to spend a bit of time in the morning converting the car into a two-seater!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Magic of Everyday Life

Today I walked out a work and saw a parhelion to the left of the sun, its rainbow of colors vivid in my polarized sunglasses. Sadly, there was no one leaving at the same time for me to point it out to.

As I drove home the parhelia - two of them, both to the left and the right - became more pronounced; the left one appeared to be a vertical pillar of light, though I know it was really a visible section of a ring of light around the sun, formed by a fortunate alignment of ice crystals in the atmosphere. My mom was on the road at the same time, and while she was some 40 miles away, she was also driving West at the moment I called her. So I got to share this with her.

I drove home with the parhelia and the setting sun ahead of me the whole way. As I pulled into Nanticoke the spell was broken; the sun passed into a thicker layer of clouds near the horizon, and the parahelia faded away.

The world is full of what I call The Magic of Everyday Life. That was very nearly the name of this blog, and it may yet turn out to be the name of a secondhand junk, gardening supply, and magic trick/joke shop sometime in the future. Last night was a prime example, as the Moon passed through the shadow of the Earth. Something so rare, but so mundane. A chance arrangement of ice crystals produces parhelia that flank the setting sun; another arrangement forms a different light show entirely, while a trick of light and raindrops produces a rainbow.

Sunrises. Sunsets. Sun Pillars. Shadows. Spiders. Weeds. Things that lurk in flowers. Clouds in the moonlight. Dark suns that rise in the East at sunset. All amazing and perfectly mundane things, easily overlooked as we go about our everyday lives, more incredibly magical than any bit of prestidigitation. All part of a world that exists all around us.

Here's a video that means a lot to me, and a lot of other people of my generation. It's from the children's program Sesame Street - according to information on the posting on YouTube, it actually aired in the second week that Sesame Street was on the air, though many people associate it with the death of Mr. Hooper.

I don't know if the video has a title, though a lot of people call it "Sad Flower." The story of how this video came to be on YouTube is pretty amazing: the original clip was pulled, possibly by the content owners (though why they would do this is beyond me), possibly by some nervous and risk-averse soul at Google, so a user reposted it from an ancient videotape he had made years before. The sound was bad, so another YouTube user replaced the audio - the second movement of Vivaldi's Guitar Concerto in D-Major - with a better version. Other users identified the location in the background (Exit 28, Westbound, of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway) and even the exact setting (the rooftop of 21 Clark Street in Brooklyn.)

Many people seem to associate feelings of sadness with this video, even those who saw it long before the death of Mr. Hooper. (I was 14 when he died in 1982, and only watched Sesame Street ironically at that point.) But I know that whenever my brother and sister and I saw this on TV, we just thought it was beautiful - and we would turn it up to hear the music better. (The song haunted me for years, as described in this post, and I only just found out its name a year or so ago.) In fact, I never had the impression that the flower was crying, though if it is it might be because it is so isolated from the rest of nature, growing in a crack in a rooftop in Brooklyn. (Those familiar with what vegetation can and eventually will do to all human construction may interpret these as tears of triumphant joy.) But seeing the water dripping from the center of the daisy-like (or sunflower-like) flower, I think I have identified what type of flower it is.

Your assignment: go out and find something magical that you have overlooked, something that even might have been there all the while, but you haven't noticed before. Then share it with someone else. Maybe even post it on your blog!

Happy searching! Good luck, and enjoy the Magic of Everyday Life!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Go out and see the TOTAL LUNAR ECLIPSE tonight! you can tell me about it, 'cause I probably won't get to see it.

Drat. Those clouds look like they probably won't clear up before the end of totality. Looks like Ashley and Supertiff in the Great Catcher's Mitt State of Michigan may have a chance. Lauren in Connecticut and Melanie in Massachusetts look like they're in worse shape than me. (I'm just above the "r" in Scranton, 30 miles southwest of that great center of culture and academia.)

Still, hope springs eternal, and even with heavy cloud cover there's still a chance that you'll catch a glimpse of the eclipsed Moon through a break or a thinning in the clouds. Go out and have a peek -maybe you'll get lucky!

UPDATE, 8:44 PM (one minute into start of Penumbral phase): it's SNOWING! #$@%*&! And it doesn't look like the clouds have budged at all on the current radar!

UPDATE, 9:15 PM: At Anne's encouragement, I peeked outside - and the Moon was just emerging from thick clouds. Half of it is in shadow! 45 minutes to Totality!

UPDATE, 9:35 PM: Going...going... Even through cloud cover, I can still see it! The shadow of the Earth is showing a distinct reddish tinge in the upper part of the Moon. BONUS! To the lower left of the Moon is bright Saturn, and just above the Moon is Regulus in Leo! (Brave Regulus, a Death Eater who had the 'nads to stand up to Voldemort! Look upon his star and remember him!)

UPDATE, 10:43 PM: I SAW IT!!! The clouds broke up a few minutes before Totality, and I was able to squeeze off seven shots with my camera poised on the roof of my car. Here's the first one, with the Moon at its reddest. (Thin clouds darkened the Moon in subsequent images.) Note Saturn in the lower left, and Regulus above.A solid bank of clouds rolled in at the moment of Totality, and I figured I was done for the night. But the clouds broke up again at mid-Totality, and I was able to race out and get off two more shots before the next cloud rolled in.
Saturn, the Moon, and Regulus, 10:30 PM, 2/20/08

So I did get to see it! The last Total Lunar Eclipse visible anywhere until December of 2010! I hope you saw it, too!

Keep up-to-date with my personal weather situation with WNEP's Regional Doppler Radar with Satellite!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

War is Over, and an Eclipse Reminder

This is a twofer. A combo post. First off, don't miss tomorrow night's LUNAR ECLIPSE (Wednesday, February 20)!!!! 'Cause I probably will, since it's supposed to snow here.

Now, part two:

If you care about this sort of thing, you probably already know about it. But I'm gonna repeat it anyway.

As I tore into the parking lot at work today, a few minutes shy of being late, I heard a teaser on NPR news during "Morning Edition": "Toshiba waves the white flag!" I knew what that meant, but I wanted to be sure.

Yes, the news confirmed my suspicion: Toshiba had officially announced its capitulation in the High-Definition DVD format war. In case you're not up with the latest technology, here's a brief recap of what's been going on these last few years: There are (or were) two competing technologies vying to succeed DVD as the physical format for home entertainment. Both had vague and deceptive names: HD-DVD was the format proposed by Toshiba and backed by a small group of content owners and manufacturers, while Blu-Ray was the format owned and promoted by Sony and backed by a larger group - many of whose members were actually playing on both sides.

Physically, HD and Blu-Ray (or BD, as its officially abbreviated) look very similar to each other and to standard DVDs and CDs. Both HD and Blu-Ray were high-definition formats optimized for high-definition televisions, and both use a blue-light laser for playback. Technically the two are quite different, and the discs are incompatible with each other's player, though both types of player can play old-school DVDs.

Many people will tell you why one format or the other is technically superior to the other. Both are superior in image and sound quality to standard-definition DVDs, though not by as much as some of the demos I have seen in stores would lead you to believe, which used "dumbed down" DVD images to prove the inferiority of standard-definition DVDs. (Nothing that I ever did the bit budget for, and nothing that our department compressed, could ever possibly look that crappy!) Still, many standard-definition DVDs do not make the transition to HDTV very well. Images that look sharp and crisp on your standard-definition TV can look blocky and blurry on a seven-foot-wide HDTV, though few people who are not videophiles or who have never worked in a DVD Authoring facility would ever notice. (How bad is the image? About as bad as satellite TV. What, you don't have a problem with the picture quality of satellite TV? Well, there you go.)

I am told that that was one of the strengths of the HD-DVD player: it did an excellent job upconverting standard DVDs to something resembling HD resolution. So those people who invested in HD-DVD players aren't completely screwed. Actually, once the prices have dropped, it might not be a bad idea to pick one up as a back-up DVD player...

There are those who say that this is all academic, that round shiny things are dinosaurs, and downloads are the way to go, and the way the public will go. To this I say: not yet. Downloaded video is to a high-definition DVD image played on a high-definition screen on a properly-connected player something like watching a fifth-generation bootleg of a summer blockbuster vs. seeing the real thing in a theater. Or watching a YouTube video of a TV program instead of watching the actual TV program. Or listening to an mp3 instead of a CD. Sure, lots of people do, and can't tell the difference. More power to them. They don't know what they're missing.

But, anyway, HD is out. BD has won. This explains what Tiffany heard about Netflix going to Blu-Ray: it was Blu-Ray instead of HD, not Blu-Ray instead of DVD. Decisions like this one, and the decision by Warner Bros. to release exclusively on BD (leaving HD without its most important ally) that pushed HD over the edge.

Incidentally: I was the first one in my area who knew about this. One of the manger/engineers I told about it came back to me an hour later and said, "Hey, I checked that out, and it's true." To which I replied, "Of course it's true! I heard it on NPR!"

Monday, February 18, 2008


I received my 75,000th visitor sometime early Sunday morning. I might have been online then, but I forgot to check my SiteMeter. Thank you, whoever you were, and thank you to the other 75,202 visitors who have stopped by as of this writing!

It should be noted that it's been a little more than a year since I received my 30,000th visitor!

Presidents Day: A Lesson Learned

It's no secret that I don't think much of the Current Officeholder, the guy who occupies the Office of the President of the United States of America on those rare occasions when he isn't on vacation. I think he's stupid, incurious, incompetent, dishonest, arrogant, ignorant, irrational, cowardly (except when it comes to putting other people's lives on the line, then he's the "Bring It On!" Cowboy), contemptuous of the opinions of others, contemptuous of the Constitution, and a tool of those who profit from war and conflict - and from America's continued dependency on oil. I think he won the 2000 election by criminal means, and I think he won the 2004 election through a combination of the same tricks that put him in office in 2000 and by playing on the fears of the electorate with a skill (not necessairily his own) that any terrorist would be envious of. I think he is very likely the worst president in the history of the United States, in the august company of fellow Republicans Warren G. Harding and Richard M. Nixon. I could go on, but I won't.

I won't because, instead, I'd like to focus on one thing I admire about him.

(I hope certain people weren't drinking coffee while reading that last sentence.)

What could I possibly admire about this guy, this smug, smirking, chuckling idiot, this Commander-In-Thief? What is there to possibly like about him?

It's his steadfastness. His resoluteness. His unbending refusal to compromise on any issue. It's something that the next Officeholder would be well-advised to study, and emulate.

One of the biggest criticisms of Bill Clinton (or should we start calling him Clinton I? No, that would be very premature) - at least, before it was revealed that "Little Willie" was, in many cases, his "Decider" -was that he was willing to compromise on a lot of issues, even if it meant going against his base. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was a compromise Clinton arrived at to get around the U.S. military's prejudicial ban on homosexuals: homosexuals could serve as long as they never revealed that they were homosexual, and inquiries about their sexuality were officially prohibited. (I do not know if similar restrictions applied to heterosexuals, but given the frequency of incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the miltary, I'm gonna say "no.")

Clinton was willing to compromise on this and other issues, and it infuriated his base. It also infuriated his opposition, since they would much rather be dealing with someone who was steadfastly opposed to all of their positions - it makes it much easier to rally the troops. So they found other reasons to hate Clinton, and dug and prodded and pried and prevaricated until they achieved their ultimate goal and found a reason to impeach him - and then failed to remove him from office.

John McCain is learning this lesson. The howls of protests coming from the Neocon/Theocon camp are in part due to McCain's history of showing a willingness to work with people from the other side of the aisle. Bipartisanship is not considered a virtue on the far Right. I heard a quote from a Republican strategist a while back who said that the Republicans in Congress would much rather get their way 100% of the time by a 51% majority than ever achieve a compromise with 100% agreement.

Bush's inflexibility was a bit easier to work when his party held a majority in Congress. Back then he and his pet Congress were all singing from the same songbook: they passed the legislation he wanted, and he would sign it, and they would all get pats on the head and belly rubs. But that changed in November 2006, when the Republicans lost control of Congress. (Well, technically, January 1, 2007, when the new Democratic majority took office.) Bush's record of never having vetoed a piece of legislation ended there. From that point on there have been numerous standoffs between Bush and the Congress - standoffs that, too often, Bush has won.

Yes, despite a track record of having been wrong on almost every decision he has made* - including those made prior to his Presidency - Bush's unwavering, uncompromising stance has often carried the day in disputes with Congress. (Prompting SuperG to comment, "It must be mighty hard to be lamer than a lame duck, but alas, Ried and Pelosi seem to pull it off regularly."**)

Ultimately, history will judge George W. Bush, and I think it will judge him quite harshly - perhaps as harshly as it will judge the generation that allowed him to do the things that he has done. But I hope that history will remember him as someone who stuck unwaveringly, unbendingly, uncompromisingly to his positions, even when those positions were clearly, plainly wrong.

It's a lesson that the next President will do well to learn.

*Some will counter with, "Well, the Surge is working." To which I respond: it would have worked better back when Colin Powell proposed it in 2003, when Bush decided to ignore the advice of a Four-Star General in favor of the advice of politician Donald Rumsfeld.
**This was misquoted in my original version: "Prompting some to ask the question, 'What's lamer than a lame duck? Just ask Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi!'".

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Free Speech isn't'll cost you $20

...and only then if the local government wants to let you be heard.

I saw this in the Wilkes-Barre Citizen's Voice the other day: City set to establish permit fee for protests. I know a lot of other places have requirements for permits and fees for things like this, and frankly, I was surprised that Wilkes-Barre didn't already have such an ordinance in place.

Sure, it doesn't sound right. Is it Unconstitutional? Well, the Constitution only states

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
It doesn't say anything about what the Wilkes-Barre City Council can and cannot do.

And, sadly, there's a lot of precedent for Wilkes-Barre to rest on. According to a comment from local activist Tim Grier on Big Dan's Big Blog, this ordinance is based on one that has been on the books in Philadelphia - and, as Tim found out in a recent dispute with Luzerne County (where he learned that people who merely reside in a County, but are not members of the Landed Gentry, have fewer rights than those folks who are), precedent is 99/100ths of the law. Remember the "Free Speech Zones" in New York City during the 2004 conventions - basically concentration camps where protestors could speak their minds in fenced-in areas well out of earshot of anyone they were trying to protest against, or wanted to be heard by? That's where ordinances like this lead.

These ordinances exist for several reasons. They provide a way to restrict and regulate who says what, and when and where they say it. They provide a legal basis for silencing those who refuse to comply. And they provide revenue, $20 at a time.

I wonder if the local governments of Selma or Montgomery, Alabama would have granted a permit to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? As Tim points out, "While they say they 'won't deny anyone a permit,' there are more than thirty reasons listed in the ordinance that enables them to do just that."

If you live in the City of Wilkes-Barre - well, now is the time to speak up about this. Before you have to cough up $20 to do so, if someone decides to allow you that right.

Last time I looked, honey, I was living in the United States of America, not the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. This whole friggin' country is a Free Speech Zone, and a lot of folks fought and died to make it that way. If you don't like it, go to Russia. Just don't let Uncle Vladimir serve you tea.

Thanks to Gort for the prodding, and Big Dan for the heavy lifting, and Tim Grier and Walter Griffith for making an issue of this when other people might have just shrugged and said "Eh, whaddya gonna go?"

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Total Lunar Eclipse, Wednesday, February 20!

Don't miss this if you can help it! The last Total Lunar Eclipse visible from the United States until December of 2010 will take place on the evening of Wednesday, February 20! *

As this image* (taken from the official NASA page for this event) shows, the eclipse will be fully visible for most of the Western Hemisphere, and at least partially visible for everywhere but Australia, New Zealand, Eastern Russia, and most of Asia, including many of the islands of the Pacific.

For me, located snugly in the Eastern Time Zone, the Partial phase of the eclipse (when the Moon begins to move into the outer portion of the Earth's shadow, which exists because the Sun is an extended body in space, not a point source of light) will begin at 8:43 PM on the evening of Wednesday, February 20th. Totality (when the Moon moves entirely into the darker, inner portion of the Earth's shadow) will begin at 10:01 PM and end at 10:51 PM, with mid-eclipse at 10:26 PM. The Partial phase will end at 12:09 AM on the morning of Thursday, February 21st.

Those of you in other time zones can adjust the above numbers accordingly, or just check out the handy (but difficult to copy-and-paste!) table at NASA's page for this eclipse. Anyone in Europe hoping to catch a glimpse should remember that the eclipse will happen entirely after midnight, your time, so for you this will actually be a Thursday morning event.**

Things to watch out for:

The shadowed parts of the Moon are often much brighter at Totality than during the Partial phases! This is because the Earth has an atmosphere, and some of the sunlight that is blocked by the Earth (which appears much larger than the Sun in the Moon's sky)*** manages to sneak around the Earth by means of refraction through the atmosphere. From the Moon, the Earth would appear at Totality to suddenly be surrounded by a brightly glowing ring as the atmospere lights up - as many authors have put it, the Moon at Totality is lit up by the glow of every sunrise and sunset happening everywhere on Earth at that moment. But different atmospheric conditions of clouds, smoke, and volcanic dust cause the color of the Moon at Totality to vary from one eclipse to the next!

You can use a series of lunar eclipse observations to deduce that the Earth is a sphere! Notice that the edge of the Earth's shadow is round, regardless of how long ago the Sun set. That wouldn't happen if the Earth was flat - someone seeing the eclipse at sunrise or sunset would be seeing it through the "edge" of the flat Earth's shadow, which would appear like a line . The only shape that would always cast a round shadow is a sphere - or, at least, something sphere-like. In reality, Earth is an "oblate spheroid", slightly flattened at the poles and bulging at the equator.

Also, check out the stars around the Moon! That's something you don't see every day!...err, night. During one total eclipse many years ago, I was astonished by the sense of the three-dimensionality of the Moon, hanging like a purplish grapefruit against the distant stars.

...a very distant purplish grapefruit. How big do you think the Moon appears? The size of a dinner plate? A half-dollar? Grab a pencil with an eraser and hold it out at arm's length in front of the Moon. How do they compare?

Let's hope the weather cooperates, and we all have clear skies for viewing this amazing event! If you get pictures of it, let me know and I'll link to them!

*Yes, I know the image says "2008 Feb 21". They're using Coordinated Universal Time, which is the same as Greenwich Mean Time for our purposes. This event takes place in the early morning hours of Feb. 21, as far as Coordinated Universal Time is concerned.

**The Greenwich Mean Time figures are:
Partial phase begins 01:43 AM GMT
Totality begins 03:01 AM GMT
Mid-Totality 03:26 AM GMT
Totality ends 03:51 GMT
Partial phase ends 05:09 AM GMT

***The fact that the Moon and the Sun appear the same size in the Earth's sky is a remarkable and temporary coincidence - the Moon's orbit is gradually getting bigger, and in time it will be smaller than the Sun in Earth's sky, making Total Solar Eclipses a thing of the past.

Friday, February 15, 2008

I ate too much cheap post-Valentine's Day candy

I stopped at Rite Aid (a chain drugstore, or "pharmacy", or "chemist's", depending on what part of the world you're from) on the way home from work to check out the discount Valentine's Day candy and I was not disappointed. A lot of chocolate was there to be had at half price. Good stuff, too. Maybe, just maybe, it was chocolate rich in iron, which will help me with my attempted blood donation tomorrow.

While trying to not look too much like a chocolate hyena, I strolled the aisles browsing through the non-candy items on display. I wound up getting a battery-operated screwdriver for $5.99 (I've actually been looking for one for a few weeks; they're great when you're working on assembling stuff that has dozens of screws) and a half-price MAD Magazine 2008 calendar - this was the first and only place I've seen these, and I don't think I've seen them anywhere since 2005 or 2006. I had to hold myself back from getting the Vivitar 7x50 binoculars for $9.99 - I have several pairs of binoculars, and I don't need another just yet.

Though you might want to get yourself some binoculars for next Wednesday (February 20, 2008)'s Total Lunar Eclipse visible from (almost) the entire Western Hemisphere!!! More details to follow as the date approaches!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Valentine's Day message

A year ago tonight, I was holed up in my house across town, cold and sore and tired from digging out one house, walking across town in the snow carrying a jug full of calcium chloride pellets, and then digging out another house.

This year we had a baby-sized variation on the theme: quite a lot of light, fluffy snow, followed by freezing rain - followed, unfortunately, by another good, solid freeze. (Eerily, this Winter's weather is following November's long-range forecast pretty closely.) So both yesterday morning and this morning I had to dump a lot more of my ice melt onto two sets of sidewalks. Four, actually, because I also salted the sidewalks of my elderly neighbors on either side of my house across town.

Driving across town this morning before I headed out to work was interesting. About two blocks before my house there is a STOP sign at an intersection where cross traffic does not have a STOP sign. As I approached this intersection I noticed three things:
  1. The road was a sheet of ice. Literally. Very shiny and smooth ice, too.
  2. There was no traffic coming from the cross-street.
  3. There was an inconveniently-placed fireplug on the other side of the street.
As I began to brake, I realized there was no way in hell I was going to come to a stop. Furthermore, I would very likely lose control of my car if I continued to brake and would almost certainly crash into the fireplug, which would then entomb me in ice. Not wanting to wake up in a future world far beyond my comprehension, I decided that just this once it would be OK to sail through a STOP sign. Which I did.

I survived the trip, and salted half a block's worth of sidewalks. I had to rush a bit to make it to work on time.

Tonight I was smart. I salted everything as soon as I got back from work. I doubt it was necessary, but at least I wont have to worry about surprise sheets of ice in the morning!

Image genenerated using the Hahaform at
...and I forgot to add:
Link courtesy of!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

For Valentine's Day: Kayleigh by Marillion

For Christmas 1985, my sister aked for the cassette of Marillion's Misplaced Childhood. This was years before any of us would have a CD player, but even back then record albums were so old-fashioned. I think my brother and I got it for her together, and once we heard it, we made copies of it for ourselves.

Marillion was - is - a band that falls into several categories: "Progressive Rock", "Art Rock", even "Pomp Rock." Watching their videos on YouTube I was a little shocked to see that they also fell into the category of "Hair Band" - for some reason I thought lead singer Fish was already balding back then. (Judging from his brushed-forward hairstyle, it seems likely that he actually was.)

Here's their most popular song, and one that really meant a lot to me back then as I was dealing with assorted heartbreaks. I guess it still does. Heck, I used to sing it to myself just a few years ago as Haley and I would walk along Main Street in Nanticoke in the early morning hours. It's called "Kayleigh."

But this isn't my favorite Marillion song. That would be the song in the second half of this video, starting at 3:53. It's part III of a song cycle from Misplaced Childhood called the "Bitter Suite", and it's apparently called "Blue Angel":

(While this is supposed to be a "Live" performance, the audio is directly from the album, and they just appear to be miming along to it.)

The sky was Bible black in Lyon when I met the Magdalene
She was paralyzed in a streetlight, she refused to give her name

And a ring of violet bruises, they were pinned upon her arm
Two hundred francs for sanctuary and she led me by the hand

to a room of dancing shadows where all the heartache disappears
And from glowing tongues of candles I heard her whisper in my ear,
'J'entend ton coeur',
'J'entend ton coeur',

I can hear your heart, I can hear your heart,
I can hear your heart.

...but but but, I also really like this song, which I believe directly follows "Kayleigh" on the album. Just as happy and upbeat as the others: "Lavender."

Misplaced Childhood is my first and last exposure to an album by Marillion. I've heard the occasional solo stuff by now former lead singer Fish (not to be confused with Phish, or with Fish), and I think I've even heard some stuff by Marillion from their post-Fish era. But I've never listened to Fugazi, or any other album by the band. Maybe someday.

Oh hell. That's not the end of the story. Or the end of the album. There's no video to this song, which ends the Misplaced Childhood album on an upbeat, redemptive note. It's a song about picking up and getting on:

For she's got to carry on with her life,
And you've got to carry on with yours

"Childhood's End", by Marillion.

(It kinda cuts out abruptly. Sorry about that.)

So there. Happy Valentine's Day.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Your attention please: IT'S SNOWING!

Just because some people seem not to have noticed...

Attention state and local officials: IT'S SNOWING!

Yes, it's snowing. In fact, it's still snowing right now. But you know what? People still have to get home from work. So, rather than waiting until it stops snowing to send out the snowplows, maybe you could clear the roads for the working stiffs who would very much like to make it home alive and in one piece? Oh, and be a dear and make sure they're clear in the morning - keeping in mind some people have to start work at 6:00. Thanks a bunch. Have some taxes.

Attention truckers: IT'S SNOWING!

Maybe you didn't take Physics in school, but I'm sure you've learned a few things in your time on the road. Like the fact that it takes a certain amount of distance to stop a moving vehicle. Like the fact that your brakes don't work on snow-covered highways nearly as well as they do on dry pavement. Like the fact that during a snowstorm highways may be full of the sort of things that may cause smaller vehicles to stop suddenly. Like the fact that these smaller vehicles have a much shorter stopping distance than you do.

In other words: five feet is not a safe following distance in any conditions, especially not at highway speeds, particularly especially not when the roads are covered with snow. So back it the hell up, before you kill more people. OK?

Attention SUV drivers: IT'S SNOWING!

You know, it still doesn't feel like Winter to me, because I haven't seen one of you on your roof yet. But you know what's almost as bad as SUV drivers who think they are invincible and drive like maniacs regardless of road conditions? SUV drivers who drive at 5 miles per hour on the highway because there's some snow on the road! Hellooooo! We can go a little bit faster than that, you know!

Attention me: IT'S SNOWING!
So get the hell off the computer and start clearing some sidewalks!

Monday, February 11, 2008

A bad deal for the future of DVDs?

So it looks like the Writers' Strike is all over but for the voting. The deal sounds less than ideal, but many working writers seem to be in favor of it.

One thing that does not bode well for the future of my industry - DVD Manufacturing - is the fact that the writers did not get an enhanced piece of the DVD revenue pie. Essentially, it sounds like that was a concession that was made in order to get more in the way of download revenue and access to future media.

For a lot of people, television is as much a part of life as the flesh-and-blood workaday world, or even - and I find this hard to believe - the online world. Friends aren't just a bunch of inexplicably well-off twentysomethings living together is some incredibly expensive New York real estate; to a lot of people, these are their friends, people they have over in their living rooms five nights a week. They hang with Will and Grace, sleuth along with the kids at CSI, laugh and cry with the Gilmore Girls.*

For many people television establishes normative behaviors. What you see on TV - well, that's what people do, 'cause you just saw them do it. Hairstyles, music, catchphrases, attitudes, modes of behavior - maybe it's not exactly a case of monkey see, monkey do, but it's pretty close. Over time, the behaviors of viewers begin to ape the behaviors of people on TV.

And this isn't always a bad thing. I've known people who were raised without exposure to television, and they...well, to put it politely, they missed out on some of the socially normative aspects of television. It wasn't like they were from another planet, but certain behaviors that we take for granted from being exposed to them on television were never developed in these people. On some level, they almost suffered from a lack of empathy. (Strange to think of empathy as being taught to us by the idiot box; this is essentially a reversal of a situation described by Philip K. Dick in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?...or was this sequence only in the movie version, Blade Runner?)

To summarize: by being able to establish the normative behaviors that influence TV viewers, television writers wield enormous power.

So what am I getting at? That writers can shape society for the better by showing more characters who behave according to a moral or ethical code that benefits both the individual and society? That the TV world can do with a few more Cliff Huxtables and a lot fewer sociopathic serial killers? That TV writers have an awesome responsibility, and should be afforded a lot more respect - and money - than this deal grants them?

Naaaah. What I'm getting at is my concern that, from this day forward, you will never again see a TV character purchase or rent a DVD. (I have no idea how often you see that nowadays, but work with me here.) From now on TV characters will seek out their entertainment online, from sites similar to - or perhaps identical to - the ones which in the real world will actually generate some revenue for the writers. After all, why should TV writers promote a medium like DVDs which pays the writers almost no dividend at all?

And if this is so, it will be a very bad development for the DVD world. And a very unfortunate development brought un us by corporate greed and short-sightedness. A decision ever-so-slightly in another direction could have paid huge dividends in terms of increased DVD sales and rentals. With this deal, who can say what will happen?

*You can tell I'm keeping up with what's currently on television, right?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Is the end in sight for the Writers' Strike?

I don't watch much TV. Still, I get a little irked when I hear other people who don't watch TV snobbishly say, "Well, who cares that the writers are out on strike?" On the other hand, I was more than a little frightened when I found myself in a very slow-moving lane in Wal-Mart a few weeks ago and began paging through that week's issue of TV Guide. There was a page filled with letters to the editor about the strike, and one seemed to capture the mood of many of the others. It said something along the lines of "Our brave soldiers are off risking their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they aren't going out on strike! The government should force the writers to go back to work!"


The strike, in case you haven't been paying attention, is about a lot of things, including compensation to writers for internet, DVD, and other (perhaps as-yet undeveloped) mediums. During the last writers' strike, the home video market was still in its fledgling stages, and the union essentially bargained away fair compensation from home video sales as a concession for other items that they valued more highly. By the time 2007 rolled around, it was quite clear that this concession had been a grave error, and the union was eager to make sure it had these bases covered this time around. The studios, naturally, see things otherwise.

So how will this strike end? Will the folks with all the talent and none of the money be forced to bargain away everything of value? Will the side with all of the money and none of the creative talent decide to treat the writers fairly, realizing that any concessions made now will pay huge dividends in the future?

I dunno. We'll have to see in the postgame analysis. As of this posting there is an offer on the table, and the union leadership is recommending that the rank-and-file vote to accept it, and call off all active picketing until the votes have been cast and counted. So, soon, all of you TV watchers will be able to look forward to new episodes of your favorite TV shows. In the meantime, you can follow the latest developments at the United Hollywood blog. I'll also be keeping up with the story over on Adam Felber's Fanatical Apathy. I hope everything works out for the best!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Another award, courtesy of Whim

It's been the better part of a week since Whim chose me as one of the five people to be awarded "The Spreader of Love" Award from her site. I am supposed to pass it along, in turn, to five other bloggers. And...well...I'm stuck.

One blogger who comes to mind immediately whenever I think of such a thing is Ashley at Ink On Paper. Ashley is one of the most selfless people I know, willing to put the happiness and well-being of family, friends, and even total strangers ahead of her own. If that doesn't result in love being spread - well, it's certainly not for lack of trying.

Lauren (whose current blog as of this posting is Things I Carry, a.k.a. Memoir) is all about the love. People, dogs, fish, customers, love flies everywhere over at her blog!

Debra Pasquella's Let Me Go On And On! looks at love, and life, and relationships, and spirituality from a more serious, almost professional point of view.

An odd site to cite for spreading love is Josh's The Comics Curmudgeon. This is a site whose core consits of snarky comments about the day's comic strips. But somewhere along the way The Comics Curmudgeon rekindled a love for the comics in a lot of readers and commentors, as best seen in the post announcing the passing of They'll Do It Every Time artist and writer Al Scaduto.

The fifth blog...well, this is the toughest. In the end, considering what I'm going to post next, I thought I might just cite YouTube, for helping to connect people with the songs that mean so much to them, in a manner that benefits both the viewer and, indirectly, the artist - far more than a music download site would. So instead, I'll award it to the blog that first got me interested in YouTube: Michael Plank's Content.

Now, let's make with the love:

Some artists and labels are more restrictive about posting (or more active about removing) videos on YouTube. Looks like Barenaked Ladies is one of those, because I can't find a posting of their video of their cover of Bruce Cockburn's "Lovers In a Dangerous Time" anywhere. Here's a live version, from their Barelaked Nadies DVD:

Here is Bruce Cockburn's original. The lip synch is awful, and Bruce looks verrrry yuppie-ish - this was 1984, after all. But it's all in stark contrast to the story of the song.
This song is brilliant, and pure poetry, but I - forgive me - prefer the BNL version. In Bruce Cockburn's voice, I prefer "If I Had A Rocket Launcher", from the same album, inspired by the same situations.

UPDATE, 10/28/08: Here is the BNL Version.

I heard this song while getting an oil change today. Lee Ann Womack, "I Hope You Dance":

I had to turn my head so the other people in the waiting room couldn't see me mouthing the words...

is a wheel in constant motion, always
rolling us along

Tell me
wants to look back on their years
and wonder
where those years have gone?

...and to keep them from seeing how shiny my eyes had gotten all of a sudden.

That's it for now. I hope you dance. And kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight.