Pop Culture

This is where I chime in on fun topics: movies, the internet, TV shows, the funny way people use language, and trends in the culture . .

Review: 'Careless' by Richard Shindell

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"Careless" (2016) by Richard ShindellReview of “Careless” by Richard Shindell. Originally reviewed on September 26th, 2016.

I'm continually appalled that Richard Shindell doesn't have a bigger following than he does, even though he resides in a genre that is perhaps not at the forefront of popularity these days, the folk singer/songwriter. Even given his street address on the margins of the musical industry, his music should be a Mecca to which true lovers of the well-crafted and poignant folk song should trek. I've been fans of other less popular artists before, and often they disappoint as their lack of monetary success wears on them artistically. Richard Shindell has had ups and downs in his output, but Careless is among the best music he has ever created. He continues to create amazing music. I bought the album after hearing a Folkways recording of one of its tracks, The Deer on the Parkway. It took a couple of listenings, but it's now firmly among my top 2 or 3 of his albums.

Review: 'Making Shoji' by Toshio Odate

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Cover of my copy of Making Shoji by Toshio OdateBook review -- 'Making Shoji' by Toshio Odate.  Reviewed on 4/29/2016.

Recently, I've been thinking of ways to make my woodworking more . . . oh, I don't know, soulful, I guess. I do this hobby not so much to complete projects (based on my pace, that much should be right obvious) but to enjoy a sort of zen mindfulness. But I also do want to accomplish something. It's a personality flaw of mine that I can concentrate on something so intently that I slow to a crawl and don't make any progress. Woodworking with no progress isn't woodworking, it's meditation. (Or more likely in my case, ennui and then sleep.) But one of the ways I've been hoping to increase the mindfulness of my woodworking was to take on something elegant, simple and beautiful. I've always wanted to try to build a Japanese screen. Not one of those Western, free standing ones you saw in 1930's movies where the movie star goes behind it to change suggestively into 'something a little more comfortable', but rather those structural elements from Japanese homes. Shoji, as they're called in Japan, form an ultra material-efficient way to form rooms in a private home. And I'd like to make some, hopefully in a way that is less cultural appropriation and more a way to honor the masters.
 
With that desire in mind, I went on Amazon and ordered a book. I'd heard the name of Toshio Odate in recent years. He's known in the U.S. as a teacher and ambassador of Japanese woodworking into North American culture. The Amazon showed me that he had written a book on just this subject. I almost squeee'd with glee. I ordered it in about 14 nanoseconds and with the Prime account, had it on my doorstep in 23 and one half hours.

My Attitude about Comments

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Those few of you who read this stuff I write, you may be curious about this site. Particularly, why do I post stuff, with no capability for feedback? The entire internet is built around community and feedback and comments and social-this and personal-that. Why no way to deliver a witty and scathing riposte?

Part of it has to do with why I keep this site in the first place, which is a topic I reserve for another time. (Some time soon, though. I've been mulling that one for awhile and it's about fully cooked in my noggin' now.) But mostly it has to do with what happens when I do open up comments. As anyone knows who has any presence on the internet, the stream of things that come back at you are various, mostly banal, and usually spam. Spam is the cholesterol of the internet. It's everywhere. A small fraction of it is actually good. But mostly it just sticks in the gears and gums up the works.

I occasionally break down and turn on the comments for an individual article or project update. I always regret it within 24 hours. It starts with a small dribbling of benign, but unfocused, random comments. Usually in pairs.

Sam123: Hey, <articlename>, do you know this?

Sam123: Hey, <articlename>, do you know this?

Then, usually about 24 hours later, that same tag comes back, but this time it's a longer post about how great a blogger you are and, oh, by the way, here's the link to my website: buyviagrafromrumaniafornotmuchmoney dot com. In 36 hours, the stream goes from about 5 comments an hour, to about 50 an hour. If I leave it open, and heaven-forbid, allow anonymous users to publish their comments without my approval, I'll be gettin' more than 500 comments an hours. And not one has one damned squat-bit of anything to do with the article they're posting on.

Back, six or seven years ago, when I started this particular website, I used to leave these open all the time. The acceleration wasn't as extreme back then. I'd get to about 50 comments an hour after a couple of months. For a long time, I actually went through every couple of weeks and deleted all the old spam comments, and GOLLY, occasionally found a real comment. The ratio, thinking back, was about one genuine comment out of about 4 or 5 thousand submitted comments. I finally gave up and shut it all down. 

This goes back to the basis of why I post at all. I can tell you right now, hearing feedback from readers isn't even in the top ten. It is occasionally nice, though. I've had some good feedback a couple of times. But the spammers and other jerk-wads always have to bury that in their shit.  I mean, I get it. It's all commerce. The internet went from the wild west, to the wild west run by Russian mobsters. Anything to get their clicks.

I think I'll run an experiment. I'll leave the comments ON for this one article, and I'll tell you what. I'll *approve* every comment for the first 24 hours. And leave that as a testament to all you ass-hole spam-bots, chinese state-sponsored hackxors, and SEO-seeking, mass-linkbacking, Google-rank chasing, PC-sweat-factory-living human drudges who generate most of this stuff. Here you go. This is the last of it. Then I'm turning off the entire comment function completely for good.

Sigh. I remember the early days of the internet, when most of its inhabitants weren't human douche-nozzles with pea-sized gonads. A sneak peak on that article about why I have this website and post the way I do? Here's the secret . . . . shhhhh, don't tell anybody . . . .in this place . . . .  I can say whatever I want.

And here, at least most of the time, you get to say . . . . NOTHING.

 

 

But just this once, have at it, boys: Say your Say. Sound your barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world. 


How to Stumble into Geocaching

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I've recently taken up the hobby/game/interest/waste-of-time/pursuit(?) of geocaching. So how did this happen? Yet another thing to occupy my already endangered spare time? In hindsight, it seems only natural. It involves technology, being out in the woods, conservationism, exploration, and a childlike sense of wonder. What's truly a wonder is that I didn't stumble into this sooner.  But in my case, it took a nudge from my son and a conversation with my wife to get me off my duff to try it. My son got a treasure map from one of his friend. His father had given him a treasure map a couple of years ago, which led him to a treasure box on their property that was just chock full of gems and doubloons. Liam and his cousin were bouncing off the walls one Saturday about this map, because, you see, the map was BIGGER than just his friend's yard. It also showed areas all the way down to Florida . . and there were other treasures on it! We just about had to tackle them as they were headed out to hitchhike to the Sunshine State. (Not really, they're nine. But I wouldn't have put it past them if they had gotten any more worked up about that map.)

Just about to go down a slippery slope

My wife and I were talking about how fun it was to see Liam and Aidan so excited. I said something about how there's nothing better in the world than that sense of wonder you have as a child. And then my wife said those fateful words, "You know, we could take them geocaching or something, so they can at least find something."  One of our former neighbors had been into this hippy-thing called 'geocaching' and was always going on and on about it. That came to mind, so I looked into it. And a giant, bemusing, out-of-control slippery slope opened up under me and down I went . . . like Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in 'Romancing the Stone'.

What is geocaching? Basically, it's a glorified global scavenger hunt, using any GPS-enabled device to guide you. It was started about fifteen years ago by a couple of people in Oregon (naturally) who were into GPS and exploring the natural world. It has now evolved into a global passion followed by millions of people in search of more than 2.6 million individual secret stashes of stuff. Mostly the stuff doesn't matter, it's the hunt that matters. The game is to log into one of the two or three cache tracking websites, find one in the area where you will be travelling, use your iPhone or Garmen to track it down, FIND IT (not always a simple taask), open it, trade stuff for stuff, sign the logbook, put it back where you found it (hopefully hidden even better than when you found it), and finally log your find online. To get the most out of it, you have to pick one of the geocaching communities. There is an Open Caching site and movement, mostly pushed by the GPS maker Garmin, which is sort of like the wild west of geocaching. But 99% of all geocachers use the ones that started it all: Geocaching.com, which is run out of Portland, Oregon by several of the originators of the activity, with their company Groundspeak, Inc. But all of the things you need are at Geocaching.com.

This is the Geocaching.com logo. The symbol often shows up on the side of a cache . . . if you can ever find the damned thingI'm just a baby at this. My score is only 6. That means I've located 6 geocaches, all in my local area, all within the last two weeks. There seem to be thousands in the Atlanta area alone. Heck, I found one less than 1000 feet from our house, and another less than 500 feet from my office. The fun of it is that once you get within about 50 feet of a cache, GPS isn't going to help you much. It isn't that precise . . . and frankly, lots of the people who create these caches are just evil. They go out of their way to make it hard to find them. (Don't get me wrong, most of them aren't that hard. Many of them are obvious once you get nearby. It depends on what the cacher is going for . . . a tricky, clever hide, or just to get you to a beautiful spot out in nature.)

Our two and their three cousins locating their first geocacheLast Sunday, I conned all five boys, our two plus their three cousins, to walk down our street and across Riverside Drive where there is a big wooded 'park'. It's sort of attached to the Roswell Community park system, but not really. It's just a low lying area near the Chattahoochie River. They looked like the cast of Stand By Me. And we went hunting for three geocaches I found on the Geocaching iPhone app. We found two, couldn't find the other. The last one was truly out in the woods, and it was getting kind of late, and the boys were freaking out because . . .well, there's lots of spiders in the woods in Georgia. hee hee hee.

But finding them, especially when their hiding spot is tricky or clever, is just a joy to experience. It's especially fun to see kids come upon a location and run around looking for the cache. And then when you open the cache, you get to see them pour over the contents. Usually, as long as it hasn't been muggled, there a logbook, a pen that probably doesn't work (take your own at all times, that seems to be the rule), some swag, maybe a couple of geotagged items, and very rarely, some real treasure.

Pixar's Film History - One Subjective Assessment

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Cars is severely underrated, no matter what your criteriaI don't write much here about movies. I'm not really sure why. I've been a devout fan of cinema for a long time, up to and including running the movie theater at my college while I was an undergrad. I took quite a few classes on film, including several with the respected film theorist and historian Louis Giannetti. I guess it's been because everyone and his brother has become an 'internet film reviewer' in the last two decades. So I usually stay out of it. But I'm still passionate about watching movies. And as my wife often somewhat bemusedly notes, while completly lacking any interest in this particular genre, I am a complete sucker for an animated film.

Chronological list of the Pixar films released over the past 20 years

Something's been picking at my brain recently. As I said, I love animation. Always have. From early Disney, through experimental shorts in the 70s and 80s, all the way up to the latest computer generated stuff. And I feel a bit out of sync with the world when it comes to the flicks of the greatest of all animation houses . . .Pixar.

I mean, yes, I agree that their films are, in general, among the best ever made in animation. They've released 15 feature films in 20 years. And their consistent level of quality has been astonishing. But when people talk about Pixar movies, they never seem to quite think the same ones that I do are truly the greats. It's disconcerting at times. I mean, why wouldn't everyone agree with my opinion. I'm just so . . . correct. Sigh. You are all very clearly confused.


Grammar Peeve: CBS News Needs to Hone Its Blurb Writing Skills

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I have lots of pet peeves about people using words wrong. But I know many people are just annoyed by people pointing out such things, so I almost always keep it to myself. Plus, you always risk having your own typos and foibles pointed out in response. But this morning, I happened across an example of one of my most peevishly pet peeves in such a prominent location, by people whose job it is to know better, and I just simply cannot hold it in.

CBS Article blurb from their website, 3/6/2014Take a look at this article headline and blurb from the front page of this morning's CBS News website:  "College Board unveils sweeping changes to SATs". That's fine. It's the blurb beneath that is the problem.

I've heard this over and over in recent years in conversation, and more and more in print. And here we have it, in a story about educational standards, no less, on the front page of one of the big network news agencies. HONE and HOME cannot be used interchangeably! 

Do Nothing, the Lazy Version of Fiddling

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I recently caught this blog from Rob Port at the Say Anything blog where he defends the concept of the Do Nothing Congress. First, let me say, Rob Port is a fucking idiot. They want us to be HAPPY that they're frittering away time doing nothing while problems need to be addressed?! I guess we should be happy that last Fall the Congress almost let the price of milk balloon to over $10 a gallon because they couldn't be bothered to approve a new Agricultural bill, preventing a 1940s law from kicking in and setting the price based on a 70 year old formula.  That's really not defensible. It's just idiotic.

So we're supposed to do nothing because the right wing in this country has created such a reality-altering echo chamber of lies and self-delusion that no consensus is possible . . .so we shouldn't even try to fix our problems?  We can't all agree on anything because, well, you don't believe science, or common sense for that matter. So that's supposed to justify all of us sitting back resignedly while our crops whither and ancient legislation kicks in to screw up the economy? That's fucking brilliant.

But hey, at least it plays us a happy tune while our oceans acidify and rise up to swallow our coastal cities, and our bread basket states alternate between devastating droughts and massive flooding.



Call Out the Fiddlin'!

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Fiddlin Bill Henseley, Mountain Fiddler, Asheville, North Carolina by Ben Shahn, 1937. Public Domain. Credit: Shahn/Library of Congress. Modified by Jay Oyster.I've decided I have to start something. Everywhere I look, I see the heights of 20th century civilization slowly fading; eroding into the sea.  The fading middle class. The rise of oligopolies. The power of corporations over the laws of nation states. The fading of idealism. The gridlock of democratic governments. The fiddling. The endless fiddling while real problems are burning our civilization down to ash.

Things that Go Away

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Well, in the last couple of days we've seen the departure of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and of the comedian, writer, and director Harold Ramis. As a forty-something man of a certain disposition, I of course often find myself lately ruminating on the way things go away. Loss is part of life. Death and departure is just change and change is the way of the cosmos. But these two doors closing highlight that loss is relative. And when things go away, it isn't always a loss. Not always.

Harold Ramis as Russell in the film "Stripes"Harold Ramis was a wonderful writer and performer, responsible for some of my own moments of purest joy in this life. The laughter I received from him thanks to his writing on Animal House, Groundhog Day, and Caddyshack, and his performances in Stripes and Ghostbusters, is a gift for which I will forever be grateful. I just got his humor. Plus, we basically have the same hair, so I identified with him more than say Bill Murray or Dan Aykroyd. I didn't realize he was in such discomfort during the past couple of years. I'm truly sorry to hear that he suffered so. But I'm still sorry to hear that we've lost him. His loss was a loss for us.

Sochi, and the Olympics in general, is something we are well rid of. The overt commercialization. The local and systemic graft associated. The somehow unhealthy regimented nationalism that is promoted. The modern Olympics have lived way past their healthy usefulness. Originally, they were a tool for building international fellowship and clean, healthy sportsmanship. I remember the idealism of Jim McKay and the olympics of the 60s and 70s. I don't begrudge Russia their time in the spotlight. I just think we need to scale back the whole thing next time. But it is virtually guaranteed that we won't do that. I'm sure the next Olympics will be even bigger, even more obnoxious, even more authoritarian and autocratic than this time, because each time the commercial forces are more in line with the local dictators to do it that way.

So Harold Ramis left us too soon, but at least it was a natural departure, and probably a release. I'm glad he was among us for as long as he could stay and I wish him well in whatever awaits us all in the time after death. The Sochi Olympics, on the other hand, lasted about two weeks longer than they should have, overstaying their welcome from the moment they were born. It's not Sochi so much as the entire Olympic movement I lament. Sochi is gone, and good riddance. Can we now tell the Olympics themselves to go away? We'll honor them for the work they did in the 20th century, but frankly, I don't think we can afford them anymore, either financially or emotionally.






Stripes (1981) --


Recruiter: Now, are either of you homosexuals?
John Winger: [John and Russell look at each other] You mean, like, flaming, or...?
Recruiter: Well, it's a standard question we have to ask. . .
Russell Ziskey: No, we're not homosexual, but we are *willing to learn*.
John Winger: Yeah, would they send us someplace special?


 




2013 - The Good and the Bad

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2013 - a Year of ExtremesPersonally, 2013 wasn't that bad, particularly compared to the Hell that were 2011 and 2012. But from a more global and holistic perspective, 2013 was one heck of a rocky ride. Just in an effort to capture some of my thoughts about what just happened to us all, I thought I'd try to capture my view of what was particularly good and particularly sucky about the 13th year of this latest millennium. I think I'll talk about many of these things in more detail in other posts, so I'm just going to skim the topics.

Do you want the good or the bad first?

Okey-dokey.

Hadoop-da-Loop

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Big DataWhile searching for a comparitive analysis between the features of the various versions of the desktop database application Microsoft Access, I was presented with an odd 13 minute long ad from Cisco on their new product supporting Big Data. Now, while I don't really understand what the product they were pitching actually WAS, I did key on one word in the presentation that I've heard more and more recently . . . 'Hadoop'. 

What the heck is hadoop, you might ask? I know that I certainly was asking that question. After doing some research, I found out that it's related to the concepts of big data, the habits of very large organizations to aggregate really BIG sets of data into really BIG databases. Back in the early 2000s, Google was dealing with the problem of trying to be able to mine the data they were getting from repeatedly indexing the entire Internet. 

Paying for Sustainable is Good, but Expanding What's Acceptable is Better

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Bob Taylor and Alton Brown on the Alton Browncast, episode #18.There was an interesting crossover to woodworking in the latest Alton Brown podcast.  Yes, I like Alton Brown; he cooks, he's funny, and he's a geek. Don't give me any shit about it. I get enough on the topic from my wife. She can't stand him, for some reason.  So the Alton Browncast is normally about cooking and food related items, but in the last couple of weeks, he's branched out to talk about other topics that interest him. Episode 18 has him doing a 90 minute long interview with the founder of Taylor Guitars, Bob Taylor. It's a fascinating and wide-ranging discussion; they talk about the start of the business, ways to market your work, the production process, and food and diet, among other things. (Bob has just recently become a vegan, for health reaons.)  

Taylor Guitars emphasize the wood. This is from their promotional materialsBut from my perspective, the most interesting aspect of the interview came in the first half, from about the 20 minute to the 45 minute mark. Due to the recent legal difficulty at Gibson Guitars over improperly sourced exotic woods, it's clear that the entire industry has had to take a new look at their wood supplies. And it sounds as if Bob Taylor has done more than anyone to come up with a new way of suppling their factories with the woods they need.  If anyone is doing yeoman's work at pointing us all in a new sustainability direction in this area, it sounds like Mr Taylor is at the forefront. It's an interesting listen to hear him talk, with passion and thoughtfulness, about travelling around the world to find the finest woods for his production; to Alaska for Sitka spruce, to three small mountain villages in Honduras for rosewood, and to Camaroon for ebony.  It's the latter tale that has the most intrugue, and raised the biggest questions for me.

14 Things that Suck about Modern Sports

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I grew up in Northeast Ohio, which explains a lot about my attitude toward sports. Once upon a time, I was a fairly ardent fan of a variety of sports. I, of course, watched Ohio State on TV every Saturday, and the Browns every Sunday. And we had a great, though mostly hopeless local college team in a variety of sports at Mount Union College. I liked to listen to baseball on the radio. I listened to Joe Tate on the radio as the Cavaliers were first horrible in the 70s, and then really good in the 90s, but always destined to finish second in their division behind Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. We, in our small town America, patriotic way, liked to watch the Olympics every four years and listen to Jim McKay talk about obscure sports like the luge and rowing. I took it as a way to see the variety and splendor of the world to watch those rare occasional excerpts from the Americas Cup, or the Tour de France, or the World Cup.

But for me, personally, those days are long gone. I've been more and more pissed off at the sporting world for years, and finally, last year, I swore off following any sport at all. And despite several previous attempts to do so and failing, which my wife perpetually teased me about, she's fairly surprised to see that this time, yes, I'm serious. No more sports. No more following the old team I used to love when they suddenly put together a 10 game winning streak. No more following that fabulous championship run.  I've had enough. For that reason, since I'm a year or more away from paying attention to the particulars in any sport, my specific examples in this article may be a bit older and perhaps not up-to-the-second in timeliness, but the trends are ongoing and I'm absolutely certain that they've only gotten worse in the past year.

So why did I swear off of sports? Part of it was the long, painful experiences of the average sports fan from that part of the country. Our teams seemed to be particularly cursed, or doomed, or fated, or whatever the hell it is that causes them to fail at the most painful time and in the most spectacularly humiliating ways possible.  But my disgust goes beyond that. It's probably partially because of those experiences, but it's not only those. Even if you did not have the misfortune to be a Cleveland Browns fan,  I would think most people would admit that there are some seriously screwed up things about the way sports work now. They present the worst aspects of human nature, writ large on a diamond-vision screen and in 30 second clips on SportsCenter. The worst things about the way human beings treat one another and treat themselves are visible in every sport, on every channel, in every season, every day of the year. 

These are the 14 things that are seriously wrong with the way sports are these days. I'm sure many of these things have been true about sports forever, in one form or another, and certainly true in other human endeavors, but they're just so much bigger and worse in sports in these early years of the 21st century. 

I've been thinking about religion lately

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I was raised as a Methodist by my very pragmattic but good-natured parents. I went to Sunday school and church and everything, up until about the age of 16.  Then I spent about 30 years NOT thinking much about religion. 

Recently, for some reason, it's been in my mind. I'd say I've always had a rationalist tendency. My coursework as an undergrad, after all, was physics.   But the increasing signs of religious intolerance I've seen in the United States lately has me worried. I worry what all of these evangelicals will do if they ever get too much power in our culture. 

I recently came across a question in an online forum, "Why do many rationalists, humanists, agnostics, and atheists care about religion? Why do they spend time arguing with religious people?" 

My response was a bit strongly worded, surprising even myself. 

The Importance of Roger Ebert and Sneak Previews

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Roger Ebert, 1970, GNU Free Documentation LIcense from WikipediaAs I've seen similarly reported by many people this past week, the death of Roger Ebert hit harder than I expected it would, especially considering everyone knew that he hadn't been well in recent years. The outpouring of remembrances and testimonials is impressive, and most heartfelt, it seems to me.  Since Roger was the consumate newspaperman, I've kind of made it a hobby of judging various journalistic organizations by how they handled this story. NBCnews.com and the New York Times did it with skill and care. CNN and CBS seemed a bit sloppier. I didn't even bother to read the NY Post, Washington Post, ABC News, and Fox News, which kind of says how far they've fallen (at least in my own estimation.)

The personal writings about him have been even more impressive, as they can be on occasions such as this, since they don't need to hold to some journalistic standard when it was a friend and a colleague they lost. James BerardinelliAndy Ihnatko, and Leonard Maltin, in particular, wrote very well about him. The loss was felt keenly by many.   What sort of surprised me was that the loss was felt keenly, also, by me.

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