Saturday, December 25, 2004

Tried to watch a DVD of the Coen Brothers' the Ladykillers this evening with my mother and grandmother, since I had remembered it as a really good movie with a good moral message when I saw it in the theatre. Bad move. I had forgotten all of the bad language and violence. Luckily, my grandmother couldn't understand one word in four of what was going on, but we quickly gave up, and put in the Sound of Music instead, until everybody fell asleep before the TV. It's been years since I last watched that movie - in fact, the last time I saw it might have been back when my mother left my sister and I in my grandmother's care way the back when. Grandma was very happy to see it again - she kept mentioning that she had seen it in the theatres. I had forgotten how beautifully shot it all was - perhaps the pan-and-scan version they showed on TV chopped a lot of it up? Had to explain to my mother why "all of these DVDs are in these narrow little boxes on the screen", and why pan-and-scan is a mutilation of films shot for the wider aspect ratios.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Ahoyhoy, camparinos. I'm down in Florida, and we got the DSL up and running yesterday. So, here I am. The drive down was mostly uneventful, except for the way the cold seemed to chase us down I-95 like a vengeful ex determined to have the last word in an argument. I had to take the dog out for a walk in a Red Roof parking lot in Fayetteville, NC at 4 in the morning, where I only discovered just how far below freezing it had gotten overnight *after* I locked myself out of the hotel, which was rather short of help. The same woman seemed to be the night bookkeeper, front-desk help, maid, janitor, and continental-breakfast caterer. I nearly froze off my unmentionables before I found the side-door with the room-key all-hours access lock. The dog didn't care - he had a coat built-in by a thoughtful if capricious nature.

I-95 is, in a certain, figurative sense, America's front driveway, which makes its reality a rather surreal let-down. The stretch between Richmond, Virginia and Jacksonville, Florida is essentially a vast swampy desert punctuated with stereotypically racist Senor Pedro billboard ads for the eastern seaboard's largest, tackiest tourist-trap, "South of the Border". Southern billboard rates must be rock-bottom cheap, because there were dozens, perhaps as many as a hundred of these billboards all along the highway throughout North Carolina - nine in the last mile leading up to the North Carolina border alone. As for the swamp, sometimes it seemed as if America was one vast marsh from the James to the St. Johns.

Florida, on the other hand, looks to be the world's largest sand bar. The part of it that my parents have picked to settle down in isn't nearly as flat as I expected, but rather is an undulating patchwork of very low, ossified sand dunes and wetlands, many of which have been drained into large ponds and lakes. It isn't as barren as it sounds, because the rain and moisture means that the sand is well-covered by lots of vegetation, but underneath it all - sand, sand, sand. This is grazing land which is quickly being overrun by the snowbird and retiree immigration. What land hasn't been built over for retirement communities is either under use by horse-breeders, or has been let go as woodlots for wandering herds of freerange cattle. This isn't orange-growing territory - that doesn't start for another county or two, southwards toward Orlando. There's a retirement community, called "the Villages", that starts a few miles to the southeast of here that is forty-five thousand souls strong, sprawling over three counties, and encompassing three dozen different golf courses within its borders. This retirement community is somewhat dwarfish by comparison, but it's still growing at the rate of one or two houses a day, every day, rain sun or showers.

The movers' truck showed up early, and they unloaded with commendable efficiency, which makes it all the more sad that they got into a serious accident not five minutes after leaving for their next stop. We passed them by on the way to lunch on Tuesday, the tractor-trailer jackedknifed across all the southbound lanes of traffic on the highway just outside of this retirement community. Some old duffer in a sedan had spun out in front of them, careening into the front of their truck, and breaking their front axle. Luckily, no-one was hurt, but the chances of them making the rest of their deliveries in time to get home for Christmas in the north is pretty slim. After that, Mom managed to start a fire in the kitchen while I was in the bathroom taking care of lunch, as it were. She had left a shipping box on the open range while she was unloading it, and had apparently spun the dials to "hot" as she set the box down. Much flame and chaos ensued, but the only damage was to Dad's nerves, as this had occurred while he was on the cel-phone with her. We wrote it all off as a decent fire-test for the many, many smoke detectors mounted way, way up the walls throughout the house. Took a while to get them all to shut off.

Dad flew in with Grandma to Orlando on Wednesday, and we drove down to meet them there. We're talking about him flying back up to drive the SUV back down here, as we couldn't find a buyer on short notice leading up to Christmas like it was. Anyone want a five-year-old Honda RAV4 with a lot of mileage, good condition?

Grandma's trying to settle in; she's 93, and she's been feeling every year the last few months or so. I've been trying to help the folks with her, but I can see it's going to be a challenge taking care of her, between the two of them. Oh, well.

My sister's going to be lapping me, coming down the afternoon of the 30th on a flight to Orlando, after I'm due to leave on a flight heading north from that same airport. She's a physical therapist, so hopefully she'll make some progress in getting Grandma situated; she's better-trained for this sort of thing than anyone currently down here, I suppose.

Friday, December 17, 2004

I'm going to be out of town for a couple weeks on family business, and probably away from the Interweb as a result. I've not been posting much, as you might have noticed. I've been writing, and tossing material recently. Mostly because what comes out is better-suited to increasing the balance of misery in the world, and I don't know that such things are worth the publishing.

I'll be helping the folks move down to Florida, to a place whose address prominiently features the phrase "nth Circle", which I figure is quite appropriate in describing a flat, hot, humid hell of a state...

Friday, December 10, 2004

Dear commie pinko superhero-pimp:

Please do not make the assumption that the prototypical American patriot is somehow wedded to the mainstream American comic. They are not. They just don't give a half a shit about the spinal-reflexive anti-American, hardcore leftist twaddle that passes for "alternative comics". Those that can stomach the five billionth iteration of "superhero comic" will buy what DC, Image, and Marvel shit onto your metaphorical docks every month. You know, with near-mathematical exactitude, how big that fraction of a fraction is. But please, don't imagine that your shelves full of Art Spiegelman's sour crap and poorly-printed Ted Rall and Tom Tommorrow reprints are going to draw anyone inclined to list to your political right into your squalid little basement shop.

They're at the bookstore across town, buying manga from an establishment which doesn't reek of geek stink patchouli.

[Yeah, yeah - I'm aware that the Beguiling is a Canadian comics shop. Who ever let fairness stand in the way of a good rant? I'm getting eye-strain from their stupid cycling-snowflakes backgrounds, and I'm feeling mean.]
Lynn Swann is talking about running for governor of the commonwealth in 2006.

I'm amused by this because Swann used to own a house two blocks down the street from my parents' house in Ross Township. We never saw him around the neighborhood - dunno if he actually lived in the house or no. I seem to remember that his wife used the place during the season, or something like that. For some reason, I thought they moved south to Georgia or the Carolinas when he retired. But, nevertheless, if he runs for governor, he'll definitely be a homie done good from my point of view. I'm kind of afraid of what that piranha Rendell will leave of Swann when he's done with him, though.

I was watching A&E yesterday, and was amused/alarmed to see that a murder had occurred in the same neighborhood a few years ago, some yunzer beating his wife to death in the hot-tub and calling it "drowning" - he's on death row now. I didn't realize it was the old neighborhood until they pulled back on his incredibly bland house and the distinctive white-elephant bulk of Ross Park Mall appeared in the background.

Although I'm in favor of the death penalty, I'm not exactly happy with this particular example - I don't consider somebody who murdered two wives to be a fit subject for execution. Copkillers? Sure - gotta protect the civil service. Mass murderers, yes - for the outrage against civil order. Serial-killers? On the "they'll never stop" theory, and the "they had it coming", yeah, sure, liquidate 'em. But I don't quite see that a guy who kills two women for the insurance money qualifies as a serial-killer. He seems like a prime candidate for life-in-prison-without-parole. That sort of doughy-pasty-white-geek will be more miserable as a lifer than on death row, anyways. Huh. Looks like a court sort-of-half-agreed with me, because his death sentence was commuted by an appellate court due to other irregularities - mostly boot-strapping between the murders of his two wives.

They had the township police chief on the program going on about how there was only one or two murders in the township every ten years or so. If that's the case, then almost all the murders in the township occur in that neighborhood, because I remember a woman having killed her husband in the basement of one of the houses across the street from Swann's place in the late Seventies. I guess I can claim that I grew up in the most dangerous neighborhood in my hometown, can't I?
Stayed at home yesterday to try to avoid further infecting the office with my germs. Everything went to hell without me there, so I suppose I'm good for something around here... daytime TV hasn't improved much since my useless-post-college-days.

The best channel was C-SPAN. They had a high-ranking general standing in front of a busy shed full of mechanics and Humvees, as he tried to explain the esoterics behind up-armoring transport vehicles in a IED&ambush war like Iraq. Thus is the state-of-the-art of spin control in 2004. The press corps wasn't totally ignorant for a change. Everybody was bending over backwards to not look like they were going to come down like a ton of bricks on the NCO who was yelling at Rumsfeld. So what's the odds look like this week on a Rumsfeld resignation? I'm guessing one in three, up from one in twenty last week. After that, they had Gen. Brooks, Robert Kaplan, and some other guy at AEI doing a panel on, of all things, spin control and information warfare. They had a lot of interesting things to say about how the administration lost the information battle over First Fallujah, and dominated the fight over the story of Second Fallujah. Interesting point - Gen. Brooks used that exact name - "Second Fallujah". How very, very 1862, don't you think?

There was a lot of lights-flickering and tv-outage later last night. When I came in this morning, I discovered that the building-site where the Mount Nittany Inn used to be, and theoretically will-be-again, BLEW UP last night. Quite spectacularly, to judge from what our secretary, who lives over that way, had to say. Apparently there's a good deal of power infrastructure up on Centre Hall Mountain by the Inn, because last night's flickering power was the outside edges of a pretty nasty series of brown-outs that took down the power here at work, and throughout Pleasant Gap and the upper reaches of Penns Valley. That Inn is snakebit, if you ask me. Time to give upon it, bury the ruins, and replace it with a tree plantation or something.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

As much of a reputation Hollywood has for progressive, liberal, and leftist politics and activism, it's quite striking that the actor-politicians who have had actual, electoral success, have been, by and large, Republicans or conservatives. Ronald Reagan, governor of California and president, is, of course, the pre-eminent example, but there are secondary examples such as Clint Eastwood, one-time mayor of Carmel, California, Governor Schwarzenegger, the late Rep. Sonny Bono, and even one-time Governor Ventura of Minnesota. The only counter-example I could find was honorary "mayor" of Malibu, Martin Sheen, and could somebody tell me why a city with an actual, elected, mayor needed an unelected "honorary mayor" best known for intentionally courting arrest and incarceration at every protest compatible with his work-schedule?

Hollywood's reputation for leftism and leftish political activism is quite well-earned, and yet almost all the politicians produced by that culture have been on the right side of the dial. Why is that? Admittedly, a lot of the activism in the modern Hollywood left is aimed at electing other people to office - look at the swarms of has-beens and almost-about-to-have-beens like Whoopi Goldberg, Jeneane Garofalo, and Ben Affleck that buzzed about the Kerry campaign in the last season. Those folks are there to boost other candidates, rather than second careers of their own.

People like Alec Baldwin and Warren Beatty are always rumored to be getting into this or that, but it never pans out. For one thing, the rumors are always on a national scale - people were talking about Beatty in 2000 for the presidency. Yes, one could complain that to run for the presidency without ever having stood for even so much as the office of town dog-catcher, is deeply egotistical, but hey - that's never stopped Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Sr., or any of the retired-military types who inevitably pop up in national election cycles. Nevertheless, the successful conservative or Republican actor-politician usually shoots for something more modest, like a house representative seat, or a governorship. The presidency awaits for those who prove themselves in a starter-seat, if the constitutional ban on immigrant presidential candidates doesn't otherwise conspire against said actor-politician.

There is the theory that a Republican or conservative bent in a denizen of a leftist utopia like Hollywood breeds practical political skills in the bearer; if the soil is deep enough and properly-fertilized with ambition, a second career as a politician can grow. The successful actor-politicians are by and large just that, politicians. Activism is often confused with politics on the left; it doesn't help that we refer to performance-artists, exhibitionist lunatics and serious party operators by that same, stupidly vague term. Though the marcher-protestor-puppeteer is an ineffectual buffoon who will never make a single change in the world worth the notice, and the party operator is making connections, quietly raising funds, organizing, building pragmatically for the long-term, both are called "activist". Not that you can't find the occasional buffoon or lunatic among the party operators - look to Kos for the refutation of that easy conclusion - but it's an essentially serious business. Meanwhile, the entertainer is naturally drawn to entertaining, if meaningless, nonsense, protest and street-theatre... I know, I know - too facile. I had this theory about Reagan's activism within the Screen Actors Guild, but look at this LA Weekly article about current SAG head Mike "B.J. Honeycutt" Ferrell's unwillingness to run for greater office... eh. That writer thinks the answer is "Democratic actors are cowards", which conflicts strangely with his touting of Ferrell's Marine service.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Hrm. I'm annoyed with English today. The imperative, the past tense, and the present tense of "read" are identical. This makes it difficult to use that verb in an economical fashion.

"[I] [r]ead that as a negation of his prior position." "[I] [r]ead in the paper this morning that he's thinking about a second run at the office." "Read this statement put out by his campaign office - does that look like he's withdrawing from the race?"

This ambiguity creates a need for unnecessary verbosity. How can I be properly laconic with this sort of thing dragging me down into jabber? Bah.
Yeah, I'm here. I'm just not feeling particularly verbose.

Read the fourth (actually "4.1", which is kind of lame) volume of Planetes, which is something of a tedious let-down from previous volumes. The author seems determined to present childish selfishness, wilful ignorance, and disregard for others as praiseworthy rebellion. Kind of a shame, really. It doesn't outright suck, but it's rather whiffy - like a pile of garbage in the back-alley polluting the whole neighborhood with the faint stench of rotting tubers.

Started reading Machiavelli's Florentine History. Always interesting when a four-hundred-fifty-year-dead author comes out with a new book... Not that far in, but already I've learned that as far as Niccolo is concerned, everything awful which has ever happened to the Roman Empire and Italy has been as the result of ministers, emperors, and popes inviting northern European barbarians to intervene in local political quarrels or feuds. Not that he's got an idee fixe or anything...
Michael Totten's photolog from his tour of Libya. Striking.