Elayne Riggs' Journal (for Leah)

Friday, February 28, 2003

I Love Lexy

No, not Michael Rosenbaum, he's definitely easy on the eyes and the best thing about Smallville but I think I'm old enough to be his mother. I'm talking about the icon which represents Bookworm, the most addictive game I've yet encountered from PopCap, a site that specializes in cool and fun games. I've only been able to play it online so far, and it's accounted for probably 99% of the time I could have spent doing something more productive like catching up on reading, housework, writing, etc. Now the deluxe version is finally available for Windows. I'm downloading and paying for this sucker tonight. You think I'd learn by now, wouldn't you? Heh.

Thursday, February 27, 2003

Philling Station

Many in the blogosphere have linked today to this fascinating article about the cancellation of the Donahue show on MSNBC. I'm reminded of the expression that goes something like "Fool me once with your conservative-bred damned lies and statistics, shame on... shame on... mumble mumble... Fool me twice, by progressives actually repeating those numbers... won't get fooled again." Everyone (including me) took it as a given that Donahue's ratings were lower than anyone's at the network besides Matthews'. Surprise! it's the "top-rated show" on the network! I can't help but wonder if that's because the cable system monopolizing our area finally carries MSNBC (which it only has for a couple months, and we still can't get the Food Network and Oxygen and BBC America and did I mention these guys have come a'calling lately?), and liberal parts of NYC tend to be a natural market for shows like this? Anyway, I've watched it from time to time but I wind up shouting back at the TV a lot, and I do find Donahue's manner rather haphazard and lazy sometimes so it's not like I'll miss it on its own face. (Update: Looks like Mark Evanier - link at sidebar - agrees with me on this one.) I'll just miss not having a decent progressive talk show on TV; The Daily Show's about the only one left.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

High School Madness

Well, so much for wanting to watch Jeopardy! in the last week before my boss undoubtedly starts keeping me late at the office every day again. It was obviously urgent, according to state-run TV Peter Jennings, that everyone pay attention to Bush making a speech to the ultra-conservative kooks at the American Enterprise Institute about a post-invasion US occupation of Iraq, bringing to pass the worst of thinking people's fears, that this wasteful, counterproductive, illegal, horrid invasion is a foregone conclusion. I grieve for the losses to come.

Meanwhile, in the societal microcosm of our educational system, thinking young people and their teachers are finding out along with the rest of us that dissent is not to be tolerated. Via Tom Tomorrow (link at sidebar), this article about a warning sent by the Maine Department of Education reminding superintendents and principals that "that all school employees must remain sensitive to the children of military families — even if those employees are opposed to military action in Iraq." This was apparently brought on by "reports that some educators and other school employees have been sharing anti-war sentiments with students." I'm all for sensitivity, but isn't it more sensitive to show these children how much you care about their parents by doing everything you can to forestall them going to war?

Then again, if you do that you might, heaven forfend, inspire them to do things like Toni Smith did. Interesting that Toni's silent and relatively mild protest has been going on for months but only now it's being noticed? My favorite paragraph: It brought chants of "U.S.A.!" from a small band inside the gym and it brought louder, more vociferous chanting — "We love Toni!" — from a larger group at the other end of the gym. Minutes before the game was to begin, it moved one fan to yell, "You're a disgrace!" Which moved another fan to yell back, "You're an idiot!" Dang, sometimes I actually miss high school.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Heavenly Patroness Turns 50

Happy birthday to "Jeanne d'Arc" of Body & Soul (link at sidebar)! From the design she put up on her entry today I'm assuming she's the Big Five-Oh, which is way neat because my personal aspiration at 45 is to be her in five years. :) As most folks who visit this blog know, I consider Body & Soul an indispensable must-read and one of those places that has taught me more than I can possibly calculate in the few short months I've been blogging. Many happy returns of the day, Jeanne!

You Keep Using That Word. I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means.

Via Brooke Biggs and Natasha (links at sidebar), this wonderful Observer article by Terry Jones. (Does anyone know if he's the same bloke from the Python troupe? Update: I'm told it is; yay!) Contrary to the claim in the sub-header, I believe the perversion of language goes hand-in-hand with the perversion of truth in this case (and, sadly, in too many others).

Double-Edged Sword

Let me preface by saying I like Google's search and news capabilities a lot, and I'm as happy as other bloggers that they've bought Blogger/Blogspot. That said, I'm surprised more online privacy advocates haven't linked to Google Watch, particularly their page nominating the service for Big Brother of the Year. Food for thought, whilst one is still allowed to bite the hand that feeds.

Monday, February 24, 2003

Random Grammy Thoughts

  • Did anyone get a snapshot of Harvey Fierstein (dressed to kill in his fabulous Edna Turnblad drag) and Aretha Franklin together? That's the photo op I'd maim to see.
  • How much of a newcomer can you be if your dad is Ravi Shankar?
  • According to Neal Pollack (link at sidebar), his "Just Shut Up" screed wasn't really meant as a bored-and-jaded-white-guy admonishment to bloggers to "Shut down your computers and shut your goddamn pieholes. No one gives a shit what you write, so stop writing about the war. Shut up, all of you." (actual quote), but merely as an objection "to the pompous, official, elite tenor of the discussion." I had no idea that us Just Plain Citizens were either official or elite, although that we do all tend toward the pomposity of, well, Pollack's essay is probably not in doubt. In any case, while he wasn't doing an O'Reilly on last night's luminaries, I cringed as much as other anti-war bloggers did when Fred Durst came out with his "agreeance" Bushism. So much for the eloquence high road in this debate. Like others I suppose I was a bit surprised that there wasn't more overt anti-war sentiment (would it have been too much for Sheryl Crow to perhaps push her hair back so we could see that her "No War" sash matched the sentiment of her peace pendant?), but what I think folks need to remember is the copious amounts of drugs doubtless ingested before the program. They tend to either mellow or distract you, y'know? Thank goodness a few of the songs performed (particularly "London Calling" and "Sounds of Silence") spoke for themselves.
  • And we'll have to thank goodness, because nobody thanked God in their on-air acceptance speeches. Not a one. This is very frustrating to those home viewers playing drinking or toking games.
  • My eyes may never recover from being seared after seeing Paul Shaffer's outfit.
  • Some others thought Avril Lavigne's flashing the audience at the beginning of her number wasn't shown on TV because her t-shirt had an anti-war statement; I just assumed it was because she wasn't wearing a shirt or a bra or something. Nice to see I was wrong; she probably wore the most sensible female-rocker outfit of anyone. Although all I could think of when Kelly Rowland was performing with Nelly was the old Ginger Rogers line about "backwards and in high heels."
  • Favorite performances were "London Calling" of course, "The Rising" of course, "Landslide" by the Dixie Chicks (I was hoping Stevie would make a surprise guest shot on that, but oh well) "Sweet Baby James" with Taylor and Yo Yo Ma, Eminem's "Lose Yourself," 'N Sync's BeeGees tribute, and "Your Body Is A Wonderland" by Mayer, who's really terrific on that acoustic guitar.
  • Glad I'm not the only one who thought Nelly's pyrotechnics were perhaps in questionable taste given the recent tragedy in Rhode Island.
  • Even at 3½ hours, I was surprised at which awards were and weren't televised. This was the first year that I recall the Best Spoken Comedy category was presented live, but that was probably because Robin Williams was a shoo-in (actually making me happy that Firesign didn't put out a new record last year) and he always gives good TV. And all those times people were introduced with "has already won a Grammy today" I was saying "huh, when did that happen?"

    More snide comments cogent observations as and when I think of them. Complete list of winners here.
  • Sunday, February 23, 2003

    The Ism That Isn't

    I was going to post more below (mainly just to link to good blog entries about the subject of electronic vote tampering by, among others, Lisa English and Dave Johnson) but apparently Blogger is buggered at the moment; after I saved the "Little Black Box" entry and went to edit it, all the editing functions, including "Post," disappeared. They exist for this subsequent entry, though, so I must have pressed the magical invisible "block editing toolbar forever" button on the previous one; sorry about that.

    Via Atrios I found this interesting blog entry, The Boy Who Cried McCarthyism, by Adam Felber, now linked to at the sidebar. He laments the situation possibly created by the trivial over-application of terms like McCarthyism (or "something-gate" or "Orwellian") to the point where the words lose their sting, their power to mean what they meant when they were first employed. There's no doubt that this has happened, it's a linguistic peculiarity. Some terms lose coherence or power with repetition, or their use changes altogether. I can see where he'd arrive at the opinion that we can't use McCarthyism to describe what's going on in this country now, but I don't think it's because the word has lost potency so much as because the situation in this country, at this point in history, is so much more potent than "mere" terms like "Orwellian" or "McCarthyism." Just as people who witnessed the demise of the World Trade Center kept describing it as seeming like something out of a movie, many of us feel that everything going on now is so much bigger than it's ever been, than what we're used to, that we're simply having trouble encompassing it into one catch-all, defining image or phrase. They didn't call McCarthyism "McCarthyism" until after it happened. What's happening now is still escalating, we can't stop an express train as it's accelerating to name its journey.

    But since I want to end on an up-note, for anyone who starts to think they're alone in feeling this way about war versus peace and freedom versus fearmongering, just take a look at these pictures and remember that you're not. (Via Jeanne at Body & Soul)
    Little Black Box

    Ever since before the Florida fiasco that characterized the 2000 election, Robin's kidded me, "Why can't they just check off marks on pieces of paper like civilized countries?" Or where, if they do go electronic, they at least have some sort of auditing system under consideration? Works a little differently here, apparently. Here's the deal - you'll want to go to this website, run by David Dilll, Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University, who's trying to organize opposition to unauditable voting machines by the technology sector, but figureheaded by Bev Harris, author of the forthcoming book Black Box Voting: Ballot Tampering in the 21st Century (it doesn't look like Amazon offers it yet, or it'd be on my sidebar wishlist). This site is a must for anyone wanting to keep up with the folks (mostly Republicans from the look of it, surprise surprise) enabling the further theft of our democracy by continuing to interfere with the citizens' right to have a clear, above-the-board say in who governs them. The blogosphere has been all over this one too, as Harris acknowledges, reprinting this Ampersand strip from way back last August.

    Saturday, February 22, 2003

    Rainy Day Fun

    We went to Jersey again this morning to check out another house. I know, we're probably staying put for another year until things turn around a bit financially for Robin, even though our not-yet-confronted downstairs neighbors are now threatening to become as annoying as the upstairs ones were, their rambunctious kids causing the apartment to vibrate almost as badly (although nowhere near as constantly). But it never hurts to self-educate, so off we went to Fanwood. And it's a lovely little town: according to this website, "The borough owes its name to the railroad. The first president of the railroad named the train station Fanwood in honor of Fanny Wood, the daughter of a railroad official and an author who wrote articles highlighting the beauty of the Central Jersey region." I just keep thinking how "Fanny Wood" could also be an interesting name for a British drag queen, but maybe that's because I watched To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar for the first time after we walked home, in the pouring rain, having to wade through ankle-deep ice-cold water streaming down the hill (we affectionately call it "Ewen Creek") to get back to the apartment. At least we got to food-shop before the uphill deluge; tried to last night after work but as I was putting the groceries on the checkout counter I was shown the yard-high piles of filled grocery boxes awaiting delivery, and cheerfully informed that "we can deliver tonight if you want to wait until 2am." And we watched one of our purchases, the DVD of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, a bit later (wanted to catch it before the series premieres on Monday) and wouldn't you know it, [SPOILER ALERT] her parents gave them a house as a wedding gift. [END SPOILER] Signs and portents, perhaps, but we're treating it all like a learning experience. I've also learned to try to avoid wading through ankle-deep ice-cold streams in sneakers and thin socks in February. Who says you can't teach me any new ones?

    Friday, February 21, 2003

    Duck/t and Cover

    So let's see:
  • Internment of citizens of a certain ethnicity - check
  • Fear mentality - check
  • Witch hunts and loyalties questioned - check
  • Gas-guzzling automotive monsters - check
  • Denial of opportunities to non-whites - check

    Are we that nostalgic for the bad parts of the 1950s?

    I'm sure by now many of you have heard about the Homeland Security folks' website and accompanying scare ad campaign. Charles Donefer takes a look at the site here. Trish Wilson deconstructs it here, and Kieran Healy has his say here. And via Tom Tomorrow's blog (link at sidebar), this spoof of the actual site. And via Atrios' blog (link at sidebar), this other spoof. Lastly, someone in the comments section on Atrios' blog (link at sidebar) passed along this wonderful update of the old Bert the Turtle PSA, as long as we're all feeling nostalgic...
  • Thursday, February 20, 2003

    Seldom is Heard a Discouraging Word

    I've been thinking about attrition lately. As our lives become more hectic and our time expenditures more unpredictable, we often find ourselves shuffling about the schedules we used to take for granted. I've written before about what the thankfully-gone-now upstairs neighbors did to my TV watching habits, which have also been affected by my boss often keeping me till late hours and me not having the time or inclination to watch videotaped programs like I used to. This in turn has led to me becoming an occasional viewer rather than a regular one. And I've found that much serial TV, like comics, doesn't lend itself well to casual viewing (or reading).

    It's understandable to want to cultivate a loyal core audience who will buy your products repeatedly, but the downside is usually the far greater number of people you tend to shut out in the process. Oftimes this is a logical byproduct of your entertainment format; the Firesign Theatre will likely never be more than a footnote in comedic history even though they've been making records longer than any other troupe with the possible exception of the Goons, because by and large they're not likely to tailor their satire too much toward commercial acceptance by mass audiences who probably couldn't imagine such a thing as a stream-of-consciousness concept album. But sometimes a venture starts out by cutting a wide swath then deliberately narrows its focus as time goes on, relying on self-cannibalization and referential in-jokes to please fewer and fewer viewers or readers or listeners who "get it."

    Of course, this can be done well or badly. I think it's probably easier with a comedy format - Uncle Floyd used to delight in its cult status (there's a reason my self-published zine in the '80s was called Inside Joke, it originated as a Floyd zine), but it was the kind of show where you'd pretty much glom onto all the running gags after watching a few episodes, as is the nature of vaudeville, and that gave it a very inclusive feel. But serial drama is trickier, as its self-contained universe seems to demand greater depth and build-ups and the like in order to retain viewer (or reader) interest in the characters.

    Therefore, I maintain that it's incumbent on dramatic shows (or comics, very few of which are comedic) to work even harder to attract new viewers (readers), the lifeblood of their continued success. And this means more accessibility and inclusivity, fewer self-references and cross-media in-jokes, and less catering to the fanatic core leading occasional viewers (readers) to feel like they're being shut out of something they were willing to take a chance on (so why bother if it's clear they're not wanted?). The problem arises when many writers of serial dramas decide, due to flattery or ego or affection or whatever, that pleasing their fanatic core should take precedence over considerations of story accessibility. This may or may not result in good stories being told, but if you're shutting out your casual viewers/readers, your story will be communicated to fewer and fewer core fanatics as time passes, and your commercial success becomes less and less assured as you lose former core viewers/readers to the natural attrition that happens to people with hectic lives.

    I'm not going to name the parties I feel are guilty of this, because the minute I do I'm liable to receive responses from, well, core fanatics exclaiming that I obviously hate so-and-so and don't like anything they've ever written and I'm only out to bash them. If anything, I actually appreciate more (in an abstract way) what these folks have tried to do in terms of maintaining cohesion in their universes, and therefore find it more disappointing when I perceive that their efforts fail because they've made me care about these fictional constructs so much in the first place. I don't like being made to feel as though it's somehow my fault for not being able to follow a chapter in an ongoing story just because I haven't checked in with the characters for a few weeks (or issues). It's even worse if the story references another story the viewer/reader would have had to watch or buy completely separately. (Case in point: I felt last night's Bill-and-Liliana-Mumy Twilight Zone episode was so dependent on the viewer having seen the original on which it was based - which I never have, and of which the current program excerpted about five seconds - that it became little more than a novelty "she's cute as a button and looks and acts just like he used to and isn't that neat!" factor. Aside from that, it had an extremely dramatically-unsatisfying ending; the child's personality was built up throughout to understand that what her Dad did was wrong, she hated him for hurting her and her friends, and suddenly she does a 180 and becomes a supervillain just like him? That's not a twist ending, it's just unfortunate writing. But I digress.) And as long as these folks choose to work commercially in the mass market, casual consumers are going to resent the clubhouse-members-only mentality. And they won't come back. And the core fanatics will dwindle. And the show (or comic) will inevitably fail.

    One that does it right, in my estimation: The West Wing. Never watched it until this season, and much of the writing is over my head intellectually, but there aren't any media cross-references and few in-jokes and you get the hang of who everyone is by about the third viewing. I'm just sorry I missed the first half this past week; fortunately, it was easy enough to get caught up in the second half.

    Wednesday, February 19, 2003

    Health v Wealth

    Even though I still have a touch of the bug, my PCP (remember when that meant something very different from "primary care physician"?) pronounced me okie-dokie (sorry for the arcane medical terminology) during my annual physical today, which is always a load off my mind. Still borderline-high blood pressure, but both that and my weight have dropped a bit since two years ago, not so's you'd notice. She didn't tell me anything I didn't already know, which is always A Good Thing as it means no surprises. Gonna undergo the blood test routines to see if my ALT levels are still wacko-for-no-discernable-reason-meaning-I-still-can't-give-blood, as I never did get that fully looked into back in '01 (it involves a sonogram too, and I'm never eager to undergo any procedure that blatantly reminds me of my infertility). I'm apparently also getting to the age when I need boosters for TB and tetanus, as I can't remember when I last had those shots. Fortunately my doctor is sensible enough not to bring up anthrax or ricin or whatever the scary-substance-du-jour is. I didn't even get asked about a flu shot this time! Much less tsuris than this whole dwelling-hunting headache, which we've all but put on hold for another year, biting the rent increase bullet, so that Robin can again concentrate on work. With so many things in flux (Robin's continued lack of a regular assignment, the world situation, etc.) it's imperative to hang on to as many signs of stability as we can. Oh, and I should mention in response to yesterday's comment section that the fellow who keeps track of out-of-office time has designated yesterday a "personal" day for me instead of a sick day, as I have so many vacation/personal days left that I'd never use 'em all by August even if we were to move, and so my pay doesn't get docked, hoorah!

    Tuesday, February 18, 2003

    The Dreaded Lurgy

    Bit of a wasted day today; yesterday's housework must have kicked up some bad mojo or jump-started something it oughtn't, as I've had a nasty stomach flu today and have opted not to go into the office. The fact that I didn't want to deal with travel rescheduling and the aftermath of the blizzard was purely coincidental, I assure you, as our office policy is to dock 25% of your pay if you're out sick, and with Robin still not having a regular assignment I don't relish taking sick days unless I absolutely have to. So I've read some comics and posted some probably-too-pissy comments on message boards and fed my next-door neighbor's gorgeous Persian cats and gone through my blogroll and I think I'm going back to bed now.

    Monday, February 17, 2003

    Terror Alert Status Side-Graded to White

    When the snow started falling last night, my first thought was, "Dang, those flights I booked for the President and VP of my company will be cancelled, Tuesday will be a bit of a 'hell day' at work trying to figure out how to reschedule," but now I'm looking out going, "Dang, isn't that gorgeous?" It always is when I don't have to go out in it. :) Days like this may be few and far between but they're a stark reminder that we humans can futz around all we want but all our piddly little goings-on are as nothing compared to the awesome power of the Force the G-word Mom Nature. So I did a little housecleaning today, Swiffering the floors and taking the recyclables to the basement and actually putting in 10 minutes on the bike, and some blog-cleaning as well. Until such time as the blogs of Leah Raeder and Lynn Sislo and Cheryl Lynn actually show up on my system again, I've designated those as bad links; and I've added a number of folks that everyone in my corner of the blogosphere always seems to talk about.

    Sunday, February 16, 2003

    We Stand Actively Vocal

    I admit it, various fears and the frigid weather made me a bit of an armchair activist yesterday, but it gave me a chance to listen in on WBAI (and I'm sorry, but Desmond Tutu just always makes me giggle, he's so adorable even on the radio) and monitor how the various worldwide protests played on the news. Overall pretty good, much better on CNN than on MSNBC (the only two all-news channels on my cable system), and NY1 had various folks in the field both here in NYC and, wonderfully (because they got some great patriotic sound bytes from Angelica Houston, Rob Reiner and Martin Sheen), in Los Angeles. (I was also pleased to see NY1 covering this local strike occurring within walking distance of where we currently live.) The numbers are of course being lowballed, especially domestically (they're admitting millions and hundreds of thousands in worldwide cities but local NYC news teasers just say "thousands"), so if you want to get pretty accurate estimates you'll want to go to IndyMedia, which also has this NYC open newswire for eyewitnesses to contribute their perspectives. I was moved by so many citizens all over the planet engaged in the same action with the same goal, and wished this had gotten the kind of constant coverage given to the millennial festivities a couple years ago - first you see them protest in Australia, then the protests sweep across the world from east to west... ah well, that was the way it unfolded in my head at least. My favorite quote was from London mayor Ken Livingstone, who had so many great quotable lines, but I loved how he began: "I cannot tell you the pride I feel that, as Mayor of London, I can officially welcome you here to this city in the biggest political demonstration in 2000 years of British history!" (Click here for the Beeb link whence you can watch all the speeches, including Livingstone being momentarily "hijacked by the comedy terrorists.") I expect I'll be updating this more throughout the day as I find more cool links in the blogosphere.
    Update: Check the following blogs (in order top to bottom on the sidebar) for first-hand experiences: Wil, Tom, August (here's a great picture of August and Tom, by the way), Max (mostly pictures), Skippy, Jeanne at Body & Soul, Cyndy (who passed along this helpful Error-Not Found message for the benefit of the weapons inspectors), Jeralyn, Katie, Natalie and Natasha. I salute their courage and patriotism.

    Saturday, February 15, 2003

    We Stand Passively Mute

    That's the title of this statement given by Senator Robert Byrd this past Wednesday on the Senate floor. Please read it. (Via Mark Evanier, link at sidebar.)

    Friday, February 14, 2003

    The Devil You Know

    Haven't seen Daredevil; waiting to read the Frank Miller run then buying the DVD. Only posted this because Blogger screwed up and gave me a blank (actually a dupe post that became a blank when I erased it) so I had to write something. :)
    Blogging Is For Lovers

    In recent trips around my blogroll I notice far too many people resenting Valentine's Day on the basis of "nobody loves me" than on the basis of "it's another stupid crappy 'Hallmark holiday' designed to make us compensate for feeling bad about ourselves by spending money we don't have to on crap we don't need instead of just telling someone we love them." I find this somewhat sad and an unnecessary waste of energy, so I'd like to just say to all of you, you are loved and cherished and wonderful people, and honestly, stop working my side of the block. (Disclaimer: It's true I vacated that particular block when I found my soulmate, but still, it's the principle of the thing. Self-pity doesn't become you fantastically talented folks, so knock it off, I love you all.)

    Thursday, February 13, 2003

    Double-Digit Conflation

    Wil's back! See link #2 at sidebar - that first BlogRoll section is pretty much the folks whose blogs inspired me to take this particular plunge, and of those names Wil's the only "movie star." His Stand By Me costars, at least the ones still around, have had varying degrees of success, from Jerry O'Connell's "#1 movie" to Corey Feldman's reality-show turn to some obscure program starring Kiefer Sutherland, but of 'em all (and they do seem like nice guys, at least their personas) there's nobody I'd rather read than Wil. Particularly the latest entry, which occurred after he'd decided it wasn't worth the aggro he got from trollboy assholes with nothing better to do than play "target the celeb" and he was going to step back from the 'puter and work on his book and career. Fortunately, he seems to have received enough good vibes from those of us who enjoy his writing that his energy appears somewhat renewed, certainly on the political writing end. Wil's sharp and astute and, like a number of other actors, a committed activist.

    And see, this is what gets me. The whole "pile on the famous person" mentality might be fun when it's someone whose actions seem to invite ridicule or is financially so far above us mere mortals that nothing we gossip about could ever touch them, but isn't that also true of non-famous people who are filthy rich and crazy? By that token, the non-filthy-rich and non-crazy ones have got to outnumber 'em, whether they've been in movies or TV or whatever. And if they happen to be politically active, how does that suddenly make them lesser in the eyes of some critics? Do they suddenly lose their citizenship when they get their SAG card?

    I respect a number of celebrities who voice political observations that make sense to me. I think it's neat that they can use their fame factor to call attention to subjects that might otherwise be ignored were it not for their presence. If I were famous, I'd do the same thing in a heartbeat. And I look forward to the time when their fellow citizens stop automatically and unthinkingly conflating "celebrity" with "politically naïve" the way some idiots conflate "anti-war" with "anti-American."

    Wednesday, February 12, 2003

    Bottom-Third Feeders

    Changed circumstances now dictate that we're definitely back to renting for the foreseeable future. Therefore, when all else fails and I'm too tired or busy or just plain bereft to think of anything else, I sometimes like to fall back on bitching about advertising. The latest itch that's gotten under my skin, on the heels of translucent station logos and squeezing out end credits to cram in more promos, is the mega-annoying promo ads with movement that take up the bottom third of the screen during a program. Jason Miletsky of Digital Output characterizes it as more of a design nightmare than just plain wrong. "From the American flag-waving peacock on NBC to the completely ridiculous quarter-page animations on TBS previewing the next movie, they are so distracting you can sometimes lose track of the current show or movie. Design is supposed to enhance, not distract or take away... When do the values of simplicity make a resurgence, or is that value now gone forever with an over-indulgence of visual stimuli?" Well, simplicity may be okay for TV news, but when it comes to advertising it's bound to get more insidious as more folks channel-surf or use their TiVos, notes Matt Kempner in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Which suits companies like Captivate (remember, you can't spell captivate without holding consumers captive!) and Teradata just fine. (Reading these sites is pretty fascinating if you want to get a good insight into how commercial propaganda works.) One wonders how these poor companies will survive if they have to cede revenues in the event of war coverage. Honestly, my heart just bleeds for them. (Okay, I feel sorry for the underlings and worker bees, I have friends at ad agencies and they're good folks, but my world ain't coming to an end if Captivate and Teradata and other silly names sink under the weight of their own pretention and arrogance.) And because we're marching forward not back, I'm not sure what the fine Logo Free TV organizations in the US and the UK will be able to accomplish, but I wish them well nonetheless.

    Tuesday, February 11, 2003

    On the Edge of Overload

    We're still not over the colds that we must have picked up during house-hunting last week. Between sneezes, we realize this home-buying thing has all sorts of hidden costs that we hadn't counted on, mostly associated with state and city mortgage taxes - so we're considering putting the whole thing on hold for awhile and continuing to rent, either here or in SI. But neither of us is 100%, I have a week before my boss returns to get his files in order, and between my monthly cycle and last week's whirlwind sojourns my mental and emotional and physical energy is severely depleted. It was in this frame of mind I read Stuart Moore's wonderful essay My City in Ruins, pleased that a greater percentage of readers agreed with him than chose to attack him (as stated earlier, that particular board can get a bit hairy at times) and that I was able to plug my blogroll as a good place where people can go to find links to a number of very erudite and well-researched opinions on current events. And it was in this frame of mind that I heard about the new bin Laden tape. Again, I'm heartened by the reaction I've heard so far (mostly from the TV news channels, I haven't taken the blogosphere temperature on this just yet) from the folks who believe that not only does this not prove a long-time link between the religious wacko fundamentalist bin Laden and the secularist wacko dictator Hussein, but that this turn of events almost assuredly only happened because of the actions our government has taken. Once again, the "enemy of my enemy" stategy that does the exact opposite of fighting terrorism by inflaming more people to lash out together in hatred, even if they formerly wanted nothing to do with each other. You can practically hear the Muslim separatist leader holding his nose whilst observing that "Under these circumstances, there will be no harm if the interests of Muslims converge with the interests of the socialists in the fight against the crusaders, despite our belief in the infidelity of socialists." (If it were said in English you just know he'd be sneeringly drawing out that sibilant in "socialists"...) I wasn't really nervous when we went to CIAgent Orange, but now I am. The fundies we still haven't rooted out (because God forbid we treat their crimes against humanity as crimes, as matters for international law enforcement and subtle espionage rather than blunt bombs) are gathering forces they've heretofore not been able to reach. I could use some reassurance here. A knowledgeable NYC-based mortgage broker would be helpful as well, but for now I'll settle for the reassurance.

    Monday, February 10, 2003

    Board at the Switch

    So I'm back at work, almost having forgotten what a depressing, claustrophic place this can be sometimes, and unfairly leaving Robin to deal with all the grown-up stuff like calling the mortgage broker and real estate attorney and inspector. And the receptionist just happens to be out today, which means I get no real chance to catch up beyond deleting most of my e-mail before I'm pushed onto a job that, in all honesty, I don't think I do that well. Oh, I "give good phone" and all that, but I'm fairly unsure where to transfer half the calls that come in. And I'm stuck, unable to work on anything that requires movement (like filing) or in programs that are only installed on my computer. I'd catch up on my online reading, but the incoming calls and coworker visits tend to interrupt my train of thought, so I find myself in the same "hurry up and wait mode" state of mind that exists most of the time when my boss is in. And the reception computer's browser doesn't support Java (and my attempt at an upgrade, per our IT person's advice, elicited an error message), so I can't even participate in my own comments section let alone others'. Still, it could be a lot worse, so mind you I'm not really complaining, just trying to keep alert. (This short entry was written over the period of about an hour, with around two dozen interruptions.)

    Sunday, February 09, 2003

    Vacation, Meant to be Spent Alone

    My week off work has come to an end. This is the first time in memory that I've taken a full week off with the intention of doing nothing but hanging out at home, and as usual my best-laid plans went somewhat awry. As mentioned earlier, on Friday, January 31, we got both the reprieve (as the rude upstairs neighbors finally left) and a wake-up call (as our rent increase notice came), so much of this week has been taken up in looking for a new home. We've agreed on a little area in the northwest corner of Staten Island near all sorts of shopping (including the SI Mall) and public transit and the Wildlife Refuge, where the townhouses are both large enough to hold us and our accumulated detritus and inexpensive enough to afford. We currently have a binder on a charming corner unit with a fireplace and a white picket fence and central air and a community pool and room for a little garden and pretty much everything I'd ever dreamt of. So even though I didn't get as much reading and cleaning and resting done as I'd hoped for - and if this goes through smoothly it will be at a breakneck and dizzying pace for the next couple months between the legal stuff and packing and moving so neither of us will be getting that much rest in the short term - overall I guess I'd have to say it was a pretty fruitful vacation.

    Saturday, February 08, 2003

    Terror-Mongering Alert

    As our National Mood Ring (thanks, August Pollack) shifts to orange and my dad worries that a commute from Staten Island would bring new problems because the Verrazano Bridge might be a target (and the subways aren't?), as usual I'm more worried about the domestic threats posed by home-grown liberty thieves. Particularly when so many folks, like the ones on the comic board thread I mentioned here, believe none of us is in any danger anyway. After all, said one, “If anything, it seems like people criticizing the Administration and the country are doing very well indeed for it; I'm sure Michael Moore is a lot richer than he already was after his... book and movie came out, Bill Maher has a best-selling book and a new talk show, dozens of lefty web sites have sprung up...” So obviously one must conclude, on the basis of a few privileged folks continuing to do well financially and some of us having blogs, that other people's liberties aren't being routinely trampled at all. Whew!

    By this “logic,” there's absolutely no need to be concerned that (as mentioned lots around the blogosphere, and using my Magic Mirror I see Jeralyn and Kevin and Tom and Atrios and Natalie and Lisa and another Kevin and Avedon and George and Oliver and Mark and Jim and even a bit of a gallows humor from Scott) Ashcroft & co. are gearing up for round two of the USA PATRIOT Act, the proposal for which you can look at here in PDF format and which includes the lovely provision called Section 501, “Expatriation of Terrorists.” If this monstrosity were to pass, not only can an American citizen be detained if he or she is suspected or accused of being a terrorist (defined more and more broadly as everything from “breathing while Arab” to “belonging to an organization the people in power don't like”), which is already happening with PATRIOT 1; but that citizen could be expatriated “if, with the intent to relinquish his [or her] nationality, he [or she] becomes a member of, or provides material support to, a group that the United Stated has designated as a ‘terrorist organization’.” The key words are “relinquish his nationality” - a citizen formerly had to state an intent to do this, but the new law affirms that his/her intent can be “inferred from conduct.” Thus, engaging in the lawful activities of, or even giving money to, any group arbitrarily designated as a “terrorist organization” by our scarily narrow-minded Attorney General could be presumptive grounds for expatriation. That's right, you could be totally stripped of your citizenship and, I guess, deported somewhere (Guantanamo Bay for some rounds of interrogation and torture, maybe?) if They decide you're a terrorist - and “terrorist” is one of those words like “obscene” where everyone has a different definition but the one that counts is whatever the people currently in power decide. Good thing it's not like they're capricious or change their definitions to suit their political objectives or anything. Good thing it's not like Congress passed PATRIOT 1 with nary a whimper of protest. I don't know about you, my friends, but in my book this proposed expanded clamp-down merits much more of an alert than repeated unnamed and unspecified threats from without.

    Friday, February 07, 2003

    For The Whitest White That Lasts!

    The above header is a tagline from Rembrandt toothpaste, one of the apparently unironic sponsors of tonight's encore presentation of Inside TV Land's three-part Ron Glass-narrated and Debbie Allen-produced "African Americans in Television," first shown last year as the station's nod to Black History Month. My jaw dropped just a bit when I heard the announcer on the aforementioned ad ask something like "You want white?" But be that as it may, the shows are a must-see for TV buffs, and I like the way they split the genres - instead of just lumping everything together as with "Color Adjustment" or retrospective articles like this, or just splitting things into drama versus comedy, they added a "variety" category. But it would have been really, really nice to see the second half of the Comedy segment following the first half, rather than suddenly seeing the second half of Drama - followed immediately by both halves of Comedy. So I have to wait to see Nichelle Nichols until presumably Sunday night, when they're rerunning Drama again. (I never did mention that I got to meet her at the National Expo back in November and she's as gorgeous as ever and I bought her book and her handwriting is so amazingly florid and gushgushgush, I'm an unabashed Nichelle Nichols fangirl from waaaay back...) Overall about what one might expect - the pendulum swings back and forth, progress is made but certainly not enough for any sort of true representation or parity, etc. - but not heavy-handed at all. I'll consider the medium to have improved even more when networks don't wait for BHM to schedule these docus, but just run them year-round because they're so interesting and informative and entertaining.

    Thursday, February 06, 2003

    Provincialism vs. Ignorance

    If I were a tinfoil-hat kinda person, I'd think something sinister was behind the sudden disappearance of the lovely comment exchange I had with Will Sudderth regarding yesterday's blog entry. Wish I'd kept it, but who knew Haloscan would cut on and off like a crazy monkey? Anyway, the gist of what Will said, if he'll allow me to paraphrase, is that we should be careful, when disagreeing with people's viewpoints, not to assume they're ignorant sheep. And I totally agree. Heaven knows there's enough propaganda of all sorts floating about this society to make just about all of us susceptible to some of it some of the time. And this particular administration (as many administrations before it) has a lot of veterans who excel at obfuscation and outright lies, buddies who own the media to reinforce those lies, etc. So no, you can't really blame a heck of a lot of Joe and Jane Q. Publics out there for believing what's fed to them. Not many people have the time or inclination to seek out information. And many of them are comfortable believing what they believe, and don't like their mindset challenged. (And when you're talking about some comics message board posters, this doesn't just refer to their political beliefs but their opinions about comics as well.)

    But it's the nature of many-to-many discussion that people with differing beliefs will encounter one another, so if you are one of those "my country right or wrong" folks and you find yourself in a discussion with a "the world isn't all black and white" person, it can appear to be an "ignorant versus informed" deal when actually it's probably more like a "provincial versus big picture" one. I don't think of provincialism as ignorance at all, I think of it as a comfort zone into which people retreat. It's like folks who "find religion" later on in life, I don't consider them suddenly delusional and irrational but just ordinary folks seeking comfort. It is a scary world out there, and it helps many people to believe Big Brother or God only has their best interests at heart or represents Truth. Provincial? Sure. Ignorant? I wouldn't say so.

    Wednesday, February 05, 2003

    Double Plus Good

    Robin's just started reading my well-worn copy of 1984 on our long trips out to see realtors in Jersey and Staten Island (so much for a relaxing vacation week!). The book is still the best example I know of how spin works to control citizens' thought processes to the point where normal debate is effectively shut down and rendered incomprehensible to those same citizens. I'm coming up against victims of this Department of Thought Control (which went into high gear after 9-11 but then, of course, we were at war with the Terrorists of Eastasia rather than the Secularist Dictator of Eastasia... with whom we've always been at war, at least since 1991 because before that we weren't, we were shoring up both the Secularist Dictator and the Terrorist Leader at the same time weren't we? god my head hurts) a lot on some of the comic book message boards. It's not their fault they can't grasp how many civil rights Ashcroft & co. keep violating and stripping away; after all, they reason, Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky are allowed to speak and actually make money from their anti-government observations, so obviously dissent is never punished, and we demand you show us proof that it is (because we're too lazy to do a 2-second search at the ACLU website)! And okay, that whole regime change thing in Chile might have been a little heavy-handed, but it was worth it! Look at them now, they're a flourishing democracy! No "disappeared" there, no sirree!

    Much of this explains why I often get a greater sense of comradery and relief from perusing my corner of the blogosphere than from foolishly engaging in political discourse with ill-informed, insistent fanboys whose worldview is at best limited. (The discussion mentioned above came from this thread talking about the Mark Millar-written upcoming miniseries Superman: Red Son, postulating "what if the Kryptonian rocket had crash-landed in 1950's Ukraine instead of the US?", in case anyone's interested.) On blogs I can read neat stuff like (via Tim Dunlop, link at sidebar) Rob Schaap's marvelous "Dismalist's Blogcyclopaedia of the Iraq 'Debate'" and think, "Yes, some people do get it!" And in these uncertain times, the existence of critical thinkers with enough energy to analyze the spin and point at the naked emperor should hearten us all.

    A couple poster updates: My ex-husband (who refers to me only as a "fellow blogger" rather than "fellow blogger and ex-wife" but since the dear lad doesn't have a comment section I can only make fun of him here) sent me this great one which reminds me a lot of the old Firesign routine by the Preacher in How Can You Be... ("--nointed with oil on troubled waters? Oh, Heavenly Grid, help us bear up thy Standard, our Chevron flashing bright across the Gulf of Compromise, standing Humble on the Rich Field of Mobile American Thinking, here in this Shell we call Life--"); and one of the fine female bloggers listed on the sidebar brought my attention to this poster section of the very funny Whitehouse.org site.

    Tuesday, February 04, 2003

    Wishing on a Star

    I love window shopping. It satisfies my "what-if" fantasies without actually spending any money. I don't have to buy to pretend I've bought. And that's what's cool about shopping online for me, I can look at all these great gizmos with absolutely no intention of pressing the purchase button. I also like keeping track of stuff. All of this goes a little way towards explaining why the concept of an Amazon wish list tickles me. "I saw it on Atrios' window (link at sidebar) and just had to have it!" So I've made a wishlist and put it on my sidebar too, just for fun. Yeah, y'all wanna get me a Segway, be my guest. ;) Implied at the top of the list is, of course, an affordable, quiet and large enough living space within reasonable public-transit commuting distance to Manhattan, which I would have added but I couldn't find it, dang those Amazonians anyway.

    Monday, February 03, 2003

    Let's Get Quizzical

    Is there something in the air? To peruse my portion of the blogosphere, one would have to conclude that a spate of interesting quizzes seems to have sprung up all at once.
  • Jeneane directs attention to Which Edward II-era historical figure are you?
  • Lots of folks, including Neil Gaiman and Theresa and Emma, have published their results from taking Which Poetry Form Are You?
  • Jen pronounces as "scary-good" Which Art Movement Are You?
    At least two of these quizzes were dreamt up by someone named Caitlin whose website is a bit too confusing for me to figure out anything about her to pass along. But she does seem to be a clever quizmaker.

    Back on the home front, today so far I've followed up on the insulin delivery for my boss' son (the only work-related duty I took on this week, for obvious reasons), balanced my checkbook, organized my unread newspapers, did my wool wash, wrote to eight Staten Island realtors, and I'm off to do the second round of washing up in the kitchen. Not bad for a day when I'm taking it easy. Amazing how much I can accomplish in a stress-free (read: quiet) environment.
  • Sunday, February 02, 2003

    The Bronx and Staten Island II (This Time It's Personal)

    As I mentioned yesterday, we decided to check out Staten Island today to see whether we'd like to relocate there. Very positive vibes so far, and I'll be trying to hook up with some realtors in the next week. It was cool taking Robin on the ferry - it was the first time he'd ever been on a boat in open water, and it was a good maiden voyage. The winds were choppy but most of the ferry is enclosed, and we got great views of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty (both with their flags at half-mast). The one successful open house we attended was a place that was perfectly situated but way too small; however, we're only starting the process and we have high hopes for the borough in general. It feels sort of halfway between the other boroughs and New Jersey, which seems fitting. Lots of transit of both the public and private variety, and mostly very quiet, which tops our want list. A bit exhausting heading all the way down and back - the length of the "1" train is about an hour, add in the wait for the next ferry, a half hour to get across the water, whatever SI buses would take us to our varied destinations, etc. - but eminently navigable for the carless. And what a treat to come home to more quiet, and another helpful e-mail from SI resident Sarah Dyer (link at sidebar) cheering us on!

    Saturday, February 01, 2003

    Blazing Across The Sky

    Yesterday Robin had this "feeling of impending what-name," and of course it's only after the fact that we find out what these hunches mean. The footage CNN is showing of the shuttle Columbia breaking up over Texas during descent into Florida eerily echoes the tragedy-against-blue-skies of the WTC burning, and I'm sure the tinfoil-hat set is going to try to link the tragedy to some sort of sinister plot because this mission included Israel's first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, but I make it a habit never to ascribe to malice what could be better explained by tragic accident (or incompetence, but I'm not going in that direction today). The news is just hitting the blogosphere, and I echo the short, shocked reactions of Anne and Theresa, as well as draw your attention to these posts by Jay Zilber and August and especially Katie. As with Challenger, my heart goes out to all the loved ones of the shuttle members. Update: Jeneane Sessum (link at sidebar) found this story in the Observer International which seems to imply the tragedy may have been inevitable and possibly preventable.
    Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

    White Rabbits, and Gong Hei Fatt Choy. Our annus horribilus is over; the upstairs neighbors have moved out! I think they beat the midnight deadline by five minutes; needless to say, the earplugs were in from the time I got home to the time I lay down, as they took at least 12 hours to move out throughout the day (remember, according to the house rules they've never obeyed they're supposed to stop such activities at 5 PM) with help from their extended family, every single one of whom stomped about so it's pretty clear they were just raised in an atmosphere where this sort of noise isn't thought of as rudeness (and where downstairs neighbors aren't thought of at all). But they're gone, and I feel like a great weight has just been lifted from my shoulders, or at least from above my head.

    Now the fun begins. Yeah, at last I can restart my life and cook and clean and watch TV and go on the exercise bike and just plain relax - in other words, do all the stuff I couldn't when they were around - and I've taken this week off work to accomplish precisely that, but we just got our rent increase notice and it's not pretty. We always knew we weren't staying here another year; the $100 requested monthly increase we just received seals that. We were pushing the current rent as it was this past couple years; the new rent effectively puts this unit out of our range. Because of shenanigans like this, which technically make our building a co-op but practically make it an apartment building, we're not subject to rent regulations, so the sponsor (our overtenant) can request whatever increase they feel like imposing. And we already asked, just out of curiosity, and they're not interested in selling to us. So we're out of here, and now we only have three months in which to find and move into our new abode.

    Therefore, I implore again: If you know of a reasonably-priced townhouse for sale with quiet neighbors and within walking distance of public transit to and from New York City, or any realtors that deal with such houses, please e-mail me immediately. At this point we're thinking Union County, NJ, where I grew up, but I wouldn't mind anywhere in the five boros (unlikely due to housing prices here) or the surrounding area. I'm counting on you, my bloggy friends; thanks in advance!

    Update: Thanks to inspiration from Sarah Dyer (link at sidebar), we'll be going to open houses in Staten Island tomorrow. Reasonable prices, low property taxes, lots of places close to express buses and upwind of the infamous dumps - it appears this may be just what we're looking for.