Mr. Sandman's Sandbox

The musings of a Deaf Californian on life, politics, religion, sex, and other unmentionables. This blog is not guaranteed to lead to bon mots appropriate for dinner-table conversation; make of it what you will.

Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

Monday, February 28, 2005

Without Soul

One thing I missed doing when I was in grad school all these years was the freedom to read whatever *I* wanted to whenever I wanted to. Oh, sure, I read tons of stuff, some of it interesting. But it was almost all for my classes. One of the more interesting books I read during this time was Annette Gordon-Reed's _Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy_. Gordon-Reed is a lawyer by profession, and it shows in her book. But she wrote so well, that I had difficulty at times believing she was a lawyer (she also didn't write like the typical historian either-- she wrote a scholarly book as if it was for a popular audience, which is no mean feat!). The subject matter, as you can glean from the title, was about the Sally Hemings controversy. Gordon-Reed took the facts and laid them out, one by one. She took the salient points and set out the pros and cons for each particular piece of evidence. By the end of the book, I was fully convinced all of Sally Hemings' children were Jefferson brats. How could the Monticello Association continue denying that the Hemingses weren't relatives? A few years later, DNA evidence showed that Hemings' youngest child, Eston, was definitely related to the Jefferson family, which further strengthened the claims of biracial Jefferson children at Monticello. I haven't read Gordon-Reed's additional material from a later edition of the book that came out after the DNA evidence was related to the public, but regardless of what she had to say, I'm sure she took quiet satisfaction in a job well done. Not only did she examine the evidence from a historical point of view, she also laid it all out from a legal aspect as well. Definitely a book to read if you've got the time.

Another book I thoroughly enjoyed was _A Midwife's Tale_, by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. Ulrich found the journals of Martha Ballard languishing in archives in Maine, and spent years poring through the weathered pages. doing additional research, and then finally publishing a history based on the work she'd done with the diaries. While parts of it can be a bit plodding, overall it's also well-written, and is fascinating: Ballard served as a midwife in her neighborhood in what is now Augusta, Maine in the years immediately following the American Revolution. She not only writes about the children she delivers, but also about the chores she does, the neighbors, her family, local events and politics, and events in general. A picture of late 18th-century life in New England emerges, and you get a feel for what it was like to live back then.

These books are on my shelves. I went through most of my books after I left school, and picked out those that I either planned to use again soon, or wanted to read for my own benefit. The rest I packed away in two boxes, and shoved them in the closet for now. I'll figure out what to do with them eventually.

We have three bookcases in the living room. The first one, closest to the balcony, holds most of the history books I decided to keep out. They're organized, but also eclectic in a way: there's U.S. history, American West, Latin American history, and odds & ends, including books on Australia, the Middle East, Canada, and other regions that most people don't get to study at school. The bottom shelf holds a mixture of law books: some my wife's, and some are mine from long ago.

The next bookcase over is a grab bag. There's oversized comic anthologies, mythology, sociology, religion, local history, genealogy, and at least a shelf's worth of deaf history. Most of the deaf-related books are books that are out now, or are fairly recent. I do have Maxine Tull Boatner's biography of Edward Miner Gallaudet, and Albert Atwood's history of Gallaudet College from 1964, the university's centennial year. There's also some books on Deaf literature as well.

The third bookcase is mostly comic strip and comic-book anthologies. with a smattering of exercise books, popular non-fiction, and odds and ends. There's also what I call my "gossip books": my Gallaudet yearbooks. I call them that because any time we have guests over, inevitably a yearbook will come out, ostensibly just to find one individual. But before long, someone wants to see what I looked like nearly twenty years ago, or sees a picture of someone they know, and before you know it, "Whatever happened to..." and "Remember when...?" dominates the conversation. Now that we have the MSSD yearbooks on the shelf, I anticipate there will be additional opportunities for gossip and reflection.

There are two low bookshelves in the bedroom, and it's here that we keep all our regular fiction. We decided to pull out and keep those books we knew we either wanted to read or would read again. This is where you'll find some of my favorite books, including Jack Finney's _Time and Again_ and Joe David Brown's _Addie Pray_. The latter book is fantastic, but you may not have heard of it and think the title obscure: it's better known as "Paper Moon," the title of the film that was adapted from the book. But if you've seen "Paper Moon" and think you know the story, guess again. The movie only covers the first half of the book, and even then, naturally condenses quite a bit. It's the story of a young orphan named Addie Pray and her con-man guardian, who might also be her father, as they travel around Depression-era Alabama and New Orleans.There is an exuberance as they pull their cons, but they are portrayed sympathetically enough that you feel drawn to their story without condemning their actions too much.

We also have some children's books, including the Harry Potter series. When the books first came out, I just figured they must be nice books for children, and thought it was great that kids were reading again. I grew up during an era (1950s-early 1980s) that I think was a golden age for children's lit; add that to the fact that I'm far removed from childhood, and it equals very few trips to the children's section at the library, if ever. But somewhere around the third book, I finally was encouraged to pick a copy of the first book up, and I got hooked. We're eagerly awaiting this summer's release of _Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince_. These books are equally enjoyable for adults as they are for children, and will definitely be considered classics in the vein of _The Wizard of Oz_ books, _The Chronicles of Narnia_, Lloyd Alexander's books about Prydain, etc. If you haven't read them yet, then stop reading this right now, run to your nearest library, and check a copy of the first book out. You'll be glad you did.

These aren't all our books. There's about 15-20 boxes of books we left behind in Northern California. I had had boxes of stuff both in storage and in my parent's storage for years, but when I finished my stint in Utah and got married, I decided to take my stuff out of storage and see what I had. Some boxes hadn't been opened at that point in about fifteen years. I spent a couple of days going through and opening old, dusty boxes and coming face to face with my childhood and youth. After some pleasant reminiscences, I re-packed most stuff, tossed a few things, and kept out a few things. I split a storage unit for a while with family members, and then finally stopped renting the unit and my parents have been kind enough to hold them for me until sometime next year, most likely. At that point, I'll need to get them all out, and go through them again and then be responsible once more for storing my own stuff.

You may think it strange to keep so many books for so long. But for me, I just couldn't get rid of them. To me, books are treasures. They can take you places, they can help you travel through time, learn new things, develop new skills, become immersed in worlds beyond imagination. For a short time, you can enter someone else's life, see the world through new eyes. I grew up in a house full of books, I now live in a house full of books, and when I die, I expect to be surrounded by books.

As Cicero said, "A room without books is a body without soul."

Saturday, February 26, 2005

And the Oscar Goes To...

While driving around town this week, I saw the banners hanging from the lamp posts had been changed (they were probably changed a while back, but when you're sick (*violin music playing*) and it's been rainy, you don't tend to spend a lot of time outside), and were now advertising the Oscars. Well, tomorrow's the big day.

Usually, since I'm deaf, I haven't watched any of the nominated movies, unless they came out much earlier in the year and are now on DVD. A couple years ago, a lot of the movies were either open-captioned or already out on video, so I'd seen something like three or four of the five best picture nominees. This year, I've only seen one: "Million Dollar Baby." I enjoyed the movie, but wouldn't go so far as to say it made my top-ten best all-time movie list either. Hillary Swank is an impressive actress. Kind of cool to think "Beverly Hills 90210" had at least one cast member with talent! If you'll notice, we've barely heard from most of the others on that show since...

We had kind of a struggle to see the movie, though. Even though it was open-captioned through DTS technology (far superior to Tripod/Insight Cinema IMHO-- the captions are crisp, clear, not as large, and are played using disc technology, which means we can see the movies within weeks of their opening, rather than waiting 3-4 months), and the theater chain (Mann) has been very supportive of DTS, by no means were all the kinks and bugs worked out. Mann shows DTS-captioned movies at seven locations in the L.A. area, and the closest one to us is the Bruin Theatre in Westwood. It's across from the Fox Theatre, where a lot of movie premieres are held, and is in itself a nice theater, so we've been looking forward to seeing a movie there. Not to mention it's approximately a mile from us! No need to drive 30-45 minutes just to see a movie.

Since we both had the afternoon free, we went to the Tuesday afternoon showing, so we could save money. After plopping down our cash and heading into the theater (which, by the way, is a single-screen theatre-- showing movies they way they were *meant* to be showed), we sat down and waited for the show to start. After sitting through internminable commercials (you ever notice how more and more commercials are being played these days?? It's becoming annoying. If I want commercials, I'll go watch TV, thank you) and several previews (including the preview for the new Star Wars flick coming out in May), the movie finally started. But no captions.

I ran to the back, and encountered the usher, who quickly said he'd go take care of it. I sat back down to watch the movie. Five minutes passed. I went back, this time heading out into the lobby, then upstairs where I knew the manager's office was. I quickly explained what was going on, and was told there was a technical problem and they'd get it going ASAP. I went back to the theatre. After another five minutes, we debated whether or not to leave, and finally decided it wasn't worth it to sit there. I preferred to get our money back. So we headed out and talked to the manager. To his credit, he was very helpful, VERY apologetic, and not only gave us our money back, but free passes.

I took the opportunity to e-mail the PR person for the DTS program. To HER credit, she was also very apologetic, maintained contact me with me on the matter through the next few hours, and finally explained the problem. It seems that since this is a major movie theatre (they show the latest and hottest releases, often starting from that movie's premiere there or at a nearby theater) that turns over their titles after about two or three weeks, that often they don't have a DTS-captioned title there. This was the first time in a while, and they hadn't realized that when the DTS disc player hasn't been used for a while, it needs time to warm up. I asked if the Thursday showing would have captions, since this was a movie we really wanted to see (by this time, it already had Oscar buzz). I was not only assured that they would have the captions ready, they put us on the guest pass list. So we headed back on Thursday evening for free, and we were able to see the movie.

It's really good to see that Mann is really trying to stay on top of things, and be proactive in making sure we deaf can see movies on an equal footing. I also found it interesting that on that Thursday night, in the heart of Westwood just blocks from UCLA, in a major movie theatre playing an Oscar-nominated movie, NOT one person seemed to have any problems with the captions. I didn't see anyone get up and leave the theatre; I didn't hear anything from the manager afterward (I stopped to thank him and let him know we'd be happy to patronize the theatre as long as they carried captioned films *hint hint*) about complaints from hearing patrons regarding the open captioning... so where's the outrage? I really suspect most people wouldn't be bothered about having captions on the screen. It'd just be a certain segment of the audience, and probably "purists" as well.

I've tried Rear-Window Captioning (RWC), and while it isn't as bad as I've heard, it is somewhat awkward to have to make sure the little screen stays in place, and to find the right seat in the middle of the theater for optimal viewing. Plus it takes a bit of getting used to, watching the movie and watching the captions at the same time. It isn't my ideal situation, but it's definitely better than no captions at all. While I hear rumblings that RWC technology is "obsolete" (and I agree- DTS has the capability of showing open subtitles in all kinds of languages, not just English, and I think is much more superior to RWC and to the old open-captioned method of burning the dialogue into the film print itself), I suspect that because it creates somewhat of a happy medium, it's going to be around for a while. It allows deaf and hard-of-hearing people access to the movies, often the same week the film is released, but it lifts the burden of having open-captions on the screen so that hearing people are inconvenienced. For that reason, I think it's going to be the PC-solution for providing equal access to movies. Eventually though, I'd like to see something closer to DTS. It still doesn't resolve the problem that currently exists of only offering captioned showings once or twice a week at selected theaters, but it's just much easier on the eyes. We'll see what happens...

As far as the Oscars go, we'll be watching tomorrow night. If I had the money, I'd be using it to hit some of the hottest restaurants tomorrow night, in hopes of seeing post-Oscar celebrities grab a bite to eat. The Oscars go on for hours, and you're just sitting there in the theater, looking smart and watching the presentations. But you have nothing to eat, nothing to do; you're just sitting there like everyone else. It's the post-Oscar bashes, parties, restaurant and bar gatherings, where you can really relax. I understand the industry prefers the Golden Globes because there's not only dinner, but more freedom to walk about, talk, and be yourself.

But of course, we have no money, no cachet, so we'll just satisfy ourself with the TV and some munchies, along with the rest of you. *grin*

Friday, February 25, 2005

Ends of Eras

Illness of one kind or another seems to be in the headlines these days. On one hand, you have the Pope, who has been in and out of the hospital for some time now, and the latest is that he's had a tracheotomy. Personally, I think he's in the process of dying, but top Vatican officials are putting a lid on it. Anyone who's been following the Pope's health lately knows he's been on the decline for quite some time.

While I don't wish death on anyone, I am looking forward to the election that will take place once he's gone. He's been one of the longest occupants of the Holy See; the third-longest reigning Pope, if I remember right. Last summer, we went to San Diego for a brief vacation. Part of it was to see an old friend, and part of it was to see an exhibit in Balboa Park on Vatican treasures. It contained artwork and material about the Vatican that has never been on display in the States before, and included some items that have never been on display, period. It was interesting and illuminating in some cases. There was a mockup of Michaelangelo's scaffolding in the Sistine Chapel, and an explanation of how he painted his famous frescoes. There were diagrams, maps, blueprints, and all sorts of material on the building and expansion of the Vatican. But some of the most interesting items and the best text explained how the Pope is selected, the materials used during the secret balloting, and the regalia and ceremonial props used during the entire ritual. I remember the last time a Pope was chosen, after Paul VI died. I watched on TV the shots of the Vatican, with the white and black smoke coming out. All too soon, the cardinals repeated the process over again, as John Paul I died under what are still somewhat mysterious circumstances. That was in 1978, so it's been a while. I expect to be watching the smoke ascending from the chimneys in the Vatican fairly soon.

Another tracheotomy was recently performed on Chief Justice Rehnquist. Here, I'm not as enthused at the possibility of change. The Rehnquist court was one that for the most part tilted to the right, and threatens to tilt even further rightward. In most cases, I've disagreed with Rehnquist's stances, and even more sharply with Scumlia and Uncle Clarence. The possibility that either of these two stooges might become Chief Justice very soon is frightening. Yet, looking at the makeup of the court, I suspect if Junior nominates from the current Court, his choice will probably be Kennedy. He'll never nominate Stevens or Ginsberg. O'Connor has already made her own noises about leaving soon. Scalia and Thomas would be way too controversial. Souter and Breyer are too moderate, too nuanced for the Right. Add to that the fact that most members of the court are either pushing 70 or way over it. Kennedy leans right in enough decisions, usually flies under the radar compared with Scalia, is smarter than Thomas, and is still reasonably young enough (68 at this writing) that he'd stay on as Chief Justice for a while. Right now the consensus is that Rehnquist will retire at the end of this term, if not before. He could surprise everyone and stay as long as he's able, but given the seriousness of his illness, his age, and the fact that without him, there's a danger of 4-4 decisions that would provide no clear-cut decision in cases, I think June will be the latest. That means at some point this year, we're going to see a Supreme Court nomination or two. I am disappointed with the Democrats, but if they can hold on long enough to grow something of a spine, it's going to get contentious before the dust settles.

On a somewhat more personal level, it looks like the beginning of the end is finally arriving in the Schiavo case. This poor woman in Florida has been essentially a vegetable for the last fifteen years, and her case has been in and out of the courts, and shamefully politicized in 2003 with the so-called "Terri's Law" passed by Jeb and his legislative henchmen. While the passing of a papal reign is noteworthy, and a change in the Court is always historic (and this time, threatens to influence legal decisions for a generation or two-- bye, bye abortion, consumer rights, and a host of other things...), this case I think touched a lot of people. It certainly gave me pause. I'm in my mid-30s. Still quite young, thank you, but I've known people who have died in their late 30s and early 40s, and as time passes, more and more people I know will shuffle off this mortal coil. What decisions or plans have we made for our final days and moments? This particular case makes me realize I should probably make some kind of legal notation regarding how I want to be treated. On one hand, I really don't want to leave this life, not before I absolutely have to. But on the other hand, there's the "quality of life" factor. At what point do I see myself saying, it's not worth it? More importantly, at what point do the *people* around me decide that it's not worth it? That's what poor Terri Schiavo is suffering right now-- she can't indicate what she'd like, so she's left with her husband and her parents battling it out.

I think it's difficult on both sides. From what little I know, it doesn't sound like her husband was a great guy during their conscious period of their marriage, but he has obviously been changed by the experience. He's since become a nurse, in large part because of his experience with Terri. As her legal spouse, technically he has the right to make the final decisions.

Conversely, you have the understandably distraught parents, who gave birth to this woman, raised her, and of course, don't want to let go. But at what point does the situation become about you and not about your daughter? I think that bar was passed quite some time ago.

All I know is that I would not want to be in either of their shoes. I think it's unfair that the husband has been slammed; from what the news reports say, all allegations of abuse are unfounded. The fact that he now has a girlfriend and children is debatable, but he shouldn't be punished for it. Some people can and will deprive themselves of everything that comes with a marriage, in order to stay faithful in all ways to their vows. Some people can handle that, or are willing to make the sacrifices to do that. Most people can't and won't, and this guy is one of them. For all intents and purposes, Terri is being kept alive on a machine. Why should he give up his life as well? One life has already been destroyed; why effectively end two?

But I also feel for the parents. No parent should ever outlive their child. That's not how the natural order is supposed to work, and I'm sure at some primal level, that is their real intent: to make sure the natural order isn't perverted. But when court-appointed doctors all agree that nothing is going to change, when they agree the cortex is gone, that there has been no new development since this case erupted in 2003, then maybe it's time to make your peace and let go.

It certainly doesn't help that the religious right has gone gangbusters with this issue. But I think that what they're doing is repugnant. They are essentially forcing their beliefs about the end of life on us, just as they do their beliefs about the beginning. While these fanatics might be okay with being hooked up to a machine for the remainder of their lives, that's not necessarily the choice others would make. It boils down to an *individual* decision. That's a decision *I* want to make, or that I want my *family* to make, NOT a bunch of Bible-thumpers, thank you.

The positive benefit and legacy that Terri Schiavo will leave behind is forcing people to at least consider the issue and face their mortality. I know when this case first appeared in the news back in 2003, it prompted a discussion between me and my wife about what we wanted. While we have yet to formally put our feelings and decisions onto paper, at least we have communicated our thoughts and opinions on this matter. Hopefully it will be some time before we again need to seriously talk about this, but at least we have a sense of what each of us wants.

We all have choices to make in this world. For some of us, working as long as we are able, like John Paul II and Chief Justice Rehnquist, is what works for us. Some will undergo treatments and therapies such as tracheotomies. Some, like Christopher Reeve, will make peace with the abbreviated quality of life that is left to us. Still others cannot accept this, and instead make the final, irreversible choices that are left. Yet for every person that can consciously make the last declarations of their lives and give those decisions meaning, there are others that are unable to do so. That I think is where the real struggle is: how do we dignify a person's last days? For Terri Schiavo it boils down to either life in a long-term care facility, or euthanasia by starvation. I think what both sides in this sad struggle need to realize is that there are no right choices, and no wrong ones left. There is simply the question of dignity and closure.

In order to best achieve that, they need to stop the circus, end the politicization, quit using and abusing the courts, and start accepting that the Terri they knew is no longer here. For their sakes, I hope that the parents and the husband can achieve a measure of peace with which to steel themselves for what comes next.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Patchwork Quilts

Well, whether the media wants to acknowledge it or not (and so far they aren't willing to admit it-- just put on our blinders and pretend everything's dandy!), the recent election in Iraq doesn't mean everything's suddenly beautiful over there. As it is, the country's heading towards civil war, if it's not there already. The Kurds in the north were pretty much sold out during the U.S.'s march to war, but they aren't staying quiet and accepting it. On the contrary, their continued agitation for autonomy/independence keeps Turkey nervous. The Sunnis barely bothered to vote in the election last month, and the violence and tensions in the so-called "Sunni Triangle" just touches the surface of what are serious divisions between the Shiites and the Sunnis.

Is this all "our" fault? Not necessarily. It's rather ironic that our major "partner" in this senseless war is Britain; the British contributed to the problem that exists now. Much of the Middle East was once part of the Ottoman Empire. During World War I, the British intended to weaken the Ottoman Empire (which was already a shadow compared with its glory days) by inciting various nationalistic, tribal, and social groups within. One of the top British agents was T(homas) E(dward) Lawrence, better known to history (and filmdom!) as Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence was a rather odd duck, so to speak; he actually sympathized with the various Arab tribes and was not too pleased about what happened at the end of the war. Lawrence assisted in attacks on Ottoman strongholds and aided in stirring Arab nationalism. The end result was that when the war ended, the League of Nations rearranged the map, so to speak. In the Middle East, this meant creating new nations out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. Britain was assigned a mandatory over Palestine, Jordan, and Iraq. Ostensibly, this meant the British were to aid these nations in achieving self-government/democracy. France also was supposed to do the same thing in Syria and Lebanon. Unfortunately, what seemed nice, neat, and tidy on paper didn't work well in reality, especially in nations that suddenly were found to have tons of oil.

Just as the European powers had done in Africa a century earlier, new national boundaries were drawn rather arbitrarily, playing havoc with the fact that established ethnicities already had their own tribal/territorial boundaries set over centuries. All of this so far is a rather simplified summary, I know. But while reading coverage of Iraq the last couple of years, I've been wondering why Iraqis haven't been showering the British with as much animosity as they do the United States. After all, the League of Nations' lumping of the Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis together, coupled with the British "mandatory" right afterwards contributed as much to the tensions in Iraq today as does the United States' incursion into internal Iraqi affairs based on the non-existence of WMDs.

Of course, the matter is much more complicated than that. But today, I read a somewhat satirical, somewhat thoughtful article on a possible division of Iraq. For those of you without the time or patience to read it, the author suggests that Iraq be divided into three different nations, then suggests the United States could well do the same.

This isn't an entirely new idea. Even as the British colonies rebelled against and seceded from the (first) British Empire, some regions maintained their independence. Vermont, for example, was an independent republic from 1777 to 1791, and some Vermonters are pushing for a second republic. Disgruntled North Carolinians seceded from that state and became the short-lived state of Franklin, before becoming absorbed into what would soon become Tennessee. Plenty of schoolchildren (and adults), especially in the Lone Star State, know all about how Texas was once an independent nation, from 1836 to 1845. Fewer people know, however, that when Texas was finally admitted to the Union, there was an escape clause available: the newly admitted state retained the option to divide itself into up to five states.

I've always found that interesting, and I think the idea has merit. If you look at Texas today, the state actually is three different states, at minimum. If you draw a line along the northern boundary at the Red River, then go directly southward, roughly on or paralleling 35 and 77, stopping at the Corpus Christi region, that's one state right there: East Texas. This land of piney woods is really an extension of the Old South, and its first settlers were indeed Southerners: the founding fathers of Texas and their compatriots. The Bowies came from Louisiana; Davy Crockett and Sam Houston from Tennessee.The politics, values, mores, and even the geography of this region fits in more with Ole Dixie.

Now you go back north, to San Antonio. From the western border of the line I've just drawn, follow roughly the path of I-10, raising it just slightly above the beltway surrounding San Antone. Go all the way to the New Mexico border, and there's your second state. This area is essentially the Rio Grande Valley; geographically it's got quite a bit in common with the northern states of Mexico that share the border. The ethnic diversity, politics, and needs of this area differ vastly from that of East Texas.

The final region is what's left over: all the area west of Dallas (which is an East Texas city to my mind) and north of San Antonio. This includes the Llano Estacado, and the cattle and oil regions: San Angelo, Midland, Abilene, Witchita Falls, and to some extent, Fort Worth, which has always been more of a cattle town than Dallas. I see this area as essentially the southernmost points of the Great Plains, and culturally and geographically, it fits in more with the Midwestern states than it does with the rest of Texas.

Of course, this division will never take place, but next time you're in Texas, keep your mouth shut, your eyes peeled, and pay attention. You'll see as you traverse the state the kind of changes, the differences that I mentioned.

Continuing with the interesting story of the patchwork that became this nation, you have that band of religious diehards known as the Latter-Day Saints, or more popularly the Mormons. After they fled to what is now Utah, they asserted hegemony over present-day Utah, and portions of the states surrounding it: much of Nevada, northern Arizona, parts of Southern California (Las Vegas, Nevada and San Bernardino were originally Mormon outposts to begin with), western Wyoming, and southeastern Idaho. They called it the state of Deseret, and actually had philosophical and physical conflicts with the United States for quite some time. James Buchanan actually sent the army westward to deal with Brigham Young and the Mormons. Mormon antipathy towards outsiders reached a peak in the famed Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857. It took quite some time before Mormon leaders found the idea of joining the Union appealing, and even longer to finally join, in 1896. Even today, Utah can seem like a world apart, especially once you're outside of Salt Lake City. I lived in Utah for two years, and while it is a beautiful place, and the people generally friendly, it is definitely a different mindset there.

I don't want to write a novel, so I'll keep mention of the Civil War fairly short. You should have studied this in high school/college, anyway. But it really is interesting to note that there was divided opinion in the North at the outset. Not everyone wanted to keep the country together, and many were happy to let the South go in peace. I sometimes wonder if maybe that was the better answer. Even today, the Southern states are quite different from the rest of the country, and it's one of the last areas of the United States were regional dialect, culture, and folkways still take hold. While homogenity is comfortable, distinctions are unique and should be preserved when possible.

Since the west was picked up as territory or spoils of war, there hasn't been as much dissension or threats to split, secede, or otherwise distinguish themselves. Here in California though, is the exception. Since the state was admitted in 1850 (and even slightly before that), there's been proposals (ranging from fantastical to deadly serious) of splitting the state. Usually it's to divide California into a north and south, but there was once a proposal to create three states. The traditional animosity between NorCal and SoCal is finally fading, but fading in favor of a different split: coastal areas versus the Central Valley. Even today, the very northern reaches rattle their sabers about jumping ship. One area where I think this might be a good idea is in Alpine County. During the winter, it's easier to do everything in Nevada when you're in the eastern part of the county than to try to go to western Alpine County, much less the rest of the state. Whoever drew the California boundaries back in 1850 obviously didn't consult a map or visit this area (which is very isolated and mountainous), and put the eastern border in the meadowlands, rather than along the summit of the Sierra Nevada.

While there are still rumblings here in California, the latest sounds of independence are coming from Vermont, as previously mentioned, and from Washington state. The recent bitterness over the exceedingly close gubernatorial race this past fall has prompted discussion of dividing that state into two. While I can see the idea has some merit, if they're really serious, they might want to talk to Oregon. Both states have east-west divides, and eastern Oregon has more in common with eastern Washington than it does with the rest of Oregon. For that matter, western Oregon and western Washington would fit together well.

This all doesn't even begin to touch on all the permutations and possibilities and threats over the 200+ years of American history. Hawaii has a legitimate beef with how the U.S. acquired it. Puerto Ricans are divided over whether to be a state, a member of a commonwealth with the U.S., or just leave things the way they are. There are little bits and pieces in Washington State, Minnesota, Michigan, and other border states where you have to go through Canada to get to the rest of the United States, or where being part of Canada would be a better fit.

We have our own struggles, divisions, strange splits, and geographical patchwork quilts. Who's to say what will or won't work for Iraq? It'll be interesting (at the very least!) to see what happens next.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Mother Nature

Today was kind of nice-- overcast at times, but the sun really broke through the clouds for the most part. It was a welcome respite. By now, if you're not in Southern California (or the "Southland" as the local newscasters inexplicably like to call it), you've been hearing and reading in the news about our deluge. No mudslides near me, no road closures (although I understand the Hollywood Freeway had to be shut down due to extensive flooding), no flooding of any kind. Just tons and tons of water running down the edges of the streets, in the gutters, and pooling up at sewer entrances and street corners. There's supposed to be more nasty weather coming up eventually, but I think for the time being we've got a break. Of course, we can't complain-- there are places in this country that haven't seen above-freezing temperatures for a while, and places like Boston have seen more snow than they care to see in a normal season. Often when I talk to friends about where to live, we eventually reach a consensus that there really is no one "safe" place to be. If you're in the Southeast, Florida, or along the Gulf Coast, you've got hurricanes and flooding; if you're in the Northeast, you have some risk of hurricanes (1938 is a good example), definite risk of super snowstorms (think Boston, Buffalo, and even New York)-- Mid-Atlantic can get the brunt from either of the previous two regions. For example, my mother-in-law's basement flooded during the recent hurricane season, and my wife's cousin's car was carried away in the flooding in downtown Richmond, Virginia.

In the Old Northwest region, you've got flooding, tornadoes, and severe winter weather-- I remember a classmate in New York who was from Kentucky, and he told me about how his family's house had been flooded when he was younger, and they had lost all kinds of things. the central Southern Plains has the same danger of tornadoes, especially in the famed "Tornado Alley." The Northern Plains has some of the coldest weather in the nation, and all along the river valleys and deltas you've got the risk of flooding. Anyone recall Fargo and other places along the Mississippi a few years back?

In the Southwest you've got droughts and flooding during the monsoon season. In the Pacific Northwest, you've got the risks of tsunamis, earthquakes, and volcanic activity (Mt. St. Helens, anyone?). Here in California, we've got earthquakes, wildfires, mudslides, and along the coast, the risk of tsunamis as well (Crescent City in 1964). There you have it-- that's all just the U.S. of A., you know. I'm not even ready to begin with the rest of the world.

My solution is to just find where I'm happy, and that's that. For now, that's California. I could see myself back in the D.C. area, and there's other places as well that I would be okay with, but I prefer California or D.C. Regardless of where I end up, I'll adapt to whatever Mother Nature throws at me. Take the appropriate precautions, and that's that.

I guess this is the kind of conversational material you talk about when you have nothing else to discuss. For me, that's not entirely true, but at some point, every conversation eventually gets around to the weather. So I guess for this blog, that time is now.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Neither Snow Nor Rain Nor Heat...

Well, today's Washington's Birthday, and yesterday was the official "Presidents Day" holiday. I'm just now recovering, and starting to catch up on all the stuff that's gotten put aside. But before I get into that or anything else, a quick correction to make.

I was reading the San Francisco Chronicle over the weekend (one of the better papers published nowadays, IMHO), and noticed an article. Essentially, I goofed up. I was in such a hurry to figure out when the origin of the name "Presidents Day" came about, that when I saw the gummint had changed it in 1971 during the Nixon administration, I pounced on this as fact. Well, as the song goes, it ain't neccessarily so. I don't know what this guy's politics are, or if there's some hidden agenda behind this, but I agree with him, as you know from my previous post on this. For generations we've honored Lincoln and Washington on their respective birthdays, and we should keep doing that-- none of this "Presidents Day" baloney. As for my faux pas, this'll teach me to return to the basics of my former craft, and do a better job of research next time. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa...

That said, I'm finally recovering from whatever it was that laid me low. Today I just have a very raw, sore nose (I guess there's a reason why they market tissues that have aloe in them!), and some mild fuzziness. A shower quickly took care of the foggy head. While I'm not 100% myself yet, I'm definitely getting there.

Spent most of my day tidying up, getting back in the swing of things. A sort of bland, non-descript day, really. Even the mail was bland for the most part. A couple of bills, ads, and the like. Our mail service finally seems to be improving. I'm not sure if our usual carrier is back yet or not, but whoever it is isn't screwing up. Back in late October or early November, I started noticing that the mail was coming later in the day. No problem, I thought; carriers can and do change their driving schedules or routes according to what their supervisors want.

But soon I was finding mail addressed to different people in our building in my box. Occasionally it happens that a letter for the people next door is in our box. Not a big deal, mistakes happen. But three or four different people's mail in my box? Then I started seeing mail for the same apartment number, but the building next door. This happened several times. Then the same thing, but the building two doors down. Things finally came to a head when I got a letter addressed to the people at the same street number, but the next street over. I got a bit peeved, took the mail with me, and drove down to the Post Office. Our PO has some really friendly clerks, so they were attentive when I told them what was going on. The clerk took the mail, told me she'd be right back, and disappeared. After waiting a while, she finally came back, told me she'd taken care of the problem. She left a note for the carrier to check with his supervisor when he came back from his shift. She also told me we had a sub, because our regular carrier had been in a very bad accident ("Oh, my goodness! How bad??" "Bad." "Will he be okay?" "I don't know." This continues for a few minutes more. Monosyllabic, no?), and it was not known when or if he'd be returning. So in the meantime, we had a green carrier who apparently failed the literacy test in high school. I was told to be patient, they'd resolve things.

So I went home, and figured within a few days there wouldn't be any problem. While I didn't get mail for other homes/buildings anymore, there were a few instances where it was clear things weren't back to "normal" yet. I found letters, circulars, and magazines addressed to people in our building, with their names and the street addresses on them, but no apartment numbers. Without checking the boxes to match the name on the mail to the name on the box, our carrier just decided to put them on the floor by the boxes, and go on his merry way.

This went on for a while. One day, I just happened to be downstairs when he was there, and saw him trying to cut corners. I picked up the envelopes, as sometimes we get stuff for previous tenants. So I checked: nope, nope, and nope. These were items for current residents. So I gently handed them back to him one by one: "This is for Mr. Studio Employee in #8. This is for Smiling Lady in #11. See her name there? Let's see, and this one is for Mr. Weirdo in #6, and this last one is for Frowning Bitch in #9." He dutifully took each one, and under my steady gaze, put them in the correct slots. Mission accomplished.

Since then I've seen a huge improvement. I'm still cautious, though, but I'd say I can start expecting more often that my mail be where it's supposed to be. We'll see. I hope these are permanent improvements, and that this carrier keeps his appointed rounds. The rain doesn't seem to be holding him back, fortunately. This is the fourth or fifth day now of rain, but today was punctuated by bursts of sunshine. It started raining about the time I got sick, so I'm hoping as I get healthier, the weather does likewise. We've gotten more rain this season than Seattle does on average. Come to think of it, the L.A. area has plenty of hills. We have a port, down by San Pedro. We have a coastline, the sea. There's plenty of fog. We even have an island or two: on a clear day, you can see Catalina from Santa Monica, or from the top of the Getty Museum. Yep, I think we could pass for Seattle for a while... Meantime, we're safe and sound, and dry for the moment. I just hope tomorrow's mail is more interesting.

Monday, February 21, 2005

A Good Patient

I've been sick the last few days, which is part of the reason I haven't posted all that often. It's pretty hard to do too much when you're zonked out and low on energy. I first thought I had a cold, but then again, my lovely co-Head of Household just finished having sinusitis, so then I changed my mind. I've got sinusitis. Now I think maybe it's just a cold. The symptoms are so similar it's hard to tell the two apart. Either way, I've been rapidly depleting what looks like a lifetime supply of Kleenex. I've got pretty good aim when I'm ready to throw each wad in the garbage. No three-pointers, but a very high percentage of baskets regardless.

What's really annoying is this persistent cough I've had over the last few days. I stayed home from work on Friday, because I was coughing every fifteen to twenty minutes, and I didn't want to drive the office nuts with listening to me. I decided to see if I could just turn in my work and pick up new material. My "supervisor" had no problem with that, so I've got a new screenplay to read, some earlier coverage to revise and re-submit, and a new book to read. Plenty of reading material for the week to come.

I've been pretty much following my mother's dictum: "Rest and drink plenty of fluids!" She always used to say this when I was sick as a child, and I've done this every time since. It's been a while since I've been sick though; maybe two or three years at least. I was sick frequently as a child, so I guess this is a "reward" as an adult: infrequent illness. It's annoying though. I have tons of other things to do, and I just haven't had the energy to tackle anything yet.

I will admit it's nice being sick when you're married or have someone living with you. There's someone there to fuss over you, make sure you've got plenty to drink, and generally put up with whatever inane requests you make. I know a lot of people think there are certain or definite milestones to finally becoming an adult, but for me, I think the moment I knew I was truly grown up was the first time I got sick, and I didn't have Mom there to take my temperature, bring the TV into the bedroom, bring meals/drinks/whatever in on a TV tray, pick up medicine for me, and generally make sure I was comfortable. My roommate couldn't care less, my bed was an army cot (maybe not literally, but it sure felt like it!), and it wasn't "home." There's nothing more dispiriting than having to be sick on your own.

Since then, I've gotten used to it, and can handle being alone and sick. But now, I don't have to. As it is, it's kind of a nice payback: my wife gets sick, I swear, on average every ten days. Usually it's something minor, but she is NOT a good patient. I do my best to be a kind and loving husband anyway, but I must admit it's nice to be the one in need of pampering for a change! I think overall I'm a good patient. *grin*

Today I finally felt a bit better, which was Good News, as I had bought tickets last month for a museum exhibit, and there's no way I could get our money back. It was to go to the L.A. Science Center to see "Body Worlds 2." This is a fascinating exhibit where real human bodies are on display, stripped of skin in most cases, and often dissected or "carved up" so that you can see the organs, the nerves, the arteries, and hell, just about everything, really. It's done through a process called plastination, and the exhibit comes from Germany. This was a sequel to the hugely popular "Body Worlds" exhibit, which we also saw. That first show is now in Chicago.

Both exhibits had hundreds of bodies/body parts, and showed all kinds of things. Some of the things I remember vividly and that made an impression on me include the nervous system. Somehow they extracted the entire nervous system and propped it up so you could see all the nerves, and ONLY the nerves. I never realized how extensive the nervous system was! They took all the organs out of one torso, and placed it on a rotating pole next to the body it came from, so you could see how everything fit together. It was really fascinating to see the actual placement of the organs. Sure, I took high school and college biology, along with everyone else. I've seen pictures of the body before. But there is a vast difference between seeing pictures, models, and the like and seeing an actual body. I also never realized how small the kidneys really are; I'd always pictured them as being larger than they really are.

The aspects of the exhibits that most fascinated me (and probably captivated others' attention too) were the organs/parts that were messed up/diseased. For example, there was a normal, healthy artery, and right next to it, a diseased one. It's sobering to see how allowing cholesterol and fat buildup results in a dysfunctional (and essential!) element of your system.

Although (with one exception) the designers of the show respect the privacy of the donors by not revealing age, cause of death, or other identifying factors, in "Body Worlds" I'd say a good third of the lungs were diseased. I got to see a healthy lung, and in the next instant, what a smoker's lung looks like, with all the tar deposits, and the greyish tone of the outside, all speckled with black. For the second show, they showed a similar healthy lung next to a smoker's lung. But the real shocker came in the third lung: the lung of a coal miner. It was completely black. I don't mean greyish black, but dark of the night, moonless, starless, absolutely-no-light-anywhere black. ALL of it. As a historian, I've long known that coal miners suffered respiratory ailments and had shortened lives due to the years in the mines, but looking at this totally black lung, it really hit me how much toll mine work extracted.

Other types of lungs were shown, including a lung ravaged by cancer, that was one-third the size of a normal lung, next to a normal-sized lung. I saw a liver riddled by cirrhosis, a heart damaged by a heart attack, knee cartilage swollen by arthritic tissues, and various implants, from a pacemaker to an artificial hip joint. It's definitely an amazing show, and if you're in L.A. or Chicago, you must go see it. Even if you're not big on science (and I've never been known to be crazy about science museums or exhibits), this will leave you both impressed by the complexity of the machine that is your body, and also re-thinking your daily habits. I'm really curious how many people actually stop or reduce their smoking based on seeing what a damaged lung looks like. For some information (and to see what I'm talking about), check out the Body Worlds site.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Old Ben

Lessee, there's Big Ben, Gentle Ben, Ben Franklin... but there's also "Old Ben," the hermit of Tatooine. For Christmas, we got the DVD set of "Star Wars." I already had the VHS set, which has the theatrical version of the movies as they were originally filmed/released. I hadn't really planned to upgrade to DVD yet, but we got it as a gift, so who am I to complain?

Plus, I'd talked to a friend's boyfriend, who had the set. He said that despite the box's warning that "bonus features are not rated or captioned" that it was INDEED captioned, all of it. This was a happy surprise, as 20th Century Fox is one of many many companies that refuses to caption their extras/bonus features. So I was looking forward to seeing the bonus disc, as well as watching the movies again.

While I'm not a diehard fan (i.e. I don't go to premieres dressed up as a stormtrooper), I do enjoy the first three movies. I personally think the second movie, "The Empire Strikes Back" is the best of the three. While the first movie set the tone, and the third wrapped it up, the middle had drama, romance, tension, action, and no neat and tidy conclusion. Plus Mark Hamill actually attempts to act, and the others turn in solid performances.

So we kicked back and watched the movies when we had time, and this weekend we finished watching the second and third movies. I've seen them a dozen times. I actually saw the original, "Star Wars," the year it came out. We were visiting my grandparents, and the family decided to go and see the movie at Grauman's Chinese Theatre (or a theater nearby that area-- I can't recall exactly now, but I keep thinking it was Grauman's, which by the way is now Mann's Chinese Theatre-- yes, that one, with the footprints and signatures in the cement right outside). I was still pretty young, and wasn't sure what all the big deal was about. I remember my uncles telling me the basic outline of the story, and my uncles and I played out a "lightsaber battle" on the front lawn while we were waiting for everyone to get ready and go. I don't remember the movie as clearly as I wish I could, but I know I saw it then.

I was living in New York when "The Empire Strikes Back" came out, and either went with my family or with friends to that one. I remember being excited, and it really was a nice setting. The theatre was of a similar age as the Chinese Theatre; it was a single-screen theatre, with a fantastic proscenium, decorations, curtains, the works. When I visited my childhood home a few years ago on a cross-country journey, I wanted to show my wife this place. Unfortunately I found it closed, victim to the mediocre six-screen mall clones that pass for movie palaces nowadays. By that time, the toys were out in full force, and I actually had a few.

Now, again, I'm not a maniac about the series. I don't have a houseful of every Star Wars item ever made, but like any boy of that era, I had quite a few of the Kenner action figures: Luke, Leia, Han Solo, a stormtrooper or two, Darth Vader, etc. Unfortunately at that time I'd never dreamed that something like E-Bay would appear, or that some slobbering uberfan in his forties wearing a Darth Vader t-shirt might pay a pretty penny, so I actually took the toys out of their original packaging and (*gasp*) played with them. I've been in a few collectibles shops in the last few years (for comics, which can wait as it'll take an entire post to go into THAT subject), and seen both used and pristine toys, and some of them are, um... well, collectible and bring a good price. I was a sensible kid, played with them, abused them, had lightsaber duels with them, had the Death Star blow them up, and so on, so they're pretty tattered now. Leia's head came off at some point, so I guess I can re-cast her as an early Christian martyr. I still have them; I guess I'm not ready to part with them, but right now, they're in a box. We only have so much space in this place, you know.

I also have the old bubblegum card set. Those of you whose eyes perk up at this will happily read along; the rest of you are probably scratching your heads and saying, "Uh? What's the dude talking about??" Just like baseball cards, you could buy Star Wars cards that came with a stick of bubblegum- you know, the kind that expired two weeks before it was packaged and took forever to chew. It had a hint of flavor if you were lucky. Most of the time it was just a stick of TMJ-inducing "pleasure." The real prize were the cards. There were three distinct sets, and you got two or three cards per package, if I remember right. One set had an orange border, as I recall. I avidly collected these (ok, so I was *something* of a Star Wars nerd for a teensy time), and I believe I have a complete (or near-complete) run of the cards. I was the kind of kid that took care of his belongings (partly because it was *me*, and partly because we didn't have very much money when I was growing up), so when I unpacked tons of boxes a few years ago after getting married, I hauled out a box that contained this card set. A nice trip down memory lane... I also kept them for now-- writing this, I'm now curious to know how much a full set (not in its package!) would bring.

By the time the third movie, "Return of the Jedi," came out, I was a bit older and wiser, and not as into collecting toys, cards, and other things. I was in junior high (or maybe high school?) when this one came out. I can't remember now, but I either cut my last class, or raced downtown right after class the very first day it came out. The first showing had been earlier, I think, but I was there for the second showing, at 3 p.m. I was the third person in line, behind a classmate named Pete Padilla. He was a cool guy; not a close friend or anything, but I always liked talking to him. We hung out and kept each other company while waiting for the movie, and decided to sit with each other during the movie. These are the kinds of movies that are best viewed with more than yourself in the group. I remember being wowed by the battle on the barge, right before Jabba's ship was blown to smithereens. I groaned at how "wimpy" Han seemed to have become, and I was surprised by the revelation of the Skywalker family tree. In retrospect, there were *big* hints in the second movie, so it really shouldn't have been too much of a surprise... hmm... Yoda says "There is another"?? Not too difficult to figure out...

Several years later, before the advent of the VHS and DVD versions, I had the opportunity to go see all three movies at once; the local university was showing the three movies back-to-back-to back. I went and sat there for over six hours, watching it all in its entirety. When it came out on video, I hinted I'd like the set as a Christmas gift, and was promptly rewarded. Luckily, I held on to it, because not too long after, Lucas announced he was going to use modern special effects to create "definitive versions," and the movies you see today are these "special edition" versions.

Originally, Lucas talked about a nine-movie series, then eventually pared it down to six. He brought out Episodes I and II. These were NOT as good as his first three, and I was disappointed. I liked Darth Maul, and Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor did their best; they are good actors, after all. But the story in the two movies was way too drawn out, and could have been compressed together in a faster, more energetic movie as one. Also, Hayden Christiansen stole the title of "Worst Star Wars Actor" from Mark Hamill. While Hamill is not much of an actor (it *really* shows in the very first movie, "Star Wars" (Episode IV)), at least he tried to improve his delivery and method in the next two, and went on to a credible career doing voicework for a variety of shows and programs. I have no plans to buy these two movies at all, but I'll rent them this spring. After all, the last movie is coming out in May.

Which brings me back to the DVD set. After watching the three movies in succession, we watched the bonus disc. A word to the wise: plan on spending about three hours or more watching this. The main documentary feature clocks in at well over two hours. There's a couple of featurettes, all the movie and TV ads (and they're all captioned!!! This is rare!), artwork, movie posters, and all kinds of other stuff. There's even a short featurette previewing the upcoming finale, and it looks better than Episodes I and II.

Lucas' forte is not directing; he wisely turned over the reins for "Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi." Yes, "American Graffiti" is good, but it's basically a quasi-autobiography of his days in Modesto, in the Central Valley. It's pretty hard to fuck up telling your own life story. What he's going to be remembered for besides "Star Wars" is all the technical and special effects stuff he's turned out over the last thirty or so years. You can see some of this genius in the main documentary on the fourth disc on DVD.

I'm disappointed in a way there aren't going to be three more movies, or even one more, catching up with Luke, Leia, and Han years later. They're old enough now that a movie could credibly tell the tale of their later years. As it is, expect the cast to start dropping off slowly one by one. Peter Cushing is no longer around. Neither is Alec Guinness.

At least that's the great magic of movies. For as long as "Star Wars" is around, we'll always have Luke wondering about Obi-Wan, and "Old Ben Kenobi," and the connection between the two. I think that's one of the tangible benefits of being an actor/actress: immortality.

I've got May 19th down on the calendar...

Monday, February 14, 2005

My Teef

Today was the big day. I'd finally get my tooth looked at, and if I was lucky, maybe get some answers. Being unemployed, I don't have health insurance. Then again, if this administration has its way, most of us won't. Thus I didn't visit my dentist of 20+ years. For one thing, I'd have to drive 400 miles north, and I don't have the money for that right now. Second, there's no guarantee I'd get in right away. So I'm taking my chances with the dental clinic at UCLA.

After filling out the usual forms (do you have a deranged uncle? At what age did you get your first cold? Are you sexually promiscuous, or just lying about it? How many teeth does the average 60-year-old have? How many teeth do YOU think you'll have when you're 60? If you answered "all," don't you think you're just a little too optimistic?), and handing them back to the receptionist, I sat and waited for the interpreter. And waited. And waited. An hour after my scheduled appointment time, the interpreter showed up (I've talked to her before; there's only *two* interpreters for deaf patients in all of the UCLA health system; one full-time (her), and one part-time. Sure, there's not that many deaf people in the total population, but still... It means that if there's more than one deaf person waiting for/in an appointment, the interpreter can't be there every minute, which means you're getting less than 100% access to communication. It doesn't get any better either. There's only two or three SPANISH-SPEAKING interpreters, and this is in a city/state where Anglos are the minority!). Turns out there's a deaf woman in the waiting room as well, so we are both ushered in at the same time, and the interpreter shuttles between the two of us. The supervising dentist curtly (and cursorily) checks the offending tooth, as well as the rest of my mouth. A student dentist can "fix the problem," so I'm accepted into the clinic. Whee. After that, it's off to billing, to get the paperwork squared away, then off to get my teeth x-rayed. Rather than the bitewing x-rays I'm used to, I'm going to have this metal monstrosity shoved in my mouth, with the film attached to it, and have 21 x-rays taken (I'm used to three or four!). The (student?) technician is nice, but I sit in fear that I'm going to be left with some scar on the roof of my mouth, or my tongue severed from the base, or some similar thing. Finally we're done, and she asks if I can wait a little while she develops the film. Sure, no problem: that's the tradeoff-- I get cheaper service at the expense of my time. She finally emerges only to tell me we've gotta redo one x-ray. *sigh* Sure, no problem. Back to the x-ray room, once more, and we're done. Turns out that this is a preliminary intake, and that I'll have to come back on a second appointment to actually have the damn tooth fixed. I still think it's a filling, but it means sipping every drink through straws for another week or two.

I'm concerned about how they're going to notify me about my next appointment, so I check in with the receptionist at the front desk, who I've previously buttered up (hint: ALWAYS be friendly to the secretary/receptionist, unless they're Assistants From Hell; you never know when just being nice might pay off later). She says they'll mail me a postcard with the necessary info. Given the postal service I've had of late, I'm dubious, but I fill out the card with my address and hand it back. Off I go...

SO... I'm still stuck with the tooth, but the end is in sight, hopefully. I understand late this month/early next is when I'd be seen, so we'll see what happens.

Oh, yes, it's Valentine's Day. If you're like me, you have mixed feelings about the day (at least I did in the past!). But a Happy Valentine's Day to you, regardless of how you plan to spend it. *smile*

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Happy Birthday, Abie Baby

This month has two holidays: Valentine's Day (which needs no introduction), and President's Day. This last is the gummint's attempt to streamline the days they allow their peons to actually stay home and revitalize themselves. Although President's Day was established in 1971 as a way to combine and honor both Lincoln and Washington in one day with the generic title "President's Day," it actually dishonors the two men who previously were celebrated on their own merits. Also, it deprived millions of schoolchildren the chance to have two days off in February, after suffering through the winter doldrums of the post-Christmas hangover called January. Now everyone just gets the third Monday in February off, as opposed to February 12th and 22nd. For a county that's so "patriotic," you'd think they'd keep these holidays the way they were. You can tell these were once major holidays if you do any research into old calendars, newspapers, etc., or just watch Bing Crosby in "Holiday Inn." It's a nice, if dated, movie. You can thrill to all the holiday musical numbers, including "White Christmas." The Lincoln song extols that wonderful man called Abe, and notes that the "darkies" were thrilled by what he did for them. Charming.

Although I was still in elementary school after 1971, my school district still gave us both holidays off. I remember my teacher did cutouts of Lincoln and Washington to post around the classroom, and we received rudimentary history lessons about both men. My memory's a bit hazy, but I think as part of our curriculum, we did silhouettes. The teacher had us come up one by one and stand in the shadow of a lamp or some such strong light, and she'd trace our outlines on black construction paper. She cut each one out, and we had our very own silhouette. I think my mom still has mine; I'll have to look at it again someday. I must have been about seven or eight.

As for our sixteenth president, what really bugs me is how certain irresponsible politicians collectively called "Republicans" like to showcase Lincoln as a prime example of how committed they are to Civil Rights. "Why," they crow, "our first Republican president was so committed to Civil Rights, he freed the slaves!" They trot out Lincoln every chance they get, trying to cover up the fact that that was the high-water mark as far as the Republicans and civil rights were concerned. Oh, sure, there was Reconstruction, but this was carried out in spite of things, and ended with a thud at the close of the 1876 election. The GOP wasn't founded primarily as a bastion of freedom, nor with the intention of promoting racial equality. Instead, the first Republicans sought abolition as a means to promote free labor, rather than as some moral obligation on the part of the nation. Eric Foner covers this well in _Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men_, his discussion of the early ideology of the Republican Party, and what this meant in the immediate pre-Civil War climate. Republican policies after Reconstruction focused largely on pro-business policies (sound familiar?), culminating in the presidency of William McKinley during the 1890s. If you really want to understand how we got to where we are today, study the Robber Baron era: as George Santayana said, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

The Republicans were vaguely pro-civil rights in a passive sort of way, but didn't really do anything to prevent the nadir of black America during the post-Plessy v. Ferguson years; as the civil rights years of the 1950s and '60s passed, it was increasingly the Democratic Party that changed course. I've often thought Lyndon Johnson was the best post-WWII president we've had, in terms of domestic affairs. LBJ was a New Dealer, a successor to FDR. Since then, the Republicans, starting in 1968 with Nixon's famous "Southern Strategy," have been co-opting the old racist polemics and policies that the Democrats once held. In a recent meeting with the Black Congressional Caucus, our "president" admitted he didn't know anything about the upcoming renewal of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. This is just the tip of the iceberg, really...

That's not to say that Lincoln was some sort of saint where blacks were concerned. In 1862, Lincoln wrote to Horace Greeley, and said in part, "If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that." For Lincoln, dealing with slavery came second to holding the country together. As for the Emancipation Proclamation, it was a political cover-your-ass document: the slaves in the South weren't freed, because Lincoln had no control over that region. The slaves in the North weren't freed, because by the time of the Civil War, there weren't any slaves left in those states. The border states, like Maryland, were the only areas where the Emancipation Proclamation had much heft to begin with. Both Lincoln and Kennedy are remembered for their stance on civil rights/slavery/black issues, but the real progress happened after their deaths: the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments and Reconstruction in Lincoln's case, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, in JFK's.

Lincoln can and should be remembered for a lot of things. But I really wish that two things would happen. One is that the original holidays be restored, so we can remember and celebrate Lincoln on his own (not to mention more downtime for everybody- really!), and that politicians of all stripes would shut up about Lincoln. The Republicans should stop trying to act like they're the *real* best friends the blacks have, just because Lincoln did this and did that (without considering the actual historical/political realities of the 1860s!), and playing a flim-flam game about their so-called "big tent." The Democrats should stop taking blacks and other minorities for granted, because, well, golly, we do everything the Republicans can't/won't/don't! I'd prefer to see people come together to remember Lincoln for what he *did* do: save the United States from balkanizing, write some of the best political/professional speeches ever, kept the North together at a time when there wasn't necessarily a universal consensus as to What To Do, and provide us with the opportunity to see hack actors on car dealership TV ads hawking mid-year auto sales, with 0% financing until Washington's Birthday! Which is when our next sale is!

Not to mention one of the best memorials on the National Mall in D.C. Not too bad for one of the antebellum period's best railroad lawyers. Happy Birthday, Abie, Baby, Happy Birthday to You. Yeah!

Friday, February 11, 2005

The Old Man Is Snoring...

They may be called "nursery rhymes," or "childhood rhymes," but some of them are still quite apt as adult reading/thinking fare. Here in L.A., it's definitely raining and pouring. It's been raining on and off all day, and quite steadily all evening. There's no indication this is going to be the mother of all storms, or as bad as the monster we contended with in early January, but it's a storm that's here to stay for the time being.

On the plus side, the car is getting a free bath. I rarely take it to the car wash anymore, unless I need a thorough cleaning in and out. Our flowers/plants out on the balcony (yes, we have one, and we don't even need to purchase a penthouse condo! Wonders!) won't need to be watered for a while, at least. Best of all, maybe my allergies will be temporarily alleviated for a short time. Oh, and once the skies clear sufficiently, we're going to have clean air and fantastic views for a few hours at minimum.

L.A. Tourism's dirty secret: all those postcards you receive in the deepest, darkest corners of the upper Midwest in late January, with snowdrifts over 12 feet high, that show a bright, sunny, deep blue, *clear* Southern California sky with downtown L.A. (or maybe beautiful downtown Burbank (they should have re-named the Burbank airport for Johnny Carson, not Bob Hope!))? The postcards that have you humming "Surfin' Safari" or the theme from "Route 66"? Those pictures were taken by professional photographers from key vantage points on bright winter days, *right after a storm or strong winds*. Yes, you read that right. There are about five days a year, give or take, where the atmosphere resembles downtown L.A. of 1910, not downtown L.A. in 2005. Look again at that postcard: see the San Gabriels in the background? The peaks are covered with a healthy dusting of snow. You're not likely to see that in July, when you come here with the rest of the world on your one week vacation to see "Hollywood," Dizzylan', and the beaches.

Postcards are fascinating though. The designs, graphics, even the type of photo shots give you a feel for the time, place, and atmosphere. Current ones have snazzy or refined type, with glossy photos of the subject at hand. Some of the older ones from the 60s and early 70s have scalloped borders with a white strip at the bottom, where the subject line is. The really old ones from the 1930s and earlier are black and white photos or hand-drawn paintings of the subject, colored by hand or otherwise tinted.

I don't really collect postcards, but the woman of the place does; she likes old-fashioned holiday postcards. I have just a handful of postcards, most with a personal connection of some sort. I have two of residential schools for the deaf: one of the old California School at Berkeley, and one of New Mexico School for the Deaf. I've visited both, and liked the architecture, which is partly why I purchased and owned them. I have a postcard of my great-grandfather's drug store in Carmel, on the Monterey peninsula. A couple of old family postcards (people used to send pictures of themselves as postcards, which I think is neat). That kind of thing.

Hopefully tomorrow I'll be able to get out of the house and take a walk or a drive, and enjoy the air and the views. I'm at the base of the "foothills" of the Santa Monica "Mountains", so I don't have a million-dollar view (but again, this isn't a million-dollar place I'm living in either, although the surrounding neighborhood is definitely full of million-dollar mortgages). What I do have is location, location, location. I'm currently sitting approximately five miles from the ocean. When you're on the Westside, any place west of Beverly Hills has fairly nice temperatures and reasonably clear skies, thanks to the ocean breezes. Any part of town east of Beverly Hills has increasingly dirty air and higher temperatures. Just a short walk up the hill, there's an eastward view of the San Gabriels in the distance. It can be especially pretty this time of year, with snow on the mountain. What this all means is my asthma (jeez, I'm starting to sound particularly "healthy" here-- allergies, and now asthma) isn't as aggravated as I feared it'd be when we moved down here. Not so for my allergies, unfortunately. I should have bought stock in Kleenex- at least that way I'd keep my money somehow.

So... it's raining, it's pouring, but this old man is kleenexing, rather than snoring.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Food, Glorious Food

Oliver nothwithstanding, food is not only central to our lives (without it, we'd slowly starve to death), it's created, destroyed, celebrated, abused, misused, sexualized, and disposed of (don't shake your head now-- we've all fed the dog, put it in our pockets to throw it away later, or held our food in the back of our mouth and then visited the bathroom to "upchuck" so that Mommy and Daddy think we *really* ate those yummy brussel sprouts or whatever the hell it is we ain't eatin'!).

One thing I enjoy about food is eating it, but I also have come to learn to like cooking it. As a bachelor, I took pride in the fact that I could cook at least five to seven different things, as opposed to the cartoon stereotypes of the daddy who only knows how to cook frozen waffles or some other whatnot, and has pizza delivery on speed dial. I admit having Pizza Hut or some other equivalent around was handy at times, but once I didn't have to bach it anymore and started cooking for two (or more, for dinner parties, guests, and the like), I've taken a certain pride in cooking. While my repertoire doesn't yet resemble Julia Child's, I have appropriated certain cuisines and recipes as my own. As I get familiar with a dish, like all chefs, I can't resist the urge to experiment. Tonight I played around with chili a little bit, adding this, subtracting that. While it was tasty (and I like to think I make a mean chili), it wasn't what I had envisioned. Back to the drawing board...

Someday I'd love to learn how to make tamales. My mom made them when I was little, but she stopped years ago. I suspect it's partly because making tamales is time and labor intensive; in Mexico (and I would guess other Latin American cultures as well), the tamalada is when you have tamales. This is a tamale-making party, and is usually at Christmastime. Here, the top dog in the kitchen will assemble a cooking chain gang to assemble the tamales, so that many can be made reasonably quickly. I love the traditional chicken and pork tamals, and beef is pretty good too. But last month I found this great restaurant in Marina del Rey, Tamara's Tamales. This is a tiny hole-in-the-wall just blocks from the marina itself, but it has the tastiest tamales I've had in a while. Lots of variations too. There were even dessert tamales, including a chocolate one.

Leftovers are a world of their own. Yesterday we had Chinese, to celebrate Chinese New Year, and I polished off the remains at lunch today. Some foods are great for leftovers; Chinese isn't necessarily one of them. Last night we decided to eat fairly close to home, so we went to Chin Chin in Beverly Hills. It's a reasonably good Chinese restaurant at decent prices (yes, you CAN eat in Beverly Hills without using your platinum credit card, or hocking the family jewels). They have an especially tasty garlic eggplant dish. An authentic Chinese meal would require our driving downtown to Chinatown, or to Monterey Park, but I didn't feel like braving rush hour during a weeknight.

Afterwards, we found we had just enough time, so we dashed to the Arclight Cinema on Sunset at Vine, and caught "House of Flying Daggers." It was pricier than I expected ($11 to see a movie?!), but the seats were *very* comfortable, the seating was stadium style, and the movie was something else. It's in the vein of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Hero," but I thought it was better than "Hero." As in "Hero," the various scenes were keyed by colors and moods, but as in CTHD, the story was well developed, and involved romance and tragedy. The cinematography, costumes, and set design in the first twenty or so minutes were just outstanding, and I kept murmuring to myself, "My god, that's absolutely gorgeous." Despite the fact that I'm not that crazy about northern Asian cuisine (possibly because of the heavy use of soy, which is NOT something I like), I thought to myself, "If life was that beautiful in China back then, I wish I could have been there." Typical historian/time travel enthusiast comment. *grin*

A plus was the fact that the movie was subtitled, so we could pay just like everyone else and not feel we were missing out. If you have a chance to see it on the big screen still, I encourage you to go and catch it while you can. Otherwise, I understand the street date for the DVD is sometime in April.

There aren't any leftovers in the fridge I think, so I'll have to figure out what to pack for lunch tomorrow. There are still some strawberries left, so maybe I'll dice some up with an orange, and have that as a side to a sandwich or something similar. I went to farmer's market last Thursday (and forgot to go today, dammit), and the first strawberries of the season were out. At least two stalls had them, including the seller I usually frequent, so I decided to get a batch. Thanks to the heavy rains we had back in early January (and another storm is supposed to come through tonight/tomorrow.... yippee... NOT), part of the crop was damaged, so prices were a bit high even for the first crop of the season. Still, when I tasted the sample, I was sold. Artichokes, asparagus, and other signs of spring abounded, so I know we'll be getting our gummint-reccomended servings of fruits and veggies for some time to come. It's difficult when you're unemployed and the money isn't exactly rolling in to buy what you need, but I refuse to skimp on quality produce.

Pretty soon it'll be time to make a new menu and I can then fit all the spring vegetables and fruits into meals. While I hope never to be as hungry as Oliver Twist was, as I think of leafing through my cookbooks, the lyrics bounce around my head, while I close my eyes and imagine...

Food, Glorious Food
Hot Sausage and Mustard
While We're In the Mood...

Wednesday, February 09, 2005


Today is the first day of the Chinese New Year, 4703. It's interesting how many societies/cultures throughout history have followed a lunar calendar, instead of a solar one. The Hebrew calendar is also lunar, although like the Chinese they use our Western Gregorian calendar for secular purposes.

Calendars are fascinating things. For me, it always prompts thoughts along the lines of "How do we *really* measure time, anyway?" Tools that we use to measure time and its passage such as clocks and calendars are of human construction. Sundials are ancient, but for millions of humans in the past, the sun itself marked the passage of time. Somehow I doubt some serf or peon out in the field had a sundial right next to him. "Yep, yep, big shadow on the twelve. It's lunchtime." Once upon a time and long ago, there was just day and night, and the passage of time. At some point, humans crafted artificial divisions that locked things into a nice tidy package: the seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years. Many of our present-day calendars stem from religion, and I'd bet a lot of ancient calendars and divisions of time also developed due to religion, politics, or business.

The present Chinese year is 4703-- apparently the counting originates with the development of the current lunar calendar under Shih Huang-Ti, the First Emperor, the ruthless ruler who united China as one nation. The Hebrew calendar originated with the Creation, and the present year, 5765, is dated from the sixth day of Creation, when Adam was given life. The Islamic lunar calendar has both religious and historical antecedents: Muslims count from the time of the Hegira, Muhammad's flight from Mecca to Medina in the year 622 AD. The present-day Gregorian calendar was first instituted in 1583 by Pope Gregory XIII as a correction to the Julian calendar. But in Rome, they dated their years from the founding of Rome, in 753 BC. Even the markers I've been using, "A.D." and "B.C." are of Christian roots.

So what year is it really? Given the battles between evolutionists and creationists, the varied calendars in use, and individual egocentrism, we'll probably never really know. How do you date it anyway? Which point in time do you fix as the beginning of THE calendar? The beginning of our present species? The first settlements, when humanity began to abandon nomadism for a more settled agricultural life? The beginning of writing systems, and recorded history?

I know it'd leave Asian nations/cultures out, but one step towards some resolution of all the conflicts going on in the world these days might be to devise a new calendar of sorts that could be used by Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Let's look at it this way: all three religions consider the Old Testament holy, and all three religions view Abraham as an essential part of their religious heritage, especially the Jews and the Muslims. Why not devise a new calendar that dates from a key point in Abraham's life?

It'll probably never happen, sure, but it's worth a thought.

As for Chinese New Year, pretty soon it'll be time for me to leave for dinner- Chinese, of course! *grin* Chinese New Year is one of those abstract holidays that don't mean a whole lot to me, but it's fun to celebrate anyway. A few years ago, I did get a chance to participate to a degree in the festivities. I went to San Francisco, one of my favorite cities, to view the Chinese New Year parade. It starts on Market Street, winds its way down to Grant, up Grant, and then onto some other street and so forth. I've forgotten the exact route. I know the parade ends just to the east of Portsmouth Square. It takes about four or so hours for the entire parade to go from start to finish. It was fun, and different, especially since there were not just one, but several lion dancers, and the lions were different. Some were really long and required lots of handlers underneath to control the body, while others were smaller, maybe just a lion head and a brief tail, with just two or three people needed. There's some floats, local politicians (was kind of hard to see Willie Brown, but I did see him), and tons and tons of firecrackers. They are LOUD. We picked a spot that was reasonably close to the beginning of the parade, and as soon as the last participant passed, we dashed back to Chinatown to my favorite Chinese restaurant for dinner. We ended up waiting 45 minutes for a table, but we were lucky. I lipread the host telling later potential diners that the wait was currently up to 90 minutes! Wow!

Since I grew up an hour northeast of SF, taking friends and visitors there was fairly common. After all, there isn't all that much to do in the Central Valley. It's nice-- the mountains are an hour away, SF is an hour away... *grin* Chinatown is always a must stop on the tour. It's not the largest in the U.S. anymore (I believe NYC's Chinatown now takes the prize), but it's definitely another world in its own way. It's large and varied enough there that there are still residents who do not speak a word of English, but are perfectly comfortable speaking Chinese. I like to go really early in the morning when possible, and watch the locals and shopkeepers interact. If you're lucky, you can see poultry and seafood prepared fresh for that night's meal. Once I saw a fish that had just had its head cut off, and the inside of the fish was still pulsing. It's definitely different from the more sterile climate of your local supermarket!

Now I'm hungry...

Tuesday, February 08, 2005


Today was "Be a Househusband Day." The laundry has piled up enough that a dent needed to be made, so I started yesterday, and finished today. It's amazing how much there is when there's only two people. I shudder to think what it looks like when there's more folk around. I have a new-found respect for my parents, and families everywhere. Also tackled the dishes, the shelves, the file cabinet, and odds and ends. I still need to finish working on the file cabinet. I'm going through each file, cleaning it out, re-organizing and getting everything tidied up, and tossing out stuff that I/we no longer need to keep. It's partly out of the need to create more space, partly to get used to being less of a pack rat (something I've been my entire life), and partly to get ready for tax season. As I said, probably won't need to do much work with the forms this year, but at least we're all set. After all, the poor are more likely to get audited these days than the rich, so if the IRS ever comes knocking, I wanna be ready.

Today is Shrove Tuesday, aka Fat Tuesday. It reminds me of one of the things I always wanted to do, but never got around to: going to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Another possible travel locale this time of year is Rio, for Carnaval, but given my travel history and my pocketbook, it's more likely I'll make it to New Orleans first. College would have been the ideal time, but the festivities were never when spring break was scheduled, and it would have been cheeky of me to try to cut school and dash down to Louisiana from D.C. in the middle of the school week. Not to mention I had no one else game enough to want to go. It's more fun to go to these kinds of things when you're young and got buddies to keep you company.

I've gone to other places during holidays, and that's always been fun. One year I was in New York City on St. Patrick's Day, and got to see the famed St. Patrick's Day parade going down Fifth Avenue. Since I'm part Irish, I've never needed an excuse to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, but it's always fun to see a parade. It's been so long since I did this that I can't remember a whole lot, but the bagpipes definitely do stand out! One year while living in D.C. I decided to brave the crowds and see the fireworks on the Fourth of July down on the mall. If you ever do this, I have one piece of advice: wear good shoes. I mean it. We got there not too early, but definitely way before sundown, and it was already crowded. We stood the entire time, and so did everyone else, with the exception of a few hapless tourists who were probably used to their hometown festivities and were plunked down on blankets and lawn chairs on the mall. I suppose that's fine for while you're waiting, but don't plan on seeing a whole lot when you've got the whole of D.C. standing around you, beside you, and most of all, in front of you. The fireworks were pretty, but they were just fireworks. A bit more spectacular than at other places, perhaps. The real excitement was being in the nation's capitol on the country's birthday. I wish I'd been living on the East Coast during the bicentennial, but I wasn't. I do remember the parades, and the hoopla, and everything, but California doesn't give one a real sense of colonial history, at least not English colonial history.

One Thanksgiving a motley lot of us were stuck in D.C. for the holiday weekend, and we decided to drive up to Pennsylvania for the day, and eat our dinner in the Amish country. Now, it doesn't have to be November, but if you ever want a good down-home meal, there's nothing like visiting an Amish eatery. We ate family-style at long tables, served by Amish waitresses bearing platters of food. I vividly remember the soft creaminess of the mashed potatoes. I don't think I've had better mashed potatoes since.

Visiting other countries during their holiday celebrations is something I'd like to be able to do someday, and a few years ago I got the chance to do this, sort of. I was in Victoria, and it happened to be British Columbia Day. We watched a great parade, and then fireworks over the Inner Harbour. Not terribly different from your average Fourth of July celebration, sure, but it was neat seeing how other nations celebrate their holidays.

Well, enough reminiscing for now. Back to folding laundry, so I can earn my househubby brownie points for today...

Monday, February 07, 2005

Ma Bell Meets Henry Ford

Both grandmothers are out of the hospital, and recuperating. That's my good news for today. One of my grandmothers is only 20 miles from here, so I'm going to try to visit when I get the green light to do so. If you have a relative you like that you haven't seen in a while, and they're within driving distance, go for a visit. You'll be glad you did.

Twenty miles, though, does not necessarily translate into a short drive. Going down the 405/San Diego Freeway can be hellish. From the top of the hills (known as the Santa Monica "Mountains," these are hills, especially compared with the foothills and peaks of the Sierra, let alone the actual mountains to the east, the San Gabriels.) at the Sepulveda Pass all the way to LAX is usually bumper to bumper during daylight hours. During non-rush hour periods, it ranges from tolerable to "There's no accidents, no construction, so why the $%&#@*! is it packed??" During rush hour, it's a parking lot. The stop-and-go traffic on Sepulveda isn't always the best alternative either. After LAX, it generally gets smoother, and I can actually pretend again that I'm on a freeway. My best times from home to Redondo approach a half hour, but there have been times (especially times like, say, right after the fireworks on 4th of July) where it's been close to an hour, sometimes more.

Driving in L.A. is an experience in itself. I've driven all over the country, and driven in many major cities. Usually in the older cities back East, the streets are narrower, packed with parked cars, and generally have more construction/deliveries/whatnot going on that the style and speed of driving isn't the same as cities out West. After living in D.C. for many years, I can personally attest that there is no point in driving fast, or attempting to drive as one might elsewhere. For one thing, there are so many potholes, worn-out spots, and pieces and bits of asphalt everywhere that your shocks are going to wear out a lot faster than you'd normally expect.

NYC is not a fun place to drive, and there really isn't any point in doing so anyway. The subway system is *everywhere*, and there's one flat fee for using the subway, so public transportation is *the* way to travel there. The one time I drove there, I regretted it; it's an old city with more than its share of one-way streets, and parking prices in the garages are guaranteed to have your jaw drop to the floor faster and harder than you ever thought possible.

Boston is murder. I didn't even need to navigate through the "Big Dig" construction to learn very quickly that Boston tops the list of the all-time worst cities to drive in, at least here in the States. Bostonians tend to have their blinkers on: the drivers don't seem to see the pedestrians, and vice versa.

Now that I'm an Angeleno, I've noticed my driving style has changed. I take quite a few more risks than I used to, I'm a bit more aggressive in my driving, and I definitely am not as cautious as I used to be. I still follow the rules of the road, though. I can't say as much for the rest of this town. Living here definitely contributes to my list of pet peeves. Topping the list so far is the fact that every third person I see while I'm out and about is on a phone. It irritates and annoys me to no ends, especially since more than half of these lamebrains AREN'T PAYING ATTENTION. Case in point: I'm driving down Santa Monica Boulevard east of the 405, in the middle of all the lovely construction that supposedly will transform Santa Monica Blvd by the end of this year, possibly sometime next. I'm at a stoplight, watching cars driving north and turning left and right at Overland. One particularly bright citizen in an SUV (or was it a Hummer? Another pet peeve...) made it halfway across the intersection, and inexplicably stopped, waiting to make a left onto Santa Monica. This lovely lady was *on the phone*, and as most people who are *on the phone* do, she was staring straight ahead. Whether it was at the now available lanes in front of her on Santa Monica or the well-manicured lawns of the Mormon Temple straight ahead, I couldn't say. The light changed, and I now had the green. This perfectly delightful lady was STILL *on the phone*, and did not budge a single inch. I glanced quickly at the car to my left: the guy sitting there was as pissed as I was. We both looked straight ahead, shot the offender with the evil eye, and honked. No response. We honked again. She turned her head, looked straight at us, then looked back at the road, then looked at us again, and finally (*duh!*) realized she was IN THE WAY and our light was GREEN. She finally moved her lovely behemoth of a vehicle out of the way.

I suspect this tale isn't just an isolated incident. Moral: Hang Up and Drive.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Death and Taxes

" this world nothing is certain but death and taxes." - Benjamin Franklin, 1789.

While I'm still struggling with all the uncertainties in my life, there are two givens that I contemplated today: death and taxes. I haven't yet sat down to figure out my annual tithe to the monolith that styles itself the U.S. gummint, but then again I'm not sure I need to file this year. Unemployment carries with it a smigden of benefits, if anything. One of the few is it eliminates the need to fire up my calculator and hunch over W-2s and other like forms. Still, it's not as complicated as people like to make it sound. I figure once it does reach the level of complexity that an Advil is required, I can seek out a competent accountant, and work it out from there. Until then, I'm content with sacrificing a couple hours and doing the forms myself. For once this year, W-2s and similar forms arrived reasonably early, the third week of January. Usually I'm stuck waiting until the very end of January, sometimes even the first or second day of February, before the mailman delivers everything I need.

Speaking of money, the newest outrage in my life are the raises given to the heads of the UC medical schools. Considering that the budget is in shambles, state funding to UC has been cut back, and we students (I was one until fairly recently) have had our fees (California's polite term for tuition) raised every year for the last four consecutive years, you'd think the Board of Regents and UC administration would be more circumspect. Nope. For example, one top med school stooge recieved an $82,000 bonus, 20% of his salary: $410,000. Somehow I doubt he seriously needed the extra money. It's more than the President of the United States makes (not that Smirk needs the money either; I'm sure Daddy and Mommy provided well for Junior in their wills). What are these guys doing getting a 20% bonus anyway?? 20% is a hell of a lot!

I suppose to justify all this, we'll be seeing a fifth straight year of increased fees... I really wouldn't be surprised.

Today ends with a waiting game of sorts: both of my grandmothers are in the hospital. I'm still waiting for an update on their conditions. I consider myself lucky at my age to have had the pleasure of knowing my grandparents this long. Most people don't get that chance. I doubt I'll need to steel myself for any goodbyes this time, but death is inevitable at some point. I just hope that when that time comes, it's as smooth as possible for everyone involved.