Sunday, March 27, 2011

Um, yeah. I think so.

The Not-So-Little Drummer Boy attends a college which does not hand out grades but instead gives the students evaluations at the end of every term.*  He sent us his evals for the winter and fall terms.  Among the gems were:

"In the final piece [NLDB] showed both a strong understanding of the software and a powerful grasp of the production of graphic design projects."

"[NLDB] is a talented visual art student whose interest, skills and effort often lead him beyond the visual."

And my favorite:

"[NLDB]  remains a credit to [XYZ] College..."

The rest of the evaluations were equally glowing, with only occasional areas needed for improvement.  (I loved that for his computer music class he reworked the "worn-out classic 'Stairway to Heaven'" [his professor's words, not mine] -- I really want to hear what he's done.)

He got an A- in the class he took via college exchange at a neighboring institution.

What kills me, though, is that he ended his email to his father and me with "i hope this is satisfactory."

Oh, I guess it is.

*I tried to explain this to an insurance agent once, who, after a long and circular discussion, stated that he was not eligible for the good student driver discount because he didn't get As in his classes. *headdesk* 

My work here is done.

As a parent, one of my raisons d'etre is to embarrass and discomfit my teenage children.  Talking about sex does not work -- they're modern kids, and are more or less comfortable with those sorts of discussions, as long as the conversations are serious and restrained.*

However, I have discovered a secret weapon....

It makes Railfan sing loudly "I can't hear you lalalalala" and the Red Headed Menace flee the room.  What is this gem?

Tom Lehrer's "Masochism Tango."

Hehehehe.  Guess what is going to the top of my iTunes playlists?

*Actually, they tend to initiate discussions -- and questions -- about sex.  I think they are trying to discomfit me. I usually tell them to ask their father.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Pray for the dead, fight like hell for the living...

Unions have been much in the news lately.  The efforts of conservatives in places such as Wisconsin to dismantle worker protections -- and the support with which those efforts are met -- are another example of the very short historical memories of far too many people in this country.

Unions are responsible for protections which are ingrained so deeply into law and society we take them for granted:  child labor laws, workplace safety requirements, the very concepts of a forty hour work week and overtime and vacation and sick pay.  All of those are union victories which benefit everyone, not merely those who pay union dues.

Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire.  Terry Karney has a nice piece of writing on the fire, and more importantly, on the conditions which existed for workers in that factory.  It is sad and chilling reading.

Well worth a look.

Edited to add:  This post at Jason Cochran's blog is a must, too.  He says what I've been thinking.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Last night I saw one of my very favorite bands in the world, Great Big Sea*, in concert in Petaluma  It was amazing.

Great Big Sea's music, when listened to on CD is... okay.  Their renditions of traditional Newfoundland and Gaelic songs are the best perhaps; their original modern pieces range from good ("Ordinary Day," "Straight to Hell") to overly sentimental and sugary ("Walk on the Moon," "Boston to St. John's"). (Interestingly, some of their best songs are contemporary songs written to sound like traditional ballads: "England" and "Safe Upon the Shore" being the two best examples I can think of.)  Their covers of "When I'm Up I Can't Get Down" (originally by Oysterband) and R.E.M.'s "End of the World" are wonderful.

GBS in concert is another kettle of cod entirely.

A GBS concert is an excuse for a party: the audience is usually like a bunch of Parrotheads who are better behaved and far less drunk.  The band interacts with the audience. People sing along.  There is dancing in the aisles - if there are aisles - or in front of the stage -- if there is space for it -- or, failing everything else, in people's seats.  It would not be a GBS concert if people were not enthusiastically bobbing up and down for most of the show.

The unexpected can happen.  Last night, for instance, Alan Doyle jokingly launched into the first few bars of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth."  It might have ended there, except people in the audience started singing along.  Shrugging and laughing, the band went on playing the song while the audience sang.  It was great.  It was nearly as much fun as the audience sing along -- led by Doyle -- of "Bohemian Rhapsody" at their San Francisco concert two years ago.

The Mystic Theater in Petaluma was a great venue to see these guys.  In Canada, they sell out arenas.  In California, they play in clubs no bigger than your average multiplex theater.  No joke -- the theater where I saw "Mars Needs Moms" was bigger than this place.  So you are never far from the stage, even when you sit in the back.  And with a large empty area in front of the stage (perfect for the aforementioned dancing), you didn't even need to settle for staying in the back.

Their music improves so much in concert.  Songs that might be treacly on disc are infused with a needed energy and edge. ("Yankee Sailor" being the most significant example last night.) Songs which are fun on the stereo ("Hit the Ground and Run"**) become frenetic and even more fun.  And there are songs that just do not work unless you have an audience involved with them: "Helmethead" (my favorite song to see them perform live) and the wonderfully over the top "The Night that Paddy Murphy Died."

I know Alan Doyle fans: he's the cute, articulate clown.  Sean McCann is his straight man, and pretty amusing in his own right.  Me?  I am totally, unabashedly, a drooling Bob Hallet fangirl.  The man makes playing an accordion look sexy.  Really.  And last night he played (in addition to the accordion), mandolin, recorder, harmonica, tin whistle, banjo, guitar, and most wonderfully, violin.  I adore multi-taskers.

It was a wonderful concert.  I only wish I could go to Carmel to see them on St. Patrick's Day.  Now that is going to be a good time.

And - to end the night?  As part of their encore, they played the one song I've always loved that I have never heard them do live:  "End of the World" (with thirty seconds of Beethoven's Ninth sandwiched in the middle -- don't ask, it just worked).

I can die happy now.

*My fondness for GBS is the best argument I can think of in favor of music file sharing.  I first heard them on a mix tape sent by a friend.  Since then I have bought three CDs (other people in my household have bought another two) as well as ten individual tracks off of iTunes.  I have seen them in concert seven times.  It seem to me that whatever income they lost by my friend sharing that music with me they made many times over.

**"Hit the Ground and Run" is an Appalachian bluegrass number written by a Canadian (Alan Doyle) and an Australian (actor Russell Crowe). For some reason I find this terribly amusing.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I have a new external hard drive.  Jan is sort of back, but flaky, so I have been backing things up externally.  The external hard drive I had was named Francisco (after Goya, natch). It was a good drive...

Up until I kicked his cord and knocked him off the table onto the floor while he was copying something.  Oops.

Back to the drawing board -- having lost some data, I still have my long-term important documents. (As well as the problem of what to do about my music library, half of which requires authorization by iTunes, but the version of iTunes I can run on Jan is old enough you can't actually access the Music Store, and every time I try to authorize something, I get an error message.  Out of 1976 pieces of music, I can access all of 748.  Damn you, Apple.)

So, let me introduce you to Henri (as in Toulouse-Latrec).  He is a 500 GB iOmega Ego portable drive, with a rubber cover that hopefully will help protect him.  According to the salesman at Fry's, these guys are pretty sturdy.  The Rocket Scientist confirmed this by stating that this is the portable drive he uses in the field sometimes.*

So maybe Henri is in fact Pat-proof.  I sure hope so.  I'm tired of having to recopy whole disk drives.

* I didn't take any chances, though, given my recent lack of luck with anything computer related, and bought the extended warranty, which normally I wouldn't.
I haven't forgotten you guys, really.  All, oh... six of you.  Although that's not fair -- I know more people who read me on RSS feed, which isn't tracked on Sitemeter.

Life is what is what it is.  Which means right now, things are getting in the way.  And, yes, I know, if I were the writer I want to be I wouldn't let it.

I actually wrote nearly two thousand words during the time I was computerless, all in a composition book.  I just have not had a chance to enter them into Blogger.  They are a variety of topics -- some of them actually analytical and thought-provoking! At least for me.

So I'll be back on a more regular basis when I can.  I'm working on it.


Every so often I stumble across something I should have heard years ago but somehow managed to miss. Like this morning...

I love Weird Al.  I especially love some of his original works -- nobody does a better breakup (or dysfunctional relationship) song.  "My Baby's in Love with Eddie Vedder," "You Don't Love Me Any More," and, most wonderfully, "One More Minute." (How can you not love a writer who thinks of images such as "I'd rather clean all the bathrooms in Grand Central Station with my tongue than spend one more minute with you"?)  This morning, though, my iTunes tossed up a song I don't remember hearing before: "I Was Only Kidding." 

Um, yep.  Been on the other side of that one.  Ouch.  I love that it turns into a revenge fantasy.

Still not as good as "One More Minute," but close.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

One Million Lawyers...

Conversation with the Red-Headed Menace, concerning his track coach, who in addition to being a former Olympian attended Stanford Law and graduated a couple of years ahead of me.

RHM:  There are sports lawyers?!?!?
Mom: Of course there are sports lawyers.  Wherever a field of human endeavor exists, there are lawyers involved.
RHM:  Cutting down trees.
Mom:  EIRs, Endangered Species Act issues, suits from loggers, suits from the Sierra Club...
RHM: Nuclear power plants.
Mom:  Give me a break! Permitting, liability for negligent releases of radioactive materials...
RHM: Battlefield reenactments!!
Mom:  Potential personal liability issues, permitting and possible land use.
RHM:  Art.
Mom: Copyright.  And disputes over ownership.  And museum tort liability in slip and falls.
RHM, clearly frustrated, ponders....:  AHA! THEORETICAL ASTROPHYSICS!!!
Mom:  Patent law.*
RHM:  Dammit. 
At which point, he sullenly got out of the car and stomped off to Phys Ed.

Mom: 1
RHM: 0

Because Mom, trained as a lawyer, may not know the law anymore, but she still does know how to bullshit convincingly. 

*This is, of course, a totally bogus answer.  I have absolutely no clue whether patent law has any bearing on theoretical astrophysics whatsoever.  In fact, given that it is, um, theoretical, the only legal implications I can see (other than copyright issues implicit when one publishes work) are if two astrophysicists lose it completely and starting hitting each other with their Powerbooks.  And then the issues are potential claims of assault and battery.  If anyone can actually think about the ways in which lawyers could be involved in theoretical astrophysics, please let me know. 

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

We are such a weird family

My two younger children are arguing about the ethics of assassinating leaders.  One is studying W.W. I, the other W.W. II.

At least they are not discussing Halo or Pokemon.

Oscar? Oscar who?

So the 83rd Annual Academy Awards have come and gone.  Herewith, a few notes:

Dear red-carpet commentator:  given the term's origins, calling a 14-year-old girl a "nymphet" is not really a nice things to do.

No egregiously bad dresses this year, but the sooner the bow-on-butt/bustle craze disappears, the better.  I mean, most of these women have no backside to speak of -- do they really have to emphasize that fact?  And besides, those things just look silly.

I love Tim Gunn. Seriously.

The opening montage was far better than I expected it to be.  Franco and Hathaway make an adorable couple (chemistry, even!) and she is, as Kirk Douglas noted, gorgeous.

Speaking of Kirk Douglas and the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, Melissa Leo's heartfelt acceptance speech -- from her asking Douglas what he was doing after the show to her dropping the "f-bomb"(and even better, her reaction to herself) -- was priceless.

The adapted screenplay included Toy Story 3 as being "based on previous movies"?  Really?   Of course,  I can only think of two cases where sequels were nominated in any of the major categories (Godfather II and Return of the King) and both of them were based on books.

The wins by The Social Network and The King's Speech in the screenplay categories were completely predictable.

As was Randy Newman's win for Best Song.

While I preferred the How to Train Your Dragon score, having the words "Academy Award winner" and "Trent Reznor" sitting next to each other creates a lovely sense of cognitive dissonance.  It's always wonderful when the world turns out to be a much more complicated place than you imagine.

Christian Bale is English? Really? You could have fooled me.* And what in God's name has Geoffrey Rush done with his hair?  I really hope that's for a role he's playing.

Cute musical number, Anne.  Totally irrelevant to anything at hand, but cute.  And that blue dress you changed into is absolutely killer.

Has Pixar won best animation every year it's been offered except the first? When Shrek won?**

Inside Job is an important documentary about serious subjects. Exit Through the Gift Shop is a bizarre movie about non-serious subjects,*** which may or may not have been a hoax.  Clearly, the more significant film won.  Nonetheless, I was sort of hoping Exit would win, just to see if Banksy would show up.

No applause between dead people during the "In Memoriam" segment.  I guess the Academy realized that it was a little tacky to have people cheer a lot for Paul Newman and not so much for Sidney Lumet Pollack, as happened last year. [Sorry, Sidney Lumet died in 2011.  Oops.]

Bring back Billy Crystal!  Best Oscar host ever.

Of course Natalie Portman won for Best Actress.  Having a nervous breakdown on screen is the sort of thing the Academy just loves.  Also, she looks so cute pregnant.

Having Jeff Bridges speak to each nominee was a great touch.  Same for Sandra Bullock.  Her "Dude, Dude, Dude, you won this last year!" to Bridges was especially endearing.

I would give good money to see Colin Firth dancing after his Oscar win.  Of course, I would pay money to see Colin Firth do just about anything -- I saw the film version of Mamma Mia!.

Sorry Academy, as much as I liked The King's Speech (see Colin Firth, above, not to mention Geoffrey Rush, who was equally good) Darren Aronofksy took more risks with Black Swan than Tom Hooper did with The King's Speech.

Wait, Tom Hooper's mother found the story when attending a play reading ?  And it still fit in the Original Screenplay category?  How does that work?

And, while I disliked it intensely, Black Swan is simply a better movie (as a movie) than The King's Speech is.

Can someone explain to me the rationale behind having a bunch of elementary school kids singing "Over the Rainbow" to end the show, which was, as usual, already running late?

In two more days I get the Entertainment Weekly issue with its usually somewhat snarky analysis of the awards and the fashion.  And it is only a few short months until the Tonys.

I can hardly wait.

*Actually, looking him up on IMDb, he's Welsh. Wow.

**2001, in the first award in the category, Shrek beat out Monsters, Inc.  In 2006, Happy Feet beat out Cars.  Still, Pixar has won six awards in the eight years they have been nominated, which is a pretty good batting average.  I still think How To Train Your Dragon was a better movie than TS3, and Despicable Me -- which wasn't even nominated! -- was a better movie still.

** Your Mileage May Vary on whether or not you think street art is important.  Maybe.  As much as I recognize it as art, and as much as I love art, it still pales in comparison to the major economic meltdown.

Collision Course, resolved

The Supreme Court just handed down their decision in Snyder v. Phelps.  They got it exactly right.

From John Roberts' eloquent majority opinion:

Westboro believes that America is morally flawed; many Americans might feel the same about Westboro. Westboro’s funeral picketing is certainly hurtful and its contribution to public discourse may be negligible. But Westboro addressed matters of public import on public property, in a peaceful manner, in full compliance with the guidance of local officials. The speech was indeed planned to coincide with Matthew Snyder’s funeral, but did not itself disrupt that funeral, and Westboro’s choice to conduct its picketing at that time and place did not alter the nature of its speech. 

     Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and—as it did here—inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a Nation we have chosen a different course—to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate. That choice requires that we shield Westboro from tort liability for its picketing in this case.

 It feels weird to be cheering a win for the WBC.  But in the end this decision shields not only the WBC, but also war protesters, or environmental activists, or same-sex marriage supporters.  This "different course" Roberts speaks of has to protect all of us -- or it can not safely protect any of us.