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Matt McHugh
Matt McHugh.com - Blog - March 2005

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SUBJECT:
Terri No More
DATE:
March-31-2005

So Terri Schiavo finally died today, a little more than a week after her feeding tube was removed. She went to my high school in Pennsylvania--though she was two years older and the school was segregated by gender, so I never would have had occasion to know her. I might know some people who did, though.

Anyway, all political cynicism and smug joking aside, I do think this was a sad, difficult case that had--indeed, could have--no winners. A young woman loses everything but her life and for a decade and a half a rift between her parents and husband grows deeper and more bitter over money, recriminations, and even the value of that final thread of life when all else was gone. That private, family pain ends up spilling over to a nation, seemingly ravenous for it--as if we all don't have enough of our own--that consumes it like a soap opera. The Terri Schiavo case does indeed raise a whole host of practical, moral, legal, medical, theological, and spiritual issues, yet serious discussion or even contemplation of them was far from the focus of the raging national circus. The self-righteousness of the opposing sides was what we mostly heard. I see images of protesters weeping and I just see delusional masses mourning someone they never knew but glommed on to as a way to inflate their own sense of moral rectitude.

I never knew Terri Schiavo--but I know that we all must face, in one way or another, what she and her family faced: death and the difficulty in dealing with it. Everything else--protests and lawsuits and vigils and point-counterpoint editorials--is just biding time.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Googling Back Down
DATE:
March-30-2005

Last week, searching for "matt mchugh" in Google pulled up my site as hit number four. Now, it's back down to about number twelve or so. I know from extensive industry studies I am professionally privy to that the vast majority of users don't look past the first page of hits on Google (note that I've never seen any quantification of these studies... just lots and lots and lots of anecdotes).

It's all meaningless, really. After all, if you're looking for my site and you know my name... well, that's all you need, in'it? If you need to type "matt mchugh" in Google to find mattmchugh.com, face it, you're not going to understand anything I say.

Much more of victory is that now if you type "terrimandering" into Google, you get my March 21 blog entry as the one and only hit. That's noteworthy: being the first to get a new term indexed. I got beat to the punch on Bushku and Kerrymandering, and I really didn't want to have a "threepeat" (also mine, BTW... before it was poached by "Riley Coyote" [ooh... that's a good one, too!]).

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Bigfoot Suits Me Just Fine
DATE:
March-29-2005

Saw a Discovery Channel special on Bigfoot tonight (wife: "How many times are you going to watch these stupid Bigfoot shows!" ... me: "Till they find him."). This one spent a lot of time on Roger Patterson's famous 1967 Bluff Creek film of a Bigfoot walking away. Actually, all Bigfoot specials spend a lot of time on this film since it's the only film there is. Personally, I find it fascinating. It's like the Zapruder film or the Shroud of Turin: the clues to a mystery, right there for you to solve.

My assessment? Guy in a suit. It's a pretty good suit and the way the film is shot--jerky, from a distance, with Bigfoot blending into the brush--contributes to a pretty good hoax all around. This particular special actually trotted out a guy (one of several, apparently) who claims to have been the guy in the suit. And damned if he doesn't have just the right loping, arm-swinging gait.

Believe me, I'd love it if someone dragged a Bigfoot carcass into the Smithsonian. I'm just not holding my breath.

(Oh, and in case you're wondering about some of my other views: Oswald = lone gunman; shroud = medieval forgery. So there.)

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Some Perspective For You
DATE:
March-28-2005

Three months after the southeast Asian tsunami--where the death estimates hover around 300,000 (a real figure may never be known)--Indonesia was hit today with a Richter 8.7 earthquake. Death toll from that is expected to approach 2000.

U.S. casualties in Iraq have recently crested 1,500. A Marburg virus (similar to ebola) outbreak in Angola has caused a hemorrhagic fever epidemic over the last few months, killing 122 and infecting hundreds more. A Texas oil refinery explosion last week killed 15; just before that, of course, was the disturbed Native American, Neo-Nazi kid in Minnesota who shot and killed ten at his high school and home.

Still, news story #1 is Terri Schiavo's lingering. On Friday, a guy in North Carolina was arrested for supposedly offering a $250,000 reward for the murder of Schiavo's husband (would that qualify as one of those "faith-based initiatives" Dubya keeps trying to fund?).

And I think to myself, what a wonderful world...

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Easter Explanations
DATE:
March-27-2005

I think it's important for kids to get religion in healthy, measured doses. Even the most rational and knowledgeable of adults can't contemplate the arc of life without running into some big (often scary) unknowns. So much more so for young children, struggling every day to make sense out of the most mundane of life's mysteries ("Daddy, why do we have to go to bathroom?"). I believe a basic belief in an ordered and benevolent universe is pretty important bedrock for a growing psyche; the best way to lay that bedrock, I'm not so clear about.

Anyway, I was raised Catholic and--despite my numerous qualms with it--I've decided to raise my kids in the tradition I'm most familiar with. Christmas and Easter represent pretty organic pulse points of the year to cover some of the core dogma. Christmas is an easy one to address; Easter, I've discovered, is not. There's really no way to cover the Christian basis for Easter without delving into sin, death, and redemption--and, I'm sorry, but no 4-year-old needs to hear that. You can roundly explain that the same Jesus born at Christmas, when he grew up, was put on the cross. How he got there, and why, it trickier.

The best I've come up with is to tell my son that Jesus tried to teach people to be kind and generous and help one another, but sometimes people don't want to hear that. It's easier to be selfish and not care about other people, so when Jesus kept telling them they were being selfish, they got angry at him and put him on the cross. Jesus did what was right even though it made some people angry and want to hurt him. That's about as far as I felt I could go with it. As he gets older, I expect he'll ask more questions about it and we'll have a more in-depth discussion.

Still, I can't wait till we get to transubstantiation.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Eye-Candy Robot
DATE:
March-26-2005

Took my 4-year-old boy to see the new, computer-animated Robots movie today. He's seen the trailer a few dozen times (Quicktime download), and we'd picked up a few of the giveaway toys at Burger King. I figured he might like it, and I do enjoy taking him places, just him and me. Personally, I wasn't so enthused about this movie per se, but we had a wonderful time at his first movie a few months ago (The Incredibles), and I guess I wanted to recapture that experience. It was either this or Pooh's Heffalump Movie... not a tough call.

Robots certainly wasn't bad... but it was too adult for him. Not in bad way--though it was just a hair more violent than I would have liked (actually very mild slapstick, though I don't see a reason to show a 4-year-old any fighting or hitting)--but the humor was laced with pop culture references and the story too sophisticated for a small kid to follow. He was mostly bored by it. I got a few chuckles, but I found the thing too packed with elaborate visuals for me to really follow. I wanted to slow it down so I could spend some time looking at the astoundingly detailed world on screen, but it just zipped by to the next gag. If ever there was a film specifically intended for multiple DVD viewings with freeze-frame and scene-by-scene commentary, this is a likely candidate.

Anyway, it's my fault for taking him to a movie just because I wanted the experience of taking him. Again, not that this was a bad kids' movie--I think anyone over 7 or 8 might enjoy a lot of it--but it lacked that elusive balance to make it truly appealing to all ages. More and more, I appreciate the genius of the Pixar/Disney movies in nailing that time and again.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Jesus Joke #1
DATE:
March-25-2005

Every Good Friday I have three Jesus-themed jokes (these are big in Catholic school) I like to tell. Here's the first of them:

One day, hoping to entrap him, the Pharisees brought a woman taken in adultery before Jesus. They said to him: "Rabbi, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery, and according to the law of Moses, she must be stoned to death. What do you say we should do?"

Jesus looked out at the expectant crowd and said calmly: "Let the one among you who is without sin cast the first stone." A big rock comes flying and hits the woman dead in the face. Jesus turns sharply and says:

"Now cut it out, mom!"


You'll get another one next year... if you're good.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Googling Me With a Space
DATE:
March-24-2005

A consultant specializing in Internet SEO (Search Engine Optimisation [note spelling... he was British]) once told me that about 10% of traffic on Google are site owners checking their own rankings. That seems about right for my own personal use of it. At least once a day, I check my ranking on Google. Searching for "mattmchugh"--no space--pretty consistently gets my site as the first hit--though for a few weeks, a couple of reviews I had posted on Amazon from "mattmchugh.com" were coming up ahead of me. Don't know why they did... don't know why they stopped (the whole SEO industry is based on puzzling out the black box of the mighty Goog's ranking system), but now my site is back at #1.

Even more importantly, Googling "matt mchugh"--with a space--today returns my site as the fourth hit. This is actually a huge deal. For the past two years, "matt mchugh" rarely got me in the top 50. A moderately well-known screen actor of the 30's-40's, a New York Congressman who held office for 17 years, and a Rhode Island state representative all share my name and hog most of the Google real estate. It's actually quite a big deal that my site has broken the top 10. Of course, you have to actually type in my name for it to work. Generic terms like "online fiction," "blogger," or even those combined with my surname pull up tons of stuff in front of me.

A pretty well-known sci-fi author, Maureen F. McHugh, gets most of the e-ink in those areas. Interestingly, I just read in her blog that she has Hodgkins lymphoma. Here's hoping she gets well soon.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Wanna Get Hybrid?
DATE:
March-23-2005

I like the concept of the hybrid gas/electric car. More fuel efficient, lower emissions, reduced dependence of foreign oil... and so on. However, the other day, I came across an interesting pair of "GO HYBRID / NO HYBRID" articles. They basically gave a point/counterpoint on the pros and cons of the technology. In a nutshell:

    PRO:
  • improved fuel economy
  • lower emissions
  • decent performance
  • many body/interior styles same as most popular gas models
  • green "feel-good" factor
    CON:
  • development of hybrid vehicles is slowing development of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles
  • even with tax breaks, hybrids are more expensive and the fuel savings don't offset the extra cost
  • operating / repair record is unproven; few qualified hybrid mechanics outside dealerships
  • in a few years, disposal of used hybrid batteries could pose a significant toxic waste problem

The manufacturing trend today seems to be toward adding hybrid technology to popular SUVs to increase their fuel efficiency by roughly 25%--rather than keep it in smaller cars, where it can give truly high mileage. That's kind of counter to real "green" wisdom and smacks of a marketing-driven decision. And, for the environmentally conscious, the battery disposal issue is a big unknown. What's worse? More smog today, or more solid waste tomorrow?

Personally, I still think hybrids are a good idea--but the cons do give one pause. I suspect if you just buy a fairly fuel-efficient gas car and drive it conservatively, you'll probably be better off in the long run... at least at this point in time.

-- mm

"GO HYBRID / NO HYBRID" articles autoweb.com


SUBJECT:
Teenager School Shooter
DATE:
March-22-2005

Today in Minnesota, after shooting his grandfather and his grandfather's girlfriend, a disturbed teenager went into his high school and "Columbine-style" began randomly shooting teachers and students--then shot himself. Ten dead in all, including the shooter. This story has knocked the Terri Schiavo coverage to second place in most news outlets.

This incident certainly underscores that there are other important issues in the land than the debate over a brain-damaged woman's feeding tube. I wonder about all the hundreds of people who've attended assorted rallies and pray services since all the T.S. stuff hit the fan. I wonder how many of them have ever gone out of their way to help a disturbed teenager (not related to them by blood). As far as I can tell, all the protesters are the kind of white, middle-class types who systematically avoid disturbed teenagers (again, not related to them by blood). Oh, I'm sure a few are teachers or counsellors or do volunteer work or have been foster parents--but I'm willing to bet good money that the majority would do nothing of substance, sacrifice nothing of consequence, to help someone like a dangerously screwed-up, Neo-Nazi kid.

Can't say as I blame them. I mean, I certainly do my best to avoid disturbed teenagers. Though, I can't help but wonder what society would be like if we all didn't. What if all people took the time and energy they spend on essentially self-indulgent and ultimately inconsequential activities like attending pro-feeding tube candlelight vigils--or wrapped up in your their own little narcissistic blogiverses--and used it to help screwed-up, non-biologically related kids of all ages.

Sadly, the world may never know.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Terrimandering
DATE:
March-21-2005

In the whole, sad circus that is the Terri Schiavo case--her feeding tube removed as courts and politicians and a predictably divided electorate wrangle over whether she should starve this week or live on as vegetable for God knows how many more years--the thing that is most appaling is the amount of legislative and executive attention it's gotten. War. Terrorism. Nuclear proliferation. Social Security. Crime, poverty, homelessness, domestic injustice, etc. All high-profile governmental attention to these things has utterly fallen away in the last 48 hours (though, to be fair, the last four receive precious little attention even in the least distracted of times).

The incongruity of so much hubub from Tallahassee and D.C. over one woman's useless (to be brutally honest) ongoing existence sickens, but does not surprise me. I'd be curious to to see stats since Friday afternoon, when Terri's food tube was removed, on how many people died in violent crime in America. How many children or elderly died or became seriously ill due to inadequate care. How many soldiers and civilians (good or bad) died in U.S.-sponsored foreign wars. Those things are persistent, complicated problems that can not be solved by quickie, unconstitutional laws. Nobody wants to deal with those... they're old news, and just no fun anymore. It's much more amusing to pick a cause celeb and try to make an impression on your simple-minded constituents, who love polarizing themselves into little clusters (note to self: try to think of a clever way to redefine "bipolar disorder" to refer to the red/blue state schism). Politicians on both sides of the aisle are happily using this unfortunate woman's plight to garner support. I think it merits its own term:

Terrimandering -- the act of fishing for votes by exploiting people's emotions about an invalid.

Oh, by the way, the word "Terrimandering" gets 0 hits on Google as of today. That means I, mattmchugh.com, officially invented it and I expect full credit and royalties for any future uses, thank you very much.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Terri in the Balance
DATE:
March-20-2005

The Terri Schiavo case is whipping this country into the kind of self-righteous frenzy that it truly revels in. One one side, there's the religiously motivated contingent (and those that seek their votes) arguing that Terri has a right to live, even if it is in a permanent vegetative state. On the other, there's the--for lack of a better term--right-to-die proponents who feel a non-sentient heap of human DNA is better off being nudged from this mortal coil. I don't particularly have a strong opinion one way or the other, though I have no doubt that if what remains of Terri Schiavo quietly expires everyone involved is better off.

Here's what I don't get about it: you've got religious types, who profess to believe in a paradisiacal afterlife, fighting to keep this fading shell of a woman alive, presumably with her immortal soul trapped inside. You'd think they'd be the ones arguing she should be released to something better. Furthermore, I honestly can't wrap my head around why those who claim that God's will must prevail in all things are trying to shove a tube of broth down this creature's non-functioning throat (or straight into her abdomen, as the case may be). If God wanted her to live, wouldn't he wake her up enough to choke down some oatmeal once a day? If I'm not mistaken, there are a number of extant faith systems (e.g., Christian Scientists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons) that are opposed to employing extraordinary medical means to prolong life. For those of such beliefs, force-feeding an invalid whose brain has largely liquefied over the past 15 years could be construed as obviously counter to divine will.

I'm not presenting this as a serious theological argument; I simply point out that both keeping Terri Schiavo alive and letting her die can be justified by theological arguments bent to suit any perspective you wish to indulge in. That's why I never make serious theological arguments for anything I believe in. Somebody can always twist them around to bite you on the ass.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Terri Schiavo
DATE:
March-19-2005

On Friday, the husband of Terri Schiavo (nee Schindler)--the Florida woman who has been in a vegetive state for 15 years--was finally granted the right by a Florida court (despite Governor Jeb Bush's attempts to intercede legislatively) to have her feeding tube removed, allowing her to starve to death. Terri can breathe on her own, but not move or swallow. Medical experts have testified that she is completely cognitively unaware, yet her parents claim that she exhibits signs of recognition and could improve with therapy. The husband has been fighting for a decade to allow her to die; the parents have fought to keep her alive.

My own personal feelings on the case are mixed. The medical evidence certainly seems undeniable that the woman is a permanent vegetable. The "life-is-sacred" and the "right-to-die" arguments are both pointless: the woman is gone. Feeding her autonomic functions in hope she might recover or advocating an end to her suffering are both, at best, delusional. Sorry, mom and pop and hubby, she's gone. Jeb and George... sorry to spoil your fun, too.

However, since the husband doesn't want her any more (I'd say suing to have her feeding tube removed is a de facto admission of a desire to relinquish guardianship), why not let mom and pop have her? If they really want to prop her up in a corner for another decade or so, and pretend they see glimpses of awareness in her eyes, well, why not let 'em (provided they're paying for it... a critical point I haven't seen mentioned anywhere yet). Dress her up and wheel her out for Sunday Mass. Let the multitudes come and gawk.

Admit it. If the Terri Schiavo World Tour came to your town, you'd be pretty curious to take a look. Sounds like a fine life for anyone, doesn't it?

-- mm


SUBJECT:
King of the Tube
DATE:
March-18-2005

The cable channel FX--most famous for the gritty cop drama The Shield (which I've never seen... it sounds OK, but I don't much go for cop shows--and I don't care how badass The Commish looks now, he'll always be The Commish to me)--has started airing reruns of King of the Hill, featuring the gloriously trivial misadventures of uptight Texan Hank Hill, the least animated animated character in animation history. On Thursdays, FX actually runs half-hour episodes of the show back-to-back all through prime time. Beats the crap out of almost anything else on.

The show's long been a favorite of mine. Genius is a highly overused word, and one that really has no meaning whatsoever when applied to a cartoon sitcom, but I think the show is pure genius. What I love about it is that the humor all arises from character. Hank's low-key one-liners aren't attempts at typical sitcom yuk-yuk schtick, but brilliant expositions of his repressed personality. A few favorites:

"Bobby, if you weren't my son, I'd hug you."
"Dang it, Dale, fixin' that hole in my floor is going to take a lot of hard work--and since you're the one who made it, you're not allowed to help."
"A poodle? Why not just go all the way and get me a cat and a sex-change operation?"
"Look at your average pickup truck. With airbags and vanity mirrors, it's one focus group away from turning into a powder room."

-- mm

FYI... an impressive King of the Hill fan site with an extensive archive of quotes: www.geocities.com/arlen_texas/


SUBJECT:
St. Patty's 2005
DATE:
March-17-2005

Another St. Patrick's day, and I did nothing--meaning I didn't go to a bar to drink beer--cause that is what the day's all about, in'it? And I love Irish pubs. I love Irish beer... the real stuff (Guiness, Killian's, Smithwick), not the abomination of green-dyed Milwaukee pisswater. Seriously, it's bad enough. Tainting it with food color is just insult to injury.

I could have gone to a corned beef and cabbage buffet at the local Elk's club next to the town fire station--which is about as authentic an Irish-American experience as one could get outside of South Boston--but I gave it a miss this year.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Christian Psychologist
DATE:
March-16-2005

During my jury duty stint yesterday, I spent the long lunch wandering the neighbor near the courthouse. There's an interesting subculture that sprouts up around such institutions. Bars, restaurants, and coffee shops all featuring legal-tinged advertising (Have you been injured? Bankrupt? Earn ca$h... participate in mock-trial focus groups!) all over their foyers and placemats. Lawyers offices, some surprisingly seedy looking, at every corner. Bail bonds and check cashing places. And a number of assorted counseling centers--I suspect to pick up on the business generated by misdemeanor sentences (i.e.: the defendant is hereby ordered to undergo counseling for substance abuse/anger management/what have you).

One particular sign at one of these counseling centers caught my eye. Mixed into a list of predictable descriptors--Addiction Therapy, Family Counseling, etc.--was the title "Christian Psychologist." I wonder what that's all about? Is it some reactionary subdiscipline offering faith-based alternatives to the pagan imagery of Freud and Jung? Does it have trained therapists to help you find out if you really love Jesus or if you're just in love with Jesus? Or perhaps to aid Kontemporary Konservative Khristians in dealing with the cognitive dissonance that arises from being simultaneously pro-capital punishment and anti-Semitic toward the Christ-killers. Confess your neuroses and be healed. Blessed are those who yearn to wash their hands constantly, for they shall be cleansed. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, but wear a tin foil-lined hat to deflect his mind control rays.

Ah... the possibilities are infinite.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Jury Duty
DATE:
March-15-2005

Had Jury Duty today. This, of course, mostly just consists of sitting in a big room, waiting to be called. It's astounding how exhausting just sitting in a big room can be. I was only called for one trial, and I didn't even get interviewed for the jury. Just stood in the back and listened to the indictments being read. The case involved an accused child molester who lived one town over from where I live.

I guess they really are everywhere.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Triangle Screw Toys
DATE:
March-14-2005

Speaking of those giveaway toys you get with fast-food kid's meals, here's something that I've noticed that really burns me: many of these are now battery-operated (video games, light-up or sound things, motorized vehicles), yet don't allow the battery to be replaced. It's planned obsolescence of the worst kind, where a non-biodegradable child's plaything is literally built to last a few weeks and no more. Keeping it running for years doesn't serve anyone's economic interests. They (that's the corporate "they") want you to throw it out and buy a new one.

Determined to fight this, I decided to try to replace the battery on a pointlessly motorized Sponge Bob toy (Patrick Starfish in a Krabby Patty car). Why this has to motorized, I can't imagine; a freewheeling version would probably have better play value. And, if you've got to motorize the thing, why not use a friction or spring motor? Perhaps those are actually more expensive to manufacture nowadays--though, I suspect it's simply marketing: a self-propelling toy has a more powerful, immediate "gee-whiz" quality. Who cares if fails tomorrow?

Anyway, to replace the battery, you have to take the whole thing apart. The designers actively complicate this by using rare, triangular head screws. Miniature triangle screwdrivers are hard to find; I had to order one from a website ($10, with shipping... roughly three times what the toy cost me). Once I got it open, the thing turned out to have a perfect ordinary AAA battery. I replaced it, reassembled, and it works fine. This toy could have been very easily made with a replaceable battery. They simply chose not to in a deliberate attempt to limit the toy's lifespan (and, in turn, turn it into toxic landfill fodder with plastic AND battery acid).

That, my friends, is, quite simply, reprehensible. I've got to think of someway to embarrass Burger King over this. Any suggestions?

-- mm

Disassembled Patrick Starfish/Krabby Patty car with AAA battery; triangle screws inset detail

Triangle Recess screwdriver bits on lara.com, specialty tools.


SUBJECT:
Fast Food Toys
DATE:
March-13-2005

Aside from a needing an indoor play place in bad weather and my snowballing addiction to cholesterol, the other factor that keeps me bringing my kids to fast-food joints on weekends are the giveaway toys that come in the kid's meals. Seriously... some of these, especially the movie tie-ins, are fantastic. Tiny video games. Matchbox cars. Incredibles and SpongeBob and Dora the Explorer thingies. This month, Burger King has figures from the new "Robots" movie that light up when you put contacts on their feet on collectible tin cards. If I didn't have kids, I could see myself happily collecting these (I used to be a fairly avid collector of Transformer robots--as an adult, mind you--but having actual kids with buckets of real toys sweeps such don't-want-to-grow-up hobbies right into the dustbin, let me tell you). So, all these toys actually go to the kids.

Figure that we've got two kids, averaging at least one kid's meal each per week, so that's eight to ten toys per month. Plus, I have a friend at work who indulges in McDonald's food now and then and has come up with the clever approach to portion control of ordering a kid's meal for herself; she then gives me the toys... so add in another two or so a month. This is so many that I've taken to putting most of them straight into storage, still in the packages. I'm figuring they'll make fine birthday party favors someday. (Note: this only works if you don't let the kids see the toys. I always pocket them at the "restaurant"--I can't use that word unironically here--then decide at home which ones to let them have and which ones to mothball.)

I've come to an uneasy peace with the fast-food nutritional minefield, and I've been able to manage the toy distribution/storage sleight-of-hand without incident so far. However, the one thing that bothers me in all this is simply the quantity and potential waste of it. All those Chinese peasants making all that plastic so all us flabby Americans can have more junk that we'll just throw out. Cute, inexpensive knick-knacks to suprise the kids with have an almost seductive appeal, but I really do try not to simply acquire and discard mountains of small toys. Unfortunately, our whole consumer culture seems geared that way and it's tough to swim against the tide sometimes.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Fast Food Fix
DATE:
March-12-2005

The wife and I often take the kids (@ 2 and 4) to Burger King on the weekends. Most of the ones near us have fairly decent indoor play areas--padded floors, climbing tubes and slides, etc.--that are extremely helpful in blowing off excess energy during the long, long Jersey winters. The $3 kids' meals include pretty cool toys (still don't understand how they make money). Of course, the one drawback is that we actually eat the food. I'm not too worried about my slim, hyperactive kids nibbling on a few grease-soaked nuggets--though, with the huge rise in the U.S. on child obesity, largely due to fast-food consumption, I am keeping an eye on it.

However, the bigger problem is me. I sure don't need a Whopper and fries every week. I used to hate fast-food burgers... hadn't had one in some 15 years before all this. Now, it's almost like I crave a fix. It's not so much the burger that's the problem: it's the double-cheese-and-bacon burger with the super-size (or whatever the recently embarrassed industry is now calling what I've come to think of as the "shock and awe" portion) fries, and the vat of Coke and or milk-esque shake that comes with it. I just can't seem to resist those gigantic servings for a mere 39-cents more.

Perhaps you might ask: if you primarily go to these places to let your kids play, why don't you just get a salad? Or you might, sensibly, suggest that I at least cut back on the portion I order, getting my fix from a smaller dose and weaning myself from it.

You really don't have a clue how this whole thing works, do you?

-- mm


SUBJECT:
iTunes Shuffle
DATE:
March-11-2005

I often listen to music while I work (yes, I consider writing blog entries "work" ...go figure). MP3s via iTunes on my eMac. I have about 500 or so miscellaneous songs (I didn't get them from Napster three years ago... I swear, your honor).

I've listened to everything I have many, many times. So, to mix things up, I try different ways to shuffle playlists to surprise myself (interesting that Apple's new iPod Shuffle is marketed on exactly this concept). Here's my new strategy: in the Search input, I just type in a simple word and play whatever it calls up. The word might be in a song title or artist name or album title, so it ends up being a fairly unpredictable enterprise. Here's a few examples:

Typing in the word "turn" calls up the songs:

  • "Taking Care of Business" - Bachman Turner Overdrive
  • "Better Be Good to Me" - Tina Turner
  • "Turning Japanese" - The Vapors
  • "Turn the Beat Around" - Vickie Sue Robinson

Typing "run" calls up:

  • "Run" - Collective Soul
  • "Runaway" - The Coors
  • "Run Through the Jungle" - Creedance Clearwater Revival
  • "Eileen" - Dexy's Midnight Runners
  • and a bunch of Todd Rundgren stuff

"more" gets:

  • "No More I Love Yous" - Annie Lennox
  • "More than a Feeling" - Boston
  • "Baby One More Time" - Fountains of Wayne
  • "More Than This" - Roxy Music

Kind of an interesting scrambling technique. Like being a Google Disc Jockey.

I am a GJ, I am what I play.
Can't turn around, no -- can't turn around no, hooo...

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Amadeus the Third Dream
DATE:
March-10-2005

For someone who has never been, nor ever wanted to be, an actor, I have the classic "actor's nightmare" fairly often. You know the one--immortalized in the Christopher Durang play--where you find yourself on stage and you have no idea what's going on. You don't know your lines. People stare at you expectantly from all sides. Maybe you're even naked. I'm never naked--I suppose because I've never been very anxious about that (though I have had the "naked at work" dream and it is painful)--but I never can remember my friggin' lines.

Anyway, the other night I had one. I was preparing to go on stage for a play I was starring in. It was a cross between Amadeus and Richard III, basically a period piece about a tyrannical musical genius (actually, kind of a cool premise). All I could remember was a few snippets of the "winter of our discontent" opener and I figured I'd have to improvise the rest. I wondered if the other actors--whom I had never met... we'd meet on stage for the first time--knew their lines, or even had any. I started to worry that a theater-going audience might know Shakespeare well enough to realize I was faking it.

With only a few hours to go till the opening, I was being suited up in costume. I think it involved some kind of prosthetic fat suit, or maybe several layers of heavy clothes... I'm not sure. Once I had the costume on, I realized I was wearing sweatpants with red, white, and blue stripes and a big USA running along the leg. I remember panicking and trying to explain to the director that I had to change, referring to my Team USA-emblazoned pants: "Damn it, this is going to read!"

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Acting
DATE:
March-9-2005

While I have never seriously thought about being an actor, I must admit that the idea has some interesting aspects. I guess everyone fantasizes a little about what they think "being an actor" is all about: craft, emotional indulgence, fame, wealth, adulation, sexual charisma--whatever floats your boat. To me, I suppose it's control. The guy up on stage as a rapt audience watches, hanging on his every word, has a kind of control that's pretty rare in life.

We all walk through a world essentially indifferent to us and those tiny spikes of time where others sincerely care about what we do and say are deeply precious to our psyches--whether we recognize it or not. Plainly and simply, we all crave attention. Acting and politics (feel free to discuss any similarities amongst yourselves) are some of the few professions based on the unabashed pursuit of it. That's their dark appeal to me.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Spamalot Actors
DATE:
March-8-2005

Since seeing Monty Python's Spamalot on Broadway, I find myself humming the songs constantly. Even more, this is the first time I've ever seen a debut Broadway show with the original cast, so the big-name actors (Tim Curry, Hank Azaria, David Hyde Pierce) originating these roles will forever be the image in my mind of who should perform those catchy ditties. Fortunately, they all did fine jobs (no surprises there), and the entire cast was solid. Unknown (at least to me) actress Sara Ramirez has the role of a lifetime, playing the Lady of the Lake as an operatic Broadway goddess, simulaneously gorgeous and goofy. Actually, everyone on the stage really seems to be having the time of their lives and that's always infectious.

As for the celebrity cast, they really do bring a lot to their roles. Having single-handedly made an image of a persnickety, neurotic male into an American icon, it's a delight (but not a surprise) to see Hyde Pierce doing musical comedy like he was genetically engineered for it. His big number, "You Can't Get to Broadway," was was an old-fashioned, lowbrow, un-PC, bit of vaudeville and I giggled myself silly through it. Hank Azaria, who's comic-mimic chops are well established from his Simpsons credits, gets to sink his teeth into classic Python bits (French taunter, Knight of Ni) lifted almost verbatim from the film. No doubt he's been doing them since junior high (as have I) so getting to do them for pay is, I bet, nothing less than a dream come true for him. Finally, Tim Curry is dead-on casting for King Arthur. He has the dramatic gravitas of a classically trained British actor, but you just can't take him seriously. I mean, for Christ's sake, the guy played Dr. Frank N. Furter! Usually, that might work against him; here, it's a perfect fit.

As anyone who knows me will attest, I'm a ham and a frustrated comedian. However, I have never particularly wanted to be an actor. I have known many and the soul-crushing rigamarole--personal and professional--one has to go through to become an actor never appealed to me. I don't want to do the work--I just want to get up on a stage and try to be funny. Seeing Spamalot, with such a killer cast, really makes me imagine how much fun it would be to be up there. I have no illusions that I could actually do it, but the pros certainly make it look easy.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Spamalot Review
DATE:
March-7-2005

Saw Spamalot tonight, the new musical "lovingly ripped off" from the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail (funniest movie ever made, IMHO). The book and music is co-written by original Python songsmith Eric Idle, and the staging was directed by acclaimed film director Mike Nichols. That pedigree alone is enough to draw a decent crowd, but throw in the killer stunt-casting of leads Tim Curry (Arthur), Hank Azaria (Lancelot), and David Hyde Pierce (Robin) and you've got the makings of the NYC event of the season. (Screw The Gates!)

First off, I'll just say I quite enjoyed it. It was thoroughly entertaining--even with my lousy, overpriced balcony seats--and was pretty much everything you could ask of a musical comedy, i.e., it was funny and had good music. It was definitely at its best when it was mocking musicals. "The Song That Goes Like This" hits the sentimental bombast of Andrew Llyod Webber showstoppers dead on and it accomplishes the rare trick of being both hilarious and hummable. Lancelot, Galahad, Robin, Arthur, and the Lady of the Lake (obviously, they needed to pump up a female role) all get big numbers that hit the compass points of classic musical archetypes that include a few choice zings at contemporary pop fads. Think of it as Monty Python Goes Medieval on Broadway's Ass. Mocking stage musicals is not particularly original but, when done right, it's pretty damn entertaining. This show does it right.

As a huge fan of the original movie (I can still quote large chunks of it), seeing those bits transcribed--almost word-for-word--up to the stage was not a big thrill. I've been doing those bits for years, so watching even very talented actors do them is just once more around the block to me, if you know what I mean. It was where the show deviated, added to, or utterly disregarded the original for new directions that I most enjoyed. Of course, not all people (actually very, very few) are going to know the original as well as me, and they'll want to hear those bits of comic gold re-polished--so it's understandable they're kept it. Frankly, they would have been fools to abandon them--and they, wisely, worked in other classic Python bits throughout the book. Treading that line for the Python freaks and newbies is tricky and this show did a fine job.

All in all, it ain't Shakespeare, but if don't find yourself snickering more-or-less continuously at Spamalot, I think it's time for you to go on the cart.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Re-Ranting Myself
DATE:
March-6-2005

Just wanted to point out that the spirt of my recent tirade against Adobe Dimensions v3 bears a striking resemblance to last year's rant at Mac OS 10.3. Even used the "switch in the glove compartment" analogy again. This wasn't deliberate. I simply don't have that much material.

Hey, you write three paragraphs a day for over a year (a sadly uncommemorated blog-anniversary!) and see if you repeat yourself.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Adobe Di-morons
DATE:
March-5-2005

Over the years, I've dabbled around a bit with the simple 3D software package Adobe Dimensions. You see, I can't draw at all so to make graphics with objects (tables, chairs, vases, buildings, cars, what have you) shown in any kind of realistic perspective, I'm hopeless. I've always used version 2--the only one I had--which dates back to 1994, I think. It works, but it's pretty limited and the rendering is very buggy. So when I found myself working on another 3D project, I checked into upgrading. Unfortunately, Adobe discontinued it a few years ago. (Note that most of its functionality has been incorporated into current versions of Illustrator, but it's very hard to use in software still designed mainly for 2D work.)

Lo and behold, I did find somebody selling a version 3 CD on eBay (my love-hate with eBay continues!), so I got it. I haven't used it too much yet, but it does seem to render object shading better, though with anomalous shadows that I can't figure out. However, there is one change from version 2 to 3 that is a complete abomination. In version 2, you could switch views (top, bottom, left, right, front, back) using keyboard commands. This allowed you to zip through multi-angle viewing in a blink--something absolutely essential in constructing 3D objects. In version 3, you have to mouse through nested pulldown menus--essentially, taking a simple function and making it astoundingly tedious. This is roughly equivalent to buying a car and finding out the turn signal controls are in the glove compartment. Driving to work becomes a blood-boiling experience in frustration.

This is the kind of stuff that makes me want to beat software companies to jelly. Fixing things that ain't broke. Making design assumptions ignorant of real-world applications. Making my job harder because you're too lazy to think yours through. I have no patience for stupid software. I can forgive humans their errors--after all, I do screw up pretty regularly myself--but when my computer (talk about love-hate) starts screwing with me, the restraints of polite society do not apply. I just feel bad that I make my poor monitor suffer by punching it (Ever do that? The way the image ripples is quite satisfying--but NOTE: don't do it to flat screen!), when it's really an ineffable chunk of C++ that deserves to be bitch-slapped into next Tuesday.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Blogger Goes Pro
DATE:
March-4-2005

A famous blogger (they do exist, apparently), Jason Kottke (pronounced "cot" + "key"), recently turned pro. Kottke is an NYC-based web designer/programmer/digital arts dabbler who has maintained kottke.org since 1998, collecting tidbits on technology, culture, you-name-it, and stringing them together with his own, unobtrusive prose. His blog has become so extensive and popular that he recently announced he would do it full time, accepting donations via PayPal from readers who wished to support his efforts by becoming "micropatrons."

I have to say that I admire Mr. (though, he is eight years younger than me) Kottke's accomplishment. His site is an interesting, informative, and pleasant place to wander around in, filled with little pockets of gold (lessons in stereoscopic photography; a free, really teeny font he designed; a guest page on author Susan Orlean's website obsessing over the film Adaptation, etc., etc.). In short, it's what the web was before it went corporate: a quirky, personalized, all-things-to-all-people kind of place ideally suited to serendipitous browsing. Believe me, I like the modern Internet of highly targeted searching and instant access to cold, hard, authoritative, peer-reviewed facts--in fact, I'd like to see a lot more of that--but I'm glad the old-fashioned WWW still meanders like a lazy river past the information superhighway.

Anyway, I wish Mr. Kottke well on his ongoing adventure.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Not Guilty by Reason of Stupidity
DATE:
March-3-2005

Another miscarriage of justice in the making: Bernard Ebbers, the CEO of now-defunct Worldcom during the time when the company cooked the books to the tune of billions in one of the largest bankruptcy cases in history, is playing dumb on the stand. Earlier this week, under questioning from prosecutors, Ebbers basically said that he didn't much understand the company's business--neither its products nor its finances--and pleaded overarching ignorance of any wrongdoing. Even more, he essentially said that he never really bothered to look at the company's accounting since he wouldn't have understood it anyway.

In the 80's, the standard defense against an accusation of impropriety was to say you didn't remember (as per Reagan). In the 90's, it was to deny everything, then--if caught--equivocate, saying you didn't actually lie since your definition a of term differed from that of the person asking the question (as per Clinton). In the new millennium, the ploy to wheedle your way out of culpability seems to be to make like you're really, really stupid (fill in the blank, folks).

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Kobe Buyout
DATE:
March-2-2005

So Kobe Bryant has settled a lawsuit brought by the Colorado woman who accused him of sexual assault. For an undisclosed sum, the woman has agreed to drop her civil case against the basketball star; a few months ago, the criminal case against Bryant was dismissed when she declined to testify, effectively dropping the idea of prosecution in favor of pursuing more lucrative civil "distress" damages.

No matter whom you want to believe in the he-said/she-said consensual v. forced argument, this outcome is a miscarriage of justice. If he raped the woman, he should get sent up for it. If she's gold-digging, she should get squat for it. This resolution resolves nothing. The rich guy buys his way out of trouble, and the obscure accuser gets rich. No determination of guilt, no vindication of innocence. Did a celebrity assault a fan, or did a groupie blackmail a celebrity? The world will never know, as per the advice of counsel.

You watch: this latest Michael Jackson fiasco will play out the same way. He'll walk, the kid's family will get rich, and everybody will believe what they want to believe. I tell you, I'm utterly disillusioned with the justice system... and I'm telling them so when I have jury duty in two weeks.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
In Like a Lion
DATE:
March-1-2005

March 1... and we get a nice snowstorm smacking down the whole Northeast. Wasn't quite as bad as predicted (six inches, rather than twelve, in my neck of the NYC metro), but respectable. Gave me another chance to rev up the new snowblower--third time this season. I'm getting better at it, that is, figuring out a system of how to clear the sloping driveway bordered by retaining walls. Basically, I push-shovel the majority downhill into a big pile on the sidewalk, then get out the machine to move that pile a few more feet onto the curb. It may seem like a lot of work (and it is), but it does go a lot faster with the extra hardware.

I wouldn't go so far as to say I enjoy it, but my life is so dominated by the computer (I work on it, I write on it, I blog on it, I plays games with my kids on it, I listen to music on it, I read the news on it, etc., etc., etc., etc.), that more and more I find I crave simple, accomplishable, non-computer-oriented tasks. Puzzling out the most efficient way to relocate a few tons of snow is actually a pretty welcome change of pace.

-- mm




 





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