mattmchugh.com

Matt McHugh
Matt McHugh.com - Blog - August 2005

BLOG

Blog Archive Page

SUBJECT:
Stampede on Baghdad Bridge
DATE:
August 31, 2005

Today in Badhdad, about 1000 people died. Terrorist bomb? Insurgent attack? Collapse of a high-rise?

No. Among a large group of Shiite pilgrims walking over a bridge to a religious ceremony, someone started a panic that there was a suicide bomber in their midst. Most of the fatalities were children and elderly trampled in the chaos as people tried to run away or leap over the railings to the Tigris River below. Basically, this was a yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater scenario.

Tragedy occurs all the time. We hear about them more often with the global media saturation we have now, but they always happened. Still, does seem like we're getting more than our quota lately, doesn't it?

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Katrina Hits Hard
DATE:
August 30, 2005

Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Mississippi, and the Louisiana Gulf Coast a lot harder than anyone expected--pretty much a worse-case scenario. As recently as this morning newspapers where reporting that the Big Easy "dodged a bullet" ... but then the Lake Pontchartrain levee broke and flooded the vast, below-sea-level bowl that is greater New Orleans. Some of the footage is just devastating, particularly from Biloxi, Mississippi, showing boats that came to rest a hundred yards inland.

I've been to New Orleans half a dozen times and I love the French Quarter as much as any tourist (live jazz/blues/rock in bar, red beans and rice, jambalaya and etouffee, Slurpees made with grain alcohol... what's not to love?), though how poor and run down some of the surrounding areas are has never escaped my notice. These are the regions and the people that suffer most. Folks in the Garden District can stay with relatives in Florida or Massachusetts for as long as they want. That's probably not an option for your typical St. Bernard parish resident. We won't even talk about who's adequately insured. Every news report mentions widespread looting. Not much of surprise, all things considered. I mean, what would you do if you needed food and water in a devastated city?

I've read several comments from economist types saying that, over the long haul, big disasters like this ultimately benefit local economies. The money, resources, and employment that streams in for clean up and rebuilding efforts amounts to a windfall for most hard-hit areas. Yeah right. Try telling some guy whose home--be it shack or mansion--was just washed away that he'll be a lot better off 10 years from now than he would have been otherwise. I'd love to see a team of economists volunteer to go pump sewage-tainted flood water out of hospital basements to do their bit to jumpstart the reconstruction.

Sorry. Just catty of me, I know. Well, off to the Red Cross Donation site once again this year.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Katrina Does N'awlins
DATE:
August 29, 2005

Hurricane Katrina is rapidly approaching New Orleans and the Louisiana Gulf Coast. The mayor has asked citizens to evacuate and the highways were jammed with people fleeing the city earlier today. About 10,000 or so people who could not evacuate are taking shelter in the Superdome.

Having seen the town I live in flooded about 6 years ago in the second 100-year flood we've had since I've lived in New Jersey, I'm very sympathetic to these people. I have never lost everything I had in a disaster, but I have seen others who have and the possibility is quite real to me. Every time I hear about some catastrophe elsewhere--be it a city wiped out by a flood or a guy having a heart attack jogging--I can't help but feeling lucky it's not me. Because I know it could be (except for the jogging part... don't do that!).

People always trot out that "There but for the grace of God, go I" expression (Wonder what the origin of that is? Has to be some Victorian essayist or something like that.) but I don't think God's grace has anything to do with misfortune or the lack thereof. It's all just luck of the draw.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Generations
DATE:
August 28, 2005

Just pondering the whole concept of generations. Mine, my parents', my grandparents, my kids', their kids', etc. As I age and see everyone around me age, the importance of continuity, of keeping and passing traditions that I never put much stock in, has become more important to me. It's not that I think one must slavishly follow the path of one's forbearers, it's just that one should bear in mind that a lineage for everything exists--including oneself and one's most deeply ingrained attitudes. Lack of awareness of that lineage is a good path to self-misunderstanding.

Wonderful... but that's a lot of awfully vague crap, you say. You're right, but as soon as you start naming specifics it becomes a trickier concept. Religion, ethnicity, nationality, historic changes of nationality, class, even vocation: all these things add up to form an individual, and it's easy to see a person as nothing more than the sum of those attributes. All I'm saying is that if your daddy was a Presbyterian insurance salesman from France who's family moved to Canada in the 1890's, then Michigan in 1950, no matter what or where you are today, pieces of that are in you. What you do with it is your decision. All I'm saying is that disregarding it as irrelevant is unwise.

Here's a line I wrote recently in a story. It's not stunningly original, but I liked it and it captured a certain sentiment for me:

Generations came and went, each as unique and alike as waves on a beach.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Dad in Decline
DATE:
August 27, 2005

Went down to see my father the other day. He's in a retirement home in Pennsylvania, near where I grew up. He's not doing real well. He's having so much trouble walking that he's in a wheelchair now almost full time, and he forgets ordinary words in mid-sentence ("Hand me the... the... the..." "Book?" "Yeah, whatever it's called.") He hasn't been doing well for a couple years, but his decline is really pointed now. The home has moved him from a private apartment to their "special care" environment, which is basically a hospice-like setting. It's a pleasant enough place, to be sure. Clean, lots of windows, lots of nurses, big day and dining rooms, fish tanks, etc. Still, simply put, it's not a place anyone would choose to be if they had the choice to be elsewhere.

Seeing my father like this has really got my mind going on the transience and intransigence of life. I have kids now who depend on me. I'm struggling to get by, psychologically and physically, desperate for respite. And there's my father, largely free of the daily cares of existence, yet all he wants is to keep being involved in his own life. The great arc of it all is more apparent to me than ever: generations going and coming, each just a point in motion along a curve.

That image can lead you back to "what's it all about" kind of questions, but I'm almost beyond such philosophizing. It is. That's all. I have a part in it, as do you. Find or impose what meaning you like, but it rolls on inexorably, regardless of what you, I, or any yutz anywhere chooses to believe. Need proof of that? Just look around.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Daughter's Favorite Phrases
DATE:
August 26, 2005

My 2-year-old girl is beginning to speak more and more. She's got a few favorite phrases we're hearing quite a lot of:

"I DON'T YIKE IT!"
Said almost any time--breakfast, lunch, dinner, potty time, dressing time, and most especially during bath time when you try to touch that insane rat's nest of curls she has. Sure, strangers think it's cute the way it bounces when she runs. Ha. They don't have to comb it

"YOP IT!"
This is almost exclusively reserved for hair-combing sessions. The volume is impressive.

"I SCARED!"
She's figured out that this, said at bedtime, will almost always get some additional sympathy. One more story. One more song. A few more minutes cuddling in the chair. Oh, she milks it big time.

"IT'S TOO SCARY!"
Originally the corollary to "I scared," this one now gets trotted out as protest for anything she doesn't want to do at the moment. Put on your shirt. "No! It's too scary!" Eat your macaroni and cheese. "Nooo! It's too scary!" And so on.

And I was eager to have her start talking.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Tales from the Cubicle on Amazon
DATE:
August 25, 2005

I stand corrected. The Tales from the Cubicle anthology, in which a story of mine was included, is on Amazon. For months after the book was released, it wasn't. The publisher had told me that Amazon was making him jump through too many hoops in terms of keeping a certain quantity in stock and such, and he wasn't sure he was going to bother to do what they required to get the book listed. I gently suggested to him what my professional experience has made patently clear to me: a book doesn't exist until it's on Amazon.

Anyway, it's there now. Not sure when it happened, but it has to be withing the last month or so. Made sure I was the first reviewer, as well. (Seriously, it's scary what a few reviews on Amazon will do for your Google ranking.)

-- mm

Workers Write! Tales from the Cubicle on Amazon.com


SUBJECT:
What's Up the River, Doc
DATE:
August 24, 2005

Former New York pitching star Dwight "Doc" Gooden was pulled over yesterday morning in Florida for drunk driving. After handing the cop his license, he sped away and is now technically a fugitive. Gooden has had a long history of drug-abuse problems and scrapes with the law, everything from repeatedly failing league-mandated drug tests to assaulting a police officer to domestic abuse charges. A player once easily destined for the hall of flame, Doc, when apprehended, is likely to see some serious jail time.

Or is he? More and more, I find myself stunned and appalled at how easily celebrities get off with serious infractions (e.g., try punching a cop sometime and see if you get off with a couple years probation). I've never really cozied up to the whole notion that different laws apply for different classes of people, but it certainly does seem to be true. Wealth and fame (and ideally both) have always had a way of opening certain doors for people; apparently, it also does pretty well in keeping some of them from slamming shut. I'm all for compassion and definitely don't believe that just locking up drug addicts ultimately does much good--but isn't part of the purpose of the law is that it should give you something to fear? Shouldn't it provide for consequences severe enough so that even those who have lost their internal compass for self-preservation have something to motivate them to modify their behavior?

I don't know what the answer is for dealing with chronic, drug-addled screw-ups like Gooden, but I do know that if the rules don't apply to everyone, there will always be those who skirt by.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Propaganda Graven in Stone
DATE:
August 23, 2005

Here's something I find disgusting: U.S. soldiers who died fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq, who are being buried in Arlington National Cemetery, are getting gravestones that include the administration-imposed "name" of the conflict in which they were killed--that is, "Operation Enduring Freedom" for Afghanistan and "Operation Iraqi Freedom" for Iraq. This has been done in many cases without consulting the soldiers' families. This war-named gravestones schtick is a new thing. Historically, the markers just had name, dates, and country of death. They didn't even use "Desert Storm"--Bush I's much more shrewdly planned and promoted war.

Now, Arlington is, essentially, a national monument. The uniform shape and placement of the headstones is critical to its design, so obviously a certain amount government-imposed standardization is intrinsic. But to start branding (literally, for all you marketing folks) soldiers' tombstones with these asinine operation names, that no one but Bush has ever used publically, is a pretty wretched example of political opportunism. It is exactly what it appears to be: an attempt by the administration to make questionable military policies sound noble. I can honestly accept invading Afghanistan was necessary (from a geo-political perspective); invading Iraq--trumped up charges of WMDs notwithstanding--was nothing but Dubya & Co.'s power gambit. In both cases, lots of folks died and the operations were (at best) only partially successful. Milking them for publicity for the rest of eternity is just bad form.

Dubya, just let these soldiers rest in unbranded peace. Don't you think they've done enough for your little vanity projects?

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Reading at VoxPop
DATE:
August 22, 2005

Went to the VoxPop bookstore in Brooklyn to read with two other authors from the Tales from the Cubicle anthology. It was out in Flatbush (take the F train to Ditmas Ave, walk about 9 blocks over to Cortelyou and *****), which was a lot further out than I'd realized--and took me a lot longer than expected to get there. I was about half an hour late, though nothing had started. I used to live in Brooklyn many years ago and I probably haven't set a toe in that borough in at least decade. If I hadn't been running so late, I doubt I could have resisted the temptation to step off the train at 7th Ave and 9th Street to take a stroll through my old Park Slope stomping grounds. Ah well, next decade.

Anyway, VoxPop was exactly what I'd expected. Little shop with a coffee bar on one side, a wall of books on the other, a few tables between, and a four-foot square stage at one end. The whole place was decorated with anti-Bush, neo-liberal ("our coffee beans come only from fair trade countries") agitprop--more yuppie than commie in tone. There were about 20 or so people in attendance, pretty much all friends of one of the readers, as far as I could tell. Again, just what one would expect.

The reading itself went fine. My story was pretty short and I was contemplating reading something additional as well, but by the time everyone had finished, it seemed better to let it end rather than tax the audience's attention. So it goes. Next time.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Meeting Greg and Charlie
DATE:
August 21, 2005

Tomorrow is the Tales from the Cubicle reading at VoxPop in Brooklyn. So, as a little pre-planning--and just to meet--myself and the two other anthology authors reading, Greg Paulos ("Conversion") and Charlie Conley ("Cubicles from this Angle"), met tonight in a little Manhattan bar (KGBBar on West 4th Street... another place that frequently hosts author readings, BTW).

It was a nice experience. They're good guys, both about eight years younger than me and sans kids/mortgages, but we still seem to have some solid common ground. It's actually pretty rare I get to talk about writing with anybody who actually gives a crap about the actual process. Most people just like to talk about what they've read or seen recently, but have no interest in pondering the creative process behind it. As soon as you start introducing that aspect into a conversation, you can just see the eyes tune out. I have one other friend who writes fiction on the side, but I just don't have the opportunity to get out that often to meet up (damn you, offspring!).

Anyway, it was nice to sit around and have Indian food and chew the fat with a couple other people who have opinions on First v. Third Person narrators, trends in character v. plot-driven short fiction, and the perils of discussing works in progress. I'm really looking forward to this reading thing now.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
New Fridge
DATE:
August 20, 2005

We got a new refrigerator today. Bought it from a local in-town appliance store, rather than Sears. It was cheaper and they were more flexible on model and delivery. Amana French door fridge with drawer freezer on the bottom. It has a built-in chilled water tap, but you have to open the door. The water-through-the-door model was just too big to fit through our 29" doors.

As a matter of fact, this one almost didn't make it. Even with the refrigerator's doors removed, I still had to remove the back screen door frame, the weather stripping, the interior molding, and take off the interior hinges for the freezer. It literally just squeezed through. When I saw it completely filling the foyer, I would have bet my left pinky that it would go no further--but damned if those guys did manage to angle it up the kitchen stairs and squeeze it through another hair's breadth door. I was seriously impressed. Gave them twenty extra bucks.

The wife is in a state of bliss. After she restocked it and made a supermarket run, she called me over half a dozen times the see how much space was left.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Reading at a Bookstore
DATE:
August 19, 2005

On Monday, I'm reading a story of mine ("Inboxed") that was included in an anthology of office-related stories, Workers Write! Tales from the Cubicle, published by a little operation called Blue Cubicle Press--basically, the same guys who do the magazine The First Line. The story was originally published there are they thought it was appropriate for the anthology. No argument from me.

I got my copy of the book a few months ago. I generally like the stories in it, and I thought the concept--basically, a literary romp through Dilbert territory--is a great one. I'm kind of disappointed that the publishers haven't done much to promote it (it isn't even on Amazon, for cripe's sake), but they're just a spare-time operation (like my literary endeavors) and the fact they even got the thing put together, not to mention the quarterly magazine, is pretty impressive.

Anyway, one of the other authors (Greg Paulos) from the anthology who lives in the NYC area had the initiative to look up a little Brooklyn bookstore, VoxPop, that hosts readings and contacted me and another author (Charles Conley) about doing a reading. It all came together and it's happening Monday night. I have no idea what this place is like, but what the hey. I've been busy as hell lately, but now that's it so close, I'm actually pretty psyched. We'll see how it goes.

-- mm

Workers Write: Tales from the Cubicle at Blue Cubicle Press


SUBJECT:
Walk-In Movie
DATE:
August 18, 2005

Took the kids to a movie last night. It was a freebie, outdoor thing on a park-like pier on the Hudson River, sponsored by a local town. They were showing the computer-animated Shark Tale (a film much-beloved by the kids, which I find tolerable)--followed by Spider-Man 2 (the double-feature was to make up for a rain-out from earlier in the summer). We stayed for the first, and departed as the second was starting, despite the boy's protests ("No, daddy! I want to see Spider-Man 2." He overhead the announcer say the name. "Is that Spider-Man 2? I hear the Spider-Man music! It's cool!" His new favorite word.) It was 9:45 pm and I was not about to hang around for two more hours. Besides, he's only 4 and the new Spider-Man movies are a little too realistically violent for him to see just yet, I think.

It was a lovely summer evening, with a big waxing moon hanging over the Manhattan cityscape as we sat in the grass and more or less watched the movie as it suited us. All in all, it was a fine experience. About an hour in, my 2-year-old girl was acting so crazy--rolling in the grass, jumping on us, spinning until she collapsed, etc.--I just had to strap her into the stroller and wheel her up and down the promenade till the movie was done. There's a couple more movies, all kid-friendly (Shrek 2 and Robots) remaining in the summer, so we may well do it again.

Though, next time, I'm leaving the girl strapped in the stroller the whole time.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Old Computers
DATE:
August 17, 2005

I've decided I like old computers. Yes, I appreciate spiffy new ones (like my 17" G4 Titanium PowerBook), but I find myself attracted to older ones. I found a site that sells older colored iMacs and clamshell iBooks and I'd love to collect them. They're beloved signposts of the passage of time, rich with technological retro-chic, like a cast-iron typewriter or a crank-handle telephone. But more than simply objects d' art, I appreciate old computers and old software as functioning artifacts of the past--things that let you (or your kids) glimpse the way it used to be in the long, long ago of the digital age.

I have an original Bondi Blue Revision B iMac that, unfortunately, isn't working. I think it's a power supply problem (it boots, then fritzes off) but I haven't gotten around to the trouble--or cost--of getting it fixed. I wish I still had my old Mac Performa 600CD (widely considered one of the worst Macs ever marketed); I gave it to my boy's day care center a few years ago and recently saw it in the trash outside of the center. It had a good run, I suppose. I really wish I had the first Mac I ever bought--and original 9" B&W screen uni-box with 800K floppy disk and no hard drive. I even inherited an original 512k Mac, circa 1985, from work; I gave it to my sister for my neice's to play with about ten years ago. Gotta find out what ever became of it. A Dell Inspirion 7000 laptop I also inherited from work recently bit the dust and I tossed it out. I regret that... it might have been repairable.

All these vernerable old machines have a history with me--when I got them, what I used them for, etc. To a degree, missing them is just nostalgia, but more than that, wanting them is a collector's, perhaps even a historian's, urge. I've reached the age where discarding something simply because it's not as young and strong and efficient as it was in it's heyday seems an intolerable cruelty.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Laptop Run
DATE:
August 16, 2005

A school district in Virgina recently held a public sale of dozens of 3-4 year-old Apple iBook laptops that had been used in classrooms. There were upgrading and apparently just wanted to get rid of what they had. They were offering them for about $50 each--a sizeable discount over their current value (at least $200 on average, as far as I can tell), and light years from the $1,000-$1,500 range an equivalent new laptop would go for.

Hundreds of people showed up for the chance to buy one, many lining up for hours. When the doors opened, there was a near-riot with people shoving and knocking each other down to get in. While not specifically excusable, such mass bad behavior is at least understandable. iBooks of that age are still--if in decent condition--perfectly serviceable machines for average use (e-mail, Internet, word processing, basic graphics, audio, and even light video work), and if your intention is to have something the kids can use, they're pretty ideal. I've been checking around for used laptops for just such a purpose recently and there's quite a market out there. No wonder a bunch of parents on budgets might get a little nuts.

Seems to me there's a really good opportunity for some enterprising young fellers to scour schools and businesses to buy up and sell disused computers. I'm sure it's happening, but the fact an incident like this could happen just confirms there's a greater demand than is being met by the available supply.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Big Rain
DATE:
August 15, 2005

Yesterday at around 5:00 pm, after a month of no rain and an afternoon of philosophizing about that condition on my part, the sky opened up in a violent thunderstorm, flooding my street so deep that branches felled by the wind (and lightning strikes, so I've heard from the local scuttlebut) floated freely down the middle. Airports were closed, fire sirens were heard, the yard turned to swamp... a grand storm all around, as if nature were relieving itself with abandon after weeks of dense atmospheric build up

The thunder and lightning were pretty severe for about half-an-hour or so. My boy seemed unconcerned; my girl kept hiding under a blanket saying "I scared!" (her new favorite expression), but would giggle if you jiggled her at all, so it obviously wasn't too serious. I, however, was worried enough after the second power flicker in the house to run around and unplug everything I didn't want to get fried (computer, wireless router, air conditioners, cable box... you know, the important stuff).

There's just something about a good storm that really reminds you that you are not in control. We stroll through this world as if we were it's master, yet it can still shrug us off without so much as by-your-leave. Oddly, I find that a comforting thought.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Heavy Cloud But No Rain
DATE:
August 14, 2005

It hasn't rained in northen New Jersey for about a month. My lawn is mostly a tangle of dry yellow straw, which I water twice a week--not because it helps (you need daily watering to make any difference in this kind of weather), but because, apparently, I think that wet yellow straw looks better than dry yellow straw.

Every day, the sky clouds up with thick humidity at around 5:00, threatening to downpour like a tropical storm, but never does. The air just gets hotter and stickier. I keeping thinking of a Sting song, "Heavy Cloud But No Rain." In one verse, a deposed king scheduled for the guillotine hopes his execution might be postponed by rain:

He looks to the sky, but he looks in vain--
Heavy cloud, but no rain

A different verse has a farmer on the verge of foreclosure try a rain spell to save his farm. In another, a suitor hears the object of his affection say she's saving her love for a rainy day. In every case there comes the refrain:

Heavy cloud, but no rain

(Hey... I made a rhyme. That's why I have a blog and you don't.)

Anyway, I know how they feel.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Scaredy Kids
DATE:
August 13, 2005

Tonight, neither of my kids--4.5-year-old boy and 2-year-old girl--wanted to be left alone in the dark at bedtime (it's not like it was dark either... only 8:00 pm in New Jersey in August--and they each have night lights). In any event, both asked for the light to be left on (the boy, calmly; the girl, hysterically) because they were scared. I didn't argue with the hysterical 2-year-old, but just left her overhead light, which has a dimmer, halfway on.

I talked to the boy about what he was scared of. He just said he didn't like the dark--which he is pretty accustomed to--and added that he wished Lava Girl's light still worked (a fast-food giveaway figure that once had an internal red glow). As we talked more, he actually said--and I have no idea how he got on the topic--that he didn't want mommy or me to die or go to heaven in case he needed to see us again. I started to describe to him, with as much distractingly soothing detail as I could manage, how we would live a long time and see him grow up and be grandparents to his children just like grandma and grandpa are to him when I noticed he was crying. When I asked why, he said that he liked that story and he just had some tears that wanted to come out to hear it, too. As near as I can judge, they were tears of sentimentality, not sadness, from a four-year-old.

I'm not sure where this wave of fear came from, and I'm really stumped by this appearance of anxiety over parental mortality (not that it's unreasonable, but I can't imagine what precipitated it). And the emotionality over a vision of a future family really astounds me. Just when I think I understand them, those kids move to the next level. I shudder to think what curve balls they're going to be throwing my way at twelve and fourteen.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
It's Raining "It's Raining Men"
DATE:
August 12, 2005

I heard the song "It's Raining Men" twice today within the space of half an hour. Here's a song that I've gone the better part of decade without hearing and I get it twice in a day. I am not a believer in cosmic coincidences, but this one gives me pause.

Even worse, not only did I hear the song, I actually saw the video--something I have never seen before. I was getting ready to take the kids out for ice cream (nice place within walking distance in our town) when the wife flipped to the VH1 Classics channel. Boom, there it was. The artists who recorded it--two particularly ample black women who went by the moniker The Weather Girls--are up on screen in a low, low budget 80's video with childishly hand-drawn sets intended, I imagine, to resemble a daydream doodle come to life... though to me, all it invoked was "Elmo's World." Anyway, The Weather Girls are there at the height of their Warholian 15-minutes belting out their novelty hit and mugging lasciviously with everything they've got. In one shot, they're lying on a vast (by necessity), heart-shaped bed while muscle guys wearing only bikini briefs, sailor hats, and army boots (I don't care what you sexual orientation is, that just looks hilariously stupid) dance and writhe around them. An image as maddeningly indelible as the melody itself.

Not twenty minutes later, I'm at the ice cream parlor with the kids when what to my wondering ears should appear coming from the ceiling speakers but the same song in its entirety. Now, it's stuck in my head big time. I've got to concentrate on some old commercial jingles or something to wash it out:

My dog's better than your dog. My dog's better than yours...

Plop plop. Fizz fizz. Oh, what a relief it is!

What goes down stairs, alone or in pairs, and makes a slinkety sound?

Etc. etc. Works like a charm.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Straw Man Talking
DATE:
August 11, 2005

Took the kids, once again, to The Land of Make Believe (see blog entry May 29, 2005), a pre-school targeted theme park on a rural New Jersey farm. One thing we saw this time we didn't see before was a talking scarecrow named "Colonel Corny" (the wife and I refer to him as "Cornholio," for all you Beavis 'n Butt-Head fans). Essentially, it's just a scarecrow with a walkie-talkie hidden in him somewhere so he can hear and reply. They had what sounded like a profoundly bored 15-year-old working voice duty when we were there, but that didn't stop my 4-and-a-half-year-old boy's chatty obsessession with him. A snippet of the transcript:

MY BOY:
(after getting over initial wariness)
Why do you have that shirt on?

TALKING SCARECROW:
What?

BOY:
Why do you have that SSSHIRT (trying to cleary annunciate his "s" ... a sometimes trouble spot with him) on?

SCARECROW:
What?

BOY:
SHIRT! Why do you have that shirt!

SCARECROW:
I dunno.

BOY:
Is that your scaring crows shirt?

SCARECROW:
What?

BOY:
Is that your SSScaring crowSSS SSShirt?

SCARECROW:
It's just my shirt.

BOY:
Do you have batteries in your shirt?

SCARECROW:
What?

BOY:
BATTERIESSS! Do you have batteriesss in your shirt?

SCARECROW:
I don't have any batteries.

BOY:
I think that you do.

SCARECROW:
I don't.

BOY:
You have to have batteries, because batteries are,--um--batteries are for--

SCARECROW:
I don't have any--

BOY:
WAIT! Let me tell you something about batteries. Batteries are little things that you have deep inside you that help toys and things that aren't people to talk. You must have batteries inside your shirt or your pants because you can talk. Her batteries (pointing to non-talking adjacent scarecrow wife) must be empty because she can't talk and you can.

SCARECROW:
I don't have any batteries.

BOY:
Do you scare just crows or other kinds of birds and animals?

SCARECROW:
Just crows.

BOY:
What do you say to them to scare them?

It went on like this for twenty minutes, with my boy getting more animated and my two-year-old girl echoing his questions incomprehensibly--doubly confusing the indifferent teenager providing the voice, though, you could tell he was getting more amused by this as his responses edged beyond the monosyllabic. My wife and I were in stitches and eventually had to drag the kids away to give someone else a chance to talk to Colonel Corny. Later on, I tried to explain that Colonel Corny had a telephone inside him and there was a person talking for him somewhere else, though this didn't seem to register. My boy knows a goddamn talking scarecrow when he sees one.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Big Laptop Backpack Redux
DATE:
August 10, 2005

So speaking of my giant, 17" Apple PowerBook, I've been on a quest to find a backpack for it which has concluded successfully. I just bought a Targus "sport" (i.e., has blue nylon accents, rather than the faux black leather "business" model) laptop-ready backpack. Basically, it has a little padded pocket and velcro strap to hold a notebook computer fairly securely. It's designed for a 15.4" (?) screen, but the 17" just fits. Actually, the pocket is a good bit wider than the Apple, so it rattles a bit. I have to think of some way to modify it to hold more securely.

Oh, I bought this 15.4"-capable backpack only after ordering a 17"-capable one online. It was freaking huge. It looked like a camping backpack and the laptop--while nestled softly in the big pocket--still bounced around pretty freely. I want a snug fit, so going with the smaller one is preferable for me. Now I just have to figure out how to return the giganto one to Buy.com.

Is it just me, or is every commercially made product never quite right as it is? Everything needs some kind of fudging, tinkering, modification, or accommodation to be just the way I want it. Perhaps the best word, and metaphor, for this is "tailoring." I've reached a stage in life where I don't like my things off the rack; I want higher quality stuff well-tailored to my needs, and I'm willing to pay for it. Oddly enough, the one thing this does not apply to is my wardrobe... as anyone who has ever seen me can attest. I go to work every day in clothes bought entirely from Target or Kohl's.

And I like it that way.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
I'm Wireless
DATE:
August 9, 2005

Just got an Apple Airport Express. That, in combination with the gloriously oversized 17" PowerBook G4 I conned work into buying me (used a brilliantly understated persuasive strategy: THEM: "We want to have some video highlights at the sales meeting. Can you do that?" ME: "Sure. Get me a new computer and I'll do it." And damned if they didn't.) has enabled me to upgraded myself into the home wireless network crowd.

Anyway, now I can sit in the living room, half-watching whatever crap the wife is flipping past, and crank out blog entries--as if they weren't inchoherent and vapid enough.

Well, time to beam this one in. Stop me when I send one from the WiFi zone in Starbucks.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Atomic Bomb Warning Flyer
DATE:
August 8, 2005

I came across something I wasn't aware of regarding the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings of 60 years ago this week. The Americans dropped leaflets in Japan between the two bombings that were pretty ominous in tone. Here are some highlights from the text in translation as presented in a PBS documentary about Truman:

TO THE JAPANESE PEOPLE:
America asks that you take immediate heed of what we say on this leaflet.

We are in possession of the most destructive explosive ever devised by man. A single one of our newly developed atomic bombs is actually the equivalent in explosive power to what 2000 of our giant B-29s can carry on a single mission. This awful fact is one for you to ponder and we solemnly assure you it is grimly accurate.

We have just begun to use this weapon against your homeland. If you still have any doubt, make inquiry as to what happened to Hiroshima when just one atomic bomb fell on that city.

Before using this bomb to destroy every resource of the military by which they are prolonging this useless war, we ask that you now petition the Emperor to end the war.... You should take steps now to cease military resistance. Otherwise, we shall resolutely employ this bomb and all our other superior weapons to promptly and forcefully end the war.

EVACUATE YOUR CITIES.

Picture being an ordinary Japanese citizen and finding that flyer--or perhaps hundreds of them--on your street, then hearing about Hiroshima. I think it had the intended effect.

-- mm

Full text of the leaflet on the documentary's site at pbs.org


SUBJECT:
Summer Movies Withering
DATE:
August 7, 2005

I keep hearing about how bad the summer movie box office is. Revenues are down. Reviews are mediocre. Audiences are underwhelmed. That a summer with a Star Wars movie, two superhero films, and a Spielberg alien flick can be considered a bust is pretty amazing. Either Hollywood's and the entertainment media's expectations are too high, or people have lost interest in what the blockbuster machine cranks out. Actually, I'm sure it's a little bit of both.

Interestingly, the movies this summer that seem to have garnered most of the critical and water cooler buzz are a trio of rather different, off-key films:

  • Crash - an exploration of racial tensions in contemporary Los Angeles
  • March of the Penguins - a nature documentary on an subarctic breeding migration
  • The Aristrocrats - an legendarily dirty vaudeville joke told by 100 different comedians

I'll always have a weakness for lame-brained summer popcorn flicks (I love to criticize them), but this trend of oddball, smaller movies getting a slice of the attention is refreshing. Of course, I don't have the babysitting money to see them, so it's all academic anyway.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Hiroshima at 60
DATE:
August 6, 2005

August 6, 2005, is the 60th anniversary of the U.S. dropping an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. A second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki three days later. Figures vary, but the some commonly quoted numbers are that the two bombs combined caused about 140,000 deaths immediately and almost 300,000 over time.

There is still much debate as to whether the bombings were "necessary," "justified," or even "productive." Personally, I can understand how ending the war quickly and with a devastating show of force had attractive strategic qualities for American military decision makers. On the other hand, had these same decision makers truly harbored the wish to avoid it, I have no doubt an alternative could have been found.

The one unarguable fact is this: The United States remains the only nation ever to have deployed an atomic weapon against an enemy. May it always remain so.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Bush Still at War
DATE:
August 5, 2005

The White House has made a new push toward standardizing the terminology used to describe current conflicts with "Islamic extremists" (even Donald Rumsfeld preferred term until very recently). President Bush is now exclusively using the term "war on terror" for the Iraq conflict and apparently insisting all in his administration or under his command (i.e., top military officials) adopt the same language. We're not fighting Muslims or Iraqis or Arabs or Iranians or Jordinans or even insurgents. We're fighting terrorists. The same ones that attacked us on 9/11, in case you were wondering (how, exactly, they got to Baghdad does not seem to be a point that merits elucidation.)

Dubya has often shown a penchant for reductionism that verges on the pathologically jingoistic. I always thought it was because he wasn't very bright--but, even more likely, it's because Karl Rove doesn't think Americans are very bright (and danged if he ain't beating the house on that bet, the big "turd blossom"). Keeping the message really, really simple and consistent ("War on terror! AWWKK! War or terror!") is apparently a perfectly effective way to keep folks from noticing that packing off half the armed forces and spending a few hundred billion dollars in Iraq was, one could argue (and many have), the worst strategic military decision in U.S. history.

I sometimes wonder if most Americans are capable of grasping that the U.S. is embroiled in a struggle with an epidemic resurgence of an aggressive Islamic ideology spawned of 1,000 years of East-West tension and fanned to a frenzy by half a century of economic and cultural imperialism. That's a tough concept, that clouds strategic decision-making with nebulous enemies and uncertain outcomes, and makes it difficult to view the situation with nice, clean, vote-garnering, moral clarity. Heck, "war or terror" does sound so much better, doesn't it?

-- mm


SUBJECT:
TAGC the Dog
DATE:
August 4, 2005

A team of South Korean scientists announced that after nearly three years of working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, and using 1,095 embryos from 122 animals, they have successfully cloned, using adult somatic nuclear cell transfer, the animal widely considered among the most complex organisms to reproductively replicate: a dog.

Advanced reports confirm: it was delicious.

I just wanted to put that joke on record. Now, we shall not speak of this again.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
James Doohan Dies and Lives
DATE:
August 3, 2005

I just heard the other day that James Doohan, Star Trek's "Scotty," died about two weeks ago (told you I was behind on my news). He was 85 and in declining health for some time. Hardly tragic, but still a little sad.

Most of the original Star Trek cast seemed to have experienced some ambivalent feelings about it at some point or another. For the decade or so after the show ended and they were all typecast (e.g., Doohan is not Scottish; Walter "Chekov" Koenig is not Russian; those aren't really Nimoy's ears; that ain't really Shatner's hair, etc.), most of them seemed a little bitter about it. But, over time as they acclimated to being true cultural icons (and the money from convention appearances and feature films started coming in), they seemed to accept if not embrace their roles. Most actors would kill to be on a successful show, let alone one rebroadcast around the world daily for almost four decades. I guess as they each aged, the weight of that simply settled upon them and they had little choice but to accept it. There are worse things in life. I always recall Buddy Ebsen--star of stage and screen forever immortalized as Jed Clampett--when asked by an interviewer if he ever resented being identified with the character, saying: "Where ever I go, all over the world, all I have to do is say that 'Weee-lll, doggies!' line and I have roomful of friends. Who could resent that?"

A wise fellow. From interviews over the last few years, I know Mr. Doohan had reached a similar state of peace with the alter ego that brought him fame--and now a kind of immortality that few of us will ever know. Fare thee well, Scotty. May the big transporter in the sky beam you into its embrace.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Shuttle Tiles
DATE:
August 2, 2005

NASA has authorized an unprecedented, unplanned space walk for the current shuttle mission to have an astronaut go to the underside of the shuttle (something never before attempted) to try to remove or repair small bits of heat insulation that seem to have come loose during launch. The concern is that these bits--sticking up only an inch or so--will represent enough of an irregularity to burn during re-entry. The air compression (note that's "compression" not "friction") and resultant surface heating is so great during re-entry that even small imperfections in the smooth underside of the craft pose a real hazard and a potential for a breakup disaster similar to the Challenger two years ago.

Now, I'm moderately interested in the science of all this kind of stuff (note how I knew it was "compression" not "friction"... bet YOU didn't know that--huh? huh? did ya, pal?), but for years I couldn't figure out why they heat shield of the shuttle was such a big issue. The whole thing is that the shuttle re-enters the atmosphere at such a colossal speed (@ 36,000 if I recall correctly) that it crushes and heats the air beneath it (there's that "compression" again) to extreme temperatures (I forget how hot, shame upon me). Anyway, I've always wondered why it simply didn't slow down significantly before re-entry to reduce that.

Here's why: to lift the shuttle into orbit, it takes those enormous fuel tanks and solid rocket boosters to get the thing up to @ 36,000 miles per hour to escape Earth's gravitational pull. From that point on, once in space where there is no air friction (yes, "friction") to slow it down, it would take an equal amount of fuel pushing in the other direction to slow it down. The shuttle can carry that much fuel; it burns almost all it has to liftoff, they basically just coasts for the rest of the trip--save a few minor retro-engine burns to nudge it bit--until it glides in for a landing... though "controlled plummet" might be a more accurate description of it's atmospheric flight characteristics.

So there's you little space flight lesson for today. I hope they pull this walk/repair/landing off.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Wiping Apple Off the MS Map
DATE:
August 1, 2005

An item in WIRED today pointed out an amusing tidbit. Over the weekend Microsoft made their new geo-mapping software live. This is a service largely similar to one Google had launched a few weeks back where you can zoom in on any spot on the globe down to a map-precise satellite image--e.g., you can see a photo of your house from space detailed enough to tell if your car is parked in the driveway or not. Yahoo and Mapquest had a similar feature a while back, where you could switch from a map to a corresponding satellite photo, but they both vanished inexplicably. I had always figured it was a Homeland Security thing--after all, you can zoom in on bridges, power plants, airports, national monuments, etc.--but, apparently, that's not a concern. (Unless Google and Microsoft are powerful enough to ignore the U.S. Federal Government... which they are.)

Anyway, the amusing tidbit in WIRED pointed out that Microsoft's satellite photo of the Apple business campus in Cupertino, California, is about 15 years old, showing only an single warehouse and parking lot, instead of the dozen buildings and landscaped grounds that stand there now. Google has an up-to-date photo of Apple. An MS spokesperson said the omission wasn't deliberate; they had just mistakenly used some older photos in some parts of the beta version.

Freudian slip, if you ask me.

-- mm




 





mattmchugh.com  |  Blog Archive Page

This Website and all contents 2002-2005 Matt McHugh. All rights reserved.