Matt McHugh

Matt - Blog - July 2009


Blog Archive


Back Again Again


July 7, 2009

Away from this blog thing for about a month now, despite an earlier-this-year promise to do it daily. Life just seems to intervene constantly, and the pleasure of talking to myself becomes just one more chore, something I have to discipline myself into doing. Somehow, I still think that enforced, personal discipline on something as inconsequential as writing blog entries actually builds character. Completely bats, I am, I think sometimes.

Anyway, an interesting month. Lots of build-up at work to put together a presentation I give at the annual meeting. It's basically the comic relief, but I always try to make it legitimately informative as well. That dual purpose, and the fact I've done this for years and have to keep one-upping myself, always makes it a stress-racked challenge. And, once again, I pulled it off with aplomb. Not bragging. It's a fact. Ask anyone who was in the room.

So what else? Business trip to Berlin. Unenthused about the city at first, but quite enjoyed what I saw of it. I was in the old "East" portion. There are very few remnants of the wall and Communism remaining, but a few stray memorials and old photos speak volumes. Also, seemed like anything bombed in the war has been rebuilt in glass. Train stations, churches, the Reichstag dome. Real fascination with glass over there. The hotel I stayed in had a 75-foot tall cylindrical fish tank with an elevator running through the middle. Pretty wild to step into a sixth-story glass elevator and be eye-to-eye with a scuba diver.

Oh, gosh... Michael Jackson's death. Sarah Palin's resignation. I just watched a documentary on Enron. My front porch is infested with carpenter ants. So many interesting tidbits to dissect. I'm just going to have to pick up the ball again and see what comes of it.

-- mm


Michael Jackson for Kids


July 8, 2009

With all the Michael Jackson hoopla, it's hard to avoid adding my two bits. In total, I found him a truly tragic figure. Such an exceptional talent, twisted from such a young age, so that any hope of human normality was utterly beyond his psyche. That's my take.

However, as a parent of young kids, I often have to try to explain things in a simple way that doesn't negate their complexities or come down as parental gospel. Here's how I handled Michael Jackson (whom my kids know mainly as the real singer that some of their favorite Weird Al Yankovic YouTubes are based on) when the topic came up round the dinner table:

Michael Jackson was an amazingly talented singer and dancer. He created some fantastic music and the first really popular music videos that people today still think are some of the best ever made. His music made him very rich and very famous, maybe even the most famous person in the world for a while.

But his life was kind of sad in many ways. He started performing in a band with his brothers when he was only 8 years old (your age, son) and was famous by the time he was 11. I think all that fame -- fans screaming when they saw him and being on magazines and TV -- kind of messed him up. I think he grew up having no idea what it was like to just be a normal kid, to lead a regular life, so that when he was a grown up, he acted a lot like a kid. He turned his home into an amusement park and invited real kids over to play (the wife and I eye eachother here). And as he got older, as his face started to look older naturally, he kept having doctors do surgery on his face to try to keep looking young, but instead all that surgery made him look very strange. Kind of creepy, really. Plus, having all that surgery probably caused him a lot of pain so he took a lot of drugs to help with that pain, but all those drugs actually made him sick and, in the end, he died because of that.

He really was an amazing singer and performer, but because he was so famous from such a young age, I think he came to need the attention of his fans to feel happy. But you can't live your whole life, singing and dancing for fans. That's just too much work. You have to take a break from it, you have to have some private place where you can be happy just by yourself... and I don't think he ever found that, despite all the things he tried, all the money he spent. He gave so many people joy with his music, but he probably was pretty unhappy himself most of his life. That's something I would call a tragedy.

That's more or less how I put it to the kids. Then we went on YouTube and watched "Bad" and "Beat It" (complete with scene-by-scene comparisons to Weird Al parodies) and the zombie dance from "Thriller." That's how I want my kids to think of Michael Jackson. The rest, they can absorb over time.

-- mm


A Gathering of Random Thoughts


July 18, 2009

Can't seem to get with daily entries here, so I guess this is just intermittent for now. Here's a collection of some recent thoughts:

  • The house feels like it's disintegrating around me. Big chunk of plaster missing from the ceiling. Carpenter ants infested two beams in the front porch. Everything needs patching and painting. Lawn needs mowing and mower started leaking oil. Every time I work on one thing, something else goes. Just can't seem to stay in front of it all. It's depressing.
  • I'm becoming better at letting things go. I can't do everything, be everything. Some things have to slide. I'm starting to grasp that on a more profound level, and some of my long-standing anxiety over failure is easing just a bit.
  • Went to see the 4th of July Fireworks on the Hudson, i.e., Jersey side of NYC for the first time in years. Watched them from the Hoboken Pier (jam-packed). The fireworks were further than I expected. Kind of disappointing, though they were great fireworks. Several things I've never seen before. My favorite moment: noticing how each explosion sent a wave of color reflecting off the windows of the Hoboken riverside buildings like a mosaic in motion.
  • Creatively, I'm getting tired of writing. More and more, I want to work with music or visuals (not my forte) because of the direct emotional connection they have. Words are filtered through the intellect first. Sight and sound go straight to the gut.
  • I find I'm starting to prefer bars where I'm the youngest person there, rather than the oldest. At my age, it can go either way. I'm starting to prefer drinking with sullen grandpas rather than raucous 20-somethings.
  • My son is very hopped up to do his own website. We've sketched and mocked some things out, and it may actually happen. Though, it's going to be tough to explain to him that online games are way beyond my paltry coding abilities. He really wants them.
  • Quote I read in an interview with film maker Terry Gilliam: (paraphrased a bit): Persistence is more important than talent.
  • I read that the Sears Tower in Chicago is supposed to change its name to the Willis Tower, as per its new owner. People are protesting so much, it likely will not. Architecturally, I think its one of the most boring famous structures in the world. My greatest impression of the building comes from a cartoon video game I used to have set in a post-apocalyptic world where humans battled evil robots. They referred to the still-standing ruin of the Sears Tower as "The Tower of the Seer." Always thought that was cool.
  • Took an excursion to Park Slope, Brooklyn, where I lived nearly 20 years ago and haven't set foot since. It was very much as I remember it, yet seemed so alien. I'm not the person who once thought living in Brooklyn was an adventure. Just seems like one more slightly grungy, slightly gentrified patch of concrete jungle. Nothing appealing about it.
  • In Park Slope, I stopped and had a couple drinks at a restaurant/bar I sometimes frequented, though 20 years ago it was just for food. Back then, I didn't go to bars to drink. I didn't discover my love o' the pub 'n pint until my late twenties. The bar had karaoke that night. I contemplated singing something, but didn't bother. The anonymity was encouraging, but with no one I knew to laugh or cheer me on, it didn't seem like much fun.

That's all for the moment.

-- mm


Pigeonhole Dave


July 19, 2009

Rented the movie Meet Dave to watch with the kids last night. It stars Eddie Murphy (my kids favorite kids-movie actor... funny how these things go), as both a two-inch tall captain of a robotic alien spaceship, and the human-sized robot ship itself. Little Eddie and his uptight crew work inside Big Eddie's head, looking out through his camera-eyes, trying to pass him off as human as they navigate the baffling culture of contemporary Manhattan. It's a great premise, and has some moments of execution that almost live up to it. All in all, an OK family movie.

Still, some of it bothered me. The crew of tiny humans from a technically advanced planet are emotionally repressed, and exposure to Earth culture awakens various passions in them. Fine. Lots of good potential there, and again some good execution of it. A scene with Captain Murphy and his secret-crush 3rd officer getting misty watching It's a Wonderful Life ("A cultural document all humans are obliged to view once per year.") is perfect. But other instances are not so high-minded. The ultra-butch weapons officer witnesses about 30-seconds of A Chorus Line and is liberated into the campiest on-screen gay guy outside South Park. That gag mostly went over my kids' heads, but I can imagine 11 or 12 year-olds watching this moving having a field day with such a stereotype. The joke could have been a lot less ham-handed and still worked. A scene where robo-Eddie can't hail a cab and exclaims, "What? Can't an alien get a cab in this town!" shows they know how to pitch a topical joke.

What bothered me more than the musical-queen schtick was a series of black stereotypes embodied by Crewman Number 17, played by comedian Kevin Hart. When the ship is exposed to thunderous hip-hop music, #17 launches into an uncontrollable, hip-thrusting dance spasm that mystifies him. OK... I get the gag. Mostly harmless. But they keep it up. A few shots later, he's walking down a corridor past a female crew member. As she passes, he gives a bugged-eyed double take at her ass and lets loose a "Daa-aammmn!" In subsequent scenes, he's gulping handfuls of mojito, hosting a house party in his quarters, and shouting when he gets a taste of human food, "Can a brother get some hot sauce!" With his every appearance, he seems to become a more pronounced caricature.

I'm not really enthused about my kids being exposed to that. Race is still a huge issue in this country, and I've made a real effort to try to help them understand it without undue preconceptions. I like that Eddie Murphy is their favorite movie star. I like that we all got up and danced (I do a mean robot) as Earth Wind & Fire's "Shining Star" played in the closing credits. I don't like when a movie -- particularly one targeting pre-teen kids -- paints a cartoonish picture of how African-Americans behave. I suppose you could argue it's just a joke and I'm being too sensitive or it's simply an anomaly offset by Eddie and the rest of the numerous A-A (just made that up...wonder if it will offend anybody?) cast members who don't act like stereotypes and yadda-yadda-yadda. Fine. So you're OK with the idea of a schoolyard of white, suburban third-graders aping booty-oggling "Daa-aammmns!" for lunchtime laughs? Perhaps collectively encouraging the half-dozen black kids in the school to do it on cue?

Blurs the line of acceptability there a bit, wouldn't you say? Just remember, we're the ones who draw the lines and communicate to our kids where they lie. And if they shift around, it's our job to keep an eye on them. That's all I'm saying.

-- mm




July 22, 2009

Earlier this week was the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. I'm a cynical person by nature, but that event gives me a sense of pride and patriotism like few others. The fact that humans, particularly ones from the country I live in, had the vision, resourcefulness, and daring to accomplish such a feat really does make it humbling and gratifying to be of kindred species and nation. Perhaps that very personal sentiment furthers my dismay at the growing popularity of moon landing conspiracy theories.

For a few years, I've been aware of a fairly active fringe community of lunar mission non-believers. I've watched the History Channel specials and read online snippets of the anti-arguments ("The shadows aren't right! You can't see the stars! The flag waves in a breeze! The astronauts move like they're on bungies and/or filmed in slow motion! The Van Allen Belt radiation would have killed them!"), all of which are pretty easily dismissed by a smidgen of knowledge, yet they crop up over and over like weeds in a garden, regularly resuscitated by supposed experts and bolstered with obfuscating pseudo-science. By their nature, conspiracies are impossible to disprove with rational thinking alone ("Don't you see, that's what 'they' want you to think!"), and even hard evidence is infinitely contestable if you have the willpower to avert your eyes at the right moments. So, it shouldn't really surprise me how tenacious the conspiracy theorists are. And it doesn't. What surprises me is how popular they've become.

Packaged with half the Apollo 11 anniversary coverage I've encountered was some mention of the doubters and their talking points. Why? Obviously because people want to hear about it. Stuff isn't in the news because it's news, it's in the news because it sells (metaphorically speaking). So why, exactly, is a marketable percentage of the consuming population itching for conspiracy chatter?

Well, the main reason people like a good conspiracy theory is that it makes them feel smart. ("You other suckers buy the lie, but I see through it!") Very ego-boosting. Next, they play into disgruntlement with the establishment. ("The government's trying to fool us, like it always does!") And third, they foster good gossip. ("I heard they hired Stanley Kubrick to shoot it on a soundstage in New Mexico!") Given all that--and the generally appaling degree of scientific illiteracy in this country--the tenacity and popularity of moonspiracies isn't so surprising.

Personally, I can understand the seductive power of getting to be smart, cynical, and chatty... a heady cocktail for anyone feeling insignificant. However, I've never been much of a conspiracy buff -- at least not from the pro side. JFK's assasination. Shakespeare's identity. Area 51. Bush planned 9/11. Obama's not American. I've been drawn to them all at one time or another and, for some, exerted a fair bit of effort educating myself to oppose the conspiracists. Not that I wish to enter into debates with the faithful -- not only pointless, but counter-productive in that true believers are revitalilzed by confronting infidels -- but I hate feeling trumped by others who do nothing but cite ignorance ("Obviously, you don't know anything about XYZ."). There's enough in this world I'll never know that others can exploit. If I can disarm some stupid fuck wielding Grassy Knolls or Missing Stars, it takes some of the sting out of it.

So, to sum up: men from Earth did land on the moon in 1969. If you think you're smarter than me for doubting it, all I can say is: Nuh-uh! To which you may well retort: Yuh-huh! And so on and so forth.

-- mm


Headsong Talkin' at Me


July 23, 2009

Today's headsong (i.e., a famous tune that starts playing in my head for no obvious reason and won't go away until I buy it from iTunes... note to self: have self checked for Apple-implanted neurochip): "Everybody's Talkin' at Me."

A few facts I have since discovered about the song:

  • The version everyone knows is from the movie Midnight Cowboy (that I did know) and was recorded by Harry Nilsson. That I didn't know. I was sure it was Glenn Campbell, which made it hard to find the song at first.
  • The title of the song is simply "Everybody's Talkin'." The "at Me" seems to be a popular bastardization, furthered by a handful of recordings by artists such as Steven Stills and Doyle (no idea who he is, but he's on iTunes) who used the longer title.
  • The song was written not by Nilsson (nor Campbell), but by folk singer Fred Neil. You can get his version on iTunes as well. It's understandable why Nilsson's recording was a bigger hit.
  • The 2:32 version on the Midnight Cowboy soundtrack fades out before the final line "I won't let you leave my love behind." There's a 2:46 remastered version on Nilsson's Greatest Hits that, I'm guessing, has it. I mean, I had to hear it somewhere. I was disappointed the version I got didn't have it. It's a great final line, with that "leaee-EEEVE!" croon. I may splurge 99 more cents for the extra 14 seconds.
  • There are dozens of different artists' recordings of the song, including Neil Diamond, Willie Nelson, Lena Horne, Tony Bennett, Jimmy Buffet, Leonard Nimoy, etc., etc., etc. Pretty much everbody but Glenn Campbell. The Nilsson verion is hands-down the best IMHO.

Yet again, it's on YouTube, with the "leaee-EEEVE!" even.

-- mm


Professor Gates' Arrest: What Really Happened


July 24, 2009

Fine. Since the whole country's talking about this, I will, too. Here's what really happened:

A respected black scholar was annoyed that, while in his own home, white cops came to his door and started asking him questions. He yelled at the cop to give him a piece of his mind.

An experienced, level-headed white cop, who has taught other cops techniques for avoiding racial profiling, got annoyed at being accused of racism. He hauled the professor downtown to teach him a lesson.

Two people, each with big chips on their shoulders, clashed predictably -- and now people all around the country are jumping on the story as an opportunity to vent their opinions.

Simple as that. Complicate it as much as you like with analysis and recriminations, but what's described above is pretty much the essence of what happened... and you know it.

How do I know that? I don't, of course. I wasn't there. But that's not stopping anybody else from tossing in their two bits. I stand behind my version, and I'll defend it against anyone's (including the cop's and the scholar's).

Oh, and for the record: I agree with Obama. The cop "acted stupidly." If the cop had "acted smartly" there would have been no headline-grabbing incident. It's a cop's job to not disrupt society. It's a minority professor's job to try to shake things up and get people talking. Check the headlines and you'll see Gates is doing his job superbly. Meanwhile, the cops are on the defensive. Sorry, Sgt. Crowley. You fumbled the ball on this one.

-- mm

  |  Blog Archive Page

This Website and all contents © 2002-2009 Matt McHugh. All rights reserved.