Monthly Archives: October 2009

j’ai tué l’arabe à cause du soleil

10/14/09

My personal belief system:

I am against anything that kills people.

I am against the death penalty because it kills people.

I am pro-choice, because making abortion illegal kills women.

Q: Whaddya mean, anti-abortion laws kills women?

A: I assume you mean “forced pregnancy” laws, and they kill women, because people without the means to fly to Sweden will simply do anything it takes to get a fetus out of them, including impalement, illegal drugs, home miscarriage remedies and blunt trauma.

Q: But what about the fetus?

A: I don’t care.

Q: You HAVE to care!

A: Um… no I don’t. I don’t consider it a person. Nor would you, if you were having dinner with it. In fact, pro-lifers’ sentimental obsession with fetuses shows how little respect they have for actual women, but that’s for another blog.

Q: If you’re against anything that kills people, does that mean you wouldn’t have fought Hitler? Or Osama bin Laden?

A: I’m not a moron, I’m a believer in a form of Pragmatic Pacifism that isn’t so doctrinal as to leave us unprotected. But war makes me want to fucking vomit.

Q: How can you be against the death penalty when it deters killers from killing again?

A: Oh please:

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Q: I’m convinced! How could I have been so unbelievably thick?

A: Oh, Q, it’s okay. Welcome to the other side!

while eagles ate his liver

10-13-09

There are miserably shameful people in the world; there are people who sell drugs to kids, there are violent criminals who break into houses and steal life fortunes, and there are scam artists who prey upon the weak and elderly. And then there is Texas governor Rick Perry.

Yes, this is the same Rick Perry who did a flirtatious square dance with “secessionism” back in April when Obama was working on the federal stimulus plan, then had the sickening audacity to request 850,000 vials of anti-viral medication from the government. We all knew he was an asshole’s asshole, but all that pales in comparison to what he is now: a FUCKING MURDERER.

Anybody who knows me understands one thing: I do not fuck around with the death penalty. I find it positively disgusting that we live in a country that kills its own people; the very existence of corporal punishment sends a subconscious message from the top down to all Americans: “go ahead and kill your neighbor.” And we do.

I don’t give a flying fuck about the popularity of the death penalty – slavery, bloodletting and Milli Vanilli were popular too. A horrifying concept endorsed by 48% of Americans is still a horrifying idea. And don’t start with the “deterrent” reasoning or “what if it was your daughter” bullshit. I’m simply not going to hear logic formed from the hate center of anyone’s reptilian hindbrain.

My reasons for opposing the death penalty are frighteningly simple: human beings are flawed instruments of judgment, and therefore cannot be allowed to put someone to death in our courts. It was only a matter of time before innocent men start getting executed. And Exhibit A, the poster child for irredeemable fuck-ups, is the miserable sack of shit Rick Perry.

This very short video from the New Yorker shows the man Perry put to death and why it was a travesty:

Put simply, a fire started in a home, like they do every day, only this time, Cameron T. Willingham was forced to watch as the flames consumed his three daughters. Then he was convicted of murder by arson, using testimony from a fire marshal that was “hardly consistent with a scientific mind-set and is more characteristic of mystics or psychics”. Then Willingham was put in prison for thirteen years. Despite expert testimony stating clearly that subsequent tests proved the fire was not arson, Rick Perry didn’t even respond to the appeal. Then Cameron T. Willingham was killed by lethal injection. The end.

Flash forward to last week: the Texas Forensic Science Commission scheduled a meeting to go over the Willingham case, in order to determine if an innocent man had been killed. Rick Perry had tried to defund the committee before, but now he pulled the ultimate move: he fired 3 of the 4 members and put a political ally in charge, saying it was “business as usual”. You bet it was, you lizard-hearted fuck.

Texas is a pretty place, and I like a lot of people there. Tessa’s awesome mom is in San Antonio, and we’re going to see her next weekend. But part of me is nauseated by actually spending money in a state that would elect such a man to represent them. Texas kills so many of its own people each year, you’d think they were selling the meat.

The facts are simple: a man was wrongly convicted and sentenced to death. Either Rick Perry was too stupid to know the sentence was bogus, and just loves him a killin’… or he knew it was a sham, but didn’t want to appear “weak” to his loyal base of frothing wingnuts, and sanctioned the execution of an innocent man. Then, when actual scientists convened to research the case, he disposed of them. It would be rage-blindingly infuriating, if it weren’t so unrelentingly sad.

Sometimes I hope religious people actually get the afterlife they believe in. That way, when Rick Perry finally drops to the ground from a coronary caused by too much brisket, he is whisked straight to Hell, where he can be eternally strapped to a lethal injection table, and forced to watch Cameron T. Willingham play with his children while the poison slowly fills his brain. I mean, eye for an eye, right?

just a tiny prick

10/12/09

As much as I find stories like this the apex of “OH GOD WHAT ABOUT MY CHILDREN” ninnyism, the Powers That Be only have themselves to blame that nobody is giving their kid a flu shot. Sure, part of the reason is due to dangerously-ill-informed numbskulls like Jim Carrey and Jenny McCarthy (who would rather have you listen to them than someone who spent eight years in med school) but pharmaceutical companies have not exactly been bastions of trust.

I get the feeling people would be a lot less squeamish about vaccination if it weren’t contained in a needle that gets thrust into your skin. The mere act of impalement, no matter how small, creates fear that is rooted in our caveman ancestry and came of age during the frickin’ jousts of the Middle Ages. If the flu vaccine was a jello shot, we wouldn’t be having this little chat.

But let’s look at recent history – as of a few months ago, your Tylenol dosage is suddenly all wrong, the estrogen therapy my mom was on back in the ’90s was classified as “cancer-causing” by the WHO, and apparently the Vioxx that I occasionally took after hoops was givin’ folks heart attacks. Companies do whatever the hell they want, whenever the hell they want, with only an actuarial table standing between their product and your untimely demise – I don’t say this as an enraged McLeftyShorts with a macramé dreamcatcher helmet, I say it with the acceptance of someone who gives thanks for the warning, but will storm the castle anyway.

The flu vaccine safety record is unparalleled. It’d be awesome for everyone to get the shot and create a herd immunity every winter, even if the term “herd” isn’t all that inspiring. I certainly got my flu shot at Target last week, the same day Lucy did the FluMist spray (full disclosure: most of the spray ended up on the pediatrician’s ceiling, as my daughter’s lungs and will power are not easily sublimated).

The Times did an excellent Q&A piece on the two flu vaccines, but I doubt there’s much wiggle room among American parents – either you’re going to do it or you aren’t. I will say two contradictory things to sum up my feelings, however: first off, if companies in general treated human beings as something more than feed cattle with wallets, those people might be slightly more inclined to believe their products were safe. Secondly, my doctor and I think I had the swine flu in May, and let me tell you that it MOTHERFUCKING SUCKS.

up and down the bou-le-vard-

10/11/09

Here’s my experiment – I’d like to make each Monday on the blog into Writer Mondays, where the subject matter will be scripts, novels, TV shows, plays and other stuff what’s written down. Since I can so rarely talk about the business I’m in, this’ll be a way I can do it without getting into trouble. Don’t worry, accountants and podiatrists, even if you haven’t been watching the show (or read the novel, etc.) we’re talking about, it will still be interesting in general, dammit.

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I’ve meant to do this for a while, but my brother Sean wrote a blog today about the show “Glee” that was awesome, and also needed responding to at from in. (See kids? You’re already learning how to write!)

You should read it first, once you have, let me respond to it point by point:

1. Sean claims that the football team being the “popular kids” in Glee’s high school rings utterly false, noting that in real life, the truly popular were “rich kids who got good grades and didn’t fucking care about *ANYTHING*, let alone football.” Fair enough – in fact, the poster child for that kind of popular would be James Spader in “Pretty in Pink”, who would never have played any sport not occurring on the north slopes of Chamonix and Megève.

SpaderPrettyPink(bl).jpg

In my own high school, I’d have to say that the “popular” kids in my grade were both football players and rich and didn’t care about anything, even football. Same goes for the cheerleaders, except the ones selling nabs between classes. But I’m willing to give “Glee” a break here, as they have to keep a lot of balls in the air, and it’s just easier on both audience (and producer) if you go with the old cliché.

In fact, given that many high schools do actually drop-kick their music and art departments but have no problem buying whirlpools and new uniforms for the sports teams, it doesn’t seem like it’s too far off the mark, at least in terms of priorities.

2. Sean also has a problem with calling it “Glee Club” when it’s actually a “show choir”. This is absolutely true – as my mom says, “glee clubs” were already dated when my mom was in college, and had already changed their names to “Men’s Choir” by 1950. When I think of “glee clubs”, I think of dandies in double-breasted suits singing about the Harvard-Yale game of ’21.

However, you can’t deny that “Glee” isn’t a great name for a show, and the ad campaign with the “loser ‘L'” is pretty awesome. “Show Choir” is okay as a name, but when presented a choice between okay and great, you go with great every time and let the details slide. Which brings us to…

4. Sean says that “Glee” lets almost all the details slide – the sexual politics, the confusing skill set of the kid in the wheelchair, the relevance of the music… but where I agree with him most is what’s known as “sound design”.

Every time they launch into a song, unnamed high school kids magically appear playing cornets, sax, violins, drums, glockenspiels and whatever else the song needs. I’m willing to suspend my disbelief for that, as it’s a hyper-realized, somewhat magical musical theater motif a la “Grease”, when John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John start singing at the carnival.

But the computerized vocal correction and super-compressed post-processing – in other words, the stuff that makes it sound like they’re in a recording studio rather than the lunchroom – is cringe-worthy. In fact, it’s embarrassing, given that some of the actors here have Broadway training (others were professional singers/dancers) and all could have easily hit their notes.

Sure, it wouldn’t sound technically as good if they sang it as they were acting, but the obvious chasm between their speaking parts and their singing parts robs the audience of a true connection. It wouldn’t have been that hard – sing it for real, then make a few corrections in post-production if anything stands out. The stunt itself would create major buzz and bring millions of viewers who are currently avoiding the show because they’re afraid it’s irredeemably cheesy.

5. Sean’s major point is along the same lines: “Glee” makes it all look too easy. Musicians work for decades to hone their craft, pull eight-hour days until their calluses start to bleed or their larynx begins shredding, and still end up sounding like shit. In fact, I’ll let him speak for himself:

So, when this show makes the execrable claim that music can simply be handed out and sight-read, performance ready, that somehow the biggest hurdles to artistic success are the stock personality conflicts between show choir and *CHEERLEADERS*, that all you have to do is *want* it, and it will happen for you (regardless of putting in absolutely no work), this is an utter insult to all of us who sweat blood trying to make a show actually happen… This isn’t a celebration of what we do, because they never show what we do.

Is it possible to say “I totally agree, and it also doesn’t bother me”? Sean himself doesn’t want to watch a show about the drudgery of rehearsal, but I think there’s something that needs to be said about this, and actually, ANYTHING IN LIFE THAT IS REMOTELY ARTISTIC:

Put simply, the public at large has zero tolerance for “art” that isn’t finished. Sure, they may SAY they want to see the painting in progress, but if they do, they’ll be HORRIFIED. We’ve dealt with this for years – people will say they “want to read a rough draft” of a script, but don’t you fucking let them do it, because when they do, they will BE EMBARRASSED FOR YOU and THINK THAT YOU’RE TOTALLY FULL OF SHIT, but too chagrined to say anything about it.

Why is that? Because artists aren’t artists because they’re good at art. They are artists because they can see what something will look like, will sound like even when the rest of the world sees blobs and hears scrapes. It is this persistence of vision that allows artists to do what they do for years on end, only allowing the public to see their craft once they can do so without disclaimers.

When you’re working on a script or a song or a painting or a book, the brilliance curve is steep. Here’s what the “art” generally looks like as it’s being made:

a) stupid idea

b) really stupid idea

c) stupid ideas strung together

d) stupid ideas strung together with shitty connective tissue

e) embarrassing and obvious theme evolves

f) cliché and hackery used to patch holes

g) confusing

h) moronic

i) utter shit

j) shows promise

k) oh my god, breathtaking!

For an easy example, try listening to the Beatles’ Norwegian Wood, take 2 and then compare it with final version a few takes later. The pieces of art that were brilliant in their infancy – like Michaelangelo’s unfinished slaves or Dali’s sketches for his “Crucifix” are the exceptions, not the rule.

DaliCrucifixionSketch(bl).jpg

But back to “Glee”… my point is that the process of making art is necessarily ugly, untransformative and disgusting to everyone but the artist involved, and would definitely be toxic to a prime-time television show. That leaves us with a choice: either we get “Glee” in all its unrealistic, ultra-glossed, toddler-simplified (and yet oddly inspiring) perfection, or we get “CSI: Green Bay, Wisconsin”. Give me the former ten times out of ten.

Besides, I really like the show. I can’t tell you why. Maybe it’s when Jane Lynch gets on the local news and says “Caning WORKS!” Maybe it’s the Journey songs. Maybe I like the redhead. Maybe I got a little teary-eyed when the gay kid came out to his dad. Perhaps if one student in some high school in Arkansas decides he’d rather sing than beat the shit out of the learning disabled kid on the bus, then I’m willing to put up with the groaners.

Let me leave you folks with a quote from the poet Marge Piercy:

“A new idea is rarely born like Venus attended by graces. More commonly it’s modeled of baling wire and acne.”

i gots sterno and collapsible cups, yo

10/8/09

20-page outline due in a few hours, so must abdicate today’s blog to a CODE WORD question… did you know that we live in a tsunami evacuation zone that extends all the way to Lincoln Avenue almost a mile inland? I’m just not sure I can outrun a tidal wave with my family on my back, but I’d sure as hell give it the college try.

And thusly, what is your secret “disaster” fear, and what – if one exists – is your plan should it occur?

me and my pals endorse this lifestyle

10/7/09

I’ve seen a lot of stock photography before. Believe me, I’ve edited enough websites for The Man to have experienced the lamest photographs ever taken, all grafted onto web pages to promote eyeball “stickiness”, just the worst shit you can imagine. Most of the time it’s three smiling Americans in their 20s, each from a different race, arms around each other in a frenzy of multiculturalism (and, of course, corporate synergy). Other times it’s just a vaguely hot chick, focus-group-tested to be inoffensively attractive to the largest number of Americans possible.

I thought I’d seen them all, until I saw this:

watercooler.jpg

… and now, I just want to sit in a corner, draw on the wall with crayon, and moan.

say good morning, gracie

10/6/09

We got a new car yesterday – a pretty big deal, considering we’d had Rosie (Lucy’s name for the 2004 Prius) for six years, in one of the happiest car relationships I can recall. Everything about Rosie was awesome – utterly reliable with MPG still in the 40s after being driven across the country three times (and back), not to mention the insanity of LA traffic.

Upper East Side, 2003

Rosie was only the second new-generation Prius sold in New York state. When we parked her in Greenwich Village, people would stop and gawk inside her (hard to believe that was only 2003). I drove Tessa to the hospital in Rosie, and then back home with a little pack of awesomeness called Lucy. It’s the only car Lucy’s ever known, having spent many miles on open Western roads, traversing the country from her perch in the back seat. When she heard we might be selling Rosie, she got a little teary-eyed, and I have to confess, I sorta did too.

snapped this with my old Treo while Tessa was in labor, April 2005

driving to northern California, September 2005

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halfway to Altamont, Utah, August 2005

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saying goodye to Rosie yesterday

She’ll stay in the family, however – we sold her to my sister Michelle and our soon-to-be-brother-in-law Jon, so she can provide as much succor in Santa Cruz as she did down here. Besides, we had to welcome our new car: a “Winter Gray Metallic” 2010 Prius, which Lucy has named Gracie:

Prii are in high demand right now, but this is the first time we actually waited for – and managed to procure – the precise car and color we wanted from the get-go. Gracie has the sunroof and the solar panel on top, which powers the air conditioning fans – there’s even a USB port, which is probably old hat to some of you autotechnophiles, but a novelty to us. Another first: a leather interior. Never had one before, and my arse is still sliding off it.

We’ve been averaging around 50 mpg on our first day, and the ride can only be compared to Luke Skywalker’s floating car. Probably the best feature (with a goofy-ass name) is the “Plasmacluster” between the two front seats – kind of a bridge filled with electronic goodness, allowing a purse or backpack to be put underneath. Like the 2004, you push a button to start the vehicle, but the new version doesn’t even pretend to have a key slot – you’re supposed to keep it in your pocket.

Here’s the kicker, especially for Southern California: the solar roof allows you to “pre-cool” the car in direct sunlight several minutes before you get in. No gas, just the sun, paradoxically making your car chilly on blisteringly hot days. SIGN ME UP!

Somehow, we’ve been able to pull off one of the rarest tricks in Los Angeles – we’ve been a one-car family our entire time here. It has been a Rubik’s Cube of scheduling, given the meetings that take place in Burbank and Hollywood, not to mention the various activities of our PumpkinPants, but we’re proud to have pulled it off for so long. I hope Gracie has half Rosie’s stamina.

lately i have desperately pondered

10/4/09

A couple of days ago, Tessa and I were wandering around the Cherry Creek Mall in Denver when Lovefool by the Cardigans came on the ambient sound system. I always loved that song, but it reminded me of one of the bitterest cultural moments I’d ever experienced, so I might as well lay it down here.

It was Saturday night of February 22, 1997, and I was in the last few months of my twenties. Already Chapel Hill had become an utterly burned-over district for me personally, culminating in a Valentine’s Day party somewhere on Rosemary Street, where I’d walked in just in time to hear my roommate (Pink House alums will know which one) holding forth in the kitchen about how I was a conniving asshole trying to seduce the girl he was trying to date.

This had the unfortunate element of being partially true, but it was certainly not a high priority, nor something I ever acted on… but I digress. The point is, I had basically had it. I didn’t need to walk into a fucking party of hipsters, by myself, on Valentine’s Day to hear a laundry list of my shortcomings at high volume in front of a rapt crowd desperate for any sort of gossip to shake them out of their po-mo ennui.

The next day, I found out the Cardigans were coming to the Cat’s Cradle for a show that had been planned months before their new album had come out. “Lovefool” had shot up the charts over the winter, and as luck would have it, the song was #1 on the charts when they played that Saturday.

TheCardigans(bl).jpg

The Cardigans

I don’t know about you, but I thought that was pretty damned cool. I’d be willing to bet that the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro had never before – nor has since – hosted a band with the #1 single in the country the night they performed it. It’s the kind of thing you can’t take lightly when you’re trying to make magic happen in a formerly sleepy railroad town in the Piedmont of North Carolina, and it didn’t hurt that the song itself was catchy as hell.

So my friend Lisa A. and I went to the show – which, admittedly, was packed – and slid our way up to the side of the stage (still the coolest place to watch bands at the Cradle). The band was really tight, Nina Persson was gorgeous, they introduced “Lovefool” with a self-deprecating remark about the Billboard charts, and then launched into it. Lisa and I started dancing until we looked around at everyone else in the club.

Nothing. Faces without emotion, barely any swaying, just blank stares up at the stage. Old school WXYC disc jockeys with arms folded, younger hipster types staring into middle distance, a giant mosh pit of pure inertia. I slowly scanned this sea of nonchalance, this tundra of gape-mouthed, slack-tongued boredom, and recognized it as the place where spontaneity, unabashed fun and unbridled glee went to die. In that moment, I decided to end my 13 years in Chapel Hill and move away.

Say what you want about Ben Folds (as our roommate at the Pink House, we certainly did) but he coined it perfectly as the “battle of who could care less”, and I knew I was going to lose all my remaining oxygen if I stayed there any longer. Obviously, this was way more about my problems than the easily-maligned Cool Kids™ scene in Chapel Hill, which no doubt continues to hum along quite nicely without my righteous indignation in the way.

And certainly folks who stayed there longer than I did managed to make it work in their own amazing way – Annie, Greg, and many other of you who read this blog. But it struck this particular pair of PreciousPants as a metaphor for everything my generation had not accomplished in general, and everything I had not accomplished in specific. My brother Sean was looking for a house in Los Angeles, and within a few months, I was living in the Hollywood Hills.

Of course, that was its own nightmare (read one of my first blogs, ink still wet with anger, about that) but at the time, I figured if I was going to be miserable and full of resentment, I really ought to do it in as large a town as possible. It’s funny, when you look at your own past, you see the many opportunities you had to get off the train, and how many times you decided to keep going because, well, surely the scenery had to get better.

I used to think I’d ruined Chapel Hill for me by staying those last two years, ’96 and ’97, which were so destructive. For many years, it was true; I could barely go back. But now, all that tomcat bullshit and Saturn-returning despair is utterly gone, and when I drive into town, all I think about is being 19 years old, living in the dorm with Jon, Chip and Bud, and loving my Tar Heels.

They say that the act of giving birth releases a chemical that makes the mother forget about the pain soon after the event, allowing her to contemplate giving birth again someday. I would be very surprised if that weren’t true about almost everything.

you had to be a pig shot, didn’t cha

10/1/09

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Okay, folks, time for a PSA. Consider this your up-to-date-as-of-Oct-1 primer on the Swine Flu (H1N1) and also the seasonal flu. This comes from a friend well-placed on the front lines of this stuff, although he/she is not allowed to use their name because of job sensitivity. Let us call him/her Dr. C – and now I’ll let Dr. C have the floor:

***

Here’s the deal. Brief story is that for the H1N1 swine flu vaccine, normal healthy folks are going to be waiting for a while. However, if you get pregnant, that person would jump to the front of the line. Ob’s, primary care docs, etc will have vaccine available. Public health will be distributing vaccine but primarily to people in the priority groups who are uninsured.

(A quick aside about being pregnant: the CDC is recommending seasonal and H1N1 vaccine in the first trimester for pregnant women. There were 28 deaths in pregnant women during the first round of H1N1 in the spring, and more pregnant women were hospitalized and were in intensive care than we’d expect based on their proportion of the general population. So that is why there is so much concern about pregnant women as a high-risk group. The NIH is also doing clinical trials of H1N1 vaccine in pregnant women and as far as I know results aren’t out yet, but H1N1 vaccine very similar to seasonal flu vaccine, which has an excellent safety record.)

There are two types of flu vaccine this year, regular seasonal flu vaccine and H1N1 (swine) flu vaccine. Both vaccines are available in either the nasal mist (live weakened flu virus) or as an injection (inactivated flu virus).

The regular seasonal flu vaccine is available now and it’s a good idea to go ahead and get it from your primary care doc, since we are expecting some regular seasonal flu to come along later in the fall or winter. Nasal mist vaccine is basically for healthy people over age two only since it does contain a live virus, so should not be used by immunocompromised people (HIV, chemo patients etc), pregnant women, people with asthma, other chronic medical conditions.

The injectable shot is OK for everyone. In fact, for adults it looks like the injected vaccine works better than the nasal spray — perhaps because adults have partial immunity that keeps the live weakened nasal spray virus from replicating well in the nose, so they don’t get as effective an exposure to the vaccine compared with the injected one. Kids don’t have this issue and the nasal spray works well, plus most kids prefer not to get a shot.

The H1N1 (swine) flu vaccine is in short supply right now. The first batch of vaccine available is going to be the nasal spray only (so will not be given to 6 months to 2-year-old kids, nor to pregnant women or chronically ill persons). It should be available next week. Hopefully we will have injectable vaccine available a week or two later, in mid October.

The priority group is different with this vaccine, because most of the H1N1 cases are in children and younger adults, (in contrast to seasonal flu).

Priority groups for H1N1 vaccine are

• healthcare workers

• pregnant women

• babies/kids/young adults 6 months to 24 yrs old

• caregivers for infants under 6 months old

• anyone up to age 64 with chronic medical conditions (asthma, COPD, diabetes etc).

So basically old people and healthy adults over 25 are not in the priority group, and will only get H1N1 vaccine later in the season once all the priority group people who want vaccine have received it. The rationale is that we’re conserving the limited supply for those most likely to be hospitalized or die from H1N1, based on what we learned in April and May this year.

Also, it looks like kids under 10 years are going to need two doses of the H1N1 vaccine about a month apart for full protection, though I think the official announcement hasn’t been made yet, and adults and kids over 10 only one.

Infectiously yours,

Dr. C

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