Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Don't write the blog if you can't do the time and I am older than Hawaii (the state)

I skimmed through an article in today's paper about an upturn in people getting sued over things they wrote online in blogs or in comments on blogs. Not that I am a fan of frivolous lawsuits, but professional writers are held accountable for what they write, so its about time the amateurs stopped assuming free speech means they have license to spout hate and lies without consequences.

I know I've been guilty of criticizing things in my blog, but I have always tried to draw the line at not making personal attacks on any individual or group. And I always emphasize that any of my criticism is my opinion based on my experience.

It surprises me that it has taken this long for the legal system to venture into the online libel world. I know that I did a great deal of research into what could be done to get damaging blogs removed from the Web a year or so back. And the harsh truth was that you could do very little. Blogger doesn't censor or get involved with disputes over content. You can complain to someone's Internet provider, but that is basically useless, too, unless you can prove someone is committing a crime. And up until now, there seemed to be very little libel law that could be applied to the Web.

Not being a lawyer, I am assuming there still aren't laws that prevent damaging crap to be posted on the Web. From the article I read, most of the law suits seem to be filed in civil courts. And the average person can't afford to file a suit against someone because of a blog. So even though lawsuits are being brought against a few abusers, I bet there are millions of other bloggers out there getting away with verbal murder.

I doubt whether new laws would be effective policing the Web, but I do think the entities hosting blogs should have higher standards and rules of conduct for people who use their services. Blogger shouldn't just ignore abuse, it should investigate complaints and bar the abusers.

On a totally unrelated and random note, Hawaii  the 50th state on August 21, 1959 and just celebrated its 51st year of being a state. That makes me older than bubble wrap, which turned 50 last year, and the state of Hawaii.

Now that is a crime.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Whatever works

I want to come out and say right from the top that I am not a big fan of Woody Allen. I find most of his movies to be autobiographical variations on the same neurotic theme based on Woody Allen's favorite subject: Woody Allen. And though they are always well-crafted and scripted, they generally annoy me in the same way I am annoyed by sitting in the same room with anyone from New York. I can't stand their accents and I'm sick of hearing how great New York is compared to the yokels in the rest of the country.

So with that declaration out of the way, I was skeptical when I was flicking through the On Demand movie selections and ran across a movie I'd never heard of called Whatever Works. The only reason I considered it was that it starred Larry David, the genius behind Seinfeld. And although I find him annoying for many of the same reason I am annoyed by Woody Allen, I also think he is funny. But even though I saw that Woody Allen had written and directed the film, I decided to give it a try.

The film centers around lifelong New York resident (where else does anyone in a Woody Allen script live) Boris Yellnikoff , a former Physicist turned chess teacher. Yellinikoff, like every Woody Allen character, suffers from frequent anxiety attacks, insomnia and hypochondria. Yellnikoff fancies himself a genius and pretty much thinks everyone else in the world is an idiot (again something he has in common with Woody Allen). Yellnikoff also thinks life is basically pointless (he limps from jumping out of a window in a failed suicide attempt), as is religion, relationships and people in general and he rants about this to anyone and everyone, including the audience watching the film (an annoying little plot gimmick that could have been left out of the script).

Yellinikoff meets a naive Mississippi runaway named Melodie St. Ann Celestine who is a couple of decades younger than him (similar to all of the women Woody Allen has been involved with)  and allows her to stay at his apartment. He rages at her and begins to her impressionable young mind to match his world view. His creed when it comes to love, is "whatever works" versus true love conquers all. Ironically, while molding the young girl's mind, Yellinikoff softens his own rigid view. Melodie falls in love with Yellinikoff and he marries her.

I started out not liking the movie. The dialogue began as classic Woody Allen intellectual, neurotic babble. But then when the Melodie character was introduced, something changed. I got drawn into the storyline and really ended up loving the movie. Maybe it was Larry David's personality overcoming Woody Allen's ego. But the film was smart, funny and entertaining. The plot twists were absurd, yet clever. Maybe I'll even give another Woody Allen film a try.

What can I say, Whatever Works works.

Monday, August 09, 2010

The six-year itch

August 4th was my sixth year anniversary of blogging. My very first blog post title was, "No, I'm not a rabid Elvis fan" in which I tried to deny any obsession with Elvis despite the fact my blog was called Dizgraceland and I called myself Tim-Elvis. Me thinks the blogger doth protest too much.

After six years, my blog is still called Dizgraceland, but my Web name is no longer Tim-Elvis. For awhile, I called myself Tim-Id. Finally, I just changed it to Time.

I used to pride myself for my blog longevity. Near as I can tell, most people stop blogging after a couple of weeks. A few die hards stick with it for a few months. Some even make it past a year. I don't know of anyone who has blogged for six years. I think I am truly a Methuselah in the blog world now.

My blog has never really had much of a following. I used to think it was just a matter of time before I got discovered and would be an Internet celebrity. After six years, I can safely say that isn't going to happen. I am sure there are many reasons why very few people read my blog. For one, I read very few other people's blogs. Oh, I used read some regularly. But most suffered the malady that infects almost all bloggers. Blogging regularly is a major time and energy suck. It can also be an emotional roller coaster. So most of the bloggers I read have long since stopped blogging. Their blogs remain like an abandoned gas station that went belly up when they moved the Interstate.  

Back to why people don't read my blog. Since I started blogging to basically indulge my frustrated muse, I don't really write the type of stuff that most people give a rip about. It is probably why I could never get any of my fiction published. And there is this niggling little realization I've come to as I've aged along with my blog. I'm really not as good as a writer as I think I am. Or thought I was. The beauty of a blog, though is that it doesn't matter. No one pays me to write this so it doesn't have to be good.

I kind of blame social media for chipping away at the fabric of the blog world, too. With Twitter and Facebook sucking people's attention spans away, very few people have the patience to read or write a blog anymore. It's a pity. When I used to have people who would read my blog and comment, it was kind of like a social book club where people would share their views on the topic. A blog used to be like a cracker barrel you could sit around telling jokes while you whittled on a stick.

Not that I have ever sat around a cracker barrel. I'm old, but not that old.

The other hard thing about blogging for any length of time, especially as you age, is writing something new. I can't tell you how many times I've started writing a blog post thinking I've come up with a gem of a new topic only to discover that the reason it was flowing so easily and familiar like was because I'd written about it a couple of years ago. Sometimes I've found I've written the same blog post two or three times. Perhaps this is more a flaw in my aging mind than a pitfall of blogging.

If I have had any regrets after six years of blogging, its just that I can't be as open and honest in a personal blog like I naively thought I could be when I started blogging. There are now whole industries out there that mine the Internet for bits and pieces of personal information. And what you used to think was harmless to share with the world can be used in amazingly devious ways. It is a stalker's paradise.

Anyway, despite the boredom, burnout, fear of stalkers and lack of inspiration, I keep blogging. Perhaps I'll get a t-shirt that says, "Keep on bloggin' " kind of like those "Keep on Truckin' " shirts from the 70s. 

Or have I already done that? I'd better search my blog archives.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Ugly Americans


North Vikings don't be blue,
Frankenstein was ugly, too!
All right, clap, clap-clap.
All right, clap, clap-clap.
--East Junior High Cheer circa 1972
One of the vast dis-services Hollywood and the television industry has done is fooled us into thinking that there is a world out there populated by attractive, articulate and well-dressed people who rarely age or have weight issues. It is perhaps why I rarely venture out on my lunch hour. Because barely fives minutes after I take light rail uptown I catch myself wanting to scream "Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape" like Charleton Heston in Planet of the Apes. Because a trip into downtown Seattle is like a trip to a totally different world populated by people who make apes look pretty damned attractive.

It is my own fault. I wanted to buy a backpack since I have been walking a mile to and from the train station these days. And my shoulder messenger bag is getting old and just doesn't cut it on longer hikes than a block. And since I am basically cheap when it comes to buying things like backpacks, I couldn't stomach forking over $80 in a luggage store for essentially a bag for my lunch. So I wandered into the downtown Ross.

If you aren't familiar with a Ross, Dress for Less store, I congratulate you. A Ross is a discount store. It is just like a Marshalls or a T.J. Maxx. They all carry "named" brand merchandise that wouldn't sell at major retailers because it had a defect or was just plain ugly. I rarely buy clothes at such stores, but I do occasionally buy things like backpacks there. Because they are pretty dirt cheap.

The problem with a Ross and particularly a Ross located in the seedy belly of downtown Seattle is that it attracts the same people who you normally see on the corner of Third and Pine in downtown Seattle screaming about government conspiracies and grabbing their crotches. Ross is one of those downtown stores you basically want to get in and get out of as quickly as possible before you are wedged into a rack of holiday sweaters by four large women with baby carriages loaded with a minimum of three scream kids each.

When I entered the Ross, I half way hoped I wouldn't find what I was looking for. Because if I did, it meant I would have to stand in line at the check stand with 40 other people. I weeded through about 100 back packs tangled together on wall racks, rejecting anything plaid or garish. That left about two back packs for me decide between. I opted for a Swiss Army backpack made ironically in China for the same people who make the Swiss Army knives (which has always baffled me because Switzerland is supposedly neutral on everything so why do they need an army or knives).

I hustled over to the checkout line that wound around in a configuration that would have made Disney proud. There were about ten checker positions, but only about four checkers. Of them, only one seemed to be focused enough to process more than one customer every ten minutes. One checker dealt with the same customer the entire time I was in line and was still dealing with her when I left. They seemed be engaged in a tug of war over a plastic hanger that a shirt had been hanging on that the customer was buying. Apparently Ross' policy is to keep all the plastic hangers but the woman buying the shirt believed it should go with the shirt.

The checker who finally helped me was nice enough though I could tell her heart was not fully into checking the eight or nine pockets in the backpack I was buying to make sure I wasn't trying to secret any plastic hangers out of Ross. After I paid for the thing she slipped it into a large Ross plastic bag so that I could walk back to work proudly displaying that fact to everyone in downtown that I was a discerning shopper and spent my lunch hour at Ross.

I suppose my rambling point here was that there wasn't a single person in Ross or within a three block radius of the store when I left who didn't look as though they'd been mugged with an ugly stick. I suppose I am being harsh in judging the people pawing through the crap at Ross. But even if ugly is only skin deep like its cousin beauty, I'm willing to bet it has pretty thick skin.

As long as I'm messing with cliches, I will have to admit that ugly, like beauty, is also in the eye of the beholder. And I imagine the people I think are ugly don't think I'm any George Clooney, either. But even allowing for my standard of what constitutes as ugly, Ross had more than its fair share of people who could have been employed full time at a carnival sideshow.

So what is it about places like Ross that become lightening rods for the good-looks impaired? Is it economics? Do people with money have more options for masking their ugliness? Because you don't walk into a Nordstrom and see near as many ugly people and if you do, at least they are dressed in natural fiber clothing that fits.

I'm being unfair with Ross. They aren't the only store that has a higher per capita number of ugly people. There are other places that attract even uglier people. State fairs and Denny's also seem to be places where ugly people flock. I find it particularly ironic that the ugly people at state fairs seem to love to go through the livestock barns and make fun of the pigs.

 It would be an interesting study to survey people going to Ross, Denny's and the Puyallup Fair to determine why they are hotbeds of ugliness. I imagine the results of the study could be titled, "It's not pretty being ugly."

I've been trying to finish this blog post for days and it's getting pretty ugly. So I'll stop digging the hole I'm in and stop. I hear there is a sale on at Ross and I want to get there before it gets too picked over.