Friday, April 29, 2011

A royal pain

Just a day after my rant on the uselessness of news, the lead story on Yahoo News is "Britain celebrates monarchy as Kate, William wed." It hammered home the last nail in the coffin of journalism's integrity and credibility for me. Here are a few burning tidbits gleaned from the masterful prose of the "reporter":

The sighting of Middleton's wedding gown — the biggest secret of the day — prompted swoons of admiration as she stepped out of a Rolls-Royce with her father at the abbey. Against all odds, the sun broke through steely gray skies at precisely that moment. 
Her ivory-and-white satin dress — with its plunging neckline, long lacy shoulders and sleeves and a train over 2-meters (yards) long — was designed by Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen. Middleton's hair was half-up, half-down, decorated with dramatic veil and a tiara on loan from the queen. Her dramatic diamond earrings were a gift from her parents.
I especially liked a quote from Jennie Bond, reportedly a "leading British monarchy expert and royal wedding consultant for The Associated Press": "It's a dream. It is a beautiful laced soft look, which is extremely elegant. She looked stunning." Being a British monarchy expert and royal wedding consultant for AP seems right up there with being a groundhog trainer at the Staten Island Zoo in niche occupations. At least the groundhog trainer has something to point to at the end of the day.

The only thing that would have made the article more irritating would have been if the reporter had tried to weave in the economy and gas prices. Maybe something like:
Her ivory-and-white satin dress -- with its plunging neckline reminiscent of the current global economy...
or
The royal couple smiled broadly as they were driven to Buckingham Palace in the open-topped State Landau, a carriage built in 1902, escorted by four white horses signalling the frugal couple's efforts to cut back on driving due to soaring fuel prices.
What was even more pitiful about the reporting effort to me were the interviews with the sad people who flew halfway around the world to see the royal couple kiss on big screen monitors set up in Trafalgar Square.One woman from Columbus, Georgia proudly exclaimed, "I came for Prince Charles' wedding to Diana and I came for Princess Diana's funeral. We love royalty England and London."

How very sad.

But the icing on one of the worst pieces of reporting I've ever read was this little gem:
And there is no small irony in the sight of Americans waking up before dawn (on the East Coast) or staying up all night (West Coast) after their fellow countrymen fought so fiercely centuries ago to throw off the yoke of the British monarchy and proclaim a country in which all men are created equal.
Excuse me, I need to go throw up now.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

No news is good news


I mean that literally. I hate watching the news. I hate reading it almost as much. Because as impartial and detached as any journalist tries to be, they can't help but spin a story for the maximum psychological tweak of the ignorant masses' need to be afraid of the bogeyman.

I say this despite the fact that I have a degree in Journalism.

The only time I really watch television news is when I am exercising. I'll tune in the local news for five or ten minutes while I am waiting for either a rerun of Friends or the New Adventures of Old Christine to come on. And in that five or ten minutes you can bet I'll hear the phrase "soaring gas prices" or "sagging economy" several times.

Television news is the worst purveyor of fear mongering there is. I know it is over simplification to blame a down economy on how it is reported, but I firmly believe that people hear some reporter spouting doom and gloom about unemployment and housing markets (based on a few lines the reporter has gleaned from a 300-page government report on trends) and they over react, creating self-fulfilling prophesies.

If the news isn't spouting doomsday scenarios, it is spouting inane information about nothing. Yesterday one of the local news channels reported that you could buy a dozen doughnuts at QFC for $7 via a Groupon coupon. Give me a fricking break. How is that news?

I know it is ostrich like to not want to emerse yourself in worst case scenarios. But hell, ignorance really is bliss. What good does it do for the average person to know whether the Dow is up or down on any given day? And I don't need a news report to tell me the average price of gas is almost $4 a gallon. I see it when I go to the gas pump.

It makes you wonder what people did before mass media and the Internet. Would a world without a constant influx of information really be so bad?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Woodchucks don't chuck wood


"How much wood would a woodchuck chuck
if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
A woodchuck would chuck all the wood he could
if a woodchuck could chuck wood!"
Since my post questioning whether clams are really happy seems to garner the most traffic on my blog, I decided to tackle another burning question: If woodchuck's don't really chuck wood, why are they called woodchucks? I'm not even going to delve into the hypothetical question of how much wood they could chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood. That's just stupid.

First of all, a woodchuck is really just a groundhog. Groundhogs are most famous for Groundhog Day, a day (February 2)  when the animal is supposed to wake up after hibernating all winter, either see its shadow and run back into its den signalling six more weeks of winter, or not see its shadow and signal the beginning spring. I'm sensing there is not a great deal of science involved in this method of predicting the beginning of spring.

Groundhogs are not really hogs any more than they are chuckers of wood. They are more closely related to a squirrel than a hog, so we are dealing with an animal that is mired in misconception and therefore constantly dealing with identity crisis issues. This could explain why groundhogs are pretty aggressive creatures. Wikipedia states, that according to Doug Schwartz, the groundhog trainer at the Staten Island Zoo, "They’re known for their aggression, so you’re starting from a hard place. [Their] natural impulse is to kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out. You have to work to produce the sweet and cuddly."

The most surprising thing I find about that is not that groundhogs are aggressive but that there is such a thing as a groundhog trainer. I imagine it is pretty much a niche market, but who am I to judge.

But back to the question of woodchucks and wood. If we take the name literally, it would mean someone or something that "chucks" or tosses wood randomly. When I was in junior high school and played basketball (extremely poorly BTW), we used to call guys who just chucked the ball at the basket every time they got it, "chuckers." This has nothing whatsoever to do with woodchucks, because I am digressing.

The name woodchuck actually comes from another misunderstanding of the Algonquian (a Native American dialect) word for the animals: wuchak. I'm sure that the Native American's were dutifully puzzled and the wuchak's equally annoyed when early settlers captured the animals and turned them lose on a newly chopped pile of wood thinking they were going to stack it.

History is so disappointing when you lift up the curtain and see who really is running Oz.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Quantum Physics Network


Although I have a very rudimentary grasp of some of the theories of Quantum Physics, I am still fascinated by the mystical side of this branch of the sciences. It's why every now and then I write about the "many-worlds" theory that poses the possibility that there exist an infinite number of parallel universes in which every possible outcome at any given moment takes place. So reality as we know it in our universe only exists when we actualize it by observing it or participating in it.

I'm sure that this is an oversimplification, but for the purposes of a blog called Dizgraceland, I think it is adequate. Anyway, as I was standing waiting for the train the other morning I was thinking about how many channels of television I have on my FIOS network at home. When you combine the hundreds of networks offering hundreds of shows with the thousands of options available "On Demand" you have a pretty fair microcosm of the  "many-worlds" theory.

Think of it. We have created this electronic model of infinite universes that coexist constantly broadcasting scenarios that aren't really actualized in our world until we click on that channel. We become the godhead of our digital universe, clicking our way through the maze of channels, creating our reality, at least for the time we're in front of the television.

As I reflect on the many-worlds concept, I begin to understand how people can believe in the power of thinking or prayer or simply focusing on a goal. Because if all possibilities exist at any given moment, then you are highly more likely to achieve the one you want if you set your sights on it. Too often, however, we think of what we want and then start making lists of all of the possible obstacles that will prevent us from getting it. So instead of actualizing our ideal outcome, we randomize the realities, stacking the deck with many more negative outcomes than positive ones.

This model lives in my Quantum Physics television network analogy as well. If we randomly click through the channels, chances are 99 percent of what we see will suck. But if we use the channel guide and our DVRs, we can maximize our chances of watching something we like. We are "channeling" our realities into the direction we choose. It is your TV Guide to enlightenment so to speak.

Stop, I am killing me.

But semi-seriously, I like the idea that we can control some of the randomness of existence by choosing our path. And I'm not suggesting that you rigidly define from start to finish how your life should go. I personally have chosen a rather meandering path. But I do think this theory gives us the opportunity to choose positive paths and leave the negative ones to our infinite number of other selfs floundering around in the infinite number of other worlds or universes.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Endless winter


"Now is the winter of our discontent..."
--William Shakespeare
"Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it."
--Mark Twain

I do not support people raging against the weather because for the most part, we can't do anything about it. But that being said, I am pretty sick of the crappy weather we have been having.  It is April and it still feels like a harsh Pacific Northwest winter.

More than anything else, I'd just like the rain to stop for awhile. I realize that this is Seattle and we are supposed to be famous for our rain, but seriously it really doesn't rain that much here (or it didn't). Now were are deluged with what seems like non-stop rain, mud slides and flooding.

And its cold.

Yet still flowers are blooming but looking miserable. If they could speak in a manner understandable by humans, I imagine they'd be saying, "What the f**k is up with the weather?"

We did mow our meager little yard over the weekend. But yard work is crammed into brief sun breaks. And it seems like more and more we are simply trying to contain the moss more than anything else. I'd just like long enough break from the rain so that we could keep the ivy, blackberry vines and dandelions at bay.

I'm sure Al Gore is smiling his, "I told you so" grin as people wring their hands wondering what is up with the weather. I kind of understand that global warming doesn't mean everything is going to get warm and that extreme climate change is to be expected. I guess I kind of wished that Seattle would have become the next Caribbean and I could start taking steel drum lessons.

I also wish that we could do something about global warming that didn't involve carrying around your own reusable grocery bags. Our community is one of the ones that banned plastic bags at grocery stores. So now we have nothing to empty our cat litter boxes in. I miss the days of self-indulgence when we could use as much of our natural resources as possible without worrying about consequences.

Those were the good old days.

The weather was much nicer, too.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Meeting Facebook to Facebook

Although not a fan of Facebook, I'm not adverse to it either. People seem so polarized about it. They either overindulge or avoid it like the plague and then wonder obsessively about what people are doing out there in the global community while they are be obstinate about joining.

It really isn't a big deal either way. The trick to Facebook is figuring out the privacy settings so that you avoid stalkers while allowing a few people to find you so that you can save time sending out photos of your kids. Having seen the movie the Social Network, I am amazed that Facebook is considered such a programming breakthrough. Somewhere in the back end coding it may be genius, but I pretty much think the user facing interface sucks.

For one, you can't find people who swear they are on Facebook and actually want you to find them. You spend more time e-mailing them to try different things to connect than you would if you actually flew across the country to visit.

And I'm getting sick of the generational bias people seem to think applies to social networks. I got news for you, just because someone is over 50 doesn't mean they grew up listening to a Victrola and writing on parchment. We are the generation that launched personal computing. And most of us have a rudimentary grasp of technology. Don't hate us because we can still socialize face to face without over developed thumbs from texting.

I have a Facebook, Twitter, Plaxco and Linkin account. I blog. I used to do Foursquare until I got tired of broadcasting my location to the world. I'm middle ged and I am wired, so there.

Still I get tired of hearing how social media is changing the way people communicate. There is no mystery to social media and the main way people make money off from it is by bilking people into buying the secrets of social media marketing.

I have to say that Facebook type social sites do help you stay connected to people you wouldn't have otherwise had much contact with due to time and distance. This isn't to say you maintain a robust relationship, but you at least manage to stay in the periphery of people lives.

Still, I feel no urge to constantly broadcast my status. I'm content with the random comment here and there and to post digital photos of my kids. Because although I accept Facebook for a way to stay in touch, I never want it to be the only way I stay in touch (or out of touch for that matter).

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Across the Universe


Sounds of laughter shades of life
are ringing through my open ears
exciting and inviting me
Limitless undying love which
shines around me like a million suns
It calls me on and on across the universe

--John Lennon, Across the Universe
I was reading my son a small book about space the other day. Or more accurately, he handed me the book, asked me to read it to him and then proceeded to climb on my back and drive a small model car on top of my head while periodically asking me why Nemo went down the toilet. I managed to focus on a few of the paragraphs, in particular one that said scientists believe there are billions of galaxies like ours in the universe.

It reminded me of when I was a kid camping along the banks of the North Fork of the Boise River with my family, laying outside under the stars staring at the Milky Way (our galaxy, not the candy bar) and marveling at the endlessness of it all. And even then, I knew that it was impossible that with all of the billions of galaxies with the trillions of stars and the zillions of planets that we could be the only living creatures in existence.

Yet many humans still insist that we are the only "intelligent" life in the universe. How pitifully arrogant. I have questioned my entire life whether or not we can even be classified as intelligent life. At times I wonder if we are merely sea monkeys  blindly following some superior being's flashlight as they shine it from one side of our bowl to the other.

I suppose this is a very Horton Hears a Whoish way of looking at the universe. But it is definitely true in my own microcosm of it. As a young boy, I am sad to say that I often played "superior being" games with ant colonies that infested my grandmother's yard. On more than one occasion, I unleashed my wrath on the poor creatures with a magnifying glass or simply a rubber mallet. If ants reasoned in the same way as humans, I'm sure they thought they had offended the gods in some way.

But fortunately for the bulk of the creatures on earth, humans seem to be the only ones cursed with wondering why they are here and what's next. The only thing animals and insects seem to be concerned with is where the next meal is coming from and when is the next opportunity to propagate their species.

Despite my misgivings about the ultimate intelligence of humans, I am amazed at the knowledge and inventions we've managed to come up with. It is pretty impressive for a species that had its roots in cave dwellers cowering in the mud trying to make it through the night without becoming a midnight snack for less intelligent but better physically equipped creatures. The fact that we've made such great strides scientifically makes me a firm believer in the collective consciousness that supposedly helps us accumulate knowledge over generations without having to start from scratch at birth.

Though you would think that we would have learned that wars don't ultimately accomplish much and no one looks good with blue hair and a Mohawk.

We look to the universe for ultimate answers, however, because it is the ultimate mystery. Our brains can't really fathom infinity even when it stares us in the cosmic face. Stories like Carl Sagan's Contact or Arthur C. Clarke's 2001 a Space Odyssey tease us with the possibility that the answers are out there and then they leave us staring blankly like a monkey handed a calculator and a tax return. We feel like the answer is there somewhere, but we feel too stupid to grasp it and too embarrassed to admit it.

It's also kind of like going to an exhibit of modern art.

But I digress.

I get a bit impatient with scientist's fascination with what I think are pretty useless details. In the ultimate scheme of things, does it really help to know what minerals the planet Mercury is composed of? I'm sure a scientist could explain the significance to me, but I am also pretty sure I wouldn't understand the explanation (note to my nephew Richard: Please don't try and explain the significance to me).

I'm kind of banking on learning more about the meaning of the universe when I walk into the light (euphemism for die). This is why I'm really hoping I don't get overly senile. Because it would really be a bummer to achieve enlightenment and be oblivious to it while not wearing pants and wondering where I left my Hotwheels collection.

Jai guru deva om...

Monday, April 04, 2011

Escaping to the movies

There have been times when I have expected movie theaters, besieged by Netflixs and cable, to go the way of the Dodo bird. After all, for the price of a movie ticket, sodas, popcorn and some candy, you can practically buy an HD flat screen television and watch a film in the comfort of your own home. And you don't have to a man with a head the size of Rhode Island sitting in the seat in front of you (unless in your house has an overly large head and sits in front of the television in which case you can simply shout, "Hey, move your fathead").

It's not as those the suburban shopping mall theaters with 52 postage stamp sized theaters go out of their way to enhance your theater experience, either. Give me a vintage theater any day, crappy acoustics or not. At least you can capture some of the romance of the original motion picture theaters built when a movie was the next best thing available after a live performance.

When I was a kid growing up in Boise, escaping to a movie was sporadic luxury.  My favorite was theAda Theater. It had originally been called the Egyptian Theater. It was built in the mid 1920s when the discovery of King Tut's tomb inspired fashion and architecture in the US. I don't know when they changed the name to the Ada Theater, but it was beautiful (even if a bit worn). The stage and screen were framed by faux columns decorated with Egyptian hieroglyphics.

I loved that theater. Mom would drop me and my brothers off at the Skagg's Drug Store around the corner from the  Ada, and we'd buy cheap candy bars (six for a quarter) to smuggle into the theater to avoid the high theater prices (a quarter a piece for Sugar Babies, Milk Duds or Junior Mints). The Ada had a balcony as well as a sprawling main floor. And there was this huge Egyptian motif chandelier hanging in the center of the theater that slowly dimmed just before the movie started. I'd love sitting in the dark on a hot summer's day basking in the air conditioning and getting lost in the big screen.

I remember seeing 2001 a Space Odyssey there and not understanding a single thing about the movie. I also saw Planet of the Apes . I vaguely recall a movie with Dick Van Dyke called Robinson Crusoe, USN about a navy fighter pilot marooned on a desert island. Oh, and I believe I also saw a film called Robinson Crusoe on Mars there.

The Ada Theater was eventually restored as a historical building and the name was changed back to the Egyptian. I believe it is still operating in Boise, but I believe it mainly shows art films and has concerts with the old pipe organ that was originally used there during the silent movie era.

But the old theaters are a rare commodity these days.  I don't think independent  theaters can afford to operate any more. Even the chain giants seem hold on by a small margin bolstered by obscenely expensive concessions and changing movies weekly to match the ADD nature of most people these days longing for something fresh and new that hasn't already gone to DVD or cable.

We took our toddlers to our local theater on the weekend to see Johnny Depp's Rango. It was an older theater in our small downtown area in a town outside of Seattle. The theater didn't have the same grandeur of the Egyptian in Boise, but it at least looked like a theater on the inside. But as the lights dimmed and the overly loud sound system kicked in, I found my mind drifting off and I kept looking at my watch wondering when the film would be over.

It's sad, but escaping to a movie now means to me that I can turn on the big screen, scroll through on demand and watch something at my leisure, pausing the action to make my own popcorn or take a bathroom break. And I can sit in my own easy chair wearing sweats.

I do miss the hieroglyphics on the wall, though.