June 2007 Archives

anti-driveway moments

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NPR has this thing called "driveway moments," which is how they describe stories that are so interesting you sit in your driveway because you can't miss the end of the story. Today I had an "anti-driveway moment." Which is my new term for a story so annoying I had to strifle the urge to yank my car stereo out of the dash and throw it out the window.

The story was about a couple who travel around, eating in fine restaurants. Wherever they go, they ask the person at the next table for a bite of their food. If the person refuses, the couple keep hassling the poor soul until they cave in. They said that in five years they've only encountered one person who couldn't be pressured into giving up a bite of food off their plate eventually.

Wow, you might be thinking, what assholes! I'm glad I've never been seated next to them. At least that's what I thought. But you'd be wrong, as NPR helpfully explained. They aren't jerks with a huge sense of entitlement and no sense of boundaries. No, they're "conducting a social experiment" about "people's willingness to share post 9/11."

All this experiment really shows is most people's unwillingness to make a scene when confronted with rudeness. Especially when the rudeness is delivered pleasantly. And most especially when the rudeness takes a novel form that one hasn't ever had to deal with before. I think rather than being delighted by the opportunity to share with new people, the victims of this experiment are probably too taken aback to resist, or to continue resisting under continued pressure.

I can't even describe how much this story annoyed me. It wasn't just the assholes who steal food from every stranger unlucky enough to sit next to them in a restaurant. Oh excuse me, the "social experimenters." It was the smug proclamations about how we've lost the skill to communicate, and how they are magnanimously teaching us this skill. Because barging in on the meals of strangers and bullying them to give you their food, that's a much better way to improve the world after 9/11 than to, you know, help someone or give something. Or something.

It didn't help that I heard this story just a minute or two after nearly missing my exit because I was cut off by some ass in an SUV with a "PRAYIN 4U" license plate. (To which I could only say, "I'm prayin' to Satan 4U!" and too bad they couldn't hear me.) I hope someday the "social experiment" people sit next to me in a restaurant, so I can show them post 9/11 communication they won't forget.

where the boys are

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June 27 movie: Where The Boys Are. Early 60s comedy about four college women on spring break in Fort Lauderdale, back in the days before spring break in Fort Lauderdale meant jello shots and "Girls Gone Wild." The cast was great: Dolores Hart, Yvette Mimieux, Paula Prentiss and Connie Francis (who sings the title song) as the girls, and George Hamilton, Jim Hutton and Frank Gorshin as the boys.

From this movie I learned that premarital sex results in being run over by a car. How, you ask? Well it's simple. You get run over because you're wandering around in the street in a daze. Why are you wandering around in shock? Because you were raped. Why were you raped? You brought it on yourself, with your uncontrollable, soul-crushing promiscuity. Why were you such a slut? Because you had sex. Once. And then you just couldn't help yourself. Duh!

Okay, so you might have guessed that I had a problem with the sexual politics of this movie. The drama parts were appalling, and the comic parts were merely insulting (example: "Girls like me aren't made to be educated. We're made to be walking baby factories.")

It made me wonder, were women in college in the 60s really like that? Did they really treat the experience as nothing more than a way to grab that MRS degree? Would they really be angling for a proposal from a guy they'd only known for five days? It all seemed so cynical.

bella the corpse flower

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A rare opportunity for those interested in horticulture, unusual plants or just plain weird things: UNC Charlotte's Botanical Garden has a corpse flower which is expected to bloom sometime in the next couple of days.

At 4 feet tall "Bella," UNCC's titan arum, is small compared to the famous giant corpse flowers I've seen on TV. Still, it's a massive plant and a true rarity to see (and smell) one. I have heard they do indeed smell like rotting flesh when they bloom. I'm not sure whether or not to drive out there. It's a long trip, but then again when will I get another opportunity to see one?

(They have a web cam but I will not link to it because it's Java based and made my browser crash. Danged Mac-unfriendly web pages.)

new orleans

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June 25 movie: New Orleans. I could talk about the plot, but if you've ever heard of this movie then you know there are two reasons to watch it: Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday. They have secondary roles and the movie lights up whenever they're on screen. Armstrong plays the bandleader at the nightclub where most of the action takes place, and Holiday plays Armstrong's sweetheart and (surprise, surprise) the white family's maid. They do three songs together, plus Armstrong sings "Dixie Music Man" and Holiday does part of a song by herself.

Okay, so the movie is a fictionalized telling of the closing of the red light district in New Orleans in the late teens, the migration of musicians to Chicago, and the resulting introduction of jazz to white audiences. Unfortunately, in this version King Oliver (Louis Armstrong early mentor, who brought him to Chicago) doesn't exist. Instead of King Oliver, Armstrong's mentor is a white guy who calls himself "The King of Basin Street." Oliver was dead by that point so I guess they felt free to steal his name and use it to inject white people into the story of early jazz.

On the bright side, Armstrong plays with an all-star band and introduces them by name during the movie: Kid Ory, Zutty Singleton, Barney Bigard, Red Callendar, Charlie Beal, and Lux Lewis. Woody Herman and his band also make an appearance.

If you want to see just the good parts of this movie, follow the links below:
Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans
The Blues are Brewing
Dixie Music Man
Farewell to Storyville

too many crooks

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June 24 movie: Too Many Crooks. Wasn't I just complaining about misogynist old movies? Too Many Crooks was the perfect antidote. A bumbling crime gang lead by George Cole keeps trying to steal from Terry-Thomas, a pennypinching womanizer who keeps all his money in a safe to hide it from the British taxmen.

The crooks try to kidnap Terry-Thomas's daughter for ransom, but they accidently kidnap his wife (Brenda de Banzie) instead. Terry-Thomas, being pond scum, laughs in the crooks' faces, tells them he's well rid of the old ball and chain, and encourages them to kill her.

When the wife finds out about this, she spends about five minutes crying her eyes out, then beats up the gang (using mad skillz she learned in the military during the war), declares revenge on her husband and leads the gang on the first successful crime spree of their careers.

I found Too Many Crooks utterly hilarious. The funniest scene comes late in the movie, when Terry-Thomas faces an exasperated magistrate for a series of charges, and offers increasingly ridiculous explanations for each.

a quiet day

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Nice quiet day today. Georg was away, at the big Manu Chao show last night, and it was just me and the dogs at home. I had to work yesterday so today I treated myself to a no-pressure day of easy chores and relaxing.

It's getting too hot to do much yardwork anymore, at least the hard stuff. Luckily we did enough earlier in the year that the yard -- well, it won't maintain itself, but it can stand us taking a couple of months off from the heavy duty work.

Before I tried my hand at it, I had this idea that gardening meant strolling serenely through your landscape, occasionally stopping to pluck a weed or cut flowers for the house. Silly me! Instead we found ourselves faced with an endless series of backbreaking chores. After three years, we've finally gotten to the point where that morning stroll through the garden is part of the routine. It's nice to keep an eye on everything, just see what's doing well and what needs attention. The backbreaking chores are still there, but that's not the only thing anymore.

In any case, I did spend about an hour outside in the morning before it got too hot. I worked on weeding the daylily bed out by the road: the back of the bed around the fence. It's hard to get in there from either outside or in. And the daylilies hide the weeds, so I don't even see them until they're huge and overgrown.

This fall I'd like to clear the ground under the fence and cover it with cardboard and mulch, about 8 inches on either side. That way we wouldn't have weeds growing up against and in the fence, where the mower can't get to them. That's what I want to do this fall. Today I just started digging out the worst of the vines and brambles. In an hour I got through a little more than 1 segment of the fence (out of 6). Not great progress, but not bad either. Certainly better than not getting any of it done.

And that was it for the outside work today. Afterwards I went to the supermarket, called my dad, got dinner started (my favorite Mexican pork stew), did some laundry, watched movies and Ninja Warrior and knitted. What a fun day!

the wheeler dealers

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June 22 movie: The Wheeler Dealers. Funny early 60s movie starring James Garner as a Texas entrepreneur just this side of a con artist, and Lee Remick as an ambitious young stock analyst struggling against sexism on Wall Street.

Enjoying a movie like this depends a lot on your point of view. From today's perspective, The Wheeler Dealers is astoundingly offensive.* But compare it to an earlier movie like Front Page Woman and you can see that huge progress has been made. Men still consider it an affront that a woman would dare to have a job, much less be good at it. But in The Wheeler Dealers that's a bad thing. And the hero helps the heroine win, rather than sabotaging her career.

I wasn't crazy about the ending, but up until the last ten minutes or so it was great. Mr. Howell from Gilligan's Island plays the boss trying to fire Remick for not having a Y chromosome, and John Astin plays a sleazy district attorney.

*here's an example:
Garner: "I'm not used to smart girls."
(voice in my head, imagining Remick's next line): Later, loser. I'm outta here.
Remick: "Really? (bats eyes) You think I'm smart?"

my favorite wife

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June 21 movie: My Favorite Wife. Seven years after Irene Dunne's disappearance at sea, her husband Cary Grant has her declared dead so he can remarry. That very day, Dunne returns from the dead. Dun-dun!

I thought I loved this movie, but when I sat down to watch it I remembered what I don't like: the reprehensible way Grant treats his second wife, Gail Patrick. Patrick does a valiant job of making the character so unlikeable that the audience won't mind seeing her totally humiliated. Unfortunately it doesn't change the fact that she's a victim who never did anything wrong, and is treated like dirt from beginning to end.

The only acknowledgement of how unfair this is comes near the end, when Patrick bloodies Grant's nose and Dunne tells him, "you did have it coming." Grant seems to treat the bloody nose as a small price to get rid of the shrieking harpy, who he had promised to love and cherish three days before.

Okay, I'm getting myself worked up. Let this write-up serve as a reminder to me, not to watch this movie again.

Now here's a useful link: a glossary of words you might see on the menu at a taqueria. Looks really comprehensive. I was going to suggest he add pibil, pork slow cooked in citrus and achiote. Then I saw that it's already there under the full name, cochinita pibil. I might print this list and take it with me next time I go to a taqueria.

i heart somafm

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My god I love the Illinois Street Lounge channel from SomaFM. It has made many a work day bearable. How could I ever be cranky while listening to the Three Suns or Walt Wanderley? The best part is the "ohmygod!" moments of recognition, hearing a lounge/exotica classic I've known for years but never knew the name of before. Like "Music to Watch Girls By" or "Happy Go Lively." Or just now, discovering that Stereolab's "One Note Samba" heavily samples from Perry and Kingsley's version of same. Oh man, I have to go home and listen to Stereolab's version right now. I don't even remember which album that's on.

hope for the best

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I had a somewhat alarming conversation this morning with the next door neighbor. With whom we've gotten to be on pretty good "chatting over the fence" terms lately, which makes me happy. Anyway, I went out early to toss something in the garbage can, and the neighbor spotted me and came over.

She told me that yesterday her son was home alone and saw a stranger walking around their house, looking in the windows.The man apparently seemed to be looking for an entry point, and spent a lot of time examining the gate into their backyard. Which they keep locked when they aren't home. According to the boy, the man then went to the next house (not ours, on the other side) and walked around behind the house. Then he crossed the street and did the same examination of a house over there.

My neighbor said that she called the cops and asked them to drive around the neighborhood. She said she looked for us last night but we weren't in the yard like usual (I had a tough afternoon that ran late into the evening, don't ask) and she didn't want to come into the yard and knock on the door because of our dogs. She also said that the older lady who lives behind them reported that while she was out a few days ago, someone entered her house through a window and left out the front door, leaving the front door standing open.

So, I'm trying not to worry too much about all this. There are several possible explanations:

  • It could be nothing. The boy could have seen the meter man, or someone who was lost, or something. And the old lady might have left her door ajar and it blew open. That happened to me once. And she said nothing was stolen, which is highly unlikely if an intruder was alone in her house.
  • It's possible that someone really was walking around the neighborhood looking for vulnerable houses, and gave our house a pass because of the dogs. They're inside when we're not home and they make a lot of noise when someone approaches. Thirteen can't tell who it is anymore because of her deafness, and she even barks at me.
  • And it's possible (though not likely) that someone was walking around the neighborhood looking for vulnerable houses, and plans to continue, and hasn't gotten to us yet. Which could be bad since the house is empty right now. Okay, note to self, don't think about that!

Following the philosophy of "hope for the best, prepare for the worst" we locked the porch door and the windows this morning. We usually leave the windows open, weather permitting. This weekend I will look into getting locks for the two gates on our fence. One of the gates is only 3 feet tall so a lock would be fairly symbolic. But still, if a burglar is looking for an easy target then I guess every little bit helps.

We've been pretty slack about protecting the house from break-ins; I guess it takes a scare like this to make you start thinking about it. I'm going to look into strategies that don't involve an alarm system. Which wouldn't be very effective unless we started closing all the windows all the time. Which I really don't want to do.

The dogs are still our best deterrent, I think. I strongly believe they are the reason I never got broken into, all those years I lived on the edge of a bad part of Walltown. This won't help immediately of course, but I like the idea of planting thorny climbing roses under the windows. Unfortunately the most vulnerable windows (the ones you can't see from the road) are also the most shady & not good for roses. Note to self: do some research on thorny shrubs and vines that like shade. Maybe I'm being naive, but it seems to me that if I were a burglar and I had to climb over a bunch of thorns to get through a window, inside of which a dog was barking its head off at me, I'd move on to the next house.

the best man

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Jun 19 movie: The Best Man. I greatly enjoyed this 1964 political drama about presidential candidates struggling for the nomination. Henry Fonda stars as a man who seems inconceivable as a presidential front-runner: a liberal intellectual who quotes Bertram Russell, is an avowed atheist, refuses to lie to further his campaign and has a British wife. (When I found out the script was written by Gore Vidal this made much more sense.) Cliff Robertson is the villain, a sleazy muckraker who rose to power by inventing a Communist threat. I guess a combination of Nixon and McCarthy, or maybe Johnson and McCarthy. Lee Tracy is wonderful as the ex-president whose endorsement will hand the nomination to whichever candidate gets it.

The best thing about the movie was the depiction of a convention that meant something. I've never seen a political convention that wasn't pure theater. I do my best to avoid convention coverage for that reason. It was really interesting to see the candidates jockeying for position at a convention where the nomination hasn't been decided in advance. Do conventions serve any purpose now besides a massive pep rally?

ETA: I forgot one excellent line from the movie. Tracy's ex-president asks Fonda's character whether he believes in God. Fonda says no, and that he isn't willing to pretend for the candidacy. Tracy replies, "The world sure has changed since I was politicking. In those days you had to pour God over everything, like ketchup."

one year

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At exactly this time one year ago today, Georg and I made it legal.

bombay 405 miles

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June 17 movie: Bombay 405 Miles. This was described as a mediocre movie with a killer soundtrack, and that's pretty much accurate. The music by Kalyanji/Anandji did indeed kick ass. It was amusing to see how many actors we recognized, even though we haven't seen that many 70s Bollywood movies. The stars were Zeenat Aman (my Bollywood girlfriend, who sadly has little to do here), Pran, the guy who starred in Qurbani, and some other guy. The villain was the bad cop from Qurbani. The movie also featured DSP-saab from Don, and Mac Mohan, and the girl who does the first dance number and then gets killed in Don also has a small part. There must have been a small group of actors who appeared in movies together over and over.

I really like Pran. I put his movie Half Ticket (also starring famed playback singer Kishor Kumar) in my queue.

step into the lounge

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I'm going to be back at the radio station regularly again, starting July 22. I've known for awhile now but had to keep it under wraps, and now that it's public knowledge, I kind of don't know what to say about it. Luckily, everything you need to know is here: DivavilleLounge.org

a fresh face

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I went ahead and moved this blog into Movable Type version 4. It's a beta, so if you see anything that doesn't seem to be working right, definitely let me know.

There are a bunch of changes behind the scenes that will make the site better or at least different for me, and don't matter in the least to you. The only major change on the public site is in the comments. The new version has much better comment authentication, and so I'm turning off anonymous comments and trying out the authentication.

What this means is that if you want to post a comment here, you will have to sign in. There are a bunch of different authentication methods, including LJ, that will cover most people. Otherwise you'll have to create a userID on this site. If you're offended by the very idea of comment authentication and you refuse to do it, well I'm sorry and I'm sure I'll miss you terribly. But I tried it out and I don't think it will be a big deal. If you let the site set a cookie then you only have to sign in once, and it will remember you after that.

early bird

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The nice thing about weekends is that you can either sleep in late and feel wonderful and relaxed, or get up early and feel wonderful and production. Either way is great. Today I'm trying for both!

Woke up early and did some work on the massive archiving project. Then before it got hot, I went out and did some more weed whacking. I couldn't do as thorough a job as Georg because my reach isn't as long, and I missed a few spots. But, I did as much as I could. Then I went up to the top of the bank and weeded around the roses. Without the weed whacker, of course!

The roses are looking really good. It's kind of amazing, considering how little care they get up there. We've never sprayed or dusted them, just frequent watering when they first went into the ground, and now we water them if it doesn't rain for more than a week. By rose standards that's pretty much total neglect, and these guys look great. Antique roses are great! A touch of black spot here and there, nothing to worry about. And no pests -- knock on wood, Japanese beetle season has just started. They're all growing like gangbusters. Awakening is the biggest, it has a cane that's almost five feet tall! None are in bloom right now but they're all supposed to be repeat bloomers, and I hope we'll see more flowers later in the year.

The vegetable garden is looking good, although some blasted rodent has dug up a huge hole right near one of the tomatoes. I guess I should have laid mesh down at the bottom of the raised bed. I meant to do that at the outset, but it slipped my mind. Anyway, otherwise things are looking good. The zucchini is going out of control. We're already at the stage where we could eat zucchini every day and not keep up with it. And it's only June!

The tomato plants are also huge -- well, at least the hybrids are. The heirlooms are tiny pathetic little things. I keep trying to grow heirloom tomatoes, and they thumb their fuzzy green noses at me year after year. They look stunted in early summer, and then when they finally start to grow, it gets so hot that they wilt and produce little (if any) fruit. I dunno what's up with that.

I picked a carrot this morning! I thought it was a decent size, but it was pale and not very sweet. I guess I need to let them ripen more. Maybe they need more sun too. The monster zucchini is kind of covering up the carrots. Maybe I should cut the zucchini back a bit. It could lose a few leaves and not even slow down.

After the yardwork I cleaned up and did some more on the massive archiving project. And by the time I had done enough for the day, it was only noon! Now I'm chilling and watching Ninja Warrior. With the lights out and the windows open, the house is nice and cool. I think I'm going to relax for the rest of the day.

techie day

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Today was a fairly productive day, mostly but not entirely tech-related. First Georg and I went to the Durham Farmer's Market. We hadn't been over there since they moved into the new building, and I must say I was impressed. It's a lot bigger than I remembered with a good variety of vendors. We bought tomatoes, fresh garlic and Chapel Hill Creamery cheese. There were booths selling pork, beef and goat, and we thought long and hard about trying some goat loin. But we decided that we wanted to look up recipes first, and also bring a cooler with us if we were going to buy meat.

Back home Georg weed whacked down by the road and got about half the bank done before the weed whacker gave out. Weed whacking out there is really hard work, and it looks so much better. Meanwhile I mowed the lawn. The mower has developed a distressing tendency to stall over and over. We just replaced the battery and we're concerned that it may be something more serious. It would stink to have to replace the whole mower right after investing in a new battery.

Wait, I was going to talk about my techie day, wasn't I. I'll save the gardening for another post. Okay, so I spent some more time with MT4. I like it a lot. The only glitch so far is that plugin with all the date functions doesn't work in MT4. Dates seem to be handled differently now. In older versions, there was just one "entry date." Now in MT4 there's a "creation date" and a "publication date." Which is a good change, I can imagine reasons I might need both pieces of information. But it means that this date plugin needs to be rewritten.

I wrote to the plugin author and asked him if he's planning to update it. I'm sure he is; he already posted on his website that he's working on an update to the RightFields plugin. (which I also use, & which is much more critical to me, so yay for that.) In the meantime I set up the new site in the old version of MT, where the date plugin works great. I still want to play around with MT4 and I think I may go ahead and move this blog over tomorrow.

After that I set up Skype. It took me a little while to get the headset working -- I didn't realize at first that I had to tell both my system and Skype to use the headset, not the computer's built-in audio -- but then it worked great. I don't know anyone on Skype so I couldn't make a real call, just a test call to their testing line. But I did that and recorded it with Audio Hijack and the sound quality was really good.

The purpose of all this Skype stuff is to record a telephone interview so I can play it on the air. I think this setup is going to work. I'll have to pay Skype some money (it's free to call another Skype user, not if you want to call a real telephone line) but just a modest amount. And thank goodness I didn't have to buy a headset. That would have been more expense than I want to take on for this one project. The headset I borrowed is really nice too.

While I was fooling around with Skype, Georg took on the heroic task of moving the couch and vacuuming behind and under it. After that neither one of us felt like cooking, so I got takeout from the Q Shack. I love their cobb salad. Where else can you get a salad with a mountain of brisket and smoked sausage on top of it?

It reminds me of this ad I heard on the radio a few months ago. (Don't ask me why I was forced to listen to commercial radio, that's beside the point.) The ad was for light beer, but it pretended to be an ad for a chain restaurant salad. It was a taco salad with a pound of ground beef, bacon, cheese, and sour cream on top of some lettuce, all in a taco shell. This booming male voice, the kind you would expect to hear in a beer ad, said "Is it good for you? Of course it is! It's a salad!" The point of the ad was that drinking light beer would allow you to gorge yourself on something like that, and still pretend you were eating healthy. Or something. Anyway I think of that ad every time I get a Q Shack cobb salad. Is it good for me? Of course it is! It's a salad!

After dinner I did some work on the massive archiving project. Which is going pretty well. After that marathon session last weekend I decided to spend a little time on it every night. I'm trying to get 8 CDs -- two pages in the book -- done every night. I skipped last night, so tonight I did 16. It's mostly easy to print up the label cards, but occasionally I hit one that iTunes doesn't recognize. Then I have to listen to each track to find out what it is, and then search that artist's catalog to try and figure out the album title. That's kind of a pain. But so far I've only encountered one I couldn't identify at all. It was by Al Bowlly and the Ray Noble Orchestra. I really liked it, and I hope I can find out what it is.

i am a dork

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How much of a dork am I? I finally have an evening to relax after a crazy stressful work-filled weekend, and I spend it with the new Movable Type 4.

It's actually kind of fun. Okay, for me this is fun, I really am a dork. The installation was easy because they have this new "install wizard" that walks you through everything. The interface is somewhat different, I'm spending a little time at first figuring out where things are. I think once I get used to it I'm going to find it more intuitive. I'm not moving any active sites (like this blog) to MT 4 while it's still in beta, but I've got one I'm working on that requires some programming, and won't go live for a few weeks. That seems like the perfect way to try out the beta.

The biggest improvement so far is that it's a lot easier to create and maintain pages that don't fit into the "blog" format. I guess they're trying to make it more of a content management system than just blog software. Which is how I've been using it already for a couple of clients, by hand-coding in the features I needed. I'm hoping this new version will provide some of the new features I have on my to do list, and/or will simplify some of the features I've already done.

They've also added some programmatic functions like an if statement and a loop, which will be very helpful. Unfortunately, being a beta the documentation is spotty, and I couldn't figure out how to use the new MTif tag. No biggie, I've got a plugin that does conditional statements on categories and that's what I need. I also found a plugin that adds a bunch of date comparisons, which is really helpful for the site I'm working on now.

Speaking of being a techno-dork, tomorrow I get to set up Skype! I need it for an upcoming project. I was lucky enough to have a friend I could borrow a headset from, so I can find out if it will work before I have to buy any hardware.

happy birthday thirteen

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Today Thirteen is sixteen years old. Well, sort of. In December of 1991 the vet told me she was exactly six months old. He said he could tell by her teeth. I counted backward six months and got June. And since her name is Thirteen, it was only natural that her birthday would be June 13.

It's kind of hard to believe she's 16 years old. She's had her ups and downs in the past few years. After Lina died, Thirteen was in such bad shape that I didn't think she would last through the summer. Then we got Jane, which helped Thirteen immensely. Having another dog to keep her company made all the difference.

Thirteen is showing her age, has slowed down a lot in the past year. We've learned the routine of dealing with an elderly dog: monitoring her meds, cleaning up accidents, lifting her in and out of the car, a quick "breathing check" when she sleeps too deeply. It's hard sometimes, but it's not all bad. The most important question to me is, is she still happy to be alive? As long as the answer is yes, we can deal with the medical issues. I'm not sure how much longer she's going to be with us, and I'm so happy for every day.

cheerful

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Happiness is my job finally fixing whatever was wrong with their network that used to cause streaming audio to stop and rebuffer several times a minute. I'm listening to my favorite channel on iTunes radio, Illinois Street Lounge from SomaFM. Right now the Three Suns are playing "Jeepers Creepers." It's difficult to have a bad mood about anything while listening to the Three Suns.

the awful truth

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June 11 movie: The Awful Truth. I love this movie. Cary Grant and Irene Dunne have such good chemistry. But why, oh why, does Ralph Bellamy never get the girl?

the man in the iron mask

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June 10 movie: The Man in the Iron Mask. The 1939 version starring Louis Hayward, Joan Bennet and Warren William. I haven't read the novel so I can't comment on whether this is a faithful interpretation or not. The plot does seem complicated enough, and dark enough, to be true to Dumas. Alan Hale costars as Porthos, though he gets little to do.

the wonder bar

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June 7 movie: The Wonder Bar. Al Jolson stars as Al Wonder, owner of a fashionable Paris night spot called the Wonder Bar. I think this movie was also part of the gay series on TCM. There's one scene where a couple are dancing and a man asks to cut in. The woman thinks he wants to dance with her, but he pushes her out of the way and starts dancing with the man. Al Jolson rolls his eyes, throws one hand up in a flamboyant gesture and yells "Woo!"

The most cringe-inducing part of the movie is a lengthy blackface number, in which Jolson's blackface character dies and goes to blackface heaven. Which is populated by blackface angels and little blackface cherubs. And a mule. It's pretty horrible.

broadway melody

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June 5 movie: Broadway Melody. This 1929 musical isn't a great movie by the standards of even five years later. But it's well worth watching as an example of the earliest days of talkies.

They showed this on TCM as part of their series this month on gay images in the movies: the costume designer is clearly supposed to be gay. They've got an author introducing the movies, and he points out that the character is the object of ridicule, but is also acknowledged as being good at his job. So it's a mixed bag I guess.

spirited away

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June 3 movie: Spirited Away. After The Wizard of Oz, TCM showed Spirited Away. This movie is simply delightful from beginning to end. Miyazaki has such a talent for portraying different ages of childhood, creating a whole world that behaves the way it appears to a child.

TCM showed the movie dubbed, luckily we have the DVD. So we popped it in and watched it with subtitles. I'm not as violently opposed dubbing with animated movies as I am with live action. Dubbing isn't as disruptive with animation, because the voices and faces aren't nearly as mismatched. And the dubbing Disney did for the Ghibli movies is pretty good. Still, if I have the choice I'll choose subtitles.

the wizard of oz

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June 3 movie: The Wizard of Oz. They're doing a new family movie feature on TCM every Sunday evening, hosted by the guy who does Spongebob's voice. I'm really glad they're doing this. It seems like a nice way to introduce kids to classic movies. I fondly remember watching movies every Sunday evening on The Wonderful World of Disney with my family when I was a kid.

As probably the best-loved classic family movie of all, The Wizard of Oz was a great way to start this series. While watching, Georg and I commented that we were both terrified by this movie when we were little. I remember being particularly upset by the part where the witch is holding Dorothy prisoner and Toto gets away, leaving Dorothy behind.

suddenly

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June 3 movie: Suddenly. I really enjoyed this thriller about a plot to assassinate the President, which starred Frank Sinatra, Sterling Hayden and James Gleason. Sinatra in particular is very good, playing an uncharacteristic part. They said in the intro that Sinatra was horrified to learn that Lee Harvey Oswald had watched this movie just prior to assassinating JFK, and that Sinatra used his own money to get Suddenly out of circulation because of this.

betrayed

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June 3 movie: Betrayed. This was a decent WWII spy movie starring Clark Gable, Lana Turner and Victor Mature. But no lion! This may be the first Victor Mature movie I've ever seen where he doesn't wrestle a lion.

going hollywood

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June 2 movie: Going Hollywood. Marion Davies vehicle featuring Bing Crosby. Like all Marion Davies vehicles, it's not very good. Bing has several good songs though.

ransom

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June 1 movie: Ransom. Not the remake with Mel Gibson, although I have seen that. This was the original, with Glenn Ford. The basic plot is the same: a rich man's son is kidnapped for ransom, and instead of paying the ransom, he offers the money as a bounty on the kidnapper's head.

The interesting thing is that this action is portrayed as a gutsy move, in the Glenn Ford version that is. I can't remember about the Mel Gibson version. Anyway, this is shown as a daring gamble, and the naysayers who urge him not to do it are shortsighted cowards. But they're right and the movie is wrong. Ford's gamble is stupid and arrogant. His logic is that paying the ransom doesn't improve his chances of getting his son back (this is stated as a fact in the movie; I have no idea if it's true, or was true at the time). So he might as well forget the ransom and use the money for another purpose that might increase the odds of getting his boy back. But this totally wrong. His TV statement about the ransom/bounty is a giant, public "Fuck you" to a criminal whose only way to fight back is to hurt Ford's child. That would lower the odds far more than they would be improved by bringing in random bounty hunters. It really makes no sense at all that this would work.

high plains drifter

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May 31 movie: High Plains Drifter. This was not as successful, for me, as Once Upon a Time in the West. It had some interesting ideas (the thing about painting the town red was just brilliant) & was enjoyable in places. But. I found everyone in the movie so unpleasant that I couldn't root for anyone. For example, the hero begins the movie by encountering a rude woman and shutting her up by dragging her into a barn and raping her. That was so extremely off-putting to me that the movie simply never recovers.

Of course I don't think Eastwood is suggesting that an uppity woman not only deserves to be raped, but will probably enjoy it. Yet, that is exactly what happens in the movie. Perhaps he was trying to convey the idea that what the hero suffered (in flashback) has damaged him to the point where he's no better than the bad guys. And I have to say, I kind of don't want to watch a movie like that.

once upon a time in the west

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May 30 movie: Once Upon a Time in the West. Wow. What a movie. I had seen clips before, but had never seen the whole thing through. It's amazing, from beginning to end.

This movie comes up a lot in discussions of why pan and scan is a bad thing. And with good reason. At first I watched for shots that would be ruined by pan and scan. After about five minutes, I realized that the every scene is so grand, big, and fills the frame so well, that it made more sense to look for shots that wouldn't be ruined by pan and scan.

I kind of feel like all the talk about the wide aspect cinematography isn't quite fair. Because it makes it sound like that's the movie's main attribute. Which isn't true at all. It's beautiful to look at, and it's also a fantastic movie. A huge, epic Western. Henry Fonda is incredible. It's kind of scary how good he is at playing pure evil, and how shocking that must have been to audiences who had only seen him play heroes. The other principals -- Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale and Jason Robards -- are also excellent.

stalag 17

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May 29 movie: Stalag 17. Over and over I say that I'm not going to let myself fall this far behind in the movie list. And then I do it again. Sigh.

So, I said before that I never miss an opportunity to watch Stalag 17, and I meant it. It was a nice way to wrap up War Movie Weekend on TCM.

So the massive archiving project that I mentioned a few weeks back. I got all the CDs ripped, and about half of them burned, and a couple of labels made, and the shiny new CD cases ordered. And then I kind of let other things take precendence and didn't work on it at all for awhile.

Fast forward to a few days ago, when I remembered that I have a show coming up and the massive archiving project still in major disarray. Yipes!

I've spent the past few days printing labels* and burning CDs non-stop, and I think I've got enough done to do the show this afternoon. At first I was trying to start at the beginning and work my way through, but I gave up on that pretty quickly. If I had kept up that approach I would have ended up with an exhaustive collection through C or maybe D. and nothing at all after that.

The Dean Martin birthday tribute helped me focus my efforts a lot. I made sure to have all my Dino and Rat Pack CDs, plus a few of Sammy and Frank. Then I browsed through the rest of the CDs and tried to print at least 1 label for each artist I'm likely to want to play. So I've got at least something for Peggy Lee, Dinah Washington, Mel Torme, Sarah Vaughan, etc etc. Requests may be a problem, and for the first time ever I'm hoping I don't get many, or at least all pretty general. Like "Play some Ella" rather than "Play Ella singing "Satin Doll" from the Ella and Basie album." (Note, if you're planning to make a request, please don't request that. Because Ella and Basie is not one of the albums I got set up.)

This morning I alphabetized everything I've got and put it in the case. Which was harder than I had expected! I kept finding something I had missed, or realizing that I had allotted 1 sleeve to a 2-CD set, and having to move a bunch of others back to make room. Now I'm cleaning up, burning a last few CDs. Mostly I've been burning first and then making the labels, though somehow early on I had ended up printing labels for about a dozen CDs and not burning them. Mostly Nat King Cole. I wonder how that happened.

I'm almost finished, and just in time too. I'm a little bummed that I didn't have any time for gardening this weekend, but what can you do? On top of the massive archiving project I also had to spend several hours yesterday helping a friend with his website. Leaving no time at all for getting my ass out of this chair. Maybe if it isn't too hot I'll be able to get something done in the garden this afternoon, after the show.

[*By label I mean a card with song information that will live in the sleeve with the CD. Not a sticker to be affixed to the CD. That way lies madness.]

serendipity

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Yesterday I was listening to a CD of Peggy Lee with the Benny Goodman Orchestra, and came across a song called "Freedom Train." Which sounds like a wartime song, but does not at all reference the war. Instead it talks about how great it is to be "riding on the freedom train" (i.e. living in America) and extolls the value of political dissent. For instance the song encourages people to tell the President they think he's doing a bad job, and to protest laws they don't agree with.

Wow! I wish I'd known about this song last 4th of July, when I did all patriotic music on Divaville. It ended up being an extremely hawkish show, which I felt a little weird about, not being a hawkish person. This song would have been much more in line with celebrating America.

I sent a copy of the song to Sean, who used to do (and still does, I hope) a "freedom" show every year for Independance Day. Then today I was listening to a box set of Frank Sinatra with the Tommy Dorsey orchestra. Excellent box set, by the way. It features a whole other dimension to Sinatra's singing that I wasn't very familiar with. This is the Sinatra who shows up in the Merry Melody cartoons. You know, when the skinny Sinatra rooster sings and all the hens swoon? If all you know is the later, brash, swinging, koo-koo crazy Sinatra, that cartoon makes no sense. That's the Sinatra in this box set.

Anyway, I was listening to this set of Sinatra with the Tommy Dorsey orchestra, and on comes "Free For All," another song about freedom! Like "Freedom Train," it's not a very good song, musically speaking. Still, it's not bad. And any song that quotes Patrick Henry is all right with me.

I'm enchanted by having heard two songs about freedom in two days. Talk about serendipity. I wonder if the universe is trying to tell me something.

(Turns out "Freedom Train" was written in 1947 to promote a traveling exhibit called the Freedom Train. The lyrics and MP3s of a couple different recordings are here.)

happy birthday dino

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I will be on the air this Sunday from 3-5 pm, subbing the Divaville jazz and pop vocalists show. In honor of Dean Martin's 90th birthday (three days before the show) I will be playing a lot of Dino and Rat Pack music. Tune in for a swanky good time!

88.7 if you're local, wxdu.org if you're not.

tiny zucchini throw pillows

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This evening we had our first zucchini from the garden! Four small ones turned out to be just the right amount, when Georg sauteed them with onions and mushrooms and peppers. They say that when you grow zucchini, you should always try to pick them small. Otherwise you end up inundated with humongous zucchini, foisting them off on people and so forth.

The zucchini plants have some pests. Not the evil squash beetles yet; it's cucumber beetles, which are smaller and apparently not as destructive. I mixed up some Neem oil and sprayed them. After we picked the ones we ate, of course! I saw the beetles hiding in the mulch so I sprayed the mulch good too. I hope it helps.

We've been hearing the owls a lot lately, and tonight was no exception. It always makes me happy to hear the owls. They've been moving around a lot from the sound of it. I suppose they're hunting & that's why we hear them from all over.

Tonight after dinner we did see something unusual: a deer! We heard Jane barking again, and our first thought was, oh crap, the snake again. We went outside and saw that she was standing at the fence looking out, which suggested it probably wasn't the snake. It's pretty dark out here at night, but there is one street light, and we could just make out the deer, standing in the middle of the yard a couple of houses over. At first I thought, "hey, did they put in a deer statue without our noticing?" They already have a fake mini wishing well so a deer statue wouldn't be a surprise. But then the deer moved its head and we knew it was a real deer.

There wasn't much more to the interaction. We stood there watching the deer, the deer stod there watching us. Eventually we went inside and the deer took off. At least now we know what's been eating the tops off our sedum down by the road.

All in all I think this has been the best day ever for Jane. First a snake, then a ride in the car, then the snake again, and then a deer! What a day! Then again, as the Onion reminds us, best days aren't that hard to come by for a dog.

howdy neighbor

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This morning we met our newest neighbor: a 5 foot long black rat snake. I know what you're thinking, people always overestimate the length of snakes. Well, this guy helpfully stretched out next to a concrete block wall, allowing us to measure him with fair accuracy.

When we first saw the snake, his whole body was crinkled up in this weird pattern. That actually made him easy to identify. He lay perfectly still while we stood there trying to figure out what to do. Then Georg went inside to research the snake, and I walked around to the other side of the garden. At which point the snake disappeared. Kind of freaked me out, until I saw his tail disappear into a watering can. It must have looked like the perfect hiding place for a snake.

Black rat snakes aren't venomous and only bite when they think they're being attacked. Still, we put heavy jeans and shoes on just in case. We got a large clean trash can with a lid, scooped the watering can inside, and slapped on the lid. Then carried it over to the empty lot behind the house and dumped it over the side. Poor snake! He fell partway out of the can but he didn't move. I brought Jane over to the fence near the snake, to try and scare him into heading the other way when he was finally ready to travel.

I had a few errands to run and it wasn't that hot, so I took the dogs with me. We had only been home for a little while when we heard Jane barking again. Sure enough, that danged snake was back!

This time we had a plan to put him in the trash can, drive to the Eno park (about a mile up the road) and release him. There must be plenty of wildlife in the park for him to eat. We spent a little time trying to coax him into the other watering can, when he suddenly decided he was tired of us and slithered off into a hole in the retaining wall between our yard and the next.

I guess that must be his home. He went straight to it, so he must have known the spot. Once I got over my horror at the sheer size of the beastie, I had to admit that the black rat snake is actually not a bad snake to have around: a non-aggressive, non-venomous snake who eats rodents. And we've got a lot of those.

My only concern is that Jane may try to play with him and get bitten. We discovered the snake in the first place because Jane was barking at it in her "Hey! Pay attention to me!" voice. However, we're willing to live and let live if he'll stay out of Jane's way. Which I hope he'll want to do after today. Poor snake. I feel kind of bad for him. He must have been scared.

It was kind of neat to watch him watching us: while he was hiding in the can, every once in a while his head would peep out, spot us, and sink back in. Then later, when he was lying by the wall, I watched him scope the scene: he'd hear us and get all crinkled up, then when we were still he'd wait a few minutes, stick his tongue out a few times, then gradually relax his body and start moving. Then someone would make noise (usually Jane) and he'd freeze and crinkle up again. I read online that the crinkling is a response to stress.

I forgot to mention that Jane really impressed me today. When we saw her barking at the snake, we only had to call her once and she immediately came to us. How many dogs would abandon a live animal right in front of them, on the first command? Well okay, a super well trained dog definitely would. But Jane never even finished beginner obedience classes. And she still minded us without any complaint or hesitation today. We spent several hours dealing with that snake, and never had a single problem with Jane. She is the best dog! (I suppose Thirteen is even better, since she spent the entire incident sleeping inside and never even saw the snake.)

when eagles dare

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May 28 movie: When Eagles Dare. I remembered this as being a fun WWII action movie in the tradition of, if not quite as good as, The Guns of Navarone. This time Georg and I watched it together and it seemed like a hundred flaws jumped out at me that I had never noticed before. The most obvious problem is too much talking. Richard Burton especially spend lots of time Dr. Evil fashion, explaining to everyone what just happened and why and what he's going to do about it. Georg pointed out that this isn't actually a problem in itself, rather a symptom of a bigger problem: the plot is so complicated and arbitrary that no one could follow it if Burton wasn't constantly stopping the movie to explain it to us. It really doesn't make sense, and the twists come out of left field, with no foundation.

So I was a bit disappointed with this movie. Ah well, I'll just wait for The Guns of Navarone to come around on TCM again.

command decision

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May 28 movie: Command Decision. I really enjoyed this drama about Clark Gable as a WWII general fighting politics and making difficult, unpopular decisions. In other words, killing a lot of people in pursuit of a critical mission. Which is an uncomfortable message given the current situation, but the context was quite different then. Van Johnson was given high billing, but his part was actually pretty small.

20,000 leagues under the sea

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May 27 movie: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. What fun this was! Kirk Douglas, Peter Lorre and James Mason in a steampunk thriller. It was strange to watch this after having read The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Which was obviously a much darker take on the Captain Nemo character. 

I kept thinking about an SNL parody of this movie, many years ago, with Phil Hartman as Captain Nemo and Rob Schneider as Peter Lorre's character. I forget who played Kirk Douglas. Everyone keeps saying "We're so deep in the ocean! We must be 20,000 leagues under the sea!" And poor Captain Nemo keeps explaining over and over that no, they're not going 20,000 leagues down, that would be physically impossible. Instead they're traveling 20,000 leagues while in the sea. And everyone keeps ignoring him and talking about how they're 20,000 leagues under the sea. The sketch went on too long, but it was pretty funny.

the conqueror

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May 27 movie: The Conqueror. Oh, lordie, this movie was bad. John Wayne stars as Temujin, leader of the Mongols and future Ghengis Khan. Wayne goes gaga for Tartar princess Susan Hayward. Because Tartar princesses were known for their blue eyes and red hair. Agnes Moorehead also stars as Wayne's mother. The Conqueror is every bit as bad as you might imagine. Wayne talks in such an extreme version of his trademark drawl that he sounds like a caricature of himself. And the dialogue. My god. Here's a typical line: "I feel this Tartar woman is for me, and my blood says, take her. There are moments for wisdom and moments when I listen to my blood; my blood says, take this Tartar woman." It's all that bad.


This movie would be so bad it's funny, if not for behind the scenes events that led to the nickname "The Movie That Killed John Wayne:" The site of location shooting was contaminated from nearby nuclear testing. Not only did the entire cast and crew spend weeks soaking up radiation, they packed up the radioactive soil and took it back with them so the studio footage would look the same. By 1990, a staggering 90 of the 220 cast and crew members had cancer. Of course it can't be proved that the radiation killed any of them. John Wayne was a heavy smoker, like many people at the time. Still, it's a sad footnote to a terrible movie.

pittsburgh

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May 26 movie: Pittsburgh. This seems to be considered a lesser John Wayne movie, and it probably is, but I love it anyway. Wayne and Randolph Scott star as ambitious coal miners who rise to the top, fall, then rise again. All the while competing for the affections of Marlene Deitrich. Structurally it kind of reminded me of that movie with Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy as oil wildcatters. What was that movie called? Oh right, Boom Town. Except that Boom Town was made before the war, whlle Pittsburgh has that hyper-patriotic wartime thing going on.

the voyage home

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May ? movie: The Long Voyage Home. John Wayne stars in a John Ford movie about sailors dealing with the onset of World War Two. Wayne plays an innocent Swedish man, which is kind of bizarre, but his drawl and odd intonation actually work pretty well for the Hollywood version of a Swedish accent. The best actor in the movie was definitely Ian Hunter. His part of the plot was quite gripping. I think it was based on a Eugene O'Neill story, or several stories.

the sons of katie elder

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May ? movie: The Sons of Katie Elder. I lost about a week of the movie list when my computer crashed, and I think I managed to recreate it, but the exact dates are gone from the foggy reaches of my memory.

They were doing a special on TCM for John Wayne's 100th birthday, and I recorded several of the movies as part of my ongoing effort to cure my John Wayne allergy. The Sons of Katie Elder was okay. A pretty straightforward Western about four brothers who return home for their mother's funeral, and right the wrongs done to their family in their absence. 

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