August 2008 Archives

departure date

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Transport has been arranged for the beasties! The rescue group in Cleveland arranged for a rescue person in Dillwyn VA to take them up. She's going to Ohio in a camper on vacation, so the beasties can go the whole way in comfort, not having to be transferred from driver to driver. I just have to get them to Dillwyn, about a 3 hour drive from here.

I need to take the up to VA on Wednesday and I have a grooming appointment for them on Tuesday. Also have to fax the destination address to my vet, which is necessary for the certificates of health. Whew, it's a lot to deal with! I thought we wouldn't be able to transport them until the weekend at the earliest & therefore there would be a little more time to work out all those details.

And the best news is, the beasties may already have a permanent home! The Cleveland group said they've been showing my photos around and they found someone who's interested in meeting the beasties when they get up to Ohio. I can hardly believe things may work out for them so quickly.

(And I'm so glad my car stereo is fixed, so I'll be able to listen to music on my 6 hours of driving on Wednesday!)

persuasion

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The Obama people seem to be shifting into the persuasion phase of the campaign. Which is more difficult, I think, so it's good that we had a couple of months of the easier voter registration first.

Last Thursday I did my regular phone bank, calling volunteers and asking them to work this weekend, and then near the end of the evening they asked me to do some persuasion calls. Which were about as horrible as you might imagine phone banking to be. It's cold calling, asking people who they're voting for, trying to persuade them if they say undecided, and talking to them about early voting if they say Obama. People hung up on me, barked "How did you get my name?" etc. I can't say as I blame them; nobody likes cold calls, and it's a bit early to start. I did have one good call with an older gentleman who wanted me to mail him information about early voting.

The volunteer calls are so much easier because everyone on the list signed up at some point as a potential volunteer. Even if they don't really want to, they're aware that they put their own name on the call list. And most people do want to help. I did 2 hours of volunteer calling and felt great; after a half hour of persuasion calling I was done for. I ended up quitting fifteen minutes early because I just couldn't do it anymore.

Then this morning S. and I went out canvassing, and again it was persuasion rather than voter registration. We had to knock on doors, ask them who they're voting for, try to talk them around to Obama if they're undecided, and talk to them about early voting if they support Obama.

We met two women who said they were undecided, had supported Hillary, and were interested in Sarah Palin. Which was kind of a shocker to me. One of them even said she disagrees with Palin on all the issues, but she always likes to vote for a woman. Maybe McCain is right and we women really are stupid enough to vote for someone who's totally unqualified and opposes everything we believe in, just because she has a vagina.

I had spent all last night reading up on Palin and being appalled by what I learned, but I held my tongue with these women. I felt like it would look really bad if, right now when they're all excited about this news, someone in an Obama t-shirt shows up on their door and starts in on a tirade. "Did you know that before becoming governor two years ago, she was the part-time mayor of a town of 6,000 people? Did you know she fired the public safety commissioner for refusing to fire her ex-brother-in-law? Did you know she supports creationism in public schools? Did you know McCain only met her once before offering her the job? Did you know that a month ago she said she had no idea what a vice president does? Did you know that when asked her opinion about Iraq a year ago, she said she'd never thought about it? Did you know that if you look her up on ontheissues.org, she has no recorded statements ever on foreign policy, trade, government reform, immigration, jobs, technology, poverty, or the war?" So I just said something vague about hoping we can learn more about Palin.

S. tried the argument that an Obama administration would be much more positive towards women at all levels, but the voter seemed unswayed. Well she sounded kind of like a McCain supporter anyway despite her statement of liking for Hillary: she repeated a couple of Republican talking points while we were there. And she said "there's something about Obama I just don't like -- but it's not because he's black!" Right.

The nice thing about today's canvass was we got a packet of addresses really near my house. My part of town isn't ideal for canvassing, but being able to introduce myself as a neighbor was nice. I think it really did make people more willing to talk to us. I'd like to do that again.

In other news, TPM reports that McCain is now advertising in North Carolina. One of my main hopes with all this volunteering has always been that McCain would be scared into spending ad money to hang onto NC, taking those resources away from true battleground states like Ohio and New Mexico. Ha, haha.

time for them to own their failure

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Last night Georg and I watched Obama's speech with Joe, S. and D. at a convention watch party at Broad Street Cafe. We were lucky enough to get a table right up front near the screen, so I'm not sure how many people were there. 150 maybe? The place was packed, standing room only all the way back. Joe handed out buttons he had made (he runs a CD duplication business and has good graphics equipment for label printing) so the folks there were the first people in Durham to have "Obama-Biden" buttons.

It was a great way to watch the speech. There was lots of applause and several times the crowd erupted, cheering so loudly that we had trouble hearing the next few words. It was so inspiring to see it like that, surrounded by enthusiastic fellow supporters. It was a very good speech, and the positive energy in the room added so much. We all walked out of there so fired up. S. and I made plans on the spot to canvass on Saturday.

I do have a couple of small complaints about the venue: first, we thought they were going to be showing the convention all night, and they didn't actually turn it on until 9:30. Just in time to hear the "ordinary American" from Pittsboro, but we missed Al Gore and Stevie Wonder. Second, I thought they'd have it on a big TV or something, instead they were projecting the video stream from someone's computer. So the video quality was quite poor. I wish now we'd recorded the evening on C-SPAN so we could see the speeches we missed, and see Obama's speech with TV quality. But alas, we didn't think of it. Maybe one of the "on demand" channels will have it.

The funniest thing that happened was just before Obama spoke, one of the campaign workers held up a cell phone to the mic. She had on the line another field worker who was at Invesco Field, right in the middle of it. And he was totally incomprehensible. I guess because of the noise level in the stadium, he was yelling into his phone and was very distorted. Add more distortion from the mic and what we heard was Charlie Brown's school teacher. "Wa-wa, wa-wa-wa waaaaa!" Someone from the audience yelled out "Tell him to wave!" and then people started pointing at the throng on the video screen and saying "There he is! I see him!"

The campaign workers had a signup sheet and I hope they got lots of new volunteers last night. I noticed on this week's phone bank that I had a much better rate of volunteer sign-ups. It might just be the luck of the day, or it might be that the convention is encouraging people to volunteer.

the dog accord

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I think we have reached an accord: all three dogs spent the entire evening inside last night with no conflict. Jane and the beasties weren't snuggling together or anything, but they seem to have learned how to coexist. Thank god!

The other good news is that I've found a rescue group which can take them. The first group (the one in Georgia) never called back, probably because of the hurricane which landed pretty near them. She might not even have electricity, much less time to deal with taking in new dogs.

The group I talked to yesterday are in Cleveland. Which kind of alarmed me at first, because it's even farther away -- a 9 hour drive according to Google. But she said she can arrange transportation! Apparently there's a rescue dog transport network on every interstate in the country. You just find the right group and post, "I need to transport n dogs from a to b" and people step up offering to drive one-hour legs along the route. I had no idea.

If this dog transport network comes through, I'd just have to take the beasties the first leg or two, maybe a couple of hours each way. The rescue person said she couldn't arrange it this weekend because of the holiday, but she's hoping to get it put together by next weekend. Really great news.

Meanwhile I cancelled today's grooming appointment because the beasties aren't up on all their shots yet. The woman at PetSmart said they could come in, since rabies is the only vaccination they require, but she wouldn't recommend it. The risk is that they might catch something from another unvaccinated dog there. I'll reschedule the grooming next week after they have all their shots. I also need to get them "certificates of health" so they can legally be transported. The rescue woman told me that if you take a pet across state lines without the certificate, you can be fined and the animals taken away. She said they've gotten really strict about it since Katrina, when so many dogs and cats were taken to different parts of the country. Yikes. In retrospect I feel very glad no one stopped me on the way down from Delaware.

In other good news, the mechanic said that the problem was my iPod charger. They replaced the fuse and without my charger plugged in, everything worked fine. And they didn't even charge me! So I have music in my car again. And I guess I need to get a new iPod charger.

help wanted: poll workers

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Now is the time for signing up to be a poll worker! I just got a call today from the chief judge of my precinct to confirm that I would be there this November. In Durham County, all you have to do is attend a 2 hour training session a couple of weeks before the election, show up the night before to set up, and then be at the polling place all day on election day. It's not hard or scary work: I had to take people's names, look them up in a book and give them an ATV (authorization to vote) form. Anything out of the ordinary was referred to the chief judge.

If you're interested, just call your local board of elections and tell them you want to be a poll worker. Considering the record turnout expected this year, I'm sure they'll be glad to have you.

car news

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Good car news. The short probably isn't in the radio; it's probably in the cigarette lighter, which I forgot to mention was also on the same fuse that kept blowing. In fact the mechanic said there's a good chance it isn't even the cigarette lighter, but the iPod charger I had plugged into it. He said it happens all the time with cell phone chargers. Even if it is the lighter itself, that's not difficult to replace. So either way I'll have the car back today, and have music again.

I have to admit I was a bit worried about this one, just because electrical problems in a car can be so ... problematic. Expensive and difficult to fix. But the mechanic sounded confident that it will be an easy fix. whew!

Things were a bit chaotic here this morning. First we took Jane with us to drive Georg to work, so she'd have some alone time with us, and then the downpour really opened up just as we got home and Jane wouldn't get out of the car. I got drenched trying to coax, pull, shove her out. Then there was a barking incident so we're back to the tether. Everyone is calm now though. The rain has stopped and Jane is sitting in her favorite spot on the porch, rather than hiding out in the backyard. The beasties are sleeping blissfully. They really are adorable.

news flash

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I just saw a speech at the convention that didn't end with "God bless you all, and God bless America!" Warner's speech ended "God bless you all, and thank you very much!"

Why does he hate America?

zuchons, we get zuchons

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I googled shih tzu / bichon mix, and apparently it's called "zuchon" or "shichon" and it's a popular designer mix. I can see why; the beasties are super cute and affectionate.

They're doing really well. I didn't need the tether today and they didn't bark at Jane. I don't think they actually learned the lesson of the time outs that fast; more likely it was just that asserting myself a bit, reminding them that anything does not go, calmed them down and encouraged good behavior.

Jane still has the wig, alas, but she's getting better. This morning she came in for about a half hour. When all three of them are together, it's a lot of dog in one place. I guess I've gotten used to having just one dog.

Now Jane is on her bed in the bedroom with Georg. I'm out in the living room with the beasties, who are happily ensconced in their crate. At first I felt like a meanie for putting them inside a cage, but they really like it in there. They have a pile of blankets to dig a nest in, and a big stuffed toy to lie on top of.

They have an appointment at the groomer on Thursday, and at the vet on Friday. And tomorrow my car goes back to the shop. It ran great on the trip to Delaware last week, but while I was there it developed a short in the radio. The fuse blew, and when we replaced it, it immediately blew again. Nothing important was affected -- the dashboard lights and etc. still run -- just no clock or radio. Which is a bummer on a road trip.

So (knock on wood) they'll fix the car tomorrow, the beasties will get beautified and vaccinated, and then they'll be all ready to adopt out. All I need now is to connect with the rescue league!

shihtzus, we get shihtzus

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Zoe.jpegThe good news is the Pants Plan seems to be working. There's been immediate improvement in dog relations. This afternoon Jane came in for about 20 minutes and there was no barking from the beasties. Granted, I had to keep everyone calm with constant petting and sweet talk, but still it was a big step forward.

The bad news is that despite being half bichon, they don't look anything like the breed. And therefore the bichon rescue league can't take them. I don't know anything about purebreds, and I didn't realize that when I was told the dogs were bichons, not really. Actually they take after their shihtzu parent. They have that short muzzle, almost flat face and underbite. The lower teeth of one even show when her mouth is closed.

Zena.jpegI heard back from the bichon group around 6, and spent a couple of hours trying not to freak out and wondering what the hell I was going to do. I really do not have the ability to take on two new dogs long-term, especially when one of them requires such close attention until the issues with Jane are worked out. However, the bichon person gave me the name of a shihtzu rescue group in Georgia, and I just heard back from them, and it sounds like they're willing to take the dogs. Thank god! These folks are much farther away, but it will be worth it to get these two to a good rescue group who will keep them together.

So I'm going to talk to the shihtzu group in the morning, and I have an appointment to get the beasties' shots up to date and get them on heartguard, and they really ought to be groomed too.

Here's a question for those who travel with pets: how do you handle bathroom breaks for yourself? On the way here from Delaware I stopped every 90 minutes for the beasties, but could only manage once for myself. And of course stopping at a restaurant to eat was out of the question; I took a sandwich and ate it while I drove. Even the one bathroom break was a huge hassle: first I walked the dogs, then moved the car into the shade (unfortunately far from the bathroom house), got my computer bag and purse out of the car, rolled down all the windows, ran to the bathroom lugging my heavy computer bag, peed as fast as possible, then ran back. Is there an easier way? This drive is going to be farther (7 hours without stops) and I'll be going south so it will be hotter, and harder to leave animals alone in the car.

bichons, we get bichons

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ZoeZena.jpegThrough circumstances too complicated to go into, we are providing temporary shelter for two bichon-shihtzu mixes. The plan is to have them here for just a couple of days while I coordinate with a bichon rescue league. They are sweet dogs, just not our thing. They'll make great pets for someone who likes lap dogs.

They've been here since yesterday afternoon and I like them very much, except for one problem: one of them barks at Jane. Unfortunately Jane has a nervous temperament, and runs away when the bichon barks at her. The result is that, predictably, the bichon barks more often and with more force. Now Jane won't come in at all, she acts like she's been exiled to the yard, and the bichon thinks she rules the roost. It would be comical -- a 15 pound yappy dog scaring off a 70 pound shepherd mix -- if I didn't feel like the biggest heel in the world for introducing this conflict into Jane's home. These bichons are cute and all, but Jane is family.

With some expert advice from Ms. Pants we have a new approach to the problem. Hopefully this will work better than "wring my hands, hope for the best, and scold the bichon when she barks." Which didn't work at all because the scolding seemed to upset Jane more than anybody.

Ms. Pants suggested, first of all, not to give the bichon run of the house. Keep her tethered to me (or to my chair) at all times she isn't crated. This way she has less opportunity to bully Jane; for instance she can't sit at the front door and bark if Jane tries to come in. At first the bichon was excited by the leash because she thought, you know, walkies. Eventually she realized that we're doing the same puttering around the house, just now she can't go more than four feet away from me. It doesn't seem like a great hardship to her because these dogs are fairly people-oriented and want to be right near me all the time anyway.

Part 2 of the Pants Plan is that every time the bichon barks, she gets a time out. No scolding, just put her in the crate for ten minutes. If I'm consistent, the bichon will realize that her behavior (bullying), instead of a positive result (intimidate other dog) now has a negative result (short period of isolation). I decided to use the travel crate because their wire crate is so big and so crammed full of toys, it hardly seems like a punishment to be in there.

Only a half hour into the Pants Plan I had to administer a time out. The bichons and I were in the kitchen making my lunch; Jane was outside looking in the back door. I started talking to Jane and the bichon barked. Just once, but that was the first time she had done that (barked at Jane for just looking in, not even trying to come in).

I didn't scold, just said "Time out!" scooped her up and into the travel crate. The other bichon tried to go in too but I thought the bully should be alone for the time out to be effective. It certainly caught her by surprise. She spent five minutes yipping and scratching at the door while I ignored her. Then she calmed down and after five minutes of quiet I let her out. Gave her lots of affection so she wouldn't think I put her in there just because I'm a meanie.

Now they're both sleeping by my office chair. Here's hoping the Pants Plan puts an end to the bullying. Like I said, I hope this will only be for a few days. And I don't want these days to be miserable for Jane. The other bichon, by the way, is equally outgoing but much less aggressive. She seems content to follow the first one's lead, and only barks when the first one barks a lot and gets her riled up.

diabolique

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August 22 movie: Diabolique. My dad and I watched this together. (I mean the original by Clouzot, not the remake. Of course!) Neither of us had seen it in a long time, and we were both struck all over again by how good it is. The tension builds steadily, with just enough funny moments, and the climactic scene is one of the scariest things I've seen in a movie. If you haven't seen it yet, what are you waiting for?

house of cards

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August 20 movie: House of Cards. This is a BBC miniseries, a black comedy about a ruthless MP who cheats, blackmails and kills his way to becoming Prime Minister. I enjoyed it immensely. It's an ensemble piece with over a dozen characters, but I particularly liked Ian Richardson in the starring role Miles Anderson as another MP, a sleaze with a cocaine problem, and Susannah Harker as a spunky reporter who develops a relationship with Richardson.

singing in the rain

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August 17 movie: Singing in the Rain. Another movie that I love, I've seen a million times, and I have nothing to say about.

on the town

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August 17 movie: On the Town. I love this movie, I've seen it a million times, and I have nothing to say about it.

broadway melody of 1940

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August 17 movie: Broadway Melody of 1940. I love this movie! Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell are just terrific together. Robert Osborne said that Astaire chose not to work with Powell again because he felt like she outshone him. Which is a damned shame.

roberta

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August 17 movie: Roberta. Aside from The Barkeleys of Broadway this is the Fred and Ginger movie I've seen the least. It's their second movie, and they weren't the stars: they played second lead to Irene Dunne and Randolph Scott. The music by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach includes some wonderful songs, like "I Won't Dance" and "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes." Unfortunately the latter is marred by Dunne's performance, which I'm sure was all the rage at the time, but isn't to my taste at all.

the fred astaire songbook

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August 16 movie: The Fred Astaire Songbook. This nice documentary about Fred Astaire's singing was actually an episode of Great Performances. Narrated by Audrey Hepburn, who was still incredibly beautiful in 1991. Includes interviews with Hermes Pan, and some really interesting photos of Fred as a boy and young man with his sister Adele. From this movie I learned that Astaire was a talented pianest and drummer, and when he plays either in the movies (for instance his piano solo in Broadway Melody of 1940) it's really him playing.

obama town hall

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S. and I went to Obama's town hall meeting in Raleigh tonight. S. was amazing and waited in line for an hour yesterday to get us the tickets. We arrived separately, I got there first and wasn't allowed to save a seat for her. But then she got there just in time to be seated on the bleachers near the big flag, and luckily I was able to join her there. We were farther away than my first seat, but since we were elevated a bit it was much easier to see. I think if I had stayed at the first seat, I would have spent the entire town hall staring at the backs of people's heads and feeling frustrated.

The configuration of the audience was a bit of a surprise. Most of the audience was on two sides of the hall, and the press were on the other two sides, with a small number of VIP spectators sitting in front of them (the cameras were on a platform so the VIPs didn't block their view). I guess they do it that way so that Obama can be filmed with a lot of people behind him. But it means that he had his back to about half of the audience whenever he faced the cameras. He did walk around a lot so as to face all directions. Still it was kind of odd to see him turn towards the cameras, away from us, and continue gesturing and talking to an audience that wasn't there. I guess I only found it odd because I'd never seen a live stump speech before.

Obama connected with the audience immediately -- of course it was a sympathetic audience, but still it seemed like he hit just the right note many times. He was serious at times, inspired many cheers and standing ovations, and funny other times: like once he sneezed, then joked about having caught a cold from his daughter's friends because seven-year-olds "have a lot of germs" and therefore we should all wash our hands after shaking hands with him.

He gave a speech first, and then answered audience questions. We were both very surprised that the "town hall" format meant apparently random people raising their hands and being called on to ask whatever question they wanted. Some of the questions were silly, some very relevant, and none of them appeared to have been pre-vetted. I'm so used to the Bush administration approach, where every interaction is carefully stage-managed, that it was a big change to see a major political figure answering random questions. (I could be wrong about this of course, it's possible that the whole thing was staged. But I think if so, they would have chosen the questions more carefully to lead into Obama's talking points. A few of these questions were really off the wall and just sounded so unscripted.) I suspect the last question may have been an exception: the question, from a homeless veteran, was just so perfect that it made me wonder. I'm sure the guy is completely sincere; I just wouldn't be surprised if staffers had heard his story in advance and decided that he'd be a good way to end the town hall.

The hall, and the line to get in, were swarming with volunteers asking people to register to vote or to sign up as volunteers. And I must say, if I weren't already volunteering I would have signed up today. The meeting left both S. and I feeling fired up and ready to get back to work. We were so enthused that we didn't realize how hungry we were until we got back to the car after the speech was over. We stopped for a great dinner at Tyler's on the way home. And then I got home and found out that Spencer had called me about phone banking again! Just in time to take advantage of my excitement about volunteering. I'm glad he called because I need to find out the events we're promoting this week. But in general I'd rather do email than phone calls, because I can save the email messages as reminders of what I've signed up to do. He seems like a phone guy though, so I may not be able to convince him to email me instead.

advise and consent

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August 15 movie: Advise and Consent. Really interesting 60s drama about the confirmation hearing for a Secretary of State candidate. It's a bit preachy at times, but well worth it for the look at the internal politics of the Senate. And the cast is stellar: there's Henry Fonda as the Sec. of State candidate, Franchot Tone as the ailing President trying to preserve his legacy, Walter Pidgeon as the Senate majority leader, Charles Laughton as a Dixiecrat determined to take Fonda down, plus Gene Tierney, Peter Lawford, Burgess Meredith, Lew Ayres and Don Murray.

To my surprise, Henry Fonda turns out to play a fairly minor character. He's in the first half hour a lot, then basically disappears from the movie. The real stars are Walter Pidgeon and Charles Laughton, and they are superb.

you'll never get rich

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August 15 movie: You'll Never Get Rich. Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth costar in a sweet, silly little movie. At age 43 Fred makes a totally unconvincing draftee, but who cares? Costars Robert Benchley as a womanizing theater owner.

tonight and every night

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August 15 movie: Tonight and Every Night. This movie is no great shakes, except for the chance to see Rita Hayworth singing and dancing in Technicolor. The plot is about a London theater which stays open during the entire Blitz, never missing a night.

jam session

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August 15 movie: Jam Session. Speaking of silly, this was an extremely silly movie starring Ann Miller as a tap dancing contest winner determined to break into Hollywood. The thinnest veneer of plot holds together a series of musical numbers, including performances by the orchestras of Louis Armstrong, Charlie Barnet, jan Garber, Teddy Powell, Glen Gray and others.

mad love

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August 13 movie: Mad Love. Very early Peter Lorre movie, one of his first, or maybe very first, in Hollywood. Lorre hadn't yet shaken his M typecasting: here he plays a bald, crazy genius doctor who's obsessed with an actress. The actress' husband, a concert pianist, is in an accident which crushes his hands. Lorre grafts an executed murderer's hands onto the husband, and you guessed it, he immediately develops evil hand issues. The movie is genuinely creepy at times, but mostly just silly.

honky tonk

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August 13 movie: Honky Tonk. Clark Gable plays a con man who cons his way into control of a frontier town and marriage with Lana Turner. Eventually his corruption goes too far, Harry Morgan gets killed, Gable repents and finds redemption, blah blah blah. The reason to watch this movie is the smoking hot chemistry between Gable and Turner. Wow.

the lady is willing

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August 15 movie: The Lady is Willing. This was a cute movie starring Marlene Dietrich and Fred Macmurray. Marlene plays a stage star who finds a foundling baby, then talks Macmurray (a research doctor) into a marriage of convenience so she can keep the baby. If you can't guess what happens next, you haven't seen enough romantic comedies.

anyone but dole

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Today's canvass was a bit of a bummer. No big deal; I try to do different things each week, which pretty much guarantees that some days won't turn out as well as others. Again I thought I was going to be clipboarding and wore the wrong shoes. This time I intended to bring my walking shoes in case they changed the plan on me, but at the last minute I forgot, and ended up with blisters again. The canvass was way up north off Guess Road in an area that's still somewhat rural, on the edge of the Orange County line. The houses were so far apart that I had to drive to each one, I couldn't park and then walk around the neighborhood. Two of the addresses on my list were horse farms! So I ended up being out for a really long time with poor results, and this particular volunteer coordinator is getting worse at acting encouraging if you didn't really do that well. She actually made a grumbling noise when I told her I only had one registration. So now I'm sharing the joy and grumbling at you.

I want to make a request of people who don't want to deal with canvassers: If you aren't going to answer the door, don't walk around the living room. Don't pull open the blinds to peek out. If your dog barks, don't shush it. If your TV is on, don't turn it off. I can convince myself that you left the TV on to keep the dog company, and that there are three cars in your driveway because you went out in the fourth. Just don't make it too obvious that you're standing right behind the door refusing to answer. And really, if you don't answer I'm going to check off "not home" and someone else will be there in couple of weeks. If you really want the visits to stop, come to the door and say you support the other guy.

Only a couple of people did that to me today. One of them was so damned obvious: the front door was open, the TV was on and I could hear people walking around! I was really peeved until I watched the TV for a moment and realized that it was tuned to Fox News. No way are they going to vote for Obama; they did me a favor by not talking to me.

The afternoon did yield the funniest thing a voter has ever said to me. It was an older man who said he was registered, and when I asked if he minded telling me who he supports, first he said Obama, and then he added, "Anyone but Dole!" They're both cranky, elderly war heroes with lackluster campaigns: it's a mistake anyone could make. I didn't want him to feel foolish so I just said "I know exactly what you mean."

rifftrax: glitter

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August 13 movie: Rifftrax: Glitter. The customer reviews rated this one as the best Rifftrax, and it is indeed quite funny. It's Mike and Mary Jo Pehl, another writer from MST3K. The movie is hilariously bad. The ending is so ridiculous that Georg and I debated whether it was intended to be a dream sequence or not. There's nothing to indicate a dream sequence, except its sheer preposterosity.

two faced woman

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August 10 movie: Two Faced Woman. Greta Garbo's last movie is a huge disappointment. She marries Melvyn Douglas on a whim, finds out he's a selfish, philandering dickhead, then poses as her own identical twin to teach him a lesson. He pretends to fall in love with the "twin" to get back at her, it goes on like that for awhile, and then they decide somewhat randomly that they still love each other. There's no reason to think anything will be better between them, or that they'll stop hurting each other. But the movie's time is up and they have to wrap it up.

At the end Robert Osborne said that originally Douglas didn't know about Garbo's ruse, and really thought he was seducing her sister. But the Catholic League got all freaked out, like they do, and the filmmakers inserted a scene where Douglas finds out the truth early on. I don't know which way is worse: for Douglas to be so immoral that he throws himself into an affair with his wife's sister, or for him to pretend to do so, just to mess with her head.

It's kind of sad to see the couple who starred in Ninotchka make a piece of dreck like this. But as Georg said, if they made two movies, and one is a legendary classic, and you've never heard of the other, there's probably a reason.

A couple of bits of trivia: first, there's a play in the movie called "Nostalgia in Chromium." This is going to sound insane, but I could swear I've seen another movie from that era which contains a play with that title. I tried to google it and came up with nothing.

Also, the movie does include this very clever bit of dialogue:
"Will you dine with me tonight?
"I can't dine with you tonight; I just met you."
"How about tomorrow night?"
"Tomorrow I will have forgotten you."

all the king's men

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August 10 movie: All the King's Men. Compelling, albeit sordid, story of Huey Long (aka "Willie Stark"), the 1930s Louisiana politician whose power was matched only by his corruption. It's pitched as the story of power corrupting everything it touches, although Stark's transformation from simple populist to sleazy pol happens so fast in the movie, it comes across as if he was a black-hearted cynic all along. I wonder if the book spends more time on Stark's descent. Tremendous acting all around, especially from Broderick Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge. I read that the end of the movie is pretty close to the actual end of Huey Long.

rendezvous

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August 9 movie: Rendezvous. I am so far behind on the movie list. This was a forgettable spy thriller/ romantic comedy starring William Powell and Rosalind Russell. It had funny moments, I'm not sorry I saw it. It just didn't make me forget The Thin Man or His Girl Friday.

phone bank

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I did something new today: phone bank! It was easier than clipboarding and even, dare I say it, fun. We were calling people who had already signed up to volunteer, and asking them if they would volunteer this weekend. Because it wasn't cold calling, the proportion of annoyed responses was much lower that you might expect. Even when people weren't free this weekend (which is what most people said), they mostly sounded sincere about wanting to help.

It wasn't an autodialer like that time I did phone bank for Ben Cardin two years ago. I had to log into a website, and there was a page for each person. I called them on a regular phone, clicked a button to indicate what happened on the call, then clicked "next" to go to the next call.

I had a few memorable calls: one woman told me she's starting chemo on Monday, but she asked me to have them call her back in two weeks! Now that is dedication. I also had a really nice conversation with a Latino woman who wants to do a Spanish language phone bank. I tried out my fledgling Spanish on her, and she said something I barely understood, but I think she was complimenting my Spanish (more generously than accurately). And I also talked to a man who wants to volunteer but can't do things like canvassing because he has emphysema and can't be out in the heat. I talked to him about doing phone bank from his house through the website, so he wouldn't even have to come to the office. After the call I asked the volunteer coordinator to call him back and talk him through it, because he didn't sound like the most computer savvy person.

I worked on the phone bank from 5:30 until about 8. I don't have an exact call count but the volunteer coordinator said I did better than average. I think that's just because most people weren't home so the calls went really fast. He sounded impressed but I think they always make a point of sounding impressed, no matter what you do, so you'll feel good about what you did and volunteer again.

Anyway, phone banking was easy and I'm definitely going to do it again. Now that I'm trained I can just show up there any evening and grab a phone. They need to make calls all the time because they have a pool of sporadic volunteers who can be noodged with weekly reminder calls. The best part is, they just had their phones installed an hour before I got there. And I got to be the first person to ever use the phone at the Durham Obama office! woo!

say it isn't so

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This morning I listened to the BBC World News and was dismayed to learn that a couple of features of the Opening Ceremonies were faked:

1. The adorable little girl singing "Ode to the Motherland" was actually lip-synching for a more talented but less adorable other little girl.
2. The incredibly impressive "footprints" fireworks display only existed on TV. In real life there was just one footprint, not the whole sequence which appeared to march down the road to the Bird's Nest stadium.

What bummed me out the most was the almost belligerent defensiveness of the Olympics representative in the interview. Okay, he made a good point that people lip-synch all the time at big spectacle events like this, and that it would have been dangerous to have a helicopter flying so close to the footprint fireworks. Still, it's a disappointment to see what appears to be a breathtaking live display and then find out it was all CGI trickery.

Besides, the "how dare you question me?" attitude left a really bad taste in my mouth. At first he even denied the footprint fakery, until the reporter insisted that he had been there and the footprints had not. I wonder what else they faked?

onda carolina

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Check out the awesome new blog about the Latin music scene in the Triangle: Onda Carolina. Created by Santa Salsera and Bunch of Pants, natch. Already they've got video of sexy dancing hombres from Grupo Control. Me gusta!

puede votar?

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I forgot to mention that I got to use my election Spanish yesterday! See, I've been frustrated by encounters where I'm clipboarding in front of a supermarket and am unable to communicate with Latinos who walk by. Realistically, someone who cannot answer a question about voting in English is almost certainly not a citizen. So I'm not losing potential new voters if I can't talk to them. But still, I don't like that I can't communicate at all.

I had one particularly uncomfortable encounter where a woman thought -- well I'm not sure exactly but I think she thought I was giving out memberships to a supermarket frequent shopper club. She kept saying "Applicacion?" and I kept saying "This is for voting?" and neither one of us had any idea what the other was saying. That was when I realized that I needed to prepare a few phrases to get through situations like that.

I've been studying Spanish on a podcast, but I'm still in the early lessons and the podcast is aimed mainly at tourists going to Spain. And much of the vocabulary is things like, for example, how to ask if there is a museum nearby. I wrote to the podcast teacher and asked if he would consider covering election vocabulary, and he said that he might in the future, but they have the podcast all planned out through October. (The podcast is excellent by the way, it's called "Coffee Break Spanish" and you can get it on iTunes. And it was really cool that Mark wrote me a personal response.)

So I searched online and found a page with election vocabulary. I used my meager knowledge of Spanish grammar to cobble together phrases like "I work for Barack Obama. Are you able to vote?" Sta Salsera helped me with one that was beyond me: "Is there anyone in your family who is able to vote?" Because I have talked with people who aren't citizens but have adult children who are. I had a nice conversation recently with a man who's very excited that his son will turn 18 this October and will be able to vote.

I wrote out a cheat sheet with these phrases and some other vocabulary like "candidato" and "elección" and so forth, and stuck it in the back of my clipboard. And what do you know, the first house I went to yesterday I got to use it! A woman answered the door and as soon as I started to speak in English, she brought her daughter to the door to translate. I tried my "trabajo con Barack Obama. Puede votar?" and she understood me! woo!

I was so excited that I completely forgot to ask if there was anyone else in the family who could vote. Next time for sure!

canvassing in burlington

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Went out to Burlington today to do voter registration. They don't have an Obama office out there, but they do have an Obama staffer working out of the local Democratic Party office. I joined a group of mostly Chapel Hill people, who carpooled from Carrboro which cut the driving about in half for me.

They had us do a modified version of the canvass S. and I went on a couple of weeks ago. That time, we had maps identifying unregistered voters. This time, they said that going to just the targeted houses slowed things down too much. So this time, what they did was identify maps with a high concentration of unregistered voters, and just have us knock on every door in the neighborhood.

We split into pairs, and I paired up with a nice guy named Bill. He was a self-described tech geek, and if you're going to spend an afternoon with a stranger, it's nice for it to be someone you have a lot in common with. We were sent to a really good neighborhood: small houses, which means they're close together, but nice family homes, not a sketchy area. And heavily Democratic: we had to ask people who they support, and I met only one person who said "not Obama" plus one who said "undecided" and I think she meant "not Obama, go away." A couple of people sounded genuinely undecided, a few didn't want to tell me, and the vast majority said Obama. So it was really an ideal place to canvass for future GOTV.

(Libertarians may again be glad to know that we had a code on our info sheet for Bob Barr. I haven't yet met a Barr supporter but they've been sending me places where I'm not likely to.)

My favorite encounter was a pair of men who were sitting on the back of a pickup truck in the shade, just shooting the breeze. I asked if they were registered and they said yes. One of the men told me that his daughter Deborah was in a house up the street and she wasn't registered. I promised I would try to get her to register when I got up there.

Well when I got to that house, a young man answered the door and told me everyone in the house was registered, and he's an Obama volunteer at Alamance Community College. I asked him if Deborah was there? He looked really surprised and said, "yes..." with this hilarious tone like, how the heck do you know that? I explained, "Her dad says she isn't registered and he asked me to talk to her."

He sent Deborah out and I registered her. She said she had registered before in Winston-Salem, where she goes to school, but then she decided she'd rather vote absentee here. Then while we were filling out the form, it came out that she had a registration form for Winston-Salem but had never sent it in. So she's actually a new registration.

On the way back I told the two guys in the truck that I had seen Deborah and had registered her, and thanked them for telling me about her. They chatted with me for a minute and then one asked if I wanted some water. Oh my god, yes! By that point I had been walking around for over 3 hours. Just standing in the shade for a minute was a relief. These guys asked me to sit down on the back of truck bed, and brought me a glass of ice water. They were the best people ever.

While I was sitting Bill walked up, so I shared the water with him. He tried to talk the two guys into volunteering by telling them that there are lots of friendly ladies working for Obama. I was a little appalled by that, but it's true, most of the volunteers are women. One of the guys actually seemed interested by that and Bill wrote down the local office address for him.

My only complain about the event was that I mistakenly thought we were going to be clipboarding and I wore the wrong shoes. I wore my sandals: light, cool, fine for standing but not good for extended walking. My feet hurt so bad by the time I got home. Now I feel much better but I do have several blisters on each foot. And may I say, blisters under calluses feel really weird. Next time sneakers for sure.

Bill and I got 6 registrations. Fewer than we would have gotten standing outside a supermarket for that length of time. But we also got voter info on dozens of homes, which is valuable too. We chatted with the Obama staffer for a few minutes when we got back. She's an interesting person, she came down here from New York. We swapped stories about encounters with, shall we say, "low information voters." Like that guy I talked to, who sounded so annoyed when he found out that the primary wasn't the only election and he was going to have to vote again in November.

The staffer told us a great story that was second-hand from the staffer in Caldwell. She (the Caldwell person) cold called someone and said she was calling on behalf of Barack Obama. The voter replied, "He's running for police commissioner, right?" No ma'am, explained the staffer, he's running for President of the United States. The voter said, "what's the difference!"

I'm pretty impressed that the Obama campaign sent field workers to places like Burlington and Caldwell. (I'm assuming she meant Caldwell County but actually I don't know, there are several towns named Caldwell in the state.) They could easily have justified letting the Orange County office handle Alamance as well. With eleven offices plus who knows how many staffers, the organization in this state must be massive.

Fivethirtyeight.com posted something today which estimates (exact numbers are not known) that Obama field offices outnumber McCain's by three to one. However, McCain's total includes "Victory Offices" which are run by the Republican party and work for all state Republican candidates. But Obama's total only includes dedicated Obama field offices, not offices like the one in Burlington which organized the event I went to today. I think that means that, if comparing apples to apples, Obama's organization actually outnumbers McCain's by far more than three to one.

I still don't believe Obama is going to win NC, but it won't be for lack of trying.

olympics

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7:30: China's hosting the Olympics this year is described as "not a small step, but a Great Leap." Really? Did they really just say that? Less than one minute into the program and they've already offended me. Well done!

7:42: Brokaw shows the anti-torch demonstrations in Paris, then calls the earthquake an "even greater blow." A disaster that killed 70,000 people is an even greater blow than a PR embarrassment? Wow. Now I remember why I never watch TV news or pundits.

7:44: Brokaw describes the months leading up to the Olympics "a long, Long March." That's three in 14 minutes. Get the laptop, I'm liveblogging this!

This post became enormous so the rest is behind a cut.

susan and god

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August 5 movie: Susan and God. Joan Crawford plays a selfish woman in a bad marriage with alcoholic Fredric Marsh. Crawford discovers religion and takes it as an excuse to add sanctimony to her already long list of character flaws. I enjoyed this movie up until the end. Because Crawford and March have a teenage daughter and the movie was made in 1940, there's only one way it can end. And what an unsatisfying ending it is. Good supporting work by Ruth Hussey.

now, voyager

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August 5 movie: Now, Voyager. Speaking of movies I can watch over and over.

never wave at a wac

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August 3 movie: Never Wave at a WAC. Post-war movie in which Rosalind Russell plays a selfish, frivolous DC socialite whose father, a senator, tricks her into joining the WAC. Russell thinks Dad will set her up with a commission and a cushy assignment in Paris, but he declines, allowing her to go through boot camp. Her ex-husband shows up, he's a military outerwear designer or something? And he yanks her out of boot camp so he can force her to go through grueling and demeaning stress tests on new parkas and rain gear.

This movie was an uneasy combination of a cute fish-out-of-water story, an inspirational finding-yourself story, and an ugly punish-the-woman story. I enjoyed parts of it and had to fast forward other parts to get through it. I can't recommend this unless you really, really love Rosalind Russell.

designing woman

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August 3 movie: Designing Woman. When Georg told me the night before that Sunday was Gregory Peck day on TCM Summer Under the Stars, my first thought was "I hope they show Designing Woman. And then the next morning, I sat down and turned on the tv just as it was starting! What luck! I love this movie.

procrastination

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If it wasn't for major work deadlines, my bathtub grout would never get cleaned.

threadless, what gives?

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Did Threadless go to crap while I wasn't looking? I used to love their shirts, I must have over a dozen of them. Hadn't ordered in a long while -- because I already have so many, see -- and earlier this week I bought two. One for me and a present for Georg. They arrived on Friday, I just opened the package today and what a disappointment.

My shirt had stains. It looked like the shirt had been folded before the ink completely set, and the part printed red had rubbed off. Georg's shirt didn't have good coverage -- little flecks chipped out of the printing. All over the shirt, maybe a hundred places. It really looks bad.

It looks like they changed the fit too. I ordered the same size I always order -- girl x-large -- and the new shirt is huge. Wider and a good 8" longer than all my old ones. Which really sucks. I wear girl shirts because they don't hang down to mid-thigh on a short person like me.

The worst part was looking at the tag and seeing that, unlike the old shirts which were made in the USA, the new ones say "Made in Bangladesh." Great. I gave Georg a crappy, ill-fitting shirt made in a sweatshop in a third world country. Happy birthday, honey! I got you child labor!*

Tomorrow I'm going to take photos of the stain and the bad printing and write a complaint to Threadless. I was thinking I wanted to exchange them, but now that I've seen the Bangladesh label, I think I'd rather have my money back.

So where do you all go to get nice, funky t-shirts that aren't crap and aren't made in foreign sweatshops?

*actually the shirt was just a little extra. his main present was a big box of brisket, ribs and sausage shipped overnight from the Salt Lick in Texas. Nothing says "I love you" like smoked meat.

rifftrax: battlefield earth

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August 2 movie: Rifftrax: Battlefield Earth. Here's the really cool thing about Mystery Science Theater 3000. They're still doing it! It's called Rifftrax and it's all online. Mike Nelson, MST3K's head writer and second host, records similar joke tracks as they used to do for MST3K, but for new big budget movies, which of course they could never get for the show. You buy and download an mp3 of the Rifftrack, pop in your own DVD of the movie and play them together.

They have a nice system for synching the DVD with the Rifftrack: first Mike starts the audio, then he tells you to pause the mp3, start the DVD and restart the mp3 as soon as you see a certain logo on the movie screen. Throughout the movie, a funny voice comes in about every 5 minutes and says a line of dialogue from the movie. If the funny voice isn't exactly in sync with the movie, you pause one or the other for a half-second or so to bring them back together.

That's the theory, at least. In practice it took me most of the movie to get the hang of it. The first 20 minutes or so were out of sync. Then it was great, but then later on the DVD hung for a half-second and put them out of sync again. And I got confused and paused the wrong one several times, which of course put them more out of sync. Then when I finally figured it out, it worked great for the rest of the movie.

This was a real object lesson in the importance of timing to comedy. The parts when I had the tracks perfectly in sync were hilarious. The parts where it was off a bit .. well it was still funny, just less so. Still, I'm really glad I tried it. It was great to have what was essentially a new MST3K, with the same cast even: Battlefield Earth included Mike, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett. Four entertainment dollars well spent, and honestly I feel pretty good about giving money to Mike Nelson. (Hmm, I hope the makers of Battlefield Earth get a blanket license fee from Netflix, not a specific royalty payment for my rental.) I hope Mike is able to make a decent business out of this. My guess is the overhead is so astronomically lower for this than to make a tv show, that it must be much easier to turn a profit with Rifftrax.

Next time, being more practiced at keeping the two tracks in sync, I hope I'll get full enjoyment from the Rifftrax. I've got the next movie in my queue, the one that was rated as the all-time best Rifftrack: Glitter. I can't wait.

mst3k: hercules against the moon men

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August 1 movie: Mystery Science Theater 3000: Hercules Against the Moon Men. Remember Mystery Science Theater 3000? That show where the guy and the two robots make fun of bad movies? I miss that show. Something reminded me of it recently and I discovered that Netflix has several dozen episodes available. This one, from early in the Joel Hodgson era, includes some of the funniest host segments I think they ever did. It includes "Deep Hurting," the "Pants" song, and the one where the robots give themselves action star names like Drake Tungsten.

the benny goodman story

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July 30 movie: The Benny Goodman Story. Biopic of Benny Goodman stars Steve Allen in the title role. The best thing about the movie is the music, of course. As far as I can tell the entire orchestra plays themselves, and Goodman provided his own music (overdubbing Allen, who appears as Goodman in the performance scenes). We recognized Gene Krupa, Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton and Harry James, and the movie also featured Martha Tilton, Ziggy Elman, Ben Pollack and Kid Ory (the latter two appear but don't perform). Also features Sammy Davis Sr. -- Sammy's father! -- playing Fletcher Henderson who had died a couple of years before the movie was made.

After the movie Robert Osborne mentioned that Benny Goodman was the first bandleader to fully integrate his band, hiring the most talented musicians regardless of race. The movie doesn't come right out and say that but they allude to it very subtly: in the scene where Goodman "discovers" Hampton, they all start jamming together and when Wilson plays a solo, Goodman puts an arm across Hampton's shoulder in a collegial sort of way. As Georg pointed out, it's pretty sad that 20 years after the fact that was as close as Hollywood wanted to get to acknowledging integration in music.

I almost forgot to mention a funny line near the end: The movie closes with Goodman's performance big at Carnegie Hall. He sneaks a peek at all the stuffed shirts in their evening clothes in the audience, and remarks that it's "a whole house full of long-hairs, people who've never heard our kind of music." Long-hairs? Apparently in 1955 that meant "classical music fans"? Ten years later it would mean something quite different.

battle royale

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July 28 movie: Battle Royale. Another movie I rented because of the AV Club write-up. The AV Club spends a bit too much time waxing poetic about how only the cool kids know about or how to find this movie (example: "as a cult phenomenon, there's still sort of a backroom, secret-handshake quality to the film, and that's added a layer of mystique that nearly makes up for its lack of mass-market accessibility") which is hilarious considering I got it from Netflix.

The movie has a brutal premise: a class of 42 Japanese children, about 15 years old, are kidnapped by the government, taken to an island and forced to kill each other. I thought this might be too creepy for me so I actually read the book first. I had read criticism of the writing -- well actually the translation. I didn't have a problem with it at all. In fact I thought it was a testament to the writing skill that I never had any trouble distinguishing among the 42 kids, all of whom have unfamiliar names, some of whom appear for a few pages, disappear for a chapter and then come back. I've read books with far fewer characters which made it much harder to tell the characters apart (Neal Stephenson, I'm looking at you.) The book Battle Royale does a really good job of giving each of the children a distinct personality which drives their behavior, while in the movie most of them are just cannon fodder. Which is not intended as a criticism of the movie; that much character development in a movie would be terrible. It's just one of those things that doesn't translate well from one medium to another.

My only actual criticism of the movie is that parts of it were a bit .. nonsensical. I hesitate to use the word "plausible" when describing a story like this but the backstory in the book does have an internal logic which hangs together much better. The book is an alternate history where Japan didn't lose WWII and is now under fascist rule. The Battle Royale (called "the Program") is a social control mechanism designed to keep the population too frightened and demoralized to rebel. In the movie, it's something to do with Japanese teens being too rebellious, or something. But since none of the children in the movie apparently know about the Program, as a deterrent it seems totally ineffective.

Also we found the ending totally confusing, though we found out later that part of the problem was a mystifying "epilogue" which was really the delete scenes just tacked onto the end. It wasn't supposed to be read as an epilogue, thus our confusion.

On the bright side, the character of the teacher/leader of the Program is played by Takeshi Kitano and has much more depth in the movie. In the book he's basically a cardboard villain.

Of course quibbles about plot logic holes are swept aside pretty quickly, as the movie gets down to the business of the classmates slaughtering each other. If that sounds horrifying to you, don't watch this movie! Duh.

It seems like all I ever write about anymore are movies, and volunteering for Obama. Well this one is about volunteering. A few people have said things to me along the lines that they're glad I'm doing this, but they never could do it. And I have to say, I'm an introvert, sometimes painfully so (except online where I can mouth off to my heart's content in the privacy of my own living room). And if I can do voter registration, anyone can.

Standing in front of a supermarket and asking everyone who walks by, "Excuse me, are you registered to vote at your current address?" really isn't as bad as it sounds. True, people are in a hurry and many of them try to get by you without making eye contact. And the occasional rude person can bring you down. But for every one rude person, there are four or five who give me a thumbs up, cheer for Obama, tell me how excited they are about the election. This morning for instance, there was a guy who kind of blew past me on his way in, and I figured he was one of the busy annoyed people. But then on the way out, he touched my arm and said "Thank you for doing this." That gave me such a boost. The secret to voter registration, for me at least, is that whenever I'm having a bad run and am starting to feel demoralized, I think about people like that and just push the negativity aside.

I asked the Durham Obama office how many new registrations they're getting, and the guy said he didn't have an exact count but it's running about 100 a day. At the time I found that hard to believe. I've been averaging 2 an hour, and I hear that's typical. Can they really have 50 volunteer hours every day doing this, just in Durham? Well I did a little math: they had 6 shifts today. If they had 15 volunteers at each shift, each volunteer went out for 1.5 hours and got 3 registrations, that's 270. Plus there are other folks here and there, like the guy with the table at the farmer's market who told me he gets 20-40 each week. If they do that every Saturday, then they might actually be averaging 100 per day. (Of course the big question is, how many of those people will vote in November.)

If you've been thinking that you'd like to get involved but voter registration just sounds painful, it really isn't. It's even kind of fun if you do it with someone you know, especially if you go get milkshakes or agua fresca afterwards. Drop me a line sometime and we could go out together!

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