Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Milk vs. Human Kindness

An Open Letter to Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont, his constituent dairy farmers, et. al. 

Representative Welch, I read with interest an article (by Cleve R. Wootson Jr. of the Washington Post printed in the Chicago Tribune) about a letter signed by 20 U.S. legislators demanding the FDA require makers of soy milk, almond milk, and so forth to drop the word "milk" from their labels.

If it doesn't come from an animal, the word "milk" doesn't belong, the article said, summarizing your point. Of course, your own quote a couple of paragraphs later gets to the heart of the matter (or at least, why your heart's in it): these drinks are being placed in the dairy aisle (the outrage!) "right next to milk" you say, adding that dairy is "really crucial" in Vermont and much of "rural America," and dairy farmers are "hanging on by their fingernails."

To which I can only say: really? The end of the dairy industry as we know it? This could not happen soon enough!

Sometimes, we simply have to accept that a job that has been done for hundreds of years won't be with us forever. We have to accept that just because a profession has been in our family for generations doesn't mean we are entitled to it. We also have to accept that this might be for the better.

Often, it's technology that eliminates a job: consider the lamplighter whose gig was made unnecessary by our wired streetlights, or the telegraph and switchboard operators that have given way to ever speedier and more digital technologies, or even the bowling alley pinsetters whose work is now done by simple machine movement.

Sometimes, though, it's a moral goodness that eliminates a job. Where, now, are the slave traders that kidnapped thousands of humans, cruelly confined them, separated them from family members, and forced them into lives of suffering and sorrow that bore no hint of justice?

Please, Representative Welch, and dairy farmers of Vermont, open your hearts and minds to think about WHY people are buying more and more alternative "milks" and less and less of your cruel, unnecessary product.

We don't want to support an industry that relies on confining sentient beings.

We don't want to have adult females impregnated, only to then have their calves taken away (sometimes just to be slaughtered - a true wasted life).

Do you vouch for the health and safety of the cows on your constituents' dairy farms? Can you possibly assure us that the cows of your industry are not living lives of misery? You speak of farmers metaphorically "hanging by their fingernails" but what about newborn calves stolen from their mothers who are actually trying to cling to life?  Or adult cows living in years of imprisonment, unable to have the simple freedom to walk or turn or roam?

Perhaps people would buy more of your milk, so "crucial" in Vermont, if you could assure us it isn't manufactured in cruelty.

On the other hand, maybe we would continue to reduce the amount of dairy milk we consume, because as the populace at large learns more and more about how to healthily sustain and nourish ourselves, we logically turn away from your "crucial" product.

We might continue to realize on a grand scale that we simply don't need milk. Despite the years of successful lobbying, despite your oh-so-powerful Vermont/rural America industry that has brainwashed minds young and old with slogans like "Got milk?" and "It does a body good!" we know that it doesn't do all that much "good" for our bodies at all.

Humans do NOT need cows' milk. Drop the tired old argument about calcium (available in plenty other foods). Despite your having convinced so many of them that they do, humans who have been weaned from their mothers after breastfeeding should take a hint from the rest of their fellow mammals and move on to other foods.

Where else in the class Mammalia do you see animals suckling at the breast of another species? Do you see tigers feeding at the breast of camels? Raccoons drinking from wolves? When someone forwards an "aw, shucks" heartstring-tugging photo of a mother dog letting the poor, abandoned kitten drink milk along with the puppy litter, it's interesting BECAUSE it's an anomaly. It's an emergency situation, not a way of life. Yes, humans would be doing right and good to feed an abandoned human baby who had no mother from a cow's udder in order to save the human baby's life. That does not even remotely justify an industry of pain and terror. Those mother-puppy-feeds-the-kitten stories demonstrate the milk of canine kindness -- not a bunch of inhumane humans locking bovine species into captive servitude to create an industry of suffering,

And by the way? Milk and dairy really aren't that healthy. You might be amazed at how much better you feel when you eliminate dairy from your diet,  how easily you shed those few pounds of bloated abdomen that just accumulate and hang out when you're a milk drinker,

As a legislator, a position that purports to be about service and leadership, you ought to be spending your time and Congressional efforts creating sustainable, forward-thinking jobs and opportunities, rather than clinging to antiquated notions and perpetuating industries that have become completely out of control in the modern age as they scramble to produce enough for too many millions of greedy, entitled humans. You should be encouraging Vermont and others to build a healthy, happy future.

Is it acceptable for a rural farmer to have a couple of cows, milk them to provide for the family, and perhaps sell to a few local village households, while NOT removing and killing the calves, and while NOT keeping the mother penned but instead allowing her to be a free, roaming animal? Sure.

Is the massive dairy industry lobby that controls our nation now acceptable? Good god, no.

Please reconsider your ideas and strategy, and please try to use your position and your voice to actually do some (human and cow) bodies good.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

One More Day Before the Storm

As Macbeth said, "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow..."  

But I do believe that tomorrow, Monday, December 19th, will in fact signify something.
The future, which occurs after the present

I've had this super-weird confluence of personal, professional, and political timing, which all seem to be coming to a frothy head tomorrow. So, when I woke up today (Sunday, December 18th) and Facebook was offering up Fb memories of our three-years-ago trip to Hong Kong Disney, I decided this image of me at Tomorrowland says something important.

Tomorrow means hope. It's not all gloom and doom creeping in at a petty pace, Macbeth. Now, Macbeth is my boy (i.e. favorite Shakespeare tragedy) and he certainly has it right that there are fools and poor players all around us strutting and fretting (ahem TheDnldWTFTrumpface ahem). But the very notion of tomorrow brings hope, as one of my OTHER favorite plays of all time reminds us. So, so, so much hope for the wretches whom Macbeth might call "walking shadows" as they contemplate revolution in Les Misérables:

"There's a new world for the winning/Do you hear the people sing?"

When the Electoral College meets tomorrow, will they hear? Will they do the right thing, the moral thing, the Constitutional thing, and use their best judgment to cast their votes, which means casting them so that TheDnldWTFTrumpface does not ascend to the presidency?

While that's happening politically, I also personally have a huge and emotional development tomorrow in my professional life. (No, the electors aren't going to elect me...that I know of!) One era is coming to an end, due in large part to reduction-in-force layoffs that came slamming into one of my gigs, but not entirely due to that, as I have seized upon a blessing-in-disguise opportunity to do some stuff when this particular new little era of mine dawns. AND, just to compound the personal/professional/tomorrow timing of it all, the last month and a half has been a whirlwind, a mighty and fierce whirlwind, of me working two and a half jobs, laying groundwork, and figuring out lots of big stuff, and all this has been happening since Monday, November 7, the first "One Day More," which led us to the horrible Tuesday, November 8 election day or more accurately the horrible Wednesday, November 9 Day After. So for one month and a half I have been in this intense stirring up of life and time (working every day, sometimes two jobs, plus other events, with no time to think but just go go go with eyes on the prize), with big developments, and meanwhile this parallel thing happening of Trumpface and the end of the world and the burgeoning fight for the #ElectoralCollegeExMachina moment we all need and then after a particularly intense last burst of the 36 hours from 11 a.m. Friday through 11 p.m. Saturday where I was just everywhere serving three or more masters and just go go go went went went I came home and rested.

Sleeping deeply.

And waking up today to Facebook memories of Tomorrowland and the imminence of tomorrow, December 19, when one big thing ends in my personal life, AND there is one superbig chance for the whole world in political life.

Sing it, Les Misérables:

"Tomorrow is the judgment day
Tomorrow we'll discover what our god in heaven has in store
One more dawn
One more day
One day more."

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Real "America" and the media the media the media the media the media

SO then. Here we are. Forty-seven percent of U.S.A. voters cast their precious ballots and made it so that with a popular vote loss but 290 electoral college votes to 228 (and still counting some states) TheDnldUGHTrump will occupy the White House and deprive Hillary Clinton of that opportunity. 

I mean, don't get me wrong: I'm pretty sure that 47% of all y'all out there make terrible choices on any given and every given day, so why should election day be any different? 

But today we are here specifically to address this idea that MrTrumpface somehow spoke to the concerns of "real Americans" with whom the media was out of touch.  

"The media" is an incredibly vague and fairly useless phrase, so I'll narrow it down at least a little to the talking head anchors and roundtable sitters on network news programs who spent the last year pretending Hillary Clinton's "widespread unpopularity" which they harped on excessively until it finally started growing -- sort of beating life into it --  was a news story, rather than any of the bazillion policy issues, policy statements, political issues, social issues, current events, tragedies, hopeful outcomes, etc. happening all around us in the nation that Hillary addressed month after month after month. Those media squawking heads salivated breathlessly as they manufactured dislike for Hillary Clinton and offered up freely their interest in non-issue email invented "scandals" and pretended the Drumpfster was a legitimate option for the presidency and then acted stunned and shocked on election night. That was stupid of them, and they were one of the top two targets of my election night (Facebook) wrath, along with the delusional/bamboozled people who actually cast votes for DT. 


As the Chicago Tribune's Steve Chapman points out here, the media "failure" is yet another story we are telling ourselves as some especially loud voices insist that "real Americans" have spoken. (If anything, the nation "has spoken" via popular vote for Hillary -- the electoral college, which hasn't yet spoken, may be called upon to speak for Drump.) What's worse, though, is the idea that some residents of the U.S.A. are "real" and some are not. AND, that if for some reason there WERE some who were real and some who were not, that the minority, the far far far smaller number, would be the real ones because they live somewhere where they have to drive a gas-guzzling car to get anywhere instead of being able to hop on public transportation. 

I mean, that's just silly.

It doesn't stop people from posting memes, though, with maps of the U.S. colored in red and blue by county vote, and it doesn't stop people from saying when they post those memes: "This is the people taking their country back!" Here's an example from The New York Times' presidential election results:  

When I pointed out to one poster of memes (of oh so many pro-Drumpf memes) that the "more red" areas consist also of more open space, highways, and cattle, while the blue areas are where there are more people, she helpfully reminded me that "I don't think the cows were voting! It was people!" 

Uh - my point exactly, lady. More people = blue areas. Fewer people = red areas. 

But who's "out of touch with the real" United Statesians? 

The media bashers like to say there are just a few liberal elite, a minority sitting in their elite New York penthouses and Malibu villas, making movies and hobnobbing with one another. 

Actually, there are tens of millions of people who live in cities. And tens of millions of people who voted blue in this particular election. And we are real. Who are you to say only Plains state farmland plowers are real? That's absurd. 

Imagine if you had a dozen people over to your house for a Super Bowl party (can't get more "real American" than that, now can you?) and realized at the last minute there was no soda pop so someone dashes out to get a 12-pack. He asks, should I get Coke or Pepsi? Yes, there are some people who don't drink soda and won't have either, but that's not his question. Coke or Pepsi? Let's say you take a vote. People are milling about, but at this moment three are sprawled on the couch in the giant living room watching pre-game jabber, and nine are standing clustered around the snack table in the small dining alcove because the snack food is interesting as is the conversation there. Two couch people vote for Pepsi and one for Coke. Living room, 2-1, Pepsi. Seven snack table people vote for Coke and two for Pepsi. Snack table, 7-2, Coke.  Total, 8-4 Coke vs. Pepsi. But the host says, well, the living room is bigger and takes up more area so in order to get the "real" vote we'll give them more say. Pepsi it is. 

Gross! (For those of us who don't care for Pepsi and can't beat the real thing.) But that's the argument I keep hearing put forward about why and how the electoral college represents rural areas' interests, and it's just as nonsensical as saying the people who take up more empty space are "real" while the people clustered together in a smaller physical space are not. 

Monday, November 07, 2016

Reading the News That Someone Saw Fit to Print

You have a very important duty right now. It's a simple act, but a vital one. Please do this one thing, before it is too late. 

I refer of course, to this: you should get a newspaper subscription. 


You should have got one long ago, but many of you have not done so. Many of you haven't touched newsprint since you were a small child paging through the paper your parents subscribed to, looking for the comics or Dear Abby or movie listings or maybe not even those because maybe you didn't start going to movies until Moviefone already existed. 

Lest you think this is a screed against millennials, though, I know there are a whole lot of Gen X-ers and Boomers out there, too, not bothering to subscribe to any newspaper anymore. 

Let's fix this. 

Commentator David Frum of The Atlantic spoke well about this on the most recent episode of Bill Maher's show. It's become so trendy, somehow, to bash "The Media" and reject all institutions. But really, that generalization betrays your ignorance and is a terrible idea. Rejecting institutions leads to a vacuum, which nature abhors, and which nature or TV then fills with DonaldWTFTrump. David Frum argued that young people's rejection of all institutions ("it's all corrupt!" "the mainstream media" "sick of all politics" etc.) have directly resulted in this debacle in which the malicious, manifestly unfit Trumpface is being considered a legitimate candidate for president of the U.S. 

I would hasten to add that a lot of people have been using the words "media" and "journalists" over the last few months when what they actually mean is "cable news networks breathlessly trying to outdo one another in a quest for the most salacious and shocking story that will draw ratings."

Newspapers, on the other hand, can calm down a little bit. And you can calm down a little bit when you read them. 

If you conflate TV newscasts, especially the "surrogate-from-the-right-plus-surrogate-from-the-left" or "fair and balanced" variety, with dogged newspaper journalism, you need to run right out to your local library and pick up a copy of Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman, followed by a few Marshall McLuhan books.

And then you need to come home, read those books, and subscribe to a newspaper.

Reading the newspaper each morning, or each evening, is a nice habit. 

Reading your local paper will put you in touch with your community in ways you might not have imagined. It will do the same thing for news of the nation and of the world. 

But, you say, you do read articles published by the newspaper, on its website. Well. Besides the fact that you are offering no part of your finances whatsoever to said publisher, you are also picking and choosing from links or, more likely, from among what got shared the most that day on social media. 

Reading the actual newspaper, divided into sections, laid out by editors -- by professionals, that is -- gives you perspective that you don't get on your smartphone. 

If anyone out there wants to try the whole "But I'm saving trees by not reading a newspaper!" argument, let's just stop that nonsense right here and now. 

First of all, no, I do not for one second believe that's why you don't subscribe to a newspaper. But secondly, for all two of you out there who do legitimately use that reason, and for all the rest of you who have replaced paper news with electronic news for your convenience, you need to seriously come to an understanding of the toll your electronic devices take on the environment. 

I mean for one thing, they require electricity to run AT ALL. Electricity means trees die. Constant electricity. I would love it if we lived in a world full of solar, wind, and other renewable energy power. We don't. We live in a world where coal mining decimates entire mountaintops. Trust me, forests, animal species, and more are dying for you to use all your electricity. 

Not to mention the planned obsolescence - your tablets, laptops, and smartphones are designed to become obsolete as soon as possible so that you'll buy another smartphone. Not only are we wasting tons of resources and energy making the things in factories, but we have actively set up a system that they are not meant to last after expending all those resources, and emitting all that factory pollution -- so we get to deplete more resources and pollute even more within just a year or two. And everyone will happily rush out to "update" their products. 

But you won't buy newspaper, which is one of the easiest things to recycle and which is often printed on recycled paper as well? 

Everyone knows that after this election, you will need something. Mr. Frum and I would like you to consider that the something you need is a newspaper subscription. 

Call now. 

(Or just order it online.) 

And order one for a friend, too. Call it an early holiday president. 

Make the world a better place, in this one tiny way. 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

What Hath Humanity Wrought

"And if I
am not
who you thought
Well, hello it's nice to meet you..."
       --"Willing to Wait" - Melissa Ferrick
Here's my point. It's not so much that I've run out of energy to weep/wail/gnash my teeth/post on Facebook during this long dark election of our souls, but that I have basically been noncommittal regarding said weeping and wailing and gnashing from the beginning. Foremost, the very notion that Trumpface is a legitimate contender is absurd and it's an insult to Hillary, not to mention Jill Stein and Gary Johnson, that we have to go through the charade of these "debates" and campaign rallies and 24-hour news nonsense. Furthermore, though, I know so many people who are frightened by the Trump voters, shocked to have discovered that they have friends, neighbors, co-workers, family members, and Facebook friends they haven't talked to since eighth grade all defending the despicable idea of voting for Trump. "They scare me!" "What's wrong with these people?" "I'm frightened." etc. Are the Trump-lovers frightening? Well, yes, yes they are. And is it frightening to have to live with the utterly depressing knowledge that you work with, live next door to, socialize with, and are related to these people? Yes, yes it is. But I don't understand how you could possibly not have known this already.

You seem to have had so much faith in humanity. Why? There has long been ample evidence demonstrating that humanity is a horrid, scary, downright hideous group of folks. Here is a little list of some things that helped me to know this already:

honor killings
the Draize rabbit eye test
"Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!"
swimming with dolphins in captivity
pet birds in cages
pet rabbits in cages
pet hamsters in cages
pet anything in cages
fucking keeping living things confined in cages! ugh! wtf?!
cr*sh films
sn*ff films
serial killers
the Sandy Hook shooting
the My Lai massacre
torture of prisoners
testing cosmetics/shampoo/poisons/god knows what on animals

I could go on.

See, I don't even have to get into so-called "political issues" at all to know that humans are a seriously damaged, depraved, horrifying lot who routinely do terrible things to one another and to whatever animals they can get their hands on AND who find no real alternative but to live complacently, knowing that their fellow humans do these things, but unable to change the situation for the better.

Trump is psychotic. His admirers are delusional. Voting for him is ridiculous. Campaigning for the presidency of a nation by belligerently and maliciously insulting anyone and everyone in one's path? A hideous way to live one's life.

But he is far, far from my first indication that humans are fucking scary.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Word #1 Word #2 Word #3

I'm back!

Yeah, it's been a while. The good ol' U.S.A. sure hasn't done itself any favors in the not-being-a-total-disaster department in the interim, now has it?

I hardly know where to begin, but they always say, well, start where you are, eh? So, sitting here at my laptop trying to make sense of everything happening this week in these United [sic] States, I took a picture of my shirt. Here it is:

Well, I didn't say it was a flattering picture, did I?
And I would like you to take a look at this shirt with its (cheeky? feisty? rebellious? assertive? feminist? empowering? simple? nuanced? you make the call!) slogan and consider the following questions.

Whether you are familiar with the shirt or have zero context, you can think about what its message is. You can ask yourself, does it mean that girls don't play anywhere else but here, that for example they don't play over there? Does it mean that playing is the only activity they engage in here? That they never dance, talk, sing, laugh, fight, breathe, meditate, or whatever else when they are "here," wherever "here" is, literally or metaphorically? Does it mean that boys don't play here? Or there? Or anywhere? In a box or with a fox? For god's sake OBVIOUSLY NO IT DOESN'T MEAN THESE THINGS. So why the !@#$%* is everyone so damn confused about #BlackLivesMatter all the time?

I can't understand why people interpret #BlackLivesMatter the insipid ways that they choose to interpret it. I can't understand why they read "only" in a sentence where "only" doesn't exist, or why they add "and therefore police lives don't" when that is not only clearly not said and not meant but also utterly nonsensical (for example, what if there's a black police officer? Is he just caught in a paradox of both mattering and not mattering for eternity?), or why they DON'T see the implicit preamble of "Whereas a lot of people, institutions, and systemic societal forces have been disregarding black lives, up to and including the murder of innocent black people, we're going to mention here that..."

But hey, guess what? Girls play here. And black lives matter.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Breaking Point

Yesterday, I was on a little errand at the airport that led to me standing in a waiting area for a few minutes, subjected to CNN. I'd nearly forgotten what watching CNN is like. We don't get that channel in our house, and I apparently became spoiled by those several blissful years abroad watching CNN International, which isn't anywhere near as inane or sensationalist. Anyway, there I was, and Wolf Blitzer alerted me to some "breaking news": that in their latest poll, Donald Trump led by more points than ever, and soon he would be holding a rally, for which CNN was "standing by."

Breaking news?  As the kids say, Wolf, I don't think those words mean what you think they mean.

Breaking news refers to an ongoing situation, a story that is developing even as it is being covered. It is not -- I repeat, NOT -- a synonym for "a new story." They are not the same thing. That's what we have the word "news" for. Adding "breaking" is adding another element. Journalists are not reporting "breaking news" when they report "something exciting." The results of a poll, any poll, are in no way on this or any other planet "breaking news." They are in fact the very opposite: poll results are planned, anticipated, and in fact in the case of this CNN-conducted poll, manufactured by the very entity that then "reports" on it. Neither, by the way, is a campaign rally that is about to start breaking news.

Essentially, this ridiculous use of the term made me want to throw things at the TV. Instead, I'm going to throw some actual examples of breaking news out there to help people understand the difference. (Are you reading this, CNN producers??) Let's take a look at some of the recent winners of the Pulitzer Prize in the Breaking News category:

Most recently, the staff of The Seattle Times won the Breaking News Reporting Pulitzer for, and I'm quoting the official Pulitzer web site here, "its digital account of a landslide that killed 43 people and the impressive follow-up reporting that explored whether the calamity could have been avoided."

Contrast that with the most recent winners in other categories, such as Explanatory Reporting (Bloomberg News' Zachary Mider's "clear and entertaining" explanations of how corporations dodge taxes) and Investigative Reporting (shared by The New York Times' Eric Lipton on how lobbyists sway legislators and attorneys general and The Wall Street Journal for their "Medicare Unmasked" project). 

Previous Breaking News Reporting winners include: 

  • The Boston Globe, for its "exhaustive and empathetic coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing"
  • The Denver Post for coverage of the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting, "using journalistic tools, from Twitter and Facebook to video and written reports, both to capture a breaking story and provide context"
  • The Tuscaloosa News,  for "enterprising coverage of a deadly tornado" even when power interruptions forced them to publish at a plant 50 miles away
  • The Washington Post, for "telling the developing story" of the Virginia Tech shooting in print and online
  • The Times-Picayune of New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina coverage, "overcoming desperate conditions facing the city and the newspaper"
Does this help, CNN, et.al.? Do you see what happens in breaking news coverage?  

If not, could you maybe try reading a few more newspapers until you figure it out?

Come on, even the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is excited about journalism these days, having bestowed the Best Picture Oscar on Spotlight the other day. Journalism is great! Get your vocabulary right, everybody.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Forced to Awaken to
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

So, I had it all figured out. At some point in the first few weeks of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it came to me; rather than seeing the flick first, what I clearly needed/wanted out of life was to be the last to see it. I'm not the type to buy movie tickets two months in advance -- I don't even plan things out two DAYS in advance, or sometimes two hours. So, I realized, for me it would be fun to see the movie last -- I would see it on that last Thursday night show on its last week in whatever Chicago theater continued to run it the longest. What a funny plan, was how I saw it.

Then, it got nominated for five Oscars. And now I was, as they say, on the horns of a dilemma. Two months is a good long time for a movie to have its first run, but from the looks of it, I thought, a month in, it could easily stay in theaters beyond Oscar weekend. And then I'd have to make a choice between seeing it before the Oscars ceremony and my silly plan of seeing it last.

Which was more important? This newfound plan I had hit upon, to see last the film that everyone else wanted to see first, or my oldfound plan to see as many Oscar-nominated films as humanly possible before the night of the Academy Awards?

Well, I told myself, maybe, just maybe, its last week in the theatres will conveniently also be the last week before the Oscars and then everything will work out? And so I've kept my eye on the showtimes and checked mid-week to see what's changing each upcoming weekend and...here we are.

The Oscars are this weekend, but Star Wars: The Force Awakens is still playing in theatres during the movie-run week that starts tomorrow, Friday the 26th. Which of course means that I cannot both see it in its last showtime AND see it before the Oscars.

And so my choice was made.

I went to see it. (Shout-out to my mom, who had generously gifted me with an AMC gift card!)

I've seen a very good amount of the nominated flicks. Just missing three of the foreign films (two of which will be coming to theaters in Chicago in the next month or two, after the Oscars), three of the documentary Shorts (which are HBO docs and going to air on HBO this year), and three of the Original Song nominees, one of which I am going to help myself to this weekend via Netflix (Racing Extinction), one of which will be on DVD in a couple weeks (Spectre) and one of which is the ONLY nominee I have no plans to see (Fifty Shades of Grey). So I'm in excellent shape this year.

Oh, what did I think of Star Wars? It was fun! I enjoyed it!

And now we know who wins in the battle between my contrarian quirks and my obsessive quirks. Glad we could put that question to rest.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

A Scalia Footnote

I'm not entirely sure I should blog about this, for fear that people searching for the term I'm going to have to mention end up here; I don't want those kind of people reading my blog or, being anywhere near me, or, you know existing -- but exist they do. So hey, those kind of people, if you're reading this: seek help! 'K?

So anyway, I was reading an article about Antonin (it feels weirdly unnecessary typing his first name) Scalia's funeral etc. that went on for many paragraphs about his defense of free speech over the years. The article reminded us about the stances he took defending free speech of all kinds -- speech is speech, man. Expressing a video game is no different from expressing a masterful painting or writing a novel. Stuff like that.

This article also reminded me of something else along these lines that ol' Justice Scalia and a whole lot of the rest of you out there have got very, very wrong, and it pisses me right off every time I think about it. The unfortunate topic is the so called "films" in which animals are crushed; these films are made because there are some sick, twisted f*ckwads out there who find this exciting/a source of pleasure. (Hi f*ckwads, if you're reading this.)

Well, so some people with their heads on straight were trying to do something about this murder and torture and the ensuing legal case made its way to the Supreme Court where our nine robed overlords said they had no way/reason to ban these atrocious things because free speech.  As the article I read today reminded me, Scalia wrote about how this may be offensive and stupid and bloody and depraved but so are slasher horror flicks and they're protected, aren't they?

Well, hey brain dead Scalia and all y'all defending the cr-sh films! You miss the point so grievously. It's not the f*cking depiction that is the problem. In said stupid bloody mindless depraved slasher horror flicks, the blood, stabbing, and hiding in the basement are faked. But if some f*ckwads are filming another f*ckwad stepping on and smashing and torturing and murdering small animals so another f*ckwad can get his jollies, it's the actual stepping on and smashing and torturing and murdering we want to stop. What the hell is so hard to see about this? The f*ckwads who make these films should not be allowed to make them because they should NOT BE ALLOWED TO MURDER. What the duh fucking hell is wrong with humanity?

Not that you were necessarily looking for a reason to be pissed off at Scalia, because he offered plenty throughout his life, but there's one, just in case you need it.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

A cat, a book, and a good cause
(Bring Quincy to the USA)

So here's the deal: I am fundraising to bring Quincy, the amazing cat we rescued from the street in Guangzhou when he was an abandoned 4-week-old kitten, the very cat you see pictured on the left side of this blog, from China to the U.S.

(If you'd like to just donate to the cause straightaway without being bothered to read any further, I will not stop you: here's the link. But if I were you, I'd read on to see what you can get out of it...plus other options for donating.) 

The problem is, essentially, that it costs a whole lot to fly a cat from China to the U.S., not to mention the several circles of Chinese bureaucracy that have to be navigated before he can get on the plane. AND I'm managing all this from a distance. Although I have been trying to save up for this endeavor, we are now up against a February deadline (when the people in Tianjin who now have Quincy are leaving Asia for good) and are short of funds. What kind of funds? We're talking, basically, a $2,000 swirl of bureaucracy, vaccine checks (yes, we got his shots previously, but the government needs us to pay them to check his vaccine status in order to approve his emigration), customs fees, export health examination, the flight itself, etc.  It's a bit maddening. But those of you who followed the saga of Quincy back when we originally rescued him, and watched him (online) develop into the playful, good-hearted, creative, magnificent young cat that he became, may understand why it's worth the cost to bring him back to people who love him instead of leaving him to the uncertainty of fate. 

Here's where we get to what's in it for you. Despite the magical things crowd-sourced fundraising can do (e.g. pay for a lot of young drunk people's Uber rides, or Tila Tequila's rent), I did not actually want to ask for money, to ask people to give something for 'nothing.' But what could I give? I asked myself. Well, anyone who knows me probably knows that there is one thing I have a lot of: books. And so, this.

If you donate to the Bring Quincy to the U.S.A. cause, I will give you a book of mine. 

I will select it personally, basing my decision on who you are, what I know of you, our friendship, what I think you might like -- you get the idea. 

Do I want to part with my books? Of course not. But there's something that is even more important to me than my books, and that is Quincy. A sacrifice, they say, is when you give up something you want for something you want more. Well, I can definitely see that definition applying here. 

So, you see, everybody wins!
*I raise the money, and ponder what's truly important.
*You get a book, and the satisfaction of contributing to a good cause. (And a fun surprise!)
*Quincy gets to come live with us in the USA, with the people who saved, raised, and loved him. 

You can send your donation however you like -- PayPal the gift directly to me (a good option), use Chase QuickPay (a very good and easy option), use the GoFundMe link, put a check in the mail, whatever makes you happy. (Note that sending money directly avoids the GoFundMe fees.) I will then give you (if you're local) or send to you (via the cheap media mail of course) a book that I select for you. It's yours forever, to read, cherish, ignore, keep, regift, throw across the room--your call. (Donation amount? Whatever you think a book and/or Quincy is worth. You decide.) 

It's basically like you're buying a book, which you should be doing anyway, right? (Riiighht???) But instead of supporting Amazon or whatever this time, you can support the awesome Quincy. 

Feel free to email or message me for more information or if you have any questions at all. I would love the opportunity to select a book from my personal collection for you in exchange for your kindness in helping the Bring Quincy Quest. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Oscar season in full swing

It has been a few days since the Oscar nominations were announced. Let's check in and see where we are. (Oh, wait, you mean, you don't have regular check-ins with yourself to chart your progress during Oscar season? What's [not] wrong with you?)

On Thursday, when the nominations were announced, this is basically where I was at.  I had seen 13 out of 16 of the multiple nominees, missing only The Revenant, The Big Short, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, all of which I will surely see, but in good time as I do not like to see movies during their first couple of weeks because too popular = too crowded in the theater. Of the 13, here is my rough order of how much I enjoyed them: Steve Jobs, The Martian, Spotlight, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Hateful Eight, Sicario, Room, Ex Machina, Brooklyn, Bridge of Spies, Inside Out, The Danish Girl, Carol. Basically, the first ten I just listed were good, then Inside Out was fine (I can see its charms, absolutely, but just don't get quite as blown away as some do), and then The Danish Girl and Carol are both big ol' snooze fests that are completely self-aware as Oscar bait/overblown heavy-righteous themes but are partly saved by good performances, mostly from Alicia Vikander. Also, her wardrobe in The Danish Girl is pretty much the greatest and I want to steal every dress she wore and it should win for Costume Design. Other things that should win? Sicario for Cinematography. Can we just award that right now? So amazing. So well done. The second I walked out of that movie, several months ago, I said, "Cinematography Oscar." I just don't know how The Revenant will compete.

Of the single nominees, I had seen Joy, Trumbo, and Amy, and have since seen Creed (that is a whole lot of one-word titles; fun fact: the first names of the women but the last names of the men) and Cartel Land. No judgment from me yet about whether Amy or Cartel Land is better; they are two VERY different documentaries, but both do really well at depicting aspects of a situation without telling you what to think. Joy is overrated and Creed and Trumbo were both fine for what they were. Sylvester Stallone is on the almost-a-sure-thing track like The Revenant right now, though. I've got a bunch of the other one-off noms stacked in my Netflix queue and a few others, like 45 Years, Boy and the World, and a couple of the Foreigns are coming to some theaters around Chicago. And by the way, I would just like to gratefully acknowledge that right now I do have some major budget constraints but am luckily, very luckily, mightily luckily, able to have access to some gift cards/free movie tickets at several very awesome theatres, allowing me to see a bunch of flicks I would otherwise not be able to right now, for which I am profoundly grateful.

The shorts will be making their way to theaters as always, and I hope to get a chance to see those.

Really, I will end up being able to see everything, except Fifty Shades of Grey, which is nominated for one of its songs and which I will steadfastly make a point of not seeing.

Oscar complaints:
*Yes, they are so white. This is a problem. It's a pervasive problem in the industry, and I can't blame the Oscars for reflecting it. In fact, maybe we ought to be grateful to the Oscars for drawing attention to this problem when no one seems to pay attention to it during the rest of the year.
*Get it together, Supporting Actress category. Neither Alicia Vikander nor Rooney Mara belong there. Both played leading roles. Maybe you were thinking of Alicia V. in Ex Machina. Maybe you meant to put Charlize Theron from Mad Max: Fury Road...who was also kind of a lead, in a way...
*Keeping in mind that I haven't seen The Big Short and The Revenant yet, I look at the Directing category and think Danny Boyle for Steve Jobs should have been in there, maybe over Tom McCarthy?
*The score of Carol was so boring and derivative -- trying to imitate Philip Glass' awesome music from The Hours, were you? Sigh. I can appreciate the technical achievement of that movie but it just did not move me at all. And viscerally, I loathe it--I really can't stand that fetishizing of the 1950s and early 1960s. I just can't. It's why I don't enjoy things like his previous film Far From Heaven, or Happy Days, or Grease, or Mad Men. When I watch Mad Men I just get the howling fantods, and the feel of it, so similar to the feel of Carol, is why. Not my cup of tea.
Other comments:
*The Sound Editing category is full of amazing work.
*I had never heard of Racing Extinction before nomination day.
*The Foreign nominee from Jordan, Theeb, was actually playing near here in December the week before Christmas when I was swamped with work, holiday planning, Christmas, all that jazz. I had the flyer for it and wanted to see it but missed it. Have any of you had the chance to see it? It might be one of the few I don't see before Oscar night, waiting for Netflix to get it.

So, Oscar season is off to a great start. I'll check back in as I continue to work through it. What about you? What are your favorites so far?

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Twenty Sixteen
plus a bit of a twenty fifteen rewind

Well, hello team!

Are you wondering what ever happened to this blog? Were you sure it had met its demise, never to be resurrected? Does your curiosity get the better of you some nights, as you sit there thinking that maybe Linda has, I don't know, suddenly found herself with some borders?

Maybe you thought personal blogging had gone the way of the dinosaur, the Model T, the Beta VCR... After all, it does seem like the internet is pretty hopped up about blogging for business, blogging your brand, and just generally caring more about product and platform than jabbering. That's all well and good, but it isn't why I stopped blogging. Really, it's been more mundane. I had major laptop issues and went computer-less for vast swaths of time (blogging from a phone? just no) and on top of that, I spent the bulk of 2015 working a part-time job that took as much time as a full-time job. That's fun for exactly no one!

But anyhow, it's a new year and things are new and different. But some things are also the same. For example, here are some things that totally stayed the same from January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2015: Cats. Job. Apartment. City.  This in itself is pretty nuts. For the first time in ages, we renewed a lease, and so here we still find ourselves in Chicago, happily residing near Lincoln Square even though moving inland from the Lake initially seemed like a fall from grace. And the same job! (That part-time one that might as well have as a slogan "All the hours, none of the health insurance.") I am so used to ESL-teaching jobs being one year contracts. Having instead a U.S. office, co-workers, an annual review, and stuff like that as I teach English is still a little weird to me on some level.

But did 2015 bring anything new and different? Let's see. Things I did in 2015 that I had never done before:
*Visited Madison, Wisconsin (twice!) -  I had been to Wisconsin, but never to Madison, and in 2015, I discovered that I really like that city. conveniently located just under three hours from Chicago as it is. We also visited Devil's Lake State Park, in the Madison area, inspired by an article I came across that recommended the top-rated hike in every state. Now by "top rated" this particular piece did not mean the best, per se, but the actual top-rated-by-online-trail-raters on a particular site, so there's definitely room for an amateur vote to get in there, but it was still interesting, and in fact we later also visited the Illinois top hike, Palos Park, which is just a short piece from here, towards south suburban Chicago. (Or at least what I think of as the south suburbs. I'm still so decidedly Not From Around Here.)
*Pilgrimaged to and "climbed" to  a High Point: Speaking of hiking...I started in on another project which has been a longtime goal of mine, to climb to the high points in all of the fifty states plus D.C. This, by the way, is a thing, and there's a Highpointers club and whatnot, and may I just tell you that I first got into this back when you still sent off for the information via U.S. mail, OK? Of course, at that time I was living in Arizona, and then California, and neither of those two states' high points are ones you just go climb on a whim one day, and then I ditched the car and switched to public transit lifestyle for the next decade on the East Coast and in Asia and...so on. But being in the Midwest, with a car, and finally being able to do stuff like that again that I want to do, I hopped in the car and pilgrimaged to the highest elevation in Illinois, Charles Mound. Spoiler alert: It's not that high. This is Illinois, after all.
*Saw Patty Griffin in concert. Saw other good live music in Chicago, too, including the Girls twice (hello, that would be Indigo Girls) and quite a few bands at the many, many festivals that make up summer in Chicago, but seeing Patty had been a goal for a while.
*Ran my tenth 10K: My Year of Ten 10Ks was not actually a calendar year; it went from summer of 2014 to summer of 2015, so I finished it up with the same one I started with, the Reeds Lake Run in East Grand Rapids, no thanks to the Tiki Run here in Chicago that was meant to be my tenth but got rained and lightninged out one stormy June night.
*Spent a lot of time in Indiana: Have I mentioned I'm in the Midwest? It's really starting to sound like it, isn't it? I'm starting to know all the landmarks on I-65, and to know which exits have the Dunkin' Donuts and Starbucks and stuff. This is mostly due to trips to see Brian's various relatives in various towns for various festive occasions, but I also hit up the Hoosier State to see a friend from law school and a friend from high school, so who says this isn't just the crossroads of 'MURica? Still haven't done the high point or the top-rated hike of Indiana, though, but that's on the 2016 agenda. Right now this little thing called winter is in the way of blazing through the Midwest trails.
*Took a guitar class at the legendary Old Town School of Folk Music, which by the way is just down the street. Have I mentioned we like our neighborhood? If only I didn't always go, like, eight years between guitar classes, I might be pretty good by now. Can't you just hear the Murmurs singing "You Suck" in your head? ("Right now there's dust on my guitar, you !@$%*...")   I do still have my Murmurs shirt, from the era of my first guitar class... I also took a German class in 2015, at the Dank Haus German American Cultural Center, which is -- you guessed it -- down the street. It was super fun to have my high school German come back to me.  And super duper fun to take so many classes in the neighborhood!

Hmmm.... I can't really remember what else I did in 2015 that was new. Of course we tried new restaurants (we are in Chicago after all) and saw new plays (ditto). Maybe I should also mention some of my things that I continued over the past year, like my million and one book and movie projects that go on and on but in which I am in fact making progress (in the Prez Bio quest I'm finishing up Nixon! That means I've reached my actual lifetime!)

Basically, what happened in 2015 was that I just kind of lived. Here in the U.S. In the Midwest. Most of the time this fills me with a kind of what-the-hell shell shock. Other times, I like that things are generally easy, that I don't have to really notice them--but I do miss being abroad. I miss being around people that don't think the U.S. is the one and only place to be. At least I can tap into foreign media reasonably easily, but when you live in a country you're surrounded by its media culture even in ways you can't always pinpoint.

Then there's the whole effort/debacle/frustration/money pit of health insurance in the U.S. (particularly when one works at a part-time job that takes the effort of a full-time job but gives no health benefits), but let's not get into that just now, eh? We've got the whole year of 2016 ahead of us in which we can rant about stuff.

What are you up to in 2016?