Some movies

I’m taking advantage of the miserable weather to rent a lot of movies.

“Sunshine”: A space mission to reignite the sun is made impossible by incompetent astronauts. The special effects are cool, but too dark for home video. Don’t bother.

“Once Upon a Time in the West” has Henry Fonda! And Charles Bronson! And Jason Robards! And an incredibly hot Italian woman named Claudia Cardinale. This is part of my recent exploration of Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns. He actually filmed this one in the United States.

“National Treasure: Book of Secrets” was a lot better than I thought. I didn’t like the first one. I even found John Voight tolerable.

“Requiem for a Dream”: This is a very good movie. Imagine all of the worst things that can happen to you when you use drugs, then throw in some snappy editing and photography.

“The Squid and the Whale” is all about the performances. Every once and a while Jeff Daniels reminds me what a good actor he is. Laura Linney is always good, too.

Oh yeah, and “Superbad”. Sort of an updated American Graffiti. McLovin!

Various stuff in the news

Most of the time news passes without comment here but I found a few small items of interest this week.

In a letter to the Des Moines Register, a reader suggested torturing administration officials.

Can Dear Abby prevent a reverse honor-killing in the Middle East? Judging by her January 22, 2008 column, she just can’t relate.

Charles Grassley, Republican senior senator from Iowa, is a study in planned irrelevance. He failed to endorse a candidate in this month’s caucuses because there was no clear front-runner. Now he laments the exit of Fred Thompson from the race. Grassley wanted to endorse him but “he just didn’t catch fire.”

And finally, the NPS Morning Report had an interesting update today:

Everglades National Park (FL)
Rangers Remove Python From Visitor’s Car

On Tuesday, January 15th, visitor Ron DeLong stopped his car on the main park road in order to watch a crawling, six-foot-long, exotic Burmese python. As DeLong stepped out of his Ford Explorer, the python began crawling underneath the vehicle and into its engine compartment. DeLong attempted to grab the python with the curved end of his walking cane, but was unable to stop it. After several failed attempts to remove the snake, DeLong decided to drive 15 miles to the main entrance station for assistance. When ranger Willie Lopez, wildlife biologist Skip Snow, biologist’s assistant Alex Wolf and firefighter Henry Delvalle checked the Explorer, they found its hood open, with only the tail end of the python visible the rest of the snake was coiled around various parts of the engine and undercarriage. Several attempts were made to pull it out through the top of the engine, but failed because the snake tightened its hold on the car. The four responders then discussed their options. Snow reported that there had been several published articles about the successful use of tasers to loosen the tight grip of constricting snakes, so that was tried. Unfortunately, it resulted in the python contracting and excreting bodily fluids all over the responders. They then decided to disassemble parts of the Explorer’s undercarriage in order to get to the python’s head, which was then covered with duct tape. The snake’s head and body were uncoiled and maneuvered through the engine compartment, then pulled out the top of the engine. Since Burmese pythons are exotic, prolific and aggressive, the snake was euthanized and taken to a lab to be studied. DeLong’s car was then put back together. [Submitted by Willie Lopez, Pine Island District Ranger]


Bring out your dead

I have an idea. Let’s turn death into a resource for energy independence. We can hook up crematories to the power grid so that our precious corpses don’t just go up in smoke without contributing to the economy. For those who prefer burial we can harness the awesome energy of cadavers released during decomposition, or at least harvest the methane. After all, our fossil fuel reserves are uncertain but our deaths are not. Why wait for our ancestors to turn into West Texas Intermediate when we can air-condition our shopping malls with them now?

Author’s note: I was going to title this post “A modest proposal”. A quick search reminded me that this was already used by Jonathan Swift, when he suggested in 1729 that the Irish eat their children. It’s quite funny. He really stole my thunder.

These new-fangled gadgets

I’m half-listening to Frontline as I clean my kitchen. It’s about teenagers and how they use the Internet to socialize. They use it to a degree I can’t comprehend. I’m happy to e-mail my friends and write in this blog. I have accounts on Facebook and MySpace which I don’t bother with much. I’ve used the occasional dating website in the past. And that’s about it for my online social life.

Every generation goes through this. In the ’20s it was cars; in the ’50s rock and roll. The paranoid parents and shrill public officials decrying the terrors of the Internet remind me of the people who thought Elvis was the devil.

Amazon recently released a portable digital book that you can download literature onto. I don’t think it will fly. If they are anything like me, people who read books like books. I can’t read on a computer screen at length. The people who do get their written words electronically probably don’t read anything as long as a book, right?

Lately I’ve been wondering what I’ll be like as an old man. My grandkids (and I’ll likely be very old before I have any) would roll their eyes and say, “He watches movies and reads magazines. He listens to Rage Against the Machine and The B-52s. He walks. And he still won’t get a USB port installed in his skull. Stubborn old geezer.” I think I’ll just tell the brats right off that I can’t relate and if they can’t accept that then they can go virtually fuck themselves. Damn whippersnappers.

Iowa wrestling

College wrestling is popular in Iowa. Both University of Iowa and Iowa State have top-notch wrestling programs. I saw a meet today between the UI Hawkeyes and the Penn State Nittany Lions. The arena was nearly three-quarters full; that’s about 10,000 people. Tickets are ten bucks and you don’t have to pay for parking. The fans know the sport well and there were a couple of exciting matches. Iowa won handily.

Iowa wrestling meets rate a pep band, a cheerleading squad, and of course a mascot. UI’s costumed mascot is a constipated bird of prey, possibly a kestrel or a carnivorous goldfinch. “Herky the Hawkeye” scores a 9 on the lame-mascot-o-meter. Nonetheless, kids love him. Here’s a photo of Herky looking distinctly creepy.

The rolled coin affair

A couple of weeks ago I scooped up the jars and piles of coins on my dresser, counted them, and fit them into many paper rolls. This Saturday, I brought the rolls to my bank in my canvas shopping bags. And the bank wouldn’t accept them! I was incensed. I’ve never been to a bank that didn’t accept money. Here’s the letter I mailed on Monday:

Today I tried to deposit rolled coins into my account and was refused. The teller told me I had to unroll the coins and deposit them in a machine in the waiting area, even though I explained that I had spent a long time rolling them.

If you do not trust me with rolled coins, then why should I trust your machine, let alone trust you with my bank account, electronic paycheck, Social Security number, and personal financial information? I bank with you because I support local businesses, believe that credit unions provide superior customer service, and like the benefits of credit union membership. In return I expect the bank to trust me and accept the money that I have prepared for deposit into my own account. If this arrangement is not acceptable to you then I will consider banking elsewhere.

Please let me know when I may bring my rolled coins in for deposit. If you prefer you may unroll and count them yourself, as I have already done. Of course, if you find a discrepancy you already know where I live and work.

And so I forgot about it but the branch manager e-mailed me today. He says I can bring my coin rolls in and they’ll take it without me having to unwrap them.

American graffiti

Evrim was chiding me the other day because I’ve never seen “American Graffiti”. Well I rented it this week and it’s pretty good. Lots of cool cars and characters. So there. I’m amazed that Lucas has regressed so much in his directing skills.

I also rented “Driving Miss Daisy” to make up for that unforgivable omission in my movie-going life. I’ll have to rent a bunch of ’80s stuff now that my parents wouldn’t let me watch: “Porky’s”, “Meatballs”, “Revenge of the Nerds”, and so forth.

Hey you guys!

Look what I found! The Electric Company!

I only vaguely remember this show from when I was very, very young, and I probably saw it in reruns. However, I believe it is the source of every memory I have of a warped cartoon or TV character–anything I’m pretty sure I didn’t see on Sesame Street. I think people did a lot of LSD in the 1970s. I can’t imagine meth addicts producing memorable children’s televsion programs.

Fuckin’ A!

Picking over the caucuses

I talked to a co-worker who supported Obama about the caucuses. I mentioned I wasn’t impressed with Obama. He likes him because he has charisma and he thinks he’s the best candidate who can bring about the changes he wants. I’m hearing the same things from the talking heads tonight.

I will say I was very impressed with the turnout for Obama. I’ve heard the caucuses are mostly old folks but a lot of young folks came to the caucus last night and many of them stood for Obama. He also attracted a lot of independent voters and erstwhile Republicans. As my brother pointed out, so few people in this country vote that if a candidate can figure out a way to get the non-voters to the polls he’s pretty much guaranteed a win.

I’m glad he’s able to get people out and vote. My main complaint about him is that he’s a Senator in a Congress that has accomplished very little, at least as far as important and controversial issues are concerned. And from what I see he’s not been able to do much to change that. And if that becomes more evident as people get to know him better over the next 10 months, might they not stay home anyway? Then who will bring about out the change we all want? Another Republican president?

Iowa caucus

I caucused with the Democrats tonight. Here’s how it went:

Both parties (from a couple of different precincts) held their caucuses in a nearby elementary school. The Democrats were queued around three sides of the school’s square interior hallway. There were a handful of Republicans sitting quietly in their caucus room.

That was my introduction to the disorganized clusterfuck that is the Democratic Party. Far more people showed up than had any business in that little gymnasium. They finally broke us up into three groups to get us signed in. For some reason my name (and a number of others’) was not on the voter roll so I had to register again on the spot (I re-registered in November to update my address and change my party affiliation just for this). The election worker at the sign-up table commented to someone, “The whole world is watching us”. Dear God I hope not.

I was one of the last into the gym. In the Democratic caucus, the participants stand along a wall with other people who favor the same candidate. There was hardly room to move. A lady pointed me toward the Richardson corner, but asked if I wanted to caucus for Hillary Clinton. “No, I don’t want to live through that again,” I said and so I squeezed my way to the other side of the gym.

About 650 people showed to caucus, which meant–because this precinct was electing more than three delegates–that each candidate needed 91 votes (or 15% of the precinct voters) to be viable, or take delegates. We had 63 on the first count. Each candidate had a precinct captain who counted and reported the votes to the chairperson. Dodd’s and Biden’s had somewhat less, Kucinich had a handful and one guy stood for Gravel. As expected, Clinton, Obama, and Edwards had enough votes to take delegates. Obama had by far the most. Our precinct captain thought they could get some of the Dodd and Biden people to join us, and maybe some of the surplus folks from the viable camps but nobody wanted to budge. Once the second count determined us not viable (we had a net loss of three), we were finished and free to leave or join with another candidate. Most of them scurried lemming-like to one of the big-money candidates. I left because I don’t want to throw my vote toward any of those three jokers.

So that was my Iowa caucus experience. For the all disorganization I didn’t see any irregularities, but I was not impressed by it. Though the overall turnout is expected to be better this year than usual, a very small percentage of registered voters participate in the caucuses. Iowa is not deserving of its table-setting status in the presidential race. I attribute Obama’s success in Iowa City to liberal white guilt (and in general to rich liberal white guilt money), otherwise I think the guy is a lightweight. But I’ll keep an open mind about him if he gets the nomination. I prefer him to Edwards and I just can’t take another Clinton presidency.

Same as the old year?

I’m enjoying a day off today. Last night was the first New Year’s Eve that I ever spent in the Central Time Zone (or any time zone other than the Eastern), so I actually watched the ball drop in Times Square at 11 a.m. What an odd feeling. Do the people on the West Coast watch Dick Clark at 9:00?

I spent a good chunk of my evening playing Uno one-on-one (uno a uno?) with Susan’s youngest. It was variation called Uno Attack, in which cards are drawn by a machine that spits them out all over the place. Those marketing geniuses at Mattel. She loves pushing the button on that machine. Anyway, she’s pretty good at it for six years old.