Biker face

I was at the supermarket this morning. In one of the check-out lines was a heavy-set, denim-clad, bearded, middle-aged man who looked like he should have a Harley-Davidson permanently welded to his butt. Maybe I’m just stereotyping but, oh yeah, he had tattoos and studs all over his face. The face tattoos definitely said, “I’m not just some CPA with a weekend motorcycle hobby, I’m a genuine bad-ass” yet he seemed kind of pathetic waiting patiently for some shop clerk to ring up a box of Lean Cuisine or whatever like the rest of us squares. I mean, if I was a tattoo-faced hard-ass bike gangster, I would drive through the supermarket on my hog, grab a 32-ounce can of Manwich and leave, and then maybe, if I was feeling generous, I’d come later to pay with fistful of bills from my next armored car hijacking. Otherwise, what’s the point of the face tattoos?

Betty Friedan

I saw Betty Friedan in person once, when she came to speak at my university. She was tiny; I was close enough to her at one point that I could have reached out and bonked this legendary woman on the head with my fist.

Why would I want to do such a thing? She was really mean to the young lady who headed the lecture committee on the programming council, where I volunteered. Betty Friedan was her hero and was so mean to her that the young lady cried.

I learned something from Betty Friedan about hero worship that evening.

President’s Day

I was working yesterday, a typically slow February day in the park, when a visitor remarked that the place must be really busy on President’s Day. How charming that this gentleman thought Americans dash out to the nearest museum or national park to learn about presidents on President’s Day. But if all the people with their kids at the mall today were any indication, President’s Day is still a great day for shopping deals.

At Scheels, a right-wing sporting goods store, they have these bronze statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson in front of the store entrance. Accompanying the statues are distorted, out of context quotations that make the founders appear to have favored a Christian theocracy as our form of government. Yet even Scheel’s was open for business on President’s Day. Apparently they would rather their employees and customers spend the day buying Under Armor products than reflecting on the founders’ legacy.

Having Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays rolled into one President’s Day guts it of any meeting. Its name sounds like it’s honoring all presidents, even one-month wonder William Henry Harrison and our own little-beloved Herbert Hoover. We already have two patriotic holidays glorifying our wars plus Independence Day. I don’t expect Americans, who don’t get very many days off, to turn into presidential scholars for a day. I give credit to the boosters of Martin Luther King’s Birthday, who have been trying to turn that holiday into a day of service (“a day on, not a day off”).

Small innovation

As a follow-up on my last post: I find I sometimes run out of novel things to write about, or sometimes it’s hard to develop my thoughts into a full-blown essay. I’ve also never been big on posting status updates (“I am eating cake.”). I have been lately been posting my less-developed thoughts (you may find them formatted as “asides”) as a sort of compromise.  So I have a new idea for this blog: posting things I remember from the past. This may have something to do with getting older. I’ll have to ponder that over a bottle of hard cider.

Blogging update

I am now upgraded to WordPress 3.5. The main improvement to this version is supposed to be the media handling, always one of WordPress’s weaknesses. This version is incrementally better. It used to be that groups of photos were only available as galleries in the posts you uploaded  them to. Uploaded photos were dependent on the post to upload them too (they are considered “attachments”). The new version works the same way but I now have some more flexibility to choose which photos go into a gallery on each posts. It works nicely but that’s about it. There’s still no good way to embed uploaded videos within WordPress without using clumsy plugins. I’m thinking about opening up a YouTube channel and then embedding them in my posts.

On another front, I’d like to go back to designing my own website. As I’ve mentioned before, WordPress themes (the files that control how the website looks) are difficult to customize. However, there is a stripped down version of a theme that I can work with. To that end I’ve installed a mock server on my computer with a dummy version of WordPress. I’ll be experimenting with it this year and I hope the website will look a little more original, as it had in the past.

I like to engage in periodic navel-gazing about blogging and this seems like as good a time as any. Adam’s artificial habitat is well over 10 years old now. I first designed it on AOL when I was home from work with firefighting injury. I moved it to a year or two later. I started blogging on LiveJournal in 2004 and then migrated the posts here when I made WordPress my content management system. I have posted at least a couple of times a month since I started blogging (there are over 1,400 published posts here now).

I think nine years is a good run for a personal blog. A lot of them don’t last so long. While I was searching for design inspiration, I found some websites that rated, for example, the 50 best personal blog designs, but links to many of the examples were already dead after a year or two. In other words, they looked great but ran out of content or staying power. I’m not sure if it’s because of the changing nature of technology or simply because it’s human nature to try things and then move on.

I’ve never thought much about why I keep at it. I originally started blogging because I wanted to practice writing. I also thought it was a good way to add content to my website and to keep my family and friends up to date. It’s my main creative outlet and it’s easy. And I like it.

Blazing Saddles

Taggart: [shouting] We’ll head them off at the pass!
Hedley Lamarr: Head them off at the pass? I hate that cliché! [shoots Taggart’s foot]

Blazing Saddles, 1974

I introduced Lore to Mel Brooks with Blazing Saddles just as my cousins introduced me to him when I was a kid (I think they started me off with History of the World, Part I). Back in those days, I didn’t care for the madcap ending of Blazing Saddles— where the big fight scene spills over into the neighboring sets and then onto the streets of Hollywood; the heroes go into a movie theater to see how it ends and watch themselves drive off into the sunset. I now appreciate the commentary about the declining relevance of the Western genre. It probably also says something about Hollywood filmmaking that I don’t quite get.

For all that satire Blazing Saddles is pretty low-brow. My mother hates the movie simply because of the scene where the bad guys are sitting around the campfire eating beans and farting. I agree that part is neither funny nor original, yet it is also something that didn’t quite make it into John Wayne Westerns. Speaking of which, I always wondered where Governor Le Petomane’s name came from, and thanks to Google I now know. According to a Wikipedia entry so bizarre I almost don’t believe it, Le Petomane (French for “The Fartomaniac”) was the stage name of a 19th century performer whose shtick was farting.

Blazing Saddles is also incredibly dated. I’m too young to really get the Marlena Dietrich and Hedy (“It’s Hedley!”) Lamar jokes. In fact, I didn’t realize Madeline Kahn’s song and dance scene was almost an exact parody of Dietrich’s performance of “Falling in Love Again” in the 1930 Blue Angel. Which makes me wonder if Mel Brooks’ humor wasn’t already a little dated in 1974 when Blazing Saddles was released.

Blazing Saddles still has the handprints of the 1970s all over it, with its unsubtly incompetent and corrupt government officials (Mel Brooks’ cross-eyed governor first appears with his head buried in a redhead’s cleavage). There’s also a swipe at capital punishment, a hot-button 1970s political issue, with a busy medieval hunchback operating the gallows. While Blazing Saddles served as a parody of racism, it still has its own 1970s brand of racism (of the blaxploitation variety): Cleavon Little’s Sheriff Bart smokes pot, high-fives, is well-endowed, and generally outwits ignorant crackers at every turn.

As you see, I can find a lot of faults with Blazing Saddles. I like that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. I love Gene Wilder and his deadpan delivery of lines like “Little bastard shot me in the ass.” There’s another scene where Wilder’s Waco Kid is consoling Sheriff Bart, who feels unwelcome in Rock Ridge. They are both looking into or just past the camera. Wilder has his arm around Little and tells him, “You’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know… morons.” Little can barely contain his laughter, and neither can I.

On skis

The first five winters I spent were pretty cold and icy, so it figures that as soon as my wife and I take an interest in cross-country skiing we’d have two mild winters in a row. We had only our second snowfall on Wednesday and there was enough of it on the ground still that we went skiing on the university’s course today.

A woman watches another skier approach on a cross-country course.
When I say we went cross-country skiing, I mean we walked around with skis on our feet. We stopped to watch this guy pass because he actually knew how to ski.
Clouds over a snowy field make a fish-scale pattern.
I don’t normally take pictures of clouds— I like how they are ephemeral— but these struck me while I was taking a break looking up at the ridge.