The Descendants

We finally got around to watching The Descendants, a favorably reviewed George Clooney movie from a couple years ago. In it, he plays a wealthy landowner with a little bit of native Hawaiian blood. So you know he’s really part native, he sports a Polynesian unibrow. Inexplicably, unlike the brief phase when all the big-time actors wanted to wear mustaches (see The Men Who Stare at Goats for how they met their quota in bulk), the Polynesian unibrow hasn’t caught on.

Two take-away messages from the movie:

  • Rich people can have serious problems at home, even when they are wrestling with rich people matters like how to dispose of the islands they own.
  • Even if you’re dying tragically you still have to own up to all the bad stuff you did.

Our visit to Tippecanoe Battlefield

We made a quick stop at Tippecanoe Battlefield near Lafayette, Indiana. There was a museum we didn’t have time for this visit, and the battlefield included an obelisk monument with a statue of William Henry Harrison. A wrought-iron fence enclosed the battlefield. The gate was unlocked, and we could go in and out. More mysterious were the steps that led up an over the fence. We had a good laugh at it, and even made a video.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBZdEu53qdU[/youtube]

My brother looked it up later, and the steps are called a “stile,” as in “turnstile”— something that allows passage while maintaining the barrier. It’s purpose at this battlefield is still a mystery, though.

Chicago and Indiana

Photos from our trip, as seen by Instagram, which we experimented with this weekend. I don’t have a way to post simultaneously to Instagram and this site, so I’ll just have to duplicate for now.

Windy City

We’re in Chicago at the dawn of spring. It is not spring-like here at all, except for the wind. All lion and no lamb.

Except for hoofing it up and down Michigan Avenue between Magnificent Mile and the Museum Campus, we haven’t been to see much. Our highlight yesterday was the Adler Planetarium. We went into the Historic Atwood Sphere, a restored mini-planetarium from the early 20th century. It’s a big metal celestial sphere that rotates on rollers while you are inside looking at the “stars” (punctures in the metal skin through which outside light shines).

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Global undemocracy

Of interest to the curious part of me are news stories about how the Holy See selects a new pope. The process is opaque and undemocratic. The Roman Catholic Church has the additional distinction of being something of a medieval principality, but the selection process is not unlike how other, more modern global organizations— the UN, World Bank, IMF, corporations, and other NGOs— select their leaders. And I wonder if the church, for all its 3rd century baggage, might provide a window into our future world. As we achieve globalization without also pursuing global democratization, can we look forward to global institutional leadership that is just as distant, inflexible, reactionary, and unaccountable?

The Onion that made me cry

There’s a lot more important stuff to be steamed about, but I am still disappointed with The Onion. A couple of weeks ago they stumbled across some imaginary PC line by tweeting something unfunny and rude about Quvenzhané Wallis, thus activating another cycle on the mass media outrage machine. Followed by a public apology, as is prescribed in such cases.

The satirical intent of the The Onion ought to be clear to us all by now, and I’m pretty sure that the tweet about young Miss Wallis was not an actual editorial position. I don’t feel that makes the joke any less repugnant, but I don’t understand why this particular stinker warranted an apology. Was it the use of the now-fashionably intolerable C-word? The Onion‘s articles are thoroughly peppered with naughty language. What about making a child or, worse yet, a black girl child the subject of fun? Also a regular feature on The Onion: there have been jokes about the president’s daughters that didn’t get the same reaction. Just a general lack of taste? Maybe, but nobody reads The Onion for its good taste.

In fact quite the opposite. If, for example, you don’t think a deranged despot lording over malnourished children is funny, then you might not think there is anything funny about North Korea. But the regime’s delusional self-righteousness in the face of its obvious incompetence and cruelty is pretty absurd and worthy of ridicule. To a (much) lesser extent our fawning over a child actress improbably nominated for an Academy Award is just as self-serving. When she turns sixteen or thereabout, if anyone still cares, the entertainment media and its consumers will be in her business about being too skinny, or too fat, or too sexy for her age, or just generally acting like a teenager. We will chew her up and spit her out at our leisure. This grace period we feel entitled to give her is no less capricious than the occasional generosity the Kims might show toward one of their wretched citizens.

The implications of The Onion‘s apology are that they will have to show contrition for every failure to self-censor, every time we don’t quite get the joke, and every time we wrongly expect something high-minded from a website that posts headlines like “God Worried He Fucked Up His Children.” For every hit-the-nail-right-on-the-head article they write plenty of bombs. We’ll have to accept the bad with the good, or there won’t be any good.

Author’s note: As usual this is not a very timely post but it takes me a while to ruminate over the meanings of such things. Actually, I wonder if the contemporary media might benefit from a little deliberate reflection instead of being an outlet for reaction.

Sequestered

This week at work some visitors have asked me about the effects of the sequester on the park. I won’t get into my answer here, but it’s on people’s minds.

I keep coming back to something I saw on the news— it must have been PBS News Hour and I wish I could find the story now—about the sequester and its effects on national parks. Somewhere in there an analyst from the Brookings Institute said they should be fine. Specifically, the reports showed here scrolling through some spreadsheet on her computer, nodding her head, and saying something like, “They should be fine.” And I thought, “Thanks, lady with a pink sweater in an office, for clearing up how budget cuts affect parks.”

But that’s not really my point either. I’ll accept that, even with all the adverse impacts, national parks won’t disappear and that the world won’t end with even a five percent budget cut. What irks me is that “experts” like the pink-sweatered office lady are never challenged by the news media to account for this opinion or explain at what point they might change their reasoned analysis. Because just as we can’t keep raising spending on national parks forever, we can’t keep cutting them forever either. At some point the things they were created to preserve, and for us to enjoy, will crumble. So, for those whose line that the sequester is no big deal, or maybe even a good thing, at what percentage of a haircut will they not be “fine”? Or do you feel that the total elimination of all democratic spending will be a boon? If so, that’s fine, but you might as well come out and admit to being the errand-runner you are for corporations, rich people, and others who plan to continue benefiting more from our civilization while contributing ever less to it.

Baseball reason

It’s been raining all weekend, which means spring is almost here and also baseball. And for that reason I was thinking about this: back in the late eighties, the Yankees radio announcers were a bunch of Greatest Generation-aged meathead ex-athletes. They included the beloved Phil Rizzuto and some other lesser personalities. They knew a lot about baseball and very little about anything else.

For example, once they were talking about a letter they received from a fan, who told them that because the baseball field was a “diamond,” the distance between the bases couldn’t have been exactly 90 feet, but some number fractionally short of that. The announcers spent at least half an inning trying to figure it out, probably only dropping it after their producer, or somebody else with at least a fourth grade education, told them they were being put on.

Another time they were talking about a new player for the Toronto Blue Jays, Cecil Fielder. They noted that he pronounced his name SEH-sil, rather than SEE-sil, as in the well-known Cecil Cooper of the Milwaukee Brewers. They reasoned that north of the border, Canadians said SEH-sil and south of it Americans said SEE-sil.

I mention this because I consider it the only downside to baseball season: a multi-billion dollar sport played by, run by, and announced by complete idiots.

Work at work

The little media dust-up about Yahoo ending telecommuting for its employees perplexed me. First of all, I’m surprised that one company’s telecommuting policy became so newsworthy. Second, I don’t think telecommuting is going anywhere. At any rate, I would not want to work at home. I like going to work. I like keeping work and home separate. I do not want to bring headaches from my job into my home (it happens enough as it is). Fortunately, and despite the increased office work I have nowadays, being a park ranger makes telecommuting a faintly ridiculous option.

Drawbacks of Macs

I used to think life was what happened in between Star Wars movies but now I think it’s what happens in between releases of Sim City. The new Sim City went on sale today for PCs. It will go on sale for Mac sometime this spring. While that does not quite make me regret switching to Mac, it almost does. But not quite.

TV for free!

In between reruns of All in the Family and Diff’rent Strokes last night was the most stunning advertisement I’ve seen in a long time. It was more like a short infomercial, about two minutes long, selling… television antennas. Except the company called it “Clear TV” and they were pitching it as free, high-definition alternative to cable or satellite. No shit, you can watch high-definition broadcast television for free! This is sort of like selling watches by saying “No need for a battery, just wind it up!” While I admire the pluck with which this company was trying to resuscitate the dying television antenna business, I would be suspicious of any enterprise that had such a low opinion of its customers’ intellect.