Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Saturday Picture Show, November 22, 2014

So this time of year as the fields lie fallow and await a spring planting - it's my favorite time of year!
I'll tell you, I couldn't pick Tom Hiddleston out of a police lineup...not that I think I'll be called upon to do so.  He's an actor, and he is shooting a picture now called "I Saw The Light," in which he plays Hank Williams, Sr. And just from the way they have him dressed and wearing that Stetson, it's clear he's got the moves like Hank. I can't wait to see this movie.  But for all I know, Hiddleston will be the guy standing in the lobby and I will walk right past him because I don't know him from Hank.
Because I watched Jackie Gleason all the time, I can never meet someone named Norton without hollering "NAWTON!" right back, to their complete surprise.  And because I read "The Catcher In The Rye" all the time, I can never see a picture of The Rockettes without saying, "You know what that is?  That's precision!"
Some time ago, we shared a picture of a NASCAR fan with his baseball cap on backwards, using his hand as an eye visor to shield himself from the hot sun of Talledega.  Now we see a kid who wants to bowl, at a bowling alley, playing a bowling video game. It's a wonder he's not wearing a backwards baseball cap.
It was 51 years ago today...
This nice stack o'logs won't do anyone any good this year, being unseasoned and fresh, but this time next year, someone will hear it snappin' and cracklin' on the hearth.
"When there's no future
How can there be sin
We're the flowers in the dustbin
We're the poison in your human machine
We're the future, your future"
What a powerful metaphor for a disaffected generation - flowers tossed into the trash by unappreciative old men and women. Remember being 17 and thinking you knew it all?  Some people at that age are closer to knowing it all then many of us will ever be. So why not listen to them?
Hey, you Buffalo hooligans!  You can't steal those chips!  They don't belong to you!  They're nacho chips!"

Friday, November 21, 2014

Droning on

We went out and bought one of those little red laser pointer light doohickeys. Everyone said that everyone who is a cat enjoys chasing that little red dot all over the house.  We will see about that.  We've only had the cats for a week The cats have only owned us for a week now and maybe it's best to wait before we get them all worked up with gizmos.  We'll let you know how it goes!

Laser pointers have worthwhile uses outside of the cat world. Imagine going to the observatory and finding Ursa Minor without one! (I dated a girl by that name, and once found her in the cloakroom with some random guy, but anyway.) They can also be used for emergency signals for people lost in the woods, they can be rigged up as substitutes for chalk lines in drywall work, and the truly creative can make a burglar alarm out of one, using the beam as a tripwire.

I don't own a drone, although that could be the first line in a poem. But drones can have cameras attached for surveillance.  For instance, they can send instant reports about fires, traffic, and what-have-you.  There are firm plans to have Domino's deliver their mediocre pizza by drone, and their drones will have to avoid the Amazon book-delivering drone above your house.  Even Martha Stewart has one flying over her sprawling estate in New York state so she can see how things look from above.  She is an innovative woman.  Longtime fans will remember how she showed fellow inmates how to fashion a makeshift kitchen knife out of a tuna can lid.

So, with all the good that can come from lasers and drones, why are there fools standing around in their backyards pointing their pointers at the cockpits of airplanes and helicopters, the intent of which action can only be bad?

And who are these rakehells who fly their drones to within a foot of a landing jet airliner?  It's happened three times.  This week. At one airport - JFK in NYC.

And we can only expect both of these abuses to become more common as the holidays approach, and more people celebrate by giving drones and lasers.

It makes me miss the days when people called 911 to report that their neighbor got a jetpack for Christmas and was hovering over the neighborhood, just as Rudolph had done the night before.

But let's try to be as sensible as a child would be with our toys this year;
how would that be?

Thursday, November 20, 2014


There's a Baltimore connection to the Jada Pinkett Smith / Will Smith family, in that her stepfather is Warren Brown, a local attorney who pops up about this time every year with a gun buyback program aimed at lowering the gun ownership rate in Baltimore to a more manageable level, like 26 per person.

Jada graduated from high school here and headed west to fame and fortune, and she has been married to the former Fresh Prince since 1997, so you have to say their marriage seems to be working fine.  The union has produced two children: Jaden, male, 16 and an actor and musician, and Willow, female, 14, a musician who had a fairly big hit with "Whip My Hair" a couple of years back.

All of us who have lived past the age of 16 have been the same ages as these kids at one time, so maybe we should look back at our own teenage excesses of unformed ego and uninformed intelligence before we read this interview with the Smith children and judge them too harshly.

That aside, the interview is a fascinating look at how some people live and teach their children, and how movie stars confuse the roles they play with real life. Ronald Reagan, who had a career of sorts in politics after his movie-making days ended, told former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and writer, Nazi hunter and Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal that he himself had assisted personally at the liberation of the Nazi death camps.  A glance at the Reagan military record will tell you that if he did such a thing, it was a miracle to all involved, as he served his World War II time in the dangerous battleground known as Culver City, California.

And Will Smith himself has been known to say that he could be president (well, if Reagan could do it....) and a physicist and beat Mike Tyson in a fight.

You add in a healthy dose of Scientology and take the kids away from school, and here's what you hear from the kids:

Jaden: “The only way to change something is to shock it. If you want your muscles to grow, you have to shock them. If you want society to change, you have to shock them.”

Willow: “Breathing is meditation; life is a meditation. You have to breathe in order to live, so breathing is how you get in touch with the sacred space of your heart.”

Jaden: “School is not authentic because it ends … Kids who go to normal school are so teenagery, so angsty.”

Willow: “I went to school for one year. It was the best experience but the worst experience.”

On how they experience time out there in California:

Jaden: “If you are aware in a moment, one second can last a year. And if you are unaware, your whole childhood, your whole life can pass by in six seconds.”

Willow: “I can make it go slow or fast, however I please, and that’s how I know it doesn’t exist.”

We could go on all day, but you have to hear about their favorite novels:

Willow:  "There’re no novels that I like to read so I write my own novels, and then I read them again, and it’s the best thing."

Jaden: "Willow’s been writing her own novels since she was 6."

In a world where you can bend time to fit your will, and there are no novels worth reading, at least these children have learned that we all need to breathe.

My favorite part of The Fresh Prince on TV was always when Uncle Philip tossed DJ Jazzy Jeff headlong out the front door for saying foolish things.

Sometimes that's how we learn.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Love, American Style

If you need something to take your mind off the courtship rituals among the Duggar family, here's good news from the field of romance.

Love has found its way to Charles Manson.

The Duggars, of course, are the people from Arkansas with 107 kids and a family tree that goes back to early America, and a sofa that goes back to Sears next week.

Charles Manson, of course, is the unhinged psychotic who led others on an L.A. murder spree, and he's been in California prison since his conviction for that mess in 1971.  His next chance for parole will come shortly after Barack Obama is elected governor of Texas, a delay which will come as a big disappointment to Afton Elaine Burton, 26, from Illinois, who moved to California to be closer to her intended.  It will be Manson's third marriage, and her first, and every girl dreams golden dreams of magic nuptials taken in the day room at Corcoran State Prison, Manson's home until he moves to Hell.

They're registered at Crate & Barrel, which
are two things he'd probably like to pack
 her into
At least the people who marry Duggars, who are not allowed to hold hands or get frisky in any way whatsoever until they have walked back down the aisle, get to do the horizontal hula at some point. Mr and Mrs Manson will have the sum total of their intimacy at the makeshift altar, where she will enjoy seeing her grizzled 80-year-old husband lean in and plant a nice kiss on the cheek of his mysterious Mrs.  People in Manson's category get no conjugal visits in Cali; there will be no four-legged fox trot in either of their futures.

Which is for the best. I mean, what if she got pregnant?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

To a Tea

I'll drink coffee when we're at Friendly Farm, because they serve Ellis Coffee, the finest coffee of them all.  But keep the Keurig, fling the Folgers, toss the Taster's Choice and discard the Dunkin', because I'm a tea man from long ago.

I like hot tea, and I keep it simple.  I don't care for Earl Grey or herbal or chamomile or lavender mint tea, although I will have a cup of Asian tea at a restaurant if it doesn't take oolong to get it.

(In the interest of recycling, I drag that joke out every few months.)

Just plain old black tea, please, no decaf and no lemon either. A little bit of milk and I'm good to go.  I don't even need a tag on the bag, either, because my favorite English tea is just in a round bag which I let swim in hot water for a few minutes before it joins the orange peels, used Ziploc bags and eggshells in the trash can...

But just when you think you had seen it all, here comes a new kind of tea bag that will turn your teacup into an aquarium!  These fish-shaped tea bags made by CharmVilla are sure to please both the tea drinkers and the fish fanciers on your Christmas list.

I don't know where to buy them as of now, but look for BJs and CostCo to sell the convenient box of 5,000 tea bags soon!

Monday, November 17, 2014

I can't get behind all this fronting

In Baltimore, the Mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, has heard the concerns voiced by interstate travelers who crawl through our town on I-95, the clogged artery that runs through the BoWash Corridor.  And the voices of train travelers zipping through town on Amtrak's Casey Jones Express get added to the cry, which is that Baltimore is not such a good-looking town from the interstate or from the train tracks.

I'm not much of a traveler, but if I were, I would enjoy seeing everything about a town.  Yes, the mansions and plush lawns where the fat cats live are nice to see, but so are the factories where the shoes and hamburgers and beer and paper cups are made. It's all part of this crazy little thing we call life, and if it bothers you so much to be down by Baltimore's Harbor Tunnel and see a couple thousand foreign cars just off the boat, ready to be taken to dealers, in giant parking lots near the docks, well, how about just looking at the road ahead of you for a change of view?

For the passengers, there is always the possibility that I hear Herhonner and the city bigwigs are thinking of.  They want to plant some hollyhocks and maybe slap a coat of paint over the gritty industrial neighborhoods that people from Newark, NJ, are forced to see on their way to Miami.

There is also this.  Ever heard of a Potemkin Village?  Let's go back to 1787 in Russia's gritty Southern Ukraine and Crimea section. The Russian Empress, Catherine II, was traveling to the region just after a lot of destruction had been done there by warfare. A man named Gregory Potemkin was romantically involved with Catherine II. For several reasons, not least of which was that he was romantically involved with the Empress, Potemkin became governor of the region. How about that?  

Well, old Gregory was supposed to rebuild the region after around the Dnieper River and get people to move there - sort of like a modern Economic Development officer would do.  But instead of actually getting people to move there and having them build houses and factories and Subway sandwhich shops, Potemkin, who was nobody's fool but Catherine's, set up fake little mobile villages on the banks of the River.  As Catherine, accompanied by her court and ambassadors, journeyed to seek help with another war coming up, they saw the phony villages and villagers.  And then, at night, while the Empress slept, Potemkin and his men moved the false-front houses a little farther downriver and took the same "villagers" along, so that when Her Empressness sailed past, she would see them again and again and again, day after day after day. 

To this day, some people set up Potemkin Villages in their own minds, putting up a front to fool others while an empty hollow shell resides inside. But for a lot of people, that fronting is all that matters.  

Isn't that a pity?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sunday Rerun: It's on the best-celler list

I have a bizarre fascination with prison life, mainly centered on making sure I never have to live it. I'm reasonably certain that I would not be a model inmate, and so I don't want to be any sort of inmate at all. When those iron doors clang behind you, it must be the worst kind of feeling.

A woman named Piper Kerman (can you not just picture her, having a Tom Collins after a tough tennis match with someone named Muffy?) got mixed up with drug lords as she left college, and worked with them as a money laundress. By the time the Feds caught up with her, she had already moved on past that career and had begun another. Perhaps she should have begun career #2 in some foreign land without an extradition treaty with the US, because she was easy to find in San Francisco, and went to the Iron Bar Hilton for a stay.

OK, it happens a lot. People go wrong for a variety of reasons, and she went off to the calaboose and did her time, and has now written a book about it all. Ah, another story of American redemption. But as I read the review of the book in "Entertainment Weekly," which is, I know, like looking for baseball standings in the Congressional Record, I see that while Ms Kerman was cooling her well-shod heels in the hoosegow, her grandmother died. That had to be tough, but as not tough as reading that she was "unable to penetrate the faceless bureaucracy to obtain a furlough."

Now. I have no children, but I do know that it's an ineffective punishment to send little Egbert or Ursula up to their room for two hours of reflective penitence, only to call them back down in fifteen minutes because there's a new episode of "iCarly" that they really ought to see. You do the crime, you do the time, as the expression goes. So, what kind of prison system is it that allows inmates to get out for a few days to attend the funeral of a relative? You're in prison. You did something bad. You are being deprived of your liberty to come and go as you see fit so that you can be taught a lesson. Sorry about your grandmother, and you could have gone to her funeral had you not committed felonies.

The review goes on to say that the horrible tedious humdrum life of a prisoner was occasionally broken for Ms Kerman when her fellow inmates made her prison cheesecake and prison enchiladas. Whatever happened to the old time prisons that we saw in movies with George Raft in them, where the silent prisoners walked through a cafeteria line and were given a ladle's worth of gruel, a piece of bread and coffee in a tin cup? And on nights when the gruel was not quite up to snuff, some con would stand and holler, "I ain't eatin' this slop" shortly before being bastinadoed by 127 guards.

I guess that in the modern slammer, an Inmate Grievance Committee would get text messages from some fish who thought the halibut not flaky enough tonight, and the coffee weak.

I guess this vignette hits a note with me because my father lost both his father and then later, his mother, while he was away fighting in World War II. And neither time was he allowed to come home to mourn.
I know it's comparing apples and baseball gloves, and it might surprise some to find me taking an illiberal stance, but prison furloughs don't appeal to someone wordy as I am, who is so fond of long sentences.