California Dreaming

Doozy

There is perhaps nothing more American than an auto show. Many of the best cars are made in other countries, but no other country identifies as strongly with the automobile. It is part of America’s cultural identity.

My favorite part of the auto show is the collection of classic cars, like the Duesenberg shown above. I didn’t take a photo of the description card, so forgive the lack of details, but the Duesenberg has a supercharged engine that generates over 300 horsepower and allows the car to achieve a top speed of 124 mph. That’s pretty impressive, and ironic, considering it was built in the 1930’s during the depths of the Great Depression.

By the way, if you ever happen to be in Indiana and you have some spare time, be sure to check out the car museum in Auburn, near Fort Wayne. The museum contains a collection of classic Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg cars, along with a collection of classic Indian motorcycles. The museum is located in Auburn because that is where the Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg factory resided back in the day.

I try to attend the auto show every year, but this year I had a specific purpose. The lease on my car is about to expire and I need to decide whether to turn it in, or pay the residual and purchase it outright. I’ll spare you the suspense: I’m going to buy the leased car. I’ve also decided that I will never again lease a car. It makes no sense for me. Oh well. Sometimes you try these things and they don’t work out. My theory at the time was that I didn’t want to be locked in by purchasing, but I really like my leased car, and I didn’t find anything at the auto show that I liked better that was around the same price point.

There were other cars that I liked better than my car, but they were way out of reach. An example is this sweet Rolls Royce.

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This is the new Flying Spur. The base price is around $470,000. They had a rope line around the Rolls, so you couldn’t get near it, much less sit inside or kick the tires. There seemed to be a price point of around $80,000, above which the attendees were not allowed to sit in the cars or get close enough to touch them. An exception was the Land Rovers. But even then you weren’t allowed to sit in the big Range Rover, which has a base price of $124,000. I don’t know whether other auto shows have the same policy, but it’s very frustrating, and emphasizes the dividing line between the average person and the one percent.

Of course, I really don’t know what I’d do with the Rolls, even if I could afford it. For one thing, my house has no off street parking. For another, I think I would feel too conspicuous driving it around. I wonder if people who own cars like these even drive them, or if they just let the chauffeur do that. It would seem like an awful waste to own one and never even drive it. I think it’s better to dream about a car like the Rolls in the abstract than to actually own one.

Film Review: The Babadook

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I just saw the new film, The Babadook, written and directed by Jennifer Kent. This is her first major film, and if her subsequent films are of the same quality, she can look forward to a long and successful career.

Having said that, this is a grim, trying film. It works as a piece of cinematic art, but I must say that, for me, it works less well as pure entertainment. Had it been released the day after Halloween instead of the day after Thanksgiving, I might have a different opinion.

A widow and her six year old son are confronted with a metaphysical threat when they find a children’s book in the boy’s bedroom and read it together during story time. This is the unique part of the film and it provides a lot of good tension and dreadful good fun. The rhymes in the book are very inventive and creepy. Ms. Kent should be applauded for that, since she wrote the script.

The performances are very good by all the cast members, although I reserve comment on the child actor who plays Samuel. If his performance tracked the director’s vision, then he was amazing. If not, then his performance detracts from the film. The first third of the film is mostly exposition on the relationship between a single mom and her son. The son has issues, but it’s not really clear from the performance whether the issues are inherent, or a function of the particular circumstances faced by mother and son. You never get the sense that they are on the same side. The character of Samuel is portrayed in a very unsympathetic manner for most of the film.

If that was the director’s intent, then it came off beautifully. But that was also, for me, the problem with the film. Without a rooting interest, you’re put through a series of frightening and dreadful scenarios, lacking in emotional balance. The cliché for horror movies is “Get out of the house!” But in those scenarios, you want all the good guys out of the house.

In fairness, the film avoided standard horror techniques in favor of a slow burn. But the lack of a rooting interest, for me, negated the artistic accomplishments. And the slow burn never had a satisfying resolve, in my opinion.

It’s hard to write a compelling story without a protagonist (a good guy, or a good girl). This film comes close to proving that wrong. There is no character in the film that comes across as more than marginally likable.

I’m sure there will be many people who will watch this film and love it. My review is just my opinion.

Oh, and don’t take young children to this movie. It is unrated and would be very disturbing to young children, especially those who are in non-traditional family situations. This film, if viewed by young children, would generate nightmares for years to come.

Happy Thanksgiving!

turkey

It’s hard to decide whether I like Thanksgiving better than the 4th of July. They’re both unique to America and rooted in it’s history. They’re both identified with a particular sport; football with Thanksgiving and baseball with the 4th of July. The main difference is that the 4th of July is a celebration of the nation, while Thanksgiving is more a celebration of family. I guess maybe it comes down to whether you prefer hot dogs or turkey.

This year I’m thankful for my continued good health and that of my daughter. I’m thankful that she is doing fairly well in school. I’m thankful that her broken leg is completed healed, though the jury is still out as to whether she will resume snow skiing this season or next.

I’m thankful to have a good job. Two of my close relatives are out of work right now and struggling a bit to find new employment, so steady employment is definitely something to be thankful for.

And, if all that weren’t enough, it’s going to rain starting Saturday! And not just a little bit; it’s going to rain four days straight! Maybe the drought is finally coming to an end. You know it’s bad when you get all excited about rain on the weekend.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone and remember to take a few moments thinking about what you’re thankful for as well. It makes the holiday that much better.

Ferguson

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The photograph is not from Ferguson. It’s from Oakland. As usual, we get a bunch of rabble-rousers whenever there is social unrest. Peaceful protests turn into riots and looting.

I suppose that was inevitable in Ferguson. I’m surprised and disappointed that it’s occurring in Oakland, because Oakland is one of the most diverse places there are, and people get along fine for the most part. That’s not to say there are no problems, but it’s a far cry from Ferguson.

One big difference is that the Oakland police force reflects the diversity of the community it serves. In Ferguson, most of the police are white and most of the population is black. That’s very problematic. It’s also problematic that the grand jury in Ferguson has a three-to-one white-to-black ratio. With that disparity, it’s impossible to know whether even one black juror voted to not indict the police officer who shot Mr. Brown.

This is a good time to remember why public institutions should reflect the demographics of the populations they serve. It’s not just about fairness, or even primarily about fairness. It’s about institutional credibility.

On this day before Thanksgiving I’m grateful that I live in California. Now I need to leave work early in case there’s another protest. They usually start around 5.

 

Branda

Panda Hat

Yesterday the San Francisco Giants’ third baseman, Pablo Sandoval, was signed to a five year contract with the Boston Red Sox. I’m an A’s fan, but not a Giants hater like one of my friends. Still, how can I put this…  Bwahahahahaha!

Of course, baseball players move around to different teams all the time. But this one feels different. Pablo Sandoval, or Panda, as he is called, is one of the few baseball players that fans have come to associate with one team. He is (was) part of the Giants’ brand.

It’s no wonder. He came out of the Giants farm system and has since helped them win three World Series Championships in the past five years. In 2012 he was the World Series MVP. But more than that, his nickname has become synonymous with the Giants, spawning an avalanche of kitschy marketing, including the ubiquitous panda hats worn by Giants fans at their games.

The panda hats are either loved or loathed by baseball fans. Baseball purists see the hats as a manifestation of everything that’s wrong with the Giants brand, from their gimmicky baseball stadium, to the players’ nicknames (Panda, Fear the Beard, The Freak, Baby Giraffe, etc.), to the t-shirts (Let Time Smoke; Let Pablo Eat, etc.). Of course, in San Francisco, all the meta-level stuff just feeds the fans’ frenzy for what is, undeniably, a franchise on a roll. The Giants sell out every game.

So, it’s very ironic that the Panda is now going to play for the Boston Red Sox, which are the very definition of baseball stodgy, with an uptight and unforgiving fan base. I sense that this is a bad move for Sandoval. If you read the comments on Red Sox Nation there is already grumbling about the Panda’s weight issues. He is a streaky hitter, so my guess is that he is about one slump away from feeling the wrath of Red Sox Nation.

I think I can imagine how the Giants fans feel. The Panda had a chance to stay. The Giants had made a competitive offer, so the fans must feel like a jilted lover right about now.

I wish the Panda well. He provided a lot of entertainment value, even if you’re not a Giants fan. Good luck in Boston, Panda, and say hello to Yoenis Cespedes when you get there.

Conference Wrap Up

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Last night was the big conference reception at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The reception was nice and I had a chance to visit old friends and make new ones. Alcohol can be a bad habit, but in a social setting it opens people up and sometimes you have good group conversations.

There were two primary topics of conversation: The rape allegations involving Bill Cosby, and President Obama’s executive action regarding those who have entered the United States in violation of immigration law.

With regard to Cosby, the only observation I have is the power of the media. His career has probably been destroyed by allegations several years old. I don’t know if any of the allegations are true, but he was never indicted or convicted of rape. Yet the media was easily able to turn the story of the allegations into a full blown controversy, to the point where two major deals Cosby had for new entertainment were broken.

So far as the immigration reform, I think that the practical implications pale in comparison to the political implications. The people at issue are already here and have been here for many years. There will likely be some marginal difference for them, but if you think about it, they would have been deported already if that was an actual threat. And the fact that they have been here a long time says a lot about their situation; it must be a better life here as an undocumented migrant than if they were to return to their places of origin.

But the political implications are enormous. I’m not a constitutional scholar or anything, but it does seem to me that the President is at least stretching the envelope by not working on immigration reform with Congress. And yes, that’s a two way street, but the irony is that any hope of having immigration reform the old-fashioned way has now been dashed, at least in the short term. And that’s unfortunate, because it’s a real problem that must be dealt with somehow. Even the President acknowledged yesterday afternoon that the action he has taken doesn’t fix the problem.

Polls show that most Americans want immigration reform. Polls also show that they didn’t want the President to do what he did, so it’s a mystery to me why he chose to go it alone.

Anyway, the rest of the conference was a little dry, but it ended at noon. I had plenty of time to drive back to the bay area before the really bad traffic set in.

Conference Karaoke

Karaoke

Today at the conference there was a funny and interesting session about social media and the problems that sometimes occur when people post pictures of themselves on Facebook, etc. One key takeaway: the courts have repeatedly ruled that no one has any expectation of privacy regarding anything on social media. Why? Because social media exists to share personal information. Were that not the case the sites wouldn’t exist.

Another fun (and funny) activity at this year’s conference is the nightly karaoke sessions at the bar down the street from my hotel. I’ve never been into karaoke, but I gave it a try (as a performer) two nights ago and now I’m hooked. But you won’t see me posting pictures or video. It’s just running in my head as good memories.

Conference Update: Steve Uzzell

uzzell open road

Every year the conference begins with a speaker that is not a subject matter expert for the profession I work in. This year the speaker was a guy named Steve Uzzell and I can’t recall a better opening speaker in the years I’ve been attending the conference.

Steve Uzzell is a former photographer for National Geographic magazine. While he spoke, he displayed some of his photography on two large screens. His work is amazing.

The subject matter of his speech was quite philosophical in that he tied his photography methods into a larger theme that could be applied to any vocation, or life in general. One of the points he made is that if you prepare well and know where you want to end up, a sort of magic will happen. He made this point by saying that a key element of remarkable photography is chance; perhaps the sun coming out from behind a cloud at just the right moment. Or a boat sailing into the lens frame. But these chance moments can only occur when you prepare well and know where you want to end up. But if you do those things, the magic happens over, and over.

If you want to learn more about his work, click on the link above. Oh, and if you’re looking for a great speaker for your next conference I highly recommend him.

The Conference

I’m at the annual conference for the type of work I do. I look forward to it every year, and every year I experience the same thing. I anticipate the conference as an opportunity to blow off steam and take a break from the everyday, and within hours of being here, I miss my family.

Right now I’m sitting in a hotel room, alone. I purchased a movie; 22 Jump Street. It’s funny. A buddy movie, for sure, with a lot of gay irony stuff going on, but not offensive; all in good fun.

Tomorrow I’ll blog about the conference, which hasn’t actually started.

I had dinner tonight with co-workers. It’s amazing how you can work with people and miss important details about their lives. For example, the two people I dined with had no idea I play guitar and write songs.

They’re good people that I work with. Smart, good at what they do. I’m lucky to have them as co-workers. It was nice having dinner with them tonight, but I am acutely aware of the absence of the person I love the most, which is my daughter. She’s staying with Grandma, because my wife died three years ago. I miss her, too. I miss her terribly. Sorry to get so personal, but that’s what happens when you’re alone in a hotel room.

On a happier note, I’m going to play some of my songs for my co-workers, now that they know about it. I’m sure they’ll like the songs, because they’re damn good. Maybe someday I’ll share them on the good ole blog.

Peter Kassig

I’ve had to think awhile to be able to write about the latest victim, Peter Kassig, shown in the beheadings that have been videotaped and posted on the internet. I’ve questioned whether to write about it at all, but this is on my mind, and it’s an important topic.

My understanding of Peter Kassig is based solely on media reports. I didn’t know him.

He was honorably discharged from the Army Rangers and then created a non-profit to provide assistance to victims of the civil war in Syria. He was abducted by terrorists while providing aid in Syria, held for over a year, then murdered. The evidence of the murder is a video recording, showing his severed head on the ground.

I haven’t viewed any of the beheading videos, and I encourage others to avoid them. Why? Because the terrorists are putting them on the internet, so, obviously, they think they gain an advantage by doing so. I make an exception for government officials and reporters. Someone has to watch it. I imagine it’s a terrible burden.

The stuff that should be on the internet is the work that Peter Kassig did before he was murdered. There are many more acts of courage and generosity that occur on a daily basis than there are acts of brutality and cruelty. I encourage the media to consider this going forward.

What if the media used the same approach as the terrorists; understanding that content has an impact? Tell Peter’s story, and people like him. By that I mean celebrate and magnify good people. It’s crazy that there are so many people who do good works, struggling in obscurity. Meanwhile, murderers have a large audience, presenting material that would, just a year ago, be unthinkable. And it should be free on youtube, as was the video created by the terrorists.

The terrorist video of Peter Kassing should not be the last comment on his life. Someone needs to produce a film about his life that lionizes him as a hero.

I’ll speculate here about the fact that the video, which I have not seen, varied from the previous videos. There is no video of him submitting to his captors and making anti-American statements prior to his execution.

One of the things that has forced me to think about Peter is the possibility that he resisted his captors, perhaps to spare his parents from the real-time act of his submission and the horror of his murder being posted on the internet.

Think, for a moment, the role his memory might play in the battle between dark and light. He is a hero.