Frosty

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I’ve never owned a gun. I’ve never even shot one, which I surmise is unusual for someone born and raised in America. Most people who live here own a gun or have at least shot one.

I was never around guns growing up, so that’s one reason our paths have never crossed until today. I’m on vacation with relatives and they own a couple of pistols, which they brought along for sport. We’re about to leave to go a homemade shooting range in the forest. Yes, it’s legal to do that in any National forest, but there are rules. You can’t shoot within 150 yards of a campground, or over a trail, or over water. Other than that, it’s perfectly legal, which seems weird to me, but I guess that’s freedom.

This morning my relative showed me how to disassemble the pistol shown above, which 9mm Sig Sauer, which is the same gun issued by the Federal Government to the Navy Seals. I must admit that it has a certain allure; it’s kind of cool, thus the title of this post.

Last night my relative and I were drinking and he wanted to show me the gun, unloaded, of course. I declined because that’s just a bad narrative. It seems like stories about accidental shootings seem to crop up more this time of year.

I’m going to the homemade shooting range today and I’ll post again after I shoot for the first time.

The World’s Oldest Houseplant?

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It lives in the Montclair neighborhood of Oakland, California. It’s exact age is unclear, but safe to say it is older than most of the population, having lived for about 57 years.

The plant is actually three plants that were combined in the same pot as a gift for a hospital patient. It was taken home and cared for by the patient until they died, and, here’s the interesting part, was subsequently adopted and taken home by a family member, where it has lived ever since.

It’s continued existence seems to indicate that these particular plants have no set lifespan so long as they are cared for properly. More important, it says a lot about the person whose taken care of it all this time. When I think of the plant I imagine that keeping it alive meant keeping alive the memory of a beloved family member in physical form.

Drifter

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It’s a ski run at Northstar ski resort at Lake Tahoe. Seemingly innocuous, but for me, a source of ongoing anxiety.

My daughter broke her leg very badly skiing with me on this run. Drifter has a stand of trees in the middle of the run near the beginning, so you need to either start your ski run to the right, as I usually do, or to the left. On February 18, 2014, I was skiing with my daughter and we decided to ski Drifter; it’s one of our favorites because it is just below expert level, challenging but not scary.

It was Presidents Day weekend, so the resort was very crowded. One of my primary concerns when skiing is colliding with other skiers. More to the point, I’m always concerned that my daughter will collide with another skier, or worse, a snowboarder. The snowboarders tend to be speed demons.

In an effort to avoid the heaviest traffic, I led my daughter down the left side of Drifter, not realizing that the left side of the run had not been groomed and was basically a block of ice. As soon as I realized my mistake I made a plan to get past the trees, then stop by abruptly turning my skis horizontal to the slope, what’s known in skier parlance as a stem Christie. I would then lead my daughter off the ice and to the right side of Drifter, where the snow had been groomed.

When I executed the stem Christie, my daughter didn’t have time to replicate the maneuver and instead skied by me, screaming in fear. One of her skis went under mine and took us both down, with our equipment flying everywhere. I’ve had incidents like this before and so has my daughter, but not where we collided with each other. I checked myself and everything seemed to be in one piece, so I assumed that my daughter, being a resilient youth, would also be OK. Well, it turned out that she had suffered spiral fractures in two places on her left leg.

Fortunately, everyone who was involved in taking care of her after the accident performed perfectly. From the ski patrol guys at Northstar, to the staff at Tahoe Forest hospital who operated on her leg, to the staff at Kaiser in the Bay Area who handled her follow-up treatment.

You might imagine the guilt I felt and continue to feel being a party to my daughter’s injury. Even though my actions that day were informed by concern that my daughter not be injured, I have terrible regret. There’s nothing worse than being in any way responsible for your own child getting injured.

So now we’re ten months on from the event and a new ski season has begun. We’re at Lake Tahoe and today I went to Northstar for the first time since my daughter’s injury. My brother-in-law suggested that we ski Drifter, and I said, yeah, return to the scene of the crime. But we did it anyway. The conditions were marginal; groomed, but with patches of ice. We made it down OK without any incidents.

My daughter didn’t ski today, because the doctors recommend that she wait at least one year from the date of the injury. So you see where this is heading. Should I encourage her to ski again, or not? On the one hand, there’s the whole get back on the horse trope. But on the other hand, I already feel bad about her being injured in the first place. To add another level, I really enjoy skiing with my daughter and I’d miss that pleasure.

I don’t know how this will all work out, but I’m going to let her make the decision, and also let her know that decisions have consequences either way. I hope we’re able to ski together again.

Film Review: The Interview

The Interview

Well, Sony and independent theaters finally did the right thing and allowed Americans to watch the new Seth Rogen film, The Interview. The neat thing about seeing this film is that it exists in the unique context of an international incident involving the United States, North Korea, and shadowy computer hackers.

The story about why the film’s release was delayed has played out like some bizarre performance art piece that rivals the film itself in it’s sheer absurdity. The film combined with it’s context has become a separate piece of art. I have to review that separate piece of art, because that’s what I saw, and, at least for me, it was impossible to separate the film from it’s context.

A talk show host and his producer receive an invitation to interview the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, and are recruited by the CIA to assassinate him. It’s a silly premise, but removing any hint of seriousness from the get go opens up the screenplay and let’s the writers roam free in an absurdist wonderland.

There’s also plenty of funny meta-level stuff about the entertainment industry, including a cameo performance by the rap superstar Eminem as a guest on the talk show. By the way, there has been speculation about Eminem’s health based on recent photographs of him. His physical appearance in the movie will do nothing to dispel that speculation. He didn’t look well, even while wearing theatrical makeup.

The Interview has not received glowing reviews from critics, but those reviews were of the film itself, absent the contextual wrap-around of the international incident. I really enjoyed the film and thought it was very funny. The funniest thing about it is that the jokes sort of get mixed up with the over-the-top propaganda coming out of North Korea about the film. For example, the film opens with a young North Korean girl singing a patriotic song in Korean. The lyrics are shown in English subtitles and could have come straight from the North Korean government. That part was hysterical.

Another funny thing about the film (in context) is that it’s primarily a typical Seth Rogen/James Franco buddy movie that doesn’t take the subject matter seriously. The fact that North Korea got so upset about it is farcical. I can only imagine that they didn’t see it, because it actually portrays Kim Jong Un in a fairly sympathetic way, more than would be due if the subject matter was treated seriously.

I bought The Interview rather than renting it. I did that because it’s not just a film; it’s a unique piece of history, and I want to keep it for repeated viewings and future pop-culture references. If you haven’t seen The Interview you should; not out of any sense of patriotic duty, though it is a pure manifestation of the state of American culture; but because it’s a very funny comedy that will have you exiting the theater with a spring in your step.

The independent theater owners who screened it, and Sony Pictures, should be applauded for doing the right thing, albeit belatedly.

Dwindling

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I was walking back home after some Christmas shopping when I saw this protester standing on the corner all by himself. It was kind of sad, though I guess it’s a sign that the vandalism and looting that went along with the large protests has run it’s course. As I walked by and snapped this photo, it occurred to me that the lone protester is emblematic of the seeming futility of trying to effect broad social change.

When I got home I turned on the news and there was a story about two New York City police officers who were ambushed while sitting in their police cruiser. Someone shot both of them in the head and they died. The suspected shooter was later found dead nearby, apparently from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. It’s too early to know anything about the suspect’s motive, but of course there is already speculation that the incident is in some way tied to the protests over police shootings.

I wonder if the citizens of New York City will now march in support of the police. That would be a good thing.

Film Review: The Interview (Not)

The Interview

I’m not going to see the new Seth Rogen movie, The Interview. Why? Because the release of the movie has been cancelled as a result of terrorist threats by the government (I use that word loosely) of North Korea. I can’t recall something like this happening before, where you have self censorship by a major Hollywood movie studio. The Interview was to be released by Sony Pictures.

For those who haven’t been following the news lately, The Interview is about two journalists who are invited to interview North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, and are recruited by the CIA to assassinate him. The premise of the movie really pissed him off, apparently, even though the movie is supposed to be a comedy. North Korea hacked Sony’s computer system and subsequently threatened mass casualty attacks at theaters that planned to show the movie. This in turn resulted in major theater chains deciding not to show it, and today Sony announced that the movie wouldn’t be released. By so doing, Sony has inadvertently provided a tiny glimpse of what life is like for people who live in North Korea.

The daily reality of life in North Korea makes George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984” seem quaint by comparison. The population of North Korea has been systematically and coercively brainwashed by their government to believe that their leader is an infallible demigod, despite a horrendous standard of living and repeated instances of mass starvation. Since the population has no access to any information from the world outside North Korea, they live in an alternate reality. Those who question that reality in any way are sent to concentration camps, along with their families, and subjected to inhuman conditions, as recently documented by the United Nations. The UN report concludes that the regime of Kim Jong Un has committed crimes against humanity.

If one good thing comes from Sony’s decision, let it be that free people realize the stark difference between freedom (however imperfect and tenuous) and tyranny. I don’t want to live in North Korea. And I don’t want Kim Jong Un dictating what movies I can watch. In a significant way, he has just projected his sick personality cult onto the rest of the world.

I can’t believe the theater chains and Sony let him do that.

A Busy Saturday

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Is it weird to like a hospital? I would have thought so until I went to the new Kaiser hospital in Oakland. Here’s a photo of the waiting area for the orthopedics department. I’ve been going there with my daughter because she broke her leg snow skiing last February. She’s all healed up now and ready to have the rods removed later this month.

Anyway, the new hospital is beautiful; another word I would not have associated with a medical facility until now. Here’s another photo of the interior. This one’s next to the cafeteria. The photo is of a mural made up of thousands of images of Oakland residents, arranged to create a panorama of downtown Oakland near Lake Merritt.

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As inconsequential as it may seem, I think there is value to aesthetics when it comes to a medical facility. It makes going there less intimidating and reduces the stress one usually associates with health concerns. Here’s one final photo; this one is also next to the cafeteria. It shows a container of spa water put out by the staff.

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I went to the hospital lab yesterday to have blood samples taken as part of my annual physical. By the way, I really like my doctor. He’s an elderly guy with a Southern accent that sounds exactly like Andy Taylor from the classic TV show Mayberry RFD.

After the lab work, I took a smoking cessation class. Yes, I smoke. Not much; I average about 7 cigarettes a day, but still. I had quit three years ago by going to a hypnotist. I started again after my wife died of cancer. She never smoked and barely drank. Who said life was fair? I realize it’s counterintuitive that I would start smoking again after that terrible event. I don’t claim to understand it myself. The good news is that I am going to quit again.

So in the class they helped me draw up a plan to quit. One of the things they tell you to do is to let others know you are going to quit so that you are more committed to success, which is why I’m telling you this. My quit date is January 1, 2015 (I know, I know). But it’s not a New Year’s resolution, really. It’s just that I’m supposed to be doing certain things to prepare, such as to start using a nicotine patch, in advance of the actual quit date.

I plan to blog each day about my quitting experience. It should be fun.

After the smoking cessation class I went to the car dealership and bought my leased vehicle. If you read my post about the SF car show, you’ll know why. Just as I was about to leave the dealership, a few hundred protesters marched by. I had only seen the protests on TV, so it was interesting. Here’s a photo (not a very good one).

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Of course, the protesters were there because of the controversy surrounding deaths from police shootings, the most recent being the shooting of a twelve year old boy brandishing a toy pistol. The death has been ruled a homicide by the medical examiner. There’s video of the incident. I would assume that there will be an indictment in the case, but based on recent history I’m not holding my breath.

OK! I need to go buy a Christmas tree. Happy Holidays!

Concert Review: Steve Hackett (Genesis Extended)

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I’ve been to hundreds of concerts in the Bay Area, but for some reason I had never seen a concert at the Regency Ballroom, which used to be called the Avalon Ballroom. By the way, when it was called the Avalon Ballroom it hosted many classic rock concerts from the 60’s at the height of psychedelic poster art, like this.

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I went to the Regency to see Steve Hackett, who, for the uninitiated, used to be the guitarist for Genesis, back when Peter Grabriel was the band’s vocalist. Hackett has put together a band to play all the Gabriel-era Genesis material that I never really got to see. I saw Genesis a few times during the post-Gabriel era, but they would always package snippets of the older material into a medley instead of playing the whole songs. A rare exception was when I saw them at the Greek Theater and they played Supper’s Ready, from the Foxtrot album.

So I’d been waiting decades to see a gig like this. It seemed like most of the other people in attendance were in the same boat, because the crowd gave the band a standing ovation after every single song. The performance was generally excellent, though my friend was less than thrilled with the vocalist who was standing in for Peter Gabriel. I thought he did a pretty good job. It’s hard, even for a gifted vocalist, to perform someone else’s iconic material.

I was going to post a video clip that I recorded on my phone, but had trouble with the upload to WordPress. So instead I’m linking to youtube if you want a taste.The song is called Firth of Fifth. They played this song at the Regency; an awesome, extended version with an expansive guitar solo that showcased Hackett’s playing.

It’s hard to say which song from the concert I enjoyed most. There were many to choose from because the show clocked in at two and a half hours. I guess I’ll pick Fly on a Windshield, from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway double album. I chose that one because I never in my wildest dreams thought they would play it; I never thought I would see anyone perform that song live. I love the song, too, and they did it justice to say the least, wringing every ounce out of the song’s quirky lyrical energy and angular melodic power.

There were two songs they didn’t play that I really wanted to see, but didn’t expect them to play, so I wasn’t too disappointed. Both songs are from The Lamb: Back in New York City, and The Chamber of 32 Doors (they played the latter on other tour dates). If you’re not a Genesis fan and want to try it out by purchasing one Genesis album (please don’t download free pirated music; a pet peeve.), I would recommend The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. In my opinion, it’s their best album by far, and one of the great art rock albums of all time. Except for the break between discs (it’s a double album), each song flows seamlessly into the next; a neat trick because the songs are all unique and eclectic. In fact, the songwriting and production on the parts between the songs rivals the songs. It’s on a par with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Actually, I think The Lamb is better, but I’m biased, so reach your own conclusion.

On Any Sunday

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Wow! The Oakland Raiders have just defeated the San Francisco 49er’s, likely ending the 49er’s playoff hopes for this year, and possibly ending the 49er’s coaching career of Jim Harbaugh. There is speculation that Harbaugh will leave San Francisco at the end of the season to take the head coaching job…in Oakland.

That’s a weird aspect of this win for the Raiders. More about that later.

First, the Raiders’ quarterback, Derek Carr, was outstanding today. He’s the reason they won the game.

Second, no one saw this coming. Not realistically, anyway. The Raiders lost last week in a blow-out. There was absolutely no reason to think that a team with one win this season would even be competitive against the 49ers. The Raiders had nothing to play for except pride.

This is what I love about sports. The intangible elements somehow come into play from time to time and dictate an unexpected outcome.

So, on the question of whether Harbaugh moves to the Raiders, I think this game made that unlikely. This game is a manifestation of Harbaugh’s recent problems controlling his team, as evidenced by unattributed reports from 49er players that he has lost the confidence of the players.

It would be interesting to see if Harbaugh could help turn around the Raiders, but I think it would be more interesting to witness the second coming of the last great Raiders coach, Jon Gruden. If I had a vote, I’d take Gruden over Harbaugh any day. He’s won a Super Bowl, knows the Raiders organization as well as anyone, and doesn’t carry the baggage of Harbaugh’s recent problems.

I sign off with a hopeful comment: Go Raiders!

The Frog Sings (Not)

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Just when I thought that some level of consensus had formed around the death of Eric Garner in New York, I got into quite a discussion while posting comments regarding an article someone forwarded to me.

If you don’t want to read the whole article, the author concludes that he “cannot in good conscience say there was insufficient probable cause to indict Officer Pantaleo for involuntary manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide.” His conclusion is based on a standard of reasonableness as regards the use of force by the police.

So, I posted the following comment in response to the article:

“Thank you. I agree with your analysis. There was a point made on TV the other night, which is that he died as a result of the chokehold, but also chest compression from the weight of the other officers. But Pantaleo was the only one the grand jury looked at. That may be why they didn’t indict him, but it’s still a travesty. Forget, for a minute, about the reasonableness test for cops. I don’t see how anyone can watch that video, hear Garner saying repeatedly that he can’t breathe, and think that continuing the chokehold was OK. Did they think he was lying? If so, on what basis?”

Oh boy. Here’s the string of comments that ensued, along with my replies. The handles of the other posters have been changed.

Other Poster #1: “Did it occur to you that if he could talk he could breath?”

Me: “Yes, that does occur to me. I suppose he could have said “I’m having difficulty breathing.” But it wouldn’t have made any difference so far as the actions of the officer.”

Other Poster #1: “Their actions were the correct actions. He did not die as a result of any type of hold.”

Me: “Then why did the coroner’s report conclude that his death was a homicide? I don’t think the New York coroner’s office is engaging in some sort of subjective, conspiratorial scheme.”

Other Poster #1: “The coroner did not say it was due to a chokehold … And the Grand Jury found no wrongdoing on the part of police … So what would be your point?”

Me: “Homicide means he did not die of natural causes. So I guess my point is that he died as a result of the actions of the police. You can debate whether those actions were criminal, but can you at least acknowledge that their actions caused his death ( which would contradict your earlier post)?”

Other Poster #1: “I am not debating anything…if he complies he lives…he chose not to and was taken down in a very efficient manner…his bad health killed him…but it would have been so easy for him to live…the police are not the bad guys…”

Me: “Well, to me, the notion that it’s OK for the police to cause someone’s death trying to arrest them for selling loose cigarettes is debatable. I respectfully disagree with you, sir.”

Other Poster #2: “Are the police supposed to be psychic now? Were they supposed to just know that Mr. Garner was unarmed and going to have a heart-attack?”

Me: “They knew he was unarmed at the point when he was on the ground. The coroner ruled his death a homicide, which means he wouldn’t have had a heart attack at that particular moment but for the actions of the police.”

That’s the whole string. Is it just me or do these other posters seem completely out to lunch?