Beach Weather

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It’s the end of January and I took this photo a couple blocks from my house. This is the beach fronting the east side of San Francisco Bay. It was 72 degrees and people were walking around in bathing suits.

For those on the east coast, I’m not sharing this to make you jealous. It’s a real problem, actually, because it hasn’t rained at all this month. That’s right. For the first time since they started keeping records there has been zero precipitation in the region during the month of January.

So the drought continues. There is still a chance it will break in February and March, but it’s going to have to rain like hell. Meanwhile my relatives in Amador County, California, have placed a water tank on their property because their well ran dry.

In the grand scheme of things perhaps I shouldn’t even mention that the ski season is a bust so far, but it’s not just that I’m getting burned on fair use of my season pass; the people who live in the Sierras rely on ski season for their livelihood.

At this point I almost feel like planning an expensive trip to Whistler as sort of a rain dance. You know: as soon as I blow a wad of cash to hit the slopes in British Columbia, it’ll start snowing hard in California.

I’m heading out to Las Vegas tomorrow for the Super Bowl. I should have some good fodder for the blog on Monday. Happy Super Bowl, whatever your loyalties. I’m not betting on either team, though I may do the over under thing.

To go off on a tangent for a moment, Marshawn Lynch of the Seahawks is a clueless turd. He thinks he doesn’t need to speak to the media during Super Bowl week. Newsflash: you’re an entertainer, Marshawn! Yes, you play football, but you do it for the entertainment of the fans. There’s a wrap-around structure called the National Football League. Without that wrap-around and the media that goes with it, no one would care if you played football. Your media strategy during Super Bowl week is not entertaining in the least. Neither is grabbing your crotch after scoring. So get over yourself and act like the highly compensated entertainer you’re supposed to be.

Urban Legend

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A few posts back I wrote a haiku poem called Cranes in the Sunset and made a passing reference to the Oakland shipping cranes being the inspiration for the walking war machines in The Empire Strikes Back. My unofficial fact checker quickly replied to the post and said that George Lucas himself had denied any connection between the two.

I won’t argue with Mr. Lucas if he said that, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve encountered that connection over the years, both in print and verbally. You can even buy a t-shirt like the one pictured above. The myth was repeated so many times that Mr. Lucas felt compelled to set the record straight.

It goes to show how something can take on the force of truth through simple repetition.

Film Review: American Sniper

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I went to see the new film American Sniper with my daughter, who’s thirteen. One thing worth mentioning: The theater was very crowded. Not like typical crowded for a popular film; I mean it was exceptional.

It’s rated ‘R’ so I did have some reservations viewing it with my young teenager, given the rating. My guess, after seeing the film with her, is that the ‘R’ rating is due to foul language and extreme violence. There’s also very mild sexual content, but I’ve seen PG-13 films that are more objectionable in that regard.

I’m sorry to say this, but there is no reason to avoid seeing this film with your teenager, if your objection is foul language and extreme violence. All the content that earned American Sniper an ‘R’ rating is likely present in the life of your average thirteen year-old, unless you’ve been very careful as regards parental controls on their electronics, or if you live off the grid.

The film is laced with salty military banter that I would guess is toned down as compared to the actual stream of dialogue among service members. It seems like the producers allow for the foul language and violence in service to the story, which is presented as the autobiography of an American hero and decorated Navy SEAL, Chris Kyle.

If you plan on seeing the film, do yourself a favor and avoid Google searches about his life. Just know that the film is based on his life.

Bradley Cooper portrays a Navy Seal starting a family while serving four tours of duty at the height of America’s military involvement in Iraq.

Cooper’s performance is Oscar-nominated for his portrayal of Chris Kyle. I predict he will win the Oscar for Best Actor (even though I have a bad track record on recent predictions, so I hope I don’t mess it up for him; he deserves it).

There are many scenes in the film that access the emotions of the viewer. Bradley Cooper and director Clint Eastwood treat those moments with admirable, and at times, incredible, delicacy. You never feel like they’re going for cheap tears, because Bradley Cooper disappears into the character.

There were times during my viewing of the film when I focused on the performance of Bradley Cooper in an attempt to avoid or forestall an emotional reaction. Impossible. The actor disappears into the character. I never saw Bradley Cooper on the screen; I only saw Chris Kyle. It was that good.

American Sniper is a mature, intelligent, and formidable effort to portray the United States at war in the aftermath of 9/11, from the perspective of the front line participants. In my opinion, it deserves serious consideration for best film of the year.

Cranes in the Sunset

I’ve been following the blog of a guy named Kurt Brindley. He is fond of the Japanese poetry form haiku, and has written and posted several of his poems written in that style. I’ve enjoyed reading those posts and been inspired to try it myself. This is the first one.

Haiku poems have three lines, with a pattern of 5-7-5 syllables.

By the way, George Lucas has said that the cranes like the ones in the photograph below were the inspiration for the walking war machines in The Empire Strikes Back.

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Cranes in the sunset
They wait on ships arriving
From across the seas

Film Review: The Imitation Game

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This is a photograph of Alan Turing, an historical figure who is the subject of the film The Imitation Game. Mr. Turing was a homosexual in England at a time when homosexual conduct was illegal. It seems odd to point that out, given the shift in societal norms lately. I only point it out because it is a plot point in the film.

The film weaves the fact of Mr. Turing’s sexuality into the screenplay, but viewers can watch the film, as I did, and conclude that his sexuality did not define him so much as his quirky, forceful personality, and his genius.

Watching the film, it occurred to me that it must be intended to convey something more than just Mr. Turing’s achievements. It seems intended to focus those achievements through the lens of his sexuality; perhaps to say that what he achieved is all the more impressive if considered in the context of him being a victim of bias and ignorance.

Mr. Turing led a team of cryptologists charged with breaking the Nazi encryption technology known as Enigma during World War II. In the process, Mr. Turing invented an electro-mechanical precursor to what is now commonly referred to as the computer, thereby saving millions of lives by bringing an early end to the war.

I recommend seeing The Imitation Game. All of the performances by the actors are excellent and the screenplay is thrilling when you consider that cryptology could easily be a dry topic.

The only thing about the film that gave me pause is the focus on Mr. Turing’s sexuality. Not that being gay is a bad thing, but the notion of him being a victim seems inconsistent with the fact that he is a hero. Granted, it would have been a different film if Mr. Turing’s sexuality had been kept out of a screenplay that is primarily about his momentous achievements. I can’t help but wonder if he would have preferred it that way.

Deflate-Gate

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In a prior post I made some predictions about the NFL playoffs and said if I was wrong I’d blog with my tail between my legs. But…but…I’ve decided to blog with partly deflated balls between my legs instead.

Why? Because the Green Bay Packers were leading their opponent, the Seattle Seahawks, by 19 to 7 with a little more than two minutes left in the game. 999 times out of 1000, the Packers win that game. And my predictions regarding their quarterback, Russell Wilson, and their star cornerback, Richard Sherman, came true. Wilson game sacked real good early in the game and proceeded to throw six interceptions. Talk about a pick six. Sherman got burned by a touchdown pass, too, and looked none to happy about it.

So I don’t feel like I got that one wrong, really. Except the Packers didn’t win. Watching the Seahawks come back the way they did had a surreal quality to it. It never should have happened. Still, I guess I have to accept that I got that one wrong.

I had also predicted the Colts would beat the Patriots. But you know what? The Patriots are cheating scum! Cheaters! It turns out that the Patriots used partially deflated footballs in the game, in clear violation of league rules. You could give them the benefit of the doubt were this an isolated incident, but the Patriots have been caught cheating before, so it seems to be part of their DNA. When a team is cheating and wins the game, it doesn’t really count, or at least the win deserves an asterisk.

I’m going to Las Vegas for Super Bowl Sunday, as I’ve done for the last five years, but I’m not going to bet on the game. Not only do I not like the Seahawks, but they looked terrible for most of the game against the Packers. And how can you bet on a Patriots team that cheats?

I’ll leave my gambling for the card tables, after I watch this Super Bowl matchup with morbid fascination.

The Dumbest Traffic Light in the World

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Do you notice something odd about the placement of this traffic light? That’s right. There’s no cross street.

The light resides in the middle of a standard, otherwise unremarkable, city block, in the Chinatown neighborhood of Oakland, California. You’ll notice the crosswalk markings in the street. The building I work in is on this street and I can tell you from experience that very few people cross the street there. There’s a garage entrance on the other side of the street, out of view, but it’s presence doesn’t warrant a traffic light.

Just so you know I haven’t gone crazy or succumbed to dementia, there’s a reason I’m writing about this. Have you ever driven a car in Oakland’s Chinatown? If not, I can share that traffic laws are not enforced there.

People double-park in Chinatown all the time. People jay-walk and even the city-provided walk signs are set up to allow people to cross the street diagonally. I have no problem with any of that. It’s well established that different cultures have different traffic practices. I live in a diverse region so I accept it.

Except that the dumbest traffic light in the world exists in the context of what is otherwise a traffic-law-free zone. My solution is to ignore the traffic light and pay attention to any stray pedestrians who happen to be in the crosswalk.

Running a red light on the way to work each day is a liberating experience.

All Things Football

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I haven’t posted in a few days because I’ve been pre-occupied with other things. I’ve had plenty to write about, so daily posts will follow until I’m caught up.

Take for example the college football championship game. For those following this blog who don’t follow American college football, there used to be a very odd, opaque process for determining the top college football team that did not involve an elimination tournament. I never fully understood the old process, so I won’t bore you trying to explain it. Let’s just say that it was very controversial and, more to the point, boring.

Americans are used to playoff games, like they have in the National Football League. The top teams play each other, with the winners eliminating the losers until the last two teams standing play each other for the championship, otherwise known as the Super Bowl. College football didn’t have a corollary, until Monday.

On Monday, fans got to see the first college equivalent of the Super Bowl, with the Oregon Ducks taking on the Ohio State Buckeyes. I watched the game, as did millions of others. It was a ratings blow-out.

Ohio State won the game convincingly and were anointed the champions of college football. It’s worth pointing out that, under the previous system, Ohio State would not have been the championship team.

It’s also worth pointing out that when I began watching the game, before any play had been run, I texted a relative to predict that the Ducks were doomed to lose because of their uniforms. The Ducks weren’t wearing the traditional Oregon colors, which feature green and yellow. Instead, they were wearing a special uniform designed by Nike that made them look like ghost Ducks (see the photo, above). Sure enough, they performed like ghosts of their former selves.

I had a minor rooting interest because the Ducks are a Pacific coast team and my relative has a close friend who is an Oregon alumni. So I take no joy in pointing out the issue with the uniforms, but let’s hope that next year the Ducks stick with the traditional colors instead of shilling for Nike. It’s like putting your champion hound in an ugly Christmas sweater at the Westminster dog show. Even a dog knows when it’s wearing inappropriate attire, not to mention an elite college football player.

Switching gears, the local pro football teams have hired new head coaches. The 49ers went for an inside candidate, Jim Tomsula, while the Raiders went with an outside candidate, Jack Del Rio.

I mention this, in part, because I met Jack once very briefly. His girlfriend at the time was a member of my cover band. He seemed like a nice guy. Good luck, man. As a Raiders fan, I hope it all works out. Reportedly, Jack grew up a Raiders fan, too, so that’s a plus. The reality is that the Raiders have fired a lot of head coaches in the past few years, so I appreciate the fact that Jack decided to take the Raiders up on their offer. It’s not like people are breaking down their door to get into that organization, given the track record. Maybe he’ll help to convince other serious football people to sign up for the Raiders’ program.

As for Tomsula, it seems a bit pathetic. I don’t mean he’s pathetic, but when you fire a guy that took you to the brink of a championship three out of the last four years, it seems like promoting a guy into that spot who’s obscure by comparison shouldn’t be seen as an obvious, genius move. Whatever.

I’m going to Las Vegas for the Super Bowl, so I’m going to predict the whole thing, right now. I’ll blog with my tail between my legs if any part of this doesn’t come true.

I can’t possibly predict that the Patriots will defeat the Colts. I’m still mad about the Patriots beating the Raiders in the AFC championship, even though their quarterback fumbled the ball toward the end of the game. There was so much controversy about that call it resulted in a new rule; the “tuck” rule. Total BS. So Colts go to the Super Bowl.

The other game is a coin-toss. Green Bay against Seattle. If there’s any justice in this world, Aaron Rogers and Green Bay will torch Richard Sherman and the Seahawks. Why? Because Sherman has been begging for a comeuppance, and because Seattle’s quarterback, Russell Wilson, is one good sack away from being exposed as the overrated player that he is.

So it’s the Packers vs the Colts for the Super Bowl. In my opinion the Colts will win that battle because Peyton Manning needs to end his career and a Colts win will be a bittersweet salve to heal his many wounds.

Thanks for your continued interest in this blog.

Mad

Alfred E Newman

Remember this guy? It’s Alfred E. Newman from the satirical magazine, “Mad,” which mocks the famous and powerful to mine humorous content. I used to read it a lot when I was a kid.

Imagine if Alfred’s creators were murdered by terrorists who were offended by the magazine. That’s kind of what happened today in Paris. The headquarters of a satirical French magazine, Charlie Hebdo, was attacked by terrorists. Twelve people were murdered, including the magazine’s cartoonists and the editor.

My sincere and heartfelt condolences to the victims, their friends and families.

I wonder if I should be writing about this. Does doing so put me in danger? The people at The Onion are wondering the same thing, apparently.

I’m not comparing myself to The Onion. In this instance, obscurity is an advantage.

But if little ole obscure me is wondering if it’s safe, how many others may be out there, self-censoring on blogs, or even comments posted online about news stories? Are you, right now, thinking to yourself that there’s no way you would post a comment on this blogpost because it might make you a target?

By the way, I think self-awareness and self-editing, as opposed to self-censoring, is a good thing. Anyone who’s ever read the comments following an online news story knows what I mean. It’s just that people ought to self-edit in the interest of good taste, quality writing, and fostering a friendly dialogue on popular topics; not out of fear that they’ll be taken out by terrorists.

If there is any doubt that you’re safe so long as you don’t offend the terrorists, that doubt is removed when you see the videotape of the terrorists executing a defenseless French police officer on the sidewalk across the street from the main attack on Charlie Hebdo. Safe to say it was a vicious, gratuitous murder; lacking even the phony fig leaf of extremist Islamic grievance. I mention this to emphasize that modifying your behavior doesn’t mean safety. On the contrary, I think doing so invites further attacks aimed at limiting freedom of speech.

It’s too early to tell whether Charlie Hebdo will publish another issue, but in the meantime I’m going to subscribe to Mad. Oh, and I’m going to be very careful how I tag this post.

Smoking Cessation: Day Five (The Phantom Menace)

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It’s the fifth day of not smoking and I feel like I’m on the easy glide path now. I am feeling much better, unlike Day Three, which was crazy bad.

I think that smoking is probably a different experience for each individual. No way to confirm anything.

For me, smoking was not so much an addiction to nicotine as it was an addiction to the romantic notions of smoking perpetuated by various media. On Day Three, I was forced to confront each and every one of the notions I’d bought into and reject them one at a time. By extension, it was a process of rejecting part of myself.

I’ve been lucky enough to have never experienced amputation, but I’ve read about how amputees can still feel the amputated part of their body; what is referred to as phantom pain. The brain remembers the body part even though it doesn’t exist in physical reality. On Day Five I’m dealing with phantom pain around the part of myself that I cut loose on Day Three.

It’s a very weird feeling. I can hear the faint Siren Song of all the BS reasons I used to smoke, receding into the background, but still there.

I have this friend who still smokes and he told me that he’d quit several times; sometimes for as much as two years straight. When I asked him why he started again, he explained that it was due to international travel. He would go back to places he’d been on business and people there thought he still smoked, so they’d offer him cigarettes in bars, after they’d had a few drinks. He mistakenly thought he could have just one, in the moment, and avoid taking it up again as a habit. Wrong.

So I need to be cautious because the phantom menace is lurking out there and I don’t ever want to have to go through Day Three again. Shudder.

By the way, now that I’ve quit I promise not to turn into one of those condescending A-holes that preach to smokers about how bad it is and how easy it is to quit. For starters, I’m not going to write about it anymore on this blog, unless I succumb to the phantom menace.

Thanks to all those who offered words of encouragement the past few days. I appreciate it.