Saturday, May 31, 2008

Minimal Blogging

I've been blogging less because I have had a touch of carpal tunnel and my shoulder is bothering me as well. I'm taking a week off from the weights, not using the mouse so much at work and blogging less to fix these problems. The carpal tunnel feels better already, and the shoulder will be fine with a week's rest.

Sydney Pollack and Harvey Korman both passed on this week. They had more combined talent than what's left in Hollywood these days. "It's Hedley...."

Monday, May 26, 2008

Wonders of the Ancient World

The ancient world knew how to bury people. The Terracotta Army in China is one of those mysterious, beautiful creations of the ancient world. The work involved 700,000 people and artistry few projects can rival from any period. Fitting that such an amazing project would be created for the first emperor to unify China. As more of this site is uncovered, I hope the History Channel and other media outlets cover what is uncovered.

Memorial Day

Thank you Angel. I hope you are with your brother catching up on time lost.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Herodotus and The Histories

History can be pretty dry at times. A good history book spins a story that gives life to the people involved and is vivid in the retelling of its subject. An amazing read is The Histories by Herodotus. This book is the granddaddy of them all and centers on the rise of the Greek world and their battles versus the Persians. This is required reading in nearly every Greek culture/history classics course. It is a joy to read. You can start and stop in different sections and seek out specific things to read about on a rainy night.

Herodotus is not afraid to take you down a tangent of history that you probably do not want to know. A chapter might discuss how a city fell to a general. Instead of then proceedign to what happened next, Herodotus will then tell you how that general's people rose to power right up to that point and the general's part in that rise. The tangents make the book so rich. Some of the small stories are fantastic little nuggets of culture and life in Greek days. Imagining a Greek suitor losing a maiden's hand in marriage because he danced on his head on a table is extremely funny, and this is a sidestory to explain how generations later a certain political leader was born. Thank God his dad wasn't table head dancer.

In college, I had the joy of learning about Greek history from two inspiring guys, Professor Frederick Ahl and Barry S. Strauss. Prof Strauss has written quite a few books. I regret being abroad when he was starting a new class of ancient military tactics and campaigns. Prior to the war in Afganistan, Prof Strauss wrote an op-ed in the daily newspaper that explained how we should wage a war in Afganistan to avoid the mistakes the Soviets made. It was amazing to see it unfold as his blueprint showed in one column. Prof Strauss was of the mindset that you can use the past to solve today's problems. As the saying goes, history doesn't repeat itself, but often times, it rhymes. Prof Ahl was keen on explaining how some watered down translations have altered the interpretation of so many classics. He wanted us to think Greek when we read Greek. I looked forward to exams just to share my ideas of the classics or form an argument for an interpretation. He was extremely cool to chat with and once told me "jesus, i rarely meet survey class students who pay this close attention to my lectures". These guys were the type of lecturers that I wish the econ dept had in greater numbers, or any number. It's 5 years on, and I still read these classics. Thanks guys.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Energy Coolness and Ideas

Since energy and money have been on the minds of all Americans, discussion of interesting ideas might as well occur. As in discussion that goes beyond "f*cking gas prices, blech". That's the average comment I hear at lunch. I am not sure if the blech is about gas or the lunch. One of the problems facing the energy solution is similar to many other problems. The gatekeepers do not want the little folks to take away some power.

Media outlets and newspapers cannot stand blogs because suddenly there is another place to go for news or commentary. What blogs have shown is that you can sit at home, watch a game, speech, event, and write eloquently about what you saw with the same skill as a "pro". It's not like these people have any special skill, especially compared to the many English majors floating around America right now. Similar to the newspapers, the energy companies are facing challenges from consumers, upstarts, and rising material costs that might take some power away from them or may force them to change the status quo that has been so profitable. If you start installing solar cells or windmills at people's homes, you reduce what those people use from the big company. It cuts into profits. A company in California is incredibly smart, and is attempting to head consumers off at the pass. This is a brilliant idea. Other companies should look to do this as well before the cost of PVs and thin film gets so low that consumers can install them with their own cash and cut the power companies out of the equation. Same goes for electric companies on the coasts with windpower. My hometown now has a windmill and is contemplating allowing homeowners to erect them. I lived for a year right where the windmill is now, and believe me, the wind will pick up. Is it a good idea for people inland, no, but the town has enough coastline and people living right on the beach to allow them to do it. Electric companies should get out ahead of this (and also build pebble bed and regular nuclear reactors).

One thing electric companies should consider is that as people transition to plug in electric cars to avoid $5 or $6 gas, there needs to be a provider or a super smart distributor. The grid can handle a switch to electric cars. That article startled me that we could handle 84% of the car fleet going to plug in. We're going to need more electricity production though for all needs if we don't conserve elsewhere, but how do we get it to folks? The electric companies could be the big winner in the switch to electric cars if they slide in and replace the oil and gas companies with a distribution network. One idea I had cranking through my mind was setting up plug in terminals in parking garages or at corporate parking lots. Creating an offshoot from the grid at that location shouldn't be hard, but finding a way to charge for the charging is the trick. I say create terminals that can accept credit card swipes. Card is swiped, plug goes in, charge up and charge ($). If the plug comes out, charge stops and cannot be restarted unless card is swiped again. This would prevent others from stealing a charge. Once a car is charged up as well, the light can go green, meaning the plug can be taken out and used in another car. I have written before, but in the Southwest, the potential is to put a solar array as an umbrella above the terminal and have the charging station be there. If the electric companies were smart, they would make these "spark hydrants".

Peak Oil or Peak Energy does bug me out a bit, but I think the potential is there for amazing solutions that will change how we do basic things, how we look at life, and who controls the basics of life. Solving the energy problem facing us and the possible global warming issue can lead to huge power grabs by big government or it could lead to rapid, grassroots style changes by packs of individuals, investors and small business owners. I can only hope that a dramatic need for change causes people to take more control over their lives rather than surrender it to others.

Friday, May 09, 2008

ZZ Top: Legs

The musis video was a short lived art form that never truly peaked but was a creative tour de force for a 15 year period. Some video are still made, but they are not played on a regular basis and do not generate water cooler talk like Thriller, Vogue or November Rain did. Fortunately, I had several aunts and uncles in their teens in the 80s, and the split between Sesame St. and MTV viewing time was pretty even. Many of my problems with modern music, comedy, the refusal of women to wear garter belts and stockings stem from the bombardment of my visual senses by these '80s movies, music videos and tv.

ZZ Top contributed to my problems with their awesome videos. ZZ Top had a series of videos that centered around the band performing in the middle of nowhere for no reason as some poor schmuck was picked on by lesser beings but then transformed by this magical trio of roadster (1933 cherry red Ford with suicide doors) driving rock women. The feminist critique of much film is that females are often in the shot just to be gazed at, but these ladies are the cause of action. They are like 1980s wardrobed Eumenides that are out to right the wrongs for the downtrodden yet sexy underneath their conventional nerdy or poor appearance. By this video, the audience knew what was coming and who they were so there was a nice humorous touch of the box with the ZZ top keychain to the roadster. Just as simple makeover shows transform a person and make them feel better about themselves, a little make up, hair and wardrobe makeover turns this nerdy shoe store clerk into a leggy siren. She gets the guy, gets soem respect, and we get the adios wave goodbye from the band.

As an aside, there is a story that Gilette offered the band 1 million to shave their beards for a Super Bowl ad. The band refused, citing that they grew the beards out because they were so damn ugly. I love that. Almost as much as I loved the urban legend that the band recorded a sequel to Legs called Jugs but the record label said no too scared of what that video might look like. I'm being dead serious when I say that I thought women wore garter belts and stockings. I was sorely disappointed when I started being active with women and none of them wore garters and stockings. I ekpt waiting for it like it was a sign of becoming an adult. Nope.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Two Outstanding Lesser Known Rock Voices

Voices that I could listen to all day and enjoy are those of Mike Smith, fromt he Dave Clark 5, and Burton Cummings of the Guess Who. Both men sang in the 1960s yet represent two different sides of the Sixties. Mike Smith of the DC5 represents the earlier sixties happy, moptop British Invasion rock, while Burton Cummings and the Guess Who are the post-67, drug influenced, socially conscious rock. I always laugh at people of my generation or younger who think that the Sixties were all sex, drugs and rock n roll. The epoch they are envisioning is more 67-74. The Guess Who were definitely a 67-74 band, and the DC5 were definitely a Brit Invasion, pre-drugs band. Two very different performers, yet I love to hear them sing.

Mike Smith had power and did that Bryan Adams sing with your throat all of the time trick, yet he didn't destroy his voice. He also had a softer side, which he pulled out for the ballads. They only had one number one hit because the Beatles were usually occupying the top spot, but the song "Because" is an absolutely perfect pop ballad. Smith wasn't all pansification like so many of today's pop singers; the man could belt out tunes. Many DC5 songs featured horns and drums that sounded like a military parade, and Smith could match the power with his vocals. Most of their tunes were 2-3 mins long tops, and with all of the horns, it didn't hit me until I started to listen to ska, but they sounded like a ska band before ska. Not full ska, but ska-lite. I think Smith's voice, while easily identified with the mid-60s, could have fit in any period, and it would have been fun to hear him on his own. Honestly, how this guy never got his own show at a casino in Vegas amazes me. His voice was crystal clear, great live and powerful. All he lacked was a bit of cheesiness for Vegas.

Burton Cummings is another import who had a tremendous voice that was strong live as well as in the studio. Even through aduio waves, he has an ability to emote the feelings of the song's lyrics. Whent he band took a bluesy route to their music, it fit Cummings' voice to a T. He has a bit of that lounge vibe to his sound. I always enjoyed how every song had this portion where he'd kick it up a notch just to let you know he could. Whether it was the last rap part to "Share the Land", the doh-doh-doh-dohs of "Undun" or the maniacal laughing in the song "Laughing", he managed to bring his A game and really make each song it's own event on an album. Cummings is another guy that I just don't understand why he didn't have a huge solo career. It must be timing with him, as his wife wasn't douchey enough for the late '70s pop-disco scene. He wasn't a singer-songwriter like James Taylor or Dan Fogelberg. Could the bluesy sound have been out of place int he late 70s? Maybe. I find that hypothesis a bit weak as Michael McDonald, Marvin Gaye and Barry White all had big hits in the late 70s. Odd.

I celebrate these songs, these singers, and these groups, because despite lame inductions to a rock n roll hall of fame (lame), these bands are not put into that classic rock rotation on FM radio like Zepplin, the Stones, the Beatles, ACDC, etc. It's as if they were great but just not the exact taste of those music tastemakers for classic rock that have survived. People will always know "American Woman", but will they know who it is by, or that the band that performed it had many other great songs? I don't know. Mike Smith may have passed on this winter, but he and Burton Cummings will live on my playlist forever.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Can someone explain the end to No Country for Old Men?

No Country for Old Men is a beautiful movie that uses great camera work and the landscape of west Texas to tell its story. I love Cohen brothers movies, and this movie delviered the goods. Great cinematography, pacing, acting, silence, realistic dialogue really make this movie stand above a lot of the schlock that is produced. I'm just confused a bit by the end. Why wouldn't Anton gun down the sherriff in the hotel room? After all, he kills everyone for any small motive. What's up with the visit to his uncle? This was an unconventional story told in an unconventional way. It's a movie I would actually buy.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Private Lessons

As a young, American boy growing up in the 1980s, cable TV introduced me to the female form and all its glory. HBO and Skinemax allowed access to looking at the opposing sides' form that strange trips to the library could not. If only I had known then that some libraries carried Emmanuelle. These movies were terrible but oftentimes funny for intentional and unintentional reasons. One thing I did notice was that over time, like many genres of the video medium, is that the quality worsened and the effort put into the films, plots, casting, and dialogue approached zero. Those golden years of the 1980s truly were the height of the genre.

Recently, I had tivoed a movie called "Private Lessons". The name rung a bell,a nd once I began to watch it, it came back to me. One thing messed with my mind now that did not register as a kid was that the affair in the movie is between an adult woman approaching 30 and a 15 year old boy. What made it worse was that the actor cast as the 15 year old truly was 15. Had the director gone the cast a 20 year old as a 15 year old route, it might not have been so creepy. Sylvia Kristel's head dwarfs this child actor's head. Still, this is a story about a 30 year old seducing a minor. It's not just about seduction, the couple develops a true love connection. This wouldn't be made now, and this definitely wouldn't be made if the genders were reversed. Don't people threaten to burn copies of "Lolita" every few years? Even if this were greenlighted by a studio, how do they not just say to the director, "Change the boy's age to 17 or 18"?

One thing I will tip my hat to is the soundtrack. I hate Rod Stewart, but the soundtrack is solid. This was before artists and studios bled movie companies for $$ to lend songs to a soundtrack. Back when record companies sold music. Look at the movie poster. The tagline actually encourages the fantasy of statutory rape. There are times where our society has become too prudish about the wrong things (issues between consenting adults) and not careful enough about other things (12 year old girls in heels and 'juicy' sweatpant bottoms). This is one movie that shows that even in the good old days, we did not have a great feel for that.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Eat yer Oatmeal and Check yer Diabetes

Wilford Brimley is an actor famous for playing hard ass, gruff, and mustached old men. In our house, he is also a source of comedy for his ads for oatmeal, checking yer diabetes and old people's life insurance. I'm a big fan, and I laughed pretty hard when I saw this website. My favorites are number 1 and 4.

My 5K Road Race

At 8:30am this morning, I began a 5K road race. At 9am this morning, I was cursing my stupid legs for failing me. Yup, the 5K took me 27:42 to complete. That is an 8:56 per mile pace. What is incredibly scary is that I had an 8 min pace at the 2 mile mark. That means I ran the last mile in 11+ mins. A note to keep in mind is that I ran an 18 min 5K in high school and could run pretty even splits. Wow, time changes lots of things.

I'm going to fault my training for this, which involved running 2, 3, or 4 miles at a time and at 9-10 min pace 3 days a week. I wasn't pushing myself, and it showed, not in my cardiovasular system, but in my leg strength. My heart was fine, and I did not get any cramps. My legs were just dead tired at the 2 1/4 mile mark. It was like lifting bags of cement. This pissed me off to no end. As I finished, I got my picture taken and the staffer said "you didnt even sweat and your hair still looks great". I thought "don't remind me, I know I could have run faster, my legs just didn't cooperate, a-hole". I was upset, but I can't get down on myself as I looked at this as my 30 mins of cardio for the day. I did call my running guru, Eyeball. He gave me pointers on training for my next 5K, this fall, and it was a great talk. Much thanks to him for this race and for future races.

General Observations
1. The half-marathon start was a spectacle to witness. There were 35,000 runners, and it took 45 mins or so for all to cross the starting line.
2. Lots of middle aged women that run 5Ks/half marathons are in good shape. They want to show how good of shape they are in as well. Lots of under armour tops and spandex.
3. Wow, moving 22 more lbs of muscle & 3 of fat (serious my body fat % is roughly the same as in HS) takes a lot more energy. That move up from 145 to 170 really makes a difference. Mayeb my legs were just surprised at the weight.
4. It is amazing what some people do with their kids. There was one guy who ran the 5K and practically dragged his kid along with him. At the point where I was dying, this guy grabbed his kid and hoisted him on his back and ran. He stayed ahead of me the entire way so it didn't slow him down. Amazing yet incredibly stupid. Get a sitter.
5. For all of the talk of people getting fatter in America, which I fully believe, there is also a segment that is doing more to stay in shape better than previous generations. I wonder fi this will show itself more in the next 25 years as boomers entire that stage of heart attacks, cancer, diabetes related deaths. Could we end up with early deaths for obese boomers, leaving behind an extremely fit elderly population? How will this affect when people retire, what activities they do, how they choose to live? More retirement communities better equip their grounds with things for these fit elderly folks to do besides golf and tennis. I work in life insurance, so I wonder how this will affect actuarial tables.
6. A crowd makes all the difference. There were many long, lonely stretches of road. Few people supporting runners for the 5K. Most were the volunteer staff. I feed off of that, and remember the great crowds from my HS races. They were inspiring. My school's cross country team truly was a special collection of people. In those years, the boys/girls squads were 30 a person, so we dwarfed other schools' squads.
7. Why do track and running shorts have to be so short? I used to wear spandex under my track shorts in HS. Why do people wear them as adults? I wore normal shorts today. Normal gym shorts that cover all of my junk. Why don't more people do this?
8. There's something beautiful about running. When you train by yourself, it's moments of great concentration or a cocoon to slip into from your normal life. I used to love to think of my toughest problems when I ran to keep my mind off of the actual running. It's therapeutic for me. Training partners can become great friends, and some of my best conversations have been on 5-8 mile runs with people I still call "friend" today 10-12 years later.

There will be another race, another time, another t-shirt to collect. This summer/fall, I will run better than the 27:42 of today.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

NBA Playoffs

Throughout the winter, I stay away from the NBA because regular season games are usually boring affairs. If someone slacks off in football for one moment, someone gets hurt. If somoene slacks off in an NBA game, he gets to jog up the court and keep all his limbs and teeth loose for a night of hitting the club. I also stay away so that I can watch all of the NBA playoffs that I want, and my wife cannot complain. It's a way of rationing my NBA time to save it for the best basketball of the year: the playoffs.

Playoff basketball only has the best teams and the best players. The play is at the highest level possible for the sport, and you do not need to write drama with the storylines that are present. Will an aging veteran win a ring? Will the young guns take down an established team? Can the young Chosen One actually win the title and maybe earn the non-stop buttkissing that he receives? It is far more entertaining than your average tv show.

I know the league has an image problem and people blame it on demographics, but I do not buy that. The NFL has a huge black presence, and yet, Americans watch it non-stop. I think the NBA just has too long of a regular season and too many teams. If the NBA had 4 fewer teams, every team remaining would be 2-3 players deeper, meaning that the talent wouldn't be spread so thin. The league will not contract though because the players union would fight it tooth and nail. In a perfect world, the NBA would be the 1980s forever.