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Monday, December 29, 2003

Battle of the Titans

I’m generally not a comment whore but I feel that this issue is too important for any of us to remain idle. I mean come on, we’re at threat level Orange! I get confused, does threat level Orange mean we are supposed to run around screaming at the top of our lungs, begging for mercy or is it when we are supposed to pile a bunch of heavy furniture against the door and sit in the dark with an iron skillet in one hand? Just remember to keep shopping.

A question that has bothered me, make that haunted me, over the course of my entire life still remains unanswered and may very well be unanswerable. Far greater minds than mine have grappled with this philosophical quandary and have come up with double doughnuts, doodly squat, nada (would this sentence of negligible humoristic value get better or worse if I added several dozen more words that mean zero? I think I’ll error on the side of caution and end this.).

I realize that the philosophical quagmire that my intellectual Hummer has been sunk in up to the doors is probably not a suitable mental exercise for a fairly normal heterosexual male. Sure, I could leave it for others to ponder but I’ve never been one to take the easy way out of a problem. I could let others decide who would make a better boyfriend, Patrick Swayze from Dirty Dancing or Kevin Bacon from Footloose but I feel this is too important an issue for one group or another to decide on their own. I think that the only way to settle this is to put the matter to a national, nay an international plebiscite.

Please leave all votes in my comments box. The results will be officially tallied by an international tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands and posted on January 1, 2004. May the best man win!

If you really want my honest opinion I have to honestly say that for me it’s a coin toss. I know that sounds like a total cop-out but that’s what I’m going to do right this second to finally end my many years of anguish. Here goes…oh, but wait. It’s one of those funky Euro coins without a dead white guy’s head on one side so I’ll skip my vote and just go with whatever the mob decides (Hasn’t the European Economic Union gone off the gold standard and on to the dead white guy standard like the USA?).

It has been my experience that most women prefer to have Patrick Swayze as their boyfriend while most heterosexual males prefer Kevin Bacon. Why?

P.S. I just came up with the idea of a single sequel for both of these two fine films entitled Dirty Feet or Loose Dancing or something even more clever. Lord knows Hollywood comes up with brilliantly clever names for sequels that leave us mere mortals scratching our heads in wonder, asking our collective selves, “How do they come up with this shit?” I could only imagine that such a sequel would make The Lord of the Rings, in comparison, look about as profitable as a public service announcement for dandruff. Look over into the left hand margin where it says “a place where ideas are born.” You're damn right ideas are born here and you heard this idea here first.

P.P.S On a sort of different but related tack I have wondered why both of those movies had so much violence. I thought that dancing lead to sex, not fist fights?

Too good for the crappy little comments box:

Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing, hands down. And I'm not just saying that because "all women go for the older, unattainable bad boys" or however the saying goes. It's all about the way he handled Penny's abortion.

I don't mean to come across as being callous but you shouldn't consider Kevin Bacon any less dreamy than Patrick Swayze just because he didn't have some knocked-up tramp to rescue. I have continued my poll to include all my ultra-hip Seattle acquaintances and every hetero guy chose Kevin. The gals--except a couple of tom boys--all went with Patrick. I think we boys just find Patrick’s hair too much of a stumbling block to actually date him. Hetero guys don't want to have a boyfriend with prettier hair than they have.

The Management

Part I:

Come on now...Kevin's sweaty dance scene through the old factory, clad only in tight jeans and a stained wife-beater T-shirt...why, even a perfectly straight macho he-man got a little wood from that one. OK, OK, it was a stunt double, and Mr. Gap-toothed Mullet-boy did all his own dance scenes in Dirty Dancing (all the more reason to hate, hate, hate him), but Kevin (or Ren, his character in Footloose) had all that groovy, Sting-like, early-80's Punk edginess about him, which was cool.

Meanwhile Swayze was a 80's-esque, mullet-haired, Miami Vice dude playing a character in a film set in the early 60's! Where's the fucking authenticity there? So what he wore a Fonzi black leather jacket to give him that greaser edge! He still looked like the same cat he played in Red Dawn, Roadhouse, and that stupid hockey flick with Rob Lowe. Like, come on, Mr. Sex Symbol of the 80's, at least cut your fucking mullet and LOOK like a hip greaser from the early 60's. Didn't you at least look at old photos of Dion, Fabian, or Frankie Avalon to see how 1962 hipsters wore their hair in cheesy ducktails?

I don't know any self-respecting, straight male who liked Dirty Dancing in 1987. Sure, we took our dates to see it (my German girlfriend in 1987, Tanya, forced me to see it three god-awful times--thank the stars for cheap Lebanese hashish in 1987 Germany!), but we hated every minute of it. That flick was every loser fat chick's fantasy, but in reality no whiny, rich, butt-ugly JAP broad ever scored with a hunky stud like Johnny Castle. What a fucking fairly tale.


Part II:

Footloose, on the other hand, stunk to high holy hell, but we all related to Bacon's character, who just wanted to dance and party and get some ass from that tall, skinny, awesomely beautiful preacher's daughter. Ren was the shit. He fought those Jesus freaks and won! And who knew every kid in Bible-thumping, Oklahoma was an expert break dancer, as we learned in the epilogue dance scene. And how about that star turn by Chris Penn as the two-left-feet, doofus farmboy who, with Ren's help, turns into a veritable Ben Vereen by the end of the film! Now that's finger-snapping fun, kids.

So fuck yeah, it's Kevin Bacon all the way. Ren was a cool dude who was out the change the world and boff that poor man's Daryl Hannah chick who played the preacher's slut daughter. Ren was a stud! He rocked! He was a man's man.

Patrick Swayze played a sensitive, hot-dancing greaser (G-A-Y all the way!) who uses that whiny, butt-ugly JAP as his beard so he can keep his job at that Catskill resort. You know the epilogue: Her wealthy father buys them a cool apartment in the Village, she attends Columbia while he dances on Broadway, and within in a year he runs off to San Francisco with a tattooed truck driver named Big Joe, then eventually settles down with a wealthy old Hollywood queen who keeps him as his buttboy. Meanwhile she gets hooked on painkillers and marries a dentist named Hyman and lives a miserable and depressed Republican lifestyle in Scarsdale the rest of her life.


Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Outsouce This!

It is hard to turn on the radio or open a newspaper without coming across some snake oil salesman trying to convince Americans that it is in our best interests to abandon every manufacturing job in this country because it is cheaper to have someone do it in China. The latest flap is over information technology jobs being shipped out to India. These geniuses all chant the same mantra, “We need to let the market set the price of labor in order to stay competitive in a global economy.” They say that outsourcing all of this labor will free us up so we can all work in the glorious service sector of the economy. When these guys and gals say service industry I think Wal-Mart, I think, “Do you want fries with that,” I think that they can stick their service industry in their asses.

The truth is that for many years heavy manufacturing provided high paying jobs to a very large sector of the U.S. labor force. General Motors has more employees (709,000) than Intel, Microsoft, Oracle, Apple, and Sun Microsystems combined (94,800). It would be great if all of us could sit at our desks, fiddle with our computers, print up stuff, and drive home in our luxury cars. It doesn’t look like that is going to happen any time soon and in the meantime we needs desks, computers, printers, and luxury cars for the lucky few that have these jobs. We should make some of that here and pay people well to do it.

I am not suggesting that America take a stance against trade but I think that history has shown that abandoning every sector of U.S. manufacturing because people work for less elsewhere has lead to a rising percentage of our population working at low paying jobs with zero benefits. Between 1977 (about the time outsourcing or whatever the hell you want to call it began) and 1994 the lowest fifth of the U.S. population saw their after-tax income decrease by 16% while the top fifth saw an increase of 72%. I dare anyone to try to put a positive spin on this.

Now that U.S. plutocrats have ravaged the lower classes they are going after middle income people like IT workers.

I remember something Ronald Reagan said that seems to get to the heart of this matter. He was partly responsible for this shift in our thinking that U.S. jobs should not be protected because we can get stuff cheaper if we let other people make it. He said that he still believed that America was a place where a guy could become a millionaire. A few of you can become millionaires; the rest of us will be greeting you at Wal-Mart.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

What's in My Bookbag

You can almost always see me carrying my Gap shoulder bag. These are like back packs but they sling over one shoulder. They are yet another fashion statement that has crept into the mainstream via the bicycle messenger cult. The other bike messenger innovation is the return of single-speed track bikes for city riders. I like the idea of the simplicity inherent in these bikes but I'm not crazy enough to fly around town without a brake or two. I do have a bike bag though.

I consider myself to be in school 365 days a year. I get no spring break, no summer vacation, and no Christmas interlude without study. I always have something to read in my bag. Right now I am on the way to my gym and I am carrying my book bag.

Besides my laptop I have brought along the excellent French Reference Grammar: A Complete Handbook of the French Language by Daniel J. Calvez. This book is about all you need for the study of French. This assumes that you have already had a few years of French study behind you. This book is suited for both the casual student and for someone looking to take their study of French beyond travel French.

There are very few occasions when I leave my house that I leave my book bag behind. I am always terrified at the prospect of having to sit somewhere without having something to read to pass the minutes or hours. As this is Seattle and it is raining, I am on the way to my gym to ride the exercise bike--I don't ride in the rain. While I ride I can study French for an hour.

Later today I'll probably do some X-mass shopping and meet someone for a movie. I'll carry my book bag. I am finishing Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club which I picked up yesterday at a used book store. I'm almost done so I'll bring along something else to start. It's kind of a big bag so it holds a lot of books.

What's in your book bag?

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Train to Vancouver, BC

IT'S A LITTLE SLOW BUT IT SURE BEATS DRIVING (and anything beats flying)

Amtrak from Seattle: Edmonds-Everett- Mt Vernon-Bellingham-Vancouver, B.C.

Any chance I get you'll hear me talking up rail travel. Trains are a vastly superior way to travel compared to short flights and most car travel. The sad thing about rail service in most of the U.S. is that it is either nonexistent or inadequate. On the Seattle to Vancouver run that I describe below the top speed is only 79mph even thought the trains are capable of going 120mph on better track ( In Europe there are trains that go over twice that speed).

The ticket was $62 per person round trip to Vancouver. After waiting to get a seat assignment the train left promptly at 07:45. The cars are roomy and comfortable. There are power outlets for each row of seats. If only airplanes were this user friendly for computers. There are TV monitors in the cars that show movies and also display trip information and plot the train's progress along its route on a map.

The anticipated four hour ride was longer than my flight to Chicago last weekend but I wasn't filled with the usual claustrophobic dread that accompanies plane travel. For one thing, there is something to see out the window wspecially on this spectacular track along the coast of the Puget Sound. I brought along my Nikon binoculars and my National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America just in case I wanted to do a bit of birding along the way. On a plane you'd better hope that the book you brought can keep you busy for the entire flight.

As soon as the train departed they gave the call for the first seating for breakfast in the dining car. This train has both a dining car, for more formal sit-down seating, and a club car for snacks and drinks. On my flight to Chicago the only thing I could do was stand up to go to the restroom in the back. Lunch was a really small bag of really lousy pretzels.

If you are going to Canada from Seattle be sure to get a seat on the left side, the water side. The view from the window is enough to keep you entertained for the entire trip. The train hugs the coast, riding only a few feet from the water along most of the route. You could literally spit and hit the water but the windows don't open so if you spit it will just hit the glass. Live and learn.

I was going to have breakfast in the dining car but the menu didn't look too inviting. I settled for a sandwich and a bloody Mary next door in the club car. The club car, or bistro car, or whatever the hell they call it, only has a couple of small tables and about six barstools but compared to the cramped quarters on an airplane it is positively luxurious. I almost never talk to the person sitting next to me on a flight. Once you open up you run the risk of having them never shut up for the rest of the trip--in the club car people actually converse.

The attendant in the club car told us a story as we waited for a bridge over one of the sloughs to close. He said as a boy he would go to the circus and one of the attractions was a dancing chicken. He later found out that what made the chicken dance was that it was standing on a hot plate. If the bird didn't feel like performing they would simply turn up the heat on the plate until the chicken complied. Whenever the attendant was in an uncomfortable situation he said he felt like that chicken and the heat was being turned up. I know, the story is probably complete horse shit but it passed the time and I didn't have the heart to call him on it. A couple of well-directed questions and I'm sure he would have recanted the whole story.

There was even a movie I felt like seeing on the trip (Seabiscuit). Usually the movies on planes are completely unfit for intelligent adult consumption. I usually get stuck on a flight with a load like Sister Act II or some equally obnoxious offering, something that is completely offensive even to look at with no headphones. I didn�t watch Seabiscuit because I am finishing up my rereading of the brilliant Catch 22, the view out the window was superb, and I had my laptop to fart around on. I'll save that movie and maybe they'll show it on my next boring-as-hell flight somewhere although I can't ever remember watching a movie on a plane.

We were delayed more than an hour on this particular run. I don't know what Amtrak's on-time percentage is but none of the passengers on this trip seemed too concerned with the delay (The return trip was right on schedule). A bloody Mary goes for $4.50 so the club car stayed busy through it all on this morning passage. And as I said before, the view out of the port side windows is remarkable. Trumpeter swans, cormorants, the ubiquitous western gulls, mallards, and perhaps about a dozen bald eagles were just a few of the more noteworthy species I noticed along the shore. I certainly wasn't in any hurry.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Master and Commander

I am often highly critical of the society in which I live. I feel that criticism is essential for anyone who is conscious of their surroundings. I also find it essential to my well-being to write about things that give me unbridled joy. This is one of those times.

I have been a fan of the novels of Patrick O'Brian since he was “discovered” by a reviewer in the New York Times Review of Books some years ago. I got on the bandwagon, read a few of the books chronicling life aboard a British naval frigate during the Napoleonic Wars, and waited patiently for somebody to make the obvious decision of transferring this incredible world to film. The wait was worth it and I think I can safely say without any trace of hyperbole that Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is the best movie in the history of the world. At least it is if you are a total geek about naval history and you read the books of Samuel Eliot Morrison like cheap romance novels.

I have fantasized about life in the age of sail (minus the scurvy) as far back as I can remember. I took up residence on a racing sloop for a couple of summers on the Chesapeake Bay. I’m not much of a sailor but I am a reader and the accounts of Columbus, Magellan, Cabot, Cook, and all of the other intrepid* sailing explorers have always fascinated me. I think modern man has suffered over the past one hundred years because the world has been so thoroughly “discovered.” Our imaginations have been hobbled and--like Alexander--we weep because there are no more worlds to conquer.

Of Master and Commander I will say what Jorge Luis Borges said of the writings of Robert Louis Stevenson: If you don’t like it there must be something wrong with you.

*The only time I use the word intrepid is when describing these sailing heroes of mine.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003



"R u going 2 the Mall?" I was looking over the shoulder of my thirteen year old nephew as he read what one of his digital friends had typed into the instant messenger thingy on the computer. My mind was flooded with thoughts: I wondered how many millions of times that language-challenged question was typed into computers each day in this country. I wondered if this is what Jobs and Wozniak had in mind for technology when they were farting around in their parents' garage with the idea of home computers. I wondered how often American children were interfacing with a computer instead of interfacing with other American children. And finally I wondered if there was anyone going to the mall.

I spent part of the past weekend in Chicago visiting with my brother and his family. He has a wife, two great looking kids, and a beautiful German Shepard that I can never train to attack my nephew. Their house is two time zones and about 3 � flight hours away from where I live and that is about as close as I get to having a family myself. Usually that is close enough but you miss out on things without kids. I don�t think our thoroughly epic Scrabble game would have been nearly as entertaining without a kid helping me out (We won by a single solitary point!).

I wouldn't care to see my brother's media bill each month: A cell phone for everyone (except the dog), a couple of home phones, and internet access. From hearing all of the phones go off at his place you'd think you were at the control center for the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon or a Domino's Pizza on Super bowl Sunday. It made me think about how much I interface with my family via the telephone. That would be too much if I had to say.

The only person who still writes letters around here is my mother. The rest of us have let our communication skills deteriorate into phone calls and e-mails. E-mail is to mail what "R u going 2 the mall?" is to English. I do hereby promise to write an actual letter today which I will actually put in an actual envelope and send via the U.S.P.S. Is it OK if I write it on my computer, spell-check it, and then print it out? My handwriting is much too unsophisticated to write out longhand. I blame the early trauma of Catholic school education. Isn't there some sort of computer handwriting program?