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December 30, 2003
One Hour Photo
I saw One Hour Photo
last night. It's a powerful, tragic movie about what can happen when reality ruins delusion. Robin Williams as Sy Parrish is both sympathetic and creepy; he presents an exacting, quiet restraint that most of his other roles lack. I enjoyed the way Sy develops major themes in the movie through talk of photography. For example, Sy's search for a connection to the world makes him more normal than not: Describing photos as little stands against time, he says, "If these pictures have anything important to say to future generations, it's this: I was here. I existed. I was young, I was happy, and someone cared enough about me in this world to take my picture." What's more human than the desire to matter? Sy also clarifies the film's focus on details: "Most people don't take snapshots of the little things. The used Band-Aid, the guy at the gas station, the wasp on the Jell-O. But these are the things that make up the true picture of our lives. People don't take pictures of these things." Thus, the truth of details often is forgotten behind the facade of happier, more extraordinary things. Above all, I think the movie is an indictment of society, where many are marginalized and ignored, where small talk serves to mask people's loneliness, making them think that surface relationships with people who are actually strangers count for something. Well, perhaps they do count, for some people more than others, because for some there is nothing else. The greater lesson presented, then, is that Sy is not a fantastic monster, but one of us; we all must be vigilant, we all must be mindful of each other, to fight the effects of a dehumanizing, two-faced society and a universe that doesn't seem to care.
December 28, 2003
Affordable Housing: Building a Future for Business
I read an article today about what to expect in business next year. One section said that the housing market would continue to be tight, as demand still surpasses supply. The next section indicated continuing high vacancy rates for commercial properties. It seems one group can't find affordable space and another can't find tenants. So why don't more property owners convert their commercial space to residential use? If they're not willing or able to build houses, then perhaps apartments are a possibility. I understand there are often zoning issues to overcome, but this dichotomy indicates a serious problem. The lack of affordable housing affects business and employment levels: If employees can't afford to live in an area, then they're not going to stay and work there, much less build a business. This exodus of talent means that the majority of those commercial properties are probably going to remain vacant. Increasing the amount of affordable housing may not be as lucrative or glamorous as commercial development, but how can business grow if the people responsible for doing it have nowhere to live?
December 26, 2003
Lost Discoveries: When Library Books Are Sold
My town library hosts book fairs occasionally to raise money for itself, selling books that have been donated by patrons or removed from library circulation. Most of these books are in good or very good condition; hardcovers cost a dollar, and paperbacks cost fifty cents. It's nice that the library can raise money, but it's a tragedy to see so many discarded library books. I used to think that checking a book out would save it from the discard pile, but I was wrong: At a recent book fair I found Charles A. Reich's Opposing the System
, a valuable book that I had checked out just months before! This book had a profound impact on me, and though it's a few years old, it's even more relevant now than its author could have imagined. What if I hadn't found it before it was ripped from circulation? Yes, I bought it, but I'd rather it still be available in the library. Now, no one who goes there will have the great fortune to discover that book on the shelves, because a dollar was more important than promoting knowledge. There must be hundreds of stories like this, where a key library book was sold off, where countless readers were denied the chance to be enlightened. Libraries should hold the books that you didn't know you needed, that you wouldn't necessarily buy yourself, but that are there just in case, ready to be read when the time comes.
December 22, 2003
Conceiving the Inconceivable: Sept. 11 and The Lone Gunmen
When I heard that a plane had hit the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, one of my first thoughts during the early nebulous reports was that the same thing happened in the pilot episode of The Lone Gunmen
just a few months before. Had someone gotten the idea for the attacks from a TV show? Maybe not, but the coincidence was striking. The episode, "Pilot," was shown on FOX, a major television network, on March 4, 2001. It was seen by several million people
. And yet, in the days following the attacks and beyond, I never saw a single news report, magazine article, or newspaper editorial that mentioned this show's climax, despite a fair amount of coverage of the day's eerie coincidences. The mainstream media completely ignored it. Yes, the Internet features important pages like "Killtown's The Lone Gunmen's 'Pilot' Episode"
, "Doomsday Scenario: Chris Carter Foresaw 9/11"
, and "Jetliners Smashing into the World Trade Center?"
, but they haven't received the attention they deserve. Then we hear people say that there was no way anyone could have predicted the violence of Sept. 11, that flying an airplane into a building was inconceivable. Wrong! Putting aside the various reports that came out later showing that anti-terrorism intelligence had been ignored or mishandled, to say that such an attack was inconceivable is ignorant and myopic. Clearly more than one person conceived it in advance; any intelligent person who took the time to reflect could see, then and still now, that terrible catastrophe can happen at any moment, despite our best efforts to oppose it. Granted, this sort of attack was unusual, horrifying, and tragic, but really, one of the most shocking things about it was the amount of people who were completely surprised. I know it's hard to wake up, to broaden one's perspective, but sometimes it's necessary. And sometimes it begins by watching television.
December 21, 2003
An Inopportune Flu Shot Commercial
I saw a public service announcement tonight in which Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson tells viewers to get their flu shot, claiming that it's not too late. Is this a joke? News reports have emphasized that getting a flu shot now is extremely difficult: Doctors are rationing the vaccines and still don't have enough for high-risk groups like children and the elderly. There certainly isn't enough to vaccinate a general audience, despite threats of a possible flu pandemic. Less than three weeks after the media hype has nearly subsided, a government official now suggests there is no vaccine shortage, that everyone should rush out for a shot right now. This has to be an older commercial; either that, or someone's not paying attention.
December 18, 2003
On Honey and Pet Names
According to what I've seen in the media, "Honey" must be the most popular pet name for one's spouse or significant other. If that's true, why? Yes, honey is sweet, but as a hypocorism it seems so overused! Can't people be more creative? "Darling" has been used before, and I wouldn't mind it coming back, if only to make "Honey" less common. If you want to go with the sweet theme, there's "Sugar" or "Sweetie", but why not "Sucrose" or "Treacle"? "Molasses"? "Saccharin"? Why have pet names at all? As placeholders when you can't remember your lover's name? If they're supposed to show love, then they should pertain to something unique about a person or a relationship. At this point, "Honey" just isn't good enough.
December 16, 2003
My First Nucleus Plugins
I spent a few hours tonight coding my first plugins for Nucleus: one that allows you to select how many entries to view using a query string, and another to take advantage of that to create links to next and previous amounts of entries (see the bottom of the page). I'm going to check them over and then post them on the Nucleus Forum
is the post about them.
December 15, 2003
Santa Claus: More Fun for Adults
According to this article
, a study by John Trinkaus finds that, for the most part, kids didn't care when visiting Santa Claus. Of particular note:
"More than 95 percent of the children were visibly indifferent or hesitant as they approached Santa. Only one percent of them smiled or showed other signs of happiness. On the other hand, Professor Trinkaus noted, nearly all of the parents were visibly quite happy and excited."
Trinkaus claims the results suggest "a 'hardening' of society," or "a loss of 'innocence.'" I truly believe those are serious problems that we should take notice of, but in this case the children have the right idea. Children have a natural aversion to phoniness, and soon learn when they are being manipulated. These attempts by parents -- and society in general -- to force Santa mythology onto children only serve to deny their own loss of innocence and to sustain Christmas consumerism. Yes, believe in love, believe in magic, but not by dragging your kids to the mall.
December 14, 2003
The End of Saddam, the End of the War?
The major news of the day is the capture of Saddam Hussein, taken alive yesterday from a hole in the ground, complete with a long scraggly beard just in time for Christmas. This is of course surprising, considering we were told he was definitely killed months ago. I hope whatever trial comes out of this brings some positive stability to that area and to the world in general. However, just as the violence looked like it would end after the coalition captured Baghdad, it's important to remember that this event may lead to worse violence depending on how it is handled and what role the American military plays. Let's hope this turns out to be lasting good news, and not the mark of an even larger conflict.
December 13, 2003
Eligible Bachelors: Like Being Somewhat Pregnant
I hate the term "eligible bachelor". What's the bachelor in question eligible for, marriage? Of course that's true, because a bachelor is by definition an unmarried man, so at least in theory he should be able to marry. Yes, I see that the dictionary entry for "eligible" says it can mean "desirable" or "worthy of choice", but I don't care. Maybe I've just seen so many of those fawning puff pieces on the most eligible bachelors that the phrase has lost whatever qualitative meaning it once had.
December 12, 2003
When the Stars Make You Notice
As I came home from a pleasant night out, I had to stop and look up at the sky. At least twenty or thirty stars and a small but concentrated moon were shining so brightly that I could barely believe what I was seeing. The sky was clear; the light brightened the sky enough to show a deep shade of blue. Some stars seemed to form constellations; others appeared like swirling, faint galaxies much farther away. It was quiet, and staring into the vastness of these clusters made it even quieter, as the distance from here to there seemed great and small at the same time. It may seem corny, but sometimes you have to stop and notice things like that.
December 11, 2003
The Jobless Recovery: How the Economy Fails Us
So it seems that the stock market is up
, and a growing group of companies are becoming profitable faster than analysts had expected. Could it be that the economy is improving? Are we finally past the economic chaos that wiped out millions of jobs
in the past couple of years? Not so fast -- this is what some call a jobless recovery
. Apparently, much of this renewed economic growth is the result of productivity gains
; companies had to find more efficient ways to stay in business using the resources they had. For many this meant replacing people with machines, shipping jobs to countries where people will work for less money, and coercing whatever employees are left to work harder. It's been the normal course of business for many years, but now it is happening at an accelerated rate. It may look like good news, but it's not -- not for most workers, at least. Those jobs that went overseas aren't coming back. What's happened to so many blue-collar industries -- manufacturing, mining, farming -- has now happened to jobs in software, telecommunications, and other fields once thought to be immune. Considering the trends we've seen, will there be anything left to outsource once efficiency has finished feeding? Sadly, many will see improved economic news and think everything is back to normal. But maybe normal was the problem; normal couldn't sustain itself without a bit of bloodletting now and again, ruining the lives of people just trying to find a way to survive in the system. Can we learn how to fix this cycle before it's too late? Can we learn that people matter more than profits? Or are we destined to see ourselves as disposable jetsam, tossed away when the economy runs amok?
December 10, 2003
Wired News: The Great Library of Amazonia
Wired News has a great article
about Amazon.com's efforts to allow full-text searching of its books. There is also discussion of the Internet Archive
and the disappearance of web pages, and the fact that so much of humanity's collective knowledge is not online. It's inspiring to see that there are people who are working on these issues, while acknowledging the value of books in physical form.
December 09, 2003
The Death Penalty and Living to Suffer
Considering the recent news stories of sniper John Allen Muhammad getting the death penalty and serial killer Gary Sampson facing the possibility, I thought I'd try to examine the issue of putting criminals to death. For me, the reasoning behind the death penalty is unclear. If justice is distinguishable from revenge (which I thought a civilized society was supposed to avoid), then what is the reason for capital punishment? Some say deterrence, but studies show it's not very effective. Besides, if someone is on a murderous rampage or has the sort of mind that supports violent crime as a viable way to live, I don't think a threat hanging over his own life is going to make an impact. Further, I question the sort of deterrence inherent in a policy that says, "Commit crimes that our society says are violent and heinous enough, and you may get out of jail, so to speak, earlier than others who have committed lesser crimes." Why would we give the most deranged and immoral prisoners the opportunity to get out of their punishment with an early death? If anything, we should keep these criminals alive as long as possible, to prolong the suffering of living in prison -- suffering not through the physical abuse that is already too common, but through being confined for the rest of one's life, being reminded that there is no state-sanctioned escape. Of course no one wants to pay to keep these people alive, but surely they can do something to pay their way, providing services that are useful to society and that don't involve telemarketing. I don't have the answers, but I think more people need to start asking questions about the nature of punishment and the death penalty, including why they assume death is the worst punishment.
December 08, 2003
Pushing Back in Time
Why do people say "pushed back" when an event will take place later than scheduled? An example: "Tuesday's stockholder meeting has been pushed back to Friday, to give the CEO time to flee the country." They should say "pushed forward" instead, since on a calendar you push the event forward in time, so it happens farther ahead in the future. To push back an event should more literally mean to move it earlier than scheduled, though I believe some people refer to this as an event being "pushed up". "Up" is the opposite of "back"? Maybe this makes sense if you're looking at a schedule with time listed chronologically from the top of the page down, but does the metaphor still work for events moving between days? And why aren't events ever "pushed down"? Perhaps it's all part of a corporate conspiracy to obfuscate time, making people miss meetings because they got their directions mixed up. But then, perhaps the phrases come from the corporate world's tendency to eschew responsibility and avoid confrontation: If something is pushed up, then it's creeping up on you, soon to be staring you in the face. However, if something is pushed back, it's away from you; you have time to avoid dealing with it -- maybe enough time to get to Tahiti.
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