Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Electric Footprints

My friend and I were talking a few weeks ago about the differences between our online personalities and our "real" personalities. We concluded that, as we know each other, our writing is a pretty close reflection of who we are as people. But what of our Internet acquaintances? What do they make of these fragments? Is their picture complete?

Since the dawn of the Internet age, I have poured hundreds of hours into sending emails, exchanging instant messages, and now posting essays in this space. In a real way I have encoded some of my electronic DNA into this cyber-ether. And yet the nuance of body language, vocal inflection, facial expression, and eye contact are all lost upon the reader in this cold medium. These subtle cues affect in-person communications in rich and subtle ways, and I marvel at the social contract that we attempt to fulfill in cyberspace without these unspoken terms and conditions.

There is a saying in pop psychology that "we all wear masks." If that is so, then the picture formed by our online personas is simply a variation on that theme, and an extension of print media's personality artifacts. But what if this new phenomenon runs deeper? What if self-publishing, once the narrow prerogative an elite few, now accessible to the masses through electronic means, has opened a window into the human soul where none was before? It's an interesting question.

Maybe I should drink less coffee. Then I'd be asleep instead of thinking about such nonsense.

Saturday, July 28, 2007


I am not a huge fan of docudramas that depict recent events. Too often they seem to cheapen or sensationalize beyond the point of what makes a good story. So when Breach made its way into theaters I did not pay much attention. The film portrayed the curious true story of FBI-agent-turned-superspy Robert Hanssen. I didn't follow that news item when it first broke in Spring 2001, and it didn't seem to be the kind of espionage tale that I enjoy. But my wife picked it up from the video store the other day, and having nothing better to do last night, I had a look at it.

I was instantly drawn in by this movie. Chris Cooper, who I have long admired, is brilliant as the intimidating, awkward, inscrutable, and razor-sharp Hanssen. By all accounts Cooper captures Hanssen perfectly, who was an arresting, horrifying, yet strangely sympathetic character. The DVD extras include the original Dateline piece on the case, which bear out these assessments of his portrayal. Some reviews have griped about the artistic license taken in the film, but the intensity of Cooper's performance and the strong supporting cast make this retelling well worth a rental. It is a gripping, tension-filled character study.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Impenetrable Illusion

I've watched this three times trying to break the illusion's grip on my brain. But I keep failing my saving throw. This spell-like effect must have a DC of like 50 or something.

Monday, July 23, 2007

At Last!

I've been working on a painting of Nausicaä the Warrior Princess for almost a year. I finally finished it this evening. I am very pleased with the results! Have a look...

If you live in the Twin Cities area, and you're interested in improving your drawing and/or painting skills, I highly recommend The Art Academy. My daughter has been taking classes there for more than four years, and she and I have been attending classes together for over a year now. She and I have learned a lot, and it's a lot of fun!

The teachers fuse the time-honored methods of traditional art instruction with modern educational theory. The result is fantastic: every session I walk around the room and marvel at my fellow students. Get out there and paint a picture!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Between Life and Death

Two apparently healthy men die of sudden heart attacks. A father fights cancer. Doctors concerned about cyst on girlfriend's back. Mother's feeding tube removed. Grandmother dies peacefully. Sisters attend uncle's funeral. Mother-in-law accidentally poisoned by carbon monoxide. Grandfather sent to assisted living. Brother needs an intervention. Husband rushes to hospital to have laceration examined. Son burns face, neck, and chest.

A lot can happen in half a year. I have a personal connection to each of those stories, though some are more remote than others. But this is the human experience: we are suspended between birth and death for a short while, and forces both grand and mundane seek to extinguish our humble existence. We are programmed as living organisms to strive against these forces. There is nothing special about this struggle; it merely places us among the animals of the natural world. We are transcendent only through our capacity to empathize beyond our filial relationships and our immediate social network, and by our ability to act upon those feelings. Today let us feel empathy.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

A Soldier's Pain

I have spent a fair amount of time in this space articulating a strong anti-war position. But you don't have to take my word that this war is wrong. Skyler, a 24-year-old Army Infantryman on his second deployment in Iraq, said this to his mother Penny about himself and the war:
Mom, when you see me, if you ever see me again someday, you won't know me. I'm not who I used to be. I don't mean to sound negative. But that's who I am now.

[My day was] just great mom. I picked up body parts of one of my buddies. And I thought that was the worst that I could ever have to go through in my life. But it wasn't. There was a little seven- or eight-year-old Iraqi boy, crying his little eyes out, picking up his daddy's body parts. And that was the worst.

I really thought we were at war to punish those who killed innocent people, and to make life better for the Iraqi citizens. Now I don't think that way any more.
His mother choked back tears as she recounted his words. It's hard for we civilians to fathom this kind of raw, horrifying violence, let alone understand what it is like to be faced with it each and every day. Isn't it time we listened to our soldiers? Two-thirds say that this war is a mistake. Our military families are suffering beyond measure, to say nothing of the pain that Iraqi families have endured. It's time to change our policy. Listen up, George.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Something I Worry About All The Time

I received a highly informative and very comforting email this morning:
With Penis Enlarge Patch you don’t have to wait for another big wave to cover your small penis when you are on the beach.
Next summer I'll be wondering how I ever got along without it.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Uh Oh

I have recently become acquainted with a reality television show called Rogue Nature, in which a ruggedly handsome yet strangely uncharismatic zoologist contrives encounters with wild animals. He does not look for creatures with merely a general reputation for being dangerous to humans. Instead, he specifically seeks the individuals who have shed their natural shyness and have attacked people.

Last night he sought out rogue lions. Now here's the rub: next month I'm going to be in South Africa. Guess where he was? Yup, right where I'll be. Three weeks from now, I'll be hoofing it through a game reserve near the border of Mozambique, where each year hundreds of refugees are eaten by lions while trying to cross into South Africa. Gulp!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Heckuva Job, Fellas

A U.S. government analysis concludes that al Qaeda is at its strongest since September 2001. Call me crazy, but the whole idea of going to Afghanistan and Iraq was to eradicate al Qaeda and their extremist brethren. Not much progress there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reported last month that the Bush administration's five-year-long attempt to fashion an alternative justice system for terrorism suspects has yet to complete a single trial. I thought we founded this damn country in part to put an end to the nefarious practice of secret tribunals. All that work for nothing. Then again, maybe the Constitution is working in spite of these bastids. At any rate, clearly little success on this front either.

So that's it: we are five years and half a trillion dollars into fighting these wars and fortifying our national security state, and our own government is telling us that the enemy is stronger now that at any time they have been since their deadliest attack. The administration has yet to prove that their illegal means of fighting terrorists are effective. But still they press on, determined to pursue these strategies.

It is hard to imagine how this administration could have gone more wrong than they have. They have clearly failed to achieve their stated goals. Who knows what their goals really are. But even if their goal turned out to be the most cynical quest to establish a fossil fuel hegemon, with no concessions given to human rights or collective security or international diplomacy, even then, one cannot say that their plan is working. In this regard, their failure is singularly spectacular. Heckuva job, fellas!

Monday, July 9, 2007

Fatter and Dumber

Buried in the 12th paragraph of this sleepy article was a shocker:
"Colonel Baggio said that [Army] recruiting had been hurt by the fact that 7 in 10 potential recruits in their late teens and early 20s do not meet Army standards, largely because they are too heavy or failed to graduate from high school."
Did I read that right? Seventy percent of the candidates that the Army specifically targets are either too fat or too dumb to qualify for the service. I'm having a hard time getting my head around this statistic. Does it qualify as a crisis when a super-majority of non-college bound 18-24 year olds are that hopeless?

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Reality Check

I routinely complain about the way things are in this country, because I know we can do better. But then something comes along to remind me things could be much worse. The article casually points to a statistic that shocked and horrified me: in India, as many as 7,000 women are tortured and beaten to death by their husbands and in-laws for failing to pay a sufficient dowry. I had no idea that this practice was so widespread.

The human animal is an altogether remarkable creature, but it can be pretty repugnant as well. It's cliche to say that we have it pretty good here in the United States. We do. But with that aphorism comes another: here in the U.S., we need face our moral shortcomings honestly. Because the same human motivations at work in the Indian subcontinent are at work here. We must choose to be vigilant against the base part of our nature.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

1-2-3 Not It!

Dammat, I've been tagged again! DAV at Evil Bobby is back to his nefarious ways. I already posted five random facts about myself over at LLTK. But I suppose this is technically a fair tag, because it requires eight facts, not five. So I'd better honor it. I don't know if my facts will qualify as "random," since it is difficult to randomize one's own thoughts. Maybe if I write down 2^16 facts and then dice for the final eight, they might seem random enough. This could take a while...

1. Among nerds, I suppose I could qualify as a "utility infielder." I game, take pictures of astronomical objects, read nonfiction, watch Angel reruns, wear costumes, read Lord of the Rings again and again, listen to Weird Al, and explain the difference between a geek and a nerd.

2. I never got my black belt. I injured my right elbow punching someone's lights out, and while I was on an extended leave, my martial arts instructor committed suicide. That was sad. I really want to go back and finish someday. But when you make it as far as I did, it is difficult to switch teachers. And he was a great one.

3. If all goes well, I am going to direct a rock video this summer! A friend asked me to help him make one. I've done some pretty gonzo movies in the past, but never a music video. It should be fun.

4. I have one God-child. Considering my own spiritual journey was recently shaken, I need to reflect upon how to be a mentor in her life without undermining her parents' beliefs and compromising my own.

5. My driver's license says that I weigh 195. What a splendid fiction! I think I'm pushing 210. But I don't really know, because I've been too scared to get on the scale for the last couple of months. I was hovering around 190 at this time last year. Then everything went to hell. Anyone need a workout partner?

6. I feel guilty that I never wrote a review about Pan's Labyrinth. To my mind, it was probably the best movie I saw in the last 12 months. Why should I feel guilty?!? It's not like anyone is expecting it. I don't have to turn it in. No one cares! But the shame remains.

7. I buy Powerball tickets when the jackpot goes over $100 million. What is the point of dreaming small? I don't want to gamble a dollar for a mere $47 million. Readers who have been around a while probably remember this plan. I'm biding my time.

8. I am still thinking about how to implement my idea.

I am hard-pressed to come up with eight names. LLTK, GeistX, and DAV have taken almost everyone I know. Tagging: Manda (no pressure, I swear), Doreen, Rocky (who has yet to respond to his first tag), Basil, Patty (I know you're out there), jfb, Mikey, and Lacey (surprise!).

Monday, July 2, 2007

Of Bonds and Bush

This morning the local news ran a puff piece on a fan who ran out on field during the San Francisco Giants game to shake Barry Bonds' meaty paw. One of our morning talking heads, Tim McNiff, couldn't resist taking a shot at the beefy outfielder. McNiff, who I like quite a bit (anyone who makes knowledgeable and positive on-air remarks about The Clash, Prince, and Weird Al is OK by me), quipped that Bonds talked more to that fan than he has to his teammates this year. Made me chuckle.

A bit later there was a spot about George W. Bush beaching his boat on a sandbar or some such. This elicited none of the jocular ribbing it deserved. Suddenly I wished that I lived in a world in which a television news personality could ad-lib editorials about people who really are fuck-ups. Dammat, Tim! You missed an opportunity. Oh well, I can't say I blame you. Even if you really hated GWB, I suppose you would invite a firestorm of criticism for calling a spade a spade.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Cuisiniers du Cinéma

Animation auteur Brad Bird knows how to define an interesting character and he knows how to tell a great story. While it is not on the level of his masterpiece The Incredibles, his latest Pixar offering, Ratatouille, is a terrific piece of family entertainment. Set in Paris, it tells the story of a rat named Remy who dreams of using his gifts in the culinary arts. He befriends Linguini, a ne'er-do-well janitor, and together they work wonders, forming the Master Blaster of French cooks.

Physical comedy abounds in this movie, and there are some hair-raising chases and narrow escapes. The technology that powers computer-animated films these days is nothing short of remarkable. What I really liked about this film, however, is its simple, almost cliche message. Love of family, honesty, and above all belief in oneself are all woven into the impossibly zany tale so gently and effortlessly that one never feels like the film is preaching. If a rat can follow his dreams, then maybe we should too.

(footnote: my daughter and I have to argue about which is Bird's masterpiece, The Incredibles or The Iron Giant. She says most emphatically that it is the latter film.)

One Hundred

I started this blog at the beginning of the year, and here I am six months later, still at it. Not to sound too pleased with myself, but I'm hitting a minor milestone with this post: one hundred essays and other bits of nonsense published in this, my humble corner of the web. Not bad! My goal was to put something up every other day or so, and I'll be damned if I haven't been successful at keeping that pace! How bout that?

So now what? I updated a few fonts and colors, for starters. What else can I do to improve this space? Well, I read recently that the best blogs have a specific, targeted focus, continually riffing on a narrowly defined theme. Dammat, that's not me! I have a ridiculously broad set of interests. I guess the only thing I can do is make the writing better. I'd like to see this space get smarter, funnier, more outrageous and more sublime. Suggestions welcome. Your call will be answered in the order in which it was received. See you soon.