Do Not Go Gentle Away from that Frenzy

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This past Monday, September 19, the Japanese celebrated Respect for the Aged day.  It is called “keiro-no-hi,” chosen as the third Monday in September.  The celebration recommends sharing a special meal for the elderly, providing perhaps a musical presentation, and giving presents. The ecommerce website Rakuten, for example, suggests giving a kumquat tree or a hydrangea wreath.

The older I get, the more it seems we need this day. In America, we celebrate holidays that glorify the military, the labor force, religion, harvest, love, our country, our country’s dead presidents, our country’s dead inspirational leaders, the change of the season and the calendar—as well as the day that people are born. But we have no celebration aimed at the 1/6 of our population who are the wise elders. We celebrate “Grandparents,” but as an event the way that we celebrate “Secretaries” or “Administrative People” – primarily as a limited commercial boon for florists and card shops. We don’t respect the aging. We don’t celebrate getting older – we run and hide from it. Continue reading “Do Not Go Gentle Away from that Frenzy”

Autoexec.bat, We Hardly Knew Ye

My tablet screen wouldn’t rotate. The position was stuck in Portrait, and pressing the Auto-Rotate icon on and off didn’t fix it. I had no idea what caused it, and a thorough search through the jungle of Settings and Application Manager just made me sweaty and full of scratches. Since 90% of the way I use the darn thing is in Landscape, this was bad, bad, bad. I was completely perplexed.

I have only had this tablet since May. My colleagues and spouse have been whispering “iPad” and other salacious ideas in my ear for years, but I left the cutting edge many years ago, I ignored it. Finally, I gave in and now I carry it around with me.  There was a time though…

Once upon a time, there were no handheld computers. You did not walk around the house looking for the special charger to plug in or with three separate devices in a stack. You wrote checks, you played cards, and you read newspapers, magazines, and books.

Once upon a time
The first computers I ever used were the UNIX mainframe systems at Berkeley when I was an undergrad. I had two Computer Science classes.  In one, I learned to write a program that mimicked one of my board games (IF NOT STANLEY STEALS TREASURE THEN DO NEXT TURN). In the other, I created a concordance for e.e. cummings poetry. To an English major, computer programming was whimsical. Someone tried to get me to play Adventure on the mainframe, which was the only non-classwork related thing students could do. “You are standing at the entrance to a cave with a bag,” it said to me. Yeah, so? I thought? Now What? What are the rules for this thing?  I always need to have a book of Rules. Continue reading “Autoexec.bat, We Hardly Knew Ye”

Einstein and Toast

The numbers on a toaster indicate duration of toasting in minutes, and not a “degree of toastiness.”—Albert Einstein

False rumors seem to happen more frequently and get sillier these days. Maybe our dependence on social media causes it; maybe our “too busy to look things up” lifestyle. It seems at times like we’re being homeschooled by the neighbors. Like we’re at a backyard barbecue at our cousin’s, and as we’re waiting for a burger, some strange guy with a half drunk beer and a twinkle in his eye — or gal, ignorance is not a gender-based phenomenon — steps up, says, “did you know…?” and proceeds to feed us a load of malarkey. And we buy it.

The political season is rampant with half-truths, innuendo, and plain boldfaced lies. But even strange rumors are created about everyday topics and quotations routinely misrepresented. In this Information Age, when the correct information is a few mouse-clicks away, the wrong information is available and deployed even faster. The truth is at our fingertips but the lies are jumping in the way.

As Einstein did not say…
People are fond of quoting smart people. An idea can carry more authority if delivered by a knowledgeable figure rather than li’l ol’ us. As a result, quotes are frequently misattributed to smart and clever people, especially to Lincoln, Twain, Franklin, and, most of all, Einstein. If you look at the site BrainyQuotes.com, they have an entire Einstein page and a good portion of those quotes appear to be things Einstein did not say. Continue reading “Einstein and Toast”

SBIG: Mothra and Florence Foster Jenkins

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I don’t know where my childhood went wrong. I was exposed frequently to art museums and the best music – both classical and jazz. The shelves were full of Shakespeare, Thomas Mann, Faulkner, and Plato; the walls were covered with Bruegel and Pollock.  My mother had no sense of humor. (Technically, that’s not true, she thought Bertolt Brecht and Edward Albee were hil-arious!)  My father had no appreciation for Star Wars or Steven Spielberg, and took us as children to see West Side Story and Rashomon instead. Yet, somehow, since I was a wee bit of a thing, I have always loved bad art.

Bad movies, bad music, bad theater, bad painting, bad poetry. There is a whole subgenre of the arts within each of these categories. Performances that were fiercely bad, sleep-inducing, screechy, ridiculous, and downright dreadful. In the Kaj household, we even labelled it in our classification system as SBIG – So Bad, It’s Good.

April showered me today
And got me kinda wet.
I wasn’t looking for the rain.
Glub, I’m a rivulet!
–From Spectrum, Author’s name withheld to avoid public shaming

What Makes The Performance Bad?
There is a fine line between dull and wretched, and we have to examine wretched just a bit, to understand where that line is drawn. Bad can take on many forms – maudlin, boring, insipid, confusing, blurry, not believable, or overly predictable – when it comes to films. This is tricky when it comes to comedy, because comedy can be highly subjective. You like the Hangover or Jim Carrey; I detest them. Yet vulgarity or farce on its own is not necessarily bad, but subject to personal taste.  You don’t “get” Monty Python; in our house, it is considered to be part of the genius canon.  Does that make any of these bad or good? Probably not.

The heaviest disagreement comes over whether something is “great” or one of the “greatest.” We will come to blows over whether to include Borat or Dumb and Dumber on a Best list. There is less disagreement about whether something is universally bad. Don’t believe me? Gigli. Howard the Duck. Fifty Shades of Black. Need I go further?

Music is easier to identify as bad. Off-key, strange lyrics, poor phrasing, off-key, off rhythm, constantly changing key, mispronouncing words, did I mention off-key? Is the song really only a chorus repeated over and over? Can the band play the instruments? A theme starts to emerge, that transfers to painting, poetry and so forth. Did the artist fail at what they were trying to achieve?  Do the mountains in a landscape really look more like ice cream cones? Does the interpretive dance consist mostly of hair flinging? Is the poem so cloying that it makes you cringe?

What Makes it So Fiercely Bad It’s Good?
The common theme to the best of the worst seems to do with pain. Painfully bad. Cringing, wincing, covering the ears or eyes (or nose!!!!), the performance takes entertainment which might just be mediocre into another realm entirely.

Boring, on its own, is not sufficient. A little flat in pitch isn’t really funny. A dumb script is fairly common; we need to have wooden acting, stupefyingly bad special effects, inappropriate product placement, and maybe the sound boom showing, to crank a bad performance up to that mythical level eleven.

Continue reading “SBIG: Mothra and Florence Foster Jenkins”

Road Trips: America in Miniature

“Kathy”, I said,
As we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh,
Michigan seems like a dream to me now.
It took me four days
To hitch-hike from Saginaw.
“I’ve come to look for America.”
–Simon & Garfunkel, America

Everybody journeys. Everyone takes trips on roads, travels to see new worlds, journeys of self-discovery and trips to the store, commutes to work and visits to see family. But there is a particularly American invention – the Road Trip.

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The United States is a large country with substantial variation in climate and terrain, crisscrossed with interstates that allow travel through and to nearly all of it, though it takes hour or sometimes days.  In early civilized history up until the 20th century, towns were near waterways whether in Europe, Africa, or North America.  Now they are all aligned along interstate hubs or around airports and the arterial traffic system is perfectly designed for long car journeys.

Continue reading “Road Trips: America in Miniature”