Saturday, February 25, 2006

More on Olympic Skiing

It makes me proud to live in a land where our Olympic Committee picked up the tab for Bodie Miller to have a good time in Italian bars. Now, I enjoy a good drink after a day on the ski hills, but come on, this guy was there to respresent the USA. He didn't ski well, but he did it his way, which meant he had a good time at night. I would have been hiding my head in shame! Why couldn't he have been hit by a bus?. (I know that's not a nice thought, but I was counting on skiing to take my mind off other things like Georgie Boy selling us out to the UAE and all hell breaking loose in Iraq right after the military reported on how the insurgency is crumbling.)

Update on my close facsimile of a day in hell

I want to let anyone who reads this blog know that I’m okay. I haven’t taken a happy pill in two nights, which means I don’t feel groggy at 7 AM. My neck and right arm are still a little sore. I’m way behind at work due to missing a good part of Tuesday and Wednesday and frankly feeling like crap for a few days did not help me be productive. My truck has over $6500 in damages. Thank God for insurance. But now I have to negotiate Michigan’s no-fault policies which means that to get my deducible back, I’ll have to file a claim on the other driver’s insurance (which is a school district) while my insurance company will be stuck for all but $800 of the bill.

The Winter Olympics end this weekend. Even though Team USA hasn’t been a dominate on the ski hills as I was hoping, it was fun to watch Julia Mancuso attack the hill last night and win the gold. Now if Miller can do the same today… Come Sunday night, I’ll be back to watching movies and reading books.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Yesterday: Life in hell (or a close facsimile thereof)

It was one of those mornings I didn’t want to get out of bed. Looking back, I wished I had pulled the covers over my head and stayed there. But no, I had to be a responsible adult and I crawled out of bed and when about my duties. Today I can barely crawl out of bed.

The morning (visiting the dominatix--is this the correct spelling?)

I had an arranged meeting with a lovely yet sadistic dominatix this morning. Looks can be deceiving. Dressed very professionally, she greeting me warmly with a wonderful yet sardonic smile and invited me to sit down. "How are you this morning?" she asked.

"Does she really care?" I wondered. I knew that once she was through with me, my condition would be less than that it was.

She quickly got to work. "Open up," she said, and as a perfect submissive, I obeyed my mouth and closed my eyes. Soon there was a shooting pain in the roof of my mouth, then another, then another. When I opened by eyes, she was gone.

That wasn’t too bad, her blonde assistant suggested (I don’t think it was a question.)

Soon she was back. She pulled over a tray of torture implements for me to see. She put a brick on one side of my mouth so that I couldn’t bite her fingers and went to work. "You’re doing great," she encouraged.

"It’s no worst than the last time I had two sets of hands, a water hose, a vacuum line and a jack hammer in my mouth," I thought. An hour and a half later, she removed all her instruments and her assistant helped clean me off. I could hardly talk. Ms. Dominatix invited me back in two weeks, promising me I’d earn my crowns. (Just in case you haven’t figured this out—I’m writing about my dentist.)

The afternoon: A Pain in the Rear

Since I was in the city, I had made a couple of appointments. I fulfilled these, explaining to each that I had not suddenly developed a bad lisp nor had I been drinking heavily so early in the day (although the thought crossed my mind). By 1:30 I was heading south, going home. I had called my secretary and told her I was going to take a nap before coming into the office. However, my plans changed in a heartbeat at the intersection of 36th Street. I was minding my own business at a red light (the last thing I remembered was looking over at the car next to me which had stopped well passed the white strip), when all a sudden I felt a pain in the back as the truck bucked forward. I was stunned. It took me a minute to figure out what happened, but I was now even with the car to my side. When I looked back, I saw a school bus mounted on my rear. I was sore and rolled out of the truck and greeted by a hysterical driver. She was already on the phone with the bus garage, so I got my phone (which had been laying on the seat beside me and propelled into the windshield with enough force to crack the case--but it still worked). I called the police and in a minute, upon hearing that a bus was in an accident, there were four officers running around. I took forever for them to do all their work. One of them suggested I get myself checked out, which I later did. He helped me tape up my rear lights, which surprisingly still worked.

The rest of the afternoon and evening: "Hurry up and wait"

I spent the rest of the afternoon and most of the early evening in the hospital. I didn’t feel like I needed to go, but everyone including my doctor, felt I should be there. So there I am in a gown, with my socks on, and I look down and see that my socks don’t match—one is navy and the other blue. I couldn’t even match socks that morning, I should have stayed in bed. But instead, I was now being x-rayed. Nothing seems to be too of shape, with the exception of my arm, which was already forming a bad bruise. It took me a while to get to bed last night, but once I took one of those muscle pills, I fell asleep and slept soundly, dreaming all kinds of stuff, until morning. This morning, I literally crawled out of bed and instead of being a pain in someone else’s rear today, I'll be carrying around one in my back.

Monday, February 20, 2006

The Resurrection of the Big Fritz

Winter is a time for puzzles. There's always one in the process of being put together on the coffee table in front of the fireplace. Last summer, when we were up on Lake Superior at Whitefish Point, I purchased this puzzle of the iron freighter "Edmund Fitzgerald" which sank in November 1975 and is remembered today thanks to Gordon Lightfoot's ballard. The copper top coffee table is new this year and made the sky of this puzzle particularly difficult as it was hard to pick out the pieces on the table. The Big Fritz puzzle is now back in its box and another puzzle is being worked on. Of course, the real Big Fritz sits on the bottom of the lake in 500 feet of water.

It's been cold here, but no real accumlation of snow. I went for a walk with the dog on the North Country Trail late yesterday afternoon. It's always nice to walk at twilight, to see the setting sun set the western sky on fire. It was cold. When I took my cap off too cool my head, I quickly developed a headache. The light coating of snow crunched under my feet. Stars were popping out by the time I got back to my truck.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Misc. Friday Stuff

School was out today so I spent most of it with my daughter. She needed to make a musical instrument, for science, by Monday. She wanted to make a violin (which she plays), but I thought that was too much. We talked about all kinds of things and, while looking for material to make a horn, I found the conchs I collected off Shackford Banks back in December. Jokingly, I suggested we make a conch horn. She thought that was great. Since I had no idea how to make one, we went to the internet and found instructions. She should have the most unique instrument for a second grader. After all, there are not too many conchs in the upper Midwest.

We also went to a late afternoon matinee for "Eight Below." It was a great movie to take my daughter. When a seal suddenly jumped out of a whale carcass, she jumped into my lap and stayed there for the rest of the show. Disney does a good job making movies about animals and the folks who love them and, in that sense, this movie delivered. It was a good show for young girl who loves animals, especially dogs. However, am I the only one who thought it was odd to have so much sun in Antarctica on the 21st of June?

The rest of the day was spent doing as little as possible. I went to the gym, did some reading by the fireplace and began a new puzzle as we watched the Olympics. Why do snowboarders have to show off?

It’s finally cold here, but Spring Training is underway down south. One of the most exciting things I’ve heard from down there is that Jim Leyland is Detroit’s new manager. I remember watching him rebuild the Pirates back in the mid-80s. He led them to the National League finals for three straight years 1990-1992). Although I’d left Pittsburgh by then, I went back each year to watch a playoff game and had tickets for the World Series each of the years, but they always lost in the playoffs. Later, Leyland went on to win the World Series at the helm of the Florida Marlins.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Four Thing Meme

I don't often do these meme things, but I have a hard time saying no to Southern women. Lauire at Slowly She Turns tagged me.

4 jobs I've had:
I've not had that many jobs in my life, but here are four:
-in a grocery store as a bag boy, stock clerk and checker
-wholesale bakery as a machine operator and supervisor
-A manager for a non-profit organization
-Current career which I don’t talk about on my blog…

4 movies I could watch over and over:
-The Blues Brothers
-Raising Arizona
-A River Runs Through It
-Cool Hand Luke

4 places I've lived:
I’ve lived in a lot of places, but here are a out of the way places:
-Columbus County NC
-Cattaraugus County NY
-Storey County NV
-Iron County UT

4 TV shows I love:
I watch very little TV (except for now that the Olympics are on), therefore some of these are oldies:
-Hill Street Blues
-Saturday Night Live (1970 era)
-Red Green Show

4 places I've vacationed:
-beaches in North Carolina
-the Canadian Rockies
-Kyoto, Japan
-the High Sierras in California

4 of my favorite dishes:
-Tomato sandwiches
-any kind of melon
-Pad Thai
-Eastern North Carolina style barbecue

4 sites I visit daily:
There are a few blogs that I visit most every day, otherwise, my favorite sites (which can be found way down at the bottom of my sidebar) are:
-The Onion
-Arts and Letters Daily
-New York Times
-The Huffington Post

4 places I'd rather be:
-Almost anywhere that there are mountains
-in a hammock
-at a hot spring
-in my canoe

4 bloggers I'm tagging:I’ve never forwarded a chain letters, nor tagged a blogger, which explains why I am balding and am not rich and famous. So if you’d like to be tagged, go to it! Otherwise, I hope you enjoyed learning a little bit about me through my wise-crack responses.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Dead-eye Dick

Politically Incorrect Reporting by Nevada Jack

The quote of the week goes to Katharine Armstrong, daughter of a Texas cattleman, whose ranch was the location where Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot a hunting partner on Saturday. Ms. Armstrong described Cheney as "an excellent, conscientious shot." This was after he had shot someone, for heaven sake! I know it isn’t really funny, but I laughed. I always assumed the real danger of Cheney and guns came from him shooting himself in the foot.

Not since Gerald Ford terrorized the golf world have we had a member of the executive branch to be personally so dangerous

Later news reports elaborated on the story with more insight from Ms. Armstrong. "The Vice President didn't see him," she said. "The covey flushed and the vice president picked out a bird and was following it and shot. And by god, Harry was in the line of fire and got peppered pretty good."

Armstrong tried to make the accident sound like an everyday occurrence. "This is something that happens from time to time. You know, I've been peppered pretty well myself," she said.

When I use to hunt, I’d save my peppering for later. After rubbing the prepared birds with oil, I'd douse 'em with pepper, right before sliding them into the oven. I wonder if their liability insurance carrier knows that that peppering hunters has become a regular pastime at the Armstrong Ranch?

Armstrong continued her explanation: "It knocked him silly. But he was fine. He was talking. His eyes were open. It didn't get in his eyes or anything like that," she said.

Of course, he’s still in the hospital. He spent two days in intensive care unit before being moved into a regular room. Some peppering! Where did they find this woman? She's a natural for Granny on the Beverly Hillbillies (although pictures of her make her look more like Ella Mae). At least she called to inform the newspaper, beating the official channels that didn’t break the news until almost a full day later.

One of Cheney’s security agents called the local sheriff about an hour after the accident and conveniently arranged for the sheriff to interview the parties involved the next morning. This allowed everyone except for Mr. Whittington, to have a nice uninterrupted evening meal. Mr. Whittington dined in the hospital. Somehow, if I accidentally shot someone who ends up in ICU, I have a sneaky feeling the Sheriff ain’t going to be willing to wait till the next morning to have a chat with me.

When asked if the Vice President had done anything wrong, Ranger Rick from the Texas Fish and Game said his one bird was well under the Texas daily bag limit and that there are no limits on lawyers in Texas. He cited Cheney for not having the proper bird stamp on his hunting license. It seems the Vice President had stuck a 37 cent stamp with an bald eagle on the license, not realizing that stamps went up to 39 cents. Cheney’s office said he sent a check for the difference.

In a news article later today, hunting safety instructors from several states laid the blame for the accident at the hands of the Vice President. "He was the one pulling the trigger," they said. "He is responsible for what he’s shooting at." They must all be Democrats. After all, as this administration has indicated so many times, they’re incapable of making a mistake.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

A Movie Review, Late thoughts on the Superbowl & Upcoming thoughts on the Olympics

Thursday night I watched "Maria Full of Grace." This HBO produced movie is about a 17-year-old girl from Columbia who is recruited to be a "mule" or drug runner. Her responsibility is to swallow drugs in plastic capsules and then fly to the United States where the drugs will be recovered after they pass through her body. Of course, the work is dangerous. Carrying the drugs in the body is dangerous (one of her friends die) and the mules have to get through customs and work with ruthless criminals. Yet, Maria and her friend Blanca are not portrayed as criminals, but in a sympathetic light. They are clueless young women with few opportunities, who grasp at an opportunity to make enough money to have a future. Maria is pregnant. As the film progresses, she cares more and more about the baby she's carrying. This movie brings a personal face to the complex problems that fuel underworld activities. I don’t want to give the story away, like I did with my last review. So instead, I’ll just state that the movie is focused and has a strong story line. The language is Spanish, but the DVD version includes English subtitles.

I should state that I enjoyed Sunday’s Superbowl (having lived a few years in Pittsburgh makes me a die-hard 'Stiller fan). Now that football is over, I’ll be watching skiing and ice skating at the Olympics for the next few weeks. I watched part of the opening ceremony last night. Why, I don't know? I found it boring, except that it was an opportunity to give my daughter a geography lesson. And I thought that a great story could be made out of one of the solo athletics from a country who only fields one contender, who is unable to contend because they pull their shoulder out of joint waving their country's flag. (sometimes my mind leads me off in strange directions)

Friday, February 10, 2006

Thoughts on those Danish Cartoons

You may find this post quite rambling because I find myself struggling with what to say about the Danish cartoons and the violence they've incited in parts of the Muslim world. Even though I am often a critic of his, I appreciate the situation President Bush is in at the moment as he attempts to walk a tightrope between supporting freedom of the press and encouraging the press to be responsible and considerate of others. Of course, these riots have taken on a life of their own. As time passes, the riots have less to do with the cartoons, in my opinion, but that's not my subject today. I want to consider the role of humor and its impact.

One of my favorite cartoonists, Doug Marlette, got in hot water a few years back. It was after the "What Would Jesus Do" campaign changed into the "What Would Jesus Drive." Some religious leaders encouraged their followers to consider their impact on the environment. Their idea was that Jesus would drive something that conserved gas and polluted less. Marlette created a strip asking "What would Mohammed drive, showing a rental truck with explosives. I don’t think he actually depicted Mohammed in the drawing, but nonetheless, found himself in hot-water with his publisher and others. I didn’t have problems with it because I saw the strip from so many different angles. Marlette was poking fun at those asking, "What would Jesus drive?" (he’s often been a critic of the church—especially folks like Pat Robertson). But in this strip, he also called terrorist like the first World Trade Center bombers into question. Would their prophet do this? If not, then why should they try to blow up a building with a rental truck? Of course, many refused to see it either way and thought he was making fun of Islam’s prophet.

I struggle with how to respond to these comic strips as a Christian—a follower of a man who teaches us to live gently and humbly and to turn the other cheek. It seems that if I am to be true to my faith, I have to be willing to stand up with those who are marginalized and to be willing to "go the extra mile" on their behalf. When the riots first broke out, President Bush challenged both the drawings as well as calling those in the Muslim world to refrain from their use of offensive comics about Jews and Christians. It seems this was an appropriate response, calling both sides to a higher moral plane.

I also struggle over the use of humor and satire, as I’ve acknowledged before. True satire pokes fun in a way that calls out the best in people. If we are able to laugh at ourselves, or see the absurdity of our position, we have a chance to become a better person (or society). However, there’s a thin line between calling out the best in others and belittling them. Furthermore, humor often fails to translate across languages and cultures—which is going to be an increasing problem in our instant world. A hundred years ago, a comic strip in Denmark would not have had a global impact.

I worry when political cartoonists have to tread carefully out of fear of safety for themselves and their families. Several years ago Mark Pinskey (who is Jewish) wrote a book titled : The Gospel According to the Simpsons: The Spiritual Life of the World's Most Animated Family. Pinskey noted that the producers of the Simpson’s (at least up to that time) had made fun of the Christian, Jewish and Hindi faiths, but not Islam. When asking the writers about why they had steered away from Islam, from what I recall, he received several comments. One of which, they acknowledged, is that the writing team consists of those from Jewish, Christian and Hindi backgrounds, but none from an Islamic background. I like this reason. Jokes are always a lot better when the blunt of the joke is directed at the comedian rather than at others. Perhaps this is why the Danish cartoons are so offensives.

What do you think? How can we both support freedom of speech and be civil to one another? Is there a way this "crisis" can be used to call both sides to be more respectful (fewer depictions of Jews and Christians from the Islamic press as well as better treatment of the their faith in ours)?

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Life's a journey: two book reviews

Donald Miller, Through Painted Deserts: Light, God and Beauty on the Open Road (2005)

Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage, translator Alan R. Clarke (1992).

I’ve always been a fan of travel books, probably because the journey is more exciting than arriving at the destination. Some of my favorites include Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, Edward Abbey’s The Fool’s Progress, Mark Twain’s Roughing It, Innocent’s Abroad, and Around the Equator and Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I’ve also enjoyed the humorous stories of Bill Bryson’s journeys and the more serious yet still humorous insights of Paul Theroux as he rambles around on trains. And don't forget Peter Matthiessen’s spiritual quest in The Snow Leopard. Although these two books I’ve read over the past month may not become classics of those listed above, they both take you on an interesting journey.

In Through Painted Deserts, two young wannabe hippies, 30 years after Woodstock, take off from Houston, Texas in a VW bus. Heading to Oregon, they also long for the experience of the road. Along the way, they crash with friends and hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and find ways to over mechanical troubles for which the old buses were infamous. When things look desperate, someone always seems to offer a hand. There’s the mechanic that stops when they’re beside the road in the desert and an owner of a diner who gives them free meals. Once in Oregon, they take a summer job working at a ranch. Both Don (the author) and his friend Paul are Christians. Don seems intrigued with Paul’s laid back way, the manner in which he finds people more important than ideas. During their travels, they discuss their faith, their hopes in a spouse and family, what is important in life, and how to break out of the material trap of the modern world. In many ways, these two Evangelical Protestant young men rebel against both a faith and a society they had in Houston, one that appears to lift up abundance. Truly, I think they really set out in the hope that "abundant life" means something more than just a larger salary with a nice home, a car and consumer debt.

This was Don Miller’s first book, even though it was only published in this form after he had published several others. It's the second of his books that I’ve read. I enjoyed it, but I don’t think it was as good or as mature in outlook as the first book of his I read, Blue Like Jazz.

The Pilgrimage is Brazilian author Paulo Coelho’s first book and also the second book of his I read. (Last year I read By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept). As with Miller, I would agree that I liked the first book I’d read better than the second, but I did find The Pilgrimage to be a very good and mature book. In it, Paulo sets out on a pilgrimage from Southern France, across the Pyrenees and then westward along the along the northern part of Spain to the San Tiago. I’d heard of this medieval trail years ago, when hiking the Appalachian Trail, but it had dropped off my radar screen. Now, having read the book, hiking the road to Santiago is again appealing even though I'm not a Catholic mystic. In Coelho’s book, he sets out as a pilgrim in the hopes of finding (and earning the right) to keep a sword. He is given a guide, Petrus, who constantly challenges him to slow down and approach things simply. Petrus teaches him a series of spiritual exercises that enable him to become more in tune with what is important in life. Only after learning these lessons can Coelho find his sword.

In contrast to Miller’s writings, The Pilgrimage is steeped in Catholic mysticism. As the two men travel the road, Coelho encounters demons and temptations and learns to have faith and to trust in that which cannot be seen or proven. The book is filled with metaphors that shed meaning on our journey through life. One thought taken away from the book, that those of us living in our consumer paradise, is to ask ourselves why we want something and what we’ll do with it before we obtain it. Coelho finds himself confronted with the question pertaining to his journey.

Both books emphasize the modern cliché, "life’s a journey, not a destination." We’ll, it may not be a cliche' among everyone, but it is among backpackers.

Friday, February 03, 2006

My ramblings

create your own visited states map

I got this over at Ed Abbey's. It looks almost like an election landside. I'm planning on being in Alabama this June for a conference--I've been within several miles of the AL border, but just haven't made it across. I'd even have a fair bit of the map colored if you count states I've lived in for at least a season or a semester: NC, VA, PA, NY, ID, NV, CA, UT, MI

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Movie Review: The Crime of Padre Amaro

Rated R, 2002
Spanish (with English Subtitles)

There are many things wrong with this movie. First of all, things are too clean for a poor town in Mexico. The streets are swept and even the rusted out vehicles look like they’ve been recently detailed. Secondly, there are way too many characters and subplots. And finally, Padre Amaro and Ruben look way too much alike and was confusing at the beginning. Yet I still liked the movie. It would be a great film to watch with others and then, over drinks, discuss afterwards. This movie was controversial and the Catholic Church disapproved of it. They have a point, it does show priest in less than flattering light. Although I’m sure there priest like these portrayed in the movie, they are exceptions. And as the movie shows, even “fallen priests” sometimes do good.

The Crime of Padre Amaro is about a newly ordained priest sent to a Mexican village to assist Padre Benito, an older priest with great ambitions of helping his people by building a hospital. Once in the village, he learns that Benito is sleeping with a woman whose husband has left her and that he's recieving money from drug lords in order to finance his hospital. Amaro soon has his own battles. The young and seductive Amelia, who’s just broken up with Ruben, falls for Amaro. Soon Amelia is pregnant with the priest’s baby, but after a blotched abortion, Amelia dies and because word gets around that Ruben was the father of Amelia’s child, Amaro reputation is saved.

This movie has a lot of potential, but is compromised by the number of subplots. One minor character, Padre Natilo, works in a small village with the extreme poor. He’s accused of harboring guerrillas. He defends himself saying there are no guerrillas, only peasants trying to defend themselves from drug lords forcing them to grow poppies. When the bishop tries to move Natilo, he refuses and is excommunicated, a sentence he accepts as his cross to bear in order to stay working with the people for whom he obviously cares. Natilo is both the most moral character in the movie and the one banished from the church. Beniito has obvious concern for the people of his village but compromises himself by his affair and by receiving drug money. Even the drug lord has a spark of compassion. He provides an airplane to fly Padre Benito to Mexico City after he has a heart attack. The movie shows the complexity of good and bad. Things are seldom black and white.

Padre Amaro is also a complex character. Early in the movie he shows concern for the people, especially for a severely handicap daughter of the church’s sexton. But later in the movie, he uses her for his own purposes and to cover his tracks, fires her father, the sexton. He seems heartless at Amelia’s plight, but a spark of compassion again shows as she dies. The director might have done better making two movies. One could deal with issues of celibacy of the priest and illicit love affairs—Father Amaro’s movie. The other could deal with an even larger universal issue, a problem that exist beyond the church, in how we often compromise ourselves in our efforts at doing good. Father Benito, who justified receiving drug money by saying “I always thought you shouldn’t be too picky about money given for good purposes,” could be the star in this film which would examine the old "means justifies the ends" theme.

Please note--I've turned back on comment verfication due to the number of spam comments finding their way into my blog.