Thursday, June 30, 2016

Seeking interviews, currying favor, and building the blog.

Sean and Julian Lennon. Recently. ©2016 Mason West.
I have built audiences over time before, so I have faith I can do it again I know the shape of the asymptotic curve. What I know from experience, and from what successful content producers tell me, is that the key to success is consistent production. In my case that means putting out a blog every day and trying to sustain the writing quality. Daily production isn't quite as easy as it sounds.

Daily production reminds me of packing for a trip. I've heard weather reports say, "It's eighty-two degrees out there, but it feels like a hundred." The same applies to how I pack. I might think, "Well, my luggage weighs only ten pounds. I'm traveling pretty light." But there should be a formula:
10 lbs. × 10 days of travel = feels like 100 lbs.
Well blogging works the same way. One blog is sometimes fairly easy, but
1 blog × 365 blogging days per year = feels like 365 blogs every day
But I am determined to plug away. I have a few shortcuts: I have a big book of poems, and it's fairly easy to record them and put them on Soundcloud where they can serve as the primary content of a blog, so that's an easy blog day once a week. (I write more about sound hosting services below.)

But I don't just stand "idly" by writing. I've also been fairly active on Twitter seeking someone interesting for an interview. Most celebrities just ignore my requests, or they don't hear them at all. Stephen King has a following of 1.74 million on Twitter. Casey Neistadt has 587,000 followers on Twitter (to say nothing of his 3.5 million followers on YouTube, his principal outlet). People with followings like that have an incessantly deafening din of tweets hurled at them, so even the rare tweet that a celebrity might want to answer can easily get lost in the crowd. I did one time get a reply from King:
My very brief tweet exchange with Stephen King.
I confess my infinitesimally brief correspondence with King is pure celebrity worship. I need more blogging audience before I approach King's publicist for an interview. I'm not his Number One Fan, to borrow a phrase, but I do like several of his books. I had a thank you tweet from Amanda Knox (9,545 followers, only a few hundred more than I have) when I said I liked something she wrote for her column. And CNN militant commentator Sally Kohn, who, by calling me irresponsible and dangerous, sicced an angry crowd of Hillary Clinton supporters on me for a three-day drubbing. In a Clinton-Kohn Utopia, men who think as I do would be incarcerated or gassed for thought crimes. I shared the experience in this blog.

Cher (3.08 million followers), whom I came to follow in the wake of a conversation about Bernie. I happened to reply to one of Cher's tweets, and much to my surprise she replied. Fortunately this was a much cozier conversation than I encountered with Sally Kohn, but a week later I am still getting notificiations from Twitter when people like or retweet Cher's reply to me, and this is just a small fraction of what Cher must be getting for every tweet she sends out. Cher is a great singer, a fine actor, and an effervescent personality, but she is no great philosopher, yet her fame puts her in a position where on Twitter three million people hang on to every word she publishes.
Cher would like to see a more-than-two party system, but not a bullshit party. The famed dyxlexia that she has defied all her life is evident in her tweets, but by learning songs and parts in the movies she has set a splendid example for anyone else who works with the same disadvantage.
But despite my innocent frolic with celebrities in the Twitterverse, I have approached lesser known celebrities about letting me interview them for this blog. This should be a win-win situation: young supporting actors depend upon publicity, and an interview here would give them their publicity as it elevates my blog. Typically these people have on the order of eighteen thousand followers—only twice as many as I have—and they are responsive to tweets about them, but when I ask for interviews, I typically get no response, but sometimes I get a request for my "blog information," to which I respond with my URL, and then I get no response. Camille Guaty asked for my blog information, and though I never heard back from her, I did get notified a dozen times that people liked her request for my blog information. Why someone should find that likeable is a mystery to me—perhaps they like every utterance. Perhaps if I contacted these people's publicists, which is actually the correct procedure for getting an interview, I might have better luck. A bigger and better blog will help, and there's the Catch-22: I need followers to get the interviews, and I need interviews to get followers.

The other day I came across a fine photograph of half-brothers Sean and Julian Lennon, and I tracked down the copyright holder, whose factotum asked for my blog information. I actually heard back from this one, though not with good news. He replied that "At this time" they aren't licensing for these subjects, and he wished me well. I replied that "The subjects vary, and the subject in which I would have used the photo would have been the Beatles, their wives, and their children, but thanks for your time and consideration." So this is one reason why this blog is headed by a crude self-satirizing piece of my own artwork, and instead of being about the Lennon Family et alia, it's been more about the difficulties of finding a way to promote the blog through Twitter and other social media.

* * *
Sean Lennon in concert in Nice, 24 February 2007.
Photo by Flickr user glaurent. Licensed under
the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

But about Sean and Julian, we all should let by-gones be gone as they apparently have—that was the remarkable thing about the photo: they looked quite chummy together. Brothers. I suspect as they begin to relate to each other without the intervention of their mothers, things get easier. After all, they have far more in common—experiences few others have had—than differences.

And I'm not dissing Yoko Ono. To the extent that I can "know" her—I mean through social media, and what one knows is a professionally produced public persona (PPPP?)—she's an interesting person with things to say, though feeling like I understand Yoko's public profession requires a certain letting go of the normal Cartesian thinking process.

I've noticed that Paul seems to be denying that anything unpleasant ever happened—I've heard him deny stuff about both John and Yoko that fans, stirred by journalists and biographers, believed for years until it was repeated so much it became Gospel truth. I've heard Paul express regrets about how he and the other Beatles treated Yoko when John started bringing her to sessions.... And I guess that I can understand both attitudes: they were working in the studio in a way that didn't accomodate more people than necessary: George Martin, Malcolm Evans, a few others. But then I can see putting it behind me too.

Julian Lennon at the unveiling of the john Lennon Peace Monument in Chavasse Park, Liverpool on 9th October 2010 with the Liverpool Signing Choir in the background. Celebrating peace and the loving memory of John Lennon on what would have been Lennon's 70th Birthday. Photo released to the public domain.
* * *
I made yet another great leap into darkness today: I secured an account with a podcast hosting service that, in turn, distributes the programs and news of their existence to iTunes and social media. Podcasting composes the third leg of the triumvirate of blogging, vlogging, and podcasting. Unlike this blog, though, which is driven by whim and an overabundance of interests, the podcast will be specifically focused on television, specifically streamed television, though that will inevitably overlap with cable broadcasts. My view is a peep of the TV world through a Roku 3, though there are many ways to get at least some of the same thing. Even my Playstation 4 runs Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu apps, among other things. The podcast will be daily and brief—I'm thinking five minutes or so—and it will not count as a blog the way my vlogs and poems do here, though I will occasionally remind you that the podcast is an ongoing thing. And speaking of ongoing things, you, gentle readers, can sponsor me at my Patreon account. 

Have a great day!  

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

VLOG #4 On Netflix & Hybrid Reality

An image from Liz Solo's one-woman hybrid-reality performance work "InWorld". Produced by Roles 4 Women Theatre Company, St. John's 2011. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Vampire

The Vampire (1897). Philip Burne-Jones. Public domain.
A poem about a pitiable vampire living close to the narrator.

The Vampire

Tea will keep my hands warm
Diesel will explode for a while
Wood will sit unmoved as bricks
This morning in the soft dewy
Ground beneath my window I
Found the tracks of the vampire they’ve been seeking he’s
Lurking about my house for safe keeping
Last night a sigh woke me and
Someone stood at the foot of my bed
Dawn came and I awoke
Gone into his coffin floating somewhere beneath my floor some
Nights he waits beneath the bed
Undead scaly hands and cat eyes and nails
Hope to grasp my ankle and pull me down some
Nights he wails terribly as a sad and cheated street dog
Dying of loneliness pierced with
Pain only a pariah would know
Terrors in my dream are really happening to me
I opened the door to fetch more diesel
There stood a weathered gray man
Whom I asked in for tea
He was most amused by the flaming waste of diesel
But he was as cold as they come
Do you think this could be the one?

Monday, June 27, 2016

Winter is here. (Spoilers, Season Six)

Opening shot shows Cersei's view across the city from the Red Keep to the Great Sept.

Today I settle all family business... —Michael Corleone. The Godfather.
It is time for the trials in the Great Sept of Baelor. Loras fades like a chameleon into the walls of his cell. Everyone assembles for the trial in the Sept except Cersei and Tommen.

The Grand Maester Pycelle is distracted by a small child who leads him to the defrocked Maester Qyburn. The kid is one of Lord Varys's little birds, of whom Cersei and Qyburn usurped control to serve their purposes. Pycelle has time to get off one last insult to Qyburn before the birds swoop down and stab him multiple times.

The proceedings in the Sept begin. Loras confesses, and the Sparrows carve the septagram into his forehead. Margaery objects, but the High Sparrow defends his actions as justifiable even though he has not told the whole truth. The High Sparrow's currency has always been half-truths.

Another of Game of Thrones's symmetries lies in the Faith of the Seven's Sparrows and the Little Birds, the urchins formerly in the service of Lord Varys but now under Qyburn and Cersei's wings.

With Loras's forehead carved, the High Sparrow sends his leading militant sparrow—ironically Cersei's cousin, Lancel Lannister, formerly Cersei's boy toy with the blond page boy haircut—to escort Cersei back from the Red Keep. Another of the little birds leads the sparrow into catacombs that, in a kind of Edgar Allan Poe maneuver, double back beneath the Sept. At the end of the tunnel dozens of barrels stand in racks, and there is a green puddle on the floor with candles serving as fuses. The urchin had disappeared, but now leaps out from hiding, and he slices the Lancel Lannister's tendon so he is disabled. So part of Cersei's plan is to be doubly sure of Lancel's demise in the core of the explosion. This is not mere vengeance but vengeance underscored.

Margaery tries to reason with the Septon about Cersei's absence, but he is unable to see beyond his rules of order: the High Septon's mind is trapped within his own tyranny. He is set to try Cersei whether she is here or not, though Margaery realizes Cersei's absence is about much more than stubbornness, and she tries to get out of the building, but she is blocked.

That is how their lives end as they are consumed in the explosion of the Mad King's wildfire stockpiled beneath the Great Sept of Baelor.

Tommen is the second boy driven out a window on Cersei's behalf. Another parallel.

During Cersei's incarceration a particular septa tormented her—the chief septa, the one who called "Shame. Shame. Shame," during the walk of atonement. As for Lancel Lannister, Cersei has reserved a personal revenge for this person too. "I told you my face would be the last thing you saw when you died, do you remember?"
The septa naïvely thinks that a few glasses of wine poured in her face as Medieval waterboarding are the beginning, middle, and end of her punishment, and she says she does not fear death. Cersei almost laughs. You're not getting off that easy.

She opens the door and reveals the Mountain in his heavy armor waiting. "This is your God now." She closes the door behind her, but through the face panel she says, "Shame. Shame. Shame."

Episode ten is not a good night for Walder Frey. In his hall—yes, the same hall in which Catelyn Stark, Robb Stark, Talisa Stark, and others get killed—Frey is toasting and feasting with Jaime and his sidekick Bron. (Have we ever seen Frey when he wasn't feasting?) Frey tries to buddy up with Jaime Lannister, but Jaime has always been harshest with those who sidle up to him—probably because Jaime himself is a master of charming and sidling, so he sees through it in anyone else. Jaime asks Frey if he does much fighting. Well, not now, I'm too old, Frey says. But back in your day, did you? Frey avoids the question, and Jaime makes his point: "We gave you the Riverlands to hold. If we have to ride north to win them every time you lose them, why do we need you?" Exit Jaime.

Then later in the show. Walder Frey is eating again. A woman brings him food. He notices she's new, and slaps her ass. She grimaces but holds her patience for just a moment more. He complains that his sons are not here yet. Oh yes they are, my lord. He looks around, but there's nobody in the hall but Frey and the woman. Where are my sons? he asks.

"Here, my lord" (as Tywin Lannister points out long ago, she's obviously high born because she says "my lord" and not "m'lord"). The sons Walder's asking for are in the pie. Frey lifts a crust and finds a finger. Arya pulls off the face she's wearing, and she smiles as she slits his throat.
The library at the Citadel.
Sam and Gilly arrive at the Citadel. There is some question about the authority by which Sam was sent because the college still has Jeor Mormont listed as Lord Master and Aemon as the Maester. The implication is that they will send a raven to check out Sam's claims, and in the meantime he is given access to the library. The Citadel is the Alexandria of Westeros. Its library is huge and byzantine in design with flying staircases from one level to the next and spiral staircases in between. In the center is a great pillar of light, a symbol of the wisdom at the heart of this library.

Last week I noted that episode nine ended with Davos in mid-stride as he walked across the courtyard of Winterfell to confront Melisandre. This week's scene begins where last week's left off: he enters the room where Melisandre is talking to Jon Snow. The scene is a minimalist trial in which Davos is the accuser with the charred stag as his evidence; Jon Snow is the judge; and Melisandre stands accused. Davos asks for her execution. Jon asks if she has anything to say for herself. Snow banishes her—he does owe her a life, after all.

Jon Snow and Sansa converse among the ramparts. Jon, wary of his sister's trafficking with Petyr Baelish, asks her if she trusts him. "Only a fool would trust Littlefinger," she says. "We need to trust each other," Jon says. He is of course referring to her bringing the Knights of the Vale to the battle without his prior knowledge.

As an afterthought, Sansa adds, "A white raven came. Winter is here." They smile because this sign of winter affirms the words of the House Stark that they have heard all their lives. Presumably this raven bears the inquiry from the Citadel about Sam. But the arrival of winter is like the unfolding of the Stark family destiny.

Meanwhile, in Dorne, Lady Olenna of House Tyrell is visiting Ellaria Sand, with whom she has formed an alliance. Ellaria is promising her survival.

"Cersei killed my son, my grandson, and my granddaughter," Lady Olenna says. "Survival is not what I'm after now."

Ellaria corrects herself. Then you may have your heart's desire.

"And what is my heart's desire?"

"Vengeance. Justice."

Suddenly, Lord Varys, whom we haven't seen since he left Meereen in search of ships, enters and says, "Fire and blood." Before the wedding celebration of Joffrey and Margaery, Lord Varys and Lady Olenna spent a great deal of time together in the gardens of the Red Keep, though Olenna, a persnickety crone, tired of both the the gardens and Varys. So while his appearance now may not be like the unexpected arrival of an old friend, it is nevertheless timely since he brings something of great value to Ellaria and Olenna's preliminary talks of war.

Varys, like Littlefinger, is a tad serpentine in his dealings, but he is fiercely loyal "to the realm," whatever that means in this context. His vision of "the realm" has taken on Targaryen hues, and it is Targaryen force he has come to offer the alliance of Highgarden and Dorne. Lord Varys is functioning like the CIA advance man prior to an American invasion.

In Meereen, Daenerys Targaryen breaks the news to her paramour, Daario Naharis, that he will stay in Meereen as home guard, and it gets mentioned in passing that the bay at Meereen is no longer Slaver's Bay but Dragon's Bay. Being nubile is political capital, so Daenerys will enter Westeros as a single woman so that she can form political alliances by marriage if necessary.

She then talks with Tyrion, whose counsel it likely was to not bring Naharis with the invasion force. "Do you know what frightens me? I said goodbye to a man who loves me. And I felt nothing. Only impatience to get on with it."

Tyrion is cynical as always, and she tells him, "Well, you have completely failed to console me."

Tyrion makes a good short speech, pledge of loyalty, and almost a profession of love. "For what it's worth, I've been a cynic for as long as I can remember. Everyone's always asking me to believe in things—family, gods, kings, myself. It was often tempting until I saw where belief got people. So I said no thank you to belief. And yet here I am. I believe in you. It's embarrassing really. I'd swear you my sword but I don't actually own a sword."

"It's your counsel I need," Daenerys says.

"It's yours. Now and always."

"Good. I, um, I had something made for you. I'm not sure if it's right." She pulls out a medallion. "Tyrion Lannister, I name you Hand of the Queen." So once again Tyrion will work as a Hand, a job he enjoyed in King's Landing.

Sansa and Petyr Baelish have a conversation—one that seems terminal—by the heart tree near Winterfell. He woos her with a vision of himself as king and her as queen. But Sansa has been through far too much to fall for Littlefinger's manipulative fantasies anymore.

Uncle Benjen ends his escort of Bran and Meera Reed. There's magic in the wall, so Benjen cannot pass. However this means Bran and Meera are near Castle Black and then Winterfell. Benjen leaves Bran at the base of a heart tree, and Meera moves him so he can lay his hand on the face carved into the trunk. Plugging in, Bran sees Ned finally get through to Lyanna massive post partum hemorrhaging. This baby is Jon Snow, which is an understated but shocking revelation: Jon Snow's father isn't Ned Stark. Lyanna whispers to Ned who the father is, but we don't hear this. Before we thought we knew who Jon Snow's father was, but not his mother. Now we know who the mother was, but not the father.

Just as Sansa witnesses the crowd at Winterfell proclaiming that Jon Snow is the King of the North, Jaime returns to kings landing just in time to see Cersei's coronation. It was a good day for siblings. Cersei is wearing something reminiscent of sequined black armor. She has lost all her children, as the prophecy fortold. She has eliminated all her immediate enemies and settled all family business.

On one ship sailing out of Dragon's Bay, Theon and Yara stand proudly. On another, Tyrion stands alongside Daenerys and all her retinue. The fleet carries Daenerys's armies to Westeros. Overhead fly the three dragons.

Thus ends Season Six of Game of Thrones, so these little analyses come to an end until next year.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Ripping out the Detectors

I maintain subscriptions of household consumables with Amazon. Here an Amazon box has been flattened and awaits my next trip out to the recycling bin Photo ©2016 Mason West.
I live in the house of my ninety-two-year-old mother, who is in an early stage of dementia. I take care of the bills and other paperwork. I do the heavy lifting, cooking, dishwashing, grocery list writing (my brother actually does the shopping), and coffee making. I order things we need from Amazon. I handle smoke detectors and other crises.

I have gradually taken on a great deal of responsibility, but I was an unreponsive mess when I got here three years ago. I spent a year doing, beyond the essentials of keeping myself alive, nothing but playing World of Warcraft. I was in a severe depression, and playing that game, which simulates the tasks and rewards of life to a limited measure, and which spreads the possibility of achievements before me, helped me put one foot in front of the other. Warcraft was my therapy, and I was surprised to hear one of the actors in the current Warcraft movie say that it had brought him through a depression as well. There must be more of us out there somewhere. I know a lot of people consider the game puerile, but it saved my life.

So I'm not now just hanging out in the basement playing Warcraft, waiting to inherit a house or collect my measly government retirement. In fact I have a corner office from where I watch all comings and goings as I manage our measly accounts.

My brother and I recently made use of a program administered by Meals on Wheels (MoW) to have some household repairs done here. The US has in recent years taken a cue from Britain of having NGO's administer programs for the poor (as opposed to creating government bureaucracies to do this). As a result, MoW not only delivers meals, but they receive government funding that they can distribute for household repairs.

The neighborhood feral cats. The Siamese cat is the mother, and the six black cats—both long- and short-haired—are her adult offspring. Only the mother and two of the black cats stay near the house, and the other four have broadened their horizons. Usually one or two will drop in at mealtime, but it's rare to see the whole litter in one place anymore.
Raccoons infest my mother's house. These masked bandits frequent the shallow pan just out the back door where we set out cat food for a clutter of feral cats, which is probably why they do so well here. But the general feeling among everyone is that we won't starve the cats to get rid of the 'coons. So it was probably raccoons that tore off a great deal of insulation around the attic duct-work for the central air conditioning and central heating system. This lack of insulation caused water to condense on the duct, and the water dripped onto the sheetrock of the living room ceiling. So suddenly one day a huge chunk of living room ceiling—about six feet (two meters) long and a yard (one meter) wide —suddenly dropped down onto the living room sofa.

The living room catastrophe led us to seek funding for repairs with MoW, yet one of the delightful things about the NGO is that once you're in, you're in. They looked over my mother's house and decided that they would replace the non-functional built-in gas range with a brand new General Electric stove. They also replaced the water heater, which was working fine, but I suppose they push for energy efficiency these days. They replaced the wooden front door, which in humid summer months warped so that it wouldn't lock, with a steal door. They replaced all ten windows in the house, and replaced the sliding glass door in back with a pair of double-paned energy efficient glass that has blinds between the two panes, which I think is really cool. I was glad to get new windows because the old ones were originals with this house, which means they were sixty-seven years old and hard to open. Some of them didn't open at all. There was an ugly patina of decades of bug life. Now the windows are new, fresh, and clean, and they open.

The most monumental project undertook by MoW was the tearing down of the chimney. My mother's excessive tolerance for animals meant that she tolerated chimney swifts building nests in her chimney year after year, and finally the chimney was so clogged that smoke couldn't pass up it. Then in recent years the chimney began to lean rather like the tower in Pisa, Italy.

MoW also repaired some damage to the roof overhanging the porch. Not more than a week later, when the Wagnerian storms of Spring are in full orchestration with heavy rains, deep floods, thunder and lightning, I just happen to look up from my work and out the window, and down comes a large limb real horroshow from the ancient elm tree in the front yard. The limb crashes into the porch roof, which splits open. The limb settles at the base of the tree it came from. I am lucky it didn't come crashing through my window, which it could just as easily have done.

One of the smoke detectors with its battery hatch open.
MoW installed three smoke and carbon monoxide detectors: one in my mother's bedroom, one in the hallway, and one in my bedroom. After they were installed, they sat quietly, inverted on their ceilings, waiting for the disaster that might never come. They waited quietly for weeks while the city inspector—He who must inspect all new wiring, for these are powered off the houshold current of 110 volts—said ludicrous things like he was here, but nobody answered the door; or he was here, but I refused to let him enter my mother's bedroom (I had asked only that he wait a few minutes while I woke her up). But finally everybody converged at this house and in good spirits, and the inspector looked up at the alarms and nodded. He asked the electrician a few technical questions, which the electrician answered to his satisfaction. Then they were gone, and that was the last of the comings and goings on behalf of the MoW contract.

That night in my wok I deep fried some tilapia and some shrimp, and the smoke detectors started going off. The noise of three smoke detectors in full scream was insufferable. I hated to leave my fish unattended because they cook very quickly in hot oil, but I had to silence the screaming beasts. Smoke detector buttons have always seemed idiosyncratic, so some of them required more than one push of the button. During the course of this drama, I noticed that these have sympathetic reactions to each other. Test one to hear it cry, and the others cry too. They are wired together on the same household current, so maybe they share signals. Ultimately I was able to eat my fish and watch my show, Aquarius, in peace.

I usually work until dawn—heavens, it's 5:03 now!—so when my mother pounds aggressively on my door with her anger knock at 10 a.m., it feels like the middle of the night. The smoke detector in her room was chirping. I told her I had to sleep some more before I could do anything, and that bought me an hour or so, but soon she was pounding on my door again. I'll spare you the gory details, but she gets very unpleasant and impatient when she wants something. What I've noticed is that, at this point, the dementia hasn't really changed her personality, but she now lacks the guile to hide her overreactions, her nastiness, her impatience with a world that she doesn't understand and probably never has. What she wants, she wants now. For me, at 60, it's the solution to the enigma of my mother with whom I have had to deal all my life. OK, I'm not one of these persons who goes around perpetually blaming their parents for their problems. My problems are my own, and I don't blame her for them. But there are scenes from my childhood that could have played out differently, but with the kernel of my mother's personality laid bare by the dementia, I see why things happened as they did.

So as the detectors chirped, I tried pushing buttons, but they worked in conspiracy against me. Putting one to sleep would wake another, so I went around in an endlessly maddening circle.

I consulted with my brother by texting him because he might know something I don't, but also because my talking about the problem to him sometimes helps me work through the problem myself so I reach the epiphany of solution. My mother, who hasn't quite figured out that smart phones are communication devices, yelled at me while I texted because she thought I wasn't doing anything but had abandoned the problem. I removed the batteries from all of the detectors, but that did not help since they are also using 110 volts A.C.

I used my phone camera to photograph the printed material glued on the underside of one of the detectors (the side that normally faces the bracket holding it to the ceiling), and that photograph let me find the model name and number, with which I was able to google for the instruction manual. Chirping, the manual said, is a signal of a low battery.

So I went to HEB. As I set out, it started raining, so I reserved a Car2Go, which was only ten minutes away, and drove to the store. I took my time because the far greater problem was my mother's raging dementia, and it was good to be away from it for a while. I bought comfort foods—chips and dip, candy, and beer. I bought two two-packs of nine-volt batteries.

There was a young woman giving away sample cups of a new wine spritzer, and not having talked to an astute human in a long time, I talked the poor girl's ear off about writing all night, blogging and vloggers, and television shows like The Americans, Tyrant, Aquarius, and Game of Thrones. This will give you a clue of the degree to which I am a hermit: she is the first person with whom I've discussed Game of Thrones in the flesh. I told her my observation about Gregor Clegane, The Mountain 2.0, as Cersei's Hodor, but she didn't seem that impressed. I was disappointed. That seems like a potentially useful idea to me. Anyway, for the pleasure of talking her ear off, I obliged her and bought a six-pack of her wine spritzers. Well, I say wine spritzer, it's actually an effervescent fruity concoction dominated by grapefruit that has a five percent alcohol content.

So I checked out and left HEB, swung by the house and dropped everything off, then went to the legal parking area for Car2Go and left the car there. It was another easy ten-minute stroll back to the house.

I opened a beer and inserted a battery into a smoke detector. It laughed at me. "Chirp chirp chirp."

So now it was time for the last resort. Something had to be done. It was the weekend, and it would have taken days to get the electrician back here, especially since he's slated for surgery Monday morning. Neither my mother nor I could have endured the wait.
The mounting bracket and loose live wires where the smoke detector used to be.
The removal in the hallway was not a graceful operation, but it is now sweetly silent.
* * *

  • Game of Thrones seasons six finale happens tonight! I will share my insights on Monday.
  • Your support of this blog through Patreon would be much appreciated.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Pythagoras was right!

Pythagoras advocating vegetarianism (1618-20); Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640). Still Life, Frans Snyders (1579–1657). The Royal Collection (of the British Royal Family). Public domain.
One of the directions that I hope to go in video production lies toward the instructional and educational: not vlogs, not personal essays, but impersonal discourse on one of the many subjects that steal my interest from time to time. Yes, I will do the vlogs too—indeed, vlogs are technically easier—but these discourses might well be my priority in time. Already I've done some lectures on Taoist insights into the New Testament and more recently a quick rubric on when to tell the truth and when to lie (Tarly and the Pilot). Tonight's all-nighter is accompanied by Anoushka's soft strumming—so good tonight with a guest violinist accustomed to playing in the Indian style, so it's not one of those Western/Eastern kluges but faithful to the purer tradition. The end result is a simple proof of the Pythagorean Theorem.
I envisioned something much prettier and entertaining graphically than they came out,  but the rule that finishing is more important than perfection kicked in early tonight, and the hour hand on the clock ran as quickly as the sweeping arm of a stopwatch, so it quickly became a matter of getting it done as expediently as possible. I really have neither the hardware nor the software to do this well. Audacity works beautifully on my Ubuntu Linux machine, but OpenShot Video Editor has inconvenient limitations as well as a few bugs. What I really want, though, isn't so much editing software as animation software. I want my words to tango across the screen, my characters to tap their feet impatiently, my graphs to explode in real time.

Over a year ago I exorcised the Satanic Demon Microsoft from my life, which was an exhilarating life passage—a bit like a lifelong revolutionary finally seeing his flag flying over the White House. I installed Ubuntu Linux in its place, but there are inconveniences associated with dependence upon the Open Source Software community. I have no objection to paying for software either if it works, but even video editing software for pay is hard to find for Linux.

These problems are compounded by a lack of time. The obvious first suggestion is to partition the disk and install—shudder—Microsoft Windows as an alternate operating system, yet time is a restraint here as well. Going partway back to Microsoft would give me access to a much larger software market. Yet it takes time to figure out how to partition the disk, and time to browse the Microsoft site to figure out what I need and want. On top of that, most people who edit video do so on Apple equipment, and I'm not fond of Apple and its forsaking of the industrial revolution and interchangeable parts for the sake of price gouging: "If you're gonna need Part A or Cable B, you're gonna have to buy ours, and it's gonna cost you."

So I have to kluge and hack things together. Compromise is the order of the day. Fortunately YouTube has its own video editor, which has its own set of limitations, but they are different from OpenShot's limitations, so the two somewhat complement each other. So some portions of the project get passed back and forth between YouTube and OpenShot. Adding audio tracks to video isn't too bad in OpenShot, however, I can't play back the sound inside the editor. It's like editing audio deaf.

* * *

Mark Wiens, the foodie YouTuber in Southeast Asia, decided to take a trip in his and his wife's hometown of Bangkok. So they checked into a hotel a few miles from their apartment, and made a great series of videos about Bangkok's best cafes for street food and the most impressive temples and shopping spots. Sometime—whether next year or five years from now—I will begin to travel, and I wonder with how little equipment I can get by. I'd like to think that even a laptop isn't necessary. But it seems that the thing to do, rather like Mark & Ying checking into a cross-town hotel, would be to use at home just the equipment I'd have on the road for a week. Really I'd like to do it all on my Smart Phone. For one thing, I'd feel safer carrying only a smart phone down the dusty alleys of Latin America, but the main thing on my mind is traveling light. I note that the Google Play Store offers several free video editors, and as far as I know, I might even be able to find some animation software.

* * *

The question on every beginning blogger's mind is of course: Is it working? Success in ventures like this is often asymptotic, and I expect to brush over the treetops for a while yet until some updraft, a minor viral event if I'm lucky, pushes me up a bit higher. I'm using Google's Blogger because Word Press glitches required too much time coding in PHP, but Blogger's statistics seem a bit obscure to me, so those numbers don't give me a certain idea of growth. Probably, but not certain. The stirrings of my Twitter account seem encouraging though, or so says my non-numerical intuition. So it's too soon to say. One minor heartbreak is that occasionally I've asked people for interviews or permission to use a photo, and they ask for the blog information, and I never hear from them. Presumably they don't like what they're seeing. But I am convinced to the point of certainty that if I stay with the daily contributions—this is daily blog number sixty-three—I will find my audience.

In the meantime, if anyone has a burning desire to help my efforts, I have a Patreon page.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Hot dogs, pig heads, eating outside the box, and culinary travel.

Hot dog. Photo by cyclonebill from Copenhagen, Denmark. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.
An acquaintance on the social networks recently listed many of the ingredients in a hot dog. My sources tell me that a wiener is usually made mostly of pork, and a frank is made mostly of beef, though I can get cheaper dogs made of chicken or turkey. In junior high school the teacher told me with evident pride that the "Indians" did not waste anything of the buffalo they killed, though by contrast, the whites went out to slaughter buffalo by the herd "only for their tongues"—though I doubt they bothered to dismount their horses to cut out a tongue. They weren't killing the buffalo—more correctly, bison—for tongues or any reason other than to wipe out the food supply of Sioux, Cheyenne, Comanche, Blackfoot, and other indigenous peoples of the Plains. In 19th-century America, buffalo hunting was a genocidal act. Now that's the long way to get to my point about the meat packing industry's efficiency, but it's important to remind ourselves of certain facts now and then because the US has never really sought absolution for its horrific crimes or promised that it will go forward and sin no more.

The flesh in the hollow beneath a fish's eye is tasty and sweet.
Hubert Ludwig. School of Naural History, 1891. Public domain.
The meat packing industry is as efficient with its cows as the people of the plains were with their buffalo, and that efficiency includes the animal's head. In the world outside the US it's quite a treat to acquire the head of a cow or a pig—especially for a poor family. Every culture has its ways of making a celebratory feast of a head. The cheek muscles that give rise to the smiles of some animals make for some of the sweetest meat. I don't think cows smile. Pigs, I'm not so sure about: they're so smart that they might. Fish don't smile at all but go blub blub blub, but the meat in the hollow below the eye is still wonderfully sweet.

Menudo. Photo by Arnold Gatilao from Oakland, CA, USA,
1 January 2015. Licensed under the Creative
Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license
In Mexico the Christmas feast traditionally involves a pig, and particularly in a poor family none of that animal goes to waste. The haunches will make delicious Christmas hams. The belly will make bacon for Christmas breakfast. The pigs feet will be pickled for later celebrations with beer. The organ meat of the abdomen will make spicy menudo. And the tongue, brains, and flesh of the head will be ground up and seasoned to serve as the filling in delicious tamales, which usually get served during Noche Buena, as they call Christmas Eve in Spanish.

Here's a YouTube video of two American guys eating a pig's head. The head is properly cooked and garnished with salad, but this serious eating isn't for the faint of heart. They're in what I suspect is a California Asian restaurant. One of them approaches this meal with gusto—perhaps because of his Asian heritage—and the other reacts more like I once would have. Then here's another group of people in what appears to be a tapas (Spanish) restaurant, and they have ordered a pig's head and with pluck and maturity go about eating it. The two videos demonstrate that aversion comes from a narrow cultural range. And my favorite Smarter Every Day video features a goat's head that's getting prepped for spaghetti sauce.

Primeval culture begins with food: it defines what must be cooked, what can be eaten raw, and what must not be eaten at all. Culture naturally and rapidly grows to include other things, but it begins with food. French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan equates culture and language, so you can repeat that statement about language: Primeval language begins with food: it defines what must be cooked, what can be eaten raw, and what must not be eaten at all. Language naturally and rapidly grows to include other things, but it begins with food.

The problem with hot dogs isn't what goes into them. At this point in life I'm eager to eat anything. It's really the chemicals, preservatives, and the fat content that are the problem. I watch Mark Wiens, a YouTuber who travels all over Southeast Asia making food videos. He's a less famous, YouTube version of Anthony Bourdain. He eats all sorts of dishes with many of the same ingredients that go in hot dogs, and they're not ground and hidden inside a sausage but floating there for all to see in a soup or a curry.

Speaking of Jacques Lacan, the French are famous omnivores. At the opening of The French Connection, As I've noted elsewhere, among the world's better known omnivores, both Anthony Bourdain and Mark Wiens spent parts of their childhood in France. And as if providence backs me up on this, I just stumbled into a book called French Kids Eat Everything: How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters.

In the opening scene of The French Connection we see Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey) in Marseilles, apparently waiting for his ship to come in. While he waits, he bends over, picks a mollusk out of a tidal pool, opens it with his pocket knife, and eats it. There's something wonderfully French about being able to pluck a snack out of a tidal pool. I've plucked pears, plums, and oranges out of their trees, but not out of ponds. Charnier, by the way, is the man that Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) spends much of the movie chasing, including the best chase scene in cinema (set in New York, not France, but watch out for Eisenstein's baby carriage!).

In its narrowest sense, American culture seems to be that of a picky eater: there are all sorts of things defined by my picky eater culture as inedible but that have crept back into the diet through the efficiency of the meat processors. And yes, when I look at the ingredients of wieners and franks, I'm often appalled! But after traveling, after years afoot in Korea, Colombia, Ecuador, and Chile, and years sustained by their foods, my cultural, linguistic, and culinary horizons have broadened substantially.

My openness to food started in the 1980s when sushi arrived as a fad but soon became a permanent landmark in the topography of American eating. Before that fish fell firmly in the cooked category and not the raw class of foods. I've always loved grilled fish, and much of that also makes good sushi. But I still wouldn't eat a catfish raw because, as a bottom-feeder, the catfish is the pig of the fish world. But beyond that, I see a sushi master as physician of my cuisine and shaman of my eating, and I love to sit down at a sushi bar and say, "keep them coming," and they seem to like that too because it gives them license to practice their art freely. The sushi master smiles and places a plate in front of me of which he is obviously proud because it tastes great and makes a beautiful presentation—sushi is a graphic as well as a culinary art.

I love to travel and have come to the conclusion that one travels as much by eating as by walking, as much by tongue as by foot, so I'm game to try about anything myself. If I closed myself off to food, then I may as well stay home. Last summer, landlocked and starved for a voyage, I made good on this idea of culinary open-mindedness. I walked a mile to Lucy's Fried Chicken and tried the "calf fries" also known as "Rocky Mountain Oysters" also known as deep-fried bull testicles. They aren't bad at all, especially with a few beers to wash them down.

The strangest variation on a dog that I saw was in Korea. They started with a corn dog, and stuffed it into a Twinkie. It's one of the many mysteries of the infamous Twinkie—to say nothing of the bizarre behavioral anomalies that have been attributed to it—that it was able to receive the corn dog into its cream-filled space without bursting or being wrapped in duct tape. Then the Corn Dog in a Twinkie was dipped into a gloppy batter and finally rolled in shredded coconut before being dipped into the boiling oil of a deep-fryer. This was not the type of creation that I travel to try, but I did ask them for a plain corn dog, and they happily obliged me.

Hot dogs—along with hamburgers and barbecue—are one of the few foods that are ethnically American. Most everything else Americans like to eat comes from somewhere else. I've always liked hot dogs, and I've developed my determination to be open to food even as the air abounds with new nasty rumors about their ingredients. I really should give them up because their preservatives are carcinogenic and now there are rumors of hot dogs with traces of human DNA, but in this one case my openness works against me. Really, writing all this has put me in the mood for one of those Colombian hot dogs on which they pile everything: chili, cheese, cole slaw, chopped onions, chopped tomatoes, crumbled potato chips. So good, and I have an eerie feeling about Colombian meat packing plants.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Bacon subverts your ontology

Bacon lover to die?
The World News Daily Report says that this man was arrested and potentially faces a death sentence because he entered Qatar with twelve kilograms (twenty-six pounds) of bacon wrapped in large condoms and concealed in his anal cavity. Like many people who responded to the link to this story, I did not bother to check its provenance, so I took it seriously:

Suppose this man had been a shade more sensible before flying to Quatar. Instead of smuggling bacon into the country, he might have said to himself, "Well, I'm leaving Swineostan and flying home in a few days, so I better pig out on the bacon that I love while I still can." So he goes on a bacon bender, eating massive quantities of bacon at breakfast, bacon cheeseburgers at lunch, and bacon meatloafs at dinner. He has Bac-O's on his baked potatoes. At the Not-Ready-for-Halal Diner, he orders massive quantities of Bacon Lettuce & Tomato sandwiches, hold the lettuce, hold the tomato. At Al-Mataam Fez he eats Bacon Kafta and Bacon Kabobs. Finally, the time comes to fly home. As he's going through customs, his anal cavity is still filling with haram pork, but this time it fills from the usual channel and not from posterior insertion. The customs dogs are sticking their noses into his ass crack through his trousers. There is canine frenzy when he obliges them with a fart. He gets nervous, and his palms are sweaty. They take him back to the little room. Would he still be guilty by Qatar law of smuggling bacon into the country?
The Doha News presents a more credible voice about events in Qatar, and they say nobody has been arrested for entering the country with bacon stuffed where there sun doesn't shine. The man in the picture, they say, is a Taliban leader, Khairullah Khairkhwa, who was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and who has ever since been in Guatanamo Bay. 
Authorities with the alleged bacon.
They say that the photograph displaying the bacon is likely from the 2012 press conference in which Qatar Gas announced its sponsorship of the Police Sports Association. The picture was photoshopped to include the bacon. The Doha News also points out that it would be extremely difficult to insert twelve kilograms into someone's anal cavity. 

Wikipedia and Social Media Top Ten and many other pages are given to listing sources of news satire. One could make a list of listings of satire pages, a kind of meta-meta-satire page. The existence of a meta layer already strongly indicates that there is a huge growing number of satire sites, and not surprisingly the public's ability to distinguish between ordinary news and satire faces new and greater challenges every day.

It is easier to draw an audience with funny news I make up than with serious news. And really, I ask myself whether this story about the bacon is made to be funny or if it is merely designed to succeed by appealing to my xenophobia. The difference between real news and the news I can make up is like the difference between baseball and football. Baseball, for the most part, is a game of subtleties, nods to unseen silent signals, and long stretches before anybody has anything to get excited about. But football features mindless bone-crunching brutality in every play, and that's the kind of news a fictional, satirical news site can offer. The sites are genuinely funny, but they also draw a lot of traffic, which advertising on the sites converts to revenue.

Now I will make some observations on the United States, but chances are that this will apply to any country with an active press and broadcast media. The function of Medieval religion was to dictate a culture that included an understanding of the world, my ontology, ethics, and how I should go about doing almost anything, my culture. Everything from getting up in the morning, to baking bread, to the important life cycle events like birth, coming of age, marriage, and dying were dictated by my church, temple, or mosque. Now the pro forma functions of religion—praising gods—have been swept into the corner of a weekend morning, but the big religious functions of ontology, ethics, and culture, the real religion that unifies people into a nearly homogeneous controllable mass, reside in the media. The media teach me right from wrong—not merely that I shouldn't  kill, but I should pay my taxes, send my sons and daughters to war, vote, and not commit crimes against the corporate state. My rites of passage still include birth, coming of age, marriage, and dying, but I also should go to college, get a career, and buy a house. The sacrament is money, which I will receive if I follow the path. The pantheon comprises politicians, athletes, and actors, and the head god is the self, me, I. The culture begins with what to eat, and the emphasis here is on prepared foods that I can buy at the grocery store or, more importantly, at McDonald's or Red Lobster or any of thousands of feast sites.

I do not depend upon Control to have a culture. Control foists their ideal of culture upon me in order to control me. Without them, my community and I would invent our own culture. There are many interesting differences in the details of cultures created by people for their own sake as opposed to cultures foisted upon people by corporate overlords. Here is a random selection of some of the differences:

Native Culture
Corporate Culture
Culture grows upward from the grassroots
Culture is imposed from the top
Culture comes from people
Culture comes from corporations
Invented it ourselves
Foreign and foisted upon us
Motivated by our own benefit (which is not necessarily monetary)
Motivated for the profit of others
Religion tends to be matriarchal, celebratory, and centered in the home
Religion tends to be patriarchal, controlling, and institutional
Female nudity is beautiful
Female nudity is shameful

As you can see, the corporate culture works against the natural tendencies, and it relies upon the immensely powerful effects of broadcast media to enforce this culture against the human grain. In this way the people within the dominion of the corporate control of information are reduced to a herd that shares ontology, nationalistic impulses, and serves as a market that consumes the corporate products and economic sustains the system.

Yet if this is done through broadcast media, I wonder what will happen as this rising tide of satire begins to muddy and confound news from corporate sources. It is possible that the satire might introduce a fog that is to the corporate dictatorship's advantage—a fog of war. This particular example of the haram smuggler panders to the xenophobia that already has deep roots in corporate sources, so sophomoric humor that is racist or sexist serves the corporate agenda in the sense that racism has almost always been applied against America's enemies—Japs and Krauts in WW2, slopes in Vietnam, etc, ad nauseum—so a paranoid cultural critic might even say that satires are just another product of corporate control through media. Freud pointed out that joking is often a feeble excuse for insults.

During the so-called Arab Spring, "the people" supposedly used social media like Twitter to instigate the overthrow of so many hoary old Mideast dictatorships. More lately it has come out that the more likely scenario is that the CIA, not "the people," used Twitter to hide its identity as it instigated the overthrow of so many hoary old Mideast dictatorships. It would be nice to think that the adulteration of news with satire was also a matter of people subverting corporate control, yet it seems a simpler theory to believe that Control has set out to entertain and confuse us with satire until our ontolgies are completely muddled, and we don't know what is happening anymore.