december 2001

The people who drive the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile are real dorks.

Okay, okay, I know I never posted a Plug review last week. So this week I'll post two: today it's Beulah's "The Coast Is Never Clear", and Friday there will be one for Death Cab for Cutie's "The Photo Album". I promise.

Mary Jo and Leila, two of Julie's best friends from college, came to visit this past weekend. We were supposed to go to the zoo on Friday with them and my mom, who was also in town for the weekend (she stayed with her friend Jane, who is also my godmother), but Thursday night my mom decided that she'd rather try her luck on Saturday because Friday was supposed to have weird weather. Which it did: it was foggy pretty much all day, and just felt moist, even though I don't think it actually rained.

Mary Jo's plane arrived in Baltimore around 9:30 Friday morning, so Julie went and picked her up and then took her shopping so that I could try to get some work done before the weekend started (I had to make a couple of job contacts and finish up a rough draft of a magazine article I've been asked to write, as well as archive all of the November material for this site). I was still working when they went to pick up Leila from the Metro station (she had already been in DC for a few days on business). By the time they got back around 6:00, we were all pretty tired, so we just went to the food court at the mall and then picked up a DVD on the way home.

We ended up with Legally Blonde, which I didn't protest as much as I should have because I knew that we could have ended up with something much worse. Or so I thought at the time: I didn't really think that Legally Blonde would be that bad because I seemed to remember that Entertainment Weekly liked it and I also liked one of Reese Witherspoon's recent films, Election.

But it was truly, truly awful. It tried to do the dumb-blonde-makes-good thing like Clueless, but it didn't do it nearly as well, even though Witherspoon is probably ten times the actress that Alicia Silverstone is (or should it be was—does she still have a career?). It blatantly ripped off Clueless, but it also stole from movies like Soul Man, My Cousin Vinny, Liar Liar, and pretty much any other comedy about the legal profession (I'm not saying that any of those are good movies, I'm just saying that Legally Blonde stole from them). There were moments when I felt like the movie knew it could have been a better, but instead of following through, it turned its back in shame, put on an insincere smile, and tried to pretend like it didn't know what its true potential was. If that makes any sense.

I tried to get to bed early because we were supposed to meet my mom and Jane at the zoo at 9:30 the next morning (they wanted to be sure to see the baby elephant that was just born a week ago), but my sleep schedule has gotten really out of whack again. I ended up not being able to get to sleep until about 5:00 a.m., which meant that I only got about 2 1/2 hours of sleep before I had to get ready for the zoo trip. More about that later.


Not all fire trucks are red.

I know I'm a couple of days late on this bandwagon, but I'm sick of big corporate interests thinking they can change the nature of the internet just by having the brainless drones who infest their corporate legal departments send out obnoxious and utterly ludicrous demands to individual web site owners. Don't like people linking to you? Well, too bad. Take that, KPMG!

I was going to write about how happy I was that Regan was coming to visit today, but I guess she's not coming after all. So I'm not so happy anymore.

I think I'm finally getting over whatever little bug I've had for the past couple of days. I've done little but sleep since Sunday, and the lucid moments I did have were devoted almost entirely to finishing an article on writing and the web for Imagine, a magazine for gifted teens published by Johns Hopkins University.

It's been a long time since I have written an article for someone else (I am an editor at every publication for which I write, so there's really no one I have to answer to), so I was a little unsure of how to approach it, especially since the requirements were a little vague, the audience and tone were a little different than my typical style, and I also had a very tight deadline. I ended up writing about twice as much as they wanted, and then just started cutting until there was a more or less coherent storyline.

I sent it in this morning, hoping that I would only have to do one more draft, but to my surprise I got a letter back a few hours later saying that everyone loved it and that the editor had gone ahead and sent it to the layout guy with only minor changes. And it looks like that response was as unexpected for them as it was for me—they said it was only the second time in five years that the first draft of an article had been accepted for publication.

So that was pretty cool.

I finally watched Run Lola Run last night. When Tori came to visit this summer before leaving for Chicago, she left behind a tape with three movies that she liked that I had never seen before: Lola, Waiting for Guffman, and Memento (I know, I should have seen all of those by now).

It wasn't too bad, but it wasn't quite the perfection that I expected from the gushing reviews. The premise was fairly well thought out, and pretty well acted. The camera work was just brilliant, with some of the best Steadi-cam work I've seen in a while. And the casting seemed pretty good, especially for the actress who played Lola—she was just perfect.

But there were a few things that bothered me. First was the random insertion of a cartoon version of Lola (introduced in the opening credits, which seemed to go on for about 15 minutes for no particular reason). I know that Serious Film Theorists could make an argument that this was done to introduce the element of unreality or alternate reality that is explored more fully later in the film, but to me it just felt like they ran out of the time and budget required to shoot this sequence and so made it a cartoon instead.

The editing was a little too jump-cut happy (like MTV on adrenaline, if that's even possible), especially in the early going, which is really too bad, because there was also some great editing mixed in with some of the hyperkinetic sequences. There were also times, most notably during the extended running sequences, that I felt like they were just showing her running so they could have more time to let you listen to the score, a throbbing techno affair partially composed by the director of the film, a la John Carpenter. The final ending also just rang a little hollow to me; it was too easy, given the struggles in the earlier sequences. It almost felt like a Hollywood-style "for the focus groups" ending.

It's easily the best German film I've seen since Wim Wender's "Wings of Desire", though. I'll probably watch Lola again someday, but I'm not sure if I want to buy this one for my permanent DVD collection. It will be interesting to see how this director handles his first English-language film, due out early next year.

Though originally scheduled for publication on Wednesday, I didn't actually finish my newest Plug review until today. But here it is: "The Photo Album", by Death Cab for Cutie. Now if I can get another up by Monday, I'll be back on schedule for my one-review-a-week-til-the-end-of-the-year promise I made a couple of months ago.

It's the 60th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, which of course is being used as an excuse to get a little more mileage out of the abominable film about the attack that was released earlier this year. Because not-so-coincidentally, the video and DVD of the movie are being released this week. So far the marketing hasn't been quite as repulsive as I would have expected (and not nearly as bad as the decision to move up the release of Behind Enemy Lines two months in order to take advantage of the patriotic fervor), but I still find it kind of obnoxious. But then I guess subtlety has never been Hollywood's strong point.

Nothing ever happens on Mars.

Julie and I played three games of Trivial Pursuit this weekend, and although they were close, I won all three. I think it's because I show proper respect for the Trivial Pursuit gods by placing the pieces in my pie so that the colors correspond to order of the colors on the board, while Julie just places hers in any which way (Julie insists I'm just being compulsive, but that sounds like loser-talk to me). It's also because I have a lot more pop culture garbage floating around in my head, but that's another story.

Anyway, one of the questions echoed a question I heard on Jeopardy! last week. It was something along the lines of: "What is the most populous city in Europe?" Now, the obvious answer in London, which is the only city among the top 20 that I consider to be in Europe, but the correct answer according to both Jeopardy! and Trivial Pursuit was Moscow.

Since when is Russia in Europe? I know that Moscow is in the western part of Russia, and that the western part of Russia does look like it belongs to eastern Europe, but if you look at Russia all in all, the bulk of its land is clearly in what most people regard as Asia. You can't just split it up and say that this part of a country is on one continent and this part on another, especially since Russia is one continuous landmass, not an island chain or anything weird like that. At least I don't think you should be able to do that. Clearly the compilers of trivia think differently.

God bless Ted Turner (although I'm sure he would think I was a nut if he heard me say that). Aside from the Nick at Nite/TV Land combo offered by Nickelodeon, Turner's cable stations (TBS, TNT, CNN, and Cartoon Network) are some of the only cable channels that never, ever run any paid programming late at night. Need to know the current status of the war on terrorism at 3:30 a.m.? No problem. Would you rather watch a crappy movie than stare at the ceiling? Ted has got you covered. Want the Flintstones with your sunrise? You are in luck, my friend.

All that paid programming that they air on cable between the hours of 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. just sucks. I mean, what is cable for, if not to keep unemployed insomniacs entertained while the rest of the world sleeps? It really pissed me off once I learned that cable stations don't really make that much money from advertising, be it infomercials or regular commercials; the bulk of their revenue comes from the per-subscriber fee that they receive from the cable networks that carry the channel. So that means that the channels' job is to provide entertainment for me so that I'll continue to pay the subscriber fee to the networks, a percentage of which will then be passed along to each of the channels. But no, they just had to get greedy and try to eek out a few extra pennies by putting on half-hour long ads in the middle of the night. For god's sake, put that stuff on during the day! It wouldn't bother anyone then: all the productive people are at work, and the rest of us are sleeping. Grrrr...

Ugh. My schedule is totally messed up again. I'm tending to go to sleep around 6 or 7 in the morning and then wake up some time in mid-afternoon. I also haven't quite shaken whatever virus it was I had last week, which means that I can't tell if my exhaustion is making my illness worse or my illness is making me feel more exhausted. Great.

So I've been sitting up late at night, lacking the energy to work but not being able to fall asleep either. I watched Waiting for Guffman on Thursday or Friday to kill some time. It wasn't too bad, but more predictable than I would have guessed. I didn't really know anything about it before I watched it, and it turns out to be one of those mockumentaries made so fashionable by Spinal Tap. Not coincidentally, Guffman was made by Christopher Guest, who was one of the stars of Spinal Tap. It's supposed to be about the making of a musical that celebrates the 150th anniversary of the town of Blaine, but I never really bought into it the way I wished I could have. I think a big problem was that I recognized too many of the actors (the movie stars Guest himself, Fred Willard, Catherine O'Hara, Eugene Levy, Parker Posey, and David Cross, among many others)—I couldn't get away from the fact that I knew they were Hollywood people long enough for me to believe that they were really the small-town schmucks that they were portraying. And it also felt very derivative of Spinal Tap, which was underscored by the presence of Guest. Again, it wasn't too bad, but I'm not going to purchase it on DVD or anything. Worth a look, though, if you're into that type of comedy.

I also watched Crouching Tiger on DVD again on Saturday night. Even though it was one of my favorite movies when it came out, I haven't watched it that much on DVD. That's partially because the times when I've been in the mood to watch a movie recently, I haven't been in the mood to read subtitles (3 a.m. is generally not the time to take in a foreign flick), but mostly because I was so disappointed in the quality of the print from which the DVD was made. I remember the first time I watched it on DVD I noticed all sorts of dirt, scratches, etc., and it just really pissed me off that such a beautiful movie had its DVD edition marred by the laziness of the studio. But I didn't notice those things so much this time (in that sense, maybe 3 a.m. is a good time to watch this movie). I'm really glad I decided to watch it again; there's so much in there that I had forgotten about. Truly one of the greatest movies of all time.

I'm unemployed and everything sucks.

No new Plug review yet, but I did update my people page to more accurately reflect everyone's current whereabouts/activities.

I didn't know zombies could drive cars.

I have become so enamored of Odd Todd's Laid-Off Land that I was this close to buying Pringles and Fudge Stripe cookies on my last trip to the grocery store.

I just realized that I forgot to write about our trip to the zoo a couple of weeks ago. So here we go.

We were originally supposed to go on Friday afternoon, but since the weather was overcast, we decided to try again on Saturday. Mary Jo and Leila were staying with us that weekend, and we were going to meet my godmother Jane and my mom (she was staying with Jane) outside the elephant pavilion at 9:30. Now, my sleep schedule at that time generally had me going to sleep around 4 a.m. and getting up around noon, so 9:30 was a little early for me. Anticipating that, I tried to get as little sleep as possible on Thursday night/Friday morning so that I would be exhausted by Friday night and be able to get a full night of sleep before Saturday's trip (we had to leave the house around 8, which meant I had to get up around 7:30).

Of course, all that pressure to get to sleep kicked up my anxiety about it, with the end result that I didn't get to sleep until close to 5 a.m. I was beyond exhausted when Julie got me up; the whole day I felt like I was in some drug-induced haze.

But I still saw a lot of cool stuff. The reason that we were meeting at the elephant pavilion was because a baby had been born less than a week before, and they were finally allowing people to walk past the pen and see her. She was funny, very clumsy and wobbly-looking. She stuck very close to her mother and tried to imitate her mother's behavior with little success (when we saw her again later in the outdoor enclosure, she mimicked her mothers eating behavior by scooping up a trunkfull of sand and putting it in her mouth, which seemed to upset the zookeepers greatly but which I found pretty amusing). One thing that really surprised me was how pink she was, especially around the ears, trunk, and feet. I didn't know elephants came in any colors besides grey.

We also got to see the pandas, who are clearly last week's favorites after the arrival of the elephant. Even though the park was packed (it was a beautiful day, with temperatures in the low 70's at least, and plenty of sunshine), there wasn't really any line for the pandas, even after they let them out into the outdoor paddocks. I liked the way they walked, kind of clumsily ambling down the hill towards the bamboo stalks that had been laid out for them. We also got to see the orangutans walking high overhead on the monkey highwires (for those of you who have never been to the National Zoo, this is a series of towers in one end of the park connected by three ropes. A couple of times a day, they let a group of primates travel from one enclosure to another by walking on these ropes, right over the heads of visitors. It's pretty cool).

I don't really remember much of what we did after we said goodbye to mom and Jane and left the zoo. I think that must have been the night we went to dinner at Habib's Kabob, a local middle eastern restaurant, and then came back and watched O Brother, Where Art Thou? on DVD. Mary Jo and Leila left the next morning before noon. I spent the rest of the day trying to catch up on my sleep and finishing a first draft of the article I wrote for Imagine.

My body has apparently decided that it no longer requires sleep on any kind of regular basis. I'm getting a little concerned that it's going to decide that it doesn't need sleep at all next.

Also thanks to Odd Todd, I am now a fan of Spongebob Squarepants.

Tuesday morning around 3 a.m., when it was becoming clear to me that I was not going to be able to get any sleep before the sun came up, I suddenly got the notion that the last two NIN albums ("The Downward Spiral" and the double album "The Fragile") might make a good substitute soundtrack for Saving Private Ryan, the same way Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" supposedly syncs up with The Wizard of Oz. I don't know why I thought this; it just got into my head. Since I didn't have anything else to do, I decided to investigate it.

The first thing I did was compare the running times of the CDs to the running time of the movie. Movie: 2 hours 49 minutes. 3 CDs: 2 hours 48 minutes. Hmmm. Very interesting.

That made me want to actually give it a try, so I started up the DVD on my testing PC and played "The Downward Spiral" on my primary machine. I didn't start the music until after the initial few credits, when the American flag starts waving in the opening shot.

And there were some interesting parallels, especially in the opening segment where the old man is walking in the memorial graveyard at Normandy. It doesn't seem like this sequence would mesh very well with "Mr. Self Destruct", but it worked for some reason. The man's gait matched the tempo of the song almost perfectly, and the part of the song where it gets all quiet and ghostly happens at the exact moment that the man leaves the path and enters the rows of white crosses.

It didn't work quite as well once you got to the opening battle stuff (although there were, again, some interesting coincidences), so I quit watching after about 20 minutes. I might go back and start the music at the start of the battle sequence, and I also might try playing "The Fragile" first. I'm not quite ready to give up on this idea yet, even though I'm pretty sure that my first attempt won't pan out in the long run. It's just too weird that this thought popped into my head before I had any idea of the relative lengths of the pieces, and then it happens that they are less than 60 seconds apart in length.

There was still nothing on t.v. after my little experiment, though, so I installed Apache on my testing machine and started to learn how to write PHP code.

No time to write today. We didn't get home from dinner with Sally and George until about 12:30 last night, and Tori and I are headed out this morning for a day in Charlottesville with Tom. I'll write more about all of this later.

Don't forget to watch the Geminid meteor shower tonight. It should peak at about 11 p.m. EST, but will be visible most of the night.

Very, very tired. I slept for around 10 hours last night, but I'm still sleepy. I guess I'm making up for the sleep that I haven't been getting over the last couple of weeks. I'll catch up on my log this weekend and have new stuff to post next week.

Memo to Jim Carrey: You are not Tom Hanks. You will never be Tom Hanks. That doesn't mean that we don't love you. But we don't love you like we love Tom Hanks, and we never will.

I called Tori last Monday to set up a time for her to come and visit us, thinking that she was still in Chicago and that she would come up some time this week before we left to go visit Julie's parents. Turns out that she had already been home for a couple of days and she was itching to get out of the house, so she decided to drive up on Tuesday, even though it was already late Monday night by the time I got in touch with her. She got here around 4 or 5 on Tuesday afternoon. We just hung around the house that evening, and I went to bed pretty early, because I am back on the schedule where I am up at 6 in the morning and going to sleep at 10 p.m. (at least for now).

Wednesday we decided to drive up to Pennsylvania and see what we could see. The road we took went straight to Gettysburg, which I had never been to, so we decided to spend the day there (Tori had been once when she was younger, but she didn't really remember it). It took us forever to find the visitor's center for the battlefield, longer, in fact, than we actually spent wandering around the small museum there, which seemed to consist mostly of a collection of guns from the Civil War and a gift shop. We walked across the street to the soldier's memorial, which is where Lincoln is supposed to have delivered the Gettysburg Address. For some reason there was a fence between the soldier's memorial and the actual cemetery, which we wanted to walk around and take pictures of. Instead of looking for the entrance, we decided instead to go to a different visitor's center (I guess this one was for the town in general, not just the battlefield stuff) and see if there was anything else to do in town.

It didn't look good. The first thing the lady behind the desk said to us as she handed us a piece of paper with the schedule of events on it was "Why don't you tell me what you're interested in so I can tell you that it's closed." And she was pretty much right on target with that assessment—everything except for the core battlefield attractions were closed for the winter, even the Land of Little Horses, a farm where horses are bred to be no more than 40 inches high when full grown.

(Interesting sidenote about Tori's family history in relation to Gettysburg: she is a direct descendant of General Pickett, leader of the infamous Pickett's charge memorialized in "The Charge of the Light Brigade", one of the pivotal turning points in the battle of Gettysburg, and therefore the Civil War itself.)

We decided to drive back home by way of Hanover—not that we expected to find anything interesting there, but just for a change of scenery. On the way, Tori started to notice an unusual number of Utz Potato Chip trucks on the road, which I guess made sense because Utz is based in Hanover. The disturbing thing was that she continued to see them everywhere we went over the next couple of days. As we were driving through Hanover, we noticed something called the damaged freight store, and were curious enough to stop in and find out what it was. It turned out to be a store where they resold goods that had been damaged during shipping, mostly cans and boxes of food. They weren't open or anything—just dented or smushed to the point where regular stores didn't want to put them out on the shelves. There were a lot of really good deals—everything was pretty much half the price of a regular grocery store. Tori picked up a couple of knicknacks and some Now & Later candy.

I like Now & Later normally. I have my favorite flavors, sure, but pretty much all of them are decent. The flavor that Tori found at the damaged freight store was one I had never heard of before: Green Tinkleberry. Tori and both tried a piece, and I swear, it was the worst tasting candy I've every had in my life. It was like green wood with an aftertaste of varnish. I don't know why you would make a candy like that on purpose, unless you were intending to use it as punishment. I still don't know what the hell it is, but if I were you, I'd steer clear of any food product that listed green tinkleberries as an ingredient.

We got home around 3 or 4 after stopping at Subway for lunch. The rest of the afternoon was spent playing Monopoly (I won because I had two monopolies that I managed to get hotels onto quickly, while Tori had only one monopoly with a couple of houses on each property. I only landed on Tori's property once while she landed on my hotels several times in succession, quickly eliminating all of her funds and property) and watching the Simpsons.

That night Julie, Tori, and I met our friends Sally and George in Rockville for dinner at California Tortilla and a showing of Harry Potter. I was so tired that I fell asleep for a few minutes towards the end of the movie (it was my third time seeing it). I just barely had enough energy to get us home, where I went immediately to bed because I had to get up early the next morning to go meet Tom in Charlottesville.

Doug sent me this link yesterday, which is the output of his search for Green Tinkleberry (the awful Now & Later flavor that Tori and I found at the damaged freight store). It contains only two results: one is a synopsis of all the comic books that a character named "Herbie" has appeared in over the years, and the other is a dirty madlibs page that includes the sentence "I didn't want her to best me, so I pulled out my erotic nipple and stuck it in her tinkleberry."

The internet continues to be wonderfully fascinating. And a little bit scary.

As most of you know, I have been looking without success for the new Le Tigre album, "Feminist Sweepstakes", since it came out in October. I have refused to buy it off CDnow because I can't really afford to buy anything else, and I hate buying just one thing because the shipping cost is so high when you are ordering just one item. I figured when Tori and I went down to Charlottesville, I would be able to hit all of the independent record stores there and that at least one would have to have it.

As we were getting in the car to leave, though, Tori handed me the CD and told me that she had gotten it for me for Christmas and that she had decided to give it to me now because she knew I'd buy it otherwise. We listened to it once on the way down, but since it's not really Tori's style, I let her switch to other things during the rest of our trip (she really seemed to like Beulah and Death Cab for Cutie).

I told Julie about it as soon as we got home that night, and she immediately led me to the storage room and pulled out a CDnow box from a drawer. It turns out she had ordered it for me for Christmas, too. So now, after months of not being able to find a single copy, now I have two.

It's funny—I haven't really listened to it all that much yet. Just haven't been in the right mood. But I'm very happy to finally have it in my possession.

On Thursday, Tori and I went down to Charlottesville to spend the afternoon with my friend Tom. I lived in Charlottesville for four years, but I haven't been back in a while. I attended graduate school at UVA for two years, and spent an additional two years working for a law publishing firm that has its offices on the downtown mall. Julie and I left for Maryland when she finished her coursework, but I had already been working here for a year and a half by the time we actually moved up here for her internship.

Tori and I were a little late—we were supposed to meet Tom at noon, but we didn't find him until close to 1:00—mostly because I underestimated the length of time the trip would take. I figured it would take about three hours, but with traffic, parking, and other little delays, it took more than 3 1/2. We met Tom at Christian's, a locally famous pizza place.

There is a long and complicated story behind Christian's pizza. A few years back, the man who runs it (Christian) opened a similar pizza restaurant on the downtown mall called Sylvia's that was an instant hit. Sylvia's had a bunch of specialty pizzas that were very popular, like spicy chicken, seafood, tortellini with pesto, and fresh mozzarella, basil, and tomato. Christian was there every day, making and serving slices of pizza. And there was a very specific routine you had to go through when ordering—when Christian got to you, you had better have your order ready to give him, or you risked being snapped at, or worse, being skipped and having to get back in line. This was during the peak of Seinfeld's popularity, and Christian quickly earned the nickname "the Pizza Nazi", after the famous soup nazi from Seinfeld.

After a couple of very successful years, however, Christian decided that he didn't want to be in that business anymore, so he sold Sylvia's to new owners, who then capitalized on its popularity by opening another branch closer to campus. After another couple of years, Christian decided that he wanted back in the business, but the people he had sold Sylvia's to were unwilling to sell it back to him. Out of spite, I guess, he decided to open a new restaurant just a couple of blocks away from Sylvia's on the downtown mall. Hence, Christian's was born.

It was pretty much exactly like Sylvia's, which makes sense, since both restaurants use Christian's original pizza recipes. I really wanted a slice of seafood, but they were out (that's another thing about Sylvia's/Christian's—you take your pick of what they have out on the counter. Not that you're limited at all—they usually have 10-15 different pizzas available for customers to choose from at any given time). I almost went with the tortellini, which is also one of my favorites, but at the last minute I chose the spicy chicken and spinach. God, I'd forgotten how good that pizza was. It's almost enough to make me want to move back to Charlottesville.

After lunch, Tom, Tori, and I just wandered around the downtown mall for a while. We saw the guy who plays violin for the Dave Matthews Band running some errands, and talked about other celebrity run-ins (we saw Sissy Spaceck in the mall once, and one of my friends had run into Sam Shepard and Dave Matthews in downtown bars). We eventually ended up at the Michie building at the end of the mall, now called Lexis-Nexis Legal Publishing. This is where Tom and I used to work—where we first met in fact—and it was really weird standing there with him. It's only been five years since we worked there, but it seems like a couple of lifetimes have passed since then.

We were standing there boring Tori to death talking about all the people we used to know in Charlottesville when one of them almost walked right past us. It was David Reynaud, who used to be our immediate supervisor at Michie before quitting to do freelance editing work out of his home. I always liked David—he tried really hard to be a good boss, but he just wasn't comfortable being a bearer of bad news from the corporate overlords, which was increasingly his role in the months leading up to him leaving. It turns out that he had eventually come back to Michie to work as an editor, and he told us that pretty much everyone else we knew who had quit had also returned eventually.

David couldn't chat long because he was on his lunch break, so after a few minutes we left him and headed up to the old McGuffy Elementary School, which had recently been transformed into cheap studio space and galleries for local artists. They had a showcase of all the artists who worked in the building up for Christmas, and while there were some intriguing pieces, I didn't see anything that really blew me away. They also had a specialized gallery that was showing three artists who worked in ornamental motifs, which Tom told me was a recent update to a feminist art movement in the 70's that appropriated the patterns and decorative styles of domestic objects. That movement sounded interesting, but none of these particular artists really did anything for me. What was fascinating, however, was the giant plastic bear that was sitting, full of honey, in the office next to the gallery. It was as big as a basketball, I swear. Who could ever have a need for that much honey?

Tori and I had to leave after that to make sure we got back home in time to have dinner with Julie. I've never felt like I had that many connections in Charlottesville, but going back to visit, I really started to miss a lot of things about it. I wouldn't be surprised if Tom ended up back there eventually, and I think that if the opportunity ever presented itself to Julie and I in our separate careers, I could see myself living there again. I think I might finally be getting over the horrors of my grad school experience there.

Yesterday afternoon the lead story on CNN's web site was about something non-terrorist related for the first time since 9.11 (it was about the overturning of the death sentence for Mumia Abu-Jamal). It didn't last long, though—a few hours later the headline had switched to another story about the conflict in Afghanistan. But it was nice to not have the terrorism story be the lead for once.

After not seeing Scrooged or Christmas Vacation (two of my favorite Christmas movies) at all last year, I am happy to say that I have seen each of them more than once already this year. I used to really like it when you could flip around the channels pretty much any time of day between Thanksgiving and Christmas and find It's a Wonderful Life playing somewhere in either the original black and white or Turner's colorized version. Now that NBC has locked up the exclusive rights to Wonderful Life, we need these other Christmas movies to come in and fill the void.

No one does it better than the Turner networks (TNT, TBS) which, in addition to having played Scrooged several times already, have also played A Christmas Story pretty much every day, and have also instituted the brilliant 24 hour marathon of A Christmas Story, where they play the movie over and over for a day straight starting at 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Now that's television.

Here is a link to an editorial that I stumbled across in the course of my daily web travels. I usually post links like this on my daily links page, but I felt like this one deserved front-page billing. It's about how the publisher of the Sacramento Bee was booed off stage during a commencement address because she dared to suggest that maybe the government was going too far in trading civil liberties for increased security. Regular readers know that I have ranted about this at length, and that I feel very strongly that the core values of our nation are much more about respect for individual rights and the due process granted to all of us by the Constitution than they are about safety and security at the expense of those individual rights.

Anyway, what really got my attention in this article was the opening quote:

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
—Benjamin Franklin

That just about sums it up for me. Just in case the Constitution and the Bill of Rights aren't enough, this is further proof that our founding fathers would have been appalled at the way the government has reacted to the terrorist attacks by curtailing the civil liberties and freedoms of the very people that they claim to be protecting.

What's really sad about all this is that most of the American people seem all too willing to give these things up for just the appearance of increased safety—several recent events (and one more for good measure) have shown that the airports aren't really any more secure than they used to be, and god knows about things like water treatment facilities and power plants. In fact, I saw a news story on one of our local channels recently about how a hunter just wandered onto the grounds of a power plant that supplies electricity to DC and Baltimore without encountering a fence or a guard. He even wandered into an empty control room, and was so disturbed by how easy it was to infiltrate the place that he brought back a camera crew from a local news station and duplicated the feat without a problem.

All I'm saying is, we should be careful about what we're giving up in order to zealously pursue this war, because it's certainly not going to be easy to get some of these freedoms back. There are always going to be threats to national security and individuals who will disagree loudly with the leaders of our nation. But that doesn't mean that the government should ever be allowed to override the laws of this nation that have been established according to the system of checks and balances laid out by the Constitution. I question whether there are any circumstances that justify some of the administration's current tactics. The Constitution is not just some piece of paper that we can point to when times are good and say, "See what a great country we have!". To make it mean something, we have to be vigilant about upholding its principles even when doing so makes things much more difficult than they would be otherwise. I'm sorry, that's just the way it works. Or the way it's supposed to work, anyway.

On Friday, Tori and I had talked about going into DC, but we were both so tired after all the traveling we had done the previous few days that we ended up just sleeping in, having lunch at the house, and watching the Simpsons DVDs and Three Kings on DVD. She had never seen Three Kings before, and I hadn't watched it in a while. I've always liked it, but recent events make its condemnation of our middle east policies resonate with even more urgency.

Friday night we just ordered a pizza for dinner and watched A Bug's Life. That's one of my favorite movies, but I was still feeling very tired and I think I fell asleep about halfway through. I don't even really remember going to bed.

Tori had to leave on Saturday morning, so I stuck around to say goodbye while Julie went to help do set up at Gift of Giving, an event sponsored by our church every Christmas. The event didn't start until around 1:00, but I joined Julie around 11:00 after seeing Tori off.

I don't do many charity activities (not as many as I should, anyway), but I have done Gift of Giving every year that we have been members of our current church. It's an event that lets kids from underprivileged families shop for Christmas gifts for their family members. Each kid gets a card with the names and ages of their brothers and sisters on it, and then they are allowed to choose from a selection of gifts for specific genders and age groups (they also get to buy presents for their moms and dads). After they pick out the presents, you help them wrap and decorate them, and then they get to watch a Christmas video and eat cookies and punch until their parents come to pick them up.

Julie had an office Christmas/birthday party that she had to go to on Saturday night, so I stayed home and worked on some writing projects that I hadn't gotten to work on while Tori was there. Sunday was pretty slow too, and I went to bed early so I could get up early Monday morning and resume my job search.

I swear, whenever I spend more than half an hour in a mall this time of year, I come out feeling sick. And I mean that literally—my head is swimming, I'm nauseous, I feel dizzy, and room temperature is about 15 degrees too hot for me. Maybe I'm allergic to avarice.

I'm going to be gone for the next week, visiting various groups of family members. I am going to put up the next week's worth of photos on the photo archives, and the daily photo will be the special picture I selected for Christmas day, taken at the holiday flotilla we went to over Thanksgiving. Enjoy, and have a happy holiday.

Unemployment does have a few advantages. On Wednesday morning, I went to see an early showing of the first Lord of the Rings movie, The Fellowship of the Ring, which I otherwise would not have been able to see until after the first of the year. It was the third and final holiday-season blockbuster that I was really looking forward to seeing (Monsters, Inc. and Harry Potter were the other two).

I'd have to say that this was the best movie of the three. Just like with Harry Potter, they had to update a lot of the dialogue and cut huge portions of the book to make the film a manageable size (although it was still a full three hours long), but I didn't miss the cuts as much as I did in Harry Potter. The casting and acting were excellent, and for the most part, the movie did a really good job of encapsulating hundreds of years of backstory into a few short segments that gave the uninitiated the essential information. I would like to see this one again as soon as possible, and I'm really looking forward to the next two installments, which have already been shot. Now that I know I'm going to like the general style of these movies, I'm wishing that the studio had decided to release the movies six months apart, as originally scheduled. Oh well. It gives me something to look forward to next year. And in the meantime, the DVD extras on Fellowship (which I'm guessing will be released on DVD by the summer) should be really good.

Well, I guess this will be my last entry of 2001. All in all, this has been a pretty crappy year: my mother spent the first half of the year battling cancer, our nation was changed forever by the actions of a few fanatics, and the company that I feel like I was born to work for went out of business and I found myself unemployed for the final three months of the year. On the upside, my mom's cancer treatments seemed to have stamped out the monster for now, and it's possible that maybe we can learn from what happened on 9.11 and prevent horrific tragedies like that in the future. And someone has to give me a job soon, right?


Anyway. I'm glad this year is over. The next one almost has to be better. Thank you to everyone who made the negatives a little easier to deal with—you know who you are.
december 2001
november 2001
october 2001
september 2001
august 2001
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january 2001

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