A Year Late: Avatar

I watch movies about a year after they come out.  Finally, I watched Avatar.  Yes, it was not 3-D just on my HD tv.  They said this was different from other action movies.  That it had meaning, there was a message for the downtrodden.  Frankly, it was the same tired message.  Only an American can save the others.  You see, Americans are bad and they try to kill the others, but an American, and only an American, will save them.

The others are always helpless and dim.  The Americans, who ruined their world, will send a guy, who takes on their form, but with American gusto, and this American hybrid of the other will save them.  Women, of the others, will of course fall for the sexual prowess and charm of the American, and look down on their men.  The alpha male of the others, usually pales to the machismo of the super American male sex machine.  Gee, do you think American males have a super sized ego?

It’s this conflicted notion Americans have, we want to be the boss of the world, but don’t hate us, cause we are really nice, sexy and at heart, we are like you.  American exceptionalism has a caveat, that we don’t dare talk about: “We will kick your butt, own you, but you must like us”.

Avatar, is just another fantasy of a limp Hollywood era.  An era that can only produce massive war scenes, with that American super hero smirk and high-five.  The obligatory revenge scene, killing the bad guy, over and over and over again.  The imagery is that of the mechanistic dinosaur with a smattering of a feminine jelly fish to make us see a softer universe.

Fantasy is fine, when limited to say the age of fourteen, but when the culture dives into the phantasmic imagery that is numbing and limits human interaction to a primitive good vs. bad narrative, we end up with a society where most people cannot discern complexity, cannot abide by complexity and it’s ambivalence.  Human society and interaction is complex, yet our popular culture, our stories, our common threads, reduce it to a clear cut good vs. bad scenario.  In the end, we are only practiced at such childish understanding of the world.

Of course, we throw in some women in the mix.  We don’t want the little girls to be left out of this simplistic world view.  They can shoot guns, kill, and fight, why not.

It is basically unbearable to watch a Hollywood movies these days.  It’s predictable, simplistic and audience focused to oblivion.  Somewhere along the way, even James Bond became a mechanical fighting machine capable of super stunt powers.  We used to malign television, yet television now is the only place where we can find some complexity in our popular culture.

Imagine a movie about real occupations, say in Afghanistan, Iraq or Palestine.  No, wait, the good bad guy duality is not that simplistic.  Hollywood would have to challenge the audience and the audience would have to get out of the infantilism of the phantasmic.  So, don’t you all worry your pretty heads, complexity is overrated.


Who are you calling anonymous?

Fernando Pessoa, a Portuguese poet, drawed.

Image via Wikipedia

Nom de Blog,  is Nom de Plume , pen name, or pseudonym, updated.

A Nom de Blog is not anonymous.   Pseudonyms are not an internet invention, I do realize that we think we invented everything in the last ten years, but it’s simply not true.

Anonymous: has no name.  Anonymous has no identity.  Blaming anonymous for the ills of the internet, is a whole other issue.  Anonymous on the internet is a matter for a long discussion.  A blogger with a nom de blog is not anonymous.  A blogger with a body of work that spans a number of years using a pseudonym is less anonymous at times than a real name with undisclosed motives.  Not all bloggers want to migrate to the print medium, or to be professional writers.

Is the blogger’s voice authentic?   Or is this a voice that is constructed for various reasons, artistic or professional?  Is the voice simply you?   Small blogging communities give the delusion that you have encountered a group of “yous”.   A group of people expressing their voice in a communal fashion is the delusion.  In truth, there are many styles and motives for blogging and they each serve the blogger.

One of my favorite poets,  Fernando Pessoa , created heteronyms. Heteronyms are  entire different poets that he created, with unique histories and styles.   Pessoa puts the kabash to the notion of  a one true inner self.   This self, is always evolving, changing and challenging us.  The day you find that one complete being in you, is the day you are dead.  You are done.  Completed.  Finished.  It is rather a scary notion to imagine that we each have one complete person and we have to spend our life looking for that person.

Part of blogging, is the ability to put out the ever evolving you.  To have portions of the ever changing you as a public record.  Other than the published authors, we really never had a chance of putting thoughts in a semi fixed state as a record of our thinking.

Writers, use the tradition of writing as an artistic expression, they hone their craft and will get paid.   Publishers, commodified the writers product into a book, article, play, screen play , just some of the examples.    This product usually has a value and is protected by the rules of intangible property, copy rights.  So, basically in or about the nineteenth century, the rules of intangible property, music, words etc, were codified.  Yet, many of us act as if it these rules were always with us.

Of course we want to see artists get compensated for their work.  Of course we want them to make their living from their creative expression get a just compensation.  Yes writers get paid.  The fact that they get paid, does not give them some inherent virtue.  Neither does the fact that most people  “write” devalue the craft of writing.

A blogger like me,  is just the expression of my thoughts and ideas using writing.  My voice, with a nom de blog.   A nom de blog comes with character and personality.  Values and a voice.  It is not set of bits and bytes flowing with no direction in the ether.   There are no simple binaries, bloggers, or writers.  Actually, it is mass confusion just because “writing” is involved, that there is somehow some conspiracy to abscond with the writers craft and trade.  Writing is the tool, how you use it and what you do with it is not limited to one set of people.

Sorry, the surgeon analogy does not work.  No, we all cannot be surgeons and we should not be allowed to use the surgeons tools, but language and the use of language is a basic human quality that you cannot limit to a profession.

There is something about the printed word that seems permanent, fixed and finished.  Whereas the digital words of blogging, have an ephemeral quality.  They may be read in the future, they may even be never read by another human when they are written, the blog is just available to the click.   The luck of the click.  It’s like singing in the wind.  You take a risk.  A writers needs to capture and protect her words, a blogger is willing to express, project and live with the contradictions.

A book involves an industry.  People who figure out if there is a market for what you write.  People who invest in you.  People who trade in you and a whole set of rules that govern the use and ownership of these words.

Of course, there are mechanical aspects to writing and language, but we must realize that these mechanics come with a trunk full of norms that have served and have oppressed  human expression.

Accept that the medium is ever evolving and forcing the practices of the printed medium is a disservice. Writers will write.  Bloggers will blog.  Some writers we will like, same goes with bloggers.  Some want to make their living blogging, or writing, many will not.  Neither choice has an inherent higher value.


By Fernando Pessoa

The poet is an inventor.
He invents so completely
That he succeeds in inventing
That the pain he really feels is pain.

And those who read what he writes
Really feel in the pain they have read,
Not the two which he felt,
But only the one they do not have.

And thus in the wheel ruts
There goes round and round, diverting Reason
That clockwork toy train
Which is called heart.

—F.E.G. Quintanilha (translation)



Election Day: When things look bad for your side.

Wake up and make yourself a great cup of coffee.  Don’t read any stories on the election.  Don’t turn on the radio.  If you voted, fine you are done.  If you volunteered to get the vote out, good for you and get going.  If you voted absentee, if you did not mail it days ago, you have to hand deliver, it’s not postmarked by November 2 like taxes, it has to be delivered by poll closing time to the Registrar.

Superstition and Glimmers of Hope

Now, start with interpreting omens:  The Giants won the World Series, a rag-tag band of misfits.  You can take that two ways, that all the pundits were wrong, or that the rag-tag Tea Partiers will win.  No, I will take they beat the George Bush team and all the “baseball experts were wrong”.  So, I keep some glimmer of hope.

The Giants win also means good times for California, so I think that Fiorina, Whitman, Maldonado and all other Republicans will lose.

Passive diversion:

Start watching HGTV, Bridezillas and Real Housewife episodes back to back.  Or, if you are more cultured watch Golden Girls and Andy Griffith episodes all day and past the time of the election results.  For the really, really cultured ones, start watching the Wire, or some other elitist series you were meaning to watch.  This technique works really well, it’s mind numbing, you lose connection with the space-time continuum and you actually did not hurt yourself or anyone else.

If you are a high achieving, super-duper organized person, I recommend this tactic.  It will feel like a vacation.

Active Diversion:

Take on at least one thing you meant to do all year:  clean the shower grout and the cracks in the garage; prepare your garden for winter; get started on the taxes; organize all your print pictures; organize your digital pictures;  clean your closet, wash and iron all your bed linens; copy all the addresses and phone numbers to your computer; send thank you notes to people who gave you gifts; go to Amazon and review all the books you read or at the Application store, review the apps you bought; take out you winter clothes and freshen them.

Rules: It has to be something that does not involve shopping and that will make you feel good when it’s done.  So each time you think that the Corporatist Supremacists took over the country, you can say, but heck, I finally did that thing.  I tell you, it takes the edge away.    Just as you start clenching your jaw and your fists, the fact that you ticked off one thing from the list that is never done, will save the day.

I recommend this for slackers, you will feel so good, that it will make you walk on air.  You will have achieved two things, gone counter to your tendencies and actually, done something that even your super achieving friends have not even done.

Tomorrow, this all means war!

Halloween: A Table with all the Irrational Nonsense

Before you go around scaring yourself and your children, here is a great chart of all the “The Periodic Table Of Irrational Nonsense”.  To get the full interactive experience, go to the link, get a cup of coffee and prepare to snort coffee on your computer screen:

From Science Reason and Critical Thinking Blogspot

What is great about this chart, it gathers together all the “woo, woo” elements of the world and organizes them by blocks and easy to understand categories.  Each “element” has a symbol, a woo number and a name.  There are four blocks: Fruit Loop Block, Credulous block, delusion block and quack block.  Quack block is divided into “Traditional bollocks and New Age Bollocks”.

For example :  Rg is past life regression, “planting false memories into people’s brains for a bit of a laugh”

Not since National Lampoon‘s map of the world, have I had so much fun.  You may remember, Fjord Mustang, in Hawaii Komon-i-wanna-lay you, just some examples.  If Google Earth could only put that up again in an interactive form, I would be satisfied.

It’s often times ok to deride organized religion and give all the spiritual,  modern day quackery and anything from Asia a pass, I say, have a laugh on all of them particularly now that it’s Halloween time.

Rethink Holiday Giving: Local and Charitable

The holidays are coming and the  mega merchants are eagerly looking forward to the season.  Holiday shopping is about 60% of the annual retail income.  But, face it, most of the stuff they sell, is made somewhere else and most of us don’t need more t-shirts, widgets, or candles.  I will take Steve Jobs advice and think different about gift giving. Take your money and make an impact on your local community and economy.

I have been doing this for the past fifteen years and frankly, it takes away the stress and I feel better. I hate forced holiday giving, I prefer to give to people when the whim, or desire arises.   These are the elements:

  • Local products and services : if you are going to buy something, find someone who makes it locally.  Find a local service that someone would enjoy and get a gift certificate.  Farmers markets and other local  fairs have great selections of local products.  Heck, get someone a gift certificate to clean their gutters, prune their trees, clean their air filters, eat at a local (not chain) restaurant.
  • Basic needs: If you have younger people in your family, they don’t need more stuff, give them a card for groceries, oil change, pay for a dental check-up, an annual medical exam.  Sure it’s boring, sure it’s not fun, but it goes a long way.  And they can use some of their money for the fun stuff they choose.
  • Give to charities, use this holiday to establish a giving pattern.  Charitable giving has gone down 17%.  Who gets hurt?  Local food banks, free clinics, programs for children, the elderly, rehab programs, shelters.  A lot of people have used up their unemployment and other benefits.  Food stamps and “welfare” benefits have gone down in most states.   Your gifts can really have an impact.

How to choose local charities there are so many?  I like to support local groups that serve basic needs in the community, the areas that faced recent cutbacks in the State and local budgets.

  1. Find a local charity that provides basic safety net services and arrange a visit.  Ask them questions about their work.  Where they get their money.  Look at their annual report.  Work there for a day.  Get comfortable with their work.  Then arrange for holiday gifts to go to them in your name, or give to people in your family to the charity.
  2. If you were going to spend $500 for gifts, give it as a gift to the charity and direct your loved ones to give to them instead of giving you gifts.
  3. Why local?  Cause you can be part of the organization that serves your community.  You can volunteer, you can participate in their advocacy, you can be there when they have events.  Bring other people, help the organization grow.
  4. Local groups that serve basic needs: food, health, shelter, childcare, rehabilitation services and animal shelters, they are all hurting right now.  ( as people lose their homes, they abandon pets)
  • On Thanksgiving, when you have your whole family together, make a plan.  Do a family charity plan.   Bring to the family the name of the group that you checked out.  Tell everyone to put the money they would spend in the family charity budget.  Get together and make the gift to the organization as a group. Maybe family members have other groups.  Combine your resources, you make a greater impact.
  • You may want to have one caveat, children under 10 can get toys.
  • For the fun part, do a white elephant gift exchange, or use a new gift.  Everyone brings one item, you draw numbers and then you get to fight over each others discards.  It lasts longer and it is more memorable.  I assure you, the kids will want to be part of that rather than getting toys.

Put your money and politics to work for your local community.

Serving Food

The guests are, seniors, vets, disabled, homeless, working poor, addicts . In the dining room there is a system of serving meals to our guests.  Sixty years of serving meals, 365 days a year, you must have a system, an efficient system.

As I was placing the tray in front of a woman on a wheelchair, she squealed:
” Ouch, ouch, you stepped on my foot, ” I melted into a puddle of apologies, looked at her in shame and she was smiling.

” Look down,”she told me.

I looked down, she had no legs.

It did not feel like I was stepping on a foot, but yet I was ready to be guilty.
We laughed together.  She smiled at me and thanked me.

I walked back in the flow of serving, thinking about the purpose of the meals.

The system serves a purpose, but people are serving people each day of the year.  A sweet reminder from the one who started this, sixty years ago, one human serving a meal to another.

A Warm San Francisco Night

Our Northern California climate is devoid of extremes.  We live in a bandwidth of temperatures, in the winter, typically the 40’s to high 50’s.  In the summer, from the 50’s to the mid 70’s, this is the pattern for the coastal areas.  From time to time, we do get an extreme.  If it’s cold, we somehow manage, but heat seems to disorient us.  It makes us panic.

When we do have  heat it is a dry heat, none of that humidity that follows you under the trees, into your bed and under your clothes.  If you get hot, sit still and find a shady spot, you will not suffer.  Unlike the other parts of America, where the air seems to have a form, an oppressive form.   Just sit for a few days, settle in.  Turn on a fan, cause you probably don’t have air conditioning, and don’t think too much.

We imagine warm nights of sitting outside in our gardens.  Such nights can be counted on one hand, maybe about fifteen a night.  But when they happen, we are ecstatic.  Tiresome, but ecstatic.  We always apologize to our guests about the cold summers.  We apologize about the fog and the wind.

Yesterday we tied the record, here in Santa Rosa it was 106.  People think that we escape the fog, but we don’t, we are in the swath of the cool fog belt from the Pacific.  We do get warmer days, but our nights are cool.   I admire my friends who live in extreme climates.  How they manage to go on, how they manage to be productive.  We are just not equipped.

But, I still want to know why the Animals wrote this song: “On A Warm San Francisco Night”, did they actually experience more than one?  Did they experience that one and felt compelled to write about it?

I complained this whole summer because we had no heat.  My husband, a German, keeps reminding me, we live in climate with no rain from early June till late September.  You can plan outings– sure you have to take layers– but you know it will not rain.

After four decades in this climate, one day I will learn to truly love it for what it is, like my newly transplanted husband.  Remember, one set of clothes, year round.  What do we complain about.

Old joke, why is San Francisco cool, cause San José sucks.  ( Ok, it’s the valleys that suck the hot air and they pull the cool Pacific air into the coastal areas).  So bring your layers and come to visit.  I assure you, we will be apologizing cause you were promised California.