Friday, December 30, 2005

Someone else's line

From the mouths of babes... This is one of my favorite things I've read this week. It's from a blog I stop by once in a while.

"They walk around and are so happy and so cheerful and so giggly that you wonder if they ever experience sadness or even think deeply."

The thought appeals to me because I've wondered the same from time to time. I'm not sure why the way it's expressed appeals to me, but it does.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Life is only as short as you let it be...

"It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been give to us for the highest achievement if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death's final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it." - Lucius Annaeus Seneca (3 B.C.-65 A.D.)

Just a thought...but what have you done today?

My Christmas went something like this - ate sticky buns and opened presents with the nephews in the morning. They were sufficiently happy and energetic to make it a festive time even for my half-asleep self. Came home to do some more wrapping and then went to Mom and Dad's house for a second round of present gluttony and an afternoon Christmas dinner. It was nice. Came home again and thought about heading out for a drink, but stayed in and read started reading some Seneca.

Seneca was a Roman of no small influence. He's known for his plays and also for some of his other writings. Interestingly, his writing reveals quite a bit about Roman life at the time that is unchanged in ours. I also found it interesting that many of the ideas and ideals attributed to the rise of Christianity were already firmly in place at this time, perhaps showing that Christianity was more a result of already changing attitudes than the cause of them. But I digress...

The little ditty that I've been reading is called, "On the Shortness of Life." He argues rather well that in the shortness of life, only philosophers know how to live and spend their time wisely. It's not a lot different than similar Buddhist beliefs or early Christian writings that encourage introspection.

It's a bit chilling to grasp the similarities of Roman culture during this time and our own. It also lends some credence to the anti-evolution beliefs of many. He wrote 2,000 years ago, and it's obvious that most of society hasn't evolved at all since then. He wrote about corruption in the government, the vanity of aging men ridiculously thinking they could comb a few strands of hair over a bald spot and hide it, the competition to have a better house, throw a better party, or gain the most prestige. He talks of people wasting time learning useless trivia - something that struck me close to home - and working long hours in the employ of others while always talking of slowing down when they retire.

Seneca argues that we should take more time to not only question ourselves, but to take time to listen to our answers. Are we living our lives to the fullest or are we just chasing after the newest shiney thing or the loudest praise? It's often not until much of life is already wasted that we realize there are things we really wanted to do, but never did because we were too busy wasting our time with things that weren't fulfilling us.

So, that's it for today. No observations, no rants, no little illustrations...just a question to ask yourself. Are you making your life short, or long?

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Rain Man's Christmas countdown...

Ten minutes till Santa. Cause Santa comes in ten minutes...

Ten minutes till Santa.

Friday, December 23, 2005

For the rest of us...

Tonight, I shall head downtown for a some sipping of spirits. I will raise a toast to the rest of us on this fine Festivus.

For the artists, thinkers, and dreamers...I will drink double. Society may push you to edges and seek to make you conform, but just remember that there have always been the few that sought to draw on the cave walls and they are the ones that still fire our imaginations today.


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Where's the sense of obligation?

noblesse o·blige n. - Benevolent, honorable behavior considered to be the responsibility of persons of high birth or rank.

[French, nobility is an obligation : noblesse, nobility + oblige, third person sing. present tense of obliger, to obligate.]

What's wrong with people today? What's wrong with our society?

A couple of questions I both hear and ask a lot. It occurs to me that there are, of course, many answers to these questions, but two really stand out as the core reasons. First, the shrinking of the traditional middle class and second the increasing wealth of a large portion of the country. On the surface, it may sound like these are contradictory, but I don't think they really are.

The eroding of the middle class has been happening for quite some time. Over the last few decades, America has shifted from a manufacturing and producing nation to something different. With this shift, many of the jobs that supported small families in a comfortable, but not extravagant, way have disappeared.

This loss is most clearly seen in traditionally blue-collar areas.

Cities like Milwaukee have been manufacturing hubs since their formation. That's not the case anymore. There are still many manufacturing jobs to be had, but the number is considerably less than in past years. As more and more of these jobs go overseas, or just disappear, the tradition middle class will slowly fade away - at least in America.

The sense of community that builds up in these lower middle class areas has been an unmeasured victim of this trend. Less and less people are working shoulder to shoulder with their neighbors and communities have fewer and fewer common workplaces in which to build the relationships that were once common. Also, as jobs become scarce in an area, people are forced to move elsewhere to search for work.

Movement and job migration have become the death of tight-knit communities in recent decades. Not just in the lower middle class, but even more so in the upper middle class. It's not uncommon today to work at a job in one part of the country for two or three years, then move to another part of the country to take a different job. Roots to the community are becoming more and more shallow.

Then there's the second part of the equation. The increasing wealth of a large portion of society.

While it's easy to bemoan the loss of jobs and opportunities, the fact is that more people today are what in days past would have been considered wealthy. Sure, there is plenty of complaining about how tight money is and how hard it is to get by, but for a large portion of America, life is pretty good.

At the beginning of the last century, owning a car was a rare luxury. By the 40s, 50s, and 60s, most families had a car, but two was a bit of a luxury. Now, it's rare for a family that's not poor to have less than two vehicles.

Along with the cars, there are now many toys too. A house, a cabin up north, a couple of ATVs or a boat, maybe a motorcycle for hubby, a big screen television, nice stereo...the list goes on. Americans today are enjoying the trappings of wealth more than ever before.

These things were traditionally reserved for the wealthy members of society.

Being rich not only included having toys and diversions, but also the time to enjoy them. This is certainly the case for many people today and it's sometimes been called the culmination of the American dream. Most people in America harbor this dream - the wish to someday be wealthy, or at least well off.

Is that a bad thing? I don't think so. But there is something missing.

What's missing is a little thing that came as second nature to those ofprivilegee in days past - the concept of noblesse oblige. With wealth, there is an obligation to others. It comes from the days when the noble class enjoyed certain privileges, but was also bound to the people of their land.

We often talk about the ills of feudal society, or much later, of the exploitive robber barons getting rich on the sweat of others, but we seldom talk about the gifts they gave back to society. The museums, universities and hospitals of today are here because of the upper classes of yesterday. It's the concept of noblesse oblige that spurred these gifts.

What we have today is a sense of entitlement - a sense that we should have all the luxuries that were once the province of the wealthy and we should have them right now.

But it's a sense of entitlement without a sense of obligation. And without that sense of obligation, it's nothing but greed and gluttony.

We're becoming a society of greedy children, whining about how hard it is to get ahead and once we do get ahead, never looking back to see who we can help. We're only looking ahead, chasing the next shiny object and not caring who we trample or what we break to get it.

There's no nobility in that.

Friday, December 16, 2005

He's lied, he's he's spied on you...

No really...Bush is making this a better place. Is your laundry clean?

This is the breaking story that will be rocking the airwaves today and probably through the weekend... Bush authorized the NSA to spy on people in the U.S. and told them not to worry about those pesky warrants. This is the same guy who's been saying you can trust him not to abuse the ill-named Patriot Act. Why abuse that set of laws when you can just ignore them all?

Anyway, the New York Times story is here.

I'm just so excited to hear the spin. I'm sure it will be wildly creative.

BBC News
CBS News

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Further brilliance...

If you thought I was done harping on about the Retarded Woodpecker (aka the Insulation Guy), you were wrong.

In a moment that can only be described as transcendantly brilliant, I noticed today that the Insulation Guy weather stripped the storm door. Excellent you say? Why yes. Sealing up those pesky little gaps around the door would certainly help keep the cold air out and the warm air in...if the door stayed shut.

Yup, you guessed it - with the new weather stripping, the door doesn't close all the way and blows open a bit when the wind stirs it.

That's all I've got to say about that...

Hello Brothers and Sistos in Christos

This just in...

After closely studying several television interviews with Pat 'Hatemonger' Robertson, I was shocked...yea, discover that in his greetings to the hosts of the shows, he doesn't mention Haysus Christos at all.

It seems that he thinks it's okay to just say things like, "Hello", "How are you?", and "Glad to be here..."

Excuse me? Where's the nod to the late great JC?

If this doesn't call for a boycott, I don't know what does. I'm so tired of these media types just ignoring our lord and saviour in their greetings. They probably don't even give a nice, "Go with God" or "God be with you..." on the way out.

This is the kind of thing that is undermining our Christian values and we shouldn't put up with it any more. I encourage you to write your Congressmen immediately and call for legislation to be passed that requires everyone to mention Jesus in every greeting.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

I hated Woody too...

It was a good dream, but more importantly, it was wrapped in several hours of sleep. Nipping close on the heels of a three-hour sleep day, the sleep part was glorious - until the tapping seeped in.

Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap...

What? No, you've got to kidding me.

Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap...

Maybe if I ignore it?

Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap...

The dream breaks up and blows away like thick smoke. Where once was restful repose, only annoyance remains. And still the insistant sound goes on.

Tap, tap, knock, pound, knock, knock...

Pulling on some jeans, I trudge to the door. The Levis feel like they have 501 buttons to do up. I don't bother with a shirt. Secretly, I hope the early morning sight of a shirtless me will burn this little bastard's eyes.

Knock, knock, tap, tap, tap...

I pull open the door to see a brown Carhartt-wearing insulation guy standing there like a giant, retarded woodpecker. If an unfunny Dana Carvey showed up your door in the morning to blow insulation in the attic and seal gaps in the attic, he would look like this.

I don't bother with a smile, just pull the door open.

"Come on in..."

I turn and trudge back towards my bedroom.

"Oh...I didn't wake you up did I?"

What the... this is despite the five-minute talk yesterday about how I would have gotten back from working at about 4 a.m.? This guy is as dumb as he looks.

"Yes, you did..." I reply.

I've been trying to refrain from using profanity and throwing the guy's ladder out in the snow. So far, I've succeeded, but now I feel a cold draft on my back that seems to tell me that despite the fact it's about 20 degrees outside, the retarded Dana Carvey woodpecker has left the front door wide open.

See you in jail...

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Some things just aint right...

Here's a little silly Christmas cheer from me to you... Pretend it's a card and you just got it in the mail.

I'm guessing there's not a lot of kids sitting on this fella's lap. Oh well, he's having fun... Don't ask, don't tell.

I've been a busy little beaver, trying to learn Flash. All I can say is it's not that hard, but it's not very easy. Next up...adding some music to the loop. I told you the fun never stops here.


Friday, December 09, 2005

Holy Crap...

I was reading a post on Slade's blog referring to some religious whack jobs being bent about Bush's Xmas cards not saying Christmas on them. Whew doggie...what a bunch of nuts.

That's what I thought at first. Now, I'm beginning to think they might be on to something (instead of just being on something). Perhaps when I reveal the strange connections I discovered, you'll agree that the devil is behind this secularization of Christmas.

It became clear to me in a sudden revelation that Santa Claus is actually Beelzebub himself. There are far too many 'coincidences' for it to be otherwise.

Look at their names... SANTA = SATAN. Hmmm...hard to deny that one huh?

They both wear red suits.

They both have strangely deformed henchmen.

Coal and brimstone are mighty similar.

Satan doesn't love cute, fuzzy animals. Santa has a fur-lined coat and hat. It's probably baby seals...

Both try to woo us with shiney things and fancy gifts.

This Santa guy also doesn't seem to mind giving presents to godless heathens either. He gives presents to everybody. What kind of crap is that?

Baby Jesus enters our hearts through the front door. Santa sneaks in through the chimney.

And, let's not forget, Santa didn't join the coalition forces in Iraq. Surely, a few flying reindeer could have been spared for recon missions? Okay, maybe that doesn't make him the devil, but it proves he's probably French...

Hey, maybe I'm could just be the punch I drank at my Southren Baptist Evangelical Church of the Holier Than Thou Spirit. That stuff did seem a might strong.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Speaking of movies and hot actresses...

Okay, we weren't talking about hot actresses, but you had to know it was going to come back to that eventually, right? It happens all the time. 'Hey, I saw a had that one hot actress...' or 'Wow, we're low on milk, isn't she a totally hot actress?'

See what I mean? Almost unavoidable.

This one is actually tied to a movie. The other night I watched 'A Very Long Engagement.' It's French and it's very good. What made it work was the fine directing by Jean-Pierre Jeunet that included some interesting cuts and the acting of Audrey Tautou.

Tautou is best known for her character Amelie from the movie of the same name. It was also directed by Jeunet. That's where I first saw her. The best way to describe her in that role is fetching and adorable. I know, 'fetching' isn't your typical description of modern actresses, but believe me it fits perfectly.

She's been in several other movies including, 'He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not', 'Dirty Pretty Things', and 'L'Auberge Espagnole'...and she's great in all of them.

She does an excellent job in 'A Very Long Engagement' too. In it, she plays a young woman who refuses to believe her fiance was killed during WWI. The movie weaves a mystery together into an interesting love story that centers around a group of men condemned to death for injuring themselves to get sent home from the trenches.

This is the quick low down on Audrey. It comes from because I'm far too tired to write much myself...

Audrey Tautou was born on August 9th, 1978, in the tiny town of Beaumont. She grew up in nearby rural Montluason, where, as a teenage girl, she already aspired to be a comedian or artist of some sort. With a high school diploma in hand, she moved to the grand city of Paris. It was there that she attended acting school at the Cours Florent and got a BA in literature.

Shortly after graduation, she landed roles in films for the French television network TF1, as well as in two short feature films, a specialty of her homeland. One of those projects, called Casting: Archi-dÃgueulasse, was featured in the 1998 Cannes festival. The following year, Tautou won the Best Newcomer prize from Canal Plus, after appearing in a competition similar to Star Search.

She went on to land a role in 'Venus Beauty Academy' and her career really started building from there. She was already a well-known name in France when she earned the role of Amelie. That film went on became an international hit and earned her more than a handful of calls from Hollywood.

Tautou, to her credit, has preferred to stay in France and work there, perfecting her craft. She once said in an interview that she was more interested in good roles for less money than good money for lesser roles.

"I've had a few opportunities, but it takes a lot of guts to do something big in English. I also believe there has to be some kind of a correlation - a truth - between who I am and what I can play," she said in another interview.

She did do an English movie, in 2002, 'Dirty Pretty Things', where she played a Turkish immigrant trapped in the seedy world of undocumented workers. And she is starring in the upcoming 'Da Vinci Code', which is due out next summer.

Add the fact that she doesn't see herself as a beauty, and she really becomes quite hard to resist.

"I don't consider myself pretty. I consider Julia Roberts or Monica Bellucci or those kinds of women as beauties. But me, I'm cute," she told one interviewer.

And, anyone who knows me will tell you...I adore cute. So, that ought to explain why Audrey Tautou is high on my list.

If there is a benevolent intelligent designer - and the existance of Tautou seems to indicate there is - then she'll be making movies for a long, long time.

You have the right to remain silent...

No, this has nothing to do with arrests or incarceration. It's all about viewing pleasure...mine.

I decided a while back that my silent movie knowledge was sort of lacking. Now, I get to remedy that a bit. I bought a Chaplin DVD collection the other day and now I plan on watching some of it. It's multi-disk set of Chaplin shorts. Yup, I'm going to stare at Charlie's shorts for a while tonight.

This is all assuming I can stay awake. I've had a day full of an electrician climbing around, drilling stuff and making a mess. He's putting in some ventilation fans. Oh boy, the fun never ends. I had to be up at 7 this morning only to find he wouldn't be here till 8. He seems alright though and isn't too annoying.

His partner just showed up though and all I think is...doofus. He's already stepped on my surfboard and just seems to generally be in the way and awkward.

Will I be glad when they leave? Ummmm, yeah...

Monday, December 05, 2005

Happy Nicholaus Eve...don't let Ruprecht get you

Okay, one of my favorite German holiday traditions is the whole Nicholaus thing. He's definitely not Santa and he comes on St. Nicholaus Eve in much of Germany and Austria. That's tonight.

Nicholaus is a tall, skinny guy who dresses like a bishop. He's loosely based on a real person who actually lived in what is now Turkey. On St. Nicholaus Eve, Nicholaus goes around and leaves small treats for the children...and sometimes adults too. In most places, he leaves the treats in shoes left by the door.

He usually has a companion, Knecht Ruprecht, who's not as nice. Ruprecht is a short, dark, dwarflike guy who rattles chains and chases children. He used to be more of a boogeyman than he is today. He used to chase children with switches and whip them for being out... Parents still use him as a threat, even though he's been toned down quite a bit and in some places is just a friendly little helper.

So, in a few hours, little German kids will put their shoes outside the door and hope to awake to find nuts and candies in them tomorrow.

When I was there in Germany a few years ago, I was staying in a friend's apartment on Nicholaus Eve. We went to a holiday party at his athletic club (which is a whole 'nother thing and worthy of a post some time too...) where I learned the wonders of drinking Sekt (first from nice, fluted glasses and later from the bottle) and being a foreign guy in a room full of single girls. Ah ja, das war fantastich...but I digress.

Anyway, when we staggered home, many of the shoes in the hallway had been filled. It was kind of cool, because it was just little stuff. It wasn't about going on a spending spree, just making a nice effort.

Late at night, I heard footsteps outside. One of the neighbors went around and left stuff by the doors of places that didn't have anything.

In the morning, there was a knock on the door. The neighbor downstairs wanted to make sure that 'the American friend' got some fresh baked Stollen because 'it wouldn't be St. Nicholaus without some Stollen.'

Anyway, put your shoes out and lock the doors so Ruprecht doesn't get you...


Sunday, December 04, 2005

Is it okay?

First, some quick background to set the stage.

About a month ago, the Washington Post ran a story alleging that the U.S. has been transferring detainees to secret torture facilities in various parts of the world, including Afganistan, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. The story details that the transports are done by the CIA who uses privately contracted planes to make the transports.

It's also alleged that many of these flights planes have made use of airports across Europe to stop and refuel or perform maintainence.

About three weeks ago, several governments in Europe started to raise concerns that the U.S. had used facilities in their countries and may have skirted laws to cover what they were doing. Spain, in particular, has been very concerned. They began to investigate whether there was enough evidence to start official inquiries.

Also, around this time, reports have come out that allege that at least two Eastern European countries - Romania and Poland - have hosted "black sites" or CIA torture and interrogation facilities.

About two weeks ago, more countries had joined in the chorus calling for answers to the allegations. During all this time the U.S. government response was that they would look into responding in a timely manner.

Around this time the Spanish court officially began an investigation. There system is a bit different than ours, but what that means is the government of Spain has begun to investigate the allegations that Spanish airports were used to transport people to secret facilities in another country. It's the first step in criminal proceedings in Spain.

One week ago, the calls for a response had not yet been answered. Daily questions to the State Department spokesman Sean McCormack have been sidestepped with rhetoric and "well, I can't comment on something that could be an intelligence matter..." Meanwhile, the flipside of the responses has been that the U.S. will look into responding in a timely manner.

During this time, the questioning has gotten more pointed and is beginning to boil down to - So, you're unwilling to say whether there are torture facilities overseas or not? You are saying that taking a month to repond to these allegations is responding in a timely manner? Are you admitting, then, that the Administration believes torture is an acceptable action?

In the last week, the questioning has heated up at the State Department briefings where there are still journalists working and not PR writers, like many accuse the White House correspondents of being.

The EU has sent an official letter asking for information on the allegations. They can expect to get a response - yes, you guessed it - in a timely manner. Also, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of a man 'detained' by the U.S., sent to a torture facility in Afghanistan.

Tomorrow, Condee Rice will be in Germany and then other countries. She is going to be meeting with the new government in Germany and is likely to issue a statement there that will set the tone for the Administration's stand on the allegations.

The hints dropped by others in their recent statements seem to indicate that the stand will be that this is a different kind of war, we most all work in a concerted way to fight this war on terror and that extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. No further mention of torture facilities will be responded to. It's also expected that Rice will be telling the governments of several European countries to stop pushing the issue.

Anyway...this is all just a long-winded prologue to my questions.

Is it okay for the U.S. to torture prisoners?

Is it okay for the U.S. to detain people for long periods of time without any legal recourse?

And finally, if it is okay to use torture or detain people in prisons for years, what is the obligation of the U.S. if it turns out that any of these people had no "terrorist" connections at all?

Please don't sit on the sidelines on this one. What do you think?