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Archive for February, 2015

February 28th, 2015

Old Enough To Remember When TV Came Over The Airwaves

And perfectly willing to go back to it.

I finally got around to cancelling my DirectTV service today, after years of hemming and hawing about it. My viewing habits have declined a lot since I was younger, and surfing the Internet tubes takes up much more of my time nowadays. Paying to get a signal has been looking less and less attractive as the years have gone by. There’s a line in The Wall by Pink Floyd that goes Got thirteen channels of shit on the T.V. to choose from. Well I’m here to tell you there’s a lot more to choose from on the cable networks these days, and it’s still mostly crap. Sturgeon was an optimist. And don’t get me started on the satellite radio I have in the car, that I’m paying several hundred dollars a year for. I did a test recently where I wrote down all the times I randomly turned on the TV, usually to The Weather Channel (a friend of mine calls it MTV for old guys) but sometimes to something else, and instead of getting content I got a commercial. It was, I kind you not, about five to one. That is, for every six times I turned on the TV, five of those times the first thing I saw was a commercial. After a while you start wondering Why the hell am I paying 80+ bucks a month mostly just to watch commercials?

When I settled on the house back in 2001 I knew I wanted satellite TV because it was the only alternative to Comcast which was loathsome even then. Everything including HBO and Showtime amounted to about 80 bucks I think. Eventually it got costlier and when it hit over 100 bucks and I dropped the movie channels and that got it back down to 70. But of course it keeps creeping up and up and you can’t just pay for only the channels you want. Sorta like how the music industry pushed albums onto listeners so you’d have to buy a whole bunch of songs you could not have cared less about just to have the ones you liked. This month my DirectTV bill ratcheted up to $90 a month and that jogged me out of my inertia.

I don’t need it. I am so close to my local TV towers I can put a coat hanger on the TV and get a good signal…

tv-hill
Looking east from the street in front of my house

I still own an old Sony 32 inch CRT TV that’s so heavy it would take two people just to move it to the recycling drop off. I got a digital converter for it when they changed the broadcast signals over instead of getting a new HDTV flatscreen. That’s how much I care about TV. Oh…and I still have a VHS recorder, a Betamax and a Laser video disk player attached to it, along with the DVD player I play my collection of favorite old TV shows with. And I have a ton of stuff I can just pop into any of those players and enjoy whenever I want. But mostly these days I just sit in front of the computer and…well…write to my blog like I’m doing now for one thing.

At some point I might get a nice HDTV and a Blu Ray player so I can watch some of the new computer animated movies because you can’t really appreciate how amazingly good computer animation has become unless you see it in high rez. But I dropped a grand on refurbishing a 54 year old Leica M3 this month (I checked the serial number for the date of manufacture…it was made in July 1960) so that’s where my priorities are. 90 bucks a month to watch TV that’s mostly commercials anyway is just too much.

Just for effect, I’m going to try and find me some rabbit’s ears. It’ll be like old times!

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Old Enough To Remember When TV Came Over The Airwaves


Road Adventures…Somewhat More Expensive Than I Remember…

My first big cross-country road trip was the one I took in 1971 with mom in her 1968 Plymouth Valiant out to California, to see my dad’s side of the family for the first time since I was two. A few years later I took another road trip in my 1973 Pinto with some friends in their Dodge van, in which we wandered around the southwest for a bit and then I split off from them and went to visit my California family again. Back then most gasoline pumps could only handle prices of less than a dollar a gallon, which gives you an idea of how cheap it was, and everyone thought it would always be.

Taking a cross country road trip used to be a thing you did when you were still young enough to have summer vacation and a newly minted driver’s license in your wallet. It got you out of the familiar world you grew up in and gave you a first hand look at the rest of the country you’d mostly only ever seen in TV shows and you noticed that it was…different than what the TV said it was. Later you might discover that most of your favorite westerns were actually shot just outside of LA. The real west was different…way more expansive and beautiful. And mysterious. Timeless. Travel is broadening like that…I highly recommend it. And back then it was cheap. Because fuel and food was cheap and when you’re young you don’t mind driving for hours into the night and the next day, and sleeping in the car from time to time.

Whenever I get back on the road I feel that same rush of excitement I felt those first road trips. It never fails. But at age 61 I have to keep remembering that it’s not like it was back in the early 70s. For one thing, the Interstate Highway system is complete now. It wasn’t then. I remember parts of it between Arizona and the coast suddenly becoming two lane roads in the middle of nowhere. What are now the “business loops” through a lot of small towns were all you had before the highway around them was completed. I-40 dumped you right into the center of Barstow. Also, fuel isn’t less than 40 cents a gallon anymore and motels cost more than 20 bucks a night.

When I got home from my trip to California and back last December/January I added up my fuel chits and posted the result to my Facebook page. I was particularly interested because the sudden drop in fuel prices would mean my trip had to have cost me less. And it did, by a substantial amount. The total fuel cost was $511.06. Previously I’d spent around eight to nine hundred for fuel, but that was to feed gasoline burners. I own a diesel now and notice right away my fuel costs had dropped.

But there are other expenses to take into account on a road trip, particularly the motel bills which I knew would add a big piece of change to the overall cost. I just now got around to adding up the motel bills, and they amount to $565.86. So there’s about a thousand bucks just for fuel and a place to sleep. Still not so bad. But I’m in a place now where I can afford that too. Were I still the youngster I was back in the 70s my jaw would drop and I’d turn white as a sheet to see that bill. And that wasn’t all of it either.

I know from the credit card I put all my travel expenses on that the total for the entire thing came to around two grand, but a bunch of that was grocery shopping and eating at nice places when I finally got to California. My brother and I took turns picking up the tab so it wasn’t all on me, and I got to stay with him so that saved me renting a place out there. Plus I spent $240 bucks to give Spirit a lovely full detailing and hand wax job.

spirit after detailing

You take care of the car that gives you the open road. This was my second trip to California with Spirit and it is a pure pleasure to drive. I can drive it for hours at a time and not feel fatigued, and being a diesel it has an 800 mile range on a full tank. Best road trip car I’ve ever had, and I’ve not really ever had any bad ones. The Pinto got me further longer than I had any right to expect from economy class Detroit. But Spirit is bigger, nicer, surer footed, way more powerful, takes everything from the desert heat to the winter deep freeze in stride, and its massive amounts of torque (for a passenger car) gives it a magnificent indifference to the steepest of mountain highways, either going up or down. You have to experience engine braking on a ten mile plus downhill grade with a diesel to really appreciate it.

Anyway…as I was saying, vacations aren’t cheap but the surprising thing for me looking at my chits lately is not even road trip vacations are inexpensive anymore, which is surprising when you think about it. It’s obvious a stay at a nice beach vacation spot, or Disney World, is going to be costly. You don’t expect just bopping around the highways and staying at cheap motels every night is going to cost all that much. But it actually does. I have to remember when I start planning these things nowadays that it’s going to cost a lot more than it did back in 1974.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Road Adventures…Somewhat More Expensive Than I Remember…

February 13th, 2015

Christianity’s Identity Crisis: Older Than You Think

This came across my Facebook Stream this morning…

What Many Christians Can’t See About The Culture War

On any given day you can find endless social media chatter among Evangelical Christians debating “culture”, and the “culture wars”, and lots and lots of talk of us, “fighting the culture”. There’s recently been a great deal of similar discussion surrounding the promotional push for a new book by popular pastor David Platt, whose forthcomingCounter Culture, seeks to once again position Christianity (as represented by The Church) as the sole solution to our numerous societal ills. I’ve really enjoyed Platt’s past books, and have found inspiration and wisdom in them.

The premise of Platt’s latest is a fine one, and it echoes the ministry and message of so many of those sharing his overall theological perspective; that Jesus was always counter-cultural, and so the Christian Church is called to be that as well.

So many American evangelicals have existed for so long in a materialistic, affluent, largely white, male-dominated religious bubble, that they mistakenly believe they are by default, living out the radical, upside-down mission of Jesus…

It’s a good read, and for me especially when he writes this:

When Rome commandeered Christianity, it affixed to the faith something it was never meant to be marked by: Power.

I think this may actually be the first time I’ve ever seen anyone mark the beginning of the decline of Christianity as being when the Roman Emperor Constantine made it the official imperial religion (in exchange naturally, for helping him win a war). I’ve been thinking this for years now. But it was inevitable. What Ta-Nehisi Coates said a week or so ago about how “The interest in power is almost always accompanied by the need to sanctify that power” is obvious yet it keeps needing repeating. Christianity could never keep speaking truth to power without power eventually co opting it. Power is always attracted to power, for the sake of power. The more powerful Christianity’s message became among the common folk, the more attractive it would inevitably become to The Establishment of any age. So Constantine overthrew the old gods, and not so coincidentally rivals to the throne who followed them, and Christianity became the very thing its founder hated most of all, a religion of the establishment. The Pharisees put down their Torahs and picked up their Bibles, spoke in Latin to the masses, and served the new boss, same as the old boss…

The political sway, the financial storehouses, the abuses of power, the gender disparities, the gentrification, and the bullying dominance of the marginalized, which so often characterize the Church today; these all embody a huge part of the culture that Jesus was running counter to.

You can argue that the religion of Jesus of Nazareth never died, but is reborn in every person who takes his teachings to heart and walks his walk. Yes. Just so. But that is not the religion of the Establishment and the high priests of that Christianity take no prisoners. Ask them in South and Central America what happened when Christianity threatened to actually become the champion of the poor, the oppressed and the outcast. It had to happen. The surprising thing is to finally see with clarity how long ago it was that it happened. The risk in speaking truth to power isn’t you are led to the gallows, but to the throne. The king is anointed by God, and it’s good to be God.

megachurch

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Christianity’s Identity Crisis: Older Than You Think

February 9th, 2015

How About We Both Share The Road

The cyclists got a new law passed here that requires cars to stay at least three feet away from them while passing. It’s a good and necessary safety measure, but this morning I could see the coming spring downside already. In many city streets cars simply can’t pass a cyclist unless they go into the oncoming lane of traffic. And at least one cyclist I saw on the way to work this morning was taking full advantage of that fact to quite deliberately slow traffic to a crawl. Because I guess, cars are evil things and people who own them in the city deserve it.

I know the mindset, it’s why the Washington D.C. suburbs have a horribly inadequate highway infrastructure. If we don’t build the roads we won’t get the cars the thinking went. So they didn’t build the roads…but they kept on building the offices and shopping centers and condominiums and the cars came anyway. Lots of them. And now the joke is someone gets a flat tire in College Park and it backs up traffic in Tyson’s Corner.

I appreciate that continued reliance on fossil fuels is unsustainable. I appreciate that bicycles have to be a big part of the solution, along with walkability, especially in the urban and residential zones where speeds are low to begin with. Mass transit is not a magic pill. Unless we’re talking about putting Disney’s “people movers” everywhere in cities like he had planned for E.P.C.O.T., his prototype city of tomorrow, urban mass transit can’t even come close to solving the problem. But having cyclists and automobiles together on the same pavement is a recipe for accidents, not to mention road rage. They need to be kept physically separated and for all the same reasons as automobiles and pedestrians need to be kept apart. It’s the simple physics of it. But at least pedestrians in the city have sidewalks. Many city streets simply aren’t wide enough to support a dedicated bicycle lane. I see those “share the road” signs everywhere now, but someone peddling along at 7 miles per hour in a twenty-five mile per hour zone and nobody can get past isn’t sharing the road, they are appropriating it.

I don’t know the answer. But I know this because I’ve seen it over and over: Americans are never more obnoxious than when we get started on moral crusades. At least consider letting traffic go by if you’ve got a bunch of it backed up behind you and you can’t peddle any faster than 30 percent of the posted speed limit. You’re not making the drivers any more likely to reconsider owning a car by bottling them up behind you. Most of them probably live in the suburbs and can’t do without a car.  You are not making them any more likely to reconsider commuting from the suburbs either.  In the current economy you go wherever the job you were lucky enough to have is. You are not making them any more likely to consider relocating to the city. You want to do that, improve the fucking schools and crime rates. Trust me, I love my city life and I have tried often to talk my co-workers into it.  And always what I hear back is yes, But…schools…crime.

God how I would love for the cities to undergo a big fat urban renaissance.  It’s so lovely…you can walk to your job, and to the grocery store and nice restaurants and bars and if you decide to go out drinking it’s no problem for the highways because you just walk back home and everyone stays safe.  I have just about everything I need within walking distance of Casa del Garrett and I love it. I wouldn’t trade it for the suburban life I grew up in for anything. Every day I am out and about in my neighborhood I find myself thinking, This is the life! I But transforming American commuting habits isn’t going to happen overnight. It will take decades and in the meantime you have to let the cars use the city streets.

Understand this if you understand nothing else: You are not saving the planet by slowing traffic down. You are keeping those fossil fuel burning engines burning those ancient forests for longer periods of time where they are least efficient. Show your concern for planet earth get off your high horse if not your bicycle and let the damn traffic get by you from time to time.

Or not. I don’t care. I normally walk anyway (and get treated like shit by both drivers and cyclists from time to time) and even if I’m driving in to work, because of the weather or I have cargo I need to transport, it’s only a mile away from my house and if you got off the bike and walked in front of my car I would still get there at the speed of walking. But I’m an outlier in the traffic bottleneck behind you. Most of those commuters probably just got off I-83. You are making them furious, and furious people do stupid things and I don’t want to have to see it when it happens.

[Update…]

Yes, as a pedestrian most of the time in my neighborhood, I am well aware drivers can be complete assholes too. I was reminded of that fact just today as I was leaving work, when I saw a co-worker almost get run over by a driver who just blew through a crosswalk like it was a mere suggestion. The road in front of the Space Telescope Science Institute building where I work, San Martin Drive, is within the campus of Johns Hopkins University and there are signs all over the place telling drivers to be aware of the students. Students jog that road all the time…it’s a nice road that borders Wyman Park on the other side. It has several blind curves and you can hit someone if you’re not careful. And there are raised crosswalks periodically along the road to give pedestrians some safety and to slow traffic the f*ck down since it’s a 25mph speed limit there. They have these little signs posted in the middle of the crosswalk telling drivers pedestrians have the right of way and if one is in that crosswalk you have to stop.

This lady apparently thought that was optional. She almost hit my co-worker who was In The Crosswalk (I saw it happen) and if that wasn’t enough, rolled her window down and shouted at him to get off the road. Most drivers in my experience will stop for you, but there are assholes everywhere.

Some days I think instead of telling people to Share The Road what’s needed are signs saying Don’t Be A Dick

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on How About We Both Share The Road

February 6th, 2015

Outcasts On The Road Less Traveled…

This came across my Facebook stream today, forwarded by a gay friend. It had resonance for both of us…

Elgin Park from Animal on Vimeo.

The man, Michael Paul Smith, is the creator of dozens of magical photographs that seem to be images from another time long in the past. But they aren’t. He’s following in the method of the great special effects artists Howard and Theodore Lydecker, whose work stunned audiences all through the 30s through the 60s. While others also used scale models in their effects, the Lydeckers perfected a technique of forced perspective and filmed in natural sunlight. Smith is masterful at it, and his images have attracted fans all over the world.

It really resonated with me on one level, because the scenes of him working on his models brought the memories back. Modelmaking was a childhood hobby. Throughout most of my grade school years I had shelves in my room full of the models I’d made. Most were from plastic kids when I was younger, but also things I made from scratch. When I was 7 or 8 I watched my first episode of Gerry and Sylvia Andersen’s Supercar when mom took me on a Florida vacation and I was immediately hooked. But no Supercar toy was to be found in the stores so I began making my own from paper and cardboard. After the show was syndicated back home my model became a hit with the other neighborhood kids and I found myself making them for everybody.

Later in my life all the things I’d figured out how to do with models, plus the things I’d learned teaching myself how to paint in oils, led me to a job as an architectural model maker. So the scenes of Smith working…all the tools and tricks you could see him employing…it brought the memories back. But its how he came to be doing it that resonated deeply with me.

In the video he says..

“I was bullied in school, and I was bullied because I was different. (wheew…) I think I’m still…dealing with that, still struggling with what that means and all that. I don’t think about it a lot but it does bubble up.”

I know that feeling. More than I care to. And this one…

“I come into this reality at a slightly different angle”

I found myself thinking as I watched this, Oh gosh that guy is so much me. His experience with being gay and being different…not just different because you’re gay but different on top of that because you come into this reality at a slightly different angle…and the bullying that comes with it. I knew that too. How recognition when you finally get it after going through all that makes you very uncomfortable. It brought the memories back, and all the feelings that come with those memories.

I still have my modelmaking tools but it’s been ages since I’ve used them. I moved on to a different thing. I had to because the modelmaking jobs suddenly dried up when the savings and loan scandal in the 1980s killed off many of the firms I made models for, and I was back to job hunting again. And that’s the other thing about this video that I really related to. He talks about all the jobs he had before, and how his resume looks like “what’s available in the job force.” I could say the same. He goes through and lists all his jobs and and then he says…

“Everything you do you will learn from it and you’ll use it later on in life.”

Yes…so much Yes. Time was I really hated how I kept having to go from one job to another, often when my employer found out he had Teh Gay working for him. Looking back now I have to realize that haphazard pinball ricocheting here and there path through the work force gave me a lot of intellectual tools I can still call on whenever I need them. Sometimes I catch myself doing something…maybe it’s at home maybe it’s in some other context…and I remember where I first picked up that odd bit of knowledge I was using just then and it takes me back for a moment and I find myself thinking…yeah, I guess it was worth it after all. Time was I’d have given anything to have had the comfortable life others did. Now I count my blessings.

The weirdo, the outcast, if they survive the wilderness end up having seen so many things others haven’t, and knowing how to navigate through strange territory others can’t. Because they had no choice. And sometimes because of that they end up doing pretty well. Sometimes.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Outcasts On The Road Less Traveled…

February 2nd, 2015

Why I Hate The NRA…Part The Upteenth…

This came across my Facebook stream just now…

morons at target practice

More Here.  This is incredibly idiotic. As a gun owner I cannot fathom…I am actually at a loss for words…as to how anyone who has ever shot a gun cannot grasp the level of danger here.

In my younger years, a friend of mine and I would go to another friend’s house to shoot our guns in their backyard. But they lived in the sticks, far away from anything and we could do that safely. There was a county law prohibiting shooting within a certain designated distance from any home or structure. And they had lots of property surrounding their home. Enough that we could just walk far enough away from the back of the house to be legal, and still be on their property.  At the edge of the cleared area was a fence and over that a forest that went on for miles. My friend and his often went hunting back there. I knew it as a place where we could blast away to our hearts content and not bother anyone.

I remember quite well as we fired at various targets propped up on a board in the backyard…cans, bottles, plastic jugs…the sound of our bullets ricocheting off trees in the woods behind the fence. I’d be there with one of my .45s and I’d touch off a round and if I missed we’d listen for the sound of the slug bouncing around in the forest off one tree and then another and then another…bip…bip…bipbipbipbip… It was a warning: just because you’re aiming at something that doesn’t mean that’s where your bullet is going to stop. It can take a bounce and then it might go anywhere. This is why the law was you couldn’t be shooting anywhere near another structure and never mind which direction you’re pointing.

I remember once we were shooting at a stack of empty soda cans we’d propped up on a large piece of scrap metal. One of the folks living there was a welder and we found something in the yard we thought we could use to raise the height of our targets. I was shooting my single action .45 with rounds I’d hand loaded with soft lead bullets. I took a shot and missed and immediately felt something brush up against my right leg, looked down and saw several shards of lead embedded in my blue jeans. The bullet had hit the piece of scrap metal and fragmented and some of the fragments had bounced back at me with enough force they almost penetrated my pants leg. Occasionally the lessons you learn are non-fatal. We never propped our cans on anything bullets couldn’t easily punch through at that distance after that.

That target shooting so close to other people’s homes (look at that photo again) is much too dangerous is something anyone who has ever shot a gun in their lives should know. But of course this isn’t about guns, let alone public safety, it’s about culture war…

So Florida law is cool with this. The cops are not cool with this, but tell me there’s nothing they can do. The city attorney says he can do nothing. The NRA threatens any town that dares try to pass an ordinance against this. And best yet, crazy governor Scott made certain in 2011 that any public official trying to pass a local ordinance or otherwise prevent this would be removed, fined $5,000 and barred from using public resources to defend him/herself.

They’ve degenerated down to outright idolatry now. Guns have become the new crucifixes of the right, the fetish you keep close to protect you from evil spirits and wave at the heathens to keep their demons away. And their sins are so many it isn’t enough that Jesus died for them. Their neighbors have to die too.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Why I Hate The NRA…Part The Upteenth…

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