24 May 2009

A list of bad ideas

Having gone so long without blogging, I feel like I've lost the "right" to blog, as in "who does he think he is?" But I'm going to give it a shot anyway. Here's a list of items recently generated in my head that I will describe under the broad category of "bad ideas."

1. 3 year college degrees
I won't make the liberal arts speech, because it would go on too long. I will say this: proponents point to the British 3 year system, but they only mention Oxford and Cambridge, as if having Northeastern Baluga Regional College cut a year off their degree will make them like Oxbridge. Ask most folks who teach in the UK system broadly and they'll tell you that 3 years is too few and that a BA in the UK is a bit thin.

2. Golf Carts
In Wales I got to play golf at a club where there were no "buggies." I knew it would be hard to return to golf cart land (aka America) but I didn't realize how much worse it has gotten. Folks have NO IDEA how to play golf in a cart: they insist on driving directly to each ball, and no one ever gets out of the cart. It slows the game down terribly.

3. Watching your HD flat panel without feeding it an HD source
I would add to #3's account: it's not just the HDMI cable you need. You also need to be watching an HD channel; regular DVD's and all non-HD channels will look slightly to quite a bit worse on an HD panel than they do on an SD or ED panel.
Also, to #3: dude, don't you know that you are always supposed to call me when you are setting up a new a/v or home network system. I thought you knew the rule! :)

4. Option ARMs and Alt-A loans
We've been looking at houses for a while now. It's hard not to when the Obama administration has offered us such a juicy $8K bribe to buy a house in 2009. And it's true that there's a seasonal uptick in some markets, that the declines are slowing in some places, and that for cheaper properties, they are close the bottom in places like CA and AZ. But we aren't to the bottom yet. DC prices dropped by 8% last month alone. And anything except the cheapest houses have a long way to fall. Most importantly, we have not yet seen the worst of the foreclosure "crisis" and it's the flooding of the market with foreclosed properties that forces the real price correction. If you can buy now at rental prices, then it might be worth it if you also get the bribe, but the bottom in prices won't come before late 2010 at the earliest. So buyers now need to be prepared to stay in their house for at least 8 years, because it's likely that 4 or 5 years from now their house will be worth about what they paid for it, but probably slightly less.

5. Smoking Cigars while playing golf
I'm not commenting on the health considerations, except to say I'm not personally all that worried about secondhand smoke effects from the cigars. I do think it's a terrible, terrible idea for many reasons. But my main question is, why? What makes you think you need to smoke a cigar while you are playing golf. Is it a masculinity issue? You feel like more of a man? Because you should realize that you are playing golf, riding around in a golf cart, and wearing a sweater vest. Is it a class thing? You feel like you are elite? Because you should realize that you are on a public golf course, with your belly sticking out, and you don't even know the rules or etiquette of the game.

23 May 2009

get your kumbay-ya-yas out

Moving from the UK culture of dripping cynicism with a hint of self-loathing to the seemingly too-earnest, naievete of some elements of US culture sometimes hits you metaphorically over the head. Baseball, for instance. We got partial season tickets to the Orioles' games, and have been to several so far. They involve watching the game, yelling, eating fried food and drinking beer--the universal components of sport, no matter where you are. But they also involve:

(1) a group-sing during 7th inning stretch (also at national anthem but that feels like a duty, not a group sing)

(2) gleeful and intensive following of silly virtual shell-game in which (I am not kidding for those of you unfamiliar with the insanity of MD's obsession/self-identification with sea creatures) three animated crabs are sprinkled with Old Bay seasoning (MD's state spice and the sponsor for this particular interlude), they turn red, and after one secrets away a pearl (note: do not comment on the inconsistency for fear of being knocked on head with neighbor's fried food and/or beer. also, it could be a baseball. It's tough to tell.). The entire crowd then watches in focused attentiveness as the crabs move around, flip over, get chased away by some sort of bird, and then reconfigure themselves, pause, and reveal which crab has the pearl. excited, energetic, loud cheers emanate from the entire crowd--often louder than any at any other moment in the game--to exclaim how they indeed have successfully followed the pearl (I get it every time! The middle one! I picked the middle one!).

As a recently decamped near-British person, I can say that this is all a bit too, er, unselfconscious. Where's the cynic noting the crab-pearl inconsistency? Where's the commentary on corporate sponsorship of silly interludes while the TV audience is also watching the shilling of same corporate product? Where's the Freudian commentary on the abjected nature of the pearl, consumed, hidden, constantly watched by obsessed viewers, only to be revealed to the evident satisfaction of all? What about the historic connections to the sideshow and carnival, in which we are the rubes, rapt in attention to see if we can beat the shell game? What about the scathing commentary about the attention span of the masses and wouldn't it be nice if they'd pay as much attention to a novel or a newspaper or an opera?

At the end of the day, when all is said and done, I'm not going to lie to you, bod yn onest: it's kind of fun. Sitting in an unselfconscious crowd. Cheering along with them. Watching them watch. Deciding to go along with it. Following the silly pearl inside the silly crab. Finding out that you know what? cynicism? It takes a hell of a lot of energy. And at the end of the day, you're at a ball game. Get on with the big group sing. Get your kumbayayas out. Huzzah for uncalculated glee.

05 May 2009

Movie redux

We are caught up on our TV, after a spring of being behind by at least 3-4 episodes on all of our various addictions, to wit:

United States of Tara
Mad Men
Breaking Bad
Burn Notice
Ugly Betty
30 Rock
whatever I'm forgetting

We have thus begun renting movies, something that the AppleTV combined with the TiVo Amazon makes incredibly easy. Our feeling about movies is this: they are 2 hour (plus) commitments, they are singular entities, and thus if you dislike them, you've just wasted an evening, you have a bad taste in your mouth, and it's just not a Good Thing. We had a bad run of films 6 months or so ago, and so it seems that we are returning to the film genre with trepidation. We had mixed results.

To wit!

Rachel Getting Married: um, not for us. Perhaps the title would have warned us of this, what with the married bit, and what with our lack of love for the whole wedding process. But it has Rosemary DeWitt! We love her in Madmen and in Tara, right? And there were nominations for acting awards, and people were excited, so maybe it's not that thing. But it pretty much was that thing, in an artsy way: 2 hours of documentary-style filming of a wedding. With only ambient soundtrack, but of course the family is hooked into super-artsy musicy people, so they have a normal soundtrack to their lives of jazz musicians and string quartets anyway, which is utterly realistic. Problems with the film included the neo-liberal oh-so-wealthy yet hippie multiculti how many different musical dance styles can we pack into a wedding thing, the tragic narrative of drug addict/rehab/horrible family truth buried, the I love you I hate you sister/mother/father thing, and the filming that said in all caps: hey, look! here's great acting! here! look! great acting! So, no. Not for us.

Role Models: expectations not so high for this, although reviews were good, so we were up for some light entertainment. It delivers. Well-crafted, a modicum of stupid frat-boy jokes, but not too many, the deadpan Paul Rudd worked well, and the medieval battles were awesome. Typical comedic narrative, but does it well. Not trying too hard.

Zach and Miri Make a Porno: Also good, with Kevin Smith delivering again, better acting (or fewer bad actors) than some of his earlier efforts, and the development of the relationship between Seth Rogan and Elizabeth Banks was well crafted. 10-year high school reunion scene made us feel old. Probably because we are. Sigh. Didn't try to do more than it set out to do, and that was refreshing. Recommended.

State of Play (in the theater): Good remake of the excellent British series (that one starring our fave British actor, John Simm, and the woman with the best scottish accent known to man, Kelly Macdonald, along with Bill Nighy (can't go wrong) so we went in reminding ourselves that it couldn't be as awesome as that). Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren deliver. Why does Crowe have to be fat for the film? I don't understand that, except that perhaps they were going for "typical american" which means obese? Hm. Maybe he's just fat now. Seems odd. Rachel McAdams' eyes are a bit too doe-y, Affleck isn't quite believable as a Gulf War vet-now-representative. And he switches between Massachusetts accent at the beginning and a Pennsylvania and/or flat accent in the remaining 3/4ths of the film. Odd. The real star of the movie, though, are the locations. A love for DC's 1950s-70s architecture (I know, unbelievable, right?) shows through here: gorgeous shots of the Kennedy Center, Watergate Hotel, and then fun shots of hangouts like Ben's Chili Bowl. The movie is about the street-level work reporters do, and the locations underscore that. Well done.

Charlie Wilson's War: Why did this not get more press/acclaim/interest? Wonderful film, very interesting in relation to present day interests in Afghanistan without being heavy-handed about it, Tom Hanks is amazing. Aaron Sorkin screenplay (say no more). Rent it asap if you have not yet seen it. Provides insight into answers about why Washington can screw things up so badly, and also how politics works in general. Also: cool architecture in this one too.

We are back to watching Northern Exposure, catching up mid-4th season where we left off. Burn Notice new season starts early June--how I miss the voiceovers. And Dollhouse: getting very very good.