Blogging, My life, Travel

Look, a post!


Okay, that was lame.

Hi. I’m back, at least today. Since last summer I have been working primarily at my agency’s Tampa office. The computers here are configured such that I can’t use my WordPress reader, posting is more difficult, and I’m not allowed to upload photos, so WP is a frustrating experience that I tend to avoid. At home I’m too busy working or being with my wife to post or read.

This has been a busy and expensive Christmas season. I bought our tickets for Colombia late in the season, which meant premium prices, and then Alicia had a medical emergency after she got there, so I hastened my trip to Medellín, which meant buying another ticket (I had been booked to join her in Panama). My insurance covers treatment outside the country, but it’s a tedious process and not all hospitals will do direct billing, so I paid for a lot of her tests and visits out-of-pocket and filed for reimbursement after we returned. We had planned a week in Panama, so I had to buy another ticket to get there, had to pay a penalty to reactivate my unused ticket for the rest of my travel, and then there was the cost of a rental car, hotel, meals, etc.

Since our return to the US, Alicia has had two more health crises necessitating trips to the ER. She’s doing fine now. The issues have been caused by low potassium and her thyroid, apparently. Our trip to Dallas had to be postponed, which meant more expense. We did eventually make it, for four lovely days, and fortunately she had no problems there.

It was wonderful to see my kids and my good friends in Texas. Two years was too long to be away. I was pleased that my friends were delighted with Alicia, as she was with them. She loved Dallas, too. It is a clean, orderly, and prosperous place, and the trees have no Spanish moss, as she pointed out.

We visited the neighborhoods where I used to live. I was glad to see that both my old houses are in good shape. My former next-door neighbor told me my last house has been extensively remodeled inside. I could see that the windows and roof had been replaced and a large concrete patio dug out from under the ivy in the back yard. The little house I lived in before has been painted outside and inside, and the carpet replaced with laminate flooring.

My wife notices clothing, jewelry, and housekeeping. I notice the condition of houses.

Now we’re back home and starting on 2015. My goal is to get the house finished inside in time for some friends’ visit in March. I have one bedroom and the staircase to paint and install flooring. Then outside I need to re-side the back wall, replace some screen and rotted wood around the lanai, and paint.

Alicia’s goal is to sell the house this year, at a good price. I’m going to let her handle that. She’s a wizard at sales.

I hope you all are fine. Maybe I’ll get around and look at your blogs one of these days. I have missed you.

Standard
Colombia, My life, Travel

One day…

I will post again.

Hang tight.

I’m in Colombia for Christmas and New Year. It has been a good time. Pictures and posts are forthcoming, one of these days. In the meantime, here is a beach picture from Panama, where we spent a week.

IMG_20141212_173213

Take care, and have a happy New Year.

Standard
My life

My current grumps

WordPress. It just killed my post when I tried to save a draft, and I had to start over. On this work computer, I can’t use my Reader. I can get to people’s pages from my Comments, but that limits who I can see. I’m months behind on reading people’s posts because I never have time at home.

Music in stores. Always too loud, usually annoying. I especially hate the kind with wailing. They obviously aren’t after my business.

Badly timed traffic lights. There are some in my neighborhood where it can take four light changes to cross the main road.

Republicans.

Democrats.

Online news in video format. It has ads, it’s slow, it starts whether I want it to or not. Just give me text articles with a few pictures. Or let me start the video when I’m ready for it.

Video ads on webpages. They slow everything down. I can’t install Adblock on my work computer, so I have to wait for ages for a video to cycle when I’m trying to go to a different page.

CheapoTravel.com bait-and-switch. I was buying Christmas travel tickets to Colombia and Panama the other night, but when I clicked on the advertised price, I got a notice that it was no longer available and the current price was $120 more. They did it to me twice.

Yard work. It looks great when it’s done, but in a week or two I’ll have to do it again.

Rearranging furniture. I need to get felt pads for all the furniture feet so my wife can just drag stuff around.

Ikea cultural imperialism. Shoving unsuitable European products down our throats. No one in Florida needs a duvet, folks. Most people can’t use 8-foot curtains, either. Are you listening? Hello? Hej? Goddag?

Getting old. I have to go to the dermatologist every few months to get more stuff cut or burned off. Now there’s some sort of lump by my knee, probably a lipoma.

Falling asleep at my desk. Just now I dreamed I punched a duck. It deserved it. It was wearing a suicide bomb vest.

Standard
Movie review

Grumpy movie review: Divergent

In the future dystopia of Divergent, the residents of Chicago are divided into five factions based on predominant personality traits: Abnegation, for the selfless; Amity, for the peaceful; Candor, for the honest; Dauntless, for the brave; and Erudite, for the intellectual. (Why not Dauntlessness and Erudition, to keep it all noun form?) The main character, Beatrice, grew up in an Abnegation household. Their group serves the needy and runs the government. Amity are farmers. Candor handles the courts and other legal matters. The Dauntless are the cops and soldiers of the city, and run around scaling buildings and metro bridges for fun. The Erudite are scientists and intellectuals. Those that don’t belong to any group are Factionless and live on the streets.

At sixteen, youths are tested to see which group is appropriate for them. They are told they can choose the group they prefer, regardless of test results, but this is clearly bogus because further group-specific testing weeds out those that use strategies not typical of that group, at least in Dauntless. Judging from the auditorium seating at the selection, the population is exactly divided between the five groups, which can be identified by their garb. Abnegation dresses in gray clothes and look like conservative Mennonites.

Obviously, Beatrice does not test tidily into just one category (she’s positive for three), or we would not have a title or a story. She is told that the Divergent are considered dangerous, especially by the Erudite, who are brilliant scientists but also include fascists that are trying to wrest control of the government from Abnegation. Beatrice opts for Dauntless because they’re cool and fearless and have the most fun (shades of Gryffindor, except that the group’s internal brutality is more like Slytherin).

Dauntless has two young trainers: one is a fascist ass, in charge of cadets from Dauntless families; the other, Cuatro, is an undercover Divergent, in charge of those from other backgrounds. Cuatro has a massive tattoo on his back that ought to give away his Divergent status to anyone with half a brain, but apparently no one has ever noticed, which is odd considering that there is just one large communal shower area in the Dauntless barracks. (The communal showers and the rows of unwalled toilets are fortunately not addressed again after our first glimpse of the accommodations.)

Divergents, according to the movie, are not susceptible to mind control as are ordinary folks. We see this in the tests in which Beatrice is supposed to face her deepest fears: she is able to say, “This isn’t real,” and emerge unscathed. We also see it when the Dauntless cadets are injected with a mind control drug and marched off to round up Abnegation so that Erudite can take over the government: Beatrice and Cuatro pretend to be affected as the others, but split off as soon as is feasible to rescue her parents and halt the slaughter.

Here are some of the stupid premises and contradictions presented in this movie:
♦ The average person is defined by a single primary motivation.
♦ The average person is easily controlled.
♦ Adults do not question the status quo.
♦ Even though Abnegation is the ruling group, there is no freedom of expression.
♦ There is no voice questioning the legitimacy of the system.
♦ The Factionless are useless bums even though many of them are also Divergent.
♦ Teenagers must save the world because adults are mindlessly conventional, helpless, or evil.

This kind of nonsense is typical of teens-save-the-world stories, unfortunately. At least in Harry Potter there were right-thinking, vocal, and powerful adults (Dumbledore and the Order of the Phoenix) involved in the struggle. Here, however, the only trustworthy adults (Beatrice’s parents) get killed. I do give them credit for heroism in their last hours.

When the assault is halted and the cadets wake up from the mind control and face the horror of what they have been doing, I would have liked to see Cuatro and Beatrice rally them in the name of sense to confront their brutal leaders who kill all nonconformists. Instead, the two catch a train and head for the open country beyond the city wall.

Likewise, although I haven’t read Hunger Games, I wonder why the kids don’t just get together at the beginning of the game and say, “Wait, this is stupid! We don’t need to kill each other. Let’s go after the producers instead.” But that would make for a short book.

Our own culture has dealt or is dealing with slavery, witch trials, Jim Crow, abortion, and euthanasia, to name a few human rights issues. There has never been consensus on these matters; there have always been vocal dissidents speaking out against what they perceive as injustice. So why do teen fiction writers present people as sheep?

The theme of government by humanitarians vs. government by engineers is interesting and makes me want to reread C.S. Lewis’s novel That Hideous Planet and his essay on The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment. Maybe I’ll write about that someday.

Standard
Music, My life, Spanish

La hamaca rayá – The Striped Hammock

Another installment in my never-ending quest to share delightful Latin music with the world. These lyrics sound pretty dumb in English (see below), but you get the idea. Probably the most similar American song is Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms, by Flatt & Scruggs.

Pastor López – La Hamaca Raya – The Striped Hammock

In the shack where I keep my baby
In the shack where I keep my baby
I have a hammock hanging. It’s not very big but it works
In it I sit, I’ve laughed, I’ve swung
In it I sit, I’ve laughed, I’ve swung
and I can tell you, it does work

When I come home at night, very tired
When I come home at night, very tired
my baby’s waiting, ready to swing the hammock for me
I lie down in it and turn to the sides
I lie down in it and turn to the sides
and I can tell you, it does work

I swing this way, I swing that way
I can’t quit using that striped hammock
I swing this way, I swing that way
I can’t quit using that striped hammock

En la chocita donde tengo a mi negrita
en la chocita donde tengo a mi negrita
tengo colgada una hamaca no es muy grande pero sirve
en ella me siento me he reido me he mecido
en ella me siento me he reido me he mecido
y puedo decirles que si sirve…

Cuando yo llego por la noche muy cansado
Cuando yo llego por la noche muy cansado
me espera mi negrita para guindarme la hamaca
en ella me acuesto y doy vuelta hacia los lados
en ella me acuesto y doy vuelta hacia los lados
y puedo decirle que si sirve

Me meso para allá, me meso para acá
la hamaca de rayitas yo no la puedo dejar
Me meso para allá, me meso para acá
la hamaca de rayitas yo no la puedo dejar (Bis)

Standard
Book review

Not-so-grumpy book review: Snuff, by Terry Pratchett

Snfuf
My wife and I finished reading the Spanish translation of this book last night. I was intrigued as to why the Spanish title was the same as in English, until I discovered that the Spanish word for snuff (used throughout the translation) is rapé. Can you imagine that in all caps on a book cover?

Snuff is a good story. Commander Vimes goes on vacation to his wife’s country estate, where he fights the local blacksmith, gets arrested for murder by 19-year-old Constable Feeney Upshot, investigates the bloody death of a goblin, uncovers a tobacco and drug smuggling ring involving the local magistrates, discovers that goblins have been kidnapped and shipped overseas for slave labor, and helps pilot a riverboat down a raging flooded river in pursuit of a psychopathic killer. His valet, Willikins, plays a key role in dealing with the psychopath. Sergeant Colon is transformed by touching a goblin-made container attached to a cigar. Corporal Nobby Nobbs finds love. Vimes’ wife, Lady Sybil, strikes a major blow for species equality by organizing a concert featuring a goblin harpist. Sam Vimes Junior begins a promising career as an animal poo specialist.

We had only two gripes with the book:

1) During a raid to arrest one of the villains, Vimes disappears into the cellar and returns with detailed knowledge about the perpetrator’s activities, the result of consulting with a spirit associated with the darkness of dwarf mines. This is cheap writing; it’s too easy, for one thing, and goes far beyond the type of assistance the spirit usually gives him.

2) There is far too much preaching. Besides Vimes’ constant internal musing, his lectures to the psychopath and to constable Feeney take up entire pages. Lord Vetinari and Willikins are also guilty of long-winded monologues. I get the feeling that Pratchett was very aware of his own mortality at the time he wrote the book, and was eager to leave a legacy of his convictions.

However, if any author deserves a modest amount of self-indulgence, it is Terry Pratchett.

Standard
My life, Racism

If you can’t make fun of Chinese, who can you make fun of?

IMG_20140531_184837

I was very surprised to see this sauce in the grocery store the other day. I’m amazed that it still carries that name. It took me back to my childhood in the 1960s, when racist humor was widespread and blatant.  Mr. Magoo’s buck-toothed and pigtailed assistant Charlie called him “Mistah Magloo!” and “Numbah one bloss man.” Confucius jokes were popular: “Confucius say man with one chopstick go hungry.”

We had several 45s* of Buddy Hackett comedy routines delivered in a broad “Chinese” accent, including Chinese Rock and Egg Roll, Chinese Waiter, and Chinese Laundry. My sister and I found them amusing and memorized every word.

When I’ve recited portions to my kids, they’ve been visibly uncomfortable, having grown up in an era much more sensitive to racism. “What’s funny about foreign accents, anyway?” my daughter  asked me.

What indeed? I had no answer.

 

 

*Vinyl records about the size of a CD with one three-minute recording on each side

 

 

Standard