Thursday, November 13, 2008

New York, New York

I've lived in Los Angeles for thirty years, but in my heart, New York will always be my home. Here's one reason why...

Friday, October 31, 2008

Holy S**t!!!

They say any landing you walk away from is a good landing...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

One More Republican Who Proves Me Wrong

Long ago, in a galaxy far far away, I used to think Elizabeth Dole was one of the few Republicans who'd managed to show a little spine and grace under pressure. I used to think she actually had some class. Making her one more Republican who's proven me wrong...

Friday, October 24, 2008

Almost Settled In

Well, we've completed the move to our new house -- and escrow has closed on our old house -- which means, in our obsessive-compulsive way, we're almost settled in. We've had new hardwood floors put in upstairs; we've had new built-ins built-in downstairs; we had our painter paint the built-ins and the home theater installer install our home theater; we're having our painter paint our guest room and our daughter's room; we've had our paintings and posters hung; I've unpacked my office, set up our computers, networked our TiVos, powerline-wired our house, wired our wireless router; hired a gardener, a fountain guy (don't ask), and contracted with the alarm service; picked up dry cleaning at our old dry cleaners and committed myself to finding a new dry cleaner in our new neighborhood; picked up mail at our old mailbox place and committed myself to finding a new mailbox place; found out that a tree in our back yard has a root fungus and probably will have to be cut down; found out that the tree on the curb outside our house needs to be trimmed before another limb comes crashing down, but the city owns the tree and won't come out to trim it, which means we'll have to trim it ourselves on our dime but we can't let them know about it because it's their tree; found a great new pizza place (new to us anyway) down the block from our new house; and it's only been five days since we moved in.

Wonder what next week will be like...

Till then, something to make us all realize that minor disasters can be pretty funny, as long as they happen to someone else:


http://view.break.com/593274 - Watch more free videos

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Thursday, October 16, 2008

It's 1932, Do You Know Who Your Candidate Is?

Last night, while Barrack Obama was handily trouncing John McCain in the (thankfully) last debate of this interminable election season, a friend of mine forwarded me a semi-anonymous email touting Obama's supposed connections to terrorists, and his purported "lying" about McCain's record, and so on, and so forth. Apparently there are a lot of these emails floating around, providing folks who won't support Obama because he's black with a feel-good-about-yourself alternative reason to pull the lever for the other (white) guy.

Be that as it may, my friend will probably end up voting for McCain, because he gets most of his news from right-wing talk radio, and because, over the years, he's accepted most of the Republican arguments without really looking at the difference between what they say and what they do.

After all, the party that ran on the promise of proposing an anti-abortion constitutional amendment had control of Congress and the White House for almost eight years, and somehow never managed to put that amendment on the front burner. The party that touts its fiscal responsibility has left our children with a crushing ten trillion dollar debt. The party that promotes its handling of military and foreign affairs sent our sons and daughters and brothers and sisters to die in Iraq without a clear plan to achieve "peace," or without a good reason for invading in the first place, and has made our country the enemy of human rights, and has destroyed our moral standing in the world. But none of that matters, because it's not what they do that's decisive, for the people who blindly support them, it's what they say. And it's what they say about the other guy that wins them elections -- because they're not afraid to use the Nazi "Big Lie" technique, having learned that people will believe anything if it fits with their prejudices.

Here's my response to the email my friend sent me:

Sadly, this is typical behavior for a party that's proven itself incapable of governing, bankrupt of ideas, and unwilling to face the consequences of thirty years of lying to the American people. They're reduced to making faces at their opponent, of exaggerating inconsequential issues, and in the process, they're attempting to confuse the voters into making yet another bad choice. As if on his worst day, doing the worst thing he's been accused of (and only accused of -- these anonymous emails are despicable, full of lies and innuendos that would make Joe McCarthy proud), Barrack Obama could be any more of a threat to our country than another four years of Republican misrule.

Really, aren't you tired of being played for a fool by people who hold you in contempt?

The Republicans are *not* on your side. They don't care one bit about you, about your family, about what you believe, or what you need. If they had their way, you and your family will be facing even worst economic news in the future than we are all facing now. Make no mistake: the situation our economy is in is a direct result of thirty years of free-market, anti-regulation, anti-government philosophy. This is the world Ronald Reagan, George Bush Senior and Junior, the Republicans in Congress, and their proud sponsors on Wall Street, have bequeathed us.

They know they've screwed up, they know that on the merits they don't have a case to make for another four years of mismanagement, corruption, stupidity, and malfeasance.

So, instead of fighting on the issues, they make up lies and distort the truth about their opponent.

Don't let them sucker you.

The very fact that they're raising this issue -- which was raised and dealt with ten months ago during the Democratic primary, and proven then to be a red herring -- is a clear sign they're desperate, and they're hoping that Lincoln can be proven right one more time. They're hoping to fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time.

I'm just hoping, for once, they can't fool all of the people all of the time.

Not again.

It's 1932. Are you really going to cast a vote for Herbert Hoover?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

This Sums It Up Nicely


I've been thinking much the same thing lately, but rather than hash out my own take on what appear to be the Republicans' Last Days (ironic, ain't it?), I'll just pass this along, from the TPM blog and the commentator formerly known as NCSteve. (I tried to link to the blog entry but for some reason the page wouldn't allow it. Probably my technological incompetence at work.)

Is This the Beginning of the End for the Republican Party?
October 13, 2008, 7:50PM

Political parties are not immortal, even in this country.

The Federalists ceased to be a national party in 1800 and subsequently ceased being even a regional party with a national voice as a result of their opposition to the War of 1812. The lack of effective opposition after the Federalist Party's demise allowed simmering tensions within the Democratic Republican Party of Jefferson and Madison to come to a boil and it fissioned into the Jacksonian faction, which became today's Democratic Party, and everyone else. The remaining bits and pieces swirled around for a bit, forming minor parties and coalitions and within a fairly short time, these parties, along with the remnants of the Federalists,, coalesced into the Whigs.

The Whigs were hampered in developing a coherent ideology because doing so would have required them to confront the slavery issue head-on. Doing that, they knew, would have alienated voters in one region or the other. Instead, they stood for a vaguely defined nationalism that favored Congressional supremacy over the executive, programs of internal improvements, a protective tariff, and a slightly more "energetic" central government than that favored by the Democrats.

The Whigs were just credible enough of a threat to cause the Democrats to keep a lid on the tensions between those who were strongly in favor of slavery and those who were merely not against it. (In practice, in other words, the Whigs bore a surprising resemblance to the kind of barely credible threat that the Republicans dreamed of reducing the Democrats to the heady crazy days between the 2002 midterms and the Schiavo debacle.)

The Whigs' imperative need to avoid taking strong policy positions caused them to look to old war heroes for presidential candidates. Unfortunately, both of the heroes they managed to get elected quite promptly died in office. Between the lack of ideological vigor, the inability to get a strong personality elected President and the growing unavoidability of the slavery question, in the 1850s, the Whigs just unraveled. Their leaders either quit politics altogether or drifted into other new, fringier parties like the American a/k/a "Know Nothing" Party (think Lou Dobbs if he lived in antebellum America), the Anti-Masonic Party ("Against Secret Societies!"), and the the Free Soil Party (against the expansion of slavery into the west).

In 1848, the Whigs won their last presidential election. Their candidate, Gen. Zachary Taylor, hero of the Mexican American War, of course, promptly died. In 1852, the Whigs nominated Gen. Winfield Scott, hero of the War of 1812 and of the Mexican American War. Scott was resoundingly defeated by Franklin Pierce--not exactly a political superstar--and thereby managed to survive another ten years. By 1856, there wasn't anyone left in the Whig party of sufficient stature to merit a nomination. Their sad little convention that year nominated Millard Filmore, the head of the Know-Nothings, and went home, never to meet again.

Also in 1856, another little fringe party started and promptly began competing with the Free Soilers for former Whigs and anti-slavery Democrats. They called themselves Republicans. By 1860, the Democratic Party was also splitting in two, between the "not necessarily against slavery" and the "if you're not for it you're against it" factions, the Republicans swept up the remnants of the Whigs, the Free Soilers and--gingerly and with a certain amount of nose-holding--the Know-Nothings and won the election, their second.

If the Civil War had not followed, the split in the Democratic Party might well have become permanent and the party dissolved. As it happened, once slavery was abolished, northern and southern post-war Democrats found they could deal with one another once again. Since then, factions have hived off of the two major parties only to eventually rejoin the mother party or drift over to the opposition--the Bullmoose Party split off and rejoined the Republicans. The Dixiecrats split from the Demcorats, rejoined, split off again as the "American Party" of George Wallace, rejoined again and then their members answered the siren song of Richard Nixon's southern strategy. The LaRouchites -- okay, actually I've never known what the fuck those loons were all about or why, exactly, it was they nominally Democrats.

My point is that the persistence of the Democratic and Republican parties in the face of splits that previously would have been fatal has lent them an air of unquestioned permanence over the last century and a half. The Republicans may have fantasized about the end of the Democratic Party, but eventually they had to close up their skin mags, zip up and and let someone else use the stall. The Democrats survived and came roaring back from their low ebb following 9/11 just as the Republicans came back after Nixon's disgrace made many suspect they were washed up as a national party.

And despite that, I'm really wondering if we're seeing the last days of the Republican Party.

Most likely not. Almost certainly not. But consider the following. The main difference between a two party and multiparty system is that in a multiparty system, every ethnic group, every religion, every social and economic viewpoint, can have its own party with a rigid ideology and the coalition building occurs after the election. In a two party system, however, each party must be a coalition of competing interests, viewpoints and agendas in order to thrive. The Democrats have always been better at being a big tent and, in any case, ever since the segregationists abandoned the party, the agendas of the various groups within the party are rarely truly contradictory. There is tension, of course, between left and center, and,of course, there's our delightful penchant for turning primary contests into brutal cannibalistic rituals, but by and large we get along.

Republicans, however, have become a simmering kettle of mutually antagonistic interests. Libertarians vs. authoritarians. Anti-immigration activists vs. the people who employ the immigrants. Theocrats vs. the corporatists who want maximum freedom to cater to our most base desires. Isolationists vs. neocon militarists. And, of course, professionals and intellectuals (a few real, most psuedo) who want government by reason vs. the ignorant hateful rabble who want government from the gut.

The only thing that held them together was that they hated us and a common nearly patholocial fear that our policies would lead to social, economic and moral collapse. Now that their policies have led to social, economic and moral collapse, however, all those differences have boiled over and the stupid people appear to have won.

For decades, the Republicans have been more than happy to patronize to the bigots and haters, to the rabid anti-intellectuals, the xenophobes and the just generally stupid. Heretofore, they've used those people, but they never let them run the party. In recent years, however, they let the camel get its nose into the tent when they stopped just giving the theocrats their ear and, instead, gave them a seat at the table with the corporatists and the militarists. Meanwhile loud voices appeared in the media to feed the belligerent delusional ignoramus faction's insatiable appetite for stupidity--Limbaugh, Hannity, O'Reilly, Coulter, Malkin, and on and on. And slowly but surely, as those people took control of the belligerent ignoramus faction, they found themselves in a position to give orders to Party rather than taking them. Increasingly, the agenda of the Republican Party was set not by the Bill Buckleys and George Wills and the Reagan alum. No, increasingly, the agenda was being written by the people who controlled the rabble: Limbaugh and O'Reilly and Hannity and the wingnut bloggers.

And now, the victory of the belligerant ignoramus faction is complete. They've found their champion in Sarah Palin, they develop and coordinate their ideology and worldview through unhinged emails and in the comments sections of the MSM's websites and, at last, the people who used to use these ignoramuses are recoiling in horror.

The list of defectors, people who can no longerstand to be associated with a party run by its pro-ignorance faction, grows by the day: George Will, David Brooks and Christopher Buckley. Lincoln Chaffee, Chuck Hagel and Susan Eisenhower. Wall Street has abandoned the Republicans, donating more to Democrats in the ratio of 2:1. As David Brooks noted recently, the Republicans have lost the professionals--doctors and lawyers, architects and accountants.

The belligerent delusional ignoramus faction still has the neocons on their side, of course. Bloody Bill Kristol and Rich Lowery are on board for the duration but that's hardly surprising. They're just better educated versions of the belligerent delusional ignoramuses who are calling the shots now, kindred spirits. That's not a plus for the Republicans.

If one thing should be clear to us, it is that a political party run by delusional ignoramuses cannot survive. If that premise is granted, I confess that I can see only two possible futures for the Republican Party as I write today. Either the professionals, the country clubbers, the elitists and the libertarians take advantage of the seismic defeat they're about to suffer as an excuse to stamp out the power of the belligerent delusional ignoramuses, or else the ignoramuses keep control and the Republican Party follows the the Whigs and the Federalists across the bridge to oblivion.

Maybe not. There's a lot more institutional infrastructure holding parties together these days; think tanks and donor networks, PACs and national congressional campaign committees. However, one other lesson of history is that when parties die, it can happen faster than anyone imagined--one election you're electing presidents and two election cycles later, the party doesn't even exist.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Two Weeks Till Zero Hour


One reason I haven't been posting lately -- other than the occasional YouTube-hosted wisecrack -- has to do with big changes in the Conway household.  We're selling our house and buying another one, and if you don't think we've gone through some nail-biting during the past few weeks of financial crisis, you've been living on another planet, and part of me wishes I were with you.  

As someone who's watched his career go up and down like a roller coaster piloted by a text-messaging teenager, I approach any long-term financial commitment with a certain amount of, let us say, trepidation.  For the last six or seven years, Karen and I have been extremely conservative with our finances, living in a house that costs us much less than we could afford, and socking away ever spare dime in savings.  (Conservative savings, too, so, luckily, we avoided getting smashed by the stock market crash last week.)  The result is, we're in pretty good shape to weather any short (or moderately long) term setbacks.  And that really won't change as a result of selling our current house and buying a new one.  But our payments will go up, and that pushes us close to the edge of our comfort zone -- and then, on top of that, like everyone else in the country we've been pretty rattled by the economic news of the last few weeks and months.  Not to mention the yo-yo drama of the current presidential election.

So I haven't been in the mood to update this blog.  I've been, well, preoccupied.

Mind you, anxiety isn't the only emotion I've been experiencing lately.  I'm pleased that Rachel is enjoying her new school, I'm having fun writing my first comic-book project in almost two decades, Karen and I are having a great time picking out new furniture and other goodies for the new house, and I barely noticed my birthday passing by a couple of weeks ago.  (I'm at the age now where celebrating a birthday seems a bit hubristic.)  All in all, life is good.  Actually, life is better than good.  The fly in that ointment, of course, is the fact that life is anything but good for so many of my fellow Americans.  

Sigh.

Our country will survive this economic (and political) crisis.  A lot of hungry chickens are coming home to roost -- decades of fiscal mismanagement in the name of a political and economic philosophy that failed spectacularly less than a century ago, and seems to have failed again.  (Why oh why do we never seem to learn from our mistakes as a nation?  Why does each generation have to repeat the follies of their grandparents' generation?  Why is the earth round?  Why don't ducks fall up?  Bears ask, do humans crap in the house?  Questions, questions, questions.)

Anywho, anyhow, interesting times.  And that's why I haven't been blogging much.

Think Before You Vote

Thursday, September 25, 2008

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

Wow. She's even more of a ditz than she first appeared. She actually makes Tina Fey's impersonation seem more, well, composed and... rational? The woman is just babbling...

David Letterman Reacts to John McCain Suspending Campaign

Beware the wrath of a talk show host scorned.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Race car driver Richard Patrese tests his marriage in a Type R Honda

Okay, apparently this was filmed to promote the handling of a Honda, but oddly it reminds me of the way Karen reacts to my driving...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Saturday, September 06, 2008

You Have to Be F**king Kidding Me


This is why I despair:

"New polling shows that the presidential race has tightened since Sarah Palin delivered her vice presidential acceptance speech on Wednesday.

Both the Gallup and Rasmussen daily tracking polls reported today that John McCain now narrowly trails Barack Obama.

Yesterday’s Gallup poll results of surveys conducted before the speech showed Obama with a 49 percent to 42 percent advantage over McCain. Today’s daily tracking poll showed that lead reduced to 48 percent to 44 percent.

On Tuesday, the poll reported Obama ahead 50 percent to 42 percent, the first time either candidate has reached the 50 percent marker.

While the Gallup shift from yesterday is not statistically significant, other surveys also appear to show public opinion moving toward the GOP following the party’s convention.

Rasmussen reported Friday that when "leaners” are included, Obama is ahead of McCain 48 percent to 46 percent. The same comparison on Thursday has Obama ahead by 5 percentage points.

Rasmussen also found that Palin’s favorable rating of 58 percent is now a point above that of both McCain and Obama. Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden is viewed favorably by 48 percent of those polled."

FIFTY-EIGHT F**KING PERCENT OF THE PEOPLE VIEW SARAH PALIN FAVORABLY???

Based on WHAT????

Her ability to read a speech from a TelePrompTer?

Her demonstrated inability to provide moral and practical guidance for her teenaged daughter? (Why don't we just make Lynn Spears president if that's a qualifier, for God's sake.)

Her contempt for the Alaskan legislature's investigation into her possible illegal activities as Governor?

Her lying?

This is what I wonder about those of my fellow Americans who think Sarah Palin is someone to be admired: as Frasier asked a drinking buddy in an immortal episode of "Cheers," "What color is the sky in your world, Cliff?"

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

On the Other Hand, Maybe We Have Bigger Problems to Worry About

How Is This Even a Question?

When I find myself wondering how it's possible that Barack Obama leads John McCain by only four or five percent (depending on which recent poll you look at), I have to wonder, are the people who support McCain living in the same world, breathing the same air, reading the same news, watching the same TV reports, that I am?  Given McCain's ethical collapse in recent months, as he's swung from "maverick" to GOP right-wing hypocrite; given his support for the spectacularly-failed policies of the Bush administration; given his age, health, and well-known shoot-from-the-hip, hot-headed temperament; given the blatant cynicism and disregard for good governing that his selection of Sarah Palin for his running mate clearly illustrates... how is it possible there's anyone other than die-hard GOP fan-boys who supports this man for President?

The argument that John McCain is somehow a better choice for commander-in-chief because he has "experience" is specious.  As many have said before, there is no set of experiences that prepares you for the presidency.  It is a unique office, part executive, part inspirational, part strategic, part managerial, and wholly make-it-up-as-you-go-along.  Herbert Hoover was one of the most "qualified" presidents we've ever elected, with a resume that promised great things.  He had everything you'd need for president, except the one trait that mattered most: the ability to lead, to inspire, to speak to those better angels of the American republic.  Abraham Lincoln, as most of us know, was probably one of the least "qualified" candidates to run for the highest office, but while his resume was thin, his talents were unmatchable.  So let's agree that experience, by itself, is no predictor of how a candidate will do in office once he's elected.

What matters is character, judgment, and the ability to lead and inspire.  And in that regard, given how McCain has behaved over the last six months, in contrast to Obama, why does this race remain so close?


Saturday, August 30, 2008

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Fear Itself


Not to wax nostalgic about "the way things used to be," but this recent opinion piece in the L.A. Times dovetails with some thoughts I've had lately about the difference between my twelve-year old daughter's experience of the world, and the way I experienced it at her age.  Rachel is twelve, and she's never ridden her bike around our neighborhood by herself; she's never gone to the movies with a friend alone; she's never taken public transportation without an adult to supervise her; and she doesn't just "go outside and play."  She is, in effect, a prisoner of her parents' fear of the world the way we think it is -- or rather, the way we've been taught to believe it is, by a news media that depends on creating fear to drive ratings, and by politicians who use fear to get votes.
The bizarre thing is, I'm not particularly afraid of the world, or my neighborhood, and I know for a fact that the times we live in are not more dangerous than they were when I was growing up.  Don't believe me?  Check the FBI's annual crime statistics, and compare the crime rates for say, 1965, to the crime rates of today.  Despite the fact that we have maybe a hundred times more people in prison today than we had forty years ago, crime isn't particularly worse today.  It's our perception of crime that's worse.  And for that, we can lay the blame squarely on the aforementioned news media and the politicians who use bad news to manipulate us.

Or maybe we should really blame ourselves.  We're the ones who accept this nonsense.  We're the ones who tremble every time we hear about a drive-by shooting on the six o'clock news (only to learn, when we finally get the details, that the drive-by happened in another city, in another state, and was, in fact, newsworthy only because it has become such a rare event).  We're the ones who think our children are at daily risk of attack by Sexual Predators -- despite the reality that more than 90% of sexual molestations occur at the hands of family members.  We let ourselves be manipulated by fear, and it's our children's freedom that suffers.

Sigh.  So, what else is new?

If We Do Get Four More Years, We'll Deserve It...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Whoa, This is Creepy...

... in a cool way.

Animation from Pendulum Alter Ego:

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

It's All In How You Look At It...


"Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first woman she meets and then teams up with three complete strangers to kill again."

--Rick Polito, Marin Independent Journal's TV listing for "The Wizard of Oz"

Friday, August 08, 2008

Even When They Win, They Lose


If the Bushies can't even convince a military jury they're doing the right thing when it comes to the prisoners at Guantanamo, how do they ever expect to convince the rest of the world? Think about this: Salim Hamdan is the first prisoner from Guantanamo to go to trial, which probably means the government thought its case against him was the strongest they have against any of the men held there. So if this is the best they've got, what does that say about the others Bush and his gang have held incommunicado for the past five years?

Unbelieveable.

66 months for Osama Bin Laden's driver | Freep.com | Detroit Free Press

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

If There Is a God, He Hates Republicans


Case in point: Just when it looks like the GOP's chances of fighting off a filibuster-proof majority for the Democrats this November couldn't get any worse...



Ted Stevens Indicted On 7 Criminal Charges

Monday, July 28, 2008

W.

Other than the too-obvious back score, this looks like it might be... interesting.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Once Upon a Time, I Actually Liked John McCain


Whatever happened to the guy who ran for president in 2000? The red-meat Republican running around these days who's calling himself McCain sure doesn't sound like the same man who charmed us eight years ago. It's like he's forgotten who he was and what he said he stood for. The kindest spin I can put on that is, he must be getting old...



McCain Says Obama Plays Politics on Iraq - washingtonpost.com

The McCain-Latino disconnect - David Paul Kuhn - Politico.com

After All the Good People Are Called to Heaven...

... the only folks who'll be left (apart from you and me) probably will be tough little punkettes like Bethany Black, star of the Image Comics series Strange Girl. I've just devoured the first collection, "Girl Afraid," by Rick Remender and Eric Nguyen, and it's a hoot. (I do have a few quibbles with Nguyen's art -- his figures tend to get lost in the background, and his storytelling sometimes takes a back seat to his page design. But it's fun to look at.) Funny and profane, imaginative and oddly touching. Check it out.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Nostalgia Bay

We just got back from a weekend in Santa Cruz, where we had a great time visiting with friends, despite spending three nights in a beach-side motel that gave new meaning to the concept of cheap and rundown. (We're all in favor of saving energy, and I have no objection to replacing incandescent light bulbs with low-energy fluorescents, but the only reason I can think of for the exclusive use of twenty-five watt bulbs is to keep the motel guest from noticing the dingy state of the carpet and the general tackiness of the furniture.) The condition of the motel, in fact, was part of the charm, because it reminded me of a beach town from my childhood -- a place that defined tacky for a generation or two of New Yorkers: Coney Island.

If I close my eyes and put myself in my personal Wayback Machine, I can still remember the smell of wet sand under the boardwalk -- the public changing room for those of us who day-tripped to Coney Island by bus and subway. I'm just old enough to remember Steeplechase Park, with its cast-iron horses running on a track around the windowed inside wall of the huge, warehouse-sized amusement hall. The big wooden slide shiny and slippery after decades of butt-polishing; the sloped, slowly-revolving dish big enough for a dozen kids and adults to tumble into each other, risking broken arms and sprained ankles and bloody noses; the big, rotating barrel that did its best to knock you to your knees; the fun house full of mirrors and tilting floors that guaranteed bumped foreheads and plenty of bruises.

Coney Island, when I knew it as a kid, invited you to try and kill yourself for fun. These days, when every freak accident at a safety-conscious Six Flags grabs a headline and a gloating two minutes of faked dismay on the evening news, it's hard to imagine that once upon a time, you didn't worry about getting hurt on a thrill ride -- you half expected it.

Ah, those were the days. Parachute rides with barely a seatbelt to hold you in. Roller coasters that threatened to throw you from your car with every rattling high-speed turn. People knew what they were getting into -- they knew these rides were risky, and that was part of the fun. At least, it was for me. But as my wife likes to point out, with a kindly, tolerant smile, I'm an idiot.

Santa Cruz is no Coney Island, of course; it has a roller coaster, built way back in 1924, and it's fun, but it's no Cyclone. It has a "Double Shot" free-fall tower ride, but it's no Parachute Jump. It has a boardwalk, but no under-the-boardwalk, all-too-public "changing room."

Still, it was just enough like that Coney Island of my mind* to evoke a pang of nostalgia for those innocent days of long ago.

Wet sand under the boardwalk (wet from what????), broken bones, bruises and bloody noses.

It doesn't get much better than that.

*With apologies to Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Critical Flaw


A friend of mine and I saw "Hellboy II: The Golden Army" on Friday. Before I get into the meat of this post -- which is not, as you might expect, a review of "Hellboy II" -- I'll just say I enjoyed the movie, laughed at the funny parts, thrilled to the action, and sat in awe of the imagery and graphic design. I felt my eleven bucks was well-spent (we went to the Arclight, which is more expensive than some theaters locally, but has, in my opinion, a better film-going experience, tra la la).

Then we ran into another friend as we were leaving the movie, and the first words out of his mouth -- I'm not kidding, here -- were, "What a load of crap."

Now. Watching a movie is a subjective experience. It's an interaction between you and the filmmaker. He/she creates and presents, you absorb and respond. What you absorb and how you respond depends on your expectations, your attitude toward the filmmaker and the genre he or she is working in, the screenwriter's ability to construct a script, the technical competence of the production crew, the performance of the actors, and the director and/or producer's skill in managing it all. Every aspect of this experience -- from the production, to your observation of the results -- is dependent upon a subjective appraisal. There is no absolute, concrete reality, no definitive, absolute consensus. Every movie, no matter how good or how bad it's judged to be by the film-watching population at large, offers ample opportunity for dissenting views. There are people who think "Lawrence of Arabia" is overblown, colonialist bull-hockey. There are others who think "Plan Nine From Outer Space" is the finest American film since "Citizen Kane."

The French love Jerry Lewis.

But when you leave a film, and run into friends, and the first words out of your mouth are, "What a load of crap," you are not presenting your opinion as a personal, subjective appraisal of the moment, but as the definitive, absolute, real-world summation of an undeniable objective reality.

You're forestalling any honest discussion because you're defining the entire experience in objective terms. "What a load of crap" could just as easily have been "God could have made this movie, it's perfect." In effect you're stating that anyone who doesn't agree with your summation is literally out of touch with objective reality.

It's obnoxious.

It ain't film criticism.

It isn't even a statement of honest opinion. (A more honest statement would have been, "I didn't really enjoy that much," or, "I was disappointed," or "I don't like movies that bombard you with visual imagery," or some other comment that accepts the idea that what you're asserting is your own personal view, and doesn't invalidate the views of anybody else.)

After that opening salvo there wasn't much to say. I could choose to agree with his opinion, or I could engage in a fruitless debate asserting my personal view as objective reality. I couldn't really discuss my experience of the film.

There was a time in my life when I would've jumped on that "debate" and done my best to tear down this friend's view of reality.

These days, I'd rather just admit I was disappointed by his reaction.

But that's my opinion.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Presto


I was reading an article in Harper's Magazine today about The Magic Olympics, that reminded me of how much I enjoy watching a good magic trick, well-performed, and intriguingly presented. I first encountered real live professional magic more thant thirty years ago, during a visit to The Magic Castle in Hollywood, which to my mind remans the gold standard for practicioners of the craft. That's where I met the legendary Dai Vernon, the man who fooled Houdini. In any event this article made me recall what I love about magic when it's well-done. If you have any interest in the field, by all means, look up this article. It's a fun read.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Monday, July 07, 2008

Under the Heading of "Duh": Outsourcing Can Lead to Plummeting Customer Loyalty


Ars Technica has a terrific article about the effect outsourcing customer support has on the "perceived value" of a company's goods to the average consumer:

Study: outsourcing can lead to plummeting customer loyalty

To sum up, the results aren't good. Who would'a thunk it? Apparently, when customers are shunted aside and treated like an irritating distraction to the important business of making money for overpaid executives and stock-price-obsessed stockholders, they tend to resent it, and their loyalty to the product in question and the company that makes it suffers considerable damage.

Why, I wonder, is this news? American business has been marching down this path to self-destruction for decades now, replacing the old business mantra that "customer is king" with a new mantra along the lines of, "the customer will take what we give him and like it or else." Is it surprising, really, this sort of contempt for consumer relations has a negative impact? Are corporate executives really so out of touch with the customers they purport to care about they can't begin to imagine how badly buyers feel when they're treated like crap?

Almost twenty years ago, I had an argument with a small business owner over the issue of office voice mail. I bemoaned the fact that more and more, when I called a company I was trying to do business with, I found myself routed through a rats maze of impenetrable and ultimately unhelpful voice mail options. "To reach technical support, press one; if your call concerns a new installation, press two; if you'd like to pay a bill, press three," and so on and so forth. Usually, what I wanted wasn't an option provided by the option tree. What I wanted was to speak with a real, live, helpful human being, who would point me toward another real, live, helpful human being who'd do his or her best to solve whatever problem prompted my call. Even twenty years ago, this was becoming increasingly difficult, and I suggested to my new friend that businesses did themselves harm by treating their customers, and would-be customers, like interchangeable cogs in a voice mail grinder.

"But it's really cost effective for us," he replied. "It saves us money and it keeps us from having to hire someone to deal with routine customer interaction. It's a great business tool."

Yeah, a great business tool for him. For anyone trying to reach him, or do business with his company, not so much. I couldn't seem to get this idea across. He kept repeating it was a money-saver, it was efficient, it weeded out unnecessary, routine customer interaction. But what if "routine interaction" had the potential to create new business? What if interacting with customers helped management respond to customer needs before problems arose? What if actually dealing with customers taught companies how to satisfy customers and build customer loyalty?

How can a robotic, dead-end voice mail option tree ever accomplish any of those basic business goals?

Obviously, it can't, and businesses that rely on automated customer interaction, and its vile evil stepchild, customer-service outsourcing, are reaping the contempt they sowed.

American business management has spent the last several decades doing everything it can to erode employee and customer loyalty in the blind pursuit of quarterly profit and increasing "shareholder value." But how does it create value for shareholders when you deny the value of the people working for you, as well as the customers who buy your product?

It makes no sense to me, but then, I didn't go to Harvard or Yale Business School, and I don't have an MBA.

And if you've got an MBA, who needs common sense?

I'm Sorry, But I Had To Do It...

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Burning Money

I used to drive an SUV, back around 1995 -- a Jeep Cherokee. It was fun for a while, and the payments were a lot less than my previous car (a Mercedes), but I never felt all that comfortable riding way up high, so when my lease was up, I went back to driving a sedan.

Karen, on the other hand, went from a sedan (BMW) to an SUV (first a Mercedes, later a Lexus) once Rachel started pre-school. Her reasoning made sense -- as a stay-at-home Mom, she sometimes had to carpool Rachel and her friends to play dates, birthday parties, outings, camp, and so on. An SUV made that easier -- there was room for the kids and the paraphernalia that went along with them: strollers, diaper bags, lunch boxes. She also felt safer in an SUV, though we both knew that was an illusion -- for one thing, SUVs have a higher center of gravity and are more likely to topple over in a high-speed turn (never mind why a Mom with several kids in a car would be making a tight high-speed turn).

Karen continued to drive her SUV till Rachel was in elementary school, and Karen went back to work full time. Then she switched back to a sedan (back to a Mercedes; we're German-car addicts in the Conway household), mostly because she was tired of filling up her gas-guzzler twice a week. She'd also started to feel there was something inherently wrong about driving a road-hogging monster. Smaller felt better. Before getting her sedan, she even toyed with the idea of buying a Mini Cooper (but once we realized I'd never get my legs inside, that idea went out the window). She still wants a Smart Car, but for now, she's happy with her E-350.

I bring this up because I want it understood that I get why people bought SUVs back in the 1990s and early 2000s. What I don't get is why they hung on to them for so long, and why they kept buying new ones, when the price of gas was slowly edging up, and it was clear to anyone with half a brain that these energy-eating, road- and parking lot-hogging monstrosities were an economic and ecological disaster waiting to happen. It shouldn't have taken a doubling of gas prices in the last year to make people see what a waste of money and space these things are.

But I guess we see what we want to see, and believe what we want to believe, evidence to the contrary be damned.

This rant brought to you courtesy of this article in today's New York Times.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Thursday, July 03, 2008

This is My Newest Favorite Thing Ever

Well, this week, anyway.

I found this on Boing Boing, one of my favorite websites. If this doesn't make you smile and feel happy for about four minutes or so, check your pulse.



For more information about Matt, check this website.

Raymond Scott - If You Don't Know Who He Is...

... you ought to. If you've ever seen a Merrie Melody or Looney Toon from the late 1930s through the 1940s, you've probably heard some of his music as adapted by Carl Stalling.

Enjoy:


Monday, June 30, 2008

Wall*E... 'Nuff Said


What can I say? I saw it this weekend with Karen and Rachel and some friends, and I loved it. The storytelling was smart and smooth, the character designs and animation were, as always, first class. Wall*E and Eva were as well developed as two non-speaking characters can be, and while I never quite choked up, the way I have at some other Pixar films ("Toy Story 2," all right?), I did feel a pang or two when things looked bleak for Wall*E near the end. All of which is to say, I had a good time.

Karen and Rachel, not so much.

Both of them thought it was just okay.

Girls.

Ptah.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Paranoid about Paparazzi?

Well, if you are, or if, possibly, you're worried you might soon be living in a CCTV police state where the guv'mint can watch your every move (and those who aren't just a wee bit afraid we've been marching bravely backward to 1984 haven't been paying attention) then this fine piece of do-it-yourself eyewear may be just the thing you've been looking for:




Anti-Paparazzi Sunglasses - video powered by Metacafe

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Tome Talk Thursday: Guilty Pleasures

Anyone who knows me (or who's managed to sneak a look at my Amazon account) knows I'm a voracious reader. Non-fiction: history, current events, science; fiction: mid- to late-19th Century literature, early 20th Century literature, pulp fiction, science-fiction, mysteries, westerns, legal suspense, modern thrillers, Salman Rushdie, Thomas Pynchon, Roger Zelazny, David Brin, Larry Niven, Ross MacDonald, John D. MacDonald, James Rollins, Clive Cussler, Dashiell Hammett, and Neil Gaiman -- I like to think of it as an eclectic set of interests, but "undisciplined" may be a fairer description.

Admittedly, my tastes run more to trash than to tragedy -- I'd rather curl up with a Victorian middle-class angst potboiler by Anthony Trollope than a modern middle-class angst potboiler by John Updike -- but for the most part, I feel no guilt for enjoying a fast-paced thrill ride by James Rollins or a wry, formulaic piece of pulp by John D. MacDonald.

But, lately, I have been feeling just a tad guilty for the pleasure I've derived from reading a class of fiction that makes almost no attempt at achieving literary merit. It's the modern-day equivalent of mid-century pulp: fiction based on games and comic books, such as the Dragonlance novels of Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman; the "legend of Drizzit" series by R.A. Salvatore; and the books based on comic book series, like The Ultimates and Justice League novels by various authors. Oh, yeah, I also enjoy the "Rogue Angel" series published by Gold Eagle, and, of course, the Mack Bolan and Executioner novels.

I make no apologies for enjoying this stuff -- though like I said, I feel a tad guilty -- because for the most part, these books are written professionally, by writers who clearly enjoy what they're doing, and who take it seriously enough to do the best job they can. As someone who made a living writing characters created by other writers (along with a number I created myself, of course), I can appreciate the love these folks have for the characters and worlds over which they've taken temporary custodianship. Quite a few of these authors began their careers writing these shared-world novels, and have gone on to make their mark with wholly original works of their own; yet most of them return, again and again, to the shared worlds that gave them their start. That tells me they write what they write not just to earn a living, but because they have a passion for the material.

What they turn out may not be great literature, but it's entertaining pulp, and sometimes that's just what I'm in the mood for.

If you're interested in checking out some of the best of the bunch, try some of these:



Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Warring Websites

Okay, so I'm being cute. By "warring websites," I'm not referring to websites at war with each other -- I'm referring to websites that provide information and support for players of World of Warcraft. But in a way, of course, some of these sites are at war with one another -- competing for the eyes and interest of the WoW player in his or her never-ending search for truth, justice, and a few good tips on how to play.

This is by no means a complete or authoritative listing. These are just a few sites I've found useful over the years (years? yikes!) I've been playing the game. When I first started, I had no idea there were resources outside the official WoW webpage. While there was a lot of helpful information there, I floundered around for quite a while, till I found the first site that provided me with some tips and guidance, with walkthroughs for many quests, and tips from users who'd been there before. That first site was Thottbot, a fairly rudimentary website with some useful details about items and NPCs. More useful than Thottbot, at least when I first found it, was Allakhazam, a site that offers guides, tips, and item info for several MMOs aside from WoW. Allakhazam was my go-to site for almost a year, until Wowhead came along. Wowhead, like Thotbot, had a clean, simple, search-based interface, but its user-generated tips and walkthroughs were much more detailed, on a par with. and usually surpassing, those on Allakhazam. But even Wowhead had its limitations, so when I wanted more information, or deeper insight into the background and lore of the game, or fuller walkthroughs, including strategies for quest chains, I turned to Wowwiki. Like Wikipedia, it's a user-generated website, with articles written and edited by the users. A great site for general information, though, like any wiki, it has its odd blind spots.

Allakhazam, Wowhead, and Wowwiki: Those are the three main sites I use, but there are others that I've found helpful, and here's a quick list:

Curse Gaming, for mostly-up-to-date WoW add-ons.

MapWoW, for lovely maps of Kalimdor, the Eastern Kingdoms, and Outland, based on the terrain-relief maps found in the onscreen mini-map.

WoW Insider, a blog-type site for news, commentary, community, and extensive guides to classes and professions. (A must read if you're struggling to understand how to play your class, whether it be a mage, a hunter, a warrior, etc.)

Ten Ton Hammer, another general-purpose MMO site, with an excellent WoW sub-site.

And finally, Warcraftmovies, a great site for fan-built machinima -- short movies using WoW in-game animation. Lots of fun, though leaning heavily toward in-joke humor.

That's it. By no means a complete, or even extensive, list. Consider it something to get you started.


Monday, June 23, 2008

Popeye Then And Now

Back from New York, back to blogging.

This is hardly news, but I'll mention it anyway: the original Max Fleischer Studio Popeye cartoons are being released on DVD in a series of lovely box sets. Volume One came out a while ago, and features cartoons from 1933-38; Volume Two is now available, with cartoons from 1938-40. If you're offended by pre-PC racial, sexist and ethnic stereotypes (PC in this case meaning "politically correct"), you're going to be massively offended by these cartoons, but I hope you'll be able to put them in context with the times. If nothing else, seeing how casually these stereotypes were used, and how shocking they appear now, tells us we've made some progress toward a less racist society. (Some progress; we still have a ways to go.) In any event, if you can look past the stereotypes, there's a lot to enjoy in these old cartoons. The early Popeyes are pretty crude, but as the series progresses, the design, storytelling, and humor (if not the actual animation) becomes more and more sophisticated and surreal. Highly recommended.



Also highly recommended are the original newspaper strips by Segar from which the cartoons were derived. Fantagraphics is in the process of reprinting Segar's Thimble Theater strip, which introduced Popeye as a minor character back in 1929. These books are fantastic, a real treat for fans of the squint-eyed sailor, or for anyone who enjoys a well-told yarn. Segar was a tremendous story-teller. The Popeye of the newspaper strip is much more developed and a far more interesting character than the Popeye of the Fleischer cartoons, and the stories are charming, mysterious, and loads of fun. (The Sea Witch saga is a personal favorite.) Two volumes are available now, with a third volume due for release in November.


Friday, June 13, 2008

No blog update today 'cause I'm surprising Rachel...


... with a secret (till we get to the airport) trip to NY to see "Legally Blonde The Musical" with a friend of hers.

The things we do for our children.

I've been listening to Rachel play and replay the DVR'ed video of the
"Legally Blonde" Broadway musical for the better part of six months
now. It sets my teeth on edge and blurs my vision with a red haze.
My hands involuntarily clench into fists and with effort I stifle a
scream.

But I love my daughter and she loves this show, so with the help of
her friend's dad (who will be joining us, and whose idea this was), I
will take her to New York today, and we will see the show tomorrow,
and I will try not to pull out an Uzi and mow everyone down.

I am a good good father.

Happy Father's Day to me.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Obama and Reagan

First off, let me apologize for getting this out a couple of days late.  We've been busy around Casa Conway looking for a Nuevo Casa Conway, and it's been, shall we say, distracting.

Be that as it may... 

I was talking with my older daughter, Cara, on the way to the airport Monday, and the topic turned to politics.  We're both Obama supporters; I told her how happy I was for her, that she could experience such excitement for a candidate and an election season.  Whether Obama wins or loses, he's made history, and we, as Americans, are part of a special moment in history.  And agree with him or not, you have to admit, he's an intensely charismatic, inspiring political figure, a politician who has the ability and the potential to change the terms of the political debate in this country for a generation.  He's likable, charming, has a marvelous way of putting across his message, and he seems to represent a turning point in our national conversation.  Those who oppose him do so by attacking him for the very things that make him appealing -- his rhetoric, his sense of purpose (which they define as artificial, contrived), and his lack of "experience" (as if anyone who hasn't actually been president has the relevant experience to be president).

All of which makes Barrack Obama a lot like Ronald Reagan.

A confession: I was a Reagan Democrat.  The things that attract me to Obama and the Democrats this election season are exactly the same things that attracted me to Reagan and the Republicans in 1980.

Let me explain.

Throughout my adult life until 1980, I'd been a faithful liberal and supporter of the Democratic party.  I believed in affirmative rights, in high taxes on the rich, in government programs for the poor, in business regulation and consumer protection.  I was against the war in Vietnam and I supported the Equal Rights Amendment.  I wasn't too wild about school busing, but I understood the rationale.  I had my doubts about the morality of abortion, but I was in favor of a woman's right to choose.  I was, in short, a fairly typical moderate, left-leaning liberal of the 60s and 70s.

But by 1980, I was ready to be persuaded otherwise.  The Vietnam war was over, but then came the horrors of the Kymer Rouge in Laos.  America's reputation as a moral power in the world was stained, and our ability to project our power and defend our people was revealed as an illusion by the takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran.  The economy was in a shambles; inflation was raging into double digits, and so were mortgage interest rates.  There was a banking crisis.  We seemed to be teetering on the brink of a recession or depression.   The incumbent president had become irrelevant to the political process, seemed out of touch with the concerns of the people he was supposed to be leading, and the party he represented had nothing to offer in the way of new ideas or a fresh approach.  Though it may not have been obvious to the hard core base of the party, the Democrats were at a loss for a defining message, a simple, clean, clear statement of purpose -- something that could inspire belief and support from those, like myself, who wanted something more than a promise of more of the same.

The Republicans, on the other hand, were on fire

Sometime during the late 1970s, conservatives had seized the terms of debate, confronting the failed policies of the Democrats with an imaginative new interpretation of government's role in American life.  And in the abstract, at least, their ideas made sense.  They seemed to be based on fundamental principles of human behavior, and they were expressed with passion and clarity by smart true-believers like Milton Friedman and William Buckley.  The Republicans had ideas; they had solutions to the malaise; they offered a new path, one that promised greater freedom for the individual, a stronger economy, and a restored sense of place for America in the world.

For someone whose faith in traditional Democratic policies had been shaken by the all-too-obvious failure of those policies -- and by my party's unwillingness either to admit or to address that failure -- I was eager for a change, for a new direction.

Ronald Reagan, bless his heart, offered me that change and pointed the way to a new direction.

I bought in, and honestly, I think I did the right thing.

Not because Reagan was right, or because the Republicans delivered on their promises of greater individual freedom, fiscal responsibility, and a restoration of America's moral stature in the world.  I did the right thing because the whole point of the political process is to provide a responsible, controlled method of provoking change in the status quo.  The American political process is a form of slow-motion, managed revolution.  We've developed a way to produce tremendous social upheaval from time to time, in response to the flow of real world events and in accord with the patterns of history, and to do so without forcing our citizens to take to the streets with guns, or to build guillotines, or to exile failed leaders to small islands in the Mediterranean (much as we might like to).

At a time of suffocating stasis and calcified political thought, the Republicans offered change; they offered revolution; they promised a way out.

For the most part, they delivered on that promise.  Whether my diehard liberal friends want to admit it or not, the initial years of the conservative revolution produced some positive results for Americans.  Our stature in the world improved remarkably; we addressed, militarily, the failures of Vietnam; the increasing burden of taxes on average Americans was reduced; inflation dropped to historically low levels; houses became affordable again; business innovation boomed; and for the most part, Americans felt freer from government interference in their lives than they'd felt in a generation.

Sure, there were bumps along the way -- failures here and there, embarrassing gaffes and saddening disappointments of principle like Iran-Contra -- but there were spectacular successes as well.  The fall of the Berlin wall; the collapse of the Soviet Union; a revolution in welfare; a reduction in crime.  Were the Republicans and their theory of government responsible for all of this?  Maybe; maybe not.  But the fact is, they were in charge while these triumphs occurred, just as the Democrats were in charge during the dark days of Vietnam and stagflation and social unrest.  Whether they were channeling the currents of history, or simply surfing on them, the fact is, from 1980 to 2006, the Republicans dominated American politics.  For better or worse, those twenty-six years represent the Modern Conservative Era, just as the forty-eight years that preceded it represent the New Deal era.

And now it's over.

In 1980, the Democrats were burned out, demoralized, confused, and voiceless.  They were led by an uninspiring, weary, and aged-beyond-his-years ex-Navy man who was forced to defend policies that had proven themselves to be an utter failure.  The intellectual Left was intellectually bankrupt.

The country demanded change.

Anyone see a parallel between 1980 and 2008?

At a time when the country is once again exhausted by the failure of a political philosophy, by humiliation abroad, and by a leadership that seems truly out of touch with the concerns of average Americans, Barrack Obama and the Democratic party offer change.  They are passionate in their principles; they believe strongly in their solutions; they offer us a way out.

They're on fire.

And for the first time in twenty-eight years, so is my heart.


Monday, June 09, 2008

World of WifeCraft

Okay, so it isn't Wednesday, but this kinda comes under the Monday movie rubric, right? Right?

Here's something to put life in perspective...

From Nasa, an image of the Earth and the moon as seen from Mars.

No, seriously:



Thursday, June 05, 2008

Elementary School graduation day

Well, strange as it seems, this is a big day -- my daughter's graduating from elementary school.  They're having a ceremony, there will be speeches, she's getting dressed up, and I know for a fact my wife is going to cry.

When did this become such a big deal?

I mean, it's a big deal to me, of course -- my baby's getting older!   But in a larger sociological sense, graduating from elementary school?  That was big back when my granddad was a kid; an elementary school education was the highest level of education most folks got, if they got that much.  For my father's generation, graduating from high school -- that was a big deal.   For my generation, it was college (and to an extent, it still is).  For my older daughter, a full education barely stops with a master degree.  It seems with each generation the bar gets raised higher.

And at the same time, we celebrate smaller victories.

Maybe it's because of the stress we go through, those of us who send our kids to private school (and in California, I'm sad to say, if you want a decent education for your kid, private school is probably your best option).  We worry about getting them into the best school, we bite our nails through the application process, we wait anxiously for the acceptance letters, we shudder at the size of the tuition bill.  Sending a kid to private school is like sending them to college.  It's expensive, it's stressful, but it's something you're glad you're able to do -- I feel a sense of pride that my daughter has done well at a school that isn't required to accept her and promote her and praise her, because that's the PC thing to do.  Whatever honors Rachel has earned, she's earned, in competition with an amazing array of other well-qualified, hard-working young boys and girls.

Please understand, I'm not saying she's better than the kids who go to public schools.  By no means.  But the school she's attended for the last six years is better than the public school she would have attended otherwise.

We did try the public school system for Rachel's kindergarten, and it was a huge disappointment.  A charter school, too, with heavy parental involvement, in a neighborhood where the parents could afford to devote a lot of time and energy to the PTA.  Didn't make a damn bit of difference.  The school sucked, and the teachers and administration knew it, and they didn't seem to care.

So maybe there is something to celebrate.

I'm proud of my little girl, and saddened too.

It's been an amazing six years.  Can't wait to see what's next.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Social Animals


Much of the fun in playing World of Warcraft comes from interaction with other players -- especially interaction with other players in a guild (assuming you join one).  But finding the right guild (and recognizing that it's the right guild for you) is tricky.  At least, it's been tricky for me.

The first guild I joined, "Dark Guard" on the Lothar server, is no more, but through it, I met the nicest people I know in WoW.  We became friends outside of WoW; our families met in the real world last summer at Blizzcon in Anaheim ( that's a picture of my daughter Rachel at the convention) and we're planning to meet up for a weekend with them this summer in Santa Cruz.  

When "Dark Guard" merged with a larger guild, I went along.  When that larger guild moved to another server during the traumatic
realm split last year, I went along.  When that guild broke into two guilds, and one of them moved back to the Lothar server, I followed my friends in the new/old guild.  When that guild collapsed and my friends joined a new guild, I joined too.  But somewhere along the line... I just didn't feel part of the group anymore.  

I still like my friends, but I'm not feeling it with the guild we belong to now. 

Hard to say why the new guild's not working for me -- even though it's made up of many folks from the older guilds, but my guess is, to use a cliche, "we've grown apart."  The first guild I joined was loose and fun, small and friendly.  The guild we merged with was larger and more focused on grouping for raids -- building larger teams to run the endgame content of pre-Burning Crusade instances like Molten Core.  With the coming of Burning Crusade, and the split of the guild between two realms, the latest version of the guild seems even more focused on grouping for raids in the new zones of Outland.  And even though I've tried to work up enthusiasm for it, the truth is, raiding just isn't my thing.

I'm not opposed to raiding -- I'd like to do some -- but I can't commit to a regular, multiple-nights-a-week raiding schedule.  I'm just not that hardcore.  I have a family, and we spend too little time doing things together as it is.  So this latest incarnation of the guild I've belonged to since my main WoW toon was a level 20 Night Elf Hunter just isn't the guild for me anymore.  And it's painful to admit it and leave, because I'll be leaving my friends.  (Not in the real world, of course; just in the game.)

Like I said, finding the right guild is tricky.  Sometimes, the guild that was right for you when you started playing isn't right for you after you've been playing for a while.  Recognizing this can be difficult, especially when you've made friends with others in the group.  But failing to recognize it can make playing the game far less fun; in fact, it can make playing the game feel like a chore and an obligation.

Which kinda defeats the purpose.


Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Nostalgia Wallow Part Deux


Posting last week about the first book I ever owned reminded me of the first book I read that fully captured my imagination as a story -- so much so that I spent thirty years trying to find it, and finally laid my hands on a copy two years ago.

The book was a young adult science-fiction novel by Paul Capon, "The End of the Tunnel." It's about four young kids who go on a caving trip together in England, get trapped in a cave by a landslide, and follow the cave deep under ground, encountering a forgotten civilization, before finally finding their way back to the surface -- through the Paris catacombs.

It was, as the kids say these days, a thorough mindf***.

I read this book once, when I was seven or eight years old, and it made such an impression I've retained scenes, characters, and images, for almost fifty years. For example: as the kids head out for their exploration, they pass a hole in the ground, where, for good luck, they drop a penny and listen to hear how long it takes to hit the bottom. It takes a looooong time. Later, once they're trapped under ground, they eventually come across the bottom of that hole -- and find a pile of coins lying under it, with the coins on the bottom of the pile dating back hundreds of years.

How cool is that?

I could go on, but all I really want to say is how much I loved that book, and how happy I was when I tracked down a copy of the original printing. It wasn't inexpensive, because the book has been out of print for five decades, and is something of a collector's item, but looking at a recent listing for it on Abebooks.com, I think I got off pretty cheap.

Any favorite books you remember vividly from childhood? Any you spent a lifetime tracking down?

Let me know.