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January 2001 Archives

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January 31

When Maryland Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend was asked what was her favorite moment from the Ravens victory in the Super Bowl, she said,"I loved it when we made that football.The Giants had just made a football, and we came right back." Sounds like Presidential material to me.

January 30

I thought the Super Bowl commercials were kind of lame. I don't understand why everybody loved the guy spraying his date with Bud Light. The E-Trade chimpanzee picking up the sock puppet was sort of funny. The guys knocking the Volkswagen out of the tree took way too long. Will we soon see preppie aliens yelling,"What are you doing! Pick up on your communicator!"

January 29

A program on MSNBC last night discussed the popularity of "reality" shows such as Candid Camera, Survivor, or Big Brother. They claimed that viewers like the voyeurism of watching the real lives of other people. I submit that real life is excruciatingly boring. This never appeared so clearly as in the dramatization of Blind Ambition, the television mini-series based on John Dean's accounts of the Watergate scandal. The dramatized scenes, though generally accurate, conveyed a tension real-life never does. Meanwhile, scenes inside the Oval Office, with dialogue taken directly from the White House tapes, crackled with the intensity of a 1200 baud download.

Real life makes no sense. That's why we need religion and fiction to make sense of it. Novels, plays, movies, and television shows have some point, some order to their universe.

The reality television shows give us a chance to play God, or at least vacariously experience power over other people. This is like the behavioral experiments we performed on animals, playing Sim City or Civilization. And the producer and host of Silver Screen Test, though I don't watch Survivor, Big Brother, or Temptation Island, I have those needs, too. I wrote the questions, I created the format, I set up a small universe where ordinary people must function. In a way, it's just like those other shows, except I don't purposely humiliate anyone.

January 28

More celebrity name-dropping. I worked with Temptation Island host Mark L. Walberg on the 1994 Texaco-edition of the National Academic Championship. That's Walberg with middle initial "L" and without an "h". This isn't Marky-Mark who co-starred with George Clooney in The Perfect Storm.

Texaco thought the show needed a Hollywood touch, so they hired Walberg to replace the Middle-American, corn-fed, Pat Sajak-like Chip Beall on the televised matches. Chip had been running the tournament for 12 years to that point.

Mark arrived two days before the televised matches, watched a day of non-televised matches and moderated one contest before the cameras ran. He realized he was over his head with many of the foreign language and scientific term questions. Mark ended up asking me for help frequently because, well, Chip was pretty pissed off at being replaced.

The team coaches were livid. Imagine the Super Bowl officiated by baseball umpires. Their eyes are good, they know the rules, they might carry a little too much weight, but they can't handle a championship game their first time out. One of the rounds involved answering ten questions in 60 seconds. Some teams cringed in frustration as he struggled through pronunciations and time ticked away.

Overall, Mark L. Walberg was a nice guy, but he didn't belong there. Texaco royally screwed up hiring him. It makes for quite a game show resume-from high school prodigies to promiscuous singles.

January 27

Alan Greenspan attempts to open bottled water during his testimony before Congress. He thinks:WHY DOES EVIAN NEED A CHILDPROOF CAP?

January 26

Somebody complained to me the other day about his broken camcorder. I told him I never owned a camcorder. "You with a kid?" he said. "You never took videos of birthdays, first steps, walking on the beach? I remember getting one of the first ones when my ex-wife had her first child." This immediately brought back memories when someone told me he saw Sting's personal documentary, including gynecological coverage of his child's birth.

We didn't videotape our wedding. Most sights of someone videotaping something, releases an uncontrollable chuckle from me. Do I respect the medium so much from my peripheral involvement that I can't presume to shoot any footage of value with a handycam? Do I believe that what happens in front of a motion camera requires preparation and presentation? Do camcorders deliver nothing but the bounty of Bob Saget and America's Funniest Home Videos?

Not long after the Gulf War, a documentary aired, complemented heavily by camcorder footage taken by the soldiers themselves. The video segments brought a spooky immediacy to the war I never saw in any other "reality-based" television. If the U.S. had lost that war, or won unpleasantly, would any of the footage have seen the light of day? Maybe someone should shoot The Blair Witch War, an application of the shaky camera technique to telling the story of front-line grunts in a war.

January 25

Episode 7 of Ken Burns' Jazz made mention of a frequently overlooked aspect of Louis Armstrong: his singing. His gravelly voice is not particularly euphonic and he can barely even carry a tune. But Louis delivers raw emotion you could never teach in any class. His vocal talent appears best in "We Have All the Time in the World" and "What a Wonderful World". Next to "Hello, Dolly," these are probably his best known songs.

"We Have All the Time in the World" is the theme from the James Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service, the only Bond film with George Lazenby as 007. Because this unknown Australian model played the silver screen's most famous spy, some Bond fans consider this one the best, because one lingers less on the star quality of the other four actors. In On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Bond actually falls in love and marries Tracy de Vincenzo, played by Diana Rigg. Of course, Blofeld has her killed only minutes after the wedding. The song "We Have All the Time in the World" hangs its ironic shadow over the movie because Bond and Tracy didn't have much time at all. This is the only Bond song that brings me to tears. If "Nobody Does It Better" brings you to tears, you should get back to your sex life and don't waste your time reading the Internet.

"What a Wonderful World" gained popularity in the late 1980s from the soundtrack of Good Morning, Vietnam. These days, it accompanies Elizabeth Hurley's Estee Lauder commercials. I first heard it in the last scene of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy . Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect escaped Earth just before the Vogons demolished it to make way for a new hyperspace bypass. Their adventures return them to Earth two million years ago. Arthur and Ford discover that humans did not evolve from apes, but descended from the useless middle management of an alien race. But as they ponder the stupidity from which the human race rises, and the inenvitability of its senseless destruction, they do notice how beautiful the planet is. Over this, the strains of Louis Armstrong rise. You could use "What a Wonderful World" in almost any scene where a note of optimism fights a moment of despair. It could be people struggling to build a new life in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust. It might be a public service announcement seeking money for a charity to help disadvantaged children. The song appears most banal and pointless in the Estee Lauder commercial. We impart optimistically from "What a Wonderful World" that we can find priceless, non-material beauty even in our darkest moments. A beautiful woman with beautiful children, a catalog model husband, and an estate on Cape Cod needs no reminder of how wonderful her life is.

You can try to sing these songs. You can imagine other great voices singing these songs. You may know other versions. I don't think anyone has the wrenched the emotion from these songs like Louis has. Two simple lessons: 1) enjoy your relationships while you can; and 2) look for the beauty. Only Louis can convey these concepts so perfectly and so succintly.

January 24

Five Genre Novels That Should Be Dramatized for Film or Television
After seeing Dune, I pondered which genre novel ought to be adapted next. Generally, these stories would not require massive special effects expenditure in their filming.

  1. The Witching Hour by Anne Rice. Ken Burns should produce this in his characteristic documentary style. Instead of real actors, he could cast models and pose them in faked period photographs. Even Shelby Foote could appear in it.
  2. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. If the Harry Potter movie breaks the bank, I hope this one can ride its coattails.
  3. Any Miles Vorkosigan novel by Lois McMaster Bujold. I would especially recommend Barrayar because it doesn't have much Miles, I don't really like Miles, and it all takes place on one reasonably Earth-like planet.
  4. Any Alvin Maker Book by Orson Scott Card. Hollywood has been making a serious effort to film Ender's Game, but I prefer Card's series set in a magical alternate universe America. My favorite is Red Prophet, even though it is the second book in the sequence, because it has the best story. The studios may shy away from having to explain an alternate universe to a general audience. Heck, the studio executives probably couldn't understand alternate universes themselves.
  5. Jurgen by James Branch Cabell. Audiences should love this smart-ass anti-hero in a traditional medieval fantasy world. You might be surprised to know that this novel was written in 1919.

January 23

Five bad things about the Dune mini-series.

  1. No explanation of the mentats. I realize the mentats are not essential to Paul's story. However, in our cyberera, their message rings with relevance. In the past when their civilization suffered from machines that thought like humans, society rebelled by replacing them with humans who thought like machines.
  2. The gratuitous violence of the final battle. They could have exploded more buildings and shown less hand-to-hand combat, or emphasized the carnage with choice slow-motion sequences. The decapitation of Rabban was particularly silly. I didn't believe the small child could have gotten away with his head without fighting adults for it as well. They should have skipped any visual explanation of how the boy copped the capo and cut from another scene to the crowd cheering the display of Rabban's head.
  3. The All-American Paul. David Lynch messed this up as well. Although both Kyle McLaughlin and Alec Newman performed admirably, I think Paul should be from Mediterranean stock. They should have cast a young actor visibly Spanish, Italian, or Greek. Matt Keeslar as Feyd-Rautha, looking like a young Kevin Bacon, also tends to Nordic stock. His final fight with Paul looked like a fraternity tussle at Texas A&M.
  4. The hats. The gaggle of Bene Gesserit looked like bridesmaids rather than a dangerous coven of witches. The Sardaukar, the imperial stormtroopers of this universe, wear poofy Renaissance chapeaus like Michael York as Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet.
  5. The non-diverse cast. Herbert's novel assumes this story is part of our future, so people of all races should be there. Dr. Wellington Yueh in the novel is described as Asian. Why couldn't Fremen such as Stilgar, Jamis or Otheym have been played by black actors? The already unsettling glowing blue eyes would intensify their effect on a dark face.
Five good things about the Dune mini-series.
  1. Princess Irulan. She played a much bigger role than in David Lynch's version and not just as the narrator she was in the novel. Julie Cox is positively lanquid. At the end, when Jessica proclaims the superiority of her and Chani's concubinage over Irulan's marriage, her Erte silhouette stands in defiance over the the imperial arena. Herbert's and Jessica's words foretell a bleak future for her, but one wonders whether Irulan will really stand for any of it.
  2. William Hurt wasn't in the last two thirds. I believe the perfect William Hurt role was Macon Leary, the boring, fastidious travel writer for people who hate to travel in The Accidental Tourist. He's James Bland, not a noble charismatic hero, so it was good to off him early.
  3. It was six hours long, five without the commercials. Finally, enough time to tell a long, complex story. As I mentioned earlier, my personal definitive Dune is the game, so the length enabled you to feel the machinations of the imperial intrigue.
  4. The costumes. The stillsuits looked much more utilitarian than the black ones from the movie. The costume designer, Theodor Pistek, cribbed from many time periods: Ancient Egyptian, Chinese, Renaissance. Their worst note struck, when we were forced to watch Baron Harkonnen floating in only a diaper. I even liked one hat: the three quarters-circle on Princess Irulan as she watched Feyd fight. Julie Cox can make any hat look like an organic element of her statuesque beauty, even a baseball cap or a miner's helmet. I can do that, too with any hat I wear. Except that every hat I wear makes me look like a pimp.
  5. Non-conventional Caucasian casting. Although I bemoan the lack of African or Asian faces, the series did cast Russian and Middle Eastern types, that would normally not appear in a conventional whitebread cast. This is especially true in the case of Barbora Kodetova as Chani. Hollywood casting directors would probably reject her exotic Mediterranean features on the first day, given Herbert himself described the Fremen girl as "elfin". Mainstream Tinseltown would probably have cast Jennifer Love Hewitt. (Shudder. I know what your breasts did the last spice blow.)

Overall, Lynch's version had better style and actors. Not that Harrison's actors were bad, but Lynch assembled a veritable Royal Shakespeare Company. I read the cast for the movie, months before the release, a chill running up my spine at the perfection of some of the selections, especially Linda Hunt as Shadout Mapes and Sean Young as Chani. Along with the 'Nsync Pauls they cast, they also can't seem to find a heavy-set actor with the malevolence needed to for the Baron. When Orson Welles was still alive I'd heard rumors that he'd been cast as Baron Harkonnen. Too bad he didn't live long enough and no menacing-enough actor was ever cast.

Harrison's mini-series scores of course for coherence. You can watch it and understand it without having read the book. With the addition of the Irulan stories, and original dialogue, Harrison's vision is in the spirit of Herbert, but different because of these modifications. I'd give it a 7 out of 10, a B+. He didn't ruin it. It was a solid effort, though not a masterpiece.

January 22

President George W. Bush holds up three fingers

President George W. Bush indicates how many books without pictures he's read in his life.

January 21

George W. Bush takes the oath of office from Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Bush says: THANKS FOR SELECTING ME PRESIDENT Rehnquist replies: ANYTHING FOR POPPY

January 20

Bush to California: Drop Dead

Among the things George W. Bush said on Thursday,"It's their law...California is going to have to address and correct the law that has caused some of this to happen...California must be aggressive about increasing the amount of supply of power. We cannot conserve our way to independence."

He also supposedly said to California Governor Gray Davis,"Nyah-nyah-nyah. My state is bigger that your state."

Congratulations to the Los Angeles Galaxy who beat D.C. United on penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw in regulation. The Galaxy advance to the World Club Championship regardless of the result in Monday's continental club final.

January 19

The baseball fans I know complain about the lack of competitive balance in the sport, especially when compared to football. So they advocate a salary cap, just like basketball and football. Basketball tends to dynasties, rather than parity. As an observer of the futility of the Washington Bullets/Wizards, I should know.

But I think people have forgotten an essential difference between the sports: the number of players on a roster. Basketball has 12, baseball has 25, football has 53. With just 12 players on a roster, and only five on the court at any one time, the impact of one player is the greatest in basketball. In football, with 53 players on the roster, and only 11 on the field(but really 22 since nobody plays both sides), one player can't make as much of difference. And baseball falls somewhere in between. The greatest football player, Jim Brown, couldn't win all by himself the way Wilt Chamberlain, the greatest basketball player could. Even Babe Ruth, combined with Lou Gehrig, did not produce the greatest Yankee dynasty. Those were Casey Stengel's teams anchored by Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle.

January 18

It was a good day for my soccer teams. My English Premier League side, Sunderland won their third round F.A. Cup tie with First Division Crystal Palace 4-2 in extra time. My American sensibilities can't get behind non-sudden death overtime in soccer. Meanwhile, my home team, DC United defeated LD Alajuela of Costa Rica 2-1 to advance to the semi-finals of the CONCACAF Champions Cup. The Red and Black play the Los Angeles Galaxy on Friday night. The winner automatically qualifies for the World Club Championship. This tournament is for the club championship of North America. Thank you for webcasting the game. I must have been in grade school the last time I could experience a sporting event only on radio.

January 17

The electors of the Baseball Writers Association of America selected Dave Winfield and Kirby Puckett to the Hall of Fame. Winfield slammed 3,110 hits for automatic qualification. Puckett received notoriety for his leadership of two World Champion Minnesota Twins teams. I keep hoping that Ron Santo will enter the Hall one day. The Veterans Committee may one day enshrine Gil Hodges. Now, I like him for managing the Senators and the championship 1969 New York Mets, but I think other player-managers may try to get in on his card.

               R   RBI  W   L   PCT
Gil Hodges 1105 1274 660 753 .467
Don Baylor 1236 1276 505 566 .472
Felipe Alou 985 852 670 685 .494
Dusty Baker 964 1013 655 577 .532
January 16

Before we married, Mary and I went to the World Science Fiction Convention in New Orleans. We hit it off with a woman and the three of us took a walk through the French Quarter. We ended up at an outdoor cafe on a traffic island in the middle of a street. A huge black saxophone player with a white beret played jazz and blues. We must have been there until 3 a.m. That was a perfect New Orleans moment. I hope you have many perfect moments in your life. And I hope you always remember them.

January 15

DJ Doug Tracht, the Greaseman, got himself into trouble one Martin Luther King Day by saying,"If shooting one gets us one day off, let's shoot four more and get the week off." The racial insensitivity was all wrong, but he got the shallow banality right. Despite the true meaning instilled in a holiday, whether this day, or Christmas, or Veteran's Day, the ultimate meaning for most of us, sadly, is that it's a day off from work or school. I stopped to ponder this point when I was in school, that while Jesus died for my sins, Martin Luther King died so that I could have one more day to work on my English project.

As an ardent capitalist, I don't doubt that Martin Luther King will one day join George Washington and Abraham Lincoln as an icon to sell more stuff. Kia had a commercial combining all holiday sales where personifications of all holidays duked it out in a massive steel cage free-for-all. Abraham Lincoln tore off his shirt down to a hirsute chest demanding,"Who wants a piece of me?"

Today the martyred Martin Luther King serves as a symbol appropriated even by the conservatives to advance their agenda. Dr. King would only have been 72 today and, if no other misfortune had befallen him, one could easily conceive of him as a regular television talking head. Imagine him with a white mustache and shaven head, debating racial politics with Newt Gingrich on Hardball with Chris Matthews. If Martin Luther King were alive today, would the conservatives dismiss him, as they do Jesse Jackson, rather than eulogize him the way they do today?

January 14

The Kwisatz Haderach spoke and the Giants and Ravens won. You won't see me making any predictions any time soon. I'll quit while I'm ahead.

The above Dune reference comes from finally watching the mini-series this weekend. I'll have more to say later on. Obviously, anyone's reaction to this most recent production depends their personal baseline reference of the quintessential Dune, whether Frank Herbert's original novel or David Lynch's motion picture. Mine is the Avalon-Hill Game. My sister never read the books, but sufficiently understood the movie from playing the game. Both the novel and the dramatic productions must end with Paul triumphing, but the game doesn't. The game must be balanced so that any of the six sides - Atreides, Bene Gesserit, Empire, Fremen, Guild or Harkonnen - are capable of winning. That mystery and intrigue of all factions equally maneuvering and battling - I find that more exciting than the story of the son regaining his father's throne.

January 13

If the New York Giants and the Baltimore Ravens win their conference championship games tomorrow as I predicted earlier this week, it will be the first time in Super Bowl history that two cities who played each other in a previous Super Bowl play again, but with two different franchises. The Baltimore Colts and New York Jets faced off against each other in Super Bowl III. Here are the times it happened previously in the World Series:

The New York Giants played the Philadelphia Athletics in 1905, 1911, and 1913.
The New York Yankees played the Philadelphia Phillies in 1950.

The Boston Braves played the Philadelphia Athletics in 1914.
The Boston Red Sox played the Philadelphia Phillies in 1915.

The Chicago White Sox played the New York Giants in 1917.
The Chicago Cubs played the New York Yankees in 1932 and 1938.

January 12

The opponents of Interior Secretary nominee Gale Norton fired their shots at the former Colorado attorney general for calling slavery a state's rights fight with bad facts. Her belief that the Civil War was about state's right and not slavery in the South is a quaint concept, sort of like Marxism. The state's rights issue is the post-war justification to make the war palatable. The war was always about slavery in the South. What other state right could they have been fighting for, ballot-design? Some say there must have been another issue besides slavery, because so many non-slave-holding men fought in the war. Though they didn't own slaves, they were afraid of dropping to the same socio-economic level as the slaves and competing with them for the remaining jobs.

And in the North, the war wasn't about slavery, but state's rights. Most Northerners didn't care about slaves, since they didn't see them, nor many black people around them. Although some opposed slavery, most didn't want to live side-by-side with black folks. But breaking the country up, that was different.

Anyway, you can read the transcript of the controversial speech. The supposedly offensive language is about as disturbing as non-specific Marxist rhetoric. I find the interview John Ashcroft gave to The Southern Partisan to be more disturbing. It's the difference between spouting socialist language in a speech and saying the same thing to Pravda or The Daily Worker.

Norton derided the EPA for threatening to withhold highway funds if Colorado didn't precisely comply with their environmental requirements. She sounded just like a teen-ager complaining about being grounded because she didn't clean up her room.

The reason Norton's opponents are focusing on it is that their real problem, her environmental record, is hard to grab headlines with. She also sponsored anti-gay legislation in Colorado, but she has little power to affect gay issues in the Interior Department. I don't like it, but it's not relevant to the job.

I met Elaine Chao, the Labor Department nominee, when she spoke at our agency for Asian-Pacific American month. So how did I meet all the Asian members of the Bush cabinet? Because it's a painfully small circle, like black Republicans or Jews for Buchanan.

January 11

I've been very behind in my reading so I'm just now getting through the October 2000 issue of Realms of Fantasy. The story "Hey Hey Something Something" by Jan Lars Jensen has the introductory tag line,"If we think we remember our childhoods, chances are very good we don't." Automatically one assumes the subject matter involves child abuse by either adults or other children. Instead, certain adults obsessesively study a children's game, similar to "Mother May I," that the observers call Hey Hey Something Something. They know neither the name nor the exact nature of the game because only child minds can comprehend the game. The narrator observes one game, but finds himself disoriented. The premise of the story is that an adult mind can no longer understand the game. Any attempts result in the dizziness described. The story manages to convey a spooky alienness in a familiar world. We may recall certain moments in our own lives when our world views abruptly changed. In "The Martian Child" by David Gerrold, the narrator ponders the alienness of his child literally, that his child is a Martian. In The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes, the author claims that people of ancient times had not developed consciousness as we know it and believed in gods differently because their minds had not developed consciousness. On the other hand, Vernor Vinge in the January 2001 of Locus believes that you could pluck pretty much anybody out of time and in a few weeks, they could adapt to our world. I believe something happened to humanity's worldview just after the Sumerian times. I find The Epic of Gilgamesh to be the most alien work of Western Literature. So I don't believe Jensen's premise about children, but it's a spooky story nonetheless.

January 10

You can tell me how much of an idiot I look on Sunday after the games are played. I predict the Baltimore Ravens and the New York Giants will win. An ESPN internet poll said that this is the least desirable of the four possible matchups.

Silver Screen Test will be scheduled in the next two weeks. Stay tuned.

January 9

Today is my father's birthday. It's Richard Nixon's birthday as well.

For you Silver Screen Test fans, I submit the tape and the associated paperwork today. The first air date is coming soon.

January 8

How about this idea for a John Updike-like suburban divorce novel? A couple who have reversed the traditional gender roles live in a house mortgaged to the gills in the Potomac, Maryland. While she battles purge and binge eating bouts, he denies his latent homosexuality. After a few drinks on New Year's Eve, she's mooning the neighborhood and he simulates humping the lawn reindeer. Can she keep her business afloat with an adolescent husband? Will he fall for the widowed minister? Will the younger son survive the regular pummelings from the elder son? What do you think? Could it sell?

January 7

Norman Podhoretz appeared on Booknotes. A famous conservative columnist, he blamed J.D. Salinger for the excesses of the 1960s. In books like Catcher in the Rye, Salinger advocated the virtues of adolescence and youth over the mendacity of adulthood. As I age I find myself on the short end of a youth-oriented culture, but I realize Podhoretz was just exaggerating the excesses of the opposition, as columnists tend to do. For if Salinger idealizes the innocence of the youth, doesn't Jesus himself, a favorite of conservatives say,"Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3) Robert Bly in The Sibling Society said that parents no longer want to be authority figures to their children, but buddies instead. So while we find excesses in youth, there remain virtues as well. For societies need renewal and the young, as well the immigrants and the people of the new technologies provide the source for that renewal. But it's just so hard being an angry moderate.

Norman Podhoretz spoke lovingly of his son John in a way he didn't talk about his daughters. It's not a Lauis complex, just dynastic pride I suppose. John now writes a column for the New York Post. He played College Bowl for the University of Chicago. In January 1981, I captained the University of Maryland team. In those days, College Bowl held what they called a "mini-week" which consisted of teams being invited to a campus site for a four day weekend to tape shows for the College Bowl program on CBS Radio. Generally, the teams stayed at a nearby Holiday Inn, or equivalent, with the five (usually male) players and their (usually male) coach sharing two or three hotel rooms. That year at Florida State University, those darned Seminoles put us up in a summer camp bunkhouse. Two wings of the bunkhouse were connected by a lounge. Each wing contained about 25 three-level bunks. Given the gender ratio, about 40 males slept on one side, and 10 females slept on the other. I brought tapes of the original Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio series with me and laughed hysterically at the "Share and Enjoy" song. Mind you, this wasn't a Walkman or boombox, but a cheap little recorder and player. In those close quarters, we compared the snoring volumes of the two portliest participants, sprawled on their bunks like a pair of beached belugas. Perhaps one could stand at the right spot between them and pick up the resonance frequency. Right up to the wee morning hours in the lounge, we sang show tunes and television theme songs. John Podhoretz's eyes lit up as he, my teammate Tom Rogers and I sang "The Egg" from 1776.

January 6

It's January 6, Epiphany, Twelfth Night, the traditional end of Christmas. I have a friend whose son turns 16 today. One of his middle names is Melchior, one of the names usually given to the Three Kings.

Of course, modern translations render these visitors as neither Kings, nor Wise Men, but astrologers. The Magi recognized, not a bright star, but a significant astrological configuration. Religiously, they were the first, outside of the Jews, to understand the importance of Jesus. Trying giving myrrh at a baby shower and see what kind of a reaction you get.

January 6 also means that, if it's a weekend, I start taking down the Christmas decorations. At this late hour, the string of lights has come down from the stairwell and the tree is free of all ornamentation.

Last night, The Newshour with Jim Lehrer showed a segment on parent violence at youth sporting events. The most shocking incident to me that they showed was the fight between a dozen parents at a tee-ball game for 4-year-olds. They're 4-year-olds. Read that again. They're 4-year-olds. Unless someone does physical harm or inflicts serious emotional abuse to your child, what could possibly be going wrong in a 4-year-old tee-ball game that is worth fighting over? And is that harm worse than the damage caused by your child watching you solve your problems in a violent manner? As described elsewhere, I have judged academic competitions on the high school level. I see coaches who think they are drill sergeants, and their students boot camp grunts. Maybe those coaches are making up for shortcomings in their previous or present life. Their kids rarely go on to compete at the college level, because they're burned out. Answering questions isn't fun anymore. But at the very least, the coaches are school representatives. There's an entire educational bureaucracy to answer to. Most sports referees feel the same way. Refs would rather work high school games, where the coaches are teachers, rather than 4-year-olds, where the coaches are parents. When I was soccer mom to my sister, I didn't go to many games. Maybe I should have, and hit on the twenty-something women they had for coaches. I don't know what I'll do when Spike starts competing in sports, other than keep a camcorder running for evidence when I press charges. I went shopping today. Folks stood in long lines at the post office stocking up on stamps for the price increase. At Costco, I saw parents go ballistic on their children twice. I made sure to stare at the parents. I didn't see tantrums from any children. Every election, pundits warn us, we get the government we deserve. I wonder if parents get the children they deserve.

January 5

The Information Management staff presents a course outline for a training class. The priorities of the course objectives are all wrong. They plan to teach your staff tasks they've never done and never will do. But the computer guys don't want comments on the teaching plan. They want to know whether their programming works well enough to train people how to do things they never do. Another Dilbert moment.

January 4

Commerce Secretary Norman Mineta was named Transportation Secretary. I met him when he was still a Congressman. My father knew him, but my father knows everybody. We saw Mineta at the baggage claim at Dulles Airport after a flight from San Francisco. He rode on the same flight, but he sat in first class.

The Washington Potatoes named Marty Shottenheimer as their head coach. I was hoping for Art Shell, but rumors suggest Shell might be hired as offensive coordinator.

January 3

Yesterday, on the Today show, that all other things being equal, parents would prefer a son to a daughter. I ended up with a daughter, and I'm happy with that. I also helped raise my sister, so I'd done that before.

I also realized I couldn't handle the competition for my wife. Some mothers resent their daughters for the affection their husbands show them. I'm surprised fathers don't feel the same way about their sons. They probably do, but just don't talk about it much, like men usually don't talk about their feelings. Check out The Eighth Day by Thornton Wilder. An entire section describes the resentment fathers feel for their sons, jealously resenting their lost youth.

I bet the entire Oedipus Complex is really a Laius Complex. Sons don't want to screw their mothers, their fathers just think they do. Freud couldn't articulate that fear of fathers, so he projected it onto the sons.

January 2

When someone is calling your house and leaving several messages that you don't answer, the temptation is so strong to quote Jim Carrey from The Cable Guy,"Hey Steve I'm on a pay phone, so if you're there pick up, pick up, pick up, pick up, pick up, pick up, pick up, pick up, well OK, call me back."

Sorry to hear that John Cooper got fired.

January 1

Re-starting Eucalyptus as a blog on New Year's Day sounds like a New Year's resolution, when it's just a coincidence.

We rented a couple of Jim Carrey videos in expectation of a blizzard hitting our area on Friday. Instead, the Atlantic portion of the storm moved too slowly and inundated Philadelphia and New York instead. Jim Carrey is an acquired taste, like the Three Stooges or Jerry Lewis. I prefer the deadpan expressions of Leslie Nielsen in my physical comedy. I also think comedy depends strongly on the unexpected. To me the only surprise that can come from Jim Carrey's face is a new contortion you didn't think humans could accomplish without the aid of Industrial Light and Magic.

The two films we saw were The Cable Guy and Liar Liar. For some reason, begin spoiler Carrey ends both movies being carried out on a stretcher end spoiler. I could imagine the remake of Casablanca with Jim Carrey on a stretcher on the airport tarmac, telling Kristy Swanson why she should get aboard that plane.

more spoilers ahead In The Cable Guy, Carrey's character, Chip Douglas, takes Matthew Broderick as Steve Kovacs, an unspecified acquisitions specialist, to a medieval themed restaurant. They end up fighting each other in full armor. Chip recalls the "Amok Time" of episode of Star Trek, chanting the fighting music as he wields a quarterstaff with a blade on one end and a cudgel on the other. In another part of the fight scene, he cries,"Come back here, so that I may brain thee!" Director Ben Stiller portrays a great side plot as both twin brothers in a celebrated murder trial.

In Liar Liar, Carrey plays a lawyer whose son makes a wish that forces him to tell only the truth for 24 hours. The son uses this opportunity to ask him questions. One of these is," If I keep making this face...will it get stuck like that?" Carrey retorts with the unforgettable reply,"Uh uh. As a matter of fact, some people make a very good living that way." I also caught Carrey revealing his Canadianess by saying "PROH-cess" once.end spoilers

You can see what Roger Ebert thought of The Cable Guy and what Rita Kempley thought of Liar Liar.

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Last revised January 31, 2001
© 2001 B. Barrientos