Wednesday, February 25, 2009

on ash wednesday and lenten vows.


I'm a big comic book nerd. This is an indisputable fact. I don't try to mask it. (But I probably do over-compensate, by acting tough in other ways.) I'm proud of it.

But combined with this one aspect of me are many other things that make up my complete person. Among these things: my work as a teacher, my role as a son and a brother, my love of basketball, and my religion.

So, today, in one of those roles, is a pretty significant day. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, wherein Catholics (amongst others) try to sacrifice something, so that they can bring themselves just a little bit closer to Jesus Christ. The trick is to give up something that's tempting for you, but not something that's impossible. You want the sacrifice to be a struggle, but just like with goal-setting, if you aim too high, then you've essentially wasted your Lent. Understandably, this is a struggle if you continuously practice observing Lent and you want to change your goal. Many people give up meat, which is why, around this time, you start to see a plethora of advertisements from the fast food companies for their fish sandwiches. I don't mind the commercialization of religious practices, really.

I've done pretty well in the past, ranging from the traditional sacrifice of meat (but, to be fair, I did that at a time in my life when I wasn't eating a lot of meat. It might be something that I look at duplicating next year, now that I'm a regular carnivore) to abstaining from drinking. Last year, I attempted to give up cursing, but I realized on the morning of Ash Wednesday that I had driven to school and sang along with a few songs that had curse words in them without even becoming aware of the fact. So last year, I'm copping, was at least a partial bust. I already do a pretty good (enough) job of distinguishing my work-self vs. my personal-self (it's not like I'm running down the halls screaming obscenities) and so I made it my goal to, by the end of Lent last year, have a single day pass during which I didn't say a single curse word. I think I might have made it, but, like I said, it was a bust...

This year, my goal will be much more difficult insofar as the original idea of sacrifice, but much more quantifiable insofar as I'll know if I break it.

This year for Lent, I've given up reading comic books.

This means no discussion with my comic book friends (yes, we do normally get together and talk about what's happening in the comic book world) and it means no browsing of the comic book message boards. (See? I'm not even going to link to the ones that I normally go to, because I can't go there now! It really is already depressing.) It's going to be hard.

But when I get through this Lent, I think I will have sacrificed everything that I possibly can, dating back about 8 years when I first started coming up with these ideas, other than the ultimate goal: while I was at Gonzaga, I first conceived the idea to give up talking for Lent. There's no way that I can do it now with the job that I work, but it's still something that I think about. One day I'll get to it. For now, this is hard enough.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

on fighting.

Conflict is a way of life. I tell my students all the time that, really, conflict is what drives our lives. There is no such thing as a story without a conflict, and when we relate the story of our life, it tends to center around the conflicts that we endured, because that's what engages people. However, there is a big difference between conflict and fighting.

As some of you may know, as it turns out, young people sometimes fight. This, I think, is another inescapable fact. Young people are just going to do this. They've been fighting for a really long time - I don't think it's likely to stop any time soon. It's just one of the ways that young people know (and instinctively know, at that) to get this conflict out of their lives. So, it tends to happen, young people fight.

Most of the time, in schools, those young people that fight are males. I'm not trying to be sexist, I'm just saying the majority of the fights are male vs. male. Some of the sickest fights I've ever seen were female vs. female, so it's not a sign of increased violence or anything like that, it's a purely statistical measure. As a young man who went through the public education system here in Albuquerque, I can attest to the fact that, sometimes, it feels like the only option a guy has when enough's been said is to throw down. And I think that most of us (the population in general) realizes these facts and accept them, even if only subconsciously.

However, I had to laugh at this CNN video article that was on the front page yesterday: young kids are fighting! And they're taking video of it! And putting it on the Internet!


We've already gone over the fact that kids have been fighting forever. And, I'm pretty sure that we also all remember that, when kids fight, it's a big deal to the rest of the school populace. Everyone else assembles around the kids who are fighting and, after the fight's done, they talk about it.

Turns out, with the digital revolution (pardon the trite expression) occurring, and video seemingly surrounding us at all times, kids are going to see that ubiquitous existence as simply another means of expression. Of course they're going to tape the fights! Here's a fun exercise: go to YouTube and type in your high school's initials and the word fight. I can almost guarantee there'll be some results.

After my first year of teaching at the school I'm currently at (which is pretty widely recognized as a quote-unquote good school - it's located in an area of town where SES is an after-thought to what kind of new car the kids are getting for their 16th birthday), I was sent a video of various students of mine (and plenty others) fighting in a ditch near the school. It was summer, we were done with school, and I honestly didn't know what to do about it. Should I show it to someone? Would there be any consequences? Should there be? These are hard questions for me. Ultimately, however, I decided to do nothing - the consequences (if any even would have been doled out eventually) would have been wildly inappropriate given the amount of time that would have inevitably passed before I could even corral the people I recognized. Additionally, I thought of my time in public schools and the fights that I'd witnessed (and participated in, if we're going to be honest). I thought a lot about what I've written above, about how conflict is an unavoidable part of life and how, at this young age, a lot of the kids have no other release at all, other than to physically hurt others or themselves.

All these questions, to me, are worth asking: What are we going to do about violence? Is it worse now than it was before? (I'm honestly not sure.) Is it troublesome that kids are documenting (almost literally) every single part of their lives, and putting it up on the Internet? (Maybe?) Should there be punishments for kids who get into fights off-campus? (The current answer is: we're responsible for them door-to-door. So, if they haven't been home yet, and they go to fight, they're technically still on-campus. This, to me, seems like a gray area, but one can't argue with the good intent behind it.)

However, all of these questions are significantly better than the faux-shock (and, really, my point stands [perhaps even more so!] if it's not faked, but rather genuine shock) of seeing cellphone-captured video of fights put up on video sites. If that shocks you, or if you feel the need to pretend that it does, you're living in the worst kind of bubble.

Monday, February 23, 2009

on vertical licenses.

See below for my letter (as of yesterday) to my city's finest weekly alternative newsmagazine:

Dear Alibi,

Today is my 27th birthday. I had a relaxing day. I got up, had some breakfast with a mimosa, had some lunch, and finished off dinner with a beer. If I had wanted, I could have gone to the bar last night. (I didn't, because I'm an old man like that.) Two and a half months now, my youngest brother will turn 21. His birthday, unfortunately, falls on a Sunday this year, just like mine. However, because of some new rules in Albuquerque, he won't be able to engage in the time-honored tradition of going out to celebrate his 21st. Why not? He has a vertical license now, just like most (all?) people under 21. And bars in Albuquerque don't accept vertical licenses. Why not? There's no good answer to that question. Are vertical licenses harder to forge? I asked some people who honed their craft in college and they said no. Are vertical licenses harder to tell when the actual birth date is? That answer is obviously no upon a glance. So why do we have this rule? At best it smacks of ridiculous opportunism (and collaboration) between local businesses and local government, and at worst, its cronyism of the worst kind. My brother can't go to the DMV to get a new horizontal license on Saturday, even if he wanted to pony up the fee for a new one, because he won't yet be 21. And the bars won't let him in after midnight on Saturday even if he were to use that technicality, because they don't accept his ID. Why? No one I've spoken to has had an actual answer.

That is to say:

Why do we have these rules? They're not laws. They're not practical. They seem specifically designed to rob people who probably already have a shortage of money. And that, to me, seems counter to the idea that government is not, in fact, the problem. This is the type of thing that makes people think that the government is out to get them.


Honestly, I don't even remember when I was under-21 if I had a vertical ID anymore. I'm 99% certain that I did, but if I was to find out tomorrow that was a lie and that I'd never had one, it wouldn't surprise me. Because, again, honestly, it just wasn't that big of a deal. I remember thinking, "Well, I could get a new, horizontal one when I turn 21," but there was no incentive. Why would I waste more of my money just to get a new license?

(And, truly, don't get me started on New Mexico's newest ID's! I wish I could find a great link but I can't - probably because they're so ashamed that they've eliminated all proof of these things on the Internet! Seriously, they're that bad. You want to talk about someone easily forging something? This is the one! It looks like it was made in a 6th grade elective, where the kids knew that fake ID's could get them something but they didn't know what, and they'd, in fact, never seen a real ID in their lives!)

So, perhaps the government wasn't raking in as much as they'd expected from some area and decided to pass on the word that if the businesses could just make this new little rule, they'd be able to make up some of those profits elsewhere?

I mean, really, I'm not a crazy conspiracy theorist, but I find it extremely difficult to fathom another reason for this ultra-restrictive rule. What (other) purpose can it possibly serve?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

on applying for the best job in the world.

So, I've held off on writing about this until this point (you know...because of the massive readership of this blog, and the fact that if everyone in the world [clearly, whom all read this blog] read about this, they'd want it, too) but I figure the deadline is looming, anyway, and by the end of tonight, I'll have my application up:

I'm applying for the best job in the world. No, but really. Getting paid to look after an island? The only way it could be better is if I was part of the DHAMRA Initiative. (BTW, an entry will be coming, but Lost remains the best show on television, and it's certainly cementing itself in my mind as [no doubt] the best shows that's ever been on television.) Getting paid to look after an island and blog about it, and take some time off from work? Absolutely, positively delicious.

I've already told my boss at work that I'm looking around for another job, not least of all because my mama always taught me to keep my options open. But really, it's been hard at work lately, and this seems like it'd be a pretty natural, perfect fit. It'd be an amazing opportunity to get even more fit, and to do some promotion across more than a couple of purposes.

I feel pretty good about my chances (except for one of my friends undercutting me with his own entry!) insofar as I made a great video, and I have a pretty solid application, but I really don't know what it comes down to. So that's kind of a drag that I can't control it anymore than just doing the best that I could on those two things. I'll be psyched when I make the final rounds, because then I'll have a chance to impress them in person, which my cousin Brian always told me was the point of a resume, anyway. So, here's to hoping.

I'll upload my video as soon as I get it up here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

on coraline - in 3d!

First of all, let me say that I am glad that I heeded Neil Gaiman's advice and saw Coraline in 3D as opposed to just the normal showing. The 3D glasses cost $2.50 more at my movie theater, but I kept them as I know a bunch more movies that are going to be coming out in 3D (like this portrait of me as an old man, for instance) in the near future, and it seems like a wise (if minimal) investment. Secondly, the glasses kind of made my head hurt for a brief while when I first had them on, they seemed to be pinching my temples, not to mention making me more than a little dizzy, but the latter faded before the first 3D preview was over and the former was easily adjusted by moving the glasses around on my head. So, problems? Minimal? Benefits? Tremendous!

There were many cool parts of Coraline that were made even better by watching it in 3D, but it did make me wonder, repeatedly, if the movie wouldn't have felt a little flat without it. I guess you never know what you've got till it's gone, so if I'd never seen it in 3D, I wouldn't have noted the absence of that depth, but it was really astonishing to me how much was done with it. This given the fact that I was kind of hesitant when contemplating going to the 3D showing in the first place, thinking to myself, "How much better could it really be?"

The film was a good one, but I have to admit that I haven't read the book. I know, I know, it's an easy little thing, but to me that's even more reason to put it off. When I know that I can get to it any day, it's kind of hard to motivate myself to do it today. That being said, I was certainly able to follow the story, which was presented in a great fashion, by Henry Selick, and it was both engaging and engrossing. The animation's style was fantastic, obviously reminding me quite a bit of The Nightmare Before Christmas, which I'm sure it was supposed to.

The fantasy elements were played out in amazing fashion and I really appreciated the (minimal) inclusion of music that they had. I felt like, honestly, despite my relative hatred toward musicals, they could have had a few more numbers and the film might have turned out even better. As it is, the "Other Father Song" was clearly a highlight of the movie - done by They Might Be Giants!

Reality, on the other hand, was kind of drab. I was happy that Coraline turned out to be a good girl, and wouldn't leave her real mom and dad trapped in the other world, and wouldn't take her eyes out for buttons, but I didn't really ever feel a strong impetus for her not to. Was this something that was developed a lot further in the book? I mean, did we ever see that her parents actually cared about her? In the movie, honestly, they seemed like they were always too busy for her, and that she was kind of a drag on this perfect writing life they had. It's understandable that we have that, as long as we have a contrast to show that they were happy once upon a time - but I don't feel like we ever got that in the movie. Surely there must have been more in the book, otherwise...what's the point? Why wouldn't she stay there forever? What's the rationale for going back to a world where her parents (evidently) made her leave her friends behind to move to the Pink Palace so that they could write and ignore her 24/7. (I know, I know, she got the gloves at the end, and I thought that was a cute touch that I honestly didn't see coming, but by that point, isn't it, honestly, too little, too late?)

Other than that, I didn't really have many complaints about the movie. I certainly wouldn't take a kid younger than 10 to go see it, there were some seriously scary parts to it. But overall, I felt like a giddy little kid, getting to sit in the theater with my 3D glasses on again (did I ever see a 3D movie in the theaters, other than at Disney World?) and I look forward to the quote-unquote fuuuuuuuture where this sort of thing is more common place.

As an addendum of sorts, I saw this amazing trailer for a movie called 9 that made me foaming-at-the-mouth envious: why didn't they have this kind of amazing stuff when I was a kid?

Bottom Line: Three and a Half Stars (out of Five).

Monday, February 16, 2009

on before the devil knows you're dead.

Great, personal look, but unsatisfying at the end with how we didn't get to find out about what happened to Hank or Andy's wife. I'm not sure if a father would really kill his own kid. But very good.

I had the pleasure over this NBA All-Star Weekend to indulge in a little bit of movie watching. First up was the Netflix'd Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. I don't remember where I heard about this movie, but I definitely thought well of it while reading the Netflix movie sleeve: Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke, plus Marisa Tomei (who, BTW, I found out while researching for this, is 44 years old and looks damn good for being that old!) in a film directed by Sidney Lumet. Yeah, not a bad deal, huh?

The film has a great narrative structure, borrowing heavily from the 21st century, post-Tarantino look at things. It flashes back and forth frequently, following many of the different characters, taking several different looks at a few key scenes. This is a great idea for a film that's set in this style and, by that, I mean particularly the subset of characters that are really important to the action. This is no Closer but the fact remains that it is a small cast that honestly drives all of the action in this film. And that's a good thing.

The basic storyline consists of a pair of brothers, living in the modern age, who are behind in their payments (everything from the expensive taste of a wife to child support) and making too little money. PSH plays Andy, the older brother, who convinces his younger brother, Hank (Ethan Hawke, for the first time truly looking old), that the solution to their money problems is to knock off their parents' jewelery store. It is, as Andy says, a victimless crime: insurance takes care of their parents, their parents take care of them (in a fashion), and no one gets hurt since the boys know the jewelery store so well. Of course, as we expect, things go predictably, horribly wrong.

The great sub-plots involve Andy's relationship with his wife (Marisa Tomei) which was completely unclear to me in the beginning, but I won't ruin it here, so as to save someone the shocks that I encountered as the film progressed. Suffice it to say there are complications between all the family members: Andy vs. Hank, Andy vs. his father, Andy vs. Gine (his wife), Hank vs. Gina, etc. The matriarch of the family, played by Rosemary Harris in a fantastic, if understated, role plays an inestimably important role in both the plot of the movie as well as the family.

My few complaints about the movie include the semi-ambiguous ending: we never find out what happens with Hank, who kind of serves as the emotional crux of the movie, which I think was a mistake on the part of Lumet. The fact that Gina disappeared so unceremoniously wasn't as disappointing, but there were also some missteps in the handling of the relationship between Andy and his father: if things were going to be so blatant by the end of the film, I would have appreciated some foreshadowing or some hints before the middle of the film of the depths of their feelings toward one another. All this being said, however, these are relative complaints and the film remains a solid one.

Bottom Line: Four Stars (out of Five).

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

on latitude.

CNN reported recently about Google's new service: Latitude. I like it. I like it a lot. certainly seems stalker-ific. I mean, seriously, I know that it's got privacy controls, and I know that it's opt-in, but all of these are no-duh, of-course type of things. Of course it's opt-in! It has to be! Of course the privacy settings are defaulted. If they weren't, the uproar that Google faced over the China debacle would seem trivial!

Here's the thing, though: like so many other things, this isn't currently working with my iPhone. And, again, of course, I understand that Google would want it to go to Android-powered devices first but it's really discouraging to have the phone that supposedly changed the game, the phone that supposedly everyone wants, the phone that supposedly is the best on the market and for it not to work with this bumping new technology! I mean, I can't run my Twitter client in the background of my phone, so what's the point? I don't get the tweets as SMS all the time because of AT&T's nefarious service at either my home or my work, and a client that could pick those up (even if it would be over the supposedly terrible Edge network) would make a world of a difference. But what's the point of having an app that can't run in the background? Would you want your e-mail to only check when you click the button? (Oh wait, that's a setting on my iPhone! Devices that even have non-push settings confuse me.)

Anyway, back to the point: Latitude seems great, especially insofar as the way the future's really going to be. Tracking people that we care about seems a logical (if scary, and somewhat controlling [in the bad way!]) extension of the powers of the Internet, and we've already seen plenty of examples of it. The whole idea of people and places being interlocked seems obvious when everyone has a permanent connection to the Internet, which is what most smartphones are (and should be) and, seeing as all phones will be smartphones eventually, it's only natural to think that we'll all have these capabilities soon.

But here's thing thing: we need a permanent connection. We need to be logged in and have the option to continuously broadcast. It's only through this ability that we'll truly make the Internet and our physical world one and the same. And that's when we'll finally be able to interact in the way that I've dreamed of: touching physical objects as though they're hyper-linked, get information instantaneously about anything that we want to know, and access important miscellanea about the people that we love whenever we want it (what day will my nephew's birthday fall on for his big 2-1?) and whenever we need it (my cousin whom I rarely speak to is in the hospital and for some reason they have my phone number as the access point to get to her records to see what she's allergic to, and I'm able to access that info). This is the way the future will be. And that's what's great about the tiny little steps that Google is currently taking.

Monday, February 9, 2009

on monday morning music notes - including the grammys and custom mixes and love.

One of my greatest friends Kat just sent the Val Mix Love the Pros and Cons - A Mix for Friends and I've been rocking out to a randomly delivered mix Beyond Friendship (BTW, can I get a playlist or something? I know some of them, but not nearly all...) from another amazing human being, Sarah Cracky, for the last couple weeks. I have good friends who send me great stuff. I've made it a habit to make mixes for all the people I love over the course of my life, and I think that I've made some good ones. But the important thing to note is that people (all people!) love unsolicited love. When we're away at college, I think, is when we really learn this. When I would get something in the mail, and I didn't know it was coming, my heart would just light up. And it continues to this day. The same exact thing happened around Christmas time when I got cards from random people, and I still show people the postcard that I got from the aforementioned Sarah Cracky, which might damn well be the funniest piece of mail that I've ever received. (No pic. You'll have to ask to see it when you come by the house.) So send me a mix if you love me and, chances are, if I love you, I've already sent one your way. I'm still in the mix-making business, but I strayed for a while over the last two years or so, so if you haven't received one in a while, feel free to request.

The Grammys aired last night and, as usual, I couldn't care much less about who won (seriously, though?) but there were some great performances, most notably by what It's The are calling the Swag Pack. Of course, all of these videos will be DMCA'd by CBS ASAP (I just figured once I'd used one acronym, I might as well use a whole bunch more) so they might disappear on and off over the next few days.

Jay-Z also performed with Chris Martin on the Coldplay song "Lost" before they went into their (probably-stolen) ubiquitous song that won more than its share of awards.

The only other really interesting thing to me was all the talk about Blink 182 using this as a venue to announce their reunion kind of seemed like they did? But to be honest, I really couldn't tell! They were all so clearly uncomfortable standing next to each other! And Tom didn't say anything practically the whole time. Is Travis' arm still busted up from that plane crash? Didn't DJ AM already play a whole show? Very shortly after the crash? Why is Trav still half-laid up? What's the deal with that?

In short, Blink didn't encourage me to go to their reunion show, I still have to write my forth-coming entry on swag vs. swagger, because now that it's been mentioned at both the Grammys and the Super Bowl, that means it's officially jumped the shark and that I can talk about it, since this blog is apparently the antithesis of breaking any kind of news or opinions that other bloggers haven't talked about at least a billi times already.

Oh yeah, and mixes are good.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

link of the day.

In Barack Obama's book Dreams From My Father, there's some dialogue that is questionable at best, insofar as its appropriateness for all ages. And when Barack Obama recorded the audio book, he knew (as a 21st century man) that inappropriateness of language actually wouldn't matter to the people who elected him. So he went ahead and read those lines as they should have been. So now, we have the President of the United States saying things like, "That guy ain't shit. Sorry ass motherfucker got nothing on me." It's hilarious and I love it, and I have to give a hat-tip to the wonderful Twitter feed for showing me this one. Delicious.

Friday, February 6, 2009

on kobe vs. lebron.

A point I made repeatedly last night:

Getting to the hoop is the most valuable thing a superstar can do. Because they'll either get the bucket or get the call. Kobe makes a ton of those crazy shots, which means that we've come to expect it from him, even when it's highly unlikely that anyone else would make that shot. But just because he does (so often) doesn't mean that I wouldn't rather see him go to the hole. This is why LBJ is either already or will soon be the best player in the world, snatching the title from Kobe.

Henry gets the angle exactly right, because statistically, if you look at all the figures, LeBron is a better player than Kobe in almost every single way. However, as this shouting match at FreeDarko proved (Henry's words, not mine, not trying to knock FreeDarko at all!) there are still tons of people who acknowledge that basketball, as a sport, is different than most other sports, mainly because stats are oftentimes kind of useless. The game is so different. It's not turn-based, like baseball or football. The game is fluid, it requires thinking on your feet, a dedication to a plan but also a willingness to deviate from that plan at any time. Offense has to be able to see weaknesses in the defense and react accordingly, or defense will triumph at all times. (And even so, some people already claim that it does.)

So, statistically, LeBron is better. I have no qualms about admitting that at all. You can't deny facts. But as Henry mentions in his brief write up, there are things that, when you watch a highlight reel, Kobe will do that will leave your jaw on the floor. He can do it. And he does it regularly. And it leaves us all gasping.

Kobe is unbelievable. But there are times, as a Lakers fan, when I wish he would drive more ferociously to the hole and either get the easy bucket or get to the line.

The games they both played at MSG, obviously, showed a lot about their different styles. And I think there's very little denying the fact that LBJ's triple-double (even taking into account the news that came out during the day while I was composing this - that it wasn't really a triple-double, that he had been incorrectly credited with a rebound) was way more impressive than Kobe's 61. It doesn't matter to me at all that LBJ ultimately fell short of that trip-dub by one rebound. That doesn't really change the performance, other than to take his name off the list of all those names they were showing that night on SportsCenter. What the performances showed, however, remains important. The shot selection, the ability to do different things. The electricity that Kobe generates when he hits those unbelievable shots is different than the bullying that teams (and their fans) feel when they see LBJ the tank marching down the lane. (This, by the way, explains the MSG fans chanting for Kobe while staying indifferent towards LeBron - but not as much as the fact that the Cavs/Knicks game was much closer of an affair.)

In reality, they're just so different players that there's honestly no use in comparing them. But even though our logic tells us that, there's nothing that we can do to avoid it; we love the conflict and we want to see more of it.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

on the dtv switch.

In my still-not-fully-recovered/spotty-service-at-home blogging, I'm bringing you the news that the DTV switch has now been pushed back. As my fellow tweeter said, "Millions of dollars on advertising wasted." This has been pushed hard and been pushed consistently. Now they decide that they shouldn't do it because some people might not know. That's called acceptable risk. This should not have happened.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

on neal casal.

I only just today discovered who Neal Casal is, thanks to this post from TopSpin but I can already tell that I'll be digging his stuff - in fact, I already have. As a former guitarist for the Cardinals, I'm predisposed to liking his stuff, since he's already been subconsciously infiltrating my brain every time I dig the new Ryan Adams stuff. (Too bad that's not the case anymore. Or is it?)

I don't have a lot of free time to write him up, but give it a listen yourself and see what you think.

Monday, February 2, 2009

on hiatuses.

(Is that even a word? To pluralize hiatus? Hiatuses? Spellcheck says yes!)

So, I'm having Internet troubles here at home, so blogging might be coming to a (brief) stand still.