Saturday, August 30, 2014

Teen wolf.

My dog is now a teenager.

He's gone from being a cheerful nut who obeyed most of the time to an unpredictable jerk who obeys when he feels like it. The biteyness that made his early days so action-packed has returned, with a much longer and stronger mouth. He'll be affectionate and playful one minute, needy and whiny the next, and growly sometimes in the middle. He's making me crazy. He makes me feel like a failure.

I thought that his little operation would prevent this. I thought wrong.

I'm told that this is a phase, as it is with human teenagers; that fortunately, in the case of dogs, it only lasts about three months, so we're already halfway through.

I hope so.

The teens are a particularly icky time of life for teens and those around them. I did not enjoy my adolescence overmuch. I am not enjoying the dog's now.

The mystery about all this is not why dogs would behave the same way people do at hormone-spurtin' time. I guess it's how we become our own creatures, not just a part of the pack, which dogs and people and I guess cats do, but not your lesser mammals. No, the mystery to me us why more people don't murder their teenage children. Adolescence lasts a hell of a lot longer in children than in dogs, and dogs can't make smartass remarks.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Gentlemen, start your burners!

Come on, boys, let's hit it!

Holy Mambajamba, it's MEAT!

It's the last hurrah, the big roundup, the final hours, the end of the line, the last rodeo, the last picture show, the stop sign, the red light, roadblock, bridge out ahead. Labor Day Weekend! Summer's almost gone! EAT MEAT!

I love my grill, but it's not a big grill like the one pictured above. And I'm just fine with that. You know, it's not what you got, it's what you do with it. I'm perfectly comfortable with my small, yet potent, grill. Yes, I can say I've never had a complaint about... well, actually I have had complaints about my cooking. And my, uh, meat.

Forget all that. The real issue here is that summer is supposed to be over. Why? Because the kids are back in school? Like parents consider that a bad thing? Every parent I know has been playing taxi driver all summer. It'll actually be easier to have the kids in school.

Because it's cooler? But we still have three weeks or so until the autumnal equinox.

Because vacation season is over? But most people I know couldn't afford to go anywhere anyhow.

And yet it feels like it's all crashing down.

Still, seasons always end before they end. Fall ends when Santa shows up at Macy's, even though fall continues until around December 21. Whether March comes in like a lamb or a lion, it's supposed to come in with spring, although it's mostly winter. And June is the first month of summer, even though it's actually the third month of spring. It just feels like an extra ripoff this year, with Labor Day landing as early as it possibly can.

I guess it's too much to expect me to fight the zeitgeist by myself with my little gas grill. But if we all keep the BBQ fires burning, maybe we can push the summer needle a little past Labor Day weekend for a change.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Can't LEGO the past.

Saw The Lego Movie a few days ago, and am compelled to share my thoughts. Stop me! Stop me before I share my thoughts again! 

Ha! Too late.

First off, it was a lot of fun. I don't know much about the creation of the film, but it was clever of them to do an anti-consumerism movie for a consumer product. Talk about hanging a lampshade on it! Also, the filmmakers clearly had fun with the project, start to finish. It was astounding to see a movie made for kids that did not have one poop joke---or if there was I missed it; the jokes were flying pretty fast. It was the only time we'll ever get to see Gandalf and Dumbledore in the same place. And Superman gets to treat Green Lantern like a nerdy kid brother, presumably because the movie Green Lantern flopped and Man of Steel made a ton.

Mark Mothersbaugh, who began his career writing infuriatingly catchy technopop songs, wrote the infuriatingly catchy technopop music, especially "Everything Is Awesome," which will probably win an Academy Award for best song. If that pimp song could win a few years back, I'm convinced there is nothing that can disqualify a song for nomination anymore, and there are far too few musicals to provide a competitive field.

I enjoyed the voice work, from some surprising quarters. Morgan Freeman made me laugh for the first time since he was Easy Reader. Chris Pratt, who looks like a JV Kirk to me in the Trek movies, was perfect as the unlikely hero. But I am sad that there's so little work for pure voice actors anymore, guys like Mel Blanc and Paul Frees in the old days and Larry Kenney now. I'm told that average workaday thespians can't even get gigs doing audiobooks. Everything is celebrity.

My philosophical problems with the film begin with the fact that hanging the aforementioned lampshade on a problem doesn't make it go away. It's still as much a movie-length commercial for a product as any Care Bears or Barbie movie is. I can endure such a thing if it's entertaining enough, just as I can watch an ad that's entertaining without feeling like I've burned 30 seconds of my life. This movie passed that test. (It had me at the "I just wanna go home!" gag during the first big chase.)

My other problem is with, well, people being made of Lego* blocks. I ran into this with the Batman game for the Wii a couple of years ago, when Robin gets his head knocked off, and Batman pops it back on and Robin's fine. Yes, you can do that with Lego toys, but it kind of lowers the stakes, you know what I mean? (Inconsistently, in the movie one character does "die" following decapitation while another character does not. Maybe in the Lego universe, decapitation is only fatal if you don't get your head plugged into some blocks quickly enough.)

I think what annoyed me most, though, is that Lego has been selling these complete scene sets for years, where they supply all the pieces for a castle, a Western town, a city block, or whatever, and you just build them to look like the picture on the box---and this is what we're supposed to rail against in the new film? That someone puts the sets together the way the manufacturer sells them? Lego has given you a set with everything to make a specific scene... and now they want you to screw around with it so you don't end up like Will Ferrell in the movie.** It's like selling a paint-by-numbers kit and then ridiculing the person who paints the picture, insisting that he ignore the outlines and numbers and just paint whatever he wants. Hey, Lego, that Western town was your idea!

When I was a kid, back in the Holocene Epoch, the Lego set didn't even come with people. The only special piece I remember was the window. You could put a Lego window in a wall. That was it! I don't even think there was a door. Maybe. Now everything is a special piece, but back then we had just Lego bricks of different sizes and had to make them into our own things.

I remember taking a huge pile of them and making all kinds of little sculptures (little houses, dogs, larger houses, people, horses, more houses, whatever) and putting them out on tables with little tags like an art museum. My mom forced herself to go through it and ooh and aaah, God bless her. It didn't look like much, but it was a lot of fun, and made me into the world-famous sculptor I am today.***

That's sort of the play Lego wants you to do with its sets, although by supplying the pieces to be used in particular ways they hinder you from doing exactly that. What do you want from me, Lego?! And apparently you shouldn't ever glue the blocks in place to save your creation, not ever. So it's okay to dismantle things at Legoland or at the Art of the Brick exhibit. Go ahead! It's fun!

Anyway, on the bright side, The Lego Movie makes a tremendous amount of fun of the tropes of the modern adventure film, and for that I have to give it high marks.**** And it gave Abraham Lincoln a rocket chair. Who doesn't love that?

But any parent who watches the movies knows the real bad guy in the Lego universe is the brick that waits in the hall, or on the stairs, for your naked feet in the middle of the night. That guy is a bastard.

* As an editor I have wrestled in the past with others who want LEGO to be all caps, as in the company nomenclature, for news stories and the like. But the word Lego is from the Dutch leg godt, or play well; it's not an acronym like IKEA. Remember, kiddies, when you're copyediting, just because a company insists on funky punctuation or spelling does not mean you have to play along. They want you to write (as an imaginary example) joSEph?ne"Z B..eaUty PROdUct!s in text because they know you'll ID the company name immediately by the stupid way it looks, but for the benefit of your reader (and your sanity) just write Josephine'z Beauty Products. 

** A good thing to not end up as in any of his movies, actually.
*** Not really.

**** They have a sequel slated for 2017, but it's hard to imagine they'll capture lightning in a bottle twice. This movie has the feel of a one-off, a nonpareil, a lovely experience that can't be forced to repeat. I guess we'll find out. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

East side, west side, all around etc.

Saw a guy in a T-shirt that said, I Miss the Old New York.

Not sure which one he's talking about. The old New York that built a wall at Wall Street as a fortification between the white settlers and the natives? The old New York of the Gilded Age, with its Astors and Coopers and big hotels and elevated trains?

This one?
One suspects that he and others like him mean the old darker, grittier one where everything was falling apart and everyone was broke and Times Square was packed with XXX movie theaters. I was a kid back then, but even I knew that you could pick up venereal disease just following Broadway up through Times Square in those days. The New York from the original Taking of Pelham One Two Three.

If that's what they miss, they're in luck! The city's rookie mayor is cut of the same cloth as previous New York politicians who have let crime run rampant, instituted confiscatory taxes, and used the whip of social engineering to drive businesses and the middle class out of the city. When you have no middle class, you have to suck up to the rich, because they're the only ones left with any serious dough. When you have no middle class, and you have nothing to offer the rich, you have to get money out the poor, and the easiest way to do that is by appealing to the lowest possible motivations---booze, drugs, sex, violence.

A lot of people hate the prettied-up chain-store-driven Times Square. A lot of people have short memories.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Blank stairs.

Sometimes I like taking the stairs rather than the elevator. Down, anyway. Up is a lot of work, you know. 

Most office buildings have lots of carpet around, or some kind of mild, decorative flooring. But stairs are not part of the official expected-use area. Unless they're part of a sweeping entrance or act as a funky floor connector, stairs are part of the secret bones of a building. They're tucked away behind barely marked doors, sometimes sealed off with the threat of automatic fire alarms. It's a shame because they're kind of cool. 

Stairs are usually seen in action movies, because if you're being chased you can't wait for the elevator. So you run down them, slide down them, fall down them; you get shot at from one flight to another, especially if it's a stairwell with a big empty space for the stairs to curve around so the bad guy can see you. The camera can watch you from above or below. Stairs are almost a distinct character in films like The Third Man.

The stairs can get all scary and bendy, like in Vertigo; you can fall down many, many stairs like Groucho Marx in A Night at the Opera.

Stairs are paradoxical. They are part of the structure, but they imply movement. Stairs lead, stairs run, stairs access; no one lives on stairs. People on stairs are always going someplace else.

Unless you're on the landing, panting like your lungs are trying to escape your chest. Stairs are great exercise.

So thank your friendly neighborhood stairs. Without them, architecture would never have gotten off the ground.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Is we Geting dummer?

"Are We Becoming More STUPID?" asks the, to which the initial response could conceivably be, "Well, we're reading your Web site, aren't we?" But I actually do give the Daily Mail credit for covering non-PC stories. Its American online edition will go after stories that the American press---too busy giving each other awards for their courage---is too chickenspit to cover.*

The thesis of the stupidity story is that we reached peak smarts a while back but have been dumbing down in the last decade. The "Flynn effect," wherein better nutrition and living standards are linked to higher IQ, did all it could from the 1930s to the 1980s, but now we're settling in for a long winter's duh. Perhaps it is coming attractions for Kornbluth's "The Marching Morons" and Judge's Idiocracy, wherein dumb people keeping having a dozen kids while smart people have few or none, so the human race devolves into universal dumbassery.

But is this study what it purports to be? We are told that IQs have been declining in the UK, Australia, and Denmark. Although I am unable to parse the actual data, which is behind a paywall, I would like to make some observations and thoughts, in order of increasing importance:

1) The UK, Denmark, and Australia have had unprecedented immigration over the last two decades, primarily made up of people from countries that had inferior infrastructure and education, causing an anti-Flynn effect, if you will. Which leads us to...

2) The longstanding battle over how to measure IQ that controls for education. Intelligence quotient is supposed to be able to determine native intelligence, not how much you've learned in school (fluid intelligence vs. crystallized intelligence, to scrape the tip of the iceberg), which, despite the researchers' best efforts at controls, may be telling us nothing more than that the British, Danish, and Australian school systems suck eggs.

3) The most important thing may be that the culture is declining. People who believe in nothing see little reason to get ahead; people who don't value education don't exercise their minds. Hard work is a sucker's game; doing well in school is playing the toady; faithfulness and family are barriers to the expression of delightful me. What happens when these attitudes are widespread? Hordes of drunken yobs hurling on street corners in every town in the UK that isn't overtaken by Muslims, if you read Theodore Dalrymple. When there's no faith in the decency of society, no desire for self-improvement or even willingness to tolerate self-improvement in others, no belief in morals from an unimpeachable source, no value in self-command, no love for anything but the self (however vile), and no shame in the able-bodied living off the government dime, how smart are you going to bother to be?

I mean, XTC's "The Mayor of Simpleton" is considered not a sweet song of irony now, but rather a career option.

Learning is hard and even painful; the smartest kid on the block is going to be a dumbbell by any measure if everyone around him is a dumbbell too. If this report of decline in intelligence is accurate, I am certain that the main reason is a decline in our society. Once again we are surprised that when we saw off the legs, the table does not float.

* Fear of losing access in Washington is one reason; dishonesty for fear of giving their ideological opponents an advantage may be worse. Then there's the PC stuff, the terror of terrorists, and so on. There are obvious and even tragic examples of real press courage, of course, but almost never in domestic news coverage.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

On the topic of seasons again...

This is an unpublished cartoon from my youth, when every spring brought George Steinbrenner back to New York like the daffodils, only the daffodils were prettier; but like the daffodils, once George opened up, he never shut. We still used to "rent" "videotapes" in those days. And the South Street Seaport was a going concern, a major tourist destination scene of massive Friday night drinking, instead of the troubled entity it is now. But obviously, many things have not changed.