Tessa turned me on to a great cover story on WIRED this month all about the "epidemic of fear" some parents have about vaccines, and needless to say, it is totally one-sided and totally awesome. I'm particularly glad that the piece's author, Amy Wallace, takes Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey to the woodshed for their hopelessly ignorant - and dangerous - assertions about vaccines and autism.
I know I've yammered about this before (and recently) but this has the potential to become a very big deal if the anti-vax movement grows any stronger. Your kids and, well, you are going to find some scary shit coming down the pike as America loses its herd immunity, and suddenly breathing inside an airplane will conjure measles and rotaviruses. The H1N1 flu - while deadly to pregnant women and kids under two - will probably not be the pandemic they write books about, but everyone's "no thanks" reaction to the vaccine speaks ill of the next big mutation.
You can bet your sweet ass that I'm getting the swine flu vaccine if I can - so would Tessa, and my daughter. I'd get TWO of them if I thought it'd work better. In fact, if they made a Swine Flu Extra Grande Latté with Weakened Tetanus Coconut Flakes, I'd get that motherfucker too.
There's a delicious quote from Carl Sagan in the article that puts the anti-vax hysteria into human terms: "A great many of these belief systems address real human needs that are not being met by our society." In other words, our current American lives leave us with a helplessness, or a lack of community, that is filled by the belief of the irrational.
Interestingly, that idea has helped me understand more about the teabaggers, the birthers, the town-hall crazies and the odd enclaves of American wingnutters that strike us progressives as irredeemably stupid. It may not be so much about the topic itself (abortion, taxes, Obama etc.) and more about the subconscious joy you get by being part of something bigger. Certainly I felt it in Washington D.C. when we went to the inauguration. I imagine it must feel good to some people to make a sign saying "OBAMA IS A FASHIST AND I BROT MY GUN" and commiserate with their idealogues, even if it makes me want to ralph.
I guess it's fine for parents not to vaccinate their kids, as long as they keep them locked in their houses, and away from schools, markets, airplanes, my family, playgrounds and restaurants. After all, there's seven times more mercury in a tuna sandwich than a vaccine, and I'd hate for their kids to accidentally eat one. Oh yeah, even though there are barely any vaccines left that have mercury. Oh, and even though six separate independent studies showed that mercury had nothing to do with autism.
Hey! I got my first "Fare" piece in November's issue of SAVEUR Magazine, something that has ended up being quite a lovely surprise, here at the end of a very long season of writing in a completely different field. To read my article, either pick up a copy of the gorgeous magazine itself, or read a version here.
It's an idea I've had for a while, and in fact, some of you were present for its inception: a taste test of different single-malt scotches from distilleries that no longer exist. There's something awesome about "spirits from a ghost distillery" that turned me on, and in fact, there are collectors that specialize in scotch from silent stills.
Until the holidays, when (with the help of Steven Garrity) I plan to launch my Scotchtastic blog, I'll put a few things here about whisky from ghost distilleries you should try if you ever have the chance:
Port Ellen - Hard to go wrong with this peaty, intense Islay malt, but the "official releases" - particularly the 27-year-old from 1978 - is a smoky, explosive treat.
Rosebank - Like many "lowland" whiskies, you have to be careful. It can be either a subtle, heathery masterpiece, or a spirity, grassy bore. Old Malt Cask's bottling of a 22-year-old from 1980 is a high-wire act of sugary perfection.
Convalmore - This dark-hued Speysider can put some Macallans to shame. Try the Rare Malts 24-year-old; the nose, swear to God, is Starburst candy (particularly strawberry), but on the palate you've got wood esters, dark teas and even a hint of mint. It almost feels carbonated. Stunning.
Brora - Perhaps the most-mourned distillery, the 30-year-old official bottling is probably the best whisky in the world outside an auction. The nose, the palate, the finish... wafting peat, complicated sugars, a play with rising and falling action. Four seasons in one dram, and not to be missed.
Oh, and thanks Dana!
Just flew in from Texas with the ladies after ten days around the country, and the Lulubeans fell asleep in my arms while we were talking on my bed around 5pm. If any of you know Lucy (and many of you do), you know this is about as common as an Amur Leopard sighting. That is one girl who does not like to miss anything, and she speaks for us all: we're certainly fascinated, but exhausted.
Thus here's the CODE WORD question... what is your absolute favorite food in the world, and what food makes you want to barf?
This story - if indeed you can call it that - came out a few days ago: apparently a study showed that Cellphone Users are Too Distracted to Notice a Clown on a Unicycle. If I may quote...
"According to a study involving a unicycle, a clown, and 150 college students, cellphone users were half as likely as others to notice a red-nosed, unicycle rider.
Ira Hyman, Jr., a researcher at Western Washington University sent a student unicycling around campus wearing a clown costume and then asked people who'd walked past if they'd 'noticed anything unusual.' The cellphone users were less than half as likely to have noticed, but Hyman speculates that it may not be the technology itself which distracts them, but instead the concentration required to maintain a conversation over that particular medium."
Here's what I think the study gets all wrong: most people fucking HATE CLOWNS [except Bozoette Mary, who's awesome - ed.] Even kids are scared shitless of clowns (unless they make balloon animals, and then they're merely means to an end). I would say that cell phone users, like most humans, sensed a bad clown in their peripheral vision and instinctively turned away, sublimated, or blotted out the experience entirely.
It's not even that clowns are scary, they just make unreasonable demands on your time, and they're not funny. I know there's a very sophisticated clown school in New York, and the tradition winds back through Commedia dell'arte to ancient times, but when most people see a motherfucker in a clown costume on a unicycle, their first thought is EVASIVE ACTION.
I will do almost anything to avoid interaction with a clown. Lucy, Tessa and I sat in the first row of the Cirque de Soleil KOOZÅ show because I didn't think it would have actual clowns. Indeed it did, and one of them made me stand up in front of four thousand people so he could make fun of my hair. At least my hair's REAL, asshole!
I know this cell phone article is supposed to make some larger point about how much mental processing power a cell phone takes, thus extrapolating to dangerous driving, but they shouldn't have used a clown. I think I speak for all of us when I say they should have used BOOBIES.
Okay, today on Writers Monday on the blog, I'd like to point out one of my biggest pet peeves; I call it "Our Hero's Boring Hurdle." In essence, it's when a television (or movie) character has an arbitrary, predictable or annoying problem that keeps him or her from doing what we came to see them do.
When you step back from storytelling, it's been oft defined as this: you get your guy up into a tree, you throw things at him when he's in the tree, and then you get him out of the tree. Basic stuff, our hero's journey from Point A to Point B and how they (and others) change during the voyage.
Problem is, television is like Scheherazade - you have to tell a fantastic story with a cliffhanger every time or else the king kills you. In skilled hands, or rather in a multitude of skilled hands, this is possible for a number of seasons - but even the best shows occasionally get complacent (or exhausted) and simply offer up a challenge to your hero that is merely an annoyance to be endured rather than a twist that enlightens.
Again, I'm going to reference my beloved "Glee", since it's a show that has enough surprises and reversals to know better. The character of Will Schuester's wife, the one who is currently faking her pregnancy, is almost unbearable. If you care about the romance between Will and the guidance counselor Emma, then the wife is - at best - a screeching harpy who needs to be jettisoned. She's merely a hurdle masquerading as plot.
In fact, during the pilot, I moaned "how long are we going to have to put up with this woman?" Anyone who watches the show knows it's just a matter of time before the pregnancy canard is exposed, and she has no other redeeming qualities, so why are they waiting so long to send her away?
The answer is obvious: you need to keep the romantic leads apart as long as possible, but there are far more interesting ways to keep star-crossed lovers from ever achieving full satisfaction. "Lost" is not perfect, but they've done a pretty good job keeping Jack, Kate, Sawyer and Juliette tantalizingly close - but always a fingertip too far - from real happiness.
Look at the shows commonly thought to be brilliant - your "Sopranos", your "Mad Men", "The Wire"... hell, even go with the first season of "Prison Break". Notice how their characters are presented with challenges that manage to say something bigger about who they are, and what the theme of the show is about. A monstrous enemy morphs into the last person you'd ever thought would save your life. What starts as a throwaway plot point becomes the key to the season.
I want my challenges to be delicious. I want to slay the monster with advice my last enemy gave me. I never want to wait for someone to disappear so the real show can start. As they say in Sweden, don't bore us, get to the chorus!
I've been away from the girls for about five days now, which means I can only keep up with them over iChat or the phone. Apparently while they were in the car today, Lucy said to Tessa, "I really like Santa Claus. But he only comes at night. He's nocturnal. Like Daddo."
Yes, my daughter is already talkin' shite about my sleep habits, but "nocturnal"? Man, I love my little pumpkin pie spice.
Since we can't do our usual cultural kvetching in person, Tessa calls me with her random observations and mini-rants. I'll try to transcribe our call from yesterday:
Tessa: "Hey, so can I make three cultural criticisms? Some things have just really pissed me off."
Me: "Sure. You kidding? Absolutely!"
"Okay, so I got stuck behind this other car, and it had a bumper sticker that read 'It's Okay To Say Merry Christmas'."
"Oh yeah. One of THOSE people."
"Like they're so bent out of shape because GOD FORBID they have to take anyone else's beliefs into consideration."
"Not to mention it's a totally invented phenomenon. It's just right-wing bullshit, the whole 'War on Christmas' thing."
"I mean, sure, it's okay to say Merry Christmas. It's also okay to not be a prick about it. We live in a place with lots of different cultures, can they just DEAL with it?"
"No, they can't. And they're gonna tell you about it."
"Okay, the next thing: what's up with the CEO of Coca-Cola going after Michelle Obama because she wants to promote healthy food?"
"The leader of Coke?"
"This guy says that the President and the First Lady are telling people what to drink and that it's like the Soviet Union. Is he SERIOUS? Does he really think the Obama's organic garden is posing a serious threat to CORPORATE EARNINGS?"
"Well, also, isn't a third of America obese? Don't we pay for that with our taxes?"
"Yes, of course. It boggles my mind how threatened these guys are."
"Coke is pretty yummy, though."
"And here's the third of my mini rants: I'm talking to one of the other mothers at playgroup, and she's saying how OF COURSE she's not going to get the flu vaccine, and that she's treated everything with Echinacea, and besides, the swine flu isn't that bad."
"Oh fer chrissake."
"And I told her, well, it's killing pregnant mothers and small children at a much higher rate than they thought - and she says 'no way' like it's the first time she's heard it. I mean, why do you have an opinion about something if you haven't done any research?"
"Was this in Santa Monica?"
"Yes, a totally leftist, crunchy mom who just automatically believes that all vaccines are bad, but Echinacea will cure everything-"
"That's the problem with any kind of knee-jerkism - sometimes it's just as bad with liberals as conservatives. It's totally anti-intellectual."
"I mean, does she go around thinking the government is totally out to get them with their EVIL VACCINES all the time? I don't know, sometimes in conversation, you just have to swallow it."
"I've got something for you to swallow."
"I can't BELIEVE you just said that. You're disgusting. Goodbye."
Since my travels interfered with Writer Mondays on the blog, I'm going to do it today, except this time I'm really going to pull my pants down and put up a demo of a song I wrote a few weeks ago. This is hardly ever done, for the same reasons mentioned in last Monday's blog about "Glee": you might think you want to hear a demo, but the inherent lack of expensive production makes every demo a complete piece of shit.
That said, GarageBand has made things a tiny bit easier, what with the drum loops and various effects, and let's be honest - nobody could possibly make more fun of me than me. Well, except for Lindsay, Salem, Jon and my brother Sean, and they can all fuck off. (← insert really cute "Hang in There" emoticon here)
I've found that a serviceable Garageband demo works a hell of a lot better in a band setting than just shouting out chord changes, especially since my songs are always a little bit complicated. Usually, I'll let something ferment in my head for a few weeks, then make a demo, then bring it to the band and let them break it down and build it up again.
It all works great except for the vocals - not only am I writing from a female point of view now (since our lead is female), but the vocal line itself has to be in her range. I'm an okay tenor, but Lauren sings most of her stuff right at my "break" (the notes on the dividing line between a regular singing voice and a falsetto), and so my demos often sound like I'm trying to strangle a small woodland creature.
Remember, demos exist only so the band knows what chords are next, and therefore must remain oddly boring. Also, I'm not a guitarist. I just fake it.
With that in mind, here it is:
Planning road trips, buying cars
I learned to knit, I'm closing bars
Tell me something else I can do
I can't remember to forget about you
Check my messages again
Count the hours 7, 8, 9, 10
It's just a matter of time
You'll be back and I'll be in heaven
Hell no, hell no
Gotta leave it alone, 'cause it's written in stone
They made a pact, now there's no looking back
To the time when you'd roam, sleeping in on the phone
It came to pass by the sound of crushed glass
Gotta leave it alone, 'cause it's written in stone
Taking Russian, taking Greek
Meditating on the beach
Every day keep getting dressed
Tonight's the night you're gonna say yes
No way, no way
And when you told me that you couldn't fall in love
I took that to mean you need a little shove
Painting pictures, watching birds
Filling diaries with words
This song came from a band edict of the spring, when everyone agreed we should do more dance-ish songs. For weeks, I'd had "I Wish" by Stevie Wonder in my head, particularly that fantastic beginning riff, and started crazypantsing on the bass one night. Of course, since I'm me, what came out sounded way more like Steely Dan, but there are worse crimes.
I wanted the vocal line to sound like this completely random song from The Stranglers' 1983 album "Feline", called Paradise, and of course, it doesn't really sound like that either. It's a good thing it's hard to copy the feeling of other songs, or else you'd end your quest for the grail early.
The verse is about those days you had when you were so seriously in "love", so smitten by the romantic ideal of another person you needed to invent things to do with your day so you wouldn't obsess over it. I borrowed a lot of stuff I actually do now (birdwatching, meditation) which is pretty ironic, given how unfathomably boring that would have seemed to me at 23.
The chorus tries to shake that dynamic a little by realizing the object of your desire is married, and he/she is never, ever going to leave the marriage. They might talk a good game, they may make nominal plans, but when push comes to shove, they will never act on it. It's vaguely based on an experience I had 12 years ago, although the "crushed glass" of the Jewish ceremony is something I threw in there because I liked how it sounded.
We played this song live last Thursday night at the Joint in LA - and what was the verdict? Well, it's really fucking hard. In the chorus, the immensely talented Lauren has to sing well below her usual range, even for the high harmony, and do "rave triplets" on the piano at the same time. I have to do a pulsating bass thing that is also contrapuntal to my vocal line. Andrew has to follow me for all the weird drum fills. And Jim rocks out on the guitar without any problem.
So for next week's show, I'm writing a higher chorus vocal line for Lauren and trying to slow us down into a groove. It's a high-wire act - it's a song that dies if we're tentative, but when we all hit our notes and the beat is solid underneath, it's one of our tunes that separates us from the hordes of Mongols wielding axes.
Having internet problems here at the farm in upstate NY, so must resort to CODE WORD question... say... what are you going to be for Halloween this year?
Please say you're going to be something.
Okay, okay, okay okay, okay, OKAY! After hundreds of emails and gnashing of teeth and beseeching of gods both mono and polytheistic, I give in. You'll finally get what you have been asking for: MY OPINION OF THE JON AND KATE GOSSELIN SITUATION.
I am oddly well-suited for this task, not just because the Gosselins in all their glory were very much like my Mormon cousins, packed to the attic insulation with kids in nondescript McMansions. No, the weird thing is this: I accidentally watched a shitload of episodes in the years long before all this craziness hit the fan. For season one, I was doing work on the farm for a month, and caught at least three marathons while I was re-finishing the floors. It served so well as background noise that I used it in LA for similar purposes over the next two years.
What's bizarre is that I don't even like the show, I only liked watching Jon Gosselin try in vain to hide his barely-contained hatred for his wife - whose haircut I found so violently putrescent that it gave me nightmares. I remember doing Google searches in 2007 for "Kate Gosselin" and "worst haircut ever" and wondering why I was the only person alive who was so emotionally affected by it.
All this to say, here's my take: Jon Gosselin is somebody who would be fine if it weren't for this show. Not fine, mind you - he would still have subconsciously loathed Kate, but lacking any serious alternative (combined with genuine love for his kids), he would have muddled on. However, he was ultra-primed to be completely game-changed by fame.
When the windows of American fame, a modicum of power, and the possibility of money are all opened to you, it takes a very special person to remain unaffected by it, and Jon was not that person. He was shown a glimpse of an alternate life, where he could still have some dominion over his children, and also be with a variety of women who actually worshipped him (or the idea of him). No judgment from any of 'em. When that door is opened, many men would rather claw their own faces off with the business end of a weed tiller than go back to their old life.
Plus, Jon is, at heart, kind of a slack ass, fairly crippled emotionally, and not very happy. In essence, the exact wrong match for Kate. And here's the thing about Kate: being the mother, she gets all the props on god's green earth for having borne twins and then sextuplets. She goes through organizational quandaries that Jon could only dream of, and she keeps the trains running on time. She is also petulant, whiny, judgmental, and constantly after emotional affirmation that Jon was never going to provide.
In some ways, this makes them the average Generation X marriage writ large: over-functioning wife trying to bark some sense into a motivationally-defunct yet charming husband. I feel like I see it over and over in our culture and by watching other relationships, and not just because I'm obviously projecting.
It might have something to do with our biology - for men, it's excessively easy to stay 28 years old, well into your late 40s. Video games, endlessly recycled nostalgia, internet jobs, telecommuting and awesome skate shoes ensure your self-curated vitality. But for women, the fertility clock starts getting uncomfortably screwy at 35 no matter what. In Hollywood meeting-speak, they have a "hard out" by 43 no matter what shoes they're wearing.
And it was the very question of fertility that led to the fall, rise and fall of Jon & Kate, when they both might have fell victim to Oscar Wilde's admonition that "when the Gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers". Or better yet, Nathan Arizona: "you just gotta keep tryin' and hope medical science catches up with you, like Florence and me. It caught up with a vengeance."
It's too bad most of us only learn how to be functioning, decent people just as we start getting too old to effortlessly reproduce. But I'll take it over the alternative: having a million kids when we were too young to stay sane when the bright lights shone.
Today in Crazy News!
1. Boy in Balloon Actually in Attic! - After snooping around online about this particular family, I kind of feel for them... especially the dad, who is a quixotic nut of my own variety. In other words, perfect fodder for those who think the whole thing was a publicity stunt. My verdict? Sometimes a total dork is just a total dork.
2. The Dow is Back Over 10,000 Again! - Yes, I know it can still come crashing down in a big heap, but do I still get credit for my email to Tessa on March 7 saying I "felt bullish" and it was time to buy buy buy?
Or did my momma not pay enough attention to me?
3. LASIK might have screwed you up! Now, this one I absolutely must take issue with. I know lots of people with LASIK, and while my observations are purely anecdotal and unscientific, they all love it. As for me, it might be the best thing I did in the entire 1990s (a pretty low bar, but still...)
Yes, I had dry eyes for some time, and occasionally I still need to buy Refresh™ Tears Brand Eye Drops. And there are halos around some lights at night, especially while driving. But those have largely abated, and you know what I'm left with? 20/15 vision for the last decade, after a lifetime of looking for my glasses and loathing contact lenses to the migraine point. I can read aspirin instructions held by people in their rooms next door.
If you're thinking of LASIK, sure, do the research, but MAN has it been awesome.
That's my dispatch on today's events, and yours?
My personal belief system:
I am against anything that kills people.
I am against the death penalty because it kills people.
I am pro-choice, because making abortion illegal kills women.
Q: Whaddya mean, anti-abortion laws kills women?
A: I assume you mean "forced pregnancy" laws, and they kill women, because people without the means to fly to Sweden will simply do anything it takes to get a fetus out of them, including impalement, illegal drugs, home miscarriage remedies and blunt trauma.
Q: But what about the fetus?
A: I don't care.
Q: You HAVE to care!
A: Um... no I don't. I don't consider it a person. Nor would you, if you were having dinner with it. In fact, pro-lifers' sentimental obsession with fetuses shows how little respect they have for actual women, but that's for another blog.
Q: If you're against anything that kills people, does that mean you wouldn't have fought Hitler? Or Osama bin Laden?
A: I'm not a moron, I'm a believer in a form of Pragmatic Pacifism that isn't so doctrinal as to leave us unprotected. But war makes me want to fucking vomit.
Q: How can you be against the death penalty when it deters killers from killing again?
A: Oh please:
Q: I'm convinced! How could I have been so unbelievably thick?
A: Oh, Q, it's okay. Welcome to the other side!
There are miserably shameful people in the world; there are people who sell drugs to kids, there are violent criminals who break into houses and steal life fortunes, and there are scam artists who prey upon the weak and elderly. And then there is Texas governor Rick Perry.
Yes, this is the same Rick Perry who did a flirtatious square dance with "secessionism" back in April when Obama was working on the federal stimulus plan, then had the sickening audacity to request 850,000 vials of anti-viral medication from the government. We all knew he was an asshole's asshole, but all that pales in comparison to what he is now: a FUCKING MURDERER.
Anybody who knows me understands one thing: I do not fuck around with the death penalty. I find it positively disgusting that we live in a country that kills its own people; the very existence of corporal punishment sends a subconscious message from the top down to all Americans: "go ahead and kill your neighbor." And we do.
I don't give a flying fuck about the popularity of the death penalty - slavery, bloodletting and Milli Vanilli were popular too. A horrifying concept endorsed by 48% of Americans is still a horrifying idea. And don't start with the "deterrent" reasoning or "what if it was your daughter" bullshit. I'm simply not going to hear logic formed from the hate center of anyone's reptilian hindbrain.
My reasons for opposing the death penalty are frighteningly simple: human beings are flawed instruments of judgment, and therefore cannot be allowed to put someone to death in our courts. It was only a matter of time before innocent men start getting executed. And Exhibit A, the poster child for irredeemable fuck-ups, is the miserable sack of shit Rick Perry.
This very short video from the New Yorker shows the man Perry put to death and why it was a travesty:
Put simply, a fire started in a home, like they do every day, only this time, Cameron T. Willingham was forced to watch as the flames consumed his three daughters. Then he was convicted of murder by arson, using testimony from a fire marshal that was "hardly consistent with a scientific mind-set and is more characteristic of mystics or psychics". Then Willingham was put in prison for thirteen years. Despite expert testimony stating clearly that subsequent tests proved the fire was not arson, Rick Perry didn't even respond to the appeal. Then Cameron T. Willingham was killed by lethal injection. The end.
Flash forward to last week: the Texas Forensic Science Commission scheduled a meeting to go over the Willingham case, in order to determine if an innocent man had been killed. Rick Perry had tried to defund the committee before, but now he pulled the ultimate move: he fired 3 of the 4 members and put a political ally in charge, saying it was "business as usual". You bet it was, you lizard-hearted fuck.
Texas is a pretty place, and I like a lot of people there. Tessa's awesome mom is in San Antonio, and we're going to see her next weekend. But part of me is nauseated by actually spending money in a state that would elect such a man to represent them. Texas kills so many of its own people each year, you'd think they were selling the meat.
The facts are simple: a man was wrongly convicted and sentenced to death. Either Rick Perry was too stupid to know the sentence was bogus, and just loves him a killin'... or he knew it was a sham, but didn't want to appear "weak" to his loyal base of frothing wingnuts, and sanctioned the execution of an innocent man. Then, when actual scientists convened to research the case, he disposed of them. It would be rage-blindingly infuriating, if it weren't so unrelentingly sad.
Sometimes I hope religious people actually get the afterlife they believe in. That way, when Rick Perry finally drops to the ground from a coronary caused by too much brisket, he is whisked straight to Hell, where he can be eternally strapped to a lethal injection table, and forced to watch Cameron T. Willingham play with his children while the poison slowly fills his brain. I mean, eye for an eye, right?
As much as I find stories like this the apex of "OH GOD WHAT ABOUT MY CHILDREN" ninnyism, the Powers That Be only have themselves to blame that nobody is giving their kid a flu shot. Sure, part of the reason is due to dangerously-ill-informed numbskulls like Jim Carrey and Jenny McCarthy (who would rather have you listen to them than someone who spent eight years in med school) but pharmaceutical companies have not exactly been bastions of trust.
I get the feeling people would be a lot less squeamish about vaccination if it weren't contained in a needle that gets thrust into your skin. The mere act of impalement, no matter how small, creates fear that is rooted in our caveman ancestry and came of age during the frickin' jousts of the Middle Ages. If the flu vaccine was a jello shot, we wouldn't be having this little chat.
But let's look at recent history - as of a few months ago, your Tylenol dosage is suddenly all wrong, the estrogen therapy my mom was on back in the '90s was classified as "cancer-causing" by the WHO, and apparently the Vioxx that I occasionally took after hoops was givin' folks heart attacks. Companies do whatever the hell they want, whenever the hell they want, with only an actuarial table standing between their product and your untimely demise - I don't say this as an enraged McLeftyShorts with a macramé dreamcatcher helmet, I say it with the acceptance of someone who gives thanks for the warning, but will storm the castle anyway.
The flu vaccine safety record is unparalleled. It'd be awesome for everyone to get the shot and create a herd immunity every winter, even if the term "herd" isn't all that inspiring. I certainly got my flu shot at Target last week, the same day Lucy did the FluMist spray (full disclosure: most of the spray ended up on the pediatrician's ceiling, as my daughter's lungs and will power are not easily sublimated).
The Times did an excellent Q&A piece on the two flu vaccines, but I doubt there's much wiggle room among American parents - either you're going to do it or you aren't. I will say two contradictory things to sum up my feelings, however: first off, if companies in general treated human beings as something more than feed cattle with wallets, those people might be slightly more inclined to believe their products were safe. Secondly, my doctor and I think I had the swine flu in May, and let me tell you that it MOTHERFUCKING SUCKS.
Here's my experiment - I'd like to make each Monday on the blog into Writer Mondays, where the subject matter will be scripts, novels, TV shows, plays and other stuff what's written down. Since I can so rarely talk about the business I'm in, this'll be a way I can do it without getting into trouble. Don't worry, accountants and podiatrists, even if you haven't been watching the show (or read the novel, etc.) we're talking about, it will still be interesting in general, dammit.
I've meant to do this for a while, but my brother Sean wrote a blog today about the show "Glee" that was awesome, and also needed responding to at from in. (See kids? You're already learning how to write!)
You should read it first, once you have, let me respond to it point by point:
1. Sean claims that the football team being the "popular kids" in Glee's high school rings utterly false, noting that in real life, the truly popular were "rich kids who got good grades and didn't fucking care about *ANYTHING*, let alone football." Fair enough - in fact, the poster child for that kind of popular would be James Spader in "Pretty in Pink", who would never have played any sport not occurring on the north slopes of Chamonix and Megève.
In my own high school, I'd have to say that the "popular" kids in my grade were both football players and rich and didn't care about anything, even football. Same goes for the cheerleaders, except the ones selling nabs between classes. But I'm willing to give "Glee" a break here, as they have to keep a lot of balls in the air, and it's just easier on both audience (and producer) if you go with the old cliché.
In fact, given that many high schools do actually drop-kick their music and art departments but have no problem buying whirlpools and new uniforms for the sports teams, it doesn't seem like it's too far off the mark, at least in terms of priorities.
2. Sean also has a problem with calling it "Glee Club" when it's actually a "show choir". This is absolutely true - as my mom says, "glee clubs" were already dated when my mom was in college, and had already changed their names to "Men's Choir" by 1950. When I think of "glee clubs", I think of dandies in double-breasted suits singing about the Harvard-Yale game of '21.
However, you can't deny that "Glee" isn't a great name for a show, and the ad campaign with the "loser 'L'" is pretty awesome. "Show Choir" is okay as a name, but when presented a choice between okay and great, you go with great every time and let the details slide. Which brings us to...
4. Sean says that "Glee" lets almost all the details slide - the sexual politics, the confusing skill set of the kid in the wheelchair, the relevance of the music... but where I agree with him most is what's known as "sound design".
Every time they launch into a song, unnamed high school kids magically appear playing cornets, sax, violins, drums, glockenspiels and whatever else the song needs. I'm willing to suspend my disbelief for that, as it's a hyper-realized, somewhat magical musical theater motif a la "Grease", when John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John start singing at the carnival.
But the computerized vocal correction and super-compressed post-processing - in other words, the stuff that makes it sound like they're in a recording studio rather than the lunchroom - is cringe-worthy. In fact, it's embarrassing, given that some of the actors here have Broadway training (others were professional singers/dancers) and all could have easily hit their notes.
Sure, it wouldn't sound technically as good if they sang it as they were acting, but the obvious chasm between their speaking parts and their singing parts robs the audience of a true connection. It wouldn't have been that hard - sing it for real, then make a few corrections in post-production if anything stands out. The stunt itself would create major buzz and bring millions of viewers who are currently avoiding the show because they're afraid it's irredeemably cheesy.
5. Sean's major point is along the same lines: "Glee" makes it all look too easy. Musicians work for decades to hone their craft, pull eight-hour days until their calluses start to bleed or their larynx begins shredding, and still end up sounding like shit. In fact, I'll let him speak for himself:
So, when this show makes the execrable claim that music can simply be handed out and sight-read, performance ready, that somehow the biggest hurdles to artistic success are the stock personality conflicts between show choir and *CHEERLEADERS*, that all you have to do is *want* it, and it will happen for you (regardless of putting in absolutely no work), this is an utter insult to all of us who sweat blood trying to make a show actually happen... This isn't a celebration of what we do, because they never show what we do.
Is it possible to say "I totally agree, and it also doesn't bother me"? Sean himself doesn't want to watch a show about the drudgery of rehearsal, but I think there's something that needs to be said about this, and actually, ANYTHING IN LIFE THAT IS REMOTELY ARTISTIC:
Put simply, the public at large has zero tolerance for "art" that isn't finished. Sure, they may SAY they want to see the painting in progress, but if they do, they'll be HORRIFIED. We've dealt with this for years - people will say they "want to read a rough draft" of a script, but don't you fucking let them do it, because when they do, they will BE EMBARRASSED FOR YOU and THINK THAT YOU'RE TOTALLY FULL OF SHIT, but too chagrined to say anything about it.
Why is that? Because artists aren't artists because they're good at art. They are artists because they can see what something will look like, will sound like even when the rest of the world sees blobs and hears scrapes. It is this persistence of vision that allows artists to do what they do for years on end, only allowing the public to see their craft once they can do so without disclaimers.
When you're working on a script or a song or a painting or a book, the brilliance curve is steep. Here's what the "art" generally looks like as it's being made:
a) stupid idea
b) really stupid idea
c) stupid ideas strung together
d) stupid ideas strung together with shitty connective tissue
e) embarrassing and obvious theme evolves
f) cliché and hackery used to patch holes
i) utter shit
j) shows promise
k) oh my god, breathtaking!
For an easy example, try listening to the Beatles' Norwegian Wood, take 2 and then compare it with final version a few takes later. The pieces of art that were brilliant in their infancy - like Michaelangelo's unfinished slaves or Dali's sketches for his "Crucifix" are the exceptions, not the rule.
But back to "Glee"... my point is that the process of making art is necessarily ugly, untransformative and disgusting to everyone but the artist involved, and would definitely be toxic to a prime-time television show. That leaves us with a choice: either we get "Glee" in all its unrealistic, ultra-glossed, toddler-simplified (and yet oddly inspiring) perfection, or we get "CSI: Green Bay, Wisconsin". Give me the former ten times out of ten.
Besides, I really like the show. I can't tell you why. Maybe it's when Jane Lynch gets on the local news and says "Caning WORKS!" Maybe it's the Journey songs. Maybe I like the redhead. Maybe I got a little teary-eyed when the gay kid came out to his dad. Perhaps if one student in some high school in Arkansas decides he'd rather sing than beat the shit out of the learning disabled kid on the bus, then I'm willing to put up with the groaners.
Let me leave you folks with a quote from the poet Marge Piercy:
"A new idea is rarely born like Venus attended by graces. More commonly it's modeled of baling wire and acne."
20-page outline due in a few hours, so must abdicate today's blog to a CODE WORD question... did you know that we live in a tsunami evacuation zone that extends all the way to Lincoln Avenue almost a mile inland? I'm just not sure I can outrun a tidal wave with my family on my back, but I'd sure as hell give it the college try.
And thusly, what is your secret "disaster" fear, and what - if one exists - is your plan should it occur?
I've seen a lot of stock photography before. Believe me, I've edited enough websites for The Man to have experienced the lamest photographs ever taken, all grafted onto web pages to promote eyeball "stickiness", just the worst shit you can imagine. Most of the time it's three smiling Americans in their 20s, each from a different race, arms around each other in a frenzy of multiculturalism (and, of course, corporate synergy). Other times it's just a vaguely hot chick, focus-group-tested to be inoffensively attractive to the largest number of Americans possible.
I thought I'd seen them all, until I saw this:
... and now, I just want to sit in a corner, draw on the wall with crayon, and moan.
We got a new car yesterday - a pretty big deal, considering we'd had Rosie (Lucy's name for the 2004 Prius) for six years, in one of the happiest car relationships I can recall. Everything about Rosie was awesome - utterly reliable with MPG still in the 40s after being driven across the country three times (and back), not to mention the insanity of LA traffic.
Upper East Side, 2003
Rosie was only the second new-generation Prius sold in New York state. When we parked her in Greenwich Village, people would stop and gawk inside her (hard to believe that was only 2003). I drove Tessa to the hospital in Rosie, and then back home with a little pack of awesomeness called Lucy. It's the only car Lucy's ever known, having spent many miles on open Western roads, traversing the country from her perch in the back seat. When she heard we might be selling Rosie, she got a little teary-eyed, and I have to confess, I sorta did too.
snapped this with my old Treo while Tessa was in labor, April 2005
driving to northern California, September 2005
halfway to Altamont, Utah, August 2005
saying goodye to Rosie yesterday
She'll stay in the family, however - we sold her to my sister Michelle and our soon-to-be-brother-in-law Jon, so she can provide as much succor in Santa Cruz as she did down here. Besides, we had to welcome our new car: a "Winter Gray Metallic" 2010 Prius, which Lucy has named Gracie:
Prii are in high demand right now, but this is the first time we actually waited for - and managed to procure - the precise car and color we wanted from the get-go. Gracie has the sunroof and the solar panel on top, which powers the air conditioning fans - there's even a USB port, which is probably old hat to some of you autotechnophiles, but a novelty to us. Another first: a leather interior. Never had one before, and my arse is still sliding off it.
We've been averaging around 50 mpg on our first day, and the ride can only be compared to Luke Skywalker's floating car. Probably the best feature (with a goofy-ass name) is the "Plasmacluster" between the two front seats - kind of a bridge filled with electronic goodness, allowing a purse or backpack to be put underneath. Like the 2004, you push a button to start the vehicle, but the new version doesn't even pretend to have a key slot - you're supposed to keep it in your pocket.
Here's the kicker, especially for Southern California: the solar roof allows you to "pre-cool" the car in direct sunlight several minutes before you get in. No gas, just the sun, paradoxically making your car chilly on blisteringly hot days. SIGN ME UP!
Somehow, we've been able to pull off one of the rarest tricks in Los Angeles - we've been a one-car family our entire time here. It has been a Rubik's Cube of scheduling, given the meetings that take place in Burbank and Hollywood, not to mention the various activities of our PumpkinPants, but we're proud to have pulled it off for so long. I hope Gracie has half Rosie's stamina.
Yes, and so what's your FAVORITE PRESCRIPTION or NON-PRESCRIPTION DRUG?
A couple of days ago, Tessa and I were wandering around the Cherry Creek Mall in Denver when Lovefool by the Cardigans came on the ambient sound system. I always loved that song, but it reminded me of one of the bitterest cultural moments I'd ever experienced, so I might as well lay it down here.
It was Saturday night of February 22, 1997, and I was in the last few months of my twenties. Already Chapel Hill had become an utterly burned-over district for me personally, culminating in a Valentine's Day party somewhere on Rosemary Street, where I'd walked in just in time to hear my roommate (Pink House alums will know which one) holding forth in the kitchen about how I was a conniving asshole trying to seduce the girl he was trying to date.
This had the unfortunate element of being partially true, but it was certainly not a high priority, nor something I ever acted on... but I digress. The point is, I had basically had it. I didn't need to walk into a fucking party of hipsters, by myself, on Valentine's Day to hear a laundry list of my shortcomings at high volume in front of a rapt crowd desperate for any sort of gossip to shake them out of their po-mo ennui.
The next day, I found out the Cardigans were coming to the Cat's Cradle for a show that had been planned months before their new album had come out. "Lovefool" had shot up the charts over the winter, and as luck would have it, the song was #1 on the charts when they played that Saturday.
I don't know about you, but I thought that was pretty damned cool. I'd be willing to bet that the Cat's Cradle in Carrboro had never before - nor has since - hosted a band with the #1 single in the country the night they performed it. It's the kind of thing you can't take lightly when you're trying to make magic happen in a formerly sleepy railroad town in the Piedmont of North Carolina, and it didn't hurt that the song itself was catchy as hell.
So my friend Lisa A. and I went to the show - which, admittedly, was packed - and slid our way up to the side of the stage (still the coolest place to watch bands at the Cradle). The band was really tight, Nina Persson was gorgeous, they introduced "Lovefool" with a self-deprecating remark about the Billboard charts, and then launched into it. Lisa and I started dancing until we looked around at everyone else in the club.
Nothing. Faces without emotion, barely any swaying, just blank stares up at the stage. Old school WXYC disc jockeys with arms folded, younger hipster types staring into middle distance, a giant mosh pit of pure inertia. I slowly scanned this sea of nonchalance, this tundra of gape-mouthed, slack-tongued boredom, and recognized it as the place where spontaneity, unabashed fun and unbridled glee went to die. In that moment, I decided to end my 13 years in Chapel Hill and move away.
Say what you want about Ben Folds (as our roommate at the Pink House, we certainly did) but he coined it perfectly as the "battle of who could care less", and I knew I was going to lose all my remaining oxygen if I stayed there any longer. Obviously, this was way more about my problems than the easily-maligned Cool Kids™ scene in Chapel Hill, which no doubt continues to hum along quite nicely without my righteous indignation in the way.
And certainly folks who stayed there longer than I did managed to make it work in their own amazing way - Annie, Greg, and many other of you who read this blog. But it struck this particular pair of PreciousPants as a metaphor for everything my generation had not accomplished in general, and everything I had not accomplished in specific. My brother Sean was looking for a house in Los Angeles, and within a few months, I was living in the Hollywood Hills.
Of course, that was its own nightmare (read one of my first blogs, ink still wet with anger, about that) but at the time, I figured if I was going to be miserable and full of resentment, I really ought to do it in as large a town as possible. It's funny, when you look at your own past, you see the many opportunities you had to get off the train, and how many times you decided to keep going because, well, surely the scenery had to get better.
I used to think I'd ruined Chapel Hill for me by staying those last two years, '96 and '97, which were so destructive. For many years, it was true; I could barely go back. But now, all that tomcat bullshit and Saturn-returning despair is utterly gone, and when I drive into town, all I think about is being 19 years old, living in the dorm with Jon, Chip and Bud, and loving my Tar Heels.
They say that the act of giving birth releases a chemical that makes the mother forget about the pain soon after the event, allowing her to contemplate giving birth again someday. I would be very surprised if that weren't true about almost everything.
Okay, folks, time for a PSA. Consider this your up-to-date-as-of-Oct-1 primer on the Swine Flu (H1N1) and also the seasonal flu. This comes from a friend well-placed on the front lines of this stuff, although he/she is not allowed to use their name because of job sensitivity. Let us call him/her Dr. C - and now I'll let Dr. C have the floor:
Here's the deal. Brief story is that for the H1N1 swine flu vaccine, normal healthy folks are going to be waiting for a while. However, if you get pregnant, that person would jump to the front of the line. Ob's, primary care docs, etc will have vaccine available. Public health will be distributing vaccine but primarily to people in the priority groups who are uninsured.
(A quick aside about being pregnant: the CDC is recommending seasonal and H1N1 vaccine in the first trimester for pregnant women. There were 28 deaths in pregnant women during the first round of H1N1 in the spring, and more pregnant women were hospitalized and were in intensive care than we'd expect based on their proportion of the general population. So that is why there is so much concern about pregnant women as a high-risk group. The NIH is also doing clinical trials of H1N1 vaccine in pregnant women and as far as I know results aren't out yet, but H1N1 vaccine very similar to seasonal flu vaccine, which has an excellent safety record.)
There are two types of flu vaccine this year, regular seasonal flu vaccine and H1N1 (swine) flu vaccine. Both vaccines are available in either the nasal mist (live weakened flu virus) or as an injection (inactivated flu virus).
The regular seasonal flu vaccine is available now and it's a good idea to go ahead and get it from your primary care doc, since we are expecting some regular seasonal flu to come along later in the fall or winter. Nasal mist vaccine is basically for healthy people over age two only since it does contain a live virus, so should not be used by immunocompromised people (HIV, chemo patients etc), pregnant women, people with asthma, other chronic medical conditions.
The injectable shot is OK for everyone. In fact, for adults it looks like the injected vaccine works better than the nasal spray -- perhaps because adults have partial immunity that keeps the live weakened nasal spray virus from replicating well in the nose, so they don't get as effective an exposure to the vaccine compared with the injected one. Kids don't have this issue and the nasal spray works well, plus most kids prefer not to get a shot.
The H1N1 (swine) flu vaccine is in short supply right now. The first batch of vaccine available is going to be the nasal spray only (so will not be given to 6 months to 2-year-old kids, nor to pregnant women or chronically ill persons). It should be available next week. Hopefully we will have injectable vaccine available a week or two later, in mid October.
The priority group is different with this vaccine, because most of the H1N1 cases are in children and younger adults, (in contrast to seasonal flu).
Priority groups for H1N1 vaccine are
• healthcare workers
• pregnant women
• babies/kids/young adults 6 months to 24 yrs old
• caregivers for infants under 6 months old
• anyone up to age 64 with chronic medical conditions (asthma, COPD, diabetes etc).
So basically old people and healthy adults over 25 are not in the priority group, and will only get H1N1 vaccine later in the season once all the priority group people who want vaccine have received it. The rationale is that we're conserving the limited supply for those most likely to be hospitalized or die from H1N1, based on what we learned in April and May this year.
Also, it looks like kids under 10 years are going to need two doses of the H1N1 vaccine about a month apart for full protection, though I think the official announcement hasn't been made yet, and adults and kids over 10 only one.