Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Charade 2002

Posted on November 28th, 2002 in Commentary by EngineerBoy

It’s Thanksgiving morning, 2002, and the house is suffused with heavenly aromas, the family is all here, a  fire crackles in the fireplace, and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is on in  the background. Two of my daughter’s friends are in the parade, so we are  watching the whole thing (they’re supposed to be right behind the Charlie Brown  balloon). We’re now 30 minutes into the parade, and so far we’ve seen about 30  seconds of the parade, 10 minutes of yapping hosts (plugging their respective  NBC shows), and 20 minutes of (for some reason) Broadway stage production  numbers performed on the street (so far we’ve seen selections from  Oklahoma, Thoroughly Modern Millie, and The  Producers).

The entire thing is so inexplicable that it’s making my  head hurt. Take, for instance, the selection from The Producers. The number  consisted of some guy singing about wanting to be a producer, while surrounded  by six half-naked dancing girls. A seventh dancing girl comes out, and she’s a  little bit…healthier…than the rest of the girls, and our producer wannabe  proceeds to select the six heroin addicts, and then says to the less-thin one,  ‘Not you!’, and she slinks off in shame. He then proceeds to sing about wanting  to be a producer so that he can ‘drink champagne til I puke’. And he then  proceeds to smack each dancing girl on her tush. So the gist was, being  less-thin is shameful, and success = drinking until one vomits and then groping  one’s attractive employees. Ah yes, what a heartwarming holiday message for the  kids.

We’re now an hour into the parade, and we still have seen,  literally, about 30 seconds of parade. We’re now watching the Rockettes. “How  tacky,” is my Mom’s considered opinion. Not that the Rockettes, themselves, are  tacky, just that our family is tuned in to watch a parade, and we’re instead  seeing an infomercial for NBC and Broadway. Having watched the parade for a  large portion of my life, I was prepared for all the cross-marketing by the host  network. But what is the Broadway connection? Some rebirth-of-New-York falderol?  (Hey, they just showed a balloon for about 7 seconds right before the commercial  break! Hallelujah!) Back to Broadway. The New York Broadway phenomenon is truly  amazing. New York has managed to create a concentration of stage productions in  one place, and all of the faithful devotees of that type of entertainment can go  to one place to satisfy their  singing/dancing/choreographed/costumed/from-the-diaphragm jones.

But, in  the typical myopia of the right coast, the producers of this parade have failed  to realize that in every other major metropolitan area in the US, traveling  Broadway stage productions are underwritten by corporate sponsors, because they  would not be profitable otherwise. Broadway shows make their money on Broadway.  The people who enjoy Broadway shows go to Broadway to see them, or they wait for  the show to come to their town. And these people are so few and far between that  the road shows can’t make money on

Solaris (***)

Posted on November 27th, 2002 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

This is a deliberate and challenging movie. If you were sending this movie a Christmas card, the mailing address would be 2001 Mulholland Drive, and I mean that in the ‘homage’ sense, not the ‘blatant ripoff’ sense. The movie, although set in space, is character-driven and uses the futuristic setting merely as a backdrop for larger issues regarding humanity, the meaning of life, the definition of death, and the nature of god (almost).

George Clooney continues to stay out of the Hollywood icon rut, and is selecting projects that allow him to flex his not inconsiderable acting muscle. The movie has a high GCBF (Gratuitous Clooney Butt Factor), but that may hold some appeal for a certain market demographic. The rest of the (surprisingly small) cast does excellent work, as well.

If all you know about this movie is that it stars George Clooney and is set in space, I urge you to go see it before you learn any more, but with one caveat: there are no laser battles, distressed princesses, wise-cracking sidekicks, tractor beams, transporters or holodecks in this movie. If you are looking for mindless, escapist, holiday fare, this ain’t it. Not that there’s anything wrong with escapist fare, mind you, but the marketing of this movie has left its nature pretty unclear, and if you wander in expecting Star Trek Meets Star Wars, you may be disappointed (you also might be pleasantly surprised).

But, this movie is deliberately paced, and you’re almost a third of the way through it before the plot even becomes clear. The movie borders on being an art film, and if it didn’t have Clooney as the star and Soderbergh as the director, it’d probably be playing on one screen of your local art house rather than two screens at each of your local multiplexes. I’m very glad that it has a wide release, however, and I hope it does well at the box office, because that is the only way Hollywood will make more films like this (not films with the same plot, but films that push the envelope like this one). I’m also hopeful that this movie will reach people who might not have seen it otherwise, and that they enjoy it, rather than feel misled by the hype.

I’m deliberately not mentioning any more details of the plot, because this movie really should be experienced with few preconceptions, IMHO. I struggled between giving this movie 3 or 3.5 stars, and I settled on 3 only after much deliberation. I may come back later and adjust it upwards, but I need to think about the movie some more. And that, in my opinion, says it all.

Bad Tippers

Posted on November 25th, 2002 in Commentary by EngineerBoy

No, I’m not talking about those unfortunates who somehow can’t compute 15% of the check. I’m talking about those folks who regularly under-tip. Did you know that employers are not required to pay minimum wage to waiters and waitresses, with the understanding being that the restaurant makes up the difference if tips don’t get them there? Did you also know that while this is the law that few, if any, restaurants actually adhere to this rule? Ask any waiter or waitress what would happen to them if they went hat-in-hand to an owner/manager and said, “Please, sir, can you pay me more because I had a lousy tip night? It’s the law, you know.” The first is that the owner/manager would laugh, thinking it was a joke. Then they would rant and rave at the server for being such a lousy waitperson that they couldn’t make enough tips. Then if the server pushed the issue they would be summarily fired for some trumped up reason. Now, there may be that rare owner/manager who complies with the law, but guess what the result of their largesse is? Their servers are guaranteed to make minimum wage. Wow, how wonderful for them. Oh, and they also don’t get any benefits, unless you count free meals, which is a benefit only if the restaurant has a good selection of decent food.

The person waiting your table is making their income from your tips. I personally use 15% as the minimum, meaning if the waitperson did a minimally acceptable job, they get the minimally acceptable tip. An average server gets a 20% tip from me, and it goes up from there for better service. However, there are those who regularly tip much less than that, and much less than the IRS is assuming (and asking your servers to pay taxes on). Why do people undertip?

I’m Not Gonna Pay A Lot For My Muffalata

First, there are those who harrumph about being blackmailed into “paying extra” for something, just because society says they should. This is some of the most lunkheaded logic I have ever heard. If tipping were not standard, then restaurants would have to pay their servers a fair wage, and the cost of those increased wages would be reflected in higher food costs. And then, all servers would basically be hourly drones with no motivation to do more than necessary to not get fired. Is that what you want at your restaurant, some surly server with the attitude of a government clerk slinging food at you along with healthy doses of apathy and attitude? Aren’t you, in fact, glad that servers have merit-based compensation, and that you, as the consumer, directly control that compensation? Aren’t you grateful that your servers, who do one of the most physically and psychologically draining jobs on the planet, manage to project a positive attitude in part because they know that their attitude directly impacts their tips from a given table? Merit-based tipping is a great system, but it depends

Die Another Day (**½)

Posted on November 24th, 2002 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

This is a standard-issue Bond film, so you’ll know whether or not you like it going in. I like Bond films, for the most part, but am not a devotee. In my opinion, most Bond films are above-average entertainment, hence the 2.5 star rating.

After the first 30-40 minutes, however, I thought I might be witnessing the rebirth of the Bond franchise as a tougher, more realistic, harder, more exciting franchise. The first third of this films ranks as some of the best, if not *the* best, work I’ve ever seen in a Bond film. However, after that, it falls back into the usual Bond groove. In fact, near the end of the film, there is some awful CGI (computer generated graphics) that would have looked amateurish in an episode of Xena the Warrior Princess.

But, the bad guys are bad, Bond is smooth, Halle Berry is suitably plucky and alluring, and the locations and cinematography are gorgeous (for the most part…a couple of supposedly “outdoor” shots look like they were filmed on a sitcom set, meaning cheesy and obviously indoors).

And, I have to say, I now think of Pierce Brosnan as Bond, not as ‘the new Bond’. I would *love* to see the next Bond film carry the grittiness and reality of this movie’s opening throughout the film. The producers of this series have to begin distancing themselves from the Austin Powers series (which I *love*), or they may end up becoming a parody of a parody of themselves.

Why I Like Eminem’s Music

Posted on November 23rd, 2002 in Entertainment,Music by mynagirl

I like Eminem’s music. A lot. I bought “The Eminem Show” when it came out, and it’s been in nearly constant CD player rotation since. Even my favorite I-listen-to-classic-rock older guy is starting to find it interesting and catchy. (Although I have to admit I didn’t even try to expose him to the music until after he saw and liked 8 Mile).

My first introduction to his music was from my nieces and nephew controlling the constantly-on TV during summer family gatherings. Eminem was a relief after what seemed like a solid week of Real World histrionics. The video was “What I Am” from his disc The Marshall Mathers LP. It seemed catchy and at least somewhat interesting, lyrically. When the “The Eminem Show” was released, I bought it on spec. Let’s see if this guy actually has anything to say, I thought.

Before I launch into any blisteringly insightful analysis of why I like Eminem’s music, I should provide you with my general taste requirements for music:

Marie’s Grand Musical Requirement Number One
It’s interesting, musically. I know this sounds self-evident, but my main requirement for liking something is that it has a good bassline (“I Wish” by Stevie Wonder), interesting harmonies (“Mrs. Robinson” by Simon & Garfunkel or anything by Gillian Welch), a great beat (um, somewhat embarrassingly, I offer “Jukebox Hero” by Foreigner), or a relentless but interesting hook to keep me, well, hooked (“Jump Around” by House of Pain or “Insane in the Membrane” by Cypress Hill epitomize this category).

Marie’s Grand Musical Requirement Number Two
It’s interesting, lyrically. I am a play-it-super-loud-until-it-wears-out kinda music listener. (I think I get this from my dad, who shares my penchant for sternum-rattling stereo volume in one’s car). I’m also in the Car Singer’s All Time Hall of Fame. This means that I end up knowing every single word, breath, and nuance of a song when I play it for even a few number of repetitions. So… if it’s lyrical drivel, I just can’t tolerate it for too long, even if it’s decent, musically. (Witness my short infatuations with a Britney Spears song or N*Sync – well produced pop songs, all right, but not very compelling). Songs I would consider lyrically amazing include:

• “The Boxer”, also by Simon and Garfunkel:
I have squandered my resistance for a pocketful of mumbles, such are promises

• “Strawberry Letter 22” by Shuggie Otis, a little more well known by the Brothers Johnson:
Stained window, yellow candy screen
See speakers of kite – with velvet roses diggin’ freedom flight
(See, it doesn’t even have to make sense to the non-mind-altered, it just has to be interesting!)

• “Barroom Girls” by Gillian Welch
Oh the night came undone like a party dress
And fell at her feet in a beautiful mess
The smoke and the whiskey came home in her curls

Insane In The Beltway – Our Crazy Presidents

Posted on November 22nd, 2002 in Politics by EngineerBoy

I believe that all modern (Post-WWII) US presidents have been crazy. Insane. Bonkers. Nuts. Loopy. Etc. On what do I base this belief? Did I perform extensive analysis of discernable behavior patterns and/or gain access to private documents and records that showed demonstrable dementia? No. My belief is based on it being the only possible explanation. Allow me to elaborate.

The Short Version
A person does not become president by accident, he has to want it, and he has to think he can actually handle the job in order to survive the selection and competition processes. But a person who believes that he can compete and win the job of president, and then handle being the most powerful human on the planet, is clearly delusional. There’s a perfect word to describe the condition of a serious Presidential candidate:

Main Entry: megalomania (meg•a•lo•ma•nia)
Pronunciation: “me-g&-lO-‘mA-nE-&, -ny&
Function: noun
Etymology: New Latin
Date: circa 1890
1 : a mania for great or grandiose performance
2 : a delusional mental disorder that is marked by infantile feelings of personal omnipotence and grandeur

Definition courtesy of Merriam-Webster at

(On an unrelated note, I think it would be a hoot if a Chinese restaurant had a big promotion or contest and called it Mega Lo Mein-ia!)

Think of it this way…what would your reaction be if someone said to you: “I really want to be President of the United States, and I think I’d do a great job!”? My reaction would be, “You’re crazy!” Why would anyone want that job? Unsolvable problems, unknowable enemies, unrelenting danger (to one’s self and one’s family), incomprehensible issues, and non-stop criticism. To *want* that job, you have to either think you are truly one in 250,000,000, the one great leader who can shepherd this flock through the rocky straits of the winds of change (he mixed, metaphorically), or you have to be willing to sacrifice everything in order to get power. In either case, you are insane, in my estimation.

The Long Version
First of all, no modern president has been elected by virtue of a grass-roots movement. Sure, some have come out of nowhere (Carter, Clinton), but they still came through their party machine, and followed the cow paths laid down by countless previous candidates. And those paths lead through some pretty stinky pastures, my friend. In modern America, the Democrats and Republicans have an oligopoly (I would assert that they have a monopoly, actually) on the office of President. They control the means of production, distribution, and delivery. You don’t get to be the Democratic or Republican Presidential candidate unless you pass muster within the party. And the standards are very exacting. Notice that I didn’t say “high”, I said “exacting”.

First and foremost, you (as the candidate) must be controllable, to reduce the risk that you will harm your party. How are you made to be controllable? How does one control the most powerful person in the world? By having more power over the candidate than the candidate will over you, if elected. How do you, as a

I’m Not Anti-Smoking, I’m Anti-Smoke

Posted on November 20th, 2002 in Commentary by EngineerBoy

Most non-smokers don’t care whether or not a given individual is a smoker. What they do care about is being able to breathe air that has not been fouled with cigarette smoke. In my experience (have been married to a smoker, friends/acquaintences with many smokers, family members who smoke), most smokers have an immunity to the scent of cigarette smoke, and are actually unaware of just how noxious and foul it is to most non-smokers. It is not just ‘unpleasant’, it is disgusting.

If you’ve ever traveled the world, you may have noticed that different cultures have different community standards for personal hygiene. And, if you are unused to these standards, you may be disgusted by the ambient aromas, while the natives take no notice whatsoever. Well, this situation is analogous to smokers and non-smokers in America. Smokers live their everyday lives with a constant stream of smoke, and most non-smokers do not. So, when these two “cultures” come together, one is found to be offensive by the other.

There are those who would condemn the smoker (or person from another culture) for this offensiveness, but they are the small-minded few. Most folks hate the offensiveness, but don’t particularly like/dislike the offender for it. They just wish to be able to breathe/eat/live in comfort.

Now, the culture of America used to be smoker-centric. Everyone smoked everywhere…in offices, in hospitals, on airplanes…everywhere. And, if you were a non-smoker, well, you were just out of luck, because you lived in a smoker’s world and just had to learn how to deal with it. You were free to not smoke, but about the only way to escape it was in the confines of your own home/car.

Slowly but surely, though, American culture has changed. In fact, America is now a non-smokers world. Now smokers have the problem, because their options for smoking are limited. In fact, there are only a few places where smoking is condoned in today’s America…the smoker’s personal space (home/car, if you have an understanding family), smoking sections, bars, and outside, primarily. On one level, it’s sad for smokers, to be shunned and forced to sneak off to engage in their habit.

But, the truth of the matter is, this change is long overdue. Cigarette smoke is foul and offensive. Some claim it is a carcinogen, but that is actually beside the point. The crux of this debate is between the smoker’s right to smoke, and the non-smoker’s right to not be disgusted. And, in law and in manners, the correct thing to do is that the person with the offensive behavior refrains from inflicting it on the general public. This does not mean they have to stop entirely, but the social construct requires them to curtail their offending activities in public, or be considered rude.

And that, to me, is the heart of this conflict. Non-smokers would just like for smokers to be polite. I’m not claiming that all non-smokers are polite, and I know that some non-smokers step over the line when confronting smokers.

Drive Friendly – What A Great Slogan

Posted on November 20th, 2002 in Commentary by EngineerBoy

Texas has one of the all-time great highway slogans, which is 'Drive Friendly'. That really says it all. I try to drive friendly. I really, really do. I live in Houston, TX, which has some very nasty traffic. My morning commute is blessedly short, but I have, in the past, had typical suburban commutes, and still find myself regularly facing the challenges of rush hour. I am very safety oriented – I never drink and drive, I always wear my seatbelt, I obey the functional speed limits, I pay scrupulous attention to school zones and slow to 20MPH. I am also a polite driver. If two lanes are having to shrink to one, I obey the one-from-this-lane-then-one-from-that-lane protocol. I let people out of parking lots into traffic. I slow down to give the merge-impaired a chance to get onto the freeway alive. I always use my blinker (this is also a safety thing, but I'm listing it the 'politeness' section intentionally). I watch for pedestrians, especially downtown, where Houston's drivers-who-don't-really-understand-pedestrians meet pedestrians-who-don't-really-understand-walking-across-traffic-heavy-streets.I also work very hard to not get riled when I drive. I am an easy-going person, by nature. I'm all in favor of live-and-let-live. I understand that, while all those other drivers are just traffic to me, I am just traffic to them. I think that the best way for us to all maintain our sanity is just to….Drive Friendly.Sneaky Pete'sBut…oh my…what is it with some people? Are they egocentric, sociopathic, or both? I'll give you an example, to which all of you can relate. If you head west on I-10 from downtown, and then exit to the loop 610 going south, the exit is only one lane. And it's almost always backed up. And I, like the vast majority of folks trying to make that exit, get into the appropriate lane and wait it out. And, as I sit there, I see all the egocentric morons who slip by to my right and left, zoom up to the head of the line, and then cut into the exit lane. Granted, there may be one or two who really don't know there is only one lane. But the vast majority of drivers follow the same route every day, and know the score. But they still pull what I like to call a 'Sneaky Pete'. They somehow feel that they have the right to bypass all the other drivers and then cut into the line.Do these people remember kindergarten, where most of us learned that it is not polite to cut in line? Do they think that none of the drivers in line have thought to do what they did? Why is it, you Sneaky Petes, that none of the other people in line do what you do? Do you think we don't have the guts? That we didn't think of it? That we don't have extremely important, urgent business to attend to? That we somehow don't possess the magical key that frees us from social convention? Do you

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (***)

Posted on November 17th, 2002 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

Chamber of Secrets is good, solid entertainment, and a worthy successor to the first Harry Potter film. The kids are all a year older, but that fits right into the story and seems completely natural. The story is exciting and well told, the acting is solid, and the special effects border on astonishing, even in this day and age. In fact, they are so well done that I didn’t even think to mention them until I stopped to think about the movie, and realized that I hadn’t noticed them (because they were so good).

FYI, I have not read any of the Harry Potter books, so I can’t comment on how the movie compares with the book, but Marie (who has read all the books) said that it was a faithful representation. But, from my perspective of someone not familiar with (or a fan of) the books, I can say that Chamber of Secrets stands on its own as a solid, entertaining film. You *should* see the first film first, though, to understand some of the characters and backstory, but don’t consider that a negative…I liked that this film did not try to “fill in the blanks” for those who hadn’t seen the first film.

************ SPOILER AHEAD ***********************

My one complaint/question regarding this film concerns a scene near the end. Hagrid returns to the Hogwarts dining hall, and is given a boisterous standing ovation. But he hasn’t really done anything to deserve one. My guess is that he is being cheered because a side-effect of the movie’s story is that Hagrid is shown to have been innocent of a past transgression, but it was nothing dramatic or Earth-shattering, so I’m not sure that’s what the ovation is for. If you can provide clarification, please feel free to post a response here. Thanks!

The Ring (*)

Posted on November 17th, 2002 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

The Ring could have been good, but not great. It has solid bones, but the meat is more like spam than filet mignon. Naomi Watts (who should have won an Oscar for her performance in Mulholland Drive) does a good job, as does the rest of the cast, but the material they are given, and the story/direction are uninspired and uninspriring.

Particularly underwhelming is the director’s use of Watts’ character’s son as a sort of Joely Hale Osment doppelganger. The director’s attempts to use the kid (who seems like a fine actor) to capture the chill of ‘I see dead people’ do not work, and play like parody of the Sixth Sense.

***************** SPOILERs AHEAD *********************

The story had many, many holes. For instance, answer any of these for me:

What would happen if the person who watched the videotape is not near a TV seven days later?

What would happen if they were not near a phone right after watching the video?

What is the purpose of the first phone call, if it doesn’t matter whether or not the call is answered?

Would a malevolent force know enough (or care enough) to “wait for the beep” to leave a message?

What was the purpose of the scene where Naomi Watts’ character is down the well, other than to set up the false ending?

If four teenagers watched a videotape, got a warning message via phone, then died in simultaneous yet unrelated incidents seven days later, wouldn’t the police become involved?

What art school drop-out directed that lame video?

Those are not burning questions that have occurred to me after deep ruminations on the complex message of the film. Those are forehead-slap-and-snicker-inducing gaffes that occurred to me during the film. I have a fairly balanced view of movies, in that I can usually recognize when a film is good, but just doesn’t appeal to my tastes. This isn’t one of them.

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