Monday, February 26, 2007

It's not exactly tombstoning...

but when I first saw this article's headline on-line, there was a line-break, and it read thusly:

Documentary about
Jesus challenged

I thought the article was about a movie. A counterpart to the documentary Jesus Camp, this movie Atheist Camp follows the Jesus-challenged through their daily activities...

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Is it just me...

or did Peter O'Toole actually look a little bit bummed when Forest Whitaker won? Mad, even?

(But Forest Whitaker was amazing. I'm glad he won.)

Is anyone out there offsetting your carbon emissions?

'Cos we want to do that now, for ourselves and maybe somebody else. But I don't want to just send my money off to assuage my guilt. I want to know my money actually makes my footprint go away.

In case you're scoring at home...

I've just updated my Best 150 Movies Ever list for the first time in 18 months. Three films have made it.

Debuting very high...at #29...is Stranger than Fiction. See it. Love it. It kicked ass.

Debuting at #68: Little Miss Sunshine. Funny. Uplifting. Incredible.

Debuting at #127: Heart of the Game. Even though I'm not in it...only other Seattle area refs were in it...it's quite a wonderful story.

(Full list of 150, plus a load of just misses, available on request to the immensely bored.)

My wife captures the problem with current censorship

The Last King of Scotland, which we saw last night, was every bit as disturbing, violent, and chilling as one would expect a movie about Idi Amin to be.

(By the way, we chose The Last King of Scotland over Factory Girl. In other words, we chose a movie about Idi over a movie about Edie. Perhaps we could have an Idi/Edie film festival, adding a film about Steve and Edyie? But I digress.)

The movie's horrific images of torture, dismemberment, and death will stay with me, in a horrible way, for a long time. So, when we got home last night, and as we discussed the future of Socially Responsible Film Night, I said, kind of out of left field, and tongue firmly in cheek: "I'm not sure that The Last King of Scotland would be a good movie for kids to see."

My wife wickedly responded: "Yes. After all, it as male full frontal nudity."

Hilarious! And an on-the-money critique of the prudish censorship element of our society!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The worst ever...

Wife and I finally instituted Socially Responsible Movie Night tonight, a mere four and a half months after inventing it. We saw The Last King of Scotland. Damn, that's disturbing shit. I'm glad we saw it tonight, but I'm also glad we saw Talladega Nights instead at the end of that work week back in October.

Anyhow, Idi Amin was a crazy son of a bitch, safely in hell right about now. And watching this movie made me think of a list I was working on...the Worst People of All Time list.

Sometimes it's a top five, sometimes it's a top ten. And Michael Bolton and Joe Theismann aren't even on it.

Okay. Hitler's a given, as is Stalin.

Pol Pot's gotta be there.

And Idi Amin.

That's four. But the fifth is always tough on me.

The first four have this in common: they're heads of state with a massive body count among their own people.

Number five gets harder.

Papa Doc? Saddam Hussein? Mussolini? Milosevic? All awful people like the first four, but perhaps with a lower body count?

I'm encountering another problem here. All of these folks are from the twentieth century. Perhaps my lack of world history knowledge hurts me here. Would Atilla the Hun belong here? Torquemada? Gengis Khan? Nero or Caligula? I just don't know enough about them.

Maybe I need more information...maybe I need to play more of the wonderful Guess The Dictator or Sitcom Character game.

Help me out, smart people. Am I overlooking something? Should I have other criteria for this? Who's on your lists?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Amazing Race All-Stars Predictions

We're only a few hours from the debut tonight, and my wife keeps asking me for my predictions (although she didn't make predictions herself, but just listed teams she likes). I will now give a quick synopsis of each team. Unlike most seasons, where I have to go solely on a brief video, here, I've seen everyone.

Kevin and Drew: Really cool, funny guys who hooked me way back in Season 1. I remember one shouting at the other: "Row, you fat bastard!" or some such. They're really great guys who did well in Season 1, but they're overmatched here.

Oswald and Danny: Underrated as competitors, they stuck it out nicely in their season, and might have been the team to have the most fun in all ten seasons. I think they'll stick around for a while, and I'm glad about that.

John Vito and Jill: Not sure why they were chosen here. They were dating then, brought together in part by the death of her brother/his best friend on 9/11. Now they're not dating anymore. I remember being annoyed by them at first, but growing to be OK with them. I can see them sticking around.

Uchenna and Joyce: The only defending champions on the show. Good people, but I predict this will play out like Survivor All-Stars: nobody will want to help the team that's already won a million. They'll hang in there, but with a target on their back, I don't see them winning it all.

David and Mary: I'd argue they grew more than any team in 10 years. It was awesome to see Mary so gleefully racing outside her comfort zone. But they are the least talented team of the bunch. As my wife points out, they only lasted as long as they did because the Cho brothers kept them around. They might be my favorite team, and they might be the first to go home.

Charla and Mirna: Unless these are. I liked Charla, the dwarf, a lot, but Mirna drove me absolutely crazy back in Season 5. I remember her bitching and moaning about physical challenges that Charla just up and did. Maybe Mirna saw herself on TV and decided to whine less. Even so, and as impressed as I was with Charla in the first go-round, they simply don't have the ability to keep up with their strong competition.

Rob and Amber: Speaking of Survivor: All Stars, here are the champions (yeah, I know that only Amber was champion, but still.) I disliked them in Season 7, but they were damn good. They were actually recognized in South Africa from Survivor, and got some help this way. They will neither seek nor make friendships. They'll stick around, but like Uchenna and Joyce, they've got a target on their backs. (And what's up with listing "TV Personality" as their occupation?)

Teri and Ian: A strong team from Season 3 who I do not want to underestimate. I didn't care for Ian's dictatorial bent, but I admired his skills. They'll be around.

Eric and Danielle: Danielle was on Season 9 for about an hour (we called her team "Team Implants"), but it was long enough for horndog Eric to, um, notice her. Now they're dating. Indeed, they're the only currently-dating couple on the race (I don't include the gay couples, who are so committed as to be de facto married). So they're dating, which I view as a strike against them, and they haven't run the race as a team before, which I view as even more of a strike against them. They're doomed.

Joe and Bill: Team Guido. They were ruthless in Season 1. I bet they learned from their couple of major mistakes, though. I never disliked them as much as others (such as my wife) did. Age might work against them in this mostly-young race, but they will last.

Dustin and Kandice: Ran a very strong race. Although I disliked them for their frequent cattiness, they made very few mistakes and were physically able. They also understand that being gorgeous pageant-blondes is an advantage that they can use all around the world. I see them in it to the very end this time.

With that established, I shall make two lists. One is of the teams in the order I like them, from last to first. The other is my predicted order of finish.

LIKEABILITY:

11. Rob and Amber
10. Teri and Ian
9. Eric and Danielle
8. Dustin and Kandice
7. Charla and Mirna
6. Bill and Joe
5. John Vito and Jill
4. Uchenna and Joyce
3. Kevin and Drew
2. Oswald and Danny
1. David and Mary

More teams I dislike than that I like. (John Vito and Jill are sort of no-impression to me, so that leaves 6 I dislike and 4 I like. Oh well.)

Now, predicted order of finish. As always, I will do this in levels: I'm predicting less an exact order than I am who will go in which third of the race.

11. David and Mary
10. Charla and Mirna
9. Eric and Danielle

8. Teri and Ian
7. Oswald and Danny
6. Kevin and Drew
5. John Vito and Jill

4. Joe and Bill
3. Uchenna and Joyce
2. Rob and Amber
1. Dustin and Kandice

So, there it is...the girl-team takes it all for the first time. My wife disagrees; she says "they've proven what they have to prove." I disagree. I think they've got the combination of ability and hunger. They'll take it all.

If I were emperor of the USA...

I'd fix the problem with our electoral process Alison talks about in the comments of an earlier post:
Remember that during the fall of 2003, Dean looked like he could sweep the primaries. By the time Super Tuesday rolled around (which happens to be when Ohio votes) he had pulled out of the race. I'm sure some of the many Deaniacs around here went ahead and voted for him anyhow (he actually won in Vermont on S.T.), but at that point they weren't actually voting for president any more. By the time Washington held its primary, was he even on the ballot any longer?

Here's my way to make sure every state gets a more-or-less equal vote, and that we don't get the problem of states racing to February, when the issue isn't decided yet:

In January, as usual, Iowa and New Hampshire vote for their candidates. This begins an 11-week process, and preserves the tradition (whatever that's worth) of them starting the process.

Then, the other 48 states and DC do theirs over the next 10 weeks. We start with the lowest population/number of delegates and work up. There are five primaries per week, except for the last week, which would feature the four remaining (largest) states. Primaries would therefore go in this order:

1/19/08: IA, NH
1/26/08: WY, DC, VT, ND, AK
2/2/08: SD, DE, MT, RI, HI
2/9/08: ME, ID, NE, WV, NM
2/16/08: NV, UT, KS, AR, MS
2/23/08: CT, OK, OR, KY, LA
3/1/08: SC, AL, CO, MN, WI
3/8/08: MD, MO, TN, AZ, IN
3/15/08: WA, MA, VA, NJ, NC
3/22/08: GA, MI, OH, PA, IL
3/29/08: FL, NY, TX, CA

I believe this provides importance to each state. The smaller states have importance because they are first; they therefore set the tone and the frontrunners early. But a candidate with a rough start the first couple of weeks could focus on the Midwest and Mountain West, looking ahead to teh 2/9 and 2/16 primaries and hoping to get back into it then. Of course, everyone wants the delegates from the big states, which are important by virtue of being big. Each state and each voter matters more in this fashion. It's less likely the game will be over so early.

Any flaws here?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

If I ever decide to become a principal...

please suffocate me in my sleep before I go through with it.

Reason #1: One of my bosses recently told me he thought I'd make a good principal. I told him "No way." He asked why, and I gave him one of my many reasons: "I don't want almost all of my interactions with students to be negative." His response was classic: "Not all of my interactions with students are negative...[pause while he does the math]...I'd say only about half are." Ick. Don't sign me up for that, boss.

Reason #2: Every time I have a crazy parent who doesn't like my decision...and this year has actually been quite good; there has only been one...I say: "I'm sorry you're not happy with this decision. Feel free to contact our principals if you have any further questions." I don't want to have to take the next dozen phone calls from that crazy parent.

Reason #3: Tonight, I went to the big playoff basketball game. With two minutes left in the fourth quarter, there was a big fight in the stands. It didn't appear to involve our students...as best as I could tell, it was either an intramural affair between two of our opponents' students, or maybe a parent-on-parent mano-a-mano match. Needless to say, I hustled up into position to be sure that our kids didn't do anything stupid to escalate an already-really-intense situation, which had already drawn about a half-dozen police officers into the crowd, and was delaying the game by about 5 minutes or so. There wasn't too much to do there...I stopped 2 or 3 kids from running over to get a closer look at the protracted fight, and tried to lighten the mood with a joke or two (I asked our star linebacker what he was doing later that night, and if I could join him so he could protect me). It was seriously a scary situation. My adrenaline was cooking. And I was happy to help.

But I do NOT want to take turns with my fellow administrators to be REQUIRED to do that at EVERY game, etc. No way.

So there are three big reasons why I will not seek promotion into school administration. I love my classroom, and while I can see maybe wanting to do a career switch at some point (in another decade or so, perhaps), I just can't see anything drawing me into the main office. I'd just as soon retire after 28 more years of Gatsby and Hamlet and Things Fall Apart.

And you know what? That actually doesn't sound too shabby.

Honest question

Help me out, guys, as I pick a Democrat to support this year:

If I'm going to old our President accountable for invading Iraq in 2002, shouldn't I hold those who supported him (especially with their votes) equally accountable by withholding my vote?

I believe that Clinton and Edwards voted to support the war because they didn't want to harm their political futures.

Bill Richardson seems to have believed there were WMDs, and seems to have given some interviews indicating we had the right to invade.

I haven't bothered researching the minnows.

That leaves me with Obama and (I sincerely hope) Al Gore, who were both vociferously right in 2002.

I will admit that I was scared and undecided about the invasion back when it happened. In retrospect, I was wrong...I should have been screaming against it. I don't think this makes me stupid or a bad person. I was simply fooled--the Bush administration were very convincing in its lies. But I'm not runnning for President. I want my President to make good judgements at critical times.

I don't want to be a one-issue voter. But is there any reason I should support a candidate who was wrong at such a critical moment?

That's an honest question. Convince me I should look at all the Democrats, even those who blew it in '02.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Huling Brothers: Living Down to a Stereotype...and way beyond

When I first saw the horrible, disturbing, sad story of how the folks at the Huling Brothers auto dealership had allegedly sold a truck to a mentally ill man in shit-stained pants, then conspired to rob him of the $70,000 in cash he told them he had at his apartment, well, it made me madder than a hornet. There is a special place in hell for those who prey on the vulnerable, and deeper still for those who see someone who is obviously vulnerable and have the reaction of "gee, here's a mark."

But I can't say I was completely surprised. My only experience at Huling Brothers...well, I walked out of it thinking "Gee, what an immoral and inhumane salesperson that was."

I bought my first new car three years ago. I had gathered a bunch of money on a GM Credit Card, and so was limiting myself to GM cars. I traveled to dealerships all over the Seattle area. I became annoyed in many places, but Huling Brothers was the only one where I actually felt angry.

Swankette and I got to the dealership to look at a Buick. (Remember, we were researching GM.) There, we dealt with a guy named Chris, new to Seattle, who was civil, kind, and thoughtful as I test-drove a car.

Clearly, Chris didn't last at Huling Brothers.

I would not be surprised if Darry did, however.

When I turned down the Buick and asked to look at a Chevy, I was walked down the street to the Chevy dealership. They had a deal going where they'd match any advertised price for any Chevy dealership in the area. There was a pretty good deal--a loss leader advertised at a different dealership that I showed Darry. He said: "No way that's for the [better model]. They'd never get you that if you showed up. I can't honor the ad." So I got out my cell phone and called the dealership to confirm. Yep, it was the better model. I told Darry so. "They're lying to you! I won't sell you this better model at that price." That's right...he reneged on their guarantee.

I didn't walk out. I figured that I'd see what he would offer, and if it were close to that price, I'd call it good. So we walked back to The Back Room. Chris sat down with us, and we chatted amicably. For 5 or 10 minutes. Too damn long to wait for a price. Then Darry returned. "All right, goddammit," he said. Probably jokingly, but I already thought he was such an asshole that it was just pathetic.

"Here's what I can offer you."

He then showed me a series of numbers. These numbers did not include the price of the car, or the interest rate. It was the amount I'd pay per month, and how long I'd be paying it. I said that this was not what I asked to see. I wanted to know three things, I said, very slowly so there could be no mistaking it. I wanted to know how much the car costs. I wanted to know my interest rate. And I wanted to know how much I'd pay overall, including interest.

He insisted that he was giving me that information.

I insisted he wasn't. I told him to go out and get it.

Chris was embarrassed, I think...he'd spent at least an hour with us by this point, and since we'd had such a pleasant time, I think he could tell we were annoyed. He slipped out to deal with another customer.

Darry was gone for another ten minutes.

Do car salesmen do this because they think it weakens a buyer's resolve? It doesn't work on me. When I'm in the dealership, I know one thing: I have ALL the power, because I absolutely do not care whether I spend my money at this dealership or another. If you're pissing me off, or making me feel annoyed or tired, you are making me LESS likely to buy a car, not more.

He came back in, and showed us another set of numbers. They were lower numbers, but again, HE HAD NOT SHOWN ME THE INFORMATION I HAD ASKED FOR. I asked for it expressly. I asked for it slowly. I asked for it clearly. I asked for it in an annoyed fashion. He didn't pay attention. He was still showing me the monthly payment. I didn't care. Man, it made me mad.

Next time I go car shopping, I'm taking a stopwatch. I can say: "You have three minutes to get the information I need."

Anyway, Darry was annoyed with me, because he felt what he was showing me was sufficient. He also said that "the financial guy is busy," so I'd have to wait a while. He left again.

Three minutes later, so did Swankette and I.

We had to walk a couple of blocks to her car, and as we walked, we heard a desperate voice behind us, calling our names.

We looked to each other, and said: "Don't look around. Don't look. We're outta here."

But we were detained at a red light...and Chris caught up to us. He told us the price we could get. It was good enough, but I said I'd have to think about it.

The next day, I bought the same car for about the same price (a little less). Somewhere else, of course. It wasn't a perfect experience, but I never felt fucked with, so it was superior to Huling Brothers.

That night, the manager at Huling Brothers called me. It was a marvelous conversation.

HIM: Have you purchased your car yet? Because I can get you a good deal...
ME: Yes. I bought my car today.
HIM: Really? What kind of car did you get?
ME: [triumphant pause] A Chevy.
HIM: Really? Where?
ME: Not from you.
HIM: Why?
ME: Because Darry is an asshole.

I then went off on all of his sins, the way I felt mistrated, the way he reneged on the ad deal, the way he wouldn't answer any of my questions, the way we were left three times to fossilize in the back room. I was careful to compliment Chris...I told the manager that he's a good guy, and deserves a pat on the back...but I didn't want Darry to get a dime of my money. The manager apologized profusely. He said: "This isn't the kind of thing we stand for," a statement which has gained a lot of irony with the recent news. He offered me free detailing of my car for as long as I wanted to make things right. I'm not going to drive the 45 minutes to West Seattle to get my car detailed, but I appreciated the offer. I said all I wanted was for Darry to get a talking to.

I should point out that nobody named Darry has been implicated in the car sale to the mentally ill man or in the subsequent robbery. For all I know, he was talked to the next day, reformed his life, and now provides cars at cost to orphanges. But I do think that the aggressive, screwing-him-is-better-than-helping-him attitude I was subject to that day says something about a broken culture at Huling Brothers. For several years, they have received more complaints to the BBB than any car dealership in Seattle.

Given my experience, how can I be 100% surprised to read these quotes about Huling Brothers?
Aggressive sales were lauded -- a longtime Huling Brothers salesman who closed the deal with the mentally ill customer told police he was celebrated as "a star for a day." He even tried to sell the man a second car the next day, police said, but the customer's money already had been stolen.

"Anybody in the right circumstances would try to rob him," the salesman told police.

If a business spends each and every day playing a game of trying to get as much as possible from a customer like me...if that end justifies any means and any mistreatment...rather than trying to provide goods and services at fair prices and fair profits, it's not that far before they get to the depths Huling Brothers eventually fell to.

I'm glad the former owner of Huling Brothers paid back the $100,000 to the mentally ill man. That's class. But I don't believe, as he does, that this problem can be written off to a few rogue employees. I think the culture helped to make this happen. And I hope this morality play causes every car dealership--hell, every business--in the United States to look deeply into the mirror at its own culture.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Things I Would Not Do

I would not legally change my name to Peyton Manning because my team lost the Super Bowl and I had made a vow.

This guy would.

Well, at least he's not taunting hurricane victims.

Of course they do

Love this headline on BBC.com:

"Poles and Slovaks in cheese stink"

Funny, the critical difference between a noun and a verb.

I've tried to be a hero...

and ain't it a shame how it never works out?

My head cold and sub-Barry-White voice hasn't responded to the ignore-it-and-hope-it-goes-away treatement, which includes lots of time at work and a good deal of basketball officiating.

So I'm chilling at home with the wife (and her new work-from-home job!) and kitty. Drinking OJ. Writing.

I need to get well, and I hope this couch lets it happen.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Indigo Girls' latest

Normally, I listen to an Indigo Girls album about 18 hours after its release. This time, life has intervened, and it took me a few months, but I finally got to Despite Our Differences today.

I'll tell you what: although I've only listened to it once, Emily Saliers' "Lay My Head Down" is up there with anything she's ever written...which is saying something. She's every bit the poet she's ever been. But sometime, while I wasn't looking, Amy Ray caught up to her as a songwriter. "Little Perennials" and "They Won't Have Me" are damn fine songs.

I felt like the Indigoes got overtly preachy in the mid-to-late '90s. I can't get through all of Shaming of the Sun, for instance. But now they have found a much better (for me) way of getting their points, including their political points, across. Or maybe this album, which is, after all, called Despite our Differences, just has a message that I can handle a little better. The way that Amy can paint a sweet, heart-wrenching portrait of failing farmers in "They Won't Have Me," even while admitting those same farmers would reject her because she's gay, is beautiful on multiple levels.

This one goes into heavy rotation on the new Ipod.

I can't remember...

my throat ever hurting quite this bad.

But I'm gonna keep going to school. I still have energy and won't have trouble getting through the day. I'll just set the American indoor record for lozenge consumption.

Good news: all songs have been uploaded to the Ipod. Next stop: getting something to play it in the car.

Didja see that?

Just two posts ago? When I predicted a 28-16 Colts victory? It turned out to be 29-17. Hey, that's awfully damn good on my part.

Enough to make one forget how horrible I've been in the past.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

I've been sitting all day...

uploading CDs and critiquing a video of my refereeing. In between, I'm surfing the web, checking out climate change stories.

And I think right now...right this minute...would be an excellent time for Al Gore to put his hat into the ring for '08. I think '00 is forgotten, that he's a movie star, and that I like him better than pretty much the whole Democratic field.

Please, Al. Come back to us.

Oh, and while I'm at it...

Colts 28, Bears 16. The AFC was just too good this year, and the Colts seem to have solved their run defense woes.

Sick day Saturday

I've been just a little bit sick for like 3 weeks. You know that taste in the back of your throat that says "I'm sick?" Had it. Every day. But I haven't yet been sick enough to miss a day of school or a game of refereeing.

Today? Well, I could be at school today, I suppose, if it weren't Saturday. But maybe not. I became ill (something I ate? a flu?) from 3:30 to 4:15 AM, then slept until 10, and made the unilateral decision that I'd spend today on the couch drinking orange juice, uploading the remainder of my CDs to the computer (we've made it all the way from A to Talking Heads), and surfing the net.

I emailed my representative, both senators, and the President about this terrifying climate change report. I want my kids to face the mitigated sucky future, not the worst-case.

My wife is out doing stuff. Not me, not today. I will do nothing.

Anyhow, go ahead and say hi if you're out there. I'm just chillin'.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Happy 25th Anniversary, Dave

It's amazing how much of this I remember.