Month: August 2013

Where have I been?

I’ve been posting very lightly this month because I have been… at home… by myself.  My family took off to visit the in-laws and I have had the house to myself.  You’d think that would mean I would be doing this all the time, but here’s the thing- I do this because I have a family.

I’m not complaining about my family, because I love them and I can’t wait for them to get back tomorrow.  But I realized something a while back.  I can’t finish a thought.  Imagine sitting in a park, thinking about something.  Maybe a vacation in Hawaii.  You think about getting on a plane.  Arriving at the airport, picking up your bags.  Getting to your hotel.  Sitting on the beach.  Going snorkeling.  Eating at a luau.  etc. etc.

Finally, your brain runs out of places it can logically wander and you think to yourself, wow this trip is going to be great.  And then proceed to think about something else.

PARENTS DON’T GET TO DO THAT!

Just luxuriating in a thought, thinking it all the way through to fruition (woah, this is starting to sound dirty).  Not possible.  Someone is going to interrupt you.  RIGHT WHEN IT FEELS SO GOOOOOOOOD

Anyway, this is the best thing about having no one around.  And I didn’t realize how much I missed it until one day it hit me that I was going nuts having unfinished thoughts battling it out in my brain.

What I realized about blogging was I could pick out a thought early in the day and just kind of keep going back to it all day.  Just take small bites at it until it was done.  I needed an incentive to do this though, and blogging was great for that.  I normally do this with songs, but I’ve get enough ready that I don’t feel rushed there.

So that’s what I’ve been up to, thinking about stuff.  And going to the beach, because who wants to be in front of the computer during the summertime?

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Movie Review: The Act of Killing

I’m not much of a movie person but for various reasons I have been to see Pacific Rim (YEAH! ROBOTS!), Wolverine (OK) and finally The Act of Killing all in the same month.  I usually see one or two movies a year.

Anyway, I wasn’t all that excited about seeing this one because frankly I’d rather read about something like this than see it.  That’s just me.  Also, as you might guess from the other two movies I saw, my taste in film is decidedly low-brow.  Robots, space-ships and super heroes please.

But I actually do take an interest in these things, again, in book form.  And I was basically pestered into going to see it.

On the plus side, I saw that Werner Herzog was an executive producer and I generally like his films.

First of all, I didn’t get it.  Second of all, I didn’t think it worked.  Finally, I was fucking horrified.  Watching this film was a deeply unpleasant experience.

I didn’t get it.

I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about world history and events, but Indonesia is a rather large blind spot for me.  I could have told you that there was a guy named Suharto, who overthrew a different guy named Sukarno (shit, was it the other way around?) and that Indonesia was under military rule for the second half of the 20th century.  I can’t tell you much of the particulars.

The movie is about some of the executioners during a period of mass killings in 1965-1966, when, according to the movie, around a million people died.  The guy he focuses on, a somewhat fittingly named Mr Anwar Congo, allegedly killed around a 1000 (!) people by his own hands.  But he wasn’t the architect of any policy.  Where does he fit in in the greater history of that era?  I don’t know.  It’s hinted that he’s famous, but I can’t evaluate that myself.  In a era when a million people were murdered, is a man who killed 1,000 notable?  I’m not asking a rhetorical question, I’m asking seriously, is that a lot or a little?  I don’t know.

I didn’t think it worked

I got the impression that the movie was trying to humanize Mr Congo.  I guess the point was- this could be any of us.  But I just can’t see myself murdering 1000 people with my bare hands.  I just can’t.  I’m not trying to say I’m a saint or anything.

I had this same problem with Herzog’s Grizzly Man.  It was just too outside my experience.

That being said, the parts where he focused on Congo’s fellow executioner who claimed to experience no regrets at all were terrifying.  I’d have liked to see more of that guy.  But that guy was probably too smart to spend a lot of time in front of the camera.

I was fucking horrified

The movie is basically a documentary shot around the executioners making a film reenacting what they did.  The reenactments were terrifying.  Some of the people who participated looked traumatized.  And the paramilitary soldiers reenacting the original acts looked waaaay too ready to commit some war crimes of their own.  Their leader, in one of the most frightening scenes in the movie, notices that maybe they’re acting a little too well and comments to the camera, basically, you know this makes us look really blood thirsty, which might give you the wrong impression.  Of course, we can be more bloodthirsty than this.  But I don’t want everyone to think that we are.

I kind of walked out of the movie wondering what to take away from it.  It was an achievement, getting these people to cooperate.  And I’m more likely to pick up a book about the history of Indonesia so I can learn more.   Beyond that, I don’t know.   I guess I’m just not a good audience for this sort of thing.

Book Review: Whitewashed Adobe

The Rise of Los Angeles and the Remaking of Its Mexican Past

By William Deverell

As usual I am reading books that my wife buys for her sociology classes, but I really liked this one.  I generally enjoy reading any California history, but this book really touches on something I find immensely interesting- the California Myth.

The California Myth means different things to different people, but it’s always been fascinating to me how people view my state.  And not really so much how people outside of California view my state- Californians are notorious for being indifferent to that, and I am completely typical in that regard.  But how Californians see California.  What makes certain people so enthralled with living here?

One of my favorite examples is The Woodie.  I attend the Ocean Beach Christmas parade most years and there’s always a contingent of woodie drivers that drive the parade.  Why?  What is it about wood panels that makes these cars so amazing?  People my mom’s age (my mom included) go NUTS when they see these cars.

“Oh look a woodie!  A WOODIE!”

This book covers the period between when LA started to grow – did you know that LA had a population of less than 10,000 as late as the mid 19th century?- to the Great Depression.  So sadly he doesn’t explain the wood-paneled car obsession.  But he does talk at length about one of the other HUGE pieces of California mythology- The Mission.

If I’d never actually seen I might have an idea of a grand cathedral ala Notre Dame.  Or a mighty castle.  Not the puny adobe and wood chapels that they actually are.  There’s one in San Diego off Friars road that, if I hadn’t by chance read the sign out front, I would have never attached any significance to at all.

Which isn’t to say that a historical site has to be gigantic or imposing to be important, but it helps.  At any rate, what are we celebrating?

Spanish conquerors who enslaved the native peoples.  HOORAY!

The Mission Myth of a peaceful, pastoral California is why every other business in California is called Mission _____.  That’s why Taco Bells built in the 70s look the way they do.  It’s why my baseball team is called the Padres (something which is dangerously close to having a team called the Montgomery Overseers, or something like that).

Deverell’s central point is that early California boosters used Mission imagery to promote California tourism- California had a white, in this case Spanish, history, that was uncomplicated by anyone from that historical period choosing to rudely stick around.

Of course, the Spanish weren’t gone at that point, they had just become known as Mexican.  Which is where it gets interesting.

The 20th Century in California featured a series of ugly battles between people trying to segregate our cities.  But it really started in the 19th century- for Los Angeles to become the tourism mecca, it had to hide all those Mexicans, or at least make them wear Spanish style outfits and dance for tourists.

I’m not really doing this book justice.  I loved Deverell’s witty and ironic style, and I LOVE reading direct quotes from irrationally optimistic 19th century boosters and promoters.  Some people might find it a bit too polemical in places.   Or if you don’t care about California you might not give a crap.  Anyway, I enjoyed it.

Podcasts I used to listen to:Yeah, it’s that bad

I’m bummed out.  My favorite podcast has inexplicably shut down.  There was an ominous message at the beginning of episode 129 saying that the show would either end or come back in a radically different format.  Then, with no explanation, it was gone.

If you’re interested, too bad. You missed it.  The show has been yanked from ITunes and its website shut down.  Nothing but a lonely Facebook page left.

There have already been a great eulogy, which I’m pretty sure I can’t top.  Probably the best thing I can say about the show is that it was the podcast I most looked forward to, and I barely have any interest in movies.  I hadn’t seen at least 2/3rds of the movies they reviewed, and of the ones I had, most of them I saw a long time ago.  I just loved the way they interacted.  It was like hearing the best parts of several hours of good friends shooting the shit, condensed into an hour.

Recently over at Balloon Juice, the site lost one of its oldest and most consistent commenters.   He was so consistent that when his comments didn’t appear for a few days, people started to talk.  When a few weeks had gone by, people feared the worst and started to piece together bits of personal information in the hopes of tracking him down.  A few weeks later we got confirmation he was dead.

One of the other commenters at Balloon Juice suggested we all email the blog host with our personal info in the off chance that we die and no one can track us down.  I didn’t bother because someone could always come here where I’m sure my blog partner would let everyone know about how I choked on a pork rind or space junk flattened me or whatever.

It’s odd to think about these things though.  General Stuck at Balloon Juice was an odd guy.  Some of his comments were very insightful.  Some were long-winded and silly.  I don’t know if I miss his comments all that much, but he was a good guy, and I do feel a bit like I lost a friend.  Same with Joel, Kevin and Martin at Yeah It’s That Bad.  Funny things happen in the internet age.

Our crazy family vacation is finally over

We checked out of the Silver Legacy and got back on the road.

The 395 is one of the best routes through California, along the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada.  It’s a great drive and we took our time, arriving back in San Diego around 9pm.  Trip over.

Things I learned:

Our family gets along pretty well.  We had a few rough times at the beginning of the trip, but once we got going, we were a team.  Setting up camp, taking it down, cooking food, doing dishes, driving the car, etc.  We all took turns.  Except driving the car, my son didn’t do that.

Washington has beautiful scenery and nice people.  Oregon doesn’t make you pump your own gas, and has nice people.

You don’t need reservations for campsites in Washington.

Places that aren’t dry like California have lots of mosquitoes.

We need to buy an adapter for our car so we can charge up camera batteries.

11 days was not enough time.  I would have spent more time in Seattle, more time in Portland (we spent all of about a half hour there, and I love that city), would have visited Mt Rainier, would have spent some more time exploring eastern Washington.  Maybe even stayed an extra day in Reno.

Highlights:

Olympic Peninsula is magical.

The Palouse.  Ditto.  Like being in a dream.

Circus Circus.  I know, but seeing my son having so much fun is a joy that I can’t get enough of.

Seeing one of my best friends in Seattle, doing well with his wonderful family.

Seeing my uncle in Spokane, hearing old stories about the family, getting his insight on my father, my other uncle, and the rest of us.

Spending time with my wife and my son, who I love very much and so rarely get to spend so much time with.

2013 Family Trip (Washington) 783