Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Bush and Cheney Partying Like It's 1984...

Did you ever imagine there would come a time when the executive branch of our government would say things like this about Amnesty International?

President Bush called a human rights report "absurd" for criticizing the United States' detention of terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and said Tuesday the allegations were made by "people who hate America.

CNN, 5/31/2005.

War Is Peace. Ignorance Is Strength. Freedom Is Slavery.

Slogans from George Orwell's 1984, that, unfortunately, seem to symbolize our government today.

Hey, does anyone remember the late '90s, when the Republicans constantly attacked Clinton who was accused of having a consensual affair? While many of us supported Clinton through this misadventure, I don't remember that any of us ever accused the Republicans for "hating America," even though the Republicans were busily trying to oust a popularly-elected president.

I don't hate America, it's the current administration I loathe. And I sure believe reports from Amnesty International before I'd believe anything the Bush administration would say about its gross mistreatment of its POWs. Whenever a country is looking to get around the Geneva Convention, something is seriously rotten about its government.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Send a "Thanks, George" Note to Senator Voinovich!

I was reading Leslie Turek's blog where she quoted from Debra Pickett's column in the Chicago Sun-Times. Pickett wrote about many current events, focusing on Senator Voinovich's moving speech on voting against John Bolton last week. I think Voinovich deserves a thank-you note from all of us who are being completely ignored by our Republican senators. So, I did. Voinovich did a very courageous thing last week, and we should support him for it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Moderation Comments and Novel Progress

Three cheers for the return of moderation to the Senate (and maybe even the House). It would be nice to not loose our country to the loony fringe.

I continue to work on my novel in fits and starts. Last week, while I looked at my novel quite a lot, I really wrote very little. Over the last few days, I've started to make progress again, so I'm up to 71,000 words. So I'm continuing with my recent average of about 1000 words a day.

I'm going to be busy the next couple of days, but then Memorial Day weekend should be pretty quiet (other than a likely trip to the Ethnic Festival and a family picnic over in Crafton).

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Medical Services: Central Massachusetts Versus Western Pennsylvania

I'm not sure where to start/where to go with this discussion, but I'm puzzled.

I live in Western Pennsylvania. We're all in reasonable health, but we all tend to have nuisance ailments like gastritis and allergies. We have HealthAmerica, and have never had any trouble getting treatment or tests for anything. For example, my doctor told me to have my sinuses X-rayed the next time I wasn't having an active sinus infection. I called last Wednesday, and got CAT scan appointment for next Monday. The ability to always get tests within a reasonable time has always been reassuring, partcularly since we have a high percentage of the elderly in our area.

My mother lives in Central Massachusetts. She's in her 70s, lives on her own, is in reasonable health, but has been having more age-realted health problems. Last fall, she had a major knee problem and it took her weeks to get all the tests she needed, and she didn't have surgery on it for something like four months after her injury. Currently, her doctor thinks she may have had a mini-stroke because her memory has gotten quite bad recently. But it's going to take her a month to get a CAT scan!! Now, I'd always thought medical care was reasonbly good in Central Mass (UMass Medical School is right there, Fallon is right there), so why does it take over a month to get tests for a potentially dangerous condition?

Is health care being rationed to the elderly? After her knee injury, my mother couldn't walk for a few days and wound up getting one of the last orthopedic beds in a rehab facility. Is health care merely incompetently managed in Central Massachusetts? What's up?

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Mini Review and Commentary on Revenge of the Sith

We went to the 9am showing out at the Waterfront. The theater was probably about 1/4 full (but the 3, 5, and 7 pm showings were all listed as being sold out). No one was in any costume at 9am - I was wearing my "May the Force Be With You" button that I'd gotten at the Star Wars premire 28 years ago.

I thought it was very good but not great - probably a 7 on the IMDB rating scale, maybe even an 8 because I thought the last hour was much stronger than the first.

The first half hour or so is one solid video game - all sound and fury, signifying very little. It gets a little more interesting in the quieter moments, until an awkward Lucas line hits, or Hayden Christiansen looks more uncomfortable than dangerous. The effects are great, but because there so many special effects it seems like overkill after a while.

The final battle is pretty good, and there is a frighteningly ironic detail that shows you how Vader survives his encounter with hell.

The acting is all over the place, but it's mostly pretty good, led by very strong performances by Ian McDarmind (Palpatine) and Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan). Christiansen is certainly stronger in this movie than in Attack of the Clones, but still doesn't quite pull it off. Natalie Portman is good as Padme but is given depressingly little to do. It would have been nice to see more of Jimmy Smits. Yoda has become the best CGI character since Gollum.

This week, we watched episodes I & II before going to the theater to see episode III, and we watched episodes IV & V after seeing Sith. The earlier movies have a kind of visual elegance to them that's almost totally lacking in the current set (with a couple of exceptions in III, and cribbing from Dinotopia in II). Some special effects gurus feel compelled to fill up the screen with just more effects. This doesn't necessarily make a better movie.

***Comments on how it should have been*** **sorta spoilers**

There is a wonderful scene in Return of the Jedi between Luke and Leia, where they talk about their parents. Leia has a line where she simply says "I remember my mother. She was so beautiful...and so sad," as if she'd known her biological mother, and her mother had died when Leia was a little girl (and not just when Alderan is blown up in Star Wars). I'd always hoped that Padme survived childbirth, perhaps being presented as a queen on Alderan, to raise Leia as her daughter. Since Leia is, also, raised by an adoptive mother, that line won't feel the same the next time I see Return of the Jedi (probably this weekend!).

I thought it was a terrible cheat to not show Annikan slaughtering the Jedis-in-training. We saw him slaughter everyone else, and the movie was rated PG-13 for a reason! I'm not advocating blood and guts, just honest, on-camera proof of what a monster Vader had become.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

More Voting Screw-ups

Well, we all know how things went in November? Think things are any better?

Apparently not.

I had no problem voting in November. I went to vote today and learned my voter registration change (I'd changed from Independent to Democrat in late January when I renewed my driver's license) didn't go through. So I was still listed as an Independent. Meaning I didn't get to cast a vote against Michael Diven *sigh* At least I could still vote yes for both ballot questions.

So the Mount Lebanon poll worker was really quick to blame the Department of Motor Vehicles. Said she'd heard the same story from other people. But I wonder where the problem really was? Was it with the DMV? The County Board of Elections? The Mount Lebanon board? Who knows? I will write a letter to the Allegheny County Board of Elections today to complain. This is ridiculous - it shouldn't take over three months to change your party!

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Star Wars in All Its Forms - Honeymooning with Wookiees

We've been getting in the spirit of the upcoming Star Wars finale by watching the movies. We watched Phantom Menace on Friday and Attack of the Clones last night.

I've always enjoyed the movies, though George Lucas put spectacle in front of story for the most recent Star Wars movies. One thing I've always loved about the Lord of the Rings movies is that the story is so strong, Peter Jackson would have to have been a major idiot to let the special effects overwhelm it. The Star Wars saga, while certainly interesting, isn't as rich a story as LOTR, and much of the recent two movies felt like the movie was going from one video game to another.

It's particularly funny that Galaxy Quest, which came out in 1999, perfectly satirized the stupid "clone factory" sequence in Attack of the Clones, which didn't come out until 2002!

[thanks to IMDB for this relevant quote:
Gwen DeMarco: What is this thing? I mean, it serves no useful purpose for there to be a bunch of chompy, crushy things in the middle of a hallway. No, I mean we shouldn't have to do this, it makes no logical sense, why is it here?
Jason Nesmith: 'Cause it's on the television show.
Gwen DeMarco: Well forget it, I'm not doing it, this episode was badly written.

But, anyway, I do look forward to seeing Revenge of the Sith this week. I think thse are all hopeful signs: the movie is dark, not for young kids and that Jar-Jar has no dialog!

The Post Gazette had a great Star Wars tribute today. I enjoyed the trivia test, particularly becuse I scored a 71 on it! ["The Force is strong with you, and the Jedi Council is preparing a seat for you"]

How much of a fan was I of the first three movies? Oh, a pretty major fan. A few years ago, I wrote Honeymooning with Wookiees, which was about my life as a 20-year-old Star Wars fan and newlywed.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Good News/Bad News Kind of a Day

Well, first the bad news - I didn't get hired for a full time job, but at least they wrote to me to tell me so (unlike another place where I had an in-person interview a few months back and never heard a thing).

But, in some ways, that's kind of good news. I'm still making progress on the novel and am up to 63,000 words.

I've been working more this week on the Growing Greener II primary ballot initiative. Remember, even if you're a registered Independent, you can still go and vote for ballot questions (like Growing Greener II if you live anywhere in Pennsylvania, and reducing the number of row offices if you live in Allegheny county).

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Non-Smoking Restaurants and that Novel Obsession....

We've discovered another two restaurants considerate of non-smokers in the Pittsburgh area: Red Robin (out at the Waterfront, just down the street from Loew's) and Il Pizziola in Mt. Lebanon. Even better - Il Pizziola has added a non-smoking wine bar in the back, a place Jim and I will try out some night soon. We're at the point with restaurants that if we have to choose between a restaurant that permits smoking and one that is smoke-free, we'll always choose the smoke-free restaurant. And we really don't go to bars very often when we're at home as a result. Molly Brannigan's in Mt. Lebanon has turned out to be something of a disappointment. The food is erratic, and the "non-smoking bar" often isn't.

Sorry for my novel obsession, but I did reach 57,000 words this morning. I still work on it in fits and starts. Sometimes, I'll spend an hour or so just rearranging a few words. Other times, I write steadily for a couple of hours and find I finished a sticky scene or had added another 2,000 words. I'm working some for my old employer as a contractor, and soon I know I'll have a pile of database work to do for Interaction Programme. I haven't heard back yet on the interesting full-time job I interviewed for last week, and hope to hear either way soon.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Spring in Pittsburgh

Two signs, one a little old but one from today, that spring is really here:


I'm not sure what the salmon-colored flowers are, but we thought they were pretty so we'd planted a bunch of them.

2 of the 3 deer who wandered into our yard at rush hour...

We live on a busy street, so seeing some three deer in our teeny-tiny back yard during rush hour was a tad disconcerting. They stayed long enough for a photo session, then wandered away. We alerted the Mt. Lebanon police to warn them about this possible traffic hazard.

Growing Greener II Poster

I've been doing some contract work for PennFuture recently. It involved mostly database work, but I've been distributing posters for the Growing Greener II referendum on May 17. I brought posters to Shadyside and Squirrel Hill yesterday, and to the South Side yesterday. I lived in Shadyside in the late '70s and wish I could afford to live there again!

My novel has been coming along slowly this week, because in addition to the contract work, I also had a very lengthy and interesting job interview yesterday. I'll probably hit at least 51,000 words tonight. Tomorrow, we'll probably go see Kingdom of Heaven. I like that it's both ambiguous and doesn't have a tight narrative structure - it was about a war, after all! I don't like that it seems to have put crossbows about 400 years early in time, but...