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Monthly Archives: October 2010

These days you can’t get news from any source without hearing something about the economy.  Our economic tribulations are at the forefront of everyone’s mind.  And as the pundits continue to argue about whether or not we are in a recovery, how we can combat the scourge of unemployment, and who is to blame for the whole mess the rest of us are left wondering when the other shoe is going to drop.  That’s the real problem with this sort of economic situation, the uncertainty.  You worry about your job.  You worry about your home.  You just flat-out worry.  But, despite the trials of today’s fiscal realities there have been darker days.

Today, for instance.  Well, not today in the present sense, bit today as in the 81 years ago sense.

October 29, 1929.  Black Tuesday.

There are plenty of legends about Black Tuesday.  They say brokers were throwing themselves from their windows on Wall Street among other things.  Most of these are just that, legends.  But, even if brokers weren’t raining from the skyscrapers of Manhattan, panic was gripping the nation in its icy grip.  Over the course of two days, Black Monday and Black Tuesday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped over 25%.  $30 billion dollars was lost.

And this was in 1929.  Adjusted for today’s values that would be like the market dropping over $372 billion in two days.

Those two black days marked the beginning of an economic crisis so severe that conjuring its name is enough to instill fear in the populace.  When we hear that a crisis could rival The Great Depression an electric jolt of panic flashes through us for a moment.  Even though the numbers of those who lived through that time is dwindling, the event left a scar on the psyche of our nation that will never truly heal.  That time, that catastrophe will haunt the memories of our children’s children.

We learned much from Black Tuesday and the years that followed.  Brilliant minds have examined the factors that led to the collapse and have worked to keep it from happening again.  But, the truth is that the real reasons behind it were the same as the ones behind our current economic woes.  Man is greedy and Man is obsessed with the short path to riches.

It doesn’t truly matter whose fault it is.  One side will blame George W. Bush and his cronies, stating that it was his policies that pulled us down.  The other side will blame short-sighted lawmaking during the Clinton years exacerbated by the policies of the Obama administration.  The truth of the matter is that greed once again won out and once again everyone is reaping what powerful men and women sowed.

In times like this we are unhappy much of the time.  And I think Douglas Adams said it best when it comes to unhappiness and money.

Most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small, green pieces of paper, which is odd, because on the whole, it wasn’t the small, green pieces of paper which were unhappy.

Perhaps, someday we will learn.

Hello, everyone, and Happy Halloween!

I’ve always loved Halloween.  If nothing else, it’s a reason to dust off some of those classic horror films.  Horror films have a special place in my collection, and this time of year obviously sees the biggest variety of them available.  October has been a solid month for the genre this year, and it is ending with the conclusion of one of the most polarizing series ever in the genre.  But, love it or hate it, “Saw” has had a definite impact.

That being said, let’s take a look…

“Saw 3D”

Trailer

Syopsis: This October, one of the biggest, most successful horror franchises in movie history arrives in theaters in vivid, chilling 3D with the release of Lionsgate’s “Saw 3D”. As a deadly battle rages over Jigsaw’s brutal legacy, a group of Jigsaw survivors gathers to seek the support of self-help guru and fellow survivor Bobby Dagen, a man whose own dark secrets unleash a new wave of terror.

MovieDruid’s Comments: I have said it before, and I’ll say it again, “Saw” is one of my guilty pleasures.  I have been addicted to the series ever since I saw the first film and haven’t looked back since.  Part of me is sad to see it go, but it has been getting a bit long in the tooth.  There is, after all, only so long you can do this before it becomes too cliché.  My hope is that they put a capstone on the series and tie things up.  My fear is that they will go for the cheap thrills, especially with the introduction of 3D to the mix.  Of course, that fear won’t be enough to keep me from the theater.  I can’t help it, there’s something about Jigsaw.

Browsing through my typical news sites I ran across this article.  After reading through it I was left with a mixed sense of hope and hopelessness.  The fact that conservation efforts around the world have been having an impact on the loss of worldwide biodiversity is a heartening thing.  But, it is very difficult to get past that initial number.  One in five vertebrate species threatened.  That’s 20% of the world’s animal population on the brink.

It makes me shiver.

Humans have always seemed to think that we had progressed past our animal brethren.  We look at animals as property or nuisances or things.  When we strip them of any kind of emotion, pain, or the like it is easy to justify things like hunting wolves from aircraft or slaughtering cavalry horses.  We either don’t understand the importance of the natural world around us or have become so blinded by our human greed that we are willfully ignorant of it.

There are consequences to everything that happens in this world.  When a species disappears it causes ripples that roll through the natural world and impact aspects of life we never would have expected.  Human activity has caused more damage to the overall ecosystems of this planet than any other force.

I don’t expect civilization to devolve itself.  Nor do I want it to.  But, I think we as a species need to start understanding a few things.  We need to understand that we are not the proprietors of this planet.  Nature shows us time and again through flood, fire, and disease that we are simply tenants here.  We need to understand that our neighbors have as much right to live and breathe on this Earth as we do.  We need to understand as a sentient species we have certain responsibilities to be caretakers of this place.

The more we destroy, the more dangerous this world becomes.  Extinction will eventually lead to an untenable position by nature of the ripple effects it causes.  We are all connected in a grand system that none of us fully understand and never will.

Who’s to say that the next piece removed from that system won’t bring it crashing down around us?

Sony has decided to take one of their old studs out and put him down.  He was a good performer.  He was the beginning of a trend that simply got bigger than he was and he couldn’t keep up.

I speak, of course, of the Sony Walkman.

Sony has done away with the Walkman and yet another of the cultural icons that we who grew up in the ’80’s held so dear is going the way of the dodo.  It’s hard to fault Sony on this one.  After all, I’m not even sure where I would go to buy music on cassette anymore.

CD’s pummeled the Walkman terribly in the ’90’s as he watched his brother, the Discman, rise to the prominence he had once enjoyed.  The Walkman was always happy for his siblings success, but was also bitter that he was so readily cast aside.  He struggled on, quietly standing in the shadow of his brother’s meteoric rise.  It was said that from time to time you could hear the quiet sound of sobbing in the hiss of the cassette’s he played.

In recent years, Walkman’s already failing health was further eroded by the news that his family was losing the struggle to remain relevant in their chosen profession.  It had been their legacy to rule the kingdom of portable music, but the advent of MP3 saw them begin to suffer a rapid decline.

It  appeared that they had a new nemesis and its name was iPod.

The Apple clan’s incursion into their territory hit the entire family hard, but none suffered as Walkman did.  Now obsolete by multiple technological generations, he began to show signs of senility as he was banished to junk drawers, attics, and garage sales.  Rarely picked up except to be moved, batteries slowly rotting inside, Walkman realized he needed to make peace with himself, his owner, and his manufacturer.

He passed on quietly at the age of 30.  Few even noticed he was gone.

But, here at the Jungle Gym we would like to have a moment of silence for Walkman.  Or maybe silence filled with the hiss of a cassette played through headphones.  You served us well for many years.  And, while you have not been relevant in the world for a long time, your memory will remain with us, always.  Godspeed, Walkman, Godspeed.

Now where did I put my iPod?  I had an appropriate funeral track on there.

I am a big proponent of animal rights.  I truly believe that we, as humans, have allowed ourselves to becomes far too comfortable with the idea of animals being not only inferior to us but also being simple objects or possessions that we can do with as we will.  The absolute loyalty and trust that we receive from our pets is far too often grossly disrespected.

I want to believe that most people see animals as living, feeling beings just like us, but the news seems filled with stories of the horror that our species visits upon others on a regular basis.

Then I read this article, and I regained a little of my hope.

Suffolk County decided to take a stand.  They stood up and said that we are no longer going to allow these things to happen.  Finally, someone is recognizing that the problem is there and needs to be addressed.

Now, I’m not naive enough to believe that this is going to cause a cease to animal cruelty.  After all, despite the stance they are taking, Suffolk County is still only one county in one state of the larger nation.  Their law cannot be enforced outside of their limited jurisdiction.  And, while they have taken a first step, it is like a drop in the bucket.

But, someone has to be the standard-bearer.  Someone has to see the injustice being done and have the courage to step forth and decry it rather than simply looking the other way and hurrying pas.  No revolutionary idea, no matter how good, will ever get off the ground until someone is willing to stand up for it.

And Suffolk County did just that.

So, hats off to the leaders of Suffolk County.  It is never easy being first to adopt such steps.  Here’s to pioneers of justice.  May the rest of the country follow suit.

Hello again, everyone.

I apologize for the tardiness that has defined this week at the Jungle Gym.  This week has been a bit hectic, and my time to get to the keyboard has been a bit sporadic.  I have, however, caught up the posts for the week as well as “Victuals & Hootch” and “Mixed Media.”  The review that should have gone up yesterday will be posted today shortly after the weekly MovieDruid posting.

That being said, this week offers two very different releases, but continues the trend of getting scary movies out for October.  We should see the wrap up of the yearly horror-fest of releases wrapping up within the next week or so.

And then, of course, we’re moving into holiday season.

So, let’s take a peek at this week’s releases…

Paranormal Activity 2

Trailer

Synopsis: The terror continues as a young couple copes with a potentially evil spirit in their suburban home.

MovieDruid’s Comments: I did not get a chance to see last year’s “Paranormal Activity.”  The release was a bit limited in this area and there were several other films out simultaneously that trumped it each week.  It remains on my list of films to catch up on.  This sequel appears to be more of the same.  And, while as someone who missed the original, this one intrigues me a bit, I have to wonder if I would be as interested had I managed to catch the original film since its release last year.  The concept is interesting, but I have to admit this quasi-documentary style films are beginning to get a bit old.  Leave he camera work which is often so jiggly when handheld that some people have to look away from the screen or feel sick, the style just seems to lend itself to laziness.  After all, you don’t need a deep plot or engaging story if you can play on the “fact” that you are looking at “genuine footage.”  This one just feels like second run fodder.

“Hereafter” – MovieDruid Pick of the Week

Trailer

Synopsis: “Hereafter” tells the story of three people who are touched by death in different ways. George is a blue-collar American who has a special connection to the afterlife. On the other side of the world, Marie, a French journalist, has a near-death experience that shakes her reality. And when Marcus, a London schoolboy, loses the person closest to him, he desperately needs answers. Each on a path in search of the truth, their lives will intersect, forever changed by what they believe might — or must — exist in the hereafter.

MovieDruid’s Comments: I have always been a fan of Clint Eastwood.  As an actor he is one of the greats of his generation, a legend.  But, as a director he is an absolute phenomenon having brought us “Blood Work,” “Million Dollar Baby,” “Changeling,” “Gran Torino,” and “Invictus” among others.  And here he is venturing into a different territory altogether….again.  And yet again he has found a lead in Matt Damon (“The Bourne Identity” & “The Departed”) who is the sort of actor that raises the game of everyone around him.  If history has taught us anything about Eastwood it is that we can never be truly prepared for the journey he takes us on.  I for one look forward to the ride.

As I have discussed before, being out of work, frankly, sucks.  I’m not built to take a hand out from the government and it’s hard to maintain that sense of self-respect and self-worth when you don’t feel like your pulling your weight.  However, I’m finding out that there is another aspect to the jobless situation that is just pull your hair out frustrating.

Scheduling.

I know.  You would think that scheduling would be a piece of cake given the large swathes of time I’m not working.  Lately I’ve actually been getting a few nibbles at my resume and have even had an interview or two.  These are happy things to have occur, but they have thrown a distinct monkey wrench into things.

You see, with the obligations my wife has had with the Playhouse combined her normal stress and my stress from being out of work we had decided that it might do us some good to get away for a bit.  We had just begun the process of scheduling some time at a beach house down in South Carolina that we have access to when the interviewing flood gates cracked open.  The result may not have been a flood, but it was a few opportunities that looked promising.

This is me cheering for a shot at getting back to work.  Then this is me realizing that if I am starting a new job the beach is going to have to be a memory.  Now, I’m grown up enough to have my priorities straight.  A job is much more important than a vacation so there really isn’t any choice to be made here.  But, playing the waiting game on whether or not I got said job is maddening enough without the added scheduling issues smothered on top.

The possibility of employment has made it difficult to plan a lot of things.  I have so many things floating around out there in a holding pattern that I wonder when I’m going to overload the system and they will all come crashing down.

Don’t get me wrong.  I want to work.  Work is good.  But, it would be nice to have the ability to say to friends and family that a date we are planning to do something is a firm plan.

So frustrating. <sigh>

I am baffled by humanity.  My fellow man makes precious little more sense to me than an alien from Betelgeuse.  Oh, I understand the basics, after all I did take Biology in high school.  I get the workings of man from a mechanical, perspective.  At least as much as any non-medical degreed individual can.  It is the behavior of people that sometimes gets me scratching my head.  Sometimes we can just be so…..random.

I had one of those moments yesterday.

Let me start by giving a little background.  When my wife and I settled into our current living arrangements the area across the street from us was a large field of corn screened by a lovely treeline.  This combined with the lack of any street lighting in our area and the lack of neighbors closer than 100 yards made for wonderful stargazing.

Unfortunately, it was not to last.  A few years ago one of the nearby churches bought up the land for a new school building.  They proceeded to tears down the corn and, inexplicably, the screening treeline as well.  Down came nature, up went a new school complete with parking and sodium vapor lighting.  The stargazing views are much diminished.

One of the consequences of having this school so close (and without the treeline which I still don’t understand the removal of) is that recess, sports, picnics, pretty much anything that happens at that school might as well be happening in my front yard from an auditory standpoint.  It isn’t unusual for me to be able to pick out the actually conversations at times.

This factor was the enabling situation for yesterday’s oddball event.

As I sat at my computer working at the job of finding a job yesterday afternoon I suddenly heard music begin.  Confused at first I checked to see if I had inadvertently started or left running a program that was now serenading me with no warning.  I had not.  It was about this time that the music catalog in my brain identified it.

It was “The Electric Slide.”

I am not a hater of the Electric Slide.  However, it is my belief that this particular song has an appropriate time and place.  Wedding receptions.  Cruise ships.  Parties full of drunk people who couldn’t dance sober and have seen their skills deteriorate even further with the introduction of alcohol.  Where it doesn’t belong is drifting inexplicably through my home office on a Monday afternoon in October.  That is simply not an appropriate time for “boogie woogie woogie.”

Once I realized that my computer was not the source of the music I quickly ascertained that the sound came from outside.  Moving to my porch I gazed across the street trying to determine the reasons for the sudden burst of electric boogie.  I could see no real reason for it, and as I endeavored to solve the mystery the song ended and silence reigned.  (Well, as much silence as I get when the kids are at recess over there.)

The music never returned.  Not “The Electric Slide.” Not any other overused party tune.  Nothing.  Just the sounds of children at play and silence.

I walked back into the house shaking y head in confusion.  What would possess a Christian school to suddenly play “The Electric Slide” at high volume in the middle of a Monday afternoon?  If the music was part of some sort of celebration, party, or exercise regimen why the single play of the song with no others to follow?  Why does anyone actually own a copy of “The Electric Slide” that they can play inexplicably at the drop of a hat?

Like I said, humanity baffles me.

Human emotions can be funny things.  We all ride the roller coaster of our emotions from time to time, and so we, over the course of a lifetime, become familiar with the soaring highs, despairing lows, and strange twists and turns that make up the emotional side of our individual personalities.  Emotions are one of the defining things that makes us human.  They define us in a way that few other aspects of our mind could ever do.  But, we, as a species, seem to have a somewhat twisted relationship with our emotional side.

Disagree?  Well, then allow me to elaborate.

One of the most prevalent emotions in all of nature, regardless of species is fear.  Fear is one of the most important components in the survival of any species because fear will cause us to choose flight over fight in impossible situations.  Fear is a universal experience that all creatures have.

And yet, mankind is the only species that seeks out fear.  We revel in the shiver running down our spines, the feeling of goosebumps forming on our skin, and the quickening of our heart.  Without this love of fear directors like Wes Craven, writers like Stephen King, and anyone else who makes a living sowing seeds of fear in our willing minds would be out of a job.

We loathe the way fear makes us feel when we walk down a dark corridor, but thrill to the same effect when we have sought it out.  With fear we are a paradox.

In the case of many other “negative” emotions we don’t so much seek them out as reinforce them when they descend upon us.  When we feel anger or sadness what do we often do in response?  We “cope” with the emotional state by reinforcing it.  Anger often leads us to aggressive behavior or music and other media which has an edge of anger to it.  Sadness leads us to isolation and losing ourselves in music or objects that simply reinforce the sadness or grief.

I know I am guilty of these things.  My coping mechanisms for just about any emotional state could definitely be described as reinforcing.  I revel in the emotions when they come, even when I don’t really want to.  I cling to things that will intensify the emotions rather than salving whatever wound caused them.

So, how do you cope?  How do you react to the coming of strong “negative” emotional states?  Do you reinforce as I, and s many others do?  Or do you have a different mechanism for those darker times?

As a fan of media I have always had a certain fascination with the show, film, or book that takes us back to the beginning to show us how things got started with our favorite characters or settings.  Examples abound whether you talk about George Lucas giving us the prequel trilogy for “Star Wars.” watching Clark Kent’s formative years on “Smallville,” or reading about Drizzt Do’Urden’s childhood and adolescence in Salvatore’s Dark Elf Trilogy.

The truth is we always like to know what happened to get us where we are in the story.  This, of course, runs counter to what many writers (myself included) have been taught, which is to come into the story as late as possible to tell your tale.  Doing so dispenses with ancillary prose that could easily be communicated through setting and dialogue.  But, once we get an attachment to the place or people we are reading about or watching we often find ourselves thirsting for more about their past.

And, this, is where things get tricky.  After all, how can you create tension when we know how things come out to at least some extent.

Perhaps I am one of the few that thinks in those terms.  But, really, how tense are we as Yoda starts to lose ground to Sidious at the end of “Revenge of the Sith”?  We know the only way this can end is in a stalemate of some sort.  After all, unless we’ve lived under a rock, we know when and where the characters actually meet their demise many years hence.

Am I the only one that finds distractions like this creeping in at times?  It isn’t that I don’t enjoy a good prequel, but much of the tension is simply unsustainable when I know what the characters go on to accomplish later in the story.  It’s almost like the storytellers gave us gigantic spoilers years ago.

Hmmmm….Does that mean that the original “Star Wars” trilogy should be marked with “SPOILER WARNING” stickers?

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