Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Month That Was - February 2008: February flew by, highlighted by the most exciting Super Bowl in history (after one of the more tedious seasons) and a spur of the moment long weekend in Hilton Head/Charleston SC. Give it a read; it's short with lots of pictures linked. Apart from that, I can't for the life of me think of what else happened in February. Actually that's not true. I got through a full revision of Misspent Youth, now a little more than half way complete, and I have ideas for more. I also made some progress in getting my investment portfolio sorted out more intelligently -- something that had needed doing for years. (Would it be tedious for me to expound on my stock market investments? I'm guessing yes, but I'll give it some thought.) Speaking of finances, this weekend is reserved for doing taxes. Joy.

Missing in Action
Spirit of Detroit
Principled Apathy
Time Off
Missing in Action: Tube Notes takes a break this month. The Wire ends in early March. Same with Breaking Bad. And I've latched on to Dexter, which is a (very) guilty pleasure. Next month for sure.

Also, no Movie Round-Up. I really didn't see anything worth writing about. The only think that sticks out in my head is The 300 which made its HBO premiere. It was visually striking in the action sequences, but it wasn't very good otherwise. Disturbia has hit cable also, and I'm mildly anxious to compare it to Rear Window, the a bona fide classic to which it is an homage. Again, maybe next month.

And to complete the theme, no book commentary either. I am still crawling through the lovely and difficult Tender is the Night, and I have started Unknown Quantity, a history of algebra by John Derbyshire. It's not as compelling as his previous Prime Obsession which I read and discussed many months ago but it is at least challenging me to do some algebraic thinking which I probably haven't dome since I was an undergrad. Possible comments next month, but not likely.
Spirit of Detroit: Of course, who needs The Wire when you have Detroit. John Conyers, Detroit's U.S. Congressman has long been known to be a high-end nut job, but his wife, president of the City Council, may take the cake, telling an aide to the Mayor that she would get a gun or get her brothers to whip his ass. The government of Detroit is about on par with some corrupt third world hellhole. And, of course, they have the standard of living that goes along with it. If it wasn't for fear of the country having enough and the National Guard taking over, Detroit would probably be engulfed in a shooting war between the Kilpatrick junta and the Conyers guerillas, with the BBC running videos of starving citizens begging for U.N assistance, and Bono flying in for a humanitarian photo op. It's that bad.

Last month I mentioned the infamous (alleged) party at the Manoogian Mansion, the Mayor's official residence, which (allegedly) featured strippers and catfights. It seems now there is a big to do about the (alleged) interference of the Mayor's office in the investigation of the drive by murder of a stripper who (allegedly) was at the party. A whistle-blowing ex-cop has suggested that she was killed by a Detroit cop at the behest of the Mayor or someone in his administration. Among other things, there was some confusion about whether she was shot three times or eighteen times. Easy to get those two numbers confused.

Of course, not even the city government could be as fundamentally fubar as the Detroit Lions. Matt Millen's picture is next to the word "assclown" in the dictionary. Or at least it would be if "assclown" was in the dictionary. Recently fired offensive coordinator and Super Bowl winning coach Mike Martz observed of the Lions management: "I can't explain anything they do. I can't." The team's response to being the whipping boys of the NFL for, oh, fifty years or so? Raise ticket prices. That, my friends, is Detroit logic.

I feel mildly ashamed at how fascinated I am by the slow, steady degradation of the city to depths unknown. I am anxious to see where the bottom is. I'm guessing it will be when there are only a couple dozen people left and they have to resort to cannibalism. But that's just a guess.
Principled Apathy: I have pretty much decided not to vote. I figure it like this. People should vote when they have a clear sincere belief that a certain candidate will be better for the country than the others. Although this may surprise you, I do occasionally have an opinion or two, but if there is one big thing I have learned in life, it is that I am wrong a lot. I suspect I am not wrong much more often than anyone else but, if I can be allowed a moment of pure ego, I think I do a better job of admitting it and accepting it than most. When faced with an outcome other than what they expected, human nature is to simply spin the results to show that they weren't wrong after all (make excuses), or maybe they'll say that everybody was equally wrong (mitigate the damage), or, most commonly, not even consciously acknowledge the connection between their formerly fervently held opinion and an outcome that was just the opposite (avoidance). They will have already moved on to their next unshakable belief.

Not me. I am wrong a lot. I can turn my way-too-numerous years of experience, graduate level education, and reasonably high IQ to an issue, arrive at a conclusion that seems blindingly obvious and unimpeachable -- then turn out to be stupendously wrong. As the various candidates drench me in their inane drivel, I occasionally hear something from one of them that makes sense and I think that's a good reason to cast a vote in a certain direction. But then, with the full knowledge that my opinion is as likely to wrong as right, I reflexively justify the counter-opinion and become suspicious of my own motives for thinking that way. As result, I end up figuring it's a dice roll whether one or the other will work out better for the country, and ergo, my vote will add nothing of value.

As I pointed out last month, our government is so entrenched and stable that we could probably pick a president at random from the phone book and suffer little more than mild annoyance. So, really, what good would I be doing by voting? Of course the same can be said for everyone. Why, then, would anybody vote? The answer is that you should vote if you sincerely see one of these clowns as being significantly better for the country. A tiny fraction of you may be right, but the vast majority of you will just be voting along the lines of your preconceived prejudices -- more often than not, we hold the opinions that justify our biases, and fool ourselves that they are the result of reason. At least you will feel good about yourselves and besides, someone has to pick a president; it might as well be you. I'll save my energy for other more pleasurable things.

Put it all together and it makes a decent case for apathy. But if I were to vote, I would vote against Obama. Can't stand the guy. Can't stand his Bob-the-Builder, "Yes we can!" inanity. Nobody who has slogged through middle management in corporate American has avoided a session with some moronic motivational speaker who spews out rah-rah blather like "Yes I can!" or "Make it happen!" or "Seize the Day!" The higher-ups consider arranging those kind of sessions "leadership" and slap each other on their enlightened backs. Half the HR department gets to check off "Improve Workforce Engagement Level" on their annual goals list. Meanwhile, everyone who has to sit through it is that much closer to buying an Uzi. Now CNN gets to pummel us with that tripe thanks to Obama.

What about Hope? We don't need no stinkin' Hope! Are people so infantile, so helpless, that they need someone to come along and with a wave of his blessed hand, anoint them with Hope? If it is the case that the majority of the most prosperous and pampered people in the world, when confronted with the complexities and challenges of life, can do no better than flop back on the couch and cry out for someone to give them Hope, then Oprah has her final victory.

Still, wouldn't even vote against Obama. My Mom (who is a saint, by the way) is a big Obama fan, and what kind of son would cancel out his own Mother's vote? So that's really why I'm not voting. 'Cause of my Mom.
Time Off: My day job has revised its policy on vacation and sick time for this year and the upshot is that I have to take a ton of use-it-or-lose-it time off before 2008 is out. Of all the problems I have ever had in my disturbingly long life, this is probably the best one ever. So I'm starting to line up destinations. Among the potential targets for yet-to-be-visited areas:

• Pacific Northwest. I have been to Portland Oregon, which marginally qualifies. But Seattle and Vancouver/Victoria/Whistler have been on my list for a while. I've even priced them out previously. Truthfully, the big goal for this area would be trolling around the Pacific Northwest for a few days, then making my way, either by car or ferry, up to Alaska for a week. That would be a blast. Expensive as hell, though.

• Southeast Asia. Specifically, the standard Singapore/Bangkok/Hong Kong triumvirate. I have never been to Asia and I would guess this would be a good starter tour. Actually, this is mostly because Anthony Bourdain goes to these places and eats the amazing food that I can only imagine. I'd also bet these places would be have just the right amount of visual and cultural shock, enough to be challenging but not enough to drive me insane. Relative frequent flights are available from Detroit. The big problem is that you can easily burn a day and a half of travel time each way, which I would have to come to terms with. Now, if I could afford Singapore Airlines...

• Newfoundland. Certainly not a place everyone thinks of, but I understand it is quite beautiful. This would be few days with a car to tour the island and maybe even take a side trip up into Labrador. There is not a lot of tourist stuff so it would be low-key, which is fine. Some of my favorite vacations have been about finding interesting, out-doorsy places and just tooling around with my camera.

• Unusual Caribbean. I was thinking something along the lines of Saba/Montserrat/Dominica/Grenada. The islands the most people don't visit. I would do this in summer when nobody is in the Caribbean anyway. The fact that I could do this on the cheap off-season is not the least of its attractions. An alternative would be the out islands of the Bahamas.

• Greenland. No really. Greenland. Same direction as Newfoundland, but only more so. There are direct flights from BWI now and they are just getting the tourist industry kicked up. I bet I never hear, "Greenland? Should have been there 10 years ago." A tour is probably the only way to go with this one since infrastructure is uncertain and logistics troubling. Top of the world, Ma!

• Mexico. I've never really been but I'd sure like to go. Everyone I know who goes there loves it and it is right next door (so to speak). I have no excuses. Mexico is a big place. I'd narrow starter trips down to Playa Del Carmen or the Puerto Vallarta area. I wouldn't argue with that train ride through Copper Canyon either.

For repeat destinations:

• New York City. OK, this isn't really more than a long weekender, but it's been a while since I've been to Manhattan and I really, really need to get back to the center of the universe for a couple of days.

• Hawaii. Specifically the Big Island. I love Maui and Kauai but I've yet to visit the Big Island. My priorities for a Hawaii trip would be 1) a good long time on the Big Island, 2) the Kauai north shore (I was on the south shore last time), 3) Lanai just for a night or two.

• California Parks tour. Only partially a repeat, but the idea would be to fly into Reno, spend a couple of days around Tahoe, then head down eastern California hitting all the parks along the way including Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and my beloved Death Valley, then finishing up with a couple of nights in Vegas and flying home from there.

• Hit the Spa. One of the Canyon Ranches or Mirival. There's also a Green Valley in Utah that I have had my eye on for a while. It's been a couple of years since I hit one of the killer Spas and not only would my body be grateful for the temporary drop in toxins, I could probably get a ton of writing done.

The fact is, just the planning of a serious trip is enjoyable so I'm looking forward to a fun year on that basis alone. If I knock off two of these (three including NYC), I'll declare victory.