Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Month That Was - October 2008

The Month That Was - October 2008: As I write this I am in the brand new “North Terminal” at Detroit Metro Airport, on the way to a family visit in Florida, with a hopefully interesting side trip that I will hopefully write about next month. The other eventful occurrence this month was the death of my friend Kate’s mom (and Miss Anna’s grandmother). I was lucky enough to be able to help out in a small way and the family handled the whole situation with grace and good humor, which was exactly what anyone who knows them would expect. It did leave me with some interesting feelings about the assorted rituals we perform to honor our dead, but it’s too soon for that.

Michigan is turning that brownish gray color that will be with us all through the winter. There is a malevolent sickness going around that apparently starts with a hellacious sore throat, followed by nausea and lassitude. So the Primordial Evil that is wintertime begins. I have found that assiduously washing my hands and frequent gargling are the best way to stay healthy -- gosh, just like Mom would tell you when you were a kid. I went all last season without being sick and I hope to do it again -- pretty big accomplishment for me, who spends regular time in writ large petri dishes such as airplanes and gyms. Healthy or no, the only cure for that brownish gray color is travel.

Lastly, some site notes. First, I signed up as an Amazon affiliate, so I will begin adding direct Amazon links to the various stuff I talk about -- look to your immediate left. Click through and buy from those links and I get a tiny fraction the sale. (You’ll notice also that links my novels are now directed at Amazon, instead of those preview pages I used to have.) I also removed all the old criticism I still had over to the left. I haven’t written much purposeful criticism in a while as I've been thinking I should spend more time on creation, and what was there was getting old anyway.

Emotional About Baggage
Southwest Passage
Swinging Empress
Men Going Mad
Mapping Reality
Reduction in Ugly

Next month, in addition to my Florida trip I expect to have a big ol’ movie round up.

Emotional About Baggage

Emotional About Baggage: The North Terminal at DTW is sparking clean, spacious, well designed, relatively quiet, and generally pleasant -- as you would expect of a state of the art airport terminal that just opened a month ago. Coupled with the enormous and quite lovely McNamara Terminal (the Northwest/Delta hub terminal) which is, I think, about five years old, Detroit Metro has become one of the nicest airports in the world.

But no matter how fine the airport, it can’t make the planes arrive on time. Right now my flight is delayed about 20 minutes, which cuts my transfer time in Atlanta down to about 20 minutes. Cutting it close -- but if I was checking bags they would certainly be lost.

I am not checking bags; I managed to wedge five days worth of clothes and all my gadgets into a couple of carry-ons. I anticipated this situation. I am not a frequent flyer for nothing. With sub-45 minute layovers, carry-on only is the way to go. However, even if I did have ample time, I still would have stuffed everything into carry-ons because of the insane policy virtually all airlines have adopted about adding fees for checked bags.

I’ve gone on about this before -- about how it completely buggers the boarding and deplaning process. In a somewhat naive article in the WSJ, a journalist proposes that if they wanted things to go more smoothly, they would charge for carry-ons rather than checked luggage. That is of course true, but completely misses the point. The charge is not intended to make things go smoothly. It is intended to generate revenue and whether the traveler experience is degraded or not means absolutely nothing to the airlines.

You could argue that charging for carry-ons instead of checked bags would generate similar revenue but would improve passenger experience so why is it not preferable even to airlines. Answer: It would degrade airline employee’s experience. Someone would have to decide when a purse was big enough to be called a carry-on, and then there’s all those extra checked bags -- there would be more pressure to actually have efficient and accurate baggage handling services and frankly why go to all that trouble when you can just charge for checked bags and let the traveler deal with the hassle.

My flight took off about thirty-five minutes late. I would have had about a 2% chance of making my connection but fortunately my plane was the connecting flight. Lucky.

Southwest Passage

Southwest Passage: For a better travel story, you can read my lengthy report on my recent trip out west. As special bonus, this one includes thumbnails of all the pics I took; just click on the thumbnail for the full-sized pic. I generated the thumbnails using a free program called IrfanView which I don’t know well so the thumbs are all sized with gray border on the top and bottom. I have some learning to do, but you’ll get the idea.

Swinging Empress

Swinging Empress: Of all the photos I have posted over the years the one that generates the most email is a photo of a painting. The title of the painting is Above Washington, D.C. It currently hangs in the lobby of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Washington D.C. The only background I have found on it is from the hotel website:

"A large signature painting, 'Above Washington, D.C.', commissioned by Chinese/Canadian artist Zhong-Yang Huang, depicts the last empress of China, Empress Dowager, on a swing over D.C., blending Eastern and Western cultures. She lived in the 'Forbidden City' and had a fascination with the West. The artist has created a painting that is historical and metaphorical."

There are other works by the same artist at a gallery in Saskatchewan, Canada. I’ve also found other background on the artist.

Note to self: next time in DC get a better, higher res photo. It really is quite a stunning painting.

Men Going Mad

Men Going Mad: Mad Men finished another season leaving me anxious for more. Season 1 was filled with folks grasping for their dreams, working diligently to make real the image they had of The Way Their Lives Should Be. In Season 2, many of the main characters got what they wanted only to collide with disappointment. This is clearest in Don’s case, when the 20 year-old, free-thinking, California chippie he diddles asks him directly: Why deny yourself what you obviously want? Surrounded by the temptation of a life that is the exact opposite of his “real” one -- the one that is falling apart -- he searches his past and finds an answer. Or so it seems.

Pete Campbell got the fast-track-ad-exec/well-monied-Upper-East-Side-WASP lifestyle he wanted and finds out he may have blown his chance for a child and a woman who understands him with Peggy, who he passed off as a bangable secretary, and is stuck with a dissatisfied wife and financially manipulative in-laws. Peggy, for her part, played the game and got her groundbreaking career, at the cost of a certain sense of shame at abandoning her child. Roger got out of his marriage and found what he thinks is rebirth and happiness with his 20-something trophy mistress, but he’ll get taken to the cleaners by his ex-wife and his relationship with his daughter may never be repaired.

At the end, it looks like Don was the only one who may have put “want he obviously wants” in the proper perspective, but I suppose we’ll see since Mad Men has been renewed. Now the agonizing wait starts and we live once again in a TV world devoid of drama for the ages.

On last interesting note: Mattew Weiner, the series creator, made an comment during a recent interview about one similarity between Mad Men and The Sopranos, which he produced. He said in both cases what makes them unique is that the characters often find themselves in need a sweeping change in their lives, thoughts, needs, etc., but unlike most dramas, the people in their lives form barriers and act as a hindrance to their personal development. I find that fascinating, and quite true to life. People often view others as props in their own life and are deeply resistant to letting them change. Like the saying goes, the expectations of friends and family can hold you back more effectively than anything else. Which gives me the expectation that next season may concern itself with the question, “Do people ever really change?”

Mapping Reality

Mapping Reality: I have mentioned that I have reached a point in my life where I am letting new technologies pass me by, and am quite happy to do so. Any take on Social Networking is lost on me. Instant messaging…well I exchange texts on my cell, does that count? Facebook…I really have plenty of friends already, thanks. Twitter…you’ve got to be kidding me. MMOG…uh, what?

What all these things have in common is that they are enhancements to virtual life. I’ll pass on that, but there are occasional bits and pieces of tech that are of actual use for someone who isn’t looking to weave himself into the fabric of cyberspace, but exist more easily in the tactile world. Mapping software is one of them. In the past six months I have driven all around Arizona, New Mexico, Florida, and Newfoundland with little more than printed out Google or Mapblast maps to guide me.

I am currently hunting around making plans for my next excursion almost exclusively by zeroing on one destination in Mapblast and simply moving the map around on screen to get ideas for side trips. A little while back I spent some time on Google Maps designing running routes of specific distances around the local neighborhoods.

When I had to get to a certain funeral home half way across the state, I only needed the name of the business and the city to get a turn-by-turn print out; no asking at gas stations for directions, no ball park guesses based on a poorly communicated phone call, no hoping I can read what I scribbled down or wondering if I am correctly oriented to tell north from south.

It’s like magic. I can guarantee you that whoever came up with mapping software and the intelligence behind it deserves a Nobel Prize more than anyone of this year’s winners, whoever they were.

Reduction in Ugly

Reduction in Ugly: By the time this gets posted the excruciating presidential campaign will be over. If there was anything heartening about it, it was that a majority of people in were as uninterested as I was and generally didn’t vote or at least put off their decision until the last minute. Can you blame us?

Statistically speaking, the probability that you encountered a political conversation that was anything more than people spewing venous op-eds at each other approached zero. Otherwise kind, good-natured people seemed ready to get behind a pogrom against their neighbors over a simple disagreement.

“McCain gives tax cuts to Exxon” and “Obama is a Socialist” are specious, scurrilous tactics designed specifically to appeal to people who have no capacity for critical thinking. Did you believe one and not the other? You qualify as a slovenly thinker. Your politician of choice holds you in contempt to manipulate you like that. He probably even felt ashamed to do it, but your ignorant vote still counted so he figured he had no choice.

All those bumper stickers and lawn signs -- have any of those ever changed anyone’s mind? No, they are an act of self-definition for people of shallow character. They are the Gucci bags and Red Sox caps for the morally self-righteous. The people behind them really don’t know the complex details about issues, they are responding to a brand. It is a mutant form of tribalism.

Every ugly aspect of humanity was out there on display and even celebrated, and so only the ugly got involved. It is a wonder we survive. Here’s to a three year reduction in ugly.