Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Ye Olde Family Tree


My sister has been going bonkers over on Ancestry.com for the past few years. I guess when my dad died she took over the family genealogy thing from Dad. Back in Dad's day there was no internet and he had to do his research the hard way - driving to the library and looking through census data or driving to graveyards or courthouses to look through their records. My sister is lucky. The internet has made all this much easier.

She's built a gigantic family tree out on the net. She's become linked to other distant relatives and their portions of our family tree, giving us all one giant tree. She's even received photographs of our relatives from people we've never met, photos we didn't know even existed.

On television Ancestry.com likes to do specials where they take a famous person, look at their DNA, and then pull up some amazingly detailed family tree linking them to a king or queen or Jesus or something. It used to be that you couldn't get them to look at your DNA unless you were someone special. But recently they started taking orders from ordinary people to do DNA research and find out more about your heritage scientifically. My sister said she was considering doing it.

A coworker of mine recently sent her DNA sample in and is waiting impatiently for her results.

My brother-in-law is appalled at the idea that anyone related to him would ever voluntarily hand over a DNA sample to anyone in this day and age of US Government spying, hacking, stealing and massive data mining of honest citizens' private information. And I don't entirely disagree with him.

But recently, I read about a few of the recently developments in drone technology, CIA technology and defense technology. The reality is that if the US Government decides it wants the DNA of anyone living in this country they can get it, and you won't even know.

So I said "fuck it" and ordered my own Ancestry.com DNA kit. It came with a vial for me to drool into. Then I have to mix it with a stabilizing agent and mail it back. My results should take weeks, or maybe months. I'm in no rush. But I am curious. Already my sister has found things about our family that we never even suspected - Swedish, German, Spanish - we had no idea we had any of this in our family. Unfortunately, they say things like Cherokee Indian doesn't show up. Supposedly the Cherokee crossed over to North America from Europe during an ice age or something, so the DNA of a Cherokee just looks European. All the other tribes came from Asia, so their DNA isn't any easier to identify. So much for tribal information. But the rest should be interesting.

And my sister will be thrilled at what we find out.

And my brother-in-law is going to freak out.


Monday, January 19, 2015

Memphis Movie/DVD Review - The Informers


I may be the last person on earth to see this movie, but I did just see it and so, of course, I am compelled to review it. For that I am sorry.

The Informers is a movie about a group of extremely wealthy Los Angeles movie and TV people, either executives of a studio or their spouse or kids or something along those lines. Everyone in the movie except one small group of characters is filthy rich beyond anything most of us could imagine. And no one in the movie is at all nice.

I'm not going to rehash the entire movie. If I thought you'd like watching it I would, but I don't so I won't. There are a lot of big Hollywood names in this film. The writer had several big box office successes before, so I can see how people thought this would be a good ship to jump onboard.


Amber Heard topless in The Informers
Let's all have sex with each other.
And I do mean 'all'

The only thing this movie is really remembered for is all the nudity. Not only is Amber Heard gleefully naked throughout several scenes, but so are several of the guys who are supposedly fucking her. The sex scenes aren't graphic in terms of showing near-porn sex. They're graphic in terms of showing extremely narcissistic people who will have sex with anything if it gives them a good feeling at the time. Everyone sleeps with everyone, regardless of biological sex, and anything goes.


Amber Heard topless
This is really the only thing people remember about this movie

Oh, and this movie is set in the early 1980s. It repeatedly shows banners saying "1982-83" to let us know exactly what year of high school this story represented for the author. The big problem with all this is that even among those of us who were alive during those years there is nothing in this movie that is even remotely familiar to us. Only a tiny handful of people were raised by media zillionaires in LA where drugs were rampant, sex with movie stars was easy to come by, and everyone was just super bored with their opulent lifestyle.

To be fair, all the various stories and characters in this film were taken from different short stories written by Bret Easton Ellis and it is likely he never intended for them all to be put together into one movie, or any movie. They are all very dark and probably read well. But on the screen they just feel ... evil.


Kim Bassinger in The Informers
Cold couple both going to die
That's the bottom line really. Everyone in the movie seems evil to some degree, evil to the point that you feel less and less sympathy for them until the end when someone is dying of AIDS and you realize that since everyone slept with everyone, plus a scene in which Billy Bob Thornton shares a needle with Kim Bassinger for reasons that are never really clear, they're both going to die of it, too, thanks to her sleeping with one of the guys who sleeps with the now AIDs-poisoned Amber Heard character. Its a problem when you can't sympathize with anyone in a movie or story. It detaches you when there is absolutely no one that you care about at all or feel the slightest connection to. I cared nothing about these characters. I recognized the links between them all letting us know that they were all going to die of AIDs and still I felt nothing for them. The movie failed in my way of thinking. It never drew me in or made me feel anything except disgust and detachment. I was alive during the 1980s, but not this 1980s. I never knew anyone like the people in this movie and if I did they wouldn't have associated with me.

I'm not giving this movie a rating in terms of stars. I just really don't recommend you see it. I think if you buy it and watch it you'll reach the end and say "huh, that's it, eh?" That's just not really enough for me.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Epic Fail - When a Catch is Ruled Not a Catch

The Ice Bowl (1967)

The build-up to the game was enormous - The Ice Bowl II, they called it. "These two teams haven't met in this situation since 1967 when they played in The Ice Bowl! Dallas versus Green Bay in Green Bay, Wisconsin, on a cold winter's day in a playoff game that counts for a great deal. And two more closely matched teams you couldn't have asked for. It promised to be a great game. And it was, until the NFL interfered and ended it prematurely by choosing who won instead of allowing the teams on the field to decide the issue.

Dallas led Green Bay going into the fourth quarter. But Dallas' defense was growing noticeably winded in the ice cold Wisconsin air. They were struggling to catch their breath. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay's quarterback, took note of that and sped up the offense, running Dallas' defense even harder. He drove for a touchdown and Green Bay took the lead with 5 or 6 minutes left in the game. But Dallas had plenty of time to respond. They drove down to the 40 yard line where Green Bay stopped them from advancing. On fourth down and needing 2 yards with over 4 minutes left in the game Dallas elected to go for it. 

This is a catch

As they lined up to hike the ball, it was clear despite the short yardage situation that they were going to throw the football. DeMarco Murray could easily gain those two yards with Dallas' powerful offensive line blocking against Green Bay's exhausted defensive line. But for some reason the Cowboys chose to throw a bomb to the 1 yard line. Dez Bryant leaped over the head of his Green Bay defender, caught the football and was tackled. His knee went down, then his elbow, and then he reached out with the football trying to get it across the goal line for a score. He rolled around and bobbled the football before jumping up and tossing the ball to a referee. The referees signaled that he was down on the 1. Dallas was definitely going to score on the very next play, taking the lead with approximately 4 minutes left to play.

This is a catch and a reach for the endzone
The Dallas Cowboys lined up to snap the ball and score the go-ahead touchdown. But then the coach for the Green Bay Packers threw a 'challenge' flag, demanding that some mysterious football lawyers up in a skybox somewhere reexamine the previous play and possibly reverse the call. It seemed crazy. Everyone saw the catch and it was clear to one and all that Dez Bryant had successfully caught the ball. 

This player is down and the play is dead at this point

Minutes passed. And then finally the head referee took the field and turned on his microphone. In carefully worded language he stated in subtle terms that it was not his decision, but the decision of others that the catch we all saw and agreed was a catch was, in fact, somehow not a catch. And because it had been fourth down for Dallas at the 40 yard line, this meant that the ball would be turned over to Green Bay with great field position and lots of time left. 

This is a quarterback who knows when he has been given a gift

At this point, televisions across the nation tuned out. The game was over. It wasn't over because Green Bay had beaten Dallas. It was over because men in suits and ties sitting in a heated skybox decided that a perfect catch is NOT a catch and that Green Bay should be given the win. And no one agreed with this call. 

This was a catch and a touchdown until men in suits interfered

It turns out that the NFL redefined what constitutes a catch some years ago, when Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions scored a winning touchdown against the Chicago Bears, and declared that a catch which is clearly understood and agreed to by one and all is NOT a catch unless the Big Men In Suits Upstairs all want it to be a catch. And in this instance they did not. They wanted Green Bay to win and to hell with reality. 

2 victims of "obvious catch is NOT a catch" rulings

And so Green Bay, being veterans of playoff games, wasted as much time as they could until the clock ran out and they won the game by default. It was handed to them on a silver platter and nothing short of a disastrous fumble or interception could set things right. It wasn't Green Bay's fault. They didn't do this. Idiots in suits did.

To be fair, had the NFL Billionaires and their lawyers not stopped the game and given it to Green Bay by executive order it is entirely possible that the end result would still have been a victory for Green Bay. But it would have been a totally different ending, an exciting and memorable ending that fans talked about excitedly for the rest of their lives. With a quick Dallas touchdown Green Bay would have needed only a field goal to win, and they would have received the ball back with over 4 minutes to score with. And had they been allowed to do this, the game WOULD have been remembered as The Ice Bowl II. 

But because of the arrogance of billionaires in skyboxes, this game won't be remembered at all. It will be pointed at and booed. It will be mocked. And then it will be erased from our collective memories as a shameful event unworthy of memory.


Thursday, January 08, 2015

New Year's Resolutions

It's a new year and time for New .... OK, I don't really do New Year's resolutions. So I guess ... time for my very first ever New Year's resolutions then. Mandyfish was blogging about how she feels that New Year's resolutions should be fun (I'd link the post but she never comes here and I don't think she even wants my blog linked to hers anyway.) Oh hell, I like Mandy Fish so I'll just link the post anyway. Here.


So I started the new year at a party. I had just opened my Christmas present the day before, a brand new Fender bass guitar, and my neighbor invited me to his party. He has a band and he invited me to bring my bass and play with him and another neighbor and band mate who plays drums.

This is eventually leading to a new resolution, I promise.


I played for about 6 hours without stopping to even acknowledge the new year when the clock passed midnight. Why we didn't stop I don't really know. I think alcohol played a role in that, but at some point I had one too many shots of Jagermeister and everything after that ... I don't need to finish this thought. You can see where it's going, right? Of course, it would have involved less typing if I had simply finished it instead of telling you how I wasn't going to finish it and why, but hey, too late now.

Jager!!!

So we'd play and then periodically stop and do shots of Jager. Then play again. Somewhere around 2 am I noticed my significant other was asleep on the couch. Also, somewhere during this timeframe I got really tired, being new to bass playing and not exactly having the muscular development in my fret hand for this many consecutive hours of playing, and so I began to get sloppy. I don't think the other guys cared so much that my play got sloppy until I reached the point where I plopped down into the recliner while playing and began to rock and play at the same time.

Here's the thing about rocking in a recliner, playing bass, and being extremely tired all while under the influence of strong alcohol - it wrecks your rhythm. By this I mean that my bass playing began to totally miss the timing of the song and instead match the rhythm of the chair. This is a problem because the bass is supposed to be the metronome of the band (I only know this because my neighbor, the guitar playing lead singer, told me so.) So my 'metronome' skills went to shit and I was just wrecking the song at that point. After that I think I just quit.

Eventually I took my bass guitar and went home. The following night I plugged my bass guitar into my Xbox and played Rocksmith. It took me all of one hour to completely master one entire new song. And that made me feel good. There aren't many things in life that make me feel good, so this was a big deal.


It really is the fastest way to learn

The following night I plugged my electric guitar into the Xbox and played until my hand was so cramped that I couldn't even get it to open enough to fit around the neck anymore. The following night, more bass playing. Then guitar. Then bass. And its been like this ever since. I've been practicing guitar and practicing bass and even reading all the music theory books I blew so much money on over the years and then tossed onto a shelf and never read. I actually feel excited about this.

What do you mean my hard drive died AND the cloud lost my last 2 months worth of backups?!

This is important because it helps to counter balance something bad. I've lost so many copies of the book I've been writing for the past 2 -3 years due to computer failures that I've almost quit entirely. Oh, the story is still evolving in my head, and until that stops I guess in a way I'm still writing. In fact, it has already expanded into what is in my head 6 full books. But if hardly any of this is written down anyway (except for the best work I ever did which is on a dead hard drive that my IT guy says can't be recovered unless I send it away and pay a few thousand dollars for a very difficult recovery attempt with no guarantees.) So many hard drives have died, taking my work with it. I always get it recovered and yet I have still moved backwards rather than forwards. But the critical work was the writing I did in Nashville. That's the writing that I can't get recovered. At this point I'm just discouraged enough to quit. This just isn't meant to be.


I'm just going to continue to play and learn because I am enjoying it
So, writing dream dead, what to do instead? Playing guitar is something I used to do when I was much younger. I was never especially good, but I enjoyed it anyway. I don't anticipate ever being especially good now either, but I could still enjoy it. Plus, I could become better than I was when I was younger simply because I have so many more options for learning than I did back then. I had no money when I was young and had to skip lunch at school just to get money to pay for guitar lessons. My parents weren't exactly supportive and I had to take lessons without telling them. I'm the only person I know who ever had to do this. Anyway, now I'm older and I have so many options for playing guitar and learning music. As long as I'm enjoying this I plan to keep doing it. This is my big, bad New Year's Resolution - to just keep playing guitar and studying music for as long as I continue to enjoy it. Whether my writing continues will depend on my mood and whether or not any of the host of backup technology I am using ever fails me again.

So what's your New Year's resolution, or did you make any?

 
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