30 December 2008

Can You Spell D-e-p-r-e-s-s-i-o-n?

On 30 December 2007 I wrote an entry in my web log detailing my thoughts on the coming economic year. I titled it Can You Spell R-e-c-e-s-s-i-o-n?

I am no financial genius but I do know how to read and listen and digest what experts say. Based on that, I figured things were going to get rough. I was wrong: 2008 was not a rough year, it was a disaster.

So, now, here are my thoughts for 2009:

I think we are going to look back on 2008 as "the good times." 2009 is going to be worse. How bad? I don't know. I will echo my advice from last year: for the next 12 months do not make any changes to your job, your family or your house unless those changes are to pay off what debt you have and save even more money than you are now. I am pretty confident that 2009 will be the worst of it, and that 2010 will start the recovery -- although many experts are saying it will be 2012 before we see things start getting better.

There is one part of my web log where I was totally correct. I said that "this could be the first time in my lifetime ... where we as a country have gotten ourselves so far underwater that it might actually change the course of our country's history." Review the list below of major economic events during 2008 and see if I wasn't right.

January
Oil hits $100 for first time in history

March
Citigroup bank reports loss of $5.11 billion ($1.02 per share) for first quarter 2008

May
According to Standard & Poor's, housing prices dropped 15.8% this month compared to the previous year. This is the largest decline since they began tracking this number in 2000

June
Oil reaches a trading record of $143.67 a barrel

Sales of new homes fell for the seventh time in eight months

Record number of foreclosures in California: 118,020 homes from April to June up 125% from the same period last year

Wachovia Corp. (banking) reports loss of $8.86 billion ($4.20 per share) for second quarter 2008

Ford Motors reported its largest quarterly loss ever of $8.7 billion

July
Oil reaches a trading record of $147.27 a barrel

The euro hit a new record high against the dollar of $1.6036

First seven months of 2008: 463,000 jobs lost

Wholesale inflation shot up 1.2%, rising at the fastest pace in 27 years

September
Government takes control of mortgage lenders Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA, also known as Fannie Mae) and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (also known as Freddie Mac)

Auto companies ask for $50 billion in government loans

Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. filed for bankruptcy

Merrill Lynch & Co. was forced to sell to Bank of America for $50 billion in stock

American International Group Inc. asked the Federal Reserve for emergency funding

15 September: Dow Jones lost 504.48 points (4.42%) erasing about $700 billion in shareholder wealth. The Dow is now down 23% from its record high of 14,198.09 October 2007

19 September: the Bush administration requests a $700 billion proposal to purchase bad mortgage debt in an effort to stabilize the country's credit markets

22 September: oil prices briefly spiked more than $25 a barrel before falling back to settle at $120.92, up $16.37, shattering the previous record for a one-day jump of $10.75

25 September: The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. seized Seattle-based Washington Mutual Inc. (founded in 1889, with $307 billion in assets) and then sold the thrift's banking assets for $1.9 billion making it the largest bank failure in the country's history

29 September: Stock market lost 777 points -- the largest drop in its history -- on news that the $700 bail-out package was not approved by congress

October
06 October: The Dow closed below 10,000 for the first time since 2004, down about 370 points at 9,955.50. At its worst point, the Dow was down more than 800 points, an intraday record. Today's close was almost 30% lower than its all-time high of 14,164.53. In Japan, the Nikkei average lost more than 4%, Britain's FTSE-100 lost nearly 6%, Germany's DAX lost 7% and France's CAC-40 dropped more than 9%

09 October: Dow fell to 8,579, below the 9,000 level for the first time in five years and one year to the day after the Dow closed at its record high of 14,164

13 October: The stock market rose 936 points for the biggest single-day stock rally since the Great Depression

28 October: The consumer confidence index fell to 38, down from 61.4 in September, and down from 95.2 a year ago

30 October: The gross domestic product fell at an annual rate of 0.3% in the July-September period. When compared to the 2.8% growth reported in the prior quarter, this represents the largest drop in 28 years

In October, the nation's unemployment rate reached a 14-year high of 6.5% with a loss of another 240,000 jobs. For 2008 alone, 1.2 million jobs have disappeared, making a national total of more than 10 million people unemployed. This is an increase over last year of 2.8 million people. At this time last year, the unemployment rate stood at 4.8%

The Labor Department said the number of people continuing to draw unemployment benefits jumped to 3.84 million in late October -- a 25-year high (late February 1983)

According to the Commerce Department, October retail sales fell by 2.8% -- the biggest drop on record, surpassing the old mark of a 2.65 percent plunge in November 2001

According to the Labor Department, consumer prices in October fell by 1% -- the largest drop on record (dating back to February 1947)

The Commerce Department reported that construction of new homes and apartments fell by 4.5% in October to the slowest pace on record (dating back to 1959)

November
11 November: Shares in General Motors Corp. hit a 65-year low as the result of a Wall Street firm's forecast that the company's stock value could drop to zero within a year. The stock finished at $2.92 -- the lowest it has closed since 1943

December
01 December: The National Bureau of Economic Research announced that the U.S. economy has been in a recession since December 2007

05 December: The Labor Department reports the loss of 533,000 jobs in November, the most for a single month in 34 years. The unemployment rate now stands at 6.7%, a 15-year high

11 December: Bernard Madoff was arrested for fraudulent investments that lost more than $50,000,000,000 of his client's money

24 December 2008

Another Night Before Xmas

'twas the night before xmas
in the year '68
When a young boy was eager
but forced to wait.

Xmas was around the corner
and presents were near
when suddenly a door bell
the boy did hear.

He raced to the door
"Was it Santa perhaps?"
No, a chap in a brown shirt
and matching brown pants.

"I'm looking for Christopher,
might you be he?"
I didn't at first realize
he was talking to me.

"Um, yes sir," I replied
always taught to be nice
"Sign here," he said,
I think he asked twice.

I signed the receipt,
and returned it to him.
He gave me a box
and a sly little grin.

"What could it be?"
I wondered aloud
and walked to the living room,
my mind in a cloud.

I opened the box,
it did not say to delay,
and found 12 sea creatures
and a boat with which to play.

Requested so long ago
I did nearly forget
from Nabisco I had ordered
this neat sea animal set.

I played with it for years,
in the bath and the pool
and on not a few occasions
was actually late to school!

So thanks to Nabisco,
and the UPS guy too,
my xmas was happy
and very special, too.

Here's wishing a wish
to you and you and you
that your special sea creatures
will arrive in time, too.

22 December 2008

Brother, Can You Spare $5?

This is one of the most impressive stories of human kindness I think I have ever encountered. I defy anyone to read this and not be moved.

From today's New York Times. Thanks to Matt for finding it.

20 December 2008

A Little Good

A few years ago Matt and I were having lunch at a little sandwich place. My back was to the front door (and windows). Suddenly everything got quiet. I turned toward the door and saw people looking out the windows and pointing. I could not see the object of their interest, so I stood up. In the intersection outside was a huge accident involving several vehicles. I told Matt I was going out to render aid -- which I did -- and returned about 15 minutes later to finish lunch.

While sitting there telling Matt about the people in the main car (bleeding, but not badly injured) it dawned on me that I was the only person who left that restaurant to render aid. In fact, until the police arrived, I was the only person on scene not involved in the accident. Despite several cars being involved, not a single other person came to help.

When things like this happen, I always hop right up to help. I have parked my car near an accident and directed traffic, I have helped clean up auto pieces so traffic could drive by. Never once did I think twice.

In fact, I love to tell the tale of one Friday night going out dancing when I lived in San Francisco. En route to the club, driving down the 10 highway, in the dark, I saw a few cars move erratically in what I knew was a pretty bad accident (I didn't see it actually happen). I stopped, sat with one of the people who was badly hurt until paramedics arrived. I then went to the club. When I entered people gave me a real stare. One of the people I knew asked what happened to me. It was then that I realized the entire front of my shirt was bloody. I went to the bathroom and there was blood all over my arm and face. Wow!

Yesterday coming back from lunch we chanced upon a freeway accident that had just happened. It involved a motorcyclist and several vehicles. The police hadn't arrived yet, but a lot of people had already stopped to render aid, so we kept driving.

I mention all this because of my shock over an article in Friday's Los Angeles Times in which the state supreme court has cleared the way for a good samaritan to be sued for rescuing a woman from a car accident. I mean, seriously, what is the court thinking? Just think of how many lives have been saved by people doing the same things I wrote about. I don't think I saved anyone's life, but I know I did good by rendering aid or even just comfort until the professionals arrived.

Can you imagine what will happen if this suit is successful? People will refuse to render aid -- and for good reason. It is not only potentially dangerous for the person, but now s/he could get sued, too. This is just so sad and wrong.

You can read the distressing article here.

14 December 2008

Getting America Moving

Odd as it might sound, a lot of good came out the 1930s depression: Financial regulations were created that have (so far) prevented the same from happening again, large numbers of people shifted west helping to populate those states, and the WPA was begun.

Started in 1935 as part of President Roosevelt's "Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935," the Work Projects Administration returned millions of people to work, created thousands of infrastructure projects and started the country moving again. Thanks to the WPA, we have freeways, bridges, buildings, parks, paintings, theater, music and murals that speak of their time in a way that would never have happened without it.

[We love the WPA. In the historic district where we live are sidewalks made by the WPA (and marked as such) and we even have a WPA poster hanging in our living room (the image pictured).]

There were critics: many of the WPA-related programs were accused of harboring "communists" (because painters and playwrights were, of course, ALL communists). Such accusations provided the germ of the red baiting that grew into the House Committee on Un-American Activities and gave birth to the now infamous Joseph McCarthy.

With the country possibly facing another depression, talk has begun of a new-millennia WPA program to help the unemployed return to work. Think of it logically: you can pay people unemployment benefits to try to find work, or you could pay them to help build a bridge. The money would certainly be better spent making something and I am pretty sure that most people would want to earn their money rather than just have it handed to them.

Here are links with more information on the WPA:

General information on the WPA.

A cool site showing hundreds of posters made by WPA artists.

CBS News Sunday Morning did this feature on the WPA.

08 December 2008

The OTHER Art of David Klein

You know the work of David Klein even if you don't know you know it. He was the man who did those wild TWA travel posters in the 1960s.

Last month, a gallery in New York had an auction of his works -- not just individual pieces or pieces from some collector. No, it was the entire contents of his personal home studio including original works that have probably not seen the light of day since he created them decades ago.


I perused the catalogue marveling at his work. The travel posters are great, but I nearly fell over when I saw some of the other work being auctioned -- including the original sketches (pictured) and collages for an advertising campaign he did for First National City Bank of New York (now known as Citi Bank).
Being the lover that I am of great design and animals, I put an absentee bid on two of these animal lots and won!

So, in order to share a little sample of the work he did for the bank, I created a new web site, the link to which will be found to the right of this entry under "Links."


Please take a look at another example of the great work done by this wonderful illustrator.


03 December 2008

Van Gogh and Me

Two years ago this month, I bought my first-ever brand new, never-before-touched-by-human-hands (except the people who made it or sold it) car. I saved up money to pay cash. I researched and decided I wanted a 2007 Aveo (as no mini-sports utility vehicle got good gas mileage. I'm sorry, buy 17 miles to the gallon is not good gas mileage). I wanted an Aveo and it had to be yellow (like the one pictured).

Why yellow? Who knows. I love yellow. Van Gogh was obsessed with it (to be fair, it is thought he was poisoned by some medicine that affected his vision, making him favor yellow). Me, I'm not poisoned (that I know of). I am, however, red-green color blind. I can see all the colors, including red and green. I cannot, however, see mixed colors that have a little red or a little green in them. For example light purple (blue with a little red) looks blue to me. I see yellow with no problem, so maybe that's it.

So now, two years later, it appears -- according to this article -- I am a trend setter with my yellow car. Sheece! It's nice to be first, but now EVERYONE will have a yellow car.

30 November 2008

In the News

I sure wish I owned stock in The New York Times because then I would get some credit for referring you to three interesting and completely unrelated items that have recently appeared in their pages -- both paper and virtual.

First up, a black man offers insight into why so many blacks voted for California's proposition 8 (writing discrimination into the state's constitution). I admit I don't know a whole lot about the finer points of black culture, and this op-ed piece was fascinating. You may read it here.

Next, an intriguing article about a newspaper in Pasadena written entirely by people living and working in India. I thought my career field was on life support. Apparently, it is already dead and no one has told it. You may read the column here.

Lastly, an article about how artists are no longer accepting of "starving" as the only descriptive word to appear before their names. Now such descriptors include "web-store owner" and "entrepreneur." You may read the article here.

29 November 2008

Hawkin' Nature

We live in a historic district near downtown Phoenix, Arizona. Even though Phoenix extends for miles in every direction from us, we often see the most interesting animals. Several years ago, we saw a giant eagle near an abandoned school, and today we saw a hawk (pictured). I don't know what kind of hawk it is, but it is huge and gorgeous!

This time of year we get a shitload of starlings in our neighborhood (migrating, I think) so the hawks (yes, there were three of them) must be hanging around for that.


We were able to make a little film showing the main hawk and two other hawks. In the background you can see a flock of starlings far away, and then later a flock of pigeons nearby.
These hawks seem to visit our neighborhood every year, and we hear tales of cats disappearing around the same time....

You may view our little film here (that's me talking, and you can hear Matt in the background):




27 November 2008

Milk

Thirty years ago today, a Monday, I was driving home from work listening to the news. I think it was a special bulletin that came on with Dianne Feinstein announcing that San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and San Francisco Board of Supervisors member Harvey Milk had been shot and killed. I distinctly remember a shivver running through me when I heard the gasps of people in the background. I did not know who any of these people were, but I did know one thing: they were talking about the city where I was planning to move in four short months.

A couple months after I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, the verdict came out against the killer of Milk and Moscone: manslaughter, rather than murder. That night in May, the City by the Bay saw the White Night Riots, named after the man who murdered the men and basically got away with it. I sat in my little apartment watching the riots on television. I was so new to the city that I did not know what was going on beyond the obvious. It amazed me to see so many people so upset about the verdict.

Later, after I finally realized I was gay, I walked up and down Castro Street past the store front that used to be Milk's camera store, I started getting politically active -- all the while never really understanding who was Milk and what he had achieved through just being himself.

I wish I had had a chance to meet him, to interview him, to be able to say I knew him when. I cannot; but I can be proud of the legacy left by such a man who stood tall when he told people that he was gay.

Next week, the new movie about Milk will open across the country. I hope the irony is lost on no one that it should come scarcely a month after the passage of California's Proposition 8 writing discrimination into that state's constitution.

22 November 2008

Number 168

Despite all the turmoil in this country (and, apparently, ONLY in THIS country) over the idea of same-sex marriage, Matt and I are today celebrating 14 years together -- marriage or not. Odd, how it seems like only 13 years ago that I sat next to the pretty youth at the theater (the legitimate theater, not the cinema, thank you) who would end up being part of my life for the following 14 years (and, I hope, the next 50 years).

We went out to a nice dinner Thursday (prime rib and ginormous pork chops), exchanged presents Friday (a couple Wii games for him; for me, the really cute plastic animals you see pictured), and are today just spending time together. We're low-key kind of people and are celebrating in a low-key kind of way.


Happy 168th monthiversay, HBSP!


Oh, and did you see the comic strip my sweetie (the fabulous artist) did for our anniversary? If not, you can see it
here. (It is so handy having an artist in the house.)

[The Animal House line of kitchen tools are made by Boston Warehouse and can be purchased through Amazon.com. They are (from top) the Punk-U-Pine Scrubber, the Mouse Cheese Grater and the Woodpecker Scissors.]


19 November 2008

Lost and Found

Not seen since 1921, and long thought extinct, the pygmy tarsier (pictured) has been located on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi -- far enough away from humans, one hopes, to avoid another brush with extinction.

This tiny primate provides proof that nature will find a way, even when faced with the onslaught of "progress." Go, litte tarsier!

More information about the discovery is available here.

15 November 2008

Amzanig

Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

The origin of this research (it is apparently not Cambridge) and more examples can be found here.

09 November 2008

An Embarrassment of Riches

There's this study that's been going on since 2000 called the Census of Marine Life that will come out in 2010. Over the past few years bits and pieces of information have been released including a pretty dramatic article posted today about more findings.

You can read the article here, but if you just want to cut to the chase and see the cool animals that have been found (like the one pictured) you can click here and here.

05 November 2008

A Look Back

The internet and blogs are today filled with all kinds of stories about Barack Obama -- America's president elect. I thought I would add my own recollection of another Obama, of another time, and the eeriness of coincidence.

On 27 July 2004 (my birthday, eerie coincidence number one) my spouse was watching the Democratic National Convention. I don't watch conventions.

Okay, so I am walking through the house just after Barack Obama started his now-famous "Out of Many, One" speech (eerie coincidence number two). Listening to this man speak so intelligently, so eloquently made me stop: you never hear any intelligent or eloquent politicians these days, so I had to.

"Who is that?" I asked Matt.

If I remember correctly he said "Some senator."

I stood and listened some more, then said something along the lines of "Too bad HE'S not running for president. I'd vote for him."

Now, four years later, I had that chance (eerie coincidence number three) and I took it, helping Obama become our country's 44th president.

But wait, the eerie coincidences don't stop there.

Back in September I read the book Remembering America by Richard Goodwin. I got it because it contained a chapter about the quiz show scandals of the late 1950s. I found out about the book only because it was the basis of the 1994 movie "Quiz Show" which we (coincidence number four) rented in August.

The rest of that book (coincidence number five) happened to be about the campaign of John F. Kennedy (on which Goodwin worked as a speech writer). The whole time I was reading this I kept marveling at how similar was Kennedy's campaign and Obama's (number six).

Like Obama today, Kennedy greatly influenced the youth of his era (eerie coincidence number seven), won a stunning upset over his Republican rival (number eight) and was seen as a bright and shining beacon of hope not only to our own country, but to the world at large (number nine).

I hope Obama is able to bring to his administration even a tiny bit of the qualities that so marked the Kennedy administration. He has the intelligence to do it, I just hope he has the fortitude to do it in a place like Washington.

And if he does, it will be eerie coincidence number ten.

You can see Obama's 2004 speech here or read the text of the speech here.

31 October 2008

What Next?

There's an article about me in today's Los Angeles Times. Not me, specifically, but me and the estimated 32,000 gays and lesbians who will have gotten married in California between 15 June (the first day such marriages were legal) and election day (next Tuesday).

After 13.5 years, my partner (Matt) and I drove to California and did the deed (03 July). And now, we're a statistic. Next week we'll still be a statistic, but I don't know which kind: either we will be part of the initial wave that got married or part of the group in legal limbo (will our marriage still be legal?).

You see, California has this thing called Proposition 8 -- known in some circles as Proposition H8 (get it?) -- in which some people seek to "protect" traditional marriage (from what, no one seems to know) by codifying discrimination in the California constitution. It essentially says marriages would only be valid if between a man and a woman.

Everything I have read about the reasons for this "necessity" say it is important to ban same-sex marriages "for the children." How this affects children is never quite explained.

(Interestingly, here in Arizona we have a similar piece of proposed legislation floating around, called Proposition 102. Everything I have read about the reasons for this "necessity" say it is important to ban same-sex marriages "for the children." Again, no one explains just how this affects them.)

Anyway, right now it seems that Proposition 8 will not pass -- but just barely. This means, of course, that in two years the same issue will be before the voters. But it also means more tens of thousands of gays and lesbians will have gotten married and will, just like now, have to live with the threat that their marriages will be rendered invalid by a bunch of ignorant bigots. Oddly, almost the exact same thing happened here two years ago when an enlightened electorate defeated a same-sex-marriage ban. I mean, seriously, what part of "no" do they not understand?

So, for now, Matt and I remain married and ready to celebrate our 14th anniversary next month.

P.S. Last week I was called for jury duty (and did not get picked, damnit!). You know the part of the selection process where you have to tell about yourself, where you work, if you're married, etc? Well, I was listening to all the straights telling about their wives and husbands. So, this is what I said: "I am happy to say I just got married to my partner of 14 years, and HE is a graphic designer." I figured I would piss off a lot of people by saying that. You know what happened? During a break about half a dozen people came up and congratulated me. Can you imagine? Maybe there is hope yet.

You can read the article here.

21 October 2008

One of These Things is Not Like the Others

Monday's Wall Street Journal had a really interesting article about low-income consumers, how they organize their thoughts, purchases and lives. It's geared toward marketing to this overlooked consumer niche, but is intriguing on its own.

Studies have found that low-income consumers often have low literacy skills -- like the 14% of Americans estimated to be functionally illiterate in America (that's an astounding number!).

The article gives examples of how their thinking about products is different from what you might expect -- like one test to observe the ability to grasp abstractions. Subjects were shown four objects -- a hammer, saw, log and hatchet -- and asked to select the three objects that could be placed in a group. Rather than picking the hammer, saw and hatchet and calling them "tools," the subject chose instead the objects that would be involved in chopping wood -- presumably the saw, log and hatchet. Of course, that makes perfect sense, but is totally different than how I would have answered. I find this kind of stuff really fascinating -- and you might, as well.

Apparently such information has ramifications about how stores should group products to better align with this different process of thought.

You can read the article here.

17 October 2008

Calling All Calders

For most of my life I have been intrigued by the mobiles that were crafted by Alexander Calder. Whether gigantic or small, their shapes, colors, ebb and flow always fascinated me -- like the wonderful mobile created for the National Gallery in Washington (pictured).

I was surprised to learn many years ago that Calder also made little wire sculptures, like those featured in the current exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. He made jewelry, toys, portrait heads, and lots more out of wire and simple objects.

You can read more about this new exhibition
here.

Find out more about Calder
here.

15 October 2008

Whaling Tales

It is sure a good time to be a whale -- especially if you swim around Chile. Today, Chilean president Michelle Bachelet signed a law that bans all whaling off the country's 3,400-mile coast.

You can read more about this move to further protect these wonderful animals here.

03 October 2008

Breathing 101

I like breathing, and I feel comfortable assuming most other people do, too. Unlike most people, however, I have trouble with breathing owing to a lifelong friendship with Mr. Asthma, the brothers Allergies and a fleeting acquaintance with Miss Bronchitis. This is one occasion where I was not able to pick my friends.

Breathing has been such a challenge for me that, on several occasions when I was young, I nearly died. Until the mid-1960s there were almost no treatments for asthma, so there were a lot of deaths. Allergy medication was also pretty much unknown with the exception (in my case) of chewing on pieces of local honeycomb (which is filled with pollen, which exposed me to small amounts of stuff to which I was allergic, building up [in theory] my resistance to that pollen).

My mother tells the tale of one night, when I was five or six, that she awoke to the sound of me NOT breathing. She raced into my bedroom and found me a pretty shade of blue, slowly asphyxiating because my tonsils were so swollen they closed off my throat, and my sinuses were so congested that no air passed through.

Even after my tonsils were removed, I still had trouble breathing. I nearly always ate with my mouth open because of my severe sinus congestion. (To walk a mile in my moccasins, pinch your nose closed when you are next eating, and then try to eat with your mouth closed. Oddly enough, it's impossible.)

So, throughout my childhood my illnesses made me an outcast (because being the smartest kid in school and wearing glasses were clearly not making me outcast enough). I was not able to join in any of the reindeer games and used to spend my phys ed period in the library, reading.

Thankfully, puberty came along and lessened the amount of breathing problems I had. They never went away, but they were significantly reduced. One of the other visitors in puberty, smoking, passed me by. I had trouble enough breathing clean air, why would I breathe in smoke?

Fast forward about 20 years when I was nearing the age of 40. Guess who came back for a return visit? That's right: Mr. Asthma and the brothers Allergies. Miss Bronchitis stops by usually for xmas, but otherwise is scarcely seen.

I don't have breathing problems like I did when I was a child. I still take allergy medicine, lots of decongestant, and occasionally have to use an inhaler for my asthma. Luckily, I don't have the severity of breathing problems as some people do -- especially people who smoked most of their lives and now have emphysema or lung cancer.

A few years ago I had a real scare: My spouse and I got hot wings for dinner, which we were eating at home. One bite in and I suddenly could not breathe. That sometimes happens, but usually clears once I stand up and start thinking about breathing. Not this time, nearly five minutes went by with only the smallest stream of air able to enter through my now-swollen throat.

I stood there, unable to breathe, unable to tell Matt what was happening. So I took a moment to think, to remember that panic kills, and started thinking through what I could do. I figured I was in anaphylactic shock (severe allergic reaction) and experiencing the most common symptom (throat swollen shut).

We have an alarm system at our house that includes a medical panic button (push the button and the ambulance is alerted). I thought about pressing that, then decided I would instead concentrate on breathing.

I stood there, barely able to breathe, and thought to myself "Be calm. Be calm. Breathe as deeply as I can. Be calm, breathe deeply." To my great surprise, I was able to breathe better, my throat was still swollen, but I was getting in oxygen. Over time I was breathing better and was able to start clearing my throat. After a few more minutes I was able to take some medicine that reduced the reaction. I clearly dodged a bullet this time.

Later, I visited my doctor and told him about this and he said I did the right thing by not panicking. He gave me a prescription for an epi pen (a hypodermic with anti-allergy medicine, which I ended up never needing).

I have had only one other reaction, this one more severe (after eating fresh caught tuna) that sent me to the emergency room.

So now I wear a medical alert bracelet whenever I am away from home (like on vacation). Matt knows about my possible allergic reactions, so do my co-workers, so I am safe there. But it appears that these kinds of things can happen anywhere at any time.

Still, I harbor within me the same great fear I have had since I was old enough to understand the concept of death: I fear I will die by suffocation. That would be poetic, wouldn't it?



27 September 2008

Paul Newman RIP




Paul Newman (1925-2008)

I think this photograph says it all, doesn't it?


26 September 2008

Dodging the Blood Suckers

In the New York Times today is an article saying this is the mildest season for West Nile virus in seven years -- which is a good thing because it is the worst season for mosquitoes at our house near downtown Phoenix.

We normally do not have many mosquitoes here, not like some places. Certainly one of the advantages of living in a dry climate. Usually, in summer, we might see one, maybe two mosquitoes in the house. No biggie. THIS year, we have had more than a dozen (at different times) but consecutively since mid August.

Around these parts, the prevailing theory for this increased number of skeeters is that we have had a very wet summer. Since June we have gotten at least seven inches of rain at our house alone (we normally get seven inches in an entire year).

While it is true wetter years see more mosquitoes, I think the real culprits are swimming pools abandoned at foreclosed homes. The metro Phoenix area has one of the highest rates of foreclosed houses, and I think those artificial lakes are the spawning grounds for this year's outsized crop of flying blood suckers.

Who's right? Who knows. I just know I will be glad when the night-time temperatures start going down to about 50 degrees. That's cold enough to kill them (I hope). Luckily, no one here has exhibited any of the signs of West Nile virus, so, whew!

You may read the article here.

14 September 2008

Something Wonderful

I am so proud of our state's 911 system, and you will be too after reading this article about how a 911 operator helped when a dog (!) dialed the number for assistance when his owner had a seizure. You hear about shits who argue with callers, or just hang up. This operator, Chris Trott, did the right thing and saved a life. Pretty incredible that a dog can be trained to dial for help isn't it? No, wait. They're pretty damned smart.

13 September 2008

Crazy Dancin' Me

For about a dozen years I was in theater -- I sang, I danced and I acted. I did them all well, but none of them well enough to form the basis for a career. Oh, well.

Here is a video (from a 16mm original) of me dancing when I was about four years old. I danced all the time around the house, non stop. I was hyperactive (duh!). A few years after this movie I won a dance contest at one of my dad's company picnics. The prize? A giant box of chocolates. Yes, life was good.

Click for about a minute of silliness. There is no sound (things were primitive back then).



07 September 2008

A Gentler, Happier War

Oh, don't you miss war years when everyone pitched in to get the job done -- rather than like the current war years when most everyone is in it to make the oil companies richer? Sigh. Those were the good ol' days, weren't they?

Here is a little piece of nostalgia: a 1943 radio commercial for Spry Vegetable Shortening, a competitor of Crisco which, as we all know, won. (When was the last time you heard of Spry? Probably never.)

Ration points, mentioned in the commercial, were little stamps you got in a booklet. You had to give your grocer the appropriate number of stamps to allow you to buy things like meat, sugar, coffee, shoes and the like. No stamps? You could not buy the product. This was to insure that no person got more than his or her fair share of that certain item -- to prevent shortages.

You can read more about Spry, and its primary spokesperson Aunt Jenny (pictured).



05 September 2008

02 September 2008

Ancien Regime RIP

So, here's the thing: I've had a hate-hate affair with this guy -- not him personally, rather his voice. He is the guy who has voiced something like 8 billion movie previews and not a small amount of radio and television spots over something like the last 150 years.

I have hated his voice since I first noticed that every damned American movie preview sounded the same. I mean, the plots are already the same and star the same four actors, made by the same two studios and directed by the same three people. The movies are virtual clones of themselves, but do they have to SOUND exactly alike too?

Of course, they do. Mainstream American cinema is all about remaking the same movie over and over, so why should they sound different?

Well, this guy just died. I don't want you to think I have been doing a little happy dance since I heard about his death because that would be just mean. It's sad when anyone dies, generally. I told my spouse, Matt, that I wanted to write a blog entry about this, but did not want to seem ghoulish that someone has died and that cinemas will (eventually) stop sounding exactly alike (this guy probably recorded a couple thousand move trailers that will play out over the next decade or so, but someday they will run out) and that maybe, one day, it will be safe to step back into a cinema again.

Maybe this will be the beginning of the end of American films all being alike, maybe people will want to do something DIFFERENT and not succumb to the easy money of making sequel after sequel, remake after remake, and every film based on some television show from the 1960s.

Okay, maybe I'm drunk with delirium but it COULD happen.

01 September 2008

The Gods Work in Mysterious Ways

Okay, so which is it?

Was hurricane Katrina god's punishment because New Orleans was the site of a big gay-themed event or is hurricane Gustav currently god's punishment for the world tolerating Republicans?

If the first is true, then the second must be true; if the second one is untrue, then the first must also be untrue.

28 August 2008

Matthew Mitcham is Gay?

Hmm. I guess you wouldn't know that from watching the NBC coverage of the Olympics when Mitcham (pictured) came from practically nowhere to snatch a gold medal from the Chinese divers. Hmm. Major upset win, first men's diving gold for Australia since 1924 (1924!), China denied a clean sweep of gold in diving, the highest individual dive score ever awarded during an Olympic competition and -- hmm -- not one shot of Mitcham's significant other, not one mention that he is gay (and proudly out), nothing.

What does NBC say? “We don’t discuss an athlete’s sexual orientation” unless, of course, they are straight when they show the wife or husband, the kids, the parents, the cousins, the grandparents and the neighbor who lived next to them in 1972. Isn't being "straight" a sexual orientation? Hmm.

Well, here is a little shot at giving Mitcham (and his significant other) the attention they both deserve.

A report about the win will be found here.

A report about the snub will be found here.

NBC's apology will be found here.

Mitcham's official site is here.



24 August 2008

Smart Art

In March 1992 I took a trip to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (MOCA). I love art of all kinds, but am mostly ambivalent to contemporary "art." Art, to me, is something that was created that I could not have done. Is it art when an "artist" takes a doll, rips off its head, and puts an apple there instead? No. Is it art when someone carves a human figure from a block of marble? Yes.

It was during this 1992 exhibition (the name of which escapes me) that I first saw the "art" that consists of nothing more than a pile of candy in a corner (by Felix Gonzales-Torres). Is this art? No.

Clearly I am no fan of most of what passes as contemporary "art."

(My companion and I were driving to lunch after the museum visit and listening to the venerable KNX-1070 radio news station reporting a freeway closure. It appears some truck turned over and spilled thousands of empty liter soda bottles all over the roadway. Not missing my chance, I commented that someone was bound to take a photo of that and we would see it in the next MOCA show.)

I feel this same displeasure of art in public places. The world is full of art -- in public and private spaces, made by humans and made by nature. I do not believe art should be relegated to a certain place -- like the homes of the wealthy, inside buildings, or specially designated "art spaces." No, art is for everyone and should be everywhere.

Isn't it odd that I think most public art is crap?

Today's New York Times has an interesting article about good and bad art in public spaces. I think it's all crap. Giant paper clips? Crap. Plastic cows painted different colors? Crap. When we were in Riverside, California last month, our hotel had a giant plastic piece of fruit painted odd colors, part of one of those weird art projects where giant plastic things are painted differently by different people, planted around a city and labeled "art." Crap.

Personally, I would rather see a design aesthetic like that found in Paris in the early 20th century, where artists like Hector Guimard did not make public art, he made art public -- like the Metro train station entrances (pictured) that have become justly famous. One should not pick a piece of ground and say "Here shall appear a piece of art!" No, one should design that piece of ground (and whatever is on it) as a giant work of art. Do not erect a building and place a piece of art next to it; design a building that is art in itself.

There was a time in this world (mostly in Europe, not so much America) where this was the norm. Now, it appears it's the exception. That's pretty sad.

You may read the article here.



09 August 2008

Chinese Puzzle

First off, let me say that I am a huge fan of Asian culture. (I respect all cultures, but really admire Asian cultures). I think highly of the culture and histories of Japan, China, Hong Kong, Korea, etc.

But I want to ask a question:

How is it that China can demonstrate its competence so amazingly with its opening ceremonies to this year's summer Olympics games (last night, pictured), and not be able to do something relatively easy like clean up the Yangtze river to prevent the extinction of the rare baiji dolphin, or oversee the production of pet food to prevent poisons from getting into it, or prevent toys from being made with poisonous lead, or build schools that will not crumple during an earthquake, or coexist with people who are different from they?

I understand the basic tenet of communism is the state is all and the people serve the state. I agree with the (mercifully restrained) NBC commentators who said the trophy for best opening ceremony could now be retired because, really, how could you top the Chinese?

But I don't understand pollution, or poisoning, or shoddy construction of schools, or killing people just because they are different. Can someone please explain this to me?



07 August 2008

Snakes Alive!

Okay, so yesterday we took a trip to visit the production company that is working on this video that I wrote for work. When we were leaving, I opened the door and saw this thing slithering on the ground. It was long and thin, like vermicelli, but ALIVE! First I thought it was a huge earthworm, then I realized it was a little snake! Of course, the girls in the office shrieked and admonished me not to touch it. (It was, like, ten inches long and thinner than a pencil. It wasn't going to hurt nobody.) I wanted to rescue it 'cause it was snaking along a pretty busy walkway and could easily be hurt by some imbecile who does not understand the importance of nature to our world.

So, I caught the little beauty, spent a few moments bonding with him/her, walked across the parking lot and found a nice shady spot under a huge tree to release it. While it was in my hand, it was totally calm and relaxed, its little tongue going in and out. I took a few moments to admire its beauty, told it not to be scared, and then released it. It was only after it slithered away that I thought I should have asked if someone had a cell phone camera to take a snap! Oh, well.

I did some investigating and it was either a blackheaded snake (similar to the one pictured) or a garden snake. Either way, it was beautiful and I am so happy I got a few moments to interact with him/her.

Also, it pooped on me.

06 August 2008

Big Things in Small Packages

Leave it to a British newspaper to write an appreciation of small films -- and explain how mind numbing and debasing to the public at large are those giant blockbuster films that get all the attention.

05 August 2008

Happiness Is....


... coming home from work and finding out that your spouse bought you a Wallace & Gromit "The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" collector set (pictured).



01 August 2008

Truth or Consequences

I'm always fascinated by a single event that reverberates through time -- like when a volcano explodes and sends the entire planet into a year without summer, or when a space shuttle blows up and upends the entire space industry.

Few non-military events occurred in the 20th century with more long-lasting reverberations than the quiz show scandal that rocked television in 1959. It began three years earlier when a teacher, Charles Van Doren (pictured) unseated the reigning champion on a show called "Twenty One." It was a huge ratings winner, and (it turned out later) had been totally rigged.

The fallout from this event (and the congressional hearings that followed) last to this day. Then, it cast a pall over the insanely successful radio and television programs that gave away money to contestants who answered questions, it put an immediate end to single-sponsor programs (because the sponsor had control over everything that happened on their programs, and answered to no one), and game shows virtually disappeared from the air. Today, because there cannot even be a whiff of cheating on a program, questions are guarded and contestants are vetted.

Of course, Van Doren's life did not come to an end. He (and the dozens of others who confessed to cheating on various shows) went on and eventually the noise died down. But one thing never happened: Van Doren never gave an interview about his role in the scandal.

In this week's New Yorker magazine, that's all changed.

You can read all about the quiz show scandal here.



29 July 2008

7/28

Where were you when the plane hit the tallest building in New York?

If you are like me, you were not yet born, for it was 63 years ago Monday when the 79th floor of the Empire State Building was struck by a B-25 that got lost in heavy fog. The crash (pictured) left 14 dead and shocked the nation. Lawsuits that followed were precedent setting.

Please listen to an outstanding report which aired on NPR Monday.

Thanks to Matt for bringing this fascinating story to my attention.



27 July 2008

Birthday Bugs

For a reason I was never able to fully understand I had this insatiable interest in Bugs Bunny when I was a child. Back then (the 1960s) I had the benefit of Bugs every Saturday morning in the form of the Warner Brothers television show featuring his old cartoons. I never really warmed to Daffy Duck, and the rest of the characters left me cold. They might have been funny, but none of them were Bugs.

Fast forward about 30 years to a Warner Brothers store in some mall in Scottsdale. Matt wanted to go in and mill around and so I went to be cooperative. (I am no fan of malls and even less a fan of milling around in stores that shill garbage).

Desperately resisting the urge to slit my wrists, I wandered over to a collection of Bugs Bunny crap merchandise. I noticed a pair of dog tags with Bugs' image on it. I was appalled. When I picked them up and looked at the second tag I got the shock of my life: it said right there that Bugs' birthday was 7/27/40 -- the same month and day as me!

Well, of course, this explained everything. Bugs was a smart aleck, so was I; he was clever and witty just like me; he engaged in bright repartee just like I did. We were so much alike! (We part ways when it comes to cross dressing.)

Knowing that Bugs and I share a birthday has always been special to me. I share a birthday with a lot of famous people -- including Alexandre Dumas, Leo Durocher, Peggy Fleming, Alex Rodriguez, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers; but none of them hold such a special place in my heart as Bugs Bunny.

[And to be clear, the Bugs I like is the earlier incarnation (pictured) with the elongated head, yellow gloves and slight paunch. THIS was Bugs as he was meant to be. He was fun when he was rough and unpolished, but became little more than a common boor as he got cleaned up and "refined." Yet another example of tampering with perfection.]

You can read more about the famous rabbit here.

23 July 2008

When Good Mascots Go Wrong

I just love to hear how big corporate or government entities screw around with art to "improve" it. When will they ever learn to just leave the artist alone?

I don't know about you, but I think the Chinese Olympics mascots (pictured) are so so very bad. I may not be an artist, but I know what I don't like.

You can read about the poor artist who designed the mascots and how his work was fucked up
here.

17 July 2008

Document THIS!


I LOVE THIS IDEA:

A web site that hosts documentaries and lets you watch them FREE! Is this the coolest idea since the invention of the machine that takes whole loaves of bread and carves them into smaller pieces? It certainly is!


Please visit the SnagFilm site here.

You may read more about the site here.

12 July 2008

The Sporting Life

I'm not big on getting my entertainment via the web. I find it difficult to sit and watch the computer. It's not like watching television.

However, I just found out about this really neat (what do you call it?) internet series called "In The Moment." Basically a look at a bunch of gay men living in the same apartment complex in Los Angeles, it's produced (or presented) by WeHoLife. According to their web site, they are "dedicated to providing information and opportunities for individuals to learn, support and encourage healthy living with an emphasis on HIV prevention."

Anyway, so far, they have had two five-minute webisodes (what a cute word) that have been oddly compelling, focusing on some gay couples and some singles. The plot has not developed much so far (it's only been ten minutes) but I am intrigued.

Of course, there are plenty of naked and semi-naked hot guys, so that helps. (What? I'm married, I'm not dead.)

Episode one is here.

Episode two is here.

More about WeHoLife will be found here.