Friday, July 31, 2015

Cortana, A Space Odyssey or Fear of the Dark Side

Ah, Cortana, I'm not sure you are the best friend for me. Yes, Cortana (Windows 10's interactive personal assistant who can listen, answer, and help with -almost- your every need) is touted to be the best thing since sliced bread. The last time I was so taken by a sales pitch, I was 5 years old and it was Mattel's Betsy Wetsy in the Sears and Roebuck Red Christmas Catalog. But I digress.

"Where is the cheapest place to find a pair of Manolo Blanik shoes?" 

No problem - she can tell you where they are, when is the best time to go, and give you directions to get there. 

Don't have a clue what to have for dinner? No problem, Cortana can give you a suggestion, a menu, the recipes, a list of ingredients, the closest stores that have what you need, the hours they are open, and (once again) directions to get there.

She can answer almost any question, tell you a joke if you are down, give you helpful advice if you have a stain you cannot remove from that favorite sweater, answer that sticky question your manager just asked you that you should know - but don't. What a gal!!!

Microsoft touts her ability to organize one's life. Tell her when you need to be reminded about what and her perky voice will note it and when the appropriate time comes politely remind you that you have dinner with the in-laws this evening, you have a meeting in 15 minutes, or your wedding anniversary is tomorrow. She can make notes, open apps, locate anything on a world atlas or local street. No question from the inane to most complex can stump her. Talk about a girl Friday - she has it all.

So as I was learning how to navigate Windows 10 when came to the Cortana feature I was enthused. Here was a personal assistant I could use to make life simpler, work run smoother, and save time. To experiment I made a few notes, set-up a few reminders. Then I thought - I am always adding things to my calendar. Voila - just tell Cortana what I need added and it will be done without my having to open the app, find the date, create the event, and set-up the details.

I asked her to add a trip to Asheville on August 25th. She confirmed the details and told me it was added  to my calendar. I then noticed that the screen said "Event added to Ann's Outlook Calendar". That was not going to be much help given I do not use an Outlook Calendar, I am wedded to Google. So I tried again. "Cortana, add this event to my google calendar . . ." and gave her the details once again.

No luck, I got the same results. I asked her to open my google calendar and she went to the Bing search engine (which I loathe) and opened a search for "Google calendar". This was not good. I went to Google itself and searched for "How to get Cortana to add event to Google calendar?" and found many folks with my same issue and none with an answer. Naturally the gods at Microsoft would have no reason to want Cortana to comprehend that function (the line from Lost in Space "that does not compute" or the immortal words of Spock, "that is totally illogical"come to mind). Her making an entry on a Google calendar would be akin to going to the dark side.

So Cortana, while others may love you, adore you and swoon at the sound of your voice I fear we will never be best friends. As much promise as you have and with all the good intentions of the Microsoft gods, I don't need assistance unless I can have access to all the applications I use. Otherwise that would be some form of mind manipulation. The next thing we know, we will have computers smarter than we are, aware of our every key stroke, that not only talk to us but tell us what to do . . . 

Perhaps this is just a reincarnation of Hal and by loading Windows 10 I launched the next sequel of A Space Odyssey . Personally I fear it more like an episode of Rod Sterling's Night Gallery. But I am not one to be melodramatic. I'll just close Cortana, hope the flying monkeys go away, and continue with my Windows 10 orientation - which was going very well.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Greeters at Walmart

For years my fall back plan for employment was being the greeter at Walmart. Of course at that time it was humorous - how old would I have to be, those folks are ancient. But given my current circumstances I may resort to that after all. 

Yesterday I ran in to Sam's gold mine to pick up a few items. On the way in I spoke to the greeter. She looked pretty old. I wonder how long she will last. I am quickly approaching that age. The news that Walmart had increased their wages 15% was encouraging. 

As I walked around the store, I noted the comfortable attire the store associates wore. In the line ahead of me was an associate was checking out using her employee card to get a discount.

Yep, it may be time to fall back after all. The moon and the stars  are colliding - I have reached that age and I am unemployed. 

Of course my last recourse if the greeter position did not work out was being a bagger at Bi-Lo. 

So I still have options. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Awaiting the Blessing of Windows 10

The day has arrived - that day all computer geeks and those of us who made the mistake of upgrading our Windows 7 to OS8 have had circled in red on the calendar. Yes, Windows 10 is released today and the gods at Microsoft, well those at Microsoft who think they are gods, are sending down from above the new OS. And this OS is supposed to end all our problems. It is supposed to make the world better, our lives fuller, and bring peace to the workplace. Well, the last time I heard that was in 1985 when those brains in Atlanta introduced New Coke and see where that got them - just saying.

Personally I did not find Windows 8 so bad, but then I was upgrading from Vista that cruel and unusual operating system someone in the bowels of Microsoft was allowed to send forth into the world. It was a dark day. And Microsoft has spent many a day since trying get those demons back in the box.

David Poque, my personal IT guru (if you do not follow him on Yahoo, you should, he is the only worthwhile thing I have found on Yahoo yet) stated in his Thursday column last week that he is thrilled with Windows 10 but would wait 6 weeks or so before downloading it. Give it that much time for Microsoft to work out the bugs. Bugs? As if Microsoft ever had bugs in their systems? But I digress.

Back to this morning - my laptop was prepared for the download. Because I already had OS8 I was in line to get a free version of OS10 as soon as it was released. Like a child at Christmas I checked in early this morning to see the status of my upgrade. It was ready! Hurray! Then the status bar started running saying "Preparing for your upgrade". 

I know, I know, David Poque was sitting on my shoulder shaking his head reminding me, "Bugs. I hope you have a can of Raid because remember Microsoft is famous for them. I warned you." Whatever. This is bright and shiny and new. Everybody is talking about it and I want mine - now. (Patience never was one of my virtues.)

Four hours later I checked my status - still "Preparing for your upgrade".  Given that millions of other impatient users are probably staring at the same status bar, it may be six weeks before I get my upgrade after all. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Paper Towns - A Movie Review

As Frank Sinatra sang, "It is only a paper moon sailing over a cardboard sea." (No this song is not in the movie.) In this movie, Paper Towns, one of the main characters, Margo (Cara Delevingne ) is convinced we all live in "Paper Towns". Over the years she has become a legend in her own time, with a reputation as a young woman of mystery and intrigue among her classmates. Quinton (Nat Wolfe) has been in love with Margo since she moved in the house across the street eleven years earlier. But as they grew up she went on to her life of excitement and popularity and Quinton, or Q as his friends called him, faded into the shadows of those who hang out in the music room, dream of the prom, and endure high school only as a way out to college.

All this comes to an abrupt halt when Q wakes up to find Margo crawling into his bedroom window, asking him to be her co-hort in crime for a night of retribution. And the story starts.

The film, to me, is a combination of "The Perks of Being a Wall flower" sans Emma Watson, "The Spectacular Now", and "The Fault in Our Stars". No, it does not have any of the tears "The Fault in Our Stars" had but John Green and Scott Neustadter's have their writer's stamp all over it as only they can. The screenplay deftly brings out the teenage angst without embarrassing the characters (as well as the audience). By the end of the film, the fog of senior year has lifted and some mysteries have been revealed.

Q's best friends Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith) show what good friends truly are - someone you can count on. Lacey (Halston Sage) and Angela (Jazz Sinclair) round out the group bringing humor and making the boys realize that girls are not as sacrosanct as they may have feared. 

The movie moves along with good dialogue, funny moments, and poignant scenes. Nothing seems too outrageous. It is a coming of age film, a film about finding out who you really are, and it is a road trip film. Some may say it is the cliche of the lesson being the journey not the destination - I'll leave that one on the table. 

The end is not predictable. Q tries to figure out clues the mysterious Margo has left, convinced she wants him to follow her. From the start in Q's mind, it was the second line to Sinatra's song that he went by, "But it wouldn't be make believe if you believed in me."   Sometimes we just need to grow up and realize that make believe is just . . . well, make believe.

This is 109 minutes well worth your time.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

On and Off the Bandwagon

According to Merrian-Webster, the definition of Gluten is: "a substance in wheat and flour that holds dough together".

Once again, my little mind is a bit confused. As a child and young adult I had many friends (and relatives), and knew folks from many other parts of the country, and I never heard of anyone suffering from the ill effects of "gluten". This, despite the fact we were raised reared on a diet of Cherrios, Wheaties, and Sunbeam Bread. God forbid I mention our consumption of coconut cake, biscuits, and fried chicken - all these are truly gluten possessed. 

It wasn't until I was in my late 40's when I first heard of a friend of mine's cousin's child suffered from Celiac Disease that I ever heard the term "gluten free". The disease, she explained to me was when digesting gluten triggered the body's immune system to damage the small finger like projections that line the small intestine that promote nutrient absorption. This would prevent nutrients from being absorbed properly into the body. In this case, the child was really ill and the mother had to learn a different way to shop and cook for him. 
I could not imagine such a fate. First having a child one had to protect from such a horrendous disease and learn how to rethink how to shop, cook, and eat wheat and flour free in our world of bread, breading, cakes, cookies, and pasta. Obviously this was before the birth of the Gluten Free market.

Suddenly we have "Gluten Free" aisles in the grocery stores. A good 20% of my friends are now convinced that Gluten is the cause of every digestive, intestinal, or weight  problem they have and have sworn off the evil stuff. There are articles stating "80% of those with Celiac Disease go un-diagnosed". According to an article on Healthy Living while there are those who suffer from Celiac Disease, more may just have a wheat allergy. My question is how many of those on the Gluten Free band wagon have been tested to know exactly what they have?

I'm not saying it is a passing fad. Giving the "Gluten Free" aisles in the grocery stores, it is a full fledged business now. However, if one looks closer they will see many of the Gluten Free products while free of Gluten are chocked full of fats, sugars, and carbs. Remembers the "Fat Free" diets of the early 1990's. I thought I was in nirvana. That was the diet for me. Once I found that I could eat an entire Entennman's Raspberry Danish Twist (all 5 servings) without a fat gram I was in heaven knowing I had not strayed from my diet. (Of course how I was going to lose weight given I had just consumed about 1500 calories was just a minor detail.) Also keep in mind that Kate Gosselin's haircut (the one that looked as if it were done by a drunk stylist with great ambition) was also a fad. But  digress.

I'm not saying that Gluten Free is all bad or that we may be carrying this a little far. Personally I'm not quite ready to swear off biscuits, fried chicken, and  whole grain bread - the real stuff not some GF alternative. All I am saying is, as a country we love band wagons and are quick to jump on. This all came to mind this morning in the shower when I noticed that on the front of both of my DH's shampoo and conditioner bottles it read "100% Vegan Free - Gluten Free". Seriously? Well, I'm just going watch this parade.

Mr. Holmes - A Movie Review

How can you go wrong making a movie around the character of the iconic Sherlock Holmes starring Ian McKellan and Laura Linney (both Oscar nominated actors)? Mr. Holmes, the film opens with scenery of Sussex. The landscape photography here alone with the smoke of the train engine the only thing breaking the solitude of the immense miles of the emerald English Countryside takes one in. We are off to a good start.

The story- no spoiler here if you have seen the trailers - takes place in 1947 when Mr. Holmes has retired to his Sussex country home some 35 years after his career as the world renown sleuth. He has become a curmudgeon. There is no love loss either with his housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney). But her very bright and quite precocious son, Roger (Milo Parker) is quite curious about him.

Holmes is grappling with the issues of old age - the slowing of the body and one's memory. His last case 35 years prior still haunts him as unsolved. He cannot remember the details and will not rest until he can solve it.

The story runs and stumbles between points of keen interest when we learn of Holmes' background, when we see the interesting relationship between he and Mrs. Munro. The characters of the two are brought to the screen with a life one would expect of such seasoned actors. However, there are times the story lags. There are times you want to know more. There are times you feel you could have known less.

Linney plays the burdened sullen Mrs. Munro brilliantly, never showing any joy. And McKellan plays Holmes as if he were indeed the old man we loved so much in the books of Author Conan Doyle. But it is the brilliant work of Parker who pulls it all together and keeps the story going. His naive youthful curiosity and desire to help tugs and pulls Holmes along. He brings the twinkle back to his eye. Without Parker's questions, prodding, and support Holmes most likely would have floundered into his dotage, never having  the answer to his nagging question. Parker keeps the story afloat and is the string that ends up tying it into a nice package.

As we walked out of the theater, I was a bit disappointed. It was if I needed more or less. I'm not sure what, but something was afoot. McKellan's Holmes was superb, Linney played Munro bringing forth more unspoken dialogue from her character than script. Parker was a nice surprise, a sprite in the British gloom. The story was enjoyable. But it just stumbled through the 104 minutes as if looking for its footing.

I still enjoyed the film and recommend it. Just keep in mind, like Holmes in his older years, the film is also not in its prime.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

It's Impossible

Ah, Perry Como . . .

"It's impossible, tell the sun to leave the sky - 
 It's just impossible"

I think at least 25 of all 68 people who have purchased one of my books, have made some comment to my DH. Examples have been: 

  • "Have you read them?"
  • "What did you think?"
  •  "Isn't she funny?"
  •  "Did you know she could write like that?"

Of course the answers are:

  •  "No"
  • "I don't know because I haven't read either one of them."
  •  "She can be."
  •  "No."

Then he has said to me that perhaps he should read one of them. After some thought - just a minute or less - he quickly says, "Or, maybe not." I am in total agreement here. In this case ignorance is bliss. I can pretty much assume my humor and look on life is going to be lost on someone who refers to all women's clothing as "costumes" (with the exception of technical outdoor wear sold at REI or LL Bean.)

So to maintain marital bliss I find it best to stick to the status quo. I may have possibly at some point in my life penned some sort of narrative that could have found its way to a publisher. But then who would believe anything I wrote. Come to think of it, I'm not sure I would not believe it had I not survived most of it and lived to tell about it. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Don't Confuse Fair Weather and Hell

Many a man has rued the day he assumed the southern charm of his fair maiden was barometer of the weakness of her character. How could something this sweet and delicate be bothered with serious issues. Well Hell hath no fury as a southern woman scorned. As I mentioned earlier, a lady may take to her room with the vapors to recover but under that delicate demeanor lies a force to be reckoned with.

Just saying.

Movie Review - Amy

Amy, is the story of Amy Whinehouse, a prime example of talent we lost way too early. Yes, we all read the tabloids about her personal issues with drugs and alcohol and how her family and friends tried to save her to no avail. And, how after her premature death her the family released a statement in which they talked about the gaping hole she left. Then the family gave Asif Kapadia, the director, their backing when he approached them about making a film on her life. After all, they were impressed with his earlier film "Selena".

What they discounted was that Kapadia was going to tell her life story - the good, the bad, and the ugly - using home movies, photographs, and often her own words.  The family were none too pleased with the final product. Yes, it showed this incredibly talented young woman with a voice that was reminiscent of Sara Vaughn and other great jazz vocalists, who was one of the most gifted female song writers of our time. 

But it also showed how her father, Mitch, who Amy stated was pretty much absent during her childhood, suddenly was there when she became successful and tried to control her success. Times when stress, drugs, and alcohol were taking a heavy toll on her, instead of cancelling dates to save her, he insisted the show go on. She worshiped her father and would do whatever he said. Any appeals from her friends for his help, went on deaf ears. She was his golden goose.

Once when it was clear she needed to go into rehab, and she needed help separate from her husband who had introduced her coke, crack, and heroin, he did not push for treatment. When she found peace on a long vacation in St. Lucia far from the stress of the public and the press, Mitch showed up with a camera crew, filming a show about himself. 

And when the downward spiral moved into warped speed there was no stopping it. It was only a matter of time. Once her derelict controlling husband was out of the way - thanks to a stint in jail and finally a divorce, her father still refused to hear Amy's silent cries for help and her friends screams to save her. It was just a matter of time.

The film tells the tragedy in a unique perspective of her rise and fall from a young girl to a successful world renown talent. The fact that there were cameras around her constantly - home movies, friends with cameras, the press, and TV clips is eerie. More haunting is her words on the screen. 

If you appreciated her talent and her music, it is well worth your time to understand the woman behind it all. It is the fateful story of  a young lady with so much talent, yet not a chance given those who only saw her as their ticket. And once she was gone, how dare you get upset that someone tells the story.

It is a film well made and 128 minutes starring all the characters as themselves.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Don't Know Why

And then there are life's unanswered questions, the mysteries of my universe:

Why did we have to grow up? I was doing just fine in Kindergarten. According Robert Fulgham's best selling book, "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" said it all.

How could I graduate from a respectable four year institution at the age of 22 and by the age of  41 become a blithering idiot (according my teenage daughter) only to regain my sanity and some wisdom by the age of 47?

If there is a god why didn't he let us have grandchildren first?  

If most of us are not engineers, mathematicians, or physicists, why are we constantly quoting Murphy's fourth law of thermodynamics? And who was this guy Murphy any way?

Why do our best thoughts come in the shower?

How is it that the statisticians and pundits who insist the unemployment rate is so low all have well paying secure jobs?

Does anyone else see an issue when our law makers, the members of Congress, promote marriage, chastise single parents, and frown upon cohabitation yet have enacted a tax code that includes a marriage penalty?

How can the cowards among us eschew Machiavelli, and still be surprised when our enemies lye?

Why is the sky blue after all? I'm still waiting for that answer, 51 years after I first asked it.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Que Sera Sera

Folks have odd habits - or rather I should say funny little "rituals" to bring on good luck.  There are the old wive's tales of things one should avoid to prevent bad luck. A prime example is the obsessed fan who refuses to change his underwear as long as his team is winning. Or the single women who have tossed thousands of dollars in fountains in hopes of a man. (That made for a great movie in 1954, long before my time - I might add.)

Of course the Gullah culture had a whole issue with the haints (ghosts or lost souls) that they said lurked about. They would paint all the door and window frames of their houses blue to keep the haints out. For years you could still see houses with the blue around the doors and windows. Now they are all but gone - the blue windows that is, I cannot speak for the haints.

One of my Mama's favorite songs was "Que Sera Sera". Of course the irony there was my asking her what that meant.  

She used to tell me things like:

  • Warm hands, cold heart, Cold hands, warm heart
  • Washing a car will bring rain
  • It is bad luck to open an umbrella in the house
  • Lady bugs bring good luck
  • You must get out of bed on the same side you got in on or you will have bad luck
That last one was always confusing to me as a child, given I was constantly being told I had "gotten up on the wrong side of the bed" when I came down for breakfast in one of my more surly moods. But I digress.

I personally have found that everytime I get myself organized, my house in order, something major changes in my life. Some examples in my past have included the simple act of getting a new office set-up at work. At one of my earlier jobs, I had just gotten all the furniture installed and finally moved around as I liked, when I was offered a better job with another organization. 

When I was with the Judge we had extremely nice chambers. However given all the space we had, I had this very small desk. Finally after 14 years we remodeled the office. My junior size work space was replaced with this much larger (appropriately sized) desk that made my daily life so much better. I was able to reorganize and make my office more efficient. Naturally, it wasn't nine months before the Judge was diagnosed with early onset alzheimer's and I found myself closing the office and packing everything to be shipped off - including my nice desk.

Over the past several weeks I have gotten very industrious. I have cleaned out my orchid houses, thrown away dead and dying plants, repotted overgrown plants, and added a few new ones. I have reorganized all my photography files and made sure all my external back-ups (as well as cloud backups) are working. Yesterday, while in a store I saw some organizers I could use on the shelves in my office to finally make sense of the mess.

So this morning, I dismantled everything on top of my desk and cleared all the shelves. I went through and culled all the trash. I filed all the relevant random papers, notes, and bills that were scattered about and trashed the rest. I set-up the new organizing system on the book shelf. Then I put it all back together. After I had taken out the bags of trash and vacuumed the floor, I stood back and admired my work. Finally my office was nice, neat, and organized. I should have done this a year or two ago.

Now, does this mean a job is coming my way? Or am I close to winning the lottery? I dare think. Whatever the winds bring I will have an organized area to work in. So as long as I have cold hands, get out of bed on the same side every morning, don't open an umbrella in the house, and avoid the haints - life should be OK. 

"The future's not ours to see, . . . What will be, will be,"

On second thought, maybe I should go get some blue paint.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl - a Movie Review

Chances are you will not see Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Chances are if you see it listed, you'll skip right over it, thinking it is an art house indie flick and move on to the big ticket show of the weekend. Well it is an indie film. It also is the Grand Jury as well as the Audience Award winner of the Sundance Film Festival (and that of many other well known indie film festivals.)

Here is the skinny - Greg is a shy senior in high school, the nice guy who blends into the wallpaper and no one really sees. He is an acquaintance with many but truly friends with no one. Well no one except Earl, his best friend and co-worker. (They make parodies of classic movies.)

Then Greg's terribly overbearing obnoxious mother insists that he befriend Rachel, a girl he barely knows from school, who has just been diagnosed with leukemia. The story is that of their friendship. Earl tags along and plays an integral role in the story. In a way it is a coming of age story. In a way it is the story of a devoted friendship. 

The film is chocked full of dysfunctional parents, teachers, and fellow students. There are so many interesting side characters that you often wonder whose imagination they came from. The films Greg and Earl make are lame but very creative. Their movies have titles such as "Vere'd He Go" (Vertigo),  "Hairy, Old, and Mod" (Harry and Maude), and "Anatomy of a Burger" (Anatomy of a Murder).  

But inside all the weird characters, odd movies, and typical high school angst, there are three teenagers trying to figure it out. Greg (Thomas Mann) finds that it is OK to be himself and let fellow students either like him or not. Rachel (Olivia Cooke) grapples with cancer her senior year in high school and handles it as well as possible. And Earl (RJ Cyler) is the emotional anchor, the silent sage - the calm quiet guy who is always there for Greg. 

Throughout the movie, Greg provides narration giving the audience insight, such as assuring us Rachel will not die and informing us, that no, the two of them will not fall in love.

The film is funny, touching, and sad. It is sweet without the sap. It is wise without preaching. It is clean with no clutter and flows well. Once again this is a film that will silently go into the night like many indie films that are lauded by their peers and ignored by the crowds. What a waste. But I am telling you, find the film and see it. The 105 minutes will be well worth your time.

I'll See You in My Dreams - a Movie Review

Full disclosure, I personally think Sam Elliott is one of the sexiest older actors working today - OK, men around. But I digress. 

I'll See you in My Dreams is a super movie that will most likely only appeal to a narrow audience - older women questioning what, if anything, is missing in their lives.  Is a new relationship worth it? Where do I start? How do I start? Can I restart?

It is a comedy, it is a romance, it is a movie that asks questions that we may not want to discuss. It also reminds us that it is impossible to plan or control our lives. Life happens - good and bad. The movie is also a testament to the utter absurdity of "Speed Dating" at any age over 21.

Carol (Bythe Danner - aka Gweneth Paltrow's mother) as a middle aged widow feels her life is full. An incident or two in that quiet life of hers makes her realize maybe her life is not as full as she thinks and whether one can start over.  Her three partners in crime, all single and of the same generation, aka bridge buddies, have mixed opinions on the subject. Well, Sally (Rhea Pearlman) thinks Carol should get out more. 

Along comes the slow talking Bill (Sam Elliott) and suddenly she realizes that she can start anew. But things are not that simple. Bring the tissues - just saying. 

The movie is thought provoking and heart warming. It is charming and funny and sad. It will not be listed as one of the top this year. I doubt the Academy will notice it. However, seeing it will be well worth your time - if you fall into that audience I suggested or know you would enjoy such a film.

It is 92 minutes of truth with little fluff. Yet, the story is told in an enjoyable way with an unpredictable ending. The story moves along and is well cast. Let's just say as a singer in a much earlier life, Carol finds her voice and realizes the trite saying life is too short is so true. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

South Carolina Should be the Rule instead of the Exception

When that horrendous tragedy occurred in Charleston at Emmanuel AME Church and that young man senselessly took nine lives, I am sure the country held its collective breath. Once again black people had been killed by a white man. And the motive seemed to be for no other reason than the color of their skin.

The nation had watched the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri when a young black man was shot by a white police officer. Before the murky details could be sorted out the people were in arms against the police. There were accusations of guilt on both sides. The crowds were out of control. There were outside agitators taking advantage of the raw emotions. The police seemed overwhelmed and reacted aggressively. For many days the country watched the protests, violence, looting, fires, destruction, and accusations unfold on national television. The protests moved to other large cities.

Similar incidents of black men being killed by white police officers gained national attention. Protests and unrest ensued. The families brought in attorneys to make their case as the facts were sorted out. The police were defensive. Although nothing rose to the violence and destruction of Ferguson, the ugly truth of injustice was brought to everyone's attention.

Then in North Charleston, SC, a white officer shot a black man, stating it was in self defense. Upon investigation it was clear according to the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) that it was not self defense. The officer had shot the defenseless man in the back. The details were made public within days and the officer was arrested immediately. There was no hesitation in justice. In this case the facts were clear. There was no "Blue Wall". The State Law Enforcement came in very early on to investigate the local police situation. They were thorough, saw there were grounds for arrest, and action was taken.

There were no riots, no violence, no looting. The parties were treated with respect and the situation was handled professionally. The findings were made public immediately and an arrest was made. 

Back to the tragedy of Wednesday, June 17th, in the basement of that church. The suspect was identified thanks to a security camera and tips from the public, then quickly arrested. At his initial court appearance, the victims' family spoke. They offered forgiveness to the suspect. That one act of grace stunned the nation and united us all.

The pundits swarmed our state. Joe Riley, the long time mayor of Charleston, made it abundantly clear, this was a community that was grieving. It did not matter what color the victims were, they were part of the community. 

And, this in the heart of the state that was the first to secede from the country. This in a state that not long ago was burdened by Jim Crow laws and almost total segregation. This in a state that for years, thank God for West Virginia and Mississippi, had only ranked 48th instead of 49th or 50th in some areas of education, economic advancement, and health. 

Now, however, these days we are seen as a progressive state, home of BMW, Michelin, and Boeing. The state Mercedes and Volvo selected for their new facilities. We have a female governor of Indian descent and an African American US senator. 

Charleston's reaction, or rather their grace and dignity in dealing with the unthinkable wrong done to nine African Americans at a Wednesday evening Bible study should be the rule instead of the exception. Of all cities, in all states, where the African American people have struggled to rise from the bonds of slavery to being the birth place of the Tim Scott, only the second African American to serve in the United States Senate, Charleston showed the country that forgiveness and peace is truly more constructive. 

A little more than three weeks later the Confederate Battle flag, seen by many as a symbol of the old south and the days of slavery, was permanently removed from the South Carolina Statehouse grounds and started a discussion across the south and the country about removing the flag from other government property. The quiet grace and forgiveness from the families of the these nine victims was heard far above the yelling, screaming, and protesting that had been going on for years. Even a fifteen year boycott by NAACP could not accomplish such an act. 

So yes, "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, . . . I once was loss but now am found."

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

To Kill a Mockingbird or Truly Misjudge a Finch

What were the odds that Harper Lee's lost novel "Go Set A Watchman" would be discovered. only to be published in the midst of all the resurrected debate over the Confederate Battle flag. Talk about divine intervention. And that Atticus Finch, the character of her earlier much beloved Pulitzer Prize winning novel "To Kill a Mockingbird" would become a segregationist. The world works in strange ways.

Last night my DH and I attended a showing of the 1962 film version of Lee's first book. Having read the reviews (and spoilers) of the to be released novel, I had to look at her father's character with shaded eyes. Gregory Peck's Oscar winning portrayal of the character was that of a steady, fair minded small town attorney. But I questioned every hesitation he took. While everyone else was noting his thoughtful pause before saying anything as that of a quiet man trying to see the good in mankind and do what is right. I wondered if it was a hesitation of second thought - should I do what is right according to the laws I am sworn to uphold or follow what I truly believe? Was he having a moment of doubt? 

When I start reading the second book today am I going to find that all we grew up thinking about Atticus Finch was a myth? Is his character going to turn into that of so many people of the south who were in denial of reality. Is he going to share the ignorance he accused Tom Robinson's  jury of having. If so, he is worse than the lot of them. They were uneducated and most likely feared what would come if the black population were given equal rights. Finch, as an educated man, knew better. 

So, I ask myself, what is the reason, the justification behind the educated people of the south (and many of the north) for wanting to deny the people of color equal rights under the law and respect in society? 

It goes back to a line in the opening monologue by Scout in the film, (and I paraphrase) ". . . after all we were told all we had to fear was fear itself." How prophetic. 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Far Away Places with Strange Sounding Names

I know, I know, as my Daddy used to say, "To each there own." But there are some times I just question someone's sanity - not their taste, God Bless them, or who they keep company with. But life is just too short to waste vacation time in some miserable place, doing some wretched activity, or having to put up with obnoxious people. The following is a list of vacations that I personally know folks who have these on their "Bucket List", dream of the day they will be able to take this trip, or have already had the experience and will not stop talking about the "once in a lifetime" adventure.

First, a caveat, there is no intention to offend anyone. If your dream vacation is listed here, then I hope you get to go there and return - often. That is what makes the world go 'round and keeps the economy going.

That said, here we go:

(10) Running with Bulls in Pamplona. No, not there to watch, take photos, and enjoy tapas but actually running your hiney off down a narrow street in the crowd of other insane idiots just seconds in front of pissed off Bulls with serious horns that are aimed your way. 

(9) Diving off the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Yes, it is the largest and probably most endangered reef in the world. But first let's consider its takes a 4 day flight to get there. OK, only 25 hours from the east coast of the U.S. But still that is a long expensive trip to snorkel and dive all the while taking a chance to be poisoned by a venomous jellyfish, the toxins of Lion fish and Stone fish as well as a Blue Ringed Octopus (for which there is no known antidote). 

(8) Antarctica. Why not just stick your head in your freezer for several hours? Spoiler - it's cold and frozen. Save your money and find the National Geographic special on the continent. If you have to brag that you have set foot on every continent, take a quick trip King George Island (one of the South Shetland Islands in Argentina). You can check it off your list and the islands are relatively ice free.  Or you can just make it up. How many of the rest of us are going to know what you are talking about anywhere. 

(7) Lego Land - Sure I played with them - but planning a vacation around these small building blocks?

(6) Atlantis Paradise Island- it may be just me but when the featured $150 "Free Kids Activities" include Club Crush, Climbers Rush, Atlantis Kids Adventure, a rented car for the Atlantis Speedway, and one Atlantis stuffed toy (excluding the outfit) does the trip to the beach get lost in the mix? And, if it cost $150 for the "Free" stuff, I dare ask what the other amenities cost. If this is paradise, I'll pass.

(5) Atlantic City - I don't care for salt water taffy, I don't gamble, and I have no desire to be anywhere close to the location of the reality show "Jersey Shore".  And, besides, any place that lists "Ripley's Believe it Not" as one of the Top Ten places one needs to visit when coming there just doesn't sound like some place I would enjoy.

(4) Gatlinburg, Tennessee - Streets full of rubber street emporia selling baubles, doodads, novelties, trinkets, and kitsch. No doubt salt water taffy is in there somewhere. It is not hard to find shelves of Cherokee Native American crafts (all made in China).

(3) Myrtle Beach -  the once seaside location of small clubs playing Carolina Beach music, now columns of concrete condos lining the beach. Acres of golf courses, goofy golf, pancake houses, "Ripley's Believe It or Not", and everything found in #4 Gatlinburg

(2) Area 51 in southern Nevada. If you're not familiar move along, only believers and conspiracy theorists need venture there.

(1) And my idea of Hell - an all inclusive Christmas Bus Trip to Branson Missouri that includes 5 days on a "luxury" coach with 39 other people, accommodations in a 3 star hotel (double occupancy only), all meals included (no choice there, most likely all buffet), a tour guide (to make sure no one ventures off on their own), and a personalized fanny pack and large tag to wear around your neck that identifies you as someone on a bus tour to Branson Missouri, as if you were not in enough pain and anguish. Just saying.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Movie Review - Minions

I love these little yellow guys and have been eagerly awaiting this movie. Whoever came up with their characters is a genius. It is almost as if they created something out of thin air just to fill a void. You know, a funny bean shaped, solid colored, character, whose only feature is a snorkel like mask with one or two eyes, depending on the character, speaking mumbo jumbo and occasionally syllables from various world languages with words every once in a while that are vaguely understandable.

All that said I was a bit disappointed in the movie, Minions. They tried too hard. The premise was cute - a prequel to the Dispicable Me movies in which they were introduced. There were times during the film where the story lagged. It went too long. The beginning and end were good. And, truth be told much of the middle was good. I just walked out of the theater not satisfied in what I saw.

The main story takes place in 1968 and there is a great sound track based on hits of that time. The animation is excellent as well as the voices. As many animated films are created today, it appeals to the little ones with some funny adult undertones that would be lost on those little minds. There is a lot of violence but no blood and no one dies - just that "wonderful" kind that can take place only in animation and allow everyone to survive. (Remember Wile Cyote on The Road Runner? How many of us would survive the Acme roller skate parachute kit when it took us off the cliff? Or live to crawl out from under the baby grand piano? How many times?)

It is worth the 91 minutes and I may see it again. Chances are I had higher expectations that I should have and did not give it the chance it deserved. Due to the time of day I saw the movie, the theater was full of children who did not react to the humorous parts. That may have had an effect on me. Whatever I would give it a 7 out of 10. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Losing The Peace

I often find the debate over the Confederate Flag confounding. Don't get me wrong, as much as I hold onto my southern heritage I have no pride for our ancestor's support of slavery. State's rights and slavery are a match made in Hell, somewhat akin to an honorable man's favorite daughter who eloped with a scumbag low life ax murderer and cheat of a man. What 95% of the world sees as the symbol of the Confederacy is actually the battle flag, which a few correctly refer to it as. The official flag of the Confederacy was the Bonnie Blue flag. Remember Rhett Butler's dear daughter Bonnie? She was named after that flag: Bonnie Blue Butler.

Image result for bonnie blue flag

How that flag got lost in the melee I'll never know. My Daddy was a student of Confederate history and I was exposed to more facts about campaigns, battle flags, and dates than most Yankees are exposed to cold weather. Some of it actually stuck. I have half of his vast collection of books on the subject. Half - because my brother has the other half. It was so much a part of my father's life that neither my brother nor I were willing to cede it to the other.

I think the rest of the world, everyone outside the southern states (yes those who seceded following South Carolina), thinks that we hold onto to the Battle Flag as a remembrance of some days of glory when our economy was much stronger than that of the North. It was a myth to some, a dream made glorious by tour guides and romantic novelists. It was an thinkable condition to others, who were thought of as property and valued only as such.  The South was a conundrum. How could it be such a civilized society, one of manners and arts and beauty and support a hateful institution such as slavery. But it is no more.

Actually Margaret Mitchell put it best in the opening prologue of  Gone with the Wind:

There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South... Here in this pretty world Gallantry took its last bow.. Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and Slave... Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered. A Civilization gone with the wind...

That land, a dream to some, was Hell to so many more. And the South paid a dear price for many years - as in 50 or 60 years. We paid so dearly that when the depression of the 1930's hit the nation, the South, all of us - both black and white, knew no different. We were still recovering from the devastation of "Reconstruction". Had Abraham Lincoln lived, the country would have been healed and been made whole again in a much more peaceful and humane way. All the American people would be better off. Just as he freed the slaves with his Emancipation Proclamation, no doubt he would have prevented the carpetbaggers from ravaging what remained of the South, the over taxation, graft and corruption that finished what little economy was left. 

Andrew Johnson was not strong or wise enough to guide the country through the period of reconstruction. "Winning the peace is harder than winning the war" said Xavier Becerra. And President Johnson lost the peace and with it the South. We were the belligerent step child cast out of the family. Worse yet, the leper left to die.  

So what the rest of the world does not understand is that the red and white and blue battle flag some down here insist on hanging on to doesn't necessarily stand for slavery. In those who don't want to let it go, it is the last bastion of their pride. They lost the war, then they lost the peace, then for years the history of the atrocities of the corruption and devastation of "Reconstruction" was lost in the history books. The slavery up North is something few speak of.  All criticism of slavery is squarely pointed toward the South. Washington and Jefferson, two of the great leaders and founders of our country had slaves. Whoever and where ever -  slavery was horrible. It was wrong - terribly wrong, ghastly, nasty, cruel, disgusting.  

We are past that. The South has risen again, not to secede and form another nation but to find its voice and its economy - to tout its strengths, its climate, its soul. But there are those who cannot forget. However, the world needs to understand what it is they are having such a hard time forgetting. It isn't so much Lee surrendering to Grant at Appomattox and losing the war as it is the North failing to try to win the peace. If only we could had been the prodigal son welcomed back, albeit repenting our wrongdoing, life would have been so much better for all of us. But hope for all that ended that fateful night in Ford's theater.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Third Rock from the Sun

What if the expedition from outer space - you know the one that was thwarted at Area 51 - ever returns to visit? God help them if they happen to land in our country, somewhere in the rural south. Let's say their sophisticated GPS puts them square in the middle of a trailer park. Now, I'm not talking about a community of preconstructed modular housing. I mean a good ol' trailer park - the kind that attracts tornados. If so their view of planet Earth would be fairly skewed. OK, it would be damn skewed.

I can just imagine their report back to the mother planet. There would be some debate that Earthlings' worship their "wheeled transport vehicles". After all they have them as idols raised on blocks in their yards. Yet, they do not clean them nor seem to take care of them, often operating them with pieces missing and evidence of damage to the exterior. In their homes they have pieces of pottery decorated with colorful pictures of these vehicles scattered about on tables and shelves and in the pictures adorning their walls.

They inhabit metal modules divided into several living spaces. Often the floor is covered with a matted green fibrous material. The main rooms of most modules include at least one throne type chair reserved for the head of the family unit. Male Earthings are fond of their metal defense devices that are used to kill other lower forms of life. Then the heads of those prizes are displayed in the living modules - perhaps as idols.

Earthlings consume mass quantities of a grain based beverage and white flat pieces of grain based food smeared with a white congealed product topped with slices of a round pink food product that contains some animal product.  Other consumables include bags of thin flat pieces of a tuber type plant, large vessels containing two toed feet of some lower life form preserved in a pink liquid, and other large vessels  of whole poultry ova also preserved in pink liquid. 

And one last mystifying point of these Earthlings - they are in search of a god named Elvis that lore said died many years ago, but many have faith still exists among them. Large images of his likeness on a black napped background can often be found adorning the walls of their living modules in a very visible place.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Motown Music

Detroit is quite the conundrum of a place. Sure we all hear about the corruption, the crime, and the blight. And there are the stories of the rebirth - the Quicken guy coming into the city bringing his company and investing millions as seed money to help spark a rebirth in the city. But we still see pictures of burned out houses, walls of graffiti, and tales of city leaders sentenced to long stents in prison for corruption in office.

When I grew up, Detroit was Motown, the vinyl records with the purple labels that always had (and still have) those incredible songs. It was Motor City, home of Ford and GM. It was "up the road" - the term the black people used when referring to where they (are their relatives) were going or had gone to find better employment, when little or none could be found in the south. But now, Detroit is a word associated with decay and crime.

So when our Detroit friends we were visiting this past week, planned a day in the city I had no idea what to expect. Was it safe? Wasn't it dirty? One thing was for sure - it should be something photogenic. They arranged a private walking tour of the downtown. Well, as I often say - when in Rome  . . . or this case Detroit.

A little history here of Detroit, if you are unfamiliar, the riots in 1967 brought about the downfall of the city. According to one source in addition to 43 deaths, 2,509 stores were looted or burned, 388 families rendered homeless or displaced and 412 buildings burned or damaged enough to be demolished. Dollar losses from arson and looting ranged from $40 million to $80 million. Quickly over the next years there was a mass exodus of business and people from the city to the suburbs. Crime was rampant, the streets were seen as unsafe, the cityscape was reminiscent of a war zone. What was left was of the inner city were the carcasses of burned out, abandoned, and decrepit buildings with little hope of life. 

The area surrounding the inner city out to the "8 Mile" road of Eminem fame was almost as bad with neighborhoods full of block after block of boarded up, burned, or abandoned houses. Most of those not so were occupied by families trying to hold on to what they had worked so hard to earn. This was once their American dream. Now they lived in a nightmare of blight and crime. Meanwhile the outer boundaries - Troy, Dearborn, Rochester Hills, East Pointe, and Oak Park, to name a few, flourished with "Pure Michigan". 

But, to our surprise we found the core of the inner city to be a once barren area awakening after a cold harsh winter. Amongst the blight, burned out buildings and graffiti there is renewal and growth like the first crocuses rising through the otherwise brown earth waiting for the rest of the spring to catch up.

Many of the lovely historic "sky scrapers" of the 1920's and 30's" have been restored and their artistic facades and grand lobbies dwarf any new construction in beauty and design. Among these are shiny tall new buildings constructed by those who have faith and believe "If you build them, they will come." The very center of the city is a small park, Campus Martius, with its lovely new fountain and its very impressive monument to their Civil War veterans and dead (albeit honoring the "other" side). 

The 26 story Guardian Building (1929), with its colorful Art Deco design, the 47 story Penobscot Building (1928) also Art Deco, and the Neo-Classical 23 story Ford Building (1909) (not related to the Henry Ford family) show the boom of the early 20th century and the desire to build higher. There are also the David Whitney Building (1915) and the Dime Building  (1912). These are all testaments to the city's early wealth in such areas as banking, insurance, timber, and manufacturing.

So with the graft finally rid from city hall, if the life from the center of the city continues to thrive and grow, Detroit may rise as a Phoenix. It is most impressive. I have often gone to places where city leaders have touted "This is our plan, we are going to be better." Detroit can say "Look at us, we are building and they are coming. Yes, we have a long way to go, but it is early in the spring." And that should be music to everyone's ears!

As Rod Stewart sings:

There's a soul in the city
watching over us tonight
There's a soul in the city
saying everything's gonna be all right

The elevators in the Guardian Building:

The entrance to the Buhle Building (1925) Neo-Gothic:

and the most impressive Italian Renaissance style 47 story Book Tower (1916) that has fallen into disrepair and hopefully will be brought back to its former glory:

Friday, July 3, 2015

Off to Motown

6 am sunrise over the clouds off to visit Motown, Deetroit, the Motor City for the 4th. Given we were up at 2 to be able to catch the plane. This is going to be a long day.