Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Movie Review--Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I'm going to be talking about my feelings and thoughts toward the recently watched Star Wars: The Last Jedi film. So, if you haven't seen the movie yet, you may want to skip this post until you see the movie. Then come back and read this post with informed eyes.

First, I LOVED watching this film. I thought that it was engaging, exciting, and funny in unexpected ways and places. Many of these funny moments were given to Finn. John Boyega plays the naive Stormtrooper as a slapstick sort of figure, someone who is always rushing headlong into things, tripping over himself, and learning lessons. This makes sense given his very sheltered First Order upbringing.

The Last Jedi also opened a window into the actual economic politics of the Lucasverse--something we've never seen in the movies up to this point. (Note that I have not read many of the innumerable Star Wars books.) As the DJ character points out to Finn and Rose, there are depressing truths behind this galactic economy.

I'm personally very glad that Kylo and Rey are NOT related. (I also really hope that when J.J. Abrams and team begin writing Episode IX, they respect the ground that Rian Johnson has set the franchise on and don't try to retcon their way to some other conclusion.) I am even more pleased that Kylo and Rey are not pining for the Lakes of Naboo. Let them struggle against each other as adversaries, as equals, as people with hopes for one another. But let it remain platonic.

It was wonderful to watch Mark Hamill be Luke Skywalker on the big screen again. While Hamill may have his own complicated feelings about how being Luke Skywalker affected his life so long ago, it seems to me that he used these feelings to embitter his crotchety Hermit Luke performance. I know that the movie is very new right now, so I can't find a gif of the face Luke makes at Rey when he drinks that space walrus' milk. But that was one of the funniest moments of the whole movie.

As others have said . . . the use of the color red was very arresting and well done throughout the movie: From Snoke's audience chamber to the under-mineral dust on the final Rebel base located on Crait, to so much of the promotional material. It was really arresting.

Speaking of Rebels . . . watching the leadership of the Rebellion constantly take up arms against one another made me wonder (if only fleetingly) if the First Order doesn't sort of have it right--minus the heavy Nazi overtones. Because it seemed for a while in The Last Jedi that the Rebel Alliance's biggest problem is that its membership is made up of lots of well-meaning individuals, who each have their own specific motivations for joining this fight. And that makes them all trouble-makers when things start going wrong.

And things went so very wrong for the Rebellion in this movie. The fact that it did go so awry is, perhaps, the most surprising thing about how Rian Johnson told this story. EVERYTHING went wrong for the Rebellion. They lost all of their ships, they lost practically all of their personnel (at least from what we can see), they lost a great deal--if not all--of their experienced leadership. They are definitely backed into a corner and there is a very definite sense of  . . . what do we do now?

Sure, there are lots of people being inspired across the galaxy. But as we in the real world learned in 2017, inspiration minus actual perspiration gets you not very far. There had better be lots of people swinging brooms but also putting boots on the ground if there is any real hope of defeating the First Order going forward.

The "Get Over Yourself" Section 

Some Star Wars Super Fans are really emotional about what Rian Johnson did to their franchise. (And while I'm a Star Wars lover from way back, I guess I'm now a traitor because I don't care.) Still--check out this post from Deadspin.

Odds and Ends
  • Were you as flummoxed by Leia's "Force flight" to safety from the vacuum of space as I was? It exposed a real morbidity within me, when I realized that I was constantly bracing for the end of Leia Organa--knowing that Carrie Fisher had already passed away. It was perhaps the second biggest surprise of the movie that Leia is alive when the film ended.
  • The porgs were fine; the Ahch-To lizard caretakers were not.
  • It's cool that the command style of the First Order (either the military branch or the Sith/Jedi branch) seems to be "Scream your order at the top of your lungs."
  • I disliked the central conceit of the film--the slow escape from the laser cannons until you run out of fuel.
  • Was the extreme close up of the First Order laundry unit a shoutout to the original Star Wars spoof, "Hardware Wars"?
  • I liked how TLJ starts right at the end of The Force Awakens. And I loved that Luke just tossed the lightsaber away--after the two years of wondering what Luke might do when presented with Rey's outstretched plea.
  • I was fully prepared for the stable boy at the end of the movie to turn into Star Wars Kid--

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Dean's Top Ten TV of 2017

David asked me to do my top ten list of the year and then rudely posted his before I could make fun of it. Unfortunately, I either like or haven’t seen most of the shows he selected except Search Party (which I hated so much) and he edited his list to include Legion so I can’t even make fun of him for that. 

Have worse taste in television David! I have a reputation to uphold and I can’t afford to be polite. 

You are still doing your list backward though. The best show is supposed to be saved for last! Can’t give away the game right from the start! Make them work for it!


American Gods, Alias Grace, Young Pope, Twin Peaks, Godless. I’m sure these shows are great. I just didn’t get to them.


One Mississippi, Sneaky Pete, Game of Thrones, Silicon Valley, Veep, Samurai Jack, Rick and Morty, Stranger Things, Fargo, American Vandal. These shows were also good and I recommend all of them without reservation.


10. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency:
At the last second, I pulled American Vandal from the 10 spot and swapped in Dirk Gently. This Dirk Gently is nothing like the Douglas Adams Dirk, and while I confess that that annoys me, it’s still a fun, charming show that has Elijah Wood in it so I like it.

9. The Christ Gethard Show:
One episode had Chris Gethard intentionally abandon the show right before it started and his guests had to host instead. It’s a great show for weirdos, burnouts, and losers and I feel right at home watching it.

8. Nathan For You:
The episode where Nathan hires an escort and then gradually falls in love with her was one of the more emotional subplots on television this year. Just great television. This show could be exploitative of the people he finds, but I think he works hard to make sure he is always the butt of the joke.

7. Baskets:
Louie Anderson continues to steal this show as Mrs. Baskets and I continue to love Martha without any reservations.

6. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
I completely understand why basically no one watches the last 4 shows I listed but it is criminal that so few people watch this show. 1. Musical TV shows are the best and musical episodes of regular TV shows are the best (See e.g. Buffy). 2. This particular show is smartly written and incredibly funny. 3. Josh Groban was in the best song this year and you love Josh Groban right? Anyway, watch this show.

5. The Good Place
So look, I could take shows 2, 3, 4, and 5 and rearrange them in any way and still be satisfied. These are all interchangeable levels of good. The Good Place never fails to make me laugh and Ted Danson is perfect. Also, I learned that the set of The Good Place was also used for Genovia in the Princess Diaries 2 so it has that going for it.

4. Better Call Saul
I do not want Jimmy to be Saul Goodman and it keeps getting closer and closer. Jimmy is great. More Jimmy, please!

3. Review
The final destruction of Forrest was just as humiliating and sad and funny as we all knew it would be. Poor, poor deluded Forrest.

2. Legion
This show! Wow! Everyone did stellar work, but Jemaine was my favorite. Thanks, Jemaine!

Now look, see, the suspense has been built. What could be better than Legion? What show haven’t I listed yet? It could be anything! It could be something obscure like some of my other picks or maybe it’s a big gaudy number everyone likes!  

This show gets all the little things right: 80s cocaine robots, neon lights, catchy theme song. It just nails it. Also, as someone who just got into professional wrestling, it cuts to the heart about what is enjoyable about it while also presenting some pretty fair critiques about the roles people are asked to portray.

Now go yell at me about my rankings on Twitter. I need to fight about something. 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

"Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash "

As you may have heard--a group programmed an "artificial intelligence computer" to write a Harry Potter chapter. And boy . . . what a thing it is.

Here is a link to the news story about it.

But, for ease of reading enjoyment, I'm transcribing the text here so that I can go back some time and and read it again.

I'm also adding some illustrations--from various fan art Web sites--to enhance the whole experience. Links to each fan art site are provided in the image captions.

"The Handsome One"

The castle grounds snarled with a wave of magically magnified wind. The sky outside was a great black ceiling, which was full of blood. The only sounds drifting from Hagrid's hut were the disdainful shrieks of his own furniture. Magic: it was something that Harry Potter thought was very good.

Leathery sheets of rain lashed at Harry's ghost as he walked across the grounds toward the castle. Ron was standing there and doing a kind of frenzied tap dance. He saw Harry and immediately began to eat Hermione's family.

Ron's Ron shirt was just as bad as Ron himself.

"If you two can't clump happily, I'm going to get aggressive," confessed the reasonable Hermione.

"What about Ron magic?" offered Ron. To Harry, Ron was a loud, slow and soft bird. Harry did not like to think about birds.

"Death Eaters are on top of the castle!" Ron bleated quivering. Ron was going to be spiders. He just was. He wasn't proud of that, but it was going to be hard to not have spiders all over his body after all is said and done.

"Look," said Hermione. "Obviously there are loads of Death Eaters in the castle. Let's listen in on their meetings."

The three complete friends zapped onto the landing outside the door to the castle roof. They almost legged it, but witches are not climbing. Ron looked at the doorknob and then looked at Hermione with searing pain.

"I think it's closed," he noticed.
"Locked," said Mr. Staircase, the shabby-robed ghost. They looked at the door, screaming about how closed it was and asking it to be replaced with a small orb. The password was "BEEF WOMEN," Hermione cried.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione quietly stood behind a circle of Death Eaters who looked bad.

"I think it's okay if you like me," said one Death Eater.
"Thank you very much," replied the other. The first Death Eater confidently leaned forward to plant  a kiss on his cheek.

"Oh! Well done!" said the second as his friend stepped back again. All the other Death Eaters clapped politely. Then they all took a few minutes to go over the plan to get rid of Harry's magic.

Harry could tell that Voldemort was standing right behind him. He felt a great overreaction. Harry tore his eyes from his head and threw them into the forest. Voldemort raised his eyebrows at Harry, who could not see anything at the moment.

"Voldemort, you're a very bad and mean wizard," Harry savagely said. Hermione nodded encouragingly. The tall Death Eater was wearing a shirt that said "Hermione Has Forgotten How to Dance," so Hermione dipped his face in mud.

Ron threw a wand at Voldemort and everyone applauded. Ron smiled. Ron reached for his wand slowly.

"Ron's the handsome one," muttered Harry as he reluctantly reached for his. They cast a spell or two, and jets of green light shot out of the Death Eaters' heads. Ron flinched.

"Not so handsome now," thought Harry as he dipped Hermione in hot sauce. The Death Eaters were dead now, and Harry was hungrier than he had ever been.

The Great Hall was filled with incredible moaning chandeliers and a large librarian who had decorated the sinks with books about masonry. Mountains of mice exploded. Several long pumpkins fell out of McGonagall. Dumbledore's hair scooted next to Hermione as  Dumbledore arrived at school.

The pig of Hufflepuff pulsed like a large bullfrog. Dumbledore smiled at it, and placed his hand on its head: "You are Hagrid now."
 "We're the only people who matter. He's never going to get rid of us." Harry, Hermione, and Ron said in chorus.

The floor of the castle seemed like a large pile of magic. The Dursleys had never been to the castle and they were not about to come there in Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash. Harry looked around and then fell down the spiral staircase for the rest of the summer.
"I'm Harry Potter," Harry began yelling. "The dark arts better be worried, oh boy!"

Friday, December 15, 2017

Our 2017 Christmas Card

Every year for the past many years, we have put together a fun, animated Christmas card that we fill with photos from the past year, descriptive captions, and holiday greetings from me, Lynda, Sarah, Grace, and Hannah.

But, unfortunately, we won't be putting that together this year. Lynda--who usually spends the time selecting, editing, and uploading the photos just doesn't have the time and energy to devote to it for 2017. So, we ask for your apologies as I substitute this post that I will repurpose as an email and send out to people instead.

How was 2017 for us? It has been a year of many firsts--good and bad.

Of course, the biggest change of this year was the struggle and loss of Lynda's dad a few months ago. We are still getting used to this new reality for us--and especially for Lynda, Lynda's mom Cheri, and her brother Matt. Our Christmas experience is going to be entirely new because of this and I pray that it is a peaceful time that also provides healing. But we look forward to family time together in Georgia in just a few more days. I'm sure happy memories will be shared and the future will be discussed. Lynda is helping Cheri take over the details of things that Bill was so familiar with and so far everything is going well. There is much to discuss and plan about the future and you'll certainly be seeing those changes in future posts that I write about. So, it is a bittersweet time. But our faith supports us through our sadness and I am confident of a happy future to come. More on that as it happens!

In more "normal" news, our kids have had many eventful months since the end of last year. And there are many firsts being achieved for each of them as well.

 Sarah achieved a first--finally completing all of her extensive driving training and tests to qualify for her auto license. She drives to work, to school, to run occasional errands for us, and sometimes to even has fun (I promise). She is also achieving several new firsts as she completes her senior year of high school and is very busily finishing up her art school applications--creating piece after piece for her college art portfolios. If you have been following Lynda and I on the Internet in the last many years, you know how her art skills have advanced and how talented we think she is. As I said in a recent blog post, I fully believe that she is going to get into one of her schools and then we'll see what sort of scholarship money she can collect on top of that. She has been working to create new pieces for submission, with lots of help and advice from her art teacher. It's happening--and then . . . well, the future is not written. But she is working on some endings and planning for new beginnings. I'm excited about where she goes next.

Grace is neck deep in work as a busy highs school freshman. All of her summer and fall were dedicated to marching band. And once that ended, she jumped right into the theater production crew team. In addition, Grace has new expectations in her high school level classes. But she is handling it well so far and taps into her long-standing reserve of inner confidence that I love so much about her. Her social life and roster of friends has grown a lot in the last many months as well. Give her some more time to grow up and widen her horizons a bit and we'll all be working for her. And I promise you that we will be so much the better for that.

Hannah remains our little girl--but she's trying to grow up as fast as she can. Hannah's after-school and weekend social calendar is almost as busy as Grace. Which is probably a good thing, because without Hannah pushing us around, we'd never do anything at all. She happily reminds us that there are lots of people and things to do.She is doing well in fourth grade and is involved in Mark Twain elementary's service club. Plus her Reflections project animation was recognized at the city competition and is going to move on to the regional judging level next.

As for Lynda and I? We still work at McGraw-Hill Education. (See the photo from our company Christmas party, up above.) Lynda's work in the Digital Strategies group keeps her connected with content groups all across our office. She is always busy, but she is doing good work and keeps being challenged. I'm finishing up Phase 1 and 2 of my latest Social Studies project that has been my focus throughout this calendar year. I still like work and my coworkers, so I have no big complaints on that front.

As always, I must acknowledge how stupidly lucky we are. 2017 has been a challenging year for many people who have faced so many disappointments. But those sorts of setbacks can be dealt with when we have each other, when we have good jobs, and when we are surrounded with great friends and family (who demonstrated that so, so strongly while Lynda was so busy with her dad). Lynda, I, and our girls have all of those important things--which makes it possible for us to overcome anything.

And it obligates us to reach out to help others. I have been inspired this past year to witness people fighting hard for things they care deeply about and taking on new responsibilities to work for those goals. I hope that 2018 is a good year for you and the people you care about. If I can be some help to you . . . please do not hesitate to let me know.

Merry Christmas and have a Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

My newest Star Wars Watch Order post

As I am writing this, people are getting ready to watch Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. (And, yes . .  . I do realize that the Disney Star Wars films have moved away from the "Episode [Roman numeral] structure of the Lucasverse. But, for the good and all the bad of it, my Star Wars lifetime is defined by the bedrock of what George Lucas did--then redid, then enhanced, then prequalized, then enhanced again. I am what he made me to be.

But--The Last Jedi is going live and I am fully expecting that Rian Johnson's Episode VIII is going to be good. It'll be almost three hours long--and I can only hope that a full thirty minutes of that is not driven by porgs.

Andbutso you're not here to be horrified by these furry space penguins. (Just look at how those fins shiver.) Rather you want to know if I have come up with a definitive and proper order for watching the Star Wars films.

I first talked about this when I provided you with the Abrams Influence Method. (You can read all the ins-and-outs of it by clicking and reading this post from October 2015.)

And then, in December 2016 I came back again to factor in the existence of Episode VII: The Force Awakens. It isn't really hard to figure out what to do with Episode VII. You simply plop it on the end of the list. But I wasn't really sure what to do with Rogue One--not a numerically sequential "Episode" but simply subtitled "A Star Wars Story."

Should we treat this "Star Wars Story" like you might the Star Wars Holiday Special?

No. Of course you would not do that to Rogue One. Because it is a wonderful movie filled with good characters, a riveting plot, and emotions. None of which you can find in the Holiday Special.

Now . . . you could simply pull an Episode VII and make the executive decision to plop Rogue One in chronological order in front of A New Hope. And that is what I originally chose to do when I wrote the December 2016 post "Star Wars Watch Order Adjustment."

Now I am wondering if that is the correct thing to do.

Because the real power and influence of Rogue One come from the knowledge of what you have already learned from Episode IV: A New Hope. 

After discussing it with some colleagues at work today, I was all prepared to mimic my Abrams Influence  Method and try to slot Rogue One in as a flashback somewhere? I first thought that it could work in A New Hope at some point. But the best places for it are so close to the beginning--right around the opening scenes when Leia's CR90 corvette (the Tantive IV) is being boarded by Vader and his stormtroopers. Or possibly a few minutes later when Leia is hiding the Death Star plans with R2D2? But I don't really like those options as it continues to dilute the emotional heft of the end of Rogue One--which is one of the best things about the movie anyway. So, to put some distance between A New Hope and Rogue One . . . maybe we should position the flashback later?

To my mind, the next best option is in Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. Do you remember the scene on Endor's moon where C3P0 is catching up the Ewoks on the history of the rebellion? Perhaps you could find a way to drop in a flashback to the story of Rogue One at that point in Episode VI?

But I don't love that either. Does it shift the emotional arc of the progress being made with the Ewoks and drag the viewer back down into what is definitely the most depressing Star Wars movie made--no matter how good it is.

So in the end, I'm left without a definitive solution and I guess I have to bow in acknowledgment to the Disney masters who made the wise move of calling Rogue One "a Star Wars story." Perhaps it is best left outside of the sequence, left to the viewer to decide when they want to confront the true story of how the Death Star plans were acquired. 

But I definitely don't have any qualms about adjusting the Watch Order to include Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. Even if I don't know yet what happens in this movie--whether Kylo Ren and Rey kiss, whether Kylo kills Leia, whether Snoke succeeds in turning Rey to the Dark, whether Luke trains Rey by making her carry him around in a backpack . . . I can definitely say that it goes at the end of the sequence. So . . . as of today, my new official Watch Order is:

(I know. I failed to come up with a solution to this post. Maybe you can do better? Please leave your best solution to where to watch Rogue One in comments. I would love to get other people's point of view on this very important issue.)

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

UPDATED--My Best of Television 2017

 It's not a Counter-Programming sort of day because I don't know how many of you are spending your time watching the Army-Navy college football game. But if you are, please consider this my plea that you should find something else to do with your time.

No . . . this post is dedicated to that other past time of mine, television. And anything written about television in December must then be a best-of-the-year list.

I've asked Dean to work on preparing his own list for 2017. And based on his comments to me on Friday, I can say that he faced a similar problem that I did. It is increasingly harder to remember what you watched in the past year. Either because there is so much television to choose from or because the scheduling for shows is so all-over-the-place that it is just hard to remember if you last watched a show in January of this year or some time before that. Everything is six- to eight-episode seasons and then they go on hiatus for an additional eighteen months.

But, I'm reasonably certain now that the shows I mention below are ones that I did, in fact, watch in 2017. And, unlike most years, I'm going to try and rank them in order of value or enjoyment or with some sort of thought given towards importance.

Okay . . . enough handwringing and marking time. Let's get on with my list of the Best Television for 2017.

#1 Legion
Dean reminded me today that Legion was actually on TV in 2017. So I HAD to edit my list to reflect this screw up on my part. I know that only seven people actually pay attention to my blog anyway, but I could not live any longer with the knowledge that I had created a top ten list that did not include the most visually dynamic show that I saw in 2017.
Legion is confusing as hell, but such an amazing entertainment experience. You MUST give it a try. And good luck understanding it if you aren't ready to be confused.
As usual, Noah Hawley is creating great TV. And Aubrey Plaza is so, SO good in her role.

Please watch it.

#2 The Young Pope
I loved this show. It was so fun to watch and so visually appealing. And Jude Law's pontiff was mysterious, very off-putting, and also sympathetic. You felt bad for the situation that he was in, but then he became so dictatorial and mean in a scene that you wanted him to fail.
I especially loved this show for its commitment to being so fe\reaking hip. Its banging soundtrack was great and a big reason for my enjoyment.

#3 Twin Peaks: The Return--Everything about this show was a gift. Completely unexpected. Extremely maddening. Often nonsensical. Very occasionally understandable. Entirely Lynchian. Never in my life would I have expected another opportunity to visit that bizarre town in Washington. And when I did get the chance, it was exactly familiar but also full of new mystery. The last two hours of the show was amazing because I had the feeling that actual answers were about to occur and maybe a clear resolution was being given to us. And then, of course, David Lynch snatched all of that away with that bizarre ending (everything from Kyle McLaughlin and Laura Dern's wormhole (?) induced car drive, to hotel overnight, to Agent Cooper and Laura Palmer's visit to the Palmer home. What an experience!

#4 You're the Worst--This was the show's penultimate season. And while it did not have the subversive drive of season 1 (which I still believe is the show's best total season) the mix-and-match nature of the character pairings in this last grouping of shows was a fun change of pace. Jimmy, Gretchen, Edgar, and Lyndsay are characters that remain engaging and are still fun to watch--even if they try really hard not to care at all. And Lyndsay's evolution and (gasp?) maturation this season is my most surprising thing.

#5 Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency--This show was almost as bizarre as Twin Peaks. Which you might expect when you know that it comes from the mind of Douglas Adams. I've found that I am a fan of Elijah Wood's various television efforts. I appreciate that he goes for really funky shows and this one is definitely one of them. The plot--such as it was in season 1 and is now is season 2--is hard to explain and maybe not something you are prepared to accept. But if you want to watch television that is different, you could do much, much worse than a show like this one.

#6 Stranger Things 2--I really enjoyed the sophomore effort of this Netflix juggernaut. And I even enjoyed the polarizing seventh episode that focused on Eleven's journey into Jane's past and her dalliance with her mind-sister Eight. (As long as Eleven and Mike got to kiss at the end, I simply didn't care the journey that got them there. I'm a romantic.)
And I'll ride all day for the wonderful pairing of Steven Harrington and Dustin. It'll almost let me forget how narrowminded Dustin was when he ignored his friends' warnings about Dart.

#7 The Good Place, season 2--It's not going to get better than season one's big twist reveal. But the show is still very good and I like how they are trying to keep injecting creativity into the story.

#9 Search Party, season 2--I should rank this show higher because season two is light-years more interesting and fun to watch than season one. But I guess I'm demoting it because no one has ever heard of it. (I guess I'm not a Moneyball type of guy.)


#9 The Tick--Unfortunately this is only available on Amazon Prime. But it is everything you would expect from the show. Is it better than the original TV version (featuring Nestor Carbonell and Patrick Warburton)? Probably not. Is it better than the original animated version? Definitely not. Does that matter as long as there is a version of The Tick to be enjoyed? Definitely not.

#10 Riverdale season 2--Really I am -hate watching this show to stay connected to my older children. But it is so bizarre. And this is the only show this calendar year that made me laugh out loud (this week when I watched that trainwreck of a "Mad World" karaoke scene). 

Come at me with your opinions!

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Football Counter-Programming 2017: Conference Championship Week

NOTE: I am posting this painting here specifically because Sarah allowed Lynda to put it on Facebook. Otherwise, I would not have publicized it.

Today is Championship Week in college football. This signals at once that the football season is coming to an end while also saying that the real work is still very much ahead. All of the ups and downs of the regular season were pointed to (hopefully) getting to this point. But not everyone will experience this week and even fewer will advance beyond this with a victory to move into the playoff games ahead.

And here is where my discussion of college football stops--because this post is supposed to be diverting you from college football to something else. But my subject for today is related to this experience of working toward a goal and projecting forward towards an unknown future.

I speak--of course--about the college application experience. And since I am featuring one of Sarah's paintings above (and since she is the oldest and the one who will be trying for college first, you know that I am talking about the experience I have had as she goes through her efforts to apply to art schools.

And the first thing you need to know is that it is not finished. And that is relevant to my own struggles within the last few weeks, as I have tried to get straight in my own head the various deadlines and requirements for each individual school. You see, I thought that she was facing a hard deadline of December 1 (yesterday) for submission of paperwork, essays, transcripts, and most crucial for art schools, a collection of artwork (the portfolio) that is the bedrock of the school's evaluation of her application. And, heading into Thanksgiving week, that seems very unlikely and I was stressed out beyond belief.

But . . . I have learned that my stress was misplaced. You could get full applications in by December 1, but it was not a necessity. Scholarships for Fall 2018 would be available a few months after the Christmas holidays and all was not, in fact, lost. So, I have taken a breath and held onto hope.

Going through this has been stressful, no matter what the deadline, because Sarah has been working to find her artistic voice throughout this process and she is doing it on her own (and not my) schedule. She will get what she needs to have done when it is required--that I very much believe. But I have had to accept the fact that she is doing it her way and decidedly NOT my way. But I have to acknowledge that everything about what she is doing is hers and not mine--and not for the obvious reason you may be thinking.

Sarah is an artist. And to be an artist involves bravery and skill that I simply do not have. She is making pieces and expressing parts of herself in ways that I definitely could not do when I was seventeen. And she is embarking on a college journey that I am frightened of and also full of admiration for. She is taking a challenging road, but she is committed to accomplishing something unique. She is defining her world and her life on her own terms. And isn't that all Lynda and I have been trying to teach her to do anyway?

Plus . . . and I think this bears saying, even though I am decidedly unobjective about it . . . she is talented.And she can DO this. I believe it! I hope for it. I want it to happen.

And it may not happen in the way that I would try it. And the accomplishment of it may be unpredictable and as yet unclear. But I believe in her.

So . . . I guess that is it for this week.

If your team is in a conference championship game today--I hope you find out the results on the internet before you go to sleep tonight and don't spend your time watching it on the television. There are only a few more Counter-Programming posts remaining this season, so let's make them count.

Thanks for stopping by.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Football Counter-Programming 2017: Week 13

This is my final week of the (regular season) Football Counter-Programming for 2017. I am pretty sure I'll try again during the weekend of conference championship games to drive your eyeballs in different directions. I don't have any illusions that I'll be able to do so. But for this weekend? I'm IN IT to WIN IT! (Copyright Guy Fieri, 2012).

ANYWAY . . .

It's been Thanksgiving here in the United States. (Hi to all of my imaginary international readers!) And so hopefully you have thankful hearts still overflowing with a new perspective on the world. Or maybe you only have your belly overflowing the top of your waistband? But I hope it is the former.

As for me, I'm always trying to keep a good perspective. To not be too complain-y. To find the silver lining (or maybe look for the silver sandwich?) And this video from a talk given at my church this past Sunday afternoon helped me a bit in that direction this week. So I am providing it here in the hopes that it might help you as well. I know that it is more than four minutes long, but I encourage you to sit and listen to Rabbi Benjy's thoughts. That football game is not going anywhere, you most likely hit pause on your TV, and even if you simply walk away from the game to read this, you'll probably only miss a few failed run plays and some commercials.

So . . . here are the thoughts of Rabbi Benjy from New Albany's Temple Beth Shalom, as given during the Interfaith Thanksgiving service held at All Saints Episcopal Church.

I hope you have had a fine holiday weekend and I hope that you are inspired to approach the next five to six weeks with gratitude, an eye to share blessings, and a thoughtful heart.

Until next time . . . remember. No matter how many letters of the alphabet you choose to omit in any given week, that has absolutely no bearing on how a sports game will be played. But good for you for trying, I guess.

Thanks for stopping by.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Football Counter-Programming 2017: Week 12

I don't know what to write about today.

So--let's talk about turkey. Tis the season to discuss America's first bird, the almost national symbol, the food-based avatar of our holiday hopes and dreams.

How do you like to eat it?

Roasted, deep fried, or only prepared by someone else? Do you like the breast meat or would you ignore all of that in favor of the dark meats? Or would you ignore the bird entirely if you could get delicious stuffing and sides every day--or possibly pecan or pumpkin pie?

(And . . . do you like your pecan pie the traditional syrup way or do you prefer the chess variety?)

Andbutso . . .

I like my turkey roasted. But I always brine it overnight before putting it in the oven. I have a dedicated/labeled 10-gallon Thermos cooler drink dispenser that is only used for this process.

For those of you in the know, this is Alton Brown's preferred method for turkey preparation. He's done it more than once on Good Eats, but I think this clip is the first one:

Beyond that? It's simply putting it in the oven and waiting. And it never takes as long for my turkeys to roast as the television shows would have you believe. But that may be because I don't buy enormous birds? Or maybe I'm just THAT GOOD at Thanksgiving preparations?

Anyway--other than the birds, I love to make stuffing (with apples, raisins, and pecans)--even more than mashed potatoes and gravy. And we favor the green bean casserole and the sweet potato casserole, as well as crescent rolls, maybe some fruit ambrosia, and probably two pies (definitely pumpkin and if I'm lucky a variety of pecan).

In short, we are very, very down-the-line traditional with our T-day fixins.

Do you do anything out of the ordinary? Once the food is done and eaten, do you watch the NFL? Or the Macys parade in the morning? Do you decorate for Christmas that same weekend? Do you not cook at all and prefer to go out to eat?

Let me know what you like to do and look forward to during the food/celebration season.

And remember . . . the college football year is coming to a close. There is very little that can change about your team'ss' chances--no matter how hard the sports commentator talking heads try to fill up thirty minutes convincing you otherwise. So . . . dust off those board games and DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT!

Until the final game of the regular season arrives next week!

Thanks for clicking in.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Football Counter-Programming 2017: Week 11

Every week, I am trying to distract you and get you to think about something other than college football. And almost every week, I am certain that I fail miserably to achieve that goal. But--at least in the Midwest region where I am now living--I forgot that the best way to achieve my goal (even if I don't do it myself) is with a healthy serving of Urban Meyer Sad Pizza.

More than one Buckeye loss per season (especially a definitive one such as was handed out in Iowa last Saturday) can make lots of people in Ohio find something else to do on a Saturday.

BUT . . . that's all the football talk we will devote to this week's post. I'm here to make you think of other things.

And the thing this week is my Stranger Things 2 playlist. You've heard of Stranger Things, right? Have you watched all of season 2? Do you have a strong opinion about episode 7? As for me. . . I didn't mind it at all. Anyway, I recently posted (in non-Counter-Programming news) my Stranger Things season 1 playlist. You can enjoy those few moments of context and diversion here.

So, now that you are all caught up . . . here is my playlist for Stranger Things 2. I hope you like it. As with the season 1 playlist, these songs are either featured in the episodes--in which case I identify the episode and a brief description of the context for the music--or I was inspired by events to find a suitable song that related.

1. Walkin in Hawkins, (ST2 soundtrack)
This synth song serves as a nice way to ease our way back into Hawkins, Indiana in 1984.

2. "Whip It," Devo (ep. 1 MADMAX)
This song plays in the arcade scene during the first few moments of the first episode. As with many songs of this era (when I was almost exactly the same age as the kids in this show) I heard Devo from my two older brothers. Was I sort of the Will to their Jonathan?

3. "Rock You Like  Hurricane," Scorpions (ep. 1 MADMAX)
I was never a heavy metal or hair metal fan growing up. But when you are embracing nostalgia as hard as the Duffer Brothers, you've gotta go with it. This song play when Billy shows up on the scene in Hawkins. What a guy.

4. "California Girls," David Lee Roth
This song was inspired by the appearance of Max and her mysterious California cool presence.

5. "Backdoor Man," The Doors
Another song not in the show itself, but inspired by the passionate storage closet necking scene between Joyce Byers and one Bob Newby. You go Bob. Live your best life!

6. "Hello," Lionel Ritchie
Inspired by Mike's whistful attempts to contact Eleven with the walkie-talkie.

7. "Ghostbusters theme," Ray Parker, Jr. (ep. 2 Trick or Treat, Freak)
Back to the show's chosen sound here, as the Party puts on their Halloween costumes and prepares for their day at school.

8. "Wango Tango," Ted Nugent (ep. 2 Trick or Treat, Freak)
Billy and Max are in the Firebird. Billy tries to murder Dustin and Lucas on their bikes with his reckless driving.

9. "Shout at the Devil," Motley Crue (ep. 2 Trick or Treat, Freak)
This is playing while Nancy and Steve are hanging out at Tina's Halloween party.

10. "Talking in Your Sleep," The Romantics (ep. 1 MADMAX)
Steve and Nancy discuss college applications and the future. (But they leave other things unsaid.)

11. "Islands in the Stream," Feist & Constantines (ep. 2 Trick or Treat, Freak)
Bob is putting the Dracula moves on Joyce after the kids have left them alone to go get candy. The show used the original Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton duet . . . but I wanted a different version.

12. "Girls on Film," Duran Duran (ep. 2 Trick or Treat, Freak)
More music from Tina's Halloween party.

13. "You Don't Mess Around with Jim," Jim Croce (ep. 3 The Pollywog) '
Hopper tries to teach Eleven about good music, during the flashback showing how she ended up in his backwoods cabin between seasons 1 and 2.

14. "Just Another Day," Oingo Boingo (ep. 1 MADMAX)
Background music while Hopper shows up at the police station.

15. "Scarface (Push it to the Limit)," Paul Engemann (ep. 4 Will the Wise)
The epic basketball confrontation between Billy and (former) King Steve Harrington.

16. "Levitation" (ST2 soundtrack)

17. "Blue Bayou," Roy Orbison (ep. 6 The Spy)
Nancy and Jonathan eat breakfast at Murray's place. Jonathan thinks about how the pullout was . . .

18. "Round and Round," Ratt (ep. 6 The Spy)
Billy lifts weights.

19. "Eulogy" (ST2 soundtrack)
The warbly synthesizers that are favored in the soundtrack music make you sad and make you laugh simultaneously.

20. "Dead End Justice," The Runaways (ep. 7 The Lost Sister)
The controversial seventh episode--which I happened to like, as I said above. But the real controversy is how much this song änd its usage is identical to the "Cherrybomb" Getting Ready to Do Stuff montage from Guardians of the Galaxy.

21. "Love is a Battlefield," Pat Benatar (ep. 9 The Gate)
Everyone is getting ready for the Snow Ball.

22. "Every Breath You Take," The Police (ep. 9 The Gate)
The happiness of the Snow Ball gets sinister when you see that the Mind Flayer is still looming over Hawkins.

And so . . . there you go.

Enjoy these songs by finding me on Spotify (search for user "david_t_martin"). And remember . . . no one thinks that a two-loss team--even one from a power conference--is going to work its way back into the playoff bracket.

Until next week!

Monday, November 06, 2017

Stranger Things playlist

As I was preparing to watch Stranger Things 2 at the end of last month, I went ahead and rewatched Stranger Things season one again. And while I was doing that, I felt inspired to create a playlist of the songs within and inspired by the first season.

So, here are my choices--along with the episode that the music appears in, and a brief explanation.

1. The Stranger Things theme (s1 soundtrack)

2. "White Rabbit," Jefferson Airplane (ep. 1 The Disappearance of Will Byers)
This song plays over the radio (I think) when agents from Hawkins Lab show up at Benny's diner. Eleven narrowly escapes recapture. But Benny gets shot and dies.

3. "Eleven" (s1 soundtrack)

4. "Raise a Little Hell," Trooper (ep. 2 The Weirdo on Maple Street)
Steve greets Nancy and Barb in the Harrington house front doorway for their after-hours pool party. (The clock is ticking on you Barbara.)

5. "Photograph," Def Leppard
This song is not played in the season, but I was inspired by Jonathan's creepy camera session from the woods behind the Harrington house while the party is winding down.

6. "I Melt With You," Modern English (ep. 2 The Weirdo on Maple Street)
More music from the pool party, when everyone is hanging out by the pool. This is where Barb unsuccessfully shotguns a beer and get a (fatal) cut on her hand.

7. "Hazy Shade of Winter," The Bangles (ep. 2 The Weirdo on Maple Street)
I feel like this was a smash-cut song that began with the end title sequence, just after Barb is x-ed off the board by the Demogorgon. #Sad.

8. "Payphone," Maroon 5 and Wiz Khalifa
Inspired by the pre-cellphone technology of 1980s Hawkins, Indiana. Especially when Hopper uses a random payphone by the side of the road to try and figure out where Eleven is from. (I never grew up in a town with lots of payphones, but I don't recall seeing any that were just sitting on the side of a road that looked like a state highway heading out of town.)

9. "Heroes," David Bowie (ep. 3 Holly Jolly)
Mysterious things happen between the Party and Eleven at the quarry. (I went with the Bowie version instead of the show's use of Peter Gabriel. Sarah wanted the Bowie version.)

10. "Upside Down," Diana Ross
Inspired by . . . well . . . what else?

11. "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" The Clash (ep. 4 The Body)
Jonathan remembers a flashback scene when he taught Will about good music.

12. "Sunglasses at Night," Corey Hart (ep. 6 The Monster)
Steve . . . in his car. Glorious.

13. "The Bargain Store," Dolly Parton (ep. 6 The Monster)
Jonathan and Nancy gear up at the Army surplus store to head into the Upside Down. Looking back at this song after watching Stranger Things 2, it is clear to me that the Duffer Brothers have a thing for Dolly Parton. Still and all . . . this is a good song.

14. "Exit," Tangerine Dream (ep. 6 The Monster)
Jonathan and Steve fight in the alley.

15. "Breathe (in the Air)," Pink Floyd
Inspired by the funky stuff that floats around in the Upside Down.

16. "Somebody's Watching Me," Rockwell
Inspired by the ending of season 1.

I tried to find songs that were early 1980s era-appropriate when I went outside of the songs featured in the show itself.

(If you liked this idea and you want to hear the songs, go to Spotify and search for my user name

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Football Counter-Programming 2017: Week 10

It's week 10 everybody! Do you know where your football team is?

Well--you SHOULDN'T--because I'm here every Saturday trying to get you to do something else rather than watch college football. But I doubt I'm doing a very good job. College football has so many financial resources and media partners at its disposal. And all I've got in my brain, my keyboard, and a too-old laptop.

Sure. . . this technology gives me a platform to try and dissuade you weekly. And sure, without this technology, no one would even know what I was trying to do. But technology is a double-edged sword. It giveth with one port and taketh away with the other. It is modern day magic--a useful tool that only a select few understand and only some are allowed to wield to its fullest extent. The rest of us? Well, we just push plugs into outlets and push power buttons and hope that the digital incantation works as it was promised to do.

Case in point?

I bought a new TV yesterday. Nothing outstanding. Simply a 24 inch Samsung to replace the Emerson brand (what?!!?) 19-inch cathode ray job that we had inherited from Lynda's parents over a decade ago--and which was likely almost a decade old at THAT point. So, even though my new Samsung was absolutely nothing special, it is like replacing a Model A with a new minivan. Both items "do" the same thing. But the Samsung minivan can offer you so much more besides a combustion engine, four wheels, and some seats.

For instance, this Samsung is a Smart TV. And that means it is more complicated. And it means that it needs internet connection to be truly "smart". And that means yet another connection to the home wifi network.

Normally that is not such a problem, right. You follow the on-screen prompts and you select your network name from those of the houses around you. Then you punch in your key code and there you go. A few seconds of the spinning icon, then wham! Netflix on the TV. Stranger Things 2 for everyone!

Unless . . .

What if it doesn't work? Do you know the routers IP address? Do you know the MAC number? How about the DNS setting? Are those even really the problem? Maybe there are simply too many smartphones operating in the house, spreading the wifi juice too thin--like a small amount of butter spread on too much bread. Or maybe your router is down on the main floor in the corner of the house--but your new wifi Smart TV is upstairs in an opposite corner of the house?! That a whole floor of house to transmit through! And how many phones, iPads, laptops, and toaster ovens does that signal have to fight through before you can watch Black Mirror while laying down on your very own bed?

Well--do you know what to do? Because the manual that came with the TV isn't going to be much help. After all, its a pretty general manual--that only covers the very basics of television installation and setup. And besides, you got the M4500 series of television and Samsung has written a manual that covers the M series, as well as the U series, the V series, and maybe a few other alphabets as well. Perhaps you want to go online? Well, good luck finding specific information about your particular model on the Web site. And you can search generic phrases in Google like "Smart TV wifi connect". And you might eventually find some help. But mostly you'll simply find confirmation that there are many, many other people who have fought this battle before you.

So, do like our grandparents did. Go speak to someone in person in an actual store. Maybe they know what to tell you. (But please don't forget to snap a few pictures of your various cables, connections, and ports, so that you can better explain to the clerk how things are set up back at your house. I mean--those smartphones are good for something, right?)

Except . . . uh, oh. Did you forget that the brand new sexy cell phone was released for pre-order just yesterday? And that the store you go to is filled with people wanting to upgrade? Well, you might be waiting for a while. But at least you don't have to dissuade these people from watching college football because they (and their cranky children) are going to be stuck in that store for a while.

But let's say you are lucky--and you get an opportunity to state the nature of your technological emergency to someone when they are putting your name on the waiting list. And that helpful person suggests that you take this number and call the company directly to speak to someone about getting the equipment that you think you need (perhaps a +12 network extender node with an undetectable extension charm for the bag of holding?).

So, go home. Try to verify that fewer people in the house equals a functional wifi connection. (The answer so far is YES.) And then explain your problem to the phone tech you connect with. And hope that the scheduled service call that will happen at your home today will a.) resolve your problem, b.) maybe upgrade your network equipment as necessary, c.) NOT result in an increased monthly bill, and d.) serve as a roadblock to whatever else you might have felt like doing on this day?

Andbutso . . . technology!

It's the future. It's amazing. It's inscrutable magic. And its never going away ore getting simpler.

But . . . whatever else you take away from this story, remember two additional things:

First--no matter how many iPads your offensive line coach has on the sidelines, your alma mater is still going to have trouble transmitting plays to the sophomore quarterback when the game clock is ticking away.

And second--thanks for visiting. Please come back again next week when I have another distraction ready to divert your eyes.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Football Counter-Programming 2017: Week 9

Today . . . I'm pretty tired.

For reasons:

And so, because of that, I'm going to keep the Counter-Programming short and sweet this week. In fact, I'm going to rely on Hank Green to fill in the majority of the content this week in my stead. Not simply because it reduces my need to think, and not simply because it is full of good thoughts. 

But most importantly because I strongly agree with his point. I've said many times at work that we cannot let the Perfect become the enemy of the Good. Call it expediency if you wish. Call it strategy if you must. Sometimes it is simply a necessity. But I also think that it is good practice.

Here's Hank to explain more:

Thanks for stopping by again and I hope to see you next week. But until then, please remember. No amount of practice will help your team if they are 0-6 and have just fired their coach. Sometimes you've got to move on to next season.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Football Counter-Programming 2017: Week 8

It's week 8 in my quest to prevent you from having a good time on Saturdays. How is it going, from your perspective? Have you filled the empty hours each weekend with long walks in the crisp Autumnal air? Apple-picking? Chestnut roasting? Leaf pile burnings? Or maybe just lots and lots of board games?

However you fill the time, just be happy that you aren't devoting your time and energy to an alma mater that only remembers you when you send in a dues check that is going to be used to buy more free weights for the athletic training facility.

But, now . . . what else should I write to distract you in week 8?

Let's see.


Stranger Things 2 goes live on Netflix in the coming week. Are you excited to see what is going to happen next to Mike, Lucas, Will, Dustin, and Eleven? Will Hopper move into Joyce's house and will they become romantic partners? How creepy is Jonathan going to be this time around? Is Steve Harrington still rocking the worst (but most compelling) haircut in the 1980s Midwest?

And when, oh when . . . will there ever be any justice for Barb?

Now, I have a question for you. Am I supposed to have opinions about pop culture? I am, after all, now 46 years old. Does anyone outside of my family and friends, care at all what I think about entertainment? I was talking about this a bit with Sarah last night and I am curious about it. Have I (long ago) slipped into the set of the population where only my opinions on low-rate mortgages and erectile dysfunction medications matter?

Maybe this is my midlife crisis talking . . . but am I still a vital, significant member of the greater community? Or should you just put on an ice floe now and get it over with?

Question Time: 1.) What unpopular opinions about culture do you share--that maybe no one cares that you have them? 2.) How more jumbled could I make the word structure of that last sentence? 3.) Do you feel that you are in or out of the cultural zeitgeist? 4.) Do you at all care about that feeling?

Please answer these questions in comments, if you feel inspired.

And remember . . . no one cares if your starting right tackle kills it at trivia night. It won't help him slow down the opponent's league-leading running back.

Until next week!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Football Counter-Programming 2017: Week 7

There is a particular guy at work. I see him in the side halls on my floor, most often when I am going to and from the restroom and he is likewise going to and from the restroom. I do not know him. I have never spoken to him. But . . . for some reason, when I walk past him I feel like I should speak to him, smile more obviously, say hello, or in some significant way, acknowledge him.

Why this person and not any of the other people that I pass in similar circumstances, other people that I do not know at all?

The answer to that question is likely an uncomfortable one for me and my psyche and I need to confront those parts of my personality that I hide, that I don't acknowledge, that I wish were not true. This particular guy is more like me than others. We are not the same. But we are not obviously different. We share similar skin tone. We (probably?) share similar language. We have a better chance of sharing similar life/cultural experiences. (Though  . . . since I've never spoken to him, I could be quite right wrong in this assumption.)

Otherwise . . . I still don't know why this particular guy. Something about him seems quiet, timid, closed-in. So, why would I be (even slightly) drawn to him? It's probably not altruism. Is it a subtle need to be superior?

(As I said, confronting these impulses only dregs up my worst qualities. Those parts I don't' want to think and talk about.)

And yet, not admitting that these thoughts exist is not good. We can never change and grow and improve ourselves if we aren't honest first with who we actually are instead of who we imagine ourselves to be.

I don't know if I'll confront this particular guy in the hallways--either next week or next month. I doubt I'll stop him while he's on the way to the bathroom and try to really get to know him. You just don't do that sort of thing when you know someone is heading to The Facilities. But maybe I can start small with a genuine smile and direct eye contact. If I happen to cross paths with him in the coffee room, I should say "Hello" and try to have a bit of small talk. Or maybe I can invite him to play some ping pong in the old converted conference room? And then maybe the next time the company has an ice cream social, I can find him and begin an actual conversation.

How might that go? Probably pretty awkwardly. But even awkward things can be good things. Making assumptions will get me nowhere with him and no further in life.

Anyway . . . something for me to think about.

Thanks for stopping by this week. And until next Saturday, please remember . . . no one cares if you think you know whether your alma mater is going to cover the spread with a last-second field goal conversion.

Get out there and pick some apples instead.