Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Most Enduring Image of 2013

Please don't tell me it's so. But can you think of anything else apart from death and destruction in diverse places and Boston? I hate to admit it but the enduring image of 2013 appears to be Smiley Virus's tongue. Is it just me or does she resemble a demented gerbil?

OK now I'm off to feel queasy in a dark place and to dream hopeless thoughts of a Miley free 2014. Happy New Year...

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Blog Disaffection and those Writers I Met on the Road in 2013

I have noticed an interesting trend recently in which many bloggers I have followed for many years are seldom blogging anymore or are just disappearing off the face of the earth. This is disturbing on a number of levels because it raises nagging questions such as:

1 Have they found a life?
2 Have they found a new technology which makes blogging oh sooo 2011?

The blogging road is long with many a winding turn

Its also make you think of those fabulous new friends you found in the first week of college who you hung around with day and night. Then suddenly, two years later they have found more fabulous new friends and when you say hi on the campus you can tell they are trying really hard not to roll their eyes.

I've hit a fair degree of blog ennui as well. I don't have a lot of time to blog anymore and when I do it's fast and on the fly. I have less time to comment on other people's blogs which is meant to be the golden rule of interaction. A blogger with zillions of followers told me a while back she spent three hours a day responding to comments and commenting on other people's blogs. That's like 21 hours a week, more than 80 hours a month. I'm lucky to have three minutes a day to comment sometimes these days. Is there a comment app that will automatically say how great a blog post is? Then again that may look like spam and I don't want to really be saying 'what a wonderful post' on the blog of that creepy guy who is recommending the best way to stone cats.

Sometimes I look at blog stats but they don't make a lot of sense. On some months when I have neglected my blog, I'm getting 400 visits a day. I even wrote a post about the death of my blog, only to see the number of hits rally the next month. Right now it's free falling to 150 but it's not a numbers game. The interactions are more important.

I have to bear that in mind on the days when I feel my blog is like a Gremlin. It seemed a cute idea at the time but now it's after midnight and it's growling in the corner, demanding to be fed. It's not always easy to feed it. I know there are some bloggers out there who feel they have just run out of things to write.

On the positive side I met some great new bloggers along the road in 2013 who have struck with me notwithstanding my periods of blog and commenting neglect. Dee at Deecoded's post 7 Lessons I Learned about Blogging is drop dead useful and great to read if, like me, you have wondered of late where your blog is going.

Thanks too to 2013 followers Patricia Lynne and Jean at Discarded Darlings, as well as Yolanda Renee and Jules Smith who is always good for a chuckle, if not a fully fledged belly laugh on occasions.

It has occurred to me to refocus my blog in 2014. Make it more focused - oh that word again. Follow some edgy writers. Make it more useful for foreigners who are cast adrift in this large place called America bereft of decent tea. Maybe I'll give it more thought - happy 2014.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Elf on the Shelf - Be Very Afraid

A new Christmas tradition this year was Elf on the Shelf. Basically the elf, who was later named Stuart, arrived on December 24 and you are supposed to put it in various places to scare the crap out of the kids before hiding it until next year.

That would be because as soon as he hears Santa's sleigh bells he's taken off to Lapland, Greenland, Detroit or whatever Godforsaken place Santa hangs out for the rest of the year as he bangs away on new toys with his elvish helpers, and bemoans the fact kids no longer want the sort of toys that require banging away on with elves.

Stu missed the boat, or at least the sleigh and hung around. It suited purposes to depict Stu as some kind of sinister spy, like Santa's KGB or the NSA. Every time a kid misbehaves, which is about every two minutes, a grave finger is pointed at Stu who is looking and listening and reporting back in a small mental elf blotter whose scribbles add up to Santa delivering a pile of steaming horse manure next year.

It amazes me that even a 9-year-old can believe Stu actually moves; even more so when I happen to be standing next to him and he's moved to a window ledge close to my hand. I have almost been caught in the act and his infernal hat has fallen off and I'm hiding it under a shoe.

Of course, Stu can do much more. He can appear in bathrooms and make sure kids are using the body wash - hence policing the scenario and mitigating against the curious fact kids can spend an hour in the bath or shower and still emerge greasy.

Policing is a good word for Stu. He's humorless and unbending. If he had a favorite country it would be North Korea where people make a big show of executing relatives. If you misbehave Stu is bad for your elf. Personally I fear Stu's rigidity may make him good material for the therapist's couch but he's better off on the couch in the living room. Looks like he may have to hang around all year until Santa waddles this way again.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Funny Thing About the Duck Dynasty Saga

I haven't followed the Duck Dynasty saga very closely but it seems to be summarized thus - hairy guy from deep south on reality TV show in which people kills ducks makes homophobic remarks. He gets suspended by A&E, which probably doesn't stand for Accident and Emergency, but maybe should - and everyone goes nuts.

The saga of Phil Robertson, who nobody had probably heard of until a week ago - has now become another piece of ammunition for the left and right to throw at each other. Even Sarah Palin emerged from whatever obscure swamp she has been hiding in for the last few years to give the English language another battering:. She posted a picture with Robertson and his family on her Facebook page with the message, “Free speech is an endangered species. Those ‘intolerants’ hatin’ and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us.”

The saga even drew in Cracker Barrel which decided to pull some Duck Dynasty items and then changed its mind amid fears its rocking chairs might be unrocked in due to allegations of political correctness.

Although there are plenty of examples of PC-ness going bonkers this surely is not one of them. It's not as if aforementioned hairy guy was fined or thrown in jail for his remarks. His reality show was just pulled.

Still there's another point here that nobody seems to have mentioned. If you are going to give air time to rednecks - be they rednecks hunting ducks, killing gators, making moonshine, repossessing cars or training pitbulls - should the TV people really be so shocked when they start saying rednecky things?

It's a bit like giving a reality TV show to a serial killer and then getting all upset when he describes how he is a bit partial to killing people.

So the real message of this sad and sorry ducked up saga is surely let's stop giving TV shows to hairy idiots and get people on TV who can talk about something interesting and informative. Hey why not get some real actors and make an adaptation of a Streetcar Named Desire if you want to portray something meaningful out of Louisiana.

And while you are at it pull Keeping up with the Kardashians - just because nobody in their right mind would want to keep up with them.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Argh - The World's Most Instagrammed Places

Having recently signed up for an Instagram account and in the wake of the posting of my first picture, I was super excited to check out the list of the most Instagramed places in the world.

The list is as follows... drum roll.

The Most-Instagrammed Locations of 2013
  1. Siam Paragon (สยามพารากอน) shopping mall, Bangkok, Thailand
  2. Times Square, New York
  3. Disneyland, California
  4. Bellagio Fountains, Las Vegas
  5. Disney World Florida
  6. Staples Center, Los Angeles
  7. Central Park, New York
  8. Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles
  9. Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) ท่าอากาศยานสุวรรณภูมิ, Bangkok, Thailand
  10. The High Line, New York

I can't say I was quite as excited after reading the list. Siam Paragon is an umm shopping mall. It's also in the same city as this, by the way.

This is the Grand Palace and I still bear the grudges of Grand Palace anger having been turned away for showing up 2 minutes plus closing time. "Oh that's OK. I'll just drop by next time I'm driving to Richmond shall I?"

Times Square and Disney are rather predictable. I haven't seen any other locations on this list apart from the Fountains of Bellagio, which are a kind of lame version of the one at the new city center in Newport News.

Here some random lady does a 'selfie' on Instagram at the Bellagio, maybe oblivious to the fact you can't really make out the fountains themselves.
On the subject of selfies, this one has been doing the rounds of late.
Obama, Danish Prime Minister and British Prime Minister David Cameron, take a selfie at Nelson Mandela memorial service, while Michelle looks displeased that these 9th graders are larking around at a funeral. Counter explanation - it wasn't so much a wake as a celebration of Mandela's life, Michelle was not pissed and it was three hours anyhow so who wouldn't take a selfie with the Danish PM who, let's face it, looks a lot more fun than Michelle.
Anyhow - back to Instagram. The list of the most Instagrammed places only serves to remind me how boring we are. What the heck is the Staples Center? It looks like some oversized place to buy office supplies.
There would surely be more hope for humanity if we could get out of the shopping center and get to Monument Valley. Then again would we really want to be immersing ourselves in its serenity surrounded by folks who wear their baseball caps backwards and hang out in the food courts of shopping centers?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Good Riddance CrackBerry

I was never signed up to the CrackBerry Generation. It must have been almost a decade ago that I first saw folks sporting them in London, yuppie folks mainly. I'd look on with a disdain we non corporate folks saved for stock brokers and accountants, as I punched numbers into a reconstructed brick that looked like something Michael Douglas was tooling around with in Wall Street.

The BlackBerry was a status system; a smart phone that set smart people aside from dummies like me. I recall the delight of a friend who ended up with two BlackBerries after her work supplied another one. She'd fumble around with them both and rub it in my face in the way only two Blackberry owners can. Or rather could.

I entered the smart phone generation late and I finally made my way to one of those stores where the young people behind the counter talk in a different language and tell you what a great deal they have got for you by reducing your monthly cell phone bill from $4,000 to $3,500, about three years ago. I only opted for a Blackberry because it had chunky keys and a tray you could pull out. My thinking was already behind the times. It was as if I had showed up at Best Buy and demanded a Sony Walkman. The woman behind the counter gave me a funny look and recommended counseling.

Soon after signing up for a BlackBerry I realized that most other people had iPhones. I don't just mean yuppies either. It was not uncommon to push one's way past the lavatory cleaner before she barged in and expressed horror that someone was daring to urinate in the toilets, and to see a top of the range, $600 iPhone sticking out of the pocket of her $9 jeans from Wal-Mart.

Soon BlackBerry shame broke out. If I was at media functions I felt a sense of reticence at pulling out my BlackBerry. I started to shun such events. I even went a whole year without talking to another human being. After a week of a recurring dream of falling out of an airplane holding hands with a midget with a face like Nancy Reagan, I saw a doctor. He tapped my reflexes with a hammer. Then he asked me to produce my smart phone. Nervously I brought the thing into the harsh light and he smiled a knowing smile and uttered the words: "BlackBerry shame."

Get stuffed pal - the old BlackBerry

By this time BlackBerry was in free fall and announcing job losses at its aptly named headquarters Waterloo. The days when people joked about the "Crackberry" that was so addictive owners needed to wear special helmets to stop them walking into poles, were long gone.

I know some people suffered separation angst from their BlackBerries but mine was more of a CrapBerry. It jammed up half of the time with an enormously annoying circular timer going round like an egg timer clogged with sticking sand. The egg timer would kill the battery.As I drove along I would angrily pull out the battery with a credit card, only to find I had cracked my Visa card and the battery had flown under the car seat. At the next stop light I would fumble under the seat only to pull up a jaded chicken nugget from two weeks ago. Had I put it in the battery compartment, it may have done a better job.

Over time I leaned coping mechanisms. I used an expired Starbucks card or a Disney pass instead of a current credit card and became a maestro at battery popping. Still it occurred to me that this was not meant to be part of the whole smart phone experience.

After learning I was eligible for a free upgrade to an iPhone, I gladly took along my Crapberry knowing it was facing a certain death. The efficient woman at AT&T told me I could upgrade to a sleek iPhone 5S for a mere $200. I was going from the stone age to the cutting edge in the space of one lunch time. Admittedly the 5S looked just like the 4S to me, but what did I know? With the air of a priest performing a religious mass, she applied the protection screen, and I wad good to go.

I have now utilized about 5 percent of the iPhone's functions, but it's clear to me that this device rocks and I can do so many things that my CrapBerry failed to do miserably. I may even be able to get those videos on YouTube.

In a strange way I will miss that red light and the pinging sound. But I won't lose any sleep over it.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Nelson Mandela and the Audacity of Humility

I didn't post RIP Nelson Mandela on Facebook because everybody else did. I'm not sure I even felt an overwhelming sorrow because if you make it to 95 you can't really complain. Well maybe you can complain about being too old.

Still there is something sad about the passing of Mandela because he was part of the world I have known for so long and because it's rare to behold a figure who has endured so much hate but emerged from the shadows with humility and a will to heal. It's rare to find someone apparently uncorrupted by power, especially in the despotic world of African politics.

The idea of a world in which you have to ride on different sections of buses, go to different beaches or eat at different places; a world where you voting rights are restricted because of the color of your skin is anathema to us today. The fact it no longer seems real is in no small part due to figures such as Mandela and Martin Luther King.

That world is fading now and has already gained an edge of unreality. That's a good thing but a bad thing in some ways because we need to be reminded of the horrors of apartheid to make sure it never happens again.

My internal mouse seems to have packed up on me again and my external one is resting on a copy of Inside Hitler's Germany. There's a picture of Adolf Hitler amid frightening black banners and a sea of stern white faces. What's so unnerving about all of this it doesn't look like it was real. Nazi Germany has become a film set for one of those frightening movies about the police state which is based on Nazi Germany. It's really hard to believe that such horror clad in ridiculous uniforms could have taken over most of a continent for a few short years.

Between Mandela and Hitler we have a gulf as wide as the human condition - of hope versus nihilism of life versus death. It's hard to know what the future will bring but it's to be hoped the spirit of Nelson Mandela is somewhere in the mix.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Last Rites for Chrissy (Come Undone)

I felt for Chrissy. She never had a chance. Some people are like that. Washed out and albino and blinking in the sun. She had a nice temperament for all that, notwithstanding her penchant for warbling.

Now she's in a box, adorned with words of love but a crude box, nonetheless, a nine-year-old's rudimentary attempt at mummification. Probably not good to still be there on the table. Somebody needs to take the lead. Grab a shovel in one hand and dig and dig, heavy and furious in the early morning, breaking the frost and grunting on the bitter air. Who dares to be cast as the sexton?

Still we go through the motions amid the decay and the narrowing of days like arteries. The guinea pig in a box, a victim of procrastination, tripping on toys and cursing lightly. She was too white and too pure for this world; the angels among us alight only briefly to warm us with their sad, sardonic smiles.

(Come Undone by Duran - totally fabby song BTW)

There's a routine of sorts, like the tug of a rope, in and out of work. Tunnels open and shut. Lights come on and go out. Feelings are shuttered. Until, one day we realize we became misaligned somewhere along the road. A wrong shaped peg, that's spat from the system. To conform is to blanch and mask ourselves with the weasel words and clothes of others; to return a hollow stare. Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!

Until one day we come gloriously undone and break the confines of the miserable little box.

Lost by the Sea

 A tiny tragedy in an ocean of sadness makes barely a ripple. Still, I was taken aback to receive an email from a former wife (the one I nev...