Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019: A Year

I don't generally do these year-end kind of things. Not that I haven't done them before... or maybe I haven't? I don't know. I'm not going to go digging back through my posts to find out. I'm pretty sure I haven't done one recently, but I suppose that depends on how you define "recent." But 2019 has been... a year, and I feel like talking about it. Not that I know what I want to say about it, so let's see where this goes.

The last few years have been... tough, to say the least. Mostly, it's the world and the fact that everything is descending into madness and chaos. If you've been around my blog for any length of time, you'll know that I spent 2017 mostly writing political posts. A lot of 2018, too. Not so much in 2019 but not because I didn't want to or don't feel they're important anymore but because they felt redundant or that whatever I was going to write about was no longer exactly relevant by the time I was going to write about it.

So, yeah, there is this existential gloom that has been getting worse since the election in 2016, and it might be okay if it was just the US, but it's the whole fucking world. People everywhere seem to be hellbent on sending us all to Hell. Or turning the world into Hell, even more than it already is, and even the best politicians, the ones really out there trying to make things better, are not able to stand against the tide of right-wing fundamentalism who want us all to burn.

What, then, to say about 2019? Politically, I mean. I don't really know.
I want to be happy about the impeachment, but it's hard to be. McConnell, the truest evil in Washington, is just going to dismiss everything as quickly as he can, so, really, what is the point to all of this? And it's not that I don't understand this idea of "making a statement," but, from a practical standpoint, it's worthless and difficult for me to feel good about.
And don't even get me started on Britain. They seem even more determined than the US to wreck their country. I mean, voting for fucking Boris? Clown Trump? That's more insane than voting for Trump, and Clown Trump makes fun of Trump! Not that every leader outside of the US doesn't make fun of Trump, but Johnson is demonstrably dumber than Trump -- maybe not his actual intellect (because it's very difficult to be more dumb than someone already dumber than a box of rocks), but the total package of him is just... dumb -- and Britain gave him the victory, anyway. They gave it to someone determined, vocally determined, to destroy Britain at all costs.
I don't understand!!!

Apart from all of the meta-angst, this year has just been... difficult. It has been the year of home and vehicular "disasters," some of which I've written about, like the whole sewage escapade, which was, arguably, the worst of the disasters... other than being without a fully functional refrigerator for something along the line of two months, which I haven't written about, but could also be argued to be the worst bit of 2019, especially considering we mostly lived out of an ice chest for three weeks or so. There were also six new tires, one new battery, three calls to towing companies, and one dead computer. Mine. Again. I'm pretty sure there were some other things, too, but I'm not really feeling the need to dredge down past the things that bubbled up on their own. Oh, yeah, and one fire evacuation. There was that, too.

Needless to say, the year has been... challenging. Which is not to say that there haven't been good things that have happened but, overall, the year has been tough. And, I think, in the future when I look back on 2019, the things that are going to most come to mind are the sewage incident and the refrigerator.

I am, indeed, ready for 2019 to be over.

And, man, I hope 2020 brings better things. Which is not to say that it's not going to have its own foreseeable issues, namely, the election. I can't say how much I am not looking forward to this campaign season. But it is what it is and, hopefully, 2020 will end on a much more positive note, with the GOP losing the White House and the Senate and, maybe even, a lot of them going to jail. I can't wait to see the orange on orange look of the "peach" fake-president.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Some Sunshine

I haven't done one of these blogger award things in a long time, and I'm not exactly doing it now, BUT!

My friend, Squid, has gifted me with the Sunshine Blogger Award and wants me to answer some questions. So, you know, I'm going to answer some questions.
I don't know, it could be fun, right?!

So let's just jump into the questions:

1. If you could live one year of your life over again, which year would you choose and why?
Wow! What a way to start! I've actually been thinking about how to answer this question for two days, and I don't know that I'm any closer to an answer. The problem, of course, is that it's a time travel question and how do you know what the results will be if you go back and mess with stuff? And I'm probably over-thinking the whole thing, but, then, I also think Squid knows me well enough by now to know that I would over think it.
I used to also be pretty content with my life and my life choices, but I have had more than a few ideal shifts in the last few years and there are now many things I wish I could change about my past, things I wish I had not wasted time on, like "christianity." It was always a struggle being in "the church," and, I realize now, that that was because I actually believed in the things "the church" only claims to believe in, none of which has to do with the white-washed "Jesus" they hold so dear.
At any rate, none of the things I would change could be encompassed in a single year, so the idea re-living just one year seems a little pointless.
Unless it was 2019. 2019 has been a... difficult year. It feels like it was the year of home disasters for us. Maybe reliving it could be away to deal with some of those things before they became catastrophic.
2. If you could learn to be an expert at something without putting in the work, what would it be?
That's a pretty easy answer for me: drawing. Or whatever you want to call it. It's clear to me now that I had no small amount of skill in this as a child, way beyond my peers, but I was persuaded to believe that drawing and things of that nature were... frivolous. A waste of time. My time was better spent toward math and science, other subjects I was way beyond my peers in, so I quit drawing. I wish I hadn't.
3. If you could learn a new language instantly, which would you choose and why?
Hmm... I don't know? I mean, Spanish would be the most useful, especially out here in California, but I also have no particular desire to learn it.
How about the language of whatever extraterrestrials we discover first.
4. If you could give $1,000,000 to any charity, which would you choose?
So this is going to sound bad but, probably, none. $1,000,000 for most charities these days, at least the big ones, is virtually nothing and most charities spend most of the money they receive on internal bureaucracy. The thing I am most interested in supporting, at the moment, is housing. I believe in free basic housing for all. We shouldn't have a homeless problem in the USA and, yet, it's been getting worse all across the country since 2016. That's an objective statistic, not a political spin. A new report shows that homelessness began a pretty steep rise after Trump (#fakepresident) took office. The political spin on that fact is that the Trump White House is trying to blame that solely on California. While it is true that California has seen the steepest rise (thanks Climate Change!), California is not outsourcing its homeless problem. In fact, the homeless from other states come to California. All of that to say, $1,000,000 toward housing the homeless is less than a drop in the bucket.
5. When was your Robert Frost moment a la "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood..."? The poem (read it here) says you can't go back and that is true. "Way leads on to way" and so forth. But if you could, would you? What is the difference you think it would have made?
This question to me feels a lot like the first one. I don't have a better answer, I don't think. Well, I don't know. There was definitely a moment where I chose to start collecting comic books and, maybe, I would choose to not have done that, despite my love for comic books. I know where that led me: to a garage full of comic books I'm now trying to get rid of. Or, more probably, I would not make the choice I made into "christianity." That way was Fool's Gold, and it took me a long time to realize how false that path was. I definitely wish I had not chosen that route. I'd rather have the garage full of comic books.
6. Time travel: Where would you go and when? Why?
Considering the earlier questions, I'm going to assume this is an observational trip through time. In which case, I'm tempted to say I'd go to the future. No one ever says that for these kinds of questions. Skip getting the lottery numbers: Look ahead and see which companies to invest in. Though that's not my reason. It would be great to know if we even have a world left in 100 years.
But I'm only tempted to say the future. If I could travel back to the years of the "ministry" of Jesus and find out what really happened. Not that it would matter other than for me, because you can put actual facts in front of Conservatives only to have them close their eyes, stick their fingers in their ears, and start singing "la la la la!" I'd like to know, though.
7. Who would you want on your fictional character bowling team? You get to pick four.
Whaaaat? Bowling team? Okay, okay, I get that bowling is not the point of this question, but, still... Bowling team? How would I even know who can bowl? Okay, fine!
Gandalf: I feel like he would always bowl a perfect game. And he's Gandalf.
Anakin Skywalker (Clone Wars era): I feel like he would also always bowl a perfect game. Maybe. Because I also feel like Obi-Wan would try to keep him from doing it even if they were on the same team. Which brings me to...
Obi-Wan Kenobi (Clone Wars era): Because I feel like having Anakin and Obi-Wan would be hella fun to hang out with. Imagine the conversations between Obi-Wan and Gandalf. 
Peter Parker? Thor?: I'm not sure. Either of them could be a fun addition. My team needs a fun addition.
8. What would you want for your last meal?
I don't know if I care that much? If I knew it was my last meal, I probably wouldn't be thinking much about food. I'd have other things I'd rather be doing than eating. But, you know, maybe a really great burger.
9. What's your favorite song?
I don't know how to answer this. Favorite right now? That's totally different from, say, what I think is the best song. I hate favorite as a way to describe things because it's an emotional answer, and it can change. All of that said, I'll go with two:
"The Sound of Silence" -- best song ever written
"I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" -- because it's a good default U2 song to choose even though "Bad" is probably my favorite song by them
10. Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
Is this a trick question? It feels too easy after all of the other ones. Introvert, of course.
11. If you came over to my home and I offered you a drink, what would you want me to serve you?
Actually, anything. Well, okay, something I hadn't tried before, but I think that would be an easy thing for you to do. I wish you lived closer just so we could do cocktail experimentation together.
And that's that. That was pretty fun, though I probably spent way too much time on bits and pieces of this. Especially the bowling question. Of all the questions to cause me angst, that was the one. I even asked me wife if she had ideas, and she had the same response as me: Bowling? Is the objective to win? heh She suggested Bullseye if winning was the goal but, you know, psycho! So a hard no. I don't think he'd be much fun to hang out with, even though I'm sure he'd make sure everyone on your team had perfect games every time.

Considering I'm not really into all that many blogs anymore, I'm not forwarding this to anyone else. The only person I feel like would be interested, anyway, is Squid, and he just sent it to, so... Yeah.

But I do hope you all enjoyed my answers! Maybe it was informative.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

The Rise of Skywalker (a movie review post)

Well, here we are, 42 years later. I have to say I'm not really sure how I feel.
If you're a reader, you'll know that there are some books that leave you with a very bittersweet feeling at the end. There's a sadness that the book is over but, also, a joy in the completed journey. For me, the books that most do that for me are The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. And I could have said that about Star Wars back when Return of the Jedi was the final movie. That feeling of bittersweetness is not a not knowing how to feel; that is the feeling.

I'm not left with that feeling now that I've seen Rise. There's no sadness that it's over or any joy in a journey completed. There's just a... sort of emptiness. A sadness, maybe, that I don't have any of those feelings.

And, you know, a large part of that lack of pleasurable pain has been caused by the overly toxic fan base, mostly people of my generation and mostly white dudes. It leaves a distaste in my mouth for nearly everything to do with the movies since they drove George out with their faux lightsabers and pitchforks.

But it's not just them. It's also Kathleen Kennedy's egregious mishandling of the Star Wars franchise and her lack of any kind of vision or leadership. She's treated the movies like middle school end of term projects with no real guidelines. You know, just do whatever you want.

And there was Abram's misguided attempt to make a movie that the fans would love when he started all of this with Force Awakens. Never try to pander to the fans. Tell the story that needs to be told, not rehash one that's already out there. Abram's also lacked vision, but, then, it wasn't really his job to provide that.

Mostly, though, it's the mess that Rian Johnson caused that is at issue, which I'm not going to go into again, and which could have been prevented if Kennedy had just had control of the ship rather than letting the monkeys play with the controls. Yeah, I really do lay all of this at her feet. She was supposed to be in charge!

All of that said, The Rise of Skywalker is probably as good a movie as it could be. At least, it's as good as Abrams was able to make it. I don't have any issues with the movie in and of itself. Well, that's not true. There are a few things I don't like. Or two things...

The movie feels too fast. Too rushed. And it's nearly three hours long, so I have a hard time with why it feels so rushed and undeveloped. It goes at the speed and heedlessness of a line of toppling dominoes. Things just keep happening, and no one is making any decisions.

It also has a very questy feel to it. So did the last one. I don't enjoy that feeling of quest, quest, subquest, quest, subquest. Find this, find that, get the thing that will make this work. Neither the original trilogy nor the prequels ever felt questy. It's not a thing you want to actually notice happening in the story, just like you don't want to notice the salt in your food. Just enough to bring out the flavor, not to taste on its own.

But the movie is fine. I mean, it's good. As I said, Abrams made what was probably the best movie he could make. It has a satisfying conclusion given what he had to work with.

And, no, I don't have an issue with that thing people are complaining about. Anyone who has known Star Wars should have known that was always in the cards. Always the plan. Maybe if Lucas had been able to do what he wanted to do with Darth Maul people would have had a better idea of what's going on in the movie, but, alas, someone had a big mouth and Lucas dropped that part of the story.
No, I'm not going to speak more clearly about any of this. If you don't know what I'm talking about, it would be too spoilery. And, if you do, then you don't need me to be more explicit.

So... The Rise of Skywalker:
Not the best Star Wars movie but certainly not the worst.
Still a Star Wars movie.
Has some really cool stuff in it.
Has some stuff which is cool in the moment but I probably disapprove of because it feels like it was done for the "cool factor" and really has no basis in the mythos. Oh, well, it's canon now.

Maybe I'm not through talking about my reaction to all of this, but I figured I should get my initial review up.
Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Hansel & Gretel (an opera review post)

All right, last opera review for 2019.

Last year, SFO performed It's a Wonderful Life, a west coast premier, as their December opera. Considering the story takes place at Christmas, it was a timely production. Maybe that started a trend of doing Christmas-associated operas because, this year, they did Hansel & Gretel. What does Hansel & Gretel have to do with Christmas? Well, nothing on the surface, but you can google it and figure out the association for yourself. Which is to say that it has been associated with Christmas since its earliest productions. It is about candy, after all.

The opera version of Hansel & Gretel has some differences from the fairy tale, most specifically, the children are not abandoned in the woods; they just get lost.

Which is fine, actually, because a surprising number of kids were at the performance we saw, and SFO had some special activities for the kids associated with the opera. It was a lighthearted and fun production despite the fact that there is a witch trying to cook and eat the children.

Hansel and Gretel were played by Sasha Cooke and Heidi Stober, respectively, and were a delight. They were equally believable as a pair of bickering siblings and as a brother and sister trying to save each other's lives. The rest of the cast is great, too, but the production really hinges on these two, and they nailed it.

However, easily the best part of the show had nothing to do with the children. They fall asleep in the haunted wood and, during the night, all of the characters from Grimm's fairy tales come out into the woods and do what they do. It was a spectacular and fantastical ballet number, rather magical. I would have gone for that. And I'm not a ballet person. Meaning, other than a local production of The Nutcracker, I've never been to the ballet. My entire experience with it comes from opera. Which is actually where it originated from, so I suppose that's appropriate.

I can't say for sure that Hansel & Gretel was my favorite production this fall, but I also can't say that it wasn't. I really enjoyed it, surprisingly so, actually. It was not at all what we were expecting.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Manon Lescaut (an opera review post)

Yeah, yeah, I have no image for you for this one, either. I'm just not excited about the cover of the opera book enough to want to go to the trouble of getting a picture of it. Visualize this: a strand of pearls on a glossy, black tabletop with a few scattered pearls lying around it.
There you go. If you can get that picture in your head, you have the cover of the program.

The opera is much better than the program cover but, then, it is Puccini.

Manon Lescaut is based on the French novel L'Histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut published in 1731. It's one of two operas based on this work, the other being Manon by Messenet, and both are still popular and rotation today. Without having seen the other one, I'm going to say that the Puccini one is better. Hey, it's Puccini!

Here's what I found amusing from this opera:
Part of the opera takes place in the wastelands of Louisiana. Wait, let me make that more clear: It takes place in the desert wastelands of Louisiana. Of course, having grown up in Louisiana, when I heard this, it made me laugh and wonder what the heck Puccini was thinking. I mean, he wrote Lescaut in 1890; everyone knew there were no deserts in Louisiana in 1890. It was kind of like, what the heck?

Then, I realized that it was based on a novel from the early 1700s, and Louisiana was a huge territory in the 1700s. Something like 1/3 of the total area of what is now the United States. When the novel was written, there were wastelands in Louisiana, and the opera is set during the same time period as the novel, so the it all suddenly made sense. Still, it was funny, and that's going to be the thing that most sticks with me about this opera.

The next thing is that Manon was much abused. She was an incredible beauty that her parents were sending off to a nunnery, which means the character is probably somewhere in the 14-16 year old range. The opera opens with a rich old white guy attempting to kidnap her to take her away to be his sex slave. It ends, as with all Puccini operas, in tragedy. In tragedy in the wastelands of Louisiana.

This production was good. It's not the best Puccini I've seen, but it might be the one with the most complexities and nuance, including a scene of prostitute branding which was quite horrific.

Brian Jagde, whom I have mentioned many times before, played des Grieux and was as good as always. Lianna Haroutounian was Manon and was a good match. The only real issue with the production was the death scene at the end, which I'm not going to try to explain, but I'm sure was a directing problem. Beyond that, though, it was a great production with great performances.

Friday, December 6, 2019

The Marriage of Figaro (an opera review post)

I know I usually have some kind of image to go along with these posts, usually the program book, but I'm not feeling like going to the trouble at this point. It's already been, like, a month (way more, now, actually) since we saw this, so I'm going to be doing good just to get some words out. Speaking of getting some words out, this is actually the second production we've seen of The Marriage of Figaro so, theoretically, I should have another post reviewing the previous production we saw... but, well, I can't find it. Not that I went back through my posts one by one or anything, but I did do several searches for it, including on google, and came up with nothing. Maybe I didn't review it when we saw it a few years ago? That doesn't seem right. At least, I was pretty sure I'd reviewed each opera we saw, but maybe I didn't start doing that right away. Except it wouldn't have been right away, because it wasn't one of our first operas.

Oh, well, a mystery probably not worth solving, but it does make me wonder.

I'm also wondering how I'm even going to review this considering how long it's been since we saw it, which was back in October. Look, things have been busy.

I suppose the most important thing to say is that this is a great opera. It's Mozart, one of his comedies (Mozart at his best), and one of the top 10 most performed operas each year. It has a famous scene in it where there are seven (or eight?) people on stage singing at once, all singing something different -- nothing like this had ever been done before -- and, yet, it works and blends perfectly. But, then, it's Mozart, so of course it does.

The Marriage of Figaro is the middle opera of a trilogy which begins with The Barber of Seville. The most famous version of Barber is not by Mozart, though I think he has his own version of that one, too. I haven't seen the third of this trilogy, yet (and can't remember the name of it, right off hand), but I really want to. See, each of this first two operas are quite outstanding as individual operas but, when you roll the plots together, they become so much more.

Let me explain:

In The Barber of Seville, there's this guy who wants to marry this girl, but she's promised to someone else, someone she doesn't want to marry, of course, but he has money, so her father wants her to go with old-money-guy rather than the guy she's in love with. In steps Figaro, the barber of Seville and quite famous, to help the love birds get together. Which he does through quite a few hi-jinks.

Which brings us to Marriage. Well, you know, the love birds get married, but I was speaking of the opera. The young woman in Barber is titled, so the couple is now Count and Countess, and Figaro works for them. Marriage is set about a year after Barber, and Figaro is, himself, about to get married to the Countess' handmaid. Except...

Except that the Count is hot for Figaro's bride-to-be and doing all he can to bed her, including gifting Figaro and Susanna with the best room in the mansion (aside from his, I suppose) as a wedding present because... yeah, it's very close to his room, so, you know, he'll have easy access to the new bride after the wedding. Yeah, this is the same guy whom Figaro just helped to marry his "soulmate." Or whatever. Real stand-up guy.

At any rate, it's a comedy and full hi-jinks, including mistaken identities and people falling out of windows. The production at SFO was wonderful. But I'm probably biased.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

A Brief Word About a Bench (pictures I like)

Near Fort Bragg is a pygmy forest. Due to specific living conditions (see an example below), these trees are small. The path through the forest is now a raised, railed walkway to keep people only on the path so that they do not damage the trees, but the path used to be on the ground through the trees. This bench is leftover from that long ago path which is no longer in use.
Still, while we were there, we saw people who had jumped the railing and were out walking in the trees and fondling them and so forth. I'm sure, right now, you're thinking it was a bunch of young white dudes, which, really, would be a fair assumption; however, it was family, a mom and dad and their two youngish kids. Great example parents!
Your assumption about them being white was completely correct, though.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Settling (pictures I like)

Occasionally, I try a sunset in black and white, as I did with this one. It never seems to work. So much so that I'm not even showing it to you. A black and white photo of a sunset loses so much, all of the depth and character of the moment.
I think this is a metaphor for life and how you can't reduce life to black and white. Well, obviously, some people think you can, but you lose all of the things that make life worthwhile when you do that.
Here's to a life (and sunsets!) lived in color.