Why People Like Auto Racing

Dale EarnhardtIt’s Memorial Day weekend, so there are auto races.

Some time ago, my brother-in-law told me that people only watch auto races for the crashes. I thought that was just ridiculous. I don’t watch auto races for the crashes. In fact, one reason that I’m put off on racing is the possibility of crashes and death. I don’t like that. The world is already too filled with death over stakes a hell of a lot more important than which car can travel 500 miles a few seconds faster than another.

I don’t know all that much about auto racing. Nonetheless, I do think it’s interesting watching the drivers position themselves. And there is all the strategy about pit stops. And if I know enough about who’s driving, I can root for someone. It’s not exactly dull.

But what do I know? My brother-in-law is a fan of auto racing. And I’m not. And it was only when I realized this that I understood that he was right: the vast majority of the people who enjoy auto racing, enjoy it because of the crashes. Because if you just enjoy watching the cars go around, you’re like me: you don’t enjoy it that much.

This shouldn’t come as a shock. Dale Earnhardt’s death is credited for increasing the audience of auto racing. It could just be a coincidence, of course. But one thing is for sure: his death didn’t cause people to abandon the sport, even though I would think that would be the natural reaction.

But enjoy the races. It’s Memorial Day weekend, after all.

Miles Davis and Migrant Mother

Miles DavisFrench Baroque painter Philippe de Champaigne was born on this day in 1602. Blackface singer Al Jolson was born in 1886.

The great depression era photographer and social activist Dorothea Lange was born in 1895. She is best known for her 1936 photograph “Migrant Mother.” It is often hard to say why exactly a photo is great. This one is great just considering its aesthetics. But there is also something about its primary subject—Florence Owens Thompson—who embodies both strength and pain that makes it particularly compelling. Add to that its social context and you have a classic. Thompson’s migrant farming family broke down in the pea-picker’s camp on Nipomo Mesa, where a couple of thousand other migrant workers had become stuck after a bad freeze had ruined the crop. Migrant MotherThe people there were starving and the publicity from the photo caused the government to step in and help the people.

So much of Lange’s photography is beautiful and compelling. Normally, I would have given the day to her, but… Well, you’ll see. Check out more of her Farm Security Administration work.

Actor John Wayne was born in 1907. I’ve never understood his appeal. I still feel that he makes movies I like less good. There’s no accounting for taste, I guess; mine included. The original Dr. Who, Peter Cushing was born in 1913. Jack Kevorkian was born in 1928. Levon Helm was born in 1940. And Mick Ronson was born in 1946.

Stevie Nicks is 65 today, so she won’t be working anymore. Actor Pam Grier is 64. Bobcat Goldthwait is 51. You remember him:

Lenny Kravitz is 49. And Helena Bonham Carter is 47.

But the day went to Miles Davis, by somewhat less than a nose. He was born on this day in 1926. When I was younger, I didn’t really understand his music. But about 20 years ago it clicked. It’s really amazing regardless of what he does. Part of it is just that he always surrounded himself with great musicians. And that may be why I especially like his cool period stuff. Here he is doing “So What?” from Kind of Blue (although not with exactly the original band):

Happy birthday Miles Davis!

Pirini Scleroso

Pirini SclerosoI don’t much care for American sketch comedy because of the generally poor writing. The typical skit is some funny idea that the writer (although the actor is often more important than the writer) riffs on for a while and then just stops. For example, Julia Sweeney’s androgynous Pat character. Pat enters, makes people uncomfortable and cleverly deflects questions designed to determine her sex, and then Pat leaves. If the ideas were always as funny as Pat, that would be one thing. But in general, the ideas are weak and they lead nowhere.

Recently, I’ve been revisiting old episodes of SCTV. When I was younger, I preferred the show to SNL. But actually, the show suffers from the same problems. It is just better because the cast is a lot better. There is also a whole lot more depth to the show because it is supposed to be a small local television station. So characters like Guy Caballero (Joe Flaherty) and Edith Prickley (Andrea Martin) were developed through the run of the show. Of course, there was also my all time favorite Count Floyd, the distinctly non-frightening host of Monster Chiller Horror Theater, their version of Creature Features that I grew up watching.

Given my problem with the lack of punchlines in “American” comedy, I was pleased to revisit one skit from SCTV that I think is brilliantly written (as well as acted). It features another Andrea Martin character, Pirini Scleroso. Scleroso is a great character who hardly needs a punchline. She is the janitor at SCTV who appears to speak little English but apparently just has a very bad accent. I also like that she is eager. She frustrates everyone, but is still charming:

“You just go down two blocks; you can’t miss it!” Now was that so hard?

Afterword

Here is a typical SCTV skit with Pirini Scleroso in the part of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. As usual, when SCTV did a parody, they presented it as a “coming soon” commercial. This is very funny:

Jamelle Bouie on Immigration Reform—and More!

Jamelle BouieJamelle Bouie decided to answer questions on Tumblr last night. It was really cool. I’ve never before known what Tumblr was other than a kind of sub-blog that bloggers used with Twitter. But it has a device that allows people to ask questions to a Tumblr user that can then be answered in a permanent way. I also thought it was great that he took the time to do it. And some of the questions were great. One person asked what he thought of unpaid internships. I was quite interested in that because I’ve started ranting about this myself. Bouie wrote, “I think they’re terrible, and serve as a barrier to keep non-rich kids from entering particular high-status professions.” Exactly!

One exchange was pretty funny. Tumblr user dellbell asked, “OK, do you think that there will be comprehensive campaign finance reform, at least at the federal level, during your (presumably significantly longer) lifetime?” Bouie responded, “Nope.” That’s a disconcerting answer, because I’ve always felt that Bouie was a lot more optimistic than I am. I agree with him of course, but I thought that was just because I was cynical. Oh well.

How positive is Bouie? Well, one of his readers asked, “Given that most people don’t follow or read the news and presumably even less the commentary on it, do you ever wonder what the point of all the writing about it is? Is it ultimately anything more than a mostly irrelevant conversation between a small set of people with interests in these kinds of subjects?” Such a question would just make me slink away, but not Bouie:

Thanks for bumming me out, dude.

Though, yes, sometimes I do wonder what the point is. And then I chat with the many, many folks who care about issues, and self-government, and I feel better about my choice of profession.

But by far, the best question was from me. (That could be boast or sarcasm, but it’s probably both.) Since I had just written about Bernie Sanders’ concerns regarding the immigration bill, I figured I would put the question to Bouie. I was especially interested because Bouie writes a lot for the Plum Line, and Greg Sargent has been a Pollyanna about the subject: largely pushing what’s good and ignoring what’s bad. So I asked, “You seem to be in favor of the Gang of Eight immigration bill. Given that there are large negatives in the bill for liberals (long path to citizenship; gobs more H1-B and H2-B visas), where are you in terms of the pros and cons? Also: what would turn you against it?”

Bouie does like the bill a lot more than I do, but it was interesting to read his thoughts. The truth is that I don’t know where I stand on it. My natural cynicism makes me think that the final bill is destined to be terrible. But we’ll see. Here’s Bouie’s response:

If the immigration bill were purely a way to import cheap labor, I’d be much less willing to support it. As it stands, it’s imperfect, but providing a pathway to citizenship is an important enough goal that I’m willing to be a little disappointed.

I would only add that the long path to citizenship is by far the worst aspect of the bill. But even 11 years is better than the current situation, so I’m (yet again) largely with him.

I really appreciate Bouie taking the time to answer questions. And I like the Tumblr interface. Twitter has two problems. First, I have a hard time composing 140 character questions and I don’t get much from most 140 character answers. Second, tweets easily get lost—especially to people with almost 15,000 followers.

Afterword

With all due respect for John Scalzi, Bouie has limited taste in literature. But not completely.

Arrested Development Season 4 First Look

Arrested Development Season 3The fourth season of Arrested Development came out this morning on Netflix. I watched the first episode. They seem to be structuring the episodes differently this time. Each one focuses on one character. This first episode was on Michael. In the original series, it took quite some time to realize that Michael was actually just as narcissistic as the rest of his family. In this episode, Michael is horrible. And as usual, his target is the only genuinely nice character in the whole show, his son George Michael. As usual, Michael refuses to hear what his son is saying. In this case, he’s been living with George Michael in his dorm room for six months. It is very uncomfortable to watch.

The good news is that the episode is very funny. But it does feel different. The first episode is 32 minutes long. My understanding is that all of the episodes are different lengths. Since they didn’t have to shoehorn episodes into broadcast television time slots, they didn’t. This is nice. However, after years of watching the show, I’ve developed a strong sense of its timing, and that is gone. The new show is not as crisp. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It allows scenes to linger in nice ways that it never could have before.

The episode ends with Michael returning to the old model home, which is now in the middle of a ghost town, built by Michael shortly before the housing bubble burst. On returning to the house, he finds it in shambles with an ostrich inside it. And thus we move on to the story of Lindsay. I’ll update when I’ve seen more of the series.

Update (26 May 2013 12:54 am)

The next episode is not Lindsay’s. However, the ostrich does seem to be due to her.

Update (26 May 2013 1:23 am)

One reason that I’ve heard Arrested Development had trouble garnering an audience when on regular TV was that you really had to watch it from the beginning. The opening didn’t explain the plot (if that were even possible). And so it all just seemed bizarre. These episodes do a much better job of contextualizing what’s going on. I’m sure that’s largely because it’s been 7 years since season three. But it helps viewers regardless.

Update (26 May 2013 1:58 am)

The third episode is the funniest thus far. And it has Maria Bamford as a methadone patient. She eats butter.

To Those Who Would “Fix” My Kid

WomanWithHammerDespite what I or the medical experts know or feel about the ADD-genetic connection, those who have ADD or have children with ADD, deal with our share of judgement. Once, while picking my son up after a sleepover, a friend who knew my son had a diagnosis of ADHD, said, “He’s fine. You just have to give him direct instructions.” This was a person who didn’t live with him every day to see how much difficulty he had in all the various situations and environments we experienced.

I knew from the very beginning (yes, from the very beginning) that there was something not typical about my son. He used to be very active in his crib, had difficulty sleeping, and dealt with mood swings. I once heard a psychologist speaking at a CHADD meeting say, “People will tell you, ‘Just give him to me for a week, and I’ll fix him.’ What they don’t realize is that their kids could probably be raised by wolves and be fine.” I know this is a complete exaggeration, but the idea stuck with me.

Many people will judge your parenting skills based on the fact that their children are inherently typical, mild-mannered, and have an easy time focusing on mundane things. There are also so-called experts who don’t know what they are talking about. Dr. Marilyn Wedge, misguidedly, wrote a blog for Psychology Today, supposedly answering why French kids don’t have ADHD. It basically blames the parents. Thankfully, Dr. Stephanie Sarkis wrote French Kids Do Have ADHD: An Interview, as a response, which shredded many of Dr. Wedge’s ideas.

In answer to all the judgers, I believe there is a strong genetic influence in having the ADD brain type. It is only partly that the medical experts say there is that I believe this. The biggest reason I feel there is strong genetic predisposition to having ADD is that I married into a family that has its own time-zone. They call it Wilson (fake name) Standard Time, or WST, for short. Whenever my nuclear family visits them during one of the various holidays and make plans for a family activity or excursion, it takes so much longer for everyone to get ready than (I feel) is necessary. They get side-tracked and look for lost things.

Though it can be frustrating at the time, contemplating it in hindsight, I find it quite endearing. There are several absent-minded, distracted adults wandering around, trying to get themselves and their children ready, while still being kind, friendly, and brilliant. Additionally, both my husband and my one brother-in-law took stimulant medication when they were children, and this was in the early 70s when such drugs were not so common.

I would say I’m not innocent. I’m sure there is something coming from my side of the familly, too. I believe my father has undiagnosed ADHD, my brother has some auditory processing difficulties, and I don’t have the most optimal executive functioning skills when it comes to household organization. It is difficult for me to prioritize tasks. What we end with is a somewhat cluttered, but liveable, home.

This all being said, I don’t disregard that my son needs to live in society. He needs to be guided in the right direction. Teaching him life and social skills are at the top of my list of priorities. Things that work for typical children do not always work for my son, or it takes much longer to work. It is why I’m happy to be writing this blog. It helps me process and evaluate my plans and practices in a more visual way. It assists me on this journey of helping my son as he gets older, and great strides have been made. His behavior and his focus, though not what you’d expect from a typical 10 year old, have improved dramatically over the last few years, and I am heartened by this.

(image courtesy of Michal Marcol at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)