Old Geezers Out to Lunch

Old Geezers Out to Lunch
The Geezers Emeritus through history: The Mathematician™, Dr. Golf™, The Professor™, and Mercurious™

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Tale of Long Underwear

Okay, so I'll admit it. I wear long underwear sometimes. My kids would undoubtedly say something like "TMI,"  but there you have it.

I live in Minneapolis. It is winter-time. It is cold. I am a geezer, so my circulation is a little less robust than when I was 40.  When you are facing a week with temperatures dipping to -8 to -16 degrees F. in the mornings, I'm not the only geezer commuter who will admit to wearing a layer of discreet long underwear under my business-casual attire as I brave the walk to and from the bus stops, as 20 mph winds cut like a knife.

This is a tale of long underwear.

Last week, realizing that we were in for a severe cold spell, and also realizing that my closet was under-stocked with the appropriate cold-weather under-layer, I stopped in at Target to pick up another pair or two of nice thin long-johns—the kind you can wear comfortably under clothing without feeling like an complete rube. Trust me, this can be completely acceptable attire when you live on the edge of the polar icecap—a Minnesota winter.

Some years ago, I came across a type of long-john that was very thin, not at all like the heavy, puffy white thermal underwear we geezers knew from our youths. The new version is pretty practical, and almost stylish in some ways. The fabric is a blend of something called polypropylene and other synthetics.

So I thought I was buying the same new-fangled long-underwear I'd come to appreciate as a genuine and valuable innovation.  That is, until yesterday morning when the morning temp was -15 degrees and I went to get dressed in the morning.

The odd item I put on was a strangely stretchy, snug-fitting garment that required me to pull it up over my legs starting at the bottom, by sort of scrunching up the material and gradually tugging it up and up until full coverage was achieved. It was a full 60 second operation. At first I thought I must have inadvertently purchased the wrong size. But no, it was marked correctly for my current girth.

No, this not a rendition of me in my long underwear.
The reality is not nearly so appealing. 
Then I looked very closely at the two garments side by side: the long underwear I've worn successfully and this new contraption.  Nearly identical on the surface.  My favorite is something called "Cold Gear Men's Full -length Bottoms."  The new one I was struggling with: "Cold Gear CORE Full length bottoms."

A brief bit of research tells me the following: this kind of "core" garment is designed to squeeze your legs rather fiercely, which supposedly has some merit when you exercise very harshly, in terms of keeping blood flow moving. It also supposedly lets you recover quicker from very stern athletic regimens. It is a available in both tops and bottoms, long sleeves and short, but is distinctly different the last generation polypropylene-blend underwear that I appreciated. Some NFL players wear this new stuff because they swear it causes them to ache less in the days immediately following a game.

But don't be fooled, geezers. This is really nothing more than pantyhose for men. There are no toes on these things, but putting them on certainly reminds me of the strange contortions observed when my wife puts on pantyhose. The fit must be exactly like she experiences, I imagine.

Having no other long underwear to wear at the moment, and it being damned cold outside, I tugged the silly things up over my ass this morning,  put on the rest of my clothes and went to work. Now, it wasn't entirely unpleasant to have this very mild squeezing of my legs and butt and naughty bits all day long, but I did feel a little like a tube of toothpaste being squeezed by a fist around the bottom. It did help cut the wind, though, and I was distinctly warmer than I would have been wearing just trousers.

But undressing that night, I became dizzy and nearly fell over when the blood rapidly flowed back into my legs after having been forced into upward migration all day.

I may have to retire my magical underwear.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Is Equality Really What We Want?

Last week I ran across an article in which one of the experts made the following observation:  "Studies have shown that high school students with disabilities of any kind are are less likely participate in high-school sports than able-bodied students."

Well, yes.  And students of middling intelligence are less likely to go on and become nuclear physicists. And boys who stutter badly are less likely to have careers as stage actors. This struck me as one of those studies that cost somebody a whole lot of money to tell us what anybody with a tiny amount of common sense already knows.

The quote came in the context of a a recent court ruling that requires schools to provide reasonable accommodations to student athletes who would like to compete but are hindered by a school's refusal to make adjustments to their special needs. So this was referring to things like a deaf track runner having a bright strobe light  in addition to the starters gun to help him or her get off the blocks; or a blind wrestler having modest refereeing accommodations to allow him to compete.

I have no problem with these kinds of common sense solutions. But it did make me think a bit about some of the inadvertent problems wrought by the well-intentioned Americans with Disabilities Act and other such pieces of legislations and public policy. As I compare American approaches to these issues with European, for example, I wonder if we're doing ourselves some disservice by this far-reaching effort to level the playing field for virtually everyone.

I've been in federally funded wildnerness parks, for example, where miles upon miles of nature trails have been paved over with asphalt so as to make it possible for wheel-chair bound visitors to enjoy. That's well and good, but usually what you see on these trails are not wheelchairs, but motorized scooters piloted by people who, frankly, aren't so much disabled as just too corpulent to walk comfortably. Is it really logical to ruin the experience for the many so that the few can enjoy the experience of nature?  The presence of this paving over a wilderness trail I'd once enjoyed certainly compromised the enjoyment for myself and likely for every other able-bodied hiker who appreciates natural wildness. Why are our rights less important?

In historic locations along the eastern seaboard, you seem many classic tourist sites with their architectures ruined because handicap accessible elevators or ramps have been added in accordance with laws. Is this really better than the European model, where historic sites remain historic, and disabled visitors must compromise a little on their access? But, America is the land of equality, where everyone must be the same. You can rest assured that if Mr. Everest was in the US, we'd be looking for ways to make it accessible to all.

In public schools, the policy is to mainstream students of all abilities in the same classrooms, with the result that bright, overachieving youngsters have their progress slowed down as teachers and aids accommodate behaviorally challenged or physically limited students. In the typical classroom today, a misbehaving student with emotional problems gets far more attention than the best and brightest. Is this really better than the situation back in the early days for us geezers, when schools had special education classes where kids with unusual needs were addressed by teachers who had been specially trained in meeting those needs? But, we're told, that policy makes those children feel DIFFERENT, whereas we want them to feel they are exactly the same.  And we're quite willing to bring the best and the brightest down, and disable them educationally, in order to achieve this egalitarian idea.

In public transit, virtually all buses and trains are now equipped with hydraulic lifts and special seats to allow disabled people to use them.  This inevitably costs lots and lots of money, reduces the space for able-bodied passengers, and of course compromises the speed of the commute for almost everyone. Is it really better to do it this way, rather than the method once used—which was to designate vehicles for the service of disabled riders; if you were wheelchair bound and needed a ride, an equipped van would come and pick you up and deliver you to your destination.  I'm told that the hydraulic lifts installed on all Minneapolis public buses cos a bout $17,000 each. On a typical month of commuter riding, I might see the lift used once, and on some months not at all. That money would  buy a lot of individualize shuttle rides. But the point, of course, is that in America, we believe that everybody MUST be equal, and a disabled commuter who had to take a taxi, well, he would fee DIFFERENT, and we can't have that.

I have the advantage of course, of being relatively able-bodied, and neither of my kids dealt with serious limitations of any kind while they were in school. And while I was recovering from a bad knee injury a couple of years ago, it was nice that the bus I rode could extend a metal tongue and hoist me into the bus, allowing me to bypass the steps. But  think I would have been equally fine on specially designated vehicle that did the same thing and did not put the other commuters at such an inconvenience. Taking a taxi would have been fine, too, especially if the cost was subsidized for my situation.

I'm quite sure if I, or a close family member or friend, had a serious disability that I'd furiously want every and all accommodations to my situation. But at a macro level it seems to me that we've now reached a point where the needs of the very few often overrides the needs of the many. The goal of democracy is to protect the rights of the minority, I know, but I don't remember that this meant that minority rights trumped those of the majority.

An unpopular  stance for a liberal geezer to take, I know. I can hear my more strident liberal friends take me to task already. And I'm certainly not arguing that simple, practical, cost effective accommodations shouldn't be made for our citizens with disabilities. When a new public building is constructed, it makes sense to put in ramps and elevators. A school district who can't arrange for a bright strobe light so that a deaf sprinter can complete should be ashamed of itself.  But the practical mind says that there's a limit to what I can expect my society to do for me. I am short and would like to play basketball. Should I expect legislation mandating that the basket be set  to a height of 7 ft?

I remember a short story by Kurt Vonnegut, in which the social effort to make everybody equal reached such an absurd degree that pretty people were forced to wear ugly masks in order not to make homely people feel bad about themselves; and strong, athletic people had to carry heavy lead weights so as to make them more like the physically weak. I can't help but think about this when I see a pristine wilderness trail paved over with asphalt.

—this viewpoint comes to you courtesy of Mercurious—

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Whose Sidewalk (or Movie Theatre) Is It Anyway?

In his inauguration speech, Barak Obama repeatedly invoked the need for the country to come together as a collective entity.  “This is our moment, and we will seize it—but only if we seize it together.”  Indeed.  Later in the inauguration ceremony, poet Richard Blanc evoked a similar and much more emotionally-infused sentiment through his poem “One Today” in which he observed that, while we all go about our individual tasks, we do so under the same, sun, sky, moon and stars. 

The moment seems ripe for a reawakened ability for Americans (starting with Congress!) to work together.  Whether it is politics, education or even organizations like the Rotary Club or American Legion, things we once could count on to bring us together seem to be under significant pressure, and the wishes and habits of individuals and small sub-groups present themselves with more and more strength and urgency.  Multiple meal options are expected in school lunch to accommodate health, religious and lifestyle preferences; flexible work schedules make it difficult indeed to attract and rehearse a community choir; community-wide civic events and celebrations find it more and more difficult to attract volunteers and participants.  Our president may ask us to seize our moment together, but do we have enough practice in collective action to follow through on his urging?

Some social commentators have pointed to what they call “affluenza” as a possible influence diminishing our ability to engage in collective action.  Briefly described, they say that the more affluent we become as a society, the less invested we NEED to be in fostering collective action.  We become more individual in our perspective.  Instead of supporting a local community center, we build a swimming pool in our back yard; support for public transportation decreases as automobile ownership increases. Perspectives understandably start to tilt away from the collective toward the individual.

What can or should be done about this?  How can we strike the best possible balance between the individual and the collective, between private and public, between dependence and independence?  In order to balance the needs of the individual with those of collective society, it would seem to be essential to first agree on what realms of our existence are individual/private, and which are collective/public.  I would argue that among the many factors that hinder us from intelligently addressing these challenges, one is that the distinction between public and private seems increasing murky in our culture.

The irony is that just when we as a society are arriving at a place where we should/must begin to discuss public/private balance, we seem to be losing our ability to clearly define each. What do I mean by this?  By way of illustration, I will cite three areas where we are profoundly mixed up about the distinctions between public and private; between individual and group behaviours.

Is a public sidewalk (or any pedestrian egress) public or private?

This would seem to be a no-brainer.  In fact when I began to type “sidewalk” into the question above, my fingers instinctively added “public” before it—such is the assumption society has previously made regarding this space.  But look around you (if you’re a rare American who walks anywhere!): the sidewalk is—functionally, for the majority of users—private space.  If a walker isn’t on a cell phone, they are very likely to have their ear-buds in.  Psychologically, they are in private space—just as is the moron who loudly uses his phone call on the bus or train.  A geezer’s first impulse is to think of most cell phone users and i-pod aficionados as rude or irritating.
Actually, they are not necessarily rude, and may well be nice people in private life; but in a space which is legally and traditionally public, a geezer can be irritated when run into by a text messaging pedestrian engaged in a private moment.  A similar dynamic can be observed in movie theatres where jolly, animated people often enjoy the company of their friends, conversing, laughing and generally having a great time.  The only problem is that it isn’t their living room, it’s a movie theatre; it isn’t private space, it’s public space (or so the former assumption held.)  Geezers grew up in an era when a very clear distinction was drawn regarding behaviour in a public space: you WERE quiet in the library, sweatpants were worn at the gym and pyjamas were a garment you put on when you were going to bed. This distinction is no longer so clear.

Is “Business” public or private?

In our current cultural moment, many windbags (and some geezers who have lost their way) are in thrall to what they refer to as “private business” or “the free market.”  The assumption is that these are private endeavours and that government (and do-goody ethicists) should keep their nose out of “private” matters.  This assumption may have been operable in the past.  The trouble we face now is that each month seems to bring us fresh examples of how business has succeeded in blurring the public/private distinction to their advantage.  As AIG became the largest consolidated insurance holding company in the world, and accumulated correspondingly impressive profits, this was private business at its most typical; when it crossed over the line of prudence and crashed upon the rocks of credit default wagering, it became a public issue.  Profit remained private, but the loss was socialized.  The same situation developed in the student loan industry: banks would write student loans, affixing origination fees, deferred payment fees, co-signing fees and the-dog-ate-my-homework fees.  They would collect interest and payments.  After all, isn’t that how private banking has always worked?  The beauty of the arrangement (if you are a bank) was that if anything went wrong or a loan went into default, the federal government would guarantee any loss.  This was Bush-era “private business”: all profit is private, all risk is collective.

Is the Internet public or private?

This may emerge as one of the essential social debates of our new century.  Parents are concerned about sexting; employment counsellor’s caution job seekers to carefully control what are contained on their Facebook page (to the extent they can!); arguments abound about whether a parent blogging about their child is invading the child’s privacy. 

Each one is a potential minefield, and there are explosions all over.  If there is one common thread running through many debates   on Internet culture, it is the blurring of what is private and what is public.   Many naive users open themselves to significant potential problems when they behave like something is private when it is technologically public (or, at minimum, easily “sharable.”)

 As outrageous examples of this type of confusion are exposed, one assumes that these distinctions will become more clear.  But even the proliferation of e-mail is a challenge.  When asked to deal with a sensitive (private) issue through e-mail, I consider it the equivalent of a person asking to record a conversation.  I admit that such a thought has more than a whiff of paranoia about it, but it’s a rare e-mail that isn’t recorded and stored.  Can we consider it private?  Maybe, but not with certainty.

On the other end of the spectrum, there can be confusion about what aspects of internet culture are identifiably public or collective in nature.  A person “tweeting” is certainly aware that their comments are public—but is this “publicly-minded” activity in the sense that it reaches out to others and is potentially involved with the greater/collective good?   Sometimes, perhaps.  But in examining the “twittersphere” one is struck by the degree to which commentators are focused on themselves and their own individual activity.   Geezers are second to no one in finding themselves fascinating, but we certainly don’t expect others to share that fascination.  And we certainly wouldn’t consider it a contribution to the public good to let others know what brand of toothpaste we are considering switching to.  Twitter is certainly a public medium when technologically defined, but functionally, can one think of many other things that seem so self-focused?

Another major issue that the explosion of internet culture has raised is whether “virtual” living is equivalent to “traditional living”—whether virtual communication is equivalent to face-to-face communication and, analogously, whether electronic “communities” should be considered the equivalent of traditional, face-to-face  communities (“regular communities” the geezer is tempted to say.) 

In his wonderful book Bowling Alone, Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam comprehensively charts the demise of many of the social structures that came to support communities through the second half of the twentieth century.  He closes with a fairly desperate final chapter, in which he gallantly tries to make the case for new communities being formed through electronic means.  Concern for the collective good is not diminishing, he seems to argue, it is only evolving into concern for “virtual” or electronically mediated community.  Should we be concerned with such evolution?  Should we value those new “civic” leaders that provide the means by which we all come “together” through electronic means in the same way we valued traditional civic contributors in the past?  When one contemplates such questions, the very terms public/private or collective/individual seem ill matched or obsolete.

Is morality or honour personal or public?

Now that we’ve got warmed up on the issue, we can tackle the big one.  As discussed above, with rising affluence, our culture has provided the greater and greater luxury of doing things our own way.  Children having their own bedrooms are more common than ever; many of us go months—or years—without using public/shared transportation; we select our electronic entertainment when we want from among hundreds if not thousands of options.  All well and good, but as our lifestyles have become increasingly individualized, so has our moral perspective.  In most societies of that past, an honourable or moral person was one who subscribed to and upheld (and occasionally tried to influence or change) the collective values of their culture or subculture, be it their country, church, club neighbourhood or family.  This was not just an altruistic impulse: in a more dangerous, precarious world, people’s willingness to bind themselves together and commit to a common set of behaviours could spell the difference between military defeat or victory, economic health or collapse, or making it through a long winter. 

In our more individualized culture today, these existential imperatives are not as strongly present; there are fewer functional reasons to insist on individuals being consciously raised to invest in communitarian values.  As a result, many—if not most—would today identify “morality” or “honour” as a thing within the personal or private realm.  Who among us doesn’t believe we have a personal, informal, “code-of-honour”  developed over a lifetime, upon which we rely for guidance when faced with difficult moral or ethical dilemmas?  It seems sensible, doesn’t it, that personal honour is just that—a personal and individual thing.

The difficulty is that morality is most needed in public (or at least interpersonal) situations.  Personal morality is fine, but when invoked, the actions one takes predicated upon that moral code almost inevitably affect (if not come into conflict with) others.  As Brett in a provocative essay/blog  at The Art of Manliness so convincingly argues, honour is a concept that is developed and applied between people, not within a person.   

The bottom line is: America is an individualistic nation, and our independence is important to us.  Living in Europe as I now do, it is striking to observe how governments and businesses impose their values and procedures upon citizens with relative ease  (The “health and safety regulations that are systematically imposed by what some critics call “the nanny state” really need to be seen to be believed.)  Americans tend to have a healthy scepticism toward mandated collective action.  We don’t want to lose our individualism; we value our privacy.  But if we lose our ability to operate politely, ethically, and morally in public, our prospects are equally grim (and much more dangerous.)  What to do? It’s hard to say, but perhaps a place to start is to begin a discussion about what is private and what is public.

—This article was contributed by The Professor—

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Scene from an American Public School

Saturday saw me helping at a science competition event sponsored by the Minneapolis school system for elementary school students across the city. My wife helps coordinate these events, and I sometimes help out by running for supplies and helping with cleanup afterwards.

This particular event has teams of students build Leggo robots and then competing to complete various tasks laid down by the national event organizers. The best teams will go on to a state, then national, round of competition. It's a family affair for us; yesterday my daughter was also coaching a team from the school where she works, and my son was a zebra-striped referee helping run the actual head-to-head trials.

As cities go, Minneapolis isn't as poverty stricken as places like the public school systems in Chicago, LA, NYC. But it still has some some neighborhood schools dominated by families on the lower end of the economic scale, others that are quite affluent, and still others where the student populations are highly mixed economically. So the school district provides bus service and boxed lunches for everybody involved in these events, as there are a goodly number who couldn't participate if they had to provide their own transportation and food.  Rather than allow the richer families to transport their children to and from the events, the schools require all the team members to ride on the same bus to and from their home school to the event location. It's a good policy, I think, and one that keeps poorer students from feeling too different from their wealthier classmates.

Altogether, these are delightful events, with ingenious youngsters devising strategies to compete on an intellectual level. It has much of the cheering and celebrating you associate with sporting events, and the fact that Minneapolis sponsors this kind of academic competition is one of the things I've liked most about our public school system.

During the lunch period, I took a break in the cafeteria to watch the students and the parents who had come to support their little student science stars. We were between rounds of head-to-head competition, and a good many of the teams were taking their lunch breaks.

On one side of the cafeteria, volunteers had laid out the free box lunches for the students themselves—healthy meals consisting of a turkey and cheese sandwich, a small bag of raw carrots, an apple, a small bag of chips. A bottle of water is also provided.

But on the other side of the cafeteria we also sell concessions as a fund raiser for the program—soda pop, coffee, slices of pizza, chips—for the consumption of parents and spectators who attend. And some of the student participants who favor this kind of food and can afford it, will bypass the free boxed lunches and instead buy the pizza slices for their lunches.

At two tables near the middle of the cafeteria was a team from a school that lies on the border between relatively affluent neighborhoods and very modest ones, and as a result this school has a mixture of students. In this particular group were some little boys who were clearly from families who could afford to buy the sliced pizza and Cokes from the concession stand; their boxed lunchs sat untouched on the table as these kids devoured pizza and soda.

But two other little hispanic boys on this team, accompanied by a mother, did not immediately run for the purchased pizza line. From my seat at a nearby table, I watched them eye the pizza being devoured by their teammates and look a little sadly at their nutritious but less trendy boxed lunches, still wrapped in cellophane.

The woman with the boys—likely the mother of one of them—saw their longing, and began to dig through her bag. She eventually found $3.00 in quarters and dimes, enough so that the two little boys could also buy a slice of $1.50 pizza and feel more like other boys on the team. The little boys were thrilled, and happily ran to the pizza line and returned to join their friends.

Afterwards, the young hispanic mother waited a long time until the team members and their parents had gone back to the main gym to continue the competition.  Then she helped clean up the tables, and rather than throw away the boxed lunches that hadn't been touched, she carefully packed them away in a canvas bag to bring home. She also helped clean up other adjoining tables, and when a boxed lunch had been partially eaten and she came upon untouched green apples, these too were carefully set aside to be used later.

She helped for a full hour in the cafeteria, and much later in the day I also saw her helping pack up folding chairs and tables, well after most of the parents had left. It was her way of paying for taking food that nobody else wanted.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Evolution, No Longer a "Theory"

Nothing has infuriated me more over recent years than the belief held in some quarters that "evolution" is an interesting theory, but not one that has been proven scientifically. Something called "intelligent design" is sometimes held up as an equally likely truth for how species—and specifically the human one—came to be in its present form.

In the following paragraphs, I will now demonstrate for all time that evolution is a true principle; and also that it operates both in living, reproducing organic species, and also in objects previously thought to be inanimate.

I direct you to the silverware drawer and cutlery collection in the Mercurious household.

Now, Mrs. Mercurious and I, in 33 years of marriage, have only every owned two sets of dinnerware. (Mrs. Mercurious might be embarrassed to let Geezerette friends know that we are so severely handicapped in the cutlery arena, but suck it up, I say, this is science. She would also want me to polish up the good silverware before photographing it, but here too, the speedy needs of science triumph.)

Like many families, we have one set of everyday cutlery that is used 99% of the time and which goes through the dishwasher regularly. We also have a set of "good" flatware that comes out on special occasions and gets washed by hand and carefully put away after each use.

These species of dinnerware look like this:

A closeup of the genetic markers, the handle patterns, shows there are two species, and two only,  present here: 

Mind you, these are the only two sets of flatware Mrs. Mercurious and I have ever owned.  But within that very same silverware drawer, you can identify the following random selection of offspring, each with a distinctively different look and feel: 

Mrs. Mercurious will argue that in 33 years, these assorted orphans have been abandoned by friends, neighbors and strangers who may have accidentally left behind cutlery during visits. This strikes her, I guess, as a more comfortable explanation that the genuine magic implied. But while visitors have left cell phones, liquor, gloves, scarves, etc. behind at our house, I myself rarely travel around with flatware that might be misplaced. So I find it beyond the realm of probability that random forks and spoons have slipped out of vistors' pockets or purses to gradually populate our kitchen drawer. 

No, it is not migratory behavior we are witnessing; what we have in our silverware drawer in the Mercurious house is incontrovertible proof that simple parent cutlery can gradually give rise to all manner of genetically evolved offspring. I would also argue that this study may also be the definitive disproof of intelligent design as a concept: there is nothing whatsoever intelligent about this strange collection of knives, forks, and spoons. 

I am now off to do an analysis of mysteriously orphaned socks abandoned over the years in our laundryroom, to see what more can be learned about this newly proven science of evolution. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Mercurious' 12 Favorite Movies of 2012

I've now polished off the last 2012 films on my "must see" list,  and have come to my own conclusions about  my favorites ones of the year. The final outliers polished off in the last week or so: Zero Dark Thirty;  and The Impossible, the last knocked off on an off-evening during an out of town sales conference. (By the way, The Impossible, a film about a British family surviving the Thailand tsunami of 2004 is quite good, though not among my top dozen. Naomi Watts' performance is very good, quite worthy of her Academy Award nomination. The film might well coax tears out of hard-boiled geezers, and the tsunami effects are extremely convincing.)

No list can really pretend to be "the best."  They are all only opinions of the person reviewing, after all.  My own litmus test is to ask myself if the film is one I'd like to see a second time, and perhaps even a third. With that in mind, here are my choices for 2012—the movies I've either already seen twice, or will soon be adding to my collection. Some of them have now been mentioned in Golden Globes and in the Academy Award Nominations, but others might well be worth your effort to find and see.

1. Beasts of the Southern Wild. A supremely haunting mixture of social documentary, archetypal fable, and fairy tale. This is the "art film" on my list this year, which almost nobody has seen. Still, nobody had seen The Hurt Locker the year it won best picture. It's power sneaks up on you.

2. End of Watch. Unfortunately overlooked, but this cop drama is similar to Training Day, which won the best actor award for Denzel Washington. For most geezers, this will be a great surprise. A great buddy movie.

3. Lincoln. Spielberg's blockbusters can become a little tiresome—after the ridiculously maudlin War Horse, I thought he might have finally lost his touch.  But here we find Spielberg back in the vicinity of  Schindler's List. I would not be disappointed if Lincoln wins best picture, even though it does include the tiresome Sally Field playing herself with a slightly exaggerated accent. Tommy Lee Jones is very good. Consumate Spielberg, and perhaps his last chance at another best picture award, as he seems more prone to War Horse films these days.

4. The Hunger Games. Not on anybody's best film list, but I thought it was remarkably clever, and in fact saw it twice. Jennifer Lawrence was nominated for Silver Linings Playbook, of course,  but she is similarly good here. A guilty pleasure; I'll likely take some heat from geezers for this choice. A very good soundtrack by T-bone Burnett.

5. The Queen of Versailles. Each year there is a documentary that really grabs my attention, and this is my choice this year. The film is about a wealthy couple who finds themselves hitting the skids when the real estate market plunges in the last recession.  The couple would be easy to hate, but you really find yourself sensitive to their predicament. They are not bad people, just unaware of the realities of regular folks. A very good movie.

7. Django Unchained.  Audacious and shocking and wonderfully interesting. Perhaps too far out there to win anything, but one I'll be adding to my Blu-ray collection, for sure. Nobody else around quite like Tarantino. Very controversial and guaranteed to elicit lots of thought and conversation.

8. Bernie. A very interesting little independent movie with Jack Black and Shirley McClain. Essentially a dramatized documentary about a strange murder case in Texas, sort of in the same vein as Kevin Spacey's movie of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

9. Seven Psychopaths. This will appeal to the same group as enjoyed Django Unchained,  as it is gleefully violent, but in some ways it is even more interesting. Christopher Walken makes two films on my list this year. Hard to describe but highly recommended.

10. A Late Quartet. Christopher Walken's second movie on my list this year. Amazing tight character studies of four members of a world-class string quartet whose lives are deeply entwined.  Also features Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

11. Zero Dark 30. This was ever so slightly disappointing, as it did not quite have the stunning power of Kathryne Bigelow's first big movie, The Hurt Locker, which was my #1 movie from the moment I saw it two years ago. But this one ranks right up with all the others nominated for best film this year. Bigelow is one talented film maker; you'll rarely see a movie paced or edited any better.

12. Skyfall. I liked this as well as any Bond movie, ever. And I'm quite familiar with them, as I've been working on the boxed Blu-Ray collection of the entire group.  Maybe not best picture material, but a heck of a lot of fun for this geezer.

Best Picture Preferences:  I would be pleased if Lincoln or Zero Dark 30 won, but will be over-the-top thrilled if Beasts of the Southern Wild walks away with the Best Picture award.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Of Karma & Tea Baggers

—a news story commentary by Mercurious—

While my Buddhist leanings aren't fundamental enough to make automatically subscribe to full-blown belief in karma, it's not too hard to observe that all actions lead to consequences. In other words, while I have some trouble really believing that we reincarnate in subsequent lives on this earth, I fully believe that what we do here and now causes a reincarnation of sorts in later days.  What goes around, comes around. Leading a decent, good life may not cause you to come back in better circumstances in another life after you die, but it can be transformative in this life, right here and now.  Similarly, if you behave in mean, selfish ways, there will be some kind of payback in terms of quality of life and fortunes.

Michele Bachmann is Minnesota's own embarrassing representative of tea-party ignorance and bigotry. This is the woman who has argued that because the last swine flu epidemic came under Jimmy Carter, there was a causal relationship between disease and democrats; who believes that there are "hundreds and hundreds of scientists, including many nobel prize winners," who subscribe to intelligent design; whose family business is aimed at "curing" gay people of their transgressions against God; who believes that it is unconstitutional for the government to conduct a census.

There is no more paranoid, parochial person in politics—so much so that even writing a blog entry about her will put you on the Bachman organization's radar. Bachman comes from the Richard Nixon camp of political paranoia, clearly. My own brother, after writing a critical letter about Michele Bachmann's stance on gun control, was investigated in person by authorities at the request of the Bachmann organization.

A recent news story, though, suggests that the "what goes around comes around" adage is now starting in motion. Bachmann is now being investigated for certain legal violations that involved stealing a list of home-school families in Iowa in order to campaign direct to them before the primary last year. Now, in terms of political corruption, this is very small potatoes, indeed. Our own beloved Hubert Humphrey routinely did far more outrageous things in terms of campaign strategy. In and of itself, this is no story at all.

But now the campaign organization is holding back salary payment from staffers until they sign confidentiality agreements to prevent them from leaking details of campaign strategies and illegalities. Such is the paranoia of the organization that they fear the secretaries who are owed $900 or $1000 will sabotage Michele's fortunes by leaking details to the press.

Now, this may be wishful thinking on the part of this liberal, but I'm predicting that we are now seeing the start of a gradual fall from national prominence to widespread ridicule and disgrace for the Teabagger Queen. The district Michele represents is one of the most conservative in all Minnesota, but even they are not ignorant enough to look away when it comes to financial extortion. The only thing worse than taking away a teabagger's handgun is taking away his money.

You heard it here first: Michele Bachmann will not win another election. The karma of paranoia is beginning to ripen.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

What Does Honor Mean for Geezers?

Over at The Art of Manliness, Brett has been writing a fascinating series of articles on the subject of manly honor. You can read it here.

It's striking to recognize the degree to which the Geezers of these pages practice a life of manly honor (here at Old Geezers Out to Lunch, we are nothing if not confidently aware of our virtue) , but there is still much in Brett's articles for men of all ages and predispositions to reflect on.

So here are some open-ended question for the Geezers Emeritus, as well as anyone on our mailing list and everyone who stumbles into Old Geezers Out to Lunch. Please do add your responses and observations in the comment feature at the bottom of the page.  This post will stay active so long as the conversation chain evolves.

In this time and this place, what does it mean to live with honor? If you are a geezer, how do you define it for yourself?  If you know a geezer, how do you observe honor manifesting?  Does honor mean the same today as it did 'back in the day'? Or is is it less relevant in today's world? Is there anything unique about the oft-discussed "male honor"?

Saturday, January 5, 2013

12 Signs That You're Nearing the Geezer Years

Once men make peace with being middle aged, there comes a point when they begin to suspect the onset of approaching Geezerhood. To the truly conscious, it is quite evident when that occurs, but alas, few of us are really that self-awere. Never fear: Assembled by the Council of Geezers (a newly recognized organization), here are 12 signs that Geezerhood is upon you. Recognizing yourself in any one of these allows you to apply for membership in the club.

Keep going...lower....lower....
1. When an on-line account asks you to define your birth year during registration, you now need to scroll nearly to the bottom of the drop-down list to find it. Startled, you realize you were born barely 10 years after World War 2.

2. You prefer your E-book reader not because it's cool technology, but because you can set the print large enough to read without glasses.

3.  Your wife rubs her palm in the center of your back in the middle of the night not because she's feeling frisky, but because you're not snoring and she's checking to make sure you're still breathing.

4. You check your 401k account balances weekly, and you genuinely understand the concept of "equity." You actually fret over the question "Bonds or stocks?"

Robert Plant: Lead singer of Led Zeppelin,
and Geezer extraordinaire
5. The Kennedy Center Honors programs has become much hipper in recent years, obviously. Once mired in the likes of Martha Graham, Helen Hayes, and Jimmy Cagney, the program now has the great good sense to honor Springsteen, Dylan, David Letterman, and Led Zeppelin.

6. Your kids no longer treat you like stern gods, and you have also passed through the period where you're a moron;  they now interact with you like regular people.  Enjoy it: the tolerant pity phase is just down the road.

7. On cable television, the History Channel, Discovery, and the Weather Channel  are far more interesting than HBO or Showtime. You'd rather watch "Hoarders" and  "Pawn Stars" than "Breaking Bad" and "Mad Men."  Everglades pythons exploding after they swallow alligators is more intriguing than bare boobies on "Boardwalk Empire."

8. "Spam" for you will always be a suspicious canned meat from the Hormel meat company. You've given up trying to understand the other kind of spam, or why we should be scared of it.

9. Having sex on the floor no longer has any appeal whatsoever. And man-on-bottom is preferred  for a single reason: it's easy on the back.

10. When you exercise or work hard, the sweat soaking through your sweatshirt radiates out from your navel area, not your pectoral muscles. And you've now forgotten just when it was that your waist measurement began to exceed your inseam. You now understand those poor guys who cinch their trouser belts up at a point just below the armpits.

"Hey, buddy, wanna score
some primo Kava? Cocktailhour
without the hangover."
11. Rather than knowing all the different types of marijuana currently in circulation, you are now knowledgeable about the natural herbal cures for prostate trouble, high cholesterol, jet lag. You get your stash at Whole Foods, not at the northwest corner of Franklin St. & Chicago Avenue on Saturday night.

"Wasn't me. Was it you?"
12. When standing at a urinal in a public restroom, you no longer have the muscle control necessary to hold back flatulence while peeing: it's all or nothing. And you're not really very embarrassed about it.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Movies by Mercurious: January 3, 2013

This film will be highly polarizing: you will either have your socks blown off by it, or you'll be utterly disgusted. A few people may have both responses (this was true for a geezer friend of mine, who was stunned in a way that nearly caused him to walk out).

Quentin Tarantino tends to elicit this kind extreme reaction in audiences, and Django Unchained is no exception. My own view is that it's an exceptionally fine movie, but lord almighty is it shocking and brutal. I found myself averting my eyes a dozen times, even while I winced and laughed at the over-the-top humor of the thing. 

It's rather hard to discuss the movie without giving a whole lot a way and spoiling it for potential viewers, so instead I'll give some diagnostic questions to help you decide if this movie is appropriate for you:

• You are able to watch movie violence and over-ride your suspension of disbelief in a way that lets you enjoy the pure demonstration of special effects. 

• You can see potential for finding humor in a raid by a KKK lynch mob.

• You enjoyed movies like Pulp Fiction, Fight Club, Seven Psychopaths. 

If you can answer yes to at least two of these, you can probably safely see Django Unchained. 

Tarantino is so invested in shocking normal attitudes that I'm not sure he'll ever get nominated at the Golden Globe or Academy level; but if he does, this might be the movie that does it. Mrs. Mercurious, bless her soul, is great at appreciating the same kind of movies as me, and she liked this one much better than Pulp Fiction—which she loved.   A word of warning, though: it's likely a rare member of the feminine geezer club who can get ride this vehicle—it has the potential for badly sickening the faint of heart.  It might be a move best enjoyed "with the boys."  Not exactly a date movie. 

Django Unchained is blessed with some exceptionally fine supporting roles, so much so that it would be difficult to pick who might get supporting actor nods. Christopher Waltz is, if anything, even better than he was as the Nazi you loved to hate in Inglorious Basterds. Samuel L. Jackson (of Pulp Fiction fame) is also astounding. The biggest treat, though, might be Leonardo DeCaprio, who makes a villainous turn here that is exceptionally fine. There comes a moment where DeCaprio shifts from amiable evil to truly disturbing perversity in a way that will make you rethink Leo's abilities as an actor. Any one of the three is quite worthy of best supporting actor.  

I cannot think of a movie that has stuck in my head quite the way this one has. If you are really willing to challenge your soul, you might do a long double-feature matinee, seeing Spielberg's Lincoln in the early showing, then taking the electroshock treatment of Django late in the day. The close juxtaposition of the two movies will mess you up for weeks.  

These may well be the two best movies of the year, and they ostensibly deal with the same subject matter (slavery) in an historical time period only 10 years or so apart. 

And you will never see two movies that are so good, and yet so unlike one another. 

Django Unchained Geezer Quotient: 96/100

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Password Overload

The IT guy at work told me the other day that, as part of the new security measures, I would need to change my log-on password to the corporate file server each and every month. And I could not reuse any previous password.

"No."  I said flatly. "That's the last straw. I can't do this any longer.  Either I keep the same password, or I'll find ways to make your life a living hell."  In reality, I can't really do much to this IT guy, other than occasionally temporarily withhold a signature he needs to buy new hardware or software. Though he doesn't know it, his power over me is far greater than mine over him. Perception is it's own reality, though, and he believes that my senior status makes me someone to be heeded.

I had just had enough. Ten years ago, or even five years, computer passwords were a breeze. I think I perhaps had one email password, and another for the corporate file server.  Not all that long ago, two passwords were plenty.

Gradually, thing proliferated, and eventually got to the point where the number of required passwords is in the dozens. I now have to keep them written down in a little cheat sheet notebook. Mind you, I don't password-protect my home personal computer or cell phone, or anything else where you have an option not to.  It's really only the essential accounts, or those where it is mandatory, where I use passwords.

Even with this minimalist approach, I counted the other day and came up with 39 various on-line accounts or memberships that require passwords for me to remember. Given that I have trouble remembering whether my most recent birthday was the 57th  or 58th , you can see the dilemma that I'm in.

A quick survey:  4 on-line banking accounts (one personal, three business accounts; 3 airline frequent flier accounts; 4 credit card accounts (three personal, one business); 3 health care accounts (one for my GP doctor, one for a specialist, and one for my flex-spending health account); 6 professional groups (mostly relating to the publishing industry); 2 investment/retirement accounts; 3 social media accounts (two personal, one professional);  5 home entertainment accounts (things like I-Tunes, Netflix, Amazon, Comcast), 3 website/blogging accounts; and a number of single accounts for things like various on-line merchants that the family uses routinely.

For awhile, it was easy, because I just used the same password over and over. But then out of spite or sadism, the accounts began to insist on diabolical variations: your password had to be at least 14 characters (or nine, or 17) in length, and it had to include an uppercase letter, and 3 numbers, and a symbol—and it couldn't use any portion of your own name.  And now it was not only a password, but you had to create a user name, as well, which had its own set of arcane requirements.

I really do imagine that there are some twisted young adults who dream this stuff up, because just when you got this part down, they started adding "security questions" to the mix. At first it was easy enough: your mother's maiden name; name of your first school. But pretty soon it wasn't a single security question, but two or three. Recently, I was faced with an account that required you to pick five different questions among a possible ten. And only two of them were slam dunks. Among the others, I had to pick from "best childhood friend," "favorite author," "job you wanted when you were growing up," and "street where you grew up."

Now, my answers to these are variable, or impossible. I had a bunch of good friends growing up, and which was the favorite varied from moment to moment: are we talking kindergarten or seventh grade?  My favorite author will depend on my mood: there are at least five that are favorites at different times. Growing up, there were times I wanted to be an author, times when I wanted to be a geologist, times when I wanted to be a doctor, not to mention the time I was set on becoming a photographer for Playboy. I didn't grow up on a street at all, but on a country road with no name at all.  So I had to pick random questions and random answers, then note them dutifully in my cheat-sheet notebook so I could retrieve them in the future.

And the coup de grace: now you are forced to interpret a couple of fuzzy photos of jumbled letters and type these in, as well, before you can pass through the gauntlet and get access to a paypal account containing $17.29, which you've been too lazy to close out. This interpretation of two fuzzy words or numbers is supposed to prevent automated computer "spammers" from sending you lots of junk mail, but the real effect is to prevent ME from getting into my own accounts.

It's all quite an indignity for a geezer. If I ever appear to vanish suddenly from the world of blogging and cyber reality, it's possible that something unfortunate has happened to me. But it's more likely I've hidden my cheat sheet containing my passwords and have forgotten where I put it.

But the IT guy did manage to make an exception for me—I'll not have to change my password monthly, or ever. The tradeoff is that he assigned me the permanent password rather than letting me choose it myself.

I'm now "GeezerJAckass123!!" for all eternity.