lovehate: 4.2 billion to 16.7 million to 65000 to 256 to 2

Is it just me or does the world sometimes look better in shades of gray?

I'm speaking on literal and metaphorical levels here, because while I often crave bright, vibrant colors or stark black and white, often all I end up with is the 256 fountain steps of gray.

From a purely illusory perspective, many people look WAY better in a grayscale (read: "black and white") picture as opposed to being exposed in the full color spectrum. For some reason the little flaws that we can see at 4.2 billion colors start to fade away, or become insignificant, at 256. The photographers will say that this so-called "black and white" image allows for sharper definitions of contrast and allows us to see things more clearly. I suppose, in some ways, I can by that, but completely? Back to this in a minute.

In a world of politics and debate, with arguments thrown about like so many flailing matches from a pre-pubescent pyromaniac, games are often played with color, black and white, and shades of gray. Many is the time a politician will try to sell the black and white, while floundering around in the gray, with every consequence of every decision affecting the realities of those in full color. Politicians are afraid color - and I'm not talking ethnicity here, I'm simply talking reality - because their game-playing occurs on boards, on maps, on committees, and on public display, but little of it has to do with touching reality as a prime motivator. Politicians push money around for ideological purposes, claiming that the left is right or that the right has left the building, when really their 2D glasses only permit them to see the gray of the newspapers or pundit websites or the straining pixels of primetime news.

If politicians were to look at the world in color, they would start to see the flaws, not just in the system - which is a statistic - but in faces of everyone who they claim to represent; each of which is a tragedy. It is far easier to look at reports on poverty from your home constituency than to walk the neighborhoods on a day when social assistance is still a week away and the cupboards are empty. It is far easier to look at low area test scores in schools and blame the curriculum, the textbooks or the teachers for mis-educating children who walk through embittered streets without breakfast every winter morning in worn out no-name running shoes. It is far easier to shut down public hospital emergency rooms in the name of efficiency than to face the one family who lost a father, mother, sister or brother because the reported distance "new" closest ER, which was spun in the newspapers as only six minutes further, didn't take into account rush hour traffic and construction. If politicians were to look at the world in color, they would, no doubt, be stunned into a silence at the ineffectiveness of their game, and proceed to hurl the box, dice, fake money, hotels, houses, race car, iron, boot, thimble, top hat and all into the nearest open flame. It's not that a politician, on average, can't see color; it's simply too painful to look.

And so we defend our beliefs in black and white. We spout statistics and spin numbers and count and add and multiply and generate long, intricate reports with copious circling in red ink and meaningfully-highlighted grand totals. We take the black and white and, with all the best intentions, set out to resolve the issues. But the issues are not black and white anymore. The issues are grey and mottled. They are borne on the backs of centuries of value and belief systems. They are entrenched in histories of languages, totems, borders, rituals, and power struggles. All of the sudden, our black and white numbers and words don't seem so black and white anymore. All of the sudden our best intentions become lost in the give and take. All of the sudden the solution for 4.2 billion individuals has been reduced to two sides that, instead of being flexible enough to accommodate the most possible, has been pared down to accommodate 2: the remaining person at either side of the table.

Though I have been hammering politicians as an optimal example, the simple truth is that politician in all of us, who concedes, consorts, collaborates, convinces, controls, and conquers, is just as guilty. Isn't it easier for us to avoid the real? As bright and vibrant as 4.2 billion shades are, and as beautiful, inspiring and rich as this diversity bestows, for most of us, the world sometimes looks better in shades of gray. Because while the clarity of color that sometimes pierces the veil can make life worth living, it can also make life worth questioning. And so I watch, without guilt or shame, because neither would prompt such change as is necessary to make me lift the blinders 24/7. And maybe that's the greatest flaw in all of us.

lovehate: how it begins

Fatigue leads to stretching for anything new. It's why the Fonz jumped the shark. It's why we cringe every time a new kid gets thrown into our tried and trusted sitcoms. It's why writers, instead of coming up with fresh beginnings, start to resort to beginning with the end.

I can appreciate how television writers and filmmakers hate being stuck to linear plot lines but I think I had just about enough of screenplays that have me sit through a big dramatic scene in the first five minutes only to be subjected to a FTB followed by some new-fangled font chromakey of "24 hours earlier". The technique has been done over and over again. I'm tired of sitting through it, especially when its a show I generally enjoy and want to keep up on the story arc. If a television pilot started with this technique, I would probably give it up ASAP.

Why does the conspiracy theorist in me think that there is one director who makes a living off of this stuff. The producers think... "You know what? We really need one of them time shifty episodes to really mix things up! Call in that guy we worked with for the time shifty episodes on the other 12 series we've done." And the cycle continues.

When one thinks of a movie like Memento, it's easy to see that playing with timelines can be done in a unique way that is not only central to the plot, but also to the theme, characters, and atmosphere of the piece. When it's simply used as a cool plot devicem it's boring, it's meandering, and, more often than not, just plain sucks. I'm craving well told linear stories. When I see reruns of All in the Family and watch 10 minutes of an unbroken scene that takes place in a living room, I don't condemn the pace and crave the music video phrenetic cuts of most of today's action films. I enjoy the teleplay, the acting, the ability to tell a story that takes place in one place at one time.

For years of teaching drama students it would be the biggest challenge to get them to construct a 3 minute scene that took place in a single location. The idea would arise that the scene would be about a bank robbery (because a 14 year old can't do a scene that doesn't have guns or violence) and the planning would start that would (in three minutes mind you) take you from 15 seconds about not having money, to a 10 second decision to rob a bank, to a 30 second exercise about planning the hold up, 20 seconds of the actual bank job, 1 minute of mindless shootout, and the final half minute of one or more crooks getting away. Have we lost our ability to follow a story in (while maybe not real time) something at least close to it?

We have one hour action television shows that tell a story that rambles over days, weeks, or months. Even the show 24, which tries to build the illusion of being in real time suffers implausible plot holes of characters getting from place to place in totally unrealistic timeframes. The film Timecode, by Mike Figgis, tried to solve the impatient audience dilemma by showing four real time stories at once... probably because he knew that audiences were quite unwilling to sit through a single linear story.

Sure, I applaud creators playing around with plot. Not every story can, or should, be linear, but the redundant use of television and film time shift gimmicks has been over done. It's jumped the shark or nuked the fridge, when it really should join Luca Brasi's slumber. To play with time in a television show or film should be done only when the story demands it to be told effectively and not in order to make a boring story more interesting. Can't you imagine a writing team sitting around a table saying "Dude... this script is really not that good, and we shoot tomorrow. What'll we do?" "I know... let's throw the scenes up in the air and let the sheets fall where they may. That will be the new order." And, after all this reassembly, when they put the scenes together in their new found chaos and find the story STILL sucks... "Well, let's at least put the big climax scene at the beginning. That's the best scene anyway and we'll be able to show it twice and save ourselves 3 minutes."

I'm not saying the job of a television writer is easy; after all how many times can find a unique way to explore the stoic Grissom in CSI, or the cranky Dr. House, or the dysfunctional Desperate Housewives, or the high horse riding Jack McCoy? Maybe we need to borrow a page from the Brits. We need to allow show creators to say "I think I've got about enough for a dozen good episodes here, maybe a season at best." We need studios to buy into the fact that a show, once noble when it first started, will more often than not slip down the ratings not when the audience gets tired, but when the writers do. And fatigue leads to stretching for anything new. It's why the Fonz jumped the shark. It's why we cringe every time a new kid gets thrown into our tried and trusted sitcoms. It's why writers, instead of coming up with fresh beginnings, start to resort to beginning with the end.

jump the shark

thinglets: Nebraska Teens Abandoned by Parents

This is so messed up that it should spawn a new saying: "Only in Nebraska." Because Nebraska's law to prevent dumpster babies, by providing parents with safe haven for abandoned children in hospitals, says "child" instead of "infant", people are dumping off their teenage children at hospitals before the loophole is closed.

I don't honestly know who to hate more - the idiot parents, the idiot lawmakers, or the system that allowed for a "mother who dropped off her 18-year-old daughter [and] said she was repeatedly turned down when she sought help from police, state social services authorities and the girl's school. The woman said her daughter had been diagnosed with a mental illness when she was 12 and had deep psychological scars from childhood abuse and from being left alone with her dead biological mother for a week."

Welcome to Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom!

lovehate: nature v. the city

I know that huge chunks of urban society spend their days in torturous labor in order to have the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. For many, that pot of gold ends up being the weekend. And the pot only takes two days to get through... then you have to fill it again. When the shining moments arise that the two day escape can turn to three, four, or a week or two, thoughts run rampant in the heads of urban dwellers as the word "vacation" swirls through their brains.

Invariably, in my Canada, the strongest proclivity for any vacation choice that has to be painstakingly planned is somewhere with more heat, less snow and abundant shopping. For the shorter jaunts that don't require planning, the constant pull is to head north. You see, heading north in Southern Ontario means heading for a cottage or campground with trees, lakes and more trees. It is a place of lush greens, cerullean blues, crisp air and cloudless nights. It is this 2-4 hour drive into "nature" that appeals to so many, and makes Ontarians, nay, Canadians, the envy of many cultures. For me, however, getting back to nature is just not as attractive a concept as it should be.

When examining the word "nature" in it's psychological and sociological sense, I hope most people can appreciate that it's simply not in my "nature" to be in "nature". I was born, raised and will probably die in a city. And for all the people who bemoan a lost state of being that would have us running around in animal skins and tapping maple trees, I say, where's the drive-thru? The simple truth of the matter is that I don't think concrete is ugly.

I would rather see a skyscraper that reaches towards the stratosphere than look up at trees in an arboreal forest. I would rather see bridges and tunnels that span expanses rather than the untouched expanses themselves. I would rather people didn't try to plant flowers down islands in the middle of the road. Allow me to clarify - I'm not for unfettered urban expansion in an unflinching grasp to usurp all wildlife and plants. I simply love the city.

There is something to be said for intent. I love the fact that a mind could conceive of a plan. That the plan could be adopted by a group. That the group could labor to achieve. And that the achievement stands for all to see. I love the spirit of creation that city embodies from the shiny financial district to row of theatres. From the local college or university to the new strip mall. From the rent-controlled housing to the five star hotel. Everything that stands was once water and cement. Thought, intent, and labor created and endured.

I wish I could say that each of these plans was well executed and that every building was a work of art that remained essential, untouched and vital. There are bound to be misteps. Such is the nature of creation. If creativity could never offer up gaffes and mistakes the exercise would hardly be rewarding when striking and magnificent come to fruition.

I have been to Las Vegas close to a dozen times. My parents live in Arizona. I have not once gone to see the Grand Canyon. And it's not that I don't think it would be an awe-inspiring vista of natural happenstance, but, quite simply, while happenstance may hold a place of awe, creativity and intent holds a place of wonder. Creativity and intent can be aspired to. Happenstance just... well... it just happens. When I look down the Las Vegas Strip and see the long and bending road with neon turning night into day and thousands of people circulating in their own crapulence... I bask in its purple moontan's majesty.

Don't begrudge the traffic for the birdsong. Don't give up on the music wafting from the patio bar down the street for the sound of wind in the trees. Don't buy into the romantic notion that your natural state is a hunter/gatherer who fights off frostbite in the brush every winter. Nature will exist without you; the city will not. If the natural state of earth is evolution, we are part of that evolution. We will batter and bruise the earth just like children slipping and skinning their knees and, in the end, we may or may not endure, and our decaying civilizations may be the iodine that disinfects, but the planet will endure long after we've given up this mortal coil.

Go ahead. Pack your campers. Fire up the Coleman stoves. Light up the mosquito coils... because, after all, we don't love everything about nature. Fill your coolers with ice. Roast your marshmallows on the fire and try not to think of Monday. I support your backwoods endeavors. If you want to know what I'm doing, however, pick up your cell phone and I'll try and talk to you over the din of the CD jukebox, my friends at the table, the clinking of pint glasses and the souped-up Z28 that's cruising by, windows rattling with some indiscrimate bass line. And with all of the noise, both aural and visual, and the sewers that smell like shit, and the empty paper coffee cups, I'll take the concrete. I'll take the streets. I'll take the city. It's my nature.

grand canyon

las vegas

thinglets: chicago school code of conduct - 1921

1921 children

Manners of Conduct in School and Out

my favorite excerpts...

Girls, the word lady should suggest, ideally, a girl (or a woman) who keeps herself physically fit, her thinking on a high plane, and her manners gentle and winsome.

Boys, the word gentleman means, ideally, a fine, athletic, manly fellow who is an all round good sport in the best sense, and who has manners that do not prevent other people from seeing how fine he is.

If you are well brought up, girls, you will not loiter on the street to talk to one another; much less to boys. Street visiting is taboo.

Boys, a gentleman does not detain on street corners a girl or woman friend. If he meets one with whom he wishes to speak more than a moment, he asks permission to walk a little way with her. During the moment that he does detain her, a gentleman talks with his hat in his hand.

Girls, if a seat is offered you, accept it at once with "Thank you." Don't explain that you don't mind standing.

The chewing of gum in a street-car, in church, or in any other place outside of your own private room stamps you at once as "common."

Boys, it is not necessary to help the girls mount the stairs in school unless they are blind or crippled.

Girls, it is better not to twine your arms about one another in the corridors and on the stairs; also, not to kiss one another tenderly if you separate for a few moments. Love your friends dearly; but be sensible, not sentimental.

When you enter your classroom, as well as when you leave it, glance towards your teacher and, if she is looking, bow pleasantly.

If the function is a dance, boys, avoid too many consecutive dances with the same girl. Confining your attentions noticeably to the same girl makes her conspicuous and mars the general pleasure.

Avoid looking at a boy with your soul in your eyes. A girl holds the key to the social situation. She should keep such a situation at school on a cordial but wholly matter-of-fact basis,—absolutely free from sentimentality.

Boys, you can easily tell what girls would have you sit very close to them, and hold their hands, and put your arms around them. But, be manly. Always protect a girl; protect her from yourself, even from herself. If she does not wish to be so protected, avoid her as you would the plague.

Use a fork when eating vegetables and salad,—and ice-cream, if an ice-cream fork is provided.