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A Møøse once bit my sister ...
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The kids got here a bit after what would have been the Christmas dinner hour last night. Cam went off to make the rounds of his 'rents, while Em was still on the cracker-ginger ale regimen at that point (she's fine today), so Eleanor and I were on their own for the meal. After gifting, it was just a wait for Santa to arrive as he never quite had before, come 9 p.m. in the person of....



Nick Frost?!?

That photo's not spoilery- it's from the Series 8 finale last month- but there are plenty in his total takeover of Father Christmas for these 90 BBC America minutes, along with more about the story itself and the casting confirmation for Companioning beyond. And so,

Spoilers, sweetie!Collapse )


So presumably, despite all the late-Eve action, Saint Nick made it to the World's End with all the pressies by morning. I just hope he wasn't overrun by a bunch of zombified robots.
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No, not anything close to a White Christmas here- but our long history of Holiday Hiccups™ has continued.

You name it, it's happened- going way back to the Great Northeast Power Blackout of 1965 falling on my birthday. In more recent times, we've endured: strange reactions going to family members' homes for Thanksgiving; strange reactions FROM family members coming to ours for the day; Eleanor, once, preparing and delivering a full holiday dinner for her mother, only to find that Josephine had catered the whole thing by the time we got there. We've had sewer backups on multiple New Years weekends, and a hot water heater that died on the Fourth of July, but the true drama seems reserved for medical emergencies. There was another Fourth with Eleanor's back going almost into traction for the entire day, and a dicey Christmas Eve 2012 when Cameron had an asthma attack here, minus his inhaler, and we spent most of the evening trying to find one for him.

This year, though? The news came by phone: Emily had spent Christmas Eve Night at their apartment throwing up, and she then spent the first half of her Christmas Day in an emergency room.

The initial suspicion was food poisoning, although the two of them had eaten the same things the night before and Cameron reported no ill effects; and there was some evidence of gall bladder problems. Their best guess was a little of both, probably a reaction to a combination of grease in her meal and carbonation in her beverage that didn't set right with her.

She got a prescription to settle things down, spent the afternoon resting from it, and as of about half an hour ago they were on the road and should be here by a (latish) dinner hour.

As for anything else? Stay tuned.... especially if you're a physician or a plumber:P
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I must've been knocked on the head, left for dead, and dumped on the wrong side of the Pond. I spent a half hour of the past two afternoons listening to the live BBC Radio 4 stream of the finale of Cabin Pressure. (Talk about comedy gold:) Tomorrow, we will usher in the family celebration for the first time with the bang-bangs of these:

Crackers

- to be followed, 9 tomorrow night, by the Doctor Who Christmas episode on BBC America.

Sadly, though, that's the only one that Auntie is sending to their true loves in the Colonies. While the still-loyal subjects on the Sceptered Isle will be celebrating with everything from Shaun the Sheep to Call the Midwife doing their annual specials (plus, you know, Her Majesty giving Her Message in the midst of it all), we renegades get an all-day Doctor marathon plus the new episode at 2100, and that's bloody it.

What a waste. Even if they couldn't import all the Veddy British content over here, you'd think there would at least be an opportunity to market BBCA's own products with a similar holiday-time chance to catch up with on-long-hiatus characters.

I have a modest example here:

A Very Special Orphan Black Christmas Episode....Collapse )

Maybe we can at least get Cosima to explain the crazy science behind why these crackers will work;)
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The workday didn't get busy, for some reason, until around 2 this afternoon. By then, I'd done my final Christmas pressie runs, delivered gifts to various friends and co-workers, and had two rather odd experiences.

My second stop of the day was at the Wegmans closest to UB- picked, as I did on Black Friday, because the students would be mostly away and the place would therefore be hopefully less crazy than Eleanor's store. Which it was, but not by much. It was still a wait for a parking space, but I snagged one, even getting to pull through to one that pointed out, a valuable consideration with crazy people in the car park. Plus, it was right next to a cart corral. I loaded up my cart and headed back to the corral, hauled all four bags between my two paws for the quick deposit in my car, and.... nothing. The keyfob no workee. I was almost reduced to cursing the technology and using the actual key to get in when I finally saw the Cosmo on the passenger seat and realized:

NOT MY CAR, BRO.

There are very few Honda Insights around here; I actually see more Smart cars in my travels. But this one was the identical color and was in an almost identical spot relative to its front-end direction and corral proximity. Mine was several rows over; fortunately, all four bags got there without incident.

----

I continued on rounds, delivering gifts to officemates and, finally, my annual exchange with a good friend who I share a lot of business with. I handed her the bottle of champagne I'd picked out, only to get back the identical one from her. We've been exchanging bottles for years, but I'd never gotten this one for her, nor vice versa. At least I didn't try driving off in her car:P

----

Kids will be here Christmas morning; most of the things for them are laid in and I think they'll enjoy them:) Hopefully the last-minute fires from late today will put themselves out early in the day tomorrow, so I can end the workweek with the second half of Cabin Pressure and a long week-end of good family company:)
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It's been so long since the last episode aired, almost as long since this finale was recorded, but FINALLY, the last episode ever of Cabin Pressure will air worldwide in a bit over 24 hours. Airtime is 1830 in the UK, which I think works out to 1:30 p.m. here in the East.  This site has links to all the listening options; most relevant here, of course, is this one to the BBC iPlayer stream.

I just tested it. Sheila Dillon's cooking programme is coming through loud and clear.  The episodes will then be available thereafter for at least a week on the BBC pages and, doubtless, "elsewhere" for more permanent posterity.

That should give me just enough time to hide the Talisker;)

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First off, Darlene Love. She made her final Letterman appearance two nights ago:



Darlene is one of the most famed and acclaimed backup singers in all recording, and was one of the subjects of last year's documentary 20 Feet from Stardom. As she recounted at the desk before blowing the roof off the dump one final time, "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" had never been a signature song of hers before meeting Paul Shafer during a 1986 Broadway production. That got her doing it on the Late Night stage that Christmas season with what was then the World's Most Dangerous Band, and she carried it over to the new gig and has done it every December since- for the final time since this will be Dave's last holiday at the Late Show helm.

We used to watch every night in his early CBS days (recording it each night and watching the tape the following evening), but haven't watched any beyond Youtube clips for years- but the Show Remains The Same in so many comfort-food ways. Biff and Rupert and random audience members are still part of the bits; the Top Ten remains corny; but most of all, Dave is so loyal in dancing with them who brung him. Despite this being such a highly publicized show due to Darlene's appearance, his first guest was Jay Thomas, a former sitcom regular who was barely B-list in his heyday. Still, he was a friend of the show at his height, and his stories about Vinny Testaverde and the Lone Ranger (not the same story, thank gods) and his sheer joy at knocking a meatball off the tree with a football? Late Night Gold, far better than any A-lister who's on whatever to promote his or her latest what.

----

As for trees:

I mentioned yesterday that ours would be up today. I didn't mention that it was the first time I've produced and directed this effort entirely on my own.

Two years ago, we waited until the kids got here on the 24th, and Cameron wound up having a wicked asthma attack, likely from the accumulation of stuff in all the basement boxes from the tree and the trimmings. Then last year, we passed on the decorating altogether; Eleanor was finding the Retail Overdo of the holiday to be too much to take, and we slept and woke in heavenly peace with no geegaws around the house.

This year, though, her problem with it was far more physical; she's had more bad days than good with what probably is rheumatoid arthritis, and the up-and-downing of all the boxes and ornaments were too much for her to do.

So I did. Despite having the artistic talent of a small dog, I wanted to make the effort mainly so Emily and Cameron will have the extra touch of Christmas when they're here this week.....

plus, you know, the extra entertainment. For as quickly as the unassembled tree came up, it was claimed:



Unfazed, I got it out of her way and assembled, leading to more attention from Angels Who Have Meowed on High:

Treehasfeet

And, by mid-afternoon, the deed was done:)

Xm2014

It's a small gesture, but I look at it as my personal lighting of the final Advent Candle, in anticipation of the coming of those we love to our hearth and home as the days, again, begin to get longer:)
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Christmas pressies are not finished but are under control; cards went out today (to a few of you, even:); and the tree will go up tomorrow. But what else conveys the true meaning of the season but getting an early start on your 2014 taxes?  It's the biggest giving I do all year, after all, and there are now fewer than two weeks to make a lot of decisions involving receipts and deductions that will loom large come April 15th.

Thus, yesterday, when some office supplies ran out, I sought out the 2014 version of the same tax software I've used for close to a decade. The newly-merged two-headed monster of Office Hax-slash-Office Despot had the rack of Turbo Tax products, if somewhat buried in the back to keep the holiday cheer up. Thanks to some fusterclucking at the register, I wound up getting my copy for $15 off rather than getting to use a $15 coupon on some other stuff- but no matter: I've used the thing forever, it has tons of historical data in it about long-term transactions and assets, and early this afternoon I sat down to install it and do a quick-and-dirty preliminary run of the numbers just to be sure nothing was completely gorked.

And nothing was,.... until I got to the Business Income and Expense section. The same one I've filled in using this exact same version for my business every year since starting it in 2006, and for Eleanor's business for years before that.  Despite several chances to make it clearer earlier in the "interview" process, it instead gave me a hideous screen saying, TOO BAD SO SAD, THIS "DELUXE" VERSION DOESN'T DO THAT ANYMORE. Instead, they've moved the entire Schedule C preparation support into a super-duper "MORE THAN DELUXE" upgrade that supports multiple employee payroll records (I have none), generates 1099s (I issue none) and makes mounds and mounds of cole slaw (we buy it pre-made).

They then offered me a $40 upgrade online, atop the 60 bucks I already paid for the damn thing (before my alleged discount- we'll get to that)- but I couldn't remember the answer to my security question just to log into my Intuit account and recover my long-forgotten password, so I decided to head back to Two Headed Office Hydra and work out an exchange.

Which they were happy to do, for only $30 more rather than $40- but they would only credit the "discounted" price of the original purchase. On which, really, there was no discount; the cashier forgot to apply a $15 coupon to qualifying purchases and took it off the software.

But you know what? I'm glad they said no- because it was finally the kick in the pants I needed to get out from under the thumb of this evil software company.

----

And I mean "kick in the pants" almost literally:



That was my illustration from almost a year ago, the last time I tilted with this software windmill. The problem back then was with access to the state tax portion of the software, which was trying to upcharge me 40 bucks (there's that figure again) for a "free" component of the program. I worked it out with them at the time, but not without me being awfully pissed at being pushed around by this company that makes a US Mint worth of money off of people paying taxes to the gummint.  As I noted then, and note again now, Intuit

has, for years, been at the forefront of a lobbying effort to stop the IRS and state governments from simplifying the tax filing process to a point done in many western countries that would consign them to the rubble of typewriter and cassette recorder manufacturers:

In the most technologically advanced countries, filing a tax return is free, easy and fast: Instead of taxpayers painstakingly calculating figures themselves, the government provides estimates of what they owe based on the very bank records and wages it already collects. Intuit, maker of the popular tax preparation software, TurboTax, has funnelled millions to oppose every effort to make tax day less painful.

Intuit has spent $11.5 million lobbying the federal government — more than Apple or Amazon. Former California Senator, Tom Campbell, who felt Intuit’s power during his proposal for an easy-file system in California, wrote that he “never saw as clear a case of lobbying power putting private interests first over public benefit.”

Intuit’s long and expensive campaigns over the years have argued that IRS-based service is a “massive expansion of the U.S. government through a big government program.”

Their products are also notoriously incompatible with each other between desktop and online platforms, and not just Turbo Tax. Intuit also puts out the office accounting software called Quickbooks. I tried it for my own business for about a week before finding the online version to be unweildy, incomplete and invasive (the first thing it asked for was all the passwords to my online bank accounts to "import" the figures). Meanwhile, my other office requires I use a limited version of it for timekeeping for them, and while my interface works okay for me, the other components of it change constantly, moving reports and features around willy-nilly and not giving the manager-types much if any control over whether they want the changes. Worst of all was earlier this week, when that office's internet went out for a few hours; despite me being in the home office that day, I could not enter time, and neither could anybody else until online access came back.

So I'm still stuck with them for that, but I cut the Quicken cord for my own financial stuff today; I bought the H&R Block counterpart to my good ol' Deluxe edition, which still supports business data entry and does it for $64.99, only $5 more than the useless Deluxe I returned to them. I gave up on trying to get the other $15 back, because one quits when one is more-or-less ahead.

It's installed; it transferred almost all the needed information from my Turbo Tax 2013 file (and I can manually get the few missing things in with little problem); and it's a close enough interface to follow along with it, with the few differences actually seeming preferable.

So to the makers of Turbo Tax, I say, Don't let the deductions hit ya where the good Lord split ya:P


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There's been news in the past week or so about potential advances in diagnosing dementia, probably the scariest of all killers to someone like me. That's partly because of some family history of it, and generally from how much of a loss it would be, to both my profession and loves of my life, to have my brain rather than my body fail me in later years.

Word came last week of hopes for a predictive test for Alzheimer's that proved, in one long-range clinical trial, to be 100 percent accurate. Of course, with such knowledge come the ethical dilemmas of how to react to it, by the patients themselves as well as their loved ones, employers and (in pre- and post-repeal Obamacare worlds) insurers.  Far better, then, for a potential patient to avoid, rather than predict, the onset of the condition.  So when a fellow gym rat mentioned last week that there was research supporting B-complex vitamins as having the potential to ward off the disease, I did some looking and a first test of buying the stuff.

The research is indeed there, if inconclusive. One study is quite encouraging:

Large doses of B-complex vitamins could reduce the rate of brain shrinkage by half in elderly people with memory problems and slow the progression of dementia.

A two-year clinical trial in England has shown that B vitamins, including B-6, B-12 and folic acid, slow down mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a condition which is a major risk factor for Alzheimer disease and other forms of dementia.

Dr. Gustavo C. Román, medical director of the Alzheimer & Dementia Center at the Methodist Neurological Institute in Houston, said that patients who already exhibit signs of dementia and test positive for high levels of homocysteine are more likely to respond well to the large doses of B vitamins. Homocysteine is an amino acid in the blood, and high blood levels are linked to an increased risk of developing Alzheimer disease.

A more recent piece in the same source cites contradictory research saying, flat out, "taking B vitamins won't prevent Alzheimer's disease," but nothing in there suggested any hurt, either; the vitamin is water soluble, so you can't take too much, and other than some slight, um, coloration issues, I decided to give a try to a bottle of B-complex plus C (the latter never a bad idea this time of year).

After a week of the morning routine? Inconclusive at best. If anything, I'm wondering if my leetle grey cells are rebelling against the disruption.

----

Last night, I returned to the gym, scene of the advice, and mentioned that I was trying the supplement- and that the only seeming mental effect so far was a series of night-ending Really Weird Dreams. I then proceeded to drive all the way home without my cell phone, knowing full well that I didn't have it, and not bothering to look before leaving because I was sure I never had had it that night....

until remembering, halfway home, that I'd checked the freaking TIME on the thing eight minutes before class.  A quick trip to FindMyPhone confirmed it was seven miles back the other way, and the resulting seven-mile drive confirmed that I'd dropped it in my parking space as soon as I'd gotten there. Fortunately, it suffered no damage, and since it was outside, I didn't inconvenience anyone in having to be let back in.

Then, this morning (after yet another last-minute weird dream), I came out to the kitchen to find a pile of dog food on the floor- and a note from Eleanor that she'd found it that way and was too late getting out the door herself to clean it up. I must've left the bucket on a shelf, where the Raiders of the Lost Cats proceeded to tip the damn thing over. Again, I remember being conscious about not knocking over the bucket while feeding the dog this morning- I slipped last week and made a monstrous mess- but slipped instead between the ears this time in not re-stowing the thing.

I know, two little incidents do not make a trend or disprove a finding- but it's just weird to have these little hiccups right after starting a new routine.  Weird, also, is seeing someone on my Flist also mentioning the start of a B-complex regimen (for a different condition) at just about the same time.  So maybe the B in B-complex stands for Kevin Bacon.

Mmmmmm.

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I was encourged by yesterday's White House announcement of the normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba.  This standoff, between the last bastions of both traditional communism (there) and rabid anti-communist sentiment (mostly in South Florida), was a Cold War relic that should have come down ages ago.  You have to admire Obama's stones in making the likes of Marco Rubio practically explode.

"Normalization" is by no means complete. Travel is still limited to certain categories, and no direct JFK-HAV flights will be boarding anytime soon. Nor can Buffalonians cash in on the move by self-importing Cuban cigars from Canada over the border; they're still illegal to import unless brought back direct from Cuba by authorised travelers and then only to the extent of $100 (or about 5 of the good ones, or so I'm told). Most hypocritically, none of this will change the Front of the Line immigration policy that has welcomed "dry foot" cubanos to this country, no questions asked and with almost automatic citizenship, for most of my lifetime. (Boaters and others whose feet don't touch dry US land can still be intercepted and returned.)  Harmonizing Cuban immigration with the rest of the nation's policies would take Congressional action, which is about as likely as pigs flying direct between JFK and HAV.

Several of those reporting from South Florida have noted a major division in the local reaction: the original expatriates are livid, likening Castro to Hitler and promising revenge on all politicians who acquiesce in this treason. On the other hand, their children and grandchildren are far more likely to be accepting of their neighbor nation as it is, and are welcoming the trend.  And fortunately, they, too, are all citizens eligible to vote FOR those so-called traitors, and their numbers will only be increasing as the grumpy old abuelos die off.

----

I'd have loved to see what "Stephen Colbert" has to say about this development tonight, but I suspect he'll busy with other things. It's the final night of the Colbert Report, before the Real Stephen prepares to take over for Letterman next month and his many-year persona goes to its ironically truthy grave.

We watch very little episodic television, and I never followed the show regularly, but he made enough headlines with his over-the-top pronouncements in the best Bill-O tradition. To this day, his detractors haven't forgiven him for his 2006 Correspondents Dinner appearance which "savaged President Bush" (there's a link to that, but I'm not dignifying it with extra clicks).

Seeing the Report taped in May 2006 was one of the Bucket List moments of my life, one I'm trying to duplicate with Daily Show tickets for Emily and me for the taping on the afternoon of the Billy Joel show. Tickets just came and went for some January dates, so I'm watching the ticket site carefully to try to catch the mid-February block for the two of us.

Off now to set the DVR for tonight's finale- a disk that will also eventually include Dave's final moments and the Real Stephen's first ones at 11:35.
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Bad news is coming out of Sony Pictures at record pace. The unprecedented hacking of their internal emails, with the almost instant publication of all the deliciously dishy dirt, has got egg all over Columbia's once-proud face.



First came the embarrassing reveals of salaries, strategies and the general petulance of both actors and studio executives. Nothing new there. Now, further threats aimed at a particular film release from the studio led first to most major theatre chains pulling The Interview from their screens and, by day's end, Sony canceling the Christmas premiere of the film altogether.  The hackers are apparently incensed by the comedy's gruesome depiction of the assassination of North Korea's Dear Leader.  Somehow, Paramount escaped all this wrath when they made massive fun of the country's previous dictator in Team America: World Police. Maybe it's because hackers would never dare touch the makers of Star Trek.

Then we had the usual readings from the Book of Threats aimed at journalists and others who would dare mine this treasure trove of scandal. My favorite of these was Aaron Sorkin accusing any media outlet reporting on the hacked material of  committing "moral treason"- and doing so just two weeks after the penultimate episode of The Newsroom, which glorified Old Journalism's right and duty to report on stolen material even if the theft was of sensitive government secrets. He even sent his main character to prison for 53 days in vindication of that principle; and yet, when the secrets in question are, say, his (in connection with the Steve Jobs biopic he's working on) or those of his show's co-executive producer (who happens to be a major Sony bigwig)? In that case, the lips must stay sealed, and all of Jeff Daniels's depicted principles just wind up looking Dumb and Dumber To me.

Yet the worst may have come this morning, when word broke that these emails may have caused a near-apolcalytic result: it's now publicly known that Alex Trebek is talking about leaving Jeopardy!

----

The man has survived 30 years of being stuck in an almost immutable format; weeks of the smugness of Ken Jennings; ridicule of his peddling of old-people life insurance; fake mockery by a fake Sean Connery; and even heart disease, an in-room hotel burglary and a resulting broken achilles. Through it all, he soldiered on, but it took one bratty kid and one helicopter parent to drive him toward the potent potables and, possibly, off the show:

"If you all think I should retape the opening, I will," he wrote. "But I want to say that for 30 years I've defended our show against attacks inside and out. But it doesn't seem to operate both ways. When I'm vilified, corporate (and certainly legal) always seems to say 'don't say anything and it'll blow over,' and I'm not feeling support from the producers, and that disappoints the s—t out of me."

"If I'm making mistakes and saying things you don't like, maybe it's time for me to move on," Trebek wrote to in the email. "It's not a threat, but I want to let you know how I'm feeling." According to Radar, Trebek later "calmed down" after firing off the first email.

Probably because he realized he forgot to phrase it in the form of a question.
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Been (or by the end will be) a long day away today. I wound up traveling to Rochester just for the office party here that begins in about an hour; unlike prior firms of mine that limited such functions to employees (or, at most, spouses), this office invites family of all ages and connections, and so Emily and Cameron will be joining us.

I got a confirmation on a settlement while literally stepping out of my car in the parking lot here this morning, so that karma alone made the trip worthwhile.  It was quiet for a bit after that, since the office phone/internet system all went down for a couple of hours. This is why I always resist the calls from both the Time Warner and Verizon camps to sign up for their all-in-one packages; at least with the split service, when one goes down you have the other.

On the other hand, I have been giving serious thought to taking out some, if not all, of our landlines. They run home and business a few hundred a month between them, and the only real value in any of it is the goodwill built up in my business phone number, which I could port to a cell line.  Our home landline originally functioned as a rollover "backup" for calls coming into my business number, but now I have that on forward to my mobile almost all the time; most of the activity on the home line consists of (1) voicemails from doctors telling us about canceled appointments that we wind up going to because we don't hear the messages in time (Verizon voicemail gives no visible signal of waiting messages except a faint little envelope that appears on one display), and (2) robocalls from various energy, car warranty and travel scams.  Then there's the fax line, which I use outbound an average of once a week at most, and on which almost all of the incoming activity consists of (1) adverts from roofing contractors (especially since Snowmageddon, despite our area getting little snow), and, (2) junk faxes from various energy, car warranty and travel scams.  So if you have a number for us beginning with an 839, there's a very good chance it will be currently dead in the next month or so.

Apropos of the icon: Patrick Stewart was a guest on Wait Wait over the weekend, and he did a marvelous Not My Job segment, including a sample of his original Yorkshire-area dialect and, best of all, a petit taste of what Captain Jean-Luc Picard would have sounded like if he had done the role with Paramount's originally-requested French accent.  You can make this so by clicking here.

Next three days are filling up quickly with work, but the following two weeks are thus far looking completely dead.  That is not a complaint, but merely a fact.

Off to air the grievances or something;)
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I saw a new name on my Facebook timeline yesterday morning; I recognised the last name but not the first. A little scrolling-back to the friend's own page revealed what the Annoying Top Story Filters had caused me to miss: Kristin, a longtime friend of mine from LJ, had recently come out in her new gender identity.

In the not-too-surprising category, I'd put both the news (it sort of fit aspects of her personality back when it was his) and my reaction to it: Oh. Good for her.  I mentioned it to Eleanor, whose reaction was largely the same, as it was, apparently, for Kristin's wife of several years, who reported and embraced the change in her own Facebook status.

It wasn't that long ago, though, that for me, this kind of transition would've gotten filed under "It's Complicated"- or worse.

----

Living a dull suburban white people existence, I was close to completely unaware of gender identity issues for the first third of my life. If I was, it was something that either happened far away (references to "going to Scandinavia") or was highly unusual if reported on at all (the first I can recall being the doctor/tennis pro Richard Raskind, who became Renee Richards and the subject of any number of funny-to-a-teenager jokes).

Over the next couple of decades, I gained much more awareness of, and empathy for, the LG half of the LGBT equation. In a sad backward sort of way, it took my pre-existing disdain for the aw-shucks persona of Ronald Reagan to hate him, as well, for his unforgivable treatment (or lack thereof) of gay men during the 1980s AIDS crisis.  Yet there was still little talk, and even less understanding, in the country at large of what transgender was all about. I remained confused by the public and comic images- of Tim Curry as the sweet transvestite from transsexual Transylania, or of Eric Idle's petulant pronouncement, mocking political movements of the 30's (AD) and 80's (1900s) in demanding, from now on, you shall refer to me as Loretta.

Yet tolerance tends to get to you, and in time, I found myself meeting, and befriending, good people, smart people, funny people of all genders- current and former. The strongest cure for prejudice is exposure to those who you are prejudiced against- and it was, really, only in the past few years that I gained enough of such contact for me to shed a childhood of inhibitions and a lifetime of cultural misconceptions and to add the T to my acronym of acceptance with a full understanding and a full heart.

Until yesterday, though, I had never been present for, or even close to, the rebirth- and I reacted with, yes, pride when I realised that my reaction was nothing other than Oh. Good for her.

----
Will I get it entirely right? Probably not; I expect I'll have my own occasional pronoun trouble and mis-monikering, but most of that is a combination of my usual old age and stubbornness about name changes when it comes to things like streets, and Kristin has forgiven such slips in advance, which I appreciate.  My biggest problem with the whole thing will likely be remembering whether to end the name with -in or -en, and that, my Friend, is probably the least of anyones' problems:)
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I rather expected to be writing about something else, which I probably soon will.

I didn't expect to read stories today, annoying me as all such stories do, about digital rights management restrictions affecting coffee makers and Danish furniture.... but I did.

I didn't count on the Bills keeping their playoff hopes alive by beating arguably the best offense in the entire league, holding the Green Bay QB to no touchdowns, two interceptions and a safety-causing sack in the end zone, with Buffalo's only touchdown and both INTs coming from two guys that weren't even on the team two weeks ago, one of them named Rambo,.... but they did.

I knew we were sending a Christmas ornament home to Emily, not expecting it she'd already have it hung and attempting to exterminate one of their cats by early this afternoon-



-but she did.

When the Guardians of the Galaxy DVD disappointed tonight (not the film- that was last night) by containing only one under-a-minute "bonus feature" and we switched to a QI, I couldn't have expected it to feature an Alan Davies joke involving Julius Caesar and the impracticality of his crucifying the pirates who once kidnapped him because they had hooks for hands.... but it did.

And, just now, when I watched the last-ever episode of The Newsroom, knowing full well that Sorkin killed off my favorite character last week, I had no way of expecting that by striking him down, he would become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.... but he did....

just as I didn't expect to end up in Memphis.... with no idea of how I got there.

Good evening.

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Despite all the cold and snow of the past few days, yesterday was a busy day for comings and goings. We've had tree trimmers from one of the utilities working in the neighborhood, and the sound of chainsaws and, even, singing have been coming from near the yard. Then there's our neighbor across the street, who had a convoy of contractor trucks in her driveway and out on the street. When she was outside briefly yesterday, I got the lowdown on the work: Ellen's having their bathroom completely redone.

Then I asked about the missing cacophony of bark from over there- they have a basset named Bernie Bob and a yippie little Yorkie named Pierre- and she said they were off-premise at a nearby doggie dayspa, for their peace and quiet as well as the workers'. But then she told us about another issue with the little guy.

Pierre had a cyst removed from his schnozz- benign, and healing nicely, by all accounts- but he's been exhibiting odd behavior in recent days. When he goes out on the boys' last before-bed potty run, he beelines for one section alongside the house and will not come back in when called. When they do get him to come in, he appears disoriented. This is not happening at the spa, so it's got to be something in, around or under their house. She spotted some tracks, took pictures and posted them- and a Facebook friend made a quick ID of the critter:

Houston, we have a coyote.

They're not unheard of around here (at least by visual evidence- I've heard no howling), but boy would one of those make short work of a terrier. We've warned our neighbors to our right, since they have a small but thinks-she's-fierce little shiba inu who's been known to try foraging next to her own house in search of varmints. Ebony's probably big enough to at least warn us of a fight, but Zoey also tries to get out- all barely eight kitty pounds of her- and she'd barely make a snack for such a predator.

This post is, of course, brought to you by roadrunner.com.
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Read Number 50 of the year is in the can.  The 51st is on my tablet, and a very different 52nd, which was featured on the Daily Show the other night, should be in hand by day's end soon- so I will make my book-a-week goal for 2014.

But there's always other written stuff to be consumed. If I'm eating by myself, I need something- a periodical, a cereal box, the ads on the diner menu.  Two of my favorite long time fillers from the magazine world have been gone from the world for awhile, but one, I'm happy to say, has come back online.

New York magazine (not to be confused with the older, staider New Yorker) always had a back-of-the-issue focus on challenging readers' minds. They gave me my first-ever exposure to British-style crosswords, enough to know that I'd never be good enough to [SPOILER: Not give, not us (3, 4)]get them, but I always enjoyed the long-running New York Magazine Competition. Two issues out of every three, alternating with the crossword originally edited by Stephen Sondheim, were the very different form of wordplay originated by Sondheim's friend Mary Ann Madden and continued in the magazine through her retirement in 2000. They encouraged cleverness over correctness- often encouraging "higgledy-piggeldy" filled double-dactyls and "change one letter to...." submissions. The answers were always amazingly fun and creative, and the regulars ranged from Nora Ephron to the "SUNY Albany Physics Building."

And it's back, at least online! Every other week, you can dance with the double-dactyls again!  They say they're posted alternate Mondays, but this one, with an October 29 deadline, was the most recent I could find:

COMPETITION NO. 33: MY FAVORITE BAND'S GETTING OLD. Please rename a well-known band to reflect its advancing age. For example:






Matchbox 80
They Might Be Tired
Rage Against the Noise Level in This Restaurant
Mumford and Grandsons






Enter through the comment thread, or tweet with the competition's hashtag (that one's was #agingbands).

----

Still dead, alas, is the Esquire entrant into the world of clever. For a good 40 years or so, an early-month issue would feature the Dubious Achievement Awards for the year just ended. Each would present, straight, a brief news item from the year with the headline packing the punny punch. This feature also developed its regulars over time, from an almost-guaranteed headline of "And then they went to Elaine's" to a clever use of this Nixon pic captioned "WHY IS THIS MAN LAUGHING"-

Nixon

The awards took 2001 off, as September made it hard for anyone to be funny, but they returned for a final run ending in 2008. Below the cut (but sadly brief) is the entire online content of that last hurrah for the Dubious, which gives a good idea of how they worked and why they stopped working:

Read more...Collapse )

And then they went to Elaine's, but it had closed for good:(
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Winter finally came with a (relative) vengeance to some of the places that were spared the Snow-vember spectacular last month. Yesterday, I left early for Rochester under dark, rainy skies and found the roads slick and sticky-snow-covered by the time I arrived there. It was their first significant snow of the season and the SUV-filled ditches on sides of roads were a testament to that. They got close to half a foot in all while I was there, but by the time I got home, the ground here was still clear of all of it.

This morning, less so.

I didn't have to be downtown until 10:30 today, so I left after rush hour but still plenty ahead of my appointment to take things slow.  Roads were okay; curbs and sidewalks had several slushy inches on them as I trudged to two appearances.  The roads had been plowed as I headed back out here a bit after 11, but there were still some icy spots.

Idiot in a Jeep, in the fast lane to my left, quickly found one of them- and I watched in horror as he did two 360 spins followed by a 180 pirouette as he sped over a portion of the 33 elevated over an intersecting road- and came within 30 feet of clipping me during his revolutions. I grabbed my steering wheel in a death grip, used Kermit's anti-lock brakes to great advantage, and was able to swerve out of his way without going into a spin of my own.

It was over in all of ten seconds, but the sight of it keeps repeating and I was a relative wreck for the rest of the day- which, I know, is far far better than the real kind of wreck.

I hit the gym at day's end, leaving at about 5:45, when afternoon rush is usually over around here. Not tonight. Traffic was backed up in both directions and heading west on Sheridan was so slow, I could smell fireplaces from the homes I was going by.  I was in no hurry whatsoever, though, and was happier than most nights for us to be home, and warm, and together.

----

Two followups to yesterday's post about the Bill Forsyth film Comfort and Joy:

The ice cream truck jingle from the film was so gloriously earwormy, I knew I would never conquer it, so I decided instead to embrace it. Taking direction from this Youtube, I learned how to record it onto my phone and turn it into my ringtone.  There will never again be any question of whose phone that is when THIS goes off;)

Also, while Peter Capadi is not in this particular Forsyth film, I heard back from Kara (and IMDB confirms) that Twelve did indeed have a connection to its production: Capaldi's family were ice cream makers in Glasgow and supplied all the ice cream for the movie.

Now THAT kind of cold I am happy to deal with:)
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Call it the "Hugh Laurie Effect."

That's what my friend Kara (princesskraehe in these parts) calls the phenomenon that occurs when an actor's fame in a highly visible role brings more attention to the actor's other work. Think "House," as the gateway drug back to Laurie in "Jeeves and Wooster."  Or, in the current example, think how Peter Capaldi's regeneration as the Twelfth Doctor is giving his new film, Inside the Mind of Leonardo daVinci, much more buzz.

We can't yet see that film in most of the US (its theatrical release, in 3D, isn't until later this month), but the effect also goes backward with Twelve. When Eleanor first saw Capaldi in this season's premiere, she instantly recognised him at the main character's sidekick from the 1983 Bill Forsyth film Local Hero. We've owned and loved that film and its soundtrack for ages, but it got me wondering why one of Forsyth's other movies from around the same time has never made it from tape to today's format:

HelloFolks

Don't believe that image for a second, at least not that bit in the bottom left. If there ever was a 20th anniversary special edition DVD of this 1984 film, it has disappeared, at least from this region.  But VHS copies are still readily available, so I Amazoned one of them and it arrived in time for us to watch tonight- once I got done reconnecting the VCR to the home entertainment loop for the first time in probably two years.

It's just as fun, and bizarre, as it was in its day; a set-near-Christmas film in the grittiness of Glasgow that depicts warring factions of.... ice cream trucks?!?



There's protagonist Alan "Dicky" Bird in his first discovery of the Mr. Bunny family, which is throwing down with the crosstown forces of Mr. McCool. Watch that clip, never mind the entire film, and the phrase "Hello, Folks!" will be in your head for a month.

We enjoyed it in a single sitting, but without the ability to use remotes to pause or go back. I therefore tried to transfer this 1980s technology to the late 1990s by running the VCR signal through our DVD recorder.... and couldn't. An evil beast called Macrovision, encoded in the tape, tripped a code in the DVR and gave us a no-go. With a little checking, I discovered that there are workarounds for this, but it's eminently frustrating that film distributors and recorder manufacturers are so bent on keeping 30-year-old products from being updated into a safer and more flexible format. I'd understand it better if they just wanted us to buy the DVD of the same product,.... but they don't sell it.

Why? Once again, most likely because of those gorram lawyers. One article about the film that I found, also bemoaning it not being available, mentions that Forsyth's first feature, That Sinking Feeling, was finally released on DVD, but "in an insulting format – with a dubbed soundtrack for American audiences." That suggests the problem with Comfort and Joy- in addition to its gorgeous soundtrack of original music by Mark Knopfler, it is set largely in a radio studio and thus includes, duh, the original versions of songs as they were played on the radio. That, in turn, leads to issues over clearances for new-format releases, and possibly to ridiculous demands from the likes of the rightsholders to such classics as "Me and Mrs. Jones" heard on the VHS version.  Sometimes, the rightsholders can't even be found, and lawyers' typical answer in such situations is the easy one: DON'T.

One way or another, I will find a way to secure a lasting copy of this film I can share- because I wouldn't want to fritter away the opportunity;)

(Just go see the film and you'll get that last bit.)
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In my last post here, I mentioned the occasion of last night's dinner out. There were two things I didn't mention, because they hadn't happened yet.

This was our first dinner out together in almost five months; the last was on Eleanor's birthday in July.  That was also the last time that either of us consumed alcohol, until last night. It had become something between a distraction and an addiction, and neither of us ever missed much of the experience. I found I needed A Glass to maintain the tactile and familiar aspect of the evening wind-down, and since July, other than last night, that Glass has contained diet ginger ale. Eleanor's switched to non-alcoholic beer for her own taste needs.

We made last night the observance of the anniversary (which had been the previous day) of our engagement in 1986; it just worked better to go out after we both had workdays and, in Eleanor's case, a late medical appointment. We picked a place near our mechanic's, where I was dropping off my car for its annual inspection, and when the bottle of sauvignon blanc arrived, it was,.... nice.  Not needed, not duplicated. Just a brief diversion to see if it reawakened any cravings or other feelings, and the answer, 24 hours on, appears to be no.

So I think we can make this a sort of peace with the Grape- to go to it on the relatively few occasions we dine out, but not to have it come to us.

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Since it was our first dinner out since July, it also served as our annual chance to be kind to our server.

We started this tradition on our September anniversary several years ago, where we'd originally planned an overnight away for the day but wound up too pooped to party and instead dined out locally. We decided to leave the saved hotel money on the table for our waitress, and the gesture was dearly appreciated- enough so that we've repeated it in each of the years we've gone out for the occasion since then.

That didn't happen this year in September, so last night was close enough, and we tipped the very good, very fun server with close to a 50 percent gratuity on the $89 tab. (That number will be important later.) We always tell them what we've done, so they won't worry it's a mistake, but this waitress didn't check the check while we were there and we don't do it for the hugs or the return of the appreciation.  It still felt like a randomly kind thing to do, and suited to the occasion of our return to the world of external cuisine.

I worked from home today, expecting a mail delivery of a long-awaited VHS tape of a movie we've not seen in decades (because it's not on DVD- yet). That did not arrive, but an envelope from a local bank did.

Not one of ours, but one we'd each done business with in the past.  Addressed to me, it contained a refund check and an apology, stating they'd "reviewed [my] account and discovered an error." The only account I ever had with them was the loan to purchase Eleanor's previous truck, which we paid off well over seven years ago- and they're just getting to checking the maths now?!? (Eleanor also had a checking account with them long ago, and she got a small refund check herself on account of something-or-other from them a few months ago.)

The occurrence, therefore, wasn't entirely unexpected- but the amount was.  It was for just over 89 bucks- almost the exact amount of the tab last night that we paid forward to our server.  Intellectually, I know it's just a random coincidence, but it served as an affirmation of kindness that always feels good inside whether rational or not.
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Musical cars twice this week: it's been a year since Kermit the Hybrid came home to us, so inspections come in December. I have no court tomorrow, so I'm dropping off tonight and will take Eleanor to work in Iggy tomorrow. She had a late doctory appointment, so we're going out somewhere near our mechanic's place for an Engagement Anniversary dinner.

Wednesday morning, Kermit then goes home to the Rochester dealer who first sold him five years ago. There's a recall on the hybrid battery programming; it's just down the road from our office there, and it supposedly will only take an hour, so I'll just wait with it and call for a ride from and/or to only if it goes beyond that.

Eleanor made a yummy ravioli last night, and we ate while watching a spy movie called Breach, with Chris Cooper, Ryan Philippe and Laura Linney in the lead roles. Slow paced, but it really had to be, to convey how slow and deliberate the process of demote-ing a spy agency really is.

By "ate while watching," I of course mean "while watching wherever we could sit"- because the sofa quickly became ocupado:

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December 7 was also a Sunday in 1986. You could look it up.

I'd been dating Eleanor for most of the year, and while I'd been a semi-regular with her fam in Rochester all that time, this weekend was her turn to meet the Long Island contingent of mine. We flew in and saw my mom, staying with Sandy, Jean-Pierre and my nieces. The Saturday night was for Fun, Significant Things in the city; Sandy had gotten us theatre tickets to a show- a musical we knew about from the movie version, in turn a re-imagining of an earlier B-movie camp classic. Eternal pack rat that I am, I still have the Playbill:

Seymour

The cast? Nobody who went on to big fame from it, and longtime Fiddler alum Fyvush Finkel was/is the only name I recognize from it all these years later.  (The book and music, though? Ashman-Menken, who would go on to write the soundtrack of the first ten years of our daughter's life.)

I had my mind made up about proposing; the only question was where.  New York offered all kinds of romantic opportunities, including Windows on the World, but we passed them all up (and in hindsight, I'm glad we did). Instead, it was Sandy who made the perfect suggestion:

Take her out to Jones Beach.

This was a place that meant a lot to our family growing up, and was quiet and perfect in its off-season Decembery look.  We took the drive, and I popped the question within yards of the Atlantic.  That "yes" led to 28 years since with far better than worse, moments of both richer and poorer, and a million memories and smiles along the way.

I will always be grateful to Sandy for giving us the inspiration for that starting point. A December later, we were already married; one December after that, Sandy had been taken from this world- but never from our thoughts, our recollections, ourselves.

----

This December brings no momentous family news that we know of, but I did realize something in the past few days that is itself significant: when the balls drop in three weeks, for the first time ever I will have gone an entire calendar year without setting foot in the town of my birth and the first 17 years of my life.

August came close, when a friend and I made it onto Long the Physical Island, but except perhaps for a few inches of Nassau real estate on the northbound Cross Island Parkway, no stop in East Meadow, or at the grave sites further out, or at any of the homes or other places I can still connect with almost 40 years after leaving and still know that Everybody Knows My Name.

One of my oldest friends from back there is there no longer; we just got their first Christmas card from Florida.  The church is still there, but each time there are fewer who know how much it meant to us for so long. In two months, Emily and I will again get close, but I can't even say for sure that 2015 will bring those memories tangibly back.

This is home, now- but those connections will always be there, with or without me on that sand.
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