Monday, December 29, 2008

My favorite top ten blogs of 2008

As the year ends, bloggers and other writers post their lists for the year. Since I haven't seen ten movies in the entire year, I can't very well post a top ten list of movies. So instead, I will post my top ten favorite blogs as I do spend much of my free time online instead of lining up to see movies.

These are the blogs I go to first in my Google Reader and represent a cross section of all my favorite interests. Hopefully, some of them will interest you too. No offense to the many other blogs to which I subscribe -- the top ten designation is a useful limitation or otherwise I could be writing for hours and hours about all fifty plus blogs currently residing in the reader.

In no particular order:

MetaEfficient -- If you want to buy something but don't know what is the greenest product, then bookmark MetaEfficient. Looking for the most efficient refrigerator, then use the search feature on the blog and you'll get every blog post dealing with refrigerators. Always informative, with posts ranging from the mundane to the extraordinary. Did you know that areca palms are the best indoor humidifiers?

Fake Plastic Fish -- I started reading Beth's blog as she was just beginning her journey of tallying and weighing the amount of plastic items headed for the weekly trash from her household. Following her blog has been a very instructive journey, as she has investigated ways to reduce the use of plastic in her life. I've applied numerous tips from her blog, including investing in a home soda maker and shopping for toilet paper made out of recycled post consumer content that is not packaged in plastic. (Single rolls wrapped in paper available locally at Mustard Seed.)

Hullabaloo -- I suppose most savvy online people know and read Digby's blog. I really only discovered it this year, however, during the long months running up to the election. Post election, I'm finding it is one of the few political blogs I continually turn to.

The Daily BBG -- My friend Kevin's blog, from Orange County CA. Kevin colors comic books for a living and is one of my oldest online pals. We met on the atheist boards on AOL back in the early 90s. His blog is eclectic, featuring everything from full out rants to pictures of cats and personal narrations. It is always a worthwhile read.

Plants are the Strangest People -- This guy is into house plants. To the point that he works in a greenhouse by day and comes home to research plants and share what he knows on his blog. He has his preferences, for sure. Foliage rules. While flowering plants are not his most favorite, he still posts at length about all kinds of plants and always includes pictures.

Crunchy Chicken -- Here's another blog chock full of useful information. Located in the great northwest, Crunchy Chicken is a one woman whirl wind of inspiration. Her blog is one big participation eco party! She has book clubs and amazing challenges all focused on healthy, frugal and ecological living. If you want to build up your own personal blog, then do check out Crunchy Chick's techniques because she certainly draws a big crowd.

The Brain Police -- Microdot is my blog-brother. We both started our blogs at about the same time and stumbled across each other early on. He's a former rock musician from Detroit now living in France -- with so many talents you have to read his blog to keep up with him. Suffice it to say, if you want to read about French cooking, bike riding, grape harvesting, Frank Zappa, and current events from a Euro-American perspective, Microdot's your blog of choice.

The Playgoer -- a dramaturg living in NYC who goes to the theatre and blogs about it. If you've ever wondered how actors learn all those lines, check out this post and be sure to read the comments.

Pharyngula -- This blog should need no introduction. The infamously famous PZ Meyers is a genuine news maker, especially during the episode of the holy communion wafers. If you enjoy science, rational thought, cephalopods, and the continuing fight against creationists and other rabid non-thinkers, then this blog is for you.

Diarrhea Island -- Don't let the title of this blog deter you from entering and absorbing Marianne's posts about about music and life as she observes it. She's been a Kinks fan longer than me. Here's a post about attending a recent concert in which an idiot in the crowd gets his just return from Ray Davies.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Coal or passive heat -- hmmm?


or this?

Two stories in the New York Times focus on home energy. In Germany, architects and engineers have been working on building passive houses, with no furnaces. They work because the homes are insulated to the point that heat from appliances and bodies is all that it takes to keep things snug. Instead of a furnace, a heat exchanger is the only equipment needed. Fresh air coming into the house is heated by the stale air going out.

In Germany, the added cost of building a passive house is about 5 - 7% according to the NYT article. However, that cost would rise in the US because the heat exchangers and special window and door units are not on the shelves at Lowe's or anywhere else. And another problem for acceptance of this kind of house in the US is the fact that they are built on the small side, the usual allocation is of 500 sq feet per person per house. Americans are obsessed with more space to house more stuff, rather than focusing on energy efficiency.

So what is the growing trend in terms of home heating here in the US? According to the other article in the NYT -- it's coal. Yep, people are buying coal furnaces and loading up on anthracite. And breathing in all kinds of particulates. Lovely. Be sure to check out the picture of the happy coal family -- dad loading up the furnace with coal while mom tosses baby into the particulate laden air.

Meanwhile, a guy in Berkeley, CA is attempting to build a passive home, but the green certification folks won't give him credit for using the heat exchanger -- too exotic or beyond their comprehension? And in Akron, as you drive past all the new housing developments being built for folk with low to working class incomes, imagine what a boost you could give those people by building housing that essentially provides all their heating needs at no cost once the house is built. And of course, think of the jobs that could be created by manufacturing the necessary passive window and door structures, plus the heat exchangers right here in the USA.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

So long Harold Pinter

Sad to wake up and read of the death of Harold Pinter, one of my favorite playwrights. I have fond memories of working on scenes from The Birthday Party way back in undergrad days. And then, just a few years back, seeing a brilliant production of The Caretaker with Patrick Stewart on B'way.

Pinter was profoundly influenced by Sam Beckett, the greatest playwright of the 20th century and continued exploring the existential themes of all the great absurdists.

Diagnosed with cancer in the early part of the new millennium, he gave up theatre to focus on political writing. I admired his courage for using his 2005 Nobel prize opportunity to deliver a speech from his wheelchair denouncing US policy involving decades of oppression and bullying in Iraq and around the world.

The Guardian has the definitive obit and the NYT posts this obit. You can view Pinter's Nobel prize lecture here.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A benefactor revealed

In 1933 in the midst of really bad times, a man in Canton, Ohio set out to do something to help those in need in his community. Check out the complete story in the New York Times. It's a fascinating account of what life was like in the midst of the Great Depression for people in this area -- and it resonates with what we are facing today.

Coincidentally, in today's email arrived this missive from Michelle Obama, urging folks to donate to those in need:

This holiday season, the grassroots movement you helped build can make a big difference for those in need.

I hope you will join me in supporting your favorite charity or contributing to causes that are especially meaningful to me and my family.

While many of us will spend the holidays counting our blessings and sharing dinner with loved ones, millions of people around the country won't be so fortunate. Donating to your local food bank will help provide a holiday meal to people in your community who can't afford one.

Talking with the families of deployed troops was one of the most rewarding experiences I had during the campaign. Giving to Operation USO Care Package is a great way to send members of our military stationed around the world a reminder that someone back home is thinking of them.

This is a time to celebrate our blessings, the new year, and a new era for our country. But it's also a time to come together on behalf of those who need our help.

Do what you can to help today by locating your local food bank and giving your support.

Or send a care package to an American in uniform:

Thank you for all that you do and have a very happy holiday season,


I would add that local abandoned and rescued animals need our support as well, so why not send something to the Humane Society of Greater Akron? Here's the link.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Invoking deities at the inauguration

I was looking forward to January 20th as a day to celebrate the end of so many unpleasant things, like everything about the Bush regime. But now I see that the inauguration is going to be stained by the presence of one right wing blowhard religionist by the name of Rick Warren.

This is the guy who is opposed to abortion rights, stem cell research, women's rights, gay marriage and yes, he voted for California's Prop 8. This is the self righteous dude who was quoted in Salon as saying he would never vote for an atheist, for the following reason:
"An atheist says, 'I don't need God,'" Warren said. "They're saying, 'I'm totally self-sufficient in myself,' and nobody's self-sufficient enough to be president -- it's too big a job."
Saying one doesn't need a god is not the same as saying one is totally self-sufficient. Who is totally self-sufficient? Nobody. We all rely upon family and community in order to survive. Is Warren saying that an atheist president would not select a cabinet and make myriad appointments because she thinks she can do it all herself? Or is Warren making a more sinister accusation -- that no one can become president unless they believe in an acceptable mythology. You know, the kind that posits there is some kind of huge power hovering over the head of state. One that must be prayed to or called upon to bless every decision. How ridiculous!

For the non-believer, this world with all its denizens -- plant, animal, human -- is more than enough to spend a life time contemplating. We don't need to invent higher beings before which we feel compelled to prostrate ourselves in submission. Personally, when I need inspiration, I turn to the arts. A painting, a piece of music, a great work of dramatic literature, a poem -- these works created by humans are enough to keep me going through the tough times and the absurd times.

But unfortunately, works of art aren't enough for a lot of people. (They somehow refuse to acknowledge that their religious books were made by humans, not gods.) They must have their belief systems that involve commandments, prayers and invocations. So why do politicians include invocations to gods in official ceremonies? What is the purpose? An invocation may be defined as a prayer that calls upon some imaginary being to do a favor, to offer protection or to actually enter the person doing the calling. This is opposite of an evocation which calls upon the spirit to actually manifest itself in a particular place. Both modes sound like a lot of humbug to me, or to be polite -- involve a lot of imagination on the part of the people doing the invoking and the evoking.

Also on Obama's inauguration agenda is a benediction to be delivered by Rev. Joe Lowry, a religionist of the leftist persuasion. A benediction is, as the Latin root hints at, an invocation asking for beneficial results. It is usually at the end of a ceremony. It is in actuality a call for good luck. I do agree we need some of that, but I am skeptical that one can command good luck to appear.

So we see that the Obama inauguration must be viewed as an act of political theatre, with the religionists at the beginning and the end appearing as symbols of Obama's wish that we all -- fundies and lefties -- get along and respect each other. Too bad Rick Warren has no respect for atheists like me. There is only one thing to do, and that is to click on the mute button when the religionists start their braying, er praying and try not to get too embarassed by all the head-bowing and holier than thou posturing.

Don't get me started on the absurdity of taking an oath of office by placing one's hand on an ancient book filled with primitive attempts to understand the natural world. One day, it may be possible that people can promise to tell the truth and to serve in office with honor and distinction -- and that will be enough. You made your promise on the record and if you break it, no bolt from Zeus will strike you, but your reputation may be lost for good.

Does this rant mean I am thoroughly disgusted with Obama? No, it simply means that I recognize that the godless are still society's lepers. The symbolic bookends of Warren and Lowry are a display of inclusiveness -- of people who believe in some sort of god or higher being. Those of us who don't believe will just have to shut up and put up as usual.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Bush visits Iraq, Ducks Shoes

When I heard that Bush was making a surprise "farewell" visit to Iraq today, I immediately wondered what his real reason was for going there. What whispered deals and secret handshakes were going on regarding shares in Iraqi oil futures? Who is getting custody of the high tech fortress -- er -- US embassy/compound and what will they really be doing in that huge facility?

Later in the day, come reports and images of an Iraqi reporter tossing his shoes at the Lame Duck, who lived up to his moniker, neatly avoiding the hurtling shoes. He's been quite good at avoiding things like shoes, effective governance and responsibility for all the mistakes.

I am not at all pleased with murmurings that Obama will simply pull troops out of Iraq in order to heat things up in Afghanistan. Democrats can be fatally attracted to taking on macho positions to prove they can be just as strong as Republicans on things like "national defense." Why does defense so often mean attacking some other little bitty country?

The problems that reside in Afghanistan should be solved by group process and pressures, with the UN taking the lead, not the US. No more cowboy presidents, please. I have had a "US Out of Iraq" sticker in my rear windscreen since before the invasion of Iraq. I don't want to have to add "US Out of Afghanistan" once the Dems are in control.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wham Bam Thank You Pat!

That was the sound of me falling under a flu bug, and I did have a flu shot as usual. What was unusual was to feel the symptoms again as I've managed to avoid flu since beginning the shots in my first year of teaching. School is a hot bed of germs, and you need to have Purell containers at every door and water fountain.

So home in bed, and through a feverish haze, I saw the the Patrick Fitzgerald press conference in real time and it deserves all the theatrical referencing it has been getting in blogs and cable. Beyond theatre of the absurd, more like Marat/Sade meets Mamet. Patrick Fitzgerald -- wow I really dug him in the Plame/Libby Affair, but didn't like the way it ended at all! So cool to see him back in action. He had a really interesting gang of agents there standing behind him: a guy with no hair who didn't say anything and didn't need to, the tough looking blond woman, and the fellow who did the actual arrest.

In the following clip, we can observe Fitzgerald's exceptional performance skills. The delivery is simply perfect -- no glazed teleprompter stare, rather notes in hand, but mostly spoken straight out to the entire audience. He is looking at the room as he's reading the lines with all the
"bleeps." Wouldn't you have loved to see the reactions on the faces of everyone in that room? He also includes the viewing audience. There's something endearing in the way he continually explains to us that the bleeps are not actual bleeps. I imagine many regular daytime television viewers would not react well to the actual words used by the governor of Chicago.

Odd thing about that governor -- I can pronounce his name when I hear it spoken, but I can't when I'm looking at the way it is spelled. Blagojevich. Blagojevich. A difficult name to launch out of one's mouth but Fitzgerald has it down cold. Just a couple tongue trips which is remarkable reading from a document in front of the media mob.

As for Blago, he's got to plead insanity and go rest his delusional mind. It's like his brain blew a bunch of fuses and he did everything opposite of the way it is supposed to happen. Finds out his phone is tapped and then starts spewing pay to play schemes. Great theatre, though.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Fragments from the past week

Another senseless murder happened in Akron this week on a corner I pass at least four times a day as I go to and from work. The corner of Manchester and Thornton is a sad gang-infested nucleus in a cell filled with poverty and decay. A used appliance shop and a check cashing business are the only attractions. I've purchased washers and driers from Hairston's and I once went into the check cashing "store" to buy a bag of ice for a class party. Inside were a few shelves scattered with dusty cans and boxes. The main focus of the business was on supplying booze and cash loans to the locals.

There are some wonderful old homes along that stretch of Manchester, but many are boarded up and the rest have the air of rot about them. Who has the money to fix up a house when you are living on a paycheck that hasn't even arrived. Anything you could put aside for home repairs is going into the interest charged on your payday loan.

Lots of young men hang out on the corners of this intersection, no matter the season or weather. There seems to be no place else to go. Now on the chain link fence bordering Thornton, balloons and a teddy bear mark the spot of another life wasted in one of Akron's grimmest wastelands. The traffic light was recently replaced by four stop signs. I wondered why at first, but now I'm thinking it is probably safer to not be sitting at a red light for any length of time at this unhappy corner.

Speaking of the weather (and who doesn't in NE Ohio?), we've been enduring January-like temps and snow for weeks now. Saturday was one of those days I'd rather not be out driving, but since we had a show, there was nothing to do but bundle up and load the truck and head on out onto slick roads and incessant snow. Heading toward Montrose on 77, I was thrilled to see a red Smart forTwo car zooming past us all in the fast lane! March (my EDD - estimated delivery date) can't get here soon enough for me. This is not the car I saw on the highway -- it may have had winter tires, but not like these:

Obie, the ever faithful Huskador retriever, has found a new lease on life or at least -- he is enjoying the new living arrangements I made for him to help ease his day to day life as a most senior canine. According to this source, a 15 year old canine is equivalent to a 90 year old human. So in order to help Obie get around, I've put non-skid throw rugs everywhere and moved down to the ground floor so he doesn't feel obligated to go up and down the steep stairs. I also got him a very thick foam cushion for sleeping and he likes to sink his elderly joints into it at night and for long naps. He is also on pain medication for his arthritis and still enjoys his meals and short trips outside.

Obie in his element:

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

How to survive the recession?

Are you feeling like the guy with the cloud over his head? Have you been feeling the dark clouds gathering overhead? Any hints of horrible bad luck ahead, such as foreclosure, job loss, and no health insurance? Has your pension shrunk? Had a loan denied or a credit card snatched away by its issuer? A friend of mine had that happen just the other week. Said the card was all paid up, no problems with it. Boom -- suddenly your credit is no good any more. How on earth are we all going to survive the great recession?

I've been reading various predictions and following the massive activity going on in Washington with bailouts and big corporate executives down on their knees begging for billions.

And all I can think about is this big cloud over my head, following me around day and night. But it's not just me with the cloud. Everybody's got a little cloud now and we are all wondering when it is going to bust loose in a huge downpour.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Theatre reviews returning to Akron Beacon Journal?

Warmed my theatrical heart to see Kerry Clawson's byline back in Akron Beacon Journal on Sunday. Since Elaine Guregian left the Beacon a few weeks ago, there has been a sudden emptiness in what is left of the Entertainment section. We hope that Kerry keeps doing the theatre news and reviews.

I had been wondering what was up with the Bang and the Clatter's Akron offerings. I had heard they were leaving the Summit Art Space and looking for a new home. According to Kerry, the group has landed temporarily, and maybe permanently, on historic Maiden Lane in the charming little block containing a coffee shop, art gallery and a small performing arts club called Musica. Read Kerry's review for more specific directions to the theatre.

Here's the info for their current show, which I must make a point to see. I encourage my local readers to check out this theatre company. You probably have not seen anything like them, at least not in this neck of the woods. You won't find your typical community theatre fare on offer, and at only $15 per ticket you are looking at a really great deal. The Bang and the Clatter focus on very current material and the subject matter is generally adult in content, situation and language:

Drama: In a Dark, Dark House

Where: Bang and the Clatter Theatre Company, 29 N. High St., Akron

When: Continuing through Dec. 20, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays.

Onstage: Sean Derry, Stephen Skiles, Toni Clair.

Offstage: Sean McConaha and Stephen Skiles, directors; Rachel both, stage manager; Sean McConaha, sound design; Daniel Taylor, lighting design.

Cost: $15; students and senior citizens pay as you can.

Information: 330-606-5317.