Friday Free-for-All #93: Out of place, reality, growing up, smell

Another Friday, answering another set of random questions.

In which I answer random questions generated by a website. An ongoing series.

In what situation or location would you feel the most out of place?

Any kind of right-wing political rally or fundamentalist church service. A Monster Truck Rally or NASCAR race might fall under the umbrella as well.

At least these aren’t that common in Los Angeles County — well, the parts that aren’t far inland. We tend to get the rallies and fundies in Orange County. The Monster Truck Rally might show up at the Pomona Fairgrounds, which is where they hold the L.A. County Fair, but that’s obviously oriented toward a more rural crowd.

They do have some NASCAR race event coming up at a new stadium in Inglewood — I think it’s the one where the Sup — sorry — “Big Game” is going to be played — but as someone pointed out, that event is mostly going to draw its crowds from the Riverside and Inland Empires. That is, the red parts of the state.

The stadium itself is in the middle of an historical Black neighborhood in L.A.

What do you think about reality TV? Why is it so popular?

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, it’s a genre that is completely without value. Note that Documentaries are a completely different animal. But the whole Bachelor/Bachelorette/Big Brother/Duck Dynasty/Real Housewives stuff is just complete crap. I’ll even include all the existing “talent” shows on this list. And yes, Drag Race is a talent show.

The problem is that they are so orchestrated and manipulated behind the scenes that what we’re seeing on screen really bears no resemblance to reality. It’s manufactured drama, some shows far worse than others, and it has the added detriment of continuously creating celebrities who should not be celebrities at all. Most of them never even deserved the first fifteen minutes.

These shows can also destroy the lives of their contestants, as well, and not in obvious ways. Yes, suicide is an epidemic among reality show contestants, present and former, and not just in the U.S. But the damage can destroy the living as well.

Look at home makeover shows. A lot of the time, the actual work isn’t done by contractors, but by set builders and decorators instead. There may technically be permits, but that stuff isn’t necessarily built to last. When it is, the new add-ons can sometimes trigger a new tax-assessment on the property, which is carried out based on the current market value, plus the improvements.

So a family that’s owned their home for twenty or thirty years and had been paying property taxes on those rates and original values may suddenly find their assessment is twenty or thirty times that old value, with higher property tax rates as well. They’ve been thrown into a situation where they can no longer afford the house they’ve lived in because the new property taxes are more than what they would have ever paid for a mortgage for the original place.

As for Drag Race, contestants on the show can spend a fortune on their looks — wigs, shoes, outfits, make-up, etc. — and most of them go onto the show not being rich or famous already. This is rather ironic, since in the early days of drag it was a do-it-yourself, thrift-shop affair. The kids were having fun by being creative, not by buying thousands of dollars of fabric or designer dresses.

As for why I think it’s popular — it’s junk food for the brain. It gives viewers a storyline to follow about “common” and “real” people who are neither of those things. It gives them drama to talk about with family and coworkers later and fills a hole for people without more creative outlets.

It’s kind of sad, really, and what’s sadder is that the money train seems to show no signs of slowing down.

What did you like / dislike about where you grew up?

Since the question asked both, I’ll answer both. I grew up in what started out as an exurb of a major city only to itself eventually turn into a small city with its own suburbs. When my parents had first moved there, it was a fairly new development, although they were not among the first wave of people to buy homes out there, nor were they the first owners of their house.

Interestingly, by the time my parents got there, a lot of the original homeowners were on the verge of finally seeing their kids reach adulthood — or so I’ve heard from conversations from an old neighbor who was one of those teens when I moved in as an infant.

Things that I don’t or barely remember are that they had not quite connected a main road across a rail line but finally built the right-of-way when it became clear that everything was going to keep developing to the west and that this street was going to be one of the major thoroughfares.

The topography of the place was basically low mountains to the south with what had probably originally been a pass or narrow valley at the bottom. This had been plowed out to make way for the Ventura Freeway and Ventura Boulevard, which in turn were what enabled the whole area to develop. (The Boulevard obviously came first.)

Like most of the San Fernando Valley, it was built on property that had once been rancheros, first when the southern half of California was a part of Mexico, and later on after it had become part of the United States. As the various cities across the Valley developed, evidence of the rancheros faded slowly, but since this was the far west end of the Valley, the rural nature of the environment faded last.

Not that there was a lot of it left in my neighborhood growing up, although I was two blocks from Pierce College, which was dedicated mostly to teaching agriculture and farming and which is still there to this day.

Meanwhile, Ventura Boulevard had all the fancy stuff, including the high school, and all the shops and fast-food places. Victory, after it had been put through, tended to mostly go through residential areas, but our grocery store was one mile east, and the huge mall, Topanga Plaza, was about three miles west.

It was also safe, most of my friends were Jewish, so I grew up learning comedy and hanging with the intellectual crowd, and for some reason we got a lot of the same stuff — multiplexes, automatic scoring bowling lanes, big box stores, and so on, that only seemed to pop up in the more urban and distant parts of town.

Well, at first. I think that we were actually a test market for a lot of things.

What I disliked about where I grew up was that, as I became older, I realized how far it was from everything else. It was not a trivial matter to get to Hollywood by bus, for example, and points beyond, especially downtown, were out of the question — especially in my pre-car days.

Hell, it was bad enough to convince my mom to let me make the bike ride to North Hollywood, which is only about thirteen miles by car now and which is not at all an uncommon bike commute for adults nowadays. Of course, they also now have the Metro bike path that follows the Orange line from the West Valley right to NoHo, so it’s a lot easier.

Another thing I really disliked as I became more and more aware of it was that the area had become where all the white racists had moved in order to escape the increasingly cosmopolitan nature of the city, especially just over the hill in Hollywood. Of course, they’d also fled to the south-west corner of the Valley because parts of it in the North were beginning to have too many Hispanic and Latino residents for their liking. Never mind that it was only in the extremely northern parts of the Valley, and pretty far east from there.

Since then, the justice has been poetic, as most of my old neighborhood is now pretty heavily mixed white and Latino, with those old racists having fled farther west into Simi Valley. But at least I never had to deal with a lot of the racist parents directly growing up, and once I graduated high school, I was out of there.

What is it they say? A nice place to grow up but I wouldn’t want to live there.

What smell brings back great memories?

This isn’t something that I’ve smelled in a long time, but whenever I do, it brings back the same memory. The smell is a wood-fire stove, burning early in the morning. It’s off in another part of the house, so the aroma is subtle, but it’s definitely there. It mingles with whatever part of the crisp morning air outside manages to sneak in.

Then — add bacon. The sudden smell of frying bacon that manages to come in and permeate everything, making the smell of the wood fire even stronger somehow.

The smell means that it’s time to get up. Grandma is making breakfast. I don’t need to tell myself twice. I get dressed, hurry through the chilly back house, then through the vinyl accordion door into the front house, closing it behind me.

Here, the wood-fire stove heats everything and the family gathers. Pretty soon, we’ll have scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, home-made biscuits, milk, apple juice, wheat toast with plenty of butter and apple preserves, and I can’t even remember what else.

It only takes a whiff of a wood-fire stove somewhere and a hint of cooking bacon and I go right back to those mornings from my childhood. Funny how smell is supposed to be the strongest sense, and the one that most powerfully evokes memories, isn’t it?

Friday-free-for-all #53: Overreaction, sport, tech, sequel

The next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website. Here are this week’s questions. Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

  1. What’s the biggest overreaction you’ve ever seen?

January 6, 2021, when a childish bunch of uninformed, conspiracy-believing Qidiots tried to storm the Capitol, take over Congress, stop the certification of the electoral vote count, and maybe kill a few Reps and Senators while they were at it.

They’re still whining about it even now, after their self-proclaimed “deadlines” of January 20, March 4, and March 20 all passed, and there was not a sudden storm of arrests of prominent Democrats, with the former guy being put back in office.

They’ve gotten a lot less shrill online — at least publicly — although there are still the trollbots who show up on every Tweet by President Biden, all with the same cut-and-paste, no doubt bot-created comment: “Win a real election.”

It’s gratifying to see those comments get shoouted down immediately and loudly by dozens of supporters of our duly elected 46th president.

Now, of course, I didn’t see the events of January 6 in person, but I did watch them in real time, and it was an appalling display of a bunch of people being the exact opposite of patriotic.

  1. What sport would be the funniest to add a mandatory amount of alcohol to?

Well, I don’t think it’s a funny idea at all, although my snappy glib answer would be “NASCAR.” Oh, wait. That’s not a sport. It’s just a bunch of drivers repeatedly turning left while wasting fossil fuels.

Golf and bowling pretty much already seem to have mandatory amounts of alcohol. Fun factoid: Rumor has it that a golf course has 18 holes because that’s how many shots are in a fifth of liquor.

Of course, it isn’t true at all, which is why I called it a factoid, per its first definition.

Probably the funniest and least dangerous would be curling. Think about it. A bunch of drunk people, on ice, pushing around a stone by sweeping the ice in front of it — except that they can all barely stand up. It would certainly make it more popular.

  1. What piece of technology would look like magic or a miracle to people in medieval Europe?

Which one wouldn’t? It’s a perfect example of Clarke’s Third Law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

We can probably leave out simple mechanical devices, like steam engines, because they don’t go too far beyond what people of the time might have been familiar with. All right, they didn’t actually have those yet, but in the 12th century, there was an organ powered by heated water, so the concept existed.

Certainly, educated clergy would have some familiarity with ancient science and technology, a lot of which was mechanically advanced and lost to the Middle Ages in general.

Of course, one big trick is this: If you take this device back in time, it has to work there, meaning that you couldn’t do a whole lot on a cellphone, although you could convince people that it’s a magic window that shows living pictures if you put enough video on it.

At the same time, with a concealed walkie-talkie and a partner, you could play all kinds of “Talking to spirits games,” although those would probably be dangerous, and more likely to get you executed as a heretic.

The real miracle, though, would be modern medicine. Now, you’d be hard-pressed to use any of our current diagnostic techniques because they mostly require large amounts of electricity — I’m thinking X-rays, MRIs, CAT and PET scans, and so on.

But for years doctors have relied on differential diagnoses using manuals in which they basically walk through a checklist of symptoms to find likely causes. They could use that low-tech method to figure out what medications to prescribe to their patients.

Surgery might be trickier, if only because true anesthesia would be difficult without proper monitors and the like. Still, bring back a few generators that run on solar power, set up your surgery in a secure tent that uses “air-lock” style entrances and positive ventilation to keep the outside out, and there you’ve got your clinic all set to go.

Start handing out the penicillin and vaccines, and you and your team will be hailed as miracle-workers in no time at all.

  1. Which movie sequel do you wish you could erase from history?

Simple. The one that did the most to piss on the legend that is my favorite film of all time, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was followed up by the film 2010: The Year We Make Contact, based on the official sequel by Arthur C. Clarke, and it could have been good, except that it was directed by a total hack.

I won’t mention his name. You can look it up. But he’s made a number of films that could have been great, but usually just missed the target. In 2010, he did nearly everything wrong.

Start with the subtitle. “The year we make contact?” Nope. Per the first film, we kind of did that in about 1999 in the first film when we dug up the monolith and, if not then, definitely by the time that Dave Bowman took his journey through the star gate.

Hell, I could argue that “we” made contact the second that Moonwatcher touched the Monolith in the opening act, in prehistoric times.

But this director’s biggest mistake in 2010, though, was tossing out everything Kubrick had established in 2001. That is, following the laws of physics and science.

Nope. Welcome to a movie with apparent artificial gravity on spaceships and sound in space. Sure, fine for most other space movies out there, but if you’re going to make this particular sequel, the scientific accuracy is something you cannot leave out.

There’s also a moment when the Russian ship sent to Jupiter with a joint Soviet-American crew (the film was made before the fall of the USSR) uses what basically appears to be a bunch of inflated parachutes to drag through Jupiter’s upper atmosphere to slow them down into orbit.

Okay, fine. That’s somewhat plausible. What isn’t is having them burst into open flames when there is no oxygen in Jupiter’s upper atmosphere or space. Those things are just going to get hot, not burn.

It would have been a much more dramatic visual to have them heat up, from red-hot all the way to white-hot. Oh yeah — this was also one of the noisier “sound in space” moments. It would have been so much more dramatic to cut between the brakes heating up and heating up, the crew inside hanging on for dear life, and then jumping back and forth from the sounds of human chaos inside to… absolute silence.

The film does try to pay attention to the science in the finale. Long story short, both ships, the Russian Leonov and the American Discovery, are going to wait a week for a launch window to open up so they can get back to Earth. However, circumstances dictate that they have to leave before two days pass.

Their solution is to use the Discovery as a booster stage for the Leonov to get it up to velocity so it can take a different route, and they do this. All of the above is scientifically accurate. You can’t just arbitrarily decide to start your trip from planet A to planet B right this second, at least not with our existing technology.

But there’s one other thing going on. Jupiter is about to be transformed into a dwarf star, which means there’s going to be an enormous explosion in the outer solar system, which will send out a rapid shock wave of high energy radiation that is going to catch up to the Leonov, which may not be sufficiently shielded to handle it.

The Discovery, by the way, somehow implausibly stopped after it was done boosting the Leonov (again, scientifically wrong), and is destroyed in the explosion that turns Jupiter into our Sun’s binary partner.

Hint: In space, if you use rocket A to give rocket B a boost, and then rocket B fires its own engines to pull away, rocket A is only going to be slowed by whatever negative thrust it picks up from departing B, which might not be that much. Otherwise, it’s going to continue onward forever at whatever velocity it had.

It could separate by firing its own forward-facing thrusters, which would slow it a bit, but that might damage the other ship, which is the one you want to keep intact.

Newton’s Laws, baby. So chances are that if Discovery didn’t make it out of the melty zone, Leonov didn’t, either.

But the director puts the final nail into his disregard for Kubrick in the last shot, when we go back to a now warm and wet Europa, which is in about its equivalent to Earth’s Carboniferous Period — think steamy swaps with giant ferns and huge insects.

SPOILER ALERT: Cue Also Sprach Zarathustra, which means we’re getting a big reveal. And we do. There’s a monolith on Europa, waiting. But how does the director get to it? Not through a dramatic and involving tilt up. Nope. He instead pans right, in a shot that sucks all of the impact out of the reveal.

Quite typical of this hatchet job, really. So yeah, it’s a sequel that should just disappear. Preferably, Clarke’s three sequels should instead be made into a streaming series, and done by producers and directors who actually respect Kubrick and can do onscreen science right.

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