Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Best Cat Pictures Ever

Time to lighten up the post. Here's some pictures of the Awesome Girlfriend's cats. I selected these as they are particularly artistic of reflective of their personalities.

I also heard a great line about cats last night; here's the paraphrase. "Every time I use the can opener, the cat comes running. The next time I get a cat, I'll name it "Mreeeoooorrrrr" (the sound of the can opener)."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Nature vs Nurture, or "Wanna Fight?"

Just a word of warning, this is a more serious "op-ed" entry, not a "the world sure is goofy" entry.

The other day I got into a pretty heated discussion on the role of "nature vs. nurture" as it relates to gender roles; "male vs female". The person I was having the discussion with felt that "nature" accounts for no more than 10% of how we view our gender roles, and that Sociologists have demonstrated on numerous occasions that society decides how males and females are "supposed" to behave from an early age (little girls being given dolls, little boys being given toy trucks, etc.). This person pointed out, factually, that gender roles have changed over the last hundred years, and that women who were once thought to have no ability to conduct the types of activities are clearly demonstrating them today. This person also stated that, aside from reproductive paraphernalia, there is really no difference between men and women.

I felt that "nature" has a greater role in gender identification. I did not dismiss the role that culture plays in gender role identification, but I felt that physiological factors, what I referred to as "wiring", had more to do with gender roles that the other person wanted to admit to. I pointed out that children, raised in similar circumstances, will often display vastly different personality traits, often in opposition to what is perceived to be the "traditional" gender roles (e.g. boys who like cooking, girls who like to work with tools, etc.----just as an aside, I don't think this exists as much as it used to, so defining what is a "traditional" gender role is much more difficult nowadays). I also thought there were more significant physiological differences between males and females than just their "equipment" (effects of hormones, genes, chromosomes, even brain size; females average 1130cc brains, males into THAT what you will!!).

The fact of the matter is, science doesn't really know what extent each of nature and nurture plays in gender roles (at least according to Wikipedia it doesn't!!). We know they are both very important, but the line or lines are hugely based on individual circumstances related to family, culture and biology. (Hey, this is starting to sound like my favorite Grad paper conclusion..."more research must be done". I loved that one, as it implicitly justified my profs going for more grant money :)

Now I have to admit right now that I didn't offer some of these comments during the discussion. The other person appeared to be getting quite furious that I wasn't seeing their position, and even challenged me to state "typical male or female behaviors". I didn't answer right then, partially because I don't think that quickly (I'm the kind of person who thinks of snappy comebacks 12 hours after the fact), and partially because I needed to give the matter some more thought and research (hence this posting).

What struck me was the fervor that the other person argued their point. Looking back I think if I had pressed on, I might have been struck with a basket of holiday mints, or the other person might have stormed out of the room. That's when I started to realize that we weren't in a scientific arguement, we were in a political one.

Heres' the op-ed part-brace yourself!! Discussion of gender roles is a hugely politicaly charged issue. Almost every day, it seems like the newspapers report conflicts over equality rights, access to resources and acceptance related to gender. I have to admit I was pretty ignorant not to see the emotional impact this was having on the other person until their eyes blazed and their voice became shakey. I think I am also ignorant about the social implications of research into this area. Being a comfortable white strait male gives me societal advantages I'm not even aware of. I can see now how discussion of this topic can appear threatening to people who want to enact social change in this area. After all, if opponents can simply say that gender roles and societal status is related to biology (which it has), it potentially diffuses the chance to make meaningful change.

What I am suggesting is that the scientific truth, whatever it is, doesn't have to impact our ability to change ourselves and our societies. It seems like this arguement is analagous to Copernicus discovering the earth revolves around the sun, not vice versa. The establishment of the Roman Catholic Church was horrified by this discovery, and tried to get Copernicus to recant his findings. They thought it threatened the structure of the Church. Well of course it didn't-the beliefs of the Church are deeper than "what planet orbits where". I think it's the same with the "nature vs nurture" discussion. If social justice can be demonstrated, the degree to which our gender roles are determined by society or biology should cease to be an issue. I also think we need to keep in mind that people are able to go against their "programming" (societal or biological) when they need to . Think of all the men who have served in combat roles in past wars. Most of them had no deep seated "desire" to take another human life, but the horrible circumstances they were in forced them to go against their previous training. If people can change their training in such a negative situation, they can certainly do it to make a positive change. And it can be done without being afraid of the truth.

OK, heavy and contriversial posting. Let's wrap up with something more seasonal. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all. Let's get programming ourselves for some hope, and de-program aourselves from fear.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

So long, Uncle Forry

If anyone reads this, it's pretty obvious I'm a huge fan of classic horror and science fiction films. I grew up dueing the 60's and 70's, right when there was a revival of interest in films like Frankenstein, Dracula, and the 50's sci-fi like "Them". Every week I would watch the "Chiller Thriller" movie from Pembina, North Dakota, Saturday at 10:30pm. Anticipating the weekly dose of classic horror was heaven to kids like me; in other words, kids who weren't the popular or athletic kids in school. I was bound to a larger community of like-minded kids across North America by a magazine called Famous Monsters of Filmland; a fun and pun filled monthly tribute to the films us "monster kids" loved. It was created and edited by a man named Forrest J. Ackerman, or the "Ackermonster" to us kids. Here was an adult who not only loved the same kind of stuff that we did, but was able to communicate in a way that we kids understood an appreciated. I guess looking back, puns like "Horror-wood, Karloffornia" were pretty corny, but we ate it up with two spoons.

"Uncle Forry" passed away Thursday night at the age of 92. An elderly man with the heart of a young boy (he kept it in a jar by his bed.....bada bing!!!-don't worry this isn't disrespectful, Uncle Forry would have loved it!). I feel fortunate to have met him once several years ago, and just a couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to write him a letter to let him know how much I appreciated him and his work. I don't know if he ever saw the letter, but that's ok-I just needed to make it know. So here's the contents of that letter, as my tribute to Uncle Forry.

Dear "Uncle Forry",

This is just another letter from a slightly-greying monster kid who grew up with Famous Monsters magazine, and shares an undying love for the classic monster movies your work and life has so joyfully celebrated. I was able to meet you briefly, once in San Diego, and while we didn't have a long chat, that opportunity to meet you ranks as one of my proudest moments (way ahead of the Master's degree!!).

I suppose everyone has a "Forry Story", and here are a couple of the moments of how you and your passion for the classic monster movies made ME a better man. I clearly remember you publishing a letter from an enraged father, who claimed to have destroyed his son's collection of magazines and models. His letter to you ranted about how you were exploiting kids, pushing your "garbage" on them, and how the world would be better off without "your kind". Reading his letter enraged me the way nothing else had as a kid, almost to the point of tears. The only thing that stopped me from breaking something in my fury was reading your response. I can't remember the exact wording, but your answer was so articulate and respectful in tone, it took my breath away. You not only expressed EXACTLY how I felt about monster fandom, but you did it that was in no way demeaning to the man who so thoroughly berated you in his letter. You showed me how a true gentleman stands up to hatred, not with threats or profanity, but with clarity and civility and courage. You helped me grow up a little that day.

My other story is a few years later, when I was just starting grade 7. I was in a new school, and the typical chubby shy kid. My first two days were horribly awkward, and I started picturing spending the next three years as the outcast of the class. On the third day I took my current issue of Famous Monsters to read over lunch. As soon as the other kids saw that magazine (Vincent Price was on the cover, I forget the number of the issue), the other kids started to ask "what's that?", "where did you get it?" "can I look at it?". PRESTO! Just like that I was the kid who knew all the COOL STUFF about monster movies!! Thanks to Famous Monsters, what could have been a horrible experience in my early adolesence turned into a break-out year, when I started to explore life beyond my little shell!

Now I suppose I'm considered a pretty successful and well-rounded individual. I have a beautiful girlfriend, a wall full of movies and a life full of great memories. To me you have always been the adult who new how to talk to us kids. I have to THANK YOU with all my heart for your work and your presence here on Earth. God bless you, Mr. Ackerman!!!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Arch Hall JR experiences

Tuesday Dec 2nd was Arch Hall Jr's birthday! To the majority who don't remember, Arch Hall Jr. (pictured here) was a somewhat squishy-faced young man who appeared in several low-budget independent pictures, which coincidentally were produced by his father, Arch Hall Sr. His titles include movies like "Wild Guitar", "The Nasty Rabbit", and my personal favorite "Eegah". "Eegah" starred Arch Hall as well as noted giant actor Richard Kiel, whom I met at the Monster Bash in Pennsylvania two years ago. It's an odd little film with earnest amateur acting and some reedy singing by Arch (he tends to croon to someone named "Valerie" though his girlfriend in the movie is named "Roxy"). Arch also like to say "Wowee wow wow" in this film, adding to it's charm.

The plot has to do with the discovery of a caveman (Kiel) who mysteriously has stayed alive for millennia, due to a steady intake of sulfur water from a spring in his cave (yum!). "Eegah" grunts his own language, whose most descriptive word, in my opinion, was "shtemlow". The basic stroyline is this: Roxy discovers Eegah (by almost hitting him with her car), Roxy's dad investigates and is captured by Eegah, Roxy calls on boyfriend Arch Hall Jr to search for dad, Arch and Roxy race around the desert in his dune buggy yelling "whee" for about 20 minutes. Eventually there is the standard "Beauty and the Beast" scene where Eeegah falls for Roxy, loses her to Mr. Dune Buggy, follows her to town and ends up face-down in a motel swimming pool (kind of like a cave man spring break I guess).

The movie apparently was pretty popular in the independent drive-in movie scene of the early 60's, where the fans, like Arch, were likely also funny looking and lacked for talent.

Anyway, since my birthday ALSO was December 2nd, I decided to make myself an Arch Hall Jr. T-shirt and wear it to work. Pretty much everyone liked the shirt, many laughed, but only 2 people asked who it was. One person saw the name "Arch" and thought it was a picture of "Archie Bunker". One asked who it was and then dropped the subject, and only one other asked who Arch Hall Jr. was. It's kind of a testement to my status at work that no-one actually asked WHY I was wearing a picture of Arch Hall Jr. on my chest. I didn't mind them not knowing. Telling people at your workplace that it is your birthday usually causes them to squirm uncomfortably, not knowing whether they are expected to sign a card or buy you a chocolate bar from the snack machine. So Arch and I kept our birthday secret for another year. To Arch, however, I'd just like to say: shtemlow, buddy....shtemlow!