Category Archives: Media

Grumpy Old Lady, Part 2

I have been binge watching Maine Cabin Masters. I love the series with its fun ideas for refurbishing old camps and captivating panoramas of Maine along with glimpses of loons and beavers. There are great family stories, too, that come along with the camps, many of which are at least a hundred years old.

But, the main sponsor is a new series called Home Sweet Rome. The series features a young woman, pre-teenish?, whose father marries an Italian woman and moves her to Rome with him. Turns out Francesca is a pop star. In the promo, the narrator is excited and says, “Maybe someday I can be a pop star!”

Obviously, women can be anything they want, including a pop star. I support her dreams. But, my grumpy old lady voice is commenting in the background every time I hear the advertisement. Why couldn’t Francesca be a brain surgeon? Or a human rights attorney (think Amal Clooney)?

I am not so old that I cannot remember being her age, but I have also been a lifelong nerd. My dream job in 6th grade was to be President. Oh! Maybe the father could marry an Italian politician! Turns out there a few women moving into leadership in the country.

I am also not so obtuse to understand that I am clearly NOT the primary audience for this show. It is a bit odd, in this day and age of algorithms, that it is being pushed during a home improvement series.

I know, I know, before I judge, I should watch an episode or two. Maybe the pop star, giggly tone is masking a stronger social message? Kind of like Teen Vogue? Or a couple of recent Instagram posts where a woman starts talking about arranging flowers or making bouillabaisse, then after a moment says, “Ok, now that the men are gone, we need to talk about bringing down the patriarchy.”

I can certainly recommend the cabin masters series as easy watching but also fascinating from a maker perspective. The team works through design and implementation in unpredictable building and natural settings, often using repurposed materials and drawing on local Maine builders and artisans. They must, of course, consider functionality and safety but also focus on creating beautiful, customized living spaces.

Local News

One of my graduate students was a sport writer focusing specifically on high school sports in a small town. So, I had to share the news about Gannett Newspapers pulling back from their use of AI to write their news stories. Gannett, of course, is not loved by small newspapers and local journalists as they take over and big layoff usually follow. What suffers when that happens is the local news, and it is local news that led to the pull back.

The Columbus Dispatch‘s story about a local soccer match opened with this grabber of a lede:

The Worthington Christian [[WINNING_TEAM_MASCOT]] defeated the Westerville North [[LOSING_TEAM_MASCOT]] 2-1 in an Ohio boys soccer game on Saturday.

Opinion: High schoolers can do what ai can’t, Scott simon, npr

It was, not surprisingly, written by AI.

Scott Simon, who penned the NPR editorial, suggests that the news organization could hire high school students to cover what is, and my grad student backed him up on this, a crucial part of small town life. As I wrote recently, local communities are an essential part in many people’s lives and AI has not yet, at least, found it niche.

On a side note, I introduced my students to the Internet Archive and its Wayback Machine last week. The offending news story from The Columbus Dispatch had been taken down but CNN was able to link to the archived version. At least, Gannett had given credit to LedeAI, the bot that wrote what is on its way to being a classic of sports writing.

Tracking Death

The Washington Post has created a gruesome but necessary database that tracks those shot and killed by police. The database was begun in 2015 after the murder of Michael Brown by Ferguson, Missouri, police officers led to the discovery that many police killings were never recorded in the FBI database.

The data is clear: young, black men are killed more often than others.

Unfortunately, the database focuses on shootings so this morning’s news about the cousin of a Black Lives Matter co-founder who was killed by police with a taser may not be included. The young man from Washington, D.C. was visiting family in Los Angeles for the holidays. The video, released at the request of the family, shows his fear, driven by his sense that he was probably going to die like so many others. It will stay with me, alongside George Floyd calling for his mother. I won’t post it but encourage you to watch it. I think about Emmett Till’s mother who insisted the casket stay open so people were forced to confront the truth.

Back Online With Boundaries

I spent December binge watching media while making cards, crocheting gifts and baking. When I wasn’t making, I was reading, finishing the year with 134 books. I also completed the Kindle challenge with a perfect month in December. I traveled a bit, too, to see family and friends. All excuses for not blogging, I suppose, but being offline in general helped me consider how and where I wanted to spend my in 2023.

Happy New Year 2023

I have not made a resolution to post every day but figured I could at least check in to wish everyone a happy new year. I spent yesterday setting up my LibraryThing thread in the 75 books a year group, my 9th year sharing life and reading with a few people. I intend to spend more time there than on social media, developing deeper relationships in this protected environment. I created a new year’s greeting just for them as several of them are bird nerds like me.

I would like to take more photos so I signed on for Fat Mum Slim’s Photo a Day challenge. Today’s theme was hello and here was my submission.

Hello

Major is loving the nice weather and we usually get out twice each day for a ramble around the farm. We have had regular sitings of a bald eagle and a hawk along with meadowlarks and white-throated sparrows.

I’ll write more this year about the importance of nature in my life.

January 1, 2023 Dog Walk

I also include a selfie I grabbed on the walk. This is me at 60-1/2, unfiltered. I cringe a little at posting, but I have earned those lines and wrinkles. If I have any wisdom to share, it is to be aware in the present as much as possible. Bad or good, it’s what you have. It is the essential lesson of meditation. It doesn’t mean you can’t change your life and your circumstances if need be, but acceptance of the present can help with that process as well.

For some reason, I thought of Bruce Springsteen as I wrote that advice. His album, Wrecking Ball, is filled with stories of struggle and oppression; yet, there seems to be a sense of hope as well that hard times and rocky ground have moments of contentment and joy as well, even if it is in the listening of a song. I leave you on this first day of the new year with two songs from Springsteen. The first is his live rendition of a Stephen Foster song called “Hard Times (Come Again No More)” and the second the video for “Rocky Ground” from the Wrecking Ball album, which references the Foster song. Many of the songs on Springsteen’s album have connections to old American songs and spirituals.

The Prophecy of the Talking Heads

Movie Poster for True Stories

I don’t reread books. But, I do rewatch movies. I have about ten or so that I sink into when I need a break from the world.

Yesterday, I ended up with True Stories, David Byrne’s 1986 satire of small town life with the soundtrack mostly written by Byrne and performed by his band The Talking Heads and various cast members. Once again, I was reminded that, within his satire, Byrne mostly got the future right, from sprawling suburbs to burgeoning conspiracy theories to emptying downtowns. At its heart, the film is the story of human beings struggling to maintain some semblance of control in an increasingly chaotic world.

As with most prophecies, we don’t always understand them at the time. I remember loving the movie and the music but missing the larger message when I first saw it on the big screen all those years ago. At the time, I was living in Los Angeles and going to graduate school at UCLA, and there were plenty of examples of Byrne’s vision for Virgil, Texas, already coming true throughout California. But, in 1986, I think the sense of the power of progress outweighed the potential downsides presented by the doomsayers.

My modern literature professor at the time made a comment that has stuck with me. He observed that modern and contemporary writers often lament the loss of innocence and fundamental disconnect from natures that seem to come with progress. He went on to comment that he had trouble helping his undergraduates understand this point of view. After all, living in the concrete sprawl of Los Angeles, they saw parking lots not as eyesores but as a place to park their sports cars.

If you haven’t ever watched True Stories, it is available at various streaming outlets. Two clips, in particular, show Byrne’s prescience. One features the “perfect” family of the CEO of Varicorp, the town’s computer manufacturer. The parents do not speak directly to each other, instead using their son and daughter to communicate. In the clip, the CEO played by Spalding Gray, uses the dinner table to envision the new world order:

The second clip features John Ingle as an evangelical preacher with a brief appearance of Jo Harvey Allen, simply known as the lying woman. We wade into the world of religious prophecy and conspiracy theory, underscored by the Talking Heads’ song, “Puzzlin’ Evidence”. (I can’t embed so click the song title to access.)

These two clips give a good idea of the tone of the film and I hope they entice you to watch the whole thing. According to Wikipedia (although it needs a citation), the film was not commercially successful but has become a cult classic.