Privacy on a reality TV show?

Last week, I got into TLC’s Jon and Kate Plus 8 about the Christian couple from Pennsylvania that has twins and sextuplets. I just found this amusing.

From the “Jon & Kate Family Movie Night” episode, they’re hanging up new blinds and Kate says, “When I want privacy, I want to be able to pull blinds and not have people see in.” You’re on a reality TV show. You have no privacy! Well, I guess after a while you kind of forget the cameras are there maybe.

Life Movies

In Praise of Captions

Maybe chalk it up to how, when I was a kid, my mom used to walk up to me as I was watching TV and just start asking me things (at which point, I would miss whatever was being said on TV, because I was hearing my mother instead), but I’ve really grown to love captions. Of course, what’s been said on TV is really important. Whatever my mom was saying must not have been. And back then you couldn’t pause live TV.

Well, it’s decades later, and I don’t live with my mom any more, but I do appreciate those captions. A loud banging comes from our neighbor’s yard while I’m watching TV. A plane flies overhead. People upstairs are yelling about God knows what. The character onscreen is mumbling. No sweat. I still know what they’re talking about on my favorite show of the moment, all thanks to captions.

Of course, captions are not without their faults. First of all, some people think my wife and I are freaks for liking captions. Uh, we’re not deaf. And the captions take up a huge amount of screen space on the TV. We’ve also kind of become dependent on them… at least I have. If I’m watching a show that doesn’t have captions I’m like “What? I can’t understand what they’re saying. What’s going on? It sounds as if they’re speaking English, but what are they saying?” Worse yet, sometimes the captions are just wrong. Wrong word. Wrong foreign language.

My favorite caption screw-ups for foreign language are when they guess the wrong foreign language (in Pretty Woman, when the valets are speaking Cantonese and the captions say they’re speaking Japanese, for example) or don’t know a foreign language that should be fairly obvious (in a Dexter episode, when someone is speaking Spanish, and instead of saying Speaking Spanish, the caption says Speaking Foreign Language).

Well, Mom. Thanks for making me appreciate captions.


Eating at Ubuntu

As a user of the Linux operating system called Ubuntu, I’d been wanting to eat at the Ubuntu restaurant (and yoga studio, too, apparently) in Napa for a while. Well, this week, I finally got to go.

It’s in the Napa downtown area, and it has a little sign outside.

Here’s the menu and yoga studio information in the window.

Here’s the menu up close.

This is what the restaurant looks like inside. It’s a very nice space. It is warm-feeling and very open, but the acoustics are not awful (not a din, even with people chatting).

I loved that the butter that comes with the bread has a little Ubuntu wax paper on top. Notice how, even though it is not exactly the same, the font is very similar to the Ubuntu Linux one. They also tend, in the decor of the restaurant and the plates and cups to use very warm colors (just as Ubuntu Linux does). The restaurant tends to favor browns, dark oranges, soft yellows and such.

Yummy cauliflower dish my wife had. Well, she liked it anyway.

Yummy pizza I had. Came with a topping of burrata cheese, and it also had a nice strawberry and caramelized-onion sauce instead of the normal tomato-based sauce.

Cheesecake in a glass container.

Ice cream, caramelized banana slices, cereal, and hot coconut milk.

The bathroom.

A sign about yoga.

“Ubuntu: I am… because you are… serving each other.”

Even though it was a bit pricey (two starters, two drinks, two entrees, and two desserts came at just under US$90 with tax and tip), it was a great experience. The wait staff were attentive and friendly but not oversolicitous. The food was of high quality. And the atmosphere was relaxing and pleasant. Overall, it fit very nicely with the Ubuntu philosophy.


The right-in-front-of-me phenomenon

I used to do something funny to my parents when I was growing up. I’d ask one or both of them, “Do you want to see this movie _______ with me? It’s good.” And whomever I was asking would answer “I’m too busy” or “We’re too busy.” They also generally have a pretty low interest in seeing movies. But, lo and behold, once I had a movie playing and they walked by, they’d stop and sit down and watch it.

Now the same thing happens with my wife. If I’m making quesadillas and say “Hey, I’m making quesadillas. Do you want some?” She’ll always say she doesn’t want any. But when I sit down with those quesadillas, she sees them and usually wants one. If there’s a TV show I want to watch, she won’t want to see it if I want to turn to that channel. But if she happens to walk in on me already watching a show or movie, she’ll watch it with me, and sometimes she’s pleasantly surprised.

It happens to me, too. At first, I had absolutely no interest in watching The Vicar of Dibley, but she’d just have it playing in the background, and then I’d start watching and laughing along.

I think this is human nature. There are things we don’t want to do or initiate in theory, because the idea of it or the name of it doesn’t sound that appealing. The experience of it, when presented to us, though, is more appealing.

Hearing the word quesadilla? Not as appetizing as seeing and smelling quesadillas in front of you. Hearing the phrase Vicar of Dibley? Not as funny as seeing and listening to the vicar tell a joke. That’s the right-in-front-of-me phenomenon. Experience sometimes cannot be matched by the words describing the experience. When Harry Met Sally… sounds like just about the dumbest movie title ever conceived, but that’s the greatest movie of all time (yes, I’ve seen Citizen Kane, and it does not even compare).


I understand why White people are nolstagic for the 1950s

Every so often, you’ll hear White Americans over the age of 60 (or even under… I guess by their imagination) long for the “good old days” of the 1950s. To me, they’re just the racist old days… or the sexist old days… or the repressed old days… or the red scare old days… or anti-comic book old days. I don’t really see the 1950s as a positive period in American history. I do dig the doo wop songs of that period, I guess.

But there is something to be said for a small town feel. The mom and pop shops. The diners. The safe neighborhoods. Well, as far as I can tell, the Richmond District in San Francisco is the best of the 1950s but without all the McCarthyism and oppression/repression. I’ve got to say I love the Richmond.

Joe’s Ice Cream has the best ice cream I’ve ever had. It’s homemade every day by this old Japanese guy, and his family serves it up with smiles (and really strong forearms). Bill’s Place has an old-time diner feel with amazing milkshakes. Even today, my wife and I went to a paint store and got wonderful customer service from an old dude who told us exactly what we needed to get and didn’t need to get to repaint our kitchen cabinets. He wrote down the exact procedure for us and forbade us from buying bigger paint cans than we needed, even when we kept insisting we needed bigger paint cans (he was right, by the way—the small paint cans were sufficient). And don’t forget the locally owned Balboa movie theater with its 1920s flare, cheap prices, mix of artsy and mainstream films, real butter for popcorn, and staff who care about movies.

I love local joints and a small town feel. The people I run into in businesses in the Richmond District generally care about their businesses. They’re not just hired hands who work on commission. They want to develop a relationship with you and work hard to gain your trust. So I’ve got to say… now I understand why White people are nostalgic for the 1950s. If only we could get a good 24-hour diner around here (no, Video Cafe does not count—I said good 24-hour diner).


Non-tourist guide for San Francisco tourists

As someone who’s lived in San Francisco for several years now, I get saddened seeing hordes of tourists come and get sucked up by the tourist traps. They’ll go to the Golden Gate Bridge, see the crooked street, visit Ghirardelli Square, hang out at Fisherman’s Wharf, shop in Union Square and maybe eat at the Cheesecake Factory or McDonald’s. Yuck. Please don’t be that tourist. Please. I can help you not be that tourist.

Tourist traps that are okay
First of all, if you feel the need to really be a tourist to experience San Francisco, there are a few touristy things you can do that are excusable.

You can visit Alcatraz and take the audio tour. It’s educational, fun, a little scary, and breathtaking (the views you can get of SF from the island).

You can go to Twin Peaks and see everything from there (Market Street from the Castro to the Embarcadero, the East Bay, Coit Tower, Treasure Island, Alcatraz, Sausalito, The Golden Gate Bridge, Ocean Beach, Golden Gate Park). It’s a great place to get good pictures.

Golden Gate Park is a wonderful place to devote a day to. There’s plenty of parking. You can also explore it on bicycle or on foot. The Conservatory of Flowers is a little expensive for the little you see, but the plants are quite fascinating. If you can go when the butterflies are hatching, you may actually get your money’s worth. The Botanical Garden is a great, free stroll. You can see old people lawn bowling, take your kids on the carousel, play tennis, and go peddle-boating on Stow Lake. On Sundays, the park is full of runners, walkers, and rollerbladers, and there’s usually some kind of dancing going on (participatory or not). Avoid the Japanese Tea Garden.

Places to Visit
If you can come during an event, you will feel the real San Francisco. Run in Bay to Breakers. March in the Gay Pride Parade. Where crowds of San Franciscans gather, you’re bound to have a good time either watching or joining. If you’re a party person, see if there is some kind of festival going on in North Beach or on Union Street.

Sometimes tourism can be tiring, though, and you just want to soak up a movie and relax. Why go to a megaplex like the Metreon (hint: don’t go there) when you go to an independently owned neighborhood theater like the Castro, the Red Vic, the Presidio, or the Four Star? I would highly recommend The Balboa Theater in the Outer Richmond (just north of the western part of Golden Gate Park). It feels like a 1920s theater (and they still have a lot of memorabilia and news clippings from that time period in the theater), the folks who work there really care about movies, the movies are affordable, the popcorn butter is real, and they have a good mix of blockbusters and artsy films. Sometimes they even have trivia and prizes at the beginning of films. You can’t miss the old-timey marquee and neon lights!

If you have to go to see a show, go to The Post Street Theatre. Their theater is attached to a hotel and is very cozy and has character. More importantly, they tend to pick shows that are entertaining, not always the big Broadway hits.

If you’re into free things, you might want to check out Film Night in the Park. During the summer, there are also free concerts at Stern Grove, a very family-friendly venue with beautiful scenery and “natural” acoustics.

And don’t forget that museums are usually free the first Tuesday (sometimes Wednesday) of every month. The Cartoon Art Museum is small but really interesting.

Where to eat
My wife would have her own recommendations, of course, but these are what I would recommend. Don’t go to the Cheesecake Factory, please!

  • Art’s Cafe. This little diner near Golden Gate Park is run by a Korean couple that makes the food right in front of you. They have the best Strawberry Lemonade! The place is cute (if not a little small), and the food is good and, more importantly, cheap.
  • Park Chow. Also by Golden Gate Park, Park Chow I’ve eaten at literally hundreds of times and it’s always been good. I don’t think I can say that about any other restaurant. Park Chow isn’t always stellar, but it’s always good, if not great. The service is wonderful, and the food tasty (their apple pie a la mode is incomparable). The one time my wife and I did get bad service (it took 40 minutes for our food to come out, because they’d forgotten to put our order in), they gave us complimentary desserts. That’s once out of hundreds of times.
  • The Matterhorn Swiss Restaurant. It’s a little pricey, but the fondue is excellent, whether you’re getting cheese, beef, or chocolate. If you do get the cheese, I’d highly recommend “the Mature One.”
  • Mifune. If you’re in Japantown and hungry, grab some soba or udon noodles at Mifune for cheapness and goodness. They have sushi on the menu, but don’t order the sushi here.
  • Bill’s Place. I hear the burgers are good here (I’m vegetarian), but I know the fries are good. And the cookies and cream milkshake is amazing! Do not order the vanilla milkshake, though. It’s terrible.
  • Chiang Mai. Just some good Thai food. I don’t even usually like Thai.
  • Burma Superstar. You’ll hear differing opinions on this restaurant if you ask a lot of San Franciscans. Some will say it’s the best. Others will say it’s overrated. The first time my wife went, she was sorely disappointed. Then she heard that you’re supposed to order only the starred items on the menu, and she’s been a convert ever since. Make sure to get in early. After 6 PM, there is a huge line until closing. If you do come late, though, you can leave your name and cell phone, and they’ll call you just before your table’s ready.
  • Little Star Pizza. Good pizza is hard to come by in San Francisco. If you are looking for some good deep dish, though, you should visit Little Star Pizza. You won’t leave hungry. Just make sure you get there early (after 6:30, it gets louder than a nightclub) and bring cash with you (they don’t take credit cards).
  • Kabuto Sushi. Do you like sushi places that specialize in adding in a lot of extra rice and giving you the 49er roll or the Dragon Roll? Don’t go to Kabuto Sushi. Kabuto is some darn good speciality sushi. And even their non-fish rolls (the ones I get) are stellar.

Getting around
As long as you avoid the 19 and the 30, most of the buses are pretty good for getting around. You’ll run into your occasional smelly drunk or graffiti-spraying punk kid, but for the most part… that’s San Francisco, and there’s no better way to experience San Francisco the way the natives do than to take the bus around. A lot of bus shelters have little displays telling you when the next bus will come (only about a 4/5 chance of it telling you the truth, unfortunately). If you want some beautiful scenery, take the 29 from Stonestown Galleria to the Presidio Transit Center. It’ll take you close to the ocean, through the green scenery of Sunset Boulevard, through Golden Gate Park, past the Golden Gate Bridge, and up through the Presidio. [2010.06.30: Unfortunately, due to MUNI major mismanagement, there have been severe cuts to service, and the part of the 29 route from Baker Beach to the Presidio got chopped]

Bus rides are $1.50 $2.00 a person, and the transfer will last you as many bus rides as you can squeeze in before the cut-off time on your transfer stub. You can also get day passes and weekly passes. Don’t be afraid to ask for directions from other passengers. People may look as if they’re absorbed in reading The Examiner, picking their noses, or listening to their iPods, but they’ll help you find the best bus route if you ask nicely. And if they don’t, some other passenger will take pity on you and give you the right directions. It’s actually quite amusing sometimes when you get a tourist caught in a debate amongst several passengers as to what the best route is to get to downtown.

If you want to rent a car for a day or two, you would do well to drive down the Great Highway (do not drive faster than 33 MPH if you want to get all green lights) and then take Route 1 all the way down to Half Moon Bay. I-280 also has some beautiful scenery. Avoid 101, as it is often full of traffic… and quite ugly to look at.

Well, that’s about it for now. Obviously, I can’t give you the full SF experience I’ve had, but hopefully I’ve given some potential tourists a few tips that’ll help them get the most out of their visit.


Oral surgery is crazy and simple

I just had gum surgery. It was a bit scary. I don’t mind the pain. I am afraid of complications, though; for example, when you have to sign a disclaimer that says you won’t sue them in case there is (though it occurs only rarely) permanent numbness. I do wonder at surgeons (oral or otherwise), though. The skill they have is amazing. The ability to cut a piece of flesh and sew it to another piece of flesh is something I neither have nor desire to have. I thank God for surgeons. I do not envy them their jobs, no matter how much they get paid.

Even though there was very little physical discomfort or pain during the procedure, I was psychologically a little weirded out when a drop of blood dripped down my throat. I thought, “This is my blood. I’m bleeding. I’m not used to bleeding in the dentist’s chair. I guess this is surgery after all.” All in all, it went well. Not as scary as I thought it would be. Apply Novacaine. Cut the flesh from one place. Sew it up in another place. Very simple on one level. Very primitive almost. I do like anaesthesia, though.

Thank you, oral surgeons (and other surgeons). You work wonders… especially if I don’t have weird complications in the next few weeks.


Percentages aren’t the same as random chance

This is a follow-up post to my More likely to die how? post from four years ago, because I still keep hearing people equating percentages with chance.

Look, people shouldn’t get flipped out about whether or not their marriage is going to fail or not. You don’t have a 50/50 chance of getting a divorce because 50% of marriages end in divorce. There are about 50% of married couples who have a 95% chance of getting divorced and about 50% of married couples who have a 95% chance of staying married. If you believe that marriage is about feelings and always being infatuated with each other, then your marriage is going to fail. If you believe that marriage is about commitment and staying together through thick and thin (or “for better or for worse,” as the vow typically goes), then your marriage is going to work.

Think about it another way. Let’s say your high school has a graduation rate of 75%. That means 1 out of every 4 students drops out, fails out, or gets kicked out before completing 12th grade (yes, I’m writing from an American context—I’m American, so humour me). It also means 3 out of every 4 students completes 12th grade and graduates. Does that mean every single student has a 1 in 4 chance of not graduating? Absolutely not. The kids in the honors classes who don’t suffer from extreme perfectionism or depression, who do their homework, and who don’t skip class have almost a 100% chance of graduating, assuming they don’t get hit by a bus the day before graduation. The kids who never complete assignments, skip school, and have chronic behavioral problems have almost 100% chance of not graduating.

Likewise, again I keep hearing about how planes are much safer to travel in than cars. Why are there variable insurance rates, depending on gender, age, how long you’ve been driving, etc.? If everyone has an equal chance of getting into a fatal car accident, wouldn’t insurance companies have the same rates for everybody? But they don’t. They know a 16-year-old male who just got his license is far more likely to get into an accident than a 36-year-old female who has been driving for twenty years. There are exceptions, of course. Some 16-year-old males are both skillful and cautious, and some people who have been driving for decades are both unskillful and reckless, despite their experience. If I get into an airplane, no matter how “skilled” I am as a passenger, I have the same chance of dying in a plane crash as all the other passengers, because we have no control over the plane’s operations, maintenance, pilot qualifications, etc. We have no control whatsoever. So whether you die in a plane crash or not is 100% up to chance. Whether you die in a car crash or not is only partially up to chance. If you’re skillful and cautious, you’re far less likely to get into a car accident. You can’t be 100% sure you’ll avoid all crashes. After all, someone may rear-end you. A drunk driver might run a red light and smash right into you. But you will avoid many accidents that other less skillful or more reckless drivers will still have to face.

Percentages are the same as chance only if you have no influence on the outcome. Your academic work influences your chances of graduating high school. Your commitment to marriage influences your chances of staying married. Your skill and caution in driving influences your chances of avoiding a car accident. There are some things you have control over and others you don’t, but either way, you may still end up with the same percentages. Percentages are not always chance.

Life Movies Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

Raping 13-year-olds is now okay. Thanks, Roman!

The New York Daily News recently published this article: ‘Wanted’ man Roman Polanski dodges legal bullet. Let me translate some chunks for you.

Polanski was, and remains, a brilliant film director. But to many people, particularly in America, he is most famously remembered for fleeing the country after pleading guilty to “unlawful sexual intercourse” with a 13-year-old girl who was modeling for him.

In case you’re wondering, the pedophilic rapist in question only pled guilty to this “crime,” and it doesn’t matter anyway, since he’s good at his normal job.

The original judge, Laurence Rittenband, was a publicity hound and celebrity sniffer who cared more about how he looked in the press than what happened to either Polanski or the 13-year-old girl.

Both the lead prosecutor and the defense attorney explain in great detail how the case was about to be resolved, with a guilty plea and no hard jail time. But Rittenband thought that might make him look bad, so he ignored judicial protocol and went back on his own promises, declaring instead he wanted Polanski in prison.

Ordinarily society will let someone who’s good at his normal job off the hook for raping a 13-year-old, but one judge decided a rapist of young girls should get some kind of actual punishment. He must have ulterior motives for doing so.

The fact that this film focuses more on the court than the crime will understandably bother some viewers, since offering drugs to naked 13-year-olds and having sex with them is conduct the average American finds repugnant.

Perhaps to balance this, the film talks extensively with the victim.

Her biggest frustration, she says, is that no one believed her, or that people felt she or her mother, who set up the photo session, must have done something wrong.

Yet the case clearly didn’t break her. She’s frustrated with the system, but she settled a civil suit against Polanski and publicly forgave him. She’s a mother of three who’s been married for 18 years. She seems OK.

In case you’re tempted to have a normal reaction to this horrendous crime and don’t really care for Roman Polanski’s films, let me try to justify the crime. It’s not really a crime. After all, the supposed victim seems okay. Life went on. It’s not like she committed suicide or anything. Geez.

It does note, however, that many of his greatest films, like “Chinatown” and “Rosemary’s Baby,” suggest there sometimes is no justice. Which would be a curiously dispassionate coda to a case and a life marked by so much fire.

C’est la vie.

Poor, poor brilliant pedophile rapist filmmaker. No justice for him. People should just leave the poor guy alone.

If you’re a rapist, you’re a rapist. If you’re a pedophile rapist, you’re a pedophile rapist. Or that’s the way it should be. Perhaps we should go find all the sex offenders in prison and see which ones of them might be brilliant performing musicians or innovative entrepeneurs if we just let them out of prison. After all, their victims might seem okay. Their victims, after thirty years, might be married and have kids. Right? And the judges in their cases might have had ulterior motives for sending them to prison. After all, raping 13-year-olds isn’t an offense that warrants a prison term… at least not for people who are good at their jobs.

Let’s take a look at the girl Polanski raped thirty years ago. From a 2003 article:

“Everything was going fine; then he asked me to change, well, in front of him,” she says. “It didn’t feel right, and I didn’t want to go back to the second shoot. But I didn’t at that time have the self-confidence to tell my mother and everyone, ‘No, I’m not going to go.'”

During that second shoot, Polanski’s motives became apparent.

“We did photos with me drinking champagne,” Geimer says. “Toward the end it got a little scary, and I realized he had other intentions and I knew I was not where I should be. I just didn’t quite know how to get myself out of there.”

Polanski sexually assaulted her after giving her a combination of champagne and Quaaludes.

Let’s see. It didn’t feel right, but she lacked the self-confidence to refuse (maybe this is why statutory rape laws exist?), and then he gave her alcohol and drugs and sexually assaulted her. What’s not wrong about this? Seriously.

I’m a male who is more than a decade younger than Polanski was at the time of the rape. I’m not a brilliant film director, but I’m pretty good at my job. I work in an admission office at a high school. Can you imagine if I told a 13-year-old applicant to take off her clothes, gave her drugs and alcohol, and then raped her? That would be awful. Since I’m not an Academy Award-Winning director, I’ll tell you what would happen. I’d be fired immediately, or at least temporarily suspended pending further investigation; ostracized from my church, family, and friends; given divorce papers immediately by my wife; and probably sent to prison for over a decade if not several decades, during which time I’d be tormented and raped by other prisoners. Yes, that’s what happens to pedophile rapists. And I doubt anyone would believe my defense if I said, “Uh, she seems okay now.”

Much as I loved Death and the Maiden, I can’t believe that not only is Roman Polanski walking free, but the the media is defending him. Yes, of course, the woman he raped when she was only 13 has been unbelievably strong and managed after thirty years to move on with her life, but that doesn’t make what he did any less wrong.


I’ve always been a sucker for military time

I’m not the main person in charge, but every now and then I help out with our school’s a cappella group. When the person who is in charge announced the other week that we would be having an additional rehearsal at 6:30, most people understood that meant 6:30 PM (since the performance was in the evening also), but one student was a bit sheepish about protesting, “Okay. I’m not really sure if I can get here that early, since I’m used to getting here at 8:00.” We had to clarify for him that the rehearsal was 6:30 PM, not 6:30 AM.

This is one of the reasons I’ve always been a big fan of military time, ever since I was a child even. I would get digital watches and the first thing I’d do is set them to military time. Yes, in everyday American life, people usually understand if you’re talking about AM or PM. If they say they’ll meet you at 2:00 to go shopping, it’s generally understood to be 2:00 PM, not 2:00 AM. If they say they’ll pick you up at 9:15 for breakfast, it’s generally understood to be 9:15 AM, not 9:15 PM. But there are confusing times, and I think this whole AM/PM business is a little annoying.

How difficult is it to just go from 0:00 to 23:59? If you say practice is at 18:30, no one can be confused about when to be there. Well, I’ve lived in America for over three decades, and I think I’m fighting a losing battle. Of course, I also think daylight saving time is ridiculous.