Noisy Jobs

The TV show Dirty Jobs features host Mike Rowe checking out jobs that involve difficult, hazardous, and frequently disgusting conditions — like working in a sewage processing facility.  The jobs featured on that show would be a tough way to earn a living, but I’m wondering whether having a job that exposes you to noises all day wouldn’t be worse — for me, at least.

spinaltap_128pyxurzWe’re having some work done to the exterior of our house, and the crew that’s doing the job is using an assortment of tools that make a wide variety of different loud noises.  There’s the humming drone of the air compressor.  There’s the sharp, staccato bark of the nail gun.  And then there are devices that make grinding noises, devices that make sawing noises, and devices that make incredibly high-pitched whines.  It’s like being in a This Is Spinal Tap dentist’s office from hell, with the volume on the amplifier turned up to 11.

For a while every day, when the crew begins their work, I think I can screen out the noise.  And for a while it works.  But ultimately the different sounds, occurring in different combinations, break through the mental barrier.  And once that happens, all I can think about is when the nail gun is going to be sounding off again, and I’ve got to get out and go somewhere where I can find peace and quiet.

The guys who are on the crew are a good group.  They work hard, know what they’re doing, and seem to enjoy having jobs where they get to work outside on sunny days and sing along to the songs on the radio while they saw and grind and nail.  The noises don’t seem to bother them.

My hat’s off to them, but I couldn’t do what they’re doing.  I’ve realized I really need a quiet place to work.

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Writer On The Edge Of Forever

Harlan Ellison has died.  An Ohio native, a graduate of the Ohio State University, and a prolific writer who had a long and productive career, he will always be remembered — by me at least — as the genius who came up with the idea, and wrote most of the screenplay, for one of my all-time favorite Star Trek episodes:  City on the Edge of Forever.

city-edge-foreverCity is generally considered one the finest episodes from the original Star Trek series.  It told the story of Edith Keeler, a gentle, peace-loving woman who lived during the Great Depression, helped the unfortunate, and dreamed big dreams.  When Dr. McCoy is inadvertently injected with a drug that induces a psychotic episode and finds a time portal, he goes back in time and interacts with Edith in a way that somehow changes history, prevents the formation of the Federation, and leaves the Enterprise leadership stranded on the planet with the time portal.  Kirk and Spock use the portal to try to fix the damage and also go back to the Depression era, where Spock attempts to build a primitive computer from vacuum tubes — or, as he puts it, “stone knives and bearskins” — to learn what happened and Kirk falls madly in love with Edith.  When Spock determines that McCoy somehow saved Edith from death, and thereby created a universe in which her pacifist leadership delayed America’s entry into World War II and gave Nazi Germany time to win the race to build atomic weapons and capture the world, Kirk has to make the excruciating decision to allow the woman he loves to die.

When he does so, and he and Spock and McCoy return to the planet with the time portal, a heartbroken Kirk says “Let’s get the hell out of here” to end the episode — which legend says was the first time a curse word of any kind was broadcast on American network television, and the censors let it go because it punctuated the episode perfectly.

It turns out that the City episode was a point of great contention between Ellison and Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek who thought producing the episode as Ellison wrote it would just be too expensive.  Ellison wasn’t happy with the changes that were made and asked that a pseudonym be listed as the script writer, but Roddenberry kept Ellison’s name on the episode — which then won Ellison a Hugo Award.  Ellison was still fighting, and writing, about the episode years later.

RIP, Harlan Ellison, and thank you for an impressive body of work that just happens to include an all-time classic idea.

Political Propriety

The Tony Awards broadcast was last night.  Actor Robert DeNiro, who appeared to talk about Bruce Springsteen, thought it was appropriate to come out, pump his arms in the air, and say “F*** Trump.”  Twice.

DeNiro then received a standing ovation from those in attendance.

1528693568996It’s just another example of how our national political discourse has run totally off the rails, and people have lost their minds.  We’ve got a President whose unseemly tweets and unusual behavior push the envelope in one direction, and the people who ardently oppose him are pushing the envelope in the opposite direction.  When somebody decides the time is right to appear on a live broadcast that is supposed to be celebrating American theater and start dropping f-bombs, though, we’ve reached a new low.  And when the high-brow, tuxedo-clad audience decides that the appropriate response to the vulgarity is to give the speaker a standing ovation, we’ve reached a lower point still.

DeNiro’s comments couldn’t have come as a surprise.  He’s launched into profanity-laced tirades about President Trump before, including when he introduced Meryl Streep at a different awards ceremony earlier this year.  Did the Tony Awards decision-makers think DeNiro had mended his ways, or did they think, instead, that having the unpredictable — or, perhaps, entirely predictable — DeNiro on as part of the broadcast might just result in an incident exactly like what actually happened, that would help to get the Tony Awards program a little more attention and more news coverage?

I don’t have a problem with people opposing or criticizing President Trump — obviously. But name-calling and profanity aren’t exactly calculated to persuade people about the wrong-headedness of President Trump’s policies, or conduct.  Instead, it just looks like a classless, desperate bid to get some attention that isn’t going to persuade anybody about anything — except, perhaps, that the people who think launching a few f-bombs on a live broadcast, and the people who reacted with a standing ovation, have lost their minds.

Is it too much to expect a little reasoned discourse, and some political propriety?  These days, is it too much to hope that people can refrain from using the Queen Mother of Curses in connection with the President on a live television broadcast?  Apparently so.

My Favorite Current TV Show Character

All too rarely, a TV sitcom character strikes just the right chords, and manages to capture something special.  Think of Norm on Cheers, or Kramer on Seinfeld.

In my view, we’re seeing that happening right now with the character of Bertram Gilfoyle on HBO’s Silicon Valley.

dinesh-gilfoyle-featureFor those who don’t watch the show, Gilfoyle (who’s always called simply “Gilfoyle,” by the way) is a software engineer for Pied Piper, the high-tech start-up that’s always teetering between the promise of fabulous riches and impending, crushing failure.  He’s got to be one of the darkest, most cynical comedic characters ever written — which shouldn’t be surprising since he’s a satan-worshipper.  With his unshaven, shaggy dog appearance, his cut-rate glasses, his gravelly bass voice, and his utter lack of sensitivity to the conventional niceties of the modern world, Gilfoyle is always ready to convey a devastating, usually vulgar put-down or offer a crucial comment while coming up with a technological way to save the day.  Often, the target of his ripostes is his fellow engineer, rival, and foil, Dinesh — who’s also hysterical in his role as the hopeless geek who desperately tries to be cool and gladly follows all of the trends that Gilfoyle then punctures with deadly, deadpan zingers.

How can you not like a character who says things like “I’m not one to gush, but the possibilities of your consequence-free reality are darkly promising,” or “If my mother was naked and dead in the street, I would not cover her body with that jacket”?  Or engages in dialogue like this:

Dinesh: “Did you see that? She gave me her hat.”

Gilfoyle: “Pretend you’ve seen a woman before.”

Bertram Gilfoyle is a rare mixture of paranoia, unconventionality, casual disregard for the law, wariness, technological savvy, and general nuttiness.  Given what’s going on these days, he’s a pitch-perfect character in our modern world.

Rating The Captains

Kish and I have been spending the last few months working through the Star Trek TV shows.  We began with Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine, after Richard recommended it as an interesting and thought-provoking show.  Kish, who just does not like science fiction and never got into the original Star Trek, gritted her teeth and agreed to watch a few shows.

To her surprise, and my surprise, too, Kish liked the characters and some of the plot lines on Deep Space Nine, so we watched every episode.  Then, after we finished that series, we turned to Star Trek:  The Next Generation, and now we’re on to Voyager.

star-trek-captains_610I think one of the things that we’ve found interesting about the different Star Trek shows is the different styles of the captains.  Deep Space Nine‘s Benjamin Sisko, stationed out on the frontier, was brave, tough and aggressive, with a sense of humor and a ready smile and a very strong mystical side.  In many ways, Sisko is the most outwardly human of the captains.  The Next Generation‘s Jean-Luc Picard, entrusted with the command of the Federation’s powerful flagship vessel, was formal, reserved, and by-the-book, an intellectual who was far more comfortable mediating a difficult dispute between warring alien races than dealing with the personal problems of his crew.  (Thank God Counselor Deanna Troi was on board to deal with those troublesome personal issues!)  And Voyager’s Kathryn Janeway, trying to unite a patched-together crew and get them home after being thrust 75,000 light years away by a powerful alien, is careful and decisive but with a decided warmth and obvious interest in the individuals who make up her crew.  Sisko, Picard, and Janeway all can deliver a reprimand, but she’s the captain who is most likely to take a moment to offer a compliment.

Which captain is best?  Kish started out advocating for Janeway, then switched to Picard, and now is thinking maybe it’s Sisko.  Each of them has their own style and their own strengths and weaknesses, and each of them engendered great loyalty among members of their crews for different reasons.  I think your choice might depend upon the specific circumstances.  If you had to select a captain to make a decision that would decide the fate of the universe, I’d definitely pick the careful, thoughtful Picard.  If you needed a captain to try to beat the odds and come up with an imaginative solution, I’d go with Sisko.  And if you had to pick a captain to be your boss and colleague, day after day, I think I’d opt for Janeway.

How do these three stack up against Captain James T. Kirk, the swashbuckling adventurer who invented the captain’s role on the original series?  Well, he’ll always be my favorite because he was the captain of my youth, but the episode-by-episode nature of the original shows and the movies never allowed his character to be developed with the same care and consistency as the others.  One thing’s for sure — if you were one of those anonymous red-shirted security guys who got killed every episode on the original series, you’d prefer anybody but Captain Kirk.

The Split-Screen Stare

The other day I was in an airport, waiting for my flight.  It was one of those airports where, unfortunately, there are TVs located at all of the gate areas, and the TV was tuned to CNN.  On the screen was the standard shot of modern television journalism:  a split-screen view of two people staring intently at the camera — one talking, the other listening.

150204204906-ac-anderson-cooper-interview-with-dan-burton-00033008-large-169Somewhere, somewhen, when it became clear that TV news would be filled with “coverage” that consists primarily of one person with a generic, blue news room background talking to another person with a generic blue news room background, some anonymous producer decided that the best way to present that “story” to the viewer would be to use the split-screen approach.  The two faces are staring directly into the camera — that is, directly at us, the viewer — but are supposed to be talking to each other.

It would be interesting to know why this shot has become so ubiquitous.  Why do we need to see the face of the interviewing reporter at all?  Did somebody think that the reactions of the reporter would be part of the story — which is a little weird and contrary to the professed objectivism of the news, if you think about it — or do the networks just want to get the mugs of Anderson Cooper and their other high-priced “talent” on the air as much as possible?  As a reluctant viewer, I find the effect off-putting.  Who wants to have two people staring right at them?  If an actual human being was sitting at the airport gate area, unblinkingly eyeballing you, it would be unnerving.  The fact that the gapers are on TV doesn’t really lessen the intrusive impact all that much.

I also find myself feeling sorry for the reporters on the split-screen.  They don’t get off-camera time, when they could consult their notes to figure out the next question or scratch their noses while the person being interviewed yammers on.  Instead, they have to be on-screen, with a bland expression on their faces, trying to look attentive and thoughtful and mildly concerned at all times.  It must be exhausting, but I guess that’s why they are high-priced talent in the first place.

If it were up to me, I’d nix the split-screen shot and eliminate forever that split-screen stare.

The Din At The Gate

Yesterday I was flying back home, connecting through O’Hare.  As we sat at our gate, crammed in the overcrowded, narrow seating area, there was a small child screeching somewhere nearby, three guys in the next row over were talking loudly, and a woman sitting two seats down was speaking into her cell phone.  And above all the din was a TV set tuned to CNN, broadcasting at sufficient volume so that anybody who was interested could hear talking heads yammer about Stormy Daniels and her alleged tryst with President Trump.

Let’s just say it wasn’t exactly a peaceful, relaxing waiting area.  Instead, it was close to the exact opposite — an area seemingly designed to jack up the tension and general unpleasantness that could have been made worse only if somebody was dragging their fingernails against a chalkboard or running a dentist’s drill with that high-pitched whine over a loudspeaker.

There’s not much you can do about a crying baby, or the talking habits of your fellow passengers.  Those are things that you just have to endure when you travel.  Notably, however, so far as I could tell nobody in our cramped waiting area was watching the CNN broadcast on the TV monitor overhead.  It was just a big part of the background racket contributing to the general unpleasantness.  And while you can argue about whether following the news at all these days is good for your mental health, do we really need to have the TV news on in public areas, bombarding us with more noise during every waking moment?  At an airport gate waiting area, at least, there’s no way to turn the TV off to try to minimize the tumult.

Finally getting on the plane, where it was a little bit quieter, was a relief.  The experience made me appreciate our Columbus airport, where there aren’t TVs blaring at every gate area and you actually can sit quietly while waiting for your flight.  I don’t know if the O’Hare airport authority gets paid something by CNN for broadcasting the news in every waiting area, but I’d sure appreciate it if they junked the TVs and reduced, at least a little, the noise pollution and the din at the gate.