lukegilman.com : High on the Hog Blog
Purveyor of Idle Observation

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Please note: I'm no longer updating this particular blog, but keep it around for archival purposes. Visit me at the current blog at www.lukegilman.com

Stanley Kunitz, Poet Laureate, dies at 100

The poet Stanley Kunitz has died at a ripe old age. Great poet. Remarkable human being.

About his own work, Kunitz has said: “The poem comes in the form of a blessing—‘like rapture breaking on the mind,’ as I tried to phrase it in my youth. Through the years I have found this gift of poetry to be life-sustaining, life-enhancing, and absolutely unpredictable. Does one live, therefore, for the sake of poetry? No, the reverse is true: poetry is for the sake of the life.” [poets.org]

My favorite Kunitz poem, predictably enough, “The Portrait” since it’s a lot of people’s favorite Kunitz poem:

My mother never forgave my father
for killing himself,
especially at such an awkward time
and in a public park,
that spring
when I was waiting to be born.
She locked his name
in her deepest cabinet
and would not let him out,
though I could hear him thumping.
When I came down from the attic
with the pastel portrait in my hand
of a long-lipped stranger
with a brave moustache
and deep brown level eyes,
she ripped it into shreds
without a single word
and slapped me hard.
In my sixty-fourth year
I can feel my cheek
still burning.

Deepa Mehta’s movie Water

Water_POSTER.jpg

Indian filmmaker Deepa Mehta’s new movie Water is now in theaters. The third of her elements trilogy, the original filming of Water in India was prevented by violent protests by Hindu extremists who destroyed the set and burned images of Mehta in effigy. Mehta took up the script again five years later and relocated the shoot to Sri Lanka with a different cast. Seeing Salman Rushie interview Deepa Mehta on the Charlie Rose Show finally pushed me over the edge to put this one on the list of things to see in the theaters.

Water is currently playing at the Landmark River Oaks Theater. Click for showtimes. Google Map It.

Links: Trailer and ‘Making of’ videos, RottenTomatoes.com Aggregation of Reviews

WikiLuke

Geekiness knows no humility. If it wasn’t vainglorious enough to have an eponymous website, I’ve just added WikiLuke to the mix. A wiki is a free for all style of website format. Every page in the site is editable by anyone, yes even you, as ill-considered as that may be. Blather away.

Consider it the town-hall forum of lukegilman.com. I’ve started off with a list of movies – my favorites, merely notables and a list of things I want to see. I would particularly appreciate it if you would add to that last one. I’ve gotten really out of touch since leaving Emerson.

I’m planning on adding pages for music, books, etc, but feel free to use or abuse the wiki for whatever…

New Yorker, The Perfect Mark investigates psychology behind Nigerian 419 Fraud

Each week I get about 2 or 3 e-mails from Africans who claim to have access to millions of dollars but need a westerner to help them transfer the money out of the country in return for a cut of the proceeds. It’s one of the most prevalent forms of spam I get and it’s certainly the more entertaining than the acres of leet-speak pharmaceutical sales. Like all spam, the 419 scam exists because of classic supply and demand. Our inboxes are full of this crap because somehow, somewhere some yahoo actually opens one of these e-mails and buys something. The 419 scams not only work, they’re remarkably successful, a tribute to their ingenuity and our national gullibility for get-rich-quick schemes.

The agency estimates that 419 swindlers gross hundreds of millions of dollars a year, not including losses by victims too embarrassed to complain. In February, the son of a prominent California psychiatrist named Louis A. Gottschalk—he identified what turned out to be early signs of Alzheimer’s in Ronald Reagan after analyzing his speech—filed suit seeking to remove his father from control over a family partnership, claiming that Gottschalk had lost more than a million dollars to Nigerian scammers. Some victims try to pass along their losses. The former Iowa congressman Edward Mezvinsky, who had refashioned himself as an international businessman, was caught up in a 419 scam, and during the nineteen-nineties stole from his law clients, friends, and even his mother-in-law to cover his losses. He is serving more than six years in prison after pleading guilty to thirty-one counts of fraud.

People who really ought to know better fall for these scams all the time. In a New Yorker article by Mitchell Zuckoff profiles the heart-breaking case of John Worley, a psychologist who nevertheless seems to have suspended all sense of ethics, religious conviction and common sense in the pursuit of a big score.

Read the article: The Perfect Mark

Simply Personal, Event Planning & Designs

Simply Personal, based in Dallas, is a full service custom design and event consulting company offering everything from marketing and promotional materials, to wedding invitations, website design, birthday invitations, birth announcements, shower invitations, maps, holiday cards to successfully planning the perfect event.

A full description of services, pricing and portfolio is available on the Simply Personal website.

In search of the perfect laptop – found

As recounted in my previous post In search of the perfect laptop I’ve been on a quest to find the perfect laptop (at least for me) before law school starts on May 30. In the previous post I detailed the first step of my buying process – deciding on what I needed, then setting out for the hunt. It occurred to me that detailing the experience would be an interesting project and perhaps provide some guidance for someone considering a next major purchase.

1. List out your requirements

If you’re completely clueless, ask someone tech-savvy to help you. If you live a sad, pitiful, geekless existence, e-mail me and I’ll help you out. Shining happy geeked out people. What else is the internet for anyway? Here’s what I was looking for as outlined in my first post – In search of the perfect laptop

  1. Windows XP Pro or Media Center [both run IIS (personal web server), unlike Windows Home; this proved to be a big limitation]
  2. Embedded wireless, preferably G
  3. 512 MB or more RAM
  4. 80 GB plus hard drive
  5. CD/DVD Burning
  6. built-in memory card reader
  7. Approximate Budget: $1000

2. See the thing in person

The first thing I did was set off to the big-box electronics retailer to see these things up close and I’m glad I did. The Gateway that had impressive specs online was considerably underwhelming in person, the ergonomics were terrible and it looked like a throwback from 2000. The Sony was slick, very well put together, but white, which through experience with white things of all types is typically a bad thing past the first month of ownership. The screen quality was also unexpectedly poor and Sony is too in love with their own MemoryStick format to include SD or CompactFlash. The Toshibas were nice, but a bit pricey for the specs, the Acers were alright, though a little sketchy. If there are any Mac-heads out there, sorry but the economics of proprietary hardware mean I’m priced out of that game, though I agree, a far superior product in most respects. The middle ground I found were the HP laptops which had great screens and terrific ergonomics. They appeared very well put together and everything seemed to be located exactly where I would expect it to be. The pricing was generally little higher than what I wanted to pay, but not out of the ballpark.

The other thing I discovered was that I just did not like wide format (17″) laptops. Some I saw had the image skewed horizontally, which I think is just a configuration mistake, but even the ones that looked great seemed awkward. I just like the regular old golden mean 4:3 aspect ratio. The $3,000 laptops we just got at the office have huge, beautiful screens, but the way most websites are designed, they only take up half the screen and introduced resolution issues. Anyway, I don’t like them. Good to know before paying the premium for something that sounds good in theory.

3. WAIT & WATCH

This may be the hardest part, particularly if you just saw the thing in person and really liked it, but it pays dividends. Wandering through I noticed distinct personality differences among the sales cultures at different stores. At Fry’s the sales people circle in chum(p) filled waters with the taste of blood in their noses. If you know what you want and wish to shop in peace you might want to bring a can of mace. Sales people at CompUSA are like rare birds, an elusive sighting can bring a stampede of customers. I made the mistake of wearing a red polo and was asked three times if I worked there, though twice by the same lady. I believe I could stand in front of a laptop for half an hour counting money and never be bothered. Best Buy seem to have had the best-trained and most courteous salespeople. The ones I spoke to seemed knowledgeable and would do a walk-by to see if you needed help but didn’t hover.

None of this matters of course, because I ended up buying online and probably will for almost every tech purchase I make from now on, simply because the web is really good at step #4 –

4. FIND THE DEAL

Computer makers are in an endless cycle of innovation. New better goodies are created every day, which makes last years best and shiniest a little less best and shiny. Since you, if you were selling computers, don’t want to carry inventory on last year’s best and shiniest, yet you still want to get rid of whatever you have left, you typically sell them very cheaply on the web.

While doing research on the Outpost (Fry’s) website, I saw a great deal on the HP dv5030us that matched virtually all of my requirements for $949 less a $50 rebate. Since there was one nearby and the website was going to charge me sales tax anyway, I drove down to Fry’s hoping to pick one up. No such luck. It was a discontinued model. Back to the batcave to order it online. It should arrive Tuesday. Let’s do a comparison just for shits and giggles –

What I Wanted What I Got
Windows XP Pro or Media Center [both run IIS (personal web server), unlike Windows Home; this proved to be a big limitation] Windows XP Media Center
Embedded wireless, preferably G 54g integrated 802.11b/g wireless LAN
512 MB or more RAM 1 GB (1024MB) DDR SDRAM
80 GB plus hard drive 100GB hard drive
CD/DVD Burning Double-layer DVD+-R/RW and CD-RW combo drive with LightScribe
built-in memory card reader 6-in-1 digital media card reader
Approximate Budget: $1000 Grand total: $1057.83 with $50 rebate

To give you an example of the price difference, CompUSA was selling this same computer at the beginning of April for $1249

I’ll put up some follow-up info when I actually get the laptop and put it through it’s paces.

Issues of self-determination in societal sub-cultures

This item in today’s Houston Chronicle – Texas Supreme Court to hear case of suit against pastor – caught my attention today because it dovetails with something I’ve been thinking about lately. A DFW woman is suing her pastor for defamation, which is not all that suprising given the details –

In 2000, Penley told Westbrook that she was divorcing her husband, and Westbrook recommended an attorney. She also resigned her church membership because its bylaws set forth procedures allowing the congregation to discipline her and others for inappropriate behavior.

However, Westbrook met with church elders and later distributed a letter about Penley’s decision to get a divorce. The letter said she was involved with another man, although it didn’t specify the nature of their relationship.

The letter urged church members to shun Penley as part of a “tough love” approach for her to see her errors.

Penley and her husband divorced in 2001, and she married the other man. She then sued, challenging Westbrook’s actions as a counselor under the Texas Licensed Professional Counselor Act.

Nothing like a good old fashioned shunning. More interesting than the details of the case are the legal implications of the interaction of two sets of ‘law’ – the authority the state takes in holds in regulating the actions of professional counselors, and the authority of the church in disciplining its members.

There are a lot of legal issues (most of them, actually) that I’m completely clueless about right now (Hopefully less so in three years) but I’ve been actively cultivating ideas about some areas of possible study.

First, the American legal structure tolerates a number of overlapping jurisdictions – state, federal, municipal courts and some specialized courts, which manage a rat’s nest of statutory, case and regulatory law some of which may have competing claims for jurisdiction over a particular case. In addition, there are informal bodies that perform quasi-legal roles, in this case a church which takes it upon itself to discipline its members for their actions. These quasi-legal roles are quite pervasive and accepted for the most part – parents, after all, spend a lot of time and energy evaluating the actions of their children, correcting and meting out punishment as they see fit. Employers set rules, sometimes quite arbitrary, which carry legal weight, within certain limits. Churches too have a long history of performing this role, much of it gradually abrogated over the last hundred years. A group action such as concerted shunning seems a lot more shocking now than it did in the early colonies when church rule was de facto indistinguishable from civil authority.

I think I’ll have more to say on this later, but I’ve just started listening to Jon Meacham’s American Gospel and want to think about it in light of the historical structure he lays out. His interview with Charlie Rose is available from Google video for 99 cents.