Sunday, March 31, 2013

Remembrances of Easters gone by


Actress, writer, and fellow Albany Patch blogger, Michele Strider, today shared a blog of hers from a couple of years ago, regarding her experiences with Easter and how, when she was growing up, she used to behead rabbits because she thought it was humane.

Don't freak out. She was talking about the chocolate variety…not the ones that go hippity hop across Mrs. McGregor's carrot patch. Same thing for Peeps apparently.

I commented about how I used to start on the tips of the ears and slowly work my way down the head, jokingly asking whether that was torture?

This got me thinking about Easter when I was growing up. Dare I say, a wee bit longer ago than Michele.

* * *

Maybe I'm just not looking at the right place. But, pretty much all the big chocolate bunnies they're selling these days seem to be made from hollow milk chocolate. Sure, there was the one oddball I saw at Safeway, which was six inches of solid milk chocolate (and tasted so good!!). But, that seemed to be a maverick.

Where have all the big bunnies gone that were filled with the delicious ooey gooey goodness like when I was a kid? They were enough to make you sick if you kept eating, and you knew that. But, you just couldn't help yourself!

One year I got one of those stuffed bunnies. I swear that thing must've been a full foot tall; every inch filled with fluffy goodness. Can we say, "SUGAR SHOCK?!?!?" 

Then there were those first Cadbury Eggs our parents bought us. I'm not talking about the industrial glop they pass off these days. I'm talking eggs filled with a smooth creamy filling more a kin to what you get inside a Milky way Bar.

It's probably not just my imagination. But, it just seems that the bulk processed candies made today just don't taste the same as back then.

Of course, See's Candies is still going strong. You're going to pay a price, and it's probably too expensive for most, except for the occasional holiday like Valentine's or Mother's Day.

Sadly, gone is Hooper's Chocolates, the long-time Oakland Chocolatier, in the pretty pink building on Telegraph Avenue. While the building is still there, it's now occupied by a couple of 20-something skateboarders, selling stuff far removed from what made the building famous.

* * *

Chocolate isn't the only thing I fondly think back to. Just like the children of today, my sister and I experienced many an Easter Egg hunt during our youth.

Back in the 1970s, one of my aunts lived about a half dozen blocks away and on sometimes we'd go over for a family get together.

Her kids were a few years older than us so they drew the chore of keeping us busy inside the house while the adults were busy in the backyard going about hiding hardboiled eggs all over her big yard.

They'd eventually come and get us, and we'd go wild looking for eggs. They had lots of succulents and leafy plants, and you had to look closely, or you'd easily miss your treasure.

Another hunt I look back on took place in the Richmond Annex's Central Park, virtually around the corner from where we grew up.

Parks & Rec had an official Easter Egg hunt one year. Older kids would hunt real eggs over on the baseball field. While, those of us who were younger, were stuck in a 20' x 20' sandy area, where they hid plastic wrapped candy eggs.

As I remember it, there were only a dozen, or so, of us running around. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. Everywhere you looked, the shiny candies stood out from the plain tan sand. We were all happily filling our little baskets, and it looked like we would all make it out with a big haul.

But then it happened!

I can't remember whether I ran into something, or tripped up in the sand. My haul of eggs went absolutely everywhere!! Kids being kids, the others turned on me like sharks after a wounded seal pup.

I wasn't physically hurt, but I was mentally scared from watching my sister and the kids across the street scoop up over half of what I'd previously had sitting in my basket.

Later on, I told my parents what had happened, and they coerced my sister into giving me back some of what she'd grabbed. But still, a pre-teen's feelings bruise easily. I've forgiven her over the years, but I still remember! <grin!>

* * *

Our mother used to love it when Easter came around every year, because she got to dye Easter Eggs with us. I'm not sure who got a bigger kick out it, her or us kids.

I think part of that stems from the fact that her parents were originally from Russia, and as is fairly well known, Russians and Ukrainians are World famous for their ornately decorated Easter Eggs.

I can still smell the hot water and vinegar used to liquefy the little Paas pellets. My favorite was the Robin's Egg Blue.

You would balance a hard-boiled egg on a wire hoop, before sinking it into the dye for 30-60 seconds. You'd then carefully lift the egg out, and let it dry.

If you wanted to get fancy, you could wrap the egg with twine, or drip hot wax over parts of it, before plunking it into some other color. Once you were satisfied with the dye job, you'd peel off the twine and wax to reveal your masterpiece.

I'm sure they really looked like a hot mess. But, to us kids they were real works of art.

In fact, I always wanted to keep mine in the fridge and look at them from time to time. Of course, being hard boiled eggs, they didn't last, and eventually started stinking up the refrigerator something awful.

Nowadays, since I have no children of my own, eggs are pretty much relegated to Egg Salad Sandwiches and the occasional Bacon and Egg breakfast.

It's a little sad just thinking of that, so perhaps I'll look to pick up some Paas at a deep post-Easter discount while I'm trying to score on left over holiday candy!!

Monday, March 18, 2013

movie review: The Call (2013)


(reviews may contain spoilers for those that have never seen the film or are unfamiliar with the characters.)

* * *

THE CALL (2013)

Jordan Turner (Halle Berry) is a 911 operator in the nerve center of a Los Angeles area emergency Call Center. She's on top of her game, handling call after call with coolness and ease. That is, until a momentary lapse of judgment causes a serious situation to go from very bad to even worse.

Shaken to her very core, she leaves the hectic front lines for the comfortable position of instructor. This wouldn't last.

While showing a new group of recruits around, she's drawn back into the line of fire when one of her previous recruits becomes flustered by a call, which seems remarkably similar to her very last call.

From this point forward we're taken on a roller coaster ride of ups and downs as police try and track down the latest kidnap victim.

Overall, the film kept me watching for its short 96 minutes, and I would have been happy to have seen the cat and mouse action stretch the movie out. Unfortunately, all stories have an ending, and it's in the ending where this film stumbles a bit.

Not only did the resolution seem unbelievable, and somewhat slapped together, the acting simply fell flat in the last scene.

All through the film the kidnap victim was frazzled and freaked out. Then, she somehow gains a backbone, which I found hard to swallow.

* * *

Berry gets top billing, and I'm sure people will be flocking to the theaters because this is being portrayed as another action movie for her. While she is definitely the biggest name on the screen, her character is just one part of the ensemble, and I'm not sure warrants the marque treatment she's getting.

When she is on screen, she plays the emotional scenes with great verve, capturing your attention, not only with her dialog, but also with the emotion in her eyes.

Sorry guys, but don't go to this film expecting to see her in slinky ultra-tight leather pants, or an orange one piece swim suit. She's matured enough in her roles, so she could trade that in for a comfy pair of blue jeans and a polo shirt.

This film's eye candy is Abigail Breslin, who plays kidnap victim Casey Welson. Breslin has come a long way since starting her career as Mel Gibson's young daughter in Signs (2002), or even more recently, as Emma Stone's younger sister in Zombieland (2009).

Happily, the film doesn't try to rely on Breslin's good looks, and she generally does a decent job as the naive teenager turned kidnap victim.

Our psycho du jour is Michael Foster (Michael Eklund). We never really get a firm grasp on why he is doing what he does. There's a quick montage of shots which makes an implication. But, the viewer is left to fully interpret them. Perhaps the creators felt it wasn't necessary since Foster's violence is what people will mostly take away from the theater.

At the helm was Brad Anderson, probably better known as a director on the small screen (Fringe, Boardwalk Empire).

While keeping us engrossed with the near constant action, he went too far with some of the violence and gore. One particular scene could have been stopped just before the blood started flowing, and it would have been just as effective.

Keeping pace with the action on the screen was a snappy soundtrack penned by Academy Award winning composer John Debney.

One other thing comes to mind. Perhaps the cell phone network of towers is more complete in Southern California, but it's sure not good enough to get the constant Five Bar signal strength seen nearly throughout the entire film.

Anyone who is plagued with the notoriously bad cell phone coverage we experience here in Albany, should be astounded by constant connection which facilitates much of the dialog.

* * *

The R rating is justifiably earned.

If you have an aversion to violence, gore and blood, or any combination thereof, do yourself a favor and skip this one.

It's not just one scene, and then you're safe. There are multiple scenes that could easily give people nightmares for days to come if they're bothered by that type of action.

RATED: 5.5 out of 10 STARS

* * *

Nearby theaters currently showing The Call are the Shattuck Cinemas, UA Emery Bay 10 and Century 16 Hilltop.

A full listing of show times and locations can be found at Fandango.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

All Tubes run through Berkeley?


At a recent Berkeley City Council meeting, Gordon Wozniak (District 8), floated an idea that perhaps a huge chunk of of the United States Postal Service's financial woes could be resolved by taxing email.

My first reaction upon reading the New York Daily News article (which they picked it up from Berkeleyside!) was is this guy serious??…which was closely followed by wondering whether he is any relation to Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak? In fact, he is The Woz's brother!

The Woz can certainly be accused of Thinking Outside the Box, so I suppose The other Woz could be expected to as well.

Years ago, Berkeley had a reputation of butting heads with the national establishment. But, I'd suggest that has been ratcheted back a fair amount since the days of the Gus Newport.

That's why I was surprised to see the post on Facebook promoting the Daily News' article about Wozniak's idea.

* * *

There's no arguing with the fact that Internet communications decimated the USPS' pocket book with its ability of near instantaneous communications.

Just yesterday I mailed two First Class letters. These were the first letters I'd mailed in probably six months. I honestly, can't remember.

In that same time, I've probably sent hundreds of emails. But, even more prevalent have been posts made on Twitter and Facebook, not mention this blog.

Beyond that I do my banking on the Internet. Make many of my purchases over the Internet, and the first library I seek out is the Internet.

None of that activity requires a physical piece of paper be stuck inside an envelope with a stamp affixed to it.

* * *

Just for argument's sake let's take a look at this idea.

On its surface, it sounds like a really simple and practical idea. After all, If you send a physical letter, you put a stamp on it. Why not If you click the Send button in your email client, you pay a very small tax of a centipenny. (Don't bother looking up that term. I made it up since there's no such denomination as 1/100th of a penny).

However, that's where the simplicity and practicality ends, and the futility of the idea begins.

When a normal piece of mail is sent, it must go through the USPS. Even all that Third Class junk mail we get too much of is counted, calculated, and charged postage.

With email, your computer connects with any of a number of service providers, who then route it through, as the late Ted Stevens (R-AK) famously suggested, nothing more than a series of tubes to its final destination. Your email provider doesn't even have to be physically located within the boarder of the United States.

Because of that global presence, there is no single gatekeeper, and trying to create one would be harder than making the 20,000 miles of the USA's border* 100% secure.

If you were to examine all the email sent to you, not just what gets by your service provider's SPAM filters into your inbox, you'd probably find a great portion of it is SPAM and Phishing schemes that originate outside the American borders.

Even if they are legit mailings, many of the senders change IP addresses and email addresses more often than the Santa Ana winds change direction in August, so it's impossible to get be removed. Does anyone really expect them to pay their taxes?

According to a Pingdom Internet research group study the average number of emails sent per day (Worldwide) during 2012 was 144 BILLION (try imagining Dr. Evil's voice as you read that figure!) and of that nearly 70% is unwanted SPAM.

The same study says this was generated by 2.4 billion internet users World Wide, of which only 245 million users are located within the United States. There is no breakdown of whether a user sends an occasional email, or 1000 in a bulk blast.

* * *

The idea of an email tax actually isn't new. Back in the 1999, a United Nations report suggested this might be a way to raise money and help improve emerging global societies. It never got beyond the discussion stage.

A year prior to that, the United States passed the Internet Tax Freedom Act, which among many things, put a moratorium on email bit taxes. This moratorium has been extended multiple times, and is the law of the land until next year, when the moratorium is set to expire.

With the ever expanding National Debt being estimated as nearing $19 Billion by 2014, I can imagine a taxation on the Internet might be discussed by Congress. Any effort to impose such a tax on email, or Internet usage as a whole (with a bandwidth tax), would need to be watched like a hawk.

It's one thing to suggest a tax on email, but once you start suggesting taxes on connectivity (i.e.: Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets), you are running afoul of restricting people's freedom of speech.

Better yet Congress, how about you forget this idea even came up and PERMANENTLY extend the moratorium?

* * *

*20,000 miles is the approximate mileage of the Canadian and Mexican borders, added to International water coastlines.