I Am a Tea Purist.

As my mother tells it, I had my first taste of hot tea at the age of seven days. An under-sized infant, barely able to keep my eyes open for more than a few minutes at a time, my grandmother spoon fed me black tea in the English style, with milk and sugar. She didn't give me much, mind you, perhaps a table spoon's worth and she didn't make a practice of it. Gram just wanted to ensure that I would internalize my Anglo-Celtic heritage and grow up to be a tea drinker after the British tradition rather than a java guzzling American.

As it turns out, I grew up to be both. More than half of everything I drink is served hot and I drink coffee and tea in approximately equal measure, typically tea when I'm at home and coffee when I'm out.

Owing to the formative years I spent in England and, I'm certain, to my grandmother and father's inculations, I am now a tea purist. I have some very particular opinions about my favored beverage, specifically what tea is and what it is not. Mind you, I call myself a tea 'purist' rather than a tea 'snob.' I don't much care about the quality of the tea but rather the composition of the liquid that bears the name, which brings me to the point.

In recent years the U.S. beverage industry has taken to ascribing the word 'tea' to any concoction that involves steeping plant matter in hot water. This is entirely incorrect.

Tea is an actual plant. It is native to Asia, cultivated on all six inhabited continents and known to botanists as Camellia sinensis. The three most general types of true tea, usually denoted by color, white, green and black, are all produced from this plant and differ only in the methods of cultivation and the manner in which the plucked leaves are handled. In order for a beverage to properly be called 'tea' it must contain actual tea. You can spice it. You can sweeten it. You can chill it. You can add milk or do any one of a number of other things to augment it but if there's no actual tea leaves involved,* then it isn't tea.

Chamomile isn't tea, neither is Echinacea nor ginseng nor Labrador. Hot water with lemon is not tea. Red Bush tea, though I confess that I like it, is inaptly named as it is made from rooibos, not tea. Basil water and anything else that falls under then heading 'herbal tea' is properly called an infusion. Why, because it doesn't have any friggin' tea in it and therefore isn't tea anymore than coffee or vegetable soup is.

Please avail yourself of this nomenclature thus.

*Yes, I know, there are a number of kinds of "stem" tea or "mountain" tea that are made from the woody parts of the tea plant. Yes, those are tea also. Aren't you happy with yourself you pedantic little shit.

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The Digital and Analog Generations - Part I

The anniversary of the Berlin Wall's fall was a few weeks ago. I didn't comment on it at the time but conversations surrounding the commemoration set me to thinking. It seemed that there were two distinct groups having two entirely different conversations, two unrelated bodies of experience surrounding that fateful day in 1989. My niece, my girlfriend, and one handful of friends had one set of thoughts on the subject while Joker, Friendly Genius, Weatherman and I had a fundamentally different set. On reflection, I've realized that that divide goes much deeper than opinions and understanding of recent history and of international politics.

It's a matter of age. There is a distinct divide in life experience between the "Analog" generations, people like me who were born before 1983 and the "Digital" generation, those born since. In the space of a year or two the American experience changed. Anyone approximately my age and older has clear memories of a time when the world was a much different place in terms of geopolitics, as represented by the Berlin Wall and also in terms of how we in the United States construct our national identity and even how we live our day to day lives. Anyone more than a few years younger than I doesn't remember this era. Though they may have lived through part of it, they were too young for it to have shaped their understanding.

The most obvious division and the one that started me on this line of thinking is that Soviet communism fell apart in 1989; I was ten years old. We Analogs remember this and had some inkling of its significance as it happened. We watched dozens of movies in which the villains were Russians or the cronies of a communist client state. We remember when the words “The Free World” had a clear definition. We grew up hearing stories of how teenagers in Moscow would risk a lifetime in Siberia to own a Beatles record. The municipal buildings in our hometowns all sported the three inverted triangles indicating a fallout shelter.

As late as 1987, my elementary school made us practice nuclear attack drills. “Duck and Cover,” the idea that putting one's hands behind one's head and hiding under a desk might protect one from an atomic explosion seemed every bit as ridiculous then as it does now. The difference is that the possibility of the Red Giant's missiles soaring over the pole to vaporize legions of innocent American school children was very real

To the children of the Digital era, this is as much history as Vietnam and the Watts riots are to me. Sure, they know people who lived through it but it doesn't meaningfully inform their thinking; it isn't quite real. But, it was real. It was very real and it was very scary. Three generations literally spent sleepless nights wondering if the entire world might erupt in nuclear fire before the sun came up.

Even now, we think of this as being the stuff of the sixties but one has to remember that the height of the nuclear arms race was the winter of 1983-84. If you're younger than thirty or so, terms like “glasnost,” “Evil Empire” and “Iron Curtain” lack their full gravitas. “Mister Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” doesn't seem like a defiant, dangerous or war-provoking statement because, of course he's going to tear it down; how could he not? Digitals have a hard time imagining a world without a golden arches every few miles because they don't recall the capitalist revolution when McDonald's opened it's first store in Moscow and they probably don't get the jokes about how the Russian government would never allow Taco Bell to do likewise because their slogan at the time was “Run for the Border.”

It seems a bit silly in retrospect but the reality is that, as recently as twenty years ago, over a billion and a half people lived in countries that resembled today's North Korea and we all assumed that it was just a matter of time before we went to war with them.

Nowadays we grumble about how Google allows the Chinese government to censor websites without stopping to consider that, for more than half a century, one third of the world was effectively sealed off from the remainder. As a child I was taught that I would never be able to send a letter or make a phone call, let alone travel to somewhere like Moscow, East Berlin or Prague, the last of which I did visit in 1997.

To fully understand the implications of the Berlin Wall's fall, Digitals need to understand not only the context of the Cold War but also the events of earlier that same year in China. Everyone's spent half a class period on it in high school history, of course, but like most momentous events, high school history class can't communicate the essence of the time. For a full month in early summer of '89, millions of Chinese, inspired by the passing of a prominent pro-democracy agitator, took to the streets to protest the policies of the Communist Party. There were demonstrations in almost every major city culminating in a mass protest in Beijing that exceeded a million participants. Students erected a white “Goddess of Democracy” statue in the heart of the city square. American news reported that the Communist Party was in tatters, afraid to react. We were told that a military crackdown had been ordered and that China's army generals were refusing to comply.

For a week at the end of that May, it really did look like Chinese Communism was over. News outlets all over the western world, many operating unmolested in Beijing itself, were predicting that the Democracy movement in China had reached critical mass and that it was only a matter of days until the government of the PRC and acquiesced and dissolved itself. This would, of course, fuel such movements in Russia and in it's collection of subordinate nations. Democracy was about to triumph in the PRC, with the USSR, North Korea, Cuba and all of their inheritors closely to follow. Network broadcasts were preempted every night for half a month as the tide of pro-democracy sentiment swept China. Without any hyperbole, we were all thinking that we just might see true, lasting, world peace by Christmas.

It didn't happen, of course. The Communist party did crack down. The media was silenced. Tanks rolled into Beijing, hundreds of protesters were killed and the movement's leaders were imprisoned or executed. For a few weeks we all thought that Democracy had triumphed only to see it brutally crushed overnight. “Bloodbath,” was the headline on the cover of Newsweek.

In the west, we remember this as the Tiananmen Square massacre. Digitals know it by the image of the single unarmed protester facing off with a column of tanks. While it did ultimately prompt the liberalization of China that continues to this day, at the time it seemed like the ultimate Communist push-back. The Evil Empire was forever. We'd never win and the threat of a thousand mushroom clouds would loom over the world until someone pushed the button or until the stars burnt out.

Only a few months later, though, the wall came down and the Soviet government announced its own impending dissolution. I remember my grandmother tearing up a bit, which is funny because there's not a drop of Eastern European blood in my family. My fifth grade teacher predicted that there would be cheering in the streets akin to that at the end of World War II. Democracy had triumphed after all. Fifty years of animosity, paranoia and brinksmanship were over. The world, more importantly our perception of the world changed literally overnight.

None of it turned out quite the way anyone predicted it, of course. The world was not swept up in a wave of good will. Peace did not reign and I think all of us who were there for it feel a bit foolish for having expected such. There was financial turmoil, political unrest and mass migration. We exchanged one global Cold War for hundreds of ethnic and economic skirmishes.

Certainly, I'm over-simplifying and probably romanticizing. I was ten years old, after all. The important thing to remember is that these things happened. The social, political, military and economic consequences of the Second World War finally played themselves out and by 1991 we were left with a world that resembles the world of today, whereas the world of 1989 more resembled that of 1964. I am nearly as young as one can be and have understood these things as they occurred but it does not change the fact that I am still one of those who, as Freddy Mercury sang, "Grew up, tall and proud, in the shadow of the mushroom cloud."

Anyone younger is not. The defining geopolitical moment of their life involved a tragedy of twisted faith, skyscrapers and airliners. I say with some confidence that, despite this, the world is a much safer place now than in 1988.

It occurs to me that this post is already several times longer than I intended and the fall of the USSR is only one of several experiences that denote the line between the Digital and Analog Generations. I'll save the rest for another post.

Let me ask, then. Which generation are you? What aspect of history most informs your understanding of the modern world? What do you think is going to define the life experiences of our children and grandchildren that are only academic to us? What are you going to do to play a part in it?

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Like a Ghost into a Fog

The exciting part is over. By most people's understanding, the movie has been made. The last frame has been shot; the t-shirts have been handed out; the generators are silent and the above-the-liners have all flown back to the west coast. The sweat and elation of shooting disappear, along with most of the crew, with the wrap party's hangover.

The work is not done, though.

And, a handful of us are left to unmake it all, to dismantle the apparatus and return this corner of the world to it's pre-production serenity. The remaining crew, once endeavoring agog over the burgeoning project, now labor, half exhausted, to render its remains.

It will take Accounting a month or more to pay all the bills and close all the accounts. Art, Props and Set-Dec will spend weeks cataloging and storing the warehouses worth of furniture, fixtures, and chotch. Construction and Rigging now go to work on the sets and the soundstage like so many piranhas on a carcass. Production, my department, will spend thousands of man-hours as we ship seventy to ninety tons of rented material back to its owners, as we sell off a million dollars in acquired assets, as we dot every 'i', cross every 't' and finalize thousands of pages of documentation.

Ultimately, when all the others have gone, we will shut down the facility, clean out the offices, shred the remaining paper, donate all that we couldn't sell and lock the doors behind us with barely more than our fingerprints to show that we were ever here.

We will leave the place sterilized, picked clean, five acres of polished concrete and institutional carpet that will wait, as we will, for whatever is next.

An old theatre director of mine, one particularly fond of ritual, had the entire company attend strike and stay until the last moments when she would give a short speech wishing us well on all the shows in our future. Then the stage manager would ceremonially sweep the floor and shut off the lights. The scope is different. These shows employ hundreds, not dozens and cost tens of millions, not thousands, but the ritual is the same. Now I am the one sweeping the floor and, in a few weeks time, I will wish my colleagues well as we turn off the lights before going to look for the next show.

Good Gate, Moving On.

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Now THAT Was Fun!

A parachute does not always open the way that you plan. Freefall is a dynamic environment, after all. A certain number of nuisance problems are simply going to occur. We're trained to deal with them and they're not a big deal.

Some nuisances are more entertaining than others, though.

Yesterday I had a line twist. The nose cells of my canopy weren't pointing in the same direction my body was when the parachute came out of the bag. As a result the lines twist up in much the same manner as the chains of a swing set when a child spins. Normally this is no big deal. You reach up, tug on the risers and kick your leg in the opposite direction and you spin out of it.

Yesterday, though, I had an asymmetrical line twist. The lines coming off the right risers folded into the lines on the left risers unevenly. This led one side of the canopy to be the tiniest bit warped when it inflated and it made the whole apparatus want to slowly turn and dive with me dangling under it, spun up like a rubber band and unable to steer.

I pulled out of the twist and landed safely directly on target. No biggie. My heart rate didn't even go up.

One of the best things about skydiving is that it really puts life's obstacles into perspective.

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My desk is not sacred. It sits in the middle of a large room, adjacent to a communal work table and no one seems to recognize that it, and by extension, any object upon it, is proprietary. Granted, it's the nature of my job that I'm often not at my desk: I'm on the shooting stage, at the film lab, at the rental house or off dealing with some other vendor. On the other hand, the minutia on my desktop from my pencil cup to my inbox to the constantly shifting collection of coffee cups would indicate that this space belongs to someone and should probably be left as it is.

But noooooooooooooo! First, my pens get stolen by the fistful. Second, anyone who strolls by feels they can use my phone and write on my scratch pad and sit in my chair if it suits them. Third, they all use my pro-sumer copy/fax/scanner that can do all sorts of fancy stuff, the one that's mine, as in I paid for it out of pocket and it cost more than two different cars that I owned in college. At least I can talk the company into buying me toner once in a while.

For all my bitching, most of this is pretty innocuous. I can get more pens and pads and half the reason that I have the copier is to make others' lives easier. There is one thing that sticks in my craw, though.

People will try and use my computer.

Now, I've worked in a number of movie offices in which there is a public terminal or two set up if a non-office person needs to get on the web or type something. This is not one of those offices. Moreover, even if it were, my computer is obviously not the one. It's covered in stickers. The desktop is highly customized. Oh, and I run a operating system that most people can't negotiate without a hand to hold. Sure, I lock the screen if I'm going to be gone for more than a few moments but that stops no one. If I get up to run to the bathroom or to escort someone from the lobby, invariably I return to find any one of the two-hundred n'er do wells that we employ dragging their soiled boots all over my corner of the information super-highway. Most of the time they also find that they are borderline helpless in using Linux, even the idiot-simple version of Linux I use, and are then indignant that they can't make use of the computer that wasn't there to use in the first place.

I thought this was one of the unspoken laws of modernity: One does not fuck with another's computer without express permission. All kidding aside, a laptop is a very private place. Digging in someone's computer, for even a few minutes, can reveal all kinds of personal information from financial documentation to family secrets to sexual fetishes. Only a person's bedroom is more private and really only because there's a one in three chance that said person might be in there and asleep. It's somewhere one simply does not venture without the say so.

There's all sorts of damage one can do on a computer with which they're not familiar. They could accidentally bollocks up a document that's taken days to perfect, inadvertently delete a crucial file, bump "reply all" on the wrong email. They might leave URL's in the browser cache or images on the screen of which bosses or significant others might not approve. Most likely, they'll just spill their coffee on it but fucked is still fucked.

This could be my Pagan upbringing, the idea that everyone is entitled to a certain amount of sovereign space, an inalienable degree of privacy. Maybe most people are fine with others having access to their hard drives because they have a faith in basic human decency that I lack. Maybe all of my coworkers are assholes.*

Am I wrong about this? Is a computer really a much more mundane item, a tool like a screwdriver or a hair dryer that can be freely passed about and I'm just overreacting or is a computer more like one's castle in cyberspace with rules of propriety analogous to the flesh and consequences world?


*May of my colleagues feel that I'm an asshole so I feel justified in saying this in that way that pots may speak to kettles.

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