Thursday, December 31, 2009

Dave Barry: Obama Blames Bush Administration for Tax Code

Via TaxProf Blog, Dave Barry reviews 2009:
JANUARY . . . The No. 1 item on the agenda is fixing the economy, so the new administration immediately sets about the daunting task of trying to nominate somebody -- anybody -- to a high-level government post who actually remembered to pay his or her taxes. Among those who forgot this pesky chore is Obama's nominee for Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, who sheepishly admits that he failed to pay $35,000 in federal self-employment taxes. He says that the error was a result of his using TurboTax, which he also blames for his involvement in an eight-state spree of bank robberies. He is confirmed after the Obama administration explains that it inherited the U.S. Tax Code from the Bush administration.

Heh.

NY's Tavern on the Green Restaurant Bites the Dust - Yahoo! News

Dang.
Tavern on the Green, once America's highest-grossing restaurant, is singing its culinary swan song.

The former sheepfold at the edge of Central Park, now ringed by twinkling lights and fake topiary animals, is preparing for New Year's Eve, when it will serve its last meal. Just three years ago, it was plating more than 700,000 meals annually, bringing in more than $38 million.

But that astronomical sum wasn't enough to keep the landmark restaurant out of bankruptcy court. Its $8 million debt is to be covered at an auction of Baccarat and Waterford chandeliers, Tiffany stained glass, a mural depicting Central Park and other over-the-top decor that has bewitched visitors for decades.

Even the restaurant's name is up for grabs. At stake is whether another restaurateur taking over the 27,000 square feet of space, owned by the city, can reopen as Tavern on the Green.

We were there 4 years ago, thanks to Grandpop Pete and Nana; count as among those as fans of the place. I've got pictures somewhere - I've checked my digital files and can't find any of us in the restaurant so the ones we have must've been taken by someone else. Shoot.

But something here doesn't pass the smell test. Sure, there's the usual blame of the recession but to gross $38 million just three years ago and now be forced into Chapter 11 because your debts are $8 million doesn't make much sense. Heck, if I could gross $38 million, I think I'd be able to find a way to keep $8 million worth of creditors happy for a while. But maybe I'm mis-reading this article and others - another article confusedly reports the bankruptcy petition "listed assets and debt in the range of $10 million to $50 million." Well, which is it? Assets or liabilities? $10 million or $50 million.

No, the main culprit seems to be New York City. The LLC that owns TOTG blames NYC for pulling their lease out from under them but in reality their lease had expired and had gone to competitive bidding; they lost. I suspect it was the LLC's inability to service $8 million in debt with $38 million gross more than anything.

Whatever the reason, it's sad to see this icon go by the wayside. Oh, there'll be a new restaurant at the same location but will it be the same or will it have its own sense of style, build its own traditions? Time, as always, will tell.

Oklahoma Charity Sues Ex-chief, Claiming Porn, Bribes

Yikes. Looks like Feed the Children brought a gun to a knife fight:
Larry Jones took bribes and hid hard-core porn magazines at the charity, Feed The Children is alleging in a countersuit against its fired president.

The charity also is accusing Jones in the civil case of other misdeeds, including misspending charity funds, pocketing travel money, keeping gifts from appearances and misusing a charity employee as a nanny.

Jones, 69, denied wrongdoing.

These are all allegations, of course, so Jones isn't guilty of anything. Though this kind of response isn't helpful:
He specifically said the alleged bribes were above-board payments to him and that the magazines were research for a new novel, "The Zipper Disease,” about AIDS in Africa.

So it's not that these actions didn't occur; it's that the interpretation of these actions that make them so nefarious.

Sigh.

I admire Feed the Children's work. Larry Jones is responsible for much of its success over the last 30 years. They're a prime example of how a charitable organization can provide services to people in need far better than the government can. But I wonder how it will be able to survive this kind of scandal. I hope it can.

Julie & Julia - Movie Review

Julie & Julia is a charming movie about one blogger's obsession with Julia Child's obsession with cooking. The movie's strong point is the performances of the leads. Amy Adams continues her campaign to seize the crown of most adorable actresses working today while Meryl Streep, as always, disappears entirely into her character. I say that so that it sounds like its boring but Streep's achievement mustn't be written off that easily. It says something about her as an artist that this kind of performance is simply something we expect from her; never for a moment do you get the impression that Streep is anyone other than Child.

The sets are bright and cheery and entirely unrealistic. Who wouldn't want to live about a pizzeria in Queens as depicted here? And Paris looks exactly as it does in my head when I'm reading Hemingway. Or exactly as it appears at Epcot. Which isn't a criticism here; I hope that some day when I visit Paris it's as its depicted here but I get the feeling reality will rudely intrude. Still, who cares? I enjoyed the fantasy. This is what Hollywood does.

There's a gratuitous slam against Republicans that even the kind, gentle Emily noticed. Don't know what's up with that but it doesn't add anything to the plot or character. It's irritating more than anything but most people probably won't care. Perhaps it was the evil McCarthy that forced the Childs to come state-side but I suspect it had more to do with being in the foreign service that requires a constant moving about than it did politics. Whatevs.

The point is, this is a good movie not about cooking or blogging but about two, happily married couples where one member doggedly pursues her passion and the other doing his best to be supportive. And with a happy ending, too! We don't get many movies like that from Hollywood so for that alone we should be grateful. The performances by the leads are just icing on the cake.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

"They Just Took My Money"

A Conservative is born:
That's what my 8-year-old son said about the sales tax on the ride home from Borders a few minutes ago. He had a $10 gift card from Christmas, bought a Clone Wars book for $7.99, looked at the receipt, and wondered why he still didn't have a full $2.01 on it.

It's a hard life, kid, but welcome to what it means to be a Conservative.

Rachel's Christmas Choir Performance

Thanks to my genius nephew, Michael, I've been able to convert my Sony DVD recording of Rachel's choir performance and isolate her solo intro to Santa Baby and the choir's performance and upload it to YouTube. Prepare to be dazzled:



I'm just sorry I wasn't able to capture Emily's flute performance; I couldn't work the still camera and iPhone at the same time because, well, I'm a doofus. Well, we'll work out something next time.

(Thanks, Michael! You're awesome, just like your dear, sweet mother is constantly reminding me!)

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian - Movie Review

While Rachel and I were out in last week's blizzard, we managed to pick up a handful of DVDs to while away the snowbound hours. Rachel's choice: Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.

I hadn't seen the first one so I didn't really know what to expect but it turns out this isn't a half-bad movie. (I've now seen the first one thanks to its running the other day on a cable channel; that's not half-bad, either.) Ben Stiller's funny and I'm utterly charmed by Amy Adams, though I worried about her too-tight slacks as part of her Amelia Earhart costume. The playfulness among the characters was light and unserious and I liked the apparent Smithsonian locations. The entire movie had a sense of fun about it that made it perfect for a snowed-in day. Glad we got it.

Donald Fagen Remembers Jean Shepherd

Believe it or not, this is the first year that I've been able to see all of A Christmas Story, thanks to last week's blizzard and round--the-clock programming of the movie by TBS. (And thanks to the round-the-clock programming of TBS, I've yet to see the movie from beginning to end; I've still only seen the movie in drips and drabs, falling in at various points in the movie until I've been able to stitch the whole thing together in my mind.)

Yes, it's all everyone says it is and we enjoyed watching it but here's a cool thing about Jean Shepherd, the writer and narrator of the movie: Donald Fagen of Steely Dan is a huge fan! Cool, no? Slate re-printed Fagen's appreciation of Shepherd from last year and it's a great, well-written piece.
If you know Jean Shepherd's name, it's probably in connection with the now-classic film A Christmas Story, which is based on a couple of stories in his book In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash. He also does the compelling voice-over narration. On Christmas, TBS will continue its tradition of presenting a 24-hour Christmas Story marathon. There are annual fan conventions devoted to the film—released 25 years ago this Thanksgiving—and the original location in Cleveland has been turned into a museum. But long before A Christmas Story was made, Shepherd did a nightly radio broadcast on WOR out of Manhattan that enthralled a generation of alienated young people within range of the station's powerful transmitter. Including me: I was a spy for Jean Shepherd.

Read the whole thing.

(Clara pointed out that Shepherd sounds like the voice of the father in Disney World's Carousel of Progress. She's right! (Scroll down.) Shepherd's coolness factor just went up ten-fold!)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas 2009

We got hit with a major snow storm on Christmas Eve. Dire predictions all around, of course, but that's always the story. Thursday morning it was just rain and I went on to work as normal - I was the only one in since the staff had been given the day off but Clara was working from home, anticipating the storm and having been given half a day off thanks to good President Obama. No big deal for an hour or so. Then the rain turned to sleet. By 11, things had gotten bad. Okay, weather guys, you get this one. I headed for home.

Winds were going at around 30 to 35 mph with gusts to 50. The sleet had turned to snow and it was white out conditions for a good part of the way. My windshield wipers iced over, making visibility worse. I got off the interstate at the downtown exit and worked my way to Walker. Near disaster at the underpass just south of downtown - cars had gotten stuck at the bottom of the incline and couldn't get out. I darn near got stuck myself but managed to keep rolling and threaded my way past the stuck cars. Walker just kept getting worse so I went a half mile west to Western since Western is supposed to be a major snow route, kept clear with plows. But the plows hadn't made it to the south side so it was barely better than Walker and more crowded. Slow but steady going and I finally made it home.

Of course, Christmas Eve, and likely Christmas, plans were shot so we re-grouped. We'd just stay in, snacking on junk food. The only problem: we lacked junk food. So Rachel and I plunged back into the maelstrom, hitting first Homeland, then the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market. As I tweeted, the crowds were about like those for the fall of Baghdad but we got what we set out for only, well, Wal-Mart didn't have what we thought they'd have so we'd have to go back to Homeland. After a stop at Blockbuster first. The weather kept getting worse, the drifts higher, and more cars and trucks were getting stuck. I gave Rachel a blow-by-blow lesson on how to drive in this stuff so she got quite a lesson. I just hope she never has to drive on her own in a storm like this. So. Blockbuster, Homeland again, and then finally back to the neighborhood and home. For good.

So we spent Christmas Eve as re-planned. Snacks, Night at the Smithsonian on the DVD player, and just snug and warm on a night fit for no one. Turned out to be the best we've ever spent. By 10:00, the skies had begun to clear and it looked like the worst was behind us.

Christmas morning. The dogs bladders know no holiday so they were up at their usual hour and picked their way through the snow to take care of business. Rachel joined me soon after - she wanted to make Christmas breakfast for everyone, like Grandpop Pete does only with her shirt on, and so we had eggs, bacon, and pancakes. Thanks, Rachel! Gifts next. Not a lot because of their high-dollarness but everyone was happy with what they got. What else could you ask for?

With the sun up, we got a glimpse of how bad the snow had been - 14 inches according to the weather service but the drifting made it hard to get an accurate measure. Looking at the table on the patio, I'd say about 8 or 10 inches. No matter. The drifts were several feet high.

Rachel took the dogs out for some snow frolic. Here they are:



But we still hadn't gotten out to check out how bad things were. Well, let's do it then:



The Pinkertons across the street were finishing up their digging out and loaned us their big shove so with Rachel helping out, we made substantial progess; we ought to be able to get the Sequoia out the driveway and, from the reports of the Pinkerton relatives arriving for their holiday dinner about how clear the roads are, we ought to be able to get out later, if we want.

A different kind of Christmas. That's what makes them more memorable.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Mannheim Steamroller

We opted for the Mannheim Steamroller concert this year rather than Transiberian Orchestra - we've seen TSO three times now and MH hasn't been to Oklahoma City for, what a couple of years? The girls would have chosen TSO again but they like the MH Christmas CDs we have well enough and we're lucky that the idea of live music appeals to them so it sounded like a nice change-up to our Christmas tradition.

Chip Davis didn't perform - he appeared in a pre-show video explaining why. Some kind of neck surgery; there's nothing on their website about the nature of the surgery but in the video he walks a little stiffly into the room. Could be on-camera nervousness. Regardless, he wasn't at the concert but, instead, the main musicians he uses were and they put on a pretty good show. They played the hits, which is what you want from a band, and some other unfamiliar songs - unfamiliar to us, since we don't have all of the Christmas CDs - which is probably more of what the band would like to play. They sounded like note-for-note performances of the recordings with enough of a difference to let you know that what you were listening to was live. My favorites were in the second part of the show - I like the renaissance styled numbers and then the modern version of God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen. Silent Night was one of the encore numbers and it was sublimely beautiful.

The girls would have liked TSO better, they said. Not enough hard rock versions of Christmas music for them. Not enough hot chicks playing electric violins for me but then you can't have everything. Still, it was a great show and we enjoyed ourselves. We were glad we went.

Like all live venues, we're not supposed to record the performance. I can dig it. Instead, I took a few shots during intermission.

Emily seems a little more worried than she needs to be. Those are her fashion glasses, not the ones she wears when she's not wearing contacts. Rachel's hand is blurred as she's scarfing down the contraband Tostitos she has stashed in her purse:


Ah, whatever was concerning Emily seems to have passed:


We're in the upper tier section. We got tickets late and that's all that was left. If you have to have seats at the back of the auditorium, go up a level or two. Being on the floor and in the back is sheer misery. Up here, well, things aren't so bad:


Emily's ready to get the show started again; Rachel's blissed out on a post-Tostito high. Though it looks like she's got her hand stuck in her purse for another munch before the show resumes.



Afterwards, we stuck around a little bit to get an autographs but the line was moving slow and we were ready to move on. The night was cold but the streets were alive with theatre goers on their way home. The ice skating rink had a good crowd skating along with the Christmas music. A good night to be out with family.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Hemingway's True At First Light - the Third Allotment

I'm still sticking to my plan and now I've knocked off a third chunk of the book. The rains have quit and Mary's lion comes closer to the camp - they even catch sight of it but Mary's unable to get a clear shot. Oddly, Hemingway purposely omits the details of killing marauding baboons - some PC post-editing? - and then later goes on to describe the shooting of same. The escaped Mau Maus have been captured and are no longer a threat. Hemingway visits the shamba where he carries on shamelessly with Debba, his mistress. Much sexual innuendo follows as he describes how Debba caresses his gun. I kid you not. While Mary and GC talk of London, Hemingway tosses off several wonderful paragraphs of Paris in the old days, a nice precursor to A Moveable Feast. Mary awakens sick and can't hunt her lion for the day.

Hemingway retains his magic. Here's a paragraph as proof:
We saw them coming across the new bright green grass of the meadow; the same size, Charo as black as a man could be, wearing his old soiled turban and a blue coat, Mary bright blond in the sun, her green shooting clothe dark against the bright green of the grass. They were talking happily and Charo was carrying Mary's rifle and her big bird book. Together they always looked like a numero from the old Cirque Medrano.

So, done for now. I see no reason to abandon the plan - neither to drop this book entirely to just race ahead to the end and get it finished. But finding paragraphs like the one above makes these short spurts worth it.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Dirty Laundry

I've tweeted about our washing machine breaking down and how having to do our laundry at the laundromat is, well, a unique experience.

Except for vacation, when we don't have unbridled access to Grandpop Pete and Nana's facilities, - and even then we use the hotel's washers and dryers - we haven't been inside a laundromat for years and years. Things really haven't changed. Okay, the cost of doing a load of laundry is much higher - two bucks! - but you pretty much run into the same kind of people that you did all those years ago: people like me without an operating washer nearby due to whatever circumstances that have occurred in their lives. From the looks of things, our broken washer may be the least interesting story around.

With the Winter dark falling early, looking through the front glass of the laundromat is like looking at an Edward Hopper painting. Not quite Hemingway's clean, well-lighted place but a warm and damp, garishly lit place where things get clean. The variety of people that come is almost breathtaking; you wouldn't think that Oklahoma is home to so many people from so many other places. Hispanic, Asian, goodness knows what else - it's almost like the cantina scene from Star Wars only with the slush and swirl of washers and dryers playing in the background instead of music.

Sears has ordered parts and has slotted us for January 4th for the big repair so I figure I've got one more visit to go. I miss having the easy access to a washing machine - if something needs washing, it'll have to wait until my next trip out - but there's something to be said about being able to get 8 loads of laundry washed in 30 minutes. The universe wheels as it should so a broken washer is a teeny tiny thing; if this is the worst we have to endure then we'll gladly do it. And though I hope I don't have to return to a laundromat for many years, I have to admit, going to the laundromat hasn't been an entirely negative experience.

Gas Could be the Cavalry in Global Warming Fight

This isn't news to those of us living in Oklahoma - or officing just down the street from Chesapeake Energy's world headquarters - but I'm glad the news if finally hitting the mainstream media:
An unlikely source of energy has emerged to meet international demands that the United States do more to fight global warming: It's cleaner than coal, cheaper than oil and a 90-year supply is under our feet.

It's natural gas, the same fossil fuel that was in such short supply a decade ago that it was deemed unreliable. It's now being uncovered at such a rapid pace that its price is near a seven-year low. Long used to heat half the nation's homes, it's becoming the fuel of choice when building new power plants. Someday, it may win wider acceptance as a replacement for gasoline in our cars and trucks.

Natural gas' abundance and low price come as governments around the world debate how to curtail carbon dioxide and other pollution that contribute to global warming. The likely outcome is a tax on companies that spew excessive greenhouse gases. Utilities and other companies see natural gas as a way to lower emissions — and their costs. Yet politicians aren't stumping for it.

Obama has yet to see the light (heh) about natural gas but with stories like these, maybe the public will take greater notice.

Monday, December 21, 2009

After The Bugles - Book Review

After the Bugles is the second book of Elmer Kelton's Texas Sunrise volume and takes up right where Massacre at Goliad leaves off. Kelton changes the point-of-view of his narrative - we're in third person now, rather than the point-of-view of Josh Buckalew, and I think that makes this novel a slighter one than the first and not just because of its length; this books is slightly shorter than the first, even though it gives Kelton the chance to develop other characters a little more deeply. It's just that something is lost by losing Buckalew's viewpoint; it seems, somehow, less authentic.

But it's still a good story. No battle scenes like the first but there's plenty of suspense as the characters are forced to face down retreating remnants of the Mexican army, outlaw types, and Indians. Sure, this is the stuff of pulpy Westerns but Kelton never makes them feel like stock scenes. Most of the story concerns the characters trek back to their homes after wartime and how they rebuild, and come to terms with their feelings about one another and living in a post-war Texas world. Very well done.

I'm looking forward to finding some more Kelton but that's all I have on hand for now. I've got my next allotment of Hemingway to get through and then two other books I checked out from the library before I'm free to choose another.

Me and Orson Welles - Movie Review

We chose to skip the opening weekend of that little movie no one's heard of called Avatar (Sorry, no link. As if that site isn't getting enough hits already.) so instead we caught another movie no one's heard of, Me and Orson Welles, a delightful little movie about, well, me and Orson Welles. I mean, not me but the me of the film. The point of view character. Zack Efron. (Oh boy, I'll get a lot of page views now!) Him and Orson Welles. A period piece? New York in the 30s? We are so there!

Directed with a light hand, we follow along as Efron's character gets swept up in the production of Welles' Mercury Theatre's premier production of Julius Caesar and, like everyone in Welles' orbit, he's soon overwhelmed by the demands of the man's genius. It's a fun look at how a play is produced and rehearsed and finally put on, despite the insurmountable obstacles and what may or may not be true glimpse of the genius Welles at work. Welles really did produce Caesar in the style shown to great critical and popular acclaim but the movie is based on a fictional book so who knows how much of the details are true? Who cares? It feels true enough. If want facts, though, I'll go see a documentary.

I was disappointed, though ,to learn that what I was convinced were actual location shots were done elsewhere or on stages; the only actual New York City scenes are actually green-screened pictures of New York. No matter. We were transported and the illusion was complete.

Efron was surprisingly good. He doesn't let his pretty boy looks get in the way of his naive character and the rest of the supporting cast does very well, too, especially the actor playing Welles. The play finally gets put on, Efron falls in love, and the story ends as it should. What's not to like? Very well done.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Emily and Rachel's Christmas Programs

I've had no response to my query about posting Sony video - Sony's video files are proprietary and are unreadable to my (free) video editing software and are impervious to Youtube's magic - so I'm going with the media that I've got.

Emily's winter concert and Rachel's Christmas choir program were both on the same night at the same time but blocks apart. Clara took the ol' folks with her to Rachel's and I went to Emily's. This would be Rachel's last high school Christmas program while Emily still has a few ahead of her.

It might be hard to see but here's the program with Emily listed under the flutes. Last, of course, because it's alphabetical, but first in my book as the finest flute player on the floor. (Double click on the image for a larger version) :



Emily's right at the front. I managed to catch her with her head turned every time!









The 7th graders went first. (Here's Emily at her 7th grade concert last year.) They went through the same program that all 7th graders go through and it was a good reminder of just how far Emily has come. When the 8th graders took over, they raised the rafters and ended their program to thunderous applause.

Amazing stuff. I was so proud of how well Emily played. Some of her friends had come to see the program and gave her some high compliments as well. Good for Emily!

I went with her to the band room to stash her flute and then a friend of hers joined us and off we raced into the night up the street to see if we could catch some of Rachel's program.

Too late. As we entered the back hall, the choir was pouring out of the auditorium. We'd just missed it.

Word was that Rachel performed fantastically as well. Again, I don't know how well you can see this but Rachel had snagged the solo spot for Santa Baby. (You know the drill: double click on the image, etc etc.) :



Eyewitness reports say she vamped it up in a parent-pleasing style. (Subsequent viewing of the video confirms this.)

You mean others sang, too? Huh. Eyewitnesses didn't really notice. Thought the whole program revolved around Rachel.

Here's Rachel mingling with two of her biggest fans after the show:



So, another one for the books. Both girls did incredibly well. They couldn't have any more prouder parents.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Adam Lambert Problem

Stick with Peggy Noonan's latest column long enough and you'll come to her excellent point:
This was behind the resentment at the Adam Lambert incident on ABC in November. The compromise was breached. It was a broadcast network, it was prime time, it was the American Music Awards featuring singers your 11-year-old wants to see, and your 8-year-old. And Mr. Lambert came on and—again, in front of your children, in the living room, in the middle of your peaceful evening—uncorked an act in which he, in the words of various news reports the next day, performed "faux oral sex" featuring "S&M play," "bondage gear," "same-sex makeouts" and "walking a man and woman around the stage on a leash."

People were offended, and they complained. Mr. Lambert seemed surprised and puzzled. With an idiot's logic that was nonetheless logic, he suggested he was the focus of bigotry: They let women act perverse on TV all the time, so why can't a gay man do it? Fifteen hundred callers didn't see it as he did and complained to ABC, which was negligent but in the end responsive: They changed the West Coast feed and apparently kept Mr. Lambert off "Good Morning America."

Mr. Lambert's act left viewers feeling not just offended but assaulted. Again, "we don't care what you do in New York," but don't include us in it, don't bring it into our homes. Our children are here.

I don't mean to make too much of it. In the great scheme of things a creepy musical act doesn't matter much. But increasingly people feel at the mercy of the Adam Lamberts, who of course view themselves, when criticized, as victims of prudery and closed-mindedness. America is not prudish or closed-minded, it is exhausted. It cannot be exaggerated, how much Americans feel besieged by the culture of their own country, and to what lengths they have to go to protect their children from it.

(Emphasis mine.)

Across the political spectrum, Americans, for the most part, are a live and let live kind of people. Things like the Lambert episode, the health-care debate, the global warming dishonesty, heck, even the new movie, Avatar - it's just all too much. It's like we've got our volume controls dialed up to 11.

Well, enough. Things aren't so bad. Mr. Lambert, who I think is quite talented, can do what he wants but he should respect the feelings of the most of middle-America. (Shoot, he wanted to shock people and he did and this, well, shocked him. Go figure.) Most people like their current health-care plans and don't mind helping people who need a hand but don't want to turn this part of their lives over to the government. Most everyone wants clean air and water and will do what they can to help out but not if the reasons for doing so were ginned up by a group for a particular political agenda.

We'll found our way. We always have. No reason to think we won't now.

Video?

Anyone know how to get video recorded on a Sony video uploaded to YouTube? The Sony files appear proprietary and unreadable by YouTube and any, ahem, free video editing software I can find. I've got some great stuff of Emily and Rachel's Christmas music and choir programs from earlier this week but can't get it posted.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hemingway's True at First Light - The Next Allotment

As planned, I've knocked off the next 50 page allotment of True at First Light on my way to the next Kelton book on my bookpile. I was looking forward to a return to Africa but not too terribly much was going on since I left. Hem's still game wardening around, taking to the sky to inspect a suspicious farmer's property and worrying about a possible attack by escaped Mau Maus. Mary still wants to kill her lion; surprisingly, and thankfully, no animals were killed in this section. She's both irritable with Hem's behavior and endeared by it. Another surprise: Hem's rumination of his prior safari and his admission he no longer hunts for trophies. An editorial insert by Hem's son to make him more PC? Then the rains came and more ruminations, this time about books.

Well, those 50 pages are done. I'm got some more Kelton to read before coming back. This time, it seems like the drudgery I remember.

Roy Disney Dead at 79

Roy Disney, nephew of Walt, has died:
Roy E. Disney, the nephew of Walt Disney whose powerful behind-the-scenes influence on The Walt Disney Co. led to the departure of former chief Michael Eisner, has died. He was 79.

The company announced that Disney died Wednesday in Newport Beach, Calif., after a yearlong bout with stomach cancer.

Company president and chief executive Bob Iger said Disney was much more than a valued 56-year company veteran.

Although he generally stayed out of the spotlight, Roy Disney didn't hesitate to lead a successful campaign in 1984 to oust Walt Disney's son-in-law after concluding he was leading the company in the wrong direction.

Nearly 20 years later, he launched another successful shareholders revolt, this time against Eisner, the man he'd helped bring in after the previous ouster.

Eisner and his wife issued a statement expressing their sympathies over Disney's death.

Disney War, the story of Roy Disney and his work to get Miller ousted, Eisner hired, then fired makes for fascinating reading; it says something about Disney that Eisner would be moved to issue a statement expressing sympathy. (I guess it says something about Eisner, too.)

Definitely the end of an era.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Citigroup Gains Huge Tax Break in Deal with IRS

Hey, I thought it was only George W. Bush that gave tax breaks to the rich. (A myth, by the way.) Looks like Obama doesn't mind giving the rich tax breaks, either:
The federal government quietly agreed to forgo billions of dollars in potential tax payments from Citigroup as part of the deal announced this week to wean the company from the massive taxpayer bailout that helped it survive the financial crisis.

The Internal Revenue Service on Friday issued an exception to long-standing tax rules for the benefit of Citigroup and a few other companies partially owned by the government. As a result, Citigroup will be allowed to retain billions of dollars worth of tax breaks that otherwise would decline in value when the government sells its stake to private investors.

While the Obama administration has said taxpayers are likely to profit from the sale of the Citigroup shares, accounting experts said the lost tax revenue could easily outstrip those profits.

Look, it's all politics anyway, this wrestling over who gets tax breaks and who doesn't. This is a clear example that Obama recognizes that targeted breaks should go to those who are actually paying taxes so the game is conceded.

But the game can still be easily, and better, played. Why not just give a refundable tax credit to everyone who files a tax return? Want to still play the "don't-give-tax-breaks-to-the-rich" game? Fine. Reduce the credit, but don't phase it out entirely, based on income. That way the money goes directly into the hands of people who can then decide best on how to spend it.

Oh, but then there wouldn't be any opportunities for graft, would there?

Never mind.

Boom Town -A Study in Lazy Journalism

A book review of Boom Town by Marjorie Rosen reveals the book is less about the good people of northwest Arkansas and more about the prejudices and expectations of the writer:
In recent years, Tyson Foods, J.B. Hunt Trucking and, most prominent of all, Wal-Mart have attracted workers from across the globe to the tiny corner of northwest Arkansas where the companies are headquartered. The effect on the local community, according to Marjorie Rosen in "Boom Town," has been "cold stark fear—at least among a segment of the white Christian majority, which sees its comfortable, all-white way of life fading."

But very little in "Boom Town," an engaging if sometimes distorted community portrait, actually supports this storyline of white Christians resenting the influx of diverse newcomers. Instead, we learn about African-American, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu groups blending rather smoothly into business and social life in Bentonville, Ark. (Wal-Mart's home base), and the surrounding area. Peaches Coleman, the African-American wife of Wal-Mart's now-retired director of human resources, captures the real state of community relations. She remembers that "people threw bricks at our house" when she was growing up in Chicago; but in northwest Arkansas, she reports, her white neighbors "reached out to us in many ways that they didn't really have to . . . and in ways that have endeared this place to me."

Rather than approach the subject with an objective journalistic eye - let's see how small town Arkansas adapts to the arrival of big companies headquartering in their midst - Rosen chose to bend her narrative to fit what she expected to happen among the Bible Belters. (And, hey, I thought Oklahoma was the buckle of the Bible Belt!) The locals reaction? About the same as anywhere: courteous, polite, a my-how-things-have-changed attitude.

Not much of a story, I suppose, if the locals turn out to be good, decent folk. But it sounds like the book gives the residents short shrift. Around here we have a name for behavior that shabbily treats hosts after being shown hospitality. We call it rude. Probably the same where you live.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Winter Sunset

Heading out of the neighborhood on some unremembered errand the other evening and I managed to catch this:




I couldn't decide which I liked best so what the heck, I posted both. It's not like I'm charge bandwidth or anything.

Massacre at Goliad - Book Review

I followed through on my intention to read some Elmer Kelton and I picked up his Texas Sunrise, a two-novel volume about the birth of the Texas republic. The first novel is Massacre at Goliad about, well, the massacre at Goliad. Turns out, I made a good choice.

Kelton's books are considered genre westerns and though I have no problem with genre fiction of any kind, tagging a novel as a particular genre tends to unfairly ghetto-ize it. Massacre at Goliad is one of those books that transcends the genre and could have easily been a more mainstream novel that happens to be a western or an historical novel; the setting is the West, and the main events actually occurred so it fits easily in either category but Kelton's insight into his characters and their motivations is what puts this book a good many notches over whatever you think western might be. Kelton was a journalist so his mastery of good, clear prose is evident; his style never calls attention to itself or gets in the way of telling the story. A good start with this author. I'm glad I chose it.

Next up should be the second novel in this volume but I'm committed to reading Hemingway's True at First Light, remember? Got another 50 pages of that to slog through before I can return to this.

Best U.S. Made-Over Towns Worth a Visit

Who made Yahoo Travel's list of best made-over towns worth a visit? Oklahoma City did!
Set where the state’s eastern green Ozark leftovers open into the wide-open plains of the west, Oklahoma City is justifying the claim that it’s "oh so pretty" from the Bobby Troup song "Route 66." Long the dusty cow town at the point where old Route 66 crisscrosses with I-40, I-44 and I-35, the city has passed a one-penny sales tax to pretty itself up. The change so far has been stunning. Its long-domeless capitol finally got its top, its central river finally has water (and sculler rallies in stylish new boathouses), and its downtown has transformed from a mass exodus scene at 5 p.m. to an after-hours destination. Here you’ll find the NBA’s Thunder playing at the new Ford Center, rooftop cocktails and independent films at the relocated Oklahoma City Museum of Art, and Bricktown’s San Antonio-styled canal passing a minor league ballpark, barbecue restaurants and Flaming Lips Alley, named for the local rock heroes. Those needing something beyond the usual meat-and-potato go for authentic Vietnamese pho (beef noodle soup) or banh mi (sandwiches, filled with tofu or pork) in the in-progress renovation of "Asian District" – centered on old Route 66 at NW 23rd St and Classen Ave.

MAPS3 is already paying off.

(Hey, I've blogged about the independent films at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. Hipster!)

Good for us. Next time you're out this way, stop by. You won't be disappointed.

Tax Cuts Work Twice as Well as Government Spending Cuts

Here's something you already know but politicians would rather you ignore. Recent studies show that to recover from a recession, it's better for government to cut taxes than it is to cut spending :
One piece of evidence comes from Christina D. Romer, the chairwoman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers. In work with her husband, David H. Romer, written at the University of California, Berkeley, just months before she took her current job, Ms. Romer found that tax policy has a powerful influence on economic activity. According to the Romers, each dollar of tax cuts has historically raised G.D.P. by about $3 — three times the figure used in the administration report. That is also far greater than most estimates of the effects of government spending.

Other recent work supports the Romers’ findings. In a December 2008 working paper, Andrew Mountford of the University of London and Harald Uhlig of the University of Chicago apply state-of-the-art statistical tools to United States data to compare the effects of deficit-financed spending, deficit-financed tax cuts and tax-financed spending. They report that “deficit-financed tax cuts work best among these three scenarios to improve G.D.P.”

But if government cut taxes and put the money directly in your pocket, you might make decisions for yourself. Politicians would have nothing left to do. Why, that would be horrible.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

'Spirited Away' - Most Memorable Movies

The end of the year approaches - the end of the decade, too - so top ten lists abound. Topping Newsweek's list of most memorable movies is Spirited Away.

Ugh.



That still pretty much sums up what Clara and I think about the movie. The plot? A series of WTH moments. The animation? Please! Like all Japanese animation, it looks and jerkily moves like a long Speed Racer episode and not a very good episode, either. What's there to love about this movie? Absolutely nothin'. (Huh. Say it again. Lord.)

We'd rented it for the girls when it came out based on it reputation but, to be fair, though Clara and I despised the experience, the girls liked it much better than we did. Rachel, in fact, has recently rented it and reveled in the experience all over again. I don't know if she's a true cinephile or just a teen trying to tick her parents off but, well, there you go.

The rest of the Newsweek list is movie critic tripe but that's the nature of lists, isn't it? They're merely a starting point for discussion and not definitive. Still, about this there can be no debate: "Spirited Away" is not the most memorable movie of the decade. I don't care what Rachel says.

Two Classics Revisited

Marty:
The best-known line that Paddy Chayefsky ever wrote was spoken by Peter Finch in "Network": "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this any more!" But prior to the release of "Network" in 1976, another Chayefsky line—or, to be exact, a two-liner—was just as well remembered:

"Well, what do you feel like doing tonight?"

"I don't know, Angie. What do you feel like doing?" . . .

. . . The Criterion Collection, which specializes in digitally remastered versions of great films of the past, has just released the 1953 version of "Marty" for the first time on DVD as part of a boxed set called "The Golden Age of Television" that contains such other classic TV plays as J.P. Miller's "Days of Wine and Roses" and Rod Serling's "Requiem for a Heavyweight." To see it today is a revelation—and a delight.


And Gone With the Wind:
No one denies that "Gone With the Wind" holds an honored—even sacred—place in the pantheon of beloved American movies. Adjusted for inflation, its domestic box-office gross is variously estimated at $1.3 billion to $1.5 billion—vastly more than the sum earned by "Titanic." Still more impressive are its initial ticket sales, which totaled more than 200 million at a time when the U.S. population was just 130 million. And then there are those eight Oscars, including best picture, in a year widely acknowledged as Hollywood's greatest. But affection and respect are different things, and it is perhaps only now—70 years after its initial release on Dec. 15, 1939—that this film is acquiring a patina of venerability.

In large part, this delay can be attributed to the complicated feelings the picture engenders. Unlike, say, "The Wizard of Oz," from that same year, or "Casablanca," from three years later, "Gone With the Wind" is not unobjectionable. How could it be? Its primary characters are rich white Southerners living through the Civil War and into Reconstruction—not material that goes down easy for many Americans then or now.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Great Cities and Mass Transportation

Althouse gets the ball rolling and her spirited commenters take over about this post which links to this column about the bamboozledry of mass transit.

It's too late now, of course, but what strikes me about the above links and commenters is that the same arguments seem to be trotted out in whatever city deems it desperately necessary to have mass transit. And how those promises never seem to materialize. I'm afraid that those people who put mass transit on the top of their shopping list for the new MAPS3 projects have been sold a bill of goods.

Yeah, yeah, mass transit works well in a lot of big cities; I've been to Washington only twice in my lifetime and I find the Metro endlessly pleasing to ride. But for a lot of other big cities mass transit doesn't work and it won't work here, either. We're not limited by geography - we're not an island or otherwise hemmed in by natural borders - and we're free to expand as we need to. Which is really the crux of the argument, isn't it? Freedom. By relying on mass transit to get us around, we're giving up the freedom to decide how and when we'll get to wherever it is we're going. We let the government decide for us.

Dear Classic Rock, I Have a Few Questions.

I re-tweeted this link to Dear Classic Rock, I have a few questions but I'm blogging about it here in case you missed it. High-larious stuff about classic rock lyrics.

Admit it. You know you've asked yourself the same questions about classic rock songs.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Trip to The Myriad Gardens

Emily continues to be in need of scoring some extra credit points for her science class. A trip to the Myriad Gardens qualifies so off we went this past Saturday. A great way to spend some time with Emily and a great way to give my iPhone's camera a real workout. Let's go!

A brisk wind made the walk from our car to the inside a thrilling adventure and it was a nice break to stroll amidst the tropical greenery during this late Fall.




Emily the Naturalist:



Let's zoom in for some closeups. Oh. Wait. The iPhone doesn't have a zoom feature. Nor does it have a macro feature. Not a very good one, anyway, but, hey, not bad:







No one puts Emily in a cave!



Let's see how well the camera can capture motion:







Video? Sure!



(The iPhone's camera isn't too bad for capturing images and video on the fly but if I want something of a better quality, I'd better start toting a separate pocket camera like the great Rick Lee.)

Afterwards, we went over to Bricktown and grabbed a few slices at Falcone's. No, not Manhattan but it'll have to do.

Another delightful afternoon, thanks to Emily.

Raising Heck

"Hellraisers" is a new book that details how they did just that back in the good ol' days:
A book celebrating famously unrepentant drunks is a welcome surprise—at least to me. Like the rejuvenating martinis and blurry haze of cigarettes in "Mad Men," Robert Sellers's nostalgic "Hellraisers"— subtitled "The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O'Toole and Oliver Reed"—amounts to an unapologetic celebration of the plastered and the damned in our sanctimonious "Oprah" age of public confession and easy redemption.

Mr. Sellers, a British journalist, appears to have deftly culled various memoirs and articles for ripe anecdotes, and he has interviewed a number of eyewitnesses. The result is a very British book, whose tabloid relish for the boozy excesses of its unlikely quartet of star actors is marinated in the country's laddish pub culture. "Enjoy it," Mr. Sellers tells us breezily at the start. "They bloody well did."

Ha ha. Take that, you modern day amateurs.

My favorite line from the linked review:
At 77, Peter O'Toole is still half with us, I'm glad to say. And he's still happily unremorseful: "We weren't all brooding, introspective, addicted lunatics. And we weren't solitary, boring drinkers, sipping vodka alone in a room. No, no. no; we went out on the town, baby, and we did our drinking in public. We had fun!"

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

MAPS3 Passes

And by a pretty good margin:
Hoping to continue Oklahoma City’s renaissance, voters on Tuesday passed a far-reaching MAPS 3 initiative aimed at continuing citywide progress that began with the first MAPS in 1993.

"Oklahoma City’s golden age continues,” Mayor Mick Cornett said at a watch party for the Yes for MAPS campaign as red, white and blue confetti blasted into the air. "Let’s enjoy this. Let’s take stock of who we are and keep in mind we’re creating a city our kids and our grandkids are going to be proud of for generations to come.”

The penny sales tax that will pay for the $777 million package passed with more than 54 percent of the vote with all precincts reporting.

Voter turnout was about 31 percent, about twice as high as a typical city election, said Doug Sanderson, Oklahoma County Election Board secretary.

The final vote was 40,956 yes, 34,465 no.

Though some quick math with these numbers and those from the pro and con groups public filings will tell you the anti-MAPS forces were about as twice as efficient with their resources as the pro-MAPS forces. Also, I doubt anti-MAPS watch parties were "dining on upscale foods and vast selections of artisan breads, cheeses, meats and fresh vegetables" like the pro-MAPS watch parties were. Not that I'm trying to start a class war here or anything but this detail fits in nicely with my earlier David vs. Goliath theme. This time, Goliath won.

You've got to hand it to the pro-MAPS people. They got their message out there with a carefully planned campaign and what they were selling was irresistible: bright shiny new projects painlessly paid for by a sales tax that's already in place. Now they'll have to keep their promises and there's no reason to think they can't; it's only a matter of will.

For the anti-MAPS forces, now's the time for gracious losing. They had their chance and the people decided. If nothing else, they should be grateful for that. I know I am.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Vote!

No matter your stance on the MAPS3 issue, get out there and vote and unleash the power of the free exchange of ideas in the marketplace.

But for those of you with a short memory about Oklahoma City, you might consider that whatever complaints you might have with this City, we're here today with no one to blame but ourselves. And Mr. I. M. Pei. (Scroll down for Pei's Central Business District Project, planning of which was completed in 1966. Razing of many historical and lovely downtown buildings commenced soon thereafter for a project that, well, is it complete or not?)

And for those of you who might think these new MAPS3 projects will materialize within the next few years (Yes, yes, I know, the original MAPS projects happened remarkably quick. Remember, though: past performance is no guarantee of the future.) the lovely Myriad Gardens (A post about our recent visit coming soon!) was part of Mr. Pei's plan. Let's see, planning completed in 1966, work commenced in 1970, the Gardens opened in 1988. Why that's only 22 years in the making!

Oh, and one of Mr. Pei's most famous designs is now having a little trouble. If you can call an $85 million repair job little:
In the summer of 2005, National Gallery of Art personnel and a consulting engineer were chasing down a leak on a roof terrace atop the gallery's marble-clad, I.M. Pei-designed East Building. Suddenly the beginnings of what would turn out to be a far more serious problem caught someone's eye. One or two of the 2-by-5, 438-pound marble panels on the building's main air shaft were tilting out.

At first, gallery officials believed the problem was localized, caused by the freezing of water lodged on the shaft's deteriorated asphalt lining. But tilted panels soon started cropping up on different parts of the building. To date, the displacement of some 400 of the East Building's 16,200 exterior panels—about 2.5% of the total—has been observed. That may seem a small amount. But because this is a public venue, and because "we can't model or predict the rate of failure," says Susan Wertheim, the gallery's deputy administrator for capital projects, National Gallery officials decided in 2008 to reinstall all of the panels. They plan on hiring a contractor to oversee the project next year.

Sometimes you get what you ask for.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Battle for MAPS3

The battle for the minds and hearts of Oklahoma City voters rages between the supporters of MAPS3 and its detractors. Every day we receive slick mailers from its supporters and now they've started with the automated phone calls. The detractors: not so much. Besides yard signs we've seen in the neighborhood, we've received a door hanger. The detractors are poor but scrappy.

It's really shaping up into a David and Goliath kind of story, with big corporate interests on the one side and public safety unions on the other. The closer we get to election day - this Tuesday - the tighter things will ratchet up. If nothing else, it'll be fun to see how it all plays out.

Irving Berlin's White Christmas

Tired of hearing Christmas music already? Not me. Though, like most music, much of it isn't any good, is it? But White Christmas never seems to get old for me. Here's more about the song:
It was a peaceful song that became a wartime classic. Its unorthodox, melancholy melody—and mere 54 words, expressing the simple yearning for a return to happier times—sounded instantly familiar when sung by America's favorite crooner. But 67 years after its introduction, some still are surprised to learn that Bing Crosby's recording of the Irving Berlin ballad "White Christmas" became not only the runaway smash-hit for the World War II holidays, but the best-selling record of all time.

Such unrivaled success reflects everything from record-industry trends to the sweep of global history. But it all begins with the songwriting genius of a Russian immigrant, born Israel Baline, who had just turned 54 when Decca recorded the track on May 29, 1942, and already had to his credit hundreds of hits like "Alexander's Ragtime Band," "Blue Skies," "How Deep Is the Ocean?" and "God Bless America." (Berlin, 101 when he died in 1989, would have many more across a seven-decade career.)

Hemingway's True at First Light - So Far

I've knocked off the first two chapters (and the introduction) of Hemingway's True at First Light. (I've blogged here about my difficulty with the book. It's not that it's a difficult read; none of Hemingway's books are. It's just that the book commits the cardinal sin of being boring.) That brings me to page 64 which is a good stopping place for now.

I have to admit, though, once I pushed on through the places where I've halted my reading before, things went a little more smoothly. Oh, sure, it's still boring - we're mainly going from one place to another stalking and shooting and butchering game, while intertwining the three plot threads of Hemingway's wife, Mary, and her hunt for a lion, Hemingway's silly infatuation with a much younger African girl, and the threat of assault by escaped Kamba Mau Maus - hey, wait a minute, I just described a pretty good story there, didn't I?

Knowing this is a posthumous publication that doesn't benefit from the author's own editing, I can't shake the feeling that what I'm reading is strictly first-draft material. But it's first draft material that's shot through on occasion with brilliance. Hemingway's understated and precise descriptions of landscape and weather are without match. And though I have no desire to hunt down and kill animals, I'm enjoying more than I thought I would the details of the safari. (Hey, it's almost like I'm at Disney's Animal Kingdom on the Kilimanjaro Safari ride!)

But a deal's a deal: my goal is to take this thing at 50 pages at a time and I've done that. Time to move on to what's next on my reading list. Surprise, surprise, I'm looking forward to returning to this.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Sarah Palin Was Here

And I missed her:
A smiling Sarah Palin, carrying her pajama-clad son, Trig, on her hip, stepped off her tour bus Thursday night to greet a cheering crowd of more than a thousand fans who braved the cold and stood in line for hours in hopes of getting her autograph.

The former vice presidential hopeful and governor of Alaska stepped over to a line of supporters and shook a few hands before being escorted inside the bookstore to begin signing copies of her memoir, "Going Rogue.”

Some of the first in line were in and out of the signing area within minutes. Several exited cheering, holding their books aloft to show the crowd where Palin had signed.

"She’s the genuine article,” said Michael Barton of Edmond, who waited 26 hours in line with his mother, Rosa, for the chance to meet Palin.

So why'd I miss my chance to witness history? See above. Specifically, the parts about it being cold. And waiting 26 hours.

Looks like a good, enthusiastic crowd though.

More MAPS and Bicycling Trails

Following up to yesterday's post about MAPS and bicycling trails, we saw what we've been seeing every day on our ride in to work: a perfectly good, and paved, bicycle trail that runs through the median at Grand Boulevard. Amazing the things you can see when you look for them. Didn't quite look like a $700,000 per mile kind of paving job but it was nice.

Still, I was curious about where the route went when it headed north. The linked map is a little vague - it definitely isn't Walker since that's the route we take and there's not a bike trail to be had along that street. I checked Google Maps street view and moved over a block - ah, here we are, it's Harvey. Pan up or down a bit if the sign isn't visible but you'll see what I'm talking about.


View Larger Map

No, you can't read it but it's the universal yellow sign telling you that the street is the actual bike trail; the sign below it reminds drivers to share the road.

Well, I call that a little less than honest. When I'm promised a bicycle trail at $700,000 per mile, I'm thinking of something paved, not a sign thrown up next to a sleepy street.

Right, right, things were different with the prior MAPS; this time it'll be different. This time they'll come through on their promises. No fudging here. Why? Because they're, well, different. Trust them on this. The $700 million that'll be raised will go exactly where the promised. No lonely little sign on Harvey declaring it a bike trail. No sir. That was just a one time thing.

Sheesh.

Don't get me started on the mass-transit thing. (Oh, okay, here's a link to Reason's James Delong's article that most Conservatives cite when pooh-poohing mass transit. Still seems relevant. Google mass transit myth debunking and you'll get lots of articles insisting what Delong claims is untrue. But those pro-mass-transit articles make the same arguments the pro-MAPS people do about mass-transit here. Eerie. You don't think they're reading from the same play book, do you? Anyway, change your Google criteria slightly and you'll get plenty of articles detailing the promises of mass-transit that were never delivered once the kajillions were spent to put it in place. Oh, but I said don't get me started on this. So don't.)

False Alarm on OKC Biz

Yesterday's site change at OKC Biz must've been a temporary hiccup; things appear back to normal over there. Back to free content. Good deal.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

MAPS and Bicycling Trails

We got an expensive-looking mailer from the Yes For Maps Coalition telling us about the new healthier lifestyles we'll lead once MAPS is passed. (MAPS is a $700 million plan we'll be voting on on December 8th to keep in place the "temporary" 1 cent sales tax that was put in place to fund, well, I've forgotten what it was funding. But it's due to expire and now we'll get a chance to vote to keep it in place to fund a whole new shopping list of goodies we just can't live without.) They're as giddy as school girls about the possibility of whitewater-rafting and kayak course to be built on the murky and possibly-poisonous Oklahoma River but what got my attention was the proposed 57 miles of multi-purpose trails to be used for jogging, bicycling, rollerblading or just plain-vanilla walking. For $40 million, that comes to a little over $700,000 per mile. A bargain, I say!

Here's the map of the proposed route with the trails that are already up and running done in purple. I'm familiar with the trails around Lake Hefner - funded, I think, from prior MAPS projects - and they're quite nice and - hey, wait a minute. I'm not familiar with the trails already in place here on the humble south side. How could I have missed those?

Part of the trail looks to follow along Grand Boulevard. I'm dimly aware of something like that. But another part seems to follow Walker Avenue; that's our morning route into work and I know I haven't seen any trails along there. I could be mis-reading the map but I'll make an extra effort this morning to see if I've been missing something that's been under my nose for a long time.

Anyway, that's the latest onslaught from the pro-MAPS people. Every day seems to bring something new from them in the mail. I wonder what today will bring.

Is OKCBiz Joining the Dinosaurs?

OKCBiz is on my morning 'net prowl but today I got this. Wassup with that, OKCBiz? Do you mean that you now want me to pay for something that you were so freely giving away? What kind of business model is that?

Oh, and look: Tierra Media, the publishers of OKCBiz, also publish The Oklahoma Gazette, a free weekly. But for $119, I can have it delivered to me personally. Two to three days after publication.

In a world where traditional media is falling by the wayside, this strikes me as a curious move. Explanations are due. Let's have 'em.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Hemingway's Corpse

I'm casting around for something to read until I get the time to go by the library and the only thing left unread on my bookshelf is Hemingway's "True At First Light" so I'm tackling it again for the I've-long-ago-lost-track time. Is it that good? No, my friend, it's that bad. I've started it many times, I've just never been able to finish it. Published 10 years ago, you'd think I'd find a way to get through it but I just can't work up the enthusiasm to read about another Hemingway safari after he did it so well in "The Green Hills of Africa."

There's a reason why Hemingway decided to leave this unpublished. It's too bad his heirs couldn't see the reason and, instead, decided, to mix a metaphor, to mine that last nugget they could from the great writer's corpse. (I've blogged here about my feelings about this practice. Dang it, let these writers rest in peace!) There's even another version of this "last" Hemingway novel: "Under Kilimanjaro." Gosh, it never ends.

But as a Hemingway fan, and being slightly OCD, I can't let one volume of the Hemingway canon go unread so I'll tackle it again. My plan? I'll take it 50 pages at a time. I can stand anything for 50 pages, can't I? Not really. Life's too short to read things you don't want to read. But for Hemingway, I'll make an exception.

It could be a while before I re-surface with a review. I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tim Burton at the Museum of Modern Art

The Museum of Modern Art has a new display of film director Tim Burton's art:

In photographs, Tim Burton looks the part of the goth filmmaker: rumpled and slightly menacing, his grizzled locks untamed, his expression surly behind a barricade of tinted blue glasses. In person, though, the 51-year-old auteur is surprisingly warm and fuzzy, more like an eager teenager stumbling over his sentences and punctuating his speech with jabbing, agitated gestures.

It may be Mr. Burton's connection with his inner adolescent that accounts for the string of hit movies that deftly blend creepiness and dark humor—"Edward Scissorhands," "Batman," "The Corpse Bride," "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," to name only a handful of the 14 that he's conceived and directed over the past 25 years. But it's his restless hands and imagination that have produced since childhood hundreds of doodles, sketches, cartoons, puppets, storyboards, photographs and fully realized drawings, many of them on display in the Museum of Modern Art's retrospective of Mr. Burton's works.

Some things for creative types to take from this:

1.) Creative types create. Burton was driven by his own unique vision to create his work and that's what he did: he created. He didn't spend time in a coffee shop or bar talking about what he was going to do. He did it.

2.) Location helps. Burton's talent got him into the Disney Institute but his living close by helped. So he went to where art was being created. With the miracle of the Internet, actual location isn't quite as necessary has it has been in the past but virtual location helps. Seek out and find other creative types.

3.) Don't get discouraged. Burton didn't start out directing blockbuster movies. And when he did direct blockbuster movies, he directed some movies that weren't. (Hello, Planet of the Apes remake?) He kept moving right along. Success is nice but failure isn't the end.

Sting Offers ‘Slightly Different’ Seasonal Album

First, let's note the PC police (heh) are in force at the headline writing department at MSNBC; Sting is putting out a "seasonal" album, not a Christmas album. Though the album is brimful with Christmas songs. (Thankfully, they're not so bashful in the interview where they courageously use the word "Christmas." Good for them.)

But it wouldn't be Sting without some painful sincerity, would
it?
"I wanted to present something slightly different," explains a bearded Sting, talking about the album while sitting in his Upper West Side apartment.

"There's a fault with a lot of Christmas songs; they are a little bit triumphal: 'Isn't life wonderful, God's in his heaven and I'm rich,'" laughs Sting. "They sort of forget a lot of people aren't."

Yes, yes, thanks for reminding us, Sting. Until you came along, I didn't realize there were other people out there who weren't as fortunate as I am. And it's good that you, a wildly successful artist, sitting there in your Upper West Side apartment, one of many homes you have scattered around the world, are there to remind me.

Dylan on Dylan's Christmas Album

Via Althouse, Bob Dylan plays it straight about his new Christmas album:
Big Issue: Is recording a Christmas album something you’ve had on your mind for a while?
Bob Dylan: Yeah, every so often it has crossed my mind. The idea was first brought to me by Walter Yetnikoff, back when he was President of Columbia Records.

Did you take him seriously?
Well, sure I took him seriously.

But it didn’t happen. How come?
He wasn’t specific. Besides, there was always a glut of records out around that time of year and I didn’t see how one by me could make any difference.

What was Christmas like around your town when you were growing up?
Well, you know, plenty of snow, jingle bells, Christmas carolers going from house to house, sleighs in the streets, town bells ringing, nativity plays. That sort of thing.

Your family was Jewish – as a kid did you ever feel left out of the Christmas excitement?
No, not at all.

It goes on from there. I think Dylan's playing it straight and sincere; he loves these songs, his record company was behind the idea, the proceeds are going to charity. What's the big deal?

Well, the big deal is it's Bob Dylan and he's supposed to be an enigma, isn't he? Only maybe in this case, he's not.

(The interview reminds me of the ones found in the Reader Edition's of Anne Tyler's books. Tyler plays it straight as well - she works as hard as she can on her books until they're ready for the publisher. No mystery about the creation of her art other than the hard work she puts in. Other interviews with other authors seem to me to spend too much time exploring the mystery of the creative process. Tyler cuts to the chase: There's no mystery about it. She has to work at it.)

So Dylan appears to be playing it straight. Maybe he's been playing it straight all along.

Monday, November 30, 2009

iPhone Pictures

Looks like it's time to empty my iPhone of its pictures. I'm still not as excited as I'd like to be with the iPhone's camera; I'm not quite capturing what I'm seeing, a complaint I really didn't have with my Blackberry. Maybe it's me but things just seem flat and washed out.

Rather than make a post for each, let's just make it a grab bag of sorts, okay? Here we go:

I was downtown about 10 days ago on IRS business and had some time to kill before meeting Clara for lunch. I killed it by elbowing aside the homeless exercising their inalienable right to access porn on the Internet and taking this from the lounge on the West side. That's the Oklahoma City Museum of Art and Patience Latting Circle:




It was a crystalline Fall evening. The moon was on its way to setting over Miss Betty's roof line:


(If my iPhone's camera can capture this, what's my complaint?)

I was sweeping the leaves off the patio on the sunny Sunday afternoon before Thanksgiving and I saw this guy. Someone forgot to tell him summer was over. He looks a little sun-faded and weak-kneed so maybe he knows his time's about up:






Here, I got an angle on him and the shadow he throws makes him a little easier to spot:



I call him a "him." Since he still has his head, he might be a she. Or a male praying mantis who has yet to learn the carnal touch of a female praying mantis. And the subsequent head-munching by the female that occurs in the afterglow of the act. Either way, it was surprise.

Finally, one morning last week we had a good deal of fog. Here's the view outside my office window. Not quite Victorian England but close:

I'm Not the Only Fan of Billy Collins

If he's not already, Instapundit soon will be a fan of Billy Collins.

This link will take you to all of my Billy Collins posts and you can see what the fuss is about. I'm re-reading his Sailing Alone Around the Room and finding it as delightful as ever.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Bob Dylan's Christmas Album Isn't as Bad as You Think

A not entirely negative negative review of Bob Dylan's Christmas album:
My reaction upon hearing the record lurch to life with “Here Comes Santa Claus ” in my ear buds was first to laugh; whether a joke or not, this (stuff) is funny. Mostly because Dylan sounds so uncharacteristically jovial and (yes, I’ll say it) jolly, even. My second reaction was relief – it’s nice to hear that from Dylan for a change.

Faint praise, indeed. Still, the reviewer doesn't like everything:
But that’s not the worst moment on Christmas in the Heart. That dubious distinction goes to “Must Be Santa,” a hideous polka-shaped monster that terrorizes the eardrums with psychotic glee. I shiver at the memory.


Hey, it's not that bad. Here's a video of the song. You be the judge:



Kinda fun in weird way. Okay, really weird.

Thanksgiving 2009

Looking over last year's posts, I see I managed to overlook Thanksgiving. Not this year. Though I made a brief mention of what I think there is to be thankful for - much! - here, I spared the details, didn't I? Let me set things straight and tell you what I'm thankful for:

Family, first and foremost and always. We're blessed with family both near and far that we love dearly and every single one of them have always let us know just how loved we are in return. You can't ask for more than that. Everything else is just icing on the cake. We'll have a few of them over today and we'll enjoy their company but we'll be thinking, too, of the family that's not here.

We won't have quite the same crowd that we usually do. Some of the older relatives have opted to dine out since they're torn between showing up empty-handed and having to cook something. They don't have to cook anything, of course, but you can't convince them of that. They're joining other relatives who have the same idea so good for them. Maybe they'll drop by later. And we likely won't have our nephew Jonah and his family. Being married now means he's got other family obligations. That's the way it goes as we grow older.

So, what's on today's menu? Turkey, of course. Sweet potato casserole. Corn casserole for Emily, broccoli rice casserole for Rachel. Mashed potatoes. Grandma'll bring her dressing and gravy and noodles while Aunt Teri will bring her oriental salad. Hey, did someone remember to bring dessert? I hope so. As if there'll be room for it afterwards.

A special day all around. I hope everyone's is as special as ours.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Elmer Kelton, Texas Author, and His Posthumous Novel 'Other Men's Horses'

I've been looking for a new genre author to follow and I may have found one in Elmer Kelton:
Elmer Kelton was born for a life on the range. "Dad gave me every chance to learn to be a cowboy," he wrote in his autobiography. "I was probably the greatest failure of his life. I was always better at talking about it, and writing about it, than I ever was at doing it." Early on, he sensed that his future wouldn't involve cattle drives, at least not directly: "By the time I was eight or nine years old, I fantasized about someday writing the Great American Novel."

Kelton wound up writing something almost as ambitious: a book that may go down as the Great Texas Novel. When Kelton died in August at the age of 83, many of the obituaries cited "The Time It Never Rained" as his finest achievement. The story of rancher Charlie Flagg and his struggles during a terrible drought in the 1950s is not just another western. It's a piece of Western lit.

The reviewer, John Miller, put out a query for good conservative writers of fiction and Kelton's name came up frequently. (As well as my personal favorite, Mark Helprin!) It might be time to check out Kelton and see what all the fuss is about.

Raymond Carver’s Life and Stories

Stephen King reviews a biography on Raymond Carver:
Raymond Carver, surely the most influential writer of American short stories in the second half of the 20th century, makes an early appearance in Carol Sklenicka’s exhaustive and sometimes exhausting biography as a 3- or 4-year-old on a leash. “Well, of course I had to keep him on a leash,” his mother, Ella Carver, said much later — and seemingly without irony.

Mrs. Carver might have had the right idea. Like the perplexed lower-middle-class juicers who populate his stories, Carver never seemed to know where he was or why he was there.

Unless your a fan of Carver, and I am, the above passage doesn't promise much in the way of a writer's biography but I'm more interested in Carver's story of redemption. A hopeless alcoholic for much of his career, he finally found victory over the bottle and began a new life with a new wife and was happy for a while before his tragic diagnosis of cancer. Make no mistake, Carver is no hero here; he treats his first wife shabbily and the executors of his estate sound like they've continued to do so. But there are some good things to be found in his life story and those things are more important than any of his stories.

(King also reviews the new collection of Carver stories, which he likes, but I've already blogged here about the book and I still believe it's too early to issue this volume.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Always Much To Be Thankful For

Peggy Noonan soars with her latest column about things to be grateful for. I especially liked her closing paragraphs (But read the whole thing.):
And after that, after gratitude for friends and family, and for those who protect us, after that something small. I love TV, and the other day it occurred to me again that we are in the middle of a second golden age of television. I feel gratitude to the largely unheralded network executives and producers who gave it to us. The first golden age can be summed up with one name: "Playhouse 90." It was the 1950s and '60s, when TV was busy being born. The second can be summed up with the words "The Sopranos," "Mad Men," "The Wire," "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "ER," "24," "The West Wing," "Law and Order," "30 Rock." These are classics. Some nonstars at a network made them possible. Good for them.

I leave it to others to dilate on why TV now is so good and movies so bad, since both come from the same town, Hollywood, in the same era. But there is a side benefit to televisions's excellence, and that is the number of people who follow a show so closely, and love it so much, that after it's aired they come together on long threads on Web sites and talk about what happened and what it means. People use their imaginations and unfocused creativity to add new layers of meaning and interpretation. "You know that was a reference to 'Chinatown.'" "Did anyone notice what it meant when Peggy told Mr. Sterling 'no' when he asked for the coffee? A whole revolution captured in one word!"

Those threads are golden. We rightly discuss the fact that media now is fractured, niched and broken up, that we no longer watch the same shows or have the same conversation. But what's happening now on the Internet after a good show is a conversation, a new one, and it's sprung up from the technology that helped do in the old one. How ironic and predictable, and another cause, however small, for gratitude.

Trash television and the internet if you want but there's always much to be thankful for. You just have to look for it. And likely not very far.