Friday, May 29, 2009

Overestimating Our Overworking

Think you're working a lot? Think again:
Sociologists have been studying how Americans spend their time for decades. One camp favors a simple approach: if you want to know how many hours someone works, sleeps or vacuums, you ask him. Another camp sees a flaw in this method: People lie. We may not do so maliciously, but it's tough to remember our exact workweek or average time spent dishwashing, and in the absence of concrete memories, we're prone to lie in ways that don't disappear into the randomness of thousands of answers. They actually skew results.

That's the theory behind the American Time Use Survey, conducted annually by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The ATUS, like a handful of previous academic surveys, is a "time diary" study. For these studies, researchers either walk respondents through the previous day, asking them what they did next and reminding them of the realities of time and physics, or in some cases giving them a diary to record the next day or week.

Time-diary studies are laborious, but in general they are more accurate. Aggregated, they paint a different picture of life than the quick-response surveys featured in the bulk of America's press releases. For instance, the National Sleep Foundation claims that Americans sleep 6.7 hours (weekdays) to 7.1 hours (weekends) per night. The ATUS puts the average at 8.6 hours. The first number suggests rampant sleep deprivation. The latter? Happy campers.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

School's Out

For the girls. And none too soon, too. Have they plans? None as I speak but that's okay. Things'll gear up as the days and weeks roll by. For now it's good to have the school year behind us. And bad to have the school year behind us.

On Emily's last day, when I dropped her off and started my litany of how this was the last day ever she'd be in 7th grade, etc., I just got an eyeroll. I know, I know, but it was just last year I was giving the same litany about her last day as a 6th grader, and then year before that and on and on and on.

There's that same regret for Rachel, too. All of those school activities we had to make sure she was on time for have faded to memories. There'll be one last round of them ahead for her and that's it. She doesn't see it yet but these are the days she'll be looking back to as she grows up and older.

For now, though, they're both grateful for the summer and the opportunity to do absolutely nothing. It won't last, they'll soon be bored, but for the moment, it's enough. It should be enough for me, too.

Missing Mom, Girl Found at Disney World

Well, if you're gonna concoct a crazy story to cover your tracks while you go to Disney World, at least go in style:
A suburban mother who claimed she and her daughter had been abducted and stuffed in a car trunk is was in custody in Florida on Thursday after the pair were found at Disney World, where they had flown hours after the mother reporting their abduction. . .

Henry told reporters that Sweeten borrowed a co-worker's driver's license and presented it as her own when she bought an airline ticket and flew to Orlando, Fla., then checked into the Grand Floridian Hotel with her daughter, Julia Rakoczy. The two were taken into custody at the hotel Wednesday evening, Henry said.

Ah, The Grand Floridian. Destination of choice for whacked out suburban Moms. And me, too. Some day, I'll get there. Some day.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Emptying the Blackberry

It's been a while since I've posted pictures from my Blackberry. Let's take a look and see what I've got.

Another shot of Rachel's OYO rehearsal. This picture was taken a few weeks after the last one I posted. The glass partition was down and the OYO was rehearsing rather than the OYP. (What? You don't know the difference? Clearly, the OYO is far superior than the OYP. There's bad blood between the two groups, a rivalry that goes back years. Kidding!) The light that filled the room was spectacular; I could only catch a bit of it:


Heading to the side of the house one evening to wheel the trash cans to the curb, I caught this sunset. And basketball goal. And pickup truck. Art in the suburbs! Extra grainy photograph at no extra charge, thanks to the digital zoom:


Flash forward to Mother's Day. A trip to The Cheesecake Factory means a treat for everyone. Shhh. Grandma's sleeping. Emily's not so sure; she knows Grandma can be as sly as a fox so you've gotta keep an eye on her:


Both Emily and Grandma are hungry. Sooo hungry. When will they eat? When? Oh, they can almost taste the pasta:


Gangsta style!


Grandma laughing at a joke told only five minutes before:


Mo' gangsta style!


Gangsta style with Grandpa! Who's looking a little, er, toasted, man:


And that's about all I've got for now. I'll try to do better; my Blackberry's got a pretty good camera for a cell phone. Just because the pictures I take with it don't turn out is more a function of the user than the appliance itself.

IRS Scraps New Web Site After Spending $19.5m

Via TaxProf Blog, the IRS gives up on its new website:
In Fiscal Year 2006, the IRS recognized the need to upgrade its existing portal environment and initiated the New Portal Implementation Project. A major concern that led to developing the new portal environment was that a significant amount of portal equipment was nearing or was at the end of its useful life expectancy. In addition, requirements from existing and planned projects that needed portal support could not be met due to technical limitations of existing equipment.

The IRS planned to complete the new portal environment by November 2008; however, in June 2008, the IRS Chief Information Officer cancelled the Project before it was completely developed. Reasons for the cancellation included the lack of a comprehensive enterprise strategy that considered industry best practices or advancements in portal technology, and budget challenges due to the significant expenditure requirements necessary to replace existing equipment. Subsequent to the Project being cancelled, the IRS hired a contractor to assist in developing an enterprise portal business strategy.

To the IRS' credit, they have a massive amount of information they have to manage and keep secure and, for the most part, they do a great job. But credit card companies and banks have massive amounts of information to manage and keep secure, too, and somehow they manage to do it. It shouldn't be a great trick to allow taxpayers online access to their account information but, then, this is politics, isn't it? The IRS Commissioner can't go before Congress and point out the dollar return on such an investment when they'd rather be talking about the number of audits they conducted and the levies and liens they issued.

Sonic Drive In Be Praised!

Lileks sings the praises of the pleasures of Sonic Drive In:
The evening was full: piano lesson, then picking up Mommy at the airport. Hence the brevity of this. Before piano we ate at Sonic; a new one opened in our immediate burb. It’s popular. How popular?

Wars have staging areas, I thought. But this is where they prepare people to enter the Sonic Experience. This only being Tuesday, we got in to a stall and engaged in the timeless American delight of eating hamburgers in the car. The view out the window was sad:

Good luck, missy. I expect the shake is cinnamon-flavored, but I wonder how many people will infer this from CINO.

Wendy’s doesn’t have a staging area.

Wendy’s never had a staging area.

For what it's worth, when Chik Fil-A opened in Moore, they had a staging area, though they didn't call it that. But they did have police directing traffic. For days after the opening, too.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Memorial Day - 2009

A pretty quiet one for us this year, but then again, most of them are pretty quiet for us. We're usually lined up to head out for a summer trip by now but due to complications with school, those plans have been put on hold. Looking to get out by the end of June but the next few days will firm that up. Meanwhile, we still stuck close to home, catching up on chores and catching a movie and waiting for the girls as they went to and from friends' houses.

Weather couldn't've been better. Warm and sunny with some showers in the late afternoon. Feels hot to us now but in a few weeks we'll be longing for the relative coolness of these days.

We didn't make it to the cemetery this year but we still thought about them. I guess that doesn't count, you have to make the time to get out there and put some flowers down, because anyone can say they remember someone but you really ought to do something about it. Well, we didn't, the first time in a long time, if ever. I'm sure they'll understand. We did put out the flag as a way to remember and thank our troops. We couldn't do the things we do without them and their families putting themselves on the line. So a hearty thanks to them.

So another Memorial Day is behind us. Ahead? Nothin' but summer. Let it begin.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Terminator Salvation - Movie Review

Not the perfect summer movie but a good enough summer movie to help you get through a tub of popcorn. Critics haven't been too kind to this installment but I think they're being too harsh. A perfectly serviceable plot works with some eye-popping special effects will get you through the two hour running time with barely a glance at your watch. Christian Bale is tough and intense as he oughtta be so what's the complaint.

Interestingly enough, the movie itself got locked up several times about 45 minutes into it. Think of trying to play a scratched DVD and it locks up on you. You hit pause and play to get over the rough part until it locks up again. If you're lucky, it's only a small part that's scratched and you can finish the movie. That's sort of what happened with this showing and the theatre management finally gave up and gave the audience the choice of free passes to another show at another time and day or shuffling us over to the next theatre that was just about to start the next show. We opted for the passes, stayed while management worked it's way through the rough part of their disc, and managed to finish the movie with little further interruption.

Hmmm, my paragraph about what happened at the movie is longer than my paragraph about the movie itself. Maybe that tells you something.

Accounting and The Bridge on the River Kwai

A quote from the movie The Bridge on the River Kwai that pretty much sums up the accounting profession:
Colonel Green: You were an accountant in Montreal?

Lieutenant Joyce: Yes, sir. Uh, not really an accountant, sir. That is, I didn't have my charter.

Colonel Green: Exactly what did you do?

Lieutenant Joyce: Well, sir, I just checked columns and columns of figures which three or four people had checked before me, and then there were other people who checked them after I had checked them.

Colonel Green: Sounds a frightful bore.

Lieutenant Joyce: Sir, it was a frightful bore.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

One Year and Counting

Today's the first anniversary of this blog though that's not quite true. It's actually the first anniversary of the date of this post - longtime readers of this blog - and you know who you are - will recall that I actually started with this post, which was actually nearly four months later. (Click through for a full explanation of the date discrepancies. Hint: it has to do with posting pictures. No big deal.)

Nevertheless, one year ago today is the date of the first post of this blog. Whether or not it was actually posted on that date is a mind-bender. Just humor me, okay?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Animatronic Obama Going to Disney World With High-Tech Style

Here's another non-news story that's about Obama but because it's about Obama, it's suddenly news:
Barack Obama was standing on a riser inside a warehouse here, delivering an inspirational speech about the blessings of freedom, when his left index finger began to twitch uncontrollably, unnerving his aides.
The nation’s 44th president was in obvious distress. At least it looked like him. But with silicone skin and a tangled nest of wires for veins, this Obama was a 21st-century reproduction.

More specifically, it was an audio-animatronic representation of the president, as imagined by the Walt Disney Company, and assembled with the direct involvement of the White House staff — and of Mr. Obama himself. The president supplied not just his measurements, but he also recorded that speech (which was initially drafted by a Disney writer) — and yet another recitation of the oath of office, this one in Disney high-definition sound.

In that Hollywood building here, the life-size, three-dimensional figure was being put through its final tune-up, its chin rising and hands gesturing in response to technicians, in preparation for shipment to the Hall of Presidents exhibit at Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

Well, it's the New York Times so if you expected a tone that's less than fawning, I'm sorry to say you'd be disappointed.

Of course Disney is adding Obama to the Hall of Presidents exhibit or ride or attraction or whatever it's called: he's the President! Disney does this every time we get a new one, and with the latest technology. And, yes, amazingly so, the President records the speech given by his animatronic double. Where was the Times when Bush's was installed? Or the other Bush? Or Reagan? (I imagine the Clinton installation was equally amazing to the writers at the Times but I can't be bothered to look it up.)

Well, it's good to see patriotism return to the pages of the Times so I'm glad for that.

iTunes Playlist - Halfway There

I'm halfway through my journey through the complete playlist of music on my iPod - track 1012 was Letting Love Go by Everything But The Girl. (Yeah, I know, only 2025 tunes. Call me a lightweight, I don't care.)

It's taken me 3.5 months to get here - I've only been a casual listener so my progress has been pretty good actually. I'd like to step things up, though, not because I want to get through this project but because I enjoy listening to my iPod so immensely. What with work and parental responsibilities and looking out after the dogs in morning (How does looking after the dogs keep me from listening to my iPod? It just does, okay?)about the only time I've been able to listen is when I'm in the car alone. If I try, I think I can find additional time. Let's see what I can do.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Elvis Costello and Digital Music

Costello thinks digital music is fine, if it's delivered the right way:
If the digital music is delivered in sufficient resolution, yeah. If you don't, it's just the same kind of thievery that has gone on for years, from both sides: charging too much for [albums] and paying the artists too little. The same is going on with the digital realm. You've got two types of piracy. The literal piracy that everybody bangs on about, and the massive profiteering of the legitimate download sites who don't pay proper royalties, who release half albums and don't annotate them properly. They don't offer the purchaser either artwork of coherence or, more importantly, music of sonic coherence. They're offering it in such a heavily compressed rendition that you might as well be listening to it on a detuned radio in the other room. So congratulations, Mr. Jobs: It's a genius move on your part to make the iPod.

No argument with that, I suppose; my ear isn't sophisticated enough to tell the difference. But what's with the slam at Jobs and the iPod? The iPod, and iTunes, has democratized the availability of music even more so than it was before. That's a good thing. Just because the music it delivers isn't quite up to Mr. Costello's standards isn't a reason to find fault. It's like complaining that publisher's print books with sub-standard paper and ink. The market will take care of that and, in this case, the market has spoken loud and clear about what it thinks of digital music.

And, really, who's to blame if digital music outlets deliver music in a way the artist didn't intend? It's the artist! No one put a gun to their head to sign the contract that gave them oodles of dollars in exchange for their art. For crying out loud, in this digital age and the Internet, there's no excuse for an artist to release his art in any manner that's less than he intended. Oh, unless that excuse is greed. But artists aren't greedy, are they?

Not to be all grumbly about Costello. It's a fine interview with him and he has some other interesting things to say. By all means, read the whole thing.

Green Day Lashes Out at Wal-Mart Policy

Green Day keeps its street cred:
Green Day has the most popular CD in the country, but you won’t be able to find it at your local Wal-Mart.

The band says the giant superstore chain refused to stock its latest CD, “21st Century Breakdown,” because Wal-Mart wanted the album edited for language and content, and they refused.

“Wal-Mart’s become the biggest retail outlet in the country, but they won’t carry our record because they wanted us to censor it,” frontman Billie Joe Armstrong said in a recent interview.

Actually, nobody asked anyone to censor anything. Wal-Mart just asked Green Day, like they ask all artists, to provide a version of their CD that meets their policy. Green Day's choice and Green Day chose not to participate. Wal-Mart seems okay with it and so does Green Day - they're selling their CD just fine without Wal-Mart. So what's the big deal?

Well, that's my point. How is this newsworthy? A rock band decides not to have a major outlet carry its CD because they want to keep their naughty words intact and everyone's okay with that. Wal-Mart continues to make kajillions, Green Day continues to sell hundreds of thousands of CDs, and the last I checked, the world's still turning.

I guess the idea of a punk rock group thumbing its nose at "the man" was too tempting to resist. Some news cliches just won't die.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

American Idol: Final Results

Told ya.

No matter the winner, amazing show, wasn't it? And if you thought dinosaurs no longer roamed the earth, well then, you didn't catch the show. I counted two contemporary artists - The Black Eyed Peas (and what was up with that blank screen while they were performing? Were they being naughty? Classy, guys.) and that guy that sang the bouncy reggae thing, who I liked. The rest of acts had their first hits over 30 years ago. Shoot, for Rod Stewart and Carlos Santana, their first hits were nearly 40 years ago. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and having Kris named as the winner was just a bonus. That sound you heard when Adam sang Beth, before Kiss came out and joined him, when he was wearing that odd get up and the glittery guy-liner? That was the sound off people wishing they could change their votes for him. Oh, he'll be fine so don't worry about him.

I was glad to see all of the other cast off Idols and hear their duets and then the goofy awards thing with the memorable contestants. Almost felt sorry for bikini girl but then, no, I really didn't.

Seacrest says they'll do it all over again next January. I'll be counting the days.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

American Idol: Finally, the Finale

Or would tomorrow's result show actually be the finale? Not sure. And I don't mean to give the impression that I'm glad the finale is here. Far from it. Seeing the clips at the end of tonight's episode made me want to start all over again, from the beginning, with the ending just about known. Sorry. I'm helplessly under this show's spell.

There's just no getting around that Adam outsang Kris but don't think I'm giving the title to him. Not just yet. Adam played it safe with his first number - my favorite of his, actually, and quite powerful - and though I had to miss Kris' opening number, I did see his recap at the end and I'd have to agree and give the first round to Kris. I'd give the second round to Adam if it weren't for his trademark caterwauling; what a fine song he had going there for a while, though. Kris' was too low key for the finale but on any other edition of the show, he would have shined (shone?). The final song was a draw: crappy song, good enough vocals, mediocre ending. Oh, and then there was Carrie Underwood and that redeemed everything.

We finally allowed the girls to vote - Emily cast hers for Adam and Rachel would've except she was holed up in her teen cave and missed her opppurtunity. We, uh, cancelled out Emily's vote, plus one. Sorry, Emily.

So, do I stand by my prediction? I do, and for the very same reason: Kris has a broader appeal. Don't worry. Adam will be fine.

Big goings on promised for tomorrow. I'm atingle.

(We hung around for the premier of Glee, afterwards. My. I could get hooked on this one.)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Frozen River - Movie Review

Melissa Leo, the lead actress in Frozen River was nominated for an Academy Award so we had this movie on our list since then. We'd rented it when we'd rented Rachel Getting Married but never got around to it. Too bad. Frozen River turns out to be superior choice of the two. Far superior.

Bleak and unyielding in its look at hardscrabble lives, Leo gives an unsentimental performance of a woman down on her luck with two kids to look after. The choices Leo's character makes are tough but she takes what comes her way with a streak of decency still at the core of her actions. She's not in it for the long haul; she wants only what she needs for her and her kids but when it comes time to make that final, hard choice, she makes it for bigger reasons that just her and her immediate family. The supporting cast are all good, with honest, open performances. Not as much of a downer as I may be describing but definitely satisfying.

Space Shuttle Silhoutted Against the Sun

Tax Audits Are No Laughing Matter

Hey, nothing wrong with Obama going for a few laughs but when it comes to IRS audits, well, that's different:
At his Arizona State University commencement speech last Wednesday, Mr. Obama noted that ASU had refused to grant him an honorary degree, citing his lack of experience, and the controversy this had caused. He then demonstrated ASU's point by remarking, "I really thought this was much ado about nothing, but I do think we all learned an important lesson. I learned never again to pick another team over the Sun Devils in my NCAA brackets. . . . President [Michael] Crowe and the Board of Regents will soon learn all about being audited by the IRS."

Just a joke about the power of the presidency. Made by Jay Leno it might have been funny. But as told by Mr. Obama, the actual president of the United States, it's hard to see the humor. Surely he's aware that other presidents, most notably Richard Nixon, have abused the power of the Internal Revenue Service to harass their political opponents. But that abuse generated a powerful backlash and with good reason. Should the IRS come to be seen as just a bunch of enforcers for whoever is in political power, the result would be an enormous loss of legitimacy for the tax system.

This hits especially close because when I was an employee, if I were to joke about having someone audited, Inspection could open a file and investigate and my job would be at risk. Just a humorless tax agency? Hardly. They take their abuse of power - even the appearance of abuse - quite seriously. And, as Reynolds points out, this kind of joshing about shakes the faith the public may have in the institution. Not that it isn't tarnished already, being lead by an admitted tax cheat, but that's the subject of another post.

Obama can be a funny guy - though I've noticed he seems lack a self-deprecating sense of humor. Maybe it's time someone put some other jokes on the teleprompter.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Soup: Mmm-Mmm Good

We have a guilty pleasure on Saturday mornings: the rerun of the hilarious TV show The Soup. But the show promotes conservative values so it's a pleasure that's not so guilty at all:
The show, which has existed in various iterations for years, has reached new comedic heights on McHale’s watch. In a nutshell, it features 22 minutes of distilled television trash; the very worst of what American culture has to offer. Degenerate attention-seekers looking for “true love?” Check. Startlingly self-absorbed celebrities padding their inflated egos? Indeed. Washed-up/cashed-strapped stars demeaning themselves for a paycheck? Oh yes. The Soup peddles in the lowest- common-denominator programming that’s beamed to cable boxes and satellite dishes from coast to coast every day.

Murky Language

Peggy Noonan takes on the murky language of bureaucrats:
The indecipherable language of government has actually become dangerous to the well-being of the nation. As the federal government claims ever greater powers, its language has become vague to the point of meaningless and meaningless to the point of menacing.

The other day I was watching "Morning Joe" on MSNBC, and Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, came on from Washington to talk about health care. A reporter on the set, Andrew Ross Sorkin of the New York Times, asked a few clear and direct questions: What is President Obama's health-care plan, how would it work, what would it look like? I leaned forward. Finally I will understand. Ms. Sebelius began to answer in that dead and deadening governmental language that does not reveal or clarify but instead wraps legitimate queries in clouds of words and sends them on their way. I think I heard "accessing affordable quality health care," "single payer plan vis-à-vis private multiparty insurers" and "key component of quality improvement." In any case, she didn't answer the question, which was a disappointment but not a surprise. No one answers the question anymore.

I suspect, though, this kind of obscurity isn't limited to government; corporate finance-speak suffers from the same lack of clarity. Is it purposeful? Maybe. Most people don't write or speak well and don't realize that they don't. They hid behind this kind of language because, well, it sounds like they're saying something when they aren't.

Speaking the truth is hard but speaking it clearly isn't.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Tax Increases Could Kill the Recovery

Think Obama won't raise taxes on you? Think again. Any kind of tax increase will likely make its way to you, whether directly or indirectly. None of us are immune. And the effect could be devastating:
Historians and economists who've studied the 1930s conclude that the tax increases passed during that decade derailed the recovery and slowed the decline in unemployment. That was true of the 1935 tax on corporate earnings and of the 1937 introduction of the payroll tax. Japan did the same destructive thing by raising its value-added tax rate in 1997.

The current outlook for an economic recovery remains precarious. Although the stimulus package will give a temporary boost to growth in the current quarter, it will not be enough to offset the combined effect of lower consumer spending, the decline in residential construction, the weakness of exports, the limited availability of bank credit and the downward spiral of house prices. A sustained economic upturn is far from a sure thing. This is no time for tax increases that will reduce spending by households and businesses.

Read the whole thing.

Making Sense of Twitter

Don't get Twitter? A lot of folks don't. But Lileks gets to the heart of what makes Twitter appealing about as good as I know how:
It’s a false sense of company, I know - when I called the Twitter feed a portable box of imaginary friends, I meant it. But not entirely. If I met any of those folks for the first time, I’d know something. Same with this site: We cracked 10,000 comments yesterday, folks - and it’s not just the wit and civility I appreciate, it’s the company you provide.

Now, I’m not alone. Wife and child and dog, of course, and now that I’m at the paper involved in a project, I have actual co-workers in a sense I haven’t had since I started at the paper . But nowadays we get to live our lives in the micro and the macro sense; you walk out of the building to feed the meter, and sneak a look at the Twitter feed, and all these voices burst out like a dozen Jack-in-the-Box heads. I can’t imagine living without it because I can remember living without it. The Tower of Babel turns out to be an interesting place after all.

Like all things on the Internet, Twitter risks the doom of one day fading away. But not today.

(Lileks' link goes to his Bleat home-page and that changes from day to day. I'll post a link to the relevant archived page later. Make sense? Don't worry. I'll take care of it.)

(Update: Lileks' link updated, as promised.)

Thinking on Film

Just posted my latest movie review (if you can call a few quick sentences a review, and I do) and it looks like I'm doing just what John Podhoretz saysis happening to the doomed, soon-to-be-out-of-work print movie reviewer:
The question raised about the cashiering of criticism at the nation's newspapers is not: Whatever will happen to the people who are paid to watch movies for a living and write 300 words about each one? It is, rather, what harm is being done to the national cultural conversation (assuming there is such a thing) by the fact that there are fewer and fewer voices participating in it.

The first answer, of course, is that there aren't fewer voices, but many, many more. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of working critics on the Web in all fields. There are book bloggers and film bloggers and dance bloggers and music bloggers. The only difference between them and the professionals is that they don't get paid, except for a few dollars a week from Google ads.

Not that Podhoretz is lamenting the phenomenon:
This deprofessionalization is probably the best thing that could have happened to the field. Film criticism requires nothing but an interesting sensibility. The more self-consciously educated one is in the field--by which I mean the more obscure the storehouse of cinematic knowledge a critic has--the less likely it is that one will have anything interesting to say to an ordinary person who isn't all that interested in the condition of Finnish cinema. Amateurism in the best sense will lead to some very interesting work by people whose primary motivation is simply to express themselves in relation to the work they're seeing--a purer critical impulse than the one that comes with collecting a paycheck along the way.

The democratization of the media is a painful thing but painful only to the elites. It's just may come as a surprise to some people to learn they were part of that elite.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine - Movie Review

A movie on a Thursday night? Crazy? Well, that's just how we roll around here. Deal with it.

We'd missed it opening night weekend and found we had time to catch a movie in between doing things we had to do and doing more things we had to do so that was the movie of choice. Clara's always up for a movie with sweating, muscular men, preferably one with Russell Crowe in a Roman toga but Hugh Jackman will do for her in a pinch.

A good enough movie, though. If we'd seen it before Star Trek, I might've enjoyed it more but for what it was - an X-Men movie - it was just fine. Lots of seething anger, lots of spectacular fights, plenty of FX. An all around perfect summer movie, leaving you hungry for the next one. Not the next X-Men movie, necessarily, but the next summer movie.

Not a huge fan of the series - give me Batman or Spiderman and now Iron Man - but not a bad installment.

Lukewarm praise? Maybe. But we've got a long summer ahead of us, people, so strap in and getting ready for the ride.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

iTunes Playlist - The K's

For music that's mainly about love both won and lost, I'm surprised to find my playlist had only two songs that began with "kiss:" Sixpence None The Richer's Kiss Me and Peter Gabriel's Kiss That Frog. Shall we take a look at the lyrics? Why not?

Kiss Me

Kiss me out of the bearded barley
Nightly beside the green green grass
Swing swing swing the spinning step
You wear those shoes and I will wear that dress

Oh kiss me beneath the milky twilight
Lead me out on the moonlit floor
Lift your open hand
Strike up the band and make the fireflies dance
Silver moons sparkling
So kiss me
Kiss me down by the broken tree house

Swing me upon its hanging tire
Bring bring bring your flowered hat
Well take the trail marked on your fathers map.

Kiss That Frog

Jump in the water

Sweet little princess
Let me introduce his frogness
You alone can get him singing
Hes all puffed up, wanna be your king
Oh you can do it
Cmon [x6]
Lady kiss that frog

Splash, dash heard your call
Bring you back your golden ball
Hes gonna dive down in the deep end
Hes gonna be just like your best friend
So whats one little kiss
One tiny little touch
Aaah, hes wanting it so much
I swear that this is royal blood
Running through my skin
Oh can you see the state Im in
Kiss it better, kiss it better
[kiss that frog]

Get it into your royal head
Hes living with you, he sleeps in your bed
Cant you hear beyond the croaking
Dont you know that Im not joking
Aaah, you think you wont
I think you will
Dont you know that this tongue can kill
Cmon [x6]
Lady kiss that frog

Let him sit beside you
Eat right off your plate
You dont have to be afraid
Theres nothing here to hate
Ah, princess you might like it
If you lower your defence
Kiss that frog, and you will
Get your prince [x2]

Jump in the water, cmon baby jump in with me
Jump in the water, cmon baby get wet with me
Jump in the water, cmon baby jump in with me
Jump in the water, cmon baby get wet [get wet, get wet]

Kiss that frog, lady kiss that frog [x4]

Jump in the water, cmon baby jump in with me [x3]
Jump in the water, cmon baby get wet
[get wet, get wet] [x6]

All right, Gabriel, we get the picture.

Of the two, how can you not be charmed by a song that manages to mention the bearded barley? If you wear that dress, I'll wear those shoes, indeed.

'Elements' at 50

I didn't know Strunk and White's Elements of Style turned 50 not long ago; I thought it was older than that. But anyone who's interested in writing well knows about the book though there are some who find it grumble-worthy:
(S)ince its publication in 1959 Elements has sold nearly 10 million copies, which is pretty impressive indeed, even if several million of those were bought by college freshmen under compulsion. On the evidence the book remains a great sentimental favorite with the language-loving laity. Among those who examine words for a living, however--the clerics of the language game, the linguists and grammarians--the book is in bad odor. Some of them even consider it an active hindrance to knowledge, for the same reason a real-estate mogul would disdain "Monopoly" or professional hitmen take offense at the Godfather movies: It may look fun, but it gives everybody the wrong idea.

Gosh, I guess people will complain about anything.

Click on through for Andrew Ferguson's spirited defense of a book that, points out, is merely a starting point for good writing and not the end-all rule book for the written word.

Lighten up, people.

American Idol: Final Two, Finally

Ahem. As predicted, the final two are Kris and Adam.

At this stage, though, it's hard to see anyone go and last night was no exception. Even without the poignancy of the story of his late wife, it was sad that Danny didn't make it. You get kind of attached to these people over the long haul and their fate becomes interesting to you. Oh, he's talented enough to find some kind of career after this - the world is filled with American Idol contestants who've done well for themselves even if they didn't manage to win the contest. He seems like a good guy and that means something, too.

Adam's not quite the juggernaut that everyone thinks he is. Despite the stupid cape worn by guest Katy Perry, and his loud supporters there in the auditorium, I thought his trip home best illustrated what his problem will be in winning: a loud fan base doesn't equate to votes. Though moving to see him visit his school and to hear him sing the national anthem - and he sang it beautifully - the crowds seemed underwhelming compared to Kris'. And what's with the hype about the topless fan rushing the stage. Looked like she was wearing a sports bra to me. Disappointing. But it goes to another point to be made about Adam's fan base. Kris' - and Danny's - seemed like an all-American, clean cut bunch of folks who would vote for either singer; Adam's was less so.

Kris was suitably aw shucks about the whole thing and I think people will find that attractive. (Not that Adams doesn't have manners; he's very polite and I'd forgotten to give him a shout out about his Tuesday's shout out to the other contestants. Good for him.) Prior winners have come from the south - heck, no one who's won has come from a state farther north than Oklahoma - and Kris' trip home showed they came out in force. I think he'll pull in far more of Danny's voters than Adam will. The added bonus: I like his music better than Adam's. Adam can sometimes thrill but Kris' music is nice. And there's nothing wrong with nice.

I may change my prediction as more information comes in but let me state it plainly now: Kris will win American Idol.

Can't wait for next week.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Why I Read Mark Helprin

I've posted here and here about Mark Helprin's latest and reading those articles has brought me back to his wonderful collection of short stories, The Pacific. It's paragraphs like the following that make me a fan.

The narrator of Il Colore Ritrovato goes to Venice on orders of his employer, an outrageous opera singer, and he visits the Accademia to view the restored paintings of Bellini.
And although I know that few will listen to or credit this, I think we are in a lost age, in which holiness and charity have been traded for the victory and penetration of knowledge, though all the knowledge in the world has not brought us any further than where we can got without it even in the outermost halls of grace. I believe that more is to be known and apprehended from the beauty of a face than in delving, not matter how deep, simply into how things work, no matter how marvelous that may be. The greatest substance of the world is immaterial, the province of the heart, and its study, cannot be forced or reasoned. Merely to touch upon the edge of things in parsing their mechanics is to forswear their fullness, for the entry to this fullness lies not in science but in art. I cannot prove this, for it cannot be proven, but I claim, assert, and have seen it.

High falutin'? Maybe. Beautiful, though, and that's enough.

Dylan Unnoticed on Beatles Tour

Bob Dylan rolls just like any other tourist:
The 67-year-old troubadour paid £16 for the public trip to the 1940s semi in Woolton, Liverpool, last week as his European tour called at the city.

He was one of 14 tourists to examine photos and documents in the National Trust-owned home, where Lennon grew up with his aunt Mimi and uncle George.

A National Trust spokeswoman said Dylan "appeared to enjoy himself."

Endearing. Just when you think he's become a bit of crank, he does this kind of thing. Always surprising.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

American Idol Final 3

There can be no doubt, after tonight's performances, that the three best performers have made it to the finals.

Danny's first song was surprisingly strong and he followed it up with a great version of "You Are So Beautiful," which, if I never heard again, I'd be just fine with it, thank you very much. But if I have to hear it again, I'm glad to hear Danny sing it.

Kris played it safe with his first song but it was a terrific match for his voice and style. I wasn't familiar with his second song but Emily said he did a very good job and on the technical side of things, I'll agree. I'm no Kanye West fan but I like Kris singing most anything.

So what's to be said about Adam? Word was one of the songs Simon might choose was Wicked Game by Chris Isaaks and I think that would have been the better choice. Instead, Adam was predictably unpredictable with his arrangement of One and he wasted no time in getting to her trademark caterwauling. Same thing with his choice of the Aerosmith song. For the first time, he played it safe, toning down his appearance and doing what was expected of him.

Oh, Adam will make the final, to be sure, so it's only a question of who he'll be up against. I'll say Kris, just to be different though I'll be happy with Danny. The surprise will be next week when either Kris or Danny spoils Adam's win. Adam has his fan base but he won't be able to attract enough of either Kris or Danny's fans to bring it home. Not that Adam won't have a career - yes, he's talented and that kind of talent won't go unrewarded. He just won't win American Idol.

Yeah, you heard it hear first. Remember that.

iTunes Playlist Progress Report

Gosh, it's been a while since I posted a progress report on my alphabetical trip through my iTunes Playlist. Still plowing my way through, though plowing implies it's a chore; it isn't, it's a pleasure, but how else to characterize a pleasurable activity that's taking a long time? Up to the J's and I found I have two very different songs with "Jesus" in the title: Wilco's Jesus, Etc., and Ben Folds' Jesusland.

Let's take a look at the lyrics:
Jesus, Etc

Jesus, don't cry
You can rely on me, honey
You can combine anything you want
I'll be around
You were right about the stars
Each one is a setting sun

Tall buildings shake
Voices escape singing sad sad songs
tuned to chords
Strung down your cheeks
Bitter melodies turning your orbit around

Don't cry
You can rely on me honey
You can come by any time you want
I'll be around
You were right about the stars
Each one is a setting sun

Tall buildings shake
Voices escape singing sad sad songs
tuned to chords
Strung down your cheeks
Bitter melodies turning your orbit around

Voices whine
Skyscrapers are scraping together
Your voice is smoking
Last cigarettes are all you can get
Turning your orbit around

Um, okay. Don't know quite what's going on here but it's clear the song has little to do with Jesus. A couple of good lines though - You can rely on me, honey, turning your orbit around, indeed. I like the song's mellowness and hint of heartbreak and it doesn't matter if I don't know what it means. You do, though, don't you?

Here's Jesusland:


Take a walk
out the gate you go and never stop
past all the stores and wig shops
quarter in a cup for every block
and watch the buildings grow
smaller as you go

Down the tracks
beautiful McMansions on a hill
that overlook a highway
with riverboat casinos and you still
have yet to see a soul


Town to town
broadcast to each house, they drop your name
but no one knows your face
Billboards quoting things you'd never say
you hang your head and pray

for Jesusland

Miles and miles
and the sun goin' down
Pulses glow
from their homes
You're not alone
Lights come on
as you lay your weary head on their lawn

Parking lots
cracked and growing grass you see it all
from offices to farms
crosses flying high above the malls
A longer walk

through Jesusland

Ah, now we're talking Jesus here. Jesus walking through Jesusland and, lo, it's lacking! Or maybe it's the smug songwriter who finds it lacking. I presume Folds' is being ironic with the "beautiful McMansions" phrase but maybe not. They really are beautiful. I like how the buildings grow smaller as you go, and the mention of the billboards saying things You never said. Okay, you have us there, but you get the point of the billboards, right? I mean, no one's ever claimed they're scripture. The song's harmonies are lovely, the piano playing compelling; I like this song, too, and though I may not agree with what it says, at least Folds is trying to say something about Jesus, and in a positive way. That's something.

Back to my iTunes playlist progress - I'm approaching the halfway point but I'd like to accelerate things a bit. I don't get as much time on my iPod as I'd like; I used to listen to it during my morning 'net prowl but being on dog watch has made that impractical. Can't hear the dogs when they're yapping to come back inside which wouldn't be a problem except that everyone else is trying to sleep. I'll find a workaround, though.

Obama's Grandstanding With International Tax Proposals

Via TaxProf Blog, Tom Friedman examines Obama's international tax proposals and finds them wanting:
Listen to President Obama, and the status quo seems a cesspool. Pervasive 'loopholes' engineered by 'well-connected lobbyists' allow U.S. multinationals to skirt American taxes and outsource jobs to low-tax countries. So the president proposes plugging loopholes. Some jobs will return to the United States, he said, and U.S. tax coffers will grow by $210 billion over the next decade.

Sounds great—and that's how the story played. 'Obama Targets Overseas Tax Dodge,' headlined The Post. But the reality is murkier; the president's accusatory rhetoric perpetuates many myths.

Myth: Aided by those overpaid lobbyists, American multinationals are taxed lightly -- less so than their foreign counterparts. Reality: Just the opposite. ...

Myth: When U.S. multinationals invest abroad, they destroy American jobs. Reality: Not so. ...

Myth: Plugging overseas corporate tax loopholes will dramatically improve the budget outlook as multinationals pay their 'fair' share. Reality: Dream on. ...

Including state taxes, America's top corporate tax rate exceeds 39%; among wealthy nations, only Japan's is higher (slightly). However, the effective U.S. tax rate is reduced by preferences—mostly domestic, not foreign—that also make the system complex and expensive. ... Obama would have been better advised to cut the top rate and pay for it by simultaneously ending many preferences. That would lower compliance costs and involve fewer distortions. But this sort of proposal would have been harder to sell. Obama sacrificed substance for grandstanding.

Helprin Makes His Case

Helprin makes his case:
New technologies will always demand and deserve careful navigation and difficult readjustments. But the weakening or de facto abolition of copyright will not merely roil the seas, it will drain them dry. Those who would pirate what you produce have developed an elaborate sophistry to convince you that they are your victim. They aren't. Fight back.

(Here's what all the fuss is about.)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Does an iPod Help You Concentrate?

Emily claims it does. Others think so, too. (Scroll down for some interesting discussion about hyper-focusing and ADHD.)

For me, my iPod is all kinds of fantastical and I like to listen to it while I'm working or surfing the net and I'll admit that when I have my headphones on, I'm tuned in not on what's coming through my ears but what's in front of me. So, yes, maybe it's true. But then, sometimes it's just nice to listen to music while at a task and that pleasantness might be mistaken for concentration. Work goes better when it's pleasurable.

The Power of the Happy Man

Peggy Noonan remembers Jack Kemp:
Jack knew how to lead. He spoke of ideas with affability and authenticity. He wasn't angry and dark and simmering, didn't glower. He had the power of the happy man.

Star Trek - Movie Review


Let's get to it: Yes, the new Star Trek movie is all kinds of awesome! Fan or not, that's all you really need to know but I do have a quibble and it's the same as Jonah Goldberg's so I'll let him make the point:
. . . Leonard Nimoy nearly ruins the whole thing. . . Literally, in every scene Nimoy’s Spock — “Spock Prime,” as he’s called in the credits — makes the movie worse, the plot less plausible, the experience less enjoyable. Everything Spock says and does lowers the IQ not just of Spock, but of everyone in earshot, including his fellow cast members, the writers, the director, the audience, and the movie-theater ushers. The black hole of Leonard Nimoy’s Spock is so staggeringly asinine, so stupefyingly insulting to the audience’s intelligence, if the movie could achieve escape velocity from its gravitational pull it would slingshot back in time to an age when Teri Garr wore mini-skirts, Klingons were just white guys with brown-shoe-polished faces, and William Shatner’s hair was his own.

Bringing Nimoy in as Spock Prime reeks of a stunt to put more Star Trek faithful rearends into seats - I imagine non-fans care not one whit about the actors from the old series - and though the character is important to this particular plot, you can be sure that the task of bringing Nimoy in was first and writing a plot around him was second.

The issue of Nimoy and Spock Prime aside, this really is a terrific re-imagining of the Star Trek franchise. It's fun, funny, exciting, moving - something that's been lacking in the last few Star Trek movies and, heck, from most of the dreck coming from Hollywood these days. Much like the re-boot of the Bond series, this movie paves the way for more to come and if they're made up to this standard, we'll have much to enjoy.

A final note: This kind of movie reminds you that the real creative work being done in Hollywood isn't being done by the writers or directors or actors but by the special effects crew who manage to put onscreen seemingly anything that can be imagined in a realistic, or reality-based, way. There seems to be nothing they can't do.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Rachel Getting Married - Movie Review

No, not our Rachel getting married but the movie for which Anne Hathaway was nominated for an Academy Award.

Cute, perky Hathaway plays the downer role of the rehabbed sister out on a weekend pass to attend her sister's wedding and chaos ensues. You can tell Hathaway's serious because she has a serious haircut. That's Academy Award material right there. Also, she smokes. And like all actors who don't smoke, she looks like she's acting when she smokes. In the first couple of summers following my step-down from the IRS, I took the girls to several Anne Hathaway movies and became a fan. Maybe it's those summer days I want back but I like the cuter, perkier Anne Hathaway better than I did the serious one in this movie.

The wedding is something you'd only see in a movie, of course, and though I usually laud a movie that shows me something I've never seen before, I like that something to be somewhat reality-based. The screenwriter is a film director's daughter and the wedding she dreams up is the kind of wedding only a film director's daughter would have. Though the music is nice.

A typical family drama, with one character attending an event and upending things by bringing up the dark past, it hearkens back to an Altman movie and since only Robert Altman can really do an Altman movie, this is a pale imitation. I rather enjoy movies of family occasions where nothing really happens but I was surprised to find myself checking my watch and seeing not that much time had passed.

A good enough rental, I suppose, but not really recommended.

An Evening With The Arts

Last night at Rachel's school (Westmoore rocks!), she had to both play the flute and sing, though not at the same time, for their fourth annual Evening With The Arts. A fine show with Rachel performing brilliantly. (Insert caveats here about blurring photographs and inability to post video.) We could also enjoy "two dimensional" art - photographs and drawings - and "three dimensional" art - drama, speech, debate, though the debate thing makes me scratch my head. Debate as art? Anyway. . . didn't see any of the other stuff since all we wanted to see was Rachel and we did.

The next to the last piece of music they played was Symphony No. 1 (In Memoriam, Dresden, 1945) by Daniel Bukvich, a memorial to the Dresden fire-bombing in World War II. Interesting sonic experiment - the low rumbling of the timpanis mimicked the drone of bombers, the flutes high-pitched squeaks were frightening, and the band members used their voices for the screams and shouts. Harrowing. The composer claims no message in his piece so I'll omit any political references, too. I'll just say the piece was well done by both the students and Mr. Westbook's conducting and that should be enough, shouldn't it? Besides, both the orchestra and the choir finished up the night with a stirring rendition of America The Beautiful, a just about perfect ending for the evening.

Shakespeare Wrote For Money - Nick Hornby

Hornby's last collection of columns for The Believer magazine is every bit as funny and absorbing as his other collections and underscores my belief that he's one of the finest writers working out there today. The rules of the magazine require Hornby to say nothing bad about the books he reads - a rule he jokes about often, referring to the editors as the robe-clothed cult-members of the Polysyllabic Spree - so that all of his reviews are about books he liked. Refreshing. Hornby's a fan of Anne Tyler, too, and gives her last book, Digging to America, high marks and, well, that's good enough for me to give Hornby high marks. I was sad to learn he won't be writing these columns anymore but I'll look forward to reading more of his books - I've read them all but his last, a novel for young adults, a genre that Hornby only recently discovered and has rightly declared it the home of modern classics. If you're looking for compelling, deeply felt novels, look for them on the young adult shelves.

I've put together another reading list from his recommendations; since there's been no change in my unfortunate habit of not reading books, I'm sure it'll turn out like the last one did. Even so, hope springs eternal and I have Hornby to thank for that.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Bob Dylan: Cranky Old Guy

Bob criticizes what he can't understand:
Bob Dylan may have starred in a television commercial for iTunes, but don’t look for him to become an iPod pitchman anytime soon.

In a Rolling Stone magazine cover story, the 67-year-old troubadour rails against modern technology like cell phones, iPods and video games. The man who wrote “The Times They Are A-Changin’” almost 46 years ago evidently thinks the times have changed a little too much.

“It’s peculiar and unnerving in a way to see so many young people walking around with cell phones and iPods in their ears and so wrapped up in media and video games,” Dylan told interviewer Douglas Brinkley, a professor of U.S. history at Rice University in Houston.

“It robs them of their self-identity. It’s a shame to see them so tuned out to real life. Of course they are free to do that, as if that’s got anything to do with freedom. The cost of liberty is high, and young people should understand that before they start spending their life with all those gadgets.”

Why does Dylan think that just because you're enjoying an iPod - possibly a Dylan tune! - that you're automatically tuned out from the rest of the world? Mult-tasking is a myth but it's possible to listen to music and still do things - like pay attention to the world - while you're listening. (And iPods - and other MP3 players - have earbuds so at they're polite appliances; they allow the listener to keep their music to themselves.)

And cell phones are a good thing, too. Sure, they can be obnoxious - people seem to forget they're talking in public and blast out their conversations to the world - but they serve to help us keep in touch with one another. They help us stay connected with one another and no the other way around. Hard to believe there was a time when we got along without them, thank you very much, but who wants to return to those days? A Victrola worked just fine but I doubt Dylan would insist we listen to his music through one of those devices.

Dylan brings up the cost of liberty and rightly so: a lot of people paid heavily so that we may enjoy the freedom to do what we want, as long was we don't harm others. Sometimes that freedom's ugly - heck, a lot of the time it is - but it's our choice to make. We may not like the choices others make but let's at least be grateful they can at least make them.

And grumble to ourselves about how things were better long ago than they are now.

Rachel's Final OYO Spring Concert

This past Sunday was the OYO's Spring concert, the last one of the season, and, yes, the last one for Rachel. She won't be auditioning for next year - she's burned out, she says, and thinks two years is quite enough. We disagree, of course, but this is her choice to make, and goodness knows she's made a good run of it.

The performance was wonderful, of course. They all are and it's easy to get complacent about the excellence of these kids but I can't say it enough: the talent level shown in these shows is immeasurable. I can detect no difference between them and a professional orchestra. That says a lot about the kids but it also says a lot about the conductors, too.

I have video but can't post the format here and I didn't take pictures because I was taking video. I do have the program, though, and here's what they played:

Romanian Rhapsody No 2 George Enesco

Clarinet Concerto No. 2, Opus 74 Carl Maria von Weber (

Overture from Die Fledermaus Johann Strauss II

Beautiful music but, admittedly, a little high brow. If it were up to me, I'd toss in a movie theme, today's classical music, just to notch things up a bit. But no complaints. Each piece had its sublime moments and it was a blessing to hear it.

So that ends that. Rachel did well for herself and she should be proud but no one is as proud of her as we are.

American Idol - Down to Three

So now we're down to three - Adam, Danny, and Kris. Too bad for Allison. Her farewell montage was a reminder of just how endearing the gal is. Talented, too. But it's not about how well they can sing - that helps - but more about attracting voters. That means appealing to the broadest audience possible and with her niche, she couldn't go beyond what she did.

I think that's what'll happen to Adam, too. He seems wildly popular now but I don't think he's going to get any more voters than he has. True, he may have enough to get him through and win this whole thing but I'm not sure he can take over Allison's base. Then again, Kris and Danny may split that broad audience vote which means only one or the other will be in final. Adam should be in the final, then, but that doesn't mean he can win it.

The announcement of Kris' safety wasn't entirely a surprise. His iTune download numbers showed he was on the rise where the others had flattened and or actually gone back. If that's true, that may indicate a surge in his popularity and he may be the one to end up in the final two. His talent is no match for Adam's but Kris has something that Adam lacks: the cuddly factor. Adam is a machine, a creepy machine, whereas Kris isn't.

Next week is the trips to their hometown and then they sing two songs each. Can't wait.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Trent Reznor is Just a Big Nerd

Trent Reznor.

Scary industrial rocker.


Star Trek nerd.

At the Gates

Mark Helprin, a favorite author, has a new book out:
Mark Helprin makes the case for the importance of intellectual property rights — he defends copyrights and criticizes people who download music illegally. Helprin is an acclaimed novelist, but his new book Digital Barbarism makes an explicit argument: "Should the foes of copyright prevail, civilization, though it will survive, will, even if they don't know it, change radically and not for the better," he writes. "You cannot claim to protect the little man while simultaneously liquidating the few rights by which he protects himself against the whiplash of the mass."

Though I'm an advocate of the free distribution of art, I believe the choice to do so should be up to the artist and no the consumer. Sure, I do my best to acquire music and books and movies at the cheapest method possible - even free, if I can - but that's the free market at work. I don't advocate stealing which is the subversion of the free market.

How long should copyrights last? Why not perpetuity? When I acquire property, I own that property until I divest myself from it, whether willingly or through due process. Why should something I create be any different?

Helprin should be careful, though, about railing against modern technology. Sure, the attitude out there is that everything on the 'net should be free - and, man, I loves me some free stuff - but though the technology makes it easy to pirate art, it's not the fault of technology but the user. Computers and the internet are good things, radical things, as radical as Gutenberg printing press. We're living in a time of miracle and wonder and our task is to find ways to use technology for the good.

Never Been to Spain

But our niece is going. E-mail last night from Aunt Cindy to tell us her daughter, Tracy, has begun her travels to Spain for her summer semester of studying abroad. I won't link to Tracy's online journal without her permission but shout she post any interesting photographs, you can be sure I'll shamelessly steal them for my blog.

Tracy will do well; she's smart, self-assured, raised well. Should be quite an adventure. Look forward to living vicariously through her postings.

American Idol Rocks!

Or tries to. Of course, it's not a rock show; it's a pop music star they're looking for and rock is only one of the genres they put the contestants through so the rock performances are no more genuine than any other of the genre performances. I don't mind that. What counts is what the contestants make of it. Overall, I'd say they did a pretty good job. The biggest surprise? Slash as their mentor. Who woulda thunk he'd be a fan? Who'd tweet about it? See, hardcore rockers are just like you and me?

Adam started, of course, and won the praises of the judges but I wasn't thrilled. He'd either knock it out of the ballpark like he's done before or take too much of a chance and go down in flames. He did neither. The girls weren't watching with us so I don't have anything to judge against but for me it was just more of the same ol' Adam. Oh, sure, he's very good, but he also creeps me out and he was pretty high on the creep out factor.

Alison did quite well. Once again, it's hard to believe she's only 17. Could she have picked better songs? Maybe. Joplin was the obvious pick as would have been her other pick, Jefferson Airplane's Somebody To Love but, well, what can you do? It's not like there are a lot of female rock singers out there to emulate.

Kris chose poorly. The Beatles Come Together has been done well only by Aerosmith and though he did well enough, this was out of his league.

As was Danny's take on Aerosmith. A good song but clearly not his genre.

Not to say I was disappointed with the performances. I enjoyed all of them and I'd be hard pressed to choose who's going home. But I'll take a chance and say Adam will, based on his ranking last week and his non-new groundbreaking performance from last night. He may have peaked and may not have been able to attract new voters.

An aside - odd, wasn't it, that the rock songs they chose to perform were, in some cases, 40 years old? Imagine a pop singer in 1968 crooning a popular song from 1928. Have there been no decent rock songs released within, say, the last 10 years?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The FairTax Fantasy

Radio talks show host Hugh Hewitt takes on another radio talk show host's goofy idea:
Launched by talk radio host Neal Boortz and Georgia Congressman John Linder and embraced by Presidential candidate and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, the FairTax movement, though relatively small, has grown into a significant and very media-savvy force pushing for radical changes in the way the federal government will collect taxes.

The details of that plan, and why its advocacy is a disaster for the GOP and why its implementation would be a disaster for the United States are discussed in this book. Put simply, the imposition of a massive new sales tax -- at least 30% but probably much higher -- on every product consumed in the United States and accompanied by the simultaneous repeal of the federal income tax code is a risky and deeply dangerous attempt to sell simplicity to a tax weary public. Hank Adler and Hugh Hewitt both favor real tax reform, but don't advocate either economic or political suicide. The FairTax is both.

(Via TaxProf Blog.)

My view of The Fair Tax? Its advocates are intellectually dishonest from the gate when they insist their plan doesn't call for a 23% sales tax but for a percentage the claim is less. ( A $100 price tag would include $23 in Fair Tax. So $23 of $100 is 23%, right? Not so fast. The math should really be $23/$77 = 30%. That's how a sales tax is figured. A 5% sales tax on a $1 is $1.05. The percentage is figured by .05/1.05.) Also, the false promise off abolishing the IRS lacks any kind of anchor in reality.

A quick scan of Boortz' website shows no rebuttal but I'm sure he's got one ready. If I come across it, I'll link to it.

Rachel's Spring Concert

Rachel had a Spring Concert as well, only a few days after Emily's. We were jammed up for a while there with activities back in April.

Pictures? Got a few.

Here's the crew, waiting for the show to begin. Pretty intense stares from Grandma and Grandpa, there.

I couldn't get as close as I did with Emily - and Rachel declined to cooperate. Here she is among the blondes, her face hidden from view.

No, they're not asleep, just intense. I think.

A pep talk from Mr. Westbrook before the show. Rachel's two girls to right of Mr. Westbrook. I think the entire group is saying in their collective head "Whatever."

Another amazing show - very technical but the kids were more than up for it.

Does the venue look familiar? It should. It's Westmoore's auditorium, where all of Rachel's school concerts have been and Emily's was.

Another fantastic night of music.

Emily's Spring Concert

While I was uploading pictures from the camera to the PC to post about Rachel's prom, I found I've been lax in keeping up with the picture posting. What with filing season and all, blah blah blah. You know the drill.

A few weeks back, Emily's school had its Spring Concert. Sounded amazing, far better, ahem, than the other two schools that performed with them. Not that I'm biased or anything. Managed to get a few badly taken pictures. Wanna see?

That's Emily in black. And that's one happy kid sitting next to her. Guess he knows how lucky he is.

A closer crop from the same angle. Ready to rock!

A view from our seats. Not as far back as it looks; I've got the wide-angle on to get the entire stage. (No idea what the white specs are caught by the strobe. Something in the air or on the lens.) Emily's about fourth to the left of the girl in blue on the front row.

Another shot of the crew, post performance. You can't see it but the audience gave them a well-deserved standing ovation.

Emily's come a long way with her flute and she plays beautifully. And her school has come a long way from that Christmas concert, too. Was it nearly five months ago? My, how time is just racing away.

Signs Point to Milder Swine Flu Outbreak Than Once Feared

Oh. Well, then, never mind:
It has been a week since news of an international outbreak of the so-called swine flu raised fears of a pandemic with an unknown potential for countless deaths.

But so far, the flu's oink has been worse than its bite.

New York City officials reported Friday that the swine flu still has not spread beyond a few schools, and in Mexico, the suspected origin of the outbreak, very few relatives of flu victims seem to have caught the virus.

As further evidence that this strain of the H1N1 influenza virus is looking a little less ominous, a U.S. health official says it lacks the genes that made the 1918 pandemic strain so deadly.

And a flu expert in New York says there's no reason to believe the new virus is a more serious strain than seasonal flu.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Flu Brings Less Crime, Blue Sky to Mexico City

In Mexico City, there's an upsideto the swine flu scare:
The sound of leaves rustling in the wind replace a cacophony of commuter car horns. The lone bark of a dog echoes from a far-off balcony into the normally bustling restaurant district, suddenly empty of lunchtime crowds and late-night revelers.

Swine flu has also brought an unusual calm to this city that never shuts up. Crime is down and even the smoggy skies have turned a shade approaching blue.

Throughout Mexico City, a megalopolis of 20 million, hustle and bustle has given way to shuffles and sighs.

More about the swine flue in another post - my take: it's not so bad - but I linked to this story not only because of its timeliness but because of some of the pictures associated with it gave me a different view of the Mexico City I had in my mind. Maybe yours, too:

I've never been to Mexico City but I've been on the El Rio Del Tiempo ride in Epcot and that's the same thing, isn't it? Of course, the ride idealizes Mexico City and I have no problem with that but my surprise came from seeing these pictures of the city and realizing that, with the flu scare, the idealized scenes in the ride weren't actually too far off. The original news story I saw had a now-missing picture of the fountain that must be in a prominent part of the city because that very same fountain is shown in the Epcot ride.

So, Epcot and Mexico City during the time of the swine flu. Who would think there'd be a connection?

2,000th Visitor

My 2,000th visitor came yesterday from somewhere in Russia at 11:18 a.m. Here's what brought him here, a perennial favorite though my stats show that this page has now surpassed by that one. I imagine visitors to both pages are probably disappointed when they find they're not quite what their search terms are about. (This page remains the most popular. Disney rocks!) It took me nearly 9 months to get my 1,000th visitor so I'm glad to see I'm doing something to get another 1,000 folks to come on by in one-third the time.

Many thanks to my Russian visitor, and to all the rest of you who take time from your busy day to drop by to see what blather I've managed to post. I'll be marking my first year of blogging in a few weeks and I've had some fun doing this. I hope you've had some fun, too. After all, what's the point of doing this if it ain't fun?

Now, let's see how fast I can get to the my 3,000th hit.

Rachel's Junior Prom, 2009

Saturday was Rachel's junior prom, something she'd be preparing for for the last few weeks - the purpose of our Dallas trip some weeks back but hardly the kind of prep that Rachel and Clara overheard from a mother at the hairdresser who claimed to have been preparing for this special event since her daughter was four years old. Sheesh. Can't imagine what the poor woman has in store for her daughter's wedding.

Rachel took it all in cool stride. Her date plans fell through but no matter - the deal was she wanted to go with friends anyway. So no awkward boy showing up in an itchy tux with a corsage he tries to nervously pin on his dates formal. Just Rachel getting ready to go to meet a bunch other like-minded kids who'd ride together to dinner, the dance, and the after-party.

Did get some pictures before she left, though:

Hey, Emily was standing right there so got her in on the picture, too:

Stunning, no?

Off Rachel went to meet her friends as planned. A few minutes past curfew time found her passed out in her bed. The next day report revealed a splendid time was had with details given only reluctantly as only a good teen should do so all our worrying seemed to have paid off so we accomplished this event without obvious mishaps. That's a good thing. A real good thing.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Ordinary Happiness

It's a rainy day around here today so what's up with the positive posts? I dunno, that's just the way it works around here sometimes, so let's just go with it.

If you're gloomy because of the day, I'm sorry, but maybe this book review of Ordinary Happiness will cheer you up:
The American expectation of happiness was already in the air when Thomas Jefferson wrote it into the Declaration of Independence -- George Mason had proclaimed in Virginia's Declaration of Rights that citizens were entitled to the means of "pursuing and obtaining happiness." But it was Jefferson who got it right. His version guarantees only the pursuit.

And to judge by most books you'd think no one ever catches hold of the prize. The self-help manuals that lay claim to the most vigorous interest in happiness are generally written for people who haven't managed to make themselves very happy. The stratagems of such books turn pleasure into a chore. And literary writers are more inclined to the misery suffered by characters whose pursuit has already hit a dead end. Tolstoy's remark about happy families -- that they're all alike and for that reason presumably uninteresting -- set the tone for literary thinking on the topic.

None of this is lost on Willard Spiegelman, a literary critic and English professor at Southern Methodist University (and a frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal's Leisure & Arts pages). As he writes in "Seven Pleasures," a jovial collection of essays: "Happiness has received less respect and less serious attention than melancholy, its traditional opposite."
No need to wait for the big things to happen in our lives for us to be happy. There are too many little things to be happy about.

Music You Want To Listen To

A few weeks back, I came across this in a post by John Althouse Cohen as he marked his favorite posts of the prior year. Cohen was defending his choice to listen to music by Imogen Heap, music you might think is intended for sixteen year old girls:
Well, several years ago I was listening to an interview with Ben Folds on the radio, and he said something that made an impression on me: you should choose the music you listen to entirely based on what you want to listen to, regardless of whether it's a reflection of your personality. I try to live by that.

Folds has it right and I think you can expand that to any art you wish to consume: listen to what you want to listen to, watch what you want to watch, read what you want to read, look at what you want to look at, critics, and peer groups, be damned. Life's too short to waste on trying to enjoy art that someone else says is good for you.

And Cohen has it right, too: Imogen Heap makes some pretty good music, whether you're a sixteen year old girl or not.

It's All Too Much

What's up on the iPod? Well, that's the subject of another post as I mark my way through my playlist alphabetically - I'm in the I's, if you're interested - but what came up the other morning was The Beatles' It's All Too Much, written by George Harrison and it really made my day.

Let's take a look at the lyrics to see why:

It's all too much, It's all too much

When I look into your eyes, your love is there for me
And the more I go inside, the more there is to see

It's all too much for me to take
The love that's shining all around you
Everywhere, it's what you make
For us to take, it's all too much

Floating down the stream of time, of life to life with me
Makes no difference where you are or where you'd like to be

It's all too much for me to take
The love that's shining all around here
All the world's a birthday cake,
So take a piece but not too much

Set me on a silver sun, for I know that I'm free
Show me that I'm everywhere, and get me home for tea

It's all to much for me to see
A love that's shining all around here
The more I am, the less I know
And what I do is all too much

It's all too much for me to take
The love that's shining all around you
Everywhere, it's what you make
For us to take, it's all too much

It's too much.....It's too much

Man, some this is pure hippy-dippy stuff, isn't it? But the line about showing me that I'm everywhere and getting me home for tea really hits me where I live so there's something to take from this.

Yeah, there's a lot of bad in the world: Your job might not be great, you may not have everything you want, you might have loved ones who are sick and dying or who have died, love sometimes fails - there's much in this world to bring us down. But there's a flip side to all of the bad, too, and it's worth keeping in mind and celebrating. We're surrounded by love and lovely things and all we have to do is look for it to find it.

(I was struck by this, too, during The Lion King the other night. The lyric about more to see than can ever be seen, more to do than can ever be done. Come on, you know the song.)

Anyway, you can't go wrong with the Beatles, and the timing of this song with the dawning of the day was just about perfect. Thought you might like to know.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Lion King - Review

The road version of the Broadway musical of The Lion King is in town for a few weeks and Clara had snagged us tickets some months ago. We went last night - yeah, a work and school night, which made for a late night but you know, that's just how we roll around here. Clara'd managed to get us good seats - I think that should be yet another department she should be in charge of - and so we settled in for what we'd heard would be a great show.

Of course, we weren't disappointed. My favorite things about the show were the costumes and the puppets and sets. You always had the sense you were seeing something extraordinary and how they managed to pull off some of the scenes from the movie was quite clever. The wildebeest stamped was especially effective with the forced perspective of the puppets giving you a sense of greater depth than there actually was.

Since we're a rabid Disney family and since the movie has been a part of our lives since Rachel was born and throughout all of our numerous trips to Disney, the expansion of the story with extra songs and scenes were the least effective parts for me. Time to check my watch. But if there's someone out there who's new to the story, maybe they found it fascinating. Still, though they weren't my favorite parts of the play, the scenes were as effectively staged and choreographed and sung as any other original part of the story.

The play's been around for a while and the show's playbill says it's been seen all over the world. I'm glad it finally came to town and we got a chance to see it. Quite an accomplishment.