Friday, July 31, 2009

"A Moveable Feast - The Restored Edition" by Ernest Hemingway - Book Review

Sean Hemingway, the grandson of Ernest Hemingway, has edited what he calls the "restored version" of his grandfather's memoir of Paris, "A Moveable Feast" but I'm not convinced that's necessarily a good thing. For fans like me, it's no bad thing, either, but the original, though not an approved version by Hemingway since it was published posthumously, has held up well enough since it's publication in 1964. Scholars and fans knew it had been edited by Hemingway's widow, Mary, and there was no reason to believe that what was left out or had been delicately changed or corrected, wasn't anything that Hemingway himself wouldn't have done. Now, Sean has come along and changed all that and made his own decisions and proclaimed the finished product as more like Hemingway intended than the prior version.

Well, who knows? For either version, we don't have Hemingway around to tell us what he really intended. The first version in no less legitimate than the new version and the new version is no less free from the editor's bias than the first. It's all an editorial judgment call though at least for Mary, she didn't announce her bias as Sean has; his clear intent is to repair the reputation of his late grandmother, Hemingway's second wife but I'm not sure he has accomplished this. The Pilot Fish and the Rich remains as a sketch of Hemingway's torment of being caught between the love of his wife and his new love of Pauline. Including the previously unpublished fragments does little to change this. (You might as well publish "restored" versions of "Islands In The Stream" or "The Garden of Eden" or "True at First Light" - wait, that's already been done. Hmm. Sounds like there's already quite a market in place for "restored versions" of prior works. There's no end to second guessing the work of those who came before. And it's probably quite lucrative.)

Oh, get on with it. Is it a good book or isn't it? Of course it's a good book. It's Hemingway and Paris and what could be better? I've previously blogged about my delight of the inclusion of copies of the manuscript pages from Hemingway's draft so in that respect it's a better book than the first. But the book serves as a reminder that the Hemingway myth is large. It's hard to tell where the myth begins and reality ends. Was Hemingway playing to the myth he had already created? It's hard to tell after all these years but for those of us who enjoy the myth, it doesn't really matter. It's good to visit these sketches again and to dream about what it must've been like to be young and talented, on the verge of a breaking through to what would become a major career, and living in Paris.

iTunes Playlist - The S's - Still!

Accountant in the arts. From Wilco's Spiders (Kidsmoke):

Spiders are singing in the salty breeze
Spiders are filling out tax returns
Spinning out webs of deductions and melodies
On a private beach in Michigan

Still in the S's. Either I have a lot of tunes that begin with S or my progress has slowed to a crawl. I suspect more of the latter than the former.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Closerie de Lilas

A clean, well-lighted place:

Not a very good street view I'm afraid. Zoom in, if you want, but when I did I ended up around the block. But you get a sense of the cafe, don't you? Where Hemingway would write in the mornings. The kind of place where myths are made and still lived out.

F. Scott Fitzgerald in Paris

14 rue de Tilsitt, where the Hemingways called on the F. Scott Fitzgeralds:

The Fitzgerald chapter about the car in "A Moveable Feast" is quite hilarious and, of course, make Fitzgerald look foolish and Hemingway look like the wise one. Which is permitted, I guess, since it's Hemingway's memoir. Let Fitzgerald write his own. But the chapter about a matter of size is just unfair. Telling that kind of story just isn't done, old sport.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Henry Louis Gates' Tax Problem

In addition to getting arrested for disorderly conduct, Henry Louis Gates may have tax problems:
A foundation created and led by Henry Louis Gates Jr. is amending its federal tax form after questions were raised about $11,000 paid to foundation officers -- funds that the original tax form called research grants, but that should have been classified as compensation, ProPublica reported. When the payments are accounted for accurately, the foundation's administrative expenses will account for 40% of its spending in 2007, not 1% as originally reported to the IRS. Gates created the Inkwell Foundation with the goal of supporting work on African and African-American literature, history and culture, the article said. The report by ProPublica also noted that some of the actual grants went to people close to Gates. Gates told ProPublica that the foundation's second-largest grant, for $6,000, went to his fiancée, Angela DeLeon,. DeLeon was formerly on the foundation board and Gates said he recused himself from a vote on the grant. A grant of $500 went to Evelyn Higginbotham, chair of the foundation's board and chair of Harvard University's Department of African and African-American studies. Gates said she didn't vote on the grant. ProPublica is an organization that conducts investigative journalism. The article noted that Gates -- the Harvard scholar who is a leading figure in African-American studies whose arrest at his home has set off a national debate about the way black men are treated by law enforcement -- also serves on ProPublica's board.

I'd seen something about this before and it may not really be a scandal. I agree the grants were mis-reported - probably deliberately so though for what reason I can't fathom - and amending the returns now is the correct thing to do. I don't see this yet as some kind of personal benefit to Gates - his friends got small sums with the remainder of funds staying in bank accounts, though that was in 2007 so we don't know if the money is still there or what it was used for. There's no reason to suspect wrong-doing on the face of this but the mis-statement coming to light during the scandal about Gates' arrest only adds to fuel to the fire.

Via TaxProf Blog.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Man in a Bubble

What makes this picture awesome?

It's Oklahoma's Wayne Coyne, lead singer of The Flaming Lips, in his trademark giant bubble during the Splendour in the Grass festival at Belongil Fields on Sunday, July 26, in Byron Bay, Australia, that's what makes it awesome.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Hemingway and Hitchens

Here's Christopher Hitchens' take on Hemingway's restored "A Moveable Feast:"
What is it exactly that explains the continued fascination of this rather slight book? Obviously, it is an ur-text of the American enthrallment with Paris. To be more precise, it is also a skeleton key to the American literary fascination with Paris (and contains some excellent tips for start-up writers, such as the advice to stop working while you still have something left to write the next day). There are the “wouldn’t be without, even if you don’t quite trust” glimpses of the magnetic Joyce and the personable Pound and the apparently wickedly malodorous Ford Madox Ford. Then there are the moments of amusingly uncynical honesty, as when Stein and Toklas met Ernest and Hadley and “forgave us for being in love and being married—time would fix that.” The continued currency of that useless expression the lost generation becomes even more inexplicable when it is traced to a stupid remark made by Gertrude Stein’s garage manager, and such quotable fatuity, however often consecrated by repeated usage, is always worth following to its source. Most of all, though, I believe that A Moveable Feast serves the purpose of a double nostalgia: our own as we contemplate a Left Bank that has since become a banal tourist enclave in a Paris where the tough and plebeian districts are gone, to be replaced by seething Muslim banlieues all around the periphery; and Hemingway’s at the end of his distraught days, as he saw again the “City of Light” with his remaining life still ahead of him rather than so far behind.

Moon - Movie Review

Nothing opened this weekend worth seeing so we scoured the listings for something obscure we could see and found Moon., a nifty little piece of sci-fi that's easy to overlook in all of the hullabaloo that's the summer movie season. Nothing spectacular in the sense of fx but a think-piece that moves deliberately along as it explores the loneliness of a the sole worker at a moon-based mining facility. The reason for his hallucinations becomes clear pretty quickly so even though it's a twist, it's not the point of the movie. Sam Rockwell gives a good performance where it's pretty much just him on the screen for the entire movie. An extended Twilight Zone episode? Could be. But at 97 minutes, it's not too bloated. This is what sci-fi used to be like before Star Wars came along and changed everything. I'm glad we saw it in the theatre but it'd make a good DVD rental when it comes out this Fall. A good one.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Changing "A Moveable Feast"

Not everyone is excited as I am about the new edition of Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast." A. E. Hotchner weighs in:
Bookstores are getting shipments of a significantly changed edition of Ernest Hemingway’s masterpiece, “A Moveable Feast,” first published posthumously by Scribner in 1964. This new edition, also published by Scribner, has been extensively reworked by a grandson who doesn’t like what the original said about his grandmother, Hemingway’s second wife.

The grandson has removed several sections of the book’s final chapter and replaced them with other writing of Hemingway’s that the grandson feels paints his grandma in a more sympathetic light. Ten other chapters that roused the grandson’s displeasure have been relegated to an appendix, thereby, according to the grandson, creating “a truer representation of the book my grandfather intended to publish.”

It is his claim that Mary Hemingway, Ernest’s fourth wife, cobbled the manuscript together from shards of an unfinished work and that she created the final chapter, “There Is Never Any End to Paris.”

Scribner’s involvement with this bowdlerized version should be examined as it relates to the book’s actual genesis, and to the ethics of publishing.

I'll have more to say about this later but to be clear, I'm excited about this new edition not because I think it restores Hemingway's true vision but because it gives me a chance to re-visit the book and read some new Hemingway prose. I'll save my conclusions about whether it's a better book than the original for later.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Hemingway's 2nd Paris Apartment

113 rue Notre Dames de Champs. Or thereabouts.

I couldn't find the actual number - I found 117 and 115 but I didn't find a 113 or any kind of commemoration that the place had once Hemingway and his wife. It was supposed to be across from a saw mill, of all places, and he describes having to leave through a bakery. Another poor neighborhood they lived in then but it looks like a charming place today.

iTunes Playlist - The S's

In the S's now. Two versions of Hem's Sailor, one a studio version, one live, both equally sublime. The lyrics:


I'm not a sailor
I'm not so strong out of my shoes
Dragging like anchors

Over the ocean
Pearls in the sky are strung round the moon
Pointing to you

And I'll sail til morning
Or I'll sail til I
Am carried to you tonight

I'm not a sailor
But I'll spend the night out on the sea
Out on the sea

And I'll sail til morning
Or I'll sail til I
Am carried to you tonight

Didn't mention this group's Reservoir back when I was in the R's. I'm mentioning it now, another fine work from this group. Lyrics? Here they are:


Late last night, I missed my train
I walked back to the car and drove home again
Just outside of Pittsburgh, it's really not that far
Saw a light come shining 'cross the reservoir

The sun in California, it drops right into the sea
I took a couple pictures, they don't mean that much to me
Just outside of Pittsburgh, I saw it from my car
The light shines to the bottom of the reservoir

Starless night, come fall around me
Over all we've left undone
I know a light that shines forever
Howsoever we may run

The moon hung on the hillside in eastern Tennessee
With rows of honeysuckle blooming over me
But the iron hills of Pittsburgh where all my memories are
Gathering the light around the reservoir

Starless night, come fall around me
Over all we've left undone
I know a light that shines forever
Howsoever we may run
Howsoever we may run

As much as I admire the lyrics of their songs, they don't do the songs justice. I don't know how to embed the mp3 files in a post but if you should get a chance, find this group and give 'em a listen. You won't be disappointed.

Kansas City Train Station

In Lileks' latest installment of his 100 Mysteries series, he has a screen grab of the Kansas City train station and correctly notes that today it's a museum:

A slight correction, though. It's a children's museum, one of the finest we've taken the girls to. (Though the Jasmine Moran in Seminole is probably the best of the ones we've been to and we've been to a few.)

Good to see the place in a noir movie.

Friday, July 24, 2009

‘Yellow Submarine’ Graphic Designer, Dies at 75

The man responsible for the look of the Beatles animated movie, The Yellow Submarine, has died:
Heinz Edelmann, the multifaceted graphic designer and illustrator who created the comically hallucinogenic landscape of Pepperland as art director for the 1968 animated Beatles film “Yellow Submarine,” died on Tuesday in Stuttgart, Germany. He was 75.

I never found the landscape of the movie to be hallucinogenic - it just seemed to follow a cartoony logic all its own. But seeing this reminds me that the girls' might enjoy seeing the movie.

It's been years since I've seen it. I'd enjoy seeing it again, too.

(Via Althouse.)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Hemingway's Apartment

Ah, here it is: 74 Rue de Cardinale Lemoine.

Scoured the text of A Moveable Feast and couldn't quickly find it but should've known it's easily Googled.

The Hemingways' apartment was on the third floor. In 1999, when Michael Palin visited for his travel series, Michael Palin's Hemingway Adventure, the apartment was for sale for 1 million francs or $180,000.

Looks like I missed my chance.

Anyway, move around in the above embedded street view and enjoy the neighborhood. Hemingway portrays it in a more romantic, grubby light but it looks charming now.

Google Earth Experiment

Just trying out embedding Google Maps street views in a blog post. I don't have Hemingway's address handy but Gertrude Stein's address is well known, and preserved, so let's if it shows up.

Yep, it does:

Not much of a view. Let's see what the street looks like:

Wow! This is the street that Hemingway would walk to get to Stein's apartment. He learned much from her about art and writing, before they would turn on each other. In A Moveable Feast, it's clear he was quite fond of her in those days and his portrait of her makes that clear though he hints of the later coldness between the two.

Let's see if I can get another address from the book.

Hemingway's A Moveable Feast

I've tweeted about the new "restored" edition of Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast." Recently published, it "restores" the original manuscript that Hemingway had intended to publish but never finished. The published version was the work of his surviving wife, Mary, and the editors at Scribners. I'll have more to say about that later but I just wanted to mark here that I got my copy a couple of days ago and it's endlessly delightful.

Last night, I got out Rachel's Paris maps from her trip to Europe two years ago and traced some of Hemingway's footsteps as he described them. Wonderful! And then I realized I could be doing that with Google maps and street view.


I'll give that a try and post what I can. Meanwhile, it's enough to read this book and live in Paris in the '20s for a while. Not a bad place to be while living in Oklahoma in July.

Obama's Health Care Plan

I caught only bits and pieces of Obama's press conference about his health care plan last night. This morning's analysis says there were no big surprises and some give him only an average grade. He needed to knock this issue out of the park and my impression is he failed to do that.

That may not be entirely his fault. Health care is a thorny issue which doesn't lend itself to an easy sell so I doubt anyone could have made a thrilling case for it. There's no real crisis to be solved - yes, millions of Americans lack health insurance but millions more are perfectly happy with the way things are. And it's not entirely clear why those millions lacking insurance don't have it. Choice? Circumstances? I'll grant you that a good many people lack insurance because of their circumstance but I also know that between Medicare, Medicaid, CHIPS, and the outreach programs that huge hospitals fund as part of their non-profit mandate, very few people should be slipping through the cracks. That means a large majority of those without insurance are without it by choice and that's hardly a reason to radically revamp the current system and fund it with tax increases on the middle-class.

What's that you say? Obama has promised not to raise taxes on the middle-class to pay for this? Take a closer look at his promise: he won't fund his program primarily with a tax increase on the middle-class. Got him some wiggle room there. Besides, the definition of middle-class changes from argument to argument. There's not enough "rich" to increase taxes on to fund this program so the taxes will have to come from where the majority of revenues always come from: the middle class. So get ready if this passes.

No, the solution for this "crisis" lies where most solutions can be found: within ourselves and not the government. And, like with most solutions, it may call for sacrifice. You may have to buy you and your family health insurance and give up on the premium cable package or driving a nicer car or going on vacation or night-clubbing or buying a carton of cigarettes or, well, you name it. You might also have to take better care of yourself and when something does happen you may have to gut out the minor medical demands and save your visits for something that's a little more serious than a head cold. You know, do those things this country had to do during other hard times which we always managed to muddle through.

Make no mistake, health care plan is purely a political move. It's about government power getting into the decisions you make about health care. And when the government starts meddling in your personal life, nothing good can come from it.

A Windfall of Musicians

I didn't know that for a time in the 1940s, California was home to some of the giants of 20th century classical music. Dorothy Lamb Crawford's book "A Windfall Of Musicians" chronicles the times:
One morning in September 1940, a newly arrived European musician paid a visit to the conductor Otto Klemperer in Los Angeles and found him ­discussing Gustav Mahler with his fellow-exile Bruno Walter. The visitor went on to lunch at the new home of Thomas Mann in Pacific Palisades, where he worked on some chamber music with Mann’s son Michael, a ­viola player. In the evening, he dropped in on Igor Stravinsky in Hollywood, assisting in a run-through of his violin concerto.

For a brief and unrepeatable moment, an eyeblink in cultural history, the City of Angels contained the future of classical music. Klemperer, a pioneer of modernist opera in Berlin, was working as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, pushing out the horizons with daring commissions to living composers. Stravinsky, a quarter-century after his noisy notoriety with “Rite of Spring,” was in the thick of his neoclassical ­period. Off Sunset Boulevard, on North Rockingham Avenue, lived ­Arnold Schoenberg, the man who had broken music out of its tonal straitjacket. Thus two of the ­century’s three ­musical revolutionaries wound up in the same city of refuge. The third, Bela Bartok, lived in New York.

Hollywood history fascinates me and here's yet another facet of that town I didn't know about.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince - Movie Review

Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince was sold out for the Saturday noon show so we had to opt for the next one nearly three hours later and even then by the time we got in we were stuck with seats way up against the right hand wall, something that seldom happens to us. Which is indicative of the movie's appeal; it did boffo box office and I'm glad to see such a good movie get a good response.

I've been unable to read the books so the plotline is almost unknown to me - Emily is a big fan so she's dropped lots of hints along the way so I had a general knowledge of what was to happen and why. But what appeals to me less than the plot, and the characters, is the look of the movie - it's no less imaginative than the first one, and some of the initial ideas have been fleshed out and become familiar so that seeing Hogwarts is like seeing home, in a sense. Much of what happens seems to be comprised of the main characters going from one place to another solely to learn something then going back to Hogwarts - why, again, was it that Dumbledore and Harry had to go to that underground place and back again? Just to have Dumbledore have his big confrontation? Didn't really matter to me - I'm just here for the sets and costumes, thank you - but I'm sure it does for the fans.

How does it rank with the series? Right up there with the best of them, I'd say. There's a sense of setting the stage for the finale so I'd take away some points for that but as part of a wonderful whole, this movie is well worth watching. We've got a classic series unfolding before us. I recommend you catch it while it does.

iTunes Playlist - The R's

I'm in the R's now, on my alphabetical slog through my iTunes playlist. Only a little over 600 songs to go. The end is approaching fast.

I took the 8 minutes necessary to get through The Beatles Revolution 9. Yeah, that's the track you usually skip when listening to their White Album and for good reason: it's self-indulgent krep. You can tell at this point in their career they'd stopped listening to George Martin and believed everything they did was golden. Though I have to admit, it's not an entirely un-interesting sonic experiment. The problem is once you listen to it you're good for another 15 years before you listen to it again. Which is what I am.

Scribefire. . .Works!

Looks like this little experiment worked. Let's see if I can use this tool more often.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Trying Scribefire Again

Foxfire has updated Scribefire yet again.  I'm at a loss as to why I should use it to post to my blog but I'll give it another shot.  I see in the comments from the prior update that others had the same problem I'd had.  Let's see if it's fixed.

Hmmm.  The live preview has it posting with a March date.  What's up with that. 

Monday, July 20, 2009

Suwanee River

Here's all you need to know about the Suwanee River.

This will probably be the last batch of vacation pictures I post - much of the Disney portion of the trip I've live-blogged already so scroll down for those. The other pictures we've taken were similar to last year's so do a search for those and you can see pretty much what we did this year.

What's different about this year's trip to Florida, besides the float trip down the Itchetuknee, is our visit to Grandpop Pete's riverhouse on the Suwanee River. (Some quick background about the house - Grandpop Pete and Nana bought it from my cousin - Grandpop Pete's nephew - not too long after they retired a few years ago as a vacation home. It's wild Florida, on a little over 3 acre lot, on the banks of the Suwanee River. Rustic but civilized - air-conditioning and indoor plumbing. Beautiful, as you'll soon see.) We'd been there three years ago but haven't managed to make our way back. The family manages to gather there on just about every major holiday weekend, and most everyone drops by on their way in and out of the area, and Nana's visitor's log shows someone is usually there every couple of weeks or so. Now that Grandpop Pete and Nana have moved closer - they're now only two hours away - their visits are even more frequent.

This would be our first time in Florida around one of the major gatherings - about time, too. We wanted the girls to be around the rest of their huge family for a bit, something they hadn't done for a little over 10 years. So we planned a visit to the riverhouse.

Let's set the scene. Here's an evening view of the river on a boat ride that Uncle Bob took us on shortly after we arrived:

The riverhouse in the morning, looking up from the dock:

The dock looking down from the house:

The wash house. Washer and dryer in the section on the right, a recent bathroom addition in the section on the right. The place is now a two-holer!

The workshop. I took this after the festivities so the toys have been put up and stashed away, ready for the next visit:

The ample porch:

A view of the house as you'd see it approaching from your parked car:

A view from the top of the steps leading down to the dock. The concrete pad and roof of the cookhouse is on the right:

Morning fog upriver:

Morning fog downriver. That's Uncle David's super-cool boat:

The weekend begins. Vehicles and campers for as far as you can see:

What better way to start things than a taste of Florida backwoods cuisine? Frog legs on the grill. Uncle Bob says you can have 'em with the toes curled or uncurled, it's up to you.

Grandpop Pete with Emily and Rachel. Rachel's holding Poppy, Aunt Toni's dorkie.

The crowd eats. First night, besides the frog legs, was Grandpop Pete's lasagna. For the 4th, he'd barbecue ribs; the day after would be Cuban - pulled pork, black beans and rice, plantains. It's like a cruise!

The morning after the day before, or something like that. Aunt Debbie lends a hand for breakfast in her jammies:

The crowed waits patiently for breakfast:

A hummingbird has already been served:

More patience:

Breakfast, at last!

After breakfast, we floated the Itchetuknee, then returned for a day on the river with the boats. Emily contemplates her future:

Rachel and Emily on the float pulled by Uncle John. Uncle John gave 'em a ride for their money, doing his dangdest to toss 'em off. The girls held tight:

Ah. Back in time to eat.

Great food, courtesy of the guy on the left:

The evening fades into night. That means a bonfire, thanks to cousin Tracy. S'mores and sparklers would follow:

Next day was picture day before everyone began their departures. Here's why we brought the girls. Grandpop Pete and Nana with the grandkids who were able to make it:

So, a fine time? The finest! Thanks to Grandpop Pete and Nana and Uncle John and Aunt Vicki and all the other other aunts and uncles and cousins and friends who came and made us feel so welcome. We'll remember this, and them, for a long, long time.

Scribefire Lets Me Down

Tried posting last night using Firefox's Scribefire. Don't ask me where the post went - a preview showed it'd look absolutely fine and when I hit the publish button it went into busy mode and stayed there for quite a while. I might give it another try but for now, color me unimpressed.

A Writer's Tale

I've blogged here and here about Mark Helprin's quarrel with free copyright. Now, an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal visits the issue with Helprin:
Novelist Mark Helprin couldn't have made up what happened after an op-ed article he wrote for the New York Times in 2007 urging stronger protection for copyright. He thought this was a topic of interest only to publishing houses, authors and copyright lawyers. Instead, within a week there were 750,000 comments online criticizing him for wanting to extend authors' rights beyond the current 70 years, many of them opposing any copyright protection at all.

As Mr. Helprin read through many of the blog posts and other comments, he was taken aback to see that so many people opposed the centuries-old and constitutionally protected right of authors to the proceeds of their work. His newest book, "Digital Barbarism," is a sharp polemic on how the Internet makes information accessible but also creates a view among some of the digerati that what is easily accessed has little value and deserves little protection.

Even those of us who cheer the unprecedented accessibility of information should step back to consider whether what technology makes possible is outpacing our understanding of its implications.

We're living in miraculous times; it may take a while for our laws, and attitudes, to catch up.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Straight to the Moon!

Forty years since we've been to the moon? We oughtta go back. Krauthammer does the heavy lifting of telling you why for me:
Michael Crichton once wrote that if you had told a physicist in 1899 that within a hundred years humankind would, among other wonders (nukes, commercial airlines), "travel to the moon, and then lose interest ... the physicist would almost certainly pronounce you mad." In 2000, I quoted these lines expressing Crichton's incredulity at America's abandonment of the moon. It is now 2009 and the moon recedes ever further.

Next week marks the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing. We say we will return in 2020. But that promise was made by a previous president, and this president has defined himself as the anti-matter to George Bush. Moreover, for all Obama's Kennedyesque qualities, he has expressed none of Kennedy's enthusiasm for human space exploration. . .

. . . But look up from your BlackBerry one night. That is the moon. On it are exactly 12 sets of human footprints -- untouched, unchanged, abandoned. For the first time in history, the moon is not just a mystery and a muse, but a nightly rebuke. A vigorous young president once summoned us to this new frontier, calling the voyage "the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked." We came, we saw, we retreated.

How could we?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Bottle Shock - Movie Review

Redbox gave us Bottle Shock, a good little movie about the California wine industry's ascent to world dominance back in the late 70s. Starring more people than you'd think for a charmer such as this - Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, Dennis Farina, the guy who plays James T. Kirk in the new Star Trek movie under a bad wig - the movie manages to work it's way through the story in a manner that's quite sunny and breezy, just like the Napa valley vistas it beautifully presents. Some of the sub-plot is a little ginned up - the love triangle, the father/son/ex-wife rivalry, the all-or-nothing-at-all dependence on winning the wine contest - but I didn't find that distracting. I found the story interesting and may have learned some things I didn't know before about California and French wines and, hey, for a buck rental, you can't beat that.

Could We Be Wrong About Global Warming?

When the USA Today starts questioning global warming, you know there might be something to what the skeptics say:
Could the best climate models -- the ones used to predict global warming -- all be wrong?

Maybe so, says a new study published online today in the journal Nature Geoscience. The report found that only about half of the warming that occurred during a natural climate change 55 million years ago can be explained by excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. What caused the remainder of the warming is a mystery.

"In a nutshell, theoretical models cannot explain what we observe in the geological record," says oceanographer Gerald Dickens, study co-author and professor of Earth Science at Rice University in Houston. "There appears to be something fundamentally wrong with the way temperature and carbon are linked in climate models."

Guess we don't know all there is to know.

Isola Bell Apartments Spends Some Serious Money

Isola Bella Apartments, a renovated, gated community in northwest Oklahoma City, celebrated the completion of a $32 dollar property renovation July 15 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Hey, you can get a lot for 32 bucks.

Yeah, I know it's a typo. Far be it from me to point 'em out - my posts are filled with 'em - and OKC Business is a classy outfit. They'll fix it soon. Just thought it was funny.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Watchman - Book Review

Robert Crais' The Watchman is more of what I'm looking for in a genre book. Crais has vast experience in this sort of thing - his writing credits extend to television series work before striking out on his own into fiction with a detective series and several stand-alone crime novels. You may have seen the movie made from one of his books, Hostage, a not bad Bruce Willis thriller where an accountant is the linchpin of the plot. You know you're in good hands and it's evident from the start. The plot is crazy but not too crazy and the heroes are plenty macho and tortured and do the right thing and the gals are attractive and need to be rescued. The setting is Los Angeles and while this isn't a travelogue, you get a nice sense of the city. The plot ties up nicely and everything is restored to order like it should be, with the major players ready to move on to their next adventure in Crais' next book.

Just about a perfect, quick, vacation kind of read.

How to Lose $7 Billion in Taxpayer Money Without Really Trying

The IRS makes it easy:
How did the IRS manage to pay out $7 billion in improper child tax credits in the tax years, 2004-2007? That's the question that the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) wanted to answer.

After an investigation, a report from TIGTA shows that the problem lies mostly in the inappropriate issuance of individual taxpayer identification numbers (ITINs). ITINs are assigned to people who are not eligible for Social Security numbers, but who need to comply with tax laws. ITINs are not valid for employment purposes. Even so, in 2006 nearly 293,000 employers allowed individuals without proper identification to work, and issued over 790,000 W-2s using only ITINs. The wages reported on these W-2s equaled more than $9.5 billion.

That's odd. The ITIN is a unique number issued by the IRS; it's pre-fix tells you right away it's an ITIN and not a Social Security Number. There should be no trouble programming the great IRS computer in the sky to recognize that any returns or claims filed under an ITIN should be held up and examined closely. How could the IRS let $7 billion get out before being noticed?

Ichetucknee Springs

Dying to see more vacation pictures? Thanks to my brother John and his wife Vicki, I have access to the photos they took from their camera while we were in Florida. The highlight: our July 4th mini-float trip down the Ichetucknee River. (And by mini-float trip I mean a short, 1.5 hour trip, not a trip on teeny tiny floats. Har de har.)

Here's what you need to know about the the Ichetucknee. Bottom line: crystal clear, spring-fed river. Cold. Mighty cold. Claims to be only 72 degrees but it feels closer to the ideal temperature to serve beer.

I've never floated an Oklahoma river before so I don't have much to compare it to but hearing stories from those who have tells me floating the Ichetucknee is a little different. I mentioned the river's the perfect temperature for beer but no beer's allowed on the river - no coolers, food, etc. For one, the float trip's not long enough. For another, it used to be a free-for-all, which appeals to the Libertarian in me but spoils the trip for everyone else. Florida owns and maintains it and sets and enforces the rules. For once, government intervention is a good thing.

There are all kinds of float vendors up and down the highway that takes you to the park. Lowe's was our choice and they were very good. We pointed at the floats we wanted and they lashed 'em down for us:

They have a drop off spot at the end of the trip and that's the end of that. Well worth the price. Especially when your brother is picking up the tab.

The morning of July 4th, things can get a little crowded:

But we got in and parked and our group re-grouped at the pick-up point where the park's tram loaded us up and hauled us to the drop-off point. A little backed up there, too, but in no time we'd splashed in - great big yelps of surprise at the water's coldness - and we were off for a gentle drift down a river in the heart of wild Florida for the next hour-and-a-half.

Rachel take it easy in her boat. There's Emily in the background. Uncle John's feet in the foreground:

Sometimes the way gets a little jammed. No problem. These things sort themselves out:

(I think that's the girls' cousin Kristen in the above picture. . . No, it's Emily. . . No, Kristen.)

Why don't I just step aside and let the beauty of the place speak for itself. I don't know if John or Vicki took the following but they're lovely and I thank them for it:

An hour-and-a-half turns out to be the perfect length of time for such a trip. The water was cold and there was much of the day still ahead of us so, though we were glad for the chance to experience this part of Florida with our family, we were glad, too, to get out and move on to the rest of the day.

(Thanks to Uncle John and Aunt Vicki for making the trip memorable and capturing a part of it so we could re-live it. They're a pretty good couplea people.)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

iTunes Playlist - an Update

I'm still working my alphabetical way through my iTunes playlist - through the O's and onto the P's. Surprising how many song titles I have that begin with the world Only. I've I've said before, songwriters are an assertive group, aren't they? No fudging around with things, they're always one thing or the other and nothing in between.

There is one song in the O's that deserves a little closer attention. Here are the lyrics to The Old Apartment by The Barenaked Ladies: (Ooh: "Barenaked Ladies." That'll get me a lot of Google hits.)

Broke into the old apartment
This is where we used to live
Broken glass, broke and hungry
Broken hearts and broken bones
This is where we used to live

Why did you paint the walls?
Why did you clean the floor?
Why did you plaster over the hole I punched in the door?
This is where we used to live

Why did you keep the mousetrap?
Why did you keep the dishrack?
These things used to be mine
I guess they still are, I want them back

Broke into the old apartment
Forty-two stairs from the street
Crooked landing, crooked landlord
Narrow laneway filled with crooks.
This is where we used to live.

Why did they pave the lawn?
Why did they change the locks?
Why did I have to break it, I only came here to talk
This is where we used to live

How is the neighbor downstairs?
How is her temper this year?
I turned up your tv and stomped on the floor just for fun
I know we dont live here anymore
We bought an old house on the danforth
She loves me and her body keeps me warm
Im happy here
But this is where we used to live

Broke into the old apartment
Tore the phone out of the wall
Only memories, fading memories
Blending into dull tableaux

I want them back
I want them back

I like how the writer expresses the ambivalence of the narrator's feelings about the troublesome place he used to live. From the first line - where the narrator breaks into his old apartment - and then right into the third and fourth lines, we're aware that there's something going on here. Why break into anywhere, let alone a place where broken memories live? He tells us later - they may be bad but they're his memories, and his safe and sound world, though welcome, is something he's unsure about, though there's no reason why. Sure, it's nice now, but this is where we used to live. Something is not quite right here and it's wonderfully understated.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen - Movie Review

Can't let the summer pass without seeing Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen though afterward I was wondering if I shouldn't have left well enough alone. A two-and-a-half hour slog through a male adolescent's fantasy, the movies bangs and clangs you over the head from the beginning and doesn't let up until in the end. In between, we're offered glimpses of the lovely Megan Fox reclining on a motorcycle in her cutoff shorts - proper attire for detailing machinery - and then various scenes of her and her heaving bosom as she runs in slow motion from one explosion to another.

What's that you say? That's entertainment? Well, it may be but the wink-wink, nudge-nudge factor begins to wear on you after a while. I couldn't follow the story, didn't know who the robots were or what they were after and could tell why some had certain powers and abilities and others didn't. The human characters were no better, just filling slots that needed filling until the next set up, which came along every minute and a half.

The fan boys in the auditorium cheered at the end. I would've, too, but I suspect for different reasons.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Summer Heat

I complain mightily about the summer's heat over on my Twitter page but while browsing at the bookstore through a book about poetry, I came across a poem by Billy Collins about a summer day that made me laugh.

Oh, it's a fine poem, as all of Collins' poetry is, about a June day that he preserves in amber, a task that poets are exceptional at doing. But what caught my eye were the final lines:

But tomorrow, dawn will come the way I picture her,

barefoot and disheveled, standing outside my window
in one of the fragile cotton dresses of the poor.
She will look in at me with her thin arms extended,
offering a handful of birdsong and a small cup of light.

Ha! Mr. Collins' has never experienced an Oklahoma summer morning. Out here, she's traded her small cup of light for a bucket of blazing flame.

Update: Commenter Suzannah points out that Mr. Collins has, in fact, just last month, been in Oklahoma for the Oklahoma Arts Institute. He also lives in Florida. No doubt his view of mornings has changed. Still, a lovely poem though, huh?

Public Enemies - Movie Review

Public Enemies is worth catching if for only the costumes and sets that gives the movie a sense of Godfather-like authenticity; you just plain get the feeling that this is a period piece and not just a modern movie of pretty boys playing dress-up. Plus there's lots of shootin'. Some romancin'. And Johnny Depp. And two hours or so in a dark, cool, cool theatre. What's not to like?

If I give the movie short shrift, it's only because it's not quite perfect, and that's really not a fault. It's about Dillinger's brush with and run from the law and that's enough though if you come expecting to learn more about the man or the era you've come to the wrong place. Catch a documentary on the History Channel for that, I guess. But Michael Mann is one of our best directors who knows how to handle actors and set action scenes with guns a'blazin' so go see some of his best work.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Tell No One - Book Review

Hey, I finally bought some books. All that browsing finally paid off. I hope.

I couldn't find anything in the literary shelves that appealed to me so I trusted the genres to pull me through. About the only genre that I'm interested in anymore is the crime/mystery genre so I made list of Edgar winners and went to work. First up: Tell No One by Harlan Coben. I'd heard good things about it and Roger Ebert gave a strong review on the movie version so it sounded like something I'd like.

It was merely all right. Lots of twists and turns and the novel stays true to the genre with the required big showdown at the end between the protagonist and antagonist but there seemed to be a lot of little things that just really bothered me. This isn't Coben's first outing but it read more like a first attempt than a seasoned pro. It was just one darn thing after another, with the hero constantly surprised at the latest turn that events were taking. The bad guys were suitably bad but there was the old trope that big business seems more interested in committing felonious acts than turning a profit. Yawn. The prose ran smoothly, the pages turned quickly, and there was a final twist that kept you interested right until the end but after it all seemed like a big, overly-complicated fuss.

It doesn't disappoint but I'm thinking the movie makes for a better book.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Rachel's American Idol Experience

I've downloaded all the pictures from my camera and cell phone and got the pictures that Uncle John took, so expect some more posts about vacation.

First up: Rachel's American Idol Experience.

If you're a fan of American Idol, you know the new attraction at Disney's Hollywood Studios is The American Idol Experience. Interest contestants can audition throughout the day for one of three slots in seven shows, with a chance to win a slot in the finale and have a crack at winning the golden ticket, which is a pass to the front of the line of a real American Idol audition.

Rachel saw that and was hooked. Could she she try? Sure, why not? We headed out what we thought was first thing in the morning but was actually closer to noon and got in the short line for auditions. Made our way inside and she got her chance to sing her a capella version of a pop song I'm not familiar with but which she sounded beautifully. Right on key to my ears. Rachel's always had the talent of perfect pitch. The screener gave her some tips, asked for some changes, and had her give it another go. Nailed it. But the screener said they only had 21 slots for the day and, unfortunately, they'd filled the ones they needed of her style. But she sounded and looked good, followed and applied directions well, and wished her luck. A nice let down. She'd gave it her best and, well, sometimes that's -

"Dad, if we came back earlier tomorrow, I'd have a better chance of getting in."

Well, I couldn't argue with that logic. And it was good to see her fired up so, why not? We scheduled another early rise and when we got back to the room that evening, she spent a good deal of time practicing for the next day.

Next day, we were up bright and early and in the park a little after opening. Same routine, got to the first screener, who was a nice lady from Texas, and who, again, was impressed with Rachel's sound and look and ability to follow and put into effect the advice she was given. On to the next round for her! Which was like a producer or something.

We cooled it for a while in the "red room," with Coca Cola logos emblazoned everywhere, and Rachel got a chance to choose her performance song from a list and listen to the track on an iPod and do some more practicing. We got called in and met the "producer," another nice, encouraging guy, and he had Rachel give her song a go with the backing track and watched her on his monitor. They have all sorts of videos throughout the process with Ryan Seacrest and the other Idols mouthing their lines and this time Seacrest came on and told Rachel she didn't make it to Hollywood but she did make it to a show later in the day! Woot! Her slot was for 5:00 and she was to show up an hour before, with her VIPs - Mom and Emily - to show up for special seats at 4:30. She leapt out of the room, waving her lanyard, just like in the TV show. I managed to catch her at a calmer moment:

We came back as instructed - since she's under 18, I have to be there for everything - and met her competition, a young man who is a theatre major in Pennsylvania, entering the National Guard in a month, and a young lady who had graduated with a theatre degree from New Jersey, who had competed two months prior and won her show but not the finale, wearing a red dress and nice shoes. Sigh. Well, Rachel was undaunted. She had time with hair and makeup:

Some time with a vocal coach, and then she cooled it for a while in the green room, which is actually more blue than green:

And we waited for rehearsal time. We were restricted from taking video and all I had was my Blackberry and I'd be stuck backstage during the performance but I would get a chance to see how things would go during rehearsal.

Here's the sign on stage:

They worked on coming out onstage and hitting their spots:

And then she ran through her performance:

Wow! The backing tracks really boomed through the auditorium and Rachel kept right up with it. Flawless, if you ask me, and it's not like I'm prejudiced or anything. The young man did Michael Jackson's I Want You Back - suck up - which was quite good, and the young lady did a soulful version of Natural Woman. Tough competition but Rachel was up for it.

Backstage again for us. We heard the audience come in, got a peak at 'em through the curtains - the auditorium held 1,000, not a huge amount but big enough - and Rachel managed to keep her cool.

Once Rachel headed back onstage, my only view was of the monitor. Thanks to my crappy Blackberry camera, I got some crappy pictures of the monitor and Rachel's performance:

They had three judges, just like the show: an amiable black guy, who liked what he saw and heard, a kooky gal, who liked what she saw and heard, too, and a cranky guy, who was mean and got lots of boos for his comments. The other two performed, the audience voted and. . .

The girl in the red dress won.


They closed the show, everybody rushed on stage and congratulated her, the judges and Seacrest character came back and slapped me on the back, and everyone was just as nice as they could be. Rachel took her loss well and we chalked this one up as something we'd never done before and we were glad Rachel had done it. Proud? Oh, you can't imagine.

I think Rachel learned a little something about herself, about applying her talent, and overcoming her fears. Something you don't expect when you go on vacation. Beats another set of Mickey Mouse ears.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


Anything happen while I was gone? Good! Let's keep it that way, okay?

First chance I've had to see how the mobile posting went. Good enough, I suppose. Cleaned up some of the spelling and formatting on the mobile posts so if things look a little different, that's the reason why. I've downloaded my pictures from my camera so I'll be sifting through those to see if what I can add, if anything. Could be a while, though, so don't hold your breath. I'm sure you can find something to do in the meantime.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Fog and Mist

Hard to believe the date on this one. More like October. Another view from the boardwalk.

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T