Saturday, October 31, 2009

Fifty Years of Simplicity As Style

Here's another discussion of the great classic writing guide "The Elements of Style." (I blogged about the book's 50th anniversary here.)
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style," and lately I've been thinking it would be fun if both authors could come back to life, at least long enough to mark the occasion and to give us their thoughts on the proliferating varieties of written communication we've crammed into our lives in recent years. A friend of mine suggests that as soon as they got a close look at the current situation—the flurry of texting, tweeting, IMing and Facebook chatting, much of it speed-thumbed while steering with the forearms—Strunk and White's next move would be to form a suicide pact.

Maybe. I think it's more likely that they might just shrug, resolve to stay off the roads, and settle back over chilled martinis to reminisce about their Cornell days. Strunk and White, both reasonable, good-humored men, would recognize that texting, tweeting, emailing and the rest are simply conversation: the "rules-free, lower-case flow that keeps us cheerfully in touch these days," as White's stepson, the well-known New Yorker writer Roger Angell, writes in the foreword to the current edition of "The Elements of Style."

For all of my Twitter and Facebook friends who are students, PR and marketing gurus, if you haven't snagged yourself a copy of this book, don't wait. Do so now and apply its principles and watch your writing improve immediately. (And for those of you who already have this book on your bookshelf, I guess I'm preaching to the choir. Sorry. But you agree with me about the book's usefulness for improving the craft of writing, don't you? Yeah, I knew you did.)

Just Try to Keep Up With Dennis Miller's Pop Culture References

Here's a taste of why I enjoy Dennis Miller's appearances on the The O'Relly Factor:
Listen, I don't believe President Obama to be anything other than a patriot. I don't think of him as evil, malevolent, Machiavellian or subversive. None of the above. And I most definitely don't think of him as (oh my God!) my black president. He's my president, pure and simple, so please fold the race card back into the deck if your intent at the end of this column was to post a comment trying to Oddjob my carotid artery out with that tired old ploy. What I do think is that the president is just plain wrong in his approach to Fox. I not only think he is wrong, but as we say in the comedian trade, I think he has a "premise problem. . ."

. . . What's wrong with this picture? The waiting room outside Dr. Obama's Snake Oil Emporium is populated by the likes of General McChrystal, the Dalai Lama and Fox News, meanwhile Kadaffi, Chavez and Aqua-velvajad are walking around backstage with All-Access laminates. Not since Lana Turner hooked up with Johnny Stompanato has a great star exhibited such poor taste in men.

Read the whole thing.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Oklahoma Oil Executive Died of Smoke Inhalation

No Law and Order type mystery here. Look like oil executive Tony Viele
died of smoke inhalation:
Oklahoma City police have for now closed their investigation into the death of oil executive Tony Viele — four months after his badly burned body was found inside his car.

A medical examiner's report obtained today states that Viele, 56, died of smoke inhalation. The report also states that Viele's blood alcohol content was more than three times the legal limit at the time of his death.

But the manner of death remains unknown, a medical examiner's spokeswoman said. That means it is unknown whether the death was an accident, suicide or homicide.

No clever quips, no Law and Order ka-chung type noise and cut to commercial. Just a sad ending to what was likely a sad story.

Damon, Brolin in 'True Grit' talks

Matt Damon is in discussions to star in Ethan and Joel Coen's remake of "True Grit." Josh Brolin, who starred in the brothers' "No Country for Old Men," is also in talks for a major role.

Paramount Pictures and the Oscar-winning writer-director team are moving fast on their re-adaptation of the Charles Portis novel, first reaching out to Jeff Bridges, and now Damon and Brolin, to potentially star. Damon would take on the Glen Campbell role of a Texas Ranger tracking an outlaw along with a gruff U.S. marshal originally played by John Wayne, who won an Oscar for his role in the 1969 Western.

I'm a fan of the movies of the Coen brothers - Fargo, O Brother Where Art Thou, The Big Lebowski - but their talent ain't big enough for this. (The did another remake once. The Ladykillers. Remember that? Yeah.) Apparently Hollywood has used up all of the ideas out there.

Let's keep this among ourselves, okay? No need to let Aunt Toni know about it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Emily and her Costume

Alice in Wonderland brushes her teeth. And throws a gang sign.

iPhone Blogging

You may have noticed I've been rattling around here trying to re-learn how to post using a smart phone. In this case, I'm trying to learn what I can do with my iPhone. I've no problem over at Twitter and Facebook but I haven't come across a free app that I can use for this site. No prob. I can text or e-mail, can't I? Well, yes, but that's the problem: texting only allows me to, well, text - the picture I send doesn't show up. And e-mailing works but my primary e-mail account seems unrecognizable on my phone so I have to use another e-mail address.

I know, I know, big deal. But I just wanted to let you know why things have been a little light around here.

Not that you were dying to know.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Lincoln Lawyer - Book Review

Michael Connelly's The Lincoln Lawyer is the latest book in my California noir reading jag but so far it's the weakest. I'd read a couple of his in years past - the most recent was Echo Park but I can't find that I did a review about it and the only mention I made of it was last year when I started it and then put it down. That should've told me something.

But I thought this one would be different - Connelly stretches himself a bit by expanding into the legal thriller genre but it doesn't quite work for me. To be sure, the inner workings of the legal profession are interesting but the mechanics of the genre work against it. There's no pressing time-table to ratchet up the suspense. Legal proceedings are by their very nature long and drawn out where a typical detective novel is often a race against time. Connelly does his best but when it comes down to it this is just a novel of an attorney talking to one person and then the next. Sure there are twists and turns along the way but, really, it's kinda ho-hum. And for being a journalist, Connelly's prose style can be a little leaden and his ear for dialogue seems made of tin.

Of course, it's just me. Connelly's books are bestsellers without my help so a lot of people think there's something there. I'm just not one of them.

'Hoist a Jolly Roger, pull out our daggers and look for more throats to slit.'

Brit Hume captures perfectly the attitude over at Fox News about Obama's feud with that network:
It's been a long time since Fox News, which avidly cultivates its outsider status, got to play the underdog. But after White House aides recently labeled the top-rated cable news channel "a wing of the Republican Party" and argued that it is not a news network, Fox News found itself back in a spot it relishes: firing back at a more powerful adversary.

The salvos by administration officials have rallied liberals who complain that the channel has a conservative agenda. The activist group MoveOn instantly jumped in the fray, urging Democrats to stay off Fox News programs.

But the White House's stance also gave extra lift to the network at a time when it is on track to record its best ratings year ever. This year, Fox News has averaged nearly 1.2 million viewers across all its programming, a 16% increase over the same period last year, according to Nielsen. In the two weeks since aides to President Obama took after the coverage, the audience has been 8% larger than the previous two weeks.

I don't think Fox is as conservative as you might think it is but it's funny that the only real source of transgressiveness in our culture today is found in a stodgy ol' television news network. The revolution will be televised!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Amelia - Movie Review

Amelia tells the story of, well, Amelia Earhart - who else do you know by the name of Amelia? The focus is her aviation career - there's some scant back story about her love of flying but precious little of how she got to where she would be able to take advantage of the opportunity to be the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. Not solo, of course, and not actually piloting the plane but why quibble? A record is a record. We learn she's a seeker of adventure and there's much about her setting those records while her worried loved ones stay behind. Finally, she makes her ill-fated last voyage and from what little I know of what actually happened the movie appears to depict it a fairly straight forward manner.

The actors are all likable in their roles. Hilary Swank is utterly convincing - looks like her Academy Award was justly given - and Richard Gere is handsome as her husband, George Putnam, who I didn't know Earhart was married to. I liked Ewan McGregor, too. The costumes and sets all appear authentic but probably much more glamorous than they actually were. My eye isn't good enough to tell the difference between the digital effects and actual action but the air photography and landscapes are wonderful.

A good way to spend a Fall afternoon.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Victoria Has a Secret

Who was worried just the other day about those bee-stung lipped models on those Victoria's Secret posters and their serious looks while in their underwear? I was! But my favorite poet Billy Collins has his take on the subject, too, and he may have some insight about why these models seem so troubled:

Victoria's Secret

by Billy Collins

The one in the upper-left-hand corner
is giving me a look
that says I know you are here
and I have nothing better to do
for the remainder of human time
than return your persistent but engaging stare.
She is wearing a deeply scalloped
flame-stitch halter top
with padded push-up styling
and easy side-zip tap pants.

The one on the facing page, however,
who looks at me over her bare shoulder,
cannot hide the shadow of annoyance in her brow.
You have interrupted me,
she seems to be saying,
with your coughing and your loud music.
Now please leave me alone;
let me finish whatever it was I was doing
in my organza-trimmed
whisperweight camisole with
keyhole closure and point d'esprit mesh back.

I wet my thumb and flip the page.
Here, the one who happens to be reclining
in a satin and lace merry widow
with an inset lace-up front,
decorated underwire cups and bodice
with lace ruffles along the bottom
and hook-and-eye closure in the back,
is wearing a slightly contorted expression,
her head thrust back, mouth partially open,
a confusing mixture of pain and surprise
as if she had stepped on a tack
just as I was breaking down
her bedroom door with my shoulder.

Nor does the one directly beneath her
look particularly happy to see me.
She is arching one eyebrow slightly
as if to say, so what if I am wearing nothing
but this stretch panne velvet bodysuit
with a low sweetheart neckline
featuring molded cups and adjustable straps.
Do you have a problem with that?!

The one on the far right is easier to take,
her eyes half-closed
as if she were listening to a medley
of lullabies playing faintly on a music box.
Soon she will drop off to sleep,
her head nestled in the soft crook of her arm,
and later she will wake up in her
Spandex slip dress with the high side slit,
deep scoop neckline, elastic shirring,
and concealed back zip and vent.

But opposite her,
stretched out catlike on a couch
in the warm glow of a paneled library,
is one who wears a distinctly challenging expression,
her face tipped up, exposing
her long neck, her perfectly flared nostrils.
Go ahead, her expression tells me,
take off my satin charmeuse gown
with a sheer, jacquard bodice
decorated with a touch of shimmering Lurex.
Go ahead, fling it into the fireplace.
What do I care, her eyes say, we're all going to hell anyway.

I have other mail to open,
but I cannot help noticing her neighbor
whose eyes are downcast,
her head ever so demurely bowed to the side
as if she were the model who sat for Correggio
when he painted "The Madonna of St. Jerome,"
only, it became so ungodly hot in Parma
that afternoon, she had to remove
the traditional blue robe
and pose there in his studio
in a beautifully shaped satin teddy
with an embossed V-front,
princess seaming to mold the bodice,
and puckered knit detail.

And occupying the whole facing page
is one who displays that expression
we have come to associate with photographic beauty.
Yes, she is pouting about something,
all lower lip and cheekbone.
Perhaps her ice cream has tumbled
out of its cone onto the parquet floor.
Perhaps she has been waiting all day
for a new sofa to be delivered,
waiting all day in stretch lace hipster
with lattice edging, satin frog closures,
velvet scrollwork, cuffed ankles,
flare silhouette, and knotted shoulder straps
available in black, champagne, almond,
cinnabar, plum, bronze, mocha,
peach, ivory, caramel, blush, butter, rose, and periwinkle.
It is, of course, impossible to say,
impossible to know what she is thinking,
why her mouth is the shape of petulance.

But this is already too much.
Who has the time to linger on these delicate
lures, these once unmentionable things?
Life is rushing by like a mad, swollen river.
One minute roses are opening in the garden
and the next, snow is flying past my window.
Plus the phone is ringing.
The dog is whining at the door.
Rain is beating on the roof.
And as always there is a list of things I have to do
before the night descends, black and silky,
and the dark hours begin to hurtle by,
before the little doors of the body swing shut
and I ride to sleep, my closed eyes
still burning from all the glossy lights of day.

"Perhaps her ice cream has tumbled." Of course!

Disney World Opened 38 Years Ago

It was 38 years ago, er, yesterday that Disney World opened. Here's an early commercial:

I have no memory of the commercial but I do remember Disney World being a bright, golden destination a kid could hope to some day visit. I think it would only be a few short years after it opened that we'd managed to get there. The tales a cousin told of his first visit were mesmerizing. Don't ask how many times we've been there since. It never gets old.

Oh, and here's something I didn't know: The Christmas Parade down Main Street doesn't actually take place on Christmas Day:
You can pre-register now for tickets to be in the audience for the 2009 Walt Disney World Christmas Day Parade taping in the Magic Kingdom. Production is the first weekend of December as it has been in the past, but this year a third day has been added. Concert performances on the Cinderella Castle Forecourt Stage will be filmed on Thursday, Dec. 3 and Friday, Dec. 4. The parade itself will be taped on Saturday, Dec. 5.

Huh. Didn't know I was so naive to think that what I was seeing on Christmas morning was the real thing. Ah, but that's what Disney does, doesn't it: give me a reality that I want but that's not necessarily real. I'm fine with that.

The Fed at The Crossroads and a Memory

I tweeted this link earlier about how the landlord of the local Crossroads Mall is Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke:
Price Edwards is listing the mall for mall owner Maiden Lane LLC, an entity of Maiden Lane Commercial Mortgage Backed Securities Trust. It wound up with the mall after Arkansas-based Midwest Mall Properties LLC lost it to foreclosure late last year.

Maiden Lane is a "special purpose vehicle" created in April 2008 by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to facilitate the merger of Bear Stearns Cos. Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Maiden Lane owns Crossroads Mall because former owner Macerich Co. refinanced $61.2 million with Bear Stearns in 2006. But since Maiden Lane is a creature of the Federal Reserve, it was the Fed that took title when Maiden Lane paid $11.24 million for the property at a sheriff's sale April 30.

Price Edwards, citing a confidentiality agreement, declined to comment.

Reuters columnist Matthew Goldstein reported Oct. 7 that the Fed is in court in New York trying to recoup its losses on Crossroads from former owners, arguing that they signed a personal loan guarantee with Bear Stearns.

Goldstein called Bernanke "a reluctant landlord."

Read the whole thing for a good analysis of the mall as an example of what the bailout has bought. But I want to spend a minute of two talking about the mall itself.

When I was a teenager, the newly built mall seemed far away and exotic from the life we were living in northwest Oklahoma City. It was much newer and nicer than the older Shepherd Mall on 23rd street and the strange outdoor mall that was Penn Square before it was renovated. Going to Crossroads was more like a journey and I remember going there with a friend on "Senior Ditch Day" back in high school and the sense of a certain kind of freedom that could be had without leaving home. A few years later, I'd work in a clothing store there and meet Clara and, well, the rest as they say, is history.

Crossroads was a regular part of our early married lives - we lived not far away and Penn Square wasn't yet quite what it is today. Rachel came along and for those cold winter months when she was a newborn it was the perfect, sheltered outing to get her, and her weary parents, out and about for a few hours. Gradually our routine took us to Penn Square and when Emily came along we took her there for spins in her stroller rather than Crossroads. The lure of the shiny and new thing, I guess. On occasion, though, we'd find ourselves at Crossroads and while Clara took care of the shopping chores, I'd take the girls and play with them in the center stage area where we could play a pretty good game of hide and seek and jump around on the stairs or run up and down the ramps. Good times.

Time moved on and so did we. The girls got older and, as the linked story says, the mall faded as crime grew and the big stores pulled out. Our last trip there was in 2007 to pick over the bones of Macy's as it began its retreat. I took one last spin through the mall and found only ghosts. There's the shop where Clara and I met. There's where we used to play. There's the Sbarro's where we used to eat. Now it's up for sale and no one but the government is really interested in it. That's too bad. It's a great location, the intersection of two major interstates, and there's no real big mall presence in South Oklahoma City. But that's not the future of retail; the move is to the big box stores and shoppers can find that just a couple miles west and a couple miles south of the mall. Crossroads' time may be over but it will always be a part of our family history, no matter its fate.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Post-Tax Season

We're approaching an odd time for a tax and accounting practice. We're in a sort of a twilight world, caught between the tidying up the loose ends of the just-ended season and making preparations for the new one which begins in only a couple of months. Then there are the clients who are fiscal-year enders - a precursor of things to come - and the clients with tax matters before the IRS that need resolution which knows no season. Humming along nicely in the background are the accounting clients that need their reports monthly.

There are staff matters to look after, too. Terra returns to her quest for her CPA and sits for a part of the exam next week. Kyle the intern continues to juggle a full course load with the duties both I and my office partner assign him. They've got big things ahead of them and I've got to make plans to accommodate if I want to keep them. And I do.

There's new software to consider. New software to install. There are office procedures we need to evaluate for their effectiveness in serving our clients. What worked this past year? What didn't? What can we do to help our clients more? What can we do to attract new, high-quality clients?

In many ways, this "down" time is busier than the regular tax season and I'm grateful for it.

KISS drummer Criss: Men Get Breast Cancer Too

This is for brotha John, who may remember he used to be a Kiss fan as a teen:
Founding KISS member Peter Criss knows that many of his male, rock music fans are macho, so he is making the rounds to tell them that rocker guys like him can suffer from the disease, too.

Criss, who was the New York rock band's drummer on and off from its founding in 1972 until 2004 and the voice on some of their most beloved classics, including the 1976 Top Ten hit "Beth" and "Hard Luck Woman", said too many men don't seek treatment and think breast discomfort will go away on its own.

Ouch. Quite a cautionary tale.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Look! I'm posting from my iPhone!

I've accessed blogger directly from my iPhone. I'm awesome!

F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tax Returns

Man, this story is just about the perfect storm for me. It's where a literary giant and tax analysis meet:
What can be learned from Fitzgerald’s tax returns? To start with, his popular reputation as a careless spendthrift is untrue. Fitzgerald was always trying to follow conservative financial principles. Until 1937 he kept a ledger—as if he were a grocer—a meticulous record of his earnings from each short story, play, and novel he sold. The 1929 ledger recorded items as small as royalties of $5.10 from the American edition of The Great Gatsby and $0.34 from the English edition. No one could call Fitzgerald frugal, but he was always trying to save money—at least until his wife Zelda’s illness, starting in 1929, put any idea of saving out of the question. The ordinary person saves to protect against some distant rainy day. Fitzgerald had no interest in that. To him saving meant freedom to work on his novels without interruptions caused by the economic necessity of writing short stories. The short stories were his main source of revenue.

Nothing really new here. Fitzgerald was popular and earned a lot then he wasn't and didn't then he went to Hollywood. But it's interesting to see the numbers behind those assertions. I'd like to see the returns, too.

Error Rate of Tax Returns Prepared by IRS's Free Assistance Program: 41%

Put this in the you-get-what-you-pay-for category:
The volunteer programs provide no-cost Federal tax return preparation and electronic filing services to low and moderate-income taxpayers, the elderly, the disabled and those who have limited English proficiency.

TIGTA auditors anonymously visited volunteer sites around the country to test the accuracy of tax returns prepared by volunteers. TIGTA found that the accuracy rate of tax returns prepared during the 2009 filing season by volunteers trained by the IRS was lower than last year's accuracy rate. While 59% of the tax returns prepared for TIGTA by volunteers were accurately prepared, 41% were prepared inaccurately.

Want a graph? I got a graph:

Okay, I'll cut the IRS a little slack. Their VITA program is pretty good and it's not their fault that IRC Code is as thick as it is. Talk to your Congressman about that. And anyone can come in after the fact and point out how a tax return could be done differently. Doesn't make it wrong. As I told a client just yesterday, tax return preparation isn't a science, it's an art. An interpretative dance.

Joining the iPhone Nation

I managed to FUBAR my Blackberry for good - short version: when synching with your computer and it tells you don't disconnect, don't - and, you know, I don't really mind. I bought the thing over a year ago, trading it for a perfectly good Palm that I really liked upon the advice of my IT guy. Didn't live up to his promises and I resented it ever since. Hated not having a touch screen and what's up with the little roller ball thingie? Sometimes it wouldn't work at all for no apparent reason and then it'd work just fine. And right off I got dust under the screen, dust I couldn't blow out or get ride of no matter what I did. Good riddance I say. I know others out there are quite pleased with theirs and to them I say, have a happy life.

So I've joined the rest of the crowd and became a member of the iPhone nation. I was reeled in by the siren's song of the Apple store and, man, do they make it easy to part with a couplea hundred bucks. Gotta start the long, tedious process of setting up e-mail accounts, downloading apps, etc. to get up to speed but so far it's been a pleasure. Is it better than my Blackberry? Of course it is, it's not a Blackberry. But there are features that're different and that may take some time getting used to. For now, though, I'm having great fun sliding my greasy fingers around on that pristine screen.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Dallas Trippin'

So we and about a jillion other Okies hit the road this past Friday morning for Dallas but I'm willing to bet we were the only ones not in pursuit of the Holy Grail of the OU-Texas football game. As fine a Fall morning as you can imagine: crystal blue skies, brisk temperature, the grasses and trees still green though just a blush of color coming on. We picked up Rachel's buddy and then Emily's pal and after a quick stop at McDonald's, were south bound.

We anticipated trouble on the state line but found none; the rumored road repairs had been complete and our early departure had put us ahead of the crimson horde that surely was pressing behind us. We made our first stop - the Grapevine Mills mall in, well, Grapevine, and off everyone went to wherever it is they wanted to go to. Me, I parked myself in the bookstore and browsed and browsed. Clara finished first and we hit the Starbuck's. We ran into Doug, who works for my office partner, and his grandmother, who was visiting from a small town in Pennsylvania. Odd to come 200 miles to run into someone I see everyday and in a different context, but we had a nice visit; Doug's grandmother was on her second trip to Texas and was still awed by all the wide open spaces. Good for her.

The girls and the their buddies caught up to us and we moved on. Next stop, The Galleria. Oh, look, they were ready for us: Balloons!

(This was the only shot I got of the trip. You can click here for pictures from our last trip to Dallas back in the Spring.)

A little too pricey for our budget but still a lot of fun to check out. Though the mall lost its book store some time ago and still hasn't replaced it. What's up with that? Dinner at The Grand Luxe and, you know, call us spoiled but we kinda think the slightly lower-scaled Cheesecake Factory is better and has more selections. Ah, well, not a bad meal but still, we expected more. Finished up by doing some people-watching while the girls hit their final stores. I inadvertently - honest! - parked myself near the Victoria's Secret but the pouty-lipped models in their skivvies on the posters drove me to distraction. Why so serious, girls? You're in your underwear! Except for public speaking, and that's only in your dreams, nothing really bad happens when you're in your underwear.

The girls finished and off we went to the hotel in Frisco. The lobby was jammed with giddy Okies but we threaded our way through the crowd up to our room and got settled in. The girls headed out to explore and later hit the pool while Clara and I stayed in and channel-surfed. You know, there's no lacking of sports channels on hotel cable packages. That and kid's channels. Do hotels know their customers or what?

The girls got back at a decent hour and we settled in for the night. But at 1:00 a.m, I awoke we some deep central gut pain like I've never experienced before. Dang. Tried the usual remedies to rid myself of it - medication, self-gagging, other methods best left undescribed. No luck. About ever 30 seconds I found myself getting up from bed and hitting the bathroom but the pain just. Wouldn't. Budge. By around 7:00 it was clear that Clara's advice that I seek out some kind of medical help was pretty sound. I managed to dress, stumble out the door, find the elevator, buy a whoppingly priced tiny bottle of Pepto and did a shot of that, and todder over to the front desk to get directions to the nearest doc-in-the-box. Only four miles away. Oughtta be able to do that. Without barfing? That could be another story.

Got in the car, found my way through the early morning Frisco streets, found the doc-in-the-box had long ago moved but also found a sympathetic manager at the Kroger's next door who sent me back to another location not far away. Made it in time to find the bathroom and return the earlier shot of Pepto - My, such a bright pink for so early in the morning! They checked me in, got my vitals, took some blood, and with the high white cell count and symptoms determined I'd picked up a nice stomach infection. Some 'scrips to fill and I'd be fine. Which I'd managed to start doing just laying there waiting to be examined. Great!

Got the 'scrips filled, found my way back to the hotel - a whole lot easier when not fighting nausea - and managed to make it back by 10:00. Clara and the girls were dressed, fed, and ready for the next mall. Well, all righty then. Had a good laugh at my demise - Rachel had heard some of it and Emily wanted to know who Ralph was and why I kept shouting his name into the toilet. I felt good enough for a few pancakes and then we headed out, none the worse for the wear.

The girls did their shopping, I did my book browsing, and when we were through, we grabbed a snack for the road. Headed out on the Dallas Tollway and picked up a cross highway that would put us back on the Interstate outside of Denton and then we were home free. Crossed into Oklahoma but by then the morning and medications were catching up to me so time for Clara to take over. Another beautiful Fall day, perfect for driving.

Made it home just fine. Dropped off our guests, got the dogs from the in-laws, then headed home. Done. Another journey completed, safe and sound, with only a minor detour. I'd call that pretty good, wouldn't you?

Monday, October 19, 2009

We're Back

Made the trip to Dallas and back. Catching up so details will have to wait but if you're following me on Twitter - and, really, if you're not, why not? - you've had some thrilling, as-they-happen, tweets that would've told you what went on when it happened. Summary: all went according to plan and then we came home. Oh, and OU lost. Dang.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Fall Break

We're taking a little Fall break today with an overnight trip to Dallas instead of going to Arkansas as we'd originally planned. (Here's last year's trip.) With Rachel's job at Sonic, our options became much more limited as we tried to plan around her schedule. Dallas is just down the road and we thought, well, we could -

I'm sorry, what's that? There's a game in Dallas this weekend? Oh. Who's playing?


Man, are we doofuses or what? Well, too late now. The hotel's booked, the friends have been asked, and we're committed to going, despite the what's sure to be sheer madness of the OU-Texas game. We're hopeful an early start will cure the crossing-the-state-line bottleneck that's only worsened with the road construction on I-35 but, well, what else are we gonna do? At the worst, we'll be delayed for a while and then we'll be on our merry way. Our plans won't take us anywhere near the festivities - we'll be in Grapevine today and Frisco tonight. It looks to be a beautiful Fall day. A splendid time is just about guaranteed.

I'll try to post pictures when I can. Look for 'em here or on Twitter. Or not at all.

Oh, one more thing. No parties in the house while we're gone. We'll know and you'll be in big trouble when we get back.

The Young Man and the Lakes

During one of my Internet prowls, I found myself on John Miller's personal web site where I came across this link to an article of his at the Wall Street Journal about Ernest Hemingway. Published over a year ago, I can't believe I hadn't run across it before and posted something here about it. Well, I'll take care of that now:
When Ernest Hemingway was a young writer in the 1920s, he pinned a map of northern Michigan to the wall of his room in Paris. It probably came in handy as he wrote his first batch of short stories. Although he was born and raised in Oak Park, Ill., Hemingway spent the summers of his boyhood in the woods and lakes of what Michiganders call "Up North." They provide the settings for most of his early tales.

One of these yarns, however, has traditionally puzzled anyone who reads it and then checks a map. "Big Two-Hearted River" is probably Hemingway's first great contribution to literature, an example of nature writing at its finest and perhaps America's best fishing story, especially for readers who remember that Moby Dick didn't have gills.

I'll insist the story isn't just for rabid Hemingway fans like me but I'll also concede that not too terribly much happens throughout the story. Well, nothing other than the actions of a young man trying to get himself right again with his world. Treat yourself and read the story. I know you're busy but it won't take too much of your time. You'll come away richly rewarded.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity - Book Review

Clara picked up a discounted copy of Bill O'Reilly's "A Bold, Fresh Piece of Humanity" and I read it with great relish. Sure, I'm a fan, and you may not be, but still it's something not quite like anything I've read before. Part memoir, part these-are-the-things-that-I-believe kinda thing, O'Reilly takes us back to his childhood to show the connections between the values he was brought up with and the person he is today. His thinking is straight forward and he promotes traditional ideas: work hard, be honest, treat others fairly. Sure, we know that, but sometimes it's good to be reminded that these are the things that success is made of.

For my taste, he hits a little too hard on his modest beginnings and seems to still carry his resentment to those with more money. Written in crystal clear prose, his training as a journalist shows, but sometimes his choice of subject matter is questionable. I liked least his chapter on his friends and his bachelor days and what's with this list of food he ate as a child towards the end of the book? Well, it's his book and he's Bill O'Reilly so he can put in whatever he wants and who's to tell him otherwise?

I understand the profits from this book go to charity so if even if you don't like the guy you can do some good by grabbing a copy. O'Reilly is undeniably an original and this book will give you some idea of how, and why, he ticks.

Al Martino, ‘Godfather’ Singer, Dies

You know the guy. The guy in The Godfather who played a guy that was like Frank Sintatra? Yeah, that guy. Well, he died. Surprisingly, he wasn't whacked:
Al Martino, the smooth-voiced baritone who had a string of hits in the 1950s and ’60s with sentimental ballads like “Here in My Heart” and “Spanish Eyes” and then found wider fame as Johnny Fontane, the wedding singer in “The Godfather,” died on Tuesday at his home in Springfield, Pa. He was 82.

A daughter, Alison Martino, described the death as sudden but did not give a cause.

(I don't mean to make light of his death - it's a great sadness for his family - but, come on, with the Godfather connection, tell me you didn't think the same thing.)

I didn't know he had quite a career on his own as an Italian crooner. Good to see he was active right up until his death. A lesson for us all.

GAO: IRS Should Improve Sole Proprietor Loss Deduction Compliance

Hey there, sole-proprietor, Mr/Ms Risk-Taker-Because-I'm-Running-My-Own-Business. Enjoying those losses that are inevitable as a startup or because of the slack economy? Well, the IRS isn't. They're miserable about it. Tax revenues are down. The "tax gap" is huge. They think they're not doing their job well enough. Know what'll make them feel better? That's right, a crackdown on you:
One approach for limiting sole proprietor loss noncompliance would impose a rule that limits losses that could be deducted from other income. The tax code has a number of such limitations. A loss limitation could reduce noncompliant losses but would also limit the ability of sole proprietors to claim legitimate losses. Another approach would improve IRS’s estimates of the extent to which activities not engaged in for profit, such as hobbies, are contributing to noncompliant sole proprietor losses. Expenses associated with these activities are not deductible, but IRS’s research on the causes of sole proprietor noncompliance has not used available data to estimate the extent of this type of noncompliance. Without such an estimate, IRS could be missing an opportunity to reduce noncompliant sole proprietor losses.

Once again, the IRS' solution for closing the "tax gap" is to endlessly harass those who actually file and pay timely. Forget those other scofflaws who don't bother to file. Tracking them down and getting them in compliance takes too much time and effort. Not when these fish are in this barrel.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Blog Action Day and Climate Change

Have you heard about this thing called "climate change?" I think it's been in the news. Apparently the climate's, uh, changing, according to some experts. And not in a good way.

To help bring you up to speed about all things climate change-y, Blogger's sponsoring Blog Action Day 2009: Climate Change because it seems not enough people out there are blogging about it. Suggested topics:

* A Technology or Business blog might write about emerging clean tech and how innovative companies might be able to help address the problem of climate change.

* A Health or Lifestyle blog might write about how climate change will affect our children's health and daily living.

* A Nonprofit or Political blog might write about how climate change is deeply connected to many other issues - such as poverty and conflict.

* A Design blog might write about new trends in eco-friendly or sustainable design.

* A Travel blog might write about the places you want to see now before climate change makes them difficult to access or, well, under the sea.

Nary a word about the skeptics of climate change but then this isn't called "Climate Change and Skeptics," is it? No, be original and get on board with everyone else and blog away about climate change. Just don't doubt it.

Oh, but this little tidbit might put a damper on things:
What happened to global warming? This headline may come as a bit of a surprise, so too might that fact that the warmest year recorded globally was not in 2008 or 2007, but in 1998.

But it is true. For the last 11 years we have not observed any increase in global temperatures.

And our climate models did not forecast it, even though man-made carbon dioxide, the gas thought to be responsible for warming our planet, has continued to rise.

So what on Earth is going on?

In a fairly even-handed article, the BBC points out that though global warming seems to have stopped way back in 1998, this doesn't mean that climate change isn't going on right now. But the inverse is true as well: prior years of global warming doesn't mean that climate change - or, more specifically, man-made climate change - is underway as well. No matter the pros and cons, one things clear - the reason behind whatever change may be occurring is largely unknown. Climate is complex, with a variety of factors contributing and the bottom line is there may not be much we can do about it.

Not something that Blogger has room to talk about on Blog Action Day.

Best Places to Launch a Small Business 2009? Oklahoma City!

Ah, here's the link I was looking for yesterday:
Stable and affordable, Oklahoma City is a haven for entrepreneurial risk takers. It boasts the second lowest foreclosure rate among large U.S. metro areas, along with the second lowest median rent. Through the Great Recession this former Dust Bowl capital has been spared many hardships, with a diverse local economy spread across medical research, energy, education and government.

Oklahoma City also benefits from a high concentration of deep-pocketed local investors, many of them veterans of the oil and gas industry, who are willing to take a gamble on companies that might spend 10 years bringing a new product to fruition. And the city itself has been a powerful friend to life-science startups, funding the 1996 construction of the Presbyterian Health Foundation Research Park. The complex -- 700,000 square feet of space in seven buildings on a 27-acre site -- has attracted an influx of innovative biomedical firms.

So come on, start your business here! But first, find a good CPA to consult with. Like I said yesterday, I happen to know a pretty good firm. Ask me.

(A side note: I first saw this story on print on Monday and blogged about it yesterday, a post which found it's way to my Twitter feed. I looked for a link online to the story but it wasn't available until yesterday afternoon and only then did I hear about it on Twitter. Now I'm blogging about it again and this post, too, will find its way to Twitter. Though it started out in old media, and I see this morning the old media outlets are just now picking up the story, it's old news now thanks to the new media.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Oklahoma City is The Best Place For Business Start Ups

I cryptically tweeted about this but the challenges of Twitter demand a slightly more fleshed out version.

Yesterday, my office partner, Charles, showed me the latest issue of Fortune Small Business magazine. They list the top places in the country for business start-ups and perched atop that list is Oklahoma City. I searched for a link but came up with only this which is the magazine's October, 2009 issue. The article I saw is in the November, 2009 issue. Apparently that issue isn't yet available online so you'll just have to take my word for it. Details to follow.

One bit of advice while we're on the topic of start ups: find a good CPA to consult with. I happen to know pretty good one.

Happy Columbus Day! (Uh, Yesterday.)

Yeah, I know, Columbus Day was yesterday but I didn't come across Instapundit's post until the afternoon and I haven't had a chance to post this until today. So, well, whatever. Hope you had a nice day off, if you got the day off. If not, I still hope you had a nice day.

Meanwhile, no matter your feelings about the great explorer - and please, spare me the cracks of how Columbus was lost when found the New World - you can't deny that his accomplishments changed the course of world history. I'll use the same excerpt Instapundit uses from Samuel Eliot Morison's "Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus," to make my point. Which is the very same point of Instapundit's, I guess:
At the end of 1492 most men in Western Europe felt exceedingly gloomy about the future. Christian civilization appeared to be shrinking in area and dividing into hostile units as its sphere contracted. For over a century there had been no important advance in natural science and registration in the universities dwindled as the instruction they offered became increasingly jejune and lifeless. Institutions were decaying, well-meaning people were growing cynical or desperate, and many intelligent men, for want of something better to do, were endeavoring to escape the present through studying the pagan past. . . .

Yet, even as the chroniclers of Nuremberg were correcting their proofs from Koberger’s press, a Spanish caravel named Nina scudded before a winter gale into Lisbon with news of a discovery that was to give old Europe another chance. In a few years we find the mental picture completely changed. Strong monarchs are stamping out privy conspiracy and rebellion; the Church, purged and chastened by the Protestant Reformation, puts her house in order; new ideas flare up throughout Italy, France, Germany and the northern nations; faith in God revives and the human spirit is renewed. The change is complete and startling: “A new envisagement of the world has begun, and men are no longer sighing after the imaginary golden age that lay in the distant past, but speculating as to the golden age that might possibly lie in the oncoming future.”

Christopher Columbus belonged to an age that was past, yet he became the sign and symbol of this new age of hope, glory and accomplishment. His medieval faith impelled him to a modern solution: Expansion.

I remember in 1992, to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Columbus' accomplishment, PBS ran a series about the life of Columbus. Surprisingly even-handed, I read the companion book and came away with a deep appreciation of what Columbus managed to do. A compelling story on both the historical and personal levels.

It's too bad there are people who'd like to just overlook the day.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Whip It - Movie Review

It's not the time of year of big blockbusters but that doesn't mean you can't find something worth watching at the movies. Whip It is a perfectly serviceable movie to fill in the time before the holiday season starts and it'd be well worth your effort to find it playing somewhere before it moves on to DVD.

Ellen Page pretty much owns the quirky-teen role these days and does her usual wonderful job as Bliss, a frustrated small-town teen looking for something more than beauty pageants her mother insists she compete in. Her outlet? Roller derby! She knows that wouldn't be her parents first choice so deceptions must ensue for her to follow her bliss. The plot follows the usual underdog sports team trajectory but the ending was refreshingly surprising. What I liked most, though, was the realistic and genuine way Bliss was treated when her lies to her parents were found out: her teammates, while supportive, couldn't approve and her parents were hurt and not merely exasperated. Too many of these kinds of movies give unearned wisdom to the kids and the parents are merely obstacles to be overcome. And what follows about forgiveness and redemption make this little jewel of a movie more than just a good-time comedy about grrrrl power.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Eye C U

It's been nearly a month since I've used the Awesome Pictures tag. Let's fix that. Once again, since I'm incapable of creating awesome pictures, I have to rely on others. From MSNBC, a parrot looks around the national zoo in Managua, Nicaragua on Oct. 3, a day after Nicaraguan Animal Protection Society rallies for the World Day of Animals.

Obama's Prize

My wonderful and beautiful niece suggested the topic of my next blog post and, of course, it has to be about Obama's winning the Nobel Peace Prize. I'd already made a quick response to her on Facebook with the intent of fleshing out those statements over here but in thinking of what I had to say and how I was going to say it, I see that Peggy Noonan has pretty much done all of the heavy lifting for me:
It is absurd and it is embarrassing. It would even be infuriating if it were not such a declaration of emptiness.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has embarrassed itself and cheapened a great award that had real meaning.

Neither Noonan or I blame Obama for this clunky move by the Nobel committee; he has no say in what they will or won't do. But you should read Noon's whole column, of course, because she makes all of the points I'd like to make only she does it a whole lot better.

One difference: I think Obama should've taken the high road and declined the award - it's too late now, he's already said he'd go to Oslo to accept it - but Noonan thinks Obama should use the occasion to deliver a speech building up America rather than his usual speech of apologizing for America:
Mr. Obama should get the spotlight off himself and put it on the great thing that yielded him up and made him possible. America is misunderstood these days, and he could perform a public service by helping people understand it better.

Love, after all, never harms the world, and as an added practical bonus such a speech would obscurely embarrass the committee, which won't be able to criticize the thoughts of its hero. That would be pleasurable for Americans, and therefore helpful to Mr. Obama.

This might to some degree redeem this wicked and ignorant award, this mischievous honor.

Couldn't've said it better myself.

Friday, October 9, 2009

IRS Misses 13% ($15m) of Fraudulent Refunds

From TaxProf Blog, another reason to be unconcerned when government takes over healthcare:
IRS’s ability to detect identity theft-related refund and employment fraud is limited, but by the end of 2008, IRS had cataloged over 50,000 incidents. According to IRS, about 90% of fraudulently claimed refunds were stopped in 2008 with about $15 million issued before IRS became aware of the fraud. IRS does not know the amount of refund or employment fraud that goes undetected.

(Emphasis mine.)
Not that the IRS could possibly know how much fraud goes undetected but you can be sure that the number is, quite likely, astronomical.

Beer and Books

Who was blogging about beer and books just the other day? I was! But, um, not in the same post.

Here's how you manage to work both topics into one post:
As you'll have noticed we here at Omnivoracious (okay, well, moi) are a little beer-book crazy at times. It all started when we asked a metric ton of writers what beer would go best with their book, devolved into a tasting night during which my wife and I pondered the merits of certain books with beer, and, most recently, culminated in asking Omnivoracious readers what books would go best with Stone Brewing Company's 09.09.09 Vertical Epic Ale.

We took those suggestions into consideration, but after tasting the beer, two books in particular came to mind: The Resurrectionist by Jack O'Connell (now out in trade paperback; see my prior interview with O'Connell) and The Best of Gene Wolfe: A Definitive Retrospective of His Finest Short Fiction.

I'm envious.

Also, this is how you describe how a beer tastes:
While that gives you an idea of the ingredients, it doesn't begin to hint at the complexity of the taste. This is a beer that gives you three, four, even five different taste perspectives. At base, I was reminded of Guinness, in that the foundation has that kind of firm, comforting flatness. But over top of that, there's a slow-motion carnival going on. There's a definite disappearing horizon of spice in there--it's just a hint but emphatic--and then as your taste buds encounter the beer fully there's an energy and a uniqueness that's difficult to describe. The taste tends to gather and grow, until you go from something that has a friendly broad flavor to something that would make a Pinback song or Frank Zappa solo look simple--without descending into chaos. There's a definite analogy to tasting a good wine, in that there's such a confluence of different grace notes and things to experience. Again, difficult to describe, but if I had to sum it up, it's like a great orchestra piece, with many different instruments coming into play, that starts out slowly and simply, and then builds to a crescendo that's never overwrought or melodramatic. You know it's a classic because the form of it seems so perfect and so complete. The 09.09.09 Vertical Epic Ale is now one of my favorites--and one of the terrible, horrible things about my week is I just found out that the Fermentation Lounge here in town now has this ale on tap. This could be very, very dangerous.

Okay, maybe that's tad overboard but clearly I've got a long way to go to develop my palate.

Still, I'm doing this homebrew thing for fun; learning how to tell the difference in the beers' flavors is just a bonus.

And now I have something new to add to the process: pairing up the right book with the right beer. Genius!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

More Beer!

The latest batch of homebrew is done and drinkable. What's that? How about a crappy cell-phone camera picture of the result? Why, sure:

Posted by Picasa

(Yeah, I know, looks a whole lot like the first batch. But there are differences. Subtle differences. Okay, hardly any difference at all.)

This was made from a kit and claims to be an Octoberfest but it tastes a lot like the first batch which was a pale ale. Hey, you don't think all beers taste alike, do you? The Octoberfest does have a slightly more coppery color to it and maybe it's a hint more hoppy but I'll be danged if I know why it's considered something you drink in October more so than any other time of the year.

Oh, it's fine, don't get me wrong. But I think the problem is I'm using someone else's recipe and in order to attract the largest customer-base, they went with something that was as palatable to as many drinkers as possible.

That's not quite what I'm after. I've got something that'll be ready in about 10 days that's my own design - a Red Ale recipe that I built on. We'll see how that works out. But for now, this'll do.

The Bookstore Gets All Big Brother About Stuff

But in a small brother kinda way:


(Yeah, I know, lousy picture. I spruced it up the best I can. If you can't read it, it says "*smiley face* you're on camera!)

It's probably a good idea to use closed-circuit cameras to keep an eye on your merch. And it's probably a good idea to let us free-loading book browsers know you're keeping an eye on the merch. Oh, but we wouldn't want to offend your delicate sensibilities so we'll just make sure you know through a teeny-tiny little unobtrusive sign. With a smiley face.

Come on, booksellers! Man up! If you're gonna keep watch over me, keep watch over me! I can take it.

IRS Made Errors in Stimulus Payments to 400,000 Taxpayers

The IRS wants to close the tax gap by auditing more taxpayers but maybe they should start with themselves first:
The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration yesterday released Evaluation of the Planning, Computation, and Issuance of the Recovery Rebate Credit (2009-40-129), reporting that:

* The IRS issued more than $96 billion in advanced economic stimulus payments (up to $1,2000 for married couples filing jointly) to more than 119 million taxpayers in Calendar Year 2008 and approximately $8.5 billion in payments to almost 21 million taxpayers as of April 17, 2009.
* 259,000 taxpayers did not receive $84.6 million in payments due to various IRS errors.
* 141,000 taxpayers received $60.6 million in payments for which they were ineligible due to various IRS errors.

Look, I'm the first to say the IRS is saddled with an impossible, and thankless, task. Overall, they do a pretty good job. But when they don't, the consequences can be devastating.

But don't worry, when the government takes over health care, nothing like this will ever happen.

Teacup Pigs Are Latest Hit with Brits

Oh, these are too cute:
Most people go into business to earn a living. Jane Croft did it to bring home the bacon.

The 42-year-old breeder has become something of a sensation in her native England, thanks to her unique product line: cute-as-a-button miniature pigs that never grow up.

Croft sat cross-legged Wednesday in a stall filled with straw, cradling a squirming litter of tiny little piggies that will all be going to market. They’re called “teacup pigs,” she told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira and Ann Curry — and they’re the hottest pet sensation to hit Great Britain in years.

Resistance is futile:

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

FTC Regulates Our Speech

The Federal Trade Commission thinks it needs to stick its nose into goofy little blogs like mine:
The Federal Trade Commission just released rules to regulate product endorsements not just in advertisements but also on blogs. (PDF here; the regs don’t start until page 55.)

It is a monument to unintended consequence, hidden dangers, and dangerous assumptions.

So when I'm posting my lame reviews on movies and books and music, I'm supposed to be disclosing any kind of connection I may have with the authors or publishers or composers or artists or - well, you get the picture. So my readers will know how biased my opinion is.


Of course, this little blog is far below the FTC's radar and I'll be able to freely express my opinion without full disclosure (Full disclosure: I have nothing to disclose) and I won't likely be penalized by the government for doing so. But the big guns out there won't and that's where the problem is. The FTC thinks readers of blogs are too helpless to figure out for themselves what bloggers are shills for big interests and which aren't.

The marketplace would more quickly solve the problems over which the FTC is wringing its hands. Readers of blogs that advocate without disclosure for bigger interests would soon leave those blogs in droves once they found out the expressed opinions were less than sound. Amazing how that works. People are actually able to make decisions for themselves.

This may seem like a small thing but it's not. It's another example of the nanny-state intruding in matters which it has no business. Beware of worse things to come.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Nope, Not Reading This Book Neither


Finished not reading Jess Walters "Over Tumbled Graves." And that's too bad, too, because I really enjoyed his "Citizen Vince" and had high hopes for it. Blurbed like heck, too, so I went into it expecting great things. Instead I found it amateurishly written - switches in points-of-view in mid-paragraph, clunky transitions, just overall poorly done. Supposed to be a serial killer mystery only different but, well, I was indifferent. Worst of all was the hero, or heroine in this case. Gloomy and humorless with one dang thing in her personal life heaped on her after another with this horrific case only making things worse.

So I cast it aside. So sue me.

My problem now is I have nothing in the book bullpen to fall back on. When I get the chance, I'll get on over to the library and see what I can put together but for now it appears I'm in one of those nothing-appeals-to-me-readingwise stages. Just gotta work through it, I guess.

Guess I Oughtta Put Titles On These Things

Though I have no real problem making these goofy little entries without a title, they're coming through on the RSS feed as "no title," which implies a certain sloppiness. Sloppy thinking, sloppy typing, sloppy grammar, that I do all the time. But at least I can put a title on these things. So, switching back to titles.

What's that? Whoopeee?

My thoughts exactly.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The one game I actually watch and OU loses. To the University of Miami Hurricanes. Which gives my brother John even more reason to crow about one of his favorite sports teams. He insisted on a post about it on my blog and though I'm loathe to follow the dictates of others about what gets posted, I'll oblige him. It's a small thing and let it be known I'm always willing to do the small thing.

It upsets him when I mention the 'canes and the word "pansies" in the same sentence, though. I shouldn't refer to the 'canes as pansies. That's not nice. Instead, I should concentrate on the positive side of the 'canes win: their parole officers had a Saturday night off for once since their charges were busy playing a football game. Though Sunday was probably quite busy for them. As well as for the local constabulary.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Starbucks Goes Instant

I loves me some Starbucks but sometimes their preening sense of self-importance kinda sorta turns me off. Their chasing the dollar by offering instant coffee makes 'em just all right with me:
A few years ago, the then-director of research and development for Starbucks, Lawrence Wu Jr., participated in a food-industry conference, where he gave a presentation on the coffee company's method for determining what new products could be included under the Starbucks brand. It was "important to understand what product is at the core of your consumer's mind," he said; for Starbucks, the bull's-eye on the target was barista-made espresso and fresh, brewed coffee. On the first ring out from the bull's-eye were all the fancy "personalized beverages," such as a venti-half-caf-no-foam-skinny-latte. Further from the core were the Frappuccinos and other blender drinks, and further still were the "out of store" products, such as coffee liqueur and ice cream. But finally, Mr. Wu said, you get so far from the core of the business that you're simply "off the target" altogether, with "products that do not build the value or equity of the brand." So destructive of the brand were these products that they would only be explored if the revenues from them were "necessary for the survival of the company." What product did he point to as the canary in the coffee mine? Instant coffee. Mr. Wu called it "a product of last resort."

This week Starbucks gave the full nationwide rollout to its new line of instant coffee.

Flawed people/institutions are more interesting people/institutions. (Except for Roman Polanski.)

Surrogates - Movie Review

We're in a slow time of year, movie-wise, but with both girls occupied doing their respective thangs, we took the opportunity to catch a movie while we could and Surrogates was about the only thing out there we could agree on. Also, it was starting in just a few minutes so that made it the perfect choice.

Not the greatest of movies but it'll do. An interesting sci-fi premise - the culture has evolved to where everyone uses a perfect surrogate for all of their social interactions. Sort of like an online persona or avatar only one that walks and talks and moves and looks like how you'd want to look. From that, a murder mystery develops and from that foot and car chases and shootings and general chaos ensue. Surprisingly short, which is something to be thankful for, things move along at a pretty good clip. Bruce Willis does a good job but then I'm a fan so take that for what it's worth. I enjoyed some of the humor - during the car chase, the surrogates begin to pile up on the grill of the car like a bugs during a summer drive - but the denouement was pretty routine. You won't be surprised who the bad guy is.

Even More Books I'm Not Reading

Uh, oh. I may be reaching the burnout stage in my Robert Crais reading. In this case, though, I've already read "Hostage" after we saw the movie so maybe I'm not interested because I've been here before. Anyway, I'm noting it here to explain where I'm at in my reading list. I've moved on to something else but my interest is flagging there, too. Ominous.

(I've blogged before about this trend of not being able to finish a book I'm reading. Maybe, like the moon, it's just a phase.)

Paul Shaffer on Bob Dylan

An excerpt about Bob Dylan from Paul Schaffer's upcoming memoir:
Dylan was hard to find. He lives on the road but is never anywhere for more than a day. Finally, I tracked him down in some motel in Des Moines and placed a call. When I told him that we’d be honored if he played “Like a Rolling Stone,” he was lukewarm at best.

“That’s a little obvious,” he said. “There’s gotta be something else.”

“Dave and I really see ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ as our grand finale.”

The songwriter sighed. “It’s a big catalogue, Paul.”

Ha! Even the great artists get a little tired of their back pages.
Hey look, it doesn't matter if I think of a clever title or glom on to someone else's title for a blog post. The RSS feed picks it up just fine and the world just keeps turning. Could be the start of something new around here.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Peggy Noonan gets the vapors about the today's state of robust debate. Sure, some of 'em are over the top but most aren't and it's those who argue sensibly, and politely, that most people listen to. So man up, Peggy.

But she redeems her column with a great closing. Forget all that other stuff she says. Take away this:
And they'll have obits someday too. Their careers will be captured in eulogies, leaving their children proud, or not. In a way you're writing your own obit every day. You're making the lead paragraph positive and constructive, or not.

Someone's going to sum you up one day. You want to live your professional life in a way that they can write good things.

Michael Moore Is Clueless on 'Capitalism'

I haven't seen the movie - and won't. Michael Moore documentaries are way down on my list of things to see - but Jonathen Hoenig makes the case for Capitalism:
So just what sort of research did Moore conduct? Had he bothered to poke around a bit, perhaps conduct a Google search or two, Moore might have discovered that capitalism is the social system based on the recognition of individual rights. Under capitalism, the use of physical force against others – and their property – is strictly prohibited. That means that, unlike every other social philosophy throughout history, all relationships between human beings are voluntary. Under capitalism, there are no masters or slaves -- men deal with each other through reason, discussion and persuasion, and always to mutual benefit. Government’s role is not that of a king, but a policeman.

Read the whole thing.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Filling Me Up With Your Rules

Here's some school absurdity:
The biking debate started last spring, when school district officials told Kaddo Marino that Adam was violating school rules by biking to class. Walking to the school also is not permitted.

Kaddo Marino challenged the policy and asked the school board to change it. The district charged a committee to review the rule, which was instituted in 1994.

(Emphasis mine. This foolishness has been going on for 15 years!)

When Emily's elementary school had welcomed a new principal, the new principal, to win the hearts and souls of her new charges, immediately implemented a zero tolerance policy on talking during lunch. The kids were required to eat in stony faced silence until they were through and then out they went where talking could re-commence. The reason? Apparently in the Principal's past, she once worked in a school where a student choked during lunch and no one could hear her cries because of the talking. I'm unclear about the outcome - Lord, let's hope the child didn't die - but, come on. How rare is that? Yeah, I know, even one death or bad incident is too many, but the solution seemed hardly to be one of complete silence throughout the meal. During the first parent meeting when she was introduced, the principal choked up telling her story but, relaxed her rule until it was closer to what it had been before: a reasonable level of noise was allowable but the cafeteria monitors had the right to shut things down should they get out of hand.

Anyway, absurd school rules.

Let's keep the kids safe. But let them live their lives. Walking and biking to school isn't risk-free but nothing is and this kind of tradition builds responsibilities and fond memories.

(Blog title from a Beatles lyric.)