Thursday, December 23, 2010

True Grit - Movie Review

I was worried that the Coen Brothers' version of True Grit would be a terrible thing but it turns out the new version holds its own while leaving the original undiminished.

Comparisons are inevitable. If you enjoyed the first version there's no reason why you can't like this version, too. While not as rousingly enjoyable as the first, I liked better this version's sense of hard realism. The original tried to pass off the Rocky Mountains around the town of Ouray but this time around, even though it wasn't filmed on location, we get more of a sense of what the Indian Territory was really like.

Jeff Bridges plays Rooster Cogburn as a shambling man full of faults and flaws but just the one you'd need to hunt down a killer in a pitiless land. Matt Damon does a nice turn as LeBoef as well. But much is being said about Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross and rightly so; she comes across as steely and determined while still retaining her softer side in the scene where she tears up at her deceased father's belongings. The haggling scene with horse-seller remains classic.

I don't hold with those who seem to think that the Coen Brothers brought their loopy sense of humor and ornate use of stilted, formal language to the story but that's always been there, in the book and in the original. The Coens aren't reinventing anything and stick no closer to the book than the original did - both movie versions take their liberties with the story but I liked how this one is told, like the book, as a remembrance of Mattie.

We saw a lot of pickup trucks in the parking lot, a lot of moviegoers wearing cowboy hats; I don't think they were disappointed with what they saw. I know I wasn't.

The Health Care Credit Explained!

This one may be a little too insider-baseball and funny only to tax return preparers.

Bob Jennings, whose seminars I attend for CPE, does a bit on the business credit authorized by Obamacare to help offset the cost of providing health insurance to employees. Simple, right? Not so fast:



Sadly, Jennings isn't exaggerating. I've tried to run this calculation for my business clients that might qualify and after the torturous calculation it turns out the credit either doesn't apply or is so minuscule as to be useless.

Well, that's tax policy for you. Nothing but the hidden land mines of unintended consequences.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Evidence of Emily's Awesomeness

Emily's taking a Journalism class this semester and she's had her story published in the school newspaper. Need to know about those wrist bands all the kids are wearing? Emily's got the scoop!





Next thing you know, she'll want a fedora with a band she can tuck her press pass into.

The Journalism class also did a little community service and Emily volunteered. That's her second from right.



Awesome? You bet!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Big Ol' Ball of Cute

We stopped in at PetsMart on Saturday, just to take a quick look at the adoptable dogs but fell in love instead.

One of the local dog rescue organizations had two groups of mixed-breeds puppies available for adoption. These were a shepherd mix and looked like they'd make a great dog for a family who lived out in the country or had a big yard:



Awwwwwww.

Fifty bucks to cover their shots and care and one of 'em could be yours.

Here's the other bunch, in black and white, just because I can. They're a dachshund mix and a little more higher priced:



Awwwwwww.

No, we've got two dogs already. We don't need another. But they're awful hard to resist.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Turbo Tax vs. Tax Professional - Revisited

Althouse thinks you should purchase TurboTax to do your taxes; I say otherwise. (Hmmm. Both of us seem to have a profit motive for our positions in the debate. Well, consider the merits of my argument while discounting my motive and do the same for Althouse. I still win.)

Price seems to be the biggest factor for those who favor TurboTax. (Which is a pretty good program, don't get me wrong. Just ask Tim Geithner, Treasury Secretary, who able to manipulate it into preparing a false return for him.) If that's the case for you, here's my number 2 reason in my Top 10 list of reasons to hire me:
Price isn't everything is it? Cost is. What will it cost you to use TurboTax to do your tax return rather than me? Let's see, there's the cost of the software, the computer to run the software, the time you spent learning the software and inputting the information, and the potential cost you'll have if the IRS has a question about your return. And make no mistake, the IRS is questioning more and more returns. You'll have to take time to respond to any IRS inquiries and should the IRS take a hard line - something they seem to be doing more and more nowadays - you'll have to take time to research and respond to that. That's all included with my fee. I call that a pretty low cost for a some peace of mind.

Bottom line: forget about the cost of my time; what's the cost of yours? What's your time worth? I'd say your time is worth far more to you than mine.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Deer Hunter

The Deer Hunter was on the other night. I hadn't seen it in years and years and came across it only by accident. I got in on it where the first hunting sequence begins, right after the wedding, about an hour or so in, and I knew there was still plenty to go. I told Clara and she thought she'd watch it until it got to the sad parts - as I recalled, that wouldn't be long - and so we settled in and finished the remaining two hours or so, riveted.

I don't intend to review the movie here but I did want to note that it was as good as I remember. The actors looked so young and the music was as lovely as ever, especially the guitar work of John Williams. (No, not that John Williams. This John Williams.) The movie's soundtrack was the firstone I can recall ever buying and I'm sure I must have it around here somewhere. I remembered the theater where I first saw the movie and the friend I saw it with and how when the doors of the theater had opened, the audience came out in silence and the very air of the theater was warm and still as if the audience had just shared an intensely emotional experience. I soon would. The movie stayed with me for a long, long time after that but had gradually faded from my memory.

No, all I really wanted to say here was how pleasurable it was to stumble across a movie that had at one time greatly moved me. It was good to re-visit the story and the characters and the settings and experience the deep sadness that only great movies can bring. It was good, too, to go back to a time and place where I too seldom visit.

I don't know why the movie doesn't show up more often on cable but maybe it's best - if I had seen it often over the years it might have lost its impact. It's good to know some things stand the test of time. I think this movie does.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Early Buzz on True Grit

The Coen Brothers talk to the New York Times about their True Grit re-boot:
Joel Coen said it was apparent from the beginning that “True Grit” might land in a place where their other films had not.

“When we first approached the studio, one of the things that they wanted to know was whether we could be finished in time for Christmas,” he said. “And after a while we thought to ourselves, if we do the movie the way that we were thinking about it, positioning it as a Christmas movie does actually make sense.”

Or, as Ethan put it, “Yes, you can probably bring Grandma to this one on Christmas.”

But, uh oh, an early review has some problems with the new version:
Despite the number of credited executive producers including Steven Spielberg, someone should have taken the Coen Brothers aside and told them what a fool’s errand they were on. Remaking True Grit is like remaking Citizen Kane, Casablanca or The Searchers. You can take the storyline and reinvent it with a different locale and altered characters, but you should only remake a film if you have something new to say that will be entertaining and interesting. The new True Grit is neither.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “Don’t Mess With Texas!’” We’ll, the Coen Brother’s version of True Grit proves a similar very valid point – don’t fool with John Wayne, either.

Well, I'm still willing to give it a chance.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Night Pictures

I had the task of dropping off and picking up Rachel and Emily at the recent Michael Buble concert and it was the perfect opportunity to whip out the iPhone camera and catch some night shots. The Oklahoma City skyline was especially beautiful. Too bad I wasn't able to capture it.



Cripes. When will I learn: low light + moving vehicle + one-handed-shooting-with-one-hand-on the-wheel = crappy pictures.

Still, I managed to capture a couple of good enough images. Here's some of the Christmas lights downtow:







And here are a couple of Michael Mann-ish street shots, all shiny and slick and urban-grittiness:






Ah, well. The good side about bad photography and that there's always hope that future pictures will be better. How could they be worse?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Golf

Last Saturday, I played golf at the James E. Stewart golf course, a good 9-holer, run by the City. (No, not that James Stewart.) The temperature was 43, the wind howled from the north at 25 MPH. Was I alone on the course? I was!



That's the view from the 6th hole, with the Oklahoma City skyline in the background. The course is par 35 and offers some challenges from water and bunkers. Located in a not-nice part of town, I'm told this is the course where Tiger Woods once visited the local youth for an inspiring talk. It looks pretty bleak now but it's Winter; the grounds crew was out and you can tell they were spot-treating for weeds so things'll perk up come Spring.

A straightforward par 4, I managed to hit not nearly as well as I'd've liked but not nearly as bad as I could have. I call that progress.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The 19% Solution

Obama came to fractious agreement on taxes with Republicans yesterday but it's important to remember that, no matter what anyone agrees to or what's passed into law, the government can only raise about 19% of GDP in total taxes.

Don't believe me? Here's a scientific looking graph to prove it:




And here's source of the graph.

So, tax the rich, tax the middle class, pass the Fair Tax, it doesn't matter: the economy can only sustain the 19% of GDP level for any length of time. If politicians want more dollars to spend, they should choose whatever method of taxation boosts the economy most. Cutting taxes across the board seems to do just that.

Oh, but what about the deficit, you ask? I'm not entirely sure deficits matter but could fiscal responsibility demands we do keep an eye on it. Here's how to balance the budget without really trying:
The CBO, the non-partisan agency charged with estimating the effects of legislation on government costs, has produced a long-term budget outlook in which Bush-era tax rates remain unchanged. Their conclusion is that over the next decade, "government revenues would remain at about 19 percent of GDP, near their historical averages." That's actually a bit higher than the historical average, but is within the bounds of reason.

A balanced budget in 2020 based on 19 percent of GDP would mean $1.3 trillion in cuts over the next decade, or about $129 billion annually out of ever-increasing budgets averaging around $4.1 trillion. Note that these are not even absolute cuts, but trims from expected increases in spending.

Short version: you can still have a mighty big Federal government with spending at 19% of GDP.

Somewhat related and entirely prescient. This idea isn't new. From October 8, 2008:
(L)ower taxes = higher GDP. Higher GDP = better for everybody.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

'Times They are A-Changin' Lyrics for Sale

You can own a part off American music
history:
Bob Dylan's original handwritten lyrics for "The Times They are A-Changin'" are heading for the auction block in New York City. They could sell for an estimated $200,000 to $300,000.

Written in pencil on a sheet of unruled, three-hole notebook paper, the classic 1960s folk protest song was the title track on Dylan's third album. The paper is creased with some small tears and signed "by Bob Dylan."

Sotheby's will offer it for sale on Dec. 10.


Here's what you'd be buying:



No word about who the current owner is but I presume it isn't Dylan. Then again, why not? The item's his to do with as he wants and you can't begrudge him the opportunity to make a buck or two on his own memorabilia. I think it's a great chance to own a part of history, though it's a bit pricey for my taste. Still, Dylanophile or not, it's fascinating to catch a glimpse of the humble beginnings of such a great song.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What's Brewin'?

A lager, actually:



But not a true lager. That would require ingredients and equipment and skill that I don't possess. This is a good substitute, though, and my taste isn't sophisticated enough to tell the difference.

The picture shows a higher, frothier head than this beer should have but I'd poured it a little warm and spent a few too many minutes getting the camera right so that the head began to collapse. When it's poured cold, though, this is a fine, tasty beer that's not fussy at all.

So it looks like I'm set for the Winter. The Porter and this beer may not be the obvious choices for the season but I'm happy enough with the results.

Stalin's Ghost - Book Review

Holy crow! Nearly two months to get through one measly book? Well, not quite. I've spent a good deal of that time working my way through a couple of golfing books a and I don't count them for book review purposes. Maybe I should.

Regardless, it has taken me some time to get through Stalin's Ghost but that says more about me and my reading habits than it does about this fine mystery. It was good to get back to Smith's Russia and his investigator Arkady Renko after laying off for several years. Like a lot of readers, I thought Gorky Park was very well done and though I enjoyed both Polar Star and Havana Bay, I found other books and writers to interest me and so I never returned.

That's too bad. If Stalin's Ghost is an example of what I've been missing, I've been missing out on a lot. Renko is the same - an honest man, or a man trying to be honest, in a society that's entirely corrupt, haunted by the past and by the present. A bit of a mope, really, but not unpleasantly so. They mystery to be solved is the reason for the sightings of Stalin's ghost - no, it's not real, but there's a political motive and Renko, like any good investigator in these kinds of series, steps on a lot of toes trying to get to the bottom of it. I've missed out on the introduction of several characters from prior books but I didn't find it too big of a distraction. I struggled with the Russian names, of course, but that's probably more a function of my lousy handling of names in general than anything. Smith delivers a world that's strange to our Western eyes and immerses us to completely that it becomes familiar and that's quite an accomplishment.

I'm glad to re-discover a forgotten favorite writer and to see the old magic is still there. I'm looking forward to filling in the pieces I've missed - hey, I may even revisit some of the old stuff! Or even some of Smith's non-Arkady novels.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 - Movie Review

Emily's a huge fan Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 so though we didn't make the opening day, we did make it to a Saturday afternoon showing and that was good enough.

I've never read any of the books - oh, okay, I sneaked a look at the last section of the last book so I know how things turn out - the prior movies were easy enough to follow, though I'll have to admit, I'm hard-pressed to recount the plots of any of the most recent releases. Confusion reigned for me in this outing - we start with Harry and friends battling/running from bad guys and then a great deal of the rest of the movie is spent hiding out from the bad guys and then something important is suddenly found and there's a sad death followed by a steely determination to face whatever's to come in Part 2. Spoilers omitted not only on purpose but because I have no other choice: I really didn't know what was going on. But that didn't stop me from enjoying the effects and the sets and marveling at Rowling's imaginative world. Not a world as detailed as Tolkien's creation - really, what is? - it's a world that, nonetheless, looks like fun to inhabit. I'm just sorry I'm not one of those who caught the ride at an early stage.

Emily, is, though, and she pronounced the movie awesome though she admits it didn't quite live up to her expectations. Still, she's looking forward to Part 2. If I can go with her, so am I.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Another Beer Update

My, my, it's been a couple of months since I've posted anything about brewing beer. Let's remedy that.

I chose a Porter for my Fall beer, sort of a poor man's stout. Dark, not as full-flavored as I'd like, and a little too carbonated so as smooth as I was hoping for either:



The head looks a little punk because I poured it carefully and cold; a little more noise and warmth and the head's has quite bit more presence. A little too foamy, actually. Things smooth out if you let it set for a bit and come to temperature but, honestly, I'd rather have had brewed up a stout; if you're gonna go full-bodied, you might as well go full out.

Still, I'm not entirely disappointed; I did what I wanted to do and that's try something a little different and the results weren't bad. You can't ask for much more than that, can you?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Unstoppable - Movie Review

Unstoppable is a traditional disaster movie: something goes wrong at the first of the movie and the rest of the movie is spent making it right. (Wait, I just defined the plot of all movies! Welcome to Screenwriting 101.) The personal stories of the main characters are interesting but, really, we're just here for the runaway train barreling down the tracks to sure disaster, aren't we? Denzel Washington is his usual likable self but I think we get a little more with him than just likability; I can't help but think that when we seem him work, we're witnessing movie star power that we haven't seen in a long time and he'll be looked on years from now as one of the true greats. Chris Pine makes good on his promise he showed in last year's Star Trek re-boot and the charming Bottle Shock so this makes three good movies I've seen him in. He may have a future in this business.

Director Tony Scott finds the perfect material for his frenetic style and we're kept enthralled by the events. The personal stories do their work and engage you with the characters and I'm with those who hail the movie as a tribute to the regular working class folks who keep this country running so that's something new. The sound design and settings make this a movie worth going to see in the theatre so you'll miss out if you wait until it comes out on DVD.

All in all, a very good outing.

(I can't figure out how to embed the video of the preview but go here if you want to watch it.)

Oklahoma Sisters Each Record Hole-in-1 in Same Round

For someone who's returning to the game of golf after an 18 or so year layoff, this is both an encouraging and discouraging story:
Two sisters on the Central Oklahoma golf team are celebrating holes-in-one recorded in the same round.

Erica and Lindsey Bensch each pulled off the feat Tuesday during a round at KickingBird Golf Club.

Erica Bensch, a junior, had the ace on the 124-yard No. 3 hole, using a gap wedge in windy conditions. Less than two hours later, freshman Lindsey Bensch knocked in an 8-iron on the 142-yard No. 11 hole.

Encouraging because it's clear good fortune favors the prepared. Discouraging because of the range these young ladies have with their short irons. I'm just trying to get my drives to stay in the middle of the fairway for more than one shot in a row; Erica Bensch is using a wedge to knock her ball 124 yards.

Man, have I got a long way to go.

Ah, but sibling rivalry dies hard, doesn't it:

"I had finally got my first hole in one to tie her and she had to go one-up me again." – Erica Bensch.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Fixing a Hole

Not good. We came home from work to find this in our front yard:



It's part of the water main upgrade currently going on in our 'hood. Our side of the street is getting some brand spankin' new pipes and we'll be the envy of our neighbors across the street. Oh, how the water will flow!

From past experience, this looks worse than it'll end up being. They're a good crew and when they're finished, what they've left behind isn't all that bad. In the meantime, though, count on this thing being fired up in the pre-dawn light.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

IRS Aims at Non-Filing Businesses

Finally, the IRS gets off its collective duff and go after non-filers:
The IRS plans to take a closer look at businesses that fail to file tax returns, and identify more of themhe agency cannot develop a comprehensive estimate of the number of businesses that do not file returns because it lacks data about the population of all businesses, but it could use the inventory of business non-filers it already has on hand to determine noncompliance, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office, which noted that the IRS identifies several million potential business non-filers each year, more than it can thoroughly investigate.

Why is this news? Because the IRS would rather spend its budget on terrorizing the compliant - the fish in this barrel over here who are easy to shoot - than going after the non-compliant - the fish in that other barrel way over there, who are too hard to shoot and aren't much fun to shoot at anyway.

The IRS thinks it spends too much time and effort hunting down the non-compliant and the potential payback is negligble, dollar-wise - most non-compliant taxpayers are non-compliant for a reason: they're off the grid because they don't earn that much money anyway; you won't see a company like GM not filing a tax return but the handy-person down the street who works for cash has more incentive to underreport his income or not file at all. After the chase, these kinds of cases rarely give up a lot of tax dollars and when they do, the taxpayer is rarely in a position to pay. That kind of budget expenditure requires the IRS to do a lot of 'splainin' to Congress and there's one thing the IRS doesn't like to do and that's 'splain itself.

No, rounding up non-filers won't make a significant dent in the deficit but the sense of fairness - you're filing your returns and paying your taxes, why isn't the IRS going after that guy who isnt? - will go a lot farther in promoting voluntary compliance with the tax laws than disallowing reasonable deductions. Taxpayers may grumble about paying taxes but what they grumble about most, and tempts them to cheat even more, is perceived unfairness in the system. It's not fair you should try to play by the rules of the game when others don't even show up to play.

So if you haven't been filing, the IRS will be looking for you. Finally. Get caught up. I happen to know a pretty good CPA who can help you out.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Civilization Has Beer to Thank

This will come as no surprise to my brother John: Beer Lubricated Rise of Civilization Study Suggests.

Hmmm.

Link takes you only to a picture. Funny but when I sent this to my drafts a few days ago, there was an article that accompanied the picture this link now takes you to. Don't ask me. I don't know how the FoxNews site works.

Bottom line: ancient artifacts show folks have been making beer for a long time. Civilization rose. Coincidence? I don't think so.

Friday, November 5, 2010

iPhone Photo Dump

Time for another iPhone photo dump. Can't let these days pass without documentation, can I? Let's see what's on the memory card that I haven't blogged about.

I've mentioned in passing about my new obsession - golf! - and I'm lucky enough to have my father-in-law agree to come along. But at 87, he claims he's not quite what he used to be; he loses his balls easily (!) and he'd prefer to have a cart rather than walk the course. Enter Emily, Grandpa's designated handler and caddy:



When we asked Emily to be Grandpa's caddy, she said: "Y'all know me. Know how I earn a livin'. I'll watch Grandpa for you, but it ain't gonna be easy. Not like going down the pond chasin' bluegills and tommycods. It's not gonna be pleasant. I'll watch him but it'll cost ya'. A trip to the mall. And some Pad Thai after. For that I'll watch him, drive him around, keep him outta the hazards, the whole darn thing."

Uh, okay. Emily the steely-eyed negotiator:



Emily earns her fee and keeps Grandpa out of the mossy creek:



Emily drives, Grandpa holds on for dear life:



Emily has time to lend advice to Mom: Green breaks to the right, give it some oomph. The hole's not gonna run up to the ball:



Approaching the clubhouse. Grandpa accounted for while Mom follows:



Another day, another caddying session. We've been blessed with some beautiful early Fall days:



Grandpa addresses the ball, Emily and Mom look on:



For Fall Break, we took an overnight trip to Dallas for some shopping and a meet up with Clara's cousin. The great Hoyt Axton's comment about Oklahoma to the contrary - he'd claimed we're the cultural center of the universe and it's true! - we don't have a Buca Di Beppo but Frisco does and that's where we met up with Clara's cousin and her husband. (We'd first been to this restaurant chain a few years ago while visiting family in Florida. Good times.)

Clara prays the food arrives soon:



Emily would appreciate quick service, too. She gets cranky when she's hungry:



Patience:



The cousin and her husband arrived, we had a fine dinner and conversation and carried it over to the hotel lobby. A nice visit and good to get caught up.

Next day, shopping. And a hard day of shopping requires a break. Product placement by Wetzel's Pretzel's:



With Rachel's graduation from high school this past May, she's doing more of her own thing with work and hair school and that means less time with us. And that means fewer pictures. But I got this one of her showing off her latest 'do, courtesy of the instructor's at school. She'll hate me for posting it but tough. It's the only recent one I have of her:



Enough for now. Time to fill the memory card again.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Hereafter - Movie Review

The Clint Eastwood-directed Hereafter is less about what the hereafter is really like - it seems, according to this movie, to be a mush of the dearly departed walking around, trying to communicate with the living and predicting the future and saving some of us from it and then moving on to whatever business the dead have to attend to on the other side- and more about how the characters deal with their individual tragedies and how their stories intertwine.

An impressive opening sequence of the tsunami in Indonesia, what follows is more of a deliberately paced character study. And by deliberately-paced, yes, I mean slow, but I don't really mind slow and, besides, it's Clint Eastwood who's directing. If you want a fast moving film about the hereafter, direct your own, punk. I liked the scenes of London and Paris and San Francisco, all safe and travelogue-y and temporarily taking me out of the movie and wanting to go actually visit these places. Matt Damon underplays his roll and the kid who *spoiler alert!* loses his brother is charming. I didn't know who the French actress is but, well, she's French and you don't have to say anything else after that, do you?

If you're looking for a more, heavily-plotted movie, you'll be disappointed but there's much to like here. I don't think much, if anything, would be lost watching this on the small screen so it might be one of those movies to wait for on DVD.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Inside the Rolling Stones Inc.

TaxProf Blog links to an old article - internal clues point to 2006 - about how tax-savvy the Rolling Stones are:
Like the protagonist in one of his most devilish songs, Mick has been around for many a long year. He had plenty of smarts to begin with, and now he has 40 years of music industry experience under his belt. Jagger may be getting a trifle old to rock & roll--he'll turn 60 next July--but from a business perspective he's at the top of his game. Which makes sense in a way. After all, that's a typical age for a CEO of a large, multinational organization. (Okay, so most of the CEOs we follow don't have to swivel-hip their way through "Midnight Rambler," but you get the point.)

Even aging rockers want to avoid the tax man.

(OKC rockers: wanna be like the Rolling Stones? Tax-wise, I mean? Gimme a shout. I'd be glad to talk with you.)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Lileks and Disney

Once again, James Lileks does Disney (scroll down):
We went to Epcot the first day. I love Epcot. Don’t have the same reaction I did the first time, where newness and delight was tinged with a certain sort of sadness – seeing the 70s ideas of THE FUTURE! was nostalgic and bittersweet. The glass pyramid, the monorail, the enormous million-faceted sphere, the tinged concrete, and all the other details that made you feel like you were in a Gene Roddenberry pilot. Now I enjoy it for what it is, and enjoy its curious conjoining of Science! and international comity. One half techno-theme-park, one half permanent Festival of Nations housed in exquisite sets.

Here he is from two years ago and, as I noted then, Lileks gets it. He's blogged each of his visits since though I've failed to note them. Each of his entries, though, just about sums up my own feelings for the place and makes my own seem paltry in comparison.

But that's okay. If I can't go there myself, I'll relive those trips through Lileks. Good enough for now.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Teachout and "Orson Welles and Me" and Me

The mighty Terry Teachout agrees with me! Though his pleasure with the movie is somewhat different. Teachout is the drama critic for the Wall Street Journal and he points out this is probably the closest we'll ever get to seeing a play produced by the genius Orson Welles:
Enter Richard Linklater, the director of such distinctly un-Wellesian movies as "Dazed and Confused" and "School of Rock," who last year made a film called "Me and Orson Welles" that was recently released on DVD. Based on a 2003 novel by Robert Kaplow, the movie is a coming-of-age screwball comedy in which Zac Efron, lately of "High School Musical," plays a stage-struck high-school senior who unexpectedly finds himself playing a bit part in "Julius Caesar." Don't snicker: Christian McKay's Welles impersonation is so accurate as to be spooky, and despite the film's obligatory (albeit charming) rom-com trappings, I've never seen a backstage movie that was truer to the experience of putting on a show.

Read the whole thing then go out and rent the movie. You won't be disappointed with either.

Winter's Bone - Movie Review

Winter's Bone is The Godfather set in the Ozarks, a tale of clannish crime and punishment in the name of the business at hand, which in this case is the cooking and selling and using of crystal meth.

Stubborn Ree Dolly has to find her missing father or risk losing the family home; her wide-scattered, and dubious, relatives won't let her. At points, the plot is difficult to follow but it all unspools eventually and you end up rooting for Ree and suffering with her as she makes the sacrifices to protect her family.

The performances by the no-name cast are gritty, the sets depressing. Shot in the area around our beloved Branson, Missouri, it's a vastly different take of the touristy side of the Ozarks. I liked, especially, the scene where Ree talks with an Army recruiter at school about enlistment as a possible way out. The recruiter plays it straight and respectful and you get the sense she appreciates his manner even though he lays some hard truth on her.

A tight, impressive movie

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Single Man - Movie Review

Colin Firth gives a great performance in A Single Man and that's not the only thing to like in this movie about death and loss. First-time director Tom Ford has a confident eye and those fond of a Mad Men vibe won't be disappointed with the sets and costumes. Though the mournful soundtrack is intrusive - it plays nearly non-stop - it's quite lovely.

No, the movie is put together quite well and the performances are more than good. It's just the character of George I had some trouble with. While not quite a mope, he's 8 months past the tragic death of his long-loved partner and still grieves and now not only contemplates suicide, he takes action this particular day to make it so. I couldn't help but think, man, just buck up already, bad things happen to people and time will help soothe the hurt and it'll be okay. And whattaya know, that's almost the point of the movie: George learns *spoiler alert* there's still much to live for and *spoiler alert* decides to do so. But because this is a "literary" movie where *spoiler alert* happy endings aren't allowed, there is *spoiler alert* no happy ending. How ironic. Everyone nod your heads knowingly.

Good dramas are hard to come by so this is well worth a buck from Redbox for a slow night. I just wouldn't pay too much more to see it.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

More Flaming Lips Coolness

More evidence of how cool The Flaming Lips are (is?):
When the days grow shorter, the evening shadows grow longer and the air turns crisp and full of falling leaves, Wayne Coyne gets in touch with his inner trick-or-treater.

And the kid within dictates that the Flaming Lips leader go all out for Halloween, starting with the band's annual March of 1,000 Flaming Skeletons this Saturday in downtown Oklahoma City.

"And of course I'll be the there in the space bubble at the end of it, bringing in the new unexpected," Coyne said this week. "I guess I'm kind of viewed as like the Santa Claus at the end of the Thanksgiving Day parade. At the end of this Halloween parade, you have me in this space bubble with a bunch of freaks all around me."

And being a kid in leader Wayne Coyne's neighborhood sounds like fun:
A week later, on the official fright night — which this year falls on Oct. 30 — when all the little ghouls come out to play, Coyne plans to pitch a giant tent on his sprawling property in the Classen-10-Penn area of midtown Oklahoma City and resurrect the "500-pound human brain" that the neighborhood kids went bonkers for last year.

"If it'll work and it's still in good shape," he said. "The guys have talked about just making a new one, like a bigger and better brain this year.

"Whatever we do, as long as the kids around the neighborhood get to come and help us do it, I think that's the best bit. It isn't really even if it works very well. Sometimes the more elaborate we make it, the better the kids like it because they get involved and they get to see that we're plugging in speakers and lights and smoke machines and things. That (stuff) is a lot of fun.

"We always buy a thousand dollars worth of candy to give out, too, so that never hurts."

Gee, all we're doing is giving out candy. I never thought of a giant brain.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps - Movie Review

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps wasn't the first on our list of movies to see but it was on the list and there's not much else out there so it would do.

I'm no Oliver Stone fan but at least he makes a movie interesting and he's no slouch here. I liked the scenes of New York and the cameos and you know that Carey Mulligan is as cute as a bug's ear. I liked the soap operatic plot - the protege in love with the villain's daughter and much worry ensues. I'm pretty sure whatever caused the financial meltdown of a couple of years ago isn't explained at all in this movie. In fact, I'm pretty sure just about everything they're talking that's finance-related in this movie is just a load of crap. But who knows?

Still, the movie began to feel it's age about 30 minutes from the end - it's 2 hours and 15 minutes long - and there are no surprises to be had by the finale. It's just a reason to re-visit these characters if you liked them before - I didn't, really, but I found them mildly engaging this time around - have a chuckle at seeing Gekko's mobile phone from way back, and work your way through a tub of popcorn. It's not perfection but few movies are.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Don't Waste Your Time

Terry Teachout says you shouldn't waste your time. I agree:
As a professional critic, it's my job--my destiny, you might say--to spend a fair amount of time experiencing art that I don't like. Insofar as possible, though, I don't propose to waste any more of the days that remain to me consuming bad art than is absolutely necessary. Unless I'm being paid to do so, I won't even finish reading a book I don't like, or listening to a record that fails to engage me. I have better things to do, and not nearly enough time in which to do them.

Read the whole thing for more about traveling light.

True Grit - Classic

I'm all excited about the new version of True Grit coming this Christmas movie season but it's only fair I give you the trailer to the original version:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The IRS and the Latest Licensing Outrage

Most people care not one farthing about the IRS' new licensing procedures, and rightly so, but in the tax preparation industry, it's a big thing. Dan Alban does some heavy olifting in making the point for those few of us who are opposed to what amounts to be a tax increase aimed solely at tax preparers:
Who would you rather prepare your taxes? A professional tax return preparer with over a dozen years experience in preparing tax returns for taxpayers without incident. Or me, an attorney who has never so much as taken a law school class or continuing legal education course in tax law, and gave up on doing his own taxes last year once he started needing to itemize his deductions. You probably think you’d prefer the first option, but the IRS says you’re wrong.

The IRS already has procedures in place to pursue those incompetent or dishonest tax preparers - get called in for a questionable deduction or credit and you'll roll over pretty quick on your tax preparer, won't you? - so there's no need for more licensing. And it already maintains a database of registered attorney, CPAs, and Enrolled Agents that nothing for those preparers required to be registered. No, the new rules not only take in these professionals but others, like those Alban refers to, as well as every single staff member in a firm who decides which information is entered onto a return. Oh, and at $65 a licensing pop. And they'll have to take a test, too. And Continuing Education to maintain their registration.

Now, will my staff be responsible for any errors on a return they prepare for my signature? Heck, no! And well they shouldn't. I'm the one who signs off on the return so I'm responsible for making sure the information is accurate and takes reasonable advantage of the tax laws.

The IRS needs this, it says, because it's receiving a lot of fraudulent tax returns prepared by unscrupulous preparers. How does the IRS know this? Because they already track this information! They already know who these preparers are! They don't need additional licensing to nab these no-gooders. This is a naked power grab, pure and simple, signed off by major firms like H&R Block to keep the mom-and-pop tax return preparation shops - places where many taxpayers go to have their returns prepared for a cheaper fee than I can prepare them. And let's not talk about the ethics of giving an agency the power to decide who can represent taxpayers in their convoluted administrative processes.

And it's clear the IRS hasn't thought all of this through. The IRS has disclosed its current staff of 19 which processes licensing requests under the old laws is already overwhelmed. The $65 licensing fee is necessary to pay for additional staff and resources to process of what has been estimated to be millions of requests for licensing under the new rules, as well as the renewal requests and administration of tests and continuing education each year.

Wait a minute. Maybe the IRS has thought all of this through. It's a whole new bureaucratic nightmare it can preside over, full of managers and district and regional managers who must be supervised by even higher management and, well, you get the idea. Oh, and managing the new Health Care law is on the way, too. So it looks like things are looking up for the IRS.

And, as usual, it's the taxpayer who'll come up short.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Oklahoma earthquake: Not as Awesome as Originally Thought

Dang. Wednesday's earthquake was downgraded to a measly 4.7.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Earthquake!

Hail and ice storms and blizzards and twisters just aren't enough for us here in Oklahoma. No, we gotta have an earthquake:

One of the strongest earthquakes in state history startled Oklahomans Wednesday morning, rattling windows and nerves but causing no major damage or injuries.

The quake was centered eight miles southeast of Norman, south of Lake Thunderbird, near E Post Oak Road and 84th Avenue SE, Oklahoma Geological Survey research seismologist Austin Holland said. He estimated the magnitude of the 9:06 a.m. quake at 5.1 and called it a "small to moderate earthquake," while the U.S. Geological Survey put it at 4.3.

Although there were only two reported minor injuries in Oklahoma, people were caught off guard by a jolting earthquake in the land of tornadoes.

Especially unnerving for Clara and others who were downtown during the Murrah Building bombing back in the 90s. The building swayed just like that fateful day and she was quite spooked until she learned what had happened.

(Oh, look, this isn't the first one I've noted. Getting to be like California around here.)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Social Network - Movie Review

The Social Network is a fascinating look at the not-very sympathetic founder of Facebook who, like the book this movie is based on is titled, becomes an accidental billionaire. Most of the cast are unknowns to me - hey, there's Justin Timberlake! - but Jesse Eisenberg plays the lead to socially-misfit perfection. Director David Fincher keeps things moving right along from Aaron Sorkin's whip-smart script, expertly cutting from one lawsuit deposition to the next and to the past and back again without leaving you confused but giving you a good grasp of the whole story.

I don't hold with critics who claim the movie's cold and lacks sympathetic characters - I felt for Eduardo, the partner shunted to the side and party of one of the lawsuits - though I will agree that while I found the movie interesting, I wasn't really moved emotionally. Still, like most great endeavors, what starts things and keeps them rolling along is a deeply felt emotional drive and I think that came across just fine.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Farewell Summer - Book Review

It only seems appropriate that I finish reading Ray Bradbury's Farewell Summer at the end of summer; I often read his work during the season for which it's written: Dandelion Wine in Summer, The Halloween Tree and Something Wicked This Way Comes and, well, just about every other work of his in Autumn. But this book is his latest novel length work and as a fan and a stickler for completeness it's necessary that I read it and though there were parts of it where Bradbury's old genius shone through and I enjoyed it, overall it wasn't a very rewarding experience. For fans only, I'd have to regretfully say.

Dandelion Wine is my favorite work of Bradbury's and I think his preface to the book is the finest piece of writing you could ever hope to come across. It didn't demand a sequel but Bradbury, in his Afterword, insisted it did. I won't get into an argument with him but, instead, leave the two books as evidence that I'm right. Farewell Summer retreads much of Dandelion Wine and while it's held together by a single narrative event - a "war" between Douglas and his friends against the old codgers of the town with a very special lesson learned by all at the end - and Dandelion Wine is a string of related incidents held together by a single theme, Summer is the much slighter work of the two. And the final scene with Douglas in a conversation with, uh, a part of his male anatomy, well, talk about TMI. C'mon, Ray. You've done better. You can do better.

(Or maybe not. Bradbury, like most artists, has his greatest work behind him. It's not reasonable to expect him to produce art the same caliber of which he created in his relative youth. It's not an age thing, really. It's just that he's had his say. Now he's saying it all over again. It's enough that he's alive and still a delight to have around and to have the old works to enjoy. I don't need anything new.)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hey Ya, Peanuts Style

While waiting for MC Hammer to perform last week at the State Fair, Rachel and I got into a disagreement about one of the songs that was playing on the loudspeakers. She thought it was a Black Eyed Peas song; I thought it was Hey Ya, by Outkast.

I, of course, was right.

But it got me to remembering this video that had made the Internet rounds some time ago and so I found it and now I've posted it for your enjoyment:



It made me smile. I'm sure it did you, too.

Me on TV

Amy Welch, the Communications Director of the OSCPA had tweeted about a local television news story of a tax preparer who'd disappeared and left his clients caught short with the looming October 15th deadline. I'd had clients come my way when their preparer had fallen ill or died and working for the IRS I'd seen this happen, too, so I felt for these people and asked Amy how I could help. She said she'd send my contact information to the reporter and we could take it from there. The reporter contacted me, I helped her run down a lead or two, and then offered some advice - the clients shouldn't panic, the IRS could waive penalties in situations like this, and they should start trying to recreate their records the best they can. Would I say this on camera?

Gulp.

Well, I've turned Amy down enough times in the past that it was about time I said yes and so I did and the next thing you know, well, here it is. I'm at around the 1:05 mark:



Hey, at least I didn't stammer and stutter and sweat too much so I'll call this a success.

Thanks to Amy for setting this up. She was right. It wasn't so bad.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

True Grit Trailer

I want to hate the True Grit remake but this makes it hard. Real hard:



No one can replace John Wayne but Jeff Bridges seems to make the character memorable in his way, too. The movie's been touted as hewing more closely to the book than the original but I didn't find the original strayed that far, other than some plot points. It's a great book and was made into a great movie. It looks like it may have been made into a great movie again.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

iPhone Picture Dump

Time for another iPhone picture dump. If I don't mark the days, who will? Let's see what I've managed to collect over the last few weeks:

Storm's a'brewin' from my office window. I liked the contrast of green trees and the purplish blue storm clouds roiling in the afternoon sun:



The storms came in. Some action shots from the Interstate coming home from Norman. Late summer fury. Blessedyl hail - and twister - free. Just hurricane strength winds:






A new obsession: golf! More about that in future posts but here's Clara and her father taking a break on a Saturday morning:



The season's change, the time of sunrise changes with it. Once again, the drive in makes for some beautiful mornings, washed with blue and gold:



This year's State Fair installment. I've tried tweaking this but to no avail. For Mike Hasenstab, the blazing sign says "Hot Wisconsin Cheese." Because I know he'd settle for nothing less:



Rachel at the Fair patiently waiting for MC Hammer to perform "You Can't Touch This." He did, eventually. Her take: he didn't wear his Hammer pants so it was disappointing :



Another Saturday, another golf course :



I was dropping off Emily and a buddy at a JV football game yesterday evening and we caught this. See that line in the sky above the treeline? The picture doesn't do it justice but it was sort of a rainbowy thing. The ice crystals blowing away from were clearly visible. A sun dog?



I tried again. This is no better, I'm afraid:



Bruce'll know so let's see what he has to say about it. It was unusual, though, someting I can't recall seeing recently, if ever.

That's all I've got on the iPhone camera; time to fill it up again.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Town - Movie Review

Ben Affleck's latest movie, The Town proves his inaugural directing effort, Gone Baby Gone, wasn't a fluke. His second directorial effort isn't perfect though it's a far cry better than most crime movies you're likely to come across.

Think of it as Heat-lite. All of the elements of that far-superior movie are there: a crack thievery crew, a character wanting out after falling in love, a one last-heist heist that goes wrong, a dogged law-enforcement officer on the trail, a strong sense of place. Affleck maneuvers everything deftly and makes an enjoyable movie except for the end. No spoilers here but compare this movie with Heat and you'll see what I mean when I say this is the lighter of the two.

It's about the best that's out there right now so you'd better grab it while you can. The Fall movie slump is under way and there doesn't seem to be much on the horizon until the holidays.

Would It Kill You to Read Some Poetry?

Via amba12 on Twitter, Barry Casselman discusses why Americans no longer read poetry:
Outside the older grades of high school and most college English literature courses, almost no one in America reads poetry. It is often pointed out that this is not so in many other countries, especially societies in Europe, South America and Asia. In the U.S. past there seemed to be more poetry readers, especially in the 19th century when American poetry first blossomed.

The question is whether this is due to the character of American civilization itself, the current state of the U.S. cultural mood, the nature of poetry in the American English tongue, or the contemporary quality of poets and their writing. In short, is the lack of interest in poetry inherent in our U.S. society, or is it the responsibility of those who write poetry?

I come down on the side of writer responsibility. It's not the reader who is uninterested; it's the writer who is uninteresting.

Casselman points to what he thinks is the problem with American poetry:
So much contemporary U.S.poetry, in my opinion, is so esoteric, obscurely self-referential and political that the task is immense. I think it will require a new and younger generation of poets.

I should add that some of the problems affecting poetry have also affected serious U.S. music, painting, sculpture, dance and theater. Poetry is not alone in this dilemma.

I think once the arts became democratized, that anyone can paint or write or make music or do anything in the arts and no one could tell you otherwise, the arts fell into decline. If anything goes, nothing does, and we've reached the point now where the consumer of art is guilty of failing to "get" the artist rather than the artist failing to communicate his intentions. That's why I get a sense of hostility from modern art when we visit the art museum. I feel I'm being assaulted because of my ignorance when, really, all I want to do is look at pretty pictures.

But back to poetry. My favorite contemporary poet, - my only favorite contemporary poet - Billy Collins, when he was Poet Laureate of the United States, introduced Poetry 180, a program to bring a poem a day into the daily routine of high-schoolers. I'm not sure if it helped but at least students had the opportunity to hear good poetry. I admit to not being entirely comfortable with free-verse poetry - isn't it really just prose chopped up into verses and stanzas - but Collins style is sort of free verse and I seem to have no problem with that. Sure, I think poetry should follow formal rules - like Robert Frost said about free-verse being like playing tennis without a net - except for when poetry doesn't follow the rules. I just want it to be well-written - you do, too, don't you? - and that's sometimes hard to pin down. Ray Bradbury says you may not understand poetry but your animal brain does. I enjoy Collins because of his wry humor and observations of every day objects and his descriptions of clouds. Give him a try and you might find you like poetry, too. It certainly won't kill you. And neither will eating broccoli so you need to do that, too.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Hold On To Your Paycheck!

Or the IRS might, if they follow the lead of the tax collection agency for the UK:
The UK's tax collection agency is putting forth a proposal that all employers send employee paychecks to the government, after which the government would deduct what it deems as the appropriate tax and pay the employees by bank transfer.

The proposal by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) stresses the need for employers to provide real-time information to the government so that it can monitor all payments and make a better assessment of whether the correct tax is being paid.

Currently employers withhold tax and pay the government, providing information at the end of the year, a system know as Pay as You Earn (PAYE). There is no option for those employees to refuse withholding and individually file a tax return at the end of the year.

Impossible, you say? Withholding tax from your paycheck was probably considered impossible at one time, too, until it was implemented in WWII (Scroll down for the relevant section.) and now it's an innocuous part of working life. Taking your entire paycheck and doling out what the government considers yours may not be far behind. The United Kingdom could lead the way.

Black Widow - Book Review

In my seemingly endless quest to find a writer with a genre series in which I can jump and wallow, I've come across Randy Wayne White and his Black Widow. I'd tried him years before and declared him unworthy of my time and effort but our recent return to Sanibel re-kindled an interest in him and this book seemed as good as any to try a re-entry.

It starts off promising - I greatly enjoyed the Sanibel locale and the opening sequence is very thrilling - but much of the plot takes place on a fictional Caribbean island and introduces a not-very-believable British character whose all gung ho and all that rot. The plot really isn't important - certain folks are blackmailed by a certain character and revenge/videotape is sought - as much as the series character trotted through his paces. Doc Ford is a good enough replacement for Travis McGee if that's what you're looking for but dipping into the series this late in the game means there's a lot of character baggage that needs unpacking and I almost laughed out loud at how complicated Ford's personal life had become.

Still, this might be a series I could get interested in. Another book or two on my reading list remains before I can return but for now, this'll do.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Economy and China

Worried the economy's going to heck in a hand basket? That the Chinese own so much of our debt they'll call in our loans? Victor David Hanson says don't be:
The notion that we are doomed and the Chinese fated to prosper is not written in stone. It is simply a matter of free will, theirs and ours. They must deal with a new era of coming suburban blues, worker discontent, unions, environmental discretion and regulation, an aging and shrinking population and greater personal appetites, social protest, and nonconformity — in the manner that industrializing Western nations did as well in the early twentieth century.

We in turn can easily outdistance any country should we remain the most free, law-abiding, and economically open society as in our past. A race-gender-ethnic-blind meritocracy, equal application of the law, low taxes, small government, and a transparent political and legal system are at the heart of that renewal. America could within a decade become a creditor nation again, with a trade balance and budget surplus, drawing in the world’s talent and capital in a way not possible in the more inflexible or less meritocratic China, Japan, or Germany. Again that is our choice, not a superimposed destiny from someone else.

So quit worrying and get back to work.

The Book of Eli - Movie Review

Lileks made a nice point about how the world must've ended in The Book of Eli - someone detonated a sepia bomb. While that's not quite accurate - the look of the movie is more washed out and faded which is, of course, appropriate for a post-apocalyptic movie - it as good as any explanation of just what the event was that ended, and changed, things in this movie. Doesn't matter, I suppose. What reason do you need for the world to end? It's only important that the world has, in fact, ended and walking through the blasted wilderness carrying a Very Important Book is Eli who has almost supernatural powers of self-defense which are a great help in the cool fights he gets into.

Which is the problem. I like movies about cool guys and their mad self-defense skills but once you realize there's never any real danger of the bad guys overcoming the good guy, it's sort of boring. Yeah, yeah, he's outnumbered and outgunned but once you've seen him fight and shoot his way out of one tight spot, you know he'll do the same with another.

But, wisecracks aside, I did like the look of the movie and I always like anything Denzel Washington is in. And I liked how the very important book Washington's character was carrying was the Bible though I think the producers sort of played it safe at the end, placing the newly published book next to a shelf of other holy books. You mean each of those books were brought to that book-safekeeping place by other mysterious heroes? Oh, and there's a twist! But I'm not really sure if the twist helps shed any new light on what occurred before we get the twist. It's more like a whoa! moment than anything but not really relevant to what went on before. (I know, I know, this is based on yet another graphic novel. If I've got a beef with the movie, gritch about the graphic novel.)

Anyway, the shortcomings notwithstanding, I did enjoy the movie. Well worth the buck we spent on it at Redbox.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Oklahoma City's own Big Truck Tacos wins a spot on Food Network's "Great Food Truck Race:
Big Truck Tacos is going national.

The gourmet taqueria owned by Kathryn Mathis, Cally Johnson and Chris Lower won a nationwide online contest, earning them $10,000 and a chance to compete on Food Network's "Great Food Truck Race” next season.

The announcement was made Sunday during the finale of the inaugural season of the show, hosted by Tyler Florence.

The Great Food Truck Race America's Favorite Giveaway was conducted on the cable channel's website. Fans from across the country were allowed to vote up to 10 times a day through Sept. 10.

Have I ever been to Big Truck Tacos? My goodness, no! Big Truck Tacos is hip and trendy. I'm a middle-aged father of two; I don't do hip and trendy. Not my pay grade.

Good for them, though, and all their fans. Good for Oklahoma City, too. Further evidence that we, in fact, rock.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Where Have You Gone, Roger Ebert?

I've said what I had to say about movie critic and hateful columnist Roger Ebert and now Lawrence Meyers weighs in on Ebert's continued sad decline:
It breaks my heart to write this article. Roger Ebert has been a part of my love for cinema since I was eleven years old. When I was in the hospital for two months at age 19, I devoured his entire book of movie reviews. I even met him at the 2002 Conference on World Affairs when he dissected David Lynch’s masterpiece Mulholland Drive (though I thought he needlessly threw in the towel regarding the film’s meaning). I don’t need to expound on his contributions to film education and his championing of truly great movies.

Nevertheless, I don’t know the man. I only know his words. Yet I have to wonder if the physical and mental trauma Roger has endured has taken a toll on his mind. He always seemed apolitical to me. He just wrote great movie reviews. However, he started a political journal on his website in the past year. It’s full of the same clap-trap expected from those on the Left: false premises, poorly constructed arguments, and replies to comments which dodge legitimate challenges.

Meyers has updated his post to report about Ebert's typical small-minded and angry reply. Following Meyer's link to Ebert's site, you'll find Ebert's expanded comments where Ebert once again puts out his false assertion and demands a yes or no answer, which is impossible give. (Sort of like, Have you stopped beating your wife, yes or no?") It's a juvenile move on Ebert's part and underscores Meyer's point.

Health Care's Hidden Burden

Whatever you think of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), it's likely you're unaware of the provision expanding the 1099 reporting requirements:
The new information reporting requirement is an expansion of a law already in place. Businesses currently have to report to the IRS all payments of $600 or more to individuals for the performance of services on 1099 forms. This makes it harder for individuals to avoid paying taxes on income they earned from businesses that did not employ them full-time. The PPACA expanded this requirement to include all transactions with other businesses of more than $600, including those involving tangible goods.

This provision takes effect in 2012, and Congress estimates it will raise $17 billion over 10 years. It was one of 18 separate tax hikes that are part of the law that, combined, will increase taxes more than $500 billion over 10 years.

Few observers recognized the trouble the 1099 reporting requirement would cause businesses at the time Congress passed the PPACA. Other taxes hikes in the PPACA—such as the new excise tax on high cost “Cadillac” health insurance plans, higher payroll taxes, and a new tax on investment—garnered more attention in the debate leading up to congressional passage because they will raise considerably more revenue.[1] But the bureaucratic burden the 1099 reporting requirement will put on businesses will be immense.

This part of the legislation was up for repeal earlier this week - heck, now that President Obama is aware of it, he's against it, too - but it the move to do so was voted down in the Senate because neither the Democrats nor the Republicans liked the other side's proposal.

So it's still in place. A ticking time bomb of government over-reach. Think it won't affect you? Think again when your employer weighs the cost of complying with this provision, as well as upgrading your health care, against giving you a raise or even keeping you on as a loyal, productive employee.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Get Low - Movie Review

If Michael Caine taught us anything with his latest movie, Robert Duvall confirms it in Get Low: old guys rule!

Based on a real-life legend, Duvall plays an aging character who decides it's high time to hold his funeral and learn what people have to say about him while he's still alive to hear about it. There's a deep dark secret he has to come to terms with, too, but be patient and all will be revealed. It's not an earth-shattering movie but it's feel is authentic and Bill Murray does a nice turn as the hapless funeral director trying to comply with Duvall's old hermit's wishes and maybe make a buck or two from it. Sissy Spacek's here, too, as well as Gerald McRaney so it all feels down home and comfortable. A nice, character driven piece, one well worth renting.

(And look, it was filmed in Newnan, Georgia! Home of my dear, sweet sister and her dear sweet family. Lookin' good, Newnan!)

Lennon Still Helping Me, Yoko Ono Says

Nearly 30 years after his death, I imagine he is:
Yoko Ono says John Lennon is still helping her in her endeavours as an artist and peace activist as she pays tribute to her late husband before what would have been his 70th birthday.

Ono visited Lennon's childhood home and school in northern England's Liverpool on Friday. She was welcomed by hundreds of students at Dovedale School, before she went to the semi-detached family home that Lennon shared with his aunt from 1945 to 1963.
The musician was shot outside his New York home in 1980, when he was 40 years old. He would have been 70 on Oct. 9.

Ono will travel from her home in New York to Iceland on Lennon's birthday to light the Imagine Peace Tower, an illuminated memorial.

Because without Lennon, who knows where Ono would be now? Oh, I'm sure she has her fans, those who think she would have had significance on her own even if she had never met Lennon.

But they're probably few.

Oh, who am I kidding, Ono-only fans don't exist.

Still, the woman is nearly 80 years old and stylin':

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Harry Brown - Movie Review

The conservative movie website, Big Hollywood, recommended Harry Brown so we picked it up from Redbox when it became available. It doesn't disappoint.

Michael Caine plays British pensioner living in a housing project who finally has enough of the thuggery around him and decides to do something about it. Hewing closely to the plot of the similar Death Wish, its depiction of urban savagery is as disturbing as that earlier movie; today's criminals use today's tech to record their bad deeds and the opening scene makes effective use of a handheld mini-cam. The project where Brown lives is a testament to the ability of the State to provide for the welfare of its citizens and the set design and camerawork gives it a dank, dismal, other-worldly feel. Caine gives a gritty performance of a man pushed too far and the movie makes some good points about how well the State can handle crime gone rampant. A movie full of outrage and a good one, too.

Deadlines? We're Not Afraid of No Deadlines!

September 15th was the last chance deadline filing for business tax returns and we were churning away right up until noon. Everyone who had their information to us was taken care of - and some who didn't have their information to us were taken care of, too, we're just that good. So the last few weeks were pretty hectic but my great staff managed to make me look good in the eyes of our clients. Miracles? Why, we perform them everyday.

Time to regroup. pick up some pieces, sharpen some tools, gird ourselves for the next filing deadline of October 15th.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Teen Golfer Disqualifies Self, Gives Up Medal

Kids these days . . .

Golf is a game of rules both obvious and arcane, and if you're going to play the game, you have to play by its rules. No matter what the cost.

Today, a classic "what would you do?" moment. Zach Nash is a 14-year-old Wisconsin kid who happens to be a fine golfer. So good, in fact, that he won a junior Wisconsin PGA tournament.

Problem was, he won it by violating -- albeit unintentionally -- one of golf's most straightforward rules. He had too many clubs in his bag. And the worst part? It was a total accident, discovered long after the fact.

Good for Nash. He'll go far.

Oklahoma is Internationally Cool

Say, what's that t-shirt that super-cool Coldplay front man Chris Martin is wearing?



Why, it's Oklahoma's own super-cool The Flaming Lips!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

iPod Shuffle: Random?

I've put my iPhone's iPod on shuffle play for my bought music list and I'm finally learning that this mode, like the universe, isn't entirely random. Every morning when I fire up the iPod, I keep coming across music I heard just the other day. Yeah, yeah, I know, there's an algorithm at work that takes the number of my previous plays and factors them in some how with the current ones and when all the ciphering's done, a tune is spit out. It's supposed to please me, I suppose, but instead it leaves me scratching my head: I just want to work my way through the list in a random way. Why is that seemingly not possible?

I've long suspected there's an intelligence at work behind the scenes of my iPod. This is only more evidence that it's so.

Friday, August 27, 2010

More Ray Bradbury - On Video!

I can't figure out how to embed the video here so here's the link to Bradbury talking with is biographer Sam Weller.

Interesting for fans. Maybe non-fans, too.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Dylan Takes a Stand

Brother John sends along this link:
Bob Dylan is refusing to sell advanced tickets to an upcoming concert in a bid to tackle internet resellers and give fans an equal chance to catch him live.

Tickets for the folk singer's concert at The Warfield in San Francisco on Wednesday will be sold at the door. Fans will be permitted to line up at midday but will only be allowed to buy one ticket each, in cash.

The plan was established to prevent touts from purchasing large batches of tickets and selling them for an inflated cost online. It will also eliminate handling and processing fees.

Dylan's still a rebel, even in his codgerdom.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Change in the Weather

The weather folk promise a break in the skull-cracking heat wave we've been having for the last month or so. I've been doing my part: watering the lawn, washing the car. Both sure fire methods of brewing up a rainstorm.

Might be working. Take a look at the skies from yesterday evening:



The same view, Ansel Adams style:



We got no rain from those but at least it was a welcome change from the usual blazing skies of late August. We'll miss that in a few months but for now we've had enough, thank you very much.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Ray Bradbury Hates big Government

I'm late to the game on this - the Bradbury-hates-Big-Government meme's been floating around the conservative blogosphere for a few days now - but I had this marked to post so I might as well post it.

Hey, have you heard writer Ray Bradbury doesn't like big government? It's true:
“There is too much government today. We've got to remember the government should be by the people, of the people and for the people.”

The native of Waukegan, Ill., has never been shy about expressing himself -- he described President Clinton with a word that rhymes with "knithead" back in 2001-- nor is he timid about correcting people when it comes to his own perceived legacy. Bradbury chafes, for instance, at the description of his work as science fiction -- in the past he has pointed out that, to his mind, "Fahrenheit 451"is the only sci-fi book in his vast body of work -- and despite his passion for more national space projects, he is not technology obsessive by any means.

“We have too many cellphones. We've got too many Internets. We have got to get rid of those machines. We have too many machines now.”

Sounds like Bradbury's got the curmudgeon dial cranked to 11 - and, yeah, he's at odds with himself about wanting less government and having the government getting us to the moon and Mars but, well, there you are - but close readers of his work will notice this stance is nothing new. Take a look at his introduction to Fahrenheit 451 and you'll see an author railing against political correctness long before political correctness had sunken its fangs into our culture. He's a radical old man, that Bradbury, and I'm glad to see him still alive and kicking and grousing about one thing or another.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Books I'm Not Reading: The Sound and the Fury

At least I'm not reading a classic this time.

For the last few years we've driven through Mississippi to get to Florida and each time, on that highway south of Memphis headed towards Oxford, I've thought about William Faulkner. We've never had time to divert our path over to his home but it was enough to know I was traveling through the very country he wrote about and imagine how this land he wrote about had probably greatly changed. Would he recognize any of it if he were alive? (I know, I know, the joke is if Faulkner were alive he'd be trying to claw his way out of his casket. Hardy har.) I'd think I really need to go back and re-read some of his books - way back when, I'd managed to work my way through all of his available work and it might be high time to re-visit them.

Well, now's not that time it turns out. Sure, I'm a fool to have chosen The Sound and the Fury, one of his most challenging works, but I could've done harder: Absalom, Absalom is far more difficult though I'm not sure if it's any more rewarding. Maybe I should've gone with something more accessible. No, the problem isn't the difficulty of the book - I actually enjoy the notorious stream-of-conscious narrative of the idiot, Benjy, and have not trouble following the storyline; the problem is that I really don't care right now. I have other things I'd like to read and I've already been over this ground. Not that I don't want to go back; I just don't want to go back right now. Fifty or so pages was enough to convince me that there's nothing new here for me, though I envy the first time reader who manages to unlock the magic of this book and his others. Faulkner is an American treasure who deserves to be read but unless you're a college professor, or student, I don't see the need to re-visit him.

Still, it's a lovely right through Mississippi. If you haven't been, you really should go.