Monday, March 29, 2010

Making Pies

I haven't blogged for a while about the music I'm listening to on my iPod. How about Patty Griffin's Making Pies, a heart-breaking novel in the span of four minutes:

It`s not far
I can walk
Down the block
To TableTalk
Close my eyes
Make the pies all day

Plastic a cap
On my hair
I used to mind
Now I don`t care
I used to mind
Now I don`t care
Cause I`m gray

Did I show you this picture of my nephew
Taken at his big birthday surprise
At my sister`s house last Sunday
This is Monday and I`m making pies
I`m making pies
Making pies

Thursday nights
I go and type
Down at the church
For Father Mike
It gets me out
And he ain`t hard to like
At all

Jesus stares at me
In my chair
With his big blue eyes
And his honey brown hair
And he`s looking at me
Way up there
On the wall

Did I show you this picture of my sweetheart
Taken of us before the war
Of the Greek and his Italian girl
One Sunday at the shore

We tied our ribbons to the fire escape
They were taken by the birds
Who flew home to the country
As the bombs rained on the world

Here I am
Walking the block
To TableTalk
You could cry or die
Or just make pies all day
I`m making pies
Making pies
Making pies
Making pies

(For my pie-obsessed online buddies, Jason and Michael Hasenstab.)

Commenter Michael Hasenstab asked for a link to a possible video and, like him, I came up empty-handed, though Foxfires music service thingy did give me this:

Patty Griffin

Patty Griffin, born March 16 1964, is a singer/songwriter from Old Town, Maine, next to the Penobscot Indian reservation. Two of her first four albums were unreleased by A&M Records. more...

[via href="">FoxyTunes / Patty Griffin]

Hope it's useful.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Wil Wheaton Thinks Games Are Important

Who am I to argue?
When you play a game - any game - you’re using your imagination to bring a world to life, and that’s truly special, because while all destruction is essentially the same, when you create something, it’s different every single time. When you create something together, you’re building bonds with your fellow gamers that could last for your entire lives. The Venn Diagram of my best friends, my gaming group, and people from high school I still hang out with is one perfect circle. I suspect that for many gamers of my generation, that’s equally true ... and I know that my kids will be saying the same thing in 20 years about people they’ve never met face to face, but interact with almost every day in an online game that will make Call of Duty look then like Pong looks today.

An interesting take on the social aspects of gaming.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Turnaround - Book Review

I'd said I'd give Pelecanos another try and I'm a man of my word. Of course, picking up The Turnaround at a rock bottom price at Waldenbooks' going-out-of-business sale helped spur me on and takes some of the sting out of working my way through one of his lesser attempts of the few books of his I've read.

An incident 30 years prior ties the main characters together as they seek redemption today. Pelecanos' attention to pop detail is admirable but ultimately his prose seems rushed and skates over the surface of these things, giving them shout-outs as he moves along rather than really digging in and giving us a sense of the past era or the current one. The Iraq War plays a part in the plot and Pelecanos does a good job capturing the worries of the family at home and dealing with the aftermath of the soldiers who wounded and treated at state side hospitals. A violent sub-plot finally leads to a rather static ending scene which ties things up too nicely for a book that seems to take pride in its gritty realism.

Not a knock out punch for me for Pelecanos. I'll give him another chance or two before moving on.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Princess and the Frog - Movie Review

Though the girls are past the age of demanding to catch the latest Disney release, we're not and so we saw The Princess and the Frog. Forget the hype about this being the first Disney to feature an African-American princess; I suppose that's an important point to those who think that race matters. Like all good Disney animated films, you'll enjoy it for the characters, story, and wonderful animation - nobody does it better. But this one's an exception to the rule; Randy Newman's score and songs fall flat. They feel forced and crammed into the story, as if Disney, wanting to replicate its past successes, felt compelled to include music and songs, any kind of songs, regardless of their quality.

In some ways, the movie is derivative. Sure, we've seen this story before, where the plucky heroine sticks to her belief in herself to overcome the odds. But the setting is different and imaginative and conjures up an alternative reality that's interesting, so I'll give it that. Not Disney's best by any means but a solid entry in their canon.

Home Base for The Flaming Lips Leader and His Wife

Let's dial up the coolness factor for OKC just a notch. Dig this about the cool, cool home of the Flaming Lips' lead singer, Wayne Coyne, and his wife:
Some call it “Wayne Manor.” Others know it as “the Coyne Compound” or simply “that house where that guy from The Flaming Lips lives.” Regardless, Wayne Coyne and his wife, J. Michelle Martin-Coyne, just call it home. The Coynes have lived in their Central Oklahoma City house for nearly two decades. In that time, it has served as their residence, a crash pad for Coyne’s Flaming Lips bandmates and friends, a place to rest and relax after months on the road, a de facto movie set, a rehearsal space and, most recently, an innovative architectural project.

The online article is woefully lacking in photographs - pick up a paper copy of OKC Biz for some really good pictures of the Coynes' house - but I managed to glom onto this:

That's their house in the background. I don't think the mirrored balls are really part of the landscaping but I wouldn't be surprised if they were.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Theft at Koss Blamed on Relaxed Attitude, Lax Oversight

My online buddy, Michael Hasenstab, updates me with the latest on the Koss Corporation saga:
It was a family operation, where top bosses mingled with workers on the assembly floor, where the chief executive juggled five major titles at once, where the board of directors barely changed in 20-plus years.

And where the company's vice president of finance could move around millions of dollars without approval from above.

In this unquestioning environment, authorities say, then-Koss Corp. executive Sujata "Sue" Sachdeva was able to spend more than $31 million in Koss funds on a lavish lifestyle and extravagant shopping sprees.

Grant Thornton, the company's auditors, accept no blame; audits aren't perfect and if the financial controls of a company appear to be appropriate and in place, an audit won't necessarily catch fraud. Though you'd think Grant Thornton would have tripped across an embezzlement of $31 million in a company with assets of $28.5 million and gross sales of $38.2 million. Still, it's a textbook example of the shortcomings of the accounting profession. We can only do so much. The rest is up to the company.

Appetite for America

My grandmother had once mentioned she had worked as a Harvey House girl and though she had seemed quite pleased with that little fact, I have to admit I never really knew what a Harvey House girl was. Stephen Fried was written a book which tells me all about Fred Harvey and his restaurant and the role they played in the lost era of railway travel:
In 1946, when Judy Garland starred in a movie called "The Harvey Girls," no one had to explain the title to the film-going public. The Harvey Girls were the young women who waited tables at the Fred Harvey restaurant chain, and they were as familiar in their day as Starbucks baristas are today. . .

It was a brilliant formula, and for a long time Fred Harvey's name was synonymous in America with good food, efficient service and young women. Today, though, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone aware of the prominent role Harvey played in civilizing the West and raising America's dining standards. His is one of those household names now stashed somewhere up in the attic.

I'm not clear on where or when she worked at a Harvey House restaurant. My memory is that it wasn't too far from her birthplace of Bokchito, Oklahoma, but that little town is, and was, so out of the way that I doubt any railway came through. This list of locations shows Hugo may have been a possible work location - it's the nearest small, big town - but likely she worked in Okmulgee or Muskogee when she was beginning to make her way in the great wide world. I can imagine her in a setting much like this one:

(The picture is from the linked book review.)

If my grandmother seemed pleased about her stint as a Harvey House girl, it seems she had good reason to be, claiming her not-at-all small part of a vanished America.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Blind Side - Movie Review

Why wait for The Blind Side to come out on video when it's still playing at theaters and it's just about the only thing worth seeing right now? So we did.

Smart move, too. Oh, you know the movie's story by now so no point in me re-capping it. I'll just note here that Sandra Bullock's Academy Award was well-deserved in a movie that turns out to be quite subversive by Hollywood's standards. Did they know they were making a pro-Christian, pro-gun movie? How'd that slip through? And why did I find myself on the verge of tears throughout much of it? I can't explain other than to say the movie did what it set out to do - tell a compelling story about interesting characters in a way that didn't draw attention to itself which is all that a movie should do. (A positive storyline is helpful, too.) This movie did all of that and did it well.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Damned United - Movie Review

You don't ever know what you'll come across at Redbox when all the popular titles are gone. We chose The Damned United because there was little else available and I'd remembered hearing not-bad things about it. Good enough, then.

It didn't disappoint. It's about Brian Clough's 44 days as head coach of Leeds United, a popular soccer team in England. Yeah, I know, so what? Well, it was a pretty big thing in England back in the early 70s and this movie does a good job showing you why. I'm not a big sports fan so I don't quite understand the obsession but in England soccer's as big as football. No surprise there, I guess but what was interesting was to see working-class England in all its late 60s and early 70s shabbiness, with the bad hair and loud clothes. Clough rose through the ranks and was chosen to lead a popular team when that team's thuggish coach moved on but hubris got the best of him and down he crashed. It's a story that obsessed the sports world while it was occurring but little known to me, so it was fascinating to learn.

The movie has a gritty look and feel which matches perfectly what appears to be actual footage from the era. Look for pictures of the real players in this drama at the end; the movie makers did a fine job matching the actors to the rolls. (And Michael Sheen, who's seemingly making a career out of playing Tony Blair and David Frost, does another great job here.)

A good choice.

Surrealistic Windshield - Part 2

Not that I'm making this a series but sometimes you see some extraordinary things through your windshield. The early morning frost and the rising sun the other day made for an interesting pattern on my windshield while I was warming up the Sequoia:

The sun's rising in just a few moments accounts for the slight difference in color in the second picture.

Peggy Noonan From Behind the Wall

I don't know the reason, or even if it's permanent, but for Friday at least, the Wall Street Journal has brought out Peggy Noonan's column from behind the wall and made it available for non-subscribers. Just in time, too:
Excuse me, but it is embarrassing—really, embarrassing to our country—that the president of the United States has again put off a state visit to Australia and Indonesia because he's having trouble passing a piece of domestic legislation he's been promising for a year will be passed next week. What an air of chaos this signals to the world. And to do this to Australia of all countries, a nation that has always had America's back and been America's friend.

How bush league, how undisciplined, how kid's stuff.

You could see the startled looks on the faces of reporters as Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, who had the grace to look embarrassed, made the announcement on Thursday afternoon. The president "regrets the delay"—the trip is rescheduled for June—but "passage of the health insurance reform is of paramount importance." Indonesia must be glad to know it's not.

(I'm glad the WSJ has wised up and brought Noonan back to us non-subscribers. Let's see if the trend continues. I think a site that has advertisers and lots of page views is making a mistake charging for access.)

As of today, the passage of Obamacare is no sure thing. I don't think Obama himself has been very helpful to his cause.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Oklahoma Attractive to Young Workers

Take that, Dallas:
For workers ages 18 to 34, Oklahoma City and Tulsa are among the 10 best markets in the country, according to a survey released Monday by, a national business news site that provides analysis to small- and mid-sized businesses.

Based on 10 factors — including job growth, cost of living and the number of college-educated and employed adults — Oklahoma City ranks No. 6 and Tulsa, No. 8, among 67 metros with populations over 750,000.

The Southwest swept the survey with six of the top 14 places. Austin is No. 1, Houston, No. 5; Dallas-Fort Worth, No. 7; and San Antonio, No. 14. Behind Austin at the top of the list are Washington, D.C., Raleigh and Boston. Detroit sits at the bottom with Cleveland, Dayton, Tampa-St. Petersburg and Riverside-San Bernadino.

You'll need a good CPA when you get here. I happen to know one.

The False Promise of The Fair Tax

Last year was about the last time I heard anything about the goofy idea of The Fair Tax but with soaring deficits and abounding questions about how to fund Obamacare should it pass, the Fair Tax may be getting another life. National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru has a pretty good takedown of this deceptive idea:
Here’s the pitch: The FairTax — a plan to replace the federal income tax and payroll tax with a national sales tax — will get rid of the IRS forever. It will let workers keep their entire paychecks and retirees keep their entire pensions. It will raise just as much money as the current tax code. It will promote economic growth. It won’t hurt the middle class, and it won’t cause prices to rise. It will even end our illegal-immigration problem.

These claims are drawn from the leading proponents of the plan: a group called Americans for Fair Taxation, former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, and the trio behind the book FairTax: The Truth. By painting an attractive picture of a prosperous America without an IRS, they have gotten many conservatives to become enthusiasts for their cause. Rising conservative star Marco Rubio, a Senate candidate in Florida, has endorsed the FairTax in the past (although more recently he has hedged on it). Republican congressman John Linder of Georgia, a FairTax co-author who just announced that he will not run for reelection, has made promoting it his principal mission in Congress. The Iowa Republican party has endorsed it. It seems to be gaining support among tea partiers.

The FairTax sounds too good to be true. It is. The campaign for the FairTax is deeply misleading, and much more likely to set back the cause of tax reform than to advance it.

Our current system of taxation is far from perfect but there's nothing about the Fair Tax that would bring us closer to a fairer, more efficient system. Its dishonest supporters only muddy the legitimate dialogue of tax reform we should be having.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

California Unemployment and Oklahoma’s Growth – It’s the ‘Grapes of Wrath’ in Reverse

Hey, we're doing pretty well here in Oklahoma:
It’s not quite gangbusters, but it shows that the state known more for the Dust Bowl than for economic opportunity has turned itself around in a lot of ways. The Oklahoman’s crack Database Editor Paul Monies put together some visualizations of the differences in population between the Oklahoma of the Great Depression and the the Oklahoma of the Great Recession. His newspaper went on some months later to reflect triumphantly in an editorial:

Time was when Oklahomans fled to California in great numbers, so much so that the Golden State tried to put a stop to it. Now Californians are moving east; some of them are landing in Oklahoma. Cox says that in every year during the 2000s, Oklahoma gained net domestic migrants from California.

So I guess it’s like The Grapes of Wrath in reverse. The Joads have spent a few generations in California and may be wondering if they left a little too much behind on that dusty farmland where their Okie forebears squatted. And with more than 1 in 4 people jobless in Imperial, the county that abuts San Diego County in southern California, the ones going east to destinations like Oklahoma City just might be making the right bet.

All that and we're polite, too.

IRS Visits Sacramento Carwash in Pursuit of 4 cents

This has been making the rounds:
It was every businessperson's nightmare.

Arriving at Harv's Metro Car Wash in midtown Wednesday afternoon were two dark-suited IRS agents demanding payment of delinquent taxes. "They were deadly serious, very aggressive, very condescending," says Harv's owner, Aaron Zeff.

The really odd part of this: The letter that was hand-delivered to Zeff's on-site manager showed the amount of money owed to the feds was ... 4 cents.

Inexplicably, penalties and taxes accruing on the debt – stemming from the 2006 tax year – were listed as $202.31, leaving Harv's with an obligation of $202.35.

Yep, the IRS is capable of being heavy-handed and they certainly come across that way in this case but things may not appear as they seem. There's no procedural requirement to hand-deliver a final notice - that's what this notice was, according to the picture accompanying the article - but a final notice is required before the IRS can take enforced collection action. Likely there there are other delinquencies out there and the Revenue Officer learned this was one period that had yet to have a final notice. The hand-delivery? Hard to determine from the article but the worst case scenario is the IRS was using the trip as a prelude to shut the business down. Sort of casing the joint. Or they were just getting out of the office for the afternoon.

Regardless, it's a dumb move by the IRS to play it this way. They come across comically brutal and hurt their mission of encouraging voluntary compliance. Regardless, I hope the car wash owner paid this piddling amount. Otherwise, maybe he oughtta give me a call.

Alice in Wonderland - Movie Review

We caught the 2D version of Alice in Wonderland - no, we're no Luddites; we just find the 3D effect to be more of a distraction than an enhancement to the movie experience. And come on, admit it, there are some stretches there that are placed in the movie solely to take advantage of the 3D and serve neither the plot nor character development. I'm sure it's just plain fun to watch but get on with the thing already.

This imaginative take is certainly pleasing to the eye but underneath the weird and spectacular effects is a tired plot - yes, yes, only Alice can slay the dragon with only this sword at this particular time. But why Alice? Just because she's been here before? Because she has a plucky independent streak? It's never quite clear. I guess it's best to just go along with things but the plot feels pinned on as if it's an excuse to get Alice from one place to the next. I would have been perfectly happy just to watch director Tim Burton work his visual magic but I guess you need a little more than snappy effects to keep an audience. Still, an audience deserves more than a tired plot.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Hey, it was Jack Kerouac's birthday yesterday. That doesn't mean anything to you because you're not a hipster but at one time I was a huge fan of his. I'd first read about Kerouac in Pete Hamill's now much-maligned liner notes to Bob Dylan's mighty Blood on the Tracks:
And it made me think of Ginsberg and Corso and Ferlinghetti, and most of all, Kerouac, racing Dean Moriarty across the country in the Fifties, embracing wind and night, passing Huck Finn on the riverbanks, bouncing against the Coast, and heading back again, with Kerouac dreaming his songs of the railroad earth.

I was in high school then and came across an essay of Kerouac's in our literature book about his job as a fire watchman in the mountains of California. His vivid prose hooked me and I was off, gulping down On The Road, of course, and then anything else I could get my hands on - Dr. Sax and Maggie Cassady stayed with me but his other published works gradually faded - even The Town and The City, his first, more conventional novel.

My infatuation continued in college - I attended a talk that Allen Ginsberg gave in the English department and the instructors were swooning - but it gradually passed marriage and maturity. I later tried to pick up and re-read something of his and remember thinking, man, these guys just need to settle down and get a job. The magic had vanished. Ah, youth.

So maybe Kerouac is really a young person's writer but I remember how his vision moved me and those he still moves are lucky. Enjoy him while you can, I say. And I'm glad to see in the link above that it's the conservative movie site, Big Hollywood, that remembers his birthday and points out, despite his flaws, that Kerouac was a conservative Catholic and celebrated freedom. If any of the liberal sites out there marked the occasion, I've yet to see it.

Update: Roger Ebert posted something. Odd how two movie-related sites are the ones to take note.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Don't Fear Your Prius

There may be more to the runaway Toyota story than we're aware of:
The Los Angeles Times recently did a story detailing all of the NHTSA reports of Toyota “sudden acceleration” fatalities, and, though the Times did not mention it, the ages of the drivers involved were striking.

In the 24 cases where driver age was reported or readily inferred, the drivers included those of the ages 60, 61, 63, 66, 68, 71, 72, 72, 77, 79, 83, 85, 89—and I’m leaving out the son whose age wasn’t identified, but whose 94-year-old father died as a passenger.

These “electronic defects” apparently discriminate against the elderly, just as the sudden acceleration of Audis and GM autos did before them. (If computers are going to discriminate against anyone, they should be picking on the young, who are more likely to take up arms against the rise of the machines and future Terminators).

It'll be interesting to see how this unfolds.

IRS Warns Oklahoma Residents of Tax Refund Scam

I already tweeted about this so you have my permission to not click the link and see my powerful quote in this story. Oh, heck, why click through and scroll down? Here's the money quote right here:
The IRS impersonation e-mail is a half-step up in sophistication from the common e-mails purportedly from an old Nigerian dictator who has chosen to bequeath the reader with his millions, said Peter Terranova, a certified public accountant based in Oklahoma City.

Some of Terranova’s clients have received the fake IRS refund e-mail. One client clicked on it and landed on a page that looks just like an IRS page, he said.

"It was utterly convincing,” he said. "These guys are that good.”

Brilliant. Incisive. Brief. You were expecting something else?

It talked to this reporter a few weeks ago and had almost forgotten about it. News stories come and go and I'd thought this one had came and went but it popped up over the last weekend. Glad to lend a small, but unforgettable, hand.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Werner Herzog, Timothy Treadwell, and ‘Grizzly Man’

Here's the final installment of Leo Grin's fascinating essay on film director Werner Herzog:
As stated earlier, in his teen years Herzog had a deeply affecting flirtation with Catholicism that has echoed down throughout his life. “I have always thought of my films as really being one big work that I have been concentrating on for forty years,” he says. “The characters in this story are all desperate and solitary rebels. . . They know their rebellion is doomed to failure, but they continue without respite, wounded, struggling on their own without assistance.” Herzog maintains, and I agree, that when the history of his career is written Grizzly Man “will be a centerpiece” of his canon. But it was only after many viewings that it occurred to me (a veteran of eight years of Catholic grade school) that one of Grizzly Man’s chief virtues is that it’s a supremely decent film, acting as a kind of extended novena for the lost soul of Timothy Treadwell.

I doubt there are other directors working today that you'd use the word novena to describe their work.

My dim memory of the movie was that it treated Treadwell far more sympathetically than he deserved. His foolishness cost him not only his life but the life of his girlfriend's and brought all kinds of sorrow to their families. But this essay is more generous to Herzog than I am and might make the movie worth a second viewing.

My links to these essays, though, are intended to bring attention to a director who insists on his own vision. Not unusual, you say, most, if not all, movie directors are megalomaniacs and you might be right. But it sounds like Herzog is mining a seam that's unlike any other. While he may not be a conservative - I have no idea of what his politics are and don't really care - what he finds valuable are the things that last.

Wine May Help Women Keep Weight in Check

So drink up:
Light to moderate alcohol consumption, especially red wine, is not only good for a woman's heart, it's also good for her waistline, according to a study reported Monday.

The study started out with nearly 20,000 trim middle-aged and older women. Over time, women who drank alcohol in moderation put on less weight and were less apt to become overweight compared to non-drinkers. This was true even after taking into account various lifestyle and dietary factors that might influence a woman's weight.

Red wine seemed best at keeping weight in check, but white wine, beer and spirits also had some benefit.

I've got a bottle or two I can spare.

A Sip of Sunny D

The other day, Clara brought home a jug of Sunny Delight she'd found on sale somewhere, something we hadn't had around the house for a few years now. Like Proust's madeleine, a sip flashed me back to a summer afternoon with the girls not long after I left the IRS to begin my too-short, stay-at-home-Dad career. We're in the kitchen, drinking Sunny D, bathing suits still damp from a trip to the community pool, , the smell of chlorine still in our noses, the Sunndy D cold and sweet and as bright tasting as the blazing Oklahoma sun outside. Tired. Happy.

(Maybe a more apt, up-to-date, recognizable simile would be Anton Ego in Ratatouille. Remember the scene as he tastes the penultimate dish as near the end of the movie and he has a sudden, rushing flashback of his lost youth? The sip was like that. Heartrending.)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Year in Provence - Book Review

I picked up Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence at the B. Dalton's closing at Crossroads Mall back in December. I'd tried one of Mayle's before - Chasing Cezanne - and wasn't really impressed but, well, the book was only a couplea bucks and I was interested in what he'd have to say about winemaking. Turns out, he doesn't have a whole lot to say about winemaking and what little he does have to say is somewhat suspect. Not that I know that much. Still.

Anyway, it's not a bad book. It just gets old fairly quick. Yes, yes, moving to Provence is quite an adventure and yes, yes, restoring a house is quite frustrating. The locals are without exception eccentric and, of course, the food is fabulous. Written in a light comic style, it's not intended to be taken seriously and I didn't but I was hoping for something with a little more meat on it. A pleasant way to pass the time but I didn't come away with anything that would make me want to read any more Mayle.

Panel urges Core to Shore Changes

Remember all those big dreams we had when MAPS3 passed? Great things were a'comin'. And soon.

Okay, maybe not so soon. Fifteen years you thought? Try fifty:
An Urban Land Institute panel reviewing Oklahoma City’s Core to Shore plan warned Friday the project will take 50 years, and not 15 years as anticipated, and advised a proposed boulevard will not be a successful retail corridor.

The panel also concluded Core to Shore office development is unlikely any time soon and a new convention center should be built south of Bricktown, and not across from a planned central park.

Wow, that's a downer. But hardly a surprise. I think it's a wise thing to look at these kinds of projects just like you would if you were renovating your home. Figure out what the time and cost will be and then double it. Why would anyone think a government sponsored project would be executed on time and on budget?

I think the battle is only beginning. When this is finally finished, few of us will be around to witness the results. Results which will look entirely unlike anything that was planned.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Acadamy Awards Results

I didn't watch - The Amazing Race was on! - so all I know is what I read about it today. Sounds like it went about right. I'm glad The Hurt Locker won over Avatar but I would have chosen Up as the best movie I saw last year. Jeff Bridges won so I was right about that. The rest? Meh. Still, overall, it was a pretty good year for movies. Where there ten that could be nominated as Best Picture? Not all of those that were. But looking back over my reviews, I've had quite an enjoyable time at the movies. That's pretty good.

My impression, though, is that this Academy Awards show went well so I'm sorry I missed it for that reason. If I'm going to complain about the show, it seems only fair that I should watch it when it's good, or if not good at least not bad.

Well, it's done with. We can go back to our lives and forget about all it and try to remember who won next year.

Maynard James Keenan: The Rocker Who Makes Wine

Hey, I'm just like rockin' wild man Maynard James Keenan! We both make wine:
Maynard James Keenan, one of rock's most enigmatic personalities, is having the time of his life these days not only as leader of the hydra-headed project Puscifer but also as a winemaker. Gone, at least in public, is the angst-ridden man we saw fronting the megasuccessful Tool and A Perfect Circle, bands that redefined heavy alternative rock.

A bawdy group with a rotating cast, the musical part of Puscifer resumed its multimedia U.S. tour in Atlanta on Tuesday. The winemaking Mr. Keenan appears in "Blood into Wine," a documentary that had its Feb. 19 premiere in Scottsdale, Ariz., about two hours south of this former mining center and ghost town that's home to his Caduceus Cellars and Merkin vineyards as well as his handsome wine-tasting room and his Puscifer store, which sells distinctive clothing and other branded materials. Mr. Keenan has lived here since 1995, when he fled Los Angeles in search of tranquility.

Okay, maybe Keenan's not using wine kits and plastic food buckets and stashing 'em behind the shower curtain in the bathroom while they ferment but, hey, we're both winemakers.

Once again, it cracks me up to find out cutting edge rockers like Keenan turn out to be a lot more ordinary than you'd think. So ordinary, it's radical:
As "Blood into Wine" makes clear, the 45-year-old Mr. Keenan isn't a musical celebrity who lent his name to a product. He gets down into the soil to plant and destem vines and pick grapes. He's learned oenology with painstaking deliberation. When I visited him here on the cold and rainy day following the film premiere, he drove me over to his vineyards and explained in detail his passion for winemaking and the potential for Arizona's Verde Valley to be an important source of American wines. The last time I saw him on stage with Tool, he wore a Mohawk and skimpy shorts, growling as he stalked the stage and clung to the shadows, and I expected to meet an intense man grappling with the complex issues he raises in some of his songs. Instead, I found a convivial host, a quick wit and a savvy businessman who lives a life of his own choosing.

A great profile. Read the whole thing.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Last Station - Movie Review

The Last Station tells the story of the contentious last days of Tolstoy, who, surrounded by sycophants interested in promoting their Tolstoyan movement, clash with his wife over what's to be done with the copyrights of his work after his death. (The Tolstoyan movement never caught on, thank goodness. Among its tenets were the abolition of private property. And sex? No thanks. Might clutter their thoughts. Even Tolstoy himself admits he wasn't a very good Tolstoyan.) Not to give anything away, but Tolstoy finally has enough and flees, with his daughter, his estate and the rest of his family, only to come to ground due to illness at a train station.

A good movie if you like this sort of thing. The costumes are a far cry from British or American period pieces; this is Russia, people. But the countryside is verdant and the interiors rich enough in detail to convince you they're the real thing. Paul Giamatti is always a pleasure to watch and James McAvoy plays the star struck follower well. Helen Mirren's up for a Best Actress Award for here work here; oddly, Christopher Plummer, as Tolstoy, only gets a Best Supporting Actor nod. Both do excellent work. Neither will win.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Emily and Her Band Clinic

Emily's in the middle of band competition season and the other night she and the band had a full-dress rehearsal band clinic. Here they are, hard at work. That's Emily on the end playing flute with the oh-so-serious face:

I managed to catch a little of it on the video of our little Canon camera:

Just for fun, I grabbed a snippet of it with iPhone video, just for comparison:

(Equally shaky and the quality of video and sound are about the same but the iPhone has no zoom. A disappointment. Still, it'll do in a pinch I guess.)

The band has come light years from a little over a year and a half ago when they gave their first performance. Remember? Great students, sure, but their teacher, Mr. Ortega is the very definition of awesome.

Anyway, Emily's been practicing hard. She'll do well.

Home-brew Beer Bill Passes Over Objections in Oklahoma House

Uh oh:
Despite a lawmaker’s worries it could lead to legalizing marijuana, a measure that would allow Oklahomans to legally brew beer for their own use won easy passage Wednesday in the House of Representatives.

House Bill 2348 would allow Oklahomans to brew up to 200 gallons, or about 80 cases, a year for their personal use.

They must get a permit from the state’s liquor agency, just as people who make wine or cider do now. Beer made for personal use would not be subject to excise tax.

It’s legal for Oklahomans to make wine and cider, but state law excludes beer brewing, said Rep. Colby Schwartz, author of HB 2348. Many brew beer for their own use, to serve to guests and to enter in beer-making competitions.

You mean. . .?

Okay, let's forget about the legality of home-brewing for just a second. Let's take a look at the ridiculousness behind the opposition of such a bill in the first place.

Representative Todd Russ, a Republican, is worried we'll be on our way to being just like California if this bill is passed, where marijuana is legal. Well, it's not entirely legal but not matter. I don't believe in the slippery-slope argument - one thing doesn't necessarily lead to another. We're perfectly able to stop things once they get too far. It's only a matter of will. So, no, legalizing the home-brewing of beer won't lead to the legalization of growing marijuana or cooking up crack in your kitchen. No, Russ reveals his true colors when he says "If you go to church Sunday, remember how you voted today." Fair enough. But why not just come out and say you're opposed because of your religious beliefs instead of this home-brewing-leads-to-the-road-to-ruin?

Surprisingly, it's Representative Joe Dorman, a Democrat, who has to remind Russ about Russ' party conservative philosophy:
(Dorman) thought conservatives were against government in people’s lives. It’s not an issue about character — at least three of the Founding Fathers made their own brews, he said.

"Samuel Adams has a beer named after him,” Dorman said.

If Dorman's right, I'm in good company.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Still More Beer!

So here's my latest homebrew: an India Pale Ale, brewed from this kit:


I was looking for something a little hoppier than I've done in the past and this fits the bill. Not as pale as I expected, but good and hoppy like I wanted. Despite the picture - I'd poured and it was a few minutes before I got a good enough picture - it has a good enough head though it looks kinda weak here, doesn't it? No matter. It tastes good. The Coopers kits work well for me so until I find something better, I'll stick with those; all-grain brewing is just beyond the time and expense I want to put into this little hobby and the taste payoff is lost on my unsophisticated tongue.

Like with the wine-making, I've now got plenty around here to keep me going, so I won't be brewing anything else for a while. Plenty of time, then, to contemplate what I want to brew up next.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

More Wine!

The Riesling's done.


I'd predicted more than a few weeks ago that'd take a few weeks so at least I'm a man of my word.

Yep, it's another kit, and since it's not a blend, it took just a little longer for the fermentation and clarification processes to occur. Still, it's perfectly drinkable right at bottling though you can see it's still a might bit cloudy - some of that opaqueness is condensation on the glass but the wine's not crystal clear by any measure. Things should settle down a bit as time goes on. A tad sweet for my taste but it's a Riesling so what'd I expect? It'll be a good, all-around, inoffensive white.

That means now I have four cases of wine stashed around the house. Goodness. Looks like I'll need a wine cellar next. But this means since I have plenty - and it just wouldn't do to have six cases of wine around the house, would it? - this'll be the end of the wine-making for a while. I'd like to do a deep, dark red next time so I'll be on the lookout for a good kit to do just that.

Hey, Everyone! It's Emily's Birthday!

Happy birthday, Emily!

Megadittoes on these posts here and here from last year.

She'd like everyone to know that you can give her her presents any time you want.

Official celebration later this week. Big doings planned with her giggling teen girlfriends.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

There is a House in DC

They call C Street house, which is the target of a complaint filed with the IRS by 13 Ohio clergy members:
The owners of a $1.8 million townhouse on Capitol Hill that has been home and refuge to conservative members of Congress are wrongly claiming a federal tax exemption reserved for religious establishments, 13 Ohio clergy members contend in a complaint to the Internal Revenue Service.

The clergy suspect that the C Street Center, which rents living space to lawmakers, is "an exclusive club for powerful officials . . . masquerading as a church," according to a request for an investigation addressed to IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman.

The Ohio clergy, all Protestant members of Clergy Voice, say that the house serves no public interest and has no recognized creed or form of worship.

A quick Google search of Clergy Voice shows the group is largely progressive so this may be an ideological attack more than it is a concern for the separation of church and state.

I don't know anything about this house and why the owner, The C Street Center, enjoys tax exempt status but apparently DC authorities have already taken a look at it and determined that its activities are 66% taxable and 34% tax exempt. Sounds reasonable; tax exempt organizations pay tax on its non-tax exempt activities. The IRS may have already made the same determination so there may not be much here.

The article has former residents and affiliates not returning phone calls or distancing themselves from the house so it doesn't look good. It may not be. But my sense is that a lot of this kind of thing is going on and, if you don't like it, once again, take a look at your Congressmen. They're the ones who write the tax laws.

More Werner Herzog

Here's the next installment of Leo Grin's essay on Werner Herzog. (More about my growing infatuation with the filmmaker.)
“Is the ecstatic truth actually a religious term?”

That question was posed to Werner Herzog a few weeks ago in an interview with the German broadsheet Die Zeit (The Time). Those of you who tuned in last week know that ecstatic truth is Herzog’s way of describing the poetic, transcendent heights of illumination to which his films aspire. “Yes, there is something of that there,” Herzog replied, “something of late medieval mysticism.”

However, he immediately provided a caveat, one that should warm the cockles of conservative hearts everywhere: “But I want to get away from the religious, from the mystical,” he stressed, “because it leads all too quickly to the cloudy waters of the New Age, which is the most horrific thing you can possibly imagine in the spiritual realm.” And then, the coup de grace: “And this is something you see in a film like Avatar, by the way.”

So in Hollywood, to tout conservative views is to be considered an outsider, a maverick, a wild man:
When he made Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997) — a documentary about Dieter Dengler, a German-born American fighter pilot who was shot down and tortured during the Vietnam War, only to stage an amazing escape — the Left noticed that the usual anti-American propaganda was nowhere to be found. “The film was generally very well received by American audiences,” Herzog says, but adds that “Inevitably I was asked why I did not denounce American aggression in the Vietnam War and why the film made no political statement.” Herzog’s reply to this pressure was to double down, raise more money outside of the system, and make Rescue Dawn (2007), a fictional treatment of the exact same story starring Christian Bale as Dengler.

Werner Herzog, you see, is no slave to political correctness, no lap-dog for the media, and not at all on board with the hippy-dippy attitudes of the Hollywood Left. He saw in Dieter Dengler a man who, in his words, “had all the qualities that make America so wonderful: self-reliance and courage, a kind of frontier spirit.” That was what counted, and no amount of disparagement was about to deter him from portraying Americans at their best.

Next week, Grin takes a closer look at the only film of Herzog's I've ever seen, Grizzly Man. I remember the movie as an unsparing look at a mis-guided, foolish, obsessed man; I'll be glad for the chance to re-visit it.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Coco Before Chanel - Movie Review

Coco Before Chanel (Yes, I'm using the English translation of the title. So?) tells the story of fashion designer Coco Chanel, well, before she became known as Coco Chanel. Not many movies tell the their entire plot in their title so you got to hand it that. But if you're interested in that kind of thing - interested in biopics with awesome clothes - then this is probably you're kind of thing. It was my kind of thing, for the most part: I liked the costumes, the French country side, the scenes of the heart in turmoil, the enchanting Audrey Tautou but I'm afraid I didn't come away with much of how one starts in the fashion designing business. Seems Chanel always had a knack for it and once she got a backer, she was fabulously successful. End of story. Maybe that's how the fashion business works but I was hoping for a little more. Still, it was just a buck at the Redbox - surprisingly, the line of people ahead of us weren't there to rent this one - so it was well worth it. Faint praise? Maybe so. But it's a little more than a slight wisp of a movie, perfect for when everything else you want to see has already been rented.