Saturday, July 31, 2010

Caught Up

Looks like I'm caught up - vacation pictures, movie reviews, book reviews. It was a hoppin' July, I'll tells ya'. We're blessed and grateful to do the things we've done.

Now August looms. Looks like it'll start hot and end only slightly less hot but you can sense the season changing. Emily begins her band camp next week but with Rachel now a high-school graduate, it'll be entirely different for her. And us. This isn't news but the changes in our children's lives are changes in our own lives as well. We're in uncharted territory here but then that's the case most of the time, isn't it?

I'm curious to see how it turns out.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Something Wicked This Way Comes has come up on Roger Ebert's overlooked DVD of the week:
"Something Wicked This Way Comes" qualifies as a horror film, but it's an altogether different kind than we've been getting lately. The new breed of horror movies are essentially geek shows, exercises in despair in which all hope has been abandoned and evil rules the world. Bradbury's world of fantasy calls back to an earlier tradition, to the fantasies of Lord Dunsany, Saki and John Collier (but not H. P. Lovecraft!) -- horror fantasies in which evil was a distinct possibility, but men also had within them the possibility of redemption. Robards is offered a choice in this movie, and it is a choice. Things need not end in disaster.

Something Wicked is one of my favorite Ray Bradbury novels and I'm glad to see it was turned into a movie worth watching. I've only seen bits and pieces of the movie on the Disney Channel but from what I've seen I'd have to agree with Ebert. There's an overwhelming sense of foreboding in even those small clips.

Sounds like this is one to put on the must-see list.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Salt - Movie Review

Just in time to keep the late summer movie season momentum going, Salt fills the hot-chick-thumping-on-bad-guys niche that's been lacking. Yeah, yeah, I know, the role was originally intended for Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise, Angeline Jolie, whoever. It's all about style and either one of 'em would do for the roll of someone doing impossible things against impossible odds.

The movie moves along quite jauntily with Jolie doing what it is she's supposed to do to make you believe that first she's one person and then another and then finally another. You won't be entirely surprised by the outcome and the ending but so what? You just munched your way through a tub of popcorn and a huge container of soda while sitting in the cool dark in the middle of a long hot summer. What are you complaining about?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


I've been noodling around with Bing Maps - Microsoft's answer to Google Earth - and my reaction is mixed.

I really like the "bird's-eye" view I can get with addresses - the link above should take you to one of those views and you can see for yourself. The detail is superior to Google Earth but Bing likes to keep me at a certain distance; I can zoom in only so far before Bing decides I've come close enough. And I can't embed the view in a blog-post, either; I have to switch to a plain ol' map view and that's no fun. Bing also has a "street-view" equivalent to Google Earth but it's coverage is lacking. They've yet to come down our street and, so far, I'm aware of at least two different views that Google Earth has provided of our front door.

Still, I have to admit, I enjoy using Bing to soar over familiar, and not so familiar, landmarks. It's a good start for Microsoft. I'm looking forward to when they get all the kinks worked out.

Slam - Book Review

I don't need to tell you that I'm a fan of Nick Hornby - actually, I told you that here - and so I don't have a good reason for taking so long to finally get around to his Young Adult novel, Slam. Just one of those things, I guess, but I'm glad I finally had the chance to read it and get caught up with his oeuvre. (What? He's written another book since this one? I'd better get a move on then, hadn't I?)

Slam is about a teen pregnancy, presented with no bells or whistles, just a plain-spoken, straight-forward, and hilarious, story. The plot itself is less important than Sam's reaction to it. Sam's a good-hearted and likable skater kid with a vague ambition to be more than his parents, who were teen parents themselves, but realistic about his chances. This unexpected occurrence yanks the wheels off his life and he makes a valiant attempt to cope and do the right thing. Neither sentimental nor hard-bitten, Sam realizes what's in store for him and his son and he tries to make the best of things. How he does I'll leave up to you but as I mentioned in my prior post about Hornby linked to above, I think the Young Adult genre is the place in literature where you'll find the important themes being explored today.

(YA novels are decidedly different than they were when I was first reading them. Beware, there are a few f-bombs that are sprinkled throughout this book. Shocking for a parent, perhaps, but not, unfortunately, for today's teens. Conservatives might be willing to overlook them in exchange for the book's pro-life view. Hornby is an avowed Liberal so even more kudos to him for this bright book.)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Inception - Movie Review

Are the dreams portrayed in Inception anything like yours? Of course not. The movie's dreams aren't like anyone's and that's not the point of the movie. The style of director Christopher Nolan's Memento doesn't correctly mimic that of a man with short-term memory loss, either. It's only a style necessary to pull off an effect and that's the purpose of the style of the dreams in Inception; it's only a plot device and not intended to accurately recreate the sensation of dreaming. Nolan takes elements of dreams to further his plot - a roller coaster ride of what's essentially a one-last-heist plot - and that's all but that's enough.

Nolan barely mis-steps through his movie, hitting the buttons he needs to keep things moving along in a grand, entertaining manner. For the first time, I actually liked Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a strong second but Nolan erred by casting Ellen Page as the ingenue. I still have her roles in Juno and Whip It stuck in my head so I still see her as the 17 year old she was in those movies instead of what I presume to be her 23 year old role here. Jarring but not overwhelmingly so. Nolan ends with the movie with sly twist, wrapping up what was for me a very satisfying movie experience.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Invictus - Movie Review

Invictus is a noble attempt to join a sports underdog story with historical drama and, though entertaining, unfortunately, it fails.

Nelson Mandela uses the pursuit of World Cup victory by his nation's rugby team as a way to unite his nation after years of apartheid. I'm not sure if that was really true or just a plot conceit - I'm glad Mandela had faith enough in his team but what if they had lost? It seems to me a better thing to get united about would be to unite against a common enemy with more substance than another nation's rugby team but then I'm not a big sports fan so what do I know? Still, as deliberate domestic policy, if it were me, I gotta say I'd ask a little more from my countrymen than rooting for the home team.

Director Clint Eastwood is certainly capable of pulling off a great movie and he gives us a good one here. I enjoyed the locations - we see both the good and the bad of South Africa and if anyone's going to bring it to us in an entertaining way, it's Eastwood. (What, you think Spike Lee could do this? Right.) The performances are fine. Morgan Freeman simply cannot deliver a bad performance and I'm always a fan of Matt Damon despite his kooky politics. But as with most Hollywood stories about the struggle of blacks, you have to tell a white person's struggle as well. It's as if they're afraid the audience can't relate to black character's struggle alone. Damon's character seems more of a bystander to history than a particpant but the scene where he witnesses the cell where Mandela spent so many years is genuinely moving.

Yes, it's a true story and yes, South Africa wins (Oh, wait, spoiler alert!)but I was still a little underwhelmed by it.

Half Acre

Hem's Half Acre came up on my iPhone's iPod the other day. You know the song as the background music to one of those Liberty Mutual commercials but it's quite a moving song on it's own.

The song's lyrics, about the power of the memory of home to anchor us through the worst storms:

I am holding half an acre
Torn from the map of Michigan
And folded in this scrap of paper
Is the land I grew in

Think of every town you've lived in
Every room you lay your head
And what is it that you remember

Do you carry every sadness with you
Every hour your heart was broken
Every night the fear and darkness
Lay down with you

A man is walking on the highway
A woman stares out at the sea
And light is only now just breaking

So we carry every sadness with us
Every hour our hearts were broken
Every night the fear and darkness
Lay down with us

But I am holding half an acre
Torn from the map of Michigan
I am carrying this scrap of paper

That can crack the darkest sky wide open
Every burden taken from me
Every night my heart unfolding

Dad High-larity

Via Jonah Goldberg:

Friday, July 23, 2010

007's 1040 Problem: 'Goldfinger' Raid Implicates Sean Connery in Tax Fraud

"Do you expect me to talk, Goldfinger?"

"No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to. . . pay your taxes!"

Oh, my:
Legendary James Bond actor Sean Connery is being investigated for alleged tax fraud involving the sale of two large tracts of land in Spain.

Investigators say a property firm linked to the 79-year-old actor failed to pay taxes after he and his second wife sold land they owned on the outskirts of Malaga, Spain a UK paper reported Thursday.

The Daily Mail reported that the company, which also assisted in the sale of Connery's beachside mansion, Casa Malibu, in Marbella, Spain, failed to pay upwards of $2 million in taxes stemming from the sale of development rights to the land outside of Malaga.

Bond has defeated all kinds of super-villains but he's no match against the tax man.

Edge of Darkness - Movie Review

With all the hooh hah about the horrifying Mel Gibson tapes, I'd forgotten that he'd had a "comeback" movie out a little while ago and there it was, Edge of Darkness, available at Redbox at just the right price. Though I can't say I'm the same fan I was before those audio tapes were leaked, I was willing to pay a buck to see if Gibson still had the stuff to open a movie.

He could have picked a better vehicle.

Starting with the non-title title - who comes up with this stuff? - the movie's a pretty straight-forward conspiracy type thing where evil corporations collude with evil government types. I think. I never really did get the plot straight. It's all just a reason for Mel's character to go from one place to another chasing one person or the other and having the plot twist in on itself with a final confrontation between good and evil and then maybe some redemption. Ho hum.

And that's the real problem here. Gibson's baggage and the convoluted and contrived plot aside, the movie's just really not that interesting and that's too bad. There was the potential for this to be a real crowd-pleaser before Gibson went off the rails for what appears to be good and the movie-makers failed to get things to gel.

Word is Gibson has some more work in the pipeline. His current shot-himself-in-his-own-foot troubles will likely overshadow them but maybe these movies will remind us of the talent he once had, if we find we even care about him when they come out. Unfortunately, this movie didn't.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Faulkner's Too Busy For Messages

Via Althouse, William Faulkner on "messages" in literature:
That he is too busy dealing with people to have time to deliver messages to anyone. The messages happen just by chance. That he is interested in—in creating flesh and blood people to do the—the tragic or the comic things which people do for—for pleasure. That is, I think that one should read for pleasure, that one doesn't necessarily have to read for pleasure, but I myself read for pleasure, not for ideas. That if it's—I've got to hunt around in a book to—looking for an idea, then I'd rather do something else. I'd rather do something that's more fun than that. It won't be reading.

Imagine that. A Nobel-prize winning writer reads for pleasure, not for ideas. Tell that to your English professor next time he demands you write a paper on the symbology of a particular work.

(See also this post about Billy Collins and poetry.)

The Time It Never Rained - Book Review

Elmer Kelton's The Time It Never Rained made it to the top of several conservative must-read books of fiction and for good reason: it's the story of a stubborn Texas cattle rancher who refuses government help during a long drought and how he manages to endure through his own hard work and wits. Couldn't be any more conservative that.

I've praised Kelton before and there's no reason to find fault with him with this book - I could've used a little more description of the landscapes and weather but that seems to be a running fault for me for writers. Kelton's characters are well-drawn and their personal dramas make for compelling reading. The problems with illegal immigrants - his hero won't hire illegals nor will he turn them in to the authorities or turn them away if they come looking for a meal - is surprisingly modern and I learned much about cattle ranching in the drought-prone portion of Texas in which this story is set. Kelton is good enough to be compared to Steinbeck, I think, and if he hadn't've been known for his genre work, and if this book's politics had been different, he would have enjoyed a higher stature with mainstream critics. As if that's something to be desired.

(I finished this during our Florida vacation. Odd to be reading about the dusty plains with the tang of the ocean in your mouth and the sound of the surf in your ears.)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

More Books I'm Not Reading: Child 44

Tom Rob Smith's Child 44 has gotten great reviews but I only made it through the first chapter. Jumps from one point-of-view to the next in an attempt to be cinematic, I guess, but it jarring and confusing and doesn't really build the suspense needed for a scene that has an outcome you see coming from a mile away. I didn't want to invest any more time in it when I've got other, better books to read.

Maybe it's me.

Audits Aren't All That

My online pal, the fantastic Michael Hasenstab, sends me the following updates on the Koss Corporation embezzlement scandal.

First, how on earth did this get by the company's financial officers, let alone the Grant Thorton LLC, the company's auditors?
The $31 million embezzlement at Koss Corp. included several spurts of rapid-fire spending, according to a recent court filing - including one three-day span in 2006 during which nearly $500,000 flew out of the Milwaukee company's accounts and into the hands of three high-end retailers and a credit card company.

The lists of checks and wire transfers shed new light on the scheme for which Sujata "Sue" Sachdeva, former vice president of finance for Koss, is facing six federal felony charges. She was arrested by the FBI in December and has pleaded not guilty.

The list, which takes up the equivalent of about 10 single-spaced pages, is contained in a lawsuit that Koss filed last month against Sachdeva and its former auditor, Grant Thornton LLP.

(Emphasis mine.)

But justice will be done:
Sujata "Sue" Sachdeva will plead guilty to all six felony fraud counts leveled against her and agree to pay an estimated $34 million restitution to Koss Corp. under a plea deal reached Friday that calls for at least five years in prison, although prosecutors may recommend a much longer sentence.

Prosecutors, Sachdeva and her attorney agree that the recommended prison sentence will be at least five to six years. The U.S. attorney's office can argue for several aggravating circumstances - such as her role as the organizer of the criminal activity - that could boost the  recommended sentence up to the 15- to 20-year range. Sachdeva and her lawyer, Michael F. Hart, can object to the aggravating circumstances.

Did I say justice? I imagine the penalty would've been a little steeper if Sachdeva had used a handgun to rob a 7-11 of a hundred bucks or so.

My point remains the same: audits aren't the financial safeguard you might think they are. Auditors can't catch everything. And, in some cases, they can't even catch what seems to be obvious.

When it comes to finances, proceed with caution. And a heavy dose of skepticism.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I Write Like Ernest Hemingway

According to this site. And I only had to submit five or six entries before Hemingway came up. Before that, I wrote like David Foster Wallace and Stephen King and Nick Hornby.

Yeah, the site's a proven fraud but did anyone really think it wasn't?

Florida Vacation - Part 2 - The Suwanee River, of Which We're Way Down Upon

I did no live-blogging of the Suwanee River portion of our vacation - you'll find some tweets of buried here of a few pictures I fired off into the ether on the mornings we were there but they're untagged and may be hard to find. Scroll down to the tweets posted around July 2nd if you insist but I'll use this post for the pictures I took while we were there at the river house.

(Background on the riverhouse? Got it right here.)

This year's trip wasn't too terribly different than last year's. A slightly different cast of characters but, essentially, it was the same. Only different. Which is how we like things 'round here, thank you very much.

First thing first. Arrival day means catching up with Aunt Toni. We'd just seen her for Rachel's graduation not a six weeks prior but it was still grand to see her.

Aunt Vicki was there, of course, to our never-ending delight but a new player was her charming daughter, Laine.

We'd seen her only briefly last year but my cousin Marie was there, too. The number of years since I'd seen her last and spent any amount of time with her? To many to count. She made a perfect puzzle completing companion for Rachel.

Grandpop Pete and Nana make ready the black beans and rice:

Evening entertainment at the riverhouse is decidedly high tech:

Morning. Learning to prepare breakfast the Grandpop Pete way:

But first, some time for contemplation. Which fashion accessory is appropriate for a day in the the Florida wilds?

We floated the Itchetuknee river as we did last year and got no pictures at all. None whatsoever. So take my word that it was a marvelous time. Afterward we trekked into nearby Lake City to score some 4th of July fireworks but by the time we got back, I was stricken by a some kind of stomach bug that knocked me out for the rest of the afternoon. I rallied, though, and arose in the evening to more visitors had arrived.

That's my cousin, Bubby, on the far left. Last seen? When Emily was only a few months old. Towards the rear is his daughter, Amanda, and her husband Brandon. Recent newlyweds and the first time we met them. Wonderful. Look forward to spending some more time with them in the future. To the far right, in black shorts, and possibly cut off due to formatting of this blog, still another cousin, Jean, Bubby's sister. We'd seen her last year at this very spot and we were very happy to see her and visit with her again. Someone's telling a raucous story.

When the insects get too be too much on a wild Florida evening, we move thing inside. Some of us have heard these stories thousands of times but not everyone has so they're worth re-telling for their sake. Heck, they're worth re-telling for the sake of those of us who've heard them a thousand times:

Next day, it's activities as usual. Emily pilots the boat with a keen and cautious eye. Don't let the wake fool you. She'll soon have it up to maximum speed:

The Suwanee and some of its mysterious shoreline:

Rachel and Laine's fiance, Jose, take to the river in the tube:

In Florida, there's no escaping the afternoon rains. Things shut down for a while. Time to float along until it clears.

Not quite dark yet. Time to set off the fireworks procured the day before that don't require darkness: smoke bombs!


Marie's son had provided fireworks that exploded and whistled and set off showers of sparks. Too bad I didn't get any pictures of that but you know the type.

The morning after the day before. On the porch of the riverhouse:

A sure sign of summer at a place near water: beach towels and bathing suits draped everywhere to dry:

Morning on the river. Always beautiful. Always.

Today's activity: four-wheelin'! I'll drive, Dad. Well, okay:

Always time for style:

So that's this year's entry. A wonderful time with wonderful people of whom we too infrequently see far too little.

Next year? Who knows? But this one is one for the memory book.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries

Er, a collander of cherries, actually.

Cherries in a collander after rinsing:

Posted by Picasa

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Rest of Sanibel

I live-blogged our Florida trip the best I could but now that we're back and I've uploaded and tweaked the rest of our vacation pictures, there's much I left out. Time to fill in the spaces.

It'd been ten years since we'd last been to Sanibel. Back then, renting bicycles was a thrill. Now, that wouldn't do. We rented scooters, with Emily riding with me and Clara and Rachel riding a scooter of their own. Rachel knows how to rock the pink-flame helmet. (I tweeted Emily in her helmet here.) (More about the ride and the rest of that day here.)

Since I'm marking this occasion, why not a picture of where we ate that evening? Here you go!

Some after dinner boogie-boardin' as the storm clouds gather:

You come to Sanibel not for the pristine beaches and the ocean views and the laid back lifestyle but for the shells:

Something else we've never done before: parasailing! Only the girls got to do it. (Here's an explanation of why we didn't go along.) The driver's of the boat got some pretty good pictures with our camera:

Back ashore, it began to rain. We hustled in to a nearby funky cafe for shelter and a quick snack. A sole, live musician played guitar under the awning of the outside eating area and his soft jazz music was piped in:

Like all afternoon showers in South Florida, the rain didn't last long and the sun came back out. Back to our room. Here's where we stayed:

Some pool and ocean time until it was time to eat again. This time, an earthy seafood place. Good, fried food served in paper trays with only plastic forks and knives to eat with and paper towels to keep you tidy. We liked the vibe:

But we couldn't tarry long. Sunset called us so we raced to Captiva to get the best view we could. But storms clouds from the hurricane across the Gulf made for a less than spectacular sunset. A nice silhouette of the girls, though:

And a nice windswept mother/daughter portrait of Emily and Clara:

The next day we had reservations on a boat headed for Cayo Costa for some serious shelling. (Here's the original post.) But once again the clouds threatened:

On the Gulf side of the island, things looked less ominous. A Winslow Homer-ish portrait:

A screen grab from Lost? Close:

Lunch/dinner at another fine cafe:

And then some more boogie boardin' in the storm-tossed sea:

Time to close things out and move on down the highway. (Here's the post of our final day.) Some final shots:

The view south 75 yards from our room:

Like something from Joseph Conrad or James Michener:

Our room was the middle right:

I have a memory from ten years ago of eating breakfast at a cottage-y little place set back among some trees. Breakfast in paradise, as I recall. We never did find a place that matched by memory and I don't know if this is the place but it'd do:

Serving up an all-American breakfast with an all-American girl. Rachel awaits her eggs and bacon:

We had miles to go and an another overnight stop before beginning the second phase of our trip. But this part was over and we were glad to have spent some time in a place that held so many fond memories. Let's shove off, then. We'll catch ya' later in Branford, Florida along the shores of the Suwanee River.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


I'd planned on blogging the rest of our journey but we came home to find a virus on the PC. Drat. Off to Best Buy it went to root it out. Could be a few days. Meanwhile, talk amongst yourselves.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Farewell Sanibel

In the morning, the rains stopped and all the colors came out. Forecast for more rain so we'd best get on the road. We did after a stop for a fantastic breakfast at some place with the word "cow" in it's name. The Island Cow? Doesn't sound right. I'll have to look it up later and update this post.

So a reverse film of our Sunday journey only at Tampa we jumped off at I-4 to head towards Orlando. No, no Magic Kingdom, just a day of shopping and an overnight stay before the final destination: Branford! Meanwhile, we did our best to resist Disney's siren's call and it was hard, my friends, might hard.

The rain caught up to us in the late afternoon and continued through the night but we did what we had come here for. Report from Branford is that it's been raining all day. No let up in sight. Could be in for a long dreary weekend.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

And The Rains Came

The day promised hot and bright and humid - that's the way the morning started so why shouldn't the day follow? Because this is South Florida, that's why. To be in Florida means you're gonna get wet, just you wait. But we had a boat ride booked for the afternoon so we wiled away the time at the pool until it was time to take care of some business - both vacation- related and vacation-unrelated - and make sure the girls were sea- worthy.

We made it to the marina on time, boarded the boat and cast- off. Our captain's instructions included storm-related procedures and the ominous clouds over the Florida mainland made it so that we'd likely implement them. We arrived after a 30 minute boat ride over a calm sea and did some shell searching for about 45 minutes before being called back to the boat. The winds had picked up, the clouds were pressing closer, and Pine Island had disappeared. The ride back was entirely different, like the opening credits of Dangerous Catch - okay maybe an exaggeration, buy it was decidedly rougher. We made it back before the skies broke open. Extra bonus: we got a full refund. I would have been willing to pay half just for the boat ride alone.

We grabbed a late afternoon bite at PJ Otters before heading back to the room. The girls stared forlornly at the waves and the rain. Radar on TV showed this was from the outer bands of the hurricane in Texas and no let up in sight but it finally did let up and people returned to the beach and so did the girls, finally.

Afterwards, it was ice cream at the wonderful Pinochio's. Half the island had gotten there before us but none of them enjoyed their ice cream as much as we did.