Friday, January 28, 2011


I've never played in the high school band or orchestra but both Rachel and Emily have and while attending their wonderful concerts I've often though that, you know, classical music is fine but if I were a band director I'd throw in some more crowd pleasing numbers. Not that these concerts need lively-ing up but I'm sure that just the right music would bring a smile to a lot of faces.

Like themes from movies. Music that sounds like classical music but bonds the audience with a common experience. The Theme from Star Wars. Jaws. The Magnificent Seven.

Or The Theme From Shaft.

This thought struck me the other night while I was driving Emily and Emily's buddy home. the Theme From Shaft came on the radio and you can be sure I cranked it up, much to Emily's embarrassment. Something there is about the funk that Emily didn't like. That or my sing-talking along with Isaac Hayes as he tells us how bad Shaft is. (You know, the only person that understands him is his woman? True!)

Oh, The high school band could be do it! Okay, maybe the whacka-chacka part might be difficult but Wikipedia tells me that's just a guitar with a wah-wah pedal. You know there's a high school kid practicing that sound right now in his bedroom. The rest of it sounds pretty straightforward to me. Emily could play the flute part!

Yes, a high school band could play the Theme From Shaft. Heck, a ukulele orchestra could play the theme:

Anyway, that's my idea. If I were a high school band director life would be funky indeed.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

iPhone Photo Dump

Who's in the mood for an iPhone photo dump? I am! Let's get started:

Post Christmas, the weather warmed enough so that we could play golf. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea. While we were waiting to tee off, Emily spent some time getting some putting pointers from Grandpa:

I think they were betting money on this one. I saw money changing hands later:

New Year's Eve, we took Emily and her friend with us while we went to a movie. On our way back, we stopped at the Chesapeake Energy Christmas light display:

A riot of color:

Emily and her friend, Alex:

You can almost hear the brightness of the lights:

We're well into Winter and that means the days are getting longer and that means pictures of the dawn on the drive in to work make their re-appearance.

A shot from the Westmoore parking lot after I dropped Emily off to school:

Another shot, with a bus driving by:

I tweeted some of the following pictures already so those of you who've already seen them may leave. Emily and I were cooking spaghetti sauce and meatballs a la Grandpop Pete; though he lives 1,500 miles away, the smells made us think he was right there with us:

Coming along nicely:

Emily seems pensive about the recipe:

Emily-a, she makes-a the meat balls-a! (Imagine a Sinatra song in the background.)

Rachel's birthday rolled around, her 19th so not the same milestone as last year's 18th but no less important. Her choice this year: Red Lobster. She brought her friend Matt along:

Don't touch Emily's silverware!

After dinner, I had to drop off Rachel and Matt at Wal-Mart to get Rachel's car; she'd had a flat earlier in the day and needed two new tires and her car was ready. As I turned down on our street, the full moon spilled silvery light on over the houses. Who says you can't find beauty in suburbia? Of course, I tried to get it on camera. Of course, I failed:

And that's it for this edition. The days and weeks and now month are flying by. These pictures aren't nearly enough to grab a hold of some of it but they'll have to do.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

More Fuss About The King's Speech

More proof The King's Speech is all that: 12 Oscar nominations.

Of course, nominations don't mean awards and awards don't mean good. Still, just sayin'.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Wanda Jackson Teams With Jack White

I've posted before about Wanda Jackson, a member of our stodgy Baptist church, and her working with the yowling Jack White. Here's the latest:
What happens when Oklahoma's “Queen of Rockabilly” meets Detroit's dean of daring guitar dynamos?

Why, a party, of course.

That's what Wanda Jackson's been all about since she hit the Top 40 with “Let's Have a Party” in the late '50s. Back then it was boyfriend/mentor Elvis Presley who taught this country girl from Maud how to rock 'n' roll.

Now she's learning some 21st century tricks from one of alternative music's most successful eccentrics — Jack White.

Sounds interesting.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Juliet, Naked - Book Review

Great. Nick Hornby's latest novel, Juliet, Naked is sure to get me all the wrong kind of Google search hits. Sorry to disappoint anyone who clicked through expecting nekkid pictures of Juliet and got this book review. That's what you get for not refining your search correctly. Also for being a perv.


A quick explanation of the title: the story is about a reclusive singer who releases the demo tapes of his last recorded album, Juliet, as Juliet, Naked. Like The Beatles' Let it Be, Naked. Get it? Okay. Can we concentrate on the novel now?

Tucker Crowe is a reclusive American singer who quit the business in mid-tour, supporting his last album, Juliet and hasn't been heard from since. Rumors about his demise arose and with the Internet a website was started dedicated to all things Tucker Crowe. Crowe comes out of seclusion to comment about an online review posted by Annie, in England, about Juliet, Naked and from there the story and the characters finds their own way.

We're in Hornby territory now, with his love of popular music and what it means to our personal lives and he has some fun with it. He has some fun, too, with the Internet culture and fandom and the overwhelming need to over analyze art and its inspiration. Hornby, a fan of Anne Tyler, is much like Tyler herself: wryly funny and forgiving of his characters, with a sharp eye and talent for a memorable phrase.

A delight.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Fighter - Movie Review

There's much buzz about Christian Bale's performance in The Fighter and rightly so but the movie's not supposed to be about his character but about his character's brother. (Though an argument could be made that the movie title refers to Bale's character as well. Hmmmm. Discuss.) So we've got two compelling stories to follow: the primary story of Mickie Ward and his struggle to make the boxing big time and Dickie Ecklund, Mickie's half-brother, and his struggle to stay on the straight and narrow. Pick either one to root for and you won't lose.

So Bale's performance eclipses everything else and, yes, it's a good one. Look past his drastic weight loss, though, and see how he physically inhabits the role, how he physically interacts with the other characters. It's both obvious and subtle at the same time. And then stick around for the end credits to see the actual character and see how close Bale came. Sure, Bale's a great mimic but his physical performance is used to service his character's development and enhance the plot which is what it should be.

Raging Bull has spoiled us for the depiction of boxing scenes but here they're more than adequate. The supporting actors and on location sets enhance the real-life feeling of this well-made movie. A great story about family ties and love and hard work, values celebrated too rarely at the movies.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Some Fuss about The King’s Speech

It's not just me who thinks The Kings Speech is the bee's knees. So does Gina R. Dalfonzo:
I found myself in an animated conversation about The King’s Speech with the heavily tattooed twentysomething who rang up my purchase at Borders. “That was a great movie!” he said enthusiastically when he saw the title of the soundtrack I was buying.

I told my parents about this, remarking that if the movie had reached even this unlikely audience member, it was bound to be a smash hit. “So what’s the appeal?” my dad wanted to know.

Read the whole thing.

Something else: a young man in my office was had the same sentiments as the young man in Dalfonzo's article. He thought this movie was among the best he'd seen this year and this is coming from a babes and bullets kinda movie guy. And Clara reports one of her co-teachers at ESL was surprised at how well they liked this movie.

Interesting. Can't think of a recent movie that had such broad appeal, can you?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The First Rule - Book Review

I finally got around to Robert Crais' latest Joe Pike novel, The First Rule and now I see Crais has just published another. Great. I'm only a year behind.

It's good to get back to this series. As I said a little over a year ago, I see little reason to dip back into the early Crais books and so I was glad to finally check out a copy of this one from the library and make time to finish it off. Typical Joe Pike stuff - tough guy antics in the service of finding the killers of Pike's old friend and his old friend's family. (The fatality rate for old friends of series characters is close to 100%. There's a lesson to be learned here.)

I like how Crais starts with the premise with seemingly no clues and then has Pike work his way doggedly through the leads he manages to develop. This time the bad guys are Russian mobsters and there are bigger issues then personal vendettas but who cares, really. I know it's all preposterous but it's the character I'm here for and Crais delivers another fine installment on Pike. (Oh, and I'm also here for the Southern California locale and Crais' well written prose.)

An entertaining series. I see another Pike novel has just come out. Time to get on the waiting list.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The King's Speech - Movie Review

Surprisingly engaging, The King's Speech is about, well, the King's speech, or, actually, his speech impediment. King George VI had a killer stammer and being King of England and all, that won't do. Heck, it won't do for anyone but when a large part of your duties is giving speeches to inspire your people through a little thing called World War 2, well, something must be done. Enter Lionel Logue, a speech specialist, and what follows is an interesting story of how a man overcomes a disability and how two men separated by class become good friends.

Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush play the leads and the buzz about their acting is well-deserved. Helena Bonham Carter, in normal-mode, does a fine job as Queen, too. Sets, costumes - a period piece in England so what else could period-piece fans want? It's rated R for a brief sequence of profanity played for comic effect but otherwise there's nothing offensive about this movie.

This didn't seem like a movie I'd want to see but I was pleasantly surprised. One of my recent favorites.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Wolves Eat Dogs - Book Review

Next in line for me on my Martin Cruz Smith reading list was Wolves Eat Dogs, another Arkady Renko novel though this one is the installment before Stalin's Ghost. More great stuff. The mystery? A New Russian billionaire has committed suicide which in Old Russia, and, apparently, the New, means someone else killed him. The trail takes Renko to the no-man's land of Chernobyl and here Smith transports us, once again, to another strange world. As if Russia isn't strange enough.

Some of the characters in the Stalin make their first appearance here so that helps shed a little light on the subsequent novel. The characters names confuse me, of course, and I had a little trouble keeping them straight; I often do with mystery novels and that can be a problem - wasn't this guy the other guy who did one thing or the other? - and the Russian names only compounds the problem. But I buckled in for the ride and everything finally made sense. If Smith's research is accurate, the incidents leading up to the Chernobyl accident, its aftermath and the nether-world that's risen from the ashes, are weird and fascinating. A perfect setting for a mystery.

Another very good installment in a very good series.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader - Movie Review

Can anyone tell me what The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is about? Emily's the Chronicles of Narnia fan and so we saw this with her; she, of course, loved it, and can't understand why anyone is having a problem following along. I guess because it's been a few years since the last installment, I've lost the thread of the narrative. Heck, I'd lost that with the first installment. All of these fantasy epics blend into one - our heroes are sent on a quest against unstoppable forces and must rise above it all and learn important, life altering lessons. (Which, I guess, is the plot of all stories, isn't it?) I was no fan of The Lord of the Rings until the LOTR movies came out and though I'm a fan of the series now, it's the series as depicted on the screen; I find the books slow and plodding. No, LOTR filled my fantasy quotient nicely, thank you, no need for more. Okay, Harry Potter. I'll go with Harry Potter. Chronicles of Narnia? A fantasy too far.

Still, there's much to like about this movie. Though it's in 3D - boy, will I be glad when that fad is over! - the visuals are quite arresting and represent, once again, the state-of-the-art of what Hollywood is capable of producing. If you can imagine it, they can put it on the screen. The acting is fine, the kids engaging, though I find the little mouse character to be annoying. Technically, a good a movie as can be produced but I just had no idea who was who and why they were doing what they were doing. Emily and the audience knew so clearly the problem lies with me.

The important this is that we got to see it with Emily; Rachel tagged along, too, and that's a rare thing, so I wouldn't have traded the experience for anything.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Why Liberals Want Higher Taxes

Via TaxProf Blog:

Much Ado About Huck Finn

A whole lot of fuss is being made about a new edition of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn that omits certain offensive words. While I don't think this is censorship - that's government's job and, besides, a regular edition is easily available. And since the copyright on the book has long expired and it's now in the public domain, I'm not opposed to publisher's making an honest dime for their efforts. I still don't think it's a good idea.

Huckleberry Finn was written to make the reader uncomfortable. Underlying a story seemingly intended for the youth market is the story of how a boy comes to view his friend, Jim, a runaway slave. Finn attains enlightenment; it's wrong for a free person to own another person. In short, as any high-school teacher or college professor will tell you, Huckleberry Finn is the story of America itself. Bowdlerizing the language is an insult, not a good-intentioned effort to spare someone's feelings.

This kind of thing isn't anything new. Here's Ray Bradbury in his Coda to his prescient Fahrenheit 451:
About two years ago, a letter arrived from a solemn young Vassar lady telling me how much she enjoyed reading my experiment in space mythology, The Martian Chronicles.

But, she added, wouldn’t it be a good idea, this late in time, to rewrite the book inserting more women’s characters and roles?

A few years before that I got a certain amount of mail concerning the same Martian book complaining that the blacks in the book were Uncle Toms and why didn’t I “do them over”?

Along about then came a note from a Southern white suggesting that I was prejudiced in favor of the blacks and the entire store should be dropped.

Two weeks ago my mount of mail delivered forth a pip-squeak mouse of a letter from a well-known publishing house that wanted to reprint my story “The Fog Horn” in a high school reader.

In my story, I had described a lighthouse as having, late at night, an illumination coming from it that was a “God-Light.” Looking up at it from the viewpoint of any sea-creature one would have felt that one was in “the Presence.”

The editors had deleted “God-Light” and “in the Presence. . .”

. . . There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches. Every minority, be it Baptist / Unitarian, Irish / Italian / Octogenarian / Zen Buddhist, Zionist / Seventh-day Adventist, Women’s Lib / Republican, Mattachine / FourSquareGospel feels it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse. Every dimwit editor who sees himself as the source of all dreary blanc-mange plain porridge unleavened literature, licks his guillotine and eyes the neck of any author who dares to speak above a whisper or write above a nursery rhyme.

(While I'm quoting Bradbury, and since you've come this far, I might as well quote my favorite part of his Coda. It's relevant to this issue, too:
In sum, do not insult me with the beheadings, finger-choppings or the lung-deflations you plan for my works. I need my head to shake or nod, my hand to wave or make into a fist, my lungs to shout or whisper with. I will not go gently onto a shelf, degutted, to become a non-book.

All you umpires, back to the bleachers. Referees, hit the showers. It’s my game. I pitch, I hit, I catch. I run the bases. At sunset I’ve won or lost. At sunrise, I’m going out again, giving it the old try.

And no one can help me. Not even you.)

Hemingway says all American literature stems from Huckleberry Finn and he's right. Leave the offensive language alone. Don't worry. We're readers. We can take it.