Friday, December 31, 2010

That's a wrap!

Is it just me, or has it been a strange year? Of course it has. Most years are strange when you look back on them, because we live in a weird world. Maybe I'm just getting more attuned to the oddity of it all.

For us, the big news for the year was the BP oil spill, which now seems to have faded from the collective consciousness. Not quite as big of a bust as the last visit of Halley's comet, but I got the distinct impression that newspeople and environmentalists* were really hoping for more oil-covered birds and blackened beaches. Given our national addiction to oil, they will have to content themselves with unknown long-term environmental damage, and the chance for a repeat as we continue to push aggressively into deeper water. Maybe we will eventually awaken Godzilla.

Only slightly less believable than the twists and turns of the BP story was the New Orleans Saints winning Super Bowl XXIV. Five years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is still a shadow of its former self, and the character of the (non French Quarter) city has probably changed forever, but that silly football game was probably more significant for the residents than any sporting event since the Miracle on Ice in 1980,

Politics seemed to get even stranger, if that's possible. The nation's ability to believe things for which there is considerable counter-evidence continues to increase, as evidenced by the fact that our most influential politician is a belligerently ignorant housewife/governor/reality star who two-thirds of the population believes to be either dangerously unqualified or some sort of sinister media mastermind. Delaware came very close to electing a witch to congress. Okay, not a witch (I saw the commercial), but I'm sure Christine O'Donnell was one of those crazy drama majors in the dorm who burned incense all the time, held seances, and probably wore a cape.

I'm currently reading a biography of Theodore Roosevelt, and it has taught me two things. First, the issues in politics haven't changed at all in a hundred years. In 1910, the big issues of the day were Arab nationalists blowing things up, and giant corporations taking over the government. But if the issues haven't changed, the people in politics certainly have.  Roosevelt wrote around eighteen books (most in several volumes), not just about himself. He was an avid naturalist, historian, and pursuer of "the strenuous life." He led a cavalry charge and earned a brown belt in judo after he detached a retina and had to give up boxing. He was shot in the chest in an assassination attempt and still gave the speech he was scheduled to deliver. He had beliefs, and didn't care who knew them. He would never get elected today.

But I digress. Biscuit and I had a pretty good year overall. We managed to stay hurricane-free, and actually made up some ground on our home improvement project backlog. I am very close to finishing the never-ending bathroom remodel. The cats stayed healthy, I finally finished Moby Dick, we saw Buddy Guy in concert, and we got to see a shuttle launch.

We did lose an old and dear family friend a week before Christmas, but that seems to be part of my life now. My parents' generation is on the far side of the current expected lifespan, and very few months go by without another one passing on to what my grandfather termed "whatever is next."

Oh, I totally spaced on Movie Sunday last week. My excuse is that I was driving all day, traveling from the wine-fueled chaos that is my family Christmas to a more sedate late holiday celebration at the in-laws. I'll be back at it this week, but in the meantime you can enjoy Amy's review of True Grit. It's better than anything I could have written, anyway.

Anyway, it's been a good year, is the point. And I hope you have at least as good a year in 2011 as I had in 2010.

Happy New Year, everybody!

* I'm a huge advocate of preserving nature, the importance of biodiversity, etc., and probably maintain more extreme views of the importance of environment vs. economic development than many Sierra Club members. But I am wary of organized movements. It seems the successful ones always end up with money as their primary goal, and the rest usually fall under the control of a small group of zealots.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Christmas wish

So maybe it hasn't been our most festive Christmas season ever. It's the second year in row we've had a Christmas week funeral, and we have both had quite a bit of stress from various quarters. We have managed almost no decorations, or shopping, or baking, or any of the other things that tend to put one in the spirit.

But sometimes the hard years are just what it takes to remind us of how delicate and fleeting it all is, and how special this time of year. The nadir of the year, the time when it is always darkest, brings with it the promise of the dawn. There is nothing that encourages us in quite the same way as singing in the graveyard. The Joy that can be had from being with family (no matter how aggravating), exchanging gifts that no one wants, eating and drinking way too much, and reflecting on the turning of the years and the promise of Christmas, just cannot be had at any other time of the year.

So on this holiest of days for Christians and retailers, we wanted to let our favorite holiday decoration deliver our message for the season. I'm not sure where young Frostie was programmed, but I suspect it's a country where English is not commonly spoken. I'm not sure what a coin top pipe is, but I'm sure they are nice.

Watch the video. You know you want to.

So from Biscuit, the cats, and me, here's wishing you a very lively I don't know. Happy Holidays, everyone!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Movie Sunday: Pirate Radio

Image from here

If you like sixties rock, you have GOT to see Pirate Radio (originally released in Britain as The Boat That Rocked). For one thing, practically everyone in it has a British accent, and says things like "bollocks," "cheers," "posh tosser," and "fortnight." And of the couple of people who aren't British, probably half of them are Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

Seriously, you wouldn't believe the cast in this thing. It's a true ensemble, full of people you will probably recognize and can't name. Several are minor characters from the Harry Potter movies that make you say, "I know that dude." Or woman. Like Emma Thompson (Sybil Trelawney) and Bill Nighy (Rufus Scrimgeour). It's also got that woman from Doc Martin. The receptionist. Not the first one, the second one. Pauline, I think. What? You haven't watched Doc Martin? Do so immediately.

It's also a fun movie to watch. It's not quite what I would call a light-hearted romp, but it's definitely fun, and not too heavy. Sort of a blueberry scone of a movie. Sweet and light, but it stays with you pretty well. And did I mention the music is spectacular?

The music is spectacular. I can't even start to list all the great songs that were played during this thing. It was so good it kicked off an episode of YouTube Night at our house. You've never played YouTube night? What do you do at your house?

So here's the rules to YouTube Night.* First you need two computers. We take turns queueing up songs on YouTube, and the other one has to guess either the artist or title. Then there is often a story concerning the significance of the song. I didn't say it was a hard game, and we don't keep score or anything. But it's more fun than you might think, especially since the differences in our ages and childhood locations make it a little more interesting.

So here's a partial transcript of our latest YouTube night. See if you see anything you know.

Tower of Power: What is Hip?
Supertramp: Breakfast in America
Foreigner: Jukebox Hero
Curtis Mayfield: Superfly
Isaac Hayes (aka Chef): Shaft
Coven: One Tin Soldier (The Legend of Billy Jack)
Bobby Gentry: Ode to Billy Joe
Paul Revere and the Raiders: Indian Reservation
Jimmy Dean (yes, the sausage guy): Big Bad John
Kansas: Dust in the Wind
Herman's Hermits: Henry the Eighth
Tennessee Ernie Ford: Sixteen Tons
Gerry and the Pacemakers: You'll Never Walk Alone
Jeannie C. Riley: Harper Valley PTA
The Kinks: You Really Got Me
Bobby Bare: Marie Laveau
The Zombies: Time of the Season
Mungo Jerry: In the Summertime
Waylon Jennings: Luchenbach, TX
Jefferson Airplane: White Rabbit
The Monkees: Last Train to Clarksville
Bread: Baby I'm a Want You
Bread: I Want to Make It With You
David Dundess: Old Blue Jeans
Starland Vocal Band: Afternoon Delight
Sammy Johns: Chevy Van
Helen Reddy: Angie Baby
Lobo:  Me and You and a Dog Named Boo
Bobby Gentry: Fancy
Michael Murphy: Wildfire
Dean Friedman: Ariel
Kenny Rogers and the First Edition: Ruby
Dr. Hook: Sylvia's Mother
Looking Glass: Brandy (you're a fine girl)
Jimmy Buffett: Come Monday
Mac Davis: Baby, Baby, Don't Get Hooked on Me
.38 Special: Hold on Loosely
Dave Loggins: Please Come to Boston
Eagles: Lyin' Eyes
Gerry Rafferty: Baker Street
Sam Sham and the Pharoahs: Little Red Riding Hood
The Animals: House of the Rising Sun
Sinead O'Connor: Nothing Compares to You
Don Mclean: Vincent
Linda Ronstadt: Desperado

I'm totally loading all of this crap into Pandora and seeing what happens.

*Biscuit just reminded me of another important rule: You will need wine.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Quid Pro Quo

Johnny Virgil has written a book, apparently because he has less to do at work than I do. Or possibly he's one of those people who doesn't watch television fourteen hours a day. I wouldn't know. I haven't read it yet because I'm still catching up on the Twilight books, but I bet it's good. He's a talented writer and a funny guy, so you should probably buy it. Think of it as The Wonder Years, but with real kids.

Johnny Virgil

You can click right on the picture and go straight to Amazon. The Internet is like magic.

I don't usually pimp other people's stuff,* but Johnny bears a good deal of the blame for me starting a blog. Also, I don't want to wade through his old posts trying to remember what sort of hiking boots he bought, and I'm hoping he will tell me. Of course, I just know he's got regular feet, so it won't even matter. Do they make boots for hobbits? Because that's probably what I need.

* No one ever really asks me.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wax on, wax off

Most of my life I have been known as a "visionary type," or "abstract thinker." Generally, these have not been compliments. My graduate school advisor called me his "philosopher student" one time, which I still insist on interpreting as a good thing. A few years ago, one of the directors at our company asked me to come into a software requirements meeting he was holding and "do some of that crazy-talking you do."

I realize now that I am a rank amateur. My boss is internationally famous for visionary thinking, and uses  words like "aspirational," "transformational," and "entangle," often in the same sentence. We've been working on a grant proposal for the past few weeks, but he's been busy with other things, so I've been doing most of the writing. Reading through it this morning, I realized it sounds awfully pedestrian. I was very tempted to send a message asking him to run through it and add some of that crazy-talking.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Movie Sunday: Cabin Boy

Image from here

I said last week that I had been planning to do a stupid one, and they don't get much stupider than Cabin Boy. Let me start by saying that I'm not a fan of Chris Elliot. I hated him on David Letterman, and pretty much everything else I've ever seen him in, which is as little as possible. But I loved this movie. I still have no idea why.

The film was produced by Tim Burton, who was originally supposed to direct it.  Chris Elliot plays the lead, an idiotic boarding school graduate who we first meet at the waterfront, looking for his father's yacht. It features David Letterman as a fancy-lad-hating sock monkey salesman, in a cameo appearance that was an instant classic.

Instead of the yacht, Elliot ends up on a filthy fishing boat with some filthy fisherman. The ensuing odyssey is ridiculous, and strangely sweet. Somehow, the combination is perfectly tuned to Elliot's particular brand of obnoxiousness, and the result is a very funny movie.

At least some people think it's funny. I know several people who hate this movie. A lot. But if you liked The Three Stooges Meet Hercules, you will love Cabin Boy.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Movie Sunday: Airplane!

Image from here

I was originally going to do a different stupid movie this week, but two things happened to change my plan. First, Leslie Nielson died, and I heard him say, I am serious ... and don't call me Shirley, about a hundred times.  But what really did it was that one of my former students dropped by while Airplane! was playing on AMC, and I realized that he had actually never seen it. In fact, while he said he had heard of it, he really had no idea what it was about. And this is one of the cooler kids, who knows a lot about old music, vintage TV, and delivers Holy Grail quotes on a regular basis.*

I tried to explain it as "an old movie full of stupid jokes, but that's not important right now," which cracked me up, but didn't really seem to help him at all.

Airplane! is like an encyclopedia of comedy. From slapstick to satire, it has examples of practically everything, though it admittedly tends toward the lower forms. But while explaining it to my friend, I was reminded of the time it was made, and the string of disaster movies that made Airplane! the Scary Movie of its time. I guess Leslie Nielson owed the revival of his career to Irwin Allen, at least indirectly.

That was another small irony of this movie. Airport, Towering Inferno, Airport 75, Earthquake, Airport 77, and all the rest, gave washed up old actors -- the kind who today would show up on Dancing with the Stars -- one more role to pay the rent for another couple of years. But Airplane! gave several washed up old dramatic actors, most notably Nielson and Lloyd Bridges, new careers in comedy, at least for a while. As dumb as it was, it really was a phenomenon. This is the sort of thing that's hard to explain to a 22 year-old.

So if you haven't seen it in a while -- or God forbid, ever -- indulge your drinking problem and watch it. You may be amazed at how many of the old jokes you know came from this movie.

* Your idea of what constitutes a cool kid may vary. But we are talking about computer science majors, here.