Friday, October 23, 2009

Obama and the Peace Prize

Oath of office of the President of the United ...Image via Wikipedia

Now that the right wing outrage has died down after the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama, maybe we can take a more objective look at what it means.

Granted, it may have been a little premature to nominate him a month after taking office, but perhaps it was his campaign and his philosophy not his administration which caught the eye of the committee.

After decades of racial strife in our country, the idea that a black man could win such a resounding victory in the election has to be worth something. His election, whether the red staters like to admit it or not, was an historic demonstration of the power of hope and change.

The campaign brought together people from many different backgrounds, ethnicities and education levels. It was unlike any campaign in the history of our country. Shouldn’t Obama get some credit for uniting a country with a long history of racial injustice? Just last week, a judge in Louisiana refused to marry an interracial couple. Obama’s ability to transcend this kind of ingrained racism and win the election is remarkable. Some might even say it was prize worthy.

For those who claim he hasn’t done anything to deserve the award seem to overlook that this award is an international award, not one limited to our country. Millions of people in Africa danced in the street on election day. European leaders rejoiced that they would finally have a President who would actually use diplomacy before calling in the troops. Millions of citizens of African descent looked to the leader of the free world and saw someone who looked like them. Yes, Obama has struggled with health care reform and reviving our economy, but that’s not what the Nobel Peace Prize is all about. Critics of this award need to look beyond our borders and see what he election has meant to the world. That’s what the prize is about.

All that might be reason enough, but let’s add this to the mix: Obama made one statement which rises above the rest. On January 9, weeks before his inauguration and before the Nobel nomination deadline, he said, “I was clear throughout this campaign and was clear throughout this transition that under my administration the United States does not torture…We will abide by the Geneva Conventions. We will uphold our highest ideals.” Considering the policies and practices (both documented and undocumented) of his predecessor, this statement alone might have been enough for some members of the Nobel committee to nominate Obama.

What is becoming increasingly clear is how much the international political and diplomatic community loathed George W. Bush and his administration. I’m not even sure if “loathed” is a strong enough word. Whether this hatred is justified or not, it was evident and influenced how the world viewed America. This simple statement reversed years of obfuscation and deception which characterized the Bush administration’s foreign policy. For the legion of Bush apologists out there, Fox News is not exactly as “fair and balanced” as you have been led to believe. Just because we choose not to “aggressively interrogate” detainees doesn’t mean we have become weak.

Our problems in this country are significant (and let’s not forget that President Obama inherited these problems from a Republican president), but the Nobel Peace Prize has NOTHING to do with our domestic issues. Obama’s unifying influence, strong statements and subsequent actions to reverse the horrors of Bush’s foreign policy has had a more profound effect on the international community than we can understand here at home.

Was Obama’s Nobel award a bit premature? Probably. But, does it give him more international credibility? Absolutely.

That’s a good thing.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Thoughts on "The Lost Symbol"

The Lost SymbolImage by Simbe90 via Flickr

I ripped through this in about three days, so it certainly kept my attention. Some of the running around D.C. smacked of National Treasure, but I didn't mind.

The trove of arcane historic trivia was almost overwhelming, but the new characters added to the mix. The whole thread of "Noetic" sciences seemed a bit forced, as did the epilogue, which seemed very preachy.

Some of the plot twists caught me by surprise, some didn't. I don't think Dan Brown fans will be disappointed, and I'm sure he'll make some new ones with this book.

Anyone who liked the earlier Langdon books will enjoy this one. I would rank this a slightly behind the other two novels, but definitely in the same neighborhood.
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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Thoughts on "Adventureland"

PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 19:  (L-R) Actress Kri...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Adventureland was a major flashback experience for someone from that era (like me). Eisenberg really draws the viewers sympathy as the recent college grad forced to "slum" for a summer at an amusement park while his friend backpacks through Europe. I thought Stewart would have more fun playing against the "good girl" type she has earned from Twilight, but she was a bit of a mope. Granted, her character was dealing with multiple issues, but there wasn't much life to her. Martin Starr stole the show for me with his existential angst. Ryan Reynolds channels his inner Ben Affleck as the older, married guy trolling for younger girls.

The soundtrack mixes the ubiquitous pop nuggets of the time ("Rock Me Amadeus") of the era, with great alternative stuff ("Pale Blue Eyes"). Any movie which features a Velvet Underground song rates with me. However, I seriously doubt a townie bar in Pittsburgh in 1986 had a jukebox with "Pale Blue Eyes" on it. I don't even think it was ever released as a single.

Rock and Roll: an Introduction to The Velvet U...Image via Wikipedia

While the plot was somewhat predictable, most Rom-Coms are. The attraction for me was how the film nailed the time period. It was an excellent film to finish off the summer.
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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Minor Leagues not Enough for Palin

So Sarah Palin resigns as Governor of Alaska. Is anyone really surprised? It's like a career minor leaguer getting called up to the bigs for a few months and then getting sent back down. As Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz said recently in the Boston Globe, “Any day in the big leagues is a better day than in the minor leagues...’’ Governor Palin discovered this following the Obama victory in November.

One day, she's jetting around the country in designer clothes speaking to the enthralled masses of Republican lap dogs, chatting with Katie Couric (whoops, maybe a bad example to bring up), and pressing the flesh with the most influential right wing big wigs in the country.

Then...nothing. It must have been a very cold December in Wassila when the bright lights went out.

She played the good soldier for six months, digging back into Alaska state politics thinking that with a little more seasoning, she'd be ready for another shot at the majors. Well, as Buchholz and many others players have discovered, once you get that taste, you need more. As Governor, she had to concern herself with pesky ethics rules and the day to day doldrums of Alaskan politics (all due apologies to those of you from our 49th state, but compared to national politics, fishing rights and natural gas pipelines don't cut it for a glory hound). Freed from the responsibility of her elected office, she is now free to make her move back to the big leagues.

Instead of local salmon suppers with constituents, she can roam the country beating the drum for the GOP and feast at $10,000 a plate fundraisers with Rush Limbaugh, Karl Rove and the rest of them. Beats frozen dinners with Todd and the brood any day.

So Palin has made her own break and didn't wait for the big club to call again. Where does she go from here? Her own talk show? The Fox News Channel would clear it's prime time schedule for her. The long awaited book tour? Soccer Moms will be lined up around the block. At the very least, she could start her own blog - wouldn't Ann Coulter love that? Whatever she has planned, I bet she'll find those bright lights of the big leagues again.

The only question will be: is she ready? Clearly, she wasn't last time and had to be sent back to the minors. When baseball players are sent down, the work on their skills to earn another shot. What has Palin worked on?

Now playing: U2 - Running to Stand Still
via FoxyTunes
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Friday, June 26, 2009

Jackson's passing should not be compared to Lennon, Hendrix, et al.

Double Fantasy album coverImage via Wikipedia

Unlike many of my fellow children of the '80's, Jacko was not the soundtrack of my youth. I was more of the U2 / R.E.M. / Bruce Springsteen type. Granted, he was a huge pop star, but the emphasis should be on WAS. People should not be comparing his death to John Lennon, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison or Jimi Hendrix.

All these artists passed at or near the height of their powers. You could argue that Lennon was a bit past his prime, but his posthumous release Double Fantasy was a big success, and you could argue that he was experiencing an artistic rebirth.

Sure, Michael Jackson was the biggest selling artist of all time, but he hadn't had a hit (however those are determined now) in more than a decade. His shows were selling out, but it was no more than a greatest hits tour.

The Essential Michael Jackson album coverImage via Wikipedia

If anything, Jackson's passing should be compared to passing of his musical namesake: Elvis Presley. Both the King and the King of Pop had been reduced to Vegas show status. Both were the biggest stars of their time, but music had definitely passed them by.
His legal and moral issues aside, Jackson was a significant superstar. For 15 years, he ruled the charts. That was, however, 15 years ago. Don't confuse him with those artists who died still at the top of their game.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Thoughts on "Paul Blart, Mall Cop"

I enjoyed the scene where he rocks out to "Detroit Rock City" on Rock Band. Other than that...

It cost us $1 to rent this at a Red Box. Probably twice as much as it was worth.

Watching Paul Blart, Mall Cop. Do security gua...Image by BenLucier via Flickr

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Am I a twit for not Twittering?

I've just recently descended into the circle of hell that is facebook and have enough trouble keeping up with that. I've taken IQ quizzes (genius, of course), listed my five favorite everythings, found out that I drive women wild (thank you, Captain Obvious) and reconnected with people who never really interested me in the first place. Now you want me to update my "followers" on my every move? I've got news for you, I'm not that interesting. Twitter is for people who don't have the attention span for facebook.

I actually don't mind facebook because it has forced me to write more, and it gives me an audience for my blog (yeah, that means you). I've avoided Mafia Wars and Scrabulous, but there are still plenty of things on facebook to waste time with. But at least you are still doing something. It seems like with Twitter - admittedly I've not explored the site fully yet - all you do is follow what others are doing. Suddenly, it's on the cover of Time magazine.

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBase

Now I'm as curious as the next guy, but I don't need to know what people had for breakfast or what song they are listening to at the moment (well, maybe I do). I don't need to know that you just got out of class or crossed the street or picked your nose or took a deep breath. And, I don't feel like telling you those things either. I mean, I don't know about you, but I try to hide it when I pick my nose.

Do I want to know when my niece wins a ribbon at a track meet? Sure. Do I want to know that you just got engaged/married/separated/divorced/remarried? O.K. That's what we have facebook for. And don't give me any nonsense about how the Gen X'ers have taken over facebook and the youngsters need something of their own. Hey, if you don't want to know what your parents are up to, don't friend (is that now a verb?) them. I'm a big fan of the "ignore" button on facebook.

If you spend all your time on Twitter, when do you actually do anything? On facebook, there are games, trivia quizzes, videos, etc. But it seems that all Twitter has to offer is the mundane ramblings of people who think they are important. I understand the whole marketing aspect of the thing, but do I really need another way for people to sell me stuff? Maybe Twitter needs something which functions like a DVR/TiVo - something to edit out the commercials.

As a high school teacher, the social networking boom has captured my attention as I try to better connect with my students. I blog and facebook (another new verb) and post photos on Picasa. These kinds of sites require you to think, plan and react. Which photos do I post? Which trivia quiz do I publish? What thoughts should I put into words for the world to see? But Twitter is different.

With Twitter, we're sinking further into the quagmire of passivity which is plaguing the early part of the century. We've become so enraptured with what others think or do, that we don't do anything ourselves. Facebook is enough of a time vacuum; we can do without Twitter. According to their "Twitter in Plain English" video on their website, "real life is what happens between e-mails and blog posts." Glad to know there's a "real life" in there somewhere, but what happens when you're so caught up with following, you have no "real life" to "tweet"? Later on in the video, it says that what's happening on Twitter is the "real world".

Um, not quite. The real world does not happen 140 characters at a time. It happens with a thought toward what's truly important. It happens in private, without public broadcast. It happens to people who are TOO BUSY TO POST TO TWITTER!

A true twitterer will constantly update followers (sounds like a cult, doesn't it?) on his/her mundane thoughts and activities. It's like fast food for the mind. Oooh, look, Aston Kutcher just stopped at the Circle K! Oprah just fed the dog! My apologies to all you "Twitterers" out there, but I beg you, instead of becoming addicted to this electronic dross, get out and do something yourself. And for god's sake, don't broadcast it to everyone. You're just not that important.

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Thoughts on "Prague"

Cover of "Prague: A Novel"Cover of Prague: A Novel

Pat Conroy bills Arthur Phillips's novel Prague as "one of those books that help define and identify a whole generation, in the same way that Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises introduced his own lost generation.” While the novel held my interest after a slow start, I don't think it's quite in the same ballpark as The Sun Also Rises.

My main problem with the novel is the multiple points of view. The only real character I cared about was John Price, a journalist who comes to Budapest to reconnect with his estranged brother (Oh yeah, even though the novel is entitled Prague, it takes place in Budapest.
Don't ask.). While the novel is told mostly though his eyes, it frequently wanders to some of the minor characters. The novel drags in those places.

Price arrives in Budapest a self-acknowledged virgin, but leaves MUCH more experienced. I don't know if that was meant to enhance the "anything goes" mentality of the newly opened Soviet Bloc countries in the late 80's, but Price certainly got his money's worth.

He spends much of his time in the novel doing promotional work for his friend Charles, a Hungarian-American businessman looking for financial opportunity in his reluctantly adopted homeland. That thread bordered on allegorical as Charles attempts to revive and cash in on an old Hungarian publishing company.

Price and his friends wander through the city experiencing much that is has to offer, but they never really connect with each other. Price has a crush on Emily, and Mark has a crush on Price, but nothing ever gets resolved. Love stinks, yeah, yeah.

The friends play this game where they tell the group five statements and everyone has to guess which one is true. The characters can't even admit the truth about themselves, but they enjoy trying to discern truth in others.

Less Than ZeroImage via Wikipedia

The writing style and characters reminded me of Less than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis (which I enjoyed): a bunch of morally and sexually ambiguous characters stumbling around in search of the next score or the next party. Instead of cocaine, the drug of choice in Prague is alcohol.

Once the novel settled on John Price as its main focus, things began to pick up, but I found some of the threads of the plot distracting and pointless. I may give Phillips another try, but I won't give him as much rope next time.

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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Night at the Museum 2 Review

Actress Amy AdamsImage via Wikipedia

As much as I enjoyed the original Night at the Museum, this one didn't do much to change the formula. Some of the slapstick routines dragged on a little too long (once the monkey hits him a few times, the humor fades). Amy Adams was a breath of fresh air as Amelia Earhart and she was a more interesting character than Ben Stiller's. The scene where Stiller and Adams wander into a famous, old photograph of VE day in Times Square was about the only new touch.

Being a history buff, I enjoyed the effort to give the Earhart character a spunky personality. I thought the message that Stiller's character had to learn (i.e. do what you love with people you love) was a good idea, but it was somewhat lost in the slapstick. The main character's son, who played a major role in the first one, was lost after the first ten minutes due to technical difficulties (no cell phone service in the bowels of the Smithsonian). One of the things I enjoyed most about the first film was the father-son interaction.

However, the film wasn't made for me. My 10 year-old son proclaimed it almost as good as the first one and "very funny". He and his two friends were laughing through most of the movie. For an enjoyable hour and a half, this one will amuse its audience. For those adults used to the Disney films that appeal to kids and adults, you'll leave a little disappointed.
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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Why basketball?

Picture of a basketball net.Image via Wikipedia

After finishing my 12th season as a varsity high school basketball coach, some people have asked me what it is about basketball that is so interesting. Well, after you read this article by Chris Ballard from Sports Illustrated, you'll know why.
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Friday, January 30, 2009

The Unoriginal world of Benjamin Button

Forrest GumpImage via Wikipedia

O.K., stop me if you've heard this tale before...

A young boy who is looked at as being "different" is raised in the South by a single (or nearly so) mother, who gives her son a mantra to live by.

The boy grows to a man and falls in love with a hometown girl, but society and fate intervene and keep them apart for many years.

The man wanders through 20th century American history occasionally having an affect on it. He goes to war, acts heroic, survives and returns home.

Through no real effort of his own, he accumulates great wealth and distributes it generously.

He hooks up with a foul mouthed father figure who teaches him life lessons (even sets him up with hookers!)

After years apart, he and his long lost love finally unite (figuratively and literally) and produce a child - who doesn't know who his/her real father is until later in life.

Oh, and a hurricane plays a significant role in the film.

I could go on (and on), but I think you get the point. Forrest Gump was a groundbreaking film, both visually and thematically, and deserved all the acclaim it received.

Now we have The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The credits indicate it is based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, but it derives (copies) more from Gump than anything else. The fact that Button is nominated for Best Picture is atrocious. Such blatantly unoriginal material doesn't deserve accolades.

If I look at the film independent of the NUMEROUS connections to Gump, I can say that it's somewhat entertaining. I came in expecting some connections, but less that half way through the film, it became a serious distraction for me.

The visual effects were good, but again, that reminded me of...well, you know. There were some beautiful shots of sunsets and snowfall. Cate Blanchette was excellent, but she'd be good reading the ingredients off a Rice Krispies box. Brad Pitt wanders through the film with the same kind of emotional reserve that Tom Hanks did in...arrrgh, there it is again.

Seriously, if you have any respect for the original, you will be gravely disappointed/irritated by this duplicate. I sense a drinking game once this comes out on DVD/Blu-Ray -- "Find the similarities to Forrest Gump".

There the mantra from the Mother -- Drink!
Here he is injected into history -- Drink!
Here's his date with the hooker-- Drink!

If you like to watch Brad Pitt or Cate Blanchette, you'll be happy with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but if you're looking for originality in a film, this one's no box of chocolates because if you've seen Forrest Gump, you already know what you're going to get.
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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Harris Bobsled

Here's my son sledding on a track we made.