Thursday, December 31, 2009

Last Video of the Year (at least here)

I probably should post something that kind of sums up the last year somehow... but I don't have any idea what that might be. So, I'm going with a clip of one of my favorite bands instead, the Sir Douglas Quintet. This song is off my favorite album by them, called Together After Five from (I believe) 1970. I think they were having some fun here miming to the recording, as a couple of the band members (Augie Meyers and Frank Morin) appear to have swapped instruments. Enjoy:

The Last Movie I Saw

I was trying to think if, in the history of American movies, anyone has experienced a career trajectory anything like that of Clint Eastwood. I know that there were actors, even fairly big stars, who eventually became directors. But had any of them been arguably the biggest star around, as Eastwood arguably was for awhile in the seventies? And when they moved behind the camera, did any of them become arguably the most respected, even revered, fimmaker of their time, as Eastwood seems to have become over the past decade or so (Martin Scorsese notwithstanding)? What's really amazing about the latter development is that Eastwood's films tend to be kind of old-fashioned in the way they are constructed (though I think his subject matter is often completely contemporary). His movies, going back at least to Unforgiven, look like classics because they embrace a visual and narrative sense of maturity that we (or anyway, I) associate with films of Hollywood's Golden Age of the 30s and 40s, and not so much the post-Star Wars generation of films. Obviously there are non-Eastwood examples of such films still being made, but I can't think of anyone (even Scorsese) who so consistently remains true to that style from film to film to film. Invictus is the latest example, and while I didn't find it quite so compelling as Gran Torino, Million Dollar Baby or Letters From Iwo Jima, it is a solid, thoughtful, and adult feature that displays many of the same virtues of those earlier movies. It's only (minor) flaw really, is that it maybe conforms too closely to the cliches of most sports movies, though one could argue that they make more sense in the context of this story, where the whole point is that the South African rugby team was promoted by Nelson Mandela as a symbol of national unity during the period of reconciliation after the collapse of apartheid. Eastwood does well in emphasizing the work aspects of both governance and sport-- keeping the film from falling into the common trap where each is portrayed in over-blown, idealistic, even sacred terms. Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon deserve some credit for that as well, with understated performances in the key roles. I certainly wouldn't call this a great film, but again, it fits very nicely in the lengthening list of quality work that Eastwood has delivered in this latter stage of his career.

Happy Birthday Nick!

Today is my brother Nick's birthday, and I will note that he's a bit older than he looks in the picture above. I hope you have a great day, Nick, and a great New Year!

Today's Quotation

Here's something short and sweet from one of the original American intellectuals, Thomas Paine:

"A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives
it a superficial appearance of being right. "

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Video Find of the Day

Way back in 1980 there emerged in the ether surrounding Buffalo, NY a truly great FM radio station called the Wizard (WZIR). They launched their free-form programming with 24 hours of repeated plays of the song heard in the video below. If there was a model for what I try to do on my own radio show (albeit for just two hours a week), it was Wizard, though by 1980 free form was a dying breed (the station lasted with that format for just a little over a year as I recall). Anybody out there remember that great station, or WUWU, which came a little later with several of the same folks involved and a similar philosophy (and which met a similar fate)?

Images of Ellicott Creek Park

Yesterday I went over to Ellicott Creek Park to take some photos, thinking the high contrast of bright blue skies and snow-covered ground would make for some interesting shots. I'm not totally thrilled with the results (so far-- I don't have access at the moment to editing software to fix these up a bit), but thought I would post a few anyway. Above is the WPA-constructed boat house from a similar angle as the picture in this post from last summer.

Next are a couple of black and white shots, above of the snow-covered picnic grounds; and below looking across the Barge Canal.

I suspect each of these b&w photos would benefit from some enhanced contrast, but they do somewhat convey the bleakness of the empty park on a cold, cold morning as they are.

The Last Movie I Saw

I think I've mentioned here in the past that I'd be willing to see Robert Downey Jr. in almost anything-- I think he's that good, and maybe more importantly interesting, an actor. I've also enjoyed some of director Guy Ritchie's work, especially Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and its stylistic cousin Snatch. So, I was willing to give their new collaboration on Sherlock Holmes more than a fair chance (despite some reservations created by the preview which featured an inordinate number of explosions for a Arthur Conan Doyle based story). Downey doesn't disappoint, and Jude Law makes a particularly impressive he-man like Dr. Watson, but taken all together the movie practically defines mindless forgetability (to coin a phrase?). The storytelling is way too convoluted, while at the same time patronizingly telegraphic. It felt like it was three hours long, when it actually clocks in under two. I get the impression that this project started out as an examination of the friendship between the two main characters, stressed by the imminent departure of Watson from their Baker Street digs for marriage. Focusing on that element had some potential, but unfortunately a bunch of nonsense concocted around the sinister Lord Blackwood takes center stage, and that stuff is just stupid. It's pretty clear from the mild cliffhanger ending (identifying Professor Moriarty as a looming foe) that a sequel is in the works, but it'll be really hard for me to give that film the same benefit of the doubt I granted this one. I can think of better ways to waste three-- sorry, two-- hours of my life.

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom

Edward Steichen (1879-1973) was one of the 20th century giants in the field of photography, and evidently a pretty thoughtful guy. Here's some evidence of the latter fact:

"There is only one optimist. He has been here since
man has been on this earth, and that is man himself.
If we hadn't had such a magnificent optimism to
carry us through all these things, we wouldn't be
here. We have survived it on our optimism."

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Video Clip of the Day

Back in the 1930s, there was a whole raft of great character actors whose presence always enlivened the films they were in, no matter how mediocre the rest of the movie might be. There was a sub-class of these character actors comprised of hefty old guys like Edward Arnold, Charles Coburn and Walter Connolly who usually played someones father or boss. My particular favorite in this category is the gravelly voiced Eugene Pallette, who was especially memorable in My Man Godfrey, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Lady Eve, and maybe especially as Friar Tuck in The Adventures of Robin Hood with Erroll Flynn. Here's a clip of the latter to give you some idea of what a great actor he was:

The Last Movie I Saw

I've been a big fan of the work of Joel and Ethan Coen ever since their first film Blood Simple. I count several of their movies-- Raising Arizona, Miller's Crossing, O Brother Where Art Thou?-- among my all-time favorites. Even the few times they didn't hit a home run (like with The Hudsocker Proxy), I was always willing to concede that they'd tried something interesting. But now they've made a film that left me cold, a film that seemed as misanthropic as many critics have long seen as a staple of their filmography, but which I always thought was tempered by at least some genuine affection for their offbeat protagonists (maybe best symbolized by Marge Gunderson in Fargo, or The Dude in The Big Lebowski). A Serious Man though betrays no such affection: the main character, evidently cursed by the sins of his ancestors, while superficially a nice enough guy is so emotionally disconnected from his family and neighbors as to render his escalating series of misfortunes as something akin to justice. It's not exactly that he deserves everything he gets, but there's little offered here to allow the audience to develop some heartfelt sympathy for the guy. There's a fair amount of the trademark Coen archness on display (especially in relation to the adventures of the protagonist's son) to spark some dark laughter, but in the end this movie just left a bitter taste in my mouth. I'm sure I'll watch it again, and maybe something will click (it took a second viewing for me to really enjoy The Big Lebowski) , but at the moment this seems a disappointment.

Today's Quotation

Today's quotation comes from the eminent American (though Spanish-born) man of letters, George Santayana (1863-1952):

"A string of excited, fugitive, miscellaneous
pleasures is not happiness; happiness resides
in imaginative reflection and judgment, when
the picture of one's life, or of human life, as it
truly has been or is, satisfies the will,
and is gladly accepted."

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Plug and a Video

If you are a fan of Sonic Youth (or just good music in general), you might want to pick up the latest issue of The Big Takeover (best music mag published in this country, by miles and miles) which just came out with the aforementioned band on the cover. And if you are not a fan of Sonic Youth, maybe this video will make you one:

The Last Book I Read

Last summer I was somewhat surprised at just how much I enjoyed reading The Music of Pythagoras by Kitty Ferguson, a book largely about mathematics. Son of a gun if I haven't just had a repeat experience with Logicomix by Apostalos Doxiadis, Christos H. Papidimitriou, Alecos Papadatos, and Annie Di Donna-- a graphic novel about mathematics. Actually, that description is way incomplete. As the subtitle suggests ("An Epic Search For Truth"), there's a lot more going on here than a dry recitation of theorems and proofs. It's structured in the form of dual plots, each of which addresses how one goes about investigating the nature of truth, and while one of those plots (the more prominent, to be sure) follows the intellectual journey of mathematician, logician, and philosopher Bertrand Russell, the other traces the creative process employed by the authors of the book itself (actually kind of a neat play on one of the points of logic that Russell grapples with: self-reflexivity). In tracing academic debates of the early twentieth century in which Russell was deeply involved, the story threatens to be little more than a graphic summary of the challenges and breakthroughs that defined the field of mathematics during the modern era-- the era that largely made possible the amazing technological advances (both good and bad) that have so dramatically shaped contemporary life. But the concurrent story-- about how to tell Russell's story-- ultimately brings those academic debates down from the ivory tower, and places them into a human scale social setting (in both broad and narrow terms) that provides necessary context for determining the true value of what the great thinkers have accomplished. This book stands as powerful evidence of the confluence of ideas-- scientific, artistic, even mystical-- that contribute to our individual and collective grasp of the truth, no matter how tenuous that grasp may be.

Monday's Quotation

Walter Lippmann (1889-1974) was possibly the best known editorial journalist in America in the mid-twentieth century. Here's something he wrote that continues to be worth consideration:

"Ages when custom is unsettled are necessarily
ages of prophecy. The moralist cannot teach
what is revealed; he must reveal what can be taught.
He has to seek insight rather than to preach.
Align Center

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Video of the Day

"Come As You Are" may be my favorite Nirvana song, and Caetano Veloso is definitely one of my favorite singers. The combination of the two, though, is not something that would seem all that natural, but this is pretty darn cool:

What I Did Today

I spent most of this afternoon up in Lewiston at Artpark with the Rosieks, hiking around the grounds and over by the Niagara Gorge. Here are a handful of the pictures I took, starting with one of Sally, above, dwarfed by some giant cat-tails.

Here we see Natalie, Tom and Andromeda ambling along the leaf-strewn path of the "Upper Trail."

That's the Lewiston Bridge in the background, and Natalie, Ben and Tom in the foreground. Ben was shooting video, and threatened to post some unfortunate footage of me online. But I don't think he knows how, so I should be in the clear (he said, glancing nervously over his shoulder).

Sunday Funnies

Of all the strips I started reading when I was a kid, I think only Blondie remains essentially the same as I remember it, and continues to be entertaining. These examples here are of the strip as drawn by its creator Chic Young, who I believe passed away sometime in the 1970s. But Blondie and Dagwood roll on, running through the same half-dozen or so themes that have marked the plotlines for something like 80 years.

There's the knocking-over-the-mailman bit; the asking-the-boss-for-a-raise bit; the neighbor-borrowing-the-tools bit; the midnight-snack-as-a-work-of-art bit; etc. etc. I wouldn't argue that these are laugh out loud funny, but there's something about their total familiarity that brings a smile to my face, even three or four generations of creators past Young's tenure on the strip.

Of course, a few things have changed over the years: when Dagwood knocks over the mailman these days it's because he's racing to catch his carpool instead of the bus. And of course Blondie now has a career of her own as a caterer. But it's nice to see something in popular culture remain largely unchanged over such a long period of time without becoming entirely irrelevant.

I wonder if Dagwood will still be bumbling along eighty years from now?

Soup Diary 091227

I really like eating at Greek restaurants, because no matter what else is or isn't on the menu you can generally get a cheap and tasty chicken souvlaki. The downside is that most of the Greek places I frequent (they are all over the place in Buffalo and environs) have a pretty limited selection of soups, rarely straying beyond a couple of staples. One of those staples is Avgolemono, a lemon flavored chicken and rice, and too often (for my taste) it's too tart. Not so much the cup I had at a place called Kostas a couple days ago; in fact, their version could've almost passed for a dessert, as the consistency and flavor called to mind a warm lemon pudding. The downside was that there was no chicken to be found, but all things considered, I think I'd make that trade-off. It was nice and hot, creamy and flavorful, and frankly better than I expected. It still won't be my first choice if there are other options, but at least at Kostas I'll order it again without that feeling of settling for something I'm not really fond of.

Philosophical Sunday

Ludwig Wittgenstein was so convinced that money corrupted whoever had it, that he gave away his considerable fortune to his already wealthy sisters (instead of someone more deserving) since they were already too far gone for it to make a difference in them. You might want to take that into account when considering the following quote from Herr Wittgenstein:

Align Center"Death is not an event in life: we do not live
to experience death. If we take eternity to
mean not infinite temporal duration but
timelessness, then eternal life belongs to
those who live in the present."

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Cool Song

Here's a classic from the Kinks that wasn't written by Ray Davies. Rather, his brother Dave (featured in this here video) was the composer. Just one classic among many on the fantastic album Something Else by the Kinks:

Saturday Morning Cartoon

Clutch Cargo was definitely second tier in terms of the cartoons I watched as a kid; but it was animated and on TV, so watch I did. Here's a sample-- note the crazy technique they employed to make the faces appear to actually be talking:

Saturday's Words of Wisdom

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) was a British mathematician and philosopher who sought to discover place logic at the center of human knowledge. Here's a sample of the way he thought:

"If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts,
he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is
overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the
other hand, he is offered something which affords a
reason for acting in accordance with his instincts,
he will accept it even on the slightest evidence.
The origin of myths is explained this way."

Friday, December 25, 2009

One Last Holiday Post

I always liked this rendition of "Winter Wonderland" performed with lots of good cheer (if not the greatest of vocal talents) by the original cast of Saturday Night Live with guest Candace Bergen. See if this doesn't make you smile-- at least for the angelic band-members:

Friday Family Blogging Quiz

This week's question involves the above cropped photo of Raechelle. Actually, Raechelle isn't cropped, but the person sitting to her left is entirely cut out. Who do you think the cropee may be? Put your answers in the comments section.

Last week, I asked you where a photo of Nik was taken. As usual, this turned out to be much easier than I hoped, as Sally knew it was the Teddy Roosevelt Inauguration Site, and Mom corroborated (though neither mentioned the place's actual name: the Wilcox Mansion). I think this week's question is a little more open in terms of the possibilities (no tell-tale pillars or the like), so have at it.

More Christmas Family Blogging

Here are a couple of shots from the celebration today at the Rosieks (I was also at the Caufields earlier, but brought my camera without a flashcard-- D'oh!).

Here's Mom relaxing before the action started under the tree.

Nicky and Helen got some really big stuffed dogs (Emma got a big bear), which were a big hit.

Ben's new Wii game was pretty popular too.

More Friday Family Blogging, Christmas Edition

From 1969, I'm guessing we were inspired by either the Cowsills or the Partridge Family. Alas, we never made it as far as those other sibling groups. By the way, I really wish Catie weren't partially obscured, as it appears from her expression that she was really wailing on those drums!

Friday Family Blogging

Ah yes, the Ghost of Christmas Past-- why is it that only Lizzie seemed to notice that spectral presence hovering over our heads?

Christmas Quote

Merry Christmas to all my readers old and new. Here's a sentiment from the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (looks a little like Santa, doesn't he?) in keeping with the occasion:

"I heard the bells on Christmas Day;
their old familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet the word repeat
of peace on earth, goodwill to men!"

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Couple of Photos

I haven't had the opportunity to get out and take too many pictures so far on my travels, but today at sunset the light drew me down to the Niagara River where I shot these two that I think turned out okay (they're un-retouched as I don't have access to any editing software at the moment).

I'm still getting used to my new camera, but I'll keep experimenting and hopefully have more to share in the coming weeks.

A Song for the Season

Here's a video you may have seen before as it circulates every year about this time. But it's certainly good enough to bear up under repeat viewings. Enjoy:

Quote of the Day

Somehow it seems appropriate to look to English author Charles Dickens (perhaps most famous for A Christmas Carol, for today's words of wisdom. Here they are:

"A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every
human creature is constituted to be that
profound secret and mystery to every other."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Video for Natalie

I'm guessing she's already seen this, maybe more than once, but in honor of Natalie's birthday, here's a video of one of her favorite artists (have I got that right Natalie?):

Happy Birthday Natalie!

Yesterday was my niece Natalie's 15th birthday, and I wish I had got this posted in time to mark the occasion. But considering that we celebrated this evening with cake and presents (because Natalie was at a school dance last night) I guess I'm still within the acceptable grace period with this post. By the way, the picture above is not from this evening's get-together.

I have to say that spending time with Natalie is always one of the best parts of coming home, whether playing kickball in the backyard or cards around the table...

... or just hanging out. I've gotten such a kick out of watching her grow up into such a lovely, smart, and funny young lady, and I'm really looking forward to hearing about all the new things she continues to discover and experience as time goes by.

It's great to see how much she gets along with her younger cousins, and even her brother Ben ;-)

... and how she generally tries to make the best of any situation...

... even putting up with my recommendations about music she might like, dragging her to concerts (I think, deep-down, she might even admit she enjoyed that Amy Rigby show last summer).

Like most teenagers, she's got her own things to do, but it's nice that she makes some time to do stuff with the family too, and I think mostly has a good time when she does.

So, happy birthday Natalie-- you deserve to have every day be special, and I really hope that's the way they all turn out.

Quote of the Day

Here's something said by the well-known anti-slavery advocate Wendell Phillips (1811-1884) which strikes me as entirely relevant today:

"Governments exist to protect the rights of minorities.
The loved and the rich need no protection: they have
many friends and few enemies."

Political Comment

The health care battle goes on, with the Senate seeming to have finally secured the votes necessary to get their proposal on the table. I know there are a lot of folks out there who are disappointed in this version, for not doing enough or doing too much. But the nature (and arguably the genius) of our legislative system-- and this has been true going back to the Constitutional Convention-- is to progress through compromise. One could argue that this particular issue is pressing enough to push for more, but there's no reason why this can't unfold in steps. Compare this to the Civil Rights Act of 1957: a drop in the bucket compared to what came down the pike seven years later, but probably a necessary step to keep us on the right course. I hope it doesn't take seven years to fix the rest of what's wrong with health care (just as I wish it hadn't taken seven years back then), but that's part of the price we pay to maintain our concept of democracy. If anyone doubts that this watered down bill is worth supporting, I'd suggest taking a look at the chart found in this article. There appears to be much of value here, and maybe enough to provide some momentum for even more significant change moving forward.

Soup Diary 091223

For the past couple of months, a good friend (who shall go unnamed) has been singin ghte praises of the chili served at the Tim Horton's outlets scattered on every other street corner in Western New York. Like most natives of the region, I've long enjoyed the doughnuts on which they made their reputation, but I don't think that I ever did try the chili. Until this past Monday. I was out Christmas shopping and after spending some time and money in a local toy store was loading my purchases in the car when I spotted a Tim Horton's across the parking lot. Since it was lunch time, I decided to try some of the vaunted chili my friend extolled at such length. It was served as you see above, with a nice fresh roll on a silver platter. Frankly, I found the stuff a bit thin-- more like the topping you might ladle over a chili dog than a real hearty meal in itself-- and, for the record, big chunks of mushrooms (as in this stuff) adds absolutely nothing to chili. In fact, I found the roll to be the highlight of the meal. But despite the evident shortcomings, I did not find the chili inedible. Unfortunately, it was not so forgiving to me-- later that afternoon I started experiencing some uncomfortable rumbles and... well, suffice to say, I spent much of the evening and ensuing night quick-stepping to the nearest WC-- and could not bring myself to down anything more than ice water the next day. It was quite unpleasant. Far be it from me to lay this entirely at the feet of Tim Horton's-- after all, there is that aforementioned friend who loves their chili-- but on my future visits, I'm sticking to the crullers.

Pardon the Interruption

Sorry for the lack of posts the past couple of days, but I was struck down by some kind of weird stomach ailment (I hate to say it, but I suspect the culprit may have been a cup of soup-- more on that later). I'm most sorry that I missed passing comment on my niece Natalie's birthday yesterday, but I'll try to make that up to her as well with some nice photos posted a little later on. Hopefully, I've put the bad health behind me, so onward and upward...

Monday, December 21, 2009

Quote of the Day

Here's a little pearl of wisdom courtesy of the great American novelist William Faulkner (1897-1962):

"Always dream and shoot higher than you know
you can do. Don't bother just to be better than
your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to
be better than yourself."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Trumpet Summit

Gerik is a fine trumpeter, so in honor of his birthday, here are a couple more: Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong:

Prime Merle

Here's a classic cut from the one and only Merle Haggard, who I know birthday boy Tom likes-- see the next post for something more up Gerik's alley (I hope):

Happy Birthday Tom!

Above is a photo commemorating the day Tom Rosiek joined our clan by marrying my sister Sara (that's my Mom and Dad with them on the happy occasion). Having spent much of today in Tom's company, I can report that he remains the great guy we thought he was back then, and wish him nothing but the best on his birthday, and every day for that matter!

Happy Birthday Gerik!

I'm happy to report that my nephew Gerik today celebrates what I believe to be his sixteenth-- no, can that be right? Gerik old enough to drive?-- birthday. Many happy returns Gerik-- I hope you have a fantastic day rocking out with the Beatles, or whatever else you might've decided to do!

A Quote for Sunday

Here are some worthwhile words to live by, from the pen of Washington Irving (1783-1859), who is sometimes identified as America's first significant literary figure:

"An inexhaustible good nature is one of the most
precious gifts of heaven, spreading itself like oil
over the troubled sea of thought, and keeping the
mind smooth and equable in the roughest weather."