Previous month:
September 2012
Next month:
November 2012

What I'm looking at

A yellow-dog Democrat could be permitted some gloom and depression as a presidential race which should be a runaway is, instead, a nail biter. Some friends of mine are actually depressed. Be of good cheer! Try to take a look at the big picture. All may not be lost. I keep my perspective with three sites:

Robert Malchman reminds me of a site I followed in 2008 that somehow dropped off my list:


Political Briefs

Cloud Atlas

4 stars out of 5
The reviews of this film are all over the lot. I haven't listened to the Fresh Air review, but I think the title, "You'd be better off reading the book" kind of gives away where it is going. The New Yorker kind of liked it, as did the San Francisco Chronicle. Rotten Tomatoes shows 61% critic approval, 78% audience approval (compare that to 93% for Looper). I try to review neither the reviews nor the budget (in this case $100 million), but I like the Chronicle take on the film's central points: you can triumph over evil, but evil always reappears, and souls rotate through many lives. The makeup and special effects are amazing, and I cried. Now, I admit it is easy for me to be manipulated, but I was bawling by the end; in short Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis that deeply moved me with the help of Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, Susan Sarandon and even more all-star cast). Go see it. You'll either think it is great or pretentious, but you're likely to enjoy it. You know how I hate long movies; this one was three hours and I still loved it. Hello Oscar!

Monterey, California

Sometimes I think I like travel, sometimes I think I don't. This time I liked it.Last week I went for a three-day weekend with my wife and daughters for a joint celebration weekend of birthdays in September and October (and thus no column last week).. We rented a house we had never seen in Monterey, California. It was, as expected, right on the water. Perfection! It was not walking distance to downtown as we had sort of expected, for reasons that now seem unclear. :-( Not too impressive on the outside :-(, but very nice on the inside! In short, the typical vacation home rental. We had a couple of lovely hour-long walks on the beach and would rent there again, for a large group. It would be too large for just my wife and I. In addition to the walks we had a very adequate dinner at PF Chang's, shopped for some lovely home-cooked meals at Whole Foods, watched some free On-Demand movies in front of the gas fireplace, and rented a surrey for four. We had to return the first one when the peddle fell off, but otherwise had a lovely ride from the rental place to the end of the bike path. I treated myself to a massage at the spa at the plaza. Alas, their hot tub is outdoors. Normally a wonderful idea, with its breathtaking view of Monterey Bay. Alas, on a very hot day, with no shade, my heart meds (which cause me to sunburn very quickly) kept me out of the hot tub. As did forgetting my swimsuit back at the house. They had swimsuits for sale, and, had there been some shade, I could have added one to my already extensive collection. It was a minimum three-night stay, so we didn't leave until Monday morning. I had to teach at 11:15, so we left at 8am. We got home in plenty of time, but, to tell the truth, my head wasn't in the game. Amazing how we can forget that it takes time to re-acclimate after travel. I love travel around Northern California, but I still harbor a desire to see London, Venice and Paris at least one more time each.

Memoir Writing

For my 60th birthday my daughters bought me private memoir writing lessons. After my first meeting with the writing tutor and a week's procrastination, I took advantage of the isolation and lack of distraction of a weekend at Monterey to get a lot of writing done. I have written literally hundreds of pages of autobiography, but all of them have been drech, because I didn't understand the difference between memoir and autobiography. No one cares about the name of my sixth grade teacher. What makes good reading is how I felt, what I said, and what I did, plus dialog. In short, an obsession with what it was like, not the details. I am trying to bring up these things, with some help from a professional writer. So far, so good, I think. It is intensely personal, and I have zero plans ever to publish except for my family, but as my older daughter put it, "Wouldn't you like to write some memoirs someday that someone might actually read?" Well, yes. The first batch seems to be mostly about my dad, which surprises me, since I have always felt closer to my mother.

Political Briefs


4 stars out of 5
Based loosely on the true story of six hostages who were NOT held in the American Embassy in Iran back in 1979, this is one exciting movie, starring and directed by Ben Affleck. He surrounded himself with a boatload of terrific character actors (although I don't know where he came up with the CIA directors). Alan Arkin and John Goodman get callouts as the terrific comic relief. Regular readers know how much I hate long movies--this one is just over two hours. But for a change, that seemed the right length for the story. Well told and exciting, despite the fact that we know how it ended (well, we do if we read the papers or listen to podcasts). Definitely a cut above run of the mill.

Pitch Perfect

3.5 stars out of 5
A stunning exposé of the seamy underbelly of a capella singing groups in college? Not hardly. How about a mildly amusing competition film with a foregone conclusion, whose pleasure (such as it is) likes in watching the performances, and rooting against almost every character except Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson).I couldn't tell the difference between the good a capella singing and the bad stuff, but as I went with my younger daughter to see this, and she knows a lot about the subject, and it was just the two of us in the theater, I was able to get a pretty full explanation--and we didn't even have to whisper!