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October 2012
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Do Animals have Souls?

I am put in mind of this question by the imminent death of my second cat, Jaegermeister. Like his brother, an orange tabby, he has been my daily companion since February of 1998. I have liked every cat I have ever shared my life with; I loved this one and his brother. Christian theologians are firm: animals do not have souls. The Hindu and Buddhist faiths both offer some hope in the form of reincarnation. I am no expert on karma (I don't think anyone who isn't enlightened is), but if loving and caring for other creatures moves you up the ladder, then Jaeger will come back as President of the United States (assuming you think that is a move up from orange tabby cat). Heck, I'm not even sure people have a soul or an afterlife, although I am convinced that all living beings are connected and that people are more than the sum of their chemicals and their electricity.

I can't answer the question, "Do Animals have souls." But I hope when Jaeger is gone (possibly as soon as Tuesday), he will reap some kind of reward for a life well lived.

You Didn't Build It

There was quite a dustup last summer, as you'll recall, when President Obama (and, more forcefully, Elizabeth Warren) made some relatively anodyne remarks, reminding the nations greedier business owners that they did not build the schools that educated their workers, the roads and airports that distribute their goods, or the police and fire departments which protect them. I am surprised that any evangelical took part in that discussion, given the words of Deuteronomy, which were read out at St. Stephens church during the Thanksgiving Eve service last week. Let me note that I am not in the habit of citing God, or for that matter, the Old Testament, in support of my political views. But I believe people who do cite God and the Bible might be well advised to read the whole thing.

When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions.
 He made water flow for you from flint rock, and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good.

 Do not say to yourself, "My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth."

Political Briefs


3.5 stars out of 5
Daniel Craig, under the direction of Sam Mendes, proves once again that there is still life in the 50-year-old movie franchise. He is brilliant as Bond, James Bond. Javier Bardem is on his way to becoming the best villain of his generation. Spectacular chases, gratuitous and uncalled for international travel, beautiful women, a dutiful M (Judi Dench's last outing in the role); all are on display here, in a film that was entertaining, albeit bloated (really? It took more than two hours to tell this story? Not hardly). A lot of sly references to age, and endings, and retirement, but Bond isn't ready for all that yet. Nor am I. It is likely I have been to see every Bond film in a theater. It is a streak I presently have every intention of continuing (I have also seen every Woody Allen film, but that's another matter).

Life of Pi

4 stars out 5
Could it possibly be a trend: Hollywood making movies that are completely original, almost impossible to describe on the back of a business card, that appeal to adults? I hope this film does well, to encourage others like it to come. I have not read Yann Martel's book, but director Ang Lee and screenwriter David Magee have created a visually spectacular and intellectually interesting world. And I did the research so you don't have to: although the tiger was based on four real tigers who were "reference models," he wasn't real. The film asks more questions than it answers, and its answers aren't always fully satisfying, but it makes you think and stays with you. Fifty years on, I couldn't possibly tell you the plot of Dr. No,  or tell you the difference between Thunderball and On Her Majesty's Secret Service," but I will long remember this simple tale of a young man, stranded at sea, struggling to understand the meaning of life as he did on shore. Suraj Sharma is amazing as young Pi; Irrfan Khan is perfectly serviceable as the adult Pi. The ironclad rule of Hollywood is "show us don't tell us." This film does that, despite breaking the other ironclad Hollywood rule: narration is the last refuge of the lazy writer. Here it adds, rather than detracts, from the story telling.

Dalton finds Apple Crushing Microsoft, Dan Grobstein File

Richard Dalton notes: Apple Crushed Microsoft In This Analysis Of Black Friday Shopping

Dan Grobstein File


If this sounds familiar, it is because, in the great tradition of Herb Caen and Jon Carroll, I am recycling my thirteen  previous Thanksgiving messages. I missed two years; last year I was so busy printing a blog entry celebrating Thanksgiving in Mali  with Marlow that I forgot my own message.

It is funny what a difference two years make. In 2010, we were all in Oregon with my dad. Now that both my parents are gone, we probably won't ever spend another Thanksgiving in Oregon. This year the dinner will be in Orinda; my wife and daughters, and my nephew. A cozy group of five around the glass table in the dining nook. Vicki has  to work the week of Thanksgiving, but this year will not be doing a bunch of volunteering for Amma's visit, because this year Amma isn't coming to San Ramon.  My older daughter starts a new job on Nov. 19. But for the sixth  time, I have the whole week off. I pay for it at the end of the school year, which is now the second week of June instead of the first.

I know I have a lot to be thankful for. I have a job that still gets better every year, I have my health, such as it is, and I have my family. I can't imagine why I would bother getting out of bed each morning if not for my wife and my two girls.

Regular readers know that. after 27 years as a journalist, I earned my teaching credential and now teach 8th grade US History at a middle school. It is still true that I have not been this excited and challenged since 1974, when I started working as a professional journalist. This is my tenth  year teaching. Each year gets easier, and I get better, but it never gets easy. (as Kent Peterman puts it). 

Still, my most important role is as husband to Vicki and father to my daughters, the older one going to work for the Small Business Administration, the younger working on a degree at Mills College.

I think we all lose perspective sometimes, forget what's really important. We get wrapped up in our jobs and spend too much time working on them, both at home and in the office.

The years I spent full-time with my girls (I worked from home) are priceless. The time I spend with them now is priceless as well. Not everyone can work in a home office--and I don't anymore.

But no matter where you work, the next time you have to make the tough call between the meeting and the soccer game, go to the soccer game. You'll never regret it. I am thankful for my family. Be thankful for yours.

Also give thanks for your friends and your good fortune. Spread that good fortune around in any way you can. I have much to be thankful for this holiday season, as I have had every year of my life.

I am thankful that I have a  loving brother. I am thankful for my loving and understanding wife, and for the two most wonderful daughters I could have imagined, both of them turning into vibrant, intelligent young women before my very eyes.

I am thankful for every sunrise and sunset I get to see, every moment I get to be in, every flower I try so desperately to stop and smell. I am thankful that I can move closer every day to living a life in balance. Every morning, I am grateful to be alive. Not a bad way to start the day. For reasons I don't want to detail, I am extremely grateful just to be alive.

I am thankful for 240 pounds; down 60 from my peak. I am thankful for the fact that I will still be near that weight next year at Thanksgiving.

Every week at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Orinda, the priest concludes the service with this homily. The provenance seems uncertain; the Internet lists several attributions. All I know is, it touches me every time I hear it and is sound advice for life:

"Remember that life is short and we have too little time to gladden the hearts of those who travel the way with us. So be quick to be kind, make haste to love, and may the blessing of God be with you now and always."

It has been with me. I hope it is with you. In the meantime, I am thankful, finally, for each and every one of you reading this column. I hope you have a great Thanksgiving!

Fourteen years!

(A reprint of my annual anniversary item, with small adjustments).

As of last Oct. 16, it's been 14  years since I started this incarnation of P.S. A Column on Things. (I switched to Google Calendar, which ate the annual reminder to me to rerun this item, so I'm a little late this year)

When I started this column, "W" was still the second-rate governor of Texas, Barrack Obama was a state legislator in Illinois, Mitt Romney was rich and white and the president of the United States was white. How far we have come since then. Except Mitt Romney, who is still rich and white.

I was still working for CMP, and had a weekly podcast, back before pods (which definitely cut into our audience). My heart beat by itself and I weighed 270 pounds. In short, things were different. I believe I am one of the longest continuous bloggers on the Internet.

In 1998, during the Clinton impeachment, I either had to start a column or check into a mental institution. PSACOT gave me a forum in which to express, to an audience (no matter how small) my feelings about that political circus. [As a U.S. history teacher, I am forced to note that Andrew Johnson's impeachment was a rabid partisan witch hunt, as was Clinton's. Only Nixon's was bipartisan--and only Nixon resigned.]

The column/blog has since evolved into a combination of diary for my family and me and bulletin board for my clever friends--in short, a personal column. Like, but not as good as, former San Francisco Chronicle columnist Adair Lara or ongoing columnist Jon Carroll. Or, to take a national example, former New York Times columnist Anna Quindlen, considered the mother of the personal column concept (even though Stanton Delaplane and Charles McCabe of the San Francisco Chronicle actually beat her to it--but of course, if it hasn't happened in New York, it hasn't happened).

PSACOT is also a revival of sorts. Among my readers, Daniel Dern and Peter Peckarsky would remember the original P.S. A Column On Things, which ran in ERGO, MIT's objectivist newspaper from September 1970 to March 1971, and The Tech, MIT's semi-official student newspaper, from March 1971 to May 1971. Those were among my happiest days as a journalist. If I had truly understood the fulfillment a personal column gave me, perhaps I would have fought harder to keep it when Bob Fourer killed it (along with my restaurant reviews), or I would have revived it when I became editor-in-chief two years later, or tried to practice the craft as an adult (and become, perhaps, the father of the personal column).

In any case, I expect to still be doing this next October; I'll meet you here.