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January 2013

The Beach

In Groundhog Day Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is attempting to seduce Rita (Andy McDowell) at lunch. Mirroring a comment of hers, he says, "I wish we could all live in the mountains. At altitude." I feel the same, with one caveat; my altitude would be sea level.

I know I have ridden this hobby horse before, but as I approach the end of a wonderful 10-day vacation in Lincoln City, Oregon, I am reminded again that there are three kinds of people: mountain people, ocean people and desert people. My parents and brother were ocean people, despite my father's German-Swiss heritage, which would argue for us being mountain people. Perhaps after four centuries in the mountains, we decided it was time to come down. I come by my ocean preference honestly from my mother's side, which is half Irish. My father-in-law was a desert person.

My daughters and wife are ocean people (although the girls have often said they wish we had spent more time in the mountains). As I look out at the moon reflected on the Pacific Ocean about 100 yards from here, I cannot imagine anywhere else I'd rather be. Well, OK, somewhere with an ocean view where it was warmer than 47, but not as hot as 80. I am lobbying for Christmas on Catalina next year. My wife summered on Catalina as a girl, so we have a family connection.

Hyde Park on Hudson

4 stars out of 5
OK, I know. I'd pay to see Bill Murray read the Yellow Pages. But he is actually better than the critics give him credit for (and about the same as the movie-going public give him credit for). This is a little film, but it deserves to do a big box office. It looks at an important president through the lens of a single, singular weekend, and does so with grace and humor.I am sure there will be some mediocre films this Oscar season, but this film isn't one of them.

Jack Reacher

3.5 stars out of 5
One of the many definitions of a good movie is one in which you don't constantly know what is coming next. By that definition, this Tom Cruise vehicle is a reasonably good action-adventure film. Based on the reviews, I was expecting drech. Turns out it is actually entertaining, surprising now and then, well-enough acted, with violence (but not too graphic) and good car chases (but they don't go to long). My biggest complaint? You guessed it. More than two hours. War and Peace this is not; neither is it a story that could not have been told better in 90 minutes. And, to be honest, two scenes that appear to have been left in by accident during the editing process, but as anyone who writes on a computer knows, that's easy to do. done.

Go Fly A Kite. Boehner Letter, Frank and Ernest, Boehner Letter, End of the World, Social Networking, Political Briefs, Dan Grobstein File

Go Fly A Kite. Boehner Letter, Frank and Ernest
A friend forwarded this:

I'd never known that kite flying could be so graceful (thanks also to beautiful camera work). If you're in a rush, you don't have to watch all 5+ minutes of it, though I was glad I did: he continues to introduce new touches, and ends it very nicely. This man (Ray Bethell), a resident of Vancouver, B. C., is apparently one of the most famous kite flyers in the world.

John Boehner didn't really write this holiday letter, but I wish he had.

A history of end-of-the-world predictions, from The Economist.

The psychology of social networking.

Daniel Dern writes:
Still freshly funny, after all these years (now done by Tom
Thaves, son of creator Bob Thaves).  E.g. today's,
Also, per lots of interesting
facts about the strip, e.g.
* First translation of syndicated comic strip characters to 3-D format.
* First availability of an interactive version of a strip first published in the newspaper.
* First searchable database of syndicated cartoons.

Political Briefs:
Dan Grobstein File

Christmas Message

[Note: We're headed out for Oregon for two weeks. This will mean an almost certain two-week break in this column, with the next edition posted January 8.]

In the fine old tradition of journalists who recycle their holiday messages year after year, here's the 13th  rerun of my Christmas message since Dec. 21, 1998 (with a few slight modifications).

Season's greetings to one and all. Apologies to those of you who feel oppressed by the season. I know Christians, atheists and Jews who feel the seasonal oppression in equal parts. Oppression and depression. I'm sorry. This message isn't going to cheer you up, much.

This is a time of year that has inspired some of the most brilliant writing in the English language. It ranges from Dickens' A Christmas Carol (which single-handedly revived the celebration of Christmas as a major holiday in the English-speaking world), to the sturdy newspaper editorial entitled Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus. In more modern times, we have, among other things, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and the unforgettable Bill Murray as Scrooge in the Dickens adaptation, Scrooged. (Not to mention Olive, The Other Reindeer. Never seen it. Love the pun).

Alas, like so many of us, the muse seems to have taken off early. I briefly considered, as I do every year, throwing in some of Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas In Wales which Fr. Harrison West and I recited several times at Benson High School assemblies (long before he was Fr. West). But then I decided just to do a quick Christmas column.

What is Christmas about? It can be about the birth of Jesus, but for most of us it isn't. It's about many things.

Christmas is about singing (or listening to) Christmas carols. My favorite annual Christmas party, bar none, is the Christmas Caroling party held annually by our best friends. They're Jewish, and so are many of the party goers. Joyful voices raised together. Doesn't matter if they're not in tune. Doesn't matter if some of the lyrics are Christian claptrap. Jingle Bells, White Christmas and Jingle Bell Rock, along with the rest of the secular Christmas liturgy are just plain fun. I wince a little sometimes when we sing the later verses of God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen, or Good King Wenceslas" (Question: speaking of  muses, why is it that the muse flees most lyricists somewhere between the first and second verses?) Besides, I get to do "Five Golden Rings" every year when we sing The 12 Days Of Christmas.

Christmas is about family and friends. It is about Egg Nog (or fat-free "Holiday Nog") and all the rest of the seasonal food. It is about the children.

It's about traveling, at the worst travel time of year, to be with your family. This year, we are headed to Lincoln City, Oregon, then Seaside, where we will scatter my dad's ashes. My wife and younger daughter will join me in Lincoln City. My older daughter has to work. My niece will meet us in Seaside. We leave on the 22nd, and return on the 2nd, leaving a few days before we go back to work (or school) on the 7th). 

Christmas is about family traditions when you're a kid, and the blending of family traditions when you marry. In childhood, my family stayed at home on Christmas, my wife was always a Christmas runaway. My lights went up the Saturday after Thanksgiving each year and came down the Saturday after New Years. Vicki's went up on Christmas Eve and came down on Boxing Day.  There aren't as many lights as when the girls were little. That's OK.

We've had artificial trees for years. Marlow asked for a big real tree her freshman year at college, so we put a 14-footer in the library in 1999; then Rae asked for one and got it in 2003. This year -- just a little tabletop tree with Chinese decorations. But it's a fancy artificial tree, with two kinds of lights and a remote control, modeled after a White Vermont Spruce. We bought it in January 2008, at an after-Christmas sale in an artificial tree store.

Christmas is about giving thanks. Thanksgiving is the official holiday to give thanks for our good fortune, but nothing says you can't do that at Christmas as well. Every Christmas morning when I wake up with my health, my wife, my children, and my brother as part of this world, I count my blessings. Mine are beyond counting. I hope yours are too. I have adult-onset diabetes, but there are lots of worse diseases in the world. Mine, at least, is under control. I almost died in a car crash in January 2007, but I'm still alive. My wacky ticker made me faint, and now I have a defibrillator / pacemaker. Beats the alternative.

One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six...

Funny Cat Video, Tories and Republicans, Political Items, Dan Grobstein File

I am not in the habit of posting links to funny cat videos, but this one, from my wife, is hysterical.

Daniel Dern notes: The Man Who Invented The Bar Code. (Or the ideas and tech that turned into it...) Interesting keywords/items in this include "Boy scouts," Morse code," "the mob," "elevator music," "lines in the sand." Sadly, he and his partner only got $15,000 forthis particular invention... (I'll forgot the obvious thought about what his gravestone will have as part of the marker...)

The Tories and the Republicans are scoundrels. Both are functionally insane.

Political items of note this week:

Dan Grobstein File
  • Tests Call Mislabeled Fish a Widespread Problem in New York
    The conservation group Oceana said that genetic analyses showed 39 percent of nearly 150 samples of fresh seafood collected from 81 establishments in the city were mislabeled.
  •  Show Me the Money
    When college sports executives get together, it?s not the athletes or their educations that they talk about.
  •  The God Glut
    A West Point cadet's experience suggests our lax observance of the line between church and state.
  • Climate change causing drought in states that don’t believe in climate change 
  • David Leonhardt (@DLeonhardt)
    12/12/12, 8:45 PM
    ! MT @Redistrict: If every state awarded Electoral votes by Congressional district (a la ME & NE), Romney would have won, 276-262.
  • This happens the same way "austerity" has happened and will continue to happen: in a slow, steady process of downwardly revised expectations, stern lectures about your moral failings (Live within your means! Work harder! Shop more!), and Tough Choices that screw you continuously but incrementally.
  • I either run into people whose idea of history is World War II or people who think that "Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia." Young adults don't even remember Reagan, never mind what the country was like when we had the massive middle class expansion after the war. "History Channel" makes it worse.

Christmas Season

Well, it's Christmas-time... again. That's how Bill Murray's Phil Connors character might have put it in Groundhog Day (my favorite movie). And that's how it feels sometimes, especially as I get older, and the swirl of seeing to the Christmas needs of my children settles down. We buy them one gift, they buy us one; a far cry from 20 years ago, when we carefully counted gifts to insure that each of our daughters got the exact same number. Put up the trees, put up the lights, play the Christmas concert with the brass band, attend the school faculty Christmas party, attend the Christmas sing-along party held by FS, my best friend and fellow teacher, then go away somewhere for Christmas. The same as every Christmas. Some people call it a rut; I call it a comfortable routine. When I was younger, I disliked repetition. That's one of the things that bothered me about working at the Oregon Journal; Rose Festival every June, Coldwell Banker Real Estate Breakfast every February, earnings season four times a year. I was only there 18 months, and was already tempted just to bring up last year's story and give it a light rewrite. But routine in my personal life is comforting to me.

Most families end up with a blended Christmas tradition which borrows elements from both parents. In the case of my family, the element we adopted from my wife's family was being Christmas Runaways. Now that all four of our parents are gone, we are repeating some of the patterns, but with less of a logical basis. My wife and I have spent 25 of the 32 Christmases of our marriage in Oregon or Los Angeles, with her parents or mine, and at least a week in Lincoln City, Ore. during the 15 of those that were in Oregon. We'd drop our girls with my folks and get some alone time on the Oregon Coast near (but not at) the beautiful Salishan Lodge resort (repository of Oregon's best wine cellar, a distinction that has come to mean less over the years). Of course it is cold and rainy in Lincoln City over Christmas, but we loved it.

We continue the tradition of going to Oregon this year, but without the necessity of seeing my parents. I am not sure for how much longer we'll head north. I am treating this as our Oregon Farewell Tour, with plans for future Christmases in a warmer place. Vicki's family spent every summer at a house they owned on Catalina Island, and that appeals to me as a destination. Hawaii, where we went year before last, is warm (a little too warm for my taste), but also far away. Vicki doesn't like San Diego, and I don't like Mexico. Neither of us like the desert. So, I think we're looking at Catalina in the future. We'll see. In the meantime, excuse me while I roll over and turn off the clock radio before Sonny and Cher get any farther into I've Got You Babe.

Political Briefs