December 2006

Near 60 degrees here today. We just went walking around the Panther Trail in short sleeves. Not bad for the very end of December in the Midwest. Who says global warming is a joke?


Just finished reading Jeff Shaara’s latest, The Rising Tide. I’ve read all of Shaara’s novels, and his latest is every bit as good as his previous works. Shaara’s historical fiction should be used in place of textbooks in high school history classes. While it may seem counterintuitive to use fiction to teach factual history, Shaara’s novels are so closely tied to reality that they may even be “closer to the truth” than what’s written in your standard history textbook. And what’s more important is the way Shaara gets into the minds of those he’s writing about, as well as into the mind of the reader. History suddenly becomes something you feel and experience, rather than a bunch of dates and places. You understand the terror and camraderie of those soldiers doing the frontline fighting. You come to appreciate the awesome responsibility of the generals and commanders in whose hands lie thousands of lives, and who must coordinate attacks and defenses and supply on a scale so massive as to seem impossible. You learn that the enemy soldier is often just another kid pulled into a war he doesn’t understand, and who’d much rather be home planning his next date with the girl next door. And in the end you come away with a much clearer understanding of the history than you could ever get from a textbook. And understanding, not rote memorization, is what learning is all about.

Sarah and I have recently begun going to the movies fairly often. Getting me to go was no small feat as I generally do not like movie theatres and I think the price of a movie is way out of line with its value. Few movies we see are so timely that waiting for their rental release would lessen the enjoyment, so why pay big bucks. Having said that, though, if we do decide to wait for the DVD, we usually forget about the movie and never end up seeing it. The other difficulty comes in finding a movie we both want to see. Sarah doesn’t like violence and I’m not big on whining and crying or, god forbid, singing. So I’ll wait for Casino Royale and The Departed to come out on DVD and Sarah will probably go see Dreamgirls with her Mom while we’re in Connecticut for Christmas.

Still, we have managed to find a few movies to see together in recent weeks. Some have been good and some not, and that leads me to my point about movie reviews. Movie reviews are really subjective, more so than book reviews. Take, for instance, the movie Marie Antoinette, which we saw a few weeks ago. This was one Sarah had to prod me to see. I went in thinking I’d be bored to tears and I was right. What vindicated my preconception was that Sarah was also bored to tears. The movie was bad in so many ways. The only positive notes were the costumes, which were exquisite (so I’m told) and the scenery. Yet it is not hard to find reviews which rave about the movie and just as easy to find reviews which pan it, sometimes within the same publication. Check out this list of reviews from MRQE, the Movie Review Query Engine. There’s one review from Film Threat, Hollywood’s Indie Voice which gives it 4/5 and another which gives it 0.5/5. One thumb up and one down? Last night we saw The Holidayand today I read a review of it in The Boston Globe which gave it a so-so rating (2/4). The reviewer (IMO) was looking for a profound message when the movie was clearly meant to be an amusing way to spend two hours. The same can be said for A Good Year, which we saw a few weeks ago. Very enjoyable film, but not too deep. You could put your mind on cruise control and just be entertained. And that is exactly what we went in expecting to see.

I guess the goal is to find a reviewer who seems to mirror your own personal tastes, difficult as that may be. Or maybe just read many different reviews and try to draw a complete picture from the various points of view. Sometimes one review is all you need, though, as is the case with Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto. The only review I’ve read about it said that there is so much intense violence and gore that you become numb to it and actually begin to find it darkly amusing. Um, no thanks. Think I’ll pass on that one.

I’ve often heard it said of folks who are long-lived how awesome it must have been to have witnessed so many monumental events and changes, such as the invention and adoption of aircraft, automobiles, TVs, etc. And yet in the very recent past there have been phenomenal changes right before our eyes. So called “paradigm shifts” in what we view as commonplace conveniences are all around us. In just the last 25 years we’ve gone from yelling into “landline” phones to be heard across oceans to just flipping open cell phones that would have made James T. Kirk envious. I can send an email to someone in Australia and receive a reply within seconds. I watched the space shuttle lift off last night by just going to a NASA website on my laptop. And today, as the Patriots and Colts were both setting a shining example of how not to play football, I was able to snap some cool pics of my cats and some deer in my backyard and put them up on a web site in just a minute or two. None of these things would have been possible at the time I got out of the military 20 years ago. And yet looking back to that time I don’t recall missing any of these conveniences. And that’s where the paradigm shift comes in. These gadgets have forever changed the way we live our lives. Instant communication, instant images, and instant gratification have become the norm. The world is becoming a very different place.

Oh, and here are the pics I took today.

Some backyard visitors.

 Mom and duaghter

Close up

Warm and comfy cats.

Max and Tortie

Every year from December 1st to the 23rd the marketplace in Nürnberg, Germany becomes the Christkindlesmarkt. It is basically just an outdoor market where vendors sell food (like Bratwurst, my favorite) or drink (like Glühwein, which is warm, spiced wine) or other small gifts. But at its heart, Christkindlesmarkt is a place to go soak up the Christmas spirit and enjoy people-watching as you stroll past the vendor stalls and brightly decorated buildings. In a way, it’s similar to Oktoberfest, that other great German tradition. The fun is in being there, walking around with a Brat in one hand and a cup of Glühwein in the other. The Germans really know how to have a good time.

Check out the live webcam at the link above. You can move the camera around by clicking in various areas of the image and you can even zoom in for some long distance people-watching. The image below is the Schöner Brunnen, a famous fountain which has a brass ring said to bring good luck to those who spin it.

Schöner Brunnen