81st Academy Awards

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Aside from just being (insert deep voice....) manly, my wonderfully comfortable recliner from Leather Creations (not a paid advertisement) is a regular author of unanticipated consequences.

It has been with me through good times (Clemson football) and bad times (Clemson football). It's seen the thrills of Cylon warfare, the humor and heartache of countless M*A*S*H reruns, the eccentricities of Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes, the... Eh, you get the point. If my recliner happened to not be facing a flat panel TV, it would still beckon me, possibly to read a book, or, more likely, to take a nap. It's just that comfortable.

Though a few shows have caught my interest recently, I don't watch much TV, all things considered. I've been there and done plenty of that. And will again, I know. Last night, one of my weaknesses drew me to the screen, namely "The Amazing Race." It's been a favorite since it first aired, as interesting for the global travelogue as the trials and tribulations of couples expecting "good" to come from a steady dose of publicly televised stress. But then, it ended. What to do... what to do...

It's the recliner, you see.

A couple of clicks later, I'm watching the 81st Academy Awards, thankfully already in progress. I don't often watch the Academy Awards. That said, it's one of those broadcasts,like the movie "Midway" perhaps, where I just get sucked in.

academyaward

Is it the sparkle of Anne Hathaway that keeps me watching? The challenge of picking out which actors are actually happy for their peer who won in theirannehathaway nominated category? Is it expecting the least but hoping for the best puns from the host and the presenters? A chance to pull for the underdog or a personal favorite in receiving an award? Perhaps a voyeurish and envious admiration for the celebrity life? Did I mention Anne Hathaway? Front row, too.

Years ago, when I watched this regularly, the results somehow mattered. I actually celebrated in some tiny part of me the success of the actors or movies which I liked, and I felt disappointed when they lost. That was then; this is now.

Wall-E should have won Best Picture!!! I mean, c'mon you bozos! It's so obvious! And it wasn't even nominated!

Well, maybe I haven't changed. Aside from who won or didn't win this, that, or the other, there were several things I did enjoy. First, I liked the glamour of the setting; the stage was elegant. I certainly wasn't watching to critique the staging; the thought just struck me repeatedly.

oscars

I also liked that the award winners could walk directly to the center stage without having to enter from the sides. It made the acceptance more immediate, and, perhaps, more intimate... not that it shortened the proceedings.

As for the people, well... Jack Black scored mightily with his comment about taking all the money from his voice-over work for Dreamworks' animations then betting it on Pixar to with the Oscar, this just prior to Wall-E winning for best animated movie. Very funny, and very gutsy with his previous employers in the house. This slightly edged what was a personal satisfaction at the assembly's snub of Bill Maher and his self-serving attempt at humor at those who believe in Something rather than Nothing.

Which is to say, I'm as picky and petty as anyone else watching these types of events.

As the evening wore on through one less relevant category after another, I was surprised but pleased at the segment where we pause to appreciate those who have contributed to cinematic art in some way who passed during the previous year. Paul Newman and Charlton Heston were obvious. The lesser known character actors were the ones that were more striking, like familiar acquaintances we won't see again.

If I were to watch this annually, I think that this portion alone would be a better signpost for the passing of time than a birthday, an anniversary, Christmas, or New Year's Eve. We relate to the roles played and the stories told, and, individually and cumulatively, there is definite sense of loss.

And as quickly, we move to the next category. Life goes on.

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John Lennon - Plastic Ono Band

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A college friend I rediscovered on Facebook passed along a list challenge, as is frequently done there:

"Think of 25 albums—vinyl LPs, 8-track tapes, cassettes, compact discs or MP3s—that had a profound effect on you. Music that dug into your soul and brought you to life when you heard it...Royally affected you...Kicked you in the Wazoo...Literally socked you in the gut! Maybe you just really liked it or it entered your life at a time that made it seem significant?"

There is a difference between selecting favorite CDs and those that "kicked you in the Wazoo." A lot varies on what is going on in one's life when the music is first heard. And, of course, a lot depends on the quality of the music and lyrics.

Unquestionably, Plastic Ono Band is at the top of my plastic ono band list when considered from the Wazoo. When it comes to Beatles, I'm more of a McCartney fan than Lennon. This isn't to say I enjoy the inane; I just don't find enjoyment listening to political harangues and generally avoid artists, regardless of talent, who seek acceptance as "a voice" in public affairs because they can. However, it has to be appreciated that artistic interpretations of historical events or societal issues are as valid or truthful as any other source, and often more candid and pointed. Translated: I like John Lennon. A lot.

Plastic Ono Band was Lennon's first solo release after the Beatles breakup. I'll avoid Lennon's life issues at the time he recorded this, as the point here is more upon the listener at whichever point in life it is heard. I mentioned a while back that music can offer healing. Something within musical structures can affect physiological responses, and lyrics, if heard and contemplated, can alter our understanding of ourselves, others, events, etc. On a simplistic level, "Oops, I Did it Again" may only be a dance groove to some; others may find a commonality in the naivety of teenage relationships. The poor souls.

I don't have to agree with John Lennon to find value. Within this album, there is a relentless catharsis relating to very personal feelings that clearly are not solely his: abandonment issues from family, finding self-worth when your identity has suddenly changed, loss, testing attitudes towards icon worship and religious belief, the security found within a loving relationship, and coming to terms with "who" one is.

On paper, those topics tend towards poetry. How does one put music to same? Lennon did not not dress or disguise these issues with something softer and sweeter. Instead, the musical is typically sparse featuring Lennon's piano or acoustic guitar, and it is occasionally harsh, along with the vocal delivery. However, the music is always perfectly suited to the emotion in the lyric, something that many artists get wrong, even for lyrical content that falls within shallower waters.

Plastic Ono Band, today, just as in my teens, is not a high rotation listen, likely getting an audience less than every couple years...and then only when I have the house alone. Like Radiohead's Kid A, there's some music I just can't explain to my family.

How this album resonated with me as a teen is less the point here. It could probably be summed as a lesson on confronting those things that hurt, thinking deeply and meaningfully about them, and being truthful to oneself before moving on.

My appreciation for Plastic Ono Band in the years since has guided my musical tastes, reflected in my approach to musical quality. There are numerous musical artists who excel at what they do, making good songs that satisfy both themselves or their fans. That's fine; I listen to many of them.

In comparison, however, it's clear how rarely musicians pour their souls into their art, in making music that is their own artistic statement unrestrained by others' expectations, and into making music that matters.

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It's Curtains For You

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"It's curtains for you, Dr. Horrible... lacy, gently wafting curtains." - from Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

image

I was corrected several months ago by a former drapery manufacturer (now a drapery importer) when I referred to their product as curtains. Egad.

Well, never let it be said that I would want to insult someone due to a lack of refinement. From my good friends at dictionary.com:

cur-tain /ˈkɜrtn/ –noun

1. a hanging piece of fabric used to shut out the light from a window, adorn a room, increase privacy, etc.

Just as I thought. But wait! There's more!:

drap-er-y /ˈdreɪri/ –noun

1. coverings, hangings, clothing, etc., of fabric, esp. as arranged in loose, graceful folds.

2. Often, draperies. long curtains, usually of heavy fabric and often designed to open and close across a window.

Well, if that doesn't make it abundantly clearer. Fabric hanging from a window = curtain = drapery. But it doesn't. As I was told, "No one buys draperies anymore; everyone buys curtains." And that would be why the company also imports curtains. I gather draperies are heavier cloth, less functional, more decorative, and perhaps lengthier. These things are important to know, you know.

I had forgotten this episode until recently, when I was driving home to the tune of "Shattered" by the Rolling Stones. It's not a favorite song by any measure, but being part of the soundtrack of my teenage years... yeah, I'll not change the radio station.

Ahhh, look at me, I'm a shattered
I'm a shattered
Look at me- I'm a shattered, yeah

What weird connections the mind makes. Suddenly, it occurs to me that I really don't like seeing the back of homes, which are more numerous than the trees during some stretches on my commute.

Well, what is it that I don't like about them? I mean, my home has a back side, right? Is it the decks? No. Little Tykes play structures? No. Uneven trampolines without safety netting? No comment. Assorted mounds of hexavalent chromium? Well, that would.

Shadoobie, my brain's been battered, shattered, shattered...

Shuttered, shutters... See? I said it was weird. People put shutters on the front of their houses, but not the rear. It makes the windows look smaller and, conversely, the wall area larger. It makes a home look undressed.

Which makes one wonder. In this fine country (and assuming one's house is not prone to hurricanes), we don't need shutters to keep the storms at bay, or to regulate airflow through louvered wood slats, or to shut out light, or to defend against bugs... They certainly don't help with privacy. Why, then?

Take the house pictured below, a fine, stately traditional home.

shutters

Now, imagine it without the 16 shutters. Ugly, isn't it?

Imagine that you're building a home and looking at your line item expenses. 16 vinyl shutters (vinyl because you're cheap and don't want to have to repaint them - but you can spend more if you want), multiplied by $50 per pair = $400 of decorative shutters.

We spend far more on things that last only a short time, so why not put shutters on the rear of a house? Does the rear of the house need to be plain only so that people do not confuse it for the front? Or, why not skip the shutters and install larger windows? It's interesting how our appreciation for appearances is subconsciously influenced by tradition.

I'd rather have larger windows than screwed in adornments on the exterior of my home. After all, my subconscious may tell me that they won't look right on the inside until they're covered with non-functional curtains draperies.

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Turn, Turn, Turn

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Sometime two or three years ago, my kids tinkered with MySpace, and shortly afterwards moved to Facebook in a peer migration. The curious father, I set up an account to see what evil lurked in the heart of men (well, stalkers and such) and found... a plain, boring webpage without obvious tweaks, gizmo's, dials or interesting content. There was zero appeal, and I left it to fend for itself in cyberspace.

As Howard Schnellenberger said when he was introduced as the Head Football Coach: "The University of Louisville is on a collision course with the National Championship. The only variable is time."

Well, just add time. Over the last several months, Facebook has grown into something that it wasn't before: relevant. Never mind the teenagers or the adults who read over their shoulders, the site's purpose is social networking. Thereby, I've seen friends from high school, college, church, and work find their way to this platform, and we've reconnected in measures from polite regards to life recaps. It's been interesting in a number of ways, for which I'm grateful.

The clearest benefit is that it can be a means of having conversations that otherwise would not have taken by other means. To the point, following is quote from a friend, who is approaching empty nest status:

"If anything I'm bored. You know you get in your 40s and your kids are basically all but grown. They have been the focus of your life for so many years, and now they don't really need you much anymore. It really hits you when one is off to college and you know the other one is not far behind. You'll see.


Now it is what to do with the rest of your life. Its kind of exciting and I am looking forward to parts of it. But, wow, what happened to all those years. It doesn't seem like long ago when we were in college."

Not to elevate that description to something it is not, but "mid-life crisis" is hardly something new or unexpected. Middle age has been approaching steadily and speedily, fully recognized for what it is and often joked about. Harley Davidsons, divorcing a spouse for a "younger model," cosmetic surgery, a career or home change... the consequences of this "crisis" can be as serious as 1-800-lawyers or as laughable as the tabloid news.

Unwelcome terms aside, there's a recognition that there are, in fact, fewer number of years remaining during which good health (theoretically) can be anticipated and that there is a sense of acceleration to that point in time at which "the possibilities" are no longer an option.

Reflection on this stage of life leads to a question that many will ask, followed by another that as many prefer to avoid.

The first is a question of Significance. After kids leave home, where (else) do we find this? In our work? In our art? In our hobbies? In our football team's W-L record? There are numerous answers to this question, varying with each person. Significance may be found in writing a book or music that lasts beyond one's lifetime, or in the associated fame. It may be an investment of one's time and resources to others in need. It may be to drive across the nation (and back?) in a Winnebago.

What significance is not is amusements. As much as I may like "It's a Wonderful Life," a Clemson football game, or i-Phone applications, these are but enjoyable diversions. It's not the stuff that one reflects upon as "a life well lived."

It seems to me that significance is found most often in relationships. If relationships are not maintained, they falter. It's entropy all over again - relationships tend to disorder unless energy is returned to the system. The things that please (or hurt) us the most are our interactions with others. A friend is significant. It's not a surprise, then, that Facebook is intergenerational. It's an amazingly efficient entropy remedy.

The second question is the foundation (or stumbling block) upon which the question of Significance is built. What is our Purpose? What is the meaning of life? It would be very interesting, if not enlightening, to learn how Americans would answer this. The pursuit of wealth? A happy retirement by a lake with a boat? To survive by whatever means possible?

Insert your own answer. Then ask yourself if your Purpose has any Significance apart from the eternal. We don't like the prospect of ultimate accountability; it's much easier to strive for happiness and put off the tough question for later.

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From Ramen Soup to Greatness!

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When I was about to graduate High School, an aunt impressed upon me the the wisdom of her experience and wealth. "An engineering degree is fine, as long as you go into sales. That, young man, is where the money is at."

Some years later, a made a good friend who was an area sales manager for a major Pharmaceutical company. You might surmise that as I'm referring to a friend in sales, and not myself, that I did not follow my aunt's advice. That's rather astute of you.

My friend and his employees were rewarded regularly with some rather extravagant trips for their sales successes. New York City, the Caribbean, Paris, Banff Springs... Oh, and bring your spouse, of course! There seemed a certain unfairness about it, given my own repeated travels within the less sophisticated haunts of rural Georgia and a slightly bitter awareness of the ultimate costs of healthcare on my family budget at the time... not that it's any better now.

So, certainly there was a measure of jealousy. It's hard to look at others your age and not draw comparisons in all sorts of measures. It's our nature. But, I was happy for my friend, and I understood then, as I do now, that people who work bringing income to an organization generally are rewarded more than those who fall into the expense category, no matter how valuable their roles.

Today, my comparatively conservative company (from an expense standpoint) is faring quite well against his. I don't take pleasure in that, but in the great scheme of this economy, prudent spending habits before the current recession certainly lead to better positioning for business viability.

Last week I was in Orlando, FL for a business meeting, and it's not uncommon for there to be a group activity at this sort of thing, most commonly dinner at an area restaurant. On occasions, there may be bowling, Dave and Buster's games, WhirlyBall, billiards, or something similar involved. Within the tourist Mecca that is Orlando, there was obviously no shortage of tourist attractions that might be considered.

Our "evening out" was...atypical. What do we have here?

S/W Ver: 96.B0.0AR

Truffles and Trifles. Unassuming, it is, but after 22 years, at last I ventured where "too many pharmaceutical companies to list" have come before me. This is a cooking school, named one of the top 5 in the country by the Food Network. It's where we cooked our dinner.

S/W Ver: 96.B0.0AR

This is what it looked like as we arrived. A separate kitchen and a sales area are not visible here. Around the walls are numerous cooking stations, where each participant was assigned a spot to cook "something" for which the instructions (huh?) and ingredients were already provided (and pre-measured.)

I would like to have included a picture of the wreck left in our wake, but the staff was as adept at cleaning as they were at looking over our shoulders and shaking their heads.

Menu, you ask? Brie Almond Canape, Baked Brie with lemon and herbs, Cranberry-Ginger Chutney, Shrimp Croquettes with spicy mayonnaise, Roasted Asparagus with Balsamic Vinegar, Pork with Caramalized Pears and Brandy Cream Sauce, French Chicken Stew with Biscuits, Fabulous Potatoes (appropriately named), Party Rolls, Bread Pudding with Brandy Sauce, Chocolate Cheesecake with Balsamic Strawberries, and French Vanilla Paste Ice Cream. With choice of tea, beer, or wine. Ah the good life!

*pats stomach*

This might be considered a team building exercise to some, but it was as social a "dinner" as one is likely to find, with literally 50 cooks in the kitchen. Add to that the very engaging presence of the owner (who years ago swayed the votes of Congressmen with her cooking), and it was an outing not to be forgotten.

If only there had been some digestive pills...

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The Eight - Katherine Neville

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Sometimes when you read a book, you just feel "better read." You learn something.

I picked up "The Eight," by Katherine Neville, for a business trip, expecting a fast, escapist fare of some sort of race to solve a recently discovered ancient riddle, a la Dan Brown or James Rollins.

This turned out to be true of the book, but fast would only be a fitting term if one recalibrated one's appreciation for speed, such as fast as molasses.

What slows one down in such a desirable fictional escapade? Bonaparte, Pythagoras, Benedict Arnold, Charlemagne, the French Revolution, Catherine the Great, Benjamin Franklin, and... notable figures in history ad nauseum. There's actually a bit too much name dropping in a genre that demands at least a measure of same.

The plot can readily be digested at Amazon. It is, in part, supported by the assemblage of the host of historical characters, but it stands well enough on its own. Overall, there's a sense that the author is reaching the level of "literature" rather than "fiction," and "The Eight" falls squarely in the category of the latter. The characterizations are disappointingly thin, and the dialogue, at times, is amateurish or forced. But, the story manages to draw one along, albeit at a pace short of eagerly. Was it worthwhile? Yes. Definitely. But not for the story but some of the subject matter within.

One aspect of the book is geography, specifically Tassilli n'Ajjer, a mountain range in Algeria, where something critical to the plot is hidden. But in wandering the verbiage through the area, one is forced to say, given the advantages of the Internet, "I want pictures!"

sahara

tassili

sahara1

The top two pictures are linked to some interesting details about the area.

Though the Philosopher's Stone was central to one of the Harry Potter books, it was the focus in this book that led me to research it.

More interesting from an observable standpoint are Fibonacci numbers. The Fibonacci sequence has been around since Mr. F first observed the pattern in 1202 A.D., surfacing more recently in the TV Series "Fringe." Google search this term and you can get lost for a long, long fascinating time as one explores nature, music, natural organization, the Mayan calendar, art, the Milky Way and on it goes.

Another interesting point within the book was The Knight's Tour. Although each of these topics obviously touch the plot, using chess as a central device in a book is an interesting idea, yet poses quite a formidable challenge to keep reader interest.

But, all things said and done: You read books; you learn stuff!

As an aside, below are the original and re-release covers of the book in paperback.

eight theeightnew

Marketing has come a long way graphically, and it's interesting that both reference the more popular works of the day (Umberto Ecto vs. Dan Brown).

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