Tin Soldiers and Nixon's Coming

Ron Howard's Frost/Nixon is the 7th movie in the Harry Potter franchise. In this chapter, the evil wizard Voldemort (played by Frank Langella) takes the form of the 37th President of the United States, who has -- at the movie's start -- resigned from office and retired to his fortress in California. The poncey young dilettante Harry Potter (Michael Sheen) arrives to challenge Voldemort to a duel of words, aided by his longtime friends Ron (Sam Rockwell) and Hermoine (Oliver Platt). Harry's job is to make Voldemort admit the slightest bit of wrongdoing in the attempt to cover-up a covert Washington D.C. robbery, as if that absolves the wizard of all his nefarious and jowly forms of evil.

The action is kept fairly sedate and the tone is far different and darker than the earlier Potter movies. Special effects are toned down, and generally are applied only to Michael Sheen's wardrobe and sideburns. Kevin Bacon's adam's apple also stars, in a breakout role as special assistant to Kevin Bacon.

Supposedly, this movie was based on real life interviews between David Frost and Richard Nixon. If that's so, I find it strange that movie contains almost no homoerotic subtext between the two characters. That seems like a poor -- and historically inaccurate -- choice by the filmmakers.


I Am A Camera

Our Coolpix camera is broken.

The camera before this one came with an extended warranty, as we were suckers before the salesman. Then we lost the camera for awhile, and the warranty didn't help us, since you had to HAVE the camera in order to get it replaced. So we bought a new camera, this time without the warranty because we figured we'd be more likely to lose the camera than to break it.

Guess what? We really should have sprung for the warranty.

Anyway, here are things you're going to have to picture in your mind, since no photographic evidence exists:
  • Sam and Caleb at the Washington County Fair, greeting the animals and sitting atop the tractors.
  • Sam and Caleb touring the zoo with Cannon. For about the 93rd time this summer, we took in the Sea Lion show.
  • Dinner with Hannah Grace at Bob and Joan's fantastically kid-friendly clubhouse.
  • The farewell party for Sarah and Bayard at the understoried Landmark Lanes. The Good Doctor Godsave and his bride are moving to Oklahoma, and I will miss them sorely. I lose two great drinking buddies and two of Milwaukee's brighter links to the larger literary world.
  • A trip to South Shore park with the boys and Olin.

Between and throughout all this, planes screamed overhead as a part of the annual Air and Boat Show. There's nothing like a fighter jet buzzing insanely close to one's roof to quickly, effectively, and traumatically wake one's children from naptime. I dig big shiny machines as much as the next guy, but can't we turn this sh*t down a little?

Here's Schopenhauer, on noise:

The superabundant display of vitality, which takes the form of knocking, hammering, and tumbling things about, has proved a daily torment to me all my life long. There are people, it is true -- nay, a great many people -- who smile at such things, because they are not sensitive to noise; but they are just the very people who are not sensitive to argument, or thought, or poetry, or art, in a word, to any kind of intellectual influence. The reason of it is that the tissue of their brains is of a very rough and coarse quality. On the other hand, noise is a torture to intellectual people. In the biographies of almost all great writers, or wherever else their personal utterances are recorded, I find complaints about it; in the case of Kant, for instance, Goethe, Lichtenberg, Jean Paul; and if it should happen that any writer has omitted to express himself on the matter, it is only for want of opportunity.

That's right, Air Show fans. Schopenhauer's calling you stupid, because you like loud things. We philosophical smarties, with our poetry and art, can't stand that stuff, and aren't afraid to let you know about it. Now, get off my lawn.


All Those Other Sticky Valentines

I kind of love you, Google.
I've come to expect you to use your logo to commemorate a moon landing or even Rene Magritte's birthday, but to find you commemorating this year's San Diego Comic Con was a surprise and a treat. Jim Lee's design is, if you ask me, pretty rad -- Wonder Woman's "O" is invisible and Robin sneaks into the bottom of the second "G". It's also cool that Superman was not shoe-horned in, allowing for the clever use of the more obscure (and appropriately geekier) Plastic Man.

I know that the San Diego Comic Con has become impossibly crowded and that it's focus is increasingly on Hollywood blockbusters and video games rather than comic books, but I still hold out hope of someday attending. And I'd bet Sam would go with me...

Anyway, Google, thanks for letting me know you care.


It's Gonna Reach Out and Grab Ya

I read the bulk of the 6th volume of the Harry Potter series (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) last Thursday and Friday so that I could see the movie with my wife if afforded the opportunity. Like kismet, and appropos of nothing, Granny volunteered to babysit on Saturday night, so we took in the movie that very evening.

I dug Volume 6, enjoying it in a fuller fashion than the previous books in the series. I think this was because I'd read the first 150 or so pages prior to Christmas, and prior to receiving a whole pile of books that I'd been working through since. The first part of each Harry Potter book tends towards the tedious -- Harry's Muggle relatives are horrible and disgusting people, the evil villans are meanies, teachers can be unfair. By getting the first part out of the way, completely forgetting about it, then returning to the book 6 months later, I bypassed that problem.

But Volume 6 goes on to really raise the stakes for the characters, and led me right into Volume 7 (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), which I have now also finished. And enjoyed.

I was a latecomer to the Potter phenomenon, and didn't read any of the books at all until just before either the second movie came out. They were low priority books for me -- I wanted to read each subsequent volume before seeing the movies, but was otherwise in no rush. They're decent books, fast reads, and entertaining -- one turns the pages. On Friday night, I read 300 pages of Volume 6 in 5 hours, which (for me, who reads slowly and in small chunks) is like passing the speed of sound on a tricycle.

It's hard to fault the books, partially because they're kind of designed to be critic-proof. If they're a bit too pat and goodsie-badsie for serious adult literature, it's because they are meant for kids. If they are too dark or violent for kids books, it's because the characters are growing and developing into adulthood. And anyone that grumbles too loudly about them will likely be accused of elitism or anti-populism, because the books made a gazillion dollars and everybody in the world has read and loved them. And maybe the Snapely impulse to sneer at Harry Potter is elitist and anti-populist. (I'd be okay with that. In my world, 5,000,000 Elvis fans can ABSOLUTELY be wrong.)

The Potter plots are almost all developed by withholding information (what Snape is up to, say, or why a particular room is off limits), but this is pretty well true of any mystery or suspense story. The early books cointained a clever humor and a tongue-in-cheek approach to the magic of the Potter world (the "Pensieve," for example, or "The Mirror of Erisde"), and much of that got squeezed out as the books got thicker and thicker to accommodate the forumula of covering a Hogwarts academic year in a single book.

The books are a bit like the Mee Goreng noodles at the Chinese restaurant we patronize -- they're tasty and easy to digest, but you can't expect them to stick with you for very long. The early books recapped the previous volumes to an absurd degree, but the later volumes presume you've retained total recall. A lot of the references to Harry's earlier adventures were lost on me, even though I'd read them all.

Still, I'm pleased to let you know that, as far as I'm concerned, and J.K. Rowling's The Compleat Harry Potter is less engrossing than Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. I'll take my urban fantasy both Dickensian and arch, please.


The Road to Rock & Roll

After years of basic solo performances and simple acoustic albums, singer-songwriter Bob Dylan was the subject of much controversy at Newport Folk Festival on Sunday July 25,1965. During his performance Dylan "went electric", by playing with an electric blues band in concertfor the first time. This seeming rejection of what had gone before made Dylan unpopular in parts of the folk community, alienating some fans, and is considered to have deeply affected both folk and rock 'n' roll.

[Jimi] Hendrix used right-handed guitars, turned upside-down for left-hand playing, and re-strung so that the heavier strings were in their standard position at the top of the neck. This had an important effect on his guitar sound: because of the slant of the Strat's bridge pickup, his lowest string had a bright sound while his highest string had a mellow sound, the opposite of the Stratocaster's intended design.

The first rock "power trio" may have been Buddy Holly and The Crickets, whose onstage sound relied on a driving rhythm section that underpinned Holly's guitar and voice. The power trio, at least in its blues-rock incarnation, is generally held to have developed out of Chicago-style blues bands such as Muddy Waters' trio. The prototypical power trios were exemplified by The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream, who popularized the format during the 1960s, and later punk and post-punk bands like the Jam or Nirvana.

All text adapted from Wikipedia entries for "Electric Dylan Controversy" (itself a good potential band name), "Jimi Hendrix," and "Power Trios."


Everything's Broken

We are told that we should not judge a book by its cover, and here's proof of the adage. By the dust jacket image at left, you'd image Nick Harkaway's The Gone Away World to be a story of drug-addled art dealers in the 1980's, extolling Nagel prints and early Prince records to Patrick Bateman and Sherman McCoy. This isn't that book, but it is just about every other kind of book...

The Gone Away World came to me as a recommendation from Jordan, a former Schwartz bookseller, and I'd agree with his sentiment that this book contains everything. Here's some of what you'll find:

An absurdist send-up of British style polite burreaucracy, ala Douglas Adams' Hitchiker trilogy; a love story; an exploration of the workings of identity akin to Philip K. Dick's Through A Scanner Darkly; ninjas; a coming of age story that mirrors, in parts, David Mitchell's Black Swan Green; mimes and magicians; a treatment of modern warfare clearly influenced by current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan; a rabbit with the head of a fish; pirates; illustration of the dehumanizing agendas of corporate institutions, a theme shared with HBO's The Wire; karate lessons; extended rumination on Newton's first three laws; killer bees.

The Gone Away World might be lazily classified as science fiction, but easily half of the book takes place in the world as we'd recognize it (though with some minor differences, such as Cuba's position as a territory of the UK or "Cubritainia"). When things changes -- ie, when the world goes away -- it's clear that we're in what can rightly be called speculative territory. It's a hugely ambitious book, and impeccibily and accessibily written, full of lore and brushed with zinging British slang.

The paperback version, arriving in August, seems to have a slightly better cover, though the UK covers give -- to my eyes -- a better indication of what lies within.


Feeling Minnesota


Sam with his guitar.


Identical Cousins Abe and Caleb, who share a love of Thomas trains and water tables.


Sam and Caleb, with Uncle Fred, overlooking the St. Croix River.


Kirsten and Caleb, on the river.


A group of cousins, chasing a toad. Later the next day, I would step off this deck and wind up in the emergency room.


Sam greets the captured toad.


Sam, Aidan, and Caleb at the 4th of July parade in Marine-On-St-Croix.


Abe, Caleb, and Sam devour some cupcakes on Kirsten's birthday.


Back home, Sam gives a squeeze to Rachel.


Crackity Jones

We had a lovely weekend in Minnesota, visiting with relatives we don't see nearly as often as we'd like. For me, things took a literal bad turn a little after 6pm on the 4th, when I stepped off a porch deck and rolled my ankle.

If you're going to break your leg, I recommend you do it in Marine-on-St-Croix, Minnesota. The EMTs were terrific and cheerful, even though I'd interrupted their dinner reservations, and I was well cared for in the Lake View Hospital in Stillwater. There, I got a fiberglass splint as a temporary cast until the swelling abated, and then convalesced for a bit at cousin Tara's house in White Bear Lake.

On the 5th, my wife's birthday, we made the drive back to Milwaukee with me in the very back of our mini-van and my leg between the two kids in the middle seats. (The Lake View folks were a bit concerned about clotting on this drive, and recommended that a frequently flex my "butt muscles" -- hokay fine.) To cap off what was already a kind of a bummer birthday for Kirsten, she was assaulted by bird poop while getting out of the car in front of our house.

On Monday, I saw an orthopedic doctor here in Milwaukee who was helpful and explained a lot about what was happening with my ankle, though he won't be able to say for certain that I don't need surgery until next week, when much of the swelling has subsided. He did prescribe a walking boot, which we promptly picked up and which I currently covet above all other earthly things:

This boot allows me to put a little bit of weight on my heel, which means that I can get around without having to crawl up stairs or scooch down them, and makes using the crutches a whole lot easier. Thank you, space age polymers!

Cat's In The Cradle

Sam at the Library

One day soon, Sam will realize that nearly everything he learned from his father is illustrated in this picture.