Archive for March, 2007

Friday Sillies: Who’s On First

Baseball season starts this weekend with opening night in St. Louis. After all the free agent signings, trades, and rookies who shined in Spring Training, you may need help identifying the players on your favorite club. Abbot and Costello are here to explain it all.

Movie Review: Garden State

I’m long overdue in posting my review of Garden State (2004) which Susan and I watched on DVD a couple of weeks ago.

A movie set in a New Jersey with a soundtrack full of hip music and Natalie Portman, what’s not to like?  Well there are a few things I didn’t like.  Too much flashy, MTV-style editing, close-ups of Zach Braff staring morosely at the screen, and like Running With Scissors the soundtrack can be blaringly obtrusive.  The end of the film is far too clean cut and formulaic, I think the movie would’ve been better ending about 15 minutes earlier.  Who in real life falls completely and truly in love in four days anyway?

Despite these flaws, I enjoyed Garden State immensely.  The movie is the story of Andrew Largeman (Zach Braff, who also wrote and directed) an actor who returns home to New Jersey after a long absence after his parapalegic mother drowns in the bathtub (how she gets in the bath in the first place is not explained for when they actually show the bath in the movie it has no railings or anything else to assist a disabled person).  The four days following the funeral are an intense period for Andrew becoming reaquianted with old friends, avoiding and finally reconciling with his father (Ian Holm who has grown and gained a Jersey accent since being Bilbo Baggins), and meeting and falling in love with a young woman named Samantha (Natalie Portman).

When you get past the philosophical exposition and the message points, what I really like about this movie is that it is a series of bizzare events.  I think everyone has days like this where just a lot of weird things occur one after another, and I think the movie captures this believably.  I especially like the series of events that leads Andrew, Samantha, and Mark (Peter Sarsgaard) to the bottom of a mysterious quarry where the least dysfunctional family in the entire film live in a houseboat.

Gearing Up for Baseball Season

My Lenten fast from online Mets forums means I’m paying even less attention to Spring Training than I usually d0. I am however very aware that Opening Day (or Opening Night as is the case) is approaching. The Mets will be playing at the Cardinals Sunday night, April 1st, in real, honest-to-God regular season baseball. No foolin’. Joyce at Mike’s Mets has Spring Fever and claims to be optimistic although I can detect uncertainty in her voice. I’m feeling a bit uneasy about the Mets repeating much less improving upon last season, but then again it wasn’t until September when I was finally convinced that the Braves were not going to surge and steal the division title.

Getting ready for a new season means renewing hatred for those teams that happen to better than the Mets (and who says jealousy is the only deadly sin that gives no pleasure?). The Pinetar Rag posts an image of what the Yankees payroll looks like in actual dollars (brilliantly including some yen as well for the Yankees Japanese players). These are the ill-gotten gains the Yankees use to buy their way into the playoffs each season. Of course, one can find pleasure in that despite all that money the Yankees have failed to win a World Series for six straight seasons, but on the other hand they are still taking playoff spots from more deserving teams. I’ll be pleased when they fail to make the postseason at all. Maybe this year?

Speaking of the Cardinals, they are a team that I hated with a teenage boy’s passion back in the days of the White Rat and pond scum. In more recent years I’ve grown indifferent to the Cardinals and even a little admiring of the Best Fans in Baseball (especially when they were so classy to stay and applaud the Red Sox after the 2004 World Series). But my hate-o-meter may be swinging back now and not just because of Yadier Bleeping Molina. Greg at Faith and Fear in Flushing reports on the many ways the Cardinals will be celebrating their World Series Championship in that opening series versus the Mets, including:

  • commemorative patches and gold trim on the Cardinals’ uniforms
  • handing out World Series rings to everyone who comes into the stadium (except the Mets)
  • giving fans replica World Series banners measuring 3′ x 5′
  • celebrating the 25th anniversary of the 1982 World Series with our Keith Hernandez

That’s laying it on a bit thick isn’t it? I guess it’s good they’re not going to start opening day by having the fans wave palms and lay them down before Tony LaRussa. I guess it’s pretty cool for the Cardinals’ fans but watching those first games could leave me seeing red.

An Assemblage of Assorted Articles

Once again I’ve read and collected news articles and blog posts that are worth sharing but have absolutely nothing to connect them together except maybe that they teach us something interesting. Enjoy!

This Week in Libraries

Here are some recent (and not so recent) pieces on libraries and librarianship:

  • I try not to bristle at the typical “libraries are behind the times” and “what can we learn from big business” aspects of this article and try to glean the positive aspects of how libraries can help the patron who shouts I Want It Now:

    We’ve made interlibrary loan so efficient, we sometimes forget it carries a price. But it’s quicker to borrow a book from another library than to go through the traditional acquisitions and cataloging process.

    I have to say I’ve never thought of ILL as efficient, but I guess there’s a good point. It seems to me that libraries really need to strike a balance with what resources can be kept on hand and the costs (in money, time, and staffing) they incur.

  • Speaking of costs, one of my co-workers showed me this great web exhibit from the University of Maryland Libraries that shows the relative costs for the library of purchasing just two resources: Show Me the Money — The Reality of Library Costs.
  • Underneath the curmudgeonly “kids these days” tone of this Wall Street Journal article there are some interesting insights on serving children as library users and the balance between digital and print resources. Of the Places You’ll Go, Is the Library Still One of Them?

    It’s true that older Internet-phobes are missing out on an incredible tool. But many tech-savvy kids never experience the library as a place for serendipitous discovery. “The library is about delayed gratification,” says Dr. Levine. “It’s about browsing through shelves of biographies. ‘Do I want Jackie Robinson? Franklin Roosevelt? What will I do when I grow up?’ The library slows you down and makes you think.”

    Today [3/15], in West Bloomfield, Mich., 50 first-graders from Lone Pine Elementary are scheduled to visit the library and get their first library cards. I interviewed some of the students last week about the books, videos and computer games they hoped to find at the library.

    One precocious first-grader, Elias Khoury, warned his classmates: “The computer is mostly mind-numbing. If you waste time on the computer, you won’t find any good books.” I had to smile. Give that kid a library card, I thought, and he’ll go places.

  • Finally, ABC TV is producing a six-episode comedy-drama entitled The Librarians.

Friday Sillies: The Journal of Star Wars Research

In the not too distant future, one can expect the study of Star Wars to become a serious discipline in anthropology, arts, sociology and philosophy. Articles on Star Wars will be published in peer-reviewed journals and one will read things like this: A New Sith, or Revenge of the Hope: Reconsidering Star Wars IV in the light of I-III . Not to give away too much, but this article thoughtfully reveals that two of the more minor characters in the Star Wars universe are central to the rebellion and they planned it all along.

Meanwhile, Eddie Izzard recreates the missing scene where Darth Vader attempts to order penne a la abbriata from the Death Star Canteen (NSFW due to some profanity).

Beer Review: Long Trail Double Bag Ale

One of my favorite beers of late is this strong ale from a Vermont microbrewery.

Beer: Double Bag Ale
Brewer: Long Trail Brewing Co.
Source: 12 oz. bottle
Rating: ** (6.9 of 10)
Comments: This is a malty altbier pours foamy and dark. After not being able to smell my beers lately I’m pleased to say this beer has a pleasant grainy aroma. And the taste is wonderful, malty and dry with a lilt of an aftertaste. All in all this is a good Green Mountain approximation of a Bavarian beer.

Out Like a Lamb

An article published in the Boston Globe, First lambs are sign of spring at Stamford farm, by Alison Damast of the Stamford Advocate makes me happy on a pretty spring day. First, it is about sheep which always make me happy. I love that the ewe is named Rachel. I love that the llamas are watching out for the lambs.

Second, this story takes place at the Stamford Museum and Nature Center, one of my favorite places on earth. As a kid it was fun to go and see the pigs wallowing at the Heckscher Farm, watch ice harvesting, attempt to follow the trails through the woods to the Bartlett Arboretum, see the American Indian exhibits in the museum, and maybe, just maybe, be there on a day when the otter came out of his hole.

One day I’ll trek to Stamford with my children and take them to the Stamford Museum and Nature Center. And they will be bored stiff because they have no nostalgic memories of the place.  It’ll build character.

News of Ireland and the Irish

This is the time of year when we get to hear a lot of news about the Emerald Isle, its denizens, and the Irish diaspora.

Lots of Irish bands tour the United States around St. Patrick’s Day, and the Pogues have started an annual tradition of making short tours of cities in the Northeast. Susan and I saw them last year in Boston. While it was great to finally see the band I love perform live, I left the performance feeling a bit uneasy. First, despite their reunion it appears that the Pogues who were once so revolutionary in combining traditional Irish music with punk are now pretty much a nostalgia act. Second, while Shane MacGowan is know to be a kind man and a talented songwriter, the effects of his alcoholism make him look pretty pathetic. Maybe he can handle it better than other people but it was clear that the rest of the band was much less tense when MacGowan was not on stage. What bothered me more is the majority of the audience who seemed to enjoy MacGowan’s drunken act as if he was but a comic caricature and not a human being and an artist.

Anyhow tickets were too expensive this year but I read that MacGowan is in better healh this year. The New York Times ran this piece A Ramble Through the Mind of the Pogues’ Poet which offers some nice insights beyond the typical drunk caricature. I liked reading MacGowan’s views on literature and politics, especially the last bit about Ian Paisley.

Asked about the prospect of Irish reunification, he cited Ian Paisley, the Unionist leader in Northern Ireland and a staunch opponent of the republican cause: “Ian Paisley is one of the best agents the I.R.A. ever had. He’s done more for returning the six counties than anyone else

Ian Paisley is also in the news of late (full disclosure: Rev. Paisley would rank high on a list of my least favorite people). Northern Ireland recently held elections which for Northern Ireland actually had a fairly low turnout, partly because of competition with football matches. The election turned out to be a good day for the more extreme parties on each side of the conflict, the Irish nationalist Sinn Féin party headed by Gerry Adams and Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party. In a unique situation, one that would have been impossible even ten years ago, these parties may end up power-sharing and forming a devolved government separate from the rule of London. Michael Levy observes in the Britannica Blog that this is an historic dilemma for Paisley.

Now, Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom (and the world) await Paisley’s next move. Some warriors are able to turn in their swords for olive branches while others find it extremely difficult to let go of old animosities. At age 80 Paisley has precious little time left to write the final chapter and epilogue of his legacy. Does he remain steadfast to his past statements and refuse to negotiate with Sinn Féin or does he take a leap of faith and risk splitting his party by entering a government with them and taking the reins of power?

History will–and should–judge Paisley by his actions over the next two weeks, and let’s hope that he misses this chance to miss this chance.

According to the Guardian, none other than UK Prime Minister Tony Blair is using his influence to affect Paisley using a surprise tactic, a shared interest in religion.

Downing Street refused to comment last night. However, Lord Bew, the professor of Irish politics at Queen’s University Belfast who has good connections at the highest levels of government, believes the Blair/Paisley dialogue on religion has transformed their relations, even though they come from apparently contrasting denominations.A fierce Protestant, Mr Paisley is the founder and moderator of the Free Presbyterian church, who has outraged Catholics by denouncing the Pope as the anti-Christ. Mr Blair is an Anglican who attends mass with his Catholic wife.

“Blair is brilliant at seducing Paisley,” Lord Bew said. “This is the most amazing love affair, the last great Blairite romance.They are even exchanging books on religion. It is fantastic stuff. It is religious; it is romantic. It is brilliant. You have to hand it to him. Once again, when we thought the old maestro was fading, his capacity to seduce, politically speaking, is phenomenal.”

One would expect that neither MacGowan nor Paisley would be all too pleased by studies that state that the majority of people in Britain and Ireland are genetically of the same ancestry with little effect on the gene pool by later invaders to the two islands. The New York Times reports on this research in A United Kingdom? Maybe.

If the people of the British Isles hold most of their genetic heritage in common, with their differences consisting only of a regional flavoring of Celtic in the west and of northern European in the east, might that perception draw them together? Geneticists see little prospect that their findings will reduce cultural and political differences. The Celtic cultural myth “is very entrenched and has a lot to do with the Scottish, Welsh and Irish identity; their main identifying feature is that they are not English,” said Dr. Sykes, an Englishman who has traced his Y chromosome and surname to an ancestor who lived in the village of Flockton in Yorkshire in 1286.

Dr. Oppenheimer said genes “have no bearing on cultural history.” There is no significant genetic difference between the people of Northern Ireland, yet they have been fighting with each other for 400 years, he said.

As for his thesis that the British and Irish are genetically much alike, “It would be wonderful if it improved relations, but I somehow think it won’t.”

Dr. Stephen Oppenheimer also writes on his research in Myths of British Ancestry in Prospect Magazine.

Finally, while the Irish have long been know as emigrants settling as a diaspora in nations around the world, and creating vibrant communities, appear to be heading back home. The Boston Globe reports that the Wave of Irish immigration to Boston begins to slow due to affluence in Ireland and a post Sept. 11th crackdown on immigration into the United States. The second part of the article is called Going Full Circle.

Funny Thoughts

  • On my way to work this morning, it occurred to me that a baby born on the date of my high school graduation would now be getting ready to celebrate her/his Sweet Sixteen in May.  It’s hard to comprehend that in a little over a year I will have lived more years since my graduation than the age I was when I graduate.  Especially since it seemed to take so long to reach that pinnacle.
  • A caption on the Boston.com website reads: Monster launches new product.  I had a very literal image of a green scaly monster growling and flinging some product into the sky in a fit of rage.
  • Despite being too busy to post for several days I’ve noticed that the number of views that Panorama of the Mountains gets each day is holding steady.  Do I perhaps have a following?  All you folks who are reading about the books I read and the beers I drink, why don’t you stick around and make a comment?  I love comments!
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