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Archive for May 2011

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There’s something appealing about Jack Sparrow’s puffy-shirted swagger.  There’s a likeability that makes you want to buy a ticket and watch his latest exploits.  This still holds true for some.  The character lost its luster for me about midway into the second installment of this four-movie franchise.

Johnny Depp does a merely adequate job when measured against an inventory of stellar performances over the span of his career.  In POTC4, he is given new characters against whom to cavort and spin witticisms. Penelope Cruz is the main object of his attention.  She’s Blackbeard’s daughter; or is she?  Her character is as slight as her cinematic appeal in this movie.

Blackbeard and Barbossa are lifeless (pun intended) and uninteresting.  Only Gibbs (Kevin McNally) has any appeal, and he is grossly underused.  The usual menagerie of peripheral miscreants is unremarkable.  The action sequences are as muddled as those of POTC2, though they are mercifully fewer in number.

POTC4‘s one strength is wasted.  An oceanful of mermaids builds the only plot point of interest, then quickly turns it into a counter-intuitive nightmare.  You’ll never think of mermaids in quite the same way again.  One of these creatures is captured, of course, and we’re supposed to feel sympathy for her.  But the portrayal is as wan as the pallor of her oxygen-deprived face.

The production budget is reported to be about $250M.  The opening week’s take approached $100M.  With numbers like these, you’d expect a really good show.  But there’s nothing new here.  The Pirates franchise has become old,  tired, yesterday.    I give POTC4 one screaming monkey (out of four).  You have far more glittery trinkets on which to waste your booty.

The bad news is that Iz Ka is dead.  The good news is that he was born into my own musical experience just today.  How that happened contains an element of embarrassment, but I don’t care.

The slightest strains of a male voice with ukulele accompaniment came through the waiting room speakers this morning.  I’d had brushes with this tune before, but never fully heard it.  The young girl opposite me was mouthing the words.

“Excuse me,” I said.  “What is this song?”

“I don’t know.  This guy’s been dead forever, but other singers have done this song, too.  Anyways, I like it a lot.”

The search began when I finally got home.  It didn’t take long to discover that the artist was Israel “Iz” Kaʻanoʻi Kamakawiwoʻole.  And the song that has been teasing me for so many years was his version of the iconic Over The Rainbow.

When he died in 1997 at the age of 38, Iz Ka’s coffin lay in state at the capitol building in Honolulu; only the third person to be thusly honored and the only non-politician.  Ten thousand people attended his funeral.  Thousands gathered for the scattering of his ashes into the Pacific.  Just last year, NPR named Iz one of the 50 greatest voices.  How could I have missed this?

Iz Ka’s 1993 Rainbow has been used in movies, TV shows and commercials.  He remains, today, a legend of Hawaiian music and culture eclipsing even the immortal Don Ho.

A treasure has been added to my life, and the more I luxuriate in it, the more it rewards me.  Iz Ka’s minimalist Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World medley can be heard on YouTube, as can many of his original songs.

If new things ever cease to thrill me, even old new things, please, shoot me.

We think of ourselves as city people.  I grew up in the Big Apple (New York), and Lisa grew up in the Little Apple (“Mini-apolis”, as the locals are fond of calling it).  We both like the energy that cities give to life there, and enjoy the cornucopia of opportunities available there.

"Sure. I'll walk it with ya."

The wonder of nature never escapes our attention, though.  We are especially fond of our visits to Lou Ann & Gerald “up nort” of Brainerd where you have to drive a twisty, dirt road for ¾ of a mile before reaching their hand-built log home nestled amidst a huge forest.  Lou and Gerald are surrounded by nature, and their home has been carefully built to complement it.  Birds and deer and even bear feed from the rough-hewn trough set comfortably away from the front of the house where the enjoyment of nature can be appreciated by both man and animal.

Lisa and I have always tried to incorporate nature into our own citified existence.  We’ve deployed feeders and other enticements to bring it near.  Our first effort was a messy disaster.  The wrong feeder attracts the wrong crowd, don’t ya know.  But we have learned, and we’re now making better choices with both the hardware and the feed.

On the day we first occupied the Minneapolis high-rise, we were mystified by the grey blur zipping along the railing of the deck.  This railing was both metal and about seventy feet from the ground.  Two or three spottings later, we speculated that we had a flying squirrel which was eventually dubbed “Rocky.”  Naturally.

"So I can't fly. But I'm cute."

It turned out that our Rocky was an ordinary female grey squirrel.  She had a seemingly extraordinary ability, though, to leap tall buildings at a single bound, or to climb the brick facing of the building’s exterior walls.  The latter turned out to be the case.  She climbed up the wall, and she slid down the six-inch wide poll connecting the decks — head first — all the way down to terra firma.  We never ceased to be amazed, and figured that any animal who made that kind of effort deserved to be rewarded with both snacks and refreshments.  Thus, our deck became the province of nature year ’round.

Other squirrels eventually found Rocky’s secret feeding spot, but she chased them off in most dramatic fashion.  Remember, this was a high-wire act without a net.  Rocky became so familiar with us that eating from our hands became a possibility, not that we encouraged it.  A wild animal is weakened if domesticated.

We added a feeder for our avian friends, and the food for them — and the nature-communing for us — was never ending.  Ironically, we did become the hitching post for a real flying squirrel who’d silently arrive in the dark of night, wrap itself around the feeder and load up for another busy day of waiting for another busy day.

From the living room window

We’ve been in North Carolina for eighteen months now.  Our humble abode was carefully selected based on several criteria, not the least of which was our closeness to nature.

"Hey, I belong here."

All manner of wildlife enjoy our presence here.  The state bird — the cardinal — is as beautiful as it is plentiful.  We have bluejays, pileated woodpeckers, mockingbirds, all kinds of colorful finches and other birds yet to be identified.  We have ground-feeders, too, including mourning doves, blackbirds and crows.

There are squirrels, of course, and we’ve discovered a midnight marauder — a raccoon — stretching high up from the ground to empty the feeder.

And we have chipmunks.  One of ours has a distinctly reddish-brown hind end, so we call it “Rusty Butt.”

"Me, too. I belong here, too. Yeah. Keep feeding me."

Chipmunks are hyperkinetic, and ours are no exception.  Rusty Butt, however, is particularly enterprising.  He’s figured out how to jump up to the feeder displacing however many birds there might be currently on it and without regard to their size.  Rusty Butt only knows that his occupancy of the feeder means cheeks full of food.  He then transfers the load to a secret hiding place and returns to scatter the birds yet again.

The moral of this story can only be that us humans are easily entertained.  Either that, or the animals have us humans well-trained.

I think I’m a good thinker, so I write. I think I’m a good writer, so I…obsess.  Obsession is unhealthy.  So why do I take pleasure in that which makes me ill?  An enigma wrapped in a conundrum.

I get a thought; I write it out.  Then I look it over several times.  I print it out and examine it.  I publish it, look at it in Facebook, get it sent to me by e-mail and I inspect it yet again.  Each instance of examination merits some additional edits and, perhaps, some additional material.

After a couple of days and several editing sessions, I’m satisfied that I’ve communicated my thoughts in the best possible way, and I leave it alone.  Sometimes, when I re-read it “for pleasure” a couple of weeks later, I find yet other ways to make the words better.  Then I leave it alone.  Again.

Such is the way of things for a writer who also serves as his own editor.

Are editors obsessives?  Are they perfectionists?  Are they word snobs who think they know how to write what you mean better than you can?

This all comes to mind because of a blog post I wrote almost two months ago.  When I wrote (and re-wrote and re-wrote) The Judgment of God: Glenn Beck Version, I thought I’d done some pretty good thinking and the commensurate wordsmithing.  As is the norm, I tweaked it for a few days before finally letting it be.  I’ve read the piece a few times since, and have been bothered a bit by some self-perceived weaknesses.

The platform upon which this blog is written, WordPress, has many useful tools; among them measurements of the number of readers, what the readership is reading, what the readership ate for breakfast, etc.  Another useful tool is a listing of the dates and times on which accumulated edits were updated for each blog post.  One update might contain a half-dozen edits.

How sick am I, really?  It’s two months since I wrote Judgment.  Today, I woke up and couldn’t wait to hit the keyboard again.  I was obsessed with getting the darn thing right.  After several hours of head-scratching, research and re-crafting, I was finally able to hit the Publish button knowing that I had completely, accurately and eloquently defended my thesis.  Then I checked the tool which tells how many updates had been executed for the treatise.  25.  I updated that post 25 times, times maybe 6 edits for each update.

But that was just today.

Over the past two months, the number of updates for Judgment altogether is 47.  47 updates times about 6 edits each equals 282.  All that for an essay containing 1,436 words.

Either I’m incredibly obsessive, or I’m a bad editor.  Or maybe I should just face the truth: I’m a horrible writer.

Nah…I’m just obsessive.  Whew!  What a relief.

It’s been days now and we’re still buzzing about the release of gruesome photographs.  Despite the official decision to not release, some pics are floating around cyberspace; most of them fabrications.  I hope we never see the real pictures.  I think the president rightly said, “We don’t need to spike the football.”

All of this brings to mind that there are so many beautiful images to look at, and good people with the ability to capture them.  I’ve framed a picture or two in my career, and I feel qualified to judge a great shot from the merely good.  And it is rare when someone else’s work takes my breath away.  [All photographs in this post are used with the permission of the photographer.]

My nephew Michael is one of those ‘someone elses’.  He’s quite a gifted photographer, as you will easily see here:

Blazen-Rail-Lines Photo credit: Michael J. Peters http://www.michaeljpeters.com/

To me, that’s a ‘Wow’ picture.  Michael, in turn, posted someone else’s picture to his Facebook page.  Look at this:

4/365.cloud-covered Photo credit: Sara Montour http://saramontour.com/

I’m a sucker for a good cloud shot.  But if you go to Sara Montour’s web gallery, you’ll see the work of someone who knows depth, color and focus.

Anthony and Caroline Beard are two of my favorite people.  Both are extremely talented artists.  I’ve known them since forever, and I can remember the first time Caroline looked seriously at a camera.  Allow me to showcase one of her recent works:

Hollywood Theater, Minneapolis Photo credit: Caroline Beard - Popular Content http://www.carolinebeard.com

One more.  Lisa and I had the good fortune to secure the talents of our friend Jolene Bertrand for our wedding photography.  Every shot in our album turned out fabulously.  But Jolene does so much more than weddings.  Check this out:

The cutest girl in the world. Photo credit: Jolene Bertrand - Avalon Photography http://www.avalonphotoinfo.com/

So if you’re wondering what a certain coal-hearted someone looks like today, think closer to home.  You’re surrounded by all manner of beauty.  Never to be seen in a newspaper.  Always to be warmed by your heart.


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