Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Happy 5th Hannah!

Here's a photo from a trip to Hocking Hills that we made when you were very young.
I don't remember much about my early life before the age of approximately five-years-old. So, Hannah, I don't know how much you will remember of the years you have lived before now. (And I'm sorry that I haven't done a very good job of chronicling these years in my blog. But there are history books and digital photos and videos for some of that I guess.)

What I hope you can remember, even in vague ways, is how much you have been loved. And I hope you know how much you have enriched our lives with your presence. Your laughter, your smile, your "anti-jokes," your questions, and even your stubbornness and kid-like confidence has made life much more interesting and more rewarding.

Very soon you will begin to step out and away, beginning that long voyage to be on your own. It starts with kindergarten (next fall!) and ends with a life firmly of your own making. But we will be here for as long as possible, providing you a touchstone and a place to return whenever you need to.

We all love you, today and every day.

Happy fifth birthday to you!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Book review: The Casual Vacancy

You may think that I'm terribly behind the times, reviewing a book by J.K. Rowling that has been available for months and months and months. And you would be absolutely right. But I got the book as a Christmas gift just a few weeks ago and just finished reading it a few days ago. (Hey, I've got lots to do with my actual paying job and what with being a father and husband all the time.)

And so now I have the time to chime in on what I felt about Rowling's adult novel, The Casual Vacancy, the book that pushed her away from kid's stuff and young adults, and fantasy, and magical places.

But . . . I found lots of things that were familiar in The Casual Vacancy that fans of the Harry Potter world would recognize--even if they were disappointed by the stunning lack of Daedalus Diggle. And so, in what may be a grand disappointment to Mrs. Rowling, I'll likely refer back to her Harry Potter works throughout my review of her non-Harry Potter work. She may decry this as typecasting or a lack of creativity on my part. But I choose to think that it is in recognition of her core values as a person that are coming through, no matter the setting.


In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Sirius Black said to Harry that "the world isn't split into good people and Death Eaters. We've all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That's who we really are." Such a philosophy describes the people of Pagford, the English village setting of Rowling's book. There are many people within the story who show a range of motivations, emotions (both external and internal), and points of view. Some are decidedly Dursleyish. But Rowling tries to allow even the people that you don't want to root for to have some personality that you might be able to understand. (Meaning, there is no one who is painted quite as badly as say, Delores Umbridge.

These people are all eaten up inside with resentments, remembered slights, personal grudges, and the constant back and forth of our petty, petty mind. As John Green has said in many different places and ways you have to try to imagine people complexely. What is going on inside people's mind is very rarely what they show to the outside world. But if we keep everything hidden, does that do us any good? (People should just blog more to let it out.)

Places and Events

Imagine the story of David Lynch's Blue Velvet but plopped in the middle of Harry's Muggle neighborhood of Privet Drive and Little Whinging. It is a pretty commonplace location, with normal people. But peel back their layers and you find the darkness underneath. Much of the story of The Casual Vacancy is driven by interior thoughts, fears, and past grievances. And the reader is left wondering if the characters are as aware of what drives them as we are. We can pity the people and (I presume) Rowling wants us to learn from their weaknesses as well, so that we can not follow their petty mistakes and prejudices as we live our own lives.

The plot of The Casual Vacancy turns on the vacancy of a seat on the Pagford parish council governing body and how the maneuverings to fill that spot reveal everything about the characters, how they view their world, and how they define what that world is to them. It is a small plot, narrowed down to a time and a place. But by going small, Rowling carefully examines the many small choices that constitute a personality.

Philosophy and Politics

While reading the book, I thought that this book was a clear reflection of this time--an England in the 21st century, stuck in recession, combating poverty, and the tension between the past and social transformation. Rowling comments on the political bickering that occurs in her culture and ours about both side of our political dichotomy. How should we treat the poor? How much weight does each of us place on the role of social complexity versus personal responsibility? How constant a role should government play in assisting the disadvantaged? Should it be a public effort or a private effort?

It's like lifting the October arguments I've witness on Facebook and reshaping them into a narrative of fictional characters. And that is where any power this book may have resides--in asking us to think about the actions and thoughts of these characters and then be honest with ourselves about who we root for, who we view with contempt, and how we want the actions of the book to play out.


In the end, I enjoyed the book, not because it was such a skillful story (thought I did enjoy it for that), but for the opportunity it offers to make me think about these social issues from a different point of view. I don't want to say that I've solidified my views for all time, because I think one of the points in this story is that holding a rigid world view is a way to get lost in the past as the world changes around you. I want to be sympathetic, and charitable to the needs of the disadvantaged. I want to provide them with a chance to get the tools they need to improve their lives. And I think layers of responsibility must come with those aids, to identify those who are trying to make their lives better and give them better chances to succeed.

Give the book a read for yourself and see what it says to you.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

The power of stripes compels you!

Let me tell you a story that, like many of my stories, seem to originate in the shower.

This morning, while preparing for church, I realized that I was showering with Irish Spring soap--a soap that I have not used in quite a few years. (I'm not sure how we got it, as we are typically either a Dial or Kroger generic family. . . but that is not the point of this story.)

So, because I am of a certain age, my mind immediately took me to the old Irish Spring soap commercials of my youth.

The point here is when the "Irishman"in this commercial slices open the bar of soap to emphasize the stripes of two deodorants that the soap contains. This was, I believe, a impressive innovation at the time. Stripes! Two! More than one! (We lived in a simpler time back in the 1970s and 1980s, when things were all one thing--such as communist or anti-communist, God-fearing or God-hating, straight or I'm afraid to talk about it for fear of social reprisal and ridicule.)

And this remembrance of the power of stripes got me thinking of other striped innovations during my youth. The most important was, of course, Aquafresh toothpaste. It somehow uses its dentist-based wizardry to introduce THREE stripes!

Can you think of any other amazing products that promoted itself on the basis of its stripes? Lynda reminded me of Fruit Stripe gum and I thought that Burst gum might sort of qualify, thought it doesn't fit the stripe theme as much. Leave your suggestions in the comments.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Spring 2013 Cable TV Preview

You may be surprised to see me providing long-form TV previews in a month other than August or September, but I have two retorts for that.

1. I didn't write this. My friend and colleague Dean--@Hapless23 on Twitter--wrote it--as he has done in previous years. So, if you have beef--take it up with him. And
2. The TV landscape is different now that when I started writing Fall TV Preview posts back in 2004. Now instead of one big monolithic season, there are, as Dean recognizes here and as Entertainment Weekly also recognizes in its current issue, a second or even a third season after the big launch in September.

But enough from me. Go for it Dean.

Credit: Entertainment Weekly
Welcome to another round of TV previews, where I try to cajole you to watch my favorite shows (on cable; broadcast television is, as always, David’s domain), and wherein we hope that some new shows make good. (All times Eastern, because it’s God’s time.) Also I added quotes. Maybe they’re from the show. Maybe they’re vaguely related somehow. Maybe I don’t know enough about the show so I put in a line at random. So without further ado, here are shows you could watch for each day of the week:


Game of Thrones, HBO TBD

Winter is coming.

Did you enjoy Lord of the Rings? Well this is not that kind of fantasy. This is HBO fantasy. You know that character you like? He died while you were reading this. There was probably a naked woman there too. This show contains ADULT THEMES. Oh, and the books are great. You should totally read the books.

Sample plot summary: Jon finds himself in a perilous situation. Tyrion says something that gets him in trouble. Joffrey kills a baby.

Girls, HBO 9:00

I don’t want to freak you out, but I think I might be the voice of my generation.

This show got tons of critical praise, and then there was a great big backlash against it. I think a lot of the backlash was misplaced and unfair. This is a really good show that nicely subverted my expectations quite a few times. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but you should give it a whirl.

Sample plot summary: Hannah must find a job. Marnie is annoying again. Adam does something unexpected.

Venture Brothers, Cartoon Network TBD

Go Team Venture!

This show is nominally about the two teenage sons of a former boy adventurer, turned super scientist. What this show is really about is disappointment and failure. It’s also really, really funny.

Sample plot summary: Dean and Hank go on a double date. The Monarch must choose between killing Doctor Venture or saving his relationship with Doctor Girlfriend.


Adventure Time, Cartoon Network 7:30

Making pancakes, making bacon pancakes…

Set in the magical land of Ooo (which may or may not be Earth after a terrible event destroyed life as we know it), Finn, the only known human, and his magical dog Jake go on adventures and maybe learn something about what it means to grow up and also it’s hilarious.

Sample plot summary: Finn must retrieve a Frisbee from a tree. Jake makes pancakes.

Continuum, Syfy 8:00

"Not exactly," said the Medical Man. "There are balloons."

Do you like Syfy original series? Interested in time travel? If so you’ll probably be giving this a shot, right? Do you hate that Syfy spells its name like this now? I do too.

Sample plot summary: What do you want from me? I can’t travel through time to watch this show to give you a synopsis.

Being Human, Syfy 9:00

I quite fancy Hufflepuff, actually. I've always thought, in Hufflepuff they always spend the day making stuff with safety scissors and glitter. [I'll admit (to my chagrin) that I don't know where this quote is from. But it seems like I should know. I'm fairly certain that is isn't from Being Human, based on what you say below. --ed.]

A ghost, a vampire, and a werewolf all live together in a house. AKA: easiest show to green-light ever.

Sample plot summary: Ok, this was a bad idea to do this bit. I haven’t seen this show, so maybe the werewolf and the ghost date and then the vampire gets all sulky about it? That sounds like something that could happen.


Justified, FX 10:00

But you see, ten days ago you shot a man in Miami. Put it like this: you were in the first grade; bit a kid every week? They'd start to think of you as a biter.

This is by far the show I’m most excited to have back. The dialogue is witty. The characters are complex. The acting is fantastic. Give this show a try and then come back and thank me later. [I'll never watch and you can't make me . . . I guess? --ed.]

Sample plot summary: Raylan is under investigation for shooting a criminal. Boyd makes a conversion, but is it sincere? Art is grumpy.

Cougar Town, TBS 10:00

A blog is like a diary but you want everybody to read it, like if you get bad service at a restaurant you blog it and then you get a free meal at that restaurant but then you wonder did they just lure me back here so they could just spit in my food so then you blog that and then they take you to court.

Look, I know the name is bad. But you liked Scrubs right? This show is made by the same guy that made Scrubs. It’s just as funny, the cast has great chemistry, and you are really missing out if you’re not watching it (Which you probably aren’t, because it’s on TBS now because you weren’t watching it in the first place). Just give it a chance and you will not be disappointed, I promise you that. (Also I’m sad this bumps up against Justified, because this is my 2nd most anticipated return).

Sample plot summary: Jules and everyone else drinks wine. Travis doesn’t because he is too young.


The Americans, FX 10:00

But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.

Keri Russell and some guy I’ve never heard of are Russian spies living in America in the 1980s. Remember when that attractive redheaded woman was caught spying on the U.S. a few years ago? She was sending them back newspapers and other readily available information. Russian spy quality has really gone downhill these days.

Sample plot summary: Keri Russell gets a hold of classified information, but has second thoughts about sending it back. Her neighbor gets suspicions. (Again, this is a new show, so what do you expect from me?)


Archer, FX 10:00

That’s how you get ants.

Half the cast of Arrested Development is in this show and so is H. Jon Benjamin. Watch it. [You wouldn't believe me the amount of time that Dean devotes to praising H. Jon Benjamin at the work lunch table. Make the dude famous so Dean can relax already. --ed.]

Sample plot summary: Archer accidently ruins a big mission and Lana must find a way to fix it. Pam and Kruger get involved with Hobo fighting. [I think you mean bum fights, right?--ed.]

Legit, FX 10:30

Do you come from a land down under? Where women glow and men plunder? Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder? You better run, you better take cover. [I would have gone with Safety Dance. But I'm older than you are. --ed.]

So FX is just transplanting Australian comics into America now. First that Australian who plays Wilfred with the rage issues, and now they’ve brought in this other bloke to try to take jobs that should go to God-fearing American comics.

Sample plot summary: Yes, plot summaries were a mistake. I see that now.


Portlandia, IFC 10:00

The dream of the 90s is alive in Portland.

A hit or miss sketch comedy about the city of Portland, Oregon, a magical land that the 90s never left. Even when the sketches miss (which is awesome) it’s a good hang out show. [I thought you could only watch this show if you were a hipster. --ed.]

Sample plot summary: A sketch is done about putting birds on things. The Mayor of Portland needs a favor.

Banshee, Cinemax 10:00

What we've got here is... failure to communicate. Some men you just can't reach. So you get what we had here last week, which is the way he wants it... well, he gets it. I don't like it any more than you men. 

This show is on a Friday and is on Cinemax. I just included it so now I don’t have to leave Friday blank. Sorry Cinemax, this is the amount of effort I put into your shows. I did hear Strike Back was good though.

Sample plot summary: Adult situations happen. Cinemax!


There’s never anything on Saturday. Hug your children, or if you don’t have children, live your life to the fullest in case you ever do have children and you can’t live life to the fullest anymore. [Whoa. Sounds like you might need to undergo some therapy about child-rearing. But . . . I'm not gonna judge because I've got more kids than you and I completely know where you're coming from. --ed.]


Arrested Development, Netflix


6 seasons and a movie!

Sample plot summary: Michael feels compelled to rescue his family from a problem. Tobias says something that could be misinterpreted. [And THAT'S why you always leave a note. --ed.]

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Okay, I caved a bit

Just last night I posted over on Tumblr that I quit doing New Year's Resolutions a few years ago. But today, I saw something that seemed like a good idea, so I am reversing my previous stance.

And so, I am hoping to start a list of good things that happen to me this year and collecting them in this vase (I don't have a picturesque mason jar.)

The jar. How will it be filled?
And to help keep me thinking and tracking those good things, I am also going to be using my OneNote app on my phone to keep jotting down things as I experience them.
And after this effort, I will try to look back on these events that are good on a monthly basis and report back with the good things that I have experienced so far. In this way I can work on a positive attitude and learn to appreciate the many wonderful things that happen all around me and to prevent me from focusing on negativity and pessimism. (And it will also help me use this blog a bit more than I have been doing in recent years--a perpetual promise that I make to myself every year at this time.)