Sidereal ramblings

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Best of 2006 - Books

About a third of the books I read this year, I read for my grad class in adolescent literature. Some of them were very good, and only a couple weren't really worth my time. My book of the year comes from that class: The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. Stories of the Vietnam War, but much, much more than that. There's lots about storytelling in general, how to write, and the stories themselves were mostly riveting. I had a bit of trouble getting into the book at the first, until I got to the story where the narrator spends a week up north on the Rainy River on the border between Minnesota and Canada after receiving his draft notice, trying to decide whether to go to Canada or to the army and the war. In the end, he says he took "the coward's way" out; he went back home, went to the army and the war. Very powerful stuff.

My runner-up is a book of a completely different type: 10th Grade by Joseph Weisberg is told from the perspective of a sophomore in high school, and chronicles his year. Nothing very relevatory happens; he learns no great lessons; he just makes it through a year in high school. It's very realistic, and it's one of the funniest things I've ever read. At one point I put the book aside because I was laughing too hard to continue. When I picked it back up, I had to set it down again to regain my composure before continuing. The book reads like it was written by your typical high school sophomore, too: chock full of run-on sentences, pages-long digressions that go nowhere, and severely lacking in punctuation. I loved it.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Best of 2006 - TV

I've noticed a happy trend this fall: the return of on-screen episode titles. Most TV shows title their episodes, but few of those titles are ever shown on the air. I wish more of them were. I noticed that two new shows I've started watching, Heroes and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, both do it. Perhaps I'm too big of a geek, but I like that.

I had a slightly different relationship with TV this fall than in previous years. I was extremely busy doing other stuff that precluded watching much TV on a regular basis (other than Wednesday nights), but I continued to tape a number of programs. After the play and my grad school class ended, I managed to sit back and watch 8 to 10 episodes of a few shows over the course of a week or so (each). It was interesting and I think it helped; most of the stuff I'm watching now have really large casts, and week-to-week, I might have been lost.

Best TV show of 2006: Lost. Has it lost its momentum? Did it get it back? Whatever, I'm still loving it every week. Splitting up the main characters for this fall's six-week run didn't hurt; it only made it more interesting.

Best new show: Heroes. I've heard different views on this show, but I don't see how anyone who's a comic book super-hero fan can not like this one. It's a comic book come to life on the small screen; all the elements are there. And it's really well put together. I watched all 11 episodes in the week before Christmas, and can't wait for more.

Honorable mentions: The Nine: coming right after Lost on Wednesdays, but with a really different feel and flavor to it. Sure, there's some mystery there, but the character interactions were fabulous. This got pulled early, but I hear it might be coming back. I sure hope so. Studio 60: despite the unwieldy full title (see above), I've really come to enjoy this show. Again, one that I just finished watching the first 10 episodes this last week or so, which probably helped somewhat. I've never watched any of Sorkin's previous shows, but maybe I should. I love the quick dialogue, the pop culture references, and the political leanings.

A special shout-out to The Office. I didn't start watching this when it started, and I seldom pick up on a show after it's been running awhile, but I started watching The Office this year, and I absolutely love it. Easily the funniest thing on TV.

Best of 2006 - Movies

Ah, movies. At least I still know something about the cinema, try to keep abreast of what's out there, even though I don't get much of a chance to see it all, given where I live. I'm not much for renting and/or buying DVDs, but I think I'm going to have to get more into that. Netflix, I suppose? Anyway, I saw only 29 full-length films in the theatre this year. I have to qualify that "full-length" 'cause I did get to see 11 short films -- Landmark theatres hosted the 2005 Oscar-nominated short films in both live action and animated categories -- all five at a shot (plus a bonus in the animated set), a great opportunity and a wonderful viewing experience. I hope they do it again.

Best film of the year: The Departed, Martin Scorscese's brilliant, noirish gangster thriller. Complex, but not convoluted. Well acted. Amazing cinematography. A shoo-in for some well-deserved Oscar noms.

Other good films: Black Dahlia: While not everything worked here, anyone who wants a primer on noir film needs look no further. Corrupt cops, femme fatales, violence, rain-soaked darkness, voiceover narration, plot twists -- oh, yeah. Little Miss Sunshine, the indie film that could. Probably more popular than anyone thought it would be. Delightful. Monster House: my favorite animated film of the year. A kids' story probably, but definitely more mature than most, even frightening. Highly recommended for kids of all ages. An Inconvenient Truth: the film that made a movie star out of Al Gore. The kind of documentary that everyone needs to see. The visuals help make the sometimes dry (that's a global warming joke, by the way) facts more understandable and powerful at the same time. A Prairie Home Companion: the swan song of the late Robert Altman. It had me hooked from the opening credits to the final Mickey's Diner scene.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Best of 2006 - Music

I bought about 20 CDs this year, quite a drop from the 200 or more I'd sometimes pick up back in the days I worked in the "business" when they were either free or very, very cheap. Of those 20, I'd guess that more than half were released prior to 2006. That said, here's my annual list of the best new music of the year.

Best CD: Bruce Cockburn, Life Short Call Now. Those who know me well won't be surprised by this pick; another great album in a long string by Bruce.

First runner-up: Rhett Miller, The Believer, the second "solo" album from the former frontman of the Old 97s. A great selection of power pop with some country rock leanings with Rhett's always entertaining and clever wordplay.

Other runners-up in no particular order: Dave Alvin, West of the West: One of the best modern singer-songwriters emphasizes the first half of that title with this album of mostly covers. Johnny Cash, American V: A Hundred Highways: a posthumous release, mostly recorded in the months after his wife June's death and shortly before his own. Cash didn't try to hide the mortality in his voice; a powerful and sad testament. Flamin' Oh's: Long Live the King: live long, indeed; the venerable '80s power pop/punk/new wave band is back in great form. Lastly, the soundtrack to Open Season: Terrible movie, great music, mostly from Paul Westerberg. Kids' music? Not really. It rocks.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Putting the X back in X-mas

*sigh* Every year it happens. This year I read it in a letter published in the Winona Daily News over the weekend from a young girl who's a student at St. Martin's lutheran school. She was bemoaning the use of the term "xmas" instead of "Christmas" and saying how it took away from the religious aspect of the holiday, secularizing it. According to her, it was unchristian and unreligous to say or write "xmas." What she, and others, obviously don't know is the origin of the "x" in "xmas." The original Greek spelling of Christ's name was "Xristos." So the "x" in xmas is simply meant to represent Christ, not to replace him with something else or an unknown (this ain't an algebraic equation). "Xmas" may be a shortened version of "Christmas" --and these days everyone seems to be shortening everything up for email and text messaging purposes -- but it's not meant to be anti-Christian.

Of course, I don't blame the young girl who wrote the letter. The WDN pointed out where she attended school. I have some personal experience with St. Martin's lutheran church, and they certainly indoctrinated me with a lot of disinformation over the years.

Merry Xmas, everyone!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Great lines from songs 3

From Everything But the Girl:
Every day is like Christmas without you / It's cold and there's nothing to do

It's me, not them

A week or so ago, I attempted to "move" my blog to the new version of blogger, the hosting site. I encountered numerous problems, and couldn't figure out how to get back on it. My blog just wasn't showing up. As it turns out, I was doing something wrong -- the wrong username, but right password was somehow getting me partially through. I even called my computer-geek buddy Stix, who first got me on to this whole blogger thing, to see if he could help. He couldn't. 'Cause the problem was me. I finally figured that out. So now I'm back.

Mea culpa.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Bomb

On Monday we had a bomb threat at our school. At noon, just as I had sat down with my lunch, we were told to evacuate the building. A note had been found, or perhaps written on the wall, in the boys' bathroom stating that there was a bomb in the school. While this was later found to be nothing more than a "prank" precautions must be taken. Everyone left the school, walked across the street to the elementary school, where we all stayed in the gym for the next two-and-a-half hours. I have to say that our kids were very well behaved. Many of them were frustrated and angry, as were many of us faculty members. A DVD player and projector were brought into the gym and Pirates of the Carribean was shown up on the wall to keep them occupied. It was an unpleasant and frustrating situation.

Today at 1:00 p.m., an announcement came over the p.a. system to once again evacuate the building. This time (I learned later) a similar note was found in the girls' locker room. The frustration level among faculty and students was magnified today. Once was bad enough, but two days in a row was patently absurd. It was a bit harder to keep the kids placated today. Nothing was found in either case, and I suspect that the second incident was a copycat of the first, rather than part of an orchestrated plan. I am not privy to any of the investigation that is occuring, but I certainly hope that this situation gets resolved quickly. This is getting ridiculous. No, not "getting," it started out that way and is getting worse.

Saturday, December 02, 2006


Just got back from lunch at the local Mexican restaurant and have an experience I need to share. There was a group of women at a front center table there, along with a bunch of kids. They were close to finishing their meals, I believe, when I got there. While I was eating, most of the kids -- five of them, ranging in ages, I'd say, between 2 and 7 -- got up and proceeded to run around the front part of the restaurant (where there are no tables, near the entrance), yelling, climbing on the couch there, etc. The 2-year-old was even crawling around on the floor. Maybe as a non-parent, it's easy for me to judge harshly, but this is really unacceptable behavior to me. I wouldn't let my kid (if I had one) crawl around on a restaurant floor, for one. The parents -- that's what I assume them to be -- made no attempt to stop any of this behavior and, in fact, didn't really seem to notice it. Lots of times I've encountered parents who are seemingly oblivious to their children's behavior in public places, and it always annoys me. Do you become that used to the noise and chaos that you no longer even notice it? How about having some consideration for the other people around you? Am I wrong here?