Live Long and Prosper

Spock

As a fan of science fiction, I’m glad that Leonard Nimoy, otherwise known as Spock, graced us with his presence on TV and in film. He died today at the age of 83.

Spock is, of course, a character from Star Trek, and is, in my opinion, the most developed and memorable character in the sci-fi canon. I’ve often wondered to what extent Nimoy was acting when he played Spock. He always seemed to disappear into the character, like another one of my favorite actors, Clint Eastwood. It makes me think that Nimoy was just playing himself.

Nimoy is gone. Rest in peace. Spock lives on. I wait for the next Star Trek release.

The actor Zachary Quinto has proven an adequate replacement, but will never be Nimoy’s equal. Still, I should take this opportunity to say to Mr. Quinto, live long and prosper.

Next to Godliness

lava mae

I’ve been avoiding posts about negative stuff and waiting to find positive stuff to share, which is why I’ve been sort of radio silence for the past couple of weeks. Well, I’ve found something positive, sort of.

I live across the bay from San Francisco, which has a lot of homeless people living there. When you visit you see them on the streets a lot, begging for spare change. You also (ahem) smell them, because they don’t have access to bathing facilities. But now that’s changing as a result of one woman’s great idea and ingenuity. Her name is Doniece Sandoval and her great idea is a bus that has been retrofitted to provide mobile showers ¬†for homeless people.

Homelessness is not a positive thing to write about, but shower facilities for homeless people provided by a non-profit organization called Lava Mae is a good and positive thing. At least I think so, but if you check the comments following the article on SFGate about Lava Mae it becomes apparent that not everyone agrees. The reason is that some people think that San Francisco creates too many programs to help the homeless and the programs become a magnet that attracts more homeless people, which in turn increases the need for more programs for the homeless people; kind of a vicious cycle.

My own views on homelessness have evolved over the past thirty years. I used to have a neutral stance of grudging tolerance toward the homeless, balancing sympathy with a feeling that people often make bad choices in life. San Francisco and Silicon Valley have been very successful and created enormous wealth. It seemed odd to me that anyone could be homeless in the context of such wealth. Then we experienced the great recession and there were a lot of people who got swept up in the negative tide of choices that other people made. Whole families were living in tents in camping grounds and I realized that people become homeless for a variety of reasons and it’s wrong to put them all in the same category.

I see Lava Mae as an unqualified good and I love their motto: Delivering Dignity, One Shower At A Time.

Film Review: Birdman

Birdman

I’m writing this as I get ready to watch the Academy Awards. One of the nominees for best picture is Birdman, which I watched on demand this morning.

I tend to like films that are meta, meaning that they are films about the entertainment industry. One of my favorite metas is The Player. Birdman is a meta, as well.

Michael Keaton plays a washed up Hollywood star who suffers a nervous breakdown while trying to launch a Broadway play as writer, director, and star.

I think this movie has a good chance of winning the award for best original screenplay. The writing is bright and crisp, with great dialogue.

I also think that Edward Norton has a good chance of winning the award for Best Supporting Actor. He’s great as a New York stage actor filling in on short notice. Michael Keaton is very good as well. In fact, the whole cast does a great job.

So you’d think with a great screenplay and great acting and the meta aspect that I would love this film. I liked it a lot, but the missing element, for me, is that it lacks emotional punch. The characters in the film have a jaded quality that rings true, but also makes it hard to care about them.

This film is similar thematically to Black Swan, starring Natalie Portman. It asks the question of whether an artist has to be borderline crazy to create great art.

I have no idea which film will win Best Picture this year. I haven’t seen all of the ones nominated and I enjoyed all the ones I did see for different reasons.

My only rooting interest is for Bradley Cooper to win Best Actor for his portrayal of American Sniper Chris Kyle. He was great in that film, has been nominated twice previously, but hasn’t won yet. By the way, Kyle’s wife is being interviewed on the red carpet right now. She looks like she could be one of the movie stars.

Moonrise

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A couple of years ago I took this photo of the moon rising over Lake Tahoe. I was on a boat when I took the photo. That night Kings Beach, CA presented a Fourth of July fireworks display, though I recall the fireworks display I saw that night was actually presented on July third, not the fourth. No matter.

I’ve been trying to write about positive things, but there’s a lack of positive content recently that I can write about, so I’ve decided to dredge up positive stuff I’ve experienced in the past. I’ll continue to post about positive stuff from the past until further notice.

With that in mind, I offer the following haiku poem:

Moments in your life
Remind you why life’s worth it
This is one of those

Straight-Up Nuts

mixed nuts

I watched a bit of trial footage in the case of a former Marine who shot and killed “American Sniper” Chris Kyle and his friend at a shooting range. One piece of evidence is a text message from Kyle to his friend just before the shooting that reads: “This dude is straight-up nuts.” The shooter’s attorney is saying he’s not guilty by reason of insanity, so Kyle’s text is being used by the defense to support that notion.

Not to blame the victim; Chris Kyle is a true hero and it’s so sad and ironic that he was killed in Texas after surviving multiple tours of duty as a Navy Seal. But I can’t help but wonder why he went ahead with the planned visit to a shooting range once the thought expressed in his text message crossed his mind. He had volunteered to take the shooter out for the day as a therapeutic activity and I suppose he felt a certain responsibility to follow through with it.

Speaking of nuts, the crimes committed by ISIS just get worse by the moment. I don’t think they’re insane in a clinical sense, but what word can describe people who would cage a human being, set them on fire, film it in high definition, and post it on the internet? I think the appropriate word is “evil.”

Then there’s the American woman who died while being held as a hostage by ISIS. She was kidnapped while doing humanitarian work in Syria. The media haven’t reported the specific circumstances of her death, probably because they aren’t sure of the facts. That’s fine. Spare me the details. My condolences to the family and friends of Kayla Mueller. I admire people like her who are willing to risk their lives to help out victims of war, but may I make a suggestion to anyone thinking of following in her footsteps?

As much as Syrians need the help, I have concluded that on balance it doesn’t make enough of a difference to counter the possibility that the helpers will be kidnapped by ISIS and used for horrific propaganda videos. Please, folks. Stay away from the war zone unless you’re in the military.

Then there’s the situation with Brian Williams, who appears to have manufactured a series of phony experiences, such as surviving a rocket propelled grenade attack on a military helicopter he was riding in. He admitted the story was not true, saying he misremembered the incident (total BS, in my opinion). I’m at a loss to understand why a journalist would feel compelled to make up phony stories when there’s so much real stuff to report on. He should try phony news for a living and replace Jon Stewart on the daily show, because he’s disqualified himself as a serious journalist.

It seems like these things are unrelated, but when you line them up next to each other a theme emerges. As much as technology seems to be a dominant force in the march of recent history, you have these examples of human behavior that negate the ability to feel like we’re moving in the right direction. Maybe that’s because we’re saturated with various media, blogs included.

OK, I’m only going to write about positive stuff for the next month.

Film Review: Boyhood

Boyhood

I missed seeing the film Boyhood in theaters so I rented it through U-Verse. It’s done about $25 million at the box office as of today, which is why it’s been relegated to video rental.

Despite it’s relative lack of commercial success, I recommend seeing it. Boyhood is a unique film that traces the lives of a family over an actual period of twelve years, using the same cast. The film was written and directed by Richard Linklater.

The film has an interesting narrative arc, since Mr. Linklater could not have written the whole story in advance. For example, there’s a whole riff about the impact of personal electronics and social media that rings very true and could not have been predicted with such precision were it written twelve years ago. Also, as you watch the film you will probably wonder whether or to what extent the events in the script echo things that happened in the lives of the cast members.

Another interesting thing about the film is that the cast ages. This creates a deep intimacy between the viewer and the characters, especially the namesake character of the boy, Mason, who begins the film as six year old in elementary school and ends it as an eighteen year old in his first year of college. You quite literally see him grow up in the course of the film’s two hour and forty-five minute running time.

As I was watching the film it became apparent that there is no antagonist, except perhaps life itself. These people just sort of wander around living their lives. The beginning and end of the film could have been chosen randomly. The director could have started a year earlier in the lives of the characters or ended a year later, in that there are no big events that punctuate the script or create a tremendous sense of drama, other than the type of life events that will seem very familiar to most people. And yet the film as a whole is very dramatic in a quiet way, by pointing out that most people’s lives are like that.

On a personal level, the film’s timeline is similar to the life of my daughter, who is now thirteen, so that resonated quite a bit. The songs used in the soundtrack are time specific as well and it was fun to take a stroll back in recent popular culture and remember what you were doing when your first heard a certain song. Kudos for throwing in one of my favorite songs by the band Wilco.

I’ve never seen another film like Boyhood. Mr. Linklater deserves a lot of credit for sticking to a project for twelve years to create a beautiful and unique work of art.

Super Bowl Carousel

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I went to Las Vegas for the Super Bowl, as I’ve done the last five years now. A ton has already been written about the game itself, so instead I’m going to write about other stuff, mostly.

This year me and my crew stayed at the Wynn. In past years we stayed at another place that shall go unnamed because we couldn’t stand to stay there again; it was that bad. The Wynn, by comparison, is the best place I’ve ever stayed in Las Vegas. The photo above is of a carousel decoration in the lobby that looks like it came off a Rose Parade float. The hotel itself is very nice, but the service is what sets it apart. If you plan on visiting Las Vegas I recommend the Wynn. It’s more expensive, but well worth it if you can afford to stay there.

Which brings me to the topic of tipping. I always try to stick with 20% unless the service is sub-par. This is true especially when you’re accessing a premium service, like a nice hotel or restaurant. My theory is that if you can afford a higher-end place, you can afford to tip generously. A friend asked, what if you order a thousand dollar omelet? Well, then you can afford a two hundred dollar tip. If you think of all the things that money gets spent on for recreation, the tips are impactful to a segment of the workforce that relies on tips to supplement income.

In a previous post in advance of my Las Vegas trip to the Super Bowl, I said I wasn’t going to bet on the game. Well, once I got there and it was two hours before game time, I couldn’t resist, even though I’m not a fan of either team. This was a game that didn’t really have an underdog. The Patriots were one point favorites when I placed my bet. As I was standing in line at the Sports Book my brother texted me and predicted a Patriots win. He’s been correct in his Super Bowl predictions for 15 years out of the last 16, so I went with that, plus the over parlay, which means the combined score between the two teams had to exceed 47.5 points.

If you watched the game you know what happened. I thought I was going to lose my bet there at the end, when Seahawks player Jermaine Kearse made an incredible juggling catch to give his team a chance for the win. Then came what is undoubtedly the most head-scratching play call by an NFL coach I’ve ever seen. The Seahawks were one yard away from a come-back win, and their coach calls for a pass, which was intercepted.

So I won my bet, but even better, there was a slow motion replay of Richard Sherman’s reaction to the interception. He looked like a six year old that had just been told there’s no Santa Claus. Classic.

All in all, a fun trip. My gambling success almost paid for the whole thing.

Next year the Super Bowl will be held in Santa Clara, so I may hang around the Bay Area for that one.