miscellaneous commentary

Archive for December 2010

Resolutions for 2011

leave a comment »

My primary resolution for 2011 is to bicycle at least 2,000 outdoor miles. I got close this year, with 1,793 (compared to 1,067 in 2009). If I had biked to work more often during the summer I could have pushed myself over that level, so it shouldn’t be hard to accomplish.

Including indoor miles, I biked around 2,021 miles this year, but indoor miles are bastard miles. Last year I biked 1,401 total miles.

Other ideas: spend less on drinks and eating out, take a digital sabbath on the weekends and get my 5K time under 27 minutes.


Written by camcarlson

December 31, 2010 at 5:55 PM

Posted in Bicycling

“Greenberg” review

leave a comment »

“Greenberg” is the latest film written and directed by Noah Baumbach. He wrote and directed “The Squid and the Whale” in 2005, a film I loved, as well as “Margot and the Wedding” in 2007, which I have not seen. His latest film continues a theme of dysfunctional yuppie characters.

The setup — Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller), a carpenter from NYC who recently checked out of psychiatric care, crashes at his wealthy brother Phillip’s Hollywood property while Philip and his family are away on a multi-month vacation in Vietnam. The brother’s assistant Florence (played by the beautiful Greta Gerwig) is made available should Greenberg need anything. He calls Florence up to request food purchases and to drive him around town (he doesn’t drive anymore).

One night early on during his stay he asks her out for drinks, and while driving around town they decide instead to just drink at her apartment, which leads to the quickest round-the-bases I’ve witnessed in a long time. Florence delivers a hysterical off-hand remark about trains while Greenberg is going down on her.

I will be honest, I do not enjoy most of the films in which Ben Stiller has the lead role, but in this film he is strangely endearing, in the way you might love a constantly misbehaving puppy. Greenberg… now here’s a dude who never got over college. Back then he was in a band, and his refusal of the terms to a record contract costs them their One Big Chance. Some of his bandmates are still pissed at his about that, though one of them, Ivan (Rhys Ifans), has put it behind him.

Ivan is who Greenberg spends most of his time with aside from Florence. Greenberg thinks he talks to Ivan more often than he really does, and Ivan wishes they spent more time talking about more important things in their lives rather than constantly rehashing the past. He chastises Greenberg for never making any effort to know Ivan’s son Victor.

Florence is adrift like Greenberg and seems interested in Greenberg because he’s like her and unlike the other guys she’s been with, and shows some modicum of interest in her. Greenberg doesn’t deserve her or Ivan’s friendship, but he gets it anyway because they’re too kind to turn their backs on him.

Greenberg is trapped in his college mindset, believing he has to avoid all commitments in order to be truly free. He still sees himself as the musician he was back in college and thinks there’s a chance for his band, to reunite and write music again. He can’t see that his bandmates, including Ivan, have moved on with their lives. They’ve grown up, gotten married, have kids and careers. Greenberg has been treading water since college, working odd jobs as a carpenter.

Between Saturday afternoon and Sunday evening I watched the movie two times. I watched it the second time not so much to watch Ben Stiller, although he is exceptionally good in his role, but for Greta Gerwig and Rhys Ifans. I’d love to see a movie with just those two talking over dinner and wandering around town together.

I realized, during the second viewing, that this movie made a better impression the second time around. It’s one of those movies you don’t think highly of until it’s over and you have some time to think about it. I realized I could relate to a number of scenes, having had some of those exact same experiences and conversations with my own friends (and no, I am not equating myself to Greenberg, though some of the other characters remind me of people I know).

The movie also reminded me of “Sideways”, one of my favorite comedies, in the way that the lead character, after so many stumbles and missteps, just might find success. I was kinda rooting for Greenberg at the end, even though he didn’t deserve it. This is a weird way to recommend a film, but take my word for it, this is one of the funnier and more introspective films of 2010.

Written by camcarlson

December 28, 2010 at 1:19 AM

Posted in Cinema

xmas 2010

leave a comment »

I lucked out by leaving work at 1 p.m. on Thursday and got a few errands done by nightfall. Headed downtown and lingered at the Pump Haus for over a half hour until Sharina arrived. We claimed a table upstairs and were joined by Samantha, Kathy & Doug. I inhaled my usual order – the Viking, with everything on it – and we exchanged gifts with the Steelers/Panthers game on an enormous nearby flat-screen TV.

After settling our bill I escorted them to the Stuffed Olive, which was packed by 8 p.m. It had just begun to snow by this point. My co-workers took an open booth on the SoHo side while I took a seat at the table near the front door with McCrea, Micah, Andrea and Robert. Every time another co-worker came in I got up and directed them over to SoHo. I felt bad they couldn’t find an opening in the back — they had been looking forward to those couches all week.

Blake, Hannah and Brandon arrived soon after I did. Ben, Cory and Cara came by later, after knocking back a few drinks at the Panther Lounge. Alice stopped by just to say hi, on her way back from Montage. We combined a few tables together to accommodate the size of our group. We ordered a few rounds of martinis and Hannah and I split a plate of bruschettas. The cold winter air chilled us every time someone came in or out the door. Blake and I caught up on movie reviews and Cory and Micah chummed it up like old days.

By 11 we were ready to take off. Andrea offered her place for continued drinking and mayhem. I offered a ride to everyone without a car, which were more people than I anticipated. Micah, Blake and Hannah piled into my car as Brandon and I brushed the snow off the windows, and then off we went. A couple new inches of snow covered the roads but they were still drivable. Ben picked up a couple six-packs of bottled beer and pulled into Andrea’s place right after we did. We almost missed the turn into her driveway due to the limited visibility – I’m glad Micah remembered which clump of trees they lived behind.

We retreated to the basement and continued drinking and broke out Genus I of Trivial Pursuit. Teams were drawn and the game progressed fairly well for an hour. Cory and Cara left after a while, with Ben close behind. Hannah was left to defend her four pie pieces against four for Brandon and I, and five for Micah, Andrea, Robert and Blake. Noting the lopsidedness of the teams, we eventually quit the game.

After a half hour Ben called me to advise on the increasingly treacherous driving conditions, news I shared with the group. Micah wanted to leave immediately rather than staying for the night but agreed to stick around for a quick game of Million Dollar Money Drop, a game show Andrea had recorded off the TV earlier in the day. That quick game turned into over an hour of chitchat on topics ranging from politics, gun rights, survival tactics, Sarah Palin and mutual friends.

We finally left around 2:30 a.m., with a few additional inches of snow on the ground. Driving back into town was tricky – visibility was reduced to almost nothing and I was following the faint tracks left in the road, most likely from Ben from an hour or two before. We finally reached Cedar Falls. I dropped everyone off and then went home and crawled into bed at the too-late hour of 3:30 a.m.


Friday morning I was up with the alarm at 10 a.m. Showered, shaved, and outside shoveling show away from my car, which I had parked in the street. Park Drive and the main roads had been plowed earlier in the morning but the snow was still falling. I cautiously made my way along University to Beck’s in Waterloo, where I had lunch plans with Katya, Steph, Mia and both Scotts at 11.

We took a table in the back of the nearly-empty restaurant and ordered a plate of onion rings and big greasy burgers with plenty of crispy fries. They have a house micro-brew but I felt it was too early for that. I supplied a box of chocolates from Indulgence for dessert.

We stayed for a couple hours and caught up on each other’s lives. Mia is three months pregnant and things are going well for her & Scott (he was fairly quiet). Steph & Scott told us about the various problems they’ve had with the house they bought in Dayton OH, but otherwise life seems to be going well for them as well. Katya, back from China, handed out gifts for all, including a pretty handmade wooden ornament for myself.

We parted ways with Mia & Scott and returned to Cedar Falls. I drove Katya back to her house. Arizona Drive hadn’t been plowed yet. Steph & Scott followed behind and inside we sat in the front room and continued chatting for a couple more hours, mostly about teaching. Moria popped in from time to time to join our conversation. We left after 3 p.m., the snow still lightly falling and Arizona still under about 9 inches of snow.

I returned home and stayed put for the remainder of the day, heating up a small pizza for dinner and watching “A Christmas Tale” in the evening – a French version of “The Royal Tenenbaums”, about a dysfunctional family brought together out of concern for their mother’s failing health during the holidays. It’s funny and touching, not morbid at all.


Saturday morning I was up even earlier, at 9 a.m. Waking up to an alarm twice over a three-day weekend is not my idea of a holiday. Regardless, I freshened up and headed over to Dad’s place for brunch at 10. Gale’s daughters and their families were already over there, the kids playing with toys and running around the house.

I sat down in the living room and watched part of some college football game that took place in Hawai’i the previous evening. Matt called Dad’s cell phone and he and I took turns talking with him. It was a very brief conversation as I was surrounded with other family and brunch was about to be served – waffles, quiche (ham and vegetarian dishes), fruit, bacon (port and turkey), bagels, OJ and chocolate milk.

After eating we moved to the front room and Gale’s side of the family exchanged and opened gifts. I helped one of Kevin’s sons assemble his laser air-zooka (a plastic cone-shaped toy with a plastic sheet and elastic band at one end, that produces a short burst of air when the band is pulled and released). Cody or Caden, I can’t remember which one it was. I can only remember Carter is the oldest of the three. Got to meet Corrine, Sara & Kevin’s one month-old daughter.

After the gifts were opened and the wrapping paper finally cleaned up, the kids and most of the adults took off to go sledding. Dad, Sara and I stayed behind to watch “A Christmas Story” in the living room. Sara looked after Corrine and took a nap with her. We caught the movie at the halfway point, but TBS was showing it repeatedly in a 24-hour loop, so once it ended we were able to watch the first hour and a bit of overlap. Kevin came back to get Sara and Corrine and I stuck around for a while more to split a three-meat pizza and a couple bottles of Coors with Dad. I left sometime after 4 p.m.

I watched the first hour of “Greenberg” back at the apartment before changing and heading over to Steph V’s house at 6:30 p.m. She had invited several friends from high school over for drinks and snacks. Back in the sun room were Steph & Matt, Maureen and Joslyn, Eric & Bethany, and Jill and her mother Jan, all being entertained by JJ’s charming personality. After he was put to bed we talked throughout the night on a wide range of topics, including slumber party games, careers, favorite web sites, bad make-out stories, and friends stuck in dysfunctional relationships.

Mike and his ladyfriend Vena came over later in the evening. Maureen provided one bottle of wine after another and Steph cracked open the liquor cabinet after we finally drank every wine bottle dry. As always, Steph was an excellent host. We reminisced about the Steph & Jill parties of Christmases past, and how mellow we’ve become in our old ages. Some of us are now thirty! The yawning began around midnight and we got up and parted ways. I returned home and was in bed by 2 a.m.


Sunday morning I didn’t set the alarm but woke up bright and early at 8:30 a.m. I just can’t seem to sleep much more than six hours a night anymore. I watched the rest of “Greenberg” and scarfed down a bowl of cereal. Then out the door and over to Mom’s place at 11.

Grandma and Uncle Mike came over for a late lunch: ham, corn, jello, croissants and cheesy baked potatoes. A good ole Midwestern meal. I spent some time going through and deleting bookmarks on the MacBook with the Jets/Bears game on the TV in the upstairs spare bedroom before returning home.

The rest of the day was spent in relative solitude. A half hour at the gym, laundry, a quick meal at Hy-Vee and the 5 p.m. show of “Black Swan”  (a wonderfully dark psychological drama), then groceries and home to watch “The Last Airbender” (some neat special effects overshadowed by a ridiculous plot – even for a fantasy film – and lousy dialogue). Played “Greenberg” again while sorting more bookmarks and forced myself to bed by midnight.

Written by camcarlson

December 28, 2010 at 12:34 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

Plans for 2011

leave a comment »

I have two goals to accomplish between today and New Years. I need to finish reading “The Hobbit”, which I should be able to do in the next day or two, and I need to watch the six movies I’ve moved to the desktop of my MacBook. I scanned a bunch of movies this past summer, to give myself something to do during the winter months, but as it turns out I’ve spent a lot of my free time reading instead. So once “The Hobbit” has been read I can get in those movies and cross them off my film list, which will be updated in January.

Since winter will keep me indoors in the evenings through March, I’ve lined up a number of projects to keep me busy. While this year’s scanning project was a success, I didn’t get to Phase Five – my income tax documents from previous years. Scanning those shouldn’t take more than a weekend, though locating all of them (for the past seven years) may take some sleuthing.

While Phase One of my scanning project was completed in January – all of my college notes and papers – I never compiled the PDF files. That’s a task I should be able to complete in short order once I get a script set up.

I also plan to scan all the printed documents I’ve kept for the Technicolor research paper I wrote in college. I initially held onto them under the assumption that I would rewrite and expand on the paper for use in grad school applications, but since that never happened and most likely never will, there’s really no need to keep them around. And on that note, I’m going to scan my film binder, a collection of printed reviews and essay, and all of my previous film lists, dating back to 1997.

The only new project I have lined up is a conversion of my VHS tapes via a device Micah is going to lend me that records footage being played on a VCR and converts it into a movie file format. Not sure how much time will need to be set aside for that (or how much hard drive space), but I’m going to estimate a day per tape. I have a dozen that need to be converted, so let’s say two weeks for this project.

Another decluttering project that I can tackle in pieces will be rooting through my extensive Safari bookmark files, weeding out the dead links and redundancies, and simplifying the bookmark folders. That’s something I can do between loads of laundry on Sunday afternoons.

To avoid getting lax with my film-watching, I’m going to watch at least two of the movies on my MacBook each week. After that I’m going to exhaust Hulu and YouTube and then look into Netflix’s new streaming-only plan. As much as possible, I plan to read one book per month (this includes finishing “War Horse” at the Rod in January when the re-open for the spring semester).

All things considered, I’ll have enough to keep me busy until the end of March. That will free me up to more leisurely endeavors in the springtime.

Written by camcarlson

December 21, 2010 at 2:32 AM

Posted in Simplicity

Team of Rivals

leave a comment »

I’m currently reading “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. It’s a political biography of Lincoln and three men he ran against for the 1860 Republican presidential nomination – William Seward, Salmon Chase and Edward Bates – all three eventually joining his administration as his Secretaries of State, Treasury and Justice, respectively. The book reveals Lincoln as a pragmatic politician, recruiting his rivals in a bid to unite the young Republican party (which had formed during the early 1850s) and bringing in Whig and Democrat party members to provide counterbalance to his Cabinet and to appeal to border states during the onset of the Civil War.

The book will serve as the basis for a biopic of Lincoln starring Daniel Day-Lewis and directed by Steven Spielberg, set to be released in December 2011 – hence my desire to read it before seeing the film.

The book is about 750 pages long and I have about 100 pages left. It’s easy to read and quite insightful. I read about one chapter a night, more on the weekends. If I hunker down, I could finish it by this weekend. But I’m in no rush. I have the book checked out until January 2.

An amusing anecdote from page 503: In the Senate, Willard Saulsbury of Delaware took to the floor to prevent a vote sustaining the administration on the suspension of habeas corpus. He could hardly keep his footing during a liquor-fueled harangue, while he inveighed against the present “in language fit only for a drunken fishwife”, calling him “an imbecile” and claiming that he was “the weakest man ever placed in a high office”. Called to order by Vice President Hamlin, he refused to take his seat. When the sergeant at arms approached to take Saulsbury into custody, he pulled out his revolver. “Damn you”, he said, point the pistol at the sergeant’s head, “if you touch me I’ll shoot you dead.” The wild scene continued for some time before Saulsbury was removed from the Senate floor.

Written by camcarlson

December 13, 2010 at 4:07 AM

Posted in Literature

Thoughts on book reading, &c.

leave a comment »

Over the past few years I’ve read between 10 and 12 books per year. If I make it to my eighties, I can expect to read another 500 to 600 books in my lifetime.

When I was a kid I expected I would read thousands of books within my lifetime. Clearly that’s not going to happen without a major change in reading habits. I can either devote more time to reading, or read shorter books.

But the quantity of books read in a lifetime isn’t as important as the quality. And for the most part I’ve enjoyed the books I’ve read over the past few years, though “The Green Mile” didn’t impress me as much as it did when I first read it in 1996. After reading everything by Cormac McCarthy in 2009, I return to someone like Stephen King and feel a bit unfulfilled.

I also realize there are few books I want to devote time to re-reading. There are so many great books out there to be read and considered and thought about, and with a limited lifespan, re-reading will be reserved for a few McCarthy titles, for “Alas, Babylon” and my Calvin & Hobbes collection. I’m going to conduct a book purge, the third this year, and donate whatever I don’t see myself re-reading to the Book Nook.

Speaking of re-reading… while I liked the vocabulary and bizarre escapades within “Infinite Jest”, the enormity of the book (over a thousand pages, including nearly 100 pages of end notes) taxed me to the point of not picking up another book for months afterwards. I know I didn’t get as much out of it as I should have, but I just can’t bring myself to read it again. Not anytime soon.

So far this year I’ve read “Blood Meridian”, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, “The Killer Angels”, “Suttree”, “Johnny Got His Gun”, “The Green Mile”, “The Arabs in History”, “Your Money or Your Life”, “To The White Sea”, “Born to Run”, “Bone” and am currently working my way through “Team of Rivals”.

On the docket for 2011: “Catch-22” and “Catcher in the Rye” – two classics I’ve been putting off for no good reason – and perhaps the Harry Potter novels. And maybe “Huck Finn” too.

Considering whether to re-read a book leads to thinking about all the movies I’ve seen in my lifetime, which numbers in the thousands, and how many I’ve seen this year, which isn’t nearly as many as I’ve seen in years past, especially the number of movies I’ve seen in the theater this year.

It also gets me thinking about how many movies I currently own and how many times I might watch them again. Most of them will be watched at least once or twice more, enough to justify the price of purchase. Only a handful are watched a dozen times or more.

This is one reason why I’m so grateful that Blockbuster still operates a store only a couple miles away. I can pick up 3 DVDs from their previously viewed section for $20 rather than shelling out top dollar at retail stores. Given the average rental price around here is a buck or two, I’m getting my money’s worth as long as I watch each purchase a few times.

There are a number of movies that have been watched enough times to justify their initial purchase but now sit around collecting dust. This includes a few pricey Criterion movies bought on discount through Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Quality movies that I don’t always find myself in the mood to watch.

They do come in handy, however, when friends from out of town come to visit and mention they want to see more French cinema – then I have an opportunity to lend out my copies of “Au Hasard Balthazar”, “Le Samouraï” and “Playtime”.

Once I finish the book purge, I’ll move on to the DVDs. I’ll post a list of whatever doesn’t make the cut so it can find a good home with someone else.

Written by camcarlson

December 1, 2010 at 11:58 PM

Posted in Cinema, Literature