31 December 2021

I Fulfill an Assignment By Writing About My Walk through some of Berkeley's Charming Neighborhoods

All photos on this post were taken during yesterday's walk

My assignment is to write my last blog post of 2021 and do it in under an hour. The trouble is I’ve got no topic to write about. (As I finished that last sentence, a notification appeared on my computer informing me that tomorrow is New Year’s Day. I appreciate the reminder but it was totally unnecessary. I have never not known when it is the last day of the year or when it is the first day of the year. When I was a public school teacher I never needed to be told that the next day was the first day of the school year nor that it was the last day of the school year. For that matter, I didn’t need the reminder last week that the next day was Christmas. But I guess it’s the thought that counts.)

Yesterday I went for a long walk. It was cold, partly cloudy (and partly sunny) late afternoon and perfect for walking through some of Berkeley’s many (dare I use the word) “cute” neighborhoods. Maybe “charming” would have been a better word. I could have gone with “nice.” But my god "nice" is a word that has been done to death. For example: "he’s a nice guy." Pretty much everyone this side of Jeffery Dahmer can be called a nice guy. Even me. We had a nice time. Everyone there was really nice. ESL students use the word "kind" a lot as in, “he is a very kind man.” Native English speakers don’t use "kind" so much anymore as an adjective. I’ll tell you how we do use it: “it was kind of good.” Way too many things are kind of or sort of. I used to work with a teacher who described everything as “sort of.” It was sort of annoying after awhile. Go ahead and say: “it’s a new program we’re developing” rather than “it’s sort of a new program we’re sort of developing.” Thanks.

Anyway (or, if you prefer, anyhoo) I was discussing my walk through “cute” “charming” “nice” neighborhoods….I’m always impressed with how many (here we go again) charming little houses there on this city. So many of them appear to have been built in the first half of the 20th century. A lot also in the sixties and of course many are new but, with no evidence to back me up I feel that a lot of the houses I admire were constructed between the twenties and fifties. 

More then a few houses in the area were built — in part, he didn’t do it all himself — by my father. I remember driving places with my dad and him pointing out apartments or houses he had built. It always made me feel good and of course proud of him.

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, my dad started as a carpenter in the Bay Area at exactly the right time, 1946. He worked into late in the 1970s which meant his entire work life here was during the building boom. He always had work. It didn’t hurt that he had a sterling reputation.

Okay, so back to my walk.... Berkeley is also replete with a variety of trees and flora. We’ve got towering redwoods, palm trees not to mentioned cherry, beech, elder and others. I also like that the area boasts a lot of bushes. Bushes can be anything from beautiful to annoying depending on appearance and placement. Many in Berkeley blend right into yards, fences and houses. So too flowers. Many locals clearly put a lot of time into their gardens and keeping up appearances with lovely front lawns. Then again some people don’t give a damn and their front yards are ugly messes. Thankfully these people are few and far between.

My walk took me by the house I lived in for the first three years of my life. Not surprisingly I don’t retain a lot of memories of that duplex on McGee Avenue -- none of the interior. Across the street from it is a house that, in the Sixties and perhaps into the Seventies, a lot of the LSD distributed in the Bay Area was produced. I’m reasonably certain that the acid I dropped while in high school came from there.

I was near 1516 Edith Street so took a look at that house. Why that particular address? I’m not entirely sure. It’s an address that is fixed in my memory from my youth, obviously a friend had lived there but I haven’t a clue who. I just remember the address. It’s a (here we go again) charming little house which, as I later learned via the magic of the internet, was constructed in 1907. I had hoped my memory would be jogged by seeing the house but I have the strong feeling that I never visited the abode when I was young, I’d just committed the address to my memory. The internet offered no clue that I could find as to who might have lived there fifty years ago. It has sold five times since then.

Berkeley also boasts a lot of parks. Some are huge, like Tilden, and others occupy a tiny space that you could barely build a house on. Some are specifically for wee children, others are for dogs, some are for playing baseball or softball and many are multi-use. I stopped by the dog park for a bit and watched pooches frolic, always entertaining. One of the parks I came across was the one in which I played the vast majority of my little league games. I was a slick-fielding shortstop and a decent contact hitter with little power. Mostly I had fun playing. I eventually gave the sport up when I started excelling in soccer.

Of course on my walk I also encountered other people also out for a stroll. True, some of them were walking purposefully from one place to another. One couple was carrying bags of groceries and some people had alit from a bus and were doubtless heading home after a day’s labor, but most I saw were simply enjoying a break from the rains that have blessed this drought-stricken area these past two weeks. Of course, I have no objections to encountering fellow walkers except when there is a man loudly pontificating (it is invariably men who talk too loudly in public). Just because you are outdoors does not mean that you cannot employ your “indoor voice” when talking to someone two feet away from you.

My walk lasted well over and hour and covered three and half miles. I liked it. And I have liked reliving it by writing about it here. I’m glad I made myself write. Assignment completed.

29 December 2021

Can This Please...My Hopes for the Coming Year

I have some requests for the coming year and they are as follows:

Can we all please recognize the fact that a lot is two words? This would save a lot of frustration.

Can we all please recognize the fact that there is no s at the end of anyway? Anyway, I think it's a good idea.

Can we all please, when discussing making plans, not say or write "planning ahead" or "pre-planning." The latter two are redundant. 

Can we please try to limit the use of word, "guys"?  Let's be creative --  people, folks, friends, dudes, homies, comrades, mates, peeps, brethren, brothers and sisters, colleagues, fellows, readers, followers, listeners....

Can more people please come to their senses about the ongoing pandemic? Can an increasing number of adults please wise up and get vaccinated? Of course for themselves but also for the community. (I realize that it's a stretch to expect conservatives to think of anyone besides themselves -- personal freedom -- and think of the greater good, but one can dream). It would also be nice if some people were less afraid of wearing masks.

Can this please be the year that Trumpy finally pays for his sins? He's broken any number of laws (obstruction of justice, campaign finance, intimidating election officials, bribery, perjury etc.) Time to lock the son of a bitch up. He's a noisy, obnoxious menace and I know I'm not alone in being sick to death of the narcissist blowhard and the fact that we walks freely among us.

Can we please declassify all the government files on the JFK assassination? It's well past time we learned the full story. 

While we're at it, can we please declassify all the government files on UFO research and findings too? We CAN handle the truth.

Can we please stop saying and writing to each other, "you're probably the type of person who..."? It's rude, condescending, often wrong and shows a lack of imagination.

Can we please stop showing ads before online movie trailers? You're making people watch an ad before watching ad. Ridiculous.

Can people conducting post-game sports interviews please stop asking "how important was it..." or "how great was it..." or "how much fun was it..." or any of the endless variations thereof? You're forcing athletes to say things like "it was super important...." or "it was really great...." Come on you're journalists, do better.

Can people in the service industry please stop saying that a customer's decision is "perfect" or awesome? I recently checked out at a Target and was asked if I needed a bag. When I admitted that I did, the checker said, "perfect." Hunh? 

Speaking of people in the service industry, can we please make a special point to be nicer to them? Apparently these oft mistreated souls have suffered even more abuse at the hands of rude customers during the pandemic than before. Be polite.

Can we please raise the federal minimum wage?

Can drivers please start recognizing that a stop sign is not a suggestion but a command? 

Can college football please announce start times for all games two weeks BEFORE the start of the season? You know, as a way of showing consideration to fans. Also could start times reflect the desires of fans attending the game? 

Can streaming services please let us watch the closing credits of a movie without trying to prompt us to immediately watch something else?

Can people who make scam/spam calls please be found and punished? At the least they waste our time, at the worst they rip folks off.

Can we please legalize marijuana in all fifty states? Any state that doesn't believe grass should be legal should then prohibit alcohol, an infinitely more harmful substance.

Can we please stop referring to the holidays as the season of giving as if it is the only time of year that we can help the needy and less fortunate?

Can we please pass meaningful gun control legislation in the United States that includes banning assault rifles? I know I'm coming off as a dreamer on this one, but it's too important an issue to give up on.

Can someone please explain to me why prostitution is illegal and making porn films is legal? What the hell is the difference? In both cases a person is being paid to have sex. 

Can people please stop taking the Oscars seriously? They are in no way a reflection on the best cinema has to offer in any given year. Just consider this: people win awards based on how much they campaign for them. Imagine.

Can we please give the District of Columbia a senator or two? Wyoming and Vermont have smaller populations than DC but each have two senators. Ridiculous.

Thank you for your consideration in these and other matters.

23 December 2021

I Still Believe in Christmas


One year on Christmas Eve I left some cookies and milk out for Santa Claus. A cliche, I know, but in many ways I was a typical little American kid in the early Sixties. The next morning the glass was empty and half the cookies gone. A note had been left thanking me. The handwriting was the same as my father’s. My immediate conclusion was not that my father had written the thank you note and that thus Santa had not visited and was not real, but that I should be proud that my father and Santa had smiliar handwriting.

I held out in my belief in Santa far longer than your average child. It was too delicious and fantastic an idea to let go of. Was my wild and vivid imagination at the root of my firm belief that Santa existed? Did I need the magic of Santa to offset the unspoken horror of my mother’s mental tribulations? I’ve spent much of my life denying reality — invariably to my own detriment, but clinging to Santa seems in retrospect to have been a wise move. 

One year in elementary school (I don’t remember what grade I was in) our teacher asked how many of us believed in Santa Claus (those were not the secular school days of today, indeed we had a Christmas tree in our classroom — as did everyone else). It was a terribly impertinent question suggesting as it did that Santa Claus’s existence was not an established fact but a matter of conjecture. I, of course, raised my hand expecting that it would be one of a sea of hands. Alas, mine was the only male hand raised. It was joined by three or four girls. (It should be noted that I was a year younger than most everyone in my grade.)  I was shocked and disappointed but remained unshaken. Yes, a part of me realized that the jig was up and Santa was no more real than the tooth fairy or Easter Bunny (who I hadn’t given much credence to since I was about five) but I determined to maintain my belief. I was not going to allow reality to interfere with a good story. It was probably another year before I admitted to myself that there was no person headquartered in the North Pole who delivered toys all over the world every December 24th.

When I had children of my own I made great efforts to cultivate a love of Christmas and a belief in Santa Claus in them (admittedly an easy chore with tykes). As it has become widely known that Santa resides not in the North Pole but in Northern Finland (I am of Finnish parentage) it was also easy for them to accept that my father was an old friend of Santa’s (Joulupukki in Finnish) and that I thus had a direct line to the great man.

I have not yet been blessed with grandchildren but have seven great nieces and nephews who I am close to. All but the oldest are still believers and I take great joy in experiencing Christmas — and particularly Joulupukki’s visit on Christmas Eve — through their eyes and hearts. What excitement that this magical being visits and bestows gifts!

Christmas is colorful. It’s the one time of year that we have a tree and decorations in our home and listen to music — much of it jaunty and cheerful — unique to that time of year. It’s therefore a special time of year when families gather, eat heartily and exchange gifts. What a wonderful break from the rest of the year. I try to keep it in my heart (as the reformed Scrooge did) all year round -- no mean feat.

I believe in it.

20 December 2021

It's A Wonderful Life With Jim Jeffries and Fanny and Alexander

Fanny and Alexander 

On my recent list of favorite Christmas movies I did not include Fanny and Alexander (1982) Bergman even though I watch it in December. The first episode of the TV version (which is far, far preferable to the much shorter theatrical version) takes place entirely on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning and includes one helluva Christmas party. In any event, none of the rest of the film has a whiff of Christmas in it, so by my standards it doesn’t qualify as a Christmas film.

My point — and I think I’ve got one somewhere around here — set out to be what a wonderful cinematic feast Fanny and Alexander is. At the heart of the story is young Alexander (Fanny plays a very small part in the film’s action though she is around a lot, maybe Bergman should have more accurately called the movie, Alexander). He represents a sort of everyboy. Alexander does not have a practically broad or expressive personality nor is he prone to hijinks or bad behavior. But we see much of the film through his young eyes. Alexander is a bright lad, curious, imaginative and stubborn. Much of the film centers around the boy’s conflict with his austere and authoritarian step father, the bishop Edvard Vergérus. It is an emotional tug of war and we root desperately for Alexander. 

There is magic in Fanny and Alexander, notably when the titular characters are spirited away from the cruel bishop’s house. But much of the magic is not of the supernatural variety but that of the family and the love and spirit and security it can provide, especially for the young. Very little feels better for tots than to be cocooned in a loving multi-generational family. What better protection against a still mysterious and seemingly unknowable world.

Fanny and Alexander is all about family. The wise and kind grandmother. The loving, self-sacrificing mother. The goofy, fun-loving uncle. The playful cousins. The Bishop represents coldness, oppression and rigidity. The family is love, warmth and sharing one’s bounty.

Saturday night I saw the comedian Jim Jeffries perform at the venerable Warfield Theater in San Francisco. Jeffries is one of those rare entertainers I feel a connection to. Something that cannot be easily explained. Part of this no doubt stems from his openness in sharing his life experiences some of which are relatable to my own (notably drugs and booze). Jeffries referenced the LBGTQ community and even directed a jibe or two there way but unlike Dave Chappelle managed not to say anything insulting or cruel. Jeffries was true to his profession and was all about engendering laughs, not hurting feelings.

I hadn’t been at a comedy show in (checks notes) eons and must say it was great to get out and have many many yucks courtesy of a great comedian.

Friday night the missus and I watched It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) Capra a film I never tire of. Director Frank Capra wonderfully cast the movie from the lead role (James Stewart) to the smaller parts. Having Beulah Bondi as ma, was an easy call (it was one of five times she played Stewart’s mother in a film) but from the children to the townspeople, to the bank manager, the perfect actor was cast — and delivered. 

It’s A Wonderful Life is beloved as an uplifting movie that teaches us to appreciate who we are and what we’ve meant to others, but it also, in parts, a very dark film. Principally from the point Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) loses the bank's $8,000 through the time George sees what the world would be like without him. Uncle Billy unknowingly handing the money to the odious Mr. Potter is a heart-breaking moment that leads to a gut-wrenching scene between him and George who calls him a “silly, stupid fool.” George goes on: “Do you realize what this means? It means bankruptcy and scandal, and prison! That’s what it means. One of us is going to jail! Well, it’s not gonna be me.” It’s brutal and a tough watch every time. From there George spirals, yelling at his wife and children, chewing out a teacher, getting punched in return and then almost committing suicide before being “rescued” by his guardian angel, Clarence (Henry Travers in another bit of perfect casting). But when given the gift of seeing the world as it would be had he never existed, George is horrified by the world as it would have been and cannot accept that no one knows him (an idea that is carried to almost ridiculous lengths — figure it out buddy, it’s like Clarence said, this is a world in which you never existed).  Of course this makes the return to “real life” and the discovery of the community’s largess and love all the more heart-warming and creates one of the great closing film scenes of all time.

The film’s antagonist, Potter, is a perfect symbol of the modern Republican Party ethos. He is greedy, uncaring and wishes to destroy what he cannot own and own what he cannot destroy. He is not unlike Ebenezer Scrooge, with the very big exception that Scrooge, courtesy of three ghostly visitors, ultimately sees the light. Perhaps there could have been a sequel to It’s A Wonderful Life in which Potter enjoys a similar redemption.

15 December 2021

My Favorite TV Shows of 2021

It was not a great year for television with so many programs delayed due to the pandemic. However there were still some terrific shows out there, many of which had been on for awhile but I only recently discovered. I did not include in my top ten one of those shows, The Handmaid's Tale as I did not watch much beyond season one (which I thought was excellent).  I also discovered Peaky Blinders this year but as it had no new offerings this year so did not qualify. I also restricted myself to "regular" shows so did not consider such brilliant offerings as Peter Jackson's three part The Beatles: Get Back nor the wonderful PBS documentary by Ken Burns on Muhammad Ali nor the delightful Baking It from Peacock. The coming twelve months promise to be a boom time for  television with the returns of Better Call Saul, Ozark, Barry, After Life, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and The Righteous Gemstones.

1. Succession. Destined to become among my favorite television programs of all-time, this is yet another show, such as Breaking Bad and The Wire, that I came to late. I watched the first two seasons as the third one was beginning and I was immediately hooked. No, there isn't anyone to root for, they're all horrible people, but what compelling bastards they are. The writing, the acting, everything about Succession (including the opening credits) is compelling. I am continually amazed by Jeremy Strong as Kendall Roy but the whole cast is magnificent.

2. Only Murders in the Building. Any show with Steve Martin and Martin Short as stars is going to be good. Add Selena Gomez who is a wonderful comic actress (love that dead pan delivery) and you've got the ingredients for a great comedy. Indeed, this is the best new comedy in many moons.

3. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. It was finally knocked off the number one spot but it is just as good as ever. LWT consistently delivers investigative news features that will infuriate  but they manage to give us laughs aplenty in the bargain.

4. Late Night With Seth Myers. Seth Myers is a very fun man. His monologues are excellent and the Closer Look segments are comedy gold with a good dose of political commentary. Seth benefits from a top drawer writing team and graciously (and humorously) acknowledges them. The best of late night talk shows, by a long shot.

5. The Kominskey Method. A major complaint first: I wanted more! There were only six episodes in its third and final season. But how I loved those six episodes! Finally a show for us old geezers with Michael Douglas leading a cast of old-timers in an intelligent star-studded comedy. Sadly, this was its last season. And I just found it!

6. Ted Lasso. Everybody loves Ted Lasso. There were two particularly strong episodes in this past season. The first centered around Christmas and should become a staple of the holiday season for years to come. The other focused almost exclusively on Coach Beard who had theretofore been a background figure. It was inventive, funny and insightful into this most interesting character.

7. Mom. More in the mold of a traditional network sitcom, I came to Mom only this year and breezed through it all on Hulu. For me, especially in the latter years of the show, watching Mom was often like attending an AA meeting. Allison Janney is the Lucille Ball of her generation as she led a cast a wonderful cast supporting each other in sobriety. I appreciated how respectful and funny they were about AA. An honest show with mirth. I'll miss it. 

8. The Great. One of the strangest shows on television and one of the most openly and unashamedly profane, it was one helluva spin on your typical historical or costume drama -- especially in that it was a comedy -- about an 18th century Czarina no less. Elle Fanning was weird and wonderful as Catherine The Great of Russia and she was surrounded by a wonderful cast led by Nicholas Hoult.

9. Kevin Can F**k Himself. Speaking of different... Annie Murphy, starred in this half very typical old school sitcom and half very dark drama in which the lead character plans on murdering her spouse. KCFM get's an A+ for inventiveness. 

10. Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Very disappointed at the brevity of the final season (only ten episodes after a nearly two-year wait) but the quality was still there if not the quantity. Brooklyn, with its excellent ensemble cast led by Andy Samberg, will live on in reruns for decades.

Honorable Mention: The Last O.G., Nature on PBS, Chad and Hacks.

13 December 2021

Meet Some of the Wonderful People Who Work at Streams Of Unconsciousness Headquarters

Some of SOU gang taking a break earlier today.

For the entire existence of this blog I have been the lone name associated with Streams. This hardly seems fair as there are hundreds of people working tirelessly behind the scenes to make this internationally-renowned blog so rich in insightful and fascinating content. So today I’m going to — in a small way — try to right a wrong by introducing you, dear readers, to a few of the key members of the Streams of Unconsciousness team. I’ve decided to recognize a variety of types of workers representing different facets of blog production. So here then, are some long overdue shout-outs to some of the SOU team.

Meet Lane Caterwaul our head of marketing. Lane is a graduate of Anthony Perkins Middle School in Dunsmuir, California. He’s been with the team for eleven years having joined us after a stint with the Bulgarian Air Force. Lane started as an assistant to an associate marketer and worked his way up through perseverance, determination and back stabbing. He is popular with everyone and, with his wife Hortense, hosts monthly Full House marathons. Lane is an avid whaler who also plays the kettle drum for his church choir.

Meet Mildred Papsmear our long-time archivist. Millie, as she is affectionately known, is an original member of the SOU team having started as a receptionist. Within a year she’d moved to the nursing staff, then two years later to a position in sales before taking a year off to study archiving at Colorado School of Mines. She’s been our archivist ever since and is a damn good one. In her spare time Millie enjoys finger painting and pottery. She is also an accomplished pole dancer and stripper.

Meet Muhammad Goldberg from guests services. Mo, as he is affectionately known, joined us in 2016 after seven years at the Central Intelligence Agency. He’s a popular figure around SOU headquarters, always smiling and ready with a quip. Mo is also identifiable for having a peg leg, the result of boating accident when he was in college. Mo likes to spend his free time skeet shooting or with his stamp collection. He is one of several philatelists on staff.

From Saturday night's Xmas dance
Meet Cherry Berry our head of security. Cherry came aboard only last March but has already become a much beloved member of the crew. She runs a tight ship and we feel all the more secure for her strong presence. But  Cherry’s sense of humor may be her most distinguishing characteristic. Cherry is an accomplished ventriloquist (along with her “dummy” Sedgwick) and does a variety of spot-in impersonations. Cherry also loves to tango — all you have to do is ask!

Meet Periwinkle Snodgrass director of protocol. Though officious, proper and precise, Periwinkle is known to cut loose at staff social gatherings, especially on the dance floor (Cherry’s not our only tango lover). Periwinkle came to us in 2011 after a gig with the British Embassy in France. He is fluent in six languages (including Iroquois!). In his spare time, Periwinkle plays the tuba and holds seances (not at the same time!).

Meet Huldah St. John from our legal department. Huldah holds degrees from Georgetown University, the Sorbonne and Trump University. In addition to being a legal eagle (and a darn good one at that!), Huldah is in charge of snacks for the executive committee. Huldah is a nudist and a taxidermist though she rarely practices both at the same time. Look for her upcoming book, “The Law and How to Work Around It Without Getting Caught.” Good luck with the book, Huldah!

Meet Benjamin Bonhomie our head chef. Suffice to say BB (as he is known) is always cooking up something special for us. Whether it’s another delicious entree for lunch or one of his hilarious practical jokes (a donkey in the yoga room!) BB is a favorite. We were fortunate enough to have BB join us in 2018 straight out of Harriet and Moe’s Culinary School in Minot, South Dakota. In addition to being a gourmet chef, Double B (as he is also known) loves to play the harpsichord. Double BB is married to Pippa Bonhomie who works in accounting. Together they have eleven children including three sets of triplets.

And finally meet Celeste Cissbombah, my girl friday. Celeste has been my numero uno assistant for four years and I can’t imagine how I ever got along without her. When she’s not getting me through another work day, Celeste loves deep sea diving, collecting vintage French postcards and perfecting her dizzying array of bird calls. Celeste is also a hypochondriac, insomniac and black belt in karate.

Before I sign off I'd like to recognize everyone in research and development, led by Conroy McElroy; everyone at the accounting staff led by Ned Normal; our entire legal team; the gang in sales; our terrific custodial staff; the housing staff; the personnel crew led by Mia Ashtabula; all our secretaries, receptionists, administrative assistants, Rodion Raskolnikov our spiritual guru and our editors and proofreaders led by Mick Mussolini and Minnie Tannenbaum. Thanks everybody!

08 December 2021

Tis the Season for Christmas Movies -- The Author Offers 18 Suggestions For Your Viewing Pleasure

It's a Wonderful Life

For the first three years of this blog (2008-2010) I published a list of my twelve favorite Christmas-themed films (for the twelve days of Christmas). It’s long past time for a reprise of the list — but now with fifty per cent more content! That’s right, I’ve added six films to the original list so that you can enjoy eighteen days of Christmas.

You'll note that some of these are not, strictly speaking, Christmas movies. Indeed the most revered of all, It's A Wonderful Life, begins and ends on Christmas but most of the story takes place at other times of the year. That's true of several many of the movies on my list; if they aren't plain and simple Christmas movies they at least end during the holiday. That's one reason I don't include the delightful Bachelor Mother (1939) starring Ginger Rogers which is often show in December. It begins in the Christmas season but the rest of the movie is after the holiday. It thus — to me, anyway — doesn’t have the holiday feel to it. So although in point of fact there's not a lot of Christmas in The Man Who Came to Dinner, for example, it's a season staple and makes my list as it ends on December 25. 

Enough preamble, here are movies to make your holiday all the brighter. 

(Other than the fact that the first two are my favorites on the list, they are offered in no particular order.)

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) Capra. An obvious choice. I never tire of great films and this is one of the best of all time, Christmas-related or otherwise. Jimmy Stewart is at his best as we all know, but so is Donna Reed, Thomas Mitchell, Lionel Barrymore and the rest of director Frank Capra's great cast. This is a movie that has stayed with me all my life as a reminder to be forever thankful for what I do have and not to underestimate the role each of us plays in one another's lives.

Christmas in Connecticut
Christmas in Connecticut (1945) Godfrey. You're not going to get any more Christmasy than this classic. Barbara Stanwyck, stars as a magazine writer whose boss, an avuncular Sydney Greenstreet, has her host a war hero in the kind of rustic traditional Xmas she extols in her columns (and claims to live in). The problem is that Stanwyck's character is a big faker and has to go through all manner of shenanigans to pull the wool over everyone's eyes including the heroic sailor, the handsome and humble Dennis Morgan. You'll not find a warmer, fuzzier, cozier Christmas film. I’ve watched it every year since the early 2000s and have yet to tire of it. 

Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944) P. Sturges One of the great films from Preston Sturges's brief but spectacular run of classics. It's another film that begins and ends at Christmas. The usual Sturges' troupe is on hand led by William Demarest as Constable Kockenlocker (great name). Betty Hutton and Eddie Bracken co-star. It's a typically frenetic and witty Sturges comedy. Slipping the story of a pregnant young women who doesn’t know who the father is by the censors was the true miracle of Morgan's Creek. 

The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)Keighley. I've never seen anyone else in the role so I'm really not qualified to say but I can't imagine anyone better suited than Monty Wooley to play Sheridan Whiteside. What ego, what pomposity, what fun. Whiteside is of course the world famous columnist of print and radio whose fall down wet steps make him the unwelcome house guest in a small town home. Along for the fun are Bette Davis as his erstwhile assistant, the delicious Ann Sheridan and Jimmy Durante essentially playing themselves.  

The Shop Around the Corner (1940) Lubitsch. Very little of the holiday season is present in this Ernst Lubitsch classic, but it ends on Christmas Eve. The director's famous "touch" is evident in this story of two store clerks who anonymously fall in love as pen pals. Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan star but Frank Morgan as the store owner is a scene stealer. It's one of the better done love stories of all time.  

Miracle on 34th Street
Miracle on 34th Street (1947) Seaton. Avoid the newer and far inferior version. This original stars Edmund Gwen as Santa Claus. Is he really Saint Nicholas? So it would seem. He'll at least have you believing he's the best cinematic Santa of all time. Maureen O'Hara is the mom and Natalie Wood the precocious child. 

Home Alone (1990) Columbus. The mark of a really good comedy is that it remains funny with each viewing. This is the best of the many films writer, director, producer John Hughes cranked out in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Obviously star Macaulay Caulkin had a lot to do with the film's surprising success. He plays an eight-year-old left behind when the family jets off to France for Christmas. Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern, as the two burglars he terrorizes, help with the mirth-making. There's also a touching element to the story. Not to be forgotten is John Candy's cameo -- polka, polka, polka!  

Home Alone 2 (1992) Columbus. A sequel that's almost as good as the original! Another holiday miracle. Caulkin, his family and Pesci and Stern are back but this time the setting is New York and the cameo is provided by our old friend Eddie Bracken. The laughs continue and so too does the holiday message.  


The Santa Clause (1994) Pasquin.  By all means pass on all the dreadful sequels to this Tim Allen vehicle. Ahh but the original is a delight with an interesting take on the whole Santa, elves and reindeer business. I haven't seen Allen in much I've liked but he comes through here in the story of an ordinary bloke who falls into the role of being the real Saint Nick. Some people think he's loony but he's got a surprise for them.

A Christmas Carol (1951)
A Christmas Carol (1951) Hurst. For my money (albeit there's not a lot of it) Alastair Sim is the best Ebeneezer Scrooge in film history. It’s not surprising then that this is the best cinematic version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. It is very dark when it needs to be and brightens up nicely when it’s supposed to. Along with It's A Wonderful Life, this is the ultimate secular holiday story, with its story of redemption and hope.  

Elf (2003) Favreau. A full-sized Will Ferrell as an elf is pretty much guaranteed laughs. Send him from the North Pole to New York City to find his biological dad who is played by James Caan and if you’re looking at comic gold. Add a love story and a threat to Christmas and you’ve got a Yule classic.

A Christmas Carol (1984) Donner. This was actually a made for TV movie but I don't see why that should exclude it. George C. Scott is Scrooge and, though no Sim, he's damn good. While the previously mentioned film makes a strong case for a black and white telling of the story, this film makes a compelling argument for a color version. This wonderful film was directed by Clive Donner.  

Remember the Night (1940) Leisen. A recent discovery of mine. How’s this a formula for a good film: A film directed by Mitchell Leisen from a script by Preston Sturges starring Barbara Stanwyck? Sounds like a sure fire winner and it is. Fred MacMurray co-stars as an attorney who takes pity on an accused shoplifter (Stanwyck) he's prosecuting who has to spend the holidays in the slammer and brings her home for Christmas. You guessed it, romance ensues.

The Bishop's Wife
The Bishop’s Wife (1947). Koster. Cary Grant plays an angel who goes to the aid of a bishop (David Niven) and his wife (Loretta Young). The bishop is trying to coax a wealthy and unpleasant widow to help fund a big new cathedral and in so doing has lost the Christmas spirt and his true calling. Grant is at his most charming as he eases the family’s burdens and helps the bishop see the light. 

It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947). Del Ruth. During the Christmas season two homeless men move into a mansion while the owners are vacationing. Eventually more guests arrive and hilarity comes with them. It’s a funny, warm and charming holiday story.

Mon Oncle Antoine (1971) Jutra. A French-Canadien film set in a rural Quebec mining town in 1949 is not your usual Christmas fare but this is a brilliant film that over 50 years after its release still deserves a wider audience. It’s part coming of age story for a fifteen-year old lad but it also examines life in small town dominated by the local mining boss. It’s set just before and during Christmas.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) Henson. Something for the kiddies that Mom and Dad can enjoy. The Muppets appeal to all ages, of course, and so does Michael Caine as Scrooge. From what I remember of the Muppet films from when my children were wee ones this is the best of the lot. It's a musical with tunes that will dance your head like visions of sugar plums.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010). Helander. This is a very different Christmas film from the land of my ancestors. Set in Lapland On Christmas Eve, Santa Claus is uncovered during archaeological dig. Children then start disappearing but a brave boy and his father, with the aid of other locals try to capture Santa and well… no spoilers here. It’s different, it’s fun and beautifully made.

02 December 2021

In a Variation on the Headlines Feature, I Offer Responses to Tweets

Garments and axe of an executioner. 

A regular and beloved feature of this blog is my monthly look at headlines wherein I offer comments on the day's news. Today I'm attempting a new twist on this idea by commenting on tweets from -- as you could probably guess -- Twitter. Below you will find actual tweets and my responses to them. Who knows, this could supplant headlines or become a feature in addition to them. Enjoy!

Florida Man Named Kyle Rittenhouse Arrested on Child Porn Charges, Admitted to 'Sending Images of His Penis' to Young Girls 

There's another Kyle Rittenhouse? And he's one of those idiots who thinks it's a good idea to send dick pics? And to young girls? To any prospective parents out there whose last name is Rittenhouse, don't name your boy Kyle.

So what comes after abortion? Are they banning contraceptives? Outlawing interracial marriage? Repealing gay marriage?

Please don't give them any ideas.

Boebert’s home paper apologises for her and calls her an embarrassment

Embarrassment? I'd go with disgrace.

A strange rock with a sinister reputation lurks within the crimson waters of this Scottish glen.

Sounds like the start of a novel.

I've never heard a good argument for the kind of easy access to guns we have in the US. Maybe because there isn't one.

You're right, there isn't.

Word of the day is ‘apanthropy’ (18th century): the desire to be away from other people and to be left alone.

I often experience apanthorpy.

Australian intelligence officials put out a secret report 40 years ago sounding the alarm on climate change. They were worried about the harm it would cause...to the coal industry.

Yes, let's all worry about the poor coal industry, fuck the planet.

If we simply required gun owners to carry liability insurance, the insurance industry would destroy the gun industry

Great idea!

Group of men filmed spitting at bus full of Jewish people on Oxford Street

Beat them with menorahs.

Gun shop owner charged with involuntary manslaughter after shooting employee in the face during prank gone wrong

If your prank involves a loaded gun, maybe re-think it.

Tucson, AZ Police officer Ryan Remington shoots and murders a 61-year-old man in a motorized wheelchair from behind. Shoots him at point blank range. This is yet again beyond the pale. How Do You Reform This?

The cop was fired. He should be thrown in the slammer.

Man dressed as ninja and armed with sword attacks two policewomen in France

I know that it supposedly takes all kinds, but this is ridiculous.

Life continues post birth.  Why is "sanctity of life" crowd silent on the latest school shooting or for that matter all gun violence?  Or, children who are homeless?  Or children who are hungry?  Or children who are abused?  Asking for a sperm & egg before they decide to meet.

Good questions. Hell will freeze over before we get a decent response.

Robe and Axe of Giovanni Battista Bugatti, who was the official executioner for the Papal States from 1796 to 1864. Over the 68 years he worked as official executioner, Bugatti carried out a total of 514 executions.

He worked for 68 years? Didn't they have a retirement plan for executioners?

Woman accused of pointing gun at 6-month-old baby in viral video is arrested

I suppose the NRA would argue that the baby should have been armed.

School in India manages to detain leopard in a classroom after it mauls a student

I dealt with a lot of difficult (I'm sorry, "challenging") students during my career, but no leopards. 

Speaker Pelosi rips into Republicans for considering a government shutdown over vaccine mandates, asks how they'll possibly explain it to the public because it's "so silly that we have people are anti-science, anti-vaccination."

Republicans used to be the loyal opposition, now they're a bunch of whack jobs.

Note that if abortion becomes illegal in the US, rich people will still be able to travel elsewhere to get it done safely, poor women will be dying in alleyways yet again


Fox host who compared Fauci to Nazi doctor Mengele blocks Auschwitz Memorial on Twitter

These people are stupid, they spread misinformation, distort the truth and are often anti-semitic.

We can either have: Voting rights, reproductive health, climate justice, a living wage, affordable healthcare, billionaires pay their fair share in taxes, free public college, paid time off, CJ reform, immigration reform, & a functioning democracy. OR The Jim Crow filibuster.

Let's go with the first option.

TikToker gets her man a gift engraved with the names of girls he cheated with

As with all gifts, it's the thought that counts.

30 November 2021

Get Back, A Revelatory, Fascinating, Thoroughly Enjoyable Documentary

My wife and I recently spent three nights with The Beatles. The year was 1969 and the fab four were recording an album called Let it Be. Paul was there, sometimes with Linda Eastman. John was there, with Yoko seemingly attached at the hip. Ringo was there. George was there except when he wasn’t because he had quit the group. There was others there too, such as George Martin, the group’s producer. Michael Lindsay-Hogg was around, he was the director of the filming. Road manager Mal Evans was there, looking like someone who would be cast as the Beatles road manager in a film. Glyn Johns the recording engineer was on hand. There were also various other visitors from time-to-time including Peter Sellers and Ringo and George’s wives. It was grand to be right there with the lads as they composed, practiced and recorded their new songs. For the most part it was a happy place to be. It all culminated with their last public performance together on the rooftop of Apple Records.

Of course I’m referring to Peter Jackson’s The Beatles: Get Back which premiered on the Disney plus streaming service over the weekend. It was bloody brilliant. All seven hours and forty-eight minutes. 

I’ve been in love with The Beatles since I was nine years old and saw them on the Ed Sullivan show. I bought all their albums as soon as they came out and maintained a scrapbook of photos and articles of them cut out from magazines. The Beatles have provided the soundtrack for my  life ever since. 

Jackson’s film is essentially, as he himself put it, a documentary about documentary, as it utilizes all the footage shot by Lindsay-Hogg’s film crew for their infinitely shorter documentary (less than an hour and a half) that was released later in 1969.

Jackson was working with over sixty hours of film footage and 150 hours of audio, all recorded for the original documentary. He used film restoration techniques that he first employed for his World War I project. They Shall Not Grow Old. The result is a pristine print that further enhances the sense for viewers of “being there.”

Some observations:

The four Beatles clearly liked one another. There were issues that eventually led to the break up but they are not seen in Get Back. True, George grew frustrated and left the group for a time but it never felt like an unresolvable crisis and was patched up rather quickly.

They had fun together. There was a great deal of fooling around, much of it done while singing and playing instruments. In one sense it was tempting to wonder how they got anything done with all the mucking about, but on the other hand it often was part of creating songs.

I learned the most about Paul. He was much more the leader than I’d imagined and the glue that held things together. He loved a good time but was serious about making good music. He also had (likely still does) a talent for voices. He’s always been my favorite Beatle (at least during my childhood it was de rigueur to have a favorite) and nothing I saw in Get Back changed that.

Yoko was there for virtually every second, almost always at John’s side and no one seemed to mind. Paul can even be heard saying he’s perfectly fine with their relationship. She did not play a role in breaking up the group.

Ringo was not heavily involved. Rich, Richie, Richard, as the others called him, is clearly loved and appreciated but he gives little input into the creation of songs. His talent as a drummer was integral to the group but he was otherwise a silent partner.

They smoked a lot. But of course that was 1969 when many people did, particularly musicians of their age group. Paul and Ringo quit smoking a long time ago.

George was almost certainly frustrated by his role. Most of the songs were Lennon/McCartney productions with George getting one of two of his creations on each album. He seemed a prolific composer but was stuck with his quota.

They were pampered and certainly well-used to it by then. It is the way with the greats in sports and entertainment. Tea was provided in the morning, snacks were readily available, wine and beer were served later in the day. They got what they wanted. 

Watching a song being created is fascinating, as is any aspect of the creative process. Songs start from an idea or a chord or a few words and develop over time often as the musicians are fooling around with what they’ve got. Most earlier versions of songs sound wrong (there was one case in which I liked the original version better but can’t remember the song). They were musically brilliant.

It was an incredible case of cosmic fortune that brought the four together and our culture is the richer for it.

The Beatles loved what they were doing. It was never tedious. At most it was challenging. It was always fun. Talent is like that.

They were all either funny or possessive of a good sense of humor. This is a mark of intelligence and is often seen in creative people. It also allowed them to further enjoy their work.

Billy Preston fit like a glove. He seemed a really fun guy who loved The Beatles and was clearly loved by them. His keyboard work was instrumental (pun intended) to the album.

The Beatles referred to their late manager Brian Epstein, as Mr. Epstein. Respect.

George Martin acted and spoke exactly as you would imagine. 

The bobbies who came to the studio about noise complaints during the rooftop concert were — quite unintentionally--  hilarious. Especially the one who did most of the talking. He looked to be about sixteen and was in over his head. The sergeant finally arrived and was clearly a man of experience who  knew how to deal with people.

It was great to see the whole rooftop concert and the various shots of spectators, many of whom were interviewed. 

As a consequence of the documentary, my appreciation, for and love of, The Beatles has increased, something I wouldn’t have thought possible.