May 30, 2011

Four Documentaries

I recently re-read the Chuck Klosterman book Eating the Dinosaur. I did this because I was looking for what he said about Garth Brooks, but then I just kept reading until I'd finished it again. I'm not sure if I can count this a second time on my Sitzbook book-a-week project, but that's beside the point. The reason I'm writing this post is because when I re-read the book, I noticed that it mentioned a few documentaries that sounded interesting. So, I watched them and I thought I'd mention them briefly here on the blog.

Documentary 1: Grizzly Man
This Werner Herzog-directed documentary was 20% interesting, 80% frustrating and strange. Briefly, it's about a guy named Timothy Treadwell, who followed and was eventually killed and eaten by grizzly bears in Alaska. Herzog's voice in the narration can account for a lot of that larger percentage, and the protagonist's personality can account for the rest. The "duh" factor is high in this documentary. In other words, you constantly think, "Well, of course he was killed by the grizzly bears. They're grizzly bears."

This documentary was interesting but disturbing. In Klosterman's book, he mentioned the 1993 raid of the Branch Davidian compound and connected it to Nirvana's album In Utero (The connection is much too complicated to summarize here; you'll have to read the book if you want to understand it better). In any case, I realized that although I remembered hearing about the raid in Waco from the backseat of my neighbor's car on the way to junior high, I never really understood what happened that day. Now that I have a better understanding, I sort of wish I didn't, because the implications are a bit too disturbing to fully realize. 

Klosterman mentioned this documentary when he was talking about why people answer interview questions. That section of the book is quite interesting, and it piqued my interest enough to check out this movie. I admittedly knew very little about McNamara, but I learned quite a bit about him by watching this. The format is basically McNamara answering questions and talking about his life, including his service in World War II, his role in the Cuban Missile Crisis, and his tenure as the Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War. There were two parts of this documentary that I found very interesting.

The first interesting part was when McNamara was recalling his role in World War II. His superiors had authorized the firebombing of Tokyo and attacks which resulted in 50-90% destruction of over 60 other Japanese cities. The "lesson" in this section is that in war one must think proportionally; on the screen we see statistics of cities in Japan, along with the percentage that each city was destroyed. McNamara's voice-over compares a few of them, such as comparing Tokyo to New York. Then for each subsequent city, it shows the name of a Japanese city, along with the percentage of destruction in that city. Then the Japanese city's name disappears and the name of a similarly-sized American city shows up. It's a pretty dramatic point in the film, and the fact that it's McNamara himself coming to terms with the destruction makes it even more powerful.

The second part that caught my attention was when McNamara was talking about America's role in the Vietnam War. He says:

"We are the strongest nation in the world today. I do not believe we should ever apply that economic, political, and military power unilaterally. If we had followed that rule in Vietnam, we wouldn't have been there. None of our allies supported us. Not Japan, not Germany, not Britain nor France. If we can't persuade nations with comparable values of the merit of our cause, we'd better re-examine our reason."

Coming from a former Secretary of Defense, especially one who seems to be associated with being the "architect" of the Vietnam War, those were powerful words. Oh yeah, and the documentary's score was by Philip Glass, which is always a good thing for a documentary.

Documentary 4: An Unreasonable Man
This documentary is about Ralph Nader. I can't quite remember, but I believe the reason Klosterman mentioned Nader was because he claimed that Nader was one of the least-ironic people ever. The movie opens up with this quote from George Bernard Shaw:

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

Once that had caught my attention, it maintained it basically until the end. I knew a little about Ralph Nader, and that he'd written the book Unsafe At Any Speed, which gave him a reputation as a defender of consumer rights. However, I hadn't realized that he'd had such a prominent influence in Washington over the decades.

I know that these days, Nader has many detractors, among both Republicans and Democrats (for supposedly "making" Al Gore lose the election in 2000). The documentary examines that part of his life, of course, and convincingly demonstrates that Al Gore did just fine losing the election by himself, without Nader's help (or to paraphrase Nader, Al Gore made Nader lose the election). In any case, I definitely came away from this film with a heightened respect and admiration for Nader. Even if you don't like his convictions, he does seem to stand by them consistently, and he seems to have always been concerned about the general welfare of his fellow Americans. Of the four documentaries I talked about here, I'd recommend this one the most.

So, thanks for reading, and have a good day!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

May 25, 2011

Weekly Picture Project: Weeks 18-20 (R,S,T)

It's been a few weeks since I've updated my Weekly Picture Project, so I've got the letters R, S, and T for you today. If you want to see a larger version of any of them, just click on the picture. Hope you enjoy them!


Ridiculous: This is a fat dog that I saw in Heredia when we went to visit two of Angela's aunts.

Rose: A rose at Angela's aunt's house.

Religions: My coworker Dario had this John Paul II medal, as well as the Star of David.

Really?: My flickr got to over 100,000 views. I thought that was cool, although I know a lot of people have a LOT more views than that. Still, I guess it's a milestone.


The Stand: I finally got through this whole book. Check here for a review.

Students: This picture is blurry, unfortunately, but it's a Saturday afternoon class that I've taught quite a few times. They're one of my favorite groups.

Scattered Showers: It's started raining a lot more recently.

Self-Portrait: A picture I took of myself while waiting for Angela to finish class one evening.


Time/Tripod/Timer: I took this with a tripod and a timer to reduce shaking. It seems to have worked.

Toilet: I was reading Red Alert while I was sick this week.

Toni: My sister-in-law Antonieta came by and brought us some tasty food she'd made.

Tunes: An extra picture I took of myself looking at the itunes on my computer. I was writing a music review.

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

May 23, 2011

Sitzbook 300-Word Review: "Red Alert"

Before I found it on’s free downloads page, I had actually never heard of this book, which was the basis of the movie “Dr. Strangelove.” In fact, I’d not seen the movie, either, but although I just saw it yesterday, I did have a general idea of what it was about.

This book was a very quick read (I managed to read a large percentage of it while in the bathroom; I’m not sure whether I should be proud or ashamed of this point, but since I’ve been sick this week, I suppose it’s understandable). The main difference between this book and the Stanley Kubrick movie is the tone. Of course, there are a few different plot points (The character of Dr. Strangelove doesn’t even exist in the novel, for example), but whereas the movie is satirical, the book is quite serious.

If you don’t know about the book or movie, it’s basically a story about a B-52 bomber crew in the late 50s or early 60s. The crew gets an order from a rogue general to carry its bomb to its target in Russia, and the main bulk of the story revolves around the efforts by the government to call back the bomber, the efforts by the general to justify his decision, and the efforts of the crew to carry out their mission. It was a little bit suspenseful, but although I know I probably shouldn’t feel this way, the threat of a nuclear war just doesn’t seem as scary in this day and age.

In any case, the book is no longer on Amazon’s free list, but you may be able to find the digital copy for cheap elsewhere. It’s definitely worth following Amazon’s free page, however, since gems like this can crop up now and again.

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

May 20, 2011

300-Word Music Review Hat Trick: Rise Against, Radiohead, and R.E.M.

This, along with all the pictures in this post, are obviously taken of me looking at
itunes, and therefore a bit crappy. I kind of like this one, though.

These three groups have a couple things in common, among them the fact that they all start with the letter R, and they all recently released an album that I’m having trouble coming to terms with. Instead of just thinking about them, I’m putting down three quick reviews and commentaries on these albums. I’d love to hear what you think if you’ve listened to any of these groups’ new offerings.

Rise Against: Endgame
I got this album from It came with a digital booklet, which is basically a PDF of the liner notes. That went a long way to helping me appreciate this album, since I’m normally horrible at understanding lyrics. (Another interesting point from the liner notes: Apparently this album was recorded in Fort Collins? Who knew?) 
Sonically, this album is in the same vein as the group’s album Appeal to Reason. I must say that I really like Appeal, and although that may immediately mark me as a sell-out or a “Lite” version of a Rise Against fan, so be it. It’s never been my aspiration to be a hardcore fan of this group. Where this album differs from Appeal, though, is in its lack of constant musical hooks. All of the songs on Endgame are very competent and sound good, but there are only one or two points where a specific song pulls me in. With Appeal to Reason, that happened on almost every song, and the hooks were different enough to help me separate each song into an individual entity. Endgame flows well from song to song and is better appreciated as a unit.
For me the highlight of this album is a spoken word segment on “Survivor Guilt” (which says a lot, since spoken word overlays and skits are often the stupidest part of some albums). Apparently, the dialogue is from the movie Catch-22, which I’ve somehow never seen, despite the novel being my favorite book. One man says, “It’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees,” to which the other responds, “You have it backwards; It’s better to live on your feet than to die on your knees.” I think I’ll spend the rest of the day thinking about that, now.

Radiohead: King of Limbs
I’ve had a small email “conversation” with my brother Paul in response to these albums. His comment on Limbs was that since it’s a digital release, maybe it’s not being held to the same standards as a widely-released, conventional album. He compared it to NIN’s Ghosts, saying that they seemed more experimental. I think he was right on.
I’ve listened to this album at least 10 times, and each time it’s been underwhelming. It’s the musical equivalent of Costa Rican cuisine: You’re hungry, so you hotly anticipate it, and it looks good from afar. When you sit down to consume it, it’s not quite what you expected. After all, you’ve tried Mexican tacos and they were great, so what are these weird, fried cylinders that they call tacos? (Track 2, “Morning Mr Magpie,” is the taco.) And what’s with all this damn rice? Plain, white rice (Tracks 1, 4, 6, and 7, “Bloom,” “Feral,” “Codex,” and “Give Up The Ghost,” respectively)?? Well, that depressing, defeatist rice is what holds the meal together. It’s basically filling. It’ll keep you alive if necessary, but it’s not going to do it with any pomp or circumstance.
The possible highlight is track 3 (“Little By Little,” aka a surprisingly tasty tamal prepared only for a special occasion), but it’s so overshadowed by all the rice and the raw, chopped cabbage that you’ve previously forced down, that you hardly notice that it’s good. And to finish, there’s a mediocre dessert (obviously, coconut flan or if you’re lucky, arroz con leche; that’s “Separator,” which is partially only good because it’s got so much sugar added to it, which makes a good contrast to the previously salty offerings).
It’s not bad, but this is surely Radiohead’s most unremarkable album (and yes, I’m including Pablo Honey and Amnesiac).

R.E.M.: Collapse Into Now
Full Disclosure: R.E.M. is likely my favorite band. But so are Guns N’ Roses and Radiohead. Because of that, I’m likely holding R.E.M. to an unrealistically-high standard. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this album, but not as much as I hoped I would.
There seems to be a general consensus that the band’s preceding album, Accelerate, was great. I form part of that consensus. It picked you up right at the beginning and carried you all the way to the end. Collapse starts off strong with “Discoverer” and keeps the momentum going through track 2, but by track 3, “ÜBerlin,” it’s already winded (although I’m willing to forgive it, since I heartily endorse umlauts in almost any form).
Then there are a couple of songs that don’t really stand out. By the time you get to track 7, “Mine Smell Like Honey,” you’re ready for an up-tempo song. It delivers, although the chorus comes out a bit nasal and strange. The following track, “Walk It Back,” literally walks back the momentum that the previous track just spent so much effort building up. Two other good songs follow, and then you’re at the final two songs. The last two, “Me, Marlon Brando, And I” and “Blue” are OK, but they seem to be going for a strong, melodic finish á la Automatic For The People, but neither of these two songs are the type of song I’d ever consciously put on a playlist, because they simply aren’t interesting.
Well, that’s my R.E.M. fangirl rant, so you can take it or leave it. The album is good, but if you’re looking to get into R.E.M., check out Automatic For The People, Accelerate, or even their recent live offering, Live at the Olympia, which has a nice mix of their newer and more traditional sounds.

So, there you have it: three 300-word reviews, a musical criticism hat trick, if you will. If you have heard any of these albums and agree or disagree, I’d love to hear your comments. Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

May 18, 2011

Sitzbook: "Das letzte Gefecht"/"The Stand"

I had thought of writing this as a 300-word review, but for a book that can't limit itself to 300 pages, that seemed a bit much to wish for. In fact, this book has 1,200 pages, which I’m pretty sure makes it longer than both the Bible and War and Peace. That, combined with the fact that I was reading it in German (hence the subtitle "Das letzte Gefecht," meaning "The Last Battle/Encounter"), goes a long way in explaining why I’ve not mentioned Sitzbook in a month or so.

So, The Stand. Its plot is basic but intriguing: A virus wipes out over 99% of the world’s population, and the reader follows the survivors in the U.S. as they try to rebuild society. The "good” people group together in Boulder (yes, that Boulder), and the "bad" ones go to Las Vegas. I’ve not read a lot of Stephen King’s books, but this one seems marked by the fact that he really takes his time with the story, although that’s a good thing. He gives us a lot of time to get to know his characters, which helps us empathize with them--and sometimes even with the “bad” ones. 

This is an important and positive aspect of the story, in my opinion. The book never actually calls the “good” or “bad” people good or bad, and that’s why I put the words in quotation marks. It seems to indicate that anyone has the potential to be good or bad, and where we go in life depends on the decisions we make, along with a healthy dose of fate (as seen in the form of the indiscriminate virus, as well as other plot points). 

I had actually read this book about 14 years ago on the recommendation of Shannon, who worked at my dad’s clinic. She said that it was one of her favorites, and I remember reading it very quickly during a trip I took to Germany in 1997. Some parts of the book were still in my head all these years later, which is pretty remarkable, since I often forget things that happened just yesterday. I guess that speaks to King’s ability to describe a scene or to flesh out a character’s personality. In any case, it was a nice, new experience to sort of “re-discover” this story and its characters, since I don’t normally read books more than once. 

Plus, one aspect that I really liked about this reading was the Boulder setting. The first time I read it, I hadn’t even been to Boulder, which is kind of strange, seeing that it’s only an hour away from Fort Collins, where I grew up. But in the meantime I spent about 6 or 7 years there studying at the university, driving buses, and delivering flowers. Having that geographical context and “insider” knowledge was great for me, since it really helped me visualize the story. King used all sorts of real-life Boulder settings such as various streets, Muenzinger Auditorium at CU, the Table Mesa shopping area/strip-mall, and even Eben G. Fine Park at the end of Arapahoe Avenue. Although I guess it’s not universally a positive thing (I suppose it may "kill imagination" or something), having these real-life landmarks sure made a big difference when I drew a mental picture of the story in my head.

In any case, that’s about all I’m going to say about this book. If you like Stephen King and haven’t read this book for some reason, then you definitely should. If you don’t like Stephen King, then there’s likely nothing I can do to convince you otherwise, and trying to force this lovely doorstop of a book on you would only be counter-productive. So, to conclude this review, I’m going to throw out some of the quotes that I liked the best. Obviously, they’re in German, since I read it in German, but if you don’t speak German, then can you really call yourself “educated”? I’d say no. 

Anyhow, here we go:

(From p. 407; Larry Underwood is remembering Glen Bateman’s words):
Soll ich Ihnen sagen, was uns die Soziologie über die menschliche Rasse lehrt? Ich fasse mich kurz. Zeigen Sie mir einen einzelnen Mann oder eine Frau, und Sie werden einen Heiligen oder eine Heilige sehen. Zeigen Sie mir zwei Menschen, und sie werden sich ineinander verlieben. Geben Sie mir drei, und sie werden das bezaubernde Ding erfinden, das wir „Gesellschaft“ nennen. Geben Sie mir vier, und sie werden eine Pyramide bauen. Geben Sie mir fünf, und sie werden einen zum Paria stempeln. Geben Sie mir sechs, und sie werden das Vorurteil neu erfinden. Geben Sie mir sieben, und in sieben Jahren erfinden sie den Krieg neu. Der Mensch mag nach Gottes Ebenbild erschaffen worden sein, die menschliche Gesellschaft aber ganz sicherlich nach dem Ebenbild seines Gegenspielers, und sie will immer wieder nach Hause.

(From p. 612; Not really a big plot point, but at least it slams on Nebraska):
Mit Nebraska war etwas nicht in Ordnung, ganz und gar nicht in Ordnung. Etwas, das ihm angst machte. Nebraska sah so aus wie Iowa... aber es war nicht so.

(From p. 679; Funny because what Glen doesn't want to accept, is exactly what's happening):
Glen schüttelte den Kopf. „Nein, ich kann den Gedanken nicht akzeptieren, daß wir alle Figuren in einem post-apokalyptischen Spiel zwischen Gut und Böse sind, Träume hin, Träume her. Verdammt, das ist irrational!“

So, that's it for this review. Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

May 6, 2011

Pictures From Henni's Visit

I've put up a set of pictures from Henni's visit on my flickr page. We went to Playa Tambor with her (and Andy) for a few days, so some of the pictures may be interesting for you. Please feel free to check them out!

Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

May 3, 2011

Huge Picture of the Day Catch-Up: April 2011

...And a little bit of March and May.

April has been a great month, but it's been pretty worthless in terms of productivity. So in the spirit of International Labor Day, I decided to get things moving and finally catch up on my Pictures of the Day. (But in the spirit of Procrastination Day, I decided to do it two days after Labor Day).

In any case, hopefully there's something you like here. You can also check out the other pictures and leftovers from the last month on my flickr account. Some of them were quite nice, since we went to the beach with Henni and Andy for a few days. Without further ado, enjoy!

March 30: I borrowed my in-laws' truck to go pick up some lattice we bought to put on the Formerly Crappy Casita.

March 31: This is a plant that we got at EPA, a hardware store in San Jose. It sort of looks like cotton candy.

April 1: A kid playing in the fountain in Palmares' central park.

April 2: Alfonso, a guard at work.

April 3: Andy/Chorizo in Grecia.
Andy got in on Saturday, so we've been having fun hanging out with him. We went to Sarchí to see the World's Largest Oxcart, but it was gone. Then we went to Grecia to see the big metal church.

April 4: A last-minute picture of some bananas that Andy bought.

April 5: Some "timbres," which are basically worthless bureaucratic stamps that you need to perform official functions and authenticate documents in Costa Rica. Lucy and I went to San Jose to get a certification of our migratory movements since we first arrived here.

I've been here about 4.5 years, so I needed 25 colones worth of timbres. If you're keeping track at home, that's about 5 cents. Annoying and bureaucratic, but at least it's cheap.

April 6: A guide to Japan that I've been reading. I got it around 6 or 7 years ago in a used bookstore in Boulder, but it's got nice pictures. I had been wanting to make a trip to Japan this coming summer, but it seems like it'd be best to hold off on that for the time being.

April 7: Adriana, Angela, and Andy watching "The Last Samurai." As Andy said, "Tom Cruise didn't ruin it too much."

April 8: Angela's toenails.

April 9: A new building in Palmares. I think they'd been working on it for a LONG time but then stopped halfway, but now it apparently has been finished.

April 10: Once again, we've been having some ridiculously beautiful sunsets.

April 11: Some peanuts. I was looking for "N" pictures, and "nuts" seemed like a good idea.

April 12: I know I keep having Pictures of the Day of our stupid cats, but Boner and Chubby have been hanging out looking out the window like this. I like how they put up their arms, like they're at a bar.

April 13: Strawberry milk. The dinner of champions.

April 14: Spanglish in Action: "Full Inyeccion." Seen on a Nissan Sentra in the parking lot at work.

April 15: A self-portrait of me painting the roof on the Formerly Crappy Casita. It was hot and fume-filled, hence the Train Robber look.

April 16: A cross at school, prepped for the upcoming Easter Break (Semana Santa). In typically Costa Rican fashion, no cross can go outside without covering itself with some kind of jacket.

April 17: Angela holding some origami that her students made.

April 18: I made a pumpkin pie for my father-in-law's birthday.

April 19: A picture I took of Veronica and Angela. Almost all the pictures I took of Veronica came out fuzzy. She seems to be in constant motion.

April 20: Angela, Andy, and I have been watching the first season of "The Vampire Diaries." For Angela and I, it's actually the second time around (well, the third or fourth for Angela), but Andy got into it, too. I had to set the camera timer to get in on the first picture.

April 21: Henni got here! After a false start and a missed plane, Henni arrived a few days later than planned, but still in good spirits. We went to Angela's folks' house to check out the coffee farm.

April 22: Angela and two kids on the ferry from Puntarenas to Paquera. Faces were made on both sides. This was from our Easter Week trip to Playa Tambor with Henni, Andy, and Lucy's family. It was a great time!

April 23: A crab on the beach.

April 24: This revolting maggoty-looking thing is something related to bees or wasps, but I couldn't tell you what.

April 25: A plane landing at the airport, right off the beach on Playa Tambor.

April 26: Two dudes in Paquera waiting to unload the incoming ferry from Puntarenas.

April 27: Henni reading in the kitchen. It was great to have her visit!

April 28: Still looking for "Q" pictures.

April 29: Some salt shakers that Marie gave us for our wedding. Unfortunately, salt liquifies in Costa Rica if it's not in an air-tight container, but we still keep them out on the table because we think they look so cool.

April 30: For some reason, I found this line of trash bags in Palmares to be interesting.

May 1: Ruben (in the middle) lives across the street from us with his family (including Cristina, on the left). He built a really cool rancho/A-frame house on their yard, so we went over there to check it out (Andy's on the right).

So! Wow! Thanks for reading and checking out the pics, and have a great day!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook