Friday, December 22, 2006

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Best Laid Plans -- One Year Later

Last year during Holidailies, I wrote about the night of Hanukah on which we gave Monkey Boy and Peanut some money, and then presented them with a bunch of options where they could donate that money online.

They both ended up donating to an “Adopt a Manatee” program and all was good. They felt good about doing something for another living creature, and MLB and I felt like we had scored one in the category of instilling an appreciation for charity.

Fast forward to this year –

The other night after lighting the Hanukah candles, we presented the kids with some cash and a bunch of printouts (including from “Adopt a Manatee”) with options for this year. What would it be? Sponsoring a “Save the Whales” program? Buying a bunch of chickens for a village in some third world country? Red Cross?

We were surprised by the response: “Do we have to give the money away this year?”

We explained that while we’re by no means rich, they have many things and take for granted things that many people around the world do without. A safe, secure home. Clothes. Food on the table. Toys.

After a bit of reluctance, they finally came around. We had visited the Florida Aquarium last year and the kids decided to donate their money to the aquarium to sponsor the care of marine life. OK, that was on par with last year. Mission accomplished.

An hour or two later as Peanut was preparing for bed, she lamented to me that she didn’t want to give the money away. She’s five so the lesson may be a little tough to get through to her.

I gently explained that she and her brother have so many things. They still had toys they received as presents on their birthdays this summer that still hadn’t been opened. Some children are homeless, hungry – not knowing when or where their next meal will come from. To them, the holidays are no different than any other day because they won’t light menorahs or decorate Christmas trees. They won’t receive presents. Some are so poor that when they get sick, they can't even afford to go to the doctor or to get medicine.

She seemed to contemplate this -- grasping the full meaning of my words.

Then she turned to me with a serious expression and asked:

"I still have toys from my birthday that I haven't opened??"

Guess we'll have to try again next year.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

TIME Magazine's Person of the Year



In a surprise move, TIME magazine named all of US as its "Person of the Year". Why? This was a year in which the individual came front and center. With the incredible rise of user-generated content on the computer, this year more than any before now demonstrated individuals becoming publishers, broadcasters and filmmakers. Not to mention the growth of social networking sites like MySpace where people created pages dedicated to themselves. Now anyone who knows your screen name can locate you on MySpace and find out about your favorite songs, TV shows, movies, hobbies. They can view your pictures and videos. And if they like, you can become virtual "friend" on the platform, where you agree to link to each other's pages.

Apparently this only the 4th time in TIME's history in which it shyed away from naming an actual person as "Person of the Year." In 1966, the 25-and-under generation was cited; in 1975, American women were named; and in 1982, the computer was chosen.

Congratulations on being selected!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Chinese Food on Christmas

This is an instant classic. An original song by a Jewish boy lamenting that he has nowhere to go on Christmas. It's so true and very well done! A must-listen for any Jew who has spent Christmas at the movies.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Santa Laughed At Me

My town does this nice thing where you can submit a form in early December with your phone number and some information about your kids and on a given date, someone calls the house and talks to your kids as Santa. We did it two years ago and it was a huge hit with Monkey Boy (now 8) and Peanut (now 5). We didn’t do it last year because we were out of town the day they were making the calls.

Which brings us to last night. The call came in and my wife, expecting the call from Santa, told Peanut to answer the phone. Now we don’t know what the Santa on the phone said but his voice must be deep like Tom, my brother in law’s.

Peanut listened intently into the phone but didn’t say anything.

MLB: Who is it, Sweetie?
Peanut: It’s Uncle Tom.

Monkey Boy pops up to the phone and says “Can I say Hi?”

Peanut listens a moment longer and then hands the phone to Monkey. He says "Hello?" and listens and reports back "It's not Uncle Tom. It's Santa Claus."

Peanut shys away from the phone, feeling embarrassed about confusing Santa for Uncle Tom, and says to MLB in her sad, little girl voice "Santa laughed at me!"

As Monkey chatters away with Santa listing the 500 things he wants for Christmas, MLB tries to solicit more information about the laughing.

Then it dawns on her:

MLB: When he laughed, did he sound like "HO HO HO?"
Peanut: Yes.
MLB: Santa wasn't laughing. He's just JOLLY. Santa laughs that way with everyone!

As Monkey finishes with the list he's been preparing since last Christmas, Peanut finally agrees to get back on the phone and manages to tell Santa one thing she'd like for Christmas -- a Barbie fashion showcase.

Poor little Peanut, thinking Santa was laughing at her. He better come through with that Barbie Fashion Showcase.

I'm pretty sure he will.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Matt Damon Does Matthew McConaughey

Saw this video clip and it made me laugh. Wouldn' have imagined Matt Damon and Matthew McConaughey were buds but Damon does a great impersonation of his friend.



Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Santa Question

CAUTION: Don’t read this if you don’t know what question I’m referring to.

Monkey Boy is 8 years old. Last year, one of his friends told him the secret about Santa. We were fascinated by his reaction.

Disbelief? No.

Sadness? Not that we could see.

Anger? No sign of it.

Instead, he told us that his friends had told him that Santa was really your parents. But he didn’t want us to confirm whether this was true or not. He simply wanted us to know what his friend had told him. We think he knows the truth. He just wasn’t ready to acknowledge it out loud.

Which brings us to this year. And we haven’t the slightest idea where he is on this subject. We’re watching him carefully for clues about his current state of mind. Is he ready to come clean about knowing? Does he want some sort of confirmation from us? We watch him and wait.

I think he’ll enjoy being in on the secret and keeping up appearances for Peanut who is only five. We’ll see.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Easy To Follow Instructions

We bought ourselves one of those portable basketball systems for the driveway. It’s a basketball pole and hoop on a stand that can be wheeled around on the driveway if you want to change its location. Monkey Boy had a gift certificate to Modell’s and he picked it. “Great idea” we thought. Maybe we’ll all get some exercise.

Little did I suspect that the exercising portion of the basketball system would begin just trying to get it out of my SUV. The thing weighed a ton. And once I got it into the garage, I knew I would have to park my car outdoors for the week until I got it all together because there wasn’t any way I was going to move that thing again.

Between the lethal wide plastic bands that encircle the box (next time I’ll know to wear protective eyewear when I snip them off).to the poles and pieces. I realized that this was a gift that would give us much more than practice on our layups.

We laid all of the screws, parts and pieces on a tarp on the driveway. The box came with an inventory. There were easily 1000 pieces (OK, maybe 100 but it felt like way more).

Next we skimmed the instruction booklet. All 500 pages of it. In FRENCH. OK, I'm exaggerating again but it certainly felt like both 500 pages and French.

5 hours and 8 bleeding cuts on my hands later (yes, 8 is real. Peanut actually counted them), we finally got it assembled. Now I'm off to fill it with 400 pounds of sand (again, no exaggeration).

Wish me luck.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Sleeper Cell

Very compelling television. Worth watching if you get a chance.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Departed

Finally caught The Departed tonight.

I'm late to the party but definitely have to say it's the best Scorsese movie in a long time. He switched over to high brow fare to try to get some respect from Hollywood but didn't get any. It's wonderfully ironic that he goes back to the territory of cops and organized crime that he does so well (e.g., Goodfellas) and produces something that is worthy of a lot of respect.

The movie is tight and great performances abound. DeCaprio, Damon and especially Nicholson shine. Even Mark Walberg and Alec Baldwin give nifty peformances.

Definitely worth a shot if you can catch it.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Chad Vader

Not sure if you've seen this or not but its a very fun concept. Chad Vader is a series of shorts on YouTube about Chad, Darth Vader's brother, who is the day shift manager at a grocery store.

He gets no respect from his employees, keeps calling his boss Randy, "Emperor" and hits on the check-out girl.

Fun stuff. Check it out:



Of course, given LucasFilm's vigorous stance on litigation, my guess is it will get challenged as copyright infringement. From where I'm standing, it feels a lot like parody but who knows how a court would decide.

In any case, it's worth a look before it gets taken down.

And to the creators, May the force be with you.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Yo, Rocky!

Today I caught the trailer for the new “Rocky Balboa” movie. I’ve pasted it below in case you missed it.



Now before you start scoffing and running off at the mouth about how Stallone’s career must’ve been so over that the only acting job he could get was to go back to a character he created in the 70s, I want to remind you that the original “Rocky” won the Academy Award for Best Picture. That’s right, Best Picture. It belongs to an elite club that counts among its members “The Godfather,” “The Godfather, Part 2,” “Gone With The Wind,” “Unforgiven” and “Crash”. Not bad company.

And like this one, it was a movie that Stallone not only starred in but wrote. While Stallone’s acting range may be limited (“Rhinestone Cowboy”, anyone?), Rocky (like Rambo) is in his DNA. In many ways, he is Rocky. Came from nowhere, took a shot at the title and came home with the belt.

In this movie, a computer program pits Rocky against the current heavyweight champ and determines that if they fought while both were in their prime, Rocky would have won. So of course, Stallone, er, I mean Rocky, gets back in the ring for one last shot at the title.

At least from the trailer, it looks like it has some nice moments of Rocky grappling with the reality that he’s old and past his prime. Who are we to deny Stallone one last shot at glory. I hope he goes down fighting.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Trouble With Superman, Part 2

Did anyone catch this video on YouTube? It’s worth a watch.

Go ahead, I’ll wait.



Done?

So if I understand this correctly, Warner Brothers is playing with the numbers on YouTube to make video clips about Superman Returns look like the most popular videos. He's the Man of Steel for goodness, sake. They couldn't let him stand on his own red-boot clad feet?

Superman stands for truth, justice and the American way. If this story is really true, then what does Time Warner stand for?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Happy F&%!@ New Year

As mentioned in my post the other day entitled "Merry F&%!@ Christmas", To many December brings thoughts of the holidays, gift giving, time spent with loved ones and vacations.

For some in the wonderful world of corporate America, it also brings layoffs. Fortunately I wasn't effected this time (knock wood). But some people I really liked were.

Layoffs are not unique to my company. I know the realities of the business world sometime suck. The end of the year is coming and some great big corporate parent in the sky is putting a lot of pressure on its baby companies to MAKE THE NUMBERS.

The VIPs feel the pressure. October comes and they're still feeling confident. November rolls around and they start checking and double-checking numbers.

But by December, unless it's a slam dunk, they start the holy-mother-of-God-this-is-gonna-be-close process. The night sweats, the movement of as many costs into the next year as possible. Still, it's not gonna be enough. We've either got to pull some extra revenue out of our asses or we're going to have to do some serious cost cutting. And unless someone's waving a secret weapon to bring in the revenue, it's off to the cost cutting board.

Now management knows that to keep their jobs (and get some nifty bonuses), they HAVE to make the numbers. Failure is not an option. So they do what they must to make the numbers. We MUST make the numbers.

Happy F&%!@ New Year to the numbers and to the friends that are being "let go", so long.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Trouble With Superman

“Superman Returns” is out on DVD. Generally, it’s the type of movie I’d want to add to my collection.

But reflecting on the film (which I saw while it was in the theaters), I realize that it left me wanting more.

I like superhero films. They generally sport nifty special effects and occasionally hold the power, even if it is just for 90 minutes in a darkened theater, to make you believe.

I also generally like Bryan Singer movies. He’s a smart, talented director and has shown the ability to take subjects that run the risk of being “regular” to the next level without turning them campy.

For me, the problem with this Superman movie was the dude himself – Superman.

Brandon Routh did a fine job in the title role. But that’s just it. It was “fine”. Superman is arguably the greatest of all superheroes. He’s the leader of the Justice League, for gosh sakes. I can’t imagine Brandon Routh’s Superman leading the Junior League, let alone the Justice League.

Kevin Spacey was flashy as Lex Luthor. And I’ll grant you that playing the villain is often the flashier role than the hero.

But people came into the theater loving Superman and left only liking him. There was nothing special about him personally (oh yeah, other than those nifty powers). All we did was watch him. We didn’t connect with him in the way we connect with Tobey Maguire’s Spiderman (especially in Spiderman 2).

I hear they’re working on another Superman film. I hope they help us find a way to connect in the next film.

Maybe then I’ll buy the DVD.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Surprise!

Close your eyes.

Are they closed? No peeking.

Just another second.

OK. Open them.

SURPRISE!

How ya feeling about that? Some people love surprises.

"Want to know what I'm getting you for your birthday?"
"No, surprise me."

Is that you? Some people like situations like this. Someone has thought enough of them to take some initiative behind their backs and do something that they think you would like. How nice is that?

What's the downside? I guess if you really hate what they got you, you have to flash a happy face, tell them you love it, and figure out whether it's something you need to really keep (because they'll look for it when they're at your house next time or ask you about in the future) or whether you can toss it in a dumpster in the parking lot outside. Them surprising you puts you in the situation of now having to tip toe around them to avoid hurting their feelings.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have those folks who hate surprises. I know people like that. When their birthdays or holidays roll around, they give you a page ripped from a catalog of the thing they'd like you to get them. You get them a gift that you know they truly want and they get the gift. Win-win situation, right? For some, maybe yes. For others, it takes away some of the joy of giving a gift. My grandparents always wrote us checks for our birthdays. Were they around when we bought something with it? Nope. Did they see the look on our faces when we opened it? Nope. They simply sent a check. Worked for them but I can't say those checks made me warm and fuzzy inside.

Of course, there are many people who fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, both on the giving and receiving end. I've had people ask what I think Monkey Boy or Peanut might like for their birthdays. I've had people say "don't get me any clothes for my birthday, I'm planning to lose weight this year".

Different strokes for different folks, as far as I'm concerned. Whatever works for you. I'm just thankful that I've got people in my life for whom I want to remember special occasions with a gift, and visa versa.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Thumbs Up for Happy Feet!

Any parents of young kids out there have shared the agony of taking your children to see a movie they were dying to see, but is so dreadful you check your watch every five minutes and try to will yourself to sleep just to make the most out of having to sit there for 90 minutes.

I've been there. I feel your pain.

When we first saw the trailer for "Happy Feet" many months ago with a boisterous, in-your-face Robin Williams penguin front and center, I thought for sure this was going to be another wasted 90 minutes.

Tonight we took the kids to see the film, and while I don't know that I could call it life changing or anything (and there are several gaps in logic), I'm happy to report that this was a fun, funny and original movie that had something for adults as well as kids. There was great music and dancing and spectacular CGI. I had to repeatedly remind myself everything we saw on screen was computer generated.

So if the kids are begging for "Flushed Away" (about a rat that gets flushed down the toilet -- enough said), try to convince them to see this one instead.



Friday, December 01, 2006

Merry F&%!@ Christmas

Ah, December. To many of us, it brings thoughts of the holidays, gift giving, time spent with loved ones and vacations. It's a time for self-reflection and re-dedication to the things that are most important in your life. Sounds pretty good.

Now of course you have to filter everything I say with the knowledge that I am an optimist and a generally positive person, but to me, all of the things in the first paragraph make me all the more optimistic and positive in December.

For some people, though, this is not the case.

Maybe they believe the holidays have fallen victim to crass commercialization. Maybe they're just dissatisfied with their own lives. Whatever the reason, some folks become so nasty and negative in December that I can't help but want to whack them upside the head.

We took the kids to sit on Santa's lap the other day. MLB and the kids got ahead of me on line. When I caught up, I asked the people between us on line if they would let me pass because my wife and kids were up ahead. One guy on line responded in a nasty tone -- "Well, that's your story, at least". To him I responded "Merry F&%!@ Christmas". I didn't really but I should have. Did he think I was jumping the line so I could sit on Santa's lap myself??? Sheesh.

It's people like this guy and the ones who won't let you change lanes in traffic, push past you on the escalator, put down a gift idea you have planned for a friend.

They're all around us.

Let's lighten up, people. It's December.