The Daily: Weekend 2

Another week of firsts in home ownership for us. This week we got the water softener up and running, which was as easy as adding salt to the bin. Now, in addition to shuffling 50-pound bags of sand and salt around the long driveway, I get to lug 40-pound bags of high-quality 98.5 percent pure salt cubes through the living-room to the basement. Fortunately, I’ll only have to do this every one-and-a-half years.

I finished John Grisham’s, The Litigators last night and found it to be better than his recent books. It was entertaining from start to end, as it depicts the evolution of its protagonist attorney David Zinc from “big law” grunt to small firm hero. Unlike some of Grisham’s early books, like the The Firm, there is less emphasis on physical chase and more legal and/or courtroom drama. I recommend the book.

More from the Grisham front, the TV show The Firm premiers tonight (Sunday) at 9PM on NBC. We’ll see if it’s a worthwhile watch.

It looks like a beautiful and sunny Sunday, which means I should run to work before I start chasing the dog and setting up the fire pit. Have a great week and you’ll hear from us soon enough!

Book & Movie: Watchmen

My first book & movie review in one post. I finished reading Watchmen on Thursday and saw the movie on Friday. Both were excellent for different reasons.

The book is actually a collection of a twelve-comic series released by DC Comics in 1986 and 1987. Alan Moore was the author, Dave Gibbons was the artist and John Higgins was the colorist.

The story is this: The U.S. has a superhero, Dr. Manhattan, by way of a lab accident. He allowed them to win the Vietnam War and has kept the Russians at bay since. However, the possibility of a nuclear holocaust looms larger with each passing day. Preventing this is what the ultimate arc of the comic is about. On less of a superhero and more of an action hero level, the characters of the comic are seeking the mask killer – an unknown person who, in the first scene, killed the Comedian. Eventually, the two stories come together, though I will spare you the spoilers.

The story is nuanced, insightful and intriguing. It takes a hard look at society as it existed in the 1980s and saw that there was a lot wrong with the way we were living our lives. In one poignant scene on the gang infested filthy streets of New York City:

Dan Dreiberg: What’s happened to the American dream?.

The Comedian: It came true. You’re lookin’ at it.

Watchmen reminds me of Alan Sorkin’s writing for the West Wing. One of the many reasons I like the West Wing is because of the supporting facts, stories, and links between those facts and stories brought into the fiction of the show from reality. Doing so adds a great deal of credibility to the performance. The same is done in Watchmen to an equally effective degree.

The movie is very true to the book, excepting a debatable minor change to the ending. It is long, though entertaining. I would recommend that anyone wanting to see the movie first read the book. The movie will better keep your interest that way and you’ll have a better appreciation for the depth of the comic and the faithful adaptation of the movie.

Go read! Go see!

Book: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

Last fall I read What I Talk About When I Talk About Running ( hereafter “Running“) by Haruki Murakami. It’s a small book with nicely spaced lines of text. A quick read.

As you may well imagine, even before you open the yellow and red cover, Running is neither a running or writing book. It is about life. Murakami talks of owning a jazz bar in Tokyo in the 1960s. And hating it, but working hard. One day he decides to write a novel, submits it and wins a prize. His life begins as a novelist when he sells the bar and turns his full attention to writing. His writing success continues, but is secondary to his discussions of running. Murakami credits running for his writing success. He draws many similarities between the two pursuits. The solitary approach required by each. The pain of each. The decision to not suffer. The focus required.

Running provides a practical approach to life. Murakami talks of struggling with his slowing marathon time. Training harder, longer, or differently does not help. He is simply growing old and slowing down. He acknowledges that this doesn’t translate to writing. That writers peak at varying ages.

The bottom line is that to be successful running a bar, writing fiction, or running marathons, he has to work hard and be extremely focused.

Open Hearts Heal

The following quote from Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami has hung with me for a few days now:

Reiko smiled too, cigarette in mouth. “You are a good person, though. I can tell that much from looking at you. I can tell these things after seven years of watching people come and go here: there are people who can open their hearts and people who can’t. You’re one of the ones who can. Or, more precisely, you can if you want to.”

“What happens when people open their hearts?”

Cigarette dangling from her lips, Reiko clasped her hands together on the table. She was enjoying this. “They get better,” she said. Her ashes dropped onto the table, but she paid them no mind.

Having an open heart can be humiliating and humbling. It is much easier to sequester away what I most need to express — those feelings and emotions that hang on the tip of my tongue for what seems like hours. There are numerous times when I have sat face to face with someone with an entire well of words that I wanted to say, but I just couldn’t bring myself to speak. My mouth wasn’t dry. My brain was functioning. But there was something — maybe sanity or dignity or something that I will only be able to grasp much later in life — that holds me back.

I Finished Harry Potter 7

By the encouragement of my girlfriend, which came in the form of, “if you’re not going to read them, I’ll read them to you,” I started listening to the first Harry Potter book. Soon, the listening-reading was consuming and conversation in the car took a backseat (pun intended) to what the next page held. Before long – only a few pages after Harry left the Dursley’s house for Hogwarts for the first time – I was thoroughly hooked. I was engrossed by a book series I had written off as childish and not worth my time.

I’ve always prided myself as being relatively open and creative, but the simple fact that I was able to overlook the magic that millions of others found in the Harry Potter series gives me reason to question both of those assumptions. In Potter-head terms, I’m more of a Hermine than a Luna, and while each has their strengths, I’d rather be considered the later – open and willing to imagine.

The Harry Potter books became exceptionally better around book four, at which point they went from being an amusing series of books targeted for children to something with a message that carried some weight. The seventh book, which I finished less than two hours ago, brought the series to a resolute finish. It played out without being too tedious or predictable. It made me tear up more than once, and maintained the message found throughout the books – that love is an unbelievable force.

I’d recommend the books to anyone willing to clean off the cobwebs (if necessary) and indulge their imagination in the world of magic.

Hogwarts Violates Equal Protection?

I’ve been reading Harry Potter lately. I’m not going to bother explaining it because if you haven’t heard of it you clearly don’t care. Harry attends a school called Hogwarts, which is exclusively for wizards.

To jump subjects for a bit, we are studying the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment in Constitutional Law. Today, we got to Brown v. Board of Education, a 1954 U.S. Supreme Court case that held the “separate-but-equal doctrine” established in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) to be unconstitutional.

When the Court approaches laws challenged with regard to race, they look first to see if there is a sufficient state interest, and if it is closely related to the purpose of the law. Very rarely to laws using race as a classification survive this strict scrutiny.

Jumping back now, I posit that Hogwarts may be violating the Equal Protection clause. This is a bit of a stretch considering that Hogwarts is in England and out of the jurisdiction of a U.S. court and the school is fictional. But… but… but…

The book sets up wizards to be a separate race from muggles, the later of which are non-wizards. And the school is exclusively for wizards. Muggles aren’t even supposed to know about wizards.

There are a myriad of issues here… just kinda interesting to think about.