Sunday, March 13, 2011

Documentaries

Blood into Wine -Apparently Arizona is an emerging wine center. This one follows the band Tool's Maynard as he explains the rigors of winemaking in a unique climate that is not traditionally associated with the vine. A lot of info about winemaking, great landscape shots, funny. Recommend watching this with Pinot Noir, duh.

Man on Radio in Red Shows -Garrison Keillor can make just about anything sound interesting in a relaxing sort of way. Offers a good look at all that goes into making Prairie Home Companion and of course praises the under appreciated far North. A lot of focus on average, real people. Recommend watching this on a rainy, contemplative day when you're a little more open-minded than usual.

Exit Through the Gift Shop -A Banksy documentary on the guy who sought to document Banksy. I think anyone can appreciate this one regardless of their knowledge of art, politics, Banksy, etc. At the bare minimum, it's fun to watch graffiti come alive. Ultimately, it offers an interesting commentary on art, street art, consumerism, etc. Recommend watching this with a mixed group.

180 ยบ South -The protagonist travels down to Patagonia to meet up with the founders of both North Face and Patagonia. Several points of view and themes to this one. Largely a political message but travel/self discovery is prominent as well. Phenomenal landscape shots alone make this worth watching. Recommend watching this one late at night with a travel buddy/wife.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Tuition Increases

A renewed case for increases in college tuition is gaining momentum. See Parliament's recent passage of a bill which significantly raises the ceiling on tuition and multiple states in the U.S. cutting funding for state universities. As usual, both Becker and Posner summarize the arguments for and against far better than I can so a visit to their blog is encouraged.

In general, I subscribe the to the school of thought that education is always good, particularly formal education in a university setting. The more educated a populace, the healthier the long-term economy. Not only do college educated people get better jobs, they create better jobs. So what better way to encourage education than to make it as accessible as possible? A free university education is unfortunately out of the question, so what's left? Low tuition. Why mess with that?

A university is only as good as its funding and the best funding is monetary. Public universities enjoy public funds or taxes. Long ago, someone imagined that it was to their community's benefit to promote education with public funds because an educated populace bring in more tax revenue via a healthier long-term economy. It worked. The problem with that system is that it is heavily dependent on public funds which from time to time dry up. The globe is in one of those droughts. Funding for public universities take up a decent portion of strained state budgets and at least for the moment, it must take a back seat to higher budgetary priorities. So why mess that? Sometimes you have to.

Both Becker and Posner make compelling arguments for a weaning off of public funding for universities. Discussion topics include include the increased stability that comes with greater budgetary diversity, the hypocrisy of having a college student attend a school funded by tax payers who are overwhelmingly non-college educated, and the arguments for further increased federal funds (Isn't it really a federal benefit since most university students do not live out their employment in that state) as state funds decrease.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

More Reading

I'm currently enjoying a rare post-law school surge in recreational reading. We'll see how much longer it lasts. As discussed previously, I finished Heat-Moon's Blue Highways and highly recommend it to those with interest in small town America and U.S. travel. Heat-Moon does what few others have managed to; that is, he blends introspective thought with the actual story without losing the reader. Furthermore, he is generally respectful of all people and towns.

Moving on, a few years ago I decided that I would focus my attention to biographies of three specific persons: Alexander Hamilton, Andrew Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt. It occured to me that I had already read a good deal about these men and enjoyed doing so. The idea was that by continuing to read multiple biographies of these men, I would not only gain a better understanding of three of American history's most complex politicians, but also their respective eras. Thus far, that has been the case. My lastest project is McCullough's Mornings on Horseback, which focuses on Roosevelt's lust for the outdoors during his younger years.

In the Florida Panhandle, we enjoy heavy rain on most summer afternoons. If there's nothing else going on, read a book.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Lost Continent



The thing about it is, when someone sets off with a tank full of gas saying that they are going to travel the continental United States at their own pace in search of something that they haven't really grasped yet and with no real plan, you shouldn't be surprised when they fail to write much worth reading. This was the fourth book of his I've read and unfortunately, I cannot recommend it. This reads more like a private journal than a travel book in that he spends the bulk of the ink griping about how dumb/fat/lazy the people he encounters are and how poorly planned/dirty/crime-ridden/backwoods the towns are. He says very little positive about anything. The worst part of all, is that he fails to get a grasp of the people or places because he was either too pretentious, too rushed, or too lazy to make an attempt. The best example that comes to mind is his treatment of the South. It reads as if he spends about 4 days in the actual South, yet has no problem listing all of its faults -which I suppose he learned while growing up in Des Moines and living abroad for 20 years. To sum it all up, the reader spends more time reading than Bryson did experiencing anything worth the ink and paper. I'm on the brink of two significant road trips, one North and one West, and I would hate to miss something because I went into the trips with no plans or goals in mind. That said, I'm making a list of things I want to take away.

A travel book that I would and have highly recommended is Blue Highways. The biggest difference between the two books, is that Heat-Moon actually gets out of the car and talks to people. Go outside. Experience it.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Confrontation

It is inevitable that every so often you'll run into that guy who loves to talk about his exploits. He's the guy with the left over high school locker room mentality in full rage and cannot get enough of letting everyone know that he has a pair. This guy loves to ignore common courtesy and say just about anything in front of just about anyone just about anywhere he feels like it. Confrontations with these guys are tough, but from time to time, they are utterly necessary.

A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine was eating lunch with his lady and had the misfortune to be seated next to a table of these guys. Suffice it to say, the conversation was a distraction and all but ruined their meal. My friend really handled it with class. After giving them a while to get it out of their systems, he approached their table and asked them to cool it. He got the expected reaction but difussed the situation by telling that he and his date were only going to be there for a few more minutes and he'd appreciate it if they found something else to talk about in the meantime. End of story.

Confrontations with guys like that are tough for a few reasons, but mostly because they want the reaction. In my limited experience, the best way to handle it is just how my friend did. Don't give them the reaction they want; just tell them what they're doing and politely ask them to cool it. If they want to cause a scene, let it go. Even so, the whole thing can be embarrassing for your date. I'd recommend waiting until she goes to the ladies room, or if she doesn't, ask her to.

Discussion questions include: 1) Why is it important to take a stand in those situations? 2) What is your breaking point -at what point does is become necessary to say something? 3) What is actually worth fighting for, if it comes to that?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Lessons from T.R.



I recently finished The River of Doubt: Teddy Roosevelt's Darkest Journey, which retells the events of the first decension of the River of Doubt and one of the earliest explorations of the Amazon's deep interior. The author discusses each of the team member's motivations for making the treacherous journey. Men have strange reasons for sticking something out long after they should have left it behind. Overall, this book is the story of a misearable trip made worse by many mistakes, poor planning and genuine bad luck. Anyone who has spent any amount of time hiking has a trip in the back of their mind when it all went to hell for the same reasons. The goal is to learn from it, laugh about it, but never let it happen again.

Recommendations for avoiding such disasters include: 1) stay hydrated 2) stay dry -no cotton 3) stay warm -don't skimp on a sleeping bag 4) bring extra batteries for the headlamp 5) check the weather report 6) get in shape before the trip -really good shape 7) bring a day's worth of extra food 8) research the trip -find someone else who did it or something similar 9) bring a morale booster -lifesavers, pocket flask, etc.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Hurricane Lake



One of the first adventures my friend Ian and I had was a spur of the moment over-night trip up to Hurricane Lake. I got hooked pretty quickly. During the last year or so of undergrad some of us would head up there every so often. Nothing too incredible happened; we would just split some wood, talk about music and tell some funny stories. The important thing about it was that it served as a manageable escape from everyday life.

Men need healthy escapes. Modern society has us pretty well mapped out and for the most part, we lead nice polite lives, rarely venturing very far outside of the lines. This goes against our basic instincts and in order to maintain healthy emotional balance, something needs to be done. Whether it is a golf course, poker night or camping trip, men need time away from the everyday order of things. There's no shortage of literature out there saying just that. For a season of my life, Hurricane Lake was that for me. So last week when I found myself briefly on the verge of collapse, I was fortunate enough to have my friend Josh around to head up there with me. It had been about 3 or 4 years since I'd been up that way, but it remained the same. Given the everchanging world in which the modern man finds himself immersed, it is pretty great to have a spot like that to come back to.

Discussion questions include: What is bogging you down? What are some unhealthy/healthy escapes? What is it about those escapes that make them worth experiencing? Why are they important? Are they worth fighting for? What are some ways to communicate the need for healthy escapes to your wife/girlfriend/family?