Tuesday, July 29, 2008
I am back from one of the best vacation experiences in a very long time. We began by flying to Denver from Orlando, a pleasant 2 1/2 hour journey. We then sojourned to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. I've read and seen hundreds of pictures of this monument from early childhood but didn't realize how little I knew about the history and controversy surrounding it. Firstly, I discovered that it originally began as a tourist gimmick that was supposed to take 2 years to complete. But the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, foresaw something bigger. Borglum had worked previously on the Stone Mountain sculpture of Lee, Davis, and Stonewall. Borglum foresaw a monument that would encompass the ideals of America and become a tribute to our republic and celebration to Democracy. I was surprised at the emotional impact the monument had on me and my family. My father just stood there and stared at it for a long time. I walked around the monument perimeter and walked around Borglum's studio. It was interesting seeing how he worked and how the sculpture was created. What was supposed to take 2 years, actually took 14. When we made it back to the Gift shop Bookstore, we met one of the original workers who drilled on the sculpture. He was a tough old cuss and reminded me of my grandfathers. He said that at first it was "just a job" but later he and his fellow workers began to see the work as a calling. They saw that they were helping to create something that would last longer than the Pyramids. Later in the day we went on to the "Crazy Horse" monument dedicated to the great American Indian leader, who was instrumental in defeating Col. Custer. What is interesting about this monument is that it was designed by a Polish American, Korczak Ziolkowski and is worked upon by his family. Although, the Native American leader, Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear originally commissioned the sculpture, there are few Native American's actually involved in it's construction. Most of the money to carve the monument comes from donations of the largely white American visitors. I wondered while I was there, given the huge amount that the Seminole Tribe and other Indian gaming casino's have made, why don't they help? You would think they could spare a million or two. Perhaps they have given something, I don't know, but they weren't on the donor list that I could find. I couldn't help but wonder if the monument is really a White-man creation to White-man guilt?
The next day we crossed Wyoming and headed to Yellowstone. Yellowstone is the nation's and World's first national park. It is simply breathtaking in it's beauty and serene loveliness. We were only able to see about 10% of the entire park. However, we hit most of the highlights that you read about, such as "Old Faithful" and the many other natural hot springs. We arrived at the Old Faithful area, just as the geyser was about to erupt and got several great pictures. We toured around and saw about every animal you can imagine. Elk, deer, bear, moose, all kinds of birds, and plant-life you can conjure was there to enjoy. The park restaurants, lodges, and other facilities (even the auto-mechanic shop) had a real 1910-1920's look and feel to it. It was interesting that they continue to keep the old fashioned look. That made the park all the more enjoyable for the architecture. At any moment I expected to see Teddy Roosevelt turn the corner and waive. Later that day we visited a tourist trap gold mine and panned for gold (I didn't pay for my trip but it was a hoot playing the prospector. All I could think about was Bogey and the Treasure of the Sierra Madre). Later that next day we went to the Buffolo Bill (William F. Cody) museum. And saw the original stage-coaches, costumes, and even Annie Oakley's guns. There was so many posters and press clippings about him that you forget what a superstar Buffalo Bill was and how much of the American West he played a part in, from the rise of the rail-road to the Civil war to the end of the "wild" Indian Nations and the closing of a colorful part of American History.
My parents then went home the next day and we took a over night camping trip deep in the Shoshone National Forest Wilderness area (which connects to Yellowstone). We took horses about 10 miles into the park and camped by the river. It was wonderful to fly-fish with my sons and take in the natural beauty. This photo here is taken from my chair at our campsite. This was Cindy's first experience camping and she really enjoyed it. We then rode out and drove to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Forest for the rest of the time. I had been there with my Uncle Dwight in 1997 and it was just as beautiful as I remembered. We drove the car to the top of one of the highest peak that was actually above tree line and into Alpine Tundra area (about 11,764 feet above seal level). The boys got to play in the snow which is an unusual treat for Florida Boys. The air was so thin though that I got a little sick climbing up the remaining 300 feet of the mountain to the top. We finally made it down and ended our vacation to a trip to the US Mint in Denver for coins (as you can buy them direct from the mint with no mark up for Proof-sets and other collect able coins).
All in all, it was a great time and a rare look at the magnificent beauty and grandeur of our beloved nation.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Here's a half-hearted review of ten films I saw so long ago, I'm worried I will forget them if I don't submit my report soon:
LARS AND THE REAL GIRL (2007) - This is one of the best films I've seen in years. I really enjoyed everything about it - the cast was perfect, the story was perfect, it was over when it needed to be and it made me feel good.
EASTERN PROMISES (2007) - I liked it a lot when I watched it though it has already mostly faded from my memory. I liked A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE better but this is a worthy follow-up from Cronenberg.
BREACH (2007) - This is a nifty little outing that kept my attention throughout with a good performance from Chris Cooper making up for perennial blank-slate, Ryan Phillippe. The blank routine actually works fairly well in this story so kudos to the casting department.
CLOVERFIELD (2008) - It is not terrifying but it is watchable. I like that it is more of a love story on the run than a routine monster thriller. I didn't really care for any of the characters enough to love the film but it's a fun little treat.
HORTON HEARS A WHO (2008) - Four hundred years ago, Gallileo built a telescope that enabled him to see things that could not possibly exist. Horton relives the social pressure that accompanies such a find. I enjoyed the film mostly but for the routine third act.
ENCHANTED (2007) - It started out great but by the end I was not sold. Amy Adams is incredibly winning in the lead role while Patrick Dempsey does just enough to coast as the romantic lead. I didn't love the bomabastic climax even though it probably makes sense that it ends that way, given what it was going for. I always prefer realism even in the fantasy realm.
CHARLOTTE'S WEB (2006) - This is harmless and forgettable. I nodded off a bit in the middle but still got the gist of it. It was more magical as a cartoon. This version just reminded me what a great film is BABE 2: PIG IN THE CITY.
THE GOOD SHEPHERD (2006) - It sounds interesting but fails to deliver. It is way way too long as it mostly is a drawn out character drama about a character whom we pretty much get after the first half hour. De Niro proved a much sharper director all those years ago with the great A BRONX TALE.
THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD (2007) - Another film that is too long by an hour. Have mercy on the audience already, even the title should have been trimmed by fifty percent. It did inspire me to research Jesse James as I hadn't been familiar with his backstory and circumstances surrounding his death. The backstory is absent here and the story suffers.
U.S. VS JOHN LENNON (2006) - Documentaries are always at least as interesting as the source material. This one works no magic as a film but enlightened me on 70's-era Lennon, who was really quite an intriguing character.
Friday, July 11, 2008
This made me laugh in its elegant simplicity:
Madonna's first husband, Sean Penn, once cornered Ciccone, pulled out a jackknife and insisted, "Let's be blood brothers," then sliced open both their thumbs to seal the deal. Years later, Penn approached the openly gay Ciccone, mentioned the ritual and asked, "You don't have AIDS, do you?"Ciccoce is Madonna's brother who has just published a tell-all story about his sister. She's had her share of wacky people in her bedroom and Penn was her first husband all those years ago. He's always seemed to me a strange cat and this tale sums him up well, showing lack of tact in both the first and second instances recalled in this brief story.
Tuesday, July 08, 2008
The AP reported a few days ago that the US military was carefully transporting yellowcake uranium out of Iraq -- yeah, the enriched uranium that was never there, that Bush apologized for mentioning.
Better read the linked article before it disappears as all news of this sort does.
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
The fact is myth is fact.
The story of Washington throwing a rock across the Rappahannock comes to us from Mason (a/k/a Parson) Weems, and as one historian told me, "The trouble with Weems is that he isn't lying all the time."
Indeed we did try to reproduce the feat for Rediscovering George Washington, our PBS documentary, with half a dozen pitchers from the Stafford High School baseball team. Two of them reached the other side twice. It is not superhuman, just hard, and for young George to have done it would have been impressive.
Tuesday, July 01, 2008
It turns out that the ideal vice presidential candidate for Senator John McCain, a Republican running for president, is the same person as the ideal vice presidential candidate for Senator Barack Obama, a Democrat, according to a sophisticated online survey by Affinova.
For both presidential candidates, the best running mate is Colin Powell, a former U.S. Army general and former secretary of state under President George Bush, according to the survey, which was powered by an Affinova algorithm it calls evolutionary optimization.