January 2006

Aveeno Therapeutic Shave Gel with Natural Colloidal OatmealI’m not one of those people who shaves everyday, but I do try to get to it about every two or three days so I don’t start looking all Swiss Family Robinson. Unfortunately, I also have somewhat sensitive skin, so if I do shave too often (even with proper pre-shaving), my face starts looking like I’ve had a run in with a cheese grater. In the past, I’d always gone with cheap shaving lotion that was supposed to have some sort of agent for sensitive skin, but none of them worked (imagine that cheapskate!).

Last week, I decided to spend just a smidge more, and purchased some Aveeno Therapeutic Shave Gel with Natural Colloidal Oatmeal because I thought it smelled good and I figured I couldn’t do any worse than what I had been. After using it several times in the past week, I have to say that this is some pretty nice stuff. It actually stays soapy for the duration of shaving, it seems to give my skin less irritation, and it smells really nice to boot (sorta like almonds mixed with oatmeal). So yeah, if you have to shave, this is some nice stuff.

I think I wrote about it at some time in the past on the old site, but sometimes I get to feeling a little bit overwhelmed by the world. I rarely get depressed and stay depressed, but I often have daylong (or more) down periods that I have a really hard time shaking. Like a good little self-analyzer, I try to focus in on just what is bothering me, but most times it comes down to not much of anything (and actually, things are going pretty well for the most part) but a general concern that things are just not going right in this world.

Perhaps it’s been on my mind a little more lately because the weather here has been more than strange. January in Nebraska does not usually bring extended forecasts of 50 degree fahrenheit days (with some reaching nearly 70). With the massive blast of hurricanes and storms that hit the United States this last summer, I often feel like we’ve flat-out broken earth and there’s really no way of fixing them. As weird (and cheesy) as it sounds, I sometimes feel like the earth has been around long enough to deal with a lot worse than us humans, and we’ve finally pissed it off enough that it’s decided to start putting us back in our place.
So anyway, this post doesn’t really have much of a point other than to say that this weekend found me in one of those deep blue funks that I find it hard to escape from. I seem to get a brief moment of peace from my thoughts when I work out until I nearly collapse (according to the elliptical trainer I’ve burnt 1600 calories in two nights), so that’s at least one plus. I sometimes wonder whether I’m the only one that feels this way, and think that maybe I should just quit reading the news for awhile, then embrace the absurd and entertaining.

How do you get by, human?

2046I’d been wanting to see this one since I saw the super-cool trailer for it well over a year ago, and after missing it at the local arthouse theatre, I was glad to finally see it on DVD. Although I haven’t seen all of Won Kar Wai’s films, I knew that 2046 would be sumptuous to look at, but hoped that it would steer clear of some more of his vague tendencies.

That’s not to say that I mind non-linear storytelling in films, because I really do if it’s done well. 2046 had a fascinating concept in that it pulled together both a period piece (the late 60s) about a journalist and writer while at the same time blending in futuristic subplots (based around the writing of the aforementioned character). I was correct to expect that the film would be a feast, and it seems that all the stops are pulled out on this film, with just about every shot oozing with gorgeous color, awesome framing, and other little tricks that pull the viewer in.

That said, the film is frustrating at times, in more ways than one. Although it makes for some beautiful visuals, the futuristic elements of the story never feel like they quite mesh with the rest of the story, and while there are some interesting plays on time elapsing, the film is also broken up with overl pretentious chapter-headings like “All Memories Are Traces Of Tears.” In addition, the film makes vague references to cultural events taking place in the region at the time, but never really delves into them. That’s a small nitpick, but since it doesn’t seem to affect the characters at all in their insular little world, it feels a bit distracting to even bring them up.

Now that I’ve mentioned what annoyed me, I will say that the acting was uniformly outstanding. Lead man Tony Leung was great as a character that exudes smoothness in an attempt to cover his hollow emotional core, while Zhang Ziyi gave what might be her most varied performance yet (from playful to cold to emotionally shattered).

The structure (or lack thereof) will turn off a lot of viewers, but when the film really gets down to business, it’s quite good. In that regard, it should probably be more frustrating to me (especially given the less-than-sympathetic main character), but I still mostly enjoyed it and had my jaw dropped by the lavish visuals for a good portion of the film (which may indeed be why I was willing to overlook some of the less-cogent sections).

ThumbsuckerThere were several movies at the DVD rental place that we’d heard good things (the box even had an unintentionally(?) funny quote from Roeper and Ebert proclaiming “Two Thumbs Up!”) about, but we finally decided to go with Thumbsucker, which turned out to be sort of a blah choice.

One of the things that’s a bit misleading about the film is that it indeed does have a great cast, with uniformly good acting. Tilda Swinton, Vincent D’Onofrio (who should be in more films), and even Keanu Reeves were all excellent, along with a supporting cast that included Vince Vaughn and others. Overall, the film looked nice and was edited well.

Unfortunately, the actual plot of the film is what drags the whole thing down as it tries to throw just about every different theory for teenage turmoil out there and hope that some of it sticks. You’ve got a 17 year old sucking his thumb, taking psychotropic drugs by prescription, smoking pot, having fumbling relationships, feeling isolated, having a few small redemptions, and finally feeling some sense of freedom as he goes to college in another city.

That above description might sound fine and dandy, but the execution of everything is so random and even awkward that instead of feeling much for the characters, you can’t help but wish the film had just a little more focus. There are a few great scenes where the acting really shines through and raw emotions are felt, but they’re few and far between, with lots of other moments that simply feel random and/or out-of-place. Because of the good parts, it makes the bad ones even more frustrating, because it seems like there’s a good film hiding in there somewhere wanting to escape. I wanted to like this one, but it just didn’t do much for me.

TG and I both had a goal to lose a bit of weight in the new year, and to that end we splurged and purchased an eliptical trainer just under 3 weeks ago. It’s always a bit difficult during the winter to keep in shape, and while I tried to make a good go of it last year with running when I could and mixing in some intermittent situps and pushups, I ultimately lost most of my motivation and went a bit soft.

This has been a strange winter, though, in terms of weather, and the last three weekends have been nice enough to where I’ve been able to get out and rollerblade either once or twice, already netting myself 50 total miles for the year in that department. During the week, it’s not as feasible for me to get out and rollerblade (as it’s already pretty much dark when I get home), so the eliptical trainer has actually worked out just about perfectly. At first, I was adamant about using it every single night (starting at 30 minutes), but I’ve missed a few nights since then and now average every other night.

A typical workout for me is now about 38 minutes with the step mode on (meaning the degree of tension changes about every 1.5 minutes, ranging from a difficulty of between 4 and 6 out of a maximum of 8), and in that time I’ve been managing to burn between 650 and 730 calories (per session). I’m a little leary of believing all the numbers on the machine, as it has a pulse rate counter that nearly always seems a bit high or low, but calories seems to be the best benchmark for me to use in terms of weighing one nights workout against the next. The other factor in this is that the calories burned actually depends on your weight that you enter before starting. If you enter a higher weight, you burn more calories, so I’ve stuck with 194.

Interestingly enough, the night before I started working out, I weighed myself at 189 without any clothes on, and lately my weight has fluctuated between 194 and 196. I’m hoping that this is due to gaining some muscle definition and leaning up a little bit, but I also know that I’ve been consuming more food (and calories) since I started working out since I’ve been burning more of them off.

That said, just over two weeks is far too little time to judge a workout program at all. I will say that I feel noticeably better in general, barely even raising my breathing level if I run up three flights of stairs at work or sprinting to the bus stop in the morning so I don’t miss my ride. I’ll have to see what happens after a month or two with the same routine, though, and I’m going to have to find a few more good workout albums, because I’ve started to repeat some of them already…

Elsa Scamparelli

This is Elsa Scamparelli resting in her kennel after a long day of laying in the sun, chasing her squeaky toy, and jumping up on her favorite chair to bark at the world. It’s quite a rough life to lead.

Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner Despite the glowing quotation on the cover of the book from one large-haired Malcom Gladwell, Freakonomics is not a book to read if you’re looking to have you mind blown. Yes, Steven Levitt is an interesting guy who tends to look at things in very unique ways, but much of the data and theories in the book don’t tackle very weighty subjects. Instead, the book uses the study of numbers and large sample data (economics, yo) to try to figure out if Sumo Wresting is fixed, whether or not real estate agents have much of an incentive to sell your home for a lot more money, or whether names given to people actually hold them back in life.

Granted, there are a few more serious subjects tackled (including Levitt’s controversial, but rather logical theory that the legalization of abortion in the 70s was the key factor triggering a massive crime drop from the late 80s to early 90s), but mostly the book is sort of a “gee whiz” look at tackling problems from a different angle. That said, I enjoyed the heck out of it, and it was a brisk and enjoyable read. I already have sort of a weird obsession with numbers and data (although not enough to real hardcore economy books), so this one was right up my alley.

Including this book, I’ve now finished 4 books this year for a total of 884 pages read. I guess I still haven’t quite recovered from reading the massive Rising Up And Rising Down last year, as it’s obvious all the books I’ve tackled this year have been rather wimpy. Still, I’m on pace to beat last years total of 28 books and 8440 pages, but I’m going to have to dig into something more serious at some point.

After much talk of re-designing my blog, I finally got around to getting it all done this weekend. I’d been testing the rework and doing different posts over the course of the past week in order to get some things written down (mainly book reviews), but I made it official today by also redoing the main page as well. If you go to that page, you’ll see that I completely ditched a bunch of the old sections. I hadn’t updated most of them in years, and I was pretty much sick of looking at them. Also, it’s a little easier knowing I’m only trying to keep a couple things going instead of ten. Ugh.

A Man Without A Country by Kurt VonnegutBack in 1997, I read Slaughterhouse Five and I’ve been a big fan of Kurt Vonnegut ever since that time. Although I haven’t thought every single one of his books were outstanding, the books of his that I have enjoyed are pretty high up on my all time favorite books list. Although I knew it was just a collection of essays, I decided that I should check out A Man Without A Country to see if he still had a little of his old piss and vinegar left.

As it turns out, the book is a pretty darn good collection of essays. At 125 pages with huge print, it’s a super-fast read (took me about 45 minutes total), but as always he seems to hit on some things with an almost perfect touch of humanism and sarcasm. There were a couple places in the book where I actually laughed aloud, which isn’t something that happens often for me (and I think some of the people sitting around me on the bus perhaps thought there was something wrong with me).

Alas, if you’re a Vonnegut fan, you’re not going to go wrong here, although after finishing it up quickly, you’ll probably wish that there were a lot more to it. He’s already stated that he’s done writing, so I guess I should just be happy that this little book even came out. I’ll add it to my Vonnegut collection and be glad.

Last True Story I'll Ever Tell by John CrawfordI’d heard a lot of good things about John Crawford’s The Last True Story I’ll Ever Tell, so I decided to follow up a more lighthearted book with a serious one. Also, I wanted a soldiers-eye view of the war in Iraq, as it seems hard to get something unfiltered these days.

First off, I have to say that this is one of the more gritty and harsh books that I’ve read in some time. It’s easy to get sucked into, but as it progresses, the book gets more dark and bleak, and the ending is a total punch in the gut. It doesn’t pull any punches, lobbing shot after shot at the military for their management of things. Crawford doesn’t even depict himself or fellow soldiers as completely sympathetic, instead portraying them as young people stuck in a very bad situation without much guidance or support from above.

For all the talk of supporting the soldiers, it seems that the administration in charge of those in Iraq aren’t doing a very good job of not only giving them all the equipment and necessities they need to get the job done right.

I’ve never been a proponent of the war, and reading a book like this makes me even more sick about it because of the sheer amount of human damage being done (physically and mentally) on both sides (but especially on the troops that should be given what they need to succeed). It’s not easy to take, but I highly recommend it.

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