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When did the movies become a bargain?
You're Not Special
Where Boston beats Sydney #1 -- Musical Theater
Where Sydney beats Boston #1…
An orchestra conducted beautifully...


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When did the movies become a bargain?

Okay – uphill both ways in the snow warning.  You can apply the following introduction to pretty much every sentence in this rant…  “In my day…”
Do you remember when they first raised the ticket price for the movies to like $5 and everyone went mental?  I remember it as one of the larger miscarriages of justice I had witnessed, or at least that I was aware of in the tender time that was the 1980’s.  If you don’t remember you’re too young.  There was a lot of hand-wringing and vows that folks would never again go to the movies.  “Oh, my goodness gracious and for crying out loud, don’t cha know, when I was a kid, we used to go to the pictures for a nickel.” 
Back in those good old days (when I was like 12), I joined in the ruckus and remember thinking that it was outrageous that it’d cost close to ten bucks for a guy to pay his way into the movies (once you hit the snack bar of course).  I vowed never to go again… it was pure craziness… “Hello, movie studios, you awake in there?  We’ve got this thing called television, and we have like four channels that broadcast anything I might want to see at least 16 hours a day…It’s now in full color and your days are numbered if you think I’m going to pay $5 to see your silly movie.  Do you watch Moonlighting with Bruce Willis on channel 7, it’s totally awesome!  Plus I can tape things with my VCR (that’s video cassette recorder… mine’s a beta-max).” 
Of course, like you, I’ve continued to go to the movies (although I’m still not up for this 3D nonsense). 
So the other day, I took myself and three kids to the movies, and I end up thinking, “Hey, at $45 bucks+/-, this is not such a bad deal.”  When you look at it, the cost of a movie ticket has stayed roughly in-line with inflation (your $4 movie ticket in 1980 would cost $11.50 today).  But other entertainment alternatives have gone absolutely bonkers.  Have you been to a concert lately?  The absolute cheapest seat you can get for most shows… probably $75 plus the mandatory “convenience fees.”  The theater… minimum $100 a seat.  How about a game?  Do you have any idea what it costs to take a family of five to the Red Sox … wait for it… parking, five tickets (in the grandstand), two beers, five hot dogs, three sodas, one popcorn, four ice creams… $400.  And, if you want seats from which you can actually see the game, double it.
All of this is not complaining, really, we’re spoiled for choice.  We now have four or five hundred television channels, in stunning high definition (there’s still nothing on).  We have countless entertainment options, many of which are good (and most of which you’ll recall from a recent blog post are better than the Australian equivalent).  Really, this is a tip of the hat to the movies.  I NEVER thought I’d say that the movies felt like a bargain to me… and don’t tell the movie studios… but I found myself thinking just that the other day. 
By the way, we saw the Avengers.  It was good, but I could have waited for Netflix. 

You're Not Special

I can't claim authorship of the following commencement address -- but I wish I could. 
When I read it I wanted to be sure to save it for later.  I thought about bookmarking the url (or God-forbid pinning it on Pinterst), but that simply wasn't enough.  I had to share these five quotable lines...
"You see, if everyone is special, then no one is.  If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless..."
"As a consequence, we cheapen worthy endeavors, and building a Guatemalan medical clinic becomes more about the application to Bowdoin than the well-being of Guatemalans..."
"The fulfilling life, the distinctive life, the relevant life, is an achievement, not something that will fall into your lap because you’re a nice person or mommy ordered it from the caterer..." 
"Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view.  Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you..."
"Develop and protect a moral sensibility and demonstrate the character to apply it.  Dream big.  Work hard.  Think for yourself.  Love everything you love, everyone you love, with all your might.  And do so, please, with a sense of urgency, for every tick of the clock subtracts from fewer and fewer."
Like I said, I wish I'd written these words, and the very least I can do is pass them along so you can enjoy them, apply them or pass them along yourself if you like.  Of course you can ignore them too, you're call.
Courtesy of Wellesley High School English teach David McCullouch, here is the full text of his facilty speech to the class of 2012:
Dr. Wong, Dr. Keough, Mrs. Novogroski, Ms. Curran, members of the board of education, family and friends of the graduates, ladies and gentlemen of the Wellesley High School class of 2012, for the privilege of speaking to you this afternoon, I am honored and grateful.  Thank you.
            So here we are… commencement… life’s great forward-looking ceremony.  (And don’t say, “What about weddings?”  Weddings are one-sided and insufficiently effective.  Weddings are bride-centric pageantry.  Other than conceding to a list of unreasonable demands, the groom just stands there.  No stately, hey-everybody-look-at-me procession.  No being given away.  No identity-changing pronouncement.  And can you imagine a television show dedicated to watching guys try on tuxedos?  Their fathers sitting there misty-eyed with joy and disbelief, their brothers lurking in the corner muttering with envy.  Left to men, weddings would be, after limits-testing procrastination, spontaneous, almost inadvertent… during halftime… on the way to the refrigerator.  And then there’s the frequency of failure: statistics tell us half of you will get divorced.  A winning percentage like that’ll get you last place in the American League East.  The Baltimore Orioles do better than weddings.)
            But this ceremony… commencement… a commencement works every time.  From this day forward… truly… in sickness and in health, through financial fiascos, through midlife crises and passably attractive sales reps at trade shows in Cincinnati, through diminishing tolerance for annoyingness, through every difference, irreconcilable and otherwise, you will stay forever graduated from high school, you and your diploma as one, ‘til death do you part.
            No, commencement is life’s great ceremonial beginning, with its own attendant and highly appropriate symbolism.  Fitting, for example, for this auspicious rite of passage, is where we find ourselves this afternoon, the venue.  Normally, I avoid clichés like the plague, wouldn’t touch them with a ten-foot pole, but here we are on a literal level playing field.  That matters.  That says something.  And your ceremonial costume… shapeless, uniform, one-size-fits-all.  Whether male or female, tall or short, scholar or slacker, spray-tanned prom queen or intergalactic X-Box assassin, each of you is dressed, you’ll notice, exactly the same.  And your diploma… but for your name, exactly the same.
            All of this is as it should be, because none of you is special.
            You are not special.  You are not exceptional.
            Contrary to what your u9 soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you… you’re nothing special. 
            Yes, you’ve been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped.  Yes, capable adults with other things to do have held you, kissed you, fed you, wiped your mouth, wiped your bottom, trained you, taught you, tutored you, coached you, listened to you, counseled you, encouraged you, consoled you and encouraged you again.  You’ve been nudged, cajoled, wheedled and implored.  You’ve been feted and fawned over and called sweetie pie.  Yes, you have.  And, certainly, we’ve been to your games, your plays, your recitals, your science fairs.  Absolutely, smiles ignite when you walk into a room, and hundreds gasp with delight at your every tweet.  Why, maybe you’ve even had your picture in the Townsman!  And now you’ve conquered high school… and, indisputably, here we all have gathered for you, the pride and joy of this fine community, the first to emerge from that magnificent new building…
            But do not get the idea you’re anything special.  Because you’re not.
            The empirical evidence is everywhere, numbers even an English teacher can’t ignore.  Newton, Natick, Nee… I am allowed to say Needham, yes? …that has to be two thousand high school graduates right there, give or take, and that’s just the neighborhood Ns.  Across the country no fewer than 3.2 million seniors are graduating about now from more than 37,000 high schools.  That’s 37,000 valedictorians… 37,000 class presidents… 92,000 harmonizing altos… 340,000 swaggering jocks… 2,185,967 pairs of Uggs.  But why limit ourselves to high school?  After all, you’re leaving it.  So think about this: even if you’re one in a million, on a planet of 6.8 billion that means there are nearly 7,000 people just like you.  Imagine standing somewhere over there on Washington Street on Marathon Monday and watching sixty-eight hundred yous go running by.  And consider for a moment the bigger picture: your planet, I’ll remind you, is not the center of its solar system, your solar system is not the center of its galaxy, your galaxy is not the center of the universe.  In fact, astrophysicists assure us the universe has no center; therefore, you cannot be it.  Neither can Donald Trump… which someone should tell him… although that hair is quite a phenomenon.
            “But, Dave,” you cry, “Walt Whitman tells me I’m my own version of perfection!  Epictetus tells me I have the spark of Zeus!”  And I don’t disagree.  So that makes 6.8 billion examples of perfection, 6.8 billion sparks of Zeus.  You see, if everyone is special, then no one is.  If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless.  In our unspoken but not so subtle Darwinian competition with one another–which springs, I think, from our fear of our own insignificance, a subset of our dread of mortality — we have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement.  We have come to see them as the point — and we’re happy to compromise standards, or ignore reality, if we suspect that’s the quickest way, or only way, to have something to put on the mantelpiece, something to pose with, crow about, something with which to leverage ourselves into a better spot on the social totem pole.  No longer is it how you play the game, no longer is it even whether you win or lose, or learn or grow, or enjoy yourself doing it…  Now it’s “So what does this get me?”  As a consequence, we cheapen worthy endeavors, and building a Guatemalan medical clinic becomes more about the application to Bowdoin than the well-being of Guatemalans.  It’s an epidemic — and in its way, not even dear old Wellesley High is immune… one of the best of the 37,000 nationwide, Wellesley High School… where good is no longer good enough, where a B is the new C, and the midlevel curriculum is called Advanced College Placement.  And I hope you caught me when I said “one of the best.”  I said “one of the best” so we can feel better about ourselves, so we can bask in a little easy distinction, however vague and unverifiable, and count ourselves among the elite, whoever they might be, and enjoy a perceived leg up on the perceived competition.  But the phrase defies logic.  By definition there can be only one best.  You’re it or you’re not.
            If you’ve learned anything in your years here I hope it’s that education should be for, rather than material advantage, the exhilaration of learning.  You’ve learned, too, I hope, as Sophocles assured us, that wisdom is the chief element of happiness.  (Second is ice cream…  just an fyi)  I also hope you’ve learned enough to recognize how little you know… how little you know now… at the moment… for today is just the beginning.  It’s where you go from here that matters.
            As you commence, then, and before you scatter to the winds, I urge you to do whatever you do for no reason other than you love it and believe in its importance.  Don’t bother with work you don’t believe in any more than you would a spouse you’re not crazy about, lest you too find yourself on the wrong side of a Baltimore Orioles comparison.  Resist the easy comforts of complacency, the specious glitter of materialism, the narcotic paralysis of self-satisfaction.  Be worthy of your advantages.  And read… read all the time… read as a matter of principle, as a matter of self-respect.  Read as a nourishing staple of life.  Develop and protect a moral sensibility and demonstrate the character to apply it.  Dream big.  Work hard.  Think for yourself.  Love everything you love, everyone you love, with all your might.  And do so, please, with a sense of urgency, for every tick of the clock subtracts from fewer and fewer; and as surely as there are commencements there are cessations, and you’ll be in no condition to enjoy the ceremony attendant to that eventuality no matter how delightful the afternoon.
            The fulfilling life, the distinctive life, the relevant life, is an achievement, not something that will fall into your lap because you’re a nice person or mommy ordered it from the caterer.  You’ll note the founding fathers took pains to secure your inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness–quite an active verb, “pursuit”–which leaves, I should think, little time for lying around watching parrots rollerskate on Youtube.  The first President Roosevelt, the old rough rider, advocated the strenuous life.  Mr. Thoreau wanted to drive life into a corner, to live deep and suck out all the marrow.  The poet Mary Oliver tells us to row, row into the swirl and roil.  Locally, someone… I forget who… from time to time encourages young scholars to carpe the heck out of the diem.  The point is the same: get busy, have at it.  Don’t wait for inspiration or passion to find you.  Get up, get out, explore, find it yourself, and grab hold with both hands.  (Now, before you dash off and get your YOLO tattoo, let me point out the illogic of that trendy little expression–because you can and should live not merely once, but every day of your life.  Rather than You Only Live Once, it should be You Live Only Once… but because YLOO doesn’t have the same ring, we shrug and decide it doesn’t matter.)
            None of this day-seizing, though, this YLOOing, should be interpreted as license for self-indulgence.  Like accolades ought to be, the fulfilled life is a consequence, a gratifying byproduct.  It’s what happens when you’re thinking about more important things.  Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view.  Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you.  Go to Paris to be in Paris, not to cross it off your list and congratulate yourself for being worldly.  Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion–and those who will follow them.  And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself.  The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special.
            Because everyone is.
            Congratulations.  Good luck.  Make for yourselves, please, for your sake and for ours, extraordinary lives.
            David McCullough

Where Boston beats Sydney #1 -- Musical Theater

Greetings and welcome back to to the blog. 
It's been a bit quiet on this page for the past couple months as the world stopped spinning, and then started spinning even faster the other way.  But since we're back from Australia and up to no good in Boston, I thought it was time to brush off the old typewriter and hack out a bit of an update.  Now, this is not the epic update that will bring you completely up to speed yet (that'll still have to wait as there are only so many hours in the day).  But this little update will hit on a favorite topic which is comparing Boston and Sydney....
While we were in Sydney we were lucky enough to see a couple top productions.  All of them were good... none of them were great.  We saw Wicked (hard not to get sucked into that hypnotic score), we saw the opera Madame Butterfly at the Sydney Opera House (I'm still trying to get my head around an opera about an American serviceman falling in love during WWII with a Japanese teenager all sung in Italian by a middle-aged Australian woman... so not too great).  We saw Jersey Boys which was downright bad (hard to get over the Australian accent trying to pull off New Jersey).  We saw a stadium show of giant dinosaurs (not as bad as it sounds, but definitely out-there).  And we saw Jason Mraz at the Opera House concert hall -- which was INCREDIBLE.  But of course he's American.  In all, our experience with Australian performing arts was okay, certainly not great, probably the baseball equivalent of triple-A.
Since we've been back in the states we've been to see the new production of Les Miserables (which was outstanding), we saw Jamie and Adam from Mythbusters put on a two hour show about science that was funny, original and worth every penny (thanks for the tickets Grandma).  And we saw our good friend Steve perform as Tevya in Fiddler on the Roof (believe me he could hold his own on pretty much any Australian stage and I guarantee he would have killed in Sydney's version of Jersey boys).  
The three months we've been back have produced a pretty small sample of theater experiences, and we're only talking about Boston here (far from New York), but I can say without exception that productions in the US exceed the level you can expect in Sydney.
That's all for now... a little appetizer while the blog comes back up to full speed.     

Where Sydney beats Boston #1…

DISCLOSURE: This entry is the opinion of its author and doesn’t represent the views of management
One word bugs… I may be crazy, and it’s going to take a bit of explaining, but hopefully it’ll make sense in a minute or two so bear with me.  The bug situation in Sydney is much more livable than Boston.
Most often when talk turns to bugs here in Australia we’re reminded that the world’s deadliest spiders live here.  In fact the Sydney Funnel-web is considered by many to be the deadliest spider in the world and it’s found only in about a 50 mile radius of where I’m sitting right now.  We’ve also got red-backs which are really quite plentiful around here and they’ll kill you pretty fast too.  We killed a white-tip spider in the house a couple weeks back, and they usually won’t kill you, but if you’re bit you might wish you were dead.  Something like 13 of the worlds 15 most deadliest spiders live in Australia… great, sign me up. 
But here’s the upside.  All those killer spiders apparently need to eat, because there aren’t that many flies here and almost zero mosquitoes.  In New Zealand in some of the most beautiful areas of the country you’ll find the sand-fly, which are a complete pain in the you-know-what.  I’m sure the Kiwis around Milford Sound would take some deadly spiders in exchange for the sand-flies.  There are parts of the US, where mosquitoes have been known to carry away small children if they haven’t been bathed in deet.   Maybe the world needs more killer spiders.
We recently proved my circle of bug life theory when moved into a temporary apartment that was spider haven to say the least.  Wendy – being a trained spider-fighter – killed a bunch of the spiders in the apartment, and now there is a group of mosquitoes that are keeping me awake.  They buzz around my head just long enough to make me reflexively pound my own ears and wake myself up.  In the morning, I may be dizzy from pounding myself, but I’m not covered in mosquito bites, so at least I’m dealing with a set of mosquitoes that just like the buzzing part of the job. 
So I see this proof as the exception that proves the rule, this is where you’ll have to bear with me.  See the way I figure it, if Mosquitoes or biting flies or any other nuisance insect like that were a real problem in Sydney houses would have screens on the windows.  They don’t – full stop.  From the budget conscious to the high-end, there are very few houses in Sydney with screens, and most people leave the windows open all day and night without trouble.  It’s a nice way to live, with all the fresh air, breezes off the water and all that.  And I think we have the spiders to thank for that. 
So far in the Sydney versus Boston comparison we have Sydney on top 1-nil.

An orchestra conducted beautifully...

Have you ever seen an impressive feat of maneuvering best described as “threading a needle.”  Or a beautiful piece of music conducted flawlessly.  Or Bill Belichick coaching a playoff win?  If you’ve seen these things, then you know… things just come together at exactly the right time.  That’s what it’s like watching Wendy navigate our move.  It’s a thing of beauty and what’s incredible is the level of complexity is immense.  I realize we’re not the first family to go through this, but it’s definitely the first time we’ve closed up an international house, sold off nearly everything we have, kept up with all the kids movements to see friends in three different directions and dealt with me and my “issues.” 
An impressive feat no-doubt, handled with grace, class, and heaps of patience.  Thank you Wendy – you deserve a day off! 
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