Category Archives: Commentary

The Boys in the Boat: Derek’s Three Favorite Things

When I like a book I tend to rave about it. The Boys in the Boat was released in 2013 and as of June 2015, still sits on the NY Times non-fiction bestseller list. It will appeal to those that read Unbroken in awe and everyone else that enjoys well written accounts of amazing achievements and interesting times in history. The Boys in the Boat tells the true story of Joe Rantz and eight other unprivileged, hardworking boys from the University of Washington. They would eventually represent the United States in the eight man rowing competition at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin (where Unbroken subject Louis Zamperini ran the 5,000 meter race).

The 1936 United States 8 man Olympic rowing team. They ended their 4 year University of Washington collegiate career undefeated as national champions.

The 1936 United States eight man (+coxswain) Olympic rowing team. They ended their four year Univ. of Washington collegiate career undefeated and as national champions. (photo credit: Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 1936)

My favorite things about this book can be wrapped up into three buckets:

The Boys in the Boat1) It introduced me to rowing and piqued my interest in it as a form of exercise. Early in the book the author confirms that physiologists have calculated that rowing a 2,000 meter race — the Olympic standard — takes the same physiological toll as playing two basketball games back-to-back. I’ve  since added the rowing machine to my gym routine.

The cat and mouse dynamic of rowing races is also interesting and fun to watch. I’ve scoured YouTube for recent Olympic regattas as a form of entertainment.

2) Reading the book was a fun geography ride through the Pacific Northwest, notably Seattle and the University of Washington campus. The author describes in detail the key water ways and bodies that makes the Seattle area unique: Lake Washington, the Montlake Cut, Lake Union and Union Bay adjacent to campus. I was reading the book during a visit to the Emerald City, and I was so intrigued by the geography that I enjoyed a special trip to check out the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, a unique engineering feature on the Lake Washington Ship Canal.

Lake Union is a beautiful freshwater lake entirely within the Seattle city limits.

Lake Union: a beautiful freshwater lake within Seattle city limits (photo credit: Jelson25)

Reading the book while visiting Seattle was a fun and appreciation-filled experience.

Reading the book while visiting Seattle was a fun and appreciation-filled experience.

3) Finally, The Boys in the Boat told a beautiful story about a man that suffered at a young age and prevailed, fulfilled and proud in the end, through hard work and an unwavering will to live. Many chapters of the book take place during Joe Rantz’s tragic adolescence after he was abandoned by his family in Idaho. After working his butt off, living alone and supporting himself through his early teenage years, Joe made his way to the University of Washington and eventually and serendipitously battled his way on to the well respected rowing team, with seven similarly hardworking boys. Compared with East Coast rowing royalty from schools like Princeton and Columbia, these boys worked there way through college, barely making ends meet. Rowing was their outlet and their teamwork and determination learned through hardship growing up, led them to become the best rowing team in the world.

If you’re intrigued by this story, you’ve now got two options. Read the book, or  watch this well-made book trailer:


(And in case you’re wondering, The Weinstein Company owns the film rights to the story and intends to produce a movie.)

10 things I learned about the 2012 election

Collision 2012There are certain topics I ramble on about on my blog more than others, like movies, hikes, music and food. Two things I haven’t written a lot about are politics and books. That changes today.

As I was riding in a cab on the way to the airport about a month ago, I overheard an interview on NPR with Dan Balz, a writer with The Washington Post. Balz was discussing his new book, Collision 2012: Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in America. I just happened to be on the market for a new, interesting read, and because I like to dabble in and out of non-fiction, it sparked an interest. I downloaded this in-depth election examination and chewed through it in a couple weeks.

One of the things I love about reading on my Kindle Fire HD is that it gives me the ability to highlight key passages and take notes, which I can then go back and review. While reading Collision 2012, I captured dozens of interesting facts about our president, the pool of colorful Republican challengers in the 2012 election, and the evolving election process.

Here are ten of my favorite things I learned or was reminded of, reading this book, that you might equally enjoy, in no particular order:

  1. By the time Mitt Romney ran for president in 2012, his net worth was estimated at more than $200 million.
  2. Barack Obama almost always speaks, in formal and some informal settings, with the aid of a teleprompter.
  3. The Obama campaign employed hundreds of developers that spent a year building a software platform that compiled and integrated an unprecedented amount of data including voter lists, donor lists and volunteer lists. Eventually named Narwhal, this platform allowed for integration between a campaign online and a campaign on the ground, for the first time ever. (The Obama campaign built a second and equally impressive platform called Dashboard that allowed thousands of field organizers scattered around the country to communicate and share important information over the web.)
  4. Nancy Reagan lobbied Mitt Romney to run for president.
  5. Mitt Romney loves Brooks Brothers non-iron shirts.
  6. Republican nominee Newt Gingrich pledged at one point during the campaign that he would establish a permanent moon colony if he were elected president.
  7. When Mitt Romney formally announced Paul Ryan as his running mate on the deck of the USS Wisconsin, he introduced him as, “the next president of the United States.”
  8. When Michelle Obama spoke at the Democratic National Convention, she was interrupted by applause almost 50 times in 23 minutes.
  9. Through savvier ad buying and negotiations, Obama paid significantly less for his ads than Romney. For an ad during the Emmy awards, Romney paid $3,600 and Obama paid $1,200.
  10. More than $2 billion was spent during the 2012 presidential election.

If you’ve got an interest in politics, elections or just well written non-fiction, I recommend this book.

The Sessions, Lincoln

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The best movies of the year have started to arrive. From now until mid-February you will be more likely to find me in a movie theater than just about any place other than home or work.

This weekend I couldn’t resist using the cold weather as an excuse to sit inside for 5 hours to enjoy a double header movie day. Katie joined me for The Sessions at the Embarcadero Cinema and then I made my way to the Century San Francisco to indulge in Lincoln, solo.

The Sessions – what I liked most about this movie was that it was for adults. To appreciate this movie and to be moved by it made me feel like more of an adult than I’ve contemplated in recent memory — in the sense that I have matured and I appreciate life everyday. There were great acting performances yes and there could be as many as three acting nominations come award season. What I thought was executed best was the steady balance of emotion and humor. This movie is far from a comedy and it might even make you cry, but it will also make you laugh out loud. And it will stick with you longer after the credits end. A-.

Lincoln – On the opposite end of the cinematic spectrum is Steven Speilberg’s new mega-biopic. Man, this guy is at the top of his movie making game. This film is precisely and beautifully crafted, and features the best of the best in cast, with an Oscar worthy performance from Daniel Day Lewis, no doubt. This movie made me want to go out and buy the best and most interesting books to refresh my mind with American history. It caused me to reflect on the recent election and the journey our country is on, not only short term but dating back to our founding. I love a movie that teaches me and makes me hungry to learn more. B+ because it felt like 3 hours despite being only 2.5.

sidewalk stencil graffiti

On my way to meet friends for a hike on Sunday, I walked a few blocks through the always colorful Haight neighborhood. Whilst on this several block journey I came across an unusually dense collection of sidewalk graffiti. A part of me thinks these spray painted stencil designs, lasting who knows how long, are kind of annoying. But another part of me sees them as a form of urban art.

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I love the stencils that enable multiple colors like the floppy disc. What the heck is up with the one of comedian and actress Kristen Schaal? Crazy super fan? Do people make their own stencils? The last set look kind of homemade.

Maybe I’ll make my own, with my own special message, and I’ll artfully litter the San Francisco sidewalks (with environmentally-friendly, non-permanent paint).

A Dangerous Method

I had to be slightly persuaded (over my choice Carnage), but tonight I finally saw A Dangerous Method. And let me tell you ladies and gentleman, we got a hot one. The acting by the trio led by Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortenson and Michael Fassbender was top notch. Viggo was the only one to get a Golden Globe nomination and I’m not sure who will, if any, get Oscar nods, but they all deserve them, in my opinion. I never really liked Keira before this movie. She was to me to Natalie Portman, as Glenn Close is to Merryl Streep. But she proved to be quite the talented actress in this film.

The movie is based on truth, and focuses on the relationship between two of the most prolific pyschologists ever, Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, and the crazy-but-turns-out-to-be-pretty-brilliant woman that comes between them. in not necessarily the way you think.

I loved this movie and the connection I felt to it in many ways. From the topics of sex to pyschotherapy, it had my interest from start to finish.

A Dummies Guide to Super PACs

Are you paying attention to Super PACs?

If you watch Jon Stewart and/or The Colbert Report, you sure know what I’m talking about.

If you remember Kerry losing the 2004 Presidential election because of the drama stirred up from the Swiftboat attack ads, questioning Kerry’s integrity, then you are familiar with the nasty power of traditional PACs. Just wait until you hear about Super PACs.

In this election cycle, the Super PACs are in full force. There are Super PACs (political organizations that can raise as much money as they want with unrestricted single donation amounts, in support of a candidate, as long as they don’t actually interact with the candidate) that will raise up to $300 million in this Presidential election. Their goal is to get their candidate elected by taking out the other candidates. Mostly with negative attack ads, robo calls, etc. You’re familiar with their tactics.

Did you know it’s harder to create a TV commercial selling white bread because of FCC regulations you have to go through to prove your claims. With political ads you apparently aren’t under the same scrutiny, so you don’t have to prove the claims you’re making. So it’s pretty easy to get a negative campaign ad about a candidate on TV.

Sometimes the Super PACs get fined when the Federal Election Commission finds out that they are cohorting with a candidate (you’re not allowed to communicate remember). Fined how much you ask? Anywhere from $50,000 to $300,000. Hmm, sounds significant. I guess unless you consider that some of these Super PACs are raising tens of millions of dollars. So maybe a $200,000 fine here and there is the cost of doing business?

Back to Stephen Colbert. Maybe you’ve heard, he’s founded his own Super PAC. Why? Not to attack any particular candidate. But to draw more attention to how Super PACs are destroying the political system in the United States.

Stephen Colbert’s Super PAC is running the following outrageous TV ad right now in South Carolina, if you can believe it:


How much as Stephen Colbert raised? The funny thing is that he doesn’t have to tell us! Well, Super PACs are supposed to release the names of their donors, with donation amounts, every 3 months. But you know what? Stephen Colbert formed his Super PAC in July and he hasn’t reported any of his donations. And no one seems to care. He says the FEC could fine him but they’d have to rule he did something wrong. And they’re split 3-3 (republican-democrat) so they can never actually ever agree on anything to rule on. So he’s fine to just keep wreaking havoc… showing how out of control Super PACs are.

I don’t know what the solution is to Super PAC fiascos. They are supported by a 5-4 Supreme Court decision in 2010 (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission), with the majority coming from liberal judges. And it sounds like the Supreme Court will never reverse its own decision, so the only thing that could change the system now is an amendment to the United States Constitution (no easy task).

Oh and don’t think this is a nasty Republican thing. Democrats are currently raising oodles in their own Super PACs, in support of President Obama. They will be fired up and ready to rip to shreds whoever the Republican candidate ends up being.

It’s going to be interesting. Can’t wait to watch the 2012 election unfold.

Just call me Ignatiy Vishnevetsky

I don’t really do movie reviews but I saw three movies in the last 7 days, so I thought I’d make a few comments that might influence your movie-going-decision-making this weekend.

Moneyball – great screenplay with (as-expected by Aaron Sorkin) a lot of great dialogue and funny one liners. This movie is not a comedy but I laughed out loud at least a dozen times. Brad Pitt was yummy to look at for 2 hours (a little long for some people but I wasn’t bothered) and Jonah Hill was an excellent supporting actor. I’ve never taken him serious, but he wins big points for this quirky and nerdy but effective performance as Billy Beane’s sidekick. I don’t follow baseball much and knew nothing about Billy Beane’s story going into this movie, but I loved everything about it. In fact, it’s probably my favorite movie of the year so far. I give it a solid A.

Ides of March – can you really go wrong with Ryan Gosling and George Clooney? Eh… I don’t know. While I thought this movie was entertaining, especially as we find ourselves swirling around in the next Republican presidential primary, I also thought it was a little predictable. I did not like Evan Rachel Wood’s character and I didn’t find her influence on the story to be believable at all. I generously give it a B because it was a well-made movie, carried by two very nice-to-look-at actors.

50/50 – I was hoping for a tear jerker. And by that I mean I was hoping for a movie that was actually powerful enough to evoke tears, à la City of Angels, My Girl, Million Dollar Baby. I should have known any movie with Seth Rogen isn’t going to be that serious. I thought the relationship between Seth’s character and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s was endearing and believable but I wasn’t able to fully enjoy them because I was distracted by all the annoying characters. At the top of my hit list is Anna Kendrick’s character as a therapist. She just was not believable. And it wasn’t because of her youth or inexperience. It was because she just didn’t accurately play the role of a therapist. Wrong questions, wrong attitude, wrong approach. (Look at me, acting like I know all about therapy.) I also though Anjelica Huston was trying too hard to be Meryl Streep. Wow, I guess I disliked this movie more than I thought. I give it a C.

There you have it, go see Moneyball!