Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Movie Reviews: Four classic comedies from the Golden Age of Film that you probably aren’t familiar with.

I hope that everyone had a very Merry Christmas and is looking forward to 2010 getting the heck out of Dodge. I know I am, although the chances of 2011 being an improvement are rather slim.

Anyway, it seems traditional around the Intertoobs that everyone will have an “End of the Year List” of some kind. I think I have done something similar in past years. I certainly don’t want to go revisit politics, so I will pick a favorite subject of mine, classic movies! I don’t know what I would do without TCM.

Now, there are a huge number of classic comedies that I could pick to highlight. Some of the classic comedies are my absolute favorite movies. I could pick films such as any of the Marx Brothers films (except The Big Store, that is, which rather stinks), The Philadelphia Story, Arsenic and Old Lace (which was, if my memory serves, my very first exposure to classic comedies and also Cary Grant), W.C. Fields, the Road pictures with Bing and Bob, Some Like It Hot (which some say is the best comedy ever filmed, althoug hI am not sure I agree)… All of those are very worthy of attention, especially in these days of the big budget blockbusters (in 3D!) where subtle humor, satire and really witty dialog are not held in great esteem.

However, those films would be too easy. Everyone who is a fan of classic films knows about those. So, I picked a few films that may not be terribly well known but should be. Perhaps this will inspire you to go out and look for these. I will try to stay away from the big time spoilers, but I can’t be assured that I won’t say something that can be categorized as a spoiler. So, you have been warned! Sort of…

So, with that overly lengthy explanation that I could have probably done without, here is my End of the Year List of Fairly Unknown Classic Comedies that You Should Check Out Immediately, If You Like Such Things.

Murder, He Says: This one may sound like a film adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel, but it isn’t. This screwball comedy is from 1945 and stars Fred MacMurray as a door-to-door pollster that gets caught up with a family of crazy and murderous hillbillies. Marjorie Main, who is famous for her role in the Ma and Pa Kettle series, stars as the matriarch of the crazy Fleagle family. Fred falls in the middle of a quest for a huge amount of stolen loot, as well as some dark scientific experiments by the step-father of the Fleagles. There’s a cute girl masquerading as a long lost cousin, in order that she can help clear up her father’s name who was wrongly implicated in the bank heist. There’s the twin boys, Bert and Mert, who look to be straight out of Lil’ Abner, except for the propensity of wanting to shoot most anything that moves. The climax of the picture, with Fred and the imposter Fleagle trying to evade the rest of the family, is worthy of a Marx Brothers picture. Although this has been seen in a number of cartoons like Bugs Bunny, I think this is the first actual film where I have seen real people fall into a hay baling machine and end up coming out where they are all nicely packed up in large bales of hay.

This one is worthy of a look. It is also interesting in that this role for Fred MacMurray came not long after his role in Double Indemnity. That’s quite a difference, and it shows MacMurray’s versatility. There’s even a very interesting direct reference to the Bob Hope film, The Ghost Busters, that I found particularly amusing.

IMDB link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0037931/

Merrily We Live: From 1938, this one could be classified as one of the early screwball comedies. This film reunites Constance Bennett and Billie Burke, in almost a reprise of their Topper roles. Constance Bennett successfully plays Jerry Kilborne, a high society debutant who isn’t as shallow or as self-satisfied as her friends and suitors might think. Burke is at her ditziest best. Of course, everyone is familiar with Burke as Glenda, the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz. However, that particular role seems to have been an aberration for her, as she usually played, with extraordinary energy, high-class society women that have a very tenuous grasp of reality.

In this one, Billie Burke plays Mrs. Kilborne, who has an intense desire to rescue all the “hobos” around and reintegrate them into society. The film opens with the family discovering that the last bum employed by Mrs. Kilborne has just made a fast getaway with not only the fine silver but also the kitchen silverware. The breakfast scene where everyone is attempting to eat slices of cantaloupe with large mixing spoons and strainers sets the mood for the film. Bonita Granville, who gained fame as the first film version of Nancy Drew, adds incredibly energy to the proceedings as the younger sister.

Of course, a dashing young man who appears at the front door, looking to use the phone, is taken to be a hobo and inserted into the position of head chauffeur without his understanding how it happened. All sorts of mayhem ensues, with Jerry falling for the handsome Wade Rollins, who has taken to his role in the family a bit more than was expected. Of course, it turns out that he wasn’t a hobo at all, but a novelist on a vacation, but played along because it suited him. The entire premise is very much like My Man Godfrey, which was a bit hit only two years earlier. I like this one much better.

Give it a whirl, if you can find it or the next time it shows up on TCM. The jokes and witticisms are fast-paced to the point of barely being able to react to one before another one comes zinging at you.

IMDB link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0030442/

The Palm Beach Story: From 1942, starring Claudette Colbert and Joel McRae. This one is of the best of the Preston Sturges screwball comedies. Rudee Vallee has a great role as the straight-laced J. D. Hackensacker III, a society tycoon who has fallen for Ms. Colbert. Unfortunately for Mr. Hackensacker, although she and Joel McRae are presenting themselves as brother and sister, they are actually married. The comedic set-up comes from the fact that the two are very much in love, but Gerry Jeffers (Colbert) is trying to divorce her husband Tom (McRae) and then marry a millionaire, so that Tom can achieve his dream of designing and building a flying landing field for airplanes.

This film has some of the funniest one-liners around, usually delivered in a dead-pan style. It also features some great support from what would normally be considered to be bit-players. Robert Dudley as the Weinie King and William Demerast as a member of the Ale and Quail Club are perfect in their roles.

Gerry Jeffers: Isn't it wonderful?
Tom Jeffers: Sensational. But you haven't quite answered my question yet.
Gerry Jeffers: What question, dear?
Tom Jeffers: Why this alleged old man gave you - how much is it?
Gerry Jeffers: Seven hundred dollars.
Tom Jeffers: Seven hundred dollars. Why?
Gerry Jeffers: No reason.
Tom Jeffers: Oh, is that so? He just - seven hundred dollars? Just like that?
Gerry Jeffers: Just like that.
Tom Jeffers: I mean, sex didn't even enter into it.
Tom Jeffers: Oh, but of course it did, darling. I don't think he'd have given it to me if I had hair like excelsior and little short legs like an alligator. Sex always has something to do with it, dear.
Tom Jeffers: I see.
Gerry Jeffers: From the time you're about so big and wondering why your girlfriends' fathers are getting so arch all of a sudden. Nothing wrong - just an overture to the opera that's coming.

IMDB link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0035169/

Beat the Devil: From 1943, directed by John Huston and has a absolutely blockbuster cast of Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida, Robert Morely, and Peter Lorre.

I can’t figure out why this one isn’t better known and appreciated. Perhaps it is the fact that Bogie really isn’t known for his comedic roles. I think this is one of his best films, for no other reason that he kind of plays the same tough character as in his other, more well known roles, but in a way so tongue-in-cheek that it is hard not to laugh out loud.

Morely and Lorre are part of a criminal gang on their way to South America to try to get a claim to a what could be a substantial fortune in uranium ore. Jennifer Jones, who is cute as a button as the wife of a very dour and proper Englishman, constantly invents a fantasy life for herself and anyone she meets (including Bogie), such that it becomes difficult to tell what is reality and what is her dreamworld. Bogie and his wife (Ms. Lollobrigida) get entangled with both sets of characters while waiting for their ship to get repaired so they can resume their journey.

The plot almost doesn’t matter with this. It’s situational comedy as its best. There is an interesting story associated with this film, as recounted in the IMDB link below. Bogie has a serious accident during the filming of this move, which knocked out several of his teeth and made it difficult for him to speak some of his lines. Peter Sellers actually provided some of the dubbed dialog for Bogie. I would have never guessed that one.

Don’t let some bad reviews scare you away from this. It certainly isn’t what might be expected from a cast like this. But for unusual humor and a change of pace from all the actors and actresses (who would ever think that Gina Lollobrigida would end up as about seventh on the billing), you may not be able to find a better film to spend an evening with.

IMDB link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0046414/

Thursday, December 23, 2010

End of the Year Blogpost: Don’t let the door hit you on the butt on your way out, 2010!

What is to be said about 2010? Certainly not much good on the political side, if you consider yourself to be a progressive. Mordor appears to be gathering its forces once again to unleash all out war on the forces of Truth and Light…. Which is a totally over-the-top metaphor, but it encapsulates the way I feel about things.

On a purely personal level, though, I really can’t complain. My career seems to have “arrived”, in that I have a good (albeit very frustrating at times), stable job that pays pretty well for engineering. I am actually held in good esteem by my management and I am considered as something of a knowledgeable expert on several subjects. We finally finished up the four year long process which saw our family adopt our new daughter, which culminated earlier this year in getting her a U.S. passport and social security number. She’s getting settled in with her new high school. The finances are in good shape, we will have the house paid off in less than a year, and we have our health (with the exception of a pre-existing condition which may or may not ever cause a problem). So, on that front, life is probably as good as I have ever experienced. Given where I have been in my life, both literally and metaphorically, I have no reason to complain and every reason to thank both myself and Lady Luck (or whatever deity who would like to be thanked).

When I started this blog a number of years ago, I imposed a rule on myself and the occasional guest bloggers that I might coerce into making a post now and then that I would not talk about me. This wasn’t going to be personal therapy disguised as a blog. I wanted it to be about topics that people might actually be interested in looking at, at least for more than about 45 seconds. The use of the personal pronouns “I” and “me” were not allowed. Politics, humor, history, movies, interesting visuals, those were all part of the game. But this wasn’t going to be about me as a blogger. Opinions were to be expressed as some “greater truth”, because opinions that don’t really belong to anyone aren’t really opinions, are they? I wanted this blog, whenever, someone did stumble along, to be interesting. I don’t find myself a very interesting topic….

But over the last few years, and especially 2010, I have become more and more despondent over the entire sorry state of affairs that is The United States. I have come to the very unfortunate conclusion that a very large percentage of the population of this country is comprised of complete and utter ignoramuses. Oh, many are ignorant because they don’t have the education, which is not always their fault. You certainly can’t pick the life circumstances into which you are born. You have to play the hand you are dealt. It’s a tragedy, of course, that you only get one hand per life. You can’t really say, no, I don’t like this hand. I fold. I’ll get it on the next hand. Sorry, but as we all know, life doesn’t work like that. But I digress… Which is a nice way of saying that I am blabbering and forgot my main point. The point I was making is that many people in this country incredibly gullible and are easily manipulated (let’s just call them, for the sake of a label, IGEM) by the more intelligent, the more devious and the less moral. And those people make up another large percentage of the population “Greedy, Egotistical Assholes”, or GEA. The rest of us, although we still make up a substantial percentage of the population of this country, just feel overwhelmed by the others. It feels as if we are being sucked down into a black morass of stupidity, greed and hubris, a’la the La Brea Tar Pits. The more you fight against it, the deeper it sucks you in.

This is where it has become increasingly difficult, to the point of total rigor mortise, to write anything resembling a rational, unemotional blogpost. I can’t keep myself out of it anymore. I have never felt so despondent about anything in my entire life. Oh, I went through some extreme depression in high school and college. But that was focused inward. It was me. This is about the country, where it is going and where we might end up. I can’t help but feel that this country is on a long, downward trajectory. I don’t see a soft landing anywhere. It could be very bad and end up in some nightmarish scenarios envisioned by writers like George Orwell or Aldous Huxley. At the very best, I see the U.S. sliding into irrelevancy and becoming the largest Third World Country on earth, with lot of nukes and a huge, undereducated, largely unemployable mass of people that will make up the non-privileged class.

I won’t bother going into detail on all these various scenarios I could possibly envision. It wouldn’t mean anything and would probably just depress me further.

It is possible, I suppose, that 2011 will see the beginning of a slow return to rationality. It’s possible, but not very probable. Fox News will still be with us, as will Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, etc. etc. The GEA’s will still be in control and more than willing to do whatever they can to manipulate the entire setup such that they will become even that much more rich and more powerful. There will be many people, both big and small, that will try to fight back but ultimately, they will fail. Just ask all those Saber Tooth Cats at the bottom of the La Brea Tar Pits. Oh, you can’t. They’re extinct.

There are many aspects of our current society that are contributing to my despondency, but I think one of the biggest ones is the fact that we, as a country, are purposely devaluing learning in general and the importance of science in particular. We are purposely becoming a nation of dumbasses. Education is now something we don’t aspire to. We now snort derisively about education and use it as something to show our distain for “elitists.” Our social and political discourse reminds me of nothing more than those knuckle-draggers everyone knew in high school, those “good old boys” who sat in the back row, never paid attention in class, usually got failing or near failing grades and yet, found it within themselves to ridicule the “eggheads” in class, saying that we might “have good book learnin’, but don’t know nothing.” That’s what this all reminds me of. There’s no use arguing with people who don’t even know enough to understand how stupid they really are.

If you profess a believe, say, of global warming and climate change, what you normally get in return is a response that contains nothing but utter contempt and a retort comprised entirely of made up “facts” and even louder opinions. Fundamentalist Christians are doing their part, of course, to undermine science, because anything that might cast any sort of doubt on their interpretation of a book written by a large number of people over the period of several hundred years, based on verbal stories handed down from generation to untold generation, and has been edited and revamped on who knows how many occasions, cannot possibly be accepted without extreme pushback. Many people are more than willing to rewrite history in order to suit their particular reality. Reality, facts and conclusions reached by the scientific process no longer matter. All that matters is opinion. This is what I find most disturbing. We are actively trying to become ignorant, and we are succeeding. We are even demanding ignorance in our elected officials. I find this inexcusable. We might as well all go to the local hospital, en masse, and demand a frontal lobotomy.

Sarcastic humor and satire just aren’t funny anymore. I can hardly watch The Daily Show anymore. This isn’t because Jon Stewart isn’t funny. It’s because of the subject matter, the idiocy that is this country, seems to be beyond satire. It’s like trying to satirize Through the Looking Glass. The truly absurd and nonsensical is beyond satire, and any attempt at it is, by definition, absurd and nonsensical by itself. Who could have possibly imagined scenarios such as sitting senators complaining about being asked to vote on a nuclear arms treaty with Russia, because it was somehow sacrilegious to be voting on that during December, which is also the month that contains Christmas? That is just insane, but yet, it happens and hardly anyone blinks an eye anymore. The ridiculous is now so commonplace that hardly anyone blinks an eye anymore.

Another aspect of our society that appalls me is that the quest for every greater “profits” is paramount. Nothing else matters. Oh, I am not so blind as to not know this has been true for every single year this nation has existed. That’s the entire point of capitalism, as far as I can tell. Let the drive to make money be the primary purpose of the country and everything else that is good will follow along. The personal well-being of the population isn’t the primary reason our economy exists. It just sort of is expected that it will happen as a result, sort of the way a large boat generates a large wake wherever it goes. It’s a by-product, not the point. But now, anything that takes away one single iota of “earning potential” from those who already are very well endowed is something to be banished by whatever means. Minimum wage law? Must get rid of that! Protections and safeguards that protect workers and investors, not to mention the entire well-being of the economy? Too much of a burden on free enterprise! Begone! Pensions? Can’t afford them, too expensive! But if we would like to try to close some legal loopholes, such as not allowing giant corporations to locate their shadow headquarters offshore with the sole purpose of not having to pay taxes, that’s strictly verboten! Increased tax levels for millionaires and billionaires? Heavens, what are you trying to do, destroy the economy?

I really hate this society. We swallow camels and strain at gnats as a normal exercise. We fixate on the truly trivial and are oblivious to the truly horrific. State-sanctioned torture is now a fact of life. We are still involved in two wars that no one understands the purpose of. It is likely that many thousands of Afghans and Iraqi civilians have been killed, many on purpose, but since only American lives matter, then it is not a problem. You can’t have a war without breaking some eggs, you know. Global climate change may be the most single significant issue that this country will have to deal with in the future, and yet, it is treated as some nefarious plot by evil liberals to destroy the economy. Why liberals would want to actively try to destroy the economy, I have no idea, but that’s how it is portrayed these days. I feel like a good historical comparison for this particular time might be Rome during Nero.

So much for the rantings of an aging Boomer. I have a few more years until I can realistically consider retiring. I hope the fabric of society holds together until then. Perhaps I can then just check out, sit back on my proverbial porch and watch the show from a dispassionate place. I also might try looking in to relocating to another country. Who knows what this place might look like in eight to ten years? Even retired, I might not want to reside here. Until then, I have a feeling I am not really going to enjoy the next seven years. And, as things stand, I will be one of the fortunate ones. There will be many people who will experience significant pain and anguish for no other reason than that is how our society is set up. This doesn’t sound like a place I will really want to call home.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Miss TSA Pinup Girl! (NSFW, sorta....)

Given the new "security" screening procedures at airports, I suppose this was rather inevitable.

I suppose I could make a really crude remark about boners here. But that would be totally out of character and beneath my dignity.....

I also just realized I am going to have to do another post soon, to get this thing off the top of the stack.

I am actually thinking the unthinkable. It might be better to have the Republicans in charge of everything.

Now, before progressives go ballistic, let me explain.

I have come to the conclusion that the overwhelming priority of the Republicans is to block everything that Democrats want and do to everything they can to upset Democrats. That seems to be the only thing that makes sense. They are voting against many of their own proposals, for God’s sake. “Obamacare” was pretty much lifted from what Mitt Romney did in Massachusetts. The “individual mandate” that requires individual to have individual healthcare coverage was proposed by a bunch of Republicans, including Chuck Grassley. Check out this very pointed segment from Jon Stewart, via Washington Monthly. This is pretty insane. And Republicans have been doing the same thing, over and over again, since President Obama was elected. Say one thing, do another. No shame, all hypocrisy. I am pretty much absolutely convinced that the biggest reason Republicans are such devout non-believers in global climate change is because it IS a big deal to Democrats and progressives. That’s THE reason behind their stupidity and myopia.

So, my theory now goes like this. O.K., let these assholes run the country again. Perhaps, once we’ve removed the “Go Absolutely Fuckin’ Insane At All Democrat ® Ideas!” dynamic, then maybe some sanity will come back into their thinking process. Oh, sure. The U.S. will probably do something really stupid like drop bombs on Iran. But hey, what’s one more war among friends? At least, someone might actually start thinking that maybe giving huge tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires isn’t really all that they thought it was back when Democrats didn’t like the idea. Or maybe they will stop trying to give the farm away to the giant insurance companies during the healthcare debate. They might actually have to explain some of their actions to their constituents. Maybe we might even NOT privatize Social Security.

Hey, it’s just a thought. Nothing else seems to be working. Because, you know, I was just thinking that this country really can’t stand to have one of the major political parties go absolutely nuts when the other party does so much as clear its throat.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

And now, a word about American Exceptionalism.

There are many incredibly silly political conversations that are going out there right now, but I find this one about how exceptional America is to be one of the more silly ones.

Apparently, anyone’s patriotism and ability to be an effective leader can be called into question, in no uncertain terms, if that person does not express his or her heartfelt belief that the United States of America is the best country on the planet, both in the present and in the entire history of human civilization. Anything that falls anywhere short of that kind of unequivocal declaration can questioned on national television and in print without any hesitation or sense of embarrassment.

I have several thoughts about this. First, this seems like a different flavor of the same kind of thing that went on before the 2008 election where politicians were heavily criticized for not wearing a label pin of the American flag. That was enough to question the non-wearer’s patriotism and love of the flag. This is not some over-the-top charge on my part. I heard my older brother say exactly this.

This is just so extremely silly, I can’t find it within myself to come up with a serious attempt at refuting this nonsense. How can we people put such stock in such a superficial measurement of patriotism? Of course, the truth is that this is, yet again, one more blatant and transparent attempt to smear President Obama and Democrats with anything that Republicans can lay their hands on. If not this, then it would be something else.

The second point is that, even if all this stuff about exceptionalism is true, does that mean we should go around trumpeting it whenever we get the chance? Doesn’t that sort of fit the definition of a braggart? Whatever happened to being humble? Can’t someone (including a country) be great and humble at the same time? Going around, telling everyone who will listen about how great and exceptional you are seems to me have the stink of desperation and, more than likely, a deep but strong inferiority complex. Who, exactly, are we trying to convince that we are exceptional? The British? The French? All of the Arab world? More than likely, they are all laughing at us. No, it is much more probable that we are desperately trying to convince ourselves that we are exceptional and will go after anyone with a steel bristle scrub brush who doesn’t come out and say exactly what our pride demands. Our self-image must be maintained at all cost. Otherwise, who knows what might happen if people really started asking questions?

But here is the aspect of this stupid argument that I wanted to comment on. What, exactly, have we got, right now, to feel so damn exceptional about? What? We have a huge military, of course, with a yearly budget that is larger than all the countries of the rest of the world combined. So, with that, we could claim to be the biggest bully in the schoolyard, giving proverbial wedgies to anyone who might question our claim to superiority. But past that, what have we got?

Here’s where I think we are. We have a massive deficit. We owe many countries in the world lots and lots of money. Our country’s infrastructure, while once impressive, is now crumbling to the point of bridges falling down and electrical grids suffer massive failures because of relatively minor events. Some of our water and natural gas pipes are approaching their second century. There is hardly any investment going on in the country itself. All profits are funneled toward already rich owners and less rich “shareholders.” Everything is geared in this country toward making money for individuals. There is hardly any investment going on. What investment is occurring might actually be criticized as “pork.” Or it is said that the economic stimulus money has never produced a single job? Stimulus money from the federal government intended to kick start the economy and provide some badly needed upgrades in our infrastructure – such as high speed passenger trains or new tunnels between New York and New Jersey – are being turned down by state governments who believe that scoring political points is more important than investing in the country’s future by upgrading our infrastructure.

What do we have to be proud of at this moment? We have a scientifically illiterate population who think that loudly shouted opinions are better than facts and science is somehow the same as reading of palms or astrology. Most of our manufacturing base in this country has disappeared, and some on the right were arguing that we should let our domestic automobile industry fail, in order to placate their God of the Free Market. Our production of raw steel is very low now compared to the rest of the world. We have been surpassed by countries in Asia and elsewhere in the manufacture of electronic devices, both assembled ones such as flat screen televisions and the integrated circuits that drive them. We don’t produce cameras.

The only thing that we seem to be good at is building houses and selling them to each other. And, because of greed, hubris, mismanagement and lack of government oversight, our housing industry drove our financial system to the brink of total meltdown, which requirement immediate government intervention. We have no more customers for houses.

Certainly, there are some things that America still does that are world leaders. Boeing makes pretty good jet airplanes, although this last attempt has been pretty much a fiasco to this point, once again to due myopic fascination with the bottom line. Our automobile industry has certainly recovered and produces much better cars than it did in the 1970’s. We do really good military weapons. Lots of them, and at very expensive prices. And I will admit we are very good at building multi-million dollar sports palaces. The American people must have their circuses to go along with their bread, as long as the circuses are equipped with luxury boxes for the rich and powerful. So, I will agree that there still are areas where American ingenuity and productiveness are still cutting edge. But those seem to be getting pretty few and far between.

So, I will repeat my question. What, exactly, have Americans got that we should feel so self-confident and smug about? What? The rest of the world is eating our lunch in a number of other areas. Our attempts at being “the good guy” on the world stage haven’t done too well since Vietnam. I can’t see that anyone but the totally na├»ve or those with a political agenda could argue that our ventures into Iraq and Afghanistan have been anything but unmitigated disasters. We have spent over a trillion dollars in our wars with very little to show for our pains, other than thousands of American and ally causalities and hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths. Because those didn’t work out, we apparently have people like Bill Krystal who argue that we should go bomb yet another country in Iran.

Cities like Colorado Springs are so strapped for cash that they are letting parks fall into neglect and can’t afford to run street lights at night. Some places are replacing paved roads with gravel roads, because gravel roads are cheaper to maintain. A fire department in Florida sat and watched a fellow American’s house burn to the ground because he hadn’t paid his yearly fee to the fire department. Our colleges and universities are cutting staff and programs, yet charging more to the privilege of getting a higher education. Many conservatives are openly advocating defunding or abolishing outright the Department of Education. There is almost no interest in trying to upgrade and improve what is admittedly a sorry state of affairs in our public education system. A very large percentage of our post-graduate slots are filled with foreign nationals who will take their education back to their own country to improve it, rather than improve the United States of America.

What have we got to be proud of? Our constitution and democracy as a form of government? Many people on the right seem intent on tearing that apart while, at the same time, accusing Democrats and President Obama of doing just that. Many in our population cannot understand a simple, fact-based argument, or refuse to if it doesn’t fit in with their preconceived view of the universe. The earth is 6000 years old and mankind lived at the same time as the dinosaurs. Global climate change is some nefarious plot by the left-wing of America, which has also apparently enlisted many environmental and climate scientists from England, Germany and many other countries. The irrefutable truth is based on an observation that it continues to snow and be cold in the winter in places that are usually cold and has snow.

Misplaced pride is a very ugly thing, and this “debate” we are having in this country is an indication about how ugly and divisive it can be. I think I am paraphrasing this, but remember that saying, “Pride goeth before the fall”? That certainly seems like, to me, to be very applicable for the United States at this point in our history. Yes, we probably did have a lot to feel rightly proud of in our history. I think both World Wars are a great example. Although we did have a stake in the global picture, we also got involved where we might not have had to. The United States armed forces were a major player in helping to defeat Hitler’s Germany and all the atrocities is held. As an aside, we always seem to forget that the biggest battles were on the Eastern Front, between the Soviet Union and Germany. If those battles hadn’t happened, if Russia had fallen or had sat on the sidelines, there probably wasn’t any way the Allies would have beaten Germany. But that’s a different story for a different post that probably won’t get written.

My point was that, even if the United States was very damn exceptional in the past, that does not automatically bestow greatness upon us from now to eternity. Super Bowl champions must try to repeat their success every single year. Why should we assume that we, being once-exceptional, will always be exceptional? And how in God’s Name could anyone use that to beat upon their political opponents? It just makes them look like opportunistic, narcissistic morons who are too blinded by their own self-righteousness to see how silly they look.

There are several ways that the once-great can become less than great. One obvious way is for a total collapse due to some catastrophe, such as famine or war. Another one, less sensational but no less effective, is a long, slow slide into total irrelevance all the while believing they are still great.

“I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.”

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Well, political gamesmanship has hit home on a personal level.

I have almost stopped blogging about politics, as nothing makes any sense these days. There isn't anything logical that exists anywhere in our political process or discourse about which someone like me can make logical statements. It's like attempting to deconstruct Alice In Wonderland. It ain't happenin'.

But this one, I thought I might as well comment about, since it seems I am going to take a personal hit. You see, I am a federal worker. And President Obama, in yet another capitulation to the crazies on the Republican side of the aisle, has proposed to freeze the pay of all federal workers for two years. This will, of course, do absolutely nothing to address the country's massive deficit and will likely make the economic situation in this country that much worse, with that much less money in play in which to lubricate the cogs and gears of our economy. I thought actually that was the most pressing issue, to "get the economy moving again." But I guess we are all about empty gestures at this point.

I am of two minds about this. On one level, I am actually not too upset with this. I am pretty well paid for someone in my profession. I am not hurting. I took my current job because a host of other reasons, not related to pay, mostly about the negatives at my last job. I certainly didn't take a job with the federal government because I wanted to get rich. I am still not rich, but I am better paid than I would have been had I remained in the commercial sector. I will say that this is definitely not a true statement for most government employees. It is just that my profession, engineering, happens to compete directly with those companies who also employee engineers. So, the government feels they need to pay well in order to compete for those same employees. But, as I said, I didn't take my current job because of the pay.

So, I am actually willing to "do my bit." I can take a hit financially if it were to help out the overall situation. I certainly can't complain, in that I do have a steady job and the prospects of losing it are pretty small. That is a whole lot more than can be said about most of the work force in this country. So, I will count my blessings in that regard.

But here's the thing. I see this as a meaningless gesture that is supposed to placate the Republican party and their "balance the budget at any cost!" nutjobs. It isn't likely to do anything to help bring the deficit under control. I just get this feeling that I am being asked to "suck it up" so the money saved from these pay freezes will be used to finance, in part, the continuation of the Bush tax cuts for the top 2% wage earners. They certainly aren't being asked to "suck it up." In fact, extending those tax cuts for the wealthy seems to be a higher priority for the Republicans than actually doing something about the deficit. And this is what burns me. This is, yet again, an inequitable response. Everything is tilted toward the rich and powerful these days. Everything.

I would really, really like someone to explain to me why I don't deserve any pay raise for the next two years, but it is of paramount importance to keep the tax rates of the very rich at historic lows. Please, Republicans, explain that to me.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Methane: The real environmental time bomb.

Forget carbon dioxide. Here’s a story regarding what could potentially be the final kicker in global warming and climate change.

Gas locked inside Siberia's frozen soil and under its lakes has been seeping out since the end of the last ice age 10,000 years ago. But in the past few decades, as the Earth has warmed, the icy ground has begun thawing more rapidly, accelerating the release of methane — a greenhouse gas 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide — at a perilous rate.

Some scientists believe the thawing of permafrost could become the epicenter of climate change. They say 1.5 trillion tons of carbon, locked inside icebound earth since the age of mammoths, is a climate time bomb waiting to explode if released into the atmosphere.

Most climate scientists, with a few dissenters, say human activities — the stuff of daily life like driving cars, producing electricity or raising cattle — is overloading the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, methane and other gases that trap heat, causing a warming effect.

But global warming is amplified in the polar regions. What feels like a modest temperature rise is enough to induce Greenland glaciers to retreat, Arctic sea ice to thin and contract in summer, and permafrost to thaw faster, both on land and under the seabed.

There are huge amounts of methane trapped in a frozen state in both the earth’s permafrost and underneath the ocean’s floors. If we ever reach a point where massive amounts of methane are released into the atmosphere, that would most likely mean the end of human society as we know it. Oh, a number of individuals and even groups would survive. But whatever society might finally result from the remnants of our current society would have more in common with the stone age tribes than our current cities which are totally dependent upon cheap energy, plentiful food, clean water, a very complex infrastructure, and a division of labor among our current populace that allows very intense specialization. You think there will be much need for investment bankers, designers of video games, or changers of lubricants in automobiles? I seriously doubt it, as the survivors will be scrabbling in order to remain so.

But we are all too wrapped up in our little insanities to care. Global warming is a myth. Scientists are elitists. Opinions matter much more than facts. Hate thy enemy and smite him before he smites you, even metaphorically. That's all that matters these days.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Boy, I hate Christmas commercials on television.

When I was a kid, Christmas commercials used to be kind of cute or silly.... "Noelco! Even our name says Merry Christmas!" I am old enough that I still remember the stop animation Santa riding down the hill on a three headed shaver. But it seems that a vast majority of the commercials we see today are for two, very high-priced items: jewelry and automobiles. The ones for jewelry, I am sorry to admit, really kind of make me want to hurl. Ultra-romantic, everything just perfect. Oh, how your lady's eyes will glow with love and complete adoration when you give her this expensive bauble. Who in their right mind would go out into the woods or even in their own yard and put up literally thousands of Christmas lights just so they can give their wife/girlfriend a necklace? Cripes. Maybe I am just a total unromantic, but these things are so stupid in their overwhelming desire to make the watcher try to emulate the "Perfect Christmas Gift." Ugh.

And the ones for cars... It's now apparently expected that people will go out and buy expensive cars at Christmas. One commercial even had a wife surprising her hubby with a brand new car, and she somehow contrived to have the damn thing inside in the living room with all the Christmas decorations.

At a time when 10% of Americans are out of work and a larger percentage have either given up looking or are what we euphemistically referred to as "under-employed", it doesn't seem terribly appropriate to be rubbing the fact that there are still some people (the ones who want Bush tax cuts for the top 2%) who can buy this really unnecessary but terribly expensive crap.

Yeah, I know that I write a variation of this post every single Christmas... But that doesn't lessen my feelings any.


Image from The Golem Universe.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Three perfect examples of why Republicans don’t care and the rest of us are screwed.

And this is just in the last couple of days.

John Kyl and the rest of the Republicans are going to vote No on the ratification of the nuclear weapons treaty with the Russians, for absolutely no good reason other than yet another opportunity to stick it to Obama.

Republican leaders blow off a scheduled meeting with President Obama, for absolutely no good reason other than yet another opportunity to stick it to Obama.

Republicans won’t vote on extending the Bush tax cuts for the middle class without including the extension of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans as well. But they won’t support an extension of unemployment benefits for out of work Americans. The only reason they would do this is that millionaires and billionaires are more important to them than everyone else. And yet another chance to stick it to Obama.

These people are truly without shame. They go around, screaming about how evil Democrats are, accusing them of doing the very same things that they are doing to the middle class. And a huge percentage of the American public believes them, because everyone knows that Democrats are evil tax-and-spend liberals who want to destroy this country.

God, I really, really do hate this country right now. We are going to deserve everything that we get when we eventually become the largest third world country on the entire frikkin’ planet.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Mid-term election, 2010: The bestest, most definitive post-election analysis, bar-none, that you won’t find anywhere else. Period.

See, it’s like this. Much of the population of the United States is deeply confused. And misinformed. Deeply confused and misinformed. And angry. Deeply confused, misinformed and angry. That’s us. Did I mention angry? Keep your filthy government hands off my Medicare! Socialist! Taxes are evil! It’s my money!! And why hasn’t anyone filled that big pothole in my street yet?

This, by itself, explains much of what happened during the mid-term election. Why else would the country go out of its way to reward a political party who had the most to do with the problems that we all experience and yet are not offering any viable solutions other than to scream “No!” at the top of their collective lungs? And “Boo!”, of course. Can’t forget “Boo!” Must keep everyone scared out of their wits every minute of every day. “No!” and “Boo!”

Besides, you can’t show your displeasure in How Things Are Going by voting out a party if they are not in power already, can you? No, you most certainly cannot. You can only show your displeasure in How Things Are Going by voting out a party that holds the power. Give the other guy a chance, even if we are relatively certain they are going to screw things up even more than they are now. It somewhat the same when your favorite NFL team is 2 and 12 and mired in last place. What do you do? Fire the coach. What an easy call. That’s what you call a no-brainer. The team may be down to the third string quarterback who might have some specific difficulty in not throwing the ball to the team in the other colored jerseys at least four times in a single game, not to mention that the offensive line has been decimated by injuries and non-performers, but the coach, well… It’s his own fault that he inherited such a crummy team, isn’t it? Fire the bastard!

So, the heavy lifting part of my analysis being done (aren’t you impressed?), lets talk about some specifics. Tea Party types did really well in their respective House races, but pretty much failed miserably when it came to the Senate races. Sharron Angle in Nevada, Chris O’Donnell in Delaware and Ken Buck in Colorado all lost, which looks, on its surface, as a resounding victory for sanity. Nevadans apparently detested Harry Reid and yet he won a convincing victory over Angle. And, as a bonus prize, it appears that Joe Miller, Moosehead Sarah’s personal pick, is losing in Alaska to someone named “Write In Vote.” I only hope that people in Alaska knew how to spell Murkowski’s name.

This is one of the few silvers lining in the entire mess that I can come up with. The voting population, when they really get a chance to look at their particular candidates, seems to say, “No, this person is too crazy for me to vote for, even though I really, really don’t like the other guy either.” That’s a hopeful sign, when you think about it. We are willing to elect some pretty insane people to high office (think Michele Bachmann), but there are lines that maybe we aren’t ready to cross just yet.

I guess that last statement is true at least in the Senate, anyway. Well, Marco Rubio did win his election for Senate, in pretty convincing fashion, in Florida. But Floridians are kind of crazy to begin with anyway, right? Old white retirees and Cuban exiles aren’t your normal voting block. And there’s that whole 2000 presidential election thing which we all remember. And perhaps, just perhaps, Rubio isn’t really all that crazy. Hopefully. We will see. I will admit that he does look very photogenic on television. I wonder if Republicans are going to criticize him, like they do President Obama, of having his head on a swivel when flipping between the teleprompter screen on the right and the teleprompter on the left. His acceptance speech, while it sounded very heartfelt, did seem a bit contrived when it was obvious he was reading every single word. But that’s O.K. with me. I’m just looking for consistency from the media types.

The other thing of note that we might consider is that we, as voters, aren’t very consistent. Voters in New York decided to not elect a very hot-tempered individual with a rather shady past, shall we say. Yet, in Florida, that is exactly who they elected to be their next governor. I mean to say, running a healthcare company that had to plead guilty to overcharging both the state and federal governments for Medicare payments and taking the 5th Amendment 75 times during a deposition about his role in that scandal isn’t really conducive to trustworthiness, is it? Yet, he is going to be the next governor in Florida. I’m not sure what the difference between Florida voters and voters in New York. You can’t tell me that New Yorkers have higher standards than do Floridians. Many New Yorkers root for the damn Yankees, for gosh sakes!

The overwhelming impression I came away with from the midterm elections is that the vast American electorate can be compared to a petulant four year old with a penchant for throwing tantrums and holding his breath until he gets his way, even if he (or she) has completely forgotten the reason why he (or she) is throwing a tantrum in the first place. All he (or she) knows is that they are throwing a tantrum and, by God, it’s going to be a good one! Everyone in earshot will know that he (or she) is Displeased! No, little sister cannot play with my toys! No, I don’t want to eat my dinner! I hate dinner! I’m hungry! No, I don’t want to go to bed! I want to watch TV! I hate this show!

Maybe one day we, as a people, will grow out of this difficult phase. More likely, we will just grow into another one.

Maybe puberty.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Apropos of election day.

Vote at your own peril. Or not.

From Oddly Specific, link at right.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Thoughts on Jon Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity.”

It was a great cause, even though Stewart couldn’t define the reason everyone showed up. It was just an attempt at an antidote at all the ridiculous BS that has been out there, but I really do think that Stewart did take Glenn Beck’s rally as a bit of the last straw.

The comedy was mostly tame or not all that funny. I found the “benediction” by Father Guido Sarducci pretty amusing, where he was asking God for a sign when, during a bit of a “roll call” of religions, he happened upon the right one. The music wasn’t much to my taste, I guess, but that was to be expected. At 55 years old, my tastes are not quite mainstream these days. I didn’t much care for the interruption of Yousef’s/Cat Steven’s song, Peace Train, by a Colbert running joke and bringing in Ozzie Osbourne. I mean, the concept was funny, but I would have rather heard the song. Colbert’s poem, read by Sam Waterston, was pretty damn funny.

But all of that isn’t what I was going to comment on. Stewart, when he was getting to the point of the rally, to “restore sanity” used video clips of people saying some pretty extreme things on both sides of the political spectrum, with a generous helping of mainstream media stupidity (e.g., CNN) to illustrate how out of whack our national discourse has become. I agree with all that. I am not pleased when someone on the left goes and says something that I actually might agree with, but they do it in a way that is bound to be incendiary. Joy Behar really had no reason to say that Christine O’Donnell was going to Hell. Jeez. Walking off the set of The View is fine when you are protesting something that Bill O’Reilly said, but then don’t go on and stay something incredibly stupid yourself! That’s just dumb. Keith Olbermann, even though I agree with most of what he talks about, can be just as bad. If you don’t want to look as bad as the people you are criticizing, don’t say inflammatory things. You can phrase things in a different way and make the same point. When you take the flamethrower approach, all you are going to do is make the other side accuse you of the same tactics that you are accusing them of.

So, I get Stewart’s point. Everyone needs to take it down several notches. Only Hitler was Hitler. No matter how much you disagree with the other guy on specifics, they are not “actively trying to destroy the United States.” So, fine. I got that point, and mostly agree.

But when conservatives and Republicans have constantly been accusing liberals and Democrats of everything from supporting terrorism to socialism to treason, with a huge dose of personal insult as they can dreg up, then after about 25 years, it gets to be too much to take. When conservatives have an entire “news” organization including a 24 hour, 7 day a week television channel devoted exclusively to tearing down anyone that doesn’t totally agree with them, then human nature starts to take over. As I have said at this blog before, eventually Ralphie fights back against the bully that has been terrorizing him all these years. (That’s a Christmas Story reference, if you didn’t get it.)

I thought some of the clips from MSNBC that Stewart used yesterday were taken a bit out of context and were not on the same level as the ones that he used from Fox News. I am really glad he didn’t use any clips from Rachael Maddow, as I see her as a genuine sane voice in the wilderness. Yes, MSNBC’s, The Ed Show is very much over the top and should be toned down. But for everyone of those examples you find on the left of the political spectrum, you can probably find 10 to 20 examples on the right.

So, sure. Let’s tone it down, people. Take a deep breath before you say something you know can be used as ammunition against you. But disarmament takes participation by both sides. If one side isn’t going to put down their weapons (not talking about real guns, just following along with the disarmament analogy), then you really can’t expect the other side to say, O.K., keep hitting us with your best shot. We are going to continue to sit here and take it. That’s a very unreasonable expectation.

So, thanks, Jon Stewart. That was a very good effort and may ultimately have some effect. But truly, I doubt it. The country is too far gone. The only thing that I believe will restore some sanity to our political discourse is if something very big happens to cause that correction. We can’t expect people to just agree to be more reasonable on their own. Humans don’t work like that and there is too much money and political force being exerted behind the scenes to allow that to happen.

I think some sort of blow up is going to happen. Or maybe, blow out is a more appropriate comparison. The worn out old tire has been pumped up with too much air pressure and there are danger signs all over. A blow out, at this point, may be inevitable. Hopefully, it is a small one that relieves the pressure. At that point, perhaps we can repair the blow out and then pump things carefully up back to the point of good, sustainable pressure without going overboard.

That’s about my only hope at this point. But Jon, if I may call you by your first name, I certainly applaud you and all the people who were on the National Mall yesterday for trying. Great job.

Photos from Huffington Post. I'm sure they won't mind.

Friday, October 22, 2010

"The great thing about democracy is that it gives every voter a chance to do something stupid." - Art Spander

And it appears that a very large percentage of the voting population in the U.S. is about to do something incredibly stupid. It is possible that we will give control of the House, and maybe the Senate, back to the Republicans. And these are not even the Republicans of the Clinton years, the ones who thought that making the White House Christmas card list into a huge scandal was a great idea. Most of the Republicans on the top ballot positions these days seem to be totally insane. But what absolutely astounds me is that the people who vote for these idiots are actually voting against their own personal interests. Yeah, let's repeal Obamacare! Yes, let's vote No on every single infrastructure program which this country desperately needs. Sure, let's vote to let huge corporations run unencumbered by any sort of regulatory oversight!

Let me ask some questions of the average U.S. voter.

Do you work in a coal mine or on an oil drilling rig?

Do you or anyone in your family have a "pre-existing health condition?"

Do you feel you will need Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid when you retire?

Do want to see your real earnings and savings continue to grow?

I could go on and on. I was thinking there was a quote that went something like, "A democracy depends upon an educated population." Or something like that. I couldn't find it, but it does seem like a truism to me. However, what we have here is what I believe to be a moronic voting population who will vote for anyone or anything that says anything bad about Democrats and liberals, no matter if there is not one iota of truth to it or not. It doesn't matter.

This is not going to end well.

What's that old saying about any landing you walk away from is a good landing?

Yeah, that's about airplanes, not gliders, but even so, I am not sure I would totally buy into that.

This guy was apparently very lucky to walk away from this with only a few cracked/broken ribs. Ow.

DISCLAIMER: As with a number of photos that I post here, I do not know the original source of these. It appears they are under copyright. If anyone can give me a source, I will gladly give attribution, or remove them if someone really objects. My approach is that it is O.K. to post photos such as this if you give proper attribution and a link to the person's own web page. A commercial, of sorts, and an invitation to go visit the home page of the source of the material. Just covering my butt, in other words.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

"Hip" phrases used by football announcers that I wish would go away.

"Pick Six" - When anyone intercepts a pass and runs it back for a touchdown, or even has the opportunity to but doesn't, it must be referred to as "pick six." It cannot be said that it was an interception for a touchdown. It is absolutely mandatory to call it "pick six." That was maybe cute for a while, but it is wearing thin. It's not even true alliteration.

"In Space" - This phrase apparently refers to the 97% of the football field that isn't inhabited by most of the players. When I first heard one of the announcers refer to a defensive player as someone "who can make great tackles in space," I was thinking, "Wow. That guy must be REALLY good. But how to you practice tackling somone in space?" I'm a very literal guy...

"Guys...?" - This is for the female sideline analysts and announcers back in the studio. When they want to turn it back to the announcers doing the game, they say "Guys...?" in the interrogative. Like, "Guys, will you now come in a rescue me from that really stupid observation that I just made that almost anyone watching the game could have concluded by themselves and makes it questionable as to why I am getting paid to do this?" Watch for this one. Once you notice it, it's almost impossible to not hear it every single time.

"Dial up" - Defensive coaches "dial up" their calls, like blitzes and different coverages. They can't just "call plays." No, they must "dial up" a blitz. Jeez, not only does the use of a "hip" term sound silly after continual usage, that is just SOOO 1990's. Dial up web access is an anachronism, a thing of the past. I don't even have dial up access anymore. Maybe they should say that the defensive coordinator has a App for that. Need a blitz? He has an App for that.

I suppose the thing I detest about sports announcers in general, and this really applies to the pre-game "analysts", is that they either feel they must, or have been directed to by their superiors, act like 22 to 25 year olds out at a bar after three rounds of drinks. Loud, rather obnoxious, constantly interrupting each other, every single thing that comes out of their mouths is said with absolute certainty at a very loud volume... This is particularly unattractive behavior when all the men in question are in the late 40's and beyond. I suppose they are trying to connect with their intended audience, which is mostly 22 to 25 year old males full of testosterone and brimming with self-confidence. But it sure wears thin. I don't bother watching anything on television that isn't the game itself, and those are becoming limited.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Christine O’Donnell scores big in her televised debate!

Her problem is that she scored big for the opposing team. This has gotten much coverage in the blogs this morning. This comes from Washington Monthly.

Republican Senate nominee Christine O'Donnell tonight totally confused the United States' history with Afghanistan when talking about the Obama administration's plan to withdraw troops from the country.

She complained that Obama and Democratic nominee Chris Coons are advocating something dangerous by proposing a drawdown of troops begin next summer.

"A random withdrawal, that he has said he supports, will simply embolden the terrorists to come after us even more, saying, 'I've chased away the superpower,'" O'Donnell said during a nationally televised debate hosted by CNN at the University of Delaware.

But this description of recent history is just astounding: "Well if you remember when we were fighting the Soviets over there in Afghanistan in the '80s and '90s, we did not finish the job, so now we have a responsibility to finish the job and if you are gonna make these politically correct statements that it's costing us too much money, you are threatening the security of our homeland."

Um…. What? Well, I suppose one could say “we were fighting the Soviets” if you are talking about a proxy war kind of thing, because “we”, meaning the U.S., never fought in Afghanistan until after 9/11, when the Soviet Union was long gone. Sure, we supplied weapons to the “freedom fighters” of that time. Remember: freedom fighters of today are tomorrow’s terrorists. Anyway, that’s a weirdly worded statement. Plus, “the terrorists” are now in flippin’ Pakistan, Christine! You doofus.

What in the world did Christine O’Donnell see in herself that made her run for U.S. Senator? This woman in a buffoon. Not that we don’t have lots of buffoons in this country, both male and female. But you would think that anyone with any sort of sense of self awareness would realize when they are in over their head. That doesn’t seem to be true of today’s Republican Party. Buffoonery seems to be the order of the day.

I know all about the “anti-elite, anti-establishment” feelings that have been carefully cultivated by the Republicans over the last 40 years or so. But have we really gotten to a place where a large percentage of American citizens really think elected people with absolutely no qualifications to run this country is a good idea?

It’s like if your car breaks down and you need to make a choice about which mechanic to take it to in order to get it fixed so you can actually drive it and get to work each morning. Do you take it to the guy who has 30 years experience and has several certificates of accreditation on his wall? Or do you take it to the guy who has never worked on a car engine before and actually doesn’t believe people should really be driving cars in the first place?

What kind of choice is this? What do you expect is going to happen?

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Oh, man. And these people call themselves Christian.

From Crooks and Liars:

The contemptible American Family Association is no more Christian than Satan himself. The latest remarks from their evil leader Bryan Fischer about how Jesus would have allowed the Cranick's home to burn are just plain evil.

We don't know what Jesus would have done if he were in the vicinity of Gene Cranick. We don't generally send rabbis out to fight fires, after all. It's likely he probably would have called out to the crowd for someone to help the man put out the fire. But there is no example in the bible -- NONE -- where Jesus stood by and let someone suffer to teach them a lesson. Jesus suffered, but he did not bring suffering on others. He fed them. He taught them. He led them. But he did not hurt them.
Bryan Fischer's version of Christianity is not one I recognize. It feels far more like Old Testament cruelty, brought down on the poor and disenfranchised in order to consolidate power. It feels like evil.

This is a very plain example of why I think that trust and understanding between the various factions that are present in American society today is pretty much impossible. For one thing, insane people believe that they know exactly what God is thinking at any one time and therefore, having a conversation with these cretins is pretty much impossible. Logic doesn’t work. Compassion doesn’t work. Shame doesn’t work. You don’t argue with the Mind of God.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Movie Review: The Quiet Earth

Fair warning: Here be spoilers!!

As long term readers of this blog (I have some of those, right?) might remember, October is sci-fi and horror film review month! I like to review movies that most people may not have heard of, much less seen, or are so lost in the depths of time (say, 20 years ago) that many people will go, “Yeah, I think I have seen that one. Does it have Robert Downey Jr. in it?”

This little gem is from New Zealand, circa 1985. On the face of it, it resembles one of your more straight-up, end-of-the-world with only a few survivors left alive, sci-fi flicks. It has a plot that has some striking similarities to Harry Belafonte’s “The World, the Flesh, and the Devil.” After surviving an event which kills almost every other living person on the face of the earth, the borderline antisocial hero rummages around empty cities on his own for a while, and then encounters (in the following order) a beautiful woman and a rival male intent on taking his supposed mate. “Oh, you AREN’T the only guy left on the planet, are you?” The two males flirt with a duel to the death, the hero unwillingly so, but then, before they end up killing each other, they realize that working together is their only real way to survive. Come to think of it, this is also pretty much the plot of Roger Corman’s “The Day the World Ended,” except that one has a really silly guy-in-a-rubber-suit monster, where these other two are more dramatic in nature.

“The Quiet Earth” is set in New Zealand and actually attempts to inject some what might pass for a scientific explanation of why almost living thing (not just people) on the face of the earth has vanished into thin air. But that line is somewhat secondary to the film. The most interesting part of the film, in my estimation, is when Zac (that’s a nice, heroic sounding name, dontcha think?) wakes up and finds himself totally alone. After the totally expected “Where IS everyone?” panic attack, he starts going a little bit crazy, wandering around the streets of Auckland in a woman’s slip or in a policeman’s outfit playing a saxophone in the middle of the night. He sets up cardboard figures of infamous figures such as Hitler, Richard Nixon, etc. in the yard of the mansion he has appropriated for himself, and to the background of recorded triumphant music and great applause, sets himself up as God of His Domain. He also takes this opportunity to express the deep guilt he is feeling, as it turns out he and his scientific buddies were probably at the bottom of all of this. It’s kind of a fascinating study, in a very embarrassing, voyeuristic sort of way, of a descent into madness. I thought the best scene in this sequence was when Zac finds himself in grand cathedral with a shotgun in front of a life-sized statue of Jesus on the cross. He starts shouting at God. “Come on out, or the kid gets it!” And he then proceeds to blast away at Jesus. But Zac comes to his senses when he runs over a child’s stroller in a huge earth moving machine that he has just used to demolish a large building. He realizes that, right before “the event”, this stroller held a living, breathing child.

I found the second half of the film a little less enjoyable. That’s when the very cute girl shows up. After a bit of a rough start, it looks as if Zac and Joanne (that’s her name, Joanne) are going to have a nice time of it. However, they keep searching for others, just in case. Joanne: “If we find anyone alive, what do you think they will be like?” Zac Hobson: “We might find all manner of horrors. Politicians... Transvestites...” Unfortunately for Zac, they do find someone else, in the form of a very large, well muscled, could possibly be an escaped criminal, guy with some very deep unresolved issues regarding hostility and relationships with other people. I suppose I found this part rather depressing and embarrassing, as I tended to relate to Zac, the somewhat nerdy scientist that almost never gets the girl and more than likely had something to do with the end of the world as they know it rather than the hunky guy. Of COURSE, Joanne is going to pick the good looking, anti-social guy. It was obvious who was going to win that one.

I won’t bother to explain the entire plot. It’s worth seeing (maybe Netflix one weekend?) just on its own merits as an unusual, little known sci-fi film. But here is why I wanted to review this movie. It has one of the more astounding ending sequences, with just a brilliant accompanying soundtrack, of any film I have ever seen, sci-fi or otherwise. Zac, after (probably) saving Earth and everyone on it (Joanne and Api, pretty much), finds himself on the shore of an ocean on what could a moon orbiting another planet, or maybe in an entirely different dimension. As he is staring, in total bewilderment, at some very strange cloud formations over the ocean, a huge ringed planet is seen rising over the horizon. It is one of the most memorable scenes I have ever seen in a film, just utterly astounding. I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. And, as I said before, the musical score behind this just adds to the awe-inspiring sight unfolding in front of the dumbstruck Zac. This single scene, which probably isn’t more than a minute long, is worth the price of sitting through the film. I found it interesting that the filmmakers chose to start running the credits on top of this stunning visual sequence. I rather wish they hadn’t done that, as I would have much rather let it play out without that visual distraction.

Rating: A to A-. Definitely worth your time, if you can find it. There are no easy answers, or even easy interpretations, of what this all means. I usually do not like vagueness in a movie, as I think, in most cases, it is just a cop-out by the filmmakers. “Here, here is a story we thought up and put on film. YOU figure out what it means. We don’t have a clue….” In this case, the lack of specificity and explanations significantly adds to the nature of this film. I think concrete explanations would have diminished the film, not enhanced it.

Photo from SciFiCool, which includes another review and also a video trailer.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

O.K., see, THIS is why I can’t blog anymore.

This is just getting absolutely insane. Well, things were insane about two years ago. But they are getting worse and worse every single day. Sort of like that story by Henry James, The Turn of the Screw, for those inclined in the literary direction.

The measure is called Proposition B or the "Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act." It aims to help eliminate the "3000 puppy mills" in Missouri that constitute "30% of all puppy mills in the U.S.," according to Michael Markarian, the Chief Operating Officer of the HSUS.

The HSUS is a national animal rights advocacy group that doesn't financially support local Humane Society shelters.
"This measure would provide common sense standards for the care of dogs," Markarian told TPM, including sufficient food and clean water, vet care, regular exercise, and adequate rest between breeding cycles, among other things. Markarian said the measure only applies to "commercial dog breeding facilities" that have more than 10 breeding females who they use for "producing puppies for the pet trade."

And, OF COURSE, the Republican Party is against that!

Well, according to the Alliance For Truth, the main force behind the anti-Prop B movement, there is something much more nefarious afoot (er, apaw) in the HSUS measure. The Alliance For Truth claims that the HSUS has a "radical agenda" and is "misleading the public with its intentions on Prop B. The society seeks only to raise the cost of breeding dogs, making it ever-more difficult for middle-class American families to be dog-owners."

A radical agenda…. Trying to stop puppy mills…. Sure, I suppose that people with radical agendas could be sitting around, playing a drinking game, I suppose, and come up with an idea to “raise the cost of breeding dogs.” Because everyone knows we liberals hate dog breeders so we want to force them out of business by raising their costs by making them provide the dogs with sanitary living conditions, clean water and decent food.

What could clearer than that?

Sort of explains why Republicans are coming out against the minimum wage.... I think. Actually, it does... No, wait a second....

I give up.

“Crazy” [krey-zee], adj.- Insisting you never said something that there is a You Tube of you saying.

Via Digby:

A new video today catches Rand Paul repeatedly supporting a $2,000 Medicare deductible on Kentucky seniors – despite his claims just last week that such a statement was a “lie.”


One trait that our current crop of politicians seem to share (and this is almost always conservatives, but I have seen where liberals fall into the same trap) is that they just say the first thing that comes into their head that they believe the “here and now” audience wants to hear or that they blurt whatever comes out of their mouths that they will think will get them off the hook. It’s amazing how many instances we have in recent months about politicians flatly contradicting themselves! They have been caught in an obvious, flat-out lie, and they don’t seem to care. And it never seems to bother their hardcore supporters, either.

I find this amazing about our society. Being caught in a lie doesn’t matter anymore. Digby is right. In a sane world, this would have immediately ended Paul’s run for office. But it won’t. The hardcore right, which is mostly made of up of older, scared white people, it seems, but they apparently haven't noticed that Rand Paul is talking about them! He is talking about making their Medicare deductible into an amount that most people on retirement pensions cannot afford. Maybe they think that they won’t be around when this kicks in, so if Paul gets his way, so it doesn’t matter to them. It will be someone else’s problem. Pretty heartless, if that is what they are doing. But I suspect it is something else. They just aren’t thinking, period. Rand Paul hates big government, is against liberals, and therefore, he is “one of them.” End of story.

Picture from Very Demotivational.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Contrary to all evidence which might suggest otherwise, I am still alive.

I just can't post anything anymore. I just cannot, for the life of me, find any inspiration to write about anything that won’t sound exactly like my last post. I am overwhelmed with the craziness of this era, and can’t even begin to comprehend what is really going on in the country.

Here’s a good link. Have a go at this one from the Village Voice. It’s spot on. And I’m a baby-boomer white guy, too.