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March 23, 2013 - March 16, 2013

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Bowl Season

This doesn't have anything to do with the post. It's just a better
 game than you're likely to see in the next month or two. Word.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL. Golly. Ohio State will be playing in the Potato Bowl. Not making that up. Don't trust anything I say next. Some of it's true, some of it isn't. But can you tell which is which?

USC isn't bowl eligible. Why they're playing in the Allstate Allmost Bowl. Does anyone remember when bowl games weren't preceded by some brand name?

Here's a frightening fact. Every Division I team with a .500 record is bowl eligible. Ohio State's great rival, Michigan, is playing in the Perrier Water Bowl. Against Hawaii Southern if memory serves. Penn State is playing in the Ticket City Bowl against the Ticket City Junior Varsity High School team, excepting only those players who have reached puberty by game day.

Meanwhile, Virginia Tech is playing Florida State Technological Seminary in the Tyson's Chicken Burrito Bowl, in Mexico. Free tostitos to all customers who arrive by game time. Alabama is playing LSU in the Brent Musberger Chivolet Been There Done That Bowl sometime next year, where Obama will change sides at the half and shoot a few baskets en route. Then there's the Preparation H Bowl, which will be held as usual in El Paso, Texas, between SMU and the University of Chicago. South Carolina is playing itself in the Buddy's Smoked Mirrors Bowl, Notre Dame is playing the Massed Archangels of Heaven in the FritoLay God Bowl in Godforsaken, Alabama, and Temple is playing Wyoming in the Mopar Some Goddam Bowl, somewhere west of East Jesusville, Oklahoma. I swear.

I'm tempted here to spill the beans about other schools I know some of you have been to. Rutgers. The Citadel. Villanova. Et cetera. But maybe you should tell me. Which one of you has a secret ticket to the Washington Post Insider Bowl? Or the Starbuck's Catholic Atheist Bowl in South Bend, Indiana? Come clean. Where are your teams playing?

Enquiring minds want to know.

Amateur Annotations:
Psayings 5Y: The Big Finish

PART THREE. Haven't read the comments on my last post yet. I trust they were all laudatory.

Here she is. The last 20 or so dates from Psayings 5Y in one big blowout.

33. 1788. Constitution was ratified and Washington became President in 1789, so...

A bunch of states ratify the Constitution. Mozarts dashes off his last three symphonies in the span of a few months (don't let those older Encyclopedia Britannica boys bully you into saying "antepenultimate," Wikipedia. "Third-to-last" is just fine). The money event has to be The Great New Orleans Fire, which "kills 25% of the population and destroys 856 buildings, including St. Louis Cathedral and the Cabildo, leaving most of the town in ruins." Holy hell.

Births and deaths: Wilhelmine Reichard, the first German female balloonist. And David G. Burnet, who went on to become President of the Republic of Texas. Tough to imagine a cooler entry on a résumé. I pine for the days when politicians looked and carried themselves like this, and make politics seem like an adventure fit for only the rugged and intrepid. (I said "seem." Teddy Roosevelt's Croly-loving ass was just as statist as FDR.)

34. 1898. Sounds familiar? I might recognize it when I see it.

Oh. Spanish-American War. That one.

Annie Oakley offers McKinley "the services of a company of 50 'lady sharpshooters' who would provide their own arms and ammunition should war break out with Spain." He turned her down. What a dunce. Bet he could have used one of those lady sharpshooters at his side in 1901, amirite?

Assassination jokes, everybody!

35. Zero. Birth of whatshisname. Technically, there is no year zero.

36. 1984. The book.

37. "Four thousand and some B.C.". What? Guess I'll search 4000 BC?

Domestication of horses? One of the early human cultures? Boss, little help!

38. 1919. All these WWI-era dates blur together for me. Lusitania? No, that's what got us in the war. '19 must be Versailles?

Yup. Even spelled it right from memory. Damn French with their decorative consonants. How poncy can you get? I'm no fan of the Nazis, but when the History Channel covers 1940, I have a tough time rooting for the Third Republic. The fact that they rolled over and played dead proved they weren't playing. Done as a culture. Not just decadent, but dead. Finito. Kaput. Marshall should have left them out of his Plan.

39. 1944. Battle of the Bulge. And other stuff, but that's the big one and I don't know any of the other stuff. I could probably tell you any notable Batman comics that came out that year.

40. 1836. Piss. No clue.

Hey, the Alamo. Neat. The only reason I know that was a defeat for America was thanks to Married With Children, of all things. Al declares war on some emasculating domesticity or another and invokes the Alamo. Peg fires back "Al, we lost at the Alamo." Al: "Come on, Peg, no one remembers that!" Roars of laughter, as usual for that show-- was crudeness on TV really
so revelatory back then?-- but this time the writers earned it. This was when "Remember the Alamo" was still an active and known phrase in the culture. I don't think I've heard it used since the end of the '80s.

41. 399 BC. Dunno.

­Socrates dies. They know the exact year?

42. 1564. That one's gotta be from a random number generator. ...maybe not.

"Conquistadors cross the Atlantic." Now that they mention it, I think I did a report on Conquistadors back in 5th grade. Guess I can't blame the school system for this lapse.

43. 33. The Crucifixion.

44. 1871. Derp.

"First ever photographs of Yellowstone National Park region taken by the photographer William Henry Jackson." Bully for William Henry Jackson. "The abolition of the han system is carried out in Japan." And to think, that sentence would have made me glaze over in my teenage years.

I bet it's that the first MLB game ever is played. I've got some tender feelings toward Dave the Dad for knowing the exact date. Whoever came up with Dave's list is a pretty good writer.

45. 337. Fall of Rome? Did we have that one already?

Kind of. Turns out Constantine's heirs divvy up the Roman Empire into three parts. Like Alexander's kids.

46. 1848. OK, I know this one, and it's complicated. I used to own an old book called Revolutions of 1848 that talked about revolts and uprisings happening all over the world. Looking it up­ to refresh my memory, I find revolutions in France, Germany, Austria, Denmark, Italy (the "Italian states" back then), Hungary, Switzerland(!), Belgium, Ireland, "Greater Poland," some made-up faerie land called Wallachia, some made-up Tolkein fifedom called the Habsburg Empire, and even effing Brazil.

The most potent revolution? Karl Marx publishes the faggoty Communist Manifesto. Thanks, dick.

47. 1896. More 19th century. In my mind, the era tastes like licking the side of a dirty old train. You know what I mean? Dunno what the hell supposedly happened this year.

Utah becomes a state. There's a quote I loved in my Mormon days that I can't find now, so I'll paraphrase. It's from a "gentile" outsider astounded and grudgingly impressed at the Mormons' intransigence on the polygamy issue. "The entire weight of the United States was brought to bear on this people. Their homes were broken up. Their leaders were arrested and driven into hiding. And they would not budge. But one word from their prophet [ending plural marriage], and they stop." Always loved that.

Also this year: The first modern Olympics. Ford makes its first car. Sousa writes Stars and Stripes Forever on Christmas. "The shortest war in recorded history, the Anglo-Zanzibar War, starts at 9 in the morning and lasts for 45 minutes of shelling." But I'm pretty sure the event in question is Plessy v. Ferguson.

48. 323 BC. Shrug.

Alexander dies, his kids divvy up Babylon. See, I knew of it. I knew it happened one of those years, in the past there.

Deaths: Diogenes. Ha.

49. 1452. Don't know.

Looked it up. Still don't know. Birth of da Vinci? I need the official word on this one too.

50. 1789. Constitution ratified. Washington becomes first President.

51. 1760. Stamp Act of the French and Indians? Dunno.

George II dies. I don't care what else happened this year. Since I am a cruel and purile 14-year-old boy at heart, I love the story of George II's death. From The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin:

George's death, when it came, was in its own unexalted way similarly indicative of the hazards of ruling-class life. The rich diet of the rich in eighteenth-century England led to gout and other maladies, including constipation. On October 25, 1760, George II awakened at Kensington Palace to his usual cup of chocolate, after which he retired to the royal water closet for his morning effort. The effort proved too much for the royal blood vessels; a critical one burst and killed the king.

Love, love, love, that story. Will never stop loving it. Always chuckle imaging the king drinking a whole cup of melted chocolate every morning and it seals him up like it's pure cement. I know medical science wasn't then what it is now, but did no one guess that a cup of chocolate every morning might back a dude up? Was chocolate that new to the white man's diet?

I know I'm a bad person. No need to remind me.

Wait, it's 1660? Shit.

51. 1660. Cromwell beheads Charles the 1st. Or hangs him. I know it's one of those.

52. 1763. Stamp Act. For real this time.

53. 1849. Last one. Let's see if I can finish strong. 1849. 1849. What the hell happened 1849. It's the year after 1848.... I got nothing. Gonna have to look it up.

...and I still don't know. I'm too ignorant to see anything here that could make Dave's list. Hungary splits from Austria, ooh, big shit. Zach Taylor sworn in as President. So? What the hell was the New Roman Republic? In the 19th century? Sounds like a serious non-starter. Let's click and see what it was. Blah blah blah Pope blah blah blah Catholic Church YAWWWN, back to 1849. Fourth year of the Irish Potato Famine? No. "Denmark becomes a constitutional monarchy"? No. "The United States Department of the Interior is established"? Doubt it. How about this one: "James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin, the Governor General of Canada, signs the Rebellion Losses Bill, outraging Montreal's English population and triggering the Montreal Riots." Canadian history! It's its own punchline! Because it happened in CANADA!

So much for finishing strong. I break the tape with a cloud of question marks over my head.

That's my little history lesson. Only took me three weeks to squeeze it out in four posts. Dust off your Boomer Bible if it's been a while for you. Good shit in there.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Now Now Now

Sorry for the dinosaur rock clip. But I'm a dinosaur.

BACK OFF, BOZOS. I'm being assailed because all I want at the moment is to defeat Obama. Peter claims I never talk about the issues. Skinny Devil says if the Republican candidates can't solve the economic problem, it doesn't matter who wins. Helk promises that his own love of chickens is proof of the greatness of HIS generation. Douglas Rain insists that the millennials are smarter than I give them credit for.

Phooey. They're all idiots. Why? Because their whole consciousness consists of me, me, me in the now, now, now timeframe. I've written hundreds of thousands of words about the real issues. They're not going to be fixed in 2012. People keep hammering me about the "Greatest Generation," a term I didn't dream up and never subscribed to. They weren't smarter or braver than the generations that came after. They failed completely as parents. Because their chief virtue was one that can't be passed along, can't be taught. Patience.

They had a different sense of time. The Depression, The War. Horrible events that ingrained in them a willingness to keep working for an outcome that would be decades in the making.

I, too, have a different sense of time. Odd, given that I'm working for what may not transpire until long after I've shuffled off this mortal coil. But that's one of the few blessings age can bestow on you. Patience.

This time -- 2012 -- all we can do is stanch the bleeding. Defeat Obama. None of our candidates is any good. No matter which one you back, the only consistent credential is "not Obama." I didn't make that state of affairs. It just is.

The good news is that there are potential reformers in the wings. People who can do what needs doing. Bobby Jindal. Marco Rubio. Sarah Palin. Chris Christie. Paul Ryan. Eric Cantor. And (if you must) Rand Paul. But they're not ready yet. They need experience, they need to grow into the role we will ask them to play. They are the future. Note that they're not repeats of the past. Only one fat old white guy among them. The others include an Indian, an Hispanic, a woman, and a semi-orthodox Jew, as well as a young midwestern white guy and the obligatory crazy white guy.

I'm not telling you who to back in that future race. The basis for my hope -- as opposed to all of you in the "it's fucking over" crowd -- is that there are no young Democrats boasting equivalent credentials. In other words, if we can survive the current crisis, we can absolutely save the country we love.

Four more years. Time for the Millennials to learn something about life, others, and the need for balls. Unlike most of my critics, I'm not talking End of the World here. I'm talking triage.

We can still be the shining city on a hill. But it's going to take time. And it's important to remember The Mission. Which for the moment is throwing Obama out of the White House. Sorry if that's too small an objective for the more grandiose among you.

Sorry. I've said that a lot in this post. Except that I'm not. Not sorry at all. I'm what you need to hear. Whether you know it or not. Because I'm smart. And patient.

Learn or lose. The first option is a lot more fun.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Idiocy

We'll be doing this to you for the next two decades.

  The so-called Greatest Generation is gone. Their direct heirs are the Boomers, which you kids should really refer to as the Biggest Generation. They're getting old now, but they're not going to go quietly. Occupy Wall Street? Hell. If you knew anything, you'd Occupy the Senior Lobby. But you've been had. They've done to you and you haven't a clue. They're smarter and far better educated than you, which they engineered in the name of bolstering your self-esteem, and they absolutely will not surrender their Social Security benefits, their Medicare reimbursements, their outrageously inflated union pensions, or their ultimate Parthian shot -- the contempt they feel for the fools who imitate their worst moments at a time when the "beloved kids" should be fighting like hell for their own lives and the lives of their children. They're laughing at you.

Ha ha.

Ha ha ha.

And they vote. Yes, they have an attention span longer than a text message, and they will make you pay for every minute of the incredibly long life spans they inherited from the last generation that did any actual work. Dirty secret, though. Baby Boomers are just as smart as their parents, if not as productive. The question you have to ask yourselves is, why aren't you? Because as far as they're concerned, you were never more than accessories in their lives. Like a trendy handbag. Which can be thrown away when it ceases to be fashionable. Awww.

They will suck you dry. Madison Avenue already knows the score. The large demographic of old people with government benefits and pensions to spend on themselves is already showing up on the airwaves. As the Biggest Generation, they have enormous economic clout. Hell, they buy top-of-the-line Audis...

We'll keep running out on you the way we always have...

...and retro Camaros.

... because we're still teenage assholes ourselves, hee hee.

And they're still running their games on you.

The ones who convince you that your enemy is Harvard MBAs who want to make money as opposed to the $15 trillion in unfunded debt represented by "promises we can't break" to a generation that never gave much of a shit about the country -- or you, their kids.

The ones who convince you that your artificially created and ignorant solipsism is an argument for isolationism in a world that has never been more interconnected by a technology whose global interconnectedness you otherwise take for granted. Imagine just how much work has gone into legitimizing the fantasy that the whole world will conform itself to your sociopathically narcissistic delusion that anything inconvenient to you personally won't be allowed to happen. Here's your trophy. You were present in the 21st century. When it all fell apart as you watched in high dudgeon and angry incomprehension. Congratulations. Killing the Federal Reserve and canonizing Ayn Rand restoreth the libertarian atheist soul.


I feel sorry for you. The way I feel sorry for a "mentally challenged" teenager sentenced to death for a crime he was guilty of but didn't entirely understand as he was committing it. The crime? Imitating the behaviors and verbiage -- Revolution! Freedom! Bumper Stickers! -- of the precise set of people who have doomed your lives to nullity in the mistaken belief that you were acting like the idealists they never were. How big a fool can you possibly be?

Sorry. For you. All you Occupy Wall Streeters. All you Paulistas. Bunch of idiots.

I did try to tell you. Warn you. But you've got the arrogance of the terminally, suicidally ignorant. You're convinced you're smarter than everything you don't know and have never experienced.

Why I lose my temper.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Amateur Annotations:
Psayings 5Y, Part Three

PART TWO. Hi, nite owls. Thought I'd break into the office and post while the grown-ups are asleep.

I've been in deep seclusion working on a project so top-secret, even The Boss doesn't know about it. And to keep it secret I haven't answered any of his calls or emails in the last two weeks. On the off chance I spill the beans "in the heat of conversation," as George Lowe put it. Secrecy is paramount.

Here's part 3 of that date list thing I was doing a while back. Was it worth the wait? Probably not.

23. 1917. Russian Revolution. Shammadamma.

24. 1500 BC. I think that's a bit early for Greece. Egypt? Something happen in Egypt? Akenaton? Big Bang?

Not a lot going on this decade. The start of something called "Mycenaean civilization." Should I know about them? The domestication of ferrets begins. And the "Biblical Exodus, according to Simcha Jacobovici in the earliest suggestion of the documentary Exodus Decoded." Is that the consensus? 1500 BC? K.

25. 1912. Titanic sinks.

26. 1916. WWI something or other. Let's find out.

Wilson wins reelection. Cubs play their first game (and they win!). Margaret Sanger starts killing unborn black babies. Rasputin dies. Some stuff in China. I'm stumped on this one.

27. 1588. England the Spanish Armada and sends them home with red butts. The beginning of British sea power? Sounds right. Let's say it is.

28. 1929. Black Tuesday: stock market crashes.

29. "Two thousand and one million B.C.". It's a whole thing.

30. 1348. Black plague. Started by dead Chink rats in catapults, right?

31. 1607. Jamestown. Looking it up, I just now learn that this is not the same as Roanoke. Jamestown was the first colony that took. Guess my brilliant quip comparing National Geographic's obsession with Roanoke to The History Channel's obsession with Hitler and UFOs will have to wait.

32. 1877. No clue.

Holy hell, this year was jam-packed. First up: The Compromise of 1877. Turns out Rutherford B. Hayes, current remembered only as the best name to use in a joke about obscure US presidents, was significant right from the very start of his administration. I could explain why this is, but I'm not... it has something to do with reconstruction. It's all very... look, I could explain it, but it's all very intricate and there's lots of extenuating... details. Your time is valuable, and it's late. Suffice to say, it's historic and the fact that no one at all remembers it shows the shameful state of education in this country. Or maybe every teacher in the last 50 years made the same choice I just did to skip it because it's complicated and these little bastards don't care anyway (Hall.B.19).

And that's just January. After the first half the year, which includes the surrender of Crazy Horse, the first Westminster Dog Show, and the first Wimbeldon, there's a massive railroad strike that gets so out of hand that, according to the synopsis in Wiki's 1877 entry, a sympathy strike in St. Louis "briefly establish[es] a Communist government" and Hayes has to call in federal troops to wrap it up. Dude!

(the page on the St. Louis strike looks to be only lightly paraphrased from A People's History of the United States and is begging for a "neutrality questioned" tag, but I don't have the time. Secret project and everything)

Then some lucky sumbitch discovers both moons of Mars inside a week of each other, Crazy Horse is killed, and to cap the year off, Thomas Edison invents the effing Phonograph. No big deal!

I have never been taught or exposed to any of this, and that is bullcrap. There's been an eighty-year gap in every history class I've ever had, jumping from Appomattox straight to Black Tuesday, with maybe the Titanic mentioned if I was lucky. Nary a word (other than "Carpetbagger") on Reconstruction, WWI only ever brought up to explain why WWII had the II. Bogus.

TOMORROW, OR WHENEVER: Part 4? Who knows.


"Too Dumb to Live"

Mitt Romney is the son of a successful politician.
He knows how to campaign for the White House.
Marquis of Queensbury Rules all the way, right?

PRESIDENTIAL OCTAGON 2. I had to chuckle at this National Review Corner entry by Michael Walsh:

The Stupid Party

I took some grief on the recent NR cruise by telling the group that I thought Mitt Romney would lose to Barack Obama rather handily. That for some mysterious reason Obama continues to have relatively strong personal-approval numbers and a substantial, reliable base, which Romney doesn’t. As a typical standard-issue Republican, Romney wouldn’t have the heart or the courage to take the fight to the president, but instead would debate around the edges, and lose.

If this is to be believed, that’s the actual strategy:

Republicans on a private Republican National Committee conference call with allies warned Tuesday that party surrogates should refrain from personal attacks against President Barack Obama, because such a strategy is too hazardous for the GOP.

“We’re hesitant to jump on board with heavy attacks” personally against President Obama, Nicholas Thompson, the vice president of Tarrance Group, a Republican polling firm, said on the call. “There’s a lot of people who feel sorry for him.”

Recent polling data indicates that while the president still suffers significantly low job approval ratings, voters still give “high approval” to Obama personally, Thompson said.

Voters “don’t think he’s an evil man who’s out to change the United States” for the worse — even though many of the same survey respondents agree that his policies have harmed the country, Thompson said. The upshot, Thompson stressed, is that Republicans should “exercise some caution” when talking about the president personally.

Gee, if Obama’s personal-approval numbers are still high, why would you want to take them down? Let them stay there, lest the Democrat-Media Complex accuse you of being a blue meanie.

Remember, GOP: principles, not policies. Principles, not policies. Principles, not policies.

It’s not Obama’s policies that are the problem, it’s Obama and everything he represents and stands for. Engage the president on the deepest, most potent level, or join John McCain and Bob Dole on the ash heap of history.

Really, this party is too dumb to live.

Which brings me back to my own recent post on the candidacy of Newt Gingrich, his growing popularity in the polls, and the opposition that's being expressed inside the Beltway. The few comments were mostly interesting, although the last and longest one is typical of the muddled thinking I was talking about, long on know-it-all condescension and short on comprehension. (It's never a good sign when a comment is longer than the post it's commenting on and still seems not to have understood that post.) A sample:

Your characterization of who the Republican "insiders" are is very interesting. And I would say, flat out wrong. Gingrich is the quintessential Republican insider. It's difficult to imagine being more of an insider than Newt. Who made how much money from Fannie Mae and the other GSEs right before the home mortgage collapse? Who sat next to whom and said we need to spend how to buy indulgences against the dishonest ravings of an insane junk science industry?

Mark Steyn is an insider? Mr. End-of-the-World? Do you seriously think the Republican insiders listen to a word Steyn says? Come back to the real world, my friend, where the Republican insiders want to keep pouring ethanol subsidies into the gravy train so they can suck at the government tit like everyone else in politics. Don Imus? Ann Coulter? These people may be conservative cultural opinion trend-setters, but they are not "insiders". The insiders don't give a crap what your opinion is. The insiders are proud examples of the combination of the iron law of bureaucracy and the symmetric property of the golden rule. They are dedicated to expanding the organization of government rather than achieving its goals; they expand the organization because it expands their personal power to make the rules - and he who makes the rules gets the gold.

The insiders don't care about the difference between Gingrich and Romney. The insiders are fine either way.

Sigh. I never said or intimated that Gingrich wasn't an insider. Of course he is. That's why I said I was smelling a rat. As to my definition of insiders being "flat out wrong," not so fast, kemo sabe. I wasn't in this case referring to the official Republican Party power brokers but to the incestuous inside the Beltway community of those who spend most of their time in the DC community, talking with others in the DC community, and forming their sense of the politically possible via the view from DC. Why I said: "I get it. Gingrich has enemies. He isn't a nice guy. He's stepped on a lot of tender Beltway toes." [boldface added]

The people I cited, with the exception of Imus (who I excepted in the post), do speak -- more openly than professional politicians can -- for a variety of viewpoints within the official Republican powerbase, from the intellectual elite, like Krauthammer, to the Tea Party rebels, like Steyn and Ingraham.

That's what was so interesting to me and the basis of my principal point, that this is going to be an exceptionally nasty, dirty, and repellent presidential election campaign. Obama is going to start in the gutter and plunge lower from there. Why, therefore, are mouthpieces from every part of the conservative Beltway crowd ganging up on Gingrich in a transparent attempt to give us Romney as the nominee instead?

A point just reinforced by the Corner piece above.

I was hoping for some useful inferences from the data, not supercilious lectures. (Yeah, I know "insiders don't give a crap what [my] opinion is." What's your assessment of the sum of 2 + 2? I'm sure it will be equally educational.) You see, I'm thinking that a lot of the voters in the crazed right-wing flyover population are seeing something the insiders -- however you define them -- don't see: that if what we're looking at is a bare-kuckle brawl, then we want the best bare-knuckle brawler we can find on our side.

Us crazed flyover types nobody listens to don't get invited to debate politely on TV, we're not asked to the cocktail parties where our mortal political enemies fill our wine glasses and offer us exquisite canapes, and there's a point at which we stop parsing the distinctions between social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, paleo conservatives, and even (dammit) quasi-RINOs. We just want Obama OUT.

We survived Johnson, Carter, and Clinton. And, yeah, they were bad, more than one of them corrupt as hell. But we don't think we can survive four more years of Obama. He's in a category all by himself.

My bet is that people who are now flocking to Gingrich aren't at all ignorant about his flaws, faults, and liabilities. After flirtations with Bachmann, Perry, and Cain, they're done with well meaning amateurs. They're ready to hire themselves a professional gunfighter. They don't want to take a chance on Will Cain from High Noon. They want the Man with No Name. Even if, and perhaps especially if, he's considered too ruthless and quick on the trigger for the civilized tree-huggers of government and media. What ordinary people can see that the illuminated ones apparently can't see is that Gingrich has come from the nowhere of "no chance in hell" to a lead in the polls, and he's done it all alone, with a very well publicized absence of media cheerleaders and professional campaign staff, all of whom also wrote him off months ago. But they've seen him draw... and they know he's fast. Fast with a gun. (Speaking metaphorically, of course, for the benefit of you politically correct mavens of diction who think Anglo-Saxon words are vile and Latin words are equality-inducing, just like the ancient Romans.) Bang! They want a Bang! moment or a hundred in the presidential debates, because nobody anywhere has ever taken this phony on and peeled away his layers of lies. Face to face. In the arena. What they absolutely, positively can't wait for. Simple as that.

I suppose it's too simple a point for someone who calls himself  "Chevalier de Johnstone," or even "Reince Priebus," to stoop to comprehend. Far better to nitpick and posture... and then lose amicably, like gentlemen, in the end because a weak but genteel dauphin is the enemy of a slutty Joan of Arc. (I know I won't have to explain the unstated first half of the analogy to a "Chevalier.")

The opening bell isn't that far away, folks. Do you really have no strong opinions you wish to share about the ring? Or shall we go on pretending that this political war for our lives is an academic debating society?

Time's yours.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

A B-Movie,
Guy-Movie Gem

A rarity: the movie is far better and more engrossing than the trailer.

I'VE DONE REVIEWS FROM TIME TO TIME. I don't know how many of you subscribe to the Netflix streaming service, but I'd appreciate some input from those who do. I've been toying with the idea of setting up a website dedicated to reviews and recommendations of Netflix offerings. Their own descriptions and ratings are, well, uninformative, and it's even difficult to find what all is available. You're more or less hostage to a rotating set of recommendations by genre, based on what you've already watched. Plot synopses are truncated, sometimes in mid-sentence, and cast lists are confined to one or two names. The search function is also fairly primitive. It's almost as if they're trying to hide how much good stuff there is, from Brit, Canadian, Aussie, and even short-lived American TV series we don't get to see on cable to all kinds of movies that never made a splash in theaters.

I'll give you one movie example today, although I can give you other examples in other categories if you ask for them.

In the Action genre I found a 2008 movie called Exit Speed. According to the viewer ratings, which is all Netflix offers, it got three stars, which almost all their Action movies do. I watched it on a hunch because the pitiful descriptive blurb mentioned a bus and bikers. How bad could it be? (We all know the answer to that question. It could be completely unwatchable.) Here's the setup:

On Christmas Eve, ten strangers board a bus traveling across Texas. Far out in the wilds they collide with a meth-addicted biker. Forced off the road by other members of the gang, the passengers take refuge in the hell hole of an abandoned scrap yard...

That's about all you'll get from Netflix, except that the cast includes Lea Thompson and Desmond Harrington (Who? He's Jennifer Carpenter's sleazy cop boyfriend in Dexter.) No mention, for example, of Fred Ward or the real female lead, Julie Mond, who comes across as a tougher, leaner version of Scarlett Johansson. Who never goes topless once.

Julie Mond

Not promising, right? Wrong. This time, somebody knew what he was doing. Or more than one somebody (Director Scott Ziehl and Writer Michael Stokes to name two.) The movie has roots in many others, including Speed, The Road Warrior, and Zulu, but the real foundation of the script is a clever modern twist on the old "Bronx Bomber Crew" ensemble casts so pervasive in World War II movies: you know, the Italian, the Irishman, the Jew, the Puerto Rican, the Alabama farmboy, the Boston Brahmin, etc, all overcoming their differences in the face of extreme peril. The outcomes of those movies were predictable, but they were also satisfying because there's truth in the stereotype of American commonality transcending real cultural differences.

That's why this movie is more than an ordinary bloody shoot'em up. The bikers are just Road Warrior evil, but among the bus passengers we have a female fugitive from an army court-martial, a grieving loser who's never seen his four-year-old son, a fired (with cause) high school football coach, a non-English speaking (presumably illegal) Mexican handyman, a vegan video-gamer, a con-artist drifter and his streetwise ex-biker moll girlfriend, and a soccer mom. And Fred Ward as the plainclothes MP tracking down the fugitive war vet.

The expository characterizations are minimalist but effective, and based on your knowledge of the action genre, you size the characters up quickly, like targets in a shooting gallery, and wait to see them fall over one by one for their sins. But then they start changing on you, revealing more of themselves, both talents and tenderness, and by the time the ones who fall do fall, you are sorry every time. Predictable? Yes. But satisfying nonetheless.

It's not trying to be ugly and gory for the sake of being ugly and gory. The violence is violent but it's appropriate rather than leering, voyeuristic violence. None of the bus passengers takes death or killing lightly. They are human beings in grave danger. And so the script becomes to a much higher degree than usual in such movies a parable of good versus evil, with some surprisingly touching and idiosyncratic turns along the way. The vegan video-gamer has become a competitive archer as a result of her gaming obsession, but she cannot aim arrows at people. Her transition is obviously a "yes!" moment, but the way it's effected is the antithesis of action movie cliches. I despise spoilers but there's an equally turnabout scene where you hurt more for the killer than the killed. Enough said. Well done.

Netflix viewers give it three stars, probably because of an insufficiency of arterial spray. I give it five stars, with a special call-out to the editor, Marshall Harvey, who kept up a nervewracking action pace without losing any of the human moments that make you care about the characters.

No, it's not Citizen Kane. Very few movies are. And, yes, it's predictable, formulaic, and a definite B-movie. But as B-movies go, it's the best I've seen in quite a while. If that means anything.


So what do you think of my Netflix site idea? Is it worth pursuing? If it is, what's the best way to go about setting it up and organizing it?

Wednesday, December 07, 2011


Coaster Brakes

THANKS TO WILL & APOTH. I was being solemn about the state of our youth when commenters Will Ashbless and Apotheosis started talking about the most elemental of all toys, including "stick" and "cardboard box," about which they may have been reminded by this. It's true that those of us who grew up before minivans, child seats, and multimedia electronics often made do with simpler entertainments. I, too, had forts that existed only in my imagination in the woods out back, although I had quite an arsenal to defend them with, depending on whether I was a Revolutionary soldier, a sheriff, or a secret agent at the time.

The Daisy shot air only. Cool sound. Mattel guns had bullets
with individual caps. You had to reload like a real shooter.

The snub-nosed .38 had a shoulder holster. I was Ilya,
small but clever
and a definite chick magnet. I was 10.

Let me hasten to say this isn't a cultural essay. I'm just wondering what any of you look back on and remember the most fondly. I've always been suspicious of the exaggerated nostalgia practiced by elders on kids: "Back in my day, we smeared soot eyes on a white sock from the ragbin and made it into a puppet. By golly we performed the entire second Shakespeare folio that way, and we remembered it all by heart, too."

I am not playing that card. There have always been cool toys, and most of us had some of them, if not all the ones we wanted. But I'm curious abut what you think back to that might be different from what your own kids will experience.

For me it's grand old American bicycles with coaster brakes. The picture up top is the closest I could come to the one I had, which was slightly more voluptuous. Note the absence of brake and clutch levers on the wide Harley-esque handlebars. There was only one gear and stopping the thing was a function of backing the pedals into reverse so that the rear wheel could no longer turn unimpeded. The faster you were going, the longer it took to stop, and the more muscle power. Fair enough. "English" bikes with front and rear brake levers on the handlebars were for girls. (But neither girls nor boys were wearing kneepads, elbow pads or styrofoam Faberge eggs on our heads in those days. Just saying.)

So. What we discovered is that if, like me, you had a big country driveway that was mostly compacted dirt populated by miscellaneous loose pebbles, you could create fantastic skid patterns by stomping on the coaster brakes while dramatically changing direction. You got points for the curl of the resulting skidmark and for not falling off en route. The latter criterion frequently resulted in a net point deduction, skinned knees, bloody noses, and what we would come to know (as future motorcyclists) as "road rash." I did a complete 180 one time and didn't completely wipe out: the bike tipped over at the last but I was still standing. And you should have seen that swoosh in the driveway dirt. A high point of my youth.

I won't tell you about our pre-Knievel attempts to use a six-inch wide two-by-ten and an orange crate to jump as far as "that tree there," because people my age need to preserve some dignity...

What do you remember? It doesn't have to be all guy stuff. Just what makes you smile in recollection.

N.B.: December 7th isn't just Pearl Harbor Day. It's my grandfather's birthday. This year I prefer to honor the day by remembering the time when he was still alive.

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