Friday, December 28, 2012

The Hobbit (Movie)

Photo: Movie poster, from its Wikipedia page

I'd heard (and read) a lot of negative reviews about this movie, so I approached it with great trepidation.  After all, who wants to pay $11.50 per ticket and sit through an almost-three-hour film if it's terrible?

I needn't have worried.  This one is, in some ways, superior to the first three LOTR films, though those did have a better flow and vibe.  The opening scenes with The Hobbit, and the scenes involving the riddles with Gollum, are very long, and noticeably so while you're watching them.  Yet, they are also very necessary, as the first sets up the characterization and spirit, while the latter shows how Gollum lost the Ring, which is hinted at in the LOTR films, but never fleshed out.  It is here.  I'm guessing Peter Jackson--who does know great editing and pace, so you have to assume his long scenes had a purpose in his own mind--let these riddle scenes go on a little because they explain Bilbo's entire purpose (in a very Star Wars-like, Zen kind of way) on this trip: He needs to come so that he can find the Ring and keep it away from Sauron, so that, of course, Frodo can drop it into Mount Doom later, thereby keeping evil out of the hands of Evil.  This is the whole point behind all six of the LOTR and Hobbit films, and so is therefore deservedly fleshed out, even if it is a tad overlong.  But that's an epic, right?  You appreciate it because it is so important, so...well, epic.  Epics are told on a grand scale, and some scenes are epic in of themselves if they're important enough.

But I digress.  Do not be swayed by the many bad reviews.  It is a story on a grand scale, complete in of itself, and not just a set-up for the other two films.  Does it set them up?  Of course.  But it's a set-up movie the way that Star Wars: A New Hope was a set-up movie.  Both are complete.

I told a few people that I liked The Hobbit more than the LOTR films.  I cannot completely substantiate this, but the feeling I get of trust, of kinship, of fighting evil, is much stronger here than in the LOTR films.  This is for a few reasons.  In the first three films, there were an expert sword-fighter/killer, an expert bowsman, an expert axe-man, an expert wizard--you get the idea.  These guys were Middle-Earth renowned for their already-superior abilities.  The whole point of the LOTR movies, which wasn't shown enough, is that it's the everyday little people--the Hobbits--who are the real fighters of true evil.  (Roger Ebert gave the LOTR films 3 1/2 stars, rather than 4, because of this point, that they got carried away with the epic battle scenes and lost track of this theme.)  The Hobbit exemplifies that point much more.  The film busies itself with Bilbo proving his worth to these otherwise taller fighters; by doing so, he exemplifies this ideal.

The Hobbit also has characters that are all less-established than the LOTR fellowship.  No actual kings here (though one should have been).  No famous fighters.  These guys are all losers in the sense that they got kicked out of their homeland--literally, they lost their home.  And not just in the sense of a country, or a house, but an actual feeling of belonging, of home, of being where you were meant to be.  We're told by good hosts to be "at home" in the sense that the word "home" is a descriptive, not just a place.  We're supposed to feel, after all, that "there's no place like home."

Lastly, there is more of an emphasis (though the viewer is never assaulted with it) on The Way, on Zen--on The Force, if you want to think of it that way.  Gandalf is constantly asked why he picked a hobbit to join this group.  Later, he says that he's frightened and that Bilbo (and, one assumes, Hobbits in general) give him courage.  But his first response was perhaps a much more honest "I don't know."  He's simply drawn to pick him; it's nothing more than being guided, than trusting your gut.  What creates gut decisions?  I mentioned before that it is necessary, in a Fate kind of way, that Bilbo be in the group because he needs to steal the Ring.  It shouldn't go unnoticed that Gandalf calls Bilbo "the burglar" throughout the film, much to everyone's wonder, including Gandalf's own.  Having Bilbo in the group really makes no sense; if Fate hadn't chosen him, nobody else would have.  But the battle of Good vs. Evil had already begun, unbeknownst to everyone but Gandalf: Sauron has already started to fool everyone (though the Elven Queen is catching on, I think); he's already looking for the Ring, already conquering lands and dispersing and killing the natives and the trees.  (There's an obvious comparison with Star Wars's Emperor Palpatine here, a plot device that Lucas must have stolen from Tolkein.)

These forces of Good and Evil are constantly at war, as if they were their own separate entities.  It's a common theme and belief--dating back to Zen's and The Way's origins, and certainly believed by the Ancient Greeks and by the Elizabethans, never mind Tolkein and Lucas--that we are often just pawns used and manipulated by these forces.  Who knows how this will show itself?  Here, it's when a dragon, who probably knows nothing of Zen, or Good and Evil, decides to attack a city for its gold.  If this doesn't happen, the native people don't get driven out, and they don't have to go on a quest to win it back, and Bilbo doesn't burglarize Gollum, and Frodo doesn't defeat Evil by dropping the Ring into Mt. Doom.

And so on.

The Hobbit brings this out more than the other three LOTR films.  And the visuals are better, too.

Go see it.  Go appreciate it's grand nature, it's epic storytelling of Good vs. Evil. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

YouTube Christmas Song List and Team You

 Photo: Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market) in Jena, Thuringia, Germany.  From Wikipedia's "Christmas" page.  Click on it for a bigger, more vivid picture.  It's worth it.

Here's my Christmas song list that will be playing Christmas Eve and Christmas Day:

1.  2000 Miles (It Must Be Christmastime)
2.  Same, because I like it so much I want to hear it twice in a row, cuz I'm like that
3.  Have A Holly Jolly Christmas
4.  The Little Drummer Boy (Original version; Harry Simeone Chorale/Peter Pan Caroleers)
5.  O Holy Night (Charlotte Church)
6.  There's Something Stuck Up in the Chimney
7.  The Little Drummer Boy (Bob Seger)
8.  Silent Night (Stevie Nicks)
9.  Baby Please Come Home (U2)
10.  Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree (Brenda Lee)
11.  It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
12.  All I Want for Christmas Is You (Vince Vance and the Valiants)
13.  Christmas Canon (Trans-Siberian Orchestra)
14.  A Wonderful Christmastime (Paul McCartney)
15.  Happy Xmas (War is Over)
16.  All I Want for Christmas Is You (Mariah Carey)
17.  Do They Know It's Christmas?
18.  Same Old Lang Syne (Dan Fogelberg)
19.  Santa Claus is Coming to Town (Bruce Springsteen)
20.  Christmas in Sarajevo

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year, everyone.  May you be close to those who are loyal, friendly and caring.  (And may you not have to be close to those who are not on Team You.)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Fed-up, gun control, and two movies

Photo: A pile of confiscated guns in Kenya, soon to be set ablaze.  From Wikipedia's "gun control" page.  The caption with the photo is interesting:

"Pyre of smuggled weapons in Uhuru Gardens, Nairobi, Kenya. Original caption states, 'A cache of more than 5,000 smuggled guns ready to be set ablaze at Uhuru gardens (peace grounds) during the peace support effort between the warring countries surrunding kenya and the communities leaving on the porous boarders of Kenya. This was in an effort to bring peace and end killings in the Northern part of Kenya.'"

There's something very logical about burning confiscated guns (hopefully, with the bullets removed first).  After several hundreds of years of doing this, perhaps America could finally start controlling its guns.  

It's been awhile; you know how the holidays are--busy, busy, busy.  I'm still going to get to the posts about the guys in office who've said impossible-to-believe things, but, first, a few quick hits:

--I hereby serve notice that I am done with people who shout first and think second--if at all.  Relative, friend, co-worker--doesn't matter.  Life is too short to deal with such people.  Done.  I do not use to jest, as Lord Capulet said.

--Another Pawn Stars pet-peeve moment, of a person with a very valuable item who sells it to Rick for a pittance because he was too lazy and/or impatient to sell the item at an auction (and in Vegas, there are tons of auction houses): a guy had some authentic George Washington inauguration coins and buttons, appraised by an expert, valued at $12,000 to $15,000.  The guy sells them to Rick for $3,000.  Even if Rick is right and auction houses take half of the net worth--which I doubt; I think it's more like 15% to 20%, not 50%, and it's probably negotiable in this lousy economy--then the guy still could have gotten $6,000 to $7,500.  And this guy said he didn't need the money desperately, too.

--Maybe now, after the slaughter of the innocents, we can have a bit of gun control?

--And universal health care, specifically for the unstable who need it most?

--I read an article yesterday that said that The Shining is one of Stephen King's least-read books.  Hard to believe.  And that he was so dissatisfied with Kubrick's movie that he wanted the 1997 tv movie to air to show Jack Toarrance's true character arc.

--I have a few hours of wet-vacuuming of my pool cover to do.  There's a small pond on it.

--You hate to speak ill of the dead, or to blame the victim, but if I'm a parent of a boy with a history of personality disorders and instability, I don't own an extensive gun collection, locked up or not.  I'm not being a Monday-morning quarterback here, either.  This really is common sense.

--The movie An American Haunting is The Crucible meets The Exorcist.  Who would've thought to put those together?  Great visuals, even if they defy logic.  The movie really isn't about any of those other movie's themes, of course.

--Just watched the movie Ghost Story, a 1981 film based on Peter Straub's great book.  (One of the best and scariest books ever, in my humble opinion.  Roger Ebert, who 99% of the time writes things I agree with, said he could barely read the book.  But it's nice to know a famous reviewer reads the book before he reviews the movie.)  Anyway, the movie completely ignores the fact that the woman is a Shapeshifter.  In the movie, she really is just a ghost.  But how to explain that the woman, before she was put in the car, had not had a pulse, yet had not been dead?  And that she'd had, ummm, physical union with men seventy years after she'd been put in the car?  She still looked good, too.)  Didn't know ghosts could do that.  And it's odd to see Fred Astaire and John Houseman in a horror movie.

--Nothing good can ever come out of what happened in Newtown, but finally the media gave us something positive about teachers.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Movie Lovers

Photo: The Tree of Life movie poster, from it's Wikipedia site.  (See this film.  Roger Ebert, in this year's Sight & Sound poll, said it's one of the ten best ever made, world-wide.)

I must be a movie lover (technically called a cinephile) because:

1.  I sit through the credits.  I love to know who the cinematographer, director, and supporting actors are, and sometimes it's necessary to just let the whole movie sink in after it ends.  I was like this after the movie Lincoln recently.

2.  I do sometimes compare people to movie characters.  Actually, I do that all the time.  The real people hardly ever compare, even if the movie character was "bad."  I realize this is antisocial of me.

3.  I get giddy about upcoming movies by directors I like, such as a new Spielberg film.  I'm enough of a cinephile to get excited by the new Ed Zwick, Peter Weir, David Fincher, Terrence Malick, or Ridley Scott film, amongst the names of great directors that most non-fans don't know.

4.  I do relish intelligent film discussions, but not intelligent film competition, because when proving a point about a film, I definitely become obnoxious--and so does the person I'm talking with.  For example, when discussing a film, I actually use the word "film," not "movie."  Sounds elitist, I know, but the fact is that Schindler's List was a film, and Hangover was a movie.  Just because the point is obnoxious, that doesn't make it untrue.

5.  I understand the demographics, too--which is why I won't go see films geared towards demos I don't want to see movies with.  I mean that in the kindest of all possible ways.

6.  I definitely judge people by their favorite movies.  If your favorite film is one of the Hangovers, or one of the Saws (as good as the first one of each series was), and if you've never even seen (or heard of) 2001 or Schindler's List, then I'm out.

7.  I really appreciate movie memorabilia, but such things will just clutter up the house.  Or maybe I just don't decorate well.  Of course, should the actual real prop come my way, I'm all over it.  Who wouldn't want to have one of the rings actually used in the LOTR films?!?

8.  I complain about continuity issues and product placements all the time.  (But only after the movie, of course.  Belanger's rule #1 of seeing films at a theatre: You will not talk during the film.)  Drives people nuts.

9.  I don't remember dates or important things by films.  I'm a guy; I remember such things based on who I'm dating at the time.

10.  I haven't made out in theaters since I was a teenager.  Call me unromantic or lacking in spontaneity, but I'm not spending $11.50 per ticket just to miss most of the movie.  Hell, if I want to make out with a woman in the dark, I'll just invite her over after I've stopped paying the electric bill for a few months.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


photo: Movie poster, from its Wikipedia page

A few comments about Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, which you should go see:

--I was pleasantly surprised to find myself sitting in the second row from the front for this film.  Spielberg film or not, historical films or biopics do not draw huge crowds.  I got to this one twenty minutes early (pretty amazing for me) and almost had to see the next one, half an hour later.  The crowd, at a quick glance, was about 28 and older.  No teens; no kids.  (This will make for a better film experience.)

--Spielberg is usually the star of a Spielberg film.  This time he shared the billing with Daniel Day-Lewis, who was amazing.  But the film was so well-directed, with obvious Spielberg/Wellesian flourishes, that he doesn't let you forget who's sitting in the director's chair.

--This movie could've been a bore without Spielberg and Day-Lewis, as historical films and/or biopics can be.  Over 95% of the film is interiors and dialogue.  Day-Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones often hold forth.

--This apparently isn't just movie theatrics, either, as characters throughout both cringe and anticipate Lincoln's long-ish stories.  Jones's character was also known to fillibuster, too, apparently.

--I'm betting $20 that most of the fires in the fireplaces were CGI.  I guarantee you the heat made by them would screw with the cameras, the lights, and who knows what else.  And it looked CGI most of the time to me.  If someone reading this happens to know whether this is so, please let me know.

--Who knew that Lincoln had a sense of humor?

--In case you're reading this: Uh-kay.

--The film (actually, Sally Fields' Mary Todd Lincoln herself) often mentions the First Lady's struggles with depression (she'd be classified bi-polar today, I'll bet), but the film does not mention Lincoln's own well-documented melancholia.  (Both had a lot to be depressed about.)

--One of the film's strongest moments is when Lincoln mentions her depression.  Her sadness.  Her anger.  The point being that she was so worried about her feelings that she ignored those of her husband and her other two sons.  From what I've read of her (and her sadness-drawn love of seances), this smacked of truth.

--Both Lincolns seemed like people you would not want to mess with--Lincoln on the political battlefront, Mary Todd at home.

--Speaking of home, the White House was apparently a pigsty when the Lincolns got there.  I'd known about this--the White House famously was ill-designed for heating and ventilation, and it was often in ruin because the Presidents then were, well, ill-kept themselves--but I had no idea it had gotten that bad.

--Obama and Lincoln are often compared, but I'll throw out another one: they were both either extremely well-loved, or extremely despised, with nothing in between.  Few people would think of either with a shrug of the shoulders.

--Someone mentioned that Bush Junior was the same way, but I was quick to point out that, though he was very heavily despised, he was not very well-loved, even by the dumbies who voted for him.  (I had to go back and delete a stronger word there.)

--Speaking of Dubya, make it a point to notice, in a VERY heavily researched and historically accurate film, that every table was filled with books, piled high.  Lincoln was mostly home-schooled and self-taught, and Bush went to Yale, but one has a Presidential Library that's known as a good place to research, with lotsa books.  The other hasn't opened yet, but when it does, to the tune of $250 million, the sound you'll hear is one hand clapping.

--And both Obama and Lincoln had a country at war with itself, socially.  Then and now, it is very evenly divided.  The south has not, apparently, changed all that much.  Perhaps we are two separate countries after all.

--David Strathairn is in a ton of films, and always does a quietly great job, and never gets any recognition at all for his work.  He's been doing this since the 80s.  For example, how many of you know who in the film I'm talking about?

--Daniel Day-Lewis will get the recognition he deserves (he already is), but the greatest thing about his work is that he made a revered American icon surprisingly and appreciably human.  Lincoln is almost as revered in the U.S. as many religious figures, then and now, and think for a moment if someone were to try to humanize one of them.  (::cough:: Martin Scorsese, 1988 ::cough::)

--Day-Lewis almost made me not wonder when Lincoln would pick up an axe and start swingin'.  Almost.  Two Lincolns at opposite ends of the spectrum in the same film year.  Weird.

--Back to the fireplaces again: Everyone's cold.  Sure, it's winter in D.C., which can be worse than winter in New England, but the White House seemed like nothing more than a big barn with one big fireplace in each room.  As I can assure you, one fireplace is not enough to warm a big room.  Everyone's wearing shawls, even the manly, well-dressed and -suited politicians.  Nice historical touch.

--Notice also that everyone wrote on small, wooden portable desks, sort of a take-it-with-you tiny podium.  I've got to get myself one of those.  What're they called?

--Spielberg said he didn't want to release this film until after the election because he didn't want to influence any votes.  You'll see why when you see it, but that tells you another very obvious comparison between Obama and Lincoln--in many ways, they're fighting the same issues.

--The same issues, about 147 years later.

--Thank goodness Lincoln was president during the Civil War.  Can you imagine Dubya or Mitt as President during the Civil War?  We'd still have slavery--and women still wouldn't be able to vote.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.  Remember to be thankful for other, perhaps more subtle, things about yourself.  Don't just focus on family, friends, food and shelter.  For example, without my story and novel writing ability, I would get into A LOT more trouble than I do.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Separation of Church and State, and Women-Haters, Part 2

Photo: Todd Akin's official 109th Congress photo, from his Wikipedia page.

[This entry is the second half of the most recent one, below, posted a few days ago.  Look below, or click here.]

So, a few things:

According to his Wikipedia page, Akin graduated from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, a very good and prestigious school.  Bush graduated from Yale, but whatever.  Awhile after that, he worked for IBM selling supercomputers, which doesn't sound like something a dummy can do, either.  Then he got a Masters of Divinity Degree from Covenant Theological Seminary, in 1984.  He entered the political arena by running unopposed for a seat.  He then won some close races, but then he won by large margins--until this year.  It jumps out at me that he voted against public funding support for school nurses and school breakfasts and lunches.  In a 2008 speech on the House floor, Akin called abortion providers "terrorists" and alleged that it was "common practice" for abortion providers to perform abortions on women who were not actually pregnant.

So what are we to make of this?  An intelligent guy--or a college-educated one, which Bush proved isn't the same thing--saying the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard (and with my job, that's saying something) about a controversial topic, during his own campaign, with a conclusion that this man clearly seriously believed, based on no facts at all (and one wonders who those "doctors" were), probably gleaned from something he'd heard someone say once...and yet the most bothersome things to me in all this is his mention of the phrase "legitimate rape," and the fact that he thinks abortionists are performing abortions on women who are not pregnant.

First, then, is the uncomfortable feeling that this man has a pretty good idea of what he thinks "legitimate" and, therefore, "illegitimate" rapes are.  He never elaborated, but it must be that he thinks a large proportion of rape victims are simply lying about the rape.  Or, maybe more disturbingly, he subscribes to the notion of blaming the victim, that perhaps some rape victims wear skirts that are too short, or that they are promiscuous, and are therefore rape victims after the fact.  Who knows?  But he clearly, in his own mind, is making a distinction here, in whatever land he lives in, and he's not giving the rest of us the bridge to get there.

Or is he?

Maybe this is Conservative Republicanland, where men are very fearful of women, and therefore hold a certain resentment towards them.  This reminds me a bit of the illogical thoughts and fears people had about African-Americans, and it's really not too far of a stretch to say that such men held both women and African-Americans in disdain back in the day.  Do they still, in different ways?

Are their women thought of as such foreign animals as African-Americans were?  Remember when every black man was thought to be raging for white men's white women?  When black men were prone liars, and prone to violence?  When they were all so simple-minded?

How about Jews?  Remember when they were thought to be able to bewitch people?  That they killed Christ?  That they ruled all the monetary establishments in the world?  That they controlled the world's banks?  That they were money-driven liars and chisellers?  (I know a couple of Jewish people who can't balance their own checkbooks.)

Now we have women who somehow have the power to stop the biological process after being raped.  (Notice that the rapists themselves are ignored in such conversations.  They would be, of course, men.)  We have women who will, apparently, create "illegitimate" rape stories, perhaps after realizing they didn't want to have sex with that man after all.  Maybe they're thought to be drunken, promiscuous louts who don't want to be thought of that way?  Maybe they're thought to be dressed for it, flirting for it, and therefore asking for it?  We have women who will, for some reason, consent to an abortion without ever being pregnant to begin with.

This is foreign animal thinking here.  This man clearly thinks that women don't have anything in common with men, or with him specifically.  He can't think of them as human, and still think and speak of them like this.  After all, one does not get asked a question about rape, and about abortion laws that do not blink at rape or incest, and then suddenly spit out this bad boy of a statement.  In fact, people who know this guy can't possibly be surprised by his answer here.  One cannot be a reasonably intelligent, intellectually steadfast, verbally proficient person--and then suddenly spout out this bad boy.  (One cannot imagine Lincoln, Obama or even Clinton saying this.)  He's had to have said tons of things like this before--such as the wild animal abortionists performing abortions on women who are not pregnant statement above.  I don't know what in the world he's thinking, but I'll bet that he thinks he knows what he's thinking.

And I'll bet he's not the only one thinking it.  How can he be?  Even Mitt Romney thought he was talking to an entire room of supporters (without the one traitor) when he let loose his 47% bad boy.  He clearly thought he was preaching to the choir there--and, for the most part, he was.  I have a feeling Akin thought the same, that he was speaking to a closed room of supporters rather than to an open mike and a camera.  His real crime to his party wasn't in what he said--it's that, like Romney, he was being too honest.  Really saying what he felt.  And feeling that he had a large audience who'd agree with him.  Why would he think he had an agreeing audience unless it was, at least moderately, the case?  Go back up to the politically-confused Mr. Broun, the congressman who thought he had a captive, agreeing audience that would cheer him (as many of them did) when he said that the Bible controlled his every political decision.  You don't think he thinks he's preaching to the choir there?

Romney really felt that 47% of the country--ironically in his mind, all of them Obama voters--were leeches of the government, couch potatoes and pot smokers and baby producers who don't try to find work, all of them lazy.  How many white men does he see in that picture?  I think, when he envisions that 47%, that they're all minorities, and women, and teens (or black teen women).  And so I also think Akin envisions women in this way.  They're rape victims.  They're promiscuous women who lie about being raped.  They're such loathsome creatures that they would allow an abortion without even being pregnant.  But, as disdainfully as he views them, they're somehow so powerful that they can shut down the entire creation process (quite like God, in fact) if they want to, after they've been raped.  This is the same man who inserted unwanted legislation into a bill that lawmakers were trying to pass to publicly support school nurses [i.e.--women].  After Akin insisted that the bill contain a provision that such nurses could not speak of, or provide, birth control to the students, none of the Missouri lawmakers wanted to pass it.

This last bit deserves recognition.  Nurses (women) can't speak of condoms, or provide information about other birth control.  Women cannot have abortions under any circumstance, including rape and incest.  In other words, they also cannot provide their own birth control.  I'll repeat that: birth control.  Simply stated, he does not want women to control birth.  More important than rape, or incest, or their own health is the fact that he does not want them to control birth.  In short, he does not want them to be God.  That is, apparently, for he, and other men, to do.  It's all about who has the power to control birth.  I smell fear there, and perhaps a bit of a Freudian issue.  (I would love to interview his wife and/or mother.)

Overall, then, I think he thought he was speaking to the choir, and was astonished to find that he wasn't.  (Read his Wikipedia page to learn of quite a few instances in which he thought he was verbally holding forth, only to apologize and backtrack after he realized he was being hissed at.  And these are just times, mentioned here, in a large public forum.  I wonder what he has said to his wife or daughters over dinner over the years.)  Do I think there's large contingent of southern and midwestern white Christian conservative males who still fear women, and minorities, and homosexuals, and anyone who's not a white Christian conservative male?

Yes.  Yes, I do.  We've seen nine of them lately, old white men yahoos who are (or, rather, after Tuesday, were) shockingly in positions of power to put forth this rather violently hateful agenda.  (And shame on the people who voted them in and gave them that power.  Akin has been in power for over ten years.)  And since the Old Testament largely feared the same groups of people, and was vehemently against them, (For example, when Adam is rebuked about eating the fruit, God chastises him first for listening to the woman, and only secondly for disobeying Him and eating the fruit.  As Satan and the snake are still seen as tempters, so too, apparently, are women still seen as the temptresses, and therefore something to be feared and loathed.) then the two have become as one.

How stringent is this mental framework in that segment of the population?  Well, I'll ask you: When someone asks you for your opinion about abortion, do you immediately speak of women who've lied about rape?  Do you think of how women can shut down the entire process of giving birth?  If you're fixated on males controlling birth, and not the dastardly abortionists or women (notice how he sort of grouped those together in that other quoted comment) then, yes, I guess you do.  And he wasn't the only one lately, including almost-Vice-President Paul Ryan, and seven others.  Nine men, all of them (former) important politicians, senators, congressmen and policymakers, all of them with a misunderstanding of the Separation of Church and State, all of them who will, as Mr. Broun did, flat out admit that the Bible controls their every political decision, all of whom think that the Bible "teaches us how to run all of public policy and everything in society."  If the Bible--mostly the Old Testament--is viciously and violently against women, homosexuals, immigrants and minorities (those who were not of the same Jewish tribe as was the author of a particular passage that spoke against these things), then why wouldn't these guys be?  And, therefore, why wouldn't they pass legislation that controls the rights of these groups of people, these Others, who they loathe and fear?  (Which is why the Separation of Church and State is so important.)

I'll cover one of those eight other denizens of disinformation next:

As written by Jonathan Weisman of The New York Times: The delicate issue of pregnancies resulting from rape rattled another campaign for the Senate when Indiana's Republican Senate nominee, Richard Mourdock, said a life conceived by rape "is something that God intended to happen."

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Separation of Church and State, and Women-Haters

Photo: Todd Akin's official 109th Congress photo, from his Wikipedia page.

And so this begins a long series of blog entries chronicling the recent election.  There's a lot I want to go over here, including, in no order, why Obama won, why Romney didn't, the election results, the nine or so boneheaded rich old white men who said incredibly stupid and insensitive things about rape, and why someone would marry and/or vote for such people.  I do not, and I will not, mean to offend; if I do, please feel free to send me a (polite) comment and let me know.

Having said that, I have to start with the boneheaded rich old white men who said incredibly stupid and insensitive things about rape.  But before I do, let me offer you a recent quote from a congressman, who said the following, and much more, at a banquet at a church:

U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, Georgia Republican (someone needs to tell me whether this guy was able to keep his job after the firestorm a few days ago):

The words below were taken from a video clip, distributed by the Bridge Project, which itself was taken from a longer version recorded on Sept. 27 during the 2012 Sportsman's Banquet at Liberty Baptist Church in Hartwell, Ga. Here's a transcript of the Bridge Project's snippet:

"God's word is true. I've come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the big bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell. And it's lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior. You see, there are a lot of scientific data that I've found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth. I don't believe that the earth's but about 9,000 years old. I believe it was created in six days as we know them. That's what the Bible says.

"And what I've come to learn is that it's the manufacturer's handbook, is what I call it. It teaches us how to run our lives individually, how to run our families, how to run our churches. But it teaches us how to run all of public policy and everything in society. And that's the reason as your congressman I hold the Holy Bible as being the major directions to me of how I vote in Washington, D.C., and I'll continue to do that."

Now there's, of course, a lot wrong here, but what struck me the most was the last part, the part where he explicitly says that the Bible dictates how he votes in D.C., and how "it teaches us how to run all of public policy."  This part hit me hard because it is at the core of what is causing these guys to say such things about rape, about science, about their voting decisions, and about almost everything: they take it all from the Bible--or, at least, they say that they do.  (Though the Bible has a lot of rape in it, it does not say, as a politician recently did, that rape is just another form of procreation.)

The Republican Right, forever represented by George W. Bush, does indeed follow the Bible in every decision they make, in D.C. and at home.  While what they do at home is their own business (a concept they fail to realize, ironically, themselves), what they do in D.C. is not just their own business.  That's ours, too.  We need to know what makes these guys think and vote as they do, because they, more so than the President, shape America's social climate.  And these guys, apparently, have never heard of the Separation of Church and State.  If they had, Bush could not have started his Faith-Based Initiatives in his first five minutes in office.  And Mr. Broun certainly wouldn't admit in public (with an honesty rivaled only by Romney's now-infamous 47% speech) that he bases all of his decisions as a congressman and lawmaker solely on the Bible--which is, of course, an unconstitutional thing to do.  Their stance is simple: They place the Bible before the Constitution.  But in American politics, you can't do that.  You can, though, if you're already in office, and no one holds your hand to the fire when you screw up.  Bush and Broun should have been ousted from office immediately, the second they obviously held their Bibles higher than their Constitution.  We, the American people, have the right--in fact, the obligation--to throw them out of office, and we do have the legal power to do so.  But this never happens.  These guys are never held accountable for what they say--much less for what they do.

Which brings me to Mr. Todd Akin, in an interview with KTVI:

REP. TODD AKIN (R-Mo.): It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that's [pregnancy resulting from a rape] really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume that maybe that didn't work or something. You know I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.

Obama's response:


"The views expressed were offensive.

"Rape is rape. And the idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of rape we're talking about doesn't make sense to the American people and certainly doesn't make sense to me.

"So, what I think these comments do underscore is why we shouldn't have a bunch of politicians, a majority of whom are men, making health care decisions on behalf of women."

My comments, which are longer, and more in number, but perhaps not expressed any better than Obama's here, will follow in an upcoming entry...Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Nobody's Fool--Book and Movie

Photo: Movie poster from its (abbreviated) Wikipedia page.

It is impossible to read the book without putting Paul Newman's face on the character on the page, since I've seen the movie already, and it's one of my subdued favorites.  As I mentioned someplace else, it's one of my two favorite Paul Newman performances, along with The Verdict.  I had much less difficulty getting Bruce Willis's and Jessica Tandy's faces off of their characters' names on the page (although both gave great performances as well, especially Tandy), and I had no problem at all getting the faces of the more minor characters completely out of my mind as I read, as those characters share a lot less in common with their film's namesakes.  But Newman so nailed his character that his face was everywhere as I read.

It was a bitter shock to read a few scenes where his character (Donald Sullivan) and Willis's (Carl Roebuck) have a conversation in which both drop the racial N-bomb quite a few times, and this happens in a much more abbreviated way towards the end as well.  I simply don't see either character, especially Sully, using the word in conversation; both characters are much too carefree, and both are quite easygoing around everyone in town.  Sully only has bitterness towards his long-dead father, and perhaps himself; he's not even angry at his ex-wife, or his ex-lover, or anyone--not even Officer Raymer, really, who he has an oddly friendly scene with towards the end, or Roebuck, who he sees more as a son/friend figure, and who he covers with a blanket when he crashes at Sully's place.  So I feel Russo made an error with a decision about his characters here.

Besides that, there were no errors to be had in the whole book, which says a lot since it couldn't, in my mind, hold up to the movie.  But it comes close, and it reads as a sort of pleasantly washed-up male version of an Anne Tyler novel--perhaps close to The Accidental Tourist, in many ways, though Richard Russo's characters are all much more idiosyncratic and eccentric.  (Much more so, even, than Tyler's Accidental Tourist and Muriel, who is very kooky indeed.)

The screenplay by Robert Benton is a masterpiece, and keeps shockingly close to the book, to the point where the movie's best dialogue is taken verbatim from the novel.  (Except for the judge's line I love from the film, which turns out to be Benton's.  When told that Officer Raymer is under suspension, he says, "Anesthesia is what he should be under ...")  Gone are the scenes with the N-bomb, thank God.  A bartender (Birdie) and the bar's owner (Tiny) are morphed into just Birdie.  Gone are Sully's accidental arsonist past, and the pharmacist's request that he burn down his store.  Sully doesn't have a lover in the film, which was possibly another mistake in the book (I don't see Sully sleeping with another man's wife for twenty years, but that's what he does in the book), and his son doesn't end up, temporarily, with Toby at the end, nor is Toby bisexual like she is in the book.  All of these are great decisions on Benton's part; he didn't make one single wrong move.  When I finished the book, I wanted to watch the movie again, even though I've seen it on cable very recently.

The book itself is very well-written, and Russo deserves the kudos he gets for his characterization and dialogue, and breezy writing style.  Though there were way too many instances of repetitive tags, like "he admitted," and though Sully (and the other characters) are said to smile way too often as they say things, he and his landlady are exceptionally drawn characters, and Russo's storytelling ability inspired me to re-start my first-person detective novel and write it in third-person omniscient, creating a much more specific world and personality set for each of my characters.  Writing is great when it inspires you to make such a drastic shift in your own writing.

I look forward to reading the other books by Russo I bought recently at a used book store, especially his Empire Falls.  Stay tuned for those.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Randomness 10/23/12

 Photo: Jackson asleep on the couch.  A colleague said he looked "angelic" in this picture.  True dat.  What can you say when your dog is more photogenic than you are?

Been away for awhile again, this time because my dog's been very ill, to the extent that I had to bring him to the vet yesterday and he has to spend two, maybe three, days and nights there to recover.  He's got an infected pancreas, which sounds nasty to me.  Very treatable, they say, and he doesn't have a fever, which means the infection wasn't too bad, but he'd been vomiting a ton of times over the past few days.  So wish Jackson the Wonderdog well!

So a few random things on my mind lately:

--I'm as lazy as anyone.  (Well, actually I'm very hyperactive and always busy, but whatever.)  But I draw some kind of line.  Convenience is just a fancy word for laziness, and there's only so much convenience I can take.  I don't know exactly where the line is, but a lot of money at the cost of convenience/laziness is simply not something I'll allow myself.  (Heck, not even a little amount of money.)

So recently there were two instances on Pawn Stars that drove me crazy.  I temporarily misplaced lost my notes about one of them, so I can only speak about one.  For sale: a 1760 bell.  Very good condition; used to be someplace very important and historical.  (Forgot where.)  Anyway, the expert was called in, and he said that at an auction it would fetch at least $15,000.  At least!  So let's just say fifteen.  Auctions take fifteen to twenty percent of the sale price.  Ten percent of fifteen grand is fifteen hundred, so twenty percent is three thousand.  So now it's twelve grand.  Maybe there are taxes to pay; I don't know, but there'd be taxes to pay, theoretically, selling it to the Pawn Stars, too, so that's a wash.  Let's say that other fees, like shipping it to the closest good auction house (though he's already in Vegas!  He couldn't just drive it to an auction house in Vegas?!?) would bring the total take down to ten grand (and I'll bet the take would be closer to the twelve.)  And that's minimum, as the expert said at least fifteen grand.  Bottom line, then, is that at an auction, the seller could walk away with ten to twelve grand.

He sold it to the Pawn Stars for $7,200.  After the expert says that if the seller takes it to an auction, it would sell for fifteen grand, and so he'd walk away with at least ten to twelve thousand, he sells it to them for $7,200.  That's a loss, minimum, of $2,800, and probably more like $4,800.  Why?  Because he's standing in front of a buyer, right then and there.  Didn't want to make a few calls, and drive it or ship it anywhere--or wait.  That's just crazy.  Someone's got to explain this to me.

--Two girls, both twelve years old, were murdered this past week by someone as they were walking or riding a bike to a friend's house.  And a twenty-two year old woman in Oregon was killed by a man who punched through a window of her SUV, got in the car and killed her, dumped her body, used her phone and then dumped the phone (cell phones can be traced), and then left her car somewhere.  It's a sick world out there.

--I've heard weather experts say it's going to be a very cold winter around here.  I've also heard the same number say it'll be a warm winter, though not as warm as last year.  A warm winter actually means more snow around here, as it's too dry to snow when it's too cold.  I'll take the too cold anyday.  More snow means bad driving, more shoveling, less walking of the dog, which will lead to much more whining, and possibly paying a neighbor to plow my driveway if the snow gets crazy.  So here's to the cold--but no ice on the roads, please.  Hate that.

--If Romney wins, I don't want to hear it from the 47% he obviously doesn't care about.  In his head, he's the rich white man's president.

--During the last debate, his facial expressions ran the gamut between obvious lovey-dovey towards Obama, to looking like he was about to vomit, with the occasional greasy used car salesman thrown in.  Weird, sad and slimy, in turns.

--His chin and jowls are tucked; his hair is slicked; his chin got in a duel with Jay Leno and won; his smile is either slick, sick or frozen.  He's more superficial than flavored ice cream on the nip and tucked face and silicone lips of a bottled blonde with chest enhancements.  And he openly and honestly doesn't give a damn about at least 47% of the country.  Voting for him would still be less insane than voting for Bush, especially the second time, but it would still be insane, nonetheless, and if you believe his assertion that he's run businesses and so therefore he can run the country, then you must think that snuffing out a lit candle makes you a professional firefighter.

--You can break a mirror in one second, but it would take a ton of hours to fix every little piece of glass into the mirror frame.  And so it would obviously take more than four years to fix eight years of broken pieces.  In fact, it would take at least a generation.  We can't give that, but we can give four more.

--This is post #250 on this site.  I appreciate my audience.  Thanks for reading, everyone.

Monday, October 8, 2012

My Day in Court

Photo: Movie promo poster of The Verdict from its Wikipedia page.  Loved this movie.  One of Paul Newman's two best roles, in my opinion, right up there with Nobody's Fool.

I've been away for awhile again, as my PC is still unusable right now, as my upstairs is still getting renovated.  Though I should have the time soon to put my office back together, and then I'll get one of these babies posted every three days or so, like I usually do.

Anyway, the new experience this week was when I spent Friday in court--not for something I did wrong, either.  I've been an onlooker in a courtroom a few times, but I've never testified with a lawyer before.  (I did testify once in front of a judge because of a speeding ticket I got as a college student, but that's another blog entry.)  I learned a few things:

--Possibly even more than justice, judges want expediency.  Mine had over 50 cases of its type to get through on Friday alone; he had a system that moved, moved, moved.  Open folder.  Say names.  Get the lawyer to say what kind of case it is (contest, etc.).  This took awhile.  At the end of it, he practically begged everyone to talk to the parties in the hallway and reach a conclusion themselves; otherwise he had several days of cases in front of him at that time, never mind the others in the upcoming days.  I can see that life would be hellish if many of those aren't settled by the parties.  To my surprise, many of them were.  So he called them up, asked the plaintiff what the deal was, and told the defendants that these agreements were now also court orders.  He asked if everyone understood the agreements, if they entered them of their own free will, and if they had any other questions for him.  He got rid of maybe 1/3 of his docket this way.  He was very happy when people solved the problems themselves, and said so.  He had sort of a sense of humor.

--Judges take the cases in front of other judges.  Not like divorce cases, as in the infamous mistake by Brian de Palma in The Untouchables, but simple matters like mine.  So a courtroom cop came into the courtroom and told my courtroom's cop that the judge next door was out of cases and was willing to take some of his.  My judge said he wasn't ready for that, as he had just one case at that time to send over.  Like his butt was on fire, my lawyer jumped up and said our case was of the same type, and that we were willing to go next door immediately.  The judge okayed this.  On the way over, me and my lawyer went over a few things, and then suddenly I was in front of the (smiling, classy and attractive) judge, saying my Yesses and Nos nervously (the judge seemed to be giving me one of those understanding smiles) and then she ruled in my favor for everything I was asking for.  Once in front of the judge, the whole thing took about twenty seconds.

--It's not just a tv or movie thing: apparently crossing The Bar is a serious thing.  I blissfully walked up to my lawyer to let him know the court had misspelled something important, and he practically pushed me into the hallway.  Embarrassed, and with a nervous smile, he told me that the courtroom cop would've tackled me to the floor if he'd been in the room.  (I hadn't noticed that he wasn't; my venture wasn't a planned thing.)  I'm curious now as to how the judge took it, or if he'd even noticed.

--My lawyer clapped me on the back and said that I'd done a great job.  He's done that a million times and probably forget how nerve-wracking it can be.  If I put him on my job's stage, I bet he'd be nervous as hell, too.

--Only movie and tv courtrooms look polished and ornately wooden.  Mine had a flat, grey carpet from around 1982, and it had folds and bumps in it, too.  I was hoping someone would trip over those, but nobody did.  The judge's desk and chair, and the witness box, were simple wooden things, nothing special, and the podiums for the defendant and plaintiff were low-grade wood and something else I can't place.  The snazziest part of the courtroom were the lawyers' chairs.  Everyone else got thin wooden pews.  The Bar, which I crossed, seemed like nice, but faux, marble.

--About 50 cases for 5 lawyers.  Two of them seemed to represent at least half of all of the individuals and companies.  And the lawyers are into expediency almost as much as the judges are.  Mine jumped up like his butt was on fire to get us into the other courtroom because he couldn't wait to get out of there.

--Not to judge, but you can tell the plaintiffs from the defendants.  The plaintiffs, such as myself, wore suits or other professional clothing and ties.  The defendants, and I do mean all of them, wore ripped gym pants, or jeans from another decade, and were often unshowered and overall icky.  One guy's scalp was red and rashy, and another woman looked like she hadn't showered or changed her clothing in this calendar year.  One defendant leaned on the podium, and spoke and interrupted the judge like he owned the place.  He lost.  What are these people thinking?

--The only thing worse than looking and behaving like that is not showing up at all.  Mine didn't.  The plaintiff's lawyer asks for an immediate judgment, and they always get it in their favor.  Fast.  When I went to the other judge's courtroom, the first thing she said was: "I assume you're in front of me now because the other party didn't show up?"  When my lawyer said, "Yes, your Honor," she sat there and clearly waited for us to be done with our act so she could make her judgment for us.  And when you don't show up, the plaintiff's lawyer will ask the judge to also award court costs and lawyer fees, which my judge did.  Can't get blood from a stone, but we got the judgments, anyway.

--Very disappointing: No gavels, and no pounding of gavels.  Apparently that's for effect on the screen.  And no one said anything excessively stupid, like on Judge Judy, so there weren't any speeches or moralizing, either.

--Judges mediate as much, if not more, than they judge.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Last Ten Days--City Hall and Estate Sales

 Photo: Old glove from  The one I bought looks much like this one.  This one is in better shape, but mine's older.  Yeah, yeah, condition is everything, I know.

Sorry I've been gone for the past ten days.  I was really ill, and my PC is under plastic upstairs due to the constant (but very necessary and very well-done) renovations the last ten days, and plus I'm a bit behind on work for the job that pays The Man.  But some things have been happening these last few weeks, so here are a few quick shots:

--I went to an estate sale today, which is a great place to pick because the company gets paid more to get rid of everything and not as much to get the most they can for everything.  The family hiring the estate sale company usually just wants the house cleared so they can sell the house, and so they usually don't care how much they get for things.  The company will say prices are final on the ads, but that's never the case.  So the long and short of it is that I got about 100 CDVs and Cabinet pictures (pics from between 1870 and 1890), eight baseball bats from the 20s - 40s, a foot-powered scooter from between 1895-1905, a baseball glove that I confidently place in the 1910s (and maybe as early as 1905)--all for a hundred bucks.  I could sell each of the 100 CDVs and Cabinet pics for $5 a piece on Ebay or Etsy (which would be underselling many of them) and thereby make my $100 investment into $500, and that's just with the pics.  The bats would go for $15 to $50 apiece, as soon as I can date them, and the scooter would go for $25 to $40 by itself as well.  And the glove would go for about $35 to $50 because it is clearly very old.  All of these things are very highly collectible.  I might even keep the scooter for myself; I rode it up and down my street earlier.

The key is to bundle and buy in bulk, and then sell them piecemeal.  Not very sexy, perhaps, but this will help keep me busy during those winter nights and days, and make decent part-time money, too.

You would think that a man who had collected bats and a glove from the 1910s and 1920s, and who had a book about collecting old, vintage baseball cards, would've had old, vintage baseball cards.  But there were none, and I asked the people running the estate sale, and they'd never seen any there.  I left them my card and begged them to call me if they found any there.  If you've got bats and a glove from the teens and twenties, and if you've got a book about collecting baseball cards from the 1910s and 1920s, then you should have baseball cards from the 1910s and 1920s.  But, no.  Hmmmm.....I suspect someone from the family, or a neighbor, or someone, walked off with those.  I would've spent a very large sum for those.  I hope they call.

--My new favorite person is Jan, from my town's City Hall.  I needed to get a copy of a deed for a property of mine, and since this house is being renovated, I couldn't find the deed here.  (Truth be told, I probably wouldn't have found it had the house not been under renovations.)  So I had to face City Hall, which can be an arduous experience, not to mention an afternoon killer.  At work, I looked up my town's City Hall website and I found a department with a name that sounded like it might be what I needed.  I sent an email to the department, in essence saying what I was looking for, and mentioning that I hoped this was the right place to ask for it, and if not, where was the right place, and what did I have to do?  Here's the email response I got (sit down while you're reading this):

Good morning Mr. Belanger,

I’ve printed a copy of your deed for you and will leave it in the main office (Recorder of Deeds) in the main town hall.  It’s ready for you, so you may pick it up this afternoon.  There is no charge, I printed it as a courtesy for you.


Archives Clerk
My response to that (after I picked myself off the floor):
That's awesome!  Thank you so much!  I really appreciate it.  

And now Jan the Archives Clerk's response to that:

Most welcome sir!

Is this woman awesome, or what?  I don't care if she's a 70-year old, wrinkled and frail-thin woman working part-time or volunteering at City Hall, I'm finding out who this woman is, and I am marrying her. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Fool Me Twice--Brandman's Newest Jesse Stone

Photo: Book cover, from its Goodreads page.

The new book in the Jesse Stone series, Fool Me Twice, is a good, quick read, as I read it in just a few hours.  Having said that, I can't say much more positive about it, since the plot is a rehash of Parker's Looking for Rachel Wallace (with somewhat the same result for the characters), and the dialogue is almost stolen from Parker's style cabinet, but without the wit and flair.  I read it like I put on last year's professional wardrobe.  Quickly, without effort, appreciating the comfort, but still wondering why I'm still wearing it.  Ace Atkins has fared much better with his one Spenser novel so far.  Speaking of these series, both started, of course, by the late, great Robert B. Parker (who I met and spoke with a few times; he was nice enough to give me two autographs and his agent's name, the last of which is unheard of from an established writer to an unpublished one), I think we can now do away with the Robert B. Parker's tag before every title of each series.  Take a peek at the list of published works from the last three books since his last, and see how odd those titles look there.

What else?  Jesse Stone in Brandman's last seemed like Jesse Stone, I guess, after taking a blabbermouth pill.  This time, he sounds a lot like Spenser.  He even flirts like Spenser.  Brandman still hasn't pinned down his inherited character.  Jesse Stone is not normally interested in saving the badly parented juveniles as Spenser had been (Paul; April Kyle), so when he does it here, he seems to be putting on Spenser's shoes.  That series is so well-known for its bad parents raising screwed-up kids that it's blasphemy and overdone to see it here.  Jesse Stone is simply not as altruistic as Spenser; he's too insecure and unconfident about himself to be Superman for anyone else.  The series has already well-established this.  Brandman can change that, of course, but not without showing the change, and the cause of that change.  He never does that.

We see Rita Fiore (which is always a pleasure), but we also see the new Federal Guy in Boston.  Parker and Atkins made this guy an annoying dweeb, which is fine, but Brandman makes him one of the all-time dufuses of today's crime fiction.  This guy, as drawn by Brandman, would never have made it to his current position, or even be accepted into the academy.  He blames the star's bodyguard of having either the hots for her, or of having an affair with her, and it's her supposed rejection of him that makes him kill her.  Yet any guy with any decent people skills, intelligence, and five spare minutes with the bodyguard in question would know that this was simply not the case.  He ignores even the most obvious of evidence; I'm talking stuff that Fred, Shaggy, Wilma, Scooby and Daphne would've known what to do with.  Nancy Drew would've fixed her hair and then nailed the evidence and personalities involved here, and this guy flubbed both, with drama.  It's really bad, like he's never even heard the word "evidence" before, or like he's never had to read people's personalities before.  Have I made it clear that this guy was terribly drawn, written and executed?  Simply not believable.  We say hello to a couple of other Spenser cross-overs, too, but they seem to be in the neighborhood only for show.

There's a case with the local water company that's a head-scratcher for the reader, especially this one.  Not that I wouldn't mind having a word or two with my own local water guys, but this subplot is nonsensical and out of place in this book.  It has no relevance here, either thematically or in the plot.  It reinforces that everyone's messed up and untrustworthy, but we know that already.  We know what the novel's #1 bad guy is going to do, and though we're surprised by how Brandman delivers it to us, we're not surprised that it happens.  The real surprise comes later; since the bodyguard never leaves the area, and since any mail would be traced to him, thereby blowing his cover (he's in hiding for awhile), we wonder where he got the red ants from.  (I'm no insect expert, but I'm firm that biting red fire ants cannot survive between the Cape and the North Shore, in even the hottest of all MA winters.)  Again, not believable.

So it passed the time, and it was a quick and easy read.  I could probably say the same for Goosebumps and the Berenstein Bears, so I don't know.  The series is being kept afloat, I suppose, and the previous one must've sold pretty well for this one to come out so quickly after...and I see that it's got an average of four stars from other critics...It's a pair of comfortable slippers, I suppose, though I haven't consistently worn my slippers in years...And I'll buy the next Brandman/Stone book in the series, so...


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Thank Yous and Odds and Ends

Photo: Rick, with a customer, from Pawn Stars, on

--Just read a poem by a Goodreads friend.  At the end of the poem, the bomb-diffuser unfortunately sets off the bomb, and the poem ends with a thrice-repeated "silence."  (It's a good poem, so read it here.)  Anyway, the question I raised was: Would the bomb expert even hear the explosion before he died, since he's leaning right over the thing?  My comment was this:

"Only caveat is the blast at the end, followed by the silence. Since I'm expecting the blast--cuz my glass is always half empty, and damn that glass anyway--I'm not as surprised when it comes. (Of course there'd be silence, both existential and literal, afterwards.) I'd have been more surprised if the blast had not come, and there'd been just the thrice-repeated silence. In fact, that repetitive silence would be open for even more interpretation. After all, would the bomb-diffuser with the pliers even hear the explosion if there was one, as he'd die immediately since he's leaning right over it? Seems to me that he'd get all silence, either way."

I suppose this is a tree falling in the forest question, but I'm still interested in my readers' responses to this.  Read the poem and comment here, should the feeling strike you.

--Thanks, everyone, for giving this blog over 12,000 pageviews in about a year and a half.  For a blog with just one picture and some text, that's not bad at all.  Quite a mystery, in fact.  Even more mysterious is how my Redroom blog (link in the header) has had over 25,000 pageviews in just under a year, with pretty much the same material.  That one's been getting about 200 pageviews a day lately.  So I thank you all for making this writer feel like he's being read.

--Hello, The Monica.  And my 29 other Followers.  I appreciate you all stopping by.

--Speaking of glasses being half-empty, I recently explained the definition of the word "morbid" like this: "You know how negative people think the glass is always half-empty?  Well, a morbid person has a dark, negative attitude about the existence of the glass itself."  This was met with nods of understanding.

--The new book in the Jesse Stone series, Fool Me Twice, is a good, quick read, as I read it in just a few hours.  Having said that, I can't say much more positive about it, since the plot is a rehash of Parker's Looking for Rachel Wallace (with somewhat the same result for the characters), and the dialogue is almost stolen from Parker's style cabinet, but without the wit and flair.  I read it like I put on last year's professional wardrobe.  Quickly, without effort, appreciating the comfort, but still wondering why I'm still wearing it.

--What do I have at Fenway that the Red Sox don't?  A winning record for this season.

--I've never eagerly anticipated a manager's dismissal before this year.

--It's been getting cooler and the leaves are turning red, for those of you in New England who haven't noticed.  I'm closing the pool this weekend.

--And you have to order Octoberfest instead of Summer Ale around here.  Every year, this is the real change of the seasons for me.  And I don't remember a turnover as soon as this.  Usually they wait until the 20th or so of September.  Not this year.  When the Sox suck, it's not summer anymore, so the vendors say bye-bye to the Summer Ale.  This is an actual philosophy of mine.  Had the Sox made the playoffs, I'd still be seeing Summer Ale around here.  I swear.

--Since recovering from an illness that had nothing to do with my sinuses, I'm breathing better and sleeping like a normal person.  Odd.

--My hammock and I have become good friends.  Brand new.  Tightly-woven rope.  Yard sale, twenty bucks.

--Fall is Brandi Carlile weather.  Hearing her voice is like seeing rock walls and falling leaves.  Listening to her now.  Her latest CD is nowhere near as good as her previous stuff, but it's growing on me.  I don't care if listening to a female folk singer makes me sound like a wussy man.

--I've been in the habit lately of leaving my clothes in the dryer so long that they get very wrinkly, and so I have to throw them back in and put it on wrinkle guard.  And then I let it all sit again.  You get tired.

--Recently I've wondered: If Jesus is God, Eternal and Omniscient, how could Judas have betrayed him?  How can an all-knowing being be betrayed, by definition?  I learned recently that the original text uses a word that probably means "brought to" or "turned over" instead of "betrayed."  I'm just sayin'.  Consider.  I wish I could read Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek.  It's not that I don't trust anyone or anything--it's just that I don't trust anyone, or anything.

--A friend of mine watches Hoarders because she says it makes her feel better about her life.  I can kind of see this, but whenever I watch it, I want to sob openly, or vomit.  These people aren't slobs or clutterbugs--they're mentally ill.  I have papers all over my office, but I'm not pooping and peeing on my stereo speakers.

--Not that I'm so old or uncool that I even have stereo speakers.

--Almost time again for Boardwalk Empire and The Walking Dead.  A friend of mine had a great point about the latter: Whenever a character has to go, bring on a deus ex machina zombie.

--Watching Pawn Stars is like watching American Pickers, except that you see even more awesome historical stuff on Pawn Stars.  But they're both sad, in a way.  People in Pickers are often old, and/or dying, or sad, lonely guys who amass a ton of garbage because they're without female companionship (a chicken and egg question there).  People in Pawn Stars have to pawn off awesome things because they're so broke, they have no choice.  Rick pays great prices to people we see on camera, but you know he's severely underpaying many others.  The whole point of a pawnshop is that you're so desperate for cash that you know you're going to get fleeced--and you don't care because you need the money that badly.  They're wisely editing out the gambling addicts, who need to sell off anything at all so they can gamble away their mortgage payments and kids' college tuitions (they're on the Vegas Strip, after all); they're also wise to edit out the junkies who come in to pawn off their mother's jewelry or their kids for their next quick fix.

--(Kind of a glass is half empty sort of day, apparently.)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Super 8

Photo: Movie poster, from its Wikipedia site

See this movie on cable for the story, the emotion, the great framed shots, the special effects, and the film nostalgia. It pays homage, in ways small and large, to the following films:


--Close Encounters

--The Thing (the original, according to Roger Ebert's 3 1/2 star review; I only saw Carpenter's 1982 film version)

--The Goonies

--The Blob (bad 80s version)


--Every teenage schmaltzy 80s movie with a girl with a bad father.  Say Anything comes to mind here.  So does Forrest Gump (I know that's a 90s film), but in a much different way.

--Every schmaltzy 50s movie with a town taken over by an alien, and the army takes over, and there's a professor (called "perfessor") somewhere, acting goofy.

--The Abyss

--The Stand (Okay, that's a miniseries, but still very much there)

--Every so-bad-it's-good zombie movie, including Night of the Living Dead

--Independence Day

This movie, essentially, is a combination, mostly, of The Goonies, E.T. and Close Encounters, with an alien that's a little Aliens, a little Independence Day, and a little Close Encounters (with the boy at the end) and a little Starman, too, I suppose.  And, of course, all he wants to do is get back home, like E.T.  But he strings up townspeople for food, a la Aliens, and kills quite a few of them, and the Air Force guys (usually in movies like this, they're Army guys), a la Aliens, and The Thing, but without the paranoia and Cold War social discourse.

I could re-write this blog entry and come up with a completely different homage-summary, and still be correct with that, too.  In fact, I have to throw in a tiny bit of Jaws, for the community-meeting thing run by the sheriff, and, now that I think about it, a tiny bit of Red Dawn and The Thing, because a woman stands up at this meeting and insists that the recent power outages and power-source thefts were due to "the Soviets."

I wonder if teens today would enjoy this as much as folks my age, and older.  I think they might--but not as much.  Too bad for them.  For God's sake, finally something good comes with getting older.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

My Day at the ER

Photo: Not Dr. Redhead.  A redhead from

So I'm at the emergency room the other day, never mind when--and, actually, I'd been there two days before that, too, but I needed to go back for more bloodwork--and despite bringing two books with me, I was captivated by the following things:

--Both times I went, two days apart, I got very thin, pretty doctors, a brunette and a redhead.  (The redhead was especially pretty, and I'm not usually one for redheads.)  And they were outstanding doctors, too, very thorough, very good at listening and explaining, very steadfast and in-charge.  I'm not just saying that to sound politically-correct, either.  Almost makes me want to get really sick again soon.  Almost.

--Medical care has undergone some serious transformations since I was last in an emergency room.  The one I went to had the worst reputation, and deservedly so, as someone actually died in the waiting room about six years ago.  I'd been there while younger (and poor) and I'd waited five, six, seven hours to get waited on.  These two times, no wait.  (When I asked how long the wait was, the girl said, "There's no waiting here."  I was so surprised, I couldn't stop from blurting, "No wait?  Since when?")

--I soon learned that "No waiting" was a relative term.  There's no waiting in the waiting room, but you'll wait awhile in the receiving room, behind the curtain thing.  But this is still nothing compared to the beard-growing wait it used to be.  Obviously, the death in this emergency room made them get volunteers (the second time, there were two older ladies smiling and preening at me the whole time; the smiles were so wide it was sorta weird. I mean, don't they see illness, injuries and blood all the time?  What the hell do they have to smile about?  Customer service, I know, I know.) that would separate the life-and-death cases from the not-so-much.  I'll bet the dying lady from years ago would've been escorted right in--and wheeled upstairs rather fast, as I saw last time.

--I kept nodding at the doctor like a damned fool.  She could've asked me if my name was Samantha, and I would've kept nodding.  "Would you like to strip now and say 'Woof, woof?'"  Nod.  Nod.

--The employees are like anyplace else: they whine and complain.  I listened for several minutes as some guy whined about how nobody's come to escort me to the x-ray.  Turns out, it was around the corner from my pod, maybe fifteen feet away.  I finally got there about half an hour later.  I felt like shouting, "If someone just wants to point me in the right direction..."

--When I was told to put on the johnny for the x-ray, I asked if I could put it on in the x-ray room, as we didn't know how long I'd be waiting.  This turned out to be a very wise move on my part, as they had me wait in the PIT (an acronym I also heard them complaining about; it stands for Patients in Transit) for about an hour, and it was FREEZING there.  I couldn't imagine sitting there in a johnny all that time.  And who wants to sit in a johnny in a waiting room, while tons of regularly-dressed people are milling about?  Odd.  The lady who told me to get into it I'd already diagnosed as a bit wacky and frazzled, so I didn't hesitate to pull the Jedi Mind Trick on her about the johnny.

--Also, having spent way too much of my life in hospitals, I knew that they rarely insist on the johnny when in the x-ray room.  I was correct here with that, too.  When I got in the room, the lady just asked me to take off my shirt.  I don't think she even knew I was carrying the johnny amongst my stuff.  When she was done, I put my shirt on and asked if she wanted me to leave the johnny there, and she said, "Oh, yeah.  Ummm...Sure."  And the pretty girl who led me in had a dragon on the back of her thin neck.  And she didn't know how to slide the background up and down.  I moved it for her a couple of times.

--Then, back to The Pit for awhile.

--While in The Pit again, this one guy kept babbling at me as I was clearly reading.  (I thought of Holden Caulfield.)  Turns out, he'd somehow gotten something metallic in his index finger, which had swelled to the size of a sausage.  Ewwwwwwww!!!  He said he'd heard they were getting a hand expert in for him.  Then he laughed hysterically at something I said about the show that was on, and then spoke at the show, in bitter, angry, unfunny tones, until he realized I was ignoring him.  Finally he laughed at himself and shut up.

--Another guy waited with me for awhile, but didn't say much.  But when I waited for my discharge papers at the end (which was quite a wait both times, though the stuff was the same), he talked up a storm.  He babbled about how he was sorry that he was called in front of me for the x-ray, even though I'd been waiting there much longer (the thin-necked dragon girl apologized, too; if she hadn't mentioned it, I wouldn't have noticed, as I was feverish, and reading, and otherwise distracted), and about how he was sorry about how much he mentioned that the cops had busted his fingers (he wore a large, bulky half-arm cast that covered most of his hand, but for two fingers, which jutted out like confused, recently-hatched birds), but that he kept mentioning it because he wanted it in the paperwork, so that when he went to the courtroom, it'd be in the paperwork, and how he respected the older, professional cops, but that the younger cops these days are too violent, and how he tries to stop drinking, but...I really wanted to ask him what he'd gotten arrested for, but I simply didn't want to engage him more than he was engaging himself.  Just didn't want to get involved.  But it's nice to see that even violent, drunken offenders who fight with cops have the decency to apologize for cutting you in the x-ray line.

--When the red-headed doctor called me into her office to explain the diagnosis, I felt special.  I mean, everyone else got talked to in The Pit, or in their curtained cell.  I got brought to her office!  And it was about the size of a shoebox.  When she smiled at me, which was often, I was happy.  Can I get a prescription for that instead?

--$100 co-pay EACH time.  Apparently the drastic transformation in health care isn't cheap.

--And another thing I noticed: lots of "providers," lots of "assistants," and lots of "volunteers."  Is there a doctor in the house?  I mean, besides Dr. Redhead, of course.

--As I was paying, a woman came out, strapped to a huge, tall, thick-metal, yellow rolling bed, which looked like the bed version of the thing Sigourney Weaver strapped herself into at the end of Aliens. The woman in that bed was grunting and groaning like a zombie with appendicitis, and her eyes were rolling back into her head.  The five or six people pushing her in that thing all looked worried and shocked.

--Upon seeing this, I said to the woman behind the counter, "She must've just gotten her co-pay bill, too."  I received no response to this at all, not even a GFY smile or an eye-roll.  But I thought it was pretty funny.  The timing was perfect, too, I assure you.  But her job is hard, and I'm sure she sees a lot of scary things.

--I made it a point to notice: every male employee (and quite a few of the male patients) went out of their way to talk to Dr. Redhead.  The pretty girl with the thin neck and dragon tattoo just gave these guys a little smile as she walked by, never once stopping to talk to any of them, though they were clearly trying to engage her in conversation.  You could tell that she very much enjoyed doing this.  She sort of sashayed when she walked.  One guy in green scrubs practically invited himself into Dr. Redhead's kitchen.  He was the fifth one to ask her where she'd been lately, hadn't seen her around.  (She'd been to a Boston hospital and two other Rhode Island ones.)  When she took me into her office, I felt like asking her where she'd been, hadn't seen her around lately.

--A special shout-out to one of my doctors, who undoubtedly has better things to do than read this, but I'll post it anyway.  This kind man, whom I've known literally all my life, gave me a follow-up call tonight.  From his office.  Just past 7 p.m.  Now that's good health care.

--Total time at the emergency room ER on the second day: Three hours.  That's really good.  I got received; I spoke to two doctors (the follow-up guy was a mystery this time and last time); I got listened to; I got treated with respect and intelligence (though I got the impression once that Dr. Redhead was lightly mocking me, but this was, of course, perfectly fine, as she smiled a few times, and laughed, and I don't even want to imagine what stupid expression I had on my face); I got lots of bloodwork done; I talked to a weirdo and a criminal, and I saw a woman have a psychotic break; I saw two very pretty women; I got apologized to by a cop-beating guy with multi-colored hair; I got off a couple of good one-liners, of which only one was laughed at, by the annoying guy with the sausage-swollen finger; I got lots of blog material; I got a cheap scrip that's working fine, without the nasty after-effects of the previous one (Don't go there.); and I essentially got my groove back.  What else can you ask for?

--Woof, woof.  Nod.  Nod.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne--Don't Be Instructed by the Uninstructed

Photo: (Top) Title page of the First Edition, 1850, from the book's Wikipedia page.
Photo: First Editions, from

I have a lot of little things to say about this--about its plot, themes, images, metaphors and writing--so let's just bullet them:

--There was a stretch of fifteen pages (in my book, pages 66-81) of straight narration, with no dialogue at all.  And there were many other shorter stretches of straight narration as well.  This simply wouldn't happen in a book today, unless it was by a magic realist like Salman Rushdie, or someone working within an arcane specialty.  Certainly not by a popular novelist, which Hawthorne was in his day.  Literary agents and publishers would insist, perhaps correctly, that it simply wouldn't hold the reader's attention.

--Considering this, the book is remarkably well-written.  Though it did take me quite awhile to read it because of this fireplace-narration style, it was still well done.  Just hard to get through.  Some of the sentences are brilliant, such as: "...the children of the Puritans looked up from their play,--or what passed for play with those sombre little urchins..."

--Hawthorne was not a lover of Puritans, or of their children.  It comes across as an amusing bias in the book.  You get such straight-laced and sincere narration with such an author-reading voice, then he springs a sentence like the last one on you.  Tolkein did the same, but in more sleep-inducing ways.

--His descriptions and details are ingenious.  I missed them in a glazed stupor because of the blocks of narration, but then one hit me as I read it, and then I went back to see what else I'd missed in my reading doze.  Often, it was a lot.  Describing Pearl's clothing as a purposeful, fiery, living representation of the scarlet letter was a strong idea: "So much strength of coloring...was admirably adapted to Pearl's beauty, and made her the very brightest little jet of flame that ever danced upon the earth."  That's good writing.

--The narration as it unfolds is more or less a series of vignettes starring Hester Prynne.  As such, this would make a good Tarantino film, with a few flourishes, of course.  And you'd have to give her an Uzi.

--Arthur Dimmesdale>Hester Prynne>Pearl = Thomas Jefferson>Sally Hemmings>their descendants, if you follow the drift of the hypocrisy (though, in fairness, Jefferson--as far as I know--didn't give long racist rants).  You could go there with today's conservative, gay-bashing Republicans and their male lovers as well.  The Scarlet Letter is a political novel, too, because the religious leaders of the day were also the political leaders of the day.  That's one of the points of the book: separation of Church and State, after all.

--Art imitates life.  Read the last two sentences above again, and then consider the reasons politicians say they oppose gay marriage, or any number of other societal things.  Anytime you invoke God to pass, or to not pass, legislation, you're violating the most simple and most powerful tenet of this, or of any other, democracy: Separation of Church and State.

--Emma Stone as a child would've made a perfect, intelligent, sassy and fiery Pearl, just as she did as a quasi-Hester Prynne in Easy A.

--Hawthorne went out of his way to pile on the hypocrisy.  The real Governor Bellingham, for example, served in office for just one year before his Puritan constituents threw him out.  His crime?  He married a woman who had been betrothed to a friend of his.  (Notice that the woman's preference mattered little.)

--There's a remarkable benefit of having to wear the scarlet letter.  Since everyone will think badly of you anyway, why not behave as boldly as you wish, all the time?  The need to impress others won't exist.

--And no one will not tell you to behave this way, since you're too sinful to be spoken to anyway.

--Hawthorne had no love for the clergy, of any time.  When Hester visits the Governor, he's in a meeting with a few ministers, and the servant (an enslaved and bonded freeman, but that's another point) says to her: "Yea, his honorable worship is within.  But he hath a godly minister or two with him, and likewise a leech."  The leech turns out to be her worthy husband, Roger Chillingworth.  Dimmesdale is representative of Hawthorne's attitude towards the clergy--when he was in a positive mood.

--Speaking of Dimmesdale, his speech imploring Hester to reveal the name of the father, in front of the populace in the beginning of the book, is an ingenious scene of dichotomy.  Forced by his superior to pull the name from her, he's 100% hoping she will say it, and, of course, 100% hoping she won't, at the same time.

--Her husband was indeed chilling, and her lover was, in fact, a bit dim: "Then, after long search into the minister's dim interior..." (107).  I wrote that observation long before I read that quote; good to know I don't just pull this stuff out of the air.

--"On the wall hung a row of portraits...All were characterized by the sternness and severity which old portraits so invariably put on; as if they were the ghosts, rather than the pictures, of departed worthies, and were gazing with harsh and intolerant criticism at the pursuits and enjoyments of living men."  There are dozens of great passages like this.  Genius.

--The image of the armor acting like a funhouse mirror and making the A of gigantic proportion on her, as if "...she seemed hidden behind it" was another great touch in a book filled with such written flourishes.

--The home that the two men shared with the old woman was adorned with tapestry depicting the story of David and Bathsheba.  Again going out of his way to pile on the metaphors and symbols of guilt and hypocrisy, Hawthorne gives us the famous biblical story of the great man who slept with a minor man's wife, hanging in the house of the man who did the same.

--"When an uninstructed multitude attempts to see with its eyes, it is exceedingly apt to be deceived" (105).  Indeed.  For everyone who fervently believe that most (or, any) of the 9/11 hijackers came from Iraq, or that Obama isn't an American citizen, or that he is Islamic, or a socialist, pay heed.  Don't be instructed by the uninstructed.

--Birthers.  Please.

--Speaking of that, when Romney blurted something Birther recently, it told me he knew he was a rat on a sinking ship.  McCain, for all his faults, was a good, moral man who refused (unlike his pretty but empty VP) to run a campaign based on purposeful misinformation and outright lies.  He even told an audience that Obama was a good, kind man, and not a terrorist.  Mitt should pay heed.  The blind leading the blind, there.

--Mitt.  Please.  At least Clinton didn't actually ask to be called Bubba.  Even a reference to baseball can't save this guy in my eyes.

More to come.  A truly great novel, worth the effort.