Wednesday, December 31, 2008

25 New Films for the National Registry


On December 30, 2008, the Librarian of Congress (James H. Billington) named 25 entries into our National Film Registry--bringing it now to 500 total films. And, it's a very interesting list this year, to be sure. Luckily, I've seen the majority, 14 out of the 25--and many of 11 that I haven't seen, I'd like to view. Of note for those seen:

  • The Asphalt Jungle - one of John Huston's classics and one of my favorite caper films (precisely for a brilliance plan not going as expected)
  • Deliverance - John Boorman's great adaptation of a great novel by James Dickey. IMDb lists the genre as Adventure/Drama/Thriller, but it could be easily listed with Horror (at least most guys look at it that way given Ned Beatty's character's ordeal). I've never had any yearning to do white water rafting after it...
  • In Cold Blood - another exceptional adaptation (this time by Richard Brooks) of the real murder detailed in Copote's book of the same name. One of my all-time favorite cinematographers, Conrad Hall, is notable here for his great black & white work. This film has some of the best flashback scenes, and one of the most chilling endings, ever put on celluloid.
  • The Killers - another of my favorites purely because it's such a great example of the film noir genre. And, it was Burt Lancaster's film debut (and a darn good one!).
  • Sergeant York - one of Gary Cooper's favorite films, and one of Howard Hawks' best (among his many others). I'm a big HH fan...
  • The Terminator - James Cameron's low budget action/sci-fi flick that spawned his recognition as a great director (though his ego and personality definitely rub a great many the wrong way) and film franchise. Many don't remember it as the film that lifted our Governator's movie career from a death spiral (see Steven Seagal as the example of this).

Friday, December 26, 2008

Eartha Kitt: 1927 - 2008

It is with deep sadness that Christmas Day of this year we lost a true and legendary entertainer, Eartha Kitt. I don't say that lightly. She performed on television, film, recording studios, nightclubs (all across the world), and on Broadway--who in this age has done that (or is even capable of doing this)?

Not only that, she was a survivor. The illegitimate daughter of young African-American mother and white father (who she never knew) in times so intolerant of such lineages. She was "given away for slavery" (as she recalled) to abusive and neglectful family members early in life. And, after building a spectacular career, she spoke out against the Vietnam War and suffered through professional exile in the U.S.

Just days ago on our brief vacation, my wife noted after listening in the car radio to her classic Christmas song, Santa Baby, she didn't know why many of those who recorded their versions of that song tried to imitate Kitt's persona while they sang it. They're never were going to out-Eartha Eartha, so why bother? I couldn't agree more. She had such a distinctive voice, personality and talent.

Growing up, I'd see this wonderful woman performer throughout my television viewing. In fact, one of the startling performances I watched in 1965 was Kitt as a drug addicted jazz singer in "The Loser" episode of I Spy. Couple of years later, she took over the part as Catwoman from Julie Newmar in the Batman series, and she became my favorite in that role, ever (...and I've never been the same since). Decades later, in 2000, she was easily the best thing in Disney's The Emperor's New Grove as the villainess Yzme:



Rest in peace, Eartha. You will be sorely missed...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all (as I groggily write this while the kids open their presents this morning).

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Play Me


After checking out Corey's post on this, and only encouraged by Jen at her book blog, I decided to give this a go.




What does your music say about you? 

Put your iPod, Windows Media Player, or whatever music player on shuffle.
For each question, press the ‘next’ button to get your answer.

You must write that song name down no matter how silly it sounds.
Title this post the same as the answer to the final question.


This post has been updated and moved to my current blog, which can be found here.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Two Greats from the Dark Side

Perhaps, it's because I'm listening to Jane Mayer's excellent non-fiction book, The Dark Side, but I feel the need to post on two of my favorite films by Frank Capra. Both were released within two years of each other. At first glance, they are very different from each other, but each have some very similar traits (like great direction, cast, screenplay, etc.)--including a central dark element. The first is the 1944 Arsenic and Old Lace (though it was filmed in 1941 before Capra went to work making movies for the WWII War Dept). For family movie night on the last weekend in November, my wife suggested this movie because she didn't want to get into any Christmas movie (the kids were clamoring for) before December arrived. The family's reaction to it, and critic's pick, caused the itch that this post intends to scratch it with.

This post has been moved and updated to my current blog, which can be found here.

Friday, December 5, 2008

It's the Cars, Stupid

I've been reading Robert X. Cringely's tech column for a number of years. Last week's column looked at Detroit and their woes, and possible cures. You can read it here, or listen to it via MP3. One commenter has the problem down pat with this one quote that includes a joke from the 70's:

I'm 52. I've felt this way since the 70s (except for the time I succumbed to the "buy American" drivel). Back then, the joke was that when fuel economy laws were being proposed, Japanese companies hired more engineers and American companies hired more lawyers.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Let the Argument Begin




I agree with Mr. Crow that anytime someone puts up a "Best of" list you're in for the inevitable argument. Empire's list, here covering the top 25, is way too skewed toward the last few decades in the 20th century, and ignores too many great female movies characters and those of movie animation, altogether. You have Hans Gruber (Die Hard) at 17, but no Henry F. Potter (It's a Wonderful Life)? Even if he's listed below the 25th, that's just wrong. Gollum at the 13th spot, and Pinocchio is where? For that matter, where's any of Bogart's characters--go ahead, pick one: Rick Blaine, Sam Spade, etc. (I'll wait...)? And, I'd be just as wrong to ignore the Betty Davis roles (Margo Channing, Baby Jane Hudson, etc.). Very few of the current crop of actresses even come close to her. Who stands out as overlooked for you?

Any on Your List?




The N.Y. Times came out with their list of the most notable (for holiday gift giving) books for this year. For me, there was only one from the list in my queue for my reading/listening: The Dark Side: The Inside Story How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals by Jane Mayer. I'm interested to know how many on this list were read (or in queue) for you?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Whitewash!!!

Big News Orgs Help Bush Whitewash History of Iraq War

I hate to make this my first post of December, but what's happening in the major news outlets is beyond wrong. I'd say this is one of the most important posts from TPM and Greg Sargent. The, I was fooled by bad intel excuse is pathetic, stupid, and plain wrong (but, what else should I expect from the Worst...President...Ever). But, unfortunately, the likes of Washington Post, NY Times, CNN, Reuters, and others are blatantly attempting to sell this crap to their readers. I hope the bloggers, commenters, and alternate news sites pick this up and run with it because this is just propaganda (and evidence of one of the most corrupt U.S. administrations in history). And, it is helped by the years of conglomeration of the news media by corporations buying up most of those outlets.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The One Day Read

The late Michael Crichton, besides being a very successful author and one of the first progenitors of the hybrid genre known as the techno-thriller, holds one other unique distinction for me. He wrote the first book I read, no--consumed, in a one day period. I believe every avid reader, early in their genesis, collided/merged/plunged into that one book (like no other before it) and could not break away till it was read to the last page.

That one novel/hardcover/paperback became for the individual their first black hole experience in readership. For me, the event horizon came with Mr. Crichton's first published book (at least under his real name), The Andromeda Strain. There have been others, but this one was my first (did that make me a virgin to that point? No, don't answer that.)

I remember it fondly, still. It was early 1970, and I was home sick from high school (10th grade). I lived at that time with my maternal grandmother, along with her youngest, my uncle. He was a reader, like his sister, my mother. I was bored being home and went looking for something to peruse and found this 1969 hardcover. I started it around 10:30 in the morning, and finished it just after 11 PM (I did take fitful breaks, but it kept pulling me back in). If my wife reads this, she's gonna complain that I'm being nostalgic once more (but, so what?).

So, my questions to you:
  1. what book was it for you?
  2. when was it?
  3. fiction or non-fiction?
  4. hardcover or paperback?

Happy Thanksgiving

I hope you and yours have a wonderful and festive holiday. And, drive carefully.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Way Too Early for This

Every year in SoCal, KOST 103.5 FM broadcasts Christmas music. At first, some years ago, they'd start this on the eve. Then, years later, the week of... followed by the month of the yuletide season--or right after the Thanksgiving weekend. And, I think last year, they began it during the T-day* weekend.

Last night, on the way home from picking up my teen from his after-school program, I discovered, to my horror, that the radio station had started it that day (Nov 21st)!?! So, they jumped over that Fall holiday altogether to get the Xmas season underway. Un-believable...

* to borrow Corey Wilde's family term for Thanksgiving ;-)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I Haven't Been Called a Bookworm Since Junior High


..., and it wasn't a compliment back then. But, I certainly take it as one now. Jen, the wonderful book blogger of Jen's Book Thoughts, has so graced me. And, I thank her for it. Now, for my part in this, I'm supposed to do the following:

"Open the closest book to you--not your favorite or most intellectual book, but the book closest to you at the moment--to page 56. Write out the fifth sentence as well as the next two or three sentences. Pass this on to five blogging friends."

The closest book is the one on my computer table, right next to my iMac, it is The Great Raid on Cabanatuan, by William B. Breuer. It is one of the small handful of historical books chronicling the Raid at Cabanatuan. Between the fictional books/audiobooks I read, I always throw in some of history into that mix--it comes by way of having a father who fought in WWII. I had read one of the other books on this event, Ghost Soldiers, by Hampton Sides, some years ago and wanted another author's take on it. Eerily, when I opened the book for this post, it opened right on page 56. Some things are meant to be, I guess...

For seven days, the prisoners were kept there, unprotected from the pot-boiler sun. No food was provided. They had to line up for the twelve hours to get a canteen of water from the lone spigot. They fainted by the score. Each morning, a hundred or more unconscious POWs were hauled away to unknown fates.
The ordeal in the Pacific for the survivors wasting away at this Japanese POW camp was just another level of misery piled on them. These were the same men who to this point in the event had already survived what many would think have been two lifetimes worth of torment:
If this were someone's fictional story, the publisher would have rejected it for its cruelty and unbelievability. But, its a true, life-affirming and absolutely heroic written account of what happened there.

I will pass this bookworm award to the following and invite them to play (but only if it is their wish to):
No worries...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Required Amount of Consolation

Besides the summer movies that I looked so forward to, and now have come and gone, my other highly anticipated film is set to arrive tomorrow. The Quantum of Solace:
Maybe it's because of my age and that my formative years
included watching this movie series from a young age. Or,
maybe that's it just plain escapist fun to go into a large
movie theater and get blasted by story and special effects
and forget about the world for two hours.

Either way, I'm so there this weekend--but being the
responsible parent that I am, I'm taking the kids to
Madagascar 2, as well (out of sheer guilt). So, if you've
enjoyed 007, try answering these questions:
  1. which was the first Bond film you ever saw?
  2. was it in a movie theater or in the comfort of your own home?
  3. who were you with?
  4. have you seen them all?
  5. which of these is your all-time favorite?
  6. your least favorite?
  7. which of the actors portraying Bond is your favorite?
  8. which of them is your least favorite?
  9. which is your favorite Bond girl?
  10. and your least favorite?
Here are my answers:
  1. Goldfinger
  2. theater, in 1964
  3. my mother's younger brother took this 10-year-old with him on its first run
  4. yes!
  5. Goldfinger, but From Russia with Love is a close second ;-)
  6. View to a Kill (Roger Moore too old at that point, story that dated too quickly, bad Bond girl (see below), bad henchwoman)
  7. Sean Connery, no surprise, right? (but I do find Daniel Craig's portrayal intriguing)
  8. George Lazenby (and it frustrates me no end that he was in the best story of the series, and with the best Bond girl)
  9. Diana Rigg (pure class--though I have a special place in my heart for Honor Blackman [who has the best name in the entire series ;-)]
  10. tie between Tanya Roberts and Lois Chiles
Cheers!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Vote

November 4, 2008. For the two years I've been watching this, its...finally...here... Probably the most important election that I've voted in quite a while, and I've been doing this for 36 years. The morning show on our local oldies station, K-EARTH 101, asked the listeners to call in and mention which presidential election they first voted in, and for who. The results were interesting to listen to. Here's mine:


1972--the first time 18 year olds were allowed to vote (previously, the age limit was that you had to be 21)--and this 18-year-old voted for McGovern (who really hurt his chances by picking Eagleton*). There was no way I was going to vote for Nixon since I'd watched some politics to that point, and everyone in California was well aware of his politic career since this was his home state. Many didn't trust him, and for good reason (as the rest of the country would soon find out). Do you recall yours? I'd be interested to find out.

I originally registered as a Democrat. But, changed to Independent in the late eighties. I found it more comforting--especially, if I voted for a Republican. Plus, it made me more free to express my criticism of either party, when warranted (which I have done, too). This year, so I could vote for a Democrat in the state primary, I had to select a party ballot to cast my vote their way. So, I selected Democrat, again. Anyway, I'm excited, and nervous as all get out, for election  results. I (and my wife) have already voted, by absentee ballot over a week ago (to make sure it was in to be counted early by the October 31st deadline here in California). And, if you've been reading this blog, my pick (in State and National election) won't surprise you. It's Obama.

* I'm hoping history repeats itself and penalizes McCain for his pick of Palin

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Happy Halloween

As has been my practice for the month of October, I spin up some of my horror collection in the old DVD player. Of course, she-who-must-be-obeyed frowns upon me including the kids during this time of excess. But, no matter. It's been a tradition of mine going back many years, and started before I married--and if she read this, that'll be another point of discussion (duck!).

The John Carpenter classic, pictured here, is a favorite--with good reason. Though I didn't play it this year, this movie became the archetype for the slasher genre. Unfortunately, while this film was original for a low-budget horror piece and had a very creative director, the genre only had limited quantities of quality in story-lines and structure. And, even this one was somewhat derivative from the earlier 1974 movie by the late Bob Clark (of , A Christmas Story fame, another annual treat), Black Christmas. Both of these great films, compared to what came later, displayed little blood and gore, but plenty for the viewer's imagination and tension.

Okay, on to this year's October horror-fest of movies. The 1981 An American Werewolf in London is first on the list. At only 97 minutes, director John Landis created one of the best werewolf films, ever. Effectively moody, and with great bits of American and British humor thrown about, it still holds up well in story, even after a good many years. The one thing about this particular horror genre, that goes back to the original, The Werewolf, is its tragic, sad nature. And, Landis, though remembered for a lot of excesses in his films, recognized this fact when he brought this to the screen. If you saw this in the theater (as I once did), many were more than a little stunned by its final outcome (especially since it's so easy to care for those plucky Yanks). The other wonderful thing about this film is its great soundtrack. Using many of the older, moon-themed songs, this really connected with the pop culture in a way seldom done before. If you've seen this movie, you know what I write about when you recall the use of CCR's Bad Moon Rising as the pre-cursor to Rick Baker's now famous transformation sequence of actor David Naughton. The year 1981 had another solid entertaining werewolf movie, The Howling. But, it is this one that I remember more dearly.

Next, I did try to have one for the family movie night, the early Tim Burton favorite, Beetlejuice. Unfortunately, the kids couldn't hang through to the end. I thought that since the kids loved The Nightmare Before Christmas, that they'd enjoy this one. They just about went screaming out of the room. Damn... Dad strikes out, again (his wife, chided). Anyway, it's one of my favorites, with one of my favorite actresses, Geena Davis (who I happened to see a couple of weeks ago at my daughter's school carnival / book festival). And, yes, she's tall. But, the others here, namely Michael Keaton as the bio-exorcist, are a joy to watch. Burton's imagination and unique production values make him something special. Not all of his movies work, but few look anywhere close to them in style and design. Finally, I got out his other great work, Sleepy Hollow. Depp and company really shined on this Burton production. Though not truly Halloween-themed, it has shown itself to be one of the better ones for this time of year. Some of the splendid, haunting visuals here, not counting the beheadings (of course), make some in the industry truly jealous. Many sets/scenes are eerily beautiful. That, and any movie that has the great Christopher Lee and the uncredited Christopher Walken (as the Horseman) in the same movie is going to make it as one of my all-time scary fun favorites just on principle, alone.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Geography Has Always Surprised Me




Even when I was in high school and college, geography always fascinated me. For me, the least surprising in this list (only because I was familiar with Mediterranean Climates):

Buenos Aires, Los Angeles, Cape Town, and Sydney are each thousands of miles apart and are known for having unusually pleasant year-round climates, and they are all almost identical distances from the Equator


Easily the most stunning for me:

About 90% of the world’s population lives in the Northern Hemisphere.


That simple piece of human geography just about floored me. Then, I thought about the major centers of commerce, the dominant nation states of the world, and the points of long-lasting crises, and suddenly it was no longer that stunning. And only I failed to take it all into account. Makes me recall comedian Paul Rodriguez's quote:

"Sometimes I think war is God's way of teaching us geography."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Commonsense... from a Director, at that


No hysterics, no hype. Ron gives a sincere plea through a couple of his classic characters. Andy Griffith and Henry Winkler join in on this great gathering and straightforward message. Even though I was already sold on the product, I found this a good political ad. And, as opposed to the one I will not vote for, it's not negative. Nor does it treat its audience as one to be scared into voting.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I'm Tagged and I'm Late

The very kind and gracious Gay tagged me back on the 15th of this month. Unfortunately, I'm just getting to this now. No worries, Gay--and I'm happy to respond.

In the spirit of it all, I'm to post the rules (as they've been relayed to me, that is):
  1. Display the award
  2. Link back to the person who gave you this award
  3. Nominate 7 other blogs
  4. Put links to those blogs on your blog
  5. Leave a message on the blogs of the people you've nominated
  6. Copy the questions, answer and post them here













Thank you, Gay @ Words in Place.

For this tag, I'll nominate 7 interesting bloggers who also share It's a Wonderful Life as a favorite [and you all have a chance to win ;-)]:

Answer in one word:
1. Where is your cell phone? belt
2. Where is your significant other? bed
3. Your hair color? peppered
4. Your mother? heaven
5. Your father? hell
6. Your favorite thing? curiosity
7. Your dream last night? cold
8. Your dream/goal? lightheartedness
9. The room you're in? living
10. Your hobby? golf
11. Your fear? emptyness
12. Where do you want to be in 6 years? graduation
13. Where were you last night? home
14. What you're not? great
15. One of your wish-list items? awareness
16. Where you grew up? SoCal
17. The last thing you did? thought
18. What are you wearing? smirk
19. Your TV? lit
20. Your pet? canine
21. Your computer? Mac
22. Your mood? eager
23. Missing someone? spouse
24. Your car? silver
25. Something you're not wearing? watch
26. Favorite store? grocery
27. Your summer? fleeting
28. Love someone? yes
29. Your favorite color? red
30. When is the last time you laughed? today
31. Last time you cried?
movie


Thank you.

Two Words: Bone Saw




In honor of this month's Halloween festivities, Drew Tewksbury (honest...that's suppose to be his name--Linkedin says he has a M.A. in Journalism from USC) has an interesting list of imaginative and under-appreciated movie deaths. To prove my jaded view, I've seen all but four of them.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Blowback Comes in All Forms


BLOWBACK: Unforeseen consequences and events that blow up in one's face, like a faulty weapon.

I'm intrigued when a term that means one thing, is re-tooled to mean another with perfect pitch. Blowback is such a term. Originally meant to describe, "a process in which gases expand or travel in a direction opposite the usual one, esp. through escape of pressure or delayed combustion." Later, it was described by intelligence services as the unintended, adverse result of political or covert action (see Soviet-Afghan War and read Charlie Wilson's War). Why paraphrase it here? Because it came to me watching last night's second Presidential Debate--specifically when taxes were brought up.

In this case, pertaining to corporate taxes, many fail to see what is obvious to those who monitor the national debt. When Bush lowered taxes for corporations and the richest (his first major economic initiative in 2001) in the U.S., it started the biggest contribution to raising our debt--after two terms, he just about doubled the debt, now 10 trillion as of September 30. 2008. All of this to put us on track with the trickle down theory, again. Inequity widened under this policy (those that didn't need the help got richer, the middle class took on more burden, and those that really needed it, got none). Because of this, our gross national debt compared to GNP (how rich we are) has reached its lowest level.

Back to the debate, the problems I have with the Republican candidate are these:
  1. he wants to continue the tax cuts of Bush (thus making us poorer)
  2. wants to continue a war that was started on false premises (continuing our military outlay in blood and treasure)
  3. believed in de-regulation of Wall Street (see McCain's economic advisor, Phil Gramm)
  4. wants to fix the economy, but is blind to the impact of the first three items here
I'm sure those in the current lame-duck administration didn't want to mortgage the future of American citizens for years to come and wreck the global economy (along with the same Wall Street they hoped to benefit). But, that was the consequence of their fiscal policies. Blowback. I do not know about them, but when most people get stuck in a hole, the smart ones stop digging! McCain does not seem to want to stop digging. Of course, their wonderful counter-argument is to say, "if you raise taxes on the wealthy, they'll cut jobs." Really? Then why was it, during the Clinton years (which had a higher tax rate on corporations and the richest compared to now), we had balanced budgets, high productivity with low unemployment, an expanding middle class, lowering debt, and a budget surplus?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Home Movie Weekend


With she-who-must-be-obeyed away in the rainy Pacific Northwest visiting family, it was a Dad & Kids weekend. Yes, it means more fast food in their menu--but, my wife didn't marry me for cooking skills ;-). Homework, the scourge of children and parents, alike, was completed. And with that out of the way early, that meant our usual movie weekend. For Friday evening, it was Jon Favreau's really fun Iron Man, in a crank up the home theater session for the whole clan. Robert Downey, Jr. is even better than the special effects in this. But, IM deploys its effect intelligently. As opposed to other recent fare (cough...I am Legend...cough), this director knows when to use CG figures, and use them sparingly. IaL is one of the worst in overusing CG (and it's just bad looking CG, at that). A great start for this weekend.

And while the kids were watching Support Your Local Gunfighter (sort of sequel to the more
 successful Support Your Local Sheriff) on Saturday, dad took in Doug Liman's great update of The Bourne Identity. A wonderfully plotted thriller that brought the character to the forefront and created a very fun film franchise. In fact, the film and its sequels actually improved upon Robert Ludlum's book trilogy. While the first book is easily one RL's best, the subsequent literary follow-ups went down in quality with each sequel publication. Eric Van Lustbaden has picked up the mantle for this book series, which I'll eventually give a try. For the movie, like with Downey, Matt Damon surprised a lot of people with his wonderful performance in this series. And if anyone is interested in trying the abridged audiobook for first book, try to avoid it (it's not worth the time).

Next, I  introduced the kids to some 80's film fare with the modern fairy tale, Splash. Way before he started to be taken seriously, Ron Howard directed this successful movie that raised all boats (careers) for those involved. And, the kids enjoyed it--though my son really liked the Daryl Hannah's sans-clothes scenes...hope my wife doesn't read this post. And after I got the brood in bed, I got one of my all-time favorites into the player, 
Stanley Donen's Charade. Not only did it have two of my favorite actors, the classy Audrey Hepburn and the great Cary Grant, but it is that rare film where story, cast, dialog and director came together, perfectly. Even the supporting cast had more of my favorites (Matthau, Coburn, Kennedy). Additionally, Donen matches Hitchcock in producing the type of comedy thriller that Alfred became famous for (some think Charade is more fun than any of that genre that became synonymous with the British great). It also was the only time on celluloid that Audrey and Cary were matched together (even though many a producer tried to pair them for years). Both actors worked with Donen multiple times, but the three came together magically in this one instance. And even though he was almost sixty when this 1963 film was lensed, the old circus performer Grant was as spry and nimble, as ever. The man was something. And, this ended things on a high note. Oh, and stay far, far away from the very poor remake Hollywood attempted to produce (The Truth About Charlie). Someone deserved to shot for that one.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Starbursts Are Not Leadership


... and if the Republican VP nominee winks at the camera just one more time, instead of answering a question, I'm going to puke. The more I see of her, the more I see another future Fox News TV analyst reading off the prompter. The folksy tales (you betcha) only go so far as the real effects of our global financial crisis have only started to hit, and our national debt skyrockets. And if I hear the word Maverick come out of her mouth just one more time, I'm gonna... (taking...deep...breath).

BTW, is it just me or do you not ever hear the Republican candidates ever mention the word Republican--or Bush--in their speeches, or debate answers. The only thing you hear is something like, "mistakes were made", or "we're going to look forward" instead of making any inference as to the disaster of the last eight years under the party of Lincoln. I'm old enough to remember when GOP candidates made valid points or self criticisms during the course of their election campaigns. Now it's simply talking points, bromides and truisms in response to questions that demand real answers. I'll get off my soapbox, for now.

Sheesh...


Krugman has this thing pegged, unfortunately.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Corey's Important Post


After returning from performing three days of my civic duty in Jury Duty, I couldn't have found a more timely post than this one from Corey Wilde's blog. He eloquently highlights Banned Books Week and its celebration of "the Freedom to Read" by the American Library Association. This is an important observation that, unfortunately, requires a constant and vigilant reminding to all. Kudos to the ALA, and to Corey who posted this.

Monday, September 22, 2008

"There are better ways forward."


by Sebastian Mallaby

The more I listen to the Sunday news talk shows, and read the (web) news articles, the more it sounds like we've been here, before. The hurry placed on the Congress to approve the proposed bail out of financial institutions, without much examination or proposed changes, sounds like a another "mushroom cloud" threat and reaction. And we now know the results of that endeavor.

The Post Op-Ed columnist, Sebastian Mallaby, brings some sense into our current situation and mentions the other, more viable, alternatives that isn't getting much attention. And, puts the proper historical perspective to the proponents comparison with the clean up of the savings and loan crisis. The key segment:

Within hours of the Treasury announcement Friday, economists had proposed preferable alternatives. Their core insight is that it is better to boost the banking system by increasing its capital than by reducing its loans. Given a fatter capital cushion, banks would have time to dispose of the bad loans in an orderly fashion. Taxpayers would be spared the experience of wandering into a bad-loan bazaar and being ripped off by every merchant.


Now, whether cooler heads will decide this one is the question. Again, we're being sold fear, and the need to act quickly, over scrutinizing what we're buying and ignoring more bad policy from an administration with a long record of proposing such.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Finally Finished the [insert epithet] Amazon Guide


One of the things I promised I'd do this summer was create my first Amazon So you'd like to... guide. Under my profile, there, I had done some reviews and listmania lists, but never a guide. This year, with the summer 2008 release of Robert Crais' latest, Chasing Darkness, and Brilliance Audio finally releasing the first five in the Elvis Cole series, in unabridged form, I thought it would be a good one to start with. Easy, right? Yeah... It all reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite westerns, Richard Brooks' The Professionals:

Everything is as usual. I need guns and bullets, as usual. The war goes badly, as usual. Only you, you are not as usual.-- Jesus Raza (Jack Palance)


Nothing came easy in that film. Same here. First, I had to wait until all of those new releases came out and I listened to those audiobooks--along with all of the others in the series. That was enjoyable (re-reading a favorite series is great stuff). But, then I had to start composing the guide. Start...stop...on...off (rinse and repeat). I envy those who can write so elegantly--so effortlessly. That's not me (sigh). Anyway, when I finally had it where I wanted it, I went to Amazon's create a guide page. Filled in the title, qualifications, tags, and copied in my text. I saved and checked it over. But when I pressed the Publish button: "Inappropriate Language, please edit the text below."

I love language filters...not. After spending the last six days going blind to find the inappropriate parts in my guide (no bad words ever existed there), speaking with Amazon's call center (somewhere overseas--one can always tell by the phone lag), writing to their contact email (not very easy to find, and they never replied), I found myself getting nowhere, quickly. No cavalry would be coming over the ridge, at least from Amazon's part. Turned out, since I first drafted the guide on a word processing application (who shall remain nameless), it insisted upon inserting unicode symbols for my punctuation. After weeding them all out and getting it all down to plain text, did it finally post my guide. Whew... If anyone is interested, here it is:

 

I Hope I'm Quirky Enough

The generous Jen (Jen's Book Thoughts) has 'tagged' me in the quirky game. Fair enough, I'm quirky...er, game.

The Rules Are:

1. Link to the person who tagged you
2. Post the rules on your blog
3. Write 6 random things/unspectacular quirks about yourself
4. Tag 6 people at the end of your post and link to them
5. Let each person you have tagged know by leaving a comment on their blog
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is posted.

My quirks are:

One...I've never liked the feel of velvet--it has the like scratching your fingers on a chalkboard-like feel for me.

Two...I can snag anything. Meaning, I can walk by an object, and if it has a part that can be caught up (like a loop in a loose knit sweater), I'll accidentally catch it with something on my person...it's a gift, I know.

Three...when I sneeze, and my family can attest to this, it is in a group of three. My kids now know to wait for the third one to say 'bless you'.

Four...like Jen, I despise 'reality' TV programming (it's a senseless narcotic that keeps us unaware of the more important things).

Five...red would be my favorite color, but I never wear it (though, I'll quickly notice it on others, especially a woman wearing red lipstick).

Six...without effort, I can spot out-of-plumb wall fixtures or pictures wherever I go (and I fight with myself to not straighten them).

For this social network game, I'm suppose to tag six others. So, I'll pick what I think are six interesting bloggers, who just happen to list L.A. Requiem, a Crais favorite of mine, as one of theirs in their blogspots:
  1. Ryan at Worst Case Scenario
  2. Gay Degani at Words in Space
  3. Cory at The Drowning Machine
  4. Dave Stewart at Fabric of Verse
  5. D.S. Brown at Slings and Arrows
  6. Slade Wilson at Slade's Place
For those of them interested in playing, I look forward to their posts. If they opt for not, (hopefully) no harm done.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Need 9/11-like Commission? Not Really...

Regardless what the Republican Presidential candidate says, we don't need a 9/11-like commission to get to the bottom of the current financial crisis. It's pretty clear what's driving this meltdown:


And, there's plenty of blame to go around:

Key quote here is:
Both Republicans and Democrats in Washington ended up "supporting deregulation, even as newly minted but little-understood products like derivatives proliferated."

Add to this our government's inclination (and bad habit) of printing money to try to pay for things. Our balance sheets are getting trashed--plain and simple. The dollar continues to lose value. And, it all comes down to bad policies by our government. Unfortunately, we (the taxpayers) are going to have to pay for this. Great... Sounds like the answer to the question: How to move from a government surplus to a humongous national debt and global economic crisis in eight years, or less. 

Friday, September 12, 2008

"I told them a story. You play games, I told them a story."

With the wife still at work due to today's train accident in Chatsworth, I put Three Days of the Condor into the DVD player while home alone with the kids. Maybe it's because I'm currently listening to James Grady's latest on audiobook, Mad Dogs, that I brought this disc out of my library and into the player. Or, perhaps I didn't want to dwell upon the inane tragedy and aftermath of two trains meeting head long on the same track. Or, that a hurricane is bearing down on the gulf coast, and all readily available for those watching TV, and I sought refuge in a movie. Too bad it's fleeting. I never read the book it's based upon, Six Days of the Condor, but heard it was quite good. I also know that they changed the story's premise from Vietnam and drugs, to oil for the screenplay. Remember, this came out in 1975. Watergate, oil shortages, and paranoia were actively shaping the boomers of my day -- with the aftereffect and outlook still felt among us.

Regardless, it is still a quite effective thriller and exposition of that decade. Robert Redford always did work well for his most frequent collaborator, the late director Sydney Pollack. And while Dunaway, Cliff Robertson and others give solid supporting roles, the viewer to drawn to Max Von Sydow's freelance assassin, Joubert. While the plot has the CIA and its Operations directorate behind it all for the audience of that day, it's the fleeing book reader/analyst and detached assassin that offer the best contrast in the film, especially over time. Joe Turner's (Redford) dilemma in the story is the sense of betrayal -- the symbol for that decade. For Joubert, he cannot be betrayed since he believes in neither side. He cares not about the 'why' for any of his jobs (sometimes the where and indeed the how), but always about the 'how much' -- which seems to be something very perceptible for those of us around during the 90s to now (at least as of the date of this posting). Additionally, the film's ambiguous ending for the protagonist turned out to be the standard plot point for films from the turbulent 70s. Paradoxically, that would work out for us, today.

Lastly, this film's effective use of New York City as a backdrop is what really brought the blog post out of me in the gloaming. The crisp, wintery cityscape in which the story was shot, plays out well for the people caught in the story's intrigue and the sanctum they seek from the cold. Cinematographer Orrin Roizman provided what turned out to be some truly haunting visuals, especially for those taking the film in, years later, post 9/11. City central in this screenplay (and for the CIA) are the Twin Towers -- a made-up plot point about the Agency by the author that turned out to be true from the original novel. The visuals that Roizman catches and puts on display for the WTC are those from now historic and well remembered (and recorded) perspectives. Twenty years later (in 1995), I flew directly over those towers on a commuter flight from Hartford to Newark to catch a long flight back home from a business trip. The only time I ever saw the WTC in person, and the view of them was stunning, then and now. And since yesterday was the 7th anniversary of that infamous day, the irony and coincidence is not lost on me tonight.

Blogger note: since the time of this writing, I have read the original book. I've come to realize that Corey Wilde was right. The film is definitely more enjoyable than the book.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Plans, with in Plans, with in Plans

Frank Herbert's Dune is a Sci-Fi classic, bar none. A masterpiece of writing, regardless of genre, first published in 1965--and winner of that year's Nebula Award. The Hugo arrived the following year. And, as I write this, I've just finished my third reading (in a fashion) of this wonderful work. When it was first released, IIRC, I was in sixth grade. I knew nothing, nor cared, about books--except those forced upon me by my school teachers, that is. My love of books and reading wouldn't bloom till after I left the cauldron of high school, some years later. And to my mother, I will always be beholden for that quiet seed she planted so gently, done purely by example.

I guess, I find it strange recalling my mother this evening after finishing Herbert's grand book that spawned an enthralling series. It captivated (and still does) a congregation of loyal readers. But, for my mother, books were her world (outside of her sons, that is). She collected and read all sorts of literature and popular written works. Dad, on the other hand, just collected women--there's a reason he was married three times, and divorced twice. Though, I'm sure he read all sorts of phone numbers on the back of matchbooks. But, I digress... Even through the rough times, and they could get quite difficult for single parent burdened with child raising responsibilities and what would be twenty years of RA, the quiet, intense joy I'd see in my mother's eyes as turned book page after book page, left an impression with her oldest.

No, I don't think I see the book's character of Lady Jessica in mom, for those Psych majors reading this. But, I think she'd be flattered. The scope and scale in this book is only augmented by Herbert's prose as he creates such a detailed universe in an unimaginable future. The first in the Dune series has just about everything in it: intrigue, action, religion, myth and pure creative power. Having finally picked it up and first read in the early eighties, I've only grasped more with each turn with it. The second was after I discovered audiobooks (after the turn of the century)--the now hard to find unabridged version by Recorded Books. George Guidall performed this wonderfully, mind you. But, it is surpassed with the 2007 release, by Renaissance Audio. This version, read by Simon Vance, Scott Brick, and a host of others was simply enthralling. And, that RA--not the bad one that my mom suffered with, is bringing the entire Frank Herbert original series to new digital audio by re-releasing it with this cast of readers. It will culminate with Chapterhouse Dune in early 2009. The original unabridged cassette audiobooks of this series are now quite rare, and do not offer the production values of more recent audiobook publishers. All I can say is, Thank You, Mother, For Bringing Books Into My Life.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Of Horror and Empathy



About a couple of weeks ago, the wonderful and eclectic folk at the Criterion Collection re-released Pasolini's Salo (120 Days of Sodom). If that title doesn't ring a bell, it was the last, highly controversial work of that Italian artist, intellectual, filmmaker and writer. Based on a work of torture/degradation by the Marquis de Sade, it is said that it was Pasolini's masterwork examining Fascism (and Capitalism) in general, and Italy during World War II in particular. I've heard that many college film courses play and examine this work--and that it's been described as nauseating, gory, sick, and nothing less than pornographic. I've always wanted to see the film that some viewers describe this way only because many others consider it a masterpiece. The question is, why haven't I?

My wife, who knows my love of film (and books), and the many DVDs that we house, would just laugh at this. Why? She knows that I've watched a great many movies, that to her, are disturbing. I'm sure that she bases this on a good bit in the collection (books, too) that are in the horror category. Yes, I admit, that for many years since my teens I've read, listened, or watched those works  that go bump in the night (along with other genres). I remember (fondly) when my relatives warned me to not to go and see The Exorcist when it first hit the theaters. Of course, for my brother (considered the tougher one of us), they didn't worry or say anything to him about it. The end result? He went to see it, and slept with the lights on in his room for the next three months, afterwards. Me? I wanted to read the William Peter Blatty book that it was based upon.

But, interestingly, not all horror works attract my attention. The trend of gore, perhaps started in the low budget, exploitive works of the sixties & seventies, in the horror category is a clue, here. Am I frightened or repulsed by it? If it's something inherent or logical in a good story, the answer is no. Alien, with it's (in)famous chest burster scene, is one of my all-time favorites. Same goes for John Carpenter's The Thing, where its extraordinary make-up and grisly effects added to the story's paranoia and dread (to a film that was far ahead of its time). I could name many others that exploited gore to effective end. So, on that end of the scale, that aspect should not stop me in taking in Pasolini's midnight movie classic.

I think, secretly mind you, it's related to that imperceptible line that some directors, writers, or artists push (or cross) to either make some revealing point (which is defensible), or to cross it (and turnaround to scratch it completely off) just because they can do it to the audience (which is much less defensible). The horror sub-genre some later nicknamed torture porn is just an example of this. I think Clive Barker really made an early (eighties) mark in this, way before critics coined the term (for the later examples of Eli Roth, Takashi Miike, Rob Zombie, etc.), with his Hellraiser film (based upon the his book, The Hellbound Heart). He pushed (successfully) that line. Though, it seems some of the recent films seem overly abusive just for sadism's (the term derived from the Marquis' surname, mind you) sake. I guess I like to watch film instead of cringing at the screen or taking it in through my stretched fingers (while I hold my hand over my face).

The lack of empathy is what I fear, I guess. That and the images that get etched into one's minds--for days, weeks, or always--after the viewer takes it in. And, I don't just hold filmmakers up to examination, here--this is warning to those even thinking of picking up Edward Lee's work (The Bighead is one I'll stay far away from). Perhaps, I'm getting soft in my old age. Or, more empathetic since I became a parent in the mid-nineties. Anyway, one of these days I'll take in that Pasolini title (... or those unopened DVDs like Inside, City of the Living Dead, and Imprint that some of my jaded co-horts have prodded me to watch). But, I wouldn't hold my breath...



Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Security Hack Taylor Made for the Young Generation


Herbert H. Thompson's Scientific American article is a great primer how one should help themselves in protecting their identity online. But, IMO, it points out a generational difference, too. I see this easily in my work environment when it comes to most things technical (computer systems-related). For those my (ahem) age, learning the newer concepts that come with (work) databases, VPNs, EMR, or  web applications can either be daunting, or something to rail against.

But, bring those up with users a couple of generations later (in the same workplace), and there's instant recognition of the technology, or the need for it. Gen X, and especially Y, were raised with technology, and don't fear it. However, no fear, especially with the free social network tools available to anyone with Internet access, is a double-edged sword when it comes to falling prey to the hack Mr. Thompson chillingly writes about here.

What the younger generations put online today, brings stunned looks from we boomers. But, I guess our suspicion of authority, at least in this niche, can be a good thing. Of course, when gen Z arrives (and are taught from birth about what shouldn't be put online), they'll just laugh about those old Xers and Millenlials...and the boomers will be only the stuff for the History majors ;-).

Out of the Mouth of Babes

First off, I love my kids (really). And, much to the chagrin of their mother, I've successfully indoctrinated them into the music I grew up with by way of listening to L.A.'s oldest oldie station there is, K-EARTH 101. All sorts of great music has passed through their young ears--from the Beatles of pop to the soul of all the Motown greats. But, all of this backfires on their old man whenever they nostalgically reminisce to song like this and say, "Dad, remember this song from the (live action movie) Scooby-Doo 2?" Or, when they take this Monkee's tune, and wax on about it from the Shrek movies. Is nothing sacred anymore? I just roll my eyes and say, "No, I remember when it (truly) first came out on radio." Of course, none of this would happen if studio execs had an ounce of creativity anymore and stopped re-cycling ideas (and songs) in the content they now roll out to our children!!! But, I'm reacting too strongly...right?