Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Rip Roarin' Time ...

And the Hunter S. Hunter Memorial Intoxicated Revelry Lifetime Achievement Award for 2010 goes to ... drum roll ...  Elmore "Rip" Torn!

Mr. Torn has not only built an enviable body of work in this arena over the course of his long career but is perhaps at the top of his game today, at nearly 79 years of age, when many of his contemporaries have slowed down, retired or passed on to their great reward.

From the knife-wielding confrontation with Dennis Hopper during pre-production of Easy Rider (after which he lost the part to Jack Nicholson, even though it was written specifically for him) to his inebriated hammer fight with Norman Mailer in 1971, right up to his arrest Friday night for attempted burglary of a Connecticut bank blind drunk with an unregistered gun, he's done it all.  Admittedly, this last masterpiece appears to be unintentional (the "breaking into the bank" part, not the "get smashed to beat the band" piece): he apparently thought he was locked out of his own house when he broke in.  But that only makes his talent instinctive, primordial.  There is no pretense to his handiwork.

Mr. Torn hasn't slowed down in his golden years, having turned the streets of Manhattan into his own personal pinball machine through much of the 00's, as demonstrated through numerous DUIs there.  My favorite performance of his involved him apparently going to a bar and getting hammered after picking up a Christmas tree and then attempting to drive home from the watering hole after last call, weaving through the streets with the evergreen tied to the hood of the car. 

Maybe it's telling that he has a degree in Animal Husbandry: he's been doing research into their psyche ever since.  "He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man" - Dr. Samuel Johnson.  Hunter Thompson included it in the epigram to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and often used the quote when describing his work and lifestyle.  Fittingly, Rip Torn follows its creed as well.

Oh, Rip has also managed to find to squeeze in some movie and TV show appearances to pay for what has always been his first love, revelry.  In fact, he's as much a prolific actor as he is a batshit drunken loon.  Ironically, Torn often chooses to play the stable, in-charge character on screen, in sharp contrast to his real-life John Blutarsky / Raoul Duke proclivities. 

Still, Torn's career is not yet complete.  I'm speaking of course about his obvious pairing with Rip Taylor, the crowned queen of confetti and fellow master thespian.

I'm still waiting patiently for the Vegas act of "Taylor and Torn: Rip Squared" to hit the strip.  Or maybe a series of buddy movies with the two (a Lethal Weapon/48 Hours remake, perhaps; maybe Grumpy Psychotic Men?)

Or - yes, this is it! - a further re-imagining of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, with Torn as Raoul Duke - out of his mind on booze and drugs behind the wheel through Barstow, motoring toward Sin City - and Taylor as his wacky attorney Dr. Gonzo, riding shot gun and heaving ginormous bags of confetti out into the wind and onto the desert highway behind them.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Oh come on, guys! Maybe you need a refresher course: it's all ballbearings nowadays!

Ahh, a chilly Saturday with Fletch on the tube.  Things could be worse.

Following this masterpiece up is hard work, but Discovery Health comes to the rescue with an update on the Mermaid Girl/Last Six Months.  What a channel!  Speaking of which, what was on tap in prime time this past week?  Why Paralyzed and Pregnant, of course.  Clearly must-see-TV.  And our television overlord - Oprah - is going to shut this network down?  For shame, Ms. Winfrey!   Somehow I doubt the divine Ms. W's Oprah Network will feature such riveting fare.

But I have more on my mind than a continuing obsession with Discovery Health.  What else could I possibly obsess on with Weeds and Mad Men on hiatus, you may ask?  I was really looking forward to catching Mary-Louise Parker in Howl, but that flick's release date mysteriously slipped from January to December.

Which leaves me ... where?

On the personal front, I'm doing the eHarmony thing but still no "commercial-worthy" true love tales to be had.  I thought for just a short while that I had happened upon a soul mate but after a number of weeks and a number of dates, things fizzled.  Such is life.  I'll keep you posted.  ... well, maybe.  Probably not.  And if so, only vaguely, without dish, dirt, names or details. 

On the professional front, I'm still exploring my options.  I formed an L.L.C. - Technology Artisans.  I spent a grand total of about 30 seconds pondering over the name, which probably wasn't wise but I gotta be true to my "spontaneous" nature.  I hadn't even thought about it until I started filling out the online incorporation form and then - well, my session was about to expire so I needed something and this came to mind.  For many years, I had planned to call my first company SML, Inc. after a Schlitz Malt Liquor promotional Christmas poster featuring a comely woman dressed in a Santa's Hottie Helper outfit.  A bunch of us were renting a large, falling-apart-at-the-seams "animal house" many years ago and we had this poster hanging with pride in the living room (they were giving them away at a local beer distributor).  We used to laugh and say that it would become our corporate logo and SML, Inc. would be the organization's name.  A few of us talked about this for years after the poster lost its luster and found a home in the trash.  But in the end, I relented.

Why Technology Artisans?  To quote Bluto from Animal House, "Why not?" Anyway, I formed the company mainly so that I could negotiate corporation-to-corporation consulting agreements, if I even end up going that route.  On that front, I have a multitude of consulting opportunities on the horizon right now and determining which of them I want to pursue is the challenge.  But that's kind of dry shit for a blog and I've already rattled on far too long on the subject ...

Well, what's in the news???

J.D. Salinger died, but there have been more than enough gushing tributes piled on elsewhere concerning the reclusive writer.  Like most young people of a certain age, I read The Catcher in the Rye and identified with its protagonist, Holden Caulfield.  So did everyone from Bill Clinton to Mark David Chapman.  I have nothing interesting to add.  It's not like ol' J.D. was all that prolific, and Rye isn't particularly close to the top of my list of favorite books.  That said, a lot of the works enshrined into my particular literary hall of fame are by writers who in turn were strongly influenced by Salinger.  So he's a favorite by proxy. Again, a quick googling of Salinger will lead you the way to numerous platitudes and eulogies far more eloquent than I could manage.

Politics was as hot a topic as it's ever been this week.  It started with the continuing coronation of Scottie "Centerfold" Brown while the donkeys continued to stumble over their own ineptitude, quaking with fear over the elephant party's new "super minority."  The highlight of the week, though, was surely The State of the Union, featuring a big "fuck you" tossed to Sammy "Davis, 'cause I see only one side of evil" Alito and the Supremes.  Of course there were plenty of "fuck you"s to go around in the speech, as John Stewart pointed out. Obama tossed them out like candy at a parade, and popped more than a few into his own mouth to boot.  It might have been the best one I've heard in my 30 some years of paying attention to this annual applause-athon, if not exactly the most inspirational.

The politico week-that-was came to a close with an "Obama versus the mighty Elephantiasis of Congress" steel cage match debate.  Sort of like the final fight scene in Kill Bill, Vol 1, with the Prez channeling Black Mamba and the Repubs standing in for the Crazy 88.   From all accounts, it ended in similar fashion (perhaps not so convincingly and, alas, with a bit less finality).  BTW, no racial inference should be made of the Black Mamba reference (replace it with Beatrix Kiddo or The Bride, if you'd like).  The Prez is, after all, "post racial." Chris Matthews, that speed-freak, rat-a-tat-tat, speak-before-I-think, stream-of-consciousness MSNBC mouthpiece originally coined "post-racial" as it applies to Obama.  Chris is great.  We have similar political sensibilities but the guy is certifiable, a living/breathing cartoon. Analyzing the State of the Union, he exclaimed "I forgot the president was black for an hour."  As John Stewart so aptly put it, "Chris Matthews is one scotch away from becoming Ron Burgundy."

We're not, by the way, in a "post racial" era.  Many on the right - even some in the "mainstream" right - are clearly still bummed out that a black man was elected President.  These folks throw out terms like "arrogant" and "narrow-minded" to describe Obama in a manner so blatantly consumed in a subtext of racism that they might as well have been calling him an "uppity boy" who surely still doesn't know his place.  He's not arrogant, he's President.  And I think - I hope - he's starting to get comfortable in knowing his place: the leader of the free world.  In my opinion, the failures of Obama over his first year in office have largely occurred because he wasn't quite at ease with this (or at least didn't appear so, which is just as bad).  The State of the Union speech sort of showed - at least to me - that this might be changing.  Good.  But that's the very thing sticking in their craw. The thing that the "arrogant" and "flippant" code words betray.

Okay, time to get off my high horse.

Not bad for an "off-season" week in politics; however, like everything else, better captured elsewhere. The Daily Show perhaps best of all, where Stewart has become just a bit less biased these days and is aiming his razor wit at both wings of the American political clown college that is our government political leadership.

So, is there anything left?  Boy, I've written a lot of dreck here in order to say I've got nothing to say.  Which is par for the course: I've got terminal diarrhea of the keyboard (to counter balance those parts of me that are somewhat less regular in their movement).

On that note, I'll sign off with my sincerest apologies to anyone who's made it this far ...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Squirreling around the House with Amish of the Sciurus Sect

The squirrels living above my headboard on the other side of the glass were restless last night, their home blown asunder by Mother Nature's strong winds. They'd worked their furry tails to the bone last year building a leaf-based shelter on the ledge off my bedroom, using the air conditioner I'd never bothered to remove from the window as a lean-to. A newlywed couple made their home there and have since brought two kids into the fold: your classic all-American nuclear family.

At first, these fuzzy beasts annoyed me but all my attempts at trashing their little home went for naught as they calmly rebuilt the thing each time in a matter of hours. I thought of calling pest control but in the end didn't have the heart. Or was it that I'm just an incurable procrastinator? Either way, I've grown used to sharing my nights with this crew (they live literally less than two feet from where I lay my head on the pillow each evening). Generally, they're pretty quiet. When the "kids" arrived into the world and the noise picked up, I'd just tap on the window and they'd usually pipe down pretty quickly. So we'd reached an agreement of sorts and they stayed put. Through rain, sleet and snow, resolute and steadfast. Until last night.

Last night the wind gusts reached epic proportions, blowing the squirrel home's load-bearing leaves to kingdom come. Now, as I mentioned, I'd done similar damage to their hovel back when they first moved in, but that was in the early autumn when replacement leaves were plentiful. It's the barren dead of winter now and the Squirrel Home Depots are closed for the season. What's a Tamiasciurus to do?

Ahh, they're tenacious fuckers - they'll make do. They've got a whole community of scurrying, scampering fellow travelers. They're a bit like the Amish in that regard and I wouldn't be surprised to see a squirrel "barn-raising" taking shape to replenish the requisite leaves in due time.

In fact, in the time it's taken me to write up this post (admittedly, a word every now and then over the course of more than 12 hours), I see that the home is already half repaired, with five or six neighboring squirrels helping to scavenge leaves from various adjoining yards. I'm surprised the female squirrels aren't there with lemonade and refreshments, because it's otherwise eerily like the Witness barn-raising scene. Only furrier.

"You be careful out among them English."

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Medical Musings

Deep Vein Thrombosis. It doesn't sound pleasant, though it would make a great name for a rock and roll band. In this case, I refer to it as one of a litany of side effects possible when taking Yaz, the Happy Fun Ball of prescription birth control medication and inspiration for the Saturday Night Live's Annuale (back when SNL was at least occasionally funny).


Saturday Night Live | MySpace Video

Why would I be concerned with this, you ask? I'm not, really. It's just that I've been inundated with Yaz class action come-ons by various ambulance chasers advertising on Discovery Health the past few months. Like a bad commercial jingle, I can't get it out of my head. Judging by the deluge of similar pitches on this network, Oprah's killing of Discovery Health in 2011 will mark a dark day in law offices across these United States (at least for those attorneys who keep their actions classy). I've never seen so many shysters hawking so many lawsuits against so many different entities in the healthcare industry than on this network. Of course, they're playing to a picture perfect target demographic: hypochondriacs of all stripes.

But all this and no mention of the drug with my favorite lopsided benefit/side-effect ratio: Glaxo-Smith Kline's Requip (Ropinirole)?

Requip is a prescription medication used to treat Restless Leg Syndrome and whose known side effects include Compulsive Gambling and Sex Addiction. Now to be fair, Requip is just one of a number of dopamine antagonists that research has shown can trigger these "adverse reactions" in a small percentage of users. Of course, these side effects are printed on the label and rattled off along with their more conventional cousins in the ads, so full disclosure gets them off the hook for current litigation (though I imagine they got nailed hard early on).

To be sure, Restless Leg Syndrome is a very real and potentially painful ailment, despite the goofy name. I have family and friends that suffer from its debilitating effects to varying degrees and it ain't pleasant. But still, it does have that goofy name, making it sound so innocuous. And sex addiction? Gambling?? These sound more like a couple of the more common side effects of the drug Ethanol (I can attest to the veracity of this connection having conducted several research excursions to Vegas and Atlantic City under its influence).

Perhaps Tiger Woods' extra marital relations - supposedly the sad ramification of a sex addiction - can in fact be attributed to Requip. After all, his legs seemed at peace of late on the golf course but perhaps that wasn't the case early on (back when he wasn't screwing anything that moved). Check out video of his play back in the late 1990s, it's like he's got ants in his pants. Did he really have knee surgery in 2008 or was it something else?

As for gambling? Well, a percentage of those that have lost their job, house and car to gambling debts can possibly take comfort in the fact that when Louie the Loan Shark's musclemen come to collect, they'll be breaking very well rested legs indeed.

Me? I'll make it a point to avoid Yaz, even if my doctor insists. I've always had a suspicion that he'd be a true believer in cinema classics like Junior and Rabbit Test, so I'll keep a watchful eye. Rabbit Test - man, I haven't thought about that masterpiece in years. Joan Rivers had only one turn in the director's chair and this was her "baby." Clearly, judging by this work, she could have been the female Scorsese had she kept at it ... or perhaps a latter-day Ed Wood (apologies to Mr. Wood for that last crack). Somehow, Billy Crystal survived. I can say that I saw this in the theater during its initial run in 1978 and recall enjoying it. Though I was only 15 and likely close to legally insane, I was not otherwise impaired so I can't blame it on drugs. I can say that I caught a bit of Rabbit Test recently (as much as I could take) and have had a change of heart.

And as for my Restless Leg Syndrome, I'll stick with the black tar heroin. That seems to do the trick just fine.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Phoenix rising from the Ashes (on two vastly different fronts)

There was news today that my favorite Hollywood head case, Joaquin Phoenix, had resurfaced in a public service video with Miley Cyrus and Liv Tyler. It's for a good cause (suicide prevention) but nonetheless is meandering and strange, two things Joaquin is pretty adept at.

Joaquin's infamous (non) interview with David Letterman early last year was perhaps my single favorite television moment of 2009. Then he stumbled off the stage into self-proclaimed thespian requirement so he could concentrate on his fledgling rap music career, but it's nearly a year later and we've not yet seen the fruits of his hip-hop labor. And now he's back, sort of. Sadly, it looks like he's since gotten a haircut and a shave, looking much less Unibomberesqe, but acting as dingy as ever.

As a fellow head case, I have to tip my psychosis to him, for his madness seems a lot more interesting than mine. I'd expect no less from a member of the Phoenix family. For those who missed his scintillating chat with Dave, here it is (it's worth watching again, even if you caught it the first time 'round).

On a more serious note, watching the Hope for Haiti telethon tonight affected me strongly. I'm usually a pretty cynical guy, but I drained the vitriol out of the gas tank at least for the evening. I'm not suggesting I'm so naive that I believe the celebs answering the phones and singing the songs are all coming together purely out of the goodness of their hearts (though I imagine many of them are on the face of it). Did they all suddenly have some sort of moral epiphany and decide to sell off their expensive rides, ditch their Hollywood Hills mansions and latest movie shoots or concert tours, heading instead to Haiti for the long haul to supplement relief workers? I hope not - they'll raise a lot more money and do a lot more good as untouchable figureheads who deign to look down out of their ivory towers every now and then, pushing the celeb-obsessed into ponying up some hard earned duckets because "Brad and Julia said so."

And it doesn't matter if it's from the heart or peer pressure or simply the desire to polish up a tarnished public image.
The situation is too dire and the need too great to give a shit about motives, and what we do in the next days, and months and years for the people of this little island will reverberate through the region (and world) for a long while. What happens to the Haitian people will likely have little direct influence on the goings on in our country but it could have a lasting effect on our national soul ... for good or ill.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

It will happen this way ...

I had completely forgotten about one of my favorite movies until it popped up on cable this morning: Three Days of the Condor.  My favorite scene - one of my favorite scenes in cinema - is the second-to-last.  The subtext is palpable as Max von Sydow's dispassionate professional killer Jourbert schools Redford's idealistic CIA researcher bookworm Joe Turner on some hard lessons in betrayal and trust.

Condor is in the great tradition of the best of the conspiracy thrillers that found their voice in the cold war of the late 50s/early 60s (Manchurian Candidate!), caught steam in the mid/late 60s with the Kennedy assassination and Vietnam (Seven Days in May! Dr. Strangelove!), and perhaps found their zenith in the 1970s Watergate era.  Of the 70's ilk, I'm talkin' The Conversation, Executive Action, The Parallax View, All the President's Men and so on.  Strangelove may be my favorite movie of all time, but it is a (very dark) comedy (mostly).  Condor is certainly my all-time conspiracy thriller runner up and gets top billing in the playing-it-straight category (which is where virtually all of them live).

It has some great one-liners:
  • "You think not getting caught in a lie is the same thing as telling the truth?"
  •  "I don't interest myself in 'why'. I think more often in terms of 'when', sometimes 'where'; always 'how much'." 
  • "Not now - then! Ask 'em when they're running out. Ask 'em when there's no heat in their homes and they're cold. Ask 'em when their engines stop. Ask 'em when people who have never known hunger start going hungry. You wanna know something? They won't want us to ask 'em. They'll just want us to get it for 'em!"
  •  "Well, the fact is, what I do is not a bad occupation. Someone is always willing to pay ... it's quite restful. It's almost peaceful. No need to believe in either side, or any side. There is no cause. There's only yourself. The belief is in your own precision."
  • "Listen. I work for the CIA. I am not a spy. I just read books!"

And of course:
  • "You have not much future there. It will happen this way. You may be walking. Maybe the first sunny day of the spring. And a car will slow beside you, and a door will open, and someone you know, maybe even trust, will get out of the car. And he will smile, a becoming smile. But he will leave open the door of the car and offer to give you a lift. [offering him his gun] ... For that day."

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Gang that couldn't Shoot Govern Straight

John Stewart let loose with a great analogy last night on the Daily Show in regard to the ineptitude of the Dems getting any legislation passed: "It's not that the Republicans are playing chess while the Democrats are playing checkers, it's that the Republicans are playing chess while the Democrats are in the nurse's office because they glued their balls to their thigh again."

It'll be interesting to see how much more glue the Massachusetts voters ends up wagging in the Dem's drooling face with today's special election, daring them to apply it to their gonads and then laughing all the way to a filibuster as the dingy donkeys rub the sticky stuff all over their junk yet again. Like Lucy with Charlie Brown and the football.

Notice I say "they" when referring to the donkey party since although it might surprise some readers of this blog, I don't consider myself among their ranks. Clearly, I'm politically and philosophically aligned with the Dems far more often than I am with the Republicans; in fact, the party of Jefferson is often too conservative for my taste on a broad number of issues. You might even label me a socialist of a sort (though certainly one with strong capitalist tendencies). But I can't stand the exclusivity of the two-party system and hate the idea that something as complex as a political philosophy can be consistently shoehorned into right/left, black/white, up/down, etc.

I am aligned in theory with the Republicans on one thing: smaller is usually better when it comes to government.

A small government socialist? Isn't that an oxymoron? Actually, not so much as you'd think. Like most philosophies, socialism has a multitude of sometimes conflicting variations, most of which can be broadly lumped into two categories: one authoritarian (expansive government) - by far the most popular - and the other libertarian. I fall firmly into the latter camp (my Facebook Political Compass result to the right testifies to this). I don't go to the orthodox extreme of "no government" (that's not very practical or even necessarily desirable) but rather am generally aligned with the tenant that big government and big corporations alike are inherently troublesome, not necessarily intentionally but simply in their natural inclination to get comfortable with ever increasing power.

So, like some Republicans, I'd prefer that government not grow. Now, where I part company with them is in what portions of the government I'd like to see shrink significantly and what portions might still benefit with some expansion. The elephants tend to want massive increases on "defense" and equally large reductions in social services whereas I want exactly the inverse. An inflated defense budget simply emboldens and stockpiles power in the corporations already greedily suckling at the teet of the DOD cash cow rather than actually assisting the military with their necessary missions (I worked in that world for over 17 years so I know from where I speak).

Alarming numbers today are screaming "socialism" and "communism" at McCarthyesque volume in Pavlovian response to talk of a public option for health care. But health care, like education and national defense, are basic things all citizens should be afforded. And health care (like education) is far more innocuous than military power.  People should fear the latter running amok more so than they should the former.  Why aren't the anti-socialism crowd crying out for private corporate armies? Nobody is worried about the "public" military, it seems. Shouldn't firms like Blackwater just take over the whole thing? Wouldn't they, as a for-profit enterprise, be more efficient than the "public" army, to use the right-wing anti-health care reformer argument? No? I didn't think so ...

But to get back to the point of this post, you have to give it to the Republicans when it comes to execution; they seem to have it all over the Democrats in that arena. Of course, the things they tend to get done are usually those I abhor, but still. Too bad the Dems can't hire the Republicans to get their agenda past ... well, past the Republicans.

Ahh, why bother? The Dems would still get in their own way somehow and fuck it up. It's amazing to me that some of them even manage to get dressed in the morning without polling focus groups, hemming and hawing over color and style and stuffing the pockets of the clothing they've finally chosen so that it satisfies no one. It's a wonder they don't walk out of their homes dressed like rainbow colored, bloated circus clowns. As the old saying goes, "they couldn't sell ice in hell." By the time they showed it to potential buyers, chances are they'd have compromised the refreshing cubes of frozen water into flaming cauldrons of gasoline.

Sadly, this donkey infused legislative ineptitude - or, to be more precise, the perception of ineptitude - seems to extend to the executive branch as well, though there have been exceptions (Bill Clinton being the most recent). Sadly, the Obama administration is looking less Clintonesque and more Carter-like in its (in)ability to get things done (or at least with the appearance that they're getting nothing accomplished, which is in the end almost as bad). That's not exactly fair, though (at least not yet): Obama was given a downright impossible task in the worst mess handed to an incoming chief executive since Franklin Delano (and Roosevelt didn't have wars on two fronts when he took the helm). Through all that, he's still done more in his first year than W did in his first eight (at least more of the things that I wanted to see done; Georgie did a whole truckload of abhorrent stuff). I hope Obama's learned some lessons over the past year and applies them going forward (lesson #1: no more Mr. Nice Guy, please, please).

I don't know what's worse: getting the wrong thing done or nothing done at all. Meanwhile, I'll keep my fingers - and expectations - crossed.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Of Glen "Taco" Bell and Haiti's Heaven and Hell

My first Gastrointestinal Physician died over the weekend. The importance of his revolutionary research into the stool softening properties inherent when combining certain very cheap oils, spices, cheeses and ground meat cannot be over stated. Certainly not to those of us who had until that point suffered in silence. Remember, this was in the dark days before the advent of Activia. If there's any justice, they'll honor his wishes and bury him in an actual coffin-size Tortilla shell. Drop the Chalupa, my friend, for you're now in a better place (up in heaven, walking Gidget the Taco Bell Chihuahua and picking up her droppings in the clouds) ...

And speaking of diarrhea, thank God for the good folks at the Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. Sure, they're still docking ships near the heavily guarded Labadee resort of Haiti - less than 100 miles from the epicenter of the devastating earthquake - so that the passengers can come ashore, hang out at the swanky private resort, enjoy barbecues and snorkeling, and so forth ...

... and some might say that's a bit insensitive ...

... but not so, they say!

They're donating any extra Sun Loungers for use by the relief effort! You know, in case the wounded want to soak up some sun during the days-long "down time" waiting for medical attention.

And I'm sure they have promised to instruct the guards surrounding the resort to avoid unnecessarily killing any of the pleading mobs pounding on the gates outside, crying out for a scrap of food or a sip of water or perhaps some antibiotics. Here, have a Sun Lounger instead! Let them eat cake! If they can find some!

Now seriously, it's easy to get all holier-than-thou about business-as-usual anywhere on Haiti, with such unimaginable suffering taking place just down the road; however, as distasteful as it seems, it's only slightly more reprehensible than it was a month ago or a year ago. When the rest of Haiti was quietly living in squalor and oppression pre-earthquake. And perhaps there is some validity to Royal Caribbean's claims that they are providing logistics services to the relief efforts while in-port and that to go elsewhere and deny locals employed in such resorts a way to earn some money only adds to the suffering.

Would re-directing the Royal Caribbean cruise ships to Barbados make anything better? Perhaps it would ease the consciences of the passengers but fuck their consciences. I know a way to ease them, cruisers: end your vacation early and pressure Royal Caribbean to pony up a partial refund so that you can donate it to the relief efforts.  But it's every fuckhead's right to stick his or her head in the proverbial sand (just remember to apply sun block to the exposed parts).

All that said, doesn't make it any less reprehensible; however, self righteous indignation isn't all that helpful in lessening the horror that continues into its second week around Port-au-Prince.

My 2 cents.

And on that hilarious note, I'll bid adieu.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

X marks the Spot (on the floor I can now see)

A lazy, rainy Sunday finds me cleaning out my "office" (i.e., the place where I throw all the shit that doesn't fit in the other rooms). Mainly it's a graveyard for computers in my life that have since gone to that big bit bucket in the sky. And cables. Lots and lots of cables. CATV, Ethernet, RGB Component, HDMI, extension cords, telephone line, and several whose purpose I can't readily discern. But amidst this twisted rat's nest of wiring, I came up with gold: an audio cable long enough to reach from my laptop on the coffee table to the stereo.

I can finally play my iTunes collection directly off my computer through my stereo!

You'd think I'd have found - or just bought - one of these cables many, many years ago. But no, I'm a notorious procrastinator and have been making do simply plugging my iPod into the three foot audio cable previously protruding from the stereo audio-in. How primitive! I can only fit a small fraction of my collection on those devices and can't control them from the comfort of my recliner when they're tethered to that shorty wire across the room. It took me quitting my job - and thus not having any work to do over the weekend - to get me to dig up what I should have had all along. Perhaps one day I'll even hook my computer up to the television!

Good ol' Steve, living out on the bleeding edge of technology circa 2002 ...

And now with my music all stereoawesomeified - that should be a word - I'm jamming to lots of the brilliant late 70's/early 80's LA punk band X. Calling them punk really doesn't do them justice because they're about much more musically than the three super-fast cords, attitude and two minute songs defining the bulk of the genre. I don't say that to disparage others of the punk persuasion: three chords, two minutes, speed and an attitude is what great rock and roll is all about and why punk is my favorite flavor. And X had all that in spades; however, like the best of anything, they layered more on top. John Doe, Exene Cervenka, Billy Zoom and DJ Bonebrake had range and style and a thirst for experimentation, all within the confines of the punk rock spirit. Most of all, they were smart.

In fact, I'm enjoying the music so much I just realized I've stopped cleaning up the "office", but that's okay because I've moved onto another important task: importing into iTunes the CDs my friend John gave me upon his departure with the family to the Rocky Mountain wilderness of Adolph Coors and Mork & Mindy (thanks again, John).

Well, I've got to get back to cleaning again. If you've read this far, you're a masochist for sure and should get that checked out.

[Postscript: spending a surreal evening flipping back and forth between the daily news cycle focused on Haiti and the Golden Globes. One juxtaposed on the other makes for a really bad acid trip.]

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Sun Drenched Island of Horrors

It's a tropical paradise on the edges, with a poverty-stricken core.  Sadly, this arrangement seems to typify so many of the islands in the Caribbean. With Haiti, though, those glorious edges are especially razor thin and the broken down core practically swallows the nation whole. Corruption and abuse of power runs rampant as is often the case when wealth and educational opportunities for the people are scarce, and that makes the chaos arising in the aftermath of a crisis such as the one they're in now especially dangerous.  Finally, the island's infrastructure - especially in the most financially bereft neighborhoods - is simply not built to withstand a major earthquake and certainly not to enable any subsequent relief efforts, even if most of it hadn't been reduced to rubble.

The Haitian people have in the past held fast to their proud heritage through times of pain, as though they understood that this too shall pass.  After all, they've fought through a long history of tragedy and oppression.  In many ways this history is intertwined with the rich tapestry of the vibrant culture that often serves to document their perseverance.  But this time the hammer might have come down too suddenly and the damage inflicted could be too great. And that in the end is what makes it so heart wrenching.

I've spent the last half hour watching news footage of the dead and dying in Haiti, and in particular of an 11 year old girl who had been half trapped under rubble for two days with her friends and relatives powerless to free her (they contemplated sawing off her one crushed leg, but they had no blood supply to stem the hemmorging sure to follow so that option was abandoned).  They did finally break her free, partly by removing the dead bodies of other family members caught in the same concrete trap.  She died, though, during the subsequent four hour drive to the nearest hospital (likely she would have waited hours or days more in line to retrieve medical attention, so the odds were always long against her survival).  What really slammed me was the close-up of her face, trapped and crying, little black rimmed glasses on and looking like nothing so much as the scared, hurt kid she was; a once happy-go-lucky child caught in a horrifying situation.

When I hear and see these stories, my snotty whining over trivial matters seems so conceited.  Which it is in any case, but it's magnified now in the wake of these horrors.  Of course, nightmares like these unfortunately go on the world over every day. Scenes like this take place in our inner cities regularly. But it's the sheer concentrated scale of the Haiti situation that is overwhelming to me, even far removed physically and emotionally from the carnage, safe and warm on my living room couch. I don't know anyone in Haiti nor am I close with anyone of Haitian ancestry.  And still it's just overwhelming to me.  You'd have to be dead inside or Rush Limbaugh for it not to get to you at least a little.  I can't imagine the intensity of the emotions on the ground there.  Television images don't nearly do it justice, I imagine.  Thank God for that.

I've donated several times to the Red Cross and other like agencies this week, but I don't think this is something that money (or anything) can solve in the right now.  The infrastructure just isn't there and by the time the foundation is properly laid to help the many, a great percentage will be long dead.  It's hard to say, but I just hope the relief workers can get it into place in time to recover the bodies before decease rising from the deceased gives rise to a secondary catastrophe and an unthinkable chain reaction.  Until then, let's be grateful for the many little miracles they perform along the way.

All Play and No Work makes for a Confused Boy

Saturday. January 16th, 2010.  High noon.  I left the safety of full-time employment yesterday to dip my toes back into the world of consulting, this time as an independent.  I've had a lot of folks asking if I'd been laid off but in fact it was quite the contrary: my now-former employer is looking for and hiring technology folks with my skill set pretty extensively these days and were thoroughly disappointed to see me leave.  The follow-up questions are the same once folks hear I left of my own accord without a guaranteed job and with the national unemployment rate still hovering around 10%:
  • So why'd ya do it?  Life's too short.  Enough said.   
  • In this economy?  I'm lucky in that the market's pretty active for my particular niche and I have several interesting consulting engagement possibilities on the horizon as well as a couple short-term gigs in the bag.
  • Are you insane?  Yes, on multiple levels.   
  • What you did is like jumping out of a perfectly good airplane and then searching the sky for a parachute on the way down.  That's not really a question and the analogy isn't completely apt.  From my perspective, this particular aircraft has major structural defects and several of my fellow passengers look disturbingly dangerous (in fact, so does most of the crew).  That said, I do have a standing offer to climb back into this particular plane if I so choose.  Besides, the sky seems filled with functioning chutes I can reach out and touch.

So I'll be okay.  And I feel a giddy sense of freedom.  But I also feel a bit empty today.  I tend to be a workaholic and am going through withdrawal as I take the rest of the month off.  I need a fix or something that'll take my mind off this "no work and all play" thing staring me in the face.  Books, movies, exercise, withdrawing all my savings and going to Atlantic City, coming up with a sure-fire get-rich business plan, writing a novel, fixing up the house to sell.  All are possibilities I've contemplated.  My A.D.D keeps getting in the way of going further.

Perhaps baby steps are in order.  Finish reading the six books I've started over the past several months. Watch at least a few of the flicks that sit untouched on the DVR or in unwrapped DVD/Blu-Ray cases next to the tube. Writing?  How 'bout I write a whole short story instead of the fragments/"moments" I've churned out to date before tackling my War and Peace tome?  Just a thought.  Fix up the house?  I did call a roofer, who'll be here Monday for an estimate.  That's a start.  And I did go for a run just a bit ago to (try and) make up for the Girl Scout cookies I bought - and ate - this morning.   The kid at the door was adorable and I was hungry.  Now my feet hurt from the run and the downside of the earlier sugar rush is catching up with me.  But one run does not my "regular exercise" New Year's Resolution make.  So why not devise a daily regiment?

Things to ponder.  Meanwhile, I've been catching up with some music.

Elvis Costello at Hollywood High came out on CD/MP3 this week and I'm loving it.  Recorded in 1978, it catches Costello and the Attractions at the height of their craft.  They were a great live band and this is grand evidence of that fact.  I also picked up Graham Parker and the Rumour live in San Francisco 1979 which was likewise recently released (last month).  Parker and company are equally wonderful. Perhaps I'm showing my age just a bit, but the best of first generation punk and new wave circa 1976 - 1979 is likely my favorite era in music, certainly the best of the eras I experienced first hand as a music consumer (the heart of the "60's era" roughly book-ended around 1964 - 1968 is my other fav period but I was just a toddler then and only later enjoyed the tuneage in reruns).

Well, this post has been meandering, unfunny, and thoroughly boring.  Not altogether to be unexpected given my track record, but it's sub-par even when compared to that.  Better luck next time, dear reader.

And so I'm off for the evening, fighting a cold - a parting gift from my employer - while flipping between play-off football and Closer, one of my fav flicks of the 00's (I discovered it today sitting there in my DVR fresh from a recording off IFC earlier in the week).  Ahh, Leon's sweet young Mathilda all grown up.  Natalie's just a notch down from my all-time pantheon of Hollywood crushes but climbs higher every year.  She took a big leap up with the one-two punch of Closer and Garden State stuck in the middle of the "Noughties" decade.

And so it is
Just like you said it should be
We'll both forget the breeze
Most of the time
And so it is
The colder water
The blower's daughter
The pupil in denial
I can't take my eyes off of you ... I can't take my mind off of you ...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Batshit Loon, a Vile Buffoon, and a Multitude of Much Better People

Reverend Pat Robertson and his gasbag sidekick Rush Limbaugh are the sociopath's Abbott and Costello.  Or perhaps Huntley and Brinkley for the Sieg Heil aficionados.

Whenever I'm sure that I couldn't possibly think less of these these two wackos, they manage to blurt out something that lowers the bar.  Case in point: their responses to the devastation visited upon Haiti, Robertson citing yet more comeuppance for the Haitian "pact with the devil" and Limbaugh lambasting Obama for commenting on thousands dead and dying in Port-au-Prince faster than he did on the underwear bomb terrorist's failed attack.

I won't even dignify Robertson's comments with a response: he's clearly a Looney 'Toon who happens to have his own television network (no, it's not the Cartoon Network - it's not nearly so entertaining or real).  With the demeanor of a kindly grandfather channeling Hannibal Lecter.  Unfortunately,  Mr. Robertson's neighborhood is a more sizable community than you might think.  Sad commentary on our evolution as a species.  But certainly not the only or even nearly the saddest, which is itself profoundly sad.  We're got a ways to go.  But we're getting there.

A long way to go, indeed ... and thus Rush.  Rush ... ahh, pill-poppin', jack assin' Rush. Well, well, well.  He has an even bigger bully pulpit and a much larger following than Reverend Pat.  Sad becomes suicidal.  Christ, makes one wanna reach for the Oxycodone.  Unlike Pat, he claims no special kinship with the almighty; rather, he believes he is the almighty.  Maybe he's right, but if he is then sign me up for that Haitian unholy pact of yore Robertson was babbling about and fit me for my pitchfork cause clearly down is up.

Limbaugh suggests - fuck, he outright says - Obama is showing favoritism to "dark-skinned foreigners" to "placate his black constituency" rather than show "proper concern for Americans."

Now to be sure, the failed terrorist attack was disturbing on a couple of fronts, exposing the airport security holes we all strongly suspected but didn't want to admit were there, allowing a wingnut with explosive jockey shorts into the sky on a passenger aircraft that was a hair's breath and an alert passenger's action away from being blown to kingdom come, perhaps causing massive damage on the ground in Detroit to boot.

However, all that said, the attack did not succeed, no one was hurt and - much more important - time in the aftermath was not of the essence as it is with the Haiti situation, where tens of thousands more could die if a massive and well coordinated relief effort does not happen RIGHT NOW.  A no-brainer.

Visit the Red Cross or your favorite relief fund and donate what you can - I've done it and will do it again. It helps wash the bad taste out of my psyche after catching these dynamic dodos in action.  And watch some real patriots - patriotic toward humanity - diving into the shit storm that is Haiti in the earthquake's aftermath, helping to reunite families torn apart, provide water/food/shelter to the suddenly-homeless survivors, and find/treat the wounded or at least help bring some answers and closure to their loved ones. And of course get into place at least the minimum of infrastructure necessary to do all this in time for it to matter.

Gimme Shelter takes on a whole new meaning.

But I'm feeling a lot better about the human capacity for good: the heart of just one relief worker drowns out the screeching of a barrel full of Batshit Loons and Vile Buffoons.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Burying the Lead while Dating the Metal (and doin' da Foxtrot with Ma "Half-baked Alaska" Kettle)

Burying the Lead

My buddies at the oh-so-unbiased Wall Street Journal are doing their level best to fan the flames of outrage over the admittedly far - FAR - from perfect health care reform bill. Well, well, well. Big surprise. Typical left wing propaganda from the Murdoch-owned paper (we all know Rupert is a commie pinko given the well known liberal leanings of his Fox News).

The latest headline from the Journal screams: Married Couples will Pay More for Health Insurance Under New Bill! Way down in the gooey center of the article hiding in the shadows of that screed lurks a toss-off noting that "more" only applies to the new insurance exchanges and does not affect those who are currently insured.

Venture deeper down into the dark and damp ink stains of this piece and you'll trip over still more "minor details" explaining that a couple would pay more only if their combined income serves to push them over the poverty line. Well, that's not fair but alas tends to be the way things often work (in government and private sector alike). The article doesn't - but should - add that those exchanges are not even an option for these same couples currently. Today, married or single, these fine folks would be paying quite a bit more for private insurance - more even than the "more" WSJ is up in arms about - or live with none at all. But why let the truth get in the way of a good headline?

In my opinion the health care bill in the form that most probably will be signed into law will contain some good but a shitload of bad along for the ride. Almost all the badness can be divided into two steaming piles:
  1. The compromises to the right made to appease the fear mongers and gain at least limited Republican support (of which none was provided in the end).
  2. State-specific pork that often has little or nothing to do with health care reform but was nonetheless stuffed into the bill in typical beltway fashion. It's the manifestation of the tax-and-spend stereotype aimed (often rightly) at liberal members of Congress but which is in fact practiced by both sides in an institutionalized manner that - God please - shouldn't outta be there but will very likely never go away.

Are the small diamonds in the dogshit of the health care legislation enough to justify the thing? I think so. But only with some big bright red warning stickers spelling out the must-haves:
  1. Strong enough provisions to ensure private insurance companies don't jack their rates up out of fear they'll lose customers
  2. Strong enough provisions to ensure people who can afford private insurance pay for it rather than latching onto the government dole. Or rather I should say the government supplemented dole, since the public option was removed out of misguided fear over impending socialism, death panel hokey and whatnot - this will be the death rattle of the bill probably.

Ahh, let's just face the facts that we don't have the national fortitude to do this thing. Fuck the poor. If they want medical attention, they can get off their asses and make some money. Clearly they don't want/need such luxuries. Need a pediatrician, kid? Then start stitching me up some Nikes! It's a win-win solution: we won't have to pass off our hard earned sneaker money to some third world sweatshop once we reinstate these fine institutions back into the economy of the good ol' U.S. of A. and the poor kids will be able pay for their whole family's health care! "Problem solved from your end," to paraphrase Office Space.

Dating the Metal

And now for something completely different (but with some oddly indirect parallels)...

Seems the geeks in the lab have knocked out a bang-up next generation companion for those who cannot - or prefer not to - connect with a real-life sweetheart. This isn't your father's blow-up doll, gang: it's fully electronic and comes with customizable personality in addition to the usual "bells and whistles" (and whips and chains, if you like). Mmmmm. For those saavy investors, this might well be the next big thing: the electronic pimp industry. Get in on the ground floor. Never under estimate the number of lonely and social awkward people there are out there or the fact that these qualities are often proportional to the disposable income these folks have at the ready, just looking for a Roxxxy the Sexbot (or Wild Wendy, Mature Martha, Frigid Farrah and S&M Susan - get 'em while supplies last).

Sista Sarah goes Foxtrotting

No big shocker this. Our Dull Eyed Lady of the Ice Land (apologies to Sara Dylan) signs on with Fox News as their sort of roving (rogueing?) commentator and the defacto Poet Laureate for the network. Though sadly no sign her interpreter Bill Shatner will be enlisted by Fox to jazzercise her sonnets like he's done so successfully in the past, putting a beat to her tweets. Pity. Perhaps he'll freelance as he's been known to do. I look forward to the work. From both of them. And now Tina will have plenty of television footage in the years to come when she will no doubt dust off the glasses 'n goofy smile and sashay forth back onto the SNL stage for the cameos we so loved last fall.

Enough Already

I swore I'd clam up until Friday and so now I will (unless I can't and then I won't). I figure this post has enough vitriol, bombast, smarmy sarcasm and commie-pinko socialist broadsides to piss just about everyone off in one way or another. If so, well then my work here is done.