Tuesday, December 23, 2008

#2

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I have no excuses nor ideas for why it's taken me so long to get back to my Top 10 t.v. dramas list. It's pretty embarrassing. I think if it'd been any other show at #2, I would've written this before now. But my blog about Angel is the weakest one on this list, and I've been facing the same trouble with Buffy.

Let's get one thing out of the way first: the name gives people pause. I know, because I was one of those people. It sounds ridiculous (and more than a tad girly), and if you saw the crappy movie it was based on, there would be no reason for you to give it a try. I remember a few friends in college saying they were going off to a Buffy-watching party, and I derided them thoroughly.

Then I caught the excellent doppleganger episode, "The Wish," and I was hooked. Much like Six Feet Under, I came in at the absolute best time, during the third season. I still consider this to be the pinnacle of the show's run, with the season culminating with the violent rooftop climax between Buffy and the smoldering Faith (Eliza Dushku- so very hot). Season three also had my favorite villain: the cheerily demonic Mayor.

This is one of the facets I truly enjoyed about the show- each season has a villain, combined with several subplots, over the course of 22 hour-long shows. I have a friend at work who says the narrative arc of a clearly defined set of episodes with a beginning and an end is what's so wrong with American television (as opposed to the Brits, whose seasons apparently just start and stop willy-nilly). I disagree. There's nothing wrong with producing a television show like it's volumes of the same book.

There's also nothing wrong with providing your audience satisfaction by completing character arcs, tying up loose ends, and not going off on plot tangents that lead nowhere. By finishing up the sotryline at the end of each season, creator Joss Whedon avoids the Sopranos-style hangover that ensues during every hiatus.

He also avoids the confusion of a show like Lost. A friend of mine said yesterday that she loved the show, but she never had any idea what was going on. I stopped watching Lost because there was just too much weird stuff going in too many different directions. I didn't want to invest my time in something that just turns out to be a bunch of writers throwing shit at the wall and hoping it sticks, without any idea where it's going. Even when at first something doesn't make sense, like Buffy's sister Dawn just "appearing" out of nowhere at the outset of season five, we all waited a few episodes, and Joss explained it to us. It's nice to have that kind of trust in your storyteller.

Then there's Whedon's ear for dialogue: His characters are hyper-literate, quick-witted, and delightfully pop culture-aware. Funnyman Xander gets most of the best ones, but if you've never believed Sarah Michelle Gellar could be funny, wait until you hear Whedon's words escaping her delightfully curved lips. There's another thing: Gellar has not shown that she can be any kind of presence in Hollywood, despite repeated opportunities. But if you watch enough Buffy, you'll believe she's a star.

In fact, plenty of actors first made their marks on Buffy: a list that includes Michelle Trachtenberg (Six Feet Under, EuroTrip), Alyson Hannigan (American Pie, How I Met Your Mother), David Boreanaz (Bones), Nathan Fillion (Waitress, Slither, Firefly) and Seth Green (Just about everything funny and cool). I'm looking forward to indoctrinating my wife into the cult of Buffy by re-watching the entire series and keeping my eye out for current big-name actors in small parts.

Much was made by critics of Buffy's subtext: that the entire show could be seen as a metaphor for the rigors of teen life, particularly the arc where Buffy sleeps with Angel and he "becomes a monster." To me, all that deeper meaning stuff was beside the point. Whedon created a fascinating universe full of vampires, demons, werewolves, hell-mouths, and slayers. It's modern mythology, the television equivalent of Star Wars.

Oh, and Buffy did love sensationally as well. Ladies, put down those namby-pamby, abstinence-pamphlets-passing-for-literature known as Twilight series. Welcome to the world of real relationships, with all the romance, drama, and heartache that comes along with it. Consider merely the character of Willow: She's on-again, off-again with best bud Xander, then dates a werewolf, becomes a lesbian, and skins a guy alive using her Wiccan powers after he accidentally kills Willow's girlfriend.

Suck on that, Twilight.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

I realize that most everyone has seen this monumental piece of dung well before I did, so this is not exactly a timely revelation. But I'm hoping to turn it into a larger "What's wrong with George Lucas/Steven Spielberg" rant as well, so bear with me.

Instead of playing hockey in SF during the downpour today, I decided to finally get around to watching the new Indy flick. I've had it on Netflix for the past two weeks and hadn't watched it, largely because most people I talked to warned me to lower my expectations.

I wasn't expecting much. What I got was worse than my greatest fears. I wasn't disappointed so much as I was angry by the time I got to the end of that mess.

Here's a list of stuff I hated about the movie (oh, and I guess I'll mention that there are spoilers here, but trust me, this movie's spoiled already):

1. The plot. Here's what I could discern, between yawns: This old archeologist friend of Indy's gets a crystal skull from behind the body of a Spanish conquistador, takes it to this legendary city, then brings it back. Then the Russians find out about it, and they want it. Apparently, the skull allows you to control people's minds from across the world...maybe. Or maybe it just burns your eyes out and disintegrates you. For some reason, Indiana Jones' son knows this old dude and gets a letter that is a riddle that only Indy can unscramble. The Russians bide their time until Indy figures stuff out for them, even though they try to kill him (badly) every other scene. At the end, it turns out the skull belongs to one of 13 aliens(?) and when it's put back on its body (I guess the old guy doesn't do this the first time he takes it to the city, although the movie never tells us), all the aliens(?) come together, create another dimension, and fly into it in a...wait for it...flying saucer.

I'm not trying to be obtuse. That's really all I could follow. I usually had little idea what was going on. I'm willing to admit that this could largely be that I was so bored during lots of the film that my mind started wandering to the election, the transport options for the concert I'm attending tonight, and checking the clock on the dvd player, trying to figure out when it would be over.

2. The CGI. I put this squarely on the shoulders of George Lucas. We've created a monster. Everyone loved the effects in the original Star Wars movies so much that he created an entire company to stay on the cutting edge of special effects. The CGI is one of the fatal flaws of the Star Wars prequels, and it sucks here. Allow me to list all the CGI that looked fake and annoyed me:
-The gophers
-The rolling, magnetized metal in the opening sequence
-The flying refrigerator (more on that absurdity later)
-The jet-powered tram thingee that also made no sense
-The waterfall stuff
-The red ants
-The scorpions
-The snake
-The aliens(?)
-The monkey army (we'll get to them later as well)
-The entire driving-through-the-jungle sequence
-The entire climax

3. The tone. Way to many silly/ridiculous moments and forced banter. Again, a list (with the ones that made Eileen and I look at each other and say things like, "This is so bad," "Are you kidding me?" and "Goddamn, this sucks" in bold):
-When Indy falls into the truck and makes a wisecrack before dealing with the Russian baddies
-That a 65-year-old man can jump along the rafters while dodging bullets
-Falling on the control panel and starting the jet-powered tram
-Indy hides in a lead-lined refrigerator during a nuclear bomb test and surviving when the blast hurls him (and the fridge) miles from the epicenter. Note: The rest of the film could've been Citizen Kane, and this would've been enough for me to dislike it.
-The diner fight between the jocks and the greasers
-When the Russian baddies hit the statue with their car and the head falls into their laps
-When the guy in the library asks Indy a subject matter question after Indy and Mutt skid into the hall on a motorcycle, and when Indy answers calmly.
-Those weird ninjas in the Peruvian graveyard- what the hell?
-Those savage guys who apparently live in the walls of that ancient fortress
-The unexplained Russian officer whom the guards at the gate recognize and call "Sir" before they are shot by his henchmen
-When Mutt straddles two speeding cars, fencing with Cate Blanchett while getting smacked in the balls by flora repeatedly, all while his mom shouts advice whilst driving.
-When Mutt swings like Tarzan through the trees with a monkey army. I had heard about this scene beforehand, and thought I had prepared myself for its awfulness. I was wrong. It's so terrible, I started imagining test audiences' reactions to it. I can't decide which was worse: that scene or when Jeff Goldblum's daughter uses gymnastics to beat the raptors in Jurassic Park II. You know what? Let's just call it a tie.
-Using a snake to pull Indy and Marion out of the quicksand
-Going over three gigantic waterfalls in a car without a scratch
-Indy repeatedly using his fists to beat down multiple Russians
-The Russians in general. They make stormtroopers look like the sniper in Saving Private Ryan
-The part in the end where Indy tries to rescue Mac, but he's stealing stuff, so he says he'll be ok, even though it's very clear he's going to be sucked into the vortex, which he is.

It comes down to this: That South Park episode was right: George Lucas must be stopped. At some point he started making movies for kids under the age of 10 and people who think Sarah Palin is an intellectual. All this jokey nonsense has got to go. This movie reminded me most of Attack of the Clones, but without the cool Yoda fight at the end to redeem it.

In fact, if you look at the parallels between the Star Wars saga and Indy, it's a little creepy. A revolutionary first film that breaks the mold. A dark sequel that many now regard as the best of the bunch. A third film with a feel-good ending that got a bit too cute and sentimental for the die-hard fans (right down to the reconciliation with the father at the end). Then a long wait...followed by CGI-heavy, clunky-plotted, overly-cryptic nonsense, replete with bumbling villains, annoying new sidekicks, and a dumbed-down tone to make things more "accessible."

Spielberg deserves his share of the blame, too, of course. But that fact that he still manages to churn out a halfway-decent film every now and then (Minority Report, War of the Worlds) trumps Lucas' one notable effort, Episode III (which would've been hard to screw up- it's that good a story).

Together, they are an unholy alliance. If stuff like the piece of shit I just wasted two hours of my Saturday on today (plus another hour writing this blog) is the best they can do, then they deserve a societally-mandated divorce.

One more thing: I realize there are lots of people who liked this film, and not just moronic teenagers. I was stunned to see it running at 76% on Rotten Tomatoes (worse than all the other Indy movies, but still pretty good). I can't explain this, other than to compare it to Transformers, another terrible movie that made a ton of money with a not-as-bad-as-you'd-think Tomato score of 57%. Oh, and Spielberg was involved in that catastrofuck as well, so he just dropped another notch.

Oh, and lastly, Taargus, Taargus, if you're reading this: You PAID to see this piece of shit in the theatre TWICE, and you complain about Cloverfield? I watched that again last night, and Cloverfield is about 1,000 times more realistic than this detritus. Explain yourself.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I finally made up my mind...

about whom I'm voting for this election. Whenever my teenagers ask me whom I'm voting for, I always reply, "I'm not sure yet. But I know whom I'm not voting for."

This confuses the poo out of many of them. They say things like, "But there's only two people running. You have to vote for one of them, don't you?" Do they say such things because they're callow youth? No. They say such things because they're Americans.

I don't want to go into a history lesson of the two-party system, but take any constitutional history class, and you'll see that our current Democrat/Republican gridlock is not what the founding fathers intended. It hasn't served us well. Feel free to disagree with me, but consider the frustration level you normally have when you think about the federal government. Still think things are perfect?

At any rate, I've never voted for either a Democrat or a Republican for president. I'm a registered Green Party member, and proud of it. I'm also not going to take the time to stump for the cause, except to say that whenever like-minded people (esp. students) ask what the Green Party's stances are, and I inform them, they're nearly always in complete agreement.

I voted for Nader in '96 and '00 (yeah, I was one of those- got a problem with that?), and David Cobb in '04 (Nader either left/was booted from the party). I still firmly believe that those men would've been far better choices than either of the two major party candidates.

This year, Cynthia McKinney, a woman I respect, is running on the Green Party ticket. Again, I find myself agreeing with her more on the issues than either Barack Obama or John McCain.

But I'm not gonna vote for her. I'm rollin' with Barack.

It's taken me a long time to come to this decision. There are stances of Obama's I flat-out disagree with, like his objection to gay marriage and his approval of building a wall along the border. Then there's also my belief that the two major parties are by their very natures indebted and beholden to big money interests. I also think it's vital to vote third party. We know we won't win on a national level, but third parties at least tell the big guys that there are people who are being left out of their ideology and can sometimes influence policy. More importantly, you don't just become part of the machine.

So wherefore Obama?

Partly it's because I do agree with him on lots of issues. He was the only Democrat who had a shot at the nomination who was vocally against the war in Iraq before the invasion. He didn't vote with the President and then lamely try to explain it away later when it became unpopular like Hilary and his own VP choice, Biden. I like that he's for taxing the rich to help pay for the gigantic deficit Captain Shit-for-Brains ran up, and giving tax breaks to everyone else. I like that he seems to understand that drilling for more oil is like taking out another mortgage on the home that's being foreclosed on (which is why Americans love it- many of them are stupid).

It's also partly because I admire the man's character, intelligence, and background. He's a lot like Jackie Robinson back in the 50's. He had to be the perfect black man to integrate the Major Leagues: even-tempered, well-spoken, dignified, and extremely good at what he did. That's Obama. He's brilliant, never rattled, articulate, and a master politician. Whatever happens on his watch if he is elected, at least we'll have the comfort of knowing that we have someone of keen intellect making the calls, not Captain Shit-for-Brains.

Just as importantly, the sign an Obama presidency would send to the rest of the world would be significant. I know many Americans don't care what other countries think of us, that it doesn't matter. You heard it here first: those people are fucktards. Captain Shit-for-Brains spent all the credit and goodwill that we earned after 9/11 and then some. The rest of the world thinks we're uptight, racist, warmongering religious zealots. And they'll still be right about lots of us. But at least we can show the world that we're capable of change. That we're willing to try new things. That we repudiate the despicable regime of Captain Shit-for-Brains.

But mostly it comes down to this: I'm a student of history. I was a U.S. history major in college. Anybody with half a brain knows that racism has played a large role in this country's past, but most people seem to think that's what it is: our past. "What are they still complaining about?" they ask. Please. You don't have legal discrimination in a republic for the first 200 years of its history that all gets washed away by the next generation. Sure, it's getting better, but we're not there yet. Go to a McCain/Palin rally if you don't believe me.

I truly believe that this is going to be a transformative election. As naive as it sounds, I have something I'd lost for the past eight years: hope. I want this to be an election where I remember years later that I participated in something that changed my country and the world for the better.

Noted labor activist Delores Huerta once said, "Walk the street with us into history. Get off the sidewalk."

I'm walkin' with you, Barack. Don't let me down.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Watch Lance's Head Explode

In case you hadn't heard, John McCain just picked his running mate today. In a pretty transparent attempt to siphon off bitter Hillary supporters, he picked the no-name female governor of Alaska. OK, she has a name, and it's Sarah Palin, but none of you have ever heard of her. She was apparently a runner-up Miss Alaska in the 80s.

Anyway, Palin has all the usual Republican credentials: pro-life, pro-death penalty, pro-rich white people, all that. But one thing I just read about her stands out. She's one of those people who believes when it comes to creationism vs. evolution, you've got to "teach both sides."

Check this out:
The volatile issue of teaching creation science in public schools popped up in the Alaska governor's race this week when Republican Sarah Palin said she thinks creationism should be taught alongside evolution in the state's public classrooms.
Palin was answering a question from the moderator near the conclusion of Wednesday night's televised debate on KAKM Channel 7 when she said, 'Teach both. You know, don't be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important, and it's so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both.'

My favorite line is "don't be afraid of information." It's so twisted and conniving on so many levels; it's friggin' brilliant. As if biology teachers are "afraid" of the first page of the Bible suddenly being proven as fact. And as if all "information" is the same.

Look, Lance does a much more thorough job going into just how full of shit creationists/intelligent designers are, so read his blog if you want a full explanation of the reasons saying the sort of thing Palin believes in makes you a giant asshole.

The thing that really troubles me is this. If McCain is elected (shudder), the person next in line for the presidency believes that we should teach children in a science class that the world was created in six days, with each day being its own stage, and that a talking snake fucked us over, and we all descended from two people, and humans used to live to be as much as 900 years old, and....

And McCain is old. Like, could die at any time old.

Go ahead, try to sleep tonight.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A White Liberal's Nightmare, Part 2: Not All Cultures are Created Equal

As someone who's so to the left he's never voted for a Democratic presidential candidate (go, Nader!), there are certain truths people like me hold to be self-evident. One of the biggees is that one must respect and appreciate all cultures different from our own. In fact, many liberals tend to deify foreign cultures as being superior to our own consumer-driven mores.

Well, I'm not one of them. Some lean over so hard in an attempt to seem tolerant of other customs that they become tolerant of intolerance. Nowhere is this more evident than in the attempt to excuse the actions of followers of Islam.

To be fair, nobody I know tries to defend extremists like the ones who fly planes into buildings. But they do claim that those are just a few "bad apples." That those people are to Muslims what the KKK is to Christianity.

Ideologically, I think they're right. Both groups have taken something that theoretically should promote peace and used it to justify division and violence. But in terms of cultural acceptance and sheer numbers, the KKK doesn't hold a candle to Islamic extremism.

I don't like using the word "fundamentalist" because it's so vague. As The Daily Show's Senior Religion Expert Lance Johnson has astutely pointed out, if any of the major religions (and yes, I'm lookin' at you, Christianity) followed the stuff in their books to the letter, the world would be replete with child beating, slavery, rape, etc...

So I'll stick with "extremist" instead. And as far as that word goes, the Muslims are winning that contest by a mile. Here's the other article I mentioned in my blog about African-American culture a few days back: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/08/15/DDRH12BA7N.DTL&hw=salman+rushdie&sn=001&sc=1000

Again, in case you're too lazy to read it (it's short), it's about author Salman Rushdie's frustration over his publishing house's decision not to distribute a novel by Sherry Jones. The book deals with the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his child bride. According to Random House publishing, they pulled the book because "'credible and unrelated sources' had warned that the book 'could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment.'"

One of the world's biggest publishing houses can't print a book because it's afraid of people GETTING KILLED. OVER A BOOK.

I don't know anything about Muhammad and his child bride. I don't know if it's true/false/tawdry/offensive, or what. All I know is that threatening to commit terrorism over a STORY is ludicrous. And they've succeeded! Using fear and violence, these lunatics have gotten what they wanted. Just as they do every time a depiction of Muhammad gets pulled by any media outlet (there's a great episode of South Park about this).

I know, I know. This is just a few crazies, right? What about this paragraph, then:

"The Satanic Verses" referred to a legend - about Muhammad being tricked by agents of the devil - that enraged some Muslims. The book was banned in India, and burned by demonstrators in England. The novel's Japanese translator was murdered, the Italian translator stabbed.

People who translated the book were targeted. And as far as the "just a few extremists" goes, I don't think that the country of India qualifies.

There's a huge element of "the lady doth protest too much" in the Islamic mindset. One of their most sacred sayings is "No God but God" (I'm still workin' on the book, Lance). That phrase is some sort of logical fallacy for one thing. But what interests me more is the defensiveness of it. They want to make very clear that any other god anyone else thought up isn't their god.

We live in a varied world. Most everyone else (there are exceptions, I know, but none with the numbers of Islam) at this point has accepted the plurality of opinions and beliefs of other cultures. Muslims in vast numbers riot over cartoons.

I haven't even touched on most Muslim cultures' mistreatment of women. One of the most regrettable moments of my teaching career came when a student of mine told me she was going to Iran to see family. I replied glibly, "Oh! You're not gonna come back wearing a burka, are you?" I said it completely jokingly- this was clearly an American girl, fully assimilated in manner and dress. Still, I can't believe I said that. Talk about culturally insensitive. I think they almost revoked my Green Party membership.

Anyway, it didn't end well. The girl was upset, and understandably. I'd rather not rehash the embarrassing details. However, I stand by one thing: women shouldn't wear burkas. I don't care if it's the law, like in some places, or if it's the women's "choice," as I've heard some defenders proclaim.

Please. It's a cultural expectation, and a backward one. To paraphrase Bill Maher, this isn't just a "difference" in societal values that's to be respected. One is better; one is worse. Until the majority of the world's Muslims figure that out, I'm not letting them off the hook.

Lance wrote in one of his recent blogs "that doesn't mean that the rest of the world gets to sit pretty and say, 'Yeah, Muslims - get it together.'" Well, I don't know about the rest of the world, but I'm saying it. Until they can accept freedom of the press, differences of opinion, stop treating their women as second-class citizens, and most importantly, stop solving every problem with barbaric violence, I'm not going to respect or defend their behavior, liberal cred be damned.

However, I do oppose one element of the conservative party line: The school of thought that my father-in-law espouses that all Muslims should be doing more to apologize and condemn the behavior of the extremists.

First of all, I think they are doing this. It's just not as sexy to run sane, sensible, peaceful Muslims on the nightly news as it is to show them burning flags and hanging Danish cartoonists in effigy.

Secondly, I don't think it's fair. The Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, was an army veteran. There was no rush after the attack for all the armed forces vets to apologize for something one of their brethren had done. After all, they hadn't bombed anyone, and would never think of it.

I'm sure the vast majority of Muslims felt the same way, particularly American Muslims. As far as I know, not one American Muslim has ever been implicated in a terror plot or incident. I don't know what the hell's going on over there in Britain. USA! USA! USA!

Friday, August 15, 2008

A White Liberal's Nightmare

I just came back from a week-long vacation with my in-laws at Turks and Caicos (look that up on a map, kids...I had to). My mother and father in-law are the only people whom I know well who routinely watch the Fox "News" channel, listen to Rush Limbaugh, and believe pretty much every opinion on both.

I'll bet you think you know where this blog's going, but you don't.

Eileen never wants me to talk politics with them, but I enjoy it. I am usually able to keep emotions out of it and ask questions that convey a genuine interest for their views. It's fascinating to me to see how the "other side" thinks. My most recent epiphany was that the real marvel of American right-wing talk radio and ideology is that it has convinced the most powerful people in our society, affluent white people, that they are victims.

Lazy welfare recipients are eating their tax dollars. Illegal immigrants come here to sell drugs and commit crimes. Blacks are racist because 85% of them are voting for Obama, apparently solely because he's African-American.

All of these are either paraphrases or direct quotes of things they said, and I disagreed with all of them.

However, there were two stories in the newspaper today that troubled me because when I was reading them, I found myself echoing many of the sentiments held by my in-laws.

Here's the first one, from the front page of the Chron: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/08/15/MNFA12B94A.DTL

If you're too lazy to read it, I'll summarize: All kids are doing better on standardized tests (a topic which is a different rant for a different day), but black students continue to lag farther behind all other ethnic groups in every area. Nobody really has any solutions for this, other than to continue to "monitor" the schools where it's really a problem and those where it's not as much of a problem.

The issue is especially troubling because in general, reading these test scores doesn't take a degree in education. Work in the education system, or read the chapter in the splendid book Freakonomics, and you'll see that almost without exception, student achievement, particularly on standardized tests, goes hand-in-hand with parent income and education level. This is true across race and gender lines.

Why are "good" schools good? Because the kids there have been instructed from an early age that education is important. It's been modeled to them as the way to be successful in our society. It has very little to do with the teachers at the school (sigh), the programs, or the school itself.

The troubling thing about the recent African-American test scores is that they don't hold true to this ideal. Even black kids with relatively affluent parents are performing at a level below other groups, even in some cases Latinos who are still learning the language.

So what the fuck is wrong?

Well, first we should throw away two possible explanations:

1. "Blacks are naturally not as intelligent. It's a genetic thing." This is so beyond stupid that it's not worth discussing. It has been proved by science ad ifinitum. I'm almost sorry I brought it up, but I know it's out there in some circles of thought, so it needed to be addressed.

2. "Schools/teachers are discriminating against blacks somehow, and the tests are biased against them." This one's a lot harder to easily disprove, and it dredges up bad memories of the whole "ebonics" controversy of a decade ago in Oakland. From a purely anecdotal point of view, I can assure Joe Public that if there are some sort of discriminatory policies/teachers in public schools, I have never witnessed them or even heard whispers of them. Great pains are taken in California schools to fairly represent (I would say in some cases even over-represent) all minorities, be they Special Ed, ESL, or ethnic minorities. The fear of lawsuit is palpable.

This school of thought also doesn't ably explain why African-Americans are unique in their lack of progress on the tests. Even taking into account the suspect argument that the black community speaks "another language," that doesn't explicate why kids who TRULY speak in a different tongue like Latinos and particularly Asians score much higher.

So, again, what the fuck?

Here's where I start to cringe. But if I'm going to be honest (and I feel that's best in one's own blog), then there's really only one conclusion to come to: African-American culture is to blame. Such are my liberal credentials and white guilt reflexes that it was truly hard for me to write that sentence. But it needs to be said. For whatever reason, education is not valued in the black community, or at least it's not valued enough.

Why not? That's a good question, and I don't know the whole answer. Certainly three centuries of discrimination (and bondage, of course) play some role. The U.S. told this group of people they were second-class citizens (or not citizens at all) for so long that many of them started to accept that role. However, and I hate to sound like a conservative...I really do, but that's a reason, not an excuse. There's nothing that can be done about that now (and please, no talk of reparations). It's time to take control of their own destinies and carve out a place for themselves.

Is the "hip-hop" culture at fault? I'd say at least "probably," although it's a useless query. Whenever I hear some rapper interviewed about the insanely immoral content of his lyrics (all the usual: womanizing, greed, violence), he invariably responds with: "I'm just refecting what's going on out there in the streets, where I come from." I have no doubt he's right, although the word I'd use is "glamorizing." I saw a kid at summer school with shiny plastic studs glued to his backpack to spell out "Get Money." By the way, this kid wasn't black, but he was clearly emulating "black" culture.

The problem is what to do about that. You can't outlaw music, or fashion, or a culture, nor should you. It must shift on its own. I really have no idea how to speed that change up. More money and resources toward education, particularly in inner-city schools would help, but it wouldn't solve the problem completely.

The main reason for that is something that typically only blacks can say and get away with, but unfortunately I believe it to be true: Ignorance is not just acceptable in many segments of the black community, but lauded. Chris Rock has a great riff about this mindset amidst his groundbreaking routine that I will not name because I already feel guilty enough. But one of his jokes involves an ignorant African-American being proud not to know the capital of Zaire: "I don't know that shee-it!" He also makes a joke about how to keep one's money safe: hide it in one's books.

These are exaggerations (sort of), but the point is clear. Many blacks are being left behind due to their own cultural outlook that school's not important. There are even more troubling elements of this mores, including the stats that show that African-Americans are far more likely to get std's, become pregnant as teens, go to prison, or be killed violently than any other group.

Again, I have little idea what's to be done about this. I applaud Barack Obama for pointing out recently that blacks must be better parents, particularly the fathers. That can only be a good thing: successful blacks modeling dignified, intellectual, productive behavior. They have the "street cred" that people of my particular pigmentation don't.

Unfortunately, many black leaders have figured out the way to remain popular is to wait around for a second-rate comic or disc jockey to say something bigoted and then swoop in with incendiary cries of racism. Jesse Jackson claimed he wanted to snip Obama's nuts off for having the gall to say that black fathers need to do a better job of sticking around.

This mentality is nearly as poisonous, because it ignores the much bigger problem: The black community needs to get its house in order. There are many of us who would love nothing better than to stop defending African-American culture and citizenry and start pointing out its achievements.

Whew! Again, I have exceeded my word count limit. This was meant to be a two-parter, but more ramblings on a somewhat different subject would be too much for one posting. On this entry in particular, I'd love to hear people's thoughts. Don't worry about sparing my (white supremicist) feelings.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

#3


Six Feet Under


Yet another HBO show on my list, from its golden era of programming. If they were churning out stuff this quality today, I'd still be dropping my $20 a month on that shit.

What occurs to me about this show, as well as others on HBO, is that I tried to watch it once during its first season because it was getting great reviews. I think I came into the middle of a season, about 15 minutes into the episode, and gave it 20 minutes. I couldn't figure out what all the fuss was about, and I chalked it up to being not my cup of tea.

Two years later, my friend Mandy happened to be over as I was flipping through channels. She saw Six Feet Under on the channel guide and insisted I watch it. She told me the backstory, made me watch a whole episode, and that was it. I never missed another one, and I went back and rented the first two seasons to catch up.

To be fair, the third season (where I came in) was the series' pinnacle, so it was easy to get hooked. Nate's wife goes missing, and he responds by screwing everything that moves, leaving his newborn son with his unhinged mother....

You know what? Trying to explain the plot of the show is the exact thing that made me wary of it in the first place. The great thing about the show is its tone, its characters, its nuance, and its fantastic cast of actors. The plots sound more than a tad melodramatic when you rehash them (particularly the disappointing season four). The basic premise of the show is a family who loses its father in the pilot ep (although he recurs frequently as a spirit) and now must run the funeral home without him. Oh yeah, and they also live in the upstairs part of the home, with the dead bodies either in the basement being prepped or on the main floor being memorialized.

But the self-destruction Peter Krause brought to the character of Nate, the prodigal son, is what sticks with you. As does the confusion of his brother, religious-but-gay David, played brilliantly by Michael C. Hall, now onto great things with Dexter on Showtime. As does the emotionally naked work of Lauren Ambrose as Clare, the little sister trying to figure out her role in the family.

I literally could write 500 words on these and all the other fantastic characters on Under, but it would bore anyone unfamiliar with the show. I will say if you're a fan of The Office, you owe it to yourself to see the character arc of Rainn Wilson as an extremely awkward intern mortician, aspiring to be mother Ruth's love interest- sort of. You can see the embryo of Dwight Schrute germinating before your very eyes.

The show's lasting legacy will be its treatment of death. There has never been a television show that has dealt with the loss of life and all the emotions it brings with it more head-on than Six Feet Under. It shows how death can be tragic, deserved, cathartic, unfair, absurd, and even hilarious. Each hour begins with someone kicking the bucket. My favorite was the Jehovah's Witness who saw a bunch of inflatable sex dolls flying in the air, assumed it was rapture, and let go of the steering wheel of her car, resulting in her doom. Or perhaps it was her salvation. Who's to know in the end?

Then there's the finale. OH...MY...GOD. I probably bumped this show up four or five spots because it had the single best ending of any show I've ever seen. If you asked me for the most compelling, thrilling, emotional five minutes of television I've had the priviledge to witness, it would be the last five minutes of Six Feet Under's series finale at the tail end of season five. There has never been a finale that wrapped up with such heartbreaking beauty, such sublime finality as Six Feet Under did.

Here's how great it is: I kept it on my Tivo for about a year, during which time I probably watched the ending 40 times. I used to come home tipsy from the bars and insist on watching it two or three times before I went to bed. It is the perfect wrap-up of an oustanding run, so great that it almost completely makes up for the weaknesses of its uneven last two seasons. I can distinctly remember watching it with Eileen on a Sunday evening, and both of us being nearly speechless for the next 20-30 minutes; such was the breathtaking intensity of how neatly the show culminated its run.

It's Over

No, not my awesome t.v. dramas list. Still working on that. It's the fight on gay marriage that has the fat lady warming up.

I knew I would see this in my lifetime, but I didn't think it would happen this soon. Just after hearing the Supreme Court's ruling a couple weeks ago, I was so elated I stalked the halls of my high school, interrupting five or six of my male colleagues' classes during my prep period to propose to them in front of their students. We boldly preclaimed that since gay marriage was now legal, there was no need for our wives. Part satire, part celebration.

Then came word: the backward, hateful, illogical, busybody religious conservatives were already mounting a petition to get an anti-gay marriage amendment to the constitution on the November ballot. I girded my now a little flitty loins and promised myself that I would actually get off my lazy ass and go to rallies, sign up voters- whatever it took in order to make sure the most significant civil rights gain of my generation did not go for naught.

I even mentioned to my students (overwhelming supporters of gay marriage- see my blog from a couple months ago) that even though they wouldn't be able to vote in November, if they really cared, there were things they could do to get involved. Bill O'Reilly's head would explode: I was encouraging students to break out of their apathetic malaise for a political cause they believed in, but it's one he abhors. I'm guessing he would call for my immediate "removal." I have two words for him: Tenure, bitch.

At any rate, it looks like neither I nor my students will be needing to get up off our lazy asses anytime soon, thank god. Yesterday's SF Chronicle showed a well-respected survey, the Field Poll, has the majority of registered California voters backing gay marriage for the first time ever, 51% to 42%, with 7% having no opinion. That's not even that close. With numbers like those, an anti-marriage proposal has virtually no chance of passing.

The poll showed all the demographics you'd expect: Democrats favor gay marriage much more than Republicans...Nor Cal and L.A. favor much more than Central Valley hayseeds (I'm lookin' at you, Fresno), non-religious folk favor much more than believers of all stripes (more on them later), and of course younger people favor it much more than old fogies. Check out these numbers: 65 and older in favor: 36%...50-64: 47%...40-49: 51%...30-39: 58%...18-29: 68%. See a pattern? No wonder the haters are so anxious to get that amendment passed NOW. They're literally losing ground every day. Yet they refuse to see the writing on the wall.

Yep, that last line was a very clever allusion. Dig it, y'all.

Alongside the story was the usual "two cents" feature, where regular Joes from the Bay Area give their opinions. Predictably, there were a few of the same ridiculous arguments against gay marriage that people who think homosexuality is wrong or dangerous throw out to disguise their true prejudice. The fallacies in these points have been covered ad nauseum, most recently by my fellow BlogStar Lance Johnson, but I just can't help eviscerating illogical nonsense. Indulge me:

The "activist judges" argument:
"I support the right of gays to marry, but only if they get the backing of a majority of people, which means I do not support the decision of a judge to overthrow the will of the people." -Nelson Hyde Chick, 45, San Francisco

Nelson, you are a goddamn moron. What if you had to get 50% of the people who know you to approve your marriage? I'd never have made it- no one on Eileen's side would've voted for me. Yeah, I'm being a bit extreme, but c'mon. I have no problem with the majority of Californians deciding the state color or bird or other such nonsense. But the reason the court ruled the way it did was because the law was discriminatory. And it's their job to rule if a law-say it with me now-discriminates against any of its citizens.

What if a proposal made the ballot that outlawed the practice of Scientology? Scientology is ridiculous. I firmly believe the world would be better off without it. I'll bet the majority of Californians feel the same. What if we got it on the ballot and banned it? Would Nelson use the same logic?

Or how about a real-life example: California used to have a law against interracial marriages. The people voted for it and everything. The court struck it down. How would Nelson feel about that? I'll bet he'd say the court was right in that instance. I'm not the first to point out that "activist judges" are judges who make rulings that the fucktards who use that phrase disagree with.

The "marriage is for having children" argument:

Not as stupid? Just as stupid? Stupider? I'll go with the latter. Listen to this dunderhead: "Marriage is about children, fostering the progeny. Most psychologists show that a mother and father play vital roles to a child's development. This is why societies throughout the world condone heterosexual marriage alone. Gay marriage mocks heterosexual marriage. The gay argument that many married couple who don't bear children should also be prohibited from marriage is without merit. They can adopt." -Adam Sparks, 57, San Francisco

First, let's take his assertion that children require both a "mother and father." I agree that two parents are the best situation for a child. But if he's in favor of a law that is based on not allowing kids to be reared in any other than that scenario, then he's an unrealistic fascist. In addition, he throws out there that this has always been the way it's been, implying that two people of the same sex can't effectively raise progeny. Did he ever see My Two Dads? The fact is that there is very little long-term evidence on same-sex parents raising kids together because it hasn't been societally acceptable for very long. As for the short-term evidence, it shows that there's not much difference between homo and hetero parents' kids' performance. Not that this numbskull would bother doing any kind of research like that.

I haven't even attacked the most ridiculous part of his opinion yet. What about people who just don't intend to have kids? Should they be given an asterisk on their marriage license if they don't reproduce? What about senior citizens who get married well past child-raising years? Adam, you're a fucking idiot. Gay people can adopt, too. And they'd have done a better job raising you than your biggoted asswipe excuses for guardians did.

The religious argument:

"This reminds me of the child that won't take no for an answer. The people of California made it clear on Proposition 22, for which I canvassed neighborhoods. Clearly, the word marriage signifies an agreement between a man and a woman and is ordained by God." -Olivetta Chavez, over 50, Concord

I actually respect Olivetta's view more than the other ones because at least she gets down to what this is really all about: religion. Religion, in nearly all its forms, has been an enemy (and a violent one, at that) of homosexuality for thousands of years. It is the reason for all these people's hangups. At least Olivetta comes out (no pun intended) and says it, unlike those lawyers who have to use smoke and mirrors in court involving "tradition" and "societal values." You see, they can't argue on strictly religious grounds because of that pesky First Amendment. That one's really a bitch. All that freedom really fucks with a very nice theocracy.

But I gotta disagree with you there, Oli. The problem is that this is a legal issue before the courts, not a religious one. So while it may be "clear" to your religion that queers don't get to marry, the State of California has to play by different rules. If it's any consolation, the same abominable legal system that guarantees gays the right to equal contributory benefits is the same one that can't force your church or your clergy to marry any of those sinners. So feel free to keep your prejudices handy.

And that's really the bottom line, isn't it? WHO THE FUCK CARES ABOUT SOMEONE ELSE'S MARRIAGE? HOW DOES IT AFFECT YOU IN ANY WAY? AREN'T THERE OTHER ISSUES THAT ARE ACTUALLY PROBLEMS THAT YOU COULD PUT ALL THAT SUPPOSEDLY POSITIVE CHRISTIAN ENERGY INTO?

I usually try to lay off the obscenity when I write, sprinkling it in like spice on food. As I re-read this lengthy diatribe, I see lots of cursing. I tend to swear when I'm angry, and that seems to apply to my writing as well as my oral arguments. I'm just tired of battling people's prejudices. I'm tired of ignorance. I'm tired of illogic. I'm tired of excusing intolerance toward a group of people by claiming it's prompted by a philosophy of love.

Mostly, I'm tired of people who refuse to learn from history. My in-laws are both conservative Republicans. I usually try to stay out of political discussions with them, but recently my wife and I got into with them on this topic. We made all the usual points, and my wife said to them, "It's going to happen eventually, you know."
Her dad responded, "Yes, I think you're right."
Eileen rejoindered, "Well, doesn't it bother you that in 50 years you're going to look bad, just like the segregationists in the South, like you were on the wrong side?"
Her mom: "No."

WHY THE FUCK NOT???

I guess it's time to get over being angry. History shows that where California leads, the rest of the states eventually follow. Hopefully, this is the last I'll post on this for a long time. Progress wins. Intolerance loses. Again.

I just wish it didn't always have to be this hard.

#4

I’m back with 4!!!

Oh, how it's been so long,
We're so sorry we've been gone,
We were busy writing songs for you.

I've had a hectic time of things recently. We moved into a new house, bought a Prius because we're white, and just had in-laws in town for the entire weekend. Combine that with my addictions to alcohol, Rock Band, and largely mediocre (or worse) Bay Area sports teams, and it's been a busy time. One week I was only able to squeeze in two naps after work.

I doubt many of you missed me much, as I still managed to mock or tear down others' posts. But it really wasn't fair to start a list like that and leave all my loyal readers hanging. Let's see what pops up after a two hour date with dreamtime this afternoon.

4: The Wonder Years

The only half-hour show on my list, and I'm sure some would consider it a comedy. However, it had no laugh track, and it sure had its share of tender moments.

This one holds a special place in my heart because its main character, Kevin Arnold, was the exact same age as I was. The show started in the summer after Kevin's last year of elementary school, where everything made sense and the only girl that mattered was the one right across the street. During the first few episodes, Kevin was exposed to the horrors of junior high school and all the confusing and exclusionary politics of that toxic environment.

If you're getting the sense that junior high was an unpleasant time for me, that's not just the gin talking. I really hated it. Not wanna-kill-myself hate it, but I did come up with a mysterious stomach ailment that ultimately required an ultrasound (which showed nothing- I wasn't pregnant...nor was I within years of threatening a woman's womb) just to stay out of school for a couple weeks. One of the few things that made the fourth circle of hell known as Stanley Intermediate bearable was The Wonder Years on Wednesday nights. At least I saw that someone else was going through the same things.

Even though the story took place in the late 60s (the pilot focused on Winnie's brother being killed in Vietnam and Kevin's subsequent first kiss with his neighbor), I felt like Kevin and I were living parallel lives. I'm sure lots of other people did as well. I had dorky friends, I worshipped sports heroes, and I was obsessed with girls. He did much better than I did with them, although I could never figure out why he didn't go for the exoticly tempting Madeline from his French class over frowny sad sack Winnie. It probably didn't hurt that I thought Madeline looked like one of my high school crushes.

I remember one episode in particular about Kevin's monster pimple, and the way he cleansed, ointmented, buffed, and polished it, only to end up with...a shinier, cleaner pimple. I can't begin to count the hours spent in front of the mirror obsessing over the latest blemish.

Then there was the music. I'm still woefully uninformed on lots of that era's tunes, but most of what I know came from watching The Wonder Years. From that outstanding Joe Cocker opener to the songs that seemed to match every situation perfectly, whoever was picking songs for that show knew their shit. Unfortunately, this is the aspect of the show that prevents it from coming out on dvd. It wouldn't be the same without the music, and the rights to six seasons of gold don't come cheap. If you're of the younger generation and have never seen the show, it did run in syndication for awhile, so search your network (do they still have Nic at Nite?).

The Wonder Years lost a bit of momentum toward the end of its run, which is too bad because the last episode was fantastic. Kevin finally seals the deal with Winnie (in a barn!), but it's actually goodbye sex. I can't remember exactly why, but they are headed in different directions. The kicker was the narration, as usual delivered with gentle, sincere grace by Daniel Stern. Kevin informs us that his dad dies a few years later, and big bro Wayne takes over the family company.

I remember watching that as a junior in high school, alone in my bedroom, and fighting back the tears. There was something very sad about leaving this family I'd come of age with. But there was also something fitting about Kevin and Wayne growing up and moving on, just as I would do a year later.

To this day, I can't hear "With a Little Help From My Friends" without getting a tad nostalgic for that opening home movie montage where Kevin waves at the camera at the end. There's a beautiful simplicity to it, like coming home.

The Hills Drinking Game

The Hills Drinking Game

I promise to finish my top ten tv dramas list for those of you pining away to see the top four. Actually, I think it's just Rob at this point, bless his heart. I'm in the process of moving and don't have a lot of spare time at the moment.

So here's a quick one tonight about a show that I used to loathe, and now I just loathe myself for watching. I'd feel bad, but I know I'm not alone. Yeah, most of the other people I know who watch it have vaginas, but as any of you reading my tv list have noticed, I'm comfortable with my femininity in tv viewing.

Before I go into the drinking game my wife, sister and I co-invented, how about what should be an unnecessary disclaimer: Even in the most cynical sense, The Hills is not a "reality" show. EVERY SINGLE THING THAT HAPPENS IS ORCHESTRATED OR RE-CREATED. THERE IS NOT ONE SPONTANEOUS MOMENT ON THE SHOW. Furthermore, most of it is just downright made up- these people don't actually have jobs, take classes, or live in those apartments. It's one of the worst-kept secrets in Hollywood.

Again, I shouldn't even have to point this out, but I deal every day with gullible teens who think that "news" items planted in US Weekly are "totally true." It tends to make you think that everyone's an unthinking zombie. I have started thinking of the show as a sitcom with really bad acting. None of this justifies me watching it, I realize.

Alright, on to the game. If you've never watched the show, you've probably already stopped reading. You really don't want to go on if you've never seen it.

Take a drink when:
1. They pretend to "work" at their fake jobs. This also includes pretending to take classes while text messaging.
2. Spencer gives a sarcastic thumbs up or that serial killer stare.
3. Heidi says, "I don't know," pouts her fake lips, shows off her surgically-enhanced cleavage, or basically admits she has no friends.
4. Anyone says "you're a really good friend," "you're a really good person," or "be careful of (fill in name of potential enemy here)."
5. Lauren claims to be "stabbed in the back" or says, "Ok, but just be careful of (perceived enemy)."
6. Audrina says "I mean" or talks to an object six inches above the person's head she's supposedly having a conversation with.
7. Any guy on the show tries to convince one of the girls that hooking up with her without a commitment (or "label" in the case of Justin-Bobby) is allowable and will only make their relationship stronger.
8. These supposedly low-level employees are shown enjoying bottle service on a weeknight at a trendy L.A. night club.
9. When they show up the next day for "work" or "school" with no hangover, looking like they just stepped out of a fashion shoot.
10. Whenever cast members just "happen" to run into each other at clubs/restaurants/dmvs.
11. A female watching the show says, "See, she's the only one I actually like. She seems real" about LC's sole non-stick figure friend Lo.
12. Brody checks his phone.
13. Brody and Spencer have a homoerotic conversation.
14. Whitney ends an "ing" word with a "k" sound instead, or ends a sentence that is not a question with a lilt at the end indicating that it is, in fact, a question.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A criticism/homage

I finally got around to watching Rob Zombie's Halloween "re-imagining" this weekend. Before I go further, I have two disclaimers...wait, three.

One is that I will watch nearly every horror movie, despite the fact that there are so few really good ones. I'm a fan of the genre, have been since I was 8 and I snuck out to the living room to watch Friday the 13th behind my babysitter's back.

The second is that I not only consider the original Halloween the best and most influential horror film of all time, but I believe it also belongs on any list of the best movies ever. C'mon, AFI, get on the ball.

The third is that I'm not sure it's possible to "spoil" a movie that's a remake, unless you haven't seen the original. If you haven't seen the first Halloween, then stop reading this column immediately and go rent it. Or don't. But I wouldn't read this without seeing it, because it will most likely bore you silly. At any rate, I don't think I'm going to give away anything that will "ruin" the new version for you, but I'm not going to go out of my way to omit details, either.

First, I did like a couple things about the Zombie version. It moved along quickly and was fairly entertaining, despite its two-hour running time. This was my first experience with Zombie direction, and I found it to be competent visually. Also, there was frequent use of the score from the original film, which is one of the most iconic arrangements ever, up there for me with all those awesome John Williams scores.

I also liked that Zombie didn't try to do what Gus Van Sant did with his remake of Psycho, which changed nothing but the actors. What was the point of that? Zombie made some changes and filled in some blanks. However, he did keep some of the exact same shots, like Michael Myers posing in the boyfriend's ghost costume with the glasses pulled over it, and the scene where Dr. Loomis goes to the cemetery and Judith Myers' gravestone is gone.

Zombie also predictably amps up the gore factor; the 70's Halloween is nearly bloodless. Let's just say this one is not.

He also gives his presumably young male core demographic what they want: lots and lots of female flesh. If you read my blog at all, you know this does not offend me. In fact, it's fair to say I encourage them. Boobies, that is. And I really liked the opening scene of a slutty-hot Judith Myers and her boyfriend, before Michael dices her up. And Linda's topless shot is longer and more revealing than in the original Halloween. Kudos there.

However, the third topless scene cancels out the other two and then some. You know Seinfeld's rap about "good naked" vs. "bad naked"? Well, Danielle Harris' scene as Annie starts off good and quickly veers into "cringe naked" territory. First of all, Harris is the actress who appeared as a child (and apparent Michael Myers protege') in Halloween IV and V. She was also Bruce Willis' daughter with braces in The Last Boy Scout. I couldn't decide if seeing her breasts was intriguing or sketchy. It quickly turns definitively to blasphemy when Myers grabs her still-topless, writhing, bloody, screaming body and drags her face down across the living room floor, bloody boobs scraping. She later lays face up, sobbing and moaning, with her plasma-smeared breasts bared for a long while.

I am no prude, but I've never been partial to the sex-mixed-with-violence mindset. I understand the purpose of something like that in a movie like The Accused or Casualties of War. But in a slasher flick that teens are going to see because it's a fun Friday night? That's sending some very dangerous messages.

But the part that disappointed me the most was Zombie's experimentation with "new" aspects of the story. He goes more into the "motivation" of Michael Myers as a young boy. We see young Mikey's home life in detail. He has an alcoholic, abusive, completely one-dimensional stepfather, a stripper for a mother (who keeps claiming right before Michael goes off on his killing spree that "tomorrow will be better," and we never find out what she meant by that), and an oversexed sister, which is the only connection to the original, as far as I can tell. We also see Michael's school life, where he's bullied for no good reason by an equally one-dimensional teen who later ends up on the wrong side of the tree branch Michael employs in his first homicide. Oh, and then there's the dead cat Michael brings to school in his backpack, and the pictures of dead dogs the principal finds in Michael's locker which he shows Mrs. Myers (remember, she's a stripper) during a parent-teacher conference.

It's all very subtle.

We also see plenty of Michael's face (although he has an affinity for masks) and hear him talk. They chose a petulant, pig-faced actor with long hair to play him. He comes off as a brat, but not especially terrifying. He engenders neither fear nor sympathy. He gradually becomes non-talkative and spends all his time in masks, before breaking out of his asylum in a Terminator 2-style scene. He continues to keep his hair long and unkempt, which Zombie evidently equates with scary, perhaps because that's how he wears his own, and he changed his name to "Zombie" because it's, you know...scary.

The problem is, it's not any more frightening than watching the nightly news, which I realize can be very frightening, but in a more pedestrian, soul-draining way. He gives us all these reasons why Michael became the way he did, and perhaps implies our society could be full of potential little Michaels. He also attempts to humanize Michael by showing a connection between he and his younger sister, Laurie. She's the only one he doesn't kill in the house that first Halloween night, and when he encounters her later as a young woman (after carving up all of her promiscuous friends), he holds up a childhood picture of the two together in some vague attempt at brotherly love.

All of this made me realize why I love the original so much, and why it's so frickin' scary. The kid in that one is from a "normal" family; his parents' only fault seems to be underestimating their daughter's sex drive when they leave Michael to her watch on Halloween night. For no apparent reason, other than the fact his sister opens her legs (a code that Halloween basically created), a six-year-old boy takes a large kitchen knife upstairs, walks into his sister's room, and stabs her over repeated protestations without saying a word. When his parents find him, bloody knife still in hand, and remove his mask, he's just standing there, staring blankly. They are astonished. What the hell happened here?

Cut to Dr. Loomis several years later, on Michael's 18th birthday. Unlike in the new version, Loomis doesn't want to be Michael's "friend." Get this chilling exchange:

[referring to a partially eaten dog]
Sheriff Leigh Brackett: A man wouldn't do that.

Dr. Sam Loomis: This isn't a man.

Dr. Sam Loomis: I met him, fifteen years ago. I was told there was nothing left. No reason, no conscience, no understanding; even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face and, the blackest eyes... the *devil's* eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized what was living behind that boy's eyes was purely and simply... *evil*.

No reason. No logic. No long, straggly hair. Just evil.

He goes after his sister, who was an infant when he was sent away. Why? Doesn't matter. He does it with single-minded purpose. She's being stalked for reasons she (and we) don't comprehend. We just know she's terrified. And so are we.

After Loomis shoots Michael six times, driving him off a second floor balcony, a broken, petrified Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode tells Loomis (although it's delivered as a question, with a childlike need for assurance): "It was the boogeyman."

His response: "As a matter of fact, it was." His premise is confirmed when he looks to the lawn below and Michael is gone.

The last scene (and famous lines) is more or less repeated in the Zombie version, but it has much less resonance. After all, we know he's not the boogeyman. He's the product of a screwed-up home environment who wanted to reunite with his baby sister.

It occurs to me that Zombie's version could be seen as "liberal" while John Carpenter's represents a "conservative" outlook. If you've come this far, bear with me.

Liberals are known for trying to see the whole picture, grey areas and all. They want to figure out the "why" for actions, instead of just reacting. In real life, I agree with this philosophy.

But in horror movies, I want my good and evil clearly defined. I am much more disconcerted by the idea that a kid could come from a stable, upper-middle class environment in the suburbs and become a monster than that the superhuman beast is the son of white trash, a modern-day equivalent of Burris Ewell.

I want to think of Michael Myers the same way conservatives think of Osama Bin Laden- an malevolent force born to wreak havoc on average, hard-working people, not something created by societal deficiencies.

Wow. I had no idea I had this much to say or that we'd end up here (Osama Bin Laden...what the hell?). Thanks for reading, if you got this far. If anyone's seen the new movie or is a fan of the old one, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Would you vote for this man?

Comments from a recent interview with an aspiring politician:

"I'm going to be the governor in 2014. I just bought a house there. I can do some great things. America is divided between rich and poor, and the poor people don't stand a chance in this country. Poor people are born in bad neighborhoods and are going to go to bad schools. That's not right. You shouldn't have to be rich and famous to be successful."

Question: You've said you'll run as a Democrat. Didn't you used to be a Republican?

Answer: No. I didn't used to be a Republican. I said I was rich like a Republican, and I'm still rich like a Republican. There's no way in good conscience you can be a Republican right now. After what Bush and his cronies have done to America, there's no way you can honestly feel good about being a Republican. I mean that sincerely. Let's get something straight: The Democrats aren't much better. But I don't know how you can honestly say in good conscience that you are a Republican today in this country and not cringe.

Question: Would you consider bringing in Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson to help with your campaign?

Answer: No. I don't believe in them. They always play the race card, and you can't always play the race card. Sometimes the race card is needed but not in every situation. We have to hold blacks more accountable for their actions.

Question: Whom are you voting for in the presidential election?

Answer: I'm voting for Barack Obama. The reason I'm voting for him is he's a friend of mine. But I have to look at the big picture. We are so lost and confused in the black community right now. All our kids want to be rappers or entertainers. We need to let them know they can be intelligent and articulate. It's a bigger picture than him running for president, to be honest with you.

Question: Do you watch shows like The O'Reilly Factor?

Answer: No, because Bill O'Reilly is an asshole. And Lou Dobbs is an asshole. He's always hating on illegal immigrants. First of all, illegal immigrants do the work blacks and whites don't want to do. O'Reilly and Dobbs incite fear. On CNN, Dobbs is going in that direction because CNN is getting its butt kicked by Fox. He does a show every single night on illegal immigration. Seriously, if they want to stop illegal immigration it's very simple: All they have to do is penalize the rich people who hire illegal immigrants. They're not working for other poor people; they're working for rich people.

Question: How do you feel about the war in Iraq?

Answer: We have to bring those kids home. They should not be overseas. That's a no-win situation. We should not have gone there in the beginning, and now that it's a cluster fuck we should bring them home as soon as possible. It's never going to be safe there. Here's my analogy: If I come into your house and kick your ass and then stay, it's never going to be good. We're not going to get along. It's never going to happen. It will never be safe in Iraq. It's just stupid for us to be there.

Have you figured it out yet?

It's Charles Barkley. I know a lot of people say that athletes and entertainers should "know their place" and stay out of politics, but if they're making as much sense as Sir Charles does, why can't they speak out?


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A Hella Gay Posting...For Real

In light of the State Supreme Court's hearing on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage today, I conducted an extremely unscientific poll in all of my English classes. I asked them if they were for or against gay marriage and counted hands. I had a feeling that the majority would be for it (after all, this is the Bay Area), but even I was surprised by the results.

For: 109
Against: 8
Abstaining: 15

By any measure, that's a huge blowout. Interestingly, no females voted against, although some did abstain.

About half the comments I got from the boys who said they were against it was "it's nasty, unnatural" etc. The other half went with "it's against my religion." One went with: "If we normalize (my word, not his) gayness, then lots more people would be gay, and we wouldn't have enough people reproducing" while another went with an analogy to alcoholics making up about 10% of the population and not wanting to make that acceptable. I didn't really get it. At any rate, I doubt the lawyers politicking against gay marriages in court went with any of those arguments.

The thing is, there really aren't any arguments that do make sense, are there? Everyone who leads off in their stance against same-sex unions starts with, "I have nothing against gay people, but..." Then they explain their stance, but it really comes down to the fact that they feel homosexuality being more accepted would be worse for society. In other words, they have nothing against gay people as long as they don't want the same rights, etc. They gotta know their place, in other words. Sound familiar?

Then there's the stance of so-called supporters of gay rights like high-profile Dems Obama and Clinton, who say they're against gay marriage but very much for civil unions, which apparently are different only in name. It's a doctrine that used to be referred to as "separate but equal." That logic has a familiar ring to it, as well.

I've been reading To Kill a Mockingbird with my frosh, and every time I do, I'm struck by how much insight it has into the world of people's biases and bigotry, all told through the eyes of a child. In particular, the scene where Dill cries after watching the prosecuting attorney demean and belittle Tom Robinson on the stand strikes me as especially poignant. He is told by an adult (a man who pretends to be a drunk so that people will have a reason for his preference to live among blacks, with a black wife and mixed offspring) that when he grows up he won't cry anymore. But Dill hasn't been taught prejudice yet, and through his eyes, and Scout's, and Jem's, we see the injustice of the situation. Because it's pretty clear if you just see it for what it is, and wipe away all the jaded preconceptions that we pick up as we go along through life. They see a good black man who tried to help a pathetic white girl, and in turn is being made a victim of the jealousy and hatred of a white trash citizen who everyone knows to be despicable. Simple. Case closed.

I'm reminded of this when most of my kids gave their matter-of-fact reasons for being in favor of gay marriage: "What's the big deal?"..."Why does it affect straight people's marriages or their lives at all?" "Why shouldn't two people of the same sex who are in love and want to be together be allowed to do the same thing people of the opposite sex are?" Amazingly common sense ideas, and nothing like the hoops those anti-marriage lawyers had to jump through today in order to disguise what's at the root of all this outrage: Gays are evil. They're not normal. They're scary. They'll corrupt our children. They're promiscuous and immoral. Which are the same thoughts those people in the fictional jury box in Maycomb County have when they convict Tom Robinson. Stay in charge. The status quo is safer.

The problem for them: Progress marches inexorably forward. Young people gradually slough off the biases of the old. Those who stand opposing same-sex marriage now are tugging on the wrong end of history. They're George Wallace, standing in front of the school in Alabama, shouting about segregation forever.

There's still time for you haters out there. Let me put it into terms you can understand: ATONE FOR THINE SINS. ACCEPT HUMAN COMPASSION AND EQUALITY AS THY SAVIOR. LOVE THY NEIGHBOR, EVEN IF HE WEARS EYELINER.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

#5

The Sopranos

Oh boy, here we go. The manliest show on my admittedly effeminate list (so far), and I've got it four spots lower than most people would say it belongs. In fact, when I told some of my chimp friends (as opposed to my knitting circle friends) that I was doing this list, the sentiment from most of them was, "Number one's gotta be The Sopranos, right?"

Nope. And I'm going to do something counter-intuitive here. Instead of making a case for how good it is, I'm going to take the decidedly odd tact of pointing out what's wrong with it.

Just to stifle potential apoplexy, I like all the things about it that everyone else does: The great dialogue, authenticity, violence, characterization, and the fact that almost anything about the mob is entertaining. Oh yeah, and that it pretty much single-handedly changed television is kinda important too, I guess. There are other shows I've mentioned that wouldn't have been made without the success of The Sopranos; Rescue Me and The Shield come to mind.

So it's great, ok? But here are three things I didn't like about it:

1. The interminable wait between seasons. Charles Dickens published A Tale of Two Cities one chapter at a time, week after week, in a London newspaper. Now that's a guy who knows how to keep momentum. David Chase could've taken a page out of Dickens' book (Zing!).

By the time a new season started, I'd lost all excitement and anticipation I'd built up from the end of the last one. I couldn't remember who was mad at whom for doing what. Remember, this isn't a a movie franchise. You can spend two hours with Batman Begins to get you pumped and ready for The Dark Knight. Due to The Sopranos' labyrinthine story lines, you almost have to watch the whole season to refresh your memory.

A year-and-a-half is too long between tv seasons. Period. And having to read about all the dopey contract struggles in the meantime only made matters worse.

Side note: I'm not sure of the last time I was more pumped for a movie than I am for Bale vs. Ledger this Spring.

2. Speaking of those curvy, complex character arcs and plot lines, count me among the myriad people who were constantly asking on Monday mornings: "Wait. Who is Alfredo, again? Are we supposed to know him?" Especially toward the end of its run, Chase's hubris at times exceeded his storytelling ability. There were lots of minor characters that weren't developed enough so that the audience was on a first name basis with them, and yet their names were often bandied about as if they were people we should be intimately familiar with.

There are defenders of this show who think the whole thing was all genius and insist that intelligent viewers who paid attention were always able to discern and digest the minutie of every conversation. Well, I saw every episode, and I consider myself fairly intelligent (I have a college degree and use words like "minutie" in everyday speech), and I was often confused. I wasn't alone.

3. My last point is purely subjective. You know how if you're really not expecting much out of a movie that's gotten pretty bad buzz, but you pop it in, and you're pleasantly surprised because it's better than you thought it was going to be?

Well, The Sopranos was the exact opposite of that for me. As I've already stated, I really liked the show. It's in my top five, for pete's sake. But some people just WILL NOT SHUT THE FUCK UP ABOUT HOW GREAT IT IS. Look, I get it. It's art. The acting's amazing. It's revolutionary. But it is not without flaws. Nothing is. After awhile, I felt like if it came out that David Chase actually wrote Godfather III, people would have re-examined it as a masterpiece. All the hype made me like it a little bit less. Not enough to cause visceral hatred of it like I have for Titanic, Chicago, or American Idol, but enough to bump it down a bit for me.

I know you were expecting me to bag on the ending for my last point. Well, to quote Dana Carvey quoting George H.W. Bush: "Not...gonna...dah-it." Although I thought that the abrupt and excessive blackness was a perfect example of Chase being too clever for his own good, I didn't have a problem with the ambiguity of the ending, or the entire scene up until that point. The point of that episode was that nothing had really changed for these fundamentally immoral/dysfunctional people, and never would. In that way, it was a lot like the much-maligned Seinfeld finale, which I thought was much better than it was given credit for.

Oh, one last complaint about The Sopranos: Although we were often treated to the silicon-enhanced talents of the females in the employ of the Bada Bing, it was rare that a feature character took the plunge. Meadow? Adriana? Hell, I would've taken Carmela.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Album tracks, continued

Note: Read the post below this one first, or don't read at all. You've been warned.
One thing that occurs to me while combing through these hidden gems is that it's possible in 20 years or so this might be a lot harder to compile. The music industry is more singles-based than ever. In fact, the hip-hop genre seems to be exclusively singles-based. The #1 song in the country right now is by a rapper named Flo-rida. How many songs has he recorded? One. He doesn't have an album.

It would be a real shame if that happened to the rock genre (contemporary country, btw, can go straight to hell). Some of my favorite albums recently have been thematic, such as Green Day's American Idiot or My Chemical Romance's The Black Parade. Of course if you go back through the history of rock you find seminal thematic rock albums by The Who, Pink Floyd, and The Beatles. So hopefully, there will always be a place for that, even if people are downloading them instead of buying cd's.

Ok, back to the list. Since I just mentioned MCR, let's start with them. The Black Parade was my favorite album of 2006, and in my top 10 ever. My favorite song on it, "Disenchanted" never took off as a single, for whatever reason. It's one of those amazing, anthematic power ballads that you can't help but sing along to.

Speaking of anthems, it's always pretty ballsy to put the word "Anthem" in your song title. It's even ballsier just to name it "Anthem." But that's what Blink 182 called the last song on Enema of the State, and it lives up to its billing. Ironically, it wasn't as popular as the follow up, "Anthem Part II" from their next album, which wasn't as good.

Going back to thematic albums, one that gets overlooked is Hole's Celebrity Skin. I know there were some well-known singles (such as the title track), but the whole thing was pretty damn good. I guess people looked at the combination of Courtney Love and Billy Corgan (who produced some of the tracks) as an unholy spawn of egos. Too bad, because they missed the pure pop joy of "Boys on the Radio," the most enduring tune on the album.

Cake's first album was played pretty heavily on Sacramento radio stations when I was at Davis, but I doubt it was much of a phenomenon anywhere outside of their hometown. Unless people have gone back and purchased their debut Motorcade of Generosity or seen them in concert, they wouldn't know my favorite Cake song, "Jolene." For obvious reasons, "Satan is My Motor" the first song off Prolonging the Magic never popped, but it's frickin' great. The title track off Comfort Eagle is one of the least Cake-like songs they've ever done, with its driving rhythm and dark, cynical tone, but it's brilliant.

I played the first Counting Crows cd so much that I wore the spots off it, but so did most radio stations. Out of all the songs on August and Everything After, I suppose "Anna Begins" most closely qualifies as a great song but not a hit. It seems every album since then has been pr0gressively worse than the last, but "I Wish I Was a Girl" was a splendid ditty off This Desert Life.

Another band that saw its best days in the 90s (I need to get some new cd's, apparently) was Everclear. I love nearly every song on their superlative sophomore effort, Sparkle and Fade. The first song, "Electra Made Me Blind" and the angry, nihilistic "Twistinside" were both better than a few of the four or five singles off that album.

This leaves two of my favorite bands for last. The first is Jimmy Eat World, who have quietly carved out a role of the nicest, ugliest band in rock, while putting out four straight albums of soul-enriching beauty. None of the songs off their breakthrough album Clarity are very well-known, except by JEW fans, but "For Me This is Heaven" is probably the best. Their next album (self-titled) is probably their most commercially successful to date, mostly on the strength of their biggest hit, "The Middle." Ironically, I find this song annoying and can't listen to it because it's so played out. However, I can always find time for the last song on the album, "My Sundown." Speaking of end-of-album tunes, if someone DID put a gun to my head and made me pick my favorite song of all time, my first instinct would most likely be to go with "23," the staggeringly beautiful epic about finally being mature enough to handle a relationship. It's no coincidence I listened to it A LOT in the days leading up to my wedding. It's too long to play on the radio, thank god, because I feel like it's MY song. It's the one song I don't think I can ever get sick of. It's on Futures, but you should all just stay away from it because it's MY ISLAND.

On to what I consider my favorite band of all time, Pearl Jam. Like U2 and REM, most of their songs have been played on the radio at one time or another. The best one off their first album, Ten, that didn't receive much airplay is "Porch." Is it about abortion? I dunno, but I do remember Eddie Vedder getting up on his stool during an "Unplugged" performance of the song and writing "pro choice" down his arm. There isn't anything off the next two discs, Vs. and Vitalogy that wasn't played to death, with the possible exception of "Rearviewmirror." One of my favorite Pearl Jam anthems was released as a single, which would seem to run contrary to my whole thing here. But "I Got Id" came out just as some of the shine was beginning to come off the PJ apple, and it didn't get all that much attention, considering what a sweet song it is. Again, none of these are exactly unknown, but they're certainly not overplayed.

Pearl Jam started to lose some mo with its next album, Yield, and with increasingly fewer hits to step around, I'll go with "In Hiding." A lot of people HATED No Code, but I thought it was fairly decent. I never figured out why "Smile" didn't get more airplay, since it was exactly the sort of soaring-chorus anthem that made PJ popular in the first place. I own both Binaural and Riot Act but have use for neither. Those were dark times. They then returned to form a bit with a B-sides double album titled Lost Dogs. Perhaps it made them remember who they were, as "Down" was vintage Pearl Jam. They might not be all the way back yet, but the "avocado" album was a huge step in the right direction, with two legitimate hits. Neither of those were "Come Back," the last song on the record, and my favorite PJ song in a long while, replete with Vedder's signature wail. Come back, indeed.

If you read all this self-indulgent nonsense, congratulations. Sound off on it. What are your hidden faves? Which of mine do you dig? How many suck total hairy balls? Let me have it.

Taking a break from the list for random Friday drive thoughts

I didn't realize how gay the back end of my tv list would appear. Oh, crap. Did I just use "gay" and "back end" in the same sentence?

Anyway, we're halfway done and I need a break. Don't worry, lots of good shows are coming, and they're a lot more manly.

Manly coming? What the hell is wrong with me?

At any rate, I was listening to my "Green Day B-Sides" mix cd on the drive home. Basically, it's a compilation of all my favorite songs of theirs that weren't released as singles. Thus, they weren't played on the radio, so I'm not sick of them. It got me thinking that I should make a cd based on that same premise, but from lots of different bands.

I'm going to list a bunch of songs here, just going off the top of my head. I'd appreciate feedback and/or suggestions on the selections. The only criterion is that I've never heard any of these songs on the radio or used in a commercial, etc.

One large disclaimer: I'm only going to list songs from bands that are fairly well-known. I can't stand people who want to show off their musical acumen by showing how many obscure bands they know. Who the fuck cares how great the Beta Band was? Most bands who don't break big don't make it for a reason: they're not as good as the bands that do.

This is the same in any pretty much any walk of life, but only in music is it some sort of badge of honor to be unknown. You never hear anyone say, "Picasso was an overrated sellout. You know who was so much better? Porkshovsky from Poland. You would've never heard of him."

You know why Mudhoney never got to be as popular as Nirvana? 'Cause they weren't as fucking good. Get over it and stop begging me to listen to them. And for the last time, I'm not going to start worshiping The Arcade Fire. They just don't do it for me; I don't care how musically gifted they supposedly are. Oh, and lastly, Radiohead's new stuff is shit compared to its older, instrument-based albums. I'm not saying it's terrible, but just because you go "in a new direction" where you now use computers instead of instruments doesn't mean you're musical geniuses. Go back to playing the guitar. And Thom Yorke, I haven't understood a word you've sung since Kid A.

If any of that floated your boat, there's more angry musical musings of mine if you follow this link, with the added bonus that I make fun of J.T. Billeter: http://www.my.highschooljournalism.org/ca/pleasanthill/cphs/article.cfm?eid=5660&aid=85688

On to the list:

Green Day: "Going to Pasalacqua" off 1039 Smoothed-Out Slappy Hours, "Uptight" off Nimrod, "Church on Sunday" off Warning, and "Letterbomb" off American Idiot. I just picked the absolute best, but obviously I have enough here for an 80-minute cd. I can prove it; it's in my car. One of my all-time favorite bands, and as popular as they are, I don't think they've gotten enough credit for the way they've evolved. Are you listening, Radiohead?

Since we're on Radiohead, "The Bends," off The Bends and "Let Down" off Ok Computer. I would've put "My Iron Lung" on here as well, but you can download it on Rock Band (AWESOME to play, btw), so it can't be that obscure. It's almost impossible to say that one has a favorite song, because it totally depends on mood, etc, but if you ask me to list five possibilities, "Let Down" definitely makes that list. Achingly beautiful.

Guns N Roses: The only one that immediately pops into my head is "Rocket Queen," (off Appetite for Destruction) which I'll bet WAS played on the radio in its day, but it was overshadowed by all the other hits on the album. I actually don't love the beginning of the song, but the last two minutes are such a sweet contrast to the aggression of the rest of the album. I just looked at the Use Your Illusions, and the only other one I can see qualifying would be "Breakdown" off II.

U2: This was nearly impossible. It seems like every song they have was a single. I finally settled on "Exit" off The Joshua Tree after deciding that "Red Hill Mining Town" probably was well-known. If anyone has a suggestion on this one, I'd love to hear it.

REM: I always think of these two bands together. Same problem here. I might be fudging a bit here, but I'll go with "Country Feedback" from Out of Time, "Circus Envy" from Monster, and "Leave" and "Be Mine" off New Adventures in Hi-Fi, probably their most underrated album.

Smashing Pumpkins: The best song on Siamese Dream, which was their best album, was "Geek U.S.A." It wasn't one of the six or seven singles. Go figure. I also love the James Iha-sung "Blew Away," off Pisces Iscariot. Billy Corgan claims it was the only Pumpkins song he never touched at all, and thank god. I always thought "X.Y.U." off Mellon Collie rocked, but I knew it was too long to see airplay.

The Killers: I kept waiting for "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine" off Hot Fuss to become a big hit, but it never happened. It was only the second-best song on the album after "Mr. Brightside," for gosh sakes. On Sam's Town, the last song "Why Do I Keep Counting?" has really grown on me. There's some great songs on their new b-side album, but let's see what gets played.

Stone Temple Pilots: Again, I thought the best song off their second album (did we ever figure out a title for that thing? There's a picture on the cover of what appears to be a baby riding a dragon/horse with some Chinese symbols, for whatever that's worth) was "Unglued," which was perhaps too short for the radio. Or did I just miss its era? It friggin' rocks, at any rate. "Seven Caged Tigers" off Tiny Music isn't bad, either.

Sum 41: "Handle This," off All Killer, No Filler. And "Best of Me" should be the next single off their new album.

Third Eye Blind: Skip this one if you don't like guilty pleasures or can't remember the late 90's. I'll try and make this quick: "God of Wine" off the self-titled debut, "Wounded" off Blue, and "Faster" off Out of the Vein. There, that wasn't so hard, was it?

Taking Back Sunday: "Head Club" off Where You Want to Be, "Slowdance on the Inside" off Tell All Your Friends, "My Blue Heaven" and "Twenty-Twenty Surgery" off Louder Now, which is a kick-ass album title whether you like TBS or not.

Weezer: Another of my all-time fave bands. I would say "My Name is Jonas," because it's my single favorite Weezer song (followed by "Perfect Situation"), but it's on Guitar Hero III, so again, not unkown. There's JT's favorite: "No One Else," along with "The World Has Turned and Left Me Here" off the Blue album. All of Pinkerton is underrated, but let's go with "Tired of Sex," the opener. Like most, I was not a big fan of Maladroit, but the closer, "December" is a tuneful lament. Off the Green album (I'm out of order here, I realize), I'll go with "Simple Pages" and "Oh, Girlfriend." And lastly, "The Other Way" is my second-favorite song on Make Believe and never made it to the radio, as far as I know.

The Yeah Yeah Yeah's album Show Your Bones was one of my favorites of 2006, and "Honeybear" and "Turn Into" easily could've been hits with more airplay.

Perhaps I should break here before going back to the start of the alphabet. Yes, I'm basically just going through my cd collection at this point. Eileen just came home, so it's time to make dinner (yes, I am whipped. She makes more money. You would be, too). Back later tonight, unless I run out of steam...