Shots Across the Bow

A Reality Based Blog

Monday, February 28, 2005

Jumping in to the Deep End

First, let me make it clear that Jeff Jarvis does not need my help in replying to this Oliver Willis attack; he's got everything under control.

Second, I do not as a rule read Oliver Willis, particularly now when I'm trying to avoid the more partisan voices in favor of the moderates, who actually seem interested in a discussion.

But the recent dust up between Willis and Jarvis, mild as it was, does illustrate very nicely a problem I've pointed out before. Often times, their zealous anti-conservative rhetoric abrogates their own core principles. Look, the left is very proud of their reputation for being inclusive and openminded. Yet when it comes to conservatives, and in many cases moderate liberals, the open door is slammed shut. In the past, I've called this hypocrisy, but I'm beginning to believe it's more a kind of tone deafness; they really don't see that in their zeal to mount an effective attack against conservatives, they've adopted the same hateful weapons they claim conservatives use: intolerance of even mild dissent within the party, ridicule of anyone even slightly to the right of themselves, and slavish devotion to the party leaders. It seems that more and more members of the left want to purge the party of any members who won't toe the line. In fact, simply having a conservative agree with you is almost enough to get you summarily excommunicated from the party. Who would have ever thought that the Democratic Party would become one which valued ideological purity over inclusiveness?

That is certainly not a policy that strengthens a party or wins elections, and it is the sternest test for Dr. Dean. Will party hacks and flacks set the tone and platform, or will Dr. Dean engineer a populist revival of the party?

Finally, while a full bore fisking of the Willis piece would be pointless overkill, I do want to examine this statement:
The reason Jeff raises such ire on the left is that he's a reliable source for the right in getting a Democrat to bash Democrats. A similar dynamic exists with Mickey Kaus, The New Republic, and Joe Lieberman. They (and a few others) can reliably be called upon as a "voice of reason" within the Democratic party, in order to discredit the relative moderation of the party ("Balanced budgets and sensible wars!" Damn, we're crazy). Needless to say, in the case of the war in Iraq, had we ignored the so-called reasonable ones, 1,500 American soldiers would be alive today.

Interestingly, Willis fails to examine the other ramifications of his hypothetical scenario:
  • Saddam Hussein would still be in power.
  • Oil for Food money would still be flowing into his banks, vaults, and corrupt French, German, and Russian pockets.
  • Correspondingly, millions of Iraqis would still be starving, sickening, and dying because of the massive theft of food and supplies.
  • The rape rooms would still be in full operation, as would the torture centers, political prisons, and let's not forget the "Children's Orphanages."
  • The UN, fat from misdirected Oil for Food profits and lucrative oil contracts, would either still be working on ending sanctions, or would have already ended them, freeing Hussein to start up his WMD programs again, and resuming his eradication of the Kurdish population who would no longer have the protection of US no-fly zones.

And these are just the direct effects. Consider:
  • Would Syria be pulling out of Lebanon?
  • Would Mubarak be backing multi-party elections in Egypt?
  • Would Israel and the Palestinian Authority be moving forward towards piece again?
  • Would the pro-democracy movement in Iran be anywhere near as strong without the demonstration of active US committment to the region?
  • Would al Qaida still be in total disarray?

Our efforts in Iraq are doing precisely what we'd hoped they might, providing the impetus that brings the Middle East out of the Middle Ages. Each and every American death has a purpose behind it; their deaths are tragic, but their lives were not wasted. Their sacrifice has purchased a chance for a safer, better, more peaceful world. As a life's work, that's not too bad. In fact, it's more than most of us back here at home will ever accomplish.

Posted by Rich
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The Oscars:  Let’s Review

Well, I didn't do too badly (4-4), but I guess we all know that a future as a professional film critic isn't in my immediate future. I still think Don Cheadle should have won but I can't take anything away from Jaimie Fox; he was Ray Charles.

I kinda feel sorry for Scorsese though. He's made some really good movies, but there's always one he's up against that just a hair better. His Lifetime Achievement Award acceptance speech will certainly be interesting.

As for the show itself...Boooring.

What was with that camera angle high and from the side? I know they wanted to show off their new ability (borrowed from Monday Night Football) to superimpose graphics onto the stage, but I would much rather have actually seen the winner's face as they gave their speeches.

And isn't it a slap in the face to win an Oscar, and not even be allowed to come to the stage to give your speech? They passed the mic around the crowd so much, I started looking around for Jerry Springer.

Anyway, Oscar season is now over and I can go back to watching the trash I normall watch, Like Man of the House with Tommy Lee Jones, which I saw Saturday night. Not great, but adequate. Nothing original or remarkable, but it's always fun to watch Jones.

Posted by Rich
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Howard Dean as the Newt Gingrich of the Left (and why that could be good for the Left AND for the re

Now there's a post title nearly worthy of an Al Franken book; long, bloated and tedious.

But I digress.

The ascension of Howard Dean as DNC chair has the potential to reform and revitalize the left just as Newt Gingrich's Contract With America did for the right. (I can hear jaws from both sides of the ideological aisle ricocheting off of their keyboards right now as I compare The Scream © to St. Newt. It's kinda fun when I do that.)

Just think back to 1992 when we really didn't know much about Newt, who he was, or what he was. He was the Minority Whip, and had a reputation as an extremist, a rabble rouser, and the kind of guy you use to rally your base, but hide in the closet when the campaign goes national so as not to scare off the swing voters.

Sound familiar?

And all this supposedly scary man did was to take core conservative values, frame them in a way that made them acceptible to those very same swing voters, and used those values to create a platform that in 1994 wrested control of the House of Representatives from the Democrats for the first time in 4 decades. He did this in a time when his party had suffered an embarrassing defeat in a presidential election and was fragmenting into a loose coalition of special interests.

Again, sound familiar?

OK, so it's easy to see how this is good for the left; how is it good for the rest of us?

Since truth is usually found somewhere between thesis and antithesis, a vigorous and active party of opposition is crucial to avoid swinging too far in one direction or the other. If either side becomes too weak, the excesses of the other will grow unchecked, and since we know where that road leads, it's much better to have two strong, ideologically opposite parties that are then forced to work together and compromise to get things done. (Note that I said "opposite" and not "opposed." Mindless opposition only weakens you. If I may quote Michael Palin for a moment "Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of anything the other person says." And we all know just how silly that sounds.)

And if they can't compromise, then we get the added benefit of gridlock, which for a libertarian minded fellow like myself, is a feature of a two party system, and not a bug.

Of course, all of this assumes that Dean is just as astute a pol as Gingrich was. While this may be a valid question, the fact that he was able to clear the field of all contenders, despite considerable resistance by both Clintons ( incidentally marking the first time Bill and Hillary have worked together politically, or in any other way, in about 4 years) and other entrenched Democratic interests gives us a clue as to the answer.

His success also depends on whether the Democratic Party is willing to compromise in order to achieve unity, and this will be a much more problematic question for him. Will he be able to retain his appeal to the hard left while successfully courting the moderate factions? If he's able to raise money for the party at the same clip at which he raised it for his presidential bid, the moderates will come. BUt will the zealots stay?

It'll be fun to watch, that's for sure.

Posted by Rich
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Friday, February 25, 2005

The Oscars:  And the Winner Is…

Yeah, I know. I said I was going to see "Finding Neverland" but real life and a nasty cold/flu got in the way. The Oscars will be given out this Sunday and my schedule is such that I won't have a chance to see any more nominated performances so I'll give you my picks now, based on what I've seen.

Best Supporting Actor
  • Alan Alda - THE AVIATOR
  • Thomas Haden Church - SIDEWAYS
  • Jamie Foxx - COLLATERAL
  • Morgan Freeman - MILLION DOLLAR BABY
  • Clive Owen - CLOSER

This one comes down to Clive Owen and Morgan Freeman. The other three were all good, but these two stand out from the pack. I'm giving the edge to Owen here but only because his part required a much greater range.

Best Supporting Actress
  • Cate Blanchett - THE AVIATOR
  • Laura Linney - KINSEY
  • Virginia Madsen - SIDEWAYS
  • Sophie Okonedo - HOTEL RWANDA
  • Natalie Portman - CLOSER

This one is much tougher to call. Natalie Portman, Sophie Okendo, and Cate Blanchett were all remarkable in their roles and really any of the three would be a great choice, but I'm giving the nod to Portman, who really surprised me in Closer. (And yes, if you're keeping track, I've given two Oscars to a movie I didn't like. Sue me.)

Best Lead Actress
  • Annette Bening - BEING JULIA
  • Catalina Sandino Moreno - MARIA FULL OF GRACE
  • Imelda Staunton - VERA DRAKE
  • Hilary Swank - MILLION DOLLAR BABY

This category is much easier since I only saw two of the performances. Hilary Swank wins this one by a KO in the first round.

Best Lead Actor
  • Don Cheadle - HOTEL RWANDA
  • Leonardo DiCaprio - THE AVIATOR
  • Clint Eastwood - MILLION DOLLAR BABY
  • Jamie Foxx - RAY

As I said above, I've seen all of these except for Johnny Depp in Finding Neverland and it's a tough tough choice. Jaime Fox was awesome as Ray Charles, so much so that at times, I forgot he wasn't Ray Charles. But is mimicry enough to win the Oscar? Clint Eastwood is excellent as well, but this is a role he could play in his sleep. Leonardo DiCaprio is good as Howard Hughes, but not great. In the end, I give the Oscar to Don Cheadle. Always excellent in everything he's done, here he reaches a new level.

Best Editing
  • RAY

How do you judge editing? How much of what is seen on the screen is due to the editor and not the director? It's hard for an outsider like me to know for sure, which makes this category very difficult to judge. But I'm going with the dark horse here and picking Collateral, as good editing can add a lot of tension to a suspense movie.

Best Cinematography

I've only seen the Aviator in this group, but I find it hard to imagine that any of the other contenders could top this one. The sequence recreating the filming of Hell's Angels" alone is worthy of the Oscar.

Best Direction
  • RAY

Sorry Mr's. Hackford and Scorsese, you created excellent movies, but you were outgunned by the Man With No Name. Clint Eastwood was able to keep the first two thirds of the movie from being cliche, while subtly setting us up for the final third.

Best Picture
  • RAY

Million Dollar Baby, no question about it. No movie in the past several years has moved me as much as this one. It's simply the best movie of the year without question.

Ok folks, those are my opinions. What do you think?

Posted by Rich
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Thursday, February 24, 2005

The Oscars: Closer

I haven't seen a group of four people this self-absorbed and ethically vacuous since Seinfeld went off the air.

No, I didn't like it. Basically, it's a re-tread of Carnal Knowledge, again telling us that "Love Ain't Nothing but Sex Mispelled." Mike Nichols has deliberately created a movie with 4 reprehensible and manipulative characters and sent them crashing into one another, making us voyeurs to their pain. I kept expecting howls of "Jerry! Jerry!" as this movie resembles nothing so much as a hackneyed Springer rip-off.

I'll give Nichols credit though; at least the caliber of actors playing the roles is higher than the typical Springer production.

Instead of trailer trash stereotypes, this story plays out in London and features four very talented and good looking actors. Natalie Portman stands out as Alice, the stripper from New York, showing that her horrible performances in the two Star Wars prequels are aberrations caused by poor direction and editing. (Not to mention a script loaded with horrendous dialogue.) In Closer, Portman gives a powerfull performance, showing every facet of Alice's character, who is a beautiful as a diamond and just as hard. Julia Roberts is also good as Anna, the photographer who ruins Anna's relationship with Dan, played by Jude Law. Roberts' character here is edgy, fidgity, and very passive agressive in her approach to relationships, a long way from her more usual roles and she carries it off well. Jude Law does a great job with Dan, playing the eternal loser, always a few seconds behind everyone else, and therefore doomed to lose yet again. The only performance to rival Portman's is Clive Owens as the manipulative Dr. Larry, who manages to utterly destroy Dan in the space of about 2 minutes. His performance is excellent.

So, with all these good performances, why did I not like this movie? It presents an artificially warped view of relationships then purports to be telling us something true about ourselves.

That's garbage. Over and over again, the characters make choices in the movie that do not come close to reflecting real life. Would Anna really pick up a pervert in an aquarium? Would Alice suddenly turn on Dan for no real reason? And if these characters would make these kinds of choices, are they really representative af actual human beings?

None that I know.

Far from being a story about love, this is a tale of selfishness, greed, and anger wearing a mask of love. Even though it is well writen, well crafted, equisitely acted, in the end it's as empty of meaning as each of it's character's hearts are of love.

Posted by Rich
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Sunday, February 20, 2005

The Oscars:  Hotel Rwanda

Excellent movie, and well worth seeing. Set during the opening weeks of the Tutsi Massacres of 1994, the movie chooses not to focus on the callous indifference of the Western World, but instead on the resourcefulness of the few who tried to stand in the way of genocide.

Don Cheadle, who I've enjoyed watching since his days on Picket Fences plays Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager who, similar to Oskar Schindler during another genocide, , used his position to shelter over a thousand Tutsi's and moderate Hutu's from the carnage.

This movie raised a lot of issues for me, many of which I'll be exploring in posts to come, but primarily, it made me feel ashamed. Over a million people were slaughtered in about 3 months, and during that entire time, we, the United States of America, did nothing.

In April of 1986, I was a young E-4, going through training at Nuclear Prototype Training Unit in Ballston Spa, NY, learning how to run a Naval nuclear propulsion plant. Responding to a bombing of a disc frequented by US Military forces in Berlin, President Reagan ordered an air stike on terrorist targets in Libya. At the time, I was corresponding with a lovely young lady from back home who was teaching and travelling in Europe. She wrote about how everyone in her circles despised the US and our "cowboy ways," and that she was "...ashamed to be an Anerican citizen." She was outraged by the attack on Libya; because in her opinion there was no way we could have known that they were behind the attacks, we must have been just reacting blindly, striking out in fear and hatred.

I couldn't understand her shame; we had been targetted, we found who was responsible, and we reacted to defend ourselves. Where's the shame in that?

Now, let's move back to 1994 and Africa. While hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women, and children were brutally murdered, the UN did nothing. The US did nothing. We let it happen. Now that's something to be ashamed of.

We all would like to think that, had we been in a position to do something, we would have. Hotel Rwanda is the story of a man who was in the position, and did.

Don Cheadle plays the part of Paul as the consummate hotel manager. Always calm and cool, using style to avert every crisis, he handles each problem as it comes his way, never letting himself become overwhelmed. The beauty of Cheadle's performance is that we get to see the tremendous price he pays to maintain that image, in everything from a trapped look in his eyes to a full on breakdown. Without that dimension to the roll, Paul would be a card board shell, with no substance.

Cheadle is joined by Sophie Okonedo who plays Tatiana, his Tutsi wife, and is nominated for a Supporting Actress Oscar. As I've mentioned before, when I think of an Oscar worthy performance, the role has to be a meaty one. Marisa Tomei won an Oscar for her work in My Cousin Vinny for what was basically a one note character. To me, that's just not good enough. The role of Tatiana in this movie illustrates exactly what I mean. Okonedo is simply tremendous as she takes us with her through the pain and fear of those days. What really struck me though, was a scene shot on the rooftop of the hotel, one which takes a surprising turn. It catches us by surprise because there is no warning in either actors' performance.

That's impressive.

OK, two more movies to go, Closer, and Finding Neverland. I'll get to 'em as soon as possible, but real life has a way of interrupting every now and again.

Posted by Rich
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Friday, February 18, 2005

More Dating Tips for Dummies

My last column of dating tips inspired such a large response (2 emails and 2 comments is a large response? It is here.) that I figured I should mimic Hollywood, and do a sequel. Only unlike Hollywood, I'm going to change it up a bit. Instead of focusing on the guys, I'm going to broaden the appeal by including tips that work for either sex, because women make just as many mistakes as we do when it comes to first dates.

Believe me they do.

So here are a few more tips that apply to either sex, and probably to those in-betweeners as well.

  1. When asked out on a date, there are only two correct answers: "Yes" or "No." Polite evasions or attempts to spare the other party's feelings are like pulling a Band Aid off slowly. In an attempt to minimize the pain, you actually make it hurt more and last longer.
  2. When asked for a second date, Rule 1 still applies. If you would rather dive into a swimming pool filled with hungry piranha than go out with this person again, say so. Don't be that blunt about it, but be honest and direct. It's better to be stabbed through the heart than drawn and quartered.
  3. If you happen to be going out with someone who violates rule 1 or 2, run. If by some chance your perseverance is rewarded with an actual relationship, this type of passive-aggressive behavior will slowly reduce you to a quivering lump of grade school cafeteria tapioca. Heed the warning signs and leave with your dignity and spine intact.
  4. Remember, this is a first date. The C word and the M word (Commitment and Marriage to you rookies.)are to be avoided at all costs. Talking about them is a sure sign of either increasing desperation or unresolved emotional baggage and is a sure fire ticket back to singing "Alone Again, Naturally."
  5. Asking what your date does for a living is fine; asking how much they make at it is not. It is amazing how many miss this subtle distinction. The only possible response to a question this rude is to answer with a lie. Tell 'em you made a mint in software design and got out before it crashed. Then take 'em home to your doublewide and see how quickly they remember another engagement they have to go to. If you don't have a doublewide, let me know; I'll hook you up.
  6. As a rule, fibbing is permitted but lying is not. For example, it's OK to tell your date that you think her dress looks nice on her when in truth it resembles a gunny sack after a particularly brutal potato sack race. It's not OK to tell her that you love her just to get into her panties. Which by the way is a severe behavioral disorder; men wear boxers or briefs, never panties.
  7. I'll finish up this section with a twin bill: Never settle, but give everyone a chance. The one you overlook or blow off just might be the one you needed. Look at it this way; if the majority of your dates end badly, and you keep choosing the same type of person to date, well then, like the man said, the simplest definition of insanity is to repeat the same steps over and over but expect different results. On the other hand, if you've been out a few times, and things are nice, but not what you're looking for, don't stick with it out of fear of being alone. Don't settle for less than you need.

Blind dates have their own special set of rules. First, you have to realize that if you're out on a blind date, it means that you have been unable to find an acceptable date on your own, for whatever reason, and now have to resort to friends, the internet, newspaper ads or telephone chat lines to find someone willing to go out with you. This sounds harsh, and it is, but it's also true. It could be that you simply don't have the time to look for a companion and so have to rely on somebody else to do it for you. You might be a single parent, or work 60 hours a week, or something similar, or you just might not now where to meet people. In any event, the important thing to remember is that whoever you hook up with is in the same boat.

So be nice.

  1. Be extra polite and considerate of your date's feelings. The normal tension of a first date is quadrupled in a blind date, and an off-the-cuff remark may cause your date to break out into tears. If he does, just realize he's under a great deal of stress, and isn't totally himself.
  2. Plan an activity that you will enjoy, regardless of the company. This has a triple benefit. First, if you are enjoying yourself, you'll feel less tension, and will be more likeable. Second, you find out if your date is in to something you're in to, and finally, why be miserable just because your date is?
  3. Don't mistake desperation for attraction. You don't want just anybody; you want somebody. If the only reason you're going out with someone is because it's better than being alone, then you're wasting your time going out with the wrong person. Find the right one.
  4. On a related note, and this applies to more than just blind dates, "Love the One you're With" is great as a lyric but rarely works as a lifestyle. Leaving aside the attendant problems (pregnancy, disease, AIDS, palimony, and boiled bunny rabbits), it can really interfere with attempts to form a real relationship.

Now then, let's assume you've been dating for awhile and you've become intimate; you're not out of the woods yet my friend. There are still plenty of pitfalls waiting to trip you up and gore your vitals with sharp pointy sticks smeared with rat feces.

I may have pushed that analogy a bit too far but I'll press on with a few tips for the steady dater:
  1. 3-6 dates. You've been going out for a couple of weeks to a month. You are now officially an item. You're in that touchy area where dating around is starting to morph into cheating. While there may have been no explicit discussions of monogamy, you know it's on the table in the near future. How do you navigate this minefield? Rule of thumb: If you feel the need to hide it, don't do it. And I mean that both ways: don't do what you're thinking about hiding and don't hide what you're thinking about doing. Openness and honesty are the keys to surviving this crucial time.
  2. 6-10 dates. That loose feeling in your stomach is the realization that you are now in a relationship. Her toothbrush is in your bathroom or his socks are under your bed. Domesticity isn't knocking on the door selling encyclopedias for the kids just yet, but it's in the neighborhood and headed your way. Do not panic. You wanted this, remember? Those lonely nights sitting in the living room in your underwear listening to the Carpenters sing "Yesterday Once More" (I'm sharing too much again, aren't I?)drove you here. The mild panic is just a reflex; your inner child is afraid of change. Ride it out; you'll feel much better in about a week.
  3. 10+ dates. You are no longer dating; you are a couple, and you just go out. You're settling into a comfortable zone. THIS IS A DISASTER WAITING TO HAPPEN!!! As soon as you get comfortable, you begin to take things for granted, and I guarantee your partner will do something to make you a bit less comfortable if you're not careful. Something like using your dirty laundry to potty train a diarhettic St. Bernard. And you don't even have a dog; your partner had to go to the pound to find one.

    If you've already screwed up and gotten to this point, take immediate action to correct the problem. Buy jewelry for women or power tools for men. Men, if you are the one who lapsed, apologize abjectly. If your partner is the one who goofed, you still apologize abjectly. This is known as Hailey's Law of Non-Reciprocity, which states that the only offense more grievous than being wrong in an argument with your spouse is being right.

OK, enough with the tips. Feel free to add your own in the comments, or disagree with the ones I've posted. Share a dating horror story or two; we've all got 'em, that's for sure. As for me, I'm headed out to a hockey game tonight.

Nope, not a date, just an evening out with family.

Posted by Rich
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Sunday, February 13, 2005

Reflections on an Artificial Holiday

Today is Valentine's Day, and you know what that means.

Absolutely nothing.

Yeah, I'm a little bitter. See, I just broke up with my girlfriend of 6 months and I'm a little bummed out about it. I'd feel even worse, but I guess when you get technical, she wasn't really my girlfriend; we were just "going out." And when I say "going out," I mean "going out" like my daughter used to "go out" with boys in 6th grade. We never actually went out anywhere; we just had an understanding that we were an "item."

OK, maybe "item" is too strong a word, but we were planning on going out sometime in the near future. We had plans to go out a time or twelve, but something always seemed to come up at the last minute to postpone our date. She had to work late; her car broke down; her son's pet iguana was sick and needed to be watched, you know, important things. I mean, you just can't ask a woman to leave her son at home with a sick lizard, right? Besides, I figured she was simply being coy, in keeping with the long standing Southern tradition that says the gentleman must pursue, while the lady must not allow herself to be caught too easily lest her virtue be questioned.

Although the truth be told, I'm all for questionable virtue.

So I was prepared for a little give and take, a little phone tag here and there, but that restraining order she filed last week really made me think that she wasn't serious about our relationship.

So I broke up with her.

So now it's Valentine's Day and I'm once again available. Any takers?

OK, to tell the truth, the story above is completely and totally untrue. I've never had a restraining order taken out on me that I know of, nor did I just break up with anyone since I haven't had a real relationship since the separation and divorce (and probably for a year or so before that). I just figured out that a made up holiday like Valentine's Day deserved a made up story.

The idea that we need a special day to celebrate love has always struck me as cynical and odd, but maybe that's just me; I've never enjoyed Valentine's Day. When I was in love, I didn't need a day to remind me how wonderful it was. And when I was single, I really didn't need a day to remind me how wonderful it was. And when I tell you that the latter has far outweighed the former, you may begin to understand why I'm not exactly enamored with the day.

Probably the worst was exchanging Valentine's cards in grade school. I was the weird kid in school (Some things never change, do they?) so I was used to being ignored on Feb 14th. Oh, I'd get a sackful of cards, but that was because the nuns had a policy that if you were going to give a Valentine to one kid, you had to give one to everyone. My sack would fill with the cards you could buy at K-Mart; 300 for $1.98. They didn't even have envelopes, just two lines on the back saying To: and From: The way to tell if somebody really liked you was to see if they filled out the To: line. If you got a card with the To: line filled out, that meant that the little girl liked you, or that she had a very organized mother.

I got cards where the To: line had been erased, scribbled over, whited out, or, in one rather memorable occasion, cut out completely.

With that kind of beginning, you'll understand if I don't wax rhapsodical about the wonders of February 14th. When you look at it realistically, it's a cold day in the middle of winter with absolutely nothing to recommend it, other than the fact that the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition will be coming out shortly, and the Daytona 500 is less than a week away.

Let's take a stroll through history and see how this festival of love got it's start, shall we?

There are several possible contenders for the role of Saint Valentine, all of which have two things in common: their name, and the fact that they died badly. Catholic tradition knows of 3 Valentines in the Roman days, all of whom were beheaded.

Talk about losing your head for love...

To add insult to injury, the Catholic Church no longer lists Saint Valentine's Day as an official church holiday.

There was also the Roman custom of Lupercalia which was celebrated in mid February. In that ceremony, the young women of the village would be forced to put their names into a lottery, and the men would draw out the name of the girl who would be his sexual partner for the next year.

Think about that the next time you're opening a Valentine from an admirer.

And finally, people in the Middle Ages believed that birds picked their mates for the year in the middle of February, so they figured thay might as well do so as well.

Bird brains, beheadings, and sexual slavery; I can see why this holiday is celebrated so widely!

Come on, folks, do we really need a day to remind us to celebrate something as important as love? I hear all the time about how "Life is precious and we nust cherish and protect it" and that's a load of garbage. Life is cheap and ubiquitous; it's everywhere. Ma Nature set off on of the largest explosion known to man (including nuclear bombs) on Mount St. Helens. The slopes of St. Helens were buried in hundreds of feet of searing ash and mud, killing everything in it's path. The devastation and destruction of life was total.

There were flowers growing on those slopes in less than a year.

Life isn't precious by itself; love makes it that way.

If you want a day to celebrate love, next Tuesday or a week from Friday works just as well as today. Even better in fact, because it will come from the heart, and not the calendar. I look at Valentine's Day like my father looked at New Year's Eve: it's for amateurs.

That's what I think anyway, but I'm single, so what do I know.

The pun is intended by the way. The fact that the pun is in a dead language simply confirms my earlier observation that some things never change. Sigh. If you didn't notice the pun, don't feel bad. That just means you're not a geek.

Posted by Rich
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Monday, February 07, 2005

Hollywood Has Failed According to Frank Rich: A Super Bowl Commentary

Frank Rich has a column posted in the New York Times discussing how boring and dull the Super Bowl and its ads were this year, and blaming it all on the religious right, who are stifling popular culture with their demands of sholesome entertainment free of sex, violence and nudity.

Those bastards!

This repressive cultural environment was officially ratified on Nov. 2, when Ms. Jackson's breast pulled off its greatest coup of all: the re-election of President Bush. Or so it was decreed by the media horde that retroactively declared "moral values" the campaign's decisive issue and the Super Bowl the blue states' Waterloo. The political bosses of "family" organizations, well aware that TV's collective wisdom becomes reality whether true or not, have been emboldened ever since. They are spending their political capital like drunken sailors, redoubling their demands that the Bush administration marginalize gay people, stamp out sex education and turn pop culture into a continuous loop of "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm."

Isn't it strange that one of the single most creative cultures in the history of the world cannot seem to creatte anything entertaining without relying on dick jokes, sex, and violence? Isn't that pretty much an admission of failure? Heck, even stand p comics know that, in order to be successful, you have to be able to get a laugh without going for the crotch.

But, according to Frank Rich, Hollywood can't. Going for the crotch is their sole stock in trade:
Should Sunday's Super Bowl falter in the ratings, its creators will lure that missing audience back next year with wardrobe malfunctions that haven't even been invented yet.

So that's our only options for entertainment: bland boring pop or racy soft core porn. Those options seem just a bit limited to me, but then again, I'm not as worldy and educated as Mr. Rich. Maybe I just don't get out enough.

Actually, I have more faith in the entertainment community than that; I think they can produce entertainment without going below the belt. I think we can have effective advertising that doesn't feature beautiful women in scanty outfits. And I'll give you a few examples.

Remember the Coca Cola commercial where the little boy offers Mean Joe Greene his Coke? How about Alex the dog bringing his owner a beer? Or the Budweiser frogs? Or last night, when the best commercial of all came on? The scenes of our troops coming home to a standing ovation was, without question, the single best commercial of the evening. It was the first time I've ever waited eagerly to find out who the ad was for. I don't even drink, but I'm gonna go out and buy a case of Bud just because they had the vision and the heart to put that kind of commercial out there.

Oddly, looking through all the stories about the commercials today, it was hard to find it mentioned for more than a sentence or two. Most times it was dismissed, if not openly sneered at:
"Budweiser did best with the patriotic sentimentality," said DiMassimo. "In theory, I don't like the idea but it was well done and somehow rang true."

Mr. DiMassimo, could you please be a little bit more condescending? Some folks out there may not get it.

It rang true because it was true. There's a reason it's running second right now on USA Today's Ad Meter; people bought it because it accurately reflected their feelings. What clinched it for me was they didn't attach any brand names to the end, just the company name.

And these are just a few of the examples. I haven't even mentioned TV shows like Seventh Heaven, Joan of Arcadia, The Cosby Show, and the list goes on. Good TV shows that don't rely on sex, low humor, or violence to entertain.

Folks, Frank Rich is either an utter moron or he's pushing an agenda, and since it's virtually impossible to be a nationally syndicated columnist and be an utter moron (a few exceptions spring to mind, but they prove the rule rather than invalidate it) he's pushing an agenda. What that agenda may be is left as an exercise for the reader.

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Saturday, February 05, 2005

The Oscars:  The Aviator

The quest to see all the major nominations continued last night as I went, reluctantly, to see The Aviator.

Although this marks me as a cinematic philistine, as a rule I don't like Martin Scorsese films. I can appreciate their quality in many instances, but his themes tend to dwell on the corruption of human nature, rarely balancing his vision with the glories that go along with being human. And when he does show our better nature, it's usually cynically, as if our good side were nothing but a charade or a pretense, a convenient fiction we use to hide away our darkness. I strongly disagree with that basic premise and that makes it very difficult for me to enjoy any of his movies, no matter how well done they are.

Making matters worse, I'm not a big fan of Leonardo DiCaprio. I think he peaked with The Basketball Diaries and has done little of consequence since. Again, this puts me in the minority, but that seems to be about normal for me anyway.

So, as I said, I went with a little reluctance to see The Aviator, a movie by a director I don't care for starring an actor I don't care for.

I liked it.

Finally, Scorsese shows that our good side exists not as campflage for our darkness, but that it transcends our dark nature. The key scene of this movie is near the end, when Howard Hughes must conquer his growing madness to face down a Senate hearing to save his company, and his reputation.

The Aviator works well on a number of levels; as a biographic sketch of Howard Hughes, as an examination of Hollywood, as a depiction of government collusion with big business, but most importantly, it humanizes a man whose whose wealth made him a myth, but whose madness made him a caricature rather than a character.

Scorsese does a tremendous job of capturing the scope of Hughes' vision. The recreation of the filming of Hell's Angels is breathtaking and it shows us the lengths to which Hughes was willing to go to achieve his ends. He does whatever it takes to get the cameras he needs, the planes he needs, even the weather he needs to get the shot he wants. This presages the final sequence of the movie, where once again he must do whatever it takes, even holding his growing madness at bay to achieve his vision of flying the Hercules. As always, Scorsese recreates the period with exquisite attention to detail, from the sets to the manner in which his characters talk and communicate. It isn't just the vocabulary, it's the pacing, the rhythym and the tones used.

DiCaprio is excellent as Hughes. We see his charm, his drive, his ability to connect with people and bring them to his side of the table, a gift that makes his isolation later in life doubly tragic. Cate Blanchette is Katherine Hepburn. Her performence, like that of Jaime Fox in Ray is an example of a talented actor completely disappearing into a role. Alan Alda, the other major nominee in this movie, is competent as the corrupt Senator, but I didn't see anything particularly noteworthy in his performance.

So, as for the Oscars, while I was pleasently surprised by how much I liked the movie itself and the performances, it simply doesn't match the more powerful performances of some of the other selections.

Well, there's three more movies for me to see in this Oscar orgy; Finding Neverland, CLoser, and Hotel Rwanda. Once I've seen them, then I'll make my picks and those of you who aren't movie buffs can come back and start reading again, because I'll be talking about something else.


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Friday, February 04, 2005

The Oscars: Sideways

Every year there's a nomination that I just don't get. This year, it's Sideways, a romantic comedy without the romance. Or the comedy.

Maybe that's why it got nominated, sort of like Andy Warhol's realistic painting of a Campbell's soup can; the art isn't in the work, but the presentation. I can only guess that the "art" in this depressing collection of nervous ticks, forlorn looks, and endless discussions of wine comes from the labelling. Other than a few brief scenes that bring a chuckle, the movie is overpowered by depression.

Paul Giamatti plays Miles, a failed novelist and wine afficianado slowly sinking into alcoholism as he continues to mourn his divorce from 2 years ago. Thomas Hayden Church plays Jack, an aging has=been actor (type casting?) getting married in a week. They head up into California wine country for one last fling before Jack's wedding. Except Miles doesn't want a fling; he wants to continue to settle in on the long road to liver failure. And Jack may be getting married, but he tries to pick up every woman he sees.

There are some nice scenes, particularly when Miles and Maya (Virginia Madsen) are sitting on the front porch talking about their love of wine, but you know they are actually talking about themselves as a relationship slowly builds. But these isolated tender moments are far outweighed by moments of anger, fear, depression, and drunkeness.

So much for romance. And as for comedy, the one bit of actual comedy is so surprising and out of place that it is jarring, rather than amusing.

Miles' novel is titled "The Day After Yesterday," which is how this movie feels. Yesterday may have been a great day, or a horrible one, but today is just there, and you deal with the aftereffects of what happened yesterday. This movie is like missing the party, but still having a hangover. No way is it worthy of an Oscar.

Thonas Hayden Church and Virginia Madsen also garnerd nominations for Best Actor and Actress in Supporting Roles. Now this brings me back to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In that movie, Kate Winslett is nominated as Lead Actress, when her role in that movie is very much like that of Church in this one. They both provide a foil for the lead to work off of. Here though, Church is nominated as a Supporting Actor, and rightly so. His portrayal of Jack is excellent, particularly in a very emotional scene near the end. Given his behavior throughout the movie, we, along with Miles, doubt the sincerity of his breakdown, but his fear seems real so we give him the benefit of the doubt. After all, if JAck were that good of an actor, he wouldn't be doing voiceover work. Church plays Jack well, but he's not in the same league with his competition, including Morgan Freeman, Alan Alda, and Jaime Fox.

Virginia Madsen is excellent as Maya, the wine savvy waitress who takes an interest in Miles, although we never really understand what it is she sees in him, except maybe that he's not her ex-husband. I haven't seen any of the other nominated performances yet, so I can't really judge her chances, but there really wasn't anything for her to do in this movie. She has one big scene and the rest is just filler.

Even though as a romantic comedy this movie falls flat, it is a nice character study; just enjoy it for what it is and don't expect to be amused.

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Thursday, February 03, 2005

Howard Dean as DNC Chair

Wow! Two political entries in two days; am I back on the beat again?

Rest easy, folks; I'm not ready to ride that horse again. But I've always written about what interests me, and this is a situation that I find fascinating.

There are a lot of conservatives gleefully cackling and rubbing their hands at the thought of Howard Dean running the DNC, predicting imminent disaster for the Democratic Party. They picture another "YEEEAAAARGH!" meltdown for Dean, which in their minds will make things worse for the Democrats.

And while I do think that Dean will ultimately be a divisive force in the Democratic Party (more about that in a moment), I think most of the conservatives are badly underestimating Dean.

A quick review. He came virtually out of nowhere, drummed up enourmous amounts of cash, and forced the entire field, excepting Joe Lieberman, to move left in order to try and counter him. He's internet savvy, understanding how to use it as a fundraising tool as well as a sort of grass roots amplifier, generating enormous media buzz. He energized the young voters, the ones that stayed home last November, that Kerry couldn't capture. In short, he's charismatic, young voters identify with him, and he can raise a ton of money.

Now tell me again how exactly is this a good thing for conservatives?

"But Rich, he blows up! He makes funny noises on the campaign trail! He'll embarrass the Democrats repeatedly!"

Folks, he's not running for elected office. He's not running for president. Nobody will care about his eccentricities, and in fact, the very traits that hurt him during the campaign may well be assets in fundraising. People like characters; they'll respond to Dean even more as a fundraiser. He'll give the party a freshness it desperately lacked during the last election cycle.

I state it plainly; Howard Dean will make a formidable opponent as DNC chair. Look at the way he just squashed the last minute attempt by the Clinton folks to derail his candidacy. The Clintons represent the last successes of the Democratic Party and Dean blew them off and his campaign didn't even hiccup.

So those of you out there thinking that Dean is going to destroy the Democratic Party might want to hold off celebrating until after the 2006 elections.

So, if I think he's so strong, why do I think he will ultimately split the party?

Well, there are a couple of reasons. When you get right down to it, Sen. Kerry never recovered from running against Dean. In order to steal Dean's thunder and win the nomination, Kerry had to run further to the left than he'd planned. Many of the statements and flip flops that came back to haunt him during the Presidential race had their seeds in the race for the nomination. The Bush campaign had a field day. Even worse for Kerry, Dean excited the imaginations of the youth vote; he connected with them in a way that John Kerry couldn't. When Dean left the race, so did they, ultimately costing Democrats the White House.

With Dean as chair, they'll come back to politics, pulling the Party further to the left. I'm guessing that whichever candidate gets the nod in 2008 will run to the left for the entire campaign, ignoring the conventional wisdom that says they must run to the center after winning the nomination. While this will fire up the youth and the liberal base, it may well alienate moderate Democrats and independents, leading to problems at the polls. I will be very interested to see what will happen when a liberal Democrat runs for President as a liberal Democrat. And don't bother pointing to Mondale; times and people have changed significantly since then. But if past experience does hold true, 2008 will be another solid win for Republicans, leading to the split in the Democratic Party I was talking about.

Earlier, I wasn't sure whether the far left wing would leave the Democratic Party or capture it. With Dean at the helm, that question has been answered. My guess is that moderate liberals will leave the Democratic Party, accelerating an existing trend, but they won't join the Republicans. Instead, I believe they will form a true third party, along with moderate conservatives and libertarians disturbed by the growth of government under Bush. Who knows, they may perform a takeover of their own, and bring a little sanity to the Libertarian Party.

God knows, they could use it.

Anyway, I like the idea of Dean as Chair of the DNC. Not because I think it gives conservatives a big advantage; I don't see that as the case. But because it's nice to see a little honesty in politics for a change instead of hypocrisy. I disagree with most of what he has to say, but at least I know he means it when he says it.

You can't say that about many politicians in either party these days.

And now I'm off to see a movie. In my quest to see all the Oscar nominated movies, I'm going to go see either Sadeways, or Hotel Rwanda. I'll give you my take on them tomorrow.

Or the day after.

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Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The Oscars: Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

First, I liked the movie; I've always liked Jim Carrey, and here he plays it remarkably straight, allowing his trademark physical goofiness to take a back seat to his screen presence.

But is Kate Winslet's performance truly Oscar worthy?

I don't think so.

Don't get me wrong; she's very good in the role, and she reminds me of a dancer I know. Impulsive, insecure, irrational at times. But we really don't see her grow. Maybe that's more the script's fault than hers; it doesn't really give her much to work with, but when I'm looking for an Oscar winning performance I'm looking to see a character changed.

Oddly, had she been nominated as a Supporting actress for this role, then I could see her winning the Oscar. As Clementine, she provided a perfect foil for Jim Carrey to work off of, the traditional role of a supporting actor.

Compare Kate's performance here with Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby, and you can see what I'm talking about. Hilary creates a character that we can understand and relate to; we know Maggie. We know why she fights, and why she wins. We never got that kind of insight into Clementine. The character is drawn in broad strokes, more caricature than character. Again, that may be the writer's fault and not Winslet's, but this just isn't really a leading role.

Posted by Rich
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SOTU speech

Nope, not watching it.

I don't like scripted politics.

Why waste two hours watching Republican and Democratic Congressmen and Senators resuce themselves to little marionette's, standing and sitting as directed by two of their number sitting at the podium? It's childish, ridiculous, and frankly, embarrassing. I don't know who started this garbage, and I reaaly don't care; it makes them all look equally silly.

I prefer honest and real politics to staged hypocrisy; give me Cheney's F-bomb any day of the week.

I'll read the transcript tomorrow, note that there's a lot of goals but no real plans, (business as usual in Washington) and get back to something important.

Playing Everquest 2.

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