Monday, December 14, 2009

King Of The Hill

Barring any last-minute change of heart, I am fairly confident this won't be my final HoB post for 2009.

Then again, my honest intention is to swing by here at least a few times a week and let you, the reader, take a peek at the slow, painful destruction of what gray matter I have left...put another way, I envision something akin to the polar opposite of watching paint dry...

Except with very little paint, and even less excitement.

Having said all that, I've got a built-in excuse -- I've been so busy that I'm feeling increasingly like a pinball going from one gravitational bumper to another. But, in fairness, that's not to say I haven't smiled here and there between those bumps.

Since my return from the Land of Thanksgiving, I've been incredibly inundated at work with legitimate balls-to-the-wall priority projects. Some of these said projects are high priority because they've been pushed to the back burner far too often or simply because they involve high-stress situations (deadlines) or high-stress clients (clients who are either under immense pressure on their respective ends or simply clients who are difficult people and exist, in part, to make sure my existence is as miserable as theirs).

Whatever the reason, the collective shit hit the collective fan over the past ten or twelve days and I was the one assigned to keep the fan shit-free, as is increasingly typical.

Well, the fan got a little bit o' the brown stuff, but I managed to scrape it off before the mess got overly difficult to handle and cleaned it up as good as new...or as good as can be expected.

And in the process I managed to pull a few rabbits out of my hat, which, I'm actually happy to admit, I didn't think I could do. I've heard it said that you find out most about a person when he or she is under the most severe adversity, when he or she is faced with immense pressure. Based on that logic, I found out a lot about myself, I must admit, I didn't know.

My apologies for suckering you into a convoluted self-shoulder-pat on the back, nothing to see here, move along...

But in the meantime, all is not particularly perfect in Boogie-Ville. I've been in the process of working on my corporate website re-launch (which should arrive sometime around the first of January) and our corporate e-mail migration. The former is self-explanatory -- hopefully -- and the latter refers to us switching our corporate e-mail to a new server. Fortunately, the new hosting entity won't be as limited as its predecessor; unfortunately, that migration process took from 11AM to 1AM last Sunday (not yesterday) and the kinks are still working their way through the system. So invariably, beyond the simple changing of mx headers, which are the internet's way of communicating to e-mail servers around the world where your e-mail should eventually arrive, there were lots of issues for which I was prepared but hoping would not appear.

They did.

In either case, a consultant and I fixed many of the issues and everything got resolved. Put another way, I'm far from concerned that things won't get resolved -- I have that "everything will work out properly" mechanism in my psyche and my daily life, but eventually, the continued focus required to balance so many flaming knives is difficult. Juggling one flaming knife is easy, but the more there are in the air, the harder it is to make sure none of them land, business-end first, in your foot.

So endeth the psychology of flaming knives.

In either case, the other stuff I'm handling -- filing some paperwork with a City agency to comply with a judge's order on behalf of a client, assembling the layout, content and art for our new site, and dealing with a couple of other stressful, high-pressure situations -- is, after all, par for the course.

That, and the Giants are playing atrocious football.

On the other side of the coin, last night's season finale of Dexter really kicked was the kind of electric finale that the Sopranos and Seinfeld wished they owned... And this was only the season-ender. If you have Showtime and you're not squeamish -- the show, after all, focuses on blood and a serial killer masquerading as a police scientist and a loving husband/father -- I highly recommend a full viewing. Really, really intense, worthwhile TV.

I was hoping to wind down a bit this week, but since I'm going to be out of action Friday to focus on completing our website, I've got to insure everything gets done this week in four days instead of five. Between that and assembling all the new PC parts -- motherboard, power supply, RAM, graphics card, an array of drives and the ever-popular Thor's Hammer CPU cooler -- my guess is I'll be doing a lot of sleeping with my eyes open as per usual.

Oh least I didn't get anything crappy for Chanookah this a dreidel, socks, or socks with a dreidel motif. And if you happen to celebrate Chanookah, hope yours is a celebration and festive. If you don't, here's to hoping whatever annual gift-giving ritual you observe -- Christmas, Secret Santa, the Kwanza-Fest or Festivus -- rocks your world and makes you happy to be alive...

In the meantime, I'll be back at some point soon, so keep your eyes peeled for more gray matter meltdown.

And please, no flash photography ;-)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thankful To Be Thankful

What’s most enthralling about Thanksgiving? Is it the time with family and friends, the belt-loosening food-borne ecstasy, the concept of comfort and relaxation, the fact that we don’t need to make excuses for not working, or is it a combination of all these?

I think it’s certainly a combination of these, but I think it’s also a chance to step back and acknowledge the things for which we’re thankful; that in and of itself is a good thing. Especially being that we live in this particular nation, too often we’re overwrought with schedules, things that should have already been done, things we’d like to do but for which we fail to find the time, and the inevitable fact that we complain about those things which are not satisfactory. This holiday is about taking all of that stuff – the ulcers, the insomnia, the headaches, doctor bills – and tossing it all out the window, if even for a day or a weekend.

The thing about Thanksgiving – for me, at least – is that it’s really just about smiles and relaxation. There’s no exchange of gifts – not really anyway – so there’s no chore-based grind of having to pick out gifts for every- and anyone who might cross your path the day before, the day of, or the day after the holiday. To wit, the day after Thanksgiving is known as the biggest shopping day of the year and labeled with its very own specific name – “Black Friday.” Personally, I can’t foresee spending one of the nicest days of the year and then shitting all over it by waking up at 4AM to buy crap at low prices, but I’m clearly in the minority as this phenomenon grips the country tighter than UFO’s over trailer parks, so what do I know?

Inevitably, what I think I enjoy most about the holiday is the lack of pressure and aggravation that’s otherwise inherent throughout the year. I like not having to abide by any real schedule – other than cooking times and football – and I like the meandering, laissez-faire aspect of the entire holiday. Air travel excluded, is there anything better than enjoying your existence and not having anything to do but enjoy comfort food and the company of people who make you happy? I really don’t think so.

There are some exceptions – the fact that, usually, the Detroit Lions play on Thanksgiving is a black mark on the day, as the Detroit Lions are among the worst football teams – nee, sports franchises – in history. That, and in the inevitable rush to be around family, you have to attempt to tolerate people who are typically intolerable and whose behavior is consistently abhorrent and pathetic. But these minor issues aside, being thankful is very rewarding. After all, if you have issues with the two aforementioned issues, change the channel or your plans and skip the complaints.

So in the spirit of the holiday, my perspective – especially this upcoming season – is to be thankful about being able to be thankful. Perhaps it’s corny, perhaps it’s sort of na├»ve, but I’m glad to be in a position to not complain. I suppose I could, but especially given the time of year, I can’t. I’m happy to count such good people as friends, and I think – inevitably – I’m most thankful that I can look forward to this holiday – and the coming season – and know that I really have it lots better than I sometimes believe I do.

And, for that – among other things – I’m most thankful.

Thursday, November 05, 2009


Now that the season's over after the Yankees -- finally -- returned to and won the World Series (their 27th), I must say that it brings back a variety of memories, all of which are great.

I remember the rush of fans on that first night in 1996 when the Yankees -- and a kid in right field named Jeffrey Maier -- won their first playoff game en route to their first World Series since the Reggie Jackson era. I remember my father and I being swept along with the jubilant crowd and acknowledging the danger and the euphoria and knowing I didn't want it to stop -- ever.

Sometimes that ebullience slows or seemingly disappears altogether. Last season, the Yankees -- in their final season in the House That Ruth Built -- didn't even make the playoffs. And yet, here we are yet again, celebrating another Yankee World Series win.

I'm not sure what is most exciting about this 2009 World Series win. It could be simply the fact the Yankees won. It could also be that they -- perhaps -- shed the "choke" label that so many of their detractors directed toward them. Seeing the "old guard" -- Jeter, Posada, Pettitte and Mariano -- flanked by the "new" guard -- Teixeira, Damon, A-Rod and Matsui -- jumping around near third base like little kids -- it's hard to put into words how it brings me back to my days as a yoot, celebrating a huge victory as if there were nothing better in the world to celebrate.

I think, because baseball is handed down from parents to their kids (at least on some level), this is a celebration that I can share with my dad (and my mom to a lesser degree). But most importantly, I think I share the mentality with my fellow Yankee fans that this is my team and vicariously, on some level, I was down on that field, jumping around and celebrating.

I go back to the private tour we had of the Stadium earlier this season -- the field, the dugout, the clubhouse, the trophies -- just a few of them -- and it feels great celebrating this victory, even if it's an hour or two away from the 100,000 or so people assembled to celebrate the Yankees.

It would feel the same regardless if I was in Yankee Stadium or in Italy, frankly; it's a part of me that can celebrate something that links all Yankee fans around the City and the world.

After the fact, of course, it's irrelevant -- and a bit entertaining -- going back to read and review the trash-talk directed at the Yankees: the criticisms regarding their payroll, the fact they're "chokers," or the miscellaneous "nicknames" bestowed upon them by fans of other teams. I was impressed by the fact the Phillies played a solid World Series and are certainly a respectable team. Referring to them as "Philthies" or something similarly fifth-grade-esque would and will probably say far more about my knowledge of the game and maturity than anything I could impart about the Phillies. So I'll just leave it at congratulating the Phillies and their fans on a good season and wish them luck for a rematch next year.

I think it's interesting seeing how much the Yankees polarize fans of other teams. In fact, I think the Yankees -- more than any other sports franchise -- get more anti-fans and more anger and bile than any other franchise. I think that that's a good sign: it means they're doing something right.

And hopefully they'll continue doing something right, continue winning World Series after World Series, and keep pissing off trash-talking "fans."

The parade, of course, is Friday downtown. And the title defense begins Saturday ;-)


Monday, October 26, 2009

Back In The High Life (God Is A Yankee Fan)

Whoever said that God must be a Yankee fan was indeed a smart individual. And I'm sure it wasn't me who first made this initial observation, although I have since repeated it many times.

In the interest of brevity, I'll simply state how entertaining it is watching the Yankees churn through the playoffs. That observation may not be sophisticated, impressive or particularly note-worthy, but each time I see detractors critique the Yankees for their off-season acquisitions, their professionalism or a multitude of other complaints, it actually entertains rather than irritates.

In dispatching the Angels, not only did the Yankees accomplish something they've been attempting since 2003 -- gain entrance to the World Series -- but they managed to irritate everyone that labeled them as "chokers."

Each time I hear the hardcore fans in any stadium deride another team en masse -- including those in Yankee Stadium -- I cringe. I remember earlier days when booing was a relatively light-hearted affair. Even in 1996, the year when Roberto Alomar spit on an umpire and was mercilessly booed by the Yankee Stadium crowd, it wasn't an evil, angry mob of people, it was just a bunch of fans expressing their opinions. With each passing year, however, it feels -- or at least appears -- that being a fan isn't so much about cheering for your own team but deriding and rooting against another team. I'm not sure that phenomenon is inherently American -- after all, the term "football hooligan" originates from the UK and its European brethren -- but it disappoints me, on some level, knowing that the Yankees winning and reaching the World Series makes some people feel as shitty as them doing so makes me happy.

Put another way, when did being a fan morph from rooting for a team to simply rooting against another one spewing bile, anger and disgust? When/if my team(s) loses, I don't feel the need to criticize the other team or somehow minimize their accomplishes by ridiculing the names of the opposing team, its players or the city in which said team originates. So anyone that feels it's appropriate to use the labels "Skankees," "Red Sux" or something similarly creative, try focusing on your anger and the cause of the derision rather than simply focusing your derision, blame and unhappiness on something other than your own unfortunate dysfunction.

Oh...and go Yankees!

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Nothing ever indeed goes as planned. That's not to say that making plans is a bad thing, but it's how you roll once your plans hit the toilet that leaves its mark.

We had originally planned to do some fall fun out of the city, including another visit with friends to the Woodbury Commons Outlet in Harriman, a visit to an Apple/Pumpkin Orchard for some bushel-fulls, and wrap it up in Sleepy Hollow with even more friends at the local Haunted House in celebration of Halloween. We set everything up -- including the schedule -- and then the shitbird meteorologists went and screwed it all up.

We were going to have a terrible storm, including low temps, driving rain, and even -- possibly -- snow. So we opted to skip out on the plans and rethink our Saturday.

Of course, it was incredibly cold the last few days in NYC; winter was near and the storm on Saturday theory made lots of sense.

Except it never happened. There was some rainy drizzle throughout the afternoon and evening, but not only did the weather fail to meet the hype, the Yankees were able to play both Friday and Saturday night games with very little real interference from the weather.

Having said all that, rather than an outdoor-filled fun Fall day, we wound up reworking our plans. We slept in and hung out until early afternoon, headed down to Soho to hang with friends (Mercer Kitchen, North Face, Kid Robot, etc.) and then wound our way to midtown to see Paranormal Activity.

And then, to wrap up the evening, we watched the Yankees beat the Angels in Game 2 of their ALCS (in 13 innings).

First of all, we had a blast, even though everything became a bit disjointed. We only had a few hours to hang with friends in Soho at Mercer and Kid Robot, etc., but we had a nice -- albeit brief -- hang. Then we headed to 42nd and 8th to see the film.

Without revealing any spoilers, the mini-review is in: entertaining, not nearly as intense as Blair Witch, but fun nonetheless; and some free advice -- don't see it in a theater where the people are completely obnoxious douchebags, better to skip it than see it in a crowded, crappy theater.

Finally, we made our way back home and watched -- well, I did -- the Yankees pull out a 4-3 victory in 13. Granted, Kaia's still doing the post-jet-lag recovery, and I was more than happy celebrating silently and watching yet another pie-in-the-face care of AJ Burnett.

As I write this and wrap up, Kaia's sleeping quietly, Fox's postgame coverage is humming along quickly and I'm ready to head to bed and enjoy yet another day. I won't mention the Giants/Saints as we're likely going to be floating around again tomorrow, and I figure if I plan on watching the game, said plans will go to shit yet again. I learn from my mistakes ;-)

Despite the fact our plans went to shit, we had a great time with great people and had a nice day. Hopefully our plans will get fouled up more often. While we were all disappointed everything didn't unfold as we'd hoped it would, it really couldn't have gone any better. So aside from the assholes shouting during the film, everyone made today a great one for us, and we look forward to making Plan B our main option again soon ;-)


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Gomorra - The Inside View

Increasingly, with the increasing immediacy of the sharing of data and images and with the world seemingly becoming smaller each day, we seemingly benefit from an influx of knowledge and information that once crawled along at Amish pace but which now cruises towards -- and, invariably, past -- us at highway speeds. As a result, it's likely beyond our capability to process worthwhile nuggets of significant news that get lost among the varied and repetitive garbage we face each day. To wit, most of us could recite with relative precision the details surrounding Michael Jackson's death and his internment(s); how many among us could discuss the details of Robert McNamara's life, if not his death?

I happened upon the film Gomorra almost by chance. I'd seen its placard advertised in a small, independent theater that always features foreign-language films that are invariably about things with which I'm unfamiliar. Whether or not these films have value to me is largely irrelevant, because I typically avoid them. I do so not because they're not worth seeing, but because the hours in a day seem fewer and fewer and I find myself with decreasing interest in chasing something down which might be so weird I'll regret bothering in the first place. However, when I see awards from Cannes bestowed on a foreign-language film that happens to catch my eye -- and I get an opportunity to see such a film -- I try and go out of my way to do so.

I'm glad to say Gomorra proved extremely worthwhile.

I obtained a copy of Gomorra on Blu-Ray awhile ago; with Kaia heading from NYC to Europe this afternoon, I had some work to finish and then I found myself in the odd situation of being in limbo. Not having her here this coming week will be a bit strange, but when she heads out on a weekend, it's sort of like time stands still until I know she's landed where- and whenever said landing occurs. I didn't feel like heading out tonight -- between hockey, work, her flight and a half-dozen other factors, I didn't think much about doing much of anything, frankly -- so I finally fired up this film.

First, the title of the film -- Gomorra -- is a veiled reference to the twin biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah which, in theory, were destroyed by God for their extreme, brazen wickedness. The play on the title of the film is in direct reference to the mafia in the region of Naples known as La Camorra; if you've ever considered visiting Naples in person, avoid seeing this film until you've done so. Failure to heed this advice will likely kill your desire to visit Naples and, perhaps, Italy in general.

When I think of "mob films," three in particular come to mind: The Godfather (the first and its sequel) and Goodfellas. Gomorra, however, bears neither the polished elegance of the Godfather films nor the raw charm and charisma of Goodfellas. What it features, aside from an entirely Italian dialogue (with English subtitles), is a stark, intense depiction of life in Naples under the Neapolitan mob. It tells a variety of stories: of children growing up and learning to be criminals, of people attempting to avoid making deals with the devil -- in the form of Camorra enforcers and local bosses, and the stark, intense nature of crime, money, drugs, toxic dumping and people treating one another in repulsive ways. The film is, in some ways, an ode to off-kilter story-telling as nowhere in the film is the term Camorra used. However, it demonstrates -- with frankness -- the lives of the people the Camorra destroys, either by leaving them or their family members as corpses, imprisoned, or even worse, in the path of this criminal machine.

I wasn't aware this film was focused on the Camorra, and frankly I wasn't aware of the Camorra's formal existence until after seeing this film and reading about the subject matter in detail afterward. However, knowing that the events depicted in this film are, relatively speaking, commonplace is disconcerting, to say the least. We all know, in general, of man's inhumanity to man, and we know these things take place with regularity. However, this film's dark, unyielding depiction of these events is intense and troubling. Further, few -- if any -- of the characters in this film are "good guys," and none of the people herein are people you'd really want to meet. However, the film shows their lives in such plain, unbiased detail you can't help but be amazed and disgusted by the events as they unfold.

In hindsight, the sheer intensity and disturbing imagery contained herein make me glad I watched this film alone and without Kaia. There is a lot of blood, but that's not really the troubling imagery which I referred to earlier. The imagery is knowing these repulsive things are happening out in the open, under dark, ominous, sunless skies in a place that I always believed to be an ideal destination. Part of the film addresses the Camorra's penchant for illegally dumping toxic waste throughout Italy. Aside from the fact that the agent profiting from this activity shows no concern whatsoever for the lives he adversely affects by doing so, it forces us into these untenable positions. What if we're offered silver, for complying with -- actively or passively -- criminal behavior, or lead for refusing to be complicit? The film shows -- in remarkably nonjudgmental fashion -- these situations and demonstrates, in a subtle way, that there is no easy answer and no easy solution.

The film is intense, encompassing and essentially forces the viewer to be a witness to this brazen, repulsive behavior. The biblical comparison aside, it's an impressive feat for a film to educate and enlighten about material so dark and disturbing without being condescending or judgmental, and that in and of itself is reason alone to see it. The fact it's riveting in its stark depiction of these lives and this activity is yet another. None of these actors -- many of whom were "real" people and not actually actors -- are or will be household names. Yet, the story they all work together to tell will remain with the viewer for some time. It's far easier to wag a finger or read an article about how a criminal machine like the Camorra sucks in its prey and predators alike. It's far more difficult to ensnare the viewer with this type of "insider" bird's eye view. I'm glad to conclude director Matteo Garrone has not only attempted the latter but succeeded with stellar, if not disturbing, results.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

A Little Extra Change

Unfortunately or otherwise, being that we're -- for a little while longer -- on separate coasts, Kaia's excursions into or through NYC are always pleasant events. Despite the fact they -- like everything else in life -- typically occur at peak busy seasons, having her in town is always -- without question -- far better than not having her in town.

Having said all that, we typically have our arrival routine down pat. Almost always, rather than have me meet her at JFK -- which is certainly more than fine with me -- she likes a little down time in the form of a typically eventful cab ride. Either the driver's BO is legendary -- a feat many of us have experienced, no matter the weather or the open-window jaunt that rarely helps to ebb that flow -- or the traffic is similarly legendary, and nearly as offensive.

However, last night's journey was one for the books.

Apparently, Kaia's driver had some issues. First, the ride should have taken less than a half-hour from JFK at midnightish to my place right off the Triboro. Somehow, it took longer. Being that said driver wasn't sporting legendary BO or something akin thereto was a plus. Nor was his cab replete with smells only sanitation engineers could accurately describe.

Unfortunately, however, the ride did have a quasi-lasting impact. Apparently, the flat-rate fare thing needs to be more indelibly explained to people possessing questionable literacy skills.

Turns out that the "Flat Rate Fare" from JFK to NYC is $45, and apparently that does not include tolls. However, each trip we've taken from JFK to my building has never required us to pay tolls. Until, however, last night.

Kaia kicked the driver a $50 because that's all she had handy in cash. Upon her arrival, the driver -- after inexplicably going a block and a half further than necessary -- turned around and stopped in front of my building. Unfortunately, the dispute resulted when she handed him a $50 and he killed the meter -- and then demanded payment of the toll across the Triboro. By doing so, he effectively made it impossible for her to take back the $50 and pay for the ride, and the tolls, with a credit card. I had no cash on me and my wallet was safely ensconced in my apartment, so neither of us had any cash beyond the $50 said driver had already pocketed. So his demand of additional funds, plus a gratuity for his extra-genius-like driving, odor and personality skills.

Since there was no extra money to be exchanged, said driver was -- clearly -- tweaked. I can't blame him to some degree; apparently, the "flat rate to NYC" does NOT include tolls.

However, since neither of us -- as indicated above -- has ever been asked to pay said tolls, it was our natural suspicion that the guy was jerking us. So we gave him the $50 and wished him a good night. He wasn't satisfied, however, and -- well after midnight, with both of us weary from the day, the night, her from the flight and me from work -- he wanted to have a discussion about the entire incident.

Neither of us, frankly, were interested in extended discourse, and we wished him a good night. Apparently his logical next step was to hurl the change -- something in the range of about eighty cents -- in our direction at my building. None of the change hit us or the building, but we figured that for a money-conscious driver, throwing change at customers isn't the ideal way to move forward.

A recommendation for the prospective cab driver: if you enter into a dispute with someone, throwing a temper-tantrum -- and change -- at said customer is generally the wrong way to go about handling the matter. By law, technically, he's guilty of assault. Frankly, he saw neither of us wasn't trying to screw him, and had he said "Look it up online, you'll see you're responsible for the toll." Had he done that, I would have gotten his medallion number off the receipt which I insured we kept, and I would have found a way to kick the guy a $20 after the fact. However, had I decided to return the favor -- and the change -- his way, I'd call the Taxi Limousine Commission and let them know they have a kook behind the wheel.

I'm sure they'll get right on it and insure he stops driving. Right after, of course, they manage to track down Santa's sleigh as it crossed over the Queensboro.

So a few morals to this extended story. First and foremost, before you hit the road in a cab, make sure you know for what he or she expects you to pay. If something sounds off -- say, a dashboard air freshener charge -- you're probably being jerked. If it sounds a little questionable, check it out online if you have 'net access on your phone, and if not, consider the time of day/night and decide whether you want to wait for another cab or just go along with the bullshit rather than waste any more of your time. And finally, if and when possible, try and use a credit card in your payment so you can dispute any extraneous charges. I used to avoid charging cab trips, but invariably it's a lot easier disputing/canceling a charge than trying to track down Bocephus the Magnificent, aka Ned from Eastern Romania, in some midnight to 8 shift in a taxi garage in Queens in an effort to get your fiver back in your pocket.

Otherwise, it's nice having her home and it's even nicer knowing that we have some spare change floating around. Nothing like having a little extra change.

Oh, and for those of you hoping for salacious details about her first night in NYC, you'll have to wait and see the movie.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Hockey, Football and A Chilly Fall

Cliches aside, the grass is indeed greener on the other side...especially if the owner of the property on the other side of the fence has a dog who shits a lot.

Invariably, the Fall is typically -- in these post-Bush days of global warming and weird weather -- a short-lived affair. More often than not, we experience sultry summer days well into the second week of October and then bickety bam -- like a Zombie-fied Emeril Lagasse cooking some brain stew, Winter arrives before Fall has had its chance to come and go. We're moving from shorts and medium-weight t-shirts to jeans, boots, down jackets, scarves and knit hats with silly logos.

Not so this year. This year Fall is slow to arrive and the progression is actually nice. Rather than going from summer to winter in a few scant days, Fall has apparently dug in like an Alabama tic and we've got a few weeks -- if not more -- of an actual fourth season. When people from other regions -- say, Idaho -- speak well of New York and the changing of the seasons, this is of what they speak. Nice to see it's actually coming to pass for a change.

Speaking of passing, hockey season and football season are both newly-arrived to herald the onset of cooler weather. The New York Giants have won their first four games and the New York Rangers -- well, they're not yet mathematically eliminated from playoff contention yet. As the baseball season winds down with the Yankees well-situated to return to -- and, dare I say, win -- the World Series, I can't help but in some small way focus on the meaningless Ranger games now that every pitch of the baseball season has long-term significance.

Football season is quick. Baseball season is not. Entourage on HBO -- that goes by in a flash, as did True Blood. And I know in eight weeks from now when Dexter wraps I'll be wondering how the entire season of that show skipped past me without me even noticing it.

In either case, without making any pithy, snarky, cranky observations, I know I'll be bitching before November about the weather. I know there will be snow or some other form of non-human-friendly weather littering my commute to or from the office with obscenities and the smells of New Yorkers sweating beneath their winter gear and I know I'll bitch about it. However, in the meantime, I'm just going on record here and now to indicate that the cooler weather is a nice thing every so often...until -- like a houseguest with awful body odor and a penchant for Polish polka tunes -- it's stuck around for far too long and we all wish it would just go away.

To wind this particular post down, I opted not to quote Yoko Ono's "Is Winter Here To Stay?" but I felt that would be an affront to all good decency, even according to my twisted, limited definition thereof.

Stay cool.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Hockey, Blue Dick(s) and $20/$40 + Two Hours from Ben Affleck

We headed to Union Square to attend Kevin Smith's book signing at Barnes and Noble and I have to admit I'm mighty impressed.

If you didn't know, Kevin's the writer/director behind Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, and -- um -- Jersey Girl.

Among other things, Kevin's also behind a variety of other things, including two great books, the View Askew forum, and -- to be frank, in my humble opinion -- the building of the careers of Jason Lee and Ben Affleck, for starters. His cinematic style is straightforward and blunt, but his stuff is extremely solid in a way that belies the humor and the lightness of his material.

And despite the fact he'd most likely react to the following by telling me I'm completely full of shit, I think he's an incredibly talented filmmaker.

But at the core of what impressed the hell out of me was not his resume, his films or the fact that the terms "finger-cuffs" and "Berserker" are indelibly stamped on my brain much like his signature is tattooed on several peoples' asses (a story for another time), but that the guy is normal. He's not overly infatuated with his essence or his own presence. In fact, he's not even remotely self-impressed. He's a hockey fan -- he and I were talking about Theo Fleury and Brendan Shanahan and the reality of being a fan (torn between two lovers indeed, he of the Edmonton Oilers/New Jersey Devils triangle and me of the Rangers/Red Wings triangle) and the long-term significance of Billy Crudup's exposed penis in Watchmen.


In either case, I thumbed through both his books and -- with no surprise at all -- was impressed yet again by the fact that this is a bona-fide dude. He's not some machine, he's not an eclectic, eccentric weirdo with an oddball film fetish and an encyclopediac ability to quote Scorcese -- which, incidentally, may or may not be a good thing -- he's just a really good guy who makes really good films.

So inasmuch as we three had a blast, it wasn't because we got a chance to meet someone famous but that we met a guy who was even cooler and more fun to hang with than we'd expected, and in this day and age of the reality being so much worse than the expectancy, that's far more than that for which we could have hoped.

However, I still expect $20 and a couple hours from Affleck -- and an apology if/when possible. And btw, to The Man, if you're reading this, you're pretty funny too. In the immortal words of Brody, we can smell our own ;-)

And here's a link for a mutual hockey fan.

Thanks to Kevin and the staff of Barnes and Noble Union Square for being awesome.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Celebrating The Season

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of life is the duality and the contradictory ironies that somehow fail to escape my observation. Or perhaps it's mixed martial arts bouts rebroadcast on late-night secondary Showtime channels.

More than likely, I find the innate concept of the Jewish New Year to be a ultimately mixed message. On the one hand, like the Gregorian New Year, we're supposed to "celebrate" the passage of one year and the arrival of another. And yet, on the other hand, with the new year comes the responsibility of observant Jews to ask God and our friends, family and acquaintances for forgiveness for our sins, transgressions, mistakes and anything which adversely affected anyone we know and/or about whom we care.

More importantly, we are taught that we ask for health and happiness for those about whom we care for the coming year: for health, happiness, success and a sweet year. This is the significance behind apples and honey, both of which represent sweetness. There's a Jewish blessing known as the Shecheeyanu, which sanctifies something new, and this blessing is a quasi-staple of the coming year for obvious reasons. That is why many Jews also try to sample a new (non-everyday/exotic) fruit. So each year we bring in the new year with something different that is new and sweet.

I'm not sure if I buy into that new fruit concept, but unless the new fruit is durian, I won't protest this custom beyond perhaps the lift of an eyebrow.

In either case, with the perspective of an adult, I'm invoking this final stage of the celebration of the new year with family and "celebration." But the celebration will actually be optimism. The seriousness of tomorrow's observance and the significance it has, for me personally, isn't something I can necessarily convey through words. Suffice to say it's a holiday which feels like equal parts obligation, responsibility, solemnity and hope for the future. It's unlike any "celebration" I've participated in in any other aspect of my life, including graduations, milestones, or even my bar mitzvah.

Part of the forgiveness aspect -- ie asking those who we've wronged over the past year for forgiveness for said transgression -- is legit. A new year -- whether celebrated in January or sometime in September -- is a good time to reflect on the year that's past and the year that approaches. But the other aspect -- praying for health for ourselves and those we love -- is, at least for me, very significant. I'm not sure if that significance has come with age, experience, pessimism or reality -- or the verisimilitude of some or all of those things -- but it has increased power and ownership of my mind these days. And frankly, I think that's a big chunk of what this holiday should signify. Acknowledgment of the past and acceptance and optimism for the future aren't necessarily stereotypical hallmarks of Jewish existence in this country or this world, but I think that's what I feel this holiday embodies.

Whether I'm right or full of shit is, frankly, secondary. I'm sure I could assemble a room filled with scholars who could verify my opinion or spend a week ridiculing same. Regardless, part of why faith is what it is is that it -- at some point -- defies black and white factual confirmation. So I'll "celebrate" this coming new year with the optimism that I try to celebrate each day, and I'll acknowledge those mistakes I've made this past year, and I'll genuinely try to be a better person, friend, lover and human being. I can't promise I'll be any more courteous as a driver -- given yesterday's interstate expedition, I'm far too honest with respect to those who don't belong on the road -- but I do pledge to resist flipping the bird to nuns wearing coke-bottle glasses and instead pray they restrict their driving to bumper-car structures and not the nation's highways.

In essence, and in all sincerity, the duality of this soon-to-conclude holiday period doesn't so much puzzle me as it does strike me in its ironic contrast. And while that isn't the bulk of my focus, I think that's part of what I'll continually focus on -- perhaps for the rest of my life. But first and foremost, and most importantly, I'll extend my most sincere and optimistic hope for the future, for the health and happiness of those people -- family, friends, etc. -- about whom I care. And I'll give thanks for each day I wake up happy and go to bed happy, and I'll continue to try and make others around me smile whether they want to or not.

Best wishes for a happy, healthy, sweet and successful new year to those reading this message near, far, here and no longer here.


Monday, September 21, 2009

Patriotism and The Damage Done

What is the definition of patriotism? Wiki defines it as the love of and/or devotion to one's country.

CNN reported on the arrest of several individuals suspected of participating in and/or plotting a terrorist attack, perhaps in the New York area, and indicated they had arrested a Denver man, Najibullah Zazi, and his father, Muhammed Wali Zazi, for these crimes. The former is 24 years old and admitted traveling to Pakistan to train with al-Qaeda operatives. In addition, he traveled from Colorado to New York in a rental car in which he brought a notebook computer containing downloaded information and handwritten notes containing directions on how to make improvised explosive devices (bombs). In his interviews with the FBI, he suggested he mistakenly downloaded these plans on the Internet. He didn't explain how this incorrectly-downloaded information was e-mailed from his account to two other individuals. Father Muhammed Wali Zazi is 53 and is accused of making false statements to the FBI.

Yet another of the arrested is an Imam in a mosque in Queens, Ahmad Wais Afzali, who, in a remarkable coincidence, very closely resembles porn star Ron Jeremy. He was arrested because he tipped off the father and son and lied to investigators on several key fronts.

The question isn't whether these people are interested in performing some sort of attack on the US. It's pretty clear they are. Why are they only -- currently -- facing 8 years in prison each?

Neither here nor there. Whether they are facing 2 days, 2 years or 2 life sentences is, in part, irrelevant. What is far more relevant is that they are naturalized legal residents; all of them are foreign-born; and all clearly have pernicious, malicious intention with respect to this nation.

On the one hand, I suggest we drop these three in a hole and forget about them for 30 or 40 years. We could easily deport all of them, but as we've witnessed with prisoners who the Israelis have been coerced into freeing, these people won't stop until their destiny -- ie martyrdom -- is achieved. Whether said martyrdom is achieved in Israel or America or Pakistan or Afghanistan, their aim is to kill Americans and other Westerners or, if at all possible, Israelis.

The more difficult question to answer is why this is happening. By this I mean why we welcome people who have every intention of destroying it. Of course, for every 1,000 people who want nothing more than to become Americans and slice off their chunk of the American Dream, there's one or two or -- who knows how many -- people who would like to destroy that pie. It's relatively mystifying how the US seems to overlook so many of these people, and since these are ongoing investigations, there's no way to determine how many of these people are under surveillance, how many of them are given a short leash to determine who they're contacting outside the nation, and what their specific plans are.

At once, it's both unsettling and irritating that this problem still continues despite the very visible and very real lessons learned -- perhaps -- on 9/11.

Inasmuch as I would love to let the FBI and the CIA run free, damning the Constitution in the process, and let slip the dogs of war, I can't completely rationalize this, given the past ineptitude of the FBI and the overzealous charges of the CIA. However, it seems fairly simple: watch every mosque in this nation -- from a distance -- and assume every mosque, from Los Angeles to New York -- shelters one or more individuals who are focused on more than their daily prayers while at these mosques. Sound unfair? Perhaps. I'm not advocating destroying mosques and/or decimating the US Muslim population. Nor am I giving the FBI license to kick down the doors of every mosque in this nation.

However, it seems to me that these individuals are -- eventually -- going to find the seam in the defense, so to speak, and fall between the cracks. I refer to these types of individuals, hiding in plain sight. Inasmuch as I respect the Constitution, can we continue to ignore the obvious warning signs in the name of absolute religious freedom? Are people whose lives mean nothing beyond their intent to commit suicide by blowing up buildings, landmarks, train stations, and -- ostensibly -- as many Americans as possible?

The 9/11 hijackers spent an inordinate amount of time living among the US population, as did these recently-arrested individuals. As their replacements become more sophisticated and continue to take advantage of our freedoms, it seems to me that the only real solution is for the US to take an increasingly proactive role in rooting them out. If they're hiding in plain sight -- mosques, prayer groups, clubs and associations -- focus on these and never relent. Those Muslims who have love and respect for the American way of life will understand and -- in the long run -- appreciate that these people who hide among them have tainted their religion, not embodied it, and those Muslims who cry most foul more than likely support the talk of jihad and its lust for blood, not peace.

Invariably, the mixed messages are more clear, and simultaneously fuzzy, with each passing day. And the more we wait, the more their numbers increase.

Put in far more simple terms, if you know you've got a roach issue and can see them scatter when the lights are turned on, the solution is relatively easy: turn the light on, keep it on, and spray in every crevice until the problem ceases.

Or until the spray runs out.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Time of The Seasons

Unless you live in an ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhood, the pinnacle of holiday-dom in this nation seems, most naturally, marked by the period between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, with the obvious high points being those two holidays and Christmas serving as the main trio. With the exception of Halloween and Mother's Day, these three are most likely to inspire people to spend their money on greeting and holiday cards more than any other.

Not coincidentally, this time also marks the passage from Summer and Fall into Winter, unless you live in Australia, where things "down under" are completely upside down, both literally and figuratively. Incidentally, this begs the question "Do people in Australia refer to the rest of the world as Up Over?"

But I digress.

If you're a member of the Jewish faith, you also likely celebrate -- or at least acknowledge the arrival of -- the Jewish New Year, which is an eight-day period beginning with a two-day celebration known as Rosh Hashanah and culminating in a day of fasting and reverance known as Yom Kippur, also commonly referred to as the Day of Atonement. The Jewish New Year, unlike this nation's observance of New Year's Day, is not merely a holiday from work and responsibility and a celebration of alcohol, parties and public drunkenness. In its place, it is a time for Jews to be thankful of their families and friends and look to the coming year for health, happiness and success. The general concept is that by demonstrating our forgiveness to those that have wronged us over the course of the past year, and by asking forgiveness of those we have wronged over the course of the past year, we -- and those about which we care -- will be inscribed in the Book of Life for another year and will, god willing, be with us for another year.

Invariably, during my observance of these holidays, I alternate between celebration and thoughts of the future; while another year passes, my personal observance lends itself towards wishing my family and friends a healthy, sweet, happy year, and invariably I find myself wondering why we spend so much time focusing on these wishes and prayers only once or twice each year and not more frequently. That is not to say I don't do so with regularity -- in fact, I do find myself keeping my virtual fingers crossed with respect to the health and happiness of my family and friends -- it's just that, I suppose, we shouldn't so much focus solely on these wishes so rarely but we should do so all the time. I guess, in the guise of the "simple son," that this holiday period isn't the sole time of reflection but a time of sole -- and soul -- reflection. That is, I think these days aren't meant to be the only time we absolve others -- and ourselves -- of our transgressions, but days during which that is our only focus. We shouldn't observe these days as our only opportunities to thank The Man Upstairs for what we have and wish, hope and pray for the same or better in the coming year; we should take this time to focus only on letting The Man Upstairs know that we're thankful for our lives and those of our families and friends. And even if we haven't made many inroads on things we apologized for from last year, each year is a clean slate filled with optimism, hope and positive change.

I think, among my other transgressions, my main goal is, simply, to be more thankful and appreciative of those I care about -- family, friends, etc. -- not just during these High Holy days but throughout the year, each and every day.

So on a personal note, if I've made any mistakes or wronged anyone reading these words, I apologize. And if you've done the same to me, it's already forgiven.

Here's hoping the coming year is happy, sweet, healthy, successful and memorable -- in a good way -- for us, our families, our friends and for those people about whom we care.

Happy New Year!


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Built for Speed

The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.
Any fool can do it...
There ain't nothing to it...
Nobody knows how we got to the top of the hill...
But since we're on our way down,
We might as well enjoy the ride.

James Taylor, Secret O' Life

Not sure where the time goes, but there's seemingly so much happening these days -- in a good way -- I barely can keep track.

First, Friday wound up being a busy day. There was rain, but mostly, there was a lot of work. It was a quiet day -- few, if any, clients calling me -- but there was lots of paper and e-mail to power through. I got about 90% of what I needed done before the weekend began.

Friday night I met friends at Make, a paint-it-yourself pottery place on the West Side. Well, actually, to clarify, Make has both Upper East and Upper West locations, but the location where we meet is the on the Upper West Side. Not sure why, but that's that, and I have no issue jumping on a bus and crossing the Park. I know as a true New Yorker I shouldn't be crossing the Park, and I know I should spend my non-working, waking hours on the East Side, but the truth is it's not a big deal once a week to cross the Park and hit the West Side to hang out with friends.

Soooo...Friday night, I hit Week 2 on my current Make project, a skull covered by a Van Halen-esque fire-engine red with black and white stripes. It might be completely awful, but it's a lot of fun after another long, tiring week to kick back for a few hours and do something mindless and relaxing.

Saturday was a busy, busy 24 hours. I did some work early after waking up well before my usual time and then met friends in the early afternoon in Soho for a few errands. We hit North Face and a few other stops, including Kid Robot, the Morrison Hotel Gallery, the Apple Store, etc. It was still kinda rainy so we didn't spend much time dawdling, but there were enough people on the street -- throngs, actually -- so that we didn't feel like we were just going through the motions of running basic, boring errands.

By the time we finished up, we raced home to get ready to meet back up in midtown for a party for a friend in from out of town. The town, incidentally, is Sydney, Australia. Naomi -- aka Gnomes -- is in NYC for a week so a friend got a bunch of friends to hang out and make sure she had a blast, which she did. To elaborate, we all did. A little alcohol and a lot of fun go a long way to make for a great weekend.

But, in the immortal words of Ron Popeil, wait -- there's more.

Today, Sunday, was Grandparents Day, so I met up with my family to spend the day and hang out with my grandmother in Riverdale. The day was perfect -- no rain, and despite a bit of heat I thought we'd left behind, some humidity in the sun -- we had a blast. The facility in which she lives, the Hebrew Home, had Bowser (of Sha Na Na fame, or infamy, depending on your perspective) and his current band entertain the entire crowd of 5,000 or so people. Since there were a lot of kids and older folk in the audience, it wasn't my style -- it was a tad vanilla -- but overall the people in attendance, as well as the residents of the facility, seemed to really enjoy the day. And we got a surprise visit from NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which was a bit surreal. Being that this is campaign time, it made sense, but seeing the Mayor only 10 steps away was odd, especially given the circumstances.

Post-celebration, I hit the train and came home to catch the second half of the Giants-Redskins game. I'd missed the early NFL games, which is okay, but missing an entire Giants game -- especially the first game of the season -- would have really been irritating. Seeing the second half -- and the fact that the Giants won -- made it all worthwhile.

I think, given that tonight is the True Blood finale (as well as another episode of Entourage), I'm not quite ready for the new NFL season. But once I began watching today's second half, I was quickly reminded why I love watching NFL Football, especially the Giants.

Finally, tonight, I've got a wind-down ahead of the True Blood finale, and -- hopefully -- getting to bed after Entourage, because I've got a deadline this week and plenty of other stuff to handle in addition.

I guess it is true that time really does fly when you're having fun. I guess I just wish I had more time with which to have more fun ;-)


Friday, September 11, 2009

The Significance Of The Past Tense

Every so often we hit a speed bump in our daily lives that shakes us out of our collective busy-ness. Sometimes those speed bumps are obstacles and present us with situations that require solutions. At other times, these are things which jolt us and remind us that we're only here for a limited time.

Today being 9/11, I can't help but notice the somber awareness we as a country feel. Some of us, I'm sure, dismiss 9/11, but for the majority of Americans, I believe the acknowledgment of what today means is daunting and significant, not only in terms of politics and our existence as Americans -- no matter what city, state or even country we call home -- but as human beings.

The fact that it's raining and gloomy aside, today always seems to be a day of reflection and recollection and acknowledgment, and though I invariably find myself taken back to that morning eight years ago -- smoke pouring skyward down 3rd Avenue, watching the second tower fall on live TV among 30 or so other horrified, angry people in a doctor's waiting room -- I continue to come back to the sadness most of us feel and the empty, quiet reflection we've endured since that day.

I don't wonder when there will be peace in this world, and -- frankly -- I scoff at the notion when people suggest it's possible. But on this day, among several others, I at least acknowledge that there are times for reflection, discussion and meditation, and there are times for action, response and perseverance.

Put another way, hindsight is only 20/20 if you have the balls and the focus and the direction in which to act.


Sunday, August 30, 2009

The New Weight Gain 4000

When in the course of human events we Americans find ourselves in need of an additional 30-50 pounds of pure fat to be added to our already-obese soon-to-be carcasses, there exists an industry who is only happy to solve that stretch-mark-inducing need. Today, that industry is the fast-food industry, and that product is Kentucky Fried Chicken's Double Down.

I've made plenty of observations about this nation's greatest achievement, that of the 2,000 calorie snack, on many occasions (here and here, for starters) but this newest of prizes reminds us that too much is never enough. Too much cholesterol, too much fat, too much sodium, too much heart disease, and too much weight. What's an extra 100 pounds anyway? It worked for Henry VIII, why not Middle America?

Click here to be introduced to the sandwich that will put you in your grave.

And be sure to bring your insulin, your Lipitor and your Slimfast with you next time you visit KFC.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Send In The Bastards

When one identifies reasons he or she enjoys seeing movies in the theater, numerous factors typically reach the top of that list. Good film is entertaining, memorable, elicits emotion and tells a story in an interesting way. Further, good films almost always involve characters one could either completely welcome into his/her life or be completely unwilling to do so. But invariably, the character(s) in good film are ones we either love or love to hate.

These factors apply universally and perfectly to the latest in the line of Quentin Tarantino achievements, Inglourious Basterds.

The film has received a thorough round of praise from most film pundits, critics and online observers, so hopefully nothing cited in this space will have any bearing on those who have not yet ventured to the theater to experience this 2.5-hour explosion of World War II themed-flight of fancy. And inasmuch as I'm a strong proponent of home theater viewing of films, this is one that deserves to be viewed in a quasi-auditorium in honor of its final act.

Please note that the following will disclose some facts about the movie that you might want to avoid until after you've seen same. Please also note that this film could, informally, be labeled as the world's first "Jewish Fantasy Revenge Porn" genre piece.


Broadly speaking, this is a World War II film which commences in 1941 France. However, much of it is a character study so the typical shots of legions of German soldiers and of mutilated corpses, brutal combat and the atrocities of the Holocaust are forsworn for far more intimate, small settings. In their place, the study of the various -- and limited number of -- characters provides a good chunk of the pace of the film. And while the bulk of the film could take place in a soundstage much as did Tarantino's first, Reservoir Dogs, this particular film's sets are so vivid and authentic in feel it would be a surprise if any of these sets were not somewhere in the French countryside or in Paris itself.

The "main" character herein is Lt. Aldo Raines (Brad Pitt), a fast-talking part-Apache Southern boy whose penchant for killing Nazis and having his underlings recover Nazi scalps at his behest is only superceded by his penchant for snappy, descriptive dialogue. Despite the fact that Brad Pitt is a media icon and makes as much news for his personal life as his on-screen projects, this movie is made with his persona and his on-screen charm. His performance in this film, without a doubt, seals the deal and puts this way over the top.

Raines leads a group of eight soldiers into France to secretly fight Nazis and/or put the fear of God in them by disfiguring them in a very memorable way. This group is known as the Bastards (both by their superiors and their Nazi counterparts). Essentially, their main function -- in the limited, skewed accuracy of this film's self-defined zeitgeist -- is to search for groups of Nazis, kill all members of each group they encounter but one, and leave said survivor scarred and scared to tell the tale (much like the trail of corpses and lone survivors from Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers," also penned by Tarantino).

The Basterds are a crack group of Jewish-American soldiers who have gained a reputation among the Nazi hunted. There's the "Bear Jew," aka Hugo Stiglitz (portrayed by Til Schweiger), Sgt. Donny Donowitz (portrayed in a rare turn in front of the camera by Eli Roth), Lt. Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender), Pfc. Smithson Utivich (The Office's B.J. Novak) and Pfc. Omar Ulmer (Omar Doom), among others. These Jewish fighters, as led by Raine, gain notoriety for their ferocious, fear-inspiring, merciless success at killing and mutilating Nazis.

There's more to the story, of course, then simply these soldiers' quest to alter the war's outcome -- one Nazi scalp at a time -- but this wouldn't be a Tarantino film if there weren't. There's the story of Shoshanna (Melanie Laurent) and her meticulous dalliance with Nazi war hero Frederick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl) to effect a spectacular and memorable conclusion, both to the war and the film. And finally, and most notably, there's the so-called "Jew Hunter," Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz). There are numerous other characters herein, including Mike Myers as General Ed Fenech and Diane Kruger as famed German movie star Bridget von Hammersmark, but for the most part, the actors here are relatively unknown and each is, predictably, excellent.

There are three specific components to the film's plot, divided up into five chapters, and the film is relatively bold and brash in its portrayal of the events of World War II. Clearly the Holocaust, specifically the Nazi intention to rid Germany, France and the rest of Europe of Jewish presence, is a significant component to the story. But so too is the notion of revenge, as this aspect of the film commences and concludes the film. And finally, the retelling of the actual facts of World War II are rewritten in an almost cartoon-like way, but in very entertaining, memorable fashion.

Put another way, the three separate stories -- much like Pulp Fiction, Tarantino's greatest Opus, had separate sub-plots that simultaneously intertwined by the film's conclusion -- come together like a tangle of separate highways that culminate in one huge epicenter. The film's conclusion herein is satisfying both in terms of its plot and its style, and as per usual, Tarantino focuses on each frame of film in telling his story.

At times, the film is humorous; actually, it's frequently very humorous. Despite the violence, gore and over-the-top brutality in parts, it's a darkly comic turn for Brad Pitt and a subtle, restrained performance for the so-called Jew Hunter, Col. Hans Landa (again, portrayed by Christoph Waltz). Frankly, inasmuch as Brad Pitt's portrayal of Raine is excellent and completely on point, Waltz's portrayal of Landa is so impressive and so memorable that one could easily say he stole this film. Each time Waltz appears his presence and charm capture the viewer without fail, and, frankly, seemingly without effort. And his ability to portray Tarantino's impeccably-crafted dialogue -- with equal parts of humor, charm, humor, exacting detail and icy-cold analytical, sinister logic for which the Germans, especially the Nazis, are known -- is completely and thoroughly rewarding.

Frankly, I'd be shocked if Waltz fails to capture an Oscar for his performance in this film.

Overall, from the first frame to the appearance of the final credits, this is a meticulously-crafted ode to World War II films in general (although The Dirty Dozen is certainly at the top of that list). However, what I found most entertaining about it was that Tarantino completely side-steps worry vis-a-vis factual accuracy and instead created his own world. The appearance of Hitler, Goebbels, Goering and other members of the Reich's echelon herein is at times silly, if not simply inaccurate, but by the film's conclusion it is clear that the liberties Tarantino took with respect to history are done not out of laziness but sheer entertainment. At some point during the film -- probably less than twenty minutes in -- you're made to understand facts are secondary here, and the only real notion to which Tarantino follows is his adherence to the art of cinema and entertainment. There are two -- among at least a dozen -- scenes (whipped cream and strudel, and Laurent's red lipstick, dress, etc.) -- where Tarantino's camera dotes on his subject in an almost imperceptible way, except the perception of his focus reminds us that facts and dates and history is secondary, and the only real exposited significance from this film, as per usual, is not the destination itself but the journey thereto.

The only real criticism of this film, if any applies, is its overwhelming length. At 153 minutes, it feels heavy. However, especially given that the bulk of modern films barely clock in at 90 minutes, I came to the conclusion that this film is much like a special meal for a holiday or an event as much as most meals are disposable, forgettable and merely performed out of nutritional requirement. This film is a celebration of film, character study, plot and the interspersion of genres, themes and even the music in film (Sergio Leone-spaghetti westerns are invoked in this film's sonic landscape). And in his deliberate misuse of terms and spelling and historical accuracy, I think Tarantino specifically went out of his way to demonstrate the only real requirement a film should fulfill is to be entertaining. This particular film, with its many transgressions in terms of factual errors/mistakes, musical overlapping, and -- in many cases -- downright silliness, is nothing if not entertaining. To wit, the film's title is even misspelled -- intentionally -- and yet the film is engaging, completely memorable, and perhaps Tarantino's best. So whether that suggests it's a great film or not; or whether Tarantino fully worships the world of film or is thumbing his nose at those whose overaching attention to detail precludes said films from actually being worthwhile of viewing, is debatable. Somehow, I think "Nation's Pride" won't be much of a worthwhile viewing, but this film, for sure, is not only a worthwhile film, but will be one that generations will be viewing and studying for years to come.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Black and White and Red and Blue and Black and Blue

When Obama was elected there was a huge sense of accomplishment throughout this country, not because his victory represented some much-needed change in the country's current political and economic climate, but because of the fall of a notable, long-standing racial barrier.

Many talk-show puppets, newspaper and magazine article heralded the election of a black man to the nation's highest office, and frankly, while I understood this sense of national accomplishment -- or simply our ability to, finally, get rid of a stigma on our racial potential as a nation -- my feeling was that the country acted properly by choosing Obama. I wasn't and I'm not a huge proponent of his, but in contrast, McCain was by far the wrong man for the job that Obama faced this past January.

Whether or not his policies will be successful long-term can't be answered now, but frankly, I'm not unhappy that he won the election. For me, the essential truth is that whether he was black or white or blue is irrelevant; I believed and continue to believe he's making far more progress than any concerns I may have vis-a-vis the US-Israel relationship as well as those relating to our long-term military and economic conventions.

In either case, while we may celebrate as a nation the fact that he was our first black President, or that we as a nation, largely speaking, made the right choice, is secondary. Of paramount importance was that the belief -- or hope -- that his election would make great strides towards removing or eliminating racial barriers might be short-lived, as evidenced by this story.

It's only been seven months -- to the day -- of his election, so perhaps we can't expect very much yet. But at the same time, people who have hate in their hearts -- whether for Obama or for other minorities or for anyone unlike them -- will either learn to shed themselves of that hate or they will be consumed by it. The above-linked story, of course, is absolutely repulsive; and what I think the suspects mentioned therein have yet to realize -- and will probably never gain the ability to do so -- is their actions, truly, are an embarrassment to the country and to humans in general.

I hope one day these types of incidents are a thing of the past, but I doubt any of us -- myself, anyone reading this, or our grandchildren -- will be alive to celebrate that day.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The San Francisco Treat

If you are a sarcastic, jaded, observant and diligent New Yorker like me, you'll probably hear yourself, at one time during your lifetime -- if not more often -- announcing to the world that you could never consider living anywhere else than The Big Apple.

Well, that's not exactly true; anyone who calls New York The Big Apple is most assuredly not from here.

But otherwise, it's the kind of place that locks you into its gravitational pull and holds you down and thrills you in oh so many ways.

And yet, a good chunk of New Yorkers manage to see the world beyond the five boroughs and find themselves enchanted with places near and far. Some are partial to Mexico, others enjoy the various burghs throughout the state of Florida, and many recall their time in Europe with fondness.

No one ever seems to feel this way about Pittsburgh, incidentally, but that's a non-issue.

However, I have yet to come across anyone with anything negative to say about my second-favorite city, San Francisco. And as last night's No Reservations (Tony Bourdain) subtly suggested, there is absolutely nothing about San Francisco that should or could ever be changed or replaced.

Without divulging details that are better absorbed first- or, more accurately, second-hand, I obviously have a penchant and a bias towards this incredible city of small neighborhoods and large views, of healthy organic living coupled with sin and beef-on-a-stick dressed-down culinary fare. The fact that this is Kaia's domain -- and, no matter how long she lives in New York, always will be -- is pretty much a capper on why I love it there.

I've spent far too little time in the City proper. As Tony Bourdain demonstrated, it really is a city of contradictions. Inasmuch as the city can be regarded as a granola-friendly enclave for organic, healthy living, there is as much alcohol flowing through the patrons of the myriad bars and restaurants as there is in New York, except it -- seemingly -- is done in a more creative way. That same notion applies to the food of San Francisco. New York has nothing to apologize for to any other city, but if it had a slighter younger, chip-on-its-shoulder sibling, it would be San Francisco. The food in and around the city is among the best -- and worst (in a good way) -- there is in this country, and perhaps, in this world. My experience is limited, unfortunately, but based on what I saw last night, I'm reminded that it's been far too long since I last set down at SFO to spend some time with my other half in my other city.

Without belaboring the obvious, I think the whole essence of why San Francisco is as much a contradiction as New York is evident in the various neighborhoods which comprise the city. There is Pacific Heights and there is the Mission. In New York, we have the Upper East Side and we have the South Bronx. We -- like San Francisco -- have highs and lows, the middle and the extremes, and while San Francisco's weather remains relatively even-keeled and in balance, ours fluctuates wildly. And in case you haven't heard, their geologic patterns lend themselves to occasional fluctuation from time to time.

In either case, I'm not sure how one becomes homesick for a place in which he has spent far too little time, but between last night's show and what's waiting on the other end of a six-hour run on a commercial jet, that's where I'm at.

Although I could use a little Izzy's or perhaps a visit to The House of Prime Rib, I suppose I'll settle -- happily -- for some time with my other half and admonish myself for suggesting that anything else even be included in the same sentence or with the same regard.

In either case, I would be remiss if I, like Tony, failed to convince anyone coming across this to consider a trip west and a few days in a completely compelling reason to overcome one's fear of air travel, the economic obstacles for traveling, and, most importantly, seeing the world through a kaleidoscope of lenses rather than just one or two basic colors.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Morning Has Broken

Invariably, I try not complaining but it really does me no good -- it stands to reason that the better the weekend, the worse it will be come Monday morning, and this week's example appears as if it will meet or exceed that semi-self-fulfilling prophecy.

First, the weekend began on a high note: I headed over to the West Side to hang with friends at Make, that pottery place where you pick out and paint your own pottery. Between the fact that there is good wine, good tunes, good people and an endless array of a la carte dining and creative options, it was a blast, and it was good seeing both Dave and his brother, Matt, to whom I owe mediocre sushi.

I finished at Make -- the project is a frame for my grandmother -- and actually spoke to a friend on the way home who mentioned he'd be in the City early Saturday and asked if I wanted to meet him for a skate. So we made plans for the next morning, I got up and out relatively early -- 11AM without a hangover on a weekend is par for the course -- and did a bit of skating before coming back to Casa de Boogie and celebrating the difference between animals and humans. No, not opposable thumbs -- air conditioning.

Saturday night was a friend's belated birthday get-together, a small gathering of friends at the Boat Basin Cafe on West 79th. I'd been there years ago and actually forgot about it, as it's as close to the Hudson as one can be without actually being in the Hudson. Despite the fact that it was remote and far out of the way, it was easy getting there and we wound up staying 'til the late hours of the morning, around 1-ish, if memory serves me correctly. Aside from the problem I had with what might have been bad-ish tuna, everything was a blast and it was great seeing some old friends whom I hadn't seen in awhile, reminiscing about others, discussing the world's most irritating words and/or expressions, and, of course, meeting new people. And the fact that we got a chance to see a couple rats kicking it old-skool-style down by the water reminded me that, especially in summer, late-night weekends is the best time to do your best rat-spotting, if that's your sort of thing. Hence the reason why so many people escape the City on the weekends and make their way to the Hamptons, Fire Island, or Yankee Stadium...which leads me to my next point...

The Yankees managed a pretty impressive four-game sweep of the Red Sox this past weekend. Not only did they play good baseball, they outpaced the Red Sox in every aspect of the game: pitching, defense, hitting, baserunning and -- most importantly -- victories. Several friends are Red Sox fans -- I know, what the hell am I thinking, associating with Red Sox fans -- and have mercilessly given me shit regarding the fact that Boston has been the better team over the past few years. Not only did the Red Sox win their first 8 games this season against the Yankees, but they've managed to win a couple World Series since the Yankees last did so in 2000. Between those facts and the new Stadium, I subconsciously wondered whether there was any truth to that "Reverse the Curse" supposition. Unfortunately or otherwise, the Yankees' foul play -- no pun intended -- lent credence to that possibility.

Well, I'm happy to say that this past weekend -- coupled with the recent revelation that David Ortiz admitted to having used performance-enhancing drugs -- remind me that the only way the Red Sox will ever be better than the Yankees is by cheating. The fact is that if Manny Ramirez -- now with the Dodgers -- and David Ortiz hadn't cheated, it's pretty likely that the Red Sox would not have gotten the production from them they did. Red Sox fans are quick to point out that Alex Rodriguez used steroids -- knowingly or otherwise -- but they are much less quick to admit that his steroid use had no positive effect on the Yankees' successes. Many Yankee fans, in fact, are not A-Rod fans -- even after his game 2 heroics Friday night. And they very quickly point out that Roger Clemens was also a steroid user whose involvement with the Yankee World Series could be cause to put a black mark on the Yankees' success from 1996-2000. Personally, I think anyone who compares Roger Clemens to Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, let's remove all three from the equation. Delete Roger Clemens' stats from the Yankees and delete those of Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, and let's see where each team would be.

Thought so. Moving on...

I finished the weekend in grand style: another brief skate down by Carl Schurze Park, some basic quickie errands, some work at home -- thank god for A/C -- and then we wound it all up with True Blood and Entourage, which is always a great way to say goodbye to the weekend and begrudingly accept Monday morning's impending arrival.

And as I indicated earlier, I can't wait for it to be Tuesday, or Friday night, for that matter -- so I can get back to doing it all over again.

I'd wish you a happy Monday, but there ain't no such thang ;-)

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

This Ain't Norman Rockwell's America

I suppose I should admit I am wrong when, in the rare case, I am.

And in this particular case, I have to admit I am wrong. Based on this link, it is clear that there is a family in America that is more fucked up than my ex's.

Read at your own risk.

Incidentally, whether or not my ex's father ever hit on his daughter(s) remains open to speculation, depending on who you talk to and the level of sobriety involved. The only fact that cannot be disputed is he contracted herpes not from a toilet seat, as he claimed, but from a prostitute (in hindsight, certainly, there is not much difference).

Good times, man, good times.


Sunday, August 02, 2009

Two Weeks on Tour

It's been a couple weeks since I first received Blackberry's newest Verizon Wireless model, the 9630 (aka the Tour) and, as per usual, it's a mixed bag but, for the most part, I'm glad I opened this bag.

Before proceeding, it should be noted that the choice of devices for Verizon Wireless users has been somewhat limited in comparison to those offered by its main competitor, AT&T Wireless. The former has, in my judgment, the better network, but AT&T has always offered more phones -- including Apple's iPhone -- and while each carrier's rates have been slowly approaching one another's, AT&T has, for the most part, been a bit cheaper in terms of monthly use/subscription.

However, being that my interest in a mobile carrier has been quality of service, I've been relatively happy to stick with Verizon in the NYC metropolitan area. Since I manage our business contract -- which umbrellas four separate lines, including mine -- if any of us had issues with Verizon's service, I'd hear about it. And since I don't hear about it, I'm assuming that the other three lines on the contract are as trouble-free as is mine.

In either case, beyond the network quality issues, the main focus of this review should be the phone itself. Without further ado...

The phone specifications are fairly sophisticated. As per Verizon's page dedicated to the Tour, the Tour is not only a CDMA device compatible with VZW's domestic network, it also can do quad-band (ie GSM), meaning that it works elsewhere beyond North America. In plain English, it can do Europe, hence the "Tour" moniker.

Beyond that significant fact, there are some other interesting things to be had for the Tour user: it features 256MB in both Flash and RAM, up from the 96 MB Flash and 32 MB RAM featured in the last Verizon Blackberry, the Curve. Speaking of the Curve, the Tour bumps the graphics ante from the Curve's 320x240 pixel screen to 480x360. Even though the screens on these devices are about the same size dimension-wise (about 2.5"), the screen is noticeably sharp and clear.

The Tour is sized much more similarly to the Curve then the newest AT&T Blackberry, the Bold. The two devices, when placed next to one another, look remarkably similar, but the Tour is not as wide and a bit deeper. Essentially, if you've held a Verizon Curve you'll feel right at home with respect to the size of the Tour.

The keyboard is either a regression or a progression -- depending on your perspective -- to the 8800-series Blackberry models (the silver "world phone" from Verizon or the 8800 offered by AT&T). The keys are quasi-sculpted and slanted, so the left side of the keyboard -- everything from the 'T' down and to the left -- slopes slightly leftward and everything from the 'Y' down and to the right slope slightly rightward. This is a distinct change from the smaller keys featured on the Curve, and it will take some getting used to for people who punch out lots of e-mails on their Curve keyboards. The keys have good response -- but not great -- and there will be typos which will decrease as does the user's time with the Tour increases.

As far as battery life is concerned, that -- currently -- is a mixed bag for several reasons. I was using a Seidio enhanced battery in my last phone, the Curve, and noticed an increasingly tangible drop in effective charge. At first I was getting 36 hours between charges, including a 100 or so minutes of daily talk time and lots of e-mail/net usage. That dissipated over the tenure of my use of the Curve. However, the Tour, with its stock RIM battery, is requiring more frequent charging -- in fact I doubt I'll last through an entire, typical day without a minimal charge. Why? First, the Tour's screen is more graphic intensive; second, I've rarely, if ever, had the phone's audible features enabled in favor of vibrating alerts; and third, and most importantly, as is typical with many Blackberry releases from Verizon, the first version always requires some sort of tweaking of the phone's software before the battery life begins settling into a typical pattern. Put another way, I hope that this limited battery life is not typical to what this phone will be delivering. I've enjoyed not having to concern myself with keeping a spare battery in my work bag since I began using a Blackberry and I'm hoping that trend continues.

As for usability, while the iPhone 3G was released to much fanfare and a celebration of Apple's inclusion of "cut" and "paste" into the iPhone's software, Blackberry, as per usual, lets Apple celebrate loudly and just keeps improving their software. To that end, the e-mail aspect of the Tour -- which is the crux of using a Blackberry (and a smartphone in general) -- now includes the ability to view mail in HTML format (ie graphics, pictures, and formatting) as well as the ability to request delivery/read receipts with sent e-mail. This doesn't seem like much of an improvement to people who celebrate finally being able to cut and paste text from one place to another within the applications on their iPhones, but for people who communicate in the business world, HTML-viewable mail (to a degree) and read/delivery receipts (significantly) are important aspects of business communication, which, with all due respect to iPhone users, is where the Blackberry leaves the iPhone behind.

As for entertainment and games, the Tour is packed with a bunch of non-productivity 'ware. There's a half-dozen games included in the shipping model, including Poker, Solitaire, Sudoku and some others, and Slacker Radio also is included with the Tour. A variety of free instant messaging software is also included -- Yahoo, MSN, GoogleTalk, AIM -- as well as the mother of all IM cell applications, Blackberry Messenger.

There's a lot of other useful things packed into the Tour, including a Password Manager, a Maps application, a Media manager (for photos, voice notes, music and video), but the main focus of the Blackberry are the four key applications: the address book, the task/to-do list, the calendar, and the notepad. In addition to these two are, obviously, e-mail and the browser.

There are some interesting tweaks to the e-mail application -- in addition to the above-mentioned read/delivery receipt aspect. It's a bit easier to prep mail with built-in, on the fly spell checking, but as with any device, that can be more of a hindrance than a help. The calendar is a bit better laid out than in the Curve, but it's relatively familiar and effectively simple.

Something which should be noted is the inclusion of a 3.2 megapixel camera which is an improvement over the 2.0 megapixel camera included in the Curve. What's far more significant, however, is that a) the Tour includes image stabilization with the Tour's camera software, and b) there is a version of the Tour that omits the camera entirely. The price of the non-camera Tour is the same as the Tour which includes the camera, so that eliminates the suggestion that RIM wanted to be considerate of its customers by saving them some money off the $200 list price of the Tour. The reason why there is a non-camera model of the Tour is because many Blackberry users -- business users -- find themselves in situations where having a camera-phone is prohibited, so by removing the camera from the device permits them to remain in contact with people without having to surrender their phones at security checkpoints or in addition to the execution of NDA's. Put another way, it's a fairly smart move on their part to show consideration to those business users who resent having to surrender their phones on a regular basis.

As for the design, the fit and finish on the Tour is superior to the Curve's fit and finish. The Tour feels a bit heavier and substantial than the Curve -- in this case the added weight being a good thing -- and it feels solid. The screen and keyboard are bisected by the control panel buttons of send, the command/blackberry button, the control ball (aka the pearl), the back and end buttons. There is some light which peeks through from the sides of these buttons, but everything -- including the light-wheel circling the pearl and the keys -- is evenly and well lit.

One distinct negative which I encountered immediately was the charging/data port, which on the Curve and previous Blackberry models was a mini USB port, has been "upgraded" to a USB micro port. That means that cables for data/charging that worked with prior Blackberry models won't work with the Tour. However, inasmuch as needing a new cable or two is a minor inconvenience at best, the real problem is that the USB micro port is smaller than the mini port on the Curve and, as a result, it takes some effort to insure the cable for data transfer/charging is inserted properly into the Tour's right side. It's not a major problem, but the fact is that over a six-month period of daily charging and semi-regular data transfer/backups, that rough insertion/removal could affect the port and the phone's ability to charge in an adverse way. I don't know why the change from mini to micro was implemented, but I'm not a fan of the decision. The solution is to buy a charging cradle ($30 MSRP, as seen here), which merely requires a drop-in of a "naked" Tour (ie without a case) and the phone's displays immediately shows an analog clock signifying the charging process is in effect. The difference between the cable-wrestling versus the silky-smooth connection once the Tour lands in its cradle is very noticeable. Of course, in order to perform data sync/transfer and/or backups still requires the cable, but this charging solution is far more reasonable in everyday, drop-in/grab-to-go situations.

Overall, being that this phone is designated for use on the Verizon Wireless network and that the newest Blackberry models typically are released for AT&T and T-Mobile (like the newest Curve, the 8520, seen here), the Tour isn't a smartphone that is particularly exciting or incredible. It's not revolutionary, it's evolutionary. It's a solid improvement in every way (save the USB mini-micro port) over its predecessor, the Curve, and I feel it's as good if not a better option than AT&T's Bold.

The next wave, incidentally, of Blackberry models will likely incorporate the above-linked Curve 8520 trackpad, which makes a lot of sense (it will get smudged but it will have far fewer issues than the pearl's propensity for oil and grime to foul up the rollers/sensors). Knowing that there is another, "newer" phone on the horizon may or may not

The House of Boogie Flickr Site

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Who Will Watch The Watchmen?

After what seemed like forever, Zach Snyder took the reins and managed to put The Watchmen on film. And thereafter, after much ado, I managed to score a copy of same on Blu-Ray.

I won't bother going into detail about the significance of the original graphic novel upon its release (nor in its continued longevity) nor the plot highlights nor the story nor any of that; nor will I parrot much of the same tidbits on-screen and online movie critics did with respect to the film version of this story. It's neither relevant nor an efficient use of space.

Having said all that, I was mostly impressed at the scope and the magnitude of the film. It was, more or less, engrossing and entertaining, despite its three-hour run time, and the effects and the fact that it very closely mirrored the novel itself -- in some cases, frame by frame -- really blew me away.

I don't remember the last time I saw a film and was so engaged and locked on for so long. It's not only because this film ran far longer -- almost double -- than most films do these days. It's that the story, coupled with the imagery and the far-reaching aspects of the project as a whole -- really captured and commanded my focus, sort of like watching one of the Godfather films for the first time.

It's the antithesis of a simple retelling of a comic book. But the Watchmen story -- a "graphic novel," if you will -- wasn't just another comic book. It dealt with sophisticated, adult themes: nuclear annihilation, rape, kidnapping, pornography, religion, the slow but steady decline of American society, and geopolitical unrest that genuinely threatened the human race as much, if not moreso, since the Cuban Missile Crisis. And those just top the list of this story's general themes.

The fact that the story is set in or around 1984 isn't particularly relevant, nor is the fact that Richard Nixon remained president (five terms, actually) since his initial term following Kennedy's assassination. Essentially, the film is as strongly tied to the novel as is any film you're likely to see.

Essentially, why it took so long to commit this story to film is that no one could accept the responsibility of projecting the entire breadth of the Watchmen story into a film without sacrificing packets of the story, which were critical to understanding it in its proper, massive scale. I'm not really sure how Zach Snyder, the director, managed to do so, but he shoehorned the entire story -- or the majority thereof -- into the three-hour run time. Some of the story, especially in its filmed form, was a bit ridiculous. But because this film features grown adults running around in costume -- replete with capes, masks, etc. -- the suspension of disbelief is a requirement for this film as much as 3D glasses are for a movie filmed in 3D.

Overall, if at all possible, I recommend viewing this film in Blu-Ray only because 90% of it is shot in partial or complete darkness, much as was The Dark Knight. It's not hard to see what's happening on screen but because Zach Snyder celebrates the details as he does, missing a third or more of same due to a poor source -- even a standard DVD -- will detract from the overall experience. Also advisable is viewing the movie in a proper setting with a system that can handle the dynamics of a film source that features whispers and explosions. This film makes extensive use of CGI (as much if not moreso than did his previous film, 300) but a good chunk of the CGI in this film was an ancillary but valuable part of the film nonetheless. In 300, none of the film was shot outdoors -- the skies and the surroundings were all CGI. In this film, there are endless uses of CGI but they're more in keeping with the Watchmen world (eg a New York seemingly ready to feed on itself in the absence of law, order and sanity).

I was and remain very surprised this film was green-lighted; inasmuch as I did enjoy it I could have predicted it would be a relative failure at the box office. How this could compete for dollars with any generic romantic comedy featuring Kate Hudson, Jennifer Garner, Sandra Bullock or Anne Hathaway is rhetorical; it can't and won't. What it is, however, is an epic portrayal of an epic story that spans decades and features an extremely solid cast (Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson, etc.), revolutionary effects, a solid story, and, overall, will likely stay with you long after you've seen it. However, it's the kind of film that requires a commitment from the viewer, and I would advise anyone who hasn't read the novel to either do so prior to viewing or not bother at all. It's an intense retelling of a story that I really enjoyed, but it's not for everyone and while I'll view this film again, it's not the kind of easily-watchable film that will endear it to many.

But to answer the question "Who Will Watch the Watchmen?" count me in.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Someday, After A While

Despite the glut of repetitive coverage for the quickly-rising number of dead celebrities reported over the past few weeks, with a specific nod to Michael Jackson's shocking death, there's an article memorializing Robert McNamara, who died this morning at the age of 93, and there will likely be nothing further mentioned on this topic by any of the large news outlets, simply because the coming days will see far more Michael Jackson tribute/coverage and real "news."

However, McNamara wasn't a second-rate plug-in political hack like Karl Rove or Dick Cheney or Joe Biden. McNamara was a tough and bright guy who took us from the crusty, artificial sheen of the 1950's into the modern era. Not only did he revolutionize the way the military-industrial complex interacted with its civilian counterparts, he took the entire system into the then-emerging world of computers and organized the US military into something not just mighty but relatively efficient.

And of course there are a couple of other issues with which he had direct involvement: Cuba and Vietnam.

While most relatively alert Americans have a concept of these terms within the scope of their nation's history, far too many regard those two nations as, respectively, a tourist destination of the future (or a good source of spanish-speaking major league baseball pitchers) and an excellent source of knowledge for southeast Asian cuisine.

In the Kennedy Administration, McNamara was tabbed -- from his post as President of Ford Motor Company -- as Secretary of Defense. He shepherded the US through the botched Bay of Pigs invasion and the subsequent fallout and guided the nation's policy on Vietnam -- incorrectly receiving much of the blame the US military wound up receiving.

As to the former, to paraphrase, he suggested it was mere luck that Russia and the US didn't engage in a nuclear war over Cuba, and the latter, he said, was a failed political state during the administrations of both Kennedy and Johnson.

"External military force cannot reconstruct a failed state, and Vietnam, during much of that period, was a failed state politically. We didn't recognize it as such."

Rarely do public figures these days acknowledge their mistakes. Far fewer learn from them.

In retrospect, his death at 93 is certainly anticlimactic, for sure; it's ironic that the man who led Kennedy and the nation through such turbulent times and outlived so many of his peers was relegated to a footnote in the wake of posthumous Michael Jackson coverage.

Incidentally, there won't be a test, but if you have any interest whatsoever in the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy's assassination and extremely good interpretative historical fiction, the James Ellroy novel American Tabloid (2001) is a must-read. It doesn't do much for McNamara's legacy, and he will likely be remembered with increasing respect the further this nation progresses past the haunted legacy of Vietnam. Unfortunately, by relegating his passing as a mere footnote in the wake of Michael Jackson tribute coverage is extremely unfortunate and somewhat disappointing, but, if nothing else, patently American.

As I mentioned above, while the press spews forth multiple orgasms in the form of Michael Jackson coverage, it seems at once simultaneously wrong and disturbingly appropriate that one of the men who guided us here is regarded with so little significance to the modern America to which he contributed as we glorify relatively insignificant entertainers from the country, or the semblance thereof, which has emerged.