Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving and Happiness

I’ve found, by experience for sure and by observation as well, that it doesn’t take much to be happy. When we’re children, an early Saturday morning watching cartoons or a bowl of sugary cereal with the family was all it took to keep me smiling. As I got older, the happiness factor became a lot more…complicated.

But the end-all, be-all of happiness – true happiness – isn’t about an item, a purchase or some intangible acquisition that sates our mercurial, material desires. And without being obtuse, there’s no one thing that any one of us can point to that is “It” – but the hardest thing, I’ve come to realize, about being happy isn’t about the happiness itself but actually figuring out what it is that we want that will instill that intrinsic sense of happiness – satisfaction, accomplishment/achievement, and arrival, all wrapped up in one endorphin rush of happiness.

At this time of year, we all – hopefully – have something for which we’re thankful, something which makes us happy and appreciative. Despite the fact my Aunt is in the hospital recovering from a somewhat serious illness, she’s on the mend and we’ll re-do Thanksgiving as a family in January. I’m certainly thankful for that. I’m also thankful that Kaia will soon be a full-time NYC resident. And I’m thankful my family – near, far, immediate, distant – is doing well and everyone is living and enjoying life now and for the future. I’m also thankful our office relocation went smoothly and largely without incident, that nothing exploded or blew up and the new digs are an improvement on the old.

But inasmuch as I am genuinely pleased over these details, I think the crux of my happiness – as opposed to my gratitude – isn’t any of these items per se but instead that I am thankful, and I have lots for which to be thankful. On some level this is all semantic nonsense for sure, but while one could opine that he was thankful a large animal missed kicking him in the genitalia, being thankful in and of itself isn’t, for me, the reason why I enjoy Thanksgiving as much as I do. Of course the food is a key player in the overall euphoria that many of us cite when we declare our love for this particular holiday. It’s just that, for me at least, what really comes together is that – much like on a Father’s Day or a Mother’s Day or any special day meant to celebrate those we care so much about – I’m happy I have as much as I do for which to be thankful.

We tend to get wrapped up in minutiae of our lives, which seemingly become busier each day and each year – myself included – and part of that minutiae is the pursuit of useless, short-lived crap with which we adorn our lives like clutter in a shrinking room. For that I know I am guilty far more often than I’d care to admit.

But inevitably, while some religions – eg the Jewish New Year – are about seeking others’ forgiveness and giving that same forgiveness to others, what I think is interesting about Thanksgiving is it is a cultural, rather than religious, endeavor whose sole directive is not to forgive or focus on past indiscretions or problems or issues or disappointments but simply on people and things we have in our lives for which we’re appreciative.

While each Thanksgiving invariably offers us the chance to briefly surrender the appreciation of our lives and instead flip the Nissan that just cut us off in traffic the bird, or to chastise Uncle Nathan for breaking wind in the living room with all the guests downwind, the short and long of it – for better or worse – is that it’s a time for us to exercise some restraint and be thankful for what we have rather than focus on that which we don’t.

Best wishes to you and your families for a genuinely happy Thanksgiving and for a happy, healthy year.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Wrong and Right

The name “Tyler Clementi” didn’t mean much to anyone until September 22d, when it was revealed that the Rutgers student, as the result of a prank performed by his roommate and fellow Rutger students Dharun Ravi and Ravi’s friend Molly Wei, committed suicide by jumping off the GW Bridge.

The story has been highly publicized on Facebook and all types of news outlets. Sadly, Clementi’s last communication was via Facebook status update: “jumping off the gw bridge sorry."

Inasmuch as this is a sad, tragic unfolding of events, and this was certainly a despicable act these two imbeciles committed, this more than not was not about technology. This was, essentially, two people treating another person like crap for their own amusement. Whether the victim was gay or asian or jewish or a little person or mentally handicapped, the fact is he was a victim. The two people who decided to play a prank on him most likely didn’t mean for him to kill himself – even if that was the unfortunate result – and at any given time in each of our lives, we have – I am certain – said or done something that has offended or otherwise insulted someone else. Even without malice, it’s more than likely that anyone reading this has – intentionally or otherwise, by commission or omission, done something that has embarrassed or otherwise made another person feel badly. Sometimes these actions aren’t so much intentional as they are not unintentional between “frenemies” – the very fact that term exists suggests that we as individuals sometime do things to “friends” that could be perceived as not particularly friendly behavior.

I am not attempting to minimize what Ravi and Wei did – because it was repulsive and inconsiderate and disgusting. Assuming some basic facts about the situation, one could surmise that Tyler Clementi was a gay man who was not openly so. Apparently his roommate was an immature, idiotic asshole who, rather than respect whatever Clementi’s sexual orientation was, he decided to embarrass him by planting a hidden camera in the room and invade Clementi’s privacy by broadcasting the private goings-on between his roommate and a male friend of his. It sort of reminds me of the end of American Pie where the main character of the film, Jim, opts to secretly broadcast his interlude with Nadia, a girl from class – and it goes horribly wrong (as anyone who has seen the film knows).

I don’t think there was the type of malice that these two idiots believed would inspire the kind of desperation in Clementi that would result in him committing suicide; however, it was obviously something which was particularly inconsiderate, demeaning, invasive, disrespectful and disgusting. And actionable.

While some people acknowledge that it was just a prank that went horribly wrong, others believe this was a hate crime. I’m not sure if it was indeed a hate crime – I think these two morons decided to take advantage of someone and they did. Would they have done so if he was African-American? Asian? Indian? Who knows. Did they know he would be so devastated by what they did that he would commit suicide? Who knows?

What I do know is their actions caused someone’s death. Whether that is murder, a hate crime or simply an unintentional act of manslaughter, I can’t say. What I do believe, however, regardless, is that they both belong in jail and, hopefully, will never forget what their callousness caused. One of their attorneys acknowledged that what they did was awful, but deep down they’re really "good people."

Bullshit, counsellor. Good people don’t poke fun at other people because of who they are. That’s something you either know or don't know. It's not learned – not at college or anywhere else – and if you don’t know better, you never will. Let’s hope they find out first-hand – in prison – what it’s like to be treated like shit by someone else for sport.

Maybe then – maybe – they’ll learn.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The New Year...Again

As Americans, most of us typically take stock of our lives with the passage of each year. That is why the "New Year's Resolution" follows the sins of the triad of holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Eve. Presumably, that is also why the three biggest resolutions people typically attempt -- mostly in futility -- are to lose weight, stop smoking and cut down/stop drinking. It would figure that the three biggest vices excoriated by society are those people celebrate and very soon thereafter attempt to shed ASAP.

However, the Jewish New Year is very different. I've addressed this topic elsewhere among these pages so without revisiting my observations on an annual basis, the dichotomy of the holiday is both celebration and reverence -- to the latter concept, reverence of the fact we have a limited time on Earth and hope that we are inscribed in the book of Life for the coming year, eg we hope we survive to the next new year.

It's at once both a celebration and a somber time for reflection and of hope. I don't speak Hebrew fluently -- I can read it but I can't really translate it, save for a few words. So invariably while I participate in a conservative service, my mind tends to focus on hoping that those I love -- family, friends, etc. -- are around a year from now. I won't fire off the litany of people and things I wish for in the coming year, but all of them revolve around health and happiness and none are about me per se. It's at once selfless and selfish; but for my limited spiritual scope, I believe that I'm optimistic, realistic and genuinely thankful for all that I have in my life: family, friends, Kaia, etc.

However, at the same time, being that 9/11 has fallen in our laps almost simultaneously with the duality of the celebration of the Jewish New Year, there's an added somber tone as well as one that's more clinical and less spiritual.

The tone and the significance of 9/11 should not need any introduction or clarification; however, with respect to the more clinical aspect thereof, I refer to the proposed burning of the Quran by a Florida church on the eve of 9/11.

My first reaction to this planned event, which was announced sometime at least six weeks ago, didn't shock me inasmuch as it made me wonder how someone claiming to be pious thought this would be appropriate. Using the rationale that Muslims -- extreme, radical muslims -- deem it appropriate to burn the US flag and to attack Americans both in foreign lands and on US soil, Pastor Terry Jones felt this was a justified -- and apparently intelligent -- move.

Obviously this decision -- before the entire world pressured the Church to cancel the proposed event -- was foolish in many ways. Most Americans at one time or another have felt rage and anger over the events that transpired on and since 9/11. And while most of us have since understood the difference between those followers of Islam who are genuinely good people as opposed to those "extremists" who have perverted the religion to advocate mass murder and suicide as a means to salvation, it's understandable that some people feel about Islam the way they do.

In tandem with this issue is the "9/11 Mosque" issue, which has similarly polarized the entire nation. While the 9/11 Mosque is actually a cultural and religious center located near Ground Zero and not on the actual site, on some level it too is a bit sensitive, especially for those who lost family on 9/11 and perhaps regard the site with a different, more intense sense of longing and loss than do many of us who didn't lose anything beyond our innocence as a nation.

When I first began reading about the 9/11 Mosque I was, overall, opposed to its creation. I felt that it was beyond insensitive and repugnant building a mosque so close to the location where Islam -- in its most corrupt, perverted form -- killed 3,000 people. However, I've changed my stance on the issue -- not because I feel differently about Islam but because the people who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks were no more Muslim than the people who perpetrated the bombing in Oklahoma City were patriots. Would anyone object to a memorial to the Constitution at the former site of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building?

The proposed burning of the Quran, however, would have mirrored something the perpetrators of the attack would do; in fact, given the same circumstances, they would simply killed any and every person who ascribed to the beliefs contained in that text, rather than simply burning the texts. Carrying out that burning would have marked a dark and repulsive chapter in our history. One terrible, disgusting event on 9/11 is enough.

Put another way, we already have to endure -- based on law and the insanity of some peoples' beliefs -- Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) picketing funerals. We can either come about resolutions with debate and discussion, or we can watch as Americans revile their soldiers and the people who comprise this nation. If we accede to the wishes of those who mean us harm, we can choose the latter path. Personally, however, I am thankful the Quran burning was canceled -- and not due to a proposed relocation of a Mosque or any other number of factors, but simple respect of others beliefs, despite the fact they do not coincide with those of Pastor Jones.

Is it an embarrassment that this event nearly took place? Yes. Is it of consequence that there were riots in several places, including Afghanistan and Pakistan? Yes. Is it a sad reminder that there are people filled with hate not only in those nations but here, in America, on American soil? Yes.

And in a year from now, will these problems magically disappear, especially if I hope for that result among the other new years' hopes/prayers I utter over the next week?

Not likely.

While none of us can predict the past, the one thing that is likely is these problems and issues never will disappear. Beyond that, your guess is as good as mine.

That, and I hope we all enjoy a happy, healthy, prosperous -- and safe -- new year.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

In A New York Minute...

If you've ever stood by helplessly and watch a mechanic, repairman or computer consultant work on a pricey beacon of utility within your daily existence -- a car, an appliance or a Quad-Core PC -- you know all too well the possibly sickening feeling you experience when he/she advises you that the object of his/her attention is in need of replacement, not repair.

However, when that consultant is a doctor and is advising you that the object of his/her attention is a human being -- specifically, someone about whom you care a great deal -- it's far worse. Audi keeps producing cars, GE microwaves are plentiful, and if today's PC goes tits up, tomorrow's Newegg shipment brings replacement parts with UPS efficiency.

However, less than a week ago, we were in the dubious, precarious, repugnant position of being on the receiving end of some incredibly distressing news about my grandmother. Without going into specifics, the prognosis we were given -- by a team of phsyician-assistants at Columbia Presbyterian -- was worse than grim and took an indelible toll on us all.

It was only two or three days later that this prognosis was rescinded and we were advised her condition was neither fatal nor permanent. And being that she's 90, anything unusual or different is, usually, not a good thing.

After the initial shock, sadness and disappointment we experienced as a family, both immediate and extended, elapsed and we were left to face the reality of the fact that she's 90 years old and probably won't be celebrating her 150th birthday on this earth -- at least not vertically -- we resigned ourselves to mortality, both hers and each of ours, and proceeded to ensure her situation was addressed expeditiously.

And when the prognosis was soon thereafter rescinded, I suppose the first thing we each experienced, after relief, was a strong interest in the names of the morons who made the ridiculous, irresponsible decision to suggest her time on this Earth was soon drawing to a close.

In hindsight, after enduring that particular experience, one could harbor anger, resentment and sentiments akin to vengeance.

But the truth is, beyond the relief of knowing she's going to be around for quite some time longer -- perhaps long enough to watch Kaia and I exchange vows, etc. -- I can only focus on the relief part and not the anger. I'm not sure if this confirms I'm a happy person, or that my anger management genus is still functioning, or that I'm a wuss. But overall, after the relief and gratitude and that big talk with The Man Upstairs, I think the main emotion I've experienced as of late is acknowledging our time here -- on this planet, I mean -- is too short to be consumed by anger, resentment and anything other than happiness.

I don't see my overwhelmingly pointed sense of sarcasm waning -- if anything, it gets sharper each year as if its been treated to daily whetstone applications -- but at least it's for laughs and not for the jugular...mostly.

So the next time you and/or a loved one happen to be near or visiting Columbia Presbyterian, bring clown outfits and red foam noses for the physician assistants and a big bag of questions. Inasmuch as these people think they know what they're doing, just remember -- they're playing God, but they're not even remotely accurate in their portrayals.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Tomorrow's Another Day

Invariably, we humans are a curious breed; we never fail to see the optimism of tomorrow. While we rarely manage to address everything in our inexplicably busy lives today, we know with certainty that tomorrow the sun will rise in the East and, given our best intentions, we will accomplish what we've needed to address by the time tomorrow's Sun sets in the West.

Except we don't call into question whether we'll be there to witness both of these daily certainties. Of course we will; why would we even question it?

A friend of mine, Neil Dublinsky, seemed to be that type of realistic optimist. He was always quick with a smile or a good word or support, someone who seemed to get it. I hadn't seen him since September when he'd visited New York, but we'd been friends online for more years than I can remember. We'd met through J-Date, he of the moniker Hip Lawyer Man LA and me of the Boogie Booginacious moniker. We'd worked opposite coasts but we'd both benefited by the fact that we just enjoyed interacting with others and enjoying every minute of every day. Once we finally had a chance to hang out in September of last year, I'm glad to note that he was the same generous, easy-going mensch in person that he had always been in the virtual world.

Going through the myriad minutae of Facebook, I suddenly discovered he passed away this past July 25th. "Neil? No, that can't be." Somehow I just couldn't believe it. It didn't seem to make any sense -- I'd spoken to him somewhat recently and he didn't mention he'd been ill and didn't seem to be off in any way. After some digging I'd confirmed what I was hoping I wouldn't. So many people left their thoughts and prayers and sympathies on his Facebook wall, and further prepared and posted entries about their thoughts on Neal's all-too-brief life. I'm still shocked and saddened by the fact that his is a life that is no more. I want to somehow believe that I'm not in reality and that tomorrow will bring news that this was all part of some alternate reality, one that he and I will laugh about the next time we meet up in NYC, whether at Vynl or somewhere uptown or wherever. We might even commiserate about the passing of Captain Lou Albano, the famed pro-wrestling personality we both admired in the 80's. Or just muse over the intricacies and vagaries of life in general.

Unfortunately, I know this won't be so. Of course my thoughts and prayers and sympathy extend to his family and friends, and I'm sure at some point I'll re-visit his wall and read through the additional comments from his other friends equally saddened by this news as am I. And each time I think of his easy-going smile and seeming happiness in this life, I'll hope that -- wherever he is -- he's happy and at peace and sharing his smile and his genuine good nature and generous spirit with whomever he's with.

Rest in peace, Neal...as much as I'm glad to have known you I'm sad that your time here was so brief. One thing I know for sure -- whether yesterday, today or the tomorrow that is yet to come -- you'll be smiling and so will be whomever you're with.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

It's Been Awhile...I Think

Despite not having visited these pages in something close to five weeks -- for which I apologize -- I've been a busy Boogie. Between work, the weather and weekend entertainment -- which three categories frequently blend together in part or completely -- it's been increasingly difficult to stop by these pages for introspection and extroversion.

However, in a nutshell, what's been happening is significant -- as per usual -- so I'll try and piece together some of the past five weeks in rapid-fire mode so as not to self-induce sleep and to ensure you, the reader, manages to escape these pages unscathed.

First and foremost, work has been intense. The intensity of which I speak isn't a bad thing, mind you -- I like having a lot of balls in the air, so to speak. The problem is it's increasingly like running up a down escalator (or is that running down an up escalator?). It feels, at least after some days, that more was piled on than I was able to address and resolve.

I 'spose that's relatively worrisome, except that there are days -- and even weeks -- that typically feel like that. But I don't worry as I do catch up. The large majority of my clients are pleased or -- at the very least -- know we're doing all we can to keep their interests front and center. Several of our clients are unhappy with things we're doing for them but not with our service per se. Unfortunately, if only it were as easy as snapping my fingers, I'd have happy clients all over the place. Most of our clients aren't unhappy, but they're under pressure and relying on us to help alleviate that pressure. And we do everything we can to do so. The problem is city bureaucracy isn't as cooperative and eager to get things done as are we. Thankfully we're making progress on our most pressing matters and getting things done. And despite the fact we have many happy clients, it's our resolution of the hardest situations that pleases me the most. Put another way, it's not enough to get the little stuff done; it's knocking the most challenging stuff out of the park that is the most rewarding.

Meanwhile, I've been spending weekends trying to catch up with work and avoiding the weather. NYC in July is typically hot; this summer has been well beyond the simple hot and is approaching scorching. There's nothing wrong with a few days over 90 degrees, especially given the fact that the City dresses down on these extraordinarily hot days. However, the problem is when the subway platforms approach 115 and there are homeless guys violating public indecency codes and the waft of urine and garbage coincide with said public indecency; that makes it hard to justify the age-old "I Love New York" jingle. Further, when walking out of the apartment feels as much a chore in this weather as it does in late, frigid February, the same cabin fever sets in. Friends of mine have houses in Fire Island, the Jersey Shore, the Hamptons and elsewhere; but inasmuch as I'd love to escape the City for a weekend, it's just easier staying put, getting stuff done and moving forward...as long as the A/C is cranked, my PC is humming along without feeling like a full-tilt, illuminated space heater and I don't feel the need to get a cold compress as my first order of business for the day.

Technology-wise, I acquired two very nice items which I'm sure will be completely worthless in a year's time but -- for the time being, anyway -- make me almost as happy as my significant other. The first is the Western Digital media player known as WDTV Live +, and the other is the new Motorola Droid X.

The former is a small box that allows one to hook up a hard drive or computer to an audio/video receiver (or a TV) via HDMI, USB and/or network cable. The bottom line, of course, is that with enough cable and know-how, one can connect a hard drive filled with BluRay movies to a home theater system...which I've done. I've amassed about 600 or so DVD's and I've been loathe to reacquire these films on BluRay, so what I've done is sign up for Netflix -- every couple days they send me two of the 500 or so BluRay films I've got in my queue and I fire up the goodies and enjoy. I actually came across a site that allows one to exchange DVDs for BluRays of the same titles (eg send them The Shining DVD and, $5 later, receive a copy of The Shining on BluRay), so I have about 30 or so BluRays. I also managed to get a copy of a favorite of mine on BluRay from Amazon.com.uk called Who Dares Wins. That film is not high-brow or high quality, but it rocks me each time I watch it. It's about the SAS, so if you enjoy spy thrillers with anti-terrorist, military-esque films that kick ass and pull no punches -- and are willing to fire up a Region 2 disc -- have at it. Or give me an hour's notice and bring a six-pack of Blue Moon Ale.

The nice thing about the combination of the WDTV Live + Netflix is that one can get Netflix On Demand streaming movies. That means that anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 Netflix films can be viewed at a moment's notice. The whole enterprise is simple, quick and painless, and for $20 a month, I'm planning on cutting my Time Warner premium channels in half.

And the other benefit of this particular device is being able to stream 1080p (HD) media with instant and immense gratification.

The second item in the two-part list, the Droid X, is a fairly significant acquisition not because of what it is but what it isn't.

I've been using Blackberry phones for five or so years now, and while they are relatively vanilla, boring and unsophisticated except when it comes to rock-solid email delivery, they are all of these things. Seeing a complete dearth of interesting Blackberry models and the increasing capability of Android phones, I finally decided to switch lanes and get one. Enter the Android operating system and the Motorola Droid X.

If you have no familiarity with this device, swing by this page at your earliest convenience. It's a relatively basic look at what this thing does. And without mimicking the campaign advertising this bad boy, the truth is these phone do everything. They handle email well -- but not as well as Blackberry -- and they do everything else as well if not better than the iPhone. I'm only really concerned with email delivery and the ability to access data sites, eg the NYC Department of Buildings (you asked). The Blackberry was woefully underpowered with respect to web access so this alternate path makes lots of sense. But much more importantly, this thing does everything else. It helps you find an address and gives you a 3-d navigation option (turn by turn), whether you're on foot, a bicycle, in a car or even underground. It serves as a book reader -- whether you're a Kindle, Nook or free-form ebook reader -- and can stream iTunes playlists fairly simply. It can find and download recipes, news, sports scores and all kinds of other data -- just like the iPhone -- except it does so quickly and without the shortcomings of a built-in battery or the ineptitude of an underpowered AT&T network. And it does all of this stuff incredibly well.

The downside, of course, is that it offers a large learning curve; however, each day I realize I was foolish to wait as long as I did to jump. If my prediction is right, Blackberry will be relegated to a corporate-only third-bit player in the smartphone market within five years if they don't do something -- quickly. And the fact that Android OS-capable phones have increased sales over the past six months at a staggering 350%, I'd be shocked if they don't overtake the entire market, including that of the iPhone.

Yes, I know the iPhone is landing on Verizon's network in January; yes, I know the iPhone has 750 million different apps, whereas there are only about 100,000 apps for the Android OS. And yes, I know the iPhone is simple. However, the Android is awesome, impresses me each day, and coupled with the software I've installed on mine, is really a solid business tool.

In short: part of not fearing technology is mastering it and using it to your advantage. Not so short: you need to know when to make changes so you're ahead of the curve rather than behind it.

Finally, I've found myself spending more and more time reading World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War -- it's relatively trashy and not going to challenge the reputations of Charles Dickens or Ernest Hemingway or Jackie Collins, but it is solid, well-written, entertaining, engaging, uber-creative and a far better distraction for bus commuting than the typical sounds, odors and sights common in public transportation. As should be obvious, I highly recommend it.

I also recommend "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" -- in both book and film form. I am about to begin reading the book, and the film -- which has a foreign-language (Swedish) soundtrack with English subtitles -- was amazing. It's not an easy viewing -- gritty, intense, and somewhat disturbing -- but it's really memorable and worthwhile. The fact it's being refilmed (in English) means that you should probably see the original version now before the same people who green-lighted "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo" destroy this masterpiece.

More later -- if not sooner -- if you promise to try and stay awake.


Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Smallest World Possible

Each day, whether due to the BP oil leak bleeding pollution into the Gulf, or the news about Israel’s blockade in Gaza, we’re reminded just how small the world has become.

It’s not because we receive news instantly instead of in daily or nightly feeds as was typical 20 or so years ago; and it’s not because emails, text messages and/or multimedia messages allow us to be witnesses to historical events unfolding.

It’s that where we were once isolated throughout the world, everyone is now united by one single, simple catalyst: the Internet. And while the instant appeal of this communication is a great and positive thing, it also serves to demonstrate how we all are world citizens. More importantly, it serves to demonstrate that people with common goals – be they beneficial or pernicious – who were once isolated can now commiserate and stoke the fires of their desires, good or bad.

The new “it” topic – at least for the next week or ten days – will undoubtedly be Israel’s handling of the Turkish flotillas that attempted to violate the Israeli blockade of Gaza. And while that particular incident was not a surprise for many, what will be even less so – and perhaps increasingly disappointing – is that the world will “re-up” and attempt to politically wear down the Israelis to lift their blockade of Gaza.

Another “aid” ship – this time carrying cement, toys, medical supplies and “educational materials” – will attempt to enter Gaza and break the Israeli blockade. And again, Israel has offered to permit the ship carrying these items – an Irish ship named the Rachel Corrie – to dock in Israel so Israel can a) screen the shipment; b) distribute the items; and c) protect itself from the mass influx of weapons and explosives smuggled through legitimate sources like “humanitarian missions” such as this one. The “Free Gaza Movement” organization is very vocal as they should be; there are issues in Gaza that need to be seen and examined. But the vocal aspect of their participation is to criticize Israel for its blockade, not to criticize the extremists who use these types of shipments to bring in weapons and other materials contrary to peace. Israel’s blockade isn’t intended to deny human rights to anyone, including her neighbors; if it were, then one would wonder why they would request any ship carrying aid materials dock in their port so they can handle the expense and responsibility of distributing this material.

Put another way, if the Israelis were the monsters most ignorant observers loudly proclaim they are, why would they offer to help in the distribution process?

And while we’re on the subject of asking very simple questions whose answers seem to elude the people striving for “Free Gaza,” if the Israeli blockade intended to injure the “peace activists” on those Turkish flotillas, why did the Israeli commandos who raided those ships do so carrying paint-ball guns rather than typical commando fare with live ammunition? Why didn’t they a) just fire on each ship from far enough away to avoid putting their commandos in danger? Obviously, they have demonstrated they – rightfully – are more interested in the survival of Israel than what people beyond her borders thinks. And why were “peaceful activists” armed on these vessels? And further, why did these “peaceful activists” attack the commandos? Please correct me if I’m mistaken, but as a peaceful person, if I’m a passenger on a ship en route to Gaza and commandos storm the boat on which I’m sailing, my first reaction would be to get my head down and avoid pissing them off. In fact, knowing the Israelis don’t mess around with their military, I’d be inclined to hide; my last inclination would be to attack them.

And the world is shocked that “peaceful activists” were injured or killed by a venomous group of Israeli commandos looking for blood?

Ridiculous at best; and complete bullshit at worst.

Not a shock, as per usual.

There’s a moral I learned as a child which I practice to this day: the moral is “don’t poke the sleeping bear.” Other ways of communicating this same concept is “let sleeping dogs lie,” and yet another is “don’t ripple the water.” These three phrases mean one and the same thing: don’t go looking for trouble. These Turkish ships – violating an Israeli blockade – opted to ignore Israel’s willingness to help with the humanitarian aid bound for Gaza. Israel’s blockade – unjustified to those who have nothing but disdain for Israel’s existence – is not illegal nor is it designed to mistreat its neighbors. Its goal is to limit and prevent the mass shipments of weapons – machine guns, missiles, explosives, and bomb materials – into the region. Ironic how “peaceful activists” not only attacked Israeli commandos, but fail to comprehend the rationale behind the blockade.

Even more ironic is that – since 1940 – these people who use “peace” as a war cry still haven’t learned not to poke the bear.

And frankly, only one thing is certain: they never will.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Holiday of Thanks

Being that it's May -- and not November -- some of you might be puzzled as to why I'd be going there now so far in advance of The Official Day of Thanks, aka Thanksgiving. I can run it down for you in several boring, bloated paragraphs, but I can sum it up nicely by observing as follows: I am thankful for days -- and weekends -- like these, and I take every opportunity to take a step back and say so when/if applicable.

Back to the bloat.

This weekend was different and special in a multitude of ways. First, our typical Friday night hang at Little Shop of Crafty Bastages -- at 94th and Amsterdam -- was spontaneously and suddenly canceled. Several sub-groups within the group had shit happening, and while I was ready -- post-PC office upgrade -- to make my way uptown, most everyone decided to bail, so we all opted to go our separate ways. So my substitution was an especially exciting one -- finish remote upgrade of the PC, do some additional office work at home, and fall asleep at the computer.


Saturday was a half-free day; the morning was more work, organization and some basic planning, and the afternoon was heading to Astoria to a wine bar to celebrate Kelcey & Keith's wedding shower. Food was called pot-luck optional, so I -- like several other party attendees -- whipped up a garden veggie/spinach/tomato dip and scored two bags each of yellow and blue organic corn tortilla chips. Judging by the fact that I either made way too much or people didn't dig on it -- or a combination thereof -- I got to bring some home later and enjoy my handiwork.

But more importantly, the party was a load of fun -- the entire group was mellow and the location was awesome (props to Dallas, the party planner) and it was a load of fun and really wonderful celebrating with the soon-to-be wed couple.

I got home late and made cookies in preparation for my visit to see my grandmother and the family for Sunday's Mother Day celebration, which was also a lot of fun. We don't get together often, but when we do -- and I join, schedule-permitting -- it's always great. Today was no exception. I feel badly for people who have little or no family, and even moreso for people who don't have the opportunity to kick back with some regularity with their near/far family. Today was a lot of fun, and since my mom's having surgery this week -- and the 18th is my grandmother's 90th birthday -- being thankful for these kinds of days/weekends is appropriate. Put another way, not every day is awesome -- so when I have two or three of those days -- consecutively -- I don't miss a chance to be thankful.

We're all entitled to complain -- but I try to go 2-to-1 on the complain vs. appreciation ration. And today -- and this entire weekend -- definitely skewed that ratio -- in the right direction.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Screen Goes Dark

As our days become increasingly full and our responsibilities grow -- both to ourselves and to others -- we find, with greater frequency, that some things are more important than others, and those things which we once deemed of the highest importance become less so. As we get older -- whether it's attending junior high school or college or a first job or a new job or the birth of a child or the death of a grandparent or a parent -- we are prone to realize things aren't in black and white but in gray, and increasingly things that are important are not nearly as easily-cateogirzed as they once were.

The only absolutes in our daily existence which -- unfortunately -- will never change are the man-made constructs and the stark reality of life and death.

I came across a story on CNN.com of a 25-year old woman, Eva Markvoort, who was afflicted with cystic fibrosis. It touched me on several levels; first, because the article was posthumous. Second, it was about how terminally-ill people are using the internet to reach out to others -- both people with the same affliction(s) and those who might benefit from the knowledge the terminal patient may impart; and, finally, I had a friend who lost her battle with cystic fibrosis at a young age (typical for CF victims).

On a purely clinical level, it's interesting observing this trend within the setting of our ever-evolving existence of increased virtual social interaction and our ever-increasing isolation from non-virtual contact. Put another way, it's interesting that our lives are not only becoming less and less about actual physical
interaction but increasingly so are our deaths. We can access a literally infinite number of humans without leaving our desk chairs; and we no longer have to visit a cancer ward to see terminally ill children, adults and geriatrics from any and all walks of life.

I'm not mourning or lamenting this fact; I'm not sure if this is a good thing, a bad thing, or even how I should feel about this aspect of Eva Markvoort's story as an example of this phenomenon.

I do think it's a good thing -- within a limited scope -- that people can search online for others' experiences facing terminal illness. As a child, hearing that someone died of a heart attack or cancer or something medical (ie not via a car accident or pulling a bank heist) inspires fear of these things. However, as we get older and we learn more -- about these various medical calamities -- they become less frightening or more things with which we can either cope or at least face. In some cases, we can even defeat them.

But facing these foes head-on -- whether with or without fear -- is probably more necessary than anything else, aside from medical care and self-responsibility.

I'm not sure, again, how this newly-minted type of quasi-interaction will affect us in the future; is there really any difference between handwritten journals chronicling the end of one's life and those composed via keyboard? Whether these memoirs are on paper or on a backlit screen? And whether these journals are kept along with the other miscellaneous crap one accumulates over the course of a life and a death, in a box or a container in someone's attic, or somewhere in a blog database, searchable with keywords like metastic tumor, malignant and/or inoperable?

Regardless of my opinion on this -- if, quite frankly, I had one -- I think that part of the key to life is one's death. Dignity, above all other things, should be maintained for anyone who, essentially, sees their time on this Earth dwindling. It should be noted that while we all -- consciously and otherwise -- know not only that today could be our last day on Earth, and each day we live brings us one day closer to death. However, those whose ends are near and in close proximity can and should do whatever they feel brings them the appropriate closure. I am an optimist and while I hope I never have to contemplate these concepts for myself personally, reviewing this story forced me to do so on a personal level, which is relatively uncomfortable. It's sort of like visiting an organization that sells cemetery plots and headstones; these are not experiences we enjoy but those we must, at some point in our lives, do.

Finally, back to Eva Markvoort's story and her contribution: Whether or not we improve our ability for curing cystic fibrosis or another terminal illness is not the only factor here. Her story, on some level, is our story; absorbing her personal experience makes her life that much more important, and especially for those of us who didn't know her personally, it allows her voice to remain alive and to help those of us who need that help, whether it's for personal illness or for past experience.

Put another way, I can't bring myself to delete the names from my contact list of those people who have passed away. There are not many of them, I'm pleased to admit, but every time I come across their names -- in the list, or in archived email -- it reminds me of them and, even for a second or two, forces me to pause reflect about my memories of them and their experiences.

And, most importantly, allows me to remember them as people and not just names and pixels on a backlit screen on a soon-to-be relocated page.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Day To Remember - 4/11/10

The irony of the plane crash that claimed the lives of over 100 people, including Polish President Lech Kaczynski and several other high-ranking Polish officials, is that it happened so close to this particular day, which in Hebrew is known as Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Directly or otherwise, every Jewish person on the planet lost someone during the Holocaust. It's particularly unavoidable knowing that 6,000,000 Jews -- as well as millions of non-Jews -- were exterminated due one individual's distrust, paranoia and twisted, grotesque vision of the world. And yet I am sure there are Jews out there -- perhaps even reading this -- whose attitude regarding this day equates to "What's the difference?"

I'm not answering the Four Questions in this space or anywhere else; but given the political situation the world is in these days -- an administration in Washington, DC, that seems headed towards forsaking -- or at least altering -- the relationship this nation has continually held with the state of Israel; the nuclear ambitions of rogue nation-states like Iran and North Korea; the nuclear -- and mass-scale -- ambitions of radical Islam, evidenced by Al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas; and the general apathy exhibited by many people in this nation, both Jewish and non-Jewish -- is particular disconcerting.

The other night I had a discussion with friends about whether interrogation torture -- as employed by the CIA -- should have a place in our legit tactics. We debated -- for some time -- whether torture should be practiced or forbidden (waterboarding, psychological torture, etc.). There were six in our group and I believe I was the only one who supported the use of torture tactics in policy if the end result was the saving of lives (American or otherwise). The rest of the group was morally repulsed by the notion that torture ever had a place in our obtaining of intelligence and felt these tactics should be banned.

The reason why I bring this up -- although it didn't occur to me at the time -- was that in this modern era of gray (as opposed to black and white), how can we ensure that another Holocaust, of people or of an entire nation, not repeat itself? How can we not compare Hitler and Osama bin Laden? Despite the fact their goals are, largely, the same, what's the difference if one uses concentration camps and another hopes to somehow obtain a nuclear weapon and kill millions in one huge blast rather than over a ten-year period? Vis-a-vis torture, if we have a method which -- as repulsive as it is -- can save lives, shouldn't we explore and endeavor to use those methods which can help us accomplish this task?

Or should we aspire to a noble, proper cause, much akin to English policemen ("bobbies") walking around the streets of London unarmed?

Inasmuch as the world today is a far more disturbing place than it was prior to 1939, it seems to me that while I agree that torture is a repulsive tactic, I think we must meet the challenges we face to ensure another Holocaust -- of Jews, or anyone else -- never occurs. Prior to 1939, the US distaste for war precluded us from involvement in World War II, deeming it repulsive -- much like many today feel about torture -- yet had the US gotten involved before 1939 (without the prodding from Japan but of our own volition and on our own terms) perhaps the death of 6,000,000 would be far less, if not happened at all.

My point is not to accuse or admonish or condescend; however, whether it's war, torture or a medical tactic -- such as chemotherapy -- once we acknowledge there is a repulsive threat, we need to be willing -- and act -- to repel said repulsive threat, and be willing to do so with whatever means necessary, even if some of same are almost as -- if not moreso -- morally repugnant as the threat we face.

Never again.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Freedom of Freedom

Despite the fact Iran is speeding towards acquiring nuclear weapons and is sharing training and methodology regarding IED (roadside bombs) with their Muslim Taliban brethren, the real problem isn't found outside these four walls, but from within. To quote the Tommy Lee Jones/Will Smith film Men In Black:

"A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow."

This week, a judge in Mississippi ruled that an 18-year-old lesbian, Constance McMillen, can not only attend her high school prom with her girlfriend but she can wear a tuxedo if she so chooses. However, he also upheld the school's decision to cancel the event entirely.

If you hadn't heard about this particular case, Ms. McMillen indicated she would be taking her girlfriend to the prom and intended to wear a tuxedo to the event. Subsequently, her school advised her she would be barred from bringing a same-sex date and would be removed or denied access if she wore a tuxedo. The ACLU intervened and sued the school, who subsequently canceled the event.

In his opinion, U.S. District Judge Glen H. Davidson held that the school district had violated Ms. McMillen's rights by prohibiting her from bringing a same-sex date as well as wearing a tuxedo, and cited the fact that she has been openly gay since she was in the eighth grade and her attendance with her girlfriend, and the type of attire she had chosen to wear, was a statement on her part. Hence the school violated her rights.

My initial response to this first component of the decision was what had happened if she was not openly gay or bi and had dated men for years but suddenly decided to bring a female date to the prom? And further, what would have happened if she was straight but decided to wear a tuxedo and bring a male date who decided to wear a dress?

The second component to the decision is somewhat misleading and disheartening as well. The judge did not demand the school sponsor a prom because, apparently, a group of parents decided to plan a private off-school event -- called a ball -- and hold same elsewhere on the same night as the intended prom. The question as to whether Ms. McMillen is allowed to attend this event -- with her date, and her choice of attire -- remains to be seen.

So despite the fact that Ms. McMillen -- courageously, I might add -- stood her ground, the end result is she'll likely be insulted and blamed -- both locally and from afar -- for being the cause of this situation when it's the school, the community and -- frankly -- some backwards-ass country fucks -- that have created this firestorm in the first place.

This case, and the bigotry behind it, is unfortunate but not surprising. I commend Ms. McMillen for standing her ground, especially in the face of the abusive response one can only assume she'll receive. One need look no further than the pathetic, repulsive comments in response to the article posted earlier herein.

This reminds me of a case from the last 18 months wherein an interracial couple was refused a license of marriage, and similarly demonstrates -- to me -- the religious zealotry and fervor with which some people fight abortion rights. To me, whether one is opposed to the marriage of interracial couples, abortion, gay rights or anything else which opposed their own views, fervent opposition is less an appropriate response and more a revelation of fear, bigotry, ignorance and naivete. I understand people -- "dumb, panicky dangerous animals" -- want to keep a handle on their world and retain the values with which they grew up; I understand wanting to keep your world the same as it was when your parents grew up. However, the world changes and the people that fail to change along with it are not going to win their battle with entropy, change or progress; they're going to be regarded as outcasts, bigots and angry. So be it.

This debate, incidentally, touches on the larger issue of gay marriage, which has increasingly been brought to the forefront since the Bush Administration was in existence. Personally, I'm opposed to the actual term "gay marriage" only because of semantic reasons. A marriage, by definition, is a civil union of a man and a woman. I fully support a same-sex civil union which grants each member of said union the same benefits as a married couple; I just would refer to same as a marriage. But whether it's 2010 or 1910, people should not be precluded from being happy, nor should they be prohibited from spending their lives with whom -- and in whichever manner -- they wish. What is unfortunate, to me anyway, is not that we as people are so resistant to change -- we all are, on some level, for various -- and not all bad -- reasons. What bothers me most is that as Americans, we have ingratiated ourselves with the notion that we should express our opinions because we have the right to do so, but we seem to have forgotten the fact that once we have expressed our opinions, we should expend as much if not more energy on actually moving forward, whether our opinion is accepted or not. Alexander Hamilton, in The Federalist Papers, described the notion of factions and how different opinions and beliefs would naturally pit one view against another -- in both governmental issues and beyond same -- and yet, his view wasn't that we should intensively, infinitely labor on these differences, but come to some sort of understanding or acceptance and move forward.

It seems we have only mastered that first part -- the extreme arguing, bile and insulting -- and skipped over that second part, the art of compromise and accepting, rather than alienating -- our neighbor. Whether it's gay rights, abortion, race, or anything else that seems to bring out the worst in us as a nation, I don't quite understand why we haven't mastered the art of jointly expressing our opinion and our respect for others' opinions. Saying "I don't agree with what you are doing, and I don't feel it is right for me, but to each his or her own" has been replaced with "My opinion is right, yours is wrong, and I will fight to the death before I see your opinion win out over mine."

Voltaire once wrote "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." We've gotten so busy disagreeing, preaching, protesting and denigrating others' beliefs that we've forgotten another equally important American tenet -- individual freedom.

To me, that is both unfortunate and sad, and perhaps a unique American perspective, one I hope changes some time in the future, if not in my lifetime.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Busy Month

Invariably, in life, one reaches a point where his birthday is relatively insignificant and it represents yet another day in an otherwise busy schedule and the struggle to make it out of bed.

I'm happy to announce I'm not quite at that point yet.

It all began last Saturday, March 13th. I had been informally planning a night out with a bunch of friends knowing Kaia would be in town, but I hadn't really planned much of anything out. Typically, when we plan as a group, things come together quickly and efficiently and everything works out because we're all of a similar mind: pick a place, a time, and have fun.

However, being that Kaia was in town and there was a lot of ancillary stuff happening, the night never got fully fleshed out. Friends of mine from out of town were going to be visiting NYC -- with their mom -- and I wanted to be sure I saw them as well. However, because of the way everything was progressing plans-wise, I wasn't exactly sure when we'd get down to the bar where they were going to be celebrating with friends.

Needless to say, Saturday came and the weather was monsoon-like. So instead of vigorously planning the night out, Kaia and I decided to wing it -- and since a friend of ours, Matt, spent time with us that afternoon, we figured we would make some plans for dinner -- which we did -- and opted to visit Dinosaur BBQ, at 131st and 12th.

Kaia and I had been planning to visit Dinosaur for a year or two; between that and some friends of ours telling us to run, not walk, to Dino ASAP, we decided we three would head uptown. Never mind the weather was terrible, and that every sane person on the entire island of Manhattan canceled his/her plans and opted for delivery and a movie.

We went uptown and when we arrived -- in the monsoon -- at Dino, I looked through the crowd and saw a dozen friends hiding -- SURPRISE -- amid the masses of people awaiting Dino's tasty eats. The details of the surprise came out after, how Kaia engaged the entire group via e-mail and everyone finally agreed to venture out to Dino, etc. etc. etc.

We spent the next few hours kicking back, celebrating my birthday, and overall having a lot of fun.

I didn't really expect much of anything, between the fact my birthday landed during the week and I don't do much exciting any given year; however, it was a blast having everyone assembled, despite the weather -- amazingly, everyone made it -- and I genuinely was touched by the fact that the surprise was really a nice way to pre-celebrate.

On my actual birthday, we went out to Balthazar -- one of our usual hangs -- I had way too much to drink before and during dinner -- and went to bed happy, hazy and relaxed.

All in all, as I get older, I might not get wiser, but I do learn -- and in this case, I can happily admit I appreciate my significant other, my friends and increasingly realize that spending time with good friends enjoying good food, booze and good times is far more worthwhile than anything wrapped up with a shiny bow (although they're mighty awesome as well).

Thanks to all who celebrated or otherwise acknowledged my birthday, and I hope everyone enjoyed the day near and far.

Thanks to some good friends -- and, of course, Kaia -- another year's passing isn't something to mourn but to celebrate, and leaves me looking forward to the year ahead and to March 17, 2011.

Thanks again...


Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Literary Road-Block Continues

Every time I absorb something new -- a book, a movie, a short story or a play -- it affects the creative process. This isn't particularly news-worthy or unique; most creative people -- or so I'd imagine -- incorporate their respective environments in varying degrees into their creative output. I think the best example of this phenomenon is that of graffiti artists; most members of this unofficial collective, I'd wager, are from urban areas. Conversely, I doubt many graffiti artists have spent their entire lives in rural parts of Iowa, Idaho and Indiana; not that there's anything wrong with any of those places; however, one is far more likely to see graffiti living in a congested area like NYC than in the rural Midwest, and exposure to something begets its influence, and so on, and so forth, etc.

In any case, I'm still in the process of writing It -- the story. The last time I had the urge to fill a shitload of pages with one collective literary bowel movement was sometime in the late 90's, and while I believe I had something, what I wound up having was victimized by timing. I was writing a story involving an anti-hero facing an international terrorist -- the latter's name was to be the name of the novel -- and part of the story involved terrorists blowing up the George Washington Bridge, among other things.

And then 9/11 happened, and fiction and reality -- sort of -- collided pretty intensely, both literally and figuratively. And I stopped writing -- fiction, anyway -- for awhile.

I began writing again a few years ago, and have since amassed what I believe is a pretty solid skeleton of a story. There are a half-dozen different aspects to the story, all of which culminate in a coming together in what I believe is something worthy of my time, although whether it's worthy of others' time remains to be seen. Interestingly, the real kick in the ass this time around isn't fleshing out the characters or constructing the interactions but coming up with appropriate names for characters. For anyone who doubts the significance of characters' names in political thrillers, consider a CIA operative who kicks ass and who can navigate a 256-bit-encrypted arms dealer's notebook PC -- in Arabic -- and who answers to the name of Orville Redenbacher.

As indicated, it's all relative.

There are other aspects of the project that are giving me fits -- how certain key plot points come together are still a mystery to me, and while some people can fabricate a novel by using an outline, more often than not I don't know what's going to happen from one chapter to the next until I actually take the time to map it out, paragraph by paragraph. I suppose I should be jealous of someone who can envision the entire sequence of a novel in his or her noggin; for me, however, the writing is almost as entertaining -- albeit inestimably fare more infuriating -- than just reading a good story.

In any event, my problem now -- far more significant than the naming issue -- is those few key plot points that still have yet to be connected and/or worked out. Every so often things come to me -- when I'm half in or out of sleep, in the shower, watching an episode of The Inbetweeners (on BBC America -- highly recommended, by the way) or even when I'm on a 4 train headed up- or downtown.

The bottom line, unfortunately, is these connected points rarely -- if ever -- seem to come to me when I can actually implement them -- or, far worse -- remember them.

So I suppose I'll continue to let the cursor blink at me among pre-fab text and worry less about what it is I'm going to say and more about when it is I'm actually going to commit to saying it.

Put another way -- in the words of Stephen King, in the forward to "Night Shift" -- a writer writes. In my particular case, I'll keep doing whatever it is I'm doing in lieu thereof.

For now, anyway.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Getting It Right

When in the course of human events, a machine of such magnitude like the film "Avatar" -- a bloated, boring techno-fest of blue things running around a screen -- can steamroll its way to Oscar favoritude is sort of irritating.

However, every so often the Academy gets it right. Like they did tonight.

It's irrelevant -- to me, anyway -- that Kathryn Bigelow is the first female to win an Oscar for Best Direction. It's irrelevant that this evening could have seen an African-American win an Oscar for Best Direction for the first time.

They managed to get it right.

I didn't see all 50 films nominated for Best Picture (actually, there were only ten but it's just a matter of time before 50 wind up on the list); however, I did see Avatar (most of it, although I managed to get in some useful rest during the 2.5 hour film as well) and I saw The Hurt Locker, the latter at home on BluRay.

The Hurt Locker was and remains -- and will remain -- a memorable, powerful, intense film that will serve as a reminder of what war in the 21st Century really is: dangerous, intense, numbing, powerful and incredibly frightening. There have been incredibly portrayed films depicting war -- Platoon and Saving Private Ryan are but two of the better ones -- but The Hurt Locker grabs you by the balls and doesn't let you go until well after the credits have ceased to roll.

I'm not sure if the reason why I failed to fall asleep during The Hurt Locker was the intense soundtrack (every time a bomb exploded I felt it all around me and my couch shook) or simply the fact that the film -- and the performances therein -- were thoroughly riveting.

Overall, tonight -- for better or worse -- went according to what I had hoped. While I think Jeremy Renner's performance in The Hurt Locker was deserving of a Best Actor Oscar, I understand and agree with the choice of Jeff Bridges in that capacity, if only because his body of work -- not only in Crazy Heart, which I didn't see -- but his entire resume -- was deserving of accolade and an Oscar was well overdue. It's a shame -- just like The Hustler and West Side Story or Goodfellas and Gandhi -- that timing screws things up so badly for certain unfortunate films/performances. Had Jeremy Renner been nominated for this film last year, he would have been up on that stage -- and deservedly so.

Sandra Bullock has always been a talented, likable actress, but most of her performances have been in fluff, disposable films (not to mention Speed 2: The Waste of A Film). From everything I've seen and heard about The Blind Side, she deserved to win, and simply by her acceptance speech alone -- and not based on the fact that I've always admired and enjoyed her as an actress -- I'm glad she won. It hearkens back to Julia Roberts' Oscar win for Pretty Woman, except Julia Roberts' victory remains -- along with Marisa Tomei's for My Cousin Vinny -- somewhat out of left field. Yet, while it's somewhat of a head-scratcher, I suppose her win this evening confirms that if you are a good guy and you do good work, eventually someone -- or some Academy -- will acknowledge you for what you've accomplished. Good job.

Christoph Waltz won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor -- at least in my eyes -- the minute I walked out of the theater after having seen Inglourious Basterds. The film was entertaining and enthralling as is typical of a Tarantino picture, but his performance was -- by far -- the most far and away deserving of an Oscar of any of the people nominated for their work in front of the camera. And Monique's win for Precious was not a shock to me, although I would have chosen Maggie Gyllenhaal simply because I had heard incredible things about her performance. I'm glad, in retrospect, that Precious received acknowledgment, however, because I heard it was a strong, powerful film. Crazy Heart might have been a strong, powerful film as well, but I'm not unhappy that Monique won because from what I've read, hers was a performance worthy of an Oscar as well.

Finally, as far as the evening goes, my favorite part (of what I saw of) the Oscars was the spoof of Paranormal Activity (starring Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin) which preceded the Academy's Tribute to Horror Films. I won't elaborate, but I actually enjoyed the two-minute skit far more than the film itself.

And finally, something I learned this evening which I never knew was that Helen Mirren has a spider-web tattoo on her hand. If there was an Oscar for a woman 65 or older who remains incredibly sexy and whose talent knows no bounds, we might have seen her tattoo wrapped around another Oscar.

Alas...until the Academy further dilutes its rules and regulations, we'll just have to wait until next year. C'est la vie.

Congratulations to the Academy this year -- despite the ten films thing -- for not fucking it up.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Two Things: Give 'Em Hell Malone & F*ck Southwest Air

Being that this entry in the ongoing putrification of the Internet known as the HoB will be rather pointed, I'll try and be brief -- which means that if I were writing for a printed periodical, I'd be out of a job and collecting empty soda cans.

First and foremost, I came across a Thomas Jane film entitled "Give 'Em Hell Malone" -- which also features Ving Rhames and Elsa Pataky. Many of you know Thomas Jane from the HBO Series "Hung," and many others of you might know him from films like "The Punisher" and/or "61*." Many -- no, all -- of you will not have seen him in perhaps his best film, "Thursday," in which he stars alongside Aaron Eckhart and Paulina Porizkova. That's unfortunate -- but what's even more unfortunate is that anyone felt the need -- or that it was appropriate -- to green-light "Give 'Em Hell Malone." How anyone would allow this two-hour pile of shit to be committed to film without following it up with firing squads for the writer, director and producer(s) is beyond me.

In a word, dogshit. Complete and utter dogshit.

Now on to more rosy pastures.

Apparently, one of the more admirable people in the film business, Kevin Smith (Mallrats, Clerks, Dogma, and the forthcoming Cop Out) had a rough weekend. The other day, he boarded a flight leaving from Oakland to LA (or the other way around) on Southwest Airlines and was the victim of an incident. Apparently, the captain -- a pilot -- of the plane, prior to takeoff, left the cockpit and advised Mr. Smith that he was too fat to fly.

Again: they deemed him a safety risk because he was too heavy to fly.

Never mind that all the previous Southwest staff -- check-in people, flight attendants, baggage people -- didn't find him too heavy to fly, nor was there any problem for him to fly on his prior (Southwest) flight. But apparently he was forced to leave the plane.

Now -- coincidentally -- I posted a photo of Mr. Smith earlier last week speaking at the MacWorld Expo in San Fran, and observed that he was really ballooning. Based on the photo, I'd have to assume he was close to 300 pounds. However, despite the fact that I believe he's gained a lot of weight -- most likely due to his increasing, self-professed enjoyment of marijuana, apparently -- I can't believe an airline actually deemed him worthy of humiliation and ridicule by forcing him off a flight.

The details of the incident are sketchy -- google "Kevin Smith Southwest" for more details -- but it seems that he was comfortably ensconced in his seats (he can fit in one but purchases two for privacy) and wearing a seat belt (without an extender) when Captain Shitbird decided to have him removed. I can respect an airline that is responsible and treats its customers well (cough cough Virgin America cough cough) but what I know of Southwest is that they make decisions that are ridiculous and repulsive. The last time I read something incredibly ridiculous about SouthWest was when they decided a young girl's outfit included a skirt that was apparently too mini for their tastes and advised her she would either have to put a blanket over herself for the entire flight or leave the aircraft.

Far be it from me to lecture a corporation on its strategy, but if treating your customers like shit is in your mantra and/or corporate lexicon, you're doing something wrong. Two other entities -- Blockbuster and Dominos Pizza -- make these types of value judgments about what their customers want and/or to which they are entitled, and both of those companies are just as shitty as SouthWest. Blockbuster -- like Walmart, another crappy corporate entity -- makes value judgments about which movies it will carry (or only carry certain types of films), and behold and lo, Blockbuster is going out of business (not immediately...they're on life support). Dominos Pizza's founder began speaking out about abortion and value judgments, and aside from the fact their pizza is more cardboard than quality, I will not patronize them ever again, and I hope they too hit the skids.

But SouthWest just picked on the wrong fat dude. Kevin Smith has so many fans and such a huge fan base -- on Twitter and at the View Askewniverse (his self-themed forum) -- that the next month will not be spent on PR for his soon-to-be released film Cop Out but in its place how shitty SouthWest is and why they should be boycotted.

I don't care how many "bags fly free" ads they run, any company that decides to judge people on their outfit or their weight doesn't have any place in my America. I'm not sure why or how they came to be this condescending, holier-than-thou source of all that's right (or wrong, your perspective) in America, but I know that I will never -- ever -- patronize them.

In an age where media and communication and information has real, tangible, power, SouthWest just picked on the wrong porcine passenger, and they should -- and will -- pay the price. Whether they survive this incident merely with a 20% drop in revenue or whether this begins their final descent is anyone's guess; but I know that any entity which deems it necessary and appropriate to pull this shit -- especially with someone whose opinions are broadcast to millions of people -- does not deserve to be in business, and while I appreciate the sensibility that this asshat pilot felt he was just doing his job, I can assure you that he, and every other self-aggrandizing imbecile that works for that shithole, should literally and figuratively go down with the ship.

Being that Mr. Smith has since been a non-stop tweet machine about this incident -- entitling many of his tweets and podcasts "F*ck Southwest Air," the irony in and of this particular incident is that the captain's concern that Mr. Smith's weight might bring down a plane will -- hopefully -- and ultimately -- result in the entire airline figuratively slamming into the ground.



Personal note to Kevin: still waiting on that $20 from Affleck. Hope you hung in there and didn't take this incident too-too personally, and while I hope you do jettison some extra baggage, I hope it's not simply this repulsive example of corporate dimensia gone awry that's its impetus.

And finally, Virgin America rocks, even if Branson is one or two bottles short of a case.

Monday, February 08, 2010

The Non-Storm of the Year

It was interesting watching last night's Super Bowl; seeing the Saints wring out a victory after a slow start was, frankly, a non-event. But the biggest non-event this weekend without a doubt was the huge snowstorm the NYC area failed to receive.

Back to the lesser non-event, last night's Saints-Colts Super Bowl from Miami. I'd been invited to a few different Super Bowl parties but had so much work prep to address before Monday I declined each invitation. The truth, however, is that I had very little interest in the game itself. I had my work finished late yesterday afternoon so it wasn't a matter of working deep into the night, but I had so little interest in the game itself that I couldn't really justify going anywhere -- given the weather -- to watch 100% of a game in which I had 0% interest.

True, Super Bowl parties rarely are really about the actual game, they're social events, and I'm not anti-social. However, on frigid Sundays with work looming, I tend to be somewhat anti-social. So pfffffffffffft.

Meanwhile, speaking of the Super Bowl, there were five actual moments that, to me, were memorable.

The first was watching "The Who" perform. Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend are in their mid-60's and, despite the fact their band, The Who, started as a statement about how youth was mistreated in the middle 1960's in London, their music is still great. And while they've lost more than a step and look like grandfathers -- and despite the absence of their long-since-departed bandmates Keith Moon and John Entwhistle -- it was a lot of fun watching them blast away for a little while between halves. Nevermind that Pete Townshend's windmill kept getting derailed by an errant jacket or that neither of them were quite able to recreate the tunes they penned forty years ago; it was fun, entertaining and a non-controversial, enjoyable interlude to a to-that-point boring game.

The second moment of interest was the Doritos commercial in which a dog in the park removed his own "bark control" collar and strapped it on a man sitting on a bench teasing him with Doritos. Not only was it a funny ad, but it was nice to see -- yet again -- animals outsmarting humans. Considering this nation's innate stupidity, I really enjoyed this ad. And no, I don't want any of your Doritos.


The third moment of interest was the quickie ad featuring David Letterman complaining that "this is the worst Super Bowl party ever." Then the camera pans out to show Oprah trying to console him. Then the camera pans out further to a seated Jay Leno who says "He's just saying that because I'm here."

Especially given all that's happened over at NBC the last few months with Conan, Jay Leno and the barbs fired between Leno, Letterman and O'Brien, seeing Jay Leno and Oprah on CBS shilling for The Late Show was, in a word, bizarre. Funnyish and memorable, for sure, but bizarre, absolutely.

The fourth moment of interest was the Porter interception of Peyton Manning. Seeing him return the catch for a touchdown to put the Saints up -- at that point -- 22-17 -- was really memorable because the bigger the stage, the more unlikely it is Peyton Manning screws up. The Saints did a great job counteracting Indy's offense, and while credit is due the Saints as a team, that really speaks to Sean Payton's abilities as a coach. So that really pleased me, as he deserved it in a big, big way.

The fifth and final moment of the Super Bowl was the incomplete fourth-and-goal pass that sealed it.

Depending on your perspective, that could either be interpreted as a pessimistic, critical "Wow, so you remembered two plays from an hour-long, internationally-televised four-hour broadcast." However, all things being equal, it says a lot about a well-played, well-officiated, even match-up between two strong teams that I was still watching with less than five minutes to go.

So -- again -- pfffffffffffft.

And finally, and most significantly, thanks to the entire meteorological community which predicted we'd be on the receiving end of a huge snowstorm from Friday night into Saturday evening. Luckily, I was set to see my cousin and his wife for dinner Saturday night, and we discussed canceling but opted to play it by ear. We would have been pretty tweaked had we canceled only to see there was absolutely no snow whatsoever. So kudos to Scott and Maddy, and a big "go shit in your hat" to all the imbeciles who made us believe we were going to be eskimoes this weekend.

Put another way, thirty years ago I could forgive these morons for their complete ineptitude. But now that they have technology and can track a flea's fart 10,000 miles away, I'm not really clear as to why these shitheads can't figure out when a citywide swath of snow is going to hit NYC. I'm not exactly sure why they can't figure it out, but the more they predict we entrench for the Big One, the more I'm likely to suggest they're all full of shit and plan a beach picnic.

So a final -- and most emphatic -- pffffffffffffffffffffft to anyone who wears a cartoon sun pin on their lapel whilst doing a bullshit 11:27PM weather broadcast. And further, may the fleas of 1,000 camels infest on your crotch.

Happy winter, and congrats to my NOLA peeps; enjoy it now, because the Aints will go 4-12 next year ;-)


Friday, January 29, 2010

Nice MaxiPad!

For the past few years -- even before the first iPhones hit the street -- Apple's cult of followers has ravenously devoured every bit of news and rumor regarding new products like flies on shit. PC users are relatively restrained over new hardware because their allegiance follows a methodology rather than one single brand, so there's never a lack of new products forthcoming. However, the opposite end of the PC-Mac spectrum is that, with respect to the PC camp, there are a lot of lousy products to the few really incredible ones, so there's very little circling of the wagons when something hits the street because it's not hotly-discussed on every blog spanning the techno-globe.

I respect both sides of these diverging paths, as I spent many years being an Apple devotee before I finally left the cult and found the non-Jesus, aka the Pentium. Consequently, I'll never knock Apple's products -- however, I'll also be brutally honest in suggesting that they're well-designed, far too overpriced, far too limited and rely too heavily on hype and the science of the cult to be seriously considered.

Having said all that, the new iPad -- which has everyone buzzing from any two world coasts one can find on a map -- is indeed a huge disappointment for those among us who believe in free thought. For real Apple loyalists, it's the second coming...not of Jesus, but the iPhone. So what if it doesn't have a camera, the ability to multi-task or flash? Most Apple loyalists will find a way to happily excuse these omissions, quite capably.

So what if they deleted a USB connector and went with a 4:3 (non-16:9) screen?

The answer to all these omissions: so what, people will buy it.

This is, for me, the core of why I would and will never buy another Apple "computing device." I have an iPod (a Touch, specifically) and for what it does, it's great. It plays music, it plays movies, and has a half-dozen useful applications. Most of them are games, and one application is a sound-soother I use every night. In the morning, I use the Touch's built-in alarm (with that nuclear warning "alarm" sound) in tandem with an iPod-compatible Sony clock Kaia got me to bring me from a deep slumber to up 'n ready for Defcon 2 in a matter of seconds.

The problem is that Apple's products -- while creatively designed -- are designed to have a specific lifespan before they're replaced by something a bit better and a bit more capable. Put another way, they fall under the umbrella of built-in obsolescence.

Anyone who disputes that should first consider how many of Apple's products they've purchased and then, two years later, subsequently replaced, either because the battery needed to be replaced, or because the new model had so much more impressive features, or because the standard -- which is also set by Apple -- had changed so drastically that replacing was the only option.

And let's also keep in mind that all technology dies; when companies coordinate that death around new products and schedule rather than forecast it, it's part of the design, not the product strategy. Hence my disinterest in owning anything of significance made by Apple.

Back to the iPad -- and we'll ignore the criticism of the name (personally, knowing they hit a home run with an iPod makes the iPad moniker sensible). Although I must admit that people have now come to refer to the 64GB model of the iPad as the MaxiPad. Love that to a point beyond which words can't describe.

In short, the device -- like many of Apple's products -- is designed for Apple, and people either worship it, have no interest in it, or hate it. Apple's strategy is, quite simply, designed to provoke an emotion, and the reason why the iPad is in serious trouble is, frankly, most people don't seem to give much of a shit. It seems like a nifty little device; that description, however, was what most people used to describe the Newton.

I believe most people who wind up buying this device will be first required to memorize -- prior to purchasing -- the litany of excuses and explanations inherent in most Apple apologists' lexicons (a good collection of same can be found here). Sure, the device doesn't have USB, but it's not supposed to be an actual PC, it's only supposed to do this. Sure it doesn't have a camera, everyone has a cell-phone with a camera, why would I want to be bothered having a camera in this device too? Sure, it doesn't have Flash; who cares, eventually flash will be a thing of the past. Sure, it doesn't have HDMI or HD capability, it's not a portable movie player.

The answer is Apple, in its closed-loop marketing strategy, is -- frankly -- insulting those on-the-fence people -- those who are neither Apple fanboys nor people who hate Apple -- by intimating that Apple will decide what features we need and make us go elsewhere for those that they omit. By omitting a camera and banning Skype from their device, Apple has essentially tried to control the mobile market rather than opening it up. By eliminating flash, Apple has let us know it doesn't care about whether flash is viable or not, and that we as users should avoid sites with flash. And by non-conforming to the worldwide mini-micro USB connector, Apple is insuring users will have to pay them an extra $35 for a power cable that would normally cost, oh, about $8 at any Radio Shack.

Put simply, when you have to make excuses before you buy something, that in and of itself tells you that you're a fool to even consider buying said product in the first place.

But -- admittedly -- I am considering buying it. Not because it's innovative, not because it's the cool new thing, or worth the money; it's none of those.

I just can't wait for the day, hopefully soon, when I can announce to a small group of clients and/or business professionals, "Excuse me while remove my MaxiPad and plug it in."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Hurt Locker

Intention is rarely the appropriate substitute for action, but being that I've been just barely surviving the last week or so, I'd been meaning to kick back and relax and watch Kathryn Bigelow's new film about an American elite bomb squad in Baghdad entitled "The Hurt Locker." Despite my initial impressions prior to viewing, and the subsequent buzz the film has received, I didn't have much in the way of expectation going in other than anticipating I'd enjoy it. I'm not sure if it fulfilled that expectation, although I must admit it will be quite some time before -- if ever -- I forget this two-plus-hour first-person visit into war-torn Baghdad.

I won't be delving into the key plot points as there are few thereof and doing so would ruin the visceral experience the film provides. Suffice to say that this film's intent is to allow the viewer a glimpse into a month or two in the life of a unit that is sent out to find and disarm Iraqi IED's (improvised explosive devices) that have claimed so many American soldiers since the US landed in Iraq. Part of the film's intensity, certainly, stems from the fact that bomb diffusal in its very definition is tense, dangerous work. Clip the wrong wire and you'll wind up in hundreds of pieces, as will your colleagues and, likely, any civilians within 100 yards. Add in the element of extreme heat, the weight of anti-explosive gear, the language barrier, fatigue, and being surrounded -- and watched -- by people who may be friends or foes, and the element of tension is ratcheted up tenfold. And while I laud Bigelow's directorial style, the real credit goes to her decision to simply record the action rather than comment on it; the action in this film needs no directorial tweaking or embellishment a la Tarantino or Scorcese. She is able to say everything about the events of this film without really saying anything at all. Put another way, the film succeeds because the inherent intensity is in what's happening, not how it's filmed, and many directors seem to not be able to get out of their own way. Bigelow, in this particular film, didn't have that problem, and the film succeeds as a result.

Beyond the sheer tension and frankness of what the viewer experiences, part of the reason this film succeeds so easily is its soundtrack. I viewed this film in BluRay format, and, for the most part, the picture stays clear. There are parts of the film that are hazy, grainy, dark and/or out of focus -- all in keeping with what's happening with James, Sanborn and Eldridge, the three main characters -- but the sonic landscape of this film is immense and startling. The explosions are front and center and will shake you loose from a comfortable sitting position should your system allow it. Watching this film without a solid sound system will definitely detract from the experience, but it's certainly not a key ingredient to absorbing the entire experience.

While this film, overall, depicts the life of a mobile bomb squad in Baghdad, a large aspect of the film is not simply about portraying the day-to-day activities thereof but to demonstrate how the lives of these men are affected as a result. The three actors -- Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty -- who portray, respectively, James, Sanborn and Eldridge, are excellent in their frank performances. I found myself wondering what I would do in certain situations depicted in the film -- both in combat and out -- and I give credit to these three guys in their ability to seamlessly allow the viewer what feels like an authentic glimpse into something that's actually happening.

In a nutshell, the story, the performances and the dark, intense visceral starkness of the film's pace is not only commended but memorable, haunting and top-notch.

Incidentally, I would urge anyone interested in seeing this film to avoid anything disclosing the cast or any details about it prior to viewing. I can't say I "enjoyed" this film, because it was and remains as frank, dark and disturbing a film about modern war as there may be, including Full Metal Jacket, but a large part of this film's success lies in the not knowing what's beyond the next hill, the next corner or the next half-mile of highway.

Put yet another way, anyone who has an opinion on America's role in Iraq should find a way to see this film, as graphic and disturbing as it is.

And for Kathryn Bigelow -- whose last big project was "Point Break" -- I can only say I'm impressed and am glad I got an opportunity to see this film.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Venom and The Cure

Inevitably, some adolescent boy -- say, 13 or 14 years old -- who's been watching baseball since he was young and playing it since he could hold a bat, watched over the past 24 hours as Mark McGwire came out of the closet and admitted he had used performance-enhancing drugs (aka steroids) while he was a professional baseball player.

And in yesterday's admission that surprised no one -- despite all the press coverage thereof -- I'd imagine the aforementioned kid seeing McGwire's confession as hollow, empty and more than 90% bullshit.

For those of us who are human -- and that accounts for everyone that doesn't get paid to model, play a professional sport or attend red-carpet-preceded gala events -- seeing this sort of thing gets mighty old mighty quick.

When Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were tag-teaming the soon-to-fall single-season home run record over the summer of 1998, I think most baseball fans were mesmerized. Both of these guys seemed like good, normal people -- in direct contrast to the later success of Barry Bonds -- and they achieved great things for the game of baseball. I remember seeing McGwire's record-breaking home run clear left field and being almost in awe, akin -- almost -- to seeing the Rangers' Stanley Cup-winning endeavor in Game 7 in 1994.

Unlike that Ranger Cup victory, the McGwire-Sosa achievements of 1998 were a sham.

Years later, in 2005, when Big Mac was called to testify before Congress regarding performance-enhancing drugs, he didn't deny using same while he was a player; he just refused to answer any questions, declining to "discuss the past."

It was clear what his denial signified: he had taken steroids.

Yet he never admitted doing same, until yesterday. What's sad is that we don't know if he admitted same now because he wanted consideration for the Hall of Fame or acceptance regarding his newly-awarded Batting Instructor title with the Cardinals.

Yesterday's admission, for me, didn't really clarify anything or answer any questions I'd had -- I'd long ago realized Big Mac had been cheating when he broke Roger Maris's single-season record -- and what really was disappointing was the fact he claimed steroids didn't help him hit home runs. Of course, that's not true: taking steroids allowed his body to recover from injuries that might have curtailed or ended his career, and allowed his body to bounce back day to day. But why should we quibble or nitpick now that a cheater's come out of the closet?

I was a big fan of Mark's as he made a run towards the record, and despite the fact that he's a cheater and a liar, I really enjoyed seeing he and Sammy Sosa (another would-be juicer) make the run for the record.

I just wish they would have been satisfied with their best, instead of cheating in order to appear to be the best.

And I hope their cheating doesn't inspire legions of kids to copy their actions on the field; for some strange reason, what players do on the field seems to have much more significance than what they say or how they apologize off the field.

Guess we'll know in 15 or so years from now. That is, if we still want to know...

Monday, January 04, 2010

The Year of The Non-Enema...Hopefully

Being an eternal optimist does have its privileges, but it also – definitely – has some drawbacks as well. My intention was to spend a bit more time here, the HoB, in 2009, as well as the forthcoming year, but since that didn’t work out at the tail end of the year, I’m hoping to make up for it in this coming year. Whether or not I come through on it is relatively irrelevant; the intention is there, and it’s the thought that counts.

Okay, I’m calling bullshit on myself. But that’s neither here nor there.
Invariably, regardless of what I get done, there are always seemingly some loose ends that need tying up, so perhaps a recap of the past ten or so days is deserved and warranted – or at least one of those.

Post-Christmas, Kaia came in as both of us had some down time from work and we figured we could use some in-person time together. I wound up heading to the office – despite being off – for a couple days in the pre-New Year’s week; the truth is I could have just as easily gone in every day, as I haven’t had an actual week-long respite from work in so long I forgot what it feels like being off of work.
Be that as it may, I had a nice week being off and being with Kaia. We basically did very little above and beyond seeing and spending time with friends, watching the variety of movies I’ve amassed over the past several months (500 Days of Summer, I Love You, Man and Inglourious Basterds) and enjoying the snow despite the otherwise abusively cold weather.

We had a few mini-gatherings at my place with friends, just chilled out, and enjoyed the holiday.

And now it’s back to work.

In retrospect, despite the week off preceding Thanksgiving, I think it’s clear that the reason why I’ve avoided taking any time off is because the day I inevitably return to the office undos all the good I’ve done with any time off, so it all seems to cancel itself out and be something other than worthwhile. I’m not complaining, of course; but certainly, the first Monday back from a nice, juicy vacation is about as exciting as a crushed-ice enema and a barium milkshake.

Whether that characterization applies to you, the reader, is a non-issue; even more importantly, I don’t need to be apprised as to whether it does or does not apply to you. Thanks in advance for observing this policy ;-)

Happy new year, happy 2010, and I hope that this is a happy, safe, healthy and wonderful new year for you, your friends and your family near and far!

And may it be one without any enemas or chalky milkshakes of any kind, for any of us ;-)