Saturday, December 29, 2007

Resolutions of Faith

2007 was a great year of both highs and lows. Thankfully more of the former and less of the latter.

Looking ahead I am excited about the new year. I have lost nearly 80 pounds on Jenny Craig, and I look and feel great. My daughter is happy and thriving, my job is steady and rewarding. My wife's company is in a bit of trouble with the writers strike upon us, but I am confident that if her employment ends, she will have only a short time before she can bring her skills to bear at a new job of comparable pay and benefits.

I truly feel things are just getting better and better, despite the day to day challenges we face.

The airport soundproofing crew is coming to our house at 730am on January 15th. My father-in-law will be staying with us to oversee their work at installing all brand new windows, doors and central air/heat. Should be great, all at no cost to us. (That's our tax dollars at work people!) I am thrilled at the prospect of quieter evenings and added value to our home in a market that is a bit scary these days.

I am scheduled to go to China in March. God willing it will be as safe as it will be exciting; traveling with my work is always an adventure. I'm giddy at the prospect, yet also mindful of the realities of overseas travel, especially to a country that is for all intents and purposes - evil.

After my return, I plan to ask for a big raise (long story, I'm underpaid, but though very appreciated, the money is not quite enough - it's time to get more). Failing an increase in income, I plan to for the first time seriously seek out employment elsewhere. It may take a long time, I need a full time gig with benefits; but I am truly committed to bringing my pretty formidable skill set up to the level of pay and challenge it deserves. Of course, a lot of this will hinge on my wife's situation as well, but I've put it in God's hands to see us through what promises to be a year of very big changes.

A big part of what has allowed me to see this last challenging year as a true triumph, and to be optimistic about the new one, is a fairly recent surge in my faith. Over the past few years the subconscious trust I've had in a higher power has slowly but dramatically manifested itself in my heart.

It's very hard to put into words, but somehow, with all the abject horror that this world can bring - and all of the terror that seeps into my mind late at night (when I think about the many possible fates of my family and friends), I have a true belief that we are all in the Lord's hands. No matter the agony that the future brings, and it WILL bring agony, I can somehow weather the storm with God's guidance.

I don't go to church, and I don't hold organized religion in very high regard, but I have been an indirect witness to the teachings of Jesus through my work; on various Bible related projects, and all of that partial exposure to his teachings has given my spirit a courage that I've never known before.

It was sparked off when I saw the Pope at the Vatican. Even to this day I loathe the Catholic Church as an organization. Any group of people that shields child rapists isn't exactly number one in my book. But when John Paul II came into the large arena, I don't know if it was the energy of the crowd or truly the Holy Spirit, but my body was wracked with energy and I found myself quietly crying uncontrollably behind my cameras viewfinder. It was the "proof" that I've searched for all my life. Or was it? Doubts lingered.

Over the next couple of years, bit by bit, little by little I began to see clearly. A segment I cut for the American Bible Society show that we help produce featured a "Christian Tattoo Artist". It was a nice piece with a nice message, but it was a single sentence that cut me to my core. When asked how he got non-believers to be comfortable and open minded in his tattoo shop, the owner said "Someone once told me, preach the Gospel as much as you can; and when absolutely necessary, use words."

This really had an impact on me. I am convinced that the very best way, for people to take Christ (or simply the love of God) into their hearts is to see it plainly existing in the day to day lives of believers. Not from proselytizing, not from Bible thumping. But from THE ACTIONS, the simple love and kindness of those who have Him in their hearts. It seems to me very clear that if we are to love our enemies, and truly turn the other cheek - that our ONLY chance of spreading God's love -and honestly I think whether it's Jesus, Mohammed, Moses, Ganesha or Buddha, it makes ultimately no difference - is to LIVE that love and NOT force it by judgment or reprimand.

My whole life, people have told me about God and his son, and it all sounded good to me. Looking back, I think on that day in the Vatican I was confronted with a force beyond my understanding. But who knows really. What's important is that the real revelation came to me just recently. I've slowly realized; that whether this event was real or imagined by me does not matter.

The faith inside me IS real, it's growing and it sustains me through moments of anguish and doubt. Some day I may go to Church, it sounds like it might be nice to worship among like minded people; but right now it seems kind of unnecessary. God is with me, I feel him/her/it every day. I see the face of God's love in my little girl.

Don't misunderstand. I know in my heart that there are no easy answers, and that part of God's greatest gift to us is free will; we live at our own peril on a day to day basis. I understand this. Yet something tugs at my soul and tells me to be a good person, to have faith, and all will be done as He wills it. And without having the words to truly express it, the best I can say is that everything will be okay - even if it's not.

I wish everyone the safest and happiest New Year.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Africa 1997

Recently unearthed in my friends e-mail group archives. In 2001, my buddy Paul asked about my 1997 trip to Africa.

My response.

South Africa, beautiful, dangerous. Could there be a place with more guns per square mile than the US? Try twice as many. In loverly South Africa.

I don't think I've ever been as scared as I was in Johannesburg; I didn't really see anything dangerous, but everyone I met and talked at any great length with had a story of someone they knew staring down the wrong end of an assault rifle from their car.

A girl named Sonja I met in Botswana, who was born in South Africa, said she would never go back. She lost her brother in
a South African car jacking (kind of like the American version of a car jacking, except it concludes with a bullet through the brain about 98% of the time.) Another man I met in Cape Town lost his wife to a gang of thugs who mercilessly raped her and then killed her with machetes (he didn't go into this detail, he just said he lost her, I found out from our driver afterwards
the gruesome details, BTW, S.Africa also has one of the highest rape rates in the world), and they took her purse which contained eleven dollars.

Every half decent house in Joberg, (every white owned house) is surrounded buy massive walls and barbed wire. Joberg also has about 125 homicides every month, one of the highest rates in the world (second only to Bogota, Columbia). Cops are routinely part of those statistics, they get about as much respect as teachers do in the US. (Sorry Jay!)

But would I go again? Absolutely. You have to go to Kruger National Park, the oldest and one of the largest game reserves in Africa. It's truly awesome. The adjoining game lodges are cool but can be very expensive, and a bit like a big fancy zoo (they stock their properties with animals people want to see, Leopards, Rhino, etc.; it was good for our filming purposes, but
it didn't really give that rush of being in a truly wild place.)

I would also plead with you to go to Botswana's Okavango Delta; it's a truly wild Africa out there (plus an added benefit of Botswana being one of the only actual democracies in Africa, 50 years of peaceful sovereignty is a rare thing in that part of the world.) Here the private reserves are the way to go, you won't see other vehicles or people, besides the few people in your
group. It was a place that really changed my whole view of the world.

As I said, South Africa is absolutely beautiful. But it is also dark and frightening. It's a third world country with a gun loving white infrastructure where the chickens really are coming home to roost. Black on black crime has always been high, especially since the end of apartheid. But now, with the inept ruling government in place, the tide has really started
to turn against whites as well. This is what happens if you get a large group of people together who have never run a government. The maximum penalty for murder has changed from a mandatory death sentence to a maximum of 9 years in prison. The sentence is the same if the person you kill is a cop.

Just as when you travel anywhere, be really aware of your surroundings. I was sitting at a sidewalk cafe with my boss and two of our guides. One of the guides had her purse stolen literally from under her seat without any of us noticing; it has lots of cash and a cell phone in it. It was pretty surprising, considering she had wrapped the strap around the chair leg when
she sat down. Also, the driving is really dangerous; we saw 3 fatal accidents on our trip (one involved a bunch of kids that had been in the back of a pickup, their bodies were strewn all over the road.)

If you want to read a really cool book about deadly locales, I would highly recommend the travel book by Robert Young Pelton called "The World's Most Dangerous Places" it details all the juicy nasty bits about all the countries
you may or may not want to avoid. Most of these places are in Africa.

Travel safe!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Movies 2007

This post will be updated once more at the end of the year, as I anticipate my top ten to change. I don't see many movies (compared to how many I watched in my bachelor days) and I'd really like to catch at least a couple of these.

Rescue Dawn
No Country for Old Men
King of Kong (A Fistful of Quarters)
American Gangster
Sweeny Todd
I Am Legend
Bee Movie

My current top ten "movies" of 2007 are:

1.) 300
The most original and striking movie of the year. Unbelievable that in this day and age such a politically hawkish and righteous story could ever get a green light. Highly stylized visual effects are propelled by an overwhelmingly operatic story structure. This is a GREAT movie.

2.) Ratatouille
Once again, Pixar brings the story and emotions stronger than almost any other live action movie. I really hope my dad gets to see this one. It's a beautiful exploration of the food in our lives and the passions that go with it.

3.) Beowulf
A great companion piece to 300, I do loves me some sword and sandal epic stuff. This motion capture animated showcase is next step in film-making and must be seen in 3D to be believed. Plus it has a mighty and timeless emotional wallop to go along with the eye popping visuals.

4.) Hot Fuzz
Mind blowing tribute to big block-buster action movies, wrapped up in a European film sensibility. A follow up to the critically hailed "Shaun of the Dead", this one in my mind exceeds it's predecessor in every way. The tightly wound story structure and detailed homages are an absolute delight.

5.) Grindhouse
A delicious two fisted punch to the gut of movie lovers everywhere. If you LOVE the movies, then what could be better than watching two master movie makers do their thang paying tribute to the films that they love. "Planet Terror" is both uber-shlockerrific and vintage Robert Rodriguez. "Death Proof" is a very accurate send-up of the low budget revenge film, with a jaw-dropping ending that has to be seen to be believed.

6.) Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
Simply put; I LOVE these movies. And currently this third installment is my favorite. If you in any way find the Pirates movies confusing (and I think most people do) then I can't help you. I love the dense story telling, I love the production design, and I absolutely LOVE how these films are very un-Hollywood in very unconventional ways.

7.) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Second only to "Prisoner of Azkaban", this movie is a great treat after the mildly disappointing "Goblet of Fire." As it is an adaption of my favorite Potter book, again I seem to be in the minority in this opinion as well, I could not be much happier with it.

8.) Transformers
As good as Michael Bay gets; and the visuals are simply awe inspiring. This would be higher on the list if only it didn't suffer from occasional Cuisinart editing syndrome and a lack of wide angle lenses. Still, it is MILES above Michael Bay's usual work. I can't stand "Armageddon" or "Pearl Harbor" they are two of the worst "movie's" I've ever seen. This one is a fun ride from start to finish; plus there's quite a bit of actual pathos to chew on. It's political subtext, like 300, is also appreciated by this viewer.

9.) The Simpsons Movie
I can't believe they pulled this one off. I love the show, even in it's current carnation; and I'm just delighted that this movie works from start to finish. It doesn't have the "loss of bodily function" laughs that the "South Park" and "Beevis & Butthead" movies do - but it is definitely more across the board funny than either of those two.

10.) The Bourne Ultimatum
I imagine this one will get bumped off of this list when I see "Sweeny Todd" or "No Country for Old Men", but it still deserves a mention. This is probably the strongest of the trilogy, and I love Greengrass' work here. The story is compelling and the pacing never lets up. The editing and shaky cam are not my favorite style by any means - but when they are done exceptionally well, then I'm happy to sign up for the ride.

The one movie that was the biggest single disappointment:

Spider Man 3
How the same creative team that brought us the amazing first two chapters could be behind this muddled mess is beyond me. Toby McGuire is weak. Too many villains. No emotional punch. Lame. If this were the first Spider-Man movie, I'd say it was pretty damn good; but we've seen so much better before this.

These are the movies that I'm in no rush to catch:

Rush Hour 3
The Golden Compass
Live Free or Die Hard (simply for it's PG-13 rating alone).
Sicko (anger....rising...)
Redacted (anger....still rising....)
Lions for Lambs (faading.....rising!)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Better than Most

So the President of France, an unapologetic conservative, recently came over for a visit and made a stirring speech.

SARKOZY (via translator):  To the millions of men and women who came from every country of the world and who -- with their own hands, their intelligence, and their hearts -- built the greatest nation in the world, America did not say, "Come, and everything will be given to you."  Rather, she said, "Come, and the only limits to what you will be able to achieve will be those of your own courage, your boldness, and your talent." (applause)

SARKOZY (via translator):  The America that we love throughout the world impedes this extraordinary ability to grant each and every person a second chance, another chance, because, in America, failure is never the last word.  There is always another chance.  Here -- in your country, on this soil -- both the humblest and the most illustrious citizens alike know that nothing is owed to them and that everything has to be earned.  That is what constitutes the moral value of America. (applause)

All I can say is wow. He gets it better than most Americans do.

We are entitled to nothing. Everything must be earned. Wow.

Viva' la' France!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

10 Things To Put You at Ease

1. I believe the government has no business legislating morality.

2. I abhor abortion, but I believe the best way to have less of them is to keep it safe and legal.

3. The war on drugs has failed. It's time for legalization, pretty much across the board.

4. Faith has a place in our government, specific religion does not.

5. If two guys are in love and want to get married, who are we to judge and say they can't?

6. Bible thumping televangelists are repulsive. The God I believe in isn't short of cash.

7. The death penalty is wrong. So is letting pedophiles out of prison, ever.

8. I don't like Hilary Clinton, but if she becomes president I would still be thrilled to meet her.

9. I want the troops to come home. (After they win of course.)

10. Chris hardly ever speaks about himself in the third person.

Monday, November 05, 2007


My last couple of posts have been particularly passionate, okay - downright ornery. So maybe I need to lighten things up a bit.

Like a goofball, I love collecting the state quarters.

My favorites are


Both designs are highly detailed, yet simple and beautiful. There is no sledgehammer to the face - on the nose, THIS IS STATE X! Such as with this not so great design...

Yuk. Too obvious, no subtlety, cluttered. Spelled out and clunky. If you actually have to have the SHAPE of the state on the dang coin, at least make it look cool and majestic, like this beauty...

Not my favorite style, but perfectly executed.

A couple more that I really like...

Now that's majestic. Again simplicity rules, but it's not an absolute. This next one is super detailed, it could have been a disaster, but it's stunning.

And here are two quarters that I detest. (As much as I CAN detest them, State Quarters are just so darn cool!)

First we have

Please don't post "Why do you hate Helen Keller?" comments, my annoyance at this quarter has nothing to do with her. I know she was heroic and stuff. It's just, what in the blazes does she have to do with Alabama? Other than the coincidence of her being born there?

Now, I don't know much about Alabama - but doesn't it have something interesting or beautiful that we can put on the quarter besides a brave lady. I'm sorry, I don't get it. This thing smacks of the worst kind of political correctness; whoever made this decision was clearly not interested in aiming towards truth and beauty about the state - rather they had their sights set on assuaging guilt and making people "feel okay". Blech.

But the sanctimoniously offensive Alabama quarter pales in comparison to the worst one of all.

Let's not make something classic and gorgeous, let's not be intellectual in a good way. And please, let's not be clear, simple and powerful. Let's spoon feed everyone specifically what we THINK is great about the state.

I know there was a contest for the design, but I'm shocked that this cluttered mess was chosen by the people of California. What a PC nightmare. It's actually laughable.

A redwood tree, check. Halfdome, okay, check. The California Condor! (The ultimate endangered species.) Check! And how can we be subtle about this? Hmmm...I've got it!


Um, it sucks. Ugly and patronizing. Smug to the extreme, everything I can't stand about modern liberals.

The California quarter should have been the Golden Gate with a sunset. That's it. Simple, beautiful, iconic.


Oye. Did I say I was going to lighten up?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

We HATE the troops.

Sorry kids, I'm just a cranky "evil conservative" these days. I blame it on Berkeley, my teachers and peers who drilled into me to always question - never take anything at face value; they've created a monster.

So congressman Pete Stark 2 weeks ago had these lovely remarks about our President and our troops.

"Republicans sure don't care about finding $200 billion to fight the illegal war in Iraq. Where are you going to get that money? Are you going to tell us lies like you're telling us today? Is that how you're going to fund the war? You don't have money to fund the war or children. But you're going to spend it to blow up innocent people if he can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the President's amusement."

Even House Speaker Pelosi had the decency to call him out on this at the end; reminding congress members to refrain from personal attacks on the president. My respect for her grew a bit as she chastised the clearly insane congressman. (Though we all know that deep down George W. Bush HATES children and delights in our soldiers being decapitated by explosives.)

I suppose I'm naive for wanting everyone on the same page, for all of us to just accept certain things. The president and our troops deserve respect. The 9/11 hijackings were not perpetrated by our government. I must be out of my mind.

Eventually Stark apologized, and seemed genuinely remorseful for his remarks. Fine, we all say stupid things, apology accepted. But what bothers me about his remarks most, is that I suspect deep down - that not only do some people not like that our troops are in Iraq, they simply just don't like our troops.

Case in point, "Redacted" is a movie that's out, directed by Brian DePalma, that details the true life story of marines in Iraq who raped and murdered a young girl and killed her family as well. Horrible stuff that should certainly be held up to the light of truth, exposed for everyone to see and the perpetrators brought to justice.

In fact. this is a story that has been covered by most media outlets; and the soldiers involved are all likely to spend the rest of their lives in prison - and may even face the death penalty thanks not to the diligence of the anti-war crowd, but the military itself which brought the story to light in the first place and has been exemplary in providing both a vigorous investigation and prosecution of the monsters that did this.

But DePalma wants to take it further; it isn't enough to point out a few bad apples. His movie and his mindset are pointedly directed at proving that fundamentally, the military is predisposed to this behavior. And our unjust and illegal war is making monsters out of our men.

Of the systematic and mass torture, rape and murder that went on under Sadaam Hussein for a quarter of a century - he remains mum.

Of the mutilations of our soldiers, and the mass killings of Muslims by al qaeda over the last five years - DePalma has nothing to say.

He has to make a movie, graphically detailing the very worst thing a soldier could do - and hold it up as what is representative of our military as a whole. Let's not kid ourselves, this is what he's doing.

No mention of the lives our troops have saved, of the infrastructure they are helping rebuild. The recent success of the surge, the flat out crippling of al qaeda.

He can't even put together a thoughtful look at the many legitimate arguments against the war. He has to sensationalize and brutalize - both the victims of the crime and the US military at large.

He is also ignorant of history and the nature of war itself - bad stuff happens. Ever hear of Sherman's march? By his reasoning, DePalma thinks that because some soldiers raped and murdered civillians, we should have just let the south win and condemned the union army.

This moderate, meaning me - (pro-choice, anti-censorship, anti-death penalty, etc.) is convinced that DePalma, and many on the anti-war fringe, HATE our soldiers and see them ALL as nothing more than potential rapists and murderers.

I may be wrong, but this is in fact, the impression I get. If it's not the impression I'm supposed to have, then here's a suggestion -


If the fringe can't see that the tide has now turned in Iraq, then they are truly blinded by ANTI-MILLITARY ideology. (Notice I didn't say Anti-War, these folks are flat out anti-soldier period.)

Meanwhile, Depalma and his ilk are cranking out anti-war/anti-troop Hollywood movies that are not surprisingly bombing. Millions of dollars to get shove anti-millitary dogma into our faces. "Lions for Lambs" is the next slap in the face, due out next week - that is overflowing with talent behind the scenes. Redford, Streep and Cruise head an all-star production. The story line will probably scream '" WE HATE OUR TROOPS." And it will bomb.

Hollywood needs to wake up. It's 2007, not 1967. This generation ain't playing that shit.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

More Scare Tactics

Don't read this post!

So much idiocy this last week, it's hard to know where to start.

First, Sean Penn on David Letterman going on and on about what a great guy Hugo Chavez is. This guy makes Paris Hilton seem smart.

Also, up to the same old tricks, the left has renewed their character assassination attacks against Clarence Thomas with the release of his memoirs (an excellent read about an amazing man by the way) - they just can't stand the fact that the most influential black people in this country (Thomas, Rice, Powell) just happen to be conservative. Newsflash; as my coworker Sam (who happens to be black) likes to say "Jesse Jackson is not the ambassador for black people."

Continuing this thread with the whole General Betray-Us mentality (where apparently you don't need to debate if you just call your opponent a liar and a traitor) is this excellent article on the ridiculous situations at Duke and Columbia respectively. If you don't want to read all that - in a nutshell; the falseley accused Duke athletes got lynched by their school and minuteman leader Jim Gilchrist got shouted down and disinvited from Columbia while Iran's crazy ass president got the red carpet treatment. So much for content of character and the first amendment. (These things only apply when they fit your world view, donchaknow.)

Not saying that republicans haven't done this kind of thing before, in fact they are pretty much masters of this technique; it just saddens me that the democrats smell blood in the water (a presidential victory in '08) and are now determined to get down in the mud with us righties.

The fairness doctrine is the next fun project, where the "marketplace of ideas" that are so often espoused by liberals is likely to be slammed shut in the interests of "equal time" - meaning, the government will determine the content of what you hear on the radio.

I told you not to read this! How about those Rockies? I'm a Phillies fan myself, but those Colorado boys have the smell of destiny about them these days.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Stalking My Friends

It's that time of year again; for six years now, I've been heading up north to play war with my buds. Paintball on privately owned land, with a group of friends I've had for 25+ years, is something I look forward to all year long.

Yes, we are playing war; even as our brave men and women overseas are in the shit for real. Lately they've been making headway, much to my quiet relief. My friends of course, they being of the Berkeley school of "War is bad NO MATTER WHAT" are aghast at my periodic e-mails expressing my relief that things are not completely awful right now.

Bush is a monster. The war is hopeless and unjust. Yaddah yaddah yaddah. That's fine and dandy. But what is continually perplexing to me, is the sinking feeling that my homies really want the United States to fail. I'll take that a step further, and say that the possibility of their being a positive outcome from this whole thing, for them - simply doesn't exist.

I can concede a lot to them. The war IS awful. I feel bad for the Iraqis, I feel bad for our troops, I feel bad for our country. I truly and frequently pray for all three. But my mind can't wrap around exactly why they always insist on not only seeing the glass half empty, but not even really acknowledging the glass at all.

In their eyes, the United States went into Iraq - from the get go, as profit seeking ransackers. Invading (not liberating) and plundering resources. Of course my friends conveniently forget that most all Democrat congress members, and all Democrat senators, voted to go into Iraq. But even when I remind them, the shrill "Bush lied!" is all I get.

Then they say they support the troops. "Okay, so you support the mission right?" This is when the needle gets pulled off the record.

"Well, no the war is wrong."

"Okay, the war is wrong, I get that - but you want our troops to win right?"

"This conflict is unwinnable."

Long pregnant pause on my end. "Okay, the war is wrong, the conflict is unwinnable, and you SUPPORT our troops?"

"Yes, absolutely."


I know we all want peace. But am I crazy to think that it's not going to magically just happen? We can't sit by and wish for peace, and we certainly can't talk with fanatics.

Bush recently spoke about the potential parallels between the fallout of our withdrawal from Vietnam (systematic liquidation of millions) and what might happen if we are to cut and run. I mentioned this to my fellow Berkeleyans, and immediately received a six person lecture on how the anti-war movement of Vietnam bore ZERO responsibility for the Vietnamese/Cambodian genocide that erupted in the mid 1970's. I could certainly accept that the US governments presence in the first place, helped put events in motion - but history shows me quite clearly that it was the US brokered "peace agreement" and withdrawal that basically directly resulted in the horrific killings by Ho Chi Mhin and Pol Pot's forces.

Or maybe I'm just a right wing nut job.

Anyhoow, that will all be water under the proverbial bombed out bridge this labor day weekend. As I take to stalking and shooting my friends in the woods. At night, as the cards fly and the liquor flows, I will no doubt be subjected to more "lecturing" about the evils of our president and even the evils of our troops; the "torture" at Abu-graib and Gitmo, the "crimes" of our soldiers (gasp!) shooting unarmed men in the streets; which of course never happened in the "good" war -WW2.

I plan, as usual, to sit quietly and smile - lest I be subjected to a gang bang of stern finger pointing. And the subject will pass, and we will shuffle up and deal.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


I have to say, the Barry Bonds thing bores me, and ultimately I'm more sad than anything about whole thing. Small consolation that he is a junkie and a cheater and will always be known as such. Others have said that if we are to condemn him, then we must condemn all others - but I disagree. I condemn first and foremost the one with the biggest record in baseball. For his visibility and prominence and for his utter lack of remorse or conscience. I also despise McGuire and Sosa for their "alleged" drug use, but in 10 years no one will care about them (or any other 'roid users for that matter.) Bonds discrace will last generations, and for that - he gets magnum vilification.

In other, more shocking sports news; the story that has literally put a knot in my stomach is this NBA referee gambling scandal. Tim Donaghy, a highly rated veteran ref, has pleaded guilty to two counts; conspiracy and fraud, and faces 20 years in prison for betting and getting paid for tips on games that he refereed. Wow.

As someone who was almost a professional sports official in his life, who had a chance to live and breathe the professional mindset at umpire school for 6 weeks; I cannot even begin to fathom how to tell you how earth shattering this is. Just so far beyond words, for one of these men, who truly devote their lives, not just livelihoods, to fair play - for one to succumb to an alien sickness such as this - is beyond comprehension. My brain has basically shut off, as it did when I saw the towers fall. Right now, this does not compute.

I suppose I'll sort it all out eventually, but for now my mind is both racing and numb.

When I was 12, I bought a cassette tape from the National Association of Sports Officials, that had a lecture on it by the late great Durwood Merrill. (No relation.) A crusty old major league veteran umpire. He talked about balls and strikes ("I'm a striker. I look for strikes!") and safes and outs ("You've got to watch the ball and the runner!" -Bad advice it turns out, at least according to my instructors years later). But at the end of his lecture he waxed philosophic about the life, and even touched on temptations. Yes, there are baseball umpire groupies, and yes - umpires are human beings. But Durwood briefly spoke about and warned of the most evil thing at all. He didn't say it by name, but it was clear he was talking about the temptation to take money for affecting the outcome of the game. He said, and I'm paraphrasing; "Watch out, they're going to get one of us one of these days."

That shiver down my spine is the prescience of his words. He was right. I couldn't comprehend it then, and I can't even think about it now. But he was right.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Spoiler Sport

So a handful of the very few souls who read this thang, have expressed a bit of outrage of my blatant reveal of the winner of this year's World Series of Poker main event champion, one day after his victory. Apparently ESPN actually starts broadcasting the tournament on August 21st, so I spilled the beans, I guess. Whoops.

I mistakenly assumed anyone who was passionate about the subject, would of course be following along as the event unfolded live. After all, there's nothing more exciting than following poker on an internet radio with no hole card cameras. (Trust me, you haven't lived until you've tried to follow Pot Limit Omaha/8 this way!)

Okay, in a game where so much rides on visual information, maybe it's a bit like having someone describe a beautiful painting - you might want to wait for the video on this one. My apologies for giving things away.

So who wants to talk about the ending of the new Harry Potter book!

Seriously, this is where you stop reading if you at all care about this stuff and haven't finished the latest installment. Spoiler Alert!

I thought JK Rowling knocked this one out of the park; the story was taught and gripping from beginning to end. And I'm not sure things could have been resolved any other way. There were certain threads that I thought were handled just perfectly.

My favorite non-lead character, the ultimate poster boy for tragedy, Snape, got the exact ending I would have hoped for - horrible pathos and passion. Lily was his unrequited light, his sole reason for making the right choices in spite of himself. Brilliant.

Ron and Hermione finally snog, and thank God, the moment is absolutely 100% earned. One of the toughest things to get right in literature, and in story telling in general I think, is life long love - and Rowling absolutely nails it here. A tremendous arc over 7 books, that culminates beautifully, with Harry perfectly punctuating the treacle so we can all breathe again.

Harry walking through the forest, knowing he is going to die, is for me perhaps the strongest moment in the entire series; again, a brilliant culmination, where bits and pieces laced throughout all the previous stories, seem to come together exactly right for the payoff. The resulting meeting with Dumbledore at King's Cross Station, struck this God fearing (but not particularly religious) reader deep in his heart. And like Lord of the Rings before it, this story for the ages, is ultimately about what matters most. Making the best of the time we are given, by putting our own needs second to those we love. Having faith, in our creator and in our hearts - that good will triumph, in spite of our sins, our failings and innate selfishness, it is our choices, our actions in life, that will ultimately bring us peace.

There was also a bunch of other stuff that I thought just flat out was cool, and will make a great movie someday - this is probably, and it has been said by other reviewers, JK's most cinematic work yet.

The great Gringott's caper, with a spectacular dragon escape is the scene that jumps first and foremost into my mind as being most movie-worthy, but the battle of Hogwarts, complete with Giants and Spiders and Spells - oh my, will certainly be the most challenging to capture. I thought all of the action sequences, were easily the best Rowling has written - in terms of clarity and dramatic impetus. Every encounter, every action set-piece, mattered the most; because this was it; the payoff, the end.

I'll confess, Return of the King is my favorite Lord of the Rings Book, because it's the culmination of the promise of the first two stories. One of the reasons I treasure the books, and films so much, is that the ball is absolutely not dropped at the end. One of the absolute hardest things for any story (electronic or written) to get right is the ending.

As you know, you don't want to get me started on Return of the Jedi. But what befell Star Wars is, for most tales, the rule rather than the exception.

I'm overjoyed to say, as of right now, The Deathly Hallows is by far my favorite Potter book. It's the promise delivered in every way that matters. And perhaps best of all, despite an epilogue to put our minds at ease that Harry does indeed live on happily (these are children's stories after all) there is still enough left to our own imaginations - that for many years to come we can fill out the rest of the story quite nicely on our own. There are still countless adventures for Harry and his friends to embark on, in the minds of children and children at heart everywhere.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Silly and Soft

A psychologist has won the World Series of Poker's main event. Hailing originally from Laos, the 39 year-old Californian Jerry Yang won over 8 million dollars last night, or rather at 3am this morning - defeating over 6000 other players over a week long tournament. Wow.

And unlike last years champ, sleazy Hollywood agent Jamie Gold, this guy seems to be truly humble and genuine. For starters, Jerry will be donating 10% of his winnings to charity. Class act.

I have indulged a bit over the last month, obsessively following all the bracelet events and this last main one online. Some big name pros took down the gold, as well as the usual wide assortment of amateurs. Some day I'm going to do it; save up and enter a small event. What a thrill just to be there.

Other silly things have been taking up my time as well. I saw Transformers with the wife; a ridiculous, loud movie, perhaps the ultimate "movie", with more explosions in two hours than you could shake a stick at. Loved the new Harry Potter movie as well, and am currently chomping at the bit to get my hands on the latest and final book which comes out Saturday.

Oh the silly and soft pursuits of my life. I look back over this blog and I find I'm either raging pissed off about politics, or I'm geeking out over some ridiculous thing like music or movies. I really do need to grow up, but it's hard to help myself.

I guess I feel guilty, while men and women are dying overseas so that I can buy DVD's and play poker; I really get the sense sometimes that I'm just a big kid who can't get his act together to do something meaningful.

And then I look at what is happening to my daughter. She is so full of joy, intelligence, laughter, energy, healthy, vibrance, and on and on and on. My wife and I must be doing something right, because this little girl is so bright and happy; she is truly loved to the point of bursting with exuberance. I know in my heart she will be happy and live well, and I have played a pretty big part in that so far.

I take solace, that at least where being a dad is concerned; I am every bit the responsible grown up. Until my very last breath, I know she will always be provided for and loved fiercely. The energy I put towards indulging my silly pursuits is dwarfed by my devotion as a father. Things are good, and I know my existence has meaning - I see it and live it every day, through that little miracle that dances through the day and sings herself to sleep.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Star Wars Manifesto

Be forewarned, the first part of this post is fairly easy to follow, but the second half degenerates rather quickly into Star Wars Speak. It may be hard to grasp for the un-indoctrinated.

But before I tell you all why the new Star Wars movies are ALMOST as good as the old ones, let's back up a bit.

In 1993 a movie came out called "Being Human", it starred Robin Williams and featured him playing an every-man in 4 different stories set across 4 different periods of history. Starting in the age of the vikings, moving to ancient rome, then to the age of exploration and finally settling in the present day. The movie was a bit uneven, pretty much devoid of humor or heavy pathos - and yet it sticks with me to this day because of one scene in the final story.

In the present day Robin plays a divorced dad who has been in prison for awhile, he's recently been released and picks up his kids to spend time with them on the weekend for the first time in a long time. There are problems getting to know them again, a boy of about 8 or 9 and a sulky teenage daughter.

He takes them to the beach and things go poorly, a crappy amusement park on the board walk doesn't help elevate the mood. Finally, as the day ends, the kids - especially the daughter; see that the dad is really trying, and so they warm to him just a bit. As they sit around a hastily built beach fire, the dad and daughter roast hot dogs and chat quietly as the boy falls asleep. Things seem to be better, and Robin Williams character is relieved.

"Well, it looks like things are going to be okay..." he says. The daughter cocks an eyebrow and then she says something that has stuck to my brain almost every day of my life since.

"What do you mean things are going to be okay? This is it. This is as good as it gets."

And in that moment it dawns on him - that the moment he is in, the moment right...NOW.... with his daughter who had forsaken him, now smiling at him; NOW is the moment to cherish and recognize that for all we cling to the past and for all we treasure with the sentimental and the "ideal", there is truly nothing as great as a moment in the present that you can RECOGNIZE as great.

Things are not going to be "okay". Things are great. Right. Now.

And I guess I knew this all along, but it has never been articulated better for me than in this silly little movie; which to this day isn't even available on DVD.

Star Wars fans, those that are fans of the original trilogy only; which is probably the majority of all Star Wars fans; are stuck on May 25, 1977. And they are still waiting for things to be "okay".

They nervously cluck about the new shitty prequels. George Lucas is insane. George Lucas is a corporate tool, full of greed, and overwhelmed by the urge to make crappy kids films.

George Lucas raped my childhood.

This last hyperbole is the geek rallying cry for the anti-Lucas crowd of "fans" on the internet today.

Give me a wookie-sized break.

This kid at heart, this young boy in a 36 year old body, (who last night was dazzled by the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie by the way) is NOT waiting for things to be okay. This kid is enjoying the moment, and the movies that George Lucas has made for us and for himself.

I could wallow by the camp-fire at the beach, and bemoan how crappy things are, and how dismal movies are, and why oh why me Lord, and yada yada yada. Sorry, I've got bigger fish to fry, and some cool movies to go spend my hard earned cash on. Apparently, if you go by the numbers, so do legions of other Star Wars fans who happen to HATE the new movies. Bizarre? Yes.

I've asked myself, if I was like the "haters" in movie geekdom today, and genuinely despised Star Wars Episodes 1 through 3 or even held them as "beneath" the original trilogy; why in the holy F-word would I WASTE my time and money on going to see them, posting incoherent rants on the internet and complaining endlessly to other "fans" about how bad the movies suck?

Doesn't make much sense I know. About as much sense as the original trilogy worshippers reasons for disliking the new movies. There are three that stick out as particularly stupid.

1. I hate Jar-Jar Binks.

Okay, they have a point with this one.

But let's see, you have a movie with stunning light saber battles (light years beyond what is found in the original trilogy) a pod-race that is one of the great all time "asides" in geek movie history, a villain that is more bad-ass than Vader, gorgeous production design of fully realized and truly alien worlds (not just location work in Norway or Tunisia), and the compelling origins of a mythology that we all LOVE, with an open ending and the promise of much more to come - hampered only by wooden dialogue (like there wasn't any of that in the original trilogy) some bad acting (again, Mark Hamil that master thespian really could teach Natalie Portman a thing or two about acting) and about 38 minutes of screen time of a character that is the movie equivalent of finger-nails on a chalk-board.

Jar-Jar Binks. "Meesa so stupid!"

Well, when it comes to which movie I prefer; the one with all of the above - or the movie that wraps up the entire trilogy on a planet of F-ING TEDDY BEARS! With a TEDDY BEAR PICNIC as the final scene, I have to think about it for, oh I don't know, about HALF-A-BLEEDING-SECOND and go with Phantom Menace over Return of the Jedi.

And Luke talking with Lea outside of the Teddy Bear Tree-House, sorry; that scene beats by far the very worst acting in all of the Prequel movies. Don't believe me? Well let's look at the number 2 complaint by the old-school haters.

2. The acting/writing is terrible.

"But I wanted to go to Toshi Station and pick up some power converters!"

That's really all there is to say.

But since we're here to ramble; let's just go over the actors side by side shall we?

Jake Lloyd is bad. So is Hayden Christiansen. Mark Hamil is worse. MUCH worse. Natalie Portman is serviceable (as an actor you filthy pig), Carrie Fisher is terrible - especially in Jedi. Ewan McGregor is damn good. Harrison Ford is better. Alec Guinness is a legend, yet in these movies he's not that much better than Ian McDiarmand (arguably, Ian is better).

And please don't forget that yes, though the original trilogy has Mr. Colt 45 himself - the new movies have Samuel Mother-F-ing Jackson. And Christopher Lee. The original trilogy has Wedge.

So, side by side; sorry there's no overwhelming favorite.

As for the writing; yes, I will concede that Empire is by far the strongest - in dialogue and in story-structure. But Return of the Jedi sinks far below the new movies - in outright laziness, sloppiness and silliness.

First, let's negate the passion and power of Empire Strikes Back - by resolving the Han Solo thing in oh, say, about 20 minutes. We'll go to the palace of puppets, put Lea in a bikini, and then have an awkward and contrived "rescue" plot push the reset button so we can remake the first movie on a planet of merchandise friendly teddy bears.

What. The. F.

Yeah, and Phantom Menace is a terrible movie. Wake up original trilogy slaves, you've been served.

3. Lucas is a meddler. Greedo doesn't shoot first!

And yes, this is an actual argument original trilogy sycophants actually use after the first two peter out. Never mind that it doesn't really have to do with the issue at hand (old movies vs. new movies) it, like "Haliburton", is the old stand-by catch phrase that is bandied about ignorantly when arguments they don't like won't go away quietly.

Lucas IS a meddler. These are his God Damn Movies.

He has provided hours of life altering, imagination firing, entertainment for the price of a movie ticket. He doesn't owe you, or me, or anyone anything in the first place, but the truth is - he has given so much of himself and his passion for these stories that he loves; and in return he gets spit in the face by the "fans".

If he wants to put Jar-Jar in a slave bikini or give Harrison Ford a mohawk in his next versions of the movie; that's his right. And it's my right as a fan to say "Well that sucks, I guess I won't buy it or COMPLAIN ENDLESSLY about it. I'll just MOVE ON, and enjoy the DVD's that I already own."

"Oh but wait!" They cry. "George never released the original movies on DVD." Wrong. He did last year.

"But wait!" They cry. "These are non-anamorphic and no surround sound! And there are garbage mattes on the effects shots!"

Guess what a-holes; the original movie was in Dolby 2.0. And the original print was 4:3 with a wide screen matte (letterbox). And yes Virginia; there were garbage mattes aplenty, not to mention blue screen aliasing and other "imperfections" in the original FX work. THAT was the movie.

And Lucas GAVE it to you! And you STILL COMPLAIN!!!! AAAAARRRRRGGGHHHH!!!!!!!

So what these self absorbed whiners are really saying isn't "Give us the original movie" they're saying "Give us what we want the original movie to be." Sanctimonious and self-serving you are. As Yoda would say.

Now grasp what I'm saying. I roll my eyes when Greedo shoots first; I think the scene in Episode 4 with Han and the crappy digital Jabba has no reason to be in the movie, I could do without any number of "improvements" in the original trilogy, but guess what - the majority of them ARE improvements. The two biggest "alterations" make the movies immeasurably better.

The sound of the original trilogy has been revamped and redesigned pretty much from scratch - at the cost of millions upon millions of dollars out of Lucas' pocket to make the movies an audio experience that holds up to and surpasses most blockbuster films made today.

The digital work extends beyond the effects themselves, and into cleaning up the prints and making them "pop" like never before - including when they were originally released.

The movies, from a movie standpoint, are better than ever from top to bottom. I recognize this and don't let the few questionable choices Lucas has made, dampen my enthusiasm beyond a single shrug.

And so that's about it. Did you get the three prong assault on the original trilogy zombies?

Jar-Jar sucks, the Ewoks are far worse.

The acting and writing is bad - in ALL of the movies.

These are George Lucas' movies, NOT the fans' movies. (Very hard for the self-entitled crowd to swallow, but this applies to most Americans these days. You are not ENTITLED to anything, let alone to control the movies that someone else made.)

And yet, the funny punch-line to all of this, is that I actually prefer the original Trilogy. (Well, maybe not Return of the Jedi).

Empire Strikes Back is probably the most perfect sci-fi movie ever made; and if the other two old movies were of that caliber, then the OT morons would have at least a leg to stand on in their diatribes against Jar-Jar and baby Vader.

That said, the Original Trilogy will always be first in my heart; because it taps directly into the seven year old inside me; because I was there. Even though Return of the Jedi is ridiculous, sloppy and lazy; I still love it. I remember the thrill I got from a goofy teddy bear jumping on a speeder bike, or playing bongo drums on a storm troopers helmet. I still remember that Gawd awful Yub-Yub song (which thankfully Lucas removed, an improvement that rivals the sound and fx overhauls) and yet I loved it - and still love it.

But this is the sentimental. I am enraptured by the past true, but I am not hamstrung by it.

I recognize, that the GREAT moment is now. This is it. It doesn't, nor should it, get any better.

We can hold on to the sentimental, put it on a pedestal, hold it up so high that we have no hope for our current lives or the lives of our children. Or we can let it go, and wake up to what's happening.

This is it. Things aren't going to be okay. They are GREAT. Right. Now.

Monday, May 07, 2007

THE Genre

I could talk about movies for years. They are still, even with a family, a big part of my life. I also love films, but I'm absolutely crazy for movies.

Oh, you don't know the difference between a film and a movie?

Let me tell you how it is.

Films may win awards, praise from critics and explore the human condition. Films may be emotionally stirring or boring beyond words. They may be pretentious and irritating, they may be quiet and marvelous. Films may have naked people to represent an emotion. Films may have profanity, as long as it's true the characters. Films can portray the ugly and the beautiful. Films can put you to sleep quickly.

Films are truthful. Plenty of good stuff, LOTS of bad stuff.

Movies are in THX surround sound. Movies may have explosions and car chases. Movies take us someplace new. Movies are sometimes set in outer space, sometimes in an apocalyptic wasteland. Movies have a bombastic score. Movies have crane shots.

Movies tell a story. Plenty of good stuff, LOTS of bad stuff.

But I love the roller coaster, I love the MOVIES.

I want blockbusters, I want scope. I want explosions, bare breasts, gunfire, profanity laced diatribes, decapitations, last minute rescues, martial artistry, super heroes, elven warriors, and a bit of comic relief. But most of all it has to be spectacle AND heart. Spectacle without emotion is just empty pretty things. Heart without bombast, is just a film.

When I was six years old I was in Reno with my mom and we were going to the movies. I wanted to see "The Rescuers" a Disney cartoon with mice. My mom, for whatever reason, couldn't bear the thought of sitting through another kid flick. But she'd heard about this new movie that was family friendly enough, and yet live action. I was disappointed, and even a little afraid that we would be seeing this "Star Wars". I'd seen the trailer on TV, frankly it looked like a horror movie. Big hairy sasquatch looking guy, intense gun battles, a snake wrapping itself around some guy in a pile of garbage. What was my mom thinking?

I remember to this day, clearly; sitting in that theater. As a giant Imperial Star Destroyer roared, yes roared, overhead. The theater shook and my eyes were as big as dinner plates. It was the greatest movie, ever. Ever. I wanted to see it again and again. I got the toys. All of them. It forever changed my life. That was what I wanted to do, in some way, be a part of that. THE genre. Movies. The bigger and badder, the better.

So as an adult I am peripherally involved; I do shoot and edit video. Using the same gear that the big boys do. I am happy in my work; and though I am 36,I still love the movies. I also enjoy films, but make no mistake, my heart and mind is where the mayhem is.

Many of my peers, especially in the self important world of cyberspace, do not, in fact love the movies.

There is a cynicism that permeates the "geek" culture now. A sort of jaded, non-plussed, "meh" attitude that is only occasionally abated. Everyone pines for the glory days of "genre" cinemas.

What they forget, is that movies in the late seventies (movies, not films) and early eighties, generally sucked.

Not only that, there were far FEWER "movies" than now. "Films" it could be argued, were more numerous and better than their modern day equivalents.

I can count on one hand the number of blockbuster movies that came out before Jurassic Park, that really hold up to today's quantity and quality of MOVIES. The Terminator and T2, Alien and Aliens, The Empire Strikes Back, Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Die Hard and the Road Warrior. Okay that's two hands.

Blade Runner is not only overrated, it kind of sucks. (And I am a HUGE Riddley Scott fan.) The Directors cut is fair - though it makes Matrix Revolutions look like a masterpiece. Blade Runner suffers too much from trying desperately to be a film. It's a movie. Twenty years later, it really needs to get over itself.

The Superman films, 1 & 2, are good. Not great. They are dated and slow. The heart is there, but the effects take me out of the moment one too many times. A blockbuster first and foremost must have heart, which these movies do; but it cannot fail in realism in the world it creates.

ET doesn't hold up. It's sweet, and it still makes me cry. But it's dated, and simplistic in parts. Don't get me wrong, as a film it succeeds brilliantly, but as a movie it falls behind it's peers.

Return of the Jedi is weaker than Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. I'd put it on par with Phantom Menace. Sorry, that's just the way it is. I will be blogging soon my manifesto to put the Star Wars movies in perspective. Stay tuned.

Both Indiana Jones sequels are fun, but not great.

ALL of the Star Trek movies, were serviceable, and some (Wrath of Kahn) even had shades of greatness. But let's get real. They were never in the same ballpark as Empire Strikes Back. And I'm the biggest Trekkie you're ever gonna meet. Star Trek V. Need I say more?

And honestly, off the top of my head, that's all of the "good" movies that I can remember. I'm sure there were others, but really - when it comes to movies, the 80's were mostly filled with crap. Teen sex farces, bad Sci-Fi, and lots of experiments that are incredibly dated when you watch them now.

And then in 1993 there was Jurassic Park. The critics were lukewarm. They missed it. I knew immediately that it was a revolution. Suddenly, anything was possible. The young movie makers that had grown up watching Star Wars, now had the tools to make dreams reality.

We had crossed over; and "movies" entered a true golden age. Problem was, and is, the movie geeks, who began to crowd the internet with their "meh" and "worst movie ever" pabulum, were blinded by nostalgia. They have missed it completely.

Many decry the over use of Computer Generated Imagery, CGI; and they do have a point to some extent. Movies like "The Mummy Returns" and "Lost In Space" suffer greatly from an over dependence on it - though I would argue that they are hampered far more by pandering story structure and poor direction. But CGI, is undeniably an incredible tool - which when used properly and when integrated with practical elements, can tell a story like never before.

Pre-CGI, the movies made were but a training ground for what we have now, filled with a small amount of genius work (Cameron, Lucas, Spielberg) but mostly stuffed with cheese (Ladyhawk, Ice Pirates, Legend, Willow, etc.).

Now, was and is the time to see the best of the best. We are witnessing a murderer's row of movies.

A murderer's row.

And it's happening. Right, NOW!



The Lord of the Rings Trilogy flat out blows away the most of the best of the "golden age". Star Wars may be the exception.

The Matrix Trilogy, especially the first movie, puts Blade Runner to shame.

The Harry Potter Movies are incredible in their scope, effects work and heart. Nothing remotely that good and consistent could have sprung out of the 80's. Especially not four, soon to be seven, films.

Comic Book movies are for the most part fantastic. Spider Man is great, as is the X-Men series. I'd say Daredevil was a stinker. But even Hulk and Fantastic Four were better "superhero movies" than all but the first Superman movie. And oh yeah, comic book movies in the 80's, oh yeah, that's right, compared to now - THERE WEREN'T ANY!!!

Pirates of the Frikkin' Caribbean. Sweet Jesus, point me to a movie in the 80's (a MOVIE) that even comes close to kicking it's butt. The sequel was just as good. Critics, and old people (meaning people in their 30's) hated it, the rest of us loved it, and showed our love with our hard earned cash. Dead Man's chest is number 6 on the all time US gross list.

The Chronicles of Narnia. The rest of the series to follow. Beautiful and Brilliant.

All of the Pixar movies. Don't deny the influence of 80's films on these, just recognize that the stories and effects are now done much better.

300. Revolutionary. Extraordinary. (WAKE UP OLD MOVIE GEEKS!!! WAAAKEE UPPPP!!!!!)

Sleepy Hollow. Big Fish. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. From the master Burton. Ed Wood is more of a film, but still great.

Gladiator. Kingdom of Heaven.

The Bourne Identity and Supremacy.

Casino Royale. The best James Bond movie since, well, ever.

Forrest Gump. Contact. Castaway.

The Sixth Sense.

Children of Men and Apocalypto. My absolute favorite "movies" last year. The former does lean heavily into the "film" category - but only because it's effects are so seamless. The latter (despite the director being a racist nut-job) is one of the most inspired "movies" I've ever seen. (Though heavy on the violence and gore.)

There are more great ones I'm forgetting I'm sure. But the point is, I didn't even have to think too hard to come up with many GREAT "movies" post-Jurassic Park - that ALL stand up and even exceed the best of movies in the 80's.

Granted there are lots of other movies today, a majority in fact, that are just plain good, mediocre, or even lousy. (Elektra anyone?) But I'd say I'm fine with that. I'd much rather have a decent "Ghost Rider" than time and energy spent on another flick with the effects quality of say "Dragon Slayer" or "Dark Crystal" (Wow did both of those movies suck. They, sucked.)

Even with the looming threat of the next Die Hard sequel being cut down to a PG-13 (an awful, awful, awful, awful idea) I know it will likely be way better than parts 2 or 3. I hate the whole PG-13 concept; movies should go for the throat, every time (that's what made the 80's movies that were great, GREAT) but I can live with it as long as we get Lord of the Rings and Pirates level of quality on occasion.

Again, in case you forgot the whole first part of this lengthy diatribe, I'm talking about "movies" not "films". Frankly, I don't have enough interest in films to be able to tell you if films today stand up to those made 20 years ago. But if you're talking movies, guess what? For this grown-up who will always be a kid at heart, it ain't even close muchachos. Movies today, flat out rock.

Stay tuned for my manifesto on why the Star Wars Prequels are just as good as the original trilogy.

Oh yeah, one other thing.

Can't wait till' Shrek 3 comes out. Sorry, I love the Shrek movies. And so do the rest of us idiots. Take solace in the fact that Shrek 2 has passed ET in domestic gross. Probably because it's a better "movie".

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Poked Out

Lately I've been obsessed with poker. I close my eyes at night and see flops, turns, rivers, pot odds, implied odds, all kinds of poker jargon and equations. It's probably because I'm addicted to playing online; no, not for real money, just for play chips and the occasional World Series of Poker seat giveaway freeroll.

What I play is not really poker. The chips have no value. People tend to go all in at far less than the drop of a hat, so I'm sure my actual poker skills are probably wrecked right now. I've been "successful" in that I've turned 1K of play chips into 300K over the last six months. I've also final tabled three times in the World Series of Poker freerolls (beating out 600+ other people for a shot at entering another tournament of 5000 people where the top 9 get to have ANOTHER tournament, where the two top finishers get 10K of real money to enter the World Series of Poker Main Event. Whew!)

Any kind of success, even phony success, can be pretty addictive. Many a time I've been playing after midnight, on a school night no less, and have to listen to the wife complain and cajole me into bed. So I try to go to sleep, again, with visions of bad beats, miracle cards and mountains of virtual chips filling my brain.

During the work day, when I'm rendering or find myself with a light work load; I occasionally slide over to the web for a bit of light reading about, gee, can you guess? Poker. There's no shortage of information on the subject. Most fascinating of all I find, is reading other peoples blogs about poker. Yes, there are journals upon journals dedicated pretty much soley to America's favorite game, on both real and virtual felt.

Over the past couple of months, I've noticed an inescapable trend in these blogs. Google "Poker Blog" and you can read for yourself. A sizable majority of these web journals about poker, are decidedly downbeat. In other words, there are heaps of tales about - losing money, bad beats, losing interest in the game, going back to a "real" job, bad luck, and just generally bad times. It seems the luster is off of the poker boom, and many of it's players are finding it extremely hard to maintain the level of success, or for that matter any success, that they've had in the past.

I find this fascinating, because I've also been following poker news. Of course the big story is, the US Government tacked on a proviso in a port security bill that bans online gambling - including poker! (Of course lottos, horse racing and sports betting are exempt - because everyone knows there's a lot more skill involved in those activities than poker. Durrr! But that's a whole other topic for another rant.)

The impact of this law, isn't that individuals can be prosecuted for playing online, the Department of Justice isn't bothering going after Joe-Sixpack; but that banks and credit card companies CAN be prosecuted for dealing with gambling funds. So now if you want to play online you have to deal with a third party money transferring organization that is based overseas. Long story short - you can still play poker online, but it is a major logistical pain in the butt to get your money to and from your account.

Consequently, most of the casual players, have stopped playing. The "fish" (as losing players are called) have left the pond. Fish are what drive the poker economy. Online poker statistics reveal that only 10% of ALL online poker players make a profit. As recent as a year ago when online poker was more accessible, there were more players than ever. With this recent law, the poker population as a whole has dropped significantly.

But the ratio of winners stays the same, so this group of profitable players (10%) is now much smaller. That means, WAY more losers. Many of which used to be successful.

And their tales of woe are fascinating to read.

I think these tales are a blessing for me. They remind me of the potentially addictive nature in the game that I love. I have read story after story of not only players who have lost their poker bankrolls, but who have lost their bank accounts, homes and spouses. Yikes!

Only a year ago I was seriously contemplating opening a real money poker account online. Now I know better. I play for fun. That's it. And like I have done with video games and television in the past, I now try to limit myself to only two nights of online play a week. I get great satisfaction from playing, and I hope poker will be part of my life for the rest of my life. In fact, before I leave this earth I would love to sit down at a World Series event (not the 10K buy-in main event, just a 1K regular bracelet event) just to be able to tell my grandkids that I did it. But even then, I'm going to do it strictly for fun and for love of the game.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

That takes a lot of gall.... bladder!

So I've been having these 20 minute to 2 hour attacks of severe pain in my abdomen every other week or so for the last two months. It all started with an apple pie induced whopper of an attack three days after Christmas, which had been preceded by a series of much milder attacks the week prior.

I went to the emergency room in Las Vegas, and after nonchalantly confirming that my earth shattering agony (from which I was bent over, unable to see straight, or communicate coherently) was not in my chest, the triage nurse bluntly told me to "Have a seat. It'll be a while". Two hours of moaning and groaning later, I was finally admitted, at which point the pain finally had receded. I was so happy to be out of the land of blinding agony, that when I was ultra-sounded and then diagnosed as having gallstones - I was more relieved than worried.

The attacks continued when I got back home, less frequently and less long in length thanks to my low fat diet. But after a particularly more severe episode than normal, it was time to see a doctor in LA. He concurred with the Vegas ER doc and sent me to a surgeon, who also concurred. The gall bladder had to come out.

This is the treatment of choice for such a problem. Not zapping the stones, that's kidneys, not removing the stones, that's old-school. Nope, just pull out the whole organ. Apparently, we don't really need it anyway. At least that's what all three physicians told me. So fine, let's take the sucker out.

I had to wait till after my vacation in Key West with my girls to visit my Dad and his wife, a trip that was absolutely fabulous BTW; good times were had by all despite the rain and colder temperatures than LA. Especially great was to see my grandmother, 87 and sharp as the proverbial whip and mobile to boot, getting to enjoy high quality time with her first great grand child. Also great news, no attacks in Key West, but alas, a doozy of an attack on the plane ride home.

So three days later I was admitted, the procedure knocked me out but good. It was over in less than 20 minutes; four tiny incisions, laproscopic instruments inserted and wa-lah! Gall bladder is history! The surgeon told my wife that the offending organ was indeed inflamed and scarred - the true culprit of my suffering.

Getting put under is totally bizarre. Lying on my back under big lights, the room starts spinning; I close my eyes - a split second later I open my eyes; the operation is long since over, I am in recovery. I promptly throw up and go back to sleep. A deep but normal sleep, not the black timeless abyss of anesthesia. I groggily wake up and crash several more times before regaining coherent thought. My wife is there, everything is fine. But boy do I feel like crap.

Crummy-ness continued for another two days, spent at home in bed, before I started to feel human again. Now here it is, a week later, and I think I'm actually going to be just fine. Still not a hundred percent, but everyone around me seems to think it's going to take a little more time. Glad to be here. The phone calls and concerns mean a lot to me, every last one of them. I Love you all.

Monday, January 29, 2007


I'm pissed about the war right now. Those who think that plywood makeshift memorials and smelly marchers are things that in any way respect or honor our troops are best off not reading this.

I guess what galls me most of all is, not the brainless anti-war movement, but the sheer cowardice on display from our congress. If I was anti-war I would be mad as hell, as Cindy Sheehan and her ilk are presently. Disgruntled Americans put the Democrats in power, and the best the new congress can do is pass a non-binding resolution saying that the war in Iraq is not in our best interests.

Non-binding, toothless, and spineless. This makes me angry. You are against the war, do what you really want to do - cut the funding. Stab our troops in the back, give the Iraqi's what you think they deserve, exponentially more bloodshed.

Its ridiculous but true, Democrats and some patently insane Republicans (a Nebraskan Senator who has simply lost his mind is the most visible example) refuse to stand up to even their own misguided convictions. They are cowards as much as our fighting men and women are heroes.

The first hundred hours, as far as the issue that matters most, were pointless. You could give these idiots a hundred years, and they would never find principles to stand on.

Do it. Cut the finding, you gutless, useless, cowards.

I believe most Americans, including myself, are against the war NOT because it is illegal, immoral (insert your own bullshit touchy-feely platitude here) or whatever; but because we are not winning.

There has been an astonishing lack of leadership from the top, and it starts and ends with our president. I fear that the most recent (and long overdue) change in strategy will be far too little too late.

Our soldiers should have been given a much broader discretion in rules of engagement from the beginning; freedom to attack and pursue enemy targets - without interference from beauracratic brass and/or granola journalists who don't know a war zone from a bikini zone.

Likewise, they should have been put in charge of what they do best; killing people and breaking things. After the enemy was neutralized, nay pulverized, into submission, the nation building (which should have been planned out way in advance) needed to be executed by experts from the state department and private sector. Not by our soldiers. The fact that these cowardly suits still sit in government buildings, while our fighting men and women muddle through the thankless task of picking up the pieces (while still under fire for God's sake) churns my stomach.

Still, I pray every day (perhaps naively) for our brave soldiers, for them to come home after a lasting peace is established in Iraq. The most I can concede for the thousands that marched on Washington last weekend, is that they pray for the former. They certainly don't care about the latter.