Thursday, December 23, 2010

Permission to Pledge

Recently Massachusetts, in it's infinite thoughtfulness and wisdom, decided that kids in their schools would need to have permission slips signed by their parents in order to say the pledge of allegiance.

I think this is patently ridiculous, so I put the article on facebook.

Here are three responses from three very left of center folks, one a long ago friend who seems like a nice enough guy, the second an occasional poker player in my home game and the last guy someone I knew once in 6th grade.

Response 1:

"So what? We didn't say a pledge of allegiance. It's a stupid idea anyway. Being compelled to recite a text by rote like a drone which has the gall to mention "Liberty" is a joke."

Response 2:

"Why is this even a bad thing? I vividly remember being uncomfortable as an elementary school kid saying the pledge, because I didn't know exactly how I felt about God (still don't, really) and the way the pledge is worded felt like an ominous blood oath. If you're not feeling it, the recitation feels heavy. All the while, it does nothing to enhance the quality of education, reeks of faux-Patriotism/unnecessary religious overtones, and is a relic of days when we used to search under the bed for Communists among us."

Response 3:

"It's part of the state-worship programming juggernaut. I think they should cut-out the middle: "I pledge allegiance to... liberty and justice for all." At least we don't make kids salute anymore since the nazis copied us... (and then he posted a link to an article about the writer of the pledge. I knew about this guy, and he's pretty interesting.)

The first responder is reasonable, though misguided, as is the second, but the third one is pretty much in his own little world. He believes the United States should be dissolved and that anarchy is the way to go. Seriously, that's actually what he believes.

Whatever. I don't know these guys very well, but I felt compelled to respond.

Shortly after, I deleted my response, as deep down I do know them well enough to know that they are both too far gone to ever get why saying the pledge is important. When the hammer of truth comes down, things can get very nasty and very personal very quickly; so I'd much rather avoid that with these men that are in the end, fellow travelers just trying to get by.

But I was impressed enough with my own response to re-print it here.


Did it ever dawn on either of you that the main reason most Americans want to say the pledge of allegiance, and raise their kids to do so as well, is because we don't have to?

A permission slip to say the pledge, is very misguided.

If anything it will only serve to ostracize the kids whose parents are so full of decadent self loathing and so absent of faith and hope as to tell them that the pledge of allegiance is wrong or wrong headed.

And Frank, I know I sound like a broken record, but you can stop with the state-worship dogma shtick. I get what you are saying, but you couldn't be more off base on this.

We are free in this country, not because we worship the state - but because we answer to a higher power and a natural law that dictates that all men are CREATED equal. It is not men or government we pledge to, but to providence and the promise of liberty. The God given right to pursue happiness and be free. America is far and away the closest thing we have to making this fundamental truth a reality.

By the way, I really enjoyed the Bellamy article, though I've read most of the same on Wikipedia before - and I find it deliciously ironic that the pledge's less than ideal origins transformed into something that speaks plainly and earnestly to the love of freedom. Very much opposite of what Bellamy was trying to achieve if this article is to be entirely taken at it's word.

We are also certainly free to say no to liberty, to push for a totalitarian state or an anarchist's fantasy - but those who do, do so only because they are allowed to by the greatest country on God's green earth and the men and women who fight and die for them against the forces of evil across the globe.

They fight because they believe in faith and freedom. Not a dictator (Chavez, Castro) or a government (China) or because of fear (Iran, North Korea).

As an American exceptionalist, I was thrilled when my 5 year old came back 2 weeks into kindergarten with the pledge memorized - not because I want her to fall in line like a good little drone, but because I know she will grow to understand the meaning behind the words, and what makes them so powerful.

It's easy to be dismissive and guilt ridden about America when you grow up in it and reap the benefits. I have traveled to 29 countries and been knee deep in some of the worst poverty on the planet - my eyes have been opened to not only how good we have it (health, wealth and stuff) but how we are truly touched by God to be a beacon of hope to the downtrodden and oppressed.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Tale of Two Charlies

Recently my little girl, 6 years old and as smart and sweet as they come, watched the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie at her YMCA after school care. I know this because she was singing the Oompa-Loompa song from her car seat when I picked her up that day.

I could tell that the movie had fascinated her, as we talked and laughed about the great scenes and songs.

As with most of the great movies of my childhood, I had hoped to introduce my kid to the book first - I have "The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe", "A Wrinkle in Time", "The Mouse and the Motorcycle" and more than a few others, lined up for her on the shelf, to read to her in the very near future.

The book "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" sits there as well, it is one of my absolute all time favorites. Roald Dahl was a genius, and his children's books are a whole other level of greatness beyond most children's literature. The stories are dark, a bit twisted and yet thoroughly infused with a surprisingly righteous morality that sucker punches kids under the tasty guise of the macabre and surreal.

So I had missed my chance with Charlie, but I was delighted that my little Natalie embraced the film. If I remember correct, she watched it again that night at home on DVD (or it might have been the next Saturday morning).

I myself, love the movie. Gene Wilder is beyond brilliant. The film has heart, vividly drawn characters and a surprisingly good story structure that pays off handsomely in the final act. It also benefits tremendously from the warm glow of nostalgia that I attach to it - I was ten or so when I saw it for the first time, and I loved catching it on television thereafter (in those pre-VHS days) and even got to see it on the big screen at the UC Theater in Berkeley more than once.

And yet...

As with most movie adaptions, the film really does suffer in comparison to the brilliance of the book. The movie has it's dark moments. The book is dark, period. Sinister even. Willy Wonka is a bit of a scamp in the movie, in the book he starts out that way but the reader quickly realizes that Willy is out for blood.

The book also conveys, in a way that most movies simply can't, a thoroughly realized world. A hyper-reality that exists on it's own, not a pale imitation of our own world.

The movie is also dated. Most prominently it suffers from pacing problems, as well as a couple of very unfortunate choices that almost derail the movie before it has a chance to start. The "Candy Man" musical number comes off as creepy, forced and under produced. "Cheer Up Charlie" is simply a dreadful and morose song, sung by a fairly untalented actress/singer who, like Charlie in the movie, looks like she just came straight from the commissary.

Most obvious of all, and this has no real bearing on the ultimate worth of the movie - is the production value in general. Pre-factory everything looks great, the city of Prague is certainly unique enough - but once inside you can really see the seams and lack of resources that the film makers had to deal with. Granted, there is a lot of talent and creativity at play, and because you care about the characters you can forgive a lot - but really, it is pretty cheesy and ultimately doesn't even approach what I had in my imagination when I read the book. In simpler terms, the production design is dated and inadequate at bringing Dahl's world to life.

So when I heard Tim Burton was remaking the movie, I was anxious to see it.

At the risk of comparing apples to oranges, I have to go out on a limb and say that I vastly prefer the new movie to the old one.

I know I'm in the minority on this one.

But frame for frame, the new movie gets everything right about what makes the book so great. You enter the world, you believe it. It's not just the production value, which is about a million times more impressive than the previous film, but you really feel wrapped up in what Roald Dahl brought to bear in the book.

Charlie is skinny. He looks malnourished.

Everyone is odd. Off. Grandpa Joe is both scary, creepy, silly and endearing. He's not a double chinned Broadway crooner.

The town does not exist in our world. Charlie's house looks like it should have fallen over years ago, and yet it remains at a 45 degree angle.

When characters talk about something interesting - as when Willy gives us the Oompa-Loompa's origin story - we go there. He doesn't just talk about it. We see Oompa-Loompa land! This is what the book is like. Think it. Go there.

To me, this movie gets it - gets what Dahl was trying to share with us in a way the old movie doesn't even approach.

It's a world of wonder, of the bizarre, and there are also sinister things at play if you don't stay on the straight and narrow.

These new rotten kids are 100 times more intriguing than the original gang (with the possible exception of Veruca, who is so brilliantly drawn up in the book that it would have been impossible even then for casting agents and writers to screw it up).

Augustus is truly abhorrent and fascinating in a car wreck sort of way.

Violet is a revelation, as is her amazingly disturbing mother - characterized a bit different from the book, but incredibly compelling and hard to turn away from.

Veruca is note perfect, and I'd say just as good as the girl in the first movie (I'll concede that the first time around her writing was better). Best of all is her dad who absolutely brings it, in a nuanced performance that perfectly conveys the helplessness of a powerful man in the grips of a demon child of his own making.

Finally, the most sinister of all, Mike TeeVee, who this time is truly given justice as the worst of the worst. Mike in my mind is one of the most brilliantly ahead of his time characters ever put down on paper in a book. He is heartless cynicism personified. He is jaded, he is bored. He is everything that is wrong with the last 3 generations of kids. He is a future serial killer because he has lost his ability to empathize or even sympathize with anyone.

When we see the rotten kids at the end of the movie - probably the most singular important scene in the story (and inexplicably omitted from the first movie) - Mike TeeVee is the only kid who is physically deformed beyond repair and will have to live the rest of his life as a freak in society. This is no accident by Dahl, there is a message here. Consequence for a cruel little boy.

And then there is Willy Wonka.

In the new movie, let's just say they go off on a tangent. Or two or three.

We get far, far, far more information on who Willy is. Is it necessary? Probably not. Does it work? Absolutely. It brings a real emotional resonance to this strange little man - who is played as even more of a freak than he is in the book. He is creepy, he is reclusive, he is deranged and damaged. And yet, in the end, he is redeemed. This movie, even more-so than the misnamed original film that was actually called "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" really is about Willy. His journey, his path to Charlie, and the recovery of his humanity through a child.

And Charlie himself, is fully realized in this film - you really get that he is impoverished and humbled by his circumstance. Deep down, like another certain bespectacled wizard of recent lore, he is heroic and one step from greatness - simply because he is genuine and thoroughly infused with love for his family and even for his mere existence. "And you, why you're just happy to be here." Willy perfectly observes of Charlie at their first meeting. In this scene, and in many others, there is a lot more going on beneath the surface. It's what I loved about the book, and it's what I love about this movie.

Deep themes, brought to vivid life by the genius of Tim Burton.

It's something that most of Burton's critics miss. He is truly a master of the silent movie. For him Dialogue is merely a secondary tool and bringing characters and stories to life - it is the flair of the visual and of the performance (a subtle look, an inner turmoil) that elevates Burtons work to a primal place unmatched by most other film makers. His movies tap into the deep and dark places of our subconscious. Critics, self-aware and jaded, don't get it. Audiences do. Witness his recent "Alice in Wonderland" a positively outstanding and ravishing work of art that also happened to make a billion (with a "B") dollars on it's first theatrical run.

Burton was the perfect choice to bring Dahl's masterpiece to life and I think he did so brilliantly.

Detractors of the new movie point out that R. Dahl himself wrote the screenplay of the first movie. I like to point out, that he actually wrote the first draft and was disgusted at the final product, even trying to have his name removed at one point. Furthermore, his granddaughter I believe, was a consultant on the new film and has been quoted endlessly how her grandpa assuredly would have looked more favorably upon this newest incarnation of his work.

A perfect example of this is the Oompa-Loompa songs. Which film would you guess has the original Dahl lyrics? If you guessed the first one, you guessed wrong.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not one of these book "purists" who thinks a film has to slavishly adhere to it's source. The first two Harry Potter movies are fairly dreadful because of this impulse. A movie has to be a good movie, first and foremost - faithful to the book second. But in this case, so much of what was great about the book was left out of the first movie. I'm just so happy and relieved to see that this new product recaptured so much of what was great on the printed page.

In any event, as I've said, I still think there is real merit in both movies. I'd even concede that the first movie probably works better on a simpler story telling and heart strings level. It is more mainstream and more effective at delivering Dahl's message of hope tempered by consequence which is universal to all children and children at heart.

I popped in the new movie the other night for Natalie to watch. She dug it, though she was a little scared at first. Once I assured her that this movie was the exact same story, and even less scary in parts (no chicken getting it's head chopped off) she happily settled in.

I really tried to not tip my hand that I like the new movie more, I just told her that I liked them both. So does she. But I think she might be leaning more towards the new one, because she's asked to see it again more than once.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Stupid Americans

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Handy Dandy Evil Voting Guide 2010

For California in 2010, this is how I roll.

For Guv'ner - unfortunately I have to vote for Arnold II; that would be the Meg Whitman, a phony republican who says one thing in english (that she's tough on illegal immigration) and something else in spanish. Whatever, at least she's not a political dinosaur and corrupt lying sack.

Lieutenant Governor - Abel Maldonado, even though he's an Ahnuld crony and as crooked as they come. I would have to commit seppuku if I cast a vote for Gavin Newsome.

Secretary of State - incumbent's gotta go. Voting for Damon Dunn, small business owner and not (so far) a corrupt democratic hack.

Controller - same as Secretary of State - old guard's gotta go. Voting for Strickland, who is just as bad as Maldanado, but not in the same universe of evil as Chiang.

Treasurer- gotta go with Mimi Walters. Can't screw our state any worse than Lockyer has.

Attorney General - this is the first no-brainer. Cooley is the man - the L.A. County DA who has helped drive the crime and homicide rates through the floor here in Los Angeles over the past five years. He is a guy I get excited about, because he is tough as nails and a total badass when it comes to crime.

Insurance Commissioner - Mike Villines is a liar and a fake republican who reneged on his promise to not vote for taxes in the legislature. That said, hell will freeze over before I vote for Dave Jones - so lying Mike gets the nod.

State Board of Equalization - so pathetic here in district 4 that we don't even have a republican candidate. So the libertarian, Pete De Baets get's the nod over the incumbent criminal Horton.

US Senator - Fiorina of course. Boxer turns my stomach for obvious reasons. I honestly don't think there is a dumber US Senator right now in Washington. Feinstein I may disagree with on a lot of stuff, but I can respect her tenacity and intelligence. Boxer... oye.

US Rep - Reed of course. Sherman's gotsta gotsta go. In line with Obama on every bad piece of legislation over the last 2 years.

State Assembly - Ramani, who doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell to win against Gatto and the rigged voting districts of the California legislature. (But hopefully prop 20 will fix that for next time).

Judges - don't know much, don't care much, but I go by these guidelines. Always pick the prosecutor - especially the gang prosecutor. Always avoid the defense attorneys. If it's a wash in these categories, go with kicking out the incumbent.

School Superintendent - This is a tough one, I hate both of them! One is a retured school superindendant (yuck!) the other a teacher and California Legislator! (Double yuck!) I'm going with the single yuck.

County Assessor - Going with Wong, only because Noguez is tied up with those Bell motherfuckers.

State Measures! Finally!

19 - Legalize Marjuana. Big hell yes on this one. Can't wait to get stoned. Actually, think it's none of the governments business and the war on drugs has been a huge failure.

20 - redistricting. Yes. Can't make things any worse.

21 - vehicle license fees for state parks. Hell no. Our state is the WORST when it comes to spending money efficiently and sensibly. This has as much to do with state parks as a fish does with a bicycle.

22 - Prohibits state from borrowing or taking funds blah blah blah. Too long. Voting NO.

23 - Suspends green jobs initiative until unemployment hits 5.5%. Big time YES.

24 - Repeals legislation that allows businesses to lower tax liability. NO. Duh.

25 - Changes budget passing from 2/3 to simple majority. NO. Our legislature is democrats. Do you think I'm crazy?

26 - Requires that state and local fees be approved by 2/3 vote. YES. Obv.

27 - Redistricting counter to 20. NO.

Well there it is, that's what Imma doing. I would hope that no matter how you vote, educate yourself and study the issues carefully. If you haven't been paying attention - do us all a favor and stay home. I am not from the "Vote or Die" school of thought. I'm from the - "Educate yourself and make an informed decision, otherwise don't vote." school. A bit more thoughtful and nuanced, but really the right way to go I think.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Well this happened surprisingly fast, but I'm not shocked at all that it did come to pass.

An old acquaintance and ex-employee from work who is very good at posting political links on facebook, but not so great at articulating his own thoughts beyond the Kool-aid drenched party line of the American left, has de-friended me, without so much as a word through e-mail or a phone call.

He's the one a few posts below who suggested to me that we shouldn't draw Mohammed because radical Muslims might blow something up if we do.

This has happened before, and it will happen again.

Eventually people realize with amazement that I am a person of conviction, who has ideas and principles outside of the narrow and decadent paradigm of liberal elites.

Even more incredulous to them, is that I don't go away and I don't back down. When this happens, things get personal really fast and they almost always take the cowards way out. First the cryptic chirping, then the personal insults, and then finally turning tail and running away like the babies they are.

Funny how I could care less when they bash the Iraq war (in my mind they are bashing the troops) or say Universal Health Care is a really great idea. I don't for one second get mad. My pulse rate doesn't quicken. I am bemused, and sometimes amused.

And this is simply because - I don't think my friends are idiots, or evil. I just think they're wrong.

In fact, I'm so confident in my views - I actually can get a good actual laugh when someone tells me that we need BIGGER government, MORE regulations, LESS military spending, ZERO tolerance of faith in the public sector unless it's Islamic. I think this idiocy is hilarious, and I'm not threatened by it at all - because I know I'm right.

If I were to get mad, throw insults, cut off discussion - I would be one of them.

I have literally been told on separate occasions by different friends, and even a relative- I'm endangering a friendship, I should just shut up, I should go away, I am an idiot, I am a racist and I am uneducated.

Not for one instant did it enter my mind that any of these labels applied to my accuser. Not for one instant did I consider insulting them, beyond a good natured barb of sarcasm or condescension (hey, I am human).

Anger and fear really do seem to only flow one way - out of the hearts and minds of those who disagree with me.

I'm used to it.

It is true, I routinely intellectually beat up on liberals like a red-headed step-child, and I guess it's pretty tough to stand up to to an overwhelming barrage of principle and common sense that doesn't involve smug self-loathing. My passion is driven by relentless patriotism and exhaustive experience in traveling the globe - it's gotta be tough for anyone who worships the State to process the truth when it comes out of my mouth .

Ah well, another one down.

Thursday, September 09, 2010


So this crazy asshole in Florida plans to burn the Quran on September 11th.

What a jerk.

It will probably incite hatred, possibly violence and maybe even put American soldiers lives at risk.

I don't agree with this guy - I think what he is doing is wrong.

But I believe he has every right to do it without interference from our government.

The first amendment does not take sides, the Constitution is (thank God) impartial.

And as crazy and as wrong as this so called man of the cloth is, he's no worse than the radical Imam who seeks to divide Americans and incite hatred and fear by building an indoctrination center for Sharia law at Ground Zero.

Nor is he worse than the New York Times when they publish military secrets that put our troops in harms way.

He's just a lone kook.

The Imam has real power and influence over a large group of followers who will hang on his every word, and possibly even react violently if the GZ mosque has to be relocated.

The New York Times has an audience of millions who still believe that they are objective - and that they do no harm by exposing military intelligence and emboldening the enemy.

That so much attention has been paid to this lone nut ball, with even our president imploring him to restrain himself, and liberal elites falling all over themselves with anguish at the prospect of a few books being burned - strikes me as pretty ridiculous.

I am very skeptical that the elite bloggers and media stooges are genuinely righteous about protecting the Quran - to me it seems more like they are afraid of a violent reaction, that is - they are playing right into the hands of the radical Islamists.

People burn American flags all the time. No one raises an eyebrow.

Christ is routinely blasphemed in movies and television shows. Meh. So what?

But one jerk-off in Florida wants to torch a couple of books and it's the end of the world? Give me a break.

Muslims, even radical ones, have to learn that there is a price for freedom. All religions in a free society are targets, even theirs.

I wish they could get on board, like the rest of us have to, and fucking deal with it.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Not quite good enough.

Tonight Obama gave a speech about Iraq. He basically got across that the combat phase has ended and that the Iraqi's need to step up to the plate. I'm with him on these two points.

He also praised our soldiers to a great extent, for which I am glad. And of course, this is what a president must do.

He also strayed a bit, pointing out early on that he was fulfilling his campaign promise to wind the operation down.

Um, no one gives a shit about your campaign promise sir, this isn't about you.

But overall, the speech was a good one. Beautifully written as always, and Obama is a master speaker. If his aim was to inspire Americans, overall, he succeeded.

So well done troops, well done Iraq, well done everyone and God bless us all.

And Columbo turns back at the last second...

Oh, one other thing. Two other things actually.

First of all, he gave zero, and I mean ZERO credit to George W. Bush.

No mention that the surge, which Obama said would fail, actually succeeded.

No mention that the entire drawdown plan, soup to nuts, was and still is entirely GWB's. Obama has literally kept exactly with the Bush blue print presented to him on his first day in office by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Fine. I didn't really expect our president to show grace in this matter. It's academic really, Bush will forever be the Dark Knight - hated, but ultimately 100% right when it came to winning the war and keeping us safe.

Second of all, and FAR more importantly.

He withheld from our troops a real victory by not specifically saying that they have achieved it.

He did praise the US and coalition forces profusely, which I thought was great, and despite my gut instincts, I don't judge his heart - I take him at his word. But he didn't go far enough.

Regardless of how one views the war, the simple fact is that our soldiers succeeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams. Iraq is stable, and has a real shot at remaining so. That, to me, is an indisputable victory.

Because as a Senator Obama was against the war, against the surge, and in my view against our soldiers, he now refuses to swallow his pride and do his job as president - give our soldiers the full honor they deserve - calling a victory a victory.

I understand he doesn't want to look like Bush on an aircraft carrier with a big banner of "Mission Accomplished" behind him.

But this isn't really about him, and tonight he failed to see that in spectacular fashion.

Edit: Here is a great little blurb from Hot Air that beautifully encapsulates what I wrote last night. I'm pretty proud that it basically restates (though much more elegantly) what I already came up with.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


This whole ground zero mosque business seems to have inflamed passions all around. The idea of a mosque not too far from the rubble of the WTC isn't that repugnant to me, if anything it seems like it might be a good idea to help build a bridge between cultures and demonstrate to the world that America values religious freedom above bigotry.

But this "Cultural Center" that is being planned is anything but just a mosque - it is a garish 13 story behemoth that will be the American headquarters for promoting Sharia law and will be spear headed by an Imam who blames the US for 9/11.

It is these facts, along with the mainstream media calling anyone who bristles at them Islamo-phobic, that have firmly placed me in the anti-ground zero mosque camp.

This is an issue that is, underneath, not at all about religious freedom. The forces behind this mosque are provocateurs of the most insidious kind. Their choice of location (the site of a building damaged during the 9/11 attacks) is just the first step at dividing Americans.

The planned "activities" for the center, which will likely include a sex segregated worshipping area, a non-admittance policy to non-Muslims into the mosque, and stern lectures from Sharia pushing Imams, will vividly illustrate the one way street that is "tolerance" in the "moderate" Muslim world.

Cultural elites view those of us who oppose the location of this indoctrination center (excuse me, I meant mosque) as intolerant bigots. The fact that women in most Muslim countries are at best second class citizens seems to be lost on them.

Can you imagine non-Catholics, or even non-Christians, being turned away from St. Paul's cathedral? Did you know that non-Muslims aren't allowed anywhere near the Haj in Mecca?

I've been to Muslim countries. A few hardcore (Egypt, Jordan) and a few moderate (Morocco, Indonesia). It was while I was in Indonesia early on a Friday morning that I asked our guide Mr. Malik if I could join him for services. He laughed and smiled. Absolutely not. I was "an infidel" (his exact words) in the eyes of his faith. Though he was kind to me and took great pains to explain and professed to not believe this himself, he was very clear. Absolutely not.

Indonesia is supposedly the most liberal Muslim country in the world.

Am I the intolerant one for thinking that the GZ mosque Imam is a bit of an asshole for wanting to plant his flag on the graves of people who were blown up in the name of his religion?

The main thing that seems to be missing from the pro-GZ mosque bunch is common sense.

I could care less about a radical dick-head wanting to build a center for his religion. He can go ahead and build it. It's what our country is all about. The right to be a douche, and have a douchey religion. But please, pick a different location. Try a mile or two away. Knock yourself out. If a radical Christian asshole, like the guy in Gainesville Florida who is going to have a Koran book burning this weekend wanted to build a church on or near Ground Zero, I'd say hell to the no as well.

Let's use our brains and not our knee-jerk politically correct self-loathing passions to guide us to the correct choice.

Show a little respect for the dead. Show a little class.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3 may be the best movie of the trilogy because the stakes are so high.

This is the endgame for the toys - the pay off, the culmination of all the arcs and themes of the first two chapters.

And they don't drop the ball.

Star Wars. The Matrix. Spider-man. Three great movie trilogies - three substandard final installments.

Return of the Jedi is probably the first "epic fail". Planet of the teddy bears ending with a teddy bear picnic.

Matrix Revolutions - takes all the clunky dialogue from the first two movies and doubles it, then finishes with a tepid action set piece and kills off Trinity.

Spider-man 3 - yeesh.

But it's hard to write a good ending - probably the hardest part of any story.

Toy Story 3 somehow pulls it off, respecting and honoring the first two films, but it also striving to be great on it's own.

Some spoilers follow, so if you haven't seen the movie yet, bookmark this for later.

I love that this movie comes out 10 years after the previous one, and it is also that way IN the movie itself. Instinctively, the movie feels right.

The opening is spectacular and hilarious - Andy's imagination come to life before our eyes. Then it is revealed, after a heart-tugging montage of nostalgia infused home videos, that time has passed and Andy has grown up. But he has not forgotten his playthings, nor how important they have been to him.

We feel this and we know this because we have been with the toys on their journey through the first two movies and we recognize, both consciously and unconsciously the heavy matters these movies deal with.

Toy Story presents to us that a child's play is faith - and the faith is real. The toys are faith, come to life.

Our imagination is powerful and limitless, and Toy Story gives us a fantastical glimpse of this in action.

TS3 is loaded with clever peril and slapstick gags that propel the story - through a series of expertly staged mishaps and misunderstandings the toys find themselves narrowly missing the garbage pile and ending up in a day care center.

One of the biggest themes in TS3 is loyalty, more specifically - fidelity.

It's easy for the toys to think they're in heaven when presented with the idea of an endless buffet of kids, who when they grow old are replaced right away. No fear of loss, no attachment and so - no heartache. Easy and painless. But also empty. Woody knows right away that he has to go home to Andy, to be there in case he is needed. Woody is faithful.

The day care center turns out not to be heaven, but a hellish prison - which makes for an engaging send up of "The Great Escape" and many other highly entertaining prison movies. Loaded with gags and puzzles, the middle stretch of TS3 is great at doing what Pixar does best. It's all about the story, painstakingly researched and executed with every piece fitting perfectly into place.

The movie's villain, Lotso (a strawberry scented teddy bear) is, like Stinky Pete from TS2, a toy that is broken on the inside after being abandoned. But Lotso is a much more flushed out character. He makes for a perfectly nasty foil who is beyond redemption - a strong choice that I applaud. All too often in this touchy-feely day and age there is a false effort to "humanize" the bad guys at the expense of realism. Lotso is perfect, because we see his story and we do feel bad for him, but he's still very much twisted and evil beyond repair.

The great escape goes awry, and our heroes, thanks to a final betrayal from Lotso, end up sliding down a mountain of landfill, facing the open mouth of a furnace and their doom. As the end approaches, they look to each other and reach out to hold hands. They are out of tricks and clever schemes, this is the end, and they face it together. They are afraid, but their love for each other sustains them even in their darkest hour.

This sequence, in all it's naked terror, for me was the highlight of the film. Very powerful. We all will ultimately face our maker, our end, and the small plastic objects in this story show how we need to do it. With love in our hearts and a submission to the great unknown.

When the toys are rescued at the last possible instant, it is a great Hollywood moment - and it works because it is driven by emotional resonance and hope. Yes, the toys will be gone someday, but not today.

But for Andy, it IS time to let go. He eventually gets his toys back and thanks to Woody's quick thinking, finds himself donating his precious possessions to a little girl named Bonnie.

It is yet another spectacular tear-inducing moment; 17 year old Andy introducing the toys to a wide eyed 4 year old who happily embraces them.

Andy was planning on taking Woody with him to college, but the little girl sees the cowboy in the box and reaches for him. Andy hesitates, but then he knows - it's time to move on and grow up. Andy and Bonnie play together with the toys, laughing and screaming with fun and delight.

Andy will hold on to his toys in his heart, but he has passed on to grown up land. His passing on of the toys, and his spirited play with the little girl, reaffirms his faith while at the same time acknowledges that he must step into a larger world of responsibility where his actions and choices, not the albeit necessary self indulgence of child's play, will bring the love in his heart to bear on the people around him and the world at large.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Helping or hurting? Don't really care.

This morning I posted a link on Facebook from one of my favorite libertarian sites,

It talks about "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" and the reasons behind it. It is well thought out and illuminates that the point is not to "make fun" of a particular religion but rather to stand up to intimidation by crazy people.

My Facebook post that accompanied the link:

"Everybody draw Mohammed! I know I will! This is what the very best part of Berkeley is all about - freedom of expression and ideas. I refuse to be intimidated by real or implied threats of violence by religious fanatics."

Then, within minutes, I got someone responding. A left of center friend who is usually pretty moderate and sensible when it comes to social issues and matters of foreign policy.

He said:

"I'm torn by this. While I totally agree that we have every right to exercise our freedom of speech, I don't know if this is something we should ridicule. I mean I see stories everyday about how our troops are over there trying to win the hearts and the minds of the Islamic community by showing that we all aren't just racially and culturally insensitive bastards there to oppress. I don't see how belittling their religion is going to support our troops and help the war effort. Just my thoughts, would love feedback."

My response:

"That's kind of the whole point - we (meaning most secular Americans) ARE culturally insensitive bastards and Muslims just have to fucking deal with it. Just as Jews and Christians have had to for the past half century.

Islamic facists don't get a pass just because they are the most comfortable with cutting people's heads off and blowing shit up.

Obama has taken any and all references to Islam out of all the DOJ literature on terrorism.

Guess what?

They still hate us. And they always will.

Everybody draw Mohammed day is not about "ridiculing" a particular religion. It's about freedom. Freedom of thought and freedom of ideas, even offensive ones.

I'm not going to play nice. I'm not going back down from my right to be a total idiot - no matter who I am making fun of.

It is my God given right to be an asshole, and it is protected by the US Constitution. Many men greater than I have died defending it, and I'll be damned if I'm going to cower in fear because some nut-bag has it in his head that his particular religion deserves special treatment.

Radical Islam can suck it and so can Mohammed."

So now it's official - I said Mohammed can suck it. Both here and on Facebook.

(Kathy Griffin said Jesus could suck it on national television, but that's neither here nor there of course.)

These are just words, but I can't help but feel a faint chill of fear run down my back at the thought of some crazy person stumbling across my remarks and taking action. This makes me sad, and angry.

Much as with flipping some random person off on the 405, it doesn't seem worth it to exercise my right to free speech, if a random wacko is going to be so offended as to want to do me or a loved one bodily harm. The 405 road-rager because he's probably on drugs and had a shitty childhood, the radical Muslim because he's got a massive inferiority complex about his God.

But yes, I am so pissed off about this quashing of freedom - freedom of speaking one's mind, that I am willing to risk my life (though it's very unlikely that anything will come from this) just to exercise my right to be a dick.

Imagine that.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

How Quickly We Forget

Seems like only yesterday that Bush 43 was being demonized for his failures, both at war and on the domestic front. That Iraq turned into a success and that his deficit is dwarfed by our current president's, is beside the point.

Bush was Satan incarnate - Hitler's spawn. The worst president of all time and a truly evil man. We could all pretty much agree on that.

Now Barack is in office, and seeks to take over a sixth of our economy (that would be health care) and has projected a 13 TRILLION dollar deficit by the year 2012. He'd also like to punish Wall Street (big business, rich fat cats, etc.) by over-regulating and taxing them into oblivion.

He's also escalated Bush's war in Afghanistan and is skeptical over the latest efforts by Arizona to stem the tide of illegal immigrants. He'd very much like to pass immigration reform first, before securing our borders, and give everyone who's snuck in here a path to citizenship. And actually, securing the borders, he probably won't bother with that.

He's also stated that a VAT (Value Added Tax, aka a National Sales Tax) is on the table as an option to help plug the deficit hole (okay, canyon). Excellent. More taxes will definitely help.

But remember, dear children, lest we forget - if you disagree with the ONE or say anything bad about him, you are a racist.

Clearly, I am a racist because I disagree with him, and think that a tenfold government expansion and an eightfold deficit expansion are bad ideas.

Not only am I racist, but I clearly I am inciting violence by speaking out.

Clearly, if Barack were white, and people disagreed with him, they would be much more respectful then they have been.

Like they were with Bush.

Oh wait... that's right, they were unhinged with Bush. Bush-deraingement syndrome, I think it was called.

Bush was: Hitler. Satan. Evil. Worst president ever.

If you believe this, you are exercising your right to free speech.

Obama is: Wrong. Socialist. Inexperienced. Naive. Incompetent. A charismatic speaker.

Clearly, if you believe this, you are a hate-mongering racist and you are inciting violence.

Glad we cleared that up.

Since I am a defacto hate-mongering, violence loving racist, it makes it much easier. Now we don't have to talk about the issues. You can just demonize me, the way you demonized Bush, and maybe even throw me in jail for sedition.

Damn, that first Amendment sure is pesky when it protects a clearly deranged tea-bagging bigot like myself.

We'll have to do something about that.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Movies 2009

As long time readers (all five of you) of this blog know, I love movies. Not films, though I like them very much - but movies. Explosions, profanity, bare breasts, mythical creatures, loud music, and endless tracking shots.

The art house stuff is fine and dandy, if you're into that sort of thing. Me, I like my entertainment to be, oh I don't know, entertaining? I've got enough angst in my life, and there is enough pain in the real world, I generally don't need to subject myself to it for $12 in an uncomfortable seat while someone can't shut up two rows behind me.

I also don't get out much - so you're getting a pretty slim view of 2009 overall; for the most part these are the flicks that I actually dragged my ass out of the house for - and happened to enjoy. There are a few exceptions where I had to wait for Netflix.

My Top Ten MOVIES of 2009

11. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

Okay, this one is number 11 - but I couldn't resist mentioning it, because it's so dern good!

Yes, I have a five year old. So whenever I get a chance to see a movie with her, and she absolutely loves it, it changes my perspective a bit. I can even tolerate watching the entire "Alvin and the Chipmunks" crapathon because my daughter thinks it's the greatest.

Thankfully, I probably would have loved "Meatballs" even if I was childless. It is a fun hoot and a holler, with great not so sub sub-text on our gluttony as Americans. Plus it's loaded with amazing non-eye-straining 3D and fantastic gags. And it's got Mr. T!

10. Whip It

A recent rental, this is one of the sweetest pro-female movies I can remember. Under Drew Berrymore's gifted light touch in her first directorial debut, along with that Juno chick's ultra-natural performance, this coming of age story quietly soars without even a hint of the inevitable dread (you know, that something TERRIBLE is about to happen) that usually infects such fare. This alone makes "Whip-It" highly enjoyable, but a great supporting cast and an a-typically unpretentious script along with an amazingly three dimensional antagonist (Juno chick's mom) make this one to savor. Plus, it's about roller-derby!

9. Where the Wild Things Are

Very pretentious throughout (that is, up it's own ass) and slow in parts - Spike Jonez is such a talented filmmaker that this movie still works. It, like the book, is quietly heart wrenching - I have to see this again.

8. Adventureland

Like "Whip It" this is a fairly realistic but very sweet coming of age tale. There's quite a bit more angst here - and this time, as told from a male perspective, it can be a bit painful to watch occasionally. But the emotional resonance, and ultimately the positive outlook of this film make the journey well worth it. Plus, it has some very funny (to me, meaning either gross or broad) moments. A far, far, FAR better take on growing up 30 years ago than the incredibly overrated "Dazed and Confused".

7. Drag Me To Hell

If you love over the top horror, and in any way shape or form are a fan of Sam Raimi, this one is automatic. I did manage to sneak away and see this in the theater. Somehow they got away with a PG-13, but the gags are huge and gross in the best tradition of hard R scare-fests. It WILL make you jump.

Before I continue, let me just say, I really like the bottom five here - but the remaining top 6 of 2010 are the very best to come along in a long time. Any one of these films could easily make the top spot in other years over the last decade.

6. Inglourious Basterds

Tarantino returns to top form, though I've loved his recent works almost as much as his classics. This is a great war/satire adventure - of dialogue, suspense, shock and awe. The A-Story actually has naught to do with the titles namesakes; a rag tag bunch of Jewish nazi killers, and it is mesmerizing. Only Tarantino, master of tongue in cheek schlock, could pull off such an over the top and historically deviant circus. The climax has to be seen to be believed.

5. Star Trek

As a life-long Trekker, yes I've been to conventions, I have to say that the team behind this one got it and even more impressive - they didn't fuck it up.

It is, and remember I love Star Trek - including all the other movies, even the bad ones - BY FAR, the best Star Trek film.

By far.

It moves, it has emotion beyond the scope of any of it's predecessors. The gags and VFX are first rate. The story is tight. The supporting cast is WAY more fleshed out than the old gang. The leads, with the exception of Nimoy, are all better actors than those who came before.

Most importantly, this movie succeeds because it is great on it's own, whether you are a fan or not, and still is at it's heart 100% Trek. Hallelujah, they got it. The biggest money maker by far, so far, for the franchise. My great love is back and better than ever.

4. The Hurt Locker

Though many troops have decried this film as an un-realistic portrayal - I was deeply moved by how powerful and how intense the scenes of a US IED bomb squad in action were.

I also love how finally, a film did not demonize our troops. It humanizes them, for sure, but great stories have to have this. I can say that I love this movie because it is not political, but I can also say that I love this movie because it very much IS political - in the very best of ways.

The bad guys are the terrorists. Period. They do horrible things in this movie - and Kathryn Bigelow does not flinch from showing us this. God bless you Kathryn, for shining light on what really goes on over there, and giving a truthful (and therefore sympathetic) insight into the soul wrenching sacrifices that our men and women overseas make so that the rest of us can be free.

Great movie.

3. District 9

Staggering; perhaps one of the best science-fiction movies ever made. A great message movie, that still delivers kick-ass action sequences and a tight story structure driven by first class actors and a unique hybrid film-style of documentary and traditional narrative.

The CGI is remarkable, and when it's combined with jaw-dropping location filming in the slums of Soweto, "District 9" is transformed from a story with potential to a classic for the ages. A purchase for sure.

2. Avatar

Another triumph for the king of modern movie story telling. Avatar is a masterpiece of visuals wrapped around a classic tale. The dialogue can be clunky, but no line or scene for that matter, is wasted. At just under 3 hours, "Avatar" flies by, releasing us from it's grasp of wonder all too quickly.

It is powerful, it is great. It is a movie experience unlike any other this year.

I love "The Hurt Locker" - it's another great movie. And of course you all know I love the troops, more than just about anything that isn't God or my family. But the Academy was wrong on this one. THL is an important movie. Avatar is ground breaking and has changed the game.

At least the Oscars are consistent - they did it before in 1977, preposterously giving Annie Hall best picture over Star Wars. What a joke. This time it isn't quite so egregious, but still a pretty big blunder that will be looked back on with a similar eye-roll as the Annie Hall idiocy.

1. Up

So after all my gushing praise for Avatar and how ground breaking it is, how could another movie top it?

Simple - have the best movie studio, with 9 perfect movies so far, put out their best movie ever.

Up, is a remarkable adventure for the heart and soul. It makes me cry. Every. Single. Time. Even Avatar can't do that. Up, in all ways that matter the most - is the perfect movie, and the perfect film.

If you've seen it, you know I need not say more. If you haven't seen it, do so.

Runners Up...

I also enjoyed...

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
While I was initially disappointed in the theatrical release, I've watched it a couple of times on DVD, and there is a lot of good stuff to chew on - and it's very faithful to the spirit of the book, which is one of my favorites in the series.

Saw it in 2D at home, and really enjoyed it. It's not great like Nightmare Before Christmas, but it has lots of fun stuff to look at - and an interesting subtext to ponder.

The Hangover
Overrated? Sure. Funny as hell? Absolutely. My kind of comedy - ridiculous and crude. My favorite character - one that I still quote, is the crazy Asian guy who jumps out of the trunk naked. Good stuff.

And my biggest disappointment...

Transformers 2
Though again, this one fares much better on DVD - it still pales in comparison to the original, which was an absolute blast. Trans2 is just too loud and explosion-y for too long - and for me to say that, you know it has to be BAD. :)

Monday, February 08, 2010

Super Lousy

Memo to "The Who": You are old.

Too old to play the superbowl half time show.

Forget "dad" rock. You are "grandpa" rock. Get off the stage and let somebody, oh I don't know, under 40 maybe, have a chance. Ridiculous to have grandpas singing songs about teenage angst.

The band was okay, but that's because they were all quite a bit younger than the two founding members (the other half of the band is dead, lest we forget).

Old doesn't mean useless, but it does mean that your time as a rock and roller on a national showcase is OVER.

Sure, let people like me and my parents spend ridiculous amounts of money on tickets to see these geezers in concert - yes, by the way, I'm a fan of the Who and I love their music. But I don't agree with subjecting the poor young people to this dinosaur stuff.

Rock and roll is for the young. New talent, new faces.

Rock is young, rock is angry - rock is not icy hot patches and bladder infections.

Rock is not content with life. Rock is not settled.

Rock is political. Rock is infused with energy.

These guys were tired about half way through.

As for new music, I don't have to like it. It can sound like noise to me - in fact, IT'S SUPPOSED TO SOUND LIKE NOISE TO ME!!! I'm 39! I'm not supposed to like it, or even get it.

That half-time show was all kinds of wrong, because Rock and Roll, REAL Rock and Roll - is about rebellion.

The Who are not rock and roll. They are classical music. Great classical music. Meant to be listened to quietly and enjoyed. Still good, still relevant, in the same way that Beethoven is.

Get somebody young up there, please.

Someone who is 19, and will spit on the camera, kick over a marshall stack and flip the bird.

At least someone who doesn't look like he's about to keel over from one windmill too many.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Stuff is NOT the problem.

Recently I was pointed towards this:

There are two other parts that you can find on YouTube, but you get the idea.

It's a very cute and pleasingly done piece, but it is ultimately a deceptive and fear driven rant against capitalism and consumerism.

The worst part of this is, it's being foisted on kids in public schools. I can only hope that my daughter will be spared such indoctrination, but in the event she is subjected to it (and in all likelihood she will be, if not directly from this particular video, from some other source - a professor or two, or three or twenty) I will do my best to give her the whole picture.

And it might sound something like this...

Well guess what lady, I've traveled a bit too, and somehow came away with a different perspective.

After 15 years of traveling abroad, I can safely say that I'm now more than ever, an American Exceptionalist.

Of the 28 countries I've been to, including more than a few third world, communist, socialist and first world "utopia"'s of western Europe, there is no place on earth that holds a candle in generosity and humanitarian spirit to the home stadium of the evil giant that is capitalism, the good old US of A.

I truthfully don't think we should aspire to be like any other place, especially places where you can't own a firearm, get a liver transplant if you're over 50 or keep more than 60% of your income. Or for that matter can't get ice in your drink or free refills.

And when it comes to the juggernaut that is big business, I don't deny that industrialization and corporate greed haven't caused a lot of problems. Pollution and child labor, especially in the third world places that I've been to like China, Kenya, India and Egypt run rampant and unchecked. But from what I have seen with my own eyes, it's the governments of these places, not private corporations, that have their boots firmly on the necks of these people and allow less scrupulous companies to enslave their children and contaminate their rivers and streams.

And from what I've seen first hand, the only reason hell holes like Kenya see any relief at all is from private sources of revenue. Were it not for commercial companies and individual entrepreneurs, private non-profit aid organizations that I have worked for like Feed The Children wouldn't be feeding a dozen kids a day in Nairobi, much less a quarter million like they actually do now. It sure as hell isn't the government of Kenya that gives hope to it's people. They rule over a country rich in resources with a thick coat of corruption and an iron fist.

Yes, aiming for the almighty dollar has caused a lot of misery in this world, but conversely. were it not for the pursuit of "stuff", Americans and other first worlders wouldn't have a fraction of the prosperity, innovation and high quality of life that all of us (even those who purport to hate corporations) enjoy.

Furthermore, were it not for the enterprising spirit of the individual that the American system fosters, I can only conclude that the third world would be infinitely worse off.

I agree that we need to be generous and ambitious in our pursuit of helping those less fortunate, but where I part ways with big government folks is that I believe people have to be moved in their hearts to give - people should not be mandated by the state to sacrifice the hard earned fruits of their labor.

The smug demonization of private industry by the affable but ultimately dim-witted lady in the "Story of Stuff", especially to our children who are living day to day under the blanket of prosperity wrought by the blood, sweat and unparalleled American work ethic of their parents and forefathers, does little to actually improve the lives of those trapped in despotic regimes.

It makes professors and students feel good about themselves in the halls of academia, and gives protestors something to crow about when political conventions roll around - but where the rubber meets the road, the ACTUAL back breaking work of getting food to the hungry and disaster relief to the stricken doesn't come from anti-capitalist regimes or their puppets. It comes from the greatest country on earth, and the power of big business behind it.

I have been blessed in the past five years, to work for an extraordinary private NGO, which gets 100% of it's funding entirely from the private sector.

Our government will be giving a hundred million dollars to Haiti. That is fantastic and good.

Feed The Children has pledged to commit nearly two hundred million in aid to Haiti for 2010. And they are not even the largest private aid group with boots on the ground right now.

Feed The Children typically receive a billion dollars annually, most of which comes from corporations and wealthy benefactors, one of which that I know personally, a man who I will not name (as he prefers to remain anonymous in his contributions) who is a highly paid lobbyist for the National Rifle Association. He has personally pledged over a million dollars to the southeast Asian countries that were hit by the tsunami, and I imagine he will commit a similar amount to Haiti. .

I understand that it makes us feel less guilty when we all chime in about how terrible big business is and how greedy and shitty we all are for wanting to play XBox and buy hundred dollar shoes; but we do it anyway. We live our lives as hypocrites - decrying the system, yet busting our asses for "the man" and plunking down hard earned dollars for big macs and porn.

I would not be able to live in America and be happy if I truly believed that big business was all or even mostly evil. I would leave. I actually know a co-worker who did leave, after Bush won in 2004, and I respect her highly for it. (She did eventually come back, growing up a bit and realizing how good she had it, but I still give her mad props for sticking to her principles until she was able to educate herself).

I try my best to live here with a clear conscience and enjoy the many blessings of this country, while still recognizing that we have problems and need to work hard to fix them.

Most of all, I do my utmost to avoid indulging in a counter productive and decadent daily dance of self-loathing. After seeing so much suffering, all over the world, with my own eyes, that is only relieved by private and mostly American money and people, I find it offensive to point the finger of blame at my country.

The gauntlet of experiences that I have gone through, has led me down the path of a deep and abiding faith.


Faith that most Americans, even those in corporate suits, are ultimately working to make the world better, and it's only through the free marketplace, of both products AND ideas, that we may actually someday reach the "utopia" envisioned by big government proponents.

So, my daughter, I am not on board with "The Story of Stuff" which, much like the right wing nitwits such as Limbaugh and Beck, paint the world in black and white. I am not on board, and I will do my utmost to give you another side to the story, despite whatever indoctrination you might endure at the hands of your teachers. I will do this, simply because I have seen too much good undertaken with my own eyes to buy into the fable that big business is entirely or even mostly to blame for the suffering on this earth.

We are the greatest country on God's green earth, and no amount of moral relativism shrouded in hyperbole and self-hatred can obscure this truth.