Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Hippies Lost! Condolences!

Where were the Kent State riot police when we needed them?

Please, if you have about 20 minutes, watch the embarrassment that is this failed NYU cafeteria protest.

Never (or at least not since the "Don't Tase Me Bro" guy) have I seen such an entitled little phonies. A bunch of angry trust fund kids with dreadlocks and Che Guevara t-shirts are standing up for liberty, you mindless consumerist sheep! They were prepared to stay in this makeshift cafeteria bunker for as long as it took, with nothing but their hemp pullovers and MacBooks to help them survive.

The outrage! The brutality!

Never have I witnessed a more pathetic attempt at "democracy." The guy holding the camera documents all the items that the protesters are carrying -- in case they're confiscated by these obviously FASCIST COPS, maaaaan! -- and when he sees a bottle of water he says that the cops probably wouldn't be interested because "they probably drink corporate water."

"Corporate water."

I think it would be hilarious if the guy holding the camera was given life in prison and then everyone else was given 30 years. Not that they deserve it: I just think it would be a hilarious overreaction. Almost as hilarious as this one was.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Moment with Kenneth

He is probably the best character on sitcoms today, so enjoy a little Kenneth Purcell

I only wish they could have added my favorite line of his: "I'm a good sex person, I do it in ALL the ways!"

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Standing "O"

Obama's would-be State of the Union speech tonight was off-the-charts. It was positive, specific and devoid of the cynicism and arrogance of the last 7 State of the Union addresses.

Maybe this is just me still being in the honeymoon phase with Barry-O, but there is something about him that is just so calming. I imagine it's the same way that Republicans felt in the 1980s when a grandfatherly Ronnie Reagan would step out and reassure everyone that things would be just fine, juuust fine indeed.

And although it was kind of annoying to see Nancy Pelosi starting a few self-conscious standing ovations, it was great to see Barry and Joe Biden in the driver's seat instead of Bushie and Emperor Palpatine.

I feel like it was the best State of the Union speech I've ever seen, and although I don't know whether I'd say that three years from now if asked, I finally -- for the first time maybe in this decade -- feel like this country is on the right path again. (The fact that new GOP star Bobby Jindal had such a vague and uninspiring response was a testament to the air-tightness of the speech.)

I am one of those 68% who approve of this guy. It's not just that he is a president of Big Ideas, but he has the right philosophy about what is going to make this country great again. It's about building from the bottom up. It's not about continuing to kick great amounts of wealth upward into the hands of the 1%, but about getting money flowing around again. And if a Fulbright Scholar like Joe the non-Plumber wants to call that "redistribution of wealth," so be it. I'd rather see money start to recirculate to us common folk rather than sit idly in the mattresses of the scumbag "elite class" who got us into this mess in the first place.

I hope that I am not going to be revisited harshly by these words anytime soon, but I think Obama is really going to revolutionize this country, and make it prosperous again. He just "gets it." Progressivism + Pragmatism = my vote again in 2012.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

My Unsung Movies

Since the Oscars are coming up this Sunday, and since I only got 60% of my Oscar picks correct, I am catching up on my Oscar nominated movies. So far I have seen Slumdog Millionaire, Milk, and Frost/Nixon. (In case you cared, my favorite so far is Frost/Nixon), which means I have to see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Reader by Sunday.

The great thing about great movies is that it makes you remember all the other great movies you've ever seen. And while I could go and list my top 150 movies of all time, I won't do that. Instead, I'll give out a few of my favorite movies that few people know about. And away we go!

SPRING FORWARD, 1999. (Director: Tom Gilroy) Imagine if The Shawshank Redemption didn't take place in jail. That's kind of what this movie is like, but so much more than just that glib description. Liev Schreiber and Ned Beatty are Paul and Murph, respectively. Murph is recently out of prison, and Murph is an aging landscaper. The two of them do manual labor all day long. At first they start out as young punk and old grumpy veteran. But through every scene -- mostly while picking up trash and hauling logs and such -- their friendship grows and evolves, until they have a special kind of friendship by the end. The movie is almost all dialogue, but there is not one second of sentimentality or bathos to be found. I don't know of a single other human being who's heard of this film, but it's one of the great hidden gems I've found.

BUFFALO '66, 1998. (Director: Vincent Gallo) The fact that I am a Western New York native and a long-suffering Buffalo Bills fan probably makes me biased to loving this movie, but I still think that I would love it no matter what. It's the story of a real loser who is just getting out of jail, and his plot to kill a Scott Norwood-like retired football player, whose missed field goal in the Super Bowl made it necessary for him to go to jail. Gallo is the writer, director and star of this movie, and his Billy Brown is a unique character. He is a grown child: petulant, undeveloped, selfish. But when he kidnaps a girl named Layla (Christina Ricci), to make her pretend to be his wife for the benefit of his incredibly dysfunctional parents. The odd love affair that grows between Billy and Layla is organic, real and most refreshingly of all, doesn't culminate in some kind of earth-shaking fornication. It's one of my favorite movies, because it's funny, quirky and ultimately redeeming.

ILLTOWN, 1996. (Director: Nick Gomez) Before he directed the extremely underrated Drowning Mona, he directed this slightly supernatural dystopian story about rival street gangs. It is as if the film Kids were directed by Martin Scorsese. It is brutal and unpredictable. And the best part: it contains Tony Danza's best-ever performance as a gay drug lord. (Seriously!) I haven't seen this movie in almost a decade, so maybe it doesn't hold up the way I wanted it to, but I remember it being an intense crime drama.

THE SALTON SEA, 2002. (Director: D.J. Caruso) Proof that Val Kilmer can act, and that he has the weirdest-looking elbows I've ever seen. This fantasia about crystal meth addicts is quirky, strange and tense in spots. Vincent D'Onofrio plays a yellow-skinned thug named Pooh Bear with no nose. When you have a movie filled with "Tweakers," interesting characters are bound to show up, and other than Glenn Plumber's horrible brief performance, this one is a weird good time.

ANIMAL FACTORY, 2000. (Director: Steve Buscemi) Imagine if The Shawshank Redemption took place in a prison that looked like "Oz." And Red was constantly threatening to sodomize Andy Dufresne. Such is the compelling, surprisingly funny film directed by Buscemi. Willem Dafoe plays mentor to new fish Edward Furlong (in Furlong's only good performance), and a cast of cons who are trying to get him out of there so that he never has to come back. But Furlong's self-destructive tendencies keep hurting his chances of ever getting out. Again, like many of these movies I'm noticing, there is a natural bond between the two main characters. And when Furlong's fate is finally sealed, you are a little happy and a little sad.

MATEWAN, 1987. (Director: John Sayles) You wouldn't think that a movie about West Virginia coal miners would be a nail-biter, but this one really is. Imagine if There Will Be Blood had a plot that included unionizing, racism and an old west-style gunfight. The movie is deliberate, but never slow. And it has a multiple Oscar-nominated cast (Chris Cooper, David Strathairn, Mary McDonnell) and the guy who plays Warden Norton in Shawshank! (Shawshank comparisons all over the place!) The bad guys are baaaad, and the resolution, though a tad abrupt, is satisfying and intense.

DAYS OF HEAVEN, 1978. (Director: Terence Malick) This is the movie that allowed Malick to retain legendary status despite making self-indulgent, overrated movies like Badlands and The Thin Red Line. If a poem could be put on film, it would be this movie. There is almost no dialogue at all, and the dialogue that does exist is mostly spoken in the background and hard to hear. It's a series of snapshots, almost like a beautiful music video without the pop music. The plot -- about a love triangle between Richard Gere, Brooke Adams and Sam Shepard -- is less interesting than how the film is constructed, which is with quick scenes and little explanation. It's a moving impressionist painting, and it's incredible.

SMOKE/BLUE IN THE FACE, 1995. (Directors: Wayne Wang, Paul Auster) These two films can be considered the Thalia and Melpomene of the same storyline: Smoke is a sometimes funny drama about the owner of a smoke shop and his customers, and Blue in the Face has most of the same main characters, but is all comedy. You could easily see one without the other and garner the plot, but they are better viewed (first Smoke, then Blue in the Face) as companion pieces. Where else can you see a touching scene where Harvey Keitel pretends he's an elderly black woman's grandson, as well as Michael J. Fox going on a diatribe about taking a dump? A real landmark of 1990s indie cinema.

HEAVY, 1994. (Director: James Mangold) I have a thing about movies that take place in small towns, and in this one, an overweight cook named Victor in a diner lives a humdrum life, with a dying mother and a lot of loneliness. That is until a young Liv Tyler enters his life as a waitress at the restaurant. There isn't much "plot" here, other than the arc that Victor's infatuation takes, as well as the after-effects on the rest of his life. It's shot in a naturalistic, unassuming way, and the characters are real and three-dimensional. It's a little downbeat, but ultimately not depressing.

THE FOUNTAIN, 2006. (Director: Darren Aronofsky) Aught-six was a good year for my man Hugh Jackman, at least as far as I'm concerned, because he was in two of my favorite movies, The Prestige, and this surreal masterpiece. I would have to say this is probably the most romantic movie I've ever seen. (Granted, I saw it by myself but I was still a gentleman.) Jackman is Tom Creo a man trying to both cope with the illness of his dying wife, and simultaneously find the cure. But Tom's journey/battle takes place on three fronts: the present, the distant past (Conquistator-era) and the distant future (where his life takes place in a self-contained bubble with a dying "tree of life"). It's a sublime, wholly original work, and its beauty overflows: in the visuals, in the music, in the story. Much like Days of Heaven above, it transcends just words and ideas, and goes into an astral dimension where the ideas of love and the pursuit of eternal life are universal.

Well, if you are sick of the same old crap in theaters (and I must say, we are in a bad time period for movies right now), maybe take a flier on one of these movies for something off the beaten path. Plus, it's nice to have your own little secret coterie of movies to pontificate about every so often.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Happy Birthday Lance!

Today, Lance Berkman (full name: William Lance Berkman), switch-hitting outfielder for the Houston Astros turns 33 years old.

Lance made his MLB debut in 1999. To date, he has hit 288 home runs and has amassed a respectable .302 batting average.

His 41 home runs in 1997 at Rice University were the third most in history.

In 2001, he came in 5th in MVP voting. It was also his first of five seasons in which he was named an All-Star. The following season, he hit 42 home runs.

Berkman hit an 8th inning grand slam in the 2005 Divisional Series against the Atlanta Braves, in the longest game in Major League Baseball playoff history (October 9, 2005).

He has the most single-season extra base hits in Astros history (94 in 2001) and the most single-season RBIs in Houston's history (136 in 2006).

In 2006 he came in 3rd in MVP voting, and in 2008 he came in 5th.

His nickname is "Big Puma"!

He is tied for 130th on the list of home runs in MLB history.

So to Lance Berkman, we wish you a happy birthday and a great 2009!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Short Circuit

Among the carnage of the recent economic meltdown was Circuit City, a company that is a model for how not to run a business on a macro AND micro scale.

First, the macro. In the late 1990s, Circuit City launched a new movie format called DIVX/Digital Video Express. The way it worked was that you could rent a movie, and from the time you started it, you had 48 hours to watch it. Afterward, it would become unplayable. But it wouldn't play in a regular DVD player: you had to buy a specific DIVX player. The format was owned by Circuit City, but they were not exactly forthcoming about their new format. They presented it as a compatible service to DVD, and not a competing format.

Eventually, internet chatrooms caught hold of the scam and, in a grassroots effort, started sites like, which played a part in the format's demise around 1999. (They lost $114M on DIVX.)

But the company was known for all sorts of underhanded tactics. Lots of examples are available. Circuit City had to pay the state of New Jersey over $170,000 in a class action suit over false advertising.

In California, the unfortunately named Muammer Gonlugur, an employee of Circuit City, successfully sued the company for unfair arbitration practices. It doesn't sound sexy, but reading the court document is to read the very definition of predatory hiring.

Basically, the way Circuit City treats their employees makes Wal-Mart look like Wegmans.

My own experience with Circuit City wasn't horrifying or really that memorable. But it was indicative of how they do did business. It was Christmas 1998, and I wanted to buy my dad a portable CD player for Christmas. (This was the Christmas after college when I was living back at home and wasn't paying rent so I had money to burn for the first time ever.)

I saw an ad in the paper selling portable CD players for $39.99 (at the time that was a bargain-basement price), and it was a brand name. So I ran to Circuit City. When I got there asking for the cheap players, oh surprise, they were all out. But, if you're still interested, we have a few more players over here you can look at. Long story short, I walked out of Circuit City with a wonderful portable CD player -- for $119.99. A classic bait and switch, and I fell for it. But after the buyer's remorse I felt, I stopped blaming myself and started blaming Circuit City for luring me in.

The more I read about them throughout the years, the less surprised I got. And now they are reaping what they sowed. They chose the quick buck instead of earning their customers' trust.

And so if there is anything positive about the tens of thousands of people who lost their jobs, it's that maybe the next business that comes along to fill Circuit City's empty spaces will be one of integrity and honesty.

And if not, they, like MCI/WorldCom and Enron before them, will collapse into rubble as well. Here's to the demise of shitty business!

Monday, February 02, 2009

Meditations On .... Okay Fine, On Meditation

When I was a junior in college I was kind of a mess. I was in a deep deep funk and wasn't really sure if there was a way to get out of it. I was annoyed by everyone and everything pretty much all the time. So when my classes were over, I used to come back to my room and try to get away from things for a few hours, usually until the boys from the 5th floor would round me up for dinner time.

Since I was in a depression, I would sometimes take a nap, but that got kind of old and messed with my sleep cycle. So to decompress, I would play solitaire on my roommate's computer after class and listen to the Beatles.

Until 1997, I hadn't listened to any "white people's music." My record collection consisted of about 500 rap tapes and CDs (mostly tapes, since I was cheap and they were easy to copy). So when I got the Beatles Anthology 3 album that Christmas, I was only really familiar with their well-known singles, and The Magical Mystery Tour, which isn't one of their better offerings, but my mom had it on record and we used to play it slow to hear the cartoon characters say "smoke pot, smoke pot, everybody smoke pot."

Anthology 3 covered the Beatles' "third period," (The White Album, Abbey Road and Let It Be), which was a period with which I was not familiar. At the time, my image of the Beatles was "she loves you yeah yeah yeah" Ed Sullivan era stuff, so when people talked about how influential they were, I assumed it was a bunch of aging hippies reluctant to let go of their lost youth. Little did I know that the Beatles were my gateway to music with singers, instruments and melodies.

So anyway, while these revolutionary sounds played in the background, I absently played like 30 different versions of solitaire. (Those games were awesome, I wish I could find them.) And though I didn't realize it at the time, I was giving myself therapy. Because while my conscious mind went through the mechanics of placing the correct cards in the correct spots, my subconscious mind was in a trance, taking in the music that I couldn't believe was 30 years old.

I was completely obsessed with this music, and started omnivorously collecting as much info as I could about them. So for several months, I would come home from class, let my brain fork off in two different directions.

As I got familiar with the works of the Fab Four, I stopped listening as actively, and started zoning out even further than before. And though I didn't realize it was happening, I was working out all my problems in my head. I wasn't staring at a wall, which would have been depressing. Instead, I was keeping my brain occupied -- like giving a child a toy and putting him in the corner for a few hours -- while my subconscious worked things out. To say that I was cured of all ills might be pushing it, but I was slowly, gradually, unwittingly pulled out of my quicksand of melancholy.

Flash forward to 2009.

I read about a set of albums called Disintegration Loops by William Basinski, and though it doesn't sound like my cup o'tea, I take a flyer on it and download the whole 4-disc set.

The album is a collection of several songs, ranging in length from 10 to 90 minutes. They are on an endless loop, and play the same four or five seconds of music over and over. It drones on and on and on for upwards of 20 minutes or more at a clip. But there is a twist.

The loops were originally created (I'm guessing on a reel-to-reel tape) in the early 1980s. When Basinski decided to convert the tapes to a digital media in 2001, he noticed that they tape started to erode -- flake off, practically -- with every pass. He realized that the tape was literally disintegrating -- dying -- before his eyes. He decided to let the tapes play over and over until they couldn't play anymore due to decay. (The story continues that he completed these recordings on the morning of September 11, 2001, and that he and his friends watched the twin towers collapse with these playing in the background, providing a fitting soundtrack of destruction.)

This is not the kind of artsy music that I generally find myself drawn to. I like things that are catchy, melodic ... Beatle-esque, you might say. I get bored with The Police because their choruses go on too long, and that's usually like a minute and a half. This is sometimes 45 minutes of the same sound over and over.

But much like those Beatles tapes before them, these are hypnotic. I've been listening to them while I go to sleep for the last few nights. And at first, it's a little annoying and boring. But after a while, it sort of becomes something else altogether, kind of like an audio version of one of those "Magic Eye" posters. And unlike something even as dense as, say, a 14-minute Ornette Coleman free-jazz piece, there is nothing new to latch on to, other than the gradual hissing, buzzing and crackling of the tape being stripped down, layer by magnetic layer.

But by that time, I have gone into la-la land. Strangely, I have found myself in a sort of waking-dream state, almost like being hypnotized. Before I have drifted off into full-on sleep mode, brief but lucid movies are playing themselves out in my head. I can hear voices and sounds and see colors and details. It's a delicate tightrope walk, because the slightest sound or change in the music can wake me right back up, but maybe my subconscious is going back to working itself out again. I think I have finally experienced a "Zen" state of mind via the death throes of a BASF tape.

So I'm not sure what to make of the fact that I find myself entranced by both the most accessible music in the history of the world, and the least accessible music in the history of the world. But I do know that God forbid I fall asleep to a Creed album, my brain will probably explode.

Super Bowl Recap

I still only recognize four Steelers Super Bowl wins.