Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A Chronicling of My Brief Weekend-Long Sojourn in Asheville, North Carolina

So, like I mentioned in Monday's post, I went to Asheville last weekend. Today, happily, Shawn emailed me some of the pictures he took over the weekend. Less happily, they are all of me. I will pepper them throughout this entry, like it or not.

After much hemming and hawing about whether to go on the trip after having my car so freshly stolen, I decided that yes, I would go. Peggy drove me to her parents' house in the as-of-yet unstolen Mercury Sable, where I dropped her off and then headed north on I-85. The drive was fine. I listened to some "lit-blog"podcasts by a guy named Edward Champion, AKA Bat Segundo, who interviews big-name authors once a week for his website.

[WARNING: Boring tangent about literary podcast.] So I listened to Champion interview A.M. Homes, author of The Safety of Objects and This Book Will Save Your Life, as well as novelist David Mitchell, whose recent title, Black Swan Green, is on the Booker longlist. Champion's interviews are often squirm-inducing. He tends to browbeat his interviewees (in his affably incessant sort of way) into saying things it's clear he wants them to say, or forcing them to find, over and over again, new ways to duck his idiotic, needlessly academic questions. For instance, he ran Colson Whitehead around the room trying to get him to say what he would do in the future to "improve as a writer". For a guy who's already won the MacArthur Genius Grant, this might be an odd thing to talk about with a low-level lit-blogger. That the authors are so polite with him says a lot about them as people, I think, because it would be very easy for them to slap Champion in his place. But because there are few enough places to watch or, in this case, listen to authors like Whitehead, Vollmann, Updike, and A.M. Homes, I suffer through his insipid questioning (which is littered with an intolerable number of 'like's and 'you know's) to hear the words of the writers themselves. [End of Boring Tangent.]
I won't continue the usual Crane-style logorrhea by offering a minute-by-minute account of my visit, so I'll just say that on Friday night, after eating some quesadillas from Moe's (after standing in the longest burrito line in the history of burrito lines), Shawn, Gretchen, Melissa (Gretchen's friend from Ohio who was also visiting), and myself, drove up to Pisgah National Forest to take a gander at a lovely waterfall in the very last light of the day. The next day we set out for a local gorge that also featured some excellent waterfall action. This brings us to two of the photos.

This photo was taken on Saturday afternoon. We'd just hiked up many a mountain stair to get a better view of a gorge with a fast-moving stream at the bottom of it. My view from the vantage depicted in this photograph wasn't too great, but because I was too exhausted to get up and get a better one, I was content to sit here (like so) and get my wind back. What's remarkable about this photo is my abyssmal posture. Looking at this makes me want to sit up very straight and invest in some kind of back brace, perhaps a Kennedy-style girdle, that would keep me from ever slouching like this again. Anyway, once I recovered the strength to stand, I hobbled over to where the photographer, his wife, and his wife's friend were sitting and viewed the gorge in all its splendor. A bit later some people came up to take in the view and after noticing people cavorting at the very bottom of the gorge asked us, "How did those folks get all the way down there." Shawn answered with something perfectly reasonable, to which I added, joking though with a straight face, "They might have used hang gliders to get down there." The guy gave me a look that suggested he got my "joke" but wasn't amused in the slightest. Oh well. They can't all be winners.

This photo was taken down in the gorge. I'm standing in a particularly rocky section of the stream, where the water flow picks up a lot of speed before twisting around a dark corner and dropping out of sight. Here I was probably imagining the broken bones that would result from a raftless ride down this part of the stream, or perhaps how depressing it was that, for me, nature scenes like this don't inspire awe at the simple, unaffected grandeur of nature, but rather just remind me of the completely phony amusement park facsimilies of similar nature scenes I've seen at 'Splashwater Falls' and 'Thunder River'. That water-carved stone chute looks just like [insert amusement park ride here], I think to myself. I don't know if this means I've spent too much time at amusement parks and not enough in nature, or if it suggests I prefer the fake to the authentic. Neither thought is comforting.

Afterwards, we drove to the city of Asheville. I wasn't there long before I got the sense that the city was the urban center of a heretofore unknown demographic of southern, intellectual, liberal, mountain hippies. It was an energetic but laid back kind of place, if that makes any sense, and I felt very comfortable hanging out there for the afternoon. We visited the city's notable independent bookstore, Malaprops, where I found many a book I had never seen before in any Barnes & Noble or Borders I'd visited. To give you a sense of the city's political leanings, at each of Malaprop's cash registers they carried a display-box of Bush playing cards (of the Bush is the AntiChrist variety) that were cut in such a way that they literally slanted to the right. Kind of clever. It was patterned after the deck of cards the US Military issued with the rogues gallery of Saddam's Baath party SOBs back when things were going sort of OK in Iraq. In any event, Malaprops was my kind of place, and has no equivilent that I know of in the much larger city of Atlanta.

After the bookstore we swung through an art gallery used by local artists to showcase their work. The vast majority of the stuff was not to my taste, but it's always interesting to see what visual artists are up to these days, even if it's not too great.

That evening we went to the Biltmore Estate. We ate at the Bistro which is on the grounds adjacent to the winery there, but to give me a quick taste of the house itself, Shawn drove us up the hill through Ye Olde Neverending Biltmore Forest to the castle proper. The sun was low in the sky by the time we got there, hovering just above the house, and it obscured most of the house from view, but from what I was able to see through the glare looked just as stately as you'd want. Dinner was excellent: I had the crab cakes.

The following morning, right around noon, I headed out, but not before Shawn took this photo.

This one shows me, in all my glorious post-Burbank corpulence (I'm reminded a little of Ray Liotta in Narc -- not in terms of smoldering, pockmarked good looks mind you, but rather in terms of the authoritative girth he carried in that movie), about to drive out of the suburbs of Asheville and back to Atlanta. My expression is unexplainably disenchanted. I'd had a lot of fun and laughed more in the day and a half hanging with the Harwells than I have in some days. Well, at least since Talladega Nights.

Anyway. That was my trip to Asheville. On the way home I missed an exit and had to drive 8 miles out of my way to the next exit and then 8 miles back to get back on track, but other than that, everything went fine.

And since I want to get this up before midnight, I'll end it here. More tomorrow. I'm out.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Briefly, a Photo

I thought that instead of being a total slack ass and not posting up anything today, I'd just post up one of the photos Peggy took at the impound lot on Saturday. This photo of the right front wheel well depicts the bulk of the damage. All right. That's brief enough. More tomorrow.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Grand Theft Auto: Decatur

My Crown Victoria was stolen early Friday morning.

I discovered its goneitude some hours later. I was walking to my car, a box filled with air mattress in one hand and a packed duffel in the other, looking forward to a longish drive to Asheville to visit Shawn and Gretchen, when I noticed that in the parking space that should have contained my car there was naught but an oil stain and pebbles of blue-green safety glass scattered around one of the white lines. I did not let the fact of the broken glass freak me out. I did not jump to conclusions. I had two very good reasons to believe I'd simply misremembered where I'd parked my car. 1.) My short-term memory is unreliable. Case in point: I was convinced my car was stolen once before. I led my brother around the apartment complex some months back, searching all the parking lots for what I was sure was my missing car, only to discover I'd just parked it a little off to the right of where I'd first looked. Remembering that moment of total mental retardation made me think I might be having a relapse. 2.) I drive a 10-year old Crown Victoria. These cars simply do not get stolen.

So I changed my befuddled expression into something a little more engaged, stern even, set my stuff down and walked around my apartment building. When I looked in all the other places I sometimes park and discovered nothing resembling my car, I accepted what had been pretty obvious since I noticed the broken glass. Though I ended up driving to Asheville a few hours later, I'd pretty much written off my free car, (a gift from my folks), as gone forever, and had already begun to worry whether the amount the insurance company reimbursed me to replace the car would be enough to pay for something slightly better than a jalopy with 150,000 miles on the odometer.

The following morning the police found my car parked on Northern Road in such a way that the officer who made the report described it as a "road hazard". A security guard (for an apartment complex) found it in the middle of the street just a couple miles from my apartment and called the cops to get it hauled away. It was towed to an impound lot in Tucker where Peggy first got a chance to look at the damage. From the pictures she took, I could see that it wasn't totaled by any means, but it was a thousand miles from drivable. The right front tire was bad. They'd hit something, probably the curb, at a goodly rate of speed, and then kept right the hell on driving for miles and miles. The tire (only a few months old) was an unattached band of useless rubber encircling the misshapen wheel, sheared to shreds in places. The plastic shell on the outside of the driver's side mirror was gone and the triangular window behind the rear driver's side window was smashed and gone (thus the glass on the asphalt). Not to mention the ignition was dismantled and there was cigar ash all over the dash and cupholders. (I know it was cigar ash because one of them left a cigar behind, still wrapped.)

I went to Prestige Collision this afternoon (the same place that fixed the dent the tractor-trailer made back in January) to see the car myself. The most striking thing about it is that to look at it straight on you might think an invisible 800-pound person was sitting in the passenger seat. The auto-body guy suspected there was suspension damage (each of the front two wheels were aimed in different directions) and that repairs might run around $2,000. Time will tell.

And though I can't be certain, I think I saw the guys who did it.

When I parked at about 12:06 Friday morning after hanging out with my brother in Alpharetta, I saw five black men in big, dress-length white shirts (the latest in thug wear from what I've seen around town) standing and talking in the middle of the parking lot on the other side of the complex. I stopped in plain view and watched them for a bit, trying to get a better sense of what they might be doing loitering in a parking lot after midnight, but also hoping they saw me watching and might be dissuaded from any misdeeds they were contemplating. The thought that they might take umbrage at my white boy staredown did occur to me, but with a hundred yards and two metal gates between us, I didn't see why I should worry how they were taking it. I did do a quick "Am I Being Racist?" gut check and asked myself if I'd be similarly suspicious if I'd spotted five white guys dressed the same way standing in a parking lot after midnight, and I decided that, yes, I would. I think they saw me because not long after I started my nosy, busybody vigil, they ended their parking lot loitering and mosied slowly out of view. As I trudged upstairs to my apartment, I wondered if I should call the police and report the suspicious activity, but I tried to imagine explaining in my ultra-white man's voice to the no-nonsense middle-aged black woman who would no doubt answer when I dialed 911, that I thought five black guys hanging out together in my apartment complex was suspicious. The very thought made me more tired than I was, and I decided I'd rather go to sleep then make the call. I hoped vaguely that no one in the complex got their car stolen on account of my inaction, but since I never thought my own car was in any danger, it wasn't difficult to put the whole thing out of my head and think ahead to my trip to Asheville.

Anyway, the adjuster from the insurance company will see the car tomorrow, and depending on the damage, the repairs will take anywhere from 3 days, to a whole lot longer.

Seeing the Harwells up in Asheville (or Arden more specifically) was a lot of fun, but I'm going to have to get to that another day seeing how it's 11:27PM and this post is already too long.

More tomorrow.

Monday, August 21, 2006

"'Date Movie' sucked," said Captain Obvious.

Yesterday, I watched the worst movie I've seen since the first half hour of Ultraviolet. The movie of which I speak is Date Movie. Just a day or two prior to that, I saw Scary Movie 4, and though I thought it sucked quite strenuously, compared to Date Movie, it was comedic brilliance on par with anything I saw in Talladega Nights.

"Yes, that's a no-brainer," you say. "Of course Date Movie was bad, you moron. What other possible expectation could you have had?" And you're right, my outwardly hostile theoretical blog reader, I did not expect it to be good. But it was the level of badness that was astonishing. Lazy, incompetent, unfunny, mysogenistic, nonsensical, and completely divorced from any identifiable reality, we were tempted to just shut the thing off 10 minutes in, but, like the 8-car pile-up on the freeway you watch happen from start to finish and then drive past, even if it means driving up on the shoulder past some obviously pretty badly hurt people, you can't look away. I think it's because Zucker makes these parody films in such a lackadaisacal way, these guys thought that seeming indifference was his secret for success. "Keep it loose," they must have thought. They kept it loose all right. So loose they didn't even have enough film for an entire hour. The running time of the film is only an hour and 13 minutes. About 20 of those minutes were absolutely cuttable, but they kept the extraneous footage in because without it, their end product wouldn't actually qualify as a feature film.

Anyway, I'd say avoid it, but I know I'm educating no one about this movie.

In other news, I got another office chair yesterday to replace one of the 3 I've broken in recent months. So far so good. This afternoon my wife and my sister and I drove up Georgia 400 to the biggest outlet mall I've ever been to. I wasn't expecting to enjoy myself much, figuring the whole deal would mostly be a collection of women's clothing stores I'd be playing cell phone Tetris in front of, but they did actually have a few decent stores, in particular two remaindered-book stores, one of which was closing down (probably to open up a second Big Dog store). So the books inside, already marked way the hell down, were also subject to a Store Closing Sale, which took another 40% off everything in the store. I got eight books, most of which were less than $3. One of the more interesting ones I got was a novel called The Prestige by Christopher Priest, which will be the basis for the upcoming Christopher Nolan movie. Just a few pages in I can tell it won't be boring. Yay. Reading.

Anyway. It's thundering like a bitch outside so I'm going to post this up and shut my computer off. More tomorrow.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Snakes on a Plane is Out. Now, at Long Last, the New Line Hype Machine Will Wind Down and Let us Think of Other Things

I didn't post up a blog yesterday, so here's one to send us on through the weekend.

I just got back from a 5:15 showing of Snakes on a Plane and it's an odd thing: I feel a little let down, but not because SoaP was terrible, but because it was better than I thought it was going to be. I mean, Sam Jackson assured the doubters who thought the filmmakers were going to be trying for campiness that it wasn't one of those "so bad it's good"-type movies, but I wasn't quite buying that. But it turns out he was being serious. It's not a bad movie. It's also not a great one by any stretch, but it's a half-decent way to spend a couple hours. I'd compare it with the movie Red Eye, which came out around the same time last year. They're both mid-budget, cheap thrills kind of movies with a-list stars (that little "a"'s on purpose), that aren't good enough to drop into the all-important summer lineup. Though it's much better than the completely forgettable Red Eye, I'd say that if there hadn't been all of this internet fanbase support for it, it still would have come out in August and gotten so-so reviews as Pacific Air Flight 107, or whatever it was called. You know what would have been the perfect time and place to watch this movie? Graumann's Chinese. Midnight screening yesterday. I'd say that unless you can guarantee yourself a screening filled with at least a couple boisterous internet nerds, just watch this one sometime on video. Or, if you want, support the theater industry and see it in the theater, and do some whoopin' and hollerin' yourself when Sam says the magic and expletive-laden line.

Also, briefly: I watched Scary Movie 4 last night. This was just as goofy as hell. Much less funny to me than Scary Movie 3 (I don't know why that is, though). And though I laughed a few times, it didn't even seem like Zucker and crew were trying for big laughs. Just little stupid ones. Yup. There's really nothing more to say about that.

Have a good weekend, folks.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

How Real Was the Plane-Bombing Plot? And, A Question About Pet Admiration Etiquette That Someone Must Answer

My suspicion of the alleged terrorist plot gains a little more credence. Even conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan doubts the veracity of official government stories. He had this to say on his blog today:
"So far, no one has been charged in the alleged terror plot to blow up several airplanes across the Atlantic. No evidence has been produced supporting the contention that such a plot was indeed imminent. Forgive me if my skepticism just ratcheted up a little notch. Under a law that the Tories helped weaken, the suspects can be held without charges for up to 28 days. Those days are ticking by. Remember: the British authorities had all these people under surveillance; they did not want to act last week; there was no imminent threat of anything but a possible "dummy-run," whatever deranged guest-bloggers at Malkin say. (Correction, please.) Bush and Blair discussed whether to throw Britain's airports into chaos over the weekend before the crackdown occurred."
That word, 'imminent' is important, I think. It was thrown about on news reports for days after the plot was revealed and I haven't heard anything about anyone retracting it. We know now that we were never in danger of being blown out of the sky that day, so not imminent. And now the British ambassador to Uzbekistan says that some of these supposed plane-bombers didn't even have passports. How close, exactly, can a terrorist be to getting on a transatlantic flight in order to bomb it that terrorist doesn't even have their passport yet? I'm looking forward to hearing all of the details about this alleged plot in the next few weeks, because right now this thing stinks.

Anyway, enough about our untrustworthy government. On to my life.

Here's a question I'll pose through a lengthy set-up: I was out getting the mail today (which, along with my trip to the garbage was my only excursion outside of the apartment today), and just as I emerge out of the shadow of my building, I see a sad-eyed beagle puppy crawling on its belly through the grass towards me. At first, I was going to let the dog be and go on my way, but the dog got closer, nearly to my shoe, so I had to stop, hunker down and say hello to it. It was on a leash and I looked up to see a man, a few years younger than myself, holding the other end. While I petted the dog's little beagle skull I asked, "What's its name?" "Peanut," he said. "Hello, Peanut," I said in a gruff but cheery baby-talk voice. When I was finished patting the dog, I looked up, gave the guy a quick nod as if to say, "Your animal meets with my approval," and I went on my way to the mailboxes. Now. The question. Was that weird of me? To say more to the guy's dog than to the person himself? Was the friendly nod sufficient? What's proper pet admiration etiquette? Do I have to make small talk or else ignore the animal completely? Or have I just become an apartment-dwelling recluse who doesn't know how to interact with other humans anymore?

Anyway. Wednesday's just a couple short hours from the recordbooks, so now: readin' and sleepin'. More blog tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Ah, Kids

Something kind of funny happened to me today.

At about 3 in the afternoon, the phone rang. I let it go but listened to see if anyone left a message. When the call went to the answering machine and the robot voice on the machine said, "Hello," a little voice said hello back. The robot voice went on with the rest of its message, as it does, and when the beep sounded, the caller, who I could tell now was a little boy, said, "Hello, is Timmy there?" A moment of silence, and then a hang up.

A little while later, the boy called back. I answered and he asked again if Timmy was there. In the patronizing grownup voice I affect when I talk to children, I said, "I'm sorry but I think you dialed the wrong number." A moment's reflection on the other end, and then, "Is this the base?" I said, "No. What number were you trying to call?" He said, "Bye," and hung up.

Some minutes later, the boy called back. I said hello and there was silence. I figured it was the kid and said into the silent telephone, "Are you looking for Timmy?"
"Is this the base?"

"No, it's just me again," I said. "Do you mean like a military base?"

"No," said the boy, endlessly frustrated with my obviously willful efforts to stymie his quest for what or whomever he was looking for. "THE BASE!" he said, and with volume. "The Doctor's base!"

I still didn't know what the hell this 4-year old kid was talking about. "No, this is just my private apartment," I said. (In retrospect, I don't know what a public apartment would be like, but this was just me talking.)

The kid huffed. "Is this..." and he read in a slow, authoritative voice all the digits of the number he'd just called. My home number.

"Yes, that's me." I said. There was silence and I filled it with, "Maybe if you told me the name of who you were looking for, I could look it up and give you the right number." Maybe this kid needed a doctor for his unconscious mom or something. I wondered if my asking for more info, offering to help, might be tweaking this kid's Stranger Danger instinct. No, I thought to myself. I'm only offering to do what a telephone operator would do.

The kid huffed again. "Bye," he said.

"Bye," I said.

"Hey," the kid said, barely letting me finish my 'bye'.

"What?" I said.

"Don't you call back here."

I laughed out loud, surprised, and said quickly in an incredulous laughing voice, "Me? You called here!"

Anyway, I thought that was a jolt of high comedy in the middle of an otherwise middling, do-nothing day.

Monday, August 14, 2006

"Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" -- One of the Best Comedies of All Time? This Blogger Answers in the Affirmative

Happy Monday. Hope everyone had a good weekend.

As ever, I saw some movies this weekend: Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and also Little Miss Sunshine. I'll keep it limited to just Talladga Nights tonight 'cause it's late. Hey! Did you know that at AMC theaters, if you go to a pre-noon show on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, your ticket price is only $4? Well, didja? Well, it's true. That's right, nerds, film-school era ticket prices. So, captivated by the siren song of bargain basement ticket prices for a first-run movie, Peggy and I rolled out of bed and drove to the 11:30AM showing of Talledega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

Though I loved this movie, I'm not sure I can tell you with any certainty whether this movie was consistently funny throughout. I say that because there is a scene in this movie that made me laugh so hard that my reaction to it threw a monkey wrench into my emotions for the rest of the day -- after that scene, I laughed at pretty much everything else in the movie. Without that scene, I don't know what I would have thought about the movie overall, but it was in there, and I did laugh so hard I nearly died, so I'll say this: Talladega Nights is the funniest movie I've seen in years, and, possibly, ever. But then again, maybe it was just that scene.

Sense of humor's a very subjective thing, so the scene I found so funny in Talladega may not have had the same impact on those of you who've already seen this thing, but because I don't want to ruin any part of the movie by setting expectations so high for those who haven't seen it, I won't say which scene it was that nearly did me in. But I'll say that the scene I'm talking about had me laughing so hard that not only were tears streaming down my face, but I was close to sobbing in the theater, which was a complete first. I guess I was laughing so hard it just threw my emotions all out of whack. I felt kind of violated. When Peggy turned to me after the credits started to roll and said, "I thought I was going to have to take you out of the theater for a minute there," I thought of the scene in question again, laughed, and the tears started right back up. It was almost painful.

On the other hand, here's a quick way to discount my entire opinion on all things comedic: the two other times I've laughed so hard I cried in a theater were:
1) Ace Ventura 2: When Nature Calls -- the first scene, specifically when Jim Carrey is trying to save the raccoon in the way whacked-out parody of Cliffhanger.
2) Team America: World Police -- the vomiting scene. Something about a puppet projectile vomiting in an alley with a full orchestral score got to me.

Anyway, this scene in Talladega Nights was funnier to me than both of those. Actually, there are some really amazing laughs in this movie that I think will get everyone. In the same way Shammy sets up those pitch-perfect scares, Adam McKay sets up big big laughs. I'd say that, right now, this is right behind V for Vendetta as my favorite movie of the year so far. Maybe after I get a chance to see it again, it might go to number one.

All right. Sleepy time.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Was Disaster Only Barely Averted? Did We Snatch Hope From the Jaws of Despair? Doesn't Look Like It. A Rumination on the Neverending War on Terror

Is anyone else even slightly dubious about this latest terror plot?

When the Brits made the arrests yesterday morning, the details of the plot were reported as though we'd only just escaped a terrible fate. Twenty-six arrests were made in England, all of them alleged terrorists who intended to take liquid explosives on 10 jetliners, assemble bombs on-board and then detonate them in a synchronized fashion over the Atlantic -- a terrorist action that would have killed about as many people as died on September 11th. As a result, we can no longer take liquids on-board planes and now we're all trembling and afraid to fly, fresh meat for a floundering Bush administration who's supply of Boogeymen has gotten perilously low, what with a thousand Al Qaeda Number Two men captured or killed, Musawi dead and photographed, Saddam on trial and fasting intermittantly, and Osama all but forgotten about. Now we have a new domestic terror cell Boogeyman, so, of course, civil liberties will take another hit, Republicans will have something to run on in November, etc, and progressive foreign policy, that is practical, real world diplomacy, seems farther and farther away. Bad news all around.

Except, we discover that the plot was never going to happen.

The more we find out about British law enforcement's investigation into these guys, the urgency of the reports that came out yesterday seem less and less appropriate. The Brits had been investigating these guys for months and months. The original tip that led them to the plot happened in July 2005. A British intelligence officer actually INFILTRATED this terror cell. Yes, according to British officials, these guys were going to do their dry run today, and then do the real thing next week. But the reason they got so close to doing so was because the British who were conducting the investigation wanted to wring out as much intel out of these guys as possible before the end. When they found out they were getting close to carrying out their plan, they went in. (Ed. note: it was just reported on that the brilliant coded message that came through to the wouldbe plane bombers was "Do your attacks now." Obviously the best terrorists money can buy.)

No one on any planes were in any danger from these 26 guys because they were tightly monitored. British investigators even followed one of them all the way to Pakistan to see who he was meeting with there. They have that guy locked up now, too. These guys provided a treasure trove of intelligence on other Al Qaeda bastards located throughout the world -- so it was in the British's best interest to keep surveilling them for as long as possible, until the execute order came, and then British police mosied up to the door. As far as I can tell, the panic British and American authorities created throughout the world was entirely unnecessary. They had a hunch that if this cell had been activated to do this plot, then it might stand to reason that there might be other cells with similar orders. Or might it have been something less honest?

I don't want to sound like one of the paranoid cranks who think controlled demolitions brought down the Twin Towers, but don't I have a right to be dubious of these guys? Don't Bush and Co. periodically come out with these "terrorist plots" meant to evoke fear in the hearts of voters around election time? Like the so-called terrorists who were planning to fly planes into the Sears Tower, even though they were Christian and only one of them had ever been to Chicago? At the time, this was touted by Gonzales as a legitimate threat, though now it's clear that it wasn't a legitimate threat by a damn sight. Wasn't there also something about planes flying into the USBank building in Los Angeles? But then Bush seemed to get the particulars wrong, like calling it the tallest building west of the Mississippi, when it isn't, and then calling it by the wrong name, almost as though they neocon crew had made the whole thing up and couldn't keep their facts straight when pressed on the particulars? Even newly conservative Canada got into the act, talking about the bullshit artists who were allegedly planning a round of assassinations which would culminate with a no doubt very dramatic beheading of the Canadian prime minister. Also touted as a serious plot. I could go through the other lies of the people in charge to get us to think a certain way, to vote a certain way, but we've been through all of that. But is it paranoid for me to suspect something similar going on here?

What does seem different about this plot is the seriousness of the terrorists involved. They were organized, well-financed, and willing to die, which was not always the case with these other so-called plots. These Islamo-fascists are scary people. But the fear-mongering I'm seeing in this country from our public officials, the almost palpable delight in the faces of media people that finally, something really bad and really serious was in the offing, makes me think that what was a serious but foiled-from-the-getgo plot was exploited by the rightwing governments and opportunistic politicians in both countries for full terror impact so as to remind everyone why they were afraid in the first place, and, more importantly, why they were voting Republican or Conservative.

Governors calling the National Guard into our civilian airports? What, so everyone can see their M16s? Are they expecting a busload of terrorists to park in front of the skycaps and bumrush the Delta terminal? Why aren't our officials preaching calm? Why aren't they touting ad nauseum how great it was that our police forces and intelligence services did their job and caught up with some bad folks that were about to do a bad thing, but were stopped? Instead we see a raising of the color-coded terror chart to red for Transatalantic flights (doesn't red mean imminent? Wouldn't they STOP all Transatlantic flights if an attack were imminent? Isn't the red level complete bullshit?), raise our country's "threat level" to the 2nd highest, orange. They don't work to calm us all down, tell us how to work with the new flying guidelines, because they do much better with a fearful and thus malleable electorate. This is not a new concept, but doesn't it serve as a useful template for these cynical idealogues currently in power? Doesn't it help bring everything into perspective, because those who are supposed to be responsible leaders certainly aren't. As mad as I am at these suicidal Al Qaeda bastards for wanting to kill innocent civilians for Allah and their virgins, I'm mad at the Bushies who will exploit this well-averted crime for their own political ends. Didn't the media learn the first time what Bush and Co. will do? Why is there no skepticism?

To wrap up this diatribe, I'll say this: What's clear is that the Republicans have a strategy for dealing with terrorists like these. It's called endless war and it's a bullshit, unworkable option, though none of them are able to see that because they enjoy showing the mujahadeen who's boss with their bombs. So what is the the Democratic strategy? What should be the Progressive strategy for dealing with terrorism? Actually, nevermind political labels. How do we get these people to stop hating us so much they'd die to kill us, and if that's not workable, how do we protect ourselves from people who will gladly murder themselves if it means murdering us, too? Can we protect ourselves? If George Carlin is right, and I think he is, that security is an illusion, than should we even bother with these so-called security measures?

Anyway, enjoy your non-air-travelling weekends.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

A Few Election Results From Some Interesting Dem Primaries

Good news being reported all over the country.

Cynthia McKinny is out of office here in my congressional district, and Hank Johnson is in, and I helped. I know a lot of white male Republicans in my district were super-motivated to get Cynthia out, and I hate to ever be in agreement with that group of people, but it wasn't the slapping incident that got me to dislike Cynthia McKinny. It was another moment. The first time McKinny took questions from local reporters after her scuffle with Capital Police, McKinny wasn't the least bit candid about the incident, didn't have a sense of humor about it, was very defensive, and insisted she wouldn't answer any questions about it. When the interview was over, she forgot to take her mike off of her coat. So the TV crew got audio of McKinny dissing one of her own staffers post-interview for not making it clear enough with the reporter that McKinny would field no questions regarding the Capital scuffle. When McKinny realized her mistake, she came back to the table where she'd been answering questions and spoke to the reporter in a tone dripping with condescension and a palpable dislike. "Anything that was said after our interview was concluded," Cynthia said, her googly eyes googling and her lips peeled back away from her teeth so she could over-anunciate, as though to a child, "will not be used for broadcast of any kind. Do you understand me?" I was done with McKinny right then. Anyone who doesn't know how to handle reporters better than that doesn't deserve to represent anyone, much less an entire congressional district. So she's out, and that's good. Give ole Hank a chance. I'm tired of this incumbent retention rate of 94%. Throw the incumbents out. If your representative or senator hasn't done an absolutely stellar job while in office, if they haven't done something that, when you think of it, makes you happy or proud some way, give someone else a shot. There's even money they'll do a better job.

Also, Joe Lieberman, the faux-Democrat and born again Republican, has failed to convince Democratic voters in Connecticut that he ought to be the Democrat nominee for his Senate seat. Ned Lamont is in. People have been saying that Lieberman's ouster is a result of his support for the war in Iraq, but I think that's just part of it. It's also his high-handed moralistic positions regarding sex and violence in video games and music and movies, and it's also because every ultra-right-winger in the Punditsphere, like Hannity and Coulter and DeLay, have all come out in support of Lieberman. But the final nail in his coffin was his scolding of fellow Senate Dems last November. He told them to stop criticizing the President because, like it or not, Bush is our President for the next three years. Pretty fucking galling. True, he was lobbying the Bush administration then to take over Rumsfeld's job, (a job he was never in the running for, but was too out of his depth to know it), but the fact that he didn't know his days were numbered as a Democrat that very moment shows how out of touch he is. Now he says he's going to run as an Independent. I hope to God he loses that too and then fades quickly into obscurity as a former progressive who lost his way. We need actual Democrats in power to help bring America back from where Bush has taken it.

This Blogger Makes 'The Descent', and Finds the Entire Enterprise Frightening, A Little Goofy, But Generally Worthwhile

I saw The Descent on Saturday night with mi esposa. I have to admit I was swayed by the blurb they ran in the television commercials for the film that announced that The Descent was the best horror movie "since Alien". Quite a pedigree. Separates it from the usual crap horror fare designed for teens who don't know any better. Of course that quote was from a film geek website,, but since I'm essentially a film geek myself, I figured they couldn't be THAT far off. And though I've decided that JoBlo's opinion is mostly hyperbole, Descent is no Alien, the movie's actually pretty good.

Written and directed by Neil Marshall, the movie's about six outdoorsy women (mainly British gals) who, for this year's adventure, descend into a cave located somewhere in the Appalacian mountains. The film's heroine, Sarah (played by Shauna MacDonald), is recovering emotionally from a car wreck back in England that claimed the lives of her husband and young daughter. The other developed character in the group of six cavers, an ultra-fit, adrenaline-junkie bitch named Juno, organized the excursion in an effort to help Sarah move past the tragedy, although, as we later discover, Juno has alterior motives. The girls aren't down in Centenaryland long before bad things start to happen.

I can't really talk about what happens down there without giving away some of the film's surprises, so I'll just say that The Descent does suspense and scares with skill and imagination. Though I was frustrated with the film in terms of consistent realism. Director Marshall depicts some aspects of caving with a kind of cinema verite realism, showing how tight some of the passages are, how arduous and tedious and dangerous the work of navigating underground can be, and then other elements of caving are shown in cartoonish broad strokes that weaken the film more than I think Marshall realized. For instance, a caver with naught but a flashlight affixed to their helmet (or even just an oversized glowstick) cannot run in a cave, especially if they've never been in that cave before. Also, during one scene in the movie, the women have to swim through certain water-logged passages to proceed. But as watchers of the Discovery Channel know, if a caver swims through water, (which in a cave in Appalacia in the winter time is going to be very very cold), and the water's higher than the caver's heart, the clothes have to be stripped off, stored in a sealed bag, and towed along with the caver until they get to a dry perch, dry off, and get dressed again. I'm not saying they should have adhered to this fact of caving because I think this movie needed naked women in it, but because I think an unyielding sense of realism would really help set the audience up for the unreality of what's to come. Ridley Scott understood this, I think.

In Alien, half the film takes place before we even lay eyes on the Monster. And throughout that first half of the film, we're inundated with exclusive, jargon-laced dialogue that comes off as mind-numbingly real -- real enough to make the audience feel as though they're watching a sci-fi documentary. So when the Monster shows up, we believe its real, and its scary. The Exorcist operated under the same dictum. Now I understand that some running was probably necessary for a horror film of this kind, and maybe there wasn't enough screentime to show all the facets of caving as it really is, but I think the director would have had more success with this film had he clung tenaciously to the idea of making The Descent the ultimate caving movie, and that means taking it very seriously.

Not that I'm trying to sell myself as an expert of any kind -- I've only been to "show caves" and did some light caving when I was a kid in Boy Scouts back when they called it 'spelunking' -- but it's not hard to spot the places in the film when Marshall cuts corners to expedite the action, and I think this was the wrong way to go. Though overall, I forgave some of the goofier moments and sat back to enjoy the Monsters. Marshall definitely knows his horror movies, and surprisingly, references Carrie more than once. It came off more like weird homage to me than an instance of ripping off a superior film, so I liked it. I reccomend taking a look at The Descent, if not in the theaters, than when it comes out on DVD.

[By the way: Peggy didn't like it.]

Monday, August 07, 2006

Unwilling to Endure Anymore Crane-Related Flatulence, Two Office Chairs Make A Suicide Pact, And Make Good On It. The Office Chair Saga Continues

Happy Monday folks.

Well, I hope you all were more productive than I was today. Aside from an hour of writing (during which I finished chapter 18, which means I only have two chapters to go before I finish the revised -- and mostly final -- draft of the Book), and a Skype conversation with our man in Taiwan, Mr. Nathan Hines, I was busy breaking office chairs. Not just one, mind you, the number at which most self-respecting chair breakers would be content with in a single day, but two. Here's a quick run down of how it went.

Chair One: I return to the office from the kitchen with my mini-Braves helmet freshly filled (about a third high) with salted peanuts, I drop into my office chair and am about to swivel it towards the desk when I hear a loud snap. I then begin my journey backward towards the ground. I reach the ground in short order and, luckily, without banging my enormous head into anything. I laugh a sad, jolly laugh at how big a fat ass I've obviously become, lift my bulk out of the chair and examine the damage. One of the five spokes at the base of the office chair has shattered beneath my weight. It's a done deal. Not repairable.

So I go around the desk to Peggy's desk, grab the massage chair my folks got me after my Samsonite chair broke earlier this year, and haul it around to my desk. I sit in it and get back to being unproductive.

Chair Two: I am leaning back in the chair. The little lever to the right beneath my seat is not set to recline, but after I hear a metallic snapping sound, suddenly I am reclining. I sit up again, worried I'm about to break another chair, put my weight on the right armrest so I can shift my weight away from the at-risk seatback, and the right armrest breaks right the hell off of my chair. Not so that it's dangling -- it's still attached, though only by one bolt instead of 3 -- but so that I can't lean back in the chair without risk of having the entire seat back come off.

So right now, I am sitting at my desk in an office chair that is essentially now a stool, looking over my monitor at two other broken office chairs, one leaning precariously against the closet door, and the other chair, the trusty Samsonite that broke many months ago, sits tucked in beneath the back of Peggy's desk. All of them casualties of my 6'6", 242 pound bulk being hurled onto them, into them, day after day after day. Oh well. I can't imagine breaking two chairs in one day in front of other people. I doubt one would ever live that down in an office environment.

Perhaps not in a blog environment either, who knows. Anyway, more tomorrow.

Friday, August 04, 2006

A Passel of Movie Reviews For Your Weekend Enjoyment. Clerks 2, Hustle and Flow, Scoop, Hostage, You, Me, and Dupree (sort of), and Entourage

I finished the first season of "Entourage" this afternoon. I still hold with my original opinion after watching the first two episodes -- that it's a shallow depiction of the life of a star and his hometown hangers on with unappealing characters -- but I as the first season ended with Eric's change in title (and Eric's the only character I don't mind), I'm interested to see how he does next season. Also, the whole Aquaman saga and all of the James Cameron cameos have me interested in the second season. Damn them all. They even have clever ways to make me want to watch so-so television.

Anyway. I've been at my brother's place in Alpharetta the past couple days. Patty's a busy guy. Gets up a couple hours before dawn, gets home 12 hours later, goes to sleep a little while after that. And because he's naturally slobby, not having enough time to keep his place up has resulted in a stunning degree of squalor in an otherwise nice apartment. So I volunteered to help him out. So, Wednesday and Thursday, while he was at work, I did a bow-to-stern cleaning. And when he got home, he helped out, letting me know what went where, what was good to throw out, etc. So now, two days later, the place is 100% better than before, and he can see once more how cool a place he's got. At the very least, I think he has a good starting point from which to maintain a decent level of bachelor-level cleanliness. Anyway, after we were done last night, we watched a movie I'd wanted to see in theaters but missed called Hostage.

It's not a bad movie, nor is it particularly good. There's a lot of violence, and it's pretty visceral and disturbing to begin with, but as the Raoul of this movie (the quiet, sadistic member of a crew of criminals) becomes more and more psychopathic with each successive reel, and his killing proficiency becomes more in line with a high-priced hitman, the violence gets grislier but more cartoonish, and thusly less affecting. Silly, even. Also, the fancy house up in the suburbs of Los Angeles where the action is set apparently has a lot of ductwork that allows any character to secretly get from one part of the house to another. I know. What bullshit. And I thought even Hollywood had gotten the point that no one actually believes that crawl-through-the-ducts crap anymore. Guess some scripts fall through the cracks. On the plus side, Bruce Willis turns in some good acting work here.

A week ago I saw Clerks 2 at the drive-in. For some reason, I see almost every Kevin Smith movie, often in the theater. But I look back on his movies and the only one I liked even a little, (and I did only like it a little), is Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Just because it had some decent laughs in it. I think he may be one of the few filmmakers who make movies designed for one viewing and one viewing only. Because everytime I've seen a Kevin Smith movie a second time, I've hated it. Dogma is a perfect example. What an embarrassment. I'm embarrassed for everyone who had anything to do with that movie. Anyway, Clerks 2 is along the same lines. Same tin-eared dialogue as usual -- the kind that sounds like Smith wrote it on MS Word an hour before the day's filming, and the same awful, awful cinematography. But, as always, there are some laughs. Mostly from Jason Mewes' character, as usual. They do a riff on Silence of the Lambs that nearly killed me -- and the donkey show was kind of funny. But what's worst about Clerks 2 is that the heart of the story is so fundamentally ridiculous. For the movie to work, we have to accept that it's real and not ridiculous, which is impossible. The ridiculous thing is this: Brian O'Halloran, the guy who plays Dante, is in love with the manager of the fast food place he works at, Rosario Dawson. Sure, I buy that. Who wouldn't be? But here's the ridiculous part:

She loves him, too.

That's some fantastical BS right there, no? And why does Kevin Smith expect us to swallow this crap? Is it because the schlubby Kevin Smith managed to marry someone who's moderately good-looking (Jennifer Schwalbach Smith, who is also in the movie playing Dante's "hot" fiance)? If the schlub aspect is the common denominator, the difference between a famous movie director schlub and a guy who works at a fast-food joint schlub is so vast as to render the two schlubs members of different species. The bottomline on Clerks 2 is that there aren't enough jokes, and it takes itself too seriously for a movie that doesn't strive to be serious, or even good. And Randal's jailhouse speech to Dante at the end of the film is so gay and sappy and overlong and poorly-acted, I just thought, "This seals it. Kevin Smith sucks as a writer-director." Smith seems like a really nice guy, and he's smart and he can be pretty funny, but I think he should stop inflicting his movies on people like me, who'll go and see damn near anything because we're helpless not to. Please, Kevin. Stop. Just stop.

Immediately following was You, Me, and Dupree. Peggy and I watched that for half an hour at the drive-in and then we did a drive-out. As bad as you've heard it was, it was worse. I'm really tired of Owen Wilson coasting on his "type". Every movie he does these days he's just this easy-going, nice to a fault, slightly-eccentric surfer dude, and it's just tired. I think, if Owen's got a brain in his head, You, Me, and Dupree should represent the end of his coasting-on-his-good-personality phase. Because if he's not careful, he's going to go the way of Meg Ryan, who also coasted for too long on her on-screen persona and now currently resides in a state of hasbinnery. He needs to do an edgy indie movie again, or just something against type, because he's wondered a long way from Bottle Rocket.

On Sunday we went to the Tara and saw Woody Allen's latest offering, Scoop. You could safely sum up this movie as a kind of comedic version of Match Point, which was a much better film. Same setting, same lead actress, same upper-crust milieu, and there's murder to boot. Scarlett Johannsen has not lived up to her hype. Everytime I see her in a movie post-Lost in Translation, her failure to raise her acting level to the actors around her seems to get worse. I think it's just a problem of talent. She's just not good. In some scenes in Scoop, you can almost see her remembering the next line to recite as the other actor's finishing their line. She's gorgeous, so she'll keep acting for a lot of years, but it won't be because a director says, "We need a great actress for this part. What's Scarlett doing?" It'll be because a director says, "We need a hot chick for this role. What's Scarlett doing?" I think that if Scarlett's eyes were 2 millimeters further apart and her lips slightly smaller, straight-to-video Eric Roberts movies would be the best work she could hope for. As for the movie, I wasn't impressed. I was hoping that filming in England had put him on a new hot streak, and he could go out as the aging auteur, but Match Point looks to have been just a fluke. Oh well.

And finally, I saw Hustle and Flow on DVD on Saturday night. It's an excellent film. I had low expecations going in, what with that awful rap song from the movie winning the Oscar back in February, but all the praise it's had heaped on it since it blew up at Sundance was deserved, I think. Terrence Howard is fantastic. He's got amazing presence on-screen in addition to exceptional acting ability, and as good as the script and the direction is, Hustle and Flow requires the lead actor to carry this movie on his back, and he does it. The film's about artistic expression, the impulse to share one's vision of the world with the rest of its inhabitants, and the extraordinary meaures people will take to see that their voice is heard. The film tells the story of a rural Memphis-area pimp who works to record a demo track of rap songs. It has the feel of the first halves of Ray and Walk the Line, in that we're watching music history happen in front of our eyes, but Hustle and Flow's best scenes feel more vital, more intense than those other movies because the odds for Terrence Howard's DeeJay character seem so much longer. In their films, failure for Ray Charles and Johnny Cash meant dropping into lives of obscurity and stifled creativity, but with DJ, you feel that if his one shot at success doesn't work out, in his line of work, obscurity will be the least of his problems. Anyway, I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Up this weekend is The Descent and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Jimmy Bobby. Early word is that they're both good, so I'm optimistic. Anyway, next week will be a fuller blogging week. Have a good weekend er'rybody.

PS. Quick note: Peter and Daniele are traveling out to the West Coast today. Just wanted to say have a good trip guys, and breathe in a deep lungful of Los Angeles air for me.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Turns Out William Wallace Hates Jews as Much as He Hates Brits

Ok, here's what I saw over the weekend. Clerks 2, a half-hour (as much as Peggy and I could take) of You, Me, and Dupree, Scoop, one-half hour of The Amityville Horror remake, and Hustle and Flow. So let's get into it ... later in the week. Today, I'm going to ask you one question:

What the f**k happened to Mel Gibson?

I remember the hullaballoo that surrounded Passion of the Christ when it came out, and when I finally saw it on video, I thought the critics who charged the film with anti-semitism were right on. The Passion of the Christ depicts Jews as evil bastards who killed a nice guy for saying things they didn't like. I thought it was a ding on Mel Gibson's record, but I mostly, and naively, forgave it. I figured that maybe, as a diehard and misguided Catholic, he really believed that the Jews of that time were culpable in the death of Christ, and he was depicting events as he believed they'd taken place. I chalked up his treatment of the Jews in his movie as another symptom of his overweening, Opus Dei-style Catholicism, and that his weird beliefs stemmed from the overarching insanity of his style of Christianity, not a more personal insanity. And so when Diane Sawyer asked him in an interview if he agreed with his father that the Holocaust was "mostly fiction" and he answered that he wouldn't speak against his father, I figured that was an issue of family privacy, not of substance. I mean, surely the Mel of Braveheart, and Lethal Weapon and Signs and Mad Max and Ransom, couldn't hold any of that outdated, tinfoil-hat wearing, White Power kind of hatred for Jews in his heart. Not in this modern day and age.

I see now that I was way wrong.

As you've probably heard ad nauseum by now, Mel Gibson was pulled over on Friday morning for drunk driving. To the arresting officers, he said "the f**king Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world," and asked one of the arresting officers if they were a "f**king Jew". Some of his defenders (to the death, I'd imagine), and his own first official press statement essentially chalked up the anti-semitic speech to how drunk he was. Which, obviously, doesn't cut it. Drunk only removes the filter, it doesn't invent shit for you to say. His comments, while terrible, are nothing compared to what it reveals about the depth of Gibson's anti-semitism. This is what I think his comments prove:

1) Mel Gibson is, undeniably, an anti-semite.
2) Mel Gibson believes the Jews killed Christ and continues to hold them, as a group, accountable for it.
3) Mel Gibson believes the Holocaust is a fiction invented and perpetuated by the Jews.
4) Mel Gibson believes there is a cabal of Jews who scheme and conspire, not unlike the Jews depicted in the classic racist tract, The Protocols of the Ancient Elders of Zion.
5) The Passion of the Christ is an anti-semitic film.

When I heard the news, what I felt wasn't too far off from what I'd feel if I'd heard Mel Gibson had died. This was incredibly disappointing to me, because I think he's a good actor and a good director, and it's all wasted on what we now know is a sick brain. Mel Gibson said in a press statement released today that he wants Jews to "help him" find a "path for healing". What Mel Gibson is truly sincere about here is rescusitating what is, at this moment, a dead career. I don't think rescusitation is possible unless he a) publicly denounces his father's views on the Holocaust (of course), and b) stops denying he's an anti-semite, and confess the truth to the world, and c) convince the public that not only does he know how wrongheaded and ignorant and irrational and bigoted anti-semitism is, but that he's serious about reforming back into the world of sane people. Obviously, b) has to happen in tandem with c). Even still, people will doubt his sincerity, but I think short of these measures, all he can hope for is a marginal career as an independent film director who used to be a big time actor/director.

Anyway, for an excellent, and scathing, piece on Mel Gibson's outing as a Jew-hater, go here for Christopher Hitchens's essay. Also Andrew Sullivan has been going full-bore since Friday into all of the conservatives who defended Mel against charges of anti-semitism when Passion came out. He's calling them out and, not surprisingly, many are silent.