Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Black Swan is Flashdance for a New Generation

Have you ever seen a movie that uplifted your spirits and made you believe in possibilities again? I have! And last night's film was just that sort of movie, the feel-good hit of the year and justified Oscar-bait. I'm talking of course about "Black Swan".

This film traces the trials and tribulations of Nina, a ballerina in New York, who's just trying to get that big break. And with determination and moxie, she succeeds with the help of her new friend Lily who inspires her to perform the dual-role she needs to fill in the ballet. See, the ballet involves the star playing both a "white swan" and a "black swan", with the former being all good and happy and the latter being jealous and mean. Nina faces the challenge, despite some misunderstandings with her mother and guilt over taking the part from the ever-charming Winona Ryder. Lily comes through as a friend, supporting Nina's efforts even though it means having to remain an understudy herself (see, that's loyalty and dedication, and class--something tells me the sequel to this film might be about Lily's big break).

Ultimately, on the night of the big performance, Nina has some mishaps, including getting cut by some mirror in a dressing room accident, but spurred on by her friend she soldiers through the performance, playing both black and white swan perfectly to the crowd's delight. Now, I'm no ballet fan--dancing confuses and angers me--but even I was impressed by the hard work and talent displayed on screen here.

Was I inspired to go see a ballet? Certainly not! But the "try and you shall succeed" message of this feel-good movie was able to reach me, so it should be able to reach any of its audience.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hobo, This Time With a Shotgun

Every now and again there comes along a film that carries with it warmth, subtlety, and the sort of charm that remains with you long after the end credits roll. And then there is such a film as "Hobo With a Shotgun". "Hobo" was made for those who watched "Rambo III" and thought "this is way too thought provoking! The characters are too complex!" "Hobo" has about as much nuance as a boulder made out of razor blades.

Do I even need to go into the plot of "Hobo With a Shotgun"? The title basically says more than the movie is actually about. Rutger Hauer plays the titular hobo, who rides into a town where the villains are ruling the roost. To call the bad guys cartoonish would be an insult to cartoons, and you can be sure from the first time they come on screen--decapitating a helpless man with a barbed wire noose and yes you heard that right--that you will not have qualms about wishing for their ultimate demise. Fortunately for justice--and for those who love to see people's insides being shared with the entire neighborhood--our hobo has clearly been well trained in shotgun use and suffers none of the usual afflictions one would expect with the homeless, such as vitamin deficiency, fatigue or semi-starvation. This is one rail-rider you don't want to cross.

If there's one bit of dialogue that sums up the film it is this one, between the hobo and the hooker he befriends:

Hooker: You can't solve all of your problems with a shotgun!

Hobo: It is the only way I know how.

Isn't that just beautiful? Step aside, "Rosebud" and "I'll Make Him an Offer He Can't Refuse"--we have a new winner for best movie quote. I like to imagine the hobo trying to fix his car, and deciding the only way to repair the faulty carbeurator is with a quick blast with the ole shotgun.

Needless to say, the film goes the way you'd expect--plenty of justified vengeance, plenty of innocent people getting murdered--the most unintentionally hilarious case being the schoolbus full of kids being destroyed with a flamethrower, because up to that point we just weren't sure if the villain was odious enough--and an ending that left you wondering why Rutger Hauer still has trouble finding work.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hurricane Lessons

After several days of media hype and local morons cleaning out the grocery stores--because you can never have enough canned beets--Hurricane Irene finally arrived, bringing a bit of wind and rain but leaving our neighborhood pretty much untouched. We had some friends over for movies and chilli, and the place was extra cozy with our patio furniture inside, as we waited to see if anything major would happen. Perhaps a tree through the window, or the motorcycle parked across the street tipping over. But by morning, our windows were unbroken and the motorcycle still stood. Hurricane Irene was downgraded to a Category 1 Breeze.

What have we learned from this experience that may come in handy if next time we get a more powerful storm?

1) Nothing.

That's pretty much it. Next time a storm hits, people will still mob the stores on the day before, some will still wander out in it and get stranded, and the rest of us will hunker down inside, wishing these storms would ruin a school night instead of a summer weekend.

Friday, August 26, 2011

How to Improve Films

Generally when I'm watching a movie that sucks, I like to think what I might have done to save the film from total suckery had I been the studio head. (In a perfect world, I'd be a studio head, and not the soulless automatons that produce crap like "Knight and Day"). Here's just a few films that I would have improved:

1) Jerry Maguire--have Renee Zellweger's character get caught in a love triangle between Jerry and serial killer Aileen Wuornos. The seminal point in the movie would be where she bashes Aileen over the head with a fish tank, screaming "You had me at DIE, BITCH!" Cuba Gooding Jr's character would then rifle through Wuornos' purse, and say "you just showed me the money!"

2) Monster--this biopic about the actual serial killer Wurnos would have been turned into a comedy. We'd replace all the killings and violent parts with comedic sound effects, and it would be more a film about a serial killer who keeps goofing up with hilarious results! Somehow I would have gotten John C. Reilly in there, he works cheap.

3) Titanic--this movie needed a murder mystery more than anything. It really dragged, but frankly a stabbed passenger (my vote would be for Kathy Bates' character, who pissed me off anyway with her "oh look how earthy I am, like an early day Roseanne") and a Belgian super-sleuth could have livened up the middle. It'd be great because he'd solve the murder (turns out she stabbed herself while trying to pick food from her teeth) at the exact moment the boat hit an iceberg. And I'd leave in John Astor's witty comment, "I asked for more ice, but this is ridiculous!"

4) Star Wars--I know, it's blasphemous among nerds to suggest this film could have been improved. But Luke was a weak point--no character development, no depth--just pure "gee shucks" farm boy. He needs a split personality, and his alter ego--"Stuart" Skywalker--could be up to all sorts of mischievous hijinks.

5) Road House--it is impossible to make this a better movie than it already is.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hurricane Party Tips

With Hurricane Irene planning to visit this weekend, the word on the street is all the stores will be mobbed with people buying canned goods. This is because the stores may be closed for a couple days, if the hurricane is real bad, and no one bothers to keep more than half a day's worth of food in the house. Starving is not an option--we are not the Joads, after all--so it is off to join the pack at the stores!

But we also need something for entertainment! Here are some great hurricane entertainment ideas:

1) Play a game of "Guess Which Spoon Accidentally Fell In the Toilet Last Winter?"

2) Watch someone put together a jigsaw puzzle.

3) Ask three of your friends to stage an in-house production of "Glengarry Glenn Ross" to remind yourself why you need new friends.

4) Have a cup of grated parmesan for lunch because you thought everyone else was an idiot for rushing to the packed stores before the storm hit.

5) Cover your car with antique china to help cushion the blow in case a tree branch falls on it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


There's nothing like a good ole fashioned earthquake to cut into your workday. Sitting at my desk and feeling our building begin to rock and sway, my first thought was "that damn landlord probably didn't adjust the boiler" and it would only be a matter of time before the building exploded. The irony was we had just finished a meeting with our insurance brokers, during which we estimated that only a cataclysmic event affecting the entire D.C. region could shut down all our business locations at once. (Only our failure to say "you know, like an earthquake, as though that would ever happen here!" kept us out of bad sitcom land) For the first time ever, I swore at work. Upon learning it was in fact a quake, I tried calling the wife, but cell service was jammed (which tells us something about the overload during any emergency). Fortunately, she texted soon after to indicate that she had been shopping at Pentagon City and managed to hitch a ride in a taxi with some Nationals Park workers.

We evacuated, and the drive home was uneventful, until reaching Maine Avenue. At this point I am a short walk from home, but a short walk does not make for a short drive--this time. The entire street is jammed solid, as all the idiots in town must have decided that the best place to be after an earthquake is the 14th Street Bridge while it is under repair. I figured maybe the power was out, so the traffic lights weren't working and that was the cause of the chaos. But no, lights were working, but some cop was directing and somehow making it worse. Forty minutes later, I had finished the final blocks home.

When all was said and done, it sort of sucks that one of the few things we had over California--lack of earthquakes--is gone.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Jersey Shore Now An Embarrassment to Dude-Bros?

Another day, another clothing retailer offers to pay a celebrity not to wear their apparel. This time it's Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino of Jersey Shore fame, and the clothing retailer is Abercrombie and Fitch. A&F is well known for being the clothing of choice for Dude-Bros around the country, and if you're a douche playing a guitar while barefoot in a campus quad, then statistically speaking, you are definitely wearing something A&F.

First, let me get this off my chest--if the show is taking place somewhere besides the shore of New Jersey, stop calling it "Jersey Shore". "Jersey Shore Italy" or "Jersey Shore Miami Beach" makes about as much sense as having "Gilligans Island" film an extra season that takes place in San Francisco.

Second, A&F has hit upon a brilliant idea, which should be adopted further. Everyone with anything in common with the lowlives on "Jersey Shore" can get in on the action. Budweiser can pay "JWow" to not drink their beer, Bose can pay "Pauly D" to not use their stereo equipment, and the Italian American population of America can pay the entire gang of them to change their last names to "Kowalski". (Sorry, Polish folks--should have acted quicker!)

I'm willing to contribute a few hundred!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Palin Always Finds A Way to Become More Odious

I know that Sarah Palin is not an actual candidate for president, nor a serious person, or even anything more than an elaborate joke. But I just can't help myself! This lady is just the political junkie's gift that keeps on giving. I still stand behind my theory that she is actually a liberal political comedian doing a very elaborate satire on politicians in general and Republicans in particular. She really couldn't be a better example of a shrill, empty headed, craven, childlike, vain, hateful, opportunistic troll if this was in fact a satire.

The latest is her attention-whoring in Iowa, where they recently held a pointless, nonbinding straw poll that somehow got media coverage even though no one really cares what a small group of GOP activists in the Corn and Boredom State decided at one of their fundraisers. Apparently a reporter for the right of center publication Daily Caller did an interview of her while she took time away from making stupid remarks about Muslims who "hurt the heart" what with their nerve in trying to build mosques in this country. The reporter accurately reported that she would support whomever the GOP nominates against Obama--and the Daily Caller accurately published the article. Then, FoxNation's news aggregator linked the article, with the not-so-accurate (shocking, I know! But Palin works for them so she should be ready for such things) header implying she would back Mitt Romney, even before he won the nomination.

Let's first play pretend and imagine how a mentally stable non-idiot might have handled this. Ask an aide to check this out, find out that the problem was with FoxNation, and ask them to correct the headline and maybe print a correction for anyone who saw the inaccurate one. Nonstory, folks! Now let's imagine a Palin-American handling this:

Shrill screaming over the phone at the original reporter of the story, who reported and submitted the correct information. When said reporter tries to point this out, tell them you have to spend time with "real Americans" and hang up.

Let's first deal with this "real Americans" crap--if a "real American" is a multi-millionaire media whore with no actual accomplishments in her shallow life short of sinking a war hero senator's presidential campaign by making him look like a lunatic for even nominating her, then I guess very few Americans would be proud to carry that term. I wasn't aware that beat reporters who actually have to work for a living and don't parade their crotchfruit around the country while messing up the nation's history are not "real Americans". But I do know this much:


It would be nice to hear someone call her out on that though.

What Your State License Plate Says About You

1) New York Plates. Hi, I'm super aggressive because six different people have been rude to me today. Steer clear.

2) California. I really have no idea where I am right now.

3) Maine. I'm going rather slow, because 90% of the time when I'm driving it's on snow so I always drive this way. Please just go around me.

4) Texas. If you're smart you won't tailgate me. I'm better armed than most third world militaries.

5) Florida. I'm as well armed as the Texan but coked up, so if I'm tailgating you, it's wise to pull over into a ditch until I pass.

6) New Jersey. I've got the same personality issues as the New York driver, but without the skills. If you see a traffic jam, there's a good chance I started it.

7) Maryland. I really don't belong in a car, and my driving proves it.

8) Virginia. I plan to cut you off just so I can slow down again. Oh, how whimsical I am! Aren't I a hoot?

9) Massachusetts. They don't call us "Massholes" for nothing. We aspire to be as obnoxious as the New York driver.

10) Michigan. There's good reason you see me outside of Michigan on your roads right now. If you were from Michigan you'd drive the hell out of there too.

11) DC. Please ignore my passive aggressive plate that complains about how we're taxed and yet don't have a vote in Congress. And let's hope any Puerto Ricans who see this can appreciate the irony.

12) Alaska. Give me some slack. This is the first time in years I've encountered another car on the road.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Economic Dolldrums

Newly minted presidential candidate Rick Perry has come out as suggesting that additional "quantitative easing" by the Federal Reserve would constitute "treason" against this country. If the reporters interviewing him were worth their weight in salt they'd have asked the obvious follow-up question, which is "would you consider that as treasonous as a state seceding from the country?" but I suppose it's politically incorrect to suggest such a thing. (Though I suppose it's the fault of the winning side of the Civil War, for not having passed a constitutional amendment explicitly saying "Ok, seriously--no more seceding.")

But is Perry right in his criticism of the Fed? I'd have to agree--among the many problems our economy has right now, devaluing the dollar further isn't going to help that. The sad fact is there is no easy fix to our economic problems, because over the past several years they've tried all the easy fixes. However, there are still some unorthodox possibilities:

1) Annex Mexico. In one fell swoop, no more worries about "jobs going to Mexico" since the jobs would be staying in country. Sure, some folks in our original states might resent Mexican migrant workers, sort of how Californians once resented "Okies", and we may have to suffer through a few more John Steinbeck novels as a result, but also consider this--the border between Mexico and Guatemala is a hell of a lot shorter and easier to guard than the current border between Mexico and the U.S. The new state could be called "South New Mexico."

2) Completely legalize everything. Just imagine all the repressed Europeans coming here so they can smoke crack while riding a chariot pulled by hookers and shoot an AK-47 into the air on the way to their gay polygamous wedding in an abortion clinic, which features gambling. Tourist dollars could erase our trade deficit. Bonus--it might make Michele Bachmann's head explode (except for the AK-47 part).

3) Expel Michigan from the country. Look, they had a good run, but they're now embarrassing us. And when other states see how easy this can be done, they'll get in line fast (I'm looking at you, South New Mexico).

4) Build a canal connecting the Mississippi to the Pacific. I think canals are due for a comeback.

5) Tell everyone in the country to split up and join other countries for a while, make their fortunes, and return in about twenty years. Anyone who fails can try France instead.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Perry in the Race

The news that longtime Texas governor Rick Perry is jumping into the race for the GOP presidential nomination isn't too surprising for me, since this guy has all the key elements on paper for getting the nod. Governors tend to do better than Senators and Congresspersons, and his state is the second biggest in the country. Perry manages to straddle both establishment Republicanism as well as the Christian right, and has Tea Party cred--and add to that a great head of hair. He is expected to be a juggernaut in this race, for good reason.

There are a few things though that may ultimately sink a Perry candidacy:

1) He's got troubling secessionist sympathies. Yes, I get that Texans think they're a separate country when it benefits them, but fealty towards a movement that was traitorous to this country? How much creditiblity will President Perry have when Maine finally secedes (and they will--mark my words!) and he has to send federal troops in?

2) He has a thing for executing innocent people. Now, Americans do love them some executin'--Clinton famously made a campaign swing back to Arkansas to watch the execution of a man so severely retarded that he saved some of his last meal for later--but this sort of thing can blow up a bit when it goes national.

3) America really can't afford another war right now. Our last two--and only--Texan presidents brought us long and costly wars in Iraq and Vietnam. I'm not even sure what new country Perry would have to invade to keep up his Texan cred, but I'm sure he'll find somewhere. And we can't afford the wars we have already.

4) He's green on the national stage. One reason I think Mitt Romney is going to win the nomination is because for the GOP the nomination tends to go to the candidate who has been through the nomination races before. (McCain in 2000, winning in '08; Dole in '88, winning in '96; Bush Sr. in '80, winning in '88; Reagan in '76, winning in '80). The first time means the national media gets a chance to do their digging on the candidate, and the candidate gets a chance to learn from his mistakes. Romney's been through it last time, and this time seems less gaffe-prone. Perry has a lot of opportunity to flub around, and get the heat of attack ads that can define his image before he gets a chance to.

My money's still on Romney taking the GOP nod, but it looks like now for the first time in the race he has an actual threat. His strength as a candidate is about to be tested.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Prediction--Obama's Getting Re-elected

With all the bad economic news this week, my liberal and conservative friends seem hopeful (or dismayed) that Barack Obama is likely to get "crushed" in next year's election. Here are some reasons why I don't think that'll happen:

1) Money. Obama has a huge fundraising advantage over his GOP rivals, being the incumbent, not having a primary rival this time around, and considering his fundraising in '08 was recordbreaking. Look to see him raise a mountain of cash to swamp his opponent with--an opponent who will have come from a bruising and expensive primary battle. Caveat--at a certain point, a candidate only needs so much money before it gives him/her any additional advantage. There's only so many consultants you can hire, and so many pieces of mail, appearances to make, or TV time to buy. Look at Meg Whitman's expensive mess in California last year--her massive spending had diminishing returns after a certian point. Still, in this case, time that Romney (who I predict will be the nominee for reasons I'll get into another time) spends trying to raise money gives Obama time to target swing states and try to grab a few reds.

2) Economy. Yes, the economy is terrible right now, but there's a couple factors to consider. First, a majority of voters don't blame the president for our economy--mainly due to the slide beginning well before he was elected. Second, to the extent voters blame/credit a president for the economy, they are less focused on how good or bad the economy is in absolute terms than they are focused on the economic trend. The question won't be "how bad is unemployment or GDP in November 2012"--the question will be "how bad is unemployment or GDP in November 2012 compared to 2011, and are things on the right or wrong track". Considering things are pretty bad now, there is plenty of room for improvement over the next year. Caveat--things can of course get even worse, and even if they do improve by late 2012, if the improvement is too little too late, he could be punished as Bush Sr. was in 1992, where voters did not credit him for what was actually an economic recovery (that lasted a record nine years). But I think the economy still gives Obama an edge, as I discuss in 3) below.

3) His Opposition. The GOP are currently in the process of trying to make themselves completely unable to win any national elections for a long time. Part of this is due to embracing the extreme elements in their party, which insist on a "no tax hike" orthodoxy that puts them at odds with independents and even a significant number of Republicans. This also means that candidates in the primaries are going to have to jump through hoops to get the nomination that will require making themselves unelectable in the general--whether it's bashing homosexuals (an increasingly unpopular position), scapegoating of Muslims, or taking on the more insane of anti-Obama conspiracy theories. What wins the South Carolina primaries will ensure a loss in Pennsylvania, and even--what is becoming more likely--Ohio and Florida come November. Plus, as bad as the economy may be, the GOP appears just as out of tools to deal with it as the Democrats are. Spending stimulus may not work, but tax cut stimulus won't either. And no one has been adult about the debt, even as Obama ceded the initiative to Republicans who promptly ruled out any compromise on the issue. Whoever emerges from the GOP primaries will be compromised by the hard right, and running against a president who can aim straight at the middle. (And the left--mad as they may get at Obama--will turn out in droves for him rather than let some Tea Partied GOP nominee take over).

4) Bin Laden. Killing him has sort of provided a very quick response to GOP claims that Obama is weak on the war on terror. Not to mention, the guy hasn't really ended the wars he's inherited--issues which might be something if the GOP were anti-interventionist, but if they don't nominate Ron Paul--and they won't--then they won't attack him from that corner.

5) Demographics. Core constituencies of the Democrats--particularly Hispanics--have grown over the last four years, and the influx of black voters (reliable Democrats, and more so than ever with the first black president up for re-election) and blue staters moving into red states in the Sun Belt for jobs will only make states like North Carolina, Virginia and Florida more competitive, not less so. The blue states these migrants are coming from don't seem to be getting redder as a result--perhaps because they were much deeper blue to begin with.

So in the end, it'll be an incumbent president with plenty of cash to attack a GOP nominee left weak and compromised by a brutal and Tea-stained primary fight, competing for a large number of states that the Republicans used to be able to count on. The outcome is not without doubt--and of course anything can intervene to change things in a year--but the president has a strong edge for re-election next fall. You heard it here first!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Pointlessness of Understanding Rioters

I just love the folks who try to humanize the sort of mindless thugs that are willing to burn stores and attack passers-by every time they get a chance. This sort of understanding is like trying to tell a joke to a piece of patio furniture--completely pointless!

Yes, I get that there are a lot of people in despairing situations, lacking job prospects, living in desperate and insecure situations. And while thoughtful people of all political stripes may differ as to how best to alleviate these problems and construct a more perfect society, it's normal to have sympathy for the less fortunate. But this isn't about that at all.

This is instead about basic thugs striking out against the weak who cannot defend themselves or their property. This isn't some mob trying to storm the British equivalent of the Pentagon--or showing the sort of bravery and civility of protesters across the Middle East this year, who were actually protesting vile, inhumane and undemocratic governments that could and often did react with uncalled for violent measures. These mobs in Britain are the worst sort of cowards, making one wonder how they could be descended from those who spread western civilization around the globe, stood up to Hitler, and invented tea-time. Cowards who see nothing more than an opportunity to smash and steal and maim and kill.

Stop trying to figure out their motivations, because it's already obvious how to stop them--sheer force. A bullet in the head of the rioter in front of you is reason enough to go back to your room for the night.

Looters are Good for One Thing. Target Practice!

As I muse on the spectacle of the British riots, I find it absolutely fascinating that so many pundits are tugging at their beards as they sip their port and fret over the "root causes" of the violence, as though any sense could be found in what is going on. To these wags I say, go find something else to write about--you'd be better off trying to understand the motivations of a rabid dog. The rioters are scum and nothing more.

It's disheartening to see a photo like the one in this post, where the shopkeeper has a look of resignation as he surveys his burned out cutlery store. Ah, but the rioters claim that they're fighting against the wealthy and powerful! This Mr. Mohamed is clearly some rich plutocrat, who just recently took off his monocle and top hat, and was foiled in using his cutlery empire to enslave the masses! Social justice clearly achieved!

Sadly, the British government is only talking about "rubber bullets" and water cannons to fight the rioters. Here's the problem with that--right now, rioters think such things are only mildly convenient, and certainly worth the risk of robbing stores and burning cars and doing whatever else they think might help them get over their sexual frustration (and considering these are mostly school-aged "men", that's obviously what's at work here, let's not deny it). And, if the rioters are just wounded, they end up sucking at the government's teat for who knows how long, thanks to British national health care. Yet, if we tried my solution--shoot to kill, and quickly--we'd see some wonderful effects for all of society:

1) Dead rioters.

2) A lot more rioters deciding they have something better to do.

3) More lives saved as a whole.

See, my approach sounds brutal--and surely the bleeding hearts who think every life is precious would blanch at such a simplistic sounding course--but sometimes sharp, decisive brutality can save far more lives by putting a quick end to the chaos. Consider why during the L.A. riots of '92 the storefronts that were amazingly spared by looters were the ones with heavily armed Koreans on the rooftops taking shots at anyone who approaches. Looters may be a lot of things, but suicidal isn't one of them.

And don't give me this "the British are far too civilized to do something like this". If they could firebomb innocent civilians in Hamburg, they can pop a few looters.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

London Isn't All Lace Doilies Now, Is It?

Hearing about these London riots is dismaying, largely because rioting is sort of OUR schtick. The British are supposed to be tea and crumpets and jolly good show and Mrs. Minniver! Sadly, our image of them as more civilized and cultured than us has been a long story of lies perpetuated by Masterpiece Theater. Brits have soccer thugs and "chavs" and various hooligans roaming their fair city, wrecking things and it is up to local shopkeepers to defend their stores from the brutes. The police, sadly, are overwhelmed, most likely because it's hard to hit a rioter with a truncheon while not spilling your fish and chips.

As to the question of the underlying causes of the rioting, I think we're missing an important point, which is who freaking cares? There's often an excuse to protest, or an excuse to engage in some sort of civil disobedience--though since Gandhi made it popular a lot of two-bit protest groups have really beaten that horse to death. But at least they're not looting and burning and killing the way these thugs are.

Just one suggestion for the police--shoot all the rioters. Future gene pools will thank you.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Civil War Questions

With the stock market dropping an additional 600 plus points yesterday--essentially meaning that we can look forward to a retirement eating out of dumpsters, considering the shape our 401ks are in now--there is one thing everyone's talking about. The 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

While a lot of the usual questions have been answered in most texts on the subject--such as why foreign countries never intervened on behalf of the Confederacy, or why slaves didn't rise en masse once the word was out that the war was on and the South needed all its own manpower to fight Union armies--there are still a number of puzzling "what ifs":

1) What if after South Carolina seceded, the other southern states just turned and said "see, we didn't think you'd really be going through with it. We happen to like our wealthy plantations and aren't about to wreck them when a much bigger professional army comes rolling in."

2) What if a northern state--say, Iowa--took the opportunity to secede hoping no one would notice?

3) What if the question of secession was brought up in court, rather than through armed conflict? The Constitution doesn't specifically deny the right to secede, and the Supreme Court had never ruled on that matter, so this wasn't exactly settled law at that point.

4) Related to this, why didn't the North pass a constitutional amendment immediately after the war making it abundantly clear that no state could secede? It could have gone along with Amendments 13 through 15.

5) If Lincoln had been assassinated a few years earlier, the then-VP, Hannibal Hamlin, who was also serving as a private, would have had the most spectacular promotion in military history. Also, Maine would have had its first U.S. President.

6) If the South had been successful in seceding, how long would it have been before a revanchist North invaded to reclaim that territory? And how much more destructive could such a war have been, using more modern weaponry?

7) How did the abolition of slavery go down in the non-rebellious slave states (Kentucky, Missouri, New Jersey)? This is not so much a "what if" but a subject that seems to be glossed over in history books. Were slave owners resistant to this? Was there compensation?

Instead, we know how things did go down--what each side thought would be a quick war turned into anything but--and this was as much due to battle tactics not catching up to extra-destructive weapons of the time as it was due to each side having much more will to fight than the other was willing to credit them. In the end, it was settled--no more slaves, no more secession, and the South is allowed to name streets after rebel generals. Then we could finally get back to what we did best--attacking other countries.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Snakes, The Pets That Cannot Love

What is it about weirdos and deadly animals? A home in North Carolina had to be evacuated when one of the residents was bitten by a venemous snake, and authorities found something like 60 snakes in the home. While I'd be the first person to say "get these motherf-ing snakes out of my motherf-ing home!", there just seems to be some strange attraction to having things in the house that can kill you. (The article mentions the snakes as "exotic", and by that I don't think they mean French or Spanish. Instead, this means "from some deadly jungle country where they breed scorching death on a regular basis").

I sort of get owning a dog, as dogs constantly shower you with affection even if you're a dolt. And cats, well, cats are evil, but cat owners at least labor under the misbelief that they're cuddly and sweet. (And an un-neutered cat at least will hunt a lot, ridding the property of pests. A neutered cat, on the other hand, is basically like your stoner roommate.) I even sort of get rodents, because they're furry and you can pet them sometimes. Birds? At least they make noises and you can pretend they're talking to you.

But snakes? They're not furry, they'll only eat things you put in their tank, and they're light on conversation. The most interesting thing that will ever happen with your pet snake is it'll try to kill you. Granted, owning a snake might impress that weird chick who works at the record store, but just try bringing Mr. Scaly down to the strip mall without getting an earful from the mall cop.

When will people realize that snakes belong only on strippers and zoos?

Friday, August 5, 2011

On to the Chinese Salt Mines

The term "Chinese Salt Mines" gets thrown around a lot these days, particularly on this blog. Basically, it is a foreboding of doom, indicating that as this country continues to devolve into late Roman Empire-style decadence and weakness, it becomes only a matter of time before invaders from the East decide to take us over and, realizing that our future generations will accomplish nothing positive for the world, they put us all to work mining salt for their delicious, tasty chicken recipes.

Now, am I engaging in pointless histrionics? Hardly! Consider the country we were when we reached our zenith of power in 1945:

1) We had just destroyed two major world empires at the same time. Granted, the Russians and British helped with one of them, but we had to send them ships and supplies for the effort, not the other way around. Once we stepped in, it was only a matter of time before Berlin and Tokyo residents had to learn to speak English--with an American accent.

2) We had finished killing hundreds of thousands of civilians deliberately, and when it was over, put our enemies on the dock for war crimes.

3) We had produced a crazy general (Patton) who, had it not been for an unfortunate jeep accident, would have kept on invading because once you ride a bolt of lightning, you don't slow it down.

Now, I'm not condoning everything we did in that war--much of it quite awful and unnecessary in hindsight--but there was a strong sense of unconquerable power left over after that. Then, just to show we had the random personality switches of Ike Turner, we go and do something nice like buy flowers for our recent victims--except instead of flowers we rebuilt Germany and Japan so that they are only a danger today to those who fear techno music or tentacle porn. And, the Soviets--a nation that lost a tenth of their population to the Nazis and who consider cruelty their national pastime--feared us so much they never dared openly confront us, even while their system fell apart. We were really something back then.

Now, this country fights over whether its government can stand behind its debts, and slowly bleeds out in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, fretting over "nation building". I don't recall MacArthur or Chesty Puller worried about "nation building"--or anything that got in the way of a good killing spree. These days, young men will wear eyeliner and girls' jeans to be "ironic", without having the full bravery of being a bona fide cross dresser--and these would be the raw recruits we'd need to count on to protect our shores from invaders? Our film heroes go from an unapologetic simpleton cowboy (John Wayne, of course) to sparkly vampires. We have to try and cajole our citizens into not stuffing fatty foods into their hungry maws, hoping that calorie counts on menus will do the trick (news flash--they don't), creating an obesity epidemic that would be hilarious if no so pathetic.

What happened to that sense of nationhood, and collective strength mixed with rugged invidualism? Is this inevitable?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Oh Good, Country Music is Going to Hell

On my evening walk through Chinablock last night I noticed something different about the roving gangs of teenagers who normally infest that neighborhood when they're not busy getting on my lawn and doing their freak dancing. Instead of the usual mixed crowd, last night's gang appeared to be overwhelmingly white, female, and clad in cowboy boots and sundresses. This meant only one thing--some teenybopper country music show at the Verizon Center. (Had this been regular country, say George Strait, the crowd would have been older and featured at least some men) Sure enough, Taylor Swift was in town.

Now, while I carry no animus towards Ms. Swift--her blandness is both inoffensive and only effects the dead zone in my ear--the fact that she is the new face of country music is an alarming development. Gone are the days where country and western were represented by drug addled tough guys like Johnny Cash or George Jones, or former paratroopers like Kris Kristofferson. Even the lady singers of the old days were pretty badass--Tammy Wynette seemed like the type you wouldn't cross if you liked your face just the way it was, and Patsy Cline likely had a few bodies buried in her cellar. And Dolly Parton . . . don't get me started on Dolly Parton.

But Taylor Swift--this is someone who dates mega-douche John Mayer, only to get dumped (what a shocker!) and write some passive aggressive song about it. Hell, if Patsy Cline had dated Mr. Mayer, we'd be finding bits of him along I-85 in four different southern states.

Taylor Swift is to country music what Twilight is to vampires.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mummy Dearest

Watching last night's film--1959's "The Mummy" starring the incomparable Christopher Lee who can be compared to the incomparable Peter Cushing who was also in the film--it occurred to me that the titular mummy could have caused much greater havoc if he were armed. And this is a noticeable trend--as deadly dangerous as say vampires are, does it not occur to them to pick up a machine gun and some grenades and go on an unkillable rampage? No one can possibly get close enough to shove a stake in your heart if you have an AK-47.

Mummies of course became fearsome because deep down we all have a fear of things that are wrapped and preserved. You name it, mummies, Spam, the existing copies of the Magna Carta--all these things inspire fear and dread. (This is why I didn't see that horror film, "National Treasure". That, and the fact that I heard it was awful). A mummy coming to life--now there's some scary stuff!

Though, I can't help but wonder if maybe the mummy would be more scared of us than we are of him. Here he is, all wrapped and stuff, coming alive in a world where no one speaks ancient Egyptian (apparently, that language sounds a lot like pictures of dog-headed people and leaves), motor vehicles are roaming around instead of chariots, and the weather everywhere is absolutely freezing compared to ancient deserts. Maybe, just maybe, someone needs to do a film from the mummy's point of view so we can have a better understanding of the dead that walk among us.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

MTV Sucks

Yesterday marked 30 years to the day that MTV aired its first video, and in that time the channel went from major cultural force to complete pile of worthless crap. Today, they no longer even call it "music television" because there's no actual music, except maybe during the credits before showing "Jersey Shore" or some other mindless dreck. MTV today is a grotesque mess, serving as a reminder that the future generations of this country are not even worthy of jobs in Chinese salt mines. (Something tells me we'll be beaten out for coveted serf positions by much more hard working Brazilians).

But, I'm old enough to remember that it wasn't always this way. Growing up, our house didn't have cable because my parents correctly believed I watched too much television as it was and didn't need encouragement. But whenever I had the chance at friends' and relatives' homes, the music video channel was the first one I'd flip to, hoping to catch the video versions of the latest rock songs.

The medium of music videos wasn't completely new in 1981--film created to accompany a popular song existed as far back as the 1960s and were shown in clips on programs for a couple decades--but the advent of a 24-hour channel dedicated to the music video meant that every artist wanted to produce one to sell their songs. At first, the video styles were primitive--some pasty new wave artists badly lip synching in a cheap soundstage--but as the '80s wore on, directors started to really put production values into their clips. Videos became stories, sometimes reflecting the song lyrics, sometimes not, but often worth seeing. Every genre became represented as new channels sprouted up to meet the demand--VH1 played a lot of older videos and soft rock, CMT played country videos. Then, in the early '90s, everything went to hell--but gradually.

It had its genesis in the late '80s with a game show called "Remote Control", which should have been our first warning since the show had nothing to do with music or music videos. But this was a hit for a while, and then came "The Real World", a reality show that demonstrated that Generation X was a group of whiny douchebags who probably would have found a way to lose the Spanish American War if they'd lived through it, to say nothing of WWII. Apparently there was some tool named "Puck" on there, meaning his parents were morons and should have both been incinerated for giving their kid such a suggestive name. I don't know--I avoided the show completely, since it looked so boring. But, the channel still mostly showed videos.

But this was only the beginning! "Real World" was, unfortunately, a hit, because people apparently like to mock Gen Xers and drink their sweet sweet tears. More dumb non-music related crap abounded on MTV, including "Road Rules", "Singled Out", "Jackass", "Jersey Shore", and the "MTV Movie Awards" which makes as much sense as the HBO Music Awards. (Also, Beavis and Butthead cropped up early in the '90s, and while this show was often funny, it really belonged on a cartoon or comedy network, not MTV). Clearly, the channel just wanted to whore itself out to whatever would get ratings, and before long, they literally stopped showing music videos. It is now a channel devoted to pure garbage television. It should change its name to GTV!

I note though that it is not just MTV that gave up on its original mission. Movie channels (like HBO and AMC and Showtime) now feature plenty of original serial programming at the expense of actual films. At this rate, Comedy Central could end up airing "Schindler's List". And this would be in poor taste.

So here's to 30 years. Up yours, MTV!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Move Day

When a friend needs help with a move, it sort of brings out a "all hands on deck" feeling amongst the social circle, as we've all been in the situation where we needed every extra person to get things done smoothly and quickly. Helping with a move is sort of like the airport pickup-dropoff--it's a great favor you can do which ensures, among the right sort of people, that they will return the favor when you are the one in need.

Yesterday was just such a day, as a relatively new arrival had to call upon the gang for help with a move that unfortunately hit some setbacks. The truck rental place lost the reservation, requiring a last minute scramble, and several "friends" basically wrote off helping out at all for no better reason than "I'd rather not ruin my Sunday". Extra difficulty--very large objects had to be maneuvered up several flights of narrow staircases, and city streetparking and traffic were about what you'd expect on a day that the Nationals were playing in town.

However, some friends did come through in a big way, and considering there were only a few of us on the job--and despite the setbacks above--it went relatively smoothly, with only my usual level of cursing and aches. And, looking back, that was a hell of a workout.

The extra bit of fun was at the end of the evening, when the near-delerious movee had to return the UHaul, and somehow ended up at the wrong slum location (my wife and I were waiting at the slum off South Capitol Street, while our friend was mis-led to the slum off North Capitol). The exhausted, frantic phone call from her was a bit disconcerting, as apparently the North Capitol location was prime spot for tranny hookers who by themselves may not be dangerous but often came complete with muggers and maniacs. We did find her though, safe but ruffled, and were able to finish the day successfully.

A special thanks to those who did help out--my job would have been that much more horrible otherwise.