Saturday, January 31, 2009

 

Signs Of The Zombie Apocalypse



I think there's significant cause to start preparing for the zombie apocalypse, which is apparently right around the corner.

For one thing, the zombie-apocalypse-survival game Left 4 Dead is hugely popular. As I mentioned once before, I love the game and play it every time I get a chance.

This game is very useful for virtually learning the skills that we'll all need when the zombies attack. But virtual preparation isn't enough...

College students have taken to real life practice sessions so that they might be ready for the rise of the walking undead. As we all know, college students are the world's best barometer for trends in common sense and pragmatism. So I think we would all do well to follow their lead.

Then there are the incidents involving electronic road signs that have been changing lately to indicate that, apparently, there's no room left in hell:

As we all know, nazi zombies are the worst kind, since they're evil before they even become zombies. So that's, like, double zombie jeopardy or something. The only thing I can think of that would be more evil would be if a member of the cast of the Hills died and then became a zombie ... and then joined to the Nazi party.

Of course, local governments deny any knowledge of the zombie road-sign alerts ... which means, of course, that the federal government is controlling things. Obviously there's some sort of government virus lab somewhere and things have gone wrong there and it's only a matter of time until the deceased crawl from their graves. And the government will eventually mention those signs and say "Well, it's not like we didn't warn you." But, in the meantime, mum's the word.

Then there's George Romero's Zombie Generator, which lets you transform even the prettiest faces into horrific zombie visages:

That way you can monitor familiar faces for signs that the infection is changing them.

I mean, damn: zombies have even started creeping into classic literature.

So don't say I didn't warn you. Of course, now that I've made a public spectacle of the coming zombie apocalypse, the government is going to move to silence me, just like they did with Jimmy Hoffa and Elvis. That's OK, I'm willing to be that martyr.

Maybe someday after it's all over and civilization rebuilds itself, they'll erect a monument in my honor.

I'd like it to be like the Lincoln monument, only three times as big. Please make a note of it.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

 

Lesbians Rock



I'm generally pro-lesbian. And no, I don't mean in the Penthouse Magazine sense of the word lesbian. That's a whole 'nother, we'll talk about that another time.

What I mean is that the lesbians I've known in real life have, for the most part, been awesome people.

Yeah, I'm generalizing. I realize that. Generalizing is bad, I'm an evil person for doing it, yadda yadda yadda. But it's the truth, and it's basically a positive generalization, if such a thing exists, so I'm sticking to it.

Seriously, though. I've found that lesbians get a lot done in a day. When I worked in radio I worked with a number of lesbians and they were hard-working, industrious people. I remember this one lesbian lady I worked with in the early '90's who was thought of by every person at the radio station as the hardest worker and the most reliable person in the whole damn company. And smart? Forget about it. Her name was Lindsay, and if you had some problem you couldn't solve, just go as Lindsay. If she couldn't solve it she knew who could. I liked her a lot. I had a lot of respect for her, too. She looked just like Donnie Osmond.

And I used to rent an upstairs apartment, and once there were these two large lesbians who lived below me. They both looked like the late Nell Carter, although I don't know if either of them could sing or act. What I do know is that they were the best neighbors I had in all my years of apartment life. They were friendly and quiet, they seemed smart and happy ... I was broken-hearted when they moved out and this dumb ol' redneck gal and her boyfriend moved in. They had a parrot. I know, I heard it constantly.

To my knowledge, I've never once been lied to by a lesbian. I can't say that about any other ethno-gendo-bendo-religipolitinomical groups. So there's that.

And we all know that lesbians are often damn good songwriters and that they usually make up some of the absolute best folk-rock duos out there. For instance, I really love the song The Con by Tegan and Sarah, who're not just lesbians but also identical twins:


And I've been an Indigo Girls fan for years and years. I've seen 'em in concert twice and both times they were tremendous. It's hard for me to pick a favorite Indigo Girls song, but you can't go wrong with Galileo:


Tracy Chapman is a really, really great singer/songwriter, too:


You know, I don't know for sure if she's a lesbian or not. Maybe I shouldn't assume that she is. Nobody's ever told me that Tracy Chapman is a lesbian. But, I mean, nobody's ever told me that she's black, either ... it's just, look at her. Ya know?

I like the first two Melissa Etheridge albums a lot, too, although I catch hell from my headbanger buddies over that. Oh, well. I don't care what they say, those are two darn good albums, especially Brave And Crazy, which features No Souvenirs:


Oh, and Me'Shell NdegéOcello is an absolute monster on the bass and has a seriously smokey, rich, beautiful singing voice:



I've never been able to get into Ani DiFranco, though. Her music just doesn't move me. It's always struck me as a bit precious, a bit "high concept." And more than a bit lame.

While I'm on the subject, I also think that Jodie Foster is an outstanding actress and that Sarah Gilbert is cute as a button. Or, at least, she used to be and maybe isn't anymore, if the picture at her Wikipedia page is reliable.

And I'm guessing that it goes without saying that I think Tammy Bruce is awesome, if only because she defies pigeon holes.

Now, you guys know where I stand on "gay marriage," I'm not gonna pretend that I've softened up on that. It all just comes down to how you define the word marriage, and the definition I accept is a man/woman thing. I know that makes me politically incorrect, intolerant, ignorant, out-of-step, and all those other mean, nasty, horrible things. Sorry, that's just my opinion on the matter. I know that all the super-cool lesbian ladies I've just been praising would all want to pummel me to death with NOW and GLAAD leaflets because of my politics. OK, fine, whatever.

But I still think lesbians rock, and people on both sides of the issue are just gonna have to deal with that.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

 

One Less Wise Guy



Congratulations to the people of Illinois. An arrogant, lying, power-hungry politician is no longer one of the major political players in their state.

But enough about sending Obama to DC. Today they got rid of their corrupt Governor, too.

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The Present's So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades



OK, times are tough right now. The economy sucks. Everyone is feeling it. Even the labor unions are feeling it; last week the USW had to lay off six congressmen. (Rimshot!)

But the present looks pretty amazing when you go back to the past and look at today as the future.

That might not make sense, but it will. Check out this video of a local newscast clip from San Francisco in 1981.

This harkens back to a time when simply being a "home computer owner" was rare enough to get you identified that way on the local news ... when the only way to get on line was to physically put your rotary phone's handset on top of a modum ... and when a total of eight newspapers were on the internet. Watch the whole thing, it's really pretty funny and gets funnier toward the end:

My favorite quote in the whole thing: "We're not in it to make money."

This video has been posted at a number of blogs, including Hot Air, where I saw it.

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Zo



On the celebrities who've made "pledges" and libertarianism:

I've mentioned that Zo rules, right?

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Movie Review: Slumdog Millionare



Synopsis

A dirt poor "slumdog" in Mumbai, India competes on his country's version of the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire TV game show. His chances of winning the jackpot are slim. His real goal is to attract the attention and win the heart of the girl he's loved since childhood. Those chances are slim, too. But sometimes "destiny" has plans of it's own.

Pros:


Cons:


Generally:

3 on a five scale. It's OK.

Extended Review:

Danny Boyle has a history of turning out very good movies that I just haven't enjoyed much. His cautionary tale, Trainspotting is visually bold, aggressive, even brilliant in some ways. But it didn't do anything for me. Boyle's take on the horror/zombie genre, 28 Days Later, didn't even phase me in the theater. I didn't appreciate 28... at all, in fact, until a reluctant second viewing on DVD. And Boyle's version of a family film, Millions, is smart, funny, winning and warm ... and yet, for whatever reason, it nearly bored me to sleep.

It's as though Danny Boyle and I don't speak the same language. He makes fine films, I realize that. I appreciate his movies in a sterile, emotionless way. For whatever reason, the real heart and soul of his films is seemingly always lost on me.

Take, for instance, his latest: Slumdog Millionare. I realize that I should have enjoyed it very much. All the elements were there: The acting was good, the story and characters were engaging and appealing, the direction was suburb. And yet, once it was over, I essentially duplicated the experience of walking out of the theater after 28 Days Later, Trainspotting and Millions. The people around me were very happy. They'd just seen a movie they'd loved. I was happy for them ... but I was bored and utterly indifferent.

Slumdog... has been marketed as a feel-good movie, and I think that's somewhat disingenuous. I'm not saying that just because the movie failed to make me feel good. I'm saying that because there is a surprising amount of violent and disturbing content in the movie. There is gun violence, a scene involving torture with a car battery, another scene involving the torture of a child, and a fair amount of knives, blood and death. None of that detracts from the story's essential love-conquers-all message. After all, love has to have some nasty things to conquer, right? But I didn't expect so much of the nastiness to be on screen, and it's the kind of thing that might ruin the movie for some people. This isn't a feel-good movie along the lines of Love, Actually. This movie is grittier than that, and it earns it's R-rating several times over.

The performances are good all around. Especially Dev Patel as the main character, the "slumdog" the movie is named for. He's sufficiently convincing as a simple, wide-eyed boy who still carries a torch for the girl he's loved since childhood. In fact, his performance is the main reason that the movie works when it does work. A lot of the story is totally implausible. Serendipity comes into play time and time again, and Patel's good-natured acceptance of the things that happen to him and around him is key to the selling of this tale.

Without getting all spoilery, I will say that the things you expect to happen going into the movie all happen in a more-or-less believable way. Will the poor boy from the wrong side of the tracks get the girl and win the money? What do you think? Boyle isn't trying to retell Rocky here, and the concept of winning just by doing your best never enters the picture. That may be part of the reason I was essentially disappointed in the film. I was hoping for some surprises. Other than the unexpected violence, there weren't any surprises to be found.

So, like I said, Slumdog Millionare is a perfectly good movie. To my knowledge, Danny Boyle hasn't really made any bad movies. And as I said earlier, he hasn't really made any movies that have really won me over, either. Slumdog continues that tradition. A lot of people have seen it and loved it. Once again, I'm happy for them.

Trailer:



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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

 

Jack Ruby And Frosted Flakes



Somehow it makes perfect sense to me that the guy who owns Jack Ruby's hat also bought a Frosted Flake shaped like Illinois for $1,350 on e-Bay.

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MCFAT 25



Can this really be the twenty-fifth round? I guess so. Wow.

1) Where were you when America's new president was sworn into office? I know not everyone voted for the guy(I didn't), but it's hard not to notice the historical significance, and as much as I was dealing with in my personal life this past week, I definitely saw the effects of the inauguration on those around me, and I'm sure we all have interesting stories to share.
I was at work. I made a half-hearted attempt to watch some streaming video of the event over the net but couldn't get anything to load. Apparently, for the first time (to my knowledge), the company's servers were overloaded. I guess everyone at work tried to watch the inauguration over the internet.

Sorry, that's not much of an interesting story, is it? Maybe I should embellish it just a bit:

I was scrounging for money to buy heroin with writer/actor/producer Mike Meyers when Obama was sworn in. We're behind those two dumpsters in that lot across from Freddie's place. Mike, he's trying to listen to the inauguration on an old transistor radio he found someplace, but the antenna is missing and we keep picking up the PA system and the walkie-talkies down at the railroad. "Checking 5," some railroad dick keeps yelling, "checking 5," like we know what the hell that means. Mike keeps banging the radio against the side of the dumpster and cursing between fits of scratching himself like crazy and wiping his nose. Me, I'm not so bad off as Mike, I'd got fixed up the day before. Mike's been jonesing for three days. Freddie had cut him off, something about how Mike owes him money from lost options on a Love Guru sequel that's clearly not going to happen now. Not with everything shook up at Paramount. Every few minutes Mike tells me how Freddie is a "no-count shitf++k" and he tells me how he's gonna kill him. "Shhh," I say, "the new president is talking." But it's just that guy from the railroad again. "Checking 5," he says, "checking 5."


2) Who is your favorite legacy hero and why?
I really don't have one. I guess I'll say the second Night Owl, but really only because Watchmen is so great and it's currently in the forefront of my mind ... and everyone else's.


3) What was your best concert experience?
I've written everything I can think of about my concert experiences previously at this blog. If I had to pick one specific concert, I suppose it would be U2 on the Zoo TV Tour at Three Rivers Statium in Pittsburgh. That was the spring of '92, I think. Three Rivers doesn't exist anymore, of course, so that's part of what makes that show so memorable.

Other stand-out concerts would include Slayer at Betsy's Boathouse in Norfolk (early 90's, I think), AC/DC at the Roanoke Civic Center (probably late 80's), Tori Amos, solo, with just a piano at a tiny hall at UVA (early 90's again) and Metallica, who have always been really outstanding every time I've seen them.


4) You're piloting a plane when geese fly into your engine; what do you do?
Well, I'd try to do exactly what that heroic pilot did. I'd try to sit down ever-so-gently in the Hudson River. That might be especially difficult if I'd taken off from, say, an airport in Sicily ... but I'd point the nose in the general direction of the Hudson and I'd try everything I could to get there.


SPECIAL BONUS QUESTION: Can you name all the GoBots in the following questionable clip?
Holy crap, dude. Why don't they have names already? Why didn't the creator of the Go-Bots name them? Damn. OK, if it's up to me to name them, I'm gonna call them Carrie, Marlon, Mo, Steve, LaRue, Jerry Lee, Eggplant, Rufus, Dummy, Star, The Glob, and Leeroy Jenkins.


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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

 

Lost Has Apparently Crossed The Line



Wendy is finally watching the season premiere of Lost. I'm aware that it's on, but I'm not watching it. I'm websurfing.

At one point a moment ago I heard Wendy say "Oh, now that's just not realistic."

I'm peripherally aware of some of the plot elements that Lost has introduced over the years. Polar bears on tropical islands, gigantic monsters, time travel, conspiracies, magical healings, etc. But Wendy has never blanched at anything they've thrown at her before. So I just had to turn around and ask what had finally impressed her as utterly implausible.

Her response: "Someone just opened a dishwasher and the knives where in there blade-up. Nobody would put knives in a dishwasher blade-up."

I guess there's only so much of this farfetched crap that one person can swallow.

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HELP!



This should be sooo much simpler, but I'm having no luck.

Does anyone know of any good, free Windows based DVD player software? Something with no nags, no adware, no spyware ... just a simple program to play back DVDs on a Windows computer.

I don't like watching DVDs in Windows Media Player. This computer came with Roxio for DVD and CD burning, but with no software for DVD movie playback. Older PCs I've had came with a simple Roxio DVD player, but no dice this time.

Any ideas? Thanks in advance.

Update: Nevermind ... found just the thing.

I'm surprised there aren't more good open-source apps out there, but this one seems to be exactly what I wanted. It's capable, clean and neat.


 

Movie Review: Frost/Nixon



Synopsis

In 1977, disgraced former President Richard Nixon sat for a series of interviewers with British TV personality David Frost. This movie tells a story about the events that lead up to those interviews and the impact that the interviews had on the lives of everyone involved.

Pros:


Cons:


Generally:

3.5 on a five scale. A good show.

Extended Review:


Having been born in 1968, I have two clear childhood memories of important events on television. One of them was Hank Aaron's record-breaking home run in the spring of 1974. The other was Richard Nixon's historic resignation of the office of the President in August of that same year.

I suppose Aaron's achievement would have played a role in shaping my life if I'd been a particularly athletic child. But I wasn't. Instead, I had an interest in things like history, drama and politics. Nixon's resignation had plenty of all three, so it's probably not surprising that the broadcast effected me very much. Throughout my childhood, and to this very day, I've always been fascinated by Nixon and Watergate. I wrote enumerable papers on the man and the scandal in high school and college, and I've watched more movies, read more books, and video-taped more TV specials related to the topic than I can remember.

Because I've studied Watergate closely over the years, I've learned that one has to approach movies like Frost/Nixon with very specific expectations. Frost/Nixon is ostensibly about the series of interviews that Nixon gave interviewer David Frost in 1977. But movies about history are usually inaccurate by degrees, and Frost/Nixon really presents a version of Richard Nixon, a version of David Frost, and a version of their famous exchanges. To really be fair to the movie, it's best to set aside what one might know (or might think one knows) about the real men and the real events and try to simply watch the film as though it were an entirely fictional work.

Of course, that's impossible. But you gotta try. You have to try to remember that this is just a story, with a beginning, middle and end ... and that the movie hopes to establish it's own morals, it's own conclusions, and it's own deeper meanings.

With that in mind, I have to say that I really enjoyed Frost/Nixon. Removed from it's historical context, this is a story about two skilled spin doctors, each trying to use their televised exchanges as a means toward his own end. Both of them are politicians of a sort, and each of them hopes to leave the experience having secured a political goal. The older of the two men wants a chance to reframe his public persona. The younger wants to establish a reputation as a smart journalist and effective interviewer. Each of them attempts to manipulate their shared situation and each also tries to manipulate the other. Essentially, Frost and Nixon are presented here as opponents, playing a kind of game of chess with words. A game that only one of them can really win.

As Nixon, Frank Langella is really very good. In fact, he presents the best screen-version of Nixon that I've seen. It's certainly better than Anthony Hopkins's manic turn in Oliver Stone's '95 film. And I think that Nixon supporters would probably feel that the movie treats Nixon fairly. The Richard Nixon in this film is clearly very smart, somewhat paranoid, and, by 1977, utterly exhausted. He hopes at the beginning of the movie to somehow restore his reputation and find a way back into the political life again. At a critical point in the movie, Nixon realizes that the life he's been tolerating since he left the White House, the life of a famous but unimportant curiosity, is really the only life he's going to have from then on. It's a moving and important moment in the film, and Langella is especially impressive in that scene.

Michael Sheen, who plays David Frost here, is very good, too. The David Frost in this movie is personally invested in this series of interviews in every way possible. He's put himself in a make-or-break situation and the pressure to deliver is enormous. Sheen is especially good in early interview segments when Frost realizes that he's utterly outmatched by the old, skilled politician. As the story comes to a head, Sheen's Frost manages to convey mingled panic and focus in a very convincing way. I found myself feeling as involved in this story from his point of view as I was from the perspective of the former President.


How historically accurate is the movie? Well, it doesn't matter. There are real lines from the real interviews interjected into the movie's recreations, but I actually found that to be a trivial distraction. I was more interested in the way the two men were at odds with each other, each trying to steer the conversation, control the pace, tone and subject matter, all the while seeming congenial. The performances were very good when it came to that, and that's really what the movie was about. Since that's what the movie was really about, looking for discrepancies in the story's recreation of the public record would be splitting hairs. As I said earlier, this movie presents a version of the Frost/Nixon interviews. And it presents it's own version very well.

There are moments along the way that might be twisted by viewers, I suppose, into some sort of half-assed metaphorical commentary on the George W. Bush Presidency, the war in Iraq, and the most recent political scandals. Some people are always going to look for that kind of meaning "between the lines." But I think it's a ridiculous stretch to find anything like that in Frost/Nixon. This movie isn't about modern events, it isn't even really about events from the 70's. This is a character study, and a good one. And that's all it is.

Speaking of the 1970's, to me Frank Langella will always be Dracula. To a number of people, Richard Nixon will always be Darth Vader. And to a lot of people, David Frost might always be remembered as the David who slew Goliath in the interviews reenacted here. But, really, that's dumbing this movie down to something less than it is. Frost/Nixon is a movie about manipulation, language, and the power of strong personalities. It is it's own unique story, regardless of the historic events that it proposes to dramatize. And purely concerning story and acting, Frost/Nixon is a success on it's own terms.

Trailer:



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Monday, January 26, 2009

 

Neato



This is pretty darn cool. I saw it at Geekologie.

At gigapan.org you can see an an amazing picture of the inauguration that you can manipulate almost endlessly.

You can scroll, drag and zoom to an extreme degree, going from as far back as this:


To as close as this:


The technology that makes this possible is explained at the site if you're interested. Basically this panoramic picture is really a series of many, many pictures all stuck together. Super powerful megacomputers and lasers and voodoo are all employed, I'm sure.

I found myself crawling all over the picture for a long time, first noticing some of the famous people who had roles to play that day...


...and former Presidents and their wives...


I'm a big fan of Supreme Court Justice Clarance Thomas, and I don't blame him for taking the occasion of Obama's speech to grab a quick nap...


And then I started scanning the crowd for celebrities. And I found a few!

Check it out, it's TV and cinema's Michael Chiklis...


...and hippity hoppity rapper extraordinaire Snoopy Doggity Dog...


...then I saw radio talk-show host and vigilante Curtis Sliwa with a big-ass camera...


...and boxer Mike Tyson and his date, cleverly disguised as Eskimos...


...and a real legend from the world of cartoons, Elmer Fudd...


...and, look! It's Ruben Studdard and the late Ossie Davis, elbowing each other as they chuckle over one of Obama's "promises," har har har...


...then things got really freaky. Imagine my surprise when I saw the hideous, haphazardly constructed Frankenstein's Monster...


...and Bilbo Baggins, only a millisecond after he slipped on The One Ring to disappear into the crowd...


...and what's a view of a panoramic crowd without an appearance from Waldo?



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Movie Review: Let The Right One In



Synopsis

Oskar, a twelve-year-old Swedish boy, is bullied, neglected and miserable. His new neighbor, Eli, appears to be a twelve year old girl. But Eli feeds on human blood, and as she and Oskar grow closer, the boy discovers elements of his personality that he didn't know were there.

Pros:


Cons:


Generally:

4 on a five scale. A smart, unsettling, extra creepy horror film. I point to movies like this when I defend the horror genre. If you like 'em smart and scary, this is a must-see.

Extended Review:

Put this one on the short list with The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Descent, The Devil's Backbone and Signs. Wow. Let The Right One In really is that good, that scary, that smart and that inventive. This one's a keeper. This is Carrie for the modern age.

This decade has seen scads of horror films churned out by the big studios. There have been franchise gore fests and Hollywood lame-downs of decent Japanese horror films and there have been more stupid, pointless remakes than I can count ... but there have been very, very precious few genuinely good horror films.

It's no surprise, I guess, that you have to look to an independent Swedish production for the scariest and best horror film of the past year.

Let The Right One In really is what the recent Twilight proposes to be. It's a movie that examines the turbulence of adolescence through the eyes of a vampire, and finds much to be afraid of. Yes, this is a horror film, but it is not mindless escapism. I thought about things like Columbine and teen suicide while watching this film, and I was very impressed with the movie's artful approach to very real subject matter. Let The Right One In treats desperation and loneliness very seriously and the movie is very insightful with regard to those topics. I think it's a safe bet that Twilight's version of Sweet Valley Vampire High didn't get anywhere near these heights.

As the two principle youngsters in the film, Kare Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson are both outstanding. Especially Leandersson, who's performance as the vampire Eli often genuinely scared the hell out of me. Let The Right One In doesn't rely on make-up or special effects for it's scares. The terror all hinges on Leandersson's performance. I had no doubt that her character could and would kill without remorse, and this kid made me actually shudder a number of times.

As Oskar, the abused and lonely boy, Hedebrant is very good, too. In fact, it's probably fair to say that he's exceptional, since his was probably the more difficult role. For the movie to work, a viewer has to care what happens to Oskar. And this is a character with very real, very upsetting problems from the get-go. Even before he develops a relationship with a vampire, it's clear that this kid is headed for an unpleasant future. He's bullied brutally at school and doesn't have any resources to help him productively deal with that treatment. Instead, he clips newspaper stories about murders and he tortures pretend victims with his pocket knife. Oskar just oozes with detachment and suppressed rage throughout the film.

Eli's vampirism is introduced almost immediately in the film, and it's presented with a great deal of gore and blood. She isn't a sterile, Hollywood vampire who leaves two small fang-holes in her victims' necks. Eli rips out jugular veins, spewing great fountains of blood when she feeds. The violence in the film may be upsetting to many, but I found it to be an organic and necessary element of this particular story. It was the physical manifestation of what was going on in the lives of the characters. Vampirism in this movie's world isn't gothic or romantic. Like much else here, it's about violence and survival.

Director Tomas Alfredson made some interesting choices, too, that I thought fit the movie very well. His visual pallet in this film is dominated by white (block walls, tiled floors, endless snow outside) and bursts of red (a bright red sweater, a solid-red toy Indian warrior, and, of course, blood). The motif conjures up a pervasive coldess and the potential for sudden violence that establish the context of even the quiet scenes. And as with all of the better vampire tales, the blood exchange is an obvious sexual metaphor; this time a commentary on the tumult and upheaval that comes with puberty. Very few modern horror movies even bother with subtext. Alfredson was very smart, I think, to treat Let The Right One In as a straight story wherein one of the major characters happened to be a vampire.

Most people don't see horror movies because they're looking for a genuinely upsetting experience. People see horror movies to laugh, to get off on gore-porn, to see just how far the studios take the carnage this time. So people who like those movies probably won't find much to please them in this film. But if you're up for a smart and crafty treatise on the very real pains and fears of adolescence, then Let The Right One In is for you. Early in this review I listed a few very good horror films and said that this movie is in their league. But this movie didn't remind me of those films. It reminded me of movies like Kids and Alpha Dog and Undertow, and of books like William Golding's Lord Of The Flies. Like those works, Let The Right One In is really a story about adolescents in terrible danger. The closing credits found me with my thoughts racing, more than a little unsettled. If that doesn't sound like your kind of thing, maybe you enjoy Twilight instead.

Trailer:



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Sunday, January 25, 2009

 

Oh, But What A Way To Go



At the Vortex Bar & Grill in Atlanta you can order (if you don't know any better, and I don't) something called the "Double Bypass Burger."

That's eight ounces of beef, fried eggs, cheese, bacon and all the fixin's ... and it isn't served on a bun. It's served between two grilled-cheese sandwiches.

The tater-tots ain't for eatin'. The tater-tots are for throwin' at any wussy you see with a salad.

I saw it on Man Vs. Food.

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No! Noooo! NOOOOOO!



I may never get the visual out of my head, no matter how hard I try:

But at least I now know why Michelle always looks so uptight.

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Things I Learn The Hard Way



Do NOT listen to The Melvins right before going to bed and expect to be able to sleep.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

 

Rorschach



I'm looking forward to Watchmen probably more than any other movie in 2009. The advance marketing gives me the idea that the movie will faithfully convey the comic book's themes and atmosphere, and I just can't wait to see it.

Hat tip to Scott at Good News Film Reviews for tipping me off to the new marketing website for the movie, a website that features profiles of the movie's key characters, including the masked vigilante Rorschak:

the twelve issues of Watchmen are full of fascinating, fully realized characters, and my favorite by far is Rorschach. Now that's not to say that I identify with Rorschach, just that I think the character is compelling and that he steals the story.

Rorschach is a vigilante with serious emotional issues related to his godawful childhood and his loveless way of life. This "superhero" is more Travis Bickle than Batman, and he represents as much potential danger as the criminals he hunts and kills.

What separates Rorschach from other fictional madmen like Bickle is that Rorschach sticks to an iron code of right and wrong and he won't compromise or yield. His madness is stoic, not manic... and Alan Moore developed Rorschach so well that the character's perspective is accessible and sometimes even sympathetic. For me, the real test of Zack Snyder's movie will be how well he brings Rorschach to the screen.

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Movie Review: Gran Torino



Synopsis

Walter Kowalski is elderly, bitter, widowed and alone. His new neighbors, immigrants from Southeast Asia, seem like the last people he's likely to befriend. But a series of sudden, violent events leads to Walt reluctantly taking the neighbor's teenage son under his wing. As the old man and the young man get to know each other, a genuine friendship develops. Meanwhile, members of a local ethnic street gang have nefarious plans for the both of them.

Pros:


Cons:


Generally:

Three and a half or maybe four on a five scale. Eastwood's own resume gives this movie a lot to live up to, but on general terms it's a fine film.

Extended Review:

Clint Eastwood has implied that Gran Torino will be his final effort as an actor. If so, there are certainly worse ways that he could have ended his on-screen career. Gran Torino is a compact and efficient little story that hinges on a classic Eastwood performance and a lean script from screenwriter Nick Schenk. It won't be remembered as Eastwood's best movie, neither as an actor nor as a director, but this is a film he can be proud of.

Clint Eastwood will turn 79 this May. His character in Gran Torino (Walt Kowalski) turns 80 during the course of the movie, and for the first time on screen, Eastwood really looks his age. Walt wears his pants up around his mid-torso, lights cigarettes with a Zippo, and spends a lot of time reading on his front porch. Walt Kowalski is a grouchy old fart, and Eastwood plays it real, warts and all.

The best thing about the character is that he's not just a harmless movie-version of a grouchy old fart. For most of the movie's two hours, Walt is a very unpleasant man. So much so, in fact, that this character might alienate himself from the audience as thoroughly as he seems to have alienated himself from his family and neighbors. Walt is a racist and a sexist who constantly uses racial slurs, mocks the religious faith of his loved ones, and is generally cruel to everyone except his dog.

In fact, Kowalski's constant racist epithets might really offend the most sensitive moviegoers. Personally, I thought that the characters racism was one of the many things that made Eastwood's performance so genuine. Look, it's this simple: many (maybe most) of the old men I know are racist to one degree or another. Old white men, old black men, old men of every color and creed are pretty often cantankerous in every way possible. To have made Walter Kowalski politically correct would have been disingenuous. The old bastard just doesn't care what he says or in who's presence he says it. I know old men like that and I totally believed this character.

Best of all, this is a movie that proposes that there are things that are actually worse than racism. Imagine that! We live in a society that embraces nutty concepts like "hate crimes," the idea that some murders might be worse than others, depending on the motives involved. (Aren't all murders crimes of hate?) Gran Torino is, in at least one way, a very bold movie. It suggests that, with some people, racism might be a hundred miles wide ... but only an inch deep. No wonder the same Motion Picture Academy that piled Oscars on Crash a few years ago didn't quite know what to think of this film. Walter Kowalski is an unabashed racist, but he's not beyond redemption. That's not exactly the clean, neat, acceptable way to present a racist character, even if it is honest.


As a matter of fact, the politically incorrect dialogue in the movie is used to tremendous effect in one scene in particular: This movie is essentially the story of Walter begrudgingly becoming friends with a young Asian man in his neighborhood. Early in the film, before he develops affection for the young man, Walter constantly peppers him with racial slurs out of genuine disrespect. But as he develops regard for the young man he wants to make it clear to him that he likes him. Lacking the ability to simply say "Hey, I like ya, kid," Walt instead takes him to his local barber shop so that he can hear the way that he and the Italian barber trade ethnic jabs as a way of horsing around. Walt even attempts to instruct his young Asian friend on the proper way to "talk like a fella." The scene works for two reasons... one, it makes it clear that at this point in the story Walt's slurs toward his young Asian friend are the old man's dysfunctional way of expressing affection. It's really all he knows. And, two, that scene ends with the young man delivering the funniest punchline I've heard in any movie in a long time.

Like my all time favorite film, Eastwood's masterful Unforgiven, Gran Torino revisits the themes that have defined the actor/director's best work. Forgiveness and redemption and sacrifice are the keynotes, here. This movie's dramatic apex is sort of an alternate version of the climactic scene in Unforgiven, with selflessness substituted for revenge to tremendous effect. It isn't necessarily a realistic way for the story to end, but viewed through the prism of Eastwood's career, it's meaningful and quite moving.

Gran Torino doesn't quite reach Unforgiven's artistic heights, but it certainly doesn't fail, either. Eastwood fans will find a lot to enjoy in Gran Torino, as will fans of good movies in general.

The trailer for Gran Torino



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Friday, January 23, 2009

 

That Ol' Glass Ceiling



So why did Caroline Kennedy take herself out of consideration for Hillary Clinton's Senate seat?

Because she realized that she's utterly and completely unqualified?

Was she trying to avoid scandals over her taxes and illegal employees?

Or because she woke up, smelled the coffee, and came to the conclusion that celebrity and nepotism aren't legitimate reasons to serve in the nation's highest body of lawmakers?

Could it be that this spoiled little wealthy princess who doesn't always take politics seriously enough to even bother voting simply lost interest?

Nope, not according to Anne Kornblut at the Washington Post. It's that stubborn glass ceiling, holding women down again:
With her abrupt exit this week from consideration for the Senate, Caroline Kennedy added her name to a growing list: women who have sought the nation's highest offices only to face insurmountable hurdles...

(Former Clinton Press Secretary Dee Dee) Myers said that "questions about (Kennedy's) résumé absolutely have to do with her gender."

Yep, those damned misogynists ruined Caroline Kennedy's rightful assent to the Senate. Dang. If only she'd had some powerful friends or an influential family name, maybe she could have figured out a way around those mean ol' woman haters.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

 

Surgery, Chemo, Faith and Family



Today's surgery was successful, if inconclusive. I got to go home afterwards, it really was outpatient this time. However, I'm going to have a fifth resection at some point in the coming months. I had my first round of chemo today, too, and it's as unpleasant as they say it is. I feel kinda zapped right now.

On the upside, I had a long talk with my mother today and I "outed myself" with regard to the way my feelings on religious faith have evolved (devolved?) over the past year. I was dreading that, but my mom surprised me by being totally understanding and supportive. Concerned, yes, but supportive. Downright Christian, even. She said she'd very likely feel the same doubts that I've been feeling if she'd had to deal with some of the things that have cropped up since early '08.

I was worried that my mom might flip out on me. I've been surprised by some of the reactions I've gotten when I tell the people closest to me that my religious faith seems to be gone. Some people are basically OK with it and want me to know that they're there for me regardless. Other people have made it clear that their friendship is conditional. In some instances that's really been painful. I never know how any given person will react. But I don't really regret having been honest. I'd rather be hated for who I really am than loved for who I'm pretending to be.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

 

Surgery



I'm having surgery again Thursday morning. Another tumor resection. It's possible that I'll be away from the computer for a few days if I need to spend the night in the hospital ... but more likely than not I'll be back and blogging again in no time at all. Talk to you then.

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Zo + Puppets = Gold



What else is there to say besides Zo rules? Nothing. I'll leave it at that. Zo rules.



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Unity?



Unity is assimilation.

Unity is conformity.

Unity is being a sheep. It’s going along with the crowd and not asking questions. Unity is not making waves. It’s letting someone else do the thinking for you.

Unity is the death of individuality. Unity, in the present context, is everything I've ever opposed. And we're going to have this President's version of "unity" shoved down our throats for the next several years.

Now more than ever, screw unity.

Who is John Galt?

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Wacky Joaquin



I don't often mention "celebrity news" at this blog, I just don't care about celebrity gossip. But I had to mention this Joaquin Phoenix story because ... damn.

Man, he looks rough. He looks like he he's recently been shooting up in a culvert somewhere.

He looks like Zach Galifianakis after a three-night bender.

He looks like Jim Morrison circa 1971, minus the bathtub.

Only a few years ago Phoenix was turning in exemplary work and now he says he's done with acting, he's going to be a rapper, and his rap album is going to be produced by Diddy.

His debut performance at a Las Vegas club ended with him falling off the stage after one song. The shenanigans were taped for inclusion in a documentary ... which makes me wonder if this is some elaborate Borat-style prank. I hope so. I'd hate to think the guy has gone 'round the bend.



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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

 

The Last Rational Man In Hollywood



James Earl Jones is awesome. It's nice to hear from a celebrity who isn't rolling around in the floor and rubbing himself all over because of Obama's inauguration:

JEJ is positive, he's upbeat, and he's rational. I'm glad there's someone out there who doesn't think we've just put some combination of Jesus Christ, FDR and Kanye West in the White House.

HT: Bob Parks.

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Michelle Obama = Worf



I've just noticed how strong the resemblance really is:

Worf is a little less harsh-looking, though.

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CNN, Your Crush Is Showing



Isn't our new President just dreeeeeamy?

Then, with a wave of that very same hand, he turned the National Reflecting Pool into wine. And oh, how they danced, the little children of DC.

Gimme a f----ng break.

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Inauguration Day In The Land Of Sunshine



I can't think of a better way to mark the inauguration of the Savior Elect, President Tila Tequila, than with one of my favorite songs from Faith No More:




You have a winning way, so keep it,
Your future! Your future! Your future!

You are an angel heading for the land of sunshine!
And fortune is smiling upon you!

Prepare for a series of a comfortable miracles,
From fasting to feasting!
And life to you is a dashing, bold adventure!
So sing, and rejoice! Sing, and rejoice!

Pat yourself on the back and give yourself a handshake,
'Cause everything is not yet lost!

Does life seem worthwhile to you?

HERE'S HOW TO ORDER!

HERE'S HOW TO ORDER!



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Monday, January 19, 2009

 

"He Looks Like A Guy Who Can Get Things Done."



Classic Carlin, cuts right to the chase.

Language warning, content warning, every other kind of warning you can think of. Not for the easily offended, but it makes me laugh like crazy.

"It's all 50/50 ... so just pick your superstition, sit back, make a wish and enjoy yourself."

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A Zombie We Can Believe In


Just having a little fun courtesy of Obama Icon Me.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

 

The Fix Is In



There are only three things in the world that are organized: Sports, religion and labor. As far as I can tell, all three of them are fixed.

The UAW has famously played a major role in the collapse of Detroit's big three auto industry. And their top dog, Ron Gettelfinger, seems to think that President Obama is going to be his ace in the hole:
"There's a lot of provisions in the (bailout) loan guarantees that the companies had to sign," Gettelfinger said. "We don't really have any documents to work from other than their loan agreements, so we're waiting to see until President-elect Obama gets in power, then we'll see how this thing comes out."

Gettelfinger added that "obviously there's going to be a lot of change in Washington. He's sympathetic to the industry, and he also is not anti-union."

Gettlefinger would have you believe that he represents the huddled masses of labor in the auto industry... hard workers who are barely getting by.

Bullshit. The truth is a lot uglier, as it always is:
In May and November 2007, the UAW forked over nearly $53,000 for union staff meetings at the Thousand Hills Golf Resort in Branson, Missouri. In September 2007, the UAW dropped another $5,000 at the Lakes of Taylor Golf Club in Taylor, Michigan and another $9,000 at the Thunderbird Hills Golf Club in Huron, Ohio. Another bill for $5,772 showed up for the Branson, Missouri golf resort. On Oct. 26, 2007, the union spent $5,000 on another “golf outing” in Detroit. In May and June 2007, UAW bosses spent nearly $11,000 on a golf tournament and related expenses at the Hawthorne Hill Country Club in Lima, Ohio. And in April 2007, the UAW spent $12,000 for a charity golf sponsorship in Dearborn. In August 2007, the UAW paid nearly $10,000 to its for-profit Black Lake golf course operator, UBG, for something itemized as “Golf 2007 Summer School.” UBG had nearly $4.4 million worth of outstanding loans from the union. Another for-profit entity that runs the education center, UBE, had nearly $20 million in outstanding loans from the union.

But what about the average UAW worker ... those guys are the real victims, here, right?

Well, no. Everybody has a finger in the pie:
Ken Pool is making good money. On weekdays, he shows up at 7 a.m. at Ford Motor Co.'s Michigan Truck Plant in Wayne, signs in, and then starts working -- on a crossword puzzle. Pool hates the monotony, but the pay is good: more than $31 an hour, plus benefits.

"We just go in and play crossword puzzles, watch videos that someone brings in or read the newspaper," he says. "Otherwise, I've just sat."

Pool is one of more than 12,000 American autoworkers who, instead of installing windshields or bending sheet metal, spend their days counting the hours in a jobs bank set up by Detroit automakers and Delphi Corp. as part of an extraordinary job security agreement with the United Auto Workers union...

General Motors Corp. has roughly 5,000 workers in its jobs bank. Delphi has about 4,000 in its version of the same program. Some 2,100 workers are in DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group's job security program. Ford had 1,275 in its jobs bank as of Sept. 25 (2005).


Nice work if you can get it.

Remember that when you hear anyone say how important it is that we bail out the US auto industry. Every single person advancing that position ... Gettelfinger, Obama, George W. Bush, the bosses in Detroit, each of 'em ... is completely full of shit. The US auto industry has been trying to kill itself off for years. Don't throw any more tax money in the hole. Let it die.

No industry that's this inept in all facets, from the CEOs down to labor, deserves to stay lazy and happy on the public dole.

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Coffee Trippin'



Two-pot-a-day coffee drinkers like me might have reason to be a little worried about a recent study which indicates that too much caffeine can cause hallucinations:
People who take in the caffeine equivalent of three cups of brewed coffee (or seven cups of instant) are more likely to hallucinate, a new study suggests.

The researchers found that people with a caffeine intake that high, whether it came from coffee, tea, chocolate or caffeinated energy drinks or pills, had a three-times-higher tendency to hear voices and see things that were not there than those who consumed the equivalent of a half-cup of brewed coffee (or one cup of instant coffee).

I'd write more but I have to get into the kitchen and try to kill all those giant Methodist spiders.

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Substitute



A lot going on this weekend, I won't have time to write anything. So instead, here's a YouTube video that accurately reproduces the tone, style and content of most of my blog posts:



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Disparate Diatribes





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Thursday, January 15, 2009

 

Star Wars ... Or Whatever



This is the story of Star Wars, as told by someone who's never seen the movies:


"I'm going over to, like, the Dark Side, or whatever."

"Keep the faith, the force is strong, or whatever."

Obviously she really hasn't seen the movies. Her version of the dialogue is much better than what Lucas actually came up with.

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Xbox Live



Our family is made up of five enthusiastic but casual video game players. We just play for fun. It's a lot of fun to play over Xbox Live with other casual gamers, and we enjoy "meeting" other gamers who enjoy the same games we like to play.

Toward that end, I've set up a separate page at Darwen.us that ties into our Xbox Live gamer tag. If you have X-Box live and you enjoy any of the same games we enjoy ... but, most importantly, you enjoy them as casually as we do (no hardcore gamers, please) ... check out our Xbox Live page.

If you're on Xbox Live and happen to view our profile, you'll see a reference to this new family Xbox Live page. Maybe it'll help us meet other casual gamers.

See if you have some of the same games we enjoy, and maybe we can meet up on Xbox Live and have some fun.

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New Zo, Good Stuff



On Bill O'Reilly, Obama's tax plan, national defense, the so-called "Freedom Of Choice Act," the selflessness of the American Soldier and liberal hatred. Awesome, as usual:



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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

 

Left 4 Dead



I have had a busy week, things are winding down a bit now. But I probably still won't blog much for a while because the kids got me an AWESOME video game for Christmas. Left 4 Dead positions you as one of four human survivors in the middle of a zombie holocaust. Your goal: Stick together as a group and be alive at the end of the game. Simple as that. And simplicity is the beauty of the game. Like the best games, it takes a minute to learn and a lifetime to master. This game is AMAZINGLY addictive. It's the Tetris of First-Person-Shooters.

That's all you need to know. Either that sounds like your kind of thing or it doesn't. It's my kind of thing for sure, and it's a real rush to play on Xbox Live as one of four real life people (other Xbox Live players) trying to fend off the zombie horde and make it across the city in hopes of finding salvation in the form of the army, a chopper, a plane.

I'd say this is the best game engineered around teamwork and survival I've ever played. There's a real sense of group accomplishment if all four of you manage to stay alive until the cavalry gets there. I've heard total strangers say "I love you, man!" while playing this game. It's an absolute blast.

And by the way, these are Boyle zombies, not Romero zombies. They DO. NOT. SLOW. DOWN. Plus, the addition of five kinds of mutated boss zombies adds to the fun.

If you're an Xbox Live player, get the game and look for me on line. This is really, really, really fun.



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Sunday, January 11, 2009

 

Busy



For the next four days or so I'm gonna be busier than a one-armed cat in a room full of paper hangers. Or words to that effect. I don't expect to have much time to blog, but we'll see. I've got some overtime I'll probably have to work, etc. So that's all for now, talk to you later.

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Friday, January 09, 2009

 

Clear Thinking And Smart Ideas On YouTube



I've had a YouTube account for ages. I mostly use it to post short clips of family video and occasional funny montages, etc. I only recently started clicking the "subscribe" button so I'd get updated when some of my favorite "vloggers" post new stuff.

I'm glad I finally did. I enjoy seeing the updates and watching these videos. None of these are anything special visually, these are just monologues from smart guys with interesting ideas. I suppose they could have been written and posted at regular blogs, but hearing and seeing these fellas express themselves makes it all the more personal, immediate and interesting. Here are a few recent examples...

Penn Jillette, as a rule, doesn't do reviews. Here, he breaks that rule to offer his thoughts on The Wrestler, a movie that I loved. You can watch Penn's video without worrying about plot spoilers. If anything, this clip may simply make you want to see the movie more than you already might:

I love the way Penn feels forced to describe what's so wonderful about the movie with such simple terms: "very real," for instance. And I like the way Penn often simply shakes his head, unable to come up with words. The Wrestler is really that kind of movie.

This next one is from my favorite vlogger, Zo Rachel. Here, Zo takes on global warming, Hollywood, and race, as per: politics:


Drinking With Bob is another YouTube vlog I watch from time to time. Bob usually cracks me up with his manic urgency. And I usually agree with his core points. Here, he talks about the Blago scandle:



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Movie Review: The Wrestler



Synopsis

Randy The Ram is a washed up professional wrestler who's twenty years past his prime. After suffering a major medical setback, Randy is forced to consider his place in the world, the relationships that he's lost along the way, and his possibilities for a future.

Pros:


Cons:


Generally:

At least four on a five scale. A remarkable movie if you can handle all the open wounds, both literal and figurative.

Extended Review:

Writer and director Darren Aronofsky usually makes movies on a huge scale. He's good at it. His 2000 release Requiem for a Dream is surely one of the best films of the past ten years. With his latest movie, The Wrestler, Aronofsky has dialed back the high-concept and flashy visuals and produced a small, quiet character study. As it turns out, he's good at that, too.

Micky Rourke, as Randy "The Ram" Robinson (the wrestler the movie is named for) will probably win all kinds of awards for his work here. He really ought to, anyway. This is the kind of movie that requires it's star to carry a world on his back. Rourke is suburb here. I don't suppose I've ever seen him turn in a performance anywhere near this good before. Randy is a guy suffocating in regret, loneliness and physical pain. It's a credit to Rourke as an actor that his performance never became tedious or overwrought in the movie's 115 minutes.

The Wrestler also features Marisa Tomei as a stripper named Cassidy who infatuates Randy. A number of Tomei's scenes feature the actress nude or nearly nude. Tomei's been doing a lot of nudity in her recent movies, possibly because she's proud that she still has the body of a twenty year old even though she'll turn forty-five at the end of this year. Still, Tomei's physical form (as lovely as it is) isn't the best thing she brings to this movie. Her performance is the equal of Rourke's, and may garner supporting actress awards for her as well. In fact, Tomei is so good here that I'd expect her to win top awards for females in lead roles if she only had more screen time.

The connection between Rourke's wrestler and Tomei's stripper is obvious, but never made overt or acknowledged in any way. Both of them have chosen paths wherein they sell themselves, physically, to paying audiences. One traffics in sex; the other, violence. Both of them need the attention and the money, and neither of them seem to have many other options. But unlike Randy, Tomei's character dreams of another life. She has a family in the form of her son ... unlike Randy, who has driven away his adult daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) with years of negligence and broken promises. To Cassidy, stripping is just a means to an end. To Randy, wrestling is everything. Ultimately, one of them just can't stand to be in the other one's audience.

It's painful to watch the two characters interact as one hopes to begin a new life and the other waits for his life to end. There's a rawness about their scenes together that's really exceptional in it's honesty. It's funny that we live in a world full of "reality TV" that is nothing like reality, and here's a scripted movie featuring an actor and an actress who speak volumes of truth about desperation and sadness.

I can't recommend The Wrestler to every movie fan, but I think you'll enjoy it if you're the kind of viewer who enjoys films like, for instance, No Country For Old Men. The Wrestler is subtle, unconventional, and extremely understated. That's ironic, considering that professional wrestling itself is the bombastic polar opposite of this film. I expect that a large number of wrestling fans will see this movie and leave the theater unhappy.

At times, The Wrestler reminded me of Ray, Raging Bull, Saturday Night Fever, even Citizen Kane in some ways. Those are all fine films about men who are addicted to fame and pain. Men who punish themselves in spite of the glory they seek. Each of those films features remarkable lead performances. Each of them was directed beautifully. If I have a complaint with each of those five films, it's that they are all painfully direct. This is the kind of movie that might force anyone to contemplate whatever is hollow inside of them.

The Wrestler rubs shoulders with greats in terms of it's impact, it's integrity, and the power of it's story. This is one of the finest movies I've seen in the past twelve months.

Trailer for The Wrestler:



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Thursday, January 08, 2009

 

Failure To Communicate



At work, in the break room:
CO-WORKER: "Hey, do you guys still have that old computer you aren't using?"

ME: "Nah, I traded it."

CO-WORKER: "You traded it?"

ME: "Yeah, I traded it to a friend of mine for his daughter."

CO-WORKER: "You gave him an old computer and he gave you his daughter?"

ME: No. I mean I gave it to him for his daughter to use. And he gave me some guitar gear. For my son to use.

CO-WORKER: "Oh. Well, that's nowhere near as interesting."





Over a terrible cell phone connection, I'm in the car:

ME: "What's with this big box addressed to you in the back seat of the car?"

WIFE: (Garbled) "...my dad sent it."

ME: "So what's in the box?"

WIFE: (Garbled ... sounds like) "...piss jugs."

ME: "Did you say piss jugs?"

WIFE: (Garbled ... sounds like) "...his trucks."

ME: "What? His trucks?"

WIFE: (Garbled ... sounds like) "...Hess Trucks! Hess Trucks! It's the Hess Trucks that my dad sent the kids for Christmas!"

ME: "Oh. Yeah, your dad gets the kids those trucks every year."

WIFE: "I know."

ME: "The kids hate those trucks. They never play with them."

WIFE: "I know. I've told my dad that a number of times. But he likes Hess Trucks, so he keeps getting the kids Hess Trucks."

ME: "Oh. (Pause.) You know, a box full of piss jugs actually would have been more useful."


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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

 

Mo Pills, Mo Problems



The other night at work I had kind of a ... medical anomaly? Yeah, let's call it that.

I haven't written about it here because I'm still trying to sort it out, because it's still kinda hazy, and because it's kind of embarrassing. I did allude to it yesterday, but that was just me being my usual smart-ass self. I haven't really faced it, I haven't even discussed it much. I've only talked about it, as of now, with a couple of my most trusted friends and with my doctor. I'm writing about it now because, if for no other reason, writing helps me think clearly. But also because I do want to pass along something I've learned ... something I learned the hard way ... with hopes that it might be useful to someone.

Here's what happened:

Well, let's start from the beginning. I'm a shift-worker. I work a swing shift. To keep it simple, it boils down to a week of graveyard shift, followed by a week of evening shift, and then a week of daylight. Because of that I have a hard time keeping any kind of regular schedule with anything. That can make life a pain in the ass, but it can be even worse than that if you start forgetting to take your prescription drugs.

I'm on a number of drugs, some to treat the symptoms of bladder cancer, others for other problems, like allergies. I've also been on Effexor (venlafaxine) for several years. Effexor is a drug that's designed to treat depression and general anxiety.

It's been a long time since I've felt that taking Effexor was doing me any good. I've continued taking it, though, because missing doses has caused horrible side effects for me. Most commonly, I have really awful nightmares ... but I've also experienced mood swings, depression, anxiety, etc. It's funny: I started taking this drug to deal with depression and anxiety, and eventually it stopped helping me at all, but did start causing terrible depression and anxiety if I missed a dose.

Sometimes I have to think that Tom Cruise was at least partially right.

Oh, and before I forget, one of the drugs I take for the effects of bladder cancer is oxybutynin, a drug with it's own gnarly list of possible side effects. I've been on that for six months or so.

As near as I can figure, I think I missed taking the Effexor for two days, and I might have taken too many oxybutynin tablets the other day. Oh, I forgot to mention, I'm also on zolpidem for occasional use to help me with the sleep loss associated with bladder spasms, shift work, etc. The zolpidem tablets look EXACTLY like the oxybutynin tablets, and it's possible to take one when you mean to take the other if you're not careful and if you rely too much on one of those weekly pill-box things.

As for me, my daily drugs are served up in a cornucopia.

OK, anyway, enough beating around the bush. The other night I had a splitting headache that was one of the worst I've ever had. (I've been having them for a week or so now, and I've been taking Advil Migraine for them to try to fight them off. More drugs. Yay.)

I'd had one of those headaches all night, and then all of a sudden at work I started having intense pain in my back and my shoulders on the left side. As of now, that's probably been correctly diagnosed as muscle spasms brought on by stress and poor health.

But here's the thing: When I started having that pain in my left side, I was sure I was having a heart attack. I honestly thought I was dying. No shit, man. I thought I was about to drop dead at about 3 in the morning in the damn paper mill where I work.

And so I ended up short of breath, nauseous, and having a full-blown panic attack.

Now, I have had problems with anxiety and depression before, but I'd never had an all-out panic attack before, and I had no frame of reference for it. All I knew was that I was sure that I was dying. I thought I had minutes to live. I ended up being transported to the hospital in an ambulance, with an oxygen mask and an IV and the whole thing. It wasn't until I was in the ambulance, almost at the hospital, that I began to realize that I wasn't really dying.

Anyway, to try to wrap this up, 90% of what happened was brought on by not being careful enough with my prescription drugs. I've been pretty casual about the drugs I take ... obviously too casual. I've been too quick to do stuff like buy and take Advil Migraine pills instead of consulting my doctor when I have a headache for days. And, worst of all, I've been too lax about making sure that any doctor I see knows each and every drug I am on, the exact dosage, and the reason that it's prescribed.

I saw my doctor yesterday and some major changes were made to my prescription schedule. For one thing, I'm being weened off of Effexor. With drugs like that, you can't just stop taking them. You have to have your dosage slowly decreased over a period of months. It'll probably be four months before I'm off that drug entirely.

My doctor also gave me a "put up or shut up" exercise program and diet.

So the lesson I learned is that it is very important to be very aware and very involved in any prescription drug schedule that you might be on. Make sure that every doctor you see knows exactly what you are taking, how much of it, and how regularly. And make sure that you take your pills when you're supposed to take them. And in the correct dosage.

Really, this is elementary school stuff. But morons like me never learn anything the first time.

The older I get, the more likely it is that I'm going to have to take more pills each day, not fewer. So that makes it all the more important. But regardless of your age, regardless of the number of prescriptions you are on, and regardless of how long you've had to take or will have to take any given drug, remember the importance of your prescription schedule. Don't brush it off or be neglectful about it, like I have been. You don't want to have to learn this lesson in the back of an ambulance.

So there's my cautionary tale. I hope it's useful.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

 

The iPod Thorazine Shuffle



I wish I had a giant iPod wheel on my forehead. Or even one I could just carry in a small, round pillbox. Some kind of wheel that I could turn to administer mood-altering chemicals, complete with a little soft rock. You know, both kinds of feel-good hits.

I'd trace my finger around the wheel and find just the right mood or the right thought or just the right tone of ambivalence for any situation. It would be so cool to be able to simply spin the wheel and say the right thing to anyone. Say exactly what they want to hear without having to think about it at all. All through the magic of uppers, downers, and DRM protected digital media.

Let's say some friend hit me out of the blue with some serious grievances about my current feelings on religion. I'd spin the iPod wheel, drop a Benzodiazepine, and play The Doobie Brothers, singing that "Jesus is Just Alright." And we'd all share the groovy experience provided by my personal iPod Thorazine Shuffle and everybody would be brothers and sisters, man, and all would be groovy.

Or someone else could confess some recent betrayal or deceit that I'd suspected all along and I could spin my iWheel and get a Benzodiazepine hit ... then call up Don Henley's "Heart Of The Matter" and pretty soon the shrunken, aging eco-Eagle would be pontificating about forgiveness: "There are people in your life who've come and gone / They let you down, you know they hurt your pride / You better put it all behind you baby; cause' life goes on / If you keep carryin' that anger, it'll eat you up inside, baby..." Yeah, Don, groove on, groove on, baby. The way you bring that soft rock groove makes me think everything is just oooooooohh kaaaaaaaay. And, well, the Benzodiazepine helps.

How awesome would that be. In the meantime, we'll have to settle for the iTop, a new laptop from apple that lets the machine do even more of the thinking:


A step in the right direction, for sure. The iWheel solves all. It knows all, it is all, the iWheel is the avatar of peace. But we're not quite there yet. Gov't Mule has just the prescription:


"Stand by to stand by,
Ain't no need to worry today.
The (iPod) Thorazine Shuffle gonna make everything OK."


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Saturday, January 03, 2009

 

The Rattlesnake



I don't really remember where I heard this story, but I think it does us all good to reacquaint ourselves with it's lesson from time to time:

An old Indian woman is out one day, looking for firewood in a heavy snow. After a while she discovers a rattlesnake frozen by the river.

Overcome with compassion, she takes the barely breathing snake home to nurse it back to health. Over the course of long winter months, the woman tends to the snake as though it were a member of her family. She feeds it, keeps it warm, nurses it slowly back to health. Eventually, the rattlesnake regains is strong again.

One day in early spring, the old woman is cleaning her tee pee and gently picks up the snake to move him out of the way. As she lifts the snake, he spins in her hands and bites her, injecting a lethal dose of poison.

The old woman lays dying on the floor of her tee pee. Wracked with emotional and physical pain, she asks the snake why it bit her. "How could you do this," she begs. "I saved your life, I brought you into my home and spent all this time tending to you, nursing you and caring for you. Why have you killed me?"

As the snake crawls away, looking for his next victim, he looks back at the old woman and hisses: "You stupid bitch. I am a rattlesnake. You knew that before you saved me in the first place."

I'd really be ahead to remember that lesson. Maybe I'd stop f--king with snakes over and over again.

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Friday, January 02, 2009

 

Goodbye, Old Friend



After countless hours of loyal service, my Creative Zen 4 gig MP3 player has done bit the dust.

I think it was a corrupt MP3 of Willie Nelson's Crazy that did it. The MP3 player got locked in a constant loop of that song and then after a few minutes it just locked up and now won't do anything.

For what it's worth, up until this happened, I never had a hiccup out of the thing. It was a darn good investment and I'll miss it.

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Thursday, January 01, 2009

 

Uncle Jay Sings Of 2008



It'll either make you grin or get on your nerves. It made me grin:



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