Saturday, October 22, 2005

No Respect, I Tell You...No Respect At All

A while back, I was challenged by a conservative. "Why do you always refer to Republicans and right-wingers as 'scumbags' or 'assholes'? Why is it that everyone who disagrees with you neccessarily has to be an asshole? Can't they just be someone who thinks differently?"

For a few moments there, I seriously thought he might have a point. Perhaps I am too quick to judge others merely because their attitudes towards politics, government and social issues differ from mine. But eventually, I decided that, no, most right-wingers are just scumbags and assholes. There are exceptions, of course, but non-assholes who persist in defending this administration are dwindling in number.

Take the crew of Little Green Footballs. Oh, man, these guys are scumbags. They're the sort of Bush-defenders and sycophants that will twist anything (anything) to suit their obvious, juvenile agenda. Seriously, these guys are loyal to nothing except the Republican Party. They have no ideals, no original thoughts, and nothing to say that isn't directly downloaded from Karl Rove's Blackberry.

For an example, let's look at the American Friends Service Committee's upcoming "Not One More Death, Not One More Dollar" campaign. Here are the groups making up the AFSC: Gold Star Families for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and Military Families Speak Out. These are, as the names pronounce, organizations made up of military families and veterans. Those who are directly affected by actions like the Iraq War, and those with firsthand experience of the lingering trauma and horror that will no doubt follow this long and dubious occupation.

The AFSC is organizing a series of candlelight vigils and remembrance events which will occur when the 2,000th American soldier dies in Iraq. Such numbers are of themselves significant. Is 2,000 deaths worse than 2,012? We just like round numbers. But it's a symoblic event, a milestone, a way to stop and take stock of the fact that 2 years and 2,000 lives later, we're no closer to the supposed goal of a free and democratic Iraq. (And don't give me this constitutional referendum horseshit...It was a fraud-ridden election which proves nothing about stability, infrastructure, security or the ability of Iraq to prosper as an independent nation).

And what is the take of the bastards down at Little Green Footballs?

The American Friends Service Committee is planning to hold a series of parties all across the country when the 2000th US soldier is killed in Iraq: Not One More Death. Not One More Dollar.

This group of phony pacifists has previously been featured at LGF for an exhibit that callously uses the names of soldiers killed in Iraq, without asking permission from their families.

That last line refers to an incident in which the AFSC sponsored an art exhibit that displayed the boots of fallen soldiers, along with a small caption indicating the dead soldier's name. Apparently, not all of the families of the dead soldiers were asked permission for their child's name to be used.

What's the connection between these two events? There is none. What's the evidence for calling the AFSC, a group made up of members and the families of members of the American armed forces, a group of phony pacifists? Are they phonies? Are they not really pacifists? Why? LGF has no real message - it's just a random, generic smear for the sake of a smear.

But what's truly nefarious is referring to a candelight vigil for 2,000 dead soldiers as a party. A party? I've read the entire AFSC website describing the event, and nowhere do I see mention of cake, balloons, pinning the tail on a donkey, silly hats, noisemakers, champagne, Spin the Bottle, 7 Minutes in Heaven, bobbing for apples, necking with the girl who answers the phones in the supply room, white elephant gifts, punch, keg beer, chicken wings, pizza or costumes.

In fact, there's no suggestions at all for what type of event people should hold in their communities. The group is simply suggesting that Americans get together to discuss the fact that 2,000 of their fellow citizens have died. That's it. To Little Green Footballs, that sounds like a good time. Like a party.

I'd say they were a bunch of sick fucks, but I realize that even they don't believe the AFSC is encouraging people to celebrate. They know better. They're just hoping someone out there is stupid enough to believe it. If even one person reads their dumbass site and says to themselves, "Yeah, those liberal scumbags...Celebrating the deaths of American soldiers...I'm going to continue supporting this pointless war, just to show 'em!," then their work is done.

Good Night, and Good Luck

George Clooney's second film as a director, this intense docu-drama about Edward R. Murrow's fight against McCarthyism as an anchor on CBS News, is not just significantly better than his debut, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. It's better than anything Clooney's producing partner, famed director Steven Soderbergh, has released in about a decade. I think this is one student who may be poised to overtake the master.

Good Night and Good Luck makes no overt attempt to tie McCarthyism and his fright tactics to the present-day political administration, and that is it's greatest strength. This isn't some anti-Bush polemic, some piece of what Moriarty on Aint It Cool humorously refers to as "liberal porn." Clooney simply presents an accurate piece of media history, about an early moment when TV newsmen and their corporate backers collided over a story, and invites the viewer to draw his or her own conclusions about its current relevance. The result is not just a brilliant piece of filmmaking, but arguably the most intelligent and important American film thus far this year.

Clooney and screenwriting partner Grant Heslov have infused Good Night and Good Luck with so many observations and ideas, it's almost bewildering at first. What they've done is relate this story about TV in the 50's as realistically as possible, but with an eye to the future. What we're seeing is the early days of TV, behind-the-scenes conflicts that persist to this day in their infancy. All the obstacles preventing Murrow and his producer Fred Friendly (Clooney) from reporting the truth about Joe McCarthy and his smear campaign against so-called "Communists" still exist, but have become far more persistant and successful.

Clooney opens the film in 1958, after the events of the movie have finished, with Murrow receiving a broadcaster's award. Rather than a happy little thank-you speech, Murrow lets forth an angry diatribe about the state of TV news. He complains that TV is only used as an entertainment device. If TV doesn't educate and enlighten a citizenry, he fears, if it only provides them with an outlet for escapism. It becomes "just a box full of wires."

And as soon as we see the film's first reproduction of a Murrow broadcast, we realize he's right. That sort of news has completely disappeared from the airwaves. In his nightly broadcast, Murrow spoke in the mannered style of an academic. He was precise, informative and unconcered for whether or not a story was glamorous or likely to hook an audience easily. He read his stories in clipped and measured tones from a small seat in front of a curtain, turning to look at a monitor behind him whenever a clip was played. (Roger Ebert tells me that Clooney's father worked in early TV, giving him particularly astute insight into the look and feel of an old-time broadcasting studio. It's surprisingly claustrophobic.)

More similar to current news television is Murrow's side project, a show that CBS forces him contractually to do called "One on One," in which he interviews some mindless celebrity for a half hour. In the film's funniest sequence, footage of Strathairn as Murrow is intercut with old footage of singer Liberace answering the real Edward R. Murrow's questions. Soon enough, the conversation gets around to just why it is that Lee has never been married...

This is just one way in which Murrow's concerns for the future of TV have become an unfortunate reality. Hard-hitting news stories are often pushed aside to make way for human interest entertainment.

Even more worrisome are his clashes with CBS President William Paley (Frank Langella, in an amazing, intimidating supporting performance worthy of an Oscar nod) and executive Sig Mickelson (Jeff Daniels). In one startling scene, Murrow and Friendly are preparing a report on a cadet expelled from the Air Force because his father attended Communist meetings in the 1930's, when Mickelson interrupts them and urges them to stop.

He's worried that the story is biased, clearly anti-McCarthy, when it should be "fair and balanced." But is it the role of journalists to simply record and report the arguments of both sides, or is it their responsibility to seek out the truth behind those claims and report that? Mickelson (and Fox News) seem to prefer the former, while Murrow (and George Clooney and me) clearly prefer the latter.

And as Murrow and Friendly get closer and closer to the truth behind Senator Joe's wild claims about communists infiltrating the American government, their opposition gets increasingly fierce. McCarthy appears on CBS to claim that Murrow has been a communist himself since the 30's, a member of the news team is sidelined because an ex-wife attended some socialist rallies, and an old lefty who has remained on CBS as a night-time anchor (an excellent Ray Wise) faces daily torment from sneering columnist from the right-wing Hearst newspapers.

Murrow and Friendly use McCarthy's own words against him, filling their reports with damning video of McCarthy at HUAC hearings. Clooney embraces the same technique. Rather than have an actor portray McCarthy as a hysterical bully, he simply edits footage of the real McCarthy into the film. (Since both are in black-and-white, it segues surprisingly well). It's pretty hard to argue against himself, so McCarthy resorts to character assassination. If he can simply undermine Murrow enough, he believes, everyone will just ignore the man's nightly broadcasts.

It doesn't work, largely because Murrow was already such a respected reporter after his work during WWII in reporting from the Battle of Britain. Clooney seems to muse aloud whether or not we even have a journalist with those kind of impeccable credentials today, someone who could face off against the most powerful and persuasive voices in our government in order to expose them as liars and frauds? Even if we do, and I'm not certain that we do, will this person be willing to sacrifice their career and reputation to do the right thing?

This is a thoughtful and political film, and yet it is never dull or preachy. Rather, I found it kind of riveting, counter-intuitive for a film with only a few locations and told in such a straight-ahead, matter-of-fact style. The movie is so focused on Murrow's conflict with McCarthy and the behind-the-scenes mechanisms of TV news in the 50's, there really isn't time for a lot of character work, and yet the strength of the ensemble of actors manages to make the newsroom environment feel authentic. In fact, the only real "sub-plot" in the movie concerns a married couple of reporters (Robert Downey Jr. and Patricia Clarkson) who must hide their relationship from the suits upstairs.

Robert Elswit's beautiful, creamy black-and-white cinematography adds to the feeling of authenticity, and provides for some of the most emotional moments in the film. One sequence in particular I'll highlight...The first anti-McCarthy broadcast on CBS has just finished airing. We see CBS President Paley sitting motionless in his darkened office, the television flickering but silent in the background, while the phone rings repeatedly. It's an intensely beautiful shot, and also a great, subtle moment...All this time, we have seen Paley as the enemy of truth, but here we realize that even this imposing, powerful man is beholden to others and must answer to someone for his actions. He's the president of a TV network, yet he's only a pawn in the game.

As I said before, this is an important film. Important not just because it speaks to key issues of the day, or it reminds Americans of what journalism, even TV journalism, used to be about. Important because it takes these issues and blows them up, shows them as larger than the past few years or the Iraq War or even George W. Bush. Clooney's film is about the use of fear to amass power, it's about greed and corruption and scare tactics and smear campaigns, and about how the only way to conquer these evils is to spread truth. And not just a convenient truth, but the whole truth.

The final shot, rather than some elegaic tribute to the heroism of Murrow, is a close-up of a television on which Ike Eisenhower appears, speaking about habeus corpus. The notion is that Murrow, McCarthy, Bush, they are all just individuals who made specific choices. This is a larger story about America, what it stands for, what it could one day stand for, and the sacrifices it will take to keep it all together.

It's a stirring and emotional story, easily the best film about journalism since Michael Mann's 1999 film The Insider, and possibly the best since All the President's Men.

Friday, October 21, 2005


I'm going to try and squeeze an entire review out of this, but my review of Nora Ephron's summer comedy Bewitched boils down to the following statement: It's not at all funny.

The film could, I suppose, have been funny. The premise - that the unknown female star of a new remake of the TV show "Bewitched" is a real-life actual witch - is a bit thin but not impossible to work with. The strong ensemble cast, particularly leads Will Ferrell and Nicole Kidman, is filled with naturally talented, charismatic performers. And Kidman can even do the Elizabeth Montgomery nose-wiggle thing right.

It's just that the movie is not at all funny. It's labored, sometimes confusing, way over the top, silly and corny...but just not funny.

This is Nora Ephron's fault, I'm sorry to say. I have seen her interviewed and even met her in person once, and she strikes me as funny and intelligent. And I like her scripts for When Harry Met Sally and My Blue Heaven well enough. But the "comedies" which she writes and directs are never funny, ever. They are always simplistic, sitcom-ish, hacky affairs full of old jokes, obvious song choices, goofy montages, predictable stories and thin, cartoonish caricatures in place of relatable characters. Though it's hardly her most egregious effort (that would be 2000's utterly loathsome John Travolta vehicle Lucky Numbers), Bewitched is regrettably more of the same.

My old screenwriting professor used to say that romantic comedies were the easiest genre to write, which is largely why I have devoted the vast majority of my writing career to them thus far. Basically, he would say, your entire film is already written: two people Meet Cute, they fall for each other, but some obstacle is in their way keeping them from being together. During the course of the film, they solve that problem, even though it looks for a while like they can't, and they live happily ever after (unless there's a sequel, in which case some new problem pops up keeping them from remaining happily together).

The idea is, you keep the problem itself as simple as possible, so you can devote most of your time to making these characters funny and interesting. It's rarely the intricacies of the plot that people remember about romantic comedies. It's the personalities that fill the movie. That's what sets your film apart from the formula. So you come up with a problem that seems important to the characters, but actually can be dispensed in a few scenes of exposition.

This is the success behind Ephron's script for When Harry Met Sally. It doesn't really bother to even come up with a specific problem keeping Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) apart - they're just friends and don't think of one another that way, until at the end they do. Brilliant!

With Bewitched, she has gone in the complete opposite direction. The story is so twisty and weird and complicated, there's no time for any, well, good jokes or funny little character moments. Ferrell plays big-time actor Jack Wyatt, whose career is on the rocks after a much-discussed flop called A Night in Katmandu. He's going to star in a new sitcom version of the classic series "Bewitched," and wants Samantha to be played by an unknown actress he can easily outshine.

So they hire Isabelle (Nicole Kidman), a witch who has recently given up witchcraft against the advice of her playboy warlock father (Michael Caine...yeah, for real...)

I'm gonna stop right there. If you're an actor and you want to easily outshine your gonna hire Nicole Kidman? She's goddamn gorgeous. It's ridiculous. You hire Nicole Kidman if you want someone unbelievably hot in your show that's going to attract everyone's attention. Duh.

But it gets more complicated. Isabelle finds out really quickly that Jack has only pretended to value her contribution, and he really wants to sideline her and hog all the jokes himself. So she puts a love spell on him that makes him obsessed with her, wanting to give her all the good lines. But then that's unsatisfying so she unhexes him (turning back time in the process) and starts over to win him to her side through lively conversation and montages wherein they walk along a beach at sunset.

You see where I'm going with this...By the hour mark, the goings-on in Bewitched have become so muddled, you're not sure what Isabelle's powers are, whether Jack really likes her or not, whether he's an angry and pampered star or a sweet down-to-earth guy, how Isabelle really feels about him or what possible relevance this bullshit could have for anyone anywhere at any time.

Kidman, Ferrell and the rest of the ensemble (which also includes David Alan Grier, Jason Schwartzman, Shirley McLaine, Stephen Colbert, Steve Carrell, Mo Rocca and Michael Badalucco) really do try their best to make the most of this material. Ferrell even squeezes out one or two genuine laughs in between all the unfunny "shenanigans." At one point, he snarkily tells a waitress to leave him alone, suggesting she go see if the other table is finished with their hummus.

But the way he says "hummus" to her, HOO-MAS, is funny! Why? I don't know. Maybe just because it's unexpected and spontaneous, adjectives I couldn't use to describe any other facet of Nora Ephron movies. I just don't get her whole take on comedy. The movies are already so ridiculously silly and unbelievable, why not just go all out?

Why even try to make a real movie about a stuck-up actor whose co-star is a witch, filled with all these generic, half-baked "behind-the-scenes" Hollywood industry parodies? I mean, why even ask a really funny, engaging actor like Jason Schwartzman to play a slick asshole talent agent? That part is so tired, those jokes are so ancient, having him play the character any other way would be better.

What I'm saying is, why not forget about the tired constraints of the formula and just make the films looser, let the actors breathe a little, try and get the most jokes possible out of the material? That strikes me as the attitude Ferrell himself and his collaborator Adam McKay took with Anchorman, a film that's just as formulaic and trite as Bewitched, and which features a few of the same cast members, but which is also pretty frequently hilarious.

Woman, Thou Art Loosed!

Leon Kass is a professor. Addie Clark Harding professor in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. Counter-intuitively, he's also a compelte idiot. Seriously, he has written this article that's 100% complete and absolute crap, based on nothing but his own aberrant psyche. 100,000 thanks to Kieran of Crooked Timber, a terrific lefty blog, for bringing this to my attention.

I have no idea how one becomes a high-level college professor with this sort of bullshit spewing out his mouth at all times, but then again, I have no idea how one becomes a high-level college professor. Perhaps it's really decided by an intense weekend-long Parcheesi tournament or some such thing, rather than academic discipline, intelligence and teaching ability.

His article is entitled "The End of Courtship." In it, he makes a number of bizarre assertations about "kids today." WARNING: If you are over 40, you really should refrain from writing articles bashing the social mores of "kids today." It's never going to come off as you intend - as a stern warning about the future. Instead, it makes you seem like a bran-chewing, cane-waving, youth-hating, bitter, angry, old crank. But, to steal a phrase from Dom Irrera, I don't mean that in a bad way.

Today, there are no socially prescribed forms of conduct that help guide young men and women in the direction of matrimony.... People still get married — though later, less frequently, more hesitantly, and, by and large, less successfully.

Hmm...That's interesting. Marriages today are less successful than in past years. What's that based on? A higher rate of divorce? But is divorce a good measure for the success of marriage? Particularly in past generations, when divorce was more stigmatized than it is today, didn't a lot of unhappy couples stay together, out of obligation or "for the children"? And don't a lot of couples who were perfectly happy for a decade or more eventually grow apart and get divorced? Is marriage even the sort of thing we should quanlify in terms of "success"? It doesn't sound very scientific to me to make those sorts of value judgements about other people's relationships.

I mean, let's take the movie Far From Heaven, exploring what must have been a semi-common circumstance in 1950's suburban America. A woman is trapped in a marriage with a gay man who isn't attracted to her, but remains together with him for the sake of their community standing and their children.

Situations like that occur even today, but probably less than they did in the 1950's, because people are more willing to divorce today, and gay men are less likely to enter into such marriages in our slightly more open modern society. So doesn't that conflict with Kass' blanket statement that marriages are, on the whole, less successful today than they once were?

And where are the numbers? Leon's a professor, yet there's no statistics of any use in his entire piece! Way to cite precedent, Teach!

Now the vast majority goes to college, but very few — women or men — go with the hope, or even the wish, of finding a marriage partner. Many do not expect to find there even a path to a career; they often require several years of post-graduate "time off" to figure out what they are going to do with themselves. Sexually active — in truth, hyperactive — they flop about from one relationship to another; to the bewildered eye of this admittedly much-too-old but still romantic observer, they manage to appear all at once casual and carefree and grim and humorless about getting along with the opposite sex. The young men, nervous predators, act as if any woman is equally good: They are given not to falling in love with one, but to scoring in bed with many.

I'm thinking that Leon never got any in college and therefore thinks that no one was getting any back when he went to college. Guess what, pal? THEY WERE.

Because how else to explain this type of thinking, from a guy who spends every day on a college campus? Guys are horny, sure, and they like to sleep with a lot of random women, if possible. I think it's been that way since, approximately, the dawn of mankind. Though it goes against the stereotype, L.K., some girls are actually horny and like to have indiscriminate sex! Did I just blow your fucking mind?

Hasn't Kass seen Carnal Knowledge? That was made over 30 years ago, and it's about this exact syndrome Kass describes as a modern problem.

You could read this entire article in an "ornery old man" voice and it would sound the same. "Kids today don't want to fall in love, they just want to go to bed. Why, in my day, brushing up against a female classmate in a hallway was considered third base, and we all wore underwear made of hair and steel wool to remind us our private parts were evil."

And "nervous predators"? What the hell is that? If you act too nervous when you're trying to hit on a girl, she'll reject you immediately, Leon. Maybe this was your problem. It's the smooth, confident cats that get all the action.

But most young women strike me as sad, lonely, and confused; hoping for something more, they are not enjoying their hard-won sexual liberation as much as liberation theory says they should. Never mind wooing, today's collegians do not even make dates or other forward-looking commitments to see one another; in this, as in so many other ways, they reveal their blindness to the meaning of the passing of time. Those very few who couple off seriously and get married upon graduation as we, their parents, once did are looked upon as freaks.

Freaks? Seriously, Leo? I know several people who coupled up in college, and some more who have remained with their college sweetheart well after graduation (including my brother), and I've never once thought of this nor heard it referred to as "freakish."

And, do most young women today strike you all as sad, lonely and confused? Maybe that's how they all act around Leon. I wish that's how all women my age felt, really, cause then I would have more in common with them, and could start up casual conversations more easily. I mean, I know sad, lonely and confused, people, believe me.

Basically, Leon's entire premise is wrong. He thinks kids today are sad, dejected, and hopeless about the future, but he thinks that's because they're having too much casual sex. I think maybe young people feel a bit hopeless today because their country is run by a bunch of twisted, sick, greedy little trolls who are killing off any chance they'd have of making a comfortable living, enjoying the Earth's beauty and serenity into their old age, and not dying in some poorly-armored Humvee in Tikrit.

Kass might have an opinion on this if he'd bothered to do any research. But, no, he's an important academic, so any random guess he makes is bound to be true, right? "It's cause all these girls are dirty, dirty sluts!," spoke the sage sociologist.

Our hearts go out not only to the children of failed- or non-marriages — to those betrayed by their parents' divorce and to those deliberately brought into the world as bastards — but also to the lonely, disappointed, cynical, misguided, or despondent people who are missing out on one of life's greatest adventures and, through it, on many of life's deepest experiences, insights, and joys.


Why oh why would anyone attempt to categorize someone else's life in this way? According to Leon Ass (oh, I mean, Kass) anyone who isn't married must be lonely, disappointed, cynical, misguided or despondent. Well, okay, I am all of those things. But that's not every single person! Some single people are perfectly happy not being tied to one other person for their entire lives.

I'm not saying single life is better than marriage or anything. Because that would be stupid. Because what the fuck do I know what's better for anyone? I barely know what's best for myself. Leon, on the other hand, apparently has been named the arbiter of all taste and judgement for America, and he has declared that marriage is essential, and you all better start having it right away or he's gonna get really peeved.

Here is a (partial) list of the recent changes that hamper courtship and marriage: the sexual revolution, made possible especially by effective female contraception; the ideology of feminism and the changing educational and occupational status of women; the destigmatization of bastardy, divorce, infidelity, and abortion; the general erosion of shame and awe regarding sexual matters, exemplified most vividly in the ubiquitous and voyeuristic presentation of sexual activity in movies and on television; widespread morally neutral sex education in schools; the explosive increase in the numbers of young people whose parents have been divorced (and in those born out of wedlock, who have never known their father); great increases in geographic mobility, with a resulting loosening of ties to place and extended family of origin; and, harder to describe precisely, a popular culture that celebrates youth and independence not as a transient stage en route to adulthood but as "the time of our lives," imitable at all ages, and an ethos that lacks transcendent aspirations and asks of us no devotion to family, God, or country, encouraging us simply to soak up the pleasures of the present.

Folks, we're getting a rare insight here into the mind of Leon Kass, wrongheaded asshole. Could this look be instructive when dealing with other wrongheaded assholes...gaining a look into how their minds work? Well, I intend to try.

This list speaks volumes about Leon's attitudes towards the opposite sex. He feels women should be subordinate to men, and finds any advance that gives them more power or status in a relationship harmful. He feels sex should be approached with "awe and shame," as if we were Nazis and the vagina is the Ark of the Covenant. He feels that those who have children out of wedlock, who cheat on a spouse, who get divorced or who have abortions deserve to by ostracized as social punishment. He feels that sex education should be strongly biased against sex, ordering kids not to fuck against every biological and social impulse that they have, and if that doesn't work he turns around and blames the parents. And he thinks pop culture should be mandated to devote people to family, God and country.

What a disgusting man. Can you believe relics like him still exist? OF COURSE he's upset about America in 2005. He's hoping for Saxony circa 700 A.D.

That "awe and shame" line ought to let you know where this guy's coming from. There's nothing shameful about sex, unless you're really bad at it. (Leon, I'm looking in your direction). Or possibly if you have some sort of rash or discoloration down there.

The change most immediately devastating for wooing is probably the sexual revolution. For why would a man court a woman for marriage when she may be sexually enjoyed, and regularly, without it?

Um, cause he likes her?

I know several married guys, and I don't think a single one of them waited until they were married to enjoy a little wax & tax.

I'm sorry, I'm sorry...Is Leon saying that the only reason to marry someone is to finally get the chance to have sex with them? What happens if they're not really that good at it? Or what happens when you reach that inevitable point where you start to get tired of having sex with each other? I've never been married, but it would seem to me a successful long-term relationship should be based around something other than two people who really, really want to fuck but can't until they've had a wedding ceremony.

Contrary to what the youth of the sixties believed, they were not the first to feel the power of sexual desire.

This is the one sentence in the whole essay with which I entirely agree. There is an annoying Boomer attitude about sex, as if it was so much better back then, and no one will ever have any sex even approaching the free love they enjoyed back in '68. They kind of do this with drugs, too, even though I'm willing to wager the pot and acid people do now is way more potent than whatever they were grooving to at Woodstock.

Many, perhaps even most, men in earlier times avidly sought sexual pleasure prior to and outside of marriage. But they usually distinguished, as did the culture generally, between women one fooled around with and women one married, between a woman of easy virtue and a woman of virtue simply. Only respectable women were respected; one no more wanted a loose woman for one's partner than for one's mother.

I'll say it to you again...The man who wrote this is a professor. A real one. At the University of Chicago. This is some ignorant, Victorian shit.

Leon has what we in the psychological field would call a Madonna/Whore complex. (Okay, okay, I'm not in the psychological field, but if Leon can say he's a sociologist, I should be allowed to imitate a psychology expert for a few paragraphs). He can only see women as paragons of virtue or cheap harlots, and he feels that women should be punished for violating codes of proper sexual behavior.

Why isn't it the responsibility of the man to behave properly around women, Leon? Why is it that there are two types of women - the marrying ones and the sluts - but only one type of men? What's with the antiquated double standard?

The supreme virtue of the virtuous woman was modesty, a form of sexual self-control, manifested not only in chastity but in decorous dress and manner, speech and deed, and in reticence in the display of her well- banked affections. A virtue, as it were, made for courtship, it served simultaneously as a source of attraction and a spur to manly ardor, a guard against a woman's own desires, as well as a defense against unworthy suitors. A fine woman understood that giving her body (in earlier times, even her kiss) meant giving her heart, which was too precious to be bestowed on anyone who would not prove himself worthy, at the very least by pledging himself in marriage to be her defender and lover forever.

How can a sociologist be this ignorant? I'm serious. He should immediately lose his tenure for this claptrap. It's embarrassing. All this talk of "fine women" and "virtue," as if those terms meant anything at all. And besides, the sorts of marriages to which he's referring, in ye olden times, were determined by class and social status. They were business transactions between wealthy families.

Notice that his virtuous woman was notable not just for abstaining from sex but for "decorous dress and manner and speech." Oh, how lovely, like something from an Edith Wharton novel. Drssed nicely, cultured and cultivated. You know...RICH. And then the men would go out and randomly fuck the poor, and therefore non-virtuous, whores.

What a charming worldview! Why wouldn't we want to return to a society that functioned this way, celebrating the glories of the virtuous, wealthy (and white) women and then banging some cheap slut in an alley for the cost of a farthing and a moldy biscuit?

I don't want to say that none of the things Kass describes are real-world situations. The sexual revolution of the Sixties and the sex-intensive pop culture today absolutely do have an impact on our minds and our society.

But this rant, the first in a promised (and needless) series of three, is brutally insane. The guy clearly has a great deal of hang-ups about women and sex, and to call his viewpoint as held back from the 19th Century is to be a few hundred years too kind. How many men of his generation still hold these sorts of ideas about the women around them? That they are solely responsible for being virtuous, that they become useless and disposable once they have lost their virginity, that they have no right to desire independance from a man or a monogamous, long-term, committed relationship, and if they remain single, it is a result of despondance and cynicism?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

If You're Happy And You Know It, Pull a Scam

Look at Tom DeLay's mug shot, courtesy of The Smoking Gun. Sure looks happy, don't he?

I think they must have told Tom it was a yearbook photo or something. Perhaps that's why he's scrawled "Have a bitchin' summer...KIT..." on the back.

Seriously, Tom, you're being booked on conspiracy and money laundering charges. That's what they charge mobsters with, you fool! You're in serious trouble! Stop grinning like an idiot!

I'm reminded of that line from Usual Suspects. Chazz Palminteri is describing to Verbal his technique for uncovering a criminal:

"First day on the job, you know what I learned: How to spot a murderer. Let's say you arrest three guys for the same killing. You put them all in jail overnight. The next morning, whoever is sleeping is your man. You see, if you're guilty, you know your caught, you get some rest. You let your guard down."

Well, Tom DeLay probably isn't actually a murderer. But he sure seems awful relaxed about this whole thing for an innocent guy. He's guilty, he knows he's caught...Why not take this opportunity to relax, let his guard down for a little while. Makes sense in a weird, twisted way.

Little Ricky

Now, I know they say correlation is not causation, but check out this little "coincidence."

Earlier this year, when I awarded Rick Santorum the first-ever Braffy Award for the Worst Person Alive (as chosen by the readers of Crushed by Inertia), he was the Senate's Golden Boy, the Prince of Pennsylvania. One of George Bush's most vocal supporters, author of a New York Times best-selling book, a leading Republican Senator with a good deal of name recognition considering a presidential run.

Now, post-Braffy, only a few months later, his re-election seems increasingly unlikely by the week and the White House won't take his phone calls. Is this merely a random confluence of events, or does the Braffy secretly have the power to destroy reputations and careers? Only time will tell...

Here's RADAR Magazine:

Increasingly dubious about Santorum’s chances, Capitol Hill sources report GOP powerbrokers have refocused their attentions—and dollars—on Doug Forrester, a little-known party hack who’s currently embroiled in a dead heat race with multi-millionaire Democrat Jon Corzine for New Jersey’s governorship.

“The party is pouring millions of dollars in PAC money into Forrester’s coffers, but most of that money was previously earmarked for Rick,” reports a well-placed Republican senate staffer. “It’s disgusting. Rick used to be Bush’s biggest booster on issues like stem-cell research, Social Security, and the Iraq war. Now the White House won’t even take his phone calls.”

Oh, man, this is gonna be so freaking fantastic, to see Rick Santorum drummed out of public life. America, you are genuinely starting to come around. You've hurt me in the past, and I swore I wouldn't get involved with a country again, but I'm starting to have feelings for you. That's all I'm saying.

Let's keep this train going...Indict all these old criminals and scumbags, replace them and all the other un-indictable ones with new and less experienced criminals and scumbags, and then let's impeach President Chimpface W. Bananas. And can we have some kind of "no more pardons" rule, because I'm sick of the next president always letting the ex-president and his buddies off so easy. Chimpface and Co. should be sent immediately to Gitmo for "interrogation."

The Guz

[UPDATE: I'm informed below in the comments section that this was a prank. Bravo, then, cast and crew of Waiting... You got me. But I'm still not seeing your movie.]

Who doesn't like Luis Guzman? The guy is hilarious in a number of terrific films. Unfortunately, it appears he's also kind of a total jerk.

Check out this fantastic behind-the-scenes clip of Guzman having himself a tantrum on the set of Waiting... Now, I haven't seen this restaurant comedy, because it looks like a ridiculous waste of time and I'd sooner watch another Joss Whedon movie before anything with Ryan Reynolds. And you all know how I feel about Joss Whedon's movie.

But you don't need to see the film, a low-budget comedy about waiters, to see that Guzman has an egomaniacal streak a mile wide. The director, Rob McKittrick, is making his directorial debut, and Guzman essentially refuses to take direction from him. At first, Guzman simply makes no sense, saying "I don't work with directors." Then, he insists that, if he does even one take McKittrick's way, that's the take they will end up using.

Finally, he launches into a diatribe about how important he is, and the great directors with whom he's worked, and he threatens to start bitch-slapping people. It's pretty humiliating stuff. Check it out.

And my thanks, as always, to the excellent humor site Gorilla Mask, responsible not just for this hilarious clip but also for about 60% of the traffic around here.

A Trojan Is Only Good Once

I just saw a very strange commercial for Trojan condoms. I think it was on ESPN, but I'm not sure exactly what channel the roomies have on in the living room. Maybe it's ESPN4 or something?

Anyway, it opens with a title card informing us that 50,000 people a day contract STD's, which is a really high number until you consider that 5,000 people each day sleep with just Paris Hilton. So that's 10% right there. Add in Tara Reid and Lindsay Lohan, and you're halfway there.

I'm not doubting the commercial's stats, although that is way high. That means, every day, you're probably encountering a shitload of people with herpes and genital warts. Gross.

The commercial goes on to inform us that the only way, aside from abstinance, to avoid getting one of these nefarious and unnamed STD's is to use a condom every time.

Fair enough. I can't take issue with that. The weird part is, the image on screen while that title card appears is a couple kissing through a barbed wire fence.

What? You want to compare the experience of using a condom to kissing through a metal fence? I mean, yeah, it's kind of funky for a few minutes until you get used to it, but it's just a little strip of latex. It's still at least semi-intimate. I mean, this is still sex, not Dachau.

A barbed wire fence. Are they insane? That's the worst image for a commercial ever. "Use our condoms...It's just like not having a condom, only there's this sharp, dangerous, jagged metal divider between you and the person you're fucking."

It would be like making a chili commercial starring an animated, talking toilet bowl. "Try Stagg Chili...You get the runs, but that passes after about 20 minutes and then you're just really gassy for the rest of the night! It's great!"

Woo Hoo! Three Day Weekend!

I have not had three days off in a row in some time. To be honest, I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do with myself over the next 72 hours. Usually, even if I have an afternoon to myself, there's that knowledge that I have to wake up and go to work the next day lingering in the back of my mind the whole time.

That sounds unpleasant, but it's actually very useful. You're motivated to go out and do things when you know you have to go to work the next day. Like grocery shopping, or getting haircuts, or doing laundry, or getting your car washed. For example, let's say that some scumbag Staff Pro working security at a rock concert happens to discover and confiscate the glass pipe you use for drugs. (Not scary drugs...pot...) You'd have to go up to Melrose Ave. and browse the smoke shops up there to find a new pipe.

But if you have three days off in a row, here's the refrain you're likely to repeat..."Ah, it's no big deal. I'll go tomorrow." Fair enough...I have today, tomorrow and Saturday off of work - I could theoretically get any number of errands done in that time.

Today, my friend Matt is coming up from Long Beach and we're going to have lunch, which I'm sure will be the beginning of a liesurely afternoon. Then tomorrow, I'll probably watch movies all day, broken up by a two hour block when I'll think about what I want to have for lunch intensely before giving up and going to Carl's Jr.

So I'll be leaving two days worth of "stuff to do" all for Saturday, just like I used to do with Sundays in high school. You remmeber that? I'd blow off all my homework and everything else you had going on Friday night, and forget about it until Sunday afternoon, when in a panic at 4 pm I'd realize I had a massive amount of crap to get done. My A.P. U.S. History teacher used to make us read through every chapter in the whole textbook while taking diligent notes, which is a pretty useful strategy for getting kids to digest information about American History, and also for making an entire room full of 15 year olds want to murder you while your sleep.

U.S. History note-taking was always a Sunday evening activity. Sundays, in that way, were essentially the worst day of the week. Even on school days, you'd get out with enough time to have a semblance of an afternoon to yourself.

And now I'm setting myself up for a big fall on Saturday with this new three-day weekend, I can feel it already. The trash has started piling up in my room, for one, and if I don't gather it together and throw it away soon, I fear the task itself may become overwhelming. It would be easier to simply move out of this room and turn it over to LA County for landfill use.

And then there's laundry! Last week, I tried to do laundry only to discover that the dryer in our building was non-functional. But of course, you only discover that a dryer isn't working when your clothes have...already finished a wash cycle. And are therefore sopping wet.

It wasn't too big a deal, really. I air-dried most of my smaller belongings, and for pants and sheets I surruptitiously used to dryer in the building right across the way. I've heard rumors circulating that the dryer might be fixed, however (thank God for those Spanish classes as a UCLA undergrad), so I think Saturday might be the day I give it another try.

I'm sure I could come up with 100,000,000 more little stupid things I should get done, but I don't want to bore you people. My point is made...sometimes, longer periods of time off suck because you accumulate busy work you would have spread out effectively if you were more busy.

My 101 Favorite Directors, 11-20

We're getting very close. This is the second to last list.

For some of the filmmakers in this little crop of 10, I may have favored them a bit because they are so underappreciated by the world at large. I feel like I'm always encouraging people to rent John Carpenter and Brian De Palma movies at the store because these are great movies that are really fun and accessable that, shockingly, tons of people haven't seen. I mean, aside from The Untouchables and Scarface. And a guy like David Cronenberg has his small culty fan base, but isn't really known outside of that, even though people are usually familiar with The Fly or The Dead Zone. I guess I want to root for the underdog, for the guys who have been making great films for decades under the radar. I'll admit to favoritism in that way.

And, just to give you a head start in figuring out who didn't make the cut, let me give you a head start. No Fellini, as I mentioned before. No Bertolucci or Rosselini or Visconti either. No David Mamet, who I had kind of expected to include, nor Terrence Malick which is sure to earn me the ire of Thin Red Line fans everywhere. No Richard Lester, even though I think Hard Day's Night is one of the best rock movies ever and Superman II rules. Tons of great old time noir directors - guys like Siodmak and Dmytryk and Raoul Walsh - just didn't quite get there. Often it was my fault - I just haven't seen enough of their films.

One thing this has really driven home to me...You can never see all the great movies out there. Never. We're talking 100 years of cinema, dozens of countries, thousands of people in every country making their own movies...It's an impossible task. You'll never see them all. Someone will always know way more than you. Frustrating, yes, but also exciting and full of possibility. And it makes an activity like listing your favorite directors, while distracting and amusing, rather pointless. They're only your favorites because they're the ones you like best out of what you've managed to see. Your real favorite could be on some compilation of the Best of Burundi Cinema that you'll check out when you're 45.

20. John Carpenter

Big Trouble in Little China was my first taste of the work of John Carpenter, a man whose name has rightly become synonymous with tongue-in-cheek, stylish, gory 80's horror. I faked illness one afternoon to get out of school and watched the movie, and I can now say with absolute certainty that I learned more playing hookey that day than I ever would have in 7th grade geometry. Like Big Trouble, and with the exception of his massively creepy remake of The Thing, Carpenter films aren't typically that scary, but they were always amazingly fun to watch, sly and creepy little treasures suffused with Carpenter's sarcastic sense of humor and healthy fondness for camp.

MY FAVORITES: The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, Halloween, Escape from New York

19. Terry Gilliam

Terry Gilliam earns automatic god-like status for me as a member of Monty Python, the single greatest comic troupe in the history of mankind. All 6 of those guys are personal heroes, despite their varying degrees of post-Python success. Even though he was the least visible Python during their actual tenure, Gilliam's had the best go of things since the break-up, turning the vivid imagination he once applied to Python's unique animation to fanciful, serio-comic entertainments of a surprisingly vast scope. Gilliam always seems to have a terrible time raising suitable funds to launch his creative projects, but it has given him the amazing ability (shared with non-list maker Robert Rodriguez) of turning low-budget features into beautiful effects films crammed full of dazzling imagery.

MY FAVORITES: Brazil, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, 12 Monkeys, Time Bandits

18. Francis Ford Coppola

I mean, what can you say? Godfather, man. The Godfather. It's a perfect movie. There's not a false moment, not a single dispensible scene or character, impeccably shot, realistic, heart-breaking, memorable. An ideal film. And Francis didn't stop there. He would go on to direct one of the definitive Vietnam films, one of the great paranoid thrillers ever made (featuring quite possibly Gene Hackman's best career performance), a pair of solid S.E. Hinton literary adaptations, a passable musical, even that Michael Jackson 3-D movie from Disneyland! Francies, come back to us...I demand you stop making derivative trash like The Rainmaker and Jack immediately.

MY FAVORITES: The Godfather, The Conversation, The Godfather II, Apocalypse Now, Rumble Fish

17. David Lynch

Surrealism is all but dead in the cinema. Back when movies were silent and black-and-white, by nature they were more expressionistic, less tied to strict realism. So more filmmakers would experiment with absurdist situations, Freudian imagery and non-linear storytelling. Modern audiences regrettably have no interest in stories of this nature, preferring to know in general terms exactly what will happen in a movie from one moment to the next. For whatever reason, David Lynch (and, to some extent, Canadian maverick and non list-maker Guy Maddin) has managed to rise above such expectations, creating vibrant, hallucinatory, introspective and witty films full of ambiguity and dream-logic. But even though he has the eye of an avant-garde filmmaker, his canny ear for dialogue and idiosyncratic sense of humor keeps the films grounded, prevent them from becoming too obtuse or dull. It's that delicate balance which defines Lynch's best films.

MY FAVORITES: Mulholland Drive, Wild at Heart, The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet, Eraserhead

16. David Cronenberg

There are a number of horror filmmakers in the Top 20, and even more if you include filmmakers who dabbled in horror along with other genres. I'm not quite sure what exactly about horror films so appeals to me. I suspect, on one level, that seeing extremely violent acts depicted for my amusement takes some of the actual terror out of them. But on another level, there's just some aspect of human life that is only explored in horror films like those of David Cronenberg - the odd collision of biology and psychology, of brain and flesh, and a sort of universal existential paranoia often referred to as "body horror." Cronenberg films pit protagonists not against some external enemy, but against their own bodies and minds. The enemy is within ourselves, which in many ways is scarier than any sort of black lagoon creature or invisible man. Plus, the man is just a natural filmmaker whose movies are trippy, genuinely frightening, full of tremendous effects work and visual imagination, and even eerily beuatiful in spots.

MY FAVORITES: Videodrome, The Fly, Scanners, Existenz, Naked Lunch

15. Werner Herzog

Remember when I said that Mel Brooks-Gene Wilder were one of the best matches of director and performer in film history? There have been a few filmmaker-actor duos on the list already (John Carpenter-Kurt Russell, for example). Well, this is the best one. The films Werner Herzog made together with Tuetonic wildman Klaus Kinski are absolutely breathtaking. Passionate, grandiose, frenetic, startling and deeply moving films about the endless struggle between ambitious men and a cold, cruel, unflinching universe. In addition to these masterpieces, Herzog completed several brilliant documentaries and films without Kinski (including this year's apparently mesmerizing Grizzly Man, which much to my shame, I have not yet seen). His films are among the most honest, brutal, epic, heart-breaking and visually resplendant in the cinema. Oh, yeah, and sometimes they're also hilariously funny.

MY FAVORITES: Aguirre: The Wrath of God, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, Fitzcarraldo, Stroszek

14. Brian De Palma

Quite possibly the most misunderstood filmmaker of all time, and clearly among the least respected of the Great American Filmmakers of the 70's. Everyone just says he rips off Hitchcock, which is to overlook the obvious. He takes Hitchcock films and make the subtext the text. Hitch was making sleek, stylish but mainstream thrillers that just had a lot of subtle and unspoken perversions around the edges. De Palma focuses his entire films intensely on those perversions. So whereas a film like Rear Window hints at the voyeuristic thrill inherent in watching films while telling a story about a possible wife-killer, De Palma's Body Double features a main character who is a shameless Peeping Tom and stalker, following around a neighbor lady in a drunken stupor for lack of anything better to do. But it goes beyond his homages to the Master of Suspense. All of De Palma's films obsessively bring to the forefront the sex, violence and plain weirdness that other films leave only hint towards. There are many filmmakers on this list I have praised for their impeccable taste and subtlety. De Palma is not one of those guys. In a film like Scarface, a gory gangster tale, he sees no need to keep the death-by-chainsaw off-screen, or to mince around the fact that Tony Montana wants to fuck his sister. It's right there in the movie. If you don't want to see that shit, if you want something feel-good and upbeat that keeps all the real anguish, misery and depravity of everyday life comfortably off-screen, go rent a Cameron Crowe film.

MY FAVORITES: The Untouchables, Scarface, Sisters, Carlito's Way, Carrie

13. Akira Kurosawa

Samurai films are often compared to Westerns, and there are certainly similarities between the genres. But Kurosawa's samurai films incorporate elements from just about every genre of film I can think of. They are rousing adventures full of wonderfully-choreographed, intense swordfights and sweeping cinematography. They are deep, contemplative character studies about duty, compassion and honor. Sometimes, they are adaptations of Western films or even Shakespeare. Provocative, sensual, exciting, epic, Kurosawa's best films rank as some of the definitive works of art in the cinematic canon. And many of them work purely as entertainment, including his departures from the samurai genre, like the amazing noir-y kidnapping thriller High and Low and the delightful late 40's cop movie Stray Dog.

MY FAVORITES: The Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, Yojimbo, High and Low, Ran

12. Joel (and Ethan) Coen

Hard to decide whether or not to put them both on here. They're often referred to as "The Coen Brothers," but technically the credits say Ethan writes the scripts and Joel directs, and they share producer credit. Anyway, until the disappointing Intolerable Cruelty and the completely flat and tedious The Ladykillers, the Coens had a remarkable streak of phenomenal films dating all the way back to their stellar debut, the gritty Texas noir Blood Simple. These guys are visual stylists of the highest order whose have brought their trademark quirky wit, graceful cinematography, quotable dialogue and eye for detail to a variety of genres with equal success. It was a conventional wisdom back in the 90's that the Coens were cold and distant filmmakers who hated their characters. But how many artists in any medium have given the world so many memorable creations, from Nicholas Cage's frantic H.I. in Raising Arizona to M. Emmett Walsh's shitheel detective in Blood Simple to Paul Newman's stoic and corrupt executive in Hudsucker Proxy to Michael Lerner's spastic studio head in Barton Fink to John Goodman's sublime Walter Sobchek from the now-landmark Big Lebowski to John Turturro's weasely Bernie from Miller's Crossing to Frances McDormand's Oscar-winning work as small-town sheriff Marge Gunderson in Fargo to Billy Bob Thornton's best-ever performance as the soft-spoken barber in The Man Who Wasn't There. I want the old Coens back...

MY FAVORITES: Miller's Crossing, The Big Lebowski, The Man Who Wasn't There, Fargo, The Hudsucker Proxy

11. Luis Bunuel

One of the figureheads of the early 20th Century Surrealist movement in the arts, and one of the most transgressive auteurs in movie history, Bunuel directed great films from...get ready for this...1929-1977. Yeah. And almost all of them are good. Back in '29, his career began with a 10 minute movie he directed alongside another artist of whom you may possible have heard, a Spaniard with a goofy moustache named Salvador Dali. Their landmark surrealist masterpiece Un Chien Andalou remains required viewing in film schools to this day. (At the time, Bunuel so feared an angry and confused audience reaction, he famously carried rocks in his pocket to the premiere). And in '77, he made the terrific send-up of obsessive male lust That Obscure Object of Desire, which uses the gimmick of replacing the actress playing the lead role halfway through the film to charming success. (It's a trick borrowed earlier this year by Todd Solondz for his terrific Palindromes). In between, Bunuel made a variety of films, some free-wheeling and alinear and some more narrative in nature. All of them share his wicked sense of humor, his elegant use of light and shadow, his perfect selection of soundtrack music and his sly intelligence.

MY FAVORITES: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Belle de Jour, Viridiana, The Exterminating Angel

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Down With Down Syndrome?

[UPDATE: Welcome, readers of Slate. Hope you guys like snark!]

I hate when people make passionate pleas for social change based on personal, anecdotal evidence. You may recall a post I ran several months ago responding to a Salon editorial bashing Wedding Crashers for racism. That woman had a patently ridiculous premise - that the lack of a black wedding in the opening montage of Wedding Crashers mirrors the lack of attention beautiful black women receive from men of all races every day, as both of these phenomenon are caused by implicit racism.

Her evidence? Well, men don't check her out too often in public. And it hurts her feelings.

Today, we have a Washington Post editorial from a mother whose daughter has Down Syndrome. It's wrong to abort a baby if you find out it's going to be born with Down Syndrome, she posits. Why? Because her daughter Margaret is happy and content.

Excuse me? That's ridiculous. Making blanket statements about what is right and wrong for people just because of how a certain situation worked out for you, personally is not journalism, you simp.

Whenever I am out with Margaret, I'm conscious that she represents a group whose ranks are shrinking because of the wide availability of prenatal testing and abortion. I don't know how many pregnancies are terminated because of prenatal diagnoses of Down syndrome, but some studies estimate 80 to 90 percent.

Okay, already this is unclear. Does she mean that 90% of pregnancies where the mother has been tested and the baby will be born with Down Syndrome are terminated? Or does she mean that 90% of the total number of babies who would be born with Down Syndrome are terminated, because of the increased use of the prenatal test?

Anyway, I don't really understand why it would be a bad thing for there to be less babies born with Down Syndrome. It's a syndrome, right? Almost all syndromes of any kind are at the very least unpleasant. No one wants a syndrome. Unless it's Big Dick and Bicep Syndrome.

I mean, it's not like anyone's suggesting that we do anything to Down Syndrome-afflicted people once they are born.

Imagine. As Margaret bounces through life, especially out here in the land of the perfect body, I see the way people look at her: curious, surprised, sometimes wary, occasionally disapproving or alarmed. I know that most women of childbearing age that we may encounter have judged her and her cohort, and have found their lives to be not worth living.

To them, Margaret falls into the category of avoidable human suffering. At best, a tragic mistake. At worst, a living embodiment of the pro-life movement. Less than human. A drain on society. That someone I love is regarded this way is unspeakably painful to me.

Does anyone think this? When you see a person with any sort of disability walking down the street, do you immediately think to yourself, "Well, I certainly wish that thing had been aborted. They are less than human." May I suggest that, if you do think this, you please avoid mating or serving as a legal guardian for any young people, because you, sir, are disgusting and twisted.

OF COURSE NOT! To argue that a woman should have a choice about whether or not to bring someone with Down Syndrome into the world has absolutely nothing to do with respecting the right of everyone to live with dignity and respect.

You know why? Because first trimester abortions are not killing babies, okay? It's not a little baby with Down Syndrome in there that we're going in and strangling with piano wire. It's a clump of fucking cells. A clump of cells that potentially could turn into a baby in a few months provided none of the million things that can go wrong goes wrong.

So let's stop, please, I beg of you, please, referring to abortion as baby-killing or ending a life or murder or any of that hokum. If you want to debate second or third trimester abortions, okay, fine, that's at least semi-valid. But Patricia Bauer, the woman who wrote this article, who I'm sure is a lovely woman motivated by compassion and tenderness for her daughter, is full of steaming horseshit.

Most people, even in Los Angeles, try their best not to pre-judge a person with disabilities. It isn't always easy, because without realizing it, we humans are a fairly superficial, petty species. We make judgements about everyone based on their appearance, social skills, hygeine, manner of speech, body language...All that stuff. But I think most people, at least most people with breeding and manners, try to treat anyone they encounter who may be differently-abled, with respect and tact.

Frankly, I don't think I get the same opportunity socially here in LA as the handicapped. People know they're not supposed to judge or mistreat the disabled, but unkempt overweight bearded Jew video store clerks are afforded no such exempt status. I get curious, surprised, wary, disapproving and alarmed looks every day, not to mention the occasional customer who will refer to me as an "insolent swine." (NOTE: That's a verbatim quote.)

She's conflating the ending a pregnancy early with the destruction of a life, someone's actual human life that's being lived. That's just a fallacy. Her daughter has every right to live, but who's to say the same thing about a collection of cells in some woman's body that might one day become a daughter?

Of course she loves Margaret despite the disability. Was there ever any doubt? Is anyone saying that they couldn't conceivably love a child withmental or physical problems? It's a question of pragmatism - could I raise a child with disabilities at this point in my life. It's quite an undertaking.

In ancient Greece, babies with disabilities were left out in the elements to die. We in America rely on prenatal genetic testing to make our selections in private, but the effect on society is the same.

Margaret's old pediatrician tells me that years ago he used to have a steady stream of patients with Down syndrome. Not anymore. Where did they go, I wonder. On the west side of L.A., they aren't being born anymore, he says.

You shrill idiot...Having a first-trimester abortion and leaving a live human baby out in the elements to die IS NOT THE SAME THING. And it might have the same final end result effect on the demographics of a society, that there are less adults with disabilities. But these are complicated moral questions without answers. Is it right to fiddle with Nature, to rig the deck in favor of more "idealized" children?

I have no fucking idea. That's a really hard question. But when we're talking about abortion, we're talking about a choice women make for themselves. This isn't Eugenics, where we've decided as a society to kill Down Syndrome fetuses to bring up the overall IQ rate. Obviously, that sort of genetic programming is monstrous. But it's not an organized system. It's a family making a decision about what's right for them. Who the fuck is Patricia Bauer to intrude or judge them? Remember? She's the one who is disgusted by the judging eyes of her fellow Los Angelinos!

And bringing up "West LA" is so cheap and easy. As if someone's financial status has anything to do with their ability to raise a retarded child. Yes, some people with money still choose not to have children. If they can't devote themselves to a baby 100% at that point in their lives, that baby is probably better off not being born. And if that baby is going to have special needs, and require even more attention and care? What then? A home in West LA means that any woman can shoulder this responsibility herself?

Margaret is a person and a member of our family. She has my husband's eyes, my hair and my mother-in-law's sense of humor. We love and admire her because of who she is -- feisty and zesty and full of life -- not in spite of it. She enriches our lives. If we might not have chosen to welcome her into our family, given the choice, then that is a statement more about our ignorance than about her inherent worth.

Oh, boo hoo hoo, Patty, I'm sobbing tears of joy. Your comment that Margaret has your husband's mom's sense of humor makes up for your total lack of logic and rationality. Let's never fight again! I should add, "zesty"isn't really a useful word one can use to describe a person. It's more appropriate for things like Spicy Jack Quesadillas.

I have to think that there are many pro-choicers who, while paying obeisance to the rights of people with disabilities, want at the same time to preserve their right to ensure that no one with disabilities will be born into their own families. The abortion debate is not just about a woman's right to choose whether to have a baby; it's also about a woman's right to choose which baby she wants to have.

Abortion is legal. People have abortions all the time. It's grisly and unpleasant and I don't personally revel in thinking about the intimate details of the act, but I know that it happens and that people have it done for all sorts of myriad reasons.

And I don't think there's anything morally wrong with it. Alive people always come before cell clumps as far as I'm concerned, even cell clumps that might one day sprout some hair and make googly noises and look cute. How can you mourn someone who might have been but isn't? Do you mourn the children you might have had with ex-girlfriends or ex-boyfriends? Do you mourn the brothers or sisters your parents never had? Here's a tough one...Let's say your wife has a fully-functioning uterus but your sperm are all out of alignment. If you adopt a kid, do you nonetheless mourn the babies your wife might have been able to bear had she hooked up with another dude?

Of course not. There's nothing there to mourn. No collected experiences. No "soul". No wants or desires or emotions or sensations or any of the other things that make a human being a human being. Just stuff. Material. Goo.

Well, I refuse to mourn or romanticize goo. I don't even like kids...How am I supposed to emotionally invest in the matter that eventually transmogrifies into kids? Basically, I just really resent that this woman titled her article "The Abortion Debate No One Wants to Have."

I want to have this debate! Let's go! You can take the "every little non-human fetus is precious, particularly the ones that will become retards, because my daughter is zesty" side. And I'll take the "shut up about the goo already, I'm trying to eat lunch and am sick of debating this non-issue constantly" side.

Monday, October 17, 2005


I don't know about you, but I sometimes become engrossed in old movies. To the point where I can forget that they are old, and almost expect them to conform to modern standards of decency and taste. It's one of the reasons that examples of racism is so galling in films of the 30's and 40's. Obviously, blatant racism is always upsetting to see in a film, but in a movie that feels otherwise sophisticated and contemporary, an offensive stereotype robs the film of its sense of timelessness, making it dated and old-fashioned.

Fortunately, though it features an African-American main character, Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat doesn't succumb to racist stereotypes. The 1944 film is, however, unabashedly jingoistic and xenophobic. If the film has any theme at all, it's this: "Never Turn Your Back on a Kraut!"

While understandable, this kind of abrupt nationalism and even fear-mongering is jarring to a modern sensibility. Even war movies today make an effort to view individuals as individuals, separate from the militaries to which they may or may not belong. Indeed, the alienation of the soldier from the army he serves is a major theme of contemporary cinema. This is not the case in Lifeboat, a tense and brilliantly executed thriller that calls for constant vigilance against the Fascist threat.

Very few filmmakers could have made a successful film out of John Steinbeck's premise for Lifeboat. A Merchant Marine supply ship is torpedoed and sunk by a U-boat in the mid-Atlantic. 8 survivors - including an injured seaman (William Bendix), a fast-talking war correspondant (the excellently-named Tallulah Bankhead), a nurse (Mary Anderson) and a scrappy British navigator (Hume Cronyn) - band together on a lifeboat to wait for rescue. They are soon joined by the commander of the German U-Boat (Walter Slezak), whose vessel has also just been sank.

What to do with their enemy captive? The castaways are split on how to deal with him. Some want to use his considerable seafaring abilities and knowledge of the local waters to their benefit, and then turn him in to the proper military authorities upon their return to civilization. The others want to, well, deal out their own justice.

Hitchcock, interestingly, tips his hand right away. The Nazi officer, who goes by Willy, hides his compass from his shipmates, and sets them on an improper course right from the start. He wants to go to a nearby German supply ship rather than make for the Bahamas, as the other castaways intend. Why let us know so early that the Nazi is planning subterfuge? It seems easier to create suspense later if we in the audience don't know Willy's intentions.

I can see a few possible reasons for Hitchcock to provide this information up front. Perhaps, in 1944, the British director was afraid to make a German character appear sympathetic, even for a few scenes. Even if he revealed in the end that Willy was a cruel manipulator who wanted nothing more than to send his new "friends" to the concentration camps, that's about 75 minutes of movie where a British and American audience would have to, essentially, root for a Nazi.

But it's also possible that Hitch saw the dramatic possibility inherent in the other survivor's reactions to Willy. We know he's up to no good, and the more that the weak-minded shipmates (like Bankhead's ego-maniacal and myopic reporter) fall for his schemes, the more it ratches up the suspense. Will the Americans discover the truth before it's too late? Will the one clear-headed survivor, engine room mechanic John Kovac (John Hodiak), convince his compatriots of Willy's malfeasance?

Hitchcock expertly weaves this material into the framework of a classic adventure story. There are storms, shortages of food and water, and a remarkable sequence in which Bendix's gangrenous leg must be amputated, without anaesthesia, by Willy, amidst rough seas, with what looks like a pocket knife. Ouch. (The operation is of course performed off-screen, but in a classic Hitchcock touch, we know it's over when an empty boot is cavalierly tossed on to the ship's deck).

If Lifeboat's only intention were to entertain, it would be a wholly successful endeavor. As it is, it's something of a historical curiosity, a lively adventure film with an odd WWII tilt. I can't say I wholly agree with its overriding message - that the enemy must be dealt with harshly and without mercy at all times, and that treachery is intrinsic to the German character - but, you know, those were different times, and it is what it is. German films of the time weren't exactly kind to my people, you know?

Worst. Voter Fraud. Ever.

Seriously. What kind of dumbass country has an election rigged by 98%. Um, Shiites, the whole point is supposed to be that we don't know your vote was a sham. When it looks like everyone except two Sunnis in Diyala voted for your Constitution, we know something's up. It's exactly the same bullshit Saddam Hussein used to pull. You don't want to be just like that guy, okay? Aim a bit higher, would ya?

Take a look at America, where elections are stolen cleanly and with the utmost professionalism. We don't just have policeman hiding ballot boxes in unfavorable neighborhoods. I mean, we have that, but we also have a whole bunch of judges in neat black robes who take it upon themselves sometimes to just declare winners of elections. Isn't that neat? Maybe you guys should try that. Just nominate nine random dudes to a court, swear them in, and then ask them who they think won. And if it's the son of the guy who helped them get the job in the first place, hey, who gives a fuck, right? They have robes on.

Now that's how you steal an election. This whole "soldiers breaking into a voting station and changing a majority of the votes" stuff is just amateur hour. Come on, Iraq. You're better than that.

Weekend at Bushies

This will be my next screenplay. It's a wacky comedy based on America's real-world Middle East policy. It will be entitled Weekend at Bushies.

We open in the mountains of Pakistan. A small cluster of soldiers, probably Army Special Forces, descend on an isolated cave dwelling. It's Osama bin Laden's hide-out. There's a brief firefight in which a number of turbaned "insurgents" are shot, possibly while spinning around in slow motion. Then the soldiers enter the cave and discover, to their collective shock, the dead body of Osama bin Laden!

Unfortunately, Bush and Cheney and all their cohorts in the media and Washington have been talking up the capture of Osama for years now. It's no good if he's dead! How can we argue for prolonging the conflict in the Middle East if the guy who blew up the World Trade Center passed away in early 2005 from kidney failure?

The choice is clear (and is stated clearly, in a clip that can be edited directly into the film's trailer)...Karl Rove will just have to devise a way to make it appear that Osama is alive. Probably through the use of wires that can be used to make it look like he's waving hello. Also, they'll have to put him in big oversized sunglasses.

Now, in case you think this is just a one-joke premise, consider all the possible tangents for such a story to take. What if the public seemed unconvinced that Osama was still a threat, and George Bush had to threaten the New York subway system, just to keep the public nice and afraid? That would be a pretty hilarious sequence, you've got to admit. Because, you know, it's so unlikely to really happen.

Or what if Karl Rove is arrested for treason because he leaked the name of an undercover CIA agent to the press out of spite, and George then has to fake the continued existance of not only his arch-nemesis but also his main advisor? See, the increasingly overwhelming complications, combined with the initial goofiness of the premise and the skillfull physical comedy that has made George W. Bush a legend in the comedy business, will make the farce all the more hilarious.

Anyway, you get the idea. In my head right now, I have the image of Karl Rove manipulating Osama bin Laden's dead corpse like a marionette in front of a TV camera, and it's goddamn hilarious. And it does point out a major major extremely large problem with this whole Iraq conflict thing. Without Osama B., who has been missing in action for a while now, we have no fucking idea who we're actually fighting.

As Larry Beinhart sagely points out in this post on Huffington Blog, a post that doesn't try to make its point in nearly such a silly, roundabout way, this whole Mideast misadventure has been based in ideology, not in strategy. There is no strategy, because we don't even have a real enemy.

Also when all this started on 9/11, Al Qaeda membership was in the hundreds, perhaps the thousands. Clearly the insurrection is a lot bigger than that. So either they’re not just Al Qaeda, indeed mostly not Al Qaeda, or we’ve managed to have Al Qaeda grow into the tens of thousands, perhaps the hundreds of thousands.

If we don’t know who they are and why they’re fighting, how can we figure out a strategy. How can we know if what we’re doing is moving toward a solution or making the situation worse.

According to the president’s plan we just have to hang on until the Iraqis have a government. How can we know if an Iraqi government, that we’re willing to let stand, can solve the problem? If we don’t know who the insurgents are, we don’t even know what the problem is.

By now, most Americans have realized the whole WMD in Iraq argument was a sham, an excuse to go to war. To my mind, that's why Bush's numbers are so blissfully low. Americans, taken as a group, are incredibly immensely stupid. It takes years for information to truly sink in to our national consciousness. Think of how difficult it is, when you have an argument with your friend, to bring them over to your side. Many times, people resist new information simply because it's new, and they have some perfectly good old information they've been relying on that hasn't let them down before.

But at this point, Americans know they've been lied to about Iraq, they know the fighting there is going to just go on and on and that minor victories like this new Constitutional referendum are just PR on behalf of a lost cause. And, once Americans have given their trust and had that trust violated, you're out on your ass.

So, great, fine, Bush is going to be a lot less powerful than he has been. I couldn't be more pleased about that. But there's a bigger problem. Beinhart's right - we're in this war and we don't even know who we're fighting.

Think of the terminology that's used in the media to describe our foes. Insurgents. Rebels. Pro-war nitwit Andrew Sullivan uses the delicious term "Islamo-fascists." Can you believe that? Islamo-fascists. I mean, they do love the forbidden dance known throughout the back alleys of Morocco only as The Islamo, but I thought...

Oh, wait, he means Islam Fascists. Sorry.

I just think it's inappropriate to name groups of people whose only connection to one another is fighting Americans. Because there are a lot of different kinds of people coming to Iraq in order to explode Americans, and a lot of other people from even more disparate backgrounds flying all over the world to explode other people in subways, buses, embassies and nightclubs. Are they all Islamo-Fascists, Andy? Do you get a membership card or something? And let me ask you this...Might that card be laminated?

Calling them fascists is so simple. I mean, perhaps these are people who would favor a fascistic theocracy should they ever get the chance to run a country, but right now they're just guys with AK's running around city streets, hoping to lob an explosive device towards a Humvee on behalf of Allah. We don't refer to criminals and enemy combatants by what they one day hope to become. When the cops bust a guy selling stolen guns out of his trunk, they don't book him as an International Arms Kingpin. He's just some low-level scumbag.

Also, fascists typically wore costumes, which makes them easy to recognize. Indiana Jones never had to wonder whether he's wandered into an unsafe area where he might find a collective of Teutonic adversaries; he can tell the Nazi stronghold because there's swastikas on every available surface. How do you know if the guy you're fighting is actually in al-Qaeda. Those guys don't even have a logo. No branding effort at all by their marketing team, really.

We're an army without a goal or mission, stranded in a desert, shooting at anything that moves. Oh, yeah, and we're trying our best to teach a bunch of these guys how to be good firemen, cops and Senators despite the fact that (1) most of us don't speak Arabic, (2) most of them don't speak English, (3) shit's exploding everywhere all the time, (4) most of them hate our fucking guts and (5) our country's pretty low on good firemen and cops itself, and I doubt there's more than 5 actual good Senators anywhere in the world.

The administration – and the military and the intelligence services – have apparently failed to figure out who they’re at war with.

The media has failed, and continues to fail, to ask.

The media just goes ahead and covers it as if it’s a macabre video game in which the generic insurgents have no motivation, no goals, no politics. All they want to do is pop up and shoot at our guys. Which gives our guys the opportunity to shoot at them. Over and around the pop up civilians. And, as with Grand Theft Auto, there’s no particular penalty for killing civilians and bystanders. Our guys have lots of weapons, including tanks and armored vehicles, jets and missiles, bombs and artillery. They have AK-47s and IEDs (improvised explosive devices). We hole up in compounds, they disappear into the population.

YES! Speak on, brother.

If we don’t know what they’re fighting for, then, our only available response is to keep on killing, and getting killed, until one side or the other gets just plain tired of it. General Westmoreland called his official strategy in Vietnam the “meat-grinder.” He believed that if we kept grinding them up they would quit. They didn’t. There is nothing to indicate that our plan in Iraq is anymore sophisticated than that.

This is the fog of ignorance.

So, I can hear my conservative friend Cory asking, what's the solution? Just leave them to their own devices?

A few months ago, I would have said "no." I would have said that we have made this unfortunate mess because of a poorly-planned military action I was against from the very very beginning, but that we now have a responsibility to clean up after ourselves. I thought we were mandated to remain in the country until it was stable, with an infrasturcutre able to function on its own and relative peace.

As I no longer think such a vision is possible in the near future, or possible at all while American troops remain in the country, I now would say we should begin to pull out of Baghdad immediately. Like, tomorrow.

Now, before you say, "But there would be a Civil War!," let me remind you that there is already a civil war going on in Iraq. The difference is that, in addition to attacking one another, both sides are attacking 18 year olds from the Quad Cities as well. That's all I'm suggesting.

Hostile Encounters With Minors

I don't much like children, and children don't seem to care for me. I think a lot of my hostility towards kids is based around the fact that I shouldn't have to deal with children, and yet I still do. In fact, I have based my life up until this point around the concept of isolating myself from loud, noisy, obnoxious and, yes, smelly children.

I'm 26 years old, male and single. I work in a video store, but not a Blockbuster-style "family friendly" video store. Rather, I work in the kind of video store where Porno Holocaust and Images From a Convent are the hot rentals. Let me put it this way...Any customer is equally likely to hand you a copy of The Little Mermaid as they are Anal Sorority Fuck Kittens #6. And, if they do hand you Anal Sorority Fuck Kittens #6, you better get them #6, buddy, and not #5, or you'll receive a stern reprimand.

To me, that sounds like a lifestyle that's essentially kid-proof. I mean, yes, sure, there are situaitons where actually being in the same vicinity as someone under the age of 13 is impossible. You may, for example, be invited to a Bar Mitzvah or, worse yet, a bris. You may require emergency medical assistance and desperately need a hospital, only to find there are some children there.

Unfortunately, despite my careful planning, I have to deal with kids all the time. Young, loud, aggressive kids who don't respect my authority despite the fact that there's a solid chance they might not be able to beat me up.

For example, despite my fondest wishes, some children actually do accompany their parents or guardians into the video store, usually to loudly demand either Out of Print, unavailable Disney titles or programs with long, foreign-sounding names like Yuki Yuki Super Girl Action Hero Goyokin Fighting Squad X-4 (Ultra-Starburst Edition). Many of these boxes feature strange, hologramic cover art simulating the experience of doing psychotropic drugs with a talking robot.

What follows is a brief catalog of hostile encounters with the underaged. I offer it to you as evidence that children and the child-like should be kept away from me, preferably through the use of paralyzing darts or some kind of sonar technology.


My apartment building sits opposite from another identical building. The two edifices are divided by a long driveway. Both buildings contain a surprising number of occupants - far more, I suspect, than the public housing code would permit. And these additional residents, being from a...let's say primarily Catholic background...happen to have a lot of children. A lot of children. A huge amount of children.

You remember old-school Nintendo games, where you'd be walking through the maze and you'd have to find the portal that spawned all the enemies, and you'd have to destroy that portal or else enemies would just keep coming out of it forever, no matter how many you killed? I think, secretly, one of those portals sits just beneath my apartment building, except instead of spawning bug-eyed turtles or little mushroom men, it spawns loud, hyperactive, screechy children with a penchant for lobbing tennis balls at or near my bedroom window prior to 7:30 a.m.

The children have claimed that driveway as their own, in a Spanish conquistador sort of way. Rather than a flag bearing the Queen's Crest, they have a multitude of bicycles, scooters, wagons, baseball bats and notebooks with messages like "Me Gusta Green Day" scrawled on the front cover strewn about haphazardly. It marks the territory the same way.

On one occasion, I was in my car, arriving home after a long day of work. If you can imagine the absurdity, I was actually attempting to drive the car down the driveway! What can I say? I must have been on angel dust or something.

I'm about a third of the way up the driveway, which is as far as I can go without physically ramming into small boys in glasses staring vacantly ahead. One of the boys yells to me, but I can't hear him, as I have the window closed. I always drive around my apartment building with the window closed for just this very reason, but in a moment of weakness, I lower the window.

"Don't crush the rocket!" the boy is yelling.

For the life of me, I can see no rocket ahead of me. I can't see anything ahead of me, except for an asphalt driveway and about 10,000 children.

"There is no rocket," I respond, not without hostility.

"Don't crush the rocket!," the boy yells louder.

At this point, mercifully, another child leapt into the scene and pulled Rocket Boy out of the way, allowing me to move the car a few inches further, in order that I should confront whatever surreal juvenile encounter awaited me next.

I later deduced, based on physical evidence left at the scene, that one of the building's actual residents had watered down the driveway, and that the kids had been playing in the ensuing gritty, gravely, wet junky mess. They had built something of a ramp with loose dirt and gravel, and I think this child was confusing the word "rocket" with the English word "ramp," a thing that might conceivably launch a rocket.

Unless, that is, he actually had some small plastic rocket there which I crushed while driving past. God I hope so. Serve him right, the little bastard.


A couple comes into the video store with some frequency, accompanied by a horrible grubby little boy who I will refer to as "G." I hate G. I also hate his parents, who foist G on me with some regularity. G is the sort of child who insists on handing the clerk the money when he goes into a store, who simply must run up and down every aisle of the store on every visit, and who occasionally will enjoy a nice sit-under-the-bargain-racks-at-the-back-of-the-store-and-take-a-dump-whilst-no-one-is-looking bowel movement. And his parents are exactly the sort to condone such behavior.

One this particular occasion, G was seated atop the counter at the store while his mother was fumbling through her purse looking for a credit card. G shouldn't be sitting on a counter top. G shouldn't be sitting anywhere with any moving parts or things to pick up, ever, because G is an uncontrollable menace. Ideally, he would live entirely inside some sort of elaborate restraining device, a travel strait-jacket if you will, that would prevent him from wrecking havoc of any kind on anyone's work station.

Alas, such an invention does not yet exist outside of my imagination, so G was free to throw every item within reach around, pick up and plot down all the items necessary for me to conduct a relatively simple business transaction, and even (yick) touch me with his snot-covered hands that have been...well, that have been God knows where. G obviously has no qualms crawling along the video store's floor, which isn't exactly what I would consider sanitary, so who knows where else he's shoved his stubby limbs in the past 24 hours? And now they're on my person. Terrific.

At this point, G's mom begins to become frustrated with his constant squiggling, and says "Will you sit still! I'm trying to pay this man!"

And, of course, I overstep my bounds. Thinking that the woman is being unreasonable in chastising a boy who clearly lacks any form of impulse control on any level, I blurt out "Maybe he shouldn't be up on the counter at all!" A bit louder than possibly I should have.

Let me tell you...The rest of that transaction was tense...


The other night, my friend Cory and I went to Westside Pavillion to see Capote. It's a 9:50 show on a Friday evening. Neither of us had hot dates this week because Cory was exhausted from his long week and I meet zero women my age in the video store where I spend all my time. Zero. My co-worker, who shall remain nameless, meets about five Bond films worth of available women a week. Me, I got nothing.

Anyway, Cory and I are about to enjoy the 800,000 trailers for films about quirky romances involving plucky, bookish women who don't think they'll ever land a man that will proceed Capote when we realize a couple has brought a baby into the theater.

And I don't mean a toddler or an immature man. A baby. A little baby in a stroller. Into a 9:50 Friday night showing of an R-rated film about brutal murders and their aftermath. How appropriate.

I seriously for a moment thought, "They must just use a baby stroller to carry around valuables. Maybe she has shoulder injuries that prevent her from carrying a purse and he refuses the indignity of a fanny pack. That must be it. Because that can't be their actual live offspring in that carriage. That would be far too inappropriate."

But, no, it was a baby. Fortuntaely, the baby sat quietly for the first half of the film. Then it babbled for a while. Then it kind of half-cried. Then, I think the prolonged sitting in a dark room full of strange noises and shouting while being ignored by both parents shocked the baby into a kind of stupor that allowed us to enjoy the rest of the film unimpeded.

I contented myself with the following notion:

That baby will one day grow into a person, and a lot of people wind up having that "what was the first movie I ever saw in a theater?" conversation. I know mine...A re-release of Disney's Robin Hood. Maybe not one of the greatest Disney films, but one that will always hold a certain degree of fond recollection for me. Also The Sword in the Stone, because I had it on VHS growing up and watched it over and over and over and over again to the point where I remember all the words to every scene.

Anyway, if that baby ever asks his parents, they surely won't tell the truth - that they snuck the poor child into a late show of the Phillip Seymour Hoffman biopic about Truman Capote, thus potentially traumatizing the poor boy for life. They'll probably make up some bullshit, whatever kids movie comes out in another year or two. Ha ha, you little bastard! I know more about your early mental development than you ever will!


Work starts at 11:30 a.m. The time is now 11:24. Do I have time for Coffee Bean? Hmm...Well, it is Sunday, and the roads are pretty clear on Sundays, so let's say it's only 3 minutes to work. If I leave right this second, I get there at 11:27. Let's say coffee takes, on average, 6 minutes from entering the shop to exiting with the hot beverage...Even figuring extra time waiting to access the sweetner/stirrer area or a possible queue to order my Regular-sized house blend, it's still going to be only 11:33 or 11:34 before I actually arrive at the store. That's an acceptable amount of lateness! Let's do it!

One problem...I can't even get to the counter to place my order, thus setting in motion the chain of events that will lead me to leave the coffee house and get to work. It is being blocked by a woman and her two horrible horrible children.

This woman has not just a stroller for her young child, but an entire mobile playset accompanying her other child, who's around 5 I would guess. I'm serious. This thing is a massive gadget on four big black wheels, a roving plastic monstrosity that takes up approximately the same amount of space as a Toyota 4-Runner. Only this is noisier.

So this behemoth, more mobile home than toy, is blocking one aisle completely. That would be the aisle generally reserved for, you know, the people wanting to actually order and receive coffee and coffee-related beverages (and, sometimes, if they are feeling a bit peckish, chocolate croissants).

The other aisle, the aisle generally reserved for people who have received their delicious drinks and pastries and want to leave, is also inaccessible. This houses a screeching infant in a stroller, who is taking up the majority of the woman's attention. So much attention, in fact, that even my repeated "ahems," foot-tappings and even "Excuse me's" went completely unheeded.

How to proceed in such a situation? What do I do next? As I see it, my potential respones boil down to two essential options:

(1) Admit that, as a man, I have been thwarted by a woman and two children. Leave the coffee shop in shame. Go to work without a caffeinated beverage, blaming your puffy eyes and poor attitude on exhaustion.

(2) Push this hag and her rotten spawn aside, and venture forth to coffee.

Let's say no more than I opted for the latter choice.

Okay, I'll say some more. I didn't actually push the hag. Rather than attempt to push aside the enormous playset, and probably breaking either it or some vital bone in my leg in the process, I thought to pass the woman and her stroller. I began my attempt with a move I can only describe as "a sidle." I sidled up to this lady and tried to, in essence, swing my ass around in order to get past her.

My ass, regrettably, is not as small as it could be. It ran into the wall. Now, I was in kind of a spot. I was pressed against this woman, who up until this moment had not even heard me or realized I was trying to get by her. I could have backed up, just given up on the maneuver at the halfway mark...but this was specious. Think about it...If I didn't try to get past, it might appear that I had just walked in off the street and pressed my body tightly against a mother attending to her young child. Not good. You can get 8 months in Chino for less.

No, the only way to go was to forge ahead. Mercifully, Mom got the idea. "Oh, excuse," she said and sort of meekly pushed forward herself and her stroller so I could get by. Ordering my coffee, I felt a fleeting moment of embarrassment and shame at my behavior, barging ahead and knocking this woman aside just so I could get some coffee and get to work 1 minute earlier. I mean, let's face it...If I were truly serious about arriving promptly when expected at work, I would have left the house with more earlier, giving myself more time. Or I would have just skipped the coffee.

Nah, fuck her. I didn't tell her to breed.