Saturday, January 31, 2009

Beetle Build - Day Three Point Five

Milestone day for the Beetle. Roger & I fired up the wrecking machine at oh eight thirty. Prepaired it for departure.

Pulled out the seat belts. Pulled out the old duct work from behind the dash. Cut out every single un-needed cable (which was most of them.) Smashed some under-seat heating vents. Roger ripped out more ancient air conditioning hardware. I scaped up the last bits of tar-paper. Together, we put a hurting on Roger's trashcan.

And finally, with the Beetle stripped down as far as we could possibly strip it, we loaded it up on a trailer to ship it off to the body shop.

Found a cat that owns a body shop. He's going to hook up the interior. Take care of the rust. Slick it out. Get it finished in about 10 days. And we'll plop in the rest of the parts to make it go.

Maybe have it all done by the end of March.

MOVIE: Pineapple Express

The plot is pretty straight forward: a stoner and his dealer find themselves on the run after witnessing a cop murder another drug dealer. Sounds straight laced, but Pineapple Express is far from it.

This is a modern day Cheech & Chong movie, with white dudes and guns and enough laughs to almost make me whizz myself. Scene after scene, I was weeping with laughter. I haven't seen anything this funny all year. And man, oh man, was it good. I wish I had seen it at the theater, with some of the friends and a couple of drinks under my belt. I would have spontaneously combusted under those conditions.

The acting from the main characters was great. The antagonist was a bit weak. The writing for the protagonists was fantastic. Unfortunately, the rest was unimpressive and trite. As long as the story centered on the trio of heros, the writing was enthralling. During the odd slips to the other points of view, it dragged.  Pretty good direction, except for the aforementioned lapses. Fantastic dialog, though. Very entertaining and full of surprises.

May have made a good date flick, on a light-hearty comedy night. Definitely not for the kids. Not even the mid-teens. Lots of adult themes and scenes. Great rental. Wish they'd bring it back to the big screen. I'd go see it again.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Modern Political Insanity

Einstein once said: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

And that is exactly what we have now: modern political insanity. Upon reading the actual text of HR1 (the bill flushing another $819,000,000,000 down the drain) the insanity is all too apparent. Our elected officials intend to use more money to do everything we've already done. And they expect that throwing away another trillion will have different results than the first trillion (or so) that we've thrown away.

Here are some of the highlights that caught my eye:
  • It aims to try (again) to loosen monetary conditions. This has proven to be a complete failure. The last bajillion dollars we "loaned" to "investment banks" only went in their vaults to collect dust OR in the Executives' bonus package, OR toward the purchase of other banks. The only thing that did NOT HAPPEN was the loosening of monetary conditions.
  • The bill promises (again) to give Americans some spending money. Unfortunately, nobody can remember a similar attempt in the second quarter of 2008, where $170B was sent back to the taxpayers. Only 17% of recipients "spent" the money. The other 83% of us (including me) either put it in savings, or paid off existing debt. The vast majority of the money was NOT "spent," and did not jumpstart the economy. 
  • It allocates $4.5 billion to the Department of Defense. Not that we needed to add to the existing $514.5B 2009 Defense Budget!
  • It allocates $900M to Homeland Security. Not that we needed to add to the $132B 2009 Homeland Security Budget! (Which is already >10% higher than 2008's budget!)
So here is what I predict:
  • Congress somehow thinks they can outsmart the banking Executives. Our politicians honestly believe they are smarter and more devious than seasoned financial professionals who have already stolen several hundred billion dollars of taxpayer money. Those Executives already got away with the biggest theft of public funds in American history without any punishment. But our elected officials promise that things will be different next time. Congress says they will be able to hold Executive feet to the flames and "make them starting loaning money." Another trillion or so will go to the "financial system." And that trillion or so will disappear. Just like last time.

  • Congress will try to pacify the sheeple by giving us a thousand or so of our own tax dollars back. We won't spend it on a Ford or a house or a Blue Ray Player. Instead we'll bank it or pay off debt. Just like last time. And Congress will shrug their shoulders and feign tears and pretend they don't know why their valiant efforts didn't "jump start" the economy. Just like last time.

  • Once "the states," get ANY amount of money that is given for "infrastructure projects," that money will disappear, too. Almost every state is suffering from deficits. They will happily accept taxpayer money. But it won't go to roads or bridges or anything else it is earmarked for. And it certainly won't go toward 3,000,000 - 4,000,000 new jobs.

  • The Department Of Homeland Security (or some faction of the federal government) may end up being the only source of "new jobs." Of course, it will be ineffective and inefficient and eventually overages and budget cuts will give up some or all of the new positions.

  • Next summer, once our current surplus of oil is depleted, foreign (ie: Chinese and Indian) energy consumption continues to rise, and the continued production decline by OPEC of crude oil take hold, American gas prices will approach their previous levels.

  • And finally, in the middle of the year, we'll have torn through TARP V2.0. Everyone we elected to fix it will say "we tried," and we'll line up TARP V3.0 and TARP V4.0.
We'll see what happens by July. 

What would I have done differently? Reduced the Defense Budget. (Nobody other than China can raise any significant armed forces against us, and China needs us to be their primary consumer of their products!) Invest in projects that REDUCE dependancy on gasoline (ie: increasing spending the creation of roads only encourages more driving.)  Increase spending on national broadband capacity. Increase the tax credit for ANY home buyer, not just "first time" home buyers. Increase spending on revitalizing small agriculture, transitioning people back to organic food industries. And last, but not least: let the investment banks go through bankruptcy (let the bond holders and investors carry the burden, not the tax payers!)

Our elected officials want to try the same things that have already failed. I say: stop the insanity! Try something new. 

But I herd electric sheep. What do I know?

MOVIE: The Departed

Combine equal parts Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, and Martin Sheen. Then mix them all with a dash of Martin Scorsese. Pour it into a chilled martini glass, and you get: The Daparted.

You got cops on one side. Irish mafia on the other. Moles trading sides. Lots of blood. Some twists. And plenty of top notch, award-winning acting.

Pacing was mostly good, but stretched in places. Dialog was spot on. Stellar direction. And extremely good writing, for the genre. Sorry I missed this one on the big screen.

Probably not the best date flick, unless your Special Other is into the actors or crime dramas. Certainly not for the kids, or the faint of heart. But its one heck of a good Man Movie.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

My Girls

I spin down for the night and find a surprise waiting for me.

Not only is Meg in my bed, but she and Baby Meg are twined around my bride. That's Cindy on the left. Meg on the right. And Baby Meg in between them.

I like the leg casually flopped over Cindy's hip. And how you can't tell where one mane of hair ends and the other begins.

A typical night for my girls.

MOVIE: I Heart Huckabees

I Heart Huckabees is touted as a comedy. I think it is more of an odd infomercial. The plot centers around Albert (Jason Schwartzman) trying to solve the riddle of why he sees a mysterious stranger three times in one day. He hires Bernard (Dustin Hoffman) and Vivian (Lily Tomlin,) a pair of existentialist detectives. They make Albert sign a blood oath which allows them to spy on his every move. And when he catches them, they wax philosophical on their views on life, nature, and reality.
Aside from would-be philosophers, I don't think this film will attract many followers.  The actors (Hoffman & Tomlin) are top notch, but they can't raise the dead. The story is briefly interesting, but quickly tedious. The dialog is frequently stilted. And the directing is average, at best.
It's like a crash course in modern philosophy. Not something I'd recommend to anyone but the overly curious. Avoid showing it to a date or to kids. Unless you want to go to bed alone or put the children to sleep early.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

TOOL: Hemp Converse Chuck Taylor All Star High Tops

A subtle modern spin on the "classic" Chuck Taylor Hi Tops. Different sole. Very light light, but durable. And made of hemp. Even says so on the tag. Hemp!

Hard to find locally. I opted to get mine off Amazon. Great price. Great product. Arrived quickly and quietly.

The shoes are as comfortable as my first pair, 20 years ago. But I don't remember having trouble getting them on. These days, I have to loosen laces, pull up the tongue, and dips my toes through at a steep angle. Maybe I didn't pay as much attention back then. Maybe I'm just not cool enough.

That's probably it. Too old and crunchy. But, so what. I'm going to pry them on, anyway.

That's how I roll these days.

MOVIE: Transformers

All jelly and no toast. Transformers had major flash on the outside but no substance or depth in the middle.

You got good robots. You got bad robots. They fight. Smash up a bunch of stuff. Some kids almost get clobbered.

The good: Great graphics. Fast pace. Loud. Major destruction.

The bad: Completely devoid of any other redeeming features. Very predictable. Somehow LESS creative than the cartoons. And while there was a great deal of action, there weren't any interesting fights. An empty Hollywood shell of a movie. Had potential. But flopped.

Worse of all, it wasn't for young kids. There were some scenes with themes no suited for anyone less than a late teen. Thankfully, Liam missed the scene and I didn't have to explain it to him.

Not sure it would make a decent date flick. Cindy would have skipped it. Worth renting if the store is empty.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Iceland officially gives up the ghost.

If you want a glimpse of what could (note I said COULD) happen to America, check out Iceland, or what is left of it.

Late last year, Iceland pretty much confessed that it was completely bankrupt and its financial system was insolvent. First, the local banks were nationalized. Then Iceland's stock market collapsed. Next they froze their currency rate. As a result, almost every other nation stopped trading / exchanging the Icelandic króna. Finally the locals (all 300,000 of them!) refused to do business with their "new bank." They took out everything they could, and put their money in other national banks. Leaving a complete vacuum in their wake. Eventually, the country had nothing left.

Flash forward to the present, and today the government of Iceland has abandoned ship. A new new government will have to be formed. They have to rely on the International Monetary Fund for a "loan" to get them through their new meager existence. And eventually the assets of the entire country will have to be re-evaluated and used as collateral for a re-fi on the whole nation. In the end, all the citizens will bear the load. The debt will linger for decades, or more, to come.

So. In less than a generation, Iceland has gone from one of the wealthiest countries in Europe to a nation of paupers dependent upon handouts.

To recap: Iceland bank were nationalized. (Sound familiar?) Their stock market collapsed. (Sound familiar?) And then there was a run on the banks. (Hrmmm....) Finally resulting in an abandonment of their government (One can hope...)

Could it happen here? Probably not. But a year ago, the Icelanders thought it was impossible, too.

And we certainly seem to be sliding down a similar slippery slope.

Monday, January 26, 2009

MindSpring Revisited - Christian Schreiber

I had the dubious pleasure of working with Christian Schreiber during my tenure in MindSpring's NOC. He helped expose me to some interesting cultural movements. Anyone who knows Christian, knows what I mean. He's unique in the universe.

I was pretty much still a country mouse from South Mississippi and Christian would spend hours talking to me about different genres of music and indie movies and other ephemera. Thankfully, Christian was not only patient, but fairly moderate and I'm sure much of my social tolerance was due to our time together in the MindSpring trenches.

Eventually, I went off to a long string of dotbombs, and Christian went off to Netrail. But we still swap emails a couple of times per year. He sent the following updates to his adventures:

  • How were you involved with MindSpring?
    I started working in the tech support department back in '97 under several bosses:
         - Ty Welch
         - David Mallon
         - Dave Farley
    Then I moved to the NOC where I worked until June of 2000, whereupon I left for a European vacation after liquidating all my MS stock (Apparently 2 months before Charles did). George Williams hired me on. I worked with a variety of characters over the years. All my memories are quite fond and some of the most fun I've had I ended up having on the weekend evening shift, since I was such a nightowl. I worked with (In no particular order):
         - You, Jon McDougal
         - Less Lincoln
         - Al Munoz
         - Toby Smith
         - Adam Chesnutt
         - Frederic Delius
         - Sven Olensky
         - Amy Wyman
         - Stanley Cline
         - Pat Young
         - David Hester
         - Idzam Baharudin (sp?)
         - Chris (Can't remember his last name -- glasses, black hair, misanthropist, hell of a programmer) (NOTE FROM JON: Christian means Chris Moates.)
  • What was one of your favorite adventures at MindSpring?
      - I would have to say that when we did the Backdeck parties. That was hella fun.
  • Share a memorable event from MindSpring?
      - I was sitting on the back of Pat's car when he was going up the ramp to the top deck and I slid off of his car and cracked the hell out of my head. I swore I had a concussion. Oh, and all the smoke breaks on the deck. :)

  • What is something other SpringHeads might not have known about you in those days?
      - I was actually bilingual -- French and English

  • Why did you part ways with MindSpring?
      - Why does any adventure happen? I met a girl and went to Europe with her for a month and a half. I then went over to Netrail (of Brandon Ross fame)

  • What are you up to these days?
      - I'm a Network Security Consultant for a Fortune 25 financial corporation in NY

  • Did you learn any lessons at MndSpring that you still carry with you?
      - Several I still fondly remember the 10 CV&Bs that we lived by. I try to spread those whenever I can. Somehow, corporate America doesn't seem quite as receptive as Charles would have done it. I still have work to do..

  • Is there anyone that you would like to get in touch with or find out what happened to them?
    - Yes, I'd like to know whatever became of Carter Calle, Dave Farley and Ty Welch..

MOVIE: In The Valley Of Elah

It has been a good week for movies at Chateau McDougal. And I struck gold yet again with In The Valley Of Elah. Never heard of it (came out in 2007) until a friend recommended it. And I'm glad he did. Superb movie on multiple levels. And the fact that it did not get its due recognition from the media and critics borders on criminal.

Fairly simple premis: A retired military investigator (Tommy Lee Jones) works with a police detective (Charlize Theron) to uncover the truth behind his son's disappearance following his return from a tour of duty in Iraq.

The acting is exceptional. The direction masterfully shifted between Iraq flashbacks and criminal interviews and detective work. Oh! Did I mention Susan Sarandon? She is the kid's mother and adds even more layers to this already complex puzzle. Again, brilliant performances on all parts. Wonderful dialog. Perceptive and insightful writing. Fantastic pacing. Everything is ellusive and questionable right up until the final few minutes. 

Very very very enjoyable. Would have made a great date movie. (Yet another good one that I wish I had seen with Cindy.) Not good for the kids. Maybe interesting for the late teens. Certainly worth renting or marking on Netflix. Wish I had seen this earlier and wish I had watched it with the love of my life. It's just that good.

Dual Woes

Cindy's woe du jour: Her eyes are dry and red. They feel like there is sandpaper under her eyelids.

Liam's dual woes: His stomach was upset (he was making himself sick with worry and I stayed home with him) and his head hurts. He thinks it is from fever.

Head and belly.

Cindy and Liam.

Dual "woe is me."

MOVIE: Harlan County USA

Released back in 1978, I recently grabbed Harlan County USA after it was recommended by a friend. The summary says: This film documents the coal miners' strike against the Brookside Mine of the Eastover Mining Company in Harlan County, Kentucky in June, 1973. Eastovers refusal to sign a contract (when the miners joined with the United Mine Workers of America) led to the strike, which lasted more than a year and included violent battles between gun-toting company thugs/scabs and the picketing miners and their supportive women-folk. Director Barbara Kopple puts the strike into perspective by giving us some background on the historical plight of the miners and some history of the UMWA.

Harlan County USA is a very enlightening documentary about an interesting piece of rural history. Of course back in the early 70s I was a wee toddler, so I don't remember any of the events. But I know that today's liberal media would be alllllll over it if they had the chance.

Simple, back-woods folk fighting to maintain a bare minimum of a life for themselves and their families (some of them didn't have running water or their own bathrooms) in the face of a profit-hungry mining corporation. The miners were armed with axe handles and angry wives. The mining corp had the cops in their pocket and a shifty mine foreman that cruised around in his red pickup taking random shots at picket lines. Very interesting balance of citizens versus a Plutocracy. In the end, after a 10+ month strike, I don't think anyone won the fight.

It is a documentary. I enjoyed it. But I like semi-obscure pieces of history being elaborated upon. I will say that I fond it to be somewhat pro-union. Perhaps labor unions were required almost four decades ago. Seems that way, but I don't know for sure. The director spent a lot of time showing "what the union can do for you," yet only a few moments mentioning that radical pay increases required by the union would increase the cost of the end-product, and the consumers would bear the buden of that price increase. 35yrs later, most big businesses know that "Happy Workers = Productive Works," and I personally don't see the value of a labor union in most situations. Still, Harlan County USA made me much more aware of why some folks join a union, and I can see the value it added for them.

Not a date movie. Would bore the kids. Very niche audience. I liked it and think it is worth a rental on a slow weekend.

MOVIE: The Visitor

In The Visitor, a mind-numbingly depressed college professor heads to NYC to give a talk on a paper he "co-authored" only to find a couple of illegal immigrants squatting in his apartment. And everything unfolds from there.

Very powerful acting from everyone involved: Richard Jenkins (as Prof. Walter Vale,) Haaz Sleiman (Tareek,) Danai Jekesai Gurira (Zainab,) and Hiam Abbass (Tareek's Mom.) Moving stuff. Superbly natural interactions and dialogs. Subtle, but deeply touching and thought provoking. It was worthy of at least some NOMINATIONS for an Oscar, but as far as I can tell, it was unduly snubbed.

Very well written and directed. Low brow, close to the bone stuff. Fascinating and subtle portrayal of New York. Made me want to visit. Nothing fancy or elaborate. Just a good plot, good pacing, nothing overwhelming or distracting from the meat of the tale, and a fantastic performance by the cast.

Amazingly, I had nothing to complain about. And I'd happily sing additional praises about The Visitor. But saying too much would detract from its value. Bottom line for me: one of the best indie movies I've seen in a long while.

Very good date movie. I wish I had seen it on the big screen with Cindy by my side and a tub of popcorn. While it is safe for kids, I don't think they'd appreciate it. And it is absolutely worth a rental. Put it on the Netflix queue immediately and thank me later.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

MOVIE: Afro Samurai Resurrection

The second season of Afro Samurai aired on SpikeTV tonight. In the words of Reverend Meinsler, IT WAS MAGNIFICENT!

The cartoon isn't for everyone. Especially children! It contains an abundance of foul language. There is more blood per scene than 1984's Red Dawn. Cartoon nudity. And a smattering of blatant misogyny. Not for the faint of heart.

That being said, I loved it. The graphics are gorgeous, extremely detailed, and very stylized throughout the entire event. Insanely good writing. Combining sci-fi, westerns, modern urban themes, and (of course) traditional martial arts elements. Stupendous sound track. Mostly rap-esque, but it complimented the action and blended in very well. Great direction with the proper amount of flashbacks and foreshadowing. And top notch voice acting from Lucy Lui and Samuel L. Jackson. (The running commentary from "Ninja Ninja" continued to steal the show.)

It was a little less creative on the plot than last time. My main complaint being that I didn't really accept the outcome of initial fight scene and had further trouble accepting the way that Afro was forced on the road to the Number One Headband. Sure, "the hero's journey" has to be set in motion, but the catalyst this time wasn't very clever or exciting.

Otherwise, a great great great cartoon. Worthy successor to the first one. I pray there is a third.

Can't rent it, yet. Don't want to watch it on a date. 100% Man Show. I strongly encourage any full-grown-boys, like me, to watch it after the kids go to bed.

On Aging

So I'm watching a YouTube video, "Down To The River To Pray." Suddenly the timbre of the girl's voice and the lyrics and the harmonies come together behind my eyes. All alone in the house, I start crying. Softly whispering the song to myself. Goosebumps creeping down my arms the whole while.

Don't know where that came from.

Aging sucks.

Aging is sublime.

And abhorrent.

And flawless.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

MOVIE: Nacho Libre

I can't say that I am overly fond of Nacho Libre. I do like Director Jared Hess (who did Napolean Dynamite.) I do like Jack Black (the wrestling protagonist.) And this film did have some very funny moments. But those were too few and too far between to keep me more than remotely entertained. It was too serious in places and not funny enough in most others. It winds down quickly, but not quickly enough. And I honestly can't remember more than a few fleeting moments of it. Though perhaps that isn't such a bad thing.

Acting had potential, but fell far short of its target. Directing was interesting, but only briefly. Dialog didn't induce seizures and kept me awake. The writing had originality in places. Few places. But there was nothing memorable about the music, costumes, or anything else in the movie.

Perhaps a good flick for hard-core Jack Black fans. But nothing I care to see again. Probably wouldn't recommend it for a sober date. It's almost low brow enough for the kids, but it would likely bore even them. Maybe watch it on SpikeTV for free, but no hard earned money should be spent on it.

New Computer Desk

Ever since we moved into the "new house" three years ago, I've been using a makeshift computer desk. Of course by "desk,"  I mean an empty Dell PC box. It was ratty and flimsy. A tool of necessity rather than desire. Getting a replacement wasn't really high on my "to do" list. The box served its singular purpose without any problems. And without any thanks. However, we both knew its days were numbered,

Today, while shopping for toys and videos for the children, I came across an attractive, inexpensive replacement for the empty Dell PC box. Big Lots was having one of those inventory reduction sales. And a special item caught my eye. Made in America. Simple design. Clean lines. A subtle, slide-out keyboard tray. And one lone cabinet to hold my shizzle. Oh yeah, it was dirty cheap, as well. Pretty much all my favorite characteristics rolled up in a single sale.

So, I bought it. (Not even thirty bucks.) Along with a Barbie Kitchen set for Meg. And rented Destroy All Humans for Liam. Thus, with the children distracted, I was free to get my build on.

Thankfully, American construction is still a thing of beauty. On top of the aforementioned modern design, the desk was not only easy to build (I seriously only used my VPX cordless screwdriver and a small hammer!) but surprisingly sturdy once it was assembled.

I removed the tattered,  old, empty Dell PC box and replaced it with my modern, new computer desk.  While I was at it (and since I had a lot more surface area) I finally replaced that single 19" screen with my trusty old dual 21" screens. Haven't used those since my days In Atlanta.

Very very happy with the result. Not only is it cleaner, easier to maintain, graffiti-free, and waaaaay sexier, but I almost tripled the amount of screen space I have available to me.

I just have to organize the cables (couldn't find the velcro strips right away then got antsy to fire up the computer) and I can check off another lingering project.

Friday, January 23, 2009

MOVIE: Burn After Reading

The summary for Burn After Reading reads: A disk containing the memoirs of a CIA agent ends up in the hands of two unscrupulous gym employees who attempt to sell it.

That brief description doesn't do justice to the tale which quickly unfolds. From the opening scene to the closing shot, it is a fantastic movie. The whole foundation of its success rests upon the talent of all the actors. Of course it is a laundry list of first class performers: George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, and Brad Pitt. Each of them was brilliant. I could write a paragraph about every character. Suffice it to say, they were all phenominal and enthralling.

Great writing. Superb direction. Simple, but powerful dialog. Good pacing, but the scope of the story bordered on confusing. No major effects and if there was a sound track I missed it.

Really enjoyed the movie. Would have enjoyed it more with my bride. Certainly a top notch date flick. Not not not for the kids. No doubt it is worth renting.

Unmentioned Facts

So my friends on The Right ping me a couple of times today. Rapid fire a barage of "I Told You So." Point me toward articles saying: Barrack should reconsider closing Gitmo.

The short version is: A prisoner named Said Ali al-Shihr was freed from Guantánamo, sent back to Saudi Arabia, and is NOW accused of being the second-ranking Al Qaeda leader in Yemen. And taking this to some logical Right Wing conclusion, we should reverse Obama's recent executive order and detain these rest of the prisoners indefinitely.

The thinking appears to go something along the lines of:
  1. "We" released al-Shihr from Gitmo
  2.   Al-Shihr is now associating with Al Qaeda
  3. "Obama" wants to release everyone from Gitmo
  4. Everyone we release in the future will associate with Al Qaeda
  5. Therefore we shouldn't release them, so they won't associate with Al Qaeda
While I agree that we should not release anyone we are certain will turn around and immediately attack us, I think it is important to consider a few unmentioned facts:
  1. Al-Shihr was released a year ago.
  2. Al-Shihr did not have any sort of trial.
  3. Al-Shihr was investigated / detained / interogated for four years. At the end of that time, his "handlers" in Gitmo decided that he was safe to release. Not four minutes of researching this action. Not four weeks, not four months, but four years worth of contemplating what to do with him. Everyone involved contributed to his release.I doubt it was a choice made flippantly. 
Now when I consider everything, I'm left with two possible conclusions:
  • Either Al-Shihr spent more than twelve hundred days under constant observation and still managed to cleverly fooling dozens (if not hundreds (if not thousands)) of intelligent people and convinced them that he wasn't a threat to our nation.
  • Or four years of research and "enhanced interrogation techniques" proved he wasn't a threat before we capured him (Al-Shihr claimed he was a carpet merchant and traveled to Iran for supplies) but... he became a threat after being subjected to prolonged exposure to American hospitality at Gitmo.
Either Gitmo is a failure at identifying bad guys, or it is producing bad guys.

Neither option has to do with Obama's recent executive decision. But both options make me agree with that decision.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

In The Barbershop

Overheard while in the Barbershop today.

Patron: I still pay a mortgage on a house that doesn't exist.

Lady Barber: They call that a ghost house.

Patron: Sometimes, I feel like a ghost.

Don't Fix What Ain't Broke

This is a tightly guarded secret. Nobody in the media will report it: the American economy is not broken. 

Sure, almost every measurable metric is down: consumer confidence, spending, travel, and so on, and so forth. But I don't think there is anything wrong with it considering that instead of spending, Americans are finally putting something into their personal savings.

Sure, a part time house painter making $20,000 per year can't get a mortgage to buy a 900 square foot shack in CA for $350,000. But I don't see a problem with that.

Sure, America isn't buying 17,000,000 cars a year any more. And we aren't chewing through 1.15 billion cell phones a year any more. But I don't see a problem with buying a new car every ten years and a new cell phone every two or three.

America isn't broken. We are finally saturated. After a decade of over-buying, over-spending, over-consuming, we have stopped being frivolous.We don't need four cars, eight TVs, a media room, or a TIVO that can record every episode of Sapranos and stream it to a four hundred dollar iPhone.

Our politicians don't want us to save. They want us to take out the fattest mortgage possible and build another Super-Sized McMansion.  They don't want us to conserve. They want us to consume. Spend. Spend. Spend. Deplete our every resource. Debt is good. Debt is American.

It isn't a recession. It is a return to normallacy. But the media won't say that. And our elected officials deny it with every breath.

I have a suggestion for them: don't fix what ain't broke. The sheeple are fleeing the Imaginary Land of Milk & Honey. They're finding more familiar pastures. Less expensive ones.

I, for one, am not looking back.

MOVIE: The X Files - I Want To Believe

The X Files - I Want To Believe didn't do well at the theater. It didn't break $30M at the box office. This is likely due to the fact that it was a horrible, third-term abortion of a movie. It would have sucked for a one hour episode seen for free on television. It Double Extra Value Meal sucked as a full blown movie.

Acting? Abysmal. Writing? Pathetic and unmotivating. Dialog? Rehashed from the worst parts of original nine seasons, especially the completely useless and tired lines about Mulder's long-since-dead sister. Action? Snooze fest. Effects? Juvenile at best, inducing a gag reflex the rest of the time. Any redeeming value what so ever? None. A blight on the genre.

The fact that Chris Carter was actually involved with this rotting corpse of a movie is unimaginable to me. It was a disgrace to the original series. It would be like Michelangelo taking an explosive, steaming dump all over the David.I can only guess he took the gig strictly for the money. Maybe he has cancer. If I had brain cancer that resulted in rancid grey matter slowly leaking from my ears, I would be able to write something as pathetic as The X Files - I Want To Believe.

Very disappointing movie. One of the few that I'm glad I didn't see on the big screen. Not a date movie. Not something to show the kids. If I had the money, I'd buy every copy in Mississippi and melt down to slag. Nobody should be exposed to this failure of a film. It borders on capital punishment. Cruel and unusual capital punishment.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Riddle Me This

Riddle me this: Why is it acceptable to pay for all the mistakes of rich bankers but it is anti-American to nurture our less-fortunate Americans?

Riddle me this: Why do GM, Ford, Citibank, and Bank Of America deserve our help, but 45,000,000 uninsured Americans don't?

When trillions of our taxpayer dollars go toward the purchase of financial institutions, millions of which are given away as bonuses and none of it can be accounted for, The Right says "we have to do it," and they call it: NATIONALISM. They say, "we're nationalizing the banking system," giving it a green light.

When we propose any amount of money to go toward improving the health care system, providing for the less fortunate, ensuring that every single American has access to medical care, and we provide for the health and well-being of all our children, The Right says, "We can't do that!" and they call it: SOCIALISM. They compare it to the Communist Soviet Union. They declare it is anti-American.

I'd rather insure a child than give a CEO another million dollar bonus. I'd rather ensure that a WWII Veteran has access to health care than fund another renovation for an Auto Executive's weekend house in the Hamptons. I'd rather preserve life than perpetuate greed.

But what do I know? I'm just an angry, aging, middle class computer goon. And I can't even answer my own riddles.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

MOVIE: Gangs Of New York

When you kill a king, you don't stab him in the dark. You kill him where the entire court can watch him die.

That is what Gangs Of New York is about, killing a king.Of course it takes nearly three hours and a great deal of violence to get there. But the movie is an absolute piece of art and well worth every minute.

It was award winning across the board: acting, directing, costumes, cinematography, and writing. Everything was memorable and moving. The pacing slightly dragged while the characters where being devloped. There was a great deal of voilence and blood.

Daniel Day-Lewis is a god among insects.

It is one of the few movies I look forward to seeing again. A very rare thing these days. I don't think I've said that about any movie in the last five years. 

Date flick? If the lady can tolerate the blood. Kids? Certainly not! I wouldn't even suggest it for teens. But Gangs Of New York is very much worth a rental and even buying. I even have the soundtrack!

Realized The Dream

"Inauguration" is from the Latin word: inauguratus. Which is "to practice augury." And, of course, augury is "divination from auspices or omens." So by performing an inauguration, we are divining the future. As a country gathering to shape our own future. Putting our fate in one man. Hoping, perhaps praying, that he'll lead us from this new-found gloom of ours. Back into the light.

These are interesting times to be alive. For the first time in my life, I watched a live inauguration. (I never cared enough to do it in the past.) And today, we all watched Barrack Obama take his 35-word oath of office. Cindy and the kids did it from school. I watched online, via CNN + Facebook. Live footage combined with live commentary from hundreds of thousands of people across the globe. All of us taking part in the most historic inauguration in American history since the very first one was held two hundred and twenty years ago. How many lives were connected for those hours? How many people smiled?

The stock market plunged 4% (the worst ever loss during a swearing-in.) But interesting enough, even though nearly two million people showed up to watch the event live in Washington DC, there were no arrests today. No riots. No fights. Just a collective sigh of relief as one era came to an end and another began.

It took almost half a century, but finally America realized the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. And we did it without bloodshed and violence.

I hope it is a good omen. For us all.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

MOVIE: Stealth

Flashback to 2005. Wasn't a good year. Hurricane and all. Missed this one in the theaters. Probably would have been better on the big screen. Still wasn't too bad on the small screen.

Stealth is about a new fighter jet being tested by Lt. Henry Purcell (Jamie Foxx) and two other pilots under his command. Lots of semi-interesting technology. A smattering of the spectacular. Some good versus evil. The initial antagonist learns from his mistakes. A few near-surprises. And there is much rejoicing in the end.

I liked that they didn't really turn Stealth into a "technology is evil, humanity is good" thing. I liked the slightly-in-the-future spin. I liked most of the action sequences.

I didn't like the over-done ending sequence. Very typical "50 Bad Guys Can't Shoot One Good Guy" scenes. Didn't like the stereotypical "enemy."

Acting? Pretty uninspiring. Dialog? Trite. Direction? Not worth mentioning. Pacing? Not bad. Effects? Fairly good.

Won't score well on a date following this movie. Older kids might like it. Younger kids won't. In a couple of years, it will fall line with Roadhouse and Rambo on Spike TV during "Gonad Week."

Beetle Build - Day Three Point Four

Yesterday it was 22 degrees in the morning. Today it was 65 degrees. Much easier to work on the car when I'm not drowning in four layers of long sleeved shirts.

Still working on the exterior. Took off the bumpers. Saving consideral weight there. And bumpers aren't required in the Honorable State Of Mississippi. Robbie stripped them off in no time while I worked on changing all the break lines. (The old ones were cracked and/or leaking.) Roger "re-packed the bearings" on the front brakes. And then we tried to work on the bake brakes.

The rear axles on the Beetle has a "castle nut" on the each end, held in place by a cotterpin. We're supposed to take out the pin, remove the nut, and then get access to the inner workings of the brake. Unfortunately the castle nut was completely and utterly seized up. Four grown men couldn't remove it. Air tools didn't work. Raw force didn't work. Heating it with a torch and taking a mallet to it didn't work.

Hoping to get with a body shop this weekend. Figure out what to do with the inside. Once the inside is cleaned up, we'll put in the electronics. And then it is go time.

A productive day. But I'll be thankful when we've moved beyond the babysteps.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

MOVIE: Final Fantasy - The Spirits Within

This one came out in 2001. I missed a lot of movies back in those days. Liam was only two. Meg was on the way. Cindy and I did a lot of staying home for a long time.

Final Fantasy - The Spirits Within (linked per Ron's suggestion!) was probably breath-taking eight years ago. The graphics are still beautiful. At times I'd forget it was a digital cartoon. It has a level of detail that hasn't been matched by anything since.

But aside from the graphics, there wasn't too much going for it. Weak acting. Predictable plot. Unimpressive writing. Lot's of potential, but it rapidly puttered out.

Not a date movie. The kids will dig it, though. Good for a break from the norm for sci-fi fans. Worth renting if there's not much else happening.

Long Drive

You know you're in for a rough day when you fire up the car and the first thing you see is: 666. (Click the image!)

Not only was it a karmic bummer, but it was coooooold. At least cold by South Mississippi standards. 22 degrees. So cold that as we were prep'ing the truck, my hands started to ache. Deep down in my old bones. Had four layers of clothes to keep my torso warm. Needed some gloves for the claws, though. But, seriously, you don't see gloves too often down here. Only slightly harder to find would be a snow plow.

Anyway, simple plan for the day. Drive to Tallahassee, FL. Pick up some gear for a project. Drive back. The only problem is that Tallahassee is over 300 miles east. Five hours, each way.

Fortunately for me, unfortunately for my story telling, it was an uneventful trip. We actually made it over there in about four and a half hours. Had a good tail wind. Nobody else on the road. Dad napped. I drove. That was about it.

We GPS'ed to the Tallahassee Technical College. Picked up the gear. Stretched our legs. And cruised back. More uneventful hours. Took almost five and a half hours to get back. No tail wind. But nobody on the road. Dad napped. I drove. That was about it.

Got a nice triple Rockstar Zero for my efforts! Otherwise, my Saturday consisted of a long drive. Meh.

Friday, January 16, 2009

5 Other Things President Bush Protected Us From

Since many of my friends enjoy telling me about how we are all much safer from terrorism and how there were not more attacks on American soil, thanks to everything Dubya did, I thought I’d take up the gauntlet and spread the gospel about his very-much-unreported OTHER efforts. No, not immigration reform or encouraging economic stability! Important stuff that REALLY mattered to you, me, and Him.

5 Other Things President Bush Protected Us From:

1. Robot Invasion – None of those socialist, anti-freedom robots dared to rise up during Bush’s eight year administration and enslave humanity. Skynet? Nope. HAL? Nope. The Matrix? Hell, no! None of them had the metal cohunes to even try it.

2. Meteor Invasion – That intern-loving Billy Bob Clinton had not one, but TWO such invasions during his administration, as documented in Deep Impact and Armageddon. During the Bush Years, no rocky or metallic extra-solar terrorists were able to enter our country or reduce our cities to molten ruin. Bush had a hard stance on meteors and often crossed swords with NATO and the UN to combat the evil objects directly. Asteroids and comets also found themselves stopped at the US border, unable to make entry and act on their vile twisted anti-American philosophies. Bush proved that they could not take our freedoms from us while he was at the helm.

3. Global Cooling – In the 1970s, Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Carter all had to battle Global Cooling. In the 21st Century, President Bush single handedly put the final nail in the coffin of Global Cooling. Sure, the Kyoto Protocols got in the way for a while. But nobody is talking about Global Cooling anymore, are they? Two words for the haters: Global Warming? Mission Accomplished!

4. Black Hole –Few people know, but it was actually George W Bush’s idea to shut down the Superconducting Super Collider in Texas. Billy Boy Clinton just pulled the trigger on the idea. President Bush decidedly made sure Americans didn’t have to suffer the indignity of being sucked into a black hole during his tenure! Now everyone in Texas knows, “Give an egghead a super collider once, he’ll shame you with a black hole that eats its way to the center of Texas. Give an egghead a super collider twice and…. Fool me – you can’t get fooled again!” So there weren’t no high dollar, ground breaking scientific work done in the United States during the Bush Administration. Sure, those geeks in Geneva built that fancy Large Hadron Collider, but their black hole will only devour Switzerland (and hopefully France!) Not Texas or America or any place on Earth.

5. Terrorist Volcanoes – Anyone remember Pompeii? How about Krakatoa? No? That’s because those countries were killed by terrorist volcanoes! Well, not on George W Bush’s watch. No, sir! Not one single American fell to these rocky enemies of freedom. He wasn’t going to let any rivers of magma or pyroclastic surges sweep across this great nation while there was blood flowing through his veins. And for eight long years, every morning he woke up to read about the volcanic activity taking place across the Earth. But not in America! People may not have agreed with his tough, preventive stance on volcanoes. But he stayed the course. And the magma surge did not work. Sure, there are unconfirmed rumors and wild speculation about Volcanoes Of Mass Destruction underneath Yellowstone National Park. But President Bush served his time and those speculators about super volcanoes will have to take it up with President Barrack Obama and Fred Flintstone.

6. Clone Wars – This one wasn’t well publicized, so it didn’t make the Top Five. But thankfully Bush had high quality intelligence reports brought to him by his long time friend and ally: democratically elected Queen of Naboo: Padmé Amidala. Forewarned about the 2002 attack of the clones, Bush immediately put a stop to any and all funding for rouge stem cell research. And thus prevented a clone uprising. Unfortunately the Left Wing Media spun it into a Movie Of The Week or something and everyone thinks it is fictional. But at the end of the day, America if free and cloneless thanks to President George W Bush’s commitment and strong convictions.

I'd like to personally thank George W Bush, and his family for their time and efforts on my behalf these past eight years. I'm much safer than I ever would have guessed I'd be. And I owe it all to you.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

One Less Bush

In honor of my cohort, the right honorable Ron "Devil Dog" Meinsler, I watched President George W. Bush's farewell speech on FOX tonight. One of those pieces of history that I'll look back and remember I was a part of it.

Here are my thoughts on the speech:
  • Liked that he seemed genuinely gracious toward his own family and toward Obama's family.
  • Liked how he ended paying tribute to the American heroes in our Armed Forces.
  • Liked when he pointed out that every day and every decision was related to American security, in his mind.
  • I agreed that freedom should be universal
  • I agreed that he did mark new ground by gaining the ability to seize terrorists' funds

  • Didn't like how everything ties back to 9/11. It ratified my opinion that we didn't keep an eye on our own domestic situation (ie: finance) and failed to do what we were supposed to do abroad (ie: capture OBL..)
  • Didn't agree that we should sacrifice our freedoms or moral standards in order to pursue mythical enemies (ie: declaring "war on terror" as if somebody named "terror" will sign a peace treaty with us, or we can capture "terror" and control "terror" and democratize "terror.")
  • Don't think he mentioned immigration. If he were really concerned about securing American peace and freedom he would have invested as much in border security as he did in invading Iraq.
  • Completely disagreed with his apparent thinking that the "financial bailout" did any good at all. Unless giving taxpayer money to banks so that they can horde it, pass it along as bonuses / perks, or use it to buy other banks can be considered a good thing?
  • And I don't think he fully articulated how different the country is now (unemployment / debt / entrenched in two wars) than when it was handed to him (low unemployment / surplus / peace) eight years ago.
As for the speech, it was better and less smug than I thought. However it didn't carry any tone of regret for our current situation.

Do I think it "was all Bush's" fault? Not at all. But I don't think he made any significant use of his powers to make things right or dictate a course for this country other than where we are right now. I don't blame Bush for everything. I actually think the useless, over-paid, under-performing Democratic Congress of the past two years holds more of the blame. They could have cut the purse strings on these wars. They could have brought more oversight into the banking systems. They could have passed comprehensive immigration reform. Instead, they did nothing they promised to do, allowed more of our kids to be killed in Iraq, and allowed the banks to pollute the financial air we breathe, all during their watch when they have the power to make changes.

At least Bush is leaving. And he did so with a modicum of grace. We're stuck with the Chicken Dems for a couple of more years.

MOVIE: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Yes. The full title is The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Based on a 1983 book by Ron Hansen. As can be imagined, it is the rise and fall of Jesse James, along with the aforementioned Robert Ford. It was a slow mellow whirlwind of a movie.

To be honest, I liked it, but I didn't "get" most of it, except the ending. I got that much. But I seriously had trouble following the movie sometimes. It was a long, flowing piece of art. Required too much concentration through out the whole thing. I'd forget characters except Jesse James and Robert Ford. Everyone else was like trying to figure out which Hobbits are hanging out with Frodo Baggins.

Visually fantastic. Slow but methodical pacing. Stellar acting, especially that Aflac kid. Interesting dialog. Heavy handed, slightly stilted writing. Good direction. Had potential but only delivered in the end.

Could be a date flick. Perhaps the ladies "get" it better than I do. No way the kids would sit through it. Probably not the twenty-somethings, either. Worth a rent during a snowstorm.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Recovering, Finishing, Vowing

Better day. Woke up more clear headed. No problems driving into the office. Only a minor vertigo attack right after lunch. Nothing like last night. Wore off after perhaps fifteen minutes of sitting still at my desk.

Finally finished a three day enterprise upgrade. Probably 500 people involved. Every property effectively offline the whole while. Only fourteen hours behind schedule. But better late than never. Somehow it escaped media attention. Not like our stock has gone anywhere but down since October.

After a long confessional with Reverend Meinsler, I made a solemn vow to him. I promised I would go cold turkey on Crackberry Driving. (Checking my Blackberry on the road.) His exact comment upon hearing what an idiot I am was:

"You'll do that until you kill a child in a car seat and severely injure her mother"

He's right. Of course. So I made an oath to stop. Immediately and forever more. Miss an email and spare a child, is my new motto. Crackberry be damned.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Vertigo again

Not good. After 11 hours on the job, I thought I'd cruise home, enjoy some dinner with Cindy, and watch American Idol. Sounded like a good plan. Didn't work out.

Instead I hit a bump on HW90 and the unexpected movement threw me into an instant vertigo attack. I had been hurting most of the evening, but it was a sudden and violent change that was drowning me in seconds. I couldn't see straight the last half of the drive. Everything dragging to the right. To the right. To the right. A struggle just to keep it straight. But I stayed on the road. Kept thinking, "Have to get home, have to get home!" Fought a wave of panic the whole way. One eye closed. My shoulders hunched up to my neck. Pushing my thumb into my temple. Absolutely hideous and demoralizing. Completely powerless to control my eyes or my vision. Just short of driving completely blind.

Made it home by crawling down back roads and turning corners as slowly as possible. Couldn't stand when I stopped. Couldn't get out of the car. Had to sit deathly still for ten minutes. Gnashing my teeth and clenching my eyes. Ambled to the door with staggered baby steps. Fumbled the keys. Scratched up the door. Made it through and kept staggering and started stripping on my way to the bedroom. Collapsed on the bathroom floor. The stone tiles cold against my check and arms. Didn't get the heaves or the hot flashes, thankfully. Kids didn't see me, either. Cindy kept them at bay. Crept to the bed on all fours. Peeled off the rest of my clothes. Piled every last pillow onto my face. And crashed.

Before it was over, I would sleep almost fourteen hours. Losing half a day and missing my fine dinner with Cindy as a result.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Biloxi Sunset

A slow Biloxi sunset.

I breathe a sigh of relief.

An hour of this and a drink under my belt, I'd kiss God right on the mouth.

The rest is just noise. 

(click the image for a larger picture)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

MOVIE: Shotgun Stories

Powerful, powerful, powerful movie. Two Southern brothers locking horns in the wake of their father's death. It all goes sideways very quickly and sucks everyone down the drain in their misery. Deeply moving stuff. Very much on the mark and overly familiar. Not sure if anyone north of the Mason Dixon line would swallow it, but I wanted seconds.

High marks for everything: good acting, good writing, fantastic dialog, and great direction. Pacing might have been a touch slow. I thought it was too brief. Left some elements dangling in the wind that could have been tied up neater. But overall it was success on all fronts, for me. Hope it gets some awards one day. Some nominations at the very least.

Good date flick, especially for a Southern couple. Not for the kids. Would probably bore the teens and maybe the twenty-somethings. Very much worth a rental.

Beetle Build - Day Three Point Three

Not much progress today. The weather kept us away, yesterday. I had some choirs this morning and didn't get over to Roger's until noon. We only had a couple of hours to work and spent it on the brakes. Roger's a seriously talented mechanic. I don't know that he's ever worked on a Beetle, let alone one 30+ years old. But he completely disassembled the brakes, reconditioned them, and got them working again in no time. We ended up needing some brake cables (the old ones were cracked and/or leaking after more than three decades) so placed orders for those and plan to hit it hard next weekend. Progress is slow, but steady.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

This Olde House - Kitchen Light & Then Some

Back in June, the kitchen light fell out of the ceiling. Was dark in there for a long time. Seven months later, Cindy finally picked a replacement. Today, my father and I got it installed.

Crawled up on a couple of ladders, put in the mounting bracket, put in the support screws, clicked in the CFL bulbs, screwed in the glass cover, and basked in the glory of our new kitchen light.

Interesting enough, while I was scrounging through the attic to check on the wiring, I stumbled upon a tiny skeleton. It was completely devoid of flesh and stink. Not sure how long it has been there, but I'm guessing a couple of years. Looked to be rat bones. And I think one of its brothers came along and picked through the remain, as the bones weren't in an orderly line up.

Later, Dad and I installed a couple of lights outside. One in the garage, by the door. One outside, over the garage door.

And Cindy and I hung a bunch of heavy pictures.

Then we all played Rock Band.

A rainy morning, but otherwise, a slow, productive Saturday in The South.

MOVIE: Lars And The Real Girl

Lars And The Real Girl is an intriguing tale of a fragile young man lost in an odd, self-created delusion. Lessons about love, loss, family, and discovery all center around Lawrence (Ryan Gosling) and his girl friend, Bianca. Slowly, the entire town subscribes to the same delusion. And they all take the same strange journey with Lars and his lady.

Top notch writing. Extremely original and entertaining. Unbelieveable at first, but the plot grows on you like a high school crush. Superb direction. Very well cast. All the actors did a great job and I'm surprised if this one didn't earn any awards. (It came out in 2007.) Sad at times. Funny at others. Very good pacing. Almost seemed too short.

Lars And The Real Girl is in a class of its own. Comedy? Romance? I dunno. Where ever it lands, it is sets the bar high for others to follow.

Likely a good date flick if the lady can skirt around certain subjects. Certainly not for the kids. Well worth a rental.