Saturday, December 30, 2006


I'll be gone for a few days, so this is my last post of the year. I wanted to write about Tabbatha and Paul, and the joy they've brought into my life, and how a year that began so terribly could end so well.

Because it began, of course, with Mom's death, sorrow unimagined, and the event that propelled me forward to writing again, that led to this very site. Whatever it has become over these months, it has been due to Mom, to the gifts she gave me and the heart she always shared. And though it's sad that she will never meet Tabbatha, it's okay, the circle of life, one door closes and another opens, all that sentimental jazz.

Yeah, it'd be nice to go on at some length about all the good things in my life, and I was going to do that. Then they went and hanged Saddam.

Saddam Hussein, loyal friend to the U.S., willing to do whatever dirty work we needed done, somehow became Public Enemy Number One. His capture and trial was opposed by many Iraqis, his execution, coming on the eve of a Muslim holiday, angered many more.

None of that mattered, though, because what the Iraqi people want and what they get are two different things. This is the democracy we've brought them, and if it looks suspiciously like what they lived with under Saddam, with cruel punishments for breaking seemingly arbitrary rules, well, exactly. Life sucks, and the world is ruled by terrible forces we can't begin to understand. Get used to it.

With Saadams's death comes the inevitable words of wisdom from Our Beloved President. (Not that Bush bothered to stay awake when the guy he all but claimed as responsible for 9/11 finally rang the bell. He went to bed, and his aides didn't think it was important enough to wake him. Christ, given all the rhetoric, you'd have figured The Decider would have been there in person.) In a written statement, Bush wrote that Saddam "was executed after receiving a fair trial--the kind of justice he denied victims of his brutal regime."

I'm sure all the detainees at Gitmo appreciate your sense of irony, Mr. President.

And that's the way it is, Saturday, December 30th, 2006. For me, the year ends with guarded optimism. For the bigger world, the same old depressing shit. Whatever your circumstances, wherever you may be, whoever you are, happy new year. Let's hope it's a good one, without any fear.

Friday, December 29, 2006


You would think, since the Democratic sweep of congress was largely seen as a negative reaction to the Iraq debacle, those prosecuting the war would see reason for a change in strategy. You'd be wrong, of course.

For instance, U.S. troops raided the city of Najaf and took out Sahib al-Amiri, an aide to Muqtada al-Sadr. This, at least, is the story according to a spokesman for the Iraqi government, that laughably ineffective puppet regime maintained by the Bushinistas. If anybody would have reason to tow the party line and do whatever the U.S. says, it'd be these guys.

Problem is, the U.S. military insists the raid on Najaf was planned and carried out entirely by Iraqi forces. Oh, sure, there might have been a few American "advisors" along, but hey, trust us, this was an Iraqi show all the way.

What we have here is a failure to communicate.

Someone's not getting their story straight. It's hard to imagine why the Iraqi government official would go out of his way to make his own forces look ineffective, unless he's fearful of reprisal. And as for the American military, this is the sort of thing they used to crow about, another terrorist neutralized, mission accomplished, that sort of thing. Why back off now?

Meanwhile, according to The New York Times, Our Beloved President, whatever his public rhetoric, continues to act in private as though everything is going a-okay in Iraq, and in The Washington Post, Democrat-turned independent-turned Republican dupe Joe Lieberman not only calls for more troops being sent to Iraq, but actually links Iraq to 9/11! Holy crap! Even Bush stopped using that one.

Lieberman's not alone, unfortunately. When the new congress comes to session next week, expect to see lots of backsliding and desperate rationalizing. Just don't expect things to change.

Thursday, December 28, 2006


Click on Red State Son on my list o' links to read Dennis Perrin's piece "The GAW In Action," a thorough takedown of the mindless bullshit the media is spreading around in the wake of Gerald Ford's death. When I wrote my (rather superficial) bit on Ford yesterday, I somehow assumed a dissenting voice would be heard somewhere in all the coverage.

Why I thought that, I'll never know. I'd already plowed through the coverage at The New York Times--the paper that didn't think U.S. involvement in Pinochet's coup was worth mentioning in his obit--and was listening as I wrote to NPR's Morning Edition, a total Jerry Ford love fest.

Still, surely someone would--maybe, perhaps--offer at least the suggestion that Ford's pardon of Nixon was not a good thing. Someone would see Ford only got to be president because of repeated scummy behavior from the Nixon White House--first from Spiro Agnew, then from Dick himself--and so Ford's pardon could be seen as nothing more than a transparent sop to his benefactors. Someone, somehow, would offer an alternate version of the seventies, in which Nixon was impeached and prosecuted, and congress, under intense pressure from the American people, actually followed the evidence as far as it would lead, and all the transgressions and sins of the presidency would be laid bare, and oh, incidentally, a crook would be brought to justice.

No, no, none of that, just endless National-Nightmare-Is-Over replays and the phrase "healed the nation" used so many times you'd think Ford was Abraham, Martin and John combined.

Two other Jerry-related notes:

1) All the coverage of Ford's merge with the infinite was, shall we say, insubstantial, but the thing that finally pushed me over the edge was Alessandra Stanley's piece in The New York Times on TV coverage of his death. This might actually be the least interesting thing in the history of the world, an astonishing display of nothingness. Arts coverage in The Times has been in a tailspin for years, but Stanley and her fellow TV critic, Virginia Heffernan, are both young, uninformed about the medium they're assigned to cover, and display a total lack of curiosity about recent history. If anyone can find a single thing in Stanley's piece that justifies it seeing print, I'd like to hear about it.

2) Reliable hack Bob Woodward has come forward with an interview with Ford in which The Great Healer makes it clear he "strongly" opposed Bush's invasion of Iraq. The catch is, Ford told Woodward the interview could only be published after his death.

That's Ford in a nutshell--A man with strong convictions he never bothered sharing.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


As you read through the coverage of Gerald Ford's death, wondering why you should really give a rat's ass about this guy, an unelected president who will at best be considered a caretaker, who employed The Sith Lord Cheney as his Chief Of Staff, who, for God's sake, pardoned Nixon, you won't find much.

True, there were two attempts on his life, from former Manson devotee Squeaky Fromme and frumpy FBI fink Sara Jane Moore. Both were portrayed in Stephen Sondheim's great musical play Assassins, so I guess we have Ford to thank for that.

And of course, while justifying his pardon of Nixon, Ford famously used the phrase "Our long national nightmare is over," which can be conveniently deployed as ironic comment on all matter of pop culture detritus, as in "Our long national nightmare is over--Britney and K-Fed finally broke up." So there's that, too.

Otherwise, the main thing to know about Ford's presidency is that, despite his supposed status as a "regular guy" (an aspect being hammered home by most of the coverage this morning), his white house was a haven for far-right lunatics like Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Al Haig. His loss to Jimmy Carter in '76 was as much as anything the cause of the Republican persecution complex, and his staff would, of course, return to power, minus Ford's stabilizing hand.

So no tears for Jerry Ford. He may be gone, but with every death in Iraq, you might say his legacy lives on.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


I can't really suggest that you run out and buy a copy of the 1972 fake documentary The Legend Of Boggy Creek, which is being reissued today on DVD, but it's an interesting movie, not for what it is but for what it represents.

Back in the seventies, it was possible for independant producers to make a killing by selling their wares to the masses in a variety of creative ways. The most notorious technique, impossible to do now, was four-walling: The producer or distributor would swoop into an area, buy a ton of ad time on all local media and rent local movie houses outright for a week, and keep all the profits. This was the technique used by the notorious Sunn Classics Pictures, responsible for the likes of In Search Of Noah's Ark and The Mysterious Monsters. (That last one was particularly popular; in the seventies, if a movie promised to tell "the truth" about Bigfoot, it was a must-see. Bigfoot was one of those seventies things, like Evel Knievel and Luke Skywalker's hair, that's impossible to explain to people who weren't there.)

Boggy Creek wasn't four-walled, but it was sold in a similar way: A regional release pattern, mostly in smaller markets, neighborhood theaters and drive-ins, always accompanied by the TV commercial, containing the key line "A True Story." The commercial ran everywhere, during local newscasts, during late-afternoon local kiddie programming, during the late movies, anytime short of prime-time.

This just wouldn't be possible now. In the seventies, VCRs weren't common, cable was more of a luxury, and not always available in small towns. So people watched TV, they watched local channels, whatever they might offer, and everybody, young and old, saw the ads for these things. Everybody had the same Pavlovian reaction to the endless barrage of hoopla, and everybody showed up at the theater.

And everybody enjoyed themselves. The Legend Of Boggy Creek is an awful, awful movie, but seen in a crowded theater with an audience made up of your friends and neighbors, the communal experience kicks in, and it works. Some movies, even good ones, only fully come to life under such circumstances. How often does this happen anymore? Is it even possible?

Even the big studios don't try to reach a mass audience with their advertising anymore. Time is bought on the channels the target audience watches, and the usual suspects arrive in the theaters--teenagers for horror movies, women for romantic comedies, idiots for Rob Schneider vehicles. Indie producers inevitably follow the same model--there's no such thing as a mass audience.

If you're an indie filmmaker, forget it. Charles B. Pierce, director of Boggy Creek, had a surprisingly varied career in the seventies, churning out period thrillers, westerns, even a Viking epic (Lee Majors IS The Norseman), because he could afford to self-finance these things, knowing he could control, to some extent, the distribution, and make a tidy profit himself. The film world these days is full of indie filmmakers who make a big killing with one freak hit (like The Blair Witch Project) and then are never heard of again.

True, young filmmakers can get their work seen on the internet, where more people will probably see it than would ever see it in a theater. But if you want to actually, you know, make money, that's a dead end. Somehow, you'll have to deal with a big corporation to get it seen.

And if you're an audience member longing to see a movie in a packed theater full of people who want to be entertained, who will laugh or cry or gasp on cue simply because it's fun to do, well, you'll just have to remember what that was like. And if you're too young to remember, you'll never know what you missed.

Monday, December 25, 2006


James Brown died today, so there's that, and the U.S. military is holding four Iranians in Iraq, which is bound to needlessly antagonize a nation that already hates us, so there's that, too. More people killed in Iraq, hell, more people killed everywhere. The world is a cruel place, and bad things happen all the time. But good things happen, too, and even the worst of us is capable of a moment or two of grace. Maybe that's enough.

Merry Christmas, if that's your thing. If not, good tidings of a vaguely holiday-like season. And of course, Happy Crimble.

Sunday, December 24, 2006


I'm breaking with Christmas tradition this year: I'm not eating Chinese.

For the last three years, my Christmas dinner was spent alone, hunkered down over a newspaper at my neighborhood Chinese restaurant. Sounds depressing, I know, but I was doing this by choice. The first year I did it, I had an offer from a girl I was dating to spend the holiday with her, and I declined, mostly because I wasn't in the mood for Christmas cheer. I had only recently separated from my ex, and I was trying to treat the holiday as just another day, nothing special, nothing interesting.

The next year--well, okay, that one was just depressing. But last year, again, I was doing it because I wanted to. Mom's condition was worsening, and weekend she told me the doctors had determined the cancer was "on the move," and I wondered if it would be her last Christmas, and should I spend it with her. No, she said, she also wanted to be alone. Must be genetic.

And when she died in February, I thought it was a given that I'd be avoiding Christmas with a vengeance, that even thinking of it would remind me of my loss, perpetual, unending sorrow.

Still, life progresses, whether we want it to or not. I kept sorrow away by ignoring it, distancing myself from all emotion, good or bad. It worked; things that I might have expected to send me into crying jags rolled off my back. Of course, things I should have enjoyed had little impact on me, either, but that's a small price to pay for emotional survival.

Of course, in the spirit of a hundred bad TV movies, the story ends with the misanthrope's heart melted by a woman and a kid. Tabbatha and I have had our ups and downs, but we seem to have settled into a relationship of mutual disbelief over the other's foibles. I've never dated a woman who was so into girly stuff, who actually reads romance novels, who likes top forty radio. (When I told my friend Howard she'd never even heard of Marshall Crenshaw, he responded, "Why on earth did you ever go on a second date?") She, of course, is learning to deal with a brooding loner, someone with eccentric but wide-ranging tastes, someone who might force her to listen to classical music.

Even weirder are my feelings for Paul, because I'm never comfortable hanging out with kids. Yet Paul and I hang around watching movies together, go shopping together, play together. I even told Tabbatha I'd take him to swimming lessons, for God's sake. That's not me, I don't do that. When his mom and I went through a bad patch, and were on the verge of breaking up, he wasn't worried. He told me he knew I wasn't going anywhere; who else would watch Star Wars with me?

So this Christmas, the rules have changed. Suddenly I'm forced to engage with life. It's feels strange and unfamiliar, but not bad at all.

Saturday, December 23, 2006


I'd gone to bed early that Christmas Eve, for reasons I can't quite recall. Tradition dictated I open a present early, and in this case it was an issue of Marvel Comics' Planet Of The Apes magazine, which featured two (exceptionally long) comics stories and a couple of text pieces. Likely that seemed to me to be a full evening's entertainment, more fun than watching people wrap presents, or gab incessantly, or watch TV, or whatever grownups did as preparation for Christmas.

So I retired to my room. Well, "room" may not be an accurate description--as a child, my brothers and sisters had all the real bedrooms upstairs; I slept on a couch in the living room. As they moved out, people shifted from one room to another. By this time, I'd graduated to upstairs and my own bed--but my room was really just the hall way at the top of the stairs, a point of entry to my sibling's rooms.

Still, I had made it my own, with a dresser (which contained comic books and model kits, not clothes), a desk (the drawers well-stocked with comic books) and some floor space (covered by piles of comic books). It was a perfect space for me to relax and enjoy the first story in Planet Of The Apes, which was written by Doug Moench and illustrated by Tom Sutton--I was a junkie for credits even then, and Sutton was one of my favorites.

When I read, I usually was so far gone I had no concept of my surroundings. But in this case, I was aware--aware that it was Christmas Eve, aware that no snow was falling but there was plenty on the ground, aware, of course of course, that tomorrow was the most important day on any kids' calender.

Aware, too, of the noises from downstairs. A steady murmur, mostly, the sound of my parents' TV mixed with conversation, laughter, the hum of our fuel oil stove. Occasionally, voices sounded agitated and there was some banging, likely the result of one of my presents being assembled, though I couldn't be sure.

And I liked that sound, and I put down the magazine and just listened for awhile, and when I gre bored with that, I turned on the radio, to drown out the sound and help me concentrate on Planet Of The Apes. Oddly, except for this one memory, I cannot recall having a radio in all the time I lived in this room. I had a TV, used mainly for watching James Bond movies, war and science fiction pictures and cartoons. (No, my tastes haven't changed much.) But the radio--it must have just been left there by mistake, or maybe I just didn't use it; I wasn't really into music at all in those days.

The radio was tuned to a local station playing nothing but Christmas music, and it made a nice companion to Moench's story and Sutton's illustrations. I finished the first story, skimmed the text pieces and decided to save the second story for some other time, then shut off the light and snuggled under the covers. The radio stayed on, and the last sound I remember hearing before drifting off was Karen Carpenter's syrupy but oddly melancholy voice singing "Merry Christmas, Darling."

I awoke suddenly, convinced it was Christmas morning. But it was still dark. My clock said it was only 10:30. The light in the stairway illuminated a passing figure, a brother or sister en route to their room, and this shadowy presence paused to shut off my radio. I didn't mind, I never listened to music as I slept. Soon the house was still, and quiet as it could ever be, braches scraping against windows, stove purring, my oldest brother snoring, the whole world slumbering in silent anticipation, the whole world at peace.

Friday, December 22, 2006


This is my first Christmas without Mom.

If you didn't know her, you'd have thought my mom was a cynic. She tended to expect the worst in all situations and she never bought into the conventional wisdom on any topic; she always assumed people were lying. And yet she had such a sentimental streak, and would break down and start crying at the most unexpected things.

Nothing brought this out like Christmas.

When I think of Mom at Christmas time, I think of two things. One is the annual Christmas Eve drive she and I would take to look at Christmas lights. This started when I was a kid, and continued, off and on, until last year. Sometimes other people would be along for the ride, but usually, it was a little ritual that just she and I did.

She'd keep up a sarcastic running commentary as we'd go from hopuse to house. One year I pointed out that a Nativity scene on someone's lawn made it look as though the Wise Men were roasting Baby Jesus, so Mom immediately dubbed it The First Barbecue, the term she used every year thereafter to describe any Nativity scene, and a standard she'd use to describe the relative lameness of anyone's decorations. ("Well, it was okay, but it was no First Barbecue.") Many of her comments were ironic deployment of song lyrics ("Oh look, they hung a shinging star upon the highest bough" or "See the tree, how big it's grown"), all post-modern without realizing it.

Despite the snarkiness, the fact remains that we were driving around on Christmas Eve looking at lights, a holiday tradition, steeped in sentiment. Which brings me to my other favorite Mom-based Christmas memory, again something that would happen every year: The inevitable phone call, Mom weeping uncontrollably, having just watched Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol. Every year she'd warble a few lines from the song "A Hand For Each Hand" and start crying all over again, proclaiming, "It's sad." Well, I'd say, you know it's sad, you didn't have to watch it. "No," she'd answer. "I had to."

So she did.

Things are stange this year. It's freakishly warm, not like Christams at all. I feel weirdly detached from the whole season, anyway. There'll be no trip to look at lights this year, no Mr. Magoo-based phone call. Just memories, kept at a distance to keep them from overwhelming me.

Thursday, December 21, 2006


Late last year, my divorce became final. Sometime this year, I finally got over it. Maybe.

When Tabbatha and I entered the "serious relationship" phase, she made it clear to me that my relationship with Sue, my ex, needed to be modified, if not eliminated altogether. I bristled at first; who is she to tell me who my friends are?

Not that I didn't understand her feelings, mind you. She felt, understandably, that since Sue and I spent so much time talking, I must still have feelings for her. Of course I have feelings, I told Tabbatha; she's my friend. No, she replied, not feelings of friendship. Feelings of...feelings. You're not over her. You're obsessed with her.

Yikes. Obsessed? Well, I admit I spend a lot of time pondering what might have been. But I do that with everything. I obsess over that girl I went out with once, who laughed at some joke I made. I obsess over that other girl who made a witty remark that suggested we had some common ground even though we never saw each other again. I obsess over every single woman I've ever known, and any person who's ever been nice to me. I obsess over stupid things I've said and done, things I wish I could take back. I obsess over whatever happened to the Johnny West action figure I had as a kid. I obsess over the idiot plot points in Star Trek IV. I obsess over whether that was really Spaulding Gray in Ilsa: Harem-Keeper Of The Oil Shieks. I obsess over what Phil Ochs and John Lennon and Peter Sellers would have done if they'd lived.

Clearly, things don't just pass me by. Everything matters to me, all my accumulated experiences dig in and fester or bloom or do whatever they will. Can I stop my feelings, can I hide them? Do I embrace them or abhor them? Or do I--somehow--try to let them go?

That's what I'm trying to do now, for Tabbatha's sake and for my own. It's nice to have a past, but when it intrudes on the here and now, perhaps it's time to...No, "let it go" is too trite a phrase, and not quite accurate. These are the events that have made up my life, after all. I don't want these things to go anywhere, to vanish like a random thought. They just need to matter less, to diminish like objects in a rearview mirror. The past is the farm where I spent my childhood, or the house where I lived much of my adult life--still there, but I live somewhere else now.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Look, I can get as sentimental as anyone. It's the week before Christmas, and believe me, I want to be writing warm, touching pieces straight out of the Hallmark Channel style guide. I'm all for roasting chestnuts, crutches carefully preserved by the fireplace and large, inanimate globs of snow fashioned into a simulacrum of a human being and brought to blashphemous life by a magic hat. I'm like Currier & Ives here. Really.

But then The Decider goes and tells The Washington Post that, in Iraq, "We're not winning. We're not losing."

Oh, okay. So we're in a permanent state of being. There is no goal, there is no purpose, there is only the moment. Or something like that.

And Our President is inching ever closer to authorizing more troops into Iraq. Where on earth they will come from is not explained, but this "surge," as the military calls it (apparently naming it after the failed "extreme" soft drink of the late nineties) would cost approximately 1.2 billion dollars for 10,000 extra troops. Where the money would come from isn't explained, either. Maybe a nation-wide bake sale?

It should be pointed out that the Democrats--who, after all, swept into congress on a wave of anti-war support--are so far offering no meaningful opposition to this insane plan, and in some cases actively support it.

How long does this have to go on? The number of Iraqis killed grows steadily day by day, inching ominously close to a million. Just under 3000 U.S. troops have been killed. All for what? When Republicans or Democrats speak of "victory" in Iraq, they mean only a way to give the U.S. a graceful way out. Nobody gives a damn for the Iraqi people now, if anyone ever did. Now it's all about covering asses. And if a few hundred more Iraqi civilians have to die, or a few thousand, just to make us feel better about ourselves, so be it. No one cares about those towelheaded camel jockeys anyway, right? Lousy savages--we bring them democracy, you'd think they'd at least be grateful.

Merry Christmas. Ho. Ho. Sigh...

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


It's not, I suppose, tragic that Joseph Barbera died Monday. He was 95, after all, and creatively, his best days were certainly behind him.

But with his death, the Golden Age of animation officially draws to a close. Barbera, with his partner Bill Hanna, created Tom & Jerry, the quintessential hyper-violent cat and mouse duo. Despite winning numerous Oscars, Hanna and Barbera never quite got the critical props awarded to Chuck Jones or Bob Clampett or any of the Warner Bros. crew, or the huge commercial success of Disney's features. Still, the best of Tom & Jerry--Mouse In Manhattan, Solid Serenade, Heavenly Puss, the unbelievably awesome Zoot Cat--are among the finest cartoons ever made, beautifully conceived, designed and animated, and with comic timing that couldn't be beat. These guys were as good as anybody.

Unfortunately--or fortunately, if you're a fan--their names are more frequently associated with the work they did after abandoning theatrical shorts for TV animation. Their initial creations for the medium--Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear--certainly paved the way for the future, with simplified design and limited animation, the plot and gags delivered mostly through dialogue. Later H-B TV shows, like The Flintstones and The Jetsons, were even more plot heavy, essentially standard sitcoms that happened to be animated. (It's no coincidence that Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane trained at H-B.)

As TV demanded more product, H-B continued to grind it out, Scooby-Doo, Help! It's The Hair Bear Bunch, Speed Buggy, The Roman Holidays, Where's Huddles?--quality control became a thing of the past. In the seventies, when I was a kid, most of the H-B product was a must to avoid. (For some reason, I really liked Hong Kong Phooey. I have no idea why.)

Still, some of the TV work Hanna and Barbera did is worthwhile. Early Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear benefits greatly from the elegant designs of Ed Benedict and hilarious voice work from Daws Butler, and individual episodes can be quite funny. H-B's TV masterpiece was undoubtedly the classic adventure series Jonny Quest. Chock full o' monsters and mad scientists, big guns and fantastic gadgets, aerial dogfights and giant robot spiders, this was (is) one of the most purely entertaining TV shows ever. Yeah, the animation was still limited, but excellent design (by Doug Wildey) and terrific scripts made a difference, and Hanna and Barbera proved as adept at staging action and suspense as they were at comedy.

Surprisingly, H-B's TV work has been more influential than their splendid theatrical shorts. Contemporary animation directors like Genndy Tartakofsky are clearly influenced by the visual stylings of their early TV work, and Brad Bird's The Incredibles was, among other things, a series of Jonny Quest riffs.

Hanna and Barbera are well represented on DVD. I'm not a big fan of The Flintstones, but it's always worth a look, and the box set of the complete run of Jonny Quest is simply one of the best purchases you could make. The Tom & Jerry shorts haven't been brought to DVD with the loving care of the Looney Tunes collections, but there are a couple of double disc compilations available that will get you started. Watching Zoot Cat, you will laugh, guaranteed, but for some of us, at least, that laughter will be mixed with longing for a level of comic timing we'll likely never see again.

Monday, December 18, 2006


This morning's New York Times has an important story detailing the case of Donald Vance, who, while working at an Iraqi security firm, became suspicious of his employer and passed info to the FBI. The company was raided--due to information Vance had passed--but since he happened to be at the company at the time, Vance was captured by U.S. forces, imprisoned and tortured--I'm sorry, I meant "interrogated"--for 97 days.

His captors had no clue. Vance was a Navy vet, but this was never discovered. Instead, he was "interrogated" through intimidation, told repeatedly that they had information connecting him to any manner of nefarious but imaginary plots, shown reams of made-up evidence. In other words, they were holding a prisoner for no reason whatsoever--the very thing Our President says is not, could never happen.

And Vance, since his skin is white and he does not pray to Mecca, almost certainly had it better off than the average Iraqi prisoner. (People in charge of these things swear there is no racism in the military, and you almost have to admire their ability to say it with a straight face.) If this is how we treat American citizens working in Iraq, people with names that should have been easily found in a database, imagine how we're treating men, women and children who just happen to be standing by when a raid is conducted, when a roadside bomb goes off, whenever the hell we feel like it.

I say "we" because, let's face it, every day this goes on, all of us our responsible. Obviously, I didn't vote for Bush, but did I do all I could to prevent his reelection? Am I storming the barricades, am I carrying signs, am I marching? Are you? Is anyone?

Or are we doing what most Americans do, ignoring it as best we can, trying to get on with our lives, and wondering why the blood never seems to wash out of our hands?

Sunday, December 17, 2006


Christmas shopping with a seven-year-old--this is something I've never done before. I'm forty-one; I just kind of figured I'd never have kids, and I've never felt like I was someone who was all that good around kids. My ex and I never had kids by choice, mostly because we figured we'd both suck as parents.

But since I started dating Tabbatha, I've been spending almost as much time with Paul as I have with her. Yesterday, I needed to do some shopping, and so did he. It was my mission to take him to buy a present for his mom.

So we're wandering through a department store, and I ask Paul, as I have about a thousand times already, what he wants to get for her. This time he has an answer: "An ice cream scoop."

"An ice cream scoop?"

"Yeah. She really needs one. I heard her say that."

Okay. Seems weird, but hey, it's what he wants to get her. We head vaguely in the direction of Housewares (I'm guessing this is where one would find such things; like I would know.) when I ask him if he's sure about this. "No," he says. "She doesn't really want an ice cream scoop."


"I was just joking with you."

"What do you mean joking? How is that funny?"

"It's funny because you thought she wanted an ice cream scoop."

Great. Suddenly I find myself in the middle of a conceptual comedy routine. "Okay, so what do you really want to get her?"

He told me, and we pick up a couple of things for her. I won't tell you what they are, of course, because that would ruin the surprise. And I get stuff as well, and as we're wheeling the cart to the checkout stand, shoppers wandering in all directions around us, Paul becomes weirdly fixated on watching an older woman walking towards us. She stops every few feet, fusses with something, looks at items at the ends of the aisles, shakes her head and moves on. Once she has passed us, Paul whispers, "I don't think she's a Jedi."

"Why do you say that?"

"She didn't seem to know what she was doing. A Jedi would know."

"Well, unless she sensed the presence of a Sith, and was trying to disguise her true identity."


"What do you mean, no? Are you an expert?"


It continued like that, a pattern of deadpan observations from him and slow-burn reactions from me, most of them laced with obscure Star Wars references. Anyone observing our conversation would assume I had known Paul for longer than four months, for seven years, maybe, and that this discussion had been going on the whole time.

Friday, December 15, 2006


Whatever morning rituals other people have, mine involves waking up with NPR's Morning Edition, which this morning, in its first five minutes, managed to piss me off in three ways.

1) A new poll commisioned by NPR shows support for the war, the president, the president's party and anything related gets lower every day. Is this a surprise? Does anybody still hold out hope for "victory" in this thing anymore?

The details of this report were related without comment, but NPR is as culpable as any media outlet in neglecting to ask the tough questions before this quagmire started, and continues to present "on one hand this, on the other hand that"-style stories about the damn thing, as if there are two sides to this. Sorry, but no. There is only the truth and lies, yet NPR continues to give equal weight to both.

I could go on for awhile here--are you surprised?--but instead I'll move on to ...

2) NPR found it necessary to include an update on those climbers trapped on Mt. Hood in the top-of-the-hour newscast. Not to sound harsh, but why should I give a rat's ass about these guys? Aside from the fact that I can't sympathize too much with people dumb enough to climb a mountain in the middle of winter--you take the risk, you pay the price--this falls into the same category as the guy who died when he went looking for help for his family stranded in the snow, or any of the numerous missing and presumed dead young white women of privelege that the mainstream media trots out periodically under the "human interest" rubric.

Fine, but you know what? People die every day. Why are the individual miseries and misfortunes of some people considered more interesting than others? Coverage of stories like this is the type of thing I expect from network morning shows, not a supposedly respectable news-gathering organization like NPR.

3) Also in its first newscast of the day, NPR ran a brief story on the death of music-biz genius Ahmet Ertegun. Co-founder of Atlantic Records, producer, songwriter, talent scout and all-around guru, Ertegun had a hand in some of the best music ever made, including great tracks from Charles Mingus, Ray Charles, The Drifters, Ornette Coleman, Ben E. King, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Dusty Springfield, Sam And Dave, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and so many more. But in this brief story, what Atlantic-based group did NPR choose to highlight? Yes. And the only song we got a snippet of was Owner Of A Lonely Heart.

People are routinely sentenced to death for lesser crimes.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


This week is certainly proving depressing for anyone who wants the U.S. debacle in Iraq to end soon.

First, of course, The Decider announces he won't make a decision about any policy shift in his prosecution of the war until after the first of the year. He doesn't want to be rushed, he says. Never let it be said that this president would make irrational snap judgements.

Even scarier is the news that Democratic South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson was hospitalized yesterday with an unkown ailment. He was showing signs of a stroke, but his office now insists no, no, it was no such thing, but won't say what it was. Assuming Johnson is permanently incapacitated, South Dakota's ultra-conservative governor, Michael Rounds, gets to name the replacement, most likely a Republican party hack.

Which means the Democrats lose their one-seat majority in the senate, and Dick Cheney gets to cast the tie-breaking vote. Hmm, wonder how he'll vote on anything related to the war?

Not that it matters, anyway. Even if Democrats remain in control of both houses, they have no intention of making big changes. They'll keep funding the war, but hey, they insist they'll "demand" a better accounting of the costs. Oh, that'll put the fear of God into Republicans--it's kind of like hiring Arnold Stang as a bodyguard.

And then there's self-proclaimed "maverick" Republican John McCain's nutty idea to send 15 to 30,ooo more troops to Iraq, because "the American people want this war to succeed, if possible." Succeed at what? This war has had about half a dozen rationales already. How can you have victory when your goals keep shifting? In any event, for reasons no one outside of Bizarro World can explain, McCain's idea seems to be gaining traction.

So despite the results of the midterm elections, which were clearly a referendum on the war, the people in power have issued a clear response to the American people: "Fuck you."

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Dad didn't talk about the war. We, his children, all knew he'd served, but the specifics were unknown to us, and it never occurred to us to ask. What had he seen, what had he done? Not until after his death did the questions seem to matter. Mom knew he'd been involved in the liberation of a concentration camp, but she never even knew which one.

His service records had been destroyed in a fire, but we knew he'd been a truck driver. Eventually, we were able to track down the unit he was attached to--the 42nd Infantry Division, the Rainbow Division. So then we knew. Dachau.

Dachau was the Nazi's first extermination camp, an efficiently functioning death machine that served as a model for all the rest. It was also only the second camp liberated by Allied forces. The soldiers of the rainbow Division had no idea that such camps existed, and when they stumbled across it, were so overwhelmed by what they saw that some of them began to open fire on the camp overseers even as they tried to surrender.

Whether Dad knew about that, I'll never know. Like many of his generation, he wasn't given to talking about his feelings; he just sucked it up and went on about his business. Maybe if he had talked, if more of the soldiers involved in the liberation had talked, if more voices had been heard, it would be harder to deny the Holocaust.

Ah, but why is such testimony even necessary? We have the transcripts of the Wannasee Conference, the plans for the Final Solution in black and white. We have the testimony of the people who carried out the crimes, film footage, mass graves. We have numbers and names and all the evidence anyone could possibly need. There is nothing to prove. It happened!

And yet, this week Iran was host to an international panel of Holocaust deniers, for whom stories of the camps and genocide are merely products of the International Jewish Conspiracy. Oh, some of them will concede, the camps existed, but they weren't primarily death camps. And yeah, people died, but not in such huge numbers.

The camp records at Dachau--kept, after all, by the people who ran it--list 130, ooo people deliberately killed at the camp. The actual number of those who died there was much larger, killed by rampant disease, but the Nazis only considered those they killed personally to be significant. So let's go with their number--130,ooo. Multiply that by the number of camps--by the most conservative count, you're talking deaths in the millions.

You would think, in the information age, it would be harder to be ignorant. Facts are facts, right. But it's human nature to ignore facts, to see what you want to see. Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur--as long as we refuse to call wholesale, ethnically motivated slaughter "genocide", it can be something else. As long as we choose to believe the president is sincerely motivated by concerns over weapons of mass destruction, we can sanction war on a non-aggressor nation. As long as we don't see it, as long as it doesn't involve us personally, we can tolerate anything.

As long as we're human, we can deny our humanity.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Not a whole lot to write about in today's new DVD releases. I would heartily recommend the very funny Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby, but it has been heavily promoted and is available pretty much everywhere, so it's not like it needs the help.

I'd mention that the inexplicable live action remake of The Year Without A Santa Clause is out today, but it can only be safely viewed by athiests, since its very existence is a strong argument that a just and fair God is absent from our lives.

I can't really give you a good reason to pick up a disc called The Dean Martin Double Feature, except one of the movies featured, a godawful '68 sex farce called How To Save A Marriage (And Ruin Your Life) features the awesome presence of Stella Stevens, the first object of pure lust in my eight year old life. (I'll spare you the details.)

So instead I'll tell you that today we get the final two volumes of The James Bond Ultimate Collection, the latest transparent attempt to wring some more bucks out of the series. (And obviously, it isn't the ultimate collection; it doesn't have Casino Royale. But that's okay, since I'm sure we'll get an Even More Ultimate Collection in, oh, two years, or whenever the next Bond movie appears.) In any event, if you're going to spring for one of these overpriced box sets, go with Volume Three. True, you get the awful Live And Let Die, with its racist attitudes and awful Paul McCartney theme song, but you also get one of Roger Moore's best efforts, For Your Eyes Only, one of Sean Connery's best, From Russia With Love, and the George Lazenby one-shot, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, which is not only the best Bond, but one of the finest action thrillers ever made.

Ordinarily, I'd go on and on about On Her Majesty's Secret Service, but honestly, I just don't feel like it right now. Sometimes, even James Bond fans aren't in the mood.

Monday, December 11, 2006


It isn't true, as the old saw claims, that history is written by the winners. History is written--rewritten--by omission, by sloppy reporting and indifference to facts, by a fear of rocking the boat.

No better example of this can be found than the mainstream press coverage of the death of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

The story in The New York Times this morning gave a thumbnail sketch of Pinochet's career, his violent seizure of power from elected president Salvador Allende in 1973 and reign of terror thereafter. The Washington Post, at least, mentioned that Pinochet's coup was "U.S.-supported."

Well, no, it was U.S.-backed. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger made his displeasure with the leftist Allende known, and the CIA helped engineer Pinochet's coup. This is not a conspiracy theory. These are known facts, and in many parts of the world, it is a commonly held belief that Kissinger should be tried for war crimes.

Here, of course, Kissinger remains a celebrity. He used to date Barbara Walters, he shows up as a foreign policy expert on TV chat shows, he even served as a shadow advisor to The Decider's wacky Iraq adventure.

Not that I think these news-gathering organizations deliberately chose to avoid fingering Kissinger. More likely, the writers that cobbled the stories together were working from wire stories that were themselves the products of sloppy, inattentive reporting. Obviously, higher-ups at The Times and The Post would have known of Kissinger's involvement, but hey, why open old wounds?

It's possible, as the day progresses, that these papers will add background to their initial stories, and may explain the details of the U.S. involvement. But they dropped the ball when it was needed the most, when the headline should have been Brutal U.S.-Installed Dictator Dies.
That would be a story worth reading.

Saturday, December 09, 2006


Holy crap, Jeane Kirkpatrick finally bought the farm. About time.

Honestly, I didn't even know she was still alive. After her way too active part in formulating Reagan's disastrous Central American and equally boneheaded Middle Eastern policies. I'd assumed she'd accepted a position at a nutty right-wing think tank somewhere, and since she looked to be about 700 years old back in the 80's, I figured she only survived as a carefully preserved shrunken head, perhaps as part of a shrine in William Kristol's basement.

Turns out, she was only eighty when she died Thursday, and The Decider his own bad self had used her to help sell the invasion of Iraq to some Arab clerics. So her spidery tendrils are all over some of the most astonishingly stupid presidential decisions in history.

Wonder which circle of hell she'll be cast into?

Friday, December 08, 2006


The day-to-day aspects of life fade. Memory falters. Details blur.

Late fall and early winter, 1980: Way too much of my life was spent in school, and despair creeped in, as I realized school was preparing me for a life I didn't want and couldn't understand. No one understood, no one cared. I had known my classmates all my life, yet they seemed stranger, more unfamiliar with every passing day.

My life was lived at the movies. A new arthouse theater, The Movies 1 and 2, had opened in Des Moines, and sometimes it seemed as though my brother and I spent every waking moment in the dark, Bad Timing and Eraserhead and Wise Blood, Singin' In The Rain and Reefer Madness, more education than I could ever gather at school, new ways of looking at the world, new sights to see.

And music, of course, a radio always turned on, an LP always on the turntable, as necessary as breathing.

But the details, again, unclear. I was depressed all the time, in therapy that got me nowhere, and so it makes sense that I went to bed early that night. Not that I could sleep, I could never sleep, but laying awake in the dark provided comfort from the crushing light.

The radio was on, of course. KKRL out of Carroll, what might later be termed an "adult alternative' station, but at that time was simply the only station that played Warren Zevon or Ry Cooder album cuts. I don't remember what music they played that night, before or after. I only remember the cut-in: "We have some news here out of New York City. John Lennon has been shot and killed..."

Just like that.

This detail, fixed in my mind forever. The world would keep turning, but at a different angle. The sun would still rise, but what would the light reveal? Life would go on, but it could be stopped in a second, by a freak accident, by cancer, by a bullet or four.

My life has taken unexpected directions, has gone places that surprised and delighted me, that filled me with overwhelming despair. None of it could have been anticipated or planned. It would be hokey to say I have tried to model my life after John Lennon's, and wrong. He was a child of modest means who became a bazillionaire, plus he was a genius. I came from nothing and have nothing, and I write in total obscurity.

But at some point in his life, he realized he had to stop doing what was expected of him, and make a radical break from the life he was living and build a new life, whatever people would think of it. And for me, on December 8th of 1980, something shifted, something changed. The life I had led was coming to an end, and I began the painful journey to becoming an adult, the adult I am now, the person I'm still becoming.

Thursday, December 07, 2006


Where to begin? The report from the Iraq Study Group (Don't they finance programming on PBS?) boldly states the situation in Iraq is bad and getting worse.

No shit.

Either we pull out immediately, and let Iraq descend into a maelstrom of violence and despair that is entirely of our own making, or we stay, with a military already stretched beyond the breaking point, a hated presence by many Iraqis on all sides of the conflict. We're defeated either way.

Which is an important point: Although the U.S. has a long history of installing or propping up despotic leaders of foreign nations (such as Augusto Pinochet, or Saddam Hussein, for that matter), and getting involved in conflicts that didn't involve us (Vietnam), this is the first time we've openly declared war on a nation that had done nothing to provoke our response, the first time we have been an aggressor, an invading army.

And we lost.

Because it's over, let's face it. Whatever the outcome, the world's last remaining superpower has shown it doesn't have what it takes to achieve victory against a significantly smaller opponent. Much as Emperor Palpatine could not have imagined his mighty empire would be defeated by a small army of scappy Ewoks, it was inconceivable to Bush--to anyone in Washington's power elite, really--that this could happen. This was a slam dunk.

Though I haven't plowed through the whole Iraq Study Group (Is that anything like the Babysitters' Club?), the primary focus of the thing is clearly U.S.-based: What we should do, how we can do it. Once again, concern for the plight of the avaerage Iraqi, who will be forced to live (or die) with the consequences of whatever we do next, is the least of our concerns. Isn't that the kind of thinking that got us here in the first place?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


Oh! Pity poor Robert Gates! He left his cushy position at Texas A&M--a job he loved, he says--and is making "great financial sacrifices" to take a gig as Secretary of Defense, simply because he loves his country so darned much.

Naturally, he was easily confirmed by the senate panel questioning him, and will no doubt win an easy confirmation from the full senate. Poor guy, he'll probably have to eat ramen noodles and shop at Wal-Mart for his whole time in Washington, what with his financial sacrifices and all. But boy, what a guy.

I mean, sure his old gig at the CIA required Gates to be a master liar and manipulator. And granted, his role in Iran-contra should make even the dimmest senator question his every word. And okay, Bush has a history of sending nominees to the senate who answer questions with the most sweeping generalities possible, then, once confirmed, speak only in chilling specifics. And yeah, the Democrats fall for it EVERY SINGLE TIME. But I'm sure this is different.

After all, Gates has the advantage of not being Donald Rumsfeld. Apparently, that's enough--Bush has managed to set the bar so low, his nomination of yet another one of his poppy's right-wing cronies sounds no alarms for Democrats, who are just grateful for someone who can at least pretend to be humble. The fact that Gates will almost certainly tow the Bushinista's line--"There is still only one President of the United States. He will make the final decision."--troubles them not at all.

Let me say it again: We're hosed.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


When I was a kid, one of my favorite movies was the Richard Burton-Clint Eastwood WWII commando thriller Where Eagles Dare. I only knew this from its frequent showings on network TV. (This was the seventies, kids, pre-cable, pre-VCR.) Since Eagles is rather lengthy, it was inevitably broadcast in two parts, and of course, had commercial interruptions.

As an adult, I understand why I was once enthusiastic about this--Clint Eastwood! Nazis! Machine guns!--but it just doesn't hold up. Any narrative twists are sprung by the halfway point, leaving nothing but an endless escape-from-a castle sequence that basically consists of endless scenes of Eastwood mowing down Nazis. But maybe even now it would play better if I saw it as I originally did. The two-part format actually split Where Eagles Dare into two seperate movies, one a narrative-based suspense thriller, the other a pure action movie. And the commercials? They provided breathing room, a break from the furious pace.

I mention all this because Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is out on DVD today, and if ever a movie could benefit from multi-part screenings and interruptions, this is it.

Though I'd enjoyed the first Pirates, it was a movie that evaporates from your mind as soon as it's over, and I was surprised by the huge popularity of this sequel. Not something I'd bother with, normally, but it was playing at the local second-run theater, and Tabbatha mentioned that Paul had been wanting to see it. So we went.

Paul is seven, and would seem to be part of the target audience for a Disney-produced pirate movie. And he seemed to enjoy it at first, cheering the first appearance of Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow, hiding his eyes during the "scary" parts.

But it just went on and on and on, with endless exposition and one narrative cul-de-sac follwing another, until finally his eyes glazed over. Occasionally some swordplay would break out to rouse him from his stupor, and he was thrilled by the late appearance of a giant monster (called a Kraken, it looks like a giant octopus, and either way is a nice hommage to Ray Harryhausen), but when the whole overlong contraption turns out to be a set-up for a sequel...the word that leaps to mind is "letdown."

Watching it with him, I wondered what my own reaction would have been had I seen this as a kid. I'd have recognized the Harryhausen and Chuck Jones riffs, and maybe even the Michael Curtiz steals, but mostly I would have just loved it because, well, it has pirates. But chances are, had I seen it as a kid, I would have been watching on network TV.

So by all means, if you or someone you know likes this sort of thing, sit back and watch Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. But split it into two seperate viewings, and take plenty of breaks. (Fast-forwarding through lengthy dialogue scenes is a good idea, too, if they involve Orlando Bloom.) In bits and pieces, you might find it entertaining.

Monday, December 04, 2006


When he accepted John Bolton's resignation as U.N. ambassador today, Our Beloved President couldn't resist a pointless jab at the opposition. "I am deeply disappointed that a handful of United States senators prevented Ambassador Bolton from receiving the up or down vote he deserved in the senate," and that this "stubborn obstructionism ill serves our country." I swear Bush is absolutely determined to raise his douchebaggery to previously unimagined heights.

(I realize, by the way, that I use the word "douchebag" a lot when describing the president. Sure, there are other choice words--"fuckwad" or "scumbag" or even "pinhead"--but nothing else seems to fit so well. Besides, "douchebaggery" is a funnier word than "fuckwaddery".)

Leaving aside whether Bolton was even qualified for the job in the first place (though being a total dick didn't help matters), let's just focus on Bush's tone in his little hissy fit. He seems to think it's still 2002, and he can get away with anything. Does he realize the midterms functioned as a referendum on his presidency? Does he know the citizens of this nation threw most of his compadres out? Does he have even a nodding relationship with reality?

See, Decider, the people you're badmouthing are the people that this nation collectively decided they want in charge. Ask Dick or Carl--they're preening, arrogant assholes, but at least they've been smart enough to lay low since the elections. Right now, you and your entourage aren't terribly popular, so it's probably best to at least pretend to be humble.

Don't worry, the Democrats will fuck up. They always do. You may never be popular again, but the nation's apathy will return, and when no one's watching, you can use the Bill of Rights to wipe your ass, just like you used to.

But not now. For now, you're a lame duck, or, more bluntly, a loser. Money and privilege made you think this could never happen to you, but it has. Deal with it gracefully, and shut the hell up.


There are certain rituals that I, forty-one years old and without children, have never had to endure. One of those would be taking a kid to see santa.

It didn't even occur to me that this would happen. Tabbatha, Paul and I were just kind of hanging out yesterday, no particular plans, and Paul was wound up. I suggested taking him to the Play Place at Southridge, the mall closest to Tabbatha's place.

So we did, and as we're sitting there watching him blow off his typical seven-year-old's energy, Tabbatha suddenly announces she's going to "go look around." She wandered off, Paul barely noticed, life goes on.

When she reappeared, she asked Paul if he wanted to visit Santa. He nodded his head and we were off to the other side of the mall.

Traipsing through malls at Christmastime is not one of my favorite things to do, but it was strangely quiet and empty. When we got down to Santa's hangout--bizarrely tricked up as a ramshackle two-storey house with what appeared to be the stuffed corpses of an elderly couple propped in rocking chairs on the second floor--the line was fairly short.

Enthusiasm was muted from all the kids in line as we proceeded. Southridge is on the south side of Des Moines, and it caters to a more downscale crowd. Maybe these kids had already learned it was pointless to tell Santa their wildest Christmas wishes, because they knew they'd never come true.

As we approached Santa's throne, or comfy chair, or whatever the hell it's called, I asked Tabbatha what the protocol was when we got there. She snorted. "There's no protocol. He gets on his lap, they talk, we leave."


Which is all that happened. As we slogged back to the other side of the mall, I wondered what the point of the whole thing was, but knew better than to ask.

Saturday, December 02, 2006


George W. S. Trow died this week at 63, and every obit mentions his career at The New Yorker, his reputation as a social critic and author of several books. Briefly mentioned, if at all, is the fact that he was an early editor of The National Lampoon.

Barely remembered as the brilliant source of cutting satire it once was, The Lampoon's name has taken a beating in recent times, sold and resold to various entrpreneurs who see it only as a generic title to stick onto lame tit-and-ass comedies. That Trow died the same week National Lampoon's Van Wilder: The Rise Of Taj opens is a bitter irony he would have surely noted.

Because the magazine, as conceived by its earliest editors, Henry Beard, Douglas Kenney, Michael O'Donaghue and Trow, was the farthest thing imaginable from that. Sure, The Lampoon was a reliable source of tit jokes, but Trow and Beard envisioned it as a sort of counterculture version of The New Yorker, a place where the finest comedic writers and cartoonists of their generation could find a voice. The writing staff assembled in the early days included Tony Hendra, John Boni, Christopher Cerf and, briefly, Paul Krassner. Cartoonists who contributed regularly included Gahan Wilson, Vaughan Bode, R.O. Blechman and Edward Gorey.

Social satire was the order of the day. Though The Lampoon could be political, attacking the left as well as the right, most of its best pieces tended to be assaults on seemingly benign targets, like My Weekly Reader or Life magazine, finding the despair and conformity being peddled to Americans under the guise of normalcy. And however high-minded Trow could get in his later days as he railed against the corrosive influences of popular culture (as stated most succinctly in his book In The Context Of No Context), his work at The Lampoon revealed he was profoundly influenced by it, and perhaps retained a grudging affection for it all.

The time Trow spent at The Lampoon was relatively short, and a small part of a lengthy career. But it's a good legacy to have. Such exemplars of smart comedy as The Daily Show, the Onion and Borat would never have happened without it, and if it crashed and burned too early, Trow didn't care. He decided to crawl up into an ivory tower, and stay there until his dreaded popular culture forced him out, turning him into a despairing, drifting lost soul. If you want to remember him, track down an old Lampoon, read one of his pieces like Our White Heritage, and laugh your ass off.

Friday, December 01, 2006


Random thoughts:

1) A major winter storm is blowing through the midwest, blocking roads, closing airports and causing general misery as it heads for the northeast. Every time something like this happens, right-wing looneys use it as an excuse to say, "See? No such thing as global warming!"

Of course, thirty years ago, if you had a storm like this, the snow stayed on the ground for weeks, or maybe for the entire winter. These days, it melts off with freakish speed. But yeah, I'm pretty sure that has nothing to do with global warming.

2) A while back, I was having problems with Blogger. Every time I'd try to sign in, I'd be taken to the sign in page for Blogger Beta, which would not recognize me or my password. Eventually, that problem was solved, but now when I click on my Blogger: Dashboard bookmark, I'm directed to a page extolling the virtues of Blogger Beta, which I have to bypass to be able to sign in.

I'm getting the impression that I'm going to have to switch over or die, and to tell you the truth, the format in which this blog appears isn't something I really spend a lot of time worrying about. But I do resent having something forced on me against my will.

One of the selling points for Blogger Beta--as opposed to Blogger VHS?--is that it allows you to create a private blog, viewable only by your friends. Wouldn't it be simpler to send an email? Besides, the Blogger format I'm already using allows me to do that. The main difference I can see is, to use Blogger Beta, you need to open a Google account.

Say, you don't suppose that could be why they're hyping it?

3) Woody Allen turns seventy-one today. He has a movie due for release next year, and no doubt something in the works after that.

Around the time Kill Bill opened, I read an interview in which Quentin Tarntino claimed it would be "pathetic" if he was still directing movies in his sixties, because all the great directors lose it as they get older. The only directors he mentioned by name were John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock.

Leaving aside the fact that Hitchcock's penultimate film, Frenzy, is a terrific, nasty piece of work, what about more modern directors, Quentin? Steven Spielberg tuns sixty this month. With such fine recent work as Munich and A.I., should he just give it up?

What about seventy-six year old Clint Eastwood, who halfway through shooting Flags Of Our Fathers decided that the battle for Iwo Jima needed to be told from a Japanese perspective, and so decided to make a seperate film, Letters From Iwo Jima? Even a routine Eastwood picture like The Gauntlet makes Tarentino's stuff look like the fanboy droolings it is, but Eastwood has only gotten better with age.

And for God's sake, what about Robert Altman? He was well into his forties when he made MASH, so obviously, much of his finest work was done when he was in his sixties and beyond. And again, Tarentino isn't fit to be mentioned ion the same breath as Altman.

Wow, that turned kind of nasty. I don't hate Tarentino's movies, but I hate the persona he's created for himself, and it annoys me that so many young film fans buy into it.

4) Both of the cats are sleeping, which means they're not doing anything crazy or annoying. Around here, that's as close to Heaven as it gets.

Thursday, November 30, 2006


Good news. The Decider finally got together with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki for breakfast this morning. (How much you wanna bet Bush talked with his mouth full?) Yesterday, of course, Maliki disinvited Bush from a summit meeting with the king of Jordan, claiming that Bush had no reason to be there.

Bush's camp claimed the snub had nothing to do with a leaked White House memo questioning Maliki's basic competence for his job, and I, um, totally believe that. If I were Maliki, I wouldn't give a rat's ass what Bush thought about me. I'd just be pissed about his attitude.

Since the mid-terms, Bush has elevated his douchebaggery to new heights. His attitude towards Iraq is basically, Why can't you people fix this mess? The United States--oh, I'm sorry, I meant The Coalition Of The Willing--comes in, fucks everything up, then threatens to leave when the victim needs help. Is this any way for civilized people to behave?

Given the shifting rationales for why we're even in Iraq--even the big payday for Halliburton was less than expected--I'm beginning to think that the whole thing was just a Magic Christian-like scheme on the part of the administration. Cheney and Rumsfeld, playing Guy Grand, made a bet with the rest of the Bushinistas that if you invade a nation, decimate its peacekeeping forces and destroy its infrastructure, the whole country will descend into chaos. Turns out, they were right.

And now Bush thinks Maliki should just magically be able to put an end to the civil war the United States--sorry, Coalition Of the Willing; gosh, why do I keep thinking the United States is solely to blame?--has midwifed. Great Googly Moogly, man, the U.S. barely survived its own civil war, and we had Lincoln at the helm then. And even Lincoln didn't have to deal with a much-hated occupying army on top of everything else.

But hey, why am I being so negative? Our Beloved President had himself a nice breakfast, and he says everything is going fine. And he's never, ever been wrong.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Don't believe most of what you've read since Robert Altman died. Trying to be helpful, most of the obits compiled a rather obvious list of the highlights of Altman's career. And they pretty much got everything wrong.

Most of the lists I've read suggest starting with 1970's MASH, a possible mention of McCabe And Mrs. Miller from 1971, then Nashville ('75), of course, followed by the implication that he did nothing worthwhile until The Player in '92.

Trust me, if you're assembling an essential Altman collection--and it's going to be a big collection--you can safely skip MASH. Yes, it was the first movie in his long career to be truly "Altman-esque", but it is at best a blueprint for what was to come. Yeah, by all means add McCabe and Nashville to your collection--they're honest-to-God masterpieces--but not at the expense of the work Altman did between them.

Brewster McCloud (1970) and Thieves Like Us (1974) are unfortunately not available on DVD, but Images (1972), The Long Goodbye (1973) and California Split (1974) are. These are essential stuff, especially California Split, the only time Altman ever devoted an entire film to one of his personal demons, compulsive gambling.

And between Nashville and The Player? Again, some of his best stuff. (Just because a movie wasn't financially successful or laden with awards doesn't mean it's no good.) Start with the astonishing Three Women from 1977, continue with the nexy year's A Wedding, 1980's hugely entertaining Popeye, the intense filmed record of Phillip Baker Hall's magnificent stage performance as Nixon in Secret Honor (1984), and conclude with 1990's Vincent And Theo, one of the most moving and despairing portraits of an artist's existence ever created.

Of course, some of these are difficult to watch. Altman's restless camera and multi-layered sound mixes can frustrate those who want every plot point handed to them, but then again, very few of these films depend much on plot. Things happen in them, but often seemingly at random, and you're either on the director's wavelength or you're not. If you are, you'll find that these titles combine, as Altman himself once said, to form one long movie, an ongoing exploration of life, and all the joys and sorrows and frustrations and interruptions we discover on the journey.

Monday, November 27, 2006


Together for almost a year now, the cats have settled into a state of mutual distrust. If I show the slightest bit of affection for Delmar, Monika immediately appears, preening, purring and all but shoving poor Del out of the way. If I show attention to Monika, Delmar skulks in the background like David Patrick Kelly in The Warriors, desperately wanting to show he deserves some respect, utterly clueless about earning it.

They still get into fights, somewhere between a Japanese monster smackdown and the sweaty grapplings of Italian muscleman epics. I honestly can't tell if these epic clashes are bitter struggles between sworn enemies, or the raucous playtime of good buddies.

If there is a war for my love, the smart money would favor Monika, who is sweet, loving, adorable and equipped with her famous James Coburn-like Zen cool. Delmar, on the other hand, is neurotic, possibly psychotic, and if he didn't have fur, would be perpetually covered in nervous perspiration. He's like Elisha Cook in The Killing, only without the screeching harridan wife--Del's not even that lucky.

So naturally, I prefer Delmar. Monika is a wonderful cat in every way, and I love having her around, but sweet and loving cats are easy to find. So are cats that are bland and uninteresting, or that aren't affectionate in any way. But honest to God nutjob cats like Del--I've been around cats my whole life, and never have I encountered anything like him.

Well, plus I'm just mad at Monika these days. Del will eat anything I give him, but Monika, who's spent her whole life eating whatever cat food was cheapest, has recently decided she will eat only the most expensive food, and yowls at me whenever I feed them. So that's another point for Delmar.

On the other hand, currently Del is pointlessly yowling at the door, while Monika is quietly sleeping. Another few minutes of this and the ranking could get reversed.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


Sometimes some kind of thought goes into these posts, and sometimes it's all random weirdness pulled out of the ether. Like today: I was musing on the fact that for the last three days, I've essentially been writing about death. So today, I wanted to write about life.

Unfortunately, the first thought that popped into my head was Life Day, the Wookie holiday celebrated in that notorious 1978 cheesefest The Star Wars Holiday Special. While there are any number of things to say about that monstrosity (though they all boil down to one thought: What were they thinking?), the most interesting thing about it, from my point of view is that it was co-produced and featured songs by that quintessential team of seventies hacks, Ken and Mitzie Welch.

They had a hand in a pretty fair number of things that I can't believe I actually saw, from the smutty sitcom Husbands, Wives and Lovers (my brother and I used to watch this every week, although we'd only get about ten minutes into it before we gave up) to The Hal Linden Special (featuring Hal wandering through NYC and breaking into song at a moment's notice) to Linda Lavin's variety extravaganza Linda In Wonderland (the highlight of which was Ron Liebman recalling his courtship of Linda while accompanying himself on drums).

This led me--or could have led me--to wander through the shadow history of TV, the shows no one remembers but that someone, somewhere, watched. Networks were more willing then to fill their schedules with time-killer shows, programs with no pretensions towards quality whatsoever, which may explain how things like Cade's County ever got on the air.

All fine and dandy, and a worthwhile topic for discussion, but what does that have to do with celebrating life? Nothing at all. So I'll just quote Saundan (who was played by Art Carney, who really, really should have known better) from The Star Wars Holiday Special: Happy Life Day, and I do mean happy Life Day.

Friday, November 24, 2006


200 Iraqi civilians have been killed in the latest attacks on Sadr City, a Shiite stronghold. Residents are vowing revenge against the Sunnis (and, of course, The U.S. invaders), but the news media keeps saying Iraq is "threatening to descend" into civil war.

Almost 4000 people have been killed since October.

If this is merely a prelude to civil war, what will the real thing be like?


I couldn't let the passing of the writer and lyricist Betty Comden pass without a quick note. She was 89, and her active career was pretty much over. Yet she was one of the true survivors, and her career spanned the Golden Ages of both Broadway and Hollywood.

For the stage, she and regular collaborator Adolph Green wrote the book and lyrics for the landmark musical On The Town. Nothing they did after that was quite so memorable, but they wrote Broadway shows for such amazing performers as Phil Silvers, Judy Holliday, Carol Burnett and Madeline Kahn, among many, many others.

They didn't work as often or for as long in Hollywood, but they wrote the screenplays for such wonderful movies as The Band Wagon and It's Always Fair Weather.

But the reason Comden and Green will always be remembered is their script for a little picture called Singin' In The Rain, a source of endless delight. Forget the great performances and amazing musical numbers--lots of movies have those. What makes this movie work is the script, impeccably crafted and laugh-out-loud funny. It's absolute perfection. It's a day late, but if you need a reason to give thanks, thank Betty Comden for helping to give us the greatest movie ever made.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


"Two?" the host asked, not waiting for an answer, instead turning and leading us back, into the bowels of Ryan's Steakhouse. He moved at a pretty good clip, not noticing or caring that Mom, using a walker, couldn't keep up. It was difficult, in this crowded den of hungry suburbanites, for her to make her way through.

Eventually we arrived at the tiny booth. "Is this all right?" the host asked.

Mom snorted. "Do we have a choice?"

He looked surprised by her reaction, and started to say something, but Mom assured him, no, this booth was fine.

This was last Thanksgiving. Mom had been torn, kind of wanting to do something for the holiday, kind of wanting to ignore it. I had suggested the possibility of me coming up and spending the day at her house, though I knew she probably wouldn't be up to fixing much of a meal, and options for dining out in Perry were limited. She went back and forth with that idea, and finally decided that she wanted to go out, get something to eat and maybe go to a movie afterwards.

So she came down to Des Moines and we took off from my place. I was in a foul mood at first, I remember that, but I don't remember why. (Probably related to a woman, but I can't say for sure.) We drove around for awhile, trying to think of a place to eat, nothing coming to mind.

Mom, surprisingly, kept saying she was hungry. Recently, her appetite had noticably diminished, but there were times when she could put food away with the best of them, and clearly, she wanted to eat. We drove past the usual places that offered no-frills Thanksgiving dinners--Village Inn, Baker's Square. We decided on Ryan's because...Well, no real reason, but I'd never been there, and was unprepared for the ambience, people crowded so close together it was almost impossible to breathe.

Surprisingly the food wasn't bad, and after we ate, we drove around trying to decide what movie to see. There really wasn't much choice: We knew we were going to see Walk The Line, because Mom and I were both huge Johnny Cash fans, and because Mom had a weird thing for Joaquin Phoenix. (Best not to think about that.) I had problems with the movie, as I always have problems with cliched biopics, but Mom cried all the way through it.

When it ended, she blew her nose, sighed and pushed her walker silently to the car. We talked about Johnny Cash a little, and how nice it would be if people you admired never died, but when she said, "Oh, and Joaquin Phoenix, he's just so...", I quickly changed the subject. Soon we arrived back at my apartment building. I live on the third floor, and even with an elevator, it was a burden for Mom to come up, so we said our goodbyes and she drove back to Perry. When she got home, she called me, just to gush about her beloved Joaquin some more.

At no point did we talk about the possibility of this being her last Thanksgiving. She was just coming off a terrible summer, during which intestinal blockage led to a discovery of an advanced, inoperable cancer. In November, she still hadn't paid any return visits to the doctors who had sent her home to regain her strength after a lengthy hospital stay. She sensed time was winding down, but she didn't know, or didn't want to know, how sick she was. In December, she would see a doctor to formulate a treatment plan. In January, she started chemo. In February, she died.

Had I known last year that it would be our final holiday together, I guess things would have been different. There would have been a large family gathering, and Mom would have been the guest of honor. But she would have hated that. She prefered to continue her life the way it had always been, free of grand gestures, right up to the end. Murder, She Wrote reruns, a Will Shortz crossword puzzle, a Bootsy Collins song playing while she'd go for an aimless drive--a life marked with small rituals that gave comfort, and quiet pleasures. She needed, and wanted, nothing more. Her life, as she put it, suited her just fine.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Everybody agrees Robert Altman was a great filmmaker. Everyone knows he directed some of the greatest movies ever made, and some of the most self-indulgent, and some of the most boring. But try to figure out which film falls into which category, and you're on a fool's errand. Possibly unique among directors, Altman's films changed every time you watched them.

Take The Long Goodbye, his adaptation of Raymond Chandler's private eye novel. I first saw it years ago, when I was twelve or thirteen. I enjoyed it as a thriller, but even then, I thought it seemed a bit odd, not quite what I expected. Years passed, and I saw it again and again. Sometimes I'd watch it and it seemed like a failed spoof. Sometimes I thought it was a near-miss. Sometimes I thought it was a masterpiece.

The reason my feelings for the film kept shifting, I think, is because Altman wanted you to bring something to his work. Storytelling was never a priority for him, and he never told you what to think or how to feel. "Here are some people and situations I find interesting," he seemed to say. "What you make of them is entirely up to you."

Altman, of course, died Monday at the age of 81. Cancer was what finally did him in, but he'd had a number of health problems over the years, none of which sidelined him for long. He had a heart transplant ten years ago, but kept right on working, and so many of the films he made after that, such as Gosford Park and The Company, reveal surprising new aspects of his talent.

He was a hero of mine, not just for his awesome body of work, but as a model of how to grow old. He kept doing what he wanted to do, all the way to the end. Diagnosed with cancer, he could have sat back and waited to die. Instead, he made his final film, A Prarie Home Companion, and started work on another. His body may have been failing him, but he wasn't going to let that stop him.

There's so much to say about Altman's work, I don't even know where to begin, and I wouldn't know where to stop. His work is astonishingly influential--such movies as The Big Lebowski and Boogie Nights, such TV shows as The Office and Entourage are but a few of his spiritual children--and yet it remains singular. Lots of directors, even a hack like Paul Haggis with Crash, could do "Altmanesque".

But only Altman could do Altman, could surprise and astonish and bore and infuriate you, could make you laugh and cry simultaneously, could show you things you've seen a million times in ways you had never noticed. Only Altman could have made McCabe And Mrs. Miller, Nashville, Three Women, Popeye, Secret Honor, Vincent And Theo or Short Cuts. These are movies I have watched and will watch over and over again, and every viewing will be like a visit with an old friend, familiar yet somehow different.

Interviewed by NPR, old friend and collaborator Elliot Gould said Altman's body of work was about "life taking its course." A wonderful description and an accurate one, and as perfect a way to remember him as any artist could wish.


The biggest new release on DVD today is the boxed set Preston Sturges: The Filmmakers Collection, an awkwardly titled collection of some of the best comedies ever made, including Sullivan's Travels and Hail the Conquering Hero. It unfortunately doesn't include The Miracle Of Morgan's Creek or Unfaithfully Yours, and regrettably does include The Great Moment, an unwise excursion into earnest biopic country, but all in all, essential stuff.

Film historians prattle on about the tragedy of Sturges' career, from hotshot screenwriter in the thirties to acclaimed director in the forties, but his career was surprisingly brief. Did the well of inspiration simply dry up, was he destroyed by the studio system, or did critics not appreciate his savage wit? Probably a combination of all three, but when modern-day critics decry the treatment of Sturges, I think of the treatment contemporary critics gave Woody Allen's Scoop, which is also out today on DVD.

True, this is a minor effort from Allen, and he's largely just doing a riff on themes from his previous picture, Match Point. But when this came out, there was an amazingly level of hostility in many of the reviews, most of it directed at Allen's screen persona, basically angry that he's still doing the nebbishy neurotic Jew routine, or more accurately, angry at the persona itself, as if he should be something other than what he is. Get off the stage, old man, your act is tired.

To me, Scoop felt like the work of an old vaudevillian trying to show the kids how it's done. There's a lot in it that's genuinely funny. But even if there wasn't, hasn't Allen earned the right to do what he wants? Let me put it this way: Take The Money And Run, Sleeper, Annie Hall, Manhattan, The Purple Rose Of Cairo, Hannah And Her Sisters, Bullets Over Broadway--an astonishingly long run of some of the finest comedies commited to film. Sure, there are a lot of clunkers along the way--my least favorite would be Alice--but even when Allen makes a movie that doesn't quite work, like Everyone Says I Love You, it's marked by a level of intelligence and craftsmanship that's simply not present in even the best contemporary comedies.

So even though I wouldn't put Scoop up there with Zelig or Broadway Danny Rose, it's a perfectly enjoyable movie. Perhaps film historians of the future will observe the way the critical tide turned against Woody Allen, and it will seem every bit as inexplicable as the treatment Preston Sturges received in his lifetime.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


Now that they've been elected by promising sweeping changes to the congressional "culture of corruption", Democrats are apparently deciding that since they're in charge now, hey, maybe things aren't so bad.

Though some in the party are continuing to push for the new ethics rules that they had all promoted during the election season, many more are having second thoughts. "There is an understanding on our side that the Republicans paid a price for a lot of the abuses involved," Massachusetts representative Barney Frank told The New York Times, and Iowa senator Tom Harkin agreed: "That was incestuous from the beginning. We never had anything like that."

In other words, Republicans became corrupt simply because they were Republicans, not because of lax ethic rules and lobbyists with piles of cash, and certainly not because they became giddy and arrogant with power. Well, maybe it was those other things, too, but that can't happen to the Democrats because they're so much better than that.


Here's the thing, folks: You weren't elected because anyone gives a rat's ass about you. You were elected because the people of this country are sick of the war in Iraq, and because they're sick of Washington. You weren't elected to consolidate your (imagined) powers, you were elected to change things. And so far, things are looking pretty much the same as they did before, which means your honeymoon is going to be very short, and the Republicans are going to come roaring back into power. This could very well be what the Bush team was planning all along, and you're following the script to the letter. If you don't make some big changes soon, all is lost. It'll be just like it was, only worse.

Saturday, November 18, 2006


There I was, tapping out a post for today (The gist of which was, Holy crap, Casino Royale is unbelievably great, so for God's sake, go see it!), when a window abruptly popped up telling me that Firefox had detected a bug in the system, and was shutting down.

(By the way, although Firefox is my server of my choice, and I'm pretty happy with it, every time I see the name, I visualize Clint Eastwood stealing a Soviet plane. I'm not the only one that does this, am I?)

So they system shut down so fast, I didn't even have time to save my post as a draft. Perhaps this is a good thing. After all, I just went on and on at great length about James Bond movies yesterday, so perhaps it was fate saving all of you reading this from a second day of the same thing. Hey, at least it spares you two days of Star Wars references!

I was tempted to use this as an excuse to write another anti-technology screed, to point out that when the world is wired, we are all hanging by a wire, and that sort of thing. But I've sung that song before, and like poor Del Shannon being forced to sing Runaway for the umpteenth time, I'm frankly bored with it.

(Another totally off-topic parenthetical aside here: It's long been my opinion that Del Shannon possessed the greatest voice in rock and roll history, and knowing that his life would end with a never explained suicide makes much of his material unbelievably poignant. If you can find a copy of his Tom Petty-produced album Drop Down And Get Me, by all means buy it.)

Instead, I'll just observe how, in modern movies, technology is always benign. Computers never crash, cellphones never drop, everything always works perfectly. Presumably this is a combination of lazy screenwriting and the fact that product placement would never allow the sponsor's handiwork to be shown in a negative light.

(Oh look, more parentheses! Just thought now seemed like a good time to point out that, for a James Bond picture, Casino Royale remarkably light on product placement, and in at least one case, technology gets Bond in trouble. This almost seems progressive.)

By now, it's pretty obvious that this post is just a placeholder, a grab-bag of jumbled ideas that don't really add up to a lot, desperately spiced up with the gimmick of interrupting the main flow of the thing with whole paragraphs of random observations set off by parentheses. Seems kind of lazy, I know, but what do you want on a Saturday morning?

Friday, November 17, 2006


As thrilled as I am about the opening of the new James Bond picture, Casino Royale, today, I'm somewhat baffled by the reviews. Critics are effusive in their praise, but make clear that they think this Bond picture is so much better than its predecesors by clicking off a list of ways in which this one differs from the earlier Bonds.

Most often, this occurs in the praise of new series star Daniel Craig, who, unlike previous Bonds, is vulnerable, capable of being hurt both physically and emotionally. This is nonsense, of course--take a look at On Her Majesty's Secret Service, the high-water mark of the entire series, in which Bond completely loses his heart, and has it broken in a devastating final scene. Or see License To Kill--Bond resigns from MI6 in order to follow his own private vengeance trail. Or hell, take pretty much anything from the Pierce Brosnan era, when he was constantly confronted by demons from his past. (As Sean Bean's superbly played villain in Goldeneye put it, "I might as well ask if all those vodka martinis silence the screams of all the men you've killed, or if you've found forgiveness in the arms of all those willing women from the dead ones you failed to protect.")

The producers of the Bond series have always been willing to tinker with the formula, a fact that the reviews of Casino Royale don't acknowledge, as they praise its lack of gimmicks or a villain who wants to take over the world. For lack of gimmicks and human-scaled action, again see On Her Majesty's Secret Service (which, okay, does feature a villain who wants to take over the world), or For Your Eyes Only or either of Timothy Dalton's underrated efforts. Other reviews of Casino Royale praise Eva Green's performance, citing her as a Bond girl who's not an airhead. Not to sound like a broken record, but what about Diana Rigg in On Her Majesty's Secret Service? Or Famke Janssen in Goldeneye? Or Sophie Marceau in The World Is Not Enough? (That last picture, incidentally, gets my vote as Brosnan's best Bond and as one of the best in the whole series. The critical praise for Daniel Craig has also included a lot of bashing of Brosnan's entire run, which admittedly closed on a dreadful note with Die Another Day, but which on the whole was quite good.)

I'm mentioning all this not to show off my knowledge of James Bond arcana, but to decry the current state of film criticism. While writing about the arts has become an increasingly lonely pursuit, it is generally expected that if you are writing about music, say, or literature or painting that you have some sort of knowledge of the subject. No critic would write about one of Philip Roth's Zuckerman novels without having read the previous books, or at the very least without acknowledging having not read the books. No critic would write about Edvard Munch without some knowledge of the artist's life and influences. What would be the point? The critic's job is to illuminate, to introduce the reader to a pont of view he or she may never have considered.

But film criticism--feh. Who cares? If most of the critics writing about Casino Royale had done a half hour's worth of research on the internet (or even--gasp--watched the previous Bonds on DVD), they would have discovered many of the things they're writing are flat-out factually inaccurate. (Don't even get me started on some of the reviews of Happy Feet, which show an appalling lack of familiarity with animation history and basic techniques.) I realize this isn't on a level with, say, The New York Times reporting as fact that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, but it is still a case of people who are paid to do a job, and yet are unable to fulfill what would seem to be one of the basic demands of that job. If you're paid for having an opinion, shouldn't that opinion at least be well-informed?