Monday, February 28, 2005


I can't fault the Academy for giving gold to Swank and Freeman. Both were Great. Freeman may have been the greatest American actor to have never won. Eastwood did a wonderful job directing. He's one of a handful of true legends left in Hollywood. But was it worth winning to have Streisand slobbering over you? I'm glad the screenwriter’s guild wasn't buffaloed into thinking the script was worth an Oscar. I'll always wish that Clint hadn't settled for the third act gimmick.
Rock tried to get the crowd on his side with praise for Farenheit 911 and derision for George Bush. That's like giving out cotton candy in a Kindergarten class. It's the first time I can remember an Oscar's host being so overtly political. Billy Crystal and Steve Martin seemed be more subtle about such things. Still Rock wasn't nearly as bad a Whoopi or Letterman. I laughed a few times.

Sunday, February 27, 2005


DANGEROUS LIVES OF ALTER BOYS (2002) – In the tradition of STAND BY ME in that it’s a movie about kids made for grownups. It has an inventive first act, and it sustains itself through Act II, but the ending doesn’t dramatically fit the lead up. It’s set in the 1950s and our main character and his friends have drawn their own alter ego comic book super heroes. Periodically through the film the characters come to life in an animated sequence that parallels the live action angst of our hero. I found this to be generally interesting, but it annoyed me that it wasn’t done in 1970s style animation. Would this kid really have imagined the technological advances of the medium?

DEVIL’S PLAYGROUND (2002) - It turns out that Amish kids can run wild when they turn 16 and most do. They’re expected to eventually give it up and join the church and be God fearing in the old tradition and most do that too. This was an interesting documentary about what these kids actually do when the freedom comes. Some of the subjects join up and others go running off. I grew up about 20 minutes from where this was shot so it was particularly interesting for that reason alone.

THE ALAMO (2004) – This was the equivalent of a well made TV movie. The script is adequate. The actors don’t run into the furniture. I was maybe supposed to be thrilled by the battle scenes, but they weren’t particular inventive. We did get to fly with a cannonball once like we fell with that bomb in PEARL HARBOR (2001). Video games use to copy movies and now movies are copying video games. Another similarity to PEARL HARBOR was that this massacre didn’t complete the film. We got to see Sam Houston route Santa Anna like we got to see General Doolittle bomb Japan. We’re not far away from a time in which Romeo and Juliet ends with Mr. Capulet strangling Friar Lawrence and the Nurse.

+ANIMAL HOUSE (1978) – Still good after all these years. Tim Matheson does a decent job leading the film and Belushi is still funny. Bruce McGill plays D-Day, which means nothing except that he’s turned into a very productive character actor. You see him all the time in small roles. He played Ralph Houk in 61 and he played Peter Arnett in LIVE FROM BAGHDAD. He’s also in Collateral, Matchstick Men, Ali, The Sum of All Fears, Bagger Vance, The Insider. . . Why didn’t Tim Matheson have a better career?

+DRESSED TO KILL (1980) De Palma’s Psycho homage. The heroine dies early in the film via the ugly knife. The shower is used in dream sequences. An adultery angle pops up. The killer is fighting multiple personalities, one male and one female. DePalma’s career choices? SNAKE EYES? MISSION TO MARS? Gimme a freakin break.

SECOND HAND LIONS (2003) – Duvall and Caine wasted on an uneven film that changes tone frequently. The title is some sort of obvious symbolism, while the plot reminds one of BIG FISH (2004) without the stylish magic. There are some funny moments early on, but the screenwriter ran out of gas and the director couldn’t keep things together.

A PERFECT CANDIDATE (1996) The movie doesn't seem to take sides in the 1994 Senate race between Oliver North and Chuck Robb. It's mostly about North though and he comes off as earnest, although his campaign manager is a self-promoting jerk. North is gracious in his defeat, but the campaign manager is so self-involved he doesn't even care how his candidate feels. And who knew Chuck Robb was so void of personality. No wonder George Allen defeated him in 2000. The most interesting character in the movie is the Washington Post reporter who follows and asks questions of the candidates. He's totally over Chuck Robb, because Robb claims to have never told a lie. Who hasn't told a lie? A seminal moment is that same reporter asking Robb to clarify his position on strikebreakers. Robb talks in circles and will not answer the question no matter how many ways it is posed.

+TARGETS (1968) – Peter Bogdanovich’s debut was a low budget suspense film produced by Roger Corman. Corman told Bogdanovich that Boris Karloff owed him two days and that he could use 20 minutes from the Karloff picture, THE TERROR. Instead of writing a horror film around the footage, Bogdanovich dreamed up a scenario in which an aging film actor wants to retire while a young man goes on a shooting spree. It’s just a matter of time before the two meet up. It’s full of the gee whiz acting style contrasted by some grizzly shootings.

+SHORT CUTS (1993) I hadn’t seen this since the theatrical release, and at the time I had only seen two Altman films, THE PLAYER the year before and MASH when I was real young. In the last year or so I have seen NASHVILLE, LONG GOODBYE, and THREE WOMEN. I am amazed at how they all have the same soft dreamy camera work and nonchalant pacing style. Of the previous three, I only liked LONG GOODBYE, and I would have liked it better had they stuck to the original Raymond Chandler novel. For all the praise NASHVILLE gets I found it one long snooze. THREE WOMEN was Atlman’s attempt at a weird Euorpean style. SHORT CUTS works better than any of them.

+ASHES AND DIAMONDS (1958) – I just recently came across the name of Andzej Wajda, a man considered Poland’s greatest director. There was a time that I would read about someone like this and just forget all about it. Now we have Netflix. Zbigniew Cybulski is a young man who is part of an underground movement to rid Poland of Communists shortly after the war. The movie begins with he and his boss offing a couple of dudes thought to be the new communist leaders coming to town. They got the wrong guys. The rest of the movie takes place inside their hotel where the real communist leader is also staying. Cybulski is ready to try it all over again, but in the interim he meets and romances the fetching young bartender, Eva Krzyewska. Our character is therefore torn between having a normal life with Eva and carrying out his duty to the resistance. If Eva is the standard looking Eastern European babe, it’s no wonder it took them so long to tear the iron curtain down. Who could keep their mind on the revolution?

HAPPY ACCIDENTS (1999) From Director Brad Anderson, the guy who just directed the MACHINIST with Christian Bale’s weight loss. Kooky actor Vincent D'Onofrio plays a kooky character that may be from the year 2470. Marisa Tomei plays his wacky girlfriend that alternates between playing along with him for the excitement and getting angry at his active imagination. These actors are both better as supporting players. They don’t have enough of that heroic magnetism to make you root for them. The payoff is somewhat interesting if you make it that far. I was ready for it to end.

THE CROSSING GUARD (1995) – This is a perplexing movie at first sight. It’s written and directed by Sean Penn, a man who couldn’t put a single coherent thought together in one hour on the Larry King show in 2002. Penn’s case that night of the wonderful people in Iraq and why we shouldn’t go to war was nothing but emoting through a string of disjointed words and phrases that lacked argument, evidence and conclusion. It might go down as the perfect example of how artists are ill equipped to function in the real world. The CROSSING GUARD is full of the same kinds of unfocused emoting, but it works here somewhat better. Jack Nicholson and Anjelica Huston split up after their daughter was killed by a drunk driver. The driver (David Morse) is getting out of prison at the beginning of the film and Jack plans to put a hole in him. The plot gets no deeper. Morse feels as bad as Jack and they spend the movie in parallel despair. It’s certainly the kind of movie made by someone who likes to see acting rather than story. If you add this movie to his other directorial effort, THE PLEDGE and the Eastwood film, MYSTIC RIVER, the Robbins film DEAD MAN WALKING one would get the idea that Penn is building an entire portion of his career around the murdered daughter plot device.

HURLY BURLY (1998) – One of those showcase for actors movies that gets a top notch cast because the characters get to do so many random and exciting things. For the audience waiting to see how this slice of life nonsense fits together, it’s less thrilling. There’s a few moments and even some decently written dialogue, but it falls short of something I would call either art or entertainment. My old theatre teacher, Susan Harper labeled this category as actor masturbation.

+EMPEROR’S CLUB (2002) – Kline is a classics teacher in one of those typical Eastern prep schools circa 1975. Emile Hirsch (one of the kids from DANGEROUS LIVES OF ALTER BOYS) plays the rebellious kid that Kline must set straight. It has something interesting to say about how teachers sometimes waste effort on bad kids that cannot be reached at the expense of kids that could better use and appreciate that same help. It also has much to say about the inherit value of personal virtue. The movie doesn’t denigrate capitalism or the real world, but appreciates the successful graduates who learned their lesson in that school. You’d expect the rebellious kid to be redeemed through efforts of the great teacher, but instead he’s proven dishonest twice, once as a student and later as a candidate for the Senate. As the Senate candidate he repeats the hackneyed lines about the importance of education that as we know he doesn’t believe. His donation to his Alma Matter is nothing but cheap political opportunism. This film is about the inherent value of education not a propagation of the institutions or processes that masquerade as education while functioning as jobs programs and daycare. Since I spent the better part of the movie trying to guess the liberal twist, I was surprised to find a conservative movie that didn’t apologize for it.

+61* (2001) – I had no patience for reading when I was a kid. But meeting Mickey Mantle when I was 7 changed my life. I started reading books about Mantle and the Yankees. Reading those books led to other baseball books and I eventually wrote Roger Maris a letter asking for his autograph and he kindly sent me his signature only a few years before his early death from smoking. Mickey would eventually succumb to the drink and both habits can be witnessed in the painfully accurate Billy Crystal movie. I saw it again last night for the 5th or 6th time. Will McGwire, Sosa and Bonds someday die from the effects of Steroids? Crystal uses CGI to great effect and he has a real love for the material. Mel Allen and Scooter Rizzuto are fun. Yogi has a couple of Yogi lines. Whitey Ford pipes in from time to time. It's hard to get over how much Barry Pepper and Thomas Jane look like Maris and Mantle.

Thursday, February 24, 2005


If Jonah Goldberg and others are right that Deep Throat never existed, but was merely conjured up as a plot device, then essentially the liberal media lied to bring down a sitting president. A generation later, Rather and friends are still at it.

Here's the second problem: I don't think Deep Throat exists.

I'm not alone. Recently, Eric Burns revealed that the late, great historian Stephen Ambrose had told him there never was a Deep Throat. Burns's evidence was secondhand at best. He said Ambrose had shared an editor with Woodward and Bernstein — the legendary Alice Mayhew — and she had told him that Deep Throat was a composite of various sources. Mayhew told Ambrose that the first manuscript of All the President's Men contained no references to Deep Throat and that she told them the book needed a stronger plot device. D.T. was the result.

This version corroborates that of David Obst, Woodward and Bernstein's former literary agent. In his memoirs, Too Good to Be Forgotten, he confirms that the first draft of the book didn't mention Deep Throat and that Bob Fink, the researcher who organized the reporters' huge pile of sources, notes, and articles into a workable manuscript, was stunned to discover the appearance of Deep Throat in later versions.

Obst also runs down several of the implausible details about Deep Throat in the book. Woodward was supposed to have signaled to Throat that he needed to talk by putting a cloth-topped stick in a flowerpot and moving it to the back of his balcony. If Throat saw the signal, they would meet at a prearranged underground garage. Inconveniently, however, the pot couldn't be seen from the street. In other words, this major Washington figure was supposed to drive to Woodward's building, get out of his car, and walk down Woodward's alley every single day. That's not very secretive behavior for someone trying to stay secret.

A similar problem is Woodward's claim that Throat would secretly mark page 20 of Woodward's home-delivered New York Times with a hand-drawn clock marking the time of their next meeting. But Woodward's Times was delivered to the building's lobby, writes Obst, "unmarked and stacked in a pile" before 7 A.M. How did Deep Throat figure out the right paper? And why would a super-secret, high-profile source devise a system that required regularly skulking in a public lobby before dawn?

Anyway, there are more questions and more answers to all of this. But I think history deserves a full accounting. Watergate prompted a generation of preening journalists to lecture America from a pedestal. The least Deep Throat can do — or, the least the leading Deep Throat suspects can do — is to let us know if the journalists belonged on that pedestal in the first place.

The lack of outrage over Woodward and Bernstein's fabrications, Rathergate, academic phonies like Ward Churchill -- indeed, over most anything anymore -- is a curious thing. I guess the rules have officially changed.

Churchill did address the issue of his ethnicity, admitting that he is not Native American.

"Is he an Indian? Do we really care?" he said, quoting those he called his "white Republican" critics. "Let's cut to the chase; I am not," he said.

His pedigree is "not important," Churchill said: "The issue is the substance of what is said."
That was Rather's defense: so what if the smoking gun documents were fake, the story they point to is true. Does that make journalistic integrity a permanent oxymoron? Is moral relativism now an established social more? Now lying is okay if it serves a greater good, as defined by an editor, producer, or dean? As I continue to shake my head at why Hunter S. Thompson was famous, I am choosing to believe that integrity, character, honesty and purity continue to matter, somewhere.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005


My alma mater is the preseason and current #1 in college baseball.

NEW ORLEANS, La. - Senior right fielder Matt Barket hit a grand slam and the Green Wave got four scoreless innings from its bullpen as the top-ranked Tulane University baseball team completed the series sweep of No. 11 Arizona State with a 9-3 victory Sunday afternoon at Turchin Stadium.

Tulane's sweep of the Sun Devils marked the first time Arizona State failed to win a game in a weekend series since Feb. 15-17, 2002 when Florida State took all three games in Tallahassee. With Sunday's win, the Green Wave improve to 7-0 on the season.
The university has invested heavily in its baseball facilities and athletics complex on campus. I used to watch afternoon games on aluminum bleachers with about 60 fans, free with my student ID. The renovated stadium accommodates thousands of fans in upgraded seating. Last year's TU-LSU game drew over 12,000 at Zephyr Field (New Orleans' triple-A team).

President Scott Cowen has led the have-nots in attacking the BCS system and the rising costs to compete in Division 1 football. When I was working in the school's budget office, the football program was losing about $2.7m a year, and that was with some creative accounting. It's been running a $7m annual deficit in recent years. Every so often they commission a six- or seven-figure study whose conclusion is always not to cut the football program. Certain wealthy donors like the idea of having a football team.

Basketball likewise. The program had a good run in the early 1990s but those glory days are gone and not likely to be repeated.

Like Pittsburgh's Pirates, Wave football will never win consistently and will never make money. They're the Northwestern of the south, except Northwestern did draw fans when they were winning. TU doesn't have the local alumni base or fan support and they can't run with the LSUs and the Alabamas. Even when Shaun King was leading the team to a 12-0 season a few years ago, they didn't draw any fans. It just ain't gonna happen. Tulane draws its students from outside New Orleans, and when they graduate, off they go. There was only one guy in my fraternity who was local. Other than him, when I left in 1993, I was the last of my class to go.

I have long been recommending to my old New Orleans friends that TU cut its football program and invest in sports where it can play at the top level and which support the academic, upscale bent of the school, like baseball, tennis, and golf. Maybe building up the baseball program is a signal that the next consulting engagement won't be another fix. Applications are way up and selectivity is much improved, and none of those students are coming because of the big-time football program. It's an expensive and unnecessary luxury.

Monday, February 21, 2005


I was less than shocked to hear this morning of Hunter S. Thompson's death by self-inflicted blast to head. Why is this vitriolic jackass being feted today? "Life's a bitch and then you blow yourself away"? Not much of a legacy if you ask me. In his final column he boasted of waking Bill Murray at 3:30 a.m. with his idea of a joke. Every life has meaning, purpose, and value, and every soul a final destination, but let's just say some suicides are more tragic than others.

This is the kind of post that could derail my political career.

Friday, February 18, 2005

WHERE THE RIGHT WENT WRONG by Pat Buchanan – a book review (4 stars of 5)

Buchanan has been an outspoken critic of the President on the issues of Iraq, trade, and immigration. This work provides the kind of thoughtful analysis and big-picture perspective I’m always looking for and never finding on the cable news channels.

This book is to the neocon right what Zell Miller’s book was to the liberal left – a public outing and flogging that exposes the corrupt underpinnings of the party platform. Each has seen his party become what it despised. They look to what the parties are doing, not what they say they are doing, and take them to task. “The GOP may be Reaganite in its tax policy, but it is Wilsonian in its foreign Policy, FDR in its trade policy, and LBJ in its spending policies.” Buchanan bemoans the departure from sound moral and cultural values that long defined and girded the nation’s fiscal, trade, and national defense policies.

How ironic that Mr. Buchanan, whose butterfly-ballot votes in Palm Beach County cost Gore the presidency, now provides the very talking points that may well usher the Dems back into the White House in 2008. (I don’t think that will happen—I think a more moderate Republican will win—but the Dems’ best arguments should be borrowed directly from these pages.)

“Though the object of being a Great Power is to be able to fight a Great War,” wrote British historian A. J. P. Taylor, “the only way of remaining a Great Power is not to fight one.” The U.S. until now has maintained its supremacy by coming into wars late, suffering fewer casualties than other world powers, and laying claim to the spoils. The strategy now is dangerously different. By conveying strength everywhere, we spread our resources thin and at great cost while stirring indignant opposition. I think of the board game RISK when I consider this administration’s show of strength and its geographic reach – when you spread your pieces all over the board, you become more vulnerable to a larger number of enemies. In that regard I think the attacks on Bush have merit. Buchanan argues that not only do we have no business interfering in the internal affairs of other countries, we invite our own demise by committing expensive resources to conflicts that do not threaten vital interests of the United States. Continuous war will drain any country. But what he fails to explain, and what Bush’s opponents always fail to explain, is why waiting for enemies to develop weapons to smash us with is better than preemptively smashing their capacity to develop them. Israel avoided decimation by decimating its enemy in the preemptive Six Day War. It’s a good workplace rule to not allow criticism unless the critic can also suggest a better way. O that the same rule applied in political sniping.

It is a different world today than it was in the Nixon White House when Buchanan walked the halls of power. The threats are real and imminent and we cannot afford to rely upon the moral restraint of sworn enemies. Dad once said, “If there is going to be a fight, throw the first punch and make it count.” I have not heard an argument that tops that sage advice (notwithstanding the loss of two teeth when I followed it). It may be true, Pat, that containment and deterrence have never failed the U.S., but the U.S. has never faced a world marked by otherwise weak enemies with massively destructive and disruptive weapons.

It may well be true that the war in Iraq and Bush’s tough talk is creating new enemy recruits, but certainly Bush did not create the enemy. The United States was in fact attacked on 9/11. The USS Cole was in fact attacked. The embassies and Marine barracks were in fact attacked. The World Trade Center was actually, factually bombed more than a decade ago. This fight was declared long ago. The doves say we’re giving Osama exactly what he wanted – global holy war. But jihad had already been declared, Bush didn’t create it. The difference is that Bush decided he had a unique opportunity to do what another or the next president probably wouldn’t, namely stop getting slapped like a sissy and put the wrongdoers on notice. Sure, it’s tough to wage war against an enemy you refuse to name (Islamic jihadists), but nonetheless we have effectively made a severe example of one bully as a signal to the rest. It costs money to run a global marketing campaign. They fault Bush for failed diplomacy, but you better know his diplomatic efforts will go a lot farther when the other party knows he has bullets in the chamber and is not afraid to fire. Bush’s democratic imperialism might “bleed, bankrupt, and isolate this republic” as Buchanan predicts, but at least we’ll go down swinging. A more pointed criticism is that Americans will not support indefinitely an abstract foreign policy with its blood, sweat, and tears. That Bush has never leveled with the American people regarding why we are at war is a valid criticism and a real concern. Popular support for the war will likely continue to erode. Look for Bush to expedite the withdrawal from Iraq, leaving them free to destroy their own country.

Buchanan explains how America has mortgaged the farm to Mexico and China and revisits the protectionist trade policies for which he is known -- and ridiculed. I think he is right that America has tough times ahead. Our manufacturing base is moving offshore at an accelerating rate, sapping the nation of its capacity to create wealth. In this age of free trade, absent tariffs, we invite savage pillaging. “Thank you sir, may I have another?!!” The service jobs that replace the manufacturing jobs pay less, do not fuel R&D and investment, and offer little long-term benefit to those who hold them. The dollar gets weaker and weaker, and there is so much foreign investment in our economy that we have surrendered control of our very economic engine. From 1900-1970 the U.S. produced 96% of everything it consumed. Today we import 14% of total consumption and 33% of manufactured goods. We have run 33 straight trade deficits, now 4% of GDP. At some point that spells economic collapse. Meanwhile, in China we are creating our next superpower enemy, one that will beat us with the stick we handed her.

The bottom line: America’s monetary, fiscal, trade, and foreign policies have mortgaged the nation’s future for short-term political gain. You cannot run an empire on a falling currency, eroding manufacturing base, consumer economy, diluted culture, overextended military, and policies that fail to focus on protecting vital U.S. interests. It’s not selfish to pull in, reassess, regroup, and refocus; it’s a matter of national survival.

Pat makes a lot of sense, but I fear he may have peaked in 1988, that the train left this station some time ago.

Sunday, February 13, 2005


Last Monday, I paid $42 to play a satellite tournament. There were 13 players and the winner was rewarded with a $420 ticket to a qualifying tournament for the European Poker Tour final in Monte Carlo. I won the tourney and the ticket. The first of three qualifying tournaments was scheduled for Sunday at 10A PST, so I marked my calendar.

Today, I used my ticket to play the qualifier with a field of 45. If there were any more than 45 players, then there would have been some cash available for 2nd place, but as it was, it was all or nothing, with first prize being a package valued at $18,000.

I played well out of the gate and never fell below my initial $1500 in chips. Slow and steady gains with a couple of big wins mixed in, and with 25 players remaining, I was in first place. When it got down to 20 players, I was in first place and had more than twice the stack of the next player. I got good cards for awhile and pretended to be playing the bully, but when someone would go all in against me, they would discover that I had a premium hand.

The cards dried up for a long while, and I was no longer in first place once we were down to 7 players. At the two-hour break, I was 5 of 7, but the lead was changing on every other hand, so I still felt good. After the break, it was still bad cards for awhile, but I didn't get desperate. The play of the day came when a player went all in under the gun, and I chose to go all in with him, holding 88. I figured he had two high cards, and I was just using my 52% odds to pray for a chance to double up. Our stacks were virtually even, so whoever lost this hand was done for. I couldn't have been happier when he showed 77. My eights held up, which doubled me up, and put me in the hunt.

It got down to heads up play with me at a 2:1 chip disadvantage. I faced the same predicament in the satellite match, and I played my A game and was able to come back and win. My cost was covered either way in that tournament. This time, it was $18 grand for the winner, and a pat on the back for the loser.

I needed to double up, which I was able to do without incident. A pivotal hand came soon after, when I raised a small amount with 33. He called, which clued me in that he had cards on the high side. The flop came 577 and I sheepishly checked. He bet $6000 in an intimidating attempt to get me to fold my ace or king. I came back all in, putting my tournament life on the line. He could only call if he had a 7, which we both knew he didn't have. He folded, and for the first time, I had the chip lead.

I started running over him, taking his chips a couple thousand at a time, until I had a 4:1 chip advantage over him. The final hand, I called in the small blind with 97 suited. He held AK and decided to lure me into a trap by not raising. The flop came 7 high and I checked. He came back all in. I called. The sevens held up.

I won a 10,000 euro ($12,300) entry into a tournament to be played in Monte Carlo, Monaco next month, with $5700 travel expenses! Gotta love online poker! Look for my mug to appear here soon.

Friday, February 11, 2005


Here's the basics from my recent trip abroad:

12/28) Left LAX for a 13-hr flight with no good movies offered. Marci watched WICKER PARK, but I opted instead for excerpts from Brian Wilson's SMILE on one of the audio channels. This lost masterpiece to me sounded like post-Sgt Pepper, late '60's surf-psychadelia. It may be genius and I'm too dull to realize it, or maybe it was better when it was unreleased, existing only in the minds of hippies. The plane was struck by lightning shortly after takeoff, which got some hearts pumping. I read and slept the rest of the way.

12/29) We arrived in London and made our way to the hotel. The cab fare was $100 thanks to the lousy exchange rate. We took a walk around and found a quaint sidestreet pub for sheperd's pie and Newcastle. We went to a neighboring pub for a couple more rounds before resuming our walk. We saw Piccadilly Circus, but decided not to go closer, as we can see blatant consumerism back home. Back at the room, I watched THE FORTUNE COOKIE, which gave me a PAL headache. For the first 30 minutes I could see the flicker, then finally the flicker subsided, but was replaced by a sharp pain in my visual cortex.

12/30) Onward to Madrid and the rehearsal of the Pooh show we were being paid to see. I set up my camera near the audio board and took sound directly from the console. The show is in Spanish, of course, but you can't beat good audio. My 6-hr battery showed its age, by conking out in the second act, so that night, Marci and I went on a quest to find a replacement battery, which we were able to do. We rewarded our efforts with a nice meal at an Asian restaurant. We had forgotten our translation book, and nobody there spoke English, so we had to point and pray. Luckily, we remembered "cerveza." After dinner, we found a tapas bar and enjoyed bread and cheese with our drinks. This is where we first saw the ghastly contraption behind the bar. From the back room, the bartender brings a long leg, complete with hoof, and locks it into this contraption that looks like an upside-down shackle on an electric chair. This holds the leg in place so that a knife can slice wafer-thin strips of jamon. I am not a fan of pig, nor much of a fan of seeing carcasses so near the tapas I am eating.

12/31) We never had to be at the show too early in the day, so we began our custom of picking a direction and walking until we find good food. We found a delightful square called Plaza Santa Ana with children playing and an accordianist looking for tips. I had some delicious lamb, and a side of asparagus not to be believed. It was so ugly when it showed up, I was at first afraid to eat it. It looked like it was covered in brown fur. Later, we surmised that it had been grilled and the fur was some kind of garlic salt. It had a bernaise-type sauce on it, and it was so unbelievably delicious that asparagus became a staple of every meal while in Madrid, though this preparation would never be surpassed. After rehearsal, we got back to the hotel, realizing that we had nowhere to go for dinner and it was too late to get a table anywhere. We asked concierge to work some magic for us and his advice was basically to enjoy a nice walk and "tomorrow is another day." All the tapas bars were SRO, so we found a nice British pub and had a few rounds of Guiness for dinner. It's the closest thing to food found in a beer. All the pubs closed at 1130P, so the workers could go enjoy the strike of midnight. We were ushered out onto the street with no particular plans, toting Guiness in a plastic cup. We walked to the famous Plaza del Sol, which was packed with people and had police stationed at the barricaded inlets. Marci got nervous about the beer, even though dozens of vendors were selling champagne on the sidewalks. Standing in line, we quickly downed our beers when I determined that the cops were confiscating cups. On further reflection, I realized, they weren't taking cups, they were distributing them. We should have broken line to buy some champagne, but we didn't. We had our grapes. On each of the twelve strokes of midnight, it is customary to eat a grape to bring good fortune for the coming year. It was a challenge we were up to, but found after the first stroke that the grapes were seeded, which lessened the experience somewhat. It was a nice festive atmosphere for bringing in 2005. Afterwards, we went to another bar that was playing obscure American music from the early '60's, despite the proprietor speaking no English. He had the music on reel-to-reel, so he must be an afficionado.

1/1) Today is another day, but alas, another day without food. We walked for miles and found nobody serving food. The only signs of life were the street cleaning crews. We ended up having to wait for noon for Starbucks to open, so that we could greedily down some sandwiches. Concierge came through for us that night with a table at Rincon Esteban, which served traditional and mighty tasty Castillian cuisine. The meal ended with a gratuitous bottle of grappa, which is some kind of potent apple licquer. We should have had one shot, but stayed long enough for four, then spent the rest of the night arguing about the UN.
1/2) Starbucks again for breakfast since we were pressed to get to the show early. Nancy Tirik was now staying in our hotel, so we had a buddy for the rest of our time in Madrid. After the show, we took a walk to the Filmoteca, which promises American films, but hoping for The Aviator, we instead found Taxi Driver, and no shows before 5P, so we passed. We found a restaurant which served Mexican dishes but in a style wholly different from what we find in the States. When I found a bone in the chicken in my burrito, I swore off chicken for the remainder of my trip. They just take a butcher knife to the whole damn bird, rather than plucking the meat from the bone. We ate dinner at the hotel. Our appetizer was a petite squid in its own ink, which may sound delicious to some. Nancy roundly ignored hers, Marci cut hers up so as not to insult the chef, and I actually ate mine, but found nothing to like about it.

1/3) With Nancy, we walked to Palacio Real to see how the other half lives. That night, we went to a very nice restaurant with the director of the show and his wife, both in their 70's. Jerry is quite the raconteur, and Helga has travelled the world, so the company was splendid. We had a private room, and ate quite well. After dinner, Jerry bought me a Cuban cigar on company expense, and I was most appreciative. Back at the hotel, I enjoyed a glass of Oban (single malt Scotch) and the cigar in a comfy chair in the elegant bar, and felt like I belonged in THE AGE OF INNOCENCE. Definitely a highlight of the trip for me.

1/4) I never got tired last night, and living high off the aftertaste of scotch and cohiba, I stayed up reading and watching CNNi until about 5A, so I opted out of breakfast with the girls. We met back up for Starbucks, and a day at The Prado. I had been videotaping the show every day and I learned the blocking enough that I got a great tape the day before, which enabled us to enjoy this day as tourists. That night, we went to Botin, which is the oldest restaurant in the world, dating back to 1720. We didn't expect the food to be much, since it sees so much tourist action, but we were surprised. The asparagus wasn't as good, but in total, this was the most delicious meal we had in Madrid. The highlight was the garclic soup, which I am dying to make in the crock pot at our next social.
1/5) Back to London. We found a great pub called The Nag's Head, where we enjoyed some sheperd's pie and a pint. A kindly gentleman sitting near us engaged us in conversation for an hour or so. He was a wealthy businessman with royal connections, who found us as intriguing as we found him. He told us that this pub was the last privately owned pub in London, as all the others have been purchased by the breweries. On the wall was a picture of Bono, who seems to like the place as well. He introduced us to the owner, whose name is Kevin, and we had our picture taken behind the bar. Marci went back to The Nag's Head last night with her boss, but I haven't yet gotten the story. Afterwards, we went searching for the Grenadier, which is now a pub, but in its day, it was the haunt for the royal stable keepers. The Grenadiers would put the horses away and meet up at this place for cards and drinks. It has been haunted for a couple hundred years according to some clippings on the wall.
1/6) Marci gets thru London regularly, so she gave me the opportunity to plan the day. I wanted to choose one thing and do it all the way, so I chose the Natural History Museum. The Prado had been much easier to do in a day because all the blurbs were in Spanish, so we weren't compelled to read everything. Not so at this place. I could have spent days there, and then gone next door to the Science Museum, then the Victoria and Albert Museum, as recommended by Robert at The Nag's Head. We spent the day looking at very cool things, bought some nice mementoes for the kids, then found a gourmet pizza joint. After dark, we walked over to see Buckingham Palace, which was only about a mile from the hotel. Closer to the hotel was Hyde Corner with its beutiful arch and statue. Robert had told us that this was once considered the center of the world, until the coal pollution made it tough on the royal astronomers and HQ was moved to Greenwhich.

1/7) The transatlantic flights are a highlight of the trip when you're in business class. The food is great, the wine plentiful, the seating comfortable, and since it was a new month, the movies were even watchable. I watched I HEART HUCKABEES, which I absolutely loved - should have been nominated for best original screenplay. I can't for the life of me remember the second movie I watched, but it was a good one. Then I went with CELLULAR, which was conventional popcorn fare. Marci watched GARDEN STATE, which I had seen recently - very good flick.

Upon return, I set about uploading the video into my computer and realized that I needed to buy more hard drive space. Then it was requested to deliver on DVD instead of VHS, so I had to purchase a DVD recorder and I also bought Final Cut Express. I put over a thousand bucks into computer and video equipment, but it paid off when Marci's boss was blown away by the DVD and showered me with thousands of dollars. He also paid all my expenses during the trip, which was fantastic since I ate like a king while I was there (other than the Starbucks days.) I really liked Madrid. I especially hope to get back to London and check out those other museums and down another pint at The Nag's Head.

I recently watched two interesting films, each of which was set in Europe and portrayed the indigenous culture being affected by American policy.

BARCELONA (1994) is the second film from Whit Stillman, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his debut in 1990. Stillman seems the erudite type of upper middle class upbringing. His films are dialogue-driven and prove most interesting. This film is set in the '80's, toward the end of the Cold War. There is a swell of anti-NATO sentiment in Spain, leading Navy Officer, Fred, to ask, "They are against NATO? What are they for - the Red Army marching through Europe, eating croissants?" It's not a great line, but it captures well the astonishment of someone willing to die for a cause, who cannot comprehend the mentality of a group of civilized people who idly support the antithesis, which is peace through enslavement.

The other main character, Ted, an intellectual salesman, gives a good analogy for American foreign policy, describing a mound of black ants that have been taken over by ferocious red ants who then subjugate the black ants. "It is America's stated foreign policy to assist the black ants" says Ted, to which the Spaniard replies "people are not ants." Either he completely missed the analogy, or the analogy itself is endemic of an American attitude that we don't recognize as offensive. The conversations are enlightening, and Stillman has a good way of making conservative Americans sound like smart people.

There is more than simply politics at play here. Ted has resolved to never again let the pursuit of unattatinable beauty interfere with the possibility of finding his soul mate, so he vows to only date plain or slightly homely women. He immerses himself in Carnegie and Drucker on his mission of self-improvement, and he has even begun sneaking readings of the New Testament. He is an American stranger in a strange land.

Another great observation of culture clash borne of mutual misunderstanding is Ted's observation that people think American's are idiots because they identify us with our love of the hamburger, yet the only opportunity to eat an Amercian-style hamburger people get in other countries is the cheap dumbed-down fast food version, leaving them to surmise that we Americans must have no taste at all. Well said, and applicable to music as well. Ted enjoys listening to jazz, which is an American artistic invention just as is the dumbed-down rock and roll for which we are closely identified. BARCELONA is not a great film, but it is a very, very good one. It feels like a European film in English, and the Americans are not idiots as in a true European film.

Last night, I watched Bernardo Bertolucci's THE DREAMERS, which, though interesting, was not as good a film as BARCELONA, despite Ebert's four- to three-star edge. Michael Pitt, who looks enough like Leornardo DiCaprio to make him a lower priced alternative, is an American 19-yr-old living in Paris in 1968 as a means to avoid serving in Vietnam. He spends his days at the famous Cinemateque, where Henri Langlois was showing the greatest films he could get his hands on. Of course, many of these films are American, which is enough to anger the Minister of Culture to have Langlois terminated and the Cinemateque closed. Just as Americans were protesting their government, trying to avoid an involuntary draft, the French students used Langlois' ouster as impetus to stage their own protest. All of this info is culled from the informative documentary on the DVD.

So far as the story goes, Matthew, the quiet American, spends his days at the Cinemateque. Upon its closing, he falls in with a pair of fellow cinemaphiles, who are the children of a famous French writer. When the bohemian parents leave for the summer, the twin brother/sister invite Matthew to live with them off the money left by the parents. With no movies to go to, the trio insulate themselves inside the flat, getting to know one another intimately while outside, there are increasingly violent clashes between the state police and the French youth, who have adopted Chairman Mao as a hero.

Although we come dangerously close, there is no incest nor homosexuality to follow. There is however constant sex between Matthew and Isabelle and intimacy amongst all three. If you are an enthusiast of the female form, then the amount of screen time alloted Isabelle's sumptuous naked body is reason enough to watch this film. Her breasts defy gravity in a way that Newton could not explain. Isabelle and Theo are twins and feel psychically linked, as if they are one person sharing two bodies. They are delighted to have found a third to indoctrinate into this world they have fashioned.

The trio could go on forever in that apartment, loving one another and dreaming of cinema, but ultimately the real world intervenes. First they run out of money, and are forced to raid a nearby dumpster for sustenance, then their commune is discovered by the returning parents, and finally the rioting comes to their street, and they are forced to choose wheter to act or simply dream. The American knows enough to avoid this violent skirmish. Violence is not for dreamers, and neither is the Cultural Revolution. Matthew equates the Revolution to a movie where everyone onscreen is an extra, all marching in lockstep, reading the same book, and singing the same songs. The French, much like the Spanish of BARCELONA, wish for the Utopian world free from conflict and are ready to submit to any ideology that promises comfort in exchange of submission.

Bertolucci in the documentary discusses the events of '68 as a revolution that never really happened. The cineasts were the impetus for social change, just as the writers, fashionistas, and artists of earlier ages had all found a home in Paris. Once Langlois was silenced, the New Wave artists, such as Truffaut and Godard took to the streets as well to support the students. There is a famous image of a bloodied Truffaut who had been clocked on the head with a nightstick. The de Gaulle government began to realize that it was no longer fully in charge of the populace since its own police where beating up people's kids and favorite movie directors. De Gaulle was soon out, and the unions got some concessions for the working class, then the relovution pretty much died, and is now rarely spoken of in polite society. Once the kids grew up, I think they realized that dreaming is not an adequate economic model for a society. Look at the characters in this film: they end up eating out of dumpsters and joining a cause that is not in their own best interest just for the sake of rebellion. The twins abhor their father, whom they see as a sellout, but they are completely dependent on his money for their basic survival. Dreaming is romantic, but it don't pay the bills. It's okay to have dreams so long as you grow up and join the real world.

Thursday, February 10, 2005


Interesting show on Animal Planet tonight. Can you name the top 10 animal killers of humans worldwide?

Hint #1: Dogs, spiders, and bears failed to make the list.

Hint #2: #3 kills about 1,500 people a year, #2 about 40,000 a year, and #1 in the millions.

Hint #3: Correct - mosquitoes is #1.

Hint #4: Death to human is caused by direct contact with animal, which removes deer, squirrels, domestic cats, and bunnies from consideration.

Hint #5: You might see four of the top 10 on your trip to the zoo.

Giveaway clues will follow the next guess.

Giveaway clues:

1. MOSQUITOES carry malaria.

2. 40,000 victims annually by biting not sssqueezing. (SNAKES)

3. The buzz is that most victims did not know they were allergic. (BEES)

4. 3,900 pounds of pressure in its bite, then spins at 100 rpm to tear its victim apart. (CROC)

5. Generally the bigger it is, the less potent its venomous tail. (SCORPION)

6. His ivory appendages can grow to 7 feet in length. (ELEPHANT)

7. He’s the king, so she does all the work. (LION)

8. Ellen-voiced character nearly succumbed to these translucent killers. (JELLYFISH)

9. Being surrounded by these critters is no laughing matter. (HYENAS)

10. Quint found out the hard way. (SHARKS)

I saw a similar show tonight on 10 critters with really big mouths, but not the top 10, just 10 among many, and I was playing air hockey while last night's show was on, and I missed the intro, so possibly these 10 are not the top 10 but just the 10 that they picked.

Monday, February 07, 2005


Since all politics is local I think we should term-limit these local cretins to one opportunity per person. I wouldn't even let the school board member run for county commissioner. Once you’ve had your 2-4 yea term, you need to head back to the private sector and live in the world you created. Why do I feel that way? Read on.

Property values have gone up so quickly in Orange County that the government is receiving a tremendous tax base boon. The downside is people are being priced out of their own homes due to the increases. The solution could have been easy, reduce tax rates. Their solution is clever and therefore more cynical. Like the state’s $25,000 homestead exemption, the county created a program called “SAVE OUR HOME.” If you own the home you live in, your property taxes cannot increase but by a few percentage points a year. If you’re an investor there's no such relief. This has two consequences.

First, the people who cannot afford to own their homes will be paying higher rental rates to make up for the higher taxes. It’s not only a tax on the poor, but the higher rental rates will make it even harder for these people to save the down payment to eventually buy. It also makes it harder for owners to keep up with repairs. So the poor will be paying more and more for less and less.

Second, property owners that once saw Orlando real estate as a good buy will realize that they’re better taking the capital gain on the appreciation and running. The investment money that was driving this boom will leave to invest elsewhere else in the world. This will cause a slowdown in growth and possibly stagnation.

There is something like 12 high rise luxury apartment buildings being planned for downtown. Any change in the current real estate market could hurt these builders and create half constructed eye sores in the downtown area. The increased tax base that politicians are counting on could dry up.

This decision is based on getting votes from home owners that will be giddy with delight while renters will blame landlords instead of politicians for their troubles. In fact, the requisite do-gooders will probably be banging down the door of city hall demanding the government step in against these greedy owners.

Trish and I both own houses and we’re building a third. Most people would sell them and put their money into the new construction. We’ve decided to use those homes as an investment. We could take that same money and invest it in Colorado, India or even real estate stocks, but we’ve chosen Orlando.

Why should our property tax burden be connected to our behavior? As Americans we have the right to life, liberty, property and equal protection under the law. How is the government’s selective taxation constitutional?

We'll never get the Supreme Court to see this obvious violation. They can only find phantom rights and vague interpretations of old laws. The only way to limit this opportunistic approach to vote getting is to allow no one to run for re-election. They can only buy our votes if they're on the inside.

Saturday, February 05, 2005


A Massachusetts Democrat
laments the state of his party in this fine commentary at American Thinker.

Friday, February 04, 2005


The left has been so wrong, so many times, that it is hard to keep track. But Victor Davis Hanson does. The following excerpt is not necessarily representative, just my personal favorite.

If the American Left is furious over the loss of most of the nation's governorships and legislatures, the U.S. House, the Senate, the presidency, and soon the Supreme Court, the Europeans themselves are furious over America's power — as if Red America is to Blue America as America is to Europe itself. Thus how can a mongrel culture of Taco Bell, Bud Light, and Desperate Housewives project such military and political influence abroad when the soft, subtle triangulation of far more cultured diplomats and sophisticated intellectuals from France, Germany, and Scandinavia is ignored by thugs from Iran, North Korea, and most of the Middle East?

In this context, the Iraqi elections were surely poorly attended, or illegitimate, or ruined by violence, or irrelevant, or staged by America — or almost anything other than a result of a brave, very risky, and costly effort by the United States military to destroy a fascist regime and offer something better in its place.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005


Asked whether the Carter Center had a comment on the election, spokeswoman Kay Torrance said: "We wouldn't have any 'yea' or 'nay' statement on Iraq."

Mr. Carter told NBC's "Today" show in September that he was confident the elections would not take place. "I personally do not believe they're going to be ready for the election in January ... because there's no security there," he said.

Mr. Soros, the Open Society Institute founder who contributed millions of dollars to groups seeking to prevent Mr. Bush's re-election, had denounced as a "sham" the administration's plans for a democratic Iraq.

"To claim that we are invading Iraq for the sake of establishing democracy is a sham, and the rest of the world sees it as such," Mr. Soros said in a Washington speech in March 2003, adding that "the trouble goes much deeper."

"It is not merely that the Bush administration's policies may be wrong, it is that they are wrong," Mr. Soros said in the speech. "Because we are unquestionably the most powerful, [the Bush administration claims] we have earned the right to impose our will on the rest of the world."

Mr. Soros' Web site ( has no reference to the Iraqi elections. Its latest comments are in a Jan. 26 op-ed article on what Mr. Soros calls Mr. Bush's "ambitious" second inaugural address.

"Mr. Soros has not released any statements about the elections in Iraq," said Soros spokesman Michael Vachon. "He has been traveling since Sunday on various foundation projects and hasn't had occasion to comment."

I'm sure they'll be available for comment at the first sign of trouble.