Saturday, December 26, 2009

"Resolutions Are No Solution..."

Never been a big fan of New Year's resolutions.

Seems to me that, if you take away the horns, buzzers and big ball dropping from the Times Square tower factor out of the equation, New Year's resolutions are just one more to-do list.

And I don't need any more to-do lists, thanks.

I've got a year round, if not life long, supply.

At the more philosophical level, I respect that a lot of people see the beginning of a new calendar year as a clean slate, a fresh chance at a fresh start and there's certainly nothing wrong with mapping out a plan of what to put on those, as yet, un-smudged pages in the book of life.

Setting goals is a wonderful thing.

I've been meaning to try that myself one of these days.

But as regards New Year's resolutions, I learned pretty early on that all I was doing there was putting additional pressure on myself to not only straighten up and fly right, which was going to be a challenge anyway, but to have to do it on some kind of deadline.

My timeline usually ends up looking something like this...

Jan 1- Devise new exercise/proper eating program
Jan 2- Institute new exercise/proper eating program
Jan 3- Plug in treadmill/read directions/eat only three of the twelve donuts
Jan 4- Turn on treadmill/realize it makes the plasma TV go all snowy/turn off treadmill/eat the other nine donuts and start planning my goals for 2011

Knowing that admitting you have a problem is the first step toward dealing with the problem, I readily admit that I have a problem keeping resolutions.

First step. Check.

And I won't need a second step.

Because the first step includes resolving to no longer make resolutions.

Check. And mate.

I am, of course, as charmed by the idea of holiday tradition as the next guy or gal, though, so I've made it a tradition to never think, write and act on any thought that comes in the form of a sentence that begins with "I resolve to...."

Instead, I have morphed the dual traditions of a Christmas wish list and a New Year's resolution list and devised what seems to work just fine for me.

The New Year's Wish List.

It's optimistic, practical, low impact and low pressure and it allows me to avoid the inevitable manic-depressive scenario that inevitably results from mapping out high hopes on January One only to hit the ground in flames on January Five.

Give or take.

And, at the same time, it does provide some room for sneaking in a goal or two.

To wit...

In 2010, I wish....

...that someone, anyone will win some award, any award in country music that will not require the engraver to put the name Taylor Swift on it...

...that Oprah will reconsider her decision to bail on her show, if only because every hole that appears in the TV schedule is inevitably filled by another "reality" show featuring people whose main goal in life seems to be screwing over other people for cash and prizes...

...that researchers will discover that Birthday Cake flavor ice cream has the same fat burning properties as two hours of Pilates...

...that Jethro Gibbs will say more...and Nancy Grace will shut the hell up...

...that Congress passes legislation mandating that country music singers who make millions of dollars with songs about small town, down home, Mama's fried chicken, on the porch Sunday after church songs may only live in down home, Mama's fried chicken on the porch Sunday after church small towns...

...that if Kanye West insists on interrupting people, he be given a regular gig on Nancy Grace's show...

...that Lady Gaga goes bye bye...

...that upon Tiger Woods return to golf, immediate Emmy Awards be automatically given to any sportscaster who can use the words "hole", "strokes", "balls" or "shaft" without giggling...

...that the next time there's "breaking news" about an airline incident, it be that the flight departed and arrived on time, was under, not over, booked and that all luggage arrived undamaged and at the right airport...

...that the next time there's "breaking news", it actually be "breaking news"...

...that USA Network gets a grip and realizes that when you run "back to back to back" episodes of NCIS, you have to remember that the show has running plot threads and showing them out of order is like taking a cool book and reading page six, then page forty one, then page two, then...

...that Sarah Palin run for national office, so I can honestly decide whether to lock phasers on "respect" or "ridicule" once and for all...

...that God will impart to CHRISTians who insist on wielding their CHRISTianity like a hammer, especially at CHRISTmas time when they belittle and judge others with the "CHRIST is the reason for the season" mantra, that looking down on others who have questions or doubts is not what CHRISTianity is all about and not what CHRIST would do....

...that for the 30th anniversary of the death of John Lennon, the "tributes" will focus on his once in a lifetime read on "Twist and Shout" and take a pass on "Imagine"...

...that Paul McCartney won't even think about dating anybody named Heather...

...that during the coming off year elections, the term "flip flop" will be strictly applied to a planned reversal of paying movie stars and athletes millions and teachers, police, firefighters, etc, five figures...

...that "Keeping Up With The Kardashians" gets replaced by reruns of "Match Game '75"...they're both funny, but "Match..." is a whole lot more intelligent...

...that politicians who use tax dollars for any thing other than their intended purpose be given a coupon good for a free shave at Sweeney Todd's...

...that James Cameron be hired to create an avatar of Larry King and let the poor guy move to Boca Del Vista, for God's sake...

...that the term "registered sex offender" become obsolete as any one who harms a child is given the last rites of the church and summarily executed. Period...


...that the Weather Channel make all things right in my world again by going back to twenty four seven weather and putting the kibosh on back to back showings of "The Perfect Storm"....

With each new year, a clean slate.

Fresh start.

Fresh chance.

Do I think any of my wishes will come true?

Not for a tick of the Times Square clock.

But, I resolve to keep hoping.

Friday, December 25, 2009

"Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas....And We Ain't Kiddin', Man...."

Christmas is for kids.

We've all heard it. Some of us have said it.

All of us can, to a point, agree with it.

That's not, though, the same thing as acting like children.

I've been watching with, alternately, amusement and aggravation for the past few weeks as folks on Facebook have been batting the badminton birdie of Xmas back and forth.

For the most part, I've stayed out of it.

Mostly because, I'm one of those people who just naturally piss other people off with my opinions.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

But somewhere around the age of eighteen months, right after I learned to pee in the pot and not in my pants, I learned that politics and religion are, at the very least, the two conversational topics that would never result in a finding of common ground.

And I'm not known for spending a lot of time puttering around the common ground part of the playpen anyway.

Meanwhile, there ain't another time of year when the tender tootsies of religion get tickled and/or pricked more than November 30 through December 26th.

So, I just MYOB'd and focused my holiday energies on more complex and intricate questions related to the season.

Like "...why would anyone want four calling birds, let alone seven swans a swimming..?"

As usual, though, it was only a matter of time before my "faux" self imposed exile was ended and the temptation to jump into the fray was too strong to resist.

This year's clarion call came in capital letters.

A chat thread on FB amongst FB friends blew on the little flame that never dies at this time of the year and it flared up into a fair to middlin sized firestorm.

"Merry CHRISTmas..." it said, amongst other things it said.

The other things are really academic because even the heathen among us can guess what the gist of the jingle was.

Three things in this life that must occur, in no particular order, for the season celebrating the birth of Jesus to officially begin:

Halloween has to have, give or take three days either way, just happened.

Major department stores have to take down the swimwear displays and put up the holiday displays.

And somebody needs to pull the "Keep CHRIST in your Christmas" trigger.

Check. Check.

And bang.

A few days back, I wrote a piece on the "Jesus is the reason..." thing, so I'm not gonna wander down that path of ramble here.

I'll just share two things.

The first is a quick synopsis of the remarkable Christmas of 1914. The Christmas that saw troops literally at war with each other stop and celebrate the season together.

The first truce began on Christmas Eve, 24 December 1914, when German troops began decorating the area around their trenches in the region of Ypres, Belgium, for Christmas. They began by placing candles on trees, then continued the celebration by singing Christmas carols, most notably Stille Nacht (Silent Night). The British troops in the trenches across from them responded by singing English carols.

The two sides continued by shouting Christmas greetings to each other. Soon thereafter, there were calls for visits across the "No Man's Land" where small gifts, were exchanged, such as whisky, jam, cigarettes, and chocolate. The artillery in the region fell silent that night. The truce also allowed a breathing spell where recently-fallen soldiers could be brought back behind their lines by burial parties. Proper burials took place as soldiers from both sides mourned the dead together and paid their respects.

In many sectors, the truce lasted through Christmas night, but in some areas, it continued until New Year's Day.

The second of the two gifts I bring (pa rum pa pum pum) is the two cents I threw into the FB chat thread after watching some folks bitchslapping each other around as regards proudly professing one's belief in Jesus, keeping Jesus the focus at this time of year, etc.

And, by the way, I was really committed to continue the MYOB approach until I saw the word I personally find totally inappropriate to use at a time of peace and love and good will.


A wise man once said that we all, in our own ways, agree in our hearts about where it is we all want to go in the next life...and we've been hating and killing each other for generations arguing over the best way to get there....I read part of Marianne's point to be that there is an excruciatingly fine line between sharing one's personal beliefs with others, in a spirit of joy, with the hope of showing others how that spirit of joy feels... and expressing those beliefs in a judgemental way, as in, I believe in Jesus Christ and you better get your head on right, too, fool....the Jesus that I envision is one who beckons...not one who hustles or coerces or kidnaps....and "disciples" who hold the "yet to see the light" in contempt are not only missing the point, but they're through the looking glass...being a self serving Christian is not the same thing as serving a man how to fish...don't stone him or her because he or she isn't yet convinced that fishing is the best option.......

I'm a grown man with grown children who have children.

I don't live in denial or harbor any illusions.

I don't believe in Santa Claus. That stopped at about age 10.

I've never stopped believing in the spirit of what Santa Claus represents.

I've made no secret about the fact that my relationship with Jesus is a work in progress.

But I've never denied, nor rejected, the spirit of what Jesus Christ represents.

What I don't know could fill libraries.

What I do know is that in 1914, people who were literally killing one another put down their guns and shared common ground.

It's Christmas morning, 2009 as I write this, so I've missed the cutoff for this year's list...

But if I can make a wish for next Christmas, it will be this.

That, if at no other time during the year, we can all put down our guns and share the common ground.

Christmas is, after all, only one day. Twenty four hours. Not a long time to ask that we all rise above our shortcomings and, more importantly, forgive those who trespass around us.

We can all go back to acting like children first thing Dec 26th.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

"When Television Was Black and White...But Mostly White..."

Racism is an ugly, profane quality in any human being.

It's ugliness is obvious to anyone with a brain that functions as the warranty guarantees.

The profanity comes in knowing that racism is not genetic, a physical pre-disposition, nor is it the tragic result of some malfunction of our physicality, a disease or virus.

In other words, it can't be "inherited".

But it can most surely be passed down.

Find a copy of the song "Carefully Taught" from "South Pacific" and give it a listen.

Back story bordering on editorializing aside, here's what I'm thinking today.

I am not a racist.

I grew up in a home that did not perpetuate the stereotypes or prejuidices that provide a fully functional petrie dish of hatred/stupidity that almost inevitably spawns a contempt for one race, creed, color or another.

I do not consider myself superior in any way to anyone.

And I think, as I have thought all of my life, that Amos and Andy is some funny shit.

Check out Wilkipedia for the full history, but, in a nutshell...

The program was created by two white guys and was a big hit in the pre-TV heyday of radio.

In the early 50's, with the arrival of television, the show, like many other popular radio shows, made the transition from little box to big box, where it became even more popular than it had been to date.

Sometime during the early to mid 60's when the civil rights movement was burning white hot (pun noted and conceded), the decision was made, in one of those offices where those kinds of decisions are made, that the program was offensive, perpetuated racial stereotypes and needed to be banned from the airwaves.

It was.

Banned, that is.

There is a particularly well done doc on the subject "Amos and Andy-Anatomy of A Controversy". You can find it on You Tube. Check it out.

Since that day in the 60's, despite the evolution of television into a medium with thousands of channels and, literally, twenty four hours of programming per day, the program remains available only online and/or for sale in various incarnations at places like Amazon or Ebay.

I think the time has come to let Amos, Andy, Kingfish, Sapphire, Mama, et al out of the box and, well, back on the box.

Naysayers will center the saying of their nays by offering that the show was/is lightweight, slapstick, even juvenile in its humor and/or presentation.

Damn right.

But no more so than at least half the movies Will Ferrell has done.

And as far as that insidious "RS" factor is concerned?

Racial stereotype?


Do some/most of the black people in this series (all black, by the way, which if you stretch the point makes it a landmark historical event given the times in which it appeared) act like idiots and/or clowns?

Uh, yeah.

Pop in your copy of Eddie Murphy's "The Nutty Professor" and enjoy, once again, the five minutes of farting at dinner that makes us all laugh without fail.

Or just about everything and anything that Tyler Perry produces.

Juvenile? Idiotic? Buffoonish?

Ya, you betcha.

The common thread in all of this is that Eddie and Tyler, et al, live and work and create their characters, stories, etc in a time in our history when most of us see the humor in the juvenile, idiotic, buffoonish behavior.

But we don't see the color.

They're not black idiots.

They're just idiots.

Amos and Andy was banned in a time when blacks were trying to get a large chunk of white America to wake the fuck up and realize that we are all, underneath it all, created equal.

And they didn't need the additional burden of easing the concerns of whites who feared that letting blacks sit next to them at the lunch counters would result in having to put up with that buffoon who was "part of da bruthahood of da Mystic Knights of da Sea..."

But that was a long time ago.

And a world that isn't offended by farting Klumps or jive talkin Medeas isn't likely to take to the streets in protest of the buffoonish behavior of Andrew H. Brown.

If they do, so be it.

That doesn't make them white idiots.

It just makes them idiots.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

"...Forget The Chase...Let's Cut To The Bone..."

Got a small bone to pick today.

Apologies for the pun I saw coming but couldn't avoid.

(Entertainment Weekly) -- A dead 14-year-old girl named Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan), murdered on her way home from school in 1973, tells her story from heaven in "The Lovely Bones."

In doing so, Susie follows the narrative path set for her in the striking 2002 novel by Alice Sebold on which this much-awaited adaptation by Peter Jackson is based. But as directed by the lord of "The Lord of the Rings" from a screenplay by Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens, his bleached "Bones" bears little resemblance to the book in either tone or complexity.

Readers will be frustrated; newcomers to the story may wonder why what is now essentially a serial-killer thriller includes so many scenes of a heaven that looks like a gumdrop-colored hobbit shire, a magical place of fanciful special effects.

In Jackson's simplified, sweetened, and CGI-besotted telling, "The Lovely Bones" is a sad-but-hopeful, dramatic-but-gentle fairy tale intentionally made less upsetting for teens. (There's no indication that Susie gets raped, as she does in the novel, and her murder occurs off screen.) "Atonement's" terrific Ronan, with her astonishing glacier-blue eyes, watches from a scenic afterlife as her father (Mark Wahlberg), mother (Rachel Weisz), younger siblings, and selected friends simultaneously heal from their loss and search for her killer.

For comic relief, the family's boozy granny (Susan Sarandon) arrives, swathed in mink. Apparently participating in a burlesque movie, Sarandon camps it up, demonstrating terrible housekeeping skills and wreaking grande-dame havoc.

As for the killer, he's in plain sight from the beginning a creepy neighbor (Stanley Tucci) with the hopeless comb-over and furtive mustache of an easy-to-spot perv. Tucci is jolting in the role, honestly unsettling as he maintains an exterior of mildness that masks a grotesque interior.

Electrifying danger accompanies his every scene. But this in itself becomes a problem, as that same energy leaves the screen when he does. Jackson reduces his "Lovely Bones", in the end, to the dramatic contrast between the menace of a hateful killer (will he be caught?) and the grief of a loving father (can he avenge his daughter's death?).

Sebold's "Lovely Bones", on the other hand, is fleshed out with the perilous, irresistible power of sex the author acknowledges a real world of extramarital sex and sex between young lovers in addition to the heinous rape from which moviegoers are shielded.

The filmmaker handled the sexual power of girls beautifully in 1994's "Heavenly Creatures". But here he shies from the challenge, shortchanging a story that isn't only about the lightness of souls in heaven but also about the urges of bodies on earth. Jackson forfeits depth for safe, surface loveliness.

EW Grade: C+

One need not, I think, be a Rhodes scholar to read between the lines and zero in on what happened here.

Which is sort of my point.

The "conflict" between the "artistic" and the "commercial" is not a new kid on the block.

I'm willing to bet that Michaelangelo was pressured to include what passed for corporate logos in those days to his work on the Sistine ceiling.

Cheeseburgers. Chariot repair.

Potato patahto.

And I'm also willing to bet that any "serious" writer (and I put the word serious in quotes only to label said writers as those who write without considering the potential adaptability of their work for screen, big or small) would tell you that the turning of their work into a motion picture is, at best, a slippery slope and, at worst, the literary equivalent of standing by while their baby is murdered before their eyes.

I learned to read very early in life and have loved doing so since the beginning.

I also began watching movies very early in life and have loved doing so since the beginning.

While I am a fan of each, though, I am not a fan of both.

And would be perfectly happy if the "serious" works were never made into movies.

For, at least, two reasons.

First, I like painting my own images when I read fiction.

Images, as in imaginiation.

There is something uniquely magical about our individual ability to read a passage and conjure up our own vision of what the scene might look like or how the protagonist might appear.

And, even with the best of intentions, the transferrance of those passages to film inevitably prevents us from being able to do so, regardless of the quality of the original novel.

I really didn't get all that buzzed when I read The DaVinci Code, for example, but at least I had fun imagining the faces and places and comings and goings.

Now all I visualize when I hear the title is Tom Hanks with a really bad haircut.

The fair point question, at this point, is "well, what are they supposed to make movies of, Mr. Artsy Fartsy?".

Easy peezee.

It's called "original screenplay".

It even has its own Oscar category.

Yeah, right, you say. You want more substance out of your movie going experience than "Dude, Where's My Car?".

Me, too.

Here's a few original screenplays that have made it to the screen.

Citizen Kane. On The Waterfront. Sunset Boulevard. The Sting. Chinatown. Annie Hall. Moonstruck. Ghost. The Usual Suspects. American Beauty. Fargo.

And more recently...




A lot of very cool movies.

And one very cool added benefit.

The Juno and Bleeker that charmed us don't conflict a bit with the Juno and Bleeker we conjured up in our imaginations while we were reading the novel.

Because there wasn't one.

Am I serious about all of this?


Do I think there's an ice cube's chance it'll happen?

Hell, no.

But, in a perfect world, it would eliminate the too often result of turning novels into movies.

The "adaptation", even dumbing down, that alters the impact in the cause of widening the demographic and selling more tickets.

In other words...

"The Lovely Bones" , a heart wrenching novel about a little girl's violent rape and murder and the resulting emotional consequences shows up on the screen as CGI soaked episode of "Law and Order-Special Victims Unit."

At the very least, Susie Salmon deserves much better.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

"...It Came Upon a Midnight Clear Grasp of The Obvious..."

Fair warning.

I'm about to flip the switch on the machine marked "Shit Stir".

I believe in God.

I'm a work in progress, Jesus wise.

I think the whole "you can't say Christmas, you have to say holiday" crap is just that.


The little neck hairs still stand when I hear the right voice at the right moment sing the amazing crescendo of the musical version of The Lord's Prayer.

And I still hold back tears when Sam Wainwright's telegram arrives and George Bailey and the Bailey Boys get bailed out on Christmas Eve.

That's right.


Not Holiday Eve.

That said...

I don't appreciate being told that "Jesus is the reason for the season."

And not because I'm trying to proselytize in favor of any other viewpoint or belief.

The expression does not offend me spiritually, morally or theologically.


Simply put, it insults my intelligence.

I've given it some thought, as you might, at this point have gathered, and I can't come up with a single phrase that more perfectly represents another tried and true expression.

Holier than thou.

My predisposition for inherant sardonicism notwithstanding, I passionately respect everyone's right to believe what they believe and their right to express that belief in a considerate fashion.

The key word in that sentence is "considerate".

For example...someone walks up to me and says...

"Merry Christmas...may God bless you and each of your loved ones in this season of celebrating the birth of His son, Jesus Christ."

What this tells me about them...

They agree with the whole "say Merry Christmas" thing.

They believe in God.

They are caring and loving people who wish good things for me and my family and friends.

They believe both in Jesus Christ and that He is the son of God.

And they do all of that without mussing a single hair on the head of my personal beliefs, whatever they may be.

Now...someone walks up to me and says...

"...remember....Jesus is the reason for the season..!"

What this tells me about them...

They couldn't care less what I think or believe and feel the need to talk to me as if I'm a five year old in need of being reminded to brush my teeth before I go to bed.

Not to mention they are fair weather friends.

Where the hell are they the rest of the year?

..on Valentine's Day...."it's cause of Cupid, stupid..."

..on President's Day..."get down with Abe, babe..." Easter..."it ain't about the bunny, honey..."

..on July 4..."we ditched the Brits, twit.." Thanksgiving..."the bird, bird, bird, the bird's the word..."

I'm a pretty smart little camper and I learned a long time ago that religion and politics were the two things in life that seem to have been designed to seperate rather than bring us together.

And by this point, you're likely either entertained, amused...

Or offended.


I would never presume to tell you how you should feel about what I believe.

Nor would I presume to tell you what you should believe.

Nor would I risk offending you at a joyous and loving time of year by giving you the impression that I think you're stupid or, God forbid, need me to preach at you that.. should do unto others as you would have others do unto you... shouldn't take the name of the Lord thy God in vain....

oh...and that...

Jesus is the reason for the season.

Merry Christmas...

...for Christ's sake...