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Posted by on Feb 24, 2019 in Blog, Essays, Movie Reviews, Video 1 | 2 comments

Lights, Camera, Action! Our 2019 Academy Award Predictions [Video]

 

 

Some time ago, I ran into one of the smartest and most successful sports handicappers in Las Vegas at a party.  His moniker is, to no surprise, “Las Vegas Cris.”

Let’s call him “LVC” for short.

I discovered that LVC loves movies.  He goes to see at least a couple of films each and every week.  LVC purchased one of those monthly passes where you can practically see as many films as you like for roughly the price of what two tickets would regularly cost (around $24).  So, he goes to the movies and ends up seeing lots of very good films, and also comes across some real clunkers.

LVC and I share a lifelong love of movies.  We thought it would be a fun project to film a video and discussion of our picks for the best and worst in movies over the past year, along with our Oscar picks.  We planned on shooting a one-hour pilot, but got wound up and went kinda’ long.  Let’s call this the lengthier “Director’s Cut.”

If you want to skip the fluff and go straight to the Oscar picks, fast forward to the 26-minute mark.  Also, the last 20 minutes or so is pretty good where we hand out our worst movie awards.

Special thanks to Andrew Geber for the production and Jack Gramley for supplying some of the technical equipment.

Note that I’ll probably shift to a podcast format shortly and invite several guests on to discuss a variety of topics.

Thanks for LVC for some great insight.

“Couch Potato Critics” sounds about right……

 

 

__________

 

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Posted by on Feb 19, 2019 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 3 comments

Bernie Sanders 2020: The Right Message, the Wrong Messenger, at the Worst Time

 

 

It pains me to write this article and say this:  I wish Bernie Sanders would not run for president in 2020.

As a fellow democratic socialist, I admire Sanders and agree with what he stands for.  He champions virtually everything I believe in.  But he’s also the wrong messenger at the worst possible time.  Sanders is making a mistake by joining a crowded Democratic field and running for president.

To his credit, Sanders and his 2016 campaign altered the course of contemporary American politics.  Should anyone doubt his impact, just look at what’s happened since the defeat.  It’s virtually unheard of for the losing nominee to shift the direction of a major party, reboot its national priorities, and continue wielding influence upon a significant percentage of devoted followers who liked what Sanders had to say and looked up at a then-74-year-old career political activist somehow as a fresh face on the national stage.  Even nemesis Donald Trump, in a bold rebuke during last month’s State of the Union address, felt the need to blast the growing tide of socialism in America.  That’s largely Bernie’s doing.  Socialism simple isn’t a bad word anymore to most Americans.  Such a thing would have been unthinkable ten years ago.

For the first time in a half century, certainly not since the ill-fated presidential campaign of the late Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, Sen. Sanders made unapologetic in-your-face liberalism cool again.  After decades of running away from the Leftist moniker, and in the process abandoning the working class while losing its collective soul, Sanders didn’t shy away from our core conviction that big government can (and must) be a force for good in society.  While mainstream Democrats scurried from one fundraiser to the next trying to out-elbow Republicans for corporate affections, Sanders the maverick candidate with nothing to lose openly spoke his mind and preached peaceful revolution.  All we were saying, was give Bernie a chance.  He embraced all the seemingly forgotten tenets of social and political idealism.

A new term within the political lexicon, “Berniecrats,” now refers to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, along with Left-leaning Independents.  Sanders’ grandfatherly delivery and astute frankness attracted millions of supporters, including a disproportionate number of young people who become politically active for the first time.  These are Bernie’s disciples, and will ultimately become his most deeply lasting legacy.  He alone ignited the seeds of a much broader movement that’s likely bear fruit when the next’s generation’s time comes to make the laws.  Sanders was, and very much remains, a viable political force to be reckoned with.

So, given Sanders’ impressive track record in exceeding everyone’s expectations and even changing the political game, why am I so convinced he’s making the wrong decision to run again in 2020?  Why have I come to bury Sanders rather than praise him?

Well first, there are lingering questions about Sanders’ party allegiance.  After all, he isn’t a Democrat and therefore shouldn’t be running under the party’s official party banner.  Most Democratic voters pretty much ignored this minor issue the last time around, since it was believed the “crazy socialist” posed no serious threat to the continuation of the Clinton dynasty.  He won’t be cut as much slack this time, since the Vermont senator remains a self-described Independent — with a Capital “I” next to his name.

Sanders’ wide periphery of political influence in other states makes him essential to Democrats, and they know it.  The party should be made aware they’ll need what remains of Berniecrats to show up at the polls and vote, come 2020, because so many didn’t in the last election and that’s one reason we ended up with the chaos of Trump.  Indeed, let’s remember that more Americans call themselves Independents now — than either Democrats or Republicans.  Yet, an astounding political reality still remains:  Winning elections in America requires candidates to align themselves with one of the two major parties.  Democrats can’t afford to lose independents.  If they do, that spells a possible Trump 2o2o victory (assuming the criminal isn’t removed from office first).  So, dealing with Sanders and his base is very tricky for the party that can’t afford any mistakes.

Sanders would be age 79 if he somehow wins the 2020 nomination.  Yes, ageism is terribly unfair, but it remains a significant political factor.  Ask around.  Some people insist they won’t vote for a candidate who would be the oldest man ever elected to the presidency.  And while former Vice President Joe Biden also carries much the same burden (he’s the same age), and President Trump in his 70s clearly demonstrates alarming cognitive decline, Sanders enters the presidential race with serious baggage as to whether someone in his 80’s would be fully capable of the day-to-day pressures of the job.

Moreover, there’s no compelling reason for Sanders to join the 2020 race, other than for personal vanity.  In 2016, Sanders was a compelling force and an attractive alternative to Hillary Clinton, the embodiment of the old Democrat establishment.  Progressives desperately needed a horse in the race, and the long shot damn near won the whole derby.  Yet, this isn’t the case four years later.  The landscape and the field have changed completely.  Out of the dozen or so major candidates on the Democratic side, perhaps a third of the current potential nominees can rightfully be tagged a liberals in the Sanders mold.  All the known candidates have embraced some of his views.  It seems redundant to add yet another candidate to the stage and keep slicing the progressive pie into smaller pieces.

Then, there’s political practicality.   The 2020 race will require a completely different approach, both in tact and substance, than we’re used to seeing.  Democrats need to pull out the switchblades and quit treating this like a chess game.  2020 will be a knife fight in a dark alley at 3 in the morning.  When one side plays dirty, it’s suicidal to play nice.  So, this time, let’s play to win.  Sanders, while passionate as an advocate and fiery as a speaker, remains profoundly intellectual in his disposition.  Accordingly, I’m not convinced he’s the best counter-puncher to an unhinged bully.  When Trump throws right hooks, we’re going to require a left uppercut with the weight of a sledgehammer, and a knockout.  Sanders simply isn’t the right street fighter for what will be necessary.

Finally, there are growing concerns, even among some supporters, that Sanders and his repetitive messaging has become stale.  He’s “so 2016.”  Sanders was correct to make income inequality and class division the cornerstone of his previous campaign.  To a large extent, he’s already won the ideological war for the heart and soul of the party since virtually all Democrats now favor raising the minimum wage, adopting some form of universal health care, and making the tax system more fair for the working class.  But Sanders’ ceaseless attacks on billionaires, while certainly warranted, won’t be greeted with nearly as much enthusiasm when its clear the real boogeyman to America isn’t named Warren Buffet or Elon Musk, but Donald J. Trump.

Petty party suspicions will hurt Sanders.  Ageism will hurt Sanders.  Tougher competition will hurt Sanders.  Legitimate questions about whether he’s the ideal candidate to face Trump will hurt Sanders.  An outdated message will hurt Sanders.

Instead of running again, which is likely to be an wasteful exercise in futility, a regurgitation of familiar themes we saw in 2016, and ultimately another defeat, Sen. Sanders should take a well-deserved bow for being electric shock therapy to a dysfunctional and thoroughly corrupt political and economic system.  He can still be a game changer, perhaps the Left’s elder-statesman.  Bernie:  The New Lion of the Senate — ala Ted Kennedy.  As the largest newspaper in his home state pined only a few weeks ago, he was elected to do a job for the citizens of Vermont.  His interests, Vermont’s interests, and the interests of the American progressive movement would best be served by passing the torch to a new generation of visionaries.

Thank you, Bernie Sanders for all you have done and for what you will continue to do as a legislator.  You have changed the political landscape for the better.  Now please, step aside, and let your followers take the lead from here.

__________

 

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Posted by on Feb 17, 2019 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 0 comments

Prosecute Jussie Smollett to the Fullest Extent of the Law

 

 

Why is there any sympathy for Jussie Smollett?

The television star’s incendiary allegations that he’d been the victim of an ugly racial attack imploded yesterday.  His story fell apart.  It was apparently, all an act.

Smollett had claimed he was assaulted on a downtown Chicago street by pro-Trump racists wearing red MAGA hats while walking late at night.  His allegations sounded implausible from the start.  That’s the reason so many of us sympathetic to the victims of hate crimes took a “wait and see” approach to the alleged incident.  Not that racially-motivated and homophobic attacks like the one described by the TV actor don’t happen in America.  Yes, they do.  It’s just that so many pieces of Smollett’s case didn’t seem to add up.

Admittedly, I’d never heard of Jussie Smollett until this controversy.  He’s the co-star of a popular hit television show, Empire.  Based on a persistent and often feisty social media presence, Smollett, who is a gay Black man, has been described as an outspoken activist.

Investigators now believe the attack on Smollett was a fabrication.  It was staged.  If this proves to be true, he’s about to become the new Tawana Brawley.  Recall, she’s the despicable young girl who accused multiple police officers of a brutal gang rape thirty years ago, sparking national outrage.  Eventually, a thorough investigation found that she made the whole thing up.

Although there are clear parallels in the two cases, there are also significant differences.  Brawley was a poor Black girl with little education.  Not that she deserved any slack but let’s also remember:  Brawley was a minor, just 15 when she claimed she’d been raped by four men.  At least there were grounds for understanding what happened in the Brawley case.  The girl lived in an abusive household, feared severe punishment for staying out late one night, and made up her story as an excuse.

Smollett has no excuses for fabricating his criminal conspiracy.  He’s a relatively affluent, seemingly intelligent man, with a highly-successful career and — until this moment — a very bright future.  Inventing such a far-fetched story makes absolutely no sense, nor has any justification whatsoever.

Accordingly, Jussie Smollett should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

The Chicago Police Department spent a countless number of hours on this case which began three weeks ago.  Law enforcement dedicated considerable manpower to their investigation.  Dozens of people were interviewed.  Businesses with surveillance cameras were summoned to provide any evidence of a crime.  Hence, police wasted considerable time and effort chasing an invisible rabbit down a hole.  These pointless efforts reduced the precious resources available that might otherwise have been allocated elsewhere in Chicago, which does have a serious crime problem.  If dozens of police officers were out rabbit hunting Smollett’s false claims, that’s less law enforcement on the streets, and by consequence, more incidents of unsolved crime.  Smollett has done a terrible thing, and now he should pay for it.

But the real victims of Smollett’s deception (if eventually proven), are all those people from lesser backgrounds with little money, fame, or power who must live in constant fear and have to endure pervasive racism and homophobia in their daily lives.  They don’t have Smollett’s easy access to media nor talent for playing the convincing role of a crime victim, so they won’t get on TV to tell their stories.  The casualties of this contrived canard are future victims of hate crimes.  Now, because of doubts and discord and the lingering impossible-to-ignore memories we all have, they’ll face even more doubts.  They must meet higher, perhaps impossible thresholds, to prove when racially-motivated crimes actually do happen.  The movement Smollett purportedly wants to help shall ultimately pay the highest cost for his blatant deception.

That’s the real crime.

If evidence is found to implicate Jussie Smollett in a conspiracy, then he must be prosecuted.  Then, if he’s found guilty — lock him away.  For a long time.

We must make an example in this case and send a clear message:  There’s more than enough racism and homophobia in America already, without having to make things up.

__________

 

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Posted by on Feb 16, 2019 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 2 comments

Why Do So Many Brits Dislike Donald Trump?

 

 

Note to My Readers:  I rarely post content from other writers, since that’s their content and what’s promulgated here at my site is always my own.  However, I was so impressed with this short missive by a British writer named Nate White, that I had to share it.  I hope you will agree, it’s a marvelous retort as to why so many British citizens and people from other countries are appalled by what’s happening in America.

 

Question:  Why do some British people not like Donald Trump?

A few things spring to mind.

Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem.

For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed.

So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.

Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever.

I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility – for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman.

But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

Trump is a troll. And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs; he only crows or jeers.

And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults – he actually thinks in them. His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness.

There is never any under-layer of irony, complexity, nuance or depth. It’s all surface.

Some Americans might see this as refreshingly upfront.

Well, we don’t. We see it as having no inner world, no soul.

And in Britain we traditionally side with David, not Goliath. All our heroes are plucky underdogs: Robin Hood, Dick Whittington, Oliver Twist.

Trump is neither plucky, nor an underdog. He is the exact opposite of that.

He’s not even a spoiled rich-boy, or a greedy fat-cat.

He’s more a fat white slug. A Jabba the Hutt of privilege.

And worse, he is that most unforgivable of all things to the British: a bully.

That is, except when he is among bullies; then he suddenly transforms into a snivelling sidekick instead.

There are unspoken rules to this stuff – the Queensberry rules of basic decency – and he breaks them all. He punches downwards – which a gentleman should, would, could never do – and every blow he aims is below the belt. He particularly likes to kick the vulnerable or voiceless – and he kicks them when they are down.

So the fact that a significant minority — perhaps a third — of Americans look at what he does, listen to what he says, and then think ‘Yeah, he seems like my kind of guy’ is a matter of some confusion and no little distress to British people, given that:
* Americans are supposed to be nicer than us, and mostly are.
* You don’t need a particularly keen eye for detail to spot a few flaws in the man.

This last point is what especially confuses and dismays British people, and many other people too; his faults seem pretty bloody hard to miss.

After all, it’s impossible to read a single tweet, or hear him speak a sentence or two, without staring deep into the abyss. He turns being artless into an art form; he is a Picasso of pettiness; a Shakespeare of shit. His faults are fractal: even his flaws have flaws, and so on ad infinitum.

God knows there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid.

He makes Nixon look trustworthy and George W look smart.

In fact, if Frankenstein decided to make a monster assembled entirely from human flaws – he would make a Trump.

And a remorseful Doctor Frankenstein would clutch out big clumpfuls of hair and scream in anguish:

‘My God… what… have… I… created?

If being a twat was a TV show, Trump would be the boxed set.

 

Special thanks to Tom Robinson for bringing this to my attention.

 

__________

 

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Posted by on Feb 14, 2019 in Blog, Essays, Personal | 0 comments

What’s the Worst Date You’ve Ever Been On?

 

 

Happy Valentines Day!

Let’s do something different.  Today, we’re going to have a little fun.  We’ve earned it, right?  On this special occasion, we’re going to try and recall the absolute worst dates of our lives.

I considered asking my faithful readers to post stories about their best dates.  It is Valentines Day, after all.  Thing is, the very best dates either lead to weddings, or if they’re truly amazing — maybe really wild and happened at the end of the night which might best remain unspoken.

So instead, let’s find some common ground and focus on the worst dates we’ve ever had.  Everyone’s been on a bad date, so we should all be able to play along.

I got married at age 29.  That means I spent about ten years playing the dating game.  Like most everyone, I went out on some good dates and some bad dates.  Most of them, I don’t remember much.

But I sure remember a Saturday night that happened sometime in 1987.

My worst date happened when I was around 25.  I met a girl somewhere, I forgot where exactly.  Attracted to the girl, I gave her my phone number and asked to call if she wanted to go out sometime.  To my surprise, she called just a few days later.  We talked for a few minutes and agreed that I’d pick her up Saturday night and take her out to dinner.  We may even have discussed going to a movie, as well.  I think Platoon had just been released.

Saturday comes around and I’m supposed to pick her up promptly at 6.  I get into my car and the piece of shit won’t start.  The bastard battery was dead.  Frantic, I tried getting a jump start but didn’t have any jumper cables.  Utterly desperate for transport and the clock ticking fast to 6, I called up my friend, Iranian Mike, a gambling buddy of mine who lived about a mile away.  I begged him to borrow his car for the night.  He said okay.  Iranian Mike even agreed to drive his car over and let me have it so I wouldn’t be late for my date.  Man, what a pal.  I think he might have owed me some money, so this made us even.

When Iranian Mike pulled into my apartment complex, I couldn’t believe my eyes.  He drove a dark blue Oldsmobile.  A Cutlass.  It was filthy.  There was dog hair all over the seats.  He had a small Shitzhu and the dog rode in the car all the time.  It was summer in Texas, so the dog shedded like crazy.  Worse, Iranian Mike’s car had a flat tire a few days earlier and was riding on one of those small donut-shaped emergency tires that was only intended as a temporary replacement to make it to a service station.  Iranian Mike tossed me the keys and told me to bring it back in one piece.

I can’t even fathom what must have gone through the girl’s head when I pulled in to pick her up, driving that dark blue Oldsmobile Cutlass of a shitbox with dog hair all over the seats and a tiny tire that made the car pull off to one side.

Hey, the night was still young.  Then, things went downhill from there.

I feel bad not remembering the girl’s name, right now.  So, I have to call her “the girl.”  If you’re reading — sorry girl.  She listened to my sob story about the car not starting and having to borrow a friend’s car at the last second.  I think she kinda’ appreciated the effort.  She even believed me for a second.

We pulled into one of the best Italian restaurants in North Dallas, Lombardi’s on Lower Greenville.  This was my go-to place.  Great food.  Live jazz on weekends.  I’d even made a dinner reservation in advance.  What a gentleman.  A player.

The next 90 minutes were excruciating.  Ever been in a confined space, trapped in a sit-down situation, and within 5 minutes you know it’s already a disaster?  How about this:  Ever been crucified?  That was this date.

We had absolutely nothing in common.  I mean, nothing.  Everything she liked and enjoyed, I detested.  Every topic I brought up, she took no interest in.  But, she had a great ass.  Man, I couldn’t get the check fast enough.

We both went through the motions.  We gave it the old college try.  I remember as we were looking across at each other one of those cozy two-top tables meant for couples truly in love, recalling that many odd relationships start off sailing on rough seas before calmer waters.  Indeed, many love affairs do begin when the two people can’t stand each other.  But this wasn’t that.  She didn’t dislike me.  And I didn’t dislike her.  The date pretty much just ended up like walking up to a stranger on a bus and saying, “hey, let’s hang out together for a couple of hours.”  What would one expect?  Rolling the dice like that, what are the odds it’s going to work out and you’re going to keep hitting your point?  Dating is/was just a numbers game.  Keep tossing and eventually, you hit the 7.  But along the way, there’s a few boxcars and snake-eyes.  This date wasn’t like crapping out.  It was like misfiring with two dice bounding off the table.  A miscue.  A bad roll.

The waiter brought over the check and by this time there was no chance in hell we were going to that movie.  Even if I really wanted to see Platoon.  All I wanted to do was pack her into the passenger seat with all the grey dog hair and wheel her back to her street, prop open the side door, and slow down enough to let her get a running start when the stilettos hit the asphalt.

But first I had to pay the bill.

Uh oh.

Dallas — we have a problem.  When I reached for the check that’s when I suddenly realized this night was about to become so far beyond a humiliation that I think I just lost it right then and there and began to burst out laughing.

A few hours earlier while trying to find a jump start for the car, I’d switched jackets.  That meant I’d left my billfold in the other coat pocket.  The billfold had all my money and credit cards.  So, I was sitting at a dinner table on a Saturday night penniless.  Flat fucking broke.

I think I was laughing by this time.  Crying, maybe.  I don’t remember.  The girl must have thought I was insane.  If there was a bridge nearby, I probably would have jumped off it.

“Umm, you’re not going to believe this, but umm…..”

Whatever syllables followed next from my trembling salty lips aren’t important, nor are they remembered exactly word for word, some three decades later.  However, I do remember this.  My date actually gasped for air.  Then, she just stared.  Sort of like a death stare.  Then, she calmly reached into her purse, tossed some money on the tabletop, and confessed she needed to go to the ladies room immediately.  Yeah, I totally got that.  I could surely understand.  I’m stoked with empathy.  The girl needed to catch her breath.  Take a little break.  I’m sure our date had been quite overwhelming.

Well, I sat there by myself with my hands over my face in silence for the next ten minutes.  The agony seemed a lot longer than that.  It sure seemed like a long time for her to be using the restroom.  So, I left her money on the table and approached to the hostess stand.  I was still clueless.

“Hey, did you see a brunette lady in a polka-dot dress up here?  She’s my date.  I can’t find her.”

 “Yeah, she jumped in a taxi and left five minutes ago.”

Can you believe that?  I didn’t even get a kiss.

Well, at least I got a free dinner out of the worst date of my life.

 

Note:  ‘Tis the season of love.  Now it’s your turn.  Please join our fun at Facebook where readers can post their WORST DATE EVER stories in the “comments” section.  My last poll question got about 230 replies.  This one should be a blast.  CLICK THE LINK BELOW:

 

 

 

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