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My Thoughts on the 2017 Academy Awards

Posted by on Feb 26, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Movie Reviews | 0 comments

 

 

“La La Land” seems like a stone-cold lock of all ages to win the Best Picture Oscar in what’s otherwise been a disappointing year for movies.

The merry musical was the lone sweet cherry piled high atop a giant shit sundae heaping with plentiful box office busts, instantly-forgettable docudramas, mindless futuristic fluff, Star Games, the Hunger Wars, kiddie crack, and several embarrassingly awful films which should never have been green lighted (hang in there, Warren Beatty — I’ll get to you later).

Everything about La La Land” worked for me.  I loved the catchy music, infused with piano and jazz.  I loved the romance.  I loved the two main characters — played by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, who were perfectly cast and dazzled with their acting, singing, and dancing.  Call me sentimental, call me old fashioned, but I adored the quirky retro-tale about two struggling dreamers trying to make it big in Hollywood.  I was also riveted by the unknown of what would happen at the end.  Until the final curtain and closing note, we have no idea if Gosling and Stone will end up together as one.  This was a great movie.

“La La Land” received a ton of nominations — and rightfully so.  It deserves to win several Oscars.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is, there wasn’t much else worthy of praise.  Unfortunately, the competition was so weak this past year, that I expect a record low number television viewers (partially due to half the country buying into the anti-Hollywood ruse).  Those who do tune into the 89th annual awards show will be utterly sick of the repetitive speeches from pretty much the same filmmakers over and over again by the time we reach the Animated Short category.

In fact, between the expected Oscar overkill for La La Land,” cringe worthy political posturing from the usual suspects, and the woefully unfunny Jimmy Kimmel doing his very best to remind us why we all miss someone genuinely funny like Billy Crystal, or Ricky Gervais, or Jim Carey who would have done a much better job in their sleep — I don’t expect to make it all the way through Sunday night’s telecast.  That’s really saying something, since I’ve seen (I estimate) 42 out of the last 44 Academy Awards telecasts, from start to finish. [SEE FOOTNOTE ABOUT KIMMEL BELOW]

That doesn’t make me a film critic.  But it does provide the basis of an opinion.  Here are my thoughts on some of the films I’ve seen this year, and many I have not seen, which have been nominated for Oscars.  The envelope of pleasure and pain, please:

“Arrival” — This was a better-than-average sci-fi flick which was greatly enhanced by some marvelous special effects.  That said, there’s no way this film deserves Best Picture consideration or anything else other than a few technical Oscar mentions.  “Arrival” was filled with jaw-dropping plot holes big enough to make a James Bond scriptwriter bust out in hives.  One thing that cracked me up:  If an alien spaceship the size of the Empire State Building really landed in the middle of Kansas and wasn’t able to communicate with humans, wouldn’t the U.S. Government hire more than just one linguist?  Go figure.  I was also annoyed by the bigger story which eventually gets revealed and somehow engulfs the entire previous episode of how the world reacts to invading space aliens.

“Hell or High Water” — Copy cat of the outstanding “No Country for Old Men” this film lacked much originality.  Story about a couple of erratic brothers who turn into wildly reckless bank robbers in dusty West Texas, while they’re pursued relentlessly by an impossible-to-understand local sheriff played by mumbling Jeff Bridges, who’s mouth is filled with so many marbles he could stock a gumball machine.  To be fair — this movie does have it’s moments as a very watchable crime hunt caper.  But in the end, we all know what’s coming, and the conclusion is less than fulfilling.  I can’t think of a single thing about this movie that’s Oscar-worthy.

“Manchester by the Sea” — I hated this movie.  I hated it.  I hated it.  I hated it.  Dreadfully dull and depressing blow-your-brains-out downer of a film about a pathetic loser-janitor from Boston who makes one bad choice after another until the point where we (the audience) have completely run out of patience.  Just jump off a bridge and end this, please.  There’s hardly a character in the movie who’s appealing (aside from the orphaned teen son, who’s excellent, by the way).  Casey Affleck (personifying the same sub-par acting abilities of his more famous brother) becomes the accidental star in this bore of movie — as someone you’d pluck out of shitty job, cast in a movie, and then praise for his authenticity playing common working man.  Hell, any half-shaven truck driver in America could have played this part.  The drug-addicted turned religious nut of a wife is just as bad.  Inexplicably, this film is up for several awards.  I have no fucking idea why.  A horrible movie.

I’m embarrassed to say I’ve not yet seen some movies that were nominated in various categories that look quite decent, and perhaps might ultimately change my opinion of the caliber of films released this past year.  Foremost among these is “Hidden Figures,” the remarkable little-known story about a group of Black female mathematicians who fought prejudice and ended up making great contributions to the NASA space program.  I admit I’d not heard about this story before, so I look forward to seeing the film, which is being praised highly by those who saw it.

Moonlight” also looks like a film worthy of seeing, of for no other reason than it received eight nominations.  “Loving” was on my radar screen earlier when it was released, but didn’t receive as many positive reviews, so I put that on the back burner, until later.  “Lion” looked intriguing.  However, I then saw a film documentary on the actual person who was lost as a child on whom this movie was based.  After being exposed to the real-life tale, the movie didn’t interest me quite as much.

As for movies and actors I’m rooting for strictly as a personal preference, here are my thoughts:  First, “La La Land” can do no wrong.  Anything it wins will be well deserved, especially in the Best Director and Best Picture categories.  “Fences” was the blood and sweat of the always excellent Denzel Washington, who finally deserved and got his chance to produce and direct the movie he’s wanted to make for a long time.  This film probably won’t be called out much when the envelopes get opened; however Viola Davis seems like a worthy choice in the Best Supporting Actress category.

Viggo Mortensen has done some outstanding film work of the years, and he’s among the very best actors working today.  I saw only a glimpse of “Captain Fantastic,” a challenging emotional role for which he’s been nominated for Best Actor.  I’d love to see him win.  Admittedly, this is probably Ryan Gosling’s award on Sunday night, but Mortensen walking onstage would be just as satisfying.

The Best Actress race looks especially intriguing, this year.  Meryl Streep is Hollywood royalty among peers and critics, but she won’t win anything this year for a film what was pretty awful (an inexplicable third remake of a rich English woman who can’t sing).  I have great respect for Natalie Portman and her talent, but would prefer she not win for the title role in “Jackie.”  Please.  Enough of the Kennedy’s — already, especially the over-sanctified JFK period, an average presidency at best which has been so ridiculously overblown, it’s warped our view of history.  No surprise here, I’ll go with Emma Stone in LLL.

I customarily see most of the documentaries and foreign films which are nominated.  But due to timing and logistics, it also takes me a while to get around to seeing all of them.  I’m also one of the very few people who has seen every short and animated film (nominee) over the past three years from the Oscars (there’s a special showing, I’ve attended and written about), but this is typically a post-Oscar endeavor.  Accordingly, I can’t say much about these films, yet.  However, the massive archival undertaking that was “O.J.: Made in America” really stuck with me.  I watched all 8 hours over an extended period, and watched some of it again.  Filmmakers took a subject we all thought we knew well, and yet somehow still managed to make this a riveting detective story, with quite a bit of fresh eye-opening material, not just on the O.J. Simpson trial, but the modern history of race relations in America.  This was an amazing film series that I would describe as a “must-see.”  Note:  Why wasn’t this included in the Best Picture nominees?  Can’t a documentary be the best movie of the year?  Why the bias?

In closing, I’ll give out my own sour grapes award for the worst film/worst performance of last year.  Remember legendary Warren Beatty?  Well, he’s my winner — or make that, loser.  Beatty starred in a dreadful bio-epic as Howard Hughes in the laughably awful, “Rules Don’t Apply.”  Marieta and I stormed of the theater after wasting an hour plus 15, and $24 in cash, so I can’t comment in detail about this garbage other than to spoil the fuck out of it and save anyone who hasn’t seen it yet.  Trust me, I’m doing you a favor.  Beatty, who in real life is age 80, plays Hughes when he’s about 50, which requires applying enough makeup to bronze Donald Trump for an entire month.  Hughes’ (Beatty’s) still got it, though.  Taking his cue right out of 1975’s “Shampoo” when he was at the top of his acting game and managed to bed every hot ounce of female flesh in Hollywood, the eccentric octogenarian has a sexual tryst and then later marries a 22-year-old virgin starlet (which never happened!).  Poor real Howard Hughes.  His grave must be spinning like a top, helped by all those oil drills that made him a billionaire.  This is the worst performance of anyone on screen within the last five years, and that’s really saying something since Adam Sandler has released four movies within that time frame.

 

Footnote:  Credit Jimmy Kimmel on a surprisingly strong performance as Oscar host.  I didn’t expect much, but he delivered.  

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The Tipping Point on Gay Rights

Posted by on Feb 21, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 2 comments

 

 

Last night, I attended a monthly meeting at the Clark County Democratic Party headquarters, here in Las Vegas.

As is regularly the custom, speakers from various organizations show up at these meetings to inform and educate those of us in the audience on important issues of the day.

James Healey was the latest guest speaker.  He’s a progressive activist who also works full time as a casino executive for MGM-Mirage corporation.  Healey previously served as a legislator in the Nevada State Assembly.  He also happens to be gay.

I normally wouldn’t mention that, because it’s no more relevant than if he has blue eyes or brown eyes.  But since our nightly topic of discussion was gay rights, which are now under serious threat by the Trump Administration (and many state legislatures and localities — which lean Republican), his presentation was accompanied by both an added sense of passion and urgency.

Let’s be clear.  To our credit as a nation, American public opinion has evolved rather quickly on the once-controversial topic of gay rights.  Virtually everyone now knows someone who’s openly gay.  Popular television shows and movies feature gay characters, who are usually portrayed in a positive way.  Young people overwhelming see a person’s sexual orientation as a total non-issue.  The stats don’t lie — For the first time ever, a majority of the country believes gay people are entitled to equal rights and protections, including marriage equality.

That’s all a good thing.

After I heard the talk, while driving home, I pondered my own mental and emotional “evolution” on the subject of gay rights.  I’m not proud of this, but as a teenager, I used to engage in the typical pranks of philistine adolescence, which — sorry to say — included making derogatory remarks about those who were suspected to be homosexual.  I used insensitive slurs, including “faggot” and other mean words on regular occasion.  That didn’t make me a bad person.  Those actions were however, a reflection of my ignorance, and to a greater extent — a lack of exposure to the full diversity that makes up the American Experience.

I’m not sure there was any single moment that qualifies as a “tipping point” for me on gay rights.  That is to say, I don’t remember any specific incident that transformed me from the typical brutish-acting macho straight guy into someone far more empathetic and compassionate for people who on other times would have been inviting targets.  Perhaps it was attending college and simply being exposed to new ideas.  Maybe it was getting older and wiser.  Probably, it was working long hours in bars and restaurants, a trade where I regularly encountered people who were openly gay.  That was way back in the early 1980’s, an era that wasn’t nearly as tolerant about alternative lifestyles, as today.  There was also the terrible AIDS scare happening at the time, which certainly didn’t help straight culture to better understand gay culture.

Maturity, I believe, is incremental.  It’s all a gradual process.  Over time, I came to understand that gay rights was to our time as the civil rights struggle was to the generation which proceeded us.  And today, there are other noble causes, and there will me more things to fight for in the future.  The struggle for justice never ends.  There’s always a voice in the dark needing aid and comfort from torment.  Freedoms are an obligation to be protected by all, whether we agree or not with those whom need our support.

What I wonder is this — what made most of us (who are straight) to come around on the subject of gay rights?  Was it watching Will and Grace?  Was it finding out that a friend or loved one was gay?  Was it a personal experience that changed your mind?  What was it?

I think this is a critical question to ask because it provides a list of formulas that are proven to be effective.  If many of us who used to sling cruel derogatory slurs could evolve and ultimately become outspoken advocates of gay rights (which includes many reading these words right now), then we should try to employ those same tactics and with others who haven’t caught on yet in the future.  My belief is this — nearly everyone is capable of being swayed on this issue, dare I say — even conservatives and religious people.  I do believe many conservatives and religious people are good people who want to do the right thing.  Perhaps those who continue to strongly oppose justice and equality for all simply haven’t been approached yet….in the right way.  Our mission must be to find ways to reach them.

To be clear, there is a vocal contingent within the gay activist movement which vociferously rejects the notion of gaining “acceptance” from mainstream society.  Rightfully, their belief is that human rights and legal protections aren’t souvenirs to be handed out by the majority as though they’re providing favors.  In other words, they don’t give a damn whether you approve of them, or not.

Good for them.  Defiance can indeed be courageous.

However, since the potential rollback on gay rights is now very real in this country (and certainly continues to be a monumental problem in many foreign cultures), it would be advisable for those of us who are engaged in the fight to try and better understand on what works, versus what doesn’t.

And so, I ask those of you who wish to contribute to our understanding of this issue:  What, if anything, was the major turning point that transformed you from either opposition or indifference, to being a supporter of gay rights?

Obviously, this question is geared to those who have successfully evolved on this issue.

To those of you who haven’t yet, we’ll get back at you later.

 

[To join the discussion on Facebook, please CLICK HERE.]

 

A final thought:  I would be remiss were I not to point out Mr. Healey’s observation that Nevada, while progressive on many other issues, doesn’t have much to brag about on this issue.  Yet, strangely enough, within the poker culture, gay rights enjoys widespread support.  Many top poker pros who are openly gay, which makes poker way ahead of other competitive enterprises.  That’s something to be proud of.

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A Moral Dilemma — What Would You Do?

Posted by on Feb 21, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, Rants and Raves | 8 comments

 

 

A MORAL DILEMMA:

Something happened today that’s causing me considerable mental anguish.  Perhaps you will help and might offer some advice.

This morning, I went shopping at the local Costco.  While in the parking lot, I noticed a man loading his SUV with several boxes.  He reached into his back pocket and took out his wallet.  Next, he put the wallet on the top of his vehicle, and then proceeded to load remainder of the cargo.

Just as I walked past, the man got into his Hummer, started the engine, and then began to drive away.  The man’s wallet tumbled off the top of his car and landed on the pavement, right at my feet.  I picked the wallet up and tried to flag the man down.  However, he drove away too quickly and I wasn’t able to get his attention.

However, I did notice something quite interesting.  The Hummer had a “TRUMP FOR PRESIDENT” bumper sticker on one side and an NRA decal on the other.  The car sped away as I was yelling for him to stop.

There was only one thing I could do.  I looked inside the wallet and found the man’s ID, along with his home address.  He also had several business cards which listed his phone number.  Also, to my astonishment, I found $870 in cash stuffed inside the wallet.

So, now my dilemma is this.  Perhaps you can advise:

Should I fire the whole wad of cash tonight on LSU +3, or use it to pay some bills?

 

Writer’s Note:  Most of this story is purely fictional.  However, I did shop at Costco today.

 

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America’s Biggest Embarrassment

Posted by on Feb 20, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics | 0 comments

 

 

A SERIOUS QUESTION:

Admit it — he’s America’s biggest embarrassment.

The rest of the world looks at him in bewilderment and wonders how the hell he made it to such a lofty position.

Everything’s so far that he’s done has been a miserable failure.

Nothing he says makes any sense.

Whatever he puts out gets ridiculed by critics.

They trash him unmercifully in the media.

I must admit, that when I watch him on TV, I want to vomit.

He’s not funny.

He’s not entertaining.

He’s a terrible influence on our culture.

I cringe that children might be watching.

Nobody with a shred of self-respect wants to work with him.

He’s toxic for anyone’s future career plans.

He’s never won an award.

His last few projects lost millions.

So, my question is this……

After so many disasters, how’s it possible later this week, they’re releasing another Adam Sandler movie?

 
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Where’s Your Outrage? Where’s Your Decency?

Posted by on Feb 18, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, Rants and Raves, What's Left | 10 comments

 

 

You’re looking at one of the last photos ever taken of James Foley.

He was a war correspondent who reported on the Syrian Civil War.

On August 19, 2014, some 44 days after being captured and taken into captivity by ISIS, he was forced to his knees at an undisclosed location in the desert.  An evil man wrapped in a black turban wielded a mighty sword, lifted his instrument of death towards a gorgeous blue sky, and then thrust the blade violently downward, instantly severing off the head of an American.

James Foley was 40 years old.  [READ MORE HERE]

 

 

You’re looking at a picture of Chauncey Bailey.

He was a reporter for The Oakland Post, who regularly covered events within the African-American community.  Bailey was highly-respected by peers and readers alike for his tireless work ethic.  He was particularly adept at uncovering local corruption and was then working on a story that was particularly sensitive to people known for violence.

On August 2, 2007, Bailey was walking from his apartment to work, just as he did every morning.  While strolling up 14th Street, a lone gunman wearing black clothing and a ski mask approached Bailey and blasted three bullets into his body, which killed the journalist instantly.

Chauncey Bailey was 57.  [READ MORE HERE]

 

 

You’re looking at a photo of Cynthia Elbaum.

She was a correspondent with Time magazine assigned to the war in Chechnya.

Elbaum worked as a photojournalist.  She captured the horrors of that terrible failed war for independence in the breakaway state of Chechnya.  Elbaum was particularly remarkable for her courage, not just a willingness to risk her life in one of the world’s most dangerous regions, but also because she was one of the few female journalists daily in the line of fire.

She paid the ultimate price to bring us news, sending back images that most of us barely gave a glance at, perhaps only for a few fleeting seconds while parsing through an old issue of Time while waiting in a doctor’s office.  We don’t think much of the dangers and sacrifices it took to bring us the things we read and see.  We’re oblivious to those risks taken by the brave.

Cynthia Elbaum was 28.  [READ MORE HERE]

 

 

You’re looking at a picture of Michael Kelly.

He wrote from The Washington Post and The New York Times.

On April 3, 2003, Kelly was traveling in a Humvee along with American troops dispatched to a war zone in Iraq.  The vehicle hit a land mine, and exploded into flames, killing everyone trapped inside — including Kelly.  Thus, he became the first journalist who was killed in Iraq.

Michael Kelly was 46.  He left behind a wife and two children.  [READ MORE HERE]

 

 

You’re looking at the wall of the Newseum’s Journalists Memorial, in Washington, DC.  This is just a partial collection of members of the media who have been killed doing their jobs.

Indeed, this could be a much longer article.  In fact, it could stretch on and on with hundreds of thousands of words.  In all, a total of 2,291 writers, journalists, photographers, cameramen, and other members of the media have been killed in the line of duty.

Two-thousand, two-hundred,, ninety-one.  Let that figure sink in.

The 2,291 gave their lives largely out of insatiable curiosities to which we — the readers and viewers — were the ungrateful beneficiaries.  Rarely thanked, but so often criticized, they trekked into zones where others dared not to travel.  They asked questions others dared not to ask.  They took photo and video of events that were not supposed to be seen.

The least one might expect for this work and those who do their best follow in their hollowed footsteps is — a little respect.

 

 

You’re looking at the screen shot of the tweet that was sent out yesterday by the President of the United States.

He called the mainstream news media, “the enemy of the American People!”

I have received a fair amount of criticism lately for my harsh words and many of the brutal things I’ve said about President Trump.  I recognize that my actions and use of language is not suited for all tastes.  However, as a regular consumer of daily news and someone who has known and worked with a great many dedicated members of the media, I can’t help but be profoundly disturbed by the events I’m witnessing.  I can’t help but get emotional about such a grotesque lack of respect and dignity, by the President, no less.

Where’s your outrage?  Where’s your sense of decency?

 

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55 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Me

Posted by on Feb 7, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Personal | 15 comments

 

 

Today’s my 55th birthday.  Okay, that was yesterday.  My 56th birthday is 364 days from now.

Gee, that makes me sound old as fuck.

Save the sentimentality, people, though I appreciate the spirit in which it’s intended.  Birthdays don’t mean much to me.  It’s just another day.  5-5 just another number.  However, this does seem like a good occasion to share some personal stuff with readers.

First, a short commercial message.  I’m asking for money.  Yes, money — as in please make a donation.  I accept PayPal.  There’s an icon on the upper right-hand side of the screen.  Please click that square and be generous.

When I embarked on this (almost) daily blog four years ago, I promised I’d write whatever popped into my head as often as time permitted — and those thoughts would be unfiltered.  But I also made an agreement that I would not allow this website to cost me any money.  I hired a terrific webmaster, Ernst-Dieter Martin, who should take a bow (see his picture on the Emeritus Section, along with a link to his web services).  He’s been with me since Day One and makes sure the site stays up and is free of cyber attacks.  I haven’t paid the webmaster in a while.  So, I’d like to send some cash his way.  So, if you can send $10, $20, or $10,000 — he (and I) would appreciate it.  Thank you for doing whatever you can.

Now, on to my confessional.

There’s no such thing as normal.  We’re expected to be circles and squares.  Reality is, we’re all polygons, with multiple sides.  Here’s 55 things you probably didn’t know about me:

 

1.  I was born in Dallas, Texas on February 6, 1962.  The most famous person also born that exact same day and year is Axl Rose — the lead singer for Guns and Roses.

2.  My parents divorced when I was 2.  My father spent most of his professional career as an air traffic controller.  He was fired by President Ronald Reagan in the infamous PATCO strike of 1982.  My mother worked for Southwestern Bell Telephone Company most of her life.

3.  While growing up, I lived in Dallas, Chicago, and Albuquerque.  I changed schools five times between the grades of 1-6.  Each time we moved, I had to make new friends.  That probably made more into an outgoing person.

4.  I had speaking and singing roles in all four of my high school musicals.  My senior year, I had the lead role in “Bye Bye Birdie.”  Play the guitar badly.  I play the piano worse.  Actually, I don’t play the piano at all.  If I have a great personal regret, it’s that I never learned the piano.

5.  My junior year, I got expelled from high school for drinking alcohol and had to go to an alternative school for troublemakers.  Nonetheless, I was elected Senior Class President the following year.

6.  I’ve never done illegal drugs of any kind, including smoking marijuana.

7.  I earned a B.A. in political science from the University of Texas system, but dropped out of a Masters Degree program after one year.

8.  Right out of college, I tried to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps as an officer, but was rejected for flight school because I’m colorblind.  I have what’s called a red-green deficiency, which is the most common form of color blindness.  About 3 percent of all people have this vision defect, which predominantly afflicts males.

9.  I’m probably one of the very few people who was in close proximity to both the Kennedy Assassination and the events of 9/11.  When I was nearly 2, we lived a few miles from where Kennedy was shot.  39 years later, I lived across the street from the Pentagon, which was struck by an airliner and exploded.

10.  I hate mushrooms.

11.  I don’t like making small talk.  I like discussing serious subjects that matter.

12.  My favorite actor is Marlon Brando.  My favorite actress is Isabella Rosellini.

13.  My spiritual mentor is the late Christopher Hitchens.

14.  I am embarrassingly ignorant in math and science.  I’m ashamed about this, so I’m trying to catch up and learn more, especially about science.

15.  I was born into Roman Catholicism and even attended Catholic school for a time.  However, I’ve been an Atheist since about the age of 25.  Despite this, I still once joined the Knights of Columbus.

16.  I ran for city council once.  I finished third in a four-candidate race.  Just imagine how shitty a candidate the fourth-place finisher was.

17.  I’m passionate about animal rights and environmental protections.

18.  I despise flair bartenders.  I think they should be banned, imprisoned, or shot depending on how fancy they get.

19.  I am trying to become a vegetarian.  Trouble is, most veggie food really sucks.

20.  I made my first bet at the age of 8, losing $1 on Super Bowl V.  I’ve been gambling ever since.

21.  Both of my paternal grandparents were deaf.  My grandfather, an immigrant from Northern Italy, once played minor league baseball and pitched an exhibition game against Babe Ruth.

22.  My grandfather’s name was shorted when he arrived at New York’s Ellis Island.  His real name was DALLAVALLE, which roughly translated means, “from the valley.”  He was born in Rabbi, Trentino (Italy).  The name was shorted to DALLA.

23.  My favorite brand of car is Citroen.

24.  My favorite book is “The Power Broker,” the 1975 Pulitzer Prize winner for non-fiction, by Robert Caro.

25.  Except on very rare occasions, I do not read fiction.

26.  I witnessed the 1989 Romanian Revolution first-hand.

27.  I drink wine every day.  My favorite wine is Gevrey Chambertin, from France.  My favorite white wine is just about anything from the Alsace region of France.

28.  My favorite movie is The Godfather.  The best movie ever made was Schindler’s List.

29.  My favorite sports team is whoever I’m betting on that day.  Aside from gambling, my favorite sports teams are the New Orleans Saints, the San Antonio Spurs, and the Boston Bruins.  I don’t have a favorite baseball team, except that I always cheer against the Yankees, Mets, and Red Sox.  I like to say when the Yankees play the Red Sox, I cheer for a rain out and a stadium collapse.

30.  I’ve met and shaken hands with six out of the last nine U.S. Presidents, including Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump.

31.  I’ve met and spoken with Donald Trump four times.

32.  I once sat in the senate office chair of Ted Kennedy.

33. I’ve been married to Marieta Dalla for 26 years.

34.  My basic philosophy can best be summed up as follows:  If Immanuel Kant, Robert Owen, Karl Marx, Lyndon B. Johnson, George Carlin, Van Morrison, Gloria Steinem, Cesar Chavez, and Sam Harris all had a secret love child — that would be me.

35.  I refuse to eat fast food, unless it’s a matter of life or death, or I’m traveling through West Virginia, which is kinda’ the same thing.

36.  I run 2 to 3 miles every day.  I used to run 5 miles, but that was too much strain on the joints.  The longest distance I’ve ever run at once was 12 miles.  I have never competed in a 10K race or a marathon of any kind.  My father, however, used to run marathons regularly and even competed up until he was 50.

37.  The sound I cherish most is the sound of silence.

38.  I like people.  I also like being alone.

39.  My greatest enjoyment is reading.

40.  I do not believe in UFOs.  I do not believe in superstition.  I do not believe in astrology.  I do not believe in faith-based healing or prayer.  I do believe in inquiry and science.

41.  I do not believe it is wrong to have tried and failed.  My life is filled with failures.

42.  No words offend me.  None whatsoever.  I have no regard for political correctness.  The older I get, the less I care what other people think.

43.  My favorite television shows at the moment are, in no particular order:  PBS Frontline, American Experience, 60 Minutes, John Oliver, This is Us, Suits, StarTalk, and anything that’s news or political.

44.  Celebrities aren’t particularly interesting to me.  The people I admire most are those who rarely get praise, particularly medical caregivers and those who work with animals, especially solving animal abuse cases.  I’m weak.  I do not think I could do those jobs, so I really admire those who do.

45.  The older I get, the less material possessions mean to me.  So long as I have a laptop, and internet connection, and some wine — I’m good.

46.  My preferred alcoholic drink is Johnny Walker Black, not only for taste but because it’s historically been the beverage of choice for Leftist revolutionaries.  I also have a soft spot for Jameson.

47.  I have no internal time clock.  I can work or read or sleep anytime of day or night.

48.  Despite being outgoing, I’m not into parties or social engagements, at all.  I despise making meaningless talk.

49.  I once ripped up an airline ticket, rented a car and drove from New Orleans to Las Vegas because Marieta found a wounded Ring-Necked Dove in the street and we didn’t want to leave it behind to die.  True story.

50.  I’m ridiculously fortunate to have wonderful family and friends, far better than I deserve.

51.  If I could do my life all over again, I’d make many different choices and decisions.  However, I would not change my essential belief systems.  I’m proud of my beliefs and my path to a personal philosophy.

52.  I’m still trying to decide what to do next and where to live the rest of my life.  When I figure that out, I’ll likely write about it.  Or, maybe I won’t.

53.  Writing is easy.  Editing is hard.

54.  I plan on writing a book over the next six months.  It’s a project that was shelved which I aspire returning to with fresh enthusiasm.

55. My first World Series of Poker was in 1985.  Since then, I’ve been to most of them.  However, I have probably worked my last WSOP.

 

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Viewer Discretion Advised (My Video Rants)

Posted by on Feb 6, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Personal | 1 comment

 

 

Making video rants are fun.

Sure, there’s the misery of the preamble, that painful period of time leading to a ballistic blow up.  That’s not fun at all.  However, doing a video rant is sort of like engaging what psychiatrist Arthur Janov coined as “Primal Scream Therapy.”  Janov charged his clients, which included many celebrities, hundreds if not thousands of dollars per hour to express their deepest emotions.  By contrast, making a video only requires a smartphone and the bravery to share one’s soul with the world.

I lost a wager on the Super Bowl yesterday.  My wager appeared to be a lock, until seconds were left in the game.  Then, the ice cream turned to shit.  I won’t go into details.  You can just watch this 8-minute clip for yourselves:

 

Alternative version of clip with reader comments can be seen on my FACEBOOK PAGE.

I watched yesterday’s Super Bowl at Russ Fox’s house, along with several friends.  Russ always does a nice job of hosting.  I have having a great time until the epic meltdown in the fourth quarter.  After getting into arguments with people about how stupid the Atlanta coaching staff was, electing to have QB Matt Ryan pass the ball with only a few minutes left in the game and a lead that should have been insurmountable, I drove home and was prepared to call it a night.  Another day.  Another bad beat.  Shit happens.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it might be a healthy outlet to make a video and let myself go.  I’ve done this a few times in the past, and I’d call it a win-win.  I have fun with the rants, and it sure feels good to let off some steam after losing thousands of dollars.  Viewers also seem to enjoy the rants.  I think every gambler can identify with the frustration of suffering a loss.

Here’s a similar video I made a few years ago after a devastating weekend where I lost almost every game.  This video runs longer, but has quite a plenty of red meat  [Viewer discretion advised]:

 

Rants can be fun, even on topics other than sports.  Here’s a much longer video I made a few years ago in reaction to the absurd Las Vegas Review Journal “Readers Poll,” an abomination which includes the public’s picks on the top restaurants and entertainment in Las Vegas.

This video begins calmly and then as I read the readers poll picks, I begin to lose it.  Enjoy!

 

Today’s a big day for me.  I’ll run a few errands and be back later with a special announcement and a pledge drive.

I need the money.

 

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So, the old miser bailed on the new stadium deal — what’s next Las Vegas Raiders?

Posted by on Feb 5, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Politics, What's Left | 1 comment

 

 

In case you didn’t hear the big news earlier this week — the old miser dropped out of the stadium deal.  That places the NFL’s Oakland Raiders-to-Las Vegas move in serious jeopardy.

So, what’s next?

Sheldon Adelson, the cantankerous fat cat who supposedly pledged $650 million from his vast fortune estimated at worth more than $32 billion — for him, what amounts to an old set of golf clubs sitting out in the garage — backed out of an agreement with Raiders’ owner Mark Davis and the City of Las Vegas, the third partner in the complicated business deal.  Adelson’s involvement (actually, his money — nobody really cared much if he showed at the meetings) was essential to the construction of a new stadium, expected to be built near The Strip and could have been ready just in time for kickoff for the 2020 NFL regular season.  Adelson’s role in the agreement was like the rich family uncle who everyone despises.  But you don’t want to piss him off because there might be something in the will, later on.  Without a new stadium, which required Uncle Adelson’s money to build, the Raiders deal was, and remains, dead.

Adelson cutting and running when his help (money) was needed most reveals a pettiness not even his most vocal critics would have expected.  To be clear, Adelson’s financial contribution could have been a remarkable testament to his appreciation to this city and its people.  For many, even his detractors, it might have transformed his spotty reputation from a casino mogul and political reactionary who’s not particularly well-liked by many in this community into something of a local civic hero.  Yet, when time came to buy into the game and write out the marker, Adelson scootered away from the table faster than a busted gambler at one of his craps tables.

Now, the partnership is $650 million short.  More pressing, the clock on the stadium deal is ticking and could go kaput, as early at March 1st.  Somebody needs to step in and reach deep into their pockets — and fast.  Reportedly, the MGM-Grand folks were open to stepping in and riding to the rescue as our savior.  However, negotiations quickly collapsed.  Unless David Copperfield can magically make a half a billion in cash appear, that deal’s not happening.  Other powerful casino interests could be interested.  But the last time anyone checked, Caesars Entertainment had $17.43 in the bank.

What’s puzzling to me is — why do football stadiums cost so much goddamned money?  Does Las Vegas — or any other city where are schools desperately cry out for renovation and roads and bridges need improvement — really need to squander $2 billion on a mega-sports arena that hosts on the average just ten ball games a year?  Assuming the Raiders were to remain in Las Vegas for the next 30 years, that would come out to about $6.7 million per game, and that doesn’t even include the cost of upkeep and maintenance.

Inexplicably, stadiums have become the new cathedrals of modern civilization.  Sunday worship isn’t much of a church thing anymore.  Now, it’s a football thing.  What the Sistine Chapel and Notre Dame were to the peasantry centuries ago, today the Superdome and Jerry’s World assume that same spiritual and financial ambiance.  Indeed, churches have lots in common with the NFL.  Both cause brain damage and then demand that taxpayers pay for everything.

Here’s my idea:  Screw Adelson.  Screw the MGM.  Let’s slum it and build the stadium for $1.35 billion.  Wouldn’t that work?  Wouldn’t that be enough?  Must every pro football stadium look like a giant UFO?  Can’t we throw down some seeds, water the grass, construct a few grandstands, and enjoy the game?  Didn’t natural-grass stadiums filled with real fans minus all the sky boxes and sponsor-driven hoopla work pretty damn well for six decades?  Didn’t pro football become America’s true national pastime because games were played in authentic arenas like Lambeau Field, the Orange Bowl, and Yankee Stadium?  Sure, no one wants to go back to the olden days of leather helmets.  But can’t we forget about retractable roofs, faux rubber grass, and VIP sections?

How about this.  Let’s offer to build the Raiders a new stadium for $1.35 billion.  Two billion minus $650 million equals $1.35 billion.  That’s the budget.  We can tell Mark Davis — hey, you wanted a Tesla.  We’re offering you a Buick.  Take it or leave it.  Right now, given that they call the Oakland Coliseum home, the Raiders are driving a shitbox.  How to cut down on costs?  Easy.  Since Trump’s border wall with Mexico isn’t up yet, we can use cheap migrant labor.  We’ll cut on the number of stalls in the ladies restrooms.  They’re going to bitch they’re aren’t enough stalls, anyway.  We can remove the escalators because most sports fans are fat and lazy.  They need to exercise more.  We can charge $15 for a beer and $30 for a parking spot.  Oh wait — stadiums are doing that already.

An NFL stadium doesn’t need to resemble the Johnson Space Center.  Yeah, I get that Las Vegas weather is hot as fuck much of the time and perhaps an enclosed facility may be necessary.  But, the weather here isn’t any more uncomfortable than the steam baths of Miami or Jacksonville or Houston or the frigid weather in northern cities.  If Bills and Bears fans can sit in the freezing cold in subzero temperatures and watch those shit teams, Las Vegas football fans should be able to risk a mild case of sunstroke.  250 miles to our south, the Phoenix Cardinals played in an outdoors stadium for nearly 20 years and there weren’t more than a handful of deaths, and pretty much all of those were from eating the nachos.

According to Forbes’ latest figures, the average NFL franchise is worth about $1.5 billion.  For teams who also own their own stadium, the values are considerably higher.  Assuming Mark Davis will own half of the new Las Vegas stadium, it follows that the value of the team would probably double and surpass the $2 billion mark.  That should be anough money to live on for a while, even in the Bay Area.  Besides, he sure as hell isn’t spending much money on haircuts.

If he still short on cash and needs a few bucks, given those figures and that level of collateral, Davis could probably get approved for a bank loan.  If he needs a co-signer, then give me a call.  Unlike Sheldon Adelson, I won’t back out of the deal.  I’ll even throw in my old set of golf clubs.

 

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My Super Bowl Wager

Posted by on Feb 4, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Sports Betting | 3 comments

 

 

In the Super Bowl, I’m betting $1,600. to win back $1,454. on the UNDER 59.

This is the highest betting total in Super Bowl history.  Fifty championship games have been played since 1967, with some of the best offenses of all-time.  Yet no betting total has ever been this high.  All things considered, the value looks to be with the UNDER 59.

The public appears to be betting the OVER in droves.  The total opened at 57.5 in many sports books (YMMV), then went up to 58.  All around Las Vegas today (eve of the Super Bowl), there were lots of 58 and 58.5 numbers frozen in place.  Many people I spoke with expected the betting public might continue to chisel the number steadily upward, but enough sharp money should have resisted the total going too much higher than where it’s stabilized over the past 12 days.  When I suddenly saw a 59 flash at Red Rock (Stations) today, I pounced and made this a larger-than-average wager.

Of course, betting against a tidal wave is tricky.  There’s some evidence this total could climb higher.  In that case, I could be sitting on a stale number by tomorrow afternoon.  This is always the risk on takes when betting as a contrarian.  I’ll feel pretty awful if this total closes at 60 and I’m sitting here holding the shit basket.

There’s also some value in the UNDER 29.5 First Half Total.  However, I’ll hope the extra 30 minute time frame will reduce variance (two halves at 29.5 each) and the ticket will get cashed.  I did want to note the First Half Total does look to be equally as tempting.

For this ticket to lose, 60-plus points will need to be scored.  That’s 30 points per team.  Many Super Bowls have turned into routs, of course, which is always the danger here in the big game.  If one team jumps to a big lead, the ball starts flying all over the field and crazy stuff happens.  However, recent Super Bowl games have played at a more modest pace and points haven’t lit up the score board.

The intangible in this game should be the Patriots’ defense.  If they come to play, it’s probably a win and easy cover and the UNDER cashes.  I greatly respect Bill Belichick’s abilities as a head coach (that should go without saying, although his politics are fuck).  But New England has also be a dreadful Super Bowl favorite under his reign, as the Patriots have failed to cover in most games.  That brings up the old saying — Good teams win, but great teams cover.  Remember that, Patriot fans.

I began posting NFL plays publicly on the internet about 20 years ago.  I’ve posted thousands of plays over that long span.  Since I’ve started writing on my own here at my own site, I’ve enjoyed 3 winning seasons and 1 losing season.  This year, my winnings were pretty modest — just $1,384 in profit spread out over 17 weeks (or 13.8 percent in profit).  Most of the winnings game from betting teaser wheels.  I’ve not handicapped the NFL particularly well in recent years.  However, I’ve somehow managed to still make money both in 2015 and 2016.  There’s no pretending here.  However, given all the talk and trash that’s floating out there (touts), I’m pretty proud of being ahead overall after thousands of NFL plays posted at my site.

Accordingly, I could rest on my mini-laurels and wrap up another winning season by betting small.  It would be easy to run out the clock and declare victory.   However, I won’t play it safe here.  I’m risking the prospect of a losing season overall by wagering $1,600 on this game.  Hence, I could end up in the red for the year (regarding posted plays here — not counted are hundreds of wagers such as halftimes and so forth which do not get posted because there’s no time).  However, I really like this UNDER play and if it hits, I’ll end up $3,000 to the good for the season, which is a return of about 30 percent.

Best wishes to everyone.  Thanks for reading.

SIDE NOTE:  Look for my continuing series on “Gambling for a Living,” coming up next week.  I have several more chapters to write, which will include a recap of this year’s NFL regular season.

________________________________________

2016 NFL SEASON RECORD

STARTING BANKROLL:  $10,000.

CURRENT BANKROLL:  $11,384.

NET GAIN/LOSS:   + $1,384.

LAST WEEK:  (7-8-1)  – $360.

________________________________________

 

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Student Rioters are Betraying Progressive Principles

Posted by on Feb 3, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 5 comments

 

 

A few days ago, an outspoken media personality who also happens to be an attention-starved right-wing extremist was invited to speak at Cal-Berkeley, one of the most liberal institutions of higher learning in the United States.

Milo Yiannopoulos, an admitted protagonist-agitator, who’s best known for spiking the witch’s brew of noxious deceit oozing out of the sewer pipe called Breitbart.com, was to appear at the university on Wednesday.  Given his toxic background as a provocateur personified by divisive opinions on gays, race, gender, and religion, protests were expected.

However, no one foresaw that a two-day riot would erupt, forcing university officials to capitulate to the angry mob which was comprised almost entirely of students and faculty.  Accordingly, the invitation sent to Yiannopoulos was withdrawn, citing “safety concerns.”  A swarm of media attention ensued to cover the controversy.  Hence, someone who had previously been unknown to most Americans catapulted overnight to near the top of every social media platform.  Largely anonymous aside from a few basement-dwelling gamers and conspiracy kooks, Yiannopoulos couldn’t have asked for more grandiose introduction to national prominence, unless his name popped up in lights on the marquis of “A Star is Born.”

Call this abomination what is was — not a victory for the left, but a counterproductive embarrassment and humiliating defeat for all progressives.

This is the latest sad chapter of a much longer and more troubling trend happening on many college campuses, which is the threat to free speech.  Since the 1960’s, an era of innumerable Vietnam War protests, American colleges and universities have become increasingly liberalized — particularly in the social sciences.  There are valid reasons for various departments to lean left.  While conservatives tend to gravitate to business school, or study law, or medicine, liberals are drawn naturally to the arts and sciences (with exceptions, of course).  I’d even go so far to argue that inquiry is, by design, an inherently liberal pursuit because it invariably calls the status quo and many of our conventional belief systems into question.  And so, leftist activism has fertile traditions deeply rooted in academia.  By extension, it’s easy to understand why youthful idealism would ignite on campuses like Berkeley with a combustible passion for many progressive causes.

Yet somewhere along the way, a long time after liberals won the right to protest and even spout off radical ideas, some of us devolved into what we’d once feared the most.  Now, intimidation doesn’t come from authority figures, such as campus police or university administrators nor the surrounding communities.  Bullying comes from within our own ranks.  Fact is, free speech has been hijacked in recent years and the problem appears to be getting worse.  Liberals in many areas, once arm-to-arm on the front lines of the free-speech and free-thought movement, now demand that dissenting voices be silenced, which is precisely what we’ve witnessed at Berkeley.  By doing this, we are undermining the very foundation on which liberal free thought is based.

Let’s be clear.  Colleges and universities should not be cradles.  Instead, academic institutions should be mental minefields ready to blow up bad ideas in a moment’s notice.  Bad ideas are best exposed by scrutinizing them and exposing them as such, not by heavy-handed censorship.  Indeed, knowledge, skills, and perseverance must be put to the test.  “College in an earlier time was supposed to be an uncomfortable, experience because growth is always a challenge,” Dr. Tom Nichols, professor at the U.S. Naval War College wrote recently.  “Now, attending college involves “the pampering of students like customers.”

Education demands that we constantly push ourselves to new heights.  It’s vital that we place odd people with seemingly strange ideas in front of the classroom and under the microscope so that we can bear witness and potentially learn.  This is especially true for those with whom we disagree.  It’s even more vital to subject ourselves to thoughts we might at first consider to be absurd, objectionable, and even obscene.  All great ideas start out as blasphemy.  Assuming we believe that facts will come out and truth prevails, the very worst thing that can happen to a bad idea or a flawed argument is intense scrutiny.  Hence, assuming we’re convinced Yiannopoulos is something of a crackpot, his ideas should have been given the chance to be voiced  If those ideas don’t stand up to the heat lamp of truth, they melt down.

This is even more profoundly important at a state university, in other words, a school that’s publicly funded.  One might argue that private schools (and particularly religious-based institutions) have every right to limit free speech, if they so wish.  They might even limit speakers and guests to those who conform strictly to the university’s codes and ideals.  Public schools like Cal-Berkeley, however, are obligated to expose students to the widest possible spectrum of people and ideas.  Sure, protesting such an event is fine.  Silencing a speaker is not.

Years ago, my outlook on life changed when I attended a university lecture by writer Raymond Bonner, the famed New York Times foreign correspondent who broke many of the news stories which exposed the dark and dirty things happening in Latin America at the time, largely engineered by the Reagan Administration (illegally, we’d later discover).  I went into that lecture thinking one way about the issues, and came out afterward as a changed person with very different attitudes about the world.  Such is the power of inviting guest speakers and openly exchanging ideas.  This is the purpose of higher education.

Some will argue, at times there are justifiable reasons to limit free speech, even on college campuses.  The hate speech” victim card gets wrongly played.  But these objections ring hollow and make the protesters seem petty.  British author David Irving has written prolifically on World War II, yet is also infamously known as the world’s leading Holocaust denier.  To many, he’d certainly qualify as a proponent of hate speech.  Years ago, Irving toured the United States and spoke to students on several college campuses.  It took some time, but eventually, his “research” was exposed as fallacious and he was openly discredited in a very public trial that took place in London.  Had Irving not been given a university platform, he might have remained hidden on the outer fringes and made quite a nice living at the expense of those who suffered unspeakable horrors.  Hence, subjecting Irving’s words and ideas to scrutiny became truth’s most powerful weapon.

From what I’ve seen of Milo Yiannopoulos, he can easily be dismissed as just another punk.  There’s nothing remotely credible about any of his ideas, particularly on politics and society.  He’s engaged in crude look-at-me tactics.  He written and said outrageous things, purely to gain notoriety.  Yet for all his pernicious pestilence, Yiannopoulos should have just as much right to speak and be heard at a public university as anyone else.  Free speech means exactly what it says — the right to speak freely.  That means without interruption nor intimidation.

Unless we all have it and defend its practice, none of us enjoys free speech.  That’s the reminder we progressives must take away from the Cal-Berkeley embarrassment.

 

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