Sunday, December 28, 2014

My Favorite Entertainment From 2014

The year 2014 was a year in which I didn't really pursue much in the way of new music. That's kind of odd for me, because I generally buy 6 to 10 new albums every year. I still went out and got a few, but they were from bands that had either already established themselves as bands I want to hear or they were artists I heard live and wanted to hear more from. 

So, of the albums I bought it was pretty easy to find which ones were my favorites. 

Jenny Lewis- The Voyager
I knowingly heard Lewis for the first time at the Forecastle Music Festival and it was a revelation. Solid, sensible songwriting and a sweet, yet experienced voice that had me swooning for a couple of weeks after purchase. "The Voyager" still has a few songs that are getting played by me weekly. It's a good effort. The pop melodies just suck you in and she has a way of painting a picture in your head with her stories in song. "Slippery Slopes" is one of the catchiest songs I've heard in a long time and "Just One Of The Guys" is right there with it. 

Christopher (Crash) Richard- Hardly Criminal
This guy was a total surprise for me. I saw him at Zanzabar in Louisville with about 40 other people and was just blown away. It didn't hurt that he covered "Treatment Bound", but this guy was excellent and so was his original material. I bought "Hardly Criminal" from him and put it on the turntable a couple of days later. Really solid record. "Motion Animal" may be my favorite song of 2014 and if I had to list 100 songs of all-time, it may sneak in there. An infectious tune to say the least! 

I had the pleasure of seeing quite a few films this past year and I have to say this was a pretty good year for movies. Among the best were Gone Girl, Intersteallar, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, and Night Crawler. There were two that really stuck with me though. 

Boyhood-  Richard Linklater
This film was shot over a 12 year period. A very ambitious undertaking. Anything could have gone wrong when trying to span time like that. It totally worked though. We got to follow the characters of the film as the actors actually aged. There is a documentary feel to it that gives it some weight. It's difficult not to equate some of the points of the film with my own childhood and early life. It stuck with me and I wasn't immediately able to even put my finger on why it was so good, other than it just struck a chord with me on how much influence our parents, peers, and experiences have on us. Those things can turn us away from goals, change our perceptions on what we think we know and see. It's easy to see the parents in this movie as being stifling or even villains when it comes to the influence they hold, but they are really just people (like you and I) trying to have their own lives and trying to find out who they are while doing the best they can by their children. For better or worse. It's something that isn't pleasant to relate to at times, but it's a part of a parents reality that isn't readily apparent in day to day life.  I highly recommend this to anyone that loves nuance and intelligence in their movie going experience. 

Birdman- Alejandro Iñárritu
Part reality, part fantasy, part mental illness....this film throws it all in the pot and leaves you to figure it out. It's not an easy movie to understand, but that's part of what makes it so interesting. The director seems to create one long stream of consciousness and that doesn't lend itself to trying to understand the film as it's playing out. I think there is definitely an indictment of the visual entertainment system (as well as the fragile ego of those entrenched in that system) at some level and it takes a shot at all participants. From those in control, to the actors, the critics, to the folks behind the scenes and all the way down to the ticket buying movie fan. Self expectation and projected expectation lay heavy over many of the "scenes" (even if the director tries to get you to take the film in as one long scene with a series of events). What can you be satisfied with? Is it wise to let your past success and failure manipulate the person you are today? Are you doing what you are doing for you or to prove something to others? Can you find happiness running from a past that jogs just one step behind you? Questions that Michael Keaton is dealing with, even if he isn't totally honest with himself about it. 

By far the highlight of my year in entertainment was seeing The Replacements at Forecastle. I truly enjoyed other acts also, including a stellar set from Beck, the hard driving rock of Jack White, and the surprisingly solid efforts from Jenny Lewis and Brett Dennen. Experiencing Paul McCartney for a second time was certainly a highlight of my year. Seeing and talking to Pigeon John was fun and I really dug the experience of seeing Christopher "Crash" Richard, but again, The Replacements topped my list. They put on a lively show and didn't just go through the motions. The wall of sound they created with the added guitar of BJ Armstrong set it apart from the show I saw in Chicago in 2013. Lots of fun and a "life" moment for me! 

Most people would expect me to have a book or two on the list, but I didn't really dig into reading quite as much as I have over the past few years. With that, I will just say that the two most memorable reads of my year (neither book is new to 2014 though) were "Gonzo", which is an oral biography of Hunter Thompson compiled by Corey Seymour and Jann Wenner and "Room Full Of Mirrors", a biography of Jimi Hendrix by Charles Cross. 

My favorite TV shows, once again includes the always relevant South Park. Justified and Game of Thrones were also programs I binge watched and really grew to enjoy. I look forward to the return of those programs in 2015. 

There were several stand up specials that struck a chord with me this past year. The best of which was Bill Burr's "I'm Sorry You Feel That Way" which is on Netflix and is being released on vinyl also. He is the most consistently funny and spot on comic working in an era that I consider to be a revival of great stand up. I also enjoyed Jim Jefferies "Bare" and Tom Segura's "Completely Normal". 

So, there you have it. A few of my favorite things from this past year. I write this to document my year in entertainment, but to also....hopefully...pass on something to anyone that may read this. Perhaps you will enjoy some of this as much as I did. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Lamenting The "Lost" Magic of Christmas.....

I'll keep this brief. I'm sitting here working on a hot mug of apple pie moonshine and reflecting on the evening thus far. 

In past years I, admittedly, wasn't thrilled with Christmas. Tonight, I feel a bit melancholy. I wasted a lot of time and a lot of moments wrapped up in my own self induced misery and selfishness. I've never been at a loss for love of my children. They are the most special things to me. Out of a handful of things that I have gotten positively, absolutely right in my life, they are the main ones. That is in conjunction with marrying my wife. My life would be devoid of meaning without them. Honestly, a life not worth having lived. 

To the point, there were so many years that I should have held more dear. More precious. I never realized that I would miss them being little more than I do right now. Yeah, I am tearing up and I just can't help it. There was amazement and wonder in their eyes for years and I neglected to play the role of the vampire during that time. I should have been sucking up that anticipation and joy and I let it slip away. Now, the magic of the unknown is gone. It's missing from their Christmas Eve and it's never coming back. We have shared some wonderful moments tonight, with my mom sharing her gifts with them, with making craft plates and the traditional reading of "Twas The Night Before Christmas". Magic has loosened its' grip though. It's now on to tradition. 

We won't be tracking Santa tonight on NORAD. Some other kids at some other house will be doing that. Some other parents will be waiting for the kids to go to sleep as they gaze at the Christmas tree, silently enjoying the spectacle and each others company with a sparse word to be said, yet still perfect. Somewhere else, a couple of young girls will be trying so hard to go to sleep so Santa won't pass them by. Somewhere else, those young girls will not be able to find slumber as they hold so much anticipation and excitement in their hearts. Somewhere else, Christmas is full of magic. 

Not that our Christmas is bad or ruined. I don't want to project that. In many ways, this has been a fantastic time. My girls are more mature and more understanding of the moment and don't just go through the motions of our traditions. They are active participants. Still yet, something is lost for me and I will not regain it. It went by way too quickly and I didn't stop and embrace it. When my daughters have daughters and sons of their own, I can only hope they will appreciate and cherish the moments they have and be truly present and appreciate the true magic that can only be experienced through the perception of a child. 

Appreciate time. It's slipping away and it's unforgiving to those that do not respect its value. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Terrorism Works! "The Interview" Not Being Released By Sony Pictures

Looks like terrorism really is the way to go if you want to thwart someone else's freedoms. Hey, it works! Just look at all the overkill in the destruction of our personal liberties in the aftermath of 9/11. Snatching cell phone records, drones flying all over the place, you can't cross into Canada without a big deal being made of it, and you can pretty much be subject to search without much if any provocation at all. Now, we can't even go out on Christmas day and enjoy a movie, because it makes light of some meat headed idiot in North Korea. If anything I thought we would have reveled in ripping that idiot. Instead, we have shown fear. We (or more to the point, Hollywood) turned away in a staring contest.  

"The Interview" is a comedy about the attempted assassination of South Korea's leader, Kim Jung-Un, by a TV show host and producer. The trailer for it looked pretty funny and anyone that enjoys the comedy of James Franco and Seth Rogen in "Pineapple Express" was probably going to enjoy this film. WAS going to enjoy it. Hackers have vowed to release internal Sony emails that would apparently be very damaging or embarrassing to people in and around the studio. Also, there were threats of violence against theaters that would show the film. 

So, Sony and theaters all over the nation stood up like proud Americans and said "Fuck you, we don't give in to terror in this country!" right? Right? Ummm, wrong. They caved. Sony announced that it has shelved the 42 million dollar film, and as of now, has no plans for a future release. The buzz that has been created would have made a great publicity stunt. The backlash at such a stunt would be tremendous, so I just can't believe that's what is happening. At this point, we pretty much look like scared rabbits. Just a mere anonymous threat has stopped a nationwide release of a comedy film. Sony could really save face and say they are going to move forward with releasing the film. Houses would be packed to see it and it would be a wonderful "Up your ass!" to hackers, terrorists, and anyone that wishes to stifle our way of life. I hope that happens. I just don't expect it.  

This isn't just about giving in to terror, it's about giving in stifling artistic expression. Now, "The Interview" may not be high art, but it is a piece of artistic expression. To stifle that, in the United States, of all places, is beyond disappointing. Once art is compromised by changing it to suit a target audience or if it is withheld from experience, it is just a product. The work and care that went into it means nothing now.  It may as well not exist. 

I would hope that Sony reconsiders this decision at some point and sooner rather than later. I would go out and see it on Christmas Day simply to show that I"m not going to live in fear of a threat. All of us reject fear every day when we get out of bed and start our lives. Going to and from work. Shopping and visiting restaurants. Taking vacations. We get on airplanes. We, the citizens of this nation, have rejected the fear of terrorism (or criminal activity against us) in our daily lives by going about our business. 

The worst possible thing that could have happened in the face of these threats has happened. Capitulation to fear. Honestly, I would have laughed  it off if someone told me a comedy movie would be held from release in the United States of America, because of some threats from an unknown and unseen entity. I can only imagine this further emboldens those thinking of pulling antics like this. This sets a precedent for the future, does it not? What's next? Are we to pull "Naked Gun" from Netflix because it makes fun of the Queen of England? This is the country that stood up to people trying to ban "The Last Temptation of Christ" and we are going to let a goofy Hollywood comedy get pulled from theaters? This is the country that stood for "Death of a President" being released while the president that was depicted as being assassinated was still in office!

This is a sad day for Hollywood (but they have a lot of those don't they?), American movie goers, artistic freedom, and our national image. Sony and theaters all over this country have knelt down before the terrorists. We buckled a little bit today. At least I know we are gonna get a great South Park episode out of this at some point!  

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Replacements: They Satisfied.....

Our heroes with their hero.....before the "Tonight Show" appearance.

Well, here I go again....talking 'bout The Replacements. I may as well devote the blog to them, right? I had the chance to see the "new" Replacements twice this past year (Chicago/Louisville) after having not seen them at all for the first 44 years of my life. I had seen Paul Westerberg four or five times, Slim a couple of times and had a near miss with Tommy with Bash & Pop when my transmission went out on the way to Cincinnati. Fucking Pontiac! Still hurts me. 

I've written about not knowing what to expect out of this "reunion" of Paul and Tommy with my "man crush" drummer Josh Freese taking his seat on the throne and Dave Minehan taking over for Bob and Slim on guitar. I then wrote about how my expectations were exceeded by them playing live again. I won't rehash it. I do want to say, now that the announced dates have all been played, that I believe the best thing to ever happen to The Replacements was them "breaking up" some 20+ years ago. They had hit a wall. They weren't going to be a commercial success, Tommy needed some freedom and was growing as an artist and Paul needed to find out if he was really going to be the "voice of a generation". Which he was. It just wasn't the generation that was hanging out at the mall. He was the voice of the loner. The misfits. Those that were awkward in many different ways socially. He was a voice for those that felt alone, even in a crowd. A voice for those that really CARED about the music during an era that changed rock and roll forever. He wrote real alternative music, not the contrived bullshit that became it's own marketable genre off of his and others backs. How the hell can alternative music be played on a mainstream radio station? The point was missed....badly. 

A kick ass version of "Valentine", Dave and Josh really let it go.

All that has gone to history now and Paul and Tommy have concluded a journey that has lasted more than a year. They have toured all around the country and played before audiences of 20,000 plus. They didn't have to spend time in shitty hotels and in a van for days on end. It didn't have to become a burden for them personally. I love going to club shows. They are definitely more personal than a festival, but Paul and Tommy had been there and done that. It was time for them to get paid and do it in a comfortable setting on their terms. Bringing in veterans like Freese and Minehan was the right thing to do and it really started to show in the last few gigs they played, particularly on back to back weekends at the Austin City Limits Festival. 

If these are the last two shows they ever play, they sure the hell went out on a high note. I have watched both shows, via the magic of a You Tube downloader and DVD creating software. I have to say that they may have sounded tighter at other shows, but they were more like THE Replacements than in any other show I've heard or seen. At times they were a mess. At times they were brilliant. At times they were funny. At times they played with raw emotion. At times they looked like they didn't know what the hell was gonna happen next. They appeared to be totally in their element. Paul Westerberg looked like he was finally in his own skin being who he was born to be. I am probably dead wrong about this, but from a fans perspective it really looked like Freese and especially Minehan had finally reached the status of real band members. I sensed a look of reservation in earlier shows. In Austin they really cut loose and played their asses off! This was a real band. Freese and Minehan can now take their place along with Chris, Bob, Slim, and yes, even Steve. We can call them Josh and Dave now. They are no long replacements for Replacements. They are Replacements. This version of the band wasn't just rehashing the old favorites, this was a band hitting on all cylinders in only the way The Replacements could and in only a way a Replacements fan can really understand. 

They didn't phone anything in. They weren't the Rolling Stones playing "Satisfaction" for the hundred millionth time, oh so perfectly, but without passion or attitude! The songs were given life and vitality. They still hold up, they are still relevant, and they still can give this fan a chill. Especially when they are played the way they were created. Ragged glory. Warts and all. Hearing Paul sing "Unsatisfied" with Dave playing with the slide just got to me. I didn't hear it from the perspective of my youth anymore. It didn't lose anything for me. It was fresh and alive again. I hear it as a 45 year old man that can look back on some of his life and still feel "unsatisfied". It's fucking art and not everyone likes it and not everyone understands it, but it's a fulfilling reward if you do. 

If this is the last song they ever play, it was a fitting end. Paul put it to bed in way that may only make sense to him.....he trashed his guitar and walked off the stage, with Tommy smiling in the background. 

 I just don't know if they had stayed together another 5 or 10 years if they would be where they are right now. There were too many swings and misses that wouldn't have happened to shape them into who they are now. We missed them though. Apparently, Tommy and Paul missed each other. What came out of that two decade long drought was an awesome year of seeing these two "alternative/punk" legends reach back into their souls and pull out the music that made them who they are and along with two fresh members, taking their fans, not for a walk down memory lane, but for a full fledged flight of redemption and affirmation. We were right. This was and IS a great fucking band. A real band. I don't see them as Paul, Tommy and two other guys. This is The Replacements. I can only hope they will continue to play once in awhile and possibly record some new music. If not, I think the comeback was all anyone could have ever hoped for. I'll take it and not beg for anything else.

"....and if I don't see you there, in a long long while.
I'll try to find you, left of the dial."
"Left of the Dial" - The Replacements

Some other shit I have written about The Replacements....

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Louisville and Kentucky: Get Over It Already

I'm guessing this is going to rub some people the wrong way, but if I cared, I wouldn't write it. It's too long for a Facebook post, so I'll just put it down here; Can we now, finally dispense with the notion that either the University of Louisville or University of Kentucky somehow is recruiting better kids than the other for their sports programs? 

Last year I saw a lot of stuff on Facebook, some of it on my own page, about how Louisville's athletes were "thugs" and dope heads. The insinuation was that Louisville's athletic program condoned and accepted this behavior. That's just ridiculous. Why? Because UK has had plenty of trouble out of their athletes also. With the recent, alleged rape of a girl by a red shirt freshman on the UK football team, I think any perceived "upper hand" when it comes to smack talk on thuggery can be tossed out the window. 

Let's be real for a moment, so try to take off  your blue and red glasses and think like a rational adult. Every major D-1 program is basically recruiting the same kids. Every program wants the best players available. Every programs fans, want the best players they can get and we all have easily forgiven the "sins" of our own players and coaches while beating down the opposition. The off field actions are the responsibility of the players as human beings. Second and sometimes third chances are warranted when dealing with young people. Who wants to see any young person kicked to the curb? That has probably happened to some of them enough in the environments that they have grown up in.  

These are young people and young people do stupid things sometimes. With the emergence of the internet and social media, this stuff gets way blown up and there is little room for overall perspective. The players lives are on full display and we sit in judgement before they are even professionals.

I thought UK coach Mark Stoops was brilliant in the way he handled the questions on the rape at his press conference. Basically saying, you do the best you can to teach and mentor, but young people are still young people and they can't be baby sat all the time. 

I blame Stoops and UK for that alleged rape no more than I would blame Pitino and Louisville for having a couple of athletes that loved to smoke pot (big shocker kids smoking weed). 

Haven't we come to a point where (beyond the friendly banter, teasing, and razzing) we can actually enjoy our own teams success and not need the other to fail? Both Louisville and Kentucky are nationally recognized and while we don't have to be fans of one anothers programs, would it hurt to stop being disingenuous and "holier than thou" when it comes to discussing them? There is some fun in the gamesmanship for sure, but some of the BS is just outright hate and is that where you wanna be when Jesus comes back? 

I will step off the soap box. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The "Ice Bucket Challenge" for ALS: Why I'm Not Participating

This isn't going to start out as a popular notion, but I hope you stick with me on it; I am not participating in the ALS "Ice Bucket" Challenge. I have been challenged a couple of times and I will make a donation to show that I'm not a bad sport. I just have a few reasons why I won't do this and what I will do in the spirit of this "pop culture" charity meme.

While I hate that anyone gets a crippling disease like ALS, I only know two names of people that have (or have had) it and nobody that I know personally. Lou Gehrig and Stephen Hawking. I don't know anyone with ALS ever. It's not personal to me. Yes, I know that I don't have to be effected to care, but nor do I have to dump ice water on my head to show that I care or to what I believe is to get OUT of actually giving MORE money to the charity. 

Nobody gave a shit about donating to ALS before it became a celebrity phenomenon (see the chart below). The numbers are incredible in how much has been given this year as opposed to last and I'm not saying it's a bad thing. It is not. I would love to see ALS eliminated, or at least for there to be better ways to help those that live with the disease. I just want to donate my money to charities and/or research that are more personal to me and more pressing for humanity. At any given time in the USA, about 30,000 people have ALS. About 20,000 people, with more than half being children, starve to death every day on our planet. Every day, 1,500 Americans die of cancer. Around 29 million Americans have diabetes. 600,000 people in the US die of heart disease every year. More than 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimers. Again, I'm not diminishing ALS or any contribution towards its treatment or eradication, but I wanted to show that there are some major problem areas that are a far more pressing concern for American's and humanity.

I am absolutely not having a go at anyone that gives or even does the ice bucket thing. Having more people that care about the condition of other humans is a great thing, no matter the reason and/or gimmick to perpetuate that sense of caring. Like the "Live Strong" bracelet and pink ribbons for breast cancer, gimmicks work in raising money. Hopefully this ice bucket meme will lead to the fall of ALS, but I believe in the long run it will be just a blip on the radar for ALS donations. As you can see on the chart above, donations are up in a spectacular way (again, not a bad thing), but I am wondering what that will look like next year or the year after. Will the donations continue or will they fall off as people become bored of seeing people dump water on their heads?

In the spirit of having said all that, I lay down a challenge to anyone reading this blog;

Over the course of your next four paychecks (or couple of months), find a single charity, a couple of charities, four different charities, or identify family/friends that are needy and donate something to them. It doesn't have to be money. It could be time. Canned goods. Clothing. Whatever can help another person out.

 If you are strapped for money and don't have a great deal to spare, give a couple of bucks to a homeless guy or buy a needy person a value meal.  Go through your clothes or your kids clothes and take them to a local church or charitable organization that helps the poor. Find a friend or family that you know is in real need and take them some groceries. Call a friend that may be in need that doesn't involve money and give them 10 or 15 minutes of your time...or take them out for coffee and let them know you care. 

If you have the means, then stroke out a few checks to a charity that may be relevant to your life, grab a card off the Angel Tree this Christmas, send money to people researching renewable energy or rain forest preservation, sponsor a family......anything you want. Anything that you care about that could make even the smallest impact. And yes, your giving to ALS is a part of that, but there is much more we could do for others that doesn't involve doing it because it's the flavor of the month. 

Just give something back. Your time. Your presence. Your voice. Your money. I am linking in a website that lists a lot of charities and their grades on how they use the money donated. You can find something that may be meaningful to you, click that link and find out how to give. 

I will be first up to show I'm not going to be a hypocrite. I will donate to ALS, because I want my friend (B.K.M.) to know that I am not waving off his challenge without acknowledgment. I think that his taking the Ice Bucket Challenge has covered me. He suffered so I wouldn't have to. My family will do our usual Angel Tree thing also. In addition, I will donate from each of my next four paychecks to the following charities, each of which strike a chord with me for one reason or another;

Sending my first donation out today in honor of my late "Uncle Richard".

(in my youngest daughter's name)

So there it is! The gauntlet has been thrown down. I challenge anyone reading this to make even what you would consider to be the smallest of a difference in the world. A lot of small differences can make for big change! Will you accept THAT challenge?

"Everything'd be great. Everything'd be good.
If everybody gave, like everybody could."
Jim James (My Morning Jacket)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Louisville Purge: A Journal

On August 15th, 2014, from 8 pm to 6:30 am local time, Louisville, Kentucky was brought to its' knees by threats of mayhem. Facebook, local sports message boards, and Instagram were all a flutter with concern and fear over the impending doom of "The Purge". My Space was also abuzz, as all 7 people left on that site were discussing how to deal with what was to come, in between sharing audio of their band garage rehearsals. Apparently, "The Purge" is a movie about there being a night, once a year, where people are free to do as they please. No law. No rules. So, if you wanted to go into a McDonald's with no shoes and no could....and get service! If you didn't want to tip your pizza guy....hey, fair game! Seat belts? Forget about into a damn tree if you want. Tear the tags off your mattress? Do what you gotta do! Order red wine with fish.

My family was pretty upset about this, so we decided we would take action as a family and "hole up" in our basement. Since this could very well be our last night on the earth, I decided I would keep a journal. Perhaps in the future, this journal would be read in classrooms all over the world as an inspiring story of how one family was able to ride out the chaos of the very first year that "The Purge" was instituted in our formerly meek and fair city. 

I warn you: some of the events depicted in my journal are not for the faint of heart. It's a hard hitting and often challenging look at what happens when a family of four and a Cocker Spaniel are forced to spend hours together on a Friday night.

Journal Entry: 8/16/2014 

7:30 PM
My family and I are almost finished boarding up the windows. We have preemptively set both of our cars on fire, hoping this will lead would be "purgers" to believe our property had already been destroyed and our home invaded with possible physical casualties. My wife has gathered up our food rations for the evening and I have pulled together some necessities. For the sake of time, I will list them all together and not worry about writing down who brought what.

Ordered Dominos pizza and cinnamon sticks
3 two-liter bottles of Dr. Pepper
Bottled Water
1 bag of Funyuns
Granola Snacks
A pipe
4 Slim Jims
6 pack of Yoo Hoo
pistol with 5 bullets (in case our fortress is breached)
1 box of Little Debbie Star Crunches
1/4 oz of Sour Diesel

7:45 PM
I encourage my children to call their "Nanna" and "Grammy", as they will likely never see them again and wanted them to have a fond fair well memory. I have a 200 count box of  3 inch carpentry nails and will use every last one of them to secure the two doors that lead into the basement, along with the small window.

7:59 PM
We are in. I asked the children to pray to the god of their choice that we be spared.

8:15 PM
I hear the doorbell ring upstairs. There is furious knocking. Has it started? Are people trying to get in to hurt us or are people seeking shelter? The knocking continues. It sounds thunderous as it tortures us. Someone up there is really angry. 

8:20 PM
The profuse banging on the door has stopped. I hear a very clear voice scream "Thanks a lot you asshole!!!" I am sure it was someone wanting to take refuge. I pray they survive and begin to weep because I could offer no shelter. 

8:25 PM
My wife has to pee. Seriously? She always does this sort of thing. 10 minutes into a road trip....pull over. 25 minutes into Louisville's first purge and she has to go. I console her, but can't help but resent that she should have went before I nailed the doors. Not having proper restroom facilities was something I did not prepare for. I will make a note of it.

8:45 PM
My youngest wants to know where the Dominos pizza and cinnamon sticks are. I'm not sure. The delivery guy never did show up. 

9:00 PM
I am elected "President" of our group. The vote went as follows:  Me: 1  My Wife: 1  My Oldest Daughter: 1  My Youngest Daughter: 1  The Dog: Abstained
As the elder (and biggest) of our group, I seized control.

9:15 PM
I have begun to ration the food. We have some Funyuns and Dr. Pepper. My youngest decides to entertain us by singing "Happy". 

9:25 PM
I wish I had brought duct tape. She really needs to shut up. The dog is barking continuously. I'm on the brink of insanity. It's a madhouse.....A MADHOUSE!!!!

9:28 PM
I slide into the closet with my sour diesel and pipe. Reach into my pocket. Seriously? I didn't bring a lighter. 

9:35 PM
We have decided to watch a movie to take our minds off the fact that everyone has to pee worse than a Russian race horse. Despite having to pee, they are continuing to drink Dr. Pepper at what I can only assume is a record pace.

9:40 PM
By democratic vote, we will be watching "Grown Ups: Part 2". Voting as follows- Big Lebowski: 1, The Notebook: 1, Grown Ups Part 2: 2, Hotel for Dogs: 1

9:50 PM
I pull rank and take "Grown Ups: Part 2" out of the DVD player. A man can only handle so much before he breaks. It's time to teach these kids about life. I put in "The Purge".

10:15 PM
I wonder why the hell they never delivered that pizza. 

10:25 PM
The movie has terrified my youngest. She is squirting tears....for fear. My wife is looking at our bank account and questioning why there are so many purchases from Amazon. The oldest is trying to break out of the window. The movie has convinced her that the purge is a good idea. She has already broken my skull bong. I fear for my lava lamp. It's getting intense. And would someone shut that fucking dog up?! I am on the cusp of declaring martial law and imposing a state of emergency. It's possible that I may have to go to my Jose Canseco model Louisville Slugger mini-bat to restore order. 

10:35 PM
The police scanner said that a local Circle K was just hit. Details were not clear, but at least one jar of pickles, a pack of condoms, and a Bargain Mart were stolen along with the entire contents of the "Take a Penny, Leave a Penny" tray. Savages. 

10:40 PM
We finally relent. Everyone has to pee really bad and my youngest might have to go number 2. We'll have to use my JK Rowling autographed trash can. It's shaped like Ron Weasley. With the mouth being the trash receptacle.  Awwwkwaaarrrd!

10:50 PM
Some musings; Star Crunches suck. Just realized this is the longest amount of time I have ever spent in the proximity of these people. Will Ben Affleck make a good Batman? There has to be a lighter here somewhere. 

11:00 PM
Finally, everyone is settling down to go to sleep. I will sit up and guard us. As the man of the house, I must be vigilant. I will write an entry every hour on the hour to give an update and to stay awake. I must be strong for the family.

12:00 Midnight
Geez....I really wish I had that lighter. 

7:00 AM
OK, I guess it's over. I toughed it out and stayed up all night for the sake of the family. Time to remove the nails and go out into the world. 

7:01 AM
Shit. I hammered these nails in flush. Must create a plan of action.

7:03 AM
I was able to burst through the window. I pushed the dog out and command her to go to the neighbors house for help. 

7:04 AM
I'm not entirely sure that the dog understands what I'm asking for. She is just looking back in at us. I now realize that every last episode of "Lassie" was bullshit. 

7:05 AM
For some reason, nobody mentioned that each of them had a cell phone. We call 911 and they said they will dispatch the fire department.

9:30 AM
Fire department arrives. They are bursting through the door. Thank goodness. The Ron Weasley trash can is getting a little "loud".

9:35 AM
The fire chief says the city will send me a bill for $500. I call bullshit and will obviously be hiring an attorney. I pay taxes and they are public servants. 

9:45 AM
This is my final entry. We survived. Perhaps the toughest night of my life. I will go into the neighborhood and survey the damage. Is it bad to hope that the guy down the street was overrun by hoodlums? He has a really nice hosta plant that I would love to put into our landscape. My final message is this: keep hope alive. Prepare and survive. If I can do it, so can you. My family is putting the pieces back together. We will rebuild. Now, I gotta call Dominos and give them a piece of my mind!

11:00 AM
An update:  I thought I would share a few pictures of the damage that was brought upon my property.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Summer Musings....

Wow, it's been quite awhile since I've written anything. Nothing going on really. The summer is just rolling by. Hard to believe it's almost July when it seems as though the kids just got out of school. 

I haven't swung a softball bat for about five or six (or is it 10) years and was primed to play in a work game against another company, but it got cancelled. Well enough. A few of the guys on our team played pro baseball (2 of them AAA and one was a AAA all-star), so it's probably a good thing that my old ass didn't have a chance to be embarrassed. I still feel pretty good at 45, but that's probably because I haven't given my body a real shot at letting me down in public. I have this little voice in the back of my mind that tells me to play one more summer, but I just can't make that happen. Facing reality means facing that I will likely never hit a ball again in a competitive game. So be it.

Since I'm rambling about age, when do I get to feel grown up? Do I even want to? At my age, I still feel like a young know nothing when I'm around anyone that is over 50. Maybe it's because I spent so many years working around people that were 10 or 15 years younger than me, so I didn't have that period where I became a respectable adult. I don't even know what's so fucking respectable about being an adult anyhow. If it means not having a good time as much as possible, I don't want anything to do with it really. I figure as long as I do my best to raise my kids in a way that will benefit them when they are older and I treat my wife good, I can do whatever the hell I want otherwise.  

I have been thinking about death a little bit. Yeah, I of the more uplifting topics. Most people spend their lives either being afraid of death or denying it by getting wrapped up in the "importance" of their every day lives. Accumulating wealth and attaching ourselves to belongings that we think we can't live without somehow creates a mirage that fogs out the reality that we are all going to the ground. Why even be scared of death? Dying? OK, I get the fear of that. The process is largely unknown to most people. It's sudden in many instances and we don't want to hurt or be uncomfortable. But being afraid of what happens after you are gone is foolish. You are not likely going to be in a state where you can think "I'm dead", so the fear is not rational. When you go under anesthesia, you don't think about are just gone. One second you are looking at the doctor, the next you are looking at the doctor, but not realizing an hour has passed. My belief is that it's going to be like that when you die. And even that doesn't make sense. Be like what? Nothing. Nothing isn't even relevant because you won't have a conscious mind to even consider that you are nothing or nowhere. So, quit worrying about it. 

Am I whistlin' past the graveyard? 

Good to see Russ Smith get drafted. He should be in a situation to make the Pelicans and I wouldn't be surprised if he isn't logging some minutes next season. The guy can just play basketball, works hard and has a strong will. Guys like that usually succeed. 

I promised to cut down on my concert going this year and so far have done OK. I saw Broken Bells last week. I have tickets to see Beck, Jack White, and The Replacements at Forecastle and I have good seats to McCartney (if he doesn't croak first). Unless The Jayhawks or Shooter Jennings come around that may be the extent of my spending money on live music this year. I'd love to see Citizen Cope, but at $41? Come on dude, you probably priced yourself out of a sell out crowd. 

Some recommendations; 

Broken Bells "After The Disco"
Beck "Morning Phase"
Shooter Jennings "The Other Life"

"American Hustle"

News Radio

"Hitch 22" by Christopher Hitchens
"Room Full of Mirrors" by Charles Cross"
"Waylon" by Waylon Jennings

Monday, April 21, 2014

My Evolving Stance On Religion & God

Admittedly, I can be pretty tough on religion. For the most part, I think I've been fair in my treatment of it overall. Yes, I focus on the negative aspects about 90% of the time. This isn't a newspaper, so if you want balance find it elsewhere. There are plenty of apologists and supporters that can tell you about the good things that religion can bring to the table. Often though, they act as though the good that is done by the religious couldn't be done without the behest of an ancient book. I take major exception with that premise, as even a two or three year old child can feel when someone is in need of comfort. For that matter, there are less evolved primates that can feel sympathy and care for others. That's not where I'm going today though. I want to actually put some of my thoughts down on how religion can be a benefit without being a detriment. Of course, I realize, even before I forge ahead that I will likely aggravate both the believer and non-believer with what I have to say. That's OK. I feel like maybe I'm doing something right if that's the case! 

Perhaps it's time to put aside the miracles. I don't care how devout you are, there has to be that little voice in back of your mind saying "That didn't happen.". No, it's not the "debil" saying that, it's your common sense. There are more reasonable explanations. And among those explanations are.....someone made it up. The virgin birth is not mentioned in two of the gospels. I, personally, would think that would be a pretty big deal if I were writing an account of someone that I considered to be the son of god. A better explanation would be that the authors (and nobody is 100% sure of who they are) that did include it were fulfilling prophecy. I'm not going to start listing all of them, but since there are no credible accounts of miracles since, it's pretty safe to say that the miracles were probably made up or misinterpreted. A lone person such as Muhammad, Paul/Saul, Joseph Smith, etc seeing heaven and being told what to do by god could just as easily been a mental delusion or the effects of psycho-active drugs. It happens today all the time (UFO sightings, people saying Jesus appeared to them), but nobody gives them credence. Read it in a 2,000 year old book and suddenly it's the spot on truth! Let's not pretend that people were not using hallucinogens for religious ceremonies in the past. That's been happening all over the world for thousands of years and could very well be the basis for why Jesus said the kingdom of is within you. I certainly know that I have felt that connection much stronger in seeking "god" (I really hate using that term, but for the sake of understanding I will) apart from religion than I ever did when I was immersed in it. Most eastern religions also refer to god or heaven being inside of us and not an external place to be sought after. So, I guess in these areas I'm asking folks to consider that the books written thousands of years ago may contain quite a few exaggerations, inaccuracy, and perhaps some passages that need to be re-examined in the context of what is possible or mostly probable. 

What about the notion of defining the attributes of god? God is explained in the ancient texts of our most popular religions as a man. A man with very human attributes and what we would consider flaws if we were speaking of a human being. We are told god is all loving, yet he is unforgiving. We are told god knows endless grace, yet he is vengeful. Maybe, just maybe, god has all the attributes of man because that's exactly who created the account of what/who god is? Why would god have a sex? Why would god need to be full of vengeance and anger? Why would god need to be jealous? Not very god-like attributes are they? Sounds like you or I, doesn't it? If we let go and actually admit to ourselves that we have no idea who or what god is, we could unshackle our imaginations and allow ourselves to be truly in awe of what god is (if god exists). What a wonderful creation we have. What an awe inspiring universe we are a very small part of. Do we need to be so certain that we are the center of it all? Do we have to be so certain that a very human-like god is keeping an eye on everything as a sort of cosmic pit boss? How about seeing the watchful eye of god in nature? That we are evolving and nature takes care of its own by instilling survival skills that can adapt to different environments or stimulus? Philosopher Alan Watts says that god is everywhere and everything, so any harm you do to anything else, means you are hurting god. He also says, so brilliantly that "the only god we can cling to, is the idea of god". Watts means that we can't possibly know something that is by definition vastly superior to us, and also is us. You let go of the idea of god because god can't possibly be defined in any way that doesn't limit it. I am not certain either way if there is a god or not. I will say this; if there is a god, I am CERTAIN that I wouldn't know how to describe it. Anything that we say about god must be so weak that we do a disservice to the very notion of what an all-powerful entity is. It's a disgrace to describe god. The religious texts are very wanting in the description of god. Amazing and awesome are even inadequate if there truly is a creator, don't you think? 

The devil and hell have to go. Much of the Old Testament doesn't really deal with the idea of hell after death. That death is merely the end with no eternal torture. Depending on the OT translation, "hell" could mean several things from merely being non-existent to a separation from god. I've said a good bit on hell on this blog before and don't intend to repeat much other than this; an eternal hell is in direct opposition to a loving and forgiving god. This notion of blaming everything that isn't "godly" on the devil is excuse making for our own humanity. It's time to stop bringing people to eternal love with the fear of eternal torture. Notice, I didn't say punishment....I said torture. That's the only way to describe what hell is as defined by most modern religious folks. 

Let's bring the ancient texts into modern times. The Bible/Torah/Koran are only precious and not meant to be altered because they say they are. They are only true because they say they are. Could you write "Kobe Bryant is god" on a napkin and use that as proof that Kobe Bryant is god? Of course not, so why would you take the word of a book that a bunch of people wrote that had absolutely no knowledge of how our natural existence worked? Because the books tell you to, right? See where I'm coming from? 

The 10 Commandments are nice, but we know that they are not the absolute authority on how human beings should act. There are some good ideas there, but any guide that doesn't include something about treating women and children humanely might need some revamping. A guide of morality such as the Bible is called that doesn't tell us to abolish slavery, yet tells us just how severely we can beat our slaves might not be that moral. I guess I will defer to Sam Harris on the 10 Commandments; 

“If you think that it would be impossible to improve upon the Ten Commandments as a statement of morality, you really owe it to yourself to read some other scriptures. Once again, we need look no further than the Jains: Mahavira, the Jain patriarch, surpassed the morality of the Bible with a single sentence: "Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creature or living being." Imagine how different our world might be if the Bible contained this as its central precept. Christians have abused, oppressed, enslaved, insulted, tormented, tortured, and killed people in the name of God for centuries, on the basis of a theologically defensible reading of the Bible. (23)” 
― Sam HarrisLetter to a Christian Nation

We could merely lift the ideas that are fit for modern time and apply them to our lives. It'd be so easy. Jesus and Muhammad supposedly said some great things and among those were lessons on how to treat other people and even animals. How can modern Christians and Muslims hold to those standards while at the same time wanting to deny the mere humanity of homosexuals, women, children, and opposing faiths? This "do unto others" thing doesn't really work unless you apply it to yourself honestly. If judgement truly is for god, you must give up judgement. We could also use a heavy dose of "STFU" when it comes to wanting to teach religions dogma in public schools. Science is science and we can't teach our children that Adam and Eve and Noah are the origins of life on the planet. We are already slipping down the list of the top educated countries and we continue to confuse the issue by telling our kids that the Bible/Koran can tell them more about the world they live in than modern science and basic common knowledge. The stories in these books can be inspirational and strong metaphors for living a life, but to teach them as truth is outlandish and a disservice to our nation and to humanity. 

We have seen the Crusades where Christians would "save" (baptize) babies before murdering them to serve god. We have seen Muslims blow themselves up taking life with them in order to serve god. These are extreme cases, but these things are done in the name of ancient texts which have no bearing on our modern society. Christianity has mostly evolved past the killing of apostates, but Islam is still behind the game. The ancient books hold us back. They separate us. They shame us as a species in how they ask us to treat people who do not believe as we do. 

Religion can be such a positive and if people truly think of their god as all loving and all forgiving, then they need to start acting like it and separate what they know in their hearts and minds from what they are being told by people that were trying to control populations and force their will on the poor and weak thousands of years ago. They still hold power today and that's a disgrace. Make religion personal. Make it about you and your relationship with god. If you say with your mouth that god is love and wants us to love one another than start reflecting it in your actions. It doesn't have to involve hate, distrust, and separation from others does it? Do we really think that is what god would want? 

So, I say that we can move towards a more harmonious existence that may well please a god by showing love, forgiveness, empathy, and understanding to one another. Not just to those who agree, but with everyone. We are not us and they are not them. We are all the same. We are of the same species. We belong to the planet and should be doing all we can to preserve this place for future generations. We should be doing all we can to ensure that our children have a pathway for living a life that doesn't involve worry about being ostracized for being a different color or of different sexual orientation. Shouldn't our children grow up thinking of others and how we can better existence for everyone? Should another 18 year old have to die in a war that is fueled by the unwavering dogma of a religion that holds absolutely no relevance in our modern times? Do you think the Middle East problems are going to be solved? If you do, you better think again. The problems in the Middle East are directly related to the notion that the believers of different religions (that all believe in the same god, the god of Abraham,oh by the way) think god promised them a piece of land that is for them and them only. That's not going to be solved until we set aside the two thousand year old bullshit. Nobody owns god, but I see people every single day that act like they do. To pretend to know what god wants is very presumptuous and prideful. If anything would help us to avoid killing or hurting one another it would be understanding at least that much. 

I could have really sunk my teeth in to more, but I'm not writing a book here. Our modern society can benefit from all religions fulfilling what many modern believers see as their core values; selflessness, forgiveness, understanding, kindness, and love. If you believe those are the attributes of the god that you worship, why would you accept the awful and disgraceful written words that implore the religious to act in direct opposition to those things? It's a tall order, but isn't it worth the effort?

I guess I'll close this by saying that I don't have a belief in "god". I do not have unbelief in "god". It is religion that I have the problem with. You Christians should really dig into the words of Jesus a bit deeper and think of them on a deeper level. I can't imagine that his words can be taken as someone that was intending to create a dogmatic religion based on his existence. I merely want to find as much understanding and knowledge as I can and religion gets in the way of that by limiting my (dare I say it?) god given gifts of reason, intellect, and curiosity. In that way, it doesn't matter to me if a god exists. I know that there is at least one conscious being on this planet and it's me. I can't be certain about anyone else. For now, I'm a part of the universe experiencing itself. I am not perfect, but even though I fail quite often, I want to try to treat people decent and with love.  I truly don't believe any amount of jumping through dogmatic hoops will honor our existence or a possible creator more than that. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Deadwood: One Helluva Dramatic Series

All I can say after finishing up the series "Deadwood" is "WOW!". I didn't expect to enjoy it and be as engrossed in the story and characters as I was. It's sort of a western, but it isn't your typical "cowboy" movie or program that most of us are used to seeing. It is a true dramatic series with layers of black humor and metaphor. HBO has always delivered great television and this program was no exception.

I see the United States and how it came to be as the real story of "Deadwood". Deadwood was a mining town on Indian territory that basically cropped up without law. It didn't have to have law, because it was an illegal settlement due to it breaking a treaty between the US government and the Sioux native Americans. The government didn't break the treaty, but miners and those from the east looking to strike it rich did. As a lawless new town being founded by people looking for wealth and to start new lives, I see it as representing the founding of the United States. The native Americans were drove back and demonized at every turn as that was what was best for the town and the only way to maintain distrust enough to ensure that people would be unified in believing they had a right to this land and the riches, because the Sioux were savages (at least that was the narrative that helped keep the camp united). 

The people that founded the settlement didn't want law, but as the population continued to grow, it was inevitable that there would have to be some organization and rules that would be expected to be followed. Our nation underwent the same thing. As we (the United States) grew, there was a need to develop a way of life that would protect the interest of the people and give order to everyday life. 

The two main characters, Swearengen and Bullock, both want to enjoy the benefits of being business owners in a lawless territory where wealth or the potential for wealth was abound. They were at odds often times and there was almost a father/son aspect that grew out of their stormy relationship. They and the town were challenged by Hearst, a wealthy and ruthless business man who came to Deadwood to buy up all the gold claims and exploit the labor and the town itself for all he could get. The lack of law allowed him to manipulate different aspects of the town and to pit greed and opportunism against the common good. This brought Swearengen and Bullock together and eventually led the town to bring order through a sort of psuedo-government. The Hearst character represented ruthless greed. The "corporate" interest in Hearst character wasn't good for the town and if it were to survive, then the common man and business owner were going to have to unite so they could continue to carve their place out in this place they wanted to be their home. These things along with other story lines revealed that the story of "Deadwood" is about the town itself and how it developed, just like our nation did. 

There is so much more to write about the subplots, but if you have read this far, you have likely already watched it or you are contemplating it, and I don't want to ruin any of it for anyone. 

I've watched a lot of good drama series, but as a whole, this ranks right up near the top of the list. "The Sopranos" is the best series I have ever watched, with "Lost", "The Wire" and "Breaking Bad" right up there and I have to say that "Deadwood" is certainly in that group and if not for it ending without a true conclusion, I'd say it would best those programs. The story never takes on more than it can deliver for you to understand. But don't think that means there isn't depth and subtlety. There is plenty and most of it revolves around how individual relationships have an effect on the development of the town. The acting is simply superb. The characters are fleshed out as not "old west" characters, but as real human beings with flaws and hidden virtue that are usually revealed with a deft touch, so as not to allow a black and white view of who that person is. 

"The Sopranos" seemed to be about how organization and living by a code effected individuals and their behavior, and "Deadwood" is probably the opposite. It's the story of how individual behavior fostered the need for organization and law. 

There is so much more I could write on this in regards to the actors and the characters, but if you are at all interested in this program, that's left for you to enjoy! Check out this list of actors and you just have to know that you are getting some authentic depictions of many characters that really existed and some composites. The leads are played by Ian McShane and Timothy Olyphant (who does a spot on Clint Eastwood without reducing it to strict imitation), but Powers Boothe is a strong presence and Brad Dourif is brilliant as the town's doctor. Other highly regarded actors that brought their skills to the show are Garrett Dillahunt, Brian Cox, Jeffrey Jones,  Keith Carradine, Titus Welliver, Molly Parker, John Hawkes, William Sanderson, and W. Earl Brown. Most of the main characters were real people that were in Deadwood and many of the story lines are based on actual events. 

If you like dramatic, authentic television and are a fan of seeing great acting, then give this show a whirl! I don't think you'll be disappointed. Yes, it's only three seasons, but it was well worth my time and left me wanting more.

This is a really cool "trailer" using "God's Gonna Cut You Down".