Thursday, February 25, 2010

Zombieland!

I've finally watched something released in the past year.  Zombieland is, plain and simply, a fun movie.  A guilty pleasure.  After all, what red-blooded American male hasn't dreamed he could just go out and blast zombies?  Well that's exactly what Woody Harrelson gets to do in this rollicking send-up of zombie flicks.  Zombies get killed, by the scores, in every way imaginable: with guns, knives, hedge clippers, toilet tank lids, dropped pianos.....you get the gist.  Woody (as Tallahassee) teams up with three young people also on the run from the undead and they cross the country looking for a place that's zombie-free.  Along the way they run into Bill Murray (as himself) for a memorable scene in Bill's house.  The film climaxes at an amusement park in California with an unbelievable pileup of zombie bodies before our heroes ride off into the sunset together.

A big thumbs up for unrepentant violent humor and sight gags where (almost) always the bad guys die.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Mystic River

I'm always way behind on movies, but I really can't believe that Mystic River came out in 2003 and I'm just getting to it.  But it was well worth the wait.  The acting by the all-star cast is superb.  Kevin Bacon, Tim Robbins and Sean Penn are all favorites of mine and are at the top of their game.  The supporting cast is excellent as well, especially Marcia Gay Harden as the wife of Tim Robbins' character.

I won't go into the plot, for those of you (all three of you) who haven't seen it yet.  It's a dramatic murder mystery of sorts, with lots of interesting subplots.  The character development is deep, and I found myself empathizing with them even as they were performing criminal and/or immoral acts.  No black-or-white villians and heroes here - Everybody has their dark and light sides, just to different degrees.

Clint Eastwood really has become one of the best directors going.  The next movie of his we're going to see is Gran Torino, which my wife is really looking forward to watching.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Bourne Sanction

A Christmas disappointment.  Or as my father would say, "A face dropper".

I've been a big fan of Robert Ludlum's books for many years, especially his Bourne series, so I was psyched when I received The Bourne Sanction this past Christmas.  Unfortunately, it's not written by Ludlum, even though his name is featured most prominently on the cover.  This book, along with two other Bourne novels, was written by Eric Van Lustbader, which must be Dutch for ridiculous.

I should have learned my lesson when I read the first James Bond book written by someone other than Ian Fleming.  I had the same feeling while reading this book.  The names are right, and the places are right, but it's just not the same character.  (I mean, c'mon, James Bond driving a Saab?)  This Bourne doesn't have the same edge, the same steel in his spine.  He's sensitive.  'Nuff said.  I appreciate the author trying to create more depth in Bourne, and in his main antagonist Arkadin, but in my opinion he fails miserably.  Van Lustbader needed to stick with the formula that worked for Ludlum. 

The plot was too convoluted too, and frankly just unbelievable.  That's fine if you're going for a book that's meant to be over-the-top, but I don't think that's the case here.  I truly think that Van Lustbader was trying to write a book about something that could happen.  Once again, I think he fails.

I really wish franchises like this would be left alone.  Now I'm going to have to go back and read the original Bournes just to cleanse my mind and not think of Jason Bourne in Eric Van Lustbader's terms.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Is this the face of the Tea Party?

This photo was used by both MSNBC.com and The New York Times today in stories about the Tea Party.  Is this what the average Tea Partier looks like - Middle aged and older white men, probably veterans, almost certainly Conservatives and/or Republicans, wearing their hearts on their sleeves?  I hate to say it, but that's my impression of the movement.  Is it true, or is it just how the media presents it to us?  I've seen other photos taken at Tea Party events and the only difference I've seen is that middle aged and older white women are involved in the movement too.  There seems to be a paucity of young people involved, of any race or gender, and I've seen no people of color of any age, although I'm sure there must be a few.  With so little apparent diversity, I really can't see how the movement can have any staying power.  Perhaps they might have some short-term success in the upcoming elections, playing off the poor economy and voter dissatisfaction, but I can't see the Tea Party being any more than a passing fad.  That is, unless they can show us they are more than meets the eye.

Miracle on Ice

With the Olympics going on, I thought I'd post something I wrote a few years ago about my experiences with the Miracle on Ice of 1980.


While it was almost an anti-climax after the USA-USSR game in 1980, I was at the gold medal game in Lake Placid when the US defeated Finland. I'll bet if you ask most people, they would say that the Soviet Union game was for the gold. It was not.



The day of the game started inauspiciously enough, but soon grew chaotic when we found out that my grandfather had a lead for tickets to the early game that day, which was the USSR vs. Sweden. When he finally called to say he had gotten the tickets we all madly rushed to get things ready for the three-hour drive. Seven of us packed ourselves into the station wagon - me, my brother and sister, my parents, my grandfather, and my uncle.


The drive was just a blur. Of course, I had been following the Olympics closely; after all, they were going on just a few hours away. It was almost surreal that we were really going there. I didn't even have the time to let any of my friends know before we left. Wouldn't they be surprised when I told them in school on Monday!


We were only able to drive as far as Saranac Lake. We had to take a shuttle in from there. I can still remember how the shuttle stop looked - booths set up selling all sorts of Olympic souvenirs. Hats, pins, frisbees - everything! We bought a few things and then boarded the bus for the last leg to downtown Lake Placid.


The bus dropped us off near the arena. As we walked there we heard a buzz among everyone around us. For some reason, the game times had been switched. We weren't going to see the USSR and Sweden; we were going to see the US and Finland! With the US playing for the GOLD!


The game was very dramatic - the crowd just rippled with excitement the entire game. There was a festival atmosphere there that I have never come close to experiencing since. And each time the US scored - Pandemonium! I had goosebumps the entire game and still get them every time I reminisce about it.


Leaving the arena after the game was over, I wore a grin from ear-to-ear that didn't go away for a week. I don't remember much of the ride home that evening. I know we stopped for dinner along the way and watched on TV part of the game we were originally supposed to see. But that game was meaningless; the US had already won the gold.


I still have the ticket from the game. I keep it in a drawer in my nightstand. It's starting to get worn a little from handling it from time-to-time. Perhaps some day I will give it to my son when he is old enough to appreciate what happened at those glorious Olympic Games twenty-four years ago. I know one thing for sure - I will be taking him to see Miracle when it comes out. Perhaps that will be the beginning of his appreciation of what happened and the incredible patriotism the US hockey team inspired.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Whew!

It’s a good thing I don’t have to worry about the GOP Purity Test should I ever decide to run for public office as a Republican. The RNC has decided not to endorse the proposal.

Just for laughs, let’s see how I would do on the test:

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Republican National Committee identifies ten (10) key public policy positions for the 2010 election cycle, which the Republican National Committee expects its public officials and candidates to support:


(1) We support smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama’s “stimulus” bill;

A lot of this sounds good in theory. After all, who wouldn’t like to pay less in taxes? However, what programs do you actually cut? That’s where the rubber meets the road. Defense? Social programs? It’s too complex to just say you want smaller government. And I have to disagree with opposing bills like the Stimulus. While it’s not completely clear how well the Stimulus worked, I shudder to think what may have happened had we not temporarily infused additional government spending into the economy.

(2) We support market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run healthcare;

Once again, in theory it might make sense. But what do we do about Medicaid and Medicare? Isn’t that “Obama-style government run healthcare”? On top of that it’s not a foregone conclusion that any so-called “Obama Plan” will include socialized medicine or even a public option. Reform needs to be done, and for many people it needs to be done quickly, especially the tens of millions of people in this country who are uninsured or underinsured. Will “market-based health care reform” do that for us? The statement is too vague to answer properly.

(3) We support market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation;

The question here is: Are they opposed to cap-and-trade as part of energy reforms, or are they merely opposed to reducing carbon emissions because they don’t believe in global climate change? Cap-and-trade was effective in helping to address acid rain, but a plan like cap-and-dividend might work even better in battling climate change.

(4) We support workers’ right to secret ballot by opposing card check;

I'm not a big fan of card check (or unions for that matter), but the current system for forming unions has many weaknesses too. I don’t know if card check is the answer, but things need to be changed somehow.

(5) We support legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants;

It may be that amnesty is the least of all evils. We don't have the resources to round up and return illegal immigrants to their home countries. It would probably be less expensive to grant them amnesty and devote our resources to securing our borders.

(6) We support victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges;

I’m not even sure we can identify “victory” in either Iraq or Afghanistan, let alone can count on troop surges to help insure it. Again, this is a much more complicated issue than the pledge alludes to.

(7) We support containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat;

I agree with this because of the instability of their respective governments. But really, what legal basis do we have to take action? Who gets to pick and choose what countries have nuclear weapons and which don’t?

(8) We support retention of the Defense of Marriage Act;

I am unambiguously opposed to the Defense of Marriage Act. It is archaic, discriminatory and probably unconstitutional.

(9) We support protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing and denial of health care and government funding of abortion; and

I also oppose health care rationing and denial of health care. The abortion issue is a bit more complicated, however. While I am personally opposed to abortion in most circumstances, there is some precedent for government-funded abortions. Currently, Medicaid is required to cover abortions in the cases of rape, incest and the endangerment of the mother’s life. In some states Medicaid covers all abortions. With health care reform (assuming there is a government-funded piece) these differing policies need to be streamlined.

(10) We support the right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership;

Opposing all government restrictions on gun ownership? That’s insane. Or are they opposed to new government restrictions on gun ownership? We may need a little more clarity here.

and be further


RESOLVED, that a candidate who disagrees with three or more of the above stated public policy position of the Republican National Committee, as identified by the voting record, public statements and/or signed questionnaire of the candidate, shall not be eligible for financial support and endorsement by the Republican National Committee.



Some people might think that I really didn’t provide specific replies to the statements, but that is precisely my point – the statements are too ambiguous to simply say “I agree” or “I disagree.” Not to mention that the entire test is very exclusionary and polarizing. In my not-so-humble opinion, the GOP needs to be more inclusive to be successful, not less inclusive.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Reiki at BOCES?

I was pretty surprised the other day as I was looking through the BOCES adult education catalog to see that Reiki training was offered.  I have all the respect in the world for BOCES as an educational institution, so I am disappointed that they would have courses for a program that has no empirical evidence whatsoever to support it.

For those of you unfamiliar with Reiki, please refer to this article from Wikipedia.  Basically, it is an invented form of alternative medicine whereby "life force" can supposedly be used to heal.  Unfortunately for the practitioners (and their "patients") scientific research has shown that Reiki has no efficacy beyond a placebo effect.  In fact, Reiki could even prove harmful if the "patient" avoids traditional medical treatment in favor of Reiki.

I hate to see a great organization like BOCES hurt its integrity by offering a course like this.  What's next? - Astrology?  Phrenology?  Seances?

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Party of No

In the Sunday Weekly section of this Sunday's Watertown Daily Times, four potential Republican candidates for Congress were asked to discuss health care reform. Unfortunately, we heard very little for GOP ideas, but instead were subjected to slamming of the potential Democratic legislation.


Doug Hoffman offered the least – only slamming Obama, Pelosi, Bill Owens and the Senate health care bill – while actually using the word “no” in his statement to describe his point of view. He also promoted conspiracy theories and fear-mongering without providing one single proposal of his own. Very weak in my opinion, and just a continuation of his previous run.

The “King of No” title has to go to Paul Maroun, though. Six consecutive statements began with “We should not...” His only reforms are what he calls “gap” coverage, tort reform and being able to purchase health insurance across state lines. I am all for those ideas but believe they will only have a relatively small impact on health care, though. What about the tens of millions of Americans without health insurance? What should we do about that?

Will Barclay’s sole proposal is tort reform. Will’s numbers don’t completely add up there, however: One study he referred to estimates that defensive medicine costs $200 billion a year (which by the way is less than 10% of health-care costs), while another study referred to 25% in additional costs. I find it highly unlikely that there are more than $500 billion in additional tests and procedures done in the name of defensive medicine. 20% of all medical costs? I’ll need to see some hard numbers before I believe that. Nevertheless, I am in favor of tort reform, because I think it’s the right thing to do, not because I think it’s going to reduce our country’s medical costs by that high an amount. However, Mr. Barclay also avoided all the other issues out there: Medicare and Medicaid reform, the uninsured and underinsured, ER staffing and nurse shortages, and so on. But Will thinks we have the best health care in the world, and based on that and some of the other statistics he threw out there it sounds like he’d pretty much like to leave things alone. What defines “best health care” anyways? Do we spend the most per capita on health care? Sure. But is it the best? In my studies, a great number of European countries have excellent health care, covering all citizens, at a lower cost per capita than we pay. Isn’t that better, at least on some level?

Matt Doheny also spent a good deal of his time criticizing the Democratic proposals. However, he did devote a majority of his essay to reform issues. Like Maroun and Barclay, Matt placed a lot of emphasis on tort reform. Although there’s one thing about tort reform these gentlemen need to remember: tort reform will not eliminate malpractice claims or defensive medicine – it will only reduce them – and nobody knows to what degree. Another of Doheny’s ideas is making the cost of health insurance tax-deductible. I assume he means 100% tax-deductible, since health insurance costs can already be itemized and are deductible, along with other out-of-pocket medical costs, for the amount over 7.5% of AGI. Matt also addressed access programs for those with pre-existing conditions. I only wish he had specifically discussed those without insurance at all.

As a Republican I would like to see solid proposals by the Republican candidates, not the criticism and nay-saying that made up the bulk of these responses. If the candidates have not developed plans of their own, then they should at least endorse competing proposals from GOP representatives. Unfortunately, The Party of No has primarily been in reactive mode since the Democrats made it a priority to enact health care reform legislation. Not that the Democrats are completely faultless – after all, they have pretty much cut the Republicans out of the process. Hopefully that will change now that the Democrats no longer have a filibuster-proof majority. I’d like to see proposed legislation that takes the best ideas from both parties and incorporates them into a reform program that provides affordable health insurance access to all, while cleaning up some of the other messes out there.