Saturday, November 29, 2008

Tagged By Samurai Frog

The irascable Samurai Frog tagged me with the "Meaningless Meme."

1. Five names you go by:

a. Brian (my real first name)
b. Dad (with a Chicago accent, by my son)
c. Honey (my wife Kim)
d. Spike (long story)
e. Johnny Yen, of course.

2. Three things you are wearing right now:

a. bifocals
b. my "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" pajama pants-- "I fart in your general direction!"
c. an Illinois Rail Museum t-shirt, with a picture of the Nebraska Zephyr on it.

3. Two things you want very badly at the moment:

a. to be done with school
b. for January 20, 2009 to be here.

4. Three people who will probably fill this out:

a. Skyler's Dad
b. Dr. Monkerstein
c. Rocket Scientist

5. Two things you did last night:

a. Played a few games of Yahtzee with my son.
b. Watched "The Big Lebowski" with my son-- his first time seeing it.

"This isn't Vietnam, this is bowling; we have rules!"

"Shut the fuck up, Donny!"

"We are nihlists! We beleef in nutthink!"

"We'll cut off your JOHNSON, Lebowski!"

Donny: "Are these guys Nazis, Walter?"
Walter: "No, Donny, they're nihilists; there's nothing to worry about."

6. Two things you ate today:

a. Greek potato salad
b. Broccoli and cheese casserole

I eat dinner food for breakfast. And leftovers.

7. Two people you last talked to on the phone:

a. my son
b. my wife

8. Two things you are going to do tomorrow:

a. Hang out with my son
b. Work

9. Two longest car rides:

a. Salt Lake City to Chicago, straight through (me and two other guys driving in shifts)
b. Chicago back to Salt Lake City, straight through (me and two other guys driving in shifts)

I lived in Salt Lake City briefly, 1980/81. I caught a ride to Chicago to see my family with two other guys.

10. Two of your favorite beverages:

a. Iced tea unsweetened with extra lemon,
b. Orange juice mixed with mineral water-- my own version of Orangina

Friday, November 28, 2008

Post-Trytophan Friday Random Ten

I got up this morning still full from Thanksgiving dinner (actually, a late lunch) the day before. I put on my running shoes and sweats, had a good run, and then had some Turkey Day leftovers for breakfast. Hope everybody had a good holiday.

1. Choo Choo Ch Boogie- Asleep At the Wheel
2. Dreams Last So Long- Jewel
3. Love Hurts- Pat Boone
4. Like A Rolling Stone- Bob Dylan
5. By the Time I Get to Phoenix- Glen Campbell
6. Anarchy In the UK- The Sex Pistols
7. It's a Shame About Ray- The Lemonheads
8. My Baby's Lovin' Arms- Robert Mitchum
9. The Internationale- Billy Bragg
10. Time Changes Everything- Johnny Cash

1. From Asleep At the Wheel's fabulous "Served Live" album.
2. Okay, there's at least one woman from Alaska I do like-- Jewel.
3. Yes, that "Loves Hurts." And yes, that Pat Boone. From "In a Metal Mood," a fun album he did in the 1990's of metal covers, including Crazy Train and Enter Sandman. It drew the ire of Christian fundamentalists (he a big-time Christian himself), which made me like it even more.
4. I never, ever get tired of hearing this song.
5. One of many great Jimmy Webb songs that Glen Campbell covered.
6. A couple of weeks ago, when Adam and I were seeing Blue Man Group, this song came on, and it was funny seeing the light go off when he recognized the song.
7. The Lemonheads did a great uptempo cover of Simon and Garfunkel's Mrs. Robinson.
8. From actor Robert Mitchum's calypso album. No, that's not a joke.
9. Billy Bragg's nice rewrite of "The Internationale."
10. The Brains said "Money Changes Everything." Johnny Cash says it's time. I say they're both right.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

"The Turkeys Are Hitting the Ground Like Sacks of Wet Cement!"

One of the funniest episodes ever in television history was the "Turkeys Away" episode of WKRP in Cinncinatti. For anyone who might not have ever seen or heard of this episode, the station manager of WKRP dreams up a publicity stunt in which live turkeys will be dropped on a shopping mall. However, there is one key thing the station manager does not know about domesticated turkeys.

"As god as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly."

Thanksgiving 2008

We're going to spend Thanksgiving with our good friends Wendy and Guido and their kids. My son's mother gets him on Thanksgiving, so we'll see him tomorrow.

I've got plenty to be thankful for this year. First off, for the continued good health and happiness of my family. I never, ever take that for granted, particularly after my father survived major cancer surgery a couple of years ago.

I'm thankful that we just elected a really smart, able guy for President.

I'm thankful that I have a good marriage to a wonderful woman.

I'm thankful that there was such a backlash to Proposition 8; maybe we will eventually have full civil rights in this country.

I'm thankful that Kim and I are both employed. People close to us have not been so lucky. Take a moment today and send out some good wishes to them for a return to employment.

I'm thankful that my plan to change careers has continued without any major bumps.

I'm thankful that the police brought the guy who murdered my friend Mark two and a half years ago was brought to justice last December. He's in jail, awaiting trial. It's expected that he'll be convicted.

I'm thankful, too, for the many excellent bloggers I've found in the last couple of years!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Having What It Takes

A few years ago, at my restaurant job (I was still also working as a teacher then), I got a dollar bill that had a URL stamped on it. the URL "" was stamped on it. I was curious about the bill, so I switched it with one I had in my pocket and took it home.

I checked the website and discovered that it was a bill tracking site. You could register (for free) and enter the bill and when someone else who used the website entered it, it would report back to you when and where it was entered. It was way cool. About half the bills I've encountered and entered have been entered again. A couple have been re-entered three more times; one of those bills has traveled up to Canada and out to California.

Each of the bills I've entered since that first one-- 27, according to the site-- have gone from place to place, people, businesses, vending machines, etc. Only a tiny fraction of the people who encounter the bills actually bother to enter them, but certainly each of the bills are parts of dozens of transactions after whatever transaction brought them to my hands.

Enter John Maynard Keynes.

Do yourself a favor sometime: go to the library or go on and get yourself a copy of economist Robert Lekachman's book "The Age of Keynes." Even if you, unlike me, don't find economics fascinating (I minored in it, along with history, in my undergraduate), it's a readable book. Keynes was a fascinating guy.

His academic career was meteoric; he went to Eton Prep and then Cambridge. In his early life, he was primarily romantically involved with men, notably the artist Duncan Grant, with whom he remained lifelong friends. In 1918, he met the famed Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova, whom he married, apparently happily, in 1925. He invested successfully-- he lost a fortune at the onset of the Great Depression, and quickly regained it-- and had an impressive art collection.

His first entry into the history books was when he worked as Britain's financial advisor at the negotiations for the Treaty of Versailles, the treaty that ended World War I. The Allies wanted to impose harshly punitive reparations against Germany. Keynes argued against this, pointing out that long-term economic and political stability would be gained only by assuring that former enemies were able to be solvent and economically integrated with the rest of Europe. The Allies pursued reparations, and Keynes quit the commission in protest.

Of course, Keynes was right. The Allies forced ludicrously high reparations on Germany. In order to try to pay the reparations, Germany started merely printing money. This resulted in a new phenomenon: hyperinflation. German money quickly lost its value, with inflation rates in the hundreds and thousands of percent. The German government started printing notes with huge values, as the money lost its value. There's a story I've heard, that is probably apocryphal, about someone bringing a laundry basket of money to buy some groceries. The person left the basket for a moment and when they returned, the basket was gone; the thief had left the money.

Whether the story is true or not, what is known is that the reparations were a disaster. There was no money to rebuild a war-battered Germany, and unemployment sky-rocketed. There was economic desperation in Germany. This desperation was a large part of what paved the way for the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party.

Back to Keynes. He weathered the Great Depression and in 1936 published what is generally considered to be not only his most important book, but one of the most important books on economics ever published: General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. He examined the concept of "aggregate demand:" the idea that the total income of a society is what is spent and invested. He examined a paradox, one that the Great Depression had made painfully clear: when there was an economic contraction, there was a ripple effect. Like that dollar I registered on, each dollar spent or invested is spent or invested again repeatedly, each time adding another dollar to the Gross Domestic Product, the modern measure of economic health. If there is an economic downturn, each of the dollars not spent sends a ripple as well-- there is a "multiplier" either positive or negative.

The problem, then, with a severe economic downturn, is that in order to turn it around, you have to spend more money, even if you have to borrow it to spend it. This ran contrary to the wisdom of the time that said that you had to reduce government spending during an economic downturn. In fact, to the contrary, reduction of government spending during an economic downturn could have the perverse effect of worsening the recession or depression. One means of this economic "pump priming" was through government projects.

As World War II started, Keynes that in order to avoid inflation, the War should be paid for through higher taxes, rather than deficit spending.

As the Allied victory became more assured, Keynes became part of the team shaping the post-war world. He was part of the Bretton Woods meetings that formed a formal international monetary system.

Unfortunately, Keynes would not see much of the post-War world that he helped create; he died of a heart attack. His ideas are still in use today. The United States, through the Federal Reserve system, has, for the most part, avoided the extremes of depression and hyperinflation by adjusting interest rates and the money supply.

Through a combination of factors-- the massive export of jobs, massive export of money for imports (primarily petroleum), a hugely expensive war and a lack of effective controls on banking and investment, we've got the worst fiscal crisis since the Great Depression.

So what do I think about the future, near and distant?

Believe it or not, I feel pretty good. I've been impressed with the people that Senator Obama is surrounding himself with. Some people have asked the question "How can we get change, when he's surrounding himself with insiders?" Let me mention one name: Jimmy Carter.

Jimmy Carter was elected in the wave of disaffection with government caused by the Vietnam War and Watergate. During his campaign, he was openly hostile to people in Washington. When he got to Washington, unsurprisingly, even people within his own party, like House Speaker Tip O'Neill, were uncooperative. As the United States faced new challenges, such as the Energy Crisis and the Iran Hostage Crisis, he had trouble getting things done.

While I would argue that Carter was a better president than he is generally given credit for (his stand on Human Rights was particularly impressive), he has gone down in history as a pretty ineffective president. It doesn't matter how good your intentions are if you can't get things done.

One of the things that most rankled me during the campaign was that Barack Obama was inexperienced. They couldn't be more wrong. Obama spent seven years in the Illinois State Senate, from 1997 to 2004. He represented a complex district; it encompassed Hyde Park, an affluent, racially mixed neighborhood that had an elite school, the University of Chicago, and Chicago Lawn, a very poor African-American neighborhood. He had to represent this district, with its complicated electorate in an Illinois State legislature filled with legislators representing people from downstate districts that were hostile to Chicago. And you know what? He got things done. He was widely considered an outstanding legislator.

Mr. Obama is a rarity-- a combination of pragmatism and idealism. He's smart, open to ideas and knows how to get things done. He seems to realize where we've gone off the rails and has some pretty good ideas as to how to get back on track. And he's surrounded himself with people who seem to know how to get things done. And he seems to know how to combine both old ideas and new.

So far I'm liking what I'm hearing and seeing. For instance, he understands that a sustainable energy policy kills several birds with one stone: it increases the number of jobs here in this country, it decreases the hemorrhage of money out of the country due to oil exports and decreases global warming. He seems to grasp that people need jobs with a living wage, reasonable taxes, a government more responsive to their needs and maybe a few other things like a better rail system, schools they can count on to actually educate their kids, and a sane foreign policy. And he appears to understand that in order to get these things done, good intentions are not enough; you need to surround yourself with people who know how to get these things done.

I think that Mr. Obama has his work cut out for him. But my guess is that he's a guy who could discuss Keynes at length. The smart money is on him.

We Were All Wrong About Joe

I put a poll on my blog a couple of weeks ago. I asked the question "How will Joe the Plumber make the news the next time?" Most of the responses were that he'd get a DUI, or show up in a "Where Are They Now?" article in a year. We were all wrong. Joe's got himself a book deal.

According to an article last week in the New York Times, Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, aka "Joe the Plumber," has signed a deal with PearlGate Publishing, a small Austin, Texas publisher, entitled "Joe the Plumber: Fighting for the American Dream." I'm sure it'll be riveting. Joe, who lied about buying the plumbing company and, well, wasn't actually a licensed plumber, seems to be among the "Reality-challenged," which makes him the perfect poster-boy for the Republican Party."

In the article, he says that he could have gotten a deal with a bigger publishing company, but "they don't need the help. They are already rich." Yeah, and when he was chosen last for sports teams, it's because they save the best for last.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Dad Tag

My old friend Tim tagged me and fellow dad Bubs with a new meme-- the "Dad's Night" tag. The premise is that the wife is out that night and it's just you and the kids hanging out. What movies would you watch with them?

I'd let the kids pick the movies out, but I can probably guess which ones they'd pick. My son would choose either The Blues Brothers or It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. My stepdaughter likes scary movies. She'd probably opt to rewatch her favorite, The Sixth Sense. She might switch gears, though, and choose Fiddler On the Roof, a movie I bought her a while back, but we haven't had a chance to watch it yet.

One other thing that my cheese-loving kids and I will actually probably watch this Friday is from the History Channel. Their "Modern Marvels" series had a show about how cheese is made. You can buy these episodes for just a couple of bucks on Itunes.

I tag dads Skyler's Dad and Deadspot.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Sequel That Might Be Great

Movie history is filled with examples of sequels that sucked. In fact, there have been so many that the ones that were as good as the original are celebrated-- The Godfather II and Aliens come to mind.

Kim sent me a link to a Vanity Fare article in which Paul Giamatti discusses his plans to film a sequel to the 2002 cult classic Bubba Ho-tep.

A couple of other bloggers have mentioned a love of the movie, specifically Vikki and Bubs. For those of you who aren't familiar with Bubba Ho-tep, I'll clue you in. Bruce Campbell portrays an elderly Elvis, who is living in an assisted care facility. It turns out that he switched identities with an Elvis impersonator, er, I mean, an "Elvis tribute artist" and is still alive. He befriends another resident of the home, President John F. Kennedy-- yes, that President John F. Kennedy-- who is played by the late Ossie Davis and has a perfectly good explanation as to why he's now black. I'll let you see the movie and find out.

It turns out that a cowboy-hat wearing mummy is stalking the elderly residents of the nursing home and stealing their souls. It's up to Elvis and President Kennedy to stop the soul-sucking mummy.

In Giamatti's proposed sequel, actually a prequel, Col. Tom Parker, played by Giamatti, signs Elvis up to do one more movie. Somehow, hot female vampires get involved in it all. And it takes place in New Orleans. And I put it to you-- what more can one ask of a movie? You've got Elvis, Paul Giamatti, New Orleans and hot female vampires. Sounds like a winner to me!

Friday, November 21, 2008

The "Life Is Full of Surprises" Friday Random Ten

Last week, I walked into my English 101 class to discover that the teacher had quit. Fortunately, the they were able to get another teacher to fill in for the rest of the semester. And of course-- Lulu, you'll appreciate this-- we had met before when we were both taking Teaching Certification courses at Northeastern Illinois University in the mid-nineties.

One of the big concerns my classmates and I have had was that there was a huge amount of work that we hadn't gotten back. The original teacher kept telling us that she'd graded the work, but kept forgetting to bring it with her. Finally, the assistant chairperson of the English department drove out to the teacher's house and got the papers-- a four hour round trip-- and gave them to the new teacher, who discovered, surprise, surprise, that NONE of the work was graded. So now there's a mad scramble to figure out how to assess and grade us. I'm all right-- I had an A at midterm, and should do well with the portfolio we turn in at the end of the class. Others are not so lucky; the ungraded work, which will go ungraded (there's not enough time to grade it at this point) might have raised their grades. The college has taken some drastic steps, even offering to let people retake the class at no charge.

I had one more "Johnny Yen" moment, as Lulu calls them, today. I had offered to help Jack, one of the younger guys in my class who was struggling. When we exchanged email addresses, I noticed that his middle name, which was part of his email address, was Merlo-- the same name as an early Chicago mobster, Al Capone's predecessor. Merlo's son took a more legal route and became an alderman (a library in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood is named after him). One of my and Kim's good friends dated the alderman Merlo's daughter years ago. This was, it turned out, Jack's mother.

1. Walk Away- The James Gang
2. I Am, I Said- Neil Diamond
3. Charlotte Street- Lloyd Cole and the Commotions
4. Rock and Roll Music- Chuck Berry
5. Blister In the Sun- The Violent Femmes
6. Hold Back the Tears- Neil Young
7. A Legal Matter- The Who
8. Funky Monks- The Red Hot Chili Peppers
9. Night Fever- The Bee Gees
10. Pipeline- The Chantays

1. Future Eagle Joe Walsh was in this band. The song has one of the great opening riffs ever in a rock song.
2. My favorite Neil Diamond song. The grungecore band Killdozer did a great version of this as well.
3. This was the first Lloyd Cole and the Commotions song I ever heard. It's still one of my favorites.
4. I saw Chuck Berry perform in Grant Park in downtown Chicago back in the mid ninties. I left the show early, and discovered the next day that minutes after I left, Keith Richards joined Chuck onstage.
5. This song was a staple at college in the mid '80's.
6. From "American Stars 'n Bars," an underappreciated Neil Young album from the late seventies.
7. From the Who's first album.
8. From "Bloodsugarsexmagic," one of my favorite albums of the nineties.
9. I hated the "Saturday Night Fever" music back in the seventies, but it's grown on me over the years.
10. A surf music instrumental classic.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Prediction

I just checked the Minneapolis/St. Paul Star Tribune for news about the Franken/Coleman Senate race recount. I'm going to make a prediction: Franken is going to win it.

With 18% of the vote in, Coleman's lead has slipped from a razor-thin 215 to 174. I did the math, and if that trend continues, Franken should win by about a dozen votes. Keep your fingers crossed. And the next time some idiot says "Oh, I don't bother voting-- one vote doesn't matter," remind them of this Senate race and Florida in 2000.

A Change In Tack

Sorry to be away from blogging for a few days. I had a big decision to make. After a lot of discussion with my wife and with friends, I've decided to change my education goal. Instead of working toward a Pharmacy degree, I've shifted to doing the coursework toward an RN in nursing.

There are a lot of good reasons for the change. The primary one is time-- it'll take about a third the time to get a nursing degree than it would have taken me to get a Pharmacy degree. I can actually finish this degree before my son starts college. I've done almost all of the prerequisites already-- the Pharmacy prerequisites mostly overlapped the nursing prereqs. I need to take two Anatomy classes; I signed up for the first one this week. I'll take it next semester.

Kim's been very suportive of the decision, although I think she just wants to see me in scrubs.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Proposition Hate

On Friday night, I took my son to see Blue Man Group. He (and I) enjoyed it immensely.

The Briar Street Theater, where Blue Man plays in Chicago, is in the heart of "Boys Town," the neighborhood where many of Chicago's gay men and women live and where there are plenty of gay bars and other gay-friendly institutions. As we walked to the theater, two people stopped us and handed us a pamphlet announcing the demonstration the next day in downtown Chicago against California's Proposition 8, or "Proposition Hate" as it's been aptly dubbed.

We didn't go, but we were glad to see news of a great turnout here and in all of the other cities. We have close friends and relatives who are gay or lesbian. Last night, I was talking about it all to co-worker Phil. He is, like me, straight and a parent. This is, he pointed out, the great civil rights issue of our time. We both puzzled over the opposition that some straight people have to affirming the basic civil right of marriage to same-sex couples. He also mentioned Vikki's recent post about how the owner of "El Coyote," a popular Los Angeles eatery, was begging gay folks not to boycott her restaurant. "Teh gays" are a big part of the clientele of the restaurant he and I work at, and almost any other. I think support for "Proposition Hate" is going to bite a lot of people in the ass.

A lot of the opposition to gay rights is religious-based. This hasn't done much to blunt my general contempt for most organized religion (there are many churches that do teach love and tolerance, to give credit where credit is due). It made me think of this scene in "The West Wing" in which President Bartlet, played by Martin Sheen, punks a character who is a thinly-veiled Dr. Laura by suggesting that he take every word of the Old Testament literally.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Running Into Studs Terkel

A few bloggers have commented on the passing of Chicago treasure Studs Terkel. A couple, including Bubs, had a nice story of he and Mizbubs meeting him personally.

As my friend Lulu has pointed out, I apparently have managed to make the acquaintance of most of Chicago, and a good portion of the rest of the world. A notable instance of this was when she was like the third person reading my blog after she and I had lost touch for a decade.

In any event, I did, of course, have no fewer than three run-ins-- one almost literally-- with Studs Terkel in my life.

The first was at Minnie's, a restaurant I worked at in the late eighties. It was located down near Depaul University and was a hugely popular place. I'd work Saturday and Sunday breakfast shifts and then a few weekday lunch shifts and was rolling in the clover. College friends asked why I wasn't working a "real job" that had any relation to my two college degrees (Bachelor's and Master's in Political Science), and then I'd point out that I didn't live with my parents like they did.

We had a number of celebrities in there. TV newsguy Bill Kurtis, reporter Pam Zekman (longtime Chicagoans will remember that she was the reporter who got the Sun-Times to open the tavern "The Mirage" and then reported about the long line of Chicago city inspectors who approached her and her assistants with hands out for bribes), Chicago Bear Tom Thayer, and actor John Cusack were among the folks I either waited on or saw in there. When I started watching "The X-Files," I realized that Gillian Anderson, the actress who portrayed Agent Scully, was among a group of acting students that came in for lunch occasionally. I didn't like her; she was snotty and tipped poorly.

One day there was a buzz in the small restaurant. I looked over to see what was going on and saw what it was about. Studs Terkel was in the restaurant. I didn't wait on him, but one thing did really strike me-- he obviously didn't care about how he dressed. He was wearing a combination of strips and plaids. Even I know better than that.

Years later, I was involved in a group dedicated to commemorating members of the Lincoln Brigade, American volunteers who went to Spain to fight fascism during the Spanish Civil War. We sponsored an exhibit of posters from the Spanish Civil War when it came to Chicago. The Chicago Public Library co-sponsored it-- we had the exhibit at their main branch, the Harold Washington Library, in downtown Chicago. Studs Terkel agreed to speak at the opening of the exhibit. I was asked to emcee and to spend the day hanging out with Studs and his wife. It was way-cool. I just had to keep my mouth shut about one secret.

My old friend Dan ran a "Dead Pool." You pick out ten celebrities, and give them point values. I had Studs Terkel on my list that year.

I can't remember if my old friend Deadspot was a particpant that year in the pool (he is now), but he and his son were in the audience, and would probably have managed to notice if I had "accidentally" bumped Studs off of the ten foot stage while I was introducing him. Well, them and the rest of Chicago.

About a year later, I was driving my car, a huge Chevy station wagon that I'd gotten when my grandmother died, down Sheridan Road on the North side of Chicago. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw two people running across Sheridan Road. I came to the realization that they'd run right in front of my car, which was moving at the speed limit, about 40 miles per hour. Even worse, I realized that I knew them; it was Studs and Mrs. Terkel, running to catch a cab that was on the other side of the street.

I poured ever ounce of strength I had to both push down on the brake and pull back on the steering wheel. I think I left clawmarks in the steering wheel, but I managed to stop the mammoth car in time. Studs and his wife got into their cab oblivious to the fact that they'd almost been run over by the "nice young man" they'd spent the day with at the Washington Library a year or two before.

Later, I called Dan and asked a theoretical: they were on my Dead Pool list; if I hadn't been able to stop the car in time, would I have gotten the points?

Dan pointed out the "no-bumping-off" clause in the Dead Pool rules-- a contestant can't be involved in the death in any way, shape or form, or the points are invalid. Otherwise, everybody in the pool would just go out and whack their whole list. I protested; it would have been accidental. And on top of that, it was the least he could have done-- if I'd have run over Chicago's most beloved figure, I'd have to leave my hometown. Dan was unrelenting-- he told me that I wouldn't have gotten the ponts. Bastard.

In any event, I fortunately missed Studs and he lived to the ripe old age of 96.

I must have a thing about nearly running over important Chicago folks. About a year and a half ago, Illinois' governor, who lives just a few blocks from me and is an avid runner, ran in front of my old Blazer. I was able to stop in time. But he is one of the most unpopular governors in Illinois history-- his approval rating is well below that of even George W. Bush, 13%. If I'd have accidentally run him over, I may have been a hero around here.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Tag From Bubs: The Alphabet Movie Meme

Bubs tagged me with the "Alphabet Movie Meme." I love movies and I love a meme, so here goes:

Aliens- I liked Alien, but loved Aliens. It was one of the best movie-going experiences I've ever had. The movie worked on every level-- great story, great characters, great special effects, great script, etc., etc.

Bullitt- Combine a great cast-- Steve McQueen, Richard Vaughn, Simon Oakland, Norman Fell, George Stanford Brown, Don Gordon, Jaqueline Bissett-- with a great story, a great script, a great locale (the Bay area), one of the all-time great chase scenes, and you get an unforgettable movie that bears repeated viewing.

Casino- I know, everybody thought this was "Son of Goodfellas," but I liked Casino way better. Part of it is that I find Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, the mob gambling ace who the main character Ace Rothstein, portrayed by Robert Deniro, fascinating.

A couple of weeks ago, TBS showed "Casino" after a baseball playoff game ended; we had it on at work. It generated a discussion about the merits of "Casino." I came home and checked the New York Times and discovered that Lefty Rosenthal had died that day.

The Dead Zone- Who's creepier-- Stephen King, David Cronenberg or Christopher Walken? Get them all together and you get a movie that is visually arresting and well done.

Excalibur- John Boorman's movies are visually fascinating. This movie is his take on the Arthur legend. Helen Mirren has rarely looked better. Honorable Mention: El Diablo. Okay, technically it's a "D" movie; "el" is Spanish for "the." Robert Beltran, Lou Gossett, Anthony Edwards and a whole bunch of other great actors deconstruct the Western, and are pretty damned funny to boot.

Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas- A book I was certain would not translate well to the screen. Leave it to former Monty Python guy (the lone American in the bunch, BTW) to pull it off. Great performances all around.

Galaxy Quest- This movie is probably only funny if you are a Star Trek fan (guilty as charged!) or know one. Lots of in jokes for Trekkies and Trekkers.

Happy, Texas- Part "opposite buddy" movie, part romantic comedy, all fun. Two escaped convicts masquerade as a gay couple in order to hide out. Hilarity and love-- both gay and straight-- ensue. William Macy is great as a "big-dick" Texas sheriff.

I’m Not There- Kim got this movie for my birthday. As a lifelong Dylan fan, I have to say that this movie captured him in a way I didn't think anyone could explain him.

Juggernaut- People forget what a damned fine actor Richard Harris could be. This movie is a case in point. In this largely-forgotten 1974 movie, which was directed by Richard Lester (A Hard Day's Night, Superman II), Harris plays a bomb defusing expert, a World War II vet with a ghost in his past, who is sent to defuse a bunch of bombs set on an aging ocean liner. Great script, great performances-- Anthony Hopkins, Omar Sharif, Ian Holm-- and a great story.

King of the Corner- An alternately funny and heartbreaking movie that didn't get a lot of exposure. I love Peter Riegert (Boon from "Animal House.") One of my all-time favorite scenes in a movie is the scene at his father's funeral with a rabbi played by Eric Bogosian.

Local Hero- Another great Peter Riegert movie-- one of my top ten. Visually stunning, charming and a nice little message.

Midnight Run-- Deniro is undeniably a great actor, but he has definitely taken some roles for the money. This one was for love. He plays almost a parody of himself. He's a former Chicago cop who was set up for fall years ago by a mobster played by the incomparable Dennis Farina. He's reduced to working as a bounty hunter. He gets the assignment from the great character actor Joe Pantalioni to get "The Duke." The Duke is a mob accountant, played by Charles Grodin, who stole a bunch of Farina's money-- and then gave it away to charity. The prissy Grodin and gruff Deniro make an improbable pair, but have great chemistry. It's one of my son's favorites too.

I've posted about this one, too-- about accidentally walking onto the set in one of the scenes that were set in Chciago, in a scene with hundreds of guns. I thought I'd accidentally walked into a shootout.

North By Northwest- Hitchcock made a lot of great movies. This one is easily my favorite-- Cary Grant, James Mason, Martin Landau and Eva St. Marie are all great. My favorite scene is the crop-duster scene.

Honorable mention, the movie Novocaine, which my friend Karol Kent is in.

Office Space- This movie has generated as many catch-phrases as Animal House:

"That'd be greaatttt...."
"I believe you have my stapler."
"I'm a free man and it's been six months since I've had a 'conjugnal visit.'"

The scene where they destroy the printer that had made their lives hell to some rap song is one of the funniest scenes I've ever seen in a movie.

The President’s Analyst- James Coburn is splendid in this one. I've written a post on this one.

Quadrephenia- I saw this one when it came out at the now-demolished Grenada Theater in Chicago. This was the one good acting role Sting ever had-- as a self-absorbed phony. It was the perfect role for him.

Raising Arizona- This is another one I've written a post on. Great acting, great script.

"Son-- you got a panty on your head..."

Sammy and Rosie Get Laid- From the guys who did "My Beautiful Launderette." I'm still waiting for this one to come out on DVD. It's about a hip London couple in the middle of the Thatcher years. It takes on race, gender, sexuality and class, and pulls no punches. Great performance by Fine Young Cannibals singer Roland Gift

True Believer- James Wood chews up the scenery in this one. He's a former sixites activist/lawyer who is reduced to taking drug cases for rich coke dealers. He rationalizes what he does until Robert Downey Jr. shows up as his young assistant. He takes on the case of a Korean immigrant who's been imprisoned for seven years for the murder of a gang leader.

The Untouchables- When I first got out of college, I was working as a law clerk in downtown Chicago, and I'd see the trailers for the stars, though I never saw any of the stars. The history is totally wrong, but the story is great.

Village of the Damned- This one creeped me out when I was a kid. "I must think of a brick wall..."

Withnail and I- I've posted about this one before as well. It's a sort of buddy movie about two struggling actors in London in late 1969. Great use of music in this one, including Hendrix' "All Along the Watchtower" and "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)", and the Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."

X: The Unheard Music- Great documentary about X, one of my favorite groups.

Honorable evil mention, Xanadu, a horrendous piece of shit.

Yankee Doodle Dandy- I loved James Cagney's gangster movies, but I also enjoyed this musical about the life of George M. Cohan. WGN would show this one late at night a lot when I was a kid.

Zodiac- About the Zodiac killings in San Francisco in the late sixties and early seventies. Great performances and riveting story.

I tag anyone who wants to do this one.

Big Day Friday Random Ten

Tonight the Yen household will be the Planet of the 12-year-old girls; it's my stepdaughter's 12th birthday today and we're having a party for her. Since Adam is being a good sport about it, I'm treating his to something he's wanted to see since he was little, Blue Man Group. It'll be a big day for everybody.

1. Drops of Jupiter- Train
2. Mrs. Rita- The Gin Blossoms
3. Just Like Me- Paul Revere and the Raiders
4. Roseana's Going Wild- Johnny Cash
5. Too Much Information- The Police
6. Black Diamond- YOSHIKI
7. Centerfield- John Fogarty
8. Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear- Randy Newman
9. The Harder They Come- Jimmy Cliff
10. I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better- The Byrds

1. Love this song. The singer for Train is actor Robert Patrick's (Terminator, X-Files) brother.
2. New Miserable Experience is one of my favorite albums of the nineties. The singer, who wrote most of their good songs, including this one, was kicked out of the group due to his alcoholism, and eventually took his own life.
3. These guys were pure pop and I just love them.
4. Do yourself and get "Cash," the Johnny Cash box set.
5. This album was the "Frampton Comes Alive" of the eighties; everybody at my college had it. I think I still have my vinyl copy of it.
6. From another album everybody needs to have, "Kiss My Ass," the great Kiss tribute album. This is a classical cover of the Kiss classic. The Replacements did a fine version of it too on one of their albums.
7. The title track from John Fogarty's great post-Creedence comeback album that came out in 1985.
8. From the fabulous "Sail Away" album.
9. From "The Harder They Come" soundtrack. Joe Jackson did a great cover of this.
10. This song ranks up there with Dylan's "It Ain't Me Babe" with the great "kiss-off" songs.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Wait 'Til Next Century

I was cutting through the alley on the way to the grocery store today, and remembered this picture of a burned Cubs car flag, taken last month with my cell phone camera in that very same alley the day after the Cubs were eliminated from the playoffs.

Someone obviously didn't take the loss well.

Four Years

I worked my Evanston job last night-- I only work there on Monday nights. I'd love to give up having to drive up there and pay for parking, but the extra money justifies continuing to do it, at least for a while.

I was glad I did work there last night. I was waiting on a table with a three gentlemen, and couldn't figure out why one of them looked so familiar. Suddenly I realized that it was a guy I'd met at a blogger gathering last year: the father of bloggers Kristi and Vikki.

When I got home, Kim was already asleep, so I changed clothes, poured a glass of wine and checked my email and my regular blogs. One of the posts I read was this very sweet one about the anniversary, November 8, of our first date four years ago.

Four years ago, I was still a sixth grade teacher and she was still working her first post-divorce job at one of Chicago's major newspapers. The job was a sweatshop in an office; she'd have to make a hundred or more phone calls a day. She didn't own a car, so she had to walk her daughter to school, get on the el and go to work. After school, Mel would go to a daycare center that, while conveniently located at the end of the block Kim lived on, was filled with kids way younger than Mel. She was bored there.

For my part, life was a blur. When my landlord and I kicked out the evil roommate, I was faced with footing all the costs for the three-bedroom apartment I lived in. I checked into other apartments in the area and discovered that now that my neighborhood had become a "hot" neighborhood in Chicago, I'd pay nearly as much for a one-bedroom, let alone a two-bedroom apartment. Since I had a backyard for my son and a washer and dryer in the basement, I decided to stay. That meant never saying no to an extra shift at my second job at a nearby restaurant. I was exhausted all the time. My home was always a mess because I was too damned tired to clean it.

In four years, things have changed. Kim got another job that was better and recently got yet another that has been a big improvement; the stress level at her job has been greatly reduced. And after a two-year battle with an the principal from hell, I left my sixth grade teaching job. Around the same time, my father survived a major cancer surgery and I buried one of my closest, oldest friends after he was murdered in a robbery. I took a teaching position for a year, and then went back to school. I've been working on a degree in Pharmacy, but have made a decision to switch to nursing; it would take less than half the time, and the job opportunities and money are both great. Either way, there's no way I would have been able to do it if Kim weren't around. I need to finish school soon; I want to make good on my promise to both my kids to pay for most of their college.

Oh, and Kim and I got married on December 30, 2005.

Four years ago, everybody I knew was dazed that Americans had re-elected an idiot. Kim was still a struggling single mother, and I was still a teacher and struggling single father. How things change in four years.

One of the costs of my new work and school schedule has been time together with Kim. I decided I need a couple of adjustments. This morning, I got up when Kim did. I made her coffee and cooked her breakfast and sat and talked with her before she ran off to work.

After she left, I grabbed my ipod shuffle, put on my running shoes and my old "Eastern Illinois University" running jacket and went for a run in nearby Horner Park. After having two old friends in their forties die of heart disease in the last month, I've made a commitment to work up to running three times a week. I've got to make sure to stick around. I have people who depend on me.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Joe Lieberman

My, how Joe Lieberman's star has fallen. He was considered such an asset to the Democratic Party at one time that he was Al Gore's running mate in 2000. Since then, he has sided with the Republicans-- to the point that he lost the Connecticut Democratic Senate primary in 2004. No problem, says Joe-- I'll run as an "Independent." And that he did, and he won, keeping his Senate seat.

But that wasn't enough for old Joe to do that. He had to endorse and campaign for the other party's candidate in the Presidential election. In fact, he very nearly was McCain's running mate.

I'd say more, but my best friend Rocket Science has said it so much better already. In fact, he's given our buddy Joe an award he so richly deserves.

In the meantime, the picture at the top of the post is of Fredo Corleone Joe Lieberman, on the left, in his recent meeting with Senate Majority Leader Michael Corleone Reid. Joe is groveling asking to keep his important Senate committee assignments despite stabbing the Democratic Party in the back. Reid is saying "I love you Joe, but never take sides against the family."

Saturday, November 08, 2008

A Short Biography of Barack Obama

The New York Times has a number of blogs by musicians, including Suzanne Vega, Chicagoan Andrew Bird and founding member of my beloved dB's, Peter Holsapple.

One of the other contributors is a guy I'd never heard of, Jeffrey Lewis. He's got a post about his art-- he does music and comic books-- and an introduction to the video below, which is a short comic book/song biography of Barack Obama.

You've got to love an artist whose media are crayon and folk music.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Occasional Forgotten Video: Duran Duran, "New Moon On Monday"

I was a moderate Duran Duran fan. I never understood the fanatical fans, but I also couldn't understand the haters. Yes, they were pretty boy popsters, but plenty of great bands have been.

I love this song-- it's my favorite Duran Duran song. And I love the video, with its theme of resistance, rebellion and liberation. Seems appropriate this week.


The other night, in his post-victory speech, President-Elect Barack Obama noted that this was only the beginning. There's a lot of work-- and sacrifice-- ahead of us.

That sacrifice began at home for us. First off, with Senator Obama soon to become President Obama, we're losing one of our Senators. Speculation has begun over who Governor Blagojevich will appoint to fill the empty spot. One of the jokes going around Chicago is that he'll nominate himself; it's widely believed that it's only a matter of time before he's indicted for corruption.

In reality, there are a few names going around. Emil Jones, the African-American speaker of the State Senate is one of them. Another is Illinois Director of Veterans Affairs Tammy Duckworth. A couple of years ago, she was narrowly defeated in the fight for the the House seat that was opened when arch-conservative Henry "Youthful Indiscretions" Hyde retired. Another person on the short list is Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, whose father Mike Madigan is speaker of the Illinois House.

Another sacrifice has been my Congressman; I live in Rahm Emanuel's congressional district. It was great having a guy who was a powerhouse in the Democratic Party as my congressman. But it'll be even greater having a guy who is good at getting things done as the White House Chief of Staff.

Overall, its nice to know that I'll soon have a President who is not only very, very intelligent and open to new ideas, but will surround himself with people who are intelligent and full of ideas-- not hacks, ideologues and idiots.

As a nation, we should all step back and think about this moment, before we roll up our sleeves and set about fixing the damage of the last eight years and then moving into the future, what we've done in 232 years. Some time in the next couple of months, take an hour or so of your time and read the US Constitution. It's a remarkable-- and partly flawed-- document. It is at times brilliant, guaranteeing rights-- free speech, freedom of religion, right of peaceable assembly and other rights-- that were radical at the time, and in most of the world still not guaranteed. Some of the founders wanted slavery banned. Unfortunately, many of the founders were slaveholders. In order to get them to sign on, and to get the Southern states to join the union, slavery was allowed.

The Southern states wanted their cake and to eat it too; they wanted to count slaves when apportioning the number of House members, but not to give the enslaved people a vote. Slaves counted as 3/5's of a person when determining the state's population for the purpose of determining how many House members represented a state. At the time, this might not have seemed so peculiar; most white "free" people did not have the right to vote. The Constitution allowed the individual states to determine who voted. Most states allowed white male property owners to vote. This represented a tiny minority of the population.

Over time, suffrage has steadily increased. Non-property owners, women, African-Americans-- over time, with great struggle, the right of political participation has opened up.

Tuesday night, as i sat at my best friend Jim's house listening to Senator Obama's speech in Grant Park, I thought of a lot of things. I thought of the people who had paved the way to that moment. I thought of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, three civil rights workers who were brutally slain in the 1964 "Freedom Summer" in Mississippi. The ringleader of the mob that killed them, Edgar Ray Killen, was finally convicted in 2005. I thought of Martin Luther King, Violet Liuzza and many others who paid the price to bring this country to living up to it's promise that "all men (and women) are created equal."

One person I also thought of was Karole, a woman I dated in the late eighties. She was one of the smartest, funniest and prettiest women I dated. She was also African-American. I'd met her one night in the Gingerman tavern. I was drinking a Foster's beer-- you know, the one that comes in a can that's about the size of the old oil cans. She turned to me and asked "What, were you a quart low?" It was probably the best opening line I ever got.

One night, I was out with her at Danny's tavern, a bar in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago. We were hanging out, talking, enjoying a beer, when a woman stopped to talk to us. She started telling us what a nice statement we were making. Finally, I stopped her. I wasn't dating Karole because she was black; I'd dated other African-American women-- and latina, jewish, catholic, white, etc. The circle I ran in was very mixed. I wasn't out with her, I pointed out to the well-meaning lady, to make a statement. I was out with my girlfriend.

When things ended with us, it was not because of the difference in our races; it was a difference in our maturity levels. I was an idiot in his twenties who was suffering from the "grass is greener" syndrome. As I finally got a little older and wiser, I regretted not having hung on to her. I was lucky that when I was ready to appreciate someone who was intelligent, funny and pretty, Kim came along.

So when I listened to Senator Obama's speech, I was moved by the history. I was moved by Jesse Jackson's tears, and came close to shedding a couple myself. Yes, it's great that we're going to have an African-American president. But most important, I'm going to have a president who is intelligent, intellectually curious, compassionate and looking out for my interests. I listened to Obama speak and thought "Hot damn-- this guy is going to be my President! Good for me!"

The "Yes We Did" Friday Random Ten

I'm still on a post-election buzz. As I read about Obama's preparations, I'm optimistic and confident. The front of the Chicago Reader this week sums up my feelings: "Please Don't Screw This Up."

I have a feeling he won't.

1. New Frontier- Donald Fagen
2. Almost Grown- Chuck Berry
3. Chains- The Beatles
4. We Belong Together- Richie Valens
5. Bury Me Not On the Lone Prairie- Johnny Cash
6. Take It As It Comes- The Doors
7. Anarchy In the USA- Manic Hispanic
8. San Quentin- Johnny Cash
9. Turn Back the Hands of Time- Tyrone Davis
10. The Dutchman- Steve Goodman

1. From Steely Dan founder Donald Fagen's first solo album. The video for this song is probably my favorite vid ever and will be on my "Occasional Forgotten Video" series soon.
2. I saw Chuck Berry perform in Grant Park about 20 years ago. I left early and discovered that Keith Richards joined Berry onstage a few minutes after I left.
3. I've been digging into earlier Beatles lately. This was from the "Please Please Me" album.
4. "La Bamba" is one of my very favorite songs, but Richie Valens produced a lot of fine music in his short life.
5. I've been working on a blog post about a phenomenal scene at Eastern Illinois University, my college. It includes a house that threw frequent parties called "The Zebra Lounge." Johnny Cash' music plays into the story.
6. I still love that first Doors album.
7. I love these guys-- a Chicano punk rock band.
8. One of the first songs I really dug.
9. A Chicago treasure who died a couple of years ago. A friend of ours was Davis' photographer.
10. My friend Lulu refers to "Johnny Yen" moments-- unlikely connections I have with people. I had one with this song. I'll post about it some time.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

And The Winner Is...

As you all know, I had the "Beat Johnny Yen" contest. I thought that Ohio was going to go for Obama, and that it would become impossible for McCain to win. I thought they'd call it at 8:45.

Turns out that I was correct; they called Ohio for Obama about 8:45-- but they didn't call the election. They waited until the West Coast polls closed, at 10:00 pm exactly. That means the winner is...

Skyler's Dad, who had CBS at 10:00 pm. He called it exactly, and was the first one to enter the contest! Maybe the networks need to hire him as a consultant the next election.

Congratulations! Don't let all the celebrity that comes with winning this contest go to your head!

Honorable mentions go to Jane, who came within a minute, with a time of 10:01 and Bubs, who had 10:03.

Oh, and...


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Grant Park, November 4, 2008

A few days ago, my stepdaughter asked if I would serve as a parent chaperone on a field trip her class was taking. Tuesdays are my day off-- the only day with no work and no school. I told her I would. I realized, too, that it was election day, and being the political junkie that I am, I knew that it would do me good to be out in the morning-- away from CNN and my laptop.

It turned out that we were going to see a play at the Merle Reskin Theater-- former the Blackstone Theater. It turned out that we were going to a theater a half block from Grant Park, where Barack Obama is speaking tonight. So much for getting my mind off of the election for a few hours.

I shot pictures out the windows of the bus with my camera phone, so the images aren't real high quality. The picture at the top shows police officers deploying into the park at 9:45 am, more than 12 hours before Mr. Obama's scheduled appearance.

One of the concerns was that there would not be enough portapotties. You can only see a couple of them in the picture, captured on a camera phone from a moving school bus, but there were plenty.

This one was taken in front of the theater. You can see a Chicago policeman on a Segway scooter. There were lots of cops there already. With the unseasonably beautiful weather, the turnout for the election was good, and the crowd should be big in Grant Park tonight.

I managed to snap a picture of a statue that begame iconic forty years ago during the Democratic Convention. Who would have thought that the son of the Chicago mayor whose police waded into the protestors, batons swinging, would hold a huge rally for the guy who may become the first black president of the United States?

I'm watching the results on CNN. It's only 8:08 pm, CST. The big states, Florida, North Carolina and Ohio are still to be called. I think I was right to have an early call time in the "Beat Johnny Yen" contest.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

I've Seen This Guy Before

Last week, Alaska's Republican Senator Ted "The Bridge To Nowhere" Stevens was convicted of all seven felony counts that he was accused of. These mostly involved accepting gifts illegally, including furniture and renovations to his home.

What would most normal people do, when faced with going into an election as a convicted felon? I would think that they'd think of their political party and their constituents and step down.

What's Ted's response? Furious denial and announcing his intent to go full speed ahead, although he's polling far behind his Democratic opponent, Anchorage mayor Mark Begich.

It occurred to me that I'd seen this guy, so used to his power and privilege, angrily wondering what he'd done wrong, but I couldn't place my finger on it. Then it dawned on me: Colonel Jessup. This was Colonel Jessup, Jack Nicholson's character in "A Few Good Men" shouting:

I'm being charged with a crime? Is that what this is? I'm being charged with a crime? This is funny. That's what this is. This is...

I guess I should thank Sen. Stevens: he's helping to deliver another Democratic seat to the Senate.