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I finally did it.

Last night I watched my last unseen film on the AFI’s original Top 100 list.

If you don’t know, in 1998 the American Film Institute (AFI) polled “more than 1500 leaders of the American movie community” to establish a list of America’s 100 Greatest Movies (they’ve since “revised” the list, which I don’t understand and refuse to acknowledge for a host of reasons which I’ll not discuss now).

I was 24 and living in near-poverty in glorious Jackson, Wyoming in 1998. With few friends and little money, it was fortuitous that the local video store had dedicated an entire wall to the AFI’s shiny, new list. As I recall, 96 of the 100 films were on their shelf (some of these are hard to find) and I set out to watch them all.

At the time, I had seen 48, so I was starting from a good spot. Another 30 or so I had always wanted to see or thought I should, based on historical significance or legendary status. This left about 20 films that I would likely have to force myself to watch.

I dove in and tore off a big chunk of the “always-wanted-to-sees,” watching fifteen of them over the course of that long winter, which, stuffed in between my three low-paying jobs, was actually pretty impressive.

By the summer of ‘99 I had made more friends; I planned and traveled on a remarkable journey; I met my future partner and, I’m pleased to say, my movie-watching was displaced by good times. Eventually, I left Jackson and have yet to find another video store that houses the AFI’s Top 100 within their walls. My noble goal remained unachieved.

In late 2011, many years after discovering Netflix, callings of the list began to haunt me. I dusted off my printed copy from ’98 and set out to finish the goal I’d set so many years before. Two years and four months later (life does tend to get in the way), I’m proud to say I’ve done it. Read the rest of this entry »

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I’m going to tread on dangerous ground today. It’s likely to garner more dissension than anything I have posted about heretofore. Mired in controversy and known to provoke extremely emotional responses, I am already bracing myself for the backlash that will likely result from this post, and others to follow on this same, touchy subject.

It’s not abortion, nor same-sex marriage. Nor is it school prayer or the role of government in society. No, this is something much more polarizing and tempestuous. Today I’m posting about Star Wars.

Interestingly, I actually was going to publish a post on the current status of gun control; but Star Wars, I fear, will produce even more vitriol and ire, into which I shall now dive.

Here it is: Simply put, the Star Wars Prequels suck.

And I don’t just mean they’re bad, I’m mean they are so tremendously horrible that they have now successfully poisoned my 35-year enjoyment of the Original Trilogy (Episodes 4-6).

There! I said it. God that feels good! Why, now, am I making this proclamation? Glad you asked. Read the rest of this entry »

NixonThumbIn our second foray into rating past presidents, we’re going to tackle a political giant, an enigma whose presidency was both enamored with political sagacity and clouded with sordid scandal. Yes, after previously paying homage to one of our greatest leaders, this time we’ll be assigning D&D ability scores to one of our greatest disappointments, Richard M. Nixon.

Don’t worry, there’s much more to President Nixon than his shameful end and the arrogance that precipitated it, so I won’t just be harping on Watergate (in fact, it actually provided a boost to several scores).

This list of ability scores is generated according to the rules of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons – 1st Edition (again, ‘cuz I’m old). If you aren’t familiar with D&D, that’s okay, you don’t need to be. Here’s the gist: an individual is scored on six innate abilities: Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma. Human scores typically range from 3 to 18 (3 being pathetic, 10-11 being average, and 18 being exceptional).

So here we go, for big Dick’s scores: Read the rest of this entry »

I practice a sort of thievery.

Not a malicious one mind you, or illegal, at least not yet. And as far as I know my crimes are victimless, and if I do well, often embraced and appreciated. I never plan my heists and never know what tiny observance may spawn one as it may be years down the road that I eventually recognize my plunder. My spoils are random, and often worthless by themselves, and they’re impossible to reunite with their original owners, but nonetheless I stole them.

Yes, in truth, I’m a bit of a thief. You may even be my next victim, and there’s nothing you can do about it; I have immunity. After all, I’m writer.

One of the arcane and villainous joys of creative writing is the license it gives me to draw upon just about anything I’ve ever encountered and use it unabashedly for my own selfish purposes. Read the rest of this entry »

In light of the approaching inauguration, rather than spurting the same old policy drivel that I usually throw out, today I’m going to toy with a new theme. Glancing back through our history, I thought it might be fun to examine past presidents of these United States and generate a list of their ability scores according to the rules of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons – 1st Edition (‘cuz I’m old and that’s what I learned on).

If you aren’t familiar with D&D, that’s okay, you don’t need to be. Here’s the gist: an individual is scored on six innate abilities: Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma. Human scores typically range from 3 to 18 (3 being pathetic, 10-11 being average, and 18 being exceptional).

All I’m going to do is rate past presidents on these abilities, based on what we knew about them. I think Dexterity will be the hardest, since we typically don’t hear about how nimble or agile our presidential figures have been. But I’ll do my best.

Why am I doing this? I suppose because it’s fun. And once we have a few, maybe I’ll match up a couple in a competition and role-play out a victor. I’d love nothing more than to orchestrate a scenario where John Quincy Adams completely embarrasses W. in a battle of wits or Taft squashes Martin Van Buren under his thunderous derrière.

So I think I’ll start with my most-favoritest President, the great and loveable Theodore Roosevelt:

TeddyLaughSTRENGTH: 17 – Known for his physical exploits, Teddy may be the brawniest of our past leaders. Though far from herculean, he is surely deserving of a near-the-top ranking. Read the rest of this entry »

As I have said before, I really love Christmas. Unlike so many Americans, however, it isn’t the gifts or food that warm my heart; nor is it the religious origin of the Christmas holiday, the birth of Jesus and the mythology that now surrounds it. Sacrilegious, I know, but over the last couple of centuries the culture of Christmas has evolved to carry a message entirely its own.

In my heart and mind, I have come to appreciate my own definition of “the true meaning of Christmas,” a meaning with which I am certain you are already familiar. I casually refer to this as “the Scrooge lesson,” or the “Dickensian Christmas Spirit.”

I love “A Christmas Carol.” It has such great characters, images, and lessons to appreciate and it never, ever gets old. And what I consistently take away from it are the very themes that a sorrowful Jacob Marley desperately urges his old partner Ebenezer to embrace: the common welfare, charity, mercy, kindness, forbearance, and benevolence. I also receive the lesson in Scrooge choosing to dine with the friends of his nephew Fred—sharing warmth in the company of others to thankfully appreciate the blessings of fine food, drink, and camaraderie.

Perhaps most importantly, and more subtle, is the general theme of A Christmas Carol that, in addition to charity and revelry, Christmas should also be a time of self-reflection, a time to ponder our lives and how we choose to live them. In Scrooge’s own vein, Read the rest of this entry »

Recently, I talked with a friend about behaving responsibly.

As the years have piled on, I continue to focus on responsible behavior. I readily see the link between making “poor” choices (perhaps “immediate” is better) and the extension of those choices delaying, prohibiting, or outright negating the possibility of me attaining certain goals: health, financial independence, physical fitness, harmony with nature, and so on.

Each year, each month, each day, I consider and eventually enact changes in my behaviors that propel me towards these simple-yet-lofty goals. After all, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world,” and I’ll even add, “in yourself.”

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You see I really love cookies. I mean, LOVE them. To emphasize, my first word in this life was “cookie.” Previously, my personal performance of the bedtime routine opened with a few (sometimes more) cookies and a glass of milk, followed by a fervent tooth brushing and the inevitable slumber. I firmly believe that warm cookies and cold milk are good for the soul. So much pleasure and joy is contained within those crude little discs of love, how can they not be?

But recognizing their empty-caloric nature and my languishing metabolism as I age, I’ve been actively suppressing my desires, breaking with my evening custom, and oft replacing my beloved baked goods with less-than-sufficient celery and peanut butter, or worse, nothing. Read the rest of this entry »

It seems either I have the wrong skill set, or I was born in the wrong time.

I’m a writer. I like writing. I think I’m pretty good at it. It’s what I create; it’s what I am proud of; it’s what I have to give to the world.

Unfortunately, it seems that visual representations are becoming more and more central to the art of communication, if not its very foundation. If a picture was once worth a thousand words, its value has no doubt appreciated of late.

To be totally honest, I’m a visual appreciator myself. I love motion pictures and spend a small but dedicated amount of my time enjoying them. Great photographs catch my eye easily. I admire visual art and am often awed by the talent and ability that such creations require. Talent and ability, mind you, which I neither possess nor desire. Believe me, I know. I’ve tried.

Even in technical writing I recognize the value and importance of visual aids. I use them as much as possible (for me), especially when words just can’t accurately describe a particular procedure. But it is a challenge and without the help of gifted manipulators of SolidWorks, I’d be lost.

No, for me, what talents I possess lie either in public performance (acting, comedy, or improv) or in the manipulation of grammatical criteria to convey thoughts, concepts, and emotions (also known as writing). Whether I’m very good at it I’ll leave to your preference. Nonetheless, it’s what I do. Read the rest of this entry »

Stunning admission: I’m not on Facebook and never was.

Mostly, I just don’t have a lot of time for it. I also don’t have a lot of interest in broadcasting random bits about myself, even if it is just to friends.

On the up side, by staying away from Facebook (and Twitter) I have a lot more time to do the things I want to do. As captivating as it may be to survey the latest pics, postings, and posits from 4200 of my “closest friends,” I have a lot I want to accomplish in life and limited time to do it in.

I also have the benefit of getting more honest-to-God personal contact with my friends than those who tweet or FB. Granted it takes more planning and time to stay connected, be it through phone calls, emails, or (God forbid!) visits, but the benefits of actual personal communication is shown in the strength of the friendships that have endured.

On the down side, the number of those friendships has been and is dwindling, and I attribute no small part of the blame to Facebook.

Yes, I fully realize the irony of a blog post that demonizes social media. Hear me out. Read the rest of this entry »

Despite all the hubbub—all the protests, tea parties, and lies about death panels—it seems that the media, the government, and practically the whole damn populace continues to miss, well, everything about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and what it means for health care in the United States.

They miss what it does, what it doesn’t do, what it’s called (Obamacare? Really?), how it came into being, what the truly good parts are, what the truly bad parts are, and how this legislation walks the fine line between two more extreme options: the current system, which condones an unchecked health insurance industry that can discriminate against anyone at any time by denying coverage, leaves 50 million people uninsured, and sticks the rest of us with the bill, or Universal Health Coverage for all (also known as single-payer, government health coverage, or socialized health insurance).

Let me first disclose that I am not a fan of PPACA as a whole. And while it puts an end to some of the worst practices of the health insurance industry, which is good, it also rewards that same industry with a slew of new customers. That’s bad.

Before I dive into this quagmire, Read the rest of this entry »

Note: Though I typically focus on public policy, this post is about politics, which is not the same thing and I try to avoid. However, in light of the election year, there is a valid point that I feel I must make on the principles of rational argument. I hope you will indulge me. 

Back in January 2001, I didn’t have any real problem with the Bush administration.

I mean, I didn’t like him, of course. After all, it was painful to hear him speak, so obtuse and inarticulate. I found it embarrassing to be represented on the world stage by such a tactless and ignorant buffoon. And I couldn’t believe that Americans could be so base as to (almost) elect the far-less-intelligent son of a one-term president whom we had booted out of office not 8 years prior. But all of that is actually just personal and cosmetic. When it came to policy, upon entering office, I was prepared to give President Bush a chance. After all, he had promised to be, in everyone’s understanding, a compassionate conservative, vowing on the campaign trail to focus on a strong military, education, cutting taxes, and aiding minorities. Didn’t sound so bad.

For 10 months, I just sat back and let it happen, and nothing really terrible came up. In fact, aside from a $200 advance on my next tax return (which I had to pay for later), I barely even noticed a change in “leadership.”

But in September, as you know, the proverbial feces impacted the oscillator and the bent of the administration shifted drastically. In the face of a national tragedy, an executive power grab ensued. As a nation and a culture, we’d been cold-cocked. And while we were still reeling from the cheap shot, the administration was Read the rest of this entry »

Congratulations, President Obama, you finally found your Presidential voice! Such a shame that it came so late.

It was a great speech-probably your best SOTU-employing powerful, statesmanlike language and stroking progressive ideals to the brink of political orgasm. Yes, it was a terrific speech; and it should be because the way things are looking, it’s likely to be your last.

This year, it’s easy to throw out a bunch of great ideas and bold initiatives, backed with powerful rhetoric; you’re talking to a congress that has already vowed to do nothing. But beyond the applause and standing O’s, past the bright Source4 spotlights and television cameras, there are legions of lamenting liberals, a plethora of pissed-off progressives, and an assload of angry Americans who are having trouble pairing the leadership in your language with the awkwardness of your administration.

For three years you’ve portrayed yourself as stumbling buffoons, unsure of your agenda. Your message has been fragmented and murky. Your communications have been guarded and timid. Your domestic policy wandering and perfunctory. We have come to expect very little from you in terms of actual leadership, and it shows in how easily Republicans have been able to effectively frame every – single – issue, successfully derailing your game plan before you’ve even left the huddle. Read the rest of this entry »

Yesterday, the Montana Supreme Court upheld a century-old law banning corporate spending in state and local political campaigns, thereby ignoring the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling from almost two years ago.

This is a remarkable ruling by the Montana High Court (a 5-2 decision in a conservative state, no less), and it lends credence to the arguments against Citizens United that have been made by the majority of Americans, legal scholars, and many members of both parties for the last year.

It will likely be overturned, of course. If the plaintiffs appeal, the US Supreme Court naturally will simply rescind this ruling, likely with another 5-4 majority decision. But for the first time, a notable panel of jurists has openly written in a majority opinion that the US Supreme Court’s ruling last year was, in essence, a steaming pile of feces artfully molded to appear as though it stood on legal grounds.

The Montana Court’s decision is useful and important, but not really a surprise to us, right? I mean we, the uneducated masses and wanna-be lawyers of the nation who love to wax legal on the weekends, have been calling “Bullshit” on Citizens United for two years! Read the rest of this entry »

I love Christmas for all the right reasons.

Despite all of its faults, its overwhelmingly misguided practice, and it being the single most successful marketing scam in the history of mankind, it’s still a great idea.

No, I don’t mean Santa Claus (fun though he may be), nor presents wrapped in yards upon yards of paper made solely for ripping up and throwing away, nor chopping down trees to put them in our living rooms for a month and then toss out with the garbage (maybe we should wrap them up in used wrapping paper!), nor wasting hundreds of thousands of kilowatt-hours of electricity to power tiny, twinkly lights; the number of which is meant to serve as a proportional indicator of one’s enthusiasm for the season.

The idea I am talking about is what I, and others, refer to as “the Christmas Spirit” – the idea that Christmas can serve as an annual reminder to be a little more generous, more courteous, more merciful, even nicer. A time to look at those with less and feel some empathy, hopefully enough to actually reach out and help them. A time to look at those with trials greater than our own, whether it be in health, or happiness, or love, and extend our own good fortune to them. This is the time of year for us to give pause, count our blessings, and share them with others, especially strangers and those in need. Read the rest of this entry »

Ever since my youth, when I began to define my moral, ethical, and political philosophies, there has been an aspect of conservatism that I’ve never understood and have yet to hear a reasonable, rational explanation in its defense. It is, in essence, a fallacy and a blatant refusal to accept the reality of life.

The aspect of conservatism to which I am referring is the notion of adhering to tradition, of keeping things back, of holding on to “the way things were.”

**NEWSFLASH** – There is but one constant throughout history, and that is Change.

I cannot think of a single incidence in history where any attempt, by any entity, at holding firmly to a traditional practice, belief, or ideology succeeded in keeping change at bay forever. It may take longer, it may be more difficult or even violent in process, but in the end change always occurs, whether those in power like it or not. Read the rest of this entry »

As the Republican 2012 lineup jockeys for position, a familiar and all-too-misleading premise continues to be tossed around – that the United States Government should be run like a corporation.

I categorically reject this notion. It is dangerous and offensive to our citizenry and the American way of life. Let me explain why.

First of all, corporations are solidly and solely executive-based organizations. The policies of a corporation are not created by a legislature. They are handed down as edicts from the executive branch: Presidents, VPs, executive officers. Little to no input is taken from the majority of Read the rest of this entry »

Ten years ago this month I was going through a rough patch. By “rough patch” what I mean is emotional stress. Alienation. Feelings of hopelessness and despair. I treaded dangerously close to what some might call a “nervous breakdown.”

9/11 had just happened; the country was still reeling from a fast and furious attack. Vengeance, hatred, and fear were becoming the recurring thoughts on talk radio, in op-ed columns, from Washington, and in everyday conversation. Sikhs were being attacked on the street by ignorant Americans (this trend has continued 10 years later). Racial profiling of Arabs and religious profiling of Muslims suddenly seemed not just acceptable, but was being demanded.

The United States had just started bombing the hell out of Afghanistan, a remarkably poor country that had been consistently war-torn for over 20 years. The first echoes of the eventual invasion of Iraq (TOTALLY unrelated to 9/11) were rolling out of a power-drunk administration. The country’s thirst for blood was conquering all logic, reason, and restraint.

Even people’s attitudes were angry, and fearful, and vengeful. I found I couldn’t relate to or talk with anyone. Old friends, with whom I had long been in line in terms of policy, I now found myself at polar opposites with. Newer relationships, already tenuous, seemed in danger of fracturing at even the slightest mention of current events. My older brother was talking about dropping out of his lucrative and long-studied-for career to instead enter the military.

We (the country) had been cold-cocked. We were dazed, confused, stumbling, and looking anywhere for someone to hit back.

Up was down. Black was white. Nothing was comfortable, no one was familiar and, in short, I couldn’t find anything to believe in. One day at work, while trying to pen a response to a racist and upsetting email from an old friend, I suddenly broke down in tears. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t type, I couldn’t think. My coworkers were very understanding. They listened, but it didn’t make me feel any better.

Ten years later, I find myself in a similar spot. And it hasn’t been an easy ten years either. Read the rest of this entry »

I have a lot of very smart friends. I don’t just mean educated, or witty, or well-read either. I mean they speak well, think critically, make good choices, can challenge themselves, are curious and self-motivated…I’m talking all-around S-M-A-R-T.

I’m not bragging either; I mean, who brags about how smart their friends are? As if that is some sort of accomplishment. That’s just dumb. No, this isn’t bragging; it’s actually a confession.

Yes, compared to my friends I am, in fact, an idiot. And that’s how I want it.

I choose to surround myself with smart people. Always have. No, not so I could feel important or copy their homework (even though it was occasionally relieving to have that option). I do it because A) it keeps me humble, B) it introduces me to new ideas, and C) it challenges me.

The anti-intellectualism that seems to be gripping a large swath of our society, propelled by mainstream media, conservative ideologues, and a growing un- and under-educated populace, is more than disturbing. It is downright offensive. As though dismissing – nay – refusing to even be exposed to facts and educated opinions, is somehow going to improve things. As though ignoring or attacking intelligent people, especially those that challenge or contradict what you believe, will magically make the truth disappear.

Face it, if you only hang out with dweebs, losers, and jerk-offs, what are you really doing to yourself? Congratulations! You’ve now crowned yourself King of the Crackpots, Despot of the Doomed, Monarch of the Mediocre. No doubt your reign will be lackluster and depreciating.

But when you are beset on all sides by minds and personalities who know more, think better, and have different experiences than you it does your psyche a world of good. It makes you think before you speak, because if what you say is weak, they’ll call you on it. It makes you listen more, because whether you admit it or not, while they speak you know that they are imparting knowledge to which you have not been exposed. If it’s a good in-depth conversation, it can propel you and sustain you on a train of thought long after you’ve parted ways. It can drive you to extend yourself, seeking information about topics you had no idea about, opinions you’ve never considered, facts you’ve never been exposed to. All with hopeful spirit (futile though it may be) that the next time the two of you converse, you’ll at least be able to speak intelligently about that topic, and perhaps something more.

Surround yourself with smart people, especially ones that challenge you, that think differently than you, that can (and will) disagree with you. Immerse yourself in a sea of  intimidating IQs, exceptional egos, and admirable acumen. Grow yourself through the minds and experiences of others you respect. Get yourself a smart blanket and wrap up tight! You’ll be better off for it. We all will.

I like to talk about public policy. I like examining an issue from multiple angles. I like reading the results of other’s research and seeing what sort of solutions and ideas stem from it. I like considering the numerous viewpoints on any issue, as well as people’s informed personal opinions. After all, that is what good policy is based on: research, data, reason, truth, weighing outcomes, compromise, dialog, all tempered and driven by an intent to produce a sound policy that will benefit the largest group of people over the longest term.

Unfortunately, most of the time, when I try to get a policy discussion going with a given group of people, the response I get from someone (or all of them) is, “Do you really want to talk about politics?”

***NEWSFLASH: Policy is not politics.***

Public policy involves a search for truth, the common good, sound research, careful examination, and yes, action by our government.

Politics, on the other hand, pretty much stands in the way of all of that.

I’m not sure when these two very different nouns became so closely enjoined in people’s minds, but it seems you can’t simply have a discussion about the right thing to do to address an issue of the people’s interest without somebody either clinging to a political ideology, blindly defending a political party’s standpoint, or pointing fingers at a presumed political adversary.

Politics is everything that seems to inhibit, hinder, deflect, regress, repeal, water down, suppress, or detract attention from sound public policy. Read the rest of this entry »

Many people are full of shit. To define the colloquialism I’ll restate in more literary terms: they talk out of their ass. They make stuff up, state it emphatically, and expect you to believe it. And if it’s done well enough, it works. After all, that’s how wives tales, urban legends, and cultural myths get started.

This is even true with people who are typically honest, forthright, and trustworthy, which is what makes it all the more difficult to detect. Close friends, whom I know and trust, have used this very tactic in the heat of a discussion and I have acquiesced in the face of their sureness and confidence. Then later I do a little research and find out…it was their ass talking. And that’s fine, because in the end it didn’t really matter what the two of us were arguing about anyway. Nonetheless, I love…LOVE…that instead of having to go to the library, and pore over periodicals and reference materials in hopes of finding something to disprove the BS, I can sit down at my computer, in my PJs if I want, and do the same-if not more-research on any issue and detect the BS from the comfort of my own home, and in less time!

It’s even better when discussions like the one mentioned above happen within range of an internet-connected device! There they are, spewing fecal rhetoric with no regard for the fact that their own shame is only a couple of feet and a few short keystrokes away. It’s like they are daring you to reach over and prove them wrong, only they already know that you will. I’ve seen their faces droop the second I open a web browser. They shuffle their feet, they backtrack and say things like, “That’s what I heard,” or “I think that’s right,” or “so-and-so told me” to shift the blame. Really? You know, 10 seconds ago you wanted to bet $1000 on it, hoping I would yield, and now you “might be wrong?”

Mind you, this isn’t about proving someone wrong. It’s about holding someone accountable for their actions. If they heard it elsewhere, did they verify it before they repeated it? If they’re willing to get all huffy about something they only heard from someone else, why don’t they do a little research first to make sure it’s worth all of the vim and vigor? Read the rest of this entry »

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