Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving Reminders

They were huddled on the shoulder of the highway.
A man and a woman, next to their pick up truck, parked on the southbound side. The wind was blowing stiffly out of the south, and slate colored clouds were scutting across the November sky. 
It was Thanksgiving morning.

The truck was a dull, dark green; not old, but no longer new.
The man was wearing a fresh pair of jeans, dark blue still, cinched against his slender frame by a shiny brown dress belt with scuffed cowboy boots, dusted to a faint shine. A plaid shirt was tucked in. He was dressed up, head bowed, hands clasped behind his back, on the side of the highway.

The woman was dressed in pink, and she was sitting on the ground, elbows on knees, face held in her hands, as if in prayer. That's when I noticed the cross.
That's what had drawn them to this particular spot, on this particular road, on this particular Thanksgiving morning.

A fresh mylar balloon danced in the breeze, and two vases of freshly cut flowers stood sentinel next to the wooden cross. The top and side bars of the cross were capped with a metal, five-point star inside the squared ends on the cross pieces.

A brass name plate noted the pertinent facts: "In Loving Memory of Samuel David Garza, Jr., 12-02-1973 to 3-21-2009. We love you. Dad, Mom & Jeremy." 
Only 36-years old. 
Not a kid, but a father with kids, and a sibling, and parents cursed by having to bury a child before his time.

In Texas, roadside crosses are legal, and apparently encouraged by the State as permanent behavioral reinforcements against traffic fatalities. For $300, the State of Texas will even erect a roadside memorial sign with the name of a lost loved one, as a reminder to drive safely.

For me on a blustery Thanksgiving morning, this scene was the only reminder anyone should need: A family still grieving over the loss of a son, father, brother, and friend. The image has haunted me all weekend. My foot involuntarily eased off the gas pedal as I whizzed past the melancholy moment, headed towards my own family reunion. 
The tacit warning worked.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Movie Review: "Love and Other Drugs"

If you're still thinking about Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal's performances four hours after you've seen this film, call your doctor. Or your Congressman. "Love and Other Drugs" is a much more complex movie than just the first chick-flick of the holiday season.
Is this the “Love Story” of the New Millenium? Jake and Anne might or might not be the  Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neil for this generation, but the movie hits some pretty poignant nerve-endings, given the recent controversy over healthcare reform. 
This film also takes some hard shots at the prescription drug industry, painting an unflattering picture of the excesses of the 90’s and the lifestyles of the drug reps.  The most poignant moments are Anne Hathaway’s depictions of a Parkinson’s patient...and the lengths to which Jake Gyllenhaal's character will go to prove his commitment. 
Perhaps the take away on this film is just that: What Commitment Means...and how some love stories do--and don’t--have happy endings. Come to think of it, I like this version of Love Story better than the McGraw-O’Neil pairing.
This one’s not Family-friendly--it’s R for nudity, language,, debauchery.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Movie Review: "Burlesque"

Dancing with the Stars meets Sing-off…

Your first impression of "Burlesque" may be that you've walked into a two-hour Christina Aguilera music video, and in the words of Abe Lincoln, "this is the sort of thing you’ll like, if you like this sort of thing.” If you like Aguilera, you’re going to be in heaven. “Burlesque” showcases the 29-year old's vocal and thespian abilities...and the girl’s got chops.

Think “Chicago” meets “Showgirls,” with more musicality and less skin. While the film might have been using Cher’s star power (does it really need to??) to sell tickets, it would tend to validate Aguilera as an equal in vocal power. 

Dueling Diva's? 
Perhaps, but if there is a Number One Hit to come out of this film, the prize goes to Cher for her “Yeah, I may be 64, but I can still belt out a tune” anthem: “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me…”  I predict this one will be in hot rotation as early as Christmas...or when the corporate Radio stations finish their Christmas-only playlists, ad nauseum. 

There are some clever twists and turns to the story line, and an interesting resolution to this treatment of the age-old story: "Let’s put on a show.” But how will we save the show house? You won’t believe the irony to solution to the problem in "Burlesque." 

If it were up to me, I’d have cut the budget for props and stage craft—which would have kept the Burlesque Caberet from going into the red in the first place. But they didn't ask me.

Stanley Tucci nearly steals the show with his understated role, and there's a memorable scene with Aguilera and love-interest, Jack, played by Cam Gigandet, involving pajamas and a box of cookies which is wittily written and more than aptly acted.

"Burlesque" is rated PG-13 for adult situations and flashes of skin…but no more than you’d see at a high school football game or on the Texans sidelines. Go for the music...especially if the Texans continue their winning ways. (Did I say that out loud...?)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Why I am Not a Sports Fan

To what ring of Dante’s Hell have the Houston Texans taken us?
Yesterday was the last Sunday afternoon I give up my nap to watch these losers...well, lose.

Last weekend it was a fluke flap straight out of a volleyball handbook that flipped the game in favor of the other team, literally with seconds left in the game.

Yesterday once again, the Texans managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of success by blowing a 4-point lead over the Jets in less than a New York minute.

The only squad on the Texans roster with a perfect season at this point is the Texans Cheerleaders. They weren’t even at the game yesterday. 

Maybe they should have been, and left the boys at home in Houston.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Harry Potter Pilfered?

The Wall Street Journal reports this morning 36 minutes of the new Harry Potter movie have been leaked online, causing an investigation by Warner Brothers. Both of them. 

According to the story, "the watermarked footage was available for download on the BitTorrent file-sharing sites and as late as Wednesday, despite Warner Brothers’ attempts to have the illegal downloads removed."

Arguably, Harry Potter is among the most successful film franchises in history, but there are those within the business who worry audiences won’t turn out for the final film's first installment after seeing the early minutes of the film. The WSJ article takes pains to note the film footage was not stolen from the premieres in London and New York.

That’s good, because as much as I like going to the movies...and as much as I appreciate the privilege of getting to see first-run films first, sometimes before anyone else...the process of getting into a theatre for a screening has almost become as onerous as getting on a commercial aircraft.

One theatre in particular in my town is especially aggressive about screening entrants to its screenings, going so far as to inspect women’s purses and running magnetic wands all over your body.

Inside the theatre, as with most businesses, you’d think the proprietors of these movie emporiums would want to lavish you with hospitality and warm feelings of welcome. Ha! Stern-faced “security” goons troll the aisles, looking for a tell-tale flash of LCD-blue in the semi-darkness, betraying the use of a (gasp) smart phone inside the theatre before the movie begins. And just before the film rolls, one of the more authoritarian phone-Nazis intones a final announcement that if they see your phone light up during the show, they’ll escort you from the theatre, “never to return.” Does that mean you’re off to the anti-piracy gulag, or just on the street until your date finishes watching the movie.

Let’s think about this. Most Cinemaphiles are extremely critical of the quality of the presentation--we have come to expect precise, digital sound and digital images that are more crisp and vivid than ever before. Plus, as influential members of the Media, some of us can see a movie nearly anytime we want--most times for free--and generally before anyone else. Who in their right mind would jeopardise that gravy-train by attempting to capture on a smartphone a video of a movie for reposting to And if we did, why would anyone want to watch a copy of such poor quality?

Dude, wait a week and you can catch a matinee in a theatre nearly all to yourself, and within 6-months, you can own a virgin, Blue Ray copy of any film, complete with bonus tracks about the special effects, making of the movie, and directors’ comments--usually for less than the price of your tab at the concession counter (that’s a subject for a whole other rant!)

So, for the same reasons you must now shed your shoes and belts, and subject yourself to invasive searches and patdowns because some fool tried to light up his sneakers or pack his pants with some fool’s attempt to hijack Harry Potter’s next movie will likely make your next visit to the theatre slightly less (or more) titillating than the title you’re there to see!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Gnawing Through the Straps

"Sometimes, it's just not worth the effort to gnaw through the leather straps."
--Emo Phillips

I’m driving in early this morning, listening to NPR, and I gotta tell you, it’s tough to get motivated some mornings. My son, the Sports Anchor, tweeted to me last night, he’s so over reporting on mediocrity. Can’t blame him, after Sunday’s botched game-ender by the Texans, and last night’s heartbreaker between the Rockets and the Bulls. It’s enough to turn you off of sports and drive you to a business talk station...which is probably why you listen to me now.
We all want to make sense of things.
We’re all working harder than we ever have, bringing home less than we need, and at the end of the day we stare across the dinner table at each other and wonder, what’s it all for?
You want examples?
Another Ways and Means Committee Chairman has been found guilty of ethics violations. Same song, sequential verse; the only difference is that this time it’s a Democrat; last time it was a Republican. Some things never change.
I scan the morning headlines, and I want to scream.
Some jerk towing company on Galveston Island ripped off a trucker’s trailer with a bull dozer on it, charged the driver $15,000 for the towing charge after four days of haggling, caused the shipper to miss the boat, literally, so now the trucker doesn’t get paid the $30,000 feight fee. What a mess. 
Where’s the common sense?
Who charges $15,000 to tow a parked trailer with a ‘dozer on it?
I’m working with our HOA management company and they think that our neighborhood is just going to roll over and pay a higher fee next year because things are going up. Really? 
When I question policies and contracts, I get the cold shoulder from the management company. I found an insurance policy for nearly half the cost of the existing one--which was jacked up because someone sold the previous HOA Board a Terrorist Policy three years ago, for which the agent received a handsome commission. Let's think about this: Terrorist Insurance for a neighborhood association? 
Meanwhile, We in Texas, pay the highest homeowners insurance premiums in the country. Why is that? It’s because the fox is in the hen house up at the state legislature, and you’ve got the Insurance industry calling the shots on the rest of us. 
Why can’t we fix that? 
When do you get fed up, or mad enough, or broke enough, to tell your legislator to make it right??
I’m still torqued over this stupid, insipid, ridiculous--and I believe illegal--Transportation Safety Administration policy of groping passengers before they’ll let you on an airliner.
This morning I learn that, with unemployment flirting with with 10%, there is an undeniable bias against unemployed job applicants by hiring managers...because the applicants are unemployed. 
Well, duh.
So, yeah, I'm a little irritated, to start of the day.
"Target" the Rescue Dog Euthanized
But the capper for me today is the story of “Target,” a rescue dog that saved the lives of American soldiers in Afghanistan, survived being shot by the Taliban, was brought to the US by his handlers, appeared on Oprah, and was living in Arizona... Target the Rescue Dog was euthanized over the weekend because of a freaking clerical error, and an owner who was either too stupid or too lazy to put a tag on the dog’s collar, or get a chip implanted.
I have a friend who's a plucky reporter on a local TV station, who has an adorable pooch the entire community loves. The dog decided to tour the neighborhood last week while the intrepid reporter was out of town...which caused untold pannick and angst, and generated a storm of Tweets, e-mails, and Facebook posts to rally a search party. 
Happily, the prodigal pooch was found and returned, and they’re all living happliy ever after...but I was shocked to find that my friend hadn’t had a chip implanted in her dog. Yet.
She said, "the dog's always with me." 
Uh-huh. Except when it's not.
There some things that are just beyond our control.
Sophie, Our Family Mascot, w/chip.
You and I cannot legislate morality, nor can we effectively protect ourselves from the stupidity of those around us; but we can sure prevent many of the problems that would cause us to question whether we should just leave the leather straps in place, by taking pre-emptive steps. 
Like microchiping our pets. Or using tags. 
Even the US government knows enough to put dog tags on people. For Target the Rescue Dog, there’s no second chance. 
Is there for your family mascot?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Junk that's Worth Touching On

There is a troubling dichotomy running rampant in our nation. While this is a national problem, it touches each of us locally--and in some ways, very personally.
Just a couple of weeks ago, you and most of our neighbors in Houston voted to turn off one of the more public examples of government intrusion into our lives. Passage of the proposition to kill 70 red-light cameras is cause for limited rejoicing, because it now leaves open the question of how to properly--and effectively--enforce traffic laws at intersections where drivers insist on running the lights.
It also leaves the Houston Police Department with an instant budget deficit of $10-million in a year in which tax revenues for local, county and state agencies are already thinly stretched. You can be sure that “fees” in other areas of public service will be “enhanced” to make up the difference. 
The sum total of what it takes to run municipalities is what it is. And much like your own household budget, choices will be made on where to cut, what to drop, to balance reduced income with adjusted outgo.
At the same time, there is a hue and cry being raised louder and louder against those of you who insist upon operating your smart phone while you drive your car. I see it every day, coming and going, at 4:30am and 4:30pm, incredibly inattentive drivers on all sides of me, focused more on a touch screen telephone instead of the road ahead. 
It scares the crap out of me. 
I’ve been nearly creamed many, many times by drivers who are oblivious to me and others on the road, while they text, tap, or read their phones while they drive. (I still also see idiots reading the newspaper or books in traffic, driving at speed, with the pages propped on the wheel in front of them.) I was going to snap a picture of these morons with my own smart phone, until...
Frankly, I think that in this instance, with overwhelming statistics showing the incidence of distracted driving in fatal or horrifically damaging traffic accidents, it’s time for the government to step in and say “enough is enough.”
I support a ban for texting while driving.
Now--here’s where the real dichotomy is apparent: We the people are now being subjected to what I would charitably describe as government heavy-handedness towards our own citizenry at airports around the country...while our southern borders leak like a sieve. I just viewed a video recorded on Friday in an airport terminal in which a caucasian male was pulled aside for refusing to submit to a full-body scan, and commenting to the TSA worker that if the man “touched his junk” he’d have him arrested.
Earlier this week New Jersey lawmakers demanded that Congress review the TransportationSecurity Administration's new "enhanced" security screening of airline passengers involving either an X-ray scan, revealing a virtually nude image, or a full-body pat-down that touches private parts.
Even a former top TSA official has admitted to Fox News what many passengers already knew: The procedures are legally questionable.
Mo McGowan is the former fed head of TSA security operations, and is flummoxed to find a compromise between feretting out terrorists without unneccessarily pawing passengers. McGowan told FOX, "We're not dictating these events that are occurring. Events are happening across the world … driving us as a society to have to go to these measures."
So does this mean that the terrorists have won? Have people who wish to do us harm pushed our buttons to the point that they’ve effectively disrupted our way of life to that which is unrecognizable?
Meanwhile, illegals continue to pour across our southern borders. And there does not appear to be anything the Federal government is willing--or able--to do about it.
Part of the problem is the vastness of the border itself, stretching from Brownsville to San Diego. Which in someways mirrors the problem federal transportation safety wonks are facing--it’s vast: how to effectively find the needle in the haystack, or bomb in the luggage, or shank in the pocket, of people who’d like to go to glory at the expense of a downed airliner.
History has proven that you cannot do much to deter a determined enemy. You can prepare, you can plan, you can try to protect against. 
But at some point you have to ask the question of what civil liberties are worth giving up...and if you give up enough, have you already lost the war?