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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Random Act Of Kindness Fail

People have been talking about doing random acts of kindness, so, I decided to lend myself to that cause. Unfortunately, it always ends in disaster.

Last Friday, while the events of Sandy Hook unfolded, I was out and about doing some shopping. I came across an old man in the Market District parking lot. He had just drove one of the motorized grocery carts to his car and I offered to take it back for him. He explained that I had to be seated and to pull the handle to get it to go.

So, begrudgingly, I sat down and made my way. I say begrudgingly because from the moment I sat down, I felt like a stereotype. “Oh, look, it’s a fat man on a motorized scooter. Such a shame.” Not to mention, the damn cart only went like half a mile an hour. As I pulled into the road and began crossing to the front of the store, people were passing me, walking slowly… I could feel the eyes of drivers stopped at the crossing, looking at my ridiculousness.

I decided this was silly and got up, attempting to roll the scooter to its destination under man power. Of course, the first instruction given to me by this man, who was probably now laughing all the way home at how bad he trolled me, became forgotten. You have to be seated for it to move.

Crap. Now I’m wasting everybody’s time. So, I sat back down and tried to get the cart going. I went backwards. Then, I quickly corrected and putted along, head down, hand raised in the “My Bad” position.

The world is against me, I swear it.

Monday, December 17, 2012

2012 D-Bag Awards: Abridged

I was going to post an entry for the D-Bag awards sometime this week. Things have changed, though.

I had already compiled a list of all the nominations including entries from Sports (The Pirates, The NFL, The NHL, and Lance Armstrong), to celebrities like Chris Brown or Donald Trump.

Businesses featured prominently due to the cutting back of workers and benefits after the upholding of the ACA and/or gay marriage issues.

Politics was huge among the entries, and it was hard to keep them to four. There were so many d-bags eligible.  Everyone, from the Rape Republicans to the constant lying and misinformation during the campaigns, made it hard to choose a clear winner in that category.  The fiscal cliff issue alone should have been the winner just on principal.

The Hollywood or Entertainment bracket was going to be great thanks to NBC’s colossal fail at the Olympics or the release of Honey Boo Boo on TLC.  The vast amount of remakes and childhood mining for material in Hollywood added a tough competitor to the mix.

Lastly, the category with the most impact this year started to unfold. The Life category had the Christmas Creep, a new nominee competing against the likes of The Mayans and Mother Nature, because of the whole apocalypse and Hurricane Sandy business.   But when I started listing all of the names of people who died this year for the stats of Death, a perennial contender, I found that it was clear where I needed to lay the award.

It wasn’t bad enough that a lot of great and influential people died this year. Yes, there were a lot of celebrity deaths, which is normal because THEY get reported more than anyone else, but we also had the attack in Benghazi as well as the Colorado, Oregon, and now Connecticut shootings. Prior to last Friday, it was somewhat of a tossup as to who would be taking home the title. I was going to say the Mayans and post the results on 12/22. What? Did you honestly think this was some kind of scientific or statistically measured tournament? Sorry. I’m just a guy with an Internet connection and a lot of voices in his head.

So, as I was saying, when I started listing out all of the names of people who had died and were listed on the news, I left it open, because there was still time on the clock. Then, the Newtown shooting happened.

As a 20 something, Columbine was hard because I was only a few years removed from that environment. Virginia Tech was even harder because it was closer to my age. However, since I am a father of a five year old girl, who is just about the age of most of the victims, I reeled when I found out. I caught the early reports on the radio, as I was rushing around getting things done on my day off, Friday.  Immediately, my heart sank.  I was going to meet up with some coworkers to see The Hobbit and would probably not be home in time to kiss my little girl goodnight. I texted my wife to tell her to give her an extra hug and kiss as I was near tears most of the day.  Then, I got a call from them and got to speak to her. She was so earnest in her little voice explaining what had happened.

After the movie, I got another call because she was going to bed and I wanted to say goodnight to her. Her sleepy little voice reminded me how much I love being her Daddy.  For all the bad times, the tantrums, the repeated requests to watch the same four episodes of Wild Kratts OnDemand, the intelligence and sweetness she brings into grown up conversations just melts my heart.

And realizing that she had to go to school today, in a different world, again, made me realize that there was no more need for discussion.

Therefore, I give you this year’s D-Bag of the Year Award winner, Death himself.  He recaptures the title after winning it the first year. Well played, douchebag. The amount of lives lost this year in senseless fashion just bolster my decision.

Now, some may wonder why I just don’t give it to the guy who did the shooting. Well, that’s because I don’t feel we need to give this sorry excuse for a human anymore recognition than he deserves, which is none.

If I could give away an opposite award for the best example of a human being in this world, I would give it to the teachers and principal at Sandy Hook. They were heroes. None of them with any kind of training or weapons. They protected those children and gave their lives to stop more from dying. They deserve a medal. Yet, all we’ll do is debate mental health and gun control until their sacrifice is nothing more than a Facebook photo of a candle.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sandy Hook Tragedy

It's hard to find any good in this tragedy.  Some will use it to stir the debate over gun control.  Some will focus on mental health.  Some will debate the media's role in all of this.  Facebook will be awash in the shared statements of those saying, "hands off my guns" or "If more people had guns then less shootings would happen".   Some will be bandying about carefully worded statements that admonish the need for owning multiple firearms, ones that shoot bullets in succession, over and over.  All choose to ignore what needs to be said in the face of this tragedy.

I choose to focus on how a few brave souls made the ultimate sacrifice to protect the innocent lives of children.  Some stood between the gunman and the children.  Some attempted to overtake him, unarmed.

What little good in all this is that there were more selfless souls than dark ones.  They outnumbered him.  Their bravery will, and should, overshadow the heinousness of what was done.   28 people died, but many, many more were saved by their actions. 

They did it without firearms or military training.  They did it without being asked.  They did it with no protection or guarantee of personal safety. 

They will be remembered for being heroes, saviors, protectors, and teachers.  They should be remembered, not the one who took their lives.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Breaking Bond: Part Two of the Skyfall Review

Continuing the review of Skyfall by discussing the evolution of Bond Baddies over the years. Spoilers ahead.

Bond villains are of a special breed. Most have some physical deformity, ranging from the slight to the ridiculous. Most are geniuses in their own right. All are certifiably wacko. Over the last 50 years the blueprint for a Bond villain has primarily stayed the same; crazy, smart, well funded, singled minded, and short sighted. However, the latest seems to have done a lot of homework on his predecessors and then built a better mouse.

It always made me laugh how inept the Bond villains were. First of all, you knew from the opening gun barrel that James Bond would always return. The villain would never win. Even in the case of Casino Royale, Bond catches up to Mr. White… who is immediately dispatched in the beginning of the next film. But, in every film, once Bond gets his orders, he usually encounters the big bad by the end of the first act.

He meets Bond, explains pleasantries and then immediately tries to kill him with an elaborate, yet easily escapable situation. There’s a reason Austin Powers called that out. It’s true. In fact, it’s not even like Bond disguises himself to the villain very well. Even with a fake name and back story, the villain knows it’s Bond. And yet, they do the dance of one-up-man-ship to prove who has the bigger Goldfinger… or is it Thunderballs?

Bond has faced many lethal and quite capable villains, yet none of them have ever done the simplest of tasks… kill Bond. In Skyfall, the closest he came to death was being shot by his own team. Most rely on their henchmen, physically over matched for 007, yet the Goliath to his David. Easily felled, usually by their own physical traits. Odd Job is killed by being electrocuted by his own hat, and Knick Knack gets trapped in a suitcase due to his size. Maybe that’s how he got to Fantasy Island. Mr. Rourke found him floating by in a suitcase.

But you can bet Scaramanga’s third nipple that the Bond villain is probably the best role any actor can land in terms of having fun on a Bond film. In fact, Bond films are probably the only place where the villain can be free to be as outlandish and scene gluttonous without fear of totally overshadowing the blunt instrument that is 007. I don’t think Roger Moore or Sean Connery felt like Michael Keaton did going up against Jack Nicholson’s grand larceny of scenes in Batman. Bond is never the comic relief, he’s the straight man anchoring the film while the villain is free to take a jet pack ride through the stratosphere of over the top performances in a Bond film. Skyfall’s Silva seems to borrow most of his crazy…and hair care tips from A View To a Kill’s Walken, while carving out his damaged psyche and motivation from the same cloth as Goldeneye’s Alec Trevelyan, and finally a referral from Jaws’ orthodontist. While Blofeld is probably Bond’s biggest nemesis, his kind of villain is probably never going to make an appearance in the 21st century world of Bond and QUANTUM.

With the Craig era of Bond villains, we get a more subdued and not quite so flamboyant performance and back story… That is until we reach Javier Bardem in Skyfall. Le Chiffre is hardly bombastic, with his plans. He hires a bomb maker to blow up the maiden flight of an airline in order to tank the stock… helping to fund terrorism. He intends to make up his losses to his war mongering clients by winning it all on cards. He’s sort of a down on his luck villain that cries blood. In Quantum of Solace, we have a somewhat green terrorist… get it, green? Well, at least he pretends to be trying to save the planet, but it’s all about money in the end. Dominic Greene isn’t even that much of a physical threat… sure, with a gun, he’s dangerous because he’s nuts, but he doesn’t even appear all that smart… just opportunistic. His death doesn’t even come at the hands of Bond, but played as a footnote, related to Bond by M. He was found with two slugs in the back of his head and a stomach full of motor oil. Now, why they bothered to do an autopsy with the apparent cause of death as lead poisoning and cranial ventilation, I don’t know.

When we get to Skyfall, the rules change, somewhat. As I said, Silva could be most closely compared to Alec Trevelyan in his back story; a field agent who ended up being a little more of a hacker than he should have been, traded for other agents, betrayed by M and MI6. He finds his place in the Pantheon of Bond Villains with the three basic traits: physical deformity – collapsed face and damaged vocal cords from a faulty cyanide pill, brilliant – cyber terrorist extraordinaire who outwits Ben Winshaw’s young and geeky Q, crazy as balls – bent on revenge against M and MI6. But where other Bond villains rely on sophisticated torture devices and henchmen to soften up Bond, Silva used a very simply tactic; sexual harassment. That scene was ridiculously uncomfortable yet ten times better than Le Chiffre “scratching” of Bond’s balls.

Ultimately, Silva suffers the same problem as most villains. He is too hell bent on his plan. He continues even when all is lost. While chaps like Blofeld try to escape in their subs, like in Diamonds Are Forever, Silva hunts M down like a dog, asking to end it all. Well, he got his wish… and I’ll say nothing more.

Coming up next… Bond Girl Interrupted.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Being Bond: Part One of the Skyfall Review

The character is so one dimensional that he could be nearly faceless. As it’s been said, he is just the guy pulling a trigger, a blunt instrument.  Ian Fleming himself sought to create a totally uninteresting character, devoid of personality where things just happened to him.  He even gave him, what he thought was a boring name, originating from an ornithologist. Yet, for all his base, the character has evolved with every film, in five decades.  He has never been boring or faceless on screen.  Here now, a look at the ongoing evolution of Bond, James Bond.  Be careful.  Spoilers ahead.

Sean Connery (Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice,  and Diamonds Are Forever.   Six films, not counting the Non-Eon Film: Never Say Never Again)
Connery was all gruff and misogynistic, a caveman of class, but it was enough to get the Bond girls out of their clothes. His physical style was more brute force, a blunt instrument like Fleming's description. He quipped and straightened a cuff link, but he was definitely not the most cerebral of the Bonds. He’d just assume slap a woman for being obstinate. In the 60s, the sexual revolution was still forming and for a while, Bond’s ways were tolerable, if not applauded.

George Lazenby (One film: On Her Majesty's Secret Service)
Lazenby didn’t have enough time to develop a character.  He won the part basically by punching out the stunt coordinator during the audition.  The producers wanted someone who put forth an air of sexual confidence and assurance, but his brief marriage and loss of his wife proved to be a more intriguing part of the Bond mythos.  After all, he showed up in a kilt and got married, something no Bond had probably ever done before or since.

Roger Moore (Live and Let Die, The Man With the Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy,  and A View To a Kill.  Seven films total.)
Moore was more regal and suave, sexy through chivalry, in a way. His one dark turn, kicking a villain’s car off the side of a cliff, essentially killing him in cold blood was somewhat out of character but justified. Moore’s Bond would normally have played by the Queen’s rules, giving the villain a sporting chance.

Timothy Dalton (The Living Daylights and License To Kill. Two films.)
Dalton was somewhat human and softened in a way. Some will argue his Bond was more violent and action driven. They’ll say his Bond was darker than previous and that could be true, but it comes from a sense of character. His psyche was conflicted and it humanized him a bit. He was the more evolved and sensitive kind of Bond, in a way. He was probably the most realistic Bond to date. His bro-mance with Felix Leiter in License to Kill was apparent of this.

Pierce Brosnan (Goldeneye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, Die Another Day. Four films total.) 
Brosnan was called a dinosaur in his first outing by a, now, female M. He was a relic of the Cold War which had ended since Dalton wore the tux. This was a more PC world in the 90s and was no more evident in the dynamic between Judi Dench’s M and Brosnan’s Bond discussing his masculinity and perhaps even safe sex in this time of love and AIDS. Brosnan’s physical presence was a combination of past Bonds. He was capable of the physical demands of the character, but gave the role a more debonair, analytical approach. He could kill you with a gun or fight you to the death, but he’d just assume beat you tactically with his brain. Usually, his good fortune was sprung from luck, the right gadget, or timing. He was cool, calm, and collective. Looking back on the first film, it still holds up well in terms of believability, however, as the the films went on, it became increasingly silly that he could outlive any scenario he was a part of, including the silly Die Another Day paragliding on a wave.  But beyond all that, he also looked to have the most fun playing Bond. I viewed Brosnan’s Bond as a kid getting to play the greatest character ever. It was Christmas for him.

Daniel Craig (Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, and Skyfall.  Three films so far. Reported that he signed on for two more.)
I admit it. When Brosnan left and Craig was named, I was skeptical. He’s blond, blue-eyed, and only 5’ 10”. The shortest Bond was Timothy Dalton at 6’0”. The Bonds have gotten successively shorter throughout the series. I wasn’t a fan of Dalton, even though I watched the films. I grew up on Roger Moore and only saw Connery in Never Say Never Again or repeats of the earlier films during the holiday showings of the 13 Days of Bond on TBS. So, I went into Casino Royale… part reboot, part adaptation, part sequel, with a lot of concerns.

Then the song came out. Grunge doing Bond? Soundgarden’s front man doing a Bond song? WTF?!?! We had Shirley Manson and that was near awful but appropriate voice and styling for a theme song. However, this? How could EON recast this Bond and hire this singer? This will be awful, I thought. Then, I listened to the song and watched the trailer. I was more psyched than ever. Then, I saw Casino Royale in the theater. I was blown away. Not only had CR erased the stain of Die Another Day, it gave the franchise a much needed shot in the arm… or jolt to the heart, as it were.

Then, Quantum of Solace got mired in the bureaucracy of a writers’ strike, as if SPECTRE held the world ransom, demanding payment or else the world would never see another Bond film. Even though it was a financial success, most agree it is the worst of the three Craig films and probably in the bottom five of all Bond films, alongside Die Another Day and Diamonds are Forever.

What we do get with each successive Craig outing is a very different, more updated Bond. Craig’s Bond is one that is overall more physical. We’ve come to the point in film technology where special effects and CGI can cover a lot more than it did when Connery would drive a car with a movie screen in the background showing a rear view scene. Sure there is plenty of double work, but Dalton, Brosnan, and Craig did do a lot of their own stunt work. I would venture to say, however, that Craig’s Bond is clearly in the best shape. He runs in nearly every film. Hell, he almost does friggin’ Parkour in Casino Royale’s chase through Madagascar. As far as Bonds go, he also gets the most bloody. His face takes most of the damage, it seems. A piece of trivia: Skyfall is only the second time Bond has sustained a gunshot wound since Thunderball.

Craig’s Bond is also the most damaged of them all. He is a Bond that, even though is new to being a 00 agent, seems to exhibit some form of PTSD. I’m not sure if it was already there or if the death of Vesper and the torture scene leads to it. He basically loses the taste for death, even though he is a harbinger of it in the form of dead female bodies along the way. While QoS was more about bringing down the SPECTRE and SMERSH like group called Quantum, but it’s more about Vesper. It’s vengeance. It’s retribution disguised as job task.
By Skyfall, he clearly lives for death, perhaps even his own, as is seen in the opening scene. Whether his wounds lead to his dependence on painkillers and alcohol, or his feelings of betrayal from M and MI6, Craig’s Bond looks more like a soldier, unable to reintegrate into society after combat.

When Bond does return, he is pretty messed up. He’s dependent on booze and pills, his skills are off and he’s still damaged. But he’s the best there is. He gets cleared for duty by M, who is the cause of all this mess. So, Bond it is.

Now, he has to save the one person who hung him out to dry, M. M is the one woman in his life, that is consistently around, since there’s no Moneypenny…. *cough* yet. M is the closest thing he has to a stable anchor in this world. The closest thing he has to a mother. That’s the new twist on Craig’s Bond, his childhood. We learn he was orphaned at a young age, recruited by MI6 due to his parental status. It’s not supposed that Dench’s M is the only M, since Ralph Fiennes takes over and we hear in Dench’s first turn mentions of previous Ms. However, this M’s portrayal is different than Dench’s M in the Brosnan era. Dench and Brosnan played it as an unwilling, yet necessary partnership between a successful and high ranking female in the 90s and a male subordinate, who is an HR nightmare, yet continues to be the best performer in the office. With Craig, the relationship transcends one of necessity and appears to be a grooming or a nurturing… I could envision Bond hanging out in M’s office during the day while all the other employees toil away at their desks, jealous of the preferential treatment. Yet, he still infuriates her. It’s almost become comical how he breaks into her home.

There is a devil behind blue eyes in Craig’s Bond. He is nothing, if not serious, but the comedy from Craig’s delivery comes from a more acerbic and sarcastic place. It’s very rooted in the humor landscape of the last 10 years. Connery’s humor was very simple, he was the straight man reacting to the funny things around him. There was a playfulness to it, but he wasn’t over the top in making quips. Most of the time he was reacting to Q’s idiosyncrasies or the names of his Bond girls. Moore was more of a English gentleman. There is double entendre or tongue in cheek humor to Moore’s humor. His facial expressions tell the joke, almost breaking fourth wall convention. Was Dalton funny? I kid. I really don’t pay a lot of tribute to Dalton who was probably the closest to Flemming’s description of James Bond. Brosnan was very jovial in his humor, very puckish. Craig is more devious and delinquent. Rascally in his mischief.

There you have it, my takes on each of the Bonds.  Coming up next time, a look at the evolution of the villain. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


This past weekend, I finally got up the outside Christmas lights. I also cleaned the bathroom from top to bottom. Now, that may not seem like a lot of activity, but apparently, it was enough to tweak my back a bit. By Tuesday morning, I was finding it extremely difficult to move or bend.

I must have also pissed off the gods of nature because I was delivered a car-mic blow coming to work. I have about a 35 mile commute which can take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour, depending on traffic. Now, I leave in the dark and get to work in the dark, so noticing any potential problems with the car when I leave is somewhat hard. As it was, I didn’t notice anything while driving for about 25 to 30 minutes.

In fact, it wasn’t until I entered the Squirrel Hill tunnels that I noticed something wrong. As I was exiting, the car felt and sounded weird. My first thought was a tie rod went. So, I pulled off to the side of the road and looked. The back passenger tire was flat and smoking. Apparently, I’d been riding the rim pretty good for awhile. Yet, somehow, I never noticed it until then. Realizing I had no room or light to change the tire on the side of 376 West, I limped into Oakland and stopped at a Sunoco. I was hoping to just fill the tire with air. Hopefully, it would be enough to get me to the office and I could deal with it when it was light out.

As I hooked up the air, I could hear it hissing out from somewhere else on the tire. This was not going to be enough of a patch. So, I dug out the donut and jack. Now, over the course of 10 years, I have changed a few tires, using the supplied jack. It’s a pain in the ass, but in a pinch, it gets the job done. However, the jack on my ’05 Malibu Wagon was not one I had ever seen and harder to get disassembled. Realizing I was probably fighting a losing battle, I called my dad (A.K.A. my insurance agent) to ask him if my insurance covered towing back to my place or the local garage I use..


So, I sucked it up and fought some more with the jack until I thought I had broke it. Then, if there was any more proof needed that there are still good people out there, I was saved by a random stranger. He was there getting gas and saw me struggling with the jack. He came over and managed to figure it out and we began changing the tire. Unfortunately, the iron they supply to remove the lugs wasn’t exactly great and a few of my lugs felt like they were rounded off, slipping as we tried to turn the handle, probably from over tightening at the garage I usually get tires put on at. My savior apologized because he had to leave and go pick up his wife. He did say that he would swing back around and if I was still there, he’d continue to help.

I struggled with the last two lugs, resorting to smacking the end of the iron with the bottom of the jack to get a snug fit. Stepping on the handle and applying the equivalent of my full body weight in torque nearly dropped me to my knees when the iron slipped off the lug. Random stranger returned and we both worked on the last two lugs, getting them off and pulling the tire. The inside of the tire looked as if Edward Scissorhands had put it on in the first place. The inside was completely shredded and smelled of burnt rubber. We laughed at the sight and I told him that if he wanted a real laugh, know that my last name was ironic. He said something to the effect of “If I was a girl, I’d have a whole pit crew out here changing this thing.” Unfortunately, it was hard for me to get any torque or even bend over to work on the car. My back was making it hard to breathe. The stranger did most of the work, which made me feel like an invalid, but I was thankful.

During the whole ordeal, I offered to buy him and his wife coffee for their trouble. He declined the offer. I then realized I had a $100 bill in my pocket. Our department meeting was going to be at the Casino later and afterwards, I was going to do a little gambling. Hard to fathom, I had been gambling with my life on this tire.

After the donut was on, I thanked the stranger, named Matt, repeatedly and made a last ditch effort to compensate him for his time. I tried to give him my $100 bill, but he declined, again. I tried hard, but he wouldn’t take it.  He was a decent person, selflessly helping a stranger in need. Gave me a good feeling. I hope to pay it forward, as long as someone doesn’t need tire changing help.

As a side note, I drove to work, on the donut, with the hazards on, going around 40 mph. Even with my four ways on, I still had plenty of people honking and flashing me with their high beams. Turns out, the same side as the blown tire had a blown turn signal bulb. So… I looked like that one jackass, driving 40 on the highway with his blinker on for 10 miles. During my lunch, I went to a local shop up the street and got two brand new winter tires. They were probably both due, anyway. Merry Christmas… again. After all, I wasn’t about to drive downtown, to the casino, on the donut and I wasn’t going to just ride with someone else and come back to a donut at six o’clock in the evening, still needing to change out the donut. Then, today, I stood out in the cold and fixed the bulb. Did wonders for my aching back, standing there without a coat.

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