Friday, December 31, 2010

2010: The Year We Made Contact


As of this writing I have not seen The King's Speech, Buried, Cyrus, Burlesque, The Other Guys, Blue Valentine, Another Year, or 127 Hours.  That understood, here are the movies I've seen this year that I've liked the most.
  1. The Fighter (Dir. David O. Russell, Perf. Christian Bale, Melissa Leo, Mark Wahlberg)
  2. True Grit (Dir. Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, Perf. Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Josh Brolin)
  3. Please Give (Dir. Nicole Holofcener, Perf. Catherine Keener, Rebecca Hall, Oliver Platt)
  4. A Prophet (Dir. Jacques Audiard, Perf. Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup, Hichem Yacoubi)
  5. Howl (Dir. Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, Perf. James Franco, Jon Hamm, Jeff Daniels)
  6. Kick-Ass (in retrospect, after reconsideration; Dir. Matthew Vaughn, Perf. Aaron Johnson, Mark Strong, Chloe Moretz)
  7. I Love You Phillip Morris (Dir. Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, Perf. Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, Leslie Mann)
  8. Winter's Bone (Dir. Debra Granik, Perf. Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Dale Dickey)
  9. The Town (Dir. Ben Affleck, Perf. Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively)
  10. I Am Love (Dir. Luca Guadagnino, Perf. Tilda Swinton, Flavio Parenti, Edoardo Gabbriellini)
Honorable Mentions: The Kids Are All RightThe Social NetworkScott Pilgrim vs The WorldLet Me InThe Ghost Writer, Machete.

Respectable Movies That Simply Didn't Do Much for Me:  Inception, Exit Through the Gift ShopBlack Swan, Shutter Island, Black Dynamite, Toy Story 3.

Best Leading Performances:  Christian Bale (The Fighter), Jeff Bridges (True Grit), Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone), Jim Carrey (I Love You Phillip Morris), Catherine Keener (Please Give), Tahar Rahim (A Prophet), Emma Stone (Easy A), Aaron Johnson (Kick-Ass), Annette Benning (The Kids Are All Right), Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit).

Best Supporting Performances: Melissa Leo (The Fighter), Michelle Rodriguez (Machete),  Josh Brolin (True Grit), Dale Dickey (Winter's Bone), Blake Lively (The Town), John Hawkes (Winter's Bone), Rebecca Hall (Please Give), Richard Jenkins (Let Me In), Jeremy Renner (The Town), Justin Timberlake (The Social Network).

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Quasi Vegan


When the rich young man approached Jesus about attaining righteousness, Jesus told him that, to be perfect, he must give away all his money and sell all his possessions and give away all the money thus acquired, as well.  The young man turned away, because he was very rich.  The moral lesson here is twofold, I think:  one, money is a detriment to one's spiritual well-being, and, two, absolutism in ethics can be a dead end.

I gave up any form of puritanism years ago.  Scars of my fundamentalist Baptist past, in part, as well as a recognition that purity is, at bottom, anti-life.  If I refused to travel on any highway that was in part constructed through the toil of underpaid, exploited, immoral, racist, or Fox-News-watching laborers, I would be spiritual dynamite, but stultified as a human being ... as a life form, even.  I would be removing myself not only from the corruption of the world, but from the world itself.

That said, I want to hurry to explain that my lack of puritanism is not the same thing as freewheeling moral relativism.  It comes close, I suppose, but even as a relativist I am imperfect.  My moral code derives from the great books, including the bible.  What can we do in a world where good and evil are as hopelessly intertwined as they are--and where the outcomes of our actions are undeterminable (our good deeds can be destructive, our selfish intentions can work miracles)?  Well, the advice of Jesus, Voltaire, and Tolstoy is remarkably similar--we do what we can, enough or not enough, and make it do, for now.

Barrington Moore Jr.'s remarkable (and dense) little book Moral Purity and Persecution in History supports the position that I have long held by intuition--that much of the evil of history derives from individuals' and groups' attempts to purify the world.

Even on a mundane level, like the way I eat, I can't quite make myself into a purist.  The movie Food Inc. radically affected the way I think about what I eat.  It is not a polemic against carnivores.   At the beginning of the movie we see Eric Schlosser ordering his favorite meal, a hamburger and french fries.   Later in the movie we meet a Virginia farmer who raises and butchers livestock in a manner he regards as humane, wholesome, and compassionate.  What the film decries is not any particular kind of food, but rather a system of food production that is unethical, exploitative, undemocratic, dangerous to the nation's health and liberty, and nearly monolithic.  But, even there, there are limits to what we can do.  Is there any direction I can possibly move that would not be complicit, to some degree, with the system?

Of course, I can do more than I do.  Being a vegan is doable--and personally it's an attractive option.  Veganism, as a concept, strikes me as a better way of living--economical, simple, ethical, healthful.  My best friend is a vegan, give or take a cookie and a chocolate bar from time to time.  Perhaps it's only weakness of will that keeps me from taking the pledge.  I like to think otherwise.  I am a person of unusual scruples, at times--feeling vague pangs of guilt for owning a pet, for instance, which approximates involuntary servitude, in my opinion.  (But then what would happen if we liberated every dog and cat?  How cruel and ineffectual would that be?)

I adopt a quasi vegan lifestyle.  That's a laugh line.  I do minimize my intake of meat, eggs, and dairy, but the pleasures--perhaps more a matter of habit than taste--of certain foods forbid me from taking the 100% plunge.  Pleasure is important to me.  It's a fundamental aspect of what I regard as valuable in life.  It is not all-important, but by my standards, it far far outweighs the importance of purity.  So I have a shortlist of exceptions to my "veganism."  You will note, no doubt, that they are huge exceptions.  You would be right in saying that the word "vegan" (even "quasi vegan") should not even breathed in the context of this list.  Still, by minimizing my consumption of meat, etc., I do some little good to the environment, while, according to my Epicurean principles, intensify the pleasure it affords me.

In my oddball sense of ethics, I count my sins the way a Weight Watcher counts his points.  Deprivation, within limits, is one way to sharpen the senses when one does, at last, indulge.  My dietary sins, of which I have not repented, include the following, which, to my mind, bestow blessings to compensate for whatever harms they cause:

  1. bacon cheddar cheeseburgers (especially the ones at Broad Street Cafe, 1116 Broad Street, Durham, and, in balance with its ambience at 3:00 a.m, the Clover Grill, 900 Bourbon Street, New Orleans)
  2. steak, bloody medium-rare
  3. pot roast
  4. brisket
  5. ice cream, especially vanilla (I know, the "banality of evil")
  6. eggs benedict
  7. and the poor man's version of eggs benedict:  sausage, egg, and cheese croissants (a multiplication of evils, compounded by the fact that I am particularly fond of Jimmy Dean's microwavable frozen sandwiches)
  8. chili slaw dogs
  9. chocolate-chip cookies
  10. brie

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Snow

Friday, December 24, 2010

True Grit (Review)


People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father's blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day.  I was just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name of Tom Chaney shot my father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robbed him of his life and his horse and $150 in cash money plus two California gold pieces that he carried in his trouser band.
Thus begins one of my favorite novels published in my lifetime and the first book I ever bought for myself in hardcover:  Charles Portis's True Grit (I proudly have that first edition from 1968 still).  What enchanted me then was the language, perfectly captured in its opening paragraph with its economical and commonsense use of commas, disregarding grammatical rules for rules' sake (which might beg for a comma after the word "blood" but which our narrator Mattie Ross knows full well is not needed to get her point across and cares not how others might judge her for the omission).  In two sentences, her age at the time of the atrocity is repeated--establishing (1) that our narrator is no longer that age and (2) at that age something incontrovertibly turned her into the person she would become.  Then there's the naming of what Chaney took from her father, clear and exact as the red ink markings in a T account.  Then, too, there's the use of the word "credence," an old-fashioned word with reverberations of credibility, credit, and credentials that an adolescent prone to making deals and casting judgments (such as calling somebody a "coward") would be inclined to use.  In fewer than 100 words, Portis tells us pretty much everything we will need to know about our protagonist and narrator.

These words also begin the new film adaptation of the novel by writers and directors Joel and Ethan Coen.  Their respect for Portis's diction and their appreciation for nineteenth-century America, when a colorful turn of phrase was still a form of public entertainment, are what make this film vastly superior to the Oscar-winning John Wayne version of 1969.  Unlike that early version the Coens' film retains the pokerfaced Gothicism of the novel--matter-of-factly recounting the horror of violence ("The woman was out in the yard dead with blowflies on her head and the old man was inside with his breast blowed open by a scatter-gun and his feet burned"), with a dusky look that conveys the malarial enervation of frontier life, which Portis's prose and Paul Davis's original book jacket design likewise connote, entirely missing from the 1969 film, whose tone is virtually indistinguishable from El Dorado or The War Wagon or most other Hollywood westerns of the late sixties.

The performances of Hailee Steinfeld and Jeff Bridges are more nuanced and drolly humorous than those of Kim Darby and John Wayne.  I would not mind at all if Bridges won his second Oscar in the role that gave Wayne his first and only.  (I do not begrudge Wayne his Oscar for his portrayal of Rooster Cogburn, though not one of his best, because he clearly deserved the award 13 years earlier for his performance as Ethan Edwards, the racist with a heart of granite in The Searchers.)   I hope the Academy remembers Steinfeld and Josh Brolin (as Chaney) too.   I hardly need to add that Matt Damon (as LaBoeuf, a Texas Ranger) is a better actor than Glen Campbell.

What's more, the Coens' and music director Carter Burwell's decision to use traditional music (notably "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms") instead of something resembling the 1969 film's sweeping orchestral score, is a good one, evoking the sterner fiber of the nineteenth-century American soul, without the sturm-und-drang and smarmy sentiment of late sixties Hollywood.  Even more noteworthy are the long stretches where no music score undergirds the action on screen or tries to cue us the audience as to how we are supposed to feel about it.  The Coens lift long swatches of dialogue from the book, without embellishment or updating (or dumbing down), and lets Portis's earthy prose, often mumbled, always drawled (therefore requiring some attention), carry its own weight.

If True Grit is not the best screen adaptation of a book I love, I cannot for the life of me remember the one that is.  Oh, yes, I do recommend it.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

When Those Blue Memories Start Calling


I am the only child of parents who died in 1995 and 2001.  My father was in the military for almost 30 years, for the last half of which I was on the scene, my small, taciturn family trundling its shit from base to base every two or three years.

I like to tell people there were Christmases when all I got was a sock with oranges and walnuts in it.  This is true, too, if you make that singular "Christmas" and understand that the exaggeration is meant to convey the fact that plenty of other Christmases and birthdays were meager too, though not quite as much.  

The military paid little to NCOs and their dependents, but then we got health care, a quality on-base education for me, and, on holidays, a free meal from the NCO club, sometimes served in an open hangar due to the crowd overflow.  

As I recall, I spent only two Christmases in the company of grandmothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins, so my extended family was (is) distant and largely unknown to me.

For the past nine years, I have spent Christmas alone or out at restaurants with friends who now have real boyfriends or still have family requiring their attentions at this time of year.  Early on there were attempts to include me in other families' festivities, and these were fun and enlightening, of, if nothing else, the fact that my own family had been peculiarly unjolly at this time of year.  

But on the whole I prefer to spend the day by myself.  The loneliness of only children is sometimes exaggerated.  I don't mean that we don't feel loneliness, and deeply, but I suspect it's considerably less traumatic for us.  As for me, my father and my mother were asocial and uncommunicative to the extent that, now, the company of a good book or something on television brings back my fondest Christmas memories of childhood--which glow of nostalgia more than balances off the, truth be told, rather comforting loneliness.

For the past five years or so, I have tried to expropriate the season with a party of my own the first Saturday of December.  After this party, I usually feel the holiday is over, except to join in on other people's parties and to surprise myself repeatedly when I realize that we have still not reached the 25th.  Last year I went so far as to take down all my holiday decorations on December 6th!  But this year is different.  

As I mentioned yesterday, I am feeling an odd-for-me Christmas-y vibe.  I'm looking forward to Saturday, by myself with my dog.

Among other stops planned for today--getting said dog his rabies booster, seeing True Grit with Kirsten, and downing a few evening cocktails with Barbara and Shane--I plan to pick up a pre-ordered Honey Baked Ham (R) with untrademarked mashed potatoes and green bean casserole, and buy myself a few presents ("from Santa") to open Christmas morning, just for kicks--not that I have been neglected, not at all, I already greedily tore through all the presents my friends plied me with, except for a gift card for a massage, which I'm saving for after Christmas.

I hope I am conveying the fact that I am not sad.  Otherwise I'm missing the point.  I do not suffer from seasonal affect disorder.  I rather like the long nights, and the low temperatures tend to highlight the coziness of homes and bring out the most affectionate natures in pets and friends.  To be sure, I prefer spring, season of my favorite holiday, my birthday, but winter is good, too.  And this winter seems to me, for some reason, particularly dreamy.

There is a sweetness to loneliness that often gets overlooked.  Perhaps I feel it as I do because I'm an introvert or because, as I mentioned, it's my nostalgia.  I don't pity the lonely, only those who cannot understand the pleasure of filling one's space with oneself.  On days like these, I occasionally like to drift through my home like a docent in a private museum, touching objects my friends and lovers have given me, remembering the stories behind them, and amusing myself with the quirky things only I would want and buy for myself ... by myself.  

I also like to use these times to reinvent myself, make blueprints for whatever courageous follies await me.  For me, a secular humanist, Christmas is the time of year when the year's record has played out, and all that's left is the soothing tick-tick-tick of the needle bumping against the center label, waiting to be turned over and then replaced with something new.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Amazing Grace

video

His Eyes ... How They Twinkled!



I have the most Christmas spirit that I've had in a while.  I don't know why.  I'm close to bankrupt ... in a world that is turning more "Mad Max" by the second.

On the other hand, I feel good that a few things Obama promised are starting to happen--pretty much exactly as he said they would two years ago--DADT has been repealed, and now, let's hope, the first responders on September 11th, 2001, may be getting the help and health care they need.

On a personal note, I feel at ease with where I am in life.  Life is good.  Not life in the abstract or general, but my particular life ... right here and now ... is good.  This morning I got a new battery for my 2000 Chevy Malibu, which, instead of starting when I turned the ignition, popped open the trunk, so now that it's fixed, all is right with  the world.  There's really nothing to say about it.  What can I say?  Being 57, gay, single, and in the lower half of the 25% tax bracket works for me.  Works for me very well.

It helps that I've been reading some Virgil and Horace lately.  They are incredibly calming influences.  Not only have they been dead for a couple of thousand years, but they also led settled, wise, and pleasant lives--in the midst of scandals, a civil war, political intrigue, religious extremism in high places (Augustus Caesar passed a law making it illegal for males to remain unmarried--it was later dropped as unenforceable), not to mention extremely poor WiFi--and that accomplishment heartens me today.

I have often called myself a "happy pessimist."  Sometimes I think of myself as a "true" Christian.  Not that I believe in God.  No way.  Or a life after death.  No thank you.    But certainly I do 
consider the lilies of the field ... they toil not, neither do they spin ... Therefore, take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or Wherewithal shall we be clothed? ... Take, therefore, no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.  Sufficient unto the day the evil thereof.  
I am a life coach's worst nightmare.  And, like Jesus, I have the very opposite of a "purpose-driven life."   (I know, I know ... I grew up hearing all about Jesus's "purpose," but, frankly, if Christians loved Jesus's teachings half as much as they love his blood, they'd have a halfway decent religion.)

My philosophy of life is Voltaire's, at the end of Candide; or Optimism (1759):  "We must cultivate our garden."  This is what Horace did on his Sabine farm, and this is the gentle, narrowly scoped equilibrium Virgil seeks in his Georgics and Eclogues.  And for all the tons of theology under which Jesus has been buried since his supposed resurrection, his words reveal him to be a man little concerned with the "big picture."

The secret to happiness--and the true "reason for the season," I think--is "Fuck the 'big picture.'"


Monday, December 20, 2010

It Ain't Susposed to Be Funny

The Neighbor's Christmas Tree

Monday, December 13, 2010

Should We Blame Obama?


I wish President Obama actually were the fire-breathing socialist that Fox News and others on the right seem to think he is.  I suspect I will never see a US President as liberal as even most European conservative politicians, much less one with the radical socialist cojones of a South American president.  But in good conscience I cannot blame Obama for not being what he never claimed to be in the first place.  While campaigning he exhibited distressing signs of lukewarmness on hot-button issues (such as, for instance, gays) and, shortly after his inauguration, even more distressing signs of sympathizing with George W. Bush and his administration.  I voted for him twice--the primary and the election--on the basis that he seemed to be a man of intelligence and compassion, but, even then I would have had to admit, not much of a man of character.  Still, his two out of three beat his competition--and they still do.

So, no, I don't expect that the torture of detainees has stopped.  And I won't be surprised if America finds good reason (quite possibly many reasons, all too complicated to explain) to go to war with Iran.  And the fundamental Christianity of American democracy will be affirmed for many years to come, directly and indirectly.  And I would laugh in your face if you were to ask me whether Bush and his cohorts would ever be charged with war crimes.  And I would be genuinely surprised if we do not give trickle-down economics another nine or ten tries before giving up on it--if giving up on it is ever something we will do.

Like most politicians, especially Democratic ones, Obama likes to be liked and likes things to stay nice and calm and quiet.  Despite the wording of the title of one of his books, he lacks much of a stomach for "audacity," which means "fearless daring."  Besides, I am fairly sure he was being ironic when he chose the word.  I suspect he follows his approval ratings with the same anxious eagerness with which grade-grubbing students tally up their weighted averages from week to week.  Despite his reputation, on the right and on the left, he is not much of an idealist--he can say the words "hope" and "change," but then so can Sarah Palin.  They are distinctively American (and, more precisely, American political) words.  (I suspect "hope" and "change" were on the lips of the white settlers who drove the darker skinned natives onto reservations, too--what was "manifest destiny," if not a cry for hope and change?)

Obama is a great American politician.  He has (still has) the potential of being a great American, as well, but that remains to be seen.  He is being blamed for things that are not his fault: the Middle Eastern wars, which, once gotten into, were never going to be easy to get out of, not with a century of bad blood between the Arab nations and the United States, and it's certainly not Obama's fault that the US government (legislative, judicial, and executive branches, inclusive) became (with its twin sister, the mass media) the handmaid of Wall Street, banks, insurance companies, and other speculators.  President Eisenhower was warning us all about the military-industrial complex back when I was in second grade, and this complex was then already about eighty years old.  The things the right wing has blamed Obama for are equally unfair and shortsighted.  The economy has been tumbling in spurts for the past 120 years, most notably during the 1930s and, again, in the past twelve, and we have probably not seen the end of the decline, so that Republicans will indeed be able to say in 2012 and perhaps again in 2016, with some accuracy, that Obama has presided over America at its economic worst.  

For a while now I have felt that America is unsaveable.  Sorry for the negativism, folks.  I have never been much good at holding up my end of the optimism banner.  If it were just a matter that our leaders and our political system were corrupt, if only that, I might hold some hope ("hope" for "change"), but the problem is deeper--we are a corrupt culture, worse than corrupt:  silly, unserious, greedy, self-centered, hypocritical, shallow, cruel, obsessive-compulsive, repressed, divisive, ignorant (even worse, willfully ignorant), sentimental, vain, obsequious, fearful, impatient, dishonest, and tacky.  No President can change that state of things, even if we gave him eighteen terms in office.  

So I did not vote for Obama because I expected him to be our savior.  I stopped believing in saviors long ago.  I voted for him because he seemed like the kind of sensible and intelligent politician who could restore the American people's face in the world--and this much he has done, not that I think we actually deserve other nations' respect, but it is nice to have.  I believed that he could be the best President of my lifetime--and he may well be (such is the low esteem with which I hold other Presidents, perhaps, but I don't say this just to be smug).  

And I voted for him because I like the way he talks, I like the way he makes me feel when he talks, and I like that he has some wit about him.  He stirs my emotions--less so lately, but still--though he has never stirred me on any deeper level than my emotions.  He has not, for instance, stirred my desire to be a better person than I already am, and he has not stirred my sense of justice, equality, liberty, and life itself.  He may just be entertainment--good for laughs and tears and a few goosebumps--but he is quality entertainment, and right now, though that is certainly not enough, given the state of things, it is better than what our other options are.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

"Stupidity has a knack of getting its way"--Albert Camus


This is being bold of me, I know, but I reserve the right to call stupidity stupid.  I do this in spite of the fact that I belong to the race of people who teach English, who are known far and wide for our insane tolerance for just about any cockamamie bullshit you can imagine as long as it doesn't involve comma splices.  I suspect it was one of our race who first coined the expression "There is no such thing as a stupid question."

Oh, yeah?  Since when?

For too long Americans have benignly ignored and intentionally mislabeled stupidity, possibly in the interest of a misguided concept of what the clause "all men are created equal" means or else polite deference to the feelings of stupid people.  As for the former, I'm pretty sure the statement of our founding fathers is not a denial of the existence of human stupidity.  And though recognizing and honoring the right to free speech most certainly ensures that stupid speech is constitutionally protected, it does not mean that the rest of us have to pretend stupidity is anything other than what it is.  And if stupid people are especially sensitive to their stupidity being so labeled and pointed out, I, for one, am no longer willing to consider the possibility that perhaps my plain-speaking even roughly equates to hate speech or bigotry.   To adapt a cliche dear to homophobes, I love the stupid but I hate the stupidity--though, in truth, I do not love the stupid either, because to love them would mean to enjoy their company and I do not, unless they are cute with well-defined muscles and easy to get in the sack, but I do at least see the necessity of having to live in peace among them, even the unsightly ones.

As for saving the feelings of stupid people, I am all for it up to a point, but clearly America's decades-long toleration of stupidity has encouraged deeper, darker strains of stupidity to emerge, fatally resistant to reason or good manners.  Stupidity is both meaner and more pervasive now than it's been at any time since the Enlightenment.  Stupidity has become even a selling point in entertainment, politics, and religion (where it is sometimes called "faith beyond reason")--and that, folks, is bad news for us as a nation, a culture, and a people.

Stupidity is now no longer content to sit quiet--it wants to be in school textbooks, as a viable alternative and counter-balance to "science" and "intelligence."  It wants to be called "common sense."  It wants to ban from the airwaves anything that cannot be comprehended by and processed into the world view of a typical third grader.  It wants its own political party.  It wants to speak out and malign the intelligent and then squawk about persecution and intolerance when reasonably smart people criticize it.  It even wants to categorize thoughtful, perceptive, and insightful speech as, de facto, elitist and tyrannical.

No, no doubt, the stupid are among us, and we must live with them.  We should seek ways of gently prodding them towards reason and fact-based perceptions of the world around them.  We should not lock them away as insane or criminal, unless those lines are actually crossed--in which case, we must hold to the truth that "ignorance is no excuse."  Being stupid is not a cultural difference to be protected in a diverse society.  It may at times be genetic, true, and in every instance we should act with compassion and understanding.  But understanding stupidity is not the same thing as ignoring its clear and unmistakable signs.

Here are the sure signs of stupidity--

1. opinions lacking sufficient support in concrete, verifiable details and beliefs based entirely on authority,

2.  jingoism, unqualified assertions, and high-sounding cant,

3.  impatience with the slow, rigorous processes of research, logic, and fair argument,

4.  and heated and defensive reaction to others' hesitation to swallow patent nonsense.

Any two of the four are certain evidence of stupidity, but, sad to say, folks, quadrilateral stupidity is already the order of the day.

So I am done with pretending that stupidity is just ignorance.  Simply not knowing something is very different from belligerent resistance to knowledge.  I am done with pretending that stupid beliefs bring people together, or that they bring comfort and happiness to many and so should be exempt from criticism or analysis.   I am done with letting stupidity slide.  I am beginning to see it for the intentional, manipulative, and uncannily effective tool that it is, and see it, too, as the tool of oppression, cruelty, and resistance to progress.

Dear Santa


What I suppose I want most of all this Christmas, Santa, is the end of the bullshit.  The bullshit I'm talking about encompasses the phony "War on Christmas" diatribes in the media (Really, folks?  You think "season's greetings" is something new?  Have you no memory whatsoever?) as well as Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, saving Bush-era tax cuts that crippled the nation's economy (There are worse things than taxes, namely a government entirely incapable of doing anything for its citizens beyond staging elections every two years--how many more Katrina aftermaths do we need?--and elections that are more suggestive than substantive of democracy).  The bullshit also includes the clamor on the left to let gays die in unjustifiable, preemptive wars in the Middle East and participate in a decadent institution like proprietary marriage, though, yes, I understand and heartily support the principle that people of all sexual orientations deserve the same rights and opportunities, especially when the scant services the government does provide its citizens are tied to the voluntary serfdoms of military service and monogamous matrimony.

I have little hope of getting what I want most this Christmas, so let me say what I'm happy about--friends whose generosity, intelligence, and kindness move me to tears sometimes, a job I love that is meaningful and important, another year with my dog Tom Ripley, and the Internet, by which I am still free to access all sorts of useful and scandalous information and imagery and sustain a workable illusion of influence, liberty, and power that counterchecks the dispiriting juggernaut of stupidity almost everywhere else in the American mass media, including a good 98% of the available web sites, which I can at least choose to ignore.

Thanks, Santa.  You are trying, and that's what really matters, I guess.

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