Sunday, May 30, 2010


After seeing how my article about my love of horror movies stuck out like a sore thumb in a political blog, I decided to make a new one where I can post about less serious topics like movies, TV and American culture. 

I would have added music to that list as well but I know next to nothing about current groups and tunes - my music kind of stopped around 1980. 

Anyhow, the new blog is called An Uncultured Slob and I hope you'll check it out and follow it as well.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Obama And Race: A Different Take

OK, fair warning - I'm going to make some people very uncomfortable here and it's not going to be who you think. 

I'll also say upfront that I hesitate to take on racial issues:  I'm a middle aged white male who admittedly has a very limited understanding of what is called "the black experience in America."  I try to be empathetic but I have never suffered discrimination of any sort due to the color of my skin.  However, I am seeing a dynamic going on concerning our current President that I have to talk about.

The dynamic in question is what in drama is called "subtext" when it comes to that man in the White House. 

The reaction to Obama's election among the r-word set was totally expected (They get so upset when they get called racists so I'll try not to do it.).  Someone remarked that the r-worders considered it OK now to drop the public polite masks and wave that r-word flag high because with Obama's election "white guilt" was now dead and they wouldn't be hit so hard when they let their bigotry out to play.  Many examples abound that show that but one subtext is screaming out from them: 

Obama MUST be far left and secretly hates America because he's black. 

That's an old one too.  I used to be told directly and indirectly that black people couldn't possibly be patriotic about America.  I never have figured out how that worked either.  Were the r-worders saying that because they believe that the level of patriotic fervor increases the paler your skin is?  Was it their own admission of the "white guilt" that they decried and were they admitting that black people had been treated so badly in America that they think that blacks couldn't love the country that did that to them?   Who knows, deep thinking isn't exactly a requirement to join the r-word club. 

Like I said, unsurprising.

There is another side to that coin and you find it among the "disappointed in Obama" wing of the left.  With about everything the President does, someone on the left will pop up to complain that it didn't go far enough and was this what we voted for?   I, for one, don't know who they thought they were voting for either. Obama ran a centrist, barely liberal campaign of national unity and he's governing the way he said he would.  Some people thought he was something else even though his centrism was always right there to be seen and heard in position statements and speeches.  Subtext? 

Obama should be far left BECAUSE he's black.

Two sides of the same coin and both just as racist as the other.

Anyone squirming out there right now?  Well, the first of anything has powerful myths to overcome - good and bad. I don't think the racism on the (white) left is conscious or purposeful, however.  This stereotype is much more benign.   We love to poke holes in the mythology believed by the right and not so much when it comes to ourselves.

The example of a myth strongly believed by those of us white folk even slightly on the left that crashed to earth comes from my youth in the Sixties.  The running myth at the time was, since men had done such an awful job at it, when women ran things everything would be all better.  No woman would send another woman's sons to die in a war, the myth went, and since women were such mysterious, all-compassionate creatures intolerance and hatred would be a thing of the past. 

Then came women in power like Indira Gandhi who imposed a strong-armed dictatorship on her country.  Let's not forget Margaret Thatcher, aka "Britain's Reagan" who was never thought of as particularly cuddly and nurturing.  The myth died but the lesson learned was that gender doesn't dictate behavior and when it comes down to it, women in power really aren't any better or worse than their male counterparts.

I'm not saying that President Obama is so bad that the same lesson will apply to nonwhites -- I think he's doing as good a job as can be expected given the problems he was left to deal with and has accomplished so much in his first two years that he is being favorably compared to FDR. That ain't too shabby.  He's no Messiah (we never thought he was), he is human and will get things right and other things wrong just like any other (white) Democrat would if they were in office right now.  If some of our friends on the left can figure this out and see the man who was actually elected instead of the one they created in their heads, the same lesson will be learned though.

Should that happen and we start seeing that people are people regardless of outward pigment and other minor differences with no guarantee of anything, President Obama will have inadvertantly given the nation a gift that will dwarf even his most ambitious proposals and programs.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Confessions Of A Horror Movie Fan

(Just a little fluff for a Sunday afternoon - you can go here for something more serious from me...)

I love horror movies.

I set aside Saturday nights for them.  It's a throwback to my TV days of three networks and a UHF channel or two for me when Saturday nights around 10-11pm meant it was time for the local "Chiller Theater" and usually a really cheesy horror flick.  For those reading this who are too young for such things, watch the original Fright Night flick and "The Great Vampire Killer" Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowell)'s TV show in it and that'll give you a pretty good idea what I'm talking about.  Sometimes a local station would give an extra treat and have an afternoon science fiction movie show as well.

I fell in love with horror movies from the first day I was exposed to it at a neighbor's house, watching Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein with boyhood buddiesAlthough it was a comedy, it was my first introduction to Universal's movie monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, the Wolf Man) at the tender age of 6 or so.  It gave me nightmares but also a great joy in watching it.  I wanted more. I watched more horror flicks and read everything about them that I could lay my hands on (like the old Famous Monsters magazine).  I even sought horror comic books.   I got so into it that one of my teachers called my parents in for a grim conference one day on whether I needed psychiatric help after I asked her who her favorite monster was.  My parents told me to tone it down a bit.

Now, for those who don't share us horror fans' love of being scared on purpose, rest assured we are really normal folk.  George Romero, director of the original Night of the Living Dead and sequels, put it best when he said during an interview that for fans of the genre a good scary flick was as much fun as any carnival ride for us and really operated on the same level - both provide a safe scare.

This is not as easy to find as you might think.  When movie companies want something cheap to make that they can throw into theaters for a quick buck, they make a horror flick.  They figure a little make-up, some fangs, buckets of fake blood and nubile young women to scream will do the trick and generally they are right.
We horror fans will give damn near anything a look and are usually disappointed that we did.  As a friend of mine once said once, "You know us horror fans - we have to sit through a lot of shit to find anything decent."  I can personally testify to that - I can't count the hours I've sat watching some bad horror movie saying to myself, "It HAS to get better!" right up until the end credits start rolling.

I have a simple rule when it comes to horror:  Scare me.  I don't care if it's a masked guy with breathing problems and a big knife, a werewolf or a vampire or something else -- if I don't at least jump a few times it's a bomb to me.  That's not an easy thing to do either for someone like me who's seen a lot of horror films or even people who just use them for a date flick.  A good horror director has more to overcome than any other director to make a truly good, scary movie. 

No matter how you watch or what type of movie you watch you do something called "willful suspension of disbelief."  What that means is that you really know that what you are looking at is light projected on a screen or a picture flickering on your TV but you are willing to pretend that what you are seeing is real so you'll get into it.  Not so hard when it's a romance or action picture.  However, the horror movie has the added burden of getting you to go along with the idea that vampires, demons, werewolves etc. are real too.  If the monster looks fake or the actors don't sell their fear well enough for you to share it the illusion is shattered. 

Now the horror director who chooses a crazed human killer to scare you has a little easier time of it - those people actually exist outside of the theater.  They say that the difference between a horror movie and a mystery is that in a horror movie you get to watch the murders where a mystery generally just shows you the aftermath. Especially if the murders are gory affairs.  They still have to sell you that their 'monster' is a danger though and even that can be shot to hell by bad acting.

That's why when we horror fans find something that genuinely scares us, we consider it a precious gem indeed.  Problem is that even among horror fans we don't agree on what that is.  It's another burden for a horror movie to overcome - different things scare different people and the fear isn't shared by all.  The best example of that is the little indie horror flick that made tons of money: The Blair Witch Project.  How it affects you depends on where you live and what you like to do.  If you are a city person who doesn't go camping much, the forest the movie takes place in is just as scary as what happens in it and you went home absolutely terrified.  If you love camping and/or live in or near a forest the reaction was more along the lines of, "What's the big deal?" and it barely bothered you at all. 

So the hunt goes on for the rare scare for us gorehounds and fear junkies.  You're all invited to join in with the fun.  We'll turn off the lights and crank up the surround sound for you but no worries, we'll protect you.  And as you watch, remember the words of the advertising campaign for the original Last House on the Left:

It's only a movie.
It's only a movie.
It's only a movie.
It's only a movie.


Monday, May 17, 2010

Don't Blame Bush

(Originally posted on Alan Colmes' LIBERALAND)

There was a nice piece on the Crooks and Liars blog the other day by David Neiwert that got me thinking on the terms we Democrats, liberals and progressives tend to use and how to improve them. It was on how the right is howling about “blaming Bush for everything” and why it was necessary to keep bringing Dubya up:

It’s true that the miseries we’re currently enduring are not merely the fault of the sole personage of George W. Bush, the man now widely viewed by conservatives as The Man Who Betrayed Conservative Values. He had lots and lots of help. In fact, he had millions of little helpers — all those movement conservatives who now want to pretend that he wasn’t a real conservative.

This is because, in reality, Bush is The Man Who Nearly Destroyed the American Economy. It wasn’t Bush’s “betrayal” of the “conservative values” they believe are so time-honored and proven that caused his abysmal failure — it was those values themselves, and Bush’s steady adherence to them throughout his tenure.
I get that but, as the righties love to point out, George W. Bush won’t be on anyone’s ballot this year. Neiwert continues:

Conservatives need to be slapped with the Bush legacy on a daily basis. Sure, they’ll whine. But they have it coming.

I agree wholeheartedly but here’s a suggestion: instead of blaming Bush for the problems we’re forced to clean up after now, let’s put the blame where it belongs – conservatism itself and its political party, the Republicans. That is the laboratory that created Bushenstein and gave him the rubber stamp Congress that got us to where we are now.

For decades prior to Bush, we were hammered with all these conservative theories that sounded so good to so many people. Cutting taxes would increase revenue, giving tax cuts to the wealthiest would give us nearly full employment since “poor people don’t give people jobs,” government regulation was strangling business and unnecessary because the invisible hand of a free market would weed out the crooks by denying them an income and correct any problem on its own. Things like that.

This has been preached by the right for as long as I can remember: previous to, during, and after the 8 years of the righties’ secular saint, Ronald Reagan. When the Republicans did win the White House they tried to act on those theories but they all had one thing in common: a Democratic Congress to stop their excesses.

Then came the Clinton scandals, George W. Bush and the takeover of the entire legislative and executive branches of the federal government by the Republicans. Now the road was clear for the cons to finally put their ideas into action without those darn Democrats standing in the way.

No need to repeat what happened when those theories failed in the real world – we’re all living through it now. It’s not difficult to understand the right’s real platform once you boil away the distractions to get the gullible to vote for it – it’s to enrich the rich, comfort the comfortable and oppress the oppressed. They really did, and do, believe that this would fix the nation for the better, but the facts just don’t back them up.

This is not just George W. Bush’s fault or failure. Contrary to the claims being made by conservatives now, Dubya was most definitely one of them. What’s happening now would have happened if Reagan or Daddy Bush had the Republican Congress Dubya did and will happen again if the Republicans ever get back into a position where they control the House, Senate and the White House.

So, don’t just blame Bush. He didn’t fail, his conservative beliefs did and we need to hammer that message home.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Pundits Blow Smoke! Democrats Panic!

(Originally posted at Alan Colmes' LIBERALAND)

As we head into summer, the pundit class is sounding all sorts of alarms about how the Democrats are DOOMED this year. I’d list a few examples but doing a search using “Democrats 2010″ will bring up plenty. It’s all about how “anti-incumbent” the voters are supposed to be energized and the Democrats are not as revved to go vote this year as they were in 2008. Some Democrats are buying into this and doing their panic thing as well.

OK, reality check time.

First of all, let’s take a quick glance at the calendar. Does it say October or November to you? It doesn’t to me, either. These predictions are being made now before most of the candidates in the general election have even been decided yet. No worries, say the pundits, no matter who they are if they’re Democrats they’re screwed. Yeah, that works.

About that “who’s all excited to go vote and who isn’t” thing: This is May. Summer will be here shortly. Summer means many things like shorts, trips to the beach, vacations, getting a tan – things like that. One thing it doesn’t mean is politics. The elections aren’t even a faint blip on most peoples’ radar and won’t be until after Labor Day. The only ones paying attention to elections and such are us politics junkies and there ain’t that many of us. So we don’t know who’ll be itching to go vote in November yet.

OK, what about all this anti-incumbent, “we hate Congress” thing that’s flying about? Here’s my notably unreliable prediction about that: Saying people don’t like Congress is like complaining about the weather. Both sides will do their primary challenges but really – who thinks Democrats are so upset that they’ll vote to put back into power the people they rushed to the polls to toss out of power back in ‘08? The teabaggers are going to vote for the party they hate to show up the Republicans? Puhlease.

Besides, things are changing as the year progresses. Polls may fluctuate over which party is winning the generic battle over Congress, most people may not be happy with the Democrats in Congress but they plain don’t like or trust the Republicans.

So let me put on my pundit cap and do a bit of predicting myself.

The Democrats will lose a few seats this year (a pretty common occurrence for the party in power) but once the dust settles they will still have complete control of Congress. Voters will do what they normally do, say “Your Representative/Senator is awful but mine is OK,” and re-elect most of them. After all the shouting by the Tea Partiers and the pundits’ visions of Democratic doom and gloom those pronouncements will be treated the way they usually are – they’ll be totally ignored.

This isn’t to say that Democrats can just coast to victory in November – they will have to get down from their towers and do some real battling to keep what they’ve got. In most cases, with the Republicans being as crazy as they’ve been, that means pointing out their nuttiness and hammering home the real question to be decided in November:

Do you really want these Birther,Tenther, no-taxes-ever, “Obama is a Socialist” freaks in control of the government again?

Democrats, I think we’re going to do just fine.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Why I Love Oregon

I know, it's an odd topic for Mother's Day but since my wife of 32 years and mother of all of my life both passed away a few years back I take this day to quietly and privately remember (and miss terribly) them both.

In all the turmoil over national and international events once in a while I sit back and am thankful for the state I now call home.  I moved my family to Oregon in 1992 and have now lived in both the east and west sides of the state.  A California transplant (well, one of many transplants for me having grown up the son of a 26 year, three wars Navy Chief and living all over the country), we moved because California was getting way too expensive and dangerous to stay.  I've met great people on both sides of the state but I have to admit, for me the west side has the edge. Very green, lots of trees and if Oregon is blue, the west side of the state is why.

Political animal as I am, what strikes me most about the differences between California and here is Oregon's approach to politics.  For example:

When I first moved to Oregon and people found out that I had been an active Democrat in my former state, I was immediately invited to attend a debate between the two major party candidates for Governor.  OK, that alone set me back on my heels a bit - you either watched CA debates on TV or had to be special enough to be able to be in the actual audience.  So here I am, wandering the halls of the high school where the debate was to take place and watching the people there when someone noted that the Democratic candidate, John Kitzhaber, hadn't arrived yet and we should have a rally to welcome him.

OK, I say to myself, I haven't a clue who that is but I'm always up for a bit of cheering and such.  My experience with campaign rallies had always been as part of a crowd watching and cheering the candidate speaking on a stage, voice booming from mikes and speakers and us waving signs.  I grab a sign and head out.  No microphones, no stage.  OK, maybe the candidate's arrival will offer more drama.  Nope.  I hear someone say, "There he is!" and all I see is a pickup truck pull up to the curb below us.  The man inside gets out, alone, and heads up the hill to the high school.  Now the cheering starts, I say to myself again...and again, nope.  As he approaches our little band of supporters, he's greeted with "Hi, John" and that's about it.

OK, different to be sure and I'm already beginning to like it.

The debate itself was quite the departure as well.  The Republican candidate for governor, Denny Smith, was a former Congressman and radio talk show host.  He conducted his side of the debate like he was still on the radio:  Lots of shots at liberals and then-President Clinton that pleased his supporters in the audience.  Kitzhaber was more reserved and set about quietly but firmly dismembering his opponent's record and positions and was always civil throughout.  I thought afterward that Kitzhaber had conducted the nicest evisceration of an opponent I'd ever seen. That 1994 election was for Governor Kitzhaber's first term and he was re-elected four years later.

The next time how different Oregon was struck me was just before an during the 2004 presidential election year.  I had lived in California for 26 years, started really getting active in 1972 and in all of the time from then to when we moved out of the state in 1992 I had seen precisely two presidential candidates live and in person.  I attended a rally for George McGovern in '72 at a nearby shopping mall and later a '76 pre-election day rally for Jimmy Carter in San Francisco (At least, I think Carter was there.  I was so far away from the podium that day that they could have put up a cardboard cut-out of Carter and played an audio tape and I'd never would have known).  That was it.

Then came Oregon and I saw and actually shook the hands of more candidates for President than ever.  It started with a 2003 rally in Portland for Ralph Nader then another that year for Howard Dean, moved to a 2004 Dennis Kucinich speech at a Universalist church here in town then, for that year, ended with a massive John Kerry rally at a Portland waterfront park. Since then, I attended a rally (or "town hall" as his campaign called it) for, and featuring, Barack Obama just before the Oregon primary in 2008.  I didn't shake his hand though, as I was playing hookie from work that day to attend and was avoiding being on that evening's local newscasts.  With the exception of the Kucinich speech, those rallies were more like what  I was used to before though - there I did cheer and wave a sign and was joined by a crowd doing the same.

Fast forward to last night and a repeat of my first exposure to Oregon politics.  Our current Governor is term-limited after two terms so we will be having our primary later this month for a new one.  The choices on the Democratic side this year are two men I have met and like:  former Secretary of State Bill Bradbury and the man I saw when I first got here - former Governor going for a third term, John Kitzhaber.  Kitzhaber is favored in the primary and general election but my vote is going for Bradbury.

This time it was no debate.  I ran across two guys I used to meet with regularly when we extended our local '04 "Veterans for Kerry" group past the election (it's kinda defunct now) and as we chatted they told me they were headed to a Kitzhaber fundraiser just up the block.  I decided to go with them to it - I wanted to see what the former Governor was saying as he campaigned.  Again, a rather quiet affair - Kitzhaber was there but wasn't being mobbed either before or after he made his remarks.  Plus, he was introduced to the crowd as "John" and that was enough. 

Yes, Oregon is definitely different and for a politics junkie like me, who knew that it'd end up being my idea of heaven to boot.  I think I'll be staying.