What Country Is This?

First, I can say without exception or equivocation that the United States will not torture.

— President Obama

Three days after Barack Obama’s inauguration and the new president has instituted perhaps the toughest lobbying rules for prospective and former members of his administration in the history of the office. He has revoked the veto power of former presidents and vice presidents to hide their papers from public view. He has signed executive orders setting a closing date for the prison at Guantanamo Bay, set up a panel to review the status of all prisoners there, and ordered the CIA to close its overseas black sites. He has ordered that all detainees be treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, and interrogations follow guidelines established in the Army Field Manual, which prohibits waterboarding, prolonged sleep deprivation, stress positions, forced nakedness and sexual humiliation, exposure to extreme temperatures, and other techniques up to and including direct physical harm. In announcing that order, President Obama became the first person in the Executive Branch in about seven years who was not lying when he said the United States does not torture. Continue reading “What Country Is This?”

October Horrorshow, Retroactive: Horror Express

Horror Express is one of those good bad movies. The budget is low, the plot has twists and turns which serve little purpose than stretching out the running time, and a middling celebrity makes a token appearance to swipe a quick paycheck in exchange for lending some prestige to the film. Ah, Telly Savalas. During the 1970s, cheap European horror films must have been how he expensed vacations. His name is in the credits, to be sure, but the title of the film could easily be changed to Where’s Telly Savalas? Kojak takes his sweet time making his entrance, but such bliss, for Savalas plays a Cossack captain in command of soldiers in Siberia. He’s gruff and flamboyant all at once, smoking cigarillos and drinking vodka, never quite sure if he should talk with a Russian accent. It looked like his scenes were filmed in a day. Anyway, Savalas isn’t in a starring role. Continue reading “October Horrorshow, Retroactive: Horror Express”

In The City: The Subway Touch Rule

Never touch anything in a subway station. Never lean on a column, sit on a bench, or, God forbid, do a pull-up from a rafter. Subway stations have been coated with a hundred years of filth. Brake dust, rust, flakes of lead paint, rotten food, rain water drained from the street, dog piss, rat piss, human piss, vomit, all kinds of fecal matter from all kinds of sources. There’s no reason to believe the rare occasions when things are sprayed and scrubbed down that everything is cleansed. Even the smell of the air, a truly unique odor, tells one all they need to know about the tunnels. In the cars, it’s different. There are three options. Sit on a dirty seat, a thin layer of clothes between you and the plastic; hold onto a metal bar; or surf, holding nothing and risking falling on the floor, which is just as bad as lying on the track bed in some cars. In fact, the ideal situation would be to ride the subway in a deep sea diving suit which, upon exiting, is dipped in gasoline and set on fire.

October Horrorshow, Retroactive: The Last Man on Earth, The Omega Man, I Am Legend

The three films adapted from Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I Am Legend vary widely in scope, story, and distance from the original source material. They are all shaky and mostly forgettable, but The Omega Man maintains a special place in cinema as one of star Charlton Heston’s many 1970s forays into post-apocalyptic science fiction. For that, it is the most interesting of the three adaptations, if not the best, edging The Last Man on Earth by a close margin. Continue reading “October Horrorshow, Retroactive: The Last Man on Earth, The Omega Man, I Am Legend”

Ron Asheton

Everyone who loves rock and roll has an opinion about the best album ever recorded. Is it Electric Ladyland, Who’s Next, Led Zeppelin’s fourth, Abbey Road, something else? The arguments one way or another are endless, and fill a damn large percentage of late night bar talk. Every music magazine one could think of has lists all over their web pages. Top 100 albums ever, best 500 songs, best punk albums, folk albums, classic rock albums, alternative albums, ’60s albums, ’90s albums, all coming out the wazoo. For me, all the history of modern music, rock, blues, jazz, coalesced and circulated in a massive storm over a recording studio in Los Angeles in May 1970. For two weeks The Stooges channeled all the hectic and destructive energy of loud music and put it on tape. The result was Fun House. Continue reading “Ron Asheton”

In the City – The Rice Box Rule

When living in the city, never buy rice from the corner store if it comes packaged in a cardboard box. There is no liner in the box, and you can’t see inside. The rice just sits in there, snug against the smooth, brown sidewalls, in an imperfect seal. After you pour out a cup into some boiling water and all sorts of brown stuff floats to the top, that’s when you realize that at some point between harvesting, processing, packaging, and sitting on a shelf, your box of rice became infested with bugs. Rice in a plastic bag mitigates this problem. Look in the bag, check for bugs. No bugs? Buy the bag, and store in the freezer.

How to Kill a Bar

Dave Sim, creator and writer of the cult comic Cerebus, despite going completely around the bend in recent years, once wrote something very sensible. “Never fall in love with a bar.” This is good advice. Hang around one place long enough, and that bar a person has come to spend so much time in will do the unthinkable. It will change. Favorite staff will leave, choosing to get on with their lives rather than spend their nights feeding the regulars drinks. (Who can blame them? Spending too much time in a bar is bad for a person’s health. Working in one is just no way to live.) The owner will get it in his head to remodel this or that, making everything clean, polished, and prefab. Maybe they will even install windows in the front where there were none before (A truly seismic shift. Depending on how one feels, this is akin either to a facelift, or a horribly disfiguring car accident.). The point is, to a person in love with a bar, any small change can feel like a betrayal. Months or years have been spent acclimating to a bar’s very specific atmosphere. It becomes the reason to go to that particular spot, and when it changes, the process has to begin again. Eventually, change accumulates to the point where a person has been abandoned by their bar, and they have to seek out someplace new. Continue reading “How to Kill a Bar”

October Horrorshow, Retroactive: Prince of Darkness

victorwong
Victor Wong will kick your ass with a chopstick and a can of Shasta.

This is attempt number five. The fifth time I’ve begun a review of John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness. Hopefully, I’ll be able to finish this effort. Suppose I start with a declarative statement, then justify it with an argument? Sounds like a plan. Continue reading “October Horrorshow, Retroactive: Prince of Darkness”

Chlorine Stings the Eyes

The pool at the Tallmadge YWCA was divided into three sections when the kids from the summer day camp had their afternoon swims. The shallow end, the middle, and the deep end. There were about thirty of us, maybe more, six and seven year olds all the way up to fourteen year olds — teenagers who walked among us like gods. All morning long we were packed into a room at the top of a bleak set of stairs and locked in, doing who knows what. I don’t remember. Board games. Activities. But every afternoon, if we weren’t off somewhere on a field trip, it was down to the pool, after lunch had been given an appropriate time to settle, of course. Continue reading “Chlorine Stings the Eyes”

Shitty Movie Sundays: Starship Troopers 3: Marauder

I’ve never met a movie I wouldn’t watch. That must be the reason I looked at this dog there in the iTunes store, staring really, wondering, was I really going to do it? Was I really going to spend $2.99 of my hard-earned cash to rent Starship Troopers 3? I wish I could write that watching my hand move the mouse and click on the ‘rent’ button was like an out of body experience, one over which I had no control. But really, I just said to myself, “Aw, fuck it. Why not?” Continue reading “Shitty Movie Sundays: Starship Troopers 3: Marauder”