Meritocracy, Anyone? – Part 3

A quick note before I begin. In the last article under this heading, I cited three open Senate seats, in New York, Delaware, and Illinois. After that article was posted, then President-elect Obama named Colorado Senator Ken Salazar as his pick for Secretary of the Interior. Colorado’s governor, Bill Ritter, named Michael Bennett as Salazar’s replacement. They’ve managed, thankfully, to avoid controversy. If only such could be said in the cases of New York and Illinois. Continue reading “Meritocracy, Anyone? – Part 3”

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 ExpressHorror 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.

Those honors go to Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Lee plays a British scientist who discovers a two million year old frozen ape man in 1906 China. Peter Cushing is a British doctor on his way back to the home islands. Lee and Cushing make an engaging duo, in a kind of reprise of their successes in the Hammer horror films. The Horror Express of the title is a train traveling on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Continue readingOctober 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 Omega ManThe 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.

The Last Man on Earth was the first of the adaptations, released in 1964. It was an Italian production following the spaghetti western model, and was credited with two directors, Ubaldo Ragona and Sidney Salkow. The film stars Vincent Price, at his Priciest, as it were. Price’s acting style takes some getting used to. He was a consummate professional who was more than capable in most of his roles. In Theatre of Blood, he was excellent. But he was victimized not just by type casting, but his own insistence on becoming a caricature of himself at times. The Last Man on Earth is b-cinema, and unfortunately, Price, playing protagonist Robert Morgan, fits right in. His many solitary scenes all seem to play like the boat deck scene in King Kong, where Robert Armstrong screen tests Fay Wray, giving audible directions for her first off camera encounter with a wild beast, finally yelling for her to “scream, Ann, scream for your life!” Continue readingOctober 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.