Friday, December 31, 2010

Ye Shan't Find Albums With Juvenile Lyrics About Love or Robot Singing Opera Here, Knave... Just Some Good Listening From the Year That was 2010.

If one considers the Cinema industry to be down in the dumps then music is the landfill. It is a sad day when someone who lacks talent like Katy Perry cannot only obtain a record deal but can also sell records to the kiddies who have that sweet sweet disposable income. What also is troublesome is the amount of singing robots or singers that sound like them. However, 2010 did see some really good albums released by some classy artists who have not sunk to the levels of Mrs. Brand and the singing robots.

Let the subjective parade continue, fire up the Souza!

Here are the top ten albums of the year from my perspective...

10.My Dinosaur Life by Motion City Soundtrack
09.Transference by Spoon
08.This is Happening by LCD Soundsystem
07.Live in London by Regina Spektor
06.The Suburbs by Arcade Fire
05.The Bootleg Series Vol. 9 – The Witmark Demos: 1962–1964 by Bob Dylan
04.The Age of Adz by Sufjan Stevens
03.Contra by Vampire Weekend
(I am still smarting from the use of "Holiday" in Christmas commercials, Curse you, sweet sweet Capitalism)
02.Under the Great White Northern Lights by The White Stripes

and the best record to be released in 2010 was a little album known as



Brothers by The Black Keys

It is very rare that an album like Brothers is released. Every track could be a single including the instrumental track, Black Mud. This album continues to get better with every subsequent listen. With the exception of The White Stripes (and Jack White's other ventures), The Black Keys are the best indie blues band and that is quite the compliment. The only difference between the two bands is that the latter has less of the garage sound of the former. It must be said that any blues album that is beloved to a four year must be not only good but damn good. Damn you, Black Keys now I must buy my Daughter a drum kit! Have no fear, I will be there in April.

(*Please note: I have added Regina Spektor's live album because it did contain new material and the White Stripes because it was the first time their live materials were made available legally. Also, Dylan's bootlegs contained a lot of unreleased versions of his songs.)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Thank You Celluloid Merchant For Placing Something Truly Wonderful in Front of Me Peepers... Best Films of 2010.

The past few years in cinema have been right shit (pardon the swear) and 2010 was no exception. Yet, there were many films that warranted viewing. Much like the "Worst" list posted earlier, this is a subjective list of films that I have seen this year. Of course, some films were left off because I have not had the chance to see them. (Cough, Cough Film Unfinished...) At the very least, it was much easier to make the list this year than last year... Which was dreadful... Absolute rubbish... Bloody awful... You cannot hear it but I am puking at the mere remembrance of 2009... I mean, come on, New Moon... Revenge of the Fallen... 2012! I need some Pepto. I digress...

Here we go, you little sausages...


10. Green Zone
09. Shutter Island
08. The Social Network
07. The King's Speech
06. Toy Story 3
05. MicMacs
04. The Fighter
03. Black Swan
02. Inception

and the best film of 2010 was (from my perspective)



01. True Grit

It took a lot of internal dialogue to decide which was the better film of 2010... True Grit or Inception. They were both well-written, acted, expertly directed and had the amazing cinematography talents of Wally Pfister and Roger Deakins but the coveted PORTEmaus rating has to go to True Grit. Honestly, in the immortal words of a close friend, Westerns are beloved because they are "Celluloid Awesome..." Truer words were never spoken. What put it over the top were the performances of Bridges, Damon and the amazing portrayal of Mattie Ross by Hailee Steinfeld... A girl noted for role in K-Mart's "blingatude" series of commercials. Go see it and enjoy yourselves... To my wife, I am going to strap you to a chair to watch it! Mark my words.

Cheers,
Manny

Oh the Humanity, My Eyes and Brain Scream in Agony... The Worst Films of 2010.

While the fact that I hold an undergraduate in Film (from a mediocre party school... go Manny!), I feel that I have the necessary qualifications to offer my opinion on such a subject. It should be noted that best and worst lists are highly subjective but it does not stop people from releasing them. With that being said, our experts have been consulted and thus, Wagons Ho!

PORTEmaus' list of the worst films of 2010

10.The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
09.The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
08.The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
07.The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
06.The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
05.The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
04.The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
03.The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
02.The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

and the WORST film of 2010



01.The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

The lengths a man will go to make his wife happy does not explain how truly awful this film is. It demeans the audience by explaining and re-explaining simple plot points. I know that all of my teen readers will be hurt by the following statement but no one in the this film and the others can act. Seriously, lessons cannot be that expensive! Also, how much does it cost to put Jacob in a tee-shirt. Honestly, I shudder at the thought that this was a work derivative of a print source. I suppose this is understandable considering it is devoured by teens who refuse to read anything of substance. Literary Burn! With that said... The plot, special effects, dialogue and musical score were lame and uninspired. Hell, even the credits were frustrating.

Honorable Mention: Iron Man 2, She is Out of My League, Kick Ass, Valentine's Day

Friday, December 24, 2010

Who Wants to be "Debbie Downer" on the Holidays? Not This Kid.

Since the holidays are meant to be a joyous time, I am going to go on sabbatical with the "doom and gloom" political commentary. I guess that goes against my firebrand nature but deep down, Manfred Funkowitz is a nice guy. Who would conceive of such a thing. Instead, you lot will be subject to "Best" and "Worst" of 2010... Yes, I know this will be torture when compared to my usual diatribes. Then again, this is why I have a small readership anyway. Curse my passion for iconoclasm!

All the best,
Manny Funkowitz

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

For the Third Month in a Row, the PORTEmaus Book Club has Become a Remedial High School English Course.

It seems the cycle is broken... For those not in the know, the PORTEmaus Literature or "Book" club has went Non-Fiction then Fiction and back to Non-Fiction. The cycle was to continue but after the Grapes of Wrath, I could not think of an a relevant work of Non-Fiction... I suppose, Decision Points would have worked.



So, it is another work of fiction this month... Also, it is a more traditional choice for a book club. This month's book club selection is Ernest Hemingway's, A Farewell to Arms. I am about half way through and like all Hemingway, it is amazing. Break out those monocles and culture it up!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Tis no Happy Ending in this Book... Damn Steinbeck, Throw a Man a Bone!

The final hundred pages of this novel is simply an exercise in hoping the plight of the Joads will improve. It will not nor is there a Hollywood ending. The novel ends with the family fractured and struggling to survive. Steinbeck also refuses to provide closure to the story of the Joad family.

What more can be said, there is a reason it won the Pulitzer and widely considered a classic. Steinbeck is unflinching in his account of the Great Depression. The Joads prove that while you think you have it bad, it could always be a lot worse.

The Grapes of Wrath is six hundred and nineteen pages of sorrow. It is immerses the reader in the bleakest period the world has faced economically. However, it is not a book that is stuck in the period that it is describing. It transcends time and it is applicable to the current illegal immigrant situation in the Southwest. Quite possible it is an essential read for all people with air in their lungs. It is a work that creates compassion for their fellow man...

Friday, December 10, 2010

These Grapes Are Quite Bitter... Or Rather Full of Wrath

It seems that I only have a hundred pages left and one thing is blatantly clear about John Steinbeck's classic... It is a timeless literary work. Parallels can be drawn from the period it represents, the time it was written and the present.

It definitely is a powerful piece of literature (positively incendiary), it forces you to glimpse the underside of capitalism and will not allow you to avert your gaze. In fact, there was a scene in Capitalism: A Love Story (I caught the first few minutes) involving the boarding up of a house. The interaction between the man working on behalf of the bank and the people who foreclosed could have been taken verbatim from Grapes of Wrath. Steinbeck shows unbelievable insight into humanity and the depths that others will go to exploit others for profit.

During the course of the three hundred pages, the Joads make it to California. From the perspective of the reader, the terrible foreboding that this land of opportunity is far from it. The Joads blindly follow their dreams, do not heed the warnings of those who experienced it prior and end up into a Hooverville. The Joads --of course-- exist as a microcosm for all Americans, blindly following the American "dream" and they see America for what it is... Corrupt and unsympathetic to the plight of the underprivileged.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Rather than let the Nobel Peace Prize go Unclaimed... I will Step in and Accept That Sweet Medal... Oh, I Guess I Will take the Modest Prize as well.

The fact that the Nobel Peace Prize is not going to be given out this year is --without exaggeration-- a travesty. It is like an Arizona winter without snow or the repeated election of Joe Arpaio to the office of Sheriff (If you haven't established it... the Funkowitz resides in Arizona). Damn it, we want some snow and the chief law enforcer from Maricopa county to not be old, arrogant and racist! Is that just too much to ask for?

Anyway, before I completely run off-topic and just riff or scat on assorted topics about Arizona politics, no Nobel Peace Prize... That is rough. So, I would like to nominate myself for the award... After all, they gave one to Obama last year and he really did not do much in the realm of peace. (Seemingly, they give them to anyone) I will step up to the plate and shoulder this burden.

I am a man of ideas and I have made peace my prime initiative as I navigate this world. Take yesterday for example... Two children fighting over a foam and clothe chair. There was screaming, there was anger in their eyes... I will be honest, the threat of nuclear holocaust was a possible outcome. Cooler heads prevailed after I sat both children down and explained that their was another chair next to that one. Needless to say, they ate their macaroni and watched some movie with floating fairies. It also made me wonder how two four year olds knew about nuclear armaments and how they obtained them. Oh, the wonders of children though. So, when do I make my arrangements to fly to Oslo?

It must be said that the Communist regime in China's inability to accept criticism. I mean, c'mon what way to win people over to your way of thinking with imprisoning Nobel laureates for eleven for calling for reforms to your one party system. Oh wait, you should also place the wife of the dissident under house arrest. At the very least let one of the family members of recipient Liu Xiaobo to accept the award on his behalf. Do not think of it as a sign of capitulation or weakness but a much needed boost in the realm of PR.

Friday, November 19, 2010

How Apropos... The Man Whose Actions and Policies are Best Described as Unconscionable has Feelings. Who Knew?

I have spent the better part of a week musing to myself about KanyI have spent the better part of a week musing to myself about Kanye apologizing to George W. Bush for "hating Black people." Honestly, I am not a fan of Kanye for a myriad of reasons (Can you say overrated five times fast...) including the ridiculous publicity afforded to his Twitter account.

Anyway, it seems the most Imperial President in recent memory is a bit of a cry baby. His constitution was crippled when being labeled a racist but oddly enough is completely fine with the racial profiling of Middle Eastern gents, who are then black bagged, rendered and then tortured... I digress.

So, you asking "oy, Funkowitz get to the bleeding point!" The point is this, "W" is trying to remake his image and he is doing a smashing job at it. Not only did he make the media pick up an old news story... The made him seem like the victim (Consider the Guardian piece). He was called a racist because he response was downright criminal and say what you will about Kanye but he accurately pointed this out.

Seriously, if that kept him up all night with sorrow and worry, how did he deal with the final three years of his term? If you cannot deal with the harsh criticism of the truth, either change your behavior or get out of the public eye. If you are trying to hock your book and redeem your image... Pick something that does not paint you as a cry baby wuss. Oh wait, there really is not much to be proud of between the years 2000 to 2008, is there? Do not worry, when your book is remaindered, I will pick up a copy of Decision Points and review it for this site... Then it will be used to prop up a table. Buck up Georgie, things will get better... Just be glad you are you.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

To All The Troops At Home and Abroad...



Happy Armistice Day!

May the valor and courage shown by our doughboys never be forgotten and the peace obtained on the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day, on the eleventh month be everlasting...

What? It is not called "Armistice Day anymore. When did this happen?..." Congress and Eisenhower changed it in '54, you say? Oh dear...



In all seriousness and archaic historical trivia aside, Happy Veterans Day. Regardless of one's political persuasion, these men and women do sacrifice their lives for this nation. As always politics tends to skew things... You do not have to support the war but you do have to support the boots on the ground.

God bless,
Manny

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

May Facebook Save the Queen or Further Decline of the American Media.

I am beginning to think that I am developing masochistic tendencies... It is either that or I need to set my Internet browser to a new homepage. You might not know this but I have a wee problen with the state of the media.

The long and short of it... It stopped being the fourth branch of the government and has willingly reduced itself to the level of a blathering, vapid idiot.

You might be wondering what I am referencing... Did you not hear the wonderful news... Queen Elizabeth II has joined Facebook! Its ok, let the air out slowly... Whatever, you do don't pass out. Do you need a paper bag?

Now, why are you still here... Check it out and come back. I'll wait...

What, you cannot be friends with her? She's just posting her scheduled events and it is like a third person is doing this own her behalf... Gyp!

After cursing to high heavens and condemning what passes for "news" on Yahoo... I am with the question, "who cares?" Seriously, if this is all it takes to be a writer these days, why don't the major news publications consider ol' Manny Funkowitz... I would crank that kind of tripe out by the barrel full and would do it for a can of beans.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Does this "gift" come with a reciept? I Think I Have Something That Needs to be Returned... Since it does not Fit.

Another Election day has come and gone... The results of which are not surprising. Although, nobody enjoys getting socks on a holiday. McCain won yet another easy victory... The disgusting aspect of Arizona elections besides some of the placards detailing candidates who did not support SB 1070 was the election of a community college graduate to a full term as governor. Seriously, she could not function during a debate for pete's sake.

From a National perspective... This was an election for the Democrats to lose... Surprise, surprise... They did not disappoint. (Anyone who half a mind on politics, knew they were gonna lose one chamber of Congress) When faced with a challenge by fanatical Republicans, the folded. For those not keeping track, the "Tea Party" is nothing but a collection of extremist Republican... Too cowardly to call themselves the GOP.

It is a not a "shellacking" if one does not know how to run a counter campaign. Show some teeth, grow a pair... Do something... Dare I say it, ANYTHING! Your lay down and die mentality is getting tiresome. How could you not counter a message of craziness (subjectively speaking)?

Also, a note for Conservatives, congrats on getting the mass public to believe anything. (Not sarcasm) Except you forgot something... Most or all of the policies are extensions of the Bush Administration. Other than that, the Democrats have done relatively nothing... Oh, the effects of "Obamacare" have been negligible. What can I say, it is the will of the people and they will get what they "paid" for.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Yay, it is the Most Happy, Most Fun Holiday in the United States... Take That Arbor Day!

HAPPY ELECTION DAY!!



So, hop into those booths prospective voter and pull those levers, drop a marble into a jar or poke holes into a ballot. Of course, for the latter, beware of hanging chads. Burn! Did he just make reference to the 2000 Bush-Gore election drama? Oh, snap... y'all!

Anyway, have fun out there but be safe... No drink and voting... You do not want to accidentally vote for Buchanan... Oddly enough, that is not funny a second time around. (More-so when my reader base is essentially me)

Funkowitz out...

Sunday, October 31, 2010

I am More of a Fan of Tricks Than Treats... To Each Their Own, I Suppose

To my growing reader base from the folks here at PORTEmaus...

HAPPY HALLOWEEN... May it be safe and your candy be full of sweet delicious nougat not something nefarious. Also, be vigilant of the trials associated by trick or treat like this kid...



Be Safe and wary of "healthy" treats!

-Manny

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Grab a Blanket, Salt up Some Pork and Pile Into A Jalopy... Grapes of Wrath Update/ Review #1

Due to the length of this novel, I have decided to review the book as I read it. Basically, three updates, roughly every two hundred pages. With all the business talk out of the way... Let's talk about some fine literature.

Since I never took any advanced English classes and went to an altogether lame high school, I have never read the Grapes of Wrath (In second grade, we did watch the movie) and this has come as a shock to many people.

Let me begin by also saying that while it has nearly taken four years to getting around to reading it... The Grapes of Wrath does not disappoint. It is a well-written account of the trials faced by a family during Dust Bowl/ Great Depression.

The novel has everything, a paroled anti-hero in Tom Joad, a tight knit family doing all it can to survive and of course a scathing rebuke of Capitalism. Now, you might be curious what has happened in two hundred pages.

Essentially, Tom Joad (paroled for murder) returns home after four years to find things very different. Family's have been expelled off their lands by the banks because they can't produce anymore. Many families --like the Joads-- have received handbills detailing a better life in California and have decided to try their luck there. After salting some pigs, the Joads are on the road.

The thing that makes this novel relevant is the ills associated with Capitalism and the concept of a corporation. These themes are as pertinent today as they were when Steinbeck put letters to a page. You begin to empathize with the Joads and the poverty stricken rural farmer. Where do you direct your anger when it is abstract entity displacing you? What lengths would you go to keep your family together? I guess that I would place my faith in a handbill as well.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Political Attack Ad is a Fart, Who went to the Dooty to buy some Boogers... (This is a Mad Libs Reference)

You know what I love about the American campaign season? If you guessed the attack advertisements (granted, those are the only the type employed) then you would be correct. They are all stolen from the same page from an used copy of Mad Libs.

You scoff and exclaim "How dare you knave! American politics is complicated fare and it can not be reduced to something as simple as Mad Libs! I would strike you, if not for an assault charge."

You don't believe me... An attack ad is essentially the following:

(Name of Opponent) is a (Derogatory Term), who voted for (Unpopular Legislation) and seeks to erode (Ideological Difference). Is that who want representing us in (Office Sought) and protecting our (Flowery Political Language)?

As absurd as this sounds, this serves as the basis for these ads... I suppose if something has worked for decades of television politics why change it. Yet, this is why the political discourse in America is so puerile. Is it too much to ask for some innovation. Then again, if I am asking for that, I might as well as for the return of intelligence to American politics. Where is Santa when you need him?

If You Cannot Release Your Book Through the Normal Channels... There is a Good Chance That it is Awful.

What happened to the hiring of a literary agent and publicist when an author is attempting to get their works published? Those days are long gone as authors are side stepping the --standard-- process by promoting themselves. Who could think of better way than hurling their tome at the President of the United States?



Seriously, you know you are at the end of your rope when this seems like a logical idea. Of course, who really wants to be published digitally on Amazon and take home upwards of 40% of the profits? Genius' that's who.

Thankfully, this future Hemingway was not charged with anything criminal... When I first read the story, I thought it was some tea partier and his new romance novel about the love between the elite and tax cuts.

In this case, truth is much sadder than fiction. I wish I knew what the novel was about. I want to believe that it was about robots in the future teaching statistics to morlocks and octogenarians at a community college. Its a story of loving and learning, heartwarming stuff.

What makes this story great is how stupid does someone have to be to do this? There probably is a reason why your book has not been published, went unsold and then was either remaindered or destroy. If I was to hazard a guess, you probably do not have the talents or chops to be a writer. Hate to be the one to break it to you... Unless, this was your business plan all along.

Before I read this story, I immediately thought back to another story involving an object being thrown at a world leader. At least a shoe making its way at the noodle of the most powerful man in world had meaning...



This savant (book not shoe thrower) wanted to make a name for himself before fading back into obscurity. Ironically, no one knew his name before the incident and no cares to know it afterwords.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Oh, Gosh... I Sure Hope I can Remember the gist of "The Washington Rules..." PORTEmaus BookClub Entry #3.

The main premise of Andrew Bacevich's books, "The Washington Rules" is the concept of foreign policy conspiracy. No, this is not the name for a political quartet blasting hard rock jams out of their garage... Except, it will be when I get finished filling out the copyright forms. For the record, I now have an intellectual copyright on that term. Oh, you all just received a lesson in intellectual property!

All digression aside, Bacevich's book seeks to act as an introduction to this particular development of sustained hijacking of American foreign policy. Bacevich outlines his own exposure to these concepts through recounting his time in Germany while in the military. He quickly realized how futile the Cold War when he saw the state of the Soviet military.

For Bacevich, the Cold War was a futile effort of mutually assured destruction that allowed for a new variant of foreign policy to emerge. The days of political isolationism were swept aside for the concept of the United States as international sheriff. Basically, the beliefs of individuals such as Curtis LeMay (Renowned sourpuss and architect of the Japanese fire bombings) and Allan Welsh Dulles (Two time runner-up in the James Joyce lookalike contest) were provided access to the higher echelon's of American political power. (Thus, allowing them to take shape)

The result was a twin dependence on overt aeronautical power in the former of long distance bombers and covert operations abroad. Even in the face of failures such as the Bay of Pigs and ultimately the Cold War, the United States would not remove its gauntlets and adopt a foreign policy of peace. Bacevich asserts this is because policy simply is passed from one president to the next. This is an easy opinion to grasp considering Bush's war in Iraq and Afghanistan has inextricably linked to Obama's success and ability to remain president.

Certainly, LeMay and Dulles were the forefathers of these strategies but we can link the "Washington Rules" to the military industrial complex. Simply, the perpetuation of permanent war in our society is a direct result of it being so lucrative. The United States outspends the rest of the globe annually on defense. Our politicians have even begun to fear minute increases in other nations spending as "closing the gap." The sad result of this fiscal irresponsibility according to Bacevich is insolvency... Of the United States... Whoa, this just became heavy.

From my perspective, much of Bacevich's insights were common knowledge. However, I think "The Washington Rules" is a great primer for those new to American foreign policy. His fears for this nation are well-founded and he presents them in a concerned tone. What the reader takes away from this book is that the only way to change this reliance on hegemonic dominance of domestic and foreign policy is voting in people who won't be corrupted by this way of thinking... Across the board. Sounds easy enough, eh?

Monday, October 4, 2010

It Spawned A Classic Film and A Song by "The Boss..." What Other Book Can Claim That? PORTEmaus Book Club Entry #4

Place those hands over your heart and cock those heads blissfully in the air as the trumpets blare! This marks the return of an institution as venerable and ever-lasting as the American flag, apple pie or Cookie Monster. The PORTEmaus Book Club returns with a new entry after a month on vacation... Oh what a vacation it was! Wait until you see the slides. Let's just say a few literary works were a wee tipsy...

Due to the size of this month's selection (a mammoth 619 pages!?!?!?! and no it is not the Bible... I know you all are disappointed), we are going to extend the selection into next month as well.

I have kept you on edge long enough... What book other than Bible would be this long? Answer: John Steinbeck's classic, The Grapes Of Wrath.



So, you better get the coffee brewing... You have a lot to read and a short time to get it completed.


Post script: For those wondering when the Washington Rules review will be posted... It should be up momentarily.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Why Didn't My Broker Talk Me Out of This! I Still Can't Believe I Spent Money on This Turd!

We all have made some pretty poor choices in purchasing music that are reminiscent of socks on Christmas or finding half of a worm in an apple. The Billboard charts will attest to this. This series of columns --provisionally-- called "I Spent Money on This?!?!" seeks to examine our poor choices in music.

Most of us go through a classic rock "phase," instead of focusing on such great bands as Dylan, Hendrix, Zeppelin, Stones or the Beatles, we branch out into the milieu of garbage that comprise the genre.

Like most people, I have all of my music on an Ipod or vinyl and my CD collection (for the most part) is comprised of crap that I cannot explain why I bought it. Case in point is the CD that I bought on my 21st birthday, Young Hearts: The Complete Hits of Steve Miller.

I wish I could blame the purchase on intoxication but that is no excuse. The problem is that Steve Miller --as a musician-- is barely above that of a lounge singer. Somehow, he was able to create a formula to create catchy pop music. Not only does his music contain made up words (See "Joker") and lyrical nonsense but most of his songs have the same riffs of other hits.

In short, he never grew as an artist... He stuck with a tired music style and he even referenced old songs. Also, Abracadabra has to be the worst English language song in existence and illustrates how far Steve Miller would prostrate himself for a buck.

On the whole, there is only one song that has a decent beat to it (Livin' in the USA), Steve Miller ruins it however by opening his mouth. All of the songs on this disc leave much to be desired in the realm of lyrics. It may sound harsh but I would pay Steve Miller to quit writing songs...

Outside of the bands, I mentioned earlier and some others not, Steve Miller has bludgeoned my desire to listen to Classic rock or at least the lame acts. The sad fact is that his songs are more instrumental than actual lyrics and they still make my head hurt. In conclusion, if time travel is ever created, I am gonna punch 21 year old Manny in the face for purchasing the worst collection of "hits" in the history of human music. Needless to say, it was money that could have been better spent on booze that night.

O' Generous Benefactor, Your Gift of "Culture" Falls Upon Deaf Ears... Thanks For Nothing.

The day has come and all those out yearning for content that is not ideologically based can rejoice! I have long been looking for a way to broaden PORTEmaus and I have devised a series of new columns for your enjoyment or displeasure... Take you pick.

What are these columns going to be about, you ask? Culture, I know, I know... This website has that in Spades but who does not want more of it? In addition, to the book reviews, I had a --surprisingly-- decent idea for music reviews while listening to a CD on my commute home. This will be come clear when I make the first post... Which should be done momentarily. I hate to ruin surprises...

Cheers,
Manny

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tales of Suspense #89: The Incredible Shrinking Castro



Many of you are wondering why I would tackle something as "topical" as Fidel. Hell, a vast majority think "Commandante en Jefe" finished his bucket list and then kicked it. (The proverbial bucket not the scrap of paper)

Two weeks ago (I told you, it was not only topical but current to boot!), I was sitting at my desk and I was thinking about Fidel's magnificent beard and how mine shall never attain its greatness... This had me wondering what the perpetual thorn in America's side was up to these days. Without a doubt, he is combing his beard and affixing pretty red bows in it!

I concede the bows part is slightly far fetched but it appears the "troublemaker" (I use this term loosely) is busy reinventing himself as an elder statesman. I suppose this is where I hear the collective groan of "c'mon Manny... Please don't wax poetic about a Communist despot."

Certainly, a man cannot maintain control of the proletariat without force and not for a span of over fifty years. This is what makes the transformation so fascinating. Here is the quintessential global pariah (we still maintain economic sanctions and he is not even in power), who is advocating for Israel's existence, hypothesizing a nuclear conflict between the United States and Iran (oddly enough, he has lost his thirst for nuclear annihilation) and is avid enthusiast of dolphin shows.

I suggest that everyone check out Jeffery Goldberg's series of articles in Atlantic Monthly... They provide an insight into a man very aware of his own mortality and is seeking to alter his place in history. There are those who would consider it a whitewash of history. I am not an apologist for dictators of any sort but come on, United States history still thinks the Shah was a godsend to Iran... How did that work out for ya, fellas?

The sad thing is that once Fidel is gone, the United States is going to be forced to reevaluate its stance toward Cuba... Being the stubborn lass that she is, she will have to come up with a doozy of an excuse to maintain the previously mentioned sanctions. Seriously, the Bay of Pigs was nigh fifty years ago and frankly Communism lost its relevance as a political ideology almost twenty years ago... What good is it to hold a grudge? Just bask in the glory of the beard, it is mesmerizing... After all, they allow to house prisoners without due process on their soil. (Ok... Ok... That was a cold cut.)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb Then a Lion Again. April Showers Bring May Flowers or The Washington Rules

I have finally finished Bacevich's examination of the thought process that governs much of America's foreign policy. It seems my time management skills are leaving much to be desired. You factor course readings, packing for a move and the neediness of infants (I kid, it is actually the other way round)... Leaves all work and no play.

You might be wondering what took so long... After all, I read 60 out of 250 pages in the first sit down. Without revealing too much, it kind of slows in the middle. I suppose I will expand upon this in the review... Which I hope to post by tomorrow or Friday.

Cheers,
Manny

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Everyone Knows the American Presidency is Nothing More Than a Popularity Contest... Sadly, This Popularity is far from Enduring.

How delicious are crunch berries? (Hey, Cap'n... I'll take that bag with a dollar symbol on it) They have it all... Artificial coloring, beaucoup amounts of sugar and no redeeming nutritional characteristics. What better way to jumpstart the day than by comsuming a bowl and taking a gander at the greatest new publication in American... Time Magazine.

The story I seemed to happen upon was how unpopular President Obama has become. Now, I know what you are thinking. Here's comes the Liberal apologist train right on schedule. Wrong. Obama and I are at odds by his refusal to repeal the FISA and Patriot Acts.

At these point, my Crunch Berries have become sour... Now, it was not because of increasing sogginess but rather the inability of a news magazine to be analytical.

It is easy to put the finger on Obama's rising unpopularity... The economy, the war in Afghanistan and newly reclassified operation in Iraq... Immigration among other reasons. It kind of reminds me of another President:



Who would have thunk it? The continuation of unpopular initiatives would result in someone becoming unpopular. Crazy, no?

Move Aside, Gloria Estefan... There is a New Sound Machine in Town.

In one of the oddest occurrences, much like a zeppelin bursting into flames (I'm a fan of obscure Hindenburg references), I found myself watching Fox News. Ok, "watching" is both too strong of word and way to generous.

While visiting the in-laws, getting my oil changed and grabbing a bite to eat, Rupert Murdoch's sound machine was providing the ambiance. To each their own but honestly when did businesses assume that all their proprietors are Conservative? I concede, I do live in Arizona... The most politically astute state in the union.

What struck me was this blonde anchor bickering with some graying neanderthal about the whole mosque affair (That has them all riled up) or some other overtly racist position. Forgive me, I don't dwell on the stories appearing on Fox News.

What struck me as odd was the fact that one side was trying to have a "civilized" albeit skewed discussion and the other was screaming as he held his hands over his ears. Talk about eating your own! I thought they reserved that tactic for dealing with liberals.

This was my first extended exposure to Fox News... If one had their frontal lobe removed, it would not have been bad. All style and no substance... Kind of sounds like the rest of the media. Also, I almost felt sympathetic for the blonde anchor for having to put up with such treatment then I remembered she works for Fox News and she knew what she got into.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

So... What's in Your Wallet? Oh, Look it is a Bus Pass, Two-Dollars, A Receipt and Extremist Conservative Rhetoric. Score!

I was sitting in my office, stroking my newly trimmed beard, contemplating the future of American politics and I had a Archimedes moment. Eureka! I exclaimed... Eureka! Of course, my wife came in to the room to investigate and upon hearing what I discovered... Promptly left while leaving lingering curses in her wake.

To most of this nation's pundits, the Tea Party "movement" is going to be an enduring movement. Critical gains have been made and GOP defenses exploited during the mid-term primaries have led many to believe that the Tea "Party" is a force to be reckoned with.

I humbly disagree and I will let my comrade Occam's Razor do the explaining. The Tea Party is basically the extremist arm of the Grand Old Party and as such will not elicit votes from Liberals or Independents. In fact, it is doubtful these candidates will garner many or any of the votes from moderate or liberal Conservatives.

If one looks to history, two variants from the same ideologies will ultimately split the vote. Don't believe me, ask the world's largest president (waist-wise), William Howard Taft. Still not convinced? Try, father of the most controversial president... George H. W. Bush.

So, keep patting yourselves on the back for winning a couple of primaries... It will ultimately be more difficult to face an opponent with mainstream appeal. Certainly, they might win a few seats but those will be in districts that typically vote Conservative anyway. So, what is in the wallet of the Tea Party movement? Devoid of any cache... It is ultimately just moths and lint.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Naysayers Might Call it 'Perpetual' War But We (The Establishment) Call it: Being in it for 'The Long Haul'

Washington Rules: PORTEmaus Book Club Update: No. I

After the Aspidistra debacle (Look at how long it took to post the review... let alone finish the short novel), I decided to get a jump on Bacevich's book and be more "johnny on the spot" with the updates. I have been a little surprised by the book, namely the composition and Bacevich's writing style. I can say with much certainty that those few people that follow this blog will not read this book because it would be considered too "dense" or political.

True, you cannot have a book about policy without being political but honestly this book is not dense. So far, the book is more historical about the concepts and people who have forced concept of perpetual war to the forefront of the "Washington Rules." People like Allen Welsh Dulles (Brother of the "guy" (John Foster Dulles, Eisenhower's Secretary of State) they named the airport after... he also is considered to be the father of the Central Intelligence Agency) and the head of the Strategic Air Command, Curtis Lemay (A man most known for as the guy behind firebombing of Japan and the basis for the character of General Buck Turgidson in Dr. Strangelove)

Needless to say, this technique provides an interesting perspective on policy decisions. It puts more emphasis on how these decisions became entrenched into American politics. For those who are still unconvinced, consider this... I received my copy yesterday (the local library never received their copies evidently) and I read sixty some odd pages (out of two-fifty)... Couldn't put the sucker down, it also makes me want to apply to Boston University... But I digress.

Global Military Hegemony... Pish Posh, Tis Nothing More Than Politics As Usual... Now, Everyone Go Back To Watching WifeSwap.

PORTEmaus Book Club Entry No. III:



Have you ever wondered why it seems like history is repeating itself? Does it feel odd that our nations history cannot be separated neatly into four or eight year blocks? Many people --myself included-- feel that the particular brand of politics (or more generally... policy) emanating from Washington is detrimental to not only individual citizens but also our standing in the eyes of the world.

This might seem like a common sense assessment of the United States status as a Superpower or the War on Ideological Concepts but it does not explain why the policies of one presidency closely resembles that of its predecessor. Specifically, how can the war in Afghanistan (which began under President Bush) become Obama's war?

These concepts and other corollary's (perpetual war) is the core of Andrew Bacevich's book. It is for this reason that it has been suggested and selected as the PORTEmaus Book Club book for August. Hopefully, one will consider it relevant and not too dense.

Addendum: I think a trend has begun to manifest --for the club that is-- and it goes a little something like this... Non-fiction-Fiction-Non-fiction... This was not a conscious decision but it seems like an obvious route to go... At the very least, it is a natural one to take.

This novel has everything... Class Warfare, Adult Situations, Disorderly Conduct and an Immortal Plant! PORTEmaus Book Club Review #II:

Keep The Aspidistra Flying... A novel by George Orwell.

Preface: I had the most frustrating conversation regarding Orwell (Like all literature talks, it stemmed from noisiness about the book I was reading at the time... The Scarlet Pimpernel) and how he was nothing more than hack, only able to plagiarize and incapable of an original literary thought. Basically, the clod asserted that 1984 was a rip-off of Zamyatin's We. What she neglected to note was that Orwell cited this novel as inspiration. I recount this story, merely to clear Orwell's name...

Say 'allo to Gordon Comstock, starving poet, shop keep and lone soldier in the war on Capitalism. Gordon is a complex character with few redeeming virtues and I doubt most readers will like him. His motivations for shunning money (however, he is not above accepting it from his poor and also starving sister) and "good" jobs would not resonate with them. He is staunchly anti-consumer and anti-Capitalist for the sake that neither behaviors have no intrinsic value in society.

Orwell surrounds Gordon with characters who cannot fathom the reasons for his actions. The horrors of Capitalism expounded by him is lost upon --those closest to him--Julia, Rosemary and even the self-described Socialist Ravelston (who is wealthy no less). All feel that Gordon should abandon his fools errand and obtain a job that pays. Of course, Gordon refuses to oblige them.

This is an interesting literary technique as the reader will inevitably side with the supporting cast and render Gordon's views taboo. At its foundation, Aspidistra is a novel that serves as means to awaken class consciousness... While simultaneously not offering a replacement for Capitalism. It merely seeks to expose Capitalistic values as being shallow and superficial.

In the end, the novel is one that illustrates the ills of Capitalism and how it adversely affects British intellectual development (I.e. Thoughts are "controlled" subconsciously through economics and this is illustrated through the reading habits or political views of the characters). There is a reason why this system is entrenched in Western society, it is because the individual creates a need for it. For even Gordon Comstock, avowed enemy of the "Money God" (aka Capitalism) realizes the futility of his battle and much like the protagonist in 1984, Winston Smith (Nice callback, it all comes full circle), he accepts the dominant system of control and obtains a "good" job. Of course, he has a reason for this but ultimately, Orwell utilizes Comstock as a means to illuminate that political or economic systems are nigh impossible to overthrow... Especially, when only one man answers the call to arms.

Friday, August 13, 2010

We Are About to Embark Into a Brave New World, Where Computers are Still Computers and People are... Well, People... Who Use Computers.

As many of you might know, I have embarked on the path of a graduate student and oh what a delightful path it is... With learning, lollipops and rainbows... A lot of rainbows. Needless to say, most of my effort was spent not morphing into the atypical "graduate student..." Let's face it, some of them can be the worst.

I also learned a few concepts and terms... All in all, a good time was had by all. Yet, on the final day of a seven day intensive course, we watched a short film detailing the relationship between man and machine. (This was actually my second time watching it)

The first time, I thought it was pretty good, not merely from a technical (the editing and presentation) perspective. However, after seeing it a second time I found it to be a wee bit pretentious.

For your consumption, The Machine is Us...



Like I said, from an aesthetic point of view, it is pretty sweet and has a kicking beat to accompany it. However, something continues to bother me about it. The fact remains that the point behind is built on shaky foundation. To say that every time we click a link, create a blog or post a video, we are teaching the machine to think... Is well, ridiculous.

This is coming from the guy who likes many of the ideas behind Transhumanism... Who wouldn't want their brain placed in a robot that can dance the robot? However, human interaction or contribution to the internet is not going to affect or enlighten a server housing digital information. Especially, since a computer does not possess the processing speeds to match the capabilities of the human mind. Nor will it be able to achieve this any time soon.

What is the effect of man on the "machine?" In a word... Nothing. One would argue that the internet or Web 2.0 applications impact human behavior... However, this would presume that a man-made concept could alter a thought process. Surprise, surprise... This applications are made with a specific audience in mind, it is not aiding in the achievement of computer sentience.

So, if you were watching that video and had visions of a nuclear holocaust... Have no fear, clicking a link merely fulfills a process dictated by its code, which was constructed by a human programmer not a computer. Take that Skynet! Humans 1, Sentient Robots 0!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

All Good Things Must Draw to a Close: Aspidistra Closing Update No. 2

Aspidistra has drawn to a close and a good time was had by all. It was great to spend some time in pre-war Britain for a bit... Especially since I spent my nose firmly in dense course materials for the better part of July.

All grousing aside, the book did not disappoint the second time around. A rare occurrence since nothing lives up to the expectations or memories in our mind. Oddly enough, I have reread a couple of Orwell's books in my time and they don't disappoint on multiple readings.

With that said, the review should be posted either tomorrow or Friday.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Curse you money-god! How one live on two quid a week? Aspidistra update: number one.

So I suppose everyone is wondering (pins, needles and such) where I am at in Orwell's Keep the Aspidistra Flying... Especially since the first week of August is drawing to a close. I am about two-thirds of the way through it and I cannot believe it took me this long to reread it. Orwell has a way with presenting poverty stricken characters and pre-war (the Second World War) England for that matter.

Hopefully, I will be able to finish it by tomorrow or Sunday at the latest... Though, much like the first time I read it, I --kind of-- don't want it to end. Damn you Orwell and your literary prowess!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Better Get That Bucket Out, The Boat Is a Sinkin' and Feeble Politics is not Going to Save It.

Let's venture into the absurd, shall we. Do you have your thinking caps on? Good. Here we go...

What in the world is wrong with John McCain? (Besides, the obvious philosophical deficiencies) The road into insanity has been a long one for the --self-described-- maverick. Of course, there were the pictures of him hugging on Bush, picking Palin, watering down legislation on torture... All understandable, I mean I get it. He just wanted to be President, soooooo bad.

So, what is his deal now? Check out one of his fantastic billboards for his reelection to the US Senate:



Much like Campaign Finance Reform, anti-torture legislation and his political ambitions, McCain is what one would consider a lame duck. Then again, his political inadequacies aside, he remains a highly delusional legislator.

Seriously, regardless of one's position on the immigration debate (If you could call it that, it just sounds like good ol' racism to me)... What exactly has McCain done to secure the border? Has he been patrolling the border himself with an M1 Garand in hand? What we are witnessing is McCain engaging his favorite brand of politics, no not Maverick but rather sycophantic politics. (In this case, those with racial issues) Which if you followed his career --in the most cursory way-- is the only politics he knows. It is sort of sad considering he can't defeat a disgraced and corrupt former Congressman easily.


I suppose if he spent more time a politicking and less time on looking stylish then he would not have these problems.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

It Aint Nothing But A Heartbreaker... Friend Only To The Undertaker...


I think Sebastian Junger's book, aptly titled War is the fourth book that I have read --this year-- concerning the American military (or private contractors) campaign's in either Iraq or Afghanistan. (The Others being: Generation Kill, Imperial Life in the Emerald City and of course, Blackwater) War --the concept not the book-- has always been a fascinating subject, mostly because it throws moral constraint out the window and man regresses to his most primal nature. War as a work of non-fiction examines this notion of war as a reduction to who can kill more effectively or rather who fights better. Junger does an admirable job of expanding upon this simplification of the concept, by examining the psychological aspects of war and the inability to function in a work devoid of combat.

It is the examination of the psychological aspects of war that is the most compelling piece of Junger's research. He cites numerous studies undertaken to understand why a soldier is "heroic" (Such as jumping on a live grenade) or how morale affects infantrymen in the Army's pursuit to create the perfect soldier.

For me, the war in Afghanistan presented in this book is a futile one (in terms of objectives and purpose)... What exactly is the United States Army hoping to accomplish in Afghanistan? Arguably, the world's greatest army fighting over various valleys while the nation's citizenry is left wallow in the turmoil.

This is an over-simplification of the conflict but --honestly-- the soldiers in the book do not accomplish anything. Roads are not built nor are buildings restored and an active insurgency definitely is the reason for this. I suppose this is the point of War... The book and the concept.

War is the futile act of violence... Man versus Man. It cannot create but only destroy, this point is lost through political discourse and the imposition of ideology in this nation. Is it any wonder that Afghanistan was considered the forgotten war?

Regardless of one's position on war ideologically, it was a good read.

Addendum: There have been some developments in the Afghan theater of the "War on Terror" (aka the War on Abstract Concepts), we finally have "compendium of 91,000" about what exactly is happening in Central Asia by our government. I highly encourage you all (my dwindling audience) to peruse the Afghan War Diary 2004-2010 at Wikileaks.org.

Is Thirty Second Advertising Contributing to America's Collective Ignorance? At the Very least, it is Teaching Us to Party. Whoo!

Hark, I proclaim the many virtues of the DVR! Not only can a man record PBS for a later viewing (let's face it, I lead a pretty hectic life) but you can fast forward through the most wretched aspect of mass communications... The thirty second commercial spot.

Sadly, I still find myself going back to commercials that catch my eye while fast forwarding. Case in point, the Fourth of July advertisement for Bud Light. I admit that I have elicited a chuckle or two at a Bud Light ad. This one however was particularly appalling.

Why don't you take a gander:



Is it any wonder why the male demographic 18-30 is ignorant of history and have such a low view of women. Honestly, the writer of really painted an accurate portrayal of the American Revolution... It was one big party, full of sexists (misogynists) --although Franklin was known for his weakness for the ladies-- and free flowing --cheap-- booze. Lord knows they did not have anything better to be doing... After all there was a war going on.

To think this farce is the way to pay tribute to our forefathers and preeminent thinkers. I suppose this is one way to sell a product around July 4th... Outside of besmirching national "icons," the ad was devoid of humor and was down right crass. Then again, it was not a commercial for Bordeaux but rather a cheap beer for those with discriminating tastes... You know, sophisticates.

Addendum: On repeated viewings this commercial would not be so bad if it was not for the poor acting --of the 80's movie actor rejects-- and piss poor writing. (I was going to allude to those crappy comedies from the 80's again but that is being slightly redundant) I mean, freeing oppressed people from tyranny takes its toll, sometimes you need a break. I hear that is what the Algerians did during the Algerian Revolution... Dropped what they were doing --including being tortured-- and partied it up.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Has Thou Forgotten Thine Bumbershoot? There Be Falling Information About!

It was my intention to make this announcement last week (Family members are rejoicing at not being forced to read this blog anymore) but was side-tracked by the multitude of urine soaked diapers (Not mine, I assure you), milk stained towels and the perpetual exhaustion associated with parenthood. Then I started graduate school... But, I digress. This is not an announcement of my intention of quitting this newborn blog but rather my decision to increase its scope.

Namely, I am going to revamp the layout... First through the interface provided by Google and maybe later I will code something new entirely. (Doubtful since this is not 2001 and my patience for such things is lacking)

Also, I would like to include some reviews of the things that I am reading book wise and provide the links to interesting articles. Will that signal the demise of my generated content..? No fear, I will still post my diatribes and absurd mini-blogs.

These are but a few of the changes that I am going to implement to PORTEmaus... Sadly, only three people read this page now and truth be told... I doubt they do any longer. Well, here's to you anonymous Internet person... You are a King among men... Unless you are a woman... Then I guess that would make you a Queen... Wow... Yet, another digression.

Cheers,
-Manny

Sunday, July 4, 2010

America, I Know You And I Do Not See "Eye to Eye" A Vast Majority of the Time But Here's To You On Your "Birthday"

I feel I would be doing a disservice to America if I did not wish her a "Happy Birthday" on this the day of her birth. Of course, I was wondering the tone that should I adopt for this post... Should it be genuine or "sarcastic?" Should I focus upon the contributions this nation has made to world at large (um, Twilight) or "how she is beginning to show her age." (Her adventurous foreign policies among other travesties)

Well, I will save being provocative for "provocative's sake" for another day. After all, nobody likes to hear bad things about themselves on their "day." So, here are some things that make America alright. The United States of America this is your life.



1. The American Revolution

The American Revolution had it all, a great plot --with a whole slew of interesting characters-- involving guerrillas rebelling against tyrannical despot. Sadly, the Revolution spawned the best American thinkers to date (With the exception of Lincoln and a select others) and such an occurrence will never happen again. Lightning does not strike twice after all.



2. Thomas Jefferson

The man, the myth, the legend. I cannot say more about this preeminent wordsmith/ revolutionary. Sure, there were other great men... Henry, Franklin, Adams (Sam and John) surrounding him but frankly none of them resonated with me more than the man who wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. One would assume that having laid the framework for a document of that magnitude would make one narcissistic... Not Jefferson, he was not keen on writing it... go figure.



3. The Bill Of Rights

They do not mean as much as they did before but the Bill of Rights was revolutionary in the way they made "privileges" in other countries, the inherent rights of all citizens in this one.




4. The Proverbial "Melting Pot"

Immigration is what made this country great. It has given us a truly unique cultural dynamic... Sadly, not all of us share this sentiment.



5. National Parks

America certainly has some wondrous sites out there. Hell, some so great that we have gone to great lengths to protect them. Here's to you our proverbial "Purple Mountains Majesty."



6. Libraries

It pains me to hear people call institutions such as this, "Ly-Berries." Seriously, my four-year old knows better. Bless the institution that seeks to eradicate idiocy in populace. Its a tough and altogether fight old bean... Hang in there.



7. The Blues

One of the truly unique American musical art forms, one whose reach was global and had influenced countless other forms of music. The Blues of the South is the stuff of legend. They say the man above this caption sold his soul to the devil... Regardless, he could play a mean guitar.



8. The Public Broadcasting System

Who does not enjoy a little PBS after a hard day in the salt mines? As it stands, it has to be the best television that money can buy. It has something for everybody and I would still give my left --you know what-- to VOLUNTEER at WGBH Boston. Don't tell my wife that...



9. Non-Profit / Volunteer Organizations

Some call it social welfare or handouts but when was helping people a bad thing? Thankfully, there has been no shortage of people who long to help their fellow man. I am glad that not everyone is that cynical... This is coming from a cynic no less.



10. The Golden Age of Hollywood

The Golden Age of Hollywood is something that will never happen again. Long gone are the days of Capra, Stewart, Hitchcock and countless other, they have been replaced by the age of the lowest common denominator. Genuine humor has been cast aside for the timeless dick and fart joke. This is just the film graduate in me waxing poetic about days past. I swear if they ever remake Singing in the Rain or It's A Wonderful Life... I am expatriating.

*Please note: this list is not empirical but one man's opinion. (Sorry, that's why you don't see Toby Keith or Seth MacFarlane on this list... Face it, they kind of suck)

Addendum: While watching fireworks with the Funkowitz clan, --In between babies crying, pointless murmuring, three people singing "God Bless America" and the lady yakking on her cell phone-- some jackass yelled out "Let's hear it for our troops in Iraq!" to unanimous applause. I still don't know where to start with that. On second thought, I take back the nice things I said. To be fair, this lone action is indictment of the populace not America... Evidently, number six is facing a tougher battle than I had previously thought.

What?!? Orwell Wrote Something Other Than A Novel With Talking Animals That I Read In High School? Who Knew?

The second entry into the PORTEmaus Book Club was an easy choice. At the very least, it is not as "controversial" as Blackwater was. In fact, I would be hard pressed to find someone who has actually read this book (besides myself... what can I say, I read for fun). Without further ado, the book that has been selected to join the "club" --a personal favorite of mine-- is George Orwell's Keep The Aspidistra Flying.



I have been looking for an excuse to revisit this book for sometime... Thankfully, I finally found one. I know that many people will wonder why I selected this book out of Orwell's body of work. Personally, 1984 has become the "go to" book for the Left since the Bush administration and I feel that Orwell was at his best when he examined the ramifications of Capitalism on the mass man not --Soviet-- Totalitarianism. To each his own... I suppose. So, broaden your Orwell horizons and read damn you! Hopefully, I won't finish the book so quickly and will be able to post periodic updates through the month. Curse my fifth grade reading level!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

It is Fitting That the Headquarters of the World's Most Nefarious Mercenary Organization Resides on a Great Dismal Swamp

PORTEmaus Book Club Review No. One:




How far have we progressed as a nation that a subject such as a private military, mercenaries or "contractors" is a polarizing one? It seems many of us have our priorities confused. You know when I enter the ballot box, the use of mercenaries is a hot button issue. I have to think to myself: "I know where Candidate X stands on education, the separation of church and state and the economy but I am placing my vote for Candidate Y because he will grant no bid contracts to private contractors to conduct combat operations in foreign locales."

At the heart of Scahill's book is the privatization of the American military apparatus beginning under Cheney in the 90's, ultimately reaching its apex during Rumsfield's tenure as Secretary of Defense. The most disturbing aspect of this departure from a government controlled military to a privatized one is the use of contractors who are not subject to the same laws as conventional soldiers.

The story of Blackwater is the proverbial Conservative wet dream, at its head is a wealthy Christian who views the War on Terrorism as the Crusades renewed. It cannot be said that Erik Prince is not a man without principles, in the American world of political lobbying, money is usually spent to entice politicians on both sides of the aisle, however he won't throw a dime to liberal politicians. This brand loyalty has served him well during the Bush years as Blackwater was granted lucrative no-bid contracts to perform protection, security, training and combat operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and even in Katrina ravaged New Orleans.

A lot of the criticism directed at this book references how it is left leaning in its presentation. Those who feel that way are missing the point of Scahill's analysis/ argument. The point is not that a Republican administration sanctioned the use of "contractors" --they might be more inclined to do so but lets face it, their usage is non-partisan-- but rather the implications to Democracy --domestic or abroad-- over their usage. It is disparaging that the Bush administration bent over backwards to make such mercenary groups as Blackwater, DynCorp and Triple Canopy immune to prosecution under the Uniform Code of Military Justice --for its actions abroad--, they even repealed the Posse Comitatus of 1878, thereby allowing the military to act as law enforcement in Post-Katrina New Orleans. (Now, such legislation reverts to the Insurrection Act of 1807) These points are lost on loyalists incapable of seeing the big picture, it is not a partisan issue, these are the same individuals who fail to understand that dissension is a healthy element of American politics. Perhaps, they genuinely believe that companies such as Blackwater should be firmly entrenched in the United States military structure and thus they are crazy, which is beside the point.

As far as the presentation goes, Scahill provides the reader with a wealth of information. He explains the adverse effect of privatizing military operations and how companies such as Blackwater furthered corruption in government, while also strengthening the military industrial complex.

The book encompasses many different topics pertaining to Blackwater, its humble beginnings to it meteoric rise to the top of the mercenary industry. For me, the chapters dealing with the company were not the most compelling... In particular, the Cover Black chapter. Scahill was at his best when he describes and examines the actions of the company in Iraq or how they actively recruited and employed Chilean mercenaries --Many of which worked for Pinochet-- for a pittance. It was chapters like these that you get the full picture of how heinous a company like Blackwater is and their blatant disregard for civilians and ethics.

At its worse, the book tended to be repetitive on some points. However, I can understand this technique as one assumes it was used to "hammer" a point across. (Such the aforementioned ethical concerns etc) I was hoping that Scahill would have expanded on the deployment of Blackwater domestically and its consequences in regards to the Constitution/ American democracy... But, alas, it was not to be.

Overall, I found the book to be a quick, easy and altogether informative read. I think that the criticisms of Scahill's perspective are absurd, given that nature of the subject (Now, if this was a book about abortion, I would understand it.) and especially since public opinion of the company is so low they had to change their name. (Blackwater or Xe --as it is now known-- has since been put up for sale.) While this was not the best book which dealt with Iraq that I read this year... One does learn much about the shadowy company that has hidden behind the euphemism of "Private Contractor" and whose exploits have been far from innocuous.

Oddly Enough, It Was Not Matt Lauer and Al Roker That Ruined my Day...

Now, I am not one who regularly watches "Today" or any other morning news show for that matter, for I can't stand so much pep in the morning. However, last Thursday while sitting on a pull out bed in a hospital, I witnessed the most appalling segment in recent television morning "news" history. (The operative term(s) would be "fluff," "tearjerker" or "feel good piece.")

It was not the story that was appalling, in fact assisting inner city Black youth receive proper education is admirable but it was rather the Today "correspondent" --as you know Today is a cutting edge investigative journalism program-- Jenna Bush that made me vomit in digust.

Truth be told, even the fact that it was not her or her smug sense of self-worth that particularly bothered me nor her "I feel for poor people thus, I can relate with them candor." It was the fact that the host acted like she was not the daughter of the most polarizing President in United States history.

I suppose I shall be stoned --let he who is without sin cast the first stone-- for condemning someone for the sins of their father. Frankly, I refuse to believe in the whitewash of Bush, his presidency or his policies. How quickly everyone forgets. Allegedly, his children are more liberal (highly unlikely),

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Thursday, June 17, 2010

What Can One Say About Advertising... Other Than It Is Akin To An Open Sore At The Roof of One's Mouth.

I willingly submit myself to nobility of advertising, without their patronage and insight into their fellow man, life would not only be a futile quest but we would be caught adrift. Hark, o benevolent lords and ladies of Madison Avenue, could thou'st quit bombarding us with products that we desperately need... I have no money left for necessities such as rent, utilities or sustenance. Please take pity on us, the lowly mass, for we do not know better.

What was the response to our impassioned plea...? A simple... "Nay."

One would assume being the graduate of a mediocre film school and a firm opponent of commercial advertising, I would have examined the industry much sooner. Now, you might wonder why I despise commercials. Well, elementary my dear Watson. Foremost, advertising is the second most pervasive element in our collective society/ culture... The first would --arguably-- be the government. (That is neither here nor there)

One must consider that a sweet chunk of change is spent on advertising. In 2008, American businesses spent "412,400,000,000 dollars American" on advertisements, nearly a half trillion dollars or roughly the amount spent on Defense. It is not hard to see where the money goes considering the bulk of television and radio programming provided for advertising. (Roughly eight minutes for a half hour show and eighteen per a hour long show)

What is the psychological or subconscious impact of advertising? I suppose it has a lot to do with the level of susceptibility or lack of vigilance on the part of the viewer. Regardless, it is ever present in all mediums, whether it is print, television, on-line... Hell, the side of a bus or tattoo on some doofus. (Trust me, I have seen them... check out ugliesttattoo.com)

What is a person to do? I am not narcissistic enough to speak for everyone (or think my opinion actually matters in the grand scheme of things) but I tend to yell at the television (much to the displeasure of my wife) at particularly offensive ads. It is therapeutic, though one day it will lead to the throwing of coffee mugs, crying and eventually a painful divorce.

I will say this, DVRs and DVDs have become a proverbial godsend for those who hate commercials... In particular stupid ones (Of which there are many). My hatred stems from the fact that I do not relish the thought of a company trying to influence my thought process or motivations. I can't say that I am immune to all advertisements nor can I determine which ones were effective and those which were not. I guess that's the rub, the subtlety is what makes them effective, it gives the impression of choice.

Much like this respective post, it is all style over substance... Now, that my musing has petered out, I will return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

Addendum: In case you were curious as to what spawned this blog... It was the adverts for Aflac and the United States Postal Service featuring the characters for Toy Story. From what I understand that children are the untapped demographic in both insurance and shipping.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Oh Sweet Darwin, Your Theory is Fantastic, As Is Your Facial Hair.

Like most simple folk, I lack the faculties for advanced scientific thought and thus I am truly in awe of new found discoveries from the realm of science. Maybe, in an alternate world, I am a scientist and not a hack writer posting to a website with a readership less than 10. Not likely but that is neither here nor there. It seems that scientists have finally identified a rare pink fish as a new species that "uses its fins to walk, rather than swim, along the ocean floor."

Take a gander at the following pictures.









One has to wonder at the possibilities that this discovery entails. Quite possibly, long after you and I have died, there might be anthropomorphic fish hoofing it through our cities, mingling with people at coffee shops or playing free form jazz on a street corner for change. Perhaps, Darwin might get his due and evolution will finally be recognized as an undeniable science.

Then again, the last time a pink variant of the handfish has seen living was 1999... So, in all likelihood these fish might not see the next step of the evolutionary ladder and will simply become the dinner of a bigger fish with fins. Thereby, illustrating that fish are better off with fins not feet. Of course, I can't help but think of the whole thing going horribly wrong and looking something like this:

All of the Intrigue, Gore, Romance and Theological Fanaticism of a Dime Store Mystery Novel but it Actually Happened: PORTEmaus Book Club Entry One

I have never been known to be a cautious man, I tend live life by the seat of my pants. If it feels good, I do it, like eating an entire birthday cake or kidney punching a clown... You get the gist. Actually, all of that is a bald-faced lie... I am creature of habit, who finds overly planning things a joy.

With that being said, the decision to pick a "safe" choice for the inaugural book in the PORTEmaus Book Club contradicts my very natural. We should have went with something with mass appeal and the literary content that our readers demand... Like Twilight or Go Dog Go. However, caution has been thrown to the wind and a --fantastic, thus far-- polarizing and scathing indictment of the world's most notorious private military organization has been selected to lead off our monthly book series.



They say that truth is stranger than fiction and the tale of Blackwater certainly fits this assertion. So, its time to hit up your local library --you know, the place with books that you can borrow for free-- and check this bad boy out. Also, keep you eyes out for periodic updates as to where we are with the book and for the full review at the end of the month. Without further ado, enjoy and good luck.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Last Time I Checked, People Hate Others Peering Into There Homes... Why Would They Enjoy People Being Able To Do It Online?

It has to be said that the world is full of more pressing concerns but I most comment on the issue of Facebook privacy. Now, there are those who could care little about the information that Facebook has been mining and providing companies for the purpose of advertising or for the world at large to view under the guise of expanding the "connections" between users. I beg to differ...

Before you join me in hyperventilating at the notion of some "creepy uncle" violating your privacy by scoping out information that you never intended for mass consumption --some petulant billionaire decided that an "opt-out" feature makes more sense than "opt-in"--, lets take a moment to examine this decision. Granted, it does not take a certified genius to understand why it was chosen... They were hoping that its users were too complacent or naïve to care. They were wrong and much like the initial upgrade of illustrating your every move on Facebook, the company was forced to take a step back in the face of public outrage.

Mark Zuckerberg, the beloved wunderkind behind the social network --in the world's most feeble apology ever-- stated "We move quickly to serve that community with new ways to connect with the social Web and each other. Sometimes we move too fast." Really?!?!?! Who asked for transparency when it comes to information pertaining to them as a user regardless of the speed in which this change takes place. I know when I sit on Facebook, I have long wondered how great it would be for a third party (whether they be a person or a business)to know my interests and information without my consent and leaving me with the pride that I would be furthering the sense of community. The pure, unadulterated hubris of Zuckerberg and the contempt that Facebook has for its users is appalling... They want individuals who value their own privacy to be ashamed of this most sacred right because --from their perspective-- Facebook is a device to create a sense of belonging not profits from advertising.

I am not championing for the halcyon days of "social networking" or Facebook as in my opinion, they never existed but one has to remember these dastardly changes that erode privacy to benefit business. To me, that is not meaning behind such buzz words as "social networking" or "community" --for that matter--, they carry no meaning. Facebook is not in the business of building a community online (Since from a logical perspective, a "community" can only exist in a physical realm"), it is in the business of making money. How else did Zuckerberg amass four billion dollars... Selling Girl Scout cookies?

Why does Facebook want your information, quite simply it wants to develop advertising that fits that information... Or rather sell said information to a third-party to create "tailor-made" ads just for you. The sad fact is "you" as a person are not valuable but your interests are. In essence, you are allowing them to sell "you" to "you." Now, that is what I consider being part of a "community."

All in All, Zuckerberg's "apology" proved one thing, you know which direction Facebook is heading and this setback has merely slowed the process down. Jon Paczkowski explains "Zuckerberg isn’t admitting that Facebook was headed in the wrong direction with respect to user privacy; he’s saying Facebook was headed in right direction all along, just a bit too quickly–for those of us with reasonable expectations or privacy, anyway."

I suppose I am speaking to a minority --I only have three regular readers-- since everyone loves Facebook from infants to the elderly... everyone has a page. Hell, you can be friends with Pizza Hut or WalMart and who doesn't want to be friends with a corporation that does not possess the faculties to have a discussion with you... let alone be your "friend." With that said, I have grown a little tuckered out from frothing at the mouth, if you will excuse me... I have some crops to harvest in Farmville and then I have a drive-by shooting to commit in Mafia Wars.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

I'm The Criminal? You've Got The Nerve To Ask Me...

I have been known to bend my own rules --from time to time-- out of necessity. If there is nowhere decent to eat, I will eat at McDonald's or some other fast food restaurant to satisfy my hunger or debase myself for the sake of a paycheck week in, week out... Such behaviors are defeating and usually result in self-loathing. However, there is one place that just burned its last chit with yours truly, Manny Funkowitz and that is the capitalist goliath and social pariah, Walmart.

Walmart and I have a hate-hate relationship, I hate it because of its purported virtues, the commercialized neighborhood "friendliness," its brass knuckle business practices but also its assertion that it is the best deal in town. The whole economics side of Walmart's mantra "Save Money, Live Better" is fallacious. (It also expects that Consumerism will solve all of your life's problems.)You are paying the same or more for normal everyday items. Wow, you can save $30 on a poorly constructed television... Go you. Now, Walmart hates me because I will only shop there when I am desperate, which leads me to the point of this diatribe.

Short on time before going out of town this past weekend, I was tasked to obtain some dog food and laundry detergent. After quickly gathering said products, I snagged some water and snack mix (I do not advertise for free folks) for the journey that lay ahead. After paying for my four items, I made my way to the door, followed closely by a near middle aged woman and her son. (With a cart full of assorted crad) Almost immediately, the aged "greeter" drops what she is doing to demand my receipt (clutched in my left hand). After looking it over, then my cart of --unbagged-- items and me several times, the suspicion of thievery was lifted and thereby cleared me to exit. How about the lady with the cart full of items? Oh, she got waved to and thanked for her business, not once was there a move to break her stride out of the store.

I have long pondered over this experience and I am wondering if it was good ol' fashioned agecism or a firm hatred of men who dress sharply and have patchy beards. Most assuredly it was the latter, there was a way to handle such an absurd situation and she failed miserably. I'm sure there is a deep black market of stolen goods such as dog food and water but honestly, electing not use plastic bags does not make a person a criminal. (It makes them more environmentally minded) Furthermore, don't hassle the guy with four items and if you do then trot out that fantastic customer service that you bandy about in your ads but doesn't exist in practice. I can not foresee a reason to shop there --not even in desperation-- short of if my life depended on it... Which one has to wonder if their life will ever depend on cheap, poorly made tube socks or any other inferior crap.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Why Think When You Can Have Someone Else Do The Thinking For You? Part One of a Commentary on the Current State of the Media

The media and I are engaged in an abusive relationship... When we got hitched, we were both young, idealistic and most importantly naïve. She looked fine to me once, she engaged in hard-hitting/ investigating journalism that looked out for the little guy and rocked my world... Then she was seduced by the glamour of a world that we were not members of and the affairs with her bosses began. Woeth me, I tolerated it because of the woman she once was... But she is unrecognizable to me now, if she is not carrying on about her bosses political philosophies then she prattling on about some vapid celebrity gossip. Needless to say, it has make dinner time intolerable.

Much like religion and government, the media and politics were meant to be separate --in an ideal world-- from the particular political belief system of those who own it. (Or at least make an attempt to hide the bias) In fact, the government went as far as mandating requiring equal representation during election cycles among other requirements. (Admirable but no one adheres to such things.) We live in a completely different media landscape now as six --its really 5... CBS and Viacom are essentially the same company--separate media entities control a vast majority of the media outlets in this country. This was achieved through a series of "mergers and acquisitions, allowing for the concentration of control over what the average citizen sees, hears and reads."

There certainly exists a frightening potential for abuse that is aided by the apathy of the average media consumer. Hark, do I hear the usual criticisms already off in the distance... "Who gives a crap?," "Oy, Chicken Little is the sky falling again?" or "Are some kind of idiot, the concentration/ privatization of industry is what makes America great."

Honestly, it is very unlikely (ever the hopeless optimist) that the six media conglomerates will relinquish their stranglehold on American culture, commercial and ultimately thought. One also has to consider that several of these companies have holdings diverse enough that government interference would be nigh impossible. Now, remember that when you are enjoying that awesome episode of "Heroes," NBC's parent company, GE --General Electric-- is busy building engines for the U2 bomber, Apache attack helicopter and F-16 among many other machines of war.

The point remains the same, you cannot expect a company nor a system to abandon business practices in which they make a profit. (Which is the point of man's existence, naturally) Do they know they are selling tripe to the masses? You bet, that's why there is an obvious reluctance to try anything that goes against a proven formula. Why do you think there are so many "reality" based "talent" competitions/ game shows or poorly scripted medical/ cop dramas on television. The problem is not whether or not you watch copious amounts of television but rather if you are aware that you are being sold the message of a multinational corporation --either for commercial or political purposes-- through the airwaves. (The latter depending on what you watch) The more I think about it, the less convinced I am about a person's ability to delineate between what it sees on television or the opinions read and heard on the radio and the entities that control these media outlets. They called it the Age of Information but easily has become the Age of --Filtered-- Information packaged to specific demographics... It has become a process that promotes complacency in the viewer, with the goal to have said viewer vote a certain way and consume products that one does not really need. This is the unpleasant truth that is buried beneath a deluge of commercials and commentary beamed to millions homes daily.

Addendum:

I came across a quote by Jaron Lanier that summarizes my point exactly: "Without an independent press, composed of heroic voices, the collective becomes stupid and unreliable." He also says that history is full of ample examples that demonstrate this position... I suppose I will leave that to the next installment.