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The Judge

Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) is a Chicago trial lawyer at the top of his game. Prosecutors hate him, and the guilty who can pay his fees love him, because he helps them go free.  He has money, and the trappings of success, but a cynicism that cannot be disguised.  You realize very early on that he is a damaged person, and I found myself wanting to know why.

As the movie opens, he’s about to do it again, when he answers his cell phone as the Judge comes to the bench and calls the court to order. He asks the Judge for a continuance, as he has just learned that his mother passed away.

As he prepares to go back home, we learn that while he is talented and obviously wealthy, his marriage to the trophy wife with “the ass of a high school volleyball player” is on the rocks because she is sleeping with an old boyfriend, and while he blithely discusses their inevitable divorce, he tells her that he will be getting custody of their daughter.

Home, as it turns out, is Indiana, and as we begin to learn, he is less than welcome there. His father, Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall) is the local judge, and dispenses justice as only a small town judge can, as we see when Hank visits the court on his arrival in town. Their grief is shared by Hank’s older brother, Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio), and their retarded little brother, Dale (Jeremy Strong). There is no love lost between the Judge and his middle son, yet Judge Palmer manages to muster a modicum of civility when addressing the son who left, and didn’t speak to him for years. Having witnessed the Judge’s performance in the courtroom, however, Hank suspects that his father is drinking. On the evening after the funeral, the Judge leaves after thanking Hank for coming to the funeral, claiming he needs to buy eggs. The Palmer boys, however, go to the local watering hole, and stay to close it down. The next morning, Hank happens to discover that there is significant damage to the front of the Judge’s car, and the local Sheriffs want to question him regarding the death of a man he had sentenced to prison years earlier who had coincidentally been run down on the previous night.

As the story unfolds, so does Hank’s history. Downey is the right person to play the character, not because he does brash and confident well, but because he has such a deft touch playing the brash and confident ace attorney who is brought back to confront a past that he has spent decades running from. His little brother’s film hobby ends up causing him to confront both the good parts of his past, which include happier days when the Palmer boys were still boys, images of fishing with the Judge, and his older brother throwing the winning pitch at the state high school championships, and the car accident which ruined forever his big league dreams because Hank was high while driving. But it is a stray image captured by his little brother’s movie camera which provides the clue to a secret that his father has kept from everyone, and which would exculpate him from the first degree murder charge that his father was making it nearly impossible for Hank to defend against.

It clearly is a trying time for Hank, whether it was hosting his daughter, who was meeting her Grandpa for the first time, running into an old girlfriend, and trying to remain on an even keel when presented with the opportunities that the encounter offered, or dealing with the most difficult client he has ever had, with the weight of his brothers’ expectations being as heavy as can be, along with his own realization that, perhaps for the first time in his career, he actually is feeling the responsibility of having his client’s life in his hands.

Anyone who has lived more than a handful of years can tell you that family can be hard…probably because you don’t get to pick them. I enjoyed this movie because it didn’t sugar coat the difficult events between the members of the family, or how they struggled to remain family in spite of them. D’Onofrio’s older brother seems resigned to a life much different from the one he’d expected. He seems to be at peace with Hank’s role in making him the town’s tire shop owner rather than big league pitcher that he was on track to be, and while he does harbor some resentment when it becomes clear that he is going to have to take in his little brother  soon, he still appears to be duty bound to do so.  In a very revealing scene toward the end, Hank’s ex girlfriend sums up why it is that she still loves him, and in a way, it’s why I could watch the movie, and like him too. The screenplay doesn’t leave him any outs. He has to confront his past, and make peace with it, and along the way, he makes peace with the Judge, too, as an anecdote in an unguarded moment explains all the hopes and dreams he’d had for his middle son, and a gut-wrenching testimony on the witness stand in his own trial explained why he had become so distant from the son he loved at one time. Duvall doesn’t disappoint, as he plays a man of duty and conviction who in the twilight of his career, and the twilight of his life becomes reconciled with his prodigal son, while that son learns that while redemption doesn’t make everything alright, it does free you to move forward without the weight of the past forcing you to run away, or dictating your next action.

europa-report-poster (1)
***SPOILER ALERT***

I admit it. I’m a sucker for movies that DON’T preach at you. I’m always intrigued when a filmmaker presents a story, but allows me to draw my own conclusions, if only because I might end up examining why I came to the conclusions I did. Europa Report is one of those films.

The story is presented in a disjointed, voyeuristic way, as it is told as much through the cameras mounted throughout the spaceship and on the astronauts themselves, as it is through the more “strightforward” scenes filmed from a perspective within the action.

It starts at a point where the ship has already been en route to Europa long enough that Earth is no longer visible to the astronauts aboard. Through the mounted cameras, we see the crew going on about their daily routines, as something unexpected occurs, which cuts off the ship’s communication feed to Earth.

The film jumps forward a few days, and the conversations and actions we see make it clear that one of the crew is dead, communications are still out, and the crew is discussing whether to continue with the mission. We are also able to see that the crew is also concerned about the well-being of a male member of the crew who appears to be the oldest one among them.

Through flashbacks on Earth, we learn that the trip is a privately funded venture which was started after unmanned probes gathered data indicating water under the ice of Europa, along with thermal pockets which caused speculation about the possibility of life in the vast ocean there. Because of this, the company which made this discovery decided to send a manned expedition to learn more, and they assembled an international crew thought to comprise the best of the best. We also learn that the CEO continued in her belief that the mission was proceeding, even after they had lost contact with the ship.

Through the flashbacks from the ship, we meet the crew, and get a glimmer of their motivations for strapping themselves to a bomb, and hurtling themselves through the cold darkness to a meeting with the unknown, how they lost a crew member, and his act of heroism, and the subsequent toll it took on the survivors as they continued the mission.

When they finally reach Europa, their plans for the surface mission are again scrambled by events that they couldn’t anticipate, making it necessary for one of the crew to go outside to try to gather some of the data that they came so far to get. Staying almost to the end of her standard EVA time, she finally finds a unicellular life form which she likens to algae. When she sees something witnessed by the remaining flight engineer alone the day before, she naturally went to investigate. Because the cameras in the suits look at the astronaut’s faces and not at what the astronaut sees, we, and her crewmates know that she enountered…something…before she wound up under the ice, and communications were abruptly severed.

From this point, unforeseen events continue to snowball, until it is revealed that the astronauts never left Europa, but did manage to repair their communications array and transmit everything that happened from the point they lost contact with Earth, to their own last moments, ending with the CEO speaking about the crew’s sacrifice, and the final image transmitted, proving that there was indeed life on Europa, and that we weren’t alone in the universe. As I watched this, and listened, I couldn’t help but to regard this with the perspective of a professional. The CEO didn’t have the luxury of government immunity, and it was clear that while some of the things that went horribly wrong could not have been planned for, that wouldn’t stop some people from claiming otherwise, and that given how some of them had died, it seemed to me that she was trying to put a smiley face on what had been a terrible first contact situation.

I can’t say that Europa Report is a movie that I would watch again, but I did appreciate how the filmmakers got out of the way, and let the story tell itself. I liked the fact that the makers chose to eschew the typical bull-in-a-chinashop subtlety usually employed in such movies, allowing the viewer to enjoy their own anxieties and and resignations as the expedition came to a very different end than the ones its sponsors had planned.

Well, this week brought another series of murders in the name of “The Religion of Peace”.  These acts of savagery have become regrettably commonplace, but the reaction was different this time, because our betters, the relativist preachers and lecturers of the media were kin to those brutally murdered to avenge the honor of a god and prophet too impotent to tend to his own vengeance.  The chaos and confliction endemic to our “thought leaders” was telling.

We witnessed  large media outlets publicly take pains to be careful how they reported the story, out of fear of offending people who have a nasty and largely unchecked habit of killing anyone who offends them…in other words, pretty much anyone else.  Despite the near toxic irony of these media outlets being in a business that relies of the freedom of expression, including the freedom not only to offend, but to gore sacred cows with impunity, this was unsurprising, as these same outlets have been willing participants in a movement to shame, ostracize, and ultimately silence others who “offend” those who have been deemed by our betters to be beyond the reproach, criticism, questioning or mockery of others.  While the New York Times, MSNBC, and social justice warriors in every walk of society haven’t yet taken to killing those who have offended their delicate sensibilities with words, they have displayed absolutely NO reluctance to use their fainting couches as bludgeons against anyone who dares to utter anything that they deem unworthy of being said.  While cries of “racism” are the general default silencer, they have been unafraid to use “intolerance” and “white privilege”, and “______phobia” as well.

I would like to say that I’ve enjoyed seeing the bludgeon of “offense” used against the very people who have brought this perversion of our fundamental freedoms into favor, but I can’t.  Instead, I’m infuriated.  As a white Christian male, husband, and father, it has been open season on me, in my own culture, for most of my life.

And in response, I HAVE KILLED NO ONE.

I haven’t killed sitcom writers, who portray me as a bumbling idiot, worthy of derision from my wife, and contempt from my children.

I haven’t killed self-designated feminists, who seek to blame me for the oppression of women in a society in which I could, and have, worked for women, and in which I have known them as intellectual and spiritual equals.

I haven’t killed African-Americans, despite the ubiquitous claims of my personal practice of oppression, or enjoyment of it because “racism” and “white privilege” from racist grievance pimps, race hustlers, and their willing accomplices in academia and the media.

I haven’t murdered schoolchildren and other innocents, or suffered a massive psychotic break, despite believing in the Second Amendment and deeply resenting government’s numerous violations of it, and intrusions on to my right to bear arms, and the portrayal of myself and others who hold such beliefs by opportunistic politicians, media figures, and “academics”, as a wackjob and loon.

I haven’t killed those who maintain that I, and others like me are “bitterly clinging” to our Bibles and guns, and that we are members of an oppressive religion.  In fact, for a member of an “oppressive religion”, I am a failure, a characteristic I share with many others like me, as we haven’t “persecuted” anyone, despite continued infringement of our First Amendment rights by our own government, and a judiciary determined to ignore history, re-write the Constitution, and impose an interpretation of ten tortured words that would be completely foreign to those who penned them, and the man misquoted and misapplied to invoke this bizarro conception of what they had wrought.

If we were to compare grievances, I’ve just demonstrated that the “offences” to me, and others like me far exceed the followers of Islam, who “unexpectedly” are at the heart of every act of bloody savagery committed for the honor of a religion or its prophet in our world today.  And yet, here I stand, not yet having beheaded a single person, or not strapping on a bomb, and detonating it, and myself in a public place,and not attacking another religion’s house of worship…such as a Buddhist temple, synagogue, cathedral, or even  the offices of NPR or the New York Times ( I wouldn’t want our secular humanist brethren to feel left out).  This isn’t an accident; this is by design.

Because our betters have been so successful in using the fainting couch to cow us into creating a right “not to be offended” out of whole cloth, and elevating it to a position where it is far superior to all other rights, they have created their own gag, and contributed to the Barbarian’s belief that they are entitled to act like Barbarians, without thought or concern to consequences for doing so.  They have contributed to the “easy” response.  I’m not shocked, in the era of hashtag “diplomacy”, that I’m seeing “Je suis Charlie” all over the web.  But I’m not impressed.  The Fourth Estate surrendered its legitimacy, and surrendered its duty as a stalwart defender of freedom of expression.  It did this when it tried to stifle speech, rather than engage in it.  It did this when it tried to shut down the marketplace of ideas, rather than compete in it.  It did this when it exceeded its authority and tried to make a new right, not defend the ones central to their purpose.  And because they did this, they conceded our rights to the Barbarians.  They gave the enemies of civilization a veto.  And if civilization is to survive, we are going to have to step up, and do what our self-appointed betters no longer have the courage to do.

If your god commands that you kill to defend his honor, he’s a pretty impotent god.

If your god tells you that anyone who doesn’t believe in you is worthy of any punishment you care to make them suffer, he is a petty and impotent god.

If your god demands that you kill anyone who leaves his service, he’s a bloodthirsty and impotent god.

If your god has offered to reward murders in his name by giving you other humans for your pleasure in the afterlife, he is a barbaric and impotent god.

If you believe that it is your duty and obligation to behead those who insult Islam, then you are not worthy of the company of human beings.

And if you would use the tolerance and conventions of civilization as a means to infiltrate and undermine society until you have the numbers to assert yourself by bloodshed, then you deserve an extreme segregation from civilization that must be exacted to make it happen…until you learn, or until you aren’t a threat to others.

Mohammed

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 8,500 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

I was reading the comments on a friend’s Facebook wall this week, and one of the commenters outlined the Obama Doctrine as (and I’m paraphrasing) “Cuddle up to our nations’s enemies, and screw over our nation’s friends.”  I thought it was a nice start, but I would elaborate a bit more, and phrase it this way:

Get cozy with the enemies of freedom.  Vilify those who stand up to those who commit real evils.  Attack longstanding institutions, beliefs, and concepts.  Oppose the existing order based on the notion that “change”, simply for the sake of change itself, is both good and desirable.  Never miss an opportunity to use the bully pulpit to lecture, even when you don’t know what the hell you are talking about.

5 sentences.  6 years of decline, destruction, and ruin, actively concealed by a campaign of gaslighting and deliberate misinformation, with the assistance of a fourth estate concerned first and foremost with making sure that it gets invited to all the right parties.  And of course, clichés, clichés, clichés.

Who can forget the images of Obama making kissy-face with one of Satan’s newest chew toys, Hugo Chavez?  Or shaking hands with Raul Castro a few years ago before his unilateral betrayal of every single soul killed or tortured by the Castro Brothers and their cohorts?  Or the images and apologetic rhetoric uttered in Turkey, and before the United Nations, in which he expressed regret for America’s crimes and evils to peoples and nations who never met a form of torture (REAL torture), rape, and savage, brutal murder of innocents that they liked.  Or when he stood before Tucson and bemoaned the death of civility, when much of his political career has been built on the political slander of those he deems to be his enemies.

As a head of state, he has barely been able to conceal his contempt for beleaguered counterparts, whether it was the legitimate leader of Honduras, who was fighting off an attempt by a predecessor to subvert the law and hang on to power, talking trash about the Israeli Prime Minister, and childishly committing every diplomatic and protocol snub possible, before taking the extraordinary action of shutting down US air travel to the country, or parading the Dalai Lama past the White House trash, and in front of press photographers.

As a leader, he has never failed to divide those he fancies himself leading.  From his infamous, and telling derision as a candidate of “those” people, bitterly clinging to their Bibles and guns, to attacking industries like coal, which have had the largely thankless job of keeping the lights on, the homes and apartments of their self-appointed betters warm in the winter and cool in the summer, their foods, beverages, and medicines refrigerated, and their security systems powered up, so that they could decide for the rest of us that the ability to do so relatively inexpensively is somehow unfair to the rest of the world, and irreparably harmful to the planet, and must therefore be made prohibitively expensive.  He didn’t hesitate to interfere with existing bankruptcy laws in the case of GM and Chrysler, and turn the body of secured transactions law on its ear, damaging the predictability and uniformity of existing law which makes the finance necessary to modern business possible.  He has never missed an opportunity to vilify the police, even when he didn’t have all the facts.   And no document, be it the Declaration of Independence, or passage of scripture has been safe from his selective and…unique…interpretations.

Law is not safe from his actions.  He has demonstrated over and over again a belief that “emergencies” are legitimate justification for unilateral action, such as his bypassing of bankruptcy law in the case of GM and Chrysler, leading to the involuntary and costly bailout by the public in the case of the former, and the quick sale and stiff arming of secured creditors in the latter.  He has repeatedly shown contempt for the notion of Separation of Powers, by unilaterally declaring Congress to be in recess, in order to appoint individuals who Congress would not confirm, by appointing agency heads who have repeatedly ignored and openly defied Congressional oversight and legal discovery promulgated by Congressional committees.   He has issued Executive Orders which exceed the power of the executive, and which directly encroach upon power and authority specifically enumerated to the legislative branch.  And he has deliberately set his Justice Department upon the states, in order to prevent the states from enforcing laws that his administration has deliberately decided not to enforce, by virtue of concepts such as “prosecutorial discretion” which have been so stretched and deformed in order to cover this application as to be unrecognizable, and to interfere with the exercise of power and authority specifically reserved to the states, be it taking action to preserve the shoreline from oil spills, to requiring state issued ID to vote, to denying state issued ID to foreigners who are not lawfully here in the country.

He has reversed long-standing policies because they are old, and because he deemed them to be “ineffective”, without any apparent, let alone due and sufficient regard to the underlying reasons for such policies.  No matter how many people the Castro regime has killed, no matter how much misery it has inflicted upon its people, and no matter the fact that its two biggest sponsors are now completely unable to prop it up any longer, the time has come to treat it as if it were a rational and responsible state actor, because the President says so.

But one of the hardest pills to swallow has been the audacity of a dope who has never been able to resist commenting when the occasion and the office made it inappropriate to do so, and his silence when a real leader would have understood that the right comments were not just appropriate, but necessary.  Occasions which allowed him to comment on racial matters were occasions to hold forth, and lecture a nation that was less racially polarized at the start of his Presidency than during it, and to make it more so.  We all heard him say that the Cambridge Police acted stupidly when they had the audacity to ask someone breaking into a home to show ID and prove it was his own.  We all know that if he had a son, he would look like Treyvon Martin, and that the man who killed him wasn’t entitled to legal due process, and the presumption of innocence.  We all know that gentle giants like Mike Brown might commit criminal acts, but it was ok to speak in terms that seemed to justify the mayhem and destruction that followed the grand jury’s refusal to indict the police officer who shot him.  But we also witnessed a man, who was already at the podium when he learned of the Ft. Hood massacre, and gave a bizarre shout out to a guest before grudgingly acknowledging the wanton and religiously motivated murders of service members by one of their own, who would have been removed from the service before the saturation and primacy of political correctness as a consideration for all actions taken.  We were baffled by the religiously motivated beheading of an Oklahoma worker by a jihadist coworker, and the President’s letter of encouragement to the murder’s mosque.  And we all watched and waited for DAYS for a response to an act of cyberterrorism against an American corporate subsidiary of Sony. The response, when it came, was classic Barack Obama. The usual platitudes about how mad it made him. (At least he spared us any discussion of how he “will not rest until…”. Maybe even HE realized that such a remark would have been way too much before hopping Air Force One for yet another incredibly generously subsidized two weeks + off at the taxpayers’ expense in Hawaii.) The dubious notion that his involvement in the decision-making would have been enlightened and meaningful. (“I wish they had spoken to me first.”) And of course, the blame for the wrong people, when his administration has demonstrated repeatedly that it considers the defense and upholding of American interests, and American considerations to be a distant second to the ability to subordinate them to others, especially those who would have their way not just at the expense of those interests and considerations, but to deliberately harm them.

From his “I’m outta here, suckers, thanks for the trip” Presser:

THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me address the second question first. Sony is a corporation. It suffered significant damage. There were threats against its employees. I am sympathetic to the concerns that they faced. Having said all that, yes, I think they made a mistake.

“I’m sympathetic, but I have neither their liabilities or responsibilities in this matter. In fact, I never had to worry about making a payroll, keeping the lights on and the doors open, or dealing with laws and regulations churned out with frightening regularity by people who may be thousands of miles away, and who labor under the mistaken belief that the rest of us have nothing better to do than spend their days making sure that they first comply with those laws and regulations. And I am delightfully unburdened by the likelihood that I will suffer any legal consequences for the theft of employees’ personal data, or the career consequences of taking actions which could compound the liability of this corporation in this matter. But I also have sufficiently lowered the average American’s expectation that the Norks will suffer any retaliation by our government. All of this makes me extraordinarily well-suited to pass judgement on Sony Pictures’ decisions in this matter.”

In this interconnected, digital world, there are going to be opportunities for hackers to engage in cyber assaults both in the private sector and the public sector. Now, our first order of business is making sure that we do everything to harden sites and prevent those kinds of attacks from taking place. When I came into office, I stood up a cybersecurity interagency team to look at everything that we could at the government level to prevent these kinds of attacks. We’ve been coordinating with the private sector, but a lot more needs to be done. We’re not even close to where we need to be.

And one of the things in the New Year that I hope Congress is prepared to work with us on is strong cybersecurity laws that allow for information-sharing across private sector platforms, as well as the public sector, so that we are incorporating best practices and preventing these attacks from happening in the first place.

But even as we get better, the hackers are going to get better, too. Some of them are going to be state actors; some of them are going to be non-state actors. All of them are going to be sophisticated and many of them can do some damage.

“If only we had more uniformity in the ever-changing and dynamic medium that is the internet. Then it would be much easier for all governments to monitor and access private and proprietary information, just to make sure that no one is going to do anything bad with it. And the best way to accomplish this is by sharing more control over this innovation that OUR country built with other nations, many of whom have an interest in using it to harm us, but that like totes won’t happen, because bad actors will always be prevented from being bad actors when there are laws against it. After all, just think about all the times that I let the law restrain me from doing what I wanted.”

We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States. Because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary that they don’t like, or news reports that they don’t like. Or even worse, imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of somebody whose sensibilities probably need to be offended.

“Unless, of course, someone makes a stupid, crappy little youtube video offensive to muslims and their beliefs, in which case we can publicly blame them for the shameful and unnecessary death of an ambassador, and the security detail that came to his aid while waiting for help I never sent. In that case, it’s perfectly ok for me and those who work for me to disparage and deride that expression of freedom of speech, because it made for a useful distraction from my negligence.”

So that’s not who we are. That’s not what America is about. Again, I’m sympathetic that Sony as a private company was worried about liabilities, and this and that and the other. I wish they had spoken to me first. I would have told them, do not get into a pattern in which you’re intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks. Imagine if, instead of it being a cyber-threat, somebody had broken into their offices and destroyed a bunch of computers and stolen disks. Is that what it takes for suddenly you to pull the plug on something?

Because it makes perfect sense for business leaders to come to me, as if I have a clue what I’m talking about, and as if I have even a scintilla of interest in actually supporting businesses that haven’t paid the proper “respect” to campaign coffers or my associates and bundlers, or are part of the great “green energy” grift which I supported generously with taxpayer money for little or no return on that “investment”. I mean, let’s face it. There is only one story that is acceptable during my reign, and that is those that I am involved with, and that doesn’t cast me in a bad light. And threats that I clearly have no idea how to respond to must be answered with a “proportionate”, rather than an unquestionably decisive and overwhelming response, because the discretion necessary to determine what is “proportionate” allows me to maintain the illusion that I know what I’m doing. And just as soon as I figure out how to cyberattack a country where even electricity is as rare as food, or a contrary remark, I’ll make sure that I do so. Unless I have figured out that it is easier to find someone else to complain about.”

So we’ll engage with not just the film industry, but the news industry and the private sector around these issues. We already have. We will continue to do so. But I think all of us have to anticipate occasionally there are going to be breaches like this. They’re going to be costly. They’re going to be serious. We take them with the utmost seriousness. But we can’t start changing our patterns of behavior any more than we stop going to a football game because there might be the possibility of a terrorist attack; any more than Boston didn’t run its marathon this year because of the possibility that somebody might try to cause harm. So let’s not get into that way of doing business.

“Only I get to fundamentally change how you live. And my weaknesses and shortcomings should never result in the loss of freedoms that I didn’t take from you through my own deliberate actions. When you stop driving, or using electricity, or heating your homes, or eating what you want and not tree bark and gruel, it will be because I have determined that it is good for you, not because some sawed-off little runt with a messiah complex is offended by your choices. Now get back out there before I have the IRS audit you cowards.”

Sometimes, movies for me are as much about the memory of who I watched with as they are about the movies themselves, and no movie embodied this more than “A Christmas Story”.

Its funny how we remember our parents, or how we think about them after they are gone. I don’t ever remember my father being terribly open about his feelings about the people he loved. It wasn’t that he didn’t love them; it was that he just seemed to take it for granted, and expected the rest of us to do the same. But those weren’t the only things that I recall about growing up with him. Phrases such as “No brain, no pain.” “Pain is nature’s way of saying don’t do that” and “No good deed goes unpunished were repeated so often in my home that they became automatic responses to certain circumstances and events…so much so that it became difficult to think of him in terms other than a gruff guy of few words and flinty sarcasm for the words that came. As a result, I remember hearing some of his friends speak at his funeral service, and wondering who it was they were talking about. But the single greatest character trait I recall was a real humbugism about Christmas. This would have made his love for “A Christmas Story” seem to be an anomaly unless you knew of his love of Jean Shepard stories.

When this movie was on, it was its own Christmas miracle, as my father would watch it, and laugh. Not chuckle. Not chortle. Not guffaw. LAUGH.

For years after his passing, I would watch the movie with him every year. Oh, I knew he wasn’t really there, but just the same, I felt that I could look over, and see him smiling and laughing, in what was for me, an unfamiliar attitude from him. And though I have sons of my own, I didn’t share this experience with them. It wasn’t something I could adequately describe, and I never wanted to feel compelled to do so. But each year, this echo of memory seemed to fade a bit more. Last year, I strained through the movie, to see Dad laughing, to hear him, and it was difficult. It wasn’t a good experience, and I was left feeling frustrated.

This year, when I sat down to watch the movie, I got nothing.
I let it play, and I listened. Darren McGavin was still the Old Man. Melinda Dillon is still Mom. But Dad wasn’t there. And I realized that even though I like Jean Shepard’s stories too, I watched it to spend time, as fleeting as it was, with the ghost of my Dad, and without him there, it is reduced to a story that I know too well, and that holds no new meaning to replace the one I’ve lost. As I watched the scene where Mom and the Old Man are sitting in the dark with a lit up Christmas Tree and the snow falling outside, I realized that this is how I want the memory of my Father and this movie to remain. A quiet moment with someone he held dear, saying nothing and everything in a setting where he could speak volumes without saying a word and still be perfectly understood.

I’m sad that I can no longer hear him when I watch this, and that no matter how hard I focus in my mind’s eye, I can’t see him just enjoy this story, and let his guard down completely. I still carry other memories. Other movies. Other experiences in which he chose to share something with us that wasn’t for everyone. But the lag in the echo grows longer with the years, and the echo grows quieter. I like to think that the silence in this movie is an indication that he is at peace, but I suspect that it has more to do with me finding peace with my memories of him, and the realization that I need to make such memories of my own with my sons. Maybe something to help them understand me when I am gone, as they so the same with their own kids. But in the interim, I’ll be looking for my own moment with my wife, in the dark before a lighted tree, with a steady snow falling outside.

The Unforgiven

It is difficult to understand why some things end up having an influence on us, but they do. This album is just such an influence on me.

I still remember the summer of 1988. I was strolling through my local Tape World, looking for something interesting, when I came upon this album on cassette. I almost hate to admit that I picked this album up because of the impression that the cover made on me, but I’d be lying if I said otherwise. What made this even more shocking was the fact that the image seemed so incongruous with my musical preferences at the time. The really odd thing is that I really loved this album, right from the first listen.

I don’t know if I could have described this album at that time. Age and mileage might bring me to the place where I would probably describe it as “Cowboys and Indians Rock, with a punk attitude”. Like the others in the handful of albums I had in heavy rotation in my car, I came to memorize every word and every note. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.

But then, time wore on. CDs replaced cassettes in cars I owned, and while I still have this cassette in the garage somewhere, I haven’t been able to listen to it in years. I was surfing the web one evening a few months ago, and came to the band’s website, where I found and mp3 of a recent track they recorded a year or so ago, and the announcement that the album would be re-released in December with the single version of “I Hear The Call” and the new track, “The Long Run Out” added. I couldn’t order it fast enough, especially when Amazon was offering delivery on the same day as the release if you ordered Prime. There was a problem with my order, but it was resolved, and my copy arrived today. I could hardly wait for my ride home, and the chance to hear it at 11 through my car’s sound system.

I was not disappointed.

It was like riding home with old friends. Only it sounded better than it did. If these tracks weren’t digitally recorded, then they are among the best analog recordings I have ever heard. Age has changed my perspective on some of the songs, most notably, “With My Boots On” was very different this time, since the last time I heard it, my father was still alive, but overall, I was smiling and enjoying all of the imagery that the lyrics paint.

But what I didn’t know was the back story. It would have made the best episode of “Behind the Music” ever. Apparently, the band brought a very different sound to LA in the mid 1980s than the glam metal that was dominating the sound of the city’s clubs and record labels, and before long, they were being managed by Motley Crue’s manager, had a top notch lawyer, promotion, and they set off a bidding war among the town’s record labels. They were everywhere, playing gigs with various music legends, and living the life of rock and roll excess. And then, they imploded. One album. And one reunion show. And it was done.

But I will always have the memories. You can’t go home again. But you can visit 17 years old, and remember what it was like to have more attitude than wisdom. And that’s a good thing.

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