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Archive for the ‘What Really Matters’ Category

When I was much younger, my friends and I regularly spent a summer evening watching movies.  We all had jobs, and various places offered specials that made it possible to rent 3 VHS tapes for dirt cheap.  Our plan was simple:  We would rent one “good one” (usually a blockbuster or a vanity project for some well-known star), and two “bad ones”, which were films we’d either seen or read were terrible, or decided from the description, must be craptastic to some varying degree.  It was a fun way to pass an evening, and even as most memories of that time take on a more static and incomplete quality in my reflection, I can smile and reflect on four memories which I still carry and hold dear from that time:  The Blue Monkey quarantine, which is the worst in cinematic history; the Millennium paradox, about which one of my oldest friends and I still argue; The worst script ever, Interface, which I remain convinced to this day that they never finished filming (it was so awful we actually turned it OFF), and that you can sleep with a friend’s wife, and he’ll naturally try to kill you, but when he responds by killing your dog, it’s on like Donkey Kong (Revenge).  When I watched John Wick the other night, I recognized one of the bad guy’s errors for what it was: FATAL.  Never, ever kill a man’s dog, and expect mercy.

John Wick opens with a look at a man consumed by an incalculable grief.  He is obviously a man of means, living in an upscale, tidy home, who appears to be controlled, yet rudderless at the same time.  As the movie starts rolling, it is clear that his aimlessness is the result of his wife’s recent death.  The flashbacks tell us little about Wick himself, but make it clear that he adored his now dead wife, who looks to have passed away from cancer.  The only hint we get that there is something out of the ordinary about him is the exchange he has at the cemetery after the funeral, in which he and Marcus, played by Willem Dafoe, exchange emotionless pleasantries before Wick goes back to his home, which is filled with mourners.

As he picks up after they depart, the doorbell rings.  A delivery driver drops off a puppy, with a card from his wife, explaining that the puppy is there to give him something to love in his absence.  Never succumbing to any show of affection, Wick nonetheless makes the puppy his companion, and clearly carves out a place in his life for the small dog, who accompanies him everywhere.

It is on one of these outings where Wick crosses paths with flashy russian thugs at a local gas station, where one becomes attracted to Wick’s car, a ’69 Boss Mustang, and crudely offers to buy it from the circumspect Wick.  Wick informs him that it isn’t for sale, prompting the thug to fall back on his thuggishness, and attempt to intimidate Wick, only to learn that the quiet man speaks Russian quite well, and wasn’t intimidated at all.

The Russians are not deterred, and later break into Wick’s home, brutally beat him, kill his dog, and steal his car.  They take it to a chop shop, and tell the alarmed owner that they would like new vins and clean papers.  The owner, played by John Leguizamo, recognizes the car, and decides he would rather face the wrath of the thug leader’s father than the owner of the Mustang.  When word gets back to the father, he places a call to Leguizamo, who informs him that his son just beat up John Wick, killed his dog, and stole his car.  The father, realizing just what a grevious error this was, simply said “Oh.”, and hung up the phone.

Meanwhile, Wick is making preparations, and we start to get a sense that his aimlessness is gone, only to be replaced by a bloody and single-minded resolve.  Meanwhile, the father, accompanied by his consigliere, played by Dean Winters (Mayhem), confronts his son, and lets him know the gravity of his offense, and the inevitability of a permanent penalty.

That fucking nobody is John Wick. He once was an associate of ours. They call him Baba Yaga. Well John wasn’t exactly the Boogeyman, he was the one you send to kill the fucking Boogeyman. John is a man of focus, commitment and sheer will. I once saw him kill three men in a bar, with a pencil. With a fucking… pencil. Suddenly one day he asked to leave, over a woman of course. So I made a deal with him. I gave him an impossible task. A job no one could have pulled off. The bodies he buried that day lay the foundation of what we are now. And then my son, a few days after his wife died, you steal his car and kill his fucking dog. John will come for you and you will do nothing because you can do nothing.

The rest of the movie is a tale of a father trying to save his son, while knowing it is an impossible task, and a man so focused on revenge that he steps back into a world he was fortunate enough to walk away from years before.  The body count was otherworldly, and the way in which Wick dispatched those between him and his objective was brutal, but it was done in a way that didn’t come across as gratuitous or pointless, which made watching the movie much easier than it could have been.  But the other thing that made this movie enjoyable was the fact that there was a code of conduct for the assassins, and when one of their number did not observe that code, and decided to “break the rules” to take the chance of getting the huge bounty placed on Wick’s head, the others didn’t remain on the sidelines, wagging their fingers.  They acted to enforce that code, because in the end, they too needed a place to take shelter, and have one place where they didn’t have to look over their shoulders.  In the end, the only time where Wick showed any emotion other than an appetite for revenge was in a scene where he answered the one question on everyone’s lips.  I won’t spoil that for you, but I will tell you that in the end, he walks off with another dog.  Maybe it is from dealing with autistic people, maybe it’s from having it myself to a degree, but in that scene, I thought he showed a glimmer of hope that he could still “get out”, and find a measure of peace.

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Black Sea

Captain Robinson has a problem.

The movie opens with the veteran submarine captain being informed by a desk jockey that his employment with the salvage company he works for has come to an end.  Robinson’s reaction is a mix of shock and anger, as he realizes that the career he has lost his family to has discarded him like so much refuse.

However, a conversation with other unemployed salvers in a pub offers the hope of a privately finance salvage job in the Black Sea…one that would allow him to retire richer than he could ever imagine, so he could attempt to rekindle his relationship with his 12 year-old son, who is being raised by his ex-wife and her new husband.  Soon he and his fellow conspirators hatch a plan to reach a Nazi U-boat, which supposedly disappeared in 1940 after taking on a cargo of gold paid to the Nazis by Stalin in a desperate attempt to buy peace with Germany at the outset of the Second World War.

He is soon introduced to a mysterious individual, who offers to provide the necessary financial backing in exchange for 40% of any gold found up to $40,000,000.00, and 20% of any gold above that amount the salvers recover.  From there, Robinson, and his friends hatch a plan to buy an old Soviet diesel submarine to use in their attempts to salvage the gold without either the Georgian or the Soviet navies learning of their efforts.  In order to keep the costs down, they decide on a half British, half Russian skeleton crew of misfits and psychopaths, and travel to Sevastopol to purchase a floating wreck which is no longer adequate to be repurposed into razor blades, and set to refitting and provisioning for the trip.

You can guess that this is a recipe for disaster, and you would be right, but Jude Law’s performance as the haggard captain convincingly portrays the kind of desperation that would push a man who should know better to seal himself in a tin can with a small crew of people who don’t like or trust their own countrymen, and mix them with an equal number of foreigners who they despise even more.  Once the predictable series of events and disasters start to unfold, the good captain becomes even more desperate, and ends up compounding the problem, returning to balance only when he discovers that he and his shrinking crew have been set up by their former employer, and weren’t ever going to be able to keep the tons of gold they sacrificed so much to retrieve, because the corporation and the Georgian government had already divided it among themselves.  At this point, the clichéd reimagining of “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” ended, as the captain ended up sacrificing himself to save the only two characters who weren’t modern-day pirates.

Black Sea

While there were some “liberties” taken with the script in terms of the science involved in undersea adventures, there was really only one that managed to pull my attention from the story to the gaff and make me say “oh, c’mon…”.   I was also put off a bit by the language, but it would be foolish to expect a movie about sailors to feature sailors who didn’t talk like sailors.

Overall, it was an ok story, and a decent diversion for a short time, but it isn’t one that I would be looking to purchase for my collection.

The Equalizer

When this movie first came out, I made some jokes about how Hollywood had to put some old white male actor out of work in this “reimagining” of the 80’s television character, and how disappointed I was that some social justice warrior wasn’t starting a hashtag campaign in protest.  I confess that while I did so as a joke, I do suffer from a certain annoyance with Hollywood’s proclivity to “reimagine” my childhood, and often cast it in a darker light, rather than simply telling a new story, and that is why I took so long to get around to watching this movie.

My original memories of the show are somewhat vague, as I was still fairly young, and it originally aired at 10 pm on Saturdays, a time when I was normally in bed.  I recently borrowed the first season from my local library, and found that the Joel Surnow produced show was fairly well written and acted.  It featured Edward Woodward as the “retired” spy who set up shop in New York City after an operation was botched badly by a jittery agent who prevented Robert McCall from keeping his word to the subject of the operation.  Because he still had some highly placed friends in the Agency, because he knew where the bodies were buried, and because he agreed to make himself available for certain ops that required his expertise and skill set, the Agency unofficially agreed to look the other way, and not bring him in from the cold.  As I watched the episodes in order, I found myself reasonably impressed by the tradecraft written into the series, although some of the technology seems horribly dated in this day and age.  However, I believe that one of the things that the original series got absolutely correct was that its main character carried himself like a successful operative would, which is anything but what we see James Bond do in film after film.  Woodward’s McCall is an older man, without any distinguishing features that would make him stick out in the average person’s memory.  Yes, he had an English accent.  Yes, he drove a Jaguar, which was much less common on the nation’s roadways at that time than today.  But he also knew how to blend into the crowd.  He could, and often did observe without drawing any attention to himself, and if you ran into him on the street, there was nothing about him that would raise your awareness or pique your curiosity unless he wanted it to.  That’s why the character worked for several seasons.  And that’s why I found it easier to believe he was who he was supposed to be than Denzel Washington’s Robert McCall.

The movie opens quietly, and it doesn’t take long to see that McCall is a man who is hiding, and it isn’t until fifteen minutes or so into the movie that you start to get a glimmer of what it is…who it is…he is hiding from.  But it is obvious from the  introduction that while he lives a quiet life, it is not who he is.  His apartment is spartan, and spotless.  Nothing is out-of-place.  His bed is made so tightly that quarter could bounce on it.  He’s clearly been up since well before dawn.  His morning routine shows a rigid discipline, and his own personal maintenance, appearance and demeanor is too focused, too ordered, too strack for him to be the quiet widower working for a home improvement warehouse that he appears to be.

It is his routine that guides him into the conflict, and the confrontation with himself that drives the story, however, as his middle-of-the-night trips to his local 24-hour diner draw him into a friendship with a much younger prostitute working for the local Russian mob.  When she makes the mistake of believing that she could be something more, the local mob boss puts her in her place with a brutal beating that sends her to the local ICU, and McCall finds himself, almost absent-mindedly using his formidable skills against the gangsters, and the local cops who are on their payroll.  This brings him into conflict with the crime family’s enforcer, “Teddy” (brilliantly portrayed by Marton Csokas), a former Spetznaz member who is unburdened by emotion or sentiment, and who shows a singular determination to find the party responsible for upsetting the enterprise’s apple cart, and make an example of him.

McCall and Friend
When McCall realizes that his own message has invited a much larger response, he makes a trip to visit his former boss, who still has connections with the Agency, to get intelligence about his new and lethal adversary.  She, and her husband are both pleasantly surprised (but not too surprised) to learn that McCall is still alive, after having apparently faked his death shortly after his wife passed away.  This lead to one of what I felt were the two most telling sequences in the film, where in a moment of candor, his former boss tells McCall that it is time for him to go be who he is.  After he left, her husband asked “Is everything alright? Were you able to help him?”, and she sagely responded “He didn’t come for help. He came for permission.”
This permission wasn’t just official sanction, it was permission to be the person who he promised his dead wife that he would never be again, because that was the person who the world needed him to be.  This was the part of the story that the movie got absolutely correct, and because of it, this was the story that I had vainly hoped to see when I watched Harry Brown.  Washington’s McCall was the man I expected from Caine’s Brown.  A man who could afford to be quiet, because everything about him screamed the motto “Be polite, be courteous, and have a plan to kill everyone you meet.”

The movie’s other telling moment came after Teddy, who is impersonating one of the dirty cops on his employer’s payroll, confronts McCall, because he doesn’t believe that the intelligence the police have gathered on McCall is correct.  While each knew who the other was, neither stepped away from the charade that they had decided to play.  McCall played the sort-of-informed citizen, who just happened to be at the restaurant where the mobsters were rapidly and efficiently dispatched, a bystander who wanted to help, but hadn’t seen a thing, and Teddy the detective, just trying to follow up with all potential witnesses.  However, McCall’s body language and actions didn’t match those of a harmless and ineffectual widower, and instead sent a very different message than his words.  The encounter ended on an awkward note, when McCall’s average citizen asked a provocative question, leaving Teddy to make a poor excuse as he retreated to the waiting SUV driven by one of the dirty cops, who had listened to the exchange without any idea of the conversation the two had physically carried on with each other, leaving Teddy to utter the one truth about Washington’s portrayal of the former spook that was obvious about him from the opening of the movie: “Everything about the man is wrong.”

It isn’t often when there is such an obvious disconnect in a film, and I end up liking it anyway, but this is the case with “The Equalizer”.   This might only be because I concluded that Washington’s McCall was never a spy so much as he was a fixer.  He wasn’t a man who could be inconspicuous unless he chose to be very conspicuous.  He was a man who would be sent to deal with problems in a very permanent fashion, and that would be what would allow him to be the Equalizer in today’s society, in which reason is much discussed, but rarely practiced, and in which the veneer of civilization is polished much more brightly in order to hide just how thin it has come to be.

This is a film I would watch again, because it reflects the world we live in.

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*******SPOILER ALERT********

Avengers  Age of Ultron

Today my oldest son took me to see the latest Avengers movie as my belated Father’s Day gift. I enjoyed it tremendously. I have a bone to pick with one of the central plot points, but for other reasons, the film redeemed itself spectacularly. Let’s start with the “bad” first.

Like so many other people, I grew up reading comic books, and the Avengers were one of my favorite titles. And in the world of Marvel Silver and Bronze Age and the 80s, Ultron was Hank Pym’s cross to bear. I realize that many of you may be saying “C’mon, you’re being silly. It was a great story!”, and you’d be absolutely right. I freely admit that the hang up about this is my own, and as stupid as it sounds, it is because these characters were as much my friends growing up as any flesh-and-blood people actually were. And because I actually give a damn, part of me was wondering all the way through “Is it too much?” Ultron was, and is, an extinction-level baddie, who was one of the many bad pennies that The Avengers had to deal with time and again. Because of this, I couldn’t help feeling that putting his creation on to the consciences of Tony Stark and Bruce Banner was a manifestly unfair act in story-telling. Tony is a man whose entire life has been shaped by his self-doubt and failure, a man who is divided between constantly running from his demons, and trying to make up for them. No matter how tormented be may be privately, at least he gets to hide behind the image of success, and a million-dollar smile, even if the music he hears when he closes his eyes is a thundering rendition of “Eminence Front”. Bruce Banner can only dream of that kind of peace. Instead, the best he can hope for is a life of anonymity in the shadows, where he can hide from EVERYONE, especially himself, and the monster that is freed by rage and anger. He lives a life in which he can’t close his eyes, because all he’ll hear are the screams of the hundreds of thousands the beast within has killed or maimed since being freed in an accident of science. This is why I questioned the retcon of the old familiar story. These two have enough on their plate without throwing Ultron into the mix. But that said, “It is done”, and so the cinematic universe continues.

Moving on to the “good”, first and foremost, the team has completed its metamorphosis from a group of unique individuals, into an actual “team”, with even a haunted Bruce Banner willingly freeing The Hulk when the team gets in over their heads with Hydra forces at the beginning of the movie and Hawkeye is injured. The team calls in a “Code Green”, bringing the gamma beast into the fray, and tipping the balance into the team’s favor.

Even so, there is still room for surprises, and we get to see Natasha let her guard down, and admit her attraction to Bruce Banner, which in a fun scene, she herself admits is improbable. We also got to see them all having fun in moments where nothing of consequence was at stake, and it very much felt like we got to enjoy it with them. But the part that hit it out of the park for me was the fact that Hawkeye got his due in this film.

In a world where so many spend so much time and effort attacking symbols for what they want to see in them and spend so little addressing the actual issues, because doing so might offend someone, or laud men in dresses for their “courage” while vilifying those who patiently ask “How is that courageous?”, Hawkeye reminded us what real heroism looks like. I know, I know, he’s a fictional character on a team of super heroes. How can that possibly represent real heroism?

The answer was plain as day in the story. Hawkeye and the Black Widow aren’t like the rest of the team. They aren’t invulnerable. They don’t have super powers, or a special suit to help keep them safe. They can be injured…severely…or even killed. And yet, they suit up. They play their parts on a team as members of a team. They are unafraid to put their lives on the line to save a teammate, or anyone else. When other people are running from danger, they run toward it. And they don’t have to.

When everyone on the team is paralyzed by the visions of their fears, the juxtaposition couldn’t have been more jarring to me. Captain America, in looking to those dreams, had to confront the truth that he fought for something he never got; the right to come home, and enjoy the peace he gave so much for and do it with that special someone. And now, he fights to give others that opportunity. And yet Hawkeye opened a home that only two others knew he had when they needed a safe place, and when the team had to leave, maybe for the last time, in order to settle accounts with Ultron, he left that oasis, a pregnant wife, and two small children, in the hope that whatever sacrifice he made, and whatever price he paid, other people would get that chance to go home, to be surrounded by their loved ones, to live.

His wife didn’t hesitate to support his decision to do so, and she clearly understood that even if he wasn’t super-human, he was still central to the team being a team, and only asked that he made sure that they were worth the sacrifices he was chancing. But the finest moment came when he put himself in harm’s way to save the Scarlet Witch, who he had been fighting only a short time earlier, and gave her the game-winning pep talk when he could no longer ignore that there was still much work to be done if they were to carry the day.

Doesn’t matter what you did, or what you were. If you go out there, you fight, and you fight to kill. Stay in here, you’re good, I’ll send your brother to come find you. But if you step out that door, you are an Avenger.

And then he pulled an arrow from his quiver, kicked open a door, and went back outside.

The men and women who run toward the danger.

They are the heroes.

The ones who will STAND when the odds are against them, because the fight matters.

They are the heroes.

And although Joss Whedon can be the world’s biggest knucklehead when he gets in front of a microphone, he understands how to tell stories that inspire. And for that, I can forgive him.

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I have been watching the latest cultural crusades with some dread and trepidation.

The campaign against the Confederate Battle Flag is one in which cowards have not only prevailed, but engaged in an orgy of self-congratulation that would leave most rational witnesses convinced of the insanity of the most fervently committed, and it has enjoyed a success that could not have been possible until we empowered those among us who decided to be offended at anything.  Once we allowed offense to become a de facto crime, we robbed ourselves of the most powerful tool of personal and regional autonomy: The Burden of Persuasion.

Make no mistake.  This is where we have been headed the minute we set foot on this road.  One need only look back and recognize that this has been how the left has accomplished every major coup of the last 60 years.  What could not be won in persuasion, and therefore by legislative means, was won in courtrooms, by judges and justices peering in “the law”, and divining just the right purpose to reward petitioners by mining the necessary meanings from penumbras and emanations, until they have gotten so bold that they will announce their conclusions as rooted in shallow philosophy rather than actual jurisprudence.  And at the same time, they have set themselves up as the ultimate arbiters of culture, unafraid to take advantage of the general good nature of those they would browbeat into submission.  This, was in fact, their avenue to victory.  By claiming offense at anything and everything, they caused those they deemed themselves to be superior to surrender.  It is a cowardly way to advance an idea, a notion, a concept, or a worldview, but shame was not to stand in the way of victory.

It is said that one of the great flashes of genius in the Second Amendment is that it prevents compulsion and requires persuasion.  Small wonder, then that the Second Amendment is a touchpoint, and a sore one at that in the war that our cultural betters have been waging against us for years now.  I have largely stayed out of the battle over the Confederate Battle Flag, not because I didn’t think it mattered as a fight, but because it has been a convenient distraction and wedge to occupy good people in a never-ending battle against the cultural shock troops of our betters, while the very people who have fomented this conflict benefit from drawing everyone’s attention away from what they are doing.  Frankly, the only reason I’m commenting on this farce now has to do with a blog post that made its way around Facebook this week, where a “hero” took it upon himself to tear the battle flag off the back of a semi trailer.  The author waxed poetic about the vandal’s heroism, and about the “cowards” who fought for the losing cause of the Confederacy.   The aggressiveness of the ignorance underscored why this matters.

Back when I was young, and my skull full of mush, I believed in the nobility of the North’s cause in that conflict.  I too, referred to that banner as a traitor’s flag.  But when I got outside the halls of public indoctrination, and took the time to read first-hand accounts, and to dig deep into the history to understand the events of the era, I learned that not everything that I was taught was correct, and that it sure as hell didn’t tell the whole story.  But even when I didn’t know what I didn’t know about the conflict, I still wouldn’t have characterized the Confederates as “cowards”.  Knowing what I know now, I know that men don’t fight for years, in rags, sometimes barefoot, with as many of their number falling prey to malnutrition as to enemy action out of a belief in an institution that many of them weren’t wealthy enough to practice on their own, and it is cartoonish and silly to assert otherwise.

But flush in their recent judicial victories, complete with govern-given “rights”, and cultural victories against a symbol that represents a lot of things, good and bad, our betters now assume that persuasion is no longer necessary.  They show no hesitation at demonizing anyone who dares to think, or believe in ways in which they do not approve.  They seek to criminalize non-conformity, to bring the power of the state to bear against anyone who dares resist their collective will.  This is the essence of cowardice; the absolute refusal to persuade when compulsion has been made easy.  It shows no respect, despite demanding it still when “offense” is invoked, and it will brook no resistance.  The only view that is acceptable is their own, and if you cannot be made to voluntarily silence yourself, then they will shut you up by force, and make an example of you if necessary.  And when all else fails, they will attack the dead.

I read a tweet the other day by some Administration flunky, which expressed the view that states rights has been dead (and rightly so) since the Civil War.  In some ways, he was correct, but in the most important one, he was wrong.  I don’t recall any amendment repealing the Tenth Amendment, and until that occurs, Americans everywhere are free to exercise their rights within their home state to live in any way that they did not expressly grant the Federal government control over. And it is LONG past time to stop being polite, to our own detriment, and remind our betters and our rulers (BIRM) of that fact.

It’s been said that war is simply politics by other means.  Our betters believe that politics is war by other means, and that is why they are always on the attack.  If it feels like you’re always being put on the offensive, it’s because you are.  And its being done by people who are cowards, people who don’t want to have a conversation, people who don’t want to have a debate.  They are people who want to lecture.  They are people who want to scold.  No give and take is necessary, because they don’t have to afford you the courtesy or respect of acknowledging that your opposing (or even just different) thoughts and beliefs are honestly arrived at, derived, or earned.  They are people who eschew morals, but cling to their own ideology, and advance it by any means necessary as if it were the strongest moral imperative.  As long as your motives can be disregarded by the casting of aspersion, then they do not have to persuade you, because you…YOU…are a racist.  YOU are a hater.  YOU are a bigot.  YOU are a reactionary, and only their view may prevail.

The President recently said that the only thing we all have in common is government.  It is small wonder then, that so many among us keep trying to imbue it will power it was never meant to have, in part to stamp out any non-conformity with what it would plan for us.  I think that we could set the cultural cannon fodder back on their heels if we would only stand.  It wouldn’t mean being rude; merely firm.  But then, if they continue to criminalize thought, and continue to presume that they know what is in our hearts, then they should be weary.  Getting what one has wished for has been the undoing of many people throughout the years, and the fact is that if they are determined to make me, and my friends outlaws, then I am quite sure that we will be the scariest damn outlaws to ever walk the Earth.

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Wednesday night I got to share an experience with my oldest son which he will never forget. As my two regular readers will already know, both my sons are on the autism spectrum. The oldest one has Asperger’s Syndrome. Unlike his little brother, he is in regular classes, and if you were to encounter him in public or on the street, depending on the setting, it might take a few minutes for you to figure out that he doesn’t see the world the way you and I do. And like me, he is an Eric Church fan.

At The Key Arena

When we learned Chief was coming to Seattle this spring, my wife got on-line and we bought two tickets, so he and I could go and see one of our favorite singers in concert.

While I have been to many “big” concerts over the years, mostly at Michigan venues like Meadowbrook, the Pontiac Silverdome, The Palace at Auburn Hills, The Saginaw Civic Center, and Pine Knob, I have never been to any major Washington venue other than McCaw Hall.

We left in the early afternoon, so to avoid any traffic issues, and arrived in plenty of time to enjoy a spring afternoon at Seattle Center, and found a line forming already, with hard-core fans outside. I wish I could say that I was impressed with the venue’s handling of guests outside the building, I can’t. Conflicting information and instructions given by the venue’s workers made the wait frustrating and disappointing, especially for a young man who has a need to clearly understand what he is expected to do and participate in. However, once we finally got to the entry, the credit card/ticketless entry system seemed to work very well. The lines for souvenirs were long, but moved quickly, and soon my son had his first concert t-shirt with the image of his hero on the front and a list of concert venues on the back. We went to the concession stand to get a snack and some drinks and went to find our seats.

Let me say that for a concert, I don’t think there can be a bad seat in the Key Arena. We both spent a fair amount of time looking around and watching people file in, and looked at the stage at the south end of the arena.

The Brothers Osborne took the stage at 7:30 pm, and played a great show for about 45 minutes to a half-filled arena. I had heard them before, and knew they could play well, but judging from some of the reactions around us, several people were hearing them for the first time…and liking it. They played songs from their EP, including “Let’s Go There”, and “Rum”, and connected well with the audience when they spoke about knowing that you don’t have to be from the south to be country, before launching into a blistering rendition of “Down Home”. But my moment of great surprise and wonder came when they admitted to being great fans of The Band, then started playing an ambitious take on “The Shape I’m In.” While my son wasn’t familiar with the songs, he still enjoyed the performance, as did the concertgoers there to see it.

Eric Church

After the Brothers Osborne left the stage, the workers came to clear everything off, and soon a slide show started playing on the jumbotron above the stage as the arena filled over the next hour and fifteen minutes.

When the lights darkened and the opening strains of “The Outsiders” started, my son’s eyes got wide and he turned to give me a high-five as the crowd erupted. By now the woman next to me had figured out that my son isn’t “normal”, and that it was his first concert. At different points she tried to engage him, asking him what his favorite song was, high-fiving him when he appeared to be excited about a particular song, and urging him to wave his arms and cheer like everyone else in the arena, sometimes successfully and sometimes not.

Eric and the band played an excellent show on a stage meant to allow them to play to the front, the sides, and the back. His energy was undeniable, and he reminded the crowd of his many visits to Seattle. The drum kit came down from the ceiling and turned during the show, and lights lowered and raised from the ceiling and from the back of the stage throughout the show. Eric drew on his vast catalog of songs, getting some of the strongest crowd reactions to favorites like “Sinners Like Me” and “Pledge Allegience to the Hag”. As the top-fueled 2+ hour performance drew to a close, he and the band played a poignant version of “Springsteen”, and before he wrapped it up, he talked to the audience about the line “Funny how a melody sounds like a memory”, and how he wanted us all to form a memory of that special Wednesday night, before he invited the audience to sing along with him to the “Whoa-oh-oh-oh, Whoa-oh-oh-oh,Whoa-oh-oh-oh”.

Chief
I was glad for that. For that evening, my son was part of an arena full of family, united in their love of a performer’s music, and of the performance itself, which was one of the best I’ve ever witnessed, and he got to just belong, and enjoy the irony of not being an outsider. I saw his shoulders droop just a little as the band left the stage at the completion of the song, and then I saw them raise back up a bit when Chief walked back out alone, and stood in the spotlight as he played “A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young”.  It was a good ending to a great concert.  And we got to enjoy a day of good conversations, before and after the concert, and one of the best performances he’ll ever see by a guy who sings songs that will be permanently embedded in the soundtrack of our lives, and those melodies will always be memories.

Thank you, Chief.

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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.

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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

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