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Two Words: Jeff Ellis
Wednesday, September 22, 2004
  I got so caught up in Iraq last night that I neglected to mention what I spent last night doing. Being the type of pathetic, Reality show-addicted geek that I fear I am, I watched the finales of The Amazing Race (a great show in that it actually rewards its contestants for winning as opposed to rewarding them for simply managing to be so bland that everyone forgets to vote them out) and Big Brother 5 (a great show specifically because it is such a terrible show -- a classic example of the so-bad-it's-good genre). I always breathe a sigh of relief whenever Big Brother comes to a close and the final two housemates get to exit that Ikea monstrosity where they've been imprisoned for the last three months. There always a feeling of "Thank God nobody snapped and went postal on their roommates" at the end of each season and it's nice to have evidence that not everyone reacts to tacky surroundings and obnoxious coworkers by going on a murder spree. (Instead, they just give teary on-camera confessions and give nonsensical, self-serving speeches at the show's climax.) Anyway, pretty boy Drew managed to win the million dollars over the apparently brain damaged Michael, aka Cowboy. I can't argue with that -- even though Drew actually seemed smart enough that he could have made the money on his own as opposed to resorting to spending three months pretending not to despise Julie Chen. This was pretty much Michael's shot and, as we were reminded every day, Michael does have a kid or two to support. But, I don't know, something about Michael annoyed me. Maybe it was the fact that he was one of two Texans on the show. (He was born in Texas but lived in Oklahoma.) The other Texan (Michael's half sister) was a heavily tattooed wanna-be wiccan girl who insisted on being called some nonsensical name that I assume was meant to sound Celtic. (I should note that I don't know whether this girl was actually a Wiccan. She came across, if anything, like the type of person who would claim to be a Wiccan because she heard the term mentioned on a daytime talk show.) Anyway, this girl distinguished herself by apparently thinking that she was the first person to ever repeat the term "cool beans" ad nauseum. Michael, meanwhile, was a sickly-looking fellow who sounded like Forrest Gump and who wanted people to call him "cowboy." John Wayne would have kicked his ass. (Hell, for that matter, any of the stars of the various Young Gun films probably would have kicked his ass as well. And when you're a less authentic cowboy than Emilio Estevez...well, it might be time to come up with a new persona.) Michael's main sin was that he would break down crying during just about every episode -- proving, if nothing else, that sickly rednecks should not cry. It looks stupid for one thing...

As for the Amazing Race, two of the final three teams were from Texas. So, of course, the race was won by the yankees. But I can't complain. Chip and Kim were a rarity in that they were reality show contestants who actually came across as people you might actually want to know outside of your television. Though I wasn't rooting for them, I have to say that Chip won me over early on this season when he and his wife were rushing through Africa and he commented that he was loving being in Africa because this was the first time in his life when he, as a black man, wasn't a minority. This was the first time he wasn't different from everyone else standing around him. I know this is a comment that several people have made over the years but Chip said it with such sincerity that it was the first time that I, as a white guy raised in the suburbs, could actually have some small glimmer of understanding of just what it must mean to be a minority. Race isn't something that I'm very comfortable writing about because, honestly, it seems like it's almost impossible to have an honest conversation about it without saying something that could be interpreted as being racist (or at least ignorant) and -- to my discredit -- I'm not going to try to go into any more detail about why Chip's comment touched me but I will say that it was one the few times that a TV show -- whether fictional or reality or whatever -- has ever actually made me think anything new about race and culture over here in America. For that alone, Chip and Kim deserved to win.

But, being a native Texan, I had to root for the two Texas teams. Coming in second were Colin and Christie, the team I was hoping would win. I forget what label the show's producer gave to Colin and Christie (each team has an official designation -- this season we had the bowling moms, the cousins, the internet dating couple and previous seasons we've had the longtime companions, the neofascists, the smooth-talking criminals, so on and so on) but I always called them the Beautiful Sociopaths as they were both very good looking and they both tended to come across as just a little bit psychotic. Why exactly they were my favorite team is kinda hard to explain as they really weren't all that likeable and both of them would probably take one look at my ten dollar haircut and my crooked glasses and turn their noses in the air. (Either that or kill me, laughing while we they did it.) What can I say? I usually end up rooting for the bad guys when I go to the movies, as well. Maybe I'm just sick.

Coming in third were Brandon and Nicole, the dating models who were distinguished by Brandon's almost fanatical belief that God would either allow them to win or punish them by making them lose. (So, apparently they were punished which I guess means there was more to them than meets the eye...) Still, they were a sweet-natured couple and you couldn't help but like them even if you wouldn't want to spend a night out on the town with them. Brandon was a dead ringer for Christopher Atkins in The Blue Lagoon while Nicole was a dead ringer for...well, Christie. Since for the most part neither Christie or Nicole really did much over the course of the race other than follow after their respective boyfriends, I eventually came to conclusion that they were actually the same person and apparently, she was dating both men at the same time -- getting emotional support from Brandon while turning to Colin whenever she wanted to indulge in a little masochism. Seeing as she managed to pull this off without either of the men realizing it (even as they ran, neck-and-neck, across the entire globe) proves that there was quite a bit more to this Christie/Nicole than most viewers would have realized. Brandon and Nicole were probably the most virtuous of the teams but I was relieved they didn't win if just because I always got the feeling that they'd end up giving all the money away to some Jim Jones-style cult leader in Guyana.

Of course, the most satisfying part of the Amazing Race's conclusion was this -- Charla, the amazing obnoxious dwarf who spent the entire race screaming, "Hurry, Mirna!" (while Mirna spent the whole race screaming "Hurry, Charla!") didn't win! And this, I think, goes to what's so great about reality television. Where else can you so freely take pleasure in this misfortunes of a dwarf? 
  Another American hostage was beheaded in Iraq yesterday. Down here in Dallas, this was the fourth story to be reported on the ten o'clock news. When Daniel Pearl and Nick Berg were beheaded, their deaths (and the videos shot of those deaths) led the nightly newscasts. People were shocked -- not so much by the fact that these men were killed (we expect terrorists to kill hostages) but because they were beheaded. Now, it seems like an almost everyday occurrence. It's reported solemnly on the news and we might talk about how "terrible" it is but the shock is gone. An American civilian having his head chopped off while a bunch guys stand around praising their God -- it's no longer shocking enough to lead off the news. It's expected. And what I fear is that those of us sitting safely in our American homes, watching the news and having the option the hit the remote control if the news gets too unpleasant -- I fear that soon we will cease to truly understand the reality of the situation. I fear that soon, an anchorwoman saying, "Another American has been beheaded in Iraq..." will simply become yet another part of the expected background noise, the stuff we've heard so much that even though we can make out the words, they no longer mean anything.

It seems almost disrespectful to point this out but beheading someone -- this isn't a simple act. There are much easier (and quicker) ways to kill a hostage. In short, to behead someone; this is an act of sadism regardless of whatever politics may be involved in the situation. Hell, if a civilian "has" to die because of the actions of his government, why not dispatch him with a single bullet to the back of the head? As callous as this may sound, that's probably about as merciful as cold-blooded murder is going to get and the same point is made. But to cut someone's head off -- you have to enjoy that. This isn't about politics or religion. This is about having an excuse to be a sadist. The only difference between these terrorists and the Manson Family is that the Manson Family made the mistake of butchering Sharon Tate and her unborn child before the U.S. Army got around to invading Death Valley. I fear that we, as Americans, still don't quite understand just what it is we're currently fighting against. We're still looking at this like any other war; a war that can be won by accomplishing some sort of strategic goal, a war that's raging only because we haven't had a chance to draw up a peace treaty just yet. And that's not the truth. These terrorists are not killing people in order to attain a strategic victory. They're doing it because they get off on it.

I guess that's the main problem with the War on Terrorism as it's currently being conducted. A war can be won. But we can't win in this war because neither side has any idea just what exactly a victory would signify. But what we can do, what we must do, is remain forever vigilant to the threats of all the future Osama Bin Ladens out there (and we all know that the world, right now, is crawling with future Osama Bin Ladens). We can make sure that we never repeat the shameful behavior of the '90s in which we allowed terrorists to kill Americans and only responded when it provided a convenient chance to distract the American public from a tawdry, juvenile sex scandal. But we have to admit -- as we have so far refused to admit in Iraq -- that we cannot change the political or ideological landscape of the Middle East. We went into Iraq foolishly expecting that the country would magically change into a more arid version of the U.S.A. as soon as Saddam was overthrown. It didn't happen and it's not going to happen. And as long as we continue to pour resources into trying to make the impossible a reality, we will remain vulnerable to another attack.

I don't agree with the way Bush is handling the situation in Iraq, obviously. At the same time, as I've said many times before, I don't believe things would be any different under a Kerry administration. To be honest, if not for the whole Iraqi mess, I'd vote for Bush in November. I still hope that he beats Kerry. (Realistically, no matter how much we all might want to tout the future of third parties and independents as such, America will remain a two-party system this election and will stay so for our lifetimes, at least.) And, to be honest, following the Republican National Convention and after witnessing a few of Kerry's witless attempts to be tough on the campaign trail, I was on the verge of changing my Presidential endorsement over to Bush. But earlier tonight, hearing that news of the American murdered in Iraq and hearing that news delivered in the type of nonchalant cadence that an anchor might use to describe a traffic pile-up on the interstate, I remembered why I can't -- in good faith -- vote for Bush this time around. As of right now, I am still planning on writing in the names of Charles Jay and Marilyn Chambers Taylor on my ballot come November. And I'm hoping that, if others are like me and Iraq scares the Hell out of them but so does the idea of four years of John Kerry, they'll do the same.

And my ultimate hope? That on January 21st, 2005, President George W. Bush will officially sign the executive order bringing every single American stationed in Iraq back home. 
Monday, September 20, 2004
  Yep, it's been a while since I last posted. I know that there seems to be a tradition of bloggers apologizing whenever they allow a week (or two) to go by without posting and Lord knows, I've certainly apologized in the past. But I'm not going to apologize for my latest silence because, to be honest, I'm not all that sorry. Actually, that's a lie. I'm not sorry at all. That doesn't mean that I'm burned out on blogging or that I hate anyone who might stop by on occasion to see what's up in my life. It just means I didn't feel like posting for the past couple of days and therefore, I did not. This all sounds strangely defensive, doesn't it? For that, I apologize.

ANYWAY, I haven't been burned out (as I stated before) though I did go through a bit of a depression when I first went back to work two weeks ago. My first day back, I nearly quit. I don't handle monotony all that well and the only thing that I fear more than the lethal trio of heights, drowning, and clowns is getting stuck in a rut. When I first returned to my job after being off for ten days, the first message I got from my bosses was a congratulations e-mail on having reached (and passed) the third year anniversary of my employment at that store. I have never stuck with a project for more than three years (with the exception of my first serious girlfriend, whom I dated for four years but -- to be honest -- that final year was pretty much just a case of two friends not willing to let go). Before I got this job, most of my time was spent running the Underground Theatre; an independent theater organization in Denton, Texas. (One of it's former members, Randal Milholland, stopped by my web site a few days ago and signed the guest book. Hi, Randal! In case you're reading this, I'm turning Colin Hex into a novel and I'm happy and proud to see that you haven't given up on your own artistic talents like so many others. Believe it or not, I actually am being sincere. I'm sorry if I sound insincere but sincerity is something I'm still learning. You have to expect a little awkwardness...) The Underground was one of those defining moments of my life, one of those treasured experiences that I know I'll always keep safe in a protective covering of nostalgia. From the time we started until the time I got burned out and abruptly walked away (a mistake really, lost a lot of really good friends) -- three years. Before the Underground, my life centered around running my own tiny publishing house, JtD Press, and editing our flagship magazine -- Jack the Daw. That is another seminal event in my life, another treasured memory. If the Underground showed me how to actually have fun, then Jack the Daw showed me just how wonderful it feels to actually accomplish something. Even though I could only afford to publish a total of five issues of that magazine, I felt (and continue to feel) very proud of each and every one of them. Of course, when I abandoned JtD, I was burned out on the whole thing and convinced that I would never miss it. And how long did I edit my magazine before deciding I was burned out? Three years.

Yep, there's a pattern here.

But, for whatever reason, I didn't quit. In the past, I would have but then again, in the past, I was much more impulsive. I've grown up quite a bit over the past couple of years. And you want to know the truth? Being mature -- it kinda sucks.

I suppose that somewhere around here I should come up with some ironic twist or life affirming philosophy in order to justify the existence of this blog entry but I really can't find any neat way to tie up all the loose ends that reality always brings with it. So, I'll give a quick recap of what I did last night. I watched a bit of the Emmies. Not a lot as I switched over to HBO after an hour to catch the season premiere of The Wire, which has taken over the position (once held by it's direct ancestor, Homicide) of Best Damn Show On Television (and perhaps not coincidentally, The Wire seems to be following Homicide's lead as far as unfairly low ratings and continually getting shafted at the Emmys are concerned). After that, I honestly forgot that the Emmies were even on so I missed one of those moments that I'd always hoped to see: The Sopranos being named the best drama on television. (I did get to see Michael Imperiolli and Drea De Matteo pick up their awards and I felt both were well deserved though I would have picked Steve Buscemi over Michael I., who, for every good moment he has, also seems to have a handful of over-the-top moments that can just be cringeworthy.)

And that's life as of now. I was going to catch John Kerry on David Letterman earlier but I thought better of it. Oh, and one last thing I can't let pass without commenting on -- the current flap about Dan Rather's willingness to use obvious forgeries to air an anti-Bush commercial. I am reminded of my reaction to the news that Sandy Berger was stealing classified documents from the National Archives. Regarding the whole mess at CBS news at Dan Rather, there are only two questions that matter. Are you surprised? And if so, why? 
Wednesday, September 08, 2004
  (I originally wrote this post last night but, for whatever reason, couldn't get it to post. Looking over my comments here, some of them are a bit too self-pitying for my taste but they are an accurate reflection of how life was looking to me at that time. Rest assured that I'm feeling a lot better now. Also, by the end of Dogville, my impressions of the film weren't quite as negative as when I was writing this post. I still think the film is a failure but I do have to concede that, in the end, Lars Von Trier did a pretty good failing.)

Well, my vacation is nearly over and soon I will be returning to the rut that I call employment. Poor, poor me, right? When I look at my job realistically, I don't have anything to complain about. Yeah, I know I'm capable of doing more than just being a night manager at a 24-hour grocery store and I also know that I am probably never going to meet anyone through my job with whom I can actually talk about the things that I'm interested in -- like politics or books or writing or really anything that might require anything more than the most generic of acceptable responses. I always knew that if I was going to seriously pursue my writing that I was going to have to be prepared for the fact that writing -- especially when you're just starting to actually figure out how to create something that other people would actually be willing to take a chance on, regardless of whether they know you personally or not -- writing will not pay the bills. And, in the end, the bills have to be paid. I went into this knowing that I'd have to devote more of my time than I wanted to the drudgery of a job that I really didn't want. And my job pays the bills, even if it doesn't provide me with any sort of intellectual or emotional stimulation whatsoever. If I'm stuck in a rut, I really don't have anyone to blame but myself. When I was much younger, I could have forced myself to study when I was in college. I could have forced myself to go to classes on a regular basis. The only reason that I didn't graduate from college is because, when I was 19 years old, I wasn't willing to make the effort to do so. I was lazy, pure and simple and, like far too many artists, I used my talents as an excuse to justify that laziness. Why didn't I go to class? Because I was writing! A good friend of mine tends to refer to that period as the time when she was "young and stupid." That's not a fair assessment as far as she is concerned but it certainly fits a 20 year-old Jeff Ellis like a glove! At the time, of course, I kept telling myself that I had all the time in the world to get serious, to apply myself to doing the work to actually graduate from college instead of just trying to coast through on the abilities that I knew I had but, for whatever reason, refused to use. I told myself so many times that it would only be one more day and then I'd get myself together and I'd take responsibility for my life and I'd become the type of person I knew I could be and I'd make my mother so proud and all my ex-girlfriends would realize that they let a good one get away and bang! -- before you knew it, drunk, lazy, irresponsible Jeff Ellis would suddenly be lecturing at the very university he very nearly flunked out of while he spent his spare time writing the great American novel.

For many years, I seriously believed that. Despite all evidence to the contrary, I believed that somehow, the mess I'd created for myself since leaving home would magically resolve itself because I was talented and I was a nice guy and Hell, didn't I deserve to be successful? And now, here I am, thirty years old, the first strands of gray in my hair, and honestly, I'll be happy if just ten people go through the trouble to buy my next book.

And I hate myself for not being able to change the past. I hate myself for only being able to play God with my fiction but not my reality.

Well, I didn't mean for this entry to take this direction. I was going to write about how much I liked a movie I saw Tuesday morning -- a little film called Mean Creek that played as a kind of combination of Deliverance and The River's Edge and which featured Oscar worthy work from Rory Culkin. It's a short little film, dealing with a bunch of directionless but generally sympathetic teenagers in a white trash town who attempt to teach the school bully a lesson. Natrually, things go wrong and something happens which makes it impossible for any of them to go back to living their lives as before. Innocence is lost and it's been a long time since I've mourned innocence as much as I did watching this film's disturbing story unfold. Honestly, the film's storyline is familiar. It's a story that's been told and retold in a lot of films but rarely with such a sure hand as in this film. Even though the events unfolding on screen might be predictable, the film is so well acted and the script manages to capture the bizarre mix of sadism and sentimentality that makes up adolescence so perfectly, that one gets caught up in the story and hence, that Big, Bad Thing that happens is far more emotionally wrenching than something that might have been more unexpected would have been. The film does seem to lose it's way immediately after the Big Thing happens -- just as the characters have no idea what to do, one gets the same feeling about the director. The film meanders, trying to look for a way to wrap up a story that has been to well established to be wrapped up in the movie's remaining thirty minutes. Still, it's a minor quibble and -- regardless of a few slow spots towards the end -- this is an emotionally devastating film, one that leaves you mourning the innocence that the characters just lost and the innocence that our current world has never allowed them to have in the first place.

Right now, as I write this, I am watching another movie. Yesterday, I rented four DVDs from Blockbuster and right now, I am watching the first of them -- Lars Von Trier's controversial film Dogville. Dogville has been described as a love it or hate it type of film. And, honestly, I hate it but at the same time, I can say that I could see how a lot of people could love it without me personally losing any respect for them. Dogville tells the story of Grace (Nicole Kidman), who is on the run from gangsters in 1930s and ends up hiding out in the small Colorado town of Dogville. At first, the citizens of Dogville open their arms to Grace and help her hide out. A thankful Grace responds by helping out the citizens of Dogville in their everyday tasks and, predictably, she is soon being cruelly exploited by these people who originally opened her arms to them. It's all metaphorical, of course with Dogville standing in for the bad old U.S.A. and Grace for the rest of the world. I'm not a big fan of metaphors being turned into 3-hour films because, quite frankly, once you figure out the metaphor, you're still left with 2 hours and 50 minutes of predictable symbolism and diatribe to sit through. Anyway, the big thing with Dogville is that it's presented as a filmed play with all the actors wandering around on a bare stage, their houses represented by chalk outlines on the floor, so on and so forth. The whole thing becomes a Marxist Our Town though the film doesn't really present any case for why it should be presented this way other than perhaps the fact that the presentation helps to disguise just how little else there is going on in this film. Anyway, this is pretty much a preaching to the converted type film. If the viewer is anti-American and buys into the whole leftist world view, this is probably a brilliant film. If the viewer is like me -- well, the whole thing comes across as just a lecture delivered by someone with nothing to say, a Brecht play as imagined by someone who has never actually seen a Brecht play. Good work from Nicole Kindman, though.

Okay, I'm going to finish this film off and get some sleep. 
Tuesday, September 07, 2004
  My vacation is quickly coming to an end and I was on the verge of declaring that my latest attempt to have a life outside of work a failure. However, on Monday afternoon, I saw a film that, along with being the best film I've seen so far this year, left me feeling inspired in a way that only experiencing a truly unique, brilliant piece of art can. That film was Garden State which, unlike most of the films that I end up raving about, is actually getting a great deal of attention beyond my own admiration. As is mentioned in every review of this film, Garden State is the first produced film to be written and directed by a young actor named Zach Braff. Braff is the star of a sitcom called Scrubs, a show that I've always liked even though my work schedule doesn't allow me to watch it on a regular basis. To be honest, Braff's work on the show never left me all that impressed. He was a likeable actor but he never struck me as having a great deal of depth; in short, the epitome of a tv actor (at best, a Jewish Ray Romano). However, his work in this film (he also plays the lead character) was a true revelation. He plays a presumably autobiographical role -- a struggling young actor who returns home to New Jersey for his mother's funeral and, over the course of the next few days, is forced to confront his past and his future. (The proof of this film's worth is that while the plot description doesn't sound all that unusual for an independent film -- in fact, it sounds like just about every independent film made by someone other than Quentin Tarantino -- the film manages to make it seem as if Garden State is the first film to ever deal with these issues.) Braff gives a wonderfully low-key performance that -- along with bringing a wonderfully deadpan sense of humor to what could be a very tiresome character -- reveals a good deal of unexpected dramatic depth. There's a real anger to his character at times and it is a sign of Braff's talent as an actor and as a filmmaker that he allows that anger to make his character a bit of a pain in the ass at times instead of attempting to make him into yet another rebel without a cause, ranting against the dying of the wind.

Anyway, this really is a film about performances and it's populated with a cast of familiar character actors who give wonderfully vivid performances. There are several scenes in this film that could have come across as excessive but the actors keep all of the action and the dialogue rooted in reality, regardless of how humorous or dramatic the scene might be. This is a film that features such minor characters as a slutty older woman who sleeps with a far younger man who works at Medieval Times and is first seen wandering her house in a full suit of armor. The girl that Braff falls for (very well played by Natalie Portman who brings a nice sense of gravity to a character who could have come across as a combination of the worst traits of every annoyingly "quirky" free spirit who has shown up every romantic comedy made since 1966) has an adopted brother from Africa who hopes to become a detective and is seen in the background dusting a TV remote control for prints. A former high school friend whom Braff remembers as a Coke fiend shows up as a fascist motorcycle cop. His best friend digs graves for a living and collects Desert Storm trading cards. These are all characters who would be played for easy laughs in any other film but, in Garden State, they come together to create an amazing mosiac of a very real time and place that manages to be hilarious even while leaving an aftertaste of undeniable sadness and regrets for hopeful ambitions that were never realized.

I probably can't put into words how much I loved this film so I'll just repeat that it is the best film I've seen so far this year. If you haven't seen it, see it. And if you hate it, try to figure out what's wrong with you. 
Saturday, September 04, 2004
  You may be surprised to hear (as, momentarily, was I) that Dick Cavett is still alive. Less surprising is the news that Cavett is a Kerry supporter and even less surprising is the fact that Cavett apparently was disturbed enough by Zell Miller's speech at the RNC that he felt the need to indulge in a little character assassination on the Don Imus show yesterday. This, of course, is the typical Democratic response to any criticism and it pretty much goes to the heart of what is wrong with the modern Democratic Party, i.e. the inability to distinguish between disagreement and evil.

Anyway, Cavett's response to Miller's criticism of Kerry's Senate votes was to say that Zell Miller "looks like a Klansman." Now, my first response to this was to wonder just what exactly that has to do with Kerry's votes in the Senate. Is this to be the new Democratic platform -- only good looking guys can get away with criticizing our nominee? My second response was to point out that, considering that the last leader of the Klan to have any relavence whatsoever in American politics was David Duke, it's John Edwards who resembles a Klansman in this year's campaign if it's anyone. My third response was to say that Cavett's response was a perfect example of the elitism that seems to run rampant through various people who call themselves liberal or populist. Zell Miller's an old, ugly guy with a Southern accent so naturally, the man can't have anything relavent to say. How dare he even think to have a position when there are smooth, urbane men like Dick Cavett out there -- men who might put most of America to sleep but who, dammit!, at least don't have a hint of a drawl in their voice! But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Dick Cavett does have a point. Watching a clip of Zell Miller giving his keynote speech on one of the news channels earlier today, I realized that Cavett was actually quite correct.

The physical resemblance between Zell Miller and West Virginia's Robert Byrd is indeed uncanny. 
  Judging by John Kerry's recent remarks at his Ohio rally (to paraphrase: "I'll let the people of America decide whether someone with two tours of duty is more qualified to defend it than someone who got five deferments."), it would appear that the man who made his name by promoting the the idea that his fellow soldiers were all bloodthirsty psychopaths is now claiming that only men who have served in combat are fit to lead the country or, at the very least, have more of an inherent right to the White House than people who didn't. In the past, I've said and felt that it would be a mistake to judge a man based solely on his activities four decades ago. That's why I haven't spent too much time on Kerry's past activities as a war protestor. "Judge a man not by his past but by how he deals with that past in the present," as some lofty luminary somewhere probably said at some point. But Kerry, apparently, now disagrees with me on that. So, taking all of this in mind, for the next minute or so, I'll play this using Kerry's rules of logic as far as Presidential qualifications are concerned and I'll pose one question that I would like to hear someone ask the junior senator from Massachussetts:

"Sen. Kerry, did you vote for Bob Dole in 1996?" 
Thursday, September 02, 2004
  "Some have noticed I move with a certain swagger which in Texas we call walking." Y'know, for someone who -- we are continually told -- can't put two words together, is incapable of being articulate, yadda yadda yadda -- George W. Bush sure does have a habit of giving damn good speeches.

I have to admit that when I heard the above quoted line, even though I know that the main result will probably be the usual Texas bashing on the part of the rest of the nation, I was on my feet cheering. I have a feeling that I wasn't alone, at least as far as viewers in Texas are concerned. Say what you will but for me, that line sums up the difference between the Republicans and the Democrats. Republicans walk forward and the media calls it swaggering. Democrats run (or, in Kerry's case, windsurf) for cover and the media calls it statesmanship. Hopefully, come November, the voters will be willing to decide for themselves what they want to call it.

Well, the RNC is in the can and, even though I do have some pretty big disagreements with Bush and even though I'm still planning on casting a protest vote for Charles Jay in November (though, I have to admit, I'm like certain members of the Green Party as far as this is concerned -- if Texas were, in any way, up for play in this election, I would vote for Bush), I have to admit that watching the convention reminded me why I'll always be just as proud to call myself a Republican as I will to call myself a Libertarian. Yeah, all the cool people might have been hanging out in Boston but the people I'd actually like to live next to, the people I would want to babysit my children, the people I'd trust to feed my cats when I'm on vacation, the people who I trust will be able to lead America without sacrificing all that has made this country on an altar of good intentions -- those people were in New York and I wish I'd been there with them.

I'm biased, of course, but to me, the Republican Convention was everything that the Democratic Convention failed to be. The Democratic Convention was about bitterness, about anger, and about tracking down those who might dare to disagree and silencing them through the pure force of moral judgment. The Republican Convention was about making the United States the best place for her citizens to live, work, and play in; regardless of whether those citizens are Republican, Democrat, Green, Libertarian, black, white, gay, straight, male, female, rich, poor, native, or immigrant. The Democratic Convention was about nominating John Edwards for Vice President. The Republican Convention was about the future of America. For me, it's that simple. I know that every single Democrat who reads this will disagree. And that's your right. And the difference between Republicans and Democrats is that I won't hate you for disagreeing.

Let's see -- what else to say? Obviously, I was a big fan of Bush's acceptance speech. Some people have complained that too much exposure was given to various moderates like Guiliani and Schwarzenegger but they're missing the point. Guiliani and Schwarzenegger may disagree with a lot of other Republicans but as they proved with their speeches, they are still Republicans and they belonged at the convention. The Republican Party is not a party defined by a handful of issues. Instead, it is one united by a belief that America is at its strongest when its citizens are free to live their lives free of government interference. And if some Republicans have different positions on certain issues, that doesn't change the fact that they came to those contrary positions by following the same path. Myself, I am pro-choice and I am against the Death penalty and I will never vote for a Democrat. It's the difference between feeling that there are certain issues that the government should not get involved in and the feeling that there are certain issues that the citizens shouldn't be allowed to consider for themselves.

Obviously, for me, Schwarzenegger, Guiliani, and Bush were the highlights of the 2004 convention as far as speeches were concerned. I'm going to take the apparent minority view here and say that Zell Miller's speech was probably one of the best explanations yet of why John Forbes Kerry cannot be President. Yeah, it wasn't eloquent but if it had been delivered at a Democratic convention, people would be comparing Zell favorably to Harry S Truman right now. It wasn't eloquent, it wasn't pretty, but it got down to the heart of issue. Zell Miller stood as a powerful symbol of what was once great about the Democratic Party; just as John Kerry currently stands as a powerful symbol of why that party will probably never be great again. I wasn't hugely impressed with Richard Cheney's speech but, honestly, Cheney was not selected as V.P. based on his charisma and I think he stands in a nice contrast to John Edwards (who, honestly, would probably be knocking off sub-standard John Grisham rip-offs with titles like "The Tort Judgment" right now if he hadn't lucked into that Senate seat). Obviously, with this whole Halliburton smokescreen and all the rest, Cheney's not going to be the huge benefit to Bush that he was in 2000 but I don't think he's going to hurt either. Laura Bush -- watching her speech, I found myself realizing -- for the first time -- just how annoying the next four years are going to be if Theresa Heinz Kerry is first lady. The Bush twins have been criticized for their speech. Cringe-inducing is probably the nicest critique I've heard but I had the opposite reaction. Yeah, the jokes were awful and yes, neither one of them has been blessed with natural speaking talent. But, they came across as awful good sports about the whole thing and, unlike the various Gore and Kerry daughters who have been paraded about these past few elections, they came across as if you did happen to run into one of them on the street, they would at least be polite while the secret service threw you to the ground and searched you for weapons.

Before I forget, as much as I liked Zell, he was actually my second favorite Democrat at the convention. Ed Koch -- the sound of shock and disbelief in your voice as you said you were voting for Bush -- it was priceless and thank you for actually having the inegrity necessary to not only go against your party but to admit that you were voting Republican. It was a nice contrast to Ron Reagan and his whole "I'm-just-here-to-talk-about-science" routine in Boston.

So, now, the question is -- do I waste any time watching John Kerry throw his tantrum in Ohio? Apparently, Kerry is angry because he feels that, by saying he might not be the right President to lead the War on Terror, various Republican speakers said he wasn't a good American. They, of course, said nothing of the sort. I have no doubt that Kerry loves America and I'm sure Miller and Cheney agree. However, I do think that Kerry past actions have revealed that he has a very impractical way of viewing America's place in the world. Y'see, John, you can still love America and not have any common sense on how to keep it strong and safe. Not everything in this world can be reduced to a case of black-and-white extremes. That's something that the Republicans understand. It's also something that the Democrats have apparently forgotten.

Hopefully, it's something that the rest of America will remember. 
  A confession: These past three months, I have been making an effort to cut back on the profanity that ran rampant through the first few postings on this blog. However, I am currently watching Bush's acceptance speech at the RNC and I have just seen the news regarding John Kerry's plan to have a midnight rally at Ohio and his angry comments about being criticized (gasp!) at the Republican National Convention (double gasp!). So, forgive my crudeness, but it is a question that I have asked before and it is a question that must be repeated now and it is a question that I'm sure I will have reason to repeat many, many times over the course of this election.

John Forbes Kerry -- could this guy be any more of an asshole? 
Wednesday, September 01, 2004
  I'm currently into the fourth day of a ten day vacation from work (which was sorely needed -- not so much because things are any better or any worse than usual at the store as much as just the fact that my job bores me beyond tears!). My hope for these days off is to make some serious progress on my crime novel, To Sleep Without Even Dreaming, and to, hopefully, complete my second short story collection, Oswald Acted Alone.

So, of course, I spent this afternoon at the movies.

I caught the DART rail down to the Angelika, which is the closest thing that Dallas has to an art house movie theatre. In short, if you want to see a movie that doesn't feature generic movie stars surrounded by generic action sequences while mouthing generic lines, the Angelika is pretty much your only option.

Which doesn't mean that every movie that shows up at the Angelika is a classic. Case in point: today, I saw Ju-On, a Japanese horror flick that some critics are claiming as one of the scariest films of all time. The film has since been remade as The Grudge with Sarah Michelle Gellar and the remake is due to hit screens some time in October. Anyway, I'll probably see the remake because Gellar is cute but it certainly won't be because of the strength of the source material.

Ju-On is a haunted house story, pure and simple. There's really not much more to it. A house is cursed by evil events in the past and every family that has moved into the house since those events has either vanished or died (So, why do people keep moving in? one might be tempted to ask). The film is a series of loosely connected episodes in which various characters are introduced and then quickly dispatched by a couple of pasty ghosts. The film isn't really scary as much as it is sporadically creepy. The ghosts are scary when they first appear but, much like Jason with his now campy hockey mask, they pop too early and too often that by the end of the film, there's something rather ho-hum about their habit of popping up in the corner of the frame whenever somebody happens to turn in the other direction. The film, itself, does have an interesting structure in that the episodes are told out of chronological order (Yep, it's the Pulp Fiction trick again.) and it is occasionally fun to spot the various clues that help to put everything in it's proper order. (And when I say fun, you should understand that it's fun the same way looking at old photographs is fun when the only other option you have is to sit in your living room and watch the wallpaper peel.) In the end, what the film has going for it is the curiosity factor. As Americans, we're not used to seeing foreign films in which the characters act as stupid as any of the latest films churned out of the Hollywood hit machine. And stupid they certainly are -- an astounding number of people die over the course of this film but it's hard to regret any of their deaths. Watching them, one can't help but feel that if the ghosts hadn't gotten them, most of these guys probably would have ended up accidentally getting electrocuted while trying to fix the toaster anyway.

Still, it was nice to actually get out of the house without eventually ending up sliding my ID card through a time clock at the end of my journey. And I still plan on seeing the remake because once again, Sarah Michelle Gellar is cute. 
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Blogs

Reva Renee Renz -- Renz would have won my vote in 2003's California recall election, if not for the fact that I'm not a resident of California. Anyway, Renz was one of the more likeable candidates in that free-for-all, one of the few who took it seriously without giving into meglomania. Her blog gives the details of her run and her life after. Renz is the owner of Deva's Bar in Tustin, California and I have to admit that the only reason I currently desire to visit California is to have a beer at that bar. Renz stands as proof that Republicans are a lot more fun than most people care to admit.

Yankee From Mississippi -- Shannon Black's blog, featuring writing that often puts me to shame. Plus, isn't that just an amazingly cool title for a blog or anything else for that matter?

Crime

The Charley Project -- A huge site, detailings hundreds of cold cases dealing with missing persons. This site is actually far superior and better written than the similar and better known Doe Network.

Crime News 2000 -- Despite the 2000, this is a daily updated listing of all the latest developments in all the morbid and disturbing stories that tend to capture the national psyche nowadays.

Doe Network -- One of those web sites that justifies the existence of the internet in the first place, the Doe Network is a huge database of missing persons and unifidentified remains from around the world.

Is this girl Tara Leigh Calico? -- This web site details the disappearance of a 19 year-old girl in New Mexico back in the late '80s. The details of Tara Calico's disappearance have haunted me for years now and served as the genesis for my current interest about missing person cases in general.

Politics

Charles Jay -- Personal Choice Party Candidate For President In 2004 -- I wrote in Jay's name for President in 2004. I think about 228 other people -- mostly in Utah -- agreed with me.

D.C.'s Political Report -- With Politics1 on indefinite hiatus, this is now the best place on the web to find continually updated listings of who is running for what and where.

Homepage of the Libertarian Party -- I am a member of the Libertarian Party, even if the party itself can't ever quite seem to get it's act together.

National Review -- The magazine for both true conservatives and Libertarians who think Ayn Rand was a hack

Politics 1 -- The site is officially on hiatus but there's still the occasional update. The archival information on the various candidates in the 2000 and 2004 Presidential races always makes for interesting reading.

Pop Culture

Fametracker

Teevee

Writing

Amazon.com -- I've posted quite a few reviews of books, film, and music on this site and I've gotten a good deal of very gratifying and very positive feedback from them. (I've also managed to piss off just about everyone who cried when they saw Titanic for the 10th times but that's another story...) Those reviews can be found by searching the site for Jeffrey Ellis from Richardson, Texas.

The Homepage of Gregory Alan Norton -- Homepage of one of my favorite liberals, fellow writer Greg Norton who I published in the premier issue of Jack the Daw way back in 1995. His site quotes my review of his excellent first novel, There Ain't No Justice, Just Us and includes information on how to order the book.

Xlibris -- Homepage for Xlibris, the publishers of It's Impossible To Start A Fire If You Have No Desire To Burn

Blogarama - The Blog Directory