Gore and darkness awaits one on the movie screen

Lately I have become a devotee of the Redbox. It is not any red box, but rather the Redbox standing so prominently outside local grocery stores and pharmacies and the like. I don’t know why, but I never watched movies on my laptop computer much before. Since I bought a new laptop I have begun to play the discs on my computer screen.

I haven’t watched movies, relatively new ones at least, very much in the past several years. I am not big in going to the theater unless someone goes with me. And I have kind of been a loner in the majority of the last decade with a couple of exceptions when I was dating. So most of the movies I have watched were on TV, either cable or otherwise.

There are a couple of down sides of watching these movie-in-a-box rentals. First, the DVDs aren’t always in the best condition. I got a couple of discs a week ago that I couldn’t watch because it wouldn’t play, or it would play and stop for long periods of time. Redbox did, to their credit, give me a couple of promotional codes for free movies in the future.

And, I don’t know if it is just me, but some movies have become way too gory for me to enjoy or are either too dark. I will give a couple of examples.

I should have expected a pic with Arnold Schwarzenegger to be filled with a lot of action and a certain amount of blood. But I wanted to see one of “Ahnold’s” films since he left the California statehouse for another run at Hollywood. The movie “Sabotage” is one of his recent flicks.

The story is about an elite DEA team that finds itself being depopulated one-by-one after stealing millions of dollars in a cartel cache. Now I will spare you some of the ways the rogue agents are taken out. That is not only to spare one from scenes being spoiled. Also, some of the manners in which the agents are killed are just simply full of more gore than most folks need.

A movie I also watched with some cringe factor at work was a South By Southwest premiere last year by the title of “Cheap Thrills.” The E.L. Katz directed work is listed as a ‘black comedy”but its darkness far exceeds its comedic factor.

The show’s plot is about a working-class Joe and would-be writer who finds himself, his wife and kid in financial straits and about to be thrown out of their rental into the street. The character, Craig, finds out he is laid off just after pulling an eviction notice from his front door. Like every good man in the deep doo of financial ruin, Craig goes to a bar. While there Craig runs into a buddy he hadn’t seen in five years.

At his core, Craig is an upright — and a bit uptight — guy who loves his wife. But his foundation gets shakier and shakier as the film goes on. The two old buds runs into a seemingly rich and definitely twisted couple in the bar who are supposedly out celebrating the wife’s birthday. That celebration gets higher on the Perverse o’ Meter in each frame.  I will just give a tame for instance. The rich guy says he will give one of the old friends $200 to say something to a good-looking lady that will get one of them slapped. And believe me that is as tame and injury free as it gets from there.

I have never been much enchanted with gory slasher-style movies. For some reason though, lots of graphic shit bothers me. Even one of my favorite TV shows, NCIS, has scenes that I will have to turn my head away from especially when a body is on the coroner’s table burned to a crisp. No doubt, my head turning in that case isn’t surprising because such instances in real life as a firefighter and as a reporter revealed similar scenes of what we would call in our own dark humor “crispy critters.”

I don’t have nightmares about some of the repulsive stuff I saw in real life, at least that I know of, who knows what all there is lurking in the deep recesses of our beans.

One thing is for certain though, if I am to continue my movie watching, I think I will have to watch the ratings more carefully. When they say bloody, or scenes too graphic, maybe I will just leave the disc be. After all, what’s $1.20 for a movie disc when it comes to your sanity?

Shocking new drinking game: Prepare to get Blitzered!

Here is a way to get totally blitzed and somewhat informed, for awhile at least, at the same time.

Watch Wolf Blitzer’s show on CNN. Take a drink every time the bearded newsman says “shocking!

“Shocking!” “Shocking … ” ” … shocking … ” “Shocking … Well, better drink beer. Better drink light beer or 3.2 beer. If you take a shot of tequila or whiskey you will definitely be Blitzered.

Forest Service proposal could endanger First Amendment

Over the years I have generally supported the efforts of the U.S. Forest Service. That has not been without difficulty considering certain policies which have surfaced over many vastly-different presidential administrations. I won’t go into details about which ones because that would require depth beyond my intentions for this post.

I have camped at several national forests in recent years with the most recent in the Angelina National Forest in East Texas. A particular spot I like is Boykin Springs Recreation Area, located off State Highway 63, between Zavalla and Jasper. Most of the pertinent information on the park is contained on the linked site above. Mainly, I would stress to anyone interested that it is a place that should best be visited in off seasons — fall and winter if camping is your bag — due to the limited spaces. Of course, spring and even summer in East Texas hold some majestic scenery, if you can keep cool during the hot summers.

This isn’t a travelogue though. I wanted to link to this article in Firehouse.com, the Website for what is considered one if not the most thorough firefighting publications in existence. I began reading it when I first became a firefighter more than 35 years ago. It was founded and edited then by retired New York City firefighter, Dennis Smith (not related to anyone I know), who also wrote several compelling books including his most famous, “Report From Engine Co. 82.” The article I link is reprinted from the Mail Tribune newspaper in Medford, Ore. I thought it important enough that I mention both publications.

The gist of the story is that the Forest Service has a proposed rule that would assign permits and charge fees of up to $1,500 to journalists who cover “non-breaking” news stories at national forests. This is as opposed to “breaking news” such as a big wildfire. An example from the article is forest management policies. A forest service official said the rule was meant to preserve the “untamed character of wilderness areas.”

I think the rule is the proverbial “slippery slope.”

This serves as a shining example of how government agencies can trample upon the First Amendment rights by restricting a free press. I don’t know specifically about the Forest Service but I know of other agencies that restrict the American people from knowledge about their government by charging excessive fees for public information or even copies.

The linked story says it as good or better as I how misguided a proposal the rule could be if enacted. It is already difficult enough for some journalists, such as myself sometimes, who freelance. We may or may not have credentials from a newspaper or other publication and thus encounter difficulty in access to news and areas where a story may happen.

Today was the first I heard of the proposed rule and it concerns me just how sheltered my fellow citizens are from rules that endanger our Constitutional freedoms. I found other news stories today after searching that told of fears citizens had that the rule would prohibit innocent picture taking. The Forest Service clarified the information about the rule to say it “only” applied to commercial media.

One always seems to ask what else are they, the government, hiding. The Forest Service is probably well-intentioned. I also support keeping our wilderness areas wild. But it should not be done at the cost of our freedom.

Coppers and copper theives; Travolta, make the local news news

Our local daily had a couple of interesting stories online today. The interest is personal, like me, to use other words. One story is about something I saw. The other is about something I didn’t see.

Heading back home from the office I saw Beaumont police cars and SUVs parked downtown on Main while others parked on Liberty Street. They seemed to be looking for something. It turns out they were. The coppers were looking for copper, or rather, a copper thief. The Beaumont Enterprise story said the men were found in a vacant building there. A “K-9 Officer,” a dog in other words, and his “partner,” I won’t touch that one, discovered one man in an upstairs bathroom stall. The suspect reportedly possessed cutting tools and strands of copper in a large plastic bag. Police caught the other alleged copper thief as he was leaving the building.

Copper appears to be the modern-day gold, except it is copper, and gold is gold. Got that?

At 2:34 p.m. Central Daylight Savings Time today, gold was moving at $1,216,96 USD per ounce, down 0.37 percent, according to Goldprice.org. When you look again it will be different, marginally up or down. But some experts think gold prices are bottoming out. Who knows? Gold is more mysterious than gasoline when it comes to prices. It’s been that way a lot longer than I have been around.

This chart from MetalPrices.org shows that copper prices have hit a three-month low.

Still, with local recyclers paying between $2.40-2.60 per pound — USD about 3 p.m . CDST — for copper, it wouldn’t take a whole lot to pay for a couple of 40-ouncers and pack of Kools.

Whole lotta 40-ouncers here. Photo via Creative Commons by Giovanni Dall'Orto

Whole lotta 40-ouncers here. Photo via Creative Commons by Giovanni Dall’Orto

Yes, copper is a much sought-after metal. It has been for awhile now. The last Texas legislative session enhanced penalties on copper theft. But, just remember, prices for everything are like gravitation laws. What goes up, must come down. It is a cliche, but it is the easiest way to say it.

The local Enterprise, then later The Baytown Sun, reported Beaumont police nabbed two more alleged “modern copper miners” yesterday who may be involved in more than 70 thefts of the metal. Man, you could buy a s***-load of 40-ouncers with that. Of course, if you are going to steal copper you might as well steal beer and cigs, not that I am advocating that. It’s just an observation.

Also, the Beaumont daily reported that some folks trying to exorcize a few pounds at the World Gym last night were taken aback when John Travolta showed up. The actor, who was a fancy dancer more than 30 years ago in “Saturday Night Fever,” was sporting a full beard (no touch of gray) and told the management he was looking for a place to workout while shooting a move about 20 miles away in Sour Lake. The drama “Life on the Line” is a film set for next year about electrical linemen who do all kinds of stuff (my characterization.)

Now I like some of John’s movie. “Fever” and, OMG, “Urban Cowboy” are shows a dude would only see for a date. And that’s the only way I have seen them at the moving picture show. I think I have admitted this before, but I stopped wearing Western-style shirts when the “Cowboy” sparked a Western-fashion craze.

I have been highly critical in private lately about our local daily. It has been kind of crappy for awhile if you want to know my opinion. These stories are good and are of the kind a “community paper” would have. Maybe you don’t care for Travolta. I am interested in movies being shot in the area. I have once thought of doing location scouting for films. I became a newspaper reporter instead. Now that I am not doing that so much, who knows, maybe I will scout a location for some picture. You never know.

But you take stories such as these, something that grabs your interest because you saw something happening or have some dog you would like to have a hunt in, then you got yourself some journalism. Thanks, BE, but don’t bask too long in the glory. There are always deadlines to meet.

 

Will NCIS pull off the hat trick?

One never knows how a “TV franchise” will pan out. It isn’t that a group of similar shows with similar sounding-names and often sharing actors or producers is an invention of the Dick Wolf-produced Law and Order franchise, and his newest franchise Chicago Fire and Chicago PD. Not all of the Law and Order bunch were as successful as the original and Special Victim’s Unit. Criminal Intent only lasted 10 or so seasons.

I wondered if, as a fan of the Mark Harmon-starred NCIS, the program would die from over-exposure once its NCIS: Los Angeles previewed more than five seasons ago. Apparently not, as a third franchise vessel NCIS: New Orleans debuts tonight.

To put an exclamation point on the NCIS franchise, the original itself is the third most popular show on U.S. televisioin and the most-watched TV drama in the world.

For a show to have the popularity of NCIS it must have aspects that viewers share. I would say the show’s quirky humor is probably what I like the best about both NCIS and NCIS: Los Angeles. I saw the pilot episodes of New Orleans and it will hopefully keep that funny groove that has made the other two shows very likable. I have long been a sucker for a successful ensemble cast, shows that made many of the 1960-80s-era memorable as a “second TV Golden Age,” such as Taxi, Barney Miller, Hill Street Blues, and yes, even Andy Griffith and the Beverly Hillbillies. Of course, clever writing helps.

The fact that NCIS has become such a hit is a bit of a wonder, even though it did spin off from the Navy lawyer drama JAG. Even though I am an ex-sailor I had no idea that NCIS, for Naval Criminal Investigative Service, was even called “NCIS” when the show premiered. I remember the 70s agency as “NIS” for Naval Investigative Service.

Sometimes when one experiences something in real life, there may often reign confusion when its portrayal is in fiction. So it was with NCIS. I had met a couple of idiots during my naval service who were NIS agents, so when I saw Mark Harmon and the others acting as Navy civilian agents, I wondered how was this action about to work? Likewise, I wondered about the title of the succeeding show based in Los Angeles. Even though there was still a Navy station in Long Beach long ago when I stayed there with my ship in drydock, LA didn’t seem like a big Navy (or even Marine) town. Why wasn’t the show NCIS: San Diego? Well, I guess the two largest cities in California aren’t all that far apart. And,  San Diego and Los Angeles really aren’t separated by much more that a jumble of city limit signs, for that matter.

Like the DC-based original NCIS, New Orleans actually is home to a NCIS field office. Back in my Navy days in the 1970s, when I spent a great deal of time in New Orleans, the city had two Navy stations: Naval Support Activity New Orleans and NAS Belle Chasse. New Orleans makes a great backdrop for a drama or many other types of fictional work. Let’s face it, New Orleans is an odd place as it is fun. Hopefully, the third program will be a charm for the NCIS franchise, not to mention charming.

Fall brings the good, bad and indifferent of television

With fall comes new TV shows for however long. The seasons seem shorter with the advent of cable programming. That beats seasons-long reruns all to hell although it leaves viewers wanting more of a particular product should it be worthwhile.

A friend mentioned on Facebook her joy at the return of “Sons of Anarchy.” It will be the final season although I am sure to watch many of the early episodes down the line as reruns, or hopefully, that is. I think SOA was on for several years before I came an avid viewer.

Since the new season aired only last night, I won’t give away much to prevent spoilage. I will say the show seems much darker and bloodier than in the past. I mentioned to my friend that the blood and guts are cause for my stomach to considerably weaken. The “autopsy shots” and those of “crispy critters” featured on “Duckie Mallard’s” table in NCIS episode absolutely make me turn away. As I told my friend, Tere, I don’t know if all the horrors I saw as a younger man –as a firefighter/EMT and later as a reporter — have finally caught up with me. The last real “Doctor” psychiatrist I spoke with about 10 years seemed to think it inevitable that I had PTSD, though it was never a real diagnosis. WTFK, right? (Who the f*** knows, if you wondered about the acronym. )

I am glad to see Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” returning on CNN. Bourdain is known as a chef, though since his books including “Kitchen Confidential,” unearthed the dirty business side of restaurateurs and chefs, Tony has become much more well-known as a TV travel guide. Bourdain combines eating and drinking along with traveling, done in almost equal parts humorous and poignant, he is definitely a favorite multimedia-type of mine.

I  suppose that I live somewhat vicariously through Tony Bourdain since I doubt I could find anyone who might finance me on a junket to explore sights, sounds, eats and drinks in exotic places. Most of the exotic travel I did was as a 21-year-old in the Navy. I could write about my exploits and have to some degree. Some of said exploits might be a bit too harsh for certain loved ones. Strolling down Magsaysay Drive in Olangapo, Philippines, at night while toasted, a cold San Miguel in one hand and a piece of barbecued monkey on a stick, could pass for a young salt in the 70s. But other entertainment, while certainly amazing in some respects, might also seem to others as somewhat perverse.

Television standards prevent, supposedly, an on-air person getting baked on ganja or s***faced on some foreign assortment of liquors. Nonetheless, Anthony Bourdain can be seen at the end of some evenings in his exotic travels, looking much worse for wear though no doubt happy for it.

Some TV shows disappearing or reappearing do not matter at all to me which way they go. The “reality” programs are high up on that particular scale. “Big Brother,” I never watched it. “Naked and Afraid,” sad to say, yes. But it is ridiculous to a high degree. If the embarrassment would fall to another’s face, I might watch it if I was without reading material. However, since I just took control of a new HP laptop today. I don’t foresee that happening.

Now, if I can just get used to Windows 8 and things going “bounce” in the day, I will find myself okay. Catch you here or there this fall.

Giving blogging the finger and my sleeping health

Live from tablet world! I don’t yet have a wireless keyboard to, hopefully, make this more blog-like. I have also not figured out how to get my WordPress platform–if that is the correct terminology–working on this particular Android operating system. It is a real pain in the ass to train my opposable thumbs to work on this quote-unquote “virtual keyboard.”

So what does a quote-unquote blogger do? Hellafino. I have to later shower, eat and drive uptown to a private medical facility for a sleep study. It has been about 14 years after I covered my own sleep study at a VA-DOD center out near Fort Hood and discovered that, yeah, I indeed have sleep apnea. My picture was on PI above the fold and everything.

A look at the computer chip in my head CPAP machine by the VA revealed I wasn’t getting as much sleep as was thought during the pregnant pauses in my breathing during night-night. An echocardiogram recently showed I have a slightly enlarged heart. The heart doc at the VA said it can be a byproduct of sleep apnea. So we will look and see eventually. If you see me writing about a stress test some later, you too will know. I kind of wonder about the VA sending me to a local private mini-hospital and that happening PDQ. Is it me or the scandal nationwide that this sudden burst of medicine is about?

My fingers or finger, one, index, right, is about to give out. So it”s off to hopefully a good night’s sleep, with a touch of weird science.

 

Breaking News: Robin Williams dies of apparent suicide

The CBS Evening News Scott Pelley reported on air this evening that comedian and actor Robin Williams was found dead today at his home in Marin County, Calif.  The 63-year-old who first came to prominence in the 1970s and 1980s TV comedy “Mork and Mindy,” apparently committed suicide. Entertainment Weekly’s Danielle Nussbaum reported via Twitter that Williams, who also starred in a number of films including “Good Morning Vietnam” and won an Oscar for “Goodwill Hunting,” had experienced periods of deep depression recently.

Although Williams could be an acquired taste in my personal opinion he was nonetheless a comedic genius and a talented actor. It is needless to say he will be missed.

Rainy day tales from a pissed-off semi-retired journalist

Ann Coulter, the attention-seeking missile, has managed to finagle her way into the American conversation once again with her rant against soccer and the World Cup. Pttttewwwie. That is my spelling of a spit that comes from me. I know that spit is not good for my computer so I will just spell it, and not spit it. What I will not do is give that, well, I can’t use the word I would like, but I will not give her any more of my attention.

So it’s a rainy Friday afternoon. CNN is on my screen but the volume is not engaged. Wolf Blitzer is on TV talking to a Republican House Ways and Means Committee member about some missing IRS emails. “GOP outrage at missing e-mails,” is the “Developing Story” headline. This, in these days where every little happenstance is a “Breaking News” story.  Boy, they set the bar so low.

I once received a corporation-wide monetary award that I shared with another reporter. Both of us are gone from the paper and in the government sector. Well, I’m just part-time. Here is what happened:

I wasn’t Cops reporter anymore but I got to the paper an hour early so I could, usually, leave an hour early. I was the only one in the newsroom. I heard a call on the police scanner, a sheriff’s department dispatcher said there had been a helicopter crash. I called the sheriff’s department and got what information I could. An Army Black Hawk, on a foggy morning, crashed into a TV tower out in the countryside. It turned out bad, all seven on board including a brigadier general were killed.

The editor came in pretty soon and I told him what was going on. Best I can recall, he sent the other reporter at the scene and told me to “rewrite.” The latter term is now sort of a dinosaur. In the olden days — before I was even a reporter — a newspaper would have reporters in the field calling in their stories or pieces of story by land-line phones and the rewrite men (and women) would craft the story together. I only did it a couple of times and both times I just saw what was happening and took off from there, figuratively speaking, after a few seconds of direction from the editor. The other story was about a fatal charter bus crash out on the interstate. We had three or four reporters on that.

This rewriting of breaking news, or deadline reporting as it is called in the business, was not something I really trained for but rather something I seemed to take on instinctively. I knew about the award before I left the paper — I don’t know if my confidential agreement is still in effect, maybe some day I may tell the story, there isn’t much to tell anyway — I collected my share after I began freelancing. I think maybe it was only $50. That is more than the average newspaper award.

You’ve no doubt heard the term “award-winning journalists.” Well, in some ways, journalism awards can be a dime a dozen. There is something really wrong with you if you haven’t won awards. I had collected, jeez, I don’t know how many awards from regional and one state press association in my first two years as a journalist. And I pretty much learned about running a small weekly on my own.

Awards are nice to have. I won a couple of Texas Associated Press Managing Editors Assn. awards, first places for my size of daily newspaper, which was below a major metro. I won environmental writer of the year from the statewide Sierra Club. I did okay in my job, in other words. The latter and the company award meant more to me personally. Regional and state press clubs are, while nice to have personally (like on a resume), more a bigger deal to the newspapers and its managers.

Back to Vulfenzblitzer, as I like to call him, I detest CNN making every other story “Breaking News.” Technically, they are correct but it cheapens the really big stories that reporters write or broadcast every day in different cities around the world. A Facebook friend of mine, a network radio reporter, is traveling around the East with Secretary of State John Kerry.  She and I met covering the court-martial of former Army Spc. Charles Graner, the alleged “ringleader” of the Abu Ghraib saga. Those are real stories and, of course, I have my Gee Dubya stories from interviewing him alone by ourselves when he was campaigning for his “Poppy” to I don’t know how many press conferences as governor and a few as president.

Really, I am not bragging as there really isn’t much to brag about. I just spent some incredible years as a journalist who was just doing his job, and then some as a freelancer. CNN’s repeated versions of “Breaking News” kind of cheapens my personal history. And I don’t like it very much, see?

Oh, “Breaking News” now about the VA. The Department of Veterans Affairs? I’ve written about it for years. I’ll save that for another day.

–30–

My mea culpa runneth over: Could I have changed DeLay-Babin history?

Ignorance seemed to sweep the state of Texas last night as all of the top right-right-wing candidates won the GOP primary for state offices. This include Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick who swept the top two offices. Fortunately, not all Tea Party candidates won the right to run in the November General Election. I speak specifically in the race to replace Rep. Steve Stockman, who gave up his office to seek the U.S. Senate seat held by John Cornyn.

Woodville dentist and former mayor Brian Babin defeated Tea Party mortgage banker Ben Streusand by a 58-42 percent margin. Streusand lives in Spring, a Houston suburb that is out of the district.

Babin lost two previous congressional races in 1996 and 1998 to original “Blue Dog Democrat” Jim Turner of Crockett. The GOP candidate for the 36th Congressional District of Texas, Babin, will face Democrat Michael Cole, a teacher at Little Cypress-Mauriceville in Orange County. A Libertarian candidate, Rodney Veatch, also will oppose the GOP and Democratic candidates.

The area in which CD 36 lies includes rural East Texas pineywoods, the area where I grew up. Longtime congressmen who served much of the area included colorful Democrats Charlie Wilson and Jack Brooks. Gerrymandering left out most of Jefferson County and adds GOP-prone areas of northern Harris County, home of Houston.

I lived in the area during the 1996-1998 Turner-Babin races and covered parts of both races for area daily newspapers. I found both men friendly and intelligent. I had been on the verge of a hot political story had I put more effort into it. “You gotta have heart,” as goes the song from “Damn Yankees.” At the particular time I didn’t have it.

I went to write about a rally for Babin at Cloeren Inc. in Orange. Pete Cloeren and his Dad had built a very successful plastics business. Unfortunately, he threw his politically-untested hands into helping finance the Babin campaign at the behest of Tom DeLay. A scheme was hatched that every Cloeren employee would donate to Babin the maximum $1,000 contribution allowed in congressional races.

DeLay was there at the rally I attended. I heard pols say that the Cloeren employees, each, all donated $1,000 of their own money in Babin’s name. I said: “Right! What bullshit.” I knew that was illegal and I knew it was about as likely as pigs flying that all the employees each gave $1,000 toward Dr. Babin’s campaign. Yet I was lazy, burned out, didn’t give a shit. Had I the time and the energy to go full force at this story as I had in later years chasing every cow pie that potentially entered the North Bosque River and the Waco city water supply, perhaps I might have changed the course of history with respect to Mr. DeLay. But I doubt it. I seriously, seriously doubt it.

In the end, well, we don’t know the end yet to the former bug killer, DeLay’s, saga. I do know from my time covering court cases that Houston appellate attorney Brian Wice — a sometimes legal talking head on TV — is still a guy I enjoyed hanging out with while awaiting a jury verdict. I say all that and add Wice is hell on wheels on appeals and he is representing Tom DeLay in “The Hammer’s” overturned conviction.

Babin and his campaign committee were fined $20,000 by the Federal Election Committee and paid $5,000 in excessive contributions. And now look at him. He’s the “Comeback Kid!”

That’s about as mea culpa as I’m going to get. I started off writing this thinking, “Well, at least we didn’t get Streusand if the GOP candidate wins in November.” But remembering my little lapse in doggedness, I feel even more that the 36th CD needs to elect Michael Cole.