Friday, March 18, 2011

Just when you think these kids are hopeless They play basketball (Friday's Sunday's Poem/Hot Actress 76)

by Edouard Gilles Jr.

Basketball is the border between poverty and wealth.

A hole to exit from drugs and into society.

For real basketball players, basketball is their education, culture and career.

Places where drive by shooting is the u.s. postal service,

Places with black on black crime.

Where drug dealers are like sand.

And cigarettes are like vitamins, vitamins of death.

Places where parents lack control over their kids, and society has just given up.

Just when you think these kids are hopeless,

They play basketball to get out the misery of life,

And yet, their soul, their destiny, still unfulfilled.


About the poem: It's NCAA Basketball time, which is the only time I pay attention to basketball, as a rule (including providing you with Whodathunkit?!: The 64... make that 68 best things you REALLY WANT to know about this year's NCAA Men's Tournament.), so I went searching for basketball poems and found a bunch of them on

I liked this one the best -- not because it's depressing (it is) but because of the claim that basketball is seen as way out of poverty, and because of the vivid metaphor about drive by shootings.

About the Hot Actress: Camila Alves may not technically be an actress (she played "Chatting Woman #3 as an uncredited role in Snow Dogs), but she is Matthew McConaughey's girlfriend, and since Sweetie announced this week that she wants to see The Lincoln Lawyer and since I'm pretty sure that if I hadn't discontinued it, Matthew would be a Hunk of the Week, and since I'm pretty sure that's the only reason Sweetie would want to see The Lincoln Lawyer, I thought turnabout should be fair play, and I now intend to rent Snow Dogs.

click here for a list of all the Friday's Sunday's Poems.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A day out of the office beats a day IN the office, even without dramatic footage (I Get Paid For Doing This)

Last week Friday, I had a trial in Milwaukee -- a trial that, as it turned out, settled and the settlement took less time than the trial was planned to, which left me with free time on my hands, time that was not intended to be occupied by anything.

I opted to use some of that time to walk through a skywalk and look up and then to take pictures of what I saw looking up, because I liked the pattern against the blue sky:

And then I looked back and saw what I'm pretty sure is the tallest building in Wisconsin, looming geometrically behind the skylights of the walkway I was on, so I took a picture of that, too:

And then, on the way home, I saw that there were all kinds of police cars and fire trucks rushing by me, so I whipped out my camera again to take pictures that I was sure were going to be dramatic and that I could probably sell to a news organization later that day, capping off what was turning out to be a fine Friday morning, but it was just a truck that had tipped over:

I took video, too, but it's kind of pointless given that it wasn't very exciting, so my dreams of selling dramatic crash-scene footage were dashed, and I'm not posting the video.

After all that, I ate cold pizza on the way home and listened to the Savage Love podcast. In case you wanted to know how I finished off the morning.

Vote on how you think Governor Patsy is doing. (Publicus Proventus)

In their effort to game the public and trick them into thinking that Governor Patsy's robbery of Wisconsin's poor and middle class, Wisconsin Republicans are forwarding links to an online poll site that's meant to "measure" support -- but they're only sending the link to trusted members of the GOP in hopes of making it look like Governor Patsy has the public on his side.

That didn't work, as the link got out -- you can vote by going here -- and as of the moment I voted just now, the poll was showing 52% against Governor Patsy:

No doubt that means another fake death threat will be coming out soon. Got to do something to make people like you, right?

Also, if you go to that link and vote, and click "return to poll," you can vote again. So, um... just sayin'.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Soon, I'll go back and review OTHER riddles from when I was a kid to figure THEM out. (Quote of the Day 58)


-- Answer to a riddle.

The riddle is What do you get when you cross an elephant with a rhino? I was asked that riddle -- I recall it distinctly -- when I was about 10 years old, by my Uncle Steve.

Uncle Steve was able to, scarily enough, do a spot on impersonation of Jack Nicholson in The Shining; he had the same long-straight hair, the same weird eyes, the same angular face, and if he hadn't been blonder than Jack Nicholson, would likely have had a career as Nicholson's stunt double or something.

But he wasn't mimicking Jack Nicholson on this occasion; he was, instead, simply asking 10-year-old me a riddle.

10-year-old me, much like 42-year-old me, never really got how to interact with people in society, though, and didn't really understand other people, so when Uncle Steve asked me that riddle, and I said "I give up" or whatever it is 10-year-old nephews say to their slightly-scary uncles, and Uncle Steve said "Elefino!" and laughed -- and Uncle Mark and Uncle Bob and Uncle Bill laughed, too, and the other kids, my brothers and cousins, laughed, I laughed, too, but what I thought was this:

What's an "elefino"? Is that like an albino elephant?

I spent the rest of that night ... and off and on for decades after that... wondering about that joke. Why would an elephant and a rhino have an albino baby? I wondered. Or, if not an albino, what was the point of the joke? Simply a combination of elephant and rhino that sounded funny?

Then -- and this is a totally true story -- one day not very long ago, when I was in my forties, I was driving along and talking on the phone and I said to the person I was talking to on the phone "Hell if I know," and suddenly the joke clicked into focus for me and I finally got it.

So that's what I'm thinking about today.

We spend TOO LITTLE, 1: Wake up and smell the coffee. (Publicus Proventus)

All I hear, every day when I listen to the news, is that we're broke. There's no more money to go around, people say, so we have to cut spending.

As I've pointed out before, cutting spending is NOT a long-term solution. While it's never a bad idea to save money, saving money can only go on for so long before you have to spend... and then spend more.

But, people say, there's no money out there... we're broke. But that's a lie; it's wrong and a lie, pure and simple. There's money out there. You just don't want to spend it.

I've pointed out before that America has more money than it could possibly use, including spending $396,000,000 filming TV shows nobody will watch. But it bears repeating, so in what will be an ongoing feature of a feature, We Spend Too Little will help point out the ridiculous, selfish, stupid choices we as a society make -- and point out that there's plenty of money to go around, if we want to use it.

Today's point is this: We spend too little, because we're going to cut out the "earned income credit" in Wisconsin, when there's plenty of money to pay that. The "earned income credit" is -- there's no way around this -- welfare. But it's welfare that helps employers, too: this "tax credit" is money the government just takes and gives to poor people who have a job -- which lets them work for lower wages while still earning enough to feed their kids. (It only applies to people with kids.)

Gov. Patsy is going to reduce that earned income credit in Wisconsin by $16 million per year. Never mind that Patsy hypocritically said that reducing the EIC will allow other taxpayers to give more money to the poor -- that's a sham reason and the habitual liar Gov. Patsy knows it -- and consider instead that the credit will take anywhere from $50 to $100 out of the pockets of the poor in Wisconsin, and give it to the rich and better-off, who no doubt will use it, but need it less.

What will they use it for, you ask? Perhaps to buy single-serve coffees. America is nuts over single-serve gourmet coffees and their dispensers: we can't be bothered with making a whole pot of coffee, or measuring out enough to make one cup. No, we have to have a specific dispenser that will specifically make one specific cup of coffee.

And how much do we spend annually on our single-serve fixation? $500 million, by one estimate, or up to $2,000,000,000 by another estimate.

Two billion dollars, voluntarily spent on single-serve coffees. But we can't spare $16 million to help employers keep poor mothers and fathers working for them?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

This is the only time you'll read a book review that detours to talk about a deranged clown... (The Rum Punch Review of "The Infinities," Part 2)

Read part one here.

How, I wonder, does a book like The Infinities get published, and get marketed? I remember reading reviews of the book, and thinking "that sounds like something I would probably enjoy" and eventually I bought the book (on my Kindle, which is how I buy all books now) and started reading it, pretty eagerly, too, because it sounded good, like I said.

Almost immediately, I knew I was in trouble. Well, not almost immediately, as the beginning actually starts off in a tantalizing kind of way, with the main character -- Adam, not to be confused with the other main character, Adam, or, rather, to be confused quite a bit with the other main character, Adam, because Banville doesn't often bother distinguishing which Adam he's talking about or which point of view he's using -- and I'll come back to that annoyance/bad writing in a bit -- the main character, Adam, or one of the characters, at least, since there's really no main character, at all, is wandering around in the early morning in an old house, and there's a train stopped outside, a train that's almost ghostly in the way it's described and the effect it has on Adam-the-Younger, a train that for some reason stops by this house in the middle of nowhere and then moves on, stopping for no reason. Nobody gets off, nobody gets on, the train does not refuel or anything like that. It just stops, and then goes, while Adam watches it and thinks.

That's kind of a neat beginning, in that it's otherworldly and well-written and sets the stage for a novel that will take me to unusual places and have unusual things happen and which will open up new windows of thought for me.

Too bad The Infinities doesn't do any of those things. In fact, the opening setpiece accurately sets the stage for what really will follow: the rest of the book, too, will be filled with inexplicable stops and starts, hinting at something interesting and unique, while never actually doing anything before moving on, leaving us stuck here, with these people, doing nothing, while elsewhere there is a world to be visited.

And it's not bad enough that here, with these people -- Adam, his wife, his sister, her boyfriend, their mother, and some hired hands, plus the dying Elder Adam, plus Zeus and Hermes -- is boring, stultifyingly boring. That's not bad enough, but Banville has to go make it worse by (a) hinting at all the exciting things that are going on elsewhere, and (b) constantly shifting points of view from character to character, sometimes without telling you he's doing so or even giving a clue.

I don't know which bothered me worse: the fact that everything seems to happen offstage, or the fact that I never knew who was telling the story.

Either way, the book sucked, but I'll continue to rant for a while about it.

The plot of The Infinities, if it can be said to have a plot at all and I'm not the one saying it does, is that Elder Adam is dying in his house, and the family has gathered around him. The whole story takes place, it seems, in a single day -- the day after Adam and his wife Helen have returned home, the day on which Roddy (the sister's boyfriend and gadabout) and Benny Grace arrive at the house.

Viewing these people, who mostly sit around and do nothing, are two gods: Zeus and Hermes, who have descended to watch whatever it is they want to watch, for no apparent reason. No reason is ever given why the gods have chosen to watch this Adam die (or, as it turns out, not die. I'm not sorry if I spoiled it for you by simply saying that; Elder Adam doesn't die, so don't bother reading this book because now you know the ending.) The gods are just there, being infinite in their existence and apparently infinite in their boredom, too -- an infinity of infinities that served only to demonstrate to me just how infinite my boredom could be, as well.

The people who are in the house quite literally do nothing unless briefly possessed by the gods. Helen and Adam have sex in the morning -- but it's Zeus disguised as Adam. The hired hands get engaged, but only after Hermes briefly possesses one of them to set it up. Other than that, everyone mostly stands around doing nothing, or, worse yet, we get after-the-fact descriptions of everyone standing around doing nothing. There's a seemingly-lengthy bit about Adam The Younger fixing a radio, and Banville frequently mentions the fact that Adam The Younger's clothes don't quite fit.

I was this close to giving up on the book, about halfway through, when Benny Grace came on the scene.

Benny Grace was to The Infinities what the clown in the rocker was to the movie Amusement, and if you have neither read the book nor seen that movie, but are determined to do one or the other, I'd say go with "Amusement" because it'll cost you less in both money and time.

Amusement is a 2008 horror movie:

That Sweetie and I actually watched last night, because Sweetie was told to watch it by Netflix - -using, again, that "people who watched that also watched this" feature that doesn't bother to tell you that the latter one sucked. According to Sweetie, we got told to watch Amusement because of our interest in such latter-day classics as "Sorority Row," so she rented it and we watched it last night, and the entire thing was a waste of time except for one 10-minute sequence in which the main character -- Katheryn Winnick:

Who I thought looked first like Scarlett Johannsen, then like Jennifer Aniston, before deciding that she looked like a cross between the two, as if scientists had genetically melded Jennifer Aniston and Scarlett Johannsen into one super-being, which isn't a bad idea for scientists to be working on...

... I digress. Scarlett Aniston, in Amusement, is one of three girls who are, it turns out, being targeted by The Guy Who Played Todd In Wedding Crashers, because when they were kids Todd made a diorama of a tortured squirrel that they didn't like, so now he's going to kill them, and he's going to do it using (I'm not kidding) a hotel that he's run for years, a giant labyrinth that apparently doubles as an FBI office so far as social workers are concerned, a deserted farmhouse, and a truck driver with a penchant for surprise.

That would all take far too long to explain, so maybe you should watch the movie, and while you watch it, look for answers to these two questions that I still have and which I'll no doubt have to wait for the director's cut to get answers to:

1. Since the girls were aware of the "Peres Pension" hotel where one girl was lured to her death, that means that it was a longstanding commercial operation, so did the killer actually run a hotel for years to set up the attacks, because that seems like a lot of work, and

2. Why did the social worker believe she was really in an FBI office when the only entrances to that office were down a ladder into a tunnel in a deserted farmhouse, or through a maze in a hotel that was made up of deathtraps?

So the point of bringing up Amusement is that there's one scene that is actually very effective: It involves Jennifer Johannsen babysitting and having to sleep in a roomful of creepy clown dolls, one of which is lifesize and which is obviously the killer in an outfit, but Aniston Scarlett doesn't quite realize that, and opts to sleep in the room anyway, with the TV "accidentally" turning on and things like that happening, until she wakes up to answer a phone call from the parents of the kids, and says that she doesn't like the giant clown doll they have in the room, at which point the caller says "We don't have anything like that" and Scarlett Jennifer turns to look and the clown is gone.

The lead up to the clown disappearing is actually quite tense and well-done, even though you know all along what's going to happen, and I liked that part of Amusement even though I didn't like any other parts of it and later forbid Sweetie to rent movies ever again, and I intend to enforce that rule.

And Benny Grace's introduction to The Infinities is like that. When Benny Grace shows up, Banville distractingly and irritatingly switches the point of view and narration to the dog, for no reason, hinting that dogs are smart in this world, but I put up with it because Benny Grace's arrival is all foreboding and hints of thrills and danger: the dog doesn't trust him and wants to chase him away but Benny Grace knows the dog and is able to lull him into letting him in the house, where the sister/daughter meets him -- I don't remember her name and don't care -- and she's on edge by his being there and suddenly everyone is on edge, even old, dying Adam, and even Hermes, all clamoring about Benny Grace is here.

Benny's physical appearance would be comical if we weren't told he's so alarming: he's fat and described as having hoof-like feet, and it's not clear if that's literal, and he's sweaty and grins at the wrong time and always taking off his shoes, and he upsets everyone, even Adam, if Adam is Adam, because it's at the introduction of Benny Grace that Banville lets us see in side Elder Adam's mind, remembering things, only it's not clear if it's actually Adam or Hermes, as the points of view switch off almost at random, making me wonder for most of the book whether Hermes was Adam and vice versa, or whether Hermes was reading Adam's mind, or what was going on...

... but for a while, I didn't care, because the introduction of Benny Grace, like the clown in Amusement, had injected some well-needed tension and excitement into what had otherwise been a laughably tedious enterprise.

But that soon wore off: in Amusement, I was watching tensely and said to Sweetie "That clown better get up and attack soon or I'm going to have a stroke from tension," and I meant it.

In The Infinities, I was, literarily speaking, on the edge of my seat waiting to see what was going to happen now that Benny Grace was here -- halfway through the book, sure, but that wasn't too late to rescue this extended Victorian setpiece, and Benny Grace's introduction provided that tension: something's going to happen, I kept thinking,

and kept thinking,

and kept thinking,

until I noticed that I was 88% of the way through the book and nothing had happened after all, even though Benny Grace was there, and even though everyone was on edge, and even though Adam was remembering things that he and Benny Grace had done (remembering, that is, the aftermath of those things -- remembering coming back from adventures without ever detailing what the adventures were.)

Imagine if you got on a roller coaster and it started up that first hill and then just kept going up and up and up and up and up, tension rising along with you...

... and then the ride stops and you get off.

That's The Infinities. And I'm not done bashing it yet. I'm just out of time for today. There'll be more in part three.