Thursday, December 31, 2009

Rock 'n' Bowl: Not all of the pins are at the end of the lane

Stupidity comes in numbers. No wonder most wars are PR disasters.

I went to the Rose Bowl last night for $10 rock 'n' bowl with my wife and sister-in-law and niece and nephew.

At first, it was interesting to witness the trauma of my niece and nephew learning that real bowling wasn't as easy as Wii bowling. My seven old nephew was incensed with reality, that it could be so unfair, so stupid, that it would thwart his unconventional Wii style -- which consists of wheeling his arm like Pete Townshend's pick hand striking a power chord. In the Wii universe, this is successful. In our world, it is not. He wasn't having any of it. The gutter that swallowed every one of his throws quickly turned into something metaphysical and existential, tear-provoking and irreconcilable.

So, we moved to a "bumper" lane, where the gutters are turned 45-degrees, making gutter balls impossible. The bowling purist in me was put off, but seeing the difference it made for the kids, I recognized this as a good move. Interestingly, my nine year old niece seemed only to need the psychological boost of the bumpers' presence, and ultimately didn't need them. She threw a couple of Sports Illustrated strikes, and cleaned up a few nice spares.

As the universal malignity would have it, a truckload of twentynothing louts were situated one lane away from us. They were your typical, banal gaggle of douchebags who travel by the baker's dozen, all mesmerizing themselves with the fire-fly flicker of their cell phone displays in the semi-dark; grunting their inarticulate runic language. There was only one girl among them. No doubt, one of the louts had brought his sister.

So, the douchebags were loud and palming eight-pound bowling balls, flinging them down their lane as though the object of the game was to inflict as much damage as possible to everything except the pins. After one lout guttered his ill-thrown DayGlo pink eight-pounder, he sopranoed "Fuck!" amid the maelstrom of the rock 'n' bowl music.

You're gonna hear profanity in bowling alleys; I've uttered my share. It's a fact of life, just like gutter balls and embarrassing-looking bowling shoes. But this lout had swaggered well into our area, and made himself much more audible to my niece and nephew than was necessary. My sister-in-law shouted over to him to cut it out, we had kids with us. Now, I despise the holding up of a children as social weapons -- "You can't do [X] because of the children! the children!" -- but in this instance, she was right.

It seems the lout in question was brutish and street enough to utter such profanity, but ill-equipped to handle someone calling him on it. He objected to being yelled at. Douchebags have skin thinner than Trojan condoms. He made some attempt to argue with my sister-in-law, so I chimed-in and told the guy to keep it on his side of the lane. He then tried pleading his case to me about the offense of being yelled at. This from a guy who looked like he'd have no problem belting an old lady over the head for her pocket book, or swarming with his friends some defenseless guy downtown. But being told that bellowing "Fuck!" in our hearing was just too much for his selectively sensitive sensibilities.

Even in my youth, I wouldn't have taken the situation any further. I've seen all of Charles Bronson's movies and have relished seeing him belt scumbags in the throat, kick them in the ass and then make them smell his armpit. There's a base, caveman part of me that would love to engage in such activity with the baggy-pantsed douches among us. But I know the difference between movies and real life, and the difference between me and Charles Bronson. The lout, however, was desperate to start some shit, no doubt so "his boys" could all jump in. Lord knows douchebags are less than useless individually. But I'm old, and even less inclined to indulge in the idiotic arts of pugilism.

So, after a moment where the lout's IV drip of testosterone wasn't enough to "force the moment to its crisis", he returned to his circle-jerk buddies and their pitcher of light beer; to their hypnotic cell phone displays as they texted absent douchebags; and the collective miasma of their "get laid" cologne.

That's sociology you won't find in a textbook.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Broken is the New Fixed: The only precaution left to make flying safe is to ban air travel

A guy gets on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day. He paid cash for his one-way ticket, had no luggage, and had bomb-making materials secreted in his underwear. He mixes his potion as the plane went into its final approach, luckily botched the concoction, starts a small fire, gets wrestled into submission, and air travel becomes even more cumbersome, unwieldy and inconvenient over night.

On PBS Newshour this evening, the question was asked, "What technology could have detected the bomb-making materials Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab brought on board flight 253?"

I would posit: the telephone. Not surprisingly, the CIA failed to circulate report about bombing suspect.

Also, under ordinary circumstances, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab would never have even gotten onto that plane bound from Amsterdam to Detroit. He had no passport with him. Witnesses have told the media that the attendant at the boarding area had told Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab that he could not board without a passport. But Abdulmutallab was accompanied by a very helpful person:
A passenger who boarded Northwest Airlines Flight 253 in Amsterdam with attempted plane bomber Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab says the would-be terrorist had no passport and was aided by a sharp-dressed man who claimed Mutallab was a Sudanese refugee, just one of a plethora of startling inconsistencies surrounding an incident that has led to ramped up security and increased levels of harassment in airports.

Every single fact that has come to light since the attempted bombing on Christmas Day directly indicates that the bomber was deliberately allowed to board the plane and that his attack would have succeeded if not for the alert and brave reactions of the passengers and flight crew.

According to Kurt Haskell, an attorney with the Haskell Law Firm in Taylor, Michigan, “He and his wife were sitting on the ground near their boarding gate in Amsterdam, which is when they saw Mutallab approach the gate with an unidentified man.”
Alex Jones Interviews Eye Witness On Flight 253.

Mutallab's pitiful, impoverished appearance and being accompanied by a well-dressed, middle-aged man who exuded an air of wealth and prestige brought to my mind the similarity to Lee Harvey Oswald and the numerous sightings of him around New Orleans in the summer of 1963 with the wealthy, middle-aged Clay Shaw. Shaw worked for the CIA and was instrumental in "sheep-dipping" Oswald as a communist; setting up elements for the cover story that would come in so handy late in the day of November 22, 1963. Patsies need handlers.

* * *

Dick Cheney and George W. Bush provided reason enough for there to be hatred of the United States for the next few decades; provided America's enemies with recruiting opportunities and material to radicalize the next few generations. For the octillion dollars spent on security, spying on Americans, and repealing citizen and human rights, there are still only "two things have made flying safer [since 9/11]: the reinforcement of cockpit doors, and the fact that passengers know now to resist hijackers."

And that other arm of the United States government, the mainstream media, is as reliable as the TSA, CIA and Homeland security -- five days after the attempt to blow up flight 253, they are still not reporting about the "well-dressed" Indian man whose efforts and intercession got Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab onto flight 253. Also, there is so far no further word about a strange man "who videotaped the entire flight, including the attempted detonation."

The only good thing that could come out of all of this is some airport security personnel were to upload to the Internet pictures of x-ray scans looking through the clothes of Anne Coulter, America's #1 advocate of racial profiling. I don't want to see those images, but I'd feel better if I simply knew they were on the Web. That is, if air travel isn't simply shut down all together against "those who hate our freedoms" and whose hatred we seem only able to fuel.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Dear Stephen King: Build a time machine, go back to 1990 and retire THEN

There was a time when no one was a more ardent fan of Stephen King's fiction than I was. During the first fifteen years of his career as a name-brand author, I couldn't get enough of his work. I even held off reading The Eyes of the Dragon and The Dark Tower series, like a survivalist squirreling away packs of Fig Newtons and RC Cola beneath the cot in a bomb shelter -- I knew King couldn't write forever and I wanted some gems to look forward to.

No artist is without fault or flaw. Some of Stephen King's novels that I enjoyed very much were overwritten and filled with flabby, should've-been-edited-out flourishes. Much as King's critics hammered him for his endless product placements and dated pop culture name-dropping, my focus was always on the stories. And so many of his stories were very entertaining.

King's novel The Dark Half was the first new-release hardcover I ever purchased. I devoured it and wasn't disappointed. It wasn't the greatest of Stephen King stories, but everything I enjoyed about King's style was present in that novel: his ability to sketch in full scenes and characters in a few deft lines; the interesting-genial-stranger narrative voice; his nearly seamless traversing of the boundary separating reality from the fantastic; and a story that was somehow telegraphed throughout the entire book, but somehow managed to present itself as a surprise.

The next indication that Stephen King was capable of poor publishing decisions was confirmed with the release of The Stand: The Complete & Uncut Edition. Ask any long-time Stephen King fan what their favorite King novel is and they will tell you, "The Stand." The original release was nothing short of brilliant. Had it not been published by a young writer who, by 1978, had been pigeon-holed as a "horror writer," it would have won The National Book Award for Fiction that year. The story is epic, endlessly engrossing, written with an eye for detail and humanity that would have shocked and amazed Charles Dickens. The novel is enormous, but leaves most readers voracious for more.

The 1990 release of The Stand: The Complete & Uncut Edition was that more. I dove into the novel and didn't look back. Although I enjoyed it, I felt an almost guilty sense of disloyalty to my love for The Stand because, having received more, I realized unequivocally that the originally published, edited version published in 1978 was far superior. The more of the expanded edition was filled with lateral and parallel moreness, but there was absolutely no more depth to the novel. In fact, the increased breadth of the book actually overwhelmed and diluted its original entrancing depth. I was honestly and foolishly shocked to find that more didn't mean better.

On the heels of that jarring realization, I bought King's collection of four novels, Four Past Midnight. After the disappointment of The Stand: The Complete & Uncut Edition, I was looking for confirmation that I could rely upon Stephen King. Four Past Midnight was confirmation, all right, but not the sort I sought. That poor book provided me with one of the first groundshaking indications that Stephen King might be human -- or, at least, that his seemingly boundless talent may have human boundaries on it. Each of the four stories was flat, forced, canned and to varying degrees, stupid.

Needful Things came out next. It was billed as the final story set in King's fictional town of Castle Rock. I duly bought the novel and thought it was absolutely dreadful -- a genuine, unquestionable piece of shit. In every other line, King appeared to be cracking a joke -- filling each paragraph with horrible quicksand soft spots that made the story interminable. The physical descriptions of his characters were absurd caricatures, again, geared more toward forced, misplaced humor than storytelling. I recall one description in particular of an overweight woman that left the reader with the mental of image of a creature that was barely human. Certainly, there are overweight people abundant in real life, and they have every right to appear in novels, but King seemed incapable of describing any of his characters in terms that were not cartoonish, or simply silly or stupid.

I soon ditched Needful Things without even finishing it, moving on to Gerald's Game, an entire novel written from the perspective of a woman handcuffed to the matrimonial bed, whose naked husband lay dead nearby after she'd kicked him soundly and directly in his erect penis. There's only one way to describe Gerald's Game: complete and utter piece of shit; an irredeemable, unreadable piece of shit; should-never-have-been-published piece of shit. I read more of that than I did of Needful Things, and the further I got, the more apparent it became that Gerald's Game was simply one of those ideas/manuscripts that most other writers would have written, and tossed out. But Stephen King, rich man though he is, over-published author though he is, somehow insists on publishing literally everything that comes into his mind. Maybe the childhood poverty he endured scarred him the point where he has to gather in every nickel his once-phenomenal talent drummed up, and every further nickel his established name mints. But Gerald's Game simply had no business being in print.

It did, however, give way to a sort of "sister novel", Dolores Claiborne. I didn't buy that one, but a friend had it and I read some of it. I was told the story was good (the movie was decent), but I couldn't even begin to get into book because of the bizarre way in which Stephen King decided to write the novel. Somewhere in the 1980s, King stopped using apostrophes in slang words in his dialogue. Goin' became Goin, Thinkin' became Thinkin, Go get 'em became Go get em, and so on. Dolores Claiborne is written in the voice of the novel's namesake, an uneducated, backwoods woman from Maine, who omits more "g"s in her dialogue than the entire cast of The Grapes of Wrath combined. As a consequence, the overall typographical and readability effect of this omission is that the narrative is more graffiti than text. I realize the novel is the confession of an uneducated person who is probably not current on the rules of grammar and punctuation, but that could have been easily gotten around by adding to the story that the original handwritten confession had been transcribed by a court stenographer or something.

At that point in his career, I stopped paying attention to Stephen King's output. I figured my interest is his work had been a youthful fancy. But every once in a long while, I would reread a short story in King's short story collection Skeleton Crew and instantly reconnect with my old fondness for his work. I reread the 1978 edition of The Stand and sadly found that I enjoyed it virtually as much as the first time I'd read it. 'Salem's Lot has remained one of my favorite novels since I first read it in 1987. I reread it at least once a year. Its clunks and awkward spots become more apparent with each reading, but so does the genius of Stephen King in his prime. His hungry prime.

When On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, I would have none of it. I recall my wife pointing it out to me once in Costco, and I scoffed saying I'd never read another piece of shit by Stephen King. Later, I learned she had already bought me the book for Christmas. I laughed at myself when I opened the gift, and even cracked the book open to have a look rather than simply trade it in at the local used bookstore. And somehow, the old Stephen King emerged in that strange, wonderful book. I had always found stories of King's poor years very inspiring, and pored over descriptions of him working on his early stories and novels on a manual typewriter on a child's desk that rested on his knees. Then I got into his nuts-and-bolts advice about writing and was astounded by how useful it was. I started implementing the advice in my own work immediately and actually started to sell some stories to magazines. The most interesting part about reading all that good advice was why Stephen King would not use it in his own work.

Much as I enjoyed On Writing, it didn't bring me back into the fold. I was no longer a Stephen King fan. Although I hadn't yet read The Eyes of the Dragon or The Dark Tower series, I gave up on them. At the same time, I began to see Stephen King novels reviewed on arts shows on television. Strangely, the writer who was once despised by mainstream critics was now receiving praise. I recall on CBC's On the Arts, King's novel Bag of Bones receiving a rave review. I heard about him publishing in The New Yorker. And then came the National Book Award 2003: "Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters" and the O. Henry Award 1996 for "The Man in the Black Suit."

Around 2000 I listened to the audio book edition of Bag of Bones, read by Stephen King himself. I was astonished -- it was an abject, unequivocal piece of shit. The characters were caricatures, the dialogue was terrible, canned, contrived. The story was forced and contorted and ridiculous. It was also grossly overwritten; paragraphs and paragraphs of description that covered territory the old Stephen King could cover in a few fine-tuned sentences.

Sometime after that, out of sheer morbid curiosity, I tried the audio book of Dreamcatcher. It was worse than Bag of Bones. It was the work of a fool. It was the hatchet work of a hack. Surely, no outside reader saw the manuscript, and certainly no editor gave a look beyond the author's name on the cover page. All it needed to say was "Stephen King" and it was doubtless rushed to the printer without a single sober, critical eye ever seeing it. There's just no way any credible, serious, responsible person saw the manuscript. They never would have allowed it into print. It paled in professionalism even to the very dismal Gerald's Game. It was garage-sale-novel-writing: King rounding up every stray, unused, unusable piece of shit idea in his head thrown into a single manuscript and set on the front lawn for some idiot to purchase.

And so I parted company with the work of Stephen King. I still admire the man, and have a great fondness and nostalgia for the works he created during the first 15 years of his professional career. Whenever I've seen him interviewed, I've always been impressed by his wit and insight. He'd be a hell of a guy to sit with at a BBQ or in the stands at a ball game. He appears to be an extremely gifted and interesting conversationalist. I just don't care much for his book anymore.

Two days ago I received Stephen King's latest novel, Under the Dome, for Christmas. From the moment it was announced and the plot was known, media commentators have pointed out the weird similarity between its story and that of The Simpsons Movie, in which Springfield is suddenly enclosed within a transparent, impenetrable dome. Even stranger, Stephen King -- master of all things pop culture -- has floated the improbable story that he wrote the novel having no idea about The Simpsons Movie. That's impossible. It's just impossible. This from the author mentions every fleeting one-hit-wonder and every passing fad in his novels, whose work -- at times -- is painfully and needlessly dated by these references. There is simply no way Stephen King didn't know about The Simpsons Movie.

That aside, I'm reading the novel. Enough time has gone by that I can do so with a clear eye and with a few more defenses against the inevitable disappointment. To his credit, King has so far -- in the first 100 pages of his 1,000-page novel -- done a good job of containing the frustrated comedian in his narrative voice. There are even a few decent turns of phrase. There are also some really embarrassing moments of dialogue, particularly between a doctor attending a tween skateboarder. It's as though Stephen King either watched a bunch of episodes of Saved By the Bell or simply looked up contemporary youth idiom on Wikipedia because it couldn't be more awkward, embarrassing and ridiculous. The doctor thinking he'd impress the kid by saying something was "radical." Holy shit, I actually physically cringed when I read that.

One interesting thing I've noticed reading this novel: the longer Stephen King writes, the more novels he produces, it seems that his confidence in his ability to describe scenes has diminished. Everything -- and I mean everything -- is over described. It's either that King doesn't trust his ability to be brief and on target, or, worse, that he believes his readers are idiots who need mundane points driven home with all subtlety and artfulness cast aside.

And there was this hunk of lazy writing that any first year writing student would be embarrassed to have appear in their weekly creative writing package:
Regarding character Dodee Sanders: "And when it came to brainpower . . . jeez, what could you say? Her father -- Andy Sanders, The Mill's First Selectman -- would never be a Mensa candidate, but Dodee made him look like Albert Einstein."
Terrible. Yeah, it's one example, but this kind of lazy writing appears through the 100 pages I've read so far, to varying degrees. King's in such a hurry to finish writing one book so it came be packaged and sold, and he can get on to the next bit of product. And this from a guy who is supposed to be retired.

Stephen King seems like a nice guy and I believe much of his best work has taken horribly undeserved drubbings from critics in years previous. From the "afterword"s I've read in many of his books, he hasn't been able to live with this too easily. The money his work brings in certainly hasn't been a consolation for the critical bed-panning of his work. Now that King is honestly writing crap, his work now receives reasonably decent reviews. And he continues churning out the sausage. I guess he believes in the philosophy articulated by Mike Love to Brian Wilson back in the 1960s when Wilson embarked on his aborted masterpiece, Smile: "Don't fuck with the formula." Spoken like a true artist. And it seems that the Stephen King Doorstop Factory will also continue with its own formula un-fucked-with. Which is an honest and wretched shame, because there was a time when Stephen King really could write.

For what it's worth, here's my appraisal of Stephen King's work, divided into three categories. He's written more books than are listed here. I only comment on novels of his that I've actually read or attempted to read:

The Good Books
  • Carrie
  • 'Salem's Lot
  • Night Shift
  • The Stand
  • Dead Zone
  • Firestarter
  • Cujo
  • Different Seasons
  • Christine
  • Pet Sematary
  • Thinner
  • Skeleton Crew
  • The Bachman Books
  • It
  • Misery
  • The Dark Half
  • On Writing

The Sloppy Books
  • The Shining
  • Cycle of the Werewolf
  • The Talisman
  • The Tommyknockers
  • Four Past Midnight
  • Dolores Claiborne
  • The Stand: The Complete & Uncut Edition
  • Nightmares & Dreamscapes
  • Under the Dome

The Garbage Books
  • Gerald's Game
  • Needful Things
  • Hearts in Atlantis
  • Dreamcatcher
  • Bag of Bones
  • Blaze

Monday, December 21, 2009


My father worked for a dairy in the 1950s. The vehicle in which he made his deliveries was an electric truck. From what he's told me, the electric truck kept up with traffic, and held its charge long enough for him to make his day's rounds. Although the cars in those days were different than today's ultra-modern gas guzzlers, the municipal speed limit in those days was still 30/mph as it is today. That truck carried my dad safely and effectively everywhere he needed to go in his modest pursuit of a livelihood.

That was well over 50 years ago. There are still no viable electric cars on the consumer market. At the same time, the bloated, arrogant, uninnovative North American auto industry has never been in worse shape. Had our auto engineers not spent the last four or more decades perfecting "built-in obsolescence," maybe they would not have been reduced to becoming executive suite beggars. Yes, absolutely, our cars are much safer these days -- no question. But have you also noticed that they break down so soon after their warranties run out? Now that takes real engineering!

The fact that a species as self-destructive and counter-intuitive as the human race has existed so long is nearly enough to force a belief within me in a supreme being; in an intelligent designer who is also a Swiftian satirist with an insatiable taste for the macabre.

So, the climate talks in Copenhagen were a debacle from first to last, and nothing worth anything came out of them. Considering this counter-intuitive species sent the most self-interested and corrupt of its line into these talks, I can't say I'm shocked. The United States placed demands upon its landlord, China, to little effect. Developing nations mutinied when they felt their grievances weren't being taken seriously by the developed nations, and thus were cast as ungrateful recipients of our e- and other types of waste.

President Barak Obama certainly made it sound like wonderful things came out of Copenhagen, but it must be remembered that he could make leprosy sound like incremental weight loss.

What is it that people don't get about climate change? There are any number of people we hear about in the media -- politicians, often -- who don't even believe that it's occurring, though a preponderance of scientists around the world say that, Oh yes, it fucking well is.

Personally, I don't care about ice that's melting in a region of the world I'll never visit. I am, however, sick of breathing pollution. I'm also sick of paying for gasoline. (No doubt, the day we actually do have viable electric cars on the consumer market, our power plants will be run on gasoline.)

Why can't we get back to calling climate change what it really is? It's pollution. Nobody can say that pollution doesn't exist.

I'm also sick of the specious reasoning that says reducing pollution would hurt our economy. Again, let's call this what it really is: A few of Dick Cheney's friends might make a billion or two dollars less this year, and thus not pay off their mortgages on Neptune, Uranus and Saturn as quickly as they'd hoped. Yeah, Dick Cheney's old news, but he remains a useful thumbnail sketch of unalloyed evil.

Creating solar panels for the consumer housing market wouldn't help the economy? Geothermal heating would be a loss-leader? There's nothing to be gained by simply using rain barrels at one's house, and saving a little on the water bill? And given the sustained outcry for electric cars, I suppose that electric vehicles also wouldn't make any money. Actually, that last one might actually occur if the homunculus Detroit executives are involved. Those stupid motherfuckers could lose money dealing cocaine.

So, the talks in Brokenhagen failed. Everyone except President Obama knows it. North America has shipped hundreds of thousands of jobs to China in the past 20 years, and now turns around and thinks it can dictate terms to its landlord. Reducing pollution is deemed not economically feasible; or, at least, not profitable enough for our greedhead potentates to be interested. And my father got to use technology in the 1950s that is unavailable to me today.

This is Swiftian satire on a global scale.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Thirsty Traveler: article from Dec. issue of The Drive Magazine

There is a great Canadian ambassador who goes by the moniker "The Thirsty Traveler." Since 2002, when the show first aired on The Food Network, Thirsty Traveler, Kevin Brauch, has been a welcomed guest around the world on his adventurous and entertaining search for the finest spirits, wines, beers and food at every destination.

A Toronto native, Kevin Brauch is widely acknowledged as having "the best damn job in the world!" The "Thirsty Traveler" concept was born in a pitch Brauch made to Food Network producers at the Banff Mountain Film Festival back when the Food Network was celebrating its tenth anniversary. At that time, the network was looking at ways to diversify within its genre, and Brauch came forward with the perfect idea -- a man traveling the world, bringing the stories of famous and obscure libations, alike, to an audience that was doing more of its own traveling each year.

The show was originally called The Epicurean Traveler, with an emphasis on exotic food. But Brauch had a different vision, focusing on the nourishment that came in pint and wine glasses, whisky tumblers and snifters. The first episode had Brauch jump into the arena with both feet, going to Scotland in search of the Whisky Trail.

In a recent chat with The Drive Magazine, Brauch described the birth pangs of The Epicurean Traveler growing into The Thirsty Traveler. "After a long day of filming in Scotland, with tiredness, hunger and thirst setting in, there was some debate with producers about what I wanted to contribute to the show. It was getting near sundown and I was standing in a field of barley, anxious to wrap and get to the pub." The bone of contention revolved around Brauch and his crew believing the show should have a casual and humorous feel, while producers envisioned a more serious approach to the locales and drinks presented. Amid the fraying nerves, Brauch suddenly threw himself backward into the dense growth of barley, shouting, "It's the barley!" speaking about what makes scottish whisky so unique and revered. In that moment -- which his talented and dedicated cameraman, Brad, caught without flaw -- Brauch defined the tone and style of The Thirsty Traveler. "After that," he says, "the whole team seemed to 'get it.'"

The show took off from there. In the first season, alone, episodes were taped in Japan, Greece, Jamaica, Ireland and even Newfoundland, where the finer points of the province's famous drink, "Screech," were discussed. The show is now seen in more than 75 countries. It is also shown on Air Canada airlines, as well as the Food Network, Fine Living, Discovery Asia, BBC Food, CTV and E! Canada. The Thirsty Traveler recently reached its 60th-episode milestone.

In the Season 3, The Thirsty Traveler came to Windsor for an episode about Canadian whisky at Hiram Walker & Sons. Brauch was hosted by Canadian Club brand ambassadors, Dan Tullio and Tish Harcus. "I had a blast," Brauch says. "Being with Dan and Tish was like hanging out with Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé," referring to the legendary entertainment couple known for their singing, but also for their comedic banter.

Hiram Walker distillery on Riverside Drive may be just another part of the landscape to most Windsor residents, but it's worth noting that Canadian Club is actually older than Canada. It's also had some very famous -- even infamous -- fans of its product. Not the least of which have been Queen Victoria, England's longest reigning monarch, Don Draper in the AMC TV show Madmen, James Bond, and, of course, Al Capone.

"The fact that Canadian Club is located in Windsor is what's made Canadian whisky," Brauch says. He's not only current on how drinks are brewed, blended or distilled, but he knows his history, too. "The proximity to the U.S. certainly didn't hurt, but even with its ready-made customers during Prohibition, C.C. was always about quality." Part of the region's colorful history is the fact that legendary mobster, Al Capone, smuggled thousands of cases of Canadian Club into Detroit.

As for Canadian Club's high status among whisky drinkers, Brauch says, "Canadian Club is a very easy and enjoyable way to get into Canadian whisky. It's so clean and smooth because it's distilled very well." He also spoke very highly of the distillery's tour.

So, how does a person get "the best damn job in the world"? Thomas Edison's equation of "one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration" seems to apply. Brauch entered the food and beverage industry as kitchen help, washing dishes, and basically doing every unpleasant behind-the-scenes chore that keeps all bars and restaurants going.

"I worked at the Old Spaghetti Factory," Brauch recalls, "and places like O'Toole's. One day, a bartender couldn't make it to work, so I was brought out to fill in for him. I immediately loved tending bar."

Harnessing his years of bartending and extensive mixological experiments, Brauch merged that experience with his love of writing and performing. After narrowly missing out on becoming an MTV VJ in the 1990s, Kevin became involved with no less than five award-winning children's television programs at TVOntario and CBC. His early on-air experience included a stint as "Revvin' Kevin" at Toronto's 102.1 FM and co-hosting Canadian Gardening Television on Life Network and HGTV Canada.

And so was the apprenticeship of this jet-setting Jedi knight of the pub, wine cellar and windowed cocktail lounge.

Aside from an undying thirst for adventure and fine food and drink, Brauch brings to the show a unique sense of humor and folksy interview style. He also brings a piece of his past: the silver tankard shown in the opening credits of The Thirsty Traveler. The tankard was a gift from a friend for standing up in a wedding. It is so identifiable that Brauch was once offered $7,000 for it -- an offer he did not accept.

When asked if he's approached by fans while filming on location, Brauch says that he is recognized by viewers. "But I'm not really asked for autographs," he says. "People just want to buy The Thirsty Traveler a drink and take pictures." And Kevin is cool with that.

But with a job that calls for imbibing copious amounts of alcohol, and rich or heavy food, how does Brauch remain fit and keep his wits about him while on location? "I try to run every morning, though it often turns out to be more of a walk," Brauch says. "Also, my standard M.O. is to drink 'one-for-one' -- one glass of water with lemon or lime in between each drink. That keeps me hydrated."

Beyond the picturesque locations, "the best damn job in the world" is not all that we see on TV. "I've traveled the world through terrorism, SARS, and avian flu, which can make for some stressful days," Brauch says.

When asked if he had ever worried about his safety in a particular part of the world, Brauch recalls filming in Northern Ireland. He's quick to say, "Belfast is beautiful, and the North of Ireland is much safer than what people in Canada usually think." But he describes retiring to a "local" in a small town outside of Port Rush, one evening, after filming at a famous nightclub called Kelly's. In the local, Brauch and his crew encountered the scourge of any drinking establishment: the drunken lout. "There was just this drunk guy who kept calling us Americans. When we said 'No, we're Canadian,' he said, 'Same thing.' When I jokingly suggested that he might be Scottish, things started to get dicey." Ultimately, there was no altercation, though diplomatic help from the barman was needed to see Brauch and his team to safety.

"For all of the flying I do," Brauch continued, "the worst turbulence I ever experienced was on a flight to Kelowna." He laughs. "You know, I've been to Asia and the middle east -- all over -- and I was thinking, 'Oh my God, I'm going down on my way to Kelowna?'" The plane landed safely, and The Thirsty Traveler lived to drink another day.

"There were some security concerns, too, when we were in Russia," Brauch explains. "None of us were personally in danger, but there was concern about our cameras and equipment being stolen. So, we traveled with this guy who I took to calling 'Barney Ruble.' He had a duffel bag with him at all times, and while in the bar car of a train, I asked him what he had in there. He didn't speak English, but he understood my hand gestures and unzipped the bag. Inside, there were about half a dozen handguns."

So, with 60 completed episodes under his belt, where would Kevin Brauch like to take the show that he hasn't seen yet? "India," he replies without hesitation. For all of the exotic drinks he's enjoyed during that time, what are some his favorites? "I'm primarily a beer guy, though, one of the real gifts the show has given me is a growing appreciation for wine. I also love tequila and Jägermeister."

At the moment, Brauch is on a break from the show. In his "spare time," he traveled to Victoria, British Columbia, to the four-day Art of the Cocktail -- an epicurean event connected to the Victoria Film Festival. He was invited to give a lecture on "Our Palettes." Given the success of The Thirsty Traveler, and Kevin Brauch's dedication to on-the-ground research, there is no question that he is an expert on the subject.

To read more about The Thirsty Traveler's adventures, check out

Monday, December 07, 2009

Canadian commerce and the "Fuck You!" economy

We Plebeians should count ourselves lucky that we are even allowed by our overlords to exist. Having a bank account, mortgage, or credit card is a privilege, not a right. Our landlords and overseers, ombudsmen and masters are only looking out for our best interests; we -- the Rabble, the Great Unwashed, the Masses -- being but simple biped cattle who know only how to shop, copulate and watch hockey. We need someone to look after us. Make safe our souls.

And so I should have been moved to give thanks to one of my overlords today when he denied my request for service -- because he, and one of his underlings, just intuitively knew better than I did. But I gave not thanks.

In detail:

Today I called TDCanadaTrust to have my EasyWeb banking password reset. After giving two pieces of information and personal data to the operator, I was informed that I would, in fact, have to go into my local branch to do this. Why? The EasyWeb page clearly said the phone number I dialed was for password resets.

As it turned out, TDCanadaTrust customers are not only serviced by dedicated citizens of Mumbai and other locales in India, but also by the best of Canadian psychics minimum wage can buy.

The Feudal Lord supervisor who came on the line to answer my complaints explained that if any operator has the least inkling that something isn't right -- if their spider sense tingles; if their tarot cards twitch or astrological sign throbs even a tad; if their lunch gurgles dyspeptically in their digestive tract -- that operator can and should pull the plug on helping the customer over the phone. TDCanadaTrust operators use their intuition to winnow out frauds. Based upon this minimum wage slave's gut feeling, I now have to go to my local branch.

There is no more humble and altruistic master than TDCanadaTrust, so I was to take this news with a glad heart. The Masters of the Universe were looking out for my well-being.

And yet, somehow, I could not help feeling rankled. In fact, I felt a distinct pang of ingratitude. Truth be told, I was irked, miffed, PO'd, put off and more than a little discommoded by these tidings from my master. But then I remembered myself, and thanked His Dutifulness for bearing with me, with my frailty of heart and mind, for continuing to look after my meagre funds. I asked if my burble of doubt and disquietude would go on my permanent record. He would not answer that specifically, but I am sure whatever he decides will be in my best interest.

After all, this is Canada where monopolies rule the day, where a person such as myself may one day find himself commercially excommunicated. Lords Bell, Cogeco, Rogers, CIBC, TDCanadaTrust, et al, will only tolerate so much grumbling before they decide we are unworthy to be their customers.

Monday, November 30, 2009

What We Say About Ourselves (and What That Says About Us)

In the spirit of reports with titles like:
  • Our Mania For Awards (and What It Says about Us)
  • Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says about Us)
  • Why We Went Zany for Zappos (and What It Says about Us)
  • Deconstructing The Debate - Welfare (and What It Says about Us)
  • The Troubling Paradox Behind State Uses Of Electrocution And Lethal Injection (and What It Says about Us)
Inside the Hotdog Factory has conducted a blind, exhaustive study about "What We Say About Ourselves (and What It Says about Us)."

For the most part, people are extraordinarily -- almost to the point of error, psychosis and boastery -- complimentary of themselves. After overhearing thousands upon thousands of cell phone conversations, Inside the Hotdog Factory has determined that modern North Americans between the ages of three and 73 are really into themselves.

This trend was offset by randomly uttered phrases, such as "Oh, I'm so stupid!" or "How dumb can I get?" But on the whole, these statements were followed by positively reinforcing remarks that were often tinged with delusions of grandeur.

Here's how the numbers break down:
  • 3 percent of overheard cell phone conversations involved a person's plans for taking over the world
  • 5 percent need new clothes
  • 79 percent think they will one day be famous
  • 13 percent believe they are already famous
So, what are we saying, and what does it say about us? Thirteen percent of those observed masturbated to pictures of themselves. Eighty-seven percent did so in front of mirrors.

The next study of this nature conducted by Inside the Hotdog Factory will be "The Many Faces of Ourselves in Our Auto-erotic Line-ups (and What It Says about Us).

Luddites Throughout History

Carl Wreckman, of Louisville, Kentucky, has stated in numerous conversations around The Lamp & Lather Barbershop on Hoover Street that he "don't know nothing about any of this 'computer' nonsense, and don't care to, neither. I want to read my newspaper on paper, not on some Jap contraption the kids use for killing aliens or whatever the hell they're doing on them things."

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Senator John McCain admitted, "I am a [computer] illiterate that has to rely on my wife for all the assistance I can get."

Modern day luddites often provide great 30-second "offbeat" story filler on TV and radio. What's often forgotten is that there have been people throughout history who have shunned advances in technology. Most of the earliest luddites' actual identities have been lost to history, but their stories endure.

Much as we take it for granted today, toilet paper was once innovative technology. There are stories, however, found on ancient scrolls about crotchety old men in the marketplace -- luddites do have a very specific demographic, no matter what age in which they appear -- who insisted the invention was just a fad. They steadfastly continued using the traditional, old technology of a handful of rocks to clean things up after answering nature's call.

Long before there was a word for luddites, there were crotchety old men who believed sandals were just "a flash in the pan." They waved their hands with disgust, and shook their grizzled heads at the newfangled foot contraption, as they stuck with the soul-edifying practice of walking their feet bloody on rocks, getting to where they needed to go.

Even back in the carefree, open-minded days of 8,000 B.C. Asia, luddites scoffed at the technology of the time: the wheel. Although the wheel revolutionized the world, and is ubiquitous in transportation to this day, there were crotchety old men at the time who waved their hands and spat upon it as "some new gadget them kids invented instead of getting serious about real work." The luddites of that era were steadfast in their rejection of the wheel, continuing to use the old tried-and-true square wheel, which the trendy new "round" wheel would quickly replace.

Luddites of the 20th Century provided no end to entertainment. It's a little known fact that astronaut Neil Armstrong believed the earth was flat. Authors of textbooks have continuously refused to include this information when detailing Armstrong's life. "How can anyone who's been in space and actually viewed the earth from there still believe it's flat?" asked librarian Elma Windroper. Only once, in October 1974, did Armstrong reply to such a question, saying, "The earth is flat, but discus shaped. When I viewed it from space, I was seeing the earth's flat side, rather than it's edge. There is no contradiction in my being an astronaut and believing the earth is not round."

Get in shape for only $14,615!

The ROM - The 4-Minute CrossTrainer © is a Salad Shooter for your body! It not only builds muscle and burns fat, it bends time and alters reality. That's why doctors and metaphysicians recommend that you not spend more than four minutes at a time on this machine.

And machine it is! Look at all of its moving parts. Behold its terrifying warning label. If just getting on this machine frightens you, just think of how your fat and flabby muscles will feel. This machine literally terrifies your body into shape.

Heed all of the warnings on the label. For maximum effectiveness, you should never use the machine outside the presence of an attorney or orthopedic surgeon. For optimum results, have your guru or representative of your religious organization on scene, as well.

Prolonged use of this machine may produce strangelets, and potentially a blackhole in the room where used. Do not use in the presence of pregnant women, people under four feet in height, vegetables, such as parsnips, rutabagas, pumpkins or leeks. Do not use if stupid people live on your block -- this machine will only further lower their intelligence. Do not use if you listen to Yngwie Malmasteen or Chee-Yun.

In fact, do not use.

The Great Alouette-Potash Riot of 1952

Discussion Board Post:
there is a team called the Alouettes? seriously? a FOOTball team? do they get beaten up on streetcorners?
Discussion Board Reply:
My grandfather fought and died in a street demonstration in 1952 so that goddamned team could be called the Alouettes, and now you assholes are laughing at that name?!?! This is an outrage!

It's too painful to fictionalize. This is the first and only time I've felt moved to share this horrid piece of family lore. Before my grandfather was burned alive, he managed to crush the skulls of eight men who wanted the Alouettes to be named Potash.

All I have to remember my grandfather by is a lower row mollar found the ashes of the confrontation days after the boil over. I've had it mounted in my wedding ring. When I hear someone dissing the Alouettes, the hand on which that ring rests turns into a fist, and I rock the house with a cry, "Vive l'Alouettes!"

I don't know, man, you're probably right about using "les" in front of Alouettes, but it's just too traumatic for me. We have a grainy photograph of my grandfather's burial -- his pork pie hat filled with ashes, gravel, and his partially immolated handkerchief. In honor of his death, his entire neighborhood with held their garbage from trash collection for over a month. A drink at the corner bar was named in honor of my grandfather's demise -- hot cider with whipped cream on top, called The Extinguisher.

Every August 15th my family meets at that corner bar, we get shitfaced on Extinguishers, wear pork pie hats and burn our handkerchiefs in the street.

How have you wrenched this out of me?!?! Seven analysts, a bathtub of psycho-active medication and several hospitalizations have not been able to dislodge this from me.

You might be thinking that my grandfather was of French descent. You would be wrong assuming so. He was full blooded Irish from the fields of County Kildare. He simply supported the naming of the football team "Les Alouettes" because he loved how the French handled themselves during the French Revolution. His name was Fergal McClusky, though everyone called him "Ferg." He wasn't a large man, but he was a powerful man. He once won a competition at a county fair by lifting a rock that weighed 11 stone (1 "stone" is 14 pounds; this rock weighed 154 pounds) above his head with one hand.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Man "who invented Love" now talking about inventing immortality

All right, Dr. Sanjay Gupta: Put. The test tubes. Down. Put the test tubes down and step away from the incubator and lab equipment. Keep your hands where we can see them.

Vital Signs host and CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta will be joined by best-selling author Dan Buettner who has done extensive studies on the areas in the world people live the longest, healthiest lives, known as Blue Zones, and shares their formula for a long life.

The other panelist is geneticist Dr. Aubrey de Grey, best-selling author of "Ending Aging: The Rejuvenation Breakthroughs That Could Reverse Human Aging in Our Lifetime." He believes regenerative medicine could, in a matter of decades, extend life expectancy to 1000 years.
Of course, Dr. Sanjay Gupta could not leave a good thing alone. Since inventing Love in the mid-1990s, he's been haunted by the spectre of the "sophomore jinx." No easy feat getting over that. Just look at Gawd Almighty -- after the success of inventing the world, he followed up with an utter flop by inventing human beings. Or, Thomas Harris, who followed up his novel Silence of the Lambs with the execrable Hannibal. It happens to the best of us.

But now Dr. Sanjay Gupta is delving into the netherworld of anti-aging. He's a humble man, that's why his research is being couched as simply part of a program where he is hosting a panel of experts. But we all know what's happening -- he wants to invent immortality. How wrong can one guru be? He wants to extend the lives of the most selfish, short-sighted, counter-intuitive, violent, frivolous, stupid, sanctimonious, theocratic, psychosomatic populace that has ever walked this planet.

A devil's advocate might argue, "He'll never do it. We can't even get people to live out their own natural life-spans by getting them to eat sensibly and exercise once in a while. How could anyone bridge the Food Porn gap?"

Persuasive and compelling as that argument appears, there is no question Dr. Gupta will succeed. Worse, he'll probably find a way to make us all better people while succeeding.

So, Dr. Gupta gets people to live to be 1,000 years old. What good is that in our youth worshipping culture? What's the point of being 987 years old in a world where 30 year olds are considered "passed it"? Kids are entering puberty earlier than ever before due to better nutrition. At the same time, we're seeing adults living a prolonged adolescence -- as evidenced with the toyification of automobiles, consumer electronics, and our increasing need and obsession with gadgets -- due to our already prodigious life-spans.

Can you imagine 881 year old Wal-Mart meeter-greeters? How in the world will Bob Evans and golf courses keep up with the avalanche of immortal, milkshake humanity knocking down its doors? If I'm about to have an aneurysm driving behind a pokey 78 year old on the highway, what cardiac and psychological horrors will motorists have to endure driving behind someone who's 778? Will we have to institute a cut-off age? No driving after the age of 600? By that time, AARP will be in control of the One World Government, and will probably outlaw youth. Bob Hope, Milton Burl and Sarah Palin will be on our one-world currency.

The frightening part of Dr. Gupta is that he's probably taken all these scenarios into account -- and is still moving forward! He'll be the Overlord of the Aged. The L. Ron Hubbard of the string-saving-buffet-and-bargain-obsessed. The Immortology uniform will be sun visors, Yoko Ono shades, pastel colored trousers and blindingly white sneakers. The new call of the wild will be "Whaaaat? You want vermin on your stereo?" "No, I said 'Lemon on my sturgeon'!"

It'll turn out to be the reverse of what the sci-film Soylent Green depicted in our future: suicide stations will, indeed, be opened, but they'll service the young rather than the grudging, angry aged.

Groups of people in their chemically sustained 400s and 500s might descend like jackals on fetuses of a mere 30 or 40 years old, clubbing them so that there will be more pharmaceuticals for people in their middle hundreds. Such instances of violence will be "Age Rage."

No matter what, it must be stopped. Personally, I do not want to be held hostage on this earth for potentially 1,000 years. Dr. Sanjay Gupta must be halted, if not outright destroyed. There is only one sure way for this to happen:

Someone please take him to Las Vegas for a long weekend.

Black (& Blue) Friday - shopper within the maelstrom

Being a person who "thinks outside of the box," I did my Black Friday shopping on Saturday. A few sacrifices had to be made: living with the disappointment that I would likely not witness anyone being trampled to death; knowing the odds of witnessing shopper-on-shopper violence had decreased from the day before. But I made do with the day, anyhow.

One thing I did notice -- paying for purchases at Borders Books is like checking in for a flight at the airport. You're holding a product(s) in one hand, a mode of payment in the other. The transaction should move at the speed of the electronic cash register. But it doesn't. There is a litany of questions to be answered: "Do you have a Borders Reward Card?" If you don't: "Would you like to open one?" Once that is over with, the customer is asked if they'd like to donate a dollar to some Borders-sponsored charity -- complete with brief explanation of said charity and even mode of gift and delivery. And then finally: "Would you like a gift receipt?" I answered "no" to everything -- even the query, asked in semi-shock: "Would you like open a Borders Reward Card?" -- and it still took me about three to four minutes to checkout. This after waiting in line behind people who answered "yes" to these various questions, and whose checkout procedures took between four and eight minutes. Honestly. To buy a fucking book, CD, DVD or calendar? I wouldn't be surprised on my next visit to Borders if I should bring my metaphysician to help me explain whether or not I am worthy of my purchase.

I was not only engaged in my own shopping, but had the pleasure of chauffeuring -- and it was a pleasure, though they were a little light on the tips -- three Shopping Titans for whom Saturday outings are treated like Olympic events. As they conducted their commerce, I availed of my freedom in the car, spinning by to pick them up at various venues when summoned telephonically.

So, in picking up my passengers, I had occasion to venture into other stores where I would not normally have gone.

I was disappointed to find that Costco wasn't under martial law. It appeared to be hemorrhaging 50" television sets, but aside from that, all was in order. We even had lunch there. Turkey wraps. And I was endlessly amused to see an octagonal metal box bolted to the napkin and condiment counter, which bore the following legend: Onion Dispenser. At a glance, I guessed that the box was bullet proof and probably impervious to radiation.

Target looked like it might offer more action. For instance, there was a bird flying around inside the store -- a small sign of nature's intent to one day encroach and overtake the place, growing wild mushrooms in dressing rooms, saplings in the toy department, tar pits in the music, movie and "books" departments. Other than the usual bovine, mouth-breathing lumbering set in electric wheelchairs and wheezing over laden carts, there was no need for tear gas or truncheons.

One place where tear gas, truncheons and water cannons were needed: on the roads.

Michigan is the only American state where I've logged enough hours and miles to make a true judgment on its drivers: they're dangerous, unthinking, with the red needle of their mortality quivering every moment between homicide and suicide. Although I've yet to secure verification, here is my best guess at how their driving system works: Michigan drivers are rewarded (probably with fuel credits) for every accident in which they're involved. Instigators of accidents are eligible for more rewards, but the victims aren't left out entirely. That's the only explanation for the way people conduct themselves on Michigan roads.

Where I come from, automobile accidents are viewed as something negative. There's the risk of injury or death -- then dealing with doctors, hospitals, recuperation, rehabilitation, lawyers, and the whole mire of insurance. There's also the damage to a needed vehicle, and once again dealing with the insurance company. Even when the accident isn't serious, it's an enormous inconvenience. Often, the police are involved. At the very least, the drivers involved must convene at the nearest safe location to exchange insurance information -- or blows. In fact, automobile accidents in my neck of the woods are so inconvenient, so no-win, that most people actually do their utmost to avoid them. The problem for me driving in Michigan is I do not know how to collect the rewards for engaging in a collision, and thus appeared to be a bit of a kill-joy on the motorway.

By afternoon, my party was in the Great Lakes Crossing shopping center. There, things began to get dicey. There was no violence, not even a whiff of a threat of violence. There was only the untended mayhem of so many people in the same place at once. I'm sure there's a formula from the realm of physics to explain a phenomena I witnessed -- the larger the single group of people walking together, the slower they walked. Whole systems of round, planet-shaped people clogged the walking area like asteroid fields.

This is where shopping mall cops -- some hilariously on Segways -- need to act a little more like rangers on golf courses. Gotta get those herds moving. One method I think would work is to make any person moving substantially below the average speed of the other walkers (some calculations would be required, as well as speed monitoring equipment) should be made to wear large orange cones on their heads. This would give the dual messages of "Pylons" and "Dunces Ahead." I mean, clearly, intelligence is linked to how quickly a person walks. Margaret Mead or Thomas Edison determined that.

One final sociological note: health care in America costs a fortune and obesity is the leading cause of diabetes, heart disease, strokes, etc.. You see where this equation is going. Yet, the same counter-intuitive curveball I witnessed on the roads was on display everywhere I encountered shoppers: people are eating themselves right into intensive care wards, which few of them can afford. So, there must be some hidden reward system at work that I could not figure out. I did see an enormous number of tattoos, though I didn't stare long enough to make sense of any of them. Maybe these peoples' bodies are like NASCAR cars, covered with logos of sponsors. Maybe they're sponsored by the makers of corn syrup and all the other science fiction ingredients found listed in soda or chocolate bar.

I believe there is a documentary to be about that hidden world.

So, after a day of disappointing civility, no reward points from any car collisions, I took my charges away from the action and delivered them to safety. We had engaged in commerce on the most herniated shopping weekend of the year and had only our purchases to show for it.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Tiger Woods: Isn't it wonderful what money can do? Choose when or if you speak to the police

From Yahoo! News: Police: Woods, wife unavailable for interview.

Inside the Hotdog Factory has learned from an anonymous source, that Tiger Woods was possibly high on a combination of cough medicine and 5-Hour Energy "when his Cadillac SUV struck a fire hydrant and a tree just beyond his driveway at 2:25 a.m. Friday." Both are legal substances, and most of this short drive was done on his own private property. The man is free to do as he pleases.

And that's the message being driven home (pun intended) by Woods' refusal to speak to police about the incident. Surely, he's feeling a little sheepish about reports that his wife had to break a window in the vehicle with a golf club -- they're probably as plentiful in the Woods household as hash pipes or typewriter ribbons were on the compound of Hunter S. Thompson -- and dragged him to safety where she performed some vague form of "first aid" on him.

"Police said his lips were cut and blood was in his mouth when officers arrived." So, maybe he's been reduced to communicating with grunts and hand gestures. Being the pathological perfectionist he is on the golf course, it's quite possible that he won't communicate with police until he's an expert in this new mode.

Or, maybe he's waiting for something to clear his system. Inside the Hotdog Factory would never irresponsibly conjecture about drug use. Tiger Woods doesn't look like he's ever had a beer in his life. We all know he doesn't shave -- those Gillette ads are just a brilliant act.

Most importantly about this story is that Tiger Woods demonstrates that money -- actual, stinking, make-you-sick wealth -- is the Great Smoother-Over. You have a enough money, you decide when and if you speak to the police after crashing your car outside your home. I'm sure this saga will take the same turn as Dick Cheney's hunting mishap, years ago, when he accidentally shot a hunting partner in the face. When the injured hunting partner was finally well enough, he spared no time in apologizing to Dick Cheney for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. So, it's only a matter of time before the City of Orlando issues a written apology to Tiger Woods for ridiculously positioning the fire hydrant he hit where it was.

If you have the money, you have free access to the Rule Book Etch-a-Sketch -- and you can give it a shake whenever you want to clear the rules and start over so they work more in your favor.

Or, maybe it's just a case where he and his wife were fighting, she hit him in the mouth with a ubiquitous golf club, he crashed his vehicle fleeing her, and they're now cooking up their story. When you mix Orlando with the parallel universe of professional golf, anything is possible.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Women’s Beach Volleyball: Sports Porn?

Discussion Board Post
Does anyone else think this is the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue of the Olympics? Did anyone else notice how contrived all the ass slapping and full-body hugging was?

And uh ... how 'bout those replays? Did they show ANY points being scored, or did they only replay shots of the physical contact between the players?

Discussion Board Reply:
Beach volleyball has a noble and lengthy history dating back to 584 B.C. on the Isle of Lesbos. The girls played nude, using a wiffleball of sorts made from palm leaves. They played only at night, guided by the phosphorescent properties of the palm leaves. No spectators were allowed, only the unblinking moon, the Eye of All Things Les.

It was a better world back then -- there were no tampon commercials on the television to make us squirm while watching the Olympics with our mothers.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Apple, Microsoft -- an inexpert opinion of a long-time user

I was endlessly fascinated and entertained by the documentary series, Triumph of the Nerds: The Rise of Accidental Empires. The documentary also, however, filled me with conflicting feelings about the genesis of the Macintosh and Microsoft Windows.

I know that in creative life -- particularly in the most profitable areas of creative life -- there is much "borrowing" that goes on. Borrowing that looks and smells pretty much like stealing. Nobody in the documentary denies that this went on and continues to occur. Where my conflicting feelings emanate from is how the theft is couched and rationalized by the perpetrators.

In the early 1980s, Steve Jobs had heard about Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), which housed a team of truly innovative computer programmers and designers whom the Xerox executive titans seemed to keep on retainer merely to have a dedicated group to consistently ignore. The PARC team had come up with something called SmallTalk, which was the first Graphical User Interface (GUI) that shifted users away from punching code into a computer to make it perform functions. SmallTalk had a mouse along with the keyboard, and the screen was filled with windows and icons that were manipulated by the mouse.

Somehow, the corporate braintrust at Xerox allowed Steve Jobs to see a demo of this technology. Even more mystifying, that same brainless braintrust ascented to Steve Jobs' demand that the entire Apple programming team view a demo of SmallTalk. Adele Goldberg of PARC was horrified. As with any large company, the higher-ups in Xerox had no idea what innovations their grunt workers had created -- no matter how often those innovations were presented to them. They simply didn't understand the landmark technology they possessed. Adele Goldberg made a gallant effort to impress upon the dozy, dollar-drunk executives that they'd be giving away the farm if they showed that technology to the Apple programmers. The suits didn't listen. They told her to do the demo. Goldberg said she would only do so if she were ordered to. So, the princes of the Xerox penthouse offices ordered her to give the demo.

Steve Jobs, of course, downplays the technical prowess of SmallTalk, saying the Xerox programmers had gotten a lot wrong, and that the system was incomplete. From what is shown in the documentary, it appeared that the Xerox programmers had created a very creditable GUI in SmallTalk. It was much more on its feet than Jobs lets on.

So, Apple stole from SmallTalk and Microsoft stole from Macintosh. Stealing is stealing. However, I can say that Apple certainly improved upon the idea they stole, and expanded upon it. Microsoft bastardized the idea they stole. Apple sells over-priced computers. Microsoft sells over-priced, faulty beta versions of their software. Steve Jobs accuses Microsoft of making "truly third-rate products." Bill Gates is learning how to change water into wine in his spare time.

I believe that Microsoft gained and deserves the enmity of users because it ships incomplete, unfinished products as though they're new. Microsofts turns their users into unpaid QA testers for their crashing, glitchy products. Microsoft attempts to literally patch over this breach of responsibility by sending out their Windows Updates, which fills users' machines with digital barnacles that negatively affect the performance of those machines. I've experienced this first hand. I had a Dell laptop that I used as a dedicated digital typewriter. In order to attain truly distraction-free writing, I vowed never to go on the Web with that machine. The laptop was fast and instantly responsive to commands. A few years after buying it, I eventually went on the Web with that laptop. Of course, there was a dumpsterful of Windows Updates to be poured into it. Within weeks, my once speedy, responsive laptop became a veritable paperweight. It was sluggish to the point of making me think it had just frozen up while trying to carry out a function. It took several minutes to boot. It took a long time to do anything, even simple things like opening MS Word. Clearly, it was stuffed full of Windows Updates Christmas turkey, and Bill Gates' patches had turned my laptop into a $1,000 beer coaster.

Apple has its own software updates, but a year after buying a MacBook, and allowing the Apple updates through, the machine is still as fast and responsive as the day I bought it.

Bill Gates is not only the king of corporate brutality, he's also the king of excuses. I've heard him interviewed dozens of times, and have always marveled at the variety and creativity of reasons why Microsoft products don't work as advertised. Maybe the excuses are downloaded to his mind via Windows Update. Gates always seems to be saying some variation of, "Well, computers are complex machines and we create software that performs complex functions. Not everything is going to work all the time."

No shit.

That's as reassuring as a brain surgeon removing a tumor from a patient's brain, but leaving that patient quacking like a duck every time they try to speak, shrugging, "Well, brain surgery is complex. Ninety-five percent of the procedure went flawlessly." Problem is, you've got to pay attention to that five percent that slips away.

The worst thing about Microsoft is this: they got it right with their operating system XP. They got it right with Word '97. Their sin is paving over what works along with what needs fixing, and making their users relearn technology they already know. For instance, I used to use MS Word as my primary writing tool. It wasn't long before I grew weary of it creating a new style every time I Italicized text, or bolded something, or simply sneezed. When I printed my work, there would often be lines that didn't look right -- where the spacing was off or inconsistent, where the font was different. When I went back into my Word doc, I found that the styles in various paragraphs were different. I certainly didn't make that happen. Word just had so many differing styles racked up, it belched a few times and assigned the wrong style to the wrong paragraph. For all the patches I've received from Microsoft, none have ever rectified that situation.

I once read prognastications of the future of computers by Bill Gates in which he forecasted the advent of tiny, tablet-sized computer screens. Well, anywhere I go, all I've seen are larger and larger monitors -- designers working on multiple monitors. Sure, cell phones on which people text are ubiquitous, but aside from getting former mayor of Detroit, Kwame Kilpatrick, into trouble, texting is no sustainable, long-term mode of doing business. You can't create a PowerPoint presentation on a BlackBerry.

Where users and programmers who know what they're doing want to see the technology go is toward lighter, faster, more elegant software. Also, cheaper. Ubuntu linux is less than 700 MB and it's free. Macintosh computers do cost more, but their software -- at least what I use -- is substantially less costly than Windows. For instance, I write using a word processing program called Bean. It's free. For something more robust, which can do spreadsheets and presentations, I have NEO Office. Users of Windows machines are getting more savvy and using OpenOffice and other free, open source software.

Word 2003 2007 presented users with a real beaut of a curveball -- the .docx file extension. If you save your work in that format, you can only open it again using Word 2003 2007. No problem if you only use only one machine and never have occasion to open that file on another. It caused me a hell of a lot of trouble when using my thumb-drive and moving from my desktop computer to my Dell laptop, which didn't have Word 2003 2007. It was a familiar Microsoft experience for me: like riding in a car with a standard transmission with a driver who's learning how to use the clutch -- that stomach-jarring bucking and sudden stopping. Maybe the .docx was a hamhanded Microsoft attempt at introducing security to documents. But even that backfires if someone stealing your work has Word 2003 2007.

So, in a world where users want leaner, smaller software footprints in their machines, Microsoft rolls out Windows Vista, an embarrassing copy of Mac OS X, which weighs in at 15 GB. Talk about bringing together lack of vision with worldclass unresponsiveness to the needs and wants of users. Sure, Microsoft is trying to get back in the saddle with Windows 7, but by now, I have no patience for relearning technology I already know.

Lessons learned from Triumph of the Nerds: The Rise of Accidental Empires:
  1. Patent your innovations.
  2. Answer the damned door if a company like IBM comes knocking.
  3. Don't invite the competition into your workshop to see what your programmers and designers are doing.
  4. Learn a little about PR / Learn a little bit about being a gracious billionaire.
  5. Your product should be at least 75 percent as good as all your boasting claims it to be.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

My old Mac Classic, circa 1991

I was watching an excellent documentary series, Triumph of the Nerds: The Rise of Accidental Empires and grew nostalgic for my old Mac Classic, which I bought instead of a car back in May 1991.

I began writing a few years before that, using a program called Pocket Writer on a Commodore 64. The machine only had enough memory to accommodate four pages of text. When I hit the bottom of that fourth page, the cursor would go no further. But Pocket Writer allowed me to connect documents for printing purposes, which was good, but as my short stories got longer, it became unworkable. So, I graduated to an IBM clone; it's outer shell was made of the same material that shields the outside of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle. It had no hard drive, but came with a 3.5 and a 5.25 floppy drives, respectively. I wrote using a program called WordWriter, which seemed to have no page limits or restrictions. It didn't look as good as Pocket Writer, but all I was interested in having was a digital typewriter that would allow me to edit onscreen.

As my writing progressed, my technological needs increased -- or, at least, my inner geek wanted more horse power. So, in May 1991, I bought a Mac Classic. It came with a 40 MB hard drive. For a few extra bucks, I was able to soup that up to 44 MB. As quickly as I could get the computer out of the box, once I was home, and assemble it on my desk, I was up and running, writing and printing on my LaserWriter printer.

The word processing program I used on it was FullWrite by Ashton Tate -- the same program Douglas Adams used on the final installment of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series. For the first time, what I saw onscreen matched what I would print out. No more glitchy surprises after I got rid of my Panasonic dot matrix printer. By the end of June I had written a 440 page novel on my Mac Classic. That novel went through numerous versions, but ultimately became my suspense novel, Randham Acts, which came out in 2006.

The computer not only worked flawlessly, it worked the way my mind worked: simply. I worked steadily, daily, hourly, on that machine right up until 1997 when I moved overseas and simply couldn't bring the machine with me. Just before leaving, though, I do recall my LaserWriter printer breaking down. I had printed thousands of pages on it, and it had been a very reliable workhorse. I took it into my woefully ill-equipped Apple dealer, who said that it just needed a part to continue working. Could he get the part? No. I called the 1-800 Apple Customer Service number in Canada and was mystified to get a recorded message telling me the number was unlisted.

While away, I used whatever computers were available to me for my writing. All of those were Windows machines. And when I finally returned home, the only machines available to me were Windows machines. When I got around to buying my own, I went with a Windows machine because it was substantially cheaper than an Apple.

As of last year, I'm back on an Apple: a MacBook. I also have an old Dell PC.

After seeing that wonderful documentary, Triumph of the Nerds: The Rise of Accidental Empires, today, I just had to pull out the old Mac Classic. If I had a workable printing option for the machine, I'd still use it to write.

"We've got to take this country back!" Yeah, back to the Dark Ages

America's Top MILF is on the book-signing circuit. Recently, when asked if she had any advice for Canadian conservatives who have worked so tirelessly to destroy their own socialized medicare, Sarah Palin replied "Canada needs to dismantle its public health-care system and allow private enterprise to get involved and turn a profit."

This exchange occurred in two parts. Canadian comedian and political commentator, Mary Walsh, posed the question to Palin while inside the bookstore, but was quickly hustled away from the Diva of Indoctrination by a wall of Blackwater-like toughs. They had to wait outside to catch Palin on her way to her bus for a reply.

Sarah Palin didn't start the "We've got to take this country back!" movement among conservatives, but she's certainly risen to among its figureheads. No, she when that movement was gaining ground, Sarah Palin was courting the Alaska Independence Party, which sought to break away from the United States of America; she was also having demons and witchcraft cast out of her body, while still finding time to see Putin rear his head from nearby Russia.

Yes, the calls for "We've got to take this country back!" have grown to a deafening pitch since President Obama was elected. Unfortunately, conservatives want to take the country back to the Dark Ages.

It's a continuing mystery how conservative live in society as though there is no society; how they live in a community as though there is no community.

Interesting further reading: Confessions of a former Republican

Monday, November 23, 2009

Balancing all our baskets on one egg: The idiocy we call our economy

Regarding the economy, my current mindset is not: "I once had faith in the mechanisms of our economic system, but now I do not."

My crisis is: "I've never thought much about our economy. Now that I have, I think it's an absurd rollercoaster designed to plow right into the pavement after zooming down the next steep incline."

The premise of the North American economic system is ludicrous: it's based primarily on consumption, yet the jobs that allow consumers to consume are being shipped overseas at a staggering rate. Explain our system to a child, and a six year old could tell you that it's stupid and unworkable.

This consumption economy is diversified only by "debt products" and science fiction investment products (such as derivatives; see The derivatives bubble = $190K per person on planet) that seem to have been created out of the air during power lunches of Wild Turkey and crack cocaine.

All of which is part of our baseline Rape and Pillage Economic model that's geared more to decimate than cultivate the economic landscape. Who has time to develop a relationship with an investor when that investor and his family can be skull-fucked into damnation with investment tools that would drain the blood from the face of the fiercest interrogators of the Spanish Inquisition.

Not that anyone would care, but I've never had any use for investments, investment advisors, the stock market, or any other arm of the World Casino we call The Markets.

A TV ad, years ago, summed it up best when it asked the question, "If your financial advisor is so good, why is he still working?"

My skepticism began in my early 20s when I consulted a financial advisor on the advice of friends. The advisor was slick, had more buzz words and industry lingo than I'd ever encountered in one place -- and gave off the singular stench I associate with shysters. I invested some money with him, but took it out a few months later, losing $50 in penalties. The people who had recommended him to me lost tens of thousands of dollars with that jerk.

My Rule of Thumb: If an expert in any field can't describe something about that field to me in a way I can understand, then that expert doesn't know what he's talking about. That goes for auto mechanics, computer techs or chiropractors. If they know what they're talking about, they can describe a particular problem or situation to me in a way I can understand.

Not that I'm leaving my future financial to the deities to sort out. My grandfather worked at Ford Motor Company through the 1940s, '50s and '60s. He bought Canadian Savings Bonds his whole life, and never wanted for anything in his retirement. I realize the mere mention of government savings bonds is grounds for laughter and ridicule. I get into that every time with the financial advisor through whom I buy my RRSPs. No matter how I lay the groundwork in an email before going in to buy an RRSP, the advisor assails me with a myriad of other options. Far from sitting there, a meek listener, I am quite vocal about my feelings about this legalized rip-off we call "the stock market." Every time I leave my advisor's office, I feel like I've spent the previous 45 minutes punching a side of beef.

No, my impression of the stock market is that the only people making money there are insider traders. It's schlubs like me who fill the fish tank with money so that piranha like AIG executives and Bernie Madoffs can feed on it at will.

So what do we do? The people driving our economy off a cliff are not elected officials. Elected officials don't seem to have any better idea about how to fix things than I do. And the situation doesn't look like it's going to change for the better any time soon. In the meantime, as long as I continue making my financial advisor turn green with nausea with my decisions, I'll consider myself on the right track.

PBS Frontline's: The Warning

The Madoff Affair

Hall of Shame: 12 of the Worst Financial Gurus

Jim Cramer's Advice Slightly Worse Than A Coin Toss?

The History of the Credit Card

The Day of the Dollar

Sunday, November 22, 2009

"New citizenship guide says no to 'barbaric' practices"

Rare is the day when the Canadian government does something worth applauding, but when it does, compliments should be as forthcoming as criticism ever is. The publication of Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Canadian Citizenship marks a new, clear-minded day in multiculturalism. Most notably, expressed on Page 9 of the guide:
"In Canada, men and women are equal under the law. Canada's openness and generosity do not extend to barbaric cultural practices that tolerate spousal abuse, 'honour killings,' female genital mutilation or other gender-based violence. Those guilty of these crimes are severely punished under Canada's criminal laws."
That, of course, should be a no-brainer, but alas, it's not. We live in a world where such things need to be spelled out. And kudos to those who had the guts to spell it out because there will never be any shortage of hand-wringers and hurrumphers who are quick to trample on their own culture in deference to others coming to this culture.

It's good that Canada is not a melting pot. It is good that we are a mosaic. What the hand-wringers and hurrumphers don't seem to understand is that it's tough having a coherent mosaic when one of its tiles is trying to mutilate the genitals of another.

This is a step forward.

There remain, however, other objectionable aspects of Canada and Canadian citizenship that still need to be worked on. The Quebec language police is one. Another is the line in the Oath of Citizenship that states ". . . To Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second Queen of Canada . . ." Come on, we're adults. People can and should make their oath to the flag or entity or idea of Canada. Over the years, Queen Elizabeth has demonstrated that she's hardly queen of her own family, much less of Canada.

Those, I guess, will be saved for another day. For the moment, it's a positive step forward having updated citizenship guidelines that uphold Canadian ideals, rather than bending them for the most objectionable among us.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Xecs: Prose Poem

After World War Two, a team of American scientists were given a top secret assignment to cultivate a life form known as Xecs, in an experiment to see just how much sadism and avarice could be fitted into humanoid ambulatory bipeds. Extracting DNA from centuries-old bankers frozen in amber, cultivated in Petri dishes the size of garbage can lids, watermelon-round homunculi soon spawned. They were then quick-aged in a light/dark pod that manipulated their circadian cycles, speeding their physical development one week for each actual day that passed.

Many of the Nazis who went missing after the war were part of the Xecs program, training these new life forms, amplifying their avarice, honing their sadism through a complex process of arrogance-immersion and entitlement-enzyme-bombardment.

So then, at the physical age of twenty-eight and a mental age of four years, the Xecs were then fitted into business suits, given briefcases filled with forged, bogus educational and employment credentials, and sent into the world to fulfill their function as corporate executives.

In the mid-1960s, the program went horribly wrong. The first crop of Xecs perpetrated a hostile takeover of the front company of the Xecs program, and bringing in Bay of Pigs-surviving CIA personnel and Jesuits embittered by decades in the missions, the program was ratcheted-up to a malevolent level not even conceived by the program’s original, remorseless scientists.

The Xec life forms from this second phase of the project now pock the earth like hemorrhoidal pods of hostile, alien life in the forms of Ken Lay, Jeffrey Skilling, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, executives of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, Bear Stearns, Bank of America and oil companies—among countless others wreaking unfathomable harm.

At last report, the Xecs program’s unstated mandate was to conspire biologically into creating a fully functioning replica of Satan himself. Progress is said to be "going well."

Food Allergy: Prose Poem

Eating eggs is like putting a unionized monster in my body, who drops his bowling ball on the parquet floor of my stomach, snorts and spits on my chest wall, rubs his calloused, tradesman's hands together and then pushes against the sides of my torso with Hercules bravado, shoving all moister out of my body, so it's streaming down my sides, neck and back like condensation crying down a toilet tank in a truck stop john in July.

Teamster-monster relishes this havoc, chuckling as he reaches into his bowling bag and retrieves and old fashioned egg beater. He raises it into my skull, grips the crank handle and runs the beater like God spinning clouds out of confetti.

My digestive system's chemistry set floods the scene in desperation, pooling morose fluid around the Teamster-monster's work boots and his bowling ball resting in a dent in my parquet. This is the start of things righting themselves.

When the Teamster-monster's shoulders tire, he lowers his arms, drops the egg beater into his bowling bag; fits his bowling ball in there, too. He looks around, sees he hasn't wrecked the place—everything will soon be, again, as it ought and should. He shrugs. It doesn't matter what state I'm in when he leaves, he's paid by the hour.

Lenny Bruce Without Tears - 1972 Documentary

Lenny Bruce was to stand-up comedy what Sir Isaac Newton was to mathematics: he may not have invented it, but he sure as hell owned it. The Fred Baker documentary, Lenny Bruce Without Tears (1972), brings a fascinating, sympathetic, unvarnished portrait of Lenny to audiences who may have never heard of him.

Lenny revolutionized stand-up comedy by bringing to the stage a level of honesty, razor wit and social satire that was so cutting and controversial, that by the 1960s, police routinely observed his performances and sometimes arrested him right on stage. The charges against Lenny? Obscenity. It was the time of "Uncle Milty" and I Love Lucy, and bringing the issues of the day to the nightclub stage with frank, unprettied langauge, was virtually unheard of.

Against a backdrop of stock film footage, Fred Baker lets Lenny speak for himself, running long excerpts from Lenny's numerous albums while hilariously timed images - from cowboy, football and historical movies, as well as news footage of politicians and military leaders - flit across the screen. All Lenny ever wanted to do was make his own case for his act. Fred Baker afforded him that opportunity, albeit, too late.

Time Magazine referred to Lenny Bruce as a "sick comic," and much of the press jumped onto that superficial bandwagon. Ever after, Lenny battled the semantic trap of "bad taste," ably, articulately, humorously defending himself in his nightclub act. Lenny was deemed "sick" because he held up a mirror to a sick society. Audiences got it. The authorities wanted to kill the messenger.

Born in Mineola, New York in 1925, and named Leonard Alfred Schneider, Lenny was once asked by a police officer, "If your name's really 'Schneider' whyja change it to 'Bruce'?" Lenny replied, "Because 'Schneider' sounded too Hollywood."

In speaking about modern life - sexuality, drug use, racism, and the hypocrisy rampant in organized religion - Lenny packed audiences into nightclubs, some of them undercover police. What commonly occurred was that Lenny's show would be attended by a plainclothes police officer who would make note of each "dirty" word uttered by Lenny. "He sees my show at eleven o'clock at night," Lenny described from a San Francisco stage near the end of his life, "and then does the act for a judge at eleven o'clock the next morning. The cop bombs, but I get busted!"

He called his routines "bits", and among the best of Lenny's bits was called "Christ and Moses," in which he imagined Jesus Christ and Moses returning to modern America of the 1960s, and what they'd find: the opulence of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, the $8,000 ring on the finger of Cardinal Spellman.

Another bit titled "Religions, Inc.," satirized religious leaders of the day -- among them Billy Graham and Orel Roberts -- and carrying on as though at a business meeting.

On the subject of media's influence on children, Lenny once said, "I'd prefer my kid watch a stag movie rather than 'King of Kings.' Because there's killing in 'King of Kings' and I don't want my kid to kill Christ when he comes back."

Regarding racism and bigotry, Lenny once said to an audience, "You and I know what a Jew is" -- Lenny was Jewish -- "one who killed the Lord." He then took the satire further: rather than trying to reason with that faulty, ridiculous logic, he decided to confess: "We did it, I did it -- my family did it. We found a note in the basement that said, 'We did Him in,' signed Morty."

Lenny was considered "dirty" in America, but in Canada and Europe he was regarded as a satirist on par with Rabelais and Jonathan Swift. London Observer critic, Kenneth Tynan, was among his proponents, as were the young cast of comedians who would ultimately become Monty Python. In the end, though, Lenny was deported from England and from Australia because the establishment simply felt too threatened by his comedy.

By 1964, Lenny had been arrested more than a dozen times and had cases pending in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. He began arguing his legal case on the nightclub stage. Nightclub owners across the country were threatened by authorities not to book Lenny Bruce. At one point, authorities took away his cabaret card, rendering him unable to work.

The trials and the lawyers and legal arguments exhausted Lenny, who never gave up hope that if he just perform his act before a judge, everything would be solved. But courts do not work in such a straightforward manner. To the end, Lenny believed in the power of words, but the judicial system kept him from harnessing them to bring his argument to the fore in any meaningful way.

After years of countless arrests and court battles across the country, Lenny Bruce died of a morphine overdose on August 3, 1966. He was immediately enshrined as a secular saint in popular culture, as "Father Bruce," in a Jefferson Airplane song, and a song about him appeared on Bob Dylan's late 70s album, Saved. Only a few years after his passing, stage plays of his life and act and comedy were performed to rave reviews and packed theaters. In 1974, Bob Fosse directed Dustin Hoffman in a bio pic titled Lenny.

Fred Baker's documentary Lenny Bruce Without Tears delivers what it promises -- an uncompromising look at one of the most brilliant and controversial public figures in the later part of the 20th century. It's not a sentimental, hero worshipping look at Lenny, but a fitting eptiaph for a comedian who left the world much changed from how he'd found it at the beginning of his 40-year life.

Lenny found his voice and vision as an MC in third rate strip clubs, introducing dancers and doing shtick in between acts. Since the audience was there to see the strippers, Lenny found he could say anything that came to mind and always got the same reaction: no reaction. After a while, though, he found that he was consistently cracking up the band, jazzmen earning stale pay checks accompanying the dancers.

By the late 1950s, Lenny was headlining in nightclubs in Chicago, New York and San Francisco. He took his act from his daily life, commenting items in the news, and generally riffing on the hypocrisies of the day.

The film opens with Lenny entering an office in what appears to be a courthouse. There are fans and observers and even a camera crew on hand. When asked by a voice offscreen what the purpose of his visit is, Lenny states, "I'd like to report a crime."