Saturday, July 31, 2010

Attack of the Left Eye

Highlights from our July 2010 Disney World trip, attended by me, The Lovely Steph Leann and the In-Laws, Mama Ruthless and Big Daddy Ron:

--Spending the night in Pensacola, including getting flashed on the road side.
--Day One of the trip, including the French Quarter, dinner at Epcot, the Electrical Light Parade, the Haunted Mansion Wailer and the Saturday morning's Soarin' snafu...

So, we ended up riding Soarin', and had our Fastpasses to ride it later.  We made our way to the other side of the park, grabbed Fastpasses for Test Track and rode Mission: Space... I would have preferred "The Orange Team", which is the "more intense" ride, as its a centrifuge.  However, due to the stomachatical dispositions of some of our party, we went "The Green Team", which is the same ride, except it is actually in a simulator. 

Anyway, we did Mission: Space, which I love any ride that has "sick" bags in it, and as we walked out, we decided it was a good time to go right next door to Ellen's Energy Adventure. 

 Ellen’s Energy Adventure is this slow moving dark ride which begins in a large auditorium where you stand and see the pre-show, which is Ellen’s dream where she’s on Jeopardy, losing to her college roommate, Jamie Lee Curtis, since all the categories are about energy, and Bill Nye the Science Guy comes in to take her through history to show her where energy came from.

To preface this story… well, its really more of a coincidental side note… so, last summer my right eye had a spaz. It was an allergic reaction to the new contacts I was wearing, and so on and so forth… now, for whatever reason, my left eye had its own bone to pick with me, and decided to do it in the most improbable place. That would be Ellen’s Energy Adventure.

We stood in the pre-show, laughed with Ellen and Alex Trebeck and Bill Nye, and then proceeded to board the large trams that take us through the next 37 minutes of the ride. Its also worthy of note that the ride is a great place for a nap. Its fairly quiet, at least compared to many other rides, its dark, and you are sitting down in a semi-comfortable tram for THIRTY SEVEN minutes. If you can’t throw back a power nap out of that, then I can’t help you. Cause let me tell ya, The Lovely Steph Leann excels at power naps, and she gets it honest from Mama Ruthless and Big Daddy Ron.

The first part of the ride takes you to the explanation of The Big Bang, then you slowly ride into the dinosaur area. It was here that my left eye said, “Hey, Righty, watch this.” All of a sudden, my eyes started to water, and my left eye started hurting. Even felt a slight head pain behind my eye… you know that feeling when you have an unusual sharp pain in your head and you get this mental image of suddenly dying due to undetected, exploding brain aneurysm?


Uh… yeah, me neither. That’s stupid. Haha… lol… hahaha… uh… moving on…

So, The Lovely Steph Leann beside me is gone. Mama Ruthless on the other side of her is nodding off. Big Daddy Ron is slipping away fast. And my nap is already ruined by an eye pain. In the dim light, I get my Kermit bag and place it in my lap, I fumble around for my contact case, my eye drops and my glasses. I cannot find my saline, so I grab my bottle of “Blink and Clean”, which isn’t ideal for soaking contacts, but hey, any port in a storm, right?

I can’t see the “L” on my contact case lid to determine which side is which, but its one of those that is slightly angled. So I hold it where I can see the shape, swear to myself I’ll remember the angle is pointed out, and first take out my left contact, then my right. I pour in the Blink & Clean, and squeeze it too hard, and it hits the open case and splashes out all over me. In the dark.

Finally, my contacts are out… this is good. I hate wearing my glasses on vacation, but it’ll have to do for a few hours. What usually happens is my eyes water a bit, I rub them a little bit, the red goes away in a few hours and it’s all good. I actually wasn’t expecting what happened.

The ride continues, my eyes are watering like a faucet, and I finagle a tissue out of The Lovely Steph Leann’s purse to wipe my eyes. In the dark. The ride ends, we all get off, and if you’ve ever had that feeling of coming out of a dark theater into a bright parking lot, that’s what it felt like. I was blinded when I walked out, like my pupils had been dilated. I was able to open my eyes just enough to make sure I didn’t stumble over anything or anyone, and after a few minutes, my eyes were clearing up. A little. They were still spewing tears, though.

We made our way through the park over to Soarin’, and I was still squinting to see anything. We got inside The Land, where the ride is located, and the lower light helped a bit, but even on Soarin’, it was still hard to see perfectly.

And this is how it was through the rest of the day—inside, my eyes would clear up… sort of… outside, I would struggle to see anything for a few minutes until my eyes adjusted, which they never would completely. It was horrible. Now, this is Walt Disney World, so horrible there is many times better than “pretty good” back home, but still…

Lunch was at Le Cellier in Canada, my favorite restaurant in all of the parks, and the lack of light in there was glorious. I dined on a plate of Mushroom Filet Mignon, served over sour cream mashed potatoes, white truffle and herb butter sauce, a side of mac and cheese (served in a small skillet steaming hot), and maple cream brulee.

We had already made the decision to spend some afternoon time in the room, during the hottest part of the day, and we ended our time at Epcot around mid-afternoon.  We went back to French Quarter, rested a bit, then caught a little ferry to Downtown Disney. 

Hopped off the ferry about 20 minutes later, spent about 25 minutes in line to just order our food at Earl of Sandwich, and the guy at the register wasn't happy about anything in his life, particularly the fact that the line of people was running the length of the counter and back three times and almost out the door.  

Registerer:  What can I get you?
Me:  The sandwiches come with sides, correct?
Registerer:  Yep.  What can I get you?
Me:  Okay, I want a Montagu with no lettice and...
Registerer:  Ok, what else?
Me:  Yeah, also a lemonade and...
Registerer:  Get drinks on the other end (looks over my shoulder while handing me a ticket) Next!

Had dinner, toured some of the stores, bought a bunch of pins at the Pin Trading Store, hung out in LEGO for a few, and then we split up with the In-Laws as The Lovely Steph Leann and I walked toward the other side of Downtown Disney.  We visited a store called D-Street, which sold lots of Vinylmation pins, figures and such.  Had a lengthy conversation with a couple of guys (and I do mean "couple) about Vinylmations, but they were super cool and friendly. 

Later that evening, found a bus at the stop, took it back to French Quarter, and that was the night. 

The next day?  The Toy Story Disaster.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Disney in Hot July

For those of you needing to catch up, here's the scoop... after taking S'ray and C'ray last year to Disney World during the hot June of 2009, The Lovely Steph Leann swore we'd never, ever go back to Lake Buena Vista in the summer time.  Too darn hot.  For me, I handled it well enough... even went back a month later with Tommy Mac, Amy McL and The Good Revr'n Ty Coffey.

Lo and behold, early this past June, she pipes up and says, "Hey, let's go to Disney World!"  Uh, what?  "Yeah!  We need to go see Summer Nightastic, with the Electrical Light Parade and the new fireworks show!"  I looked online, saw that the Summer Nightastic events would only be through August 14th (which, coincidentally, is the last day for high summer rates--on the 15th, it goes to value rates), and after an invite to The Lovely Steph Leann's parents, Big Daddy Ron and Mama Ruthless, we orchestrated the trip around mid-July, spending a necessary night in Pensacola first (as documented here).

Leaving the Pensacola Marriott early, we managed to arrive at Walt Disney World around mid-afternoon, check into our resort (Port Orleans French Quarter), got our luggage and had agreed to be ready to head to Epcot around 5ish.  It was open late, so we figured after our dinner at Rose & Crown, we could catch Illuminations: Reflections of Earth, then maybe hit the Magic Kingdom later on that night, as it was open until 3am. 

Slight drama on I-10 worth mentioning--Mama Ruthless, from the passenger seat, turned around and looked at me at The Lovely Steph Leann in the backseat, realizing her Annual Pass voucher, that which she'd turn in for her Annual Pass, was sitting on a table back home in Birmingham.  Not good times.

The hotel I probably wanted to stay at the least became the hotel I think I'd
like to stay at every time.  Course, Pop Century, which I also love, is fairly
cheaper, especially since I'm paying real folk prices.
Wasn't sure if I'd like this resort, as I've seen it in passing and it kinda looked... well, boring and old.  I did like Riverside, having stayed there for a night before and liking the setting and rooms.  Port Orleans Resort is broken into two sections, a small area known as French Quarter, and a much larger area called Riverside. 

Riverside is absolutely huge, we discovered, with over 2,000 rooms in twenty buildings and four bus stops, while French Quarter contains "only" about 1,000 rooms in 7 buildings, all fairly close to the main building and bus stops.   The rooms were, well, roomy, with double sinks, comfy beds and a nice showerhead.  I told The Lovely Steph Leann that I want to come back to this hotel again.  Love Pop Century, but I do love some double sinks.

It was also good to check tickets at the concierge desk too... not only did I have some extra day passes from working at The Happiest Place in the Mall, I had managed to procure a few from another Cast Member who needed a little cash.  However, we had used a couple of them, and we didn't toss 'em because The Lovely Steph Leann wanted to keep them.  I had ten in my hand, I knew at least two were not good, so I had several of them checked at the resort, putting the bad ones in the side pocket of my messenger bag, putting the good ones in another pocket (this is important, by the way, for later).

Mama Ruthless (white shirt), The Lovely Steph Leann (blue
shirt) and Big Daddy Ron (passed out) await Illuminations
to begin, while we chat it up with fellow Disneyphiles
Going into Epcot was easy, as the chick at the Will Call found my information of when I purchased all the Annual Passes, and re-issued Mama Ruthless's pass.  I had another girl check a couple of day passes I had in my hand as well, to figure out the ones that were good and bad.  I put the bad ones in a side pocket of my messenger bag. (again, remember this.  this will come up again.)

Dinner at Rose & Crown was wonderful, and while The Lovely Steph Leann, Mama Ruthless and Big Daddy Ron all settled for the Sunday Roast, I elected to go with the Surf N Turf, which was grilled steak and fried fish with Yorkshire pudding, Irish potato gratin, seasonal vegetables, and Shallot gravy , with sticky toffee pudding for dessert.  Yum.

We slowly ambled our way over to the front of the Seven Seas Lagoon and found a great spot to watch Illuminations: Reflections of Earth, and it was our first experience with a new species...

They travel in flocks, from all over the world.  They are brightly colored, in red, yellow or green, sometimes in white with colored markings.  Never less than five, ten, fifteen banding together, they move in a huge blob of figures.  They chant, because they know no better, never being told what is good and what is not good in our culture.  They chant during shows and performances, and sometimes for no reason at all.  They stand in the middle and cheer...

Here they are, at The Magic Kingdom, chanting and whooping.  Its like a
mating call.  Or war cry.  Or both.
...mind you, I'm excited for them to be able to come to this country, and I think its awesome that these kids are getting to travel--for some, they may never come to America again.  But that doesn't mean they aren't obnoxious as wearing wet socks.  Heard a story of one girl who was about to go into the Fast Pass line at Big Thunder and had about 60 Brazilians run straight into the line before she could get there.  The Cast Member saw it, and walked her to the front of the line, bless 'em heart. 

The huge international tour groups were all the talk around the parks, with nearly every guest we talked to saying something about them, getting caught in the middle as they swarmed by, or behind them in a Fast Pass line (I did see one Uruguayan hold up a Fast Pass line at Soarin' with a stack of, oh, about 50 tickets to get passes for, while the guest behind him were coming up with creative ways to kill themselves), or trying to avoid them in a flow of traffic.  There must have been at least 20 or more groups there.  Were I better person, I'm sure it would have been a prime ministry opportunity.

Talking with a Cast Member later on, I discovered that there were plenty of these groups to go around.  He said that alot of times they come from other countries and not only are the kids not told our cultural norms, but the leaders aren't either, so as far as they are concerned, its perfectly wonderful to go into the Argentine Warble Dance, drowning out what ever show you are trying to follow.  Don't chant for me, Argentina, indeed. 

The plan was to dash from Epcot over to MK to see The Main Street Electrical Parade, one of the main reasons we were going, and though it was close, we made it.  We managed to make nice with another family visiting from... Portland?... and we ended up watching the parade with them at MK.  Big Daddy Ron had another guy his age to banter with, and The Lovely Steph Leann and I kept the others entertained by answering all sorts of pin trading questions and Walt Disney inquiries.
This is one of the few new floats in the Electrical Light Parade.  Its a great way to start off the show, as I love me
some Tink.

This was Cinderella's section of the parade, with a dancing party and all.  I would hate to be those guys in the
corners, actually carrying the canopy

One of my favorite floats, here's Dopey riding a mine train of lighted jewels

Who doesn't love a good pirate ship?

The return of one of the most famous Light Parade floats, Elliott from "Pete's Dragon", with smoking nostrils and everything.  Pete rode, waving and smiling at everyone.

Magic Kingdom stayed open really, really late, and we took advantage of some of it after the parade was over.  We managed to ride The Haunted Mansion... the Stretch Room, by the way, there was a wailing of a child.  Some parent had brought her 5, 6, maybe 7 year old kid, and this kid wasn't having it.  I can't knock the kid too much, because the first time I went to Disney World in 1982, I was scared to death of The Haunted Mansion (and subsequently refused to go on Pirates of the Caribbean after that) mostly because I was--am--scared of the dark.  That didn't help when I saw "Poltergeist" a few months later, but that's a whole other story.

So anyway, as we left the Stretching Room and made our way into what I label "The Cattle Call", that is sixty or seventy people all streaming into the same little area and forcing their way into a single file line, we could hear the kid crying.  And crying.  And crying some more.  Big Daddy Ron & Mama Ruthless were several spots ahead of us, and as it turns out, the kid playing the Crying Game was between my in-laws and myself and The Lovely Steph Leann.

The In-Laws got into a Doom Buggy, and just ahead of us, Crying Boy became full out Wailing Boy.  He and his mom were the next in line to get in a Doom Buggy, followed by us, and my man was gripping the railing tighter that Obama grips a bad Dubya report, and he was not letting go for any reason.  And he was now completely screaming.  Mom, obviously embarrassed, was trying to talk him down, and the chick with them (aunt?  sister?  domestic partner?) was just standing there, looking like she'd rather be anywhere else in the world than right there in that very moment.

Little man continued his death grip, and when the ENTIRE RIDE STOPPED, Mom shifted her coercion from "C'mon, it will be okay, let's just ride it" to "Okay, let go, we'll get out of here".  The Cast Member just continued to smile, standing off to the side, awaiting the decision of the absolutely hysterical boy as to whether to let go, or to continue holding on as if his life depended on it--heck, for all he knew, his life, his soul, his sanity did depend on it.  Finally, maybe 30 seconds after the ride stopped, the boy let go.  He was still sniffling, crying and unhappy, but mom took his hand and the Cast Member directed them, and the companion, all out.  The ride started, and The Lovely Steph Leann and I took our place in the Doom Buggy to join the other 999 haunts for the ride... "...but there's always room for 1,000... any volunteers?  Mwah hah hahah!!"

We rode a few other things that night, and headed back to our room before it got way late... of course, that still means we didn't get back to the room until 1ish, maybe after, but it that was early for Disney.   We agreed to meet early to get to Epcot the next morning, and we did so.  The Lovely Steph Leann and I, with Mama Ruthless and Big Daddy Ron all got in line--which was weird, as I was so used to the Cast Member entrance, and this time I was coming in with the common folk, but we got in.

Like all the other parks, at opening, Epcot will let you in just so far before you can't go any further.  Epcot gets you in the gate around 15 til opening, and you can move up and past Spaceship Earth (the big ball) until you are stopped by a rope going across the courtyard.  At opening, they drop this rope and 99.8% of people either go right to The Land and get Fast Passes for, and/or ride, Soarin', or they go left and get Fast Passes for, and/or ride, Test Track. 

Not our Fastpasses, but you get the drift
My particular plan of attack is Soarin' first.  Get Fast Passes, ride it, then afterwards, trek across the Future World, get Fast Passes for Test Track as soon as they are available to you (when you get a Fast Pass, which allows you to come back and ride an attraction at a later time, with usually a much shorter line, but you when you get one, you can't get another one for at least another hour).  After I get the Test Track Fast Pass, we'll do Mission: Space, Ellen's Energy Adventure and so on.  And so, like usual, I'm the fastest, or at least the one not bothered by weaving in and out of old people trying to run me over in motor carts and stroller moms and small kids who aren't watching where they are stumbling, holding hands by parents who aren't paying attention.

I grabbed tickets from The Lovely Steph Leann, Mama Ruthless and Big Daddy Ron, and when the rope dropped, I was off.  My instructions to The Lovely Steph Leann were, "Wait for me at the entrance of the ride..." and I was on my quick way.  Got in line for Fast Passes--by the way, that hill leading up to The Land is just killer on the calves when you are trying to walk fast--and noticed a member of an Internationalis Groupus at the head of one of the other Fast Pass lines with a fat stack of tickets.  I got behind about four people, with the person up front having problems with the machine.  The Cast Member looked at it, then suddenly declared it to be closed, so our five or six person line quickly dispersed to other lines.  I was now about 9 people back.  The Internationalis Groupus was still at the head of his line, getting Fast Passes.

(by the way, I just figured out its "Fastpass", not "Fast Pass", so mock me if you must, but I'm not going to go back and change it all...)

It went quickly, and I got to the front of the line, and got my Fastpasses, walking away.  Walking past Internationalis Groupus, who now had a Cast Member with him to just count out the ones he needed.  All the other people behind him had already drawn out a map of how they were going to kill him and where they were going to bury him.

I stood in front of Soarin'.  And waited.  And waited.  Fastpasses in hand, I waited.  I called The Lovely Steph Leann, who rarely answers her phone anyway, and wasn't surprised when she had no answer.  I called Big Daddy Ron, who answered, and said, "We're under the Soarin' mural".  I hung up and thought, "Oh, they are in the building!" and though I couldn't place where the mural along the path of coming through the doors, walking around, and coming down the escalators, I waited, watching the steps.   Nothing.  No one that I knew.

So, I got in line.  Perhaps they were waiting for me.  I didn't want to be one of those guys who traverse the line, skipping past people, trying to find my party, especially if I couldn't find them... and as I went deeper and deeper in the line, I realized they weren't there.  I was a bit frustrated (ask The Lovely Steph Leann and she'd say, "oh, alot") and towards the end, I got out of line and headed to the front lobby, figuring I would find them at some point.  I thought they might have ridden it, and have expected me to do so, but I also thought that if I had not waited long enough and had gone on ahead, The Lovely Steph Leann would be The Unhappy But Still Lovely Steph Leann... that in mind, I went to the lobby... and saw she, Mama Ruthless and Big Daddy Ron there.

"Did you ride it?" The Lovely Steph Leann said with a smile.
"Uh... no, I was waiting for you," I replied, and her face dropped.  She knew there had been a misfire somewhere, and she knew I was really disappointed that I didn't get to ride it with her.  So, she and I agreed to ride it again, while the In-Laws walked around and did some other stuff. 

Yeah, I was unhappy for a little while, but like any other time I get frustrated, give me a few minutes and I'm fine.  To her credit, The Lovely Steph Leann was wonderful, being very apologetic, and just letting me brood for a little while without trying to "fix it".  I snapped out of it, and we had a great time on the ride.

This was a snafu.  Wait til you hear the Toy Story Madness.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Progressive Christianity

I'm a big fan of "Stuff Christians Like", a blog that started some years back, written by a Christ Follower named Jon Acuff who thinks a little outside of the box, is full of humor and can write a wicked serious column when he needs too... perhaps one day I can achieve his success and though we have slightly different writing styles, I would be more likely to adapt to his than he to mine. (he's also written a book which you can find here)

Let's be honest... I'm actually hoping that one day I will write something that someone else will read and post on their own site saying something like, "I read 'Clouds' alot, and its awesome and here's today's post which is awesome and d$ is awesome and awesome awesome awesome..."  That would be awesome.  Enough self-ego inflating...

Anyway, one particular post caught my attention, and I will copy and paste it here for your reading, though I want to be quick to point out that I didn't write it, add to or detract from it, and if you follow the above links you'll find not only this same column but his stellar site.  You can also find it amongst the blogroll on the right side.  I guess its also worthy of noting that Acuff didn't actually write this either, its just posted on his site (as I did on mine) from columnist blogger Rachel Held Evans

Jon Acuff posts/Rachel Evans writes:

(I don’t write about politics that often because it’s not a topic I can write about very well. There are so many good political blogs that I tend to avoid it. Plus, political comments usually get really ugly, really quickly. But my friend Rachel is going to change that. Today, she checks in with a funny look at the secret life of Christian liberals. Enjoy.)

Last month, Jon Acuff wrote a piece for about Christians treating secular media like Satan’s newspaper. A faithful reader of both SCL and The New York Times, I laughed along until about midway through the article when Jon joked that Christians are “pretty sure Fox News is baptizing people in their lobby,” at which point I completely lost my sense of humor.

It is an unspoken rule among liberals that only one Jon is allowed to make us laugh about Fox News—and it’s Stewart, not Acuff.  But how was Jon supposed to know? He’s an evangelical Christian, which means he is statistically obligated to have only one liberal friend.

So as a Christian and an occasional democrat…(yes, we do exist)…I’ve decided to be that friend, offering SCL a brief list of stuff liberal progressive Christians like:

1. Calling ourselves “progressive” instead of “liberal’
The word liberal (like evolution and sex) carries with it negative connotations in the Christian subculture, and is often used in the context of play-by-play accounts from a pastors or Sunday school teachers about the dangers of competitive slippery slope sliding. Progressive is better. People like Jesus and Donald Miller are considered progressive. Progressive communicates the fact that we’re not headed down, but forward…and just a little to the left.

2. Assuming our daily fair-trade latte from Starbucks makes us committed to social justice
I may drive a gas-guzzling clunker to Wal-mart to buy a trunk full of out-of season fruit, but I’m certain that the steam pouring off of my free trade Cinnamon Dolce Latte is a sweet aroma to God.

3. Agreeing with the Democratic Party on everything except abortion
I am one of many progressive Christians in the unhappy predicament of supporting things like health care reform and environmental stewardship, while remaining steadfastly pro-life. To compensate for our insecurity about this situation, we progressives like to try to one-up conservative pro-lifers by noting that we’re also against the death penalty and war. This does little to actually advance the conversation, which usually ends with people yelling at one another about who is being more judgmental. Sorry about that.

4. NPR
To borrow a metaphor from a friend, we progressives are pretty sure that Ira Glass is mystically distributing the Eucharist through the airwaves during “This American Life.”

So, what would you add to the list? What else do progressive Christians like? (Conservatives, please don’t say “going to hell,” as it kinda hurts our feelings and messes with the whole Christian unity thing.)

(Rachel Held Evans is a liberal progressive Christian from Dayton, Tennessee, home of the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. Her first book, “Evolving in Monkey Town” officially releases with Zondervan in July, but is currently available on Amazon. She blogs at

I did scan the comments, and found one in particular to be of interest, and by interest, I mean hilarious... "Justin" writes:
I'm somewhat more conservative than liberal, although I certainly listen to NPR (except Ira Glass, his voice is like a freshman at a college radio station) and am sick of the culture war politics and right-wing talk radio is only rivaled in annoyingness by Sojo ;)

Still, here's a few things I noticed Liberal Evangelicals like (and I like some of these too, I'll happily admit).

- Saying "God is not a Republican," conceding to add "nor a Democrat" if pushed.
- Begrudgingly admitting that Bush did a stellar job with his AIDS initiatives in Africa.
- Jim Wallis
- Watching Fox News, Complaining about Fox News
- Derek Webb
- Social Justice, endlessly arguing about exactly what "Social Justice" is.
- Begrudgingly admitting that Rick Warren's got a good sense of missions and social justice
- Thinking about being Catholic up until the point they talk about celibacy and birth control.
- Billy Graham (because he's a Democrat, and he seems to like all the Presidents equally)
- Portraying Mormon Glen Beck, Catholic Sean Hannity, and lapsed mainliner Rush Limbaugh as representatives of conservative Evangelicalism.
- Bono
- Francis Collins (me, too -- he rocks! Yay for Obama for nominating him.)

Okay, back to me again... hope you enjoyed it, and if you find your way to this site, Mr. Acuff, I hope its alright that I posted, giving you full credit...

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Another entry into the d$'s Random Emails of Encouragement series...

I'm working on my Disney blog, telling a few stories of note, but this afternoon, I kinda (re)stumbled onto this via the iPod.  After listening to the song for like, four times in a row, noticing it was getting a bit dusty in the room, I thought it might be good reading for you, Coffee Drinker.  Perhaps someone out there might get some use out of it. 

The band Watermark is one of the Top Five most influential artists of my lifetime.  The lyrics of Nathan Nockel and the voice of his wife Christy have done so much to my Spiritual Walk that I was brokenhearted when they announced their breakup.  In fact, the track "Welcome to Delaware" is not only the title of the soon-to-be-never-forthcoming soundtrack to my own life, but thoughts of changing this site to be called "Welcome to Delaware" have crossed my mind... but its too complicated to do so.  Anyway, Watermark, you are missed. (I have Christy Nockel's solo CD, its just not the same..)

If I’m not mistaken, this was written for Laura DeGarmo, a friend of mine who is now in Nashville. Her cousin is actually Diana DeGarmo of American Idol fame, and her uncle is the DeGarmo of DeGarmo and Key (for you old-schoolers out there). I’m guessing if your name is DeGarmo, somehow you are a) musically inclined and b) related to Laura.  

This one is for my dear friend who needed a Stronghold last night…

One of my all time favorite movies is A Few Good Men. No sex, not a whole lot of language, only a few f-bombs, violence is minimal… featuring stellar performances from Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, Jack Nicholson and of course, Kevin Pollak, one of the truly great “That Guys”. (That Guy is a one of those actors or actresses in movies you see all the time but you don’t know who they are… That Guy Hall of Fame would include William H. Macy, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Philip Baker Hall, Don Cheadle and my favorite, Joe Pantoliano… you may not know any names, but you’d see them and say “Oh, That Guy!”… wait, I’m babbling)

Sidebar: Okay, so the most famous part of the A Few Good Men is Jack Nicholson’s “you can’t handle the truth” speech. Remember that one? Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) asks him about the incident, and Col. Jessep (Jack) says, “You want the truth?” and Kaffee says, “I want answers!” and Jessep says, “You want the truth?” and Kaffee says, “I think I’m entitled to it!” and then Jessep yells, “You can’t handle the truth!” and the proceeds to rant on about “we use words like honor, code, loyalty, we use those words as the backbone of a lifetime spent defending something, you use them as a punch line… who’s gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinberg?... I’d rather you say thank you and be on your way, either way, I don’t give a darn to what you think you are entitled to…” After that incredible, powerful speech, you would think Kaffee would address it. No, he just skips it. His next question is, “Did you order the code red? “ After all that talking from Jessep, it could have been left out entirely, and it wouldn’t have mattered, because Kaffee’s line of questioning had nothing to do with his speech. Amazing.

  (warning, you might find these Non Emmy Turnbow Safe:  one illegitimate child reference, one d-word, one GD, and its on DIVX...)
Back to the point…

In this movie, two Marines are charged with the murder of a fellow Marine, a weaker guy who no one liked. Defending them is amateur lawyer Daniel Kaffee, and his partners are Lt. Sam Weinberg and Lt. Com. Jo Anne Galloway. There is a scene where Kaffee, Weinberg (Pollak) and Galloway (Moore) are standing in the courtroom, and Galloway asks Lt. Weinberg why he hates the defendants. He replies, “Because they picked on the little guy. They killed him. Why? Cause he couldn’t run fast.” Then he asks Galloway, “Why do you like them so much?”

“Because they stand on a wall. They say you can sleep tonight, because no one will harm you… not on my watch.”

That’s a powerful line. To know that someone is standing over you, saying, “It’s okay, you can relax. Nothing is going to harm you. Not while I’m here. Nothing.”

And it’s that way with God. He stands firm in front of us, and declares, “Child, no harm will come to you. Not while I’m here. Not on my watch.” And the most awesome, comforting thing to know is that, it’s always His watch. He’s always there. It’s not as if He’s going to go on break, so we have a few minutes we have to worry, until He comes back… He stands there like an ironclad Warrior and says, “I dare anything to come against you.”

Of course, things do come. He sometimes lets things go by Him. He allows things to happen to us because He knows it will glorify Himself in the long run… but those things go by with His knowledge. They don’t slip past Him undetected, where they can destroy us without Him even knowing about it. He stands and sometimes allows things to come, but then cautions those things, saying, “Don’t get cocky… I will protect my child.”

During worship, I often scribble in my notebook just whatever is in my head. Sometimes it’s the beginning of an encouragement that I feel I should write later, sometimes its just a thought I think I should remember later, sometimes its just whatever… last night it was a song lyric. There is a song by Watermark called Stronghold, and I began to write down the chorus…

Oh Lord, You’re my protection from my enemies
You set my high upon the rock and defend my soul
When their waves advance against me I am confident
They cannot make me less for You have made me whole
You are my Stronghold

You are my Stronghold

Then I began to realize how powerful this is… He is our stronghold. Stronghold. Two words, one meaning strength, power, might, the other meaning grasp, grip… Stronghold.

God then gave me a name to share this chorus with, so I did. She asked me to write it down for her, and I did. Some time later, I glanced over at her, and noticed she sat, notebook in hand, just stared at the words that I had written on the page. It was as if she were soaking it in, telling herself over and over that she had a Stronghold… reminding herself of that very fact. And the cool thing is we both have Strongholds in God. He is a rock that is our protection from all enemies. When the enemies advance, threatening to tear us down, they may succeed… but only with provision from the Stronghold.

There are some reading this that are being torn down right now. They are falling apart, no matter how great they look on the outside, on the inside they are in tatters, in pieces, in doubt that God is even listening to them… they know God listens to them, but only because its been drilled in their head from a lifetime of church, not because of recent experience. You feel sick, you feel weary, you feel disappointing, you feel that by now you should be so far ahead spiritually than where you are, but yet, you aren’t… Right now, you may feel less than worthy, right now you may feel less than anything God wants of His children…

But no matter what the enemy does to us, they cannot make us less than what we are, and that is complete in Christ. As a Christ-follower, we have been made whole in Him, and that cannot be taken away, no matter what is done to us, no matter how hard we crash on our knees, no matter what presses us… He has made us whole. He is your Stronghold. He has promised to make us everything we are to be. He is your Stronghold. He has promised to lift us up, He has promised to hug us, hold us, allow us to crawl in His lap, rest our head on His chest and just be. He is your Stronghold. His hug, his embrace is unlike that of anything that will ever diminish, unlike that of anything that is less than forever… for He is our Stronghold. He is your Stronghold. Our Father is so powerful, powerful enough to obliterate those that would hurt His children, gentle enough to calm us with a touch when we feel obliterated. He is our Stronghold.

Lord, You are my Light and my Salvation
Whom shall I fear if You are near?
Lord, You are my peace when there is war all around me
Even here inside me I will have no fear

Lord, You are my strength so let my head be lifted up
So that I may glory in the ways You’ve overcome
Lord, You are my hope, cause You created in me
A heart that lives the victory that You’ve already won

Oh Lord, You’re my protection from my enemies
You set me high upon the rock and You defend my soul
When their waves advance against me I am confident
That they cannot make me less for You have made me whole
You are my Stronghold, You are my Stronghold

A heart that lives the victory that You’ve already won. I just wiped a tear from my eyes as I read that line… A Victory You’ve Already Won. Wow. My Stronghold.

The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid? When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear, though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.

For in the day of trouble, he will keep me safe in his dwelling, he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock. Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me. Psalm 27: 1-3, 5-6

Written July 9th, 2002

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Pensacola Boobage (and other thoughts on the road)

Coming to you live from the Courtyard Marriott right by the water here in Pensacola...

Once a month, The Lovely Steph Leann has to come down here for work, and sometimes I come with her too--and tomorrow, we get up early and drive for mid-Florida.

The road trip here was uneventful...  she slept for much of it while I drove and caught up on Rush Limbaugh episodes, made good time on the trip.  The problem was, we were in a one-way rental from The Ham to here... and they gave us a great little Honda Civic.  Except whoever used it before was either one heckuva chain smoker or it had been a "smoker's car" for quite a while.  I have emphysema and The Lovely Steph Leann is already showing signs of Hodgkin's Lymphoma, but I think we'll be okay.  Almost feel like they said "this car stinks... get it off the lot... give to the two people who are dropping it off in Pensacola, they can have it..."

Went to Hemingway's tonight for dinner.  We are vacationing starting tomorrow--or tonight, even--with The Lovely Steph Leann's parents, Big Daddy Ron and Mama Ruthless, so we had some seafood.  The food was great, as usual, as I ate something called "trigger fish", whatever that is.  The calamari is amazing, as they cook it in this honey glaze sauce, and it would have been perfect except for the fact that I had to share it with not only The Lovely Steph Leann but Big Daddy Ron as well.  Then she got a slight bit snippy when I got a forkful of her lobster bisque.

Ended up at Wal-Mart.  Everyone does.

On the way back to the hotel, there was a slightly larger chick and a dude... well, I only saw them for a few seconds, but it was enough to know that his name was probably Ray or Bubba and her roots were showing through her dye job.  Anyway, as we drove up to them, I noticed they were hugging.  And then as we were passing by, I saw... a boob.  I don't know if she was mad at him and slapped him and he did it on purpose, or he just did it to be funny and she was hitting him in retaliation, but either way, her little blue top slipped down and her left babythirster dropped right out.  Saw it only for one single second, but it was enough for me to grimace, throw up in my mouth and shiver. Eew.   Like, seriously, eew.

The Cabana is getting an inside paint job.  We'll have some people over to the house to do our living room and our kitchen, and let me tell ya, paint is expensive.  I'm excited though, because since The Cabana was a spec house, the paint is a flat, dull latex.  That means if you just give the wall the stink eye, its going to smear and smudge.  We got something called "Duration", which I tested in the store.  I drew on it with a magic marker, though not a Sharpie (that would be the ultimate test), and wiped it off with water.  But its all still expensive.

We haven't hung anything on our walls yet, in the 29 months we've lived here.  I've said over and over, "The Lovely Steph Leann, lets go ahead and hang stuff on the walls now, so if you don't like it, we can take it down, spackle the hole, and hang it elsewhere.  When it gets painted for real, it will cover up the mistake."  I get the "yeah yeah", which means, "Yes, I know, we should do that, what a great idea my wonderful, good lookin' man!" but we haven't done it.  And that means that once stuff goes on the walls this time, its on the wall.  Done.  I'm not taking it down, I'm not repainting.

One of the worst things a guy can be asked is, "Which color looks better?"  Two colors, almost perfectly matched, one a little lighter than the other... my thoughts are simply, "Either way is fine."  When a guy says this, he usually means, "Either way is fine."  Which means, pick the lighter one, and its okay.  Pick the darker one, and its okay.  I'll be okay with this or that.  You didn't do some outlandish, freakish, gay rainbow color, you did this simple color and whatever you think looks good, go with it.

She forced my hand.  Finally, I went with the darker one.  And this weekend, the lighter one is being painted on our walls. Ah marriage.

So it's now 10:01pm here at the Pensacola Marriott.   The Dave100's 53rd ranked movie is on, and its a good time to crawl into the bed and get some sleep... we'll be up at blue:thirty to head out, down I-10, taking a right at I-75 and a left on the Florida turnpike. 

Yes, yes, its hot, I know this.  Try to get a report next week...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It (Predator vs Predators)

The following conversation happened on Wednesday morning, approximately 8:35am

Mikey, in a text:  Wanna go see the new Predators Friday night?
Me, responding in a text:  Absolutely. 
Mikey:  Which theater works best for you?
Me: Lee Branch if that's cool
Mikey:  7:40 show?  Dinner before?
Me: There's a bunch of places around here.  How about Zaxby's?
Mikey:  See ya there.

So Friday night, me and Mikey met up at Zaxby's Chicken Finger Establishment for a quick bite to eat, then drove across the Lee Branch Shopping Complex to the Rave Motion Picture Theater. 

The film in question is a sequel to the 1987 Ahnald film, and opens up with our protagonists falling from the sky, parachuting down onto what turns out to be an alien planet.  The concept is that a bunch of criminals are dropped onto this planet, and are hunted for sport by The Predators. 

All the tokens are here, including Token Asian Yakuza Guy, Token Black Dude, Token Russian Gangster, Stereotypical Stupid American, Token Chick With Bad Accent and Token Mexican Dude... and in the leads, Adrien Brody as Token Tough Guy and Topher Grace as Token Fish Outta Water Guy. 

By now, we all know about The Predator.  It's this mean alien thing from another world who can camouflage itself, shoot lasery things from its shoulder and talks in clicking noises.  Whether you've seen the original or not, you probably know about it at least..

...which is why some of the "charm", so to speak, is lost on this sequel.  It will do, if you want it too, and its by far better than Predator 2, which joins a short list of films that most movie buffs agree do not actually exist except in myth--Rocky V, Caddyshack 2, Superman III and The Phantom Menace to name a few.  I'm also figuring that Alien vs Predator shouldn't really exist either, though the first one was almost a guilty pleasure of crap.

Anyway, one by one, each Token dies until the big face-off at the end.  I'm not telling you anything you can't figure out if you think about it, so don't feel like I'm giving the movie up for you.  Laurence Fishburne makes his all-too-short appearance somewhere in the middle, and we are treated to a few different versions of Predators--though the original does make an appearance as well. 

Adrien Brody is gruff, buff and almost hard to believe as the main guy, and Topher Grace is almost believable as a "what am I doing here?" guy, though towards the end you sense a twist coming, and you'd be right. 

Overall, its loaded with F-bombs and campy alien violence (you know, heads blowing up, people losing appendages and spines, blood splattering), and unless you are the kind of person who likes seeing action flicks on the big screen, it can easily be a rental in October or November.  Otherwise, a matinee will do just fine. 

Bonus points, though, for the homage and shout out to the original during this one, and for the Token Asian Yakuza Guy's fight scene.  He takes on a Predator in combat, and its all kinda awesome. 

When I left the movie theater around 9:45, I decided I needed to see the original again.  I stopped by Wal-Mart, hoping to find the Blu-Ray cheap, or better yet, the DVD in a $5 movie bin, but found neither.  What I found was a combo pack of "Predator/The Terminator" for $20 or "Predator/Commando" for $20, and though I wouldn't have minded owning "The Terminator" or "Commando" (one of the Top Five Most Craptastic Movies Ever), I didn't want to shell out $20.  

Smashcut to Sunday afternoon, having to drop by Staples for a few things, I decided to go to the nearby Best Buy and have a look-see for "Predator".  The original DVD was $9.99 and it was pretty bare-bones with no special features or anything else.  I found two versions of the Blu-Ray, the first being the basic for $19.99 and the next being "The Ultimate Hunter's Edition" for $24.99, but next to a sign that said "Ultimate Hunter's Edition -- $14.99". I took both to the register to see if maybe the regular was any cheaper, and it wasn't, still ringing up $19.99.  I bought "The Ultimate Hunter's Edition" and brought it home.

The Lovely Steph Leann and I went to see "Despicable Me" this afternoon (great, great film) and as we were driving home, I said, "Ya know, I want to watch 'Predator' tonight."  She grimaced at me, and I said, "Oh come on, I've watched enough Gilmore Girls to warrant this film."  She agreed, and consequently, I haven't seen her in the last two hours.

The basic story is that Ahnald and a group of soldiers are dropped into the jungles of the fictional country of Val Verde (the same country that Ahnald goes to get his kidnapped daughter from in "Commando" and the same country that the terrorist is being deported from in Die Hard 2: Die Harder), only to find that something is stalking and killing them one at a time.  Lots of F-bombs and lots of alien violence, like heads getting blown off and entrails being scattered hither and yon.

Anyway, its been years upon years since I've actually sat down and watched the original movie, and I gotta tell ya, my youth and memories may have romanticized how good this film actually is.  Meaning, its not as awesome as I remember. 

Perhaps that is just my expectations talking, or my sensitivity to bad special effects--when Dillion gets his arm blown off, the effect is borderline cheesy--or me wanting this film to be fabulous and it only being somewhat good.  And it is in fact, somewhat good. 

Here's what I marvel at, though.  Seeing this movie for the first time as a kid was absolutely astounding.  You don't see the Predator until the halfway mark, you only see the view through the thermal imaging they possess.  You see a transparent figure running through the jungles and trees, and its truly awesome when you finally see his mask and armor.  Then, when the Predator takes the mask off near the end, its even more awesome.  This is all coming from a guy, by the way--my wife could care less about this movie.

Don't get me wrong, its a good film.  Its original, its fun, its violent and its Arnold Schwarzenegger in his 80s action prime.  The death scenes are ridiculously over the top, including a gruesome end for Billy in a style that was duplicated in the new movie.  Just remember, this film is 1987 and things are a little more advanced movie-wise, so appreciate this for what it is. 

By the way, this is totally different from "To Catch a Predator"...

Thursday, July 08, 2010

God Hates Sports in Cleveland

What's funny is that I had no intention on doing an entire post on the sports misery that is Cleveland, Ohio, a town I've never been to, nor really paid much mind to.  But as I watched The LeBron Circus begin on ESPN, a network I both love for its sports and columnists and loathe for its shameless self-promotion and "look at me!" spirit, I started looking online for Cleveland info... and wow, it sucks to be a Browns, Indians and, after tonight, a Cavs fan.

Sitting here watching "The Decision", a special on ESPN about where LeBron James is going to play next year.  Part of me is thinking "holy crap, are you serious? an entire show about him deciding where to get overpaid a ridiculous amount of money?" and part of me is thinking "holy crap, are you serious?  an entire show about him deciding where to get overpaid a ridiculous amount of money?"

Quickly, LeBron is one of two best players in the NBA (the other being Kobe).  He's been the face of Cleveland sports for 7 years, a town that hasn't won any sort of sports championship since the 60s, a town that has been so beaten down time after time in one scenario after the other.

Look no further than this clip:

When your town's sports failures have their own nicknames, nay, a list of nicknames, its bad news. 

First, the Cleveland Cavaliers...
"The Shot" -- In May 1989, fifth game of the opening round of the NBA playoffs, Michael Jordan pumps a long basket over the Cavalier's Craig Ehlo.  The shot goes in, the buzzer sounds, the Cavs go home, and thus a "Clutch" legend is born.

"The Sweep" -- The 2007 NBA Finals featured Cleveland in the finals for the first time in their history, and LeBron James first championship appearance.  And they got slaughtered by the Spurs 4-0.

"The Choke" -- The 2009 NBA Playoffs.  The Cavs won 66 games, and were upended in the Eastern Conference Finals by my Orlando Magic, 4 games to 2.  The Cavs were a far superior team, but didn't have the team chemistry the Magic had, and it showed when they got beat down.

"The Forfeit" -- The 2010 NBA Playoffs, second round, the 61-game winning Cavs went up against the Celtics, a team that essentially backed their way into the postseason, then proceeded to beat the Cavs 4-2.  Game Six of the series was LeBron's "mailing it in" game, and to me, kinda told the world that he had no intentions of coming back to Cleveland.  He was indifferent, he wasn't that good in the game, and it proved that if LeBron doesn't have a good game, the Cavs suffer... meaning, the Cavs didn't surround Bron with good role players.  And this is another reason LeBron left, because you one guy cannot win a title.  (This has also been called "The LeBromination", though I think I like "The Forfeit" better just for the sheer "We gave up, we don't give a rip about our fans or winning jack" that it presents)

Then, the Cleveland Browns...
"Red Right 88" -- More obscure than many, the Browns trailed the Radiers by 2 in the 1981 AFC Playoffs, but were driving and were setting up for a game winning field goal.  The play was called "red right 88", meaning the quarterback was told to throw the ball away if he saw anything less than "wide open".   QB Brian Sipe forced a pass to Ozzie Newsome, but was intercepted by the Raiders, who went on to beat San Diego in the AFC Championship, and then the Eagles in Super Bowl XV.

"The Drive" -- I loved this one.  In the 1987 AFC Championship, my beloved Broncos, led by John Elway, drove 98 yards to score and tie the game 20-20.  Denver won in overtime by a field goal. 

"The Fumble" -- I loved this one too.  In the 1988 AFC Championship, my beloved Broncos couldn't stop the Cleveland Browns, and the Browns Earnest Byner seemed on his way to a touchdown to tie the game, when he was stripped of the ball by the Broncos Jeremiah Castille at the 3 yard line.  Broncos recovered, gave up an intentional safety, then went on to win 38-33.  Two years in a row, the Browns were smacked down minutes away from the Super Bowl.  Its worthy of note that the Elway led Broncos got drubbed in both Super Bowls, first to the NYGiants then to the Redskins.

The Broncos wouldn't win a Super Bowl until they took two in a row in 1997 (defeating the Packers) and 1998 (defeating the Falcons).  The Browns have never been, and haven't won a football related championship since 1964, when the Browns won the AFL Title.

"The Move" -- Perhaps the biggest knife in the heart of Browns fans.  In 1995, team owner Art Modell up and moved the team to Baltimore, itself a city in which their beloved team was snatched away because of a greedy owner (when the Colts moved to Indy in 1983).   Cleveland was awarded an NFL franchise in 1999, and since then, has had two winning seasons and one playoff appearance.. 

And finally, the Cleveland Indians...
"The Catch" -- Oh, the misery of the city dates way back.  The Indians last won a World Series in 1948, so in 1954, "The Catch" wasn't percieved as a beginning to disappointment.  Game 1 of the 54 Series, the NY Giants and Indians were tied 2-2 in the eighth.  The Indians Vic Wertz hits a monster shot to the wall, but with Willie Mays quite simply being Willie Mays, he ran the ball down, made an on-the-run over the shoulder catch, then fired the ball back to the infield to get another guy out.  The Giants won the game, and swept the Series.

"1995" -- The Indians by all accounts were favored to defeat the Atlanta Braves, who were in the Series for the third time in five years.  The World Series was cancelled the year before due to the strike, so this Fall Classic was huge for baseball, for the Braves and especially for the Indians, who made their first Series in 41 years.  It was a hard fought series, as five of the six games were one run contests, and Game 6, when the Braves clinched the championship, was a 1-0 combined one-hitter.

"The Single" -- Once again the Indians, in the World Series for the 2nd time in 3 seasons, were favored, this time over the fairly new franchise Florida Marlins.  Favored or not, they went to a Game 7, when in the 11th inning, Edgar Renteria hit a single off of Indians closer Jose Mesa.  The single skipped off of the glove of Charlie Nagy, up the middle and allowed the Marlins to score--and win the series.

"The Collapse" -- That's just a brutal nickname to begin with.  And its worse when you realize that in the 2007 American League Championship, the Indians were up 3 games to 1 over the Red Sox, when they were outscored 30-5 over the last three games.  The Red Sox went on to win the 2007 World Series. 

Even in the movie "Major League", when the Indians make the post season by beating Clu Hayward and the hated Yankees, we find out in "Major League 2" that the Indians didn't make the series.  They can't even win in fiction.

And tonight, Cleveland basketball prepares to die.  Its over.  LeBron James has announced he is joining DeWayne Wade and Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat, putting together a "Big Three" that will be considered an utter failure if they don't win 60+ games and a championship.  This year.  Not next year, not in two years, but starting in October. 

And if they don't win, the legacy of LeBron James will be questioned, and though no one can question how good he is, people will question his team player abilities.  He's past the point when Michael Jordan won his first title, and the same for Kobe, and with 7 to 8 quality seasons left, barring injury, matching MJ's 6 titles, or even Kobe's 5, is almost unthinkable.  Shaq's or Tim Duncan's 4 titles might be a stretch, depending on how the Wade/Bosh/James trifecta perform together. 

To sum up LeBron, and the ridiculousness it is to put on a American Idol type show for him to simply say "Miami", I turn to one of my favorite authors and columnists, The Sports Guy... he writes:

I can't wait to watch for the same reasons I couldn't turn away from O.J.'s Bronco chase or the Artest melee: it's Car Wreck Television. If LeBron picks anyone other than the Cavaliers, it will be the cruelest television moment since David Chase ended "The Sopranos" by making everyone think they lost power. Cleveland fans will never forgive LeBron, nor should they. He knows better than anyone what kind of sports anguish they have suffered over the years. Losing LeBron on a contrived one-hour show would be worse than Byner's fumble, Jose Mesa, the Game 5 meltdown against Boston, The Drive, The Shot and everything else. At least those stomach-punch moments weren't preordained, unless you believe God hates Cleveland (entirely possible, by the way, just ask d$ on one of my favorite sites, "Clouds in My Coffee"... okay, I added everything beyond "by the way"). This stomach-punch moment? Calculated. By a local kid they loved, defended and revered.

It would be unforgivable. Repeat: unforgivable. I don't have a dog in this race -- as a Celtics fan, I wanted to see him go anywhere but Chicago -- but LeBron doing this show after what happened in the 2010 playoffs actually turned me against him. No small feat. I was one of his biggest defenders. Not anymore.

I mean … what the hell kind of sporting event is this? It's like college signing day crossed with JFK's assassination. LeBron's team wanted to keep people talking and promote his website, and really, that's what happened. The man nearly exploded Twitter and melted ESPN. He transcended free agency, the World Cup, everything. He will draw a massive television audience tonight; he's the only professional athlete who could have pulled that off.

What a week for LeBron's brand. I just hope he remembers to wipe the blood off the knife after he pulls it from Cleveland's back.  (From "Countdown to the LeBronocalypse")

As it stands, the Indians are 33-52 at the All Star Break, and 14 games from Central Division leader Detroit.  The Browns had a decent draft, but are coming off a season in which they were dark horses to win the division, ending up with 5 wins total. We've already discussed the Cavaliers.  I'm sure its a nice town and all, and I'm guessing that Philly fans have their own list of curses, but at least they have the Phillies. 

Info courtesy of Wikipedia and an awesome, yet mildly depressing site called "God Hates Cleveland Sports"

Monday, July 05, 2010

A Movie for Grown Ups

For anyone who knew me in The Deuce days, watching "Grown Ups" this past weekend made me think of one thing... this movie is what Deuce: The Movie would be if Deuce: The Movie was in fact a movie. 

Adam Sandler's films have evolved over the years, starting out a little hokey (remember "Airheads"?  Yeesh...) turning into borderline brilliant silliness and hilarity (I love love love "Happy Gilmore" and "The Waterboy", and know a inordinate amount of people who worship "Billy Madison"), before trying to get into more adult fare with little success--"Eight Crazy Nights", "Punch Drunk Love", "Spanglish" and "Funny People" were anywhere from mediocre to downright bad. 

However, Sandler can still be funny.  And when you throw in the likes of David Spade (who, let's face it, hasn't had a truly funny movie since the Farley days), Chris Rock (hasn't truly been funny in a real movie since "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back"), Rob Schneider (aside from the random funny cameos in most Sandler movies, he was last seen being funny in... in... well, The Lovely Steph Leann liked 'The Hot Chick"--a movie that I dug not for Schneider, but for Anna Faris and Rachel McAdams) and Kevin James (who was truly charming in "Paul Blart", was the funniest part of "Chuck & Larry" and truly held his own with Will Smith in "Hitch"), you have got the potential to have a pretty funny movie.  And for the most part, "Grown Ups" delivers what you would expect. 

Its a movie that features a group of guys who were friends back in the day, all playing on a middle school (back then it was "junior high") basketball team that won the championship... they grow up and lose touch, but are all called back together when their coach passes away.   They end up spending the 4th of July long weekend together, with Sandler playing Lenny, a successful Hollywood agent, married to Roxanne (Salma Hayek) with three completely spoiled brat kids.  Kevin James is Eric, married to Sally (an incredibly good looking Maria Bello) with a couple of problem kids of their own, including a 48 month old son who still likes to nurse... from mom.  Yes, that's 4 years old.

Rob Schneider is Rob, and marries a woman 30 years his elder, which makes for a running gag that eventually gets tiresome, while David Spade is Marcus, a player who never got married and still chases women.  Finally, Chris Rock is Token homemaker Kurt, married to the bacon-bringer-homer and very pregnant Deanne (Maya Rudolph), with a few kids of their own.

What follows in the course of the hour and forty five is a series of vignette-like scenes that carry the group through the weekend as they catch up, learn about family and friendship and say lots of innuendos and poopy farty jokes along the way.  You know, its five guys.  They do run into the grown up versions of the kids they beat on the championship team back in the day, allowing for fellow SNL alums Colin Quinn and Tim Meadows to make appearances, as well as Steve Buscemi, who looks like he's playing his squirrely bug-eyed look to the hilt. 

Some jokes are funny, some fall flat, but you just have to be into this kind of a buddy-reunion movie to enjoy a film like this.  Having lived with three other guys who paid rent and like, seven other guys that didn't, all at the same time, I could relate to this film in terms of how people change, the direction that life takes for some... though I cannot fathom being that close to your homeboys, and then having no contact with them for 30 years.  That's just... well, maybe I'm being idealistic, but that's almost unreasonable.

I almost feel like this could be Shawn, Big Tom, Mikey, myself and Tommy Mac in a few years.  Or Wookiee.  Or Drewski.  Or, if you are thinking Chris Rock, it could be The Hall--though I would think if we reunited for a coach's death, it would be for The Hall's funeral.  Then again, I don't fish... Just sayin'.

The language is fair, not too bad, and with the exception of Maria Bello's booby coming out for a nursing scene (without showing anything, by the way) there's nothing really bad in this film. 

Don't expect to see "Billy Madison" all over again... if you can wait until the Ghetto Theater for a Buck, do so.  If you just have to see it now, take a matinee, otherwise catch it on a rental in probably September or October.

By the way... the soundtrack is absolutely fantastic... REO Speedwagon... J Geils... Journey (something other than "Don't Stop Believin'", for once)... Jefferson Starship... The Kinks... Eddie Money's "Two Tickets to Paradise", one of my 100 favorite songs of all time... and Bob Welch's "Sentimental Lady", which Chris Rock's character declares to be, somewhat correctly, "the whitest song in history"... oh, and one more song that's in the movie, but not on the soundtrack...

That's Bob Seger's "Rock and Roll Never Forgets".  Bob Seger, what the crap, yo?  First, let's be honest, you rock.  "Shakedown" from "Beverly Hills Cop II", rocks.  "Hollywood Nights" rocks.  "Still the Same", "Turn the Page", "We Got Tonight"... they all rock.  And so does this awesome song called "Rock and Roll Never Forgets".  And you can't find it on iTunes. 

If you are Garth Brooks or The Beatles, who have catalogs that are both infamous for not being available, then I can understand.  Why sell on iTunes, you got a bajillion dollars anyway.  But Bob Seger?  Seriously, dude.  Open up that catalog.  I don't want "Greatest Hits Volume 2", I want that one song. 

Friday, July 02, 2010

Taxing Times for All

It's Clouds in My Coffee's Fifth Birthday!  Join/like on Facebook (search "clouds in my coffee") or become a fan on the right... and let me know if you like the new design!

For this, our nation's celebrated birthday, thought I'd bring in a great reality for us...

"I can make a firm pledge. Under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase. Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes." - He Who Must Not Be Re-Elected, September 12th, 2008.

"Taxes will only be raised on people making $250K a year, and I'm guessing you and The Lovely Steph Leann don't make that." -- Friend of mine who argued against my unwillingness to "wait and see" what Obama will do, and my dislike of Obamacare

From The Americans for Tax Reform:

In just six months, the largest tax hikes in the history of America will take effect. They will hit families and small businesses in three great waves on January 1, 2011:

First Wave: Expiration of 2001 and 2003 Tax Relief (for a list of expiring tax provisions, click here)

In 2001 and 2003, the GOP Congress enacted several tax cuts for investors, small business owners, and families. These will all expire on January 1, 2011:

Personal income tax rates will rise. The top income tax rate will rise from 35 to 39.6 percent (this is also the rate at which two-thirds of small business profits are taxed). The lowest rate will rise from 10 to 15 percent. All the rates in between will also rise. Itemized deductions and personal exemptions will again phase out, which has the same mathematical effect as higher marginal tax rates. The full list of marginal rate hikes is below:

- The 10% bracket rises to an expanded 15%
- The 25% bracket rises to 28%
- The 28% bracket rises to 31%
- The 33% bracket rises to 36%
- The 35% bracket rises to 39.6%

Higher taxes on marriage and family. The “marriage penalty” (narrower tax brackets for married couples) will return from the first dollar of income. The child tax credit will be cut in half from $1000 to $500 per child. The standard deduction will no longer be doubled for married couples relative to the single level. The dependent care and adoption tax credits will be cut.

The return of the Death Tax. This year, there is no death tax. For those dying on or after January 1 2011, there is a 55 percent top death tax rate on estates over $1 million. A person leaving behind two homes and a retirement account could easily pass along a death tax bill to their loved ones.  (I read this to The Lovely Steph Leann and she stared at me blankly, then said, "They are going to tax you... when you are dead?" to which I replied, "Oh no, they aren't taxing you, cause you are dead.  They are taxing what you leave behind, even though you've already paid taxes on it, for your loved ones to deal with.")

Higher tax rates on savers and investors. The capital gains tax will rise from 15 percent this year to 20 percent in 2011. The dividends tax will rise from 15 percent this year to 39.6 percent in 2011. These rates will rise another 3.8 percent in 2013.

Second Wave: Obamacare

There are over twenty new or higher taxes in Obamacare. Several will first go into effect on January 1, 2011. They include:

The “Medicine Cabinet Tax” Thanks to Obamacare, Americans will no longer be able to use health savings account (HSA), flexible spending account (FSA), or health reimbursement (HRA) pre-tax dollars to purchase non-prescription, over-the-counter medicines (except insulin).

The “Special Needs Kids Tax” This provision of Obamacare imposes a cap on flexible spending accounts (FSAs) of $2500 (Currently, there is no federal government limit). There is one group of FSA owners for whom this new cap will be particularly cruel and onerous: parents of special needs children. There are thousands of families with special needs children in the United States, and many of them use FSAs to pay for special needs education. Tuition rates at one leading school that teaches special needs children in Washington, D.C. (National Child Research Center) can easily exceed $14,000 per year. Under tax rules, FSA dollars can be used to pay for this type of special needs education.

The HSA Withdrawal Tax Hike. This provision of Obamacare increases the additional tax on non-medical early withdrawals from an HSA from 10 to 20 percent, disadvantaging them relative to IRAs and other tax-advantaged accounts, which remain at 10 percent.

(Sidebar... here's an article from the AP about Obamacare possibly leading to longer ER waits and overcrowding, and here's one from The Hill discussing the possibility that yes, Obamacare can turn away high risk, sick people... you know, those who cannot get insurance and are counting on Obamacare to save 'em)

Third Wave: The Alternative Minimum Tax and Employer Tax Hikes

When Americans prepare to file their tax returns in January of 2011, they’ll be in for a nasty surprise—the AMT won’t be held harmless, and many tax relief provisions will have expired. The major items include:

The AMT will ensnare over 28 million families, up from 4 million last year. According to the left-leaning Tax Policy Center, Congress’ failure to index the AMT will lead to an explosion of AMT taxpaying families—rising from 4 million last year to 28.5 million. These families will have to calculate their tax burdens twice, and pay taxes at the higher level. The AMT was created in 1969 to ensnare a handful of taxpayers.

Small business expensing will be slashed and 50% expensing will disappear. Small businesses can normally expense (rather than slowly-deduct, or “depreciate”) equipment purchases up to $250,000. This will be cut all the way down to $25,000. Larger businesses can expense half of their purchases of equipment. In January of 2011, all of it will have to be “depreciated.”

Taxes will be raised on all types of businesses. There are literally scores of tax hikes on business that will take place. The biggest is the loss of the “research and experimentation tax credit,” but there are many, many others. Combining high marginal tax rates with the loss of this tax relief will cost jobs.

Tax Benefits for Education and Teaching Reduced. The deduction for tuition and fees will not be available. Tax credits for education will be limited. Teachers will no longer be able to deduct classroom expenses. Coverdell Education Savings Accounts will be cut. Employer-provided educational assistance is curtailed. The student loan interest deduction will be disallowed for hundreds of thousands of families.

Charitable Contributions from IRAs no longer allowed. Under current law, a retired person with an IRA can contribute up to $100,000 per year directly to a charity from their IRA. This contribution also counts toward an annual “required minimum distribution.” This ability will no longer be there.

Original article found at American Tax Reform here.

This is where I step back in...

For those who feel that, darn it, people who are rich should just be taxed more, 'cause its their job to pay more, don't forget the cigerette tax that "Obama, who stopped smoking but has admitted he slips now and then, signed a law raising the tobacco tax nearly 62 cents on a pack of cigarettes, to $1.01. Other tobacco products saw similarly steep increases."  This would be my guess for a "tax on the poor"... I know many people who make over a million dollars, very few of them smoke.  I know a lot of people who don't make jack back in Samson, Alabama, and many of them--including my own dear Mama Dollar, do smoke. 

As someone who doesn't use a tanning bed, but has a friend who owns one, here's a great one for ya... a tanning tax?  Seriously? 

Oh, and one more thing... for those who fight for our country and lose limbs in the process, 54 Democrats decided to vote against a measure that would have exempted the military from a medical device tax, which taxes medical devices like prostetic limbs. 

For the record, I'm not absolving Dubya from anything... his administration, especially in the terrible second term, spent way overbudget, and didn't give He Who Must Not Be Re-Elected much to work with.  There, I admitted it.  But you know what?  I'd take his "tax cuts for the rich", which were actually tax cuts for everyone, the rich just saved more because they were taxed more, any day of the week over what we've got now.

So, how's that hopey changey thing working out for ya?