Archives for the month of: January, 2015

Oscars 2015

Welcome to Hollywood award season and don’t forget to take your anti-depressant.  The movie industry takes this time every year to embrace its narcissism by putting itself on glittering display so that it can admire, applaud and reward its efforts in entertaining the masses.

First there are The Golden Globes awarded by the Hollywood Foreign Press-people from other countries who write about the American film industry.  Then the Critics’ Choice shows its less critical side by lauding those they have scrutinized over the past year.  The SAG Award is probably the most enmeshed-an exclusive organization recognizing itself. Then there is the most exclusive club of all The Academy Of Arts and Sciences who award Oscars to those who are deemed worthy by a very narrow demographic of 94% white  .001 percenters- the Volturi (Self-proclaimed royalty of vampires-in case you aren’t a Twilight fan) of the film industry.

The curtain has come down on three of the four award shows with only the Oscars remaining. A few of the films are getting the majority of the “wins”. Birdman and Boyhood are the front runners in terms of the number of awards.  I have seen both of these movies as well as Cake (for which Jennifer Aniston has been nominated for Best Actress by all but one of the awards shows) and Imitation Game-the movie Benedict Cumberbatch has gotten nods for.

My response to these movies is a line from an Oscar winning movie of the 90’s As Good As It Gets:

“Some of us have great stories, pretty stories that take place at lakes with boats and friends and noodle salad. Just no one in this car. But, a lot of people, that’s their story. Good times, noodle salad. What makes it so hard is not that you had it bad, but that you’re that pissed that so many others had it good.”

The award winning stories this season are like the stories in that car-not very pretty, about people who had it pretty bad, and are pretty depressing.

Boyhood explores the struggles of growing up through the eyes of a boy.  He must endure an irresponsible father, two abusive step-fathers, and the struggles of bullying and peer pressure.  This is no fairy tale.

I should mention that Into The Woods-which I have also seen-is a fairy tale, and does provide some happier lighter fare in its story and has received some nominations. The Grand Budapest Hotel was also a happier story that got recognition.

Birdman and Cake explore mental illness-schizophrenia and depression from chronic pain and the struggle to avoid suicidal tendencies brought on by the illnesses.

The Imitation Game is the story of the father of the modern computer-a brilliant but troubled individual who is brought down by his sexual proclivity which was illegal during his lifetime.

I should say that this array of doom and gloom does not belay the true variety and scope of the offerings for the year.  Those movies not recognized, but fully entertaining and uplifting include Guardians of the Galaxy, The Hobbit-Battle For Middle Earth, X-Men Days of Future Past, Captain America-The Winter Soldier, Thor the Dark World  etc.

The irony is that the movies that made the most money were excluded from the awards.  It is almost as if the awards are a consolation prize for movies that were not rewarded financially by the general public in the form of ticket sales.

“Ahead of nominations, the eight movies nominated for Best Picture had earned a combined $203.1 million. That’s the lowest total since the Academy expanded the field beyond five nominees—and by a large margin, too. The previous low was 2011, when the movies had earned a combined $519 million ahead of nominations.” (Box Office Mojo ) American Sniper did improve these numbers scoring over  $200 million  since its release although it had only earned $3.3 million prior to its nomination.

The high sales for the frothier more escapist fantasies are indicative of what America really wants in entertainment. Hunger Games was the biggest grossing film of the year-not completely cheerful, but definitely a break from dreary realism.

This fact reminds me of a line from another 90’s film Jerry McGuire:

“We live in a cynical world, a cynical, cynical world…..” and with all the misery, wars, and suffering in the world, we just want some Hollywood movie magic to make it all go away for a few hours.  Somehow, that  just may give us the courage to keep living.

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I am beginning to think that certain so called “Libertarian” women who boast the label of “Libertarian” Girl, Chick, etc are really plants by the Republican-Democrat duopoly to undermine the credibility of the Libertarian Party.  They are more caricatures than real women, who use their sexuality to gain followers rather than their pseudo-intellect. Their pictures purport them to be call girls not serious journalists or politicos. Their inane opinions and shallow interpretations of government are more of an embarrassment than an asset to the name “Libertarian”.

Furthermore-their “libertarianism” never truly supports or promotes the Libertarian Party and its candidates.  They promote the so-called “libertarian” candidates, and officer holders who function as members of the Republican Party. To this accusation, they respond that “Libertarian” is a philosophy.  My question is, if that philosophy is so fundamental to who they are, why are they not supporting the party that most fully embraces that philosophy and bears the label as well?

The latest blow to the true Libertarian Party is the hiring of one of these female Libertarian icons by a certain potential Republican presidential candidate as his new media relations guru.   I am not certain whose credibility is taking a bigger hit- the candidate or the Libertarian Party.  If this is an attempt to gain the millennial vote, surely there is a better representative of that generation that could actually be taken seriously. The libertarian views of this female are certainly not in line with the Libertarian Party.

My recommendation to these women is change your label to the one that really fits Neo-Con Republican and leave “Libertarian” to those that really know what it means.

Laws lead to control not freedom As a libertarian, I am vehemently opposed to government control of my life.  I wrote about how the Affordable Care Act was a violation of our Constitutional rights in my book Blessed Are They That Hunger a full 2 years before it was implemented.  I discussed just two aspects of the law that would hamper our freedom as Americans.  The fact that the government would make it illegal to be uninsured and the fact that religious organizations would be forced to provide birth control in violation of the tenets of their faith were clear violations of our religious and personal freedoms as protected by the Constitution. Since its implementation both of these issues have been bandied about by the media and there have been a multitude of court cases brought on by religious based organizations and corporations refusing to comply with the law. There are more insidious ramifications of the ACA-like appointed committees determining who will receive certain procedures-(or as they have been termed “death squads”) that have not even come to light yet, but will as the “roll out” continues. Because of these issues, I opted to avoid the “exchange” when my insurance was cancelled because it did not meet the ACA requirements. I opted to “keep my Insurance” and stay out of the ACA exchange in my state.  This meant paying more than double the premium for a plan that would give me comparable coverage that would allow me to “keep my doctor”. I bit the bullet and tightened my belt to accommodate the large insurance premium that I was forced to pay.  Everything was fine, until I had an auto accident in July and had to shell out a $500 deductible for my car.  The budget just couldn’t handle that plus my nearly $500 per month health insurance premium.  I got behind and was one day late on paying my premium. (I was not one day late really, I paid it on the due date, but they applied it a day later and my insurance was cancelled.) Once it was cancelled, I could not re-enroll until November, for insurance that would not be effective until January 2015.  So now, thanks to the ACA, I- a person who was insured before the ACA -was suddenly, uninsured.  Hey, wait a minute- wasn’t Obamacare supposed to get more people insured? The only option left for me, other than wait out the months until I could re-enroll was to get on a medical program designed for Christians who want to opt out of the ACA on moral grounds.  It was about $150 per month less than I was paying with my previous coverage.  It did not include free preventative care and I was due for my annual check up to renew my prescription meds, so once again I was paying more out of pocket.  There is nothing affordable about the Affordable Care Act for me. After the findings from my annual exam, my doctor wanted me to see three different specialists.  Since my new insurance is really more for catastrophic coverage, that meant more expenses for me.  I could imagine the bills piling up. I was afraid if I went back to my old plan I would end up uninsured again because of the exorbitant premiums and my current plan wasn’t cutting it so finally, despite my apprehensions, I had to apply for coverage under the exchange. Because of the deductions in my business, my taxable income put me in a subsidized coverage.  Now I am totally at the mercy of the US government thanks to the ACA. I have been put in the position to be a dependent of the State when I was perfectly able to take care of my own insurance before the ACA mucked everything up. It seems that this law is really meant to force Americans into a socialized health care system whether they want to or not because only the wealthy can afford to be out of the system.  This makes us under government control in the most vulnerable part of our life-our physical health and wellbeing.  If it was a benevolent government concerned with the best for its people, that would be ok, however it is becoming increasingly clear as each of our freedoms gets taken away from this administration (as well as our privacy) that this is not a government that we can entrust our very lives to.  Grrrrrr!

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I blogged a few days ago about my wonderful vacation to France over Christmas. In my 10 day journey around the beautiful country, I fell in love.  I fell in love with a country with a proud heritage and a powerful history that is beautifully preserved in its monuments and architecture. In a world bent on advancing and evolving in technology, France prefers to remain in the past.  A journey around France is like a journey back in time.  It is like stepping into a fairy tale, filled with castles and chateaus, and cottages.  Every village and district lies in the shadow of a fabulous stained glass cathedral.  As we drove the countryside I imagined royal hunts, and carriages traveling from village to village. I could almost see the French tales of Cinderella, and Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast come to life in the patches of woods.

I fell in love with the food.  Every meal was carefully prepared and beautifully presented.  There is a pride in French cuisine that infuses every meal from the elegant 5 star hotel to the corner bistro.  The quality of the meats and the produce is superior and the preparation superb.  The wines had layers of scents and flavors, the breads were always fresh with a delicate crunchy crust, the pastries were layered with buttery goodness, the cakes were delicate in flavor and appearance, and the cookies were light as air. The chocolate-oh the chocolate-rich and dark or creamy and milky not too sweet covering caramels and fruits and filling delicate pastries and flavoring delicate buttercreams.

But most of all, I fell in love with the people.  They have a refinement-from the elegant elderly couple across from us in the train, to the little children dancing with joy before the animated Christmas windows, and the uniformed students swarming to class, and the business executives enjoying a leisurely lunch in a café near the Champs Elysees.  They took time for each other.  They met for coffee before work, they stood outside the university to chat. They took time to enjoy their meals, and met for wine after work.

They were patient and kind, to a foreigner who insisted on persisting to speak to them in less than perfect French although they detected the American accent and answered in English.  They took time to give detailed directions and make recommendations of places to go and things to see.  They even took time to stop and help you maneuver your luggage up and down the maze of stairs in the Metro station and lead you to your destination. One special family even opened their hearts and their home and shared the beauty of the Basque country.

Because of my love, the horrific events of today have left me heartbroken.  This world of beauty was shattered by the evil that men do.

My love, however, grew stronger as I saw the French stand together by the thousands to protest the violence and refuse to be intimidated by those who would do evil.  Vive La France. Vive L’Amour. Vive Liberte.

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My third day in Paris meant a to move to our second location-a small studio apartment in Montmartre.  Our dilemma was how to economically get there.  As we headed out for breakfast we asked one of our neighbors where the closest Metro station was. He directed us to the end of the block and then to the right, where the Metro station was located on a traffic island in the middle of the large Boulevard.

After checking it out and making sure it was the right Metro line we found a small bistro to grab breakfast since our favorite patisserie assured us that there would be no quiche until noon. We were thrilled to find out that it served eggs although it was before 8am unlike the other restaurants.  We ordered ham and cheese omelets and café au lait and also enjoyed our pastries from the patisserie.

My friend could not believe that in France everyone has their coffee at the coffee bar in a real cup-not  paper- that they carry with them.  There is definitely a different pace of life and an appreciation for socializing not just grabbing a cup of Joe on the run.

After packing up, we headed back to the Boulevard and down the stairs of the Metro station.  One of the challenges we faced was the fact that the Metro in Paris has lots of stairs and little to no escalators or elevators.  This was a challenge because we had to haul our luggage up and down the stairs.  We knew that at the Montmartre station there was an elevator because it is the deepest station in Paris. I packed light so my luggage was easily managed, however, my friend’s bag was not so easy.  We did get some assistance from some very kind Parisiens.  By the way, American-hating French must be some kind of urban legend.  I don’t know if it was because I was able to communicate a bit in French or what exactly, but we found the French people very kind and helpful in nearly every encounter.

We arrived a bit early for our appointed meeting with our air bnb host so enjoyed some café au lait  at a bistro and then a fabulous French Onion soup at a corner pub. Meandering our way up the steep cobbled streets of Montmartre we finally arrived at our abode for the evening.  A new challenge presented itself as there was a narrow winding staircase that we had to tackle to get down to the petite pied de terre apartment. It was close but my friend was able to maneuver the large suitcase.

The apartment was tiny, but clean and had everything we needed including wifi.  We headed for the top of Montmartre to see the Sacre Coeur Cathedral.  We were told to keep climbing and when we couldn’t climb any more we would see it.  The village at the top was filled with bistros and shops and a cobbled square where on a warm, sunny day you could see artists at their easels painting the beautiful scenery. Since it was neither warm nor sunny but drizzling grey and rainy, there were only a few hearty souls creating their works of art.

We found our way to St. Peter’s church but although we were at the top I couldn’t see the Sacre Coeur.  I asked someone where it was as we meandered down yet another cobbled street and was directed to my left where a hard to miss ominous structure loomed.

There were more steps to climb to reach the beautiful cathedral.  As with all of the churches I saw on the trip, this was beautifully decorated for Christmas.  There is a holy hush that envelopes you as you enter these monuments to Christianity.

We went from the sacred to the tainted as we hopped a cab to The Moulin Rouge located on a beautiful tree-lined boulevard at the foot of Montmartre.  We tried to peek in but there was no show going on til the evening and for a pretty steep price.  We did enjoy the colorful wall mural depicting the debauchery of the Moulin Rouge.

We walked back up the hill and decided to get a carry out dinner from an epicerie fine.  We selected half of a roasted chicken, scalloped potatoes, green beans and a large slice of citrus cake.  Then we stopped in the corner grocery store for a small bottle of red wine. It was a delicious meal!

The next morning the challenge of the large body bag (my friend’s luggage) meant hauling it up the narrow spiral staircase then maneuvering it up and down more Metro station stairs on our way to the Opera district.  Once again a few kind Parisians offered assistance.  I even got an assist for my small bag.

When we reached the Metro stop and I asked the other passengers if it was the right stop, apparently I was overheard and as we stepped off the train a beautiful woman said “Follow me”. She led us through the maze of a Metro station delayed by luggage hauling and even walked us the few blocks to the street where our hotel was located. Once on the street, we still had several blocks to cover before finally reaching our destination.

It was too early to check in, so we left our luggage with the bellman (thankfully) to explore the beautiful district.  It was a great shopping district beautifully decorated for Christmas.  My friend was in search of a Dr.Pepper so we entered the local McDonalds.  After 5 days in France one whiff and I had to give in to my American impulse.  My friend could not handle the throngs of people jamming the American eatery (all French I might add) so I enjoyed my fromage royale alone.  I watched the European Union meeting on the TV and listened to Vladimir Putin being dubbed in French while the Parisians chatted around me.

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We did some shopping and enjoyed the beautifully decorated windows with various festive scenes.  We got back to the hotel at check in time and enjoyed the luxury of the Ambassador Marriott.  We had an early dinner of a light seafood ravioli appetizer and chestnut soup in the hotel restaurant and then waited for our traveling companions to arrive from the U.S.

Then we hung out with them back in the lobby while they had their late dinner.

I was thrilled that there was a large bathtub in my room where I could take a long soak.  The next day we got a quick breakfast from a carry out restaurant and selected some food for the train ride.  We caught a cab to the train station and headed for Basque country on a 6 hour train ride.  To be continued….