Charlie's Books

Charlie's Books
Buon Giorno, Amici!

Our motto ...

Leave the (political) party. Take the cannoli.

"It always seems impossible until it's done." Nelson Mandela

Right now 6 Stella crime novels are available on Kindle for just $.99 ... Eddie's World has been reprinted and is also available from Stark House Press (Gat Books).

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Me and Momma Stella … More Foreign Flicks … Last Rants ... Happy New Year … Back to School …

Momma Stella … last night I reminded Momma Stella that her Sonny Boy is heading back to school next week … so she should be a good girl while I’m away … the Principessa Ann Marie and I brought eye-talian pastries to her room to celebrate her birthday the other day … and then the fun started.
MS: (upon seeing me with a big box) What the hell’d you bring now?
Me: Your birthday cake.
MS: I told you no more cake. (after I pull off the cover) Oh, my God. What the hell am I gonna do what all that cake?
Me: They’re pastries, Ma.
MS: (at me) Never mind. (at Annie) Oh, Annie, that’s too much, honey. I can’t eat all that. (she takes a cream puff).
Me: That’s a start.
MS: What?
Me: (hands her another pastry). Here, keep yourself busy.
MS: (at Annie) How do you put up with him?
Annie: It isn’t easy, Hope.
Me: (goes to hand her another pastry) Here, try this one.
MS: Hey, shithead, enough now. (I start laughing and can’t stop)
Annie: Ignore him, Hope.
MS: I’ll kick his ass.
Me: (hands her another pastry) This one is good, too.
MS: (bites her hand) Son-of-a-bitch. (looks up at the ceiling) Help him, Lord. Please.
Me: Never mind me, the Bills play the Jets Sunday.
MS: Screw the Bills.
Me: Is that nice?
MS: Yes, they stink. I don’t care. (finishes the first pastry and starts on another one) Mmm, Annie, delicious. You have to take them home, though, please. I can’t eat all this.
Me: Come on, Ma. I took bets you’d kill an even dozen before we leave.
MS: Go shit in your hat.
Me: Hey, don’t forget I’m going back to school next week.
MS: (at Annie) What he do now?
Annie: No, Hope, he means college. The real thing. College school.
MS: (at me) For how long?
Me: Nervous now, huh?
MS: Moron, when are you leaving?
Me: Thursday morning and I’m not back until the 9th, so don’t get in any trouble. Don’t start anything with your roommate.
MS: The hell do I start? She’s the bitch.
Me: Just be nice. Give her some pastries.
MS: I’ll flush them down the toilet first.
Me: Where is she anyway?
MS: (points to the bathroom). Ah, where else?
Me: (raising eyebrows) What she doing in there?
MS: The hell do I know? (I keep fluttering my eyebrows) You’re sick, you know that?
Me: (stops with the eyebrows and points at her) Promise you won’t get in trouble while I’m away.
MS: (at the ceiling) Oh, Jesus, make him go, please.
Me: He is, next week.
MS: What?
Me: I’m going away. Jesus answered your prayers.
MS: Now that’s enough. (at Annie) I swear I don’t know what I did wrong.
Me: Wine, Ma. You guzzled when you were pregnant with me.
MS: Yeah, right. Your sister’s ass I guzzled.  I spoiled you rotten.
Annie: Yes, you did, Hope.
Me: That’s what Poppa Tommy said, you guzzled while carrying me.
MS: That son-of-a-bitch.
Me: My poor father.
MS: Okay, time to go. Coppa Fresca (clear head).
Annie: Don’t let him get to you, Hope. He likes breaking your shoes.
MS: I’ll break his head, the dopey bastid.
Me: (takes another pastry from the box and hands it to her) Here, Ma, eat something.
MS: (takes a bite) How’s that? Now, go shit in your hat.
I love my Mommy!
Foreign Flicks … Agnes and his brothers … A German flick that slowly but surely and intriguingly reveals itself. Dark and imaginative, this one deals with the plight of siblings raised by a sexually abusive father. It will have you pulling for a peeping Tom before its conclusion. Not to worry, amici, Netflix provides English subtitles.
What You Don’t See … another Deutsche flick and even darker than Agnes above … I was pissed off when a certain incident occurs in the flick, but not at the movie (just the action) … the movie becomes a bit tough to watch and because of that I stayed with it, but was disappointed at the conclusion.
Timeout … this French flick was terrific … Mesmerizing from start to finish. You’ll anticipate a disaster throughout while believing everything you see. The complete implosion of a man fighting himself. Great movie, amici.
Last Rants (or what I’d really like to see in 2013) ...
First: There’s a rumor that my beloved New York State Buffalo Bills are going to be sold to former Bills and Hall of Famers, Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas ... that Bill Polian is coming back and Bill Cower will be the new coach. Talk about fantasy football ... I’ll settle for them reaching deep into their wallets and hiring a great coach rather than the constant stream of NFL leftovers ...
Second: I’d like for all the passionate Democrats out there who claim they’re “liberal” to stop kissing Obama’s ass as if he’s actually done something worthy of blind faith ass-kissing. Instead of pointing to how screwed up Republicans are, try and remember the election is over, Obama won, and now it’s time to put some pressure on him for sticking with Bush polices (often times going above and beyond Bush). A couple of weeks ago he let HSBC off the hook for RICO statute violations worthy of 10 years imprisonment, except nobody will be prosecuted (just like the Wall Street fiasco). The way he ignored workers when he bailed out Wall Street (allowing CEO’s to reward themselves with record bonuses for bankrupting their companies while permitting the same banks to continue outsourcing what are considered middleclass jobs), excused Citibank of $38 billion in taxes afterward, abandoned the Wisconsin municipal workers union, ramped up Afghanistan during his first term, and engaged in drone wars that kill far more innocents than guilty, etc. ... that first term record earned him a Bush III moniker by many more than myself. The way he’s started his second term, supposedly having nothing to lose, by excusing HSBC officials for money laundering to drug cartels, smells to me like Bush IV.
So how about focusing on putting some pressure on the guy in office rather than ghosts in the rearview mirror?
Third: Workers of America unite behind an alternative to the two main political parties. Let’s start with support for the Green party and shake the other two out of their trees. The joke they’ve been playing on workers has gone on more than long enough.
Happy New Year to all a’yous!
Back to School … next week the ugly Knuckster returns to school for the start of his final semester in the Southern New Hampshire University MFA program. The bestest thing about this trip is it won’t be to Shutter Island. Instead we’ll be luxuriating at this joint (below)—the Mountain View Grand (where the other day they had blizzard conditions). This place is about as nice as it gets … even The Shining-like hallways are much appreciated after sleeping in the 16th century prison cells on Shutter. Bathrooms with running water, toilets and showers … cable television … room service … forgetaboutit, a beautiful thing.
There will be a graduation ceremony at the Grand and as is TK’s tradition after such events, we’ll be featuring the graduates and their works in the new year posts.
So, until next year, amici … stay HEALTHY … stay SAFE … and have a GREAT NEW YEAR.
A little Bernstein conducting Mahler’s 1st to ring in 2013 ...

Friday, December 21, 2012

Condolences for Newton ... A French Film Cracks TK’s Top 10 … a Very Good Canadian Indie … Happy Holidays a tutti!

Originally, I was going to add my two cents to the horrific shootings in Newton, Connecticut, but what the hell else is left to say? Our heartfelt condolences go out to all the victims’ families and friends.
As for the gun control controversy, we’ll deal with that in another post ... or not. TK will post a tribute to a dear friend in next week’s post, but for now let’s focus on the upcoming holiday season and two films worth taking a look at before the end of this year.
Polisse ... never mind what I have to say about this film, here are some reviews:
IFC Films: Winner of the Jury Prize at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and nominated for 13 César Awards, POLISSE follows the daily lives of a tight-knit team of men and women working in the Child Protection Unit of the Parisian police. Basing her richly textured script on real child investigation cases, writer- director/actor Maïwenn has gathered an accomplished ensemble cast of French actors who convey the emotional strain of the unit's work with gritty realism. They not only deal with the stress of their jobs but the inevitable fall-out in their personal lives - breakdowns, divorce and adulterous relations within the force. In between, there are frequent flashes of humor as the team attempts to diffuse daily realities. As the cases, confessions and interrogations pile up, the squad members have only each other as support as they face an uphill battle against both criminals and bureaucracy."
ASTONISHING. What makes it such a singular experience is the convergence of fine acting, moral urgency and a willingness to linger on moments of great intensity." — Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal
"WORKS LIKE GANGBUSTERS, if this were a TV series, I'd gladly return each week. Maïwenn has found a way to touch on her country's issues regarding race, gender, the vulnerability of children and how the law works (or doesn't) in a way that's entertaining and accessible. There's such a wonderful dynamic that Maïwenn sets up among these performers that you get to know them intimately in a mere two hours, yet want to spend more time with them." — David Fear, Time Out New York
"POLISSE delivers the same absorbing, sprawling narrative as a good prime-time cop drama, delving into the lives of its tough, compassionate protagonists with a bracing combination of moral outrage and breathtaking hilarity. As unthinkable as it sounds that a film about the exploitation of children could make filmgoers cry and laugh, Maïwenn has threaded that needle with surprising, altogether winning aplomb." — Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post
"THRILLING... I felt the movie's energy bond itself to mine. I wanted to go wherever Maïwenn wanted to take me. Her filmmaking paces and perceives the way Frederick Wiseman's does. Her transparency simulates his. It's as if she's taken one of his documentaries about systems and their discontents and added Sidney Lumet's grit, naturalism, and fireworks." — Wesley Morris, The Boston Globe
Polisse cracked my top ten all time list so that’s all yous need to know from me.
More on the director and the film here: wiki ...
Take This Waltz … an interesting movie that intrigued me from start to finish, even with some uncomfortable moments along the way. A terrific cast that includes Michelle Williams, Seth Rogan, Luke Kirby and Sarah Silverman—all wonderful. Margot (Williams) seems very happily married to Lou (Rogan). The marriage is five years old when Margot feels something is lacking. A man (Kirby) she’s met on a business trip has intrigued her ... and when it turns out he’s living very nearby, chemistry takes over. (Geraldine) Sarah Silverman, a recovering alcoholic, is Lou’s sister, and she proves a wonderful foil for everything, including the movie’s theme. The circle Margot seems to complete by the movie’s end is refreshing, although a bit uncomfortable along the way. I’d place this one above Spielberg’s Lincoln by leaps and bounds ... leaps and bounds, amici.
Happy Holidays to all a’yous!
The Stella Famiglia ... the Principessa Ann Marie, the ugly Knuckster and Rigoletto (the wonder dog) Stella.
We’ll let Dino bring it home ...

And one more ...

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Stark House Christmas ... One More Bailout (HSBC) … Two Foreign Flicks …

Stark House Press is running Holiday Specials that can be found right here … Load up now and stuff those stockings, amici. These are some of the best noir classics to be found ... and the book covers aren’t so bad either. Click on this link for all the details:
Who’s Stark House? Stark House is one of the few publishers publishing classic crime fiction with a Mob twist ... and they’ll be publishing one of my very favorite Mob writers on the planet, Dana King. His Grind Joint is another of his Penns River novels. The Allegheny Casino is sold to the people of Penns River as the answer to their financial problems. When a local drug dealer’s corpse is dropped at the casino’s front door a few days before opening, Detective Ben Dougherty is pressured from both inside and outside the department to close the case quickly. Matters are complicated when Russian gangsters—in town to capitalize on the ancillary casino businesses the Chamber of Commerce never mentions—try to muscle the existing mob boss out of the picture. Dougherty, helped by his cousin—a private investigator from visiting from Chicago with a few issues of his own—is caught between solving the murder and avoiding a mob war the small town is ill-equipped to handle.
HSBC … "HSBC is being held accountable for stunning failures of oversight — and worse — that led the bank to permit narcotics traffickers and others to launder millions of dollars through HSBC subsidiaries, and to facilitate hundreds of millions more in transactions with sanctioned countries," said U.S. Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer in announcing the largest settlement of its kind.
Deferred Prosecution Agreement ... The settlement, part of a deferred prosecution agreement filed in Brooklyn federal court, means HSBC Avoids A Criminal Conviction On Money Laundering And Other Major Charges — which could have amounted to a financial death sentence by blocking the bank's access to the U.S. banking system. The settlement, part of a deferred prosecution agreement filed in Brooklyn federal court, means HSBC avoids a criminal conviction on money laundering and other major charges — which could have amounted to a financial death sentence by blocking the bank's access to the U.S. banking system.
Bottom line, amici: NOBODY IS GOING TO BE PROSECUTED. Money Laundering at this level is a clear violation of federal RICO statutes used to prosecute associates of organized crime of every ilk (the Mob, drug dealers, drug Cartels, sex traffickers, gun runners, people traffickers, etc., hell, they even used it to go after the Catholic Church over hiding sexual predators), but one has to wonder how dealing with drug cartels in this instance somehow eludes that particular nexus. Or maybe HSBC is too big to fail, too?
I’ll tell you this much. You or I do it (money laundering) and we’ll go away. Somehow, however, the champion of the middle class has found an excuse to let money laundering on the largest scale possible, slip through the cracks. This is one more absolute smack in the face to every working slob in America; one more incredible wheel and deal for the Obama administration to count on a media that will ignore this the same way it ignored his leaving unions out to die throughout his campaign. Way to go, Mr. President … we’re not even officially into your second term and you’ve managed to make fools of us all once again.
I’d love to know how Mitt Romney, George Bush, Newt Gingrich, et al would’ve handled this any different. Chances are they wouldn’t have, and isn’t that rewarding to know? Obama in his second term is going to be no different than he was in his first term; another puppet of wall street and/or as incompetent as they come. Tell us again how your administration is working for the middle class, Mr. President. Tell us again about how tough you’re going to be on the banks on Wall Street that caused the fiscal meltdown four years ago.
People were passionate about the Democratic Party’s nominee ... and now he’s proved, once again, he’s no different (certainly no better) than his predecessor. The time has long come for blind faith democratic supporters to wake up already. Does it really make a different which party is in the white house when a so-called “champion of the middle class” like Obama pulls shit like this?
Not to fear, amici ... he’s sure to do a Christmas tree lighting ceremony soon. He’ll have his family around him, the dog and some Christmas music ... and he’ll smile and tell us how much he wishes us all a happy holiday season. He’d give out gifts, but the one he just gave to HSBC probably bankrupted his conscience.
Green Party from here in ... go Green!
Some Foreign Flicks ...
Reading the Complete Stories of Bernard Malamud ... ah, Brooklyn... just wonderful.
— Knucks
Mahler’s Second ... Resurrection ... Gustavo Dudamel conducting probably the most attractive orchestra in the world ...

Saturday, December 8, 2012

David Brubeck ... Uncle Rick Santorum … Photos-R-Them … Drummers Galore … Swing baby, swing ...


1966 in Germany Dave Brubeck - piano Paul Desmond - alto sax Eugene Wright - bass Joe Morello - drums.

Brubeck was a great advocate of progressive jazz. His most famous piece, Take Five, was a 5/4 time signature that once heard, remained in our heads forever. Brubeck didn’t stop at 5/4 ... he used 6/4, 7/4, 13/4 and in another of his most famous, Blue Rondo à la Turk, Brubeck employed 9/8. Last year his Christmas album (A Dave Brubeck Christmas) was suggested to me and there’s some wonderful music on it.

Check out the New York Times article on Brubeck here.

All I know is trying to adjust an ingrained 4/4 signature to Take Five’s 5/4 was about the most frustrating exercise in the world ... and when I don’t do it twenty or thirty times in a row, it’s like starting all over when I give it another try. The drum tabs stare me in the face and I’ll be damned, but my right foot usually refuses to ignore 5 ... not so easy, amici ... not so easy at all.
Gail Collins on Rick Santorum … Lately, he’s been on a crusade against a dangerous attempt by the United Nations to help disabled people around the world. This week, he won! The Senate refused to ratify a U.N. treaty on the subject. The vote, which fell five short of the necessary two-thirds majority, came right after 89-year-old Bob Dole, the former Republican leader and disabled war veteran, was wheeled into the chamber to urge passage.
“We did it,” Santorum tweeted in triumph.
Well, it doesn’t get any better than that.
New York Post headlines … they’re either funny or offensive. This past week a photographer caught some poor guy who’d been pushed onto subway tracks scrambling to get up on the platform as a train roared into the station. Reportedly, there were several people who watched instead of helping the guy … all while the photographer took the time to get the shot seen round the world. We won’t post it here because it really is offensive. Whether the photographer saw dollar signs in the poor man’s dilemma or not is up for debate, but one has to wonder how he could sell the shot (which he did) and not donate ALL the money to the victim’s family.
Drummers Galore … Speaking of David Brubeck, one of his long-time drummers, Joe Morello, passed last year (2011). Morello was one of the smoothest drummers of all time. Even in his later years, after dropping the sticks in this Conan O’Brien feature, he could outplay most drummers in the world.
Morello’s solo after Brubeck is pretty amazing ... watch how he adjusts his base while playing with one hand ...
Even when he was up there in age, Morello could still swing ...
Speaking of drummers … how ‘bout Gene Krupa!
Somebody say Buddy Rich …
How ‘bout the both of them:
And then there’s my favorite, Peter Erskine …
The Devil and Ginger Baker … speaking of great drummers (although I wouldn’t put him in a class with the guys above (not by a longshot), Ginger Baker was the best the rock world had to offer, (even if he hated being considered a rock drummer), but probably because he was a jazz drummer first. Jazz was his roots and he returned to them later in life. I still can’t wait to see this documentary on him (by a guy from Brooklyn) … Read the Rolling Stone article here.
Swing baby, swing ...
For my daughter, from Buck Privates ... three generations of Stella love this one ... the Andrew sisters ...

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Black and White vs. Gray: When rational thought distorts reality to the point of being irrational ...

Fair warning: This one might bore yous to tears ...
Last week I was involved in a heated debate with a group of ultra conservatives over the Lincoln movie. A conservative anarchist and Ayn Rand faithful in the crowd insisted “he (Lincoln) hated blacks.” While it may well have been a possibility that Lincoln felt that way about blacks, I doubted his conclusion based on Lincoln’s ultimate actions/accomplishments. A number of quotes from a book (The Real Lincoln) were hurled my way. Some of them I’d heard before, others I hadn’t, but I refused to acknowledge them as FACTS anymore than the favorable quotes about Lincoln I could hurl back, again pointing to what IN FACT Lincoln did in favor of an enslaved people (whether one believes he hated them or not).
For the record, I do not believe he hated blacks, but I do not know that to be factually true or false. What I do know to be factually true is his ultimate pursuit to end slavery, something a person who “hated blacks” probably wouldn’t have cared to entertain, never mind at the expense of his life. For even if his ultimate goal was to save the union first and foremost, his emancipation proclamation and insistence on pursuing the 13th Amendment, for whatever other reasons, certainly benefited blacks, especially those in the south.
I think SOME conservative anarchists and certainly SOME Ayn Randers will hurl words like “hate” and “despotic” and “usurper of rights,” etc., by the mere fact they abhor government in general. Thus, they are SOMETIMES blinded by the good it (government) can and often does, but that’s another argument for another day.
The Lincoln argument could have gone on forever and nearly did. It turned ugly and I had no problem getting ugly myself, but that’s what happens when people are passionate about their politics. It certainly wasn’t the first time. One pseudo named person took the lead in arguing that Lincoln “hated blacks”. For a site dedicated to freedom and liberty, there are very few there who use their actual names. They claim it is from fear of retribution at the workplace and other areas of their lives.
Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?
It’s like Ra-eee-ain on your wedding day ...
The Lincoln argument wasn’t a debate against a pseudo named conservative anarchist and/or an Ayn Rander. It was an argument that posed black and white versus gray; rational thought that precludes shades of gray versus a more inclusive thought process. The always right crowd vs. the I wouldn’t be so sure you’re right crowd.
More often than not, I find discourse with those stuck on “rational thought” more frustrating than being a Buffalo Bills fan. Aside from the hubris such individuals bring to the table, usually because they believe (and I do believe they honestly believe this), their logical/rational thought outweighs any arguments to the contrary, they are blinded by the very narrow world view rational thought often dictates.
When rational thought is completely dependent on assumptions, quite often absurd assumptions, a black and white worldview severely hampers any possibility to see a bigger picture. Tunnel vision precludes gray areas and/or mitigating circumstances; it is either this or it is that, and nothing between or outside; a brick is a brick and not a caboose.
If only the world and all that goes on in it were so simplistic.
In an article titled Target: Old White Men, by Selwyn Duke, I found this sentence factually true, yet absurd: We might also note that while old white men probably weren’t the first to practice slavery, they were the first to eliminate it.
Factually true, yet absurd? What kind of reasoning is that? There is no way it can be both; it is either one or the other, the rational thought crowd insisted.
To wit: This is allowing your “feeling” side to overwhelm your Factual thinking side.
And/or: You claim the statement is factually true and at the same time absurd. How do you rectify that in your mind. Absurd is, quite literally, almost the complete opposite of factually true. Absurd means without relation to reality. Something without relation to reality cannot, by definition, be factually true.
What the Duke statement implies (factually), however, is that “white men” were the first to eliminate it (slavery), somehow bestowing on white men in general (since it is such a HUGE generalization) the benevolent action of “ending slavery.”
Factually true? Really?
If I’m not mistaken (and I’m not, although these figures are approximates), there were 72,524 killed in action, 260,000 total dead and another 137,000+ wounded, southerners all; men who fought to maintain slave states (and thus slavery).
Were they not white? Or don’t they count?
One would have to believe (and not assume) that those statistics alone would necessitate an editing of the Duke generalization to read: We might also note that while old white men probably weren’t the first to practice slavery, “SOME WHITE MEN were the first to eliminate it.”
Let’s count that as chink number ONE in the rational thought armor.
Number TWO is self-evident (although trying to get the rational thought crowd to acknowledge it can be as difficult as pissing into a hurricane). I say: If it was white men who put a race into slavery, how can they be credited with ending such slavery?
Applying the generalization inherent to the Duke quote (“We might also note that while old white men probably weren’t the first to practice slavery, THEY (i.e., ALL WHITE MEN) were the first to eliminate it (SLAVERY).”), slavery is akin to a criminal act where, say, a rapist kidnaps a victim, repeatedly abuses them (sexually or otherwise), and then lets them go.
Is the rapist then the savior of the victim (by the mere fact he/she let the victim go)?
Of course not. And therefore the Duke generalization/statement is as absurd as some part of it is factually true. Getting the rational thought crowd to a) admit they backed the wrong horse and/or b) to admit they were at the least PARTLY WRONG, is pretty much an impossibility.
The fact they are often adamant about the virtue of their “rational reasoning” is scary; there is no room for outside argument, mitigating circumstances, or anything other than their assumptions. They believe the counterarguments to the Duke statement above to be VERY WRONG.
Later another “rational argument” was brought to the same conversation, suggesting there were still slaves in the north, even though slavery had been abolished in the northern states, and therefore, ASSUMING the premise true, the civil war could not have been fought over slavery; that if the north could tolerate slavery within its own borders, how could slavery have been an issue regarding the south?
Turning the absurdity of that assumption around, one might respond: So, therefore, if there were southerners opposed to slavery (and there were), none in the south could have been fighting to maintain slave states ... and we know that at least SOME (and probably many), southerners did fight to maintain slavery.
One has to wonder how the rational thought crowd can maintain they are so right and everyone else is so wrong all of the time. The truth of the matter is they do, especially when they are reinforced with the camaraderie of their own ilk (for there is strength in numbers). The fact they will hold to it no matter how foolish their arguments are is a testament to how limited their thought process is; restricting thought to a blindness they can never acknowledge, whereby reality is turned on its head and serves no purpose; for reality is full of mitigating circumstances, the undeniable gray areas inherent to life.
This is not to say all or any rational thought should be dismissed, but that it should be, must be, weighed against all the factors leading to conclusions. Nothing can be dismissed because it doesn’t fit into a narrow worldview. The world, life in general, is too complicated to deduce one way or another in so simplistic a manner.
The more I wondered how they rectify that in their minds, to borrow a phrase, the more clear this became: For the rational thought crowd to admit they are wrong is a defeat of their entire Raison d'être.

So cling to their infallibility they will, I suspect, because nobody wants to admit they’re living a lie.

All things Alanis, amici ... all things Alanis ...

Friday, November 30, 2012

Brooklyn Nets ... Alex Smith v. Colin who? ... Beware of Mr. Baker ... Alanis Morissette ... Moonachie Green fans … Blackout in Buffalo ... Sarge’s Rocks!

My sons declared us Brooklyn Nets fans, abandoning our love of the Knicks for our new home team. This wasn’t an easy decision, amici. Sports loom large at casa Stella. Come to think of it, so does Stella loom large at casa Stella (although I’m sticking to the weight watcher point system for at least another few hours this weekend). To Nets or not to Nets, that was the question ... and even though I was born in Manhattan (I’m a shattered, shadoobie), the boys and the girl were all three born in God’s country (Brooklyn, U.S.A.). So, since they had NO SAY as to which football team they would consider the “home team” (my beloved New York State Buffalo Bills were DNA’ed, so to speak, to the Stella brats), I felt it only fair to yield to the youth of the program. So, Let’s Go Nets … even when they play the Knicks …
Brooklyn rocks!
Alex Smith vs. the kid, Colin Kaepernick ... wow, talk about a tough one ... for me, though, this is a no brainer. Taking the ball from Alex Smith is a guaranty for disaster, so if the 49’ers fulfill my pre-season prediction and win the Super Bowl, I’m proved wrong. If they don’t, we’ll never know, will we? You don’t lose a job because you get injured. The K-kid has proved he can play, but so did Alex smith prove he can play. Does anyone forget the way he threaded those TD’s at the end of the Saints playoff last year? What we don’t know is if he can play in the bigger games (i.e., the ones that will count come playoff time). I think Harbaugh has created a mess in his locker room. Smith is rightfully upset. Kaepernick will have his downs, too ... and Smith won’t appreciate having to come in off the bench. Playing QB is much different than Defensive Tackle. Reps count. Game time reps count more. Time will tell, but I suspect the 49’ers just shot themselves in the foot.
That said, how about an even up with Buffalo, Fitz for Smith?
BEWARE of Mr. Baker!
I can’t wait to see this film, amici. Ginger Baker was the jazz turned rock drummer (for Cream) of my youth. Nobody in the rock world was better (mostly because he was actually a jazz drummer and he knew what rudiments were). He can still play better than most in the rock world and his story looks pretty compelling, even if you don’t fall in love with the cantankerous Wildman from Lewisham, South London. His jazz roots go way back and it’s one reason no rock drummer came close ... ever.
A mini Baker Bio ...
You live, you learn ...
Alanis Morissette … on a much lighter note, the wife/boss/Principessa Ann Marie made fun of my latest interest in all things Alanis. First of all (and she knows this), Alanis played God in one of my favorite movies (Dogma), and will likely make an appearance in the fictional memoir I’m writing for my thesis. How do I not have me and Alanis face-to-face in deep conversation about all things heavy? Secondly, I love her voice, spirit and angst-ridden lyrics. Not to mention she did a stint on my favorite HBO show, Curb Your Enthusiasm.
And that fat guy with the cigar in the video isn’t me ...
Moonachie Green fans unloaded on the Turkey Day performance of their Y-E-T-S, Yets, Yets, Yets. One has to feel sympathy for the players having that noise rained down on them. Hell, even I do. I suggest that the Mean Green fans do what all Bills fans do and restrict their angst to Facebook venting on their team’s page … my sons and I are forced to do it each week with each other (very censored for us) … and then I tend to go to the Buffalo Bills Facebook page and join in the chorus of boos there. There are three distinct points to being disappointed year after year by one’s football team. First comes the anger (Not again!). Second, the shock (Yes, again!) ... and third comes the jokes (they’re like the keystone cops out there, etc.). Think about it, even Fireman Ed gave up on his fellow Jets fans because of all the nasty discourse he was catching for wearing a Mark Sanchez jersey. If they hadn’t abandoned New York for Moonachie, I might feel more sympathy for them ... but that move (just like Tebow) was Woody’s choice, so screw’em ... just do it on some team facebook page, amici ... the players have enough problems playing for Woody and Rex.
Speaking of sad (and bad football teams), my beloved New York State Buffalo Bills are blacking out their game this week against the only team they may possibly beat for the rest of the season, the Jacksonville Jaguars. Seriously, are they kidding in Buffalo? Good old Mr. Wilson is lucky his workers show up, never mind the fans. A team that is LOADED with talent is once again the victim of impossibly lousy management and coaching … especially coaching. So we say to management in Buffalo (Grabbing our crotch): “Over here with your blackout.”
Sarge’s Subs ... in beautiful downtown Fords, New Jersey is the BESTEST ever hero joint, Sarge’s. I order every Sunday during the 1st quarter of the Bills’ weekly loss to whomever we’re playing, but for at least a few minutes I’m one happy fat man.
Yes, I’ve lost my mind ...
I just tried one of those Ice spin moves and broke the couch ...

Friday, November 23, 2012

3 Generations of Stella ... Back to School ... WTF? ...


That’s my Mommy (a GREAT grandmother-to-be), my daughter-in-law (Leslie) and granddaughter (Evelyn, I believe) touching up above ... from yesterday’s Thanksgiving with Momma Stella ... where my son-in-law (Anthony) helped her with the wireless headphone we bought her (so she doesn’t get into anymore fights with her roommate).
Speaking of which ... from last week (the “fight”).
MSR = Momma Stella’s roommate.
MS = Momma Stella
MSR: Turn off that television, will ya’?
MS: Go take a walk.
MSR: All day and night with that thing.
MS: And what the hell else you want me to do? Watch you go to the bathroom fifty times a day?
MSR: I can’t stand it anymore.
MS: Go shit in your hat.
MSR: Oh, yeah? I’ll turn it off when you’re asleep.
MS: I’ll turn you off when you’re asleep. How’s that?
MSR: Why don’t you just get out and take your tv with you?
MS: Go fuck yourself.
I love my Mommy!

Last night I submitted my workshop pages for my upcoming last semester of school. If I thought one of my sons (Charles, not Charlie) turning 30 last week (11/19) was a blink-and-it’s-gone affair, two years of graduate school went a lot faster. MFA programs, for all the ridicule they often suffer, are a beautiful thing; one takes what one puts into them. For me, it’s not only been an adventure into literary writing, it’s been one hell of a catch-up on reading authors I never would've known without the program. The friends one finds and the overall sense of community are huge bonuses.
So, here’s my spin on MFA programs (versus common arguments against them).
1. You can’t teach someone how to write.
You maybe can’t teach someone how to write a masterpiece, literary or otherwise, but you sure can sharpen one’s skills. Unless someone is adverse to learning anything, one can always be taught something that progresses their skill levels.  Does that mean they'll be publishable upon graduation?  No, but the vast majority will be a hell of a lot closer than going it solo.
And ... “most” writers benefit from reading. Reading lists of any sort will ultimately improve any writer’s skills (subconsciously or otherwise). While one might garner as much benefit from a straight literary graduate degree, the fiction/non-fiction writing one does in an MFA program, (although there are research papers, critical essays, etc., as well) is obviously more in tune with their goals.
2. An MFA guarantees you nothing; is a worthless piece of paper, etc.
If one measures success in the form of dollars, pretty much any degree that doesn’t include the letters MBA, JD, MD, Ph.D, etc., is pretty much a worthless degree these days. Usually (my assumption here), when one opts for a humanities degree of any kind, they are in it for something other than the dollars. Teachers, contrary to the moron running Wisconsin, the tea party, Rush Limbaugh, et al, aren’t “in it” for the money. Teaching isn’t the way to riches. Becoming a hedge fund manager might be the way to riches. So might be dealing drugs. An MFA degree will likely not sit you behind the wheel (if that’s what it’s called) of a yacht someday. But ask the vast majority of writers how they earn their living and if they're honest, they’ll confess it isn’t from the sales of their books. I have a political science degree that didn’t do much for me when I was a window cleaner, or in any of the other careers I’ve had (legitimate or otherwise), but what I learned from the pursuit of that degree has obviously influenced every aspect of my life ... and life experience to any author is as invaluable as it gets.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for “guarantees”, the New York City Sanitation Department continues to have a much better retirement package than what authors can depend on. So does pretty much any municipal career, as well as the armed forces, offer better retirement packages than what the vast majority of authors will ever have.
I opted out of a union window cleaning job after ten years. It’s a pretty good gig, with a pension and benefits that extend into the life of the member, but I’ve never looked back. It just wasn’t what I wanted; playing it safe has never been an option for me.
Although half the reason I originally pursued an MFA degree was as a hedge against outsourcing in the field I’m currently employed, using my degree for future employment is no longer a concern. I’m enjoying all this school stuff way too much to want to stop. I’ll begin pursuing an MA in American literature within a year after graduating from the MFA program.
3. MFA’s are way too expensive and just another university cash cow ...
There’s no doubt education in general is way too expensive, especially in the richest country in the world. It is a beef I have with our economic system in general, but when in Rome, one needs to make decisions. To pursue something I want and opt for a more Spartan lifestyle, or go for the money, that is the question? Knucks (borrowing from Billy) says: To thine own self be true, amici ... to thine own self be true ...
As for the cash cows MFA programs have become ... yes, there’s no doubt they are cash cows. Universities across the country now literally recruit students for all of their programs for the sake of fattening their coffers, but unless a program (any program) is purposely engaged in blowing smoke (out and out fraud), then individuals pursuing such degrees are doing so of their own accord. I know of no university program that guarantees its students either publication and/or riches beyond their wildest dreams. While most MFA graduates may not find a publisher, something especially difficult these ebook days, what they learn about their craft will always be proportionate to what they’ve put into it, making the degree itself an accomplishment equal to their efforts. Such satisfaction may not be acceptable to those critical of MFA degrees, but that in itself is kind of the point. Quote the ugly Knuckster quoting Billy again: To thine own self be true.
For me, the MFA program I’m enrolled in at Southern New Hampshire University is another tool, another guide, and/or another step in a constant pursuit of what I love (writing and reading). Yes, reading too. I came in with a fairly good reading background (having played catch-up since I turned forty), but that background has been well expanded and will continue to expand. The financial cost of the degree (especially to a socialist), is irrelevant because I choose to make it so. At fifty-six, I’m sorry, but there’s not enough time left in my life to give a shit about the cost of something I want badly enough. Ten years ago I worked 6 and 7 days a week for a year and a half, doing 12 and 14 hour shifts on the weekends to put money toward a house that has devalued $50K since its purchase ... but I also bought a drum kit I enjoy playing from time to time to offset the pain of that devaluation of our “American dream”).
American dream my ass ... my dream (America has NOTHING to do with it) has been my wife, family and all the neat things I enjoy doing like working, writing and going to school. Getting an MFA in fiction and later an MA in American literature, should I live that long, will be further fulfillment of my dreams.
All of the above said, I do wish the programs (all of them), could add two full terms (making it a total of 8 semesters) AT THE SAME COST (i.e., freeze the cost and expand the length of the programs), but that goes to my feeling about education in general in America. Wouldn’t it be great if his words were treated the way I believe Mr. Lincoln meant them to be treated: a government of ALL the people, for ALL the people, by ALL the people?



So which moron is responsible for the NFL rule that states if a coach throws a challenge flag on a play that is automatically reviewed, they don’t review the play? Bad enough the replacement refs robbed Green Bay of a legitimate win early in the season, now we have the NFL rulebook doing the same. Unbelievable. Somebody should inform the geniuses in the league front office that football isn’t one of the other 3 major sports; the season actually counts for something. There are only 16 games, not 162 or 82 ... stealing a win from any team is a very big deal. That was one bogus TD, amici ...

And how ‘bout that RG III? A phenom, amici, pure and simple. But his speed is what will hurt him down the road. The kid is literally too fast for his own good. Watching him get tapped on his way out of bounds and seeing him roll for 10 yards was scary. This guy is destined for as much pain as he is greatness ... but he sure is entertaining. A GREAT athlete.
3 Cheatriot TD’s in 52 seconds vs. the Yets ... oy vey.
As for the Y-E-T-S, Yets, Yets, Yets ... oy vey, could it get any worse than yesterday? I called them the keystone cops about two minutes before Chris Collingsworth did on national tv. No, really, ask my wife. If I didn’t dislike their owner as much as their loudmouth coach, I’d want to see Ryan fired for turning out to be one big fraud. Lord knows how or why they did so well his first two seasons in Moonachie, but he’s turned this team into mud the last two years. I’ve gone from feeling sorry for the mismanagement of Mark Sanchez to feeling sorry for Tim Tebow. Moonachie Green is a disaster program and because all shit flows down, one has to believe it started at the very top: Owner, General Manager and Head Coach.
What can I say, I’m on a Stones kick this weekend ...
And the Principessa Ann Marie and myself still love this one by Harry Chapin ... speaking of great writing ...

Saturday, November 17, 2012

French Week at the Movies ... Baseball’s MVP “WAR” … Other Stuff …


My Piece of the Pie ...

My Piece of the Pie ... Karin Viard is wonderful in this tale of class warfare waged from Dunkirk to London, Paris and back. A single mother raising three girls is laid off when vulture capitalists gobble up the plant she works for. Despondent and desperate, she goes through a rough time before taking a job as a house cleaner/maid ... unknowingly for the main man (played brilliantly by Gilles Lellouche) responsible for her plant closing. He’s about as arrogant and abusive as a person can get, but that’s where I’ll stop. This will make you smile, laugh and furious before you know it ... an excellent movie very appropriate for the times.
Potiche ...  a fun movie about a trophy wife (Catherine Deneuve) with a past forced to take control of the business her husband runs ... against an old flame communist (Gerard Depardieu) ... family politics, amore and some very funny moments. A bit of a silly ending but getting there is a joy.
Paris ...  Short Cuts with a French twist .... a dancer with a weak heart requires a transplant ... his sister (Juliette Binoche) comes to take care of him ... other subplots revolve around the city the dancer watches from his window ... not as good as Short Cuts or the those above ... but not bad either.
The Woman in the Fifth ...  great cast, but this one left me wanting so much more. I’m a huge Kristin Scott Thomas fan, but not in this one. I like Ethan Hawke a lot, and he was fine in this, but the movie left me wanting.
Baseball’s MVP War … call me a dinosaur, but WTF with the stats already? Wins Above Replacements? Are they kidding? One more statistical device to show what, exactly? If the games aren’t actually being played (“above the replacements”), then why the hell would anyone take this virtual statistic serious? And it is a virtual statistic … until MLB finishes ruining the game altogether and plays a virtual version, seriously, WTF?
Mike Trout is worth 10.(whatever) wins a year “above replacements.” Some numbers cruncher figured that out? Can the same numbers cruncher figure out why Mike Trout’s team didn’t make the playoffs? Are there another 10,000 variables for him to plug into his calculator? Might one include the pitcher he hit three doubles against in one game had a blister on his finger ... or had sex eleven times the morning of the game?
The MVP voting was simple enough for me. One guy led the league in all three major batting categories: Home Runs, RBI and Average. That GIVES him the MVP. The fact HIS team not only made it into the dopey round robin tournament MLB runs, they made it to the final round, was icing on the cake.
Mike Trout is obviously a great player and he may well have even greater numbers in his future, but this year Miguel Cabrera won the triple crown. I remember the last time it happened, when Carl Yaztremski did it in 1967 … when I LOVED baseball more than anything and would run home from school as fast as I could to catch however many innings were left in the world series game (because they were played during the day and in October, not November). Now, I could care less who plays in the tournament. I watched maybe two innings of one game of the series this year (that includes the regular fugazy season), and quite frankly, could care less if baseball disappeared tomorrow. I’m missing hockey right now (and I’m a very recent fan of the game) way more than I’d ever miss MLB.
The above said, how about a knuckleballer, A.J. Dickey, winning the NL Cy Young award? That’s what I’m talkin’ about. Let’s Go Mets!
Other Stuff …
Romney’s conference call … looks like he really did mean what he said about the 47% … glad he’ll be home for the holidays … imagine the nerve of the public not adhering to his royal desire to be president? Well, with all those gifts Obama was giving out (anyone notice it was mostly to the 1%) besides me?
Go Green in 2014, baby!
Twinkies no more … of course the company is blaming the unions for all their unreasonable demands … this should keep the flames of the insane on the extreme right burning bright into the next election cycle. Imagine workers having demands? Why, they should be happy the owners provide them with working toilets (see the French film, My Piece of the Pie above)!
Oy vey …
Cessation ... Now we’re up to fifty states that want to secede from the union. Does that make Obama even better’n Lincoln? That should make the secessionists rethink it.
Bills Squish the Fish … a punt return and a bunch of field goals … offensive touchdowns? We don’t need no stinkin’ offensive touchdowns! What should’ve been a cakewalk was another nail biter, but this time we came out on top. Can we string together six more in a row? It’s doable … BILLIEVE!
I forget how many times I’ve read the book, this week one more time, but here’s the opening scene from the movie ... The Friends of Eddie Coyle.