Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Friday, April 29, 2011

What You Know Is What You're Exposed To

One of the cars I am driving this week is a 2011 Nissan 370Z convertible. I know: My life sucks. Unfortunately, I don't measure my life solely by what I'm driving; so, in spite of having a hot convertible to motor around in, my life does pretty much suck at the moment.

But I digress.

I have this wonderful convertible to tour around in and have been taking every opportunity to cruise Main Street in Greenville. What's the point of having a hot convertible if you aren't going to show off a little bit? Or in my case, a lot.

If you are one of the folks unfamiliar with Greenville's Main Street, its traffic usually flows with the speed of the driver's-license-renewal line at the DMV. Sometimes seasons change before your very eyes while traversing the eight blocks or so Between the Hyatt and Smoke on the Water.

Traffic would move with a tad more alacrity on Main if the city would prohibit left-hand turns. It is only one lane in each direction. I've sat for two red-light cycles waiting for some fool to make a left turn. It's a PIA.

But if you are going to cruise in Greenville, Main Street is the appointed avenue.

During one of today's stop-and-go drive's many pregnant pauses, a gawker shouted to me from the curb, "Hey, what is that?"

Because these cars have been around for years, the question caught me a little off guard.

I replied that it was a Nissan 370Z.

"Wow, nice," was his response.

I guess, thinking about it, I don't see a lot of these convertibles on the road. I saw a lot more of them in Florida. Maybe it's just that there aren't nearly as many convertibles running around South Carolina as South Florida.

It just got me thinking about things people probably take for granted based on where they live.

The episode, for some reason, caused me to remember an encounter I had in Lubbock, Texas in the early 1990s. I can't remember the exact year, but I had flown into Dallas to pick up the gal I was dating long distance from Florida on my way to my sister's for Christmas in Albuquerque.

Chevy had a spanking-new Tahoe waiting for me at DFW to make the drive. Whatever year it was, Chevy was making major changes to the Tahoe and this was one of the next-generation vehicles. They were still weeks away from landing in showrooms.

Believe me, it would have gone completely unnoticed in South Florida; but in Texas, it caused quite a stir.

I was at a gas station filling the tank in Lubbock when a car came screeching to a stop in front of me. Jumping out of it, an NFL linebacker-looking guy came running toward me.

"Man alive, that's the new Tahoe, right?"

I told him it was.

"I'm a salesman at such-and-such Chevy dealer around the corner and we haven't seen one of these in person yet," he offered. "Can you wait here a minute? I'll be right back."

I finished filling the tank, hopped back up into the cab and gave this guy a couple of minutes to return.

Within two or three minutes he was back with two other salesmen and the sales manager. They crawled all over that Tahoe.

Ten minutes later we were back on the road, and avoided getting gas inside any Texas city limits from that point forward.

I guess what you know and what gets you excited can have a lot to do with where you are from.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

I'm Only One Man

Believe it or not: I am busier than usual right now.

That doesn't mean I'm making money, mind you. But I do have some work to do. I have been hard at it for two days now.

Consequently, I don't have the left-over creativity, nor the motivation to shovel the usual load of BS required to fill this spot.

Hang in there! My work load is sure to evaporate as rapidly as it appeared. I will be back in full blogging form shortly.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

As Everywhere Else, Things Are Slow in Hollywood Right Now

Say it ain't so.

I was shocked and dismayed to read the headline that Ryan Phillippe is contemplating abandoning his acting career. (Insert collective gasp here.)

Who is Ryan Phillippe? you may be asking. Exactly.

That anything this guy utters -- other than maybe, "I'm the Long Island Serial Killer" -- should garner any media notice is evidence of a truly slow news day.

I don't mind Phillippe, really. He's an inoffensive personality and an actor of acceptable competence.

His biggest claim to fame was being Mr. Reese Witherspoon. Yes, he has been in a lot of movies, but so has Vincent Schiavelli. And, Vincent is much more recognizable and memorable.

I think most people would have trouble picking Phillippe out of a lineup; particularly if it was out of context.

He is one of those actors, though, who does turn up in a lot of movies. However, a dozen other 30-something guys could be substituted to play those roles without anyone taking notice or it having any real impact on the film.

Apparently Phillippe was bemoaning the fact that he has spent 20 years being chased by the paparazzi and is sick of it. I guess since the Hilton sisters are maintaining a lower profile, there are a lot of paparazzi with nothing better to do than turn their cameras on Phillippe.

My advice to shy Ryan: Stay home.

In other celebrity (or near-celebrity) news: Charlie Sheen seems to be one skank short since porn star Bree Olson jumped the listing Sheen ship.

He made the announcement to a half-filled hall during the Tampa stop of his comedy tour. If the reports are accurate, his break-up (by text message no less) news and a nubile young thing flashing him while on stage were the high points of an otherwise grim performance that included a sincere plea for the audience to help him get his CBS "Two and a Half Men" gig back.

Aw, Charlie, get a grip.

This week's "Oh, Charlie, I Want to be Like You" Award goes to David Arquette, another Hollywood burnout marking time until his next stint in rehab.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Close Your Eyes, Children, and I'll Tell You a Fairy Tale: Corn Ethanol Can Replace Gasoline

Right up there with Roger Patterson's sasquatch film and Bernie Madoff's $50 billion ponzi scheme, one of the greatest scams ever perpetrated against the American public is corn ethanol. If you want to know which presidential candidate running in 2012 is serious about reducing the budget deficit and therefore the U.S. debt, it's the one (if there is one) who campaigns in the Iowa caucuses promising to end all subsidies for corn ethanol. To do so will require brains, courage and will.

Every president since Reagan has been a big supporter of ethanol. Nothing transforms a corn ethanol critic into one of the converted as rapidly as a run at the presidency; just ask Hillary or John McCain. Both were rabid vocal critics of corn ethanol who had some sort of epiphany on the road to Des Moines. Obama was a big supporter of corn ethanol, even as a U.S. senator; Illinois grows a lot of corn and has several refineries for producing ethanol. Both receive a lot of subsidies (taxpayer dollars) to do so. Obama has never seen a taxpayer dollar he didn't want to spend or, better yet, throw down a rat hole.

Here are some facts about ethanol:

  • The amount of corn required to make enough ethanol to fill the 25-gallon tank of an SUV could feed one person for a year. Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute in the Washington Post
  • It would take 546 million acres (an area more than 3 times the size of Texas) to grow enough corn to make the ethanol required to replace gasoline in fueling our cars. Farm land currently under plow for growing all crops is around 440 million acres.
  • Taxpayers are being taxed three times in supporting ethanol: subsidies to farmers for growing corn, subsidies to producers for making ethanol and higher prices across the board at the grocery store. As the price of corn escalates so does the price of everything it goes into from corn flakes to cattle.
  • In 2006 total subsidies (taxpayer money) for each gallon of corn ethanol produced was roughly $1.20. In that year, U.S. corn ethanol production was 4.9 billion gallons or about 3% of gasoline used. Let's see, carry the 1, umm that's approximately $5.9 billion in taxpayer dollars required to prop up the layers of business needed to replace just 3% of our gasoline needs for one year. That's in addition to the $2.30 or so it cost to by a gallon of ethanol in 2006.
  • On average, 150 gallons (yes, 150 gallons) of fresh water is required to make 1 gallon of corn ethanol. Only 5 gallons of fresh water is needed to refine 1 gallon of gasoline. (It takes nearly 900 gallons of fresh water to make one gallon of ethanol from soy beans.) Are you thirsty?
  • Corn ethanol is about 30% less efficient than gasoline, so for every gallon of gas you burn, you need roughly 1.3 gallons of corn ethanol.
  • Depending on how the reporting agency is cooking the books, for every Btu of energy needed to make corn ethanol, you get back between 1.1 and 1.3 Btus of energy. For every Btu invested in refining gasoline, the return is 6 or 7 Btus. Corn Ethanol makes wind mills look down-right efficient.
  • Corn ethanol burns dirtier than gasoline. What! Yep, even the EPA admits that adding corn ethanol to every gallon of fuel in your car, will cause your vehicle to belch out from 4% to 7% more NOx and VOCs than gasoline alone. These are the pollutants blamed for smog and erosion of the ozone layer, as well as global warming and climate change -- if you buy into that stuff.

Corn ethanol is voodoo technology. It's nothing more than a false solution to the unattainable goal of U.S. energy independence. Both are fairy tales.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Pampering the Uber Wealthy One Poop at a Time

Thank, God! Finally a toilet for the well heeled.

I can't begin to tell you how many sleepless nights I've clocked worrying over the sorry state of affairs that Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, the entire Walton clan and the rest of the uber rich must pee into commodes not much different than mine. What's the point of being uber rich?

Next you are going to tell me they have to wipe with rolled tissue. Oh the humanity!

Looks like my sleepless nights are over, though. I read that Kohler has just introduced the Numi. It's a $6,390 poop collector that is smarter than your 12-year old.

If you go to Kohler's Numi Web site, you will see photos of a hip, young, wealthy couple smiling at one another in what appears to be a penthouse living room with this toilet smack-dab in the middle of it. Of course, the walls are all glass. I guess if you blow $6,000 plus on a crapper, you want to make sure your invited guests see it.

What features could it possibly have to inspire the super rich to plunk down more than six large to plop their self-indulgent behinds onto it? Here are a few of the more notable ones:

  • Because it is tankless, it eliminates the any need for handle shaking to stop the water from running. In fact there is no handle.
  • It ends the great battle of the sexes over a toilet seat left up. It has a sensor that determines if the caveman, er, male has finished his business and automatically lowers the seat. (No doubt the divorce-attorney lobby is already attempting to get this feature eliminated.)
  • A bidet that can be customized for its user to adjust water temperature, force and angle of the stream. I'm sure Duracell sales are going to plummet on Palm Beach and in Beverly Hills.
  • A seat warmer will prevent those 3-AM shocks during the winter.
  • A foot warmer: Why should your piggies be cold when your ass is toasty?
  • A remote control to operate all of this stuff.

Now more than ever, I wish I was rich. They say money can't make you happy; but apparently, it can make every bowel movement much more enjoyable; and, if Kohler's marketing department is correct, something you want to accomplish in front of an audience.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

7 Sensible Cars You Won't Mind Owning

Okay, so these aren't barrel-of-monkey fun, but I've put together a list of  7 cars that are inexpensive to buy, relatively cheap to insure, provide solid fuel economy, score well in crash tests and won't embarrass your kids when you drop them off at school.

In terms of value, they excel. You can read more about them at

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Growing Older: Even the Best Intentions Can't Overcome Advancing Years

It's hell getting older. My advice: Avoid it at all costs!

I joined some friends on Sunday on a little spruce-up project at my favorite Greenville restaurant, The Peddler. Why, you are probably asking yourself, would anyone spend his Sunday afternoon sprucing up someone else's restaurant?

Here's the long-version 4-1-1...

When I made my, some would say, impulsive decision to buy a house in Greenville, SC and move here, it was based on a number of factors. For those of you unfamiliar with this episode, basically I made this decision over a 3-day, exploratory visit. A buddy and I arrived in Greenville mid-morning on a Friday, flew back to Florida late Sunday afternoon, and in between I decided this is where I was going to live and found a house. See why some might characterize this as impulsive?

Well before this trip I had made up my mind to leave South Florida, but I was in search of a place to land. Greenville was on the list of a few potential spots that included Louisville, Dallas, New Mexico and Tennessee. Mississippi had also been in the running, but Hurricane Katrina refugees had inflated real estate prices in the Mississippi areas in which I was interested.

Back to those influencing factors. What piqued my interest in Greenville in the first place was that I have several friends who had purchased land in the area with plans to relocate. At the time I knew of four separate couples with such plans. Since then I've discovered two other sets of friends with similar intentions. The buddy I made the trip with and his wife have since purchased a lot here, too. I came to see what all the hubbub was about.

Next, I was smitten by Greenville's downtown the second I laid eyes on it. Difficult to describe, it's a cross between Mayberry and Coconut Grove. (You can check out one of the travel pieces I wrote on it at

When my buddy and I stepped onto Main Street for the first time and I saw the Blue Ridge Brewery, my reaction was, I'm home. Walking the six or seven blocks of Main Street from the brewery to Reedy River Park only solidified my initial opinion.

Finally, my buddy and I had dinner that Saturday night at The Peddler. This is a restaurant in the great-old-steak-house tradition. Great steaks, a salad bar that brings tears to the eyes, friendly service and a rustic atmosphere conspire to create the perfect dining experience. That first night we met George and Deborah Schneider, the owners.

After dinner, my buddy and I adjourned to the bar. Toward the shank of the evening, George and Deborah eventually made their way down and ordered dinner. My buddy and I introduced ourselves. Two hours later we were talking, laughing and cutting up as though we had all know one another for 20 years. I don't exaggerate when I say that I have never met anyone that I liked so much, felt so comfortable with and was as determined to establish a friendship with as George Schneider.

After buying my Greenville home, I made several trips from Florida to check on my property and always had dinner at The Peddler on those trips. After making the move, I went there once a week when not on the road traveling. We shared a love of wine and would often try to surprise one another with special wines we had found. We swapped texts and phone calls. In the nearly three years I knew him, we did indeed become friends.

George died suddenly last August. That loss impacts me yet today.

Calling ourselves The Peddler Wednesday-Night Irregulars, a group of us hang out in The Peddler's bar on Wednesdays. We've been doing this for about two years. Some Wednesdays maybe only three or four of us are there and other Wednesdays the group will swell to 10 or 12. We are the Irregulars, don't you see.

In early fall we pitched together and planted a Japanese Maple next to the sidewalk leading up to The Peddler's entrance. We did it in memory of George. We have lighted the tree and ordered a plaque. In May we will have a formal dedication ceremony. Several Irregulars from Florida, as well as the locals, will be here for it.

This past Sunday, we met at The Peddler to whip into shape the area around the tree. Basically this involved refurbishing the two park benches that were in serious disrepair. It entailed replacing several of the wooden slats and painting both the wrought iron and wood. Doesn't sound like much of a project; but in what can only be described as Laurel and Hardy meet The Three Stooges, it took four of us nearly five hours and a 12-pack of beer.

What we lacked in skill we made up for in bench-refurbishing ignorance. It was a blast. However, five hours of bending, kneeling, crouching and bending some more left me in pain. It's two days since the ordeal and I am still hurting. Momma?

Of course we could have simply forked out the cash and bought new benches, or hired someone to refurbish the old ones; however, this was personal for us. We wanted to do it.

I can live with a little pain; but I'm here to tell you, growing older is hell.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Tax Day: Uncle Sam Says, Bend Over

I just returned home from dropping my federal and SC tax returns into the mail. Yes, I still mail them. I don't want the government to have my money one second sooner than absolutely necessary.

I am basically going to blow off today's blog. I get too steamed on tax day to be terribly creative. That I had to put a buck's worth of postage on an envelope to send my money off to a federal government that operates under the delusion that it can borrow and spend its way to prosperity, just pisses me off.

So I'll return to my scribbling chores tomorrow when I have calmed down.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco: Big Fuel Economy from a Little Package

In the best-highway-fuel-economy battle, the Chevrolet Cruze Eco tops its segment with 42 mpg. For those keeping score, that's better than Hyundai's new Elantra and the Honda CR-Z. Its turbocharged engine and six-speed manual tranny collude to deliver a 0-to-60 time of just under 10 seconds. This isn't terrific by Corvette standards, but about right for the compact segment.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Apparently Spring Has Sprung: The Celebratory First Mowing of My Dirt

Excitement ran high at the old Heaps hacienda today. It was the celebratory First Mowing of the Dirt for 2011. Anyone living in Greenville, or within 100 miles of Greenville for that matter, would have been immediately alerted to this event when the cloud of red dust, clearly visible from every kitchen window, mushroomed up over southern Greenville.

I hoped to put this chore off for another couple of weeks, but all my neighbors (responsible pains in the ass) have been out mowing their dirt, so I felt it my civic duty to mow mine. I really didn't even expect my mower to fire up. Because of a multiweek interruption to my cash flow (Isn't freelancing fun?), I haven't done my usual spring tuneup to this bucket of bolts. But it fired up on the first pull of the rope. Drat, I had no excuse to put off the job.

I have yet to resolve my AT&T issue. In an exercise in blatant corporate stupidity, AT&T had been coming every six weeks or so to dig up a swath of my lawn from the middle of the front yard, around and all the way down the side yard. This is all in the name of running some new lines for faster internet connection and AT&T's new TV cable. This went on for three or four months. They managed to hit a water main their last trip and never came back to fill anything in. So I have a shallow trench that runs along my side yard bordered by about a four-foot swath of dirt and gravel.

I am still trying to get this fixed. In the meantime, it means I have about 500 square feet less to mow. I still have to pass over sections of this area because there are little tufts of weeds shooting up here and there, but mostly I can ignore it. Having less to mow is better, but it looks like crap.

I was surprised that I didn't encounter any doggie torpedoes as I mowed. The renters in the house behind me have a #@*$* dog. The renters who were there when I first moved into my house had two dogs that they kept chained up in their backyard. They barked on and off all night. I was most happy when they moved out about eight months later. The next two tenants had no dogs; I was ecstatic.

About six weeks ago the the fourth tenant to move into that house in the three years I've lived here (It sat empty for about six months at one point during that three years.) moved in...with a dog. It launches into a barking spasm about three times a night. I hate that dog.

One problem with that house is it has a chain-link fence surrounding the entire property inviting dog owners. It is only about three feet high, but that should be sufficient to keep a beagle-size dog confined. It would be if it didn't have more holes in it than an Obama debt-reduction plan. They leave this mangy mutt in the yard everyday when the family goes off to work, school or the bar -- I'm not sure which. Before the exhaust from their belching rust bucket dissipates from their driveway, Sir Barksalot is through one of the gaps in the fence and roaming the neighborhood.

This is the kind of dog that comes in your yard and then barks at you when you come out of the house. I hate that dog.

So I was surprised when I didn't have to step around any of its torpedoes in my yard.

My hopes for a quick end to my nightly disturbances at the paws of this dog rest on the fact that he is a car chaser. Well, actually he is more of a truck, motorcycle and scooter chaser. I figure it is just a matter of time until he goes running full bore out onto Crestfield Road nipping at a rolling Goodyear and gets squashed or T-boned.

Other than actually finding a paycheck in my mailbox, there is little right now that would make me happier than coming home one afternoon and finding a mutt puddle in the middle of the road.

If it happens you will know because you will probably be able to hear the tap, tap, tapping of my dancing happy-boy feet in my driveway.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Guilty Until Proven Innocent: Flagrant Abuse of Police Power in Cleveland

Yesterday I was alerted to a flagrant abuse of police power that involved a fraternity brother of mine in Cleveland, Ohio on March 1.

Let me state here that I am not anti-police; well, at least no more so than any motorist who has been pulled over and issued a ticket he didn't deserve. (They all say that, don't they?) It has happened to me more than once, and consequently, I view cops with a jaded eye. Like a pit bull, they are good to have around when someone breaks into your house, but they should be kept on a short leash and not entirely trusted otherwise.

It is a fine line indeed that separates the power to protect from the power to abuse. That abuse is only avoided when the "protectors" have the emotional discipline and personal integrity to wield that power judiciously. Evidently such is not the case in Cleveland.

Here are the bare bones of the incident as reported in several articles in Cleveland's The Plain Dealer:

An off-duty police Sgt. was struck by a black Acura SUV outside a parking garage in downtown Cleveland as he was working a side job in special-events traffic control. My fraternity brother owns such an SUV, and indeed it had been parked in that very garage that very evening.

The Sgt. claimed he jotted down the license number after the SUV brushed him, knocking him to the pavement as it left the garage. A few hours later several police cruisers and cops descended on my fraternity brother's home. My fraternity brother was dragged out of the house and into his front yard where the Sgt. positively identified him as the driver of the SUV. My fraternity brother was cuffed and loaded into the back of a cruiser. For good measure, his wife was also arrested for obstructing justice when she volunteered to police that her husband hadn't been driving the Acura that night.

Hauled to the Cleveland City Jail, they spent the next 20 hours handcuffed to assorted miscreants, or languishing in holding cells with drunks and other dregs of Cleveland society.

Doesn't sound like there is much room for doubt, right?

Here are the facts, according to The Plain Dealer reports:

During the time of the incident, my fraternity brother was having dinner with one of his daughters in the restaurant next door to his retail clothing store. There is time-stamped security video from the restaurant showing them leaving. After which, my fraternity brother walked next door to his business where he closed out the registers for the night. Not only is there video of him in the restaurant at the time of the incident, but members of the restaurant's staff, as well as employees of his store place him there rather than miles away running down a cop. There is also a credit card receipt for the dinner.

Oh, this is the best part...

He wasn't driving the Acura that evening. His wife and a group of her friends took it to the theater to watch a show. Yes, she parked in that garage, but she was driving the vehicle. The women with her have since made sworn statements to that effect, as well as the fact that the SUV they were in was involved in no such incident.

How could a police officer -- a trained observer -- make such an error? He positively identified my fraternity brother as the driver.

The answer?

There had been some sort of altercation between the garage parking attendant and the male driver of a black Acura SUV when that driver insisted on parking in a space with a "Reserved" sign on it. The parking attendant reported it to the Sgt. when he arrived for traffic control. The Sgt. found a black Acura SUV in a reserved space and wrote down the license number, but it was the wrong SUV. My fraternity brother's wife had also parked in a reserved space, which she says she always does without incident when attending shows at that theater.

Later when he was struck by a black Acura SUV driven by a man, he apparently assumed it was the same one belonging to the license number he had written down earlier. Evidently it never occurred to him that there might be more than one black Acura SUV parked in that multilevel garage. It seems that he didn't really catch the license number of the SUV that struck him, but simply pulled it out of his pocket after the incident.

What's more, security video from the parking garage that shows the incident, indicates several differences between the SUV involved and my fraternity brother's SUV.

It looks like the Sgt.'s reasoning was that it was a male driving the SUV that struck him and a male with whom the parking attendant had engaged; ergo, it must have been my fraternity brother. Remember, he positively identified him as the driver. I went to college with my fraternity brother and his wife. I've know them for nearly 40 years. I can tell you without equivocation, they look nothing alike. Even if it had been their SUV involved, she was driving it that night.

Although once my fraternity brother's attorney did the investigative work the police wouldn't do -- rounding up the video, securing statements from the restaurant staff and so forth -- both my fraternity brother and his wife were released and the charges eventually dropped (for lack of evidence), they have yet to receive any sort of apology from the Sgt. involved or the Cleveland Police Department.

Seems like a small gesture to make after mistakenly tossing two law-abiding citizens into the clink for nearly a full day and night.

Unfettered power run amuck? Sure looks that way to me.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Just When You Thought It Safe to Go Back into the Graveyard

Before "Twilight," before "True Blood" there was "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." I have a few friends -- mostly female -- who are big fans of what I consider to be the best serial TV series of all time. After mentioning the series in my blog a few days ago, one of them asked me which episodes were my favorite. A tough call, but it got me thinking.

A stellar cast, witty dialog and compelling story arcs overcame a stingy budget to generate seven years of great television. It's what it takes to create a loyal following. Curiously, I never saw an episode when it was running on prime time. I discovered it through DVD box sets after the series had ended its run.

My favorite seasons are 3 and 7, the final one. Three because it was the last with Angel and Cordelia, and it introduced Faith as a second Slayer. Additionally it introduced Anya who was key in two of my top-ten favorite episodes. Season 7 is also a favorite because it is just epic. Good for Honorable Mention is season 6 because it's the "Revenge of the Nerds" season with the villain really a trio of geeks who are a funny as they are dastardly.

Without further fanfare, here are my top-ten episodes:

10. AS YOU WERE, Season 6 -- Riley returns with his new wife -- also a demon fighter. It generates some big laughs.

9. END OF DAYS, Season 7 -- Buffy kills The First's right-hand demon and reunites with Angel for the last time. Strong stuff.

8. THE YOKO FACTOR, Season 4 -- Angel comes back to Sunnydale to help Buffy only to discover she has a steady boyfriend. The petty sniping between Angel and Riley (the boyfriend) is hilarious.

7. CHECKPOINT, Season 5 -- Buffy tells the Watcher's Council to stuff it when they arrive from England to review her skills.

6. FAMILY, Season 5 -- When Tara's (Willow's significant other) family shows up to drag her back home, the Skooby Gang closes ranks and stops them. It transforms Tara from an outsider into one of the gang.

5. BECOMING part II, Season 2 -- Buffy's mom learns that Buffy is the Slayer. The 15 seconds of uncomfortable silence as Spike and her mom sit alone in her living room is priceless. The silence is broken when her mom asks Spike, "Have we met?" To which he answers, "Yes, you hit me in the head with an axe once while yelling, 'Get away from my daughter!'"

4. THE WISH, Season 3 -- With the power to grant wishes, the 1,100-year-old demon, Anya answers Cordelia's wish that Buffy had never come to Sunnydale by casting her into an alternative reality where vampires rule the town.

3. DOPPELGANGLAND, Season 3 -- Sort of the sequel to THE WISH, Anya and Willow accidentally bring Vampire Willow into this reality from the alternative one with seriously funny consequences.

2. CHOSEN, Season 7 -- This is the series finale and it is huge. Poignant, funny and spectacular, it is a fitting end to a great series.

1. NORMAL AGAIN, Season 6 -- After a demon infects Buffy, she drifts back and forth between her Sunnydale Slayer reality, and one in which she is in a mental hospital where she was committed because she thinks she's the Slayer. Her parents and doctor try to hold her in the mental-hospital reality. So well written, directed and acted, the viewer is left not knowing for sure which is Buffy's true reality.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

"The Switch": Two Best Friends Accidently Have a Son; Funny, No?

I watched another stinker of a movie last night. That's another $1.06 for a Red Box movie that's passed down the "gone" hole. The title of this nose-holder, "The Switch." It's not the "Switch" of Blake Edwards fame cranked out in 1991. No, this is the 2010 "The Switch" starring Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston.

Billed as a romantic comedy, it eats up 1 hour 41 minutes in search of a laugh -- any laugh. Not only is there not a laugh lurking anywhere in this turkey, there's not a giggle, titter or even a smile.

I am astonished that investors pour millions of their hard-earned dollars into projects like this without reading the script. The fact that the two hacks listed as its "writers" have resumes thinner than a communion wafer should have had alarm bells ringing in the pitch meeting. It amazes me that anyone in Hollywood has any money left.

Having said that, I was flabbergasted when I looked up its box-office gross to find that it managed to earn nearly $28 million here and another $22 million internationally. That's roughly $50 million from which the $19 million production budget must be subtracted. No doubt there is lots of creative bookkeeping that further reduces the $31 million difference. But consider how many movie goers were duped into plunking down 8 bucks to create a $50 million gross. Let's see, carry the 1...ummm, that's something like six and a quarter million unsuspecting folks.

Not only did it take two nearly untested writers to pen the script for this mess, it required two directors to coax zero laughs out of the lousy material they were given. Their collective resume is somewhat heftier than that of the writers, but not by much. The "Poseidon" remake and a couple of installments of the "Halloween" franchise comprise the only notable efforts. Obviously none of these are side-spliters.

Here's the abbreviated 4-1-1 of the plot: Boy and girl dated once upon a time. After a couple of dates, girl decides they will be just friends. Years later they are best friends. Single, she announces she wants to get pregnant. In a drunken-stupor blackout, Boy switches his swimmers for the donor's. Girl moves to the burbs to raise her son. Girl gets new job and moves back to the city where Boy and son eventually bond, blah, blah, blah...

Because little of the movie's budget went into scripting or directing, there must have been plenty to attract an all-star cast. I do like the Boy, Jason Bateman. I'm not convinced that he is leading-man timber, but he is talented, likeable and usually delivers a dependably funny performance. I think he did the best he could with an unfunny script and a pair of directors who have never managed to generate the smallest on-screen snigger. Some of his scenes with his son, played by Thomas Robinson, are pretty engaging.

Jennifer Aniston was terrific in "Friends" and has parlayed that success into numerous movie roles for which she is woefully under qualified. I like her. I think she is attractive. But her talents are best utilized in a supporting role. A string of romantic comedies lay in her wake; all are pretty mediocre and a couple, like "The Bounty Hunter," are outright disasters. I think her role in the cult hit, "The Office," put her on screen about the appropriate amount of time and stretched her acting chops about as far as they go.

Tossed into the "The Switch" mix for good measure, Jeff Goldblum plays Bateman's character's boss. Given very little to do, he is basically there to provide some history and context for the Bateman/Aniston best-friend relationship.

In scoring Red Box movies, I consider whether or not I think I got my $1.06 worth. In this case, "The Switch" gave me something to do for nearly two hours last night. I don't feel like I was robbed. However, I think $.65 is closer to its true entertainment value.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Blame It on John Marshall

As I write this, we still don't know if the federal government will shut down or not. If it does, it won't be a total shutdown, but rather a shutdown of "nonessential" services. The term nonessential begs the question: If they are nonessential, why does the federal government use our tax dollars to pay for them in the first place?

Anyone remembering their 9th-grade Civics class realizes the federal government is bloated well beyond its Constitutional mandate. It controls, dictates and regulates way outside of the totally unambiguous boundaries set down by the 10th Amendment that simply says, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

Of course over the years the activist judiciary has bastardized nearly every line of the Constitution, bringing virtually every aspect of our lives under the thumb of the federal government. Obamacare is just the latest power grab by the federal government; and its future, too, will eventually be decided in the courts.

Some people don't realize that nowhere in the Constitution is the U.S. Supreme Court identified as the arbiter of what is and what isn't Constitutional. This is a power it claimed for itself.

Most of the damage was done and the stage set for activist jurists to begin chipping away at state and individual rights by the fourth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Marshall.

He is the poster child for term limits for U.S. Supreme Court justices. He served as Chief Justice for 34 years beginning in 1801, and much of the federal government's abuse of power can be traced to him and his decisions.

A couple of his anti-Constitutional ideas that are now commonly used to justify the continued suppressing of individual freedoms:
  • Redefining the body ratifying the Constitution as the "one American people" rather than the 13 individual states; thus minimizing the power of the states and trivializing the Republican form of central government. It was a decision based on ideology and not fact.
  • Putting the elasticity into the Commerce clause that redefined "regulating interstate commerce," originally intended as the federal government facilitating trade among the states, as the power to regulate anything that crossed state borders. Over the years this definition has been expanded to basically include anything that in any way impacts commerce and the general population. In essence, giving the federal government power over everything. The most blatant unconstitutional aspect of Obamacare, the universal mandate that forces every citizen to purchase health insurance, will eventually be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Constitutionalists argue that the federal government doesn't have to power to force its citizens to purchase anything; the Progressives argue that because healthcare and its costs affect all of us, the Commerce clause gives it the right to enforce the universal mandate. Thank-you, John Marshall.

As we face a possible partial shutdown of the federal government, I am struck by a few obvious questions:
  1. Didn't the Democrat-controlled congress have six months to pass a 2011 budget? They managed to pass Obamacare without one Republican vote in the House or Senate. They passed the $1 trillion Stimulus Package without one Republican vote. Why didn't they pass a budget? Why is it suddenly the Republicans fault there isn't a budget and a possible partial shutdown looms?
  2. Are we being duped? Here we are all lathered up over whether the cuts should be $6 billion, $30 billion or $60 billion. Isn't the 2011 budget deficit in excess of $1 trillion? How does even $60 billion in cuts really help? Is this administration and congress really interested in reining in spending and reducing the debt? The Paul Ryan-proposed budget notwithstanding, most indications point to, NO. Remember those cowboy poets need our money.
  3. Are "we the people" on our own? With a federal government greedy for power and unwilling to limit its spending, are we deluding ourselves that our government has our collective back? This is like watching a train wreck: We see it coming, but are really helpless to do anything about it.

The most unfortunate thing about a partial federal government shutdown is that the congress and the administration aren't among the nonessential workers who will be furloughed. They will get to show up for their 3.5 days of work per week, collect their full salaries and benefits, and continue gumming up the works.

It seems their job of screwing the American people is never finished and too important to be interrupted.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Subaru Forester: Not as Quirky as the Typical Subaru

Quirkiness works; at least it has for Subaru. Arguably the most mainstream of its models, the Forester, is a great value and has about as much utility as most of us will ever need. Read my full review at

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Yet Another Sequel to Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure: Wake Me When It's Over

I read today that Bill and Ted are coming back in the threequel to "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" that was released in 1989. Am I excited? Well, not really.

I thought the original that featured two Southern California burnouts going back in time to collect historical figures for a school report was clever and often amusing, but am I Jonesing to see the adult version? Nah.

For one thing, neither of the stars -- yes, Keanu Reeves has been quoted as being on board for Bill and Ted 3 -- are accomplished comedic actors. They pulled off the original as teenagers; but as grown men, are going to have a much tougher slog making an audience laugh. Are they still going to be burnouts as 30-somethings or is part of the joke going to be that they are now successful business types of some sort. I'm beginning to chuckle already. George Carlin was the only real comedian in the movie and he's deader than last year's Christmas goose.

Maybe it's just me. Perhaps I just don't have the right attitude; but I don't think that's my problem with this. I'm not philosophically opposed to sequels. In fact, I'd love to see the next installment of the Star Trek franchise with the cast of the most recent version. Likewise I'm waiting for the next Batman installment. I'd also make an appearance at the cineplex for the next episode of the Transformers. And while it wouldn't actually continue a movie franchise, I'd like to see Joss Whedon reprise the TV cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in a movie. OK, OK, I know. Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Yes, I am a fan, and not a closet one either. People who know me know I am a fan. So stake me.

I suspect my real problem with Bill and Ted 3 is that I really don't give a rat's hind end what those two losers are up to more than 20 years later. Do they have jobs, wives, kids a 401K? I just don't care.

I'd rather see a sequel to Wall Street....Wait; they did that one. I rest my case.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Energy Independence? You Have a Better Chance of Winning the Lottery

Every U.S. president since Richard Nixon has promised energy independence somewhere in the foggy future. Democrat or Republican, they have each stated an energy policy that would see America free of foreign oil somewhere down the road. Oil imports have seen a year-over-year increase nearly every year since 1970. That's more than four decades of hot air from politicians articulating various impotent energy policies all aimed at making the U.S. energy independent.

Here's the unvarnished truth about energy independence: It is today's Holy Grail, a 21st century unicorn; it is not only elusive, it cannot be achieved today, tomorrow or in the next 50 years!

As a country we are borrowing billions of dollars from China to prop up through subsidies cave-man technologies, such as wind and solar, as well as, perhaps the biggest scam ever perpetrated against the American taxpayer: ethanol. We give tax breaks to people willing to pay extra for hybrid, electric and diesel vehicles. Meanwhile we are sitting on decades worth of coal, oil and natural gas; all of which are much more efficient than any of the subsidized energy schemes. But in reality, even mining all of our homegrown energy won't make us energy independent. It's an unachievable goal.

As with the ongoing argument to cut $60 billion or $30 billion or $6 billion from a budget that will add $1.5 trillion to our $14.5 trillion debt, the repeated call to action for energy independence is nothing more than a shell game diverting our attention away from real issues.

I clearly recall a political science professor I had in college telling my class one day that a trick employed by local politicians to make it look as though they had accomplished something of significance at election time was to repaint the lines on the streets. It provided the illusion that the streets had been repaved.

Wind, solar and ethanol are new lines painted on the streets-- all with taxpayer money.

You don't have to take my word for any of this. For your reading, I recommend Robert Bryce's Gusher of Lies: The Dangerous Delusions of Energy Independence. It is a well-researched, detailed and abundantly footnoted work debunking the idea of energy independence. Dissecting caveman technologies, ethanol, import-oil alarmism and 40 year of U.S. energy policy (or nonpolicy, if you will), it lays waste to most of what we have been told by our politicians and the media regarding energy.

It will open your eyes; it certainly did mine.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Honda Insight and Toyota Prius: A Post-St. Paddy's Day Showing of the Green

I've got the use of a chain saw for a day or two, so my time is going to be invested in cutting up some big branches that dropped off the towering pine trees in my back yard this winter. In lieu of creating some original prose for my blog, here is a link to the auto review I did for the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight. I'm not a huge fan of hybrids, but they are worthy of a look see nonetheless. Go to

Friday, April 1, 2011

Those Putting Their Lives on the Line Should be Able to Drink a Beer

I see there is a movement afoot in Alaska to lower the drinking age for members of the military from 21 to 18. The reasoning of the Alaskan legislator sponsoring the bill is that if we ask our kids to serve and possibly die for us, shouldn't we treat them as adults? Why, yes we should.

In fact, age 21 as the federally mandated legal drinking age is purely an arbitrary number anyway. If 21, why not 20, 22 or 25, which is what most rental car agencies consider the magic age when a person suddenly becomes more responsible? Why not 50? At age 18 our government has deemed a person responsible enough to vote in an election and be killed in a far-off war, but not responsible enough to drink a beer. Hmmmm...

Of course, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) has come out against the proposed Alaska bill. MADD, having achieved its original stated goals of substantially reducing drunk driving fatalities and establishing 0.8 as the legal limit for blood alcohol content (BAC), continues to work tirelessly to ban all alcohol. Why? For one thing, MADD is big business. It's a money machine. Greed has assumed control of this "nonprofit" organization and it has set its sights on whatever keeps the money flowing. And, according to the Better Business Bureau,  it flowed to the tune of $44,450,000 in 2010.

Eric Hoffer once said, "Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business and eventually degenerates into a racket." MADD is there. It is no longer simply interested in getting dangerously drunk drivers off the road; it wants alcohol banned, period. According to a statement from the American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP), "Mothers Against Drunk Driving spends most of its time in self-perpetuating fund-raising efforts." In evaluating MADD, AIP recently issued it a grade of "D".

Furthermore, MADD's founder, Candice Lightner, officially left the organization in 1985, five years after starting it, because its efforts had shifted from curbing drunk driving to a much wider, anti-alcohol agenda. Oh, and MADD of Canada is pushing a 0.5 BAC as the legal limit; can MADD in this country be far behind? Drink a beer; drive your car; go to jail.

Now where was I? Oh yes, the move to permit 18-year-old members of the military to drink in Alaska. I am all for this bill. I understand that some age standard must be established for alcohol, but until someone proves otherwise, I believe 18 is just as good as 21, particularly for our military.

If this bill passes -- highly unlikely -- it will cost Alaska approximately $50 million a year in federal highway funds. To provoke all states to adopt the federally mandated legal drinking age of 21, the law provides that states not falling into line will lose 10 percent of their federal highway funds. For Alaska, that translates into about $50 million. Can you say, extortion?

So let's see if I have this straight. The federal government collects taxes from citizens of a state; launders that money through its Washington bureaucracy; returns the citizens' money to the state in the form of a highway subsidy; and then uses that subsidy to pound that state into line. Is that about right?

What in the hell is going on here?