12
Feb
14

Bartenders gettin’ no respect

I couldn’t possibly guess how many bars  I have been in in my life but if I had to the number would easily hit the 100 mark. I guess I have been a regular at bars since I was 23. Back then I worked at the Texaco on Hulen Street and when I got off at three I would swing by the Applebees one block over and have a beer or two (in case you’re wondering where I’m talking about it’s a Cotton Patch now). I didn’t think much about it at the time but I guess my main reason for going there was that the daytime bartender, a guy named Adam, was always real nice to me, and we would usually pass the time talking about the Cowboys or women, or work, or whatever seemed relevant.

Since that time I have frequented bars all over the country. Some in L.A., some in Wisconsin, a couple in Chicago, Oklahoma, and Louisiana, but most right here in Texas. And everywhere I go and every bartender I meet I run into a familiar theme. Bartenders do not get the respect they deserve. In the movie Cocktail Bryan Brown tells a young Tom Cruise that the bartender is the aristocrat of the working man, and I believe that (although it is a slight contradiction in terms). But in all seriousness a good bartender plays a pivotal role in the working man’s week (or working woman to be pc about it). A bartender is sort of a friend and a therapist and a caretaker all rolled into one. Good bartenders are hard to find and should be valued the same way great salespeople or PR people, or any number of other professionals are valued. I know how hard good bartenders are to find because in all my years of drinking I can think of about ten offhand that I really gave a damn about.

Unfortunately it seems most bars don’t value their bar or waitstaff all that much either. Just found out a good friend of mine is losing almost all of her shifts because she forgot to put up a liquor order. Last year another friend of mine was fired for behavior unrelated to the bar she worked in. And over the years I have seen many bartenders quit or get fired because the owner and/or general manager decided to hire someone younger or hotter, or someone they didn’t have disagreements with. Frankly as a patron I am tired of this type of juvenile behavior.

I’m not suggesting that their are not bartenders that don’t deserve to be fired. I’ve seen some that I wonder how they got the job in the first place. But good bartenders shouldn’t be treated like they r just some pair of tits and ass that can be replaced with the next set as soon as they have any problems. Good bartending isn’t about being hot, or even being a woman, it’s about connecting to the customer, and developing relationships with them in the confines of the bar. The best bartenders know how to make the most people happy in the short time they are there.

Any person can fill drink orders. In fact if that were all it were I could be one of the best bartenders on the planet ( I make a mean cocktail) but I know their is more to it than that. Making people feel special is the primary reason for a bars success, and that is not something u can just replace with anyone that comes along.

Next time u see your favorite bartender maybe tell them how much u appreciate what they do. Because from where I’m sitting they don’t get nearly enough respect.

Sincerely,

Jack B.

05
Nov
13

Richie Incognito is the norm in the NFL, and in society.

You would like to think that guys like Richie Incognito, the suspended Miami Dolphins guard, are not the norm in NFL locker rooms. Certainly the NFL would like you to believe that. Former GM’s like Bill Polian (as thoughtful a general manager as the NFL ever saw) would tell you that NFL owners and GM’s are not looking for troubled players, and their certainly not looking for bully’s. But then why do so many Richie Incognito’s exist?

For those that don’t know Miami Dolphins lineman Jonathan Martin filed a grievance this week against the Dolphins and the NFL for abuse by a teammate, fellow lineman Incognito. Not all of the facts about the case have come out yet but it appears Incognito has been bullying Martin since he was drafted by the team last year. Martin was made to buy expensive dinners and gifts by Incognito who said “We’re going to get the money out of him somehow.” and was verbally abused repeatedly in texts where he called Martin a half (n-word) piece of shit, and talked about how much he was going to beat his ass.” The text that has been released (their are others by the way) is so verbally assaulting and insensitive (you can read it on ESPN.com if you like) that one wonders how much abuse has Martin taken and how long has it gone on?

The quick take by the Dolphins (at least before the text came out) was that this was an ongoing investigation and that they had no knowledge of any wrongdoing by Incognito. So we’re led to believe that Martin never talked to teammates or coaches about the abuse before filing a lawsuit. We’re led to believe other players and coaches never saw the abuse or heard about it?

Frankly I’m tired of these type’s of stories popping up. Every year it seems their are college or pro players involved in some “hazing” scandal where the team makes a players do something and everyone thinks it’s funny except maybe the guy being made to do it. When this stuff gets to the NFL I really have a problem with it because these are supposed to be grown men capable of behaving like adults. Martin is a young guy, only 23, but he has a college degree, and is paid good money at a job he wants to do. He should be allowed to come in to work and get better without some neanderthal giving him a hard time. But the truth is guys like Incognito are the norm in the NFL, and in society.

Earlier this year we saw Riley Cooper suspended by the Eagles for using the N-word at a concert and going off on one of the security guards there. Just last week Albert Hainesworth got into a war of words with his former coach Mike Shanahan over who was the bigger asshole. Dez Bryant erupted on the sideline last week when the Cowboys played the Lions because he felt he wasn’t getting the ball enough. NFL players by and large are not soft spoken, thoughtful guys. They are gladiators, abusing their bodies week in and week out for our amusement. They curse and yell and throw tantrums, and when left unchecked they run afoul of the law and put average people in harms way. Sometimes when left unchecked they even kill people. Just ask Aaron Hernandez, Ray Carruth, and Donte Stallworth. But most Gm’s don’t care so long as these guys help them win games. Why do you think so many troubled players keep getting drafted?

There will always be guys like Incognito on teams because teams in the NFL like guys like Incognito. Maybe they would prefer he tone it down some but when you need a man to move another 300 pound man off the line of scrimmage so another man can run forward a few yards what type of guy do you want? A soft spoken guy like Martin who likes to spend his downtime reading books or a loudmouth showoff like Incognito who has been disciplined more than seven times for behavior in his college and pro career. Rumors are already out that Dolphins teammates are pissed at Martin for leaking this story because now they will be without Incognito, a Pro Bowl player, for the rest of the year, probably forever.

Until the culture in the NFL changes, guys like Incognito will always be around. And sadly I don’t see that culture changing any time soon.

But while I’m on the subject I shouldn’t pile on the NFL without putting the rest of America in the same boat. Is the Martin/ Incognito story really much different than what goes on in most of our lives. Haven’t we seen too many teen suicides in the news because of bullying and “hazing” a term I have come to despise because of it’s passive acceptance of bullying? Don’t we all work jobs or participate in group activities where someone doesn’t fit in? And how often do we close ranks and keep those people out? How often do we make an effort to include people that don’t act the way we act or think the way we think?

I have been lucky enough to work jobs (especially the last couple of years) where people have gone out of their way to be friendly to me and include me, and it is no coincidence that I have thrived in those environments. But I have also worked jobs or been in groups where I was the outsider, and few people want to be associated with the outsider and so that culture becomes permanent.

It is time we as a country stop listening to the biggest, loudest, and most obnoxious among us. Being strong is a positive evolutionary trait. Being a jerk isn’t. Guys like Richie Incognito may be the norm but they don’t have to be. Next time you see a Jonathan Martin in your locker room maybe talk to him, include him a little. You just might be surprised what he has to offer.

Sincerely,

]ack B.

13
Jun
13

DC vs Marvel at the Box Office and Everything that is Wrong with Hollywood Filmmaking

Late tonight the new Superman movie Man of Steel will open at the box office nationwide and will no doubt be the smash hit that DC and Warner Bros. hope it will be. It may even surpass The Avengers in total box office revenue which apparently is really important. After all no one much cares if this is a good film or not, right?

Oh, I’m sorry. That is the way movies used to be judged. The quality of a movie was based on such bizarre details like… the quality of the movie. But the big story in Tinseltown this week isn’t so much what Zac Snyder has done with Superman or whether or not he can follow in his Man of Steel’s producer Christopher Nolan’s footsteps but whether or not Man of Steel can help DC topple Marvel for king of box office supremacy. Don’t believe me? Here’s a link: http://news.yahoo.com/man-steels-real-battle-against-marvel-future-superhero-150006378.html

You see Marvel apparently did something quite clever when they made Iron Man. By hinting at a future Avengers movie and then successfully launching films like The Incredible Hulk and Thor they built up an audience of future consumers and established a cash cow franchise in The Avengers and all it subsidiaries. Meanwhile that chump Christopher Nolan was out there just thinking about making a good batman movie and surprisingly people wanted to watch it.

I could be wrong but way back in 2005 when Nolan made Batman Begins I don’t believe creating a 3 billion dollar franchise was his goal. In fact it seems absurd to say now but doing Batman was risky for Warner Bros. In 1997 the studio made the universally panned Batman and Robin and for years scripts about Batman, including one where Howard Stern would have played Scarecrow, were rejected. The idea of doing a reboot or re-imagining of Batman was also odd at that time. Anytime you rework a character’s origin story you run the risk of alienating a built-in audience that has come to expect something from that character.

I don’t think audiences knew just what Christopher Nolan had up his sleeve when Batman Begins was released and although it was a hit it was a modest one making about 300 million domestically. But I had some idea then that Nolan had bigger things up his sleeves. This is a man who made big idea movies like Memento and The Prestige. Nolan has always been big on subtext and what Batman Begins did was ground the character in reality setting up a franchise that could tackle issues like terrorism and progressivism without making Batman any less a hero. When Radiohead put out The Bends in 1995 few suspected their real talent, but having heard them in concert I knew they were on their way up. The experimenting with electronica on that album paved the way for their greatest work OK Computer in 1997 which won album of the year. Nolan didn’t know what the audience would be with Batman Begins but he was testing the waters, dipping his foot in the pond, and when the time was right he launched a cultural milestone movie; The Dark Knight.

The Dark Knight was successful, making over a billion dollars worldwide, but not just because it had a huge opening weekend. People went back to see this movie over and over again. People talked about it like people once talked about great novels or or philosophy. Me and my wife saw it three times in movie theatres. I know people who saw it five or six times.

The intent of Man of Steel should be to do the same thing. To re-imagine Superman in a way that breathes new life and humanity into the character. Bryan Singers 2006 film Superman Returns was too deferential to the Richard Donner 1977 Superman, a film I have called the best superhero movie ever made. But if Zac Snyder carve his own niche into Superman, if he get under the characters impenetrable skin and make us feel something once more, if he can capture even some of the romantic, enigmatic nature of Superman then he will have made a great film, regardless of how much money it makes.

It makes me nervous that their is already a sequel in the works for Man of Steel. It makes me more nervous that this film and a new Batman film are to be used as a launch pad for a future Justice League movie. Personally I liked The Avengers, and the Iron Man movies but I am not certain I want to see a Justice League movie, especially if it is being made just to kick Marvel’s ass.

Frankly I don’t care that the Avengers made more money than the Dark Knight. The Nutty Professor made far more money than Casablanca. Somehow that hasn’t diminished Casablanca. The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight rises are far superior to any superhero movie Marvel has created (yes, even Spiderman 2). Add in the first two Superman movies and the first two Batman movies and I would say DC has the edge on movie supremacy. That is the trend DC should be worried about continuing, not making more money than Marvel.

When Hollywood cares about making quality films audiences will come. Something DC should keep in mind.

Sincerely,

Jack K. Brewster

 

23
Nov
12

Why Romo should just say no to the Cowboys

Sometime this offseason Tony Romo will be offered a long term contract by the Dallas Cowboys and in some ways it makes sense for him to sign it. The Cowboys discovered Tony Romo (more accurately Sean Payton discovered Tony Romo) and finishing your career where you started it for top notch pay is usually a no-brainer for any athlete. But in the case of Tony Romo I have come to the conclusion that he should reject any offer the Cowboys make and test the waters of free agency. At least half the teams in the NFL would jump at the chance to get Romo’s services and it may be the best thing for him as well.

When Romo first came to the Cowboys (or when he first fell in their lap) he represented a bright and promising future for a team that had many bleak years before him. The Cowboys never drafted a good quarterback when Troy Aikman was here because frankly they didn’t need one. When they did finally lose Aikman and Jerry Jones was placed in charge of drafting a new quarterback he spent a second round pick on Quincy Carter, a three year starter out of Georgia who was considered a fourth or fifth round talent by most experts. Carter was inconsistent amassing a 16-15 record with the Cowboys and leading them to one playoff game against the Panthers. In 2004 he was released because of a substance abuse issue. Jones also acquired Drew Henson and Chad Hutchison as quarterbacks both of whom failed to make any impact on the team.

When Romo came into the Giants game in 2006 after Bledsoe got injured he showed some inconsistency but also some talent ( a trend that has defined his career). Romo threw three TD’s and three picks but rallied the team to almost win. Romo played well enough to get the Cowboys into the playoffs that season but infamously lost to the Seahawks on a bobbled snap.

Since that time Romo’s career has been very solid, and in some ways spectacular. Romo is 53-37 as a starter for Dallas completing 65% of his passes for just under 25,000 yards 165 TD’s and 87 picks. He has made the probowl three times and got his team to the playoffs three times. going 1-3 in those games. It is easy to blame Romo for the Cowboys failures in big games, especially in the playoffs but Romo is not responsible for all of the teams failures. The Cowboys have allowed 76 points in their three playoff losses, and in case you think Romo has been a turnover machine he hasn’t. Romo has thrown just two picks in four playoff games, and lost two fumbles. In truth if you look at Ben Roethlibergers overall playoff numbers they aren’t much better than Romo’s and contemporaries like Phillip Rivers and Matt Ryan have equally bad playoff numbers. Even Eli Manning has been poor in the playoffs until last season’s miraculous title run (he wasn’t that good during their 07 season, just look up the numbers.) 

All of this is not to excuse Romo’s poor play at times. Romo has had some legendary bad games. His Monday nighter against the Bills in 07 saw him throw five picks ( a game they won by the way). This year we have seen him throw five picks against the Bears and four against the Giants. But even these numbers point to a quarterback who is trying to do too much. When Romo is bad he is really bad but bad quarterback play is often a symptom of other inconsistency’s. When an offensive line can’t block a quarterback has to get rid of the ball quicker and bad throws are usually the result. If you think the Cowboys O-line problems are exaggerated understand that the Cowboys haven’t had a single pro-bowler on their offensive line since Andre Gurode left two years ago. And I don’t just mean they haven’t been pro-bowlers here, but no lineman has been a prowbowler anywhere, at any time. This year the Cowboys are on their third center and have started five different backups. When you have receivers that are injured or undisciplined quarterbacks can not build good timing with them. Dez Bryant repeatedly runs the wrong routes and can not run slants or post routes with any inconsistency. The Cowboys have limited Bryant’s routes to quick outs and fades so that he can use his size to the outside as an advantage, but they refuse to run intermediate routes with him because they don’t know where he will end up. Miles Austin, who was once a promising young receiver has always been plagued with injuries, usually to the hamstring, quads area. Every years he misses all of preseason and is in and out of the lineup three or four times a years with various ailments. Romo can not build a report with him because he is never healthy. Lastly a quarterback must have a good running game in order to be consistent and the Cowboys sorely lack in that area. DeMarco Murray missed five games last year with an injury and has already missed five this year. The Dallas Cowboys have the lowest rushing yards of any team this year at just over 800 yards. They finished 16th or worse in every year Romo has been a starter with one exception. In 2009 they finished 7th. That was also the year Romo won his first and only playoff game and made his last pro bowl.

If Romo were to go to another team I think it would be a great move for him. Romo is hated by a large segment of fans and players ( he was recently voted the third most overrated player in the NFL by other players) and I can’t help but think a lot of this has to do with the team he plays for. The Cowboys are hated by many people, mostly because of their past success and the media’s infatuation with them, and Romo is the most visible target. Romo also does not have the luxury of having a bad game that people don’t watch. The Cowboys are on national television 8 or 9 times a year, and even when they aren’t their games are talked about nationally.

In another market Romo would not be as high profile and not as hated. There would be less expectations of him, and his quarterback play alone would speak for him. It took Joe Montana leaving the 49ers for Steve Young to prove himself. It took Drew Brees leaving the Chargers to prove himself, and it took Steve Nash leaving the Mavericks to win two MVP’s. History has proven that good players also need a good system and the right circumstances to succeed.

Romo is a good players but he is not in a good system, and he will never be given any credit in Dallas unless he wins a Superbowl, something that isn’t likely to happen with this team. In another city Romo could wipe the slate clean and I think things would improve for him. Sometimes a great player has to leave in order for people to appreciate him. For Romo that time is now. Not unlike Batman in the Dark Knight Rises, Romo has to realize he doesn’t owe these people anymore. When the Cowboys reach out to him this off-season Romo should just say no. Don’t worry. We’ll understand.

Sincerely,

Jack K. Brewster

21
Jul
12

Why Moving Sucks

Yeah, I know. Moving sucking isn’t exactly a novel concept, and I think anyone who has had to move more than once is familiar with why it sucks so much, but in light of my recent move back to North Texas and in light of one startling discovery I feel compelled to make a detailed list. That startling discovery by the way is that I have taken a meticulous count and I have moved from one location to another exactly 14 times in the last 14 years. That’s right! One move a year on average from the age of 18 to almost 32. Not all of these moves are my fault (like hey, thanks parents for getting divorced). and I won’t say most of them were bad moves (some of them were less than 20 miles) but hey, a move is a move, and moving flat out sucks.

1) Leaving Friends/Family

For most people this is a big one, but most of my life it hasn’t really affected me. I have had one true best friend since high school and we have always lived close enough to hang out when necessary. My wife is also special to me but hey, she’s my wife, so its not like any moves didn’t include her. But last year I began to understand, perhaps for the first time, how difficult to leave family behind.

My parents and grandparents are getting older and they have all moved or had health problems in the last few years. Before I was always sort of nearby but living in Corpus I am at least seven hours away from anybody. I can call and I can send emails but it is frustrating to have people you love that you only see once or twice a year when you used to see them all the time.

And even though I don’t make a lot of friends their have been people I hang out with and do things with that it seems like just when I am starting to develop a genuine friendship I’m out the door. I guess this problem is even worse if you are a real social butterfly.

2) Money

Let’s face it. Moving is expensive! Not that expensive, you might say. Nope. Real expensive. To give you an idea me and Jen moving to Corpus from Stephenville cost us roughly 3,000 dollars. That’s not a joke or an exaggeration. Our move back will be roughly half that, and that is only because we already have a place ready and Jen’s dad came down and got more than half of our stuff free of charge.

When you get to a new area there are all types of expenses. New lease fees, deposits, changing your drivers licence, out-of-state fee’s in some cases. You name it they will charge you for it. This is why you should factor these costs in any time you take a new job that is far away. By the time you add up expenses it may not be worth it.

3) Knowing the culture

Let’s face it. We are creatures of habit. Wherever we live that is what we adapt to. We know what we like or don’t like and we try to live our lives according to our tastes. Yet most people are adaptable. A few years ago I hated Chinese food. Now I love it. I used to hate reality t.v. but I’ve grown accustomed to it. We can get used to anything but everytime we move we have to learn to readapt.

Maybe this isn’t such a big problem when you are young but as we get older we just want to stay where we are and do what we know. The more you move and the farther you move the tougher it is to immerse yourself in new culture and adapt the way you are capable of. I tried to like the Lakers when I lived in L.A. but it never felt right. Same thing with the Astros down here. And although I love the Mexican food in south texas somebody better get me some real bbq when I go back north and fast…

4) The Stuff

You have stuff, I have stuff, we all have stuff, and we all know what a pain in the ass it is to move it. I could get into a lengthy rant about it but why bother when I have the wit and wisdom of George Carlin to do it for me/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvgN5gCuLac

5) No Rest for the Wicked

Mostly moving just takes it out of you. From boxing stuff to changing your adress to moving fees to saying goodbye it’s all nothing but a great big hassle. Who wants to sit in a folding chair watching old movies and eating take out while your “transitioning” when you could have been at home in your nice recliner watching the Cowboys? Once you’re moved in you are relaxed and comfortable but until then it is a nightmare.

Unfortunately we all have to move at some time and some times the experience is truly worth it. But take some advice from a man who has moved far too often. Whenever possible, STAY THE FUCK WHERE YOU ARE!!! And most importantly be happy. Change can be good, but stability can be just as nice.

Sincerely,

Jack B.

19
Dec
11

The Best Television of the 2000’s

I wrote a blog earlier this year about how television has reclaimed masculinity, and I don’t think it is a stretch to say that over the last decade t.v. has surpassed film in both storytelling and quality. Better acting, better writing, better drama. I watch a lot of t.v., and yet I don’t watch much of it live. Because I work odd hours and odd jobs I don’t usually have the time to sit down and adhere to a t.v. schedule, but with Hulu, Youtube, and other internet sights as well as DVD rentals and purchases you can now watch almost anything anytime, anywhere. Over the last decade television has been unusually great with a quality reserved typically for only the best of films. So with that in mind I have compiled this list of my personal favorite t.v. shows of the past decade. So there is no misunderstanding there are a few things to keep in mind. Number one: I have not watched every t.v. show in the past decade. This should go without saying, but I point it out because there may be shows worthy of consideration that I just haven’t seen. I have never watched Sons of Anarchy, The Sopranos, or House, even though I have heard all are good. So if your show didn’t make the list it may just be that I haven’t seen it or have seen very little of it. Number two: I have tried very hard not to include sitcoms on this list. There are only one or two shows that made the list that could be considered sitcoms but even they are unusual. Sitcoms are not conventional drama, meaning the story lines change from week to week so it is very difficult to rate them among other t.v. dramas. If I included sitcoms I am sure Two and a Half Men, Modern Family, and Desperate Housewives would get some consideration but I am not and they don’t. Same is true for Soap Operas and Reality T.V./Variety T.V. Once again those shows are too hard to rate critically because each episode is unique. I have also tried to avoid miniseries because they are more like long films than t.v. although there is one exception to that on this list. Number three: There are no shows on the list in their first or second seasons. For this reason you won’t find Boardwalk Empire, Hell on Wheels, The Walking Dead, or American Horror Story even though all are excellent. So with that in mind. Here it is: My top ten for the 2000’s.

#10. Band of Brothers/The Pacific

I said there would be no miniseries on the list with one exception, and this is the exception. Spanning two seasons and roughly 22 episodes Band of Brothers/The Pacific act like a very good t.v. show and/or a terrific documentary. Band of Brothers debuted in 2001 and chronicled the exploits of Easy Company through the European invasion of WW2. The Pacific debuted in 2010 and chronicled the Pacific theater of WW2. Both were produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks and both debuted on HBO. Band of Brothers was the more successful of the two series and starred Scott Grimes, Damian Lewis and Ron Livingston. The miniseries won a Golden Globe and over 22 emmy’s. The Pacific starred James Badge Dale and Joseph Mazzello and was nominated for the Golden Globe but didn’t win. Both series were epic in their portrayal of the horrors of war while telling the personal stories of real soldiers who are interviewed for the show. Each set is available now on DVD and Blu-Ray.

#9. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

I suppose you could say “It’s Always Sunny” is a sitcom and in an unconventional way it is, but the show which follows “the gang” of Frank, Dee, Dennis, Charlie and Mac is really more of an odd blend of sketch comedy and absurdism masquerading as a sitcom. Like Seinfeld “It’s Always Sunny” showcases a group of terrible human beings and the odd jams they get themselves into on a weekly basis, but where as Seinfeld was always confined by t.v. standards and practices and the rigidity of the sitcom format, Sunny is allowed to branch out in crude and unexpected ways. The “gang” which owns Paddy’s Pub in Philadelphia might be content to sell liquor to minors or trick a catholic priest into denouncing his faith, but then again Dennis and Mac might visit an abortion rally to determine which side has the hotter chicks, the gang might “dance their asses off” in order to save the bar, or maybe Charlie will just get himself a new “rat-stick” so he can kill them more humanely. It’s Always Sunny is not afraid to take on sacred cows, but it is always done in a delightfully absurdist way, and the intent is always humor. The show has no agenda and will go in any direction which is why it is so damn funny. My personal favorites include “The Night Man Cometh,” “The Gang Get’s Invincible” and “Dennis Reynolds: An Erotic Life.”

#8. Dexter

Dexter is a show about a serial killer. More importantly it is about a serial killer who kills other killers. Based on the book series by Jeff Lindsay Dexter tells the story of a young kid Dexter Morgan (played brilliantly by Michael C. Hall of Six Feet Under fame) who witness his mothers violent death as an infant. The police officer on the case knows that the kid will be permanently psychologically damaged by this and realizing he might become a killer himself one day trains the boy how to kill and who to kill. As long as Dexter is killing bad guys his sick impulses can serve a greater good. For a show with such dark subject matter, (subject matter so dark only Showtime agreed to air it) Dexter is surprisingly light-hearted and humorous. Set in Miami Dexter plays a forensic analyst who specializes in blood-spatter analyses. His sister is a detective for Miami Metro Homicide and most of the people Dexter works with like him and respect him. His job allows him to kill efficiently without much suspicion and when someone does get too close Dexter usually has the upper hand. The show which has just entered its sixth season and may be done soon deals with issues of morality, justice, loyalty and betrayal, and yet it is a joy to watch. You will need a strong stomach to sit through much of this show as it is ridiculously violent but if you can the acting and writing is worth it. Personally Season’s 2 and 4 are the best.

#7.  Six Feet Under

Six Feet Under could be described as the show that got me into television. Much like the way Grand Theft Auto expanded my mind to what a game could be, Six Feet Under made me think about what a t.v. show could be. Nestled between HBO’s formative years in television when they did The Soprano’s, OZ, and Sex and the City, and their current dominant years with True Blood and Boardwalk Empire, Six Feet Under was the first major attempt to do  an adult drama that played like a movie or perhaps even a theatrical tragedy. When the show was on I compared it to a Greek Tragedy because Six Feet Under dealt with death but also human frailty. The characters of Nate, David, Ruth, and Claire Fisher represent a conventional family that has fallen apart when their patriarch dies in season one. As the owners of a funeral parlor the family is used to death in clinical terms but they have a hard time coming to grip with life, and especially their own mortality. Unfortunately Six Feet Under took some bad turns in Season’s 3 and 4 with bizarre deaths, stupid politicization, and the ongoing melodrama of Nate’s love life which almost sunk the show, but Under always had another trick up its sleave and was always beautiful to watch. Personal favorite episode is in Season 4 when David picks up a hitchhiker and gets terrorized during a wild night. The finale in season 5 is astonishing.

#6. True Blood

I debated which of Alan Ball’s manic creations should be ahead of the other, and ultimately decided on True Blood because, well, its just so damn entertaining. True Blood is a show about vampires that live in the small town of Bon Temps (pronounced Bonn Tomp) in Louisiana, but for those turned off by vampires don’t worry. There’s also fairies, shapeshifters, werewolves, even a Maenad (don’t know what that last one is? You’ll find out in season 2). But mostly True Blood is about sex, and damn if there isn’t a lot of it? Bram Stokers original Dracula has long been considered a metaphor for rape and the loss of sexual innocence, but in True Blood sex is the reason for most of the main characters problems. Sookie Stackhouse (played perfectly, if a bit too cutesy, by Anna Paquin) is a waitress at Merlotte’s who falls in love with a vampire named Bill Compton in the first season. But Sookie, like most of the main characters, is a lot more than meets the eye, and has special abilities all on her own. True Blood does occasionally get deep and deals with issues of persecution, love, and death, but it mostly tries to be funny, sexy, and violent, almost in a cartoonish fashion. People don’t have to take this show too seriously. It plays like an X-rated soap opera, which is really why it is so entertaining. Some of the plot points in the last two seasons are ridiculous, and the character of Tara is downright annoying, but overall, True Blood may be the most entertaining show on television.

#5. Smallville

Smallville is the only show on here that can be found on basic television and it is also the only one that is wrapped up (the last season aired earlier this year). But it is a testament to the show’s creators (Miles Millar, Alfred Gough) that the show lasted so long and was ultimately so successful. For those that don’t know Smallville follows a young Clark Kent from the time he started High School up until the day he actually becomes Superman. The creators make a concerted effort not to simply do a Superman storyline (although many characters and incidents from the comics pop up) but to actually show the difficulty of being born with extraordinary powers and what drives a young Clark Kent to want to help people. The show’s first seven seasons take place almost exclusively in the Kansas town of Smallville. Season’s 8 through 10 take place in Metropolis and the show shifts to a more adult drama. But really it is the early seasons of the show that are the best and give the show its heart. Tom Welling, a former underwear model, does a surprisingly ingratiating turn as a young Clark Kent, and this is the first time since the early moments of Richard Donner’s Superman that we feel any emotion for this monolithic character. The cast also has a terrific Michael Rosenbaum as Lex Luthor, Kristen Kreuk as Lana Lang, and Erica Durance as Lois Lane. Seasons 1 through 5 are magical as we see the evolution of this character. Seasons 6 and 7 are poor, season 8 is outstanding with the addition of Doomsday played by Sam Witner, and Seasons 9 and 10 are not very good, although they do have their moments. Ultimately Smallville got worse as it went along, a sad fact of most television shows but it is still one of the most unique, moralistic, and entertaining shows ever put on t.v.

#4 South Park

This is the only animated show on the list but it is deserving of such a lofty place. South Park, like It’s Always Sunny, is not afraid to go off in absurd, even warped directions to find its humor (such was the case with last years three part Imaginationland special) but more often than not South Park is rich social and political satire and it takes dead aim at topics few shows are willing to touch.  South Park was willing to air an image of the prophet Muhammed a few years back before Comedy Central felt public pressure to censure the episode. South Park aired the edited version and used it as a way to attack extremism and censorship. South Park pokes fun of celebrities (Paris Hilton, Mel Gibson, and George Clooney seem to be favorite targets) but mostly it attacks stupidity or extremism where it is found in American Culture. Through the eyes of four young boys (Kenny, Kyle, Stan, and Cartman) and using crude animation the show can get away with blasting almost anything and deal with graphic depictions of sex and violence that normal shows could never touch. What sets South Park apart is that since it first aired in 1997 it has evolved and become more outrageous while maintaining a sort of crude oath to keep a check on people and beliefs that seem out of whack in America. Whether attacking Mormonism, Islam, or even Christianity South Park isn’t afraid to take on religion. Whether attacking politicians on the left or on the right, the show isn’t afraid to attack politics. Mostly, this show isn’t afraid. Crude and offensive yes, but afraid… Never.

# 3. The Wire

I had the unique privilege to watch The Wire unedited, commercial free, and in consecutive order over the course of about two weeks. What I did was proceed to rent the whole show on DVD, three or four episodes at a time, until I watched it all. An absurd waste of time? Maybe, but for entertainment value it was well worth it, and by watching it this way I can tell you that The Wire plays more like a long novel, or perhaps a sixty part miniseries, than a conventional t.v. show. The Wire is not simply episodic. Its story of drug use and the cops that fight it in Baltimore is a long, interconnected tale that takes the viewer on an emotional journey like few shows ever had. Season 1 begins when a young cop named McNulty (played perfectly by British actor Dominic West) visits a courtroom and watches Avon Barksdale get off on a potential murder after manipulating a jury. McNulty tells the judge hearing the case that the man who went free is one of the biggest drug lords in Baltimore and that him and his partner Stringer Bell run things. The judge decides he wants to help McNulty out and authorizes a small team of cops to monitor a wire in the hopes of catching the two drug lords. Most of seasons 1 through 3 deal with the troubles and eventual success in bringing down Barksdale and Stringer Bell. Seasons 4 and 5  are about a new target named Marlo but much of the cast remains the same. But what really sets The Wire apart from more conventional police dramas is that each show is really about social systems that fail us, and how we all pay for the failures of people who are supposed to protect us. Season 1 deals with an inefficient police department, season 2 deals with a corrupt union working on the docks, season 3 deals with a heated battle for mayor of Baltimore, season 4 deals with bad schools, and season 5 deals with a lazy and incompetent media. The Wire makes the case that those most capable of dealing with the drug problem in America are actually largely responsible for it, and like South Park, The Wire isn’t afraid to take aim at specific targets. The show plays out like a grand tragedy where the best people only succeed in small measures and the worst people go unpunished. The Wire is one of the truly great shows in t.v. history. Many favorite moments on this show, but perhaps one of the best is in season 2 when Bunk and McNulty solve a crime scene using only the word “fuck.” Omar’s “death” is also enjoyable.

#2. Mad Men

Unfortunately the show that many consider to be the best on television has taken a year long hiatus after Matthew Weiner and AMC couldn’t agree on the right amount of money for the upcoming season. Season 5 should air this summer (Please!). But looking back on the last four seasons this show has been an unprecedented success and I think it has helped pave the way for new television shows. There’s no question The Playboy Club and PanAm wouldn’t have been made before Mad Men (maybe that’s not a good thing). But what makes Mad Men unique is not that it takes place in the sixties or that it’s about advertising, no, it is the shows impeccable writing and perfectly depicted characters that make it so unique. You could say that Mad Men is about the decline in American values or that it is a period piece wrapped up like a soap opera, but I look at it much like a modern day Gone With the Wind. Mad Men is about an era of greatness in America that had to fail, and the show chronicles that failure not through historical anecdotes (although there are many poignant moments like The Kennedy Assassination, or the death of Marilyn Monroe) but through people’s life choices.

Don Draper, the enigmatic hero of the show, is a perpetual womanizer and boozer, but like most great men, you are drawn to his talent, not his flaws. Joan and Peggy do a great job defining the struggles of women at that time, and the duality of wanting success in love, and in a career. Mostly the show is about people who are flawed, but who don’t apologize for it, who in fact focus on their success, not their failures. It reminds us of a time when America was great, even while we cringe at the abhorrent racism and sexism that so permeated the era. We love these people not because of their flaws but in spite of them, much like we love America. Mad Men is one of the most unique and best written shows to ever come along and I think it will go down with shows like The Honeymooners, I Love Lucy, Mash, and Seinfeld as among the best of all time.

#1. Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad doesn’t have the poignancy of Mad Men, it probably won’t be remembered as fondly. If most shows seek to penetrate the viewer emotionally, and their tool of writing works like a scalpel, Breaking Bad is more of a shotgun blast to the face! Breaking Bad is ostensibly about a chemistry teacher who turns to making and selling Crystal Meth in order to pay his bills when he develops cancer. But really Breaking Bad is about evil, more importantly it is about how we become evil. I have said this before in a previous blog so forgive me if you have read it, but the great moralist Theodore Dalrymple defined evil perfectly in an essay called “The Frivolity of Evil.” In the essay he stated that man doesn’t choose evil, he chooses expedience or the path of least resistance, and it is through small acts of meanness or manipulation that we build the foundations of evil.

In Breaking Bad Walter White starts off as a good man who makes a bad choice when he gets cancer. His choice to sell drugs is bad, but he is not a bad man. However, over time, in order to make his lifestyle functional, he has to do more bad things. He must lie to his family, break the law, manipulate his partner Jesse, and yes, even kill people. Over time Walter White becomes an evil man, and the show is really about how all of us must own up to our decisions in order to determine what we want to be. The last season which just ended a few months ago has brought Walter White full circle into becoming the number one drug kingpin of the southwest. The show will wrap up next season, and ultimately we will see if Walter and Jesse have a soul left to save, and if anything can stop the evil they have unleashed.

Breaking Bad isn’t the coolest show on t.v. or the most highly thought of. But it is more powerful than anything ever put on television, and so far I think it is far and away the best.

Thanks for listening, and feel free to post any comments or add shows of your own to the list.

Sincerely,

Jack B.

29
Nov
11

Populism in America and The idiocy of “Occupy Wall Street”

About two years ago I wrote a blog about what Scott Brown’s win in Massachusetts might mean for the Unites States. At the time a lot of my good conservative friends were jazzed about the fact that a Republican won Ted Kennedy’s old Senate seat and that with his win it would usher in a tidal wave of conservatism, akin to what the Reagan election in 1980 or the Gingrich revolution in 1994 meant for the conservative cause. But I said “not so fast.” What Scott Brown’s election meant to me, and what the Tea Party movements are all about and what a lot of dissidence in this country right now is all about is the growing movement of populism, which after nearly a century of decay has sprung forth yet again, bringing with it all the evils it always brings forth. Populism is not and has never been an exact political movement, but it is largely responsible for the elections of Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson (who succeeded Lincoln but was embraced by party establishment), Grover Cleveland and both Roosevelts in America.

Populism basically states that the good of the people should outweigh the rule of the elite. When times are good economically people don’t usually turn to populism. As long as everyone is making money no one cares who is making the most money, but when times are bad people really concern themselves with how much other people are making and it is human nature to blame the elites for their own misfortune. There is also a false principal amongst populists (and leftists) that wealth represents a giant pie that can only be cut so many ways. In other words “If rich people have too much of the pie there isn’t enough left for the rest of us.” This concept is, of course, utterly false. Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook and has about 25 billion dollars right now. Guess what? That money didn’t exist until Facebook existed. It wasn’t stolen from anybody else, it was created by people’s desire for a new product (more on Zuckerberg later).

So wealth is created, not shifted around, a concept that populist don’t get, which brings me to the lovely people living the bum life on Wall Street right now (those that haven’t left or been kicked out yet anyway). The people of “Occupy Wall Street” have an agenda (what exactly it is they won’t say) but it is basically an agenda that attacks the wealthiest individuals and seeks to rid out “corporatism” in America. I have tried to find a more specific agenda but numerous google searches have yielded no results. Here’s the best definition of  “Occupy Wall Street’s” goal, taken from their own website “OccupyWallStreet.org” “This could be the beginning of a whole new social dynamic in America, a step beyond the Tea Party movement, where, instead of being caught helpless by the current power structure, we the people start getting what we want whether it be the dismantling of half the 1,000 military bases America has around the world to the reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act or a three strikes and you’re out law for corporate criminals. Beginning from one simple demand – a presidential commission to separate money from politics – we start setting the agenda for a new America.” The “seperate money from politics” is basically the gist of it, but in other words, take people’s money.

What Occupy Wall Street fails to understand is that Wall Street has no money and really doesn’t influence government. Wall Street manages and regulates stock, usually with the federal government watching every move they make. Traders do set prices on certain commodities but they don’t determine what get’s bought or sold, only you the consumer does. The stocks traded on Wall Street are all public companies, meaning anybody can buy them. In fact stocks are the most democratic of all financial institutions. A bank can keep certain customers out, the federal reserve sets it’s own interest rates, and bond prices, but anyone who has the money can buy stocks. The people that work on Wall Street and invest on Wall Street are a big reason why America isn’t as bad off as the rest of the world. Money made from Microsoft and Apple stock can be used by consumers and investors to pay down their own mortgage or start their own company. Stocks put the control of the company directly in the hands of the consumers! It is by far the most fair system for all americans.

But another problem with the people of Occupy Wall Street is that they target groups that they think have undue influence while leaving out people that truly do have influence. What if I told you there was an american billionaire whose company has sparked protests around the world, resulting in thousands of lives being lost, whose company targets young consumers and tells them what products to buy, whose company monitors and records your every move socially, politically, economically, and philosophically in order to sell you exactly what you want? That company is Facebook, and it is owned by Mark Zuckerberg, a democrat and one of the ten wealthiest people in America. In fact among the ten wealthiest Americans are people like Warren Buffet, the late Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Oprah Winfrey, and Steven Spielberg. All have tremendous political and media influence, all seek to regulate social behaviors, and all are liberal. They have far more power and influence than the working stiffs on wall street, and yet no one is protesting them. Strange, huh?

Sadly the people of Occupy Wall Street and the people of the Tea Party movement have more in common than they like to admit. Both groups are angered at the way the country is right now and seek to divide and blame people so that they might feel better about themselves. Both movements are rooted in populism, a common movement during times of economic distress. The Tea Partiers blame government for what is wrong, and the Occupiers blame the rich, but both targets are monolithic structures that have very little to do with what really determines our lives. It is time we grow up as a country and take charge of our own actions. The Occupiers don’t have a great agenda. They are not protesting an unjust war, or trying to fight social injustice against minorities, they are simply bored or pissed off kids blaming others for their debts and stations in life. People like this and the movements of populism never produce greatness or success but only divide a fragile nation even further.

If I could talk to the occupiers I would tell them that their efforts are misguided. There are inequities in all life, but that doesn’t mean the system is rigged or that it can’t be fixed. If you are really concerned about economic inequities go visit a homeless shelter and volunteer, or perhaps open up your own wallet and give this holiday season. If not don’t blame the rich for the way things are. They’re no more guilty than you or me.

Sincerely,

Jack B.




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