Monthly Archives: September 2008

fifteen tons

9/29/08

Today was that day, perhaps the one you’re asked about many years from now, questions from your kids forced to study economics and realizing something huge happened when they were still children. The best answer I’ll conjure up is something like “man, I dunno – it was complicated.”

As best I can tell, this is what happened (and please, if I’m getting this wrong, please correct me):

1. People without any real money bought houses they couldn’t afford.

2. They could do so because banks were lending them money with no downpayment and crazy low interest rates and no stringent credit checks.

3. The banks figured they could do this, because housing prices always go up.

4. Now the banks have shitty loans, which they sell to investment banks on Wall Street who figure they can make a buck off them too – because housing prices always go up.

5. The banks then sell these shitty loan mortgages to everyone else looking for a safe investment, rating them misleadingly, and using offshore accounts so nobody could see what they were up to. Who cares? Housing prices always go up!

6. Housing prices don’t go up. In fact, the bottom kinda falls out.

7. People who ultimately bought these “safe investments” wonder where the money is, but all the ORIGINAL homeowners (from number 1 above) have foreclosed. The banks say to their disgruntled customers, “well, we never promised you a rose garden.”

8. The truth comes out, and all these banks – and everyone associated with them – lose stock value so rapidly that the shareholders revolt.

9. Now there’s no more money and no more credit being given. Without credit, the entire financial sector loses their oxygen, and the whole fucker slams to a halt.

10. The Government ponders a bailout plan to shore these banks back up and get credit flowing again.

12. The bailout plan fails because some Republicans believe it goes against their small-government philosophy, and some Democrats believe it wouldn’t actually change the way these banks behave, it would reward the people who fucked up, and the taxpayer wouldn’t share enough in future earnings.

Then the Dow falls off a cliff. Is that basically what all of you believe happened? If not, what is your take? And what happens now?

אני אוהב גבינה

9/28/08

HAPPY ROSH HASHANAH!

Back to blogging tomorrow, but I just want to list a few things I like about Jewish people:

– the religion tends to emphasize excellence, and values intelligent analysis

– the essence of Judaism is enlightenment through constant questioning, rather than having doctrine beaten into your skull

– they don’t proselytize, in fact, they don’t care if you become Jewish or not

– the youngest person at the Seder gets to ask questions, leading to discussion rather than sermons

– they could have stopped at Marc Chagall, Isaac Asimov and George Gershwin, but continue to give the world a wildly-disproportionate number of the greatest writers, artists, musicians, scientists and thinkers that ever lived

– the Jewish chicks in my prep school were super hot. What was a lapsing Mormon kid to do?

je suis un snob? oui, d’accord

9/25/08

I’m off this morning to Utah with my entire extended family – all 103 of them – to attend my Auntie Donna’s funeral in Provo. All of my brothers and sisters (except Kent) are staying at the Comfort Inn, so if you want to come visit us by the bizarrely-overchlorinated pool, be our guest.

Just one thing to put up here today: I’m sure many of you have watched this already, but if not, it’s a doozy. I personally dare all conservatives on this blog, whose opinions I do respect (profanity to the contrary) to tell me why they’re still comfortable with this selection:

sorry about the quick ad at the beginning, but “The Mentalist” is actually not all that bad

cheating at solitaire

9/24/08

You gotta admire John McCain, you really do – he’s willing to throw every single piece of spaghetti at the wall in a desperate hope something might stick. In a way, he’s doing exactly what I was talking about a few days ago, when the (admittedly not-popular) topic was “using a few seconds of chaos in order to achieve goals not usually offered to you”.

His handlers, which have to include Rove and whatever else he could scrape off the pus-encrusted scabs of late-20th-century neo-con think tanks, must think the only way out of their electoral mess is a synthetic game-changer.

You don’t need me to parrot the current talking points of election punditry, but the last time he did this (Palin), he succeeded in scaring the shit out of every person in America who believes in science, as well as energizing all the Repubs camping in their bomb shelters. Like most junk food, Palin gave everyone a Hostess Ding-Dong high for a few hours, but the instant hangover was a bitch. Now she actually lowers his poll numbers among independents, and her net favorability is down 16 points overall (according to… wait for it… Fox News!)

So what do you do? If you can’t change yourself, change the world. At this point, the only way McCain can poke open a window in the darkness is to create chaos where there was none before, and hope against hope something bizarre happens in his favor. It’s actually the smartest thing he could try, given the current immutability of the race, but in this gambit, he has to roll a hard eight, and it’s not looking particularly good. Trying to cancel the debate plays into a lot of problems he has already, and nobody in their right mind actually thinks this is anything but a ploy.

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color-treated microscopy of Ritalin

But it does play into something I’m dealing with personally right now. I’ve waxed honorific about my various psychological disorders on these pages, necessitating certain drugz like Celexa and Dexedrine, but lately I’ve had to come to terms with a universally important question: Exactly how much do you need to change in order to fit into the world? Or, more aptly, how much of the world do you need to change in order for it to fit you?

I’ve been in therapy for a while, I’m taking all the drugs I’m willing to take, and still, this summer, I cratered. What I’ve begun to realize is that my peculiar brand of ADD will never be totally fixed, and if that’s the case, I need to alter my environment as much as I can.

Many of the new books on kids with ADD actually de-emphasize drug use, suggesting instead that parents create a schedule and a household that plays to their child’s strengths. Simple stuff: no tasks over 20 minutes, lots of play switching, and takin’ trips. I know this raises the cackles of old-school parents and bootstrap-pullers who think that’s a lot of prissypantin’ fagotry and kids already get too much of what they want, and they should be forced to play ball for their own good.

That’s the kind of thinking that made me the fucking mess I am, thanks. People who don’t have depression and don’t have ADD (which leads inevitably to depression) don’t get it, and they never will. They should be thankful; they should consider it one of their grandest blessings.

Anyway, I’m going try as hard as I can to adapt my mind for the world around me, but I’m also going to have a clean understanding of my limitations. I’m also going to have a fearless grasp of my requirements. I won’t get into specifics, but… coming to grips with who I am – rather than trying to drug it into submission – has been a real burden lifted.

I share nothing with John McCain, I think he’s lost his moral riptide, and I hope he loses by twenty-one percentage points. But we are both trying variations on the same strategy: if you can’t fix yourself, fix the game.

putting too fine points on it

9/23/08

Hey, this may be a stupid question, but do all of you know who your Congressional representative is, or even what congressional district you live in? It’s easy enough for us: the awesome Kirsten Gillibrand beat John Sweeney (y’know, the arsehole who coordinated the Republican goon mobs that flummoxed the recount in Florida 2000, while finding time to go to frat parties in his fifties and by the way – according to a 911 call – was beating his wife) in New York 20th district last time around. She’s become quite a sensation, as I’ll detail later in October.

But because I’m an out-of-touch elitist, we also “live” in two other places: an apartment in Brooklyn that we sublet to a pirate named Jack, and our house in Venice, CA that we rent. Apparently the Park Slope place is in New York’s 11th district, first represented by the scalawag Beriah Palmer in 1803, the ruthless William Randolph Hearst in 1903, and now helmed by the affable Yvette Parker.

Hearst was a Democrat. How crazy is that?

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shaded area: CA-36; non-shaded: CA-30

Finding out our district here in LA was a little harder – the map seems to imply that our bedroom is in California’s 30th district, and Lucy’s bedroom is in California’s 36th district. That means Lucy’s congressional representative is Jane Harman, who once ran for Governator back in the crazy late ’90s.

Jane Harman is married to Sidney Harman, the founder of harman/kardon Inc., coincidentally the maker of our home stereo, which Lucy likes quite a lot, especially when we watch the Tar Heels with stereo sound.

Somehow, after this research, I have a more steadfast handle on my situation.

How about you? Know your district? Like your rep? Planning on doing something about it?

vas deferens of opinion

9/22/08

On deadline for a few script pitches, so today will be a CODE WORD question: What is your FAVORITE part of your own body, and also your LEAST FAVORITE?

You can be anonymous, as always.

But I got great tits, just sayin’.

well shake it up now, all you’ve got

9/21/08

I mean, you have to believe, even in oddly desperate times such as these, that the difference between those who survive and those who fail is not a matter of predestination, but an understanding that when a huge tree falls, something else will get the sunlight. If this is the biggest implosion of the American economy since the Depression, and things are now going to be fundamentally different, then there must be a way you can benefit from the chaos.

In every plot, there is an “inciting incident” that allows the rest of a story to take place. Even in your own lives, a distraction is created, and you find that you can slip past the doorman, but only if you act within two seconds. Think of the stories about prisoners of war, stories that exist only because the order broke down for a few minutes, escape was glimpsed, then seized.

If it were up to the people that have everything, there would be no variance to the established order. They would continue to say “Twas Ever Thus” to enforce The Way Things Are, and they’d guilelessly sail on forever in an unending, smooth glide, uninterrupted by turbulence or rear-view mirrors.

They will continue to have almost everything, even in an upheaval, so resentment is a futile option. But in times like these, the special privileges that used to be open only to them can be pinched by you, oozing through the cracks and chasms of a superstructure that has been suddenly upended.

The writers’ strike made 2008 a bizarre year in Hollywood, with lots of doomsaying and fear, but we chose to believe that when the status quo got throttled, there might be a way for us weirdos to sneak in. If the stock market were to crash again, maybe you make a little play on something that takes off when times get better. And maybe after eight years of the worst President in history, our collective misery will rewrite the rules long enough to elect an African American with a funny name as our leader.

I mean, you have to hope that you stay flexible and land on the right side of history, right? You have to be a survivor. Let old ideas fear the reaper; Shiva may be the Destroyer, but he also makes all things possible.

celestial kingdoms

9/18/08

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Idonna Richins in 1941

My Great Aunt Idonna died this morning, known more affectionately to all of us as Auntie Donna. She was our last great matriarch from that generation, and though she was the childless sister of my grandma, she was in many ways closer to all of us than my Grandma was. She’d been ill for a while, seemingly recovered twice, and then, today, just gently let herself go.

Every single person in America has a personal story about their “crazy family”, so I shan’t bore you with any of the stories (like the time Auntie Donna and Grandma got a Super 8 camera with a manual zoom lens, took it to Venice, Italy, and when we all watched the footage, many of the grandchildren got motion sickness and threw up). Donna was a little more complicated anyway, capable of subtle mean-spiritedness and jubilant love separated by mere seconds.

One of the best descriptions of her came from my brother Kent, writing in 1995:

Auntie Donna… is one step shy of Boddhisattva. She’s always direct about drawing her limits with people, but doesn’t harbor resentments at length. And when it comes to writing style, she is Joycean in the extreme, even as her subjects are mundane. Sentences roll on for 40 or 50 words or more, and subjects, objects, tenses and verbs bob in a sort of goats head stew. Reading a letter from her is like smoking a half-gram of strong hashish early in the morning.

The cool thing is, if Auntie Donna had read that, she would have burst out laughing. One thing that generation had, including my grandma, was irrepressible self-awareness. I always wondered if the Depression and growing up on a spit-dry farm in Colorado could blanch certain hang-ups straight out of your system.

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with her at the family reunion, Altamont, UT, August 2005

She and I had our run-ins, most notably the summer of 1986, when I lived in her garage bedroom for three months. She found my work ethic intolerably soporific, but she really got angry when she discovered I’d eaten some of the Wheat Thins out of her Mormon apocalypse food stash. I kept vampiric hours and borrowed her car endlessly. Years later I finally realized what an entitled brat I’d been, and apologized profusely.

She smiled, would have none of it, barely remembered it, and as she aged into her mid-to-late eighties, much of her trademark fret and naysaying melded effortlessly into being the sort of grandparent that my actual Grandma – having so much fish to fry of her own – couldn’t. She let me use her house for my first short film, which is how Sean and Jordana got together; I like to think Barnaby is a product of their initial courting, surrounded by precepts of the Gospel and foreign teddy bears.

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Lucy and Donna, July 2006

Auntie Donna was the first truly old person Lucy ever met, and while the Lulubeans will have only the faintest recollection of her in her later years, I like to think she inherited a small portion of her opinionated feistiness from her great-great Aunt. My extended family may hold fast in a LDS belief system that is fiercely patriarchal, but between my mom, her sisters, my grandma and Auntie Donna, there is no better set of women who could show a young girl how to forge through a hundred years whether a man was helping you or not.

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the last time we saw her, Glendora, CA, April 2008

Bye, Auntie Donna. We really loved you.

make it work, people

9/16/08

For those of you who don’t watch “Project Runway”, don’t worry – I’m just using it as example, but damned if it isn’t a good one. I’m continually amazed at how people act so foolishly inappropriate when the rules of the game are so obvious.

So this chick Terri on the show had the same job as the eight other contestants: design a dress based on your sign of the Zodiac. Eight of the eliminated contestants showed up to help the remaining eight execute their ideas, and Terri was given Keith, an ex-Mormon with issues. Terri LOATHED Keith, and now she bemoaned her fate, even though he seemed to be compliant and willing to help.

Instead of making the best of it, she shut him completely out of the process, so he went to sleep on the couch in the “Project Runway” foyer.

Fast-forward to the end [SPOILER], where Terri’s dress has been singled out as not particularly good by the judges… and the first thing she does is throw Keith under the bus, claiming he abandoned her. Keith fights back – he had nothing more to lose – and by then, the judges are pretty much disgusted with the whole thing.

Thus, Terri is booted off the show, just one elimination away from having her clothing line featured at Bryant Park. Worse yet, her dress wasn’t even that bad, but the judges look at designing as a “collaborative process” and she obviously sucked at it. In essence, she torpedoed her own career because she couldn’t simply come to an agreement with Keith, whereby they would smile for the cameras, say “thank you, Michael Kors!” and move on.

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Tim Gunn, genius

What makes this episode of “Project Runway” so interesting? Because you see the same thing play out in front of you time and time again. So much of life is a motherfucking game and you either play along with it, or you turn yourself into a problem. I see it every time I fly: someone at the security gate is trying to get through with a giant jug of hand lotion, and IT’S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. Play the game, lady! Move this line along!

At all my regular jobs, especially in the dot-com days, I’d see people fighting for little victories that they would win, but at a cost of months of ill will. Very intelligent folks would expend energy on tasks guaranteed not to be appreciated, leading to resentment on all sides.

Play the game! Or, more aptly, take Michael Jordan’s advice: “KYP! Know Your Players!” In other words, don’t whip a gorgeous no-look pass to a 7’6″ guy with hands of concrete.

Here in Hollywood, it’s something you need to take to heart every day. You may be crafting gorgeous scripts; you may put in little turns-of-phrase that exalts the writing into the heavenly canon… but if the plot takes place in the kitchen of a fancy restaurant or at a busy newspaper, you obviously didn’t read This Year’s Rules and you’re not playing the game.

By no means should this be confused with “mindlessly accepting every hand you’re dealt” or “walking in lockstep with the status quo”. There’s still plenty of opportunity for bloody insurrection – just not in the “10 Items or Less” line.

I’m sure this concept can be twisted politically, so that Republicans can say “Hey, we’re just playing the game! Don’t come crying to us! We don’t make the rules!” In some ways, I’d have to agree, except that “playing the game” only makes moral sense if entire swaths of people aren’t vilified in the process. The Willie Horton ad worked, and perhaps the gay-hating referendums of 2004 did too, but both were pretty bad for America.

I also take exception for the denigrations of things I actually love – like music and basketball – by those who call everyone else a “playa hata”. When the actual music and the actual basketball starts to suffer, then “the game” has become something else entirely, something that usually makes me cry on my pillow in a burst of effete, inconsolable snobbery.

But everything else? Play the game, fuckers! Stop trying to turn left from the right-turn lane! That suitcase is not going to fit in the overhead bin, asshole! Quit baiting the guy who signs your goddamn paychecks! Pass it to Serge Zwikker where he can actually catch it! And for god’s sake, unless you’re Picasso, smile nicely, survive and advance!

door county, USA

9/15/08

About a year and a half ago, I was ready to stop writing this blog, because it wasn’t making me feel any better, I was getting self-conscious, and pretty much everyone I knew had stopped blogging (except for a stalwart few, especially when the Gribster tries absinthe). If I was going to keep going, I had to give myself some new guidelines, and one of them was NO MORE TALKING ABOUT THE BLOG ON THE BLOG. So you’ll have to pardon me, because there are few more guidelines I’d like to put forth.

– Number one, I’m so fucking angry all the time I can barely speak about politics without rending my garments. I had largely recovered from much of my GWB-inspired rage, but the floodgates re-opened when S. Palin denigrated community organizers – not once, but twice – in her RNC acceptance speech. That particular brand of cruel smugness is responsible for so much misery in this country, and it brought back everything I’d sublimated about Republicans.

– As such, this blog is going to be chock full of swear words and deeply offensive language for the next few weeks. Will it be my finest moment? Will Lucy read this years from now and burst with pride? Probably not. Too bad. I’m sorry, future Lucy! Oh, and do your homework!

– Time and time again conservative commenters have referred to my words here as “talking down to Everyday Joes, which is why the Republicans win”. This sentiment does several things: first, it’s an admission by those very conservatives that their votes come from people so stupid that they’ll make decisions based on who hurt their goddamn feelings.

Secondly, it’s a cheap tactic designed to catch progressives in a double-bind: we’re too weak-willed and pusillanimous to come out swinging… but if we do, we’ll alienate small-town Americans! Thanks, really, but fuck off. People who vote for strictly emotional and irrational reasons deserve to be shamed, and shamed ritually and publically.

Thirdly, you’re giving me a lot of credit. We get a shitload of hits here at xtcian, mostly people looking for Misty May’s arse or a new set of Jarts™, but I’m fairly confident my political rants will not trickle into the Johnson family computer nook in North Platte, Nebraska.

– Relatedly, my old friend (and excellent lead guitarist) Schultz wrote “If you cannot see that you are blinded with your own hatred, then you have far bigger problems that this election.” Well, I’ve been pretty up-front about having problems bigger than this election, but I don’t think any Republican can fathom what it’s been like to sit helplessly through the last eight years.

And don’t give me the “now you know how we felt under Clinton” canard: Clinton never gutted everything you ever stood for, then smirked as you writhed in misery. He was more a friend to you than you’ve chosen to remember, and he also fattened your bank account into a complacency you’ve only just snapped out of.

So I would put forth that if you’re not blinded by rage right now, you’re not paying attention. This blog is a place where a few people can congregate to commiserate or argue against that rage.

– One last piece of business: I will no longer tolerate the argument that Sarah Palin is equally qualified to be President as Barack Obama. You Republicans should be bathing in shame, not just for nominating her, but for the act of convincing yourself she isn’t a deluded, cynical DISASTER. When your party leaders said she was well-versed in foreign affairs because Alaska was close to Russia… weren’t you embarrassed? Or does that mean Obama gets credit because his Great Lakes touch Ontario, Canada?

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It’d be funny, except that it so isn’t. Even mentioning her cringe-inducing resumé – which includes visiting Ireland while her plane refueled – in the same breath as Obama’s completely minimizes everything he fights for. Obama already has the ear of the rest of the world, while Palin is still trying to pronounce “nuclear” – which had to be spelled phonetically on her teleprompter.

So to hell with your first amendment rights: I’ve allowed you to make that specious case several times on these pages, and I’m done. If someone compares Palin’s experience to Barack Obama again, I’m going to delete it.

– Oh, and I love you all. Any other blog guidelines you can offer will be welcome.