Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Everything Old Is New Again

The Common Man is enjoying quality time with The Boy and The Uncommon Wife tonight. After all the excitement of the holidays, he's really happy to be sitting down to watch A Bug's Life as a family, followed by The Black Dahlia with the Mrs. Then it's the big countdown, champagne, a big kiss, and a brand new year.

The Common Man wishes you and yours a very happy New Year. He can't wait for another year with you all, even though it's only been six months thusfar. As it's a quiet night, The Common Man will be posting tomorrow, and forever thereafter. He hopes you join him in the conversation. In the meantime, enjoy the fireworks.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

D*#k Flick: Jeremiah Johnson

It's been awhile since The Common Man has watched a real man's movie. As The Common Man once opined, "Guys need more movies just for them. Movies they don't have to share. Movies their wives and girlfriends will be embarrassed to admit seeing." The Common Man also should have noted that said movies should actually be decent and fun to watch, since reviewing The Condemned almost turned The Common Man off from the enterprise entirely. He almost bagged it all and lit out for the territories, leaving his DirecTV behind. But, then, Battlestar Galactica and Lost are starting back up this January, so The Common Man thought better of it.

If he'd done it though, it probably would have gone something like Jeremiah Johnson, the 1972 Frontier drama starring super-duper-mega-star Robert Redford. Several weeks ago, The Deacon (The Common Man's private brewmaster, Godfather to The Boy, and paragon of manliness) recommended the film to The Common Man as a moving portrayal of the manly virtues. The film begins with a disillusioned Johnson (Redford), leaving civilization behind to live as a trapper in the Rocky Mountains. After abandoning the American war effort in Mexico (it's telling the film is released at the end of the Vietnam War), Johnson believes he has no further use for human contact, and that a solitary life in the wild will help him find peace.

Yet, like so many young men who enter a larger world, Johnson is ill-equipped for the dangers he finds. His gun is inadequate and so are his survival skills. Eventually, Johnson is so desperate, he's reduced to trying to scoop trout from a freezing stream with his hands. Fortunately, he comes across salvation in finding the frozen body of a mountain man and his very big gun, and Bear Claw (Will Geer), a Yoda-like guru who takes Johnson in and teaches him how to trap, hunt, and avoid trouble.

Yet, even in his desire to be alone, Johnson cannot avoid the temptations of human contact and the call of civilization. (spoiler alert) He stops at a cabin to help a family destroyed by an Indian attack, and the grief-stricken mother sends her one remaining sun off with him. Later, while exchanging gifts with a tribe of Flathead, Johnson inadvertantly ends up with a wife. Together, they find a small place in the mountains and being a husband and father finally make Johnson happy.

However, while called away helping settlers through the mountain passes, his home is attacked by Crow, who massacre his wife and boy. Driven by grief and madness, Johnson avenges their deaths on the offending Crows, who then send warriors to kill him. Hunted, Johnson lives on his wits and his anger, and becomes the antithesis of what he was seeking. Rather than living peacefully, he becomes the embodiment of war and death, a boogie man both feared and respected. And aside from this fundamental shift in him, Johnson ends the film where he began, totally and utterly alone. End Spoiler.

Jeremiah Johnson is one of the manliest of films because of the hero's growth into manhood, and because he accepts the responsibilities of being a man. Though he doesn't initially want a wife or son, he refuses to abandon or sell them, taking care of them and building a life together. While not romantic in a traditional sense, his decision to allow them into his life eventually fills his heart with love and he's able to fulfill both key male roles, of husband and father, admirably. And when that love and identity is stripped from him, Johnson metes out retribution for the deaths of his family and others. Yet he maintains a strict morality about his justice, only hunting those hunt him. And despite his suffering, Johnson does not complain. Instead he says almost nothing, silently accepting his lot and preparing for his vengeance. He is not proud of what he has become, but nor does he turn from it. Plus, Redford wears a manly blonde beard.

Aside from these manly attributes, Jeremiah Johnson shines with brilliant performances, particularly by Redford and Geer. And the direction by Sydney Pollack is excellent. It is often a beautiful film, and often horrifying. Pollack appropriately captures both the majesty of the frontier, and the loneliness of it, and does not clutter the film with unnecessary sound effects. Instead, the film stands as empty as the wilderness, and on the strength of its story and acting.

The Common Man was duly impressed by this film, a largely overshadowed piece of the Redford and Western canons. It is profoundly sad, but oddly enjoyable. Depressing but impressive. It is cerebral and challenges its audience to continue to root for the protagonist, even when his blood lust is clearly up. And as a d*#k flick, it has most assuredly earned its two balls.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Fork In the Road

At once rudderless and without a captain, the mega-luxury yacht that is the Republican Party has been awkwardly careening about the unending sea in recent years. Not confident in the Washington-based party leadership, rank-and-file members from state delegations have apparently scheduled a meeting on January 7th to get the party back on track. According to The, "For the first time in party history, members of the Republican National Committee have called their own unscheduled meeting without the aid of the Washington-based party apparatus."

The Committee, according to The Hill, will be meeting to give candidates for the party's chairmanship a forum to speak and to persuade members that they have found a way out of the political wilderness and can lead the party back to respectability and relevance.

The Common Man wonders what kind of Republican leadership is going to come out of this meeting. At this point, you'd think the GOP would have nowhere to go but up, after bottoming out again in national elections and failing miserably to attract independents and moderates in the November general. However, one candidate for the chairmanship is already working hard to drag his party down even further.

Chip Saltsman, former campaign head for Gov. Mike Huckabee's Presidential bid, has compiled a greatest hits CD, called "We Hate the U.S.A.", and sent it around to other committee members as a Christmas present. Among the songs on the "album" were "John Edwards' Poverty Tour," "Wright place, wrong pastor," "Love Client #9," "Ivory and Ebony" and "The Star Spanglish Banner." The big hit single, however, was "Barack the Magic Negro," which poked fun at the media coverage surrounding the President-elect and his campaign.

Saltsman has received justified criticism for the lamest mix-tape of all time, particularly from his own party. Other candidates for the position have called it irresponsible and inappropriate. Current chairman Mike Duncan, who is battling Saltsman and others for the job, aptly pointed out that "the 2008 election was a wake-up call for Republicans to reach out and bring more people into our party. I am shocked and appalled that anyone would think this is appropriate as it clearly does not move us in the right direction."

Saltsman has defended his "gift," telling CNN, "I think most people recognize political satire when they see it. I think RNC members understand that." Perhaps they do, and perhaps they don't (Republican talking heads have been quick to condemn liberal satire as inappropriate, ignorant, and mean-spirited, even when it's so freaking awesome). But what Saltsman's failed to grasp is that he is not a comedian, nor is he trying to be. Rather, he's trying to become one of the most visible and influential leaders of one the most powerful organizations in the United States. And that America's leaders are expected to maintain a higher standard of tact when it comes to what they say and do. They must leave the satire to others and behave in a manner consistent with their job (or the job they want to have). Saltsman's gaffe only highlights that he's a rank amateur with no sense of how his actions will be interpreted by potential voters.

RNC Online Communications Manager James Richardson, who also spoke out against Saltsman, said it best, "Sending a CD with those lyrics shortly after electing the first African American President – one supported by nearly 97% of the African American community – shows a serious lack of judgment, tact, and the necessary level of racial sensitivity expected of public officials."

So while Saltsman has clearly taken himself out of the running for the position, his mistake highlights the most interesting aspect of this upcoming decision for the members of the Republican Party. Will they revert back to the Limbaugh-esque name calling and reactionary attacks that Americans clearly repudiated in rejecting John McCain and supporting Barack Obama? Will they be the same old Old Angry White Male party of the 1990s? (In which case, The Common Man thinks it will be a while before Republicans find their way back.) Or will they acknowledge America's shifting politics and demographics, and choose a leader who can inspire, organize, and modernize like Obama and Dean have for the Democrats? And if they do make that tough choice, to reject the politics of the Chip Saltsmans of the party (seriously, is there even ONE decent person in the world named Chip? The Common Man thinks not) what will the Republican Party look like four years from now?

An Unnecessary Burden

You'd think, on a day that saw the Minnesota Vikings earn a playoff berth on a 51 yard field goal as time expired, The Common Man would be more gleeful. However, he just finished a long trek back across the United States, starting in the American desert and finishing in the deep freeze. He is tired and cranky and ready for bed, but figured he owed a quick post to the lot of you after snapping out of his post-Christmas fugue. The travel itself was not terrible. Both flights were on time, The Boy behaved beautifully on both, and The Common Man even got time to read a little (an atrocious book about Babe Ruth).

The Common Man always gears up for travel days. Like most of you out there, The Common Man takes packing and carrying his luggage very seriously, wanting to get most of it done at least 24 hours in advance and to efficiently use the space and the 50 lbs. limit judiciously for his two free pieces of luggage. He was largely successful this time around, as he got both cases up to 49.5 lbs of clothes and presents, before backing off, and added just a large bag to his family's pile of carry-ons (which included a stroller, a carseat, a diaper bag, a briefcase, a backpack, and two jackets) to get presents back home.

The Uncommon Wife, however, hates travel days. And she hates them mostly because The Common Man gears up for them. He gets anxious and paces. He reminds her that he needs her makeup bag before he can pack any more. He packs things that she wants to wear. It's not that The Common Man is stressed, per se, he just wants everything to go perfectly in the traveling. For it is during the journey that men like The Common Man see an opportunity to prove themselves. To show how manly and awesome and completely necessary they are to the family unit. If they pack just right, if they manage to not forget a single thing, if they carry three bags and a carseat through the airport, their wives will see just how indispensible they are and will be reminded of the manly virility that made them so attractive in the first place. And so The Common Man straps on the backpack, carries the carseat in the crook of his elbow, and balances a briefcase in one hand and a shopping bag in the other as he races between terminals to go from one plane to the next. He enjoys playing the pack mule, enjoys showing off like an ape wooing a mate, and likes demonstrating he's an absolutely crucial cog in the family machine in this way that his completely transparent obviously.

The Uncommon Wife, God bless her, plays along. Even though it drives her nuts and she rightly argues that she can carry a backpack and push the stroller at the same time, she lets The Common Man have his day, knowing how important for her man to get the day just right, even when getting it right means that she's more than a little frazzled by her husband's neuroses. So men, if you strain under the weight of those bags, the ones you don't have to carry but feel that honor demands you carry, think of the significant other who makes that possible. Who wants to help, but won't because they realize taking a single pound off your back will bruise your ego. And give thanks for the woman who lets you act like a man. Even when you're being an idiot about it.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Good Day

After a largely successful Christmas Eve here in the American Desert, The Common Man is up early to make sure that all the presents from Santa are in order. The Boy is stirring, singing his ABCs on the floor with his grandmother. Soon, the rest of the house will be up and the second phase of Christmas (Santa presents, church, dinner with family,recovery) will begin. Before it gets too busy around here, The Common Man just wants to wish each and every one of you a Merry Christmas (even if you aren't a fan of the holiday, have a good day). The Common Man is fortunate this year to have such an Uncommon Wife, who is beautiful and loves him as the day is long; such a smart and adorable Boy, who patiently sat on Santa's lap yesterday and gleefully opened his stuffed elephant last night; a wonderful family who has generously opened their doors at Christmas and provided The Common Man a new wardrobe for his new, svelte exterior; and for good will wherever it is found. And not to get sappy or anything, The Common Man is fortunate to have his readers, those who comment and those who don't. You are all welcome here and The Common Man looks forward to future discussions in which The Common Man patiently explains to you why he is right and you are wrong.

Have a good day everyone, and The Common Man will see you tomorrow. Ho, ho, ho:

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Opening the Wallet

What slumping economy? As the American financial system grinds to a halt and crumbles, the New York Yankees are doing their best to imitate a small country. In the spirit of giving (and 'tis the season), the Yanks have committed to giving out $423.5 million in salary to Mark Texeira (8 years, $180 million), CC Sabathia (7 years, $161 million), and AJ Burnett (5 years, $82.5 million). Like a drunk Paris Hilton at the Mall of America, the Yankees have bought up every high-ticket item on the market this year, and now have the four highest per-season salaries in the game (ARod, Jeter, Sabathia, and Texeira). Indeed, perhaps this is some kind of largesse, a ballplayer bailout, designed to get the economy moving again.

The Yankees have spent the last 15 years outspending their competitors to remain competitive. They have no world championships to show for it since 2000. While their spending has helped them remain competitive, they have been unable to get another elusive championship...much to the chagrine of the Steinbrenners. The difference between the last few attempts to buy a championship and this one, however, is that this year the Yanks are clearly targeting the best players in free agency, those players conform almost exactly to the Yankees' needs on the field, and they are signing them at the right point in their career. Rather than spending another bucket of cash on a broken down Carl Pavano or a past-his-prime Roger Clemens or Randy Johnson, the Yankees have targeted young players with strong track records, and have been willing to overpay for them.

Now, The Common Man has no love of the Yankees. He finds their strategy to fix previous mistakes by throwing money at the problem both inefficient and graceless. They keep building a bigger and more expensive mousetrap to capture the World Series, even though the simpler mousetraps still work fine. Sure, the Yankees may catch the "mouse" eventually, but their method is flawed.

That said, The Common Man is kind of excited that the Yankees have raised the stakes like this. After getting outplayed by the Red Sox since 2004, the Yankees have thrown down and have signaled to the Sox, the AL East, and the rest of the league that they are the team to beat in 2009 and beyond. Their moves have made the rivalry with the Sox more intense (which is great for attracting more casual fans to the game) and up the overall level of Yankee-hating to a new high (which is good for any team playing the Yankees, as more fans will come to the ballpark, and listen and watch more games to watch their hometown 9 beat the vaunted Bronx Bombers). And that kind of buzz and excitement can only be good for the game, particularly since the Yankees aren't likely to win every year no matter how much they spend. And perhaps given how much money they have siphoned and scammed from the public coffers in order to get their ballpart built, they owe it to their fans to make a splash and go for it all.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Travel Travails

After getting up at 3:30 to get to the airport at 6:00 for a flight that left at 7:00, The Common Man did not have the energy to blog yesterday. He hopes you all understand and can forgive him for not being quite as dedicated as Mike Wilson, who live-blogged his own plane crash using Twitter (The Common Man's favorite line: "You have your wits scared out of you, drag your butt out of a flaming ball of wreckage and you can't even get a vodka-tonic.")

And frankly, the day didn't lend itself to putting The Common Man in the best blogging mood anyway. There was the lack of sleep the night before, which weighed heavily on his overall mood. Then, on the first flight, The Boy was acting more rambunctious than usual. Eventually, he peed through his diaper and into The Common Man's lap, meaning that your friendly, neighborhood The Common Man was soaked in urine for the rest of the day. At the second airport of the trip, things went from bad to worse. The plane was delayed for an hour because one of the flight attendants wasn't there yet (she was coming in on another flight, which was itself running late), and FAA regulations state that there must be 6 men and women on board to serve The Common Man drinks and sell him a $4 bag of mini-oreos, not 5.

Then, as the crowd grew ever more impatient and the moment of boarding came ever closer, the gate agent began playing a fun game. "When we begin boarding the plane," she said, "we will begin with passengers traveling in first class, then elite members, then we will be boarding from the back of the plane." Like any impatient mob, the fliers began pushing forward, sure that the boarding process was about to begin. "Thank you for being patient, ladies and gentlemen. What I said was, 'when we begin boarding the plane...'. We are not ready to board yet, and will not be for another 15 minutes. Please step back from the gate area."

Oh, Siren, you had tricked The Common Man and his fellow travelers, luring them in with your sweet promises of boarding and safe passage, only to rebuff them at the last moment and take from them their hope (The Common Man just finished listening to an audiobook of The Odyssey.), but he will not be fooled again. Twenty minutes later, the temptress and gatekeeper returned to the PA system and announced that first class passengers could begin boarding, rows 1-3. After giving them sufficient time to take their golden chariots and slave-driven litters down the gateway, she announced, "Thank you for your patience, ladies and gentlemen, we will now be boarding all rows (long, heavy pause, in which the crowd surges forward once more like a tsunami upon the beach) in first class, rows 1-6." And the crowd receded from her, angry and resentful, muttering and threatening to surge forward again like so many waves upon the shore. Oh, how she had tricked The Common Man again, for he did not know that first class was 6 rows deep!

After dispatching the opulant first class passengers, she called forth the elite fliers and allowed them to board. Then she began the process of boarding the rest of the embittered crowd from the back of the plane. "Rows 36-41," she announced, again thanking the crowd for its patience, as though there were some other choice. After 4-5 minutes to allow the first group of plebs a headstart down the jetbridge, she came back to her podium, protected from the sweaty, grumbling, growingly hostile mass of (by now) semi-humanity in front of her. She spoke, "Now boarding all rows and all passengers on this flight."

The crowd sat stunned, as did The Common Man. He looked at The Uncommon Wife for confirmation. Had she abandoned the plan after 3 minutes? And what was to happen next? "Hold on!" yelled The Common Man, as 300 weary and desperate travelers rushed forward. Swept up in the momentum, The Common Man and The Uncommon Wife held tight to The Boy's stroller and were lifted to the top of this throng, riding it like a boogie-board on top of the wave, praying that it would deliver them safely down the jetbridge, and not send them spiralling off toward the rocks (glass windows) on either side of the door. And so it did.

And 3 hours later, The Common Man and his family made it safely to the American desert, where it was warm and sunny and gate agents are never useless teases whose only desire is to dash whatever slim hopes of happy travels that people have onto sharp rocks of despair. And so, The Common Man is in a much better mood today, eating his grandmother's chocolate chip cookies (mmm...the perfect food), drinking beer, and typing unmolested while The Boy's grandparents take him to Cosco. The next few days should be good and The Common Man looks foward to sharing them with you. In the meantime, just to irk Bikemonkey, here are The Muppets singing "Silent Night" with John Denver:

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Around the Horn

Over at The Mantuary, The Founding Father has featured perhaps the manliest product The Common Man has seen in a long time. It's small, powerful, practical, and affordable. It is, ladies and gentlemen, the pocket chainsaw. Just how it works is a mystery to The Common Man, as The Founding Father was a little light on the details. However, he claims that it allowed him to fell his own Christmas tree in 58 seconds flat (impressive, indeed). It also is small enough to fit in your pocket, making it ideal to take on camping trips or for any other occasions you think you might need to pull a chainsaw out of your pocket (which happens to The Common Man at least once a day. And at just $22 on Amazon, The Common Man challenges any real man to not get one. How can anyone with testosterone possibly resist?

The Art of Manliness is always abundant with advice and information for the manly man, but was particularly impressive this week, as they explained both how to be a good party guest and how to dress appropriately for a job interview. Given that The Common Man and The Uncommon Wife really enjoy entertaining, he appreciated the party guest advice, and hopes some of his future guests were paying attention. And he hopes that no one spills a gravy boat of orange sauce on the floor, and grinds pink frosting into the carpet without telling anyone at future parties. That cost The Common Man a security deposit once. Also, buried deep in the comments of the interview post, one man's sad secret is revealed, that he has no idea how to tie a tie. The mind reels at the thought.

Shysterball has spent a lot of words going over just how hypocritical and corrupt the New York Yankess and the New York City government have been over the construction of the new Yankee Stadium that is scheduled to open next spring. And now, he has proof in the form of emails. According to Juan Gonzalez of the Daily News, "In March 2006, the city's chief tax assessor put the market value for the stadium site at $27 million, far lower than the Yankees wanted. A Finance Department official ordered him to redo the report. Within hours, he jacked up it up to $204 million." This allowed the Yankees to qualify for almost a $1 billion in tax-exempt bonds. As Shysterball says, "New Yankee Stadium is built on a foundation of graft." In tough economic times, this particular pickpocketing of the public coffers is tough to take, especially since the Major League Baseball in general, and the Yankees in particular, are flush with cash. Their financial outlook is entirely different from the Big Three automakers and big banks, whose bailout The Common Man tends to support.

The Common Man may be out of touch tomorrow. But he'll try to check back in tomorrow night. If he can't, he'll see you beautiful people on Mondahy. A manly day of football to you all. Go Vikings!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Blowing In the Breeze

The Common Man grew up in and around snow. He enjoys snow. He has enjoyed taking The Boy out into the snow and teaching him about snow angels and snow balls. When the snow is wet enough, he will enjoy teaching The Boy about snow men. He even enjoys shoveling, as it's good exercise. But today, as The Common Man spent more than an hour and a half shoveling a foot of snow off his driveway and sidewalk, he almost made a run for it. Fortunately, The Common Man has a manly amount of patience and warm weather seems far, far away. So he stayed put.

As a result of the shoveling, tonight The Common Man is sore and tired. His arms and legs ache, and he has a cramping feeling in the small of his back (though it's not nearly as painful as realizing his self-imposed moratorium on political blogging means he won't be talking about the trolls in California who want to nullify those same-sex marriages already on the books). It's enough to make The Common Man reconsider The Uncommon Wife's suggestion to buy a snowblower.

Sure, The Common Man would get less exercise, but as he watched his neighbors, one-by-one, breeze through their driveways, The Common Man was forced to reconsider his position. Think of the time saved! Think of the fun of pushing around an awesome and loud piece of equipment, seeing the snow fly in a high arc off the driveway and into the yard.

The Common Man, however, has dedicated himself to being as manly and awesome as he can be. So this raises the question, is it manlier to shovel or to snowblow? On the one hand, physical activity is entirely manly. Even in the snow, it's possible to work up a good sweat. And though your muscles burn and back aches as you return the shovel to the garage, you have the manly satisfaction of knowing you have done good work. On the other, guys love their toys. A big, powerful snowblower would totally be manly, wouldn't it?

The Common Man solicits your opinions in the comments below. Shovel or snowplow? And feel free to vote in the new poll on the right.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Decisions, Decisions

The Common Man's self-imposed ban on politics means that he will not weigh in on Barack Obama's decision to invite Pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration (except to say that, while it's a nice gesture to the right about inclusiveness, he considers it a bad message to send to the LGBT community who has supported the President-Elect so strongly). But other strange decisions have caught The Common Man's attention today:

--For instance, on Tuesday, police in Douglasville, GA arrested a Muslim woman who refused to remove her hijab, for violating a judge's order that no one in the courthouse may wear headgear. Now, The Common Man's grandmother always used to scold him (and still does) whenever he wore a hat indoors, as she considered it impolite. That said, this is a very different situation, where a hijab is an essential part of this woman's religious beliefs. And if she cannot wear her hijab in court, she feels that she cannot enter the court. And if she (and other Muslim women, or Jews wearing yamakas, or Mennonites wearing bonnets) cannot enter the court, they cannot expect to receive justice. The judge, not sympathetic to the idea of religious freedom, sentenced the woman to 10 days in jail, though she has since been released.

The Georgia Attorney General's office points out that the issue is left to the discretion of the judge, and that there are no regulations on whether such headgear is allowed. But the reasons for the judge's ban are unclear. If the issue here is safety, it would presumably be acceptable for her to remove the hijab in the presence of a female officer, thereby resolving any concern that there was a bazooka under her scarf. But if this is about some cultural difference that the judge feels compelled to take a stand on, then there is really no reason for him to continue to be a judge. If something as silly as a hijab offends his sensibilities and renders him incapable of fairly adjudicating, he should be removed.

-- In New Jersey, last week, a ShopRite grocery store inexplicably refused to decorate a three-year old's birthday cake. Sadly, poor little Adolf Hitler Campbell couldn't have the marble sheetcake with vanilla frosting, decorated with Elmo that he wanted. The parents, understandably, were upset with the store's decision. After all, their son is only 3, not likely to grow up to murder millions (regardless of how messed up his family is), and Hitler totally died, like, 60 years ago. So get over it, grocery store, and write Happy Birthday Adolf Hitler on the damn cake already.

OK, that's as much B.S. as The Common Man is capable of writing in a single lifetime. Seriously, at issue here is not the store's decision to refuse to write a patently offensive phrase on a cake they bake, and put in a box with their store's label on it. At issue is yet another set of parents who view their children as commodities, as a way to make a statement. Like the idiot who named his daughter Sarah McCain Palin a month or two back, these parents have no more regard for their children than as vehicles for them to express a fucked up agenda at the expense of years of future therapy and resentment. These parents have set their boy (and their daughters, The Common Man shits you not, little JoyceLynn Aryan Nation and Honszlynn Hinler) up for failure. C'mon, middle school and high school are hard enough.

Also shameful in this debacle is the parents' refusal to take responsibility for their actions, denying that they harbored any racism when they named their children. According to the Associated Press, "Heath Campbell said he named his son after Adolf Hitler because he liked the name and because 'no one else in the world would have that name.'" Please, Mr. Campbell. If you're going to be proud enough of your beliefs to name your kids after the heroes of the neo-Nazi movement, you should at least be man enough to tell the world about it. Don't hide behind some doe-eyed desire for the boy to be unique.

-- Finally, the Big Three automakers have all announced their decision to shut down production this January, extending the normal holiday work stoppage to keep costs down and avoid flooding the market with cars no one will buy. While The Common Man understands this decision may be necessary to a certain degree, he thinks this stoppage might have a more devious goal.

In addition to shutting down their production lines, GM is halting construction of a new plant where they are planning to make the engines for the new, electric Chevy Volt. With high oil prices still fresh in Americans' minds, and energy independence and security high on the incoming President's agenda, the Volt is perhaps the best way for Chevy to come back from this hit. Slowing production on what could be the savior of the company is either a desperate move, or a calculated one. This could be, The Common Man fears, an all-in bluff by the auto industry to show Congress and its workers what the future could look like without some form of government bailout. And it will undoubtedly be scary for millions of Americans, including Congress, to see this stoppage. And while The Common Man will defer to smarter minds on whether a bailout is a good idea, he is disappointed at what looks like an underhanded power play by the Big Three, on the backs of their own workers, to get what they want for Christmas.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Science Faction

Good news typically does not come out of Cleveland, so today is an auspicious day. According to, two week ago an eight-surgeon team performed 22-hours of surgery to transplant the face of a deceased woman onto a woman with a severe deformity in her face. Since the surgery, the recipient has been recovering slowly but comfortably, and has not yet seen her face.

Once upon a time, John Travolta, Nic Cage, and John Woo had a dream that their fantastic (in all senses of the word) film Face/Off would lead to revolutions in face-transplanting technology. Their ridiculous action movie made the case that facial transplants were not just possible, but were easy and totally awesome. Now, just 11 short years later, those days are finally here!

Of course, it's not easy yet. The Cleveland patient has six months of rehab ahead of her, and must relearn how to smile, how to regain her facial motions, and must take an extensive battery of immunosuppressants for the rest of her life. That said, this is wonderful news for a lot of people in the United States. All joking aside, The Common Man hopes that this woman's life is vastly improved by the surgery. It sounds as though her life was both physically and psychicly painful before this, with no right eye, no upper jaw, no sense of smell or taste, and having been called names on the street whenever she ventured out of her home.

That there are people who are against the possibility for this surgery is baffling. One such opponent, Peter Clarke of the Institute of Catholic Bioethics argues that the potential risks and side-effects are unacceptable for a surgery that is not life-or-death. But given the magnitude of the deformities in question, and that this surgery is considered a last resort, and that patients are carefully screened in advance, The Common Man is confident that the surgery is the only viable option for some Americans in order to go on. As Arthur Caplan, the head of the University of Pennsylvania's Medical Ethics Department, points out, "have a huge suicide rate" and their quality of life tends to be poor. And it's not like anyone is going to the surgeon and asking for their face to be taken off so they can get a George Clooney, neither the donors nor the patients have any idea what the other looks like, so they don't get to pick their face. Like with birth, it's the luck of the draw.

The Common Man hopes that medical breakthroughs like this continue, and that these options are available to suffering men and women around the world. Medicine has advanced so far so quickly that the things doctors can do today are practically miracles.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Welcome One and All

The Common Man has been fortunate enough to be blogrolled by the lovely and delightful Dr. Isis today, and he wishes to welcome any and all of you who visit here from her divine site. If you want a better sense of what the site is about, I'd look here for The Common Man's extended exchange with BikeMonkey on the nature of religion and atheism, here for The Common Man's recommendation of Firefly, the single greatest show ever, and here for The Common Man's treatise on spanking and what he will do to the first teacher who ever lays a hand on The Boy (The Common Man's two-year old son). Or feel free to browse on your own. The Common Man also reviews film, books, and beer, and talks extensively about politics and popular culture. And about being a man, a father, and a son. And, in honor of your visit, here are some fireworks:

And an idiot sticking his hand in an alligator's mouth:

Friday, December 12, 2008

Better Late Than...No Country For Old Men in Fiction and Film

It has dawned on The Common Man in recent weeks that this blog has morphed far more into a political site than he ever intended, particularly since the election really heated up in the fall. The Common Man's politics are important to him, and he refuses to apologize for that, but after rereading some of his earliest posts, he misses the playfulness of his earlier posts. His cynicism has crept in, and he misses being able to wax nostalgically about culture and life. He also notices that this shift in tone has corresponded to a decrease in posting. Part of that has to do with work heating up, and not being able to find enough hours in the day, but some of that is undoubtedly because blogging sometimes requires The Common Man to get angry, and he doesn't like to be angry. So, this week, even though it would be fun to make all kinds of shoe-throwing jokes about how the Twins or Vikings should snap up a certain right-handed journalist in Iraq, The Common Man is going to strive to focus on not-politics. Maybe he can be more upbeat.

Sometimes, the world is a profoundly dangerous and disturbing place (so far, so good. Very upbeat.), and people do not always comprehend the dangerous paths they are on, even as they move closer and closer to their own deaths. Regardless, you are responsible for those choices, and they ultimately will lead to a reckoning if you show even a moment of weakness or vulnerability. Only through strength can you survive what life throws your way.

That's the primary message The Common Man got from reading No Country for Old Men (2005), the excellent, haunting, and violent novel by Cormac McCarthy, and watching the movie adaptation by the Coen brothers. McCarthy's novel is set along the border of Texas and Mexico, and focuses on the struggles of regular people trying to adapt to a new world with a new set of rules, a world that has been fundamentally altered. The drug trade has begun to wreak havoc on the American southwest, and these men and women, who were part of the old world, have not yet adjusted to this new paradigm.

There is danger in their ignorance. When welder and Vietnam veteran Llewellen Moss stumbles upon a bloodbath in the desert and $2.3 million in drug money, he sees an easy payday. But when his conscience gets the better of him, and he returns to the scene, he becomes the target of a massive manhunt. Chased by an embodiment of death itself, a remorseless, creative, emotionless, and seemingly invincible killbot, Moss makes his way across Texas, trying to outrun his decisions. But, as he tells a hitchiker he picked up along the road, “You dont start over. That’s what it’s about. Ever step you take is forever. You cant make it go away. None of it…. You think when you wake up in the mornin yesterday dont count. But yesterday is all that does count. What else is there? Your life is made out of the days it’s made out of. Nothin else. You might think you could run away and change your name and I dont know what all. Start over. And then one mornin you wake up and look at the ceilin and guess who’s layin there?" (227).

[Spoiler alert] The conclusion of Moss' story is at the same time tragic and inevitable, his unnatural death the natural conclusion of his decisions. His fight against his fate is both heroic and manly, very Cooper-esque, and his stoicism hides his growing desperation and dread of the end that is hunting him.

[End spoiler] The book is both meloncholy and colorful, very readable but also profound. The Common Man appreciates the grimness of its conclusion, and how vividly it draws its characters. McCarthy's novel expands a specific time period into a microcosm of human history, showing the inevitable march of "progress" and its consequences for the people caught up in it. The novel is well worth your time, especially if you're willing to read through grisly murders to get to an ending that is at the same time unresolved and extremely satisfying in its vagueness.

If, however, you're short on time and would rather watch the Cliff's Notes, you won't find a much more faithful adaptation of a book than Joel and Ethan Coen's celebrated film version. Dialogue is often lifted directly from McCarthy's novel, which is important given the importance McCarthy places on the way things are said, the short, measured lines his characters say underscores the culture they live in and their nature. Understanding they could not improve on the dialogue, the Coens largely left it alone. And scenes are recreated lovingly and painstakenly from the novel. While the Coens hide most of the violence behind props, it is still brazen and brutal. And the gore becomes less important than the reactions of those perpetrating the violence.

The acting is excellent. Javier Bardem, of course, received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as the central antagonist, the philosophical and terrible killer tracking Moss. He is mesmerizing when he is onscreen, capable of making even an innocent grin feel venomous. Tommy Lee Jones simmers throughout the novel, struggling to control his frustration and his bewilderment at the changing world around him and his inability to stop its momentum. As he says at the start of the film, "I don’t want to push my chips forward and go out and meet somethin’ that I don’t understand. A man would have to put his soul at hazard. He’d have to say 'okay, I’ll be part of this world.'" And when he realizes his ineffectiveness, he is driven out from that world, broken. Josh Brolin is also solid in the film, but his words are mostly irrelevant (in the film, anyway), as he serves mostly as the means to move the plot forward and reveal to the other characters (including his wife, played with remarkable vulnerability by Kelly Macdonald) how royally their lives have been fucked up by his choices.

The Common Man realizes how late he is getting to this film. It is, after all, almot a year since it won the Oscar, and more than a year since its release. But a recent conversation sparked The Common Man into reading the novel, giving him a better understanding of McCarthy's vision, and that of the Coens. Everyone dies, they want you to understand, and that death is ordained by the choices you make, even a heart attack at 84 can be traced back to a burger you ate at 37. As the killer tells Moss' wife, “Every moment in your life is a turning and every one a choosing. Somewhere you made a choice. All followed to this. The accounting is scrupulous. The shape is drawn. No line can be erased….A person’s path through the world seldom changes and even more seldom will it change abruptly. And the shape of your path was visible from the beginning” (259).

And so the ultimate message of the film is that everyone is responsible for the decisions they make. It is the ultimate end to the argument for personal responsibility. But even so, it acknowledges that some things are beyond the control of the individual, and all that ultimately matters is the decisions that you make when dealing with those circumstances. Which is true from both a religious and non-religious standpoint. The only things that matter are what you do, even if they don't change anything all that much. The Common Man thinks Hemingway would approve of that message, and is going to go reread the last ten pages of For Whom the Bell Tolls now to confirm that.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Clown to the Left of Me, A Joker to the Right...

Will someone please tell Joe the Plumber to shut up? Good gravy, Chris Crocker hasn't gotten this much undeserved media attention. What did the man do? He asked Barack Obama a question on the street. Obama deftly and patiently explained how his middle-income tax credit would save Joe money. John McCain uses Joe as an example in one of the debates, and Joe, smelling his chance at the brass ring, embraces the opportunity by saying he didn't trust Obama's answer and going on the campaign trail for John McCain.

On the trail, Joe paid back the McCain camplaign by agreeing that "a vote for Obama is a vote for the death of Israel" and by not showing up at campaign events at which he was scheduled to appear (which led to this wonderful video). Since doing nothing to help his candidate win, Joe has been linked to a book deal and a potential Congressional bid. And this week, Joe has again decided to show off just how much of a boob he can be, telling douchebag Glen Beck,
"When I was on the bus with [John McCain], I asked him a lot of questions about the bailout because most Americans didn’t want it to happen - yet he voted for it. At the same time he’s talking about making someone famous if they even think about putting pork in the bill. We all know how much pork was in the $700 billion bailout package. Why did he vote for it? I asked him pretty direct questions, and some of the answers you guys are going to receive … they appalled me. I was angry. I wanted to get off the bus after I talked to him.”

Joe's welcome to his opinion, of course, but The Common Man simply does not understand why anyone cares. This man has done nothing but demonstrate his lack of restraint and his ignorance since coming into promenence. How he could have any newsworthy truths to reveal about the political process or about life in general frankly baffles The Common Man. Who really cares what this fool thinks about John McCain, Sarah Palin, the bailout, gay marriage, or any one of a hundred issues for which he is unqualified to comment intelligently? As the recent election demonstrated, Joe is not exactly a bellweather for determining how the American people are thinking.

Does returning Joe to his normal plumber's life really do much to change the world today? Would it make this country's future any better? Maybe not. But maybe it's wrong to intimate that Joe speaks for "regular" Americans (whatever that means), whether you are lionizing those Americans or making fun of them. For that lends credence to what he is saying, and only does an injustice to lower-middle to middle class Americans who are struggling through today's economic crisis. It reduces them to a cliche, a caricature, and a punchline. And, of course, shutting Joe up would just make The Common Man feel better.

Of course, the problems associated with Joe the Plumber are nothing compared to the apalling scandal out of Illinois, where Gov. Blagojevich has been indicted on several charges stemming from egregious acts of political corruption, including trying to sell Barack Obama's former Senate seat. Now this is a man who has truly done something that should make him famous. The name Blagojevich should echo through the halls of government as an example to those who would sell out their constituents. It won't, of course; politicians are notoriously confident in their own abilities to cover up their wrong-doing, and no one wants to remember a name like Blagojevich anyway. Within a year, he will be Governor What's-his-face or Prisoner 9938493.

There's nothing more to say, really, about Blagojevich that hasn't been said by comedians, pundits, and the larger media. The man is a scumbag who has dishonored himself, his family, and his state. He leaves behind a stained office and a significant obstacle for future governors to overcome, namely the distrust the public has for its elected official. It's remarkable that, today, so beloved a national figure rose in the same political system that spawned the likes of Blagojevich and his cronies. One wonders how Obama escaped relatively unscathed.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Sex Edutainment

Last week, The Common Man was driving home with The Boy, when his interest was piqued by an NPR story about teen sexuality, pregnancy, and television. And since teen pregnancy has been in the news a lot this past year (with, for instance, the success of Juno (good movie, by the way), the pregnancies of Sarah Palin's daughter and of Brittney Spears' sister, and the alleged "pregnancy pact" in Massachusetts), The Common Man listened closer. It seems the RAND Corporation has discovered that "teens who watch programs that contain a lot of sexual content are twice as likely to be involved in a pregnancy."

This is not to say that television is the cause of teen pregnancy and increased sexuality, of course, just that young people who like to watch shows where the characters obsess about sex and relationships tend to be interested in wanting those same things for themselves. And as Josh Schwartz, the creator of the CW show Gossip Girl, points out teens have been having sex and getting pregnant, "long before Gossip Girl … and long before there was even television." But popular culture is a driving force that stimulates demand, and it is worth asking the question of what role television (and film, and fiction) have played in the decisions teens make.

Back when The Common Man was The Awkward Teenage Boy, his father used to tell him about how he had never had a "girlfriend" in high school, per se, but that he had gone on dates with a lot of girls. That going steady, and officially beginning a relationship was a major step. The Common Man has no way of verifying if that's true or not, aside from anecdotal evidence. But kids today (and when The Common Man was in school) seem to be driven to find a significant other, such that monogamy was the norm. And when anyone is in a relationship, there is an inherent pressure to deepen the commitment and to "go further," to build trust and try new things, that often ends in sex.

And popular culture has certainly bought into this obsession. Characters find and woo their one true love, spend a few episodes (or a few seasons) exploring that relationship, have heartfelt and conflicted debates about whether they should have sex, and then have teh sex. Then, some time later, the couple breaks up, and it the characters both go on to significant and meaningful monogamous relationships with another character (hell, Dawson's Creek got SIX FREAKING SEASONS out of messing with this formula). And, of course, the current craze over Edward Cullen and the Twilight series of books and movies have the same underlying themes, as the female lead must decide whether to become a vampire and deepen her commitment to her undead boyfriend.

But it's silly to blame popular culture for teen pregnancy at this point. After all, teen birth rates (a silly term, who gives birth to teens?) have essentially been halved since 1957, according to the Guttmacher Institute. And during that time, popular culture has been working its sex-crazed, pro-monogamy mojo to the extreme. It's true that shows have been increasingly catering to a teen and tween audience, but it's not like teens didn't watch LA Law and Dallas, and Sixteen Candles and Say Anything in the past, shows and films the dealt with adult themes and crazy sex-having.

Indeed, teens that do choose to have sex today are better educated about the repercussions and apparently more careful about using contraception, and still fewer teens are having sex than during the sexual heyday of the 1970s and '80s. So, NPR, RAND Corporation, and morality activists everywhere, stop your hand-wringing and give some credit to today's teenagers, who on the whole seem to be able to make relatively good decisions regarding their sexuality. Most are smart enough to distinguish what they see on the tube from reality, and they should be encouraged to keep developing that skill. Let them watch what they want, but monitor it, and have informative, frank discussions with them about sex and what they see in the media.

Friday, December 5, 2008


A troubling story out of Olympia, Washington highlights one of the real disappointing aspects of American culture and politics today.

In protest of a nativity scene on Capitol grounds, atheists in Olympia, Washington, put up an obnoxious sign celebrating the winter solstice and actively dumping on the religion of every single person who does not believe what they do. As you can read, the sign celebrates the winter solstice (Fine, you want to celebrate a winter holiday, that's OK with The Common Man, though it should probably be pointed out that the solstice was used as a holiday for early religions for countless years before you decided it was a secular day.), while calling religion "myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds." Dan Barker, the founder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (who put up the sign), despite his sign's cartoonishly ridiculous hyperbole, said "It's not that we are trying to coerce anyone; in a way our sign is a signal of protest. If there can be a Nativity scene saying that we are all going to hell if we don't bow down to Jesus, we should be at the table to share our views." Later, he commented, "When people ask us, 'Why are you hateful? Why are you putting up something critical of people's holidays? -- we respond that we kind of feel that the Christian message is the hate message. On that Nativity scene, there is this threat of internal violence if we don't submit to that master. Hate speech goes both ways." Reports indicate that, amazingly, he said this without a hint of irony. There is a threat of internal violence emenating from every single depiction of a cute little baby boy lying in a manger with his mother, father/Joseph, and ox and sheep. That ox, man, he's an intimidating bastard.

Look, The Common Man has no problem with atheists. He does not understand them, as he thinks atheism is the antithesis of logical thought, but he hopes that atheists would provide him the same respect for choosing to be Catholic as he has for their beliefs (or non-beliefs). But often today, The Common Man has been befuddled by the growing phenomenon of evangelized atheists, who see it as their mission to spread their non-religion as obnoxiously as possible. Christopher Hitchens, of course, is the most visible face of this movement, but Barker and his organization appear to be fighting the same battle, using the same in-your-face, belittling, and, frankly, mean tactics. It's not that religions themselves have not been guilty of the same behavior in the past (and present), just that it is sad to see any group casually and cruelly dismiss the beliefs of another.

The story of the atheist sign, however, continues, as it was stolen from the Legislative Building less than an hour after it was put up. After some time, it was found in a ditch and dropped off at a local radio station. There is no word, of course, about the religious views of the thief (though The Common Man is sure you can guess) who violated the eighth comandment, but this kind of childish display is just as bad as the taunting of the atheists, and only does nothing to soften the debate.

Two weeks ago, Nate Silver at wrote that he thought Republicans lost the election this year because, in part, they have forgotten how to persuade. The rise of talk radio, according to Silver, has fooled conservatives into believing that stimulation is the same as persuasion, "almost uniquely to radio, most of the audience is not even paying attention to you, because most people listen to radio when they're in the process of doing something else. (If they weren't doing something else, they'd be watching TV). They are driving, mowing the lawn, washing the dishes -- and you have to work really hard to sustain their attention. Hence what [David Foster] Wallace refers to as the importance of "stimulating" the listener." Silver goes on to argue that the McCain campaign focused on stimulation rather than persuasion, mistaking creating a spectacle for converting hearts and minds.

Silver's theory certainly sounds plausible to The Common Man, but The Common Man would humbly suggest that conservatives are not the only group who has forgotten how to persuade. Indeed, Americans seem to have become so enamoured of the shrill, incoherent simultaneous back-and-forth that they hear on radio and see on television that they have begun to accept provoking a response to be the same thing as persuading an audience to agree with their position. Persuasion is a manly art, one that seems to be rapidly wasting away. The Common Man hopes that the recent success by the Obama campaign to win over reluctant voters inspires other groups to attempt dialogue, rather than shallow, showy, but ultimately counter-productive displays like the ones above.