What if you could (fill in the blank)?

by Jon Pine

I’ve come to realize that some of my favorite movies might all fall into the category of “What-If” Films – films with highly conceptual themes, usually comedies, that generally turn reality on its head. They explore philosophical and spiritual ambiguities, with a liberal dose of irony, but do so with a light hand, thus avoiding one of the cardinal rules of comedy: Thou shalt not be overly preachy.

Jon Pine

“Groundhog Day” is one of those films. What if a shallow, arrogant and cynical weatherman found himself stuck in a podunk town, forced to live the same day again and again, covering the same podunk “human interest story” over and over until he learns that the true meaning of love and life is to be selfless?

Then there’s “Sliding Doors,” an overlooked gem of a film in which the story of a fired PR professional literally diverges into two wildly different scenarios – each showing what might have happened to her depending on how she reacted to a split-second circumstance of fate.

In one of my favorite Woody Allen films, “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” a dashing depression-era movie character literally comes off the screen to rescue a young audience member from her miserable life and abusive husband. But then the actor, concerned that his come-to-life character might ruin his career, comes to town with a tough lesson: Real life ain’t like it is in the movies.

More recently there is “The Invention of Lying,” a fable set in a world where lying simply does not exist – until one man tells his dying mother a small fib just to ease her suffering a little. One lie leads to another and another until we, the audience, realize that our entire existence relies upon the little lies we tell ourselves all the time.

And then there are the bizarre, darker fantasies imagined by screenwriter Charlie Kaufman: In “Being John Malkovich” he explores what it might be like to actually get inside the mind of another human being, if only for 15 minutes at a time – after which you are unceremoniously dumped in a ditch on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike. In “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” Kaufman exposes a fantasy we’ve probably all had at one time or another: What if you could completely erase the memory of an ex-lover who has caused you deep pain?

Paul Giamatti as Paul Giamatti in "Cold Souls."

Falling somewhere in the middle is a wonderful bit of existential (or is it anti-existential?) escapism called “Cold Souls,” written and directed by first-time filmmaker Sophie Barthes. It is now available on DVD, but not yet on Bluray. The idea, Barthes says, was sparked by a dream she had in which she was standing in line at a doctor’s office, right behind Woody Allen, each of them holding containers with their souls inside, to be examined by the doctor.

Initially, she intended to expand the dream into a screenplay for Allen – no stranger to “What-If” comedies himself – but a chance meeting with actor Paul Giamatti convinced her to write the script with him in mind instead – not only as the lead actor, but also as the lead character. Hence, “Cold Souls” opens on Paul Giamatti, the actor, playing a character named Paul Giamatti, also an actor, rehearsing a scene from Anton Chekhov’s play, “Uncle Vanya.”

But something is impeding Giamatti’s ability to nail the part. No matter how deep he reaches, he can’t summon enough of the character to breathe life into his stage performance. To a writer, this would be called writer’s block; to an actor, it is equally as crippling.

After struggling for a while with this dilemma, Giamatti’s agent tells him about a ground-breaking doctor who has discovered a way to actually extract the soul from the human body, thus freeing the person from the encumbrances of, well, you know – pesky little annoyances like conscience and feelings. This might be just what he needs, the agent says, so he can be free to concentrate on his acting.

Giamatti is the perfect choice for this character, and of course, for the actor. His droopy, hangdog look and edgy, forlorn demeanor encapsulate the very essence of one who is – dare I say it? – soul-weary. Not just on stage, but in his home life with his wife (Emily Watson), and out with friends –  not quite sad, but certainly not as happy as he would like to be. He seeks a change, but he’s not sure what sort of change he’s after.

Dr. Flinstein (David Strathairn) shows Paul Giamatti a freshly extracted soul.

It is here that the story really takes off. Without giving too much away, Giamatti reluctantly makes an appointment to see David Flinstein, the soul-extracting doctor, played by Daniel Strathairn. After the extraction Giamatti finds that perhaps having no soul, while it is certainly freeing, may be worse than having a sick soul. But when he goes back to the institute to reverse the extraction, he learns that his soul is missing – “We probably shipped it to our New Jersey warehouse by mistake.” (Poor New Jersey seems to be the butt of jokes in several of my favorite “What-If” films!)

The plot twists and turns around an array of quirky characters: The members of an international “soul trafficking ring”; a Russian “mule” who has transported so many black market souls she no longer has the capacity for one of her own; a factory worker with the soul of a Russian poet; and a vacuous soap opera star who believes acquiring the soul of American actor Al Pacino will make her a better actress.

The laughs, while they don’t come fast and furious, are deeply satisfying nonetheless – some running gags with chickpeas, a confrontation with the Russian leader of the soul-trafficking ring, and even just the sight of Giamatti in a big furry Russian hat will make you laugh.

But beyond the laughs are the deeper questions that haunt all of us. What is a soul, and where does it really reside – in the heart, the head, or somewhere else? How much of our happiness depends on the health of our souls? And the question that has challenged scholars and theologians for centuries: What happens to our souls when we die?

While it’s fun to fantasize about ditching your soul for a more exciting model, there are always consequences in these “What If” stories.  In “Groundhog Day,” Bill Murray reveled in an alternate universe where he could eat, drink and womanize with no consequences. But he also realized he was powerless to prevent the pain and death of those around him.

In “Purple Rose,” Mia Farrow chooses real life over fantasy, and finds crushing disappointment in both.

In “Being John Malkovich,” John Cusack learns he can inhabit Malkovich’s mind long enough to get the girl – but since the girl really doesn’t love him, he is doomed to an eternal prison from which he is forced to stare at the object of his affection – just out of reach – for eternity.

And in “Cold Souls,” Paul Giamatti learns pretty quickly that the soul on the other side of the fence is not necessarily greener. But more importantly, he learns, as we all eventually do, that happiness is a stacked emotion, the result not of taking something the other guy seems to have, but of, little by little, layer by layer, making something out of what you have.

And that’s just about as preachy as I’m going to get with this review.

© 2010 Jon Pine

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Die, Newspapers, Die

By ROBERT SMITH

They’re at it again.

In yet another attempt at cheap heat directed toward the dumbest of sports fans, the once-great Chicago Tribune – founded in 1847 and the place where Roger Ebert has penned some of the best film reviews ever written – printed this photo as a full-page poster, ostensibly to get local fans riled up for an upcoming Chicago Blackhawks versus Philadelphia Flyers NHL Stanley Cup Finals game.

This, of course, is a blatant rip-off and complete steal from last fall’s now-infamous New York Post cover that lampooned the Philadelphia Phillies, who had the unmitigated nerve to serve as the National League opponents of the New York Yankees in the World Series. Wait a moment: Aren’t there female baseball and hockey fans?

Journalism, we hardly knew you, particularly in the sports section.

Years ago, there was a weathercaster named Tim Welch, who worked at a television station in Albany, New York, who gave the shortest and most profound summation of his job as a TV journalist: “We’re not here to hurt, we’re not here to help. We’re here to report.”

Unfortunately, it’s easy to assume that Welch is in another line of work by now. Today’s newspapers, even in large markets such as New York and Chicago, have decided to become pom-pom waving cheerleaders for their area’s sports teams, but that’s only part of the problem. Instead of printing “Let’s Go Whoever” color posters in their papers, they’re printing name-calling, bullying war cries instead. This, of course, is right up the alley for today’s beered-up louts that make attending a major sporting event akin to walking into Mugsy’s Pub in the worst part of town and calling the proprietor “you old fart.” Today, it’s not enough to root for your team – one must vilify the other squad, as if simply singing a contract with an out of town team makes a person evil beyond human redemption. Gee, we thought that’s what a .226 batting average did, but we’re old school.

Fox News is ruining television news, broadcast by broadcast, and now other newspapers are whiffing Rupert Murdoch’s fart stench and deciding it smells like roses. It’s easy to remember the days when periodicals like the Post would write the headline “Mets Nip Cubs 3-2” on the back of the dailies the morning after a game. Gee, somehow that would tell us all we needed to know, wouldn’t it? Now, headline writers come up with pith and pandering and jibes and insults, as if the punniest headline wins the tabloid booby prize. Whatever happened to simply letting readers know what the heck happened?

Currently, a bunch of tabloid newspapers in New York are having a field day with Debralee Lorenzana, who is reportedly suing Citigroup for allegedly firing her just for being too attractive and dressing in a manner some deemed inappropriate for the workplace. There have been editorial cartoons mocking and editorials ripping the beautiful brunette – and, of course, at the same time those same papers are printing as many sexy photos of her as they can get their exploitive mitts on.

As someone who tried to learn journalism, who yearned to learn style and syntax and skill, who tried, no matter what size publication I’ve worked for, to adhere to the highest standards that I could, I now say this to the newspaper industry: Go to blazes. Day after day, newspaper after tabloid, more publications are yellower than a canary’s butt, rife with factual errors and typos and pure hype. Columnists take sides instead of reporting; gossip lowers the human experience; sports pages, where there once were agate columns of batting averages and box scores, are now filled with name-calling and sordid locker room mongering. Small town newspapers are just as bad, but in a different way; they print only what their advertisers dictate. Trust me, I’ve been there.

It’s all over. As someone who used to pick up four newspapers a day and seek them out in any city I’ve traveled to, I’ve had enough. Editors are now just salesman, pandering to the dumbest of the dumb, scrounging for loose quarters like hobos on street corners. They’ll print anything at all as long as it creates self-promoting “news” about their own publications, instead of having faith in their readerships to covet, as Joe Friday once uttered on “Dragnet,” just the facts.

Years ago, the Yankees’ Chuck Knoblauch made an error during the World Series. The next day, a local New York paper’s headline was “Blauchhead.”

Nope, that was I – for continuing to support an industry that no longer boasts even the lowest standards; they’re only in it for the money. And it’s not working; papers are closing up week by week, day by day.

May the printing presses slow and stop, one by one.

Robert Smith has been an editor and writer for … ahh, go look it up. Why should we print facts when no one else does?

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How is a raven like a writing desk?

by Jon Pine

In Tim Burton’s version of the Lewis Carroll classic “Alice in Wonderland,” Johnny Depp, as the orange-haired, googly-eyed Mad Hatter, asks, “How is a raven like a writing desk?” The answer to the question is of no consequence – rather, it’s the Hatter’s obsession with the question itself that makes him mad.

Jon Pine

I can’t help but compare supporters of the Tea Party movement to Mad Hatters, obsessed with bombastic questions, unconcerned with the answers, displaying a comical detachment from reality.

Some of their favorite nonsensical queries: “How is a centrist President like a Socialist dictator?” Or “How are the lowest taxes in 50 years like being ‘taxed to death’?” And, of course, the lulu of them all, “How are decades of deregulation, tax breaks for the mega-rich and tax loopholes for corporations like ‘big government’ running out of control?”

I’ve long ago stopped wasting my breath trying to talk the Mad Hatters down from their hallucinations. You can’t. Never mind that when the government was in their hands it underwent the largest expansion in recent history. Now that it’s in the hands of the Democrats and our first African American president, it is seen as a bloated, treacherous, treasonous Jabberwocky, and there’s only one solution – “Off with its head!”

Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter (c) Walt Disney Productions

Like all delusional paranoids, they have no idea what they’re saying. Abolish the IRS? Really? Turn corporations loose in a deregulated “free market”? Deep-six the Environmental Protection Agency? The Department of Education? Reverse portions of the Civil Rights Amendment?

Let’s slow down a bit and try to imagine what America would look like as One Nation Under the Tea Party, shall we?

Abolish the IRS. Well, for starters they don’t really mean abolishing the IRS – just the progressive tax. We’d still need a federal agency to collect taxes. Most Tea Party adherents say they prefer a so-called flat tax. But do they really understand what that would mean? It would mean that taxes for the majority of those in the middle class would go up. No more deductions for children, for charitable donations, healthcare expenses, college tuition, mortgage interest.

Over the past three decades or so, the tax burden has already, slowly but steadily, shifted away from the rich and toward the middle class. A flat tax would finish the shift, creating huge tax reductions for the rich and mega-rich. The theory, of course, is that rich people will then create jobs for the rest of us. But history has proven that to be a false premise. Job growth was actually higher during the Clinton years when taxes for the middle class went down and the taxes on the rich went up; during the Bush years, when the tax burden was reversed, job growth actually slowed.

Deregulate, baby, deregulate. Hmmm… If only there were some recent examples of deregulation gone awry. If only mass deregulation of, say, the financial and banking industries turned out to be not such a good idea. Or if, maybe, a huge industry like the oil, gas or coal industry flaunted environmental or safety regulations to a disastrous end. If only…

I lay awake at night fretting about the coming of the slick, which satellite photos now confirm has entered the “loop current” and may very well show up on the beautiful beaches here in Vero Beach, Florida. It could conceivably continue northward in the Gulf Stream and befoul beaches and fragile estuaries all along the Atlantic coast. And the more we learn about this catastrophe, the more we learn it should have been prevented.

Even the minimal regulations in place weren’t adhered to properly, and the small government blowhards want to deregulate further? Are you freakin’ kidding me? With nearly 4,000 oil and gas rigs in the Gulf of Mexico already, we don’t need one single more. Not there, nor anywhere else offshore. Yet, the Palins, the Pauls, the Becks and the other Mad Hatters are screaming again to “drill, baby, drill!”

Their justification? We need to “get off foreign oil,” and by that, what they really mean is get off of oil from the Middle East. I’ve got news for you – we can do that without drilling a single new well.

Consider that more than half the oil we consume comes from domestic sources. Of the rest, 80 percent is from foreign sources here in the Western Hemisphere – countries with whom we have no serious beefs. With just a little effort, we could eliminate the remaining 20 percent of imports (10 percent of total consumption) that come from the Eastern Hemisphere.

Start by temporarily increasing imports from our friends in the West. Then raise CAFE standards for new vehicles over the next 5-10 years, while also raising the price of gasoline with a federal tax, the way that it was done in the 1970s under President Carter. Now, as then, consumption will decrease more than 10 percent; the gas tax can be used to fund development of alternative energy sources – just like it was used in the ‘70s.

Deep-six the EPA. This is perhaps the most foolish idea of them all. The Environmental Protection Agency was initiated by Richard Nixon – no tree-hugger, he. Why? Because unregulated – there’s that word again – chemical companies had been spraying DDT, dioxins, and all sorts of nasty pollutants directly into the environment, making millions of people sick. For a conservative guy like Nixon to take such an action, it had to be really, really bad.

During the eight years of the Bush II Administration, hundreds of EPA actions and regulations had been weakened or abolished altogether. But don’t take my word for it; just read Robert F. Kennedy’s excellent account, “Crimes Against Nature.” You’ll find a synopsis of the book here: http://www.commondreams.org/views03/1120-01.htm

And now the Tea Party folks want to do away with the EPA altogether? They truly are Mad Hatters!

Close the Department of Education. Another puzzling idea, which was championed by Ronald Reagan almost immediately after Jimmy Carter established it in 1979. “Established” is really not an accurate description of what Carter did, however – previously, education was part of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and Carter merely separated the education office so that it was its own cabinet-level department.

Most people erroneously assume the Department of Education oversees curriculum development, regulates education quality standards, or makes other intrusions into the education system, but this isn’t so. Rather, it oversees federal funding for education, and makes sure that schools honor citizens’ privacy and civil rights. Important stuff, right? Not to Tea Party Mad Hatters, apparently. Rand Paul wants to give businesses the right to refuse service to minorities; apparently he feels that schools should also have that same right. Say hello to segregated schools! Thank you, Tea Party!

Ironically, the one instance in which the Department of Education did set standards for education was George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind Act” – an abject failure by most people’s accounts.

Are you beginning to get a vision of what a Tea Party Laissez-Faire Utopia might look like? All kinds of new “freedoms” – including the freedom of corporations to do and say pretty much whatever they like. The freedom to pay more taxes so rich people and corporations can pay less! Woohoo! More taxes, less benefits – sounds good, right? Bring it on!

Freedom from government interference – if you’re black or Hispanic, you can consider yourself free to leave my store now, thank you very much, and the government can’t do a thing about it. You’ll also be free to study with other minorities, but not alongside my white kids – sorry! The government can’t help you there, either.

Or maybe you’ll want to put your kids to work – there will be no federal child labor laws to stop you. And none of those pesky OSHA standards to guarantee safe working conditions for the little buggers – or for you, for that matter. Just don’t expect fair wages – the “free market” means the government can no longer regulate utilities, so the company will make it up by cutting wages, and the government can’t stop them. No such thing as a minimum wage anymore! Isn’t that grand? And don’t try to unionize – that won’t be legal anymore, either.

This is just a glimpse of what you can expect. You can say goodbye to 10 percent unemployment – and hello to 20 or even 25 percent unemployment. We’ve just shit-canned millions of federal employees, remember? They’re all out there scratching and clawing for your job now – only there won’t be any guarantee of access to healthcare. The Mad Hatters have overturned healthcare reform, and they’re coming after Medicare and Social Security next.

We live in a huge, complex country, growing larger and more complex every day. We need more government, not less; more regulations, not fewer. The Wall Street debacle and the oil that is still oozing in the Gulf of Mexico demonstrate that our problems are growing larger and more complex, too – and that corporations and the free market, left to their own devices, will not protect us. But they will do all they can to protect their own profits.

The goal here should not be smaller government, but rather more efficient government. Instead of “Off with his head!” we should be calling for “Tame the Jabberwocky!” Government is not the enemy. Why would we listen to anything the Mad Hatters say?

A raven is like a writing desk – indeed!

© 2010 Jon Pine

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… & It Really, Really Works

By ROBERT SMITH

Like Dan Aykroyd’s classic Irwin Mainway character in those classic early “Saturday Night Live” sketches, companies are always trying to put their hands in your pockets. It’s easy to be cynical in this Internet-driven, infomercial world, but sometimes – as rare as it might seem – some of the products sold though mass media can actually be decent. Amazingly, not every TV product is a get-rich-quick scheme, dubious male enhancement product, or “miracle” food preparation device.

The cheap plastic food prep stuff draws the biggest laughs from this corner. One of our infomercial shows on the airwaves these days concerns the Magic Bullet blender, a chopping/blending device so small that you practically have to pre-cut most every type of solid food that goes into it. So why not just keep going with the knife you used in the first place? We like a “full family meal” as much as the next guy, but cleaning our food processors and blenders doesn’t rank all that high on our list of problems.

While perusing the Rite-Aids and Walgreens of our neighborhood (frankly, those who order products directly from TV ads pay ridiculously inflated shipping and handling charges), in recent months we’ve become exceedingly bold and actually tried a handful of the products you see on the tube virtually every day. Miracle of miracles, some really, really work!

It all started with The George Foreman Grill and the Ronco Showtime Rotisserie; the makers of these excellent products deserve a tip of the cap for making goods that aren’t scams in the least, and they do what they are intended to do. Here are more recent products, all available through many brick-and-mortar stores no matter where you live, that are shockingly excellent:

The Swivel Sweeper G2: It works! This little mini-vacuum cleaner actually does a pretty fair job cleaning rugs and bare floors, and it’s so light that even kids and seniors can handle it with ease. The product has gotten even better recently with the addition of levers on the top of the canister that enable hands-free emptying of the dirt tray. Well worth the $40 or so you’ll pay for it (swivelsweeper.com).

MagicJack: It works! A recent sampling of MagicJack proved the service provided by this little plug contraption offers VOIP home phone service that’s as good (or better) than cable company phone services, and it’s a whole lot cheaper. Yes, you have to leave a computer on to use the phone or receive calls, but since the service includes voice mail, it’s virtually the same as using an answering machine. MagicJack’s faux “home shopping”-style infomerical is the worst such show for just about the best product available through TV. Go figure. However, those pondering switching from monthly phone service to MagicJack might want to give this a tumble; consider your lifestyle before making the move. Even Consumer Reports liked this device. (magicjack.com)

The Titan Peeler: It works! This sharp, well-constructed little slicer is one of the best ways to cut and slice vegetables we’ve ever tried, and it comes packaged with a versatile little mandolin board. This is a shockingly durable kitchen tool you’ll use for the rest of your life … uh oh; we’re starting to sound like Ron Popeil … (titanpeelersale.com)

UGlu Glue Strips: It works! A simple idea: Glue strips that peel off patches of fabric. This is such a good idea we’re shocked no one thought of it years ago. Actually, someone had; UGlu was available at hardware-type stores before some genius decided to make some splashy TV ads (getuglu.com).

Turbo Snake: It works! Another simple idea: Take a plumber’s snake and shrink it down to several inches long, and you get the idea of the Turbo Snake. This handy little contraption clears out clogged bathroom sinks far better and safer than toxic liquid drain cleaners, and it’s built to last. At about $10, this is the best buy of any of these products (buytheturbosnake.com).

HD Vision Ultra Sunglasses: It works! Well, we like’em, in both the wraparound and regular versions, but obviously these aren’t for everyone – just like no one kind of sunglasses are perfect for everyone’s particular vision needs. That being said, these are what we reach for first on bright, sunny days (buyhdvision.com).

TV Travails: Here’s a compendium of products told through television that you should at least think twice about: ShamWow (it’s … a towel); Invicta watches sold on ShopNBC (a D+ rating at The Better Business Bureau only begins to tell the story of the “quality” of these timepieces); any infomercial that looks sorta kinda like the Larry King show; any “health supplement” or exercise equipment sold via infomercials; and anything hawked by Kevin Trudeau – who actually has been banned from selling anything but books via infomercials and has been found guilty of credit card fraud, yet has reached the New York Times bestseller list a couple of times with titles such as Natural Cures “They” Don’t Want You To Know About, despite warnings from groups such as The New York State Consumer Protection Board.

Thinking about that last one, we finally figured out how George W. Bush got elected to a second term.

We wouldn’t buy anything manufactured by Robert Smith.

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Will we ever learn? I hope so…

By Jon Pine

Yesterday, for a brief moment, my depression and anger over the unfolding environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico lifted. I watched as two birds who were rescued from certain oily death were released back into the wild – gently scrubbed free of oil, nourished and nursed back to health by veterinarians with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Jon Pine

“Lucky,” a young male Northern Gannet, and a young male Brown Pelican were flown by chartered plane from Louisiana to their new home in the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge near here, in Indian River County Florida. As I watched the birds paddle out into the water and eventually take flight – after nearly a week in captivity – my heart also soared a bit, and for a moment, my faith in humanity returned. Maybe we won’t destroy ourselves and our planet in my lifetime after all.

A variety of public, private, national and local agencies were responsible for bringing these two fellows here to their new home. With so much attention paid to two little critters, perhaps we CAN muster the will necessary to change our ways and move toward a day when man-made catastrophes like this just don’t happen.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents release a Pelican that had been rescued from the oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

In a way, the story of these two birds and their new home is a perfect metaphor for the raging debate over fossil fuels versus clean energy. For your consideration: Why, of all places, were they released here? There are several answers:

For starters, the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge is far from the site of the slick. It also happens to be located smack-dab at the nexus between the tropics and the subtropics – and as such is, arguably, the most biologically diverse estuary in the United States. Hundreds of species of birds, fish and mammals live here, including 15 listed as endangered or threatened.

In other words – this is Bird Heaven to these two guys. I would imagine that within hours of their release they’ve each found others of their species to hang around with, fish with, mate with, and just generally live a sludge-free existence.

"Lucky" the Northern Gannet is released into his new home.

So how did this bird heaven come to be? Glad you asked! President Theodore Roosevelt established Pelican Island as the country’s very first national wildlife refuge in 1903. Why? So glad you asked again! It has to do with fashion: At the turn of the 20th Century, birds like Pelicans and Gannets were hunted almost to extinction for their feathers – which were prized like gold to decorate ladies’ hats and other fashion accessories.

Teddy Roosevelt – a conservative Republican, by the way – recognized that something needed to be done or many species of birds would end up extinct.

Today’s conservative Republicans don’t seem to share Roosevelt’s understanding for the environment and our natural resources. Like the demand for the prized bird feathers of the early 1900s, today’s insatiable greed for oil profits threatens to doom hundreds of species of animals – this time in the Gulf of Mexico. But conservative Republicans, and a few conservative Democrats, continue to cry “Drill, baby, drill!” Even President Obama included new offshore drilling in his energy reform plan. Hopefully, he is doing some hard thinking about that right now.

What will it take for them to learn? Another exploding oil rig? It’s not far-fetched to believe that it might happen. Did you know that, in the Gulf of Mexico alone, there are more than 3,800 active oil and gas drilling operations? Do we really need more of them in such an environmentally sensitive area?

And can we agree to stop calling the Gulf oil well catastrophe a “spill”? It is a man-made underwater crude oil geyser and no one seems to know how to make it stop.

This morning as I write this, and as the oil geyser continues to spew into the Gulf, the three stooges at the center of this catastrophe – British Petroleum, TransOcean and Halliburton – will be pointing fingers of blame at each other during a hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The very idea of it reminds me of the final scene in Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” where the surviving participants in a jewel heist point guns at each other, while accusations fly about who among them is the undercover cop. (Without spoiling the movie for those who haven’t seen it, suffice it to say, that scene ends very, very badly.)

There’s a corny old saying: When you point your finger at someone, your other three fingers are pointing back at you. It’s trite, but true, in this circumstance. We all should have demanded better from our leaders long ago. At the very least, demanded stringent safety regulations on ALL drilling rigs. Better yet, demanded a moratorium on offshore drilling in environmentally sensitive areas.

But better still, demand that we finally, forcefully, consistently move clearly in the direction that would eventually take us off of all fossil fuels.

If we don’t, we may run the risk of extinction, just like our feathered friends at the turn of the 20th Century.

For more photos of the wild bird release click here.

© 2010 Jon Pine

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Another Great Moment In Media

This was the actual image on my computer screen when I accessed the cable service Optimum (run by Cablevision) yesterday.  Of all the photos of Dave Roberts available, this was the one they chose. I don’t know if  it was the case of a brain dead editor, a lack of availability, or what, but one thing I do know: This was one of the most tasteless things I’ve seen on the Net in a while, and that includes Hustler.com. Appalling. (Robert Smith)

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Real Products You Can Buy, Eat, & Use

BY ROBERT SMITH

Every so often, you pass something in a store that makes you glad you live in this Land O’ Plenty, as the variety of products and services we have at our fingertips here is just another sign that, well…we love to buy and produce some pretty odd stuff.

Here’s a brief compendium of head-scratching concepts, products, and foods:

This is a brand of slider lock that’s on the door of a stall in the men’s room of a bowling center that I roll at. I shudder to think what’s on the women’s room stall door – Vag-Hida, perhaps?

What follows is a can of dog food; the full name is “Lord Of The Manor Gourmet Sliced Chicken Dinner In Gravy Dog Food.” Love this label so much, I can’t describe it; it’s as if they Googled a couple of stock images, and Viola. One of the listed ingredients is “water sufficient for processing.” I wouldn’t let my dog near this stuff on a bet from a Newfy. Available now at fine stores such as National Wholesale Liquidators!

Finally … THE most hilarious canned product EVER…some of these food items, I’ve never even heard of..oh, my lord.

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Filed under Humor, Photography, Posts by Robert Smith