An Elegant Solution

For those of you who are against gay marriage, I have a perfect solution for you that will not bother anyone else, even if your state approves gay marriage.

Don’t marry a gay person.

There. Wasn’t that simple? You won’t have to deal with the whole gay marriage question because it will be solely the problem of people it actually affects.

BTW, anti-gay marriage crowd, my ex-wife and I reached this conclusion as our marriage came to an end:

The biggest threat to marriage today is heterosexuals.

Yep. Those damn straight people with sleep with anything of the opposite gender.

Damn you, straight people! Damn you all to hell for threatening marriage!

Take Your (Yellow) Medicine

Yellow Medicine Yellow Medicine by Anthony Neil Smith

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
[Full disclosure: Neil Smith published my first short story. He also owes me a beer. Bet he didn’t know that about the beer, did he?]

Deputy Billy LaFitte is trying to start over in rural Minnesota. A former Gulf Coast cop, he was brought down by graft and divorce in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. His ex-brother-in-law Graham, the sheriff of Yellow Medicine County, throws him a lifeline, bringing him north.

Not that Billy’s found God or learned his lessons. He still shakes down meth dealers for protection and occasionally helps himself to a female suspect if she’s willing. But Billy has his friends, too, including psychobilly bass player Drew.

When Drew, a friend with benefits, asks Billy to get his boyfriend out of a jam, he agrees, figuring a night with Drew would be a fair enough exchange. Unfortunately, when Billy chases Ian into hiding to keep him from the bad guys, the bad guys, two Malaysian drug distributors, show themselves, making Billy an offer he has to refuse.

Billy says no. The bodies pile up, and Malaysians make sure the finger is pointed at Billy. If Billy would just come clean, it’d all be over. But Billy’s instinct is to cover his ass while trying to clean up the mess. By the time it’s all over, Billy finds himself face-to-face with Muslim terrorists (although not very bright ones) and an ambitious rogue federal agent named Rome, for whom Billy’s head on a platter is the ticket to a cushy office in Washington.

Smith works best with the morally questionable protagonist, of which Billy LaFitte is the latest. He doesn’t shy away from painting him as a bad guy in the beginning, but then just as easily gives us a reason to care. Drew, for instance, is more than an easy night in the sack for Billy. He’s in love with her, even if that love isn’t returned. Moreover, as the death toll rises, Billy starts seeing himself as Drew’s protector.

One interesting aspect of the story the role dogma plays. The terrorists are dogmatic to the point where they will justify anything, even sins of the flesh (One terrorist is caught with a cute blonde girlfriend in Detroit). However, their devotion to the cause has cracks. One character doesn’t like his leadership role challenged. Several are shown to be so zealous that they don’t think things through.

LaFitte’s former in-laws, too, are dogmatic. Flashbacks depict Billy’s father-in-law spouting scripture to destroy his marriage. And yet…

As with the homicide detective from Smith’s novella with Victor Gischler, TO THE DEVIL, MY REGARDS, we have a man for whom faith and dogma are merely tools to get through life. Graham, Billy’s former brother-in-law and his boss, thinks Billy is redeemable, and at some point, Billy starts to believe him. However, over a dozen people are dead by the time he realizes this.

But if there’s one person in all this who is truly evil, it’s Agent Rome. Rome is a Homeland Security agent who doesn’t care if Billy is innocent or not. He has himself a home-grown terrorist, and if he can paint Billy as a collaborator and a traitor, he can write his own ticket.

In the beginning, Rome seems to be an ally, working undercover at a Sioux casino. When he reveals himself, he claims to want to get Billy out of a jam, but soon, all he cares about is running Billy into either witness protection or federal prison. And he’s not above anything to do it, including, possibly, murder.

Of all of Smith’s novels, YELLOW MEDICINE is the most complex. Like the previous two, he gives us a sharp sense of place, this time cold, damp norther Minnesota. LaFitte is probably his most complex character to date. All in all, probably Smith’s best novel yet.

View all my reviews.

In Less Than Six Months…

Our long national nightmare is over.  I neglected to mention the six month mark last Sunday.

Someone once told me it could have been worse than Bush.  I asked how?

“Gore could have won.”

“I understand that, but you said it could have been worse.  How?”

“Gore could have won.”

I owe Tod Goldberg another dollar for using the word “fucktard.”

Attention, Slackers…

I have finished Neil Smith‘s Yellow Medicine and hereby order all of you to do the same.

I am now reading Victor Gischler‘s Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse, possibly The Great Gatsby of our generation.  Make your children read it.  In fact, pregnant women should read it to their fetuses*.

Then I’m gonna read Reed Farrell Coleman‘s Empty Ever After, because dammit, a man’s got to know his limitations.  And who better to show me those limitations than Moe Prager?

Now you know how to spend your summer vacation.  Get crackin’.  It’s almost August.

*Warning:  May cause irrational pre-natal fear of lemurs in newborns.  Consult your physician or Steve Wilkos before reading to unborn fetuses prior to third trimester.  Use only as directed.  Terms and conditions may apply.  See dealer for details.  Offer void in Albania, Dubai, and the parts of Pakistan both Obama and McCain want to bomb.

Why So Serious?

Let’s get this out of the way right now. The hype about Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight is, frankly, short of the mark. He owns this film in a way no other actor could have.  The Joker was on screen less than five minutes, and I already wanted to kill him. No wonder Ledger found himself a bit disturbed. Now that’s acting.

Ledger’s Joker, while acknowledging the past efforts by Cesar Romero’s campy clown and Jack Nicholson’s enraged prankster, takes the character into darker waters than anyone had imagined. Ledger’s Joker is chaos incarnate for the sake of chaos.  Heath Ledger makes both Brian Cox and Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter look like a weak James Bond villain.  (Incidentally, both Cox and Hopkins would make excellent Penguins and wash the bad taste of Burton’s freakish version out of everyone’s mouths.  Christopher Nolan, write that down.)

Director Christopher Nolan already took Batman in a different direction when he created a real world version of the Caped Crusader in Batman Begins. Bruce Wayne is created in a much more convincing manner. Alfred is a loyal schemer, much more than a cardboard parody of Reginald Jeeves from Jeeves & Wooster. Gotham City is not the bland, washed-out nightmare vision Tim Burton has already overused to the point of parody. No, Nolan’s cops, clean and corrupt, are very real. And Gotham?

Gotham is so real in Nolan’s vision of the DC universe you can almost see the exit signs to Metropolis on the freeways. The Dark Knight amps this up a bit. The Dark Knight is about how far people will go to confront evil. The Joker’s parallel to modern terrorists, right down to hijacking $68 million of the mob’s cash and convincing them to pay him half of it to kill Batman, needs no subtlety. The Dark Knight is about three good men – Bruce Wayne/Batman, Jim Gordon, and newly-minted DA Harvey Dent – wanting so bad to destroy the criminals who control Gotham City that they’re willing to sell off pieces of their souls to do it.

Jim Gordon does it by looking the other way when he thinks it’ll serve the common good. Batman does it by crossing a few ethical lines that make even brilliant technical wizard Lucius Fox want to move away. And Harvey Dent?

Batman fans know what becomes of Harvey. But rather than the psychotic prankster played by Tommy Lee Jones in the dreadful Batman Forever, Aaron Eckhart’s Dent is a man who gives Gotham City all of himself in order to save it and is rewarded with death and disfigurement. Transformed into Two Face, he becomes Batman’s evil twin, one to whom no one is innocent any longer.

If only for Ledger’s performance, The Dark Knight is light years ahead of Batman Begins.  The Joker here is a terrorist more evil than Osama bin-Laden, if only because he lacks any other cause than wanting “to watch the world burn.”  But it’s not just Ledger.  Ledger merely does what is required of him, which is to be an unreasonable force of destruction, one for whom death is not a sufficient deterrent.  But credit must also go to Christian Bale, who gives Bruce Wayne and Batman humanity.  If Ledger is over the top and terrifying, Gary Oldman, who might have played the Joker in an earlier era with as much venom as Ledger squeezes out of the role, is the opposite, the quiet voice of reason against the Joker’s madness.  Michael Caine, of course, is excellent as the voice of Bruce Wayne’s conscience.  Aaron Eckhart plays the cards he’s dealt with an underdeveloped Dent and Two-Face and does well.

Nolan must be given points for bringing in Maggie Gyllenhall to take over Rachel Dawes from Katie Holmes.  I liked Holmes in Batman Begins, but she doesn’t have the chops be a foil for the likes of Heath Ledger or hold her own with Bale, Caine, and Oldman.  Gyllenhall, on the other hand, sells Rachel Dawes all over again, an older, more seasoned actress to handle a much darker film.

I was disappointed in the development of Dent as Two Face.  Nolan had a terrific take on the character, a maimed vigilante out for revenge.  However, Harvey Dent, who as the District Attorney comes off as the guy you’d want McCain or Obama to name their running mate, never gets enough time after the transformation to grow into the grieving, enraged villain.  Also, the horror show appearance, which defies reality in what’s billed as a “real world Batman,” mars a terrific effort built around Heath Ledger’s psychopath in bad make-up.  In short, there’s no way Two Face could carry on a normal conversation with the damage to his face.  It’s one point (and the ONLY point) Joel Schumacher scores over Nolan.  Then again, one wonders why Schumacher didn’t go this route while Nolan would opt for Tommy Lee Jones massive scarring.

That’s the biggest flaw in the movie.  The only others for me were technical.  A scene where hostages were bound up to look as though they were holding other hostages was a bit confusing.  And throughout the streets of Gotham, Chicago is showing.  Not that I mind, but while Nolan does a good job creating a fictional city that’s bigger than New York, it almost threw me out of the story when the Joker and Batman do battle in front of an office I worked in over the most recent Superbowl weekend.  (Nice job painting out the Sears and Hancock buildings, btw.)  But if those are the biggest flaws, other directors should be so lucky.

The question now is how Nolan tops this.  The answer is he doesn’t.  The Penguin is on deck, and if Nolan is wise, he’ll stick to the franchise’s new-found love of the real world.  Instead of one of Tim Burton’s upchucked nightmares or Schumacher’s poorly executed camp villians, Nolan could go with the dapper Penguin.  After all, the mob is out a boss.  The Joker is likely in Arkham (most likely for good, with the loss of Heath Ledger).  And after such a dark, dark movie, it might not be bad to lighten up a bit and put Batman up against a dapper don in a tuxedo for getting really dark again.

Think about it, Mr. Nolan.  Don’t make the same mistake they did with Spiderman III.

Places I Want To Be: Hocking Hills

Trail at Ash Cave

Trail at Ash Cave

Ohio is either known for Rust Belt cities like Cleveland and Dayton, for WKRP in Cincinnati, or vast sections of flat farmland.  But its also home to the Appalachian Foothills in the state’s southeast corner.  About an hour outside of Columbus lies Hocking Hills, a large swath of forested wilderness that, while not quite mountainous, gives you the impression you are, in fact, in the mountains.  No surprise there.  The Appalachians of West Virginia rise only a a hundred miles east of here and, beyond them, the Great Smokies to the south and the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia further east.  Hocking Hills is where it all begins.

Now, if you need to have subways, bars open late, and the roar of a city, I suggest New York, Chicago, or San Francisco.  If you want to forget about the modern world for a weekend or even a whole week, I suggest Hocking Hills if you’re on a budget.

The highlight of Hocking Hills are the caves – or in most cases, the remnants of caves.  Among them, Old Man’s Cave is probably the most famous.  A ravine formed by the collapse of a large cave, Old Man’s Cave stretches for about two miles toward a reservoir and drops you fifty to a hundred feet below the rim.  Old Man’s Cave is linked by a 6 mile hiking loop to Ash Cave to the south.  Ash Cave remains a cave, but is this otherworldly place gouged out of the side of a former mountain that has eroded away over time.  Ash is linked to still another eroded cave at Cantwell Cliffs, a rocky, steep crack in the earth overgrown with lush forest.  In all, you can conceivably hike ten miles from the vistor center to Old Man’s Cave down to Cantwell Cliffs and back up through Ash Cave.  I’ve done the Ash-Old Man’s loop, about six miles.  So what’s harder?  Climbing the dam to the reservoir above Old Man’s Cave ravine or walking the cave floor?  I’ll get back to you.  I will say this.  In the state’s earliest days of white settlement, the trail at the floor of Old Man’s/Ash Caves was the main highway into the Ohio Country.

I will never complain again about the condition of I-75.

But if hiking’s not your thing, there are plenty of cabins and lodges to stay at, most of them without Internet and nearly all of them cell phone inaccessible.  If you truly want to get away from it all, may I suggest Ravenwood Castle?  Built about 10 miles south of the state park, Ravenwood, a castle built atop a wooded hill, sits on several acres of isolated forest just north of McArthur, Ohio.  Accomodations range from roughing it in one of the camper-sized wagons to primitive comfort in the fairy tale cottages – former campground huts in a small meadow below the castle to the Celtic village, where you can stay in fully equipped and furnished cottages ranging from a small loft to a house big enough for you and ten of your closest friends.  Or you can opt for the luxury of a room in the castle.  I’ve stayed in the meadow, the cottages, and the castle, and the difference depends only on your mood.  Breakfast, part of your nightly rate, is a fantastic buffet of just about anything you’d want, including home-made granola and pancakes made from scratch.  For an extra fee, the castle also serves dinner nightly (reservations required).  Even if you’re not a guest of Ravenwood, you can still make a dinner reservation.

Hocking Hills is not where you go for the history of the Rock Hall or the Liberty Bell, the bustle of Times Square, or the tourist traps of Fisherman’s Warf.  You turn off your cell phone, forget there’s an Internet, and tune out the rest of the world.  You’re never so glad the modern world can’t intrude.

And never better prepared to face it than when you get back.

Try Coming Up With A Real Answer For Once

It’s no secret I’d like to see the gasoline-powered engine head the way of the buggy whip.  And while I continue to call $4 a gallon gas little more than consumer rape (Try the $8 a gallon they pay in Europe.  I’m surprised there hasn’t been a few civil wars over that yet.), I am glad to see the auto industry pushing harder to build more hybrids, flex-fuel engines, electric cars, and…  Dare I say it?…  Hydrogen?  (GM plans to shift its hydrogen fuel cell program into high gear sooner rather than later.) 

But all that’s the long-term.  Even assuming GM’s first fuel cell vehicle goes into limited production by 2012, it will be in limited numbers until the price falls in line with current technology.  In the meantime…

I keep hearing the same rank stupidity whenever domestic drilling is brought up.  “It won’t produce anything for 3-10 years.  And it won’t drop prices.”

Um…  Can I have whatever you’re smoking?  Sounds like some really whack stuff.

First off, not producing anything for 3-10 years is not an intelligent objection, let alone a legitimate one.  3-10 years is actually much later than we need domestic oil.  Far be it from me to praise George W. Bush, the Warren Harding of his generation, but George got it right when he lifted the executive ban on offshore drilling.  Let’s be honest here.  What makes the people who object to this think the Saudis, Iranians, and Venezuelans are going to be any friendlier in 3-10 years?  And what good will come of staying with them when gasoline hits $5 or $6 a gallon?  Yes, we need to get off crude oil, but it ain’t happening in the next 3-10 years.  On the other hand, maintaining the status quo while we wait for the auto industry, British Petroleum, and Shell to change over to ethanol, hydrogen, and electric is inviting a few more planes into the upper floors of some very tall buildings.

Assuming the airlines are still in business to supply the hijackers with planes by then.

To the latter point, explain to me how not having to ship oil by tanker across multiple oceans – already proven to be an environmental risk greater than drilling itself – is going to run up the price of oil.  It’s not.  Here’s the problem with that theory.  Even if oil still goes higher, at least domestic supplies will keep the profits here.  The problem is we’ve been sending money overseas to people who don’t like us much, and people we don’t like much, either.  You tell me what’s cheaper:  A few rigs off California?  Or the Saudis turning off the taps.

At some point in the next decade or so, America and Europe are going to turn off the spigots, or at least turn them way down.  At that point, no one will care what the Middle East or Venezuela thinks of the rest of the planet, other than…

“Hey, buddy.  Got a bite to eat?  We’re starving over here.”

Until then, we need to bring the oil home and stop pissing off the rest of the world because we’re too self-righteous to drill our own.

I’m Having A Hard Time Finding The Outrage

There are lots of things I’m pissed off about.  Obama’s sell out on FISA.  Gas prices.  The continued popularity of Howard Stern.  Ann Coulter was not stillborn.  As you can see, I have a lot to get worked up about.

The sale of Budweiser to Belgium’s InBev is not one of them. Why?

I drink Killians, which is a lager brewed by Coors based on an Irish red ale.  When I’m not drinking that, I’m drinking Samuel Adams, some of which is brewed here in Cincinnati by the old Hudepohl brewery.  (“Would you like a Hudie?”  “I’d be delighted!”)  When I’m not drinking that, I’m drinking Bass Ale or its cross-England rival, Newcastle.  And when I’m not drinking those, I’m drinking Irish ale, usually Smithwick’s or Harp’s.  And when all else fails, I drink Warsteiner, which is a weak German beer.  Which means you have to drink the entire bottle before it knocks you on your ass.

In other words, I like beer-flavored beer.  I love the Great Lakes brews and good ol’ cheap Spotted Cow from Wisconsin and its more full-bodied counterpart, Capitol Ale.  I love Christian Morlein and the kick of the stuff they brew at Rock Bottom.  I’ve been to New York to have Brooklyn Beer and Philadelphia to have Yuengling and to San Francisco to have Anchor Steam.

I never bought into the myth that the working man must drink really bad beer, even though I did go through a Pabst phase in my early drinking days.  No, sir.  No Schlitz, Milwaukee’s Best, or Stoh’s for me.  (Sorry, Erin.  Can’t drink it.)

For me, mass-produced American beer like Budweiser is little more than alcoholic soda pop.  It’s good to quench your thirst, but there’s nothing to it.  It has no kick, no flavor.  Oh, if I’m forced to drink cheap beer, I’ll usually opt for Bud.  And I will admit it’s not as watery as Coors.  (Will someone please tell me why it was such a big deal to sell Coors east of the Mississippi in the 1980’s?  I can’t believe they made a Burt Reynolds movie about it!)

Yes, a foreign company has bought Anheuser-Busch.  So what?  If I still drank it regularly, I might get worked up about it.  But I’m not.  I say spend the extra bucks and get the microbrews.  In this economy, the little breweries need your support.

And in this economy, you need something stronger than Michelob Ultra to get you through it.

‘Scuse me.  I’m gonna run downstairs and fetch me a Killians.