Friday, February 29, 2008

Day One: Prettifying a Scar with Mederma

Five and a half months ago, a Basenji bit me in a dog park.
Here's what my arm looked like then:

Today, it looks like this:

Let's see what happens with this scar-fading stuff called Mederma. A pharmacist at a CVS drug store recommended it. It's a clear, runny goo with onion extract that comes in a squeeze tube and costs a lot ($18 at CVS, $13 at Walmart). You're supposed to rub it on your scar three or four times a day for up to six months.

Onward to beauty, or something.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

McCain: Bring Back the Draft

Okay, so he hasn't said it yet. McCain has said only that his campaign hinges on convincing voters that the war in Iraq is working.1

Has McCain noticed how battle-worn the troops are, and how many tours they've had? Has he noticed that National Guardsmen have been posted abroad time after time in Iraq, long after their service was supposed to be over--the so-called "back-door draft?"

There are simply not enough young people enlisting to spend months on end in 100- to 120-degree heat with the locals trying to kill them every time they venture outside Fortress America. To keep the war going, the government will have to institute a draft. Maybe there'll even be a draft lottery, the way there was during the Vietnam war!

But McCain seems to think, Heck, if the war in Iraq isn't working, we can always try fighting the next country over. Last year, just before McCain's campaign almost went broke, he made a joke about dealing with Iraq's neighbor by singing "Bomb-bomb-bomb, bomb-bomb Iran" to the tune of the Beach Boys' " Barbara Ann."

A vote for McCain is a vote for the draft.


Whoever Wants It Most

In War and Peace, old General Kutuzov knows that battles are won by the side whose soldiers want to win the most.1

That's what's happening in the Democratic presidential run. Barack Obama's team is lean, efficient, and on its toes in every way that Hillary's is not. In state after state, his campaign has out-organized Clinton's.

Kutuzov, though, didn't have a retired general screwing with his battle plans. Hillary did.

1A goofy idea in general, but in this case it fits.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Fifty Years to Yuma

Fifty years ago, when the original 3:10 to Yuma starring Glenn Ford was released, it was a great film. It's still a great film, but in every way that the 2007 version of the film differs from the original, it's better.

Fifty years of filmmaking has made for major improvements. In 1957's version, the journey from Dan's ranch to Contention gets no screen time at all. None. The journey in 2007 is two and a half days and includes a bad-guy stalker, a murder, two jut-jawed standoffs, and a detour through Indian country, where Ben saves the whole group from a raid. It isn't just bullets and thunder: the tension between characters keeps ramping up.

There's also the acting. I'm amazed at how magical film acting is today. It's as if no one really understood, a half-century ago, just how well emotions can be shown in a flicker across a character's face. Close-ups in 1957 showed things, such as the wrinkles and ever-so-slightly disheveled hair of Dan's work-worn wife. Today's close-ups show that and shadow emotions too. One thing remains the same: charisma still trumps onscreen. As good as Christian Bale is in the 2007 film, Russell Crowe still commands the screen whenever he's on it.

The motives change, too. In the 2007 version, it's all about legacy through personal character. Dan the Rancher (Christian Bale) wants to show his chops to his impressionable teenage son so the son will walk the righteous path: He wants the boy to respect his beaten-down, powerless, but ethical Pa. His rival for the boy's soul is the charming Ben Wade, who holds his destiny in his own fists. Ben (Russell Crowe) gives Dan a break because he respects his inner steel.

In 1957, it's legacy through love. The person Dan wants to impress is his wife. Perhaps it's a holdover from WWII soldiers' anxiety that a sweetheart will stray. Then, a memory made for a sort of immortality.1 The 1957 film's Ben gives Dan a break because he recognizes a life he can't have: Dan has a loving wife and home, and Ben never will.

It's odd: In 1957, a stable family life was a heck of a lot easier to achieve--or, if you will, harder to avoid. Without birth control and legal abortions, it cost too much for a young woman to give sex away. Divorce actually carried a stigma then.

Now we have fewer ways to define ourselves. If you want to be distinctive, you might wear Manolo Blahnik pumps, open-toed with three-and-a-half-inch heels, like Carrie in Sex and the City. You're defining yourself as another person, or at least as part of a smaller group of other people. Granted, you may never actually meet someone like Carrie, but you're still her.

What's more, there's a far greater sense that ethical decisions are made among shades of gray: In the 2007 film's fights in the dark, you can't tell good guys from bad.


What satisfies us in 2008 is the idea that we can still define who we are as individuals--even if it means making a statement by dying for our ideals. The son will remember Dad's principled sacrifice. But in 1957, making memories required time. Audiences remembered all too well when death by violence cut memory-making short. The film reassured people that there is still time. There's a happy ending!

1In 2007, identical dialogue about Dan's wife comes across as just another way for Ben to get under Dan's skin.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Does Obama Look Like a President?

It will be hard to get used to a President with jug ears, black lips, and hands as oversized as a puppy's. Obama doesn't look like the leader of the free world--not yet. 

We'll get used to that. 

I'm not sure we'll get used to a new world that overwrought wiseheads describe:  the one with the United States as a second-rate power, hobbled by the fallout from our own spendthrifty habits, harassed by price-undercutting Chinese thugs out to steal our lunch money.  

To my mind, there is a new world:  An economy that isn't run by overrefined white moneybags on the eastern seaboard. With Obama in charge, we're looking at a world where, conceivably, ethnicity doesn't matter.