And now we start losing Bonds.

Word comes that Roger Moore has died at 89.

Moore, obviously, is known as the post-Connery Bond, but true nerds recall that he was actually the third guy to play 007 (in the Eon Productions films, which are all that really matter). When Connery bowed out after his fifth outing (You Only LIve Twice in 1967, which is the one where he teams up with a Japanese agent and goes undercover in, basically, yellowface before the final fight in a volcano base), Australian model George Lazenby took over for a single picture (the underrated On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, co-starring Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas!) before Connery’s code (Diamonds are Forever, featuring a thinly-veiled Howard Hughes proxy and Crispin Glover’s dad as one half a very creepy assassin team). Moore first appears in the next film, 1973’s Live and Let Die.

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At right, a GREAT cast photo. There’s a LOT going on there, which fits given the lovable mess of a film it’s from, but allow me to point out:

  • That’s Yaphet Kotto to Bond’s left. He’s the big-bad in this one (“Mister Big”), but he went on to star in the first Alien film as well as in Homicide: Life on the Street.

  • The skinny young thing at the lower left? Yep, Jane Seymour, then a largely unknown 22-year-old ingenue.

  • Yes, that’s Geoffrey Holder as Baron Samedi in the back row. You may also know him from 7-Up’s “Uncola” ads in the 70s and 80s, like this one.

  • Not pictured is David Hedison, who makes his first of two appearances as Bond’s CIA pal Felix Leiter here. He comes back in 1989’s License to Kill, opposite Tim Dalton (that’s the one with Robert Davi as a ruthless drug lord who has, amazingly, Benecio del Toro as a henchman; Wayne Newton appears as a televanglist). The only other guy to play Leiter twice is the incumbent, Jeffrey Wright. Hedison is now 90 and retired, and Wikipedia contains the amusing bit of data that he’s now Jodie Foster’s father-in-law.

  • We do not talk about the goddamn redneck sheriff, or the fact that he is, unaccountably, vacationing in Asia during the next installment.

After this auspicious debut, Moore went on to have the longest tenure in the role: a total of 7 films over 12 years. His swan song came in 1985 and is, sadly, is almost certainly the worst of the bunch. By then, Eon Productions was completely out of Fleming books to adapt (with one key exception they wouldn’t touch for 20 years), so I guess it makes a little sense that, in the middle of the 80s, they’d feel fine about a 58-year-old Bond chasing a crazed millionaire (Christopher Walken!) whose aide-de-camp is Grace Fucking Jones. Hey, while we’re at it? Why not a fight on the Eiffel Tower!

Sigh.

Of course, it’s not his fault that the films had veered hard into silliness and camp by that point; he had some great ones — the debut, obviously, but also The Man With The Golden Gun (a prosthetic nipple!), The Spy Who Loved Me (hot Russians! submarine sports cars! the greatest opening scene ever!), and Moonraker, about which more later.

He was a more suave, mature, and sophisticated Bond than Connery or those that came after (though maybe Brosnan’s version was close), and for most people of my generation he was our first exposure to the character — sort of the Tom Baker of the series, really. As noted, Moore’s got the most films and the longest tenure, a record that doesn’t seem likely to fall. Connery did only 6 films to Moore’s 7. Brosnan and Dalton together only account for 6 more. Craig may or may not do a 5th film, but he’ll certainly be done by then.

My first Bond film was Moonraker. I saw it in a drive-in with my dad, in a time when drive-ins were already well on their way out. It was obviously derivative — Star Wars made everyone want to do SF all of a sudden, so Bond-in-space was in some ways inevitable — but it’s held up okay, especially considering that it’s only the second time Eon Productions was “on their own” with no novel to draw from. We got the second coming of Richard Kiel’s 7-foot, steel-toothed Jaws, memorable weightless nookie, and a “Bond girl” whose naughty name (Holly Goodhead) flew entirely over my 9-year-old head. I was obviously smitten immediately, and quickly devoured the back catalog via the newfangled VCR my newly-divorced dad would soon acquire. Impossibly, my Baptist grandmother even bought me some of the books.

Anyway. Godspeed, Roger Moore. I noted not long ago that we’re likely to lose several more Doctor Who actors in the short term. The first three are already gone, and Tom Baker is 83. The same can be said of the Bond men: Lazenby is 77; Connery is 86. Tim Dalton is 71. Brosnan is 64. And we are, all of us, getting older right along with them.

The delightful tale of the previously-fictional solo tape

This is pretty great.

Weeks before Chris Cornell died, Rolling Stone interviewed Cameron Crowe about the 25th anniversary of his film Singles and its soundtrack.

The film was shot just a tiny bit before grunge really exploded nationwide. 1991 was kinda ground zero for grunge releases — Nevermind, obviously, but also Mudhoney’s Every Good Boy record, Pearl Jam’s Ten, Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger, the Temple of the Dog one-off, and others. Alice in Chains’ Dirt came out the next year. But, critically, when they were shooting this film, none of those records were out or successful. Pearl Jam wasn’t even Pearl Jam yet; they’d only just brought in Eddie, and were still called “Mookie Blaylock”.

So anyway: Seattle wasn’t SEATTLE yet, and none of those people were particularly famous. Crowe, living in Seattle and married to a local, was falling in love with the growing scene, which is where the film came from. People who became huge months later appear in the film in tiny parts — Jeff Ament is in Matt Dillon’s band, for example. Alice in Chains and Soundgarden are bands playing in bars. And, as you’ll read in the interview, these folks hung around the production, even when they weren’t working — including Cornell.

Anyway. As part of the arc of the film, Dillon’s character Cliff Poncier loses his girl, his band and goes solo, and as was the custom of the time makes a solo tape to hawk while busking. It was just a prop, but Ament actually designed it, right down to (fictional) song titles and whatnot.

And then something interesting happened; Crowe tells it:

It’s kind of amazing. The idea was that Matt Dillon’s character, Cliff Poncier, in the course of the movie, he loses his band, and he loses his girlfriend, and he gains soul. So, there’s a period where he’s on a street corner busking, having lost his band, but beginning his solo career. And there would be, in reality, these guys standing on the corner outside the clubs in Seattle hawking their solo cassettes. So we wanted Cliff Poncier to have his own solo cassette. And Jeff Ament, in classic style, designed this cassette cover and wrote out these fictitious song names for the cassette.

And Chris Cornell was another guy who was close to us when we were making the record, and still is a good friend. I really loved Soundgarden; they were my favorite band. I originally thought Chris could play the lead, but then I think that turned into too big of a commitment for everybody and so he became the guy he is in the movie, but in the course of making the movie he was close to all of us. He was always around.

Anyway, Jeff Ament had designed this solo cassette which we thought was hilarious because it had all of these cool song titles like “Flutter Girl,” and “Spoonman,” and just like a really true-type “I’ve lost my band, and now I’m a soulful guy – these are my songs now” feeling. So we loved that Jeff had played out the fictitious life of Cliff Poncier. And one night, I stayed home, and Nancy, we were then married, she went out to a club, and she came back home, and she said, “Man, I met this guy, and he was selling solo cassettes, and so I got one for you.” And she hands me the Cliff Poncier cassette. And I was like, “That’s funny, haha.” And then she said, “You should listen to it.” So I put on the cassette. And holy shit, this is Chris Cornell, as Cliff Poncier, recording all of these songs, with lyrics, and total creative vision, and he has recorded the entire fake, solo cassette. And it’s fantastic. And “Seasons” comes on. And you just can’t help but go, “Wow.” This is a guy who we’ve only known in Soundgarden. And of course he’s incredibly creative, but who’s heard him like this? And we got to use “Seasons” on the soundtrack, and Chris did some of the score.

How neat is that?

Yet another reason to eschew Bose

A Chicago man is suing Bose, alleging his wireless, noise-canceling headphones are also sending information about his listening habits to a Bose partner called Segment.io via the companion smartphone app.

This kind of thing is simple to check, so it’s virtually certain that the allegation is true (especially since the man has engaged a respected law firm).

There remains no easy way for consumers to control phone-home behavior from apps or “internet of things” devices, because it’s all too new. Nerds like me can do it, but it’s still not simple, and it should be. In computer security, folks often try to pare down any given user or process’ permissions to the barest minimum required to do the task at hand; if more folks were able to apply that to bullshit like headphone companion apps and smart light switches, we’d all be better off.

Of course, the other takeaway is this: your fucking headphones shouldn’t need a goddamn app. That’s absurd. If you find your headphones have come with an app, RETURN THEM, because something dodgy is probably going on.

To the lost.

Mrs Heathen and I are suckers for prestige TV, and I love gangsters, so we dove into Boardwalk Empire when it started. Unfortunately, it just didn’t hold us after the 2nd season — and frankly, we stayed longer than we might’ve otherwise, in part because of the incredible charisma that Jack Huston imparted to the tragic, disfigured Richard Harrow.

Richard Harrow

The show concerned organized crime in Atlantic City in the years between World War I and the end of prohibition, more or less. The central character, played by Steve Buscemi, was based on a real person, though obviously they took liberties. Michael Pitt appeared as Jimmy Darmody, young man who’d run off to war and come back physically whole, but mentally shattered.

Darmody befriends Harrow, and introduces him to the criminal underworld of Atlantic City — a role that, as it turns out, Harrow takes to like a duck to water.

Anyway: it’s through Harrow that I first learned that, after the war, many who had facially disfiguring injuries were fitted with tin masks molded and painted to resemble their prewar faces.

Here’s how Harrow enters the show:

This morning, I was reminded of the show generally by this excellent photoset over at the Atlantic. Pay close attention to number 33.

The Fruits of Nonsense

*”The tree of nonsense is watered with error, and from its branches swing the pumpkins of disaster.”* – N. Harkaway

So, for 8 years, the Republicans have defined themselves by nothing so much as their foursquare opposition to the Affordable Care Act.

Their opposition was never rooted in the actual policy choices of the bill. They’ve been very clear about that; their problem was always that it was Obama’s bill. (This is also the reason many progressives were disappointed with the bill, since it was crafted from the get-go to be at least marginally palatable to conservatives — you almost certainly recall that it was patterned on a successful plan implemented in Massachusetts by then-governor Mitt Romney.)

Over and over they voted to repeal it wholesale, secure in the knowledge that such a repeal would be unlikely to reach Obama’s desk, and that even if it did, he’d veto it, and that they didn’t have the votes for an override. It was political theater, with no regard for meaning or consequence because it was divorced from either notion by design.

Except the know-nothing base, cultivated over the years by the extreme elements of the party, actually became convinced that Obamacare was bad law. One may quibble with the specifics — it’s certainly not perfect, and certainly needs to evolve — but what isn’t debatable is that it (a) saves money and (b) results in a net increase in people covered by insurance. These are, normally speaking, good things.

Come November, of course, these particular dogs caught this particular car. And now they had a problem: they’ve been telling their idiot base that their first priority was to repeal this terrible, liberty-killing law for the better part of a decade, and that’s exactly what their base expects now (unaware, as they are, that such a repeal will disproportionately harm the working-class whites who make up that base). And now, with control of both houses and the presidency, they had to actually DO it.

Well, turns out, a party devoted almost entirely to watering the tree of error can produce almost nothing of consequence beyond Harkaway’s pumpkins of disaster. The raving nutbird looney portion of the party set its sights on not just repealing the ACA, but also on gutting other existing health care programs (again, because FREEDOM), and dug in their heels against an insufficiently awful bill. The moderates in the party, vulnerable at home to less-stupid constituents, understood that a bill responsible for actual, measurable harm would be a career-limiting move. The GOP, once famous for party discipline, can’t pass their own bill fulfilling one of their key promises of the Obama years.

Their failure here is an unalloyed good for America as a whole, though I wouldn’t look to this incredibly mean-spirited party to stop trying to fuck people over any time soon. More good news is something that analysts on both sides of the aisle have known for years: the longer we have the ACA, the more entrenched it will become, and the harder it will be to roll back.

What would be really neat, though fantastically unlikely, would be if the GOP could evaluate the actual ACA, figure out — based on empirical facts, not ideology — what’s working and what isn’t, and work together with the Democrats to improve it. That’s how Congress is supposed to work. But with this GOP — one that enthusiastically embraced Trump and white nationalism in the last year — that is of course entirely too much to hope for.

Chuck Barris? DEAD.

The father of The Gong Show and subject of Confessions of the Dangerous Mind died yesterday at 87.

It is difficult to adequately explain what a treasure The Gong Show was in its heyday. It was weird and subversive and downright bizarre in a media landscape that, in some markets, had Hee Haw on every other damn channel at 6:30 in the evening. Witness bits like the debut of Oingo Boingo, or the whole IDEA of Gene Gene the Dancing Machine, or inspired stunts like this — a show in which every contestant sang “Feelings.”

(Via MeFi.)

Game Over, Man.

So I finally got to the tab I opened the other day about Bill Paxton, which reminded me of his short-lived New Wave band Martini Ranch, and their two videos, which support my long-held view that all the cool famous people know each other and hang out together.

Martini Ranch was a pair: Paxton was collaborating with the band’s founder, Andrew Todd Rosenthal, and sounded nothing if not period-correct in 1982. Given that it was the 80s, OBVIOUSLY there are music videos — though, sadly, the count is two. Both date from the late 1980s, and boast casts and crew

The first clip was for the improbably named “How Can The Laboring Man Find Time For Self Culture“, and looks and sounds like someone put Metropolis and Devo in a blender. And here’s where the connections start, too, because the cast for the video includes Paxton and some pals of his: Anthony Michael Hall (with whom he’d starred in Weird Science) in 1985, plus Lords of Discipline (1983) cronies Rick Rossovich, Judge Reinhold, and Michael Biehn — the latter, of course, also with Paxton in Aliens in 1986.

The second video, for a song called “Reach“, was more high concept: a bank robber (Paxton) rolls into a post-apoc western-esque town, pursued by a cadre of improbably attractive female bounty hunters. Where it gets connect-the-dots fun, though, is in the cast and crew.

First, it was directed by James Cameron. Sure, it was only about 1988, but by then he already had a couple directorial successes under his belt (Terminator and Aliens, with Abyss probably already in production); he’s shooting this because they’re pals. Cameron would go on to cast Paxton in 5 films (the first Terminator, Aliens, True Lies, Titanic, and Ghosts of the Abyss), which is more than any other actor. (Cameron’s 4-time club includes Lance Henriksen and Biehn, though the latter got the better deal, as I’m not sure “Piranha II: The Spawning” should be seen as the pinnacle of Cameron’s work.)

Second, the lead bounty hunter is Cameron’s future (and now ex-) wife Kathryn Bigelow, who was also using Paxton in her Near Dark around the same time (1987).

Paxton’s band of outlaws is especially delightful: it includes colleagues from Aliens and Near Dark (Henriksen and Jenette “Vasquez” Goldstein were in both films; the video also includes Paul Reiser from Aliens and Adrian Pasdar from Near Dark) — plus Reinhold makes a return appearance.

Rounding out this delightful crowd is a near-unrecognizable Bud Cort from Harold and Maude, who polishes Paxton’s bike.

The final note is that I’d totally forgotten Pasdar was in Near Dark, and now I can’t remember if he managed to be on Agents of SHIELD at the same time as Paxton as well.

TL;DR? It’s neat to see all this repeat work, even in obscure music videos.

Also? Remember there’s a Bill Paxton pinball machine in this world.

Also also? This brilliant tweet:

Screen Shot 2017 03 01 at 5 08 22 PM

Burying the Lede, Automotive Division

Over at The Awesomer, they have a bit about the new 911 Turbo S that’s kind of fun, but in the blurb I noticed some interesting verbiage; I’ve added some emphasis to point out the shocking bit.

Our friends at DriveWithDave spent an afternoon behind the wheel of the fastest accelerating non-electric production car in the world.

Have we really reached the point already where explosion-powered cars are the slower variety, at least in acceleration? That’s kind of amazing, but according to the list provided (sourced from Motor Trend), it’s the truth. The Tesla S P100D can get you to 60 in 2.3 seconds, and to 30 in 0.9. This 911 matches the 0-30 time, but is slower to 60 by 0.2, and everything else they list (Lambo, GT-R, Audi, Ferrari, McLaren) is slower.

Dept. of Media Archeology

Ars Technica has a pretty interesting piece up about the rise and fall of 8-track, but they miss some bits I wish they’d included.

I grew up in the 70s and 80s, and was always baffled at why those awful things existed in the first place when cassette was also available. The whole weird imposition of the 4 programs, plus the seemingly inevitable need to split songs between programs (complete with fade-out, that chunk-chunk sound, and the fade back in) really put a damper on actual audio pleasure, let me tell you.

Also, contrary to the 2nd graf line (“What went wrong is easily explained with hindsight—though it seemed mysterious at the time.”), there was nothing mysterious to ME about why cassette won, and it’s encapsulated in this fanTAStic Sony ad, which more or less pitches the lack of on-demand rewind as an impediment to getting laid.

That sony ad

In case you can’t read the text, here it is:

If you’ve got 400 horsepower and things still aren’t moving fast enough, try adding the new Sony Automobile Stereo Cassette-Corder(r). One big advantage of the new Sony Model 20 is that it plays cassettes instead of cartridges. And a cassette gives you twice the music of a cartridge (up to two full hours). What’s more, if she wants to hear “Light My Fire” right now, her fire can get lit. Right now. (With a cartridge machine, you’d have to wait for the whole program to recycle.) (Emph. added.)

What they mean, kids, is that there’s no rewind on 8-tracks. The music was broken into 4 “programs,” and to hear a given song again, you hit the “program advance” button 3 times and then waited for your song to come around again. Awesome, right?

The Draper-worthy Makeout Point location and “cassette = sex” positioning isn’t even the most dated thing about the ad. Look at it. It’s got a whole paragraph of intelligently constructed text extolling the virtues of cassette over 8-track, and it’s written as though talking to an intelligent adult. Find an ad in 2017 that has that much text. I dare you.

The story of how I found the ad itself is pretty hilarious, too, if you’ll indulge me. My dad passed away when I was a teenager, and it fell to me to clean out his office at his veterinary clinic. In a seldom-used drawer, I found a stack of random documents and folded-over magazines — professional journals, newspapers, and popular rags, too. The ad in question was in one of those popular mags, but it was folded over in a way that showed only a page of text on one side and this full-page ad on the other. I was so tickled by the ad, though, that I didn’t notice until several minutes later that it was from Playboy. Which, apparently, my dad really DID have for the articles. ;)

The ACA, and what it means as a microcosm of modern Republicanism.

Nobody really disputes that health care in the US, in 2007, had some serious issues with both cost and access.

The Obama administration attempted to address this in a way that, with a sane opposition party, might product bipartisan support: they chose a plan actually authored by Republicans (the Heritage Foundation), and that had been used successfully at a state level by prominent Republican Mitt Romney.

This, in retrospect, as a terrible mistake, because the GOP of 2008 defined itself not by any principles, but by being opposed to literally anything Obama or the Democrats wanted to do. Consequently, the ACA — despite being an objectively conservative, market-based plan instead of a more liberal approach — came to be painted as a horrible liberal plot to destroy American health care (remember all the babble about “death panels?”). It didn’t matter to the GOP that it was a market-based approach that focused mostly on insurance market regulation; what mattered was that it had been achieved by the Democrats, and therefore it had to be destroyed.

That being the case, the Republicans have made repealing the ACA a key goal, notwithstanding the effects of said, and, again, not because of any policy reason, but simply because it was a Democratic achievement. They were safe in making these noises when a Democrat lived in 1600 Pennsylvania, because no such bill would get signed. They could get credit for fighting tyranny, or whatever they told their rabid base, without having to pay the piper. Now, they’re on the spot: they have the power, and a good chunk of their low-information base expects this evil Obamacare law to get repealed.

And so the GOP is preparing to repeal it wholesale, and without having an replacement on hand. Doing so will end coverage for millions of Americans, and will cost the Federal government no small amount of money. The GOP knows this, which is why they’ve taken steps to prevent the Congressional Budget Office from tallying any such cost overrun. From Fox News, of all places:

Part of the challenge lies in the potential cost of repeal. Estimates vary wildly on how much an ObamaCare repeal would add to the deficit. It hinges on who you talk to and what metric they use. Various figures range from $350 billion to $1 trillion to $9 trillion over a longer period.

But one thing is clear: Republicans already prepped a provision to ignore internal congressional budgetary rules if the repeal is successful and explodes the federal deficit.

Efforts to defang the House’s quasi-official ethics watchdog office scored most of the attention early this week as the GOP advanced a “rules” package to govern the body during this Congress. But Republicans tucked a provision into the plan which bars the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) from counting a dramatic spike in deficit spending spurred by an ObamaCare repeal. Language in the resolution bars the CBO from tallying the cost of any ObamaCare repeal bill that bloats deficit spending by more than $5 billion over the next decade and $20 billion over the next four decades.

And, again: that’s from Fox News, hardly an ACA cheerleader.

This is what happens when politics becomes a game and not a means of governance. Since Clinton, the GOP has been a party that cared far more about winning than they did about policy and the society those policies create. As Bill Kristol noted back during the Clintons’ foray into health care policy:

But the long-term political effects of a successful Clinton health care bill will be even worse–much worse. It will relegitimize middle-class dependence for “security” on government spending and regulation. It will revive the reputation of the party that spends and regulates, the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests. And it will at the same time strike a punishing blow against Republican claims to defend the middle class by restraining government.

Even 25 years ago, opposition to Democratic efforts on health care policy was positioned as game strategy, not as what was best for the country. This is because the Republican party has long since abandoned any pursuit other than perpetuating the Republican party.

Republicans clearly do not give one single damn about medical bankruptcy, or lack of coverage, or the shrinking middle class that is increasingly vulnerable to these problems. They are no longer a party of policies and ideas. In my life, the Republicans have mostly been the party of Fear. Fear the Russians, sure, but when the Cold War ended, they had a hard time finding something else to make us afraid of for a little while before deciding the right targets were minorities. Fear the gays. Fear the immigrants. Fear the muslims. Fear the transgender boogeymen hiding in the rest room to molest your daughters. There are no meaningful Republican policy proposals for the problems of medical bankruptcy, or lack of coverage, or for how the increasingly struggling middle class should handle high premiums and pre-existing conditions. (ProTIP: A HSA isn’t gonna help much when you earn $50K a year and need $200,000 worth of care.)

There are no great Republican proposals for how to address the increasing gap between rich and poor, in part because the Republicans seem to love everything about the 1950s except the tax rates, which they’ve been hammering downward for decades despite obvious signs that this is a very, very bad idea (see: deficit; infrastructure spending; state of education in the US; state of health care in the US).

What we get instead are policies pursued to please a right-wing base no matter the cost (like the ongoing assault on Planned Parenthood, which has produced a measurable uptick in infant mortality), or policies designed to inflame that base and vote (for example, bathroom bills), with utterly no regard for the real world effects. Our soon-to-be vice president, Mike Pence, has his own home-state version of this problem, as his resistance to needle-exchange programs in Indiana literally created an HIV explosion.

Republicans do not care about food insecurity in the US; instead, we get bills that insist on drug tests for welfare recipients (it will surprise no one to discover that there are almost zero positive tests in states with such laws, which as a bonus cost a whole bunch of money).

Republican solutions to homelessness involve busing them to other towns.

When asked about these problems, Republicans — like Kristol back in 1992 — wave their hands and mutter about tax credits and markets, but there will never and can never be a market-based approach to health care that covers everyone (or education, for that matter). And the older I get, the harder it is for me to believe that anyone outside of 18-year-old proto-Objectivists actually believe that a full market based policy system would actually work. I think they just don’t care what happens to the people who don’t end up on top.

And, as it turns out, enough voters agree — though not, of course, most of the voters — that we’ll get to see what happens when they get control, starting later this month.

(N.B. that none of this is about Trump. He’s a whole OTHER problem; this post is about the party, not the absurd candidate they embraced.)

Dept. of Unnerving Overlap with Republicans

I had, until today, somehow escaped knowing that Joe Scarborough also (a) went to UA (class of 1985, according to Wikipedia) and (b) is an R.E.M. fan.

This particular fact came to my attention because of this tweet,

Screen Shot 2017 01 05 at 12 59 57 PM

Vinyl Solution (singular, Joe, not plural) is gone now, but when I was in Tuscaloosa (summer ’87, and then ’88-’94), VS was the place to go for new music. There were chain stores (including a Turtle’s, back when they gave out stamps), but VS was place to be. I bought my first Dylan there, my first Velvet Underground, and my copy of the #1 Record/Radio City combo disk from the owner’s favorite band, Big Star. On my infrequent visits back after leaving, I still made a point of dropping in and buying something. When George closed it to retire, it was like my youth shutting its doors, but, you know, sic transit gloria mundi.

“The statement neglects to clarify if Treadway’s nanny worked as a line-nanny or a sous-nanny”

Houston’s formerly fair-haired restaurant group Treadsack (Down House, Foreign Correspondents, Hunky Dory, Bernadine’s, etc.) is in serious trouble; stories have been circulating for a while now about payroll problems, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the problems are directly tied to a ridiculously over-ambitious expansion program probably timed to take advantage of the regional and national press accolades they were piling up.

Finally, the Houston Press gets to the bottom of it and — spoiler alert — it ain’t pretty. The Texas Comptroller’s Office has frozen their accounts; the IRS has over a million bucks in liens against them; and at least two banks aren’t honoring their checks. I’m pretty sure this is how you spell “fucked.”

it’s a damn shame, because the food at Down House was legit, and both Hunky Dory and Bernadine’s were delightful (if overpriced). I guess the good news is that someone’s gonna snap those locations up, though — they’re lovely.

Chris Onstad: “It was 1982. We were young.”

Oh, for the love of God and all that is holy, go read this.

Here is a sample:

Gerald Ford, my birth President, flew in an Air Force One that allowed not just smoking, but hoot-fueled, wildly heteronormative screenings of Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens. Parker House rolls and empty fifths of Cutty Sark were no doubt chucked at the closing credits with a simian brio the likes of which dignitary air travel rarely sees any more. Children born under this President are generally thought to display alpha behavior, as well as a natural tendency toward easing relations with Soviet nations.

Merry Christmas, you wonderful old building and loan!

This year, I’ve managed to see my favorite holiday film TWICE: Once, with live orchestra playing the score, courtesy of the amazing Mrs Heathen; and then again, at home on the couch, with the aforementioned Mrs Heathen. This is probably the optimum viewing frequency, and certainly exceeds the level of delight on offer in, say, 2014, when we watched it in the HOSPITAL with COMMERCIALS like ANIMALS.

Anyway, I yammer on about this film nearly every year here, so this time I thought I’d make it more interesting. How about TEN COOL THINGS about It’s A Wonderful Life?

1. Tabloid Fodder!

Let’s start with the somewhat seedy: Gloria Grahame, who plays the sultry Violet Bick in the film, was basically an early Hollywood plastic surgery casualty (it left her upper lip paralyzed), and to really put her on the tabloid map she also managed to make her third marriage spectacularly scandalous: it was to a man who had previously been her stepson.

2. Pharmacist Savior

Mr Gower the druggist — played by H. B. Warner (1875 – 1958) — appeared in a number of Capra joints, which is of course not surprising now. However, being in this particular film, or even Capra’s films generally, isn’t his main claim to film fame: he played Jesus in Cecil B. DeMille’s silent epic The King of Kings in 1927.

3. Well, it was kind of rascally.

Mary’s annoying suitor in the high school dance scene — the fellow who ultimately opens the gym floor, sending the Charleston contest into the pool — was played by Carl Switzer, better known to you as Alfalfa on the Little Rascals. Mr Switzer, sadly, didn’t end well.

4. Hopefully, her life had flavor ’til the end.

The last surviving adult cast member, near as I can tell, was Argentina Brunetti, who played Mrs Martini. She was born in 1907, and passed away back in 2005.

5. (Some of the) Kids are Alright

That said, there ARE still several child actors from the film known to be alive, and a few with no clear answer on the subject. Three of the the Bailey’s kids are still with us.

  • Carol Coombs Miller (“Janie”, who played the piano) was born in 1935 and is enjoying retirement in California.

  • Jimmy Hawkins (“Tommy,” who burped) was born in 1941; he also worked with Donna Reed on her eponymous show years later.

  • Most famously, Karolyn “Zuzu” Grimes (b. 1940) still makes appearances in connection to the film.

  • Larry Simms, who played Pete, passed away in 2009 at the age of 75.

It’s not clear if the actors who played the young versions of George and his cronies are still around, but none turned out to be famous enough for this to be easily discoverable.

6. The bird’s on wikipedia.

I’ve always been fascinated with Uncle Billy’s pet raven, and it turns out the raven ITSELF was famous. Jimmy the Raven worked in hundreds of films!

7. Did you further know….

Remember the pool under the gym floor mentioned above? Yeah, it’s real — and it still exists. It’s at Beverly Hills High School.

8. There is, sadly, no Sesame Street connection

It’s often repeated as truth, but there’s nothing on record to suggest that Jim Henson deliberately named his iconic odd-couple Muppet roommates after the cop and the taxi driver. However, the filmmakers absolutely do lampshade this in a brief moment from Elmo Saves Christmas.

9. The Barrymore Family Tree has fewer steps than you might expect.

We all know about the Barrymores, and that Lionel Barrymore so completely embodies the mean old rich miser Mr Potter here, right? What I didn’t know, and was surprised to learn, is the actual relationship between Lionel and our generation’s Barrymore, Drew. Lionel (1878 – 1954) and his siblings — John (1882 – 1942) and Ethel (1879 – 1959) — were the children of original Barrymore patriarch Maurice. John had a son (also John) in 1932, when he was 50. The younger John gave birth to his famous daughter in 1975, when he was already 42, which is one way to really stretch out those generations. This makes Lionel Drew’s great-uncle, which is WAY closer than I would’ve assumed before hitting Wikipedia.

10. Get me. I’m handin’ out wings!

Finally, my favorite bit of trivia about IAWL is this: Mr Martini’s head bartender Nick — who actually owns the bar in the darker, no-George-Bailey timeline — was played by a character actor named Sheldon Leonard. Leonard had plenty of work as an actor, but he really became far more influential as a producer of early TV shows, including The Danny Thomas Show, The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, I Spy, and others.

In fitting tribute, he’s memorialized in every episode of one of today’s most successful sitcoms. Houston native Jim Parsons plays Sheldon Cooper, and Johnny Galecki plays Leonard Hofstadter.

In which goals are met.

My adult cycling career started awkwardly, really. I bought a hybrid bike, and rode it some, and then both Erin and I got more into it, and started doing more supported charity rides. In 2012, we both stepped up to nicer bikes more appropriate for 40+ miles at a go. We got Erin a Specialized Dolce, and we got me Surly Cross-Check. (Actually, we got me TWO of them, since the first one was stolen inside 90 days, dammit.)

And so I rode. Not enough, really, but I hit a bunch of social rides, and started going to some more intense rides (where I got dropped pretty much every time), and somehow convinced myself that signing up for Karbach’s 2013 MS150 team would be a good idea. When the fall rolled around and training for that REALLY started, I freaked out well and proper at what I’d done, but I did the work and made it to Austin — and in the process notched my first century since the 1980s.

Then it got hot again, and I rode less, and regained weight, and by the time the 2014 MS150 rolled around I wasn’t really any stronger than I’d been the year before. Clearly, this wouldn’t do, so instead of slacking off after the Austin ride, I doubled down, and rode hard all summer — averaging in excess of 100 miles a week for a while there. I lost a bunch of weight. I got a lot faster. I bought an even better bike — a 2015 Specialized Roubaix, which is a whopping TWELVE POUNDS LIGHTER than the Surly. And I rode, and rode, and rode, all up until I stopped rather suddenly on the 20th of November. I think you know that story.

I was on a pace for an estimated 4500 or 5000 miles in 2014, but ended up with only 3,308. I didn’t start tracking seriously until the week of April 6, and the real craziness didn’t kick up until the summer, but we can probably assume that I would have kept up the 90-100 mile weeks for the final six weeks of the year, and that I pulled at least 70 per week for the 12 or so weeks before I started tracking. Oh well.

2015 started quietly, obviously. As I was unable to walk initially, I didn’t touch the bike again until a very, very short ride on March 15 (3 miles, to visit the team party after Tour de Houston). I didn’t do a real ride again until the 28th of March, at the Center, where I rode an ambitious 27.5 miles. It came back slowly. I didn’t get over 50 miles in a week until late May (which really means “two rides”). I didn’t break 100 again until mid-summer. At the end of the year, I’d put in “only” 2,790 miles, but given the start, I’ll take it.

For 2016, though, I set a capital-G GOAL: 5,000 miles. That means shooting for 100 miles a week or better each and every week, with the understanding that logistics or weather or travel will get in the way occasionally.

Last night, this happened:

Screen Shot 2016 12 16 at 9 15 33 AM

I’ve got a few weeks to go, even.

And now, ridiculous stats, taken with 50 weeks down (there being 53 weeks that end in 2016):

  • Average miles per week in 2016: 99.88 (through 12/11/16)
  • Number of 100-mile weeks: 36
  • Number of weeks under goal: 14
  • Number of missed weeks that were nevertheless 85 or better: 5. You’d think I could’ve done something about that.
  • Longest stretch of 100s: 11, from 9/18 through Thanksgiving week.
  • Longest stretch of short weeks: 3, from 2/21 through 3/6, with a cruise in the middle.
  • Number of goose eggs: 2. One was for the cruise, and the other was a conflagration of business travel, a cold, and rainy weather.
  • Biggest week: 207.1, which included the Ride to the River weekend back in October.
  • Number of long-suffering wives who for some reason tolerate this behavior: 1

Wells Fargo is even more evil than you thought

You know about that whole “open fraudulent accounts to accrue fees” thing they did, like, two million times, right?

Well, many of those folks are suing Wells over this egregious behavior, which they should.

In response, Wells is arguing in court that, because these people agreed to binding arbitration when they opened their legitimate accounts, they shouldn’t be allowed to sue over the fraud. Wells will happily work through arbitration instead — and, of course, arbitration nearly always favors the corporation.

Frankly, if you’re an attorney arguing this in court, you’re a goddamn disgrace.

But it gets worse: some judges are buying it.

I mean, sure, 95 is a good run, but…

…as my friend Therese says, “it still goes on the ledger” for this dumpster fire of a year.

John Glenn, the last surviving member of the iconic and original “Mercury Seven” astronauts and the first American to orbit the Earth, has died. He was 95.

He is survived by his wife of 73 years, Annie.

Robert Reich just keeps being incisive; also, we are screwed.

From a post on FB:

To date, Trump has picked an Attorney General who doesn’t believe in the Voting Rights Act; a Secretary of Heath and Human Services who doesn’t believe in government-provided health insurance; a Treasury Secretary who wants to “strip back” the Dodd-Frank Act, designed to prevent another bank meltdown; a Secretary of Education who’s against public schools; and, now, a Secretary of Housing and Urban Development who doesn’t believe in the Fair Housing Act. Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but I don’t think the Senate should confirm people who are on record as being against the laws they have a constitutional duty to implement.

Oh, and it gets worse. Trump’s pick to run the EPA is in the same vein, but worse; from a later post by Reich:

Trump has picked Scott Pruitt to run the Environmental Protection Agency. Here are 6 things you need to know about him:

  1. As attorney general of Oklahoma Pruitt is a close ally of the fossil fuel industry. A 2014 investigation by The Times found that energy lobbyists drafted letters for Pruitt to send to the E.P.A., the Interior Department, the Office of Management and Budget and even President Obama, criticizing Obama’s environmental rules. The close ties have paid off for Pruitt politically: Harold G. Hamm, the chief executive of Continental Energy, an Oklahoma oil and gas company, was a co-chairman of Mr. Pruitt’s 2013 re-election campaign.

  2. Pruitt shares Trump’s view that Obama’s signature global warming policy, the Clean Power Plan, is a “war on coal.”

  3. Pruitt has been a key architect of the legal battle against Obama’s climate change rules — spearheading a 28-state lawsuit against them. A decision is pending in a federal court and is widely expected to advance to the Supreme Court.

  4. Pruitt shares Trump’s view that the established science of human-caused global warming is a hoax. “Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind,” Pruitt wrote in National Review earlier this year.

  5. Pruitt also shares Trump’s view that the Paris accord, committing nearly every nation to taking action to fight climate change, should be canceled.

  6. Pruitt is well positioned to help Trump dismantle the E.P.A. altogether. Like Trump, Pruitt doesn’t believe the federal government has a role in setting environmental policy.

Reich continues:

Trump will be nominating the most radical right-wing cabinet in American history — including an EPA administrator who doesn’t believe in regulating the environment, an Attorney General who doesn’t believe in the Voting Rights Act, a Secretary of Education who doesn’t believe in public education, a Secretary of Housing and Urban Development who doesn’t believe in the Fair Housing Act, and a Secretary of Health and Human Services who doesn’t believe in public health insurance.

Trying to be Thankful in a year kind of low on high points

Yeah, so, that may be the longest fallow period in Heathen history — which is, I note, now nearly sixteen years long; my first post here was on the 29th of November in the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand. That’s kind of bizarre.

Bizarre, too, is the world we find ourself in today. I’m fearful for the future in a more existential way than I’ve ever felt before; the parade of grotesques certain to characterize the incoming administration is only now getting started, and it’s a nearly certain thing that we’ll look back on absurdly bad ideas like “Attorney General Jeff Sessions” with something like nostalgia before it’s all over. But there it is.

But I’m still trying to be Thankful.

A by-no-means inclusive list

  1. I will, barring unforeseen conflagrations in the next couple hours, partake of a truly excellent Thanksgiving feast hosted by impossibly generous friends and peopled entirely by similarly delightful people. We only get to go in even years — we travel in the odd ones — and actually only made it the first time two years ago. That year, it was my first real trip out of the house following my little medical misadventure; I spent the meal damn near on the nod from the Norco and Tramadol, but by God I was there and not in a hospital bed or worse.

  2. Speaking of which: I have made it out the other side of said misadventure, which started two years ago last Sunday. It was a longer road than it could have been thanks to the now-disturbingly-common complication of a postop infection. Thankfully (there’s the theme again), it wasn’t MRSA, but it still required IV antibiotics for weeks and weeks, and delayed the proper healing of one of my surgical sites for literally months. (Protip: Don’t browse too far back on Erin’s phone; she took pics daily to share with my medical team, because we live in the future.) But it did close, and the infection did clear, and I did heal, and earlier this month I “graduated” — by which I mean I’ve been pronounced out of danger for the last real complication possible. I celebrate, as always, by riding a lot.

  3. I’m absurdly, overwhelmingly thankful for Erin. She was an amazing angel during my recovery, which was better than I deserved for putting her through that. She remains an incredible and stalwart support, and seems to have inexhaustible reserves of love and service to give when called upon. Just ask folks on the Karbach team, or people who’ve reached out for aid when life goes sideways, or my family, or her family. Eleven years on, I’m aware every day of just how much I outkicked the coverage here, and all I can do is be thankful.

  4. My mother, now out the other side off a nearly two year period of Profound Suck that started with my late stepfather’s diagnosis in early October of 2014 and continued through his decline, passing, and her decision to leave my hometown for Jackson after “only” 52 years. She’s entered the next phase of her life, and has embraced it with verve and style. More than one person has told my brother or me about how she’s blossomed in Jackson, and it’s wonderful to see. I’m a little jealous of her proximity to Frank and his family. Erin and I can’t wait to meet her new pals at St Catherine’s this Christmas.

  5. As long as we’re talking about family, let’s talk about my awesome brother. He has been an amazing support and help to our mom these last couple years, and now he’s playing that role again for his wife’s family as they go through a similarly crappy time. Frank is fantastic, and I’m very, very thankful for him — and sad I won’t see him and his family today, but thankful we’ll be spending Christmas with them!

  6. My work, while not without its issues, remains rewarding. I get to do it from home. I work for a smart guy who shares my politics and principles (case in point: disturbed by the results of the election, and the divisions it has laid bare, everyone now gets some additional PTO for community volunteering — it’s a small thing, but it’s a REAL thing). My coworkers are smart and fun. And this year, for the 16th year running, I am free of the awkward command performance inherent in a corporate Christmas party. I WIN.

  7. Our goddaughter (and her family) have moved much, much closer, allowing for drastically more time with her (and her family). It’s impossible to say enough about this, frankly. At 3, she’s in that phase where you’re not entirely sure she’s not a cartoon character, and she’s utterly obsessed with her Aunt Erin. (I get a little halo effect.) It’s delightful to see her so often, and to get to spend grown-up time with her parents once the tyke is off to bed.

  8. MS150 training season has started again, and I’m entering it in the best cycling shape of my life (so far). I love to ride, and I love to ride with this specific set of delightful knuckleheads, ABI be damned. Plus, having missed a whole training season owing to the events of #2 above, I know better than to take any of this for granted.

  9. I’m thankful that, regardless of the end of their lives, we still have the music of Bowie, Prince, Sharon Jones, Leon Russell, Leonard Cohen, Guy Clark, Merle Haggard, Phife Dawg, Maurice White, and so many others. Some of it’s playing now, as I write this.

  10. I am thankful for the few shining lights of 2016 — Hamilton, the Cubs — that it feels like we really ought to savor after this motherfucker of a year.