::Literate Blather::
Monday, January 29, 2007
5 Damn Fine Movies You Haven't Seen

DaRK PaRTY loves finding pearls in our oysters. But we realize that you have to eat a lot damn oysters to find one lousy pearl. But we’re not bitter. The pearls are worth it, especially when you can string them together into a rather poorly executed metaphor.

So let’s move on.

Hollywood bombards us with dozens of new movies each month – so many that it’s impossible to keep up. And most of them are fantastic duds. But not to worry, dear readers, we’re found five recent releases (now available on DVD) we think is worthy of your hard earned cash.

So walk, don’t run, to your favorite video store to find:

Hard Candy (2005)

You don’t expect much from a movie called “Hard Candy” that features cover art featuring a 14-year-old girl standing on a bear trap. But don’t be fooled. “Hard Candy” is one of the best written and acted films of 2005. It’s about a 14-year-old girl who turns the tables on a 32-year-old pedophile that she meets on the internet. The plot – which has more twists than a George W. Bush State of the Union address – is carefully and craftily unwoven for the viewer. The movie is really just a conversation – and that sounds daunting for a viewer – but, trust us, the movie defines tension and suspense. Pull up a chair and get ready to debate the very controversial ending.

The Descent (2005)

“The Descent” is a rarity -- a horror movie with acting. Director Neil Marshall is becoming the king of intelligent horror films (his 2002 “Dog Soldiers” is the best werewolf movie ever made). “The Descent” takes place one year after a tragic car accident has killed Sarah’s husband and child. The crash – which is the movie’s opening sequence -- is one of the most soul-wrenching car accidents ever put to film. Her friends take her on a cave expedition in North Carolina and things go horribly, tragically wrong. The tension among the group of women is superbly presented. The movie actually disappoints when the horror creatures arrive (rather disappointing blind flesh-eaters). The real star of this flick is the cave. The scenes with the women crawling through dark, wet tunnels unnerve anyone with even a slight case of claustrophobia. Simply frightening.

The Oh in Ohio (2006)

After chomping through scenes like a comedic Hulk in “The 40-year-old Virgin,” Paul Rudd returns in this absolutely ridiculous comedy by director Billy Kent. The premise is a familiar one – middle-aged angst (this time in Cleveland, Ohio). Rudd plays a shifty high school teacher teetering on self-destruction because he can’t give his wife, played by Parker Posey, an orgasm. When Posey discovers the joys battery operated dildos, the insecure Rudd crumbles and dumps his wife in favor of one of his rather attractive students. Meanwhile, Parker find true passion with Wayne the Pool Guy (played by Danny DeVito – and I’m not making this up). While sometimes disjointed, the movie succeeds because of Rudd and his dead-pan comedic timing. Every time he’s on the screen – you can’t wait for him to talk.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

From the warped imagination of writer Charlie Kaufman comes this hidden gem of a flick. Admittedly, Kaufman can be damn annoying at times (“Adaptation” was so overwrought that it could induce vomiting). But Kaufman hits the mark – and then some here. The lead performances by Jim Carrey and the always good Kate Winslet are top-notched and the chemistry between the two is infectious. The basic premise of the movie is that Winslet erases her memories of Carrey from her mind and he decides to follow suit. But at the last minute, he decides he can’t lose her – even from his mind. So he tries to strategically hide his most cherished thoughts of her from the “mind lasers.” The movies is an emotional rush – and often love-out-loud funny. Great date movie.

The Contender (2000)

Joan Allen hands in her finest performance in this overlooked and underrated thriller about the nomination of a woman as vice president. The movie hinges on the question of Allen’s past sexual practices. She’s pitted against another candidate played by William Petersen. But the real beauty is the filmmaking and director Rod Lurie’s masterful character study. Lurie presents us with the worst of Allen and the best of Petersen at the beginning and then slowly turns the tables on the viewer’s first impressions of the characters. It’s not until the end that we get the full, unfiltered look at both candidates that we realize that we’ve been wrong about Allen and about Petersen.


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Friday, January 26, 2007
5 Questions About: Shopping

(University of Florida Professor James B. Twitchell likes to say that his academic career comes in two flavors. He’s a professor of literature interested in romanticism, especially the Gothic and he still teaches English classes. But about 10 years ago he became fascinated by commercial culture, especially marketing and advertising. So he also teaches a course “Advertising & Culture,” which tries to interpret American culture in terms of commercialism. He’s specialty is exploring luxury consumption and religion. He’s written several books including “Branded Nation: The Marketing of Megachurch, College Inc., and Museumworld” and “Living It Up: America’s Love Affair with Luxury.” DaRK PaRTY talked to Professor Twitchell about shopping and what it means in today’s America.)

DaRK PaRTY: What has happened to "shopping" in the U.S.?

Jim: Not much; it's been pretty much the same for the last 100 years. Commentary changes, but buying stuff remains a central way of making meaning for life. That consumption is doing the "work" of religion is not new; it's the result of the Industrial Revolution. We're just changing the inventory of relics.

DP: Luxury items have become a huge commodity in the U.S. -- even for the middle class. Why are we so attracted to expensive brands?

Jim: They make us feel good. You buy feeling and the object is thrown in for free. Think Evian water. The value is not in the water, it's in the sensations. Ditto the Lexus.

DP: Have people become the brands they buy?

Jim: Well, sure, a bit but so what? That's like asking do people become the religions they worship. To a degree, yes, but the system of belief makes life meaningful. For a while, to some; certainly not everyone. As we grow older we shift brands.

DP: Have U.S. consumers become too greedy? Why are we buying items we don't need?

Jim: "Greed" is a word I use to describe your consumption habits. Not mine. What is really at issue is taste. If you buy a Mercedes I may consider you greedy. If I do it its because I deserve it.

Almost 90 percent of what the middle class buys, we don't need. Need has nothing to do with modern consumption -- that's what makes it so interesting. This has never happened before in history. And it's true for great chunks of Europe, North America, and Asia.

DP: There's been a minor backlash against materialism -- will that backlash continue to take hold or is materialism going to continue to thrive?

Jim: If what you mean is the occasional appearance of voluntary simplicity then, yes, but this has more to do with how some 45-year-old women feel about their lives as consumers than with how 18 year old kids feel. When adolescents turn against "needless consumption" then you'll know something interesting is happening. That hasn't happened. If we have a serious economic Depression, it will.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007
Poem: Dad

By Jess Myers

Dad says "stay away from bread
it will make you fat."
Dad says "Stay away from your cousin,
she'll make you fat like her."
Dad says "Oh my God,
look at the junk she eats.
No wonder she's so fat."
Dad says "She'd be so pretty
if she just dropped the fat."
Dad says "that's so sad."
when he sees a dying skeleton
of a woman on the evening news.
And Dad says "it's hard to believe
there's a disease
that can be cured with a sandwich.
But being fat will kill you too."
Dad says "that's so repulsive."
When he sees an obese woman on tv.
and Dad says "I can't believe
she's married. Who could love that?"
And at dinner, when I take
only a spoonful of broccoli
and a slice of bread
so thin we can all see through it,
Dad says "Why are you doing this?
Whoever told you you're fat?"

(Jess Myers graduated from Ithaca College in May of 2006, with a degree in creative writing. Her work is largely autobiographical, though she sometimes calls it fiction, because she takes perverse pleasure in seeing what meaning people ascribe to her life. Her favorite writers are David Sedaris (whose reading inspired her to change her major from vocal performance to creative writing), Dorothy Parker, and Flannery O'Connor, to name a few. Jess is also a trained equestrian and archer. Her full portfolio can be found on WritersCafe.org.)

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007
So You Want to be a Private Eye?

Pay attention please. You there! Yes, you, Mr. Pike, in the back. Put away the revolver and pay attention. You’ll learn about fighting during our fourth period class “How to Administer a Proper Beat Down.”

Now then. This is the Lou Archer School of Hard Knocks for Private Eyes. I’m Head Master Continental Op. To my left is Professor Travis McGee and to my right is Professor Mike Hammer.

We’d like to welcome our ex-police officers, ex-city reporters and ex-military officers to the first day of school. We ask that you leave your liquor bottles, bad attitudes, failed marriages, propensity to use violence to solve difficult problems, and wise-cracks outside of the classroom.

Yes, Spenser, this means you. And please, can you ask Ms. Susan Silverman to step outside? This orientation is for students only. Thank you.

We have a full day ahead of us so let me outline the classes.

First period we’ll get right to the physical aspects of the job with “How to Take a Punch.” Then we’ll move on to “Serial Killers, Hitmen & Mobsters” followed by “Heart of Gold Economics: How to Earn a Living without Charging Clients.” Then it is off to the aforementioned “Beat Down” class.

Then we’ll break for lunch: steaks (cook rare, of course), fries, cold beers and black coffee. After the smoking break we’ll continue with classes.

Fifth period will be “Insults: Delivery is the Key.” Sixth period will be “Handguns: Blow Away Bad Guys Not Bystanders.” Then we’ll end the first day with “Dark Musings: How your Hometown Shapes Your Attitude.” And yes, Mr. Stoner, Cincinnati counts as a city.

Here is the syllabus for the first semester – five modern private eye novels we think rise to the top of genre:

L.A. Requiem by Robert Crais (2000)

Crais has developed a reputation for hit or miss mystery novels – especially with his main protagonist L.A. private detective Elvis Cole. “L.A. Requiem,” the eighth novel in the Elvis series, is his best effort by far. In fact, “L.A. Requiem” is one of the best private eye novels in the last 10 years. The reason is because Crais expands his usual first person narrative by interweaving a third person perspective that focuses on Elvis’ partner, the mysterious Joe Pike. Elvis can get a little, well, annoyingly sentimental at times. There’s none of that here. “L.A. Requiem” is a tightly plotted thriller that revolves around the murder of Pike’s ex-girlfriend and features great characters and Crais’ best writing to date.

Burning Echo by Lee Child (2002)

Former MP Jack Reacher is one of the toughest characters in private eye fiction. The beauty of the Reacher novels are their ability to straddle genres – some of the books are military thrillers, others action adventure and still others classic private eye mysteries. “Burning Echo” is the latter. It’s one of those novels where the bad guys are really “bad” and the good guy gets to deliver a severe punishment that has the reader fully onboard with Old Testament justice. Such is the power of Lee Child’s prose. “Burning Echo” takes place in the badlands of Texas and presents an off-the-wall plot concerning a damsel in distress. But the plot isn’t as important as the action and the adrenaline. Hop on board this one.

The Devil Knows You’re Dead by Lawrence Block (1999)

Any one of the masterful Matthew Scudder novels could have made this list, but “The Devil Knows You’re Dead” tops the list because of its literary ambitions. Scudder is an ex-cop and ex-alcoholic who works as an unlicensed private eye in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. The story here is about Scudder investigating the murder of a prominent lawyer by a homeless Vietnam veteran – at least on the surface. In fact, the story is about Scudder and his decisions in life. He’s reached a crossroads about those decisions in “The Devil Knows You’re Dead.” But like all the Scudder novels we also get a satisfying, gratifying mystery.

In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead by James Lee Burke (1994)

This is the sixth novel in the long-running Dave Robicheaux series – and the best. James Lee Burke seems to have run out of gas on the character in recent years, but “In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead” has the author in top form (and what a title!). The book is about a psychopathic mobster disrupting a movie set by murdering women and features a spooky ghost story as Robicheaux communes with long-dead confederate general, John Bell Hood. No one paints a setting better than Burke – and readers will be able to feel, smell, and hear the Louisiana bayou. Simply a great mystery.

The Straw Men by Michael Marshall (2002)

This is one of the finest debut mysteries – ever. It’s a paranoid mix of “X-Files,” Stephen King and a good, old fashioned private eye novel. There are two seemingly disparate plots that meet in the middle, but the primary character is ex-CIA analyst Ward Hopkins who is investigating the mysterious death of his parents. “The Straw Men” is the rare novel that keeps the reader absolutely going in circles trying to figure out the intricate plot. Do yourself a favor and get this book.

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Monday, January 22, 2007
Essay: The "W" Stands for "Wicked Bad"

"But all in all, it's been a fabulous year for Laura and me." —summing up his first year in office, three months after the 9/11 attacks, Washington, D.C., Dec. 20, 2001

History, of course, will be the final judge. And history will likely bitch slap George W. Bush down to the level of Millard Fillmore and Warren G. Harding. There’s seems to be little doubt any more that the 43rd president of the United States will be remembered as one of the worst in history.

Polls show Bush’s approval ratings sinking to historical low levels (hovering around 35 percent). Let’s forget for a moment Bush’s inability to articulate coherent thoughts, his questionable reading skills, his election year corruption in Florida, or his pandering to corporate interests.

One could argue that those blunders and beliefs are part of Bush’s flawed character – the result of being a pampered, rich boy with little interest in education. How else to explain how a wealthy 50-something managed never to travel overseas until he was elected president?

What will really topple the Bush presidency into the dustbin of history are his crimes – four of them all told (and any of them could technically be reason enough to pursue impeachment). There’s no excuse for any of them – they were outright, deliberate prevarications against all of us and together they have eroded the nation’s ethical standing and weakened our global reputation.

Here are Bush’s four primary crimes:

The War in Iraq

“Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we." —Washington, D.C., Aug. 5, 2004

The crime: Lying and inducing the United States into war (in violation of Title 18 U.S. Code, Section 371)

Bush and his chief enabler, Vice President Cheney, lied to the American people and the U.S. Congress about the threat Iraq posed to the country. They did this to justify an illegal invasion of Iraq. The lies include, but are not limited to:

  • Iraq had a thriving nuclear weapons program and was close to building a nuclear missile
  • Iraq had 100 to 500 tons of chemical weapons stockpiled throughout the country
  • Iraq had close ties to the al-Qaeda terrorist organization and even trained al-Qaeda agents in bomb making
  • Iraq tried to buy uranium for its nuclear weapons program from Africa

Reckless Endangerment of U.S. troops

"If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator." —Washington, D.C., Dec. 19, 2000

Bush and his military commanders endangered the lives of U.S. soldiers in two ways: poor planning (especially in the aftermath of battlefield operations in Iraq) and failure to properly equip soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The poor planning has been acknowledged by Bush himself. The evidence can be found in the mounting causalities in Iraq among U.S. military personnel (now more than 3,000 killed and 21,000 wounded) and Iraqi civilians (which could arguably be more than 100,000 killed). The operation has cost taxpayers more than $1 trillion.

But the real crime was sending U.S. troops into harms way without bulletproof vests or properly armored vehicles. More than two years into the war in Iraq and U.S. troops were still being forced to search for scrap metal in order to reinforce their vehicles against roadside bombs. According to USA Today, soldiers were digging through landfills in 2004 to find pieces of metal and scrap iron.


"I don't know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don't care. It's not that important. It's not our priority." Washington, D.C., March 13, 2002

The most disturbing images coming out of the Bush presidency will be the torture photographs from Abu Ghraib. The image of the Iraqi man standing on a box with a black sheet and pointed black hood on his head and wires snaking out from his hands has a good chance of becoming the lasting symbol of the Bush administration.

Bush and his cronies have also sought to water-down the definition of torture held by the United Nations and has whisked terrorist suspects to places like Pakistan so that they may be “questioned” in nations without laws against torture.

As a result, Bush is guilty of violating the Federal Torture Act (Title 18 of U.S. Code, Section 113C) and U.N. Torture Convention and the Geneva Convention.

One could also argue that Bush is guilty of “torture” by ordering hundreds of terrorist suspects held in military prisons without being charged with crimes, without access to due process and without credible legal representation.

Spying on Americans

"I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn't do my job." — to a group of Amish he met with privately, July 9, 2004

This may be Bush’s biggest offense and the one Americans seem least concerned about. Yet our president violated the law by ordering the National Security Agency to conduct electronic surveillance on innocent citizens without a warrant. It is required – by law (and its practically a rubber stamp process) to get a court order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review.

Without the warrants, Bush is guilty of violating Title 50 U.S. Code, Section 1805.

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Friday, January 19, 2007
5 Questions About: Football

(DaRK PaRTY lives and breathes NFL football – especially our hometown New England Patriots. So on the eve of Championship weekend in the NFL, DaRK PaRTY wanted to talk pigskin – and we found the man who can talk the talk better than anyone in the business. Kerry J. Byrne is the founder of Cold, Hard Football Facts.com – the destination for football analysis (and stuff about beer and hot chicks). Who better to give us the inside scoop of the NFL playoffs?)

DaRK PaRTY: Cold, Hard Football Facts likes to take sports reporters to task for getting things wrong. Why do you think sports reporting is so bad?

Kerry: Couple reasons:

1.) It's too much work to do what we do ... research everything, study the numbers, and then draw conclusions based up on the evidence. It’s easy to puke out vomit on to a keyboard and try to pass it off as analysis.

Basically, the Cold, Hard Football Facts apply the scientific method to sports reporting. Of course, we add a lot of self-congratulatory bombast and gratuitous references to cold beer and hot chicks to keep everyone from getting bored. But, essentially, it takes a lot longer to do what we do than it takes the average sports reporter to do what he/she does … which is essentially take notes and then spit out a story.

2.) In defense of sports reporters, a lot of them are spread thin and are basically turning out copy the way strippers turn out lap dances for dirty old men. Sure, there are other things they'd rather do, like maybe impale their genitals on barbed wire. But the almighty dollar, not to mention their bosses, demand that strippers and sports writers just keep grinding, no matter how dirty they feel inside about the job. Most sports writers would prefer to pen the next "Tuesdays With Morrie." But to survive they really just need to bang out copy to fill space. Right, wrong ... it doesn't matter. They just need to fill space.

3.) Another problem is that, for some reason, sports writing puts a premium on opinions, no matter how fuckin' stupid those opinions may be. Everyone from Jim Rome to sports radio hosts in local markets is praised for their cutting-edge opinions, or for "having the balls" to tell you what they think. Well, every drunk at the end of the bar has an opinion. How much value is there in that?

And, sorry, it doesn't take any balls to tell a bunch of people "what you think" about sports. It takes balls to invade an enemy beachhead under deadly withering fire. It takes two or three semi-functioning synapses to tell people what you think about sports. Most people can "think" for themselves and form their own "opinions." I think most sports fans listen to the uneducated opinions of your average sports pundit and say, “What a fuckin’ moron.”

Jim Rome is a perfect example. Actually caught him on TV the other day talking about the AFC title game, and I quote: "How in the world can you pick against the Patriots? With that said, I'm picking the Colts. But how can you go against the Patriots?" This guy has the analytical skills of a three year old. Actually, he must be a genius to turn that utter lack of ability into that kind of money. He’s like the Paris Hilton of the sports world, except not quite as hot. So I guess you gotta admire that.

4.) Finally, the consumer has a role in all this, perhaps the primary role. People like salacious dirt, bombastic opinions and gridiron gossip. Whether it's right or wrong, the consumer typically just wants some juicy mind candy to suck on while they're killing time at work or knocking back a few beers at home. Factless opinions about sports go a long way toward filling that need.

With that said, there's definitely a demand in the marketplace for what we do: intelligent, well-researched and entertaining sports writing that offers consumers something they can count on: the truth. I think our pretty impressive growth in a very crowded market shows there’s a thirst out there for people who offer up something a little deeper than “what I think.”

DP: Let's talk some football. What are two of the biggest surprises to emerge so far in the 2006/2007 NFL season?

Kerry: First surprise: the fact that the sports media continues to misunderstand the way the New England Patriots run their organization. Win or lose against Indy, this team has pulled off the single most remarkable run in the history of playoff football. For example, in their playoff games since 2001, they’ve beaten five teams who were 13-3 or better in the playoffs. That’s pretty remarkable. To put it into context: Joe Montana, during his four Super Bowl postseasons, played and beat just one team that was 13-3 or better, and that was the 14-2 Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX.

One other example: the 2004 Patriots beat opponents in the playoffs who were a combined 40-8 – that’s the toughest postseason schedule a champion’s overcome in the Super Bowl Era. The Patriots this year are fresh off a road win over a 14-2 No. 1 seed.

Yet here we are heading into the AFC title game, and the majority of “pundits” out there are picking Indy, a team that’s never even reached a Super Bowl and that has serious defensive questions, to win the game. Indy CAN certainly win this game. It’s just amazing, based upon the track records of each team, and the performances of each team this season statistically and otherwise, that so many people are pegging the Colts to win. It makes no sense, logically speaking.

Second surprise: the fact that so-called “parity” in the NFL is dead and buried – yet nobody’s got the message. Everyone likes to talk about parity in the NFL. It’s a big buzzword. Every time there’s a close game, you hear parity, parity, parity.

But look at the playoffs: the same teams dominate year after year after year: New England is always good. Indy is always good. Denver is almost always good. Same with Pittsburgh. They had down seasons this year, each missing the playoffs. But that’s always been the case. And, generally speaking, the same teams are in the mix year after year.

The NFC is a bit more of toss-up, and the Saints are a surprise team, obviously. But if you look back on history, there have always been surprise teams. There have always been lousy teams that shocked powerhouses – the NFL has ALWAYS been competitive.

There was a period of parity in the NFL … back in the mid-80s, but it’s over and dead.

Look at 1985 – everyone remembers the great 15-1 Bears. But nobody else won more than 12 games that year. Hell, the Browns won the AFC Central with an 8-8 record. If that’s not parity, I don’t know what is.

In 1988, no team in football won more than 12 games, and only three were that good. Three of six division winners that year were 10-6 or 9-7. That’s parity. The 49ers won the SB with a 10-6 record - worst ever for a Super Bowl winner.

That’s parity. It doesn’t exist anymore. The Colts and Patriots, for example, are setting records for most wins ever over a whole series of given time periods.

The bad teams, meanwhile, generally continue to suck: Cleveland, Arizona, Detroit shit the bed year after year. If parity truly existed, these teams will make a run once in a while. They don’t.

DP: The Chicago Bears will take on the New Orleans Saints for the NFC championship. Who do you like and why?

Kerry: I like Chicago … they have problems, but New Orleans has bigger problems. The Saints defense is truly inept, especially considering the level of the competition they’ve faced this season, which has been poor. Their run defense, for example, surrendered 4.94 yards per attempt this year … that’s pretty friggin’ poor, not just this year, but historically speaking.

The Saints are 10-6 and only one 10-6 team has gone on to win a Super Bowl – the 1988 49ers. Of course, they had Bill Walsh and Joe Montana. The Saints can get by Chicago, but they have no shot, really, of winning the Super Bowl.

I think it ends for them this weekend.

DP: The big match-up of the weekend has to be the AFC title match of New England Patriots vs. Indianapolis Colts? Who do you see winning and why?

Kerry: The Colts are like the Saints: a team that’s won a lot, despite glaring flaws. The Colts, for example, surrendered 360 points this year – far worse than even the worst Super Bowl winning defense (1983 Raiders, 338 points). They also have one of the worst run defenses in the history of football.

Now, with that said, the Colts have gone 14-4 through this point in the playoffs. But if you’re looking at this solely through Cold, Hard Football Facts – that is, through the pigskin prism of stats and data – it’s inconceivable that they could go on to win the Super Bowl.

Sure, they can win this weekend. But if we have to take a pick, we’re going to base our decision upon what the numbers tell us. And the numbers tell us that New England is the stronger all-around team and, therefore, the safer bet to win the game.

DP: How does the New England Patriots winning streak compare to other dynasty and to what do you attribute their success?

Kerry: We just reported on this topic this week. A couple facts for you to digest:

  • The 2004 Patriots, as we stated, overcame the toughest postseason schedule ever to win a Super Bowl.
  • The Patriots of the past couple years have set every single win streak in the entire 87-year history of football: most consecutive regular-season wins (18), most consecutive overall wins (21), most consecutive postseason wins (10). One team owns all those records.
  • Should the Patriots beat Indy, they’ll be favored to become just the second team to win four Super Bowls in six years.
  • The 2003-04 Patriots won more games over a two-year period (34) than any other team in NFL history.
  • The 2003-04 Patriots beat 20 teams with winning record over those two seasons – nobody in history has come close.
  • The Patriots, heading into the Indy game, own the best postseason winning percentage in NFL history (.633), just ahead of the Packers (.632).
  • Since Bob Kraft bought the team in 1994, New England has won 15 playoff games. The Bears, one of the original NFL franchises from 1920, have won 15 playoff games in their history.

Add it all up, and it is the most remarkable streak of dominance in the history of football.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007
Literary Criticism: Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "One of These Days"
Summary: Aurelio Escovar, an unlicensed dentist in a small Columbian village, arrives early to work one morning. He sits down at his table and methodically polishes a set of false teeth. His 11-year-old son tells him that the village mayor is in the lobby and wants to have an infected tooth pulled. Aurelio orders his son to tell the mayor he is not in, but the mayor has heard him. The mayor threatens to shoot Aurelio if he doesn’t see him. Making sure his own pistol is within reach, he acquiesces. Aurelio tells the mayor his tooth must be removed without anesthesia. Using hot forceps, Aurelio grips the tooth and mutters: “Now you’ll pay for our twenty dead men.” He removes the tooth and the mayor orders him to send the bill to the town.

Analysis: Gabriel Garcia Marquez is best known for the novels “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and “Love in a Time of Cholera,” where he introduced the world to magical realism. Magical realism is a literary genre in which magic or fantastical creatures appear in an otherwise realistic setting.

I’ve never been a fan of magical realism, but there is no arguing that Marquez is a masterful writer. His ability to paint pictures and create rich characters with an economy of words makes him worthy of his 1982 Nobel Prize for Literature.

His short story “One of These Days” isn’t magical realism. In fact, its brutal realism – the short – very short, in fact – story of the consequences of political corruption that lead to a massacre.

The story opens on a warm and rainless Monday morning. Aurelio Escovar, a dentist with no formal education, arrives at work and begins his mediocre tasks for the day. His tranquility is interrupted by the arrival of the village mayor. A light exchange with his son follows with a threat of violence if Escovar doesn’t see the mayor, who wants a decayed tooth pulled. The readers experience this exchange:



He still hadn’t changed his expression.

“He says if you don’t take out his tooth, he’ll shoot you.”

Without hurry, with an extremely tranquil movement, he stopped pedaling the drill, pushed it away from the chair, and pulled the lower drawer of the table all the way out. There was a revolver. “O.K.,” he said. “Tell him to come and shoot me.”

Suddenly, the mood has shifted. What could have been a funny exchange between two old friends – village dentist and the old mayor – turns into something with teeth; something unpleasant.

The tension when the disheveled mayor makes his appearance is thick. Clearly, these are two men who despise each other. The mayor is here only because his face is swollen and he’s in agony.

The dentist inspects the tooth and declares that he must remove it without anesthesia because it is an abscess. The mayor senses that this is a lie, but he stoically gives his consent. Then out comes the tooth:

It was a lower wisdom tooth. The dentist spread his feet and grasped the tooth with the hot forceps. The mayor seized the arms of the chair, braced his feet with all his strength, and felt an icy void in his kidneys, but didn’t make a sound. The dentist moved only his wrist. Without rancor, rather with a bitter tenderness, he said:

“Now you’ll pay for our twenty dead men.”

The Mayor felt the crunch of bones in his jaw, and his eyes filled with tears. But he didn’t breathe until he felt the tooth come out.

The story ends with the dentist asking where to send the bill – to the town or the mayor. The mayor answers: “It’s the same damn thing.”

“One of These Days” is beautifully written and some of the images are as stark and real as photographs. Marquez’s command of language and his confidence in giving the reader just enough information to form the pictures, ideas, and characters – are top-notch.

The story, however, simply lacks an emotional and philosophical impact. Marquez is telling the readers that power corrupts. Is this news? Was it necessary to beat the reader over the head with that unsophisticated premise by having the mayor tell us that he and the town are the “same damn thing?”

Less would be more here.

Yet even despite this enormous flaw – the story does seem to work. And it’s because of the writing. One only wishes that Marquez’s premise was as sophisticated and as light as his words.

Read our literary criticism of Richard Matheson's "I Am Legend" here

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Monday, January 15, 2007
12 Best One Hit Wonders of 80s Alternative

Sometimes it seems as though only two alternative bands survived the 1980s – U2 and R.E.M. – and the rest were one hit wonders. That’s a fallacy, of course. Bands like Duran Duran, the Police, and the Alarm enjoyed multiple hits – they just weren’t able to endure when musical tastes shifted to an edgier, angrier style in the 1990s.

The alternative scene in the 1980s rolled onto the music scene like a fresh wind blowing out the tired power band era of the late 1970s and the bubble-gum pop that was an unwanted leftover of the disco scene (“Magic” by Olivia Newton John was the #3 song in 1980 and “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang was #3 in 1981).

R.E.M. drove the stake into the ground in 1983 after the release of their masterpiece “Murmur.” When Rolling Stone magazine declared it the best album of the year – the alternative music scene had broken the mainstream. R.E.M. was bolstered by bands like the Violent Femmes, the Feelies, and The Replacements.

Alternative borrowed liberally from the punk-rock scene, but softened the rawness of bands like the Ramones and Black Flag for a mainstream audience. The genre added elements of reggae, folk, and electronic to form a new sound. 80s Alternative also brought a social consciousness to the lyrics. Audiences, sick of maudlin love ballads and songs about partying, flocked to the intelligence of music about poverty, social justice, Apartheid, war and peace.

As this new movement took hold in the early mid-80s – an unprecedented era of one hit wonder magic began as bands changed their sound to capitalize of the success of R.E.M., U2 and others. Some of these bands scored huge hits – their tunes rocketing to the stratosphere with decade defining songs. Unfortunately, they were unable to capture lightning in a bottle for a second time.

There are many reasons why a band becomes a one hit wonder, mostly having to do with talent, timing, and luck. DaRK PaRTY explores these reasons and gives you our picks for the “12 Best One Hit Wonders of 80s Alternative.”

“Cars” Gary Numan (1980)

Gary Numan was the first bona fide synthesizer rock star of the new era. He was also supposed to be the next David Bowie. Of course, he may have taken that comparison too far – dressing in costumes on stage, wearing make-up, and working on his androgynous sexuality. But there’s only one David Bowie – and it wasn’t Gary Numan. “Cars” hit number 12 on the BillBoard Top 100 in 1980.

“Whip It” Devo (1980)

No one really knows what to make of Devo. They were formed in Ohio in 1972 and spent the early part of their career as an art-rock, post-punk band. They took themselves much too seriously at this point – and their music reflected it – moody and atmospheric. “Whip It” was a dance hall tune – and completely outside of the band’s usual style. But it became a huge hit (and the MTV video made them a minor sensation). The song hit number 94 on the BillBoard Top 100 in 1981 – but became an anthem in the growing Alternative sound.

“Tainted Love” Soft Cell (1982)

Soft Cell paved the way for New Wave bands like Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet. The band’s own music never quite caught on, however. As their label became impatient for them to score a success, the duo released a cover version of a 1964 song by Gloria Jones. The song’s impact was enormous and it remained on Billboard’s Top 100 chart for a record 43 weeks.

“I Melt with You” Modern English (1982)

“I Melt with You” may be the most popular 80s Alternative one hit wonder of all time. It’s become a staple of night clubs and on the wedding circuit. The song was a bedrock on college rock stations. The problem was that the song didn’t reflect the band’s normal musical tendencies. They tried copy-cat numbers, but just couldn’t grab the brass ring for a second time.

“Come on Eileen” Dexys Midnight Runners (1982)

This song was a number one hit in both the US and UK. The band was going to be the next big thing – but success went to the heads of the band and they broke up soon after. The song is 80s Alternative fused with Celtic folk music featuring fiddles and a brass section. It’s a big, bouncy song that could have been the first of many hit tunes for this band. Alas, it was not to be.

“She Blinded Me with Science” Thomas Dolby (1983)

Thomas Dolby was one of the first Alternative artists to use sampling. He was a one-man band similar today to Moby and other DJ performers. But he had little musical success after “She Blinded Me with Science,” which reached 23 on the Top Billboard chart in 1983. But don’t worry about Dolby – he invented the software that is now responsible for the musical ring tones on more than 500 million mobile phones.

“Relax” Frankie Goes to Hollywood (1984)

Frankie Goes to Hollywood was supposed to be the next coming of the Beatles. Not quite. The band’s song “Relax” was one of the most controversial and successful songs in English history. It remains the seventh bestselling single in UK music history. The song was banned by the BBC (because it's about, well, sex) – which only fueled sales. It never became as popular in the United States, but greatly influenced bands in the Alternative scene.

“Radioactive” The Firm (1985)

The Firm was going to be the power band of the 1980s – in the vein of Led Zeppelin and Bad Company, but with an Alternative twist. And why not, since Jimmy Page was the lead guitarist and Paul Rodgers was the lead singer? But it didn’t turn out that way. There were great expectations for this new “super group,” but album sales were lackluster. “Radioactive,” a rollicking, dance-fused number, hit number 23 on the US charts.

“Keep Your Hands to Yourself” Georgia Satellites (1986)

The Georgia Satellites were going to be big. Huge. They were the second coming of southern rock and the heirs apparent to Lynyrd Skynyrd. “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” soared to number 2 on the charts and was an enormous hit on MTV. But after the single, the band plummeted like a stone.

“The Future’s So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades” Timbuk 3 (1986)

Husband and wife team Pat MacDonald and Barbara K. MacDonald seemed to be accidental Alternative stars – right out of central casting for the intellectual set. The song was an enormous success in the movies, of all places. It appeared on the soundtracks of “My Best Friend is a Vampire,” “Kuffs,” and the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.” The band also appeared in the 1988 film “D.O.A.”

“Beds are Burning” Midnight Oil (1988)

Midnight Oil should have been the next R.E.M. The Australian band formed in the 1970s and shifted from a progressive rock band into punk-infused hard rockers when the 80s scene was in full swing. They were far left-wing politically – especially when it came to environmental causes. Despite multiple albums and moderate success through four decades, the band only scored it big with “Beds are Burning.”

“What I Am” Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians (1988)

Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians were going to be the heirs to the Grateful Dead and other psychedelic bands of the 60s – only with an Alternative 80s infusion. Too bad that Paul Simon ended up wooing and marrying Brickell (they now have three children). Who knows what would have happened? The song “What I Am” was a big hit on college and Alternative 80s stations. It hit number 4 on the Billboard Top 100 in 1988.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Poem: Haha...

By Alexis Ryan

and you look at me...
i am yours.
your love.
your light.
your sunshine in early morning.
your first cup of tea.

i am.
your enemy.
your engagement.
your sovereign circle.

i am.
your voluptuous toy,
with wide hips and
an exaggerated bosom...
my bosom is perfect.
this, i know.

i am.
your sex addict.
as i am addicted to you.
and yours. so sweet.

i am.
your wife. and as a wife should be,
the mother of your children.
your mistress. too.

i am.
your needs...your
exasperated desires of
of nothingness...
and everythingness...
and partnershipness...

whatever you call it.

i am.
your best friend.
your drinking buddy
on saturday night,
at the irish pub
on the corner...
your buddy.
with sweet, sweet
succulent lips,
engorged with blood
and energy
and sex
and love


you love me.
i am.
your everything.
this, i know.

(Alexis Ryan grew up in the mountains of Colorado, and now resides in the windy city of the midwest. Which she hates. She studies psychology, smokes and drinks too much. And occasionally writes. She claims to be complicatedly passionate and irrationale. "I drink coffee every morning and and wine every night. And I dream. About stuff.")

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007
5 Questions About: Dwarfism
(Dan Kennedy is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Journalism at Northeastern University in Boston. More than 14 years ago, he and his wife had a child with Achondroplasia – a form of dwarfism. The experience led him to write a book about his family’s experiences called “Little People.” The book is out of print, but copies can still be obtained at Amazon.com. More information can be found at Dan's Web site. Dan is also an astute observer of media and politics in Massachusetts and his opinions can be found at Media Nation.)

DaRK PaRTY: What was your initial reaction when your daughter, Rebecca, was diagnosed with Achondroplasia, one of the most common causes of dwarfism?

Dan: Dwarfism is not something we would have chosen for Becky, but I don't recall it as being particularly traumatic or depressing -- surprising, certainly.

I don't think we really came to terms with her dwarfism until she was five months old and nearly died of what for anyone else would have been nothing more than a bad cold. We learned she would need a tracheotomy and oxygen until her airways and rib cage had had a chance to grow.

For two years, our home was a blur of home nurses, medical equipment, and frequent trips to the hospital. That's when we really started to educate ourselves, as we realized that what we didn't know could kill our daughter.

DP: What has been the biggest challenge to raising a child who is a dwarf?

Dan: That's a hard question, because Becky's dwarfism has not presented any huge challenges to us. As I said, she had a trach for two years when she was a baby. She has some hearing loss, which in turn led to a learning disability. These are the issues we've had to deal with -- not her short stature per se.

I'm not sure why, but the horror stories that we've heard from other parents haven't hit us -- at least not yet. Sometimes people stare at her, but she seems not to notice. I've never heard anyone yell the "M"-word ("midget") at her. She has a small circle of friends who accept her for who she is.

Becky's 14, and starts high school next fall. So perhaps the biggest challenges are yet to come.

DP: In your book "Little People," you explore dwarf sub-culture. Can you give DaRK PaRTY readers a brief synopsis of that culture?

Dan: I can't talk about "the" dwarf culture; it's different for everyone. But Little People of America, the largest organization in the United States for dwarfs and their families, is at the center of whatever sort of organized dwarf culture there is.

In many cases, parents start bringing their dwarf children to LPA events when they're babies. Regional and national conferences provide dating opportunities for dwarf teenagers. Many times, the teens will drift away until they want to find a mate, at which point they return. And, increasingly, dwarf couples themselves become parents, beginning the cycle all over again.

I've seen estimates that, at any given time, LPA is reaching about 10 percent of the dwarf community. That may not sound like much, but if you take into account the numbers of people who drift in and out depending on what's going on in their lives, then I'm sure it's much higher than 10 percent.

A couple of observations --

First, as the dwarf community -- particularly LPA -- has become politicized, we've seen the rise of something that might be called "dwarf pride." This encompasses such things as terminology ("little people" and, increasingly, "dwarf" are acceptable; "midget" is not), the rejection of limb-lengthening
surgery as a negation of identity, and cooperation with other disability groups on common goals regarding access and equal opportunity.

Second, there is a hierarchy within the dwarf community as there is within any community. People with achondroplasia -- the most numerous and, generally, the healthiest -- can sometimes seem to place themselves above those with rarer, more disabling conditions, such as diastrophic dysplasia and SED.

I don't want to make too much of this -- in fact, some of LPA's top leaders over the years have had conditions other than achondroplasia. And consider the Roloffs, the stars of TLC's "Little People, Big World" -- Amy has achondroplasia and Matt, a past LPA president, has diastrophic dysplasia.

Still, within LPA, there is a perception that someone with an exotic, more disabling form of dwarfism is not going to be welcomed quite as readily as a healthy, attractive young person with achondroplasia.

DP: Your daughter is now 14 years old. There must be a new set of challenges for her as she enters adolescence, high school and the dating scene. How has she handled this period of her life so far?

Dan: One of the first things we learned after Becky's dwarfism was diagnosed was that kids with disabilities or any kind of profound physical difference tend to spend more time with adults than they do with other children.

That has certainly been true in Becky's case. She's got a couple of good friends, but she seems to have little interest in being part of any larger social circle. She's also surprisingly oblivious to what's going on around her.

Becky's involved in Girl Scouts, and in theater and creative writing. There are times when it seems like she exists in a bubble -- in her own alternate reality. I don't think it would be a bad thing if she could go right through high school like that. Adults with dwarfism have told us that adolescence was an incredibly painful time in their lives, but that things started looking up once they went to college.

DP: What is the biggest misconception people have about dwarfism?

Dan: That's a good question, and I'm not sure what the answer is, except that I suspect people have fewer misconceptions today than they did in years past. Shows such as "Little People, Big World," actors and actresses such as Peter Dinklage and Meredith Eaton, and a number of documentaries that have been broadcast over the past decade or so have done a lot to demonstrate that little people are no different from any one else, other than being very short and having a few unique though treatable health problems.

Years ago, some people might have assumed that dwarfs were mentally retarded, or that they didn't live as long as those of us who are average-size. You were also more likely to encounter someone with dwarfism in a freak show or in a degrading movie or TV program than you are today. We also live at a time when people at least pay lip service to diversity. It may still be difficult to be disabled, gay or lesbian, or part of a racial or religious minority, but certainly it's less difficult now than it's ever been.

Given that, I'm not sure what ongoing misconception people might have about dwarfs. What strikes me as perversely ironic is that this acceptance comes at a time when we're on the brink of being able to eliminate, through genetic engineering, dwarfism and all kinds of disabilities and differences.

We may embrace diversity, but we also fear it -- and I suspect we'd eliminate it if we could. Soon science will give us the tools to do exactly that. And something important will have been lost.

Read our interview about Dorothy Parker here

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