From the monthly archives: "October 2013"

potMarijuana possession of up to 28g for personal use was decriminalized in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts when the Massachusetts Sensible Marijuana Policy Initiative passed on November 4th, 2008.  I watched the returns sitting in a postpartum room at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston—my first child had been born earlier that day. We had hired a courier to deliver my wife’s ballot to City Hall while she was in labor. Minor pot possession in Massachusetts is now punished by a $100 civil fine, arguably the one of the most libertarian state marijuana laws on the books prior to the 2012 legalization measures in Colorado and Washington.

In 2008, I also voted for the Libertarian ticket for President. In fact, I’ve voted for the Libertarian Party Presidential ticket in almost every election since I could legally vote, starting with Harry Browne in 1996. I’ve attended, as a Massachusetts voting delegate, every Libertarian Party National Convention since 2004. I’ve also backed many Libertarian and liberty-minded candidates for smaller offices locally and across the country. Needless to say, I became used to backing candidates that lost; I even came to accept this as part of the reality of taking radical, principled, libertarian political positions. The unfortunate reality is that Libertarians often get crushed on Election Day. After all, we’re not in anybody’s pocket, no special interests have anything to gain from electing us, and a litany of pork recipients have every reason to vote for other candidates (who will continue government’s culture of largess).

Marijuana policy has always been a key libertarian issue for me. In 2008, I made a substantial financial contribution to the Massachusetts marijuana decriminalization campaign. I donated this money under the same mentality I had for years backing Libertarian candidates: we’re probably going to lose, but we have to try. But, as Election Day got closer, the polling indicated that we were still in the lead, and I began to believe the campaign actually had a shot. Supporting a winning campaign was still a foreign experience for me, and I expected a long grind of returns on election night, with a narrow chance of winning. Instead, The Boston Globe called it for the pro-decriminalization side with only a few percent of precincts reporting. When the final results were in, we had won with a much larger percentage than most had expected (almost 63 percent of the vote). I was stunned and elated, but with a newborn baby, had no time to celebrate.

By 2012, I’d smelled the blood of marijuana prohibition in the water for four years, and I was hungry for another ballot initiative win. The main 2012 campaign that I was involved with—the Amendment 64 legalization campaign in Colorado—was the biggest prize to date. However, every prior marijuana legalization ballot initiative had gone down in defeat, and (private) doubts persisted about Amendment 64’s chances of success, even within the legalization movement. Some suggested the campaign didn’t have enough money for ads. Others argued the initiative was too generously written, for example allowing limited non-medical home growing (a freedom notably absent from the similar legalization initiative in Washington State, I-502, which I also supported and for which I have the utmost respect). And some even said (my personal favorite caveat) that Amendment 64 lacked enough endorsements from law enforcement!

However, despite the hand-wringing, the campaign’s polling data—which I obsessively analyzed on a daily basis over the weeks prior to Election Day—indicated that we were mostly likely going to win. In fact, the returns on Election Day 2012 in Colorado were very similar to the returns from 2008 in Massachusetts: major news networks called victory for our side early in the evening. We ended up winning with over 55 percent of the vote—a total that exceeded the predictions of myself and others closely involved with the campaign. I was gobsmacked to the point of tears. Years of work and tons of money had come to fruition. (I am extremely grateful to everyone who voted for, worked on, and supported the Amendment 64 campaign, especially the late Ashawna Hailey.)

It didn’t used to be this way. The history of marijuana reform is littered with philanthropists putting huge amounts of cash into losing campaigns. By 2012, numerous important marijuana reform donors (many of whom are not libertarians), disenchanted by past failures, were experiencing donor fatigue. But following major wins in Colorado and Washington, they should approach similar initiatives going forward with greater confidence, as it now appears that public sentiment has genuinely changed. Polling now heavily favors legalization in many states (even Texas!). The next major ballot initiative campaign I expect to participate in is the 2014 campaign to regulate marijuana in Alaska.

Barring a major shift in public opinion over a short time period, we are likely to see a steady drumbeat of states legalizing marijuana until the federal government is forced to abandon cannabis prohibition.

R. Antonio Ruiz is  is a major donor and volunteer with the Marijuana Policy Project.  The views expressed here are his own and do not represent MPP. Follow him on twitter: @annoyingcats

Miracletheatrical

A terrible poster and tagline. Please ignore.

Welcome to The Stag Blog’s new series dealing with portrayals of the end times through movies, novels, docudramas, documentaries, instructional pamphlets and films, songs, and and people’s memories. The focus will mainly be on nuclear war fears during the Cold War, but we may branch out into some asteroids, aliens, or plagues. Let’s keep it loose.

Guests posts are particularly welcome on this subject — give me your best nuke movies, your memories of hiding under desks, or your childhood (or adult) worries over alien invasion.

Our first entry is the 1988 film Miracle Mile, starring Anthony Edwards and Mare Winningham. It’s got some of the genre’s — or subgenre — conventions, but it’s got a different feel to it than many hyper-realistic movies dealing with Cold War terror. 

It’s hard to know how Miracle Mile would play out in the daytime. The majority of the movies takes place at night, and not just night, but the bleary-eyed, dead hours of 4 a.m. to just-about-dawn. And that’s the time to watch it, and let its atmosphere of dread and panic and strangeness take you over.

Romantic everyman and trumpet player Harry (Anthony Edwards) meets his dream girl Julie (Mare Winningham) at the museum. They have a date over ill-advised narration and a dreamy, synthy ’80s score. They make a plan to meet up at midnight after her shift at a diner. But Harry’s power goes out and he oversleeps, so he rushes to the diner at 4 a.m. There’s a cast of promisingly odd characters having their very early breakfasts, men who tell dirty jokes, a transvestite, a stewardess, and a 1980s businesswoman in a power suit. There’s also the cook/owner and another waitress. Harry calls and leaves a message of apology for Julie, and then the payphone rings. It’s a young, frantic-voiced man named Chip who thinks he is speaking to his father. He’s in North Dakota in a missile silo, and he’s trying to tell his father that the big one is happening. Nuclear war. The US will strike first, and then the Soviets will return it in 70 minutes.

The acting here is perfect. Harry has a quaver in his voice, but isn’t yet convinced. The voice on the phone is exactly right in its unhinged terror — a lot of post-50s and ’60s nuclear war fiction doesn’t have enough hysteria. (Even the hero should have a moment or two of terror, before they’re stoic again.) Chip realizes he has dialed the right number, but the wrong area code. He begs Harry to tell his dad he’s sorry for something unclear. Then a voice in the background, gunfire, and then, like a horror movie, the military man comes on the line and offers no apologizes for the hoax, no confusion over what’s happening, no gotcha!, just “forget everything you heard and go back to sleep.”

So begins the nightmare. Harry is so shellshocked he smacks his face into the diner door. At the counter, his food has arrived, and he stares at it as blood drips from his nose onto his overeasy eggs. After a few minutes of wondering if it could be true, he decides it is. He tells the other diner goers what has happened. A few minutes of argument later, a phonecall by the powersuit woman on her enormous, 1980s cellphone confirms that a mysteriously large number of important people in Washington are just now in South America.

Already, the understated, quiet dread that I am particularly partial towards in movies is leaving. Part of me wanted to stay in the cinematic possibilities of the 1987, 4 a.m. diner and its promising case of weirdos. But we’re going a different way. Everyone in the diner climbs into the owner’s van, while the competent woman — Landa — pulls in every favor possible, trying to charter a flight to Antarctica. Already, you, the viewer, should be thinking of the time and knowing it’s impossible that anyone will make it, but you’re caught up in the exhilaration of that slim possibility of survival.

Instead of sticking with the group, though, Harry needs to go and find his new love Julie. He’s on his own with that. But the diner owner won’t even slow down, though. He’s advised to tuck and roll and he does, taking the diner owner’s gun. Alone on an overpass, now with a cut head, Harry stops to tell himself this must be a dream. He fires the diner owner’s gun into the air and confirms that weight and heat of it, and no, it’s real. But alone, bleeding, carrying a gun, standing on a highway with the knowledge that it’s supposed to be an hour until nuclear holocaust. If that’s not a nightmare, what is?

Harry reluctantly highjacks a car driven by Wilson, who offers stolen stereos in exchange for his life. And so begins the part of the story where if Harry somehow is wrong about the call — well, some mistakes cannot be undone. They drive fast. They pull into a cabs-only gas station and bribe the owner for fuel. A cop car pulls up and demands that they lie on the ground because the gas station man has an illegal shotgun. Wilson squirts gas from the pump onto the female cop. She’s blinded and fires her gun. She catches fire. The fire spreads. The other cop burns. Harry and the criminal speed away in the LAPD cruiser as the gas station blows up. This is the first completely surreal moment. It should be cheesy. It somehow isn’t. They drive on.

Wilson drives off when Harry goes to get Julie. He manages to reunite her estranged grandparents in the process, and those two drive off to share a last breakfast together. Wilson is seen again, he crashes the cop car through a mall window. He is mortally wounded beside his girlfriend or wife who is already dead. Harry and Julie run in. At one point the Wilson his love and tries to walk up a down escalator. It’s still not funny, just troubling.  Even later when Harry frantically runs into an early morning gym searching for someone who can fly a helicopter isn’t funny. The bizarre ’80s workout clothes add to the surrealness, and you just feel a bit sick instead of amused.

“It was all a dream” is an awful cliche that nobody will dare use for another 50 years. But to say Miracle Mile is a nightmare isn’t to say there should be a moment of Harry waking up in bed, realizing he’s safe. There was supposed to be such a moment back when the screenplay was a hot item in Hollywood, and was going to be part of The Twilight Zone movie. Director and writer Steve De Jarnatt refused to include the relief of waking. He wanted it to be real.

The pacing goes deeper into a nightmare, with half a dozen versions of your worst one ever offered: there’s being chased — first by the police, then by a crazed man into a sewer; there’s hysterically trying to make someone else understand, trying to find someone who will help you; the fear that it was all a mistake, and now you’ve done terrible things and caused deaths for nothing; finding yourself the bad guy with the gun, yelling orders; the lonely panic of being the only one who knows the truth turning into the blind, crazed horror of the masses trampling each other in an orgy of fear, and the worst part, the clock ticking away and there isn’t enough time — there never really was enough time. The only hope of anything beyond Lovecraftian indifference and panic is the love Harry has found in Julie. But she’s only just been found, and being “the girlfriend” she never really has a compelling personality. (Maybe that doesn’t matter). All of this, though, may be less of a nightmare, and more of an insomniac’s waking, dazed horror while the whole world goes wrong around him and he must be getting it wrong, it can’t be real.

I won’t say how it ends, only that the uneasy pacing works, even when the quiet turns into the screaming, teeming mob in the morning. Instead of the myriad other versions of nuclear doom in movies, compare Miracle Mile to Signs. Signs isn’t necessarily unreal, or a metaphor for losing faith, or any of the other suggestions offered for the controversial/cop-out ending. But it has a quality of another world that isn’t quite our own. It doesn’t matter if Miracle Mile is “real” or even “realistic” in its portrayal of facing the end. Its lurching horror makes it a worthwhile and troubling watch — it feels more personal and more queasy in the guts than stern generals in war rooms ordering strikes against the enemy.

Tune in next Tuesday for what happens after those generals order those strikes in On the Beach, the huge downer of a movie that began my fascination with nuclear terrors. 

imagine-a-world-without-DCAn ass sits where an Abe once sat.

The year is 20whatever and a nuclear sunset falls over the once glorious Capital built on the backs of the taxpayers of the land once known as North America. A young boy, sick from lack of universal health care and a withered man without unemployment compensation stumble towards the great phallic symbol of the United States. Now broken and crumbling, it signifies the end of the American empire, metaphorically. The boy and his father won’t survive the winter, even though the ice caps have all melted and global warming has increased average winter temperatures to a balmy 70 degrees.

“What is this place?” the boy inquired.

“My son, we are in what is called a ‘parable,'” the father replied solemnly. “It’s an instructive story that illustrates lessons and principles to the reader through analogies and metaphors. It’s a way for people who believe they are intelligent and witty to dumb down complex ideas to a straightforward manner so that morons can easily understand the point the writer is trying to make.”

“I don’t understand any of the things you just said, dad,” the boy said, staring down at what was at one time a road, but now was just a metaphor for a budget impasse that was never solved. “I grew up in a time without the Department of Education, remember?”

“Son, for the last time, that’s not an excuse. You can still learn things without government.”

“I’m a victim of bad character development, Dad, lay off.”

In the distance a loud kerfuffle could be heard. The dad grabbed his son and dove behind a dilapidated park bench.

“What is that?” the son whispered as a group of Mad Max-inspired bikers rode by.

“Those, my son, are dystopian cliches, and they are everywhere in poorly-written parables like this one.”

The father reached into his pocket and carefully unfolded a yellowed and torn piece of paper. At the top, the words Welcome to Ted Cruz’s Thunderdome, by Maureen Dowd, were written in faded black ink.

“This is the bullshit world in which we live.”

The father scanned the writings that he had read countless times.

An ape sits where Abe sat.

“That’s a reference to Planet of the Apes,” the father said as he counted out the number of obvious dystopian references that Dowd had packed into her parable. “It doesn’t make any sense in this context, but no piece of bad dystopian writing would be complete without at least a reference.”

Tea Party zombies, thrilled with the dark destruction they have wreaked on the planet, continue to maraud around the Hill, eager to chomp on humanity some more.

“Zombies, always a necessary detail in a dystopian cliche. They represent the breakdown of society and a government unable to protect its people from themselves.” [or sometimes just consumerism, OMG MALLS)

Unlike Suzanne Collins’s “The Hunger Games,” where the capital thrived as the nation withered, here, the capital withered first, as the federal city shriveled without federal funds. But, in other ways, it mirrors the fantasy dystopias depicted by Hollywood and Cormac McCarthy in his novel “The Road,” “bloodcults” consuming one another in “an ashen scabland,” a “cold illucid world.”

“Here’s where Dowd gets lazy, she starts to just name-check popular movies that were adapted from popular books in her time.”

In 2084, there’s little sign of life in the godless and barren lost world. The insurance exchanges are open and the kinks are almost ironed out. But there is no one to sign up. Koch brother drones patrol the skies.A Mad Max motorcycle gang wielding hacksaws roars through the C.I.A., now a field of dead cornstalks, and the fetid hole that was once Michelle Obama’s organic vegetable garden. Will Smith and Brad Pitt are here, hunting aliens and monsters.

“Those are the bikers that just roared through.”

The Navy-Air Force game goes on, somehow, and there are annual CrossFit games on the Mall, led by flesh-eating Dark Seeker Paul Ryan, now 114 years old.

“Dark Seekers, now that’s a reference to the movie I Am Legend.”

“Please stop papa!” the boy cried out in pain. “The writing… it’s just too terrible. None of it makes any sense, except for the glitches in the online health insurance exchanges. Why would the Koch brothers have their own fleet of drones? How are Brad Pitt and Will Smith still alive and how are they the ones fighting aliens and monsters? She knows they’re just actors right? I can’t take any more bad movie references.”

“I’m sorry son, I know it’s hard to read. I should have just showed you this.” The father said as he pulled out his iPhone and navigated to Wikipedia. He typed list of dsytopian films in the search box.

The boy looked down at his feet, bloody for lack of shoes. (They had been worn to dust in the great CrossFit games.) “Can’t we escape?”

“No, I’m afraid we’re stuck here in this poorly written, cliche-wracked parable forever.”

“What will happen to us?”

“Well, if I know anything about bad writing…” The father trailed off and stared stoically into the distance. His gaze took in the alien ships blasting lasers at destroyed buildings, Godzilla fighting Mothra, the vampires, the sentient machines hunting human prey, the zombies, The Tea Partiers, the giant two-headed 0ctopus with the word “Kochtapus” on its brow that towered above the DC skyline.

“What?” The son asked.

“I’m afraid we have to die to satisfy the liberal orthodoxy that has permeated this shoddily-constructed, nonsensical world.”

“Well,” the son said sighing, “It’s probably better than living in a badly-written world filled with contradictions and over-the-top conservative boogeymen.”

“That’s a good boy,” the father said proudly. “You’re already smarter than 87 percent of The New York Times op-ed columnists, and you have a brighter future!”

The boy began to smile. “Papa stop, you’re making me happy. Are all the bad liberal dinosaur newspapers gone?”

Looking through the burning sky toward the (INSERT POST-APOCALYPTIC ADJECTIVE HERE) Lincoln Memorial where Maureen Dowd sits in Abe’s chair, the man replies happily, “Yes son. They’re all gone now.”

Officer Ramos demonstrating how his scuffle with Kelly Thomas was indeed "the fight of [his] life"

Officer Ramos demonstrating how his scuffle with Kelly Thomas was indeed “the fight of [his] life”

On October 14, a 52-year-old mentally ill man named Bobby Gerald Bennett was shot at four times by police in Dallas, Texas. His mother, Joyce Jackson, who he sometimes lived with, had called them after the two had an argument; she says she was told the officers coming to the house were trained in dealing with people like her son, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. But one of the officers, Cardan Spencer, shot Bennett in the stomach even though he wasn’t approaching the cops—a neighbor’s surveillance video shows that Bennett was holding a knife but standing 20 feet away from them. After that video came out, the charge against Bennett of assault with a deadly weapon on a public servant got dropped and now Spencer is suspended indefinitely and being investigated himself.

This kind of incident is depressingly common. On November 18, two former members of the Fullerton, California police department will go on trial for beating and killing Kelly Thomas, a homeless man who suffered from schizophrenia, back in 2011. Manuel Anthony Ramos is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter and Jay Cicinelli is charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive force. (Another officer who was present at the beating will go on trial for involuntary manslaughter in January.) Thomas had a long rap sheet for “interactions” with police that went back 20 years, as you might expect in the case of a homeless man with a mental illness. By all accounts the cops, who were responding to reports of car break-ins in the area, were aware of Thomas’s problems. Yet they still beat him repeatedly as he begged for help and cried out for his father (a former sheriff’s deputy who sued the police department and brought a lot of media attention to the case). Thomas eventually choked on his own blood because his throat was crushed.

The rest here

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Via mindthesciencegap.org

Government grades itself
Via mindthesciencegap.org

We have a long way to go before we get to Libertopia, much less Anarchocapitalistan. Even some kind of “good conservative” (if they still have those) nation where the federal fat is mightily trimmed seems impossibly distant on most days. But there has got to be somewhere we can start in building accountability, accessibility — something besides the same people becoming elected year after year and doing whatever they want with everyone else’s life, time, and money.

In the spirit of pessimism, here are two suggestions for the lowest possible standards in government that would be terrific if actually applied. Please offer your own suggestions in the comments for similar can’t we at least do that while we oppress everyone? (And no, we can’t.)

Speaking of Obamacare — as we have been these last few weeks of government shutdown — remember way back in 2009-2010 when the bill’s circa 2400-page length was one of the Republicans’ many sticking points? Well, that was a pretty fair point, regardless of shady motivations or GOP hypocrisy. Think carefully about the privileges granted to elected officials in Congress — they are permitted to vote on a document nearly two times as long as the entire Lord of the Ring without reading it. And that bill is supposed to become a law that affects potentially everyone in the country — or people in other countries, depending. Is it so much to ask that it be read by everyone who will vote on it? (Yes, yes it is too much.)

The PATRIOT Act was rammed through a cowed and anthrax-fearing Congress in October of 2001. It was a relatively slim 242 pages in length. Yet it was so colossally serious a subject that it warranted more debate than the everyday farm subsidy bullshit, not less. Certainly more than 72 hours of it. Certainly politicians should have been given any and all opportunity to at least not bother to read PATRIOT.

The average bill length is a measly 15 pages, but spending bills and others run much longer. Too bad. Too bad if you want to attach a million riders. You have to read the entire thing — and you have to be given time to do so.  Everyone had a good laugh over Herman Cain’s attempt at the 2012 Republican nomination, but his vow to veto any bill over three pages was brilliant. 

Even better, my boyfriend offered the suggestion that the Congressional researchers could make a quiz about the bill’s contents — if your legislative official scores a B or higher, they may vote. And if that worries you idealists, take comfort in the barely-over-a-page 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force. After all, it’s not the size of the bill that matters, it’s the amount of power carelessly granted within.

On to number two on the bare minimum standards for officials. Not to sound like a certain breed of tiresome paleolibertarian who swears that every single libertarian employed inside the DC city limits is constantly hobnobbing at cocktail parties with elected officials, but really, the least we can ask of politicians is that once they are out of office we stop respecting them so much. Not saying we need to prosecute them for war crimes, or economic ruin, or 2 million people in jail. How about we just start with maybe stop giving them respect for the rest of their lives once they end their own particular brand of horror.

Henry Kissinger, LBJ, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, anybody in charge of a big war, or a disastrous domestic policy, or any fuck-up that took lives, fortunes, and freedoms gets to finish their term. And then they they get to fuck right off. No more pension, no more Secret Service protection, no more respectful titles, and yes, no more God-damned swanky parties for you. And no more turning to you for seasoned advice for the next big, bad idea.

We don’t do prosecution; we don’t do historical black marks even if you nuked two cities, locked up 100,000 citizens without charge, or militarized the war on drugs. Can we at least socially shun the people who use the suit-and-tie-sociopath’s excuse of “policy” as their reason for treating human beings like puppets? Can we not offer the slightest bit of disincentive for theft, murder, imprisonment ,and massive social engineering? Do we need to keep calling them “public servants,” too?

Via Wikipedia

Via Wikipedia

Last time I wrote about immigration for VICE, Breitbart.com used the piece as an example of VICE’s lefty bend. As a Republican who just wants to smoke pot and oppress the poor, that was surprising to me.

Fun fact: fewer people are sneaking across America’s borders than ever before, and net illegal immigration hit zero in 2012. However, that hasn’t stopped Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from following a “bed mandate” that says it has to keep an average of 34,000 people in custody in its 250 detention centers, as the Washington Post reported this weekend. We’re constantly hearing about how the federal government needs to cut costs, and even the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, said the quota could be easily reduced, yet House Republicans forced an additional $400 million of funding on the agency, mostly for border security and deportation. In spite of the constant panic over the US’s “unsecure border,”the immigration-control budget has nearly doubled since 2006 (the same year the bed mandate began) to $2.8 billion a year, even though illegal immigration is down mostly thanks to the financial crisis that devastated the US economy. Where is all that money going?

The Post story notes some of the pleasant features of a brand new detention center in Texas that houses immigrants waiting to see if they will win political asylum or be returned to their country of origin: detainees “sleep in air-conditioned, unlocked ‘suites’ with flat-screen TVs overlooking volleyball courts and soccer fields.” That doesn’t change the fact that these plush facilities are built by private corporations that lobby federal and state governments in order to assure they have plenty of building contracts. (The ACLU has extensively reported on what they see as a pattern of human rights violations in immigration detention centers.)

Even if you don’t support open borders, it’s natural to question the vast amount of taxpayer money being spent on policing the geographical movements of people who (generally) just want to get a higher-paying job in order to help themselves and their loved ones. According to ICE, on a single day in early September nearly 20,000 out of 34,000 detainees had criminal records—but in 2009 ICE found that only 11 percent of its detainee population had committed violent crimes.

The rest — including the Bad Cop Blotter — over here.

4657776_l21) TitanicOnce I would have said that James Cameron’s teen sensation blockbuster should be trimmed to a tight 45 minutes, but I am softening in my old age. Just trim every single piece of Cameron-penned dialogue. Remove scene-chewer Billy Zane entirely. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet can stay for the one lifeboat scene which demonstrates some acceptable eye acting. Kill all romance and implication that a making out couple distracted every single British sailor on deck watch right before they hit the burg. Edit out the tiresome Bill Paxton learns to love something more than mysterious lost diamonds subplot.

Oh hell, never mind. Just stick to the sinking. Pretend it’s the story of the myriad killer secondary characters and extras who make those scenes gut-wrenching. They are the reason I can’t fully advocate for tossing out Cameron’s film and going for A Night to Remember. The latter is much better overall, but Kenneth Moore is all too chipper as Second Officer Lightoller. It doesn’t hit the gut in the same way at all.

On a side note, someone British please, please, please make an epic miniseries about Lightoller. His life was one of those impossible adventure stories that you make a movie about if they happen once. His happened endlessly. The Titanic was just a fraction of a life that included an island shipwreck on a sailing ship, a diversion into nearly dying in the Klondike, and a late middle age moment of personally taking his beloved yacht across the channel to fetch 168 British troop badly in need of getting the fuck out of France before the Nazis caught them.

On a final side note, my two instances of what could loosely be described as fan fiction were about Charles Lightoller and  Titanic bandleader Wallace Hartley. I resented fanfiction.net for making me file them under the movie Titanic.

2) Straight to HellThere’s no way to edit a coherent plot into Alex Cox’s punk rock spaghetti Western parody, but editing out co-stars Dick Rude and Courtney Love and their method-whine acting would be a great start. Sy Richardson, some of the weird ’80s hotties Joe Strumer macks upon, Shane MacGowan, Elvis Costello, and director Jim Jarmusch in their bit parts can stay; definitely keep the off-kilter everything — like bad pacing that becomes funny — as well as the gory ending gun battle. But, just, trim off the annoying bits and focus more on sweaty, dusty Joe Strummer in a suit.

(Also, I find Jim Jarmusch, one of my hipster weaknesses if I must call it that, to be weirdly attractive. He can definitely stay. Also, the worst thing about his Coffee and Cigarettes is that he never got around to filming a vignette with Strummer!)

Turns out in 2010, Alex Cox released a new version of the movie, but they’ve only added five minutes of footage, some technical tinkering, and some CGI gore, so the above dream remains unfulfilled.

This is a terrible movie that I knew was terrible, even after searching Dormont’s (outside of Pittsburgh) Incredibly Strange Video for a VHS of it to rent (this is circa 2003). But either its humor holds up in spite of the no-plot plot, or sweaty Joe Strummer in a desert-covered suit is just that compelling.

3) The Towering Inferno: It’s been a while, but this movie was always completely dull for the first half hour. Cut to the fire — never mind the corruption and cost-cutting and bad villain — and cut out most everyone except Steve McQueen and Paul Newman. Sweaty Steve McQueen and Paul Newman are good for America.

I really want to share a sort of spoiler. Okay, are you ready? You have been warned — I used to say I knew this movie was awful because you could predict that at the end OJ Simpson would hand Fred Astaire a cat. But when I think about now, this movie is great because you can predict that at the end OJ Simpson will hand Fred Astaire a cat.

4) On the BeachThere’s no way to edit in even attempted Australian accents or radiation sickness, so let’s stick with just editing out the God-awful, over the top Ernest Gold score. Not so disturbing (or good) as the Nevil Shute novel on which it is based, this 1959 picture about the last remnants of humanity waiting to die after a worldwide nuclear war is still pretty damn bleak for its time. But whenever you start to feel that existential stomachache, the score aggressively demands your attention and heartbreak and sorrow, and then it’s all gone. Because it’s of course just a movie.

5) Good Evening, Mr. Wallenberg: Maybe a pet peeve of mine, but I disliked this Swedish film’s choice of beginning with an attempt at a motivation for Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg’s beyond-heroic efforts in saving 100,000 Hungarian Jews. The movie has to show Wallenberg witnessing the bodies of Jews being thrown from a train in order to explain his decision to accept the diplomatic post in Budapest. Why? I seem to recall that Wallenberg met some Jews who had fled to Palestine in the 1930s, but crimes against humanity in the cinematic way wasn’t why he went to Budapest. The man was looking for some purpose in life and he found it. And he was really, really good at it. By all accounts, he got a certain rush out of some of his audacious actions — at least before the actual battle for Budapest began. The movie mostly focuses on those rough, later days, which is an interesting choice — his triumphs where he pulled people off of trains and saved them from death marches are seen briefly at the start — to spend the most amount of time with our hero when he’s reached his limit.

This is a good film, but I have never found its way of telling the story quite satisfying. You want your perfect Hollywood man, with an arc from would-be profiteer to savior? That’s what Oscar Schindler is for. Wallenberg was less obviously interesting, more of a cipher, but that makes him all the more a superhero. Superman versus Batman, maybe.

6) Signs: My dad forgives any old movie not filmed on a studio lot. I forgive any terrible ending when a movie has done such a kick-ass job building an atmosphere of subtle, claustrophobic terror. And aliens just speak to me in a, I am technically 15 years old but I cannot sleep right now, way. The part where Joaquin Phoenix is watching the news in the closet and it is supposedly home video from a Brazilian birthday party, and then you see the alien for a second — I have never before or since made an involuntary and loud noise of alarm in a theater. Also, Abigail Breslin is so great. The Culkin kid is Culkinish, but Breslin always strikes me as such a believable little girl.

The edits I would make? The ending — spoilers! — with the water. Maybe it’s a metaphor, maybe it’s fluoride or minerals or something beyond H2o, but people just couldn’t abide that aliens could be killed by a substance that covers 70-odd percent of the planet. And I get that. The whole everything was meant to be and leading up to saving the Culkin bit was so purposefully unsubtle that I never fully minded, because it seems like a picture of a different world than the one in which we all reside. But as much as I find this movie a net good, the fact is that it deserved something better. The set-up is funny, scary, well-acted, and eerie. The idea of a man who has lost his faith in God having to face (potentially-allegorical) extraterrestrials is terrific. I am not sure how I wanted Signs to end. But like many a Russell T. Davies-penned Dr. Who finale, the lead-up was so great that the ending had to be a disappointment — but it didn’t have to be quite that cheesy.

Have any of your own suggestions? Lay ’em on me in the comments or wherever you like.