sports post

Livin’ In A Sports-Fans Paradise

maxresdefaultWith the Olympic Games in Rio behind ups and the start of football season around the corner, I came to a realization.  Here in ‘Murica, we are not just about apple pie, gun rights, and freedom; we are also about sports.  In fact, when we really think about it, we would be hard pressed to find a better nation for sports fans.  This is evidenced by the United States’ performance at the Olympic games which ended in 121 total medals.  Few places have both the diversity and depth within their sports culture.  Yes, there are fitter nations, or nations with more passionate “futball” fans, but few places have such an abundance of competitive sports.  Those of us within the United States are really fortunate enough to be living in a sports-fans paradise.

But as I watched the Olympics, I could not help but think about the array of sporting events which we have far too minimal exposure to living in the United States.  That got me thinking, what are a few of the other sports from around the world which we do not realize, are even sports.  Sure – football and baseball will always remain the cornerstones of American sporting culture.  We are unlikely to shed the contributions from our Canadian neighbors-to-the-North, basketball and hockey.  The rise in the popularity of soccer and the expansion of Major League Soccer show that it is here to stay.  Since, we have a long history of adapting sports, I got to thinking, what are some of the other sports which would be welcomed in the mainstream American sports culture.  So, in the name of multiculturalism, the shared human experience, and sportsmanship which the spirit of the Olympics breed, I decided to investigate some of the more obscure sports from around the world.  It turns out, most of these are already exist in niche communities in the the United States, and I think it would serve us well to integrate these events into our collective, mainstream sporting culture.


A type of wrestling popular in the country of Switzerland.  Now, I know what you are thinking.  Don’t we already watch wrestling in America?  The short answer is yes, but we do not do it like the Swiss do.  This isn’t Greco-Roman, this isn’t freestyle, this certainly isn’t that scripted version you see in television at night when you were supposed to be out, but your date stood you up last minute.  Schwingen is a form of folk wrestling popular at festivals which has been around for centuries.  Now, I don’t know about you, but they had me at festivals!

schwingen-martin-grabIn schwingen, competitors attempt to pin each other down in a giant pile of sawdust.  To make it even better, they do so while wearing schwingerhosen.  For those of you whose German is a little rusty, that means “wrestling breeches”. What are wresting breeches you ask? Essentially, these are khaki colored cargo pants with leather belts, crotch protectors, and kneepads built in; meaning that if schwingen gets big I will have found my reason for hoarding all my cargo pants from 1999.  How can you not love the idea of that?  Furthermore, the champion of a schwingen tournament is given the title of Schwingerkönig – for life.  That’s a line I could use to finally get some dates. And instead of simply fighting for trivial prizes like money, fighters are awarded practical things like livestock or beautiful handcrafted wooden furniture.

Can you imagine, schwingen matches on Syfy, tucked between the latest installment of the Sharknado franchise and re-runs of Battle Star Galatica.  Envision, steel-cage match meets the unswept floor of Norm Abram’s workshop; where The Miz challenges John Cena for the Schwingerkönig crown. I would rent that pay-per-view, so would you.

Underwater Rugby:

Now, I understand that rugby seems foreign enough to most of us, but in reality it is a sport rapidly growing in popularity.  Developed in German during the 1960s the underwater rugby shares very little in common with traditional rugby.  Billed as the world’s only 3-D sport, it is played completely the water. Real life aqua-men (and aqua-women) gear up with goggle, fins, and snorkels then take to the pools.  The weighted ball cannot leave the water, and swimmers scrambling across the pool to dunk the ball into underwater goal, an elaborate wire trashcan.

uRugbyIf you know me, then you know that I am all about sports that allow me to rock my Speedo, but the absolute best part about underwater rugby is that it is a full contact sport.  That’s, right!  Think about it two swimmers, kicking their fins full speed and colliding in the center of the pool as they battle for the ball sinking to the bottom of the pool.  All the while mind you, they have to hold their breath and are unable to communicate verbally with their teammates.  I call that damn-good competition if you ask me.

Listen, if the XFL got national airtime, I know that underwater rugby can, and the perfect network is Spike TV.  We pull in someone like Dana White to build the brand and hype the sport to the public, and make Michael Phelps the sports official poster boy (the man has gills, I imagine he will do just fine).  We sell the world’s only 3-D sport as the first 360 video sport, taking full advantage of new technologies to deliver viewers a perspective of the game they would get lying at the bottom of the pool.  To add a little flair, we add some Japanese spider crabs, piranhas, or just set the surface of the water on fire, effectively taking underwater rugby from extreme, to the SUPER EXTREME!


Do you remember when you were a kid, and you got that brilliant idea that you could walk your dog and ride your skateboard at the same time?  If you were like me, it usually ended in stitches.  But that fact never stopped some Norwegians from taking this to the extreme – with a sled dog pulling a cross country skier.  This is the sport of skijoring and unlike the Iditarod, that near 1000-mile sled dog race, these races tend to be a manageable ten miles.  The sport appeared in the 1928 Olympics, and lives on in the Scandinavian nations and even here in the United States.

Skijoring_With_Northern_BreedsSkijoring could be huge in the United States, as we love dogs.  Hell, I love the idea of me and my Chihuahua getting the opportunity to compete side-by-side!  Yes, I understand there are geographic and climate limitations which prevent the whole-hearted, national embrace of the sport.  But in a nation where we are willing to televise arm-wrestling championships, I think there is some marketability behind this sport.  Think about it, skijoring is the solution to that sports abomination which is the month of February.

You know, post NFL season, but pre-NCAA Tournament; where we are trapped in the doldrums that are the mid-season NHL and NBA?  We pick a weekend late in February and hold the Indianapolis 500 of skijoring somewhere up in Montana.  Can’t you just see it now? Carrie Underwood singing the National Anthem, Frost-Brewed Coors as the official sponsor, and everything kicking off with a screeching flyover from a fighter wing.  It’s enough to make all the single folks love February!

Cheese Rolling:

Yes, this is a real thing.  And it might just be the greatest sporting event in the history of humanity.  The origins of the event have long since been lost; but the annual event in Gloucestershire, England involves contestants running down a steep hill in pursuit of a wheel of cheese.  The winner?  The first one to cross the finish line with the cheese of course!

The videos of it are simply glorious, with dozens of people giving chase to the wicked wheel of cheddar.  This is the type of event, which could be the envy of fraternity men everywhere.  Imagine the Greek Community creating an event of similar magnitude to the Indiana University’s legendary Little 500, except instead of a bicycle race, there is a massive cheese chase.  All you need is a hill, some cheese, and liquored up souls courageous enough to run down it at full speed.  Plus, other than those who are lactose-intolerant among us, who doesn’t like cheese?

Cheese rolls could accommodate ever major holiday in the nation: St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco De Mayo, the Fourth of July, and even Bastille Day.  Everything building to the national cheese-rolling invitational – The Super Roll.  This invitational roll could take place in our nation’s cheese capital, the great diary state that is Wisconsin.  We could use it to officially close the Oktoberfest celebrations taking place across the Midwest.  In fact, maybe this is the cornerstone event we have been searching to bring some pizazz to Election Day.  Imagine how much better we would feel about heading to the polls this November, knowing that regardless of who wins the election, we will be fortunate enough to watch the likes of Steve-O and Gary Busey lead the charge down a hill following the official Babybel sponsored Swiss wheel.

Completion can breed community and commonality.  Who knows, maybe someday we will be fortunate enough to share in the competition of these sports on the greatest of global stages, the Olympics.  I don’t know about you, but I would wear my Gold Medal in Cheese Rolling with pride.


Hell or High Water: a bank robbery film for those who’ve been screwed by the system (so all of us)

David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water isn’t only a standout for great crime dramas to have come out this summer, but one with a message.

Set in West Texas, the movie follows two brothers, Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby (Chris Pine), who conduct a slew of robberies in order to repay a family debt, all while being pursued by Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges).  What makes the brothers’ story so interesting is that they’re nowhere near the caliber of professional that Robert De Niro was in Heat.  They target smaller branch banks, located in rural towns, aiming for the loose cash behind the desks.  Their heists may be sloppy, but they brilliantly cover their tracks, burying the crappy getaway vehicles in the desert and laundering their cash at a nearby casino.

hell-or-high-water-posterSicario writer, Taylor Sheridan, has once again crafted a phenomenal script full of shootouts, getaways, and a cast of characters so likable; you’ll have trouble deciding whom to root for.  Toby is the cautious, more calculated of the two brothers, while Toby is more brash and unpredictable.  Their dynamic creates a dangerous, yet sometimes comedic duo.  On the other side of things, we have Jeff Bridges’ Marcus Hamilton, an aging, politically incorrect Texas Ranger who refuses to retire.

Following the death of their mother, Tanner and Toby’s family ranch faces foreclosure from the Texas Midland Bank.  After it’s discovered that there’s untapped oil on the property, the bank seemingly becomes more eager to acquire the property and gives the brothers a very tight deadline to deliver the cash.  As a result, the brothers target Texas Midland Banks during their crime spree to basically feed the snake its own tail.



You May Have Missed: Megamind

If you’re like me, you missed Megamind in theaters because the trailers didn’t really sell you on the movie. If you’re really like me, you will regret that decision after watching it at home. Megamind is another unfortunate example of a brilliant film being misrepresented and shown in its worst light via marketing (I think Mean Girls is another prime example). To be fair, I’m not sure the film knows whom it is targeting. Most of the jokes, such as the classic rock songs that Megamind favors for stylish entrances, seem like they would go over most kid’s heads. I would be curious to watch the movie with a child and see what they respond to and enjoy. As it is, I think the movie was made for me and my ilk. Especially because of what I consider the most interesting aspect of the film (spoilers): Hal Stewart’s character vs. Megamind’s and the representation, and critique, of white male privilege. Yes, I just went there.


photo by @Kmeron

#FreeMilo: Twitter’s Stance Against Freedom of Speech

Whether you’ve seen it or not, you at least know of the female Ghostbusters reboot that has hit theaters.  You probably also know about the divisiveness it’s created within the ranks of moviegoers.  Don’t worry though, this isn’t yet another review of the film, but a look at what it’s exposing in the social media landscape.

ghostbusters-2016-625x324After writing a negative review on Ghostbusters, Breitbart’s tech editor, Milo Yiannopoulos, kicked off a Twitter firestorm between himself and the film’s star, Leslie Jones.  After receiving a slew of messages from haters, Jones fought back, retweeting the comments and singling out the trolls.  It was then that Milo joined the feud, reminding Jones that everyone gets hate mail.  This spurred an argument between the two, which eventually resulted in Jones blocking Milo.  While Milo did throw some cheeky insults at Jones while defending his position, none of them compared to the death threats and racist remarks she received from the trolls.  Despite this, Milo was soon permanently banned on the grounds of violating Twitter’s abuse policy.  Since then, he’s been on the offensive, attacking the social platform for seemingly deporting him for no reason.

In a statement made on Breitbart, Milo said, “Twitter is holding me responsible for the actions of fans and trolls, using the special pretzel logic of the left.  Where are the Twitter police when Justin Bieber’s fans cut themselves on his behalf?”

Milo’s outspoken “cultural libertarian” view, which opposes the idea of culture as a corrupting influence, has been challenged by many liberal groups, including feminists, whom Twitter favors, argues Milo.  He said: “With the cowardly suspension of my account, Twitter has confirmed itself as a safe space for Muslim terrorists and Black Lives Matter extremists, but a no-go zone for conservatives.”


blood republic

Libertarian Thriller Predicts Demise of Two-party System

SmashCut Culture is proud to highlight the work of creatives who share a passion for a freer society. Please consider the following when deciding which book you will sink your teeth into next. 
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James Duncan is the author of Blood Republic, arguably the first-ever “Libertarian” political-thriller. Published by Primal Light Press, the highly praised work of fiction has arrived just in time for the current-election cracks within the two-party system, leading many readers to the question, “did the author have a crystal ball?”

Corrupt politicians, crazed generals, biased media, NSA surveillance, and viral hate; Blood Republic examines current extremism through a heart-pumping thriller with the fate of the country at stake. Will America survive its next election, or collapse into a 2nd civil war of conservative versus liberal?

During the closing hours of the tightest presidential election in US history, firebrand Annie Daniels is a Democratic-socialist senator determined to win the White House. She dreams of eradicating injustice, and hopefully, saving her dying daughter’s life. Major Amos Daniels, her conservative Green Beret brother, might have something to say about that though, if her plans go against his faith. As an Electoral College tie nears, the country erupts into rioting, and Annie and Amos are thrust to opposite ends of a constitutional crisis with guns drawn. Will the Daniels family find common ground above ideology to prevent a second civil war? Or, will an unknown enemy-of-the-state escape justice while pushing the nation into chaos?


American Illustrators, The Movies, and Drew Struzan

PhantomMenaceMuch like the word “genius,” the label “artist” gets bandied about quite a bit. When I was taking fine art classes in college, one of the more colorful and exuberant life drawing and painting instructors — let’s call him Charlie — a very hyperactive and passionate painter, talked to us about what it meant to be an artist.

“So you all want to be artists, huh?” He shouted as he strutted in and around our rows of easels as we worked. “I’m just here to teach you how to paint and hopefully paint well. I can’t teach you to be an artist. An artist is a way of life, man. Are you willing to starve for your art? Are you in it for the money? Van Gogh sold one painting in his life. He went mad and then committed suicide. He was an artist. Are you willing to let it consume you? Let’s just concentrate on painting for now.”

Now, I’ve always been fascinated by illustrators who were adept at rendering the human form, faces, and textures were able to put their subjects into fascinating settings and conjure up just the right mood. I had a knack — still do, though not so practiced of late — of being able to capture likenesses fairly well when I drew. The best illustrators and painters are very talented at drawing and their pen and pencil work alone is worthy of collecting. Without a foundation in accurate lifelike drawing a lot of paintings and illustrations meant to be realistic tend to look less real, less lifelike and dull.

ArchersIn America, there have been several periods where talented illustrators emerged. In the 1910s, 20s and 30s, the works of Maxfield Parrish, J.C. Leyendecker, Norman Rockwell, N.C. Wyeth, and Howard Pyle (to name just a few), adorned the covers of Collier’s, the Saturday Evening Post, or in Wyeth’s case numerous works of literature: The White Company, Robin Hood, Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, and The Last of the Mohicans.

Sometimes, these talented men worked on a grand scale – many of them, like Wyeth and Parrish were commissioned to do large murals — and much of their work for magazine covers, stories, and book covers were originally painted much larger and reproduced much smaller for print. When I worked at Stanford, helping to put out the Stanford Daily back in the early 1980s, I happened upon an exhibit of N.C. Wyeth’s work at a small gallery in Palo Alto and was awestruck by one of the paintings he had done to illustrate Robin Hood, depicting the outlaw’s band of merry men crouched behind the base of a massive oak tree with their bows pulled back waiting to let their arrows fly. The texture and color of the grass and the men’s costumes looked as rich and fresh as if it had all been painted yesterday. My recollection was that the work was enormous but time has a tendency to romanticize and embellish the truth. In fact the work is an oil on canvas about 40 inches tall and 32 inches wide; i.e., about the size of a standard movie poster (though five inches wider). And the painting was actually for sale at the time for about $25,000 and I dreamed of owning it one day.  I still dream.



The Revolution Will Not Be Televised – It Will Be On Facetime

Unless you were living under a rock, you will recall the foiled coup d’état attempt in Turkey. The Turkish military attempted to seize control while President Tayyip Erdogan was vacationing on July 15, 2016. The President took to Facetime to encourage the populous to take to the streets in support of the elected government. Now if you are well versed in Turkish history, you will remember that military coups are not uncommon. The military intervened in 1960, 1971, and 1980. In 1997, the Turkish military executed a “post-modern coup”. The military – the secular defenders of the constitution – has initiated coups to restore order and to protect the secular nature of the republic created by Ataturk.


This is one of the reasons why many find this attempted coup so suspicious. The Turkish government continues to point the figure at Erdogan’s longtime rival, an Islamic Cleric living in Pennsylvania. Yet, accusations that the secular military would support radical aspirations to overthrow the government seem unfounded giving its institutional history. Furthermore, the hasty and unplanned execution of the coup which failed to lockdown national media, the presidential palace, and transportation centers seems out of character for a military which successfully orchestrated 3 previous military coups. For this reason, accusations continue to fly of Erdogan’s knowledge and even orchestration of the coup. Now, the President has the opportunity to imprison his opposition, implement centralized control, and even dismantle the military, the one institution threatening his authoritarian ambitions. This also portrays the longtime Islamist Erdogan as the secular defender of the Turkish Republic, creating an ideal scenario where he can maintain his agenda under the guise of defending secular democracy from elements (in the media, military, and education systems) which he feels threaten the will of the people.

Other theories have circulated that Iran is behind Turkey’s instability, as a means to destabilize western relations with their longtime neighbor. Some argue that Iran is simply try to set pieces in motion to bring about the Islamic Republic of Turkey. While a secular, democratic Turkey with strong ties to the west and NATO may not be in Iran’s best interest; the creation of a Sunni Islamist government in Anatolia could rise to challenge Iranian interest as well. Either way, all the facts regarding the attempted coup remain a mystery.



What is a Pilot Season and Why Should You Care?

An Amazon Prime subscription is a bit like a closet with too many clothes in it: every once in awhile you discover some new thing you forgot you paid for and are pleasantly surprised by it. Among these things is a video streaming service that features a variety of tv and movies, including some originals. There’s also a nifty thing called a pilot season. Viewers can watch a bunch of different pilots, fill out a survey, and Amazon uses the info to determine which ones will become a full series. Essentially, Amazon has turned their entire subscriber pool into a focus group, a market innovation that gives us one more thing to love about the streaming economy.

m2_001_trans_1sht_V1.inddThe concept already has a few success stories to boast, most notably Transparent, which earned Amazon 10 of its 16 Emmy nominations this year, and it won five last year. The show’s lead, Jeffrey Tambor, not only won the 2015 Emmy for Best Lead Comedy Actor, but the equivalent titles at the SAG and Critics’ Choice Awards as well. (I would argue this show shouldn’t be competing in the “comedy” categories based on its content, but I won’t waste your time with that soapbox right now.) There’s also one of my new personal favorites, Mozart in the Jungle, which won the 2016 Golden Globes for Outstanding Comedy or Musical Series and Outstanding Actor in a Comedy or Musical Series. (Transparent was also nominated in both categories).



The Original Ghostbusters: More Than Just Busting Ghosts?

ghostbusters_ver3_xlg-2It’s hard to believe a full-fledged Ghostbusters film hasn’t been in theaters since 1989, but it’s now 2016 and they’re back…sort of.  Whether or not you’ve embraced the franchise’s reboot, it’s worth paying tribute to the fact that many consider the original 1984 film to be one of Hollywood’s most libertarian blockbusters.

After losing their jobs at Columbia University, paranormal investigators, Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz, and Egon Spengler start their own extermination service known as the “Ghostbusters.”  Naturally, no one takes them seriously, until a rise in paranormal activity begins to threaten New York.

As their service becomes more in demand, the Ghostbusters do what any successful business does: expand.  They purchase an office in the form of a firehouse, make a cheesy advertisement, and hire extra staff: receptionist Janine Melnitz, and a fourth buster, Winston Zeddemore.  The Ghostbusters new found fame and success, however, is short lived when the Environmental Protection Agency has them arrested and their business shut down for operating unlicensed waste, deactivating their spirit containment system and inadvertently releasing hundreds of ghosts, who begin terrorizing New York.

The situation escalates even more when the ghosts successfully summon Gozer, the god of destruction, to bring about the end of the world.  The government, having no means of combating the supernatural threat, releases the Ghostbusters from custody to battle Gozer.  When our heroes finally come face to face with the god of destruction, it allows the Ghostbusters to choose the form of the destructor.  Trying to think of something completely harmless, Ray envisions his favorite corporate mascot, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, which arrives in giant form and begins to destroy the city.



Sexy Panties and Prison: What Orange is the New Black Can Teach Us About The Regulatory State

Orange is the New Black

Warning: The following post contains Orange is The New Black spoilers.

If you are a fan of Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, you already know that far too much of Season 3 was spent telling the tale of Piper’s Prison Panties. As a fan of the show, I was a bit sad that the screen time invested in this plotline was not spent on some of the more interesting ones. But as a libertarian, I must say that the way this story concluded in Season 4 provides a great parable for how regulation hurts people in the real world.

Let’s start with a quick recap of what happened in Season 3: The fictional intimate apparel company Whispers made a deal with Litchfield Prison that allowed them to use inmates as cheap labor. As one of the inmates selected to sew the sexy underwear together, Piper figured out that by cutting the fabric differently, she could actually make more panties than what Whispers asked of her. This inspires a new business venture: wearing the surplus underwear for a few days and then selling them to people who are into that sort of thing. By the end of Season 3, Piper has established an entire supply chain: numerous inmates wear the underwear, a naive prison guard sneaks them out, and Piper’s brother sells them on the outside.


Dallas Buyers Club Reminds Us That The FDA Is Trying To Turn Everything Into An Illegal Drug

DBCRon Woodroof fought for the right to use non-FDA approved drugs as a means of treatment after he was diagnosed with HIV in the 1980s.  As a result, he began distributing experimental drugs to AIDS patients who were unable to acquire them at hospitals.  Woodroof’s legacy lives on in the 2013 film, “Dallas Buyers Club,” directed by Jean-Marc Vallée.

The film opens with Woodroof’s diagnosis; he’s given 30 days to live.  Thinking he’s a homosexual, his friends and coworkers ostracize him.  When Woodroof finally seeks treatment, he is put on AZT, the only FDA-approved drug in America at the time, but this only worsens his condition.  Woodroof eventually travels to Mexico to find help, and there he’s treated with ddC and peptide T, drugs not approved by the FDA.

After three months on these new drugs, Woodroof’s condition improves and it occurs to him that he can make money smuggling ddC and peptide T into America for other HIV patients.  He teams up with Rayon, an HIV positive trans woman, who helps Woodroof get inside the gay community.  Together, Ron and Rayon form the Dallas Buyers Club, which provides the non-approved drugs to HIV patients at a price.  The club becomes very successful, but is short-lived, as the FDA is constantly trying to find ways to shut them down and make it harder for Woodroof to sell his own drugs.

Woodroof attempts to sue the FDA, seeking the right to take peptide T, which at this point has been proven to be a non-toxic drug.  Although he loses the court case, it is stated at the end of the film that Woodroof was eventually able to take peptide T for his own personal use up until his death.  He was also one of the main reasons that hospitals in America would eventually reduce the dosage of AZT it would administer to its patients after the drug was found to be toxic.

Dallas Buyers Club is based on a true story about what can happen to American patients when their health care system is fraught with bureaucratic roadblocks.  The government spends more than 50 per cent of all health care dollars and costs have been driven up by the FDA’s actions and deprived Americans of much-needed treatments.



Top 10 Greatest Movies that Premiered on the July 4th Weekend

This is not the typical yearly list of the best 4th of July themed or raw-raw-USA patriotic movies of all time. You’re welcome.

With The BFG, Purge: Election Year, and Legend of Tarzan opening this Independence Day weekend, I thought it would be better to list the top 10 greatest movies that have premiered on this holiday weekend in the past.  Mostly because, I don’t think either of this year’s entries will have as lasting an impact in cinema history like the following.


#10 Men In Black
Opened July 2, 1997

Some master puppet work, special effects makeup, and CGI give Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones plenty to play off of.  It’s a fast paced 98 minutes of two government agents working autonomously (which may be why they are so efficient) to save humans and friendly aliens from the scourge of the galaxy’s worst.

#9 – Terminator 2
Opened July 3, 1991

Arguably regarded as Schwarzenegger’s best action film, writer/director James Cameron lets loose with cutting edge CGI (for the time) in this time-travel sci-fi action thriller where Robert Patrick’s motorcycle cop would haunt anyone pulled over on the highway for speeding .



Avenging The Fantastic, Part 13: The Black Widow Goes Solo (Briefly)!

Continuing the read-through of as many Avengers and Fantastic Four–related Marvel comics as possible!

Books Read

Fantastic Four #94-104; Avengers #73-83; Captain America #121-133, Captain America and the Falcon #134; Iron Man #21-32; Incredible Hulk #125-134; Thor #172-181; Amazing Adventures (starring Black Widow) #1-4; years: 1970-71

The Revolving Door of Avengers Mansion

Yellowjacket and Wasp are out so Hank Pym can do science for the government, but Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch are back, thus filling the Avengers’ quota of unhealthy relationships. And then the Vision abruptly leaves shortly later…and returns almost immediately.

Iron_Man_Vol_1_21The Best of This Bunch – Iron Man #21-22

Archie Goodwin’s solid run on Iron Man continues with a tale of Tony Stark trying to quit his superhero life…and realizing he can’t. The story features tropes that have become too commonplace these days—a replacement for the hero, a replacement for an old villain, and the death of a romantic interest. But these tropes were fresher in 1970 and, in this particular instance, well-handled.

Iron-willed boxer and all-around decent guy Eddie March makes for a likeable potential Iron Man, though he has a medical condition of his own that cuts his super-heroic career short. Surprisingly, he survives the tale, but Janice Cord’s death comes out of nowhere.

Janice had been portrayed as a potential girlfriend for Tony Stark for the past twenty issues or so. Now, after an experimental medical procedure leaves Tony Stark’s heart healthy enough for daily life but not necessarily superhero life, he decides to pursue a normal relationship and pass the Iron Man armor onto a worthy successor.

However, Janice hasn’t sprung to life as a particularly memorable or compelling character…so she must die, naturally. In the story’s defense, back in these days, any character who lasted beyond his or her first or second appearance wasn’t likely to die ever. So at the time, this was a somewhat bold story decision on Goodwin’s part, even though to modern sensibilities, the automatic reaction tends to be, “Ugh, another woman killed to provide motivation for the male hero?”

Goodwin’s run ends several issues later, and the drop in quality is steep. (more…)


South Park’s Stance On Censorship: More Relevant Than Ever?

When South Park first came onto the scene in 1997, it caused quite a stir.  The animated sitcom that follows four foul-mouthed boys and their exploits throughout a small town in Colorado was loved by audiences and hated by parents who caught their young ones quoting the show’s signature fart and pee pee jokes.

What has ultimately set South Park apart from most TV shows is its no holds barred attitude when it comes to making fun of sensitive subjects.  The feature film that followed shortly after the show’s release, “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999),” tackled the issues of censorship and bad parenting.

TandPThe film centers on the release of a new R-rated movie: “Terrance and Phillip: Asses of Fire,” which main characters: Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny are first in line to see.  The film becomes all the rage in South Park and soon after its release; every kid in town is quoting its crude humor.  This of course sets the parents off in a rage, so much so that they end up banning all Terrance and Philip’s films and merchandise and send their kids to a rehabilitation center, so that they’ll stop swearing.  They take it a step further when they end up abducting Terrance and Philip and wage war on their native country – Canada.  When Cartman voices his displeasure of all this by singing a song about Kyle’s mom being a bitch, the parents implant a v-chip inside of him giving him an electric shock every time he swears.  The kids of South Park are then forced to lead a resistance against the parents, save Terrance and Philip and prevent Satan from rising up and taking over the world.

Although this film came out in 1999, its stance on freedom of speech and anti-censorship are more relevant than ever.  Earlier this month, the newly released X-Men Apocalypse’s marketing campaign was hit with controversy when a billboard depicting the film’s main antagonist, Apocalypse, choking Mystique, played by Jennifer Lawrence.  Actress Rose McGowan slammed the advertisement, saying it was “offensive” and seemingly approved of violence against women.  The backlash resulted in 20th Century Fox making a public apology and later taking down the ads, even though, according to Deadline Hollywood, a top female Fox executive approved the advertisement before it was released.



The Scene from HBO’s Silicon Valley that Everyone Should be Talking about

Silicon Valley’s (the place, not the show) not-so dirty little secret got its moment under the Hollywood spotlight on this past Sunday’s penultimate episode of Silicon Valley’s (the show, not the place) third season.

Silicon Valley, created by Mike Judge, is perhaps the most honest portrayal of what work and life is like in California’s digital gold mining community.  And if the antics of Richard and team’s Pied Piper start-up company  seem sometimes a little far fetched, the final scene of this episode, titled “Daily Active Users,” represents an all too honest peak behind the curtain.  Audiences are finally brought face to face with human beings in a third world country (think Bangladesh or India) who wake up each day and go to work in a large office filled with dozens if not hundreds of others who do nothing all day but click on ads, download apps, log into sites, and various other tasks that real everyday users of the internet engage in purposefully.

Here is that final scene…


However, these people do it simply to get paid on average, the equivalent of $1 a day. Their “work” can be worth millions to their employers and sometimes billions to the tech companies of Silicon Valley like Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, What’s App, etc..  Really, any company that bases its value to investors and potential buy-out suiters on a high DAU count. That’s Daily Active Users to us laymen.  In contrast, a company like Uber may not utilize these click farms because they are providing an actual real world service – connecting people with cars and nowhere to be, to people with no cars and somewhere to be.  So it’s kind of hard to fake actual people getting rides in actual cars.  Although I do admit to a possible future where people, or AI robots, could be paid to book Uber rides around town just to boost their DAU count.

Facebook, for instance, now claims that it has a DAU count of over 1 billion. That’s one billion people everyday, logging into Facebook and engaging.  How many of them are actually using it for its intended purpose of connecting with friends and family, sharing stories, photos and life events? Well considering that over 1 billion of Facebook’s total 1.59 billion user accounts exist outside of Europe and North America, I imagine it is fair to say that a plethora of those accounts are are bogus.  Read this account published by Business Insider three years ago which details some of the fakery behind all those likes, views, and followers that social media giants rely on for their billion dollar evaluations.  Emphasis mine.



APPLY – The Moving Picture Institute’s Screenwriter-in-Residence

From The Moving Picture Institute:

MPI invites applications for a Screenwriter-in-Residence.  This year-long, full-time position allows aspiring screenwriters to dedicate themselves to their craft. In the course of the year, the Screenwriter-in-Residence will write at least one feature-length screenplay on a topic aligned with MPI’s mission to promote freedom through film.  The Screenwriter-in-Residence will also host several screenwriting workshops as part of MPI’s ongoing virtual workshop offerings.

The screenplay will tell a story that advances human freedom in a broadly appealing, mainstreamable way, and that has the capacity to anchor a social action marketing campaign of the sort that Participant Media frequently launches alongside its issue-based films.  Examples of topics that lend themselves to this endeavor include but are not limited to free speech, resistance to tyranny, right to self-determination, human rights, free-market economics, innovation, and entrepreneurship.  MPI’s creative and marketing staff will work closely with the screenwriter from concept development through completion, with an eye to producing the film, ensuring distribution, and launching a social action marketing campaign that educates and activates audiences on behalf of freedom.

To apply for the position of MPI Screenwriter-in-Residence, please apply with a cover letter, CV, and writing sample to [email protected] before the closing date of Friday, July 15th, 2016.  As part of your application, please be sure to pitch your idea(s) for the screenplay you’d like to develop as MPI’s Screenwriter-in-Residence.


Captain America: Civil War Review

So I finally got around to seeing one of the most anticipated movies of the summer, Captain America: Civil War. In general, I’m not that into superhero movies, primarily because I find they’re often over-simplistic for my taste: These are the good guys. Those are the bad guys. Now watch them blow stuff up.

Luckily, Captain America: Civil War does not fall into that trap. There’s two opposing sides, but rather than a battle of good vs. evil, it’s a battle between two different interpretations of good. The conflict is introduced when the UN finally expresses discontent with the Avenger-caused destruction of previous Marvel movies, which is best summed up this way:

Oddly enough, I’ve seen the same meme used to describe U.S. foreign policy.

So the Avengers have a choice. Do they want to give the governments of the world increased control over their operations (#TeamIronMan) or continue to be as independent as they’ve always been, even if that makes them outlaws (#TeamCap)?


Review: Springboard: Launching Your Personal Search for Success by G. Richard Shell


Before he was an award-winning Wharton professor, Richard Shell was a lost young man. He had defied his father, a U.S. Marine Corps General, by deciding that a life in the military wasn’t for him. It was the Vietnam era and Shell turned in his draft card to become a pacifist. But now he was lost. His life was no longer narrated for him. After a few years wandering from job-to-job, he set out to travel the world with his life savings of $3,000. Traveling from monastery to hostel, in country after country, reading philosophy, doing drugs, and trying to “find himself,” he succeeded only in finding rock bottom. Not everyone can clearly identify the exact moment they hit the bottom, but professor Shell can. It was the day he contracted hepatitis and passed out on the side of a road in Kabul. He says, “Something shifted in my life. I had pushed myself to my psychological and physical limits and had ended up alone, filthy, sick, and no closer to finding my direction than I was a year earlier” (p. 5).

It would take Shell many years to finally find his true productive purpose: teaching. As a senior faculty member at Wharton School of Business, he created the popular course “The Literature of Success: Ethical and Historical Perspectives.” His book, Springboard: Launching Your Personal Search for Success, is a wonderful condensation of this course. It takes the reader through thousands of years of “success literature” (as he identifies the genre) from Plato and Aristotle down to Covey and Gladwell.

Springboard is broken into two parts, both designed to be a guide for the reader. The goal is to answer for oneself two big questions: What is success? How will I achieve it?


AR featured

Career Advice From Ayn Rand

“Look.” Roark got up, reached out, tore a thick branch off a tree, held it in both hands, one fist closed at each end; then, his wrists and knuckles tensed against the resistance, he bent the branch slowly into an arc. “Now I can make what I want of it: a bow, a spear, a cane, a railing. That’s the meaning of life.”

“Your strength?”

“Your work.” He tossed the branch aside. “The material the earth offers you and what you make of it

Ayn Rand
Ayn Rand

All great writers are polarizing. Ayn Rand, author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, certainly fits this proposition. People tend to love her work or hate it. But as Winston Churchill once said, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”

What cannot be denied is the enormity of Rand’s success. After having everything taken from her in Soviet Russia, she fled to America with nothing. She proceeded to work year after year, taking odd jobs; sometimes working on movie sets in Hollywood, sometimes working as a waitress. But she never lost sight of her goal: To be a novelist. It would take decades — including enduring the great depression — before she finally achieved success in writing. Her books have sold well over 30 million copies. Atlas Shrugged has shaped America’s intellectual landscape. And decades after her death not a week goes by when she isn’t mentioned somewhere in the public.

Below are some quotes taken from various novels, interviews, and other writings, where she explains her views on career success. The advice is applicable not only to Rand’s success, but as you will see, to the careers of any great achiever.



From Page to Screen: The Amityville Horror

The Amityville Horror is a classic in the world of horror, both on the page and on the screen. After the ordeal the Lutz family went through their story made national headlines. It drew the attention of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, now famous because of the Conjuring and Conjuring 2, also based on cases they investigated. Within a year a book had been written (Jay Anson, 1977) that was an instant national best seller, and two years later the film (dir. Stuart Rosenberg, 1979) was released which quickly became the biggest indie hit to date. James Brolin was reading the book when some clothes that were hung on his closet door and scared him witless for a moment; at that point he said he knew there was something to this story. Clearly, it is a story worth the time to both read and watch, assuming you enjoy both claustrophobia and dread.

When is the house warming?
When is the house warming?

The movie is a very faithful adaptation of the book. From the grand incidents, like Jody, to the little incidents or details, like the missing money or the mirrors in the bedroom, the movie knows and respects the source material.


Amelia Earhart

A Lesson for College Grads from Amelia Earhart

“Never interrupt someone doing what you said couldn’t be done.” – Amelia Earhart

If you’ve ever complained that some part of the world is unfair, that the economy is difficult, or that it’s just too hard to succeed in the field you have chosen, then the inspirational story about Amelia Earhart from the bestselling book The Obstacle is The Way by Ryan Holiday is for you.

Unlike those of us entering the job market today, Amelia Earhart pursued her career during a booming economy. It was the Roaring 20s and it seemed as though everyone was growing wealthy. But not Amelia, for she had the wild dream to be a pilot. There was one problem, though. She was a she. It was the 1920s and women had only recently won the right to vote. She could read about being a pilot; she could listen to the great pilots talk on the radio; she could even marry a pilot, but no one would ever put a woman in a plane.

For people like Amelia, all this was irrelevant. She had decided that she would become a pilot, and nothing would stop her. While she eked out a living as a social worker, she wrote to everyone and anyone who was putting people in the sky.



Hollywood’s REAL Trigger Warning Problem

Trigger warning: There are actual triggers and warnings ahead.  Please proceed with extreme caution.

Driving around any major boulevard, ride any busy subway, walk through any mall and you will notice them.  Movie posters, billboards, bus and train decals promoting the latest Hollywood action movie.  Photographic collages filled up with recognizable beautiful celebrities in sharp outfits and perfect poses.  Here are some popular examples.  And pay attention, there will be a quiz afterwards.  See ya on the other side.

So other than the fact that it’s sad how boring most movie posters have become over the years (the motif of the early Bond films is a lost art form) what is the one thing all these film poster have in common?


Ranch still

3 Things the Netflix Series, The Ranch Gets Right

Netflix recently debuted a brand new traditionally produced sit-com series that is sitting pretty with a 4 1/2 star rating from their subscribers. Having recently finished watching this first season’s ten episodes, here are three things the series gets right:

1. Ashton Kutcher is front and center.

Kutcher in Bed

Ashton Kutcher stars as Colt Bennett, a washed-up college football QB, who is forced to move back home to the ranch he grew up on with his never-satisfied father, Beau (the great Sam Elliot), and smart-mouthed brother “Rooster” (Kutcher’s former That 70’s Show co-star Danny Masterson.) Mom, Maggie (Debra Winger) is living in her own Airstream behind the bar she owns due to her estranged relationship to husband Beau.

Ever since he debuted on That 70’s Show in the late 90s, Ashton Kutcher has proven himself to be a natural comedic actor with leading man looks.  In television land, this is hard to come by.  He’s maintained relevancy in pop-culture ever since we were introduced to him with stints like MTV’s Punk’d, a bunch of hit (and miss) feature films, as a successful venture capitalist and angel investor (AirBnB, Foursquare), stepping back into TV and into Charlie “Tiger’s Blood” Sheen’s shoes on Two & a Half Men, and bringing it full circle with this second outing co-starring to his former 70’s Show co-star Masterson. Through it all he’s been married to Demi Moore and now is married-with-children with another former 70’s co-star, Mila Kunis, yet somehow has seemingly maintained humility and stayed true to Chris.

While Ashton is clearly the lead of the show, Masterson, Elliott, the re-emerged Winger (Urban Cowboy) as Beau’s estranged wife, and Elisha Cuthbert (Kim “Kidnapped” Bauer from 24) as Colt’s corn-fed country-girl former high school sweetheart, round a solid cast.  The first few episodes take minute for everyone to gel, but once you know everyone and it feels like they know everyone, it’s a welcome sight when any one of them pops on screen with Kutcher who brings chemistry to each interaction.  The biggest surprise comes from the amount of depth that begins to percolate as the these honest familial relationships start to surface.  Sam Elliott and Debra Winger have both had long careers filled with terrific dramatic performances, that cache helps bring balance to what could easily have been a Duck Dynasty style sitcom. (I contend Duck Dynasty masquerades more as a reality show, when in reality it’s more situation comedy without the acting talent.)



Hamilton Proves How Influential Culture Can Be

hamilton playbillIt comes as a surprise to no one that the broadway musical Hamilton is up for the Best New Musical Tony. In fact, I just typed that sentence without even checking the Tony nominations which were announced earlier this week. I just assumed it was true because the internet didn’t explode with outrage. It turns out Hamilton racked up a whomping 16 nominations, the most in broadway history. In fact, Hamilton has at least one nominee in every category the show is eligible for, and multiple nominees in the two best actor categories.

But award wins and nominations are only the beginning of Hamilton’s impressive feats. Many sources, including The New York Times, The LA Times and The Washington Post have given the musical at least partial credit for keeping Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill. 

Many feminist groups have been asking for women on U.S. currency for some time. While they weren’t specifically asking to replace Hamilton, the U.S. treasury initially picked him because the $10 bill is the next one due for a redesign. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the star and creator of Hamilton even met with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew personally regarding the matter.

Now the treasury has changed its mind. Hamilton will remain on the front of the $10 bill while the back will feature several women of the suffragette movement. Harriet Tubman will take Andrew Jackson’s place on the front of the 20, bumping Jackson to the back of the bill.