Friday, March 16, 2018

Baauer – "Swoopin" (2014)

Hands in the air
Yeah, yeah, I go swoopin’!

If a friend or a loved one suggests that you go see Red Sparrow – the new sex-and-espionage thriller starring Jennifer Lawrence as a Russian spy – just tell them, “NYET!”

I agreed to go see Red Sparrow even though I was pretty sure it was going to be a stinker.  That’s because I’m just too nice of a guy for my own good.  (I can’t help being a nice guy.  To paraphrase Lady Gaga, “Baby, I was born that way.”)

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One critic correctly noted that Red Sparrow is “more style than substance.” 

The stylistic highlights included the lovely classical music on the soundtrack, the beautiful European locations (much of the film was shot in Vienna and Budapest) and Jennifer Lawrence in her undies – not necessarily in that order.

Jennifer Lawrence in Red Sparrow
But all of that fails to compensate for what another reviewers called “thin characters and a convoluted story.”  Red Sparrow is one of those movies that seems OK as you’re watching it, but whose plausibility begins to dissolve moments after you leave the theatre.

A number of critics who panned Red Sparrow praised Lawrence’s performance.  I thought Lawrence was great in Winter’s Bone.  She was also great – in a very different way – in American Hustle.  But she was utterly forgettable in Red Sparrow.  That’s the screenplay’s fault more than hers.

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Lawrence's Red Sparrow character is a former Bolshoi prima ballerina who is forced to become a Russian “sparrow” – a spy who specializes in gaining intelligence by seducing her male targets.

Lawrence as a blonde sparrow
The man behind the Lawrence’s involuntary transformation into a sparrow is her uncle, a high-ranking Russian Intelligence Service (SVR) official.

One of the more memorable moments in the movie came when Lawrence yells “You sent me to whore school!” at her uncle in what New York Post movie reviewer Sara Stewart aptly described as a Boris-and-Natasha accent.  (The venerable Charlotte Rampling and Jeremy Irons also affect silly Russian accents as Lawrence’s SVR supervisors.)

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I saw Red Sparrow the weekend it opened – always a mistake – at the ArcLight Cinemas at Montgomery Mall in Bethesda, MD.

ArcLight is a very small but very fancy movie-theatre chain with seven locations in southern California, two in the Chicago area, and one in suburban Washington, DC – which is the one I went to. 

There are no pre-movie commercials at ArcLight.   Every very spacious and comfortable seat is reserved, and latecomers are not allowed to enter the theatre after the movie begins.  And the bar features half a dozen local craft beers at a reasonable price.  (When I say “reasonable,” I mean reasonable compared to the prices for popcorn, candy bars, and soft drinks.)

All that sounds good.  But there are a couple of downsides to the Montgomery Mall ArcLight.

First, the automobile traffic in the mall’s parking lots and the human traffic inside the mall are such that you would have thought it was the Saturday before Christmas.  

Second, ArcLight charges  . . . are you ready for this? . . . $16 for a ticket.  (I assumed at first that was the price for two tickets.  But nooooo!)

Of course, because I’m so old, I qualified for a senior ticket, which was a mere $12.75.

Most of theatres in the Washington area charge $12 or $13 for a regular ticket, and around $10 for a senior ticket.  That’s bad enough if you ask me, but a bargain compared to what ArcLight charges.

What really irks me is that I could have waited a few months and checked a Red Sparrow DVD out of my public library.  If I had, I still would have complained that I had wasted two hours watching it even though it didn’t cost me a cent.

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Baauer – his real name is Henry Bauer Rodrigues – is a 28-year-old EDM producer who is best known for his 2012 single, “Harlem Shake.”  (36 million Youtube views and counting, boys and girls.)

The lyrics quoted above represent purt near all of the lyrics of Baauer’s 2014 release, “Swoopin,” which is featured in Red Sparrow.

Here’s the “Swoopin” remix that was used in the movie:

Click below to buy the original version of the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Marti Noxon – "Parking Ticket" (2001)

It isn’t right, it isn’t fair
There was no parking anywhere
I think that hydrant wasn’t there

I received a rather remarkable letter from the city of Philadelphia today.

“We are pleased to inform you that the City of Philadelphia will be offering residents a chance to forgive debt relating to older parking tickets and/or fines and fees,” the letter begins.  “Through a preliminary search, our records indicate that you may be eligible to participate in this never-before offered program!”  [Emphasis in the original.]

The letter goes on to say that if I pay for all the parking tickets that were issued to me between January 1, 2013 and December 31, 2017, “any tickets, fines and penalties from parking violations that were issued prior to 2013 will be forgiven!”  [Once again, emphasis in the original.]

I worked for a company that was headquartered in Philadelphia between 1992 and 1994.  I was never officially a resident of the city, but I spent several nights a week in an apartment there – returning to my family’s home in suburban Washington, DC, on weekends.

According to Philadelphia’s Parking Amnesty Office, I received parking ticket #106971535 on September 12, 1992 – over 25 years ago.  The amount currently due as a result of that parking violation is $38.00.

That may be true.  I honestly don’t know, although it seems unlikely.  That’s because September 12, 1992 was a Saturday, and I spent very few Saturdays in Philadelphia.  But it’s certainly possible that I got a parking ticket that day – I wouldn’t swear to it one way or the other.

What I can swear to is that I haven’t parked a car in Philadelphia since at least May or June 2008, when I drove one of my daughters to the University of Pennsylvania dormitory where she would live during her summer internship at a downtown hotel.  (As I recall I did get a parking ticket that day, but I think I paid it.  In any event, Philadelphia isn’t claiming that I didn’t.)

A Philadelphia parking ticket
So it’s impossible that I was guilty of a parking violation between January 1, 2013 and December 31, 2017.

There’s a old proverb that says “The wheels of justice turn slowly, but grind exceedingly fine.”  The wheels of justice in the “City of Brotherly Love” turn especially slowly, it would seem.

Am I going to pay for that 1992 ticket?  Hell, no – or rather, HELL, NO!!!  

After all, I didn’t get this far in life by playing it safe.  You can put your parking ticket where the sun don’t shine, city of Philadelphia.  

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“Once More, with Feeling,” which was the seventh episode of the sixth season of the WB/UPN TV series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, was performed as a Broadway-type musical.  (Several years later, the NBC hospital comedy, Scrubs, also did a episode where the dialogue was sung rather than spoken.)

“Parking Ticket” was a short song performed by an anonymous character portrayed by Marti Noxon, who was a writer and executive producer of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I never watched Buffy.  Did you?

Here’s “Parking Ticket”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Alice Deejay – "Better Off Alone" (1999)

Do you think you're better off alone?
Do you think you're better off alone?
Do you think you're better off alone?
Do you think you're better off alone?

(Yes and no.)

Before visiting my mother at her assisted-living place last Sunday, I stopped at the local Panera to pick up lunch.

Here’s the conversation I had with the young man who took my order – an “associate,” to use Panera’s terminology:

Me: I’ll have a small black bean soup and a plain ham and swiss on a baguette.

Panera associate: What exactly do you mean by plain?

Me (somewhat taken aback by the question): Just ham and swiss.  No lettuce or tomato – just plain.

PA: What about red onion?

Me: No.

PA: Any mayo or spicy mustard?

Me (becoming a bit exasperated): No.  Just plain.

PA: OK. . . . salt or pepper?

Me (wondering if anyone actually puts salt and pepper on a ham-and-cheese sandwich): No.

PA (after a long pause): You do want cheese, right?

Panera black bean soup
One other thing.  My black bean soup looked nothing like the soup in the photo above – it had fewer than a dozen beans in it.  The soup liquid was tasty, but I’m not being unreasonable to expect my black bean soup to have some actual beans in it . . . am I?

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Alice Deejay is the name of a trance music project of a Dutch music producer and DJ named Jürgen Rijkers – who was better known as DJ Jurgen.  (I’m not sure what happened to his umlaut.)

The singer on “Better Off Alone” was an Amsterdam native named Judith Pronk, who later became a freelance makeup artist.

Alice Deejay released only one album, which was titled Who Needs Guitars Anyway?  (Good question.)

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If you’re trying to figure out what the connection is between my conversation with the clueless Panera guy and today’s featured song, you’re wasting your time because there is none.

Here’s the official music video for “Better Off Alone” – which has been viewed over 25 million times:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, March 9, 2018

Foreigner – "Feels Like the First Time" (1977)

I know it must be the woman in you
That brings out the man in me

Facebook works in mysterious ways.  

I recently shared a Washington Post article that one of my friends had posted, not realizing that the article had been published in . . . June 2015.  

That article – which was headlined “Report: U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti had ‘transactional sex’ with hundreds of poor women” – may not be timely, but it’s still worthy of comment.

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Here’s one paragraph from that Post story, which summarizes the findings of an internal United Nations report that found that members of the U.N. peacekeeping force that went to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake there had paid 225-plus Haitian women for sex:

The women traded sex for basic needs, including food and medication.

For rural women, hunger, lack of shelter, baby care items, medication and household items were frequently cited as the “triggering need,” the report said.  In exchange for sex, women got “church shoes, cell phones, laptops and perfume, as well as money” from peacekeepers.

U.N. troops in Haiti
Since when did cell phones, laptops, perfume, and especially church shoes qualify as “basic needs”?

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I’m sure you’ve heard prostitution described as  “the world’s oldest profession.” 

The origin of that phrase is a Rudyard Kipling short story titled “On the City Wall,” which opens with these words:

Lalun is a member of the most ancient profession in the world. . . . In the West, people say rude things about Lalun’s profession, and write lectures about it, and distribute the lectures to young persons in order that Morality may be preserved.  In the East where the profession is hereditary, descending from mother to daughter, nobody writes lectures or takes any notice; and that is a distinct proof of the inability of the East to manage its own affairs.

Church shoes?
Whether prostitution is literally the world’s oldest profession is a question that can’t be answered with certainty, of course.  But what is clear is that once a human society develops any form of material wealth, people start exchanging that wealth for sex.

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Did you know that animals as well as humans exchange wealth for sex?

From an article on the website:

Female chimpanzees living in the Ivory Coast have been observed to trade sex for meat.  In one experiment capuchin monkeys were taught to use silver discs as a sort of money (they could be redeemed for grapes), and it wasn’t long before one monkey exchanged one of the tokens for sex.  Dr. Fiona Hunter, a researcher at Cambridge University, observed female penguins in Antarctica trading sex for stones and pebbles.  Adélie penguins need rocks to build their nests . . . .

Female Adélie penguin offering sex for pebbles 
It seems that prostitution among humans and prostitution among animals have one characteristic in common: it’s the male who pays the female for sex, not vice versa.

All this suggests that it’s probably futile to try to legislate prostitution out of existence.  If monkeys trade sex for food, is it any surprise that humans trade sex for food?  (Or cell phones.  Or perfume.  Or church shoes.)

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“Feels Like the First Time” was Foreigner’s first big hit, but it was far from their last.  

Foreigner’s eponymous debut album
Between 1977 and 1988, the group had no fewer than nine singles that peaked at #6 or higher on the Billboard “Hot 100.”  

My personal favorite is “Hot Blooded,” but “Feels Like the First Time” – which was featured on the soundtrack of the movie I, Tonya – is purt near as good:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Supertramp – "Goodbye Stranger" (1979)

Goodbye Mary
Goodbye Jane
Will we ever
Meet again?

April 15 is just weeks away.  Have you started work on your income tax return yet?

A couple of days ago, I was researching whether I could still claim my youngest son as a dependent on my return.  It runs out that I can, which is good news.  (We’re talking a $4050 tax deduction, boys and girls.  That ain’t hay.)

There are five factors that must be considered in deciding whether you can count your child as a dependent and take a  deduction.  One of them is residency – the child must have lived with you for more than half the year to be considered a dependent.  

There are a number of exceptions to that requirement – for example, if the child’s parents are divorced or separated, the parents can agree which of them gets the deduction even if the child doesn’t live with that parent more than half of the year.

Another exception relates to children who are born during the year the tax return covers.  For example, my daughter gave birth to my third grandson on December 30 of last year.  Obviously, that child didn’t live with my daughter and her husband for more than half the year.  But the rule is that they can count him as a dependent and take a deduction because their home was the child’s home more than half the time he was alive in 2017.

The same principle applies when a child dies during the year.  A child who dies in January of a certain year, for example, is a dependent in that year for tax purposes if he or she lived with his or her parents for more than half the time he or she was alive during that year.

According to the IRS, you may be able to claim an exemption for a child born alive during the year, “even if the child lived only for a moment.”  But you can't claim an exemption for a stillborn child. 

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The IRS thinks of everything.  The rules on deductions for dependent children cover one situation that I bet you’ve never thought about: whether kidnapped children qualify for a dependency deduction.

IRS Publication 501 says that you usually get a deduction for a kidnapped child – assuming that the child hasn’t been kidnapped by someone who is a member of your family or the child's family.  (It’s not unheard of for a parent who has lost a custody battle to take his or child and skedaddle.  In such a case, the custodial parent can’t take a deduction.  Presumably, the parent who took the child can take a deduction, although it may be the smartest strategy legally to do so.)

IRS Publication 501
You can continue to take that deduction for as long as the child remains kidnapped – with two exceptions.  

You can take the deduction up until the year when the child turns 18, but no longer.  You also lose the deduction in “[t]he year there is a determination that the child is dead.”

I’m guessing that they may be some procedure for declaring a kidnapped child who is never returned legally dead after so many years.  But I’m not going to research the question any further – I’ve been blessed with three grandsons in the last 20 months, and I’d like to keep all thoughts relating to the kidnapping or death of children out of my mind.

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There was a time when you couldn’t take a deduction for a kidnapped child.  

Apparently the question never came up until 2000, when the IRS was asked by the family of a kidnapped child if they could take the dependency exemption.  The family had continued to maintain the child’s room and had spent a lot of money searching for the child.  But the IRS told the family that they could not claim the deduction after the year in which the child was kidnapped.

That’s not a shock to anyone who knows anything about the IRS.  What is shocking is that Congress did the right thing and amended the federal tax code to allow that family and other kidnapping victims to take deductions.

Lest you think that I’m going soft on Congress, I will point out that it took them until 2004 to amend the law.  (I can’t imagine why it took them four years to overturn the IRS.  Four days should have been enough time.)

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As I noted in the last 2 or 3 lines, the 2017 Tonya Harding biopic, I, Tonya, has a fabulous soundtrack.  

One of the songs on that soundtrack is “Goodbye Stranger,” which was released in 1979 on Supertramp’s sixth and most successful studio album, Breakfast in America: 

Breakfast in America held down the #1 spot on the Billboard “Pop Albums Chart” for six weeks, and also hit #1 in a number of other countries, including France – where it is still one of the five best-selling albums of all time.

“Goodbye Stranger” was one of three top 20 singles from Breakfast in America, despite lyrics like these:

Now some they do, and some they don’t
And some you just can't tell
And some they will, and some they won’t
With some it’s just as well

Here’s “Goodbye Stranger”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, March 4, 2018

ZZ Top – "Sleeping Bag" (1985)

Zip it on around while it’s on the ground
Spread it out and lay it on down
Slip inside my sleeping bag

Back in the day, Olympic figure skaters usually played it safe when it came to the music that accompanied their performances – which is why you heard a lot of classical music (The Rite of Spring, Swan Lake, and Bolero) and movie themes (“A Time for Us” from Romeo and Juliet) during figure-skating competitions.

Tonya Harding in 1991
Tonya Harding was certainly the most unconventional ice skater of her era, and the music she skated to often reflected that.  For example, at the 1992 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, she performed to today’s featured song, ZZ Top’s “Sleeping Bag.” 

That moment is captured in the 2017 movie, I, Tonya:  

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The betting is that Alison Janney, who plays Harding’s bossy, foul-mouthed, chain-smoking mother, will take home the Best Supporting Actress award tonight when the Oscars are handed out in Hollywood tonight.

The fabulous Australian babe Margot Robbie, who portrayed Harding, is something of a long shot to win the Best Actress Oscar, but I’m rooting for her.

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I, Tonya reminds me of a Martin Scorsese movie – think Goodfellas or The Wolf of Wall Street (which also starred Robbie) – because it often breaks the fourth wall, but mostly because it has a fabulous soundtrack consisting mostly of FM-radio staples from the seventies and eighties.

Tonya Harding today
I’m talking songs like Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain,” Foreigner’s “Feels Like the First Time,” Heart’s “Barracuda,” Bad Company’s “Shooting Star,” and Laura Branigan’s “Gloria.”

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ZZ Top’s “Sleeping Bag” made it all the way to #1 on the Billboard “Mainstream Rock” music chart in 1985.

Tonya Harding was almost 15 when it was released, which probably explains a lot.

Here’s “Sleeping Bag”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Kingston Trio – "Bad Man's Blunder" (1960)

Early one evening I was rollin around
I was feelin kind of mean
I shot a deputy down

Michael Ritchie’s 1976 movie, The Bad News Bears, is about a really bad Little League baseball team.  It has many, many inappropriate lines and scenes – so many that I don’t think the movie could be made today.  Which is why it’s possibly the funniest movie ever made.

The team’s coach (played by Walter Matthau at his most irascible) always has a Budweiser in his hand as he chauffeurs the kids (sans seatbelts, of course) to and from practices and games. 

His best player smokes cigarettes and tries to pick up 21-year-olds.  (“You from around here?  I’ve got a Harley-Davidson.  Does that turn you on?  A Harley-Davidson?”)

The team’s diminutive shortstop is appalled by his rag-tag collection of teammates: “All we got on this team are a buncha Jews, spics, niggers, pansies, and a booger-eatin’ spaz.”  (“Spaz” was a very common word when I was a kid, but you don’t hear it much anymore.)

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I was reminded of The Bad News Bears while listening to the equally inappropriate “Bad Man’s Blunder” – one of two songs on The Best of the Kingston Trio album about a criminal who gets arrested in Mexico.

In the other of those songs, “Tijuana Jail,” the guy who ends up in jail got caught gambling – not a very serious crime.  

But the narrator of “Bad Man’s Blunder” is guilty of murdering a deputy sheriff in Texas.  The blundering bad man skedaddles off for Mexico, but is quickly tracked down and brought back to the Lone Star State.  

He has a bad feeling when he walks into the courtroom to stand trial for murder:

The judge was an old man, ninety-three
And I didn't like the way the jury looked at me
(I think they were suspicious)

Not surprisingly, things don’t go well for the criminal:

It was a most unsatisfactory trial
They gave me ninety-nine years on the hard rock pile
Ninety and nine on the hard rock ground
All I ever did was shoot a deputy down

Back in the eighties and nineties, a lot of people lost their minds over gangsta-rap songs about killing the police.  But I’ve never seen any evidence that anyone protested “Bad Man’s Blunder,” which treats the cold-blooded murder of a deputy sheriff as a laughing matter.  

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“Bad Man’s Blunder” was written by Cisco Houston (who performed for years with Woody Guthrie) and Lee Hays (a member of the legendary folk group, the Weavers, and a co-writer of “If I Had a Hammer”).

Lee Hays
Hays was the nephew of the famous Ozark folklorist Vance Randolph.  In 1948, Randolph published a book of Ozark folksongs that included one that’s usually called “Bad Lee Brown” or “Little Sadie,” which “Bad Man’s Blunder” was clearly inspired by.  I have to think that Hays got the idea for his song from his uncle.

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Here’s “Bad Man’s Blunder,” which the Kingston Trio recorded in 1960:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon: