29 September, 2005

Mr. O'Leary's Early Presidential Endorsement

The presidential election of 2008 may seem far off, especially considering the last one occurred less than a year ago. However, being the optimist I am, I'm looking forward, towards the future, towards a better tomorrow since the last two elections were such terrible mistakes. The speculation is already rampant for the next election as to who the candidates will be. Another interesting situation is that this will be the first election in a ridiculously long time (yeah, I don't know the exact amount of time) in which an incumbent President nor a sitting Vice President will be running for office. Certainly Hilary Clinton and John McCain seem to have established themselves as the favorites for the Democratic and Republican nominations, respectively. I'm not sure who I'd prefer between these two, since both of them appeal to me. However, I'm going for an underdog at this point, a man too few people are watching, the Senior Senator from Delaware, Joe Biden (D).

Biden has twice on live television alluded to a run for president, as long as he believes he has a realistic chance of competing by the end of this year, in recent months. This man has already waged one attempt at the Presidency, albeit, an successful one. Due to an allegedly plagiarized speech, given during the campaign of 1988, Biden dropped out of the race. It was later decided that Biden had simply not credited the source of the text correctly, a source he had cited correctly in past speeches. I believe this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances and hope that he will seriously pursue the nomination this time around. In addition, Biden plans to release his memoir in 2007, just in time for potential voters to know the man as a human being.

Having nearly served a quarter century in the Senate, Biden has gained much respect, from both sides of the aisle. Biden does not allow his party to dictate his beliefs and, for the most part, maintains a left-of-center position on the political spectrum, something I can respect, seeing as I am situated at about the same position. Further proof of his rational politics, he has also mentioned a Biden-McCain ticket for 2008 as a possibility, in which case he would be willing to act as either President or Vice President. In reference to what I said earlier, I would vote for McCain over Clinton if he were to take on Biden as his running mate.

Furthermore, I can respect Biden much more than other politicians. He seems more down to Earth and, quite frankly, more average. When I say average, I don't mean in his demeanor or his political career, but in his upbringing. Biden attended University of Delaware and Syracuse University, two respectable, but not overly elite institutions (not to mention, I'm considering both of them for myself). Most politicians have attended Ivy League schools and Oxford or Cambridge, but seeing this man in such a powerful position in our society, and potentially the most powerful by 2009, who attended the same schools I'm pursuing, really makes me feel a connection to him. Too often politicians are extremely wealthy, have made it into politics through family connections or attended colleges most of us can only dream of, but Joe Biden is like any one of us, and that's very impressive.

Perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself, the election is still more than three years away, and at the rate our country is going, it's quite possible our society won't make it until then. But, I'm jumping on the Biden Bus early and hope to see this vessel pull into the White House in January of 2009. Joe Biden for President, 2008.

27 September, 2005

Goodfellas: Good Flick

Martin Scorsese is, perhaps, my favorite director of all time. He is a true lover of film and his works are so well put together and directed. Scorsese was a product of the "New Hollywood" or the "American New Wave" movement in which directors were coming to be accepted as the most significant creative forces behind their films. American directors were now "classically" trained, in that they had a vast knowledge of the medium, as it existed before now, something the generation before them didn't really have, as the entire medium of film was fairly new. The 70s were really Scorsese's glory days, but the 80s didn't treat him too badly either, and he has surged into the 21st century with Gangs of New York (2002) and The Aviator (2004). The 90s, however weren't all that impressive, of course relative to the rest of this man's stellar career, that doesn't say too much. However, Goodfellas (1990) and it's companion piece, Casino (1995), marked two high points of Scorsese's career.

Here, in the second entry to the "Classic Films of the 90s" series, Goodfellas will be the subject. If this isn't Scorsese's best picture, it puts up a good fight (no pun intended in regards to the first title) against Raging Bull (1980) and Taxi Driver (1976). The basic premise consists of a chronicle of several men and the three decades they spend in the mob. The main focus of the film is on Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) and Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro). All three men provide subjective voice overs at times, I suppose making this a limited omniscient point of view, with respect to these three characters.

Henry Hill is really the main character as the film begins with his entrance into organized crime at an early age, plays out through his life in the mafia and wraps up as his time involved with orgnazined crime wraps up. Ray Liotta, who usually plays cliche roles in shallow films, works nicely in this one. The rest of the acting is also superb, with Joe Pesci winning an Academy Award for his role and De Niro still near the top of his game (yes, this was 15 years ago, a time when Robert De Niro was still a good actor and didn't only star in terrible crap).

The comparisons between this film and The Godfather (1972) are endless and endlessly annoying. These films do share the common theme of organized crime and the fact that they are both stellar, among the greatest, films. I don't see the use in comparing them however. The Godfather is endlessly entertaining and has a certain epic feel to it. Goodfellas seems a bit more realistic and is grittier. Both films are exceptional and should be judged soley on their own merit, and not comparitvely. As can be expected from a Scorsese film, this film is violent and does use the English language to the fullest extent, so to truly appreciate the film, one needs to be able to overlook these things and be interested in a true piece of film, in the way films should be made.

Goodfellas was the last best chance Scorsese had at winning his Oscar. To those of you unfamiliar as to what I'm talking about, this legend has never one an Oscar, and for further discussion of this, see my June 11, 2005 post, "The Incredible Martin Scorsese." Scorsese has been nominated for a Best Director Oscar twice since his nomination for Goodfellas and garnered a third nomination for his hand in writing the screenplay to The Age of Innocence (1993). The two films for which he was nominated for Best Director, Gangs of New York (2002) and The Aviator (2004), were also great films. With the Academy's passing over of Scorsese for his work on Raging Bull (1980) and Goodfellas, I'm not sure much hope remains. Certainly I've enjoyed his works since Goodfellas and I look forward to his future work, but this was one film for which he really deserved the award.

Goodfellas is a classic piece of 1990s cinema, as well as one of Scorsese's best, which is certainly saying something. As well as being a staple of 1990s cinema and Scorsese's filmography, this is one of my personal favorites. I urge people to stop watching run-of-the-mill movies and check out Goodfellas, or something else by Scorsese, which I feel too few people in the general public have endulged in.

11 September, 2005

September 11, 2001: A Retrospective

Four years have passed since 9/11, but it remains fresher on my mind than many things that have occured since then. I remember the day, almost too well. So many minute details of the day linger in my mind, details of a day I would normally never remember. But this day was unlike any I had ever experienced. Never in my short life had I ever felt that way.

The first Tuesday of my eighth grade year began no differently than any other day at middle school had. My classes passed no differently than they had the day before. As my fourth period band class came to a close, the most unusual announcement came over the loudspeaker: "There have been terrorist attacks in New York and Washington." I remember Dr. Trusheim, the middle school principal, uttering those exact words. I had no grasp of what this meant. My idea of terrorist attacks at the time were of those that seemed to happen weekly in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In my mind, those were insignificant blips in this ongoing conflict, normally only claiming three or four lives, not that I believe comparing tradgedies is an effective technique for getting a point across.

With that brief statement from the principal as to what had happened on that day, I didn't feel any reason to be worried. Still, subconsciouly, I must have felt a great sense of alarm with this announcement, for I remember vividly the moment it happened. The announcement came on, Jillian Schurman was to my left, and said "Oh, my God..." or something along those lines, I looked at her and saw the sheer terror on her face. I looked down at my teacher, Mr. Miksza, and the look on his face was stern, but not shocked. I didn't understand why he had that reaction at first, but later on, I found out the attacks had taken place an hour or two before we had been notified, so he probably already knew, and was hearing this news for at least the second time. Only a few minutes were left in the period after the announcement, and those few minutes consisted of a few of us speculating as to what could have happened. None of us had any idea, seeing as we were naive eighth graders and we had none of the facts.

We went to lunch the next period and the room was a buzz with discussion regarding the terrorist attacks. Rumors started spreading that a car bomb had been crashed into a building in Washington and New York, others claimed that planes had crashed into buildings. I remember my good friend Dave Brudner connecting the plane idea to the plot of Die Hard 2 and the eerie similarities he was claiming the situations had. Laughter existed, although I think we were really all scared beyond our wits and the laughter was there because we needed something to comfort us. At the time, even though we really had no idea to what extent these attacks had crippled our nation, we were afraid and the laughter came from us not knowing how to react.

The period after lunch was shop. A bunch of middle school kids sitting around and pasting wood together and ranting to eachother about the terrorist attack that they really had no knowledge of. Before the period could end, the entire school was told to go outside, without backpacks, just walk outside and wait for further instruction. My class was brought to the back of the school, and once outside, parents started taking their children home and word got around that some looney had exploited the hightened sense of hysteria to call in a baseless bomb threat. The threat was taken seriously, like it should have been, thus we were evacuated from the school.

While I stood outside, on one of the most beautiful days, in terms of weather, so many confused thoughts went through my head. With the little amount of information I had, I really didn't know what to think, but I knew this was serious with the measures being taken by parents and teachers. I saw my friends leave one by one as their parents arrived to pick them up, I didn't know where my parents were or if they had even been notified yet to come get me. Eventually, the few of us left were brought to the front lawn of the school, where a number of teachers and students still remained. After a short time (that felt like a very long time at the time), my mom showed up, with my next door neighbor, Jimmy Dericks, who I had seen leave earlier with his mom. They both started giving me details as we walked to the car: "Two planes hit the Twin Towers," "Both of the towers have fallen down," "There's still a plane unaccounted for," "Another one crashed in Washington." I didn't know what to make of all this, how can someone react to this, on a day that began like any other.

My mom had taken a little while to come get me because she was working at a school in West New York, on the Jersey bank of the Hudson River. She had witnessed the collapse of the first tower and left immediately to come get me. I couldn't at the time, and still can't imagine what must have passed through her mind. I suppose part of her thinking was to go home, seeing as she did, because the world seemed to be falling apart before her eyes with the collapse of that mammoth structure. We went from the middle school back to my house, where my cousin was. We picked her up and dropped off Jimmy and went over to North Boulevard Elementary, where my sister was.

In a similar fashion as they had us at the middle school, my sister was outside with her teachers and the few students who remained. My sister had no idea what was going on. They had told these students just about nothing in regards to why people were leaving the school. The situation was explained to my sister in fairly simple detail, for at least what would suffice for now.

When my mom, my sister, my cousin and I got back to my house, a lot of people were there. I think it was my dad, my next door neighbors, my grandpa and at least one of my mom's friends. I knew this was serious now, both my parents were home from work and people who I would normally only see periodically at planned gatherings had congregated at my house on little if any notice. The images I saw on television as I walked into my family room were unlike anything I had ever seen. The replaying of the second plane crash and the sheer chaos on the streets of New York was unbelievable. Scenes of the destruction in Pennsylvannia and Washington only made things worse. These were like scenes of war in places I knew, in places relatively near my home. How could this be happening?

That day went on for a very long time. I think it would be safe to say that that was the longest day of my life. I don't think I was even capable of grasping the extent that this day would affect American society. Every television station was devoted to coverage, as was every radio station. No where could anything be found but coverage of that day's incidents. For hours upon hours, all one could think of and hear about was the events of that day.

That day is the first day in my life, thus far, where I remember so many details, exactly where I was and what was happening when I first found out. Adults talk about hearing when JFK and Martin Luther King were assassinated, or when Princess Diana died, or perhaps when the Berlin Wall fell. These incidents either occured before my lifetime or happened when I was too young to understand them. Experiencing September 11 made me feel like I was someone, that I now was well aware of the world around me. This event marked the end of the first stage of my life, in a way. I felt like I needed to grow up, I needed to take care of myself and those around me, I had to appreciate life and could no longer depend on the security of the great United States. Four years since, we're still feeling the effects, with a war being waged in the middle east with its roots in 9/11 related affairs.

I feel like that day shouldn't still be so fresh in my mind, but so much around us alludes to it, or recalls memories of that day. Just yesterday I stood in the footprint of the World Train Center, waiting for a train to take me towards home. Despite having enjoyed a wonderful evening in the greatest city in the world with Sara, being there was just so weird. How could a few hours of one day have caused all of this? That day marked the beginning of the rest of my life, and almost rendered everything before it insignificant, all of that was negligible compared to the larger picture and what was going in the world. I have no doubt that I'll always remember the events of that day, perhaps not as well as I recalled them here, but to some degree they'll always stay with me. When I think about that day, the most prominent thought I have is, I hope I never have to live through another day like that and the notion that something like this has to happen again scares me more than anything else.