Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"It's the end of the world as we know it, it's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine."  ~REM

So sings the Athen, GA band REM.  The lyrics drift through my mind as I think about post-apocalypse films. Not that I think about them often.  It's because I've been watching the BBC Sci-Fi 1975 series, Survivors, written by Terry Nation.  He is also the noted scribe that has written many  Doctor Who episodes. 

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Survivors is about  a small group of people who have survived a global pandemic.  It starts out in the first episode laying in the background on several of the characters.  One of them, Abby, is a house wife preparing supper for her husband as he comes in from work that evening.  Mysterious things are in the air as people have strange events with the phone not working or people missing and large amounts of people getting sick and arriving at the hospital.  Abby's husband gets home, and they have a quiet meal, but afterwards, they get sick.  Abby survives her bout of illness, but discovers that her husband has not.  Now she is worrying about her son, Peter, who is away at school.  She packs up their car and goes to get him, only later to discover the school has had the same occurrence, and the boys have dispersed.  She sets out to find him.  This part of the tale is part of several other characters.  Another character, Jenny, was at a hospital, and dating or friends with one of the doctors, as the hospital fills up beyond its capacity, the doctor tells her to leave the city, the epidemic grows worse, and he thinks she'll have better survival outside the city.  Jenny eventually meets a man on the road and they eventually meet up with Abby.  Together they try to help Abby find her son, and other people that have survived.  They meet other people along their journey, some good, some bad.  It's done fairly realistically, and perhaps a bit dry at times, and low budget, however, if you are familiar with the older Doctor Who series, you might enjoy it. 

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While on the topic of end of the world scenarios, I might add a few other movies or TV series I've enjoyed lately:

Children of Men--this SF movie had a lot of action, I enjoyed how you are just trust into the middle of this world and how you discover along the way the plot of the film, it's bleak and heartbreaking at time, but done really well.

The Road--another film that's bleak as they come, however, I enjoyed the relationship between the son and father and how the father's love and will to survive helps them both to cope with a world that's gone to hell.

The Book of Eli--the SF film is done pretty well, though not as good as the previously mentioned films.  Still it's a decent action film, with a bit of mystery surrounding the Denzel Washington character.  It has a bit of a leap of faith with the final reveal ending, but overall I enjoyed it.

The Road Warrior--with Mel Gibson who plays a cop and family man whose life is thrust into chaos while trying to keep his family and society alive from crazy road gangs.  The other two films in the series are worth a watch too, Mad Max 2, and Beyond Thunderdome.

Day of the Triffids--This BBC sci-fi thriller is a adaptation of the John Wynham classic novel where humanity has to deal with man-eating plants.  It is presented by David Maloney who also produced  Blake's 7 and Doctor Who. In it earth has a close encounter with a comet, and meteor storm, that blinds Britain's population.  Bill Masen, is in a London hospital recovering from a plant attack, and is able to survive with his eyesight in tact.  The government has collapsed, bands of renegades are thriving in the anarchy, and the Triffids are preying upon the weakened and vulnerable population. 

The Walking Dead--very much a zombie post-apocalypse, however, the writer of the series and comic book, tends to distant himself from the Romero-styled zombie films and mythos, by calling them walkers.  It's similar in tone to the above Day of the Triffids except you have man-eating walkers (zombies), along with tribes of  humans that are just as bad or worse in some aspects.  If you enjoy something with more of a horror edge, this one has been well made.

28 Days Later--Twenty-eight days after a killer virus was accidentally unleashed from a British research facility, a small group of London survivors (including Cillian Murphy and Brendan Gleeson) are caught in a desperate struggle to protect themselves from the infected. Carried by animals and humans, the virus turns those it infects into homicidal maniacs -- and it's absolutely impossible to contain. Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) directs.

The Stand--an adaptation of the Stephen King novel.   When a lethal virus developed in a government lab accidentally filters into the general population, a devastating plague ravages the globe, leaving few survivors. Those who remain are compelled to follow one of two mysterious figures, leading to an immense winner-take-all battle between good and evil. Rob Lowe, Gary Sinise and Molly Ringwald star.  Overall a good made for TV series, with good characters.





Saturday, July 14, 2012


I thought some might be interested in watching this Harry Knowles video about some upcoming movies and stuff from the recent 2012 San Diego Comic Con.  There's some interesting news about upcoming Sci-Fi movies, some stuff about Roger Corman & William Shatner, and just overall geek goodness.  Enjoy.
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While I was at my brother's house visiting, we watched the DVD, Pink Floyd: Then and Now.  I've been a Pink Floyd fan ever since I picked up Ummagumma, which if I recall correctly, was the first album I bought by them.  Back then, album art was always pretty indicative sometime of what the music might sound like.  I pretty much bought the album not knowing anything about Pink Floyd on the cover alone, their name, and  the song titles like Set The Controls for the Heart of the Sun, etc.  The band's name conjured up all this cerebral, extraterrestrial, psychedelic sound, so it piqued my curiosity greatly.  That's about all the information I had on it.  Such was the days before computers, mass media, and living in a small West Texas town.  The album cover was the main draw, it had to get the teenage to pick it up if you weren't already a fan of the band.  And pick it up I did.

The documentary is a two DVD set, the first disc exploring the early days of the band starting out with Syd Barrett and how he, as a leader, was the main thrust and creative spark for the band.  He dressed the part and was pretty charismatic.  He met up with the bass player, Roger Waters from school, and then eventually they met up with drummer, Nick Mason, and keyboardist, Richard Wright.  The DVD starts with their formative years and their first album, The Piper At The Gates of Dawn, and then, A Saucerful of Secrets.  Both DVDs are less a performance DVD, although they include tidbits of concerts and music, but moreover they are a discussion by critics as to how successful each album was and what was happening with the band when specific albums were made.  This might come off too academic and boring to some, but to me, a long time fan, it filled in gaps that I'd always wondered about.

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The first DVD goes up to Meddle, and the interviewers basically agree that it was one of their hallmark albums.  They comment on each song, and generally agree it is a complete work where each band member shares a bit of their own input.  By this time frame, Syd Barrett left the band, due to mental problems probably spurred on by the use of psychedelic drugs, and his replacement on guitar, Dave Gilmour has taken his place.  Actually I think the bluesy guitar that Gilmour adds to the band is a nice fit, over Barrett's avant-garde pop leanings, although I can appreciate both.  I was a bit dismayed that they didn't give much time to Ummagumma, saying that even the band members stated it's too exploratory, meandering, and either probably shouldn't have been released or edited better.  I don't feel that way at all as I think it's a fair statement on where they were at that time and the state of the underground music scene at the time.  I've always loved that album for the reasons they cite as criticism.

Disc two begins with their hit album Dark Side of the Moon, which still remains one of the better rock selling albums on Billboard magazine.  It begin to reflect how Roger Waters now has taken on the mantle of lyricist, and also guide, stepping into the Syd Barrett vacancy.  Dark Side of the Moon sold so well, and had such tremendous FM airplay back in the day, that it garnered many more fans, and Pink Floyd started having sell out shows, and continued their success with Wish You Were Here (an ode to Syd Barrett), and Animals.  With each successful album it seems the other member's output were shoved aside, however, to be fair as stated in the documentary, they, at the time, didn't have much in the way of songs written to contribute anyway.

I'd always wondered why some of their later albums to me anyway, seemed more spotty or uneven.  This to me seemed apparent with The Wall.  It's a sprawling work, verging on excess, and I enjoy many of the song on it to this day, but it's not one of my favorite albums by them.  After The Wall, the band starts having many internal conflicts, eventually Roger Waters is ostracized from the band after The Final Cut album.  The next album, A Momentary Lapse of Reason many years later, was a nice comeback, but also still lacking in some regards.  The reasons for the uneven nature to The Final Cut and A Momentary Lapse, are covered and why they have that quality.  They also cover The Division Bell, and even when the entire band gets back together to play a benefit concert not that long ago.   Currently Roger Waters is on tour with his The Wall concert.  I've seen news stories on the show, and it looks like a pretty massive undertaking.  At any rate, both DVDs provide a lot of insight into their past albums, and if you're a Pink Floyd fan, worth picking up or renting.




Thursday, July 12, 2012

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While I was in Plano, Tx over July the 4th holiday, my brother and I went by one of the Plano libraries (there are two).  It's one of the most progressive library systems I've ever been in.  Both have a nice selection of graphic novels, more than any I've ever seen in a library.  They also have a nice selection of DVD, CDs, and of course, books.  While we were there it was a very hot Texas day around 100 degrees, and the cold library was like an oasis from the heat.  My brother picked up several CDs and found a biography on Kurt Vonnegut called And So It Goes.  I also spied a new release, Cleveland,  by Harvey Pekar, and since he enjoys his writing too, picked it up. 

I read the novel there over the course of two nights before I went to bed, and it was pretty good.  Pekar starts the novel by talking about baseball, and I'll admit I'm not a fan.  Heck, I barely care for sports at all, although I enjoy football, both college and pro.  So beginning the novel with Cleveland baseball was a bit dry for me, but enjoyable enough coming from the era and filtered through Pekar's memory.  It continues on with a brief history of Cleveland starting around the 18th century, and eventually into the 40's era that Pekar grew up in.  There's a little bit about him growing up as a child, his family's grocery store, which one of his previous books, The Quitter, is a little more in depth about, if you care to read more on that.  He was raised in a Jewish household, and also by his grandparents.  They were of modest income, but Pekar found ways to amuse himself through books, sports, and comics.

As he grew older, he became interested in jazz, politics, women, and also had to deal with finding a job.  His clerical job for the VA has been written about in many of his other comics.  I found it interesting though in this book that he chose to write about one of his previous wives.  They seemed to be a natural fit for each other intellectually, but differed in their future goals I guess.  One of the things that drove them apart was that she'd earned a fairly respectable college degree and wanted to pursue some endeavor with it, perhaps getting a job for an ivy league school.  Pekar on the other hand, had already established his clerical job, which fit well with his temperament, and he didn't really care to move.

There's a few other vignettes, one of Cleveland's largest book stores and the owner, shopping in the farmers market, and Pekar mentioning how he had to sell his vast jazz record and book collections.  I got the feeling, however, from reading Cleveland that Pekar had come to terms with life.  That perhaps his current wife, Joyce Brabner, had shown him how to relax a bit more.   Also that enjoying the simpler things in life, like owning a home or gardening, and eventually raising a daughter could be fulfilling and life enhancing. 

I also have to mention the artist, Joseph Remnant.  He was great.  His art reminded me a lot of R. Crumb, another one of Pekar's collaborators.  Remnant really captured the nuance in Pekar's writing, his rendering of the buildings and the characters of Cleveland added a lot to the story and atmosphere of the city.




Wednesday, July 11, 2012

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I went out of town to Dallas to visit with my brother around the 4th of July, so I've been busy getting back into home life again.  I ran across this Dr. Who essay by Harlan Ellison, and I thought I'd share it here.  Knowing Mr. Ellison, if he gets wind of it, he'll probably sue me and then flay the flesh from my bones.  But I digress...

(as transcribed from my yellowish copy of "Doctor Who and the Loch Ness
Monster" by Terrance Dicks, copyright 1976 by Terrance Dicks and Robert
Banks Stewart. Introduction copyrighted 1979 by Harlan Ellison.)
     -------------------------------------------------
Introducing Doctor Who
amenities performed by Harlan Ellison
     They could not have been more offended, confused, enraged and
startled....There was a moment of stunned silence...and then an eruption
of angry voices from all over the fifteen-hundred-person audience. The
kids in their Luke Skywalker pajamas (cobbled up from older brother's
castoff karate *gi*) and the retarded adults spot-welded into their
Darth Vader freight-masks howled with fury. But I stood my ground, there
on the lecture platform at the World Science Fiction Convention, and I
repeated the heretical words that had sent them into animal hysterics:
     "_Star Wars_ is adolescent nonsense; _Close Encounters_ is
obscurist drivel; _Star Trek_ can turn your brains into puree of bat
guano; and the greatest science fiction series of all time is _Doctor
Who_! And I'll take you all on, one-by-one or all in a bunch to back it
up!"
     Auditorium monitors moved in, truncheons ready to club down anyone
foolish enough to try jumping the lecture platform, and finally there
was relative silence. And I head scattered voices screaming from the
back of the room,"Who?" And I said, "Yes. Who!"
     (It was like that old Abbott and Costello routine: Who's on first?
No, Who's on third; What's on first.)
     After a while we got it all sorted out and they understood that
when I said Who I didn't mean *whom*, I meant Who....Doctor Who...the
most famous science fiction character on British television. The
renegade Time Lord, the far traveler through Time and Space, the sword
of justice from the planet Gallifrey, the scourge of villians and
monsters the galaxy over. The one and only, the incomparable, the
bemusing and bewildering Doctor Who, the humanistic defender of Good and
Truth, whose exploits put to shame those of Kimball Kinnison, Captain
Future and pantywaist nerds like Han Solo and Luke Skywalker.
     My hero! Doctor Who!
     For the American reading (and television-viewing) audience (and in
this sole, isolated case I hope they're one and the same) _Doctor Who_
is a new factor in the equation of fantastic literature. Since 1963 the
Doctor and his exploits have been a consistent element of British
culture. But we're only now being treated to the wonderful universes of
Who here in the States. For those of us who were exposed to both the TV
series on BBC and the long series of _Doctor Who_ novels published in
Great Britian, the time of solitary proselytizing is at an end. All we
need to do now is thrust a Who novel into the hands of the
unknowlegable, or drag the unwary to a TV set and turn it on as the good
Doctor goes through his paces. That's all it takes. Try this book and
you'll understand.
     I envy you your first exposure to this amazing conceit. And I wish
you the same delight I felt when Michael Moorcock, the finest fantasist
in the English-speaking world, sat me down in front of his set in
London, turned on the telly, and said, "Now be quiet and just watch."
     That was in 1975. And I've been hooked on "Doctor Who" ever since.
Understand: I despise television (having written it for sixteen years)
and I spend much of my time urging people to bash in their picture tubes
with Louisville Sluggers, to free themselves of the monster of coaxial
cable. And so, you must perceive that I speak of something utterly
extraordinary and marvelous when I suggest you watch the "Doctor Who"
series in whatever syndicated slot your local station has scheduled it.
You must recognize that I risk all credibility for furture exhortations
by telling you *this* TV viewing will not harm you...will, in fact,
delight and uplift you, stretch your imagination, tickle your
risibilities, flense your intellect of all lesser visual sf
affectations, improve your disposition and clean up your zits. What I'm
saying here, case you're a *yotz* who needs things codified simply and
directly, is that "Doctor Who" is the apex, the pinnacle, the tops, the
Louvre Museum, the tops, the Colisuem, and other etcetera.
     Now to give you a few basic facts about the Doctor, to brighten
your path through this nifty series of lunatic novels.
     He is a Time Lord: one of that immensely wise and powerful
super-race of alien beings who, for centuries unnumbered, have watched
and studied all of Time and Space with intellects (as H.G. Wells put it)
vast and cool and unsympathetic. Their philosophy was never to interfere
in the affairs of alien races, merely to watch and wait.
     But one of their number, known only as the Doctor, found such
inaction anathema. As he studied the interplay of great forces in the
cosmos, the endless wars and invasions, the entropic conflict between
Good and Evil, the rights and lives of a thousand alien life-forms
debased and brutalized, the wrongs left unrighted...he was overcome by
the compulsion *to act*! He was a renegade, a misfit in the name of
justice.
     And so he stole a TARDIS and fled.
     Ah, yes. The TARDIS. That most marvelous device for spanning the
Time-lines and traversing all of known/unknown Space. The name is an
acronym for Time And Relative Dimensions In Space. Marvelous! An amazing
machine that can change shape to fit in with any locale in which it
materializes. But the TARDIS stolen from his fellow Time Lords by the
Doctor was in for repairs. And so it was frozen in the shape of its
first appearance: a British police call box. Those of you who have been
to England may have seen such call boxes. (There are very few of them
currently, because the London "bobbies" now have two-way radio in their
patrol cars; but before the advent of that communications system the
tall, dark blue street call box--something like our old fashioned wooden
phone booth--was a familiar sight in the streets of London. If a police
officer needed assistance he could call in directly from such a box, and
if the station house wanted to get in touch with a copper they could
turn on the big blue light atop the box and its flashing would attract a
"bobby.")
     Further wonder: the outward size of the TARDIS does not reveal its
relative size *inside*. The size of a phone booth outwardly, it is
enormous within, holding many sections filled with the Doctor's
super-scientific equipment.
     Unfortunately, the stolen TARDIS needed more repairs than just the
fixing of its shape-changing capabilities. Its steering mechanisim was
also wonky, and so the Doctor could never be certain that the
coordinates he set for time and place of materializing would be correct.
He might set a course for the planet Karn...and wind up in Victorian
London. He migh wish to relax at an intergalactic pleasure resort...and
pop into existence in Antarctica. He might lay a course for the deadly
gold mines of Voga...and appear in Renaissance Italy.
     It makes for a chancy existence, but the Doctor takes it all
unflinchingly. As do his attractive female traveling companions, whose
liasons with the Doctor are never sufficiently explicated for those of
us with a nasty, suspicious turn of mind.
     The Doctor *looks* human and, apart from his quirky way of
thinking, even *acts* human most of the time. But he is a Time Lord, not
a mere mortal. He has two hearts, a stable body temperature of 60
[degrees], and--not to stun you too much--he's approximately 750 years
old. Or at least he was that age when the first of he 43 _Doctor Who_
novels was written. God (or Time Lords) only know how old he is now!
     Only slightly less popular than the good Doctor himself are his
arch-foes and the distressing alien monsters he battles through the
pages of these wild books and in phosphor-dot reality on your TV
screens. They seem endless in their variety: the Vardans, the Oracle,
Fendahl, the virus swarm of the Purpose, The Master, the Tong of the
Black Scorpion, the evil brain of Morbius, the mysterious energy force
known as the Mandragora Helix, the android clone Kraals, the Zygons, the
Cybermen, the Ice Warriors, the Autons, the spore beast called the
Krynoid and--most deadly and menacing of them all--the robot threat of
the Daleks.
     Created by mad Davros, the great Kaled scientist, the
pepper-pot-shaped Daleks made such an impression in England when they
were first introduced into the series that they became a cultural
artifact almost immediately. Movies have been made about them, toys have
been manufactured of Daleks, coloring books, Dalek candies, soaps,
slippers, Easter eggs and even special Dalek fireworks. They rival the
Doctor for the attention of a fascinated audience and they have been
brought back again and again during the fourteen years the series has
perpetuated itself on BBC television; and their shiveringly pleasurable
manifestations have not been confined just to England and America.
Doctor Who and the Daleks have millions of rabid fans in over thirty
countries around the world.
     Like the three ficitional characters *every* nation knows--Sherlock
Holmes, Tarzan and Superman--Doctor Who seems to have a universal
appeal.
     Let me conclude this paean of praise with these thoughts: hating
_Star Wars_ and "Star Trek" is not a difficult chore for me. I recoil
from that sophomoric species of creation that excuses its simplistic
cliche structure and homage to the transitory (as does does _Star Wars_)
as violently as I do from that which sententiously purports to be deep
and intellectual when it is, in fact, superficial self-conscious twaddle
(as does "Star Trek"). This not to say that I am an ivory tower
intellect whose doubledome can only support Proust or Descartes. When I
was a little kid, and was reading everything I could lay hands on, I
read the classics with joy, but enjoyed equally those works I've come to
think of as "elegant trash": the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels, The
Shadow, Doc Savage, Conan, comic books and Uncle Wiggly. They taught me
a great deal of what I know about courage and truth and ethic in the
world.
     To that list I add _Doctor Who_. His adventures are sunk to the
hips in humanisim, decency, solid adventures and simple good reading.
They are not classics, make no mistake. They can never touch the
illuminative level of Dickens or Mark Twain or Kafka. But they are solid
entertainment based on an understanding of Good and Evil in the world.
They say to us, "You, too, can be Doctor Who. You, like the Doctor, can
stand up for that which is bright and bold and true. You can shape the
world, if you'll only go and try."
     And they do it in the form of *all* great literature...the cracking
good, well-plotted adventure yarn. They are direct lineal heirs to the
adventures of Rider Haggard and Talbot Mundy, of H.G. Wells and Jules
Verne, of Mary Shelley and Ray Bradbury. They are worth your time.
     And if you give yourself up to the Doctor's winsome ways, he will
take substance and reality in your imagination. For that reason, for the
inestimable goodness and delight in every _Doctor Who_ adventure, for
the benefits he proffers, I lend my name and my urging to read and watch
him.
     I don't think you'll do less than thank me for shoving you down
with this book in your hands and telling you...here's Who. Meet the
Doctor.
     The pleasure is all mine. And all yours, kiddo.
                                      Harlan Ellison
                                      Los Angeles
     ----------------------------------------------------

















Monday, July 02, 2012

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I stayed up a bit last night after I got in from Walmart.  On the way home I stopped by Taco Bell to grab an extra salty burrito just to double check how well my blood pressure meds are working.  You know, give them a run for the money.  After I put stuff up, I started chowing down on the Mexican late night food, as I watched  the SF feature,  Children of Men,  which aired on the SyFy Channel.  I have a copy on DVD, but since I just wanted to eat, and not fuss with much, it seemed the thing to do.  It's a good movie, and like a swift kick to the gut.  Oh wait, ugh, before I get into that, I feel a rant coming on...

Affordable Health Care or as the GOP Republican spin zoners refer to it Obamacare.  It doesn't matter to me what you want to call it, it seems like a good thing.  It just amazes me that the GOP is full of the religious right wing, who worry about what religion the president subscribes to, whether or not some one is gay or straight, takes the high ground in morality, yet hates to see a health plan that would help many people in a dire way. Heck even if you're not a religious person, with halfway decent morals, I'd think you could see that. 

My take on it is:  I don't think healthcare should be tied to one's employment or employer.  They have been downsizing many people's benefits since the Ronald Reagan administration.  He was the great trickle down guy remember?  As an example though of why I think this way, here goes... My brother works in the telecom/computer industry, but it could be anywhere these days.  He got laid off not long ago, as many people have.  It's one thing to be depressed that you no longer have a job, and you have to start looking again, but you start pinching pennies too as you do not know when you'll find another job.  He was out driving around one day and a woman ran a yield sign at about 40 plus miles an hour and T-boned him.  He had the right of way.  It sent him spiraling around, a cop finally arrived, and he had to get his car towed off it was totaled.  Later it so happens the woman that hit him was driving a brand new pickup truck, without any insurance, she dropped her coverage a month or so after she'd bought it.  My brother tried to ask the cop about her insurance, etc. and the asshole cop, said, "Let me handle my job, sir."  The upshot to this is, if you are without a job and not insuranced through no fault of your own, and some catastrophic event of bad luck happens to you, your life turns from bad to worse financially.  The good thing is he wasn't killed or injured, but what if an ambulance had to pick him up and take him to the hospital, and he had to stay there for a couple of days in intensive care?  Do you know what the expense that is these days?   What if you were unemployed and you found out your wife had cancer, or you did, or something awful happened to your kid??   Do the same God fearing people just shrug and think, oh well, I got mine, too bad for you and your family.  Tough luck or worse yet, I don't care.   That's just one example. I'm sure there are many.  There's no reason that one child, teen, or adult should not be able to go seek medical attention in the USA, when we are as financially strong a nation as we appear to be.  We are one of the leaders in the world, yet without Affordable Health Care.  I've heard the excuse, we are heading towards socialism like Canada.  News flash, Canada isn't socialistic, they are capitalistic too.

I watched smug House Speaker, John Boehner in an interview on Sunday morning, and he's all about appealing Obamacare--like most Republicans.  Everything.  But when the interviewer asked him if he liked anything about it, he evaded the question.  She had to ask him point blank again.  She asked him about the part about keeping young adults 26 and younger on their parent's insurance plan.  He hemmed and hawed around, but finally agreed to that.  Then she asked him about insurance turning down people for a previous medical condition, which he evaded answering. He said once Obamacare is appealed they figure out what's best for the American people, blah blah.   I wanted to be like Judge Judy and say: It's a yes or no question!   Heck, even if a politician say yes these days,  it's a 50/50 chance whether it'll ever get done or not.  I guess I'm just overall a bit frustrated with politics.  It seems that both parties need to squabble less and work more like the common man has to in life.