"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
-Oscar Wilde
Brilliant at Breakfast title banner "The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
"...you have a choice: be a fighting liberal or sit quietly. I know what I am, what are you?" -- Steve Gilliard, 1964 - 2007
"Next time I tell you someone from Texas should not be president of the United States, please pay attention." -- Molly Ivins, 1944-2007

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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Good Times at Pottersville #22
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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Good Times at Pottersville, 8/30/14

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Monday, August 11, 2014

There Is Always Another Way
Posted by Jill | 9:41 PM

In 1989, Mr. Brilliant quit his job. We were working for the same company at the time. I found out through the secretary for his department, where he was working the help desk. He'd been talking about wanting to take some programming courses, and we'd discussed the possibility, but we hadn't made a decision yet. Well, I hadn't, but he had.

It was the first of many times when I found myself unexpectedly being the primary breadwinner in the family. I was of course livid at not having been told that he was going to quit that day, but this was something really important to him. New York University was offering a certificate course in computer programming, and he'd decided to take it. He had some money he'd inherited from his grandmother, and that's how he wanted to spend it.

It wasn't that he couldn't understand programming concepts; he had a very logical mind, and he'd taught himself BASIC on a Coleco ADAM. There was no reason for him to simply be unable to write COBOL in a way that would satisfy the instructor. He spent hours and hours in the computer lab, writing code and turning it in, only for it to be handed back. The instructor even told him that no one who had not attended college would ever pass his course. Mr. B. worked on the assignments for this course like a man obsessed. He lost so much weight from the sheer stress of it all that I met him after work one night for dinner and didn't even recognize him until he turned around. The course ended, he did not pass, and he fell into a severe depression. This wasn't simply the blues; I would go to work every morning wondering if he would still be there when I got home. It's hard living with a depressed person, especially if you've had a tendency towards depression yourself. I'd had a lot of behavioral-cognitive therapy by that point, and I'd been able to learn how to stop the runaway train of self-loathing when it starts running off the rails. But he hadn't. Day after day after day went by. He'd spend the entire day sleeping or smoking cigarettes -- unable to move, unable to function, unable to think, unable to even fathom what he would do for a job. When it got to the point where I was physically restraining him from driving up to the George Washington Bridge and jumping, I gave him an ultimatum: Get help or get out. I said I would go to counseling with him if he wanted.

I took him to the local mental health center that had a sliding fee scale. The psychiatrist there put him on Prozac and he was better within days. I'm quite sure it wasn't the meds, it was somehow a relief at the intervention. Unfortunately, he didn't want to do "talk therapy" to work out some of the childhood issues that a critical instructor for whom nothing he did was good enough triggered.

For over two decades, he suffered from occasional bouts of depression, though none as bad as that one. Mostly it manifested as insomnia at night combined with long naps during the day when he wasn't working. When he was working, he'd have a "honeymoon" period at the new job, then frustration, then disillusionment. I knew enough about depression from having grown up with a mother who had survived a suicide attempt to know that there was no "magic bullet" that would make it all go away. I just tried to make him as happy as he was capable of being. And sometimes he genuinely was. When we would go to Jamaica, he'd be genuinely happy. He loved finding out what was wrong with a computer or server and fixing it. He read philosophers and thinkers. He'd studied Kabbalah before it was cool. He took pride in having a successful marriage. But there was always a darkness there that lurked under the surface, which manifested by a fascination with violent animé and movies with a lot of explosions. In our early years together, we socialized and had parties, we went to parties and had dinner with other couples. Then around 2000, that all stopped.

I'll never know how much of his depression, growing reluctance to deal with people on a social basis, and increasing inability to navigate office politics was caused by what, unknownst to us, was happening in his brain. Mr. B. had what we now know was a cerebrovascular disease that may have caused his depression. But what about others? What about people like my mother, who appears in photos as a vibrant, vivacious girl with a mischievous twinkle in her eye but became so crippled by depression, despite the medications she'd been taking since I was a child, that she also slept much of the time and when she wasn't sleeping or crying, she was flying into rages? What about people like Robin Williams?

Robin Williams died today, apparently by his own hand. I'm sure I'm not the only one who felt punched in the gut upon hearing the news. Another comedic genius, felled by self-destructiveness. We look at people like Robin Williams and think they have it all -- fame, money, talent. But just as comedy and tragedy go hand-in-hand, genius often goes hand-in-hand with depression. Vincent Van Gogh, Sigmund Freud, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Mark Rothko -- all committed suicide. Comedians seem to be particularly susceptible. Richard Jeni ended his own life in 2007. Freddie Prinze was just 22 when he held a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. Add in people like John Belushi and Chris Farley, who died from their own self-destructiveness without having to commit suicide, or Richard Pryor, who nearly died after setting himself on fire while freebasing cocaine but managed to stick around until multiple sclerosis took him -- and it makes you wonder how an incomparable genius like Robin Williams, who had his own issues with drugs and self-destructiveness ever managed to make it to 63 before letting his demons get the best of him.

When I heard the news, I wondered how Marc Maron, another self-destructive, neurotic comedian, was going to deal with this news. Maron has done beautiful work in dealing with other comedian deaths on his podcast WTF, but the suicide of Robin Williams must hit hard, and not just because Maron's 2010 interview with Williams arguably marks the beginning of WTF really hitting its stride. Robin Williams became huge at the age of 27 with Mork and Mindy, and then segued effortlessly between insane stream-of-consciousness comedy and some truly great acting (at least before he entered his Patch Adams phase). Marc Maron toiled around the edges of fame until he was nearly fifty, when a podcast that in its early days seemed like an extended suicide note in which he was trying to make amends to every comic to whom he'd been a dick for over two decades, suddenly became huge, opening the door to at least some of the success that came perhaps too early to Robin Williams.

We like to throw the word "genius" around, with mediocrities often being touted as "genius" only after they make the good career move of dying. But while it's clear that Robin Williams' brilliance came from a core of pain, there's no denying that in those early days of cocaine-fueled anarchy, we had never seen anything quite like him:





And later, when we saw that there was more to Robin Williams than just stream-of-consciousness weirdness:



No, we'd never seen anything like him before. And we probably never will again.

Depression is not self-indulgence, it is an illness, often a chronic one. All over the world, depressed people sit at home, crying, contemplating suicide, cutting themselves, wondering why the rest of the world can function and they can't. Some of us come out of it. Some of us never do. Even with the way things ultimately turned out, I'm glad Mr. B. chose "get help" over "get out." If he hadn't, he would have missed out on a lot. If you're depressed, or you know someone who is, there is help. We may not all be comedic geniuses, but we all have something to offer this world. If only Robin Williams had been able to recognize that we really DID never have a friend like him.



Also. Too.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Whither B@B?
Posted by Jill | 10:45 PM
Kind Readers,

July 31, 2014 marks the decaversary of B@B. When I first started this blog, I'd been writing movie reviews for six years already, and by 2005 I'd given up on movies and this blog became my primary writing outlet. My novel-in-progress became moribund, and for the next three years I waited for the other shoe to drop, which it did in 2008 when I was laid off from my job.

B@B kept me sane during the second half of the Bush years and the early part of the Obama years. For a long time, the rants just flowed like water. After my layoff in August 2008 (barely a month before the shit hit the fan in the US economy), I was lucky enough to land a new job for which I was only marginally qualified barely a month later. It was like those scenes in an adventure movie where the guy slithers under the door just before it closes, thereby escaping certain death -- or worse. Not only didn't I take a pay cut, but with the accumulated vacation time I'd been hoarding since 2005 when I survived the first layoff, I actually made money on the deal. But for the first time since really 1993, I had a job where I actually had work to do -- a lot of it. In fact, I've been working 50-80 hours a week for nearly six years now. This would have made it difficult to keep up a blog even without my mother's illness in September 2012 and death in December of that year, followed barely three months later by Mr. Brilliant's cancer diagnosis and all that followed thereafter.

The truth is, I've been pretty much either working or exhausted since September of 2008. Let's not even TALK about the brain fog, the desperate need for sleep, and the grief attacks that hit without warning just when I'm convinced I'm doing OK, feel like someone hit me in the back of the head with a 2 x 4, and make me feel so wrung out afterward that I need a nap.

It's not that I'm curled up in a fetal position in the corner. On the contrary, I go out with friends, I've made a few new ones through a widows' social group I joined, and I've even ventured out solo to my local neighborhood watering hole for one of the county's best burgers. There's a hole in my life that's always going to be there, but as one of my new "widder" friends has said, "It's OK. It's a sucky kind of OK, but it's OK."

In 2005, I wrote my last movie review. It was for a Jet Li movie called Unleashed. And I realized after writing the review that it just really wasn't fun anymore. For seven years I'd gone to the movies every weekend, sometimes (rarely) with Mr. B., sometimes with my longtime movie critic buddy Gabriel, often alone, where I'd sit like a wannabe Roger Ebert, with my little notepad and pen, taking notes as if I were writing for the New York Times instead of for a little web site that, well, actually, got more pageviews than this blog ever did. In those days, Film Criticism(TM) was still somewhat of an art form, or at least we fancied it was so. And for a while I was a member of the Online Film Critics Society, which got me goodies like screeners, and later on Gabriel and I, along with a few others who'd become tired of all Teh Crazy that was going on at OFCS at the time, started Cinemarati, which was notable primarily for its very lively messageboard and our annual film awards, which even got a bit of press coverage. It was heady stuff, and we had delusions of being Real Film Critics for a while.

It was Gabriel who encouraged me to start a blog. We used to do a series called "Critics Over Coffee", where we'd record our conversation after a movie and transcribe the discussion. It was a lot easier than actual writing, and we did more of these as our sojourn as film critics waned. It was clear that no one was ever going to pay us to write movie reviews (although I did a short stint at a short-lived NJ-based magazine called "That's Life", published by a slick-talking power-wash businessman and aspiring filmmaker in northern New Jersey), and our discussions started being more oriented towards other things like politics and pop culture -- but mostly politics. It was 2004, and George W. Bush was running for re-election, the horrors of his administration already clear. Blogging was The New Thing then, for all that some people had already been at it for a while -- people like Kos and Atrios and a few others, who because they were early adopters, managed to make careers out of their blogs and then promptly pulled up the ladder behind them. Oh, there were exceptions, like the late "Jon Swift" (Al Weisel), who founded Blogroll Amnesty Day, which we honor here as often as we can. But by and large, the Big Name Bloggers sucked up all the oxygen in the room, and we little folks just never really caught on.

Oh, for a while I thought I too might make a career out of blogging, especially during my layoff, when I interviewed for a writer/editor job at a still-extant lefty online publication -- a job that was later filled in-house. But of course then Facebook became more than just a haven for college kids, and Twitter started, and long-form blogging, especially of the political sort, became the province of these Big Name Bloggers who had gotten there first.

But we persevered. I brought in a few people whose work I admired -- Tata, and the late Bob Rixon, and Melina, and the intrepid jurassicpork, who's been pretty much keeping the fires burning here for the last year almost single-handedly. I brought in these associates because I knew that content was king, and if you don't get paid, it becomes all about the eyeballs and the feedback. But of course then life intervened, and I got this job that I had to learn from the ground up, and I really have not stopped in six years.

So here I am, on July 31, 2014 -- exactly ten years after I started B@B. My life is very different now. Ten years ago I had a lot more energy at 49 than I do now at 59. Ten years ago Mr. B. was still very much alive and pretty healthy for a pack-and-a-half-a-day smoker. He'd taken up Shaolin kung-fu the year before, and was feeling pretty good for a middle-aged guy, as he called himself. Ten years ago my mother was still driving me crazy, our cats Jenny and Maggie were 5 and 3 years old respectively, and I was working twenty minutes from home on bucolic back roads. Now, Mr. B. is gone, my mother is gone, Jenny and Maggie are both gone. The only things left from ten years ago are me, my house, and my friends. And all those losses took place in the space of 13 months. It amazes me sometimes that I'm still standing.

I did lose something else during the last six years. I lost me. I lost the person who liked to putter around the house. The person who did counted cross stitch. The person who met six other women back in 1998 and wrote sequels to "Titanic" that adult women would want to read -- and then spun off characters into a novel she has still never completed. The person who could dash off a blog entry every day. I used to be a creative person. But I've lost that, and I need to get that back now. Writing sustained me during bad times before, and right now it's just not there. The reality is this: I really don't want to write about politics anymore -- at least not for a while. It's become just tiresome. I thought back in 2004 that it could not get any worse than the Bush years and the Swift Boat Liars and Iraq and Dick Cheney and Halliburton and snowflake babies. Venting on this blog kept me sane. But what is there to say about Louie Gohmert and Todd Akin and Rand Paul and Ted Cruz and the Tea Party and the rest of the GOP Klown Kar that makes the Bush years seem like "Pleasantville" by comparison? What is there to say about this kind of destructive, toxic craziness that won't leave me also feeling like I've been hit in the back of the head with a 2 x 4? What is there to say that isn't belaboring the obvious? We live in a nation of willfully ignorant people who are inattentive at best, and malevolent at worst. What's the point of yelling into this echo chamber that has changed no one's mind?

Right now my focus is on two things -- getting my house in shape and getting ready to retire. I've been so frenetically busy for the last six years that I have no idea if I'll even LIKE being retired. Re-tired -- getting tired all over again. Maybe that's what it'll be. But there is one thing I do know, and that is that part of this new life I have to build is to find ME again. I've lost me -- lost me mostly in work that I needed to have to pay the mortgage and later on, the health insurance without which I'd be working until they take me out of the office in a box. But mostly I'm tired -- exhausted, actually. And I can't pretend that I can really do this anymore.

So...what comes next? I really have no idea. B@B isn't going to go away. I may even write here at times. But if I couldn't get it together to journal the last year as I wanted to, I sure as hell don't think I'm in any hurry to rant about impeachment. I think sometimes it's time to start fresh -- to start "Still Brilliant at Breakfast" or "Either These Drapes Go Or I Do" or some other quote attributed to Oscar Wilde, and blog about home improvements and recipes and photoblogging, as Tata has suggested and which she does so brilliantly over at her place. I wouldn't be the first one to go this route. Even Big Name Bloggers like Pam Spaulding and Christy Hardin Smith, both of whom have had major health issues, hung it up recently. Pam still dips her toes into the political waters, but closed up the House Blend and now prefers to blog about Journey and pit bulls. Christy, late of Firedoglake, has battled breast cancer and now blogs about everyday life -- something that feels different if you've faced death yourself or watched the life leave the person with whom you've spent thirty years of your own. That these bloggers are both women may be significant, or it may not. I don't know.

Kind readers, I know that there are not a lot of you left. And whatever I decide to do, I'm leaving this blog up. In fact, one thing on my bucket list is to compile a "Best of B@B" anthology and self-publish it. But right now I know only one thing: It's been one crazy, fucked-up decade. And I need a nap.
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Saturday, June 28, 2014

"For Me, Not For Thee"
"Hey, kid, c'mere. Aren't you glad your mother didn't have you yanked with a coathanger?"
      In the midst of this past week, with the fundraising drive to mitigate our financial circumstances, getting my three ebooks ready for the relaunch, the interview, editing Tatterdemalion, and attending to thousands of details that make up modern life, I neglected to write about the one big story that directly affected my adopted state of Massachusetts. Actually, there were two, the other being Gov Deval Patrick signing into law a bill raising the minimum wage to $11 ph by 2017, which would be the highest in the nation.
     But this is about the Supreme Court's recent 9-0 decision to essentially evaporate the 35 foot buffer zone around family planning centers in Massachusetts that were created seven years ago, giving evangelical bozos unrestricted access to women seeking family planning services. What makes this ruling even more depressing is that the so-called liberals on the court, including the three women that make up a third of the High Court, sided with the reliably right wing nut jobs in this issue.
     This is the same judicial body, don't forget, that 20 years ago had supported buffer zones around abortion clinics. In fact,
Buffer zones exist in numerous states — the newest, in New Hampshire, takes effect next month and specifies a 25-foot zone — and have often been controversial. Others also have made their way to the Supreme Court. In 1994, the justices upheld a buffer zone for abortion clinics in Florida. Three years later, they upheld a 15-foot buffer zone around the entrances of abortion facilities in New York state but struck a 15-foot floating zone.
     This is the same court that was led by William Rehnquist, don't forget, and had on its bench Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Anthony Kennedy. But having all nine justices agree that the Massachusetts buffer zone that had somewhat protected women from right wing harassment violated the First Amendment (even if they were split as to how) is a huge disappointment.
     It ought to be noted the SCOTUS benefits from a rigidly enforced 300 foot buffer zone protecting them from the distant din of protesters of both political stripes, which is perfectly in keeping of right wingers and One Percenters who have no problem not living under the same rules as the rest of us.
A yellow line is painted on the sidewalk and pavement surrounding Planned Parenthood Clinics at 1055 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, Jan. 15, 2014.
     It appears as if all nine justices, especially the five right wingers, need a refresher course as to what free speech really means. Thirteen years before the buffer zones were erected, an anti abortion lunatic named John Salvi (who later committed suicide in prison) shot to death 22 year-old Shannon Lowney, who was merely the receptionist who'd opened the doors at a Brookline Planned Parenthood and didn't directly participate in any of the procedures. Salvi and his fellow lunatics had unanimously declared Lowney "Public Enemy #1" and the girl lost her life just for opening a door.
     I guess free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment isn't good enough. You have to be able to lay your hands on these women, scream in their faces what murderers they are and to strip them of their last vestige of dignity, safety and privacy (which is what Roe vs Wade was all about) and to even threaten their lives in their insane quest for the sanctity of life. Of course, they pushed before the court a sweet-looking grandmotherly type who bemoaned the fact that she couldn't spread like milk and honey her message of love.
     Because these Protestant Pennywhistles knew better than to be repped by another maniac like John Salvi, who was so mentally deranged by the time of his suicide he was convinced liberals were poisoning his food.
     The Rude One had a pretty good idea a couple of days ago: Since the SCOTUS had essentially abolished buffer zones for women seeking family planning counseling and services, let's troll them at church, starting with their headquarters at their church in nearby Grafton. Let's block their entry into their church, mock them for their Sky Wizard, shove atheist literature in their faces. Because, fuck, tit for fucking tat, as the Rude One would say.
     After all, you never see pro-choice folks blowing up churches and killing their docents and priests. Isn't free speech free for everyone and not just one narrow faction so twisted up in intolerance and hatred that they inevitably turn to murder and violence?
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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Cavuto Completely Loses it on Michele Bachmann


     There's something morbidly delightful about seeing right wingers eating their own. It brings to mind snake cults like Set, with the snake consuming itself with its tail in its mouth. or Paul Krendler being fed his own brains by Hannibal Lecter. And, to paraphrase the inimitable Egberto Willies, when you've lost Fox "News", you done lost middle 'Murrica.
     Mind you, now, this is Neil Cavuto we're talking about here, not some deer-in-the-headlights "liberal" wondering what the fuck he's doing on a Fox sound stage. This isn't Shep Smith or Alan Colmes or The Five's Bob Beckel. This is the creator, says Jon Stewart, of "the Cavuto Mark", the punctuation mark that isn't quite a question mark but nonetheless finds itself shat out the end of an irresponsible inquiry like an interrupted dog turd.
     In other words, kiddies, we're not talking about some fire-breathing liberal like Rachel Maddow here.
     So, it was with particular glee to be treated to the sight yesterday of Cavuto verbally body slam Michele Bachmann (R-Land of 1000 Lakes and the 1000 Yard Stare) back onto the lame couch from which she'd valiantly tried to struggle. It was all about Jon Boehner's hare-brained scheme to take the President to court over, get this, exercising his presidential prerogative to issue Executive Orders.
     You know, those little memos the President sometimes issues, like the 381 President Reagan issued between 1981-1989 and the 291 by Bush II. In fact, the current Chief Executive has handed down fewer Executive Orders than any president in our lifetimes, or 168 in his first five and a half years in office. To put that in more concrete terms, President Reagan created an Executive Order about once a week, whereas President Obama averages an Executive Order about once every 11 days.
     Not exactly the kind of unilateral decision-making process one would come to expect from a Banana Republic strong man the Republicans have been trying to paint him as since 2009 (Like the one FDR was when he'd issued 3522 during his 12 years in office).
     Undeterred, the House Speaker will sally forth with his lawsuit and he'll, uh, let us know exactly which laws the President has broken. Yeah, there's that pesky little matter first. The Republican House leadership is absolutely convinced Mr. Obama has violated the Constitution somehow. We know it in our guts. We just don't know precisely how he'd done it. But a lawsuit feels right.
     Into the fray sails Michele Bachmann, fully expecting to be lobbed one helpful underhanded softball after another by Neil Cavuto and instead found herself the target of a batting practice pitching machine set to 200 mph.
     Cavuto started out by asking Bachmann what the GOP is thinking in taking the president to court for exercising his presidential prerogatives when there were so many bigger things in this country to fix (Obviously, repealing ObamaCare was on the tip of his tongue but he chose not to go there). Bachmann began her usual blathering, conflating this with that, looking like a frustrated circus chimp trying to pound a square peg into a round hole in a laboratory.
     By the end of this four minute segment, Cavuto was so exasperated with Bachmann, he was practically screaming like a banshee with its tit caught in a wringer and said twice, "ROME IS BURNING."
     Which, of course, it is.
     Cavuto didn't go as far as claiming this was a partisan exercise, some substitute for leadership by way of Republican Kabuki Theater just before an unusually important midterm in which the President's entire agenda both foreign and domestic is on the line and non-Nate Silvers have been unctuously and confidently prognosticating for months the GOP will take both chambers despite a 7% Congressional approval rating.
     Poor Michele the Merciless didn't know what hit her and Cavuto laid into her with one body and head shot after another, not letting Bachmann finish her typically vapid talking points. Even better, it was delivered with a viciousness you'll never see from the ladylike Ms. Maddow or the more measured and methodical Lawrence O'Donnell.
     This was Fox "News", since 1996 the cheerleader for the GOP. And now poor pompom-waving bastards like Neil Cavuto has to deal with the teabagger Frankensteins they largely help create now that they're staggering into the Arctic wasteland and dragging America with them. By the end of the segment, this was essentially what we were seeing:

     Reap the whirlwind, motherfuckers.
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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Top 10 Suggestions That Should be Made by the North Carolina Black Advisory Board
     Yesterday, the Republican National Committee announced it was forming a Black Advisory Board in North Carolina. Chairman Reince Priebus said, “We are fortunate to have this accomplished group of leaders to help guide our engagement efforts in North Carolina. Their knowledge and roots in black communities across the state will be invaluable as we share our message of empowerment and expanding access to the American Dream.” However, just last February, that same state passed one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the nation in light of the Supreme Court essentially gutting the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a law that seems to target African American voters. Once the Black Advisory Board is formed, what are some of the suggestions they can put to the RNC?

  • 10) Getting Don Yelton on The Daily Show at least once a week.
  • 9) Having more than one voting machine for every 100,000 black voters would be really nice.
  • 8) Plantation-themed Election Days in black districts may not be such a good idea.
  • 7) Muzzled attack dogs? Just an idea.
  • 6) DNA test on black voters to determine any evidence of Caucasian ancestry may not be cost-effective.
  • 5) Suspension of loyalty oath to uphold ideals of the Confederacy and the abolition of the 13th Amendment.
  • 4) Fliers sent to African American voters to please stop laughing when we ask them for vote for Republican candidates.
  • 3) Black Advisory Board shouldn't need to take Underground Railroad to convene meetings.
  • 2) Seriously. Make them stop laughing at us.
  • 1) Return of a civics test may be counterproductive when it's shown Tea Party voters will get the lowest scores.
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