Sunday, June 30, 2013

June 2013 End Of The Month Report!

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If May squeaked into being the best month of the blog, June was a complete, absolute blow-out!

Built on the amazing success of the Man Of Steel review, the blog had an exceptional month! Not only was this the high water mark for the blog, it is one that will be very hard to top as it was twice (and a half!) the number of hits of any other prior month! In fact, the new #1 review in the blog received more hits this month than any entire month had had before! WOW! In addition to having the very best month of the blog, we had multiple days that ended up being the best all-time day the blog had. Thanks to everyone who read, commented (we WILL catch up on comments!) and shared links to the blog this month.

With Summer Blockbuster Season continuing, we hope it will keep getting better!

This month at W.L. Swarts Reviews The Universe, there was only one addition to the Top Ten Of All Time and an exceptional amount of movement in some of the others in the Top Ten! This month, we put special emphasis on independent movies and philosophy articles. Thanks for all the "likes" for those posts. At the end of this month, there is now only one review in the All Time best reviews that was not written this year.

Last month, we picked up four new subscribers! Thanks so much! We're thrilled to have more regular readers and we hope very much to keep growing that! We are always trying to get people to become regular readers and subscribe, so if you enjoy what you're reading, please subscribe by clicking on the right side of the blog to get updates with each posting. As well, if you read a review that really affects you, be sure to "share" it! PLEASE share a link to the blog, not the content of the article; this keeps people coming to the site and, hopefully, liking what they find once they are here! We're really growing our readership this year, so sharing and subscribing to the blog is an important way you can help! If you’re subscribing, please tell your friends about the blog!

In June, the index pages were very regularly! The primary Index Page, which we try to update daily, lets you know what the featured review is and has an up-to-the-day tally of how many reviews have been reviewed in each category! Check it out!

If you enjoy the reviews, please consider clicking on the links in the reviews and purchasing items. We really appreciate all the purchases made through the blog as that keeps us going. Thank you so much! By purchasing items through the links on the blog, you sponsor my ability to continue reviewing. Summer is a very slow time for online shopping through blogs, but I have a number of very cool annual events coming up that could use your support, from Summer Blockbuster Season to the Hallmark Ornament Release (which nets dozens of reviews and is a popular feature of this blog!). Please check out our sponsored links and thank you so much for that support!

At the end of June, I have reviewed the following:
455 - Book Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Star Trek Books
Graphic Novels
803 - Music (Album and Singles) Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Music Reviews By Rating (Best To Worst)
Music Reviews In Alphabetical Order
2300 - Movie and Television Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Movies By Rating (Best Movie to Worst)
Movies In Alphabetical Order
Best Picture Oscar Winner Film Reviews
Television Reviews
The Star Trek Review Index Page (All Star Trek Reviews In Order)!
The Star Trek Review Index Page (All Star Trek Reviews From The Best Of The Franchise To The Worst!)!
196 - Trading and Gaming Card Reviews
Gaming Cards Reviews
Star Trek Gaming Cards Reviews
Star Wars Gaming Cards Reviews
The Lord Of The Rings Trading Card Game Reviews
Other Gaming Cards Reviews
Trading Cards Reviews
668 - Toy and Christmas Ornament Reviews
with specialized pages for:
Ornament Reviews
Star Trek Toys
Star Wars Toys
Lord Of The Rings Toys
Buffy The Vampire Slayer/Angel Toys
Comic Book, Movie, Television Toys
Plush and Other Toys
686 - Food, Drink, And Restaurant Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Cheese and Meats
Ice Cream
Other Food
192 - Pet Product Reviews
Cat Product Reviews
Dog Product Reviews
Rabbit Product Reviews
107 - Travel Reviews
Destinations Reviews
Hotels Reviews
147 - Health And Beauty Product Reviews
157 - Home, Garden, Appliance and Tool Reviews
90 - Electronics, Computers, Computer Games and Software Reviews
31 - Other Product Reviews

The Featured Review For The Month for June is the article: Why Shark Tank Might Be The Most Sociologically Destructive Show On Television Today!
Check it out!

The month of June had a lot of movement within the month and from some interesting prior reviews that made the list. For June, the Top Ten Reviews of the month were:
10. Girl Meets Boy
9. The Dark Night Rises
8. Superman Returns
7. The Hangover, Part III
6. After Earth
5. Now You See Me
4. Hammer Of The Gods
3. Iron Man 3
2. Star Trek Into Darkness
1. Man Of Steel

I pride myself on being an exceptionally fair reviewer, but one who is very discriminating. I believe that most reviewers are far too biased toward both what is current and toward unduly praising things. I tend to believe most things actually are average and they ought to follows something around a Bell Curve. Mine is a little lopsided, but not as lopsided as most reviewers I know (who would probably have peak numbers between ten and seven)!

For my reviews, the current count is:
10s - 280 reviews
9s - 402 reviews
8s - 730 reviews
7s - 821 reviews
6s - 736 reviews
5s - 981 reviews
4s - 698 reviews
3s - 567 reviews
2s - 249 reviews
1s - 173 reviews
0s - 84 reviews
No rating - 48 articles/postings

There was a decent amount of movement this month, despite only one new entry into the Top Ten, and at the end of June, the most popular reviews/articles I have written are:
10. Hammer Of The Gods
9. Beautiful Creatures
8. Star Trek Into Darkness
7. Safe Haven
6. Oz The Great And Powerful
5. Warm Bodies
4. Iron Man 3
3. Now You See Me
2. Tyler Perry's Temptation
1. Man Of Steel

Thank you again, so much, for reading! Please share links to the blog with friends and spread the word!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Sports Night 2.0: The Newsroom Season 1 (My 2300th Movie/Television Review!)

The Good: Exceptional writing, Great acting, Interesting plots and characters, Great DVD extras
The Bad: Recycles so much stuff from other Aaron Sorkin works!
The Basics: The Newsroom Season 1 returns Aaron Sorkin to television and it is incredible . . . except for fans of Aaron Sorkin’s other television works.

Right off the bat, I need to say that I am a big fan of the works of Aaron Sorkin. At this point, the only thing by Sorkin that I have not yet seen (to the best of my knowledge) is Malice. So, when I sat down to watch The Newsroom - The Complete First Season, I was excited because I love the writing, characters and settings Sorkin creates. And The Newsroom is great . . . for everyone but the fans of Sorkins works. I have to say, I’m not entirely sure The Newsroom is a Sorkin work: the season finale is not called “What Kind Of Day Has It Been.” Die-hard fans of Sorkin’s works will get that joke.

They’ll also get that some of the best moments in The Newsroom are lifted directly from Sorkin’s other works. In two different episodes in the first season, Emily Mortimer’s MacKenzie and Sam Waterston’s Charlie deliver lines that Sorkin wrote for William H. Macey’s character Sam Donovan from Sports Night (reviewed here!). Sorkin recycling from his works is not a new thing; he took advantage of the fact that Sport Night tanked to use entire lines and plotlines from Sports Night in The West Wing (reviewed here!). The Newsroom is not at all unsurprising for Sorkin fans: it begins with a character in crisis who begins to turn his life around, finds the characters embattled against an entrenched adversary (2/3 have been “The Network,” for the other Sorkin television work, it was Republicans), and features a relationship that is on again/off again or dissolving. Fans of Sports Night will see a lot of Isaac in Charlie, Dana in MacKenzie, Casey in Will and Natalie in Maggie. After a decade off the air, Sorkin hopes that viewers will have forgotten about his beloved Sports Night characters, but his fans will not.

So, fans of Aaron Sorkins works will not be surprised by any number of the early “surprises,” like the fact that MacKenzie cheated on Will in their backstory, that Maggie and Don do not actually break up and Isaac, er, Charlie, stands up for the show without telling Will and his team just how endangered they are.

And, despite all of the Sorkin conceits familiar to the fans, The Newsroom Season 1 is still amazing television. In fact, it is better than 95% of the other programs that are on the air and the only show in recent memory where my wife and I got at least one chill per episode. When, by episode four “I’ll Try To Fix You,” the series creates a perfect episode (10/10, absolute perfection!), it is hard to deny that the viewer is watching something absolutely incredible. It is so easy to overlook the recycled lines and Sorkin conceits in the season.

As the title suggests, The Newsroom is set behind-the-scenes at a cable news network. Opening with a college seminar panel where anchor Will McAvoy declares that the United States is not the greatest nation on Earth, ACN – Atlantis Cable Network – puts McAvoy on three weeks of forced vacation. When he returns to work, he finds most of his staff gone and his ex-girlfriend, MacKenzie McHale, is being brought on as the nightly news’s new executive producer. MacKenzie comes with some of her own staff and her assistant, Jim, begins to have real chemistry with Maggie Jordan, who is still in a relationship with Will’s ex-executive producer, Don. Together, Charlie and MacKenzie push Will to produce news that is informative and substantive, as opposed to safe and easy.

Over the course of the season, Will takes on the Tea Party and does his best to stop their stranglehold on the Republican party leading up to the 2010 midterm elections. The staff covers the shooting of Gabriel Giffords, the coup in Egypt, the nuclear reactor meltdown (or near meltdown) in Japan, and the Casey Anthony trial. The season climaxes in the debt ceiling debate and the way the Tea Party is holding the U.S. hostage.

The Newsroom features Aaron Sorkin’s trademark banter and characters who have moments of intense social awkwardness. It is one of his more serious endeavors, trying to be less overtly humorous than The West Wing. This is Sorkin’s attempt to actually educate viewers to the dangers of the Tea Party and its corporate sponsors. The ten episodes of The Newsroom Season 1 present hour-long stories that re-evaluate incredible news stories from 2010 – 2011. But for viewers who want to see how poetic and packed with information scripted cable dramas can be, The Newsroom delivers.

Like all great dramas, The Newsroom Season 1 is about great characters. In the first season, the essential characters are:

Will McAvoy – A Republican cable news anchor, he misses the days when the news meant something and did something other than cater to the corporate sponsors of the network. He remains emotionally damaged – three years later – after breaking up with MacKenzie. As he, Charlie, and MacKenzie transform News Night into a hard-hitting news program, he begins dating again (a string of women) and that gets him in trouble with the tabloids. He becomes outraged at how the Republican Party has been co-opted by the Tea Party faction. He gets gunshy when he realizes just how dangerous a position he is in, given that he renegotiated his contract in order to be able to fire MacKenzie and that left him vulnerable to the machinations of Leona Lansing. He works to civilize a tabloid writer and spends money on saving lives, though he refuses to let others know. He becomes the target of death threats and in the process has to have a bodyguard,

MacKenzie McHale – Returning from being embedded in Afghanistan with Jim and the military, she tries to inspire Will. In the process, she takes control of News Night. She dates Wade, a man who wants to run for Congress and takes it personally when Will brings in the man she had an affair with to write a story on News Night. She is smart, articulate, and principled, but socially awkward. She is, arguably, Jim’s best friend in the world,

Jim Harper – A producer who is the assistant to MacKenzie, having been embedded with her in Afghanistan. He is efficient and has contacts that help Will break his first major story with News Night 2.0. He has a crush on Maggie, who is antagonizing to him without reason, but starts dating Maggie’s roommate when she doesn’t make a move and Don pushes him toward it. He has a great deal of authority on the show and has real issues when Maggie acts unprofessionally, though he helps her out when she has panic attacks,

Maggie Jordan – An Associate Producer on News Night, she has an on-again, off-again relationship with Don, though she is instantly attracted to Jim. She is easily flustered, but very smart,

Don Keefer – The ex-producer of News Night, he becomes the exec on the ten o’clock show when MacKenzie comes aboard. He is initially a jackass, but fights for the good stories and starts to fight for Maggie. He wants to be a star and make his anchor into a star above Will, but when push comes to shove with the corporate parents, he steps up to do the right thing,

Sloan Sabbith – An economist with two Ph.ds, she is brought on News Night by MacKenzie to make economic issues relevant. She is incredibly socially awkward and yet passionate about the economic issues that she knows about. She overcompensates from Will's pep talk by embarrassing a Japanese official on the air! She reveals very late that she has feelings for someone else on the staff,

Neal Sampat – The writer of Will’s blog, he has an obsession with bigfoot. He becomes instrumental in getting News Night its Egypt coverage,

and Charlie Skinner – The head of the news division, he looks out for Will and works to protect News Night. He is older and something of a curmudgeon and he is tested by an NSA employee who wants to break a story about U.S. wiretapping of cell phones. He likes MacKenzie and he drinks a lot.

The Newsroom Season 1 features an amazing cast. For probably the first time that I have seen her in anything, Emily Mortimer impressed me with her performance abilities as she was anything but white bread as MacKenzie. Jeff Daniels leads the cast as Will McAvoy and every moment he is on screen, he is credible as a seasoned news anchor. Dev Patel and Sam Waterston round out the supporting cast of seasoned actors as Neal and Charlie and they are unlike they are in any other work in which they have appeared.

The younger cast members are led by Alison Pill, who plays Maggie. Pill is able to emote incredibly with her face and eyes alone. She gives some of the season’s most delightfully goofy lines and makes them seem incredibly real, making Maggie seem like anything but a parody of a young newswoman.

On DVD, The Newsroom is a wealth of bonus features, which is what one expects from HBO. Each episode has a featurette about the episode featuring Aaron Sorkin talking about how he developed the episode. There are commentary tracks on the pilot and a few other episodes – the one for “I’ll Try To Fix You” is actually entertaining as Emily Mortimer describes her experiences with nude scenes and the guys in the room resolve to make season two memorable in that regard! There are a handful of deleted scenes and a featurette on the entire season.

The Newsroom Season One is hard-hitting and smart and the punch it packs will be seen in 2014 if the show can reach enough of the electorate to usurp the Tea Party. While that is not the entire focus of the season, it is a vital component and one of the ways the show tries to be something far, far more than a well-written soap opera set in a news organization. And, even for fans of Aaron Sorkin’s works, The Newsroom is worth watching; the setting is as engaging as in his other works and for his poetry, humor, philosophy and intellect, more is certainly better.

For other current shows, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Game Of Thrones - Season 3
New Girl - Season 2
Happy Endings - Season 3
The Walking Dead - Season 3
Arrested Development - Season 4
House Of Cards - Season 1
True Blood - Season 5


For other television reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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If The Food Network Dumps Padma Lakshmi, She Can Always Do Star Trek Conventions . . .

The Good: The acting is generally fine
The Bad: No real character development, Bland plot, Lascivious direction
The Basics: “Precious Cargo” has Trip and an alien woman figuring out how to get along when they escape from an alien ship together.

Sometimes, in making a prequel, the writer and producers of a show just make a mess of things. In the case of Enterprise, that happened more frequently than not. Ironically, with “Precious Cargo” the mess was made when the series stepped into it. In Star Trek: The Next Generation, there were two worlds called Krios – one in “The Perfect Mate” (reviewed here!), one in “The Mind’s Eye” (reviewed here!). For a long time, there was debate as to whether they were two different worlds or not and, to be fair to “Precious Cargo,” the episode makes enough of an effort to establish a difference between Krios and Krios Prime. Unfortunately, while Krios Prime is supposed to be the Krios from “The Mind’s Eye,” Kaitaama (the Kriosian in “Precious Cargo”) has the Trill-like spots of the Kriosian from “The Perfect Mate.”

“Precious Cargo” is an episode of Enterprise that keeps delaying becoming something more than what it initially appears to be. The moment Kaitaama and Trip begin to communicate, the episode falls into a somewhat ridiculous antagonistic affection episode that is vaguely titillating and seems to have little purpose other than to show off Padma Lakshmi’s legs and smile. For the scenes set in the escape pod, director David Livingston frames the shots to focus on Lakshmi’s physical attributes more than her performance.

Trip is called back to duty from his off hours when a Retellian cargo ship comes into range. The Retellians are transporting a woman whose stasis pod is malfunctioning. They ask for assistance and after Tucker tries to fix the pod – after Sato translates the Retellian controls for him - it malfunctions. The Retellian captain Firek Goff abducts Trip and the alien woman and Enterprise pursues the cargo ship, though they use a cloud of dilithium gas to get away. When Tucker and the woman get the ability to communicate using the universal translator, he learns that her name is Kaitaama and she is the First Monarch of Krios Prime.

While Archer tries to get information out of the Retellian left aboard Enterprise, Trip helps Kaitaama break out of the cargo bay. The two escape in an escape pod. There, Trip finds Kaitaama to be a pain in the butt and he and the other escapee work to navigate the escape pod. The two struggle to get along as Kaitaama is privileged, but inexperienced, and Trip is a bit rough around the edges for her. The two crash on a nearby alien world and there they await rescue.

Kaitaama is an unfortunately whiny antagonist and the episode is not strong enough to make one actually care about how she and Trip relate. In fact, their coupling is more of an inevitability than a surprise. This is not entirely the fault of Padma Lakshmi, who plays the Kriosian; the character is just written that way. At every opportunity, Livingston focuses on Lakshmi’s calves or full legs, so the softcore tease is obvious and cheap. On the plus side (I suppose), Lakshmi plays whiny and annoying credibly.

“Precious Cargo” does not advance the character of Trip Tucker – in fact, it illustrates well that he has not truly learned anything from “Unexpected” (reviewed here!) or “Two Days And Two Nights” (reviewed here!). He’s just happy to score.

Sadly, “Precious Cargo” seems to advance the character of T’Pol, but not in a believable way. Aboard Enterprise, Archer used T’Pol to playact as a legal arbiter who participates in the subtle manipulation of Firek Plinn. While this could show that T’Pol is learning and growing as a character (time will tell on that one), she has in the past been entirely unsuited to lying, acting, and (especially) improvising. Dr. Phlox, on the other hand, could have been reasonably used in this capacity, but is noticeably absent from the episode. T’Pol assists in deceiving Plinn and that does not fit her character at all. Moreover, the ruse only works because the Retellians are, apparently, unfamiliar with Vulcans.

In short, “Precious Cargo” is not a painful to watch episode, but it does lack finesse or a sense of purpose or larger statement that one wants out of Star Trek. The result is just another somewhat pointless alien encounter that does not build to anything bigger.

The three biggest gaffes in “Precious Cargo:”
3. Enterprise has frequently been shown to be cramped, yet there is a big empty room that Archer and T’Pol use to torment Firek Plinn in. At least as important, Archer mentions starting with a crew of 81, but being down to 76 crewmembers. There have been far more than 81 different background actors on Enterprise. Boo!
2. T’Pol being called upon to lie and improvise is ridiculous. Even Spock, who was only half-Vulcan, had an inability to pull off a ruse – like in “A Piece Of The Action” (reviewed here!) where he can only make literal, non-lying statements like having never calculated the odds of a Royal Fizbin. T’Pol actively lies in the scene and consciously deceives the Retellians.
1. Kaitaama is being taken to Krios Prime, which was featured in “The Mind’s Eye.” Given that Enterprise is one of only a few existing Warp 5 vessels (and thus the Retellians must be going noticeably slower than that, Warp 2 to be specific), a five month journey in the Retellian ship would not take it very far. “The Mind’s Eye” had Krios Prime as a Klingon colony, which once again suggests that the Klingon Empire and the heart of the Federation are dramatically closer than they should be, especially given that Krios prime was a significant enough distance from Risa in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Enterprise - The Complete Second Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sophmore season here!

For other works with Leland Crooke, please visit my reviews of:
Angel - Season 5
The Master Of Disguise
“Honor Among Thieves” - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
“One Little Ship” - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine


For other Star Trek episode and movie reviews, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Generic Ninja Jedi: The Qui-Gon Jinn Mighty Muggs Figure Flops!

The Good: Costume looks more or less right.
The Bad: Dumb animated look, Giant head, Heavy, Looks very little like Qui-Gon.
The Basics: The Qui-Gon Jinn Mighty Muggs figure does not look enough like Liam Neeson to make it worth buying!

The Star Wars Mighty Muggs toy line is one that I pretty much loathe. The toys, which are from Hasbro which has proven they can make virtually lifelike action figures and statues, are ridiculous-looking. One of the worst of the line has to be the Qui-Gon Jinn Mighty Muggs figure.

Mighty Muggs toys look like they might be plush as they feature animated versions of recognizable Star Wars characters. However, the cartoon-like heads atop disproportionately smaller bodies simply revealed that the heads and toys were solid, like ceramic (they are, in fact, made of a super-hard, heavy plastic). This is as true of the Qui-Gon Jinn as it is of other Mighty Muggs figures.

For those unfamiliar with Qui-Gon Jinn, he only appeared in The Phantom Menace (reviewed here!) as the mentor to Obi-Wan Kenobi. He leads Obi-Wan around Naboo and Tatooine before ending up in a climactic battle with the villainous Darth Maul.

The Mighty Muggs Qui-Gon Jinn figure is pretty terrible and anyone who has seen how Qui-Gon Jinn actually looked will recognize this bears a poor resemblance to Qui-Gon Jinn. This looks like a cartoon version of the Jedi Master.


Qui-Gon Jinn is a human Jedi, seen on Coruscant, Naboo, and Tatooine throughout The Phantom Menace. The figure stands 7" tall. Qui-Gon Jinn is dressed in a brown cloak over a cream-colored and tan outfit that is painted solidly onto the puffy body of the toy. There are no additional costume details on the toy, though this version has the dark brown cloak over the lighter tunic that Qui-Gon Jinn wears.

This toy is a poor sculpt which looks like an oversized, fattened up LEGO figure and the Mighty Muggs figure has a solid body that looks like dress bottom. The hands are open slightly and this allows Qui-Gon to hold his ridiculous plastic lightsaber. Qui-Gon’s facial expression is a slightly angry one, with his eyes looking fierce and downturned mouth covered by the painted-on beard and mustache. The face looks like a classic ninja, more than anything even remotely like Liam Neeson.


Qui-Gon Jinn, Jedi Master as he is, comes with one accessory, his lightsaber. The three inch long choking hazard fits in Qui-Gon Jinn's right hand. This is a monolithically molded silver and translucent green cylinder which looks vaguely like a lightsaber.


The Mighty Muggs toy line was designed for no good reason I can find, perhaps just because someone realized Star Wars fans would buy almost anything (which, given how many waves of Star Wars Mighty Muggs figures there were, seemed to be a good assumption!). This heavy toy can be harmful to children and is more intended as a display statue. Sure, it’s a ridiculous display statue, but that’s about it.

Qui-Gon Jinn comes with only three points of articulation, all of which are simple swivel joints. He has joints at the shoulders and neck. The elbows do not extend, so all arm posing is straight-armed. To be fair, the figure does stand up.


The Qui-Gon Jinn is part of the Mighty Muggs Star Wars collection, which no one I know would ever spend money on. The value of these is already declining because it’s a ridiculous concept executed poorly.


Qui-Gon Jinn is another insultingly bad Mighty Muggs figure that is not worth the time and money of the consumers.

For other Star Wars Mighty Muggs toys, please check out my reviews of:
Obi-Wan Kenobi (Younger)
Obi-Wan Kenobi (Older)
Luke Skywalker
Hoth Han Solo
Hoth Luke Skywalker
Grand Moff Tarkin
Bespin Luke Skywalker


For other toy reviews, please visit my Toy Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Saturday, June 29, 2013

An Album Of Songs That Could Open Or Close Any Number Of Movies: Glass Houses!

The Good: Lyrics, Sound
The Bad: Short, Somewhat limited vocal range
The Basics: Billy Joel has a solid outing with Glass Houses, an album whose endurance is not limited to its radio-played singles!

The danger, I have found, in reviewing the works of an exceptionally popular musical artist years after the bulk of their work was originally released is that the temptation exists to review their classic albums with an ear toward the radio-played hits. The advantage of studying a musical artist in this way by only listening to their music is to hear their albums without the hype or history. Pure listens of just the material allow listeners now to hear what is there, not all the “stuff” surrounding the album’s creation or the celebrity of the performer. As I embark upon my study of the works of Billy Joel, I follow up my review of 52nd Street (reviewed here!) with having Glass Houses in high rotation.

Glass Houses is notable in that many of the best or most memorable songs on the album were not the radio-played hits, making it a great investment for those who are looking for a much more well-rounded version of Billy Joel’s career. While Glass Houses spawned the radio hits “You May Be Right,” “Don’t Ask Me Why” and “It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me,” the songs “I Don’t Want To Be Alone” and “Sleeping With The Television On” are at least as good. As an album, though, Glass Houses reminded me most of the Oasis album Dig Out Your Soul (reviewed here!). That album was notable in that the songs all sounded like they could carry the climax of a movie and play through the closing credits. Glass Houses sounds like the ultimate pick and choose soundtrack album for opening a bevy of 1980s movies (romantic comedies, lighter dramas). Almost every song on this album feels like it was designed to provide a musical entrance for a movie (playing over the opening credits while the camera establishes setting and characters).

Clocking out at only 35:06, one of the most serious detractions to Glass Housesis its lack of duration. This is a short album, though Billy Joel makes decent use of the time he has by presenting an array of fun-sounding songs, some of which actually go a bit deeper than their upbeat pop sound. Glass Houses is very much the work of Joel who wrote the words and music to all ten songs. Joel provides the lead vocals on all of the tracks and he plays pianos, synths, harmonica, and accordion on the various songs. In fact, the only creative credit he does not receive is for producing the album (that work is credited to Phil Ramone).

Glass Houses is a very standard pop album, with drum-driven tracks that get the toes tapping and embed their melodies in the listener’s heads. While Joel branches out with a slightly more flavorful pop sound on “Don’t Ask Me Why” and he opens some of the songs with sound effects – breaking glass for “You May Be Right” and phones ringing for “It’s Just A Fantasy” – in most ways, Glass Houses is a very safe, focused pop album. “All For Leyna” actually stands out for how it breaks up the up-tempo pop songs with a slower and somewhat painfully repetitive ballad.

Vocally, Billy Joel does not illustrate much range on Glass Houses. He stays in the mid to lower registers that he is comfortable in. However, on Glass Houses, Billy Joel manages to sing faster and more articulately than many other singers (just try singing along with “It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me” and sound as clear!) and that makes the album sound and feel upbeat even when the lyrics do not support that mood.

On the lyrics front, Billy Joel references a couple of different women as the musical protagonist of Glass Houses, but the album is far from a concept album with a consistent narrative thread. He uses “All For Leyna” as an exploration of devotion (or obsession) that does not so much focus on Leyna’s attributes as it does on the musical protagonist’s commitment to her. With lines like “We laid on the beach / Watching the tide / She didn’t tell me there were rocks / Under the waves / Right off the shore / Washed up on the sand / Barely alive / Wishing the undertow would stop / How can a man take anymore” (“All For Leyna”), he blurs the line between healthy and obsessive devotion to a partner. He makes a very sad concept sound anything but mopey, though.

That idea that the sound contradicts the message carries through Glass Houses. The sound that accompanies the lines “All night long, all night long / We’re only standing here ‘cause somebody might do somebody wrong / All night long, all night long / And we’ll be sleeping with the television on” (“Sleeping With The Television On”) is not sad, like the lonely, heartwrenching lyrics to the song might indicate. Instead, there is an almost defiant quality to the music which makes the song very interesting as opposed to depressing.

Perhaps the ultimate expression of excitement, though, comes on “I Don’t Want To Be Alone.” The song has one of the stronger musical storytelling examples on Glass Houses. On that song, Joel’s musical protagonist is a guy who is “. . . standing, waiting in the lobby / Sweating bullets in this stupid old suit / And when she sees me she busts out laughing / ‘You’re a sad sight honey, but you look so cute’ and / I don’t want to be alone anymore / I was checking you out / I was just making sure” (“I Don’t Want To Be Alone”). The song works and is enjoyable, like the bulk of the album.

In fact, Glass Houses is a strong album that only loses its punch in its final tracks, but even those songs are not bad. That makes Glass Houses worth recommending even now.

The best track is “I Don’t Want To Be Alone” (though “Sleeping With The Television On” is a close second, even above the hits from the album!) and the low point is the unmemorable penultimate song “Close To The Borderline.”

For other Artist Of The Month albums, please visit my reviews of:
Actually - Pet Shop Boys
The King Of Rock: The Complete ‘50s Masters - Elvis Presley
Accelerate - R.E.M.


For other music reviews, please check out my organized listing of all the music reviews I have written on my Music Review Index Page!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Friday, June 28, 2013

Exceptionally Fruit Scented, Mildly Fruit Flavored, Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Peach Is Fair.

The Good: Nothing bad in it, Good aroma
The Bad: Doesn't taste exceptionally fruity.
The Basics: An only vaguely fruity tea, the Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Peach does not truly live up to its name.

In recent years, probably through the intervention of my wife, I have come to enjoy Celestial Seasonings' Sleepytime tea (reviewed here!) a bit more. However, I have found it disappointing how the company continues to use the Sleepytime name to sell new teas, even when they are not making a tea that tastes much like Sleepytime. Such is the case with Sleepytime Peach.

Sleepytime Peach is a fair tea, but given how amazingly fruity so many Celestial Seasonings are, it is ultimately unimpressive. There have to be at least a dozen teas that taste more like peach than Sleepytime Peach. Fortunately for Celestial Seasonings, most of them are from that company!


Sleepytime Peach is an all-natural Herbal Tea from Celestial Seasonings. This is an herbal tea and as a result is caffeine free - none of the ingredients in it had caffeine to begin with so it did not undergo any chemical process to remove them. Chamomile is a wildflower and its use as a tea is interesting, but yields a tea reminiscent of dandelion juice. Sleepytime Peach beefs up the usual chamomile flavor, but then the addition of Peach flavoring seems to undermine the spicing of the traditional Sleepytime.

Sleepytime Peach comes in Celestial Seasoning's standard stringless tea bags, which are paired together with easy to separate perforations that allow one to separate the tea bags. When I make pots of tea, I tend to use two bags and leave them connected. A box of Sleepytime Peach tea comes with ten pairs (20 individual) of tea bags.

Ease Of Preparation

Sleepytime Peach is a very standard tea; it is your basic herbal tea when it comes to preparation. Like many other Celestial Seasonings teas, there are no tea leaves listed in the ingredients, so this herbal tea flower-based. A single tea bag will make the standard 8 oz. coffee mug worth of tea and could be reused and make a second, rather weak cup of Sleepytime Peach tea. The second cup often comes out afar weaker than the first, which is a serious detraction given how weak it is to begin with. I tend to make my tea using a 32 oz. steeping tea pot and that works well, though a second pot with the same bags will come out about 1/4 - 3/8 strength. In other words, this is a terrible tea for the teabag miser!

To prepare Sleepytime tea, bring a pot of water to a boil and pour it over the tea bags, in a pot or mug. This tea takes four to six minutes to steep according to the directions and if the water is truly boiling, I've found it can use the entire six minutes. Like most chamomile-based teas, this is a tea that I can never make strong enough. After six minutes, the flavor does not seem to get any stronger so there is no benefit to letting it steep longer than that. Sleepytime Peach never gets "too strong."

Sleepytime is Celestial Seasonings flagship tea and Sleepytime Peach seems to be attempting to capitalize on the name association without people considering what the base tea was. This tea smells strongly of peach and little else.

Unfortunately, the scent is not particularly indicative of the flavor of the Sleepytime Peach. This tea tastes like rice water, like most chamomile-based teas. At least the Sleepytime Peach does not have a dry flavor to break the ricewater primary flavor. Instead, it is cut with a vaguely fruity flavor. The aftertaste is strongly peach, but the primary fruit flavor is much more vague than that. The flavor is not bad, but it has no recognizable or strong peach flavor.

Honey or sugar bring out the fruit flavor, though it does not make it taste more like peach. Regardless, this tea does not have any hint of citrus sourness to it. Cold, the tea is just bland, though it is not bad or sour at all. Neither, unfortunately, is it peach flavored.


Like what one might expect from a tea that smells and tastes like rice water, this tea is pretty low on the scale of nutritional value. That's not to say it is bad for the drinker, it just does not have much to recommend it. This tea is primarily made of: Chamomile, lemongrass, and spearmint. It surprised me to read there was mint in this tea, as it does not have even a hint of that in the taste. It was also unsurprising how little the tea carries a peach flavor given that there is no actual peach in the tea, just peach flavoring as the fifth ingredient. There is nothing unpronouncable in this tea and it is noted as being gluten free (for whom that matters). It is also kosher.

In terms of nutrition, Sleepytime Peach is another tea in a long line of teas that contribute nothing but hydration to the body. There is no nutritional benefit or detriment to this tea. One 8 oz. mug of this tea provides nothing of nutritional value to the drinker. There are no calories (save what one adds from sugar or milk), no fat, sodium, or protein and no caffeine. This is more a flavored water than a tea!


Sleepytime Peach tea is very easy to clean up after - the tea bags may be disposed in the garbage, or composted if you have a good garden and/or compost pile. The tea itself is still very light like a Chamomile, but it washes out of most fabrics easily. As well, it does not leave any residual flavor in one's teapot or mug.


Sleepytime Peach might be new from Celestial Seasonings, but it is hard to bet on Celestial Seasonings keeping it around on their permanent roster given how little it actually tastes like peach.

For other Celestial Seasonings tea reviews, please check out:
Natural Antioxidant Green Tea with White Tea
Sugar Plum Spice tea
Celestial Seasonings Sweet Harvest Pumpkin tea


For other food or drink reviews, please visit my Food Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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An Uninspired Prequel, Monsters University Disappoints.

The Good: The voice acting is fine, Animation is all right
The Bad: Dull and predictable story, Not funny, Not clever, Exceptionally formulaic character progressions
The Basics: Pixar’s latest box office triumph, Monsters University is likely to lose its staying power fast as audiences realize it is a movie utterly lacking in sparkle or originality.

When one watches a lot of movies, one quickly becomes attuned to the conceits of the various genres. Horror and science fiction movies have become such fodder for comedic parody because they have, largely, become so formulaic as to be unsurprising and utterly predictable. So, it is somewhat surprising when Disney/Pixar releases a new film that utterly defies the conventions of the genre. I’m not talking about the college buddy movie genre; Monsters University is so utterly formulaic in that regard that the premise could be written by a college freshman with just the basic line “We want to do a prequel to Monsters, Inc. that puts Mike Wazowski and Sully in college, where they are not initially friends. Seriously, a high school student could probably have pounded out the exact film Monsters University given that working premise. It is that predictable. No, I’m talking about the Disney animated movie genre. Monsters University certainly defies that, but not in a good way.

Sadly, Monsters University is without charm, humor, memorable music (it is not a musical), heartwarming moments or moments of visual spectacle. Unfortunately, Monsters University defies the traditional Disney conceits by creating a movie that is neither timeless nor significant, not original or even particularly memorable. And, it is worth noting that I enjoyed Monsters, Inc. (reviewed here!) and purposely did not rewatch it before taking in Monsters University so I would not be burned out on the characters or traditional issues I have with Disney’s animated “wonders.” This was a very pure viewing of Monsters University and as close to a review unbiased by the original as one could have while still knowing who the principle characters are.

Smaller than his peers at Frighton Elementary, Mike Wazowski nevertheless determines on a field trip that he wants to be a Scarer and attend the prestigious Monsters University. After sneaking into a child’s room from the scare floor on a field trip, he is given an endorsement by one of the scarers and is determined to make it in the future as a scarer. Years later, he successfully enrolls in Monsters University and enrolls in their scaring program. He hits it right off with his roommate, Randy, who is also training to be a scarer. One night, while Mike is studying, his dorm room is broken into by a giant blue monster chasing down a monster pig, the mascot of one of the other monster schools. He is James P. Sullivan and he instantly derides Mike for being in the scaring program because he is convinced that Mike does not have what it takes to be a scarer.

Sullivan’s trek through Monsters University hits a snag pretty quickly, though, when he tries coasting through Professor Knight’s Scaring class on his family name (he’s a legacy at the university). While Mike is booksmart, he cannot get any of the major fraternities to recognize him or his abilities, so he falls in with the outcasts. In order to prove himself worthy of remaining in the scaring program (and for Sully to get back in the good graces of Dean Hardscrabble), Mike and Sully team up with Squishy, Don, Terry (and Terri), and Art to try to help Oozma Kappa win the monster games. In the process, they become friends, Sully hedges his bets, and they all learn a very important lesson, blah, blah, blah.

Seriously, blah, blah, blah is part of the plot because the actual plot is so thin and short that the writers and director had to flesh the movie out with an extended sequence wherein Mike arrives on campus, a pointless twist near the end, and an adventure that follows the bulk of the plot (which is the monster games, which dominates the screentime of the film). As a result, the movie feels like a remarkably thin idea stretched out to reach just over a hundred minutes (probably because it would be virtually impossible to get people to pay for a 3-D movie at today’s ticket prices for the forty-five minutes worth of actual substance the film might have). The padding does not make a better movie. Instead, Monsters University presents one college cliché after another. In fact, the only one that comes to mind missing from the movie is the romantic subplot that would have pit Mike and Sully against one another for the affections of a woman.

There is nothing audacious on the character front. As a prequel, viewers already know that Mike and Sully will end up as friends. There is nothing incredible in Monsters University that illustrates the way they became friends was at all unique or compelling.

What Monsters University does have is a decent cast. The voice acting talents in the film are top notch. Led by Billy Crystal and John Goodman, the cast includes Helen Mirren, Steve Buscemi, Nathan Fillion, Alfred Molina, David Foley, Joel Murray and, very briefly, Pixar mainstay John Ratzenberger. All of them perform fine.

The only other note I have on Monsters University is on the animation. I recall being impressed when I saw Monsters, Inc. at the quality of the animation. I marveled at how every hair on Sully’s fur was rendered and appeared to move independently. Monsters, Inc. left me impressed. Monsters University did not. The animation did not seem as vibrant or spectacular somehow and the 3-D did not pop either.

In short, Monsters University, like Cars 2, seems to illustrate that Pixar needs to think long and hard about revisiting its most successful properties; not all of them are the cash cows they appear to be.

For other Disney animated films, please visit my reviews of:
Wreck-It Ralph
Toy Story 3
A Christmas Carol
The Princess And The Frog
The Incredibles
Lilo & Stitch
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
The Lion King
Beauty And The Beast
The Little Mermaid
Lady And The Tramp
The Sword In The Stone
The Aristocats
Sleeping Beauty


For other movie reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Hartz Has A Simple Winner With Their Mini Mice Cat Toys!

The Good: It seems to tap into everything a cat might love, Inexpensive
The Bad: Way too durable, so cats insist on playing with it forever!
The Basics: Hartz Mini Mice Cat Toys are so durable that Timber plays for hours with them and only stops when I have to take them away for my sanity!

For those who read my blog regularly, Gollum has matured a lot in the last few years and now, he enjoys relaxing more than he likes playing. I was worried that he was gaining some weight, but two things happened to stop him from gaining weight, remaining sedate, and keeping on what weight he did gain over the winter: we got Timber and Hartz Mini Mice Cat Toys. Between the two, Gollum is getting more active again, but the truth is the real story here is about Timber (for sure!). Timber is only four years old and he seems exceptionally happy to have a loving family now. So, we quickly found that Gollum’s old toys were not going to be enough for our rambunctious new cat. Fortunately, the Hartz Mini Mice Cat Toys have come to our rescue.

The Mini Mice comes in a three pack for $1.00 and has three mice – their color seems to vary with each of the packs. This is basically a little cotton-filled mouse-shaped wedge covered in an incredibly well-stitched cotton cloth exterior. The mouse is two inches long with a string tail that extends an additional two inches. The toy has two felt eyes glued on (they usually last two to three days with active playing) and felt ears and thread whiskers that last for not much longer than the eyes. The tail might get chewed up pretty fast, but the main body is incredibly durable and that seems to be enough for Timber.

This would seem to be a simple enough toy; one squeezes the mouse, which is enough to get Timber’s attention, throws the mouse and one's cat leaps after it. Timber brings it back immediately and if I have managed to keep Timber away from it, even Gollum will bring it back to me. I frequently find Timber playing with his mice on his own, but far more often, Timber will find his mouse, carry it in his mouth to wherever I am sitting and doing work, drop it and look at me expectantly. Timber, alas, never seems to get tired of catching, retrieving and returning with these mice and they are up to the task. After a month of play, not one has been torn up by his claws to be rendered unusable!

And poor Gollum! If I toss the mouse too close to Gollum, he will look at it like he wants to get in on the fun, but Timber will pounce on it and growl at Gollum like Gollum used to do to Brillo back in the day! Yes, the Mini Mice Cat toy makes energetic cats downright psycho and territorial! The only way Gollum ever has a chance to play with this toy is when Timber is locked in a separate room. Sadly, that is very hard to do and requires a coordinated effort on the part of my wife and myself.

This is one of those toys that seems to continue the Pounce tradition of classic conditioning (this is in no way associated with Pounce treats) as children, er, cats who play with this toy seem to respond to the sound regardless of when it comes up. This means, if I am trying to clean the house and one of the Mini Mice is in my way, if I toss it, Timber will appear out of nowhere to retrieve it. Whenever I squeeze this toy, Timber comes running.

The nice thing is that at $1.00 for a three pack, these are inexpensive and with a play life well over a month and a half, they certainly become a value in the long run.

In fact, all I don't like about them is the effect it has on my cat. Timber cries constantly whenever he knocks the toy under the oven or the refrigerator. He'll sit and meow plaintively until I come and retrieve it for him. That’s fine . . . except at 2 A.M. when I am sleeping. That doesn’t stop Timber. Then, Timber will knock it back under the appliances! Also, there have been several mornings where I was awakened to Timber pouncing on me and dropping this mouse toy onto me and waiting for me to throw it.

It's a great toy and I suspect most cats will love this as a lifelong plaything, especially if they get one at an early age!

For other Hartz products, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Precious Pals Pink Teddy Bear
Crunch 'n Clean Savory Dog Biscuits
Hartz Angry Birds Flyer
Hartz Angry Birds Plush Ball With Sound Chip Dog Toy


For other pet products, please visit my index page!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Ryan Gosling Remakes Punch-Drunk Love With Lars And The Real Girl!

The Good: Engaging plot, Decent characters, Good acting
The Bad: Not entirely original, Pacing
The Basics: Ryan Gosling illustrates his acting chops early in Lars And The Real Girl where he plays an awkward man in love with a life-sized doll.

It is a rare thing that my wife and I agree upon a movie’s quality. Yet, as soon as we finished Lars And The Real Girl we turned to one another and began talking about the film. We discussed what the movie meant and how it we thought the performers in it performed. She asked me what I would rate the film and I was pretty surprised when we both thought it came out at a seven out of ten. That seldom happens.

For my part, I was impressed to see Ryan Gosling in one of the earliest roles. I was a little disappointed that Lars And The Real Girl resembled the feeling and some of the character aspects/performance quirks of Punch-Drunk Love (reviewed here!). Ryan Gosling is exceptional as Lars and he shows a range that I had not seen from him before. Even so, there are a number of aspects of Gosling’s performance that were incredibly similar to Adam Sandler’s performance in Punch-Drunk Love.

In a small Wisconsin town, Lars Lindstrom lives in the garage of his dead father’s house while his older brother, Gus, and Gus’s wife Karin live in the main house. Karin pressures Lars to join the pair for dinner, even tackling him to insist that he come into the house to eat with them. Karin and Gus want to share the good news with the exceptionally awkward Lars that Karin is pregnant. Already unsettled at work by Margo, who works several cubicles away, Gus begins to stress and feel some serious and complex emotions. His cubiclemate shows him a website with made-to-order lifelike sex dolls (which Lars does not quite understand). Lars orders Bianca, a missionary from overseas and he introduces her to his family.

Fearing he has gone crazy, Gus insists Lars go to Dr. Dagmar. While Karin thinks Lars is all right, Gus worries that Lars might actually be mentally ill and need to be institutionalized. Dagmar convinces Lars to bring Bianca in weekly and when he does, Dagmar “treats” her for a condition that requires them to sit together. Dagmar discovers that Lars still feels guilty about the death of his mother (she died giving birth to him) and he has incredible fears about Karin’s pregnancy. Soon, though, the people sympathetic to Lars come out of the woodwork and they embrace Bianca. Bianca has a social network (she gets a job as a store mannequin), people who want to be around her, and people who take her off Lars’ hands, freeing him up for human interactions (like with Margo). As he becomes more socialized, Bianca’s health takes a turn for the worse and the entire community is affected.

Lars And The Real Girl is a masterwork of awkward humor, but the power of the film is that Lars And The Real Girl is not depressing or oppressive in its tone. While the plot is somewhat predictable, Lars And The Real Girl does not feel like it is beating the viewer down. Perhaps this is because Lars And The Real Girl features a protagonist who is awkward and lost in the world, but the world does not beat him down. Unlike Punch-Drunk Love, Lars is not consistently betrayed by those around him to create his social awkwardness.

Instead, Lars is a man feeling guilty and fearing abandonment because his life has been a long pageant of abandonments and when his brother returned home following their father’s death, Lars moved into the garage. His fear is understandable in that he has never resolved his feelings that he missed out on having a mother. He is lost and his story is one that resonates on a deeply human level because Ryan Gosling is able to perfectly emote a deep level of sadness even when he says nothing.

The character magic in Lars And The Real Girl comes from the townspeople around Lars. Their acceptance of Bianca and willingness to help Lars by working hard to not shatter his delusion makes potentially awkward events like Lars bringing Bianca to a company party into a memorably heartwarming scene. The way Bianca becomes a person in their minds – someone with whm they want to spend time and would elect to the school board – brings an uncommon charm to Lars And The Real Girl.

The supporting performances in Lars And The Real Girl are generally good as well. While Gosling bears the brunt of having to perform opposite an inanimate object, many of the others have to work with Bianca for a scene or two and they all pull those scenes off just fine, making the viewer believe that their characters are making an effort to treat the life-size doll as an actual person. But the acting is far from homogenously great. Emily Mortimer’s accent changes constantly in Lars And The Real Girl, which is irksome in general and downright disturbing at times.

But more than that, director Craig Gillespie does not the best possible work from Kelli Garner. A key scene in Lars’ development has him bowling with Garner’s Margo. Clearly part of the purpose – thematically – of the bowling scene is to illustrate how alive, vibrant, and mobile Margo is to Lars. And yet, watching the scene, the way Garner is constantly in motion, wiggling all the time, made it seem like Gillespie was right off screen yelling, “More Kelli! More! I don’t want anyone who sees this to miss what we’re doing here!” Outside that, Garner plays Margo with clearly restrained attraction for Gosling’s Lars and she performs the role well.

Lars And The Real Girl is a tour de force for Ryan Gosling and anyone who thinks he has only gotten so far in his career due to his good looks should watch the movie. Bloated and with his shirt on all the time (usually in some pretty hideous sweaters), Gosling is the emotional heartthrob, not the physical one. While it might not be perfect, it is not the stereotypical psychologically horrifying work most independent films become, which makes Lars And The Real Girl a must-watch movie for its originality, memorable characters, compelling character struggles and most of the performances.

For other works with Ryan Gosling, be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Idea Of March
Crazy, Stupid, Love.
Half Nelson
The Notebook


For other film reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Gay Community’s Struggle Will Only Get Worse Unless They Learn From The Mistakes Of The Women’s Rights Movement.

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The Basics: With the Supreme Court striking down the Defense Of Marriage Act, gays, lesbians and transgender individuals need to unify and get a civil rights bill passed or today’s ruling means nothing.

I am the dark cloud on this very bright day, but the gay, lesbian, and transgendered community needs one today. I have been eagerly waiting for the Defense Of Marriage Act to be struck down since President Clinton signed it into law in 1996. During the brief time I spent running for the U.S. House Of Representatives, I vocally spoke in favor of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered rights and promised that I would do what I could to help end “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and repeal DOMA, should I make it to office. So, then, why am I not celebrating today as millions are elated by the news that the Supreme Court has struck down key elements of the Defense Of Marriage Act and paved the way for gay, lesbian, and bisexuals to marry?

Because history has provided us with more than enough information to illustrate that today’s ruling is not the end of the fight and, odds are, there are worse things in the store for the gay, lesbian, and bisexual community coming for the next few decades.

Sorry, there it is, that’s me and this is the dark cloud moment. If you don’t believe me, just ask a woman who wants an abortion in Mississippi.

How are the two related? It’s simple; after every major Civil Rights ruling by the Supreme Court, the affected group has gotten lazy and their supporters feel like their work is done and they move on to their next cause. After almost every major Civil Rights ruling, Congress fails to follow the Constitutionally prescribed remedy when a law is determined to be unconstitutional, which is to pass a new law. That is why, after the slaves were freed, the United States suffered through a reactionary Reconstruction and decades of heinous actions in the years of legally sanctified segregation. That is why, after forty years, when talking about abortion rights, we still refer to Roe V. Wade instead of the Abortion Rights Protection Act.

After the Supreme Court determined that women have a right to privacy under the 14th Amendment and that right to privacy extends to their right to have an abortion, there was . . . no successful follow-up. In fact, the Equal Rights Amendment failed . . . and women and liberals gave up on trying again to pass it. In the years since, states have worked to undermine the rights acknowledged in that ruling and now many have laws that specifically undermine a woman’s ability to get an abortion in those states.

So, while most liberals, gays, lesbians, sensible conservatives, and others who value civil rights are celebrating today, I am not. Right now, throughout the United States, there are conservative think tanks with obscene amounts of money who have their legal teams combing over the language of the decision in United States v. Windsor. Those lawyers are hired to draft laws for every state where conservatives think they can get enough support which will dismantle the ability for gays, lesbians, and transgendered people to marry or have their marriages from other states legally acknowledged at the state level. You will see such laws by 2014 when the Tea Party will use them to win votes and Congressional seats and the fight will be that much harder to win.

I will celebrate when the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered Civil Rights movement proves me wrong and organizes enough to stop history from repeating itself yet again and gets an Equal Rights Amendment passed.

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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