Monthly Archives: October 2007

The DNC Debate in Philadelphia: Horse Race

Tim Russert: Welcome one and all to Philadelphia. It is a beautiful day here at the racetrack. The sun is shining, there’s a little briskness from a fall breeze, and the candidates are parading around the track before the race begins.

Brian Williams: Yes, Tim. All the candidates seem to be getting ready for quite a race tonight. It should be fun to watch. Please put the white board away, Tim. It’s not election night yet.

Tim: I sorry.  I just get so excited.

Brian: Right. Anyway, on a sadder note, last night, candidate Mike Gravel was brought out back a shot prior to today’s race. Apparently, he hasn’t been performing as expected. That’s always a tough decision for any owner to make, isn’t it Tim?

Tim: Yes it is, but his owner, Tim Robbins, also owns candidate Dennis Kucinich and has decided to not continue Gravel’s suffering. A brave decision, I think.

Brian: On that note, let’s introduce the remaining candidates. Starting in the far left stall will be Chris Dodd. Chris was born and raised in Connecticut and is an underdog in this race. Unfortunately, because Dodd was born in Connecticut, he seems to face an affliction many inbred CT candidates face and often runs in circles. Dodd’s manager is really going to have to rein him in.

Tim: To Dodd’s right will be Biden and then ….Edwards! Look at that hair! I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a beautiful head of hair on candidate since JFK.

Brian: Well, Edwards did get into a bit of trouble a few weeks ago when the press got wind that his trainer spent $400 a pop on cutting his hair. It does look flawless though.

Tim: We’ll see if he musses it up a bit in the upcoming race. Next to Edwards is the indomitable Clinton. She stands a bit taller than all the boys. Oh, and is that, yes, it’s her husband, the two-time winner The Bill Clinton, standing in the shadows behind her. He was much more of a force earlier on in her training, but he appears to have backed off.

Brian: There were some early indications that this might be an ugly race especially for Madam Clinton. I mean, if you look closely, you can already see candidates Edwards and Obama stepping on her toes in the starter gate. We’ll see what becomes of this.

Tim: And speaking of Obama, he is up next to Clinton. Obama, an early favorite in these races, has come up disappointing. He has trailed Mrs. Clinton and has come in second in almost every race. He can’t seem to get that final push as the end of the race to push himself past the push reigning debate queen’s push. Right, Brian?

Brian: Candidate Obama has a tough choice to make during this race. Will he remain safely behind Clinton and try to ride her coattails to a position in her administration or does he come out, teeth biting and feet kicking, and try to take down the bitch?

Tim: We shall see. Looks like they’re getting ready to go with Kucinich and Richardson to the right of Clinton….AND THEY’RE OFF!

Brian: Oh no! In a tough break for Tim Robbins’ camp as Kucinich is distracted by an unidentified flying object and wanders off the track in search of it.

Tim: It’s always a shame to see a candidate beat himself like this.

Brian: The rough housing against Clinton has seemed to continue as Edwards and Obama have flanked her and are pushing against her on either side. She’s definitely fighting back though!

Tim: Yes, she is. Clinton has proven again and again that she can out run any of these guys in a one-on-one race. However, I don’t know how she’ll keep her stamina up with these two fellow candidates pounding her from either side. Not to mention, the Republicans, who had a race earlier, are throwing cups and food at her from the sidelines.

Brian: This is definitely getting ugly, Tim.

Tim: Brian! Why did you just throw a cup at Clinton???

Brian: Oh, I didn’t even realize. Just got caught up in the moment. Anyway, the candidates go around the bend. It’s Clinton up front followed immediately by Obama and Edwards. Richardson is trailing a little behind with Biden and Dodd taking up the rear. Kucinich is now in the woods singing a folk song about Energy policy.

Tim: And what is this? I can’t believe what I’m witnessing. It appears that Richardson has crept up behind Clinton and is…is…

Brian: He is licking her asshole.

Tim: Uh, yeah! I think that’s called a rimjob.

Brian: Apparently, he has already conceded. Actually, I don’t even think Clinton notices. In another note, Biden seems to be yelling. Did you notice that, Tim?

Tim: Yes, Brian. He’s been yelling for sometime now about “Iran” and “Experience” and no one really seems to be listening…  So they’re around the final bend now. Biden is skipping now and Dodd has starting smoking some of his “legalized” marijuana. He slowed down considerably since he started doing that.

Brian: That shit’ll mess you up.

Tim: Yes, indeed, Brian. So it’s Clinton, Edwards and Obama up front now. And oh my God! Clinton stumbles! Eliot Spitzer runs aimlessly onto the track and falls under her feet! THIS IS SO EXCITING!!!

Brian: Calm down, Tim! Anyway, Clinton stumbles. This is a chance for Obama or Edwards to catch up. They’re running…..oh no. They seem to be running into each other so much that they’re slowing each other down. Clinton has gotten up and just sprinted around them aaaaaaaaand Clinton wins.

Tim: Now that was an exciting end to this race!

Brian: You have some goo on your lapel, Tim. From all of us here at NBC, thanks for watching and we’ll see you at the next race.

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Especially You, HedonismBot! – Scratch #5

hedonism_bot.jpgTroegs is an utterly fantastic brewery in Harrisburg, PA, which is about 90 minutes or so from Philadelphia, with a reasonable amount of speeding and light traffic.  I’ve never actually been there, but I can find the brewery on a map, and, like, I’ve had the beers before, so I’m pretty confident in everything I’ve said so far. 

Troegs makes a number of excellent and popular beers.  Their Christmas beer, Naked Elf, is a spicy, big ale, and worth a try next to a fireplace.  Ya know, instead of hot chocolate.  Their Troegenator Doppelbock won an award at the Great American Beer Festival this year, and is probably on par, in quality, with Ayinger’s celebrated Celebrator Doppelbock.  Their Nugget Nectar is something of a legendary superhopped amber ale, especially since a local bar had the stuff on a hand pump, and it was pouring with unrivaled creamy smoothness.  As a bonus, almost all their beers can be had at reasonable prices, so this is a brewery to treasured, their beers to be hoarded and consumed greedily by grateful masses. 

The brewery was founded by two brothers, Chris and John Trogner (according to the website, Trogner, combined with kroeg, the Flemish word for pub, yielded Troeg).  Before starting the brewery, the brothers, obviously, had a significant interest in craft beer drinking, and as such, they would try different beers, making notes upon them, and then try to emulate the styles they liked as homebrewers.  Those early, homebrew recipes are what led to the Troegs Brewing Company.  This year, the 10th birthday for Troegs, the brothers decided to release a series of one-off beers, called the Scratch Beer Series.  Each beer would be made from one of their early homebrewing recipes.  The 5th Scratch beer was released last weekend at their 10th Anniversary Celebration.  The first four Scratch beers (1 – Steam beer, 2 – porter, 3 – tripel, 4 – barleywine), were so well received and the anniversary party so anticipated, that it was expected that Scratch #5 would sell out before the day was over. 

I could not go to the party, as I had plans in the afternoon, but was planning to get up early, drive to Harrisburg, pick up a case of the stuff from their bottleshop, and then drive back home to Philly–3 hours of driving for one case of beer.  However, things beyond my control waylaid my plans, and it was assumed that Scratch #5 was lost forever.  

And then, thankfully, a local bottle shop sent out their weekly email to let me know that they had, in stock, Scratch 5, and shortly thereafter I appeared to buy four of them. 

So, is there any point in telling you about this beer?  It was, in all likelihood, a one-off.  It’s a beer made a brewery that only distributes in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and Virginia.  So, only you readers in one of five states even have a chance of finding it, and even then, your chance is small.  So, no, there’s probably no point.  But in the hope that they do this again next year, I’ll tell you: Scratch #5 is a fantastic beer.

I sat drinking it last night, flipping back and forth between Houseand the Democratic Presidential Debate, which was happening in Philadelphia, at Drexel University.  Mrs Thursday was on a nearby chair, battling flu, and going through tissues at a prodigious rate.  Brother Goose was lying on the couch, his cheek swollen from having wisdom teeth removed, and his face swollen from an allergic reaction to medicine given to him by the dentist.  Everyone was miserable, except for me.  Scratch 5 is an oatmeal stout.  I don’t know the alcohol content, but I can tell you, you can’t taste it.  The beer is black and opaque, and it smells sickly sweet, like an oatmeal raisin cookie.  The beer feels heavy in the glass.  Much heavier than expected.  The taste isn’t nearly so sweet as the smell, but some natural oatmeal sweetness comes through, anyway.  The beer is thick like heavy cream, with just a touch of bitterness at the end, which doesn’t linger.  It’s an utterly fantastic beer.  I hope they make it again.

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Mr. Thursday’s Book Shelf 9: Birds Without Wings

Mr. Thursday’s Book Shelf: Birds Without Wings

Written by Louis De Bernieres (better known for Corelli’s Mandolin and Nicholas Cage), this is the complementary story of a small, Turkish town’s identity in the face of a new brand new Turkish state. The consequences of World War I, the ascension of Ataturk, and the fall of the Ottoman Empire reflect upon this broken town of Eskibahce in southwestern Anatolia.

The story revolves around Eskibahce (Garden of Eden) and its residents. Muslim Turks and Christians of Greek descent live harmoniously in this out-of-the-way town. Although their religious differences are apparent, it is a regular occurrence for the Muslim women to approach their Christian friends and ask them to pray for them to the Virgin Mary. In the story of Philothei, the most beautiful Greek girl in the village, and Ibrahim the Mad, their religious differences make no difference to the lovers or their families. They are simply a good match.

With the start of World War I and the proclamation of a holy jihad, Muslim boys from the town must march off to war as their Christian friends remain behind to either be sent to work camps or to become out-laws and bandits in the countryside. Bernieres’ description of war electrifies and horrifies. The horrors of trench warfare are illustrated brilliantly and eloquently. Told from a first-person perspective (either experiencing it currently or through recollection) lends to a fuller understanding of the experiences.

Additionally, De Bernieres follows the story of Mustapha Kemal (Ataturk) and his rise through the ranks of the Ottoman military until he becomes the Father of Turkey. He never speaks through Kemal in first-person instead using his own omniscient voice, but he uses fictional village people, merchants, and artisans to express how the international and domestic power struggles affected life on the Anatolian Peninsula.

However, for me, the stories of individual struggles, which are expertly woven together, is the treat of this novel. Rustem Bey, the kindly but proud aristocrat of Eskibahce, and the conflict between his adulterous wife, Tamara, and his “Circassian” mistress, Leyla, is exceptional. The tensions of a man with financial stability and preeminence but who simply wants the true love of a woman is tragic. The appeal for true love is a universal theme. De Bernieres’ understanding of the human condition is the foundation of his expertly crafted prose.

Would I recommend this book? I’m not sure. It is a very slow burner, and it takes a significant number of pages before the plot gets moving.  Nevertheless, Birds Without Wings is a lovely read if you like historical fiction or beautiful prose.

Birds Without Wings
Louis De Bernieres
Paperback: 576 Pages
Vintage Publishing

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Foot & Meter: ISLAMOFASCISM

footmeter.jpgIn Which We Explain Ourselves

Yes, yes, I know. Islamofascism is a word that became popular 4 years ago and is already dated, irrelevant, and gathering mildew in the dank basement of some aging linguist. I know. But (there is always a “but”), I just learned that last week was Islamofascism Awareness Week, ya know, somewhere, and this allows me to talk about two (or three, depending on how you count) of my favorite subjects: Language (specifically in relation to the fantastic word Islamofascism), and the one-and-only Rick Santorum.

For those of you who aren’t from ’round here, or just don’t follow politics, Rick Santorum used to be a US Senator from Pennsylvania. He was wildly insane. Well, he’s still alive, and I’d imagine he’s still insane, but, politicians who aren’t re-elected are a much more benign sort of crazy, and, frankly, I stopped paying attention to him. And then, this morning, I found the most wonderful thing while trolling the Tubes. Crazy-Pants former Senator Rick Santorum was scheduled, to speak about Islamofascism at Temple University, Penn Sate, and UPenn last week. If I had known about this, I might have gone. Really.

Islamofascism is a compound word, of course, gracefully compounding one of the world’s most populous religions, Islam, and Benito Mussolini’s coinage, fascism. So, we’ll have some fun and deal with “Islam”, with “fascism”, and then finally, we’ll have a whiz-bang conclusion with Rick Santorum and “Islamofascism”.

Islam

Islam is a word derived from the Arabic word “salaam”. Salaam, like many Arabic words, doesn’t have an easy translation to English, but is most commonly interpreted as “peace”. Another nuance of this word’s meaning, though, reveals that “submission” is a possible translation, as in “submission to God”. Thus, a Muslim is one who “submits to God”, and Islam is a religion of “submission to God”. The religion, historically, dates back to the 7th century, AD, and we can assume that “Islam”, in some form, appeared at the time.

Fascism

Fascism is, as mentioned already, a creation of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. The word comes from the Latin “fasces”. A fasces was the symbol of authority of the highest level of Roman magistrate. It consisted of a bundle of sticks, bound tightly together, and amongst the sticks rested an axe, as in the picture on the right.

Fascism, of course, is a system of government–sorta–in which individual opinions, desires, and rights are suppressed at the expense of the will of a dictator. In the most effective fascist states, nationalism is promoted to a feverish pitch, which creates a heavy and violent bias against foreign nationalities, religions, and creeds. Despite Mussolini’s coinage, Adolf Hitler is most frequently cited when discussion of fascism and fascist dictators crop up.

Because Hitler and the Nazi party are most frequently used in discussion of fascism, some distortion has occurred in the word’s meaning. Hitler, of course, is known less for his elevation of Germany (out of economic depression and into status as a world power), and for the nationalism and national pride he inspired in his people, and far more for World War II and the Holocaust.

This chain, connecting fascism to Hitler and Hitler to dictatorial mass violence, leads to a colloquial connection between overt, mass violence and fascism. That is, there is currently an implication that the end product of fascism is violence, whereas originally violence was either a side-effect.

Islamofascism

So, sometime after 9/11, some newspaper writer started trying to find a good and succinct way to talk about the Islamic terrorists who crashed airplanes into buildings.  During the Polish coup of 1981, Susan Sonstag used a phrase that would become famous: “fascism with a human face”.  This phrase was co-opted by Christopher Hitchens, an Atlantic Monthly writer, as “fascism with an Islamic face” to describe the attackers.  Over the next 2 or 3 years, this became the staggering “Islamic fascism”, and then became the better flowing but aesthetically mediocre “Islamo-fascism”, and then, finally, Islamofascism.

This word gained a lot use by war supporters, as it gave a name to the enemy.  The war opponents, naturally, just want the Islamofascists to win.  Or something.  Rick Santorum, kickass insane Senator, advocated on behalf of the War on Islamofascism.  As with everything, however, there was backlash.

Islam–devotion to God–is a religion of peace.  So says Mohammed, and so says every prominent Muslim with 2 minutes on cable network news in the early years of the current war.  Thus, creating a word that unites a religion of peace with a fundamentally violent form of government was, at a basic level, self-contradictory.  At a grander level, it’s terribly offensive.  Those Muslims who completely believe in the peaceful nature of their beliefs were appalled to find the US government using the name of Islam to describe a violent group of heretics.

Naturally, because of this, President Bush and most other war supporters dropped its usage.  Newstations reported that the Republican party was quietly telling its members to stop using the phrase.  Undaunted, however, was Rick Santorum.

Islamofascism was a lousy word to describe the enemy because it’s not an enemy.  During WWII, the Germans were the enemy.  For the Romans, the Carthagians were the enemy.  For us, the ambiguously unidentifiable Islamofascists were the enemy.  No good, at all.

I don’t know if Islamofascism Awareness Week will come around again next year, or if it was just a one-time thing, but here’s hoping that Santorum can stay as keynote speaker for years to come.

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The Nature of Criticism

John Darnielle recently penned a post on Last Plane to Jakarta which, in turn, was a response to a post Jess Harvell on Idolator which, in its own right, was a response to the multitudinous posts on music blogs praising the glory of the Black Kids, a band that I’ve never heard of. So, just so we know where we stand, the forthcoming post is a response to a response to response to a bunch of statements that I can neither refute nor confirm. Let’s roll.

Both posts deal with criticism–especially music criticism, and most especially online amateur music criticism. Apparently, quite a few blogs (I will not look them up, but I would wager Stereogum and Pitchfork are fine places to start for the more interested), have praised an EP by a band called the Black Kids (maybe The Black Kids, or just Black Kids). I don’t know what they sound like, at all, as the iTunes store doesn’t sell them, and I gave up stealing music once I got a job. They might be great, they might be shit, and it would seem likely that they fall somewhere in between. Given that, to the best of my knowledge, this is their first album, and that the band is composed of fairly young fellows, it’s probably poorly played, poorly produced, and shows that the band has potential to be something special. This makes them very similar to uncounted legions of bands in the US today.

So, music blogs went off about the Black Kids, apparently calling them brilliant or fantastic or the best new band since The Clash, and thus, we have the reaction of Jess Harvell. Harvell astutely points out that the indie music community, in the form of blogs, is insatiable in its appetite for the next big band. Everyone wants to find and declare the genius of “Black Sunrise” before anyone else does. There’s a pride element at work here. Who wouldn’t love to have heard the Beatles before “Please Please Me” was released? Harvell suggests, that, maybe, the music lovin’ online community should slow down with all the hosannas. Not just with the Black Kids, but with all new bands. Most of them aren’t brilliant, and they’re not shit, either, and music reviews should represent that.

Darnielle’s response takes this last idea one step further. Since, after all, reviews are mostly a subjective process, the best reviews shouldn’t aspire to proclaim greatness or inferiority. They should, instead, aspire to accurately describe the music they hear. If that can be done, then the description alone will render the review as positive or negative to the individual reader. No scores or grades, just a clear and appreciate recollection of an album.

Now, this sort of philosophy is at work, to a degree, with the infrequent music reviews done on this site, with the Sine Macula series. The idea behind the series has been to review nothing new–not new to the world, and most certainly not new to me. If had hadn’t owned an album for at least a year, it wasn’t eligible for Sine Macula. This was an effort to curb a misguided enthusiasms for novelties, and for things that declined with repeated experiences–as well as for things that improved with age, so to speak.

This method has been somewhat limiting.  I mostly review music you’ve already heard of because I want to be certain of my reviews, so I take my time listening to the music before I form my opinion.  I like this philosophy though, for not just music crit, but for movies and books and all forms of art.  And so we shall adopt it–farewell to superlatives, and hello to description.  Hopefully, you’ll get a sense of what something is about, what it looks like, what it sounds like, and that alone will be enough to tell you whether to try it for yourself.

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So Much For That

In the late innings of last night’s game, it looked like I was going to have some worthwhile baseball to write about here.  The Colorado Rockies, down 6-0 in Game 3 of the World Series, made a comeback, scoring 5 runs in the 6th and 7th innings to enter the final two frames only down by a run.  They had gotten to Mike Timlin, a reliable, though aged Red Sox reliever, as well as Hideki Okajima, who has been outstanding all year long.

And then, Brian Fuentes couldn’t hold the line, and suddenly, the score was looking more like the blowout from Game 1 than the nailbiter from Game 2.

The Rockies are outclassed and, for the first time in a month, unlucky.  It happens.  As any fan who has witnessed his favorite team waste in the bottom of the standings, as well as soaring, only to fall just short.  Losing 90 in the regular season hurts a lot more than losing 4 in the World Series.

Every year, when the playoffs roll around, I look at the teams, and wonder if there’s anyone worth rooting for.  I’m never that passionate about it.  I usually root for team who have players I like or who haven’t won in a long time (or at all), or even because I have friends who root for that team.  If they lose, I’m only slightly disappointed, and if they win, I’m modestly pleased.

More than anything, though, I root for competition, in the postseason.  I will take as many Game 7s as possible.  I will take starting pitchers having to work out of the bullpen.  Pinch hit home runs.  Late inning stolen bases.  Outfielders throwing runners out at home and third.  Good, fun, baseball.

Well, I have to say, assuming the Red Sox win today (or even if they lose today, but win Game 5), this has been the worst postseason since the 1994 strike that I can remember.  I don’t remember if any postseasons in the wildcard era featured fewer games (that is, more sweeps), but every affair seemed lopsided.

For all it’s reputation, Philadelphia can be a surprisingly nuanced sports crowd.  In big games, during baseball season, when the game is over or almost over, and the Phillies are losing, there will be generally one of two reactions present.  The crowd will boo, or cheer politely.  If the crowd boos–especially if the crowd boos lustily–it’s because they’re mad and disappointed, and believe that the Phillies could have done better, played better.  If they cheer politely, it’s because they’ve given up, and are thanking the team for the season.

I was at Game 2 of the Phillies-Rockies series, a 10-5 shellacking at the hands and bats of the Rockies.  It was what appeared to be the final home game of the Phillies season.  If, in the final innings, with the Phillies losing, the crowd has booed, it would mean the fans believed there could be another game in Phillie–Game 5 of the series.   If the crowd cheered, clapped, or showed kind appreciation, it means we, the fans, had given up on the season.  Instead, we sat stunned.  We filed out in silence.  We were like zombies.  Numbed by the deadness of the competition in the series.

I can only imagine that’s how Rockies fans feel right now.  How Yankees fans felt (if Yankee fans are capable of that kind of emotion).  How Angel fans felt.  How Diamondback and Cub fans felt.  Only the Indians were eliminated on competitive terms, and even then, they were the losers in the dramatic 7 game series in my memory.

That’s the way the ball bounces, sometimes.  And, of course, there’s always next year.

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Do They All Die? 14: LARS AND THE REAL GIRL

dtat.jpgLars and the Real Girl has, on the surface, almost nothing that would interest me.  It’s a movie directed by Craig Gillespie, who, according to IMDB has previously done nothing, although he also sat at the helm of Mr Woodcock, which I haven’t seen, but appeared to be your run of the mill bad dick-joke Billy Bob Thornton doing-it-for-the-paycheck kind of comedy.  The screenplay was written by Nancy Oliver, who also wrote for Six Feet Under, which was a television program on HBO or Showtime or some premium channel that I’ve never owned.  I’m sure it’s delightful, though.

The title character, Lars, is played by Ryan Gosling, who starred in The Notebook, which, again, I haven’t seen but it was based on a short novel too terrible to complete.  Mama Thursday–a sucker for the sappy stuff, God bless her–loves the book.  I can’t speak to whether she saw or enjoyed the film, however.  Otherwise, Gosling has been in The United States of Leland (which looked enjoyable) and Murder by Numbers (which looked intolerable).  I had no reason to expect much from Mr Gosling.  Co-starring are Emily Mortimer (British, but only vaguely familiar), Paul Schneider (totally unfamiliar), Kelli Garner (almost totally unfamiliar), and Patricia Clarkson (excellent in Good Night and Good Luck).  Oh, and a sex doll.

So, obviously, the only thing the movie had going for it, for me, was the excellent trailer.  A movie featuring a sex doll as girlfriend would, normally, seem to act as a vehicle for a bevy of bad dick-jokes, which, as indicated before in regards to Mr Woodcock, are not my thing.   The movie’s trailer had some heart, and humor, and character, and so to the theater we went to check it out.

Lars Lindstrom lives in his garage.  He and his brother Gus (Schneider) inherited their northern Wisconsin house from their father when he died.  Upon the inheritance, Gus and his wife Karin (Mortimer) move in, and Lars chooses to move into the garage, by himself.  He keeps to himself, constantly, despite the efforts of Karin to get him involved in the house–inviting him to meals whenever she can intercept him on the way from his car to the garage door.  Lars despises physical contact, and runs, literally runs, away from anyone who shows him any kind of warmth.  He leaves the house only to go to church, and to work.

One day, Lars, unexpectedly, comes to the front door of the house, and tells both Gus and Karin that he has a visitor, and that this visitor, a girl, does not speak much English and is confined to a wheelchair, so if they could try to be considerate of all that, he’d appreciate it.  Naturally, Gus and Karin, thinking that Lars had finally reached out to another human being, are stunned to find that a member of their family has entirely lost his mind.

Consulting the local doctor and psychologist, Dagmar (Clarkson), Gus and Karin learn that Lars has a delusion, and that he has this delusion as a way for his mind to work out some kind of problem.  The only thing they can really do for Lars, is to help him by going along with the delusion.  And so, they do so, and they get the entire town to help.

I really adored this movie.  There is definite drama and humor, but there are no villains, and no wacky Will Ferrell/Jack Black types popping up.  In that sense, the movie reminds me of real life.  However, the tightknit community that helps Lars out, that, to me, is less like the way the world really is, and more like the way the world should be.  And that’s what this movie is about.

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