Sunday, January 24, 2010


Are you a “drive-by” reader? Do you check in here at random intervals, never knowing when something new might be posted? Do you ever wonder who those mysterious “Constant Readers” are?

If so, you might want to consider joining the UPI news group, also known as the “subscriber’s list”. All you have to do is send an e-mail to Uncle Possum—the link is in my profile in the right-hand column—and you will be added to the UPI news group. You won’t win a free car or anything, but you will receive e-mail notifications when new articles are posted, and you will occasionally be invited to participate in polls like the one just below. All names are held in confidence, it’s absolutely free, and you can cancel at any time by simply sending a second e-mail requesting removal from the list. I don’t sell names or send out chain letters, and this isn’t a social network, but many of the Constant Readers are acquainted with each other.

So, if you’d like to join the elite group of rational-thinking Constant Readers at United Possums International, let us hear from you today. This is an open offer with no time limits or silly constraints, and will reappear here periodically. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The People Speak

As we close out the week by marking the first year of Barack Obama’s presidency with the first annual UPI Presidential Performance Poll, I want to say a few words about the January 19th special election in the People’s Republic of Massachusetts.

I feel like The Revolution began last Tuesday. Over the past year, I had privately voiced speculations that armed insurrection in America was not out of the question if the current administration continued hell-bent with their socialistic policies that were threatening to turn us into a modern version of Germany’s pre-Hitler Weimar Republic. The notion is outlandish at first blush, but despite the Great Electoral Hoodwink of 2008 and the apathetic indolence that has engulfed us for most of the last 30 years, the American people will only accept so much before we respond. I plan to spend the next ten months reminding anyone who cares to listen that we can take our country back from the lying, corrupt, unresponsive weasels in Washington, beginning with the mid-term elections in November. Last Tuesday was the opening shot, and it was fired not on the barricades in the streets, but at the ballot box. The irony of this event taking place in the state where “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World” was literally fired in 1776 should not be lost upon anyone. The fact that Scott Brown—a Republican “nobody”—could reclaim Ted Kennedy’s “legacy seat” in the U.S. Senate in a state where only 11% of the voters are registered Republicans sends a message that cannot be ignored. Fear, loathing and anger at the new bosses was simmering in the public consciousness, and it boiled over the first time the polls opened with an opportunity for rational expression of that displeasure. Unlike so many Third World banana republics, we don’t need tanks and burning tires in the street to change aspects of our government that we don’t like. Our votes are sacrosanct, and sufficient.

In a poll taken after the Massachusetts election, 72% of the respondents said that this was more than a local decision on filling a vacant Senate seat; it was a national referendum on the performance of Those People under the messianic leadership of President Obama’s cult of personality. I would have to be counted in that majority. Something profound happened that is hard to put into words. As I put it to Miz Possum the next morning: “I feel like…well, you’ve seen it in countless movies. The car goes out of control, through the guardrail, and is teetering on the edge of the cliff. I feel like we’ve been pulled back from the brink of some precipice.” (That’s verbatim; I occasionally really speak that way.)

The Kennedy dynasty in Massachusetts, while still extant, is shattered. More importantly, the Red Herring’s stranglehold on Congress is broken. We’re not out of the woods yet, but it is the beginning of the restoration of representative government in America. Unfortunately, the lesson of the importance of responsive government seems completely lost on Those People. The Manchurian Candidate, in a post-election interview, compared the anger of the people in Massachusetts to the disaffection that propelled him into office, and in the same breath blamed George W. Bush for sparking that anger. A friend from the Midwest called Wednesday morning to tell me about the denial taking place at NBC’s “Today Show”, which was apparently not reporting the election results at all, as though they would go away if they were not spoken of.

Anyone who has seen any archival footage of War II in the Pacific is familiar with the analogy I want to offer: the Japanese kamikaze pilots diving to their deaths through a hail of gunfire. That was how I pictured Those People—the Democrats—in their frenzy to foist “healthcare reform” and their big-government policies upon us. Like the Japanese pilots, they knew they were diving to their destruction, but they continued their downward spiral with gritted teeth and white knuckles. Now, the few remaining sensible Democrats have pulled their noses up, throttled back their engines, and headed for home. They don’t want to crash and burn with the fanatics, so they are beginning to get crossways with their own ideologues. These moderates may get re-elected, and America can continue to have a representative two-party system of responsive government.

I certainly hope this is the case. Spirited debate and bipartisanship for the common good is the essence of good leadership. The arrogant abuse of absolute power and dismissal of the needs and desires of the people is what keeps dictators in power. Congress is where the laws are made, and if abuse of power is taking place under the laws of the land, it is time to change the laws and the law-makers. Our opportunity to reverse the current sad state of America comes this fall, and I hope everyone reading this will take advantage of it.

Gallup and Rasmussen have their polling bases; United Possums has ours. Unlike the professional pollsters, the UPI demographic is small and unscientific. I think the UPI Constant Readers represent a decent cross-section of the American public, and their opinions illustrate the sentiments of the public at large. My poll was simple: four questions about the president’s first year in office, and the results thereof. Of the polls sent out, I received a 35% response, which is better than a lot of election turn-outs. I want to thank everyone who played along at home. You know who you are, and your comments were enlightening. Every form had a comment section, and those are presented unedited below the formal results. This was a serious and honest poll, and the responses have not been altered in any way. The poll form is in its original format, and the “X” answers in the provided spaces are mine, added after the blanks were sent. The comments are all those of Constant Readers. Enough said; here ya go:

1. Personally, are you:
( ) better off than this time last year? - 7%
( ) worse off than last year? - 58%
(X) about the same as last year? - 35%

2. Overall, do you consider America to be:
( ) better off than this time last year? - 0%
(X) worse off than last year? - 79%
( ) about the same as last year? - 21%

3. Do you believe that President Obama has fulfilled/lived up to his campaign promises?
( ) Pretty much 0%
( ) Somewhat - 21%
(X) Not at all - 79%

4. Regarding the president's actions and policies during the past year, do you:
( ) Strongly approve
( ) Somewhat approve - 7%
( ) Somewhat disapprove
(X) Strongly disapprove - 93%

Comments (150 words or less, please):

• We are heading toward Socialism. Obama's agenda must be stopped. Cap and Trade, and Obamacare must be stopped. Thank God for Scott Brown. I hope he turns out to be a true conservative. Newt will be the best candidate in 2012. Sarah can't win. Let her be the cheerleader...Newt is the smartest of the whole bunch.

• Obama has proven to be about what I expected. I'd hoped that the lousy state of the economy might slow down his socialistic policies, but apparently not.

• I wish Obama had stood up more to the GOP bullies in Congress and pushed more of his agenda through, the way Bush pushed his bullshit through. But unlike W, Obama actually respects the law.

• President Obama is just a sock puppet, controlled by more intelligent, but evil, minds. He is a petty, vindictive small minded man. He is filled with self-pity and totally egotistical. He never takes responsibility for any of his actions, but is always right there if praise is being handed out. He is a laughing-stock to the world, and is too stupid to realize it. He has placed the United States in the most dangerous situation we have faced, since the Russians put missiles in Cuba. The Trials in New York City will place that whole state into incredible peril.

• Obama is an idiot. 'Nuff said.

• I consider ourselves better off because of our own management (not from any outside source) – we got totally out of debt two months ago – preparing for possible job loss. Regarding the country, we are moving further away from our Constitutional form of government and it is because Obama has done exactly as he said he would do. He promised socialism and that is what he is giving us.

• Mr. Obama is an unmitigated disaster proving, as I've been saying the last two years, that he's nothing but an empty suit with a gift from reading from a teleprompter. He's an ever present danger and menace to the American Republic and it's compounded by the fact socialist Democrats are wanting to turn America into a velvet gulag to their liking. Ineffective nanny government at its worst despite the high-minded intentions of Democrats.

• 1. Personally, worse off than last year because of a huge cut in salary--not necessarily Obama's fault.
2. Nation is worse off because of more debt, more corruption, and bribery.
3. He promised change, but what change? So my answer is that I don't like the change, fear the changes, and believe the constitution has been ignored, destroyed.
4. Strongly disapprove of debt, delay in troops, appointment of czars, taking over companies, ARROGANT attitude, corruption, and thuggery.

• Obama ran as a stealth candidate, pretending to be a centrist/independent and banking on the historic nature of his race to win the independent vote. He then governed from his true leftwing ideology; "full speed ahead before they recognize I'm not that guy". We're starting to recognize him.

• I live in the sinking black hole of SE Michigan (I think the unemployment rate in my county is over 20%). Although I don't blame Obama for getting us here (that goes straight to Jennifer "Ol' Moley Face" Grandholm), his policies since election HAS made it worse. Who in their right mind thinking of starting or expanding a business would hire anyone these days? With the future unknowns of additional fines, taxes and mandates from the Federal government on health care, energy and forced/sneaky possible unionization, no smart business person would.

• I feel that Obama has lived up to the promises that he intended to keep from the beginning - not everything he promised during the campaign. He's too wishy washy. He needs to grow a backbone and get some things accomplished rather than playing peacemaker among all the other politicians.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

"They" win!

I had to change my life last week. It was a relatively mundane change, and after I relate the circumstances, sensible readers will ask “Why didn’t you do it sooner?”

Please allow me to elaborate.

In the first place, in this particular regard, I had no desire to change my life. Since I was a boy, I have subscribed to my dad’s philosophy of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Being blessed with an eidetic memory, I can still recall the phone number I grew up with in Atlanta. I can still dial the number our family had in Woodstock for 30 years. Until last week, I could recite the number I have had here in The Possum Den for the last eleven years with only one “uh” preceding it.

I have written here in the past about my warm, close personal friends, the Hindu telemarketers. About seven years ago, Miz Possum filled a single prescription through an online pharmacy. She never got a refill, and quickly found other economically feasible ways to obtain the medications she required. However, our number got into an online database, and all Hell started from there.

Beginning in mid-2003, people started calling The Possum Den asking to speak with her. These people had funny Indian accents, and often referred to “her prescriptions [as being] ready.” Since Miz Possum had gotten into the wind in the fall of that year, I began telling the callers that she didn’t live there, and requesting they remove my number from their database.

The calls continued. I tried being polite. Then I began asking for supervisors, and was told several times “I am the supervisor.” I kept telling them to drop my number from their database, and received a mixture of promises to do so, and dead-air-blank non-replies. The calls continued, sometimes three or four per day as the end of the month approached. I resorted to rudeness, then profanity as they persisted. Often I hung up wordlessly. Nothing worked.

In 2004, a friend suggested I sign on at the Federal “Do-Not-Call” registry. I went to their website, read all the fine print, and did so. One of the two loopholes in the registry was that—at the time—if you had ever done business with a company, they had the right to circumvent the rules and continue to call you. (This has since been revised to anyone you have done business with in the past 18 months, but in my case, the damage was done.)

The calls continued unabated. I reverted to being polite, wheedling company names and bogus call-back numbers out of the telemarketers. I wrote these down, and promptly filed complaints at the do-not-call registry [DNCR]. I hoped the other loophole was not as drastic as I interpreted it to be: The DNCR is an adjunct of the Federal Trade Commission; while assuming FTC jurisdiction over telemarketing, the website proclaims that filed complaints will be referred to “local authorities” for “further investigation.” (I read this correctly to mean that nothing would be done.)

Two years later, I gave up filing complaints. I recorded a terse message on my answering machine suggesting that “online drug peddlers hang up now” and took to screening my calls accordingly. The system worked moderately well, but I have that instinctive reflex to answer the phone on the first ring. When the Hindus would stumble onto me, I would ask for the name of their company, and then ask for the spelling. I’d then tell them I wanted my information to be correct when I filed my complaint with the Federal Trade Commission for their violation of the DNCR. They laughed and kept calling.

In 2008, I called a firm—as advertised on TV—called The Scooter Store. The neuropathy in my legs is easily compensated by a standard, no-frills wheelchair, but those power chairs look mighty comfortable. I don’t believe in abusing my health care insurance, but I thought it might be worth taking a swing at one if it could be had for cheap. I called them with a polite inquiry. They asked me for a minor profile—things like my full name, address, verification of my disability, etc.—and I conducted business with a sales rep after several assurances that data collected on me was safeguarded and would go no further. It turned out that I did not qualify for the power chair. I thanked the sales rep for his time, told him perhaps we could do business in the future, and hung up. End of story…right?

Three days later, a man with a Hindu accent called The Possum Den and asked for me by my full name. Now, this is important: I never give my middle name out. It is not on my checks, any of my bank or credit cards, and nowhere online. Yet, out of nowhere, this guy calls and asks for me by my full Christian name.

Instantly wary, I asked him what he wanted. He told me he was with some [bogus name] health care service, and was going to “get me a power chair.” Abandoning all pretenses, I asked him where he got my name and number. “From your online profile” he replied. “What online profile?” I shot back. “With The Scooter Store,” he said. “We are affiliated with them.”

I flat out told him he was a liar, and in possession of stolen information. He tried to argue the point, but gave up when I told him the information was either hacked by someone and sold to him, hacked by people he worked with, or had been sold to him by a loose-cannon employee of The Scooter Store. I gave him a come-to-Jesus message about losing the data immediately or face investigation by the FTC. I then filed an online complaint with the DNCR and sighed, knowing nothing would result.

Two days later, I received a similar call. We went through the motions again. I then called The Scooter Store, explained the situation, and got through to one of their security people. Ignoring his protestations that their firewalls were superb, I informed him he was hacked or they had a rogue employee. I then asked that my profile be deleted from their database. When he said they routinely keep them for seven years, I asked for a supervisor. My profile was subsequently dropped, and calls directed at me specifically ceased. However, the calls for Miz Possum continued. Her thyroid medicine was ready. Her muscle relaxers were “approved.” Her migraine medicine was ready. I continued to hang up, bluff, or actually file unrequited complaints at the DNCR.

Starting a few weeks ago, just after Christmas, the calls quadrupled in volume. I once again began earnestly keeping a log and filing complaints. The calls were becoming increasingly hostile and aggressive, and began to extend far beyond peddling ersatz prescription drugs.

Okay, shift gears. I can hear it now, as though you are shouting through my computer’s speakers: “WHY DIDN’T YOU CHANGE YOUR PHONE NUMBER?”

This goes partly to that personal philosophy of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but it goes beyond that. Changing my phone number is a change in my life, albeit a mundane one. If I choose to make a change in my life, however minor, I will do it if I consider it worthy. If someone else seeks to induce a change in my life where I consider none to be necessary, I begin to resist. The harder they push, the more I dig in. If a terrorist can force you to change the way you live by the threat of their existence and what they might do, then they win. They don’t need to set their underwear on fire, or topple buildings and kill people. By their very existence, they threaten or intimidate you, and force you to react to a perceived threat. This is the power of Al Qaeda, and to a lesser degree, it is the same dynamic empowering telemarketers.

On Tuesday, 5 Jan 2010—just last week—things came to a head. The second telemarketer of the day called on or about 1310. [1:10 p.m. for you non-military types.] He asked for Miz Possum, and launched into a scripted spiel about “approved prescriptions.” Buying a moment while I reached for pen and paper, I asked him to repeat the name of his company. It was originally “Health Services Network”, but when I asked him to repeat it, he spoke to someone next to him in the room in Hindi—or some unintelligible language—and then told me he was from “Pharmacy RX.” I wrote both down. I took assiduous notes on what followed.

When he launched back into his scripted pitch, I interrupted. “Do you have a callback number?” “Uh, no.” “You’re a legitimate business, but you don’t have a telephone number?” “I, uh, can give you our 800 number…” “Please do,” I implored.

Unbeknownst to him, Miz Possum was listening on the extension. As I wrote the number down, she grabbed her cell phone and punched the number in. She told me later that it was a non-working number. As the man resumed his sales rap, I interrupted again. “Slow down, hoss. Do you have a street address?” “Huh?” “Where are you?” “I am in Denver.” “No, where’s your company located?” After I repeated the question twice, he gave me a bogus address in Corona, California. Then he lit the fuse.

“What do you want this information for?” he asked.

“I want to make sure I have everything correct when I file my complaint with the FTC for your violation of the Do-Not-Call-Registry,” I replied, using my rote response.

He laughed sarcastically, then snarled. “You do that, we will come to your home and shoot you.”

“Excuse me?”

“We will kill you.”

End of fuse. It’s short, and he reached the explosive heart of the matter.

“You ain’t gonna shoot nothing, Buckwheat. That’s a threat.”

“I come to your house, I will f--- your mother, and then I will f--- you. You asshole.”

This is perhaps not the best way to promote your company on the telephone, but it is verbatim. He continued.

“What do you think of that, motherf-----?”

I think I muttered something like “unbelievable!” under my breath. Then I held the receiver out at arms’ length and sounded off in my best drill sergeant voice: “Get off my phone, you heathen Hindu c—ks—er!” and hung up.

Less than thirty seconds later, he called back with more profanity. I hung up instantly. The phone rang again almost immediately. This time, there was silence, but I could hear the ambient background noise of a telemarketing sweatshop. I hung up again. A few moments later, Miz Possum entered the room, crying.

“I stayed on the line for a minute after you hung up on the last one. He said something to somebody next to him, and they laughed.” She dried her eyes, sat down, and told me about the non-working number she’d tried on the first call. “I’m scared,” she said. “Those people are everywhere. He might have friends around here.”

In spite of my seething, I had to laugh. “I don’t think some Hindu with a gun is coming around here, darlin’. Most of them work for a living, running the 7-11 stores or motels or something.” Then I added, “On the other hand, the way I feel right now, I wish one would. I wouldn’t mind killing something about now.”

It was a totally true emotion; an expression of unresolved anger. If someone had talked that way in my face, I wouldn’t be writing this a week after the fact. I’d either be in the hospital or in jail, and my wheelchair would have been no impediment to the fight being on.

After dispensing what comfort and reassurance I could muster, I called the telephone company. The sales rep suggested I activate *77: Anonymous Caller Rejection. Only $3.00 per month, and since telemarketers operate with blocked numbers, it would bounce their calls with a voice message. I cannot make this up: less than five minutes after I activated the gizmo, the phone rang, and a woman with an Indian accent asked me if I was Miz Possum. I murmured “Holy Mother of God” and hung up.

The next morning at 0900, the phone rang, and the same—or a different—Hindu woman asked for Miz Possum. Hanging up without a word, I called the phone company. When I told the service rep the rejection gizmo wasn’t working, she said “Yeah. They unblock their numbers until the line starts ringing, and then reactivate it. They can defeat the application pretty easily.” She suggested I try Caller ID with an enhanced version of the anonymous caller gizmo; only an additional $8.50 per month on the phone bill. I told her to go for it.

At 11:00 that morning, another Hindu called. He didn’t show up on Caller ID or get rejected. I hung up and hit the Internet. I left a message at the DNCR telling them how useless they are. Then I chased their link to the Federal Trade Commission, where I wrote down the chairman’s name and mailing address, and two toll-free numbers: the DNCR “helpline” and the FTC “helpline.” The former turned out to be an automated complaint-filing adjunct to the website; no live people available there. After wading through a horribly frustrating automated menu at the FTC, I finally reached a live bureaucrat who allegedly took my complaint, then informed me that I should contact my state Consumer Protection Agency [CPA] or the Federal Communications Commission. She graciously gave me numbers for both, wished me good luck, and signed off.

I called the Georgia CPA. The clock-watcher there said they had no jurisdiction over out-of-state telemarketers, and offered me the phone numbers for the FTC and the DNCR “help” lines. When I read them back to her faster than she could recite them, she channeled Bill Clinton with an “I feel your pain” homily. I then called the FCC. After another interminable slog through automated menu redirecting—interrupted once by yet another telemarketer on my call waiting—I got a live person who said they have no jurisdiction over telemarketers, and I should call the Federal Trade Commission. I exasperatedly explained that I’d been here, there and everywhere else, whereupon she suggested I call the Department of Justice and hung up.

At wit’s end, I called the phone company back and asked if anything short of an act of Congress or a court order could persuade them to put a pen-register trap on my line. (That’s a technical term for something that cops and other professional wire-tappers can use with great results in tracking telephone numbers.) This time the service rep told me that they have available a “line trace” service [*57] on a per-use basis. If I hit those three keys while the caller is on, it prints out a record of the call at the phone company office. Unlike *69, which will give you an unblocked number occasionally, the service rep said the trace is universal, immune to blocks, but is only available to law enforcement agencies for complaint follow-ups.

I resolved to do this with the next Hindu who called. In the interest of thoroughness, I called the local sheriff’s office, to ascertain if they would follow through on any complaint that I might file with back-up from the phone company. I called the non-emergency number and got a pleasant dispatcher who—judging by the clicking of computer keys—was actually recording my litany of woe.

“That’s terrible,” she said when I finished. “Let me switch you to an investigator.”

I listened to the “brrr” of a phone ringing repeatedly. After a while, a menu kicked in telling me I had reached the detective bureau; for so-and-so press “one”, for so-and-so press “two”; up through four. I chose a name at random and pressed a number, whereupon a phone rang for a while, and I went to voice mail. I hung up and called the non-emergency number to speak with the dispatcher again. Instead, I got an automated menu telling me to hang up and dial 911 if it’s an emergency, or press 2 for the investigators. I did so, chose another name at random, and went to voice mail. I repeated this process twice more, until I had exhausted my options with reaching detectives. Nobody home. This is the same sheriff’s department that refused to investigate an assault I endured in August 2008, and they hushed up a break-in at the civic center last Thanksgiving. No crime in Union County, Georgia occurs unless they say it did.

That was the end of the story. Although it was, by then, late in the afternoon, I managed to raise a live person at the phone company. After reciting my problems one last time, I sighed.

“That’s it,” I said. “I give up. They win.” I then informed her that I wanted to change my telephone number. The service rep was very gracious and helpful; TDS Telecom is a pretty darn good company, and I’ll gladly plug their name here. My number was changed in five minutes, and because of the abuse, the normal service charge and three-day waiting period was waived. TDS is a national company; if you have them as an option to whatever service you currently use, I recommend them.

I now have an unpublished phone number that was easy to memorize. I am re-registered at the Do-Not-Call Registry, for all the good that does. I got rid of the worthless Caller ID and the other gizmo, because I’m old-fashioned and like surprises when I pick up the receiver and utter my monosyllabic “Yes?”

I know this is childish, but I took great delight over the weekend when I called my old phone number and heard the “no-longer-in-service” message. I pictured the Hindus grinding their teeth, and felt less like a loser.

There are two points to this 3,000-word story:

1: The Do-Not-Call Registry—a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Federal Trade Commission—is as useless and impotent as every other federal agency. In an age where far too many people are willing to trade freedom for “security”—and thus receive neither from the nanny state—self-sufficient people with an ounce of common sense should draw a lesson from this.

2: These are the people that 40% of the population wants to administer their health care. We’re talking about a bunch of worthless, lazy, pass-the-buck bureaucrats who can’t even stop pestiferous telemarketers from becoming junior-league terrorists who deliver threats and scathing profanity with impunity over the public utilities, but they’re going to make life-and-death determinations about the priority and efficacy of your medical treatment. They’re going to fine you for not buying services that the New Reich mandates, and pick your pocket to pay for the aggrandizement of their social experiments.

I’m currently holding my breath and waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’m waiting for the phone to ring at any hour of the day or night, and when I answer, some critter with a Black-Hole-of-Calcutta accent will proclaim “Ah ha! We found you! Is Miz Possum there?”

Friday, January 08, 2010

"Dances with Aliens"

Hoping my precious few readers had a joyous Christmas and welcomed in the New Year safely and sanely, I am happy to say that The Possum is in the house! My holiday hiatus was somewhat unintended; I just got burned out on the never-ending flood of manure flowing out of De Cesspool—a.k.a. DC—and wanted to preserve what little Christmas spirit was infusing the Possum Den over the holidays.

Well, that was last week and the week before. We have many things to discuss; too many, perhaps, for one outing. We’ll start with the mundane, and work our way into an object lesson that’s had me climbing the walls since Sunday.

It’s not often that I get to review a movie that’s still playing in a theatre near you. I prefer my newer movies on DVD, so I can smoke, drink adult beverages, eat reasonably healthy snacks, and pause the action if I need to go to the bathroom. Constant Readers are well aware that I am a bigger fan of old movies, spanning the forty years from 1960 to 2000. Some of the past decade’s films have been outstanding, but there seems to be some element of—soul, shall we say—that is lacking in most new movies. Whatever this intangible element is, it often isn’t there in even the biggest, best-made “gee whiz” movies today.

On Christmas Day, Miz Possum and I trekked up to Hiawassee, where the local Cinema 6 was presenting “Avatar.” This is apparently the must-see movie of the season. I admit I was blown away by it. We didn’t get the 3-D version, but the flat print was so sharp it was like watching high-definition TV. “Avatar” is beautifully realized in every aspect. I am especially impressed with James Cameron’s skill and vision in giving us a movie starring blue people with tails, and not making us laugh in the process. The last thing I saw with blue people in it was a Smurf cartoon twenty-odd years ago.

There were three flaws that stood out in “Avatar.” I would question the physiology of some of the creatures inhabiting Pandora. Did they really need all those extra legs and eyes? I’ll grant the artistic license we’re dealing with alien species, so I guess they can look as fantastical as the storyteller wants them to be.

A couple of days before we went to the movie, I received an e-mail denouncing it as an unpatriotic, anti-military, anti-American screed. I took this with a grain of salt, but kept it in the back of my mind when the house lights went down and the screen lit up.

I’ll combine my take on the anti-military assertion with what I perceived as the third flaw in the film: the paucity of plot. Driving back from the theatre, I asked Miz Possum if she’d ever seen “Dances With Wolves.” She said she had never managed to catch that one, whereupon I had a really good laugh. “Well, babe,” I told her, “You just saw it.” I added that I’ll be mildly surprised if Kevin Costner or author Michael Blake doesn’t sue James Cameron for poaching their screenplay’s basic premises. We have in “Avatar” Marine Jake Sully, torn between his duty to his orders and protecting a people he has come to accept as his own. This is the same conflict that Costner’s Army Lt. John Dunbar had to deal with in “Dances with Wolves.” Instead of the red-skinned Lakota of the American West, we have the blue-skinned Na’vi of the moon Pandora. In both cases, the native people and the soldiers have to overcome their cultural disparities and learn to trust and accept each other. Forging this bond of trust, Dunbar and the Lakota and Sully and the Na’vi have to face down the encroachment of expanding empires spearheaded by brutal military forces. This brings us back to the dire warning I received that “Avatar” is somehow anti-American and anti-military. I have to dismiss this assessment of the movie. The quasi-mercenary military in “Avatar” is no more rapacious than the regular Union army of “Dances with Wolves.” I didn’t get a sense in either movie that there was some subtle unpatriotic message about America in the 1860s or the planet we ostensibly represent in the future-world of “Avatar.” I got no end of amusement out of Sigourney Weaver bucking an evil, greedy corporation in “Avatar.” Didn’t she make a career of doing that in all four “Alien” movies? Cameron, of course, directed the second of that quartet—“Aliens”—and aside from the Marines in that movie being in over their heads with H.R. Giger’s hungry critters, I saw nothing anti-military or unpatriotic in that one, either. Evil, greedy corporations are almost too easy as a plot device, and their overuse as convenient villains verges on becoming hackneyed.

Those points having been made, I have to give “Avatar” a rave review. Go see it! Those familiar with “Dances with Wolves” will recognize what I’ve said here, but it doesn’t detract from “Avatar” being a knock-your-socks-off movie. Like “Wolves”, it’s a trifle long, but for those nearly three hours you’ll live in a universe that is well-crafted, with engaging characters and scenes of breathtaking beauty, action, and spectacle. I regret that our local movie palace didn’t support the 3-D version, but I didn’t feel cheated at all with the content and impact of “Avatar.” It’s a must-see film, even if you’re not a huge fan of science-fiction. I was reminded of seeing the first “Star Wars” and the first “Alien” back in the late ‘70s. Leaving the theatre both times back then, I somehow knew that movies had changed fundamentally. I felt the same way on Christmas night when “Avatar” was over.

I don’t want to dilute this review with political meanderings, so we’ll leave them alone for now. Coming up in the next day or so—COMING SOON TO A BLOG NEAR YOU!—we’ll have the cautionary object lesson I promised. It involves telemarketers, the uselessness of the federal government, and how terrorists can force you to change your life—thereby winning, at least psychologically—without setting their underwear on fire or killing people and breaking things.

Please stay tuned.