Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Canned Treason

India is investigating reports than an army brigadier sold the country's battle plan in its 1965 war with Pakistan to help fund his wife's hobby of canning fruits and vegetables.

According to Reuters, Gohar Ayub Khan, the son of a former Pakistani president, says Pakistani agents purchased the plans for a whopping 20,000 rupees -- $458 -- money that helped the Indian officer buy canning equipment.
Reuters goes on:

"Gohar, a former Pakistan foreign minister whose autobiography will be released in coming weeks, told the Pakistani newspaper that the Indian brigadier was still alive and served in a very senior position before retiring.
The Indian defense ministry said though it doubted Gohar's claims it would investigate."

The TV Movie Version -- Season One

Fans of Sex Tape Derby can paddle languidly in the warm pools of a new time waster. In this new participatory posting, we ask "Cutting To the Chase" visitors to consider a recent news story, and then decide who plays the lead characters in the "TV Movie Version."

This week's entry centers on last weekend's Indianapolis 500 race. Of course, no one knows or cares who won the damn thing, but they certainly know who came in 4th -- 23-year-old Danica Patrick became the first woman to lead in the race. Fuel problems prevented Patrick from winning outright, but she won the PR race, anyway.

So, who plays Danica Patrick? As Fox Sports noted online, we're also wondering about the sudden departure of her pit boss, Keithica Olbermann, but we digress. Imagine Spelling Entertainment revving up a Lifetime movie based on Patrick's life, and who the sleazy old king of nighttime soaps would peg to play her. Would it be:

a) Jordana Brewster of "The Fast and the Furious"?
b) Jennifer Love Hewitt of "Garfield: the Movie"?
c) Jill Hennessy of "Law & Order"/"Crossing Jordan"?
d) Tanya Memme of A&E's "Sell This House"" or
e) Someone else, and if so, whom?

Be creative, tell us why you like your choice, and don't just wait until a lapse in your workday schedule -- do it now! This could be the start of a new and favorite way to act like you're working.

This Just In! "Deep Throat" Revealed!

Be honest. Did you really, truly want the mystery of Watergate's "Deep Throat" to be solved?

Former FBI official W. Mark Felt has come forward to reveal in Vanity Fair magazine that, indeed, he was the infamous source for then-Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Felt, the one-time No. 2 man at the FBI, is now 91 years old and in failing health.

For news junkies, the revelation is akin to learning that there is no Santa Claus. The decades-long speculation about the identity of "Deep Throat" included so many well-known figures from the Nixon White House -- Pat Buchanan, Alexander Haig, Charles Colson, etc. -- it's a bit of a let-down to find out that the guessing game is over.

The New York Times reports today:

" 'I'm the guy they used to call "Deep Throat," Mr. Felt told John D. O'Connor, a lawyer and the author of the Vanity Fair article, the magazine said today in a press release."

Presumably, Felt was referring to what the Washington Post reporters called him -- and not to any nicknames that stemmed from any Bureau activities involving J. Edgar Hoover.

News! On the march!

Congress Tripped Up

A pox on both your parties. In the midst of the Tom DeLay scandal, AP reveals that 43 House members, including many Democrats, have been worse than tardy reporting all-expense-paid trips from lobbyists and special interest groups. Despite rules that such trips be disclosed within 30 days of its conclusion, nearly 200 excursions had been filed as late as eight years after the fact.

AP's Larry Margasak notes that the offending congressmen and their aides were mighty apologetic -- so at least we've got that goin' for us, which is nice.

"The travel in question is not for official government trips known as CODELS, shorthand for Congressional Delegations.

"The special interest trips are usually financed by corporations, trade groups, think tanks, universities and others. They often pay for first-class commercial seats or provide corporate jets for lawmakers.

"Many trips combine speeches, seminars and fact-finding tours with golf, sightseeing, shopping and accommodations at first-class hotels -- often in foreign countries.

" 'This sudden rush to file reports on previously undisclosed trips is certainly filling many pages of congressional passports,' said Kent Cooper, head of the PoliticalMoneyLine Internet site that tracks political donations and travel."

Let's face it. Everyone is just a little bit bought. The trick, just as it was in the Old West, comes down to ferreting out the whores with the hearts of gold.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Bulworth Bashes the Terminator

How I love California. Its current governor, the former Mr. Universe and box-office champ of cyborg action flicks, might just face a campaign challenge not only from one-time Meathead Rob Reiner, but now Warren Beatty says he's "not ruling out" a run for the office.

Beatty's comments came after a keynote speech at the University of California at Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy, an address in which he batted around the governor like a Bally pinball.

"It's become time to define a Schwarzenegger Republican. A Schwarzenegger Republican is a Bush Republican who says he's a Schwarzenegger Republican.

"I wanted to be rooting for Arnold, but he'd have to take some of that bombastic marketing and market the right thing -- telling rich people like me the truth: that with a state debt of $18 billion caused by energy deregulation and the dot-com bust, our taxes are going to have to be a little higher on the rich. No matter what that group of advisors say. And maybe only temporarily. Which is what both Ronald Reagan and Pete Wilson did.


"It's not fooling anybody for him to run around raising money from Wall Street and K Street and rich Republicans all over the country who hope that if they can get this reactionary stuff started in California, they can get it done back in their own states and actually dismantle the New Deal, which they simplemindedly forget saved American capitalism, and then they can dismantle the fair deal, the new frontier, and the Great Society and the entitlements and the rights and the guarantees that make the society safe for everyone including the rich.


"As a public-policy dermatologist, you might advise that just a couple of minutes a day of sunlight would be more than helpful. And you might cut down on the photo-ops, the fake events, the fake issues, the fake crowds, the backdrops, the signs, the distractions, the scapegoats, the 'language problems,' the broken promises, the minutemen, the prevarications and put some sunlight on some taxes.


"Bipartisanship? We don't have it here. And let's not mistake the exploitation of the name of one of the greatest liberal families in American history for bipartisanship. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Governor, you're no Kennedy Democrat.

"Stop trying to milk the illusion of bi-partisanship. You are a conservative Republican who likes to have a few Democrats around for show. This is good advice."

A potential Warren Beatty vs. Arnold Schwarzenegger contest for the governor's office in California? Now, that would be first-class entertainment. Do you have any idea how many female voters stand to be groped in the course of a single political campaign?

Political nookie, as we know it, would never be the same.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

New Contributor

If you are a periodic reader of this here blog, you might notice that we have a new contributor. I am proud to welcome Greg Angelo as a contributor to Cutting to the Chase.

Greg is an old friend who saved my life during the war. At least, that is what he tells me.

You might notice in his bio that Greg bears a disturbing resemblance to Pufnstuf. He assures me that is a noncontagious skin condition.

In the CD Changer

One of the handful of loyal readers to this blog asked recently if I had any CD recommendations to make.

I do.

Here are a few new CDs I've been listening to lately and can heartily recommend:

Beck, Guero
Proclaiming a new Beck record as creative and ingenious is a little like saying the newest Vegas hotel is bigger and more garish than anything preceding it. Of course the new Beck album is great. From the Casio-riddled infectiousness of "Girl" to the Brazilian stylings of "Missing," from the slow-burn space pop of "Earthquake Weather" to the more gritty white-boy funk of "Hell Yes," this is another magnificent hybrid of hiphop, pop and folk, albeit with fewer of the artist's trademark bells and whistles . Guero drones a bit toward its end, but we can forgive. Even lackluster Beck is better than almost anything else out there.

Clem Snide, End of Love
I think a lot of critics label Clem Snide as an alt-country band because it doesn't really fit anywhere else. Frontman Eef Barzelay's nasal vocals and literate lyrics seem better suited for the grad school dropout working behind the counter of a coffeehouse than they do in Nashville, where he now resides and where he recorded much of End of Love. The record is typical of the band's output, which is to say it's either delightfully quirky ("Weird," "Fill Me with Your Light," the title track) or too wrapped up in the faux cleverness of its open mic-night poetry. Still, it is interesting more often than it's not.

The Doves, Some Cities
Ragged, multilayered, sweeping rock blasts propelled by Jimi Goodwin's resonant voice that find the passion middleground between Morrissey and the American Music Club's Mark Eitzel. The Doves boast a terrific, if occasionally homogeneous, sound. The opening one-two punch of the title track and "Black and White Town" sets a bar that the rest of the record can't sustain -- but the band comes mighty close.

The Eels, Blinking Lights and Other Revelations
I became sold long ago on the brilliant songwriting of E (otherwise known as Mark Oliver Everett) whose outfit, the Eels, shuffles through a topical landscape of death, desperation and isolation -- and somehow makes the universality of the experience humanistic and life-affirming. You think that's a sleight-of-hand? Listen to this two-disc chronicle of E's life and tell me I'm full of shit. With his world-weary vocals and eclectic instrumentation, E produces his best work to date and a flurry of excellent tracks, including "Trouble with Dreams, "Ugly Love, "Hey, Man (Now You're Really Living)" "I'm Going to Stop Pretending That I Didn't Break Your Heart," "Railroad Man" and "Things the Grandchildren Should Know." Superb.

Ben Folds, Songs for Silverman
While this is an elegant and mature collection of piano ballads, I can't shake the feeling -- and I know this might be blasphemy for Folds fans -- that this record inches our hero just a little too close to pallid songwriting. The CD's first single, "Landed," plops us into an elliptical narrative, a la the Ben Folds Five's "Brick," but it bears traces of James Taylor and Elton John-Bernie Taupin at their more limpid. Even if the record doesn't have the sharpness of his solo debut, Rockin' the Suburbs, Folds' knack for melody remains intact. "Gracie" is a wonderful ode to parenthood, "Late" is a fitting tribute to the late Elliott Smith, and "Jesusland"-- one of the few songs on the disc truly well-served by its swollen strings -- is achingly beautiful.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Oliver: Stoned

Oliver Stone has been arrested again on drug and DUI charges.

Hmm. It's starting to become clear how Alexander happened.

Okie Bloggin', Take 8

What some of my favorite Oklahoma-based bloggers are up to these days ...

The Erudite Redneck explains his opposition to the death penalty in a compelling and heartfelt post.

OKPartisan of The Blue Dot Blog makes a strong case lamenting the changing tone of the United States and how it handles its most shameful episodes.

Okie Funk basks in the glory of wireless Oklahoma City and rues the growing monolith that is mainstream media.

Oklarama urges Philharmonic elitists to shut the hell up (OK, those are my words, not hers).

Charles of dustbury fame confronts an alarming clock situation.

Oklahoma City's 45th Division Infantry Museum gets a big thumbs up from The Happy Homemaker, and for good reason; for those who haven't visited, it's among the great, and unjustly little-knwon, museums in the Southwestern United States.

Dr. Pants of Wholesale Pants Warehouse breaks up with his favorite pair of pants. We just hope they can still remain friends.

Tropiary knows you can't judge books by their covers.

Okiedoke's Mike knows the children are the future. Oh, and we have a winner in the Oklahoma's Sexiest Power Woman contest (but I'm telling you, with all due respect to the victor, I'm calling voter fraud).

Posts from the Edge's Lady Godiva reminds us how friggin' screwy some women are when it comes to affairs of the heart.

Life and Deatherage points out that, lo and behold, there are serious and sometimes deadly consequences to demonizing gays and lesbians.

Existential Ramble looks at Sen. John McCain and a possible explanation for some of the Beltway polarization these days.

You gotta keep your eye on Lip Schtick. I turn around for an instant and she's yammering on about pantyhose and yeast infections. Yowzah.

Elephant Soap is excited about the latest breakthroughs involving stem cells (easy does it, Mr. Dobson).

The Downtown Guy is happy with what he sees these days in Bricktown.

Token Liberal sith it like it is (cue groans) regarding the new Star Wars installment.

Shutup Dude weighs in on the Britney-Kevin reality snooze.

A Fistful of Fortnights finds peace, love and understanding in a kinda obscure one-hit wonder from Deadeye Dick.

And that discerning shopper over at The Joker's Wife, Ceres, has had it up to here with CVS pharmacies.

Fat Bottomed Economics

Not to get all Oprah about it, but there are some tragic implications in a new study regarding obesity among women and what it can mean for their socioeconomic status.

The Boston Globe reports that the first-of-its-kind study examined the body mass index (BMI) of about 1,300 women and 1,100 men over a 15-year period.

"They (Researchers) were able to compute that each 1 percent increase in women's BMI means a .6 percent decrease in future family income. So, a 60-pound weight difference between two 5-foot-4 women would account for a 30 percent difference in their future family incomes, such as $100,000 annually compared with $70,000.

"Much of this income difference occurs because the heavier women are, the poorer their spouses are likely to be, the research found. Also at work is the fact that heavier women are less likely to marry: For each 1 percent BMI increase, the prospects of matrimony decrease .35 percent. Single women tend to have lower incomes.

"Likewise, for every 1 percent increase in BMI, they found a .4 percent decrease in future job prestige, with prestige measured by public surveys long used by sociologists. So, a 100 percent difference in BMI -- a 5-foot-4 woman weighing 120 pounds versus one weighing 240 -- meant the difference between becoming a lawyer, a high prestige job, and an insurance agent, a medium prestige job or between a medium-prestige secretary and a low-prestige housekeeper."

The still-to-be-published study found that overweight men generally were not bound by the same income and marital limitations as their female counterparts.

My suspicion is that these results are less a reflection of external forces than they are of the insecurities and lack of confidence of overweight women -- although such self-imposed restrictions stem from a culture that teaches little girls early on how they must be pretty and trim to get ahead in life.

Overweight men certainly struggle with body-image issues, but don't necessarily battle the same notions of across-the-board worthlessness.

Friday, May 27, 2005

If You Don't Stop It You'll Go ...

So now there is a handful of reports that Viagra can cause vision loss.

"Some blindness was reported by 38 men taking Viagra -- a tiny fraction of the 23 million people who have used the drug -- and among four men taking Cialis, a newer competitor," The New York Times reported.

"None of the 100 or so clinical trials on Viagra have suggested that the drug causes vision loss, but the F.D.A. said it had suggested updating the drug's warning label as a precaution. The makers of Cialis, Eli Lilly & Company and the Icos Corporation, have already added such a warning."

Apparently lovemaking -- like love -- is blind. Kinda makes you appreciate the ol' beer goggles.

Flushed with Pride

A-ha! The international intrigue continues!

We now know that apparently there was mishandling of the Koran by American interrogators at Gitmo, albeit incidents committed mostly out of ignorance.

Oh, yes, and we also know now that the Pentagon could not substantiate a single incident of aforementioned Islam holy book being flushed down Army-issued toilet.

The Boston Globe is among the media outlets hot on the case:

"US military investigators poring through 30,000 pages of records at Guantanamo Bay have found 13 incidents in which a guard or an interrogator allegedly mishandled the Koran, but none of those cases involved putting the Muslim holy book in a toilet or other waste bucket, the top commander of the interrogation prison said yesterday.

' ''I'd like you to know that we have found no credible evidence that a member of the Joint Task Force at Guantanamo Bay ever flushed a Koran down a toilet,' said Brigadier General Jay Hood.

"He said investigators have substantiated that Korans were mishandled in only five of the 13 instances found in the base's records and in none of the cases was the mishandling deliberately done to upset detainees for interrogation."

This is the part of the story that baffles me: Just imagine what could have been the result if U.S. intelligence had been half as dogged in determining whether those pesky reports of Iraqi WMDs were true?

Alas, we are reminded again that the Bush Administration will always devote its energies to figurative and literal crap.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Stem Cell Riot

Looks like a stem cell showdown is brewing between the White House and the rest of functioning humanity. By a 238-194 vote in the U.S. House, with 50 Republicans joining the majority, the legislative body advances a bill to dramatically increase federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

The New York Times' Sheryl Gay Stolberg notes that all eyes will now be on the Senate. In particular, eyes are on majority leader Bill Frist, whose rank political maneuvering in the Schiavo debacle and anti-filibuster bluster has his presidential aspirations sinking faster than Courtney Love on a four-day bender.

"Dr. Frist, a heart surgeon from Tennessee who supports the existing policy, is already facing intense pressure from conservatives over the issue of Mr. Bush's judicial nominees and does not seem eager to schedule a vote on stem cell research. He said last week that he wanted to check with his colleagues before doing so."

Now that is definitely take-the-bull-by-the-horns leadership. Christ, the good ol', trusty "I'll get back to you" ploy. Never fails. It's always worked for me when friends ask me to help 'em move.

Dubya, meanwhile, dished out more "culture of life" sloganeering by giving us "life in a culture."

You've got to love the White House. Bushies don't want babies who need the help to receive it via welfare or Medicaid or a host of other government entitlements. They don't want babies being exposed to the smut, snark and sacrilege of the secular world. They don't want babies in early childhood education. They sure as H-E-double-toothpicks don't want babies attending the pagan burial ground that some call public education. They don't want babies in a doctor's offices unless the attending physician is shielded from potential litigation. They don't want babies in a stroller unless the manufacturer is shielded from potential litigation.

But when it comes time to exploit these little people, then the babies come out, a mass of bald, pink and fat faces (aside from the vice president and Cabinet, that is) shipped over to the White House for some quality time in the hands of our recovering commander in chief.

"On Tuesday, just hours before the vote, he (Bush) appeared in the East Room of the White House with families created by a rare but growing practice in which one couple donates its frozen embryos to another," the Times reported.

" 'The children here today remind us that there is no such thing as a spare embryo,' Mr. Bush said, amid the squeals and coos of babies cradled in their mothers' arms. 'Every embryo is unique and genetically complete, like every other human being. And each of us started out our life this way. These lives are not raw material to be exploited, but gifts.'

"The parents, who worked through a Christian adoption agency, applauded enthusiastically."

No way. A Christian adoption agency was enlisted for a White House photo-op? You gotta be kidding me. Didn't see that one coming.

Never mind the fact that under the bipartisan measure, the embryonic stem cell research would come only from extra, unused eggs that have been gathered for in vitro fertilization. Oh, and never mind the fact that the donating parents would have to sign off on the use of the extra eggs, thereby preventing any possibility of future existence of the squealing and cooing rugrats that were wetting themselves Thursday all over Bush.

And the final act of unmitigated White House chutzpah? The GOP opposition in the House was led by none other than the bastion of Beltway morality, Tom "the Hammer" DeLay.

"The choice to protect a human embryo from federally funded destruction is not, ultimately, about the human embryo," DeLay told Congress. "It is about us, and our rejection of the treacherous notion that while all human lives are sacred, some are more sacred than others.' "

Them's mighty big words coming from Tom DeLay, one-time Texas extrerminater whose take-no-prisoners brand of politics encompasses the figurative squashing of his enemies until oozing yellow pus appears between his sausage-shaped toes.

These people make me sick. Really sick. And if they continue to snub the shimmering hope offered by stem cell research, they'll be keeping millions and millions of other people sick, too.

Sex Tape Derby, Round 10

The premise is simple: Let's say you have to watch a pornographic sex tape. Who would you rather it feature? (OK, OK, so I'm not into the big questions of life. Those are still to come, I assure you).

Post your picks in the comments section.

1. As the title of this blog would indicate, let's just cut to the chase with a tough one for all you lascivious cowboys with a weakness for country: Faith Hill or Shania Twain?

2. Jacko in jeopardy: Jacko defense lawyer Tom Mesereau or Jacko prosecutor Tom Sneddon?

3. "Crossing Jordan"'s Jill Hennessy or "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"'s Mariska Hargitay?

4. Just walk away, Renee: Kenny Chesney or the White Stripes' Jack White?

5. Ving Rhames or Michael Clarke Duncan?

6. High school class reunion?: Lisa Kudrow or Mira Sorvino?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Shut Yer Big Trap

What I like most about the blog Upon Further Review... is its call-it-like-it-is approach. UFR's John offers his assessment of the surprising number of Republicans unhappy with the bipartisan compromise that saves the filibuster and ensures votes on Bush's judicial picks:

"Now, if you're a Republican and you're complaining about this deal, then let's face it, you're just stupid. You won, you lose absolutely nothing."

Add a hrrrumphh! from me, too.

Fearless Freaks

The Fearless Freaks, a new documentary recently released on DVD chronicling Oklahoma City's own alt-rock pride and joy, the Flaming Lips, reminded me how long this weird and wonderful band has been a part of my life.

And now my self-indulgent trip down memory lane:

I first saw the Lips in the mid-Eighties, in a smoke-filled ballroom on the second floor of the University of Oklahoma Student Union. They opened for Camper Van Beethoven and played deafening loud punk while a cheap overhead projector cast strange psychedelic shapes on a wall. Not exactly a big-ticket show, but it definitely was one of the coolest.

The next time I saw them, I think (there might be some fairly blurred memories from those days, for a whole variety of reasons ... some of them even legal, maybe), the Lips were on a bill with Eugene Chadbourne (heard of him?) at Oklahoma City's Blue Note. It was a great night for non-instruments. Chadbourne played an electrified rake -- that's right, a rake -- but the Flaming Lips topped him by rolling a motorcycle out on stage and proceeding to rev it repeatedly, over and over, attempting to merge it into their music. Mainly, all it did was fill the cramped dive of a place with exhaust fumes. You could barely see two feet in front of you.

That memory came flooding back to me when I saw Fearless Freaks. Directed by Bradley Beesley, the picture follows Lips frontman Wayne Coyne and his merry band of misfits in their journey from loud punk to their more mature incarnation as quasi-avant garde artists.

There are several reasons I have been a Flaming Lips fan for so long. The biggest factor, of course, is the Lips' adventurous, provocative and sometimes achingly beautiful music. The band has produced four classic records: 1990's In a Priest Driven Ambulance, 1993's Transmissions from the Satellite Heart, 1999's The Soft Bulletin and 2002's Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.

Then there are the stage shows. Coyne has likened his band's sense of showmanship to that of a spoiled rich kid's birthday party. It makes for a kitten-kaboodle aesthetic that includes everything: big balloons, confetti, lots of spurting fake blood, people in furry animal costumes, dazzling lights, rear-screen projection airing everything from Cool Hand Luke clips to sexy tramps in black bra and panties.

And then there is Wayne Coyne himself and the sort of off-kilter ambassador he serves as for Oklahoma City. As Fearless Freaks points out early on, Oklahoma is a state chiefly known for oil derricks, college football and country music (Beesley left out tornadoes, the dust bowl and the federal building bombing -- none of them particularly alluring on a tourism brochure).

The Flaming Lips are an antidote to all that.

For me, the Lips are a tremendous part of Oklahoma City. I grew up enamored with their music and proud of their artistic cool. And best of all, even though the Lips are hardly one of those trippy-dippy Phish wannabes (thank God for that) Coyne and his chums still project a charming innocence to what they do.

And so a heartfelt thank you to the Flaming Lips for making Oklahoma that much more interesting.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Courthouse Laugh Riot

Jay Leno brought his standup routine to the Michael Jackson trial today. The New York Times notes that "Mr. Leno ... was on the stand for less than half an hour, but whose light banter elicited laughter from the jurors and others in court."

Nothing like a good molestation trial to bring out the funnies! Hell, I haven't laughed this hard since Richard Speck.

Bill O'Reilly's Burger Attack

Considering Bill O'Reilly's love of spectacular boobs and taste treats (like falafel, for example) , it really shouldn't be any surprise that he would interest himself with the new Paris Hilton video for Carl's Jr.

And considering that O'Reilly is a buffoon, his rank hypocrisy shouldn't be any surprise, either.

Judge for yourself here. As many times as you want.

(Via Crooks and Liars)

David Brooks, Oracle

Boy, that too-smart-for-his-own-britches David Brooks is one prescient mofo:

From the May 22 New York Times, in which Brooks uses the seemingly imminent Senate showdown over the filibuster as an excuse to bash political moderates:

"As we descend down this path, the moderates are being serenaded for their valiant efforts to find a compromise. I'm all for valiant efforts, but why do the independent types always have to be so ineffectual? Why do they always have to play their accustomed role: well-intentioned roadkill?"

Today's Washington Post, describing the (admittedly shaky) agreement that those dreaded moderates crafted to avoid aforementioned showdown:

"The bipartisan negotiators, who signed a two-page 'memorandum of understanding,' have the votes both to prevent judicial filibusters without banning them and to defeat efforts to invoke the nuclear option, regardless of the views of their Democratic and GOP colleagues, the White House and outside groups on the left and right. The action represents an unusual attempt to wrest power from the leadership."

When Is a Holocaust Memorial Too Jewish?

When it's in Europe, apparently.

In Berlin, a long-awaited Holocaust memorial is sparking controversy because -- brace yourselves, this is gonna be shocking -- it centers on the deaths of 6 million Jews.

Oh, the horror, the horror. Not Gypsies, not homosexuals, not communists, not people with disabilities ... Jews. Just Jews. Six million of 'em.

And for some reason this is controversial.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports reports that much of the uproar focuses on Lea Rush, the head of the foundation that will operate the $35 million memorial:

"She has been a lightning rod for criticism of the project, particularly its dedication only to Jewish victims. Yesterday's media coverage was harsh in its references to her.

"The paper Berlin Zeitung called her a 'professional Jew,' while Stern magazine called her a 'Holocaust Cassandra,' odd references given that German society in general is accepting of Holocaust memorials.

"Before the ceremony, Rosh appeared on German TV, defending the decision to focus on Jewish victims: 'Hitler's desire to eliminate the Jews was more central to him than even his desire to win the war.' "

Granted, the victims of Nazism extended far beyond the millions of European Jews who were slaughtered in Hitler's death camps. But so what? The critics of the memorial might pretend to be indignant on behalf of the Holocaust's non-Jewish victims, but that's a load of bunk. Sixty years after the end of Hitler and his Third Reich, the world has observed -- hundreds of times over -- the Jews, communists, homosexuals and everyone else who died to make way for the so-called master race.

One could perhaps argue the need for a publicly funded memorial, but these howls of outrage sound like good old-fashioned anti-Semitism, which has proven to be among Europe's most enduring sounds.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Cry Me a Pork Tenderloin

This disturbs me. Quite a bit.

Crying While Eating is an interesting Web site, all right. It's just what the name implies: short video clips of people eating and breaking down in tears. You, too, can partake in the public excoriation by sending them a video.

My favorite clip on the site is of Daniel, who chomps buckwheat noodles and cries because he ruined Passover (Please, Daniel, tell us more. How exactly did you ruin Passover? Lost the afikomen? Dipped parsley at the wrong time? We need to know!).

Now I'm off for peanut brittle and a good cry. I'll let you guess why.

(Thanks to Screenhead for the heads up)

In Defense of Newsweek: Karzai Talks

Well, knock me over and dip me in molasses. You mean the Newsweek "Periscope" article might not have been the chief cause for Afghanistan rioting that killed 17 people?

Well, at least that's what Harmid Karzai says: "It was directed at the peace process that we have of inviting back the thousands of the Taliban to come back to their country. It was actually against the elections in Afghanistan. So we know what was going on there."

Huh. Sure is a complicated, big ol' world, ain't it, Scottie?

Islam 'n' Us

Things must be getting frosty in Hell these days, 'cause God help me, I have to commend columnist Kathleen Parker. In her latest column, the unofficial den mother to the Bush Administration actually takes aim at Scott McClellan and his fellow White Housers for their hypocrisy regarding the infamous Newsweek blurb.

"... After several days of being slapped around by the Irony Fairy, I can't ignore the absurdity of the White House's new role as institutional victim. ... Come on, Scottie. One small news item about Quran desecration (not the first) hurt our image abroad? Our image as infidels was, and has been, abysmal among those who would riot and who, time permitting, happily would exterminate us. Islamic extremists didn't even need Abu Ghraib to hate us more. Our image as Satan is tattooed on the radical-Muslim psyche and won't be erased until those rioting have a job, a paycheck and hope for some future this side of 72 virgins.

"All of which is why I supported the Bush Doctrine and still hope it works. The spread of freedom and democracy is the Arab world's best hope and, therefore, ours. But getting to test that doctrine by invading Iraq was a bet we now know was based on faulty intelligence.

"There were no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, as everyone -- including the French, Germans and others -- believed. There is no evidence so far of Iraq trying to buy uranium yellowcake from Niger, as claimed. There were no mobile labs for biological weapons production, though arguably what were believed to be mobile labs had potentially dual uses, including possible production of biological and chemical agents. All of the above were factors in the U.S. decision to invade Iraq. All were based on sources that proved to be unreliable. And, yes, many people died.

"Newsweek's reporters in this case were sloppy by their own standards, printing a potentially explosive story based on only one (formerly reliable) source. For that, there's no defense. But the Bush administration would have done well to remain silent if sternly disapproving and let journalism punish its own. ... As careful students of life's rulebook know, those who wage war don't get to play victim."

Jeepers, as my lovely wife would say. When a vapid Bush sycophant like Kathleen Parker can't help but choke on the irony, you know Dubya has overplayed his part worse than Al Pacino at a supper club. But the double standard goes beyond the issue of faulty intelligence (or cooked, in the case of the White House). For McClellan, Condi Rice and others to argue that Newsweek's 10-sentence article (or that Saddam in his tighty whities, for that matter) stokes the flames of anti-Americanism is to ignore the sizable fireplace poker we've been wielding for a couple of years now.

Such examples are being documented on a fast and furious basis these days by The New York Times, which recently had an incisive article (sure to be vilified by critics of the bogeyman that is mainstream media) about the symbolic resonance of Guantanamo in the Muslim world.

Reporters Somini Sengupta and Salman Masood noted how one of the most exclusive private schools in Pakistan recently staged a play called "Guantánamo," which is based on testimonies from prisoners at the U.S. Naval Base in Cuba.

"Accounts of abuses at the actual American detention center at Guantánamo Bay, including Newsweek magazine's now-retracted article on the desecration of the Koran, ricochet around the world, instilling ideas about American power and justice, and sowing distrust of the United States. Even more than the written accounts are the images that flash on television screens throughout the Muslim world: caged men, in orange prison jumpsuits, on their knees. On Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, two satellite networks, images of the prisoners appear in station promos.

"For many Muslims, Guantánamo stands as a confirmation of the low regard in which they believe the United States holds them. For many non-Muslims, regardless of their feelings toward the United States, it has emerged as a symbol of American hypocrisy.

" 'The cages, the orange suits, the shackles -- it's as if they're dealing with something that's like a germ they don't want to touch,' said Daoud Kuttab, director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Ramallah, in the West Bank. 'That's the nastiness of it.'


"From Mumbai, India, to Amman, Jordan, to London, Guantánamo is a continuing subject for discussion, from television talk shows to sermons to everyday conversations. In countries like Afghanistan, Britain and Pakistan, released detainees often return home and relate their experiences on television news programs ...

"Guantánamo provides rhetorical fodder for politicians seeking to bring down United States-allied rulers in their own countries, and it offers a ready rallying point against American dominance, even in countries whose own police and military have been known for severe violations of human rights.


"On Friday afternoon in an Islamabad bookshop, Maheen Asif, 33, leafed through a women's magazine, and paused for only a moment when asked for her impression of Guantánamo Bay.

" 'Torture,' she said, as her daughters, 8 and 5, scampered through the stalls. 'The first word that comes to my mind is "torture" -- a place where Americans lock up and torture Muslims in the name of terrorism.' "

And maybe there is a reason for that. Lest we kid ourselves that Abu Ghraib was the extent of American broadcast over Al Jazeera and the like, The New York Times' Tim Golden details how two Afghan inmates -- one of whom was likely innocent of any crime -- were brutally killed in 2002 by American interrogators.

Golden reveals that the horrors from the Bagram detention facility in Afghanistan involve more than the two prisoner deaths.

"In some instances, testimony shows, [the harsh treatment] was directed or carried out by interrogators to extract information. In others, it was punishment meted out by military police guards. Sometimes, the torment seems to have been driven by little more than boredom or cruelty, or both.

"In sworn statements to Army investigators, soldiers describe one female interrogator with a taste for humiliation stepping on the neck of one prostrate detainee and kicking another in the genitals. They tell of a shackled prisoner being forced to roll back and forth on the floor of a cell, kissing the boots of his two interrogators as he went. Yet another prisoner is made to pick plastic bottle caps out of a drum mixed with excrement and water as part of a strategy to soften him up for questioning.


"Although incidents of prisoner abuse at Bagram in 2002, including some details of the two men's deaths, have been previously reported, American officials have characterized them as isolated problems that were thoroughly investigated ...

"Yet the Bagram file includes ample testimony that harsh treatment by some interrogators was routine and that guards could strike shackled detainees with virtual impunity. Prisoners considered important or troublesome were also handcuffed and chained to the ceilings and doors of their cells, sometimes for long periods, an action Army prosecutors recently classified as criminal assault."

The story details how Bagram, a building built by the Soviets during their invasion (funny how our forces have a knack for rekindling bad memories of bad places) was operated by Company A of the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion, which included many counteritelligence specialists with no background in interrogation.

"Specialist Damien M. Corsetti, a tall, bearded interrogator sometimes called 'Monster' ... was often chosen to intimidate new detainees. Specialist Corsetti, they said, would glower and yell at the arrivals as they stood chained to an overhead pole or lay face down on the floor of a holding room. (A military police K-9 unit often brought growling dogs to walk among the new prisoners for similar effect, documents show.)


"A Saudi detainee who was interviewed by Army investigators last June at Guantánamo said Specialist Corsetti had pulled out his penis during an interrogation at Bagram, held it against the prisoner's face and threatened to rape him, excerpts from the man's statement show.

"Last fall, the investigators cited probable cause to charge Specialist Corsetti with assault, maltreatment of a prisoner and indecent acts in the incident; he has not been charged. At Abu Ghraib, he was also one of three members of the 519th who were fined and demoted for forcing an Iraqi woman to strip during questioning, another interrogator said."

Again, if you haven't read the entire piece yet, do so. It's a mind-boggler.

Finally, I would point you to a terrific post that the conservative Balloon Juice has on the topic of the NYT story. The blog's curator, John, writes:

"If the rot goes all the way to the top, we have a right to know, and I say cut it out with a scalpel, disinfect it with the cleansing light of media transparency, and continue on with our terribly important mission. If there is nothing there, think of it as a clean bill of health for the military and the administration.

"But if there is a problem, deal with it. The last time I went to the doctor, I didn't attempt to revoke his license or question his motives or begin a smear campaign against him because I had let myself become overweight.

"And that is what is most disturbing about the short-sighted and indefensible position of the 'uber-patriots.' Put aside the demagoguery, the denial, and the smears. Put aside the wishful thinking, the demonization of the media, and the claims that anyone who is outraged by this abuse is un-American, anti-military, hyperventilating over nothing, or out to get the President (which I am decidedly not). Instead, spend 1/10th of the energy you spend defending the status quo and urge the Republicans to use our majority status and the trappings of power we now enjoy with the control of Congress and the Presidency, and stop the torture and abuse.

"Do that, and your critics won't have anything to complain about."

All the News That's Fit to Charge

It was bound to happen: The New York Times indicates that, beginning in September, it will charge for online reading of many of its op-ed contributors.

Bad move. Andrew Sullivan explains why:

"I can understand the economics of this, as newspaper circulation declines. But I wonder if, in the long run, this is a wise move on their part. By sectioning off their op-ed columnists and best writers, they are cutting them off from the life-blood of today's political debate: the free blogosphere. Inevitably, fewer people will link to them; fewer will read them; their influence will wane faster than it has already. The blog is already becoming a rival to the dated op-ed column format as a means of communicating opinion journalism."

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Clone This

"I worry about a world in which cloning becomes acceptable."
-- President George W. Bush

When I look at our president, I have to admit that I, too, worry about cloning.

Friday, May 20, 2005

The Emperor's New Briefs

Bill Clinton had to answer the boxers-or-briefs question, so why shouldn't one of the bloodiest despots of the century have to fess up, too? Thanks to a British tabloud, we now know that Saddam Hussein prefers briefs.

As a result, Saddam's attorneys are preparing some briefs of their own (I know, that calls for a collective groan, but I couldn't resist).

"The US military and legal experts said the photos -- possibly taken more than a year ago -- may breach Geneva Convention rules on the humane treatment of prisoners of war," reports BBC News. "The conventions say countries must protect prisoners of war in their custody from 'public curiosity.'"

Editors of The Sun, the paper publishing the purloined pictures, say the unnamed U.S. military sources handed over the photos in hopes of demoralizing the resistance in Iraq.

BBC continues:

" 'It's important that the people of Iraq see him like that to destroy the myth,' the paper's source was quoted as saying.

"However, several Arab commentators have suggested the photos could increase anti-American feeling in the region."

Now, we're certainly no fan of the Iraq War and the lies and deception that pulled the U.S. into combat. We're not proud of some of the atrocities that have been committed at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo prison. But at this point, do photos of Saddam in his tighty whities really threaten to make anti-American sentiment in the Arab world any worse? C'mon, already. We jumped the shark in that department long ago.

Maybe the pictures justify a Jihad on the Fruit of the Loom guys, but we suspect nothing more will come from it.

Nudie Pics

In Houston, two police officers who arrested a female college student for drunk driving have been fired for downloading nude pics of the woman from her cell phone.

The Houston Chronicle reports:

"Last week, the police department fired officers Christopher Green and George Miller, who arrested the woman on a driving-while-intoxicated charge in November. During the stop, authorities said, Green learned the woman had nude photos of herself in her cell phone and downloaded them into his digital assistant.

"Investigators said Green showed the photos to other officers and courthouse personnel, and Miller called the woman's home to ask her to meet him at a restaurant."

OK, aside from the obviously cretinous behavior by the cops, this incident chiefly proves my growing hypothesis that I am one of a dwindling number of Americans without nude pictures of myself.

Reel Short Reviews, Take 7

Brief thoughts on some flicks, er motion pictures, I've seen or re-seen as of late. For the rating impaired, the maximum rating would be four stars ...

All the Real Girls (2003)
David Gordon Green is a major talent, but his ambitions are not always successful. When his distinctive stylistics don't work, his pictures (i.e. in 2000's George Washington) threaten to lull the audience into a coma. All the Read Girls is, more often than not, on-target. Its deliberative pacing, episodic structure and lyricism prove effective in this story of Paul (Paul Schneider), a small-town womanizer who falls hard for Noel (Zooey Deschanel), the virginal sister of his best friend. Schneider and Deschanel are top notch, but the film's allure (and occasional stumble) is its relentlessly dull-eyed romanticism, Green's determination -- like William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor and a slew of southern artists of yesteryear -- to wring poetry from Southern-fried opacity.

Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary (2002)
This documentary is essentially a remarkable series of interviews with
Traudl Junge, who was Hitler's secretary throughout most of World War II until his final days in an underground bunker below Berlin. A 20-year-old woman from Bavaria when she was plucked from a typing pool to serve as one of the Fuhrer's personal secretaries, Junge wrestles about how much she could have, and should have, known of the atrocities that were occurring during her service. Her stories are fascinating and macabre. She obviously liked Hitler well enough as a boss; he was undemanding and paternal toward her, but Junge also provides interesting anecdotes about his delusions manifesting themselves in the most innocuous ways. But Blind Spot, despite its captivating subject, is almost defiantly anti-cinematic. The filmmakers' refusal to use any archival footage or photographs, not even a single photograph from that time period, is curious. Junge died the day the film premiered at the Berlin Film Festival.

De-Lovely (2004)
It's de-listless, it's de-lifeless, it's disastrous. Cole Porter deserved better than this half-congealed, awkward, pretentious -- and just plain crappy -- biopic.

In the Realms of the Unreal (2004)
What a strange subject for such a strange, and fascinating, documentary. Filmmaker
Jessica Yu examines the fantasy world of the late Henry Darger, a Chicago janitor who died in 1973. Although no one knew it until Darger was nearing death, he had devoted most of his reclusive life to writing a 15,ooo-page novel about fictitious little girls who fight a tyranny that enslaves children. Along with the writings were paintings and collages, lots of 'em, some as big as 10 feet wide. Yu makes some interesting choices in telling Darger's story, such as animated flights spinning off from his artwork and haunting voice-overs from Larry Pine (as Darger reading his autobiography) and Dakota Fanning (as narrator). Still, I think the documentary errs in not further exploring Darger's obvious mental illness. Watching In the Realms of the Unreal, I couldn't shake the suspicion that Darger might have been so damaged a human -- he definitely endured a horrific childhood -- that he had been turned into a pedophile.


Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
Ridley Scott sure knows how to stage battles scenes: big, flesh-searing sequences featuring clanging swords, over-the-top sound effects and lots of dirt and blood filling the air. As for the rest of this wannabe epic about the Crusades -- well, it's hero is Orlando Bloom, if that gives you any indication, looking here like a boy-band member finally able to grow a beard. A well-crafted movie, it's hobbled by a curiously detached feel, with Bloom portraying a weirdly passive protagonist.


Meet the Fockers (2004)
Ahh, the welcome results of low expectations. After hearing from so many folks who felt this sequel to 2000's Meet the Parents was about as funny as a tarry stool -- which is to say, not very funny -- I didn't count on much. But I was pleasantly surprised. While the hijinks this time around lack the clever punch of the earlier flick, Meet the Fockers is well-intentioned enough, a knuckleheaded but gentle culture clash pitting the Jewish, expressive and offbeat Fockers (
Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand) against the rigid, competitive and decidedly Calvinistic Byrnes (Robert De Niro and Blythe Danner). Poor Ben Stiller takes a back seat while De Niro, Hoffman and Streisand have fun tweaking their personas; ultimately, the picture is about them.

Northwest Passage (1940)
Good, old-fashioned, undeniably watchable, quasi-racist adventure yarn with
Spencer Tracy as a looney Indian fighter leading a band of merry scallawags -- or some such group.


Owning Mahoney (2003)
Philip Seymour Hoffman is an amazing actor when it comes to conveying desperation, and so it is almost painful -- no, scratch that, it is painful -- to watch his portrayal of a real-life Toronto banker whose gambling addiction escalated to embezzlement. There are some excellent supporting performances from the always reliable John Hurt and Minnie Driver, but this is truly Hoffman's movie. Director Richard Kwietniowski's dispassionate gaze gives the performers room to shine.


Primer (2004)
A promising and intermittently ingenious story of four tech-heads who accidentally build a time machine in the garage. This indie feature by
Shane Caruth never quite shakes off its collegiate pretentiousness.


Tadpole (2002)
A modest indie romantic comedy from director
Gary Winick and screenwriters Heather McGowan and Niels Mueller is a little bit of The Catcher in the Rye, Summer of '42, Spanking the Monkey and a lot of French farce. Chronicling Oscar (Aaron Stanford), a preppy 15 year old who yearns for his worldly stepmother (played by -- who can blame him? -- Sigourney Weaver), Tadpole has a lot to recommend it, particularly Bebe Neuwirth as Weaver's best friend (who the kid does bed) and John Ritter as the hapless and befuddled father (between Sling Blade, Bad Santa and this picture, Ritter truly was in the midst of an indie-film renaissance at the time of his untimely death). But the movie's contrivances, that a 15-year-old boy could boink his stepmom's 40ish friend and no one really seems to raise much of an eyebrow over it, is treated so cavalierly as to be just dumb.


Thursday, May 19, 2005

This Just In! Larry King Totally Inconsequential!

AP reports on Larry King's would-be testimony in the Michael Jackson trial:

"The judge in Michael Jackson's child molestation trial ruled Thursday against allowing CNN host Larry King to testify for the defense, saying his testimony would be irrelevant."

Umm... correct me if I'm wrong, but has Larry King ever had anything relevant to say?

Hack It Up

An amazing, and scary, story in The Washington Post is definitely worth checking out.

Post reporter Brian Krebs follows the trail of how a group of twentysomething computer hackers allegedly plundered LexisNexis of hundreds of thousands of records, a scam that also apparently involved the Paris Hilton c-phone business.

"The Night Stalker" Cometh

I know it's as likely to suck as a Hilton sister on Ecstasy, but there is a small glimmer of geeked-out-beyond-all-self-respect excitement bubbling in my brain over ABC's new fall schedule. Specifically, the network's reworking of "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" has my nostalgic heart all a-flutter.

Even better, the newly imagined remake will follow "Alias," which is certain to at least give the program a fighting chance.

For those of you who might not recall the woefully short-lived original, "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" starred Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak, an intrepid Chicago news reporter who, wouldn't you know it, always inadvertently ended up on the monster beat, looking into news stories that involved vampires and aliens and the like. As an added bonus, the series, which lasted for only the 1974-75 TV season, also allowed Kolchak's long-suffering boss, played by perennially constipated Simon Oakland, to indulge in lots of bellow and bluster.

Alas, this new "Night Stalker" sounds a lot like a microwaved version of "The X-Files," a series that actually owed much to the old "Kolchak." Funny how Los Angeles continues to cannibalize its own ideas. But, hey, if the City of Angels is so limber that it can please itself, more power to it. At least it's safe sex.

In Defense of Newsweek: Other Voices

In the wake of the usual slings and arrows launched at Newsweek, I wanted to share a few thoughts from some other folks ...

Keith Olbermann weighs in:

"Whenever I hear Scott McClellan talking about 'media credibility,' I strain to remember who it was who admitted Jeff Gannon to the White House press room and called on him all those times.

"Whenever I hear this White House talking about 'doing to damage to our image abroad' and how 'people have lost lives,' I strain to remember who it was who went traipsing into Iraq looking for WMD that will apparently turn up just after the Holy Grail will -- and at what human cost.

"Newsweek's version of this story has varied from the others over the last two years -- ones in The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Washington Post, and British and Russian news organizations -- only in that it quoted a government source who now says he didn't have firsthand knowledge of whether or not the investigation took place (oops, sorry, shoulda mentioned that, buh-bye). All of its other government connections -- the ones past which it ran the story -- have gone from saying nothing like 'don't print this, it ain't true' or 'don't print this, it may be true but it'll start riots,' to looking slightly confused and symbolically saying 'Newsweek? Newsweek who?' "

U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan) is far from my favorite congressional Democrat, but we give him props on this letter to White House apologist Scott McClellan:

"... This attempt to tie riots to the Newsweek article stands in stark contrast to the assessment of your own senior military officials. On May 12th, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Of Staff had reported on his consultations with the Senior Commander in Afghanistan about whether there was a causal relationship between the Newsweek story and the riots thusly: '[h]e thought it was not at all tied to the article in the magazine.' The only conclusion that can be reasonably drawn is that, in contrast to career military officers, political operatives sought to score cheap political points by spreading falsehoods about Newsweek. The appropriate course of action is clear: you and [Pentagon spokesman Larry] DiRita should immediately retract your exploitative comments."

Finally, Harvard University media scholar Marvin Kalb, noting to The New York Times, "This is hardly the first time that the administration has sought to portray the American media as inadequately patriotic. They are addressing the mistake, and not the essence of the story. The essence of the story is that the United States has been rather indelicate, to put it mildly, in the way that they have treated prisoners of war."

Amen, brothah.

We find it bemusing and sad that Newsweek is being accused of such unfogivable slipshod journalism. The most unfortunate aspect of the infamous "Periscope" story, that of embellishing a single unnamed source into "sources say" -- is more than commonplace in news (trust me on that one). Spare us the phony indignation.

Like any profession, the history of journalism is littered with many, many, many mistakes and lapses in judgment. What makes today's stumbles by the news media seem comparatively so egregious is a post-9/11 mindset inculcated by the Bush Administration. In this brave new world, every instance of poor or questionable journalism undermines America. Every instance of poor or questionable journalism puts American lives at risk. Every instance of poor or questionable journalism is an affront to freedom-loving people everywhere.

You've got to hand one thing to the Bushies; they're mighty sharp at media manipulation -- mighty sharp.

It's not enough to put media commentators on the government payroll, or upgrade right-wing male prostitutes into White House press corps members, or saturate airwaves with video news releases disguised as actual news. No, critics of the administration -- whether it's an entity as serious as CBS News or as inconsequential as Bill Maher -- becomes Public Enemy No. 1. The White House attack machine is the Nixon White House on Red Bull and steroids. Consider the case of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. If Karl Rove had been in the West Wing back then, Daniel Ellsberg and Neil Sheehan undoubtedly would've found themselves in some faraway jail cell, naked and bleeding from orifices that don't even have a name.

Sex Tape Derby, Round 9

Happy Thursday, people. Let's say you've got to pick you know what. Who would it be? Post your responses in the comments section. Answers will be donated to further the cause of science.

1. Charlie's Angels grudge match: Cameron Diaz or Lucy Liu?

2. OK, just for the Star Wars freaks: Anakin Skywalker or Obi-Wan Kenobi?

3. Maria Bello or Laura Linney?

4. As long as we tossed out quasi-fictitious choices, how 'bout Paul Newman's Butch Cassidy or Robert Redford's Sundance Kid?

5. Bush bashing: Jenna or Barbara?

6. Does everybody really love Raymond? Ray Romano or Brad Garrett?

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

"Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith": A Review

Way too much thought and analysis will no doubt swirl around Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith, the last installment in the epochal Star Wars series, but it will be particularly interesting to see what Jedi mind tricks emerge from its unmistakable political undertones. Unlike 2002's disappointing Attack of the Clones, the politics in Revenge arrive amid plenty of lightsaber-fueled action.

Some politicos will surely be intrigued by George Lucas' veiled critique of the Bush administration. When Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) is on the cusp of spiraling off into the dark side of the Force, he tells his one-time mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) that "if you are not with me, then you're my enemy." It rings familiar for a reason; you can almost literally hear the echoes of Dubya's infamous warning to the countries of the world that "either you are with us or you're with the terrorists." Anakin's words enrage Obi-Kan, who sputters that "only a Sith deals in absolutes!" (Who would have guessed that the Force embraced relativism and situational ethics?)

Demagoguery, albeit the kind gussied up in the wardrobe of patriotism, receives a rebuke later on by Anakin's wife, Senator Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman). As Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) addresses the Senate with a fire-and-brimstone speech, Padme -- in a moment of typically George Lucas non-subtlety -- remarks "this is how liberties die -- with thunderous applause." The inference seems obvious.

At last, a space opera that Michael Moore could love.

No, I'm not going through some sort of grad school delusion about the picture's subtext. The political currents in Revenge of the Sith were all the buzz at the Cannes Film Festival, according to AP writer David Germain.

"Lucas said he patterned his story after historical transformations from freedom to fascism, never figuring when he started his prequel trilogy in the late 1990s that current events might parallel his space fantasy.

" 'As you go through history, I didn't think it was going to get quite this close. So it's just one of those recurring things,' Lucas said at a Cannes news conference. 'I hope this doesn't come true in our country.


" 'When I wrote it, Iraq didn't exist,' Lucas said, laughing.

" 'We were just funding Saddam Hussein and giving him weapons of mass destruction. We didn't think of him as an enemy at that time. We were going after Iran and using him as our surrogate, just as we were doing in Vietnam. ... The parallels between what we did in Vietnam and what we're doing in Iraq now are unbelievable.'

Still, politics is hardly center stage in Revenge (thank the Force). The crux of the film, frankly, is s a mixed bag, in spite of all the critics who have been wetting themselves coming up with superlatives for Lucas' swan song. I don't share the awe.

At least, not until the final 45 minutes, when Lucas barrels toward the fates of the main characters and sets the stage for what was, or will be (the pitfalls of writing about prequels), 1977's Star Wars: Episode IV -- A New Hope.

Until that delirious and affecting third act, however, Lucas' direction remains as scattershot as it was in The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. Despite jaw-dropping CGI effects and a bounty of battle scenes, the pacing is weirdly choppy. Things come to a screeching halt whenever Lucas turns his attentions to the troubled home life of Anakin -- who feels dissed by the Jedi Council -- and his pregnant bride. Christensen isn't as teeth-gnashingly irritating as he was in Attack of the Clones, but he is still woefully lacking. It's not entirely his fault; Christensen has a daunting task, to say the least, portraying one of the most iconic characters in the history of cinema. And Portman, aside from being beautiful, is just ... just ... awful. (That said, McDiarmid truly shines as the chancellor; his seduction of Anakin to the dark side is appropriately slimy).

Moreover, Lucas doesn't do them any favors with dialogue that could charitably be called awkward. OK, so dialogue has never been the guy's specialty, but even by his standards, there is an inordinate number of clunkers here.

Ah, but that magical third act delivers on Star Wars' enduring mythology. There's no real suspense, of course; that much is a given in a prequel. But by virtue of knowing what will happen, the proceedings take on a tragic and fatalistic air. Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) is forced (or is it Forced?) into exile. Luke and Leia are born, while the would-be proud poppa makes the transformation to Darth Vader.

It is a change, by the way, more heartbreaking than it is fearsome.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

In Defense of Newsweek

We're already at overload on the latest presumed travesty of journalism, this time the whipping boy being Newsweek and its apparently inaccurate report of an alleged desecration of the Koran at Guantanamo prison.

Still, we're chiming in with our two cents.

First, we urge a skepticism amid the sanctimonious bluster being emitted from the asses of Condoleezza Rice and other White House officials who say Newsweek should've realized what violence the report would spark. Is the inference that journalists should self-censor if ugly realities threaten peace? At the time of publication, Newsweek editors evidently believed the story was credible. By the White House's logic, the atrocities of Abu Ghraib or even the My Lai massacre would've been kept hush-hush. The best and more responsible journalism has a duty to uncovering truth and letting the world sort it out. Granted, the Koran desecration might not have happened -- and, granted, that's a mighty hefty qualifier -- but Newsweek felt the article was accurate and, in fact, even now has nuanced its retraction so as not to discount the story altogether.

And what about the unbelievably resilient baaaalllls being carted around by Bush spokesman Scott McClellan when calling on Newsweek editors to make the retraction they eventually did? McClellan lectured reporters that the Newsweek piece was "based on a single anonymous source who could not personally substantiate the allegation that was made. The report has had serious consequences. People have lost their lives. The image of the United States abroad has been damaged."

Um.... no shit. You're right, ballboy, all this bogus information and skewered interpretation of facts have resulted in serious consequences and lost lives and a damaged reputation for the U.S. I mean, you are talking about the war, aren't you, Scott? The war that was built on oily yes men and decoder rings and phantom yellowcake and a guy named Chalabi (whose name sounds like some Tom Carvel ice cream creation, by the way)? Does the White House have such scant understanding of irony as to actually scold Newsweek for the negative consequences of a rush to judgment?

As a former journalist, my core question is whether Newsweek made a solid, good-faith effort to check the veracity of its story. The magazine contends that Michael Isikoff, one of the foremost investigative journalists in the country, vouched for the credibility of his source, who has been described as a high-ranking official who would have seen the Pentagon internal report in question. The source did not backpedal on his allegation until after its publication sparked rioting. Department of Defense spokespeople, when asked by Newsweek to verify the 10-sentence report before publication, questioned certain aspects of it but did not challenge the accuracy of the Koran incident.

The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz notes that part of the controversy stems from Newsweek's use of a single anonymous source.

"McClellan said the story 'appears to be very shaky from the get-go' and rests on 'a single anonymous source who cannot substantiate the allegation that was made.' Isikoff said Sunday that 'there was absolutely no lapse in journalistic standards,' noting that the Pentagon declined an opportunity to challenge the story before it was published.

"On sensitive stories, [Newsweek editor Mark] Whitaker said, journalists often have to rely on whether officials 'deny them or how vehemently they deny them.' But McClellan said it would be 'troubling if that's the standard they used.'

"Bob Zelnick, a former ABC News correspondent who covered the Pentagon and now chairs Boston University's journalism department, said he often based stories on information from unnamed officials. 'I don't see how a reporter can function in a sensitive beat without relying on anonymous sources -- even one anonymous source if the reporter has confidence in him,' he said." [emphasis mine]

I must agree. Was the story airtight? Well, hell, obviously not (The Moderate Voice offers some differing opinions on Newsweek's lapses in judgment). But by no stretch is this situation a repeat of the "60 Minutes II" fiasco in which producers ran with a far-fetched tale from a guy with a history of mentally unstable behavior.

Moreover, we find it somewhat telling that Newsweek felt the story was ho-hum enough to place it in the odds 'n' ends "Periscope" section of the May 9 issue. In the wake of Abu Ghraib and a flurry of reports on Gitmo's strange excursion into Howard Stern territory -- interrogators employing fake menstrual blood and heaving jugs and other techniques in an effort to humiliate prisoners and drive them into talking -- what in the name of Allah was difficult to believe about a U.S. officer stuffing the Koran in a toilet? Newsweek's editors didn't blink for the same reason the Pentagon didn't blink, and for the same reason American readers didn't, at least until deadly violence erupted in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

And as The London Times reports:

"Despite Newsweek's about-turn, the Pentagon has yet to state officially that no mistreatment of the Koran by interrogators took place at Guantanamo Bay, where the US has held 600 detainees in legal limbo for more than three years.

"General Richard Myers Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that no evidence has yet been found to support the claims. Such allegations had been raised before Newsweek's report. A lawyer for some Guantanamo inmates has blamed the attempted suicide of 23 of them in August 2003 on a US guard stamping on the Koran."

Perhaps the final irony is not that the Newsweek story could well be false, but that it still seems so damn believable.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Okie Bloggin', Take 7

What some of our favorite Oklahoma-based blogs are up to ...

That lovable beacon of decorum, Dr. Pants of Wholesale Pants Warehouse, tells us everything you'd ever want to know about his stinky feet.

One of my favorite Okie bloggers, the esteemed Doc Hoc of Okie Funk, is plugging the wireless Internet movement in Oklahoma. We can't help but notice the good perfissir has been downing an awful lot of java at these various coffeehouse locales.

Okiedoke keeps up with Duke Energy and Oklahoma's environmental caretaker extraordinaire, Jim Inhofe.

The faithful leftist of The Left End of the Dial zeroes in on loudmouth lunatic John Bolton.

You can color the esteemed LiteraryTech over at Existential Ramble as unimpressed with the National Day of Prayer earlier this month.

Sister Scorpion ponders the discrepancy in how men and women seeking divorce are treated in the Muslim world.

The Blue Dot Blog is hopping mad over that North Carolina rube who found a severed finger in his frozen custard and then had the gumption not to return it to its lawful owner.

A Fistful of Fortnights doesn't get the appeal of strip clubs.

The Token Liberal, who refuses to acknowledge he really is from Oklahoma, gives us a little o' this 'n' that.

Ceres of The Joker's Wife confesses that she is also the re-gifter's wife.

Another Oklahoma blogger I've only recently stumbled upon, Erudite Redneck (ain't they all?), ponders all the dead bodies he has known before. Not a particularly cheerful post, but an interesting one.

The Downtown Guy has a meltdown.

Oklarama's OKPartisan is looking for the lowdown on Oklahoma City amusement park Frontier City. Other than it being the place where washed-up bands go to humiliate themselves, I'm at a loss.

Cats and how to stop them are on the menu at Tom Coburn Is a Big Fat Jerk.

I Only Speak the Truth is on the warpath over poor spelling.

Posts from the Edge's Lady Godiva looks at the yin and yang of romance.

The Great Googly Moogly dutifully reports from a trip to the Lone Star State.

And since The Daily Bitch no longer has permalinks, at least none that I can actually find, I'll just link to her whole damn blog. It's worth the read. But we're telling yah, aka_monty, be wary of this new dude and his Jedi mind tricks.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

The Fourth Estate Asleep at the Wheel

We'll join the chorus of skeptics about why this story isn't receiving more coverage in the U.S.

The Washington Post is one of the few American newspapers to follow the story, originally published in the Sunday Times of London, of recorded notes of a July, 2002, briefing in which British Prime Minister Tony Blair's top advisors were cautioned that U.S. intelligence was "being fixed around the policy" of overthrowing Saddam Hussein's dictatorship in Iraq.

" 'Military action was now seen as inevitable,' said the notes, summarizing a report by Richard Dearlove, then head of MI6, British intelligence, who had just returned from consultations in Washington along with other senior British officials. Dearlove went on, 'Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD [weapons of mass destruction]. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.'

" 'The case was thin,' summarized the notes taken by a British national security aide at the meeting. 'Saddam was not threatening his neighbours and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran.'


"The notes of the Blair meeting, attended by the prime minister's senior national security team, also disclose for the first time that Britain's intelligence boss believed that Bush had decided to go to war in mid-2002, and that he believed U.S. policymakers were trying to use the limited intelligence they had to make the Iraqi leader appear to be a bigger threat than was supported by known facts."

Has the Iraq War just become that boring? Either the U.S. mainstream media believes that most Americans have already accepted that the White House cooked the intelligence or too many journalists are simply too afraid to be perceived as beating a dead horse on the subject of Iraq. Either possibility speaks poorly to the condition of journalism in our nation.