Friday, July 29, 2005

Friday Random 10

Well, I have to admit, I'm not exceedingly proud of everything on the iPod, but hey, I've gotta be me ...

1. Radiohead, "The Tourist"
2. Elvis Costello, "Needle Time"
3. The Flaming Lips, "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1"
4. They Might Be Giants, "Particle Man"
5. The Ramones, "I Wanna Be Sedated"
6. The Specials, "Too Much Too Young"
7. The Mavericks & Trish Yearwood, "Something Stupid"
8. John Mellencamp, "Lonely Ol' Night"
9. Donovan, "Hurdy Gurdy Man"
10. Aerosmith, "Come Together"

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Sex Tape Derby, Round 19

Sex Tape Derby has taken on additional heft and -- dare we say timeliness -- in recent weeks in the wake of revelations regarding the homemade sex tapes of Colin Farrell and Eve. So if you haven't paid much attention to this intellectual exercise up until now, well, here's your chance to redeem yourself. The premise is simple. Let's say you must watch a videotape in which the sacred act of lovemaking is rendered cheap and tawdry. Now let's say you must choose who you'd rather see in the aforementioned video. Got it? Good (those still in need of a quick lesson should click here).

Post your selections in the comments sections.

1. Matthew McConaughey or Owen Wilson?

2. Put the what in country? Loretta Lynn or Tammy Wynette?

3. Metallica does the Kama Sutra: James Hetfield or Lars Ulrich?

4. Winona Ryder or Christina Ricci?

5. Just to be weird: Arnold Schwarzenegger or Topher Grace?

6. Julia Stiles or Maggie Gyllenhaal?

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

I'm Back

Not that anyone cares much, mind you, but I'm back from vacation. And I'll get back to posting as soon as I can think of anything to ponder more insightful than this: Have you seen Isla Fisher in Wedding Crashers?


Hey, like I said ... it might take a while for post-vacation thought to kick back in.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Metamucil moment for 24-hour news

This is beating the dismembered horse, but as I was walking past the television bank in my office, Fox News Channel's chiron was emblazoned with the words: "Toilet Painting: Art or Free Speech?"

First of all, I never thought we had to choose between the two, though maybe that is coming down the pike with the renewed Patriot Act. Regardless, there is so much news to report right now (London, Rove, John Roberts -- take your pick, bright boys), one has to ask: Who is the braying jackass who got this one past the assignments editor?

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Seize him!

CNN continues to keep their "worldwide resources" pinned to about three stories per day: today's London bombing took over the top spot from U.S. Supreme Court nominee John Roberts, who fell to number two. Number three was the manhandling of reporters (including Mrs. Alan Greenspan) following Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on her visit to Sudan.

So the feckless, sac-less hosts and reporters at Ted Turner's 25-year-old slacker child were right on Tuesday when they laughingly conceded that, when it comes to being steamrolled by the White House's agenda, they are tiny, tiny kittens with brittle bones, cowering behind the wheel of a redneck monster truck.

Thankfully, there were no casualties in London as of 4:35 p.m. CDT, so this story will likely recede, allowing for the return of the Natalee Holloway search to CNN's "Big Three."

Of course, what this means is that, as far as most of the public is concerned, the Karl Rove story is dead -- as CNN correspondent Bob Franken said, "Karl Rove, you remember him. He was certainly yesterday's story."

Fortunately, there are still members of the press willing to pursue the stories long after Bob "Not Al" Franken and Miles "Of Smiles" O'Brien deem them out of style or soooo yesterday. Walter Pincus and Jim VandeHei of The Washington Post published a story today indicating that the identity of Ambassador Joe Wilson's wife was classified "Secret" in a CIA memo, and that "any Bush administration official who read it should have been aware the information was classified, according to current and former government officials."

From The Washington Post:

"The paragraph identifying her as the wife of former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV was clearly marked to show that it contained classified material at the "secret" level, two sources said. The CIA classifies as "secret" the names of officers whose identities are covert, according to former senior agency officials.

Anyone reading that paragraph should have been aware that it contained secret information, though that designation was not specifically attached to (Valerie) Plame's name and did not describe her status as covert, the sources said. It is a federal crime, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, for a federal official to knowingly disclose the identity of a covert CIA official if the person knows the government is trying to keep it secret."

That means one thing: the pampered porker who revealed the information contained in that paragraph needs to be shackled and dragged out of the West Wing by his curly tail. Ditto to the Cheney toady named after Kermit the Frog's assistant.

Sex Tape Derby, Round 18

So after 18 rounds, you probably know the drill, but for the newbies, there's this, or there's this safe and easy-to-use version: One day, you receive two padded envelopes in the mailbox, and each contains a videotape with a popular celebrity or well known public figure getting his or her freak on. Each videotape is labeled with the name of this person of note, and you can only watch one or the other. Which do you choose?

Choose wisely and explain yourself -- that is all!

1. Crash this Wedding: Rachel McAdams or Isla Fisher?

2. Robes off! Supreme Court nominee John Roberts or would-be nominee, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales?

3. Maggie Grace of Lost or British blue-eyed soul singer Joss Stone?

4. Candy man Johnny Depp or Jedi master Ewan McGregor?

5. Naked news: CNN's Soledad O'Brien or MSNBC's Natalie Morales?

6. Political intrigue: Ambassador Joseph Wilson or Badassador Karl Rove?

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Mr. Roberts

OK, so Dumbya (snicker, snicker) has selected a conservative WASPy guy with less than two years of judicial experience to serve on the high court. Even the name is vintage WASP: John Roberts. Could a name be any more WASPy in terms of conjuring up images of backyard barbecues, ice cream church socials, Saturday morning 8 a.m. tee-off times and missionary-position begetting?

Still, unless the nominee is a teeth-gnashing Mr. Potter out to destroy George Bailey and the poor ol' Building & Loan, I'm inclined to think the guy deserves Senate confirmation. Hey, like it or not (and you can count me as a not), voters reelected Dumbya knowing full well that the president for the next four years would likely have as many as three appointments to the high court. Anyway, provided the appointee doesn't harbor too checkered a past (Long Dong Thomas, f'instance) or an extremist ideology (Robert Bork), I'm inclined to concede that it's fair enough to give a Supreme Court nominee the benefit of the doubt. I might be one of the few people in America (certainly one of the few in Oklahoma) who thought John Kerry is a good man and was a good candidate, but I have to bristle when I read asinine statements from him such as (via The New York Times), "This much is clear already. Judge Roberts is no Sandra Day O'Connor."

Well, no shit, John. For one, Roberts can piss standing up. But aside from that, the Supreme Court has a long history of jurists who were unpredictable going into the job. Sandra Day O'Connor wasn't even Sandra Day "Swing Vote" O'Connor when she was tapped by Reagan. And you know sure as hell that David Souter and Anthony Kennedy weren't quite what their conservative proponents had expected.

On the question of abortion and choice, I don't support the notion that Roberts can be judged based on his actions as deputy solicitor general, a job that required his advocacy of White House policies. Still, what must be a tad unsettling for pro-choice groups is Roberts' nuanced statement regarding Roe v. Wade to Sen. Dick Durbin during the judge's 2003 appellate court confirmation hearing. "I'll be bound to follow the Supreme Court precedent regardless of what type of constructionist I might be," Roberts said. On the high court, of course, Roberts is not bound to follow such a precedent; he can help craft a new precedent. notes that Roberts' short time on the bench will make it particularly difficult for the Senate to gauge his ideological bent:

"As a result, some conservatives have made unflattering comparisons between Roberts and Supreme Court Justice David Souter, whose short stint on the 1st Circuit before being appointed in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush failed to reveal Souter's moderate-to-liberal leanings on some issues.

"Yet those who know Roberts say he, unlike Souter, is a reliable conservative who can be counted on to undermine if not immediately overturn liberal landmarks like abortion rights and affirmative action. Indicators of his true stripes cited by friends include: clerking for [Justice William] Rehnquist, membership in the Federalist Society, laboring in the Ronald Reagan White House counsel's office and at the Justice Department into the Bush years, working with Kenneth Starr among others, and even his lunchtime conversations at Hogan & Hartson. 'He is as conservative as you can get,' one friend puts it.

"In short, Roberts may combine the stealth appeal of Souter with the unwavering ideology of Scalia and Thomas. But this take on Roberts puts some of his biggest boosters in a quandary. They praise Roberts as a brilliant, fair-minded lawyer with a perfect judicial temperament. But can that image as an open-minded jurist co-exist with also being viewed as a predictable conservative?"

The article is worth reading for its summary of Roberts' more provocative decisions as a federal judge. Read here for more.

The Alliance for Justice has emerged with guns a-blazin' against Roberts. Read here for that wrap.

Finally, Howard Bashman of How Appealing, the king daddy of legal blogs, has a comprehensive roundup of editorials on Roberts.

"Thank You Sir -- May I Have Another?"

The behavior of the 24-hour news services has become fairly predictable, but never has a single news agency been so self-aware of its pathetic limitations.

On Tuesday July 19, several hours before George W. Bush named John Roberts as his Supreme Court nominee, CNN was reporting on the apparent imminence of an announcement. The conventional wisdom in Washington held that the White House had clearly lost control of the Karl Rove story, and was now trying to shift attention away with the announcement of Bush's choice to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Hell, it wasn't CW -- it was becoming as obvious as the "Friday night dump" of bad news. The announcement would be made. Here was the problem: CNN correspondents were laughing about how the White House was going to shift its attention -- "What clowns we are, and what a smart, smart man our Popular Wartime Preznit is!" they seemed to say.

On American Morning, co-host Miles "Of Smiles" O'Brien pitched to correspondent Bob Franken, chuckling about how the WH machine was about to roll over their prone asses.


O'BRIEN: Is this a good day to announce a Supreme Court nominee, Mr. Franken?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (laughing) You cynical people in the news media. Well, here's what I can tell you. CNN is engaging in what some stations like to call team coverage (emphasis courtesy of CTTC). And I can tell you the chief national correspondent John King has been told that the president has not locked in on someone, but was getting there. That's a quote.

Of course, that could happen today. CNN White House correspondent Dana Bash told by a variety of sources that it could come today. I've been hearing the same thing. And I'm, of course, aware of the meeting that Senator Arlen Specter had here at the White House last night. Specter the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. We're told he actually sat down with the president. But most public, what a coincidence, that he and Karl Rove were available to make sure the cameras got shots of him. Karl Rove, you remember him. He was certainly yesterday's story. Will he be today's story? Well, The focus is certainly switching, as you point out, to the Supreme Court. Now here's what to watch for: After 11:00 this morning, President Bush will be appearing with the Australian prime minister, and that will mean questions that have nothing to do with relations with Australia. What you want to watch is to see if the questions switch from the matter of Karl Rove to the questions of a Supreme Court nominee, and I have a prediction that's exactly what's going to happen.

O'BRIEN: Once again, way out on a limb goes Bob Franken. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

Yes, we all appreciate your tirelessness in bending over for Scottie Mac, Bob.

Of course, we at CTTC have all been in the business at one time or another, and we understand that when the President announces his nomination for a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land, the presses get stopped, producers troll the satellites for live feeds and archive B-roll and all that other Industryspeak. It did become the top story, and it should be the top story.

But here's the rub. As soon as the announcement came down, the Karl Rove story dropped out of sight -- completely down the darkest, blackest fucking pitch-black hole of black darkness.

The next morning, not a single CNN reporter or host mentioned the story until mid-morning, when anchor Fredricka Whitfield mentioned it in passing as part of a viewer's e-mail.

WHITFIELD: Well one e-mail says the way President Bush announced his choice for Supreme Court nominee, using prime time television, and the choice that he made, selecting a right wing conservative which tips the balance of the court, it becomes obvious that the president wanted to create as much controversy as possible in order to take the heat off of the Karl Rove incident.

The question is this: why can't CNN, a network that trumpets the sheer volume of its worldwide resources, cover more than three news stories at once? As of noon Wednesday, July 20, CNN was covering only three stories with any diligence: John Roberts, Hurricane Emily and Natalee Holloway.

And the only time Rove -- the top story of the previous day and still a current, ongoing investigation -- has been mentioned was as part of a viewer e-mail round-up.

24 hours of space. Three stories. And an egregious national security breach by White House staffers that the CIA has reported resulted in at least one avoidable death goes uncovered. The White House got what it wanted, and CNN just laid back and enjoyed it.

What absolute tools they are, and they all seem so comfortable in their toolbox.

Friday Random 10 (on a Wednesday)

Well, because I'm gonna be out of pocket for several days, I'm dropping the soon-to-be-weekly iPod random 10 shuffle today instead of Friday.

1. The Ben Folds Five, "Song for the Dumped"
2. Poi Dog Pondering, "Living with the Dreaming Body"
3. The Pretenders, "Middle of the Road"
4. Faith No More, "This Guy's in Love with You"
5. The Neville Brothers, "Voo Doo"
6. The Young Fresh Fellows, "The New John Agar"
7. Grant Lee Buffalo, "Testimony"
8. R.E.M., "Stand!"
9. Louis Armstrong, "Rockin' Chair"
10. The Grateful Dead, "Friend of the Devil"

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Iraqi Death Toll

A new study indicates that approximately 24,865 Iraqi civilians have been killed in the two years since the end (?) of the Iraq War. If the figures by Iraq Body Count are accurate, the insurgency is responsible for 9 percent of the deaths. By contrast, U.S. occupation forces are to blame for 37 percent of the deaths.

The Guardian in London reports that appears to be changing.

"Civilian deaths attributed to US and coalition military forces peaked in the invasion period from March to May 2003 -- which accounts for 30 percent of all civilian deaths in the two-year period -- but the longer-term trend has been for increasing numbers to die at the hands of insurgents.

"Figures obtained last week from the Iraqi interior ministry put the average civilian and police officer death toll in insurgent attacks from August 2004 to March 2005 at 800 a month."

Maybe the figures are correct and maybe they aren't. We certainly won't know from Uncle Sam. The U.S. doesn't release such numbers.

How to Make a Terrorist

A pair of studies casts doubt on the White House's shaky claim that the Iraq War has made the U.S. safer from the threat terrorism. I know, I know -- it's a shocker.

Bryan Bender of the Boston Globe reports that investigations by Saudi Arabia (OK, perhaps not the most unimpeachable source) and an Israeli think tank (better) indicate that the Iraq insurgency is not drawing terrorists, but rather fighters who are becoming radicalized as a result:

"Interrogations of nearly 300 Saudis captured while trying to sneak into Iraq and case studies of more than three dozen others who blew themselves up in suicide attacks show that most were heeding the calls from clerics and activists to drive infidels out of Arab land, according to a study by Saudi investigator Nawaf Obaid, a US-trained analyst who was commissioned by the Saudi government and given access to Saudi officials and intelligence.

"A separate Israeli analysis of 154 foreign fighters compiled by a leading terrorism researcher found that despite the presence of some senior Al Qaeda operatives who are organizing the volunteers, 'the vast majority of [non-Iraqi] Arabs killed in Iraq have never taken part in any terrorist activity prior to their arrival in Iraq.' "

What a colossal failure has been the Bush Doctrine in Iraq. Dubya and the Neocons (a phrase destined to be the name of an alt-rock band in 20 years) contend that we are fighting terrorists in Iraq so that we don't have to fight them on U.S. soil -- yet another post-war rationalization -- as if somehow there is a finite number of terrorists, and we are weighting down the see-saw by luring them to blow up our troops in Iraq.

Well, here's the punch line: Iraq is an incubator for terrorists. Congrats, Mr. President.

Sex Tape Derby: Birds Do It, Bees Do It, Let's Sue It

Colin Farrell wants to protect his good name. Seriously: His good name. No smirking.

The actor with the Groucho mustaches pasted above his eyes is suing his ex-girlfriend, Nicole Narain, for plotting to sell a hardcore sex tape the two of them made a few years back.

"The suit claims the woman has worked with the owner of an Internet pornography business and has contacted the news media about the tape," AP reports. "The lawsuit said release of the 15-minute videotape would irreparably harm Farrell's reputation and career."

OK, let's assume for a second that Colin Farrell has a reputation to speak of.

Is he that bad of a lay that the videotape would "irreparably harm" him?

Hey, Colin, next time try thinking of baseball or dead cats.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Outed, Damn Traitor, Part III: Turd Blossom Must Go

Turd Blossom must go.

That said, of course, it's a given that even if alleged traitor Karl Rove is forced to resign his White House post, his departure won't mean squat in the scheme of things. The evil genius of the Republican Party will still hang on as Dubya's out-of-house consiglieri (after all, alleged traitor Karl Rove invented George W. Bush) and is sure to have his pudgy fingers knuckle-deep in the '08 elections.

Perhaps all of this is a moot point, anyway. Dubya, who pronounced last year that he would fire any White House staffer who leaked a CIA operative's identity, today revised his standard. Apparently, parsed language is an occupational hazard in the Oval Office.

As The Los Angeles Times' James Gerstenzang reports, the prez now says what he really meant was that he'd fire anyone found to have committed a crime:

"Thus, his remarks today appeared to shift his standard, allowing continued service in his administration until the commission of a crime had been established, rather than simply the determination that classified information had been leaked.

"At the same time, the president avoided discussing in detail the role of his deputy chief of staff and top political advisor, Karl Rove, in the disclosure that the wife of former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV had worked on weapons issues at the Central Intelligence Agency.

" 'I think it's best that people wait until the investigation is complete before you jump to conclusions. And I will do so, as well,' the president said. 'I don't know all the facts. I want to know all the facts. The best place for the facts to be done is by somebody who's spending time investigating it.' "

Unless those investigators happen to be UN arms inspectors, of course, but that's a different story. Dubya, as we all know, is a man who proceeds only after thoughtful deliberation and careful reasoning. Oh, and a conversation with Dick Cheney.

The LA Times also reports that prosecutors in the Valerie Plame affair were told that Rove and Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, made a concerted effort to discredit Wilson after he raised doubts whether Iraq was pursuing WMDs:

"A source directly familiar with information provided to prosecutors said Rove's interest was so strong that it prompted questions in the White House. When asked at one point why he was pursuing the diplomat so aggressively, Rove reportedly responded: 'He's a Democrat.' Rove then cited Wilson's campaign donations, which leaned toward Democrats, the person familiar with the case said."

If true, the actions of alleged traitor Karl Rove are even more egregious than simply trashing a critic of Bush's war policy. It is a stark reminder that foreign policy -- even foreign policy that involves war and occupation and the loss of American lives (not to mention Iraqi lives) -- remains tainted by partisan politics. Think about it. Turd Blossom and Scooter (who the hell works in the White House, anyway? The Little Rascals?) evidently blew the cover of a CIA agent and opened up that person to serious risk, all because a Democrat questioned a claim that turned out to be bogus, anyway.

And while we're on the subject, let's briefly clear up one lie being perpetuated by apologists for alleged traitor Karl Rove. Turd Blossom and his defenders claim that Rove was simply trying to steer Time's Matt Cooper right and that Wilson had falsely characterized his mission to Africa as being at Cheney's request. Um, we call bullshit on that. The Blue Dot Blog has posted Wilson's July 6, 2003 op-ed in The New York Times that started the entire brouhaha; it is worth noting that his language was decidedly more nuanced than what the Bushies would have you believe:

Wilson wrote:

"In February 2002, I was informed by officials at the Central Intelligence Agency that Vice President Dick Cheney's office had questions about a particular intelligence report. While I never saw the report, I was told that it referred to a memorandum of agreement that documented the sale of uranium yellowcake -- a form of lightly processed ore -- by Niger to Iraq in the late 1990's. The agency officials asked if I would travel to Niger to check out the story so they could provide a response to the vice president's office."

Is that a claim that he was sent by the Veep? Granted, Wilson's language seems purposely vague, but it certainly provides a bit of wiggle room.

Newsweek 's Jonathan Alter can be a smug ass on occasion, but we think he is completely on target in his latest column:

"A real leader wouldn't hide behind Clintonian legalisms like 'I don't want to prejudge.' Even if the disclosure [about Plame] was unintentional and no law was broken, Rove's confirmed conduct -- talking casually to two reporters without security clearances about a CIA operative -- was dangerous and wrong.

"As GOP congressman turned talk-show host Joe Scarborough puts it, if someone in his old congressional office did what Rove unquestionably did, that someone would have been promptly fired, just as the president promised in this case. Scarborough, no longer obligated to toe the pathetic Republican Party line, says it's totally irrelevant if Joe Wilson is a preening partisan who misled investigators about the role his wife played in recommending his Niger trip. The frantic efforts of the GOP attack machine to change the subject to Wilson shows how scared Republicans are that the master of their universe will be held accountable for Rove's destructive carelessness."

Friday, July 15, 2005

Sex Tape Derby: Birds Do It, Bees Do It, Even Irish Sleazes Do It ...

Not to gloat or anything, but I made the claim some time ago (not aloud or anything, but it was in my head, trust me) that it was only a matter of time until every celebrity on the planet with functioning genitalia and AA batteries ends up making a homemade sex video. Well, looks like ol' Chase is kind of a modern-day Nostradamus or Jeanne Dixon, or whichever one correctly predicted that whole thing about the end of the world.

Add Colin Farrell to the ever-swelling (heh, heh) list of A-list exhibitionists.

The infallible New York Post's Page Six reports that Farrell and ex-Playboy playmate Nicole Narain are the latest couple who likely committed a game of hide-the-salami to videotaped immortality. According to the rag, a man identifying himself only as J.J. (not to be confused with the deceased MTV veejay of yesteryear) contacted the paper and claimed to have in his possession the 14-minute sex tape, which supposedly was shot two years ago:

"J.J. described the steamy tape in graphic detail, starting with a naked Nicole in her living room turning on some music, and ending with Farrell pointing the camera at her white cat in the corner of the room and saying, 'Baby, you have the most beautiful [kitty].'

"In between, Narain, who was Miss January in 2002, displays her pierced tongue as she looks up at the camera and winks. And Farrell, who had a shaved head for his role in Daredevil, reciprocates, saying, 'I could do this breakfast, lunch and dinner.' "

Nice. That sort of dialogue makes George Lucas sound like Chekhov.

On a quasi-related note, deserves some sort of award for suggesting the film title of Bone Booth, just in case the tape ends up winning wide release. It's gotta be better than Bewitched.

Friday Random 10

For too long, I've had to idly sit by and read the Friday random 10 songs via the iPod shuffling of such bloggers as Rox Populi and others. But as a proud owner of a brand spankin' new iPod who is still in the process of transferring my music collection to it, here's my random shuffle for today:

1. Fatboy Slim, "The Rockafeller Skank"
2. The Cure, "A Forest"
3. The Flaming Lips, "Placebo Headwound"
4. Elvis Costello, "You Tripped at Every Step"
5. The Temptations, "All I Need"
6. The Five Americans, "Western Union"
7. The Beatles, "Rocky Raccoon"
8. The Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Fight Like a Brave"
9. Sebadoh, "On Fire"
10. Pinback, "Sender"

"Dark Water": Some Thoughts

While I'm thinking about it ...

Dark Water has its share of spooky elements and is a rather effective creepy thriller -- right up until the time you realize that it's not really Dark Water at all, but rather a liquefied version of The Ring, or Ringu, or whatever you wanna call it.

That's not coincidental. Both Dark Water and Ringu are based on novels by Koji Suzuki. As a result, the films, like the author, go to the same well once too often.

Checklist the similarities:
- A single mother trying to do the best she can and battling self-doubt as she raises her quasi-psychic child.
- A constant, relentless rain; at least The Ring had the good sense to make the locale Seattle.
- A creepy dead girl, victimized by bad parenting and now in the market for a new mommy figure.
- Oh, and lots of yucky dark water and something involving a well, or a water tank, or any other water receptacle you can think of.

Jennifer Connelly does a fine job, and the supporting cast -- led by Tim Roth and John C. Reilly -- is equally terrific. But an awful lot of horror movie cliches lead to a wholly unsatisfying conclusion here. It's a bummer, too, 'cause director Walter Salles does a masterful job capturing the nuances of atmosphere.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Sex Tape Derby, Round 17

Another Thursday, another Sex Tape Derby. If you can't figure it out, check here, but essentially, it is this: You've got to watch a sex video and you've got to choose among the following on who will star. Got it? Good. Now post your selections in the comments section below, and make haste.

1. On the Tiger Beat: Lindsay Lohan or Hillary Duff?

2. Matt Damon or Ben Affleck?

3. The Golden Age: Rita Hayworth or Veronica Lake?

4. Indiana Jonesing: Steven Spielberg or George Lucas?

5. Siren showdown: Diana Krall or Norah Jones?

6. Comedy showdown: Michael Ian Black or David Cross?

You're doin' fine, Oklahoma!

From the Associated Press:

"BARTLESVILLE, Okla. -- A woman has been arrested on child neglect charges after giving birth while drunk, police said. Melissa Irene Tanner, 37, is accused of having a blood alcohol content close to three times the legal limit when she gave birth to a baby girl on June 30.

She is being held in jail with bail set at $30,000 and the baby has been placed in foster care.
The baby was not breathing upon birth and had to be administered a medication to counteract any narcotics that may have been present in the child's system. After an emergency procedure by hospital staff, the child started breathing.

Tanner reportedly has six other children. According to a July 11 probable cause affidavit filed in the case, Tanner told police she and another person had consumed a case of beer."

This baby girl just got sucker-punched by life on her way out of the birth canal. Meanwhile, the Catholic League, Focus On the Family and other beacons of Dark Ages nostalgia are doing everything they can to limit access to birth control.

This is hitting the national news wires, Oklahoma. Stop letting James Dobson, William Donohue and their acolytes in Oklahoma's legislature and churches turn our society into a dystopian Margaret Atwood novel.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Amusement Park of Death

Is Disney World turning into the sort of amusement park that only Wes Craven could love? Earlier this year a little boy died after going on a ride, and now a different thrill ride is at the center of an incident in which a teenaged girl ended up in critical condition.

The teen, 16-year-old Leanne Deacon of England, went into cardiac arrest shortly after she exited the "Twilight Zone Tower of Terror," in which an elevator shoots up 13 stories and then swings back.

USA Today reports:

"Deacon's illness came a month after a 4-year-old Pennsylvania boy, Daudi Bamuwamye, died after riding another Disney World attraction, Epcot's 'Mission: Space.' That ride is so intense that it has motion sickness bags and several riders have been treated for chest pain. An elderly, diabetic woman also died in February after riding the Magic Kingdom's 'Pirates of the Caribbean,' but the medical examiner said her death 'was not unexpected.' "

Here's a tip: Stay away from the Country Bear Jamboree. It's just a matter of time until Big Al mauls someone. Don't be fooled by that "Blood on the Saddle" song. It's a warning.

Crazy like Fox, Part II

As CTTC relayed to you yesterday, Fox News Channel host John Gibson told his audience how much better the attack on London's public transportation system might have been if it had only been visited upon FNC's pet national scapegoat, the French.

From The Guardian U.K.:

"If they had picked France instead of London to hold the Olympics, it would have been the one time we could look forward to where we didn't worry about terrorism. They'd blow up Paris, and who cares?" He added: "This is why I thought the Brits should let the French have the Olympics - let somebody else be worried about guys with backpack bombs for a while."

Now, as a saddening postscript, it is being reported that the suicide bombers were, in fact, British citizens.

From CNN International:

"Prime Minister Tony Blair has expressed his shock that the four men believed to have carried out last week's deadly terrorist attacks on London's transit system were British nationals.
But speaking to parliament on Wednesday, Blair also urged Britons to react calmly to the bombings that killed at least 52 people, and he condemned attacks against Muslims.

'Particularly with the shock of knowing that those that have perpetrated this were actually born and brought up in this country, I think it is particularly important we recognize the worldwide dimension of this,' Blair said."

These new revelations will most certainly not result in any retractions from Gibson or his FNC comrades regarding their salivation at the possibility of Parisian carnage -- they apologize about as much as their Bush Administration patrons do, and if they had a conscience between them, they would be now experiencing a not-so-fresh feeling in their cranial repository for unused ethical standards. As such, we bestow Gibson with one of our favorite, Jon Stewart-approved, French-derived descriptors.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Looney Tunes

Are you sometimes burdened by a song that you just can't get out of your head?

If so, chances are you might need help.

There are musical hallucinations, and they can be serious neurological trouble. The New York Times' Carl Zimmer explains that a number of psychiatrists are studying a rare phenomenon in which some people find themselves tormented by songs that play over and over in their head:

"They suspect that the hallucinations ... are a result of malfunctioning brain networks that normally allow us to perceive music.

"They also suspect that many cases of musical hallucinations go undiagnosed."

The article includes the findings of a British neurologist who conducted brain scans of several elderly patients who suffer musical hallucinations. The researcher, Dr. Tim Griffiths, discovered that the patients in question did not use their primary auditory cortex, which is the first stop for sound that enters the brain for mental processing.

The paper continues:

"When no sound is coming from the ears, the brain may still generate occasional, random impulses that the music-processing regions interpret as sound. They then try to match these impulses to memories of music, turning a few notes into a familiar melody.

For most people, these spontaneous signals may produce nothing more than a song that is hard to get out of the head. But the constant stream of information coming in from the ears suppresses the false music."

In the wake of such scientific revelations, it is difficult not to remember Kiki Dee and her disposable hit single of 1974, "I've Got the Music in Me."

As she crooned:
"I got the music in me
Feel funky feel good
Gonna tell you I'm in the neighborhood
Gonna fly like a bird on the wing
Hold on to your hat, honey, sing, sing, sing, sing
I heat up, I cool down
I got words in my head, so I sing them
Don't let life get me down
Catch a hold of my blues and just play them"

What a sad, sorry tale. Now, in the bright sunlight of sunlight, we understand those agonizing words for what they were:

A cry for help.

Poor, poor Kiki. If only we had known. If only we had paid attention to the tears streaming down those silky cheeks as she begged us to understand, to help her, to quiet the demons that undoubtedly did the can-can and boogaloo and electric slide through her percussive-happy insides. She really did have the music in her. And it was hell.

If only we had known.

Crazy like Fox

Last week, as the world absorbed the aftershocks of the bombings in Britain, "reporters" for the Fox News Channel were finding ways to spin the attacks for financial profit, for political gain and, in the case of John Gibson, xenophobic jollies.

From the Guardian U.K.:

Speaking about the reaction of the financial markets, Brit Hume, the channel's Washington managing editor, said: "Just on a personal basis ... I saw the futures this morning, which were really in the tank, I thought 'hmm, time to buy'."

The host of a Fox News programme, Brian Kilmeade, said the attacks had the effect of putting terrorism back on the top of the G8's agenda, in place of global warming and African aid. "I think that works to our advantage, in the western world's advantage, for people to experience something like this together, just 500 miles from where the attacks have happened."

Now, if lust for political points or financial gain weren't enough, leave it to John Gibson to pine for the murder of millions of Parisians.

More from the Guardian:

Another Fox News host, John Gibson, said before the blasts that the International Olympic Committee "missed a golden opportunity" by not awarding the 2012 games to France. "If they had picked France instead of London to hold the Olympics, it would have been the one time we could look forward to where we didn't worry about terrorism. They'd blow up Paris, and who cares?" He added: "This is why I thought the Brits should let the French have the Olympics - let somebody else be worried about guys with backpack bombs for a while."

Isn't Gibson essentially advocating an attack on an ally-- one that, lest the right wing forgets, is still fighting alongside U.S. forces in Afghanistan? You know, hunting for Osama bin Laden?

Remembering "Little Poison"

Tonight's upcoming All-Star game got me to waxing nostalgic ...

I was around 12 years old and a diehard baseball fanatic when my dad took me to meet Lloyd Waner.

Some of you might not know who the hell that is. In the annals of baseball heroics, the name Lloyd Waner has inevitably dimmed over the decades, but in his day, the Pittsburgh Pirate outfielder dubbed "Little Poison" was one of the greatest to play the game.

A native of Harrah, Oklahoma, Lloyd and his brother, "Big Poison" Paul, were both early inductees to Cooperstown. My dad, who was a baseball fan himself, had phoned Lloyd out of the blue to see if the old man would be willing to meet a dorky kid who loved baseball and was almost reverent about the game's legends of the past.

Waner lived in a small, modest house in rural Oklahoma County. The front door had a wire mesh screen, and through it I caught my first glimpse of this hobbled little man who had batted .355 his rookie year -- in 1927 -- and played alongside the likes of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Honus Wagner.

Waner and his wife were gracious hosts. Still, it must not have been easy for them, especially Lloyd, who had difficulty walking and continued to wheeze from emphysema -- apparently a common byproduct of 1930s-era base runners who kicked up so much dirt and dust during their heyday. I was mesmerized. On that hallowed Saturday afternoon, the old man took a seat and regaled me and my father with stories of the 1927 World Series (in which the Pirates played the Yankees and its immortal "Murderer's Row") and other near-mythical things. He showed us a baseball, now caked in dirt, that Babe Ruth had clobbered into a home run. He leafed through some baseball books I had brought with me, amused to read articles about himself that he had never before seen.

Lloyd Waner died a few years after that Saturday meeting. There was not much he was able to leave his widow. Waner had retired from Major League Baseball in the mid-1940s, just before a pension plan was implemented in 1947.

The ensuing years in journalism afforded me the opportunity to visit with many sports legends, especially heroes of the baseball diamond. None were more accommodating and genuine than Lloyd Waner.

In this day and age, in which steroid-enhanced players make obscene amounts of money, it is a bit infuriating that Major League Baseball appears so disinterested in taking care of so many of its aged. Today, there are fewer than 50 living ex-ballplayers who retired before the pension plan took effect, and still neither the owners nor the players' union have done squat to remedy that injustice.

There are examples out there from which Major League Baseball could take its cue. The Motion Picture and Television Fund, for example, is one way in which the moguls of the entertainment industry help take care of their forbearers. While I can't say with 100-percent certainty that no counterpart exists for professional baseball, I'm close to sure.

Lloyd Waner deserved better. So do the other veterans of the game who failed to reap the benefits of unionization.

Outed, Damn Traitor, Part II: The Spokesman Speaks Not

This is just beautiful: Scott McClellan takes a licking (and it ain't from Mrs. McClellan).

(hat tip to Michael for the video clip)

Monday, July 11, 2005

Don't Bogart That Bible, My Friend

This gem comes from the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise (for any non-Okies out there, Bartlesville is a town in northeast Oklahoma). In a world already brimming with creative excuses, a special shout-out goes to Jon Todd Brotherton, who was handed a suspended sentence earlier this month for selling pot.

In an explanation curiously reminiscent of The Blues Brothers, the 29-year-old man had told arresting officers he was selling marijuana at the express request of the Almighty God.

The paper continues with Brotherton's confession of spreading God's weed, er, will.

"Then I heard a voice in my head say 'sell marijuana and give the money to the Concern Center.' 'I questioned whether this voice was God or not. I thought it might have been Satan or a demon. So I cast lots just as they did when they chose the twelfth disciple, and I prayed, 'God if this is you, when I flip this pen let it land north and if you want me to do it let it land south.' I flipped the pen and it landed north. So I went to sell it to a few of my friends on a regular basis over a few month period, and I donated over time approximately 85 (percent) of the money I made off the marijuana."

Brotherton's claim is ridiculous, of course.

God, as we all know, has been far too busy directing the Iraq War to worry about dope-peddling in Oklahoma.

ZooCreation: Enough, Already

We missed this Sunday New York Times editorial regarding the Tulsa zoo and its (thankful) scrapping of a proposed exhibit on creationism. As the Times duly noted, the cast of Bible thumpers let their proverbial slip show with their contention that they wanted to present a number of creation myths:

"You want creationism? How about the Cherokee buzzard that gouged the valleys and mountains? And why should Chinese-Americans tolerate neglect of P'an Ku and the cosmic egg at the zoo, or Norse descendants not speak up for Audhumla, the giant cow?

"The futility of this exercise was emphatically made clear last week when a crowd of critics demanded reconsideration. With the speed of the Mayan jaguar sun god, zoo directors reversed themselves, realizing they had opened a Pandora's box (which see). In stumbling upon so many worthy cosmogonies, Tulsa did us all a favor by underlining how truly singular the evolution explanation is, rooted firmly in scientific demonstration."


Outed, Damn Traitor

Could it be that the Prince of Darkness himself, Karl Rove, was careless enough to actually expose Valerie Plame as a CIA operative without using a few dozen go-betweens to cushion his villainy? That appears to be the case, at least according to Newsweek's intrepid Michael Isikoff.

As he detailed in a story posted on-line yesterday, the notes of Time reporter Matt Cooper reveal that Rove identified the wife of Joe Wilson to be a CIA agent.

Newsweek reports that Cooper had spoken to Rove in 2003 shortly after former ambassador Joe Wilson publicly cast doubt on suggestions that Iraq was pursuing nuclear weapons:

"In a brief conversation with Rove, Cooper asked what to make of the flap over Wilson's criticisms. Newsweek obtained a copy of the e-mail that Cooper sent his bureau chief after speaking to Rove. (The e-mail was authenticated by a source intimately familiar with Time's editorial handling of the Wilson story, but who has asked not to be identified because of the magazine's corporate decision not to disclose its contents.) Cooper wrote that Rove offered him a 'big warning' not to 'get too far out on Wilson.'

"Rove told Cooper that Wilson's trip had not been authorized by 'DCIA' -- CIA Director George Tenet -- or Vice President Dick Cheney. Rather, 'it was, KR said, wilson's wife, who apparently works at the agency on wmd [weapons of mass destruction] issues who authorized the trip.' Wilson's wife is Plame, then an undercover agent working as an analyst in the CIA's Directorate of Operations counterproliferation division. (Cooper later included the essence of what Rove told him in an online story.)

"The e-mail characterizing the conversation continues: 'not only the genesis of the trip is flawed an[d] suspect but so is the report. he [Rove] implied strongly there's still plenty to implicatIraqiqi interest in acquiring uranium fro[m] Niger...'"

Of course, Rove's attorney is busy disputing the notion that Rove's super-duper off-the-record comments amounted to outing an undercover CIA agent, which is a felony, by the way -- and, if you go by Dubya's daddy, nothing short of treason. In the sort of parsed language that made Republicans so pissed (and rightly so) at Bill Clinton, the Rove damage-control squad is pointing out that Rove identified the CIA agent as Joe Wilson's "wife" and not as Valerie Plame. Um, right. Precluding the possibility of Wilson being a Mormon bigamist kicking it old school, we don't see how the wifey connection does not specifically point to Plame.

Moreover, the Rove apologists are certain to allege that he didn't know Plame was an "undercover" CIA operative. Again, excuse us while we vomit disbelief all over our Converse sneakers. Does anyone really believe that Karl Rove, grand puppetmaster of the White House (along with President Emeritus Cheney, that is) did not know Valerie Plame was an undercover operative?

Oh, and what do we make of the fact that Rove's conversation with Cooper occurred three days before Robert Novak outed Plame in his syndicated column? The White House can slice and dice it any way it wants, but for now every indication is that the Bush administration -- and Rove, in particular -- had orchestrated a concerted effort to discredit Wilson in the media by placing a big, fat bullseye on his wife.

From Andrew Sullivan, we have this:

"The salient fact is that Rove appears to have told Cooper about Wilson's wife working at the CIA before the Novak column appeared. Rove was clearly coordinating a message to discredit Wilson by linking him to his wife, and implying that Wilson had no real authorization from the senior levels of the administration. Rove may not be guilty of a crime, if he did not disclose her name and did not know she was undercover. He is guilty of sleaze and spin. But then that's also hardly news, is it?"

Also not particularly newsworthy but no less stomach-churning is this prediction: If Rove is guilty of a crime, don't expect to see him appear in prison issue duds anytime soon. The Bush administration doesn't seem too hung up on notions of justice.

Still, a generally apathetic populace should not let this go (for more on this, check out Roger Ailes, who illluminates the seriousness of Rove's apparent transgressions). While the personal scribblings of one reporter do not a smoking gun make, they sure as hell add up to, at minimum, a spent cartridge shell. Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who appears to be serious about his task, needs to explore this revelation with at least the same vigor that one of his predecessors pursued such insidious crimes as Oval Office blowjobs.

Guess it all depends on your definition of the word "treason."

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Sex Tape Derby: The Magic Continues

Rapper and would-be actress Eve is the latest celebrity madder 'n hell to discover that sometimes it just doesn't pay to set up a video camera and then jump in front of it and get dirtier than a Waffle House kitchen. That's right. Eve has joined the ranks of celebrity ingenues who have discovered that many unsavory types can't resist posting sex videos up on the Internet.

FemaleFirst reports that the video, shot in November of 1999, features Eve and an ex-boyfriend using a sex toy.

"A spokesperson for the star said: 'This is a personal tape that was made years ago with her boyfriend of over two years. The fact that a private moment is being made public is a violation, and we would hope that people would respect her privacy as they would their own. Legal action has been taken to have it removed immediately."

Sadly, another celeb has lost her innocence.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Beating a Dead Persistent Vegetative State ...

Jeb Bush has mercifully yanked the feeding tube from the Terry Schiavo case, albeit after his state attorney indicated that there is absolutely no evidence of criminal wrongdoing on the part of Michael Schiavo.

A June 30 letter from Florida Attorney Bernie McCabe to Gov. Bush notes there is no need to pursue a criminal probe. Of course, the letter wasn't released by the governor's office until yesterday ... perhaps waiting until a big ol' media event -- like, say, terrorist bombings in London -- to ensure that the letter would fade into the ether?

AP reports that Bush is now dropping the matter:

"In asking McCabe to look again into how Schiavo slipped into a persistent vegetative state, Bush had cited an alleged gap between when Schiavo's husband Michael found her and when he called 911. The governor had said the issue remained unsettled.

"McCabe said, however, that while such discrepancies may exist in the record, Schiavo's statements that he called 911 immediately had been consistent.

" 'This consistency, coupled with the varying recollections of the precise time offered by other interested parties, lead me to the conclusion that such discrepancies are not indicative of criminal activity,' McCabe wrote in a letter to Bush accompanying his report."

And so ends one of the sorriest and most exploitive episodes in the on-again, off-again miniseries we call the "Culture Wars."

Morality in the Animal Kingdom

An interesting article in this week's Time examines the moral code of some animals. Researchers studying the behavior of dogs, primates and dolphins have discovered unmistakable instances in which the animals show true altruism, fairness and empathy.

Michael Lemonick reports that such conclusions are revelatory, considering that it wasn't so very long ago that scientists discounted the notion that creatures even had emotions:

"Ethologists are also starting to accept the once radical idea that some animals -- primarily the social ones such as dogs, chimps, hyenas, monkeys, dolphins, birds and even rats -- possess not just raw emotions but also subtler and more sophisticated mental states, including envy, empathy, altruism and a sense of fairness. 'They have the ingredients we use for morality,' says Frans de Waal, a professor of primate behavior at Emory University in Atlanta, referring to the monkeys and chimps he studies."

The article follows some of the findings of University of Colorado ethologist Marc Bekoff, who has discovered how the "play bow" is only one of many social signals that canines use to convey feelings of camaraderie and good will.

Read on:

"Play between dogs involves extremely complex, precise behavior, he (Bekoff) says. 'They're really close, they're mouthing, but they don't bite their own lips; they almost never bite the lip of the other animal hard, nor the eyes, nor the ears.' And that requires communication and constant feedback. 'Just think of basketball players faking left and going right,' says Bekoff. 'There's no way you could be doing that by pure instinct.'

"As for the play bow, his guess that it meant more than just 'Let's play' turned out to be correct. 'It says, "I want to play with you" but also "I'm sorry I bit you so hard" or "I'm going to bite you hard, but don't take it seriously." ' It even works between species: Bekoff has seen wild coyotes bow to dogs -- and vice versa -- before they engage in something like play. 'At least they don't fight,' says Bekoff. 'The play bow changes the whole mood.'

"Meanwhile, dishonesty is punished across all canid species. 'I know coyotes best,' says Bekoff. 'Coyotes will signal play and then try to fight or mate with others, but if they do that enough, they can't get other animals to play.' "

Wow. So wild animals are capable of justice and fair play.

Maybe, just maybe, there is hope for this guy ...

Then again ... probably not.

"War of the Worlds": A Review

In updating H.G. Wells' classic "The War of the Worlds" into modern-day America, Steven Spielberg and screenwriters David Koepp and Josh Friedman conjure up an alien invasion that reverberates with the horrific sights and sounds of 9/11.

That isn't to say this latest War of the Worlds aspires to some sort of Big Message. No, this is Spielberg at his most commercial, a big, buttery, popcorn-fed creature packed with enough thrills to satisfy a Knievel family reunion. Even so, Wells' 1898 masterpiece of science fiction has always been remarkably malleable for exploiting the fears of generations. As a staunch socialist and critic of the British colonialism of his time, Wells challenged his country's zest for occupation by imagining that Britain itself endures a Martian reckoning day. In 1938, Orson Welles' infamous radio version seemed all too real in a world witnessing the beginnings of Hitler's quest for European domination. Fifteen years later, Hollywood revisited the Wells novel in the midst of Cold War anxiety.

So it's only fitting that this War of the Worlds is thick with familiar imagery. In the wake of the movie's alien invasion, buildings come crashing to the ground while bridges snap like toothpicks. An airliner slams into a suburban neighborhood. As the death toll rises, clothes come wafting down from the heavens. Desperate families search for missing loved ones by plastering handbills along the sides of buildings. The survivors of the attacks stumble about in a daze, covered head to foot in a gray ashen soot.

While that might sound a bit too close to reality -- particularly in light of another major terrorist strike -- Spielberg is less interested in parable than he is in purely whiz-bang filmmaking.

Tom Cruise takes time out from pistol-whipping postpartum moms to star as Ray Ferrier, a divorced New Jersey dockworker who apparently went to the Spielberg school of problematic fathers. Ray's ex-wife drops off their kids, 10-year-old Rachel (Dakota Fanning) and teenaged Robbie (Justin Chatwin), for the weekend so that she and her current husband can travel to Boston, but Ray is hardly the prepared poppa. His kitchen boasts more car parts than it does food, and the immature Ray barely knows what to talk about to his distant children.

Then the aliens arrive -- or, more accurately, they emerge. A freak electrical storm serves as a prelude to the invasion. The creatures pop up from the earth below, piloting long-buried fighting machines that stomp around on three legs and shoot death rays that vaporize victims within seconds (another chilling throwback to the World Trade Center tragedy).

Throughout War of the Worlds, Spielberg revels in cinema's possibilities with the same zeal that D.W. Griffith must have relished transporting audiences to ancient Babylon in Intolerance. When the Ferriers flee Jersey in one of the few functioning SUVs, the camera whips around -- and then in and out of -- the vehicle in a dazzling single take. In one edge-of-the-seat scene, an alien probe checks out a dank basement where the Ferriers are hiding while Ray struggles with another survivor, a half-out-of-his-mind fella named Ogilvy (portrayed by Tim Robbins). In a jaw-dropping orchestration of F/X, seat-shaking sound effects and virtuoso camerawork, Spielberg keeps the narrative at a fever pitch. And he wisely makes sure that we see the alien takeover through the eyes of the Ferrier family, rarely moving his camera away from ground level.

The guy has still got it.


And if you're itching for yet a different view of the apocalypse this summer, George A. Romero has finally gotten around to his (presumably) finial zombie epic with Land of the Dead. While it's not in the same league as Romero's first two installments (1968's Night of the Living Dead and '78's Dawn of the Dead), it beats the hell (beat 'em or burn 'em -- they go up pretty fast) outta '85's Day of the Dead and is a pretty nifty flesh-chewing B-movie in its own right.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

This ... Is London

Dr. Pants has this to say about today's terrorist attacks in London:

"I don't know what to say, other than I wish it hadn't happened. Same way I wish 9/11 hadn't happened or the Murrah Building Bombing or any of the hundreds or thousands of terrorist attacks from whatever groups that have plagued us over the course of humanity.

"Still and all, not to be callous, but this is the world we live in. That doesn't cheapen those deaths, as any loss of life is sad, but maybe it makes more sense if we all just accept that shit happens."

Another sign of the post-9/11 mindset with which we need to come to terms:

In my office this morning, a woman I work with shrugged off the London explosions as "not being September 11th... it's more Madrid, if even that."

Added someone else: "It's more like Bali."

Sex Tape Derby, Round 16

Time to don those thinking caps, people. Thursday is Sex Tape Derby day. You know the drill (and if not, read here). Post your selections in the comments section below. And then click your heels together three times.

1. Val Kilmer or Brad Pitt?

2. Ashley Judd or Charlize Theron?

3. Ralph Fiennes or Liam Neeson?

4. It depends on your definition of sex tape: Monica Lewinsky or Paula Jones?

5. Harrison Ford or Richard Gere?

6. Sarah Jessica Parker or Mary Louise Parker?

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Caged Heat

Lil' Kim is headed off to jail. At least a year in prison for protecting some fellow rappers involved in a shootout.

Reporter Judith Miller is also off to prison, for protecting a source in the outing of an undercover CIA operative.

One is a slut queen who warbles about cunnilingus and guns.

One is an uptight and self-aggrandizing New York Times reporter.

I smell sitcom ....

Reel Short Reviews, Take 9

Alphaville (1965)
Jean-Luc Godard 's strange conglomeration of science-fiction (in name only, anyway, since 1960s-era Paris doubles for the futuristic metropolis of Alphaville), film noir, spy thriller and black comedy is one of those flicks easier to admire than enjoy. There are interesting moments and intriguing ideas, but ultimately Alphaville is as self-indulgent, unfocused and incomprehensible as it sounds. Undoubtedly, some Godard devotee will read this and be convinced I'm a moron. And they'd be right.

Howl's Moving Castle (2005)
Hayaa Miyazaki is the undisputed master of Japanese anime, but this fantastical work, based on a British children's novel by Diana Wynne Jones, lacks a bit of the enchantment of his previous efforts. The story follows Sophie, an 18-year-old hatmaker who is transformed by a witch into an old crone. The moving castle of the film's title belongs to Howl, a handsome and brooding wizard who takes in Sophie on as his housekeeper. The castle itself is a marvel of inventiveness, a monstrosity of thousands of parts -- all of it teetering on metal chicken legs -- but the convoluted narrative becomes almost as clunky.

Herbie: Fully Loaded (2005)
Perfectly agreeable, intermittently amusing and generally lackluster return to old-school Disney. Even with digitally reduced breasts (oh, the humanity!), Lindsay Lohan is a big enough star to help serve up this latest installment in the misadventures of Herbie the Love Bug. Oh, and Matt Dillon deserves kudos for a nifty turn as a villainous NASCAR champ.

The Hunting of the President (2004)
There's no denying that Hunting of the President has an axe to grind: squarely in the forehead of the far-right puppetmasters who dogged Bill Clinton through every moment of his two terms in office. So, no, filmmakers Nickolas Perry and Harry Thomason (a Clinton pal) are mighty selective about the facts they present. They infer, for example, that TV anchor-turned-cabaret singer Gennifer Flowers lied about her affair with Clinton, even though he later stipulated to the relationship in the Paula Jones lawsuit. Nevertheless, even the most rabid Clinton-hater would have trouble disputing the film's central contention that, lo and behold, there really was a "vast right-wing conspiracy" that relentlessly (and ruthlessly) hounded Clinton and anyone who supported him. If there is a hero in this tale, it might just be Susan McDougal.

It Came from Outer Space (1953)
Adequate 3-D yarn that predated the whole Invasion of the Body Snatchers' aliens-are-doubling-as-us shtick. Subject to the considerable goofiness of that era's sci-fi flicks, but worth it for Richard Carlson's paternal and wise-beyond-his-years protagonist (the guy smokes a pipe, after all!) who vainly tries convincing a bunch of small-town yokels that, yes, Virginia, there are aliens among us. Tip to would-be alien imposters: When trying to fool us humans, don't follow the example of one such spaceman in this picture, who gazes at the blinding bright sun without flinching and says, "Yes, the sun. It is beautiful." Geez, talk about a tell.

Kinsey (2004)
Now that the controversy surrounding this film has faded into obscurity, this biopic of pioneering sex researcher Alfred Kinsey is all the more impressive. Director-writer Bill Condon's sympathies are obviously with the socially awkward Kinsey (Liam Neeson), whose work helped spur the sexual revolution, but the film doesn't completely shy away from its protagonist's more disturbing traits. Did Kinsey use information from pedophiles? Some critics of Kinsey allege that he or his associates must have actually watched the sexual activity of children, a charge the movie answers ... kinda. If one accepts the film's explanation, however, then Kinsey was just a shoddy researcher. Either way, this is an involving and expertly crafted story.

The Last Shot (2004)
The directorial debut of acclaimed screenwriter Jeff Nathanson (Catch Me If You Can) builds on a compelling real-life story but never really exploits its considerable potential for Hollywood satire. Alec Baldwin gives an uncharacteristically low-key performance (by his standards, anyway) as a dog-loving FBI agent who sets up a phony movie project in hopes of busting corrupt Teamster bosses. Matthew Broderick is the sad sack who thinks he's getting his big break directing his own muddled screenplay. The comic possibilities just limp along, with supporting performances by Toni Collette and Joan Cusack the only real highlights.

Memento (2000)
Before Christopher Nolan showed the world what he could do with a really big budget (Batman Begins), he demonstrated what he could do with just ingenuity, producing a tightly knit thriller that manages to be avant garde without being obnoxious about it. Memento is dazzling, and, yes, primarily for the gimmick of a story that unfolds in reverse order. Our hapless protagonist, Leonard (Guy Pearce), has no short-term memory, but unlike Tom Hanks' Mr. Short Term Memory of "Saturday Night Live" fame, this is no joke. Leonard is out to avenge the rape and murder of his wife, y'see, but that's not so easy when you keep forgetting what you're doing, much less what the clues are. Nolan tells the story backwards, but he digs into the challenge with a scalpel-like precision that (eventually) makes it relatively easy for the audience to follow. Oh, and any movie with Joe Pantoliano is OK in my book.

Tarnation (2003)
According to indie folklore, Houston, Texas, native Jonathan Caouette constructed this video diary on a home computer for about $200 (that's before the distribution company actually purchased the rights for the soundtrack), and its uniqueness and audacity won lots of praise. I'm more impressed that Caouette had the foresight to videotape seemingly every moment of his tortured life from the age of 11 onward. Less impressive is the exploitive handling of his brain-damaged mother and feeble grandparents. Still, it's bound to make you feel a lot better about your own screwed-up family.

The Way We Were (1973)
A very old-school Hollywood love story, with Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford stretching themselves to the limit. She is a liberal activist with a big mouth and he is an all-American, handsome WASP. Can their love survive? Director Sydney Pollack does a reasonable job keeping the proceedings from lapsing into insufferable schmaltz.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Osama bin Martian?

While it is my fervent belief that War of the Worlds just might be the most nifty thrill ride I've been on since my college days when I found myself at Disneyland and loaded out of my gourd on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, not everyone is so impressed.

Stephen Whitty of the New Jersey Star-Ledger bashes director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter David Koepp for depicting an on-screen alien invasion with more than a few reminders of the horrors of 9/11:

" In War of the Worlds, Steven Spielberg has not only seized the iconography of that event, he's appropriated it to sell a popcorn entertainment about alien invaders, and encourage our own fears of the strangers among us," Whitty writes. "It's difficult to know whether to be astounded by the immensity of his audacity or to be merely appalled."

The Star-Ledger goes on to question Koepp's previous insistence that the movie does not have a political agenda:

" ... Screenwriter David Koepp insisted the film would be sensitive to 9/11 memories. He claimed it had been set in New Jersey chiefly to take advantage of working-class backgrounds. He suggested that the story had no agenda, and that it could be read just as easily as a protest against the Iraq war.

"And yet if a blue-collar milieu was all that was needed, why not set the film in Milwaukee, or Cleveland? If a pacifist reading was ever possible, why is the one character who talks about the evils of occupation seen as a madman (and eventually, rather coldly, dispatched)? If the film means to be respectful of our memories, why does it exploit them simply to ratchet up the scares?"

Although I don't buy Whitty's suspicions about why the film takes place in his beloved New Jersey -- hell, Orson Welles' 1938 radio broadcast took place in Grover Mills, N.J., so surely this latest version is allowed to at least pay that much of an homage -- there is certainly no disputing that Spielberg's version is eerily reminiscent of 9/11 images.

In this War of the Worlds, buildings fall, bridges snap like toothpicks and an airplane crashes into a neighborhood. As the death count piles up, scores of clothes come wafting down. We see victims vaporized in a matter of seconds. Handbills are plastered with pleas from desperate families searching for missing loved ones. Survivors of the destruction find themselves covered in a sickening ashen soot.

Whitty continues:

"The horror of 9/11 changed us all. It clearly changed Steven Spielberg (whose next project is about the massacre of Israeli athletes at the '72 Olympics). The optimism that once drove E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind has been replaced by a worry that the skies are no longer limitless, that there's a threat 'even in our own backyards,' that the aliens have already infiltrated our urban neighborhoods, where they lie in wait to strike. That this new vision of War of the Worlds says something about a certain state of mind must be admitted.

"But it need not be admired. And its exploitation of tragic iconography -- just to amp up the screams, tug some tears and sell a few more million movie tickets -- should be deplored."

I don't agree with Whitty's assessment, but I understand it. Proximity is everything. While the entire nation suffered the tragedy of 9-11, there is no way those of us west of the Mississippi River approached the grieving of New Jersey, which lost nearly 700 citizens in the World Trade Center attack. The psychological wounds, understandably, are still fresh there. I still remember a mix of revulsion and anger when I saw 1998's The X-Files movie, which offered a variation on the Oklahoma City bombing for the service of plot points.

But art, regardless of the medium, always has -- and always will -- reflect the particular fears and ideals of its time. That is the domain of meaningful art, even -- and perhaps especially -- when it is so-called "mass" entertainment. And H.G. Wells' 1898 novel has proven itself especially malleable to accommodating the nightmares of different generations. While the Orson Welles version echoed Hitler's sweep through Europe, Hollywood's 1953 take on The War of the Worlds mirrored Cold War and McCarthyism anxieties.

If you're making an alien invasion flick in 2005, what real-life fears could possibly supplant the specter of terrorism?

Please, Please, Please Come See Da Movie

In an innovative new twist of Hollywood's efforts to lure people away from their sofas and into the theaters, the movie theater chains are hitting on a concept popularized by sellers of Ginsu knives and Vegomatics and the like: 100-percent satisfaction or your money back.

Disappointing box office for Cinderella Man (an excellent film, by the way) has prompted many AMC and Cinemark theaters around the country to offer full refunds for moviegoers who find themselves insufficiently entertained by the story of nice-guy boxer James J. Braddock.

The New York Times' Felicia R. Lee reports that movie chains are resorting to some gimmickry this season in hopes of reversing a significant slump in revenues:

"To lure theatergoers even into blockbusters like Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith this weekend, 20th Century Fox is offering a 'buy three tickets and get one free' deal through the Fourth of July. And on June 19, when Walt Disney offered sneak previews of the film Herbie: Fully Loaded, on 800 screens, free tickets went to anyone named Herb, Herbert or Herbie."

It's a mighty good thing, one supposes, that The Passion of the Christ proved to be such a massive hit last year. Free salvation for moviegoers would've really, I dunno, cheapened the whole died-for-our-sins thing.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Movie Talk

Finally, some movie lines that put to shame the American Film Institute's ostensibly definitive collection. Thanks to Norbizness, we have this and this and this. Oh, and now this to finish up the list.

Supremely Screwed

By now you likely know that Sandra Day O'Connor is retiring from the Supreme Court.

And you know what that means.

That's right, a personal liberties going-out-of-business sale. Time to catch up on all those little freedoms you enjoy while there's still time.

So go ahead ... Hankering to sodomize in the privacy of your own bedroom? Better do it quickly. Wanna pull a little affirmative action? Affirm away. Time to abort that special someone? Abort now. Considering the sizable payback that the White House owes the religious right of the Republican Party, one can only guess what loopiness lies ahead when Dubya whips out those Lone Star State-sized cojonoes to force an entire nation to collectively teabag its way to a theocracy.

This bodes really, really, really, really poorly for the Supreme Court ... or really, really, really, really well for the Star Chamber, depending on your point of view. But with the departure of a key moderate, it's a cinch that the prez will deliver a sop to the far right.

Bull Moose is among those in the blogosphere predicting the mother of all Beltway battles:

"This is the true payoff time for the right wing of the Republican Party. For conservatives, nothing else matters. And this Administration cannot alienate their core supporters at a time the President's popularity is plummeting."

Moreover, Dubya doesn't have the interest in bringing people together that his dad, or even Reagan, did -- and whatever semblance of good will the current prez might have had for Capitol Hill Democrats has certainly dried up amid the beating he has endured over Social Security and the never-ending war.

O'Connor was nominated to the court by one of the most conservative presidents in modern American history. She was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate. She is a conservative jurist unfettered by the shackles of political ideology.

You expect to see a similar successor? Fat chance. The religious right will not stomach a nomination of the likes of a David Souter or Anthony Kennedy, both of whom turned out to be disappointments to hard-line conservatives.

David Sirota of Sirotablog suspects we will see Karl Rove and company pull the ol' bait-and-switch.

"With Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's resignation today, I have a prediction: O'Connor and Chief Justice William Rehnquist will both retire...Karl Rove will have Bush put up one crazy, wild-eyed conservative lunatic in the John Ashcroft mold, and one hard-right winger who seems 'moderate' compared to the crazy...the lunatic goes down to defeat, but the hard-right winger gets through, and Bush replaces the lunatic with another hard-right winger as a 'compromise.'

"If just O'Connor retires, it will be much the same strategy - first nominate a wild-eyed lunatic. It's a win-win for Bush - either the lunatic gets appointed, or the lunatic loses, and then Bush puts up someone a shade less crazy - but equally as conservative - as the 'compromise.' "

The Washington Post surveys some of the possible successors here, while The Los Angeles Times does its take here.

In the meantime, prepare for a political battle likely to make Fallujah look like a potato sack race.

Operating Cretin

Earlier this week, Salon (subscription only) published the first of a four-part series on Scientology, focusing first on the behavior of that imploding lip-syncher of Bob Seger wedding reception standards, Tom Cruise. It is believed that Cruise has attained the level of OT-VII, or the seventh level of Operating Thetan in his L. Ron Hubbard-authored religion. This is the level that impels the adherent to go publicly batshit about his awakening, call morning show hosts "glib," ruin powerful women's furniture in front of millions of people, let lesser Thetans make adaptations of "Battlefield Earth" and whisk doe-eyed sylphs away to be wed under the harsh, knowing gaze of Xenu.

This may explain Cruise's atrocious, seventh-grade behavior, but it does not excuse his unbidden critique of Brooke Shields, whose recent book, "Down Came the Rain," chronicles her experience with postpartum depression. Shields has treated the subject thoughtfully, yet her discussion of her genuine struggle and the help she received from Paxil was met with an unwarranted and hateful rebuke by Cruise, whose 51-year-old religion eschews SSRIs.

In response and, CTTC should add, with considerable grace, Shields has written an Op-Ed for the New York Times that should really be the final word on the subject.

"I couldn't bear the sound of Rowan crying, and I dreaded the moments my husband would bring her to me. I wanted her to disappear. I wanted to disappear. At my lowest points, I thought of swallowing a bottle of pills or jumping out the window of my apartment. I couldn't believe it when my doctor told me that I was suffering from postpartum depression and gave me a prescription for the antidepressant Paxil. I wasn't thrilled to be taking drugs. In fact, I prematurely stopped taking them and had a relapse that almost led me to drive my car into a wall with Rowan in the backseat. But the drugs, along with weekly therapy sessions, are what saved me - and my family."

Anyone who cannot understand that this woman only did what was needed to save her own and, indeed, her child's life, deserves nothing but our collective contempt. We would also enjoy a mid-forties slide into direct-to-video thrillers co-starring Eric Roberts, Jennifer Tilly and Leo Rossi. That should be fair.


I love this story:

New York state assemblyman Willis Stephens apparently understands computers only slightly better than my 75-year-old mother who thinks the purpose of computers is to play FreeCell solitaire. In a cautionary tale, Stephens was monitoring an online chat room recently to read the concerns of his constituents. Unable to restrain his excitement, Willis fired off an email to an aide -- but inadvertently emailed all 300 chat-room members -- that he was "just watching the idiots pontificate."

The New York Daily News reports that Stephens issued an online apology less than an hour after realizing that he was the idiot.

" 'I honestly enjoy reading most of what is exchanged on this site and do not direct my indiscreet characterizations to anyone in particular or to the group in general,' he wrote. 'In fact, now I most closely resemble the type of poster I described.' "

I suspect anyone who has worked in an office utilizing email can attest to the casual treachery of online communication. The worst -- which has happened to me on more than one occasion -- is when you twist off in an email about how some asshole did such-and-such ... and then absentmindedly sending it to the asshole in question.

Tip in such circumstances: Avoid use of the word "buttplug."