Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Heavenly Fetch

Rest in Peace, you old dog, you ...















Sam, the world's ugliest dog, is dead. For three years straight, the Chinese Crested Hairless won the dubious distinction at the Sonoma-Marin Fair in Petaluma, California.

He was almost 15 years old -- and in dog years, no less.

It's (Maybe) the End of the World as We Know It


New Yorker investigative reporter Seymour Hersh can sound a bit unhinged from time to time, but it probably isn't easy for someone covering the Bush White House not to get a bit loopy. Hersh's latest hand-wringing on CNN (with a hat tip to The Talent Show) suggests that administration sources are telling him Dumbya might just be a harbinger of the Apocalypse:

" They're beginning to talk about some of the things the president said to him about his feelings about manifest destiny, about a higher calling that he was talking about three, four years ago.

"I don't want to sound like I'm off the wall here. But the issue is, is this president going to be capable of responding to reality? Is he going to be able -- is he going to be capable if he going to get a bad assessment, is he going to accept it as a bad assessment or is he simply going to see it as something else that is just a little bit in the way as he marches on in his crusade that may not be judged for 10 or 20 years."

If George W. Bush is ultimately the guy who brings about the destruction of the world, that's fine. We've all gotta go sometime, and now that "The Sopranos" only has one and a half seasons left, now might be as good a time as any. I have no quarrel with the end of the world -- although it will definitely sour me to all that Nostradamus prophecy about the antichrist being some guy with a blue hat (could he have meant blue blood?).

No, what really bothers me about that possible scenario is the end of the world being brought about by someone who says "nukular" and "Internets" and "put food on the family." Call me old-fashioned, but I think Armageddon calls for ... well ... just smarter people than that.

Pompom Pharmaceuticals

With apologies to my friends who are pharmaceutical reps, I couldn't resist this New York Times story about how drug companies are now actively recruiting sexy cheerleaders to peddle their wares to doctors.

Reporter Stephanie Saul obviously had fun with this story:

"Anyone who has seen the parade of sales representatives through a doctor's waiting room has probably noticed that they are frequently female and invariably good looking. Less recognized is the fact that a good many are recruited from the cheerleading ranks.

"Known for their athleticism, postage-stamp skirts and persuasive enthusiasm, cheerleaders have many qualities the drug industry looks for in its sales force. Some keep their pompoms active, like Onya, a sculptured former college cheerleader. On Sundays she works the sidelines for the Washington Redskins. But weekdays find her urging gynecologists to prescribe a treatment for vaginal yeast infection.

[...]

" ... Women have an advantage with male doctors, according to Jamie Reidy, a drug representative who was fired by Eli Lilly this year after writing a book lampooning the industry, Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman.


"In an interview, Mr. Reidy remembered a sales call with the 'all-time most attractive, coolest woman in the history of drug repdom.' At first, he said, the doctor 'gave ten reasons not to use one of our drugs.' But, Mr. Reidy added: 'She gave a little hair toss and a tug on his sleeve and said, "Come on, doctor, I need the scrips." He said, "O.K., how do I dose that thing?" I could never reach out and touch a female physician that way.''

I have often marveled at the sheer shamelessness of the whole pharmaceutical sales shtick and the trappings that come with it -- free car, free gas, decent wages, relatively good hours and the opportunity to relax in physicians' waiting rooms while leafing through two-year-old issues of Ladies Home Journal. And for what? To push a handful of pharmaceuticals by plying doctors with model cars, fancy meals, green fees and exotic fish. Well, I don't really know about the exotic fish, but I'm pretty sure that other stuff is true.

Still, you can't fault struggling drug companies for doing what they've gotta do. I mean, the folks at Merck have gotta eat -- right? And in a profession still largely dominated by men -- men who drive Hummers and pray to themselves at night, by the way -- it just makes sense to sway them with drug representatives boasting perky breasts and perfectly sculpted midriffs. Hell, just be glad these cheerleaders aren't hawking leeches.

For that matter, with just two lesbian South Carolina Panther cheerleaders in the mix, you could probably sell off warehouses full of Thalidomide.

Monday, November 28, 2005

A Rose by Any Other Name ...


By Larry Mondello

The Baseball Hall of Hypocrisy has its names out for eligibility this year and Pete Rose is not on it.

Such honorable role models as Albert Belle (who had a habit of getting drunk, corking bats and threatening children, reporters and photogs) and Dwight Gooden (major league drug and alcohol abuser) are there, but not Rose, who has more hits than any other player in history.

Put all the asterisks you want next to his name, but Pete Rose deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

Suicide in Iraq

There is a must-read by T. Christian Miller in The Los Angeles Times about an Army colonel and military ethicist, Ted Westhusing, who committed suicide in Iraq after witnessing widespread corruption among private contractors:

"Investigators found it (Westhusing's suicide note) lying on Westhusing's bed. The handwriting matched his.

[...]

"Most of the letter is a wrenching account of a struggle for honor in a strange land.

"'I cannot support a msn [mission] that leads to corruption, human rights abuse and liars. I am sullied,' it says. 'I came to serve honorably and feel dishonored.

"'Death before being dishonored any more.'"

Read the entire article here.

Reel Short Reviews, Take 14

Hope all you wonderful people had a good Turkey Day.

On an unrelated note, another recap of films I've recently seen or re-seen. As always, the rating scale is up to you to figure out.

The Big Sleep (1946)
Howard Hawks' noir masterpiece doesn't reach the majesty of Raymond Chandler, but the Philip Marlowe detective yarn (with Humphrey Bogart the quintessential Marlowe) achieves its own sort of nobility. A nearly incomprehensible narrative of murder and doublecrosses (it is famously said that neither director nor screenwriters knew what character killed off the Sternwood chauffeur), Big Sleep is not essential viewing for its Byzantine plot. Rather, it is for the fun of getting there amid a fog-shrouded Los Angeles filled with sexy dames (even a book store employee is a harlot-in-waiting), sleazebag blackmailers and the occasional knight in shining trenchcoat.
****

Breaking the Waves (1996)
This made me a believer in Lars von Trier. What a strangely hypnotic film; and by all rights, it shouldn't be. Emily Watson is extraordinary as the devout -- albeit simple-minded -- Bess McNeill, who thinks she can heal her paralyzed husband (Stellan Skarsgard) by feeding the sex fantasies he harbors of her having sex with other men. A blueprint for von Trier's Dogma 95 school of filmmaking, Breaking the Waves benefits from a documentary style, jagged editing and naturalistic lighting. Most of all, it benefits from Watson's affecting performance.
****

The Chorus (2004)
Goodbye, Mr. Dead Poets, only in French. Actually, that's an unnecessarily snarky way of describing an excellent little film about a self-effacing music teacher (Gerard Judnot) at a French boarding school in 1948 who takes a bunch of Froggie sweathogs and gets them to sing in a choir. There I go being snarky again.
***

Derailed (2005)
A passable thriller of infidelity gone awry (it always does in the movies), hampered by an unsurprising surprise twist and a suspension of disbelief that would test the acrobatic skills of the Flying Wallendas.
**1/2

Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001)
Totally rad, dude. But for a (rather self-congratulating) documentary about pioneering skateboarders, there isn't enough actual footage of the Z-Boys in action.
***

Grey Gardens (1976)
This documentary by cinema-verite stalwarts David and Albert Maysles is a voyeuristic, sometimes shambling account at aging Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter Edie, a wealthy, eccentric (to say the least) pair who live in a crumbling 28-room mansion in the Hamptons. Edith was an aunt of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, a connection that brought the mother and daughter to the attention of the Maysles brothers in the first place. Strange, occasionally rueful, undeniably exploitive and sometimes dull, Grey Gardens is still fascinating, chiefly for the Maysles' ability to free their documentary subjects from inhibitions.
***

I Am Trying to Break Your Heart (2002)
Surprisingly limp documentary chronicles a truly great alt-rock band, Wilco, during the group's recording of the album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. The film is squarely aimed at the already initiated; even then, it doesn't do much more than plod along. Wilco mastermind Jeff Tweedy deserves something a bit more, er, dynamic.
**1/2

In Cold Blood (1967)
Richard Brooks' adaptation of the Truman Capote true-crime masterpiece is gritty and stark, but it hasn't aged well with a third act that indulges in anti-death penalty didacticism. Even so, there remains a raw power to the story of the Clutter family murder in Holcomb, Kansas, in 1959, and the two drifters who killed them for $40. And, yes, it is kind of ironic to hear Robert Blake, who portrays killer Perry Smith, note that crime does pay.
***

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005)
Screenwriter Shane Black's second chance in Hollywood is a big, sloppy wet kiss to film noir, cheap detective fiction and Los Angeles sleaze. Sure, the self-reflexive voiceover narration (of Robert Downey Jr. as two-bit thief Harry Lockhart) owes a lot to post-Tarantino deconstruction, but who cares if it's all witty and fun? And witty and fun it most definitely is.
***1/2

The Legend of Zorro (2005)
A dreary sequel to The Mask of Zorro. When Catherine Zeta-Jones in a corset isn't enough to make a movie worthwhile, you know you've got trouble.
**

The Marrying Kind (1952)
Director George Cukor and the accomplished screenwriting team of Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin combined for a surprisingly engaging hybrid of melodrama and comedy. Judy Holliday and Aldo Ray portray a working-class New York couple seeking a divorce; with the help of one of those uniquely movie-pretend judges, the couple dissect their marriage from meet-cute all the way to the inevitable problems. The Marrying Kind is awfully talky, but only intermittently does all the verbosity weigh it down.
**1/2

Misery (1990)
Kathy Bates is terrific as Annie Wilkes, the self-proclaimed "Number One Fan" of best-selling romance novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan), who ends up prisoner in Wilkes' modest farmhouse. At its core, Misery is a one-note thriller, but it is helped along by a proficient screenplay from old pro William Goldman (based on the Stephen King novel) and a nicely macabre approach by director Rob Reiner.
***

Night and Fog (1955)
Alain Resnais' powerful, lyrical and graphic documentary on the horrors of Auschwitz should be required viewing for everyone -- especially those lovable Brownshirts of Prussian Blue.
****

Prime (2005)
The trailers stupidly gave away one of the better surprises in this contrived -- albeit clever and entertaining -- romantic comedy. Meryl Streep is terrific as the prototypical Jewish mother (a psychologist, in this case) whose son (Bryan Greenberg) takes up with an older divorcee (Uma Thurman). Streep and Thurman are in top form (and Thurman's top form is top form), which all makes up for Greenberg never quite getting his footing. Director-writer Ben Younger occasionally loses focus with some odd excursions (like a weekend trip the star-crossed lovers take to the Hamptons), but most of the movie is dead-on.
***

La Promesse (1996)
A gritty, hyper-realistic French-language film about a teenaged boy (Jeremie Renier) caught between his scumbag father (Olivier Gourmet, bearing a disturbing resemblance to an ex-brother-in-law of mine), who exploits immigrants living in his tenement building, and the widow of one such foreign tenant. Brothers Jean-Pieree and Luc Dardenne direct the proceedings as if they just happened to catch life, in all its tawdriness, unfolding before our eyes. This film is worth seeking out.
***1/2

Stay (2005)
Eviscerated by many critics, this Marc Forster-directed retread of Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge is strangely hypnotic, visually lush and consistently interesting. Stay is definitely a love-it-or-hate-it proposition; count me in the former camp.
***1/2

Superfly (1972)
Ballsy, edgy, gritty -- whatever you wanna call it, the Seventies had it, at least when it came to filmmaking. It's hard to imagine blaxploitation like Gordon Parks Jr. 's Superfly produced amid these freshly scrubbed times. The hero (Ron O'Neal) is a cocaine dealer out for one final score before he gets out of the business, and this is one mean mofo. Not a particularly good film, by any stretch (despite Curtis Mayfield's jammin' soundtrack), but a curious glimpse into the social milieu of a bygone era.
**

Switchblade Sisters (1975)
Shlockmeister Jack Hill's magnum opus is the story of Othello as set among a gang of murderous chicks. At times awful, sometimes just deadeningly slow and beset throughout by the hideously shrill voice of lead Robbie Lee, Switchblade Sisters isn't quite the gem that Hill sycophant Quentin Tarantino insists it is, but this slice of Seventies-era exploitation casts is appealingly brazen, from its women-in-prison tangent (big butchy warden snapping on the rubber gloves for a full-cavity search of feisty Joanne Nail) to a legitimately well-staged climactic battle on the streets of the bad side of town.
**1/2

Walk the Line (2005)
Joaquin Phoenix is fine in this bio of Johnny Cash, but Reese Witherspoon is the real standout as June Carter, the gal who stood by her (married to someone else) man. There is one great scene, in which the Man in Black auditions for Sun Records' boss Sam Phillips; brief as it is, the scene reveals the early passion of rock 'n' roll and gets to the crux of what made Johnny Cash such a singular talent. Unfortunately, much of the rest of the film is fairly typical showbiz biopic, complete with its by-the-numbers drugs-induced fall and redemption thanks to the love of a good woman. Certainly a well-made film; just not a particularly inspired one.
**1/2

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

What's All the Fuhrer About?

This is a jaw-dropping glimpse into the general cluelessness of far too many journalists. The New York Daily News reports that Teen People had planned, but finally scrapped, a fluff piece on white supremacist, Hitler-loving cutie-pie sisters known as Prussian Blue.

The Daily News tells us that a Teen People employee had assured Prussian Blue, a pair of racist singing sisters, that he would not use the words "hate," "supremacist" and "Nazi" in his coverage:

"The only hint that 13-year-old Lynx and Lamb Gaede praise Hitler, call the Holocaust an 'exaggeration' and count former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke among their fans was a watered-down description of their message as 'white pride.'

"'The last thing we need is to celebrate hate in this country,' said Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who helped lead a Monday demonstration outside the office of Teen People's parent company Time Warner. 'I'm absolutely thrilled it's not running.'

"Time's initial response to the protest was the added mention of the girls' white separatist mom, National Vanguard member April Gaede, in the Web-based teaser.

"Hours later, the company yanked the entire project.

[...]

"The freckled twins from Bakersfield, Calif., call nonwhites 'muds' and play a video game called 'Ethnic Cleansing.' They wear tartan plaid skirts and Hitler smiley face shorts - and croon songs that glorify the Third Reich.

"A song called 'Sacrifice' praises Hitler deputy Rudolf Hess as 'a man of peace. He wouldn't give up, he wouldn't cease. He gave his loyalty to our cause.'"










One wonders what the treatment would have been had Teen People been around for the time of Leopold and Loeb: "Ornery pals prove incorrigible!"

"Like a Prayer"-Hot

That's how our friend and on-again, off-again CTTC contributor, Dash Rip Rock, described the cover of the latest Rolling Stone featuring Madonna.

And he's right.

Wowzers.












If this is the result of studying Kabbalah, sign me up.

Cutaways, Take 14

Well, "Six Feet Under" is dead and buried, and onetime vampire-chronicler Anne Rice is now a Christian. So, what else could be more appropriate but for "Six Feet" creator Alan Ball to start cavorting with Bayou Country bloodsuckers? Ball is preparing to return to HBO with a show based on Charlaine Harris' "Southern Vampire" book series. We have high hopes.

***

You might recall that Mel Gibson eventually abandoned his super idea of releasing The Passion of the Christ without subtitles for its ancient Aramaic dialogue. Apparently, Mel is still intent on making an incomprehensible movie for English-speaking audiences. His next film, Apocalypto, will boast Mexican actors speaking in the Mayan tongue of Yucateco, sans subtitles.

***

Some folks are working on a movie focusing on some real-life hoopla that surrounded the introduction of the Ouija board game, but have run into one hitch; they can't afford to purchase rights from Parker Brothers to actually use the "Ouija" brand name. (hat tip to Fark). Now the filmmakers are tentatively gonna title the movie Dark Portal. The film, incidentally, will star Pam Grier.

***

They're going to make a movie of the Malcolm Gladwell book Blink. We're not really certain how the work lends itself to a movie version, but what do I know? That's what I had thought about the Crucifixion, too.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Bush vs. al-Jazeera

George Bush, friend of a free press.

From today's Daily Mirror:

"President Bush planned to bomb Arab TV station al-Jazeera in friendly Qatar, a 'Top Secret' No 10 memo reveals.

"But he was talked out of it at a White House summit by Tony Blair, who said it would provoke a worldwide backlash."

Changing hearts and minds can be deadly business.

Good Night, Ted, and Good Luck

The New York Times' Alessandra Stanley has a fittingly smart and unsentimental take on the departure of ABC's "Nightline" anchor Ted Koppel, one of the few remaining giants in TV news:

"Mr. Koppel leaves at a time when younger anchors are making a name for themselves by flaunting their personal feelings on the air. During the Hurricane Katrina debacle, NBC's Brian Williams was widely applauded for venting his anger and frustration over the government's failure to act quickly to help the victims. So was Anderson Cooper, who recently replaced Aaron Brown as CNN's late night anchor and famously gave Senator Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana an on-air tongue-lashing.

"Mr. Koppel also covered the scandal of Katrina, and was often quite scathing, asking the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael D. Brown, 'Don't you guys watch television? Don't you guys listen to the radio?' But Mr. Koppel never lost his aplomb, or his aversion to the first-person pronoun.

"And his reticence and reserve will be missed."

Nicely put.

Koppel's program has had its rough patches over the years, but such is the price of longevity. For me, he was the heir apparent to the Edward R. Murrow School of Broadcast Journalism.

The Cost of Fighting on the Dark Side

By Cassandra D

Digby over at Hullabaloo has a thought-provoking post on torture and the price we pay as a society for engaging in it, inspired by this piece from the National Journal.

Here's a snippet from Digby:

When the smoke finally clears, and we can see past that dramatic day on 9/11 and put the threat of islamic fundamentalism into its proper perspective, I wonder if we'll be able to go back to our old ethical framework? I'm not so sure we will even want to. It's not that it changed us so much as it revealed us, I think. A society that can so easily discard it's legal and ethical taboos against cruelty and barbarism, is an unstable society to begin with.

At this rather late stage in life, I'm realizing that the solid America I thought I knew may never have existed. Running very close, under the surface, was a frightened, somewhat hysterical culture that could lose its civilized moorings all at once. I had naively thought that there were some things that Americans would find unthinkable --- torture was one of them.

There are a lot of dark episodes in our country's history, ranging from slavery to the internment of Japanese Americans to supporting brutal dictators abroad. I have never felt that the United States was perfect. But, in the past, I had always believed that at least we, as a nation, try to improve our behavior, and that we place enormous pride and importance on progress towards virtue. Among the times that I have felt most patriotic are those in which our nation criticizes itself and demands better of its citizens and leaders. I have looked askance on nations such as Japan, with its denials of its World War II atrocities.

I hope that Digby is wrong. I hope that one of the defining values of the United States will continue to be the constant quest to form a more just, ethical, and virtuous world.

Get Back, Loretta

I am consistently amazed by some of the Google searches that land people to this site.

But this one is mighty disturbing:

"Loretta Swit nude"

Crumbs 'n Stuff, Take 11

McSweeney's offers a wonderful bit on "in-progress" New Yorker cartoons. Is it satire or are they real? Tough to tell.

The Global Language Monitor has compiled the 10 most politically correct words and phrases for 2005. It's a howler, particularly the BBC's use of the term "misguided criminals" for terrorists.

A hilarious -- and authentic -- trip down the memory lane of some historic bad album covers.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Behind the Uh...Times

By Cassandra D

The New York Times has more than Judith Miller to worry about if it wants to be America's "Paper of Record." Color photography and ink that doesn't smear are two steps up to the modern era that the paper has taken. But they just can't quite seem to master that Internet thing.

Take this paragraph from today's article, "Seeing Life Outside New Orleans Alters Life Inside It," and its ridiculous link:

The city's easygoing nature and still-obvious charms could have contributed to the complacency. In "A Confederacy of Dunces," by John Kennedy Toole, the eccentric and wastrel Reilly spends much of his time wandering from job to job in the French Quarter, and he refers to the city as "a comfortable metropolis which has a certain apathy and stagnation."

Do you think they actually pay someone to add links to their electronic edition? If so, heck I'd like that job. There's clearly no supervision or expectation of utility. Can you imagine all the fun and flair you could add to stories on, say, John Wayne Gacy or baseball's Jesus Colome?

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Straw Man Collapse

The straw man strategy has worn thin.

I don't know why, exactly. The dissent-is-treason and you're-with-us-or-you're-a-terrorist pretzel logic, the shrill rhetoric played so effectively by the White House over the past few years, no longer inspires dance. The nation seems to be yearning for a new sound, something a little less derivative and with a better beat.

At least the song didn't work for the House Republicans in their bald-faced attempt to distort Rep. John Murtha's call for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. Because the GOPers couldn't really pin the Vietnam War hero and defense hardliner as a leftist loon (well, Scott McClellan tried, but it was just too laughable to stick), they went to Plan B, the straw man approach.

It goes like this:

A says it wants C.
B says C is really D.
B bashes A for saying D.

It seemed crafty, at first blush: Claim Murtha is calling for immediate troop withdrawal (as soon as is "practicable" was Murtha's actual caveat) and force the Democrats to vote on it. Well, gosh 'n golly, no wonder the make-believe resolution authored by Repubs only garnered 3 votes of support. No one credible in this policy debate supports immediate troop withdrawal -- Murtha, least of all -- and so the vote ended up an exercise in would-be political gamesmanship.

New Donkey writes:

"Listening to House Republicans scream about staying the course, fighting the terrorists on their turf, bringing democracy to the Middle East, etc., etc., you'd never know their Senate counterparts had voted overwhelmingly to repudiate the administration's strategy in Iraq. For his part, Murtha, put in the impossible position of leading the opposition to what Republicans were describing as his resolution, pretty much limited himself to reading letters from troops and their families supporting his earlier statement. There was no real debate.

"It's not surprising, given Murtha's credentials, that Republicans gave most of their time to Vietnam vets, but what was surprising was how often they expressed the opinion that America 'cut and run' in Vietnam, and how angry they still seem to be that we didn't stay there until, well, eternity."

Maybe the Vietnam comparisons were appropriate for other reasons. The so-called debate itself seemed to be a quagmire.

As The Washington Post reports:

"At one point in the emotional debate, Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio, told of a phone call she received from a Marine colonel.

"'He asked me to send Congress a message -- stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message -- that cowards cut and run, Marines never do,' Schmidt said. Murtha is a 37-year Marine veteran.

"Democrats booed and shouted her down -- causing the House to come to a standstill.

"Rep. Harold Ford, D-Tenn., charged across the chamber's center aisle screaming that Republicans were making uncalled-for personal attacks. 'You guys are pathetic! Pathetic!' yelled Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass."

Yes, they certainly are. The resulting 3-403 vote defeating the absurd resolution simply illustrated the depths that a political party will sink to once it is pissing blood and shitting the bed.

America is waking up, and the same old propaganda isn't cutting it.

Regardless of what one thinks of the Iraq War (and whether we must remain until, well, eternity), surely we can all agree that elected leaders should and must behave with responsibility, honesty and integrity.

Instead, the House Republicans acted like buffoons.

Sad buffoons. And the saddest thing of all: Only a year ago their bogus resolution would've been perceived by political observers as genius.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Recommended Viewing

By Cassandra D

Whether you agree with him or not, Rep. John Murtha's press conference is a must-see in order to understand the current debate over our war in Iraq.

(Don't you just love Crooks and Liars?)

Drink Up and Die

On this date in 1978, Jim Jones and more than 900 of his cult followers in Jonestown, Guyana, pulled the ultimate crazy-fratboy stunt and dropped dead of cyanide-laced punch.

And thus was born one of the greatest, most durable phrases ever invented to describe ideologues and partisan hackery: "They drank the Kool-Aid."

Thank you, Jim Jones. Because of you, we now have a succinct way to dismiss the far right and far left.

Sadly, however, the Jonestown Massacre has remained an unfair blemish on the refreshing and delicious good name of Kool-Aid. Flavor-Aid is what the Jonestown flock drank.










In this candid photo, Vice President Dick Cheney preps for a routine meeting of the White House Iraq Group. (KoolAP)


Poor Kazakhstan

By Cassandra D

As someone who also resides in a frequently maligned and harshly caricatured state, I can understand why the good folks of Kazakhstan are more than a bit miffed at Ali G. [And thanks to the NPR audio link, I'm now stuck with the lovely song "Throw the Jew Down the Well" running through my head...]

(via Andrew Sullivan)

Friday Random 10

You didn't ask for it, but we're a generous lot here at CTTC. So iPod dance on this, hellcats.

1. Ron Sexsmith, "The Idiot Boy"
2. The Beach Boys, "Surfin' U.S.A."
3. Jeff Buckley,"Grace"
4. Derek & the Dominos, "Tell the Truth"
5. Green Day, "Basket Case"
6. The Eels, "Trouble with Dreams"
7. Ivy, "Thinking About You"
8. Antony and the Johnsons, "My Lady Story"
9. Mission of Burma, "Wounded World"
10. Sebadoh, "On Fire"

Thursday, November 17, 2005

That's Our Dick!

NOW:

"The suggestion that's been made by some U.S. senators that the president of the United States or any member of this administration purposely misled the American people on pre-war intelligence is one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city."
-- Dick Cheney, Nov. 16, 2005

"You can't have your pudding if you don't eat your meat!"


THEN:

"We do know, with absolute certainty, that he is using his procurement system to acquire the equipment he needs in order to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon."
-- Dick Cheney, Sept. 8, 2002

More Woodward-Hate

By Conrad Spencer

Revenge is one thing, but...

Plame's husband wants Post to probe Woodward

Ouch!

Tell 'em Willie Pete Was Here

Well, knock me down and sear my skin to the texture of IHOP bacon, it turns out that the U.S. military does use white phosphorus. But don't confuse this flesh-burning confection with a chemical weapon, silly -- this is just a lil' ol' incendiary.

Reuters reports:

"Army Lt. Col. Barry Venable, a Pentagon spokesman, said the U.S. military had not used the highly flammable weapons against civilians, contrary to an Italian state television report this month that stated the munitions were used against men, women and children in Falluja who were burned to the bone.

"'We categorically deny that claim,' Venable said."

It reminds us of this chestnut from 19th century German Chancellor Otto von Bismack: "Never believe in anything until it has been officially denied."

... But I digress.

Meanwhile, an Italian satellite news channel reported in a special, "Fallujah: The Hidden Massacre," that U.S. troops used white phosphorus, called Willie Pete (evidently by Vietnam-era GIs who longed for Bill Mauldin cartoons), on civilians and military targets alike.

Whatever the truth, The Washington Post's William M. Arkin offers this perspective on the matter:

"I for one am reluctant to pronounce whether the use of white phosphorous for 'shake and bake' missions in Fallujah and the evident blundering use of white phosphorous in areas known to be occupied by civilians is illegal. Neither am I buying the State Department's line that the use of white phosphorous in this way -- that is, to possibly inflict unnecessary suffering -- is not 'illegal' use.\

"What I'm sure of is that the use of white phosphorous is not just some insensitive act. It is not just bad P.R. It is the ill thought out and panicked use of a weapon in an illegitimate way. It is a representation of a losing strategy.

"U.S. military forces have the most stringent legal rules, the most aggressive internal lawyer class, the most constraining rules of engagement with regard to the laws of war and civilian casualties -- even under the shoot-em-first-ask-questions-later Bush administration. Those rules are scrupulously followed, as long as everything is going well and the chain of command is strong and in control.


"When the chain of command breaks down and military formations turn into a mob, Abu Ghraib's result. When forces are frustrated by sandstorms or suicide bombers and pressured by the boss to move quicker, the incentive to unload with firebombs or cluster bombs or to be a little lighter on the trigger results, even if these might not otherwise be the preferred munitions or the preferred methods, because, as we all know, we are not just trying to win in a conventional military way in Iraq, we are also trying to win the peace."

For more on the use of Willie Pete, we humbly offer this BBC story.

Bob Woodward: "A Little Hyper"

Bob Woodward is a cranky, petty embarrassment apparently unable to bear the thought that he is no longer the belle of the ball.

From The Los Angeles Times:

"On July 17, he (Woodward) told CNN's 'Reliable Sources': 'I'm not sure there's any crime in all of this. The special prosecutor has been working 18 months. Eighteen months into Watergate we knew about the tapes. People were in jail. People had pled guilty. In other words, there was a solid evidentiary trail I don't see here.'

"In an interview Wednesday, Woodward said that he would change his tone in those interviews if he had them to do over again. 'I think I got a little hyper there,' he said."

Hmm. "A little hyper" is one euphemism for it.

I prefer "duplicitous, self-absorbed, insecure, vainglorious asshole who has fashioned a career from a triumph of yesteryear."

Forget the Cigarettes, Cheswick

By Conrad Spencer

No one needs another quit-smoking testimonial, but somehow I can't let the Great American Smokeout pass without noting that this is first year the observance has not been a personal source of guilt. I quit smoking seven months ago after 13 years (ages 13-26) of smoking, many of those years at a pack a day.

It wasn't so much the fear of death that motivated me to quit. Even at 27, I'm still young enough to carry the delusion of immortality. Twenty-seven is old enough, however, to understand that life can sometimes be very painful. Hence, while death was less of a concern, the "long, slow, painful" bit preceding the death produced considerable worry.

I used to joke that by the time I got lung cancer, medical technology would have advanced to the point it wouldn't be a problem. It's a risky bet, and it's really much more likely that medical technology will have advanced to the point of simply extending a miserable existence.

As I watched grandparents, who are non-smokers with weight issues, struggle with feats of athletic heroism like walking, I thought about how nice it would be to be active and able-bodied to a very old age, then became very dead very quickly and very painlessly.

Still, those wishes for an easy demise are a long way from quitting, but when my son, then four, said in his pre-k wisdom, "Daddy, if you don't stop smoking, you'll die," I started to give the idea serious thought.

I know that all the pestering from family and friends, all the PSAs and national non-holidays are ineffective or (if you're as passive-aggressive as myself) downright counter-productive. Smokers have to find their own time and their own reasons to quit. They have to get over their terror at facing the world without cigarettes, which can be considerable when you start young and the only adulthood you've ever known has been nicotine-charged. They also have to get over the image and identity problems of quitting, because most of the cool people of the last century smoked (really).

But, it can be done and I wish the greatest success to all those who are giving it a try.

Sex Tape Derby, Round 34

Let us rejoice, for it's another Thursday and another Sex Tape Derby. If you don't know what this is, click here.

Otherwise, post your selections in the comments section ... and just breathe deep the gathering gloom.

1. Tough guys don't dance ... or do they?: John Wayne or Robert Mitchum?

2. Willowy blondes: Maggie Grace or Gwyneth Paltrow?

3. Jared Leto or Ryan Reynolds?

4. Knocking boot old school: Greta Garbo or Theda Bara?

5. Bald is beautiful: Patrick Stewart or Bruce Willis?

6. Rock daughters: Nicole Ritchie or Lisa Marie Presley?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Bob Woodward: Look at Me! Look at Me!

Bob Woodward apologizes for not having told The Washington Post about his involvement in the Valerie Plame leak.

How's this for a self-aggrandizing mea culpa?

"I hunkered down. I'm in the habit of keeping secrets ..."

There, there ... yes, yes, Bob. You were a very important fella once upon a time. You helped bring down a president, right? You're boss.

So, just who did tell him about Valerie Plame? William Casey on his deathbed?

Find Your Own Dead

By Cassandra D

Just when I thought all the appalling stories out of New Orleans had dried up along with the water, here's another one. The official search for bodies was called off on October 3rd, despite many homes having gone unchecked. Now, as areas are reopened, families are returning to find the decaying corpses of their loved ones. One area, the lower 9th Ward, won't be opened until December 1st, at which time more bodies are expected to be found.

Read about it here and here. As Scout Prime points out, we sifted through all the rubble of the World Trade Center to find every small chunk of a body, but can't seem to manage to go house to house for the citizens of New Orleans.

PinnochiOil

I'm shocked -- shocked! -- that oil executives lied when they told Congress they had not met with Vice President Cheney and his secret energy task force meetings back in 2001.

As Dana Milbank and Justin Blum report in The Washington Post:

"The executives were not under oath when they testified, so they are not vulnerable to charges of perjury; committee Democrats had protested the decision by Commerce Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) not to swear in the executives. But a person can be fined or imprisoned for up to five years for making 'any materially false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or representation' to Congress."

Does anyone remember Stevens' bilious reaction when Democrats on the Senate committee members pushed for the execs to be sworn in? Would anyone ask Sen. Stevens exactly why he was so adamantly opposed? Gosh, could he have known their testimony would be less than truthful?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Bob Woodward Wants His 15 Minutes Back

So Bob Woodward is the latest high-profile reporter to wade into the murky waters of Traitorgrate, claiming he was told by a senior White House official (not Scooter Libby and not Karl Rove) about the identity of Valerie Plame a good month before she was eventually outed by Robert "I feast on entrails of children" Novak.

This story just gets weirder and weirder. Why is Woodward, who has been so publicly critical of independent prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, insinuating himself into the case? Why is he taking pains to contend he was the one, not a senior administration official, who told fellow Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus about the identity of Valerie Plame? (Pincus, by the way, disputes Woodward's account)

The Post reports:

"Woodward's testimony appears to change key elements in the chronology Fitzgerald laid out in his investigation and announced when indicting [former Cheney chief of staff Lewis "Scooter"] Libby three weeks ago. It would make the unnamed official -- not Libby -- the first government employee to disclose Plame's CIA employment to a reporter. It would also make Woodward, who has been publicly critical of the investigation, the first reporter known to have learned about Plame from a government source.

[...]

"William Jeffress Jr., one of Libby's lawyers, said yesterday that Woodward's testimony undermines Fitzgerald's public claims about his client and raises questions about what else the prosecutor may not know. Libby has said he learned Plame's identity from NBC journalist Tim Russert.

"'If what Woodward says is so, will Mr. Fitzgerald now say he was wrong to say on TV that Scooter Libby was the first official to give this information to a reporter?' Jeffress said last night. 'The second question I would have is: Why did Mr. Fitzgerald indict Mr. Libby before fully investigating what other reporters knew about Wilson's wife?'"

Oh, here's a third question:

Is Bob Woodward a legitimate factor in this case, or could it be that Mr. Watergate Scandal is the self-styled Zelig in this little drama? Does the past-his-prime White House watchdog demand a part in the play?

Just a thought ...

"Capote": About Journalism

The Chicago Tribune's Julia Keller has an interesting take on Capote, the excellent -- and I do mean excellent -- film chronicling Truman Capote's writing of In Cold Blood, his "non-fiction novel" that proved to be a journalistic milestone:

"... Capote wormed his way into the lives of the people of Holcomb, Kan., to get the goods for his book. But what a book: In Cold Blood is brilliant. It's a unique evocation of a place, a time and a crime that -- thanks to Capote's skill -- still vibrates with terrifying intensity. It's history, it's literature, and had Capote not 'exploited' people -- had he stayed in New York with his pals and his pajamas and his cocktail shakers -- we wouldn't have In Cold Blood.
"Capote makes the delicate transaction between subject and author, the emotional and psychological balancing act thereof, exceptionally clear. Capote longs for the killers to be executed so that he can finish his book; this seems monstrously self-centered until you realize how very fine the book turned out to be, and how its characters -- the Clutter family, who died at the hands of two-bit killers -- now will live forever. A fairly routine crime is transformed into a permanent symbol of accidental evil -- accidental because the Clutters' executioners were looking for easy money, not blood. The murders came from panic, hastiness and poor planning, a fact that surely provided exactly zero consolation to the Clutters' friends and loved ones.

"And yet, had Capote not written his book, the Clutters would still be just as dead. His words give their deaths a meaning, even a poignant grandeur, beyond the simple fact of slaughter. To condemn the author is to wish In Cold Blood out of existence, and no literate person could do that."

Capote -- and the Keller piece -- are well worth checking into for anyone interested in the news media and/or the power of film.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Preserving Habeas Corpus

By Cassandra D

Yikes. A legal scholar I certainly am not. But there is an issue of great importance floating around the Senate today. Last week Senator Lindsey Graham's bill S. 1042 was passed, which would take away the right to petition for a writ of habeas corpus from the Guantanamo detainees. In other words, at least as far as I understand it, they could be held indefinitely without a right to challenge their status in court.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman will introduce an amendment (S. 2517) to Graham's bill that would, apparently, take the habeas corpus part out of the bill, while leaving intact other measures. The amendment will likely be introduced for a vote today.

As I said, my understanding of all this is limited, but enough to raise alarm bells. There are fourteen (14!) blog entries on this over at Obsidian Wings, with a handy post linking to all of them. There is also a link to the Senate directory, so you can call your senator.

*****

**UPDATE**

Here's a case report from Guantanamo to illustrate why this is so important.

*****

"We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people."
- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Reel Short Reviews, Take 13

More movies I've seen or re-seen. The ratings scale should be fairly easy to figure out, pardner.


Bell, Book and Candle (1958)
Kim Novak was mighty perty, but she and co-stars Jimmy Stewart and Jack Lemmon seem adrift in this tale of a book publisher who falls in love with a real-life New York witch (apparently a precursor of Bewitched, Judith Regan and Tina Brown). Is it a farce? Is it a romance? Bell, Book and Candle is certainly watchable, but its lackluster script sinks faster than a non-witch in water.
**1/2

Citizen Ruth (1996)
Alexander Payne's directorial debut is wickedly on-target satire, a pitch-perfect skewering of pro-life and pro-choice extremists. And what better way to point out the absurdities of ideological circuses than to make your martyr a glue-huffing wastoid? Laura Dern is exceptional as Ruth Stoops, a homeless drug addict who gets pregnant and finds herself a pawn in the war over abortion.
****

Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
Woody Allen's most brilliant masterpiece; and, yes, that is saying a lot. This is such a cohesive film about some mighty weighty questions -- what is the meaning of life? is there morality in the absence of faith? what is the reward of a virtuous life? why do bad things happen to good people? -- but Allen's taut script manages to avoid the didacticism that has plagued his work elsewhere. And the performances are tremendous, particularly Martin Landau as a prosperous doctor who has his neurotic mistress murdered after she threatens to tell his wife about their affair. In a risky artistic move, Allen splits the narrative between that somber fare and a storyline with himself as a nebbish documentary maker who chronicles a self-aggrandizing TV mogul (Alan Alda, doing a neat parody of himself).
****

Into the Blue (2005)
Jessica Alba is hot, hot, hot. This crapfest is not, not, not.
*1/2

The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944)
A groundbreaking film of its time, this Preston Sturges comedy pushed the limits of the Production Code in its tale of Trudy (Betty Hutton), a small-town gal who goes to a dance for war-bound soldiers, gets drunk, marries one of the boys, gets knocked up and subsequently has no recollection of the lucky groom/father. There are some inspired moments, to be sure, but a little Eddie Bracken goes a long was as Trudy's stuttering, nervous and long-suffering suitor.
***

Roll Bounce (2005)
A surprisingly airy, good-natured trip down memory lane, this ode to roller disco (!) stars rapper Bow Wow as a south side Chicago kid, circa 1978, who skates away the summer with his chums doing all that coming-of-age stuff: chasing girls, having epiphanies about parents and trying to beat the reigning roller disco champ. Sound corny? It's unabashedly that, but director Malcolm D. Lee knows how to craft such nostalgic schmaltz, and the soundtrack is packed with terrific Seventies classics by the likes of Kool and the Gang, K.C. and the Sunshine Band and Parliament.
***

3 Women (1977)
Now I know where David Lynch found his inspiration for Mulholland Drive. 3 Women has many of the signature signs of its director-writer, Robert Altman (overlapping dialogue, an improvisational feel), but it's also more focused, and certainly more surreal, than most of his oeuvre (check out my fancypants word!). Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek are excellent as the sad-sack women who work at a rehab center, decide to room together and gradually undergo some creepy issues of identity. Altman says the story came to him in a dream (and we're betting it was a THC-induced nap, at that), which might explain the increasingly desultory atmospherics. But what the hell -- it's still an intriguing itch of a film.
***1/2

Tim Burton's Corpse Bride (2005)
Clever, entertaining and somehow unmemorable animated whimsy -- albeit with a mighty dark edge -- courtesy Mike Johnson and the hit-or-miss Tim Burton.
***

The Transporter (2002)
Jason Statham is an underworld transporter in this stylish, overcharged and ultimately forgettable actioner. As with most screenplays by Luc Besson, it teeters between clever campiness and utter ridiculousness.
**1/2

Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)
Amusing claymation marks the feature-length debut of the intrepid inventor and his long-suffering canine, but I dunno, I'm just not as enamored as the rest of the world. And I love cheese.
***

Written on the Wind (1956)
Douglas Sirk made turgid, lurid, over-the-top melodramas -- juicy and tremendously entertaining tramps through trash. This was his unparalleled masterpiece, managing to encompass alcoholism, nymphomania, impotence, infidelity, sibling battles and other weirdness I probably just didn't catch.
***1/2

Saturday, November 12, 2005

What's In a Name?

By Cassandra D

A caption under a photo in today's Oklahoman:
"Julie Dreyer attends to her horse, See I Made You Look, after competing in the amateur trail competition this week..."

Huh? What's with horses' names these days? Whatever happened to Black Beauty? Or Flicka? Or Silver?

"Hi-Ho, See I Made You Look - AWAY!"

Friday, November 11, 2005

"Arrested Development," Dead at the Age of 3

By Daniel Gale-Grogen

Fox did a Fed-style "Friday news dump" today and announced it was canceling "Arrested Development," the most original and consistently funny sitcom since the demise of "Seinfeld." It sounds like hyperbole, but consider that in the seven years since Jerry packed it in, not a single U.S. sitcom on commercial television besides "A.D." has successfully stretched or challenged the format.

Without going into the details of the program -- two seasons are available on DVD, and should not be rented but instead acquired and cherished like winning Powerball tickets or gold bullion -- this was a show in which sharp and unusual humor always carried the day. I have never seen a script, but my guess was that the average "A.D." script must have been twice as long as any other 22-minute sitcom script. Any episode works as a case study in the value of a TiVo/DVR: the fun bits came so fast and mercilessly, backtracking was an absolute necessity.

"A.D." did not have a laugh track and it was a single-camera shoot, meaning it was not an easy acclimation for the typical sitcom-damaged viewer. But, Fox could have been a better steward for this show, and its loss only brings up the network's most unfortunate trait: it has a stellar eye for material, but Fox consistently grabs up first-rate material and then doesn't know what the fucking fuck to do with it once it owns the show.

Some of the more tinfoil-hat types have theorized that Fox actively seeks out unusual (read: expensive to produce and groundbreaking) programs and then abuses them and "thrill-kills" them to prove that such programming does not work. Replacement shows tend to look a lot like "Life on a Stick," "The War at Home" or "Stacked," fueling the conspiracy.

Fox' most obvious pre-"A.D." would-be thrill-kills were "Family Guy," which was resurrected after finding a thriving DVD afterlife, and the Judd Apatow shows "Undeclared" and "The Ben Stiller Show." Great programs such as "Wonderfalls" seemed to create cancellation buzz before they even premiered: TV writers would warn readers to watch "Wonderfalls," because it seemed to have "Fox Thrill-Kill" plastered all over it. Sure enough, "Wonderfalls" was canceled after only four airings on Friday night. All 13 produced episodes are available on DVD.

So, say your prayers. A recurring theme in today's cyberspace mourning for "A.D." is that HBO might pick up the series. That is always the hope for desperate fans -- that HBO will ride in like a white knight and save their beloved, fallen favorite. In this case, never has a failed Fox throwaway looked more like a successful HBO 12-ep-per-season hit.

"Now Is the Time For All Good Men..."

By Cassandra D

It's time for Americans to stand up and rescue the soul of our nation. Time and again over the last few years I have heard stories that I thought could not possibly be true, stories of deceit and cruelty that I thought were beyond our capability, beyond our tolerance. Unfortunately, too many of these stories have turned out to be true.

So it was with great trepidation that I read about the story reported by Italian TV that the US military used white phosphorus as a chemical weapon in the battle for Fellujah. I watched the broadcast and hoped that it was just anti-American hype. Not surprisingly, the report was quickly picked up as a great propaganda story by those who already despised us.

And then I found this post from DailyKos, with excerpts from the U.S. Army's March issue of Field Artillery Magazine that confirm the use of white phosphorus by our troops as a weapon in that battle, not just for illumination as has been claimed. Another post, called Melting the Skin Off Children, shows a photo of a dead child and goes on what seems to me to be a justifiable rant. Yet another post adds more confirmation that we did, in fact, use WP as a weapon.

What have we come to?

"We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people."
- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Another New Contributor

We at CTTC are proud to announce yet another new contributor, Cassandra D. With a few folks having come and gone here, it seemed a good time to welcome an old friend of ours, a former pet psychiatrist and hand model we met during a symposium on symposiums.

At any rate, Cassandra is one passionate broad, and we welcome her to Cutting to the Chase. As they say: "Saaa-loooot!"

Friday Random 10

iPod time. Let it all hang out.

1. Sonny Boy Williamson, "Keep It to Yourself"
2. Hugh Masekela, "Grazing in the Grass"
3. Nirvana, "Floyd the Barber"
4. The Beatles, "Martha My Dear"
5. The New Pornographers, "From Blown Speakers"
6. The Archers of Loaf, "Greatest of All Time"
7. Wilco, "The Lonely 1"
8. 311, "I'll Be Here Awhile"
9. The Primitives, "Crash"
10. The Rolling Stones, "Country Honk"

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Things the 15-Year-Old, Long-Haired, Metallica T-Shirt-Wearing Conrad Spencer Would Be Amazed to Hear Himself Say to His Son a Dozen Years Later

"C'mon, eat your dinner. You don't know how lucky you are. Most five year-olds don't even know what tofu is."

"Good Night, and Good Luck": Some Thoughts

George Clooney's modest, loving homage to crusading journalism, Good Night, and Good Luck, was never destined to win wide audiences or convert the unconverted. Still, the cinematic valentine to legendary newsman Edward R. Murrow is a nice reminder of a time when a journalism icon appreciated the responsibility of the Fourth Estate.

That might just be the single most salient theme of Good Night, and Good Luck, which centers on how Murrow (portrayed with crisp earnestness by John Sayles' utility player, David Strathairn) finally took televised aim at Commie-baiting Sen. Joe McCarthy.

While Murow's "See It Now" program on McCarthy was welcome and long-overdue, Clooney's film places the episode squarely in context with the TV news troubles that were just beginning to take form. David Halberstam's excellent examination of the news media giants, The Powers That Be, turns a jaundiced eye at Murrow's shot across the bow and what it meant for broadcast news.

From The Powers That Be:

"The new affluence was not by any means matched by public accountability. As for the McCarthy show itself, which CBS would later cite as one of its finest hours, no less an authority than Murrow himself felt it was a symbol not of the network's strength but rather of its unwillingness to accept responsibility. The show had been done by Murrow, not by CBS, he (Murrow) told his friend David Lilienthal somewhat bitterly. He thought CBS had backed away from it and he felt strongly that on an issue of this gravity the network should have accepted responsibility for the program.

"What he had feared, he told Lilienthal, was now taking place, a huge growth of power and influence without a comparable willingness to accept responsibility for it. Murrow's show on McCarthy had probably salvaged television's respectability, without it the medium would have been disgraced. Always sensitive to the charges that the networks failed in the area of public affairs, senior officials would later point to the McCarthy show. The implications were clear, that they did programs like this all the time ..."
***

Slate's Jack Shafer has an interesting take on the media-fanned fire of Good Night, and Good Luck. A fair amount of it is just old fashioned bashing, but he does make some good points.

Sex Tape Derby, Round 33

You know how this guys. Who'd you rather watch do the monkey?

A more long-winded explanation is found by clicking here. Otherwise, have at it -- and post your selections in the comments section below.

1. Amanda Peet or Heather Graham?

2. Mel Gibson or George Clooney?

3. Heyday Sophia Loren or heyday Gina Lollabrigida?

4. John McCain or Rudy Giuliani?

5. Anne Hathaway or Kristen Bell?

6. Josh Hartnett or 1930s-era baseball great Gabby Hartnett?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

On Porpoise

The Token Liberal has made a true believer of us. Read on for the gospel according to Flipper.

What's the Matter with Kansas?

By Conrad Spencer

Education officials, elected leaders and economic development experts around the country generally bemoan the lack of science and math instruction in the U.S. schools which leads to the outsourcing of high-tech, high-paying jobs in fields such computers and engineering.

The Kansas Board of Education, however, seems to feel there's too much of that new-fangled science goin' on in the classroom. In order to allow for the teaching of intelligent design, the Kansas Board of Education changed the very definition of science so that the field is no longer limited to natural explanations for natural phenomena. Because, you know, traditional science is so stuffy and, well, scientific.

In other Kansas news, the Department of Health unveiled the state's response plan to a potential flu pandemic.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Defending Mike Brown (God Help Me)

I never thought I'd defend former FEMA fuckup Mike Brown, but let me weigh in briefly on the skewering he has received in recent weeks for the batch of emails and Blackberry messages he sent and received during Hurricane Katrina.

The sanctimony from The Chicago Tribune's Dawn Turner Trice is fairly representative of the bashing:

"If I could have a moment of Michael Brown's time, I'd tell the former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency what I saw while covering Hurricane Katrina for the Tribune.

"I'd tell him why his recently released e-mail messages are an insult to, first, the victims of the storm, but also to his hardworking and dedicated FEMA staffers who now see that not only did their boss fail to better prepare his agency for a storm they knew was coming, but what's worse is that he may not have even cared."

Give me a break.

I find it difficult to believe that Trice isn't aware of the rampant gallows humor and dumb distractions that infect many journalists covering events of great tragedy, such as Katrina. Well, guess what? The same callousness can spout from the mouths and minds of government officials; and, yes, it can be just as fake and inappropriate from them as it is with reporters talking among themselves.

Mike Brown undoubtedly handled Katrina like the incompetent goofball he is, but don't blame him for firing off some idiotic emails in which he bragged about having bought a new shirt from Nordstrom's or joked that he was a fashion god. If we were all judged by what we said to our friends and colleagues in casual conversation, all of us would be in special ed.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Cheerleaders Having Hot Lesbian Sex in a Public Restroom

I thought that would get your attention.

The story's here.

**UPDATE**

Don't pretend you're not interested in what our endearingly nasty cheerleaders look like.

Angela is on the left, with Renee on the right.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Every Breath You Take, Every Move You Make ...

If you can get past a fair amount of confusing and eye-glazing prose, The Washington Post's Barton Gellman has an important story in Sunday's edition about the widespread use of a little-known weapon in the Patriot Act (boo! hiss!) quiver. The inconspicuous bugger is something called a National Security Letter, or NSL if you prefer, and the FBI can dispense them freely without a court order to obtain reams of information about law-abiding Americans who might have the most peripheral of connections -- if even that -- to a legitimate issue of national security.

Gellman writes:

"Issued by FBI field supervisors, national security letters do not need the imprimatur of a prosecutor, grand jury or judge. They receive no review after the fact by the Justice Department or Congress. The executive branch maintains only statistics, which are incomplete and confined to classified reports. The Bush administration defeated legislation and a lawsuit to require a public accounting, and has offered no example in which the use of a national security letter helped disrupt a terrorist plot.

[...]

"Senior FBI officials acknowledged in interviews that the proliferation of national security letters results primarily from the bureau's new authority to collect intimate facts about people who are not suspected of any wrongdoing. Criticized for failure to detect the Sept. 11 plot, the bureau now casts a much wider net, using national security letters to generate leads as well as to pursue them. Casual or unwitting contact with a suspect -- a single telephone call, for example -- may attract the attention of investigators and subject a person to scrutiny about which he never learns.

"A national security letter cannot be used to authorize eavesdropping or to read the contents of e-mail. But it does permit investigators to trace revealing paths through the private affairs of a modern digital citizen. The records it yields describe where a person makes and spends money, with whom he lives and lived before, how much he gambles, what he buys online, what he pawns and borrows, where he travels, how he invests, what he searches for and reads on the Web, and who telephones or e-mails him at home and at work."

Read the entire story here. It's lengthy, but worth it.

The Subjective Scribe is on target with his assessment of the peril in allowing this level of spying on everyday Americans:

"The Founding Fathers believed in checks on power because they knew the risks for abuse of overreaching government authority. If in the name of national security we lose our basic liberties, then we have lost this War on Terror. The terrorists will have won because they accomplished what they wanted to — to destroy the American way of life."

Alito: For Freedom ... from Fags

Talk about creative spin. This is what passes for centrist judges these days ...

According to AP, the Bush Administration is offering reporters thick briefing books making it clear that Samuel Alito would be a moderate justice and not the scum-sucking conservative posited by some liberal groups:

"On the issue of free speech, White House officials sought to rebut what they called the allegation that Alito 'is an ideological conservative who would be too deferential to the government and do too little to protect the First Amendment right to free speech.'

"Officials cited Alito's opinion in the 2001 case of Saxe v. State College Area School District. In the unanimous ruling, the 3rd Circuit struck down a school's anti-harassment policy, saying it was a violation of the free speech clause in the First Amendment.

"A group of students who identified themselves as Christians had challenged the policy, saying their religion teaches them that homosexuality is a sin and they believe 'they have a right to speak out about the sinful nature and harmful effects of homosexuality.'"

What? Is that a fucking joke? The White House scurries around to prove that Alito supports the First Amendment, and the best they can offer is a decision in which he helped allow the wholesale taunting and harassment of gay college students? Alito and his colleagues were firm on the Constitution. No free-speakin' students would be told they couldn't stand with a bullhorn outside a gay student's dorm room and give that hell-lovin' queer a piece o' their mind, no siree bobcat tail.

Hey, why doesn't the White House really try to impress us? Let's see where Alito stands on incidents of free expression that don't conceivably involve a burning cross.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

And Baby Makes Three


I'm gonna be a dad. As many times as I tell myself that phrase, it still doesn't quite seem real. Regardless, two months from now at this time, if all goes well I should be knee-deep in diapers and relatives who know so much better than me about what to do for this and that.

For those of you already versed in the experience of being a parent, let me apologize in advance for what surely sounds naive and goofy -- but I'm gonna be a dad, and I really haven't been able to wrap my arms around that rather awesome concept.

Until now, that is.

Over the past few weeks, a nursery has steadily taken shape in what was our study. My wife and I moved out what had been a gargantuan collection of garbage in that room -- old receipts, photos, chewing gum wrappers, atlases featuring nations that no longer exist, unopened boxes of items that Mrs. Chase had once deemed indispensable (a candle-making set, greeting cards for every occasion and, so help me, a bingo kit) -- and slowly filled the room with a crib and bassinet and assorted frilly frills fit for a baby girl.

And so it is starting to sink in that, come Christmas, I will have a daughter. Even writing the word -- "daughter" -- is both exhilarating and scary (much like every female I've ever known).

I was awake this morning before the sunrise. When I went out to get the morning paper, I ended up fixating on a single star in the sky and subsequently freaked myself out with the silliest of daydreams. How will I first tell my daughter about what it means to make a wish upon a star? Will she know what "wish" means by then? If not, how do you really explain wish? And will it confuse her later when she is introduced to the more pop culture notion of what a "star" means? And how easy will it be for me to keep her from following in her dad's footsteps of watching too much damn TV? And how difficult will it be to clean up my language?

Etc., etc. The worries and little anxieties tumbled through my head and out my ears and made little splat sounds on the driveway. I could not curtail the swirl of thoughts that came a-pourin'.

For those of you who have already gone through the new parent routine, I have what might be a strange question: In the countdown to Baby Day, did you find yourself suddenly musing on all the experiences, be them pivotal or innocuous, of your childhood and adolescent years?

That has certainly been my experience. I find myself thinking about aspects of growing up that I took for granted and hadn't really considered, that I will now have a role in shaping for my to-be child. Things like sleepovers (or slumber parties -- I forget what term is appropriate for what gender), that terrifying first day at school, forming a crush on someone, eating dinner together as a family, Saturday morning cartoons (is there even such a thing anymore?) and the like. I remember how everything seemed so big, so important, so interesting when I was little. And I wonder about all the weird and wonderful imprints that the world of 2006 and beyond will have on a life for which I'm partly responsible.

I catch myself thinking about what a monumental influence my parents were, and still are, in my life. I fret about whether my daughter will inherit some of my less enviable traits: crummy vision, asymmetrical thumbs, allergies, a weakness for plastic bubblewrap. I worry about whether she will be self-confident. I worry about whether she will torch a building for the insurance money. I worry about how I will handle it when she reaches adolescence and is as embarrassed and revolted by her parents as I was of mine when I was at that age.

Yeah, yeah, I know: The worrying will never stop. That's what they tell me, anyway.

Our nursery is beginning to take shape. Baby gates are now up in some doorways of the house. Our two spoiled-rotten-to-the-core dogs are starting to sense that something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Good God Almighty, I'm gonna be a dad.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Counting the Hypocrisies

Mark Shields makes a concise inventory of hypocrisies surrounding the ill-fated Harriet Miers nomination for the Supreme Court. As he writes for CNN:

1. Congressional Republicans have long demanded a fair up-or-down hearing for all judicial nominees ... unless it's Harriet Miers.

2. The Bush White House argued mightily (and rightly) that John Roberts' Catholicism was immaterial during his confirmation hearings. Then, under fire for the Miers selection, that same administration went to great lengths to point out that the nominee was a proper, God-fearin' Christian woman.

3. The Bush White House scoffs at the notion of quotas, but selected the unqualified Miers for the obvious purpose of ensuring that a woman keep that seat on the high court.

Shields concludes:

"Harriet Miers does not need to apologize to anyone. She told no lies. The big losers are those on the political right -- both her supporters and her opponents -- whose contradictions and moral relativism were enough to give hypocrisy a bad name."

Bravo, Shields.

And bravo to Yarnell, wherever you are.

And Survey Says ...

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows a dismal rating for Dumbya, with a full 60 percent disapproving of his performance in office.

The Post's Richard Morin and Dan Balz report:

"... The survey underscores how several pillars of Bush's presidency have begun to crumble under the combined weight of events and White House mistakes. Bush's approval ratings have been in decline for months, but on issues of personal trust, honesty and values, Bush has suffered some of his most notable declines. Moreover, Bush has always retained majority support on his handling of the U.S. campaign against terrorism -- until now, when 51 percent have registered disapproval."

Frankly, I don't find the high disapproval ratings nearly as interesting as wanting to learn more about the 39 percent who don't see anything to worry about in the White House.

I'm reminded of Tina Fey on last week's "Saturday Night Live" Weekend Update":

"A new poll shows that 66 percent of Americans think President Bush is doing a poor job on the War in Iraq. And the remaining 34 percent think Adam and Eve rode dinosaurs to church."

Stop the Presses! Another Movie List!

With the current flicks Capote and Good Night, and Good Luck recasting light on the legacies of such luminaries as, respectively, Truman Capote and Edward R. Murrow, CourtTV recently compiled its lists of the most memorable reporters from the movies.

The usual suspects are included: Woodward and Bernstein (Redford and Hoffman) from All the President's Men, Howard Beale (Peter Finch) from Network, etc., etc. It's all kinda silly, of course, but it's kind of a fun read, if you like that sort of thing.

Nevertheless, speaking as a journalist and an insufferable movie geek, there are some noticeable omissions I feel compelled to add, since, as any regular reader of this blog knows, I care about the most piddling and trivial shit you could ever imagine.

Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) from Ace in the Hole (1951)

Director-writer Billy Wilder undoubtedly drew upon his own experience as a Vienna reporter in this acidic tale of a former New York tabloid writer, Chuck Tatum, trapped in a dusty New Mexico town. When a miner ends up trapped in a collapsed cave, Tatum contorts the imminent tragedy into a media carnival of epic proportions (after the movie tanked with audiences, studio execs tried the less hard-boiled title of The Big Carnival). Tatum's diverging obsessions, the desire to break a big story and his concomitant self-loathing, encapsulate the dilemma of many a reporter -- and human being, for that matter (not that the two are necessary mutually exclusive, mind you).

Stephen Glass (Hayden Christensen) from Shattered Glass (2003)
The fascinating, twisted tale of a real-life journalist wunderkind whose too-good-to-be-true stories for The New Republic turned out to be just that. Stephen Glass had a terrific ride until his fabricated scoops caught up with him; this movie brilliantly captures his rise and subsequent fall from grace. Hayden Christensen has never been better (hell, you might argue he hasn't even been good since) as the sniveling, insecure, affirmation-starved Glass ("Are you mad at me?" is his mantra), with Peter Sarsgaard every bit his equal as then-TNR editor Charles Lane.

J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) from Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
Supposedly based on Walter Winchell, Hunsecker is one of the great monsters of American cinema. In a career-defining moment for one of the great actors of his generation, Lancaster is astounding as the icy, arrogant, power-hungry king of New York who thinks nothing of destroying lives ("You're dead, son; get yourself buried," he tells one of his many victims) and wants to get jiggy with his little sister. In another lifetime, he could've been a star on FOX News.

Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino) from The Insider (1999)
A bit of a glorified portrait of the crusading TV news producer, Michael Mann's The Insider nevertheless accurately captures the ongoing tug-of-war between journalistic integrity and corporate realities. Pacino is somewhat more controlled than usual as the "60 Minutes" producer who latched on to tobacco industry whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe). While the problem of corporate America leaving its fingerprints on the news media is as old as journalism itself -- Good Night, and Good Luck reminds us of that -- that doesn't make The Insider any less riveting.

Suzanne Stone (Nicole Kidman) from To Die For (1995)
In this overlooked Gus Van Sant-directed satire, Kidman plays a beautiful, vapid and vicious wannabe TV news reporter willing to do anything for fame and fortune. Aside from being funny and nasty, what makes To Die For and its anti-heroine so memorable? Well, there's this ...

'Nuff said.