Tuesday, February 28, 2006

I Believe the Children Are the Future ...















Boy, oh, boy -- just think how violent they'd be if they were saddled with Western video games.

Iraq: Our Responsibility Back Home

The mainstream media places so much emphasis on the death toll in the continuing Iraq War, it sometimes seems too little attention is paid to those who endure life-altering wounds.

In a powerful New York Times article earlier this year, Denise Grady looked at a unique phenomenon of the war by spotlighting a 23-year-old Marine corporal, Jason Poole.

"Men and women like Corporal Poole, with multiple devastating injuries, are the new face of the wounded, a singular legacy of the war in Iraq. Many suffered wounds that would have been fatal in earlier wars but were saved by helmets, body armor, advances in battlefield medicine and swift evacuation to hospitals. As a result, the survival rate among Americans hurt in Iraq is higher than in any previous war - seven to eight survivors for every death, compared with just two per death in World War II.

"But that triumph is also an enduring hardship of the war. Survivors are coming home with grave injuries, often from roadside bombs, that will transform their lives: combinations of damaged brains and spinal cords, vision and hearing loss, disfigured faces, burns, amputations, mangled limbs, and psychological ills like
depression and post-traumatic stress."

As for Jason Poole, he returned from Iraq with severe brain damage after getting caught by a bomb. Subsequently, he has had to relearn how to talk and walk. Some injuries he can do nothing about -- blind in one eye and deaf in one ear, and with a new face largely rebuilt through skin and bone grafts held together with titanium screws and plates.

Poole is hardly alone, as the Times points out:

"So many who survive explosions -- more than half -- sustain head injuries that doctors say anyone exposed to a blast should be checked for neurological problems. Brain damage, sometimes caused by skull-penetrating fragments, sometimes by shock waves or blows to the head, is a recurring theme.

"More than 1,700 of those wounded in Iraq are known to have brain injuries, half of which are severe enough that they may permanently impair thinking, memory, mood, behavior and the ability to work.

"Medical treatment for brain injuries from the Iraq war will cost the government at least $14 billion over the next 20 years, according to a recent study by researchers at Harvard and Columbia."


The Times' Denise Grady paints a strikingly vivid picture of Jason Poole's personal odyssey, which began when he was hit by a bomb during foot patrol:

"Shrapnel tore into the left side of Corporal Poole's face and flew out from under his right eye. Metal fragments and the force of the blast fractured his skull in multiple places and injured his brain, one of its major arteries, and his left eye and ear. Every bone in his face was broken. Some, including his nose and portions of his eye sockets, were shattered. Part of his jawbone was pulverized.

[...]

"An array of therapists -- speech, physical, occupational and others - began working with him for hours every day. He needed an ankle brace and a walker just to stand at first. His balance was way off and, because of the brain injury, he could not tell where his right foot was unless he could see it. He often would just drag it behind him. His right arm would fall from the walker and hang by his side, and he would not even notice. ..."

His greatest concern was getting used to his new face:

"'Dr. H. Peter Lorenz, a plastic surgeon at Stanford University Medical Center, planned several operations to repair the damage after studying pictures of Corporal Poole before he was injured. 'You could say every bone in his face was fractured,' Dr. Lorenz said.

[...]

"Operations in March and July repaired his broken and dislocated jaw, his nose and damaged eyelids and tear ducts. He could not see for a week after one of the operations because his right eye had been sewn shut, and he spent several weeks unable to eat because his jaws had been wired together.

"Dr. Lorenz also repaired Corporal Poole's caved-in left cheek and forehead by implanting a protein made from human skin that would act as a scaffolding and be filled in by Corporal Poole's own cells.

"Later, he was fitted with a false eye to fill out the socket where his left eye had shriveled.

"Some facial scars remain, the false eye sometimes looks slightly larger than the real one, and because of a damaged tear duct, Corporal Poole's right eye is often watery. But his smile is still brilliant.

"In a recent conversation, he acknowledged that the results of the surgery were a big improvement. When asked how he felt about his appearance, he shrugged and said, 'I'm not good-looking but I'm still Jason Poole, so let's go.'"

Although experts say escalating numbers of brain injuries and amputations in modern-day warfare have eclipsed that of previous wars, even in Vietnam, it is only part of the story.

Also of concern are the rising incidents of post traumatic stress disorder.

The mental toll of the war cannot be stressed enough. As Boise Weekly recently noted, a Department of Veterans Affairs study found that 28 percent of combat veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan (about 24,000 troops) have been diagnosed with mental disorders, "a number on par with the number diseases of the musculosketal/connective system (36.9), digestive system (28.3) and diseases of the sense organs and nervous system (25.1)."

All told, according to a recent study by Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz, the final price tag for the Iraq War might exceed $2 trillion.

Whatever the ultimate cost, a sizable chunk will be providing lifetime health care for veterans. Salon's Mark Benjamin explains the Stiglitz study:

"The study considers a number of hidden costs, including the price tag of caring for the 20 percent of wounded soldiers returning from Iraq with 'major head or spinal injury,' plus amputees and soldiers with 'blindness, deafness, partial vision and hearing impairment, nerve damage and burns.' The study figures that 3,213 soldiers who have suffered head or brain injuries in Iraq, for example, will need lifetime care that could total from $600,000 to $5 million per soldier.

"The study also includes scenarios where some veterans will need care for 20 or 40 years. It also estimates, based on trends from the Persian Gulf War, that additional veterans will later need disability checks from the Department of Veterans Affairs to compensate them for a wide range of service-related health problems, at a price tag of at least $2.3 billion per year, for decades."

Meanwhile, the Bush Administration continues to consider the Department of Veterans Affairs something of a budgetary afterthought. In April 2005, Congress infused the agency with an emergency $1.5 billion because VA needs had been drastically underestimated. Even with the additional funds, veterans groups indicate that VAs throughout the nation are weathering staffing shortages and overwhelmed resources.

And in a vile bit of cost-cutting, the Administration is currently reviewing the benefits of some 72,000 veterans who have been deemed totally disabled and unemployable as a result of PTSD.

To some extent, the debate over the Iraq War is now largely sophistry. Even though plenty of people on both sides of the issue (including your humble blogger) like to make nasty little digs at the other side, the argument over Iraq is pretty much moot, folks. Right or wrong, we're there, and there really isn't much of an option to leave that devastated country until we can do so with a modicum of moral responsibility. In other words, preserving life needs to be priority No. 1.

As an opponent of the war (although I have to admit, much to my chagrin, that I had begun supportive of it), I will concede that I have spoken with several families whose loved ones died in Iraq, and who were grateful for private meetings with the president. In those sessions, they told me, Bush was tearful and genuine -- and it meant a lot to those who were enduring such loss.

Consoling words are nice, but they do not repair lives. It is absolutely critical that the Bush Administration -- and successive administrations, for that matter -- meet their obligation to our nation's veterans.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Olympic This

Tom Reed of the Akron Beacon Journal reflects the grousing of a lot of folks about the U.S. team's boorish performance in the recently concluded 2006 Winter Olympics. In a dispatch from Italy titled "U.S. of Arrogance," Reed notes that the U.S. team's impressive haul of medals pales beside all the feuding, tantrums and general showboating.

"Too many stories were negative ones ... and that's just not the media's take. U.S. Olympic Committee officials have vowed 'significant adjustments' in the way they handle athletes at future Games.

"Let's hope so.

"The remark came a day after the USOC sent home freestyle ace Jeret Peterson because he reportedly punched a friend following a night of drinking.'It affects how the world views our country, and how the athletes are viewed,' U.S. Olympic Committee Chief Executive Officer Jim Scherr said Saturday."

Huh. Call me crazy, but I can't work up too much outrage if a bunch of cocky twentysomething athletes went to Italy and behaved like immature douchebags. Has anyone noticed that this is generally what happens when gifted young people achieve fame and wealth before they know it?

When Darryl Seibel of the U.S.O.C. tells NBC News how important it is that Olympians understand "the responsibility that comes with representing your country," I've got to wonder what fantasy paradise in which Seibel and his colleagues are living. Every four years, the media spins the same Olympic narrative and what the Games mean for national pride. It makes a nice story, but it's worth recognizing the narrative for what it is -- spin -- once commentators start kicking the shit out of someone like Lindsey Jacobellis because she showboated herself out of a gold medal.

I enjoy watching the Olympics as much as anyone, but I have yet to come across the great numbers of Americans who feel their global standing hinges on the antics of Bode Miller.

When it comes to representation of America, I'm much more inclined to worry about the ugliness of Abu Ghraib and Bagram and Guantanamo -- not whether Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick patch things up.

Dead Men Tell No Tales, but They Do Vote

The Detroit News wins the understated headline of the weekend. After an investigation by the newspaper found that 132 dead people apparently voted in recent elections, the headline writer safely adds that the revelation is "casting doubt on elections' integrity."

You think so?

Okie Bloggin', Take 10

Just a look at some of our favorite Oklahome-grown bloggers these days ...

Dustbury's estimable Charles Hill has some thoughts on the wacky street name where you live.

At 3:40 a.m., our friend mcarp is just saying no to drama.

Okiedoke's Mike considers the tasty slop of lawmaking.

Our pal the Token Liberal, an Okie despite his claims to the contrary, does a bit of sleuthing about the recent UK mega-robbery.

When is it uncool to jump on the anti-immigration bandwagon? As The Left End of the Dial's James points out, when neo-Nazis join the party.

Play One on TV's Joe Goodwin regrets some things he didn't take advantage of in the Seventies (and, surprisingly, Farrah Fawcett isn't one of them).

Existential Ramble's too-smart-for-his-own-good LiteraryTech has an enlightening post about a rather simple way to counter homophobia.

Speaking of homophobia, Independent Christian Voice has an excellent must-read essay on the subject, specifically what Scripture actually has to say about it.

Rule, Brittaniea! gets her groove back (Oh, and don't let all that crap about Korea throw you -- she's still an Okie).

Leila M. of Sister Scorpion is racking up major success with weight loss -- and a little bit o' credit goes to Iggy Pop.

Life and Deatherage looks at who's really full o' shit.

Okie Funk's Doc Kurt Hochenauer can't believe his eyes: The conservative editorial writers over at The Oklahoman have joined the chorus of folks kicking the you-know-what out of intelligent design.

Pants Confidential's Dr. Pants, one of our mostest favorite sociopaths, lets us in on his desperate need for affirmation. Buck up, amigo!

Ontogeny examines why sex with someone beats masturbation (all hail my clever pun).

LilRed of the always reliable Lip Schtck puts the screws to that racist a-hole Bryant Gumbel.

A big congratulations to fellow Okie blogger and daddy Sean Gleeson. He and Pheobe just welcomed child No. 5, Beatrice.

The Mainstream Baptist's Bruce Prescott has an interesting take on the uproar surrounding the Danish cartoons of you-know-who.

The Practical Progressive assesses the Medicare Drug Coverage Act, only to discover it is misnamed. Betcha can't guess what it should be called.

The Martini Project digs women. Give that man a martini!

Oklahomily deciphers Osama bin Laden's latest threat/promise/warning/taunt.

At l'espirt d'escalier, they're tossing way single malt scotch. Let's observe a moment of silence, please.

Dave of Stufffff just turned 39, and he is none too thrilled.

Oh, and a shout out to a few other faves, particularly The Daily Bitch, BatesLine, The Incurable Insomniac and Cam Edwards (another non-Okie Okie).

Friday, February 24, 2006

Jane, You Ignorant Slut

By Surly

The staff here at CTTC is committed to presenting both sides of all arguments.

OK, that’s clearly a lie. If this site leans any further to the left, it will throw off the planet’s rotation and hurl us into the sun. I mean, c’mon, Chase -- you’re gonna bitch about the port deal? Be honest -- if Dubya had blocked it, we would have seen a post about racial profiling.

But this is not about defending an indefensible administration. This is about a much more serious threat to national security. This is about children. Specifically, it’s about how all children suck-diddily-uck. Chase may have a freshly hatched one he seems to accept, but don’t be fooled …

ALL KIDS SUCK.

Now, if you’re a parent, you’re probably saying, “No, Surly, kids don’t suck; you suck. And even if other kids do suck, my little angel is a blessing.”

Well, you’re wrong.

Your kid is loud and messy and sucks. All those friends and relatives who claim to “luv” your adorable bundle of joy are just blowing smoke up your ass. No one likes your kid.

What has your kid, or any kid, done for society? No kid has done squat since Tiger hit those 3-woods on the Mike Douglas show. Well, Natalie Portman was hot in Beautiful Girls, but that’s a different post.

My point? My point is simply this -- keep your devil spawn away from those of us either wise enough to use contraceptives or pathetic enough to never get laid. We don’t want to hear the little freak wailing in line at Wal-Mart, nor do we want to look at it smear creamed corn on its face at Golden Corral. We’re trying to eat here, damn it!

If I can be arrested for urinating on the front door at Circle K, then why can’t you be arrested for hauling your screaming yard ape aboard my Super Saver flight to Vegas?

Until America relocates all children to, oh, let’s say Iowa, then the terrorists have already won.

Silly, Silly Governor

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich says he didn't realize Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" was a spoof on news programs when he sat down for an interview about contraception. AP reports on the gullible gov's experience in the interview:

"Interviewer Jason Jones pretended to stumble over Blagojevich's name before calling him 'Governor Smith.' He urged Blagojevich to explain the contraception issue by playing the role of 'a hot 17-year-old' and later asked if he was 'the gay governor.'

"At one point in the interview, a startled Blagojevich looked to someone off camera and said, 'Is he teasing me, or is that legit?'

"The segment, which aired two weeks ago, also featured Illinois Republican Rep. Ron Stephens, a pharmacist who opposes the governor's rule. Stephens has said he knew the show was a comedy.

"'I thought the governor was hip enough that he would have known that, too,' Stephens said."

No kidding. What a dolt.

First, did no one on Blagojevich's staff know who Jon Stewart is or what "The Daily Show" is all about? Had they stopped watching TV around the time Uncle Milty went off the air?

Second, if you were the governor of a state boasting one of the largest cities in the world, would you really admit you were so insulated from popular culture that you'd been snookered by a well-known TV show?

And third, if no one on the governor's staff knew about the program, why would he schedule a sit-down interview with the show? I guess it's a good thing al Qaeda doesn't have a cable news network.

Friday Random 10

Just iPod it, for Chrissakes.

1. The Cars, "Just What I Needed"
2. Cheri Knight, "White Lies"
3. Muddy Waters, "I Just Want to Make Love to You"
4. XTC, "Earn Enough for Us"
5. The Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane, "Epistrophy"
6. The Dead Milkmen, "Right Wing Pigeons"
7. The Supremes, "Where Did Our Love Go?"
8. Whiskeytown, "Everything I Do"
9. Squeeze, "Slap and Tickle"
10. The Deathray Davies, "Is This On?"

Thursday, February 23, 2006

He's a Uniter, All Right

It took handing over U.S. port security to a nation that recognized the Taliban and has been involved in financing terrorists, but George W. Bush has finally lived up to his 2000 campaign pledge of being a uniter.

Republicans and Democrats alike wonder what the fuck he is thinking.

Sex Tape Derby, Round 41

Today's Sex Tape Derby is dedicated to the letter "O" -- as in Olympics, or Olympics-face. Anyway, you know the shtick. Choose which of the following you would rather have to watch have sexual relations on videotape or DVD.

Post your selections in the comments section below.

In case you still can't grasp the premise here, read this.


"The Daily Show"'s Jon Stewart or ...














"Da Ali G Show"'s Sascha Baron Cohen?












Figure skater Sasha Cohen or ....


















Ice dancer Tanith Belbin?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Rubber Soul

By Conrad Spencer

Last week, the Oklahoma State Department of Health released its annual State of the State's Health report and most media outlets reported the things we already know -- we Okies eat too much, smoke too much, sit on our asses too much and suffer all the health complications you would expect.

Buried in the report is a startling tidbit that got very little notice, but should have, regarding why our teen birth rate, though declining, is still above the national average:

"About 50 percent of our high school students are sexually active, about the same level of activity as the nation. Our high teen birth rate relates in part to the fact that 63 percent of sexually active students nationally regularly use condoms, compared to only 33 percent in Oklahoma."

I thought this might be an indictment of abstinence-only education, but when I went looking around the Internet for information about sex education curriculum in Oklahoma, I found there's no information available. I did find news of a coalition, comprised of the Oklahoma Family Policy Council and the Oklahoma Baptist General Convention, among others, that supports "the expansion of abstinence-only education in Oklahoma," but I found nothing that actually described sex ed in Oklahoma classrooms.

When I was in high school a decade ago, my biology and physiology classes each provided a thorough sex education component, but then I had excellent teachers who probably pushed the envelope a bit in what they taught. I would not expect that my experience 10 years ago is representative of most kids in Oklahoma today.

The lack of information on the issue -- the deafening silence in the media, in schools, from state leaders -- is emblematic of the problem. I don't know if we teach an abstinence-only curriculum, but I do know that the conservative climate in our state hinders open and frank discussion. Whatever is (or isn't) taught in schools, or whatever the reason our kids use condoms at only half the rate of their peers, it's nothing we want to talk about.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Cry Cry Cry

I'm starting to really envy my baby. Not because she gets fed on demand, mind you, and not because she can relieve herself whenever and wherever she likes (although that's nothing to sneeze at).

No, what I've really come to admire about young Apple Rosebud, and all babies, I suppose, is the ability to scream and cry at anything that doesn't suit her. Clothes, baby formula, a toy, sleep -- it doesn't matter. If she doesn't like it, if it doesn't immediately suit her at that very moment, she can shriek to the point of choking herself. She turns the color of a radish, the tip of her tongue wagging as if responding to a snake charmer, while she squeezes out teardrops larger than her thumbs.

If it weren't so ear-piercingly horrific, the sight really would be kind of fascinating.













Nevertheless, such episodes have really made me yearn for the ability to throw a balls-out, full-scale, no-ifs-ands-or-buts tantrum whenever something doesn't exactly suit my fancy. Just think of all the business meetings you could avoid, all the lengthy waits that could be chopped in half, all the family gatherings that could be aborted once touchy issues were brought up.

It would be paradise.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Pick Your Battles


C'mon, if you are going to riot and kill over a cartoon, at least make it one worth rioting and killing over...

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Looney Toons: "Death to Everyone!"

The insanity rages on.

Over the past two days, nearly 30 people have died in Nigeria, Libya and Pakistan in the midst of more cartoon-inspired riots, and now -- surprise, surprise -- a Pakistani cleric has promised $1.025 million and a new car (the trusty Bob Barker-as-terrorist approach) to whoever kills one of the Danish cartoonists who dared sacrilege by illustrating the Prophet Muhammad.

AP reports on the bounty offered up by Mohammed Yousaf Qureshi:

"'This is a unanimous decision of by all imams of Islam that whoever insults the prophets deserves to be killed and whoever will take this insulting man to his end, will get this prize,' he said.

"Qureshi did not name any cartoonist in his announcement and he did not appear aware that 12 different people had drawn the pictures."

Slam! Looks like the joke's on Qureshi, who evidently will have to cough up $11 million more if he doesn't want to look like, you know, a total cheapskate.

While I admit there's really little on this subject that hasn't already been said, indulge me (it's my blog, after all): I'm starting to wonder more and more if the Bush administration didn't totally have its head up its proverbial ass when it decided to open the floodgates of democracy throughout the Muslim world.

Hamas wins the Palestinian elections. Iraq is going the way of Iran in a theocracy of anti-Western fundamentalists. And now it is abundantly clear that hundreds of thousands of enraged Muslims would rather rip the entrails from untalented Danish cartoonists than they would, say, like to settle the score with a really offensive comic strip, those precocious rugrats of "Family Circus." Oh, if only Bill Keane had disgraced the prophet ...

I'm still waiting for moderate Muslims to sound off. Where are they? Even the presumably peaceful Islamic protests occurring in Great Britain these days are a joke. Why are they still protesting the cartoons? What about, um, protesting the bloodshed over the cartoons?

The lunatic outrage over some offensive cartoons is spurring the worst kind of moral equivalence. AP notes another pathetic example of how no one in the Western world seems capable of condemning the rioting without also tsk-tsking the cartoons in question:

"In Islamabad, visiting former President Bill Clinton criticized the cartoons but said Muslims wasted an opportunity to build better ties with the West by holding violent protests.

"'I can tell you, most people in the United States deeply respect Islam ... and most people in Europe do,' he said."

Can the world stop groveling its apologies for the actions of a Danish newspaper? Yes, they were tasteless. Guess what? Take a cursory look at popular culture today and tell me that rude, offensive stereotypes aren't also heaped upon blacks, Jews, Asians, Latinos, American Indians, homosexuals and more.
















Surely there is a method of protest better than bloodthirsty violence when it comes to proving the fallacy of cartoons suggesting Islam is a bloodthirsty religion.

Call me crazy, but torching embassies, killing people and calling for the destruction of Denmark (on the To Destroy List: Israel, America, Denmark ...) just seem to muddy the issue.

Arab Charity

By Cassandra D

When I read about multibillion-dollar, man-made resort islands in Dubai, and then I read that poverty and hopelessness are what fuel terroism, I start wondering where the charities are. Is there an Arab equivalent of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation? Is someone helping to enfranchise the disenfranchised? Or is everything that could lead to economic independence razed to the ground, like the Gaza greenhouses, in an anti-modernity, anti-Israeli, anti-West fervor?

Friday, February 17, 2006

Friday Random 10

It's another turn of fate on the iPod shuffle.

1. Lyle Lovett, "Family Reserve"
2. Elvis Costello, "Invasion Hit Parade"
3. The Barenaked Ladies, "Maybe Katie"
4. Beck, "Emergency Exit"
5. Stevie Wonder, "You Haven't Done Nothin'"
6. Shelby Lynne, "If I Were Smart"
7. Nina Simone, "Go to Hell"
8. Eels, "My Beloved Monster"
9. The Beatles, "Girl"
10. King Missile, "Mr. Johnson"

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Torturers R Us?

By Cassandra D

Okay. Anybody else out there feel like they've gotten a bad case of learned helplessness when it comes to our government, illegal imprisonment and torture?

The additional photos from Abu Ghraib (as if the first ones weren't enough) are a reminder of our unfinished business. Frontline's story revealing that torture methods began at Guantanamo and spread to Abu Ghraib and all over Iraq gives the lie to the idea that a few bad apples were to blame. And even if it were so, is 10 years in prison for a low level soldier all that is warranted?

I don't want to hear from people saying the old line, "We are just torturing terrorists and they deserve it." We know that a lot of people at Abu Ghraib didn't belong there. And I don't want to hear about how we are so superior because, after all, we aren't beheading people, and how sexual humiliation and false imprisonment aren't really such a big deal in comparison.

Didn't we use to hold ourselves to a much higher standard than that?

Amnesty International says all Americans share responsibility for torture done in our name and are obligated to act. I agree, but what can we really do?

We take heart that John McCain gets his "torture amendment" passed, against the Administration's wishes, but the rug is pulled out from under us when we learn that the President issued a "signing statement" that basically says he won't follow the ban.

And we learn that our government knows it is imprisoning people at Guantanamo who aren't threats to the US, and people around the world see the injustice, even our allies.

Here is an absolutely disgusting example of injustice perpetrated in our names at Gitmo.

So, what's our attention span this time? Will we dismiss the horrified and indignant anger from Muslims at the latest Abu Ghraib photos as simply more lunacy from the anti-cartoon crowd? Will we even notice, what with "Desperate Housewives," Tricky Dick Cheney, and the Olympics to distract us?

Is it really learned helplessness, or did we never really care that much anyway?

Sex Tape Derby, Round 40

Today, Sex Tape Derby gets its funky media wonk going. You know the drill: Which of the following would you rather watch rock the casbah on videotape or DVD (provided you had to watch such things). Post your selections in the comments section. (for a more exhaustive explanation, click here).


Falafel Bill O'Reilly or ...














Al Franken?














Maureen Dowd or ...




















Former Wonkette Ana Marie Cox?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Veep Creep

By Larry Mondello

Sorry, I have been missing for awhile. Who is Betty Ford, anyway?

As for the latest round of Dickie Get Your Gun, It's kinda like the choice between liver and onions or carrot cake. Neither one excites me much.

I can't get behind the firestorm of journalisticos who are aghast at the thought of the White House Press Corps not knowing that the VP pulled an Elmer Fudd and shot his pal. I also don't hold much sympathy for Big Dick -- the weapon of mass destruction -- who is so gracious that he is now "taking full responsibility."

At least he finally takes responsibility for something.

As for the press, their whining won't get them very far with the public. But, I do think the VP and his staff, Karl R, etc., should have listened to the advice of the White House Press office and notified the national press asap. Not because they deserved to know immediately, but because someone should have seen that it would become an issue. Disclose and avert a controversy.

Oh, and Brit Hume: Did ya swallow?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Quote of the Day

"I guess I feel bad for the rioters who got killed, just because their survivors are going to feel so stupid. 'Yes, my son died in a clash with embassy guards. But it wasn't in vain. Danish editorial cartoonists will think twice before they cross him again ...'"

-- Bill Maher, remarking on the Muslim protests, in the Huffington Post

Have Gun, Will Unravel

"Grrrrr! Say hello to my little friend!"











I had told myself that I wouldn't post anything about Dick Cheney's hunting mishap (after all, the phrase "shooting fish in a barrel" comes to mind), but it is difficult not to be astonished by the jaw-droppingly horrible PR response from the White House. After keeping a lid on the story for more than 24 hours, the veep's office, as of this writing, still has not issued even the most mealy-mouthed response. How hard would it be to fire out the following release: "Vice President Cheney said his thoughts and prayers are with his good friend, Harry Whittington, whom the vice president accidentally shot in a hunting accident, blah, blah, blah ..."?

Cheney's conspicuous absence on the matter is compounded by the fact that the White House's only real verbosity has come from blaming the veep's makeshift prey, Harry Whittington, as somehow culpable for the shooting. So much for the NRA's oft-repeated mantra that "guns don't kill people -- people kill people." According to Deadeye Dick Cheney, people don't kill people, either ... "people who get in front of guns kill people."

Balloon Juice is skeptical of the non-PR PR from Cheney's handlers:

"Is this why communication is so bolloxed during events like, say, Hurricane Katrina? Or why intelligence regarding the status of WMD in Iraq was so distorted? Is this symptomatic of dysfunctional communication throughout the entire White House?

"Or was this political calculus? Let it blow up and drive everything off the news media’s plate, like the wiretapping issue, the scathing report from House Republicans regarding Katrina, the 4 dead kids in Afghanistan, etc.

"Or was it just hubris and a reflexive desire for secrecy? They like to keep their cards close to their collective chests, and hate letting out any information about anything- even when it could be to their advantage. Is this just the WH and the VP’s staff doing business as usual?"


Happy Barry White Day

Happy Valentine's Day, folks.

Rather than indulge in yet another online mash note to Mrs. Chase, I thought I'd toss out a question for you to chew on: What romance/love/down 'n' dirty song(s) would be on your fantasy mix CD?

If I had to limit it to 10, here would be my picks, in no particular order:

The Cure, "Close to Me"
Marvin Gaye, "Let's Get It On"
Terence Trent D'Arby, "Wet Your Lips"
Eels, "Fresh Feeling"
Frank Sinatra, "Fly Me to the Moon"
Robbie Robertson, "Somewhere Down that Crazy River"
U2, "Lemon"
Semisonic, "Secret Smile"
The Beatles, "Here, There and Everywhere"
Van Morrison, "Moondance"

The Dallas Morning News is among the newspapers today offering its nifty take on the best-of mood music.

Right On Target

By Cassandra D

From The New York Times:

White House Shoots Foot

Let's see. The vice president of the United States accidentally shot someone while bird-hunting on a Texas ranch. It took the White House nearly 24 hours to share that information with the rest of the nation because Dick Cheney thought it would be better for the ranch's owner to give the story to the local newspaper first. And by the way, it was all the victim's fault.


That's their story, and they're sticking with it.

[...]

The rest of the world might have been in the dark forever if Ms. Armstrong had not chosen to share the news with a reporter from the paper in Corpus Christi.

The White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, tried to spin this as a communications strategy. The vice president of the United States, he explained, designated a private citizen (who is a lobbyist for a Texas engineering company) "to go out there and provide that information to the public." As a result, what might have been a one-day gag on late-night TV is now a running story, and an excellent reminder that this administration never met a fact that it didn't want to suppress. (The last time Mr. Cheney made news while hunting was when he secretly invited Justice Antonin Scalia to go shooting right after the Supreme Court had agreed to decide whether Mr. Cheney could keep the membership of his energy task force secret.)

The vice president appears to have behaved like a teenager who thinks that if he keeps quiet about the wreck, no one will notice that the family car is missing its right door. The administration's communications department has proved that its skills at actually communicating are so rusty it can't get a minor police-blotter story straight. And the White House, in trying to cover up the cover-up, has once again demonstrated that it would rather look inept than open.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Extra! Extra!

By Cassandra D

Valerie Plame was working on WMD and IRAN when she was outed. So says a report in Raw Story. Read about it here.

If (and it may be a pretty big if) this is true, all I can say is wow.

See Luke Run. See Luke Jump. See Luke Hasten the Destruction of the Evil Galactic Empire.

By Conrad Spencer

It's become something of a Spencer family tradition to watch Star Wars movies regularly-- probably one every other weekend or so--at the request of my five year-old son, who never tires of them.

This weekend's selection (he can choose any of the original trilogy or Episode I--Episodes II and III being a bit too intense for a kindergartener) was Return of the Jedi, which in the first hour includes quite a bit of subtitled Jabba the Hut language.

I was busy cooking during this time, so young Ian was left to his own devices. Turns out that this is a great educational resource. Using the pause button to slow things down, he could read most of the subtitles. His kindergarten class hasn't got to contractions yet, so words like "I'm" and "you're" posed a bit of a problem until I explained them. Oddly enough, though, he read the phrase "bantha fodder" like he comes across it everyday.

For our next lesson, I'm considering either Ingmar Bergman's masterpiece, The Seventh Seal or Chase favorite, Federico Fellini's 8 1/2.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Democracy Isn't the Answer

By Cassandra D

Hamas anyone?

No, democracy is part of the answer to the world's ills, but not at all sufficient. Fareed Zakaria is exactly right that we must stop measuring our success with elections and instead focus on establishing legally guaranteed civil liberties within societies.

...for the last century in the West, democracy -- free and fair elections -- has gone hand in hand with constitutional liberalism -- the rule of law and basic human rights. But in the rest of the world, these two concepts are coming apart. Democracy without constitutional liberalism is producing centralized regimes, the erosion of liberty, ethnic competition, conflict, and war. The international community and the United States must end their obsession with balloting and promote the gradual liberalization of societies.

The article I cited above was published in 1997. Why hasn't our government gotten the message by now? Why not by a few years ago? Zakaria's point has been made several times over since then, and yet our government still says about Iraq: "See? They've had elections. We're winning!"

It's way past time that our policy makers stopped crowing that "Democracy is on the march," or that "Freedom is on the march."

We need to be able to proudly proclaim that "Civil liberties are on the march."

Won't Get Fooled Again

There's nothing like a prolonged war and its concomitant carnage to spark truth-telling. As The Washington Post's Walter Pincus reports, the former top U.S. intelligence officer in the Middle East now admits the White House carefully selected the intelligence it wanted to justify going to war.

Paul R. Pillar, who was the national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia, writes in Foreign Affairs magazine that it was the "cherry-picking," not the CIA's flawed intelligence data, that fueled the Bush administration's drumbeat to war.

"It has become clear that official intelligence was not relied on in making even the most significant national security decisions, that intelligence was misused publicly to justify decisions already made, that damaging ill will developed between [Bush] policymakers and intelligence officers, and that the intelligence community's own work was politicized," Pillar wrote.

The Post reports that Pillar said the White House's manipulation of intelligence data was nuanced (a word not often used in connection with this administration, natch):

"... Pillar said he believes that the 'politicization' of intelligence on Iraq occurred 'subtly' and in many forms, but almost never resulted from a policymaker directly asking an analyst to reshape his or her results ...

"Instead, he describes a process in which the White House helped frame intelligence results by repeatedly posing questions aimed at bolstering its arguments about Iraq.


"The Bush administration, Pillar wrote, 'repeatedly called on the intelligence community to uncover more material that would contribute to the case for war,' including information on the 'supposed connection' between Hussein and al Qaeda, which analysts had discounted. 'Feeding the administration's voracious appetite for material on the Saddam-al Qaeda link consumed an enormous amount of time and attention.'

[...]

"They thus knew, he wrote, that senior policymakers 'would frown on or ignore analysis that called into question a decision to go to war and welcome analysis that supported such a decision. . . . [They] felt a strong wind consistently blowing in one direction. The desire to bend with such a wind is natural and strong, even if unconscious.'"

Then this capper:

"'If the entire body of official intelligence analysis on Iraq had a policy implication,' Pillar wrote, 'it was to avoid war -- or, if war was going to be launched, to prepare for a messy aftermath.'"

Expect the White House to trash Paul Pillar's reputation alongside Richard Clarke, Paul O'Neill and every other former administration official who dared violate the code of omerta to voice dissent.

Still, the hand-wringing over Iraq and how we got there is largely immaterial -- at least in the short term.

The fact is that intelligence on Iraq was faulty on numerous accounts, from the WMDs to alleged ties with al Qaeda operative Mohammed Atta.

The fact is, too, that the U.S. is stuck there and the immediate focus needs to be how American troops can make a graceful exit without spurring further instability to the region.

But in the long term, the revelations by Paul Pillar and others need to serve as a stark reminder for all of us, and particularly the news media: Be skeptical.

Friday Random 10

Oops. iPod all over myself.

1. James Brown, "Pape's Got a Brand New Bag"
2. Primus, "Over the Falls"
3. Material Issue, "International Pop Overthrow"
4. The Beatles, "Happiness Is a Warm Gun"
5. Cake, "It's Coming Down"
6. The Isley Brothers, "Fight the Power (Parts 1 & 2)
7. Johnny Cash, "Highwayman"
8. The Candy Butchers, "Nice to Know You"
9. Jack Nietzsche, "The Lonely Surfer"
10. They Might Be Giants, "My Evil Twin"

Thursday, February 09, 2006

A Bookish Hero

Sometimes the most unlikely people prove to be the bravest. In my hometown of Oklahoma City, an exceptional man has died, a guy who walked the walk when it came to defending art and free expression. Lee Brawner, who steered Oklahoma City's Metropolitan Library System through a ridiculous 1997 controversy surrounding The Tin Drum, died yesterday at age 70.

The Oklahoman reports that Brawner's staunch commitment to a free and open library system earned him a flurry of honors, even when a loopy anti-porn group pressured Oklahoma City police into confiscating video copies of Tin Drum, an Oscar-winning foreign-language film:

"Brawner, who served 28 years as the system's director, was honored in 2003 with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Library Endowment Trust. The award later was named for him.

"Brawner received many awards during his career, including the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award, which he won in 1998 for his devotion to intellectual freedom and educating Oklahomans about the dangers of censoring library materials, said Kim Terry, manager of marketing and communications for the Metropolitan Library System."


We will miss you, Lee.

Sex Tape Derby, Round 39

And like the crackling warmth of a greasefire, Sex Tape Derby is here to brighten your day. Put on those smut caps, sports fans, and tell me who you'd rather watch do the ol' bump 'n' grind on film. Post your selections in the comments section below. Oh, and for a more exhaustive explanation, read here.

Liam Neeson or ...
















Daniel Day-Lewis?















Anna Paquin or ...


















Zooey Deschanel?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Pre-1776, Indeed

By Cassandra D

I want to throw my arms around Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) and give him a big smooch on the cheek for saying what needs to be said. Here's an excerpt:

...this administration reacts to anyone who questions this illegal program by saying that those of us who demand the truth and stand up for our rights and freedoms have a pre-9/11 view of the world.

In fact, the President has a pre-1776 view of the world.

Our Founders lived in dangerous times, and they risked everything for freedom. Patrick Henry said, "Give me liberty or give me death." The President's pre-1776 mentality is hurting America. It is fracturing the foundation on which our country has stood for 230 years. The President can't just bypass two branches of government, and obey only those laws he wants to obey. Deciding unilaterally which of our freedoms still apply in the fight against terrorism is unacceptable and needs to be stopped immediately.


Read the whole thing here.

Britney's Hot Seat

Who knew they made baby car seats in the likeness of white trash pop divas?









Tongues are wagging over Britney Spears' apparent disregard for infant car-seat safety, but the singer contends it was the paparazzi's fault. "I was terrified that this time the physically aggressive paparazzi would put both me and my baby in danger," she told People magazine. "I love my child and would do anything to protect him."

As any doting mother knows, death through a windshield is more loving than showing up in the pages of the National Enquirer.

Cutaways, Round 16

A movie blog, The House Next Door, muses on the funniest scenes in cinema history.

***

Moriarty of Ain't It Cool News has the very preliminary scoop on the new Borat movie, which -- for you uninitiated folks -- is based on Sacha Boron Cohen's character on HBO's "Ali G" show.

***

David Fincher is signed on to helm Torso, based on the graphic novel chronicling the post-Al Capone adventures of lengedary gangbuster Eliot Ness.

Reuters notes

" Torso tells the relatively unknown story of Ness' move to Cleveland to become the city's public safety officer. Torsos began appearing in the river, and Ness received notes taunting him to catch the killer. Ness, who had no experience in police work, put together a team of ex-officers to apprehend the serial murderer."

This sounds like vintage Fincher, the sick genius behind Se7en and Fight Club

***

Hmm. An animated short premiered at Sundance purports to put an X-rated spin on the 9/11 attacks. Flesh sounds like it is less offensive than it is just very stupid.

***

PM Media Reviews weighs in with its list of the 10 sexiest women on TV. And no, "Golden Girls" reruns are not eligible.

***

Brokeback to the Future. 'Nuff said.

***

Screentalk ranks the top 10 screenplays from 2005.

***

Paul Thomas Anderson is on the move again, apparently slated to make a film with the working title There Will Be Blood. Quint reports from Ain't It Cool News that one of the producers describes it as being about "family, greed, religion and oil." No word on who will play George W.

Moderate Islam?

The inferno over a Danish editorial cartoon is starting to make me wonder ...

Several years ago, when I met the woman who would be my future wife, she remarked that she wished the leaders of moderate Islam would speak up in the post-9/11 world. "You never really hear from moderate Islam," she said over lunch at Sushi Neko.

In my chronic inability to carry on a serious discussion, I agreed and noted how they never write, they never call.

For whatever reason, she thought it was funny. Hell, I think it's why she married me.

Little did I know how prescient that comment would seem now, nearly four years after that initial conversation. This is madness. Amid widespread rioting targeting Denmark over a batch of editorial cartoons, you've gotta wonder where moderate Islam is. Or if it even exists.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Three's a Crowd

With apologies to Campbell's Soup: Mmm-mmm good. Scarlett Johansson and Keira Knightley nekkid on the cover of Vanity Fair.











Great balls o' fire. Now I'm worried I might have a terminal illness -- because the immodesty of these two starlets comes dangerously close to the letter I sent to the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

On the down side, those lovable mutts over at Defamer note how Rachel McAdams' 11th-hour decision to drop out of the photo shoot prompted the issue's art director, Tom Ford, to step in:

"McAdam's presence would likely have elevated the cover to first-rate masturbatory material for the Hollywood obsessed. Instead, we get a pasty Johansson trying to ignore the well-dressed gay dude about to chew off Keira Knightley's earlobe."

Trust Is Unpatriotic

By Cassandra D

Here's an excerpt from a great post at The Mighty Middle's Center Line:

I want to address a part of this controversy: the "trust me" issue. Trust Mr. Bush not to abuse the system. Trust the president.

No.

The United States of America was born out of a deep distrust of concentrated power. Ten thousand years of human civilization had made the case crystal clear for our Founding Fathers: governments can never be trusted.

Governments are certainly necessary. Trusted? No. Read the Constitution.. What you see is an almost obsessive concern for breaking power down into controllable chunks.

So, be a Patriot. Question authority. That's something I wish Congress, particularly Republicans, would do more of.

Reel Short Reviews, Take 15

More flicks I have recently seen or re-seen. Figure out the star-rating system at your own peril.

The Aristocrats (2005)
There's really no logical reason that a quasi-documentary about a sick joke comedians tell one another should sustain interest for 90 minutes. Here's the punch line, though: It does. The premise of the "Aristrocrats" gag, which involves a family act auditioning for a talent agent, is a sort of free-form jazz for gutter-minded comics. By doing so, comedians ranging from George Carlin to Bob Saget indulge the most twisted ideas rattling around in the dark corners of their ids. The result is alternately hilarious and unsettling.
***

The Awful Truth (1937)
A fine old screwball comedy directed by Leo McCarey in which rich ne'er-do-wells do silly things, all for the name of love. Irene Dunne, one of the great forgotten actresses of her generation, is excellent. Fellow Oklahomans, be warned: Ralph Bellamy's embraces just about every dumbass Okie stereotype imaginable in his performance as an Oklahoma oilman/hayseed caught up by Ms. Dunne's considerable charms.
***

Bad News Bears (2005)
It's always perplexing to see talented people squander those talents, and so it is with this milquetoast remake of the 1976 classic. In this go-around, director Richard Linklater sleepwalks through the comedy, all but scrubbing it of the satire that distinguished the Mitchael Ritchie-helmed original. With Billy Bob Thornton filling in for the Walter Matthau role, the pedestrian updating is more or less a chance for Thornton to continue riffing on the drunken misanthrope he perfected in Bad Santa.
**1/2

Bewtiched (2005)
Well, I'm not sure if it's a ringing endorsement to say it wasn't nearly the unmitigated crap that many critics described, but there have certainly been worse romantic comedies committed to celluloid. Director-writer Nora Ephon deserves some credit for a creative approach to putting the old Sixties sitcom on the big screen. Trouble is, the Hollywood satire that takes up the film's first half is far more interesting than the treacly (and implausible) romance that follows. Nicole Kidman (mmm...) and Will Ferrell are super-duper stars, but there chemistry quotient is nil.
**1/2

A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Once upon a time, I loved Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece of a dystopian not-too-distant future. Alas, it hasn't aged particularly well over the years; some of its artifice feels a bit too hermetically sealed in the freaky deaky of the early Seventies. But it remains a fascinating visual, and visceral, experience, topped by Malcolm McDowell's unforgettable turn as the thug who has a thing for lovely, lovely Ludwig Van. Viddy well, droog.
***1/2

Dear Frankie (2004)
An engaging, quietly lyrical film about a a 9-year-old deaf Scottish boy and his protective mother, who has perpetuated the child's illusion that his father is a sailor traveling the world.
***

Domino (2005)
Keira Knightley isn't quite convincing as real-life bounty hunter Domino Harvey, but then again no one has much of an opportunity to demonstrate their acting chops amid all the bells, whistles and kazoos being blown by director Tony Scott. This ostensible biopic gorges on an array of cinematic look-at-me tricks: overexposed and overcranked film, slow-motion, freeze-frames, superimposed words and phrases, etc., etc. The overall effect can be mesmerizing -- but exhausting, too.
**1/2

Fantastic Four (2005)
It's clobberin' time, my ass. Lame comic book fare that manages to transform one of my favorite old Marvel comics into crap. Earth to Hollywood: If you insist on casting Jessica Alba in a movie, what is the deal with keeping her clothed? That's like robbing a bank for the free calendars.
**

Happy Endings (2005)
Don Roos' ensemble piece loosely deals with people struggling for relationships and family, and most of it works reasonably well. Lisa Kudrow is a particular standout -- ultimately, the one "Friends" star who truly deserves a long and healthy film career -- but most of the cast is up to the challenge (an exception is the usually decent Maggie Gyllenhaal, who here tries to go against type as a femme fatale). Some viewers will undoubtedly find parts of it a bit precious, especially superimposed text that periodically shows up in lieu of an omniscient narrator. Still, those who get into the groove of the thing will find it an enduring diversion.
***

Heat (1995)
Director-writer Michael Mann's magnum opus is a big, loud, meaty crime drama pitting mega-thief Neil McCauley (Robert DeNiro) against mega-detective Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino). These heavyweights help lend gravitas to a cat-and-mouse game in which the doppelgangers square off amid shotgun blasts, car crashes and assorted crimes. Clocking in at nearly three hours, the movie never drags -- which alone places it in the rarefied air of crime classic. The only quibble, and it's a minor one, is Ashley Judd's typically lame performance. Gosh, you think she might be skating by on her looks?
****

High and Low (1963)
In another spectacular work by Akira Kurosawa, Toshiru Mifune stars as a business tycoon caught in a moral dilemma when his chauffeur's young son is kidnapped because the boy was mistaken for Mifune's child. The first half of the picture is gripping drama; the second half is more of Kurosawa's version of "Dragnet," but damned if the filmmaker didn't make police procedure cinematic.
***

Hostel (2006)
Dumbass kids go trekking to Slovakia to get laid, but end up getting caught up in one of those budding capitalistic ventures, a get-to-torture-and-kill enterprise. I've seen better, but I've also seen worse. If you like sadistic gore, welcome aboard.
**

How Green Was My Valley (1941)
What's not to enjoy? The great John Ford directed this endearingly schmaltzy (but not too schmaltzy) Hollywood epic about an Irish coal mining family at the turn of the century, a tale as seen through the eyes of its youngest member (portrayed by Roddy McDowall). Boasting a terrific cast, How Green Was My Valley is filled with the quietly lyrical moments one always expects, and gets, from a Ford masterpiece.
****

The Ice Harvest (2005)
A black, black, black comedy about low-life hoods one icy Christmas Eve in Wichita, Kansas. There are some great bits -- particularly a sequence involving a killer locked in a trunk and Oliver Platt as a drunken lawyer itching to get the shit beat out of him -- but alas, the film's cold cold heart eventually freezes the entire exercise.
***

Junebug (2005)
Connect-the-dots indie films go like this: Someone returns home to a dysfunctional, white-trash family in which people move slowly and have stilted conversations in wood-panelled rooms. Junebug adheres to the drill, but it's better than most examples of the ilk. And the film gets a lot of heart from Amy Adams' memorably open-hearted portrayal of a pregnant North Carolina rube.
***

Mad Hot Ballroom (2005)
A reasonably entertaining documentary about New York public school students learning ballroom dance for the big competition at the end of the year. There are nice moments, but the filmmakers try shining the spotlight on too many personalities and, as a result, dilute the power of their own story.
**1/2

The Major and the Minor (1942)
OK, so it's mighty difficult to buy Ginger Rogers getting away with trying to be a 13-year-old girl, all for the sake of getting a cheap rate to ride a train, but Billy Wilder's directorial debut is, lo and behold, a very funny movie that still holds up surprisingly well. Ray Milland defies typecasting here as a slightly daffy military school leader who falls under the spell of the ersatz "Susu."
***1/2

My Man Godfrey (1936)
It might be a little tough to accept that every kooky rich dames in New York City are falling all over themselves for William Powell, the hobo-turned-butler in this screwball comedy, but the movie is such good-natured fun, all is forgiven. And Carole Lombard is every bit as captivating as her legend.
***

Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005)
The sweetness and whimsy in this indie flick is something either you're gonna get or find tedious. I'm in the former camp. Performance artist Miranda July wrote, directed and starred in this bare-boned, modest tale of eccentric folks struggling to make a romantic connection in the world. The story involving the two principal characters, while interesting, is in danger of being eclipsed by a thoroughly weird, risky (and hilarious) subplot regarding a pornographic Internet chat, in which one of the chatters is a poop-obsessed boy.
***

Oliver Twist (1948)
David Lean's take on the Dickens classic is everything you should expect -- melodramatic, blustery and exceedingly well-done. But criminy, the makeup people sure didn't scrimp on making Alec Guinness' Fagin the most flagrantly anti-Semitic concoction imaginable. Mel Gibson should consider a remake.
***1/2

Oliver Twist (2005)
So why would the great filmmaker Roman Polanski have felt the need to film the Dickens classic after it had already been done brilliantly twice before? Well, simple: 'Cause three brilliant versions are better than two. Ben Kingsley, unrecognizable as Fagin, does a memorably sympathetic turn as the king of pickpockets, and relative newcomer Barney Clark is an exceptionally charismatic Oliver. The period details are impeccable, the cinematography exquisite. All told, nicely done.
***1/2

Red Eye (2005)
Rachel McAdams is cute and plucky, Cillian Murphy is slender and creepy. The storyline is silly and rickety. Wes Craven's coming-out party into the thriller genre is serviceable fare about a doe-eyed terrorist on a late-night flight who takes a doe-eyed woman hostage.
**

Shopgirl (2005)
A dour slice of life based on the novella by Steve Martin, this is a bit of an anti-romantic comedy in which luckless Mirabelle (Claire Danes) is caught between a shambling doofus (Jason Schwartzman) and a rich cold fish (Martin). Moments reach a self-proclaimed lyricism, but ultimately you're not really sure of what the point is, except that reality bites. And Winona Ryder taught us all that a long time ago.
**

Syriana (2005)
Stephen Gaghan's sweeping panorama of Middle East politics and Big Oil is a love-it or hate-it proposition. It can be a maddeningly dense film, sure. Little is explained, a multitude of characters flit in and out of the multiple stoyrlines and Gaghan makes the assumption his audiences have a functioning knowledge of how the oil industry works. But hey, it's kinda nice for a Hollywood movie to respect its audience, and eventually this cinematic maze exerts a hold on you.
***1/2

Monday, February 06, 2006

Shock and Y'awl

By Surly

Thanks for the invite, Chase. I’ll try not to leave my beer within reach of Apple Rosebud.

Yes, I’m in Mayberry, and after living my entire life in Oklahoma, I was prepared for a certain degree of culture shock. I didn't think, however, that I was moving to "The South." Since Mapquest instructions for my drive out consisted of "Get on I-40, drive two days, get off I-40," I just thought I was headed east.

Nooope.

In deference to Chase's love for lists, here now are the Top 3 annoyances of life in the Tar Heel State:

3. Language. Have you ever used the term "Yankee" when not talking about baseball? Me neither. It's used often (and derisively) around here, though. Those crazy Rebs ... they sure can hold a grudge. Oh, and after five years of integrating my Okie accent with a Mayberry accent, you can bet I sound like one smart cookie when I speak.

2. NASCAR. Holy crap. No amount of bad Comedy Central stand-up can properly convey the stranglehold this "sport" has on the region's consciousness. My cellmates at work are in NASCAR fantasy leagues. As if Mondays weren't bad enough, now I have to overhear conversations about how "Billy Bob Jack shoulda drafted better comin' out turn 3" (and yes, it disgusts me that I'm familiar with the terms "drafting" and "turn 3"). I even made the monumentally bad decision to attend a race, and I can assure you it's even louder, dirtier, and more boring than you think. On the plus side, you're allowed to bring your own booze.

1. Food. Forget the fact that I don't have access to Pearl's. Or Goldie's. Or any Tex-Mex (I'd sell my mother to a street gang right now for a platter of enchiladas from Chelinos). The real crime is what they do to otherwise edible food. I always thought of coleslaw as a side dish, but apparently it's actually a condiment. I never thought I'd have to say "hold the coleslaw" when ordering a burger, but I thought wrong.

The worst is BBQ. They're extremely proud of their BBQ here, which would be fine if it was anything to be proud of. Instead, it's some sort of vinegar-based concoction that comes out gray. Nothing gets the mouth watering like a pile of gray meat. "Ya want me ta top that off with some coleslaw, hon'?"

At least the grocery stores sell 6-point beer.

Intelligently Designed

By Daniel Gale-Grogen

According to the entertainment blog iwatchstuff.com, Warner Bros. has picked up The Day After Tomorrow director Roland Emmerich's 10,000 B.C., which apparently follows the life of a mammoth hunter.

We've never been great fans of Emmerich's sense of logic -- uploading a virus from an Apple PowerBook into an alien spaceship? -- but come on: how can the film be titled 10,000 B.C. when everyone knows that the world is only 6,000 years old?

Never Make a Saint of Me

By Conrad Spencer

I'm less concerned by the Rolling Stones' acquiescence to censorship during their Super Bowl performance than I am with the false premise with which the story begins.

Age, it seems, has mellowed the Rolling Stones, who agreed to have their half-time performance at Sunday's Super Bowl censored twice for lyrics deemed too sexually explicit for family viewing.

Age has nothing to do with it. It's all about the TV audience. Nearly 40 years ago, when the Stones were much younger, they similarly agreed to change "Let's Spend the Night Together" to "Let's Spend Some Time Together" for the likes of Ed Sullivan.

With extraordinary business savvy, the Stones have always recognized that the group's attitude is as much a commodity as a hit song. Well managed, the aura of rebelliousness has always furthered, rather than hindered, the band's commercial success.

There was a time I might have decried the Stones for "selling out," but when Led Zepplin started selling Cadillacs, I gave up those sorts of arguments entirely. The Stones should be proud that, now in their 60s, the group is still edgy enough to warrant censorship.

Don't Smile! You're on Candid Camera

By Cassandra D

Having just watched Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry's State of the State address, and having seen many a State of the Union, I have to say that one of the more interesting aspects is watching what the cameramen choose to show to illustrate the pontification. Do they get the speech and then plot their moves?

Of course, they do oblige the speaker by showing the official people-props in the gallery. But then they start doing funny stuff, like showing random blacks and women to illustrate lines like "opportunity for all our citizens." Do you think black officials tire of being perennial props?

The most amusing thing, though, is that between pithy lines, the photographers seem to make a sport of seeking out everyone who is asleep or picking his nose. A typical moment from today was footage of legislators smiling over a whispered private conversation as the governor was talking about Internet sexual predators. It doesn't take much to imagine the camera crew sharing a Beevis and Butthead laugh.

It's a whole lot like conspirators at a slumber party putting the sleeping kid's hand in a bowl of warm water. Watch out! They are...

Sunday, February 05, 2006

New Contributors

We at Cutting to the Chase would like to welcome two new contributors.

First, Dash Riprock makes a triumphant return to these here parts after having taken an extended vacation to Amsterdam.

In addition, I am honored that a longtime friend of mine, who goes by the online name Surly, will be making occasional scribblings to CTTC. Surly is a booze-addled golf enthusiast now living in the NASCAR- approved environs of North Carolina.

Welcome, gents, and don't forget to first wipe your feet on the mat.

Friday, February 03, 2006

One Toke Over the Line

By Conrad Spencer

Social conservatives can stop complaining about the Netherlands' lax drug policy. Why, in some neighborhoods, you can't even smoke a joint on the sidewalk anymore.

But no one knows where the no-toke zones are. They designed such great-looking Art Deco signs ...













... that the signs keep disappearing. As a solution, the City of Amsterdam is now selling the signs straight to the public.

Since the "high contrast" red, black, and white are supposed to be great for baby development, Chase and the Mrs. could be on the cutting edge hanging this in Apple Rosebud's nursery.

I've Been Robbed

It looks like I've been violated. I feel so ... so ... tawdry.

Apparently some 24-year-old woman with a blog on Xanga who goes by the moniker TastefulWhiner is stealing entire blog posts from yours truly (like here and here and here and here).

On the plus side, I now get to say I'm in the same league as the Rude Pundit, one of my blogging faves, since TastefulWhiner has also lifted his material, as well as a slew of others.

But yikes, the absolute shamelessness of the thefts is almost breathtaking. I mean, not only is she stealing copy verbatim, but she lives in Chicago, no less -- home of Oprah Winfrey.

I mean, Christ. Did the girl not see Oprah last week squeeze out a boatload of Cleveland steamers on the prevaricating mug of James Frey? Is TastefulWhiner not a wee bit scared of such mischief under Oprah's very nose?

When I was in college, I purchased a prepared term paper from a hole-in-the-wall business off of La Cienega Boulevard that catered to Los Angeles universities. It's not something I was proud of; I mean, wouldn't it be kinda silly for me to be proud of that ? (Now, if I had done something like a ventriloquist act or a Bill Withers song for the paper, damn right I'd be proud.) To my immeasurable credit, however, I had the good sense to discard with the "by Jason Gottlieb" on the front sheet as well as change some words and phrases here and there.

I guess my point is this: If you're gonna plagiarize, at least be creative about it. Anything worth plagiarizing is worth plagiarizing well. Just ask Joe Biden.

**Update** I guess she took the site down shortly after she started getting complaints from fellow bloggers. Hopefully, she will return with a different site of her own writing. The stuff she wrote herself was actually pretty good.

Friday Random 10

And you will know us by the trail of iPod ... (hey, whadd'ya know, a whole random 10 and I'm not ashamed of any of the songs!)


1. The Starlight Mints, "Submarine #3"
2. The Smiths, "You Just Haven't Earned It Yet, Baby"
3. Love, "My Little Red Book"
4. Ella Fitzgerald, "Anything Goes"
5. The Replacements, "Lovelines"
6. Semisonic, "This Will Be My Year"
7. Hole, "Rock Star"
8. Rilo Kiley, "It Just Is"
9. Richard Thompson,"Dead Man's Handle"
10. Weezer, "Buddy Holly"

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Sex Tape Derby, Round 38

Thursday is Smutday here at CTTC, or at least I'd like to think so. If you aren't familiar with the intricacies of Sex Tape Derby, read here. Otherwise, just figure out which of the following you would rather have to view in a homemade sex tape or DVD (or hologram, if you wanna go get all kooky 'n' shit). Post your selections in the comments section below. And take two aspirin and call me in the morning.

Linda Cardellini or













Amy Adams?












Jude Law or











Eric Bana?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

I Wish I Had Those Two Hours Back

By Conrad Spencer

Watching the State of the Union last night, complete with the speech, the opposition's response, the pre-game and post-game commentary, I couldn't help but think those two hours would have been better spent reading the dictionary or watching snuff flicks.

Bush offered scarce new rhetoric and even less meaningful rhetoric. More and more, I think of the State of the Union as an hour-long pick up line -- the sweet nothings whispered by a president trying to coax the nation back to his place for things unmentionable on a family blog such as this.

The always obscene and usually insightful Rude Pundit has a great analysis of the SOTS here, including this gem:

Bush sayin' that Americans are "addicted to oil" is like your crack dealer standin' over your shakin', shittin' body and tellin' you it's time to get off the crack, but, hey, while you're doin' that, you wanna buy some crack?
And that's yet one more way I could have spent my evening.

Who Killed JFK?

One of the more fascinating documentaries looking at the John Kennedy assassination (no, seriously) is by none other than a German filmmaker, Wilfried Huismann. Rendezvous with Death, aired recently on German TV, appears to make a strong case that Lee Harvey Oswald killed JFK at the behest of the Cuban government, which had information of several Kennedy-sanctioned plots to assassinate Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

The London Telegraph notes that among those interviewed in the film is Oscar Marino, a former Cuban secret service agent who claims that the KGB brought Oswald to the Cubans' attention:

"... Marino, who fell out with the Castro regime, said the Cubans were desperate to eliminate Kennedy, an opponent of the revolution who wanted to kill Castro.

"'You ask why we took Oswald?' he said to the German film maker Wilfried Huismann. 'Oswald was a dissident: he hated his country. He possessed certain characteristics.

"'There wasn't anyone else. You take what you can get. . . Oswald volunteered to kill Kennedy.'"












More intriguing, perhaps, is Huismann's research about what U.S. officials knew, or declined to pursue, about the Cuban connection. Among those interviewed is former FBI agent Lawrence Keenan. Shortly after the November, 1963, assassination, Keenan was dispatched to Mexico City to investigate reports that Oswald had met with Cuban diplomats two months earlier in that city's Cuban embassy. Recently released KGB documents, in fact, confirm that a meeting had occurred between a Cuban intelligence agent and Oswald.

But Keenan claims that then-FBI head J. Edgar Hoover pulled him off the assignment after only three days.

The Telegraph reports:

"'This was perhaps the worst investigation the FBI was ever involved in,' said Keenan.

"'I realised that I was used. I felt ashamed. We missed a moment in history.'

"Mexico City was considered a 'Pandora's Box' by the Johnson administration, which feared a war with Cuba were the truth to be revealed to the American people.

"'They were afraid of what will happen. They didn't want to. . . know the truth for fear it would mean we go to war. Johnson sincerely feared for his own life.' It was convenient therefore for the administration to paint Oswald as a loner.











Another interview subject, Al "I'm in control here" Haig, claims LBJ was terrified that knowledge of a Cuban connection would spur a "right-wing uprising in America, which would keep the Democratic party out of power for two generations."

OK, I'm a bit skeptical of that contention by Haig, a Republican who was a military advisor under both Kennedy and Johnson. While no one appreciated political power better than Johnson, that level of Machiavellian motivation seems a bit of a stretch. Instead, I suspect Spiegel Online's Michael Scott Moore might be more on-target:

"He (Johnson) also may have averted World War III. Kennedy had faced down Soviet premier Nikita Krushchev over nuclear missiles in Cuba a year before, and if it turned out that Havana was behind the assassination of an American president, argued a former FBI agent named Laurence Keenan, who appears in the film and also attended the Berlin preview, most Republicans in America would have called for a 'dangerous' invasion of Cuba during a delicate phase of the Cold War. 'This was on their agenda,' Keenan said, 'ever since Castro came out of the mountains in 1959. He was a thorn in their side.'"

More plausible, it seems to me, is a legitimate fear that recognition of Castro's involvement in the Kennedy slaying would have led -- inevitably and justifiably -- to war with Cuba and, by extension, the Russians. And that would have been, um, pretty hairy.

But consider, if you would, the courage of a decision to avoid potential annihilation. If Rendezvous with Death is accurate -- certainly no given -- then it begs reflection on the responsibility of power. Can murder be tolerated in the service of a greater peace? Does a single wrong, even one as horrific as political assassination, warrant full-scale justice? Can a war be not only just, but actually serve as a vessel of justice?

It's just food for thought, or maybe plain ol' intellectual masturbation. Still, what I find most telling is that the responsibility of power is a topic not likely to intrude in the gingerbread dreams of our current White House occupants.