Saturday, December 30, 2006

The magic of DVRs

I have my DVR set up to tape tons of series, and as while I watch the ones I really like pretty quickly (Scrubs, Desperate Housewives), some shows just sit there a long time, sometimes until they are automatically erased but often just until there's nothing better to watch. 30 Rock falls in the latter category; it's usually boring for the first half then gets funny so every time I watch it I start thinking, I'm going to stop recording this and then by the end say, well, one more week.

This is the reason why I just saw an episode in which a character says, "maybe we'll be pre-empted by a big national story. How's Gerald Ford's health." Fascinating timing.

So that makes the show prescient. Sort of. Most notably it was the first episode that was quite funny all the way through, so maybe it turned a corner, or maybe when I watch the next episode I have recorded it will be back to hit and miss.

Kate Beckinsale's breasts; now there's a title that will drive some traffic to my blog

Recently I saw the awful, awful movie Click (very funny for the first half hour or so, just to trick you to keep watching). Kate Beckinsale, who has been very good in much better movies, had an uninteresting part in this one, and as I was looking at her I thought, she's so perfect looking, I wonder if she's had plastic surgery. Because so many people have their faces rebuilt that you really never know nowadays.

Googling on the topic, the first thing I check out was Beckinsale's nomination for The Ugliest Breasts In Hollywood at, a site whose purpose is pretty clear from the name. They do look oddly high and they do have stretch marks, although I read elsewhere that Beckinsale denies it, saying the stretch marks are from pregnancy and the change in breast size is from gaining weight, which she said she was asked to do by movie producers (I've always heard movie producers ask actresses to lose weight, but that's her story). Other articles say she later had the implants removed.

But I wasn't wondering about her breasts, I was just wondering about her face, and there's less about that. I did find something on Beckinsale's face at, another plastic surgery site (there are tons of places devoted to celebrities and plastic surgery; I have a friend obsessed with her perceived bad nose job who scours these sites). There someone posted a bunch of pictures throughout Beckinsale's career and then everyone comments about how much plastic surgery they think she's had. Pretty much everyone says she's had a nose job, some say her lips were shrunk and one or two said her chin was elongated. But I don't really see it. Her face has narrowed a bit, as generally happens with age, but the nose looks basically the same to me in all the pictures, and the lips don't vary enough to be any more than you could get by differing lipstick application. I'm not saying she hasn't had plastic surgery, but I do wonder if people obsessed with celebrity plastic surgery are actually a good source for information.

Anyway, it does look like she was always extraordinary looking, although I think in all cases celebrities aren't going to look as good in real life as in movies, where professional makeup and lighting people can create the illusion of perfection.

Beckinsale says she doesn't want to be thought of as the sort of person who would get plastic surgery, saying "That implies a kind of insecurity, shallowness and thoughtlessness that I don't feel applies to me very much." If she has had plastic surgery, well, then it's a dumb thing to say, but could be taken the way one takes closeted homosexuals decrying gay marriage; as a panicky attempt to distance herself from something she's embarrassed by.

But if she hasn't had plastic surgery then the quote bothers me, because I think it's incredibly judgmental for someone who is drop dead gorgeous to look down on people who want to be but weren't born that lucky. I used to be very down on plastic surgery (and I'm still down on breast surgery, because I have never seen breasts I didn't like so see no reason to shove silicone in a pair), but there are people I wouldn't date because I don't find them attractive, and there are people (many many people) who wouldn't date me because they don't consider me attractive, and really, why shouldn't we all get to be gorgeous and sought after like Beckinsale? (On the other hand, plastic surgery can only do so much; Paris Hilton has apparently had tons of it but she's still not in the same league as Kate).

What I find interesting is the reason there is all this discussion; actresses generally won't admit to having plastic surgery. I don't know if it's embarrassment at being perceived as vain, or actual vanity, or a perception that this will effect their career, but I think a lot more celebrities have plastic surgery than admit to it. Plastic surgery is often treated as a crime and celebrities will put on a defense; Tara Banks actually brought a doctor on her talk show to feel her up and pronounce them real (perhaps she should have other celebrities come on the show and do the same; it would probably be a popular segment).

Because this is such a moronic subject, I feel I have to point out that I don't spend all my time googling celebrity breast jobs. Just yesterday after watching some of Leonard Bernstein's Candide on PBS I went on a wikipedia hunt that took me from Candide to Gottfried Leibniz, whose theodicy was being attacked, possibly somewhat unjustly, in Candide, to an article on how various philosophers reconcile the existence of God with the existence of evil (evil is necessary, God isn't all powerful or he/she isn't all good, etc.), to a little reading on Taoism (which I love; my favorite Tao Te Ching translations are here and here). But none of that seemed as worth writing about as Kate Beckinsale's breasts.

Addendum: Unsurprisingly, this has been the single most popular blog post I have ever written, so I am just, apropos of nothing, going to put a link here to my Wii games site, because I get paid by the page view and have to drive traffic somehow. Please go there now. There are just as many pictures of Kate's breasts on that site as there are in this blog, so what the hell.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

being fat, another thing that you can no longer be judgmental about

Apparently how fat you are isn't just a matter of eating too many donuts and sitting too long on the couch. Scientists have found obese people have a different bacteria in the intestines than the rest of us. They're not sure why, but apparently switching bacteria in mice affects their weight. So have another twinkie and tell folks, it's not the twinkie, it's just my bacteria. Because that might actually be the case.

Wii Wii Wii, Me Me Me

There's a very good article in the Times by David Pogue on the health benefits of the Wii, but for me the main reason to read it is the first sentence:
I don’t ordinarily review games or game consoles; The Times has an excellent game reviewer in Charles Herold.

I've never been called excellent in the New York Times before; it's kind of cool. I probably get more excited about it than the game designers I've called excellent.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

It's so funny when someone is dying of anorexia

I was pretty disturbed watching Countdown and seeing Keith Olbermann and some guy from In Touch giggling hysterically about Nicole Ritchie weighing 85 pounds. My vague impression of Ritchie is she's some dumb, shallow pseudo celebrity, and normally I'm all for making fun of such people. But clearly she's suffering from anorexia, which suggests she's very ill, needs help, is self-destructive and could very well wind up hospitalized or even dead. I know Olbermann likes to make fun of celebrities, but I do think there's something distasteful about laughing so hard at someone, no matter how ridiculous she may seem, who is so psychologically damaged and such a danger to herself.

Celebrities are just people with too much fame and money, and hating and ridiculing them really isn't any better than obsessing over and worshiping them.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The difference between retarded and stupid

I just love

this story. A guy has been pretending to be retarded for years to defraud the government, insisting he couldn't read or drive a car. Then he goes to traffic court to challenge a ticket. Clearly the guy is not as retarded as he's been claiming, but he's sure no rocket scientist.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

FOX News: Believing their own lies

The Huffington post has an interesting internal Fox News memo from the VP of news in which he encourages reporters to keep an eye out for indications that the terrorists are thrilled that the Dems have congress.

It's not surprising that people at FOX are sending out memos on how to slant the news - that's their job - but what surprised me is the memo's sincerity. I always assumed this talk of how the terrorists wanted the Democrats to win was just cynical posturing, that the Republicans knew perfectly well that was bullshit, that the Bush administration has been crucial for terrorist recruitment.

So apparently the folks at FOX aren't really just cynical hacks; they are clueless, but sincere, morons.

Good to know.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Ding dong, the witch has had her power to screw up the country severely curtailed

I was scared.  The Republicans have used voter fraud, scare tactics and flat-out lies to stay in power, and I thought in spite of all the polls they might have a few rabbits to pull out of their hats.  And Bush and Rove’s inexplicable confidence made me fear the fix was in.  But nope, turns out Bush and Rove were just as dumb about the election as they were about Iraq, Katrina and pretty much everything else.  Now if the Democrats can just play their cards right they could get back the White House and begin to repair the insane amount of damage Bush has done to this country and the rest of the world.  In the meanwhile, at least he should be fairly impotent.  I mean, Democrats are into working together in a non-partisan way so if Bush met them even a third of the way he could probably still get some stuff done, but Little Lord Bush didn’t even work well with his own party if they didn’t tow the line so I doubt he’s capable of playing well with others.

The horrifying thing is, though, that most of these racers were really close in spite of incomprehensible incompetence by the Bush administration and an amazing run of scandals that could prove if you believe in him that God himself thought it was time the Democrats took charge.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Torn between gladness and pity

When I first heard right wing, anti-gay Republican adviser and preacher Ted Haggard had been accused of, and finally admitted, having gay sex with a prostitute, I felt delight in seeing yet another right wing hypocrite unmasked. But as it's dragged on, I've begun to feel sorry for Haggard. Basically you've got a closeted gay guy who hates himself who has pretty much had his life ripped to shreds over this. And like a lot of right wingers, he's just dealing with his demons in the worse way possible.

So I'm tending towards the more nuanced attitude of the surprisingly reasonable-sounding evangelical Christian and author David Kuo, who seems to feel Haggard's failing is less his gayness, which Kuo says is, biblically speaking, a minor sin like gossiping, and more the harm he has done to the reputation of Christianity and to his disillusioned followers.

On the other hand, considering these hypocritical Christians and their oblivious followers have blindly assisted George Bush to wreak havoc on this country and the entire world, it does seem like they're all getting what they deserve. So I guess I'll describe myself as at least a little pleased. Perhaps soon every right winger will have their sins revealed and they'll all finally have to shut the fuck up.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Letterman, hero or just a reformed idiot?

A lot of attention has gone to David Letterman taking on Bill O'Reilly on Letterman's show. The initial reaction is, like my reaction to anytime the Republicans are on the defensive, is hurrah. But an
interesting article by Matt Taibi in Rolling Stone does a good job talking about how people like Letterman were once complicit in this disaster by supporting it, and even goes so far as to say that the middle-ground flip floppers who were for the war and then against it show less real conviction than Bush's gang of idiots - they may have fucked up abominably, he suggests, but at least they're sticking to their guns. I'm not sure I agree the Lettermans of the world are worse than the Bushes, but I would agree you can't congratulate people to much for figuring out years after the fact that something was utterly moronic, and saying so when it is politically safe to do so. The Dixie Chicks or Susan Sarandon slamming Bush years ago is a lot more impressive than Letterman doing it now.

On the other hand, it's great to see Republicans on the ropes at last, even if they're being pounded by a bunch of hypocrites.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Time for a new slogan

Doesn't the Bush administration seem to be nothing more than a big advertising agency coming up with pith slogans? Now Bush has
dropped "stay the course" because, well, because it made him sound like a clueless idiot who couldn't comprehend that the course is totally fucked up. Who knows, they may even have to drop the slogan "cut and run," because I think at this point a lot of people are inclined to say, yes, cut and run, that sounds good.

But you know Bush will soon have some new slogan just as meaningless as "stay the course."

Getting beat up at school? Blame a video game!

The videogame Bully has been generating controversy since it was first announced. Just the idea of a videogame about bullying in school gives some people apoplexy and now that demands that they game be scuttled have failed there are many saying
don't buy it.

Now, I happen to know a lot about bullying because I was one of the kids everyone picked on. And I don't think Bully is the problem. Sure, it's a game in which you have to make your way through a school full of delinquents, and there is fighting in the game, and from what little I played there's an unpleasantness about it all (and I did not see any of the "hilarious" humor many reviewers are describing).

But in my experience, bullying happens because teachers and parents and school administrators let it happen. I was teased constantly in school, because it made me cry and of course making people cry is tremendously fun for a certain segment of the population. What did my school do about the kids who bullied and taunted me? Nothing. The basic idea everyone had was that I was the problem. I was sent to a shrink, I was put on ritalin, I was basically encouraged to calm down and chill out. And yes, if I had been less prone to hysterics the situation probably would have calmed down. But then, if bullies had been consistently punished, I think the situation also might have calmed down.

Near the beginning of the movie Dazed and Confused there's talk of a yearly tradition in which the high school seniors pretty much hunt down and torture freshmen, or something like that. And it's just accepted. Bullying is always accepted, it's see as just part of growing up and the kids that don't handle it well are despised as weak even by those who claim they're trying to help them.

Of course I've been out of school for a long time, but recently I was talking to a high school teacher. And I asked her, is it any different now? After all the concerns raised about bullying after Columbine and all the talk about how a videogame is going to encourage bullying, are teachers and counselors and administrators actually really doing any more about bullying than they were 30 years ago? And she said no, she thinks it's just the same.

So all those people spending all this energy whining about a videogame should, IMO, spend a little more time worrying about actual bullies and their victims. You don't stop bullying by stopping representations of bullying in media; you stop bullying by stopping bullies.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Bush, is he overconfident or does he just know something we don't

It's going around that Bush and Rove
seem oblivious to the possibility the Republicans may lose the House and possibly the Senate. People are suggesting that this could be another example of the Bush administration's cluelessness or that they're just showing a brave face to keep morale up, but while I hate to sound like some nutty conspiracy theorist, I'm kind of worried that they simply have a plan in effect for nationwide election theft. They've got Diebold machines all over the place and they've been pretty good at stealing election in the past, both through outright fraud and through playing games with voting places to discourage voting in certain neighborhoods, and I'm worried that no matter how many scandals hit the Republicans and no matter how low their poll ratings that they will miraculously squeak by in victories where they need to. I mean, this is a president who has made it legal for him to throw people in jail forever with no right of appeal if he feels like it, so we know there is nothing that is beneath him, and certainly he would steal the election if he could. The only question would be whether Republicans could get away with that sort of massive fraud. And since we seem to be turning into some sort of third world dictatorship, where that sort of fraud is common, I wouldn't be that surprised.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Am I just being cynical?

So Senator John Warner has suggested the possibility that we should consider changing course in Iraq, considering all options, and a couple of other
unnamed Republicans agree. That's what they say.

The pundits seem to accept this at face value - Warner went to Iraq and saw how bad the situation was and is now having second thoughts about the "stay the course" policy. They're saying this is bad for the president, weakening him. But Warner was also one of three senators who stood up demanding that we protect the Geneva Conventions and then rolled over, giving Bush almost everything he wanted.

All the pundits believed Warner that time too, but in retrospect it looks more like a way to make Republicans look like something other than Lemmings following Bush off a cliff, even as they are in the act of following him off that cliff.

So here's what I think. After the November elections, Warner will say we need to consider some options, they'll have some sort of hearing, and the Republicans will conclude that hey, the president's right after all and we should stay the course.

Yes, it's probably a bit too cynical to say the way to tell if a Republican is lying is that his or her lips are moving, but considering what I've seen these last few years, it doesn't seem far off from the truth.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Wandering Republican minds

Does the Republican party collectively suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder? It would explain a lot. Condoleeza Rice can't recall a meeting in which terrorist threats are starkly outlined, a nice follow up to her non-response to a memo titled "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States." Hastert can't for the life of him recall hearing that Foley might be a child molester. And of course no one in the current administration seemed to have realized, in spite of warnings, that Hurricane Katrina was the sort of big disaster one should plan for.

Which leads one to wonder if Republicans actually listen when people talk to them. Perhaps they are constantly distracted, riveted by a beam of sunlight or a shiny medal or just sitting there so focused on what they're going to say next that they sort of blank out on what they're being told.

I'll admit it's a somewhat unlikely idea, but then, when you see so many utterly bizarre and inexplicable actions you can't help but try and put the pieces together into some sort of coherent picture.

Foley handling: a study in Republican tactics

Recently Bill O'Reilly showed some footage of pedophile Republican Mark Foley that described him as
a Democrat. Innocent mistake? Well, since we're talking about FOX News, I kind of doubt it. The Republicans have been doing everything they can to turn their scandal around and make it a Democrat scandal, whether it's Katherine Harris stating that Republicans didn't know about Foley's predilection but Democrats and the media might have or Sean Hannity claiming the Democrats were hypocrites because Clinton had done the same thing when he had sex with 19-year-old Monica Lewinsky (the problem with that statement? She was 22 at the time).

Of course, anyone who takes Fox News seriously would vote Republican even if Bush and Cheney were caught eviscerating babies and making necklaces out of their fingernails, but it is fascinating to see just how far FOX will go. A cute little piece on mockingly compares FOX's initial Foley report with what would have happened if Foley had been the Democrat FOX so fervently wishes the public to believe he is.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Impressive bullshit or awesome cluelessness?

Say what you like about Republicans, they sure have balls. Newt Gingrich appeared on Fox News talking about why
the Republican leadership did nothing for months after discovering Mark Foley had sent inappropriate email to a congressional page.

Gingrich's explanation: "... I think had they overly aggressively reacted to the initial round, they would also have been accused of gay bashing." This is a fascinating statement, because it relies on two absurd premises; that "gay" is the same thing as "pedophile" and that Republicans are concerned about offending gay people.

No arguably premise one might not, in Newt's eyes, be a lie. Perhaps Republicans are so utterly moronic that they really do consider all gay people to be homosexuals. Certainly we are knocked over the head by new proofs of the idiocy of the Republican party pretty much every day. On the other hand, I think Gingrich isn't so obtuse that he wouldn't have realized that no one in the country has missed the Republican's "screw the gays" platform. And I'm going to guess that he probably actually does understand the difference between gays and chicken hawks. And that with a straight face he told a lie of such impressive grandeur that one has to admire, at least a little, his ability to do so without blushing.

Another thought: I just realized that I hadn't even taken in the whole scope of Gingrich's grand lie. It occurred to me when I heard that on his show, Bill O'Reilly said that "there have been rumors about Foley's homosexuality for years." And a light went off in my head. The Republicans are actually using the revelation that one of their own is a pedophile to gay bash by attempting to link pedophilia and homosexuality. This is a perfect example of Republicans getting lemons and making lemonade. The evil genius of these people is truly remarkable. For them, everything is an opportunity to further their agenda, and even in the midst of crisis they are thinking of new ways to attack their enemies.

They're all like linguistic supervillains, twisting the truth in impossible ways.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

A big apology waiting to happen

In the early 1940s, the U.S. government decided to toss all the Japanese in internment camps (what we call a concentration camp when someone else does it). Didn't matter how long they had lived in this country or how much they had contributed to it, they were all considered untrustworthy saboteurs ready to sell us out to the enemy. Some people knew it was wrong - J. Edgar Hoover said it was unnecessary and that the FBI was perfectly able to track the small number of actual suspects - but it happened anyway.

Now this is a terrible blot on American history, and 50 years later, the government apologized and paid out $20,000 per detainee, which isn't much considering many of them not only were imprisoned for years but lost homes and businesses.

Now that congress has basically rolled over and said the president can
do anything he damn pleases to anyone he wants to, a lot of people are screwed. Something horrible has once again happened, the people and the government of this country are panicky and insane, and all sorts of innocent people are going to be imprisoned for years, tortured, their lives destroyed, and it's not going to do a damn thing to fight terrorism. And 50 years from now, everyone will know that. This will be a dark mark on our history, like the internment camps, like McCarthyism.

But the horrible thing is, even though I know that for a certainty, it can't be stopped any more than the imprisonment of innocent Japanese could be stopped during WWII. And while 50 years from now we'll be paying out reparations to unlucky Muslims caught up in this insanity, in 60 years we'll be throwing some other innocent group in jail for some other stupid reason.

Which all goes back to one of my favorite quotes: We learn from history that we never learn anything from history.

Back in the old days

Like most people my age, I watched tons of cartoons as a kid every Saturday morning. I only really stopped because by the time I was a teen in the 70s, Saturday morning cartoons totally sucked. But some time in the early 90s I discovered Saturday morning cartoons were good again, and I've been watching the best of them since then, particularly the various superhero series like Batman Beyond, Static Shock and Justice League Unlimited.

So with fall upon us, I thought I'd see what new cartoons had arrived. Looking at the TV schedule, it looked like there weren't many, but I still googled for reviews of cartoons in 2006. What I found instead was an article in Animation World Magazine telling me that Saturday Morning Cartoons are dead. Except, that is, for a couple of the network that recently became CW.

This is one of those disconcerting moments where you realize that stuff that seemed like a normal and permanent part of life was transitory and that your childhood experiences are fundamentally different than those of the current crop of kids. There are no Saturday morning cartoons. Candy bars are no longer 10 cents. I think there's still trick-or-treating on Halloween, but I'm not sure; it sounds like paranoia is killing it off (from what I've heard, kids really don't find razors in apples on Halloween, but the perception is terrifying parents anyway).

Damn whippersnappers.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

more on the pope-a-dope

Interesting editorial by Uri Avnery on the pope's quoting of that anti-Islamic emperor. It discusses points in time when Muslims were letting other religions live in peace, and times when Christians forced conversions, to suggest that it is not as simple as, Muslims violent, Christians sweet. Unfortunately, a lot of people don't much care about history. On one forum someone wrote "All I need to know about Islam I learned on 9/11/01," and that's about as stupid a comment as you can make, like saying "all I need to know about Christianity I learned during the Inquisition" or "all I need to know about African Americans I learned during the Watts riots." You can't take a religion or a culture that has lasted thousands of years and take one hour, or one day or one week or one month or even one year and say, this period defines this religion or culture. It's a moronic thing to do.

All I know about morons I have, unfortunately, learned during a lifetime of listening to them blather on self importantly.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Bill O'Reilly - a real life Ted Baxter?

Right wing pundit Bill O'Reilly has made news claiming he's been told he's on an Al Qaeda deathlist, but according to Radar Online there
doesn't seem to be any coraboration of that. When asked to comment, a spokesman at FOX replied ""We shouldn't be shouldering the burden of something he said on someone else's network," she said." So it looks like it's just O'Reilly being nutty and self-aggrandizing.

Anyway, it suddenly popped into my head that O'Reilly is, perhaps, a real-life sitcom character, like Ted Baxter on the Mary Tyler Moore Show or the boss in The Office. And it's interesting because it's visible. I mean, I suspect a huge chunk of the world's celebrities are utter morons, but the trick is to keep that known only to a small circle of acquaintances. But with O'Reilly's sexual harrasment suit and this nutty death list thing, it's like his wacky-sitcom-character qualities are oozing out.

But then, I guess there's not much need to hide that. It's not like people who watch FOX news have standards.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Pope and the Muslim rioters, a story of idiocy and insanity

The pope's a fool. When he made his infamous speech quoting an emperor who described Islam as "evil and inhuman," he was really asking for trouble. He was making a point about the wrongness of violent conversions, but I'm sure it wouldn't be too difficult finding a quote decrying violent conversions to Christianity, of which there have been many over the centuries.

His reasons for picking on Islam are indicated in an article suggesting Pope Benedict considers Islam unreformable. He appears to just think it's a religion built on a rotten foundation. Which is moronic. If you read the bible literally it's full of encouragements to do terrible things, but people take from it what they will. Is it impossible for the same thing to happen with the Quran? No, because people are people, they are effected by outside forces. Religions aren't pure, and while some Muslims are desperately trying to keep theirs pure and backward, the winds of change blow everything over sooner or later. Not that I'm a great religious scholar, but neither is someone who calls a competing religion "evil and inhuman." And a scholarly fellow named Juan Cole says the emperor's contention that the Quran encourages violent conversion is actually wrong and finds other factual errors in the speech.

So the pope makes a speech of questionable scholarliness and uses an inflammatory quote. True, he didn't say, "and I agree," but when using an inflammatory quote it's a good idea to give your take on it, as was pointed out in a thoughtful editorial in the Times of India (I found a number of links to interesting editorials on the matter on For example, if someone gave a speech in which they described the musings of a Nazi architect on how to kill thousands of people a day efficiently, it would be a good idea to say, "of course, killing Jews is a bad thing," even if all you're talking about is architecture.

But of course, no matter how moronic the pope is and regardless of whether he was being obtuse or purposely provocative, that in no way excuses a violent response or death threats, nor does it excuse any Muslim leader who doesn't immediately come out and denounce the violence. I mean get a grip. He's the pope, he's the leader of a competing religion. Of course he doesn't like Islam. If Walmart says their store is better than Target, Target shoppers don't go on a rampage. A whole bunch of Muslims believe wholeheartedly that no one is allowed to insult Islam. But they don't see anything wrong with insulting other religions. These are bad people.

Muslims going on a rampage to protest the pope calling Islam violent is just utter madness. Of course, everyone with a bit of sense knows this, but since only a minority of people in the world have even a little sense, madness tends to rule. There have been riots of bad calls at soccer matches, and these were not instigated by Muslims, so really, a lot of people just like to riot and throw stuff and set things on fire and these people should be given their own planet so they quite screwing up this one.

This sort of insanity means that a lot of people are just saying, hey, that emperor was right. And if he had simply said, religion in general is evil and inhuman I might agree, at least to some extent. I don't know how many religions actually don't have any blood on their hands, but I think it's a small number (at least in the west; as far as I know Buddhists and Taoists aren't beating people to death with their holy scriptures, but perhaps they are).

So it's all pretty disgusting. The pope did something stupid that was bound to cause trouble, a bunch of Muslims overreacted like crazy, and I expect that within a year some other celebrity will insult Islam and we'll have some more riots.

I am sick of living in a world of idiots and crazies.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Won't get fooled again? Not if Cheney can help it.

Remember how Bush told us Iraq was an imminent threat, most people bought it and then it turned out people like me who didn't buy it were right? Well, the Bush administration is up to its old tricks,

pulling the same intelligence scam with Iran as the target, and all I can hope is a year from now I'm not saying "I told you so," all over again.

Stand up comics make TV sitcoms? How extraordinary.

Recently I stumbled across Blogcritics, a site where bloggers can submit reviews of whatever they like.  In theory doing this will actually get a few readers and perhaps steer some traffic to one’s blog, so I signed up.  This is the first review I put up there, and now I’m putting it up here as well.  Will more people read it on Blogcritics?  Unfortunately I don’t see a counter telling me how many people have read my review, so no idea, but I’ll keep doing it for a while and see if I get any response or anything.

Lucky Louie

Premise: Roseanne, but starring a low-key blue-collar guy instead of a shrewish blue-collar gal.

Lucky Louie, an HBO sitcom starring the oddly named comic Louis C.K., lets you know what it's all about in the beginning of the first episode, when Louie's daughter, Lucy, plays the "why" game, a game my sister used to torture me with in which every answer leads to another question.

Lucy starts with generic kid questions, "Why is the sky blue?" and “Why do we eat cereal for breakfast?" As she keeps asking why with each answer, Louis' replies become more introspective. He begins to tell his ten-year-old kid that he failed to achieve a better life because he did too many drugs in college. It's a very human, real scene, and also quite funny. At its best, this is what Lucky Louie gives you.

Louis is a screw up but he knows he is and feels guilty about it. But not guilty enough to stop being a screw up: that's what makes him just like us. His wife Kim (played by Pamela Adlon, who also does the voice of Bobby on King of the Hill) functions both as Louis' emotional support and inquisitor, keeping things together, but constantly berating Louie for his shortcomings. Adlon is terrific, funny, and, like Louie, very human.

The standout of the show is Kelly Gould as the mercurial Lucy who will run out to Kim to excitedly show her something and then, when Louis enthusiastically asks to see it, rage, "I'm not talking to you, I'm talking to mom!" Children are, by objective standards insane, but also cute, and Lucy effortlessly shifts from one pole to the other.

The rest of the cast varies. Kim has a mooching, half-witted brother who seems to be the show's attempt to create a Kramer. Louis has a co-worker who is rather like that sleazy guy who was on Becker and they seem to be on a different, wackier show than the one the nuclear family inhabits.

Louis' boss and his wife are pretty good in the middle ground, but the family across the hall is the only other one who completely avoids the cartooniness of the show's bit players.
Lucky Louie focuses primarily on two things: child raising and sex (my understanding is the latter leads to the former which leads to the end of the latter). Some of the sex stuff seems designed to make the show edgy enough for HBO (as do stunts like having one of the minor male characters appear completely naked with everything showing), but even then it tends to feel pretty honest and it's nice to see a show that has a semi-adult attitude towards masturbation.

Final analysis: It's funny, the characters are likeable, and it's got the funniest and most insightful portrayal of a child I've ever seen on TV. Well worth watching.

The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman

Premise: People in Hollywood are nuts. Nuts I tell you!

One of the minor players in Lucky Louie is the brilliant standup comic Laura Kightlinger as a sexy woman inexplicably married to Louie's overweight boss. Kightlinger also has her own series, an eight-part miniseries that makes up for its short length with a long title: The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman. It's playing on the Independent Film Channel. 

In Accomplishments, Kightlinger plays a magazine writer and aspiring scriptwriter trying to make it in Hollywood. According to the New York Times review of the show, the first episode was hysterically funny. I didn't see the first episode, and honestly, I find it hard to believe it was that funny. 

Accomplishments doesn't really seem to be about being funny. It's about showing how horrible people are and how all of Jackie's shots at success are undone by the idiocy of the Hollywood system — although Jackie's own cynicism and apathy could have something to do with it. 

There are very funny moments in Accomplishments, as when two security guards in an office building discuss a man they see masturbating at his cubicle or when Jackie interviews a crazy artist who insists the interview be done without words, leading to a series of weird stares and incomprehensible motions. 

Mainly the show is just sort of depressing. It's got that "everything-sucks-and-people-who-don't-know-that-are-fools" vibe (making it a good companion piece for the similarly dark, but not especially funny, animated British series Monkey Dust). 

Lucky Louie also portrays life as rather hopeless and full of difficulties that may well be impossible to overcome, but it is likeably human where Accomplishments is archly cynical. But that's not the problem; I myself am archly cynical as often as not. The problem is the series isn't all that funny and the characters aren't likable enough to balance that out. 

I appreciate that the show is trying to be something more than a standard sitcom, but if you don't have strong jokes or relatable characters or a compelling storyline and your only target is the painfully easy one of Hollywood, well, you've got problems. 

Final Analysis: This one's keeping me watching, but just barely; it's got just enough sense of potential that I keep thinking the next episode will be really good. I do like Kightlinger, and I do think she could do something great one day, but I don't think this is it.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Tony Snow to Colin Powell: Are you Stupid or What?

For those who aren't clear on exactly how arrogant the administration is, press secretary Tony Snow's comments on Colin Powell should help you out.

Colin Powell, a respected general and former Secretary of State to George W. Bush, has come out against Bush's plans for watering down the Geneva conventions so he can run roughshod over the civil liberties of detainees in the "war on terror." He is joined by, among others, John McCain.

Bush has held fast to the view that those who oppose him are confused or stupid or just plan fans of terrorism, so a reporter asked Snow if Powell was just confused about what the administration was trying to do. And Tony Snow, using his great wisdom as an ex TV news pundit, said yes, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, just didn't get it.

It doesn't matter how much experience you have. It doesn't matter how smart you are, it doesn't matter how much authority you have. If you disagree with Bush, you're just slow in the head.

Absolute certainty is so scary. I know it's a low blow to compare people with the Nazis, but really, they also had that sort of certainty. But the really frightening thing about certainty is people find it very alluring. It is Bush's certainty that has kept his fan base. He says the most nonsensical and fictional things with a blinding certainty that mesmerizes his base.

Bush and his crew are dazzling in their stupidity.

Light bulbs that burn - feature or bug?

I just feel I need to warn the world about this. Recently, my flourescent ceiling light bulb started flickering, went out, came back on, and then burst into flames. Yes, actual flames started shooting out of it. The manufacturer name on it was Telstar, so I used the internet to find them. It's Telstar Products Inc. in Brooklyn. I called up and told them they're light bulb had burst into flames and they didn't seem at all concerned. I asked if they were concerned, they said I'd have to speak to the manager, I said I'd like to do that and then the line went dead.

I don't know where I bought this, but just check the manufacturer and if you see any bulbs by Telstar, I'd advise against buying them.

Determining the leanings of Path to 9/11 without actually watching it

I've been skimming the Internet Movie Database's reviews of "Path to 9/11," and if you believe that the truth is generally somewhere between the two extremes, then the truth is, Path to 9/11 had a conservative bias.  
It's very simple.  A lot of people give the movie either 1 or 2 stars or, on the other hand, 9 or 10 stars.  It's unlikely some TV movie written by some TV writer who did shows like Pacific Blue and Falcon Crest is going to write a 10-star movie.  Not impossible, but unlikely.  At the same time, it appears an awful lot of people who gave the movie 1 star didn't actually watch it.  They just read about it and wrote to complain.  Which I think goes against the spirit of user reviews.
Anyway, reviews are pretty much divided into, "this movie is a pack of lies trying to blame terrorism on Clinton" or "this is an even handed portrayal of the events leading up to 9/11."
So right wingers are saying, hey, the movie was critical of Bush too, so it was fair.  But let's be realistic.  When television is harsh on conservatives, even when it's fair, well-documented criticism, they throw a hissy fit.  And I can't seem to find any conservatives throwing hissy fits about Path to 9/11.  No one's complaining about a single thing in the movie regarding the Bush administrations handling of terrorism.
Of course, you could argue that even conservatives realize how badly Bush has botched things and thus would consider any criticism to be reasonable, but that seems highly unlikely to me.
Therefore, the only logical conclusion is the movie has a strong conservative bias.  If not a single conservative is bitching that the movie is unfair to Bush, it's because it is bending over backwards to be fair to Bush.  And I don't think anyone is claiming the movie is bending over backwards to be fair Clinton.
One last note about inaccuracies in the script. I learned on What's Next that the show confused American Airlines with US Airways, and AA is really pissed about it.  Apparently ABC didn't feel a 4-hour docudrama about one of the most significant events in American history required any sort of fact checking at all.    

Saturday, September 09, 2006

A mailbox of muck

My mail box is filling up with ads for candidates for the New York Democratic primary.  I sort of scan through them and toss them, and with a couple of exceptions I haven’t even decided who I’ll vote for (I have to talk to my politically knowledgeable friend Cheryl, whose advice on such matters I trust).

But there were two pieces of mail that caught my eye, both of them ads against Ken Diamondstone.  I had received mail from him that I hadn’t looked at, and had no idea what he was running for, but this ad I noticed because it said, in big letters, “Ken Diamonstone: SLUM LORD.”

When I see harsh attack ads I always check to see who put them out.  So what struck me about these ads was, there was no indication of who paid for the ad.  Nothing that said “paid by so-and-so.”

So that made me curious.  There was an address – 61 Pierrepont Street Suite 71 in Brooklyn, so I googled for that and found one document that listed that address on a list of contributors to the Democratic Party, and it was from The Connor Committee.  I googled around some more to find out what Diamondstone was running for, and found he was running for State Senate against Martin Connor.

I don’t like attack ads, although since both sides do them it’s hard to vote against either candidate based on that alone.  But putting out attack ads that don’t say who’s putting them out – that’s too sleazy for me.  I’m going to vote for Diamondstone simply because Connor did something so disgusting that I couldn’t possibly vote for him.  The Times is supporting Diamonstone, which hopefully means he’s not that bad, and Connor does not, from what little I’ve read, sound like much of a prize anyway.

One of the ads actually had a url for a government housing agency and listed three addresses and said something like, go ahead, see for yourself.  It said some of the addresses were in Manhattan and some were in Brooklyn but didn’t say which were which, and since on the website you have to specify the borough I searched two of the addresses in both boroughs but didn’t actually find anything that told me anything at all.  It may be there’s a better way to search, but it looks like the mail just wanted to look legitimate by listing some addresses and a url but wasn’t really designed to let you actually find out anything, at least not with a lot of work.  So that’s also pretty sleazy.

Diamondstone, by the way, has put out some negative ads about Connor, saying he’s not in politics for his constituency but just for himself, but since I do check attack ads to see who put them out, I’m going on the assumption that the ads did not hide who put them out.  But I will check my mailbox and if I see any anti-Connor ads that don’t have an attribution from Diamondstone I may give up entirely (or if someone else is running from the Green Party or someone I might vote for them).

Some people would argue you should vote for the candidate who is best on the issues, but I am so sick of sleazeballs that I think perhaps we should vote for the politician who appears to be the slightly less sleazy one.  Maybe if we all vote for the least morally reprehensible candidate each time, someday we’ll actually get the chance to see two candidates discussing the issues instead of flinging mud.    

Friday, September 08, 2006

‘The Path to 9/11’ - Makes sense to those without a clue

The progressive activist group Act For Change has sent out a call to bombard ABC for a docudrama they saylays too much blame for 9/11 on Clinton. They hope they can keep it off the air the way conservatives kept the tv movie "The Reagans" off network TV with claims of a liberal bias.

The New York Times' Alessandra Stanley, on the other hand, claims it's
it's not all that bad.

She may be right, I haven't seen it and don't know, but there is one paragraph in her review that makes me think she is oblivious to political realities:

The Sept. 11 commission concluded that the sex scandal distracted the Clinton administration from the terrorist threat. But in hindsight, surely the right-wing groups who drove for impeachment must look back at their partisan obsession with shame, like widows sickened by the memory of spats about dirty dishes and gambling debts.

Wanna bet? To this day, right wingers are obsessed with bringing Clinton down. Ms. Stanley may believe there are conservatives going around saying, "oh, we wasted all that time going after Clinton for sexual indiscretions when we should have been fighting terrorism," but I think she would be hard pressed to locate many of them. I think they're all very proud of themselves, and if Ms. Stanley can't see that, how can I trust her ability to judge a politically charged TV movie?

Update: Apparently Ms. Stanley went beyond foolishness in her article. According to Countdown with Keith Olbermann, the 9/11 commission did not, in fact, say Clinton was distracted by Monica-gate. They actually said the opposite. Which, if true, would suggest that Ms. Stanley might have a bit of a bias, although she could just be sloppy.

I mean, that's really pretty bad. I'll admit I've let errors slip into my column. I might, for example, saying such and such a game is the first ever in which you can use a paperclip as a weapon, and then have someone email me to tell me that there was a game in 1988 that did that. It can be hard to catch little stuff like that. But how do you manage to get something as big as a 9/11 report exactly wrong?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Singing my political rage with his words

If only the Democrats spoke as intelligently, passionately, elegantly and furiously as MSNBC host Keith Olbermann. Listen to him shred Bush and Rumsfeld for trying to compare dissent in this country with

I never heard of him until my friend Cheryl sent me the above links, but I've got to check out his show Countdown on MSNBC now. This guy is amazing.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Katie Couric: a bubbly fountain of joy or the end of civilization? You decide

My friend Cheryl called me up and left a message on my answering machine.

"I know you don't watch the evening news, but Katie Couric is destroying it."

I do not, in fact, watch the evening news, which I always think of as news quickies and heartwarming crap, but Cheryl tells me it is actually pretty good. Until now, at least, when Couric has, according to her, turned the evening news into something soft and unnewsy that includes the showing of baby pictures.

I was curious what others though, and it's interesting to see the contrast. Reuters and Capitol Hill Blue hated her as much as Cheryl did, but the folks at the Los Angeles Times and some local news channel loved her for her bright, sunny disposition and even for the baby pictures.

Perhaps Cheryl was right that I was unjustly ignoring the network national news, but if Couric is a hit I imagine it will be exactly as I always imagined it to be before you know it. If you missed the show, a blogger at The Political Pit Bull has created a four-minute video of the highlights. Although we don't see as much of her legs as columnists tell me were shown during the broadcast.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Does this guy even read the papers?

According to the Times,
Bush doesn't understand why so many Iraqis hate the U.S.

More generally, the participants said, the president expressed frustration that Iraqis had not come to appreciate the sacrifices the United States had made in Iraq, and was puzzled as to how a recent anti-American rally in support of Hezbollah in Baghdad could draw such a large crowd. “I do think he was frustrated about why 10,000 Shiites would go into the streets and demonstrate against the United States,” said another person who attended.

Maybe he should invite Jon Stewart over to explain it to him. Or perhaps read an analysis in a newspaper or a few articles or a book or something?

Does this guy even read the papers?

According to the Times,
Bush doesn't understand why so many Iraqis hate the U.S.

More generally, the participants said, the president expressed frustration that Iraqis had not come to appreciate the sacrifices the United States had made in Iraq, and was puzzled as to how a recent anti-American rally in support of Hezbollah in Baghdad could draw such a large crowd. “I do think he was frustrated about why 10,000 Shiites would go into the streets and demonstrate against the United States,” said another person who attended.

Maybe he should invite Jon Stewart over to explain it to him. Or perhaps read an analysis in a newspaper or a few articles or a book or something?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Want a war? Just wait for an excuse and go

Well, Bush used 9/11 as an excuse to do something he'd wanted to do for some time - invade Iraq - so it shouldn't be a surprise that Israel apparently was planning their attack on Lebanon long before those soldiers were seized.

And of course, it shouldn't surprise anyone that Bush gave Israel a "green light" for the whole thing and consider it a prelude to a potential attack by the U.S. on Iran.

The last thing that shouldn't surprise anyone is that even though this will all be in the New Yorker and is written by the very respectable Seymour Hersh, you can only read about it in the foreign and the Indie-progressive press (although I did find it buried in a very long column that collects news from the Internet).

Seriously dude, that's a real video camera

What I find interesting about the recent flap when Virginia Senator George Allen called an Indian aide to his Democratic opponent Jim Webb a Macaca is how it didn't occur to Allen that this was a bad idea.

So you're giving a speech. A spy from the other side is standing there with a video camera taping everything you say. So you turn right to the camera and say, "hey macaca, welcome to America."

How is that not a bad idea?

So Webb distributed it everywhere he could and Allen is on the defensive. And Allen was dumb because really, Webb doesn't look like much of a candidate. He's just a Republican who switched parties because of the war. He also made a bit of a mess himself with a flyer that some said was anti-Semitic, understandable when you have a hook-nosed guy with money in his pockets.

The flyer really does look like anti-Semitic propaganda from the old days, but I suspect that may simply be because the artist isn't very good and is just using these sort of broad-stroke images propagandists are drawn for. But what's really notable about the flyer is how pathetic and amateurish and crappy it is. I mean, this guy is running for Senator?

What's interesting about both the flyer and the Macaca comment are they are down by politicians seemingly oblivious to the ways of the modern world. Allen didn't see what was wrong with attempting some sort of humorous chiding with somewhat hostile, possibly racist overtones while his opponent's video camera was trained on him. Webb didn't see the problem with an attack ad that looked like it was produced by an anti-Semitic high school student.

Poor Virginia,whichever way the election goes they're going to wind up with an idiot.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Oops, spoke too soon

Yesterday, when it looked like the Republicans might pass a minimum wage increase for political purposes, I suggested they would do the right thing for the wrong reason. This was naive and optimistic of me. The Republicans are doing their best to appear to vote for the minimum wage while actually scuttling it
by attaching the bill to a millionaire giveaway already rejected in the Senate. This way, Republicans can say they voted for the minimum wage even though they know the bill won't make it out of committee. I feel foolish now; how could I believe that the Republicans, even when in fear of electoral vengeance, would do anything that would, in any way, help a single poor person in the United States. I hang my head in shame, as should all Republicans.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Republicans consider biting the bullet and doing something for poor people

Apparently there's a good chance the GOP is going to allow through a minimum wage increase, according to the Times. If you read the article, you'll see that nowhere do the Republicans say anything like, "no one should have to survive on a pittance." Instead, you get this:

Republican moderates used a closed party meeting on Thursday to make their case for a vote, saying it was crucial for helping to dispel the partyƂ’s antiworker image.

So in election years Republicans will do something for poor people. The hope is poor people are so stupid that they will totally ignore the fact that Republicans don't do shit for them in non-election years.

There would be no minimum wage is not for Democrats, there would have never been an increase in the minimum wage if not for Democrats, and it would be a shame if Republicans can get one once of credit from the public simply for doing the politically expedient thing. But never underestimate the gullibility of The People.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Bush on conflict resolution: war is the way to go

In this
article on the current war in Lebanon, there is this paragraph:

Saniora has pleaded with Washington to press Israel to call a cease-fire in bombardment that has demolished Lebanon's infrastructure and killed hundreds. President Bush has opposed an immediate cease-fire, saying the root cause of the conflict must be resolved.

This pretty much sums Bush up. A war is raging, but we shouldn't do anything to stop the killing until the basic issues have been worked out. The guy's a monster, and anyone who can't see that is morally bankrupt.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

It's so much easier to impress people when you have no power

Remember how cool Hillary Clinton was when she was the wife of a president? Sure, she seemed like this solid liberal who would fight for the right things. Anti-folker Lach even wrote a song touting her for president. But now she's just a kind of useless, Liebermanish senator whose only real goal is to balance on the fence and pander to the red states with dumb things like bills to "protect children" against violent video games. I post this link just for those people, like my friend Sharon, who haven't really kept track of Hillary's politics and still think of her as a shining beacon of goodness rather than a compromised politician.

It horrifies me people keep talking her up for president. She's not a good senator, I have no respect for her, she's still a polarizing figure on the right, who can't forgive her for marrying Bill, and let's be honest, the odds of this country electing a woman are slim even in the best of circumstances. And in terms of politics, America is definitely not in the best of circumstances.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The real blue velvet

A while ago I suggested that Blue Velvet, who was gonged off of America's Got Talent in about ten seconds, might not be a real band. I had two reasons, one, because I couldn't find them in an internet search, and it is awfully rare for any band to not have its own website, and two, because Blue Velvet was gonged faster than much worse acts; they were obviously going for a funny cheesy thing, they sang on key, and there was no reason to gong them without letting them sing.

Turns out it wasn't a set up: the judges really are pricks that will give a horrible impressionist more air time than a quirky musical group. I know this because this morning I received an email from Kevin Cavanaugh, their male singer, saying that after seeing my blog post he was inspired to create a Blue Velvet website.

They really should have got to sing more on the show, because their "retro lounge act" approach is interesting, particularly on lounge-inappropriate songs like Born to Be Wild. They also have a very nice, straight version of Blues in the Night.

Of course, they wouldn't have won America's got talent anyway, the winner is most likely to be a precocious child or perhaps a flashy dance act - all the jugglers, magicians and novelty acts will wind up where they always do, somewhere out in left field. But Blue Velvet deserved more respect than they got on the show. Hope at least the exposure is helping them get bookings.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Are you sure we've met before?

If I meet someone at a party and we chat a while, I will always make sure to say to them, if you see me a week from now and I don't recognize you, don't be offended. I'm not snubbing you, I just can't remember faces of people until I've talked to them on several occasions.

I've heard of people much worse, people who can't recognize their own wife if she changes her hairstyle, and there's an
article in the New York Times on the subject. Which lead me to, which lead to two tests to see if you're "face blind," a condition known as prosopagnosia.

On the tests where you have to identify celebrities I do just fine. In fact, once I've seen someone enough times I'm almost as good at recognizing them as most people. Usually if I meet someone and talk to them on three separate occasions within a couple of months that will be enough. And I am able to recognize people generally for perhaps a day after I meet them (people I see rarely are another matter; there's one guy I've given the "don't be offended if I don't recognize you" speech to several times, because he's a friend of a friend I see about twice a year. It's like that guy in Memento who keeps having to explain his situation).

I did poorly on the second test, scoring 74%, which is one percentage into the "possibly face blind" category. My girlfriend scored an average 85% while Francis, the disgustingly brilliant guy who sent me the link to the Times article, scored 100%.

I'm glad to find a test that suggests this is a real problem, because I've been accused of just being anti-social and someone who just doesn't really try to remember people. Which isn't at all true. I have at times studied faces intently during conversation, only to find two weeks later they don't even have the same hair color I thought they had. It doesn't matter if it's a passing waiter or a girl I'm hot for; all memory of the face will fade within a few days. I do remember they exist, my impression of them and what we talked about, I just don't remember their face. (A general impression can sometimes be enough in the right context: I didn't recognize my girlfriend's face the next time I saw her, but I remembered swing dancing with a tall skinny girl so when I was at a swing dance club and saw a tall skinny girl I kept walking past her in hopes it was her and she would recognize me, which she finally did).

The problem with this one is people don't believe it. It's true in general for invisible imperfections. No one accuses a guy with a cast on his leg of not trying to jump the high hurdle, but people with an anxiety disorder are told they are just letting their fears get the best of them. But the fact is, we are all limited both physically and mentally. Not everyone can run a five-minute mile and not everyone can memorize a book just by reading it, nor could any amount of training make it possible for them, but some people can do these things easily. But while no one will look down on you for not being able to memorize a book, because it's a rare talent, people will judge someone who can't remember faces, because it's so rare that they just don't believe it. People are far more accepting of people who can't remember names (which I also can't do). I've had people get very mad at me for forgetting their face.

All you people who can recognize faces are so lucky and don't even realize it.

Monday, July 17, 2006

the lack of basic competence in television

Perhaps it's a small thing, but on the talent show America's Got Talent, while performers were dancing or doing acrobatics a big banner would be flashed over them telling you what number you could call at the end of the show to vote for them, thus preventing the viewer from actually seeing what they were doing. This, even more than the frequent cutaways to David Hasselhoff watching them perform, just suggests that the people making the show don't actually understand that people watch a talent show to see the performances, not to stare at banners and judges.

The thing is, this isn't remotely uncommon. It's like when you watch a movie with subtitles and a big station logo or one of those awful animated advertisements that crawl across the bottom half of the screen, sometimes including sound effects, block out the subtitles. It's hard to decide whether these things are simply a display of open contempt of the viewers or pure incompetence. My guess is it's a little of both.

Unfortunately, this sort of thing gets worse every year because there's not really much you can do about it short of not watching shows you otherwise enjoy. And if you did stop, would the networks even understand that was the reason? Once I stopped watching a cool anime series on MTV2 because they had this huge flashing logo that was like one of those awful flash ads on web pages. What could be more inappropriate than a distracting animated logo on an animated series? I probably wasn't the only one who was annoyed, but I'm sure if the ratings for the show were low MTV2 would just assume people didn't like the show. It would never occur to a network that people didn't like garish logos and advertisements and banners.

You can't even email networks to complain, in most cases. All you can do is complain in network forums, which may allow you to vent steam but which doesn't get the word out to the networks.

Yes, there are bigger problems in the world, and at least on America's Got Talent that little yodeling girl made the finales, but still, big banners cutting off the bottom half of the screen while a clog dancing troupe is performing just pisses me off.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Opinionade: The Series

For a while last fall I was doing capsule TV series reviews, but then new shows started coming so far apart that I couldn’t do a few at once, and devoting an entire blog entry to one show just seemed excessive.  And shows come and go so fast; I would have given a favorable nod to Emily’s Reasons Why Not if it hadn’t been cancelled after one episode.

But I’ve realized that there are now a few shows I’ve started watching recently that seem interesting, so I’ll write a few words on them.

Psych (10 pm on USA)
Premise: Guy with Sherlock Holmes-style skills pretends to be a psychic

Review:  There was a brilliant, short-lived comedy-detective show years ago called Tenspeed and Brownshoe with Jeff Goldblum as a nervous dork and Ben Vereen as a cool, con man type.  About a year later there was some other show I remember nothing about that had four characters, and the one black character was a cool, con man type.  And I thought at the time, why can’t the white guy ever be the con man and the black guy be the nerd?  I knew black nerds and white slicksters, and it just bugged me when TV runs to the obvious stereotypes.

Well look how far we’ve come in a measly 26 years.  In the very fun new detective show Psych, the white guy is faking it ever step of the way, dragging along his nervous Nelly black partner every step of the way.  (And yeah, I know there have been black dorks on TV shows, most famously Urkel, but this just happens to be exactly what I felt was missing in the 80s, so it caught my attention)

The show is a lot of fun.  Shawn, whose father trained him to be hyper-observant, has been phoning in tips to the cops based on what he notices on TV shows, but his advice is so good they decide he must be a criminal himself (this part is not convincing, but now that it’s out of the way we probably won’t have to hear about it again).  To get out of hot water he tells them he’s a psychic, and uses his observational skills to convince them, doing such a good job that they hire him to investigate a case, which he solves.

This comes on right after Monk, and it’s very much in the same mold (of the early Monk, not the present hit-or-miss Monk).  It’s funny and reasonably clever, and it’s neat the way the camera zeroes in on the telling clues Shawn notices.  It’s not, perhaps, as good as I remember Tenspeed and Brownshoe being, but hopefully it will last longer.  

Conclusion: Well, I’ve only seen one episode so I may be getting ahead of myself, but this looks like a winner.

Kyle XY
Premise: mysterious kid with strange abilities and no belly button joins a wholesome American family

Review: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.  Guy wakes up naked in the middle of nowhere with no idea of how he got there or who he is.  Fortunately he turns out to be preternaturally brilliant, and … oh, you have heard this before?  Of course, that was the short-lived  series John Doe.  Kyle XY has pretty much the same opening, although according to the producers they had the idea for that scene years before John Doe came out.

Anyway, John Doe started out great and went downhill, but I’m hoping that Kyle XY, which also started out great, keeps its momentum a little better.

The first two episodes were great.  Kyle is reminiscent of Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, an observer of humans trying to puzzle out why they do what they do.  The show is often funny and it’s playing out the central mystery quite well.

The third episode worries me a bit.  This is on the ABC Family Channel, and the third episode was like something you’d see on a “family channel,” with lessons learned about lying and too much sweetness with too little story.  But I’m still hoping this won’t go the way of John Doe, getting bad and then getting lost.

Conclusion: I’m hoping Kyle can avoid both family sappiness and the loss of focus, sense and interesting stories that plagued John Doe.  If it does, this could be really great.

Dog Bites Man
Premise: inept news team goes around pestering people

Review: Comedy Central has only had a few series that more-or-less fall into the classic sitcom form.  There’s Reno 911, a series that has been running for years that I think is horrible, Stella, a brilliant and original comedy that was cancelled after one season, and now Man Bites Dog, which falls somewhere in between comedically.  The show details a news team’s adventures as they investigate important stories like spring break.  The central conceit is that while the news team is made up of improve actors, everyone else on the show is a real person who isn’t told they’re on a comedy show, and presumably believe these people are who they’re pretending to be.  

I haven’t really decided on this one. It’s amusing but not hilarious, and the real-people angle hasn’t really resulted in anything that funny.  The Daily Show’s interviews with people who don’t see to be aware they’re talking to someone from the Daily Show are funnier.  Still, I always have admiration for comedians who have the guts to act like total jackasses in front of people who don’t realize it’s a put on.

Conclusion: I could go either way on this one, but for now I’ll keep watching.

Blade: The Series
Premise: a couple of good vampires try to kill a lot of bad ones.

Review: First off, I think adding “the series” to the end of a title is incredibly lame.  But then, Blade likes the obvious.  The show is mean and macho and generic, with the only interesting personality a peripheral cop-gone-very-bad character.

I don’t need to write a review of this now, because When I saw the movie Blade II I posted a review on, and the series is so like the movie that I can just use most of that review:

Blade II Blade: The Series is basically decent. It's got a few cool and/or effective moments, it keeps moving, and everything about it says "basically adequate though uninspired action flick." Snipes The series' star makes an acceptable b-movie sort of action figure, with less presence than Vin Diesel but more talent than Chuck Norris.

I watched it to the end and didn't feel overly restless, so if you just kind of like action pictures and it's on TV it's worth at least looking at. But that's about the best I can say for it.

Conclusion: This is just keeping me slightly interested enough to stick with it, but it’s really a week-by-week decision.  I could very easily give up on this one, but it’s pretty watchable all the same.

Friday, July 14, 2006

okay, born again bush haters, make nice!

It took me a few listens before I realized the Dixie Chick's
Not Ready to Make Nice was about their controversial statement a few years back that they were embarrassed that our jackass president was from the same state as them. I just thought it was about not being willing to make peace with an ex until I heard "And how in the world can the words that I said/Send somebody so over the edge/that they'd write me a letter sayin'’/that I better shut up and sing or my life will be over"

So I'm thinking, don't all those people who voted for Bush and now say he's doing a shit job owe the Dixie Chicks some sort of apology? I'm just wondering, are people writing them now saying, "I'm sorry I was such a complete and utter moron, and I shouldn't have burned your records, and you were right and I was wrong and I clearly should never try to think for myself because I don't have the intelligence of a half-wit."?

I hope so, but I doubt it. Even though it has become so obvious to everyone except the blindly faithful that Bush has lied, misled and screwed up every step of the way, I don't think too many people are saying, hey, this is my fault. But they should, and the Dixie Chicks should get a reward for being brave and right when so many people wergoingig along with war fever. I think they should be given the right at least to just go on stage and say, "I am so ashamed that there are so many utter and complete morons from Texas and every other state in the U.S" without receiving a single angry letter.

We are all doomed

If there's one lesson to be learned by reading about United States anti-terrorism measures, it's that the government doesn't know what the fuck it's doing and we are all doomed. Latest case in point, a report from the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general criticizing the inclusion in the department's National Asset Database of petting zoos and popcorn factories as terrorist targets.

The database actually winds up with more "terrorist targets" in Wisconsin and Indiana than in New York, which would explain why anti-terrorist funding has been slashed for us and increased in the mid west.

There are a few problems here. One, the government is more concerned with playing politics than protecting us from a terrorist attack. They'd rather funnel the money to states that like Republicans.

But it's also another example of the utter lack of common sense the administration exhibits at every turn. After Hurricane Katrina when the government was doing nothing they later explained that they had no information through official channels that things were going badly and emergency help was needed, even though it was on the news. When something makes no sense - the news is reporting people starving while reports are coming in saying everything's going fine - Indiana looks like a bigger terrorism target than New York - the sensible thing to do is say, wait, that isn't right. It's as though the government is a weatherman reporting a sunny day, refusing to just turn his head and look out the window at the rain.

There will be a terrorist attack, it won't be in Indiana, and we are all doomed. Have a nice day.

cyclists want to run me down

You never know what's going to piss people off, at least I don't. Otherwise I would have expected all the angry e-mails in response to my comment in my review of MotoGP 06 (along with World Tour Soccer 06) that motorcycles are, to quote myself "insanely dangerous."

I soon learned from outraged readers that riding a motorcyle is no more dangerous than having a pillow fight in a marshmallow factory, even if a 2001 report by the National Highway Safety Administration reports that in 2000 "motorcyclists were about 21 times as likely as passenger car occupants to die in a motor vehicle crash and 4 times as likely to be injured."

Well, po-tay-to, po-tah-to. I think the world would be a safer place without motorcycles, but then, in the words of Three Dog Night, "if I were the king of the world ... I'd throw away the cars and the bars and the wars," so really, I'm ready to take everyone's fun away.

The emails that annoyed me the most were the ones that said something along the lines of, "keep your thoughts and opinions to yourself and just tell me if the game is any good." Those seeking impersonal, dryly written game reviews can find them in myriad game publications that will speak at length about frame rates and bonus extras and supported resolutions and controller options and all sorts of useful, uninteresting stuff.

But that's not what I do. My idea of a great critic was Dorothy Parker, whose best work was a series of theater reviews for The New Yorker. She would go on about herself, talk about her day, go off on tangents, and be very witty and insightful. Was she the most informative, detail-oriented critic at the time? I suspect not. But her reviews are worth reading as prose,even though without access to a time machine I have no way to go back and see the plays she recommends. In fact, who I read is not tethered to who is most useful. Years ago I used to love reading Andrew Sarris's film reviews in tea Village Voice. He wrote intelligently about film, about what it should be, about what it was, about what makes a film great. I also disagreed with almost every opinion he gave on specific films. For game reviews I tend to go to Gamespot, even though I often disagree with their reviewers, because they have better writers than most of the gaming sites. (Although I may have to start paying more attention to Eurogamer after reading this hysterical panning of Gene Troopers.)

What I aspire to is reviews that people would read simply because they are interesting to read. And I believe to do that you have to bring yourself into the article; interesting writing does not come from dry analysis, it comes from finding an interesting take on a subject allows people to understand where you're coming from and how your perceive what you are writing about. I may not always succeed in my goal of entertaining, but if someone's going to complain, I would rather they complain that I wasn't witty than that I didn't discuss frame rate flutters.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

White is coming

In an attempt to win a "most peculiar ad of the year" award, Sonny created the "white is coming" billboard in the Netherlands, advertising the upcoming release of a white PSP. The billboard, which shows a white woman holding a black woman's face in a rather domineering way with the text "Playstation Portable White is coming," was pulled by Sony after generating cries of racism.

In terms of racism, well, if no one were conscious of race then this really wouldn't mean anything to anyone. If the billboard were a woman with white hair holding the face of a woman in black hair, it would just be an odd picture. The question is, is anyone really not conscious of race? Were the people who designed this ad really so color blind that it didn't occur to them that there was societal context that would make this offensive to some people?

But while my initial reaction to the billboard was, that could be seen as racist, my second reaction was, what the fuck are they trying to say in this ad? White is going to kick black's but? I mean, Sony put out a black PSP: are they now saying the white one will be superior and all those people who bought the black one are losers stuck with the inferior gadget?

Yes, the people who designed this ad seem to have not thought through its racial ramifications (unless they did it on purpose to stir up controversy), but really, it appears the designers didn't think through anything about this ad at all.

An internet was sent by my staff ...

The Daily Show showed a clip of Alaskan senator Ted Stevens' explanation of the Internet, so I went searching to see what else he said. Boing Boing has the
best bits, but if you want to read the whole thing it's here. In context it's not quite as horrendous as out of context, but it's still clearly the speech of someone who doesn't know a thing about the internet and is sort of parroting back some information some staffer gave him.

Stevens, a sleazy, right-wing, pork-barrel politician who has never shown a bit of restraint or common sense, is proof that most voters are idiots.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Those latecomers the pilgrims

The Times has an interesting
take on the immigration debate. While the point they're making seems like a stretch from time to time, what caught my interest was that the describe yet another case in which history as taught in school has almost nothing to do with what actually happened. There were apparently lots of Europeans in America by the time the Pilgrims got here, mainly Spanish. And that's what interests me. It's something Robert Wuhl spoke about in a fascinating comedy-lecture he did on HBO called Assume the Position. I can't remember anything from that special, except that in it he shows that a ton of stuff we learned in history classes is just plain wrong. There's a little trivia quiz on the website, and some questions, like was Benedict Arnold hung as a traitor and was George Washington the first president of the U.S., have surprising answers.

It's really kind of freaky how much stuff I've been told in my life is just plain wrong, or incredibly skewed (I recall Wuhl said that Paul Revere's ride was much shorter than another American on the same night, but a poem was written about Revere because he had a catchier name). It leaves me with the knowledge that my brain is probably filled with disinformation. And even worse, all the lies I was told growing up are still being told.

Depressing, isn't it?

Sharper girls besting slacker boys

With long New York Times articles, I usually read the first page or two and give up, but this one is worth reading through, at least if you find discussions of gender differences interesting.

Basically, women have scooted ahead of men in academic studies, not because men are doing worse but because women are doing better. Guys are more likely to slack off, women have their eyes on the prize.

An interesting result of this is that the difference is getting more notice than some feel it deserves. There are larger gaps between races in college than sexes, but apparently the men-women gap is a hot topic.

Of course, the question is how will this play out after college. Will employers snatch up these honor-laden women while guys get the lesser jobs (except in the hard sciences, where men still rule). Or will men still win out simply because that's how it's always been. I'm expecting a change, more girl bosses and CEOs, but only time will tell.

Friday, July 07, 2006

velvet or polyester?

On the first episode of America’s Got Talent, a modern version of the gong show in which the least talented performers are kicked off stage, an act called Blue Velvet came on.  They harmonized in a rather tacky way in an intro but were kicked off before they could actually start their song.

It struck me as mean, but it also struck me as odd.  While they were cheesy, they were on key, and at times the same judges would let some other act go on for a minute or more before stopping them, as was the case with a terrible impressionist.

Anyway, I wondered what Blue Velvet’s song was actually going to be like, so I tried googling for them.  But I couldn’t find them.  I found lots of clips of their gonged performance and a lot of references to the movie and the song, but not to the singing trio.  

This could mean they simply don’t know how to get a site on the internet, but it does increase my suspicions that they were just a set up, perhaps day actors brought in so the judges could cruelly gong someone without giving them a chance.

The cruelty in talent shows does not appeal to me.  It’s interesting to see the people who think they are great and aren’t (some are so delusional in the estimations of their own talent that one does wonder if they also are set-ups, but I have actually known tremendously untalented people who though they were geniuses, so it’s hard to say), and it’s fun to see genuinely talented, original performers.  But I would rather not see people flatly insulted and mocked to their faces.  The mean guy on American Idol (which I don’t watch) has said he is mean because people need to know not to waste their time if they suck, but a lot of people who suck manage to get pleasure out of performing (you don’t have to be very good to get a gig) and some people who can’t sing turn out to be quite appealing (i.e. Bob Dylan).

As for Blue Velvet, well, if they are a real group, I think it was awful the judges didn’t give them a chance, and I also think they really need to learn how to use the internet.