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 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 according to 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 npr.org). 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 irregardless 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 (which I suspect 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, 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 likeable 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
Nazismand
terrorism.


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.