Thursday, November 30, 2006

Politi-flicks: Robert

There's a video of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-NY) campaigning in 1968 that popped up on web this week (reportedly from Bob Kennedy: L'homme qui voulait changer l'Amerique, a film by Patrick Jeudy). He was in his 43rd year at the time.

Maybe it's Emilio Estevez' drama, Bobby, currently in theaters, that's bringing back the ghost. Maybe it's Barak Obama's flirtation with a Presidential campaign. Maybe it's this Democratic Spring, with the hope Pelosi and Reid are bringing to lead the charge back into enlightenment.

It's hard to compare anyone in politics today with his whirlwind string of accomplishments: Campaign Manager for his brother John's successful Senate campaign at 27, counsel work in the Senate when the Dems went from minority to majority, Campaign Manager for his brother's successful 1960 Presidential election, appointed crusading Attorney General (went up against corrupt Teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa and the universally intimidating FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover), elected to U.S. Senate at 39.

Likely Democratic nominee. Likely about to be the second Kennedy brother to deny Richard Nixon the Presidency.

Leaving aside how the morbidity of Kennedy's demise makes him look anachronistically vulnerable out in the open so unprotected, the videoclip shows a series of crowd responses so big, so adoring, so heartfelt that one is hard-pressed to imagine any current politician would ever experience this real thing.

I was reminded that Kennedy was the key backer of the civil rights struggle within the White House, pushing his brother to make bold moves as President, including support of the Voting Rights Act, which for the first time in U.S. history removed the myriad local and state restrictions on African-American participation at the polls.

First Dr. Martin Luther King and President John F. Kennedy, two of the Americans most directly responsible for the great leap forward in civil rights for our country were shot to death by assassins. So what is our last best hope going out there unprotected -- no armed bodyguards, no Secret Service?

Contrast with our current Presidente and his pre-screened devotees, most of whom seemed more concerned with abridging the rights of their fellow citizens rather than expanding them.

Here's Robert on TV with Jack Parr, responding with incredible poise and inspiring thoughtfulness on his now murdered brother's greatest contribution to America: confidence in the value of being an American at home and in the world, American ideals and attitudes, confidence in themselves.

Here he is, being fearless.

Political assassination is, of course, as old as politics itself, sudden, violent redirections in the great stream of history. A gust of hope. A bullet. The '70's.

Here's Part 1 of the last speech of his life, the night he won the California Primary.

Here's Part 2 including (offscreen, audible) his assassination.

Is it any wonder we've ended up with the leadership we have?

As always, Politi-flicks is cross-posted to The Daily Reel.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Walls

The walls are coming in on little man Bush. Last month America voted "no confidence" to his Administration and did the next best thing to voting him out of office. His new year brings, for the first time in his Presidential experience, not even one House of Congress on his side.

He escapes, like many previous Presidents losing support at home, overseas for some high profile foreign visits. The kind that, if significant or showy enough to get reported, might reverse the tide back here. Masters of the foreign visit have included President Ronald Reagan and President Bill Clinton. Not the first President Bush, of course. His reputation was sealed when he threw up on the Japanese Prime Minister.

Here's how George W. Bush, the worst President since Ulysses S. Grant (think of losing the Reconstruction...the post-U.S. Civil War Reconstruction, as opposed to the pre-Iraq Civil War one) is doing, a sequence of events since Tuesday:

- Bush goes to the Baltic countries. Not real glamorous. Maybe just visiting places that let us create secret torture prisons for the past couple wars. Maybe just all he could get. The big news: he won't acknowledge the Iraqi Civil War and vows not to withdraw troops "until the mission is complete." Prick.

- The White House leaks a memo written by National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, one of the neo-con Cheney boys who got us into this foolish war, reveals distrust for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and offers him more pie-in-sky ideas for what he should do to save the disaster over there -- on the eve of his meeting with Bush.

- al-Maliki reaches a security agreement with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

- The whole Moktada al-Sadr contingent walks out of Parliament to protest al-Maliki's meeting with Bush on Wednesday.

- Prime Minister al-Maliki of Iraq and King Abdullah II of Jordan abruptly back out of a meeting with President Bush, some big dinner thing, leaving Bush press aides to try in vain to explain, uh, why this isn't a big international humiliation.

Has America, for let's say a Century, ever been more shunned in global affairs?

And just in time for the Thursday morning news, the NY Times publishes the advance word on the results coming from Bush Family consigliore James Baker's bipartisan Iraq Study Group: troop withdrawal, starting 2007.

Meanwhile, El Presidente is thinking El Legacy. Only he's incapable of crafting one; he has to get someone to buy it for him:
Facing the prospect of a lame-duck last two years in office, President Bush has decided to focus on what he hopes will form the cornerstone of his legacy: the George W Bush Presidential Library.

The cost of this memorial to a leader not renowned for his love of literature has been estimated at $500m - three times the sum spent on his predecessor Bill Clinton's presidential library.

Can't wait to see the donor's list for that puppy. Wow.

It was bad enough that his Saudi masters summoned Dick Cheney to their side like a simpering Toady the Bagman. They see what's coming, what Bush has wrought. There's going to be a big battle in Iraq, and unlike most of us, Bush wants in. The Shiite and Sunni sides are preparing for all hell about to break loose.

Think of the man responsible for it all. Think of how far he's come since his 90+% approval rating in the months following 9/11.

Think of how it's all suddenly endgame now, no matter how hard he tries to fight the notion.

As John Mellencamp says, "Some people ain't no damn good..."
Saw my picture in the paper
Read the news around my face
And now some people
Don't want to treat me the same

When the walls
Come tumblin' down
When the walls
Come crumblin', crumblin'
When the walls
Come tumblin', tumblin'

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Impeach Him

What an asshole:
At a private reception held at the White House with newly elected lawmakers shortly after the election, Bush asked Webb how his son, a Marine lance corporal serving in Iraq, was doing.

Webb responded that he really wanted to see his son brought back home, said a person who heard about the exchange from Webb.

"I didn'’t ask you that, I asked how he's doing," Bush retorted, according to the source.

Senator Elect Jim Webb (D-VA) not only has a son serving while the Bush daughters go AWOL in Argentina rather than volunteering for their daddy's deathwar, he has a long military career that puts El W's spotty national guard record to shame.

Who the hell is George Walker Bush Jr. to speak like that to such a man?

Is asswipery an impeachable offense?

Here's to Webb, a completely unique and actually straight-talking "politician" (at least in our time), giving him bloody hell once he's sworn into his Senate seat.

Maybe it'll be like they say in the movie trailers:

This time it's personal.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Turkey Shoot

There's no game in linking to the cascade of disastrous news about Iraq, our asinine Presidente, his shambling Administration, the massive amount of human suffering for which he, personally, bears the brunt of responsibility.

The thing to pay attention to is whether we're at a moment of shift, where the media story changes. You had Former President Bill Clinton turning the tables on Fox News' Chris Wallace as a kind of wake-up call before the election, now we have Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) kicking Wallace into actual decency this week.

So with the Dems winning the Congressional election and now, hopefully, getting airtime as new media darlings, I'm hoping to see more outspoken Liberals, and I mean that in the best possible way.

Richard Dreyfuss leads by example on Bill Maher's season closer. Check out his impassioned explication of Civics lessons and value of teaching it again in our schools. I couldn't agree more -- check out any yearbook from the 1950's and you'll go from giggling at the quaintness to wondering why we let the learning of our system of government leak out of the curriculum.

As if by someone's design.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Why Bond

Since a friend of mine and recommended blogger (see Nettertainment: Fascinating from way back in March), not to mention very happening screenwriter, Scott Veach, has called my bluff, in gambling parlance, and dared to question why anyone circa 2006 would be interested in Bond, James Bond, unless they were maybe nostalgic for the 1960's or '70's. He decries the plot holes and contrivances and my general impression is that he really did not enjoy his theatrical viewing of Casino Royale.

It may just be a matter of taste. Okay, $94.2 million worth of U.S. taste for a total of $224.4 million worldwide, and this only in its second week, with an impressively small drop-off from week one. But as a fan of the original Bond, that brilliant circuit between Ian Fleming's still highly readable novels and Sean Connery's lightning-in-a-bottle characterization, I feel compelled to offer some explanation not only for why I'm so drawn to the new picture, but why so many others have been drawn in for so long.

First off, let's make a clear distinction between the novels and the movies. The first four films -- Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger and Thunderball -- all stuck very close to the book plots, as did the sixth, On Her Majesty's Secret Service. What happened between the fifth -- You Only Live Twice -- and that last one is something of a tragedy for original fans.

Those two movies were shot in reverse order from how they were written, with OHMSS being the most tragic Bond story and YOLT following on it with Bond basically suicidal. Instead, YOLT was the first extremely spoofy Bond, with Connery aging unkindly and beginning the endless series of climaxes in the secret villain's hidden lair, spectacularly blown up along with his Dr. Evil-like plans to take over the world (whatever that means).

OHMSS might have been the best Bond ever -- sticking close to the novel and casting the brilliant/beautiful Diana Rigg (fresh off The Avengers which also gave us Honor Blackman as Goldfinger's Pussy Galore) as the Bond woman, but Connery had left and replacement George Lazenby just didn't work.

From thereon out, even with Connery stopping by one more time in (an offer he reportedly could not refuse) Diamonds are Forever, it was sillier and sillier. Roger Moore looked Bondish but didn't have all the chops of Connery, Dalton was a too-pissy looking replacement, and while Brosnan was arguably the best since Connery, the movies were all too formulaic by then.

Thankfully, even with a record-breaking gross on the last one, the producers realized Bond needed something very new if the franchise was to persist in the 21st century. They were cool enough to make that new thing something very old, in fact. They went back to the source.

Which brings us back to the original novels, and what it is about them that made the Bond DNA so appealing, even now.

One of Fleming's great early admirers was Raymond Chandler, an Englishman by birth who created maybe the best-known American detective, Philip Marlowe. Chandler saw that Fleming was writing in his tradition, in what was originally the Dashiell Hammett tradition (The Maltese Falcon, Continental Op, Red Harvest) of hard-boiled detectives. These rough, smart men were white knights in dirty, deceptive, endlessly dangerous worlds. They were as good with their fists as their brains, but they were at best middle class, without hope or pretensions to anything greater.

Both Hammett and Chandler were especially adept at depicting, with accuracy and economy, location and character. For the former, the world was mainly 1920's San Francisco. For the latter, 1930's and 40's Los Angeles. Both created a gallery of thumbnail portraits around their sometimes nameless sleuth, supporting players and bit parts, with their allure and grotesqueries all vividly laid out with prose that still reads like cats milk.

Fleming had the same skills, but for him the canvas was much larger. He had such a facility with location that, reportedly, he could spend three days in a new city and write about it like a denizen. He even published a book of just travelogues, Thrilling Cities, and another about the flip side of the African diamond trade, The Diamond Smugglers. The descriptions in the Bond books are tantalizing, much like the thrill in the better movies, like the current one, of being taken somewhere you maybe knew existed but would never experience elsewise.

As for the characterizations, the Fleming villains are all well constructed, powerful, memorable freaks, and the best of his women are more nuanced than some of the film portrayals (Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist?) would lead you to believe. Vesper Lynd gets her own inner life for some moments in Fleming's Casino Royale, and Bond actually gets completely turned down by the femme in the real Moonraker. The other players -- Quarrel of Jamaica, Felix Leiter of the CIA, Miss Moneypenny herself and on down -- are all drawn sparely but skillfully enough that they stick in memory.

While Hammett had actually been a Pinkerton detective (and probable strikebreaker, which evidently informed both his decision to quit that organization and to write Red Harvest), Fleming had actually served in British Intelligence, and was thus able to write knowingly about it, grounding Bond in a more real world than spy novel pretenders then and since. This made the novels fascinating for post-WWII mystery readers ready to move past the battered trenchcoat, their view having been opened wide by the events of that war, now looking for insights into the very real Cold War being fought between the Communist Soviets and the West. And Fleming never condescended to political baiting in his description of the Communist threat, simply taking it as a tooth-and-nail (and wiretap and gun) battle between two ruthless opponent forces, each looking for any possible advantage, any cranny to latch onto for that one extra lift, the one that might bring the other side to its knees.

In essence, what Fleming brought to popular detective literature was worldliness, and his professional spy hero was the pure embodiment of that worldliness in how he chose his drink, how he played the tables, how he seduced his women and how he performed his job.

Bond isn't just a superhero of stunts, vaulter of plot-holes or all-around superstud. In his original incarnation, per Fleming and Connery, he's just the most world, adaptive, trustworthy man around for continents. Give him the data and he knows the score. He can interpret that data -- he understands people, he understands how things really work -- and thus some of the most thrilling moments are when Bond realizes what's been kept from him, those reversals, and swings immediately, decisively into action. Once of those moments happens in the third act of the new movie, and while many viewers will see it coming from miles away, what's so gratifying isn't the "twist", it's how Bond reacts. With a worldly, able, committed professional like this, there is No Question.

All the fetishistic accoutrements of the series descend from these core values, the worldliness and Bond's place in a particular literary tradition. Those Hammett and Chandler and Fleming books are all great reads. If the plots are sometimes a little far-fetched or certain twists worthy of reconsideration over a sandwich, it doesn't matter because they are essentially effective stories, told within seductive worlds and following anti-heroes that appeal to our better, if gritty, angels.

While I'd happily agree that the good writing trailed off after the first handful of Bond movies, I think the new one has a script that shouldn't be lumped in with the previous, oh, say fourteen, and while there are probably as many plotholes as in Scorsese's also pleasingly kinetic The Departed, I didn't find the leaps in either to diminish my enjoyment of those experiences very much. I can't recall a non-documentary movie I've ever seen that didn't have holes (like "letters of transit" signed by free French leader Charles de Gaulle would actually help anybody get anywhere under Hitler's rule?) but I can recall tons that were no fun to play along with.

Maybe the main thing they got right in this Bond, something that may not survive in ensuing sequels, is that they knew they had to earn it. Craig as Bond earns our hero's worldliness, and the arc of his character over the course of the film is a classic innocence-to-experience, of all characters with which to do that trick.

If, like Scott, you don't buy the outlandish endurance, the appearance of Texas Hold'em in Montenegro, the lucky breaks for our hero in the heat of battle, so be it. I went for adventure, sure, but for adult adventure, and for the first time in decades the Bondmakers managed to age-up the entertainment, by tapping the source. And I think that's what teen superhero-overloaded audiences are responding to.

Maybe, Scott, you'd feel the same way after reading From Russia with Love or On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Maybe you don't particularly enjoy Hammett or Chandler, either.

But I'm thinking that if you gave it a chance, the smell of black tobacco in a high-stakes French casino at 4am or the tapping of three blind men making their way through the ominously sweaty streets of Kingston or the claustrophobic treachery of a Japanese poison garden might capture your imagination.

And maybe, just maybe, you might follow one all too flesh-and-blood white knight professional with nerves of steel through his reliably unreliable world, to the end of his mission.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

More theft

Here's what happened in Florida, in the election to fill Katherine Harris' vacated Congressional seat, oh help us, Lord. From E. J. Dionne, Jr.:
The official vote count in the battle for -- you won't believe this -- Katherine Harris's seat put Republican Vern Buchanan 369 votes ahead of Democrat Christine Jennings out of roughly 238,000 votes cast.

But in Sarasota County, there was an "undervote" of more than 18,000 -- meaning that those voters supposedly didn't choose to record votes in the Buchanan-Jennings race. Jennings carried the county 53 percent to 47 percent.

The Sarasota undervote in the congressional race amounted to nearly 15 percent. Kendall Coffey, Jennings's lawyer, has pointed out that in the other four counties in the district, the undervote ranged from 2.2 to 5.3 percent. Put another way, roughly 18,000 of the 21,000 undervotes in the contest came from Sarasota County.

Harris, as you may have tried to forget, was Governor Jeb (Big Brother) Bush's appointed Secretary of State, hence head of the elections, in 2000, at the same time she was George W. (Little Brother) Bush's Florida campaign co-chair.

Any wonder so many folks think that election was stolen?

It's not that Harris is alleged to be involved this time -- she was too busy losing a Senate race with only 38% of the vote. But the freaky thing is this is where electronic voting crosses into the plotline like sort sort of historical fiction novel. Per Jim Stratton at the Orlando Sentinel:
About 15 percent of ballots cast on Sarasota's touch-screen machines registered no choice in the bitterly fought congressional race. That percentage was about six times greater than the undervote in the rest of the House district, which spreads into four other counties.

Since Election Day, dozens -- if not hundreds -- of voters have reported problems at the polls. Some say their vote for Jennings never registered after they touched her name. Others say they never saw the congressional race on the machine's screen.

The Jennings campaign argues that only a machine malfunction can account for the high number of undervotes in the congressional race.

Her experts claim that because Jennings won in Sarasota by a 52 percent-to-47 percent margin -- the only county she carried -- she would have picked up the bulk of any votes that were lost. Those votes, they say, would have been enough to defeat Buchanan.

This is a test case, America. There will be 15 days for election officials to test all the machines in Sarasota County, but the question is, as Florida election officials inspire less confidence than El Presidente on Jeopardy!, will they use those 15 days wisely or screw them up, and even if they manage to do their jobs properly, how far can they really get without paper back-up receipts (not hard to do)?

What if the machines have been tampered with since then? What if they have programming designed to self-correct and erase the dirty code so there's no evidence?

Watch the news as this story grows. People don't trust these machines to begin with, and there were so many stories coming in from different parts of America where Diebold opens the lockbox of Democracy.

If anyone on the victorious side thinks that simply winning this last one was enough and that the internal threats that have risen to our American system of government, to our Constitution and Bill of Rights are now vanquished, think again. There will be investigations, and all of us need to support them.

So once more back into the Floridian breach. How about this time we thwart the crime.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Not Parody!

Okay, I know there were no Weapons o' Mass Destruction.

But I didn't think we went to war over this...

NY Times or The Onion?!?

PS: Play the video for full Borat-esque effect.

PPS: Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld...can we finally certify them as morons now?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Politi-flicks: Ungodly

There has been no recent political policy decision more impactful on the world than President George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq.

The disaster-laded results of his erroneous decision and subsequent failure to keep the peace go in and out of the front page headlines, but there's never been a Thanksgiving since he and his Administration started this war over three years ago (March 19, 2003) like this one.

Baghdad is in lockdown after over 160 civilians were slaughtered and 257 wounded in the bloodiest day of their U.S. ignited civil war. Shocking video can be found from a number of news sources, but the following may be the easiest to access:

- CNN's "More than 140 killed in Baghdad's Sadr City" includes a fire-filled report by their intrepid Michael Ware, along with a piece on how the war is straining our Marine Corps, the record-breaking 3,709 civilian death toll (and counting) for November, and a comparison with America's failure in Vietnam thirty-odd years prior to now.

- MSNBC requires Microsoft's Internet Explorer, but if you use that browser they have a video report accompanying "Bombs, mortars in Shiite slum kill at least 161".

- ABC News clocks in with "Attack on Baghdad Shiite Slum Kills 161" and video covering the related crisis in Lebanon and how the War on Terror is, in the Bush-friendly Uzbekistan dictatorship, a War on Islam.

Thanksgivings should be spent watching the Macy's parade and football, but as citizens responsible for our democratic decision-making, it's crucial that we keep our heads out of the sand. Come January there will be a new Congress with both Houses poised to be in opposition to the current Executive Administration, and someone has to hold their feet to the fire it they are not.

Let's hope it makes enough of a difference that next Thanksgiving doesn't break the same repugnant records again.

As always, Politi-flicks is cross-posted to The Daily Reel.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Oh, yes

The new James Bond movie, Casino Royale, has been getting accolades right and left, all well-deserved. In fact, to this longtime Ian Fleming fan, it's the best Bond movie in forty-one (41) years. The combo of staying true to the original novel (as much as possible considering it was written in 1953 at the height of the Cold War), grounding Bond in enough gritty reality to heighten the fantasy buy-in, and making the best lead casting choice since Sean Connery makes this one a big, big winner.

It would be asinine to give away any of the plot points, great moments or memorable lines, so instead I just want to say something about the unique pleasure of watching a really great Bond movie.

I went to see the picture with several family members including a teenage niece and two teenage nephews. The guys have read a lot of the Bond books, as I did at that age, and were actually more familiar with the novel (Fleming's first to feature what became the world's most famous spy) than I, but they're also kids of today who go see the superhero pix currently in fashion (last year we all went to see the successful Batman reboot). One of the previews was the very promising trailer for Spider-Man 3, with some eye-boggling Sandman effects and what appears to be an interesting plot. As a fan of the comics from even before my James Bond phase, I found the first two pictures gratifyingly true to the spirit and content of the source material. But what I discovered was that I've outgrown my fascination with superheroes and their super powers, so no matter how great a job director Sam Raimi and co. have done with the franchise (and they've done great), it's just not that important to me anymore.

This Bond movie, however, is a superhero movie for adults. While Bond performs nearly superhuman feats of physical action (nobody could run as long as he does in the first action set piece, or drop from towering cranes, or smash through walls and not get so winded they just have to stop), while he is a master at the poker table and beds the most attractive women in two continents, there's no science fiction in this one -- no outer space sets or invisible cars -- and virtually no "Q" gadgets, so there's a higher level of identification. In essence, while what he does is as close to impossible as improbable gets, you still walk out with the illusion that someone could actually do all of it, maybe even (ho ho ho) you.

The script does a brilliant job of balancing the reinvention of Bond (this is where he gets his double-o) with crafty deployment of all those fetishistic elements we've grown to love and expect from the series. Director Martin Campbell is clearly at the top of his game, something he may not get enough credit for in the Bond factory world. (He also directed the last successful Bond reboot, Goldeneye, the first in the Pierce Brosnan series, but this one is lightyears ahead.) But it's Daniel Craig who seals the deal. He's rough enough, vulnerable enough, intelligent and brutal enough, and it helps that he's a clearly skilled actor.

In essence, he's got almost everything Sean Connery had, maybe a little less total command of the frame, maybe a little more humanity in the role, but it's a negligible trade-off. The fact is you don't want to take your eyes off of him, although Eva Green as proto-Bond female Vesper Lynd owns her individual shots, and their interplay is so sharp and adult it feels like the least contrived Bond romance ever. Craig is also very, very funny in a grown-up way -- you'll know what I mean when he talks about his "itch" -- so the audience catnip tongue-in-cheek pleasures never come across spoofy or forced.

The other great male-female interplay in the picture is between Craig and Dame Judi Dench as "M". Dench was an inspired choice to replace the stalwart Bernard Lee because with her tremendous authority it never felt like some "PC" casting decision. She was always good with Brosnan, but in this one it feels like she's especially appreciative of playing opposite Craig. Part of it is his acting skill (delivering arguably the standout performance in Steven Spielberg's Munich) but part of it felt to me (and see if you agree) like some real sexual chemistry. Dame Judi may have 34 years on young Craig, but she's always had the fire in her eyes, and as a stage and screen vet must know how to recognize a scene partner opportunity when it arises.

It's not a flirty relationship but it isn't mother-son either (or maybe that's more in the scripting than the performance). It's a battle for domination within a certain set of codes, where Bond is pushing the boundaries of their personal relationship and M is working the professional reins. We see her grappling with how much to tug the bridle and how much to let him loose, and it feels real this time, because Craig has none of the Brosnan gentility.

The movie is generous with the locations and sick with the Aston Martins, but what got me was something to do with the clothes. I'm not generally interested in fashion as much as I think I should be and clothes shopping has always been more chore that pleasure, but there's a moment about an hour and ten minutes into Casino Royale where Bond gets a tux jacket and I was audibly jealous. (For the record: Brioni.) It's the moment when Craig slips it on for the first time, and deft timing it is. We've watched him long and spectacularly enough by then to feel like he's earned it, and you can sense the acceptance throughout the theater.

Sure, Daniel Craig is a very different, very appealing, very unexpected kind of Bond. But the revelation is, he fits like a glove.

An exquisitely tailored glove.

With some poor chap's blood on it.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

New Times

I've been out with some dear old friends tonight, and one of them (a regular blog reader -- you know who you are!) said I should write on the topic of "Old Times" tonight. While I adore getting ideas to fill out the weeks, I feel compelled to turn that concept on its head.

What's best about old times is how they can help make new times all that much better. The long-held ties to friends made along the way (and the trials endured together) are always worth being renewed, as there is strength in time-tested bonds that can provide fortitude against the trials ahead.

Moreover, old times are fine to recall on the occasions of reunion, if not so frequent that they become wallowing or overly tread. There were things said tonight, in kindness, with an honesty not always available to us in the past.

Most of all, as those of us who approach middle age (and maybe even accept already being there) have greater experience and time-honed faculties to draw upon, we can often approach new times with a greater awareness of our strengths to be drawn upon and, one must always admit, weaknesses for which the candid among us we seek fortification.

To bring it back to the political nature of this blog (when not focuses more squarely upon entertainment), old times should provide authentic lessons for moving ahead into the brave new worlds that galvanize us to rise in the morning, no matter the previous day's challenges or the odds against us. So when someone in a Chief Executive position fails to truly learn the lessons of the past or, worse, twists them to vile purpose, it is not just a pity but a sacrilege.

So here's to Old Times for the warmth they often bring, but even more for the fuel they bring for the very open, risky, adventurous and (I hope for all of Nettertainment's valued readers) exciting New Times ahead.

Monday, November 20, 2006


With El Presidente being a moron again in statements made while visiting Vietnam comparing our war there with the war in Iraq, it's refreshing to have Keith Olbermann delivering yet another blisteringly accurate Special Comment.

With bloodthirsty BushCheneyCo and enablers like McCain talking like "one last push" will somehow help us "win" in Iraq rather than extending our international humiliation and killing more U.S. soldiers, Olbermann's Comment is especially important.

Do yourself a favor and check it out here.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


Occasionally when discussing a particular candidate for office you may hear the old phrase, "That guy? I wouldn't vote for him for dogcatcher!"

Taken literally, and assuming that somewhere in the world Dogcatcher is an elected rather than appointed or (more likely) hired position, this is a pretty tough litmus test.

Would George W. Bush really make such a bad dogcatcher? Would he somehow misdirect his efforts to, say, cats? Would he take too many days off, not really take the job seriously until some sort of disaster, say, an attack on the pound, but in his first reaction spend the time reading about goats? Hey, we didn't elect you Goatcatcher, buddy.

Back in the year 2000 when Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) began what I imagine even he believed was a quixotic campaign for the Republican Presidential nomination, I was struck by his apparent populism and intelligence. He spoke straight, with a sense of humor, and I enjoyed watching him in unvarnished live video of moderate-sized gatherings on C-SPAN, where he appeared to touch ordinary New Hampshire residents, particularly those who were veterans. I was also impressed by his comforting literacy when he appeared on a more esoteric PBS book-oriented program. Here was the antidote to the GOP backroom choice, W. himself.

When McCain won the New Hampshire primary, I thought he was going all the way to the nomination, and that I might even be able to live with him being elected. While I disagreed with him on several issues, he seemed like a man or real intelligence and integrity. And when Karl Rove orchestrated the racial smear against him in South Carolina, to which he responded as best he could but came up helpless, I thought it despicable and looked forward to the day when McCain would have his moment to get his revenge against Rove and the boy who would be king.

That moment never came. In fact, with the chance of being elected President turned from quixotic to a real possibility in 2008, McCain went ahead and sold his soul to Bush/Rove by campaigning with El Presidente in 2004, as if perhaps a grim deal had been struck whereby the Bush Family would keep Jeb from running until some later date and instead give McCain free reign to win the nomination, if not back him altogether.

After his notorious final cave-in on Bush's torture legislation -- and McCain having been tortured as a POW in Vietnam (maybe why he didn't show up for the Presidential signing of the bill) -- there was little left to admire about the supposed 2008 GOP frontrunner. Then he hired a Rev. Jerry Falwell operative as his communications advisor and did a commencement address at Falwell's "university".

Then he pretty much hit three big cherries on the Sunday morning talk show slot machine today.

- He reverses an earlier position and comes out in support of a Supreme Court reversal of Roe v. Wade that would allow individual states to outlaw a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy.

- He flip-flops around on homosexual rights, endorsing the very "don't ask don't tell" gays in the military policy for which President Bill Clinton was relentlessly criticized by the right, then going on to say that while we should never discriminate against gay Americans, they should never have the right to marry or, per his backing of anti-gay propositions that actually just failed in Arizona, have the full rights of civil union.

- To ice the cake, he once again expressed his desire for more, not less U.S. troops in Iraq. This as the daily death toll rises in their intractable civil war, today another 112 counted dead, with U.S. troops no longer able to do much good at all, and even Henry Kissinger publicly deeming the war unwinnable.

Is this doing whatever it takes to win the Republican nomination by appealing to the same right wing recidivists who just lost the Midterm Election? If so, are we supposed to believe that McCain will not rule this way as President, or use that Bully Pulpit to trumpet such views?

I really used to admire McCain, so while I have far too much respect for the Senator to vote against him for Dogcatcher, I will never cast a vote in his favor for President or any other high office, given the opportunity.

Maybe someday, in his dotage or on his deathbed, McCain will recant like Lee Atwater and wish he had not just stayed on the Straight Talk Express but actually had the more magnanimous and forward-looking positions. But he's violated my trust and that of countless women, gay citizens, unjust torture victims and U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

After an appearance like the one this morning on ABC, I can only hope that his greater political ambitions, for lack of an appropriate genteel metaphor, get shot down in flames.

Saturday, November 18, 2006


Of all the articles I've seen come off the Associated Press, by far the most bizarre is today's "Analysis: Bush is reinvigorated abroad".

The author, Anne Gearan, may be some sort of flack or just looking for an angle no one else in their right mind would be taking in order to distinguish herself. The article has very little in the way of facts to support her contention, aside from opening like this:
A change in scenery seemed to lift President Bush as he soaked up compliments from foreign leaders who appeared nonplussed by his political troubles back home.

Perhaps she is confusing Bush's customary obliviousness with being "nonplussed?"

Here's the truth of the matter, several actual facts (forgive me, Stephen Colbert) about how this trip was marked by Bush's political weakness before it even began, weakness during the trip, and is filled with empty non-gestures along the way.

For starters, even Fox News reported, "House Rejects Vietnam Free Trade Bill":
The measure failed to win the necessary two-thirds majority it needed under a procedure House Republicans adopted to rush it through with limited debate. It received 228 votes in support — 32 short of what was needed. There were 161 votes against it.

The Bush administration was hoping to gain approval of the measure before Bush meets later this week with Vietnamese leaders in Hanoi.

House Republicans were caught by surprise by the extent of opposition to the measure.

Then there's South Korea turning down the U.S. on inspection of North Korean shipping (Los Angeles Times):
Particularly disappointing for the Bush administration is Seoul's refusal to sign on to the Proliferation Security Initiative, or PSI, a 2003 program calling for member nations to interdict and inspect ships suspected to be carrying weapons of mass destruction for rogue states. South Korea, fearful that such interdictions could prompt a collapse of the cease-fire that has been in place since the Korean War, made it clear Monday that it wouldn't join anytime soon.

And a New York Times article reveals a couple of damning failures in political stagecraft for this supposedly internationalist Presidente:
On Saturday, Mr. Bush emerged from his hotel for only one nonofficial event, a 15-minute visit to the Joint P.O.W./M.I.A. Accounting Command, which searches for the remains of the 1,800 Americans still listed as missing in the Vietnam War.

There were almost no Vietnamese present, just a series of tables displaying photographs of the group’s painstaking work, and helmets, shoes and replicas of bones recovered by the 425 members of the command. He asked a few questions and then sped off in his motorcade.

How does that compare with the previous Presidential visitor to Vietnam?
In 2000, tens of thousands of Hanoi's residents poured into the streets to witness the visit of the first American head of state since the end of the Vietnam War. Mr. Clinton toured the thousand-year-old Temple of Literature, grabbed lunch at a noodle shop, argued with Communist Party leaders about American imperialism and sifted the earth for the remains of a missing airman.

On Saturday, Mr. Bush's national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, conceded that the president had not come into direct contact with ordinary Vietnamese, but said that they connected anyway.

"If you’d been part of the president’s motorcade as we've shuttled back and forth," he said, reporters would have seen that "the president has been doing a lot of waving and getting a lot of waving and smiles."

Is he President or Miss America?

Next on his, "Hey, if it's Sunday it must be Jakarta" tour:
Then he moves on to Indonesia for a few hours to meet "civic leaders," something he did three years ago in a stopover in Bali.

But Mr. Bush is not staying overnight in the world's most populous Muslim nation, which Washington has portrayed as a critical test in the struggle to promote moderate, democratic Islamic states. The Secret Service said it was too dangerous, so he will spend the night in Hawaii.

I guess the "W" stands for "Wussie".

Actually, little boy Presidente may be justified in this.

First, an Indonesian voodoo practitioner has reportedly jinxed Bush on the eve of his trip:
He said the jinx would send spirits to possess Secret Service personnel guarding Bush and put them in a trance, leading them into falsely thinking the president was under attack, thus eventually causing chaos in Bogor Presidential Palace, where the American leader was scheduled to meet President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Monday.

Then, per Steve Clemons, there's this historical nadir in American security:
I really can't discuss the participants or venue of a dinner I attended last night but suffice it to say that some of America's and Europe's leading current and former political personalities were there -- 60 people only -- and among them a few former Secretaries of State and foreign ministers, top intelligence officials, think tank chiefs, Senators and House Members, former National Security Advisors and Secretaries of Defense. The attendance list was extraordinary.

And the conversations -- on the whole -- were about the crappy condition of America's national security position. The guests in this dinner probably represented key participants in any new strategic consensus for the country. If there were brilliant, silver bullet ideas that might help this country move quickly beyond its problems, it would have been in such a crowd where such notions might be taken seriously and have impact.

But nothing. Absolutely nothing. People were depressed and dismayed about current conditions. One very, very senior Bush administration official when asked by me what ideas he had to stabilize Iraq and stop our slow bleed situation said he had exhausted what he felt was possible.

So when you read quotes like those by terminally puffed-up Stephen Hadley above, one has to ask, who are All the President's Asswipes kidding but themselves?

Anne Gearan?

Friday, November 17, 2006


I've been reading way too much about how Dems are somehow not marching in rigid lockstep with each other like the GOPers do, and how this is somehow a problem.

Actually, it's a different governing style. It's called "Democracy".

Hence, "Democrats".

Here's a long overdue article from an MSM source ( about how the Republicans who came in with the 1994 House takeover were actually a "a group of weirdos". To wit:
The iconic figures of this era were Newt Gingrich, Richard Armey and Tom Delay. They were zealous advocates of free markets, low taxes and the pursuit of wealth; they were hawks and often bellicose; they were brutal critics of big government.

Yet none of these guys had success in capitalism. None made any real money before coming to Congress. None of them spent a day in uniform. And they all spent the bulk of their adult careers getting paychecks from the big government they claimed to despise. Two resigned in disgrace.

Having these guys in charge of a radical conservative agenda was like, well, putting Mark Foley in charge of the Missing and Exploited Children Caucus. Indeed, Foley was elected in the Class of '94 and is not an inappropriate symbol of their regime.

There's more hypocrisy to be gleefully mined in the article, and it's a pleasure to finally read.

On the other side, one locus of the MSM fixation on internal Democratic power-jockeying (pretty natural after such a big win) is D.C. political consultant James Carville's deranged criticism of Party Chairman Howard Dean right after Dean helped orchestrate the biggest Dem win in decades.

The hallmark of Dean's tenure has been his obviously successful "50 State Strategy." The simple premise is that the D.C. Dems had written off too much of the country in order to focus money on just a smaller number of key areas where they seemed to have the best chance to win. The problem was that the old approach ceded huge swatches of the country to an unopposed GOP, while losing in those target areas since the GOP had all this freed up dough to spend on them.

Dean's savviest move was to go state-to-state between the 2004 election and our recent one, restarting state operations where they had fallen fallow and helping the struggling Dem organizations in states that still had some sort of life left in them.

The result was Dem wins in places no one expected (Kentucky, Kansas, Arizona) as Karl Rove was forced to fight on so many more fronts, spreading his money ever thinner. And on Saturday, the Association of State Democratic Chairs returned the favor with a strongly worded resolution:
The resolution said the state chairmen "honor and thank Governor Dean for his tireless commitment to state Democratic Parties and the '50-state strategy' ... and for never retreating from what was right for every Democrat in every state."

Not only did Democrats reclaim the House and Senate, they increased their control of governorships and legislatures. In January, Democrats will have 28 statehouses to 22 for Republicans. The breakdown of state legislatures are 24 with Democrats in full control, 16 Republican, nine split and one nonpartisan.

The state-level wins have a particular side benefit that rarely gets written about: it restocks the Party's bench. Emergent state legislature leaders and governors become Senate and Presidential candidates in the years to come.

Carville, once lauded for running (with George Stephanopoulos) Bill Clinton's successful Presidential bid, is not incidentally married to Mary Matalin, top-level D.C. GOP consultant. Maybe he should go over to the other side -- he's not making fans with Dems out in the states:
"I don't think Mr. Carville knows what he's talking about," said Richard Stallings, the Idaho party chairman. "Democrats haven't been winning on the kind of stuff Carville is talking about. The 50-state strategy is the future."

But here's why I love Dr. Dean's approach so much. The good doctor knows that if you don't attempt to get elected by all of America, you don't deserve to govern all of America. To paraphrase Mr. Carville back in the day, "It's the democracy, stupid!" Or as Dean puts it:
"You can't be the powerful party in this country who controls the government unless you are willing to let the people control you. And the only way you can do that is ask everybody for their vote, understand everybody is our boss even if they vote for you or not."

Sounds like the right Rx for the U.S. of A. to me.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Politi-flicks: Burden

It seems the big deal political Internet videos this week, the ones sucking all the air out of the room, are the citizen journalism exposes, on the spot videos of guys getting Tasered by cops, but I think the really significant clip getting webplays since Tuesday has been CNN Glenn Beck's Islamophobic asking of Rep.-elect Keith Ellison (D-MN), now the first Muslim ever elected to Congress, to prove his patriotism.

What seems un-American is made real by the O'Reilly-wannabe, Beck, whom as reported previously by Media Matters:
Beck previously warned that if "Muslims and Arabs" don't "act now" by "step[ping] to the plate" to condemn terrorism, they "will be looking through a razor wire fence at the West" and declared that "Muslims who have sat on your frickin' hands the whole time" rather than "lining up to shoot the bad Muslims in the head" will face dire consequences.

Check it out on the Media Matters page itself. Beck's most revealing moment:
No offense, and I know Muslims. I like Muslims. I've been to mosques.

Some of my best get the picture. In a sense, Beck is just voicing the prejudices of the average American white guy who didn't have a big interest in international affairs before 9/11 but has developed a fearful one now. Money quote:
And I have to tell you, I have been nervous about this interview with you, because what I feel like saying is, "Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies."

He's a Democrat as well, so it goes without saying.

Ellison does an admirable job of standing up for himself without grandstanding, but Beck's question just seems so, well, un-American. In our country, the burden of proof is on the prosecution. Beck's asking an newly elected African-American Congressman to prove his patriotism.

And that's what makes this clip so politically significant this particular week.

America is entering the crossroads. Two years from now we'll have a new Chief Executive-elect. Eight long years will wind down. And now that we've had five whole years to absorb the terrible events of that day, it's time to start asking ourselves what have we learned about our country?

It's time to start asking ourselves, who are the real patriots...

...and who's just afraid.

As always, Politi-flicks is cross-posted to The Daily Reel.

Nature of the Beast

These spots don't change; these colors don't run!

Keep a little of that euphoria from the end of last week in a protected little ball of hope, but erase the rest of it from your emotosac and remember that the job has ony begun and is not 1/4 done.

Here's the latest trial balloon from the pro-War diehards who still control the Executive Branch of our government (oh, and the Judicial) and all those thousands of employees and billions of dollars:
President George Bush has told senior advisers that the US and its allies must make "a last big push" to win the war in Iraq and that instead of beginning a troop withdrawal next year, he may increase US forces by up to 20,000 soldiers, according to sources familiar with the administration's internal deliberations.

Once more, into the breach! What, is he a fucking mo-ron? Or could the reason possibly be...
The "last push" strategy is also intended to give Mr Bush and the Republicans "political time and space" to recover from their election drubbing and prepare for the 2008 presidential campaign, the official said.

Oh, no, not the slaughter of six hundred to a thousand more of our committed young men and women to reinforce the crumbling political facade of a violent criminal gang addicted to power at all costs? That would be just what they're expecting!

Wait, you've been busy recovering from the election and getting back to the kids and work. So what's the update from over there? If you haven't heard much, it must be because it's cooling down in Baghdad, right?
Signs of the abduction were everywhere. A splatter of blood smeared on the gray floor. A black telephone, yanked out of its socket, tangled in a mess of cords. The dirt outlines of boot prints on a door the kidnappers kicked. And at the receptionist desk, next to a pile of papers, a single pink rose, abandoned in the chaos.

This was the scene yesterday at an Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education building, one hour after a small army of 80 gunmen, dressed in police uniforms, staged a swift, brazen daylight raid, seizing scores of employees and visitors.

It was one of the largest mass abductions since the US-led invasion in 2003, startling even by the standards of a nation reeling from sectarian strife, daily bombings, and death squads. The last high-profile mass kidnapping occurred in July, when gunmen seized more than 30 people from an Iraqi Olympics Committee meeting. Six were later released, but the fate of the rest is still unknown.

C'mon, that's just an isolated incident in one isolated section of Iraq! It can't be indicative of a total civil war engulfing the entire country.

Per our top General in the Middle East...

Nothing Will Help.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


For anyone getting soft on chastised Presidente and crew after their election disaster, don't forget their true nature, attempting to thwart justice before it has even the chance to be heard:

White House seeks dismissal of CIA leak suit

And why would they need to do that? Because of scary little headaches like this:
War Crimes Suit Filed in Germany Against Rumsfeld, Other Top U.S. Officials Over Prisoner Torture

In case you thought Bush Jr. was abstracted from these crimes:
Document shows Bush guided CIA on detention

At least Fox is being F-F-F-Fair & B-B-Balanced:
FOX NEWS INTERNAL MEMO: "Be On The Lookout For Any Statements From The Iraqi Insurgents...Thrilled At The Prospect Of A Dem Controlled Congress"...

What reason would they have to use blatant partisanship to prop up the Criminal Regime:
Someone allegedly paid terrorist organizations $2 million for release of FOX News reporters

That special someone...the American taxpayer?

There's too much bloodshed on the hands of all these collaborators to call them ordinary crooks.

It's a ring of violent criminals.

Monday, November 13, 2006


I'm filled with gratitude tonight, to people past, present and future in my life and in this country. It's a week now since we went to the polls as a nation and what a difference a week makes. Some of those races had a long tail, a few are still tallying up, and all I can say is, "Thank you, America."

One's gratitude is now always returned, that's life. Just enjoying it for the moment, and hope you are, too.

Let's hope it's infectious.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

"I don't think so."

Wow, if ever we needed an antidote to Dick Cheney, she is here.
Last week in a highly publicized statement Vice President Cheney said that the President's objective was "victory in Iraq. And it's full speed ahead on that." Today, in an exclusive interview with CNN's Late Edition, likely future Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) responded to Cheney...

Partial transcript:

Wolf Blitzer: Do you consider that statement, that was pre-election, still operable?

Pelosi: I would say the to Vice President that it's a little too late for 'full-speed ahead,' we've been in Iraq for 3 and a half years, longer than the US was in Europe during World War II. So 'full-speed ahead,' I don't think so. Right now we need a new direction that brings stability to the region and makes the American people safer.

Here's how the Hard Right Rethuglicans see her. This is worse. This is worser.

Here's how she really looks, with a kid reporter from some kid's news site. Just imagine Dick Cheney with the same kid. It would be, you'd think, a very different picture.

And she's showing cajones supporting Rep. Jack Murtha (D-PA), the lifelong military man who became a vocal anti-Iraq War withdrawal advocate and smear machine lightning rod, for House Majority Leader.

If you're interested, you can read how she solidified her Minority Leader status in the Social Security privatization debate. Based on the linked Boston Globe article, she's been seriously underestimated as a political strategist and leader. So it's not just Hillary out there on the X-chrome side.

Oh, and some guy wants her to, at the very least, think he's going to kill her.


Here's hope for excellent national political leadership.

Here's hope for the new Democrats in the Senate and House.

Here's hope for a time travel experience at the movies.

Here's hope for our judicial system.

Here's hope for habeas corpus.

Here's hope for ending the Iraq War.

Here's hope for even better Web developments (the instrument that saved this election).

Even good corporate citizen hope.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Nanny Boy

By the end of this week it was clear that even George Bush knows the only glimmer of a chance to save his legacy from the bottom of the deepest sewer pipe in American history, it'll be thanks to the sweeping Democratic congressional victory just three days ago.

Bush is cyclically repeating "bipartisanship" the way we're used to hearing him do with "9/11" because he knows all his cards are played. The death-I-mean-firing of Donald Rumsfeld was the break-up of the Dream Team. Jim Baker must have made it an advance condition of delivering his bipartisan (with co-chair Lee Hamilton) Baker Commission Report (after the Election Dust settle). Who else would have enough clout to trump Dick Cheney and eliminate his partner in the death machine? Only the man who made sure Jr. won the recount the first time around.

Take a look at this shot of Bush meeting today with the three top Democratic Senate leaders, the ones who beat him. Aside from El Presidente's toothless grin what stands out is the distance between Cheney where he's sitting and the three other guys, including his supposed sock puppet. Cheney's not really involved in the conversation, hands clasped together, visibly chastened. Denuded of his Rumsfeld, the guy who hired him in to the Nixon White House, his protector and collaborator at Defense.

Bush is a moron but he's not stupid, he knows he's failed. His only Iraq War policy is revealed to have been trust Rummy and now he has something to worry about. For six years his domestic agenda has been Karl Rove's puppy and on Tuesday Rove came crashing down. That's the closing bell, and two years with the opposition in majority takes a loooong time to pass. Bush is finally forced to confront a likely legacy tax elimination?

The day after the Election, Bush invited Speaker-Elect Nancy Pelosi to the White House, and you've gotta admire her poise. After saying things like this tsk tsk about our Presidente and by winning the election proving herself correct, it's nice to see her getting her first reproachful gander at her pitifully helpless charge. Note in this particular photo she's deliberately not looking at him, head turned away, focused directly on us through the camera while W. face looks wet and searching, for a way out of the daze.

Yesterday a friend of mine said that Bush will probably do well with Pelosi, just as he favors his mother over his father, just as he surrounds himself with nannies Karen, Harriet and Condoleezza.

Don't be fooled by Speaker-Elect Pelosi's deeply committed poise. She doesn't need another grandkid, so she doesn't have to baby this one as she raises him. And raise him she will -- Bush will be ecstatic to be seen signing some piece of actually useful legislation with Pelosi right behind him. It's okay if it isn't anything he'd normally support as long as it's to earn her approval, a look of favor, a genuine smile.

Today they're pretending he's the green President and maybe that will stick for awhile. That's right, pick an issue, not too complex, one that might make your nanny smile. Maybe it'll be one nice thing they say about you after you're gone. It's wussification, certainly, but little Prince Georgie wears it well.

And not a moment too soon.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


How about a brief respite from politics? Sure, there's still plenty to gloat about and a slew of final lame duck Bush/GOP Congress initiatives to make the blood boil every time the word "bipartisanship" passes through those lying lips, but before it gets away from me I wanted to recommend Christopher Nolan's The Prestige, which I was fortunate enough to see on Monday night.

This is one of those heavily plotted puzzle movies where writing about without revealing spoilers is like walking across a room littered with mousetraps, so I'll attempt to be brief. Plot-wise, it's about two magicians who start out friends and become deadly serious rivals. Structure-wise it careens forwards, backwards and almost sideways in time, like Memento with dyslexia. Thematically, and here's where I think the movie earns its stripes even though it's not getting credit for it, there's a very deep, unequivocal position on the cost of performance -- a cost of self-obliteration.

It's easy to belittle a movie that's so fetishistic of its plot, but even though I was often confused on chronology, I found myself grateful to Nolan and his brother Jonathan, the co-screenwriter from a novel by Christopher Priest, for respecting my intelligence enough to keep my mind active throughout the picture in their own elegant and entertaining manner. While The Prestige opened at #1, it's done a mediocre box office since then, as young audience today seem to categorically reject period pieces (even as recent period as The Lords of Dogtown) and then the plot might make too many heads spin.

Clearly Touchstone and Warner Bros., who appear to have co-financed the relatively modestly budgeted movie, were doing it to please the tremendously talented director of Batman Begins and another Bat-buster to come, but that's as it should be. Nolan is serving his own passion and said he wanted to get back to his earlier independent film feel, shooting most of it handheld and as his own camera operator. In the transition for 21st Century Gotham to Victorian England the fact that he's followed up his success with Christian Bale as The Dark Knight by collaborating immediately again with Bale as the magician Borden, and Bale to my mind knocks it out of the park. Equally hard-working is Hugh Jackman as magician Ancier, and while it's enjoyable to see this as a feature-length battle between two of the greatest comic book heroes of our time, Batman vs. Wolverine, both actors are subsumed by their new characters and keep us in the movie the whole way.

The rest of the cast is excellent, particularly Michael Caine (the other Batman Begins repeater) anchoring the period and London, Rebecca Hall as Borden's kind and eventually suffering wife, David Bowie in a way-too-gratifying cameo as Thomas Edison rival Nikolas Tesla, and the always brilliant, always protean Andy Serkis, should you recognize him without his Gollum on. While one is inclined to point out Scarlet Johansson as perhaps a weak link, with a serviceable but clearly studied accent and glamorous looks, she proves herself perfectly game and, as always (I am compelled to report), easy on the eyes.

Here's the meat of it: the movie certainly covers the cost of such focused hatred, the cost of obsessive rivalry. It has something to say about illusion, how much we want of it, how much we want it revealed, and what the revelation means -- does it demystify to the point of ordinariness, or blow us away with the force of learning that what we have taken for granted we have gotten 180 degrees wrong?

But, as mentioned above, it is the cost of performance, of the truly committed kinds, that haunts after the credits roll. In the production photos Nolan looks doughier and sallower than he did before his whirlwind Hollywood sojourn into feverish big budget production, and I'll bet the resonance for him is squarely on the price of being a renown entertainer, a rival for the top-spot illusionist.

What drives the performer, the entertainer? And who wins but the most committed? You change your name, you shuck your old friends, you put yourself through unending physical tests and existential risks in order to -- what? -- have bragging rights to being the audience favorite, perhaps? To earn that wild esteem, that ephemeral applause, it can cost your very identity and, it seems almost obvious when you think about it, why shouldn't it?

From the opening moments where Michael Caine narrates the three steps in any successful magic trick -- The Pledge, The Turn, The Prestige -- the notion of The Return permeates the movie. We wait for it at the end of any magic trick, never imagining the cost of that return, hidden skillfully by the conjurer. The Prestige not only pulls back that curtain but it does something bigger. By linking the cost of performance to the cost of return, it reminds us that life is indeed finite.

While the temporal structure of the movie may resemble a Möbius Strip and the notion of return may imply immortality -- as does the type of fame these two rivals seek with a vengeance -- the film is most challenging, most courageous, as a rebuke to that notion.

Do what you may in life, but there is ultimately no return, no matter how hard and relentlessly one may hammer at the limits. To rail against our common fate is as futile as, say, pounding powerlessly at the glass walls of a water tank while locked inside, drowning.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Politi-flicks: Accept and Concess

This Midterm Election had a hell of a lot more drama than most, at least since 1994 when the Newt Gingrich-led GOP took over the House, and the final speeches, the ones that come after the votes are tallied, they weren't quite Midterm-as-usual.

Okay, so "concess" isn't really a word. But when I was a kid there were these books by Allen Drury around the house, big novels about the workings of our government circa the 1950's, his big breakthrough being Advise & Consent, all about a Machiavellian President vs. a Congressional Committee Chairman on a Secretary of State nomination.

So it feels apt in a Midterm Election to think of Congress and how it works with a President, even a rogue President, and Tuesday night was the beginning of the new novel in our national politics.

Here's Harold Ford, fresh off of losing his Senate bid in Tennessee, standing without supporters surrounding him, taking it all on himself, naked emotion. It was a hard campaign, replete with textbook GOP Southern race-baiting, and Ford was trying to make history. I'm sure another African-American candidate will follow him and win a Southern Senate seat, Harold will have opened the door for them to close the deal.

Ex-Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) lost by a landslide margin to Senator-Elect Bob Casey, but opened up his concession speech with an outpouring of graciousness towards Casey that will speak well of Rick in his future endeavors, as much as I'll probably oppose them.

Virginia was a little out of balance, with Democratic challenger Jim Webb declaring victory to his cheering campaigners maybe 18 hours in advance of official corroboration, and his trailing opponent Sen. George Allen (R-VA) being advised not to ask for a recount.

The biggest acceptance speech of the night was from the first woman in United States history to be two heartbeats away from the Presidency (Battlestar, anyone?), Speaker-Elect Nancy Pelosi (R-CA). It's a terrifically poised clarion call, laying out clearly the Democratic agenda the mainstream media seems to have discovered only after the election.

The biggest concession speech wasn't by any candidate who ran on the 7th. The speaker conceding was not actually losing his own job. He was accepting the "resignation" of a subordinate. He was the number one reason the Republicans suffered a historical loss, and from his behavior in this excerpt from the press conference when he announced the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, President Bush sure looks damned if he has to know it.

So with the loss of both Houses of Congress and a majority in Governorships (think of those 8 Dem pick-ups as eight potential 2012 Presidential candidates), it looks like Little King George is being spanked by his daddy, spanked by having to have his daddy's older wiser men come in and rule him. That's The Party moving in. That's Dick Cheney moving out. And here's the tableux that tells the story.

This watershed election may yet splash onto other shores. It seems that the Democratic tidal wave is also a political threat to another world leader. For if investigations into the selling of the Iraq War lead to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, there may be one more resignation speech yet to come.

As always, Politi-flicks is cross-posted to The Daily Reel.


Admit it...feels good, doesn't it?

Maybe it hasn't hit you yet. We still don't have the Executive Branch with that army of GOP appointees, many of them young and learning at the master's foot.

There's the caveat of Harold Ford not becoming the first black Senator from the South since Reconstruction, and the heartbreak of Joe Lieberdouche beating Ned Lamont with fountains of Republican cash-ola, poised to play Senate kingmaker under dubious circumstances.

There's the question marks in Montana and, maybe through December in a Rovian lawyerfest battle to the finish, Virginia.

(By the way, I believe John Tester and Jim Webb have already won and will be sworn into the Senate in January. Bye, Conrad; bye, George. You sucked.)

There's the sympathy I feel for ex-Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), a decent guy who should have switched parties. There's crazy ex-Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) with an impressively gracious concession speech, before he slips off into Christianistic excess. But it wasn't meant to be their night.

Here's the Democratic House agenda, starting with The First 100 Hours. Don't let any blowhard or uninformed person tell you the Democrats have no plan. They've got a plan, and hopefully they're work hard to implement it and score enough successes, improve America again, make us proud.

It's not going to be easy. After spending the better part of three years equating supporting Democrats to supporting Al Qaeda, he's expected to "Reach Out" Tomorrow with a morning call to Speaker Elect Pelosi and a 1:00pm EST press conference.

Remember this jackal's nature. We cooperated when he was first elected and after 9/11 and all he and his henchmen did was to exploit that cooperation as weakness and use it to seize total power at the expense of the Democrats he now appears to need.

Get it straight: this bully needs nothing. He'll suckerpunch you again and again if you're fool enough to fall for it. So when he reaches out his hand, act as cordial as you must, but crack a mousetrap of impeachment hearings across his fingers and make it big enough to snap a few.

Let him enjoy his loss. Waterboard him with failure.

Celebrate the South Dakota citizens decisively beating a ban on legal abortions. Not to mention their reject of an anti-gay union law.

Celebrate New York State turning solid blue, with Governor-Elect Eliot Spitzer like a breath of fresh air.

Celebrate the landslide win of the 2nd black state Governor in U.S. history (both Dems), Deval Patrick, also the 1st African-American Governor in Massachusetts history.

Celebrate winning something like 30 seats in the House of Representatives -- 12 years to win it back -- and, in all likelihood, taking the Senate. Congrats to Rahm, Charles, Nancy, Harry and Howard. Well done.

No matter how Fox and friends (CNN, Cokie Roberts, Joe Klein) try to spin it, this is what a full-on GOP meltdown looks like. We didn't lose a single incumbant's seat, but we ate their like grapes off the vine. Their backbiting and recriminations began even before this past weekend, and in the morning there will be a gaggle of new media stars -- all Dems. Ex-Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) had Tom Delay's job for fifteen minutes and Ex-Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) is a joke of Congressional history.

So now we have the first female Speaker of our U.S. House of Representatives. A Democrat, of course, and I'm proud to say it. So bring on the hearings, bring on the oversight, make it clear that you deserved our support.

Speaker Nancy Patricia D'Alesandro Pelosi.

Tonight, she won.

May she become George W. Bush's worst nightmare.

Monday, November 06, 2006


It's fitting that as the campaign syndicate Bush sits astride closes out this remarkable election season with their filthy robocalls and long-planned vote suppression tactics, the man who "during his six years as governor of Texas presided over 152 executions, more than any other governor in the recent history of the United States" and enjoyed mocking the fears of Karla Faye Tucker, the first woman ever to be executed in Texas, is climaxing what may be the last hurrah of his political career with the politically timed death sentence of another one of the world's most bloodthirsty men.

Six years is a good long time to bring the man who humiliated your father to justice, and maybe all your 152 (152!) executions, thousands of dead American soldiers, tens of thousand wounded, and hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis with no end in sight for either our corpses or theirs, maybe they were all just the warm-up act, preparation, building blocks of sating your bloodlust.

The slogan, NO MORE BLOOD FOR OIL, was effectively parodied in The Onion just before the War with the op-ed "Exactly How Much Oil Are We Talking About?"
Nobody wants to see brave young Americans sent off to die. Nobody wants to see blood spilled for oil. But if it comes to that, wouldn't we all feel better knowing that their blood was spilled for a great deal of oil? I know I sure would.

Blood is what it's all about for this guy and this is the least midtermish Midterm election since 1974. Bush is the new Nixon, just as torture is the new black. Nixon born rich. What could be worse.

Let Saddam swing, I say. Will it be on network or maybe pay cable? Bringing back hangings in the public square where the kids can see them, too, that could be your one notable accomplishment. Making the other guy swing on the meathook first.

The Bush Criministration has been all about horror, from the very first capitalizing on 9/11, like thieves. The footage of Saddam's verdict is like Salo starring Ben Kingley, thick with the fetishization of death. How deeply sick is the Sociopath-in-Chief? His Shadow President, defiantly hunting on Election Day? His campaign wizard?

The fact is that they and every one of their Republican cronies and enablers, everyone up and down the syndicate from Foley to McCain, is guilty of doing nothing notable these past two year to improve the lives of average Americans. Nothing but get them slaughtered and in debt to foreign nations. Depending how things go tomorrow, the Saddam verdict could feel like the closing notes of the Bush Administration drama, the epic Oedipal journey that torched so many of our hopes and dreams for our nation.

I'm no whiz with predictions and I don't trust our electoral system under Republican rule, but I do know what I hope for our country.

On Wednesday morning, nothing would give me greater pleasure than to learn that the Democratic Party had run the table, Senate +7 and House +45. But that's a lot to ask. So no matter what happens, win, lose or draw on the election results, the fight doesn't end when the polls close.

A whole new epic battle is opening for our United States, eyes wide open. If all goes well, Election Day 2006 will be a new beginning, but no matter what, Wednesday we'd better wake up fighting.

Okay, now. Into the chute.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


Somebody help me out here. Are we at the very end of Act II of the Congressional Election, something flipping us into Act III for the final plan, the final obstacles, the climax, twist and resolution? Or did the flip happen Friday when the gay-baiting #2 U.S. evangelical figure flipped into a hot gay meth-sex addict and we're already in the Third Act, climaxing Tuesday night?

Evidence of the latter is Karl Rove's November surprise. No, I don't mean that tinpot dictator getting to swing, I mean the dirty GOP fake Dem robocalls.

Some of his slimy operatives have been convicted in New Hampshire for their telephone fraud -- phone jamming -- last election. While they've found other ways to harass New Hampshire, but now the big story is how they're intentionally misinforming and misleading potential swing Dem voters in order to turn off voters:
What we're seeing is an apparent coordinated effort from the NRCC -- the House GOP committee -- to place calls that appear to be from the local Democratic candidate and then automatically call the same number back as many as seven or eight times each time the caller hang-ups. If the caller listens to the whole message it goes on to bash the Democratic candidate. But if the caller hangs up prematurely, the computer calls right back. Hang-ups are the Achilles heel of robo-calls. So this seems to be an attempt to cover for that weakness by making those who hang up think the Democratic candidate is basically harassing them with phone calls. The GOP wins either way.

And they accuse us of treason.

The counter for this tactic is recording messages and numbers getting set for suing after the election, and maybe getting some media traction exposing the tactic over the next 24 hours. Dirty tricks often work -- as Karl Rove learned as the head of College Republicans under Richard Nixon's longtime election fixer, Donald Segretti.

Rove and his toady henchman, Ken Mehlman, have spread this tactic to several states, according to AMERICAblog:
Kansas, NH, and now PA. This is the Republican October Surprise, launched in November. It's to cheat, pretend that they are Democrats calling voters and then piss the voters off so much that they don't vote for the Democrats.

That's called lying and cheating in order to suppress the vote, and it's illegal. And the Republican party admits they're doing it.

He also lists CT (Lieberdouche) and NY (Reynolds). The Dem candidates, like Lois Murphy, are putting info up on their websites as well -- just need a major news figure to get it out there. Maybe Rosie?

It seems that Mathew Gross has some technical tidbits of what you can do to document the atrocities, "Republican Voter Suppression -- Catch 'Em on Tape".

As for the Diebold debacle, more and more voters are choosing to do it absentee due to distrust of electronic voting (who'da thunk) and in San Diego the shortage of official forms has led to yet another truly banana republic moment in GOP-governed America:
Unusually high demand and a printing order that wasn't filled fast enough caused the San Diego County Registrar of Voters to run short of absentee ballots this week. About 5,000 photocopies were mailed out instead, said Registrar of Voters Mikel Haas.

But there's nothing to fear, Haas said. “Their votes will be counted.”

When those ballots are returned, registrar's employees will copy voters' choices by hand onto regular card stock ballots that can be run through the optical scanners that count the votes.

I always feel safer when my vote is transferred by hand to another piece of paper. And if those are now the official ballots, do they just dump the original "photocopy form" absentee ballots.

And who counts the votes? Do you? Me? Someone without a partisan agenda?

How will they shade the ambiguities.

And so it begins. Act III all the way, baby. If you need heartening, here's how we're going into it compared to the Rethugs who took over the House in 1994.

In case anyone forgets the stakes, here's food for thought.

In January, you may not be able to travel outside of America without Bush's permission.

And the shadow President, the one who's behind all the major foreign policy ideology and political execution, will never allow himself to appear in subpoena before Congress.

Democracy was invented for the express purpose of accountability.

Show everyone you mean it, America.

If you truly do.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Politi-flicks: Politechnicals

The first election where mobile connectivity was a crucial factor was in 2004, when on Election Day Karl Rove could call up any precinct in America on his Blackberry anytime he wanted on Election Day itself. This meant he could direct GOTV efforts on an immediate basis, sending campaign volunteers to a suburb in some precinct to squeeze out just enough more microtargeted GOP voters.

This one on Tuesday is, I think, the first where mobile went wide, lots of text message programs for various campaigns, very useful for "Alerts!"

The next General Election, the 2008 Presidential Election, will be the one where whoever controls mobile video and social networking will win the election.

I predict this for two reasons.

Back when Bush beat Kerry a scant two years ago, there was a most illuminating segment on Charlie Rose where two writers/editors from Newsweek were talking about their unique behind-the-scenes access on both campaigns, under contract to reveal nothing until after the votes were in. These guys said they never had any doubt that Bush would win, because the GOP had an extraordinarily rapid response system, Kerry had (basically) none, and in their experience the team with the better, faster response team always won.

Think back to James Carville and George Stephanopoulos in The War Room, banging back at a steroid nasty press at the speed of thought. Then think of John Kerry failing to address the Swiftboaters ASAP.

This time around the Dems seem more plugged in, 36 hours or better with rebuttal ads. Take this Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) smear against Dem challenger John Tester, "John Tester is a Taxer". Then watch this rapid response from the Tester campaign, showcasing Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer beating back the supposition and even betting his dog on it in, um, "Betting Jag".

The fact is that we're in another technological shift, dramatically deepening on-the-go connectivity, and the next election will have those ads we currently think of as internet video playing first on cellphones and other mobile devices, passed around in bars, on busses, in classrooms, at work.

The web will be used as a tool for individuals or organizations to manage their content and fire it out to cellphones everywhere in the country or the state or the precinct. You join affinity networks (think of how friends spam friends with political articles, links and European TV ads, blend it together) where you can opt in for Alerts! or just general update/check in cell mini-desktop apps, it's an opt-in or -out revolution and it's going to mean that more data messages get delivered more quickly to more people than ever before; highly segmented and self-microtargeted people.

Think of an election week strategy videocast you receive real-time and simultaneously as however many other campaign operatives or media outlets, on your cellular device. Think of being able to on-the-fly record parts or all of it -- to your cellular device.

The potential for political organizing seems unlimited, and the Party or campaign organization that masters it will have a decided advantage.

News is coming so fast now, the furious return of Mark Foley-style creepy closet GOP homosexuality, the entire U.S. Armed Forces declaring their debilitating lack of confidence in Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and the Saddam Hussein verdict show poised to turn into Gettysburg. There's last minute polls and panics and surges.

Think of how even our 2006-era connectivity has affected this race. It's had so much to work with -- here are my two favorite quotes of the day, both from the NY Times, first from Adam Nagourney and Robin Toner:
"It's the worst political environment for Republican candidates since Watergate," said Glen Bolger, a Republican pollster working in many of the top races this year.

I actually remember that time, and he's right. (Only then we didn't have electronic voting.) This time the Internet has trumped the television as fulcrum of this environment.

The other, from Jeff Zeleny, concerning the sudden flowering of DNC Chairman Howard Dean's 50 State Strategy:
"These races are popping up all over the country like mushrooms," Mr. Dean said, speaking over a crackling cellphone while riding through a Republican-leaning Congressional district in Michigan. "This stuff is working faster than I thought."

Hard to pull off in two years back in the pre-Internet days. When long distance phone calls cost an arm and a leg and you waiting around for the fax to print out. Now, if anyone asks you what does the Democratic Party stand for this election, you can just link them this "National Address".

While Dean has admitted that he thinks it will take two more years to match Karl Rove's GOTV operation, he clearly made the right decision to go widely competitive and not just focus all time and money on a few battleground "swing" states.

You can never predict when some supposedly "unbeatable" candidate strangles his mistress or covers up a colleague's pedophilia.

But you could have predicted this.

As always, Politi-flicks is cross-posted to The Daily Reel.