Sunday, January 31, 2010

Pretty on the Inside

The first one-hour episode of Caprica did not disappoint, beginning with all kinds of trippiness from inside the artificial intelligence copy of Zoe and a super-huge CGI sweep through the gargantuan stadium used to play Pyramid, the big sport on the planet, as the Caprica planetary anthem played, everyone with both hands crossed over their hearts. And the opening titles, sort of Dallas on acid but without spoiling the images with the actor names (the transition from statue hand outstretched to Polly Walker's is a nifty hook) sets the dominant tone as well: semiotic labyrinth:

The SyFy embed is a little dark, but you get the idea. The series creaters, Rene Aubuchon and Ron Moore, are leading us deeper and deeper into this world that, as they state, seems beautiful on the outside but is corrupt on the inside. Each week, if the pilot and first real episode are any indicator, will give us more clues about this world: its customs, its art and technology, and its clues to its own impending downfall.

But the most interesting question by far is that of replicating what's inside of an individual human being, the personality, intelligence, responses...the soul. Now that Zoe Greystone is dead but her AI version lives on, most often trapped inside of a big ugly metallic robot, her best friend still relates to her as if in continuity with her dead friend. Her father is seeking something of the same.

And even Adams/Adama, who Greystone pere gave an opportunity to meet his daughter's avatar in black empty space at the end of the pilot, where she cried in tearful terror, "Daddy, my heart's not beating!" and cause him to turn against the project, even he now asks if that version of his daughter is currently living in abject fear somewhere in that cyberspace. Even he is wanting her rescued or otherwise put out of her misery in some way.

We normally ascribe feelings to stuffed animals, animated characters, even Transformer-type robots. The question Caprica asks is whether a perfect AI is somehow less human than we are, when we can relate to it exactly as we would to the real thing. Further, it edges towards asking us exactly what we're made of -- and if we're no more than a very advanced biological form of AI, and what does that mean to our sacred value placed on being individual, soul-delineated human?

My biggest counterveiling thought here is that the one thing that makes a conversation with my kids different than with their avatars is that they are constantly growing. In a year they won't have the exact same size and shape, and neither will their brains. The open question is AI learning, and as we know from BSG, cylons do learn. But is that the same as biological growth? Isn't the natural cellular growth/decay of the brain something that affects the very core of consciousness, the storing and accessing of memory, so that it would not be duplicable?

It'll be interesting to see if the show addresses it.

The composer, Bear McCready, does as great a job contributing to mood and thought as he did on Battlestar Galactica, and on his blog he describes the stark differences as well as certain similarities between the scores. In essence, Caprica is more chamber orchestra, as befits an advanced society, but as with the first series there is a melancholy running underneath the sophistication.

For your listening pleasure, his End Titles music, pulling together the major themes (characters, etc.) from the show:

I'm in for more -- take me through this maze on Caprica as well as the innerspace of AI Zoe and others who make up this brave new foreboding world.

Basketball Prez

This post comes thanks to longtime reader Master of all that is Fu, who writes in the true spirit of bipartisanship:
I don't have to agree with him to like him. This is pretty cool.

It gets better:

After a referee made a call that went against Georgetown, an obscene chant was cut short after one student admonished another, "Dude, the president of the United States is right there."

I'm just hoping he takes Billy Packers job in 3 years.

Obama says in the video it could be three or could be seven, but he's coming for Billy's job.


I'm betting on seven.

Friday, January 29, 2010


This was even better than his State of the Union Address this week. This is why I voted to elect Barack Hussein Obama as President of the United States of America:

At a moment when the country is as polarized as ever, Mr. Obama traveled to a House Republican retreat on Friday to try to break through the partisan logjam that has helped stall his legislative agenda. What ensued was a lively, robust debate between a president and the opposition party that rarely happens in the scripted world of American politics.

For an hour and 22 minutes, with the cameras rolling, they thrust and parried, confronting each other’s policies and politics while challenging each other to meet in the middle. Intense and vigorous, sometimes even pointed, the discussion nonetheless proved remarkably civil and substantive for a relentlessly bitter era, an airing of issues that both sides often say they need more of.

Let's just say it right here. Can anyone, anyone imagine "President W" ever doing something like this? Or President Cheney? Oh -- because they NEVER DID.

It's impossible to imagine the previous President believably saying he'd even read a proposal from the senior member of the Finance Committee if he was from the other party, as Obama makes clear that he has in the closing minutes of the exchange. In fact, if Bush had been given the one from his own party, it would have been distilled down into memo form, his preferred means of receiving written info. Which means he would be at the mercy of his handlers. Which means a threat to the Republic that simply does not exist under sentient President Obama.

Obama appears to be serious about bipartisan engagement, even taking some of the ideas, but without the typical Democratic urge to collapse and let the GOP have their gleeful way with them. If there is ever going to be a return to a more serious type of politics from the conservative side, of Republicans who actually want to substantively work together with Democrats to do "The Peoples' Business" instead of trying to placate teabaggers, win news cycles and get re-elected, it started here. And if that does come to pass they should thank this President. Profusely.

Here's the whole Q&A section (the opening speech was fine, but this is the juice):

The Republican reaction after this amazing experience of true interaction, alone, with the other party:
MSNBC's Luke Russert, who was on the scene in Baltimore, relayed that a Republican official and other GOP aides had confided to him that allowing the "cameras to roll like that" was a "mistake."

So effective was the president that Fox News cut away from the broadcast 20 minutes before it ended.

Wimps and wusses. Especially that fearful, bullying, dedicated television network of theirs.

As I read in a tweet somewhere out there, where are the GOP going to find somebody foolish enough to run against him in 2012?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Really Bad Day for Bananafish

J.D. Salinger, genius influential, nutjob writer. I'm going with Asperger's. Seriously.

And the peoples' genius historian, Howard Zinn (of Brooklyn, of course).

#3, in this literary division?

Do you think they read each others' work?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Adult in the Room


Awesome moment of the night: calling out the Supreme Court sitting right in front of him. Which includes douchiest moment of the night, Justice Samuel Alito mouthing/saying, "Definitely not true," as if he's a Representative from South Carolina:

From a TPM reader:

The Supremes are used to wafting into the House in their black robes, sitting dispassionately through the speech and wafting ethereally out again on a cloud of apolitical rectitude. It's like they forget they're there because they're one of the three branches. And I truly don't think it ever occured to them that crassly injecting themselves into the sordid partisan fray of what they like to call "the political branches" with that catastrophic decision would cause the President to treat them like people who'd injected themselves into the sordid partisan fray. (And why should they? After all, they got away with Bush v. Gore with barely a dent in their credibility). I even thought I detected a bit of "told you" coming from the four in the minority.

I think we saw a bit of history made tonight, and no one noticed except the Supremes themselves.

Right on. The minute the Cheney/Bush Administration started recruiting Justices (and Chief Justice) directly from the ultra-conservative Federalist Society (created specifically for this infiltrative purpose) they politicized the Court with rightwing activism, a mirror image of the very thing they've accused the left of doing since Chief Justice Earl Warren. Well, you're called out now, bitches!

Another classic moment: Obama calls on the banks to pay for having used our money to restore their gargantuan profits, and the Republicans sit on their hands:

And then there's ol' man McCain, the bullet we dodged in November 2008, reacting to Obama reminding the chamber of how the failed policies of the preceding eight years handed him the worst deal of any incoming President since 1932 by saying/mouthing, "Blame it on Bush."

No, John, blame it on an ideology. Your party's.

I also love that he told the Dems to not act like terrified losers and run to the hills on health care etc. after one special election. And I love his call to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell.

Yep, grown up talk.

Now will the legislators in that room please grow up?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Watergate Washouts

Bugging a Democratic Senator's office phone isn't quite what it used to be:
Federal officials charged four men on Tuesday with plotting to tamper with the telephone system in the New Orleans office of Senator Mary Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana. One of the men was a filmmaker who gained fame last year by secretly recording members of the community group Acorn giving him advice on how to set up a brothel.

All four of the men arrested Monday in New Orleans, each in his mid-20s, were charged with entering federal property under false pretenses with the intent of committing a felony, according to the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana. They appeared in court on Tuesday,

If convicted, the four would face sentences ranging from a fine to 10 years in prison.

The filmmaker was James O’Keefe, 25, who has gained renown in conservative circles by poking fun at the left through pranks and undercover video...

...In September, Richard W. Rahn, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, wrote a column in The Washington Times hailing Mr. O’Keefe and Ms. Giles as examples of technologically savvy, “smart amateurs” who “with courage and good judgment are becoming effective investigative journalists.”

Mr. Rahn said Tuesday that he did not have enough information on Mr. O’Keefe’s arrest to offer a different assessment.

Dirty tricksters born forty years too late to work for Tricky Dick Nixon. Maybe G. Gordon Liddy will take them out to the woodshed?

Monday, January 25, 2010

No It's Not

So the spending freeze that it's been leaked that we'll see President Obama propose is not the thing the Republicans (McCain) proposed, nor is it actually "across the board" as the Left fears.

I'll be interested to see how this plays out.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


On Friday night SyFy premiered the new Battlestar Galactica prequel, Caprica, which takes place not in outer space but on a planet very much like our own, 58 years before the events of Battlestar. The creators of the earlier show (the sequel to this prequel?) have applied the same sharp political edge that invigorated the space series, except here we're watching the highly advanced society that made whatever mistakes that led to the revolt of the cylons (both human-like and chrone plated robots) and the planet-wide destruction of Caprica by the very devices they originally manufactured to serve their needs.

Bottom line up front: the pilot is brilliant.

This is clearly a comment on our own society with some interesting differences and one key reversal. The event that sets off the plot and eventually leads to the downfall of humanity is the death of two daughters in a terrorist bombing. One is the teenaged child of Daniel Greystone, played by Eric Stoltz, an engineering visionary who is the cornerstone of a huge corporation that is currently working on the first crude cylons, all exposed metal and clumsy artificial intelligence, hoping to keep the huge defense contract. The other daughter is that of Joseph Adams, played by Esai Morales, who's surviving son will become Galactica Commander William Adama in the years to come.

Making friends through their shared loss, Greystone uses Adams to get something he needs to begin bringing his daughter back to life -- as a cylon. The conflict between the two men begins. The second major conflict is one that runs through the original series as well -- that of religion. Caprica is polytheistic, but as we learned in Battlestar, the cylons are seeking the "one true God," and their anticedents are here already, an underground network of human beings who want a single God who knows right from wrong -- like the one that's dominated all major religions in our real world since the beginnings of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

So while the series looks to bend the mind with the question of what really makes us human and whether a human-based artificial intelligence is itself a being with the same worth as a flesh & blood person, by far the most transgressive element of the series is the questioning of our very own monotheism. This is using science fiction in the best possible way, by positing an alternative reality that rips open otherwise unmentionable questions and letting us reconsider our most precious assumptions in its light.

I don't think it's a stretch to say that Caprica posits monotheism as a source of violence based on the certainty of the faithful. On another level (thus far -- the series is just beginning) it is also an abdication of personal morality, arguing that the reliance on a single all-knowing God is a way not to wrestle with morality on one's own.

On the other hand, Caprica is already a decadent society, with a gangster syndicate (from the Tauron colony planet, where Adams/Adama hails from) and young people entering holo-clubs using technology originally invented by Greystone, clubs where sex, drugs, violence and even human sacrifice are all part of the scene.

And there's a Shakespearean element to the drama as well. We're looking at the characters who's actions will set the groundwork for the fate of the planet six decades down the line, and their very human grief, yearnings, desires, lusts in steady conflict with each other have a weightier feel for our knowing what will come. This series is by nature a multi-season tragedy.

The cast is well-prepared for it. Stoltz seems more handsome than he did in his youth, and fellow '80's film veteran Morales is a great match. Greystone's wife is played by Paula Malcomson, whom I'm so pleased to have back after her breakthrough as Trixie on Deadwood. Polly Walker, another HBO vet, from Rome, is great as the headmistress of the school where Greystone's daughter went, and where his daughter's best friend (Magda Apanowicz) is coming under the influence of the One-God underground. The rest of the cast is terrific as well -- Alessandra Torresani as Greystone's daughter, Zoe and Sasha Roiz as Adams' violent gangster brother are the other regulars thus far.

I predict another peak sci-fi experience from Ron Moore and company. It's a nice change-up from the setting of the first series, and the themes may cut even closer to home.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Rich is Right

Frank Rich, that is.

PS: OMG, Plouffe is right, too. With a vengeance.

Welcome back, David.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Finish the Job

I'm with Andrew: Fight!

Has the President learned what he needs from his first year? Is this real defiance -- the kind that rallies others and wins?

Memo to Dems: quit now, slow down to much, move to the middle and lose.

History tells the tale.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Downs and Ups

Here's the big bummers:
  • In the It's Tough but Necessary to Fight Back category, let no one get away with the MSM lie that the healthcare reform bill has lost support by being too far to the Left. Per Joan Walsh, support has dwindled because it's moved AWAY from the Left...and towards the very corporations who will now be able to spend whatever they want to kill it or profit from it.
  • Air America is no more. Not sure what will be on AM 1150 tomorrow morning. Does this mean no more Stephanie Miller on the drive in?
On the plus side:
  • The "Move Your Money" movement, advocating taking your banked dough out of big huge national banks and moving them to regional banks, gets a big boost in New York City, where Mayor Bloomberg is moving $25 million to neighborhood credit unions.

I wish I could say the other good news is that healthcare/health insurance reform is still going to pass Congress...please, oh, please, put Dr. Dean in charge of Health and Human Services, or the goddamned Democratic National Committee again.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Horror on the Inside

What possesses a human being who wasn't particularly lacking in the looks department to do this to their face and body?

To sacrifice their physical character and individuality to a cookie-cutter, factory-line plastic surgeon's ideal of beauty that makes her less rather than more memorable, and risks death to do it? Is it because some moron online said she had too big a chin, and now she can't move her face?

Is this what celebutard culture has come to?

I have no idea how many young women out there with twisted self-images will see this reality show icon as so fortunate to have been able to do this. My hunch is that it's one thing to get more subtle updates in plastic surgery, or to be made famous after surgery for your looks so that there's no preexisting mass impression of the celebrity without it, but that this kind of extreme mutilation of identifiable physical image once as famous as one will ever be (save for potential rubbernecking) instantly comes across as grotesque, and ultimately repels rather than attracts what it craves the most: the gaze.

Over time, I don't expect I'm going out on a limb here, our horror and, tumbling after, pity will turn darker, cautionary. There's no way to maintain this look with any sense of naturalness going into middle age and coming out the senior side. More treatments will be craved along the way, and if the celebrity survives they will spend anything necessary to get it, even if fallen from the D-list to the freak-list, even if there's no money any more and it has to be cut-rate chop-shop stuff. And it will be increasingly horrific, and that may overwhelm the pity.

One expects there's a moment in every extreme plastic surgery victim's life when they look in the mirror and wonder what the devil they were thinking. It may be more than a moment, may be multiple moments, may be long extended stretches or one long phase ending in the ultimate self-mutilation, self-ending a life. One expects it to haunt, sometime, somehow, and maybe earlier than they might have ever imagined.

Whether this one will have such a moment is an open question, since she seems to self-reinforcing in her rhetoric, using God as an instrument of her ego. What values are this that could ever morph into something more recognizably...moral?

There will always be writers and pundits pointing to a case such as this and drawing deeper but well-trod conclusions about our contemporary society and values. The fact is there have always been those desperate to change their basic appearance, hating themselves from in the inside out, and measures crude to elegant to attempt their twisted rectification. But up to now there's never been a way to do it so extravagantly and permanently, and still be able to be seen in public.

Here the question is simply one of character, of the solitary individual, God's child like the rest of us if, despite her own self-absorption, not an iota more so than any of us, and the fallen narrative of her life, the trap she so willingly walked into or, more accurately, pursued.

It's a good story, and a shame it had to happen to a real person.

For her.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


So, as foretold here two days ago, Martha Coakley blew a 15-point lead by not asking anyone for their votes and lost Ted Kennedy's Senate seat to a telegenic Republican, Scott Brown. Strike one against the entitled, and some respect, yes, for Senator-Elect Brown for actually campaigning and asking for votes, the way you're supposed to, going out and meeting the people. Putting 200,000 miles on his truck, which doesn't seem possible in a state as small as Massachusetts. And congrats to Brown for his classy mention of the late Senator Kennedy in his acceptance speech.

Contrary to every GOP mouthpiece on Fox and in the rest of the bloated media, this is actually great news for Democrats -- if they take it the right way. This is not a call to move to the center, this is a call to serve the base that actually worked to elect this President and everyone who rode in on his coattails, or in the election prior to beat back the nihilist Republicans. Stand with the people or lose your own party, as Coakley did.

I like the calls for Dr. Howard Dean to return to run the Democratic National Committee -- God save us from milquetoast loser Tim Kaine. And here's to Dr. Dean himself who said tonight:

"I certainly don't think it's a referendum on President Obama," Dean said.

Maddow seemed to be surprised that Dean wasn't blaming Democrats for the Massachusetts race. "You're the only Democrat in politics right now who's saying anything like that," she said. "Democrats formed a circular firing squad over this election."

Maddow also called it "an incredible breakdown in party discipline."

Dean agreed, and suggested a new direction: "This is not the time for pointing the blame."

People who blame others are losers. If you want to win elections, you stop blaming and get to work.

Sounds from the White House indicate that Obama is ready to fight, and maybe now House Dems will fold and just pass the Senate health reform bill, and move on to fixing any holes there. As for Brown, does he honor the late Senator Kennedy's memory, work with the President (who called to congratulate him) and get reelected in 2012, or does he go teabagger and act like a douche?

Best news of all: Lieber-who?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Start Buying Stock

Apple poised to win all the marbles with their upcoming iPad/iTablet? As in, the future of print and therefore business market share?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Madness in Massachusetts

So there's a special election for Ted Kennedy's now vacated Senate seat on Tuesday and it's turned into a potential upset that could derail national health reform, with Republican Scott Brown ahead of Democrat Martha Coakley in the polls. While the President has just campaigned for her today and there's a huge wave of Get Out The Vote kicking in, if Brown does indeed take this seat that has been Democratic for, like, ever, how will this have happened?:

Coakley’s nomination is the result of a perfect storm (for Republicans): A Massachusetts Democratic primary electorate still a bit hungover that its own choice for president in 2008, now Secretary of State Clinton, lost in the rest of the country to Barack Obama, some still a bit bitter over that, and the general mediocrity of Coakley's primary opponents, too. (Say what you will about John Kerry, but each of them were mere political insects compared to him.)

Coakley - originally way ahead in the polls - took much of the month of December off from stumping the state and recently suggested that it would be a waste of her time to engage in retail campaigning by shaking hands outside of Fenway Park. She exudes, at times, that prissy elitism that turns Massachusetts voters away from Democrats so regularly.

Worse news is that her Republican opponent, Scott Brown, is a buffoon who voted 96 percent of the time in the Massachusetts State Senate with GOP dogma. If he arrives in the US Senate – as the traditional political math says he will – he will become the forty-first Senator vote to block so many progressive advances that would still be possible if he doesn’t succeed.

And yet, by traditional Massachusetts political math, I repeat: Brown will win Tuesday’s special election.

Lousy candidate, sounds like not a real strategic bone in her body, appears to lack even the desire for The Common Tough. Andrew Sullivan brainstorms another reason -- Kennedy himself:

This Senate seat was held warm for Ted decades ago, when he was parachuted in and stayed there for ever. Part of the revolt is based on the fact that Coakley seems to be the ultimate Kennedy clan crony, and was also plopped in by a tiny number of primary voters, and seems to imbue the arrogance of the Democratic party elite. Most voters know that she could lord it over them for decades. But they'll almost certainly be rid of Brown in a few years.

Brown has also played class politics more effectively. Obama's swoop in to save Coakley also makes him look like an upper-class elitist rather than a mobilizer for change for the poor. The optics, as they say, are awful.

And E.J. Dionne weighs in with a message Dems has best heed if they want to staunch losses this fall:

Yet the truth that liberals and Obama must grapple with is that they have failed so far to dent the right's narrative, especially among those moderates and independents with no strong commitments to either side in this fight.

The president's supporters comfort themselves that Obama's numbers will improve as the economy gets better. This is a form of intellectual complacency. Ronald Reagan's numbers went down during a slump, too. But even when he was in the doldrums, Reagan was laying the groundwork for a critique of liberalism that held sway in American politics long after he left office.

Progressives will never reach their own Morning in America unless they use the Gipper's method to offer their own critique of the conservatism he helped make dominant. It is still more powerful in our politics, as we are learning in Massachusetts, than it ought to be.

It's time for the Dems to get populist all over again. It's good to see Obama starting to go after Wall Street, but only real financial reform will do the job. Process is necessary, but when it looks like the health insurance companies and big pharma are aboard, it looks like a sell-out.

Not an easy balancing act, I'll admit. But in a time demanding change, nominating an establishment candidate -- especially one with no feel for campaigning -- is a threat to the future of the Republic.

Because she could lose to this:

Good luck on Tuesday, Martha, in spite of your nomination.

Sic 'em


Yes he can?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Winter Lion

Roger Ebert may be on his way to the big bijou in the sky but he's living life to the fullest through his writing, which is at his smart populist Midwestern best. Not only are his movie reviews as accurate and enjoyable as ever, if not moreso as there is a freedom in his writing that seems a heightened version of what he had before, but he's also dead-on politically again, opening his Thursday "A Letter to Rush Limbaugh" with:
You should be horse-whipped for the insult you have paid to the highest office of our nation.

He then excoriates the Satanic Limbaugh for discouraging contributions to Haiti via the Red Cross link on the White House website, drumming up paranoia that it'll put his listeners on the Barack Obama campaign mailing list.

But it's the poignant blog piece from January 6 that's being passed around the Net, where Ebert reveals his feelings about no longer being able to eat or drink. It's elegaic without self-pity, and even has a movie title, "Nil by mouth:"
I dreamed. I was reading Cormac McCarthy's Suttree, and there's a passage where the hero, lazing on his river boat on a hot summer day, pulls up a string from the water with a bottle of orange soda attached to it and drinks. I tasted that pop so clearly I can taste it today. Later he's served a beer in a frosted mug. I don't drink beer, but the frosted mug evoked for me a long-buried memory of my father and I driving in his old Plymouth to the A&W Root Beer stand (gravel driveways, carhop service, window trays) and his voice saying "...and a five-cent beer for the boy." The smoke from his Lucky Strike in the car. The heavy summer heat.

For nights I would wake up already focused on that small but heavy glass mug with the ice sliding from it, and the first sip of root beer. I took that sip over and over. The ice slid down across my fingers again and again. But never again.

He writes about how many memories are coming back now, that it's all there, events long ago sparked by a scene in a movie that was shot in a location near the memory. He talks about not missing food and drink as much as the company, :

What I miss is the society. Lunch and dinner are the two occasions when we most easily meet with friends and family. They're the first way we experience places far from home. Where we sit to regard the passing parade. How we learn indirectly of other cultures. When we feel good together. Meals are when we get a lot of our talking done -- probably most of our recreational talking. That's what I miss. Because I can't speak that's's another turn of the blade. I can sit at a table and vicariously enjoy the conversation, which is why I enjoy pals like my friend McHugh so much, because he rarely notices if anyone else isn't speaking. But to attend a "business dinner" is a species of torture. I'm no good at business anyway, but at least if I'm being bad at it at Joe's Stone Crab there are consolations.

When we drive around town I never look at a trendy new restaurant and wish I could eat there. I peer into little storefront places, diners, ethnic places, and then I feel envy. After a movie we'll drive past a formica restaurant with only two tables occupied, and I'll wish I could be at one of them, having ordered something familiar and and reading a book. I never felt alone in a situation like that. I was a soloist.

And as a man who not only embraced the Internet but created the most thriving individual movie critic's website, he closes with a deep understanding of how it's allowed him to connect personally with his readership:

So that's what's sad about not eating. The loss of dining, not the loss of food. It may be personal, but for, unless I'm alone, it doesn't involve dinner if it doesn't involve talking. The food and drink I can do without easily. The jokes, gossip, laughs, arguments and shared memories I miss. Sentences beginning with the words, "Remember that time?" I ran in crowds where anyone was likely to break out in a poetry recitation at any time. Me too. But not me anymore. So yes, it's sad. Maybe that's why I enjoy this blog. You don't realize it, but we're at dinner right now.

Let's hope he hangs in there, without severe chronic pain or debilitation, for longer that anyone expects.

As long as he can type.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Not on Their Watch

Don't be surprised if, somewhere down the line, we start finding out that Sarah Palin felt slighted in some way by her new employer, Fox News, or -- more likely, she gets some sort of chip about Glenn Beck and, to a lesser extent, Bill O'Reilly. Or, she'll say, their people -- maybe try to get a producer fired.

I say this because I've watched a few minutes of her debut interview with O'Reilly and then a few minutes of her hour with Glenn Beck the last night, and thought it was pretty evident that these big dogs were protecting their turf quite a bit more than enhancing her star. They were essentially fitting her into their script and using her draw as a way to enhance their own power -- O'Reilly by nailing her in the first few minutes by saying they'd covered the ground she was starting to trod the night before, Beck by calling her out on her "Bull crap!" when she starting doing her "I love them all" schtick on the favorite Founding Father question -- as she had when Katie Couric asked her what publications she reads:

When all else fails, who doesn't know that George Washington was the first President (the only job she wants that pays less than a million bucks a year)? "He 's got to rise to the top," like cream, I guess, letting us not only watch but hear her think. Beck asked her the simplest of questions in that anyone who's spent any time reading American Revolutionary history can name at last three other guys, Adams, Jefferson and Franklin. Or maybe she missed the HBO series.

Andrew Sullivan has an correct view on how she's being positioned by the FNC party (now having defacto control of the RNC at this point in history), to be the Washington-type reluctant candidate. You know, the thing that happens with the hero for most of the first act of every movie, until he's forced into action. Like, by acclamation of a Teabagger convention.

So it's clear she was set up with the Washington line, as she has to be set up with everything, a shiny vessel for reactionary political positions, but if she doesn't know yet, she's not their final tool of choice yet. Maybe it's their traditional sexism, maybe it's that she really is an outsider and they only see use for her as a fundraising vessel so far, but I think it's that they will do and say anything necessary not to make their own careers submissive to hers. Especially the ones competing for the limelight, for the television camera.

Not on their watch.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Haiti was already the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, having suffered for what seems like forever under hideously corrupt rule, the worst kind of sexual tourism, lack of any crucial resource or essence, a kind of inverse infrastructure that leads to shoddy homes and other buildings erected by and for the poor, the kind of no-code structures that multiply the number of casualties in an earthquake compared to wealthier countries with engineering rules. Just watch the buildings in the background of this video from the earthquake:

What has happened in Haiti and the aftermath is horrific. Not only are there potentially over 100,000 people killed, injuries will be sky high, disease will spread from the unburied bodies and loss of hospitals, not to mention ruined communications and transportation channels. Worst of all, for the living, may be the widespread homelessness from the destruction.

Will this focus worldwide attention on the poverty of Haiti in any lasting, meaningful way? Can it ultimately lead to any kind of improvement through tragedy?

Not if I know my Katrina.

Ways to help here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

TV Reality

I'm not sticking my neck out by saying that the whole NBC Jay Leno/Conan O'Brien and, to be fair, Jeff Zucker mess is playing out as slow motion train wreck. This is worse than when Jay took The Tonight Show from heir apparent David Letterman -- and look who's having the last laugh on that one:

and for analysis:

What Dave's referring to regarding Conan's smarts is the statement today by O'Brien that he won't be going along with any plan by NBC to put Leno back at 11:35pm and push The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien back to 12:05pm, where it is only sure to suffer further in the ratings. For the best analysis of Conan's statement (and some pretty good user comments) I refer you to Time magazine TV writer and blogger James Poniewozik.

For what's happening in Conan's corner behind the scenes, per the acid-keyboard of Nikki Finke, they are getting ready to rumble:
I've learned about a meeting that began at 1:45 PM at NBC Universal about The Conan War: On one side of the room -- NBCU bigwigs Jeff Gaspin and Marc Graboff. On the other -- O'Brien's reps: manager Gavin Palone, WME agent and board member Rick Rosen, and the newest member of Team O'Brien, Hollywood litigator Patty Glaser, who was hired on Sunday and is WME's legal shark of choice. I wouldn't want to be Gaspin or Graboff right now: Gavin can be as mean as a rabid dog, Rick's agency reps 60% of the TV talent, and Glaser is a pitbull. This is bloodsport.

Remember, the head of the new William Morris Agency/Endeavor merged company is Ari Emanuel, the most powerful agent in Hollywood, the model for Jeremy Piven's character on Entourage and the brother of the White House Chief of Staff.

Slow motion train wreck?

Or demolition derby...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Just for One Day

The saddest story in sports, Mark MacGwire comes clean in order to take a pitching coach job in peace. Is it just more evidence of our mass misplaced hero worship?

A real hero, Miep Gies, who protected Anne Frank and saved her diary.

A hero of the cinema, Eric Rohmer.

Her Satanic Majesty's Request.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

On Foreign Soil

Who leads U.S. foreign policy? According to the Constitution, it's the Executive Branch. But if you're John McCain and Joe Lieberman, maybe you think you're in charge of it:
Government sources said the threat of the US using economic leverage - such as withholding loan guarantees - to place pressure on Israel was not raised in the one-hour conversation. US Middle East envoy George Mitchell, when asked last Wednesday in a television interview what "sticks" the US had in its arsenal against Israel, raised the notion of withholding loan guarantees, although he quickly said this was not the direction the US wanted to go in.

Lieberman, after saying that an administration official had already disavowed Mitchell's statement, said that in his opinion "any attempt to pressure Israel, to force Israel to the negotiating table by denying Israel support, will not pass the Congress of the United States. In fact, the Congress will stop any attempt to do that. I don't think we will come to that point."

McCain was equally unequivocal, saying that this type of pressure would not be helpful "and I don't agree with it."

McCain added that he was sure that the administration would make it clear in the future that this was not its policy.

I support Israel the way the progressives in Israel support their own country, in that there has to be some kind of change in entrenched approach, otherwise it will not go well for Israel in the long run. Yes, there has to be strong defense against the forces that would like to wipe it off the map, and yes, there has to be some give on the Palestinian side, but if there is only the fist (think the atrocities coming to light from the most recent Gaza invasion), there will never be peace.

Is there anyone out there on the Likud side or to the right of it that has a real concept for a future that isn't just continued threat of aggression and extinction?

If so, I'd love to hear it. Status quo for the next millennium is a pipe dream.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Compare and Contrast

The difference between these two guys...extraordinary.

First, the bullying equivocator:

Second, the even-tempered President:

Looks like our nation dodged more than one bullet in 2008.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Rudy the Liar

Rudy Giuliani on the Today Show says that there were no terrorist attacks on American soil during the Bush Administration vs. the Obama Administration. Uh...Mr. 9/11, I don't think you're going senile yet.

At first the MSM, in the form of George Stephanopoulos, lets him get away with it:

Later George quite appropriately corrected himself for not having challenged Rudy's baldfaced lie. But Rudy can't even admit his mistake without yet another lie favoring the Administration that left Afghanistan dangling and allowed the man behind the 9/11 attack on America, Osama Bin Laden to get away in Tora Bora while heading to Iraq from whence we had not been attacked. Instead, Rudy drops incorrect information about the lame Bush response to the shoe bomber, when criticizing Obama for taking three days before addressing the public regarding the underwear bomber:
But this has been an extraordinarily long time given the magnitude of this kind of attack.

KING: President Bush took six days once in a similar incident.

GIULIANI: Well, six days is less than 10. And the reality is that President Bush was criticized for taking -- what was it, like 20 or 30 minutes in delaying his response to September 11th. And I believe that six days was before the September 11th attack.

No. It was after. And if Rudy doesn't really know that, he's not much of an expert, is he.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Concern Trolls

It's always charming when the mainstream media shows concern that things are baaad for the Democratic Party. Like, everytime they can. On one hand, the press is always looking for a horserace, from the beginning of human reporting through to the deep future. On the other hand, those villagers in DC are a bit sheltered.

So two Democratic Senators are retiring. Any news about the six Republican Senators leaving the game? Maybe the state-by-state breakdown favors the GOP and maybe you've got Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) on life support. Maybe the so-called sixty vote filibuster-proof majority (as we saw in the healthcare vote, not 100% reliable) will be a memory at this time next year. But let's look at the problems for the Republicans:
"[Republicans] are having some really bloodletting primaries in virtually all of their states. Particularly in open-seats, they are having these huge primaries," Menendez said. "Whether it is the tea party people or the birthers or others, the reality is that the extreme right wing of the Republican Party, they keep pushing their candidates further and further to the right... So, the bottom line is, they are going to be out of sync of where the mainstream electorate is in the midterm election."

Compounding matters for the GOP, Menendez predicted, was that Democrats will have actual legislative achievements upon which to structure their candidacies.

And not just current achievements:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

One final note: under Republican rule we had a decade with zero job growth.

Bag that.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Working Class Hero

The Kennedy Center Honors this year were spectacular choices and spectacle. Robert DeNiro, Mel Brooks, Dave Brubeck, Grace Bumbrey and the Boss, Bruce Springsteen. If you didn't get a chance to see the special on CBS last week, it's all on YouTube. The Springsteen tribute closed the show and, wow, it's thrilling. Here's the clips, starting with the hilarious, then moving Jon Stewart:

The second part starts has Vietnam vet Ron "Born on the Fourth of July" Kovic speaking about meeting Bruce, then John Mellencamp doing a two-part "Born in the U.S.A." segueing from his own style to Bruce's. Then comes a heartstopping duet of "I'm on Fire" by Ben Harper and Jennifer Nettles. She's new to me but blowaway great. Melissa Etheridge brings everyone spontaneously to their feet with her rendition of "Born to Run." (The edits are pretty evident here -- I've heard some whole numbers were cut for the TV special length as well.) Great watching everyone nodding and tapping to the music, especially the President and the First Lady:

The last section has Eddie Vedder followed by Sting and a cast of thousands:

The award was no doubt helped by the fact that the Boss worked for the President towards the end of the campaign, but how cool is it to have someone with tastes that some of us left out the previous eight years can actually relate to in a huge way?

I know my friends on the left love to complain about Obama, but I once again guarantee that even if a decent Dem succeeds him, we're going to miss having him as our Head of State.

Strap your hands across those engines...

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Brown is the New Back


Millionaire mall developer Rick Caruso, a longtime Republican fundraiser and pal of Arnold Schwarzenegger, said in an interview with the Huffington Post on Tuesday that he is backing Jerry Brown for governor.

Caruso -- who raised money for both Bushes -- said he believes Brown is the most qualified candidate to navigate California's political labyrinth during these troubled times.

"I want to make it clear that this is not a reaction by any stretch of the imagination to my buddy Arnold," Caruso said. "I think Arnold has done a great job, given the circumstances."

"Some of my other Republican friends might question this once the word gets. But I think they'll understand that because Sacramento is so screwed up, you need someone who knows the system. Jerry Brown has been on the ground and in the weeds."

Caruso added that he will hold a fundraiser for Brown at his Brentwood home on Feb. 2. He said he hopes it will raise tens of thousands of dollars from both Republicans and Democrats.

"It should be an exciting evening," Caruso said.

Caruso's stunning decision is a blow to the ambitions of ex-eBay CEO Meg Whitman.

If not Jerry, then who?

Monday, January 04, 2010

More Evidence?

A reliable source that change in Iran is not only on the way, but underway?

Q: Do you expect a collapse of the government any time soon?

A: The government has already collapsed. There's going to be big changes very soon. Believe me, it will happen soon. I can promise you that I will meet you for the next interview in Teheran very soon. However, I am afraid that the transition won't be peaceful. You see what has happened during the religious ceremony called Ashura a few days ago. They killed so many people, 11 to be exact, not eight as was reported by the western media.

We want to keep our country as the Islamic Republic of Iran, but religion and politics must be separated. We want to change the structure of the government. The good clerics should help the people and the government, while the bad ones should be ousted from government. If you look back at history, several hundreds years ago, the church controlled everything in Europe. We are experiencing the same situation. Some of the top Ayatollahs have a lot of power.

Q: What will it take to remove the people in power?

A: We are working on it. The western media could help us if they could talk directly to the Iranian people, to tell them the truth. This would help. The Iranian media don't belong to the people. They are controlled by the government which is using them to spread lies.

Q: You said you worked closely with the current supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Could you be more specific?

A: I have been working with him for almost 19 years. I saw him frequently, sometimes 10 times or more in one day. We were very close. I was a protector of the leadership apparatus. I was head of a committee for strengthening the Islamic State and preventing anything from weakening it. I helped him too much. He used to be a good, open-minded man until he started a close relationship with Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, a spiritual adviser to a group of hard-line fundamentalists. He is a very crazy man who hates Israel and the United States especially. Unfortunately, President Ahmadinejad is one of his big fans as well.

Q: Tell us about the clergy. Are they divided?

A: The Ayatollahs are very much divided. They have so many problems between each other. There are many Ayatollahs who have different views. However, the ones in the government have the power, not the others.

It is impossible to change Iran in a religious way. Iranian people are, have been and always will be religious people. However, I believe that politics and the religion might be divided soon.

Q: What is the feeling within the military? Can the government rely on them? Are they loyal?

A: At this moment, the government cannot rely 100% on the Iranian Army and even on the Revolutionary Guards, who are more powerful. There are now only a few hard-line religious people inside the Revolutionary Guards who are against the people.

There are some people inside the Revolutionary Guards who are against the government and side with the people. The government is aware of that. And the same applies to the Iranian Army. Many of them are now on the people's side. Many of them are now against the government, but they are afraid to say it openly because they might have problems.

As for the relationship between the Army and the Revolutionary Guards, theoretically they are united, but in a reality, they are not. They don't like or trust each other. The government trusts and gives more support and benefits to the Revolutionary Guards than to the Army. Some agents of the Revolutionary Guards are placed inside the Army to watch them both officially and secretly.


Sunday, January 03, 2010

A Peek into the Future?

Note to Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from Cormac McCarthy:

You can't stop what's coming...or can they?

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Minting New Marxists

I wasn't the only dad bringing a kid to the Marx Bros double feature on New Year's Day at Santa Monica's wonderful Aero Theater. It was a double bill of Duck Soup and Horsefeathers, made respectively in 1933 and 1932, and still convulsing the theater with laughter 77 years later, including the kids.

They do show up on TCM, but there's no substitute for the communal experience that improves the comedic experience. Go if you ever get the chance, classic scene samples below:


Friday, January 01, 2010

Scale and Fluidity

It seems churlish to criticize James Cameron's Avatar, but to get it out of the way, yes, the story becomes increasingly predictable as it goes along and, yes, the characters are skin -- or maybe texture map -- deep. The two standout performances are the vets. The level of gratitude felt when Sigourney Weaver first shows up is palpable, back for her second run with Cameron after he upped her Ridley character in Aliens. She not only provides pleasure in human form, but she also takes to her Na'vi avatar with complete commitment and is the most recognizable transformation of all the characters, kitten-like as native. And Stephen Lang, now in a late-career movie renaissance, is the best possible fit as military villain for this particular movie, a 3D Sgt. Rock-type figure bursting out from the screen more than any of the others, gorgeous claw-mark scars on the side of is head and one of the most memorable moments when he steps out in to the poisonous Pandora atmosphere to try to shoot down a heli-gizmo himself -- only once an aide comes out with an oxygen mask do we realize he's been holding his breath.

While I wouldn't be surprised if Cameron is once again passed over for a Best Screenplay nomination, the story does succeed in all it's pastiche in being moving at points and rousing at others, an obvious adaptation of the tragic genocide of the Native American peoples and culture, crossed with a little Iraq War resource grab. The politics are pleasing, and one can see potential sequels that could take the paradigms even further.

It's this emotional bigness that will secure Avatar the Best Picture/Most Picture award, and why not. The movie has something of a textbook quality, in the sense that future filmmakers will take lessons from it's use of both 3D and performance capture, and I'm betting some of them may think they're making further advances, only to go back to the source and find Cameron's already explored the particular possibility they have in mind.

Due to some past work in videogame production, I've been through the motion capture process, but the advances over the past decade have been huge, to the point where Cameron has solved two of the biggest problems. One is immediate feedback -- evidently he was able to do real-time compositing into rough versions of the 3D environments, effectively allowing him to edit in production and when the actors went home each night. No need to shoot coverage or even shoot shots in the traditional sense, just very advanced data capture and manipulation, a new form of shooting and editing, or at least on a scale never attempted before. (The Lord of the Rings series, particularly Gollum, is the most obvious and closest antecedent.) The other is facial capture, which Robert Zemeckis has tried perfecting on his recent 3D movies, always falling short on the eyes in particular, which is to say the most critical aspect of a film actor's performance. And this is where Cameron hits it out of the park.

Evidently the performance capture suits used by Cameron have a novel device, a camera on a headpiece pointing right back at the actor's face, no doubt with a wide angle lens married to some sort of software that maps with high accuracy to the character model faces. There's not a glimmer of disbelief that we're watching Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, CCH Pounder, Wes Studi, Sigourney et al giving the performance, and if there's an animator's hand further shaping or honing the facial tics and eye darts, it's not evident.

Then there's the 3D, which is used more to pull the viewer in than project out as has been overdone in the past. There's a brilliant early shot inside a huge space transport as Worthington and other cybernauts come out of cryogenic sleep that took my breath away, deep focus and deep 3D that would have made cinematographer Gregg Toland Citizen Kane jealous, a solid sci-fi image that made me want to delve deeper into that world, a fine way to get us started.

I saw it in IMAX which is the most Most Movie available, quite a treat, and essential to get the full impact of the more vertiginous scenes on the planet, high in the trees, above waterfalls, climbing floating mountains for which Yes album artist Roger Dean should earn a royalty. I pretty easily forgot that the entire planet -- as far as I know -- was an artificial construct, probably helped along by the life and death, avatar vs. lethal Pandoran nature early scenes. I certainly wasn't thinking about it during the big huge climactic battle, a new benchmark in mass destruction, impressive even by previous Cameron standards.

So is this The Jazz Singer of 2009, the movie game-changer? In terms of 3D, it's a big advance, but a lot of it was on the way -- Up stands out from this past year as a movie that used 3D successfully for scale and expansiveness, Coraline in a different way for atmosphere. In terms of performance capture, y-e-s.

It's all about scale and fluidity. Congrats to Cameron for making the ten-foot tall Na'vis convincing, and their size in some of their scenes with humans pries open the imagination as well. And for an art form that has historical striven for seamlessness, as the development of sound with pictures led to a more mimetic and immersive experience, the seamless integration of performance captures is a major achievement.

One has to wonder...what's next, Jim?


Here's to a Happy New Year to all, and a prediction that 2010 will generally go better than expected - year two of the Obama Administration building on the first steps of year one, a lot of capital chomping at the bit to find new places to invest or reinvest, increased global interconnectivity leading to increased global consciousness.

A boy can dream, can't he - and it can't be worse than the aughts and '09...can it?