Saturday, January 30, 2010

Well, At Least They Talked

It was an 80 minute therapy session American-style. Last night, President Obama faced 140 House Republicans who think that the President is a far-left socialist/communist/fascist. Needless to say, it got a little testy at times:

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If this entire political rehab session doesn't go down in history, then certainly Obama's "Bolshevik plot" quip will. I applaud Obama for fighting the whiners who still push the 75-year-old "socialized medicine" smear against health care reform.

This is the right way to debate major issues, and President Obama has the intellect and patience to stand up there, answer questions, reach across the aisle, and hold everybody accountable. I can't help but contrast this with Bush's prefabricated townhall meetings stuffed with supporters in order to give a false impression of public approval. Bush didn't have the brains or balls for real confrontation.

Neither did the House Republicans last night. Apparently, they have a few regrets about letting the cameras roll. They tried to bully, but they came across as meek and thin-skinned. That's not good for the poll numbers I guess.

But hearing Republicans regurgitate their talking points reminds me of the sad fact that we are now stuck in 4-year campaign cycles complete with divisiveness and scheming. That's not good for any of us.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


We saw the passing of two important men yesterday.

Howard Zinn was an anti-war activist and historian. He's best known for his book A People's History of the United States in which he presented a very different perspective of US history through the often-submerged voices of blacks, women, American Indians, war resisters, and poor laborers of all nationalities.

His friends, though, will remember him for much more than books. Daniel Ellsberg, well known for leaking the Pentagon Papers, knew Zinn as a passionate and peaceful war protester. He recently described Zinn as "the best human being I’ve ever known. The best example of what a human can be, and can do with their life."

I'm a little embarrassed to say I only started reading A People's History this year, but I think that's a bittersweet attestation that his work will enlighten people for many more generations.

Howard Zinn died of a heart attack on Wednesday. He was 87. Rest in peace.

J.D. Salinger was an influential American writer. His novel The Catcher in the Rye was a cultural phenomena that defined teen angst. And maybe because of this, and because Salinger was the type of writer you wanted to have a drink with, just like his most famous protagonist, Holden Caulfield, would have admired, Salinger became a reluctant celebrity and then a recluse. Though he last published in 1965, fans are hopeful that he continued to write and that his archive will one day be released.

J.D. Salinger died on Wednesday. He was 91. Rest in peace.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Dead Crabs Walking

This post is a brief change of pace for my blog, but I had an opportunity to interview a promising new film producer with stubbornly opinionated views on technology and film-making.

Michael Tandecki is a freelance contractor at Weta Digital, a visual effects company based in Wellington, New Zealand. He's also an independent filmmaker currently working on a campy feature film called Crab Island! Mike graciously agreed to sit down for an exclusive interview where we discussed the influence of technology on modern film production and story telling.

It sounds like you're working on movies 24/7. How do your own projects differ from your day job?

Well first of all, at my day job we work on films with at least 100 million dollar budgets, with a crew of around 600-2000 people. My current project is being self funded, (and we'll say costs much less than 100m), and I have a crew of three people and a cast of six.

When you work in a huge studio you're focused on a single aspect of the film. Every person is a part of the process, usually with just a single specific task. When I make my own films, I am the writer, director, editor, cinematographer, producer, animator, foley, and so on. That's one of the caveats of using your own money.

Do you use any animation in your own projects? How do you handle visual effects?

I've always been determined to make films I want to see. This time I chose a big monster movie. So the logical step would be to use digital effects, much like what I work on at my day job. However I grew up with films by Ray Harryhausen and Willis O'Brien. Every single one of their movies, which were originally all stop motion puppets, are being remade in 3D digital effects.

I, in my admitted stubbornness, am going the opposite direction. I'm going to actually do stop motion puppet animation for my film. This involves me using dead crabs, then animating them frame by frame by hand. The mixing of the live action and the animation will be done using a few techniques, one using computers to composite them. The crabs will be shot on a miniature green screen stage so I can digitally composite them into the footage, which is basically taking a cut out of the 2nd image and placing it on top of the original.

In movies like Transformers, and more recently Coraline, the graphics and effects amuse me for about 15 minutes, but then the story has to keep my interest or I grow bored. Do you think film studios are relying too much on the "gee whiz" eye-candy factor?

Yeah, this is a point of frustration for me. I am fully aware that the premise of my film, and the final product is not "high art," but I really hope that the story is at least compelling and the characters keep people entertained throughout.

Coraline, I really wanted to love. It was an old school stop motion film in 3D. However I felt the story fell flat.

Transformers, well that's another great example. I grew up with the series, and I remember the original film (1986 cartoon). The original film had a huge impact on me, it was the first time I remember seeing a hero of mine die. Optimus Prime dies in the film, and as a 9 year old boy, that was pretty intense. I had a relation to the characters and the story line. The new film had a lot of FX and no real cohesive story. It really let me down; I didn't understand the point of having a director who was in his 20's or so when the series first aired. All the kids that grew up with that series are in their 30's. There are plenty of directors (including me) who would have given their appendix to make it. It became immediately apparent that the creative team behind the film were removed from the source, and ended up with a bunch of eye candy, but no particular substance.

This is why I love the old style films, and am trying to make a film using those techniques. The original 1933 King Kong was the first film where I actually felt really sad when a huge monkey falls off of a building after being pummeled by airplanes. That film (King Kong) had what would be considered terrible visual effects by today's standard, but they still blow me away, not only visually but also the character seemed to have a heart -- something that seems to be missing in lots of these VFX heavy films. The "wow" seems to weigh in more heavily than the story. And yes, I know how silly it sounds coming from a guy whose movie has the tag line "Holy Shit!, That's one big fucking crab," but still, I stand by that my story holds up better than most.

Is 3-d here to stay? It's probably not as fun as using dead crabs.

3D was supposed to be here to stay when it was adopted in the "golden era" of 3D film [1952-1955]. At least back then they '"got it" -- they used it as a gimmick. Which is exactly what it is. I want to see things poking out at me, and duck when something flies over. However, I found in the latest batches of "serious" 3D films that we're more looking into the world versus being brought into it. The problem I personally have with 3D is that I have a problem focusing on the really distant and fast motion sequences. I end up just getting headaches after 30 minutes.

So will it stick, this time, almost 60 years later? Who knows, they are bringing it into our homes, so that's the next big step. I really have to be in the mood to throw on some glasses and know I'm walking into a headache to watch something in 3D. I like 3D in the cinemas, but I don't see myself going for it at home. And let's call an orange an orange, 3D is a gimmick; it's great fun, but without compelling stories, the gimmick will wear off quickly.

What do you think about digital technology keeping actors young forever?

I think it's creepy not allowing people to age. It would kind of creep me out if my parents never got any older, nor myself. It's a part of life, and a natural part at that. Also, by using digital technology to keep everyone young, it kind of stops us from finding the stars of the next generation.

What do you think of this photoshopped image on Gizmodo? The comment beneath it says "an Atari 2600 edition of Avatar would still get most of the point across." Regarding digital effects in general, is that comment silly or insightful?

I think it's fucking brilliant! And as I have my Atari 2600 on standby, I would boot that game up in a heart beat, and I guarantee the load times would smash that of any other currently released Avatar game.

I haven't read the script for Crab Island, but I'm betting it doesn't promote any particular ethos regarding capitalism, religion, tree-hugging or war. Would you ever make a film with a controversial or partisan message? Do you think it's foolish to engineer a happy ending when a film takes on such controversial topics?

Like I mentioned before, I make movies that I want to see. And in saying that, I just want to be entertained when I'm sitting in front of a movie screen. My sense of entertainment is laughter, action, drama, and so on. I'm not personally drawn to controversial / partisan messages in terms of social awareness or politics. I guarantee that I will be considered controversial but more in the ludicrousness of my characters.

I like comedy where people think there shouldn't be any, much like South Park -- I find that writing brilliant. It's a strange power you have when you write a story, movie, or anything else that will be seen by others. You can either tell the unbiased truth, or you can tell your message. I think the engineered "happy endings" come from people believing so strongly in what they're selling that they think it's what people want to digest -- much like high fructose corn syrup in America. But also you have to realize, the truth is damn boring, we want story tellers to entertain us. Even the most plain documentary is told at some slanted view, even if it's just camera angles, where the lens focuses and so on.

It's a brilliant medium, you have sound and vision and people have no chance to talk back, the images do not respond to heckling, they just keep going on. I'm pretty off topic I'm sure, so to sum up: Would I make a controversial film with an agenda, of course, you just gotta pay me enough to fool me into thinking I believe it. (It'd have to be a pretty big paycheck, I'm pretty stubborn). And if I made that film, I would definitely put the happiest ending possible, everyone would get married and have lots of money.

Do you think China or the Vatican would ever oppose one of your movies?

I don't think they'll oppose this particular one. I don't really have any plans to offend either, but they do seem rather touchy on most fronts, so you never know! I think if one of my films ever showed up on either of their radars, well shit, I'd be surprised and thrilled!

Finally, I noticed on Facebook that you have over 340,000 points in Bejeweled Blitz. How the hell do you do it?

I strive to do the best at everything I do. I saw that someone on my friends list had over 250,000 points when I first started playing. I could only get up to 35,000 so I figured there had to be a trick. I soon learned there wasn't, but sadly after 100 hours or so I found my groove. I try to use this determination in everything I do, from my day job, making movies, cooking, and well, sadly, playing online video games.

Thanks for talking to me tonight. Crab Island! sounds like a timeless fable embodying everything human and universal.

Thank you for taking the time to talk with me. I really hope that Crab Island! really opens people's eyes and hearts to what's going on in those parts of the world. It's a human message that I hope will continue to carry on for future generations.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tap Water Gate

"I never made it all the way through 'All the President's Men'. What happens?" -- James O'Keefe (via pittswiley on Twitter)
The FBI has arrested the white pimp, otherwise known as James O'Keefe. O'Keefe was among four men who created a ruse to enter the New Orleans office of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), saying they needed to repair her telephones, according to court records unsealed Tuesday.

I wonder if their repairman costumes were any better than O'Keefe's pimp costume? And does O'Keefe own enough costumes for a Village People cover band? But I digress...

All four men are charged with entering federal property under false pretenses with the intent of committing a felony. If it is found that their intent was electronic surveillance, they could be looking at 20 years or more in prison:

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One of the alleged accomplices, Robert Flanagan, has friends in high places: His father, William Flanagan, is the acting US Attorney for Western LA, and 24-year-old Robert recently interned for Congresswoman Mary Fallin (R-OK). Fallin, coincidentally, is one of just 31 Representatives who co-sponsored a resolution honoring James O’Keefe for his ACORN filmmaking / editing.

But the Republicans will try to blow this all off as a harmless prank or third-rate burglary... just like Watergate.

I'm certain conservative hero O'Keefe will look cute in his new jailbird costume.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Starve the Poor

Dear Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer,

When your grandma told you to quit feeding stray animals, she meant dogs and cats, not schoolchildren, you dumbass.

The Daily Dorkmonger

(YouTube video)

The South Carolina Republican didn't sound any less ridiculous in his "apology."

So now that Andre Bauer has admitted that starving the poor is the new Republican strategy, maybe we should take a moment to remember why The National School Lunch Program was created in the first place:
The depression of the 1930's brought on widespread unemployment. Millions of people in the cities lost their jobs and were without means of support for themselves and their families. They were obliged to seek help through public assistance programs.

Much of the production of the farm went begging for a market, surpluses of farm products continued to mount, prices of farm products declined to a point where farm income provided only a meager subsistence. Millions of school children were unable to pay for their school lunches, and with but limited family resources to provide meals at home, the danger of malnutrition among children became a national concern. Federal assistance became essential, and Congressional action was taken in 1935 to aid both agriculture and the school lunch program.
I'm glad that 70-something years ago people understood that poverty could lead to malnutrition which could hamper a child's ability to learn. Bauer, in his backwards logic, blames food for hungry children on low test scores. Oh, but he adamantly supports religious license plates. Go figure. Maybe he's a little malnourished himself?

And as far as this "culture of dependence" goes, I'm sure it's possible to compile a long list of people who benefited from The National School Lunch Program and later escaped the cycle of poverty.

The bigger question is this: will our banks ever get out of this culture of dependence? Or how about the beneficiary state of South Carolina?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

We Aren't the World

Did anybody watch the Hope for Haiti Now benefit concert last night? It aired on just about every channel, but I avoided it. My objections to the show had nothing to do with Haiti and everything to do with smug and annoying pop-stars I don't like shedding tears for the camera.

I understand that telethons are used to spread awareness as well as raise money. During the 1985 Live Aid concert, donations were only trickling in, but during a break, a short film was broadcast showing starving and diseased Ethiopian children. The rate of giving became faster in the immediate aftermath of the heartbreaking video.

However, last night's concert extravaganza didn't serve the same enlightening purpose. In the days since the Haiti earthquake, we have all seen plenty of pictures of destruction and suffering. If everybody is already aware of the earthquake, then how does the telethon really help? Or why does it help? Are there really people who need to see Justin Timberlake singing Hallelujah before they'll donate? Yes, apparently there are millions of people like that.

A few days ago I got into an argument about this on a Sims board. Yes, you read that right. I got into an argument on a message board for the Sims video game. Some players wanted the game makers to sell special Haiti themed game items and donate a percentage of the profits to the Haiti relief fund. Zynga is doing something similar with Farmville. My caustic response was, "Give directly to the Red Cross and don't worry about what's in it for you and your fake people." Wow. That did not go over well with the other Simmers. I guess I should get over the idea that people should be altruistic.

I think Stephen Colbert was brilliant with his new Humanitarish Award for cost-benefit analyzed generosity:

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By the way, the best TV show last night was Conan O'Brien's Tonight Show farewell. He was funny, and classy, and went out jamming on the guitar. Somebody has to give him another television show, or we'll all be stuck watching that deranged jaywalker.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Gotta Teach 'Em All

Half of youngsters aged nine to 11 are unable to identify a daddy-long-legs, oak tree, or bluebell, in a poll by BBC Wildlife Magazine.

Well, the obvious solution is to go play outside... or more flash cards and video games I guess.

The Phylomon Project, impressed with the many children who can identify and classify hundreds of Pokemon, aims to create a non-commercial-open-access-open-source "Pokemon card type resource," but with real creatures.

I remember being a kid, and any time any adult tried to make learning fun, it usually sucked. The better approach is to make fun educational. While playing Pokemon, for example, you do a little math, come up with a strategy, diversify your team, and test your Pokemon in a battle system that's a lot like cockfighting...

I'm not really sure they can sneak cockfighting into a conservationist's game. They can't deny that battling and leveling-up are huge aspects of the Pokemon franchise. A good story has to have some kind of adversity. A good game needs to have some kind of reward for your efforts.

In A Theory of Fun for Game Design, author Raph Koster says that "most gamers are so bottom-line that if an activity doesn't give a quantifiable reward, they'll consider it irrelevant." is setting their goal on trading cards, though, and not a video game. But without the battles, stories, and cute anime, isn't this just a box of flash cards? Nice try, but most kids won't fall for it.

Also, I must remember to pre-order that new Pokemon game... for my nephew, of course.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Senator in the Centerfold

Get used to this picture, because I'm going to post it every time I mention Scott Brown. He's the Republican who won the Massachusetts special election to replace Edward M. Kennedy in the US Senate, in case you haven't heard.

He's kind of a Sarah Palin with about the same amount of gray matter but more testosterone, and he wants you to know that he drives a truck, and his daughters are available.

This would all be kind of funny except it's going to be even harder to pass health care reform now. Fox News pundits have gleefully proclaimed that "health care is dead!" Predictably, the spiteful, privileged, conservative, rich men are happy that the rest of us will suffer. I wonder if they laugh when they read the obituaries?

I don't know if health care is dead or if it's just on life support, but the Massachusetts vote is not a referendum on reform. This is a vote by one small state that already has their own health care reforms in place. And paradoxically, among the Brown supporters who are against the Senate health care bill, 23 percent thought the bill went "too far" -- but 36 percent thought it didn't go far enough and 41 percent said they weren't sure why they opposed it.

There are still ways that Democrats can pass a health care reform bill, if they can grow some balls and realize Republicans are going to piss and moan the whole way through.

Also, Scott Brown would like you to know one other thing: that sexy bod is only for the ladies.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Pray for Anything You Want

Pray4Trig, a site promoting a worldwide day of prayer to heal Trig Palin, can't be serious, right?
Also, it is known publicly that Trig Palin indeed has Down Syndrome. Science has no way to undo this condition, which is the result of an extra chromosome; but God can. When Trig Palin is found to be miraculously healed, everyone but the most hardened atheist will have to acknowledge God’s Majesty!
Poor Trig. He's always being used as a prop: first, by a narcissistic mother with political aspirations, and now by an idiot third party with a religious agenda or sick sense of humor depending how you look at it.

Of course, in reality land people would do better to pray for -- no, strive for -- respect and understanding for everybody like Trig.

But I guess that's not how a holy roller rolls, so I'll assume for a moment that the intentions of the site owner are completely sincere. Of course, both success and the inevitable failure of these prayers will be held up as "proof." When every cell in Trig's body is not "cured" of its extra chromosome, supporters will say that God is testing them or some such... or maybe Pat Robertson can drag out the pact with the devil thing or tell the baby that he lacks faith. A cool thing about science is that even if you don't believe in it, it still works.

But it's the glaring hypocrisy in these prayer vigils that pisses me off. A person who really believes in God won't doubt his perfect creation. Trig was created with that extra chromosome. It's the divine plan and all that. Oh, let me get George Carlin to explain it:

(YouTube video)

So even if that site ends up being a parody, at least we enjoyed a good Carlin video.


A strange epiphany hit me over lunch with friends on Friday. Whenever a potential love interest has sent me a poem (and there has only been a few, believe me), I end up creeped out and anything but romanced. My lunch guest said to me, "Poe. You've read too much Poe."

Possibly. Or maybe I'll blame it on not too much but too early an exposure to the macabre poet. I really only remember two poets we studied in ninth grade English class. One was Robert Frost, and the other was Edgar Allan Poe. And I had to memorize something by one of them, but now I don't remember what. A lot of good that did me -- just a lingering dark notion of poetry. Thanks ninth grade English teacher.

Coincidentally, Edgar Allan Poe was born on this day in 1809. I see he still gets a little press and provides a little mystery at his resting place.

Since we are experiencing some awesome thunderstorms today, here is The Raven:

(YouTube video)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Let Freedom Ring

"When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'" — Martin Luther King, Jr.
What is it with the people who surround me? Simply mention Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in passing, and they roll their eyes as if you just told the worst joke ever. Why? They're not even echoing the old Republican objection that "the establishment of a public holiday to honor a private citizen would be contrary to our country’s longstanding tradition." No, they're too ignorant to even know that much. The disdain of my Caucasian friends and family comes from something else.

I think there is a deep denial or willful ignorance about how King profoundly changed our country with an unyielding belief in peace and justice. How unshakable were his beliefs?

A decade before King was assassinated, Izola Ware Curry attempted to kill King as he sat in a Manhattan department store signing copies of "Stride Toward Freedom." Curry, a part-time maid from Georgia, plunged a letter opener deep into King's chest. King forgave her, and, when asked about the incident, spoke of the urgent necessity for nonviolence to govern the affairs of men.

On January 30, 1956, Martin Luther King, Jr. suffered another tragedy. His home was bombed. After he checked on his family, he said this to the angry crowd:
"Don’t get panicky. Don’t do anything panicky. Don’t get your weapons. If you have weapons, take them home. He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword. Remember that is what Jesus said. We are not advocating violence. We want to love our enemies. I want you to love our enemies. Be good to them. This is what we must live by. We must meet hate with love."
While researching MLK today, I found this rare and forgotten comic book about the Montgomery Bus Boycott. One particular little panel of the comic stands out to me: "if a man can see his home bombed and not fight back -- except with love -- then there is hope for all of us." I have no problem honoring that man.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Fast Isn't Fast Enough (updated)

According to Satan's lawyers, the winning bidder of this Pat Robertson Voodoo Doll will take on full legal responsibility if anything bad should happen to Robertson. But don't let that stop you. Bidding on the item ends January 26 -- more than a week from now.

Which brings me to another matter that my friend Trung pointed out on his blog. In this age of instant messaging, our aid to Haiti isn't so instant. In fact, if you're text messaging your donations, your mobile carrier may not submit your money to charity until after you've paid your bill. This may lead to delays of 30 to 60 days. The best way to help the people of Haiti is to donate directly to respectable charities.

By the way, the whole idea of Haitian voodoo dolls is really just an idea conjured up by Hollywood. When you see those spooky little dolls in shops in Haiti or New Orleans, they are only there there to amuse the tourists.

Anyway, I never thought I'd be doing PR for voodoo, but while I'm at it, I might as well print some PR for Satan. He wants the world to know that he's never made any deals with Haiti:
Dear Pat Robertson,

I know that you know that all press is good press, so I appreciate the shout-out. And you make God look like a big mean bully who kicks people when they are down, so I'm all over that action.

But when you say that Haiti has made a pact with me, it is totally humiliating. I may be evil incarnate, but I'm no welcher. The way you put it, making a deal with me leaves folks desperate and impoverished.

Sure, in the afterlife, but when I strike bargains with people, they first get something here on earth -- glamour, beauty, talent, wealth, fame, glory, a golden fiddle. Those Haitians have nothing, and I mean nothing. And that was before the earthquake. Haven't you seen "Crossroads"? Or "Damn Yankees"?

If I had a thing going with Haiti, there'd be lots of banks, skyscrapers, SUVs, exclusive night clubs, Botox -- that kind of thing. An 80 percent poverty rate is so not my style. Nothing against it -- I'm just saying: Not how I roll.

You're doing great work, Pat, and I don't want to clip your wings -- just, come on, you're making me look bad. And not the good kind of bad. Keep blaming God. That's working. But leave me out of it, please. Or we may need to renegotiate your own contract.

Best, Satan

Well, now we know how Robertson got his fame.

(update: Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile have agreed to release the money upfront.)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Midnight Hour

First, a little bit of trivia: The “secret unlock code” on US nuclear missiles during the height of the nuclear crises of the Cold War remained constant at OOOOOOOO.

The Doomsday Clock is a symbolic clock face, maintained since 1947 by the board of directors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS), that uses the analogy of the human species being at a time that is "minutes to midnight", wherein midnight represents "catastrophic destruction" by nuclear, environmental, or technological means.

The BAS has turned back the clock one minute, bringing us six minutes to midnight. The BAS announced the adjustment today at a news conference in New York:
"By shifting the hand back from midnight by only one additional minute, we emphasize how much needs to be accomplished, while at the same time recognizing signs of collaboration among the United States, Russia, the European Union, India, China, Brazil, and others on nuclear security and on climate stabilization."
Of course, this doesn't make up for the two minutes closer it moved in 2007, or the two minutes closer it moved in 2002, or the five minutes closer it moved in 1998. In fact, six minutes to midnight really doesn't sound all that reassuring. Tck Tck Tck.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Pact with the Devil

Maybe Pat Robertson thought that earthquake was in Hades and not Haiti? Why else would he be telling these fairy tales about pacts with the devil:

(MediaMatters video)

I live in California, and we are also often accused of dealings with the devil. However, somehow our civil engineering and strict adherence to building codes have minimized our losses during comparable earthquakes. True story.

But I'm thoroughly tired, disgusted, and dismayed by the childish and superstitious explanations for "why bad things happen." What is this? The dark ages? Haiti has had a series of disasters including flooding, tropical storms, and hurricanes which they are vulnerable to because of geography, soil erosion, and deforestation. Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas, and their government has a history of corruption. No wonder they can't make a building stand:

Haiti is 80% Roman Catholic and 16% Protestant, and during a time of heartbreaking crisis, a leading American Christian stigmatizes them with blame and bullshit. They don't need this.

The Late Shift

What the hell is going on with NBC? Are they imploding?

I just watched Conan O'Brien's opening monologue tonight, and then I read the statement he released on Tuesday:
People of Earth:

In the last few days, I've been getting a lot of sympathy calls, and I want to start by making it clear that no one should waste a second feeling sorry for me. For 17 years, I've been getting paid to do what I love most and, in a world with real problems, I've been absurdly lucky. That said, I've been suddenly put in a very public predicament and my bosses are demanding an immediate decision.

Six years ago, I signed a contract with NBC to take over The Tonight Show in June of 2009. Like a lot of us, I grew up watching Johnny Carson every night and the chance to one day sit in that chair has meant everything to me. I worked long and hard to get that opportunity, passed up far more lucrative offers, and since 2004 I have spent literally hundreds of hours thinking of ways to extend the franchise long into the future. It was my mistaken belief that, like my predecessor, I would have the benefit of some time and, just as important, some degree of ratings support from the prime-time schedule. Building a lasting audience at 11:30 is impossible without both.

But sadly, we were never given that chance. After only seven months, with my Tonight Show in its infancy, NBC has decided to react to their terrible difficulties in prime-time by making a change in their long-established late night schedule.

Last Thursday, NBC executives told me they intended to move the Tonight Show to 12:05 to accommodate the Jay Leno Show at 11:35. For 60 years the Tonight Show has aired immediately following the late local news. I sincerely believe that delaying the Tonight Show into the next day to accommodate another comedy program will seriously damage what I consider to be the greatest franchise in the history of broadcasting. The Tonight Show at 12:05 simply isn't the Tonight Show. Also, if I accept this move I will be knocking the Late Night show, which I inherited from David Letterman and passed on to Jimmy Fallon, out of its long-held time slot. That would hurt the other NBC franchise that I love, and it would be unfair to Jimmy.

So it has come to this: I cannot express in words how much I enjoy hosting this program and what an enormous personal disappointment it is for me to consider losing it. My staff and I have worked unbelievably hard and we are very proud of our contribution to the legacy of The Tonight Show. But I cannot participate in what I honestly believe is its destruction. Some people will make the argument that with DVRs and the Internet a time slot doesn't matter. But with the Tonight Show, I believe nothing could matter more.

There has been speculation about my going to another network but, to set the record straight, I currently have no other offer and honestly have no idea what happens next. My hope is that NBC and I can resolve this quickly so that my staff, crew, and I can do a show we can be proud of, for a company that values our work.

Have a great day and, for the record, I am truly sorry about my hair; it's always been that way.


I'm a total night-owl, and I've always liked both Conan and Leno's shows. Why did NBC screw with a good lineup? In 2004, when the future change was announced, I kind of figured Leno was retiring. So when I heard he would have a new show, I thought it was kind of cool. I'm not exactly TV network savvy, so I didn't anticipate Leno's low ratings... but neither did NBC.

Some say the 10pm timeslot shouldn't matter in this day of DVRs and streaming video. I'm not so sure. Maybe because it's a show that airs every day, I know if I recorded it, I'd never get around to watching all of them. I watch the show when it airs... if I remember that it's on. That's the key thing. 10pm just didn't work for me. Some nights there are other shows I want to watch at that time, and also 10pm is my prime-time for blogging.

But giving the Tonight Show back to Leno, after a mere 7 months with Conan as host, crushes my loyalty to NBC and Leno. Leno will come out looking like a jerk. NBC just looks stupid.

Are they stupid? They expect to lose money broadcasting the Vancouver Olympics. Now there is something I'm not into: the Olympics. Seems every time I turn around, there's an Olympic broadcast dominating the television schedule. There's the perfect opportunity for new media and streaming video if NBC honestly wants to be experimental.

I'm not mocking experimenting. If anything, they should stick with the experiment. NBC should give Conan more than seven months to develop an audience. And for Leno? Make room for him somewhere else. What about the weekends? I'd love to have some decent comedy to watch on Sunday nights.

Or he could retire from television and build some kind of automobile empire. That's not a bad idea actually.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Torture Memo Guy

NYT: A psychiatrist might say you are in denial.
Yoo: I deny that I am in denial.
(New York Times interview with John C. Yoo)
Neither Jon Stewart nor I are constitutional lawyers, but we can't be fooled by John Yoo's doubletalk:

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Yoo became even more frustratingly evasive in part 2 of the interview. Yoo claims that somehow we had not defined what Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions meant, yet the Bush administration could weasel with the definition of "at war" to meet their needs: we are at war when we want to give the president more power, but we are not at war when we want to torture prisoners.

And I think Yoo was trying to say -- it's hard to know exactly what he was trying to say -- that we had no idea what constituted torture. However, we had manuals on the topic: JTF GTMO "SERE" Interrogation Standard Operating Procedure. And 40 years ago we court-martialed a US soldier who waterboarded Vietnamese prisoners.

In part 3 of the interview, Yoo continues to defend the idea that the president should have unchecked power when there is war. Whenever the president decides we are not at war, then he can stop being king. Stewart is amazed that a conservative would defend this. Also, the Supreme Court has, on the ruling of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, differed.

At this point, I hardly care about the dubious legal basis for Yoo's infamous torture memos. When Yoo says "remember the time we were in..." I'm not persuaded. I don't understand anybody who says we should abandon laws, treaties, and principles because we're scared. I do, however, understand the lack of morality in torture and the danger of an executive branch with unlimited power.

Mr. Torture Memo is still teaching law in California.

Monday, January 11, 2010


(Image via GoComics)

"The purpose of terrorism is to provoke an overreaction. Its real aim is not to kill the hundreds of people directly targeted but to sow fear in the rest of the population. Terrorism is an unusual military tactic in that it depends on the response of the onlookers. If we are not terrorized, then the attack didn't work. Alas, this one worked very well. " -- Fareed Zakaria

Thursday, January 07, 2010

On Their Terms

I was glad I caught the Rachel Maddow show tonight:

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It's even clearer now how Osama bin Laden provoked and baited us. Well, I thought it was easy to see in 2004, but apparently most of the country thought it was a good idea to reelect Bush. But I digress. We're fighting these wars on al Qaeda's terms running off to whatever impoverished and unstable country they're hiding out in.

The interview with Evan Kohlmann (about 7:40 into the above video) was the really insightful part. Anybody (me included) can point out what's wrong with our homeland security tactics, but Kohlmann points out what we could be doing differently in the Muslim world. For example, we could do proper intelligence work and continuously draw attention to the fact that more Muslim civilians die at the hands of al Qaeda than Americans do.

By the way, if you're keeping score on how many Muslim countries we're entangled in, don't count out Iraq just yet. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad has plans to double in size. What was it that bin Laden said about "bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy"?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Life is Dangerous

(YouTube video)

Retired Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney wants to be very serious and harsh about profiling. He wants to strip search all 18-28 year old Muslim men at the airport. This isn't "racial profiling" according to him. It's just "profiling."

Here are my random thoughts:
  • We'll see more 29-year-old terrorists.
  • We'll see more female terrorists.
  • We'll see more exploding diapers on children.
  • We'll see more terrorists wearing crosses around their necks.
  • We won't see any of this because terrorists will pick new targets.
  • Osama Bin Laden will do the next attack himself because he can fly without being strip searched.
  • I'm not sure any new rules will stop a terrorist who is willing to die.
  • Is it just me, or did McInerney seem a little bit aroused over his own plans?
  • Somebody at FOX News didn't like this idea? Wow.
Also, relying on stereotypes is ineffective and dangerous. Being against this type of profiling is not "political correctness."

And I said this a few days ago, but it's worth repeating: this isn't security. It's a useless, knee-jerk reaction.

On a related note, another bloviating radio host wants to "scrutinize anybody with the name Abdul." What? She's not even on American Idol anymore. Leave her alone.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Traditional Divorce

(image via Miami Herald)

I've always felt that if Republicans were serious about defending marriage, then they would outlaw divorce. The consequences of divorce have been studied for decades. On the other hand, the consequences of gay marriage don't seem so daunting.

It's no secret that Republicans are hypocrites on this issue, but when Karl Rove (the man who used fear-mongering on same-sex marriage to turn around elections and pass bans) asks for privacy after obtaining a divorce under Texas' "no fault" divorce law, I have to say "No! You can't have your privacy!" You want to be the pious judge over the marriages of other people? You want to be the defender of marriage? Did your traditional wedding vows say anything about "til death do us part"? Then no, I don't think you deserve any privacy.

Maybe Rove can rebrand himself as the Champion of Traditional Divorce.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Bright Ideas

I was sorting through my folders of images -- or folder I should say... nothing like downloading all your images into one folder -- trying to figure out what to put on my new Sony digital picture frame. The picture to the left didn't make the cut, but I've been meaning to work it into some blog post somewhere. So here it is.

"The use of Electricity for lighting is in no way harmful to health, nor does it affect the soundness of sleep."

They worried about stuff like that back then, but apparently fires were a much bigger concern. A mere three years after Edison demonstrated the practicality of the light bulb, another inventor, Edward Hibberd Johnson, was ready to string them on Christmas trees. Unfortunately, it would be many more years until somebody invented the pre-lit artificial Christmas tree.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Imprecatory Prayers

I'm not a big fan of religion, and the concept of an imprecatory prayer -- an invocation of evil -- is the exact type of poisonous bullshit that has driven me away. It doesn't fit with my idea of spirituality and enlightenment. Pray, if you're going to pray, for all people, even your enemies, to be well, happy, and peaceful. If they are well, happy, and peaceful, then, you know, they won't be your enemies any more.

When Rush Limbaugh was hospitalized last week, many blogs quickly responded with hate-filled comments. During his radio career, Limbaugh has sowed many seeds of hate. Crooks and Liars notes some of Limbaugh's most vile diatribes towards sick and dying individuals, and also reminds us about the wingnuts who had their own imprecatory prayers for President Obama.

So it doesn't surprise me from a quick glance at Twitter that many people wanted Limbaugh to die. A few would have preferred that he recovered, walked out of the hospital, and then got run over by a bus. Of course, there is always a place for dark humor, but I think the ideal happy ending would have had Limbaugh transformed by his near-death experience, realize his errors, repent for his sins, and devote his life towards helping the downtrodden.

Obnoxious-jerk-becomes-a-better-person is a way better storyline than obnoxious-jerk-drops-dead. I've always been a sucker for stories like A Christmas Carol and Groundhog's Day.

But that's not the way it's going to be for Limbaugh. He is using his experience to conclude that America doesn't need health-care reform. Of course, he fails to mention that Hawaii, where he was hospitalized, has already instituted many of the reforms that are needed for the rest of the country. Also, nobody has ever claimed that multi-millionaires like Limbaugh have any trouble getting health-care.

But the biggest lie that Limbaugh is promoting is that this entire fight over health-care reform is because there is something wrong with our medical professionals, our technology, our facilities, or our ability to treat the ill. That is not the reason for the battle. The reality is that the uninsured do not have the same access to quality health-care. They might get the same emergency room care as Limbaugh, but the long-term care isn't going to be there or it will bankrupt them.

But Limbaugh will remain callous towards the plight of others. So I wish that he be well, happy, and peaceful, but should he suddenly take a turn for the worse, then Thursday's precondolences still stand: oh well.