Thursday, January 31, 2008

Deja Vote

Hard core Conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham claim that many "true" Republicans would sit out the next election if John McCain gets the nomination.

Sounding as ridiculous as Alec Baldwin in 2004 when he pledged to move to Canada if Bush was re-elected, Ann Coulter said that she'd vote for Hillary Clinton over McCain.

Eight years ago, after McCain (who I thought was the most qualified to deal with foreign policy) got beat in the primaries, I sucked it up and supported George W. The Bush administration then proceeded to mismanage Iraq so badly that it has all but sent the GOP into a tailspin.

NOW, the Limbaughs and Coulters want me to put my trust in another GOP governor instead of McCain, or else THEY'LL bolt.

Well, all I'd say to them is don't let the door hit you in the ass.
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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Primary Coverage

These past few weeks I've been flipping between the major cable news networks (CNN, MSNBC, and Fox) to catch their coverage of the primary election results.

  1. The CNN touch screen maps are more distracting than informative.

  2. The MSNBC crew laughing in the background at Keith Olbermann's "funny" remarks sounds more like a cheesy morning radio show than a credible news broadcast (dump Keith -- keep Chris Matthews and Joe Scarborough).

  3. Do the Fox News commentators seem a little TOO happy about Hillary's troubles? They should be careful what they wish for.

  4. "Snubgate" is getting boring. I'm sure Obama WAS trying to avoid Clinton at the SOTU. Is it THAT big of a deal?

  5. On a good note, how 'bout that Amy Holmes (nice!).

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Snow Job

My entrees to the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest # 130 got a frosty reception.

My two submissions:

  • "You should have seen what he wanted to do with the carrot."

  • "Does this make me look fat?"

The winners (which left me cold):

  • "He has a summer job as a scarecrow."

  • "It's all the witness-protection program would offer him."

  • "It's mostly water weight."

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

If At Third You Don't Succeed...

I have to admit that during the eighties, my friends and I were part of the target market for Stallone action movies. Early twentysomethings, we were classic blue collar state Republicans who dutifully went to see each Rocky/Rambo outing after a session of weight lifting in the basement to the tune of "Eye of the Tiger."

Nowadays, my weight set is a bit dusty, Republicans have had a rough few years, and "Eye of the Tiger" sounds more silly than inspirational. So, I wasn't expecting much from the fourth First Blood installment.

However, in the same way that Rocky Balboa was a distinct improvement over it's predecessor Rocky V, Rambo (apparently no roman numeral or subtitle) was not only better than the first two First Blood sequels, but a decent film in it's own right.

David Morrell's book, First Blood, which introduced the John Rambo character, contrasts a typical Korean War era grunt with a more highly specialized, and effective Vietnam serving soldier. Struggling to find himself since his return from Vietnam, Rambo runs afoul of the law in a small town. He turns out to be more than the local weekend warriors can handle and only Rambo's Green Beret mentor, Colonel Trautman, is able to get close enough to take him out.

According to an old Playboy interview, while negotiating the movie deal for his book, Morrell's attorney proudly informed him that he got the author a percentage of the First Blood sequels as well as a piece of the merchandising. A dispirited Morrell, who had used his last $500 to pay this lawyer, loudly complained that there was NOT going to be a sequel because Rambo dies at the end of the novel. Furthermore, who the hell would want a "Rambo" lunch box?

Of course, the rest is history and Morrell considers that the best five-hundred bucks he ever spent.

Rambo's cinematic incarnation survived to go back to Vietnam (we win this time) and then on to Afghanistan to fight Russians. Like Rocky, each successive Rambo battle sacrified credibility in favor of a more glossy, almost cartoonish, Hollywood approach .

In bringing Rambo's latest "mission" to the screen, director Stallone opts for a more "real", hard-edged depiction of the carnage.

Not unlike it's star, Rambo starts out like the African Queen on steroids.

While living in semi-seclusion in Bankok, John Rambo makes a living salvaging old PT boats and catching cobras used for snake acts held in primitive amphitheatres. This may be a deliberate metaphor for the current state of Stallone's show business career.

A group of Christian human rights missionaries seek him out ferry transport them by boat to Burma so that they can aid villagers facing oppression and degradation by the ruling army class.

Not seeing any point to their efforts (they're packing bibles not guns), Rambo refuses. But one of the missionaries, Sarah Miller (Julie Benz), is persistent and convinces him to change his mind.

The well meaning group quickly gets a taste of what they're up against when Rambo has to violently dispatch a group of river pirates they run across shortly after getting underway.

Dropping them off and returning to his hut, a troubled Rambo has nightmares which include flashbacks to previous missions.

Interestingly, one of Rambo's dark dreams shows Col. Trautman shooting him in the belly. Stallone cleverly incorporates a fleeting shot from the altered ending of the original First Blood where Rambo dies.

Rambo's trepidations are realized when he learns that the missionaries have been captured by a sadistic Burmese army platoon. We see in graphic detail the prisoners enduring sadistic tortures at the hand of their captors that includes rape, bamboo cages and being fed alive to pigs.

Rambo is enlisted to ferry a group of mercenaries, lead by the nasty SAS officer named Lewis (Graham McTavish), who have been hired to affect a rescue.

This time after dropping the mercenaries off, Rambo doesn't take Hicks' advice from Apocalypse Now and stay in the boat. Far from it. What follows is a brutal bloodbath that's more grounded in the jerky style of Saving Private Ryan than the glorified violence depicted in previous Rambo films. Stallone tries to make the action more credible by making Rambo part of a group, rather than pitting him against the world. My two main complaints was the fact that the mercenary force waits a bit too patiently for him to forge a new sword completely from scratch and a claymore explosion later in the film seems conveniently too destructive. Usually, I have more.

Rambo is a surprisingly short film (93 minutes). This thankfully leaves little time for John Rambo to wallow in too many moments of wordy self-discovery. While the actions teeters on going over the top toward the end, for the most part it's an entertaining and satisfying film.

In his blog, The House Next Door, Matt Zoller Seitz postulates that Stallone's "stay the course" message in Rambo is really a thinly veiled show of support for continued U.S. involvement in Iraq.

He makes a fairly compelling argument.

I'd only offer that in the Rocky and Rambo films, Stallone often distills what's going on in his real life at the moment and incorporates that into the storyline. For years, Stallone toiled in vain to free himself from the label of artistic lightweight. With the exception of such projects as Copland, he's been largely unsuccessful.

Watching the film, I got the feeling that either consciously or unconsciously, Rambo's decision to go to Burma paralleled Stallone's decision to make yet another Rambo flick. It seems that both reluctantly come to the conclusion that sometimes you have to stick to what works, even if it's not pretty.

Just do it better.
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Friday, January 25, 2008

Coming Distractions

I caught these movie previews before Cloverfield and couldn't help but reach some early (and unproven) conclusions.

Star Trek XI
Chronicles the early days of the U.S.S Enterprise crew.

This was the teaser I was especially excited to see. They didn't show much. Just a star ship construction worker, spraying sparks as he welds parts onto what would become the U.S.S. Enterprise.

Don't they have a more advanced method of joining metal in the 23rd century?

Iron Man
A Jon Favreau directed version of Tony Stark and his alter ego starring Robert Downey Jr.

The Iron Man story NEVER did much for me. Or as George Costanza said to Jerry Seinfeld while arguing about this very topic: "I still say he's NAKED under there."

The fact-based story about six MIT students who were trained to become experts in card counting and subsequently took Vegas casinos for millions in winnings.

They've really glammed up the "true" story it's based on. The MIT "nerds" look like they walked out of GQ.

Step Up 2 The Streets
Romantic sparks occur between two dance students from different backgrounds at the Maryland School of the Arts.

Been done to death, hasn't it? BTW, I noticed that used the term "under the radar" in the preview for this movie AND 21.

The Eye
The remake of the Hong Kong film "Jian Gui", a woman who receives an eye transplant that allows her to see into the supernatural world.

I can't imagine being able to keep either of mine open during this one.
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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Tainted Season?

Just in time for the Super Bowl...

Perfect Season 2007?

I got a chuckle out of this site:

I especially LOVE the quotes on cheating from Sophocles to Rodney Dangerfield.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Love Is a Battlefield

Director: Matt Reeves
Writer: Drew Goddard

*** Contains Spoilers ***

If I were running for my life, would I bother to continue videotaping the horrors all around me? That thought occurred to me about an hour into Cloverfield, the Matt Reeves directed monster film just unleashed from the very prolific stable of J.J Abrams (Lost and the upcoming Star Trek movie).

Of course, there are two very obvious responses to this quip.

One, why nitpick the technicalities of a movie about a GIANT MONSTER ATTACKING NEW YORK?

Secondly, if the person working the video camera did stop tape each time something bad happened, Cloverfield would basically be a series of jump cuts that all start with the characters saying "Whew, that was a close one!"

This update of the Godzilla story employs the same "home video" technique used in The Blair Witch Project and strikes a definite post 9/11 tone.

If Blair Witch ended up being about finding a lost map, Cloverfield is REALLY about finding love (yes, really). More on that later.

Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David), is leaving New York for a new job in Japan. His brother, Jason (Mike Vogel) and Jason's girlfriend, Lily Ford (Jessica Lucas), throw Rob a surprise going away party. To "document" the event, Jason is recording it using Rob's video camera.

This is established right at the beginning in a very Michael Crichton-ish "play it straight" opening disclaimer:
Multiple sightings of case designate "Cloverfield" camera retrieve at incident site U.S. 447 area formerly known as "Central Park"
I've been a sucker for movies that employ a pseudo-documentary style to tell their story ever since I saw Orson Welles spoof "News on the March" in Citizen Kane.

The device ultimately broke down for me in The Blair Witch Project. After a promising first half, the filmmakers, like the characters, didn't have anywhere to go. Most of the time we see them firing f-bombs at each other while they complain about being lost (according to IMDB, the film used the word "fuck" 133 times).

I'm probably in the minority on this, but the payoff at the end (or lack thereof) where we NEVER see the Blair Witch was a stunning disappointment.

So, I went into Cloverfield slightly on guard. The high volume of viral marketing hype I saw leading up to movie's release didn't help.

To paraphrase Barry Goldwater: "exuberance in the promotion of a monster flick is no vice, and restraint in the use of viral marketing no virtue."

I was happy to discover that Cloverfield basically lived up to that hype. The home movie device worked just fine. The cinematographers mercifully kept things a bit smoother than their Blair Witch counterparts to help cut down on the motion sickness. At a relatively short eighty-four minutes, it's ends before the audience can grow tired of the hand held video cam gimmick.

Scenes are staged and edited to cleverly introduce and delineate each of the major characters, yet maintain the "shot as it's happening" illusion.

My original complaint is still somewhat valid. There are many points in Cloverfield where it just wouldn't make sense for someone to keep taping. Then again, that happens every week on The Office and we accept that breaking of the established rules for the sake of story telling efficiency.
We learn early on that by going to Japan, Rob is leaving behind his recently discovered soul mate, Beth McIntyre (Odette Yustman). The other couple, Jason and Lily, are clearly IN love and their relationship is portrayed in a mature and interesting manner (especially for a "big" film). To round off the cast, Hud Platt (T.J. Miller) is the dumb but lovable sidekick and Marlena Diamond (Lizzy Caplan) epitomizes the expression "always a bridesmaid, but never a bride."
After Rob and Beth seem to have parted on bad terms and will realize that they'll never to see each other again, all hell brakes loose.

Various theories are bandied about to explain exactly what the monster is. Alien, prehistoric creature, government creation are discussed throughout the film.

I'd argue on a symbolic level that the monster, like the ID creature from Forbidden Planet, was created in Rob's head as a bitter response to the city and the girl he's leaving behind. If he can't have her, no one can. What can be more analogous of this than the decapitation of the Statue of Liberty (a female) who's severed head lands conveniently in front of Rob's apartment. This happens immediately after the scene where he has figuratively taken Beth's head off with a malicious remark.

Of course, it doesn't really matter what the monster is. The story stands on it's own as a straight forward documentation of events or allows the viewer to look a bit deeper if they choose to.

While crossing the Brooklyn Bridge with other city refuges seeking safety, Rob takes a cellphone call from Beth. She's trapped in her apartment, helplessly pinned to the floor by wreckage (one could almost say she's stuck alone in city).

Cloverfield employs a really neat piece of exposition involving the video camera. Because Jason didn't change the tape, the events are being recorded over material previously shot by Rob. Throughout the film we see strategically placed bits of that previous footage showing Beth and Rob on a better day. Though lasting for only seconds at a time, these glimpses speak volumes and sketch out a nice backstory for their relationship.

Had Cloverfield been shot in a more conventional manner, the story might feel melodramatic. Certainly, MORE attention would be paid to the monster. While the filmmakers on Blair Witch decided to NEVER show the title character because (in THEIR opinion) this made her scarier, Cloverfield's monster is shown. But, like the creature in Alien, we never get a really GOOD look at it until the very end. And even then, I'm still not sure EXACTLY what the thing looked like.

I won't reveal TOO much more of the plot, but a story that's told through a video camera found at the scene of a major disaster can't end well.

Suffice to say, Cloverfield's cast each meets a fate that's slyly appropriate for their character. For instance, Marlene, who always seems to make bad decisions and often over-indulges, has an explosively tumescent death scene.

Just as the Brooklyn Bridge phone call started Rob on his quest for Beth, a Central Park bridge would seem to a fitting site for the end of it. I could conclude (with a slight groan) that this is an obvious warning against the dangers of burning one's bridges.

However, the film seems to leave some room for hope.

In fact, according to a Yahoo movie site:
...Director Matt Reeves has stated that if they do a sequel, it might take place during the same monster attack, but seen from another camera.
Of course, that could be more hype. But, I like hype when it works.
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Friday, January 18, 2008

Bye, Bye Miss American Pie

...the day, the newsroom died.

Irony: Today, on the 10th anniversary of the Drudge Report's Monica Lewinsky scoop, the ONLY one apologizing to anyone for anything is Chris Matthews (to Hillary Clinton).

...At the last minute, at 6 p.m. on Saturday evening, NEWSWEEK magazine killed a story that was destined to shake official Washington to its foundation: A White House intern carried on a sexual affair with the President of the United States!

The DRUDGE REPORT has learned that reporter Michael Isikoff developed the story of his career, only to have it spiked by top NEWSWEEK suits hours before publication. A young woman, 23, sexually involved with the love of her life, the President of the United States, since she was a 21-year-old intern at the White House. She was a frequent visitor to a small study just off the Oval Office where she claims to have indulged the president's sexual preference. Reports of the relationship spread in White House quarters and she was moved to a job at the Pentagon, where she worked until last week.

The young intern wrote long love letters to President Clinton, which she delivered through a delivery service. She was a frequent visitor at the White House after midnight, where she checked in the WAVE logs as visiting a secretarynamed Betty Curry, 57...

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Resistance is Futile (For Less)

Egads. Where do I start?

Are Oliver Stone and Michael Moore writing scripts for Law and Order now? Oh wait, they can't be. Their stuff, even when fully laden with bullshit, is still entertaining.

I don't think I've ever reacted to any LaO episode like this before, but last night's outing "Bottomless," SUCKED. Pure and simple.

The point of the story is ironically laid out by one of the top executives of a big, evil corporation, Savings-Mart (a thinly disguised send up of Wal-Mart) when he asks McCoy if the D.A's office trying to make a big splash by prosecuting "big, evil corporations."

The episode starts off loosely based on the real life event where a Judge sued a family dry-cleaning business for $67.3 million because they lost his pants. In the LaO version, the litigant in the case, aptly named Wiggins, only wants $20 million.

The defense attorney for the owner's of the cleaning store is found beaten to death. She happened to be holding onto a pair of pants that would be exculpatory for her clients. Those were stolen from the crime scene. So, initially, the detectives are looking at Wiggins as the chief suspect.

However, this parable of our litigious society quickly morphs into an indignant statement against corporate greed.

Because of a horrible mix-up, the pants, it turns out, weren't Wiggins' after all. Instead, they belonged to a male Savings-Mart executive, Derek Cahill, who was having a torrid affair with a co-worker at the retail giant, Rachel Monroe. The theory of the crime is that he killed the lawyer to get back the his pants out of fear that his dalliances with a fellow employee would get him fired from Savings-Mart. Whew, let me catch my breath.

We learn that Savings-Mart's Code of Conduct explicitly prohibits such fraternization and to uses a Kafkaesque network of private security people who engage in Gestapo-like tactics of observation and intimidation to enforce those rules. Savings-Mart also keeps biometric data in EVERY employee's file (sounds expensive). There's even a 1-800 "Integrity Hotline" that employees can call if they see co-workers violating company guidelines. Sort of like Sarbannes-Oxley meets George Orwell.

Enter former police Inspector Fuller. He was a mentor to Van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson) and has retired after thirty years on the force to become a field agent for Savings-Mart. Part of that role involves investigating moral infractions.

Fuller cracks the case when he goes into Cahill's apartment and finds the missing pants. Monroe sent them to the dry cleaners because they, ahem, had her lipstick on them (if only Monica Lewinsky was so fastidious). When Fuller turns the slacks over to detectives at the station, they still stained with the girlfriend's lipstick and the murdered defense lawyer's blood.

Of course, since there was no search warrant, we would expect the Cahill's attorney's to make a motion to have the slacks (no pun) removed from evidence. And, of course, they do.

What is surprising is McCoy's reaction. Instead of being mad at the judge for considering the motion (which he would be in any OTHER episode), he's mad at the Savings-Mart "police" because their "agents of a multinational corporation that makes up it's own laws."


McCoy is LIVID throughout the episode and let's loose several emotional outbursts against the discount retailer that seem more at home on some lunatic's "Wal-Mart Sucks" blog than a LaO episode.

The story gets more complicated when it's revealed that Cahill, ever the bean counter, bought toothpaste from a Chinese company which it turns out happens to be laden with radiator fluid (also ripped from today's headlines). I wonder if the writers were giving each other "high fives" over the irony of having the episode start at a small, honest Chinese business (dry cleaners) and end at a giant, shady one. Okay, now I'm just being nasty.

Cahill makes a clandestine deal with the Savings-Mart honchos. If they help him get out of the murder charge, he'll keep quiet about the toothpaste which has now found it's way into nursing homes and children's daycare centers (twirling my handlebar moustache fiendishly).

Fuller lies on the stand about the circumstances under which he found the pants to get them thrown out as evidence.

"Savings Mart believes all murderers should be freed so they can shop?" cries McCoy whose demeanor suggests that he's going to be complaining about flouridated water next.

Certainly the issue of tainted Chinese products and Wal-Mart's questionable business practices has been the subject of a lot of news stories lately. But bails and bails of hay are used to construct the straw man of this episode. Had I wanted to watch that sort of law show, I'd tune into Boston Legal or rent reruns of LA Law.

In the last ten minutes, Savings-Mart's complicity with Cahill unravels. Fuller is called back to the stand. On his way up the courthouse steps, Van Buren shames Fuller into finally being more truthful.

In a courtroom climax that plays out more like a Perry Mason finale, Fuller does indeed redeems himself on the stand. All the while he stares down the socially irresponsible Savings-Mart executives who, for some unknown reason, have chosen to be in the gallery.

Oh, I know why they're there. If they weren't sitting in the gallery, Fuller couldn't glare at his evil employers when he utters the dramatic line "I quit."

Sigh. So do I.
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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Abraham, Martin, John and Richard?

Though it appears they've buried the hatchet, Hillary Clinton's recent tiff with Barack Obama regarding Martin Luther King, JFK and LBJ was fueled by this statement from the campaign trail in New Hampshire:

You know, today Senator Obama used President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to criticize me. He basically compared himself to our greatest heroes because they gave great speeches.

"President Kennedy was in Congress for 14 years. He was a war hero. He was a man of great accomplishments and readiness to be president. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led a movement. He was gassed. He was beaten. He was jailed. And he gave a speech that was one of the most beautifully, profoundly important speeches ever written in America, the 'I have a dream' speech.

This reminded me of a surprising piece of political trivia I found in "Presidential Courage," by Michael Beschloss. It turns out that when Kennedy ran against Richard Nixon for president in 1960, his civil rights record wasn't exactly pristine and Martin Luther King was giving Nixon serious consideration.

According to Beschloss, while running for VP in 1956, JFK had courted the Southern vote by refusing to endorse the Supreme Court decision in "Brown vs. The Board of Education" (pg 238).

Additionally, in 1960, when asked by JFK to appear with him before the American Legion in Miami, Martin Luther King stated that Nixon was more reliable on civil rights. Also, Jackie Robinson, the man who broke the color barrier in baseball, was a very public Nixon supporter (pg 241).

My, how times have changed.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Has "Jump The Shark" Seen the Leprechaun?

On his blog, The Conversation, Jonathan Potts had this comment regarding my recent Law and Order post:

This blogger really likes "Law & Order", probably more than he should, but he thinks the show may be close to jumping the shark. (Do people still say that?)

Being thin-skinned, my visceral reaction was to take issue at his last comment. BUT, after I recovered, it occurred to me that his question was a good one: do people still say "jump the shark?"

My survey of friends would indicate that the term is still in use. But, of course, that's unscientific.

A quick Google search found a December 2007 article by Johnathon Snook, a web designer and developer, titled: "Web 2.0 has jumped the shark." Well, HE still uses the term. But again, this is hardly conclusive.

In case you don't know what "jump the shark" means, here's what Wikipedia has to say about it (my guess is that if you about Wikipedia, you know what "JTS" is too):

...The phrase refers to a scene in a three-part episode of the American TV series, Happy Days, first broadcast on September 20, 1977. In the "Hollywood" episode, Fonzie (Henry Winkler), wearing swim trunks and his trademark leather jacket, jumps over a penned-in shark while water skiing.

...[JTS] has become a colloquialism used by U.S. TV critics and fans to denote the point at which the characters or plot of a TV series veer into a ridiculous, out-of-the-ordinary storyline. Such a show is typically deemed to have passed its peak. Once a show has "jumped the shark" fans sense a noticeable decline in quality or feel the show has undergone too many changes to retain its original charm...

Interestingly, Wikipedia also describes a 1963 episode of Bonanza, "Hoss and the Leprechauns," in which Hoss meets, no surprise, a leprechaun. From that episode the term "seeing the leprechaun" was coined which was a precursor to the "jumping the shark" phenomenon.

This lead me to wonder if, perhaps, a new term to explain the dynamic could be adopted.

Because "jumping the shark" is such a pop-culture idea, pop-culture touchstone Star Trek seemed a natural choice to inspire a new JTS euphemism.

I came up with three ideas based on the successful sci-fi franchise.

Dumped the Velour (Star Trek)

Most critics view Star Trek's first season on television as it's best. Because NBC had all but given up on the expensive show when it grudgingly approved a third season in a horrid time slot, the low energy level and mediocre to bad quality of stories was quite evident.

In his book The Making of Star Trek, Stephen E. Whitfield reports that the costume people were having shrinkage problems with the velour tunics worn by Kirk, Spock and the rest of the regulars. Apparently, they shrank after each washing. As a result, by the start of third season, they had switched to polyester fabric for the uniforms.

Today, I can quickly decide if I want to watch or avoid a Star Trek episode to avoid based upon the presence or lack thereof of velour on the crew.

Shaved the Captain (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)

If Star Trek (and Star Trek: The Next Generation) was, as Gene Roddenberry's has said, envisioned as "Wagon Train to the Stars," the third Star Trek series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, with it's creatively self-inflicted limitation to a single setting (an alien space station), is more like Gunsmoke.

In working with that ONE location, the show was initially a satisfying, more cerebral departure from the typical shoot-em up conflicts that were more common in the story lines of first two iterations.

At the helm of this Federation outpost was the calm, steady hand of Caption Sisko (Avery Brooks). Sisko was a strong soft-spoken, family man who brought a new dimension of authority to the role that didn't rely on Kirk's gratuitous shoulder roles or Picard's self-righteous, Shakespearean soliloquies.

Perhaps discovering that the one-set limitation was too, well, limiting, the show attempted to broaden it's scope by adding a continuously docked star ship to the space station's inventory. This made it easier for the writer's to more credibly create situations that involved space travel and, of course, space battles.

Included in this metamorphosis was a makeover for Sisko that involved shaving off the hair on his head and adding a goatee. Perhaps deliberately, this made Brooks look more like Hawk the tough, no nonsense character he played on Spencer for Hire and his own spin-off, Hawk.

Seven of Nined (Star Trek: Voyager)

In a blatant attempt to bolster ratings for the fourth Trek outing, Star Trek: Voyager, a new character was introduced.

Jeri Ryan played "Seven of Nine" a dislocated Borg who was introduced in Season 4. It seems that to successfully separate Seven from the Borg "collective" requires her to don a skin tight, lycra uniform. Clearly the Trekkers who William Shatner encouraged to "get a life" were the target market for this early prototype of "Number Six" (played by the timelessly HOT Tricia Helfer) on Battlestar Galactica.

To round out the list, I've outlined some other possible non-Trek options.

Knocked Up Murphy (Murphy Brown)

Dan Quayle jokes aside, once Murphy Brown (Candice Bergman) brought her illegitimate baby home, a perceptible amount of wind had been taken out of the show's sit-com sails.

Chopped the Doc (ER)

How many hospitals do you know of that have been blown up MORE than once?

The hospital drama that was once a bastien of brutal realism, ER descended into a tailspin of escalating protechniques which culminated into gratuitous, borderline camp when Dr. Robert Romano (Paul McCrane) had his arm cut off by a rescue helicopter.

For me, it's never recovered.

Capped the Chief (Rescue Me)

I'm still mad at Rescue Me for allowing one of it's strongest characters, long suffering Chief Jerry Reilly, to commit suicide in Season 4.

Jumped the Balcony (Deadwood)

Speaking of "rescues," many would disagree with me, but the producers of Deadwood softened Al Swearengen's (Ian McShane) character too much when he turned into "Action Al" and jumped off his second story balcony to save a damsel in distress on the muddy, mean streets below. Ironically, the woman he saved was the wife of the man Al had arranged to have a mining "accident" in the first, and best, season of the series.

It was almost as if the creative team blinked at the idea of keeping an evil character like Swearengen, a throat slitting, whore beating, claim jumper, as one of the major leads of the show. So, they tried to take some of the edge off of him.

I fold.

Moved the Shop (American Chopper)

Driven by the success of the Discovery Channel documentary, American Chopper, Orange County Choppers outgrew their facility and had to move to new digs. Once embarrassed by their on camera antics, the Teutels now often seem embarrassingly self-aware of the fourth wall when they mug for the people at home.

Killed Larry or Lost a Kidney (Curb Your Enthusiasm)

What was once a down to earth, "day in the life" portrayal of less than lovable Larry David, went over the top when Larry had an out of body experience during a botched operation to donate a kidney to fellow funnyman Richard Lewis.


Saw Starbuck (Battlestar Galactica)

For the record, I'M NOT SAYING THAT BATTLESTAR GALACTICA has "jumped" (unless you mean activating it's "faster then light" engine). For my money, it's the best show on television today.

BUT, at the end of the last season, Apollo (Jamie Bamber) had a vision of Captain Kara 'Starbuck' Thrace (Katee Sackhoff) who we saw killed off a number of episodes previously. They also dropped the bombshell that a number of show regulars are really Cylons (to the tune of All Along the Watchtower no less).

It's been a LONG hiatus, and I'm hoping the payoff will be worth it.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Go Fish!

I've gotten feedback that some enjoy my frustration at being regularly ignored by the so-called "judging committee" at the New Yorker for their "Cartoon Caption Contest" in favor of what I see as lesser entrees.

So, I'm not surprised that for Contest #127 my frustration continues.

My submission:

Al would have wanted it this way.

A fair entry. It's not side-splittingly funny. But I think it captures the attitude of the average sportsman in a funny way.

However, to put it bluntly, the "winners" are ALL crap.

  • I put some beer on the hook. I figure if that's what got him into this mess it should be able to get him out.

  • Ice fishing and skydiving-who says they don't go together?

  • He's got a new fish-whispering technique.


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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Maybe His Hat is Too Tight

I know polls like this are more for fun than actually predicting anything, but doesn't Matt Drudge understand the concept of "sampling error?"

He had a headline on his site Saturday stating:
But taking into account the sampling error of +/-3.5%, the CNN poll shows a statistical TIE between Clinton vs. McCain and Obama vs. McCain.


Registered Voters' Choice for President

Clinton 50%
McCain 48%

Obama 49%
McCain 48%

Sampling error: +/-3.5% pts

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Too Much Information

Give's a whole new meaning to "I gave at the office."

At work, I used to laugh when I saw some joker on his way to the men's room carrying reading material under his arm. After reading this, I cringe.

From (link)

The Office Jerk
Why masturbating at work may do you a lot of good.

Imagine hitting the bathroom at work on a quiet afternoon. You hear the soft shuffling of feet and the awkward "get the hell out of here" cough coming from the handicapped stall. So you do what any respectful human being would do: Hurry up and let the man do his business in private. The thing is, there's a chance Sparky in Stall 3 isn't just trying to finish a crap in peace. He might be doing his best to get ahead—by getting off.

"I have all these hotties running around my office," says Jimmy, a 30-year-old who works in advertising in New York. "I can get hard at the whiff of perfume. Sometimes I need to rub one out so I can actually do my work."

From perfume Jimmy? That's almost as bad as George Costanza and Glamour magazine.

..."Masturbation is essentially a tension reliever, and if you find yourself too horny and distracted at work, relieving yourself will alleviate that," says Dr. Neil S. Kaye, a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Jefferson Medical College, in Philadelphia.

And it's not just the intern in the low-cut blouse getting guys overheated—arguing with peers over a project can do it. "Stressful situations also produce arousal," says Ian Kerner, a sex therapist and the author of She Comes First. "So a man might get yelled at by his boss or have a huge deadline, and he'll find he just has to masturbate."

If people could smoke in the office, this wouldn't happen.

...James, 44, a media executive in New York, once had to confront a subordinate he knew was beating off in the bathroom. "He broke down and said it was because he was so stressed out that it was the only way he could get through the day," James says. "Everyone avoided the bathroom when he went in."

"Most offices would have a zero-tolerance policy," says Joanne James, a vice president at Best Headhunters, an online executive-search firm. Still, if you're too distracted to get anything done, the risks of the occasional work jerk may be worth it. "If it's going to allow you to do your job better, I say go for it," Kerner says. "You go to the bathroom, and whether you're going to urinate or defecate, it's a private act. So who's to say you can't go in there and bring yourself to orgasm?"

I weep for the future.
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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Baby Boom

There's an old episode of Dragnet that has Friday and Gannon busting into a house where a "pot party" is going on. A hippy couple is sitting listlessly on a couch puffing away as the officers storm in. The youngsters snap out of it when they remember that they left young baby unattended in the bathtub (shades of Trainspotting). Friday and and Gannon run in to find the poor child drowned in the overflowing tub. Admist the screaming of the parents (one on the floor curling into the fetal position), Gannon hurriedly excuses himself saying "Joe, I think I'm going to be sick." The episode ends with a melodramatic closeup of Friday's hands as he violently crushes a baggie of marijuana.

I was reminded of that Dragnet scene after watching the latest installment of Law and Order. Last week I suggested that after eighteen seasons Law and Order seemed to be approaching "jump the shark" territory (link).

While I'm still not ready to call it, this week's episode hasn't done anything to soften my opinion.

"Misbegotten" starts off with a bang in the lobby of an office building as two security people working the night shift are having the usual benign Law and Order conversation. The female guard is wheeling a load of packages delivered to the building into an elevator when one of the boxes explodes. It's not clear WHY a security guard would be moving such deliveries around in the middle of the night -- but okay.

She's not killed, but left in a coma. Also, it turns out that the injured guard is pregnant. Her unborn baby is still alive and presumed to be viable if the mother is kept alive.

And we see that it's not one big happy family. There's a shouting match in the hospital between the parents and their estranged son-in-law, Ryan Emerson. As usually happens in Law and Order, because her father is played by a well known character actor, Thomas G. Waites, one gets the feeling that he'll somehow turn up later.

Therein follows a convoluted series of events involving various ethical issues that has the Law and Order moral compass spinning endlessly like a wedding ring on Conan O'Brien's desk during one of his writerless episodes.

It's not clear right away if the original target of the bomb was the unlucky security guard or one of the building's tenants. The police discover that the package was destined for a medical lab in the building called Gentech (I'm not sure of the correct spelling -- but it's certaining one of those ominous sounding, yet generic company name).

On the surface there's nothing controversial about Gentech. They just process routine tests for expectant mothers. That changes when the detectives discover that one of the people affiliated with the Lab, Dr. Hoffman, played somewhat manically by Grant Shaud (Miles from Murphy Brown), is involved controversial genetic research.

I'm not sure if it's a coincidence that his name contains the word "man", but Hoffman is a pioneer researcher in the seeking to discover a "gay gene." Because this represents a boon to the gay rights movement, the first suspect in the bombing is a radical Christian name Luke Drummond. Again, the name thing jumped out at me. "Luke" is one of the chapters in the New Testament and "Drummond" was the name of the Clarence Darrow character from Inherit the Wind. For what it's worth, "Emerson" has the word "son" in it (but I digress).

The Drummond lead appears to be a dead end.

Suspicion is then shined on the Ryan Emerson based on the fact that the Emerson marriage was a bit rocky. In this theory of the crime, Ryan and his brother Dean had the bomb delivered to the building knowing that there'd be a good chance Mrs. Emerson would be the one handling it (seemed like a stretch to me).

The motive shifts back again to Dr. Hoffman's "gay gene" research. A new moral wrinkle is added when it's explained that Hoffman's discovery could be used by expectant parents to abort unwanted gay babies. It turns out that the pregnant security guard had been given the test by Dr. Hoffman.

Dean Emerson is gay and he's afraid that the test results for his niece or nephew could out him as well. So, he arranged to blow up the good doctor before that happened. That his sister-in-law ended up with the explosive package first was an unfortunate accident.

By this point, I was a bit exhausted as, like an Agatha Christie mystery, EVERYONE seemed to have a motive.

In case we're not clear on WHAT the issue of this episode is supposed to be, Executive Assist. D. A.Michael Cutter melodramatically declares "A HA...what if it's homophobia?" ("A HA" added for emphasis).

Not to be outdone, Assistant D.A.Connie Rubirosa replies, "I think I'm going to be sick," with the same tone of righteous indignation displayed by Gannon to Friday in in the aforementioned Dragnet episode.

Don't get me wrong, balancing the right to choose between the ethics of "designer babies" and gay rights are all valid topics for discussion. However, Law and Order used to be more adept at seamlessly integrating such issues into the plot. In "Misbegotten," they ham-handed throw all these ideas into the storyline. And I know how I'm supposed to feel about it because they TELL me.

There's even a bit of Terri Schiavo thrown in at the end when Cutter and Rubirosa rush to stop Mrs. Emerson's father, Grant Shaud (I told you he'd be back) from aborting her unborn baby rather than suffer a potentially gay grandchild. The irony of Law and Order taking a pro-life stand is never really explored.

The trademark Law and Order blackout is proceeded by a discussion between McCoy and his ADAs over the ethics of Hoffman's research. I almost got the feeling that Hoffman was being vilified as much as the bombers. McCoy put things into perspective by suggesting that instead of testing for perfect babies, the world needs testing for good parents.

I object.

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I Apologize in Advance...

Separated at Birth?

Hillary Clinton from last night's victory speech and Donald Sutherland from Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

As I listened to Hillary's victory speech (very well delivered, btw), a nasty thought occurred to me -- the last person to hear voices which led them to put an abrupt end to an exciting, invigorating, hope filled Democratic candidacy, was Sirhan Sirhan.

Does that make me a bad person??
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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Lighten Up Francis

Bill O’Reilly needs to get over himself.

I saw the video of his "incident" with the Obama staffer, and he comes across as a self-important, loudmouth (translation: asshole).

Of course, the fact that O’Reilly ran the tape (and bragged about it throughout his Monday show) would indicate that he disagrees with my assessment.

The people whining about it need to relax too. The 6 foot 8 bodyguard wasn’t injured or even intimidated in any way. It’s hard to tell from the video if the bodyguard was blocking the Fox News camera deliberately or not. But, he’s clearly smirking back with a WTF expression when O'Reilly goes off on him.

I’m sure there was a PR/ratings motive on Fox/O'Reilly's part as well.

Of course, another prime time cable commentator, and mediocrity, Keith Olbermann, ran the very same video on HIS show too — I guess when you’re in 7th place, you have to try harder (that's right, I'll use any excuse to take a swipe at Keith O).

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Monday, January 07, 2008

Primary Thoughts

Stop Thinking About Tomorrow
Clinton makes a "victory" speech after coming THIRD in Iowa.

Behind her on stage were Hillary's husband, former president Bill Clinton, his secretary of state Dr Albright, retired US army general Wesley Clark, former Democratic Party chairman Terry McAuliffe and others from the 1990s.

With Friends Like These...
Bill Clinton singing the praises for Hillary:
I can't make her younger, taller, or change her gender.

Playing The Cheney Card
Hillary Clinton practically threatens the audience to vote for her in New Hampshire:
We have people who are plotting against us right now, getting ready to repeat the atrocity of Sept 11. We know it, I see the intelligence reports.

Cat Fight

The Republican presidential hopefuls participate in what I thought was a lackluster Fox News Republican Debate in New Hampshire on Sunday. I'd agree that Romney won it. But, they all sounded snippy.

Guiliani and Thompson looked like they were sitting at the kid's table on Thanksgiving.

BTW, I heard a great joke about Thompson: the problem with coming third in Iowa is that you have to keep campaigning.
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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Arts and Crap

Another of my ill-fated contributions to the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest (link)

Mine was okay: "Be careful Thad, you're complicating the Mondrian."

The actual winners below. The first one is pretty good. The rest, frankly, suck.
  • "Excuse me—which way is Marcel Duchamp's urinal?"

  • "Pardon me, can you draw clothes?"

  • "Please, a sandwich, a piece of fruit, anything."

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Friday, January 04, 2008


McCain New Hampshire Ad (and I thought he was finished):
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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Favorite Son?

Well, at least someone see things my way...

From today's Det News: (link)
...we believe Arizona Sen. John McCain is the candidate who is best qualified to lead the nation.

...On the Iraq War, McCain was proven right in his warnings that America was deploying too few troops to keep order after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. He was against the Rumsfeld strategy before it was cool, pressing repeatedly for more troops.

...Many Iowa Republicans have embraced former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who carries the most conservative credentials on social policy. But compared with McCain, his resume is practically silent on national security and economic affairs where a president must be most active. We doubt he would have broad appeal among the general electorate.

...McCain is already a respected national leader with a strong grasp of foreign and military affairs. He would be well received on the international stage where his experience and judgment would fortify American leadership.

...As mentioned, we see Romney as an appealing candidate with considerable depth on key issues. He has Michigan roots and the best understanding of the automotive industry of any candidate...

...Unfortunately, Romney hasn't campaigned hard enough on those strengths. Instead, he has panted after the GOP's most conservative values voters, taking hard-line stands on gay marriage and abortion in conflict to his earlier positions as governor of Massachusetts. The result is that many voters will wonder if they're seeing the real Romney.

...we had anticipated endorsing a candidate in the Democratic primary as well. But the Democratic boycott of Michigan in laughable deference to Iowa and New Hampshire makes that primary a meaningless cakewalk for Sen. Hillary Clinton (who at least had the spunk to put her name on the ballot).

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Shark Alert

I watched the premier and second episode of Law and Order's 18th (yes 18th!!!) season last night.

Because this came on the heels of TNT running a LaO New Year's Eve Marathon, I was quite geeked.

Adding to my excitement was the chance to see how the producers would handle two challenges facing the show this season.

First, LaO took on a slightly altered look to distinguish it from, of all things, itself. Ironically, one of the show's fiercest competitors is it's own syndicated reruns that are shown endlessly on cable networks.

Second, they've had to fill he void left by Fred Thompson (D.A. Arthur Branch) who left the show to, again of all things, run for president.

"Called Home" and "Darkness," the first and second episodes for Season 18, introduce new cast members Jeremy Sisto as Detective Cyrus Lupo, and Linus Roache as Executive Assist. D. A. Michael Cutter.

I hate to say this, but afterwards, I was reminded of a corny joke:

Q: Why won't sharks attack lawyers?
A: Professional courtesy.
While LaO hasn't quite "jumped the shark" yet, it's getting close.

To be clear, the most obvious tweaks to the LaO episode "template" didn't really bother me.

For instance, the opening scenes for both episodes actually involved the characters who would be directly involved with the subsequent story (as opposed to the usual fighting couples, hard boiled blue collar workers, or chatty beat cops who abruptly have to end their conversations when they happen upon the current week's victim).

They've also blended the traditional "Law" and "Order" segments a bit. The point of demarcation between the two has been blurred as the actions of the cops and lawyers dovetailed during each of the two episodes.

The A.D.A.s are conspicuously shown using more 21st century props such as websurfing PDAs and whiteboards. And instead of getting yelled at by their boss, a full fledged D.A. Jack McCoy (Sam Wasterston), in his plush, wood paneled office, they now take their lickings in more austere settings such as a pale yellow storage room that's filled with endless boxes of records . There's even a McCoy quip at predecessor's expense about Branch's snazzy digs being a "showplace," not the "working office" McCoy now inhabits.

It didn't take long for the new cast members to grow on me. The writers do a great job of fleshing out Lupo and Roache as distinct and real characters in two hours.

However, it was the actual story lines of the two episodes that left me underwhelmed. Both broke cardinal rules of what makes a good LaO outing.

In "Darkness," as a device to introduce Detective Cyrus Lupo (Jeremy Sisto), he's given a personal connection to the case. This sort of plot element has never worked for LaO. One of the things that has separated LaO from the other more melodramatic cop shows has been the textbook/arm's length manner in which the cops work the case.

Furthermore, the episode takes on the less than bleeding edge issue of assisted suicide with a convoluted plot involving a "Doctor Death" character and a ratings hungry TV news personality. The moral arguments shoehorned into the dialog between McCoy and a driven A.D.A. Cutter (Roache) was a bit forced.

The ridiculous climax, where "Doctor Death" literally kills himself on the witness stand to make his point seemed more at home on the inferior Boston Legal than the gold standard of TV law shows.

The second episode, "Darkness," was especially frustrating because the kidnap for ransom plot revolving around a city-wide power outage was, at first, an emotional nail bitter. It was interesting to see the police trying to run the investigation with limited computer access and communication devices that couldn't be recharged.

BTW, I did have one nit to pick -- would cellphones work at all during such a massive power outage as portrayed? My guess is no, but I'll move on.

The episode that started with such promise lost me when it shifted blame for the crime from one or two individuals to general corporate corruption. The power outage that led to the kidnappings, it turns out, was the work of a greedy Enron-like power company using planned blackouts as part of a scheme to charge customers exorbitantly high rates. The kidnappers merely took advantage of a darkness they knew was coming.

Putting greedy corporations on trial may work well on 60 Minutes or 20/20, but it's never really works on LaO. The socially irresponsible activities have to somehow be linked to a murder investigation or else there's no plausible reason for the prosecutor's office to be involved. These connections have always been tenuous at best and, at their worst, completely unbelievable.

In "Darkness," the connection falls somewhere in between.

The new characters and look give me reason for hope. However, the first two LaO stories give me pause to wonder if Fonzie hasn't started up his chopper.
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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Biden in '08

With Guiliani's seeming melt-down and McCain suggesting that he'd only serve one term, I'd seriously consider sending the Biden campaign a few bucks (if I hadn't of lost my Lions bet).

In an election that's would seem to be mostly about our future foreign policy, I can't imagine why he's done so poorly.

From CNN's "PoliticalTicker":

Biden highlights Clinton Pakistan gaffe

(CNN) - Democrat Joe Biden suggested Tuesday that presidential rival Hillary Clinton doesn't adequately understand recent events in Pakistan.

The Delaware senator was responding to news that Clinton suggested in two recent interviews that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is up for reelection this month.

Musharraf was actually reelected in October, and the upcoming Pakistani elections are parliamentary, not presidential.

"We have a number of candidates who are well-intentioned but don't understand Pakistan," Biden said at a campaign event Tuesday. "One of the leading candidates - God love her."

"There are good people running," continued the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who has made his foreign policy credentials a centerpiece of his long shot presidential bid. "But to say Musharraf is up for election! Musharraf was elected - fairly or unfairly - president six months ago. It's about a parliamentary election!"

Clinton's comments came in an interview with ABC Sunday, in which she said, [Musharraf] could be the only person on the ballot. I don't think that's a real election."

The New York senator also made similar comments during an interview withCNN's Wolf Blitzer last week, saying then, "If President Musharraf wishes to stand for election, then he should abide by the same rules that every other candidate will have to follow."

Of course, the Clinton people do their usual spinning:

The Clinton campaign has not yet returned a request for comment on Biden's comments, but said yesterday the New York Democrat was referring to Musharraf's
party, not himself in particular.

Full Article at:

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