review: changeling

There were three reasons to be enthused about seeing “Changeling.” In no particular order: 1) Angelina Jolie who, when not collecting a paycheck from comic book detritus like “Wanted” or simply gallivanting (admittedly to our delight) as Lara Croft, is certain an actress of note. 2) Clint Eastwood, the quintessential director’s director whose mastery of filmcraft consistently yields handsome, unassuming but polished work – classical in the best sense of the word. And 3) J. Michael Straczynski (JMS), the man behind the milestone science-fiction series “Babylon 5”, an insightful writer who marks his first foray into feature films after years in television.
Read here to learn why Truth Really Is Stranger Than Fiction.


Important update! No on Prop 8 Campaign Under Attack! Please Donate!

noonprop8.com went down for a while yesterday. As I suspected, it was a victim of a cyberattack. Geoff Kors explains, and asks for donations:

Beginning last night and continuing this morning a coordinated cyber attack on the No On 8 website prevented some donors from being able to contribute. This attack is being investigated by federal authorities. Fortunately, there was no breach in security and we are again able to accept contributions online.

As if that attack isn't outrageous enough, at a recent Prop 8 rally an official campaign spokesman actually compared the right of same-sex couples to marry to the rise of Adolph Hitler and Nazi Germany. Watch the video.

This insanity needs to stop. Prop 8 needs to be defeated. It's wrong. It's unfair. The people supporting it are fanatical, intolerant and willing to do and say anything to eliminate our rights. Period.

We cannot let them succeed.

Let's do this once and for all. Help us reach our goal of $3 million by Friday.

Tony Perkins, national crusader in the effort to eliminate the right to marry, has said the battle to pass Prop 8 is more important than the presidential election. The result is that they have raised $4.5 million in the last two days and purchased another $2 million in advertising.

That's how critical this fight is to the other side. That's how much they care.

I believe you care more. So what more are you going to do?

Call, write and talk to your friends and family. It's vital you ask them to donate at noonprop8.com today!

Make another donation.

We cannot allow this cyber attack to prevent us from having the resources necessary to get our message on the air -- especially when the other side is buying $2 million in ads a day. Please, donate now at noonprop8.com

I know we can succeed. We have to.

In solidarity,

Geoff Kors
Executive Committee Member
No On 8


irony in city of ember (spoilers!)

If you haven’t seen City of Ember and don’t want any spoilers, I suggest skipping this post. If you have, or you don’t mind having the end revealed, then read on…

In my review of City of Ember, I pointed out how the film lacks the kind of irony that gives characters depth. The best example lies in the character of Mayor Cole, played by Bill Murray with amusingly detached self-absorption. In Ember, the Mayor is not only responsible for managing the city, but for protecting a box with a timer gradually counting back from two hundred to zero. This is the amount of time that the city’s builders estimated it would take for the Earth surface to become habitable again after an unspecified apocalyptic disaster. And what’s so important about the box? Instructions on how to leave Ember.

In one of the film’s common-sense defying, but necessary, plot contrivances, the box gets lost sometime during the succession of mayors. Mayor Cole, then, may know about the box’s existence, but he clearly doesn’t have the mayoral knowledge that was passed down with the responsibility of safeguarding the box. Of course, the film is set at the time when the timer reaches zero. Ember is in a state of severe deterioration, the city’s hydroelectric generator is failing, food and other supplies are desperately low. Naturally, the Mayor does what any greedy bastard would do: steal supplies and hoard them in a secret lair where he can retreat too while everyone else perishes.

Naturally, Mayor Cole reaches an end befitting his villainy. The city discovers his duplicity while the kid heroes make their escape, and Mayor Cole heads for his lair, locks out his faithful accomplice…only to get attacked by a giant mutant mole rat. Ho, hum.

Let me present a different scenario. The city is desperate. The generator is at the critical breaking point. The kid heroes have discovered the box and figured the way out, but the Mayor’s hollow promises and obtuse politicking have left them no choice but to strike out on their own. Yet not all the population is fooled; they know something terrible is happening. In the confusion and disorder of an increasingly panicked population, the Mayor is revealed for what he is: a coward who put his own welfare above the people he ostensibly served. Fearful, Mayor Cole makes a run for his secret lair. Eventually, the kids find their out and, with the adults perfectly capable of tracing their footsteps given the machines they activated on their way, the remainder of Ember’s population follows. The city then collapses. The underground river overflows, flooding the streets and underground tunnels that make up Ember’s infrastructure – including the tunnel leading to Mayor Cole’s lair. With no way out, but guaranteed a lifetime’s supply of food and air, the Mayor is essentially buried alive with no way out. Depending on how vicious you want to be, he could either be oblivious to the fact that Ember’s people escaped, or he could be fully aware and helpless to do anything about it.

Now that’s irony, and it would work especially well if the character were developed to be more than just a weak, cowardly man, but a man whose dedication to public service became eroded by cynical fatalism and debauched indifference.


new column: what do prop. 4 and prop. 8 have in common?

Dichotomies go boom:
One proposition would require parents or families to be notified when a teenager seeks to get an abortion. The other would throw love under the bus and ban same-sex couples from marrying. Two different propositions, but one underlying issue. Read What Do Prop. 4 and Prop. 8 Have in Common?

quote of the week: alan greenspan

"I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms."
-Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan
No shit, Sherlock.

Here's a twist of the knife.

new film review: religulous

If I weren’t the proverbial tree falling in the forest, I could imagine getting comments about Religulous review akin to the waving fists big-timers get whenever they review a politically loaded film. Comments that would accuse me injecting my own personal views and not doing a straight-up review. After all, people don’t read reviews for politics or religion…they want to know about the movie. Right?

Well, no. While it’s important to judge a movie on its own merits, it’s also important to contextualize it. And critics inevitable contextualize a film by drawing on his/her own experiences and philosophies. There is nothing dishonest about this; dishonest is the critic who pretends to be somebody else. In fact, knowing something about a film critic’s ideological stance – and it needn’t be “ideological” per se – can help put the review itself in context. For example: an atheist (like me) reviewing Religulous will have a different take on the film than a Christian. Potential questions arise, such as: what does it mean if a Christian enjoys a film that is critical of religion? Or, what does it mean if an atheist doesn’t like a film promoting atheism? There’s more going on than simply supporting or rejecting a film simply on the basis of ideology, and that’s another example of honesty; just because a film has a message you like doesn’t mean it’s a good film. Differences in perspective, then, can only be good; they yield richer interpretations.
The man behind “Politically Incorrect” on Comedy Central and, currently, “Real Time” on HBO, launches a bold, sorely-needed broadside against religion. The result is typical Bill Maher; unapologetic, blunt, and (mostly) funny as hell. But for a film that, with an irreverent game of gotcha, points out the ridiculous in various religions’ beliefs, Maher’s cannonade isn’t so much aimed at creating cognitive dissonance in believers but to shake atheists from their timidity in the face of nonsense. Read the rest in Bill Maher Takes Aim at the Ridiculous in Religion.


a dose of skepticism regarding an Obama presidency

There’s no such thing as miracles in politics.

And the warping effects of power should never be underestimated. Hence, this rule of thumb:
People who want power should not be trusted with power.
So as much as Obama really does embody an irrepressible optimism and hunger for something better, there are details of his campaign that indicate that for all the inspiration, Obama is an establishment candidate. Fundraising, for example.

Estimates for the cost of this election campaign from the Center for Responsive Politics defy imagination:
…more than $5.3 billion will go toward financing the federal contests upcoming on Nov. 4.

The presidential race alone will cost nearly $2.4 billion, the Center predicts. Already the candidates alone have raised more than $1.5 billion since the election cycle's start in January 2007. This is the first time that candidates for the White House have raised and spent more than $1 billion, and this year's total is on track to nearly double candidate fundraising in 2004 and triple 2000.

Weeks before Election Day, the 2008 cycle has already surpassed $4.5 billion, $300 million more than the $4.2 billion that had been raised by the conclusion of the 2004 cycle. The overall estimated cost of the 2008 election would represent a 27 percent increase over the 2004 cycle.
5 point 3. Billion. Dollars. In other words: that’s a lot of bloody zeros. For an election.

If ever there was proof that American democracy is elitist and plutocratic, there it is. As the Center for Responsive Politics Sheila Krumholz says, "You can't win a seat in Congress without being personally wealthy or knowing a lot of wealthy people who are willing to back you with their money."

The winners of all of this are, of course, the Powers That Be (and the Powers That Wannabe) and, Amy Goodman points out, the corporate media:
The $2-billion presidential race also guarantees vast profits for the broadcasters, the national networks and the local television stations. Hundreds of television stations are using the public airwaves, imposing themselves between the candidates and the public.
McCain’s complaint that Obama reneged on his agreement to use public financing doesn’t seem quite so crotchety. Catch-22: Obama has the ability to draw in large donations, thereby eliminating Republicans’ past financial advantage and win the spin wars. But the principle of inclusive, accessible elections not beholden to big-time contributors gets lost in the process. (Goodman points out how “A Washington Post analysis of Federal Election Commission data shows, though, that only a quarter of this [Obama’s] vast number of donors fall into the "small" category (under $200), which is a smaller percentage than that achieved by George Bush in his 2004 run.) The choice is: win by compromise or lose with integrity.

So no, there is no such thing as miracles in politics. Not unless there are fundamental philosophical and structural changes to “the system.” Obama is transformational in the sense of changing the nature of the national conversation, of bringing empathy, intelligence, and cooperation to the political stage. But I remain skeptical that the substantive, deep-down-in-the-sould transformation the US – the world, in fact – needs is something he can accomplish. It’s one thing to temper idealism with pragmatism, but there’s an undercurrent of realpolitiks in Obama’s campaign. Don’t get me wrong; Obama is, hands down, a better choice than Bush III, but unconditional faith in our “leaders” is what got this country into a mess in the first place.


portishead's third; thinking about music criticism

If art criticism could be defined as the art of objectifying a subjective experience – of filtering a visceral experience through rational evaluation – then music criticism has to be the black sheep of the criticism family. Resistant to the kind of analysis that can take apart a novel or film, music can obviously be judged on the technical side of music theory, but in the end boils down to the visceral, pre-rational experience. This aesthetic kind of criticism, limited only by the obvious requirement that musicians hit the right notes – is more of a genealogical, historical, comparative affair. Which explains why music reviews often read like a catalogue of analogies, snap judgments, and unsupported assertions. The film critic, at least, can point to a film’s technique (writing included) to justify why this or that aspect of the film works or doesn’t work. With music, however, once a certain proficiency threshold has been passed (and the bar isn’t necessarily that high), criticism yields to interpretation. At which point, the only thing to do is listen to an album and decide for yourself whether you like what you hear or not. Perhaps distinguishing between “criticism” and “review” is actually useful here.

I’ve only once done music reviews, for Morbid Outlook way back in August 2007. It was a fun experience and I’d do it again, but there’s something about reviewing music that feels like mere opiniating, like passing judgment without the net of reason beneath to catch the loose ends of the purely subjective. Music reviews are the equivalent of lazy film critics who settle for summarizing a film’s plot instead of dissecting the plot’s manifestation through cinematic technique. As an example, here’s Rob Sheffield’s review, at Rolling Stone mag, of Portishead’s long-awaited third album:
It's been ten years since the world last heard from Portishead, the U.K. trip-hop trio, and they do not sound like they've spent the past decade going to therapy, listening to new music or making friends. Actually, they sound like they spent it locked in a tea cupboard underwater off the coast of Bristol, with a piped-in orchestral soundtrack from Dario Argento horror movies. Is this a problem?
No way — nobody ever listened to Portishead for their sparkling personalities or musical variety. What they're brilliant at is obsessively textured studio dread, and Third is an unexpected yet totally impressive return. Beth Gibbons still has her high-pitched trill ("Wounded and afraid/Inside my head," she sings in the opener, "Silence" — big surprise), but she's just another sound effect in the audio creep show of Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley. "We Carry On" is a smashingly claustrophobic two-note electro riff, with heavy echoes of the Silver Apples' "Oscillations." In highlights like "The Rip," "Small" and "Machine Gun," Portishead mix up dub, break beats, cathedral organ, Moroccan drones and even surf rock into a headphone album for sour times.

Can I do better? Unlikely. (Well, maybe a little?) Here’s my take on Third:
Portishead’s eponymous second outing illustrated the hazard of achieving that holy grail of music, a distinctive sound: the hazard of getting stuck in an endlessly-repeating groove. But the album was solid in its own right, a masterful and necessary continuation of the scratchy, sample-laden, and tripped-out mourning vibe that made Dummy so singularly special and genuinely brilliant. And the concert album, Roseland NYC Live, proved that Portishead could work its way with different kinds of instrumentation, a quality of musicianship also revealed by their remixes and artist collaborations. Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley, along with Beth Gibbons, are musicians, not monkeys acting out their training.
So Third presented the band with the challenge of being Portishead without being Portishead. Consummate musicians that they are, they meet the challenge head-on with a superlative album that comfortably fits the mood of a dimly-lit room. Veering away (more or less) from hip-hop and into electronic territories laced with industrial, Third is both reinvention and reassertion, possessed of the same introspective melancholy that gives Portishead’s music a gothic flavour, but juiced up by ever-unexpected rhythms, sonic booms, burrowing melodies, and aching lyrics. And, of course, there’s Gibbons – whose voice is often raw, but with a plaintive, breaking quality that is just right for songs of sorrow.
Typical of Portishead, Third is the kind of album that makes adjectives nervous. A hip-hop flavour there, a trace of Trent Reznor here, surreal soundscapes everywhere; this is an album from far out of left field. Just as the Portishead “sound” had long reached overexposure, Third comes along to shake up the music world’s complacency with an effort that evades crass commercialism and preserves the scrappy spirit of musicians developing their own voice in the wilderness.
In all fairness, it is possible for music reviews to go beyond simple aesthetic reactions – see Brian Hiatt’s review of AC/DC’s latest. But I still have to ask: if somebody doesn’t like the way a piece of music sounds, can a music critic change that with a review?


I wouldn't normally post an ad, but...


new column: letter to a (potential) prop 8 nation

This week, I'm talking to those people who are considering voting for Prop 8:
I’ll be upfront. I am not a native son of California, and my arrival here was not the result of me waking up one morning, stuffed with visions of sun, surf and bikinis, and saying, “I’m packin’ up and movin’ to California, eh.” Nope; while I obviously made a conscious decision to move here, my coming to the Golden State, instead of another state, was largely the product of circumstance. Read the rest of Letter to a (Potential) Prop 8 Nation.
Always Choose Love.


what john cleese thinks about sarah palin

new film review: city of ember

The setting is extraordinary. An underground city a flicker away from total darkness, kept alight through thousands of streetlamps and suspended lights powered by a hydroelectric generator. Director Gil Kenan’s vision could be described, to coin a term, as grimepunk – steampunk’s proletarian sibling. Post-apocalyptic, decrepit, stylish in its lack of style, a focus on utility rather than prettiness, a patchwork aesthetic of grimy, rusty machinery barely maintained by a peasantry who know what the machines are for but not how they work. The city that gives the film, and the book on which it’s based, its name is like a low-tech, rudimentary analogue to Alex Proyas’ “Dark City.” Kenan gives Ember a claustrophobic, stagnant atmosphere, which is appropriate given that, as the prologue tells us, the confines of the city are all that generations of people have known throughout 200 years of isolation from an undescribed global disaster.
Discover the chilling end to A Tale About a Mysterious Underground City That Could Have Been So Much Stronger. (Also at inkandashes.net, of course.)

word definition of the day: palindrone

Palindrone: n. A constant, annoying sound that occurs whenever Gov. Sarah Palin opens her mouth, and possessing the unique property of sounding exactly the same whether she speaks from the left side of her mouth or the right.


hey! morbid outlook has a writing contest going on!

Over at Morbid Outlook, Mistress McCutchan says:
We have DVD copies of The Undertaker and His Pals to give away, so I decided to run with that theme... We are seeking zany, creepy stories about food and/or cannibalism! Spill some guts and tell us a story that will make our skin crawl! Three winners will be chosen and have their work published in an upcoming issue of Morbid Outlook.

The absolute maximum word limit is 2000. The contest is open to our North American readers only. The deadline is Friday, November 7, 2008.

Email your entry here by pasting it into the body of your email or snail mail it to

Morbid Outlook Magazine
772 Dovercourt Road
P.O. Box 334
Toronto, ON M6H 4E3


capsule reviews: elizabethtown and atonement

Elizabethtown: Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst are terrific in Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown and it’s good to see them both stretch beyond their blockbuster franchise roles. But their performances can’t keep the film from succumbing to an awww and shucks. Elizabethtown, with its comical situation and colourful characters – including Alec Baldwin as the CEO of a shoe company – comes across as a bit of wishful thinking that gratifies on paper but ultimately doesn’t ring authentic. The event that launches Drew Taylor’s (Bloom) downward spin stretches credibility: could a single shoe designer really be the one on which to hang the albatross of a $900 million corporate loss? And what about Dunst’s role as saving angel? It’s like a depressed person’s self-affirming daydream, in which all of life’s grittiness is polished away by a forced cheerfulness. Elizabethtown ultimately suffers from a case of contrivance, with each scene manufactured for effect instead of rooted in a genuine psychology.

Atonement: The only quality that makes Atonement a contender worthy of the august company of The Assassination of Jesse James, There Will Be Blood, and No Country for Old Men is Joe Wright’s phenomenal direction in partnership with Seamus McGarvey’s photography. (OKk, to be fair, the performances are beautiful tuned too. James McAvoy especially shows himself better than trash like Wanted.) That long take of soldiers miserably biding their time while awaiting evacuation from the beach of Dunkirk is a masterstroke of surreal, moody, visceral film work. And that’s just the most obvious bit of artistry in a film defined by beautiful imagery. But while the film starts off with a knock-out tragedy, the film devolves into a variation of “it-was-just-dream” that undercuts the drama of later scenes. A bratty, stupid, inappropriately imaginative young girl is reintroduced as an old woman who is more aware, perhaps, but also cowardly. Atonement teases with promising scenes of characters squeezed through the ringer, only to fall back on a gimmick that undoutbtedly worked better in the novel. Great visuals, great premise, a resolution that is the very picture of anti-climax.


new column: what is cool? hint: it's not the edison bar

I shy away from using my column as a grinding stone for axes...pettiness isn't an attractive trait in a columnist, or anyone else for that matter. But every so often, something galls my gizzard enough to make me want to write about it. The trick is tying it into a bigger picture. In this case, a ridiculous incident at the Edison ties into the bigger picture of sexist double-standards in fashion:
The first time I was mortally offended while going out, I was 10 (give or take). It was an upscale restaurant in Old Montreal, an establishment called Chez Queue that is amazingly still there, and I had ordered a dessert of strawberries and vanilla ice cream. Only, I didn’t like vanilla at the time. So I asked for chocolate ice cream instead. The waiter pulled a face, a disgusted face, as if I had ordered the strawberries with relish and hot sauce or something equally weird. I was outraged. My parents were far from impressed, and we never went back. Oh, I look back and laugh now. But the incident, and the sheer absurd insult of it all, is the defining memory I have of that place. And that is pretty much how I feel about a recent experience at the Edison bar. Read the rest of What is Cool? Hint: It's not the Edison Bar.
As a postscript, it's worth mentioning that while wandering away from the Edison in search of drinks at a friendly venue, a fellow walking past me spontaneously complimented me on my sandals. Vindication!


new film reviews: nick and norah, five moments

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist:
The first question that came to mind when watching the trailer for “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” was: why Nick and Norah? What possible relationship could the film – based on the book by Rachel Cohn – have to the classic “The Thin Man” book and six popular movies starring William Powell and Myrna Loy? After watching the movie, I still don’t know. Maybe it’s a reference to the pajama collection. Or maybe the book’s authors just liked the alliteration and the reference to those classic films is purely a pop-cultural by-product. Read the rest in It's No Song for the Thin Man, but Nick and Norah Do Have a Nice Playlist.
Five Moments of Infidelity:
Stories about infidelity come with a certain amount of risk. It’s easy to get caught up in the melodrama of a person cheating on another, to dwell on the sexual and/or emotional betrayal in a way that renders the characters as caricatures drawn in black and white. Hard is resisting the impulse to moralize. Harder is presenting a nuanced psychology. Harder still is examining infidelity as it occurs in multiple sets of interconnected characters. Yet, writer/director Kate Gorman pulls it off. “Five Moments of Infidelity” is the “Crash” of frail human relationships, although where “Crash” gets it wrong and ends up a blunt, brutish thing that leaves one sullied and bruised, “Five Moments” is perceptive, humane, and fully capable of handling the synchronicity of its ensemble cast. It is remarkably organic, a quality manifested as much in script’s meticulous construction as in the liquid, almost dance-like camerawork that elevates “Five Moments” above similarly-budgeted indie films – although flat, characterless cinematography does the film no favours. Read the rest in Five Moments of Infidelity - A Film That's Faithful to the Aches of the Human Heart.

Also at inkandashes.net.


translating the news: palin's alaska report

From an AP report on Alaskan lawmakers meeting in secret to discuss a report on whether or not Gov. Palin abused her authority in the firing of her state public safety commissioner (who, in turn, was being pressured to fire a state Trooper involved in nasty divorce and custody battle with Gov. Palin's sister):
Some Republicans have questioned why the committee has insisted on finishing the investigation Friday, which they said was an arbitrary date meant to damage the McCain-Palin campaign with less than a month to go before Election Day.
Translation: We don't care if she's guilty or not, and you won't either because after she's elected, there's fuck-all you can do about it. Except whine. Which is what liberals do. Neener-neener, you justice-loving liberal pansies.

The McCain campaign sought to pre-empt the potentially embarrassing report this week by releasing its own analysis, attributing Monegan's firing to a legitimate dispute over budget priorities and control over the department.
Translation: We've investigated ourselves and can say with complete and pure objectivity that we are not guilty. Let's be clear: we did not have improper power trips with that public safety commissioner's job. Oh, and we [heart] Dick Cheney. I mean, we really [heart] the big lug. He can shoot us in the face any day. That's how much we [heart] him.


presidental debate the second...a few thoughts

It didn’t take a degree in political science to figure out that last night’s debate wouldn’t be a bloodbath; voters will accept a boxing match, but won’t go for mud wrestling. And of course, as the pundit parade has already discussed ad nauseam, Obama was very cool and calm – presidential – while McCain, with his “that one” comment, endless “my friends,” and painfully lame attempts at humour, was the angry old curmudgeon mired in the quicksand of a campaign falling apart from all the cognitive dissonance. Both spouted the same old, same old – Obama just was more engaging and consistent. Does this mean Obama won? Sure. If winning actually means anything. But it wasn’t a real debate, it wasn’t a discussion, and I didn’t ultimately see the point of this whole “town hall” format fakery.

There was a surprise, however, and it didn’t come from the candidates. Rather, it came from my reaction to Obama: the Senator from Illinois felt like a politician to me, more so than he has in the past. Smart, likeable, accessible, yes, but still he had that politician’s quality, that combination of sales pitch and rhetoric that feels like it’s been carefully crafted to appeal to all people at all times. Granted, he said the right thing when he called healthcare a right – unlike McCain’s weasily “responsibility” answer. But that’s the thing. He said the right thing, just like he hedged his bets when talking about foreign policy in a way that would make him seems as tough as the neocon warmongers, but cuddlier thanks to increased diplomatic efforts. I've always viewed Obama as an establishment candidate, but last night just drove the point home.


Obama proved yet again that he is not the great liberal hope, but is indeed a centrist. This begs the question: how much is political rhetoric necessary in order to wage a successful campaign, and how much is actual policy? To put this in perspective, Obama is running as the candidate of change, but isn’t above negative campaigning – yet with McCain drudging the gutter, political realities dictate aggressive campaigning. The issue: how much talk is talk, and how much talk is walk?

Make no mistake, I still believe Obama is a vastly better choice than McCain, hands down. But maybe I should say that Obama is the vastly lesser evil of the two. That unnerving sucking sound you hear? That’s real hope exhaling its dying breath. It’s the difference between springing to life after a long illness, and merely hanging on for a few more moments of life support. The biggest question of this whole isn’t whether Obama will prevent a further slide into the pit dug by Bush, with McCain eagerly reaching for the shovel. It’s whether Obama can guide a reversal of Bush’s policies.


predictions for tonight's debate

I didn't think the VP debate would be a bloodbath. Of course, I never wrote it down so it's easy to say, "yeah, yeah, smart guy, you say that NOW, in hindsight..."

So this time, I'll put my predictions down and we'll see what happens.
  1. It will not be a bloodbath.
  2. McCain will indeed resort to character assassination, as his campaign promises.
  3. Obama will counter-attack with Keating - all the while staying focused on the economy, which is, obviously, McCain's biggest weakness.
McCain is in a defensive position brought on by his turn to negative campaigning. If he goes beyond casting doubts voters accept as fair to launching attacks seen as baseless, he will come across as desperate and bitter.

All Obama needs to do is stay cool, talk about the economy, and focus on connecting with voters. Biden was good at mixing in some personal talk with the policy talk; it defused Palin's single-minded focus of trying to bond with voters via the small town folksiness. If Obama can pepper his focus on the issues with more personal stories, more anecdotes from everyday folk, he'll connect really well. Bonus points: subtly needling McCain in a way that doesn't scream "bait" but will provoke McCain into overreacting.


new column: sex and the GOP

Suppose a politician proposed the following:

Provide economics education to children in the K-12 grades, using age-appropriate and fiscally accurate information, including information on how to stop the transmission of Ponzi schemes, prevent fraud, and detect con artists.

Not very objectionable, right? Now replace the word “economics” with sex:

Provide sex education to children in the K-12 grades, using age-appropriate and fiscally accurate information, including information on how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS.

Has anything changed?

Read the rest of Sex and the GOP...

where has all the romance of space travel gone?

When I was a kid, I fully expected the new millenium to bring with it the next giant leap for humankind: Mars. Yet as the Powers That Be and their enablers, the voting public, have become lost in dangerous philosophical immaturity and the geopolitics of war corporatism. We know we should be up there – on a moon base, for starters – pushing science forwards and living up to the famous Star Trek mantra, yet except for the excitement of Mars landers, we are still very much Earth-bound. Have we lost our ambition? Or is just that it’s hard to get worked up about exploring space when we can’t pay the bills? It’s a fair point – but what sort of age would we live in if we had a trip to Mars to inspire us, if we fully embraced our scientific challenges? Green technology, space travel; this is the stuff international cooperation and goodwill is made of. This is stuff of human evolution.

It’s disappointing to read about the US reliance on the Soviet space program in the gap between the shuttle’s retirement (2010) and replacement (2015). Not for the political reasons involving our tense relationship with Putin, or because it would damage US pride for the Chinese to reach the moon before we do, but because the romance of space exploration seems little more than a quaint dose of nostalgia easily taken for granted.


the Iraq war will cost HOW much??? WTF??

new film review: appaloosa

A Tale of Love and Bullets - Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris didn’t share nearly enough screen time in David Cronenberg’s comic book treatise A History of Violence. But along comes Appaloosa, a classical Western rooted in a mature formulation of the buddy movie, to show just how comfortably these two pros fit together. As two friends and partners in the peacekeeping-for-hire business, Mortensen and Harris (who co-wrote the screenplay and directed) bring a wordless chemistry into the surgically-precise dialogue. Read the rest...
Of course, there's always ink [and] ashes.


a few observations on the VP debate

  1. It was not a bloodbath.
  2. It was a battle of familiar talking points that could have been phoned in.
  3. Talking points simplify issues to the point of meaningless.
  4. Sarah Palin pronounces it "nukular."
  5. Biden broke hearts by being for civil unions but against gay marriage - like Palin.
  6. Biden debated well; personable, knowledgeable, sane.
  7. Palin held her own - style-wise. But how anybody can take seriously someone who calls for stricter economic oversight while later complaining that "government is the problem" is a mystery to me.
  8. Sarah Palin is of the Dick Cheney school of the Vice Presidency. Can I have more power, sir? Please, sir? More power?
  9. Joe Biden pronounces it "nuclear."
  10. As usual, the pundits win.


racism! the VP debate and the community reinvestment act of '77

The only thing that will be deadlier than tonight’s VP debate will be the endless analysis…which has already begun, prodded on by Republican and Democrats playing the expectations game. Republicans push that bar lower and lower so that even the slightest, surprising spark will make Palin seems like less of a hooplehead (as Bob Cesca puts it) and Democrats pushing that bar up to give Biden room to maneuver. It’s all posturing, with pundits offering opinions left, right, and center as to whether Palin will crash and burn or charm her way out with catchy non-answers, and whether Biden will play the patronizing Big Daddy teaching the helpless little girl a lesson or come across as the clearly superior elder statesment. But in a campaign defined by increasingly desperate Hail Marys, you may have heard of McCain’s latest gambit: question the moderator’s impartiality.

Apparently, Gwen Ifill – a smart, reliable, and very professional journalist in my opinion (based on watching Washington Week and NewsHour with Jim Lehrer) – is biased because she wrote a book allegedly favourable to Obama – a book made public a few weeks ago but schedule to be released on January 20, 2009. Of course, we could ask whether the book does show a bias or not. Here’s the description from Amazon:

In THE BREAKTHROUGH, veteran journalist Gwen Ifill surveys the American political landscape, shedding new light on the impact of Barack Obama’s stunning presidential campaign and introducing the emerging young African American politicians forging a bold new path to political power.

Ifill argues that the Black political structure formed during the Civil Rights movement is giving way to a generation of men and women who are the direct beneficiaries of the struggles of the 1960s. She offers incisive, detailed profiles of such prominent leaders as Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, and U.S. Congressman Artur Davis of Alabama, and also covers up-and-coming figures from across the nation. Drawing on interviews with power brokers like Senator Obama, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Vernon Jordan, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, and many others, as well as her own razor-sharp observations and analysis of such issues as generational conflict and the "black enough" conundrum, Ifill shows why this is a pivotal moment in American history.

THE BREAKTHROUGH is a remarkable look at contemporary politics and an essential foundation for understanding the future of American democracy.

I don’t see anything partisan about the book’s premise, examining race and politics in the context of the first black presidential candidate (a historical event whether the racists approve of it or not). Maybe the book is favourable to Obama, maybe it’s impartial; I can’t say without reading it. It’s a fake issue, though. As my wife pointed out to me this morning, people tend to be registered with either Republicans or Democrats – does that mean everybody is biased? No: it means that a professional journalist performs his/her job with impartiality, which even McCain admits after sleazily raising doubts about her objectivity:

"Frankly, I wish they had picked a moderator that isn't writing a book favorable to Barack Obama," McCain said of Ifill, who is examining the rise of the Illinois Democrat and other post-civil rights Let's face it. But I have to have to have confidence that Gwen Ifill will handle this as the professional journalist that she is."
But of course the whole issue is misleading: the question is, why this Hail Mary now? Possible answer: because the McCain campaigning is hedging its bets against a disastrous performance by Palin, by setting expectations up that if Biden does perform well despite all the tap dancing, they can resort to blaming Ifill for “gotcha” journalism.

My reaction is that Republicans wouldn’t have made this play if Ifill had been an old white guy, although Ifill herself is guarded:

"Do you think they made the same assumptions about Lou Cannon (who is white) when he wrote his book about Reagan?" said Ifill, who is black. Asked if there were racial motives at play, she said, "I don't know what it is. I find it curious."

Well, I’m calling racism.

Speaking of racism, you may have been hearing some mincing from the right-wing meat grinder on how something called the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, enacted under Jimmy Carter, is the real culprit behind our lovely reenactment of the Great Depression. Again, Doesn’t picking on programs to help the disadvantaged – minorities! – seem a bit of stretch, especially with legislation that is 30 years old? Sure, and it smells of racism too. Hence, this link to the Federal Reserve’s description of the CRA, and a helpful list of 11 racist lies conservatives tell to avoid taking the blame that is rightfully theirs for this mess.

Yeah, I call racism of the "What, me racist?" kind that comes with the smell of political opportunism.