Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Groupie Routine

Here's a news flash: the narcissistic dingbats clustering around doughboy wife-killer Drew Peterson -- women half his age who ordinarily would assume he's a skeevy perv -- have daddy and self-esteem issues.

The lure of bad boys is nothing new. From serial killers to convicted wife killers such as Scott Peterson, the most heinous criminals in our society are never short on fascinated groupies.

Of course there is also the problem of fame being largely indistinguishable from notoriety, or simply being well-known, in this culture. And this is strictly a one-way phenomenon, gender-wise -- men are not writing female killers in prison with offers of marriage, nor would men be clustering around some suspected "merry widow" type, unless she happened to be hot or rich. It may be a more mercenary approach, but at least it makes more sense, and unlike Peterson's potential paramours, they're not putting themselves in harm's way.

The "bad boy" thing has always cracked me up; since I was in several bands and rode motorcycles right out of high school, I tended to get some of those "bad boy" groupies. I certainly didn't discourage it. But the women who wanted the real "fuck 'em and chuck 'em" type of bad boy, guys with deep-seated substance abuse and impulse control issues, then wondered why they were treated like shit, I avoided those broads like the plague. They're nuts. They look for a certain type that, in their weird low-self-esteem mindset, they think they can "change". This is already a signal; who the hell wants to be with someone they think they need to change in the first place?

Thumbnail analyses are always troubling to begin with, because of the potential for broad-brushing. Most women obviously have more sense than to pursue someone like Drew Peterson, or to marry Richard Ramirez. But the women who are that deluded, they don't need some sob-sister nonsense about how their childhood fucked them up. Everyone's childhood fucks them up one way or another; the key is what they do with it, whether they choose to perpetuate their issues, or to grow the hell up and move on. Someone needs to grab these women by the shoulders and ask them what they're thinking.

Beta Pirates

Most of us, I imagine, endorse the principle of open-sourcing, but you'd think its practitioners would spend their efforts on something that won't automatically need two or three major sets of fixes the day after it's formally released. It's like stealing a car with three flat tires.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


I keep waiting for some sign that amateur comic and professional ankle-biter Richard Dice Cohen understands that pretty much everything Karl Rove has ever said aloud or written for public consumption, especially anything meant to enhance or rehabilitate the reputation of his lifetime mancrush, is suspicious by its very existence.

It is awfully late in the day for Rove -- and, presumably, Bush -- to assert the president's intellectual bona fides. Now feeling the hot breath of history, they are dropping the good ol' boy persona and picking up the ol' bifocals one. But the books themselves reveal -- actually, confirm -- something about Bush that maybe Rove did not intend. They are not the reading of a widely read man, but instead the books of a man who seeks -- and sees -- vindication in every page. Bush has always been the captive of fixed ideas. His books just support that.

Dude, the man carried the same biography of George Washington for about six months. This is not a man who knocks out a biography per week; obvious jokes about cereal boxes and coloring books aside, Bush's sleepy-time schedule alone would preclude such a rigorous pace. Then again, Bush's record vacation time would permit at least some reading, but why the need to give Turdblossom the benefit of the doubt?

The Diceman is correct that even if Bush does read, it's only to affirm himself, and he's learned absolutely nothing, in which case he might as well have not read at all. Eisenhower by his own admission did not read much deeper than Zane Grey, but at least he had accomplished great things long before becoming President, and he actually understood something about how the world worked.

I doubt Bush could adequately give a coherent synopsis of any book he's read recently, certainly not The Stranger. I have no idea what Rove's motivation is in writing tendentious defenses of Mister Man's misunderestimated intemellectual prowess, especially when there's a decade of comedy hijinks to reminisce with. More importantly, it doesn't really matter what Rove's reasons are -- he's a reptile.

I'm just trying to figure out what the upside is for Cohen in even meeting these people halfway on their weird white lie.

Warren Piece

Whatever "controversy" has been ginned up surrounding the use of Rick Warren for the ceremonial invocations and assorted mumbo-jumbo at the upcoming investiture, it has predictably centered around middle 'murka's squick factor with Teh Ghey. Hitchens gets to the real heart of the matter:

Is it possible that Obama did not know the ideological background of his latest pastor? The thought seems plausible when one recalls the way in which he tolerated the odious Jeremiah Wright. Or is it possible that he does know the background of racism and superstition and sectarianism but thinks (as with Wright) that it might be politically useful in attracting a certain constituency? Either of these choices is pretty awful to contemplate.

It may be awful, but it's exactly correct. I seriously doubt if Obama gives a shit one way or the other about gay marriage, and he almost certainly doesn't buy into the fermented whimsies of the premillennial dispensationalist goofballs. For that matter, George W. Bush probably doesn't care about those things, no matter how much he pretends he does. It's just this same careful hypocrisy, catering to the emotionally unstable demographic that apparently cannot survive if their invisible friend and pet superstitions are not formally acknowledged at every public function.

It would be nice if Obama felt comfortable enough to just say "fuck 'em", and do whatever he needs to do -- or better yet, do nothing at all. There is serious work to get to right away, and time spent worrying about this puling nonsense is time better spent productively. I'm sure that Obama thinks it buys him some brownie points with the oppo party, but since it's just something they pay lip service to anyway, that's all it's really gonna get him.

Krasnaya Zvezda

So Pooty-Poot sort of overcommitted on where to put his energy eggs, which seemed to be the impending case about three months ago. Not that Russia had many other options, mind you -- an impossibly corrupt government, tragically shortened life expectancy, and a looming demographic inability to keep populating its vast interior may sideline Russia for some time to come, if not permanently.

Still, some of this reads like a Yakov Smirnoff routine.

That Russia’s largest state-run energy company needs a bailout so soon after oil hit record highs last summer is a telling postscript to a turbulent period. Once the emblem of the pride and the menace of a resurgent Russia, Gazprom has become a symbol of this oil state’s rapid economic decline.

During the boom times, Gazprom and the other Russian state energy company, Rosneft, became vehicles for carrying out creeping renationalization.

As oil prices rose, so did their stocks. But rather than investing sufficiently in drilling and exploration, Russia’s president at the time, Vladimir V. Putin, used them to pursue his agenda of regaining public control over the oil fields, and much of private industry beyond.


A deputy chief executive of Gazprom, Aleksandr I. Medvedev, predicted the company would achieve a market capitalization of $1 trillion by 2014. Instead, its share price has fallen 76 percent since the beginning of the year and its market cap is now about $85 billion.

By comparison, Exxon’s share price Monday of $78.02 is down 18 percent since January. The company’s market capitalization is $393 billion. And the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index stocks is down more than 40 percent for the year.

So, an underperforming industry with an overabundance of government connections is using its place at the table in a rather unseemly fashion? The hell you say.

The primary difference between nationalizing the industry, and merely allowing the industry's interests to determine national policies, is which pockets the money ends up in. The rest is merely the debauched, unsustainable brand of rentier sham-capitalism we have decided to endorse, literally paying people to steal from us, charge us to get back what's ours, and refuse to tell us what they're doing with the money they stole.

Say what you want about Chàvez and Morales, they aren't stealing from the poor to line the pockets of the rich.

Strip Maul

Here we go again. Palestinians, tired of being herded into "refugee camps" for multiple generations and treated like chattel, bait Israel into its usual overreaction shuffle. Neither side has been as much of a good-faith negotiator as they would like to portray themselves, but then nobody ever is. Why we insist on continuing to involve ourselves in their endless pas de deux is beyond me.

If every country in the region -- including Israel -- could be persuaded to take an equal share of Gazans in, that might be a start toward actual "peace", a condition which while poorly defined, should be recognizable because no one is truly happy with it, but violence is quelled all the same. Failing that, it'd be cheaper to build a harbor and a bunch of casinos along the Gaza Strip, and let them get on with what they've got. Hamas is never going to stop baiting Israel, Israel is never not going to respond disproportionately to provocation, and we're never going to stop supplying them with F-16's to do it with. Might as well go with what you got.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Sunday Bloody Sunday

Too much fun in the NFL yesterday. Not sure which is more hilarious:
  1. the win-and-you're-in Cowboys barely showing up to an ass-beating from a Philly team that probably won't make it past the divisional round;

  2. Jets castoff Chad Pennington returning to his former home with his new team and beating King Favre for the division title;

  3. the 13-point underdog Raiders coming into Tampa to play spoiler, keeping their former coach out of the playoffs, and sending Monte Kiffin off to his new job with his son -- the most recent former Raiders coach -- with an epic four-game choke;

  4. or the 11-5 Massholes (not to mention the overachieving Donkeys) getting shoved out of the playoffs by an overrated 8-8 Charger team.

I have a special fondness for that last one, simply because it hits Randy Moss. Three weeks ago, the Massholes came to Oakland to smack down the Raiders. Fair enough; that's what good teams are supposed to do to bad teams.

But when Moss caught a touchdown pass late in the first quarter to put the score at 21-0, knowing the rout was already on, he strutted through the end zone, back turned to the fans in the Black Hole, thumbs cocked at his name on the back of the jersey. Rubbing it in at his former team, as if he'd been treated unfairly by taking $15 million of Al Davis' -- and the fans' -- money to perform like a practice-squad reject for two years. He'd been a big part of the team having its worst season in 45 years, yet thought he should behave like a preening cock.

So, you know, I couldn't care less if Moss plays for another ten years, makes a lot of money and breaks a stack of records. But I hope he never gets that ring, which is what every player really wants. If he had any sense of honor, he'd send a refund to everyone who schlepped to the Coliseum to watch his tired ass alligator-arm his catches, dog his routes, and block like a girl scout.

Although the Dallas collapse was pretty damned funny too. We'll kinda miss the usual one-and-done soap opera we've become accustomed to in the Romo Era, but this season's epic fail prompts speculation as to which sorry-ass team will be desperate enough to pony up the money for the privilege of taking on Terrell Owens' bullshit. Our money's on the 0-16 Lions; they got nothin', they got nothin' to lose.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Run Sarah Run

Bible Spice takes her unique gift and keeps on givin'. It's the usual boilerplate and nonsense, but a couple things ring loud and clear.

Alaska’s projects are going to be in the nation’s best interests. They will be infrastructure that will build gas lines and build that infrastructure up that will lead to energy production to allow us to become energy independent. We aren’t asking for things like “Bridges to Nowhere.”


In Alaska, we’re fortunate. We have a surplus. We have money put aside for the last few years, waiting for a ‘rainy day’ when the economy wasn’t as strong. We are in a good position, so we are not asking for, nor should we ask for, a bailout from the ‘feds.’

She just never gives up with that big lie, does she? She did ask for a Bridge to Nowhere in her campaign, repudiated when it became unpopular, and kept the money anyway.

Which, gee, might have something to with why they have a surplus. Alaska is the biggest recipient of federal money per capita, while California gets about 77¢ back for every dollar it sends to the feds. Management is the least of our worries, sweet cheeks; it's sponge states like your'n that suck up our tax dollars for a $15 million hockey rink in a town of 7,000 tweakers.

Hell, her state's continued solvency is an ongoing bailout. Of course she's not going to ask -- we're footing the bill anyway.

But this is the part that really got me:

GIZZI: What was the biggest mistake made in the ’08 campaign?

PALIN: The biggest mistake made was that I could have called more shots on this: the opportunities that were not seized to speak to more Americans via media. I was not allowed to do very many interviews, and the interviews that I did were not necessarily those I would have chosen.

That's what it comes down to: she still thinks it was all about her. True, the campaign was run abysmally from the outset; bereft of any coherent message, McCain's braintrust insanely decided to remove his primary asset, his cozy relationship with the media. (Of course, this was at least in part because of internal recognition of a lack of message or genuine base appeal.)

I'm not sure exactly how many more interview fiascos Miss Thang feels she should have had in order to get her story straight, and no doubt we all would have gotten more bang for our entertainment buck. But as it was, she overshadowed her own running mate, first with plastering the excruciating minutiæ of her life, then with the unintentional hilarity of her lie-filled stump speeches and gaffe-riddled, utterly nonsensical interview responses.

She had plenty of opportunities to tell her side of the story, indeed much more so than any veep candidate I can recall. And the more we all got to her know her, the more of us reached the same conclusion -- that while the Palins are probably perfectly good neighbors, she was and is way out of her depth to a dangerous and irresponsible extent, and served merely as a vessel for the usual goofballs and yahoos. But she's convinced that if she had just had one more chance....

Kinda like when she tried to cock-block the old man on his concession speech, breaking a pretty obvious protocol, or her peremptory warning before her debate with Biden that she wasn't going to play by the rules, man. No, don't trouble yourself to learn the expectations and guidelines of these fairly straightforward procedures. It's all about you thinkin' outside them stiflin' boxes, baby, and we'll all just learn how to deal, even if it means stepping on toes that have been at this game decades longer than you.

Well. Anything's possible, I suppose; the media are already vacillating between tying Obama to Rod Blagojevich and Rick Warren, and poring through the stool samples of celebricriminals (the latest reality craze, perhaps) like Drew Peterson and Casey Anthony. They're already bored with their shiny new Obama toy; they'll start loving it to death by the first of February.

Come '11 and '12, they'll jump at the chance to scrawl stupid "comeback" puff pieces. And it might work, especially if Obama's Wall Street benefactors fail to hold up their end of the bailout bargain and leave a lot of broke, resentful people. Stranger things have happened.

Dick Almighty

Gee, who knew Darth would be an unrepentant asshole about every little thing till the bitter end?

Dick Cheney said Sunday that Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, deserved it when Cheney launched the f-word at him in 2004.

In an interview with "Fox News Sunday," Cheney was asked if he had any second thoughts or embarrassment. "No. I thought he merited it at the time," Cheney said, laughing.

One would hope that at some point the once-beleaguered opposition party would remember these gleeful transgressions, large and small, and act accordingly. And they have, just not in the direction we were hoping for. They're happy just to be back in power; they'll overturn the nastier elements of Cheney policies, sort through the rest, bury a few things, and let the perps walk out of professional courtesy.

Perhaps the rest of the planet will hold Cheney accountable for what we never will. Bottom line is that all he said to Pat Leahy was what he genuinely felt about everyone.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

When the Music's Over

Dying content and revenue models, decreasing quality of product, ridiculous pricing strategies, almost no industry foresight, belligerently opaque public relations -- it's actually surprising that the RIAA hasn't applied for a bailout yet.

Faster Pushy Cats! Drill! Drill!

Apparently some folks in Virginia still think there's a Santa Claus, and that if we just drill and melt every available square inch, we'll become magically energy independent, whatever and ever, amen.

Such an oil find would be small compared with the estimated 40 billion barrels in the Gulf Coast. The natural gas is more substantial. But both are symbolic of a rare window of opportunity for the energy industry.

Yes. Symbolic. That's really what this is all about, finding the appropriate symbol to reify the can-do spirit of overextending the exurban just-in-time-supply-chain lifestyle we're entitled to, and the profits that the energy industry is entitled to. Doesn't matter what the actual EROEI will be, the extraction techniques we'll be forced to subsidize, the environmental impact, as long as we can still drive our cocks anywhere and everywhere.

That's much easier than driving smaller and smarter, and living within our means. And when was the last time you heard any media folks exhorting that symbolism?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Shoe Fetish

A moron simply cannot conceive of his being anything less than perfectly intelligent, any more than a lunatic can conceive of his being less than perfectly sane. -- H. Beam Piper, Day of the Moron

A protester disrupts Himself's would-be "victory" lap in Baghdad, adding much-needed hijinks to the final days of an epic failure.

The Iraqi journalist, Muntader al-Zaidi, 28, a correspondent for Al Baghdadia, an independent Iraqi television station, stood up about 12 feet from Mr. Bush and shouted in Arabic: “This is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog!” He then threw a shoe at Mr. Bush, who ducked and narrowly avoided it.

As stunned security agents and guards, officials and journalists watched, Mr. Zaidi then threw his other shoe, shouting in Arabic, “This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq!” That shoe also narrowly missed Mr. Bush as Prime Minister Maliki stuck a hand in front of the president’s face to help shield him.

Mr. Maliki’s security agents jumped on the man, wrestled him to the floor and hustled him out of the room. They kicked him and beat him until “he was crying like a woman,” said Mohammed Taher, a reporter for Afaq, a television station owned by the Dawa Party, which is led by Mr. Maliki. Mr. Zaidi was then detained on unspecified charges.

Other Iraqi journalists in the front row apologized to Mr. Bush, who was uninjured and tried to brush off the incident by making a joke. “All I can report is it is a size 10,” he said, continuing to take questions and noting the apologies. He also called the incident a sign of democracy, saying, “That’s what people do in a free society, draw attention to themselves,” as the man’s screaming could be heard outside.

Really, ya just gotta love Junior. He takes a break from pardonin' turkeys and avoiding even the appearance of giving a shit about the death-spiral of the economy, for a last-minute "legacy" stunt. Al-Zaidi basically lobbed the most grievous insults imaginable in that culture, essentially saying, "Fuck you, you wrecked my country."

And what's Bush's response? He cracks a lame joke and goes right into the Freedomocracy™ boilerplate unfazed, even while everyone can hear the poor sap getting the shit kicked out of him. He dismisses the man's assertions by characterizing it as attention-seeking behavior, just another empty narcissist from some reality show. He should know.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Stooges Gone Wild

Shorter Curly Fiorina:

By proposing a bunch of commonsense measures which should have been preconditions to any bailout in the first place, and to which no self-respecting CEO will ever sign off on, we can pre-emptively absolve our beautiful loserdom as we soak the taxpayers.

Business leaders must step forward and be part of the solution by volunteering greater disclosure and accepting responsibilities. Otherwise we will be treated as the source of the problem.

The hell you say. Yeah, "treated", as opposed to, um, recognized as the source of the problem. The main difference between the grasping humps at AIG and the Somali pirates is that the pirates are honest about who they really are.


Of course the media is going to try to tie Obama the adventures of poliporn star Rod Caponevich. They're lazy, and it's slightly sexier than reiterating that the economy is shit and we're bailing out millionaires while working people are on their own. Doesn't matter that the whole scandal arose precisely because Obama wouldn't give Long Rod any perks or favors, so the seat got shopped around to the highest bidder.

In fact, it seems that the majority of the working relationship between Obama and Blago was rather contentious, even antagonistic at times. Obama wasn't pallin' around with Stiff PeterSwingin' Rod any more than he was with Bill Ayers. He was acquainted and cooperative with each man to the extent that it was mutually convenient, and that his own political career could be advanced.

The horror. As if glad-handing didn't occur in every marble corridor between Olympia and Dover. Big difference between that and cold-calling potential benefactors like you're Tony Soprano getting a little on the side, which is what separates Blagojevich's crude, self-destructive behavior from virtually every ordinary tool from either party. Even Ted Stevens was more circumspect in his corruption.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Lazy Train

As Molly Ivins pointed out in her classic smackdown, La Paglia was never one to dodge a simple dichotomy when she could set one up. Here she outdoes herself by recycling one of her dumber mash notes to the wit and wisdom of Klondike BarbieSarah Palin:

I was so outraged when I read Cavett's column that I felt like taking to the air like a Valkyrie and dropping on him at his ocean retreat in Montauk in the chichi Hamptons. How can it be that so many highly educated Americans have so little historical and cultural consciousness that they identify their own native patois as an eternal mark of intelligence, talent and political aptitude?

In sonorous real life, Cavett's slow, measured, self-interrupting and clause-ridden syntax is 50 years out of date. Guess what: There has been a revolution in English -- registered in the 1950s in the street slang, colloquial locutions and assertive rhythms of both Beat poetry and rock 'n' roll and now spread far and wide on the Web in the standard jazziness of blogspeak. Does Cavett really mean to offer himself as a linguistic gatekeeper for political achievers in this country?

Florid Wagnerian similes aside, there are many amazing, startling, completely counterintuitive assertions and non-sequiturs trudging aimlessly shoulder-to-shoulder in just those two paragraphs. (No slacker she, Paglia manages to keep up the brisk pace throughout. She's a veritable Michael Phelps of pseudo-contrarian posturing, truly championship-grade nonsense.)

But here, let's take just the most egregious examples. First is her ludicrous assertion about "highly-educated Americans". Most Americans have no historical or cultural consciousness to speak of, outside of pop-culture commonalities, but Persons of Breeding and/or Achievement -- well, they have nothing but such a consciousness. That's why they got those big-money degrees and gated communities, to differentiate themselves from les peons. However, that was not at all Cavett's point; his point was that Palin's oratorical scrambling was each and every time a failure of her ability to say anything meaningful. This has only been in dispute among the more reality-challenged bloggerati of the rightard stripe.

Second, Paglia's observation that English has changed is both inane and irrelevant. American English is in a near-constant state of flux, because of the variety of elements constantly infused by immigrants and regional speakers (unlike, say, Iceland, whose geographic isolation has rendered its language largely static since Viking times), and because we don't have self-styled linguistic solons "protecting" our sacred heritage in legislative amber (as opposed to, for example, France).

But one thing that has not changed, at least insofar as serious people speak purposefully to one another, is a familiarity with the conventions of fundamentals such as grammar, spelling, and usage. This is a country where HR tools will tell you, for god's sake, don't fuck up your cover letter, much less your résumé, with so much as a typo. The transcripts of Palin's interviews and speeches read like a collection of free-form brain-farts.

This has fuck-all to do with Palin's transparent wheel-spinning, something that, if she weren't trying so damned hard to flash her contrarian quals and crack her knuckles, Paglia would recognize at once. Instead she treats us to a completely irrelevant anecdote about some asshole professor from her Yale days (forty fucking years ago) as evidence.

Finally, no, despite his pedantry, Cavett does not appear to intend to offer himself as "linguistic gatekeeper", he merely expressed the same measures of bemusement and irritation that one party has such seething contempt for the American people that after eight years of epic failure, they found someone even less qualified than George W. Bush to play a primary role in their electoral campaign. This was made more and more evident every time Palin opened that hot 'n' nasty piehole of hers.

Has nothing to do with "street slang" or "colloquial locutions", as if Paglia had any more than an academic's acquaintance with either of those things. It's bad enough when a politician wraps empty slogans and moronic ideas in pretty words and phrases, but Palin couldn't even be bothered to make her happy horseshit halfway articulate, even after most of her stage patter was proven to be false. Only a true believer or an ivory-tower dipshit would fail to make this simple connection. And Paglia's incessant pro-forma disclaimers that "I support Obama but...." or "I'm pro-choice and pro-gay-rights but...." do not exactly discount the possibility of the former instance in addition to the latter.

But it's the trifecta of her irrelevant Yale anecdote, her tedious attempts to read Dick Cavett's mind, and her return to the belabored "Sarah Palin's just a misunderstood be-bop saxophonist" metaphor that kills this thing good and dead:

Yes, that is the lordly Yale that formed Dick Cavett's linguistic and cultural assumptions and that has alarmingly resurfaced in the contempt that he showed for the self-made Sarah Palin in "The Wild Wordsmith of Wasilla." I am very sorry that he, and so many other members of the educational elite, cannot take pleasure as I do in the quick, sometimes jagged, but always exuberant way that Palin speaks -- which is closer to street rapping than to the smug bourgeois cadences of the affluent professional class.

Well, Palin is certainly every bit as inarticulate and incoherent as any random wall-eyed dipshit showing off his leopard-print-and-chinchilla-fur Hennessy shelf on Cribs, but again, Flavor Flav wasn't running for vice-president behind an old man with a closely-guarded medical record. And rap, like be-bop saxophone, is a musical style that is deceptively chaotic and improvisational, but actually has schematic precision and structure at its core, when done well.

I've gone on about this before, but I'm genuinely perplexed by Paglia's incessant refusal to believe her lyin' eyes and ears when it comes to Palin. One of the precious few things that Palin did make abundantly clear in her barnstorming campaign tour is that she, Palin, aggressively disagrees with virtually every political precept Paglia claims to believe in, and would do everything she could to keep the Cheney Doctrine well in place, and add to it wherever possible. Which makes you wonder what Paglia actually believes in, besides undue attention.

I'm not sure which is more confusing -- that Paglia would rather keep quibbling over imaginary style points, or that she appears genuinely ignorant about those points, forever comparing an out-of-her-depth dingbat with complicated forms of music, illustrating in the process that she knows nothing about either.

Late Shift

I remember following the so-called late-night talk-show wars back in the day, when Leno and Letterman were jockeying for Carson's throne. Since I watched Letterman pretty regularly at the time, the inside-baseball aspect of it was interesting. Occasionally I'll catch a bit now and then, but not so much these days.

Still, as Goodman points out, this impending Leno move to a nightly 10PM show is strange and short-sighted. It smells like a panic move on NBC's part. That's not a swipe at Leno (while not my particular cup of tea, he's affable enough and good at what he does), it's just bizarre that the network would not only stake a significant chunk of their prime-time fortunes on this, at the expense of developing scripted material, but also risk undermining Conan O'Brien's shift to Leno's seat.

More than anything, it's an admission that they got nothin', which was getting more and more obvious with endless stunt-casting resusciation of the ER corpse, and the endless iterations of the Law & Order franchise. Instead of trying to find a fresh take on the procedural format, or even develop an entirely different kind of show, the network hands a full third of its money programming over to one person, in an already cluttered talk market.

As the Great One might have said: Weird, wild stuff.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

They Die

Bastards. It ain't broke, why this urge to fix it? If they can do it without screwing it up -- and it is possible with some tight casting and writing -- great. (This may actually turn out to be the case with the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still. Guess we'll find out Friday.) Otherwise, leave a sorely underrated cult classic alone. Does anybody write anything original anymore, or are we just spinning endless reams of remakes and comic-book franchises?

They don't even have a writer yet, which kinda makes me wish I had the chops to drop a spec script stat. But James Gunn might be an interesting choice there, since he would keep the sardonic humor of the original intact.

The most difficult thing to preserve would be the patience that Carpenter had in developing the narrative. Even when the pacing worked against it at times, the way they stuck with it and let the scenes unfold and breathe really made it a unique movie. If it's just a bunch of smash cuts and blood spatters, they already did that shit with 28 Weeks Later and it was just fine. No need to belabor it.


Glad to see I'm not the only one who was somewhat underwhelmed by Caroline Kennedy's offer to take over where Hillary Clinton leaves off. Nothing personal, mind you -- when you grow up in a not-too-far-off-the-boat Irish family, you are conditioned from an early age to appreciate the Kennedys. Still, so far overall, the stage is being set for considerably less actual change than we were led to believe in. Imagine that.

Maybe this is an East Coast/West Coast thang, but there's a perception of all these East Coast bluebloods handing the reins off to one another's scions as the occasion arises. Why does a Clinton have to be replaced by a Kennedy or a Cuomo? Will another Kennedy be procured to replace Uncle Ted when his time comes, or will Marty Meehan get a crack at the big man's chair?

The idea that just because the Saturday evening news announces a legacy appointment like we're all supposed to be automatically excited about it is, while not unexpected, still no less obnoxious. Caroline Kennedy may be a perfectly adequate or even an excellent replacement for Hillary Clinton's signature brand of anal cynicism and pinpoint triangulation. But times are too serious to just take the last name on good faith.

There's an enormous problem in the Senate right now with entitlement, with the sense that its members owe their allegiance to each other and not to the public.

There's always been that sense to some extent, but naturally as the fiscal requirements of even getting into the game continue to escalate, so do the odds that all comers are equipped with said entitlement. Handing the seat right over to her is gonna make it a hell of a lot harder for Dems to squawk about the perils of political dynasties when Jeb! runs for Mel Martinez' vacated seat.

Strike Back

Call it a small blow against the empire:

(12-06) 10:46 PST Chicago (AP) --

Workers laid off from their jobs at a factory have occupied the building and are demanding assurances they'll get severance and vacation pay that they say they are owed.

About 200 employees of Republic Windows and Doors began their sit-in Friday, the last scheduled day of the plant's operation.

Leah Fried, an organizer with the United Electrical Workers, said the Chicago-based vinyl window manufacturer failed to give 60 days' notice required by law before shutting down.

Workers also were angered when company officials didn't show up for a meeting Friday that had been arranged by U.S. Rep Luis Gutierrez, a Chicago Democrat, she said.

Good for them. You know, you never hear the end of these creatively sordid guesstimations of how the UAW is soaking the poor auto executives, even though the $73/hr. figure is bullshit and they've offered to make back-end concessions in the first place. Yet you hear nothing about the CEO:worker compensation ratio, which has ramped up exponentially in the past generation.

This is entirely consistent with how major players have dealt in bad faith all along, taking their cut out of the hides of workers and taxpayers. Wall Street bookies send their boy Hank Paulson in to demand a trillion dollars, without so much as an explanation of where the money will go or what it will do. It will be used to cover bad bets and fictitious wealth. They don't really even deny that, once you get past the "credit default swap" obfuscations.

Put more simply -- they are robbing each and every one of us to pay off their weak-ass nonsense, and if we're good little proles, maybe they'll graciously lend some of our own money back to us. Awful fucking large of them.

Meanwhile, the auto companies -- who have been run abysmally and greedily, and need to be pimp-slapped up and down the block, but still make an actual product, no matter how mediocre -- are lampooned and pilloried for coming hat in hand and asking for less than five percent of what Wall Street just came and took and put up their noses. Why? Because while politicians make the usual noises during campaign season about helping out reg'lar folks, when push comes to shove they don't really give much of a shit. That's not what their donors pay them to care about.

Besides, the Big Three will get what's theirs, and we all know it. It's just that it's necessary at this point for both sides to engage in this tedious kabuki that they're conducting rigorous oversight. Right. That way when they come back next year wanting another $50 bil or so, everyone will say what they're saying about the financial bailouts -- that since we're already balls deep in this, now we can't walk away.

But what plagues the automakers is not exactly what plagues the financial wizards. The latter group, I cannot repeat enough times, are merely bookies. They create nothing of tangible value, just elaborate risk-management regression-analysis formulas on Excel spreadsheets, which they trade amongst each other like baseball-card fetishists. The car companies, on the other hand, sunk themselves into a doomed product and revenue model, and health care and pension costs have caught up to them in the meantime. The collapse of their financing departments just sealed the deal.

I think it was a commenter in Krugman's column who pointed out that we'd all be better off if the government just stepped in right now, nationalized health care to the tune of $2-3 trillion across the board, with the proviso that businesses would have to leave the health-care portion of the workers' paycheck on as wages, thus immediately injecting bottom-up money back into the economy, which is the only way it's going to fully restore. Why not? It would cost the same for the businesses, and we're going to be eating this health-care shit sandwich at some point anyway, because we all dance to the tune of insurance and pharma companies.

This is a tremendously dangerous game these people are playing. It really amounts to stealing and hoarding on a massive scale, but without the usual means of control elites have typically exerted over burgeoning underclasses. Because all that money does them no good if the other 95% can't afford to buy anything. They can continue to rent their au pairs and pool boys and media time, but that's still a sliver of the overall "legitimate" economy. People will simply resort to whatever's available at that point, and you can scarcely blame them, once they realize that they are never going to get a fair shake. The system has failed them, has failed the vast majority of us.

It's nice that Obama has ambitious public works projects waiting in the wings, but those are temporary fixes for a systemic malaise which will only be compounded by future resource constraints. The idea that we're all going to continue to commute from the exurbs to our city jobs in peanut-oil-powered hovercars à la Jetsons is almost quaint in its short-sighted futility. Gas and oil are cheap right now, but OPEC will cut production, and even lower barrel price comes with its own set of constraints. Tar sands and coal-into-oil and other such low-EROEI tricks are not feasible below $80/bbl or so.

Smarter folks than myself have written extensively and comprehensively about the potential for "resilient community" networks, utilizing local and regional resource capabilities in everything from locavorism to scrip. Critics would respond that such a move would smack of austerity or even mass penury. But it's clearly a necessary move toward efficiency, something sorely lacking in how the system currently works. The waste and sag that leaves most people out manifests itself in income disparity and wage stagnation against top-5% excess, resulting in increasing economic stratification. Maybe it's time to opt out. Resilient communities are an opportunity to do so.

The fact of the matter is that the system as currently implemented provides less and less reason for the majority of people not to try something new, to re-engage with their communities in the process, to leave the thieves and robber barons on the outside looking in for a change. (Until they figure out how to control water supplies, that is.) It depends on whether there are enough people who can step back from the empty thrills of cheap toys and canned reality shows long enough to rediscover their own rational self-interest. It's worth a shot.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Song Retains the Name

SF Chronicle music critic Joel Selvin is better than most in his profession, but here seems a bit slow on the draw in discovering that there's no Santa Claus.

So-called illegal downloads may no longer be the gravest danger faced by the imperiled recording industry: Just plain bad music may be what ultimately does the business in, and if you're looking for evidence, just scan the list of Grammy nominees announced Wednesday night in a prime-time TV special that was anything but.

It's not just that the biggest selling record of the year is rapper Lil Wayne's "Tha Carter III" - last year's top seller was "High School Musical II," followed closely by Josh Grobin's Christmas album - or even the uninspiring lineup of dull, predictable Grammy nominations.

It is the complete and utter absence of any major work by an industry that once shipped masterpieces weekly.

It's kinda like waking up just this morning, and realizing that this George W. Bush fellow is not quite the "uniter" he claims to be. Ordinarily one might be forgiven for this bit of selective oversight, but Selvin seems to be lamenting the slow, sad demise of a past that never really was.

Pop music in this century is a corporate entertainment, a lifestyle accessory, a purposeless, nearly useless disposable commodity that has practically returned the hit parade to the puerile, pointless days of "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window."

Today's pop stars are manufactured by management firms in sleek offices with million-dollar budgets, staffs of legal counsel, publicists, stylists, marketing consultants - Pussycat Dolls anyone? Their records have been ProTooled into submission, every wrinkle smoothed out, every squeak, belch, intake of air digitally manipulated into a perfect, lifeless aural confection.

Oh, please. True pop music has always been a confectioner's contrivance; it's always been marketed to the nth degree by corporate assholes who only like music they know they can sell. It's marketed as wallpaper because that's what the average consumer utilizes it as. Average people are not musicians or even music lovers. They are music likers, music enjoyers. They're looking for something that's bland and inoffensive, catchy to the point of being obnoxious but also eminently forgettable, just as companies look for tunes they can rent in order to sell cheeseburgers and tampons.

There is a lot of great pop music over the years that wasn't compromised through the corporate meat-grinder, but when was the last time you heard a radio station play, say, XTC or Elvis Costello? Even the lame-ass Eighties stations don't bother with those guys; they're too busy wanking it to the camp value of Kajagoogoo and Blondie.

I hadn't really thought a whole hell of a lot about how I personally find and consume my musical entertainment choices, but the last few weeks at work have forced me to consider the process. Since I had my own office, I could listen to whatever I wanted, so it was always stuff I liked, a mix of old and new, brought in from home and loaded onto my work computer. Easy enough.

Occasionally I would tune to a niche station on the internets, but I've found that in the office and in the car, I prefer having control over what I listen to. Life is too short to sit through five-minute commercial breaks bookending the ten-thousandth iteration of either a new single in heavy rotation, or a "classic" from a band that really just insults that band by distilling its entire output to one or two songs. I shit you not, radio people -- Black Sabbath did plenty of good songs besides just War Pigs and Iron Man. And nobody needs or wants to hear anything from Steve Miller more than once or twice a decade at this point. True fuckin' story. I got yer pompatus right here, bub.

Being out in the facility the last few weeks, listening to the blaring of the radio, has only confirmed my loathing for radio in general. Tedious morning-zoo programs, full of the same tittering sexual double-entendres and fart jokes, again loaded with commercials. Funny for the first half-hour; three hours is overkill. Then when the music finally starts, it turns out that the Zoo Crew was actually the highlight of the day.

Doesn't matter what station it is. Again, classic rock churns ancient bands with enormous catalogs down to their one or two "signature" tracks, again to the detriment of everything else. Over....and over....and fucking over again. The "heavy" station is okay, but operates with its own set of narrow constraints -- they'll play Tool and Metallica and Slipknot and System of a Down all day, but still have yet to take a shot at proven up-and-comers such as, for example, Mastodon or Opeth. Hell, they hardly even play Motörhead, or any Maiden besides The Trooper or Run to the Hills. Corporate pussies, I tells ya.

And what passes for r&b or whatever it's called today makes me sick to my stomach, and I grew up listening to Al Green and Stevie Wonder. Buncha clowns who can't write or sing, slapping indistinguishable, tuneless catch-phrases around stolen snippets of actual decent songs. And those stations, when they say heavy rotation, they don't fuck around; you could easily hear the same song four or five times in an eight-hour shift. Pathetic, and just about right for their short-bus target demo. If I wanted to listen to Kanye all goddamned day, I'd....well, I'd jump off a fuckin' bridge, frankly.

Perhaps the worst offenders are the "mix" stations, the ones who pretend to have an everything-to-everyone playlist, and manage to fuck even that miserable goal up royally. True story: Other than its use in a local commercial and a parody on The Office, I had never heard that Mambo #2 (or whatever the hell it's called) thing before. Well, the "mix" decided to play it one fine morning, because apparently some closet-case out there needed a novelty track to get through the day, and Macarena would have been a bridge too far.

So I listened -- well, half-listened. Dear God, what is with people? How does something like that even get on the radio in the first place, much less sell product? This thing is the cultural artifact of a severely maladjusted society. I would run out of synonyms for "awful" and "shitty" trying to express my distaste, so instead I would sum it up with an entirely different word -- lazy -- to describe this thing. The verse is pretty much the same nursery-rhyme "melody" as the chorus, and the chorus, much like the title, has utterly no meaning. Folks, this is not music; it's not even wallpaper. The Human League were better than this, and I would rather have a wart on my cock than listen to the Human League. The only thing worse than bad music is boring music.

So of course this faggot "mix" station played the mambo song again the next fuckin' day, at which point I just flipped it over to classic-rock purgatory, where Steve Miller and Tom Petty drink my milkshake every hour or so. Fun times. No wonder people are so neurotic -- they're being force-fed this toxic dreck day after miserable day, each worse than the one before. I'm starting to get the appeal of talk radio.

Now, I think my little digression, however intemperate, is illustrative of the syndrome here, and it's a two-stage syndrome at that. Radio has been niched and heavy-rotated into irrelevance as a genuine mode of promoting and disseminating significant amounts of new musical product. Only a few truly new tracks, regardless of genre, get premiered in a given week, and their rotation rates come at the expense of other potential newcomers.

It has always been thus, of course, but niching has amplified the shut-out rate, it seems. That is, since every new single is only going to be allowed to play on one niche station in a given market, with no crossover to speak of, if a more established band takes a coveted rotation slot, the other band loses its chance for exposure, unless a DJ on a more flexible shift takes notice and finds a spot. And this, friends 'n' neighbors, has been the vaunted industry's promotion model.

The other part of the syndrome, naturally, is the major labels. You could remove illegal downloading from the equation, and they'd still be taking it in the shorts here, because they have little to offer anymore. Where labels once offered financing, production facilities, promotion, and distribution, about all they can do now is increase your profile and bankroll you on tour. Big fuckin' deal -- you can pull a higher margin self-producing your music and your swag and touring the clubs, and you don't have to worry about some cokehead A&R jagoff recouping his 5% out of your end and hosing you out of your royalties and/or your publishing.

Between that and the labels' hideous revenue model, they're lucky people buy anything from them. We're talking about people who kicked down 80 million bucks for one-note jokers like R.E.M. and Mariah Carey; they wouldn't know a pig in a poke if it bit 'em in the ass. And all that money, the huge signing bonuses and promo budgets of the '80s and '90s, came at the expense of other, smaller bands. Again, that's not a revenue or promotional model worth preserving. Didn't these chumps ever hear of diversifying their portfolios?

They're buggy-whip manufacturers, and it's because of their own greed as much as technology. You can only get away with screwing people out of twenty bucks for three decent songs for so long. Eventually they figure out how Limewire and iTunes work. The final nail in the coffin is mp3s killing of CDs, and thus the "album", so it's really back to the singles model of the '50s and '60s. Plus ça change and all.

And while I'm old enough to remember and appreciate the era when rock was spectacle, when Zeppelin could draw 80,000 people to Long Beach arena to watch twenty-minute drum solos and violin-bowed guitar interludes, when teenagers grabbed an eighth and a fifth, piled into TransAms and went to Cobo Hall to hook up in the parking lot and watch Gene Simmons breathe fire, I also know that that time is done. Modern stadium shows are priced for yupsters and their spoiled progeny, safe, sane, predictable outings with predictable set lists, with six-dollar bottles of water and ten-dollar glow sticks, and the act plays the songs exactly like on the mp3, suspiciously so. Packaged rebellion, as the song says. People who actually want to listen to music, as opposed to be at an "event", go to smaller venues.

Selvin's right about how many, maybe most, long-lived bands would never get signed these days. Record companies were actually pretty decent about letting bands take four or five albums to hit their stride and find their voice. Obviously that's done as well, but that's been done for a long, long time, even before big bad Napster changed the game. The first harbinger of the change was, believe it or not, the success of hair metal in the late '80s. Even worse was the impact of boy bands.

What do those two genres have as a common target demo? Teenaged girls, the most fickle niche market evah. Brilliant. The quick and easy success of these cheesy paint-by-numbers pasticheurs was a clear signal to the marketing assholes that they could go back to the Brill Building ethos of safe, quick, assembly-line product made to order by trained professionals. And the same technological strides that gave them Pro Tools, smoothing out every tone-deaf voice-cracker in order to further accessorize spoiled mallrats, also refined the production/promotion/distribution model to the advantage of actual musicians, who would no longer have to go into hock to some thieving marketing douche just to make an album or play some shows.

That's really the beauty of it -- the labels either don't get or refuse to admit just how much they cut their own throats. But the fact is that much of their product is overpriced crap, and the actual musicians who couldn't catch a break with the majors can now compete with them on a more level playing field.

The cultural freight that once loaded pop music's wagons has evaporated. The world no longer hangs on the next album by Dylan, Springsteen, Arcade Fire or anyone. The record business will be healthy again when it makes a record everybody wants to buy.

It doesn't matter that the Talking Heads or whoever couldn't get signed these days by the majors, just as it doesn't matter that their onanistic award ceremonies are even more pointless and self-indulgent than ever. They're dinosaurs sinking into tar pits. The mammals are taking over, and the chaos of a million garage bands, not having to worry about corporate pinheads or bullshit trends, is truly democratized bliss.

I like today's fractal cultures, the constant dissemination and exchange of new ideas and new sounds and songs, just as much as I enjoyed the larger commonality of the past. It's a technology-fueled maturation of the process that's better for musicians and the music they create. The remaining majors will consolidate and retrench in swag and tour promotion, where the margins have always been better in the first place. Musicians get to do exactly what they want, which is why we picked up our instruments in the first place. That and chicks.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

You Are What You Is

Our good buddy The Vile Scribbler has some timely observations on the pretenses of -- and lack of -- authenticity emanating from the usual rightard sphincterati.

And ultimately, what the fuck does it matter? Does it make the slightest practical difference whether Ann Coulter believes her own ever-increasing hysterical slander, or whether James Dobson honestly believes in Jesus and thinks he's living a good Christian lifestyle? Does it harm the discourse any less whether Michael "Savage" Weiner is really a bloodthirsty fascist or just playing one on his radio show?

I imagine most of us who assume they're faking it make that assumption because the things they're saying are either completely incoherent, as if they literally did not understand what they were saying, or blatantly hypocritical, or at least an argument made in transparently bad faith, as if no one would notice. It all boils down to the same thing -- the inability to believe that a serious, intellectually honest person would say the things these people are saying.

And it's true -- no serious or intellectually honest person would say such ridiculous things with a straight face. Except there's a lot of money involved for the top players of the game; for $25 mil a year, I'd be more than happy to say the things Rush Limbaugh says. I might be inclined to give much of it away just to preserve my conscience, but still, that's a lot of money.

And the amount of money and notoriety in that game helps make sense of the nonsensical, helps provide a rhythm to the bizarre spasms of choir-preaching going on there. That the whole thing might be a marketing gimmick to gull the rubes has more logic than them really not seeing their own self-contradictions and armies of strawmen. It's easier to figure that, say, Jonah Goldberg has a visceral aversion to an honest day's work, than to try to wrap one's brain around the notion that he actually believes what he says, or that he even believes it's intellectually consistent, much less honest.

Most of the inherent entertainment value, at least for me, in trying to parse the opacity of their arguments, is that more often than not, you really can't tell if they mean it or not.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Owned and Operated

I'm sure we're all very surprised to find out that a go-to commentator on military affairs, who -- get this -- appears regularly on multiple networks and news programs owned by a defense contractor, has a vested interest in things.

On NBC and in other public forums, General McCaffrey has consistently advocated wartime policies and spending priorities that are in line with his corporate interests. But those interests are not described to NBC’s viewers. He is held out as a dispassionate expert, not someone who helps companies win contracts related to the wars he discusses on television.

Yes, and I am "held out" as a "serious news guy", not someone who scrawls intemperate jeremiads at random intervals on a one-in-a-billion blog. Just ask me, I'll tell ya.

Of course McCaffrey is not the first -- nor even the hundredth, nor even the best -- example of how cable networks, their ceaseless and repetitive news cycles, and their blurring of entertainment and analysis have transformed the nature of our consumable news product. They're virtually indistinguishable now, and "reality" teevee has only accelerated that process.

The problem is exacerbated by this ridiculous "consultant" industry, where card-carrying animals such as Dick Morris or Karl Rove, unemployable by any respectable entity, are invited to pimp their debauched opinions as if they were something worthwhile. McCaffrey's apparent conflicts of interest are certainly part of the problem, but the timing here is more than a little weird, as if this rotating roster of infohacks and consultards making the rounds wasn't an issue in the first place.

There is not a huge leap from how the consultant industry operates and how these guys work, which is symptomatic of how all the boundaries have been swept aside.

What Katie Couric is not giving us, as a mainstream evening-news anchor, is an invitation to participate. So what if we changed the format of her show? Every day she gives us a sneak preview of whom she will interview over the next week. And you can go online and post your own questions. Maybe two or three user questions end up on the evening news, and you’re like a big star if she uses your question. She says your name: “This is Robert Rasmussen’s question.” You’re totally psyched. You feel awesome. And then on the Internet we post the other 17 user questions and their answers. We put those on the Internet, so there’s actually like an hour of content. A half-hour is on TV, and the other half-hour is on the Internet. You start involving people in the conversation. You start using television as the theatrical component to the Internet. Because what TV offers that the Internet doesn’t offer is a guarantee of fame. You know that millions of people saw that bit of you on television.

Oh, a-men to that, bro-ham. Hell, why not turn it into a raffle or a contest, something exciting like that, while we're at it? Dude, I can't just watch this "news" thing, unless it's about me, or asks me my opinion, or something awesome like that. I want David Brooks to offer fashion tips, which should be at least as useful as his political insights. I want a newscaster who gives me a personalized shout-out, maybe a pole-dance, and removes an article of clothing after every story segment. Not so fast, Brokaw!

Guys like McCaffrey are pikers, really, old farts riding the only revenue model available to them. It's just business; no doubt the political aspect hardly occurred to them. Networks sell one thing, ad space, and doubters are welcome to shit or git. The commercials are there to convince you that you're dying of restless leg syndrome and can only be cured by the wonders of modern pharmacopia, but it's the space between the commercials where the real bidness is done, where the players talk to each other whilst the audience beats off to the fantasy of ever more obscenely large vehicles to drive to the supermarket. Conflict of interest? The whole goddamned notion of corporate news is an endless, inextricable series of them.

The idea that, say, Jeff Immelt is suddenly going to step in and change a revenue model that works very well as is, because of some supposed ethical compromise, is about as likely as him showing up on the set of 30 Rock because of their occasional gentle lampooning of NBC's hierarchical system. It's not a bug, it's a feature. There's no baroque conspiracy; none is necessary when people don't get into the room unless they're on the same page in the first place.

Ya gotta hand it to the ad weasels -- they really have the pulse on where this new "news" product model is going. It's a brave new world of fractal marketeers angling for that digital niche, a strip-mall paradise of salesmen and the narcissists they seek, each looking for that next iteration of American Idol to get in on from their respective ends. Should be fun.