Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Handicapping Idol: Craig Berman is a moron.

For the past two weeks, I've actually sent feedback to Craig Berman, the "writer in Washington D.C." who writes about American Idol on the MSNBC website that serves as the start-up page for me and everyone else I know. Last year, I ripped him a new one on this very blog, and this year he's back and worse than ever. Last week, I plead with MSNBC to get an actual entertainment writer to cover the idol phenomenon -- one who is capable of more than recycling the judge's misguided and often poorly articulated comments. I also pointed out that his attempts to be savvy -- saying Elliot Yamin's albums would probably bear a sticker that said "as seen on TV" were especially grating. (As I have been maintaining for weeks, Elliot Yamin is by far, the best singer ever to compete on Idol, including Kelly Clarkson.)

Anygay, this week, the great Berman appeared to have taken my comment to heart (I know, it's pathetic. You know, I once had a reading audience of over half a million, now I have delusions that a sub-mental free-lancer actually read my comment) because he contradicted the judges for the first time. Only problem is, Berman made his move on Elliot Yamin, whom Simon and Randy can recognize as a major talent, but who Berman decided to say had "no sense of rhythm." He also said Yamin was a sure thing to go home and Chris was the surest bet to stay. Well, I wonder how he'll wriggle out of this (or if he'll even try): Elliot was in the top two, and Chris went home.

I wish I'd posted last night, because then I'd be a prophet to both of my readers. I could have told them that Elliot would pick up all the fans of discernment who had been voting for the brilliant Paris (he stole me off the Paris ship). I could also have told them that Chris blew it last night with his pre-song patter. Ryan asked him about his fans, and instead of demuring, he chose to brag about them. He then said: "just to answer their question, boxer-briefs." Then, to prove that he's not only cocky, but dim, he added: "they'll know what I'm talking about."

Yes Chris, only those foxy wanna-be groupies who thought of such a salicious question as what kind of underwear you prefer (it was already a cliche 12 years ago when Hanes used it in a commercial) would know what you meant. The rest of your fan base, most of whom are voting for you because you have a doting wife and step-children whom you support by working in retail, will have no idea what you meant. They certainly wouldn't think you are a cad for flirting with your female fan base on national TV. Sheesh.

Well, I should have bet on it or something.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Numb With Outrage: Am I All Out Of Hate?

In a recent piece peripherally covering the Sundance Film Festival, Robert Redford claimed to have met then-Senator Nixon when Redford was a teenager and gotten "a bad vibe." (He was, of course, in the process of comparing Nixon to Bush) The late columnist Jack Anderson, who reached his influence zenith decades before Watergate, recalled pegging Nixon as "a bad man" when the latter was still a congressman.

It may just be a case of 20/20 cultural highsight, but it seems most people in the know hated Nixon long before Watergate, which took place nearly six years after he was elected president. Casting aside the fact that President Nixon enjoyed two landslide victories, I choose to believe that a good chunk of American smart people had to go around seething in anger for nearly six years before a "third rate burglary" finally woke up the rest of the country.

Of course, Nixon was an infinitely better president than Bush. (For starters, he merely inherited a bad war, he didn't start one, he appointed competent people to executive agencies, and he didn't order torture.) Even though I want to have some kinship with the boomer generation, they had nothing resembling the angst people who voted for Gore and Kerry feel today.

On a recent Daily Show, Sarah Vowell said it beautifully : "As I cried during Bush's first inaugural address, I thought the worst he would do is ruin the economy and muck up the drinking water." Those of us who were livid after the Florida recount have no way to process the horrors of the actual Bush presidency.

Perhaps it's a strategy like Hitler's big lie: paralyze your opponents with outrage before you even take office, and they will never regain their footing to challenge your further abuses. How can someone who believes Bush cheated his way into office enter a zone of discourse that allows them to effectively block his attempts to erode civil liberties, torture detainees and start ridiculously bad wars? Moreover, how can they convince those who think Bush was legitimately elected that their opposition to his policies is valid. The recount caused a marginalization of mainstream Democrats.

Yesterday, as I was recovering from last week's bar exaimination, I read most of a New Yorker article about defense department lawyer John Mora's futile four year quest to convince Rumsfeld to halt the torture of detainees at Gitmo and then in Iraq. I couldn't finish it. I just have no more anger left.

Whenever a new piece of horrendous news of the president crosses my conciousness, I am at a loss to put it in the proper context. There is no higher level of hatred than what I already feel. Before the 2004 elections, I could at least hope that the news would be widely circulated and convince a few. Now, I just don't want to deal with it.

I know there is still a midterm election left, and the Democrats could take control of the senate, but I can't let myself hope. The Republicans will just cheat again, using Diebold voting machines like they did in Ohio (another story the "liberal" media wouldn't touch).

Actually, I still do hope. Yesterday, as I was driving down 700 East in Salt Lake City Utah (the very reddest state), I saw a guy holding up a sign that said "impeach Bush." I don't know what his beef was, but I managed to honk and give him a thumbs-up. Maybe the rest of the country is coming around. It just takes six years to wake it up.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

50 Cent: The Hip-Hop Paris Hilton

I remember my first exposure to the now ubiquitous "fiddy." It was an advance copy of his album "Get Rich of Die Trying" in a press kit that focused on the following points:
- He was shot nine times, and still has a bullethole in his face.
- He is a real drug dealer.
- He is in a Biggie-Tupak style fight with JaRule and Benzino.
-Eminiem and Dre are on his side.

In case his press materials weren't enough to drop the hint, the cover and inside art from the CD featured guns and blood-soaked wads of money. Thinking "the lady doth protest too much" I dismissed it as unworthy of my attention and gave it to a friend of mine in the photo department.

I also gave him the DVD that came two weeks later. By that time our page designer had already heard "In Da Club" in an actual club.

The only part she could sing back to me was the "party like it's your birthday" part, but the opening hook (da DU, da DU, da DU) was still stuck in her head. The hook, was, of course, composed by Dr. Dre. The rapping on that track is not only unmemorable, it is unintelligible. And that's his best song. The fact is, 50 Cent is a completely talentless rapper.

He is also a publicity whore, as evinced by his over-playing of his gangster roots (now in a movie and video game) and his "beefs." Now that he's gotten all the mileage he can out of his beef and reconciliation with the irrelevant Ja Rule, he's picked a new target: rising star Kanye West.

This is ridiculous. It the intellectual equivalent of carrot top taking on Woody Allen. Besides, West probably doesn't even own a gat. What is he going to do in retaliation, write an Op Ed in the New York Times?

50 (or his advisor) understands this, so he's attacking West's political beliefs. First, he criticized West's spontaneous post-Katrina remark ("George Bush Does Not Care About Black People") as self-serving. Taking this further, he's now saying that he deeply admires President Bush, even calling him a "gangsta". Like Don King (whom we now know, was paid) 50 is saying that if he weren't a convicted felon and thus, ineligible to vote, he'd vote for the president.

What does this tell us about our president? Does it mean that he is paying 50, like he did Armstrong Williams and Don King? Doubtful. He's a lame duck and the gangsta and/or youth communities won't help him much in midterm elections.

Does 50 actually feel a kinship with the president, perhaps with the president's tendency to wage war? This is an intriguing possibility, but I think it may give 50 too much credit. Considering his marketing campaign to this point, I don't think he has an earnest or ingenuous cell in his body.

Is the president so unpopular now that the best way to get attention is to support him? This appears the most likely scenario. Supporting the president at this juncture is akin to Paris Hilton leaking a sex tape of herself. It's headling grabbing for its own sake. Granted 50, who has a movie and a video game to promote, is probably profitting more from his publicity whoring than Paris, who only ever had a bad reality show and some handbags.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Political Re-Allignment in PA (and the rest of the USA)

Now I don't want to jinx it, but social conservative poster boy Rick Santorum seems poised to lose his senate seat to Democrat Bob Casey Jr., whose lead in the polls seems to be widening. By itself, this is good news; but it signals even better news for socially convervative Democrats like yours truly.

You see, Bob Casey a pro-life Democrat, like Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. His pro-life stance is more widely known than Reid's thanks to his late father, who served as governor of the great state of Pennsylvania from 1987-95, and who will forever be memorialized in legal circles as the defendant in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. That case overturned Pennsylvania's abortion restrictions -- specifically a spousal notification provision -- as unconstitutional. It was the last genuine chance for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Even without the court case, the senior Casey will forever be remembered for his fierce pro-life stance. It cost him a chance to speak at the 1992 Democratic convention. As he sat there with his family at the back of Madison Square Garden -- having not been invited to join in the group hug on the floor -- Governor Casey predicted the Democrats would rue the day they decided that pro-lifers did not have a place in the mainstream of the Party. He was right. The fact that the Democrats are just beginning to come around is evinced by Chuck Shumer's whole hearted endorsement of Casey the younger's candidacy. (He reportedly told others to get out of the race).

The reason this is even better news for the rest of the country is that Casey's election will mean Pennsylvania will be represented in the Senate by a pro-choice Republican (Arlen Spector) and a pro-life Democrat! It takes abortion off the partisan table in Pennsylvania politics. This could signal a huge sea-change in the national parties, and it's only fitting that it should begin in Philly, where the nation was born. This re-allignment is much better news for the Democrats than the Republicans, who have been winning elections as the pro-life party.

Abortion is the Democrats least popular position and Hillary Clinton is now making clear that she thinks abortion is a "horrific tragedy." This is not an abandonment of their core beliefs but a return to them. Anyone who's actually read Roe knows that it allows for regulation of abortion; it is nowhere close to an endorsement of an unqualified right to abortion-on-demand. The Democrats' endorsement of the decision started as a tentative acknowledgement of the issue's complexity (check old Party Platforms and compare them to what we have today). It only hardened into strident dogma in response to Republican attacks on Roe. It's growing less strident as more women acknowledge that it's OK to be a feminist (or whatever) and still feel squeamish about killing a fetus. I can't imagine anything less worthy of celebration than the termination of a potential human life. How much the state should protect the unborn is a tricky, sober issue. It's not something to shout slogans about on either side.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Wiley Harry Reid

Although Ayn Rand is far from my favorite writer, I still come back to something from "Atlas Shrugged" when I'm confronted with a conundrum. When Dagny and Frisco are in school, they have a philosophy professor that frequently tells them there is no such thing as a paradox. When confronted with a seeming paradox they should "check their premises."

Lately, I've been checking my premises on the seeming paradox of Senate Minority leader Harry Reid, and not just because, like me, he is a Mormon Democrat. Commentators tend to describe him as "bland," "charisma-free" and even "politically tone deaf." Some hold him as an example of the Democrats' leadership vacuum, and cite his "lack of vision." By contrast, his colleagues in the senate use words like "shrewd," "formidable" and "ruthless." They hold him up as a master parliamentarian with a taste for vengeance who inspires fear on both sides of the aisle. After seeing how he handled the Harriet Miers nomination, I would have to side with the senators. His effectiveness is of a type that eludes the chattering classes, but he's got Bush on the ropes.

People forget that in early 2001, it was Reid who talked Jim Jeffords into switching parties, throwing the senate back to the Democrats for a time. He'd worked on Jeffords for months; other Democratic senators called him the "Jim Whisperer."

People also forget that three weeks ago, Reid praised the nomination of Miers. Several newspapers reported that Miers had been on the short list of non-objectionable nominees Reid had given Bush. Reid's response to her withdrawl today leads me to believe that he planned for the Republican infighting that ensued, and is now using her withdrawal to his utmost advantage. Two hours after the announcement, he issued this statement:

“The radical right wing of the Republican Party killed the Harriet Miers nomination. Apparently, Ms. Miers did not satisfy those who want to pack the Supreme Court with rigid ideologues. I had recommended that the President consider nominating Ms. Miers because I was impressed with her record of achievement as the managing partner of a major Texas law firm and the first woman president of the Texas Bar Association. In those roles she was a strong supporter of law firm diversity policies and a leader in promoting legal services for the poor. But these credentials are not good enough for the right wing: they want a nominee with a proven record of supporting their skewed goals.
“In choosing a replacement for Ms. Miers, President Bush should not reward the bad behavior of his right wing base. He should reject the demands of a few extremists and choose a justice who will protect the constitutional rights of all Americans.”

This statement is brilliant. First, it appears to throw Bush a bone. Second it's a wake-up call to all Republicans who don't want their party high-jacked by the Christian Right. Finally, and most importantly, it exploits the ever-present rift between Jesus Republicans and Country Club Republicans. Bush's success thus far has been due to his peculiar ability to appeal to both sets, as an old money conservative who is also a "born again" Christian. Miers' nomination caused a tear between these two factions, and Reid's statement is tearing it wider.

The statement preemptively makes Bush look like a patsy of the Christian Right if he chooses Jancie Rogers Brown or Priscilla Owen. Before Miers, choosing one of those two wagadoo idealogues would support his cultivated image of a man who goes with his gut. Now, he'd have to do a lot of explaining to the moderates in his party. You can bet the "gang of 14" will not try to stop a fillibuster of Brown or Owen now they they've had a taste of a moderate nominee. McCain is not comfortable with extremests like Brown or Owen, and I'll bet neither is Lieberman. Moreover, Reid is probably working with that gang right now to make sure they stay united.

Here's how I think it went down: Reid gave Bush a list that included Miers knowing that, as much as he wanted to appease the far right, he wanted even more to reward a loyal crony. He took the bait and Reid stood down. If he'd really wanted Meiers, Reid would have twisted a few arms, but he didn't. He watched and waited and smiled.

The fillibuster, and with it, the Constitution was hanging by a thread, and Reid, the Mormon Democrat, saved it.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Best News on New Orleans: The New Yorker

Perhaps the most chilling aspect of Bush's failure in New Orleans is how successful he's been at dodging the responsibility. The sickening incompetance of FEMA stands in stark contrast to the sickening competance of Bush's image-protection team. Not only have they moved quick enough to prevent the media from taking pictures of any of the watery corposes -- it would only take one picture of a mother's lifeless body still clutching her child's lifeless body to send people clamoring for Bush's impeachment --but they have been able to impose martial law on the whole city, preventing any worse news from leaking out. We should have a daily death toll, complete with pictures, but we don't.

Straining the bounds of irony, the best coverage of what it was life for the poor trapped in New Orleans is found in the "talk of the town" section of America's prissiest, most elite magazine. Lately, the New Yorker is the only publication I read religiously, and it's been the best at dispelling the lies Republicans tell themselves about Katrina.

First, there is the myth that "the only people who died in the floods were those that refused to leave." That myth was blown apart by a simple two page narrative in last week's magazine. It told of the Johnson family, 13 of whom live in a house together with one good job between them. They wanted to evacuate, as the patriach said "we may be poor, but we ain't stupid." Before the hutrricane, they'd heard rumors of buses evacuating the city, and they tried desparately to get more information. When no buses came, they waited out the storm in their house. They thought they were safe until the flooding started.

First they stood on furniture, then they went upstairs, then they used their large elder brother as a battering ram to break though the attic ceiling, handing him as much food and water as they could before joining him on the roof. There, they waited for FOUR DAYS, before a boat came and rescued them. They gave most of the water to their sister, so she could nurse her baby. When they were rescued, they were soaked, sunburned, starving and covered with soars from the shingles on their roof. Still, they were grateful to be alive, many of their neighbors drowned.

This week's magazine dispelled the myth that those who did want to stay were so stupid they deserved to drown. It told the story of one man who holed up on his roof with a canoe, several life jackets and several pounds of food. He told a volunteer rescue worker that he wanted to stay put, because his family had taken their only car to Baton Rouge, and he wanted to make sure they knew where to find him. The rescue worker (on a waverunner) explained to him that the water was toxic and likely to kill him before it was drained. He thought for a moment, then asked if he could take his dog, who was waiting with him. When she told him no, he sadly agreed to come, only after the rescue worker promised to help him get to Baton Rouge.

Knowing how worried I get when my wife takes longer than expected at the store, I can't imagine how horrible it would be to leave your family's only rallying point and go wherever a crowded bus takes you (not knowing where until you get there). How could you know you'd ever see them again? How could they know where to find you? How could you put yourself in the hands of a government who'd so thorughly botched things to this point?

Well, I've got to get to administrative law, the class that reminds me every day how responsible the President is for the failures of executive agencies.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Is Bush Paying Columnists Again?

The following link from the Christian Science Monitor is enough to convince me the Bush administration is still paying columnists to endorse them (they didn't get slapped very hard the last time). The columnist below is as perfect a choice to rally 'round the embattled Commander In Chief as Armstrong Williams was to endorse the embattled No Child Left Behind. He is from New Orleans and a Democrat, and now he probably has a home in Martha Vinyard.

The NY Times' Suicidal Betrayal

Here's a copy of the letter I e-mailed the Times in response to the paper's suicidal move to make its columnist page part of a $50 a year subscription service called, bone-headedly "Times Select". For those, like me, who read the columns as a way to procrastinate the unpleasant tasks of the day, this is a horrible betrayal. Columns are the only thing the Gray Lady does better than the L.A. Times, and now, I have no reason to log onto their website.

Dear Editor and Public Editor,
How dare you take your columnists away from Web Readers! I have read the OP-ED columnists every day for several years online, but I absolutely refuse to pay for it! Just when you were starting to recover from the Jayson Blair incidents, you shoot yourself in the foot with a greedy scheme that is sure to lose you millions of readers and millions of dollars in ad revenue.
Mark my words, you will be able to trace the Times complete loss of relevance back to the time you started charging a subsciption fee for your op ed page. Shame on you, your marketing department and anyone else who signed off on this suicidal idea.
a former reader,
Rick Mortensen