Thursday, March 29, 2007

It's Excruciatingly Painful Being Green

Watch this all the way through, then go get your kids and make them watch it -- that way you can actually share in the rape of each other's childhood.

Just wait 'til he covers Piggy.

"I'm Saul Tigh Bitch."


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Totalled Idiot

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Actor and comedian Eddie Griffin is said to be okay after crashing a rare Ferrari during a movie promotion. The 38-year-old star of Deuce Bigalow and Undercover Brother was practicing for a charity race when he accidentally took a curve too fast and plowed the car into a concrete barrier. The upcoming race is part of a promotion for Griffin's new movie Redline. The 1.5 million dollar Ferrari Enzo was damaged beyond repair; it was one of only 400 ever made and belonged to the movie's executive producer Daniel Sadek.

Griffin was unhurt in the crash and appeared to take it all in stride saying, "Undercover brother's good at karate and all the rest of that, but the brother can't drive."

In a completely unrelated item, the dismembered body of an unidentified black man has been found in a Jack-in-the-Box dumpster in the Westlake District of Los Angeles. Police say the only lead they have is a set of car keys jammed into the victim's mouth.

(Alright, seriously -- does anybody really give a rat's ass whether or not a worthless modern-day minstrel like Eddie Griffin was okay after this crash? Come on, what was really more valuable -- the life of one painfully unfunny douchebag, or the 1.5 million dollar masterpiece he just totalled?)

Listening Post

Awhile back, I churned out an excessively protracted and unconscionably self-indulgent piece detailing my various likes and dislikes when it comes to music (Shut Up. Listen. Learn./11.19.06). One of the arguments I made during that little musical manifesto was that it's entirely possible to like a band's music while hating the band itself; the example I cited -- at least in my case -- was Good Charlotte.

Understand, if someone woke me tomorrow morning and told me that Joel and Benji Madden had just been eaten by sharks, I'd probably respond by promptly turning my pillow over to the cool side.

That said, it's one of the universe's most puzzling conundrums that every good Charlotte Album has one -- and only one -- absolutely amazing track. I'm not talking simply good; I'm talking about three-minutes and thirty-seconds of sheer pop bliss; I'm talking about a song that's catchier than syphillis and for reasons you can't even begin to understand, manages to somehow find its way onto every single one of your iPod playlists -- even the one you titled "Fragile Butterflies Perched Peacefully Atop Deepak Chopra's Ass While He Assumes the Downward-Facing Dog Position."

On 2002's The Young and the Hopeless, that song was Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

On 2004's, The Chronicles of Life and Death, it was Predictable.

Good Charlotte's new album, Good Morning Revival, hits stores today. The first official single, The River, is a decent enough song; it features two of the guys from one of the most ridiculous bands currently making music, Avenged Sevenfold. (It also manages to fulfill the peculiar unwritten law in pop music which requires that somebody record an overly-earnest cautionary tale about Los Angeles every ten years or so.) Months before its release though, another song was already making the rounds on the internet.

It was obvious even at the time that Take Your Hands Off My Girl was this album's gem.

It sounds like nothing they've done before -- nothing else on the on the album -- and nothing they'll likely do again. It's just a really fucking great song.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Allahu Croc-bar

I'm not sure how effective it'll be, but somebody deserves credit for finally adding a little creativity to the suicide bombing. Woman Stopped at Gaza Border Wearing Belt of Live Crocodiles

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Bulletproof Hearts

I don't function very well without my wife. Though I have no doubt that many would view this as an opportunity to lecture me on the gathering storm of inevitable co-dependency, I actually believe it to be somewhat quaint and -- in my case -- a damn nice about-face from a past that's overflowing with positively atrocious behavior. Unfortunately, this simple truth means that when Jayne and I are apart for extended periods, I find myself oddly disoriented -- unsure of what the hell to do or how to do it.

Case in point: she's gone right now -- away at a conference for two days -- and I've probably opened and closed the refigerator door ten times without actually removing anything. I just stand there vacantly staring into it as if expecting the margarine to stand up and begin explaining string-theory to me. So far at least, it's failed to do so and thus the mysteries of the universe remain just that -- mysteries.

I admit to having the monotony broken a short time ago by one of the more maddening quirks of the apartment in which my wife and I pay an unforgivable amount of money to live. Our intercom system -- the one which lets us know that any manner of small, non-English-speaking persons has arrived with our food delivery and would now very much like to be buzzed in -- creates a sound that rivals a jackhammer in volume and ability to irritate. This would be little more than a minor inconvenience if not for the fact that the button tends to get stuck, which means that if we can't explain the situation to the person six floors below -- this is where the whole non-English-speaking thing becomes a pitfall -- one of us will be forced to go downstairs and unstick the button while simultaneously stifling the urge to beat the utterly confused bastard at the door into a coma.

It's even more annoying when someone walks by and hits the button just for the hell of it.

Having not ordered food -- I'm still determined to allow my refrigerator the time it apparently needs to show some initiative and suggest something worthwhile -- I assumed that one of these phantoms was the culprit when the jackhammer unexpectedly went off in my apartment a half-hour or so ago. As is typical, I swore loudly, then put on my shoes and took the elevator down to the street level. When I threw the front door open in a rage, standing there, a few feet from it, was a small Asian man with a messenger bag slung over his shoulder.

"Did you hit 6C?" I barked.

He returned a look that I recognized; it was the same one my dog used to make when he had recently come to the conclusion that my couch didn't meet the required level of canine fecal matter necessary to be considered truly tasteful.

"No -- no," he returned, looking anywhere but directly at me.

I huffed, fixed the button and went back upstairs.

A few minutes later, I was making yet another trek to the refrigerator when I noticed a white leaflet on the floor directly in front of my apartment door. It was then of course that the full breadth of Fu Manchu's nefarious plot became clear: he had basically just punched a bunch of buttons until somebody finally let him in, then he littered our building with restaurant fliers.

Normally, this would've been thorougly infuriating, and it was -- until I picked up the flier and took a look at it.

It was relatively unassuming -- the latest in an infinitude of Chinese restaurant menus my wife and I find under our door. This one however was inscribed in bold letters with what has to be the best blurb in the history of promotion -- an endorsement so impressive that it no doubt has the Zagat and Michelin people contemplating a change of career.

It read simply:

"The best Chinese food I never try it before!"
-- Said by many customer

And with that, all was forgiven.

After a quick internal debate over whether or not my mastery of the English language was strong enough to become one of the restaurant's "many customer," I threw the menu away and went back to the refrigerator. Still no string-theory.

I'm loathe to admit it, but years ago I likely would've looked upon this sort of reprieve from a current relationship as an opportunity to at most fool around with someone other than my partner, or at the very least masturbate in every room of the house. The former is out of the question these days because I'm very much in love with my wife, the latter simply because, A) my sex drive isn't quite what it used to be since undergoing brain surgery last year, and B) I live in New York City, which means that there's only one room in my residence to speak of; any attempt to vary my masturbatory patterns would be sorely lacking in creativity. Instead, I willingly turn my attention to a combination of writing and mental preparation for tonight's season finale of Battlestar Galactica.

Oh yeah, and watching Blood Diamond again.

I say again because my wife and I curled up on the couch last night and watched it together -- each of us enjoying the movie quite a bit, which is what led me to make the rare commitment to a second viewing. In addition to being a disturbing and wholly necessary tutorial on both the reality of the diamond trade and the brutality of the constant political upheaval in Africa -- upheaval which goes largely ignored by many here in the states -- it boasts excellent performances from its lead actors. Leonardo DiCaprio and Djimon Hounsou are each phenomenal and unquestioningly deserved their respective Oscar nominations; Jennifer Connolly manages to capture the enigmatic quality -- equal parts seductive and repellent -- that drives someone to willingly and consistently travel to the worst places on the planet and risk his or her life in pursuit of the news.

I'm very familiar with this quality -- I've had plenty of personal experience with it -- and yet it remains "enigmatic" simply because I have yet to fully understand it, and I'm not alone in this nescience. I know this however: it's very easy to fall in love with; it is almost impossible to live with.

A couple of weeks back, I left the insular quiet of the Upper East Side and hopped a cab down to, quite literally, my neighborhood's polar opposite -- the Lower East Side. I had been invited to a small party by one of my co-workers and relished the chance to spend a little time engaging in a ritual which long ago became foreign to me: drinking and complaining about the business. Before I even left my apartment, the party already had the distinction of being the first social event I'd be attending in years without Jayne on my arm (she wasn't feeling great and had decided to sit this one out); when I arrived, I quickly realized that the gathering was unusual for an entirely different reason: in attendance were reporters and producers from several networks' Baghdad crews, all of whom were not only familiar with my ex-wife, but had shared the kind of indescribable, singular intimacy with her that can only come from dodging mortar rounds together for extended periods of time.

They knew everything there was to know about her -- which meant that they almost surely knew everything there was to know about me.

A quick history lesson: my ex-wife and I were the worst couple imaginable.

Each of us was insanely passionate, notoriously short-fused and brutally caustic. Like many couples whose individual partners share combustive characteristics, we created a volatile mixture which simmered for quite some time before finally exploding altogether. It's only in hindsight however that our most indomitable shared trait becomes clear: neither of us was willing to accept that we were exactly the same; neither wanted to admit to having the same negative personality traits as the other -- it was easier to just blame each other and be done with it. I needed an escape, so I did drugs; she had looked for an escape from the beginning, so she subconsciously pushed me away. I was selfish and irresponsible -- constantly looking for something more, while trying to keep the status quo; she insisted on keeping the status quo solely out of obligation, while constantly craving something more. We both loved strongly, but neither of us would truly commit. We were each flawed in ways neither was willing to discuss or possibly even admit to. Our relationship never should've lasted more than a month at the most; we were foolish for trying to turn it into a lifetime.

The most common word I've heard used to describe my ex-wife is "rigid." She's indeed tough-as-nails -- exuding a masculine sexuality and drive that makes her enticing in a way that seems almost preternatural. It's likely always made her an object of infatuation to those who perceive the idea of taming her to be the ultimate challenge. I have no doubt that it's the progenitor of this kind of rough-and-tumble bravado which drove her to take a job as a network field producer. What that progenitor is, I have my suspicions.

Back to the party -- it was about an hour after my arrival that it became clear to the Baghdad people just who I was.

The reaction was, well --

"YOU'RE CHEZ?" one woman practically screamed, with equal parts shock and bemusement -- immediately calling the others over so that they too could get a look at the circus freak.

I just smiled and nodded in resignation.

Yes, yes -- it's me -- THAT GUY. The asshole -- in the flesh. Thanks for coming; make sure you tip your bartender and waitresses on the way out.

I was almost sorry I didn't have a pedestal handy.

Understand, it's one thing to have an unseemly past -- one in which you regret nearly everything you did and didn't do; it's something else entirely to meet people for the first time who already know every repugnant detail -- every rotten secret -- from that past. Disconcerting doesn't even begin to cover it.

For the next half-hour or so, I did my best to keep the conversation upbeat -- despite the knowledge that I had already been judged and convicted and now stood before my ex-wife's co-workers as exposed and vulnerable as the day I'd been born. I spoke highly of my former love; I spoke truthfully about my own mistakes -- my search for a measure of redemption -- and my recent successes and newfound happiness; I spoke honestly about my love for Jayne and the strength of our relationship; I smiled a lot and did my best to take the whole uncomfortable situation in stride.

I learned that my ex-wife is now dating a photographer who works with her. In fact, one noticeably strange moment came when someone actually suggested calling my ex, right there and then, and putting me on the phone. Another woman quickly dismissed the idea, intimating that it would upset the current boyfriend. Admittedly, the possibility that I might be perceived as a threat was something that I turned over in my mind for a few minutes, curious as to whether my memory existed as some sort of specter in my ex's life -- confused at this thought, given her abrupt and unequivocal exit from our relationship.

After awhile, the garrulity turned toward another topic and I was left to drink my beer in relative peace. Thankfully, my inquisition at the hands of the Babes of Baghdad was quickly followed by a quiet conversation with the host of the party -- my co-worker. She's a cool, sweet, funny, smart and attractive twenty-five-year-old with whom I've forged an odd little bond recently. This was initially due to the fact that she'd been unlucky enough to fall hard for an overseas field producer herself, and was facing the same obstacles and difficulties I had once faced in dealing with that particular personality type.

I offered an opinion or two -- refusing to lecture -- confident in the belief that she's doing just fine figuring it out on her own.

Discussing it with her however, had a surprising affect on me; it helped me to at least better understand what years ago was so torturously incomprehensible. I listened to what was happening to my friend and I recognized the behavior immediately. The man she cared about sought solace in her arms, but was never fully there; his passion was alluring and consuming -- but also fleeting; despite the trappings of adulthood -- particularly the dangerous, important job -- he was, in reality, little more than a selfish child.

It all finally added up.

"Baghdad" isn't merely a place -- not for people like the man who has my friend's heart; not for people like the woman who once had mine -- it's an idea. It's where you run to when bullets and bombs don't terrify you but commitment to another human being and the very thought of an ordinary life does. It's where everything is transient, nothing lasts, and caprice is not only accepted but rewarded; rationalized as an unavoidable by-product of the job; in actuality, the very reason the job held such appeal in the first place.

The progenitor I mentioned earlier: fear.

Fear of never being able to lead a quiet life; fear of becoming restless and unwittingly hurting someone who loves you; fear of failure.

The job becomes the perfect excuse for never having to take on that most daunting yet rewarding of life's responsibilities: the care of a human heart.

About two-thirds of the way through Blood Diamond, Leonardo DiCaprio's character asks Jennifer Connolly's why she does what she does -- why she puts herself in the line of fire time and time again. He asks if she's a thrill-seeker; she responds, "Three out of four ex-boyfriends say that I'm not happy unless my life is in a constant state of crisis."

At least one ex-husband understands, and he's happy not to be a part of it anymore.

He's grateful though for the learning experience -- and even more grateful for what's come into his life since.

Sunday Sacrilege

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A Retraction

I stand corrected.

After being inundated with comments and e-mails chastising me for my harsh assessment of HBO's Entourage -- and likewise extolling the greatness of the show -- I've decided that I, in fact, was wrong.

Far from fitting the dissentient description I provided a scant two days ago, Entourage is, in actuality, everything its enthusiasts claim it to be: the hilarious adventures and misadventures of four plucky (and lucky!) young guys who, along with their irascible but lovable agent, navigate both the pay-dirt and the pitfalls of the modern movie business -- playing by their own rules and conquering Hollywood on their own terms!

It is indeed one of the finest and funniest shows on television.

Coming up tomorrow: how a block of falling ice recently rendered me borderline retarded.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Cynicist Manifesto: Addendum

Part of the ongoing series of random thoughts which don't necessarily merit a full post.

Alone Again, Or?

Sometimes it's preferable to go completely without than it is to settle for something awful: never eating pizza at all beats even once having to work your way through the crap served by Pizza Hut; being utterly deprived of television would be a profound improvement over a prime time schedule filled with Gray's Anatomy, Ugly Betty and According to Jim; it would be better to be dead than be forced to live in Corpus Christi, Texas, etc.

This belief holds especially true when it comes to relationships.

It's a hell of a lot more desirable to be alone than it is to be saddled with an idiot (yes, even one who's talented in bed).

I'm sure that at some point I'll expand on this idea, but for the moment two types of people come to mind that I can highly recommend you avoid like the black guy at a NASCAR race.

#1. Women who love football

Yeah, I know, most men think they've struck gold if they happen to stumble across something that doesn't simply tolerate their Sunday fix but actively participates in it and happens to have a place up front in which to put their penises from time to time. You know what though -- think about the women you've met in your lifetime who really love football. I'm not talking about the ones who are more than happy to get into it once in awhile; I'm talking about the ones who love it -- the ones who own jerseys and know stats and believe there's nothing the least bit offensive about Budweiser in a plastic cup and scream as loudly as you do when the ref makes a lousy call and are equal parts furious and heartbroken when their QB chokes during the playoffs.

Now think about arm hair, a lack of decent fashion sense, the inability to apply make-up, an intellect that rivals that of a Slinky, a CD rack full of Creed & Daughtry and front-row seats at the Nickleback show, the inability to take her to dinner anywhere more upscale than TGIFridays and -- should you stick around -- the distinct possibility that she'll eventually either A) begin sleeping with one of her seventeen-year-old students, or B) leave you for that woman she met in the drill-bits section of Home Depot.

If you're lucky, she'll just be really, really average.

#2. Anyone who uses the term "My Boys," or conversely, "My Girls"

No, seriously -- just punch this person in the face and get it over with.

Burn, Hollywood, Burn

It's one of the universe's most puzzling conundrums: HBO's Entourage bills itself as a comedy, and yet is never funny. Never. Like, not even once in awhile.

I'm not entirely sure who the core audience is for this show, but after much internal debate I think I can safely say that America's collective IQ could be raised substantially in a very short amount of time if these people were forced to register with the government for immediate relocation to offshore internment camps. It's simple conditional science really: if you watch Entourage because you think it's funny, you're either hopelessly deluded or just incredibly dumb -- since it's not -- and are therefore a prime candidate for the camps; if you watch Entourage because you're truly fascinated by the day-to-day triumphs and tragedies of four vapid, over-indulged and underworked assholes whose lives revolve around bedding girls you can't have, making money you'll never see, living a life you'll never live and buying $300 t-shirts at Fred Segal then discussing how they look in them -- once again, you're perfect material for the camps; if you watch because you'd like to in some way emulate the aforementioned assholes -- off to the camps; if you watch because you work in Hollywood and either hope you might see yourself on TV, or simply think that the life you lead is so goddamned amazing that, well, everybody wishes they could be a part of it, right? -- fuck the camps, you get a beating at the hands of ten Brooklyn teamsters who've been told that you're a gay athiest who raped a ten-year-old boy from the neighborhood.

Given that America is inundated with the idiotic real-life antics of young, spoiled Hollywood every day from every conceivable media outlet -- why the hell would anyone possibly choose to suffer through an unfunny TV comedy about said same?

Hug this out, bitch.

(The Cynicist Manifesto: Addendum -- 1.31.07)

(The Cynicist Manifesto -- 9.22.06)

Friday, March 16, 2007

Um, Uh-Oh...

So, a grand jury has ruled that three NYPD cops will be charged with killing an unarmed black groom in a hail of gunfire just before his wedding day.

Sharpton's already holding a press conference claiming a measure of victory in the case and some are publicly celebrating.

Half the NYPD is Irish.

Tomorrow's St. Patrick's Day -- and there are now a-million-some-odd drunk, belligerent Irishmen roaming the streets of New York.

I kid you not, I already hear sirens outside my window.

Mr. World Destruct

I realize that I poked a little fun at Trent Reznor a couple of weeks ago (Year Four-Zero -- 2/26/07), but that just means that I'm kind of an asshole; in no way is it intended to imply that I'm not chomping at the bit to get my greedy little hands on the new Nine Inch Nails album, Year Zero.

That desire was amplified exponentially a couple of days ago, when I got the chance to listen to the record from start to finish.

Suffice to say, my fears of NIN dropping off the end of the rage pier into the great sea of bitter, introspective self-parody have been put to rest. This is mostly for one simple reason: Trent has finally taken all the wrath and fury he used to turn inward and turned it outward.

The result is stunning.

This time around, he's replaced anger with outrage, and it makes all the difference in the world -- at least one can hope it might.

The first video from Year Zero has everything to guarantee an official ban from MTV: Sex, nudity, guns, violence and -- most importantly -- a message worth screaming.

Here's Survivalism.

Stark Contrast

I'd like to say, with all delicious irony fully intact -- God bless Pete Stark.

The California congressman is now the highest-ranking elected official in the United States to "out" himself as one who places thousands of years of human and scientific advancement over 2000-year-old superstition and fairy-tale hokum.

In other words, he doesn't believe in the theory of a god (the proper way of phrasing it incidentally, being that the denial of something which has not and cannot be proven requires no contrarian argument; you wouldn't call someone who didn't believe in gravity and "anti-gravite," you'd call that person an idiot).

When asked whether a so-called athiest can properly serve the people of the United States -- particularly at its highest levels of government -- former Massachusetts governor, presidential candidate and devout mormon Mitt "Please Don't Make Fun of My Silly Name" Romney said this:

"We need people of faith to run this country. Americans want their leaders to be children of God."

Yes Mitt, you're absolutely right. What this country desperately needs right now aren't more people who embrace fact, reason and their fellow humans in the knowledge that this may very well be the only chance we all have to make things right on planet earth. We don't need people who can argue against dangerous religious extremists from a point of unassailable logic rather than the ridiculous belief that one imaginary friend is better than another. We don't need people who understand that one person's religious beliefs should never become a matter of legislation -- particularly when it comes to scientific education and advancements which will save lives, and personal decisions which are best left personal.

No, no -- you're right. What we need are more people like your fellow presidential candidate Sam Brownback -- who say that homosexuality is immoral because an ancient book written by a bunch of primitives who literally knew nothing about anything says so. Or maybe just more people like you -- adhering to the hilarious teachings of a narcissistic con man who essentially cobbled together, in the tawdriest manner possible, stolen bits and pieces from other religions in an effort gain wealth, power, as many wives as he deemed fit, and a flawless means of simultaneously eluding and cheating the very government which you now hope to run.

How about another idea -- more Pete, less Mitt.


Unfortunately, there's no way that I'm going to get part three of my little saga completed within the next couple of days; I don't have the time required to write it and, quite frankly, I'd like to snap myself out of the mood that re-opening this old wound has put me in this past week. (For the record, the column was never intended to unfold in the manner that it did, nor was it meant to stand as such a detailed account of events -- sometimes you begin writing and things just go where they do.)

It dawned on me however that something I wrote a few months ago can work as a sort of bridge between where I've left off -- and where I'm going next. At the time, the post I'm referring to seemed thoroughly apropos of nothing, but by using what I've written recently as a primer, it will now suddenly take on new meaning and make a whole lot more sense.

Feel free to check it out, and know that I hope to have this latest column finished by early next week.

(The Kingdom -- 12.08.06)

Monday, March 12, 2007

Don't Call it a Comeback

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Due to circumstances beyond my control, it's been unusually quiet here at Malcontent Central.

Look for new material later today -- provided I don't decide that a bottle of Dewars, a half-eaten bag of stale Funyuns and a pay-per-view movie is a better idea.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

In Memoriam

So, I finally got around to watching this past week's episode of Battlestar Galactica. As had been rumored for some time, they "killed off" the best character on the show, Kara "Starbuck" Thrace. I qualify that statement only because I have no doubt that this is not the last we'll see of her. It had damn well better not be, given the fact that I'll go on loving her in a way usually reserved for new girlfriends, first crushes, devoted spouses and those sexual encounters that leave you bruised, bloodied and thoroughly spent. My wife is aware of this love, lust and loyalty and is kind enough to allow me my infatuation, gods bless her.

R.I.P. Starbuck.

You'll remain in our hearts and in my dreams.

Until we meet again -- good hunting.

The Rest is History

Just a point worth mentioning: this month marks my fifteenth year in the television news business.

To celebrate this auspicious anniversary, I'll be throwing a party this coming Saturday night at the bottom of the East River, directly under the Brooklyn Bridge.

Feel free to attend.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Say What You Will

I'll make this quick.

I'll also more than likely make this filled with plenty of expletives -- evidence of an anger which is tempered only by the fact that outside my window it's snowing over New York City, and it's hard to be too bitter when I can look out and see something so gorgeous. Still, consider yourself warned.

Believe it or not, I'm not one of those people who's calling for the head of Ann Coulter right now.

There's no denying that the world would be a better place if someone beat her in the back of the skull repeatedly with a brick until she needed to be ID'ed by dental records, but anyone with ten IQ points and a specimen cup-full of decorum should've realized that a long time ago -- long before she essentially called John Edwards a "faggot."

Ann Coulter is a worthless, shrieking twat who spouts off stupid shit at every conceivable opportunity, but once again this should surprise no one -- certainly not the people who continue to give her such opportunities by scheduling her for speaking engagements. I could be referring to the Conservative Political Action Committee -- the unhinged loons who packed an auditorium last Friday and giddily laughed and applauded Coulter's childish insult. Believe it or not though, I'm actually far less concerned with them than I am with those in the respectable media -- the ones who somehow never learned the elementary school axiom that two wrongs don't make a right, and have now decided to book Coulter for on-air appearances in an effort to get a "comment" on her comment.

To put it in no uncertain terms, Ann Coulter's plan to get under the skin of those lefty twerps while simultaneously being invited to appear as an invited guest of the very liberal media she regularly mocks has once again worked swimmingly. Tonight, rather than simply face the "home crowd" for her silly shtick on Fox News, Coulter will also appear on CNN's Paula Zahn Now, where she'll no doubt look like an impudent and incorrigible schoolyard bully being confronted by the concerned, indignant and basically helpless mother of a kid she beat the living shit out of. Poor Paula will try to reason with Angry Annie and ask her plenty of questions that begin with the words, "Don't you think..." -- but in the end, by virtue of Coulter's very appearance, her argument will be proven in spades: liberals are all uptight pussies who can't take a fucking joke and aren't willing to fight back.

Every story that a legitimate news service runs which asks the question, "Has she gone too far?" proves that, obviously, she fucking hasn't; if she had, maybe you'd have shut the fuck up and stopped giving her face time.

Any goddamned idiot can lob immature insults at somebody -- given that Coulter has no credentials to speak of; is often fast-and-loose with, or all-out ignorant of, the facts; and is essentially the Paris Hilton of political commentary -- namely famous simply for being famous, for Christ's sake why the hell is she on television to begin with? Holy shit, I'm apt to throw a couple of offensive words around on occasion -- you don't see me being offered a guest slot on Zahn.

I will say this about Ann Coulter: as fucking revolting and despicable a creature as she is -- one I wouldn't fuck if I you told me that I'd get to ram a cattle prod up her ass when I was done -- I have to give her a legitimate amount of credit for one thing: to the best of my knowledge, she's not a hypocrite. As she intimated in the comment which started this whole contrived controversy, an act which offends someone's sensibilities these days is typically followed by a Burson/Marsteller-approved bullshit apology and a stint in rehab. As detestable as Coulter is, when she says something astonishingly stupid, she sticks by it.

Which provides a very nice segue into the second statement to illicit gasps, bouts of "the vapors" and cries of foul from the pretend-offended across the country over the weekend: Bill Maher's insinuation that the assassination of Dick Cheney would, in the end, save lives.

I'd rather not have the NSA or Secret Service kicking in my front door in the middle of the night, but while in theory I would never want to wish ill-will upon a Vice President of the United States, Cheney is a different animal altogether. His dangerous and delusional behavior -- the kind that would make Commander Queeg drop his ball-bearings and sit in quiet reverence -- as well as his Draconian demagoguery when it comes to a willingness to get young American men and women killed has caused me on more than one occasion to wonder if anything short of a hand grenade in his boxer shorts will put a stop to him.

Bottom line: Maher may be brutally frank in his implication, but you know what -- I have a feeling he's absolutely right.

As it turns out, the entire argument is irrelevant anyway, being that you can't kill something which technically was never alive to begin with.

(About the picture at the top: no, of course I'm not going to force myself or anyone else to look at the hideous face of Ann Coulter for the next day or so. Instead, I give you a picture of an otter -- because everyone loves otters.)

Friday, March 02, 2007

I Rest My Case

Want a good idea what kind of dipshits are bringing you your local news each day?

By all means, take a look at what happens when one of the recent Apex Tech grads in the graphics department decides to grab a still picture from Google Image Search and put it on the air without looking at it.

This is from NBC affiliate WAGT in Augusta, Georgia.

Look closely.

WAGT, Where the News Comes First.

And In Your Mouth.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Idiot vs. Predator

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more malignant hive of ineffectual, Pavlovian dolts than the programming department of any television network in America. It's the kind of place where words like "imagination" and "innovation" are never more than a mission statement away, but the adventurous spirit behind them -- not to mention the risk that such a spirit invariably requires -- is happily disregarded at a moment's notice in favor of a safe bet or proven formula.

The clearest possible example of this lies in all those instances in which a show was canceled after literally one or two episodes. The flip side of the coin is that when a show does unexpectedly become a hit right out of the box, it's all but assured that network executives will immediately begin A) oversaturating their prime-time lineup with the thing until it becomes the mass-media equivalent of the Ludovico treatment from A Clockwork Orange, and B) desperately clamoring to get their hands on as many shows as possible which follow the same basic format. The folly of the former tactic becomes clear when you realize that Who Wants to be a Millionaire, once a breakout hit, is no longer on the air; the folly of the latter, when you think back to how many shows at the beginning of last season bore a striking resemblance to Lost and have now also been permanently banished to TV's Phantom Zone.

But no single hour of television has proven, at one time or another, every unprincipled, anathematic trait inherent in modern network programming than, surprisingly, Dateline NBC. This is not to say that NBC's long-running TV news magazine hasn't been a showcase for some excellent journalism; it most certainly has. It's simply that the true reason for its very existence -- to say nothing of its prime-time ubiquity -- seems to have never actually been about journalistic excellence.

Back in the late-90s, during the final glory days of NBC's prime-time hegemony, it was almost impossible to turn on the TV and not be granted an audience with the chiseled visage and soothing baritone of Stone Phillips; the show was literally on four-nights-a-week at one point. While this kind of prevalence might have suggested an unwavering faith in the content of the show at the highest levels of NBC, the reality was nothing quite so noble.

It was mostly a matter of saving a few dollars.

For those who don't understand how the television business works (or in many cases used to work, before huge entertainment conglomerates solved all the networks' programming problems by simply buying them), just because a show is on NBC, ABC, CBS or FOX doesn't mean any of those networks actually owns that show. A network has to buy it, typically at a hefty price. A show like ER used to cost NBC a small fortune -- an expense which was offset by the fact that the show was insanely popular and therefore raked in a very big fortune in ad revenue. (Incidentally, I have no idea what NBC is paying for ER these days but whatever it is, it's too much; the show is painfully average -- and the network knows it. A good rule of thumb: you can tell that a former hit is on its last legs when the promos for it feel the need to constantly remind you that it's "as good as it's ever been." If you're an actor on a show that's described in this way, you know it's probably time to call your agent, put off buying that new Aston Martin Vanquish and work something out with your coke dealer.)

But NBC owns Dateline outright; it's technically a product of the network's news department (why I feel the need to qualify that statement will become evident in just a second). What that means is that above all, the show represents one monumentally important thing to the network -- arguably the most important thing: it's cheap programming. During that period in the late 90s, Dateline NBC was no ratings bonanza, but it wasn't costing much either; it was less expensive to pack the schedule with Stone Phillips than it would have been to pay a production company for a show that might not have broken even.

The "innovation" and "imagination" of the programming executives were willingly ceded to the desire to "please" the "stockholders" and consequently "keep" their "jobs."

But then, not long ago, something unexpected happened: a few more people started watching Dateline.

What led them into the tent damn sure wasn't any of that boring "excellent journalism" stuff; it was the attraction that's been guaranteed to lure curious crowds across America for generations: a good, old-fashioned freakshow.

So began the ascendency of Dateline's popular, profitable, panic-inducing and thoroughly pointless series, To Catch a Predator. By now you probably know the drill -- in fact, if you believe the hyperbolic promotion, you or someone you know has already been outed as a child-molesting degenerate on national television by the dashing and intrepid Chris Hansen and his Turtleneck of Justice. For the uninitiated, it works like this: Hansen and crew team-up with police and a group which cleverly calls itself "Perverted Justice" to nab internet predators in the act. They pose as teenagers on-line, luring unsuspecting men -- and they are always men -- to a predetermined location somewhere in Suburbia, USA. Driven by the diving rod in his pants and the promise of an opportunity to use it on some teenage or pre-teen boy or girl, each hapless deviant leaves the comfort of Mom's basement and descends upon a typically modest home -- borrowed from a volunteer -- which in reality has been transformed from Rockwellian to Orwellian with the addition of enough hidden cameras to keep Room 101 busy for months. Once inside the spider's lair, the pervert in question usually meets an actor whom he believes to be the object of his on-line affection, but before any deal can be sealed -- SURPRISE! Out pops Hansen with what can only be described as the ultimate cock-block.

It's occasionally entertaining -- and occasionally painful -- to watch the erstwhile Romeos squirm like pigs stuck in a chute. They sweat; they twitch; their eyes dart around the room futilely trying to locate that hole in time -- the one that might whisk them away and back to the moment just before they made the worst decision of their lives.

For his part, Hansen casts himself as the avatar for every parent living in fear of the lecherous wolf constantly banging away at the other side of his or her child's computer screen. He furrows his brow with concern and reminds the unlucky deviants what they were ostensibly expecting to find when they walked through the door. (Just once, I'd love for one of them to be quick-thinking enough to jump up and say, "Actually, I'm here for you Chris Hansen, because I'm from ABC's new show, To Catch a Hack Journalist!") After listening to the inevitable litany of outlandish excuses, Hansen then figuratively throws off the comfortable blazer and puts on the inquisitor's robes, really going for the throat: he opens his manila file folder and begins reading the filthy words of each fiend back to him. Needless to say, it's comedy gold.

This is all followed by the unfortunate sap being taken into police custody.

Thanks to the Hansen Traveling Circus, Dateline NBC -- a show that once populated prime-time for practical reasons more than anything else -- has become a minor breakout hit. The programming executives at NBC now have the best of all possible worlds: an inexpensive show that can bring in a few advertising dollars and be peddled as nothing less than a service to the community. Paddy Chayefsky can rest peacefully in the knowledge that every single thing he predicted about the future of network television back in 1976 has come to putrid fruition.

In spite of its moderate popularity though, To Catch a Predator has had its very vocal detractors, for some reasons which should be obvious -- and a few others that aren't.

It seems impossible to defend someone who traveled a hundred or more miles in the hope of being rewarded with sex from a fourteen-year-old, and I certainly don't mean to do that. Still, on-line sting operations have always made me slightly nervous simply because of the questionable tactics employed by police and the somewhat nebulous nature of the charges typically filed against the accused: "attempting to solicit sex from a minor."

Early in my career, I worked with a meteorologist named Bill Kamal. He and I were little more than acquaintances, but for the most part he seemed like a decent enough guy -- despite his affinity for wearing large hoop earrings and pirate shirts when not on-air. Kamal was obviously a great fit with Miami and continued to work there long after I'd left -- pretty much right up until October 24th, 2004; that's the day he was arrested for driving his Corvette all the way up to Ft. Pierce to meet a young boy he had met in an on-line chatroom called "Boyzformen". The boy had said his name was Billy, and had claimed to be fourteen-years-old. The boy also claimed to have already had sex with an older man. The boy, of course, wasn't a boy at all; he was a St. Lucie County detective -- and he arrested Kamal on the spot. Inside Kamal's car, police found condoms and a water gun.

Like the guys on Dateline, Kamal rattled off a list of ridiculous excuses as to why he had toys in his car, not to mention child-porn on his computer at home. Eventually though, he was convicted in court and is now sitting in a federal prison, no doubt dazzling his fellow convicts with his impressive knowledge of cloud formations and the resilience of his sphincter.

Now make no mistake, Bill Kamal didn't drive 160 miles to chat about baseball and that new Green Day album -- not with the price of gas these days; Kamal was there to have sex with a teenager. The problem of course is that he didn't. In fact, not only did he not have sex with a fourteen-year-old-boy, there never was a fourteen-year-old-boy. He was always chatting with a grown man, regardless of what he may have thought. And that may be the problem: charging someone with soliciting sex from a minor when there wasn't a minor anywhere in the picture to begin with seems slightly underhanded; it relies fully on what Kamal thought was happening and what he intended to do about it.

I realize that this argument can essentially be applied to any kind of police sting operation, but such is the fine line between intention and execution.

Why couldn't Bill Kamal have simply said, "I knew it was a grown man all along -- that's just my fantasy?" In Kamal's case, the reason was probably because he had a trunk full of toys and a glove-compartment full of condoms (although even that could ostensibly be explained -- which Kamal of course attempted to do). Still, there's no law against possession of a concealed water gun. Once again, it relies on an intransigent knowledge of what was going to happen. At this stage of human evolution, Philip K. Dick's "Pre-cogs" are still only the stuff of imagination.

Chris Hansen and the investigators involved with To Catch a Predator have of course found a way to get around the "Hypothetical Victim" quandary; that's where the actors-pretending-to-be-teenagers come in. At the very least, it can be argued that they provide the dirtbags with one last chance to do the smart thing and back out. Yet again though, what's to stop someone from saying, "I figured it might be you Chris, but I came anyway because I wanted to be on TV. I'm sort of insane and act irrationally a lot of the time -- did you know I can also make myself invisible?"

This debate is entirely academic, particularly when Hansen and company actually have at times put more kids in harm's way than they've probably protected.

Just ask the town of Murphy, Texas.

NBC is still receiving letters and e-mails, not only from angry residents but from even angrier city councilmen. Their outrage stems from an "occupational hazard" involved in the production of To Catch a Predator -- one that's easy to overlook yet becomes glaringly obvious and gravely serious once recognized:

The show is drawing potential child-molesters into quiet neighborhoods.

You're probably aware of the phrase "Not In My Backyard" -- well, neighbors in Murphy, Texas weren't pleased when Dateline decided to lure alleged rapists to their backyard. They were even less pleased when police were forced to chase some of these guys through their backyard; when bags of drugs were found in their backyard; when the push to make exciting television was putting their backyard in danger.

A letter to NBC from a Murphy city councilman says it all:

"It was (the residents') streets, not yours, not Dateline's... You held a sting at a house within sight of an elementary school. An elementary school that had an early release on the day of your sting. A house right in front of a bus stop for our school children."

The councilman goes on to figuratively grab NBC executives by the throat -- stating a rather interesting fact which challenges the supposedly benevolent and judicatory intentions of To Catch a Predator: not one case for sexual solicitation was filed as a result of the sting in Murphy, Texas. While this denouement does admittedly come as a bit of a shock, the goal of the entire effort should never have been in question and should surprise no one. It was never about justice; it was always about money.

The formula for deducing any objective has always been simple: consider the source.

80% of NBC/Universal is owned by GE; the other 20% belongs to Vivendi. Both are publicly traded companies, which means that nothing at NBC is done without the stockholders in mind. When money is the goal, truth becomes nothing more than another commodity. Occasionally it's an advantage; occasionally it's an impediment.

Bottom line though: if you're looking for altruism, you're barking up the wrong peacock.

Of course, none of this has stopped NBC from pretending that the aim of To Catch a Predator is to actually catch predators -- and in some ways, that's the most egregious disgrace of all. Although a debatable amount of Schadenfreude is ripe for the picking every time a Hansen Home opens for business, that's not the kind of thing NBC can promote -- remember, Dateline is, nominally, a news show. Instead, the network uses the most sure-fire and time-honored tool in any modern news department's promotional vault -- the one that brings 'em in every time: fear.

Put simply, To Catch a Predator preys on your fears.

It preys on your belief that the violation and infestation of your home and family is never more than a mouse click away.

And guess who put that belief there in the first place?

Predator, and shows like it, likely couldn't exist were it not for the months and years of promotional carpet-bombing that came before them. Nothing gets the attention of the masses like a potential threat, and those whose job it is to sell you the news -- an item which ironically didn't need to be sold in years past -- know that full well. This is why there aren't simply meth users -- there's a full-blown meth "epidemic." This is why it is imperative that you and your family tune in tonight to get the latest important information on the Bird Flu. This is why each time there's a tragedy somewhere else in the country, your breathless local news anchor will -- without a doubt -- ask, "Could it happen here?" This is why you're probably scared to walk out your front door. But that's no use; the vermin have now found a way through your defenses and they're coming for the thing you hold most dear: your children.

Thank God, Chris Hansen is there to stop them!

If money is the goal, and truth is a commodity, then fear is the ultimate weapon.

This is not to say that there aren't dangerous people trolling the internet, looking to have sex with kids; there are. But never in the history of malfeasance -- in the history of anti-social behavior -- has there been an infringement that's easier to prevent. Contrary to what many opportunistic fear-mongers would have you believe, the boogeyman isn't actually living inside your child's MacBook; he's more than likely two time-zones away sitting in a dank one-bedroom apartment wondering why his mail-order bride is divorcing him and taking his kids -- or possibly why his new NAMBLA card hasn't arrived yet. That doesn't exactly rise to the level of clear and present danger. All you have to do to get rid of him is turn off your damn computer. All you have to do to ensure that his screen name never sullies any monitor in your home to begin with is talk to your children. If your twelve-year-old is spending a lot of time in chat rooms called "Boyzformen," it's safe to say that he's asking for far more trouble than the pathetic jerk on the other end of the line; that guy's just buying into what's advertised. Is he potentially dangerous to the world outside the Matrix as well? Possibly -- but once again, when it comes to keeping them safe, educating your children is far more than half the battle.

For God's sake, don't leave it up to Chris Hansen, NBC or the network programming executives.

They're just in it for the money.

Post Script

Two things related to the above column:

I mentioned Paddy Chayefsky, the brilliant screenwriter who won an Oscar for the film that would become his masterpiece -- 1976's Network. Make no mistake, to this day Network stands as the best movie ever made about the television news business. What Chayefsky had to say about where TV was headed was disturbing for two reasons: first, because it was a damn nihilistic vision; second, because -- in retrospect -- he was absolutely dead-on.

Watch this clip from 1976; listen to Peter Finch's rant -- then, if necessary, go look up the word "prescient."

Somebody came up with the awesome idea of taking some of Chris Hansen's best lines as he reads the dirty e-mails on-air and turning them into a soundboard. If you can make it through him saying, "I would love to taste you" without laughing hysterically, you've got one up on me.

[Chris Hansen Soundboard]