Thursday, June 30, 2011

Quote of the Day, Jr.

"It would've been funnier if the camera was actually set up by pedophiles."

-- Commenter "MoMo316" at HFBoards in response to the news that Chris Hansen of NBC's To Catch a Predator had been busted cheating on his wife through the use of a hidden camera

Why don't you have a seat right over there, Chris. Would you like a giant, ice-cold plate of irony while you wait?

What say we bring back this classic from the archive, shall we?

"Idiot vs. Predator" (Originally Published, 3.1.07)

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.

Quote of the Day

"The representation of the Defendants damaged the reputation of the Plaintiffs among the buying and consuming public... Defendants' misleading and false statements were outrageous and held Plaintiffs up for extreme ridicule in the community where they reside and where their works are viewed and read."

-- From a $285 million lawsuit filed by hack author Jerome Corsi and CEO Joseph Farah against Esquire magazine for a satirical piece it published earlier this year mocking birthers

Right. Relentlessly and insanely pursuing an accusation that has no basis whatsoever in reality doesn't damage your reputation or leave you held up for "extreme ridicule," but jokingly pointing out that you're insane for relentlessly pursuing an accusation that has no basis in reality does.

I do love the implication, though, that the birthers actually have any credibility to damage.

Listening Post

This is one of the more entertaining songs to be released this year so far.

It's Yuck -- Get Away.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Quote of the Day

"Fans of obscure 1970s television may remember a short-lived children's show called Far Out Space Nuts, in which a pair of dimwitted NASA repairmen, one of whom is played by Bob (Gilligan) Denver, accidentally send themselves into space by pressing 'launch' instead of 'lunch' inside a capsule they were fixing at Cape Canaveral. This plot device roughly approximates the political and cultural mechanism that is sending Michele Bachmann hurtling in the direction of the Oval Office."

-- Matt Taibbi in a piece in Rolling Stone called "Michele Bachmann's Holy War"


30 Mock

We could do this all day every day.

The Root: Tracy Morgan Under Fire Again for Comments About Mentally Disabled/6.29.11

Ten bucks says he doesn't apologize this time, which will start a big unnecessary debate about what you can and can't get away with saying -- who you're allowed to offend in our culture and who you're not. Which is part of the point I made about stand-up comics at the very beginning of the last go-round.

Listening Post

They sound like a latter day Siouxsie and the Banshees and they've made probably the most mesmerizing and mildly disturbing video of 2011.

This is Esben and the Witch's Marching Song.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Listening Post

Dulli is God.

That is all.

Here's the Afghan Whigs -- Somethin' Hot.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Quote of the Day

"John Wayne was from Waterloo, Iowa. That’s the kind of spirit that I have, too."

-- Michele Bachmann

At first glance, there's nothing wrong with this statement aside from its being the kind of ridiculously pedestrian pandering we've all come to expect from Republican candidates in general and tea partiers in particular. But then you realize that this is Michele Bachmann -- and therefore it comes as no surprise that John Wayne the legendary actor and conservative icon wasn't, in fact, from Waterloo, Iowa but the notorious serial killer John Wayne Gacy was.

Just remember, though -- ignore this sort of thing and trust the political media when they drool all over themselves to tell you that Bachmann is someone who deserves to be taken seriously.

Listening Post

The recent Love and Rockets tribute album is everything a good tribute record should be: First of all, it's paying respect to a band that deserves it and whose body of work makes for damn good material to draw from, but it also features a lot of high-caliber talent really working over the original music and creating something special.

This is one of my favorite Love and Rockets songs, and this version of it -- kind of like the original version -- goes from pure sex to full-throttle in a split-second.

Here's Vex doing It Could Be Sunshine.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Let Freedom Ring

I really wish I had time to do a detailed write-up on the fantastic news that the state of New York has voted to allow gay marriage, since it deserves as much attention as it can get. The best I can do at the moment is bring back a quick excerpt from a piece I wrote in late 2008 when the forces aligned against equality for all won a somewhat reprehensible and underhanded -- and I believed at the time, short-lived -- victory by passing Prop 8 in California, essentially overturning the legalization of gay marriage in that state. At the time, I wrote about a very good friend of mine named Omar, and how he, like everyone else in this country, deserved to be able to marry whomever he choses -- this, despite the fact that he's gay.

Here's what I said:

"There should be no doubt that eventually we'll look back on this disgraceful moment in our history the way we now regard segregation, pre-suffrage, or the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II: with shame, sadness, and a host of unanswerable questions as to what we might possibly have been thinking. We know this because, as much as those who stand against it will hate to hear this, legal gay marriage in the United States is an inevitability. We know this because of the basic nature of freedom: it expands.

Freedom expands.

It will not be contained -- and it most certainly will not be restricted once it's already been allowed to flourish. Isn't this the very principle that's guided our occasionally awkward foreign policy for years? Are we so blind or so unforgivably hypocritical that we can't recognize when the truth of that ideal is staring us right in the face?

The genie is out of the bottle.

There's no putting it back in, and it was inexcusable that we sought to restrain it in the first place. That's not what this country is about.

My friend Omar, like all Americans, should have the right to marry anyone he wants -- to live his life however he chooses.

And not you, nor I, nor anyone else has the right to take those rights away from him."

Make no mistake: New York is likely the largest domino yet to fall when it comes to the inevitable legalization of gay marriage nationwide. And that's a very, very good thing.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Captain America, Fuck Yeah!

I was excited about Captain America even before the balls-out fantastic new trailer for it. But this sucker puts my geek-lust way over the top.

Film School Rejects has the most entertaining description of it:

"With the release of the full theatrical trailer, which you’re about to watch after the jump, the marketing for 'Captain America: The First Avenger' continues its preoccupation with how many broads Steve Rogers is going to get while simultaneously embracing a celebration of the 'America' part of his fighting name they seem to have been ignoring up to this point. Heroes are made in America. That’s a fact, Jack. And our heroes have big muscles, guts by the truck loads, and as many chicks as they damn-well please. With one hand full of apple pie and the other holding that star-spangled shield, this new Captain America trailer is ready to whoop your ass with the might of the American war machine. If it fails to tickle your spine, well then there’s something wrong with you, my terrorist friend."

Listening Post

I already ran the teaser clip for this song a few weeks back, but this is the full video for it.

Here's the terrific new single from Company of Thieves, with the super-adorable Genevieve Schatz looking more super-adorable than ever.

It's Death of Communication.

Happy Friday, gang.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Assistant To the Quote of the Day

"Am I the only one who thought Whitey Bulger was another Anthony Weiner euphemism?"

-- The Washington Post's Alexandra Petri, via Twitter

Picture of the Day

(via Reddit)

Project Office Mayhem

Your assignment, as usual: Quietly put the following link up on every computer in your office, then crank all the speakers to full volume.

Mischief points: 747

RIP, Ryan Dunn

Quote of the Day

"Media catnip."

-- Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post's description of Sarah Palin last night on Lawrence O'Donnell's show, as he reacted to the not-the-least-bit-surprising revelation that Palin was quitting her "One Nation" bus tour halfway through

Listening Post

Smooth, sexy and just a little bit dangerous, this is Metronomy -- She Wants.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Picture of the Day

There's a site called "Dear Photograph" that's getting a good amount of circulation right now. The idea of it is simple: take an old photo, hold it up where it was originally shot, then take a new picture of one image against the other.

The result is -- well, it's extraordinarily moving.

This picture, in particular, just about had me in tears.

Speaking Terms

I'm all about cheap and easy content right now given than I'm up to my ass in work projects, so the latest person I can be grateful to is Mary Elizabeth Williams.

She churned out a really decent little piece today in Salon on what seems to be a favorite subject around here lately: how saying something really rash and stupid -- but more than a little offensive -- can put your career on the line.

Or in the case of Megan Fox, get you fired outright.

Or in the case of John Galliano, get you fired and put on trial.

There's no doubt, as we've seen quite a bit recently, that there's occasionally a hefty price to be paid for shooting your mouth off, but to her credit M-Liz looks a little deeper into the two cases cited above.

Salon: The New High Price of Mouthing Off/6.21.11

Quote of the Day

"Tracy’s remarks today have the power to reach millions with a message that gay and transgender youth should be met with support from families -- not rejection or violence. In a state like Tennessee where anti-gay laws continue to be passed, it’s now more important than ever for allies like Tracy to speak out and let Tennesseans know that homophobia has no place on or off the stage."

-- GLAAD Senior Director of Programs Herndon Graddick at an official press conference (in case you didn't think several had already taken place) in which Tracy Morgan returned to the scene of the crime and very officially apologized to "everyone in every community who were offended" at his one stupid and over-the-top crack about a hypothetical situation involving his apparently not-really-gay son.

And thus, GLAAD exacts its pound of flesh and, hey, gains a slightly scared shitless "ally" in the process.

Finally, our long national nightmare is over.

Listening Post

Yeah, these guys are a pretty by-the-book pop outfit -- one tailor-made for Nicholas Sparks movie trailers and schmaltzy commercials aimed at making you reach for the Kleenex -- but their debut album was surprisingly good. In fact, right around ten years ago this particular song was something I was listening to quite a bit as my life kind of tumbled into oblivion. Hey, we latch on to whatever speaks to us -- and this screamed to me considering everything that what was happening at the time.

Here's Lifehouse's Sick Cycle Carousel.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Quote of the Day, Jr.

"Republicans will lose if they support the (Paul) Ryan Medicare plan. Americans do not support the Ryan plan. Expect the GOP to then blame the Tea Party for losses."

-- South Florida Tea Party Chairman Everett Wilkinson in an e-mail sent to fellow tea party types and obtained by the Palm Beach Post

Cesca's response to this is pretty much on the money:

"Why shouldn’t they blame the Tea Party? ... The entire Republican party is to blame for their enabling of, and pandering to, the lowest common denominator, but that lowest common denominator is the Tea Party."

The unfortunate thing is that while the tea bagging insurgents have the ability to continue inflicting heavy damage on the GOP and its goal of unchecked power, in the end the shameless desire for that power will be too great and the party will come together for its own good. It always does.

Quote of the Day

"Fox News isn’t ‘Fair and Balanced’! It’s balancing the system, man!"

-- Jon Stewart, talking about his Sunday interview with Chris Wallace on The Daily Show last night

Welcome Back Fodder

While there's no arguing that his broadcasting heft has been sorely missed by progressives, the AV Club sums up the problem with Keith Olbermann's "new" show on Current TV:

"The kind of bosses who so antagonize the Keith Olbermanns of the world inevitably get around to complaining that such men are their own worst enemies. I take no pleasure in saying that the bosses are ever right about anything, but even a stopped clock nails it twice a day, you know? For much of the past decade, Olbermann's MSNBC show was a real corrective to much of what passed for TV news. He wasn't exactly an investigative powerhouse, just one more voice recycling the news images of the day and offering his opinions and attitude, but he was smart, funny, and humane, he knew how to use words, and he was the first to offer certain necessary opinions that were in short supply at the time, at least on a prime time TV news show. But during the last few years, Olbermann's shtick ossified; the patty cake with the guests grew more and more predictable, the serious editorializing became self-congratulatory and hectoring, and the feuds seemed self-generated and hollow, as if hitting idjits with a stick was just his way of staying awake against the odds. At some point, his fans might have entertained the question, what would it be like if Keith Olbermann stayed in the same place for more than five years? The answer, it turned out, wasn't pretty.

The great hope for Olbermann's taking his act across the street to a different network was that it might shake him out of his complacency and get him to try something new; maybe at least try out some new guests, who knows, even join forces with some of the video guerrillas whose documentary work is all over Current TV and provide a forum where viewers might get to see some actual reporting. In his inevitable, blessedly brief 'Special Comment', which seemed meant to double as a Charles Foster Kane-style statement of purpose, Olbermann vowed to provide 'a newscast of contextualization, that is, to be presented with a viewpoint: that the weakest citizen of this country is more important than its strongest corporation.' That doesn't sound half bad on the face of it, but if it just means having Michael and Markos and the boys over to run Fox News clips abd (sic) chortle about how awful they are, it's just going to mean extending his rut."

(h/t Alert Reader Michael J. West)

The So-What Network

Ladies and gentlemen, Rick Sanchez has spoken -- making the official declaration, a good couple of years after it rose to a position of authority within new media circles, that Tumblr is "the new Twitter." So let it be written -- so let it be done.

Thanks, Rick -- by the way, my grandmother just called to tell me she's on the Facebook.

The Huffington Post: Move Over Twitter... Make Room for Tumblr/6.20.11

I for one welcome our new Sanchez-approved social networking overlord.

Listening Post

The Joy Formidable's latest album The Big Roar couldn't be more aptly titled. This seemingly mild-mannered trio from Wales unleash a sonic blast that sounds like a tour bus crash between My Bloody Valentine and Pantera; in fact, when this song goes off the rails and descends into high speed chaos toward the end, you almost forget you're listening to an alternative act from the UK fronted by a blonde named Ritzy Bryan.

Above it's that single, Whirring; below it's a really powerhouse live performance of A Heavy Abacus.

Monday, June 20, 2011


I wish I had time to really pick apart Chris Wallace's hapless attempt to teach Jon Stewart a lesson yesterday on Fox's Sunday news show.

Thankfully, there's Steve Benen to pick up the slack for me.

If you haven't seen this yet -- it's great stuff.

Washington Monthly: Trying To Help Chris Wallace Understand/6.20.11

Do Not Attempt

There's an obvious morbid joke here about how this isn't the first time Dunn's had a car up his ass, but to be honest he was always one of my favorites from the Jackass crew -- so this is really sad news.

TMZ: Ryan Dunn Killed in Car Accident in Pennsylvania/6.20.11

Update: The Daily Beast has compiled some of Dunn's best moments. Damn, just -- damn. So long, dude.

Listening Post

A lot of bands are doing the old Wall-of-Sound thing these days, but I'm not sure anyone slams into it with as much force as Cat's Eyes.

Formed by Faris Badwan of the Horrors and Rachel Zeffira, the band adds a little goth edge to their swinging 60s London vibe and the result is just cool as hell.

Here's Face in the Crowd.

Happy Monday, gerbils.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Daddy Care Day

Just a quick note to wish a very happy Father's Day -- and say thanks -- to all the dads out there.

Now I'm going back to spending today the way it should be spent.

Sunday Sacrilege

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Saturday Morning Cartoons

From 1949, it's Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam in High-Diving Hare.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Listening Post: Bonus Happy Hour Lounge Edition

Been a while since I've posted one of these Friday evening jams, but I was feeling Tribe all day.

The idea that somebody thought to make a full-on documentary about them, their beginnings, their rise to the top, their legacy, their pure, sweet genius -- it just makes my soul do the Snoopy dance.

Listening to these guys gives me the same feeling I get listening to Coltrane's A Love Supreme: indescribable joy.

Here's Electric Relaxation.

Morgan Words

Louie CK continues his defense of Tracy Morgan, insofar as people demanding that he lose his livelihood and beg for mercy from every single person in America -- and I'm not patting myself on the back or anything, but is there an echo in here?

"Well I've said a lot of things that were worse than what he said. I have my things that make it OK for people when I say them. I have my irony and different levels that I'm working at, so that makes it OK for people around me, for people that come to my shows. And people heard this Tracy shit mostly third-hand. He didn't stand on a public stage and say this stuff. He didn't make these announcements: 'Here, America, are my views.'

Where you say something makes a huge difference about what you say and what it means and what you let yourself say. There's a lot of times when I let myself channel bad ideas as a way to do comedy. I think it's something that's a healthy thing to do, honestly. And I think the person who really fucked people up and hurt people with Tracy's words was whoever took it out of that Nashville club and put it on the national stage--whoever called Huffington Post or whoever started this shit, and said, 'Guess what Tracy Morgan said,' and announced it to the rest of the world. He wasn't trying to say it to the rest of the world.

So when I read stuff like, How are gay people going to feel when they read this? Well they didn't have to read it! They weren't part of that show. Maybe there were gay people there who were laughing. You don't fucking know. Nobody gets to say that they represent anybody and they're offended on behalf of the whole world. You can see this shit really bothers me. I didn't carefully inspect what he said.

I heard some of it, and it made me laugh. I didn't get the context, but I have to defend it, because if I was in his role, if I was in his situation, which I might be someday--which I already am for having said something on his behalf--I would want someone to step forward and say something. This is a freedom that I live off of. I think, whatever, if Tracy made a mistake, he certainly didn't deserve all of this.

And I don't know him well, but he's a good guy. So I'm using that judgment, of just, hey, I met him and he's a good guy. And I get a sense of him as a father, and there's no way he would stab his kid. It's a dumb thing to take at face value. You'd have to be a moron. And if you do, you are not allowed to laugh at any more jokes. You are not allowed to laugh at any jokes that have any violence or negative feelings attached to them, ironically or otherwise.

I think there's a lot of hypocrisy in that. If anybody thinks that what he said is true and there's no comedy in it, don't come to my shows. I've said to many audiences that I think you shouldn't rape someone unless you have a good reason, like you want to fuck them and they won't let you. That's worse than what he said! And I didn't wink and say, just kidding. I just said it."

Louie's comments are responded to over at the Atlantic right now by writer and editor Ta-Nehisi Coates, by any measure a very bright guy. He makes some good points, certainly: the fact that Tennessee, where Morgan was performing when he went on his rant, is currently advancing a bill that many say is virulently homophobic and that the state has a history of antagonism toward gays and lesbians definitely adds a different dimension and context to Morgan's comment. That's worth considering. Did Morgan believe his crack would somehow find a friendly audience in Tennessee? For the record, I don't think that thought process entered into his decision to make the joke, but I doubt anyone will ever know with certainty one way or the other.

Also, I've thought quite a bit about Coates's hypothetical regarding Larry the Cable Guy; I've wondered what I would think if a comic like him had made the same crack -- would I have suddenly found it much more offensive? I can honestly say that while I'd of course immediately imagine the context of Larry the Cable Guy telling that kind of joke in Tennessee, I'd still want to see and hear it for myself before I knew for sure just what happened -- and more than that, I'd still defend his right to say it because it would be grossly dishonest for me to give a pass to one comic without allowing for the possibility that another comic might be trying for the same kind of irony, shock, or general statement, even a Larry the Cable Guy (who may, in fact, be the most brilliantly subversive comic working today given that he's been cynically exploiting a substantial portion of his audience through full-time performance art for years now). Demanding that some topics or statements be completely off-limits for comedy is still a demand and it's still wrong, regardless of who you're issuing it to.

All of that said, I still think that Coates, while admirably thoughtful, still kind of misses the main point that Tracy Morgan made a joke, and one that may very well have lost subtlety -- and gained malevolence -- through translation by an indignant intermediary.

And as for Morgan himself apologizing and not challenging the negative characterization of what he said -- that's a statement that begs the question.

An angry mob is calling for his head -- what the hell do you expect him to say?

Quote of the Day, Jr.

I'm not going to officially "quote" myself, but I thought I'd also bring back this one paragraph from a piece from August of last year called "When Complaints Go Marching In" because it really kind of sums up the point I've made quite a few times here when it comes to self-defeating liberals:

"I've voiced my irritation about this kind of thing before so it's not really worth repeating at length, but suffice it to say these days I actually read far fewer left-slanted political op-ed pieces than I do those from the right. That's because it boils my blood a hell of a lot less to hear Obama's occasionally psychotic sworn enemies rake him over the coals than it does those who claim to share his general ideals -- the whining brats who can't tell the difference between demanding "smart accountability" and constantly complaining that because they didn't walk outside their front doors the morning after his inauguration to find that marijuana and gay marriage were mandatory, we'd abolished the military and built a giant cruelty-free food co-op at Ground Zero, Obama had somehow let them down."

Again, I'm not saying you don't hold Obama accountable -- I'm saying that you do it in a way that recognizes political reality and doesn't help hand your enemy an easy victory. You don't do the other side's job for them.

Quote of the Day

"Democrats have not only refused to hold Republicans accountable for the double standard, but they have joined with Republicans in piling on with the demands that Anthony Weiner had to resign even as David Vitter stays in the Senate... Anthony Weiner, who was not accused of corruption, who does not appear to have done anything illegal, who does not even appear to have had sex with any of the women with any of the people with whom he had scandalous talk and picture-taking, for him a line was drawn... If the key to ending somebody's career is not the severity of their bad behavior but rather how much press coverage you can generate about any level of bad behavior then congratulations, Democrats. In an era of unhinged, ideological, big money conservative media that is wholly and admittedly divorced from the precepts of journalism, in hounding Anthony Weiner into resigning ... you have just fed and unleashed this beast against yourselves, probably for a generation."

-- Rachel Maddow

I think that Weiner resigning was probably the right thing to do given the circumstances, but that's just it -- given the circumstances. As Cenk Uygur, much to his credit, points out perfectly in the above clip, the Weiner scandal was sure to be a distraction for the Democrats for a while, but only because they'd allow it to be. I still maintain that eventually everyone would have moved on, but I can't help but think that the Republicans likely would've forgotten about it long before Weiner's own party did -- because as we all know, nobody knows how to do the job of their political adversaries for them like Democrats. This is the issue I've had with the Dems since day one, and it's something I've written about over and over again: they have no idea how to pull together, circle the wagons, fight to the death and stay on message the way the Republicans do, which is why the GOP tends to kick their collective, self-defeating ass again and again. There really is no better example of the vast difference between Republican internal politics and Democratic internal politics than the fact that David Vitter is still in office and Anthony Weiner isn't.

The Democrats have always been their own worst enemy -- and they just go right on proving it.

Between Maddow's perfectly tuned outrage and this little item from yesterday -- touting yet another bullet-meet-foot "revolt" by liberals at Netroots Nation against Barack Obama -- it's time to once again bring back a piece from late 2009. It bothers me to no end that this sucker holds up so well.

"With Friends Like These..." (Originally Posted, 8.21.09)

"So progressives are now in revolt. Mr. Obama took their trust for granted, and in the process lost it. And now he needs to win it back."

-- Paul Krugman in an editorial in today's New York Times

I'm not one of those people who listens to right-wing radio, even occasionally, looking for something to piss him off. If I wanted to make myself angry for no good reason, I'd call my estranged wife -- or maybe put on a Phish record.

That said, I was flipping through Sirius XM radio a couple of days ago when I stumbled across the America Right or "Patriot Radio" channel. The show that happened to be on at the time was something called The Wilkow Majority (I'll give you a minute to shake your head at the right's ongoing and obligatory need to cast itself in the most muscular terms possible) hosted by a guy named Andrew Wilkow. What separates Wilkow from the rest of the crazy-come-latlies out there in conservative radioland is his belief that he's, well, a punk.

I'm not kidding.

Both Wilkow and his producer, an at one time faux-hawk-sporting kid named Nick Rizzuto, have gotten it through their heads that they're the personification of the right's new school -- and that the new school they represent also happens to be the logical next step in the evolution of punk. They've even started a website called "Conservative Punk." If this sounds fucking laughable, believe me -- it is. Do yourself a favor and don't think too hard about trying to fit the square peg of punk rock culture into the round hole of unabashed capitalism and conservatism; I tried for awhile and it only made my head hurt. Jello Biafra and Henry Rollins are turning over in their graves at this ridiculous conceit and they're not even dead yet. You almost have to give credit to the right's lack of shame when it comes to attempting to co-opt some of the better trends of the left while forcibly trading off its own misdeeds, clumsily trying to shove them under the banner of its enemy and hoping that no one notices how full of shit the whole notion is (Hitler was a leftist, racism is a liberal ideal, etc.).

Needless to say, neither Andrew Wilkow nor his remora, Nick Rizzuto, is a punk. To twist a somewhat legendary phrase: Boys, I grew up with punks. I was good friends with punks. I was a punk (and according to some, still am). You're no fucking punks.

The reality is that, after taking a quick glance at his website, Wilkow looks like he could be just about any other right-wing talking head. This is especially amusing when you consider the fact that he is actually quite a bit younger than the usual suspects and yet still looks like your basic perpetually middle-aged white guy who hasn't been blown since college. I guess that's what being Sean Hannity's hand-picked protege does to you. (Now's a good time to once again remind you that a guy who counts his introduction to Hannity among the greatest moments in his life also considers himself an up-the-establishment standard bearer of punk rock's new blood. You've gotta be fucking kidding me.)

All very easy shots at Wilkow and his show aside, though, I have to admit that while listening to him for a few minutes the other day, he made a surprisingly good point -- one that I sort of made here earlier in the week. I guess we're both on the same "Punk Rock Manifesto Weekly" mailing list.

The Wilkow rant in question had to do with the tendency of liberals to seemingly revel in martyrdom and self-sabotage -- their propensity to almost embrace their roles as losers and to be able to snatch defeat from the jaws of even the most assured victory. The crux of his argument was this: The Democrats have near-complete control of the government right now -- from the White House to the Hill. Legislation-wise, they can accomplish practically anything they set out to, and yet they're somehow content to bitch, moan and blame Republicans for standing in the way of progress when in reality no one's completely blocking their path. Worse than all of that, and this is something Wilkow didn't broach but I will: Liberals can't help fighting amongst themselves. It's as if it's ingrained in their DNA to never completely agree on anything. And we've all seen how well that strategy works when it comes to pushing through an agenda or, you know, winning elections.

A couple of days ago I published a piece decrying the Democrats for not being willing to take off the gloves and get their hands a little dirty when it comes to battling the Republican noise machine trying to thwart them at every turn. My point was that there won't be much solace in being able to say, "Well, at least we stuck to the ideals that make us better than the GOP automatons," four years from now if nothing got done and a Republican president is back in office. I'm not saying that there can't and won't be disagreement and dissent; I'm saying that in order to get the job done and give Barack Obama the clout he needs to move his agenda forward by leaps and bounds, there has to be, to a large extent, a united front to face the consistently united front staring you down from the other side of the aisle. To paraphrase The Godfather, as far as outsiders are concerned, you never take sides against the family.

Sure this is slightly robotic and seems to stand against everything left-wing America stands for, but guess what? It fucking wins.

Sometimes you've gotta look at the big picture -- and if there's anyone who can't seem to do that because they're too busy picking every little thing apart just to prove how intellectual, analytical and multi-faceted they are, it's liberals.

Case in point: today's New York Times editorial by Paul Krugman.

First of all, let me state unequivocally that Krugman's a genius; he's one of the smartest people around, and his views are always worth listening to. Let me also make it clear that I'm not suggesting that any side of the political spectrum let its leaders get away with anything and everything. The good of the nation should, for all intents and purposes, trump the good of the party. My argument is that the battle lines are so clearly drawn these days, the alternative for either party is so far removed from its own desired reality for the country, that each side has to be willing to accept that a big picture victory, even a partial one, is infinitely better than a complete loss. The Republicans realize this; the Democrats seem not to. Krugman's editorial, which takes President Obama to task for supposedly betraying the progressive base that helped put him in office, is a perfect example of the self-defeating splinter cell tendency of left-wing politics. Yes, Barack Obama seems to have slipped comfortably into a more middle-of-the-road stance than much of the left-leaning electorate would've liked, but make no mistake: a New York Times editorial from one of the leading liberal voices in America declaring that Obama has lost the support of progressives and now has to earn it back accomplishes nothing aside from doing the job of Republican strategists for them.

An editorial like Krugman's is every conservative's wet dream -- because those on the right know that any well-publicized dissension within the Democratic ranks makes Obama look weak and proves their point to those on the fence: that even when the Democrats have what they need to run the government their way, they can't make it happen. They can't seal the deal, despite having everything on their side.

As Wilkow said, they're born losers.

Right about now, the Democrats need to take a hint from a recent song by Green Day: Know Your Enemy. At the very least, know who he is.

Of course, Green Day actually have something in common with Andrew Wilkow: They're not real punks either.

Listening Post

If you haven't already, meet Imelda May -- the Irish rockabilly sex bomb that's pretty much about to blow up huge.

This is Mayhem.

Happy Friday, kiddies.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Picture of the Day

A photo by Richard Lam, Getty Images, of a couple "making love, not war" during the Stanley Cup riots in Vancouver last night

Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)

So Weiner's out.

That's okay, give it a year or so and he'll realize that that light at the end of the tunnel was always from the cable TV studio where he'll be hosting his own show.

By the way, I stand by my statement that he could've ridden out this scandal if he'd wanted to. If he had truly dug his heels in there likely wouldn't have been much anyone could do to break him loose, and eventually the press, his congressional counterparts and America itself would've just said screw it and moved on to something else.

That said, resigning was probably the right thing to do.

Quote of the Day, Jr.

"Every time a male politician acts like a rooster there's a spate of commentary celebrating the moral superiority of women. The New York Times reacted to Weiner's humiliation with a classic of the genre, opining that 'busy working women don't have time to cheat,' and quoting a feminist professor saying, 'women run for office to do something, and men run for office to be somebody.' Look, ladies, it's a zero sum game. Takes two, you know."

-- Gene Lyons in a Salon piece called "Anthony Weiner's Willing Partners"

As with the quote from "Thinker Mom" Vicki Larson a couple of days ago, this one is offered without commentary, the interjection of relevant recent personal experience, or any other statement that might contain an often derogatory word that describes a female dog. Only this time that derogatory word would be directed at someone besides the author of the article, if you get my drift.

Project Office Mayhem

Your assignment, as usual: Quietly put the following link up on every computer in your office, then crank all the speakers to full volume.

Mischief points: 6,740

Hooray for Pocoyo!

Quote of the Day

As I had hoped he would, Louie CK steps up and smacks down the Tracy Morgan controversy with a cultural heft I couldn't even dream of possessing.

Only Nixon could go to China -- and only Louie could do this.

By the way, remember to read from the bottom up.

Listening Post

There are few bands that make music that defies easy description or pigeonholing, and these guys definitely qualify as one of the best of them. Their stuff is the soundtrack to a life that's always lived at its emotional breaking point.

Here's the latest single from Mogwai.

This is San Pedro.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Web Zinger

All these years on the air and Sesame Street still kicks all kinds of ass.

Here, the show pokes fun at the big-budget Broadway behemoth Spider-Man and its many, many problems -- even going so far as to make the show's audience one guy.

Bring the Pain

Just a minor housekeeping note from Malcontent Central: It's probably going to be a little slow around here for the next couple of weeks. I have two mammoth projects on my desk at the moment, one of which has a) a very strict and almost inhuman deadline, b) the potential to make me plow through an entire bottle of Klonopin in under 15 days, c) an opportunity to provide me with a new lucrative and semi-regular supplemental gig writing and producing for an L.A. TV production company.

Bottom line: I'm gonna be busy as hell.

This doesn't mean I won't be posting anything, only that what I do post may very well wind up being the kind of stuff that's low-impact, requiring the shortest amount of time and least amount of effort from your humble narrator.

These are the breaks, folks.

Picture of the Day (Tom DeLay Honorary "Grin and Bear It" Edition)

Yup, that's his mugshot.

Why is he smiling?

Because he knows that his upcoming trial, along with the alignment of the stars in the Cassiopeia constellation, will force the return of the Christ-Child and thus his inevitable final battle with the Nazarene.

If you don't get the joke, I'm not spelling it out for you.

Well, If Anyone Knows How To Make a Weiner Shrivel...

You didn't really think Gloria Allred was going to sit this one out, did you?

The Huffington Post: Porn Star Ginger Lee Talks Anthony Weiner During Press Conference with Attorney Gloria Allred/6.15.11

I swear, every time this horrid creature shamelessly injects herself into a new sex scandal, I'll bring this piece back. Every single time.

"Burn the Witch" (Originally Published, 4.15.08)

I'll make this quick.

I may spew a little venom here and there on this site, but believe it or not, there are scant few people in this world I truly despise. I'm not talking about the kind of people who annoy or mildly irritate; I'm talking about the ones whose mere existence just infuriates the shit out of me; whose lack of any discernible contribution to humanity makes me want to take a fucking hostage; whose voice alone can shatter my spine like glass.

Among this highly specialized group of horrid, worthless shitbags -- I'm not sure anyone is more thoroughly contemptible or patently offensive than Gloria Allred.

Cut from the same cloth as Nancy Grace, another feckless troll who treats the legal profession like her own personal litter-box-cum-slot-machine, Allred can typically be found wherever TV cameras are present. She's the alien queen of the ambulance-chasing high-profile lawyer set -- the sort of loathsome caricature that could only thrive in a place as morally bankrupt as Los Angeles. Over the course of her diabolically lengthy career, she's represented such celebs-via-circumstance as Amber Frey, Paula Jones, Nicole Brown Simpson, Melanie "Scary Spice" Brown and Britney Spears's bodyguard -- all the while representing, in reality, only one person: Gloria Fucking Allred. She's inserted herself into the surreal debacle that was the Michael Jackson trial. She's manipulated an all-too-willing media into doing her bidding, which always involves beaming her gruesome, opportunistic ass into every home in America in what would seem to be a concerted effort to turn us all to stone.

What Al Sharpton is to race relations in this country, Gloria Allred is to both sexual politics and its legal system.

And now -- of course -- she's representing Rob Lowe's nanny.

This morning, Allred appeared with 24 year old Jessica Gibson on NBC's Today show to do her copyrighted "Angry Mom Whose Innocent Daughter has Just Been Victimized" routine. For those of you lucky enough to have not heard a fucking peep about this case, Rob Lowe says Gibson is a trash-talker who exploited his family's goodwill; Gibson says Lowe sexually harassed her while she was caring for his kids. Honestly, who gives a crap either way?

Gloria Allred, of course.

Her performance this morning was pure theater -- pure Gloria: She held Gibson's hand like a supportive best friend; contorted her face into a steely grimace while shrilly heaping irresponsible invective at Lowe; wouldn't let anyone else get a word in that might counter her carefully rehearsed indignation; looked like she was always one involuntary impulse away from digging into Gibson's neck to drink her sweet, young blood. The only thing missing was a fucking trapeze act.

The good news is that by allowing herself to be preyed on by this wicked witch -- by accepting the shiny red apple of a big money settlement that was no doubt offered so seductively -- Jessica Gibson has all but ensured that she'll lose in court. Sure, she'll get a lot of free press, but in the end, thanks to Allred's unholy puppetry, she'll get a few bucks from posing for Playboy and eventually be known as 2008's Darva Conger.

Remember her?

Yeah, I didn't think so.

Good fucking job there, Gloria.

Quote of the Day

"I wonder what a duel between the U.S. Flag and the U.S. Army would look like."

-- Aunty Em at Newshounds on the above tweet from ├╝ber-dunce Brian Kilmeade of Fox and Friends

Picture of the Day ("Hello, Ladies" Edition)

No-chance-in-hell presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, enjoying a little time to himself away from all those pesky campaign staffers, in Mykonos.

Seconds later, he was attacked and dragged into the ocean by a killer whale that mistook him for a slow-moving sea lion.

Or actually, I like Josh Marshall at TPM's take on it on Twitter: "Gingrich pictured on deserted island staffers abandoned him on before they steered pirate ship back to the mainland."

Update: Here's a fine little twist to this story: Apparently, despite the uncanny resemblance and the fact that he was recently vacationing in Greece, Newt Gingrich says he's not the guy in this picture. TMZ has even taken the shot down, which is surprising considering the fact that while they may be a "tabloid" outfit, Harvey and Co. rarely get anything wrong.

Listening Post

If you haven't picked up the new Manchester Orchestra album yet you're seriously missing out because it's one of the best of the year.

Here's April Fool performed live in studio in L.A.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Learning Disabled

As God is my witness, this is not from the Onion. It's from an article in the St. Petersburg Times about a Tea Party summer camp supposedly being sponsored by the 912 Project, called the "Tampa Liberty School."

Behold, an example of Poe's Law in its purest possible form:

"'One example at Liberty: Children will win hard, wrapped candies to use as currency for a store, symbolizing the gold standard. On the second day, the 'banker' will issue paper money instead. Over time, students will realize their paper money buys less and less, while the candies retain their value.

'Some of the kids will fall for it,' Lukens said. 'Others kids will wise up.'

Another example: Starting in an austere room where they are made to sit quietly, symbolizing Europe, the children will pass through an obstacle course to arrive at a brightly decorated party room (the New World).

Red-white-and-blue confetti will be thrown. But afterward the kids will have to clean up the confetti, learning that with freedom comes responsibility.

Still another example: Children will blow bubbles from a single container of soapy solution, and then pop each other's bubbles with squirt guns in an arrangement that mimics socialism. They are to count how many bubbles they pop. Then they will work with individual bottles of solution and pop their own bubbles.

'What they will find out is that you can do a lot more with individual freedom,' Lukens said."

My first thought: No way this is for real. It's so insane -- as Alex Pareene over at Salon says, it anticipates every possible joke you could make and beats you to it -- that it just cannot be anything other than brilliant satire.

Because if it isn't -- we're even worse off than I thought.

Opposites Retract

Just a quick note: the Facebook debate that was posted here earlier today has been taken down at the request of the person with whom I had the conversation. While I kept his identity anonymous, it was probably a little crappy of me to make so much of it public, so for that I'm sorry.

By the way (and ironically, considering the topic of the post: Tracy Morgan's recent anti-gay comments), this isn't some kind of forced apology. I was interested in allowing for a strong dissenting opinion on the topic and while I disagreed with many of the views expressed by the person I called "Unhappy Reader" I very much appreciated his passion and believed he articulated his position well. But in the end, when it came to the decision to put so much of our conversation on the main page, he was right and I was wrong. End of story.

Sorry, kids.

Quote of the Day

"Yeah that must be it. It’s Tennessee's fault. That’s what I was thinking too. Because when I picture Tracy Morgan, and think of a place where he would fit right in and feel right at home, it’s Nashville, Tennessee. Finally, he was with his own kind. I’m surprised he didn’t fall asleep right on the sidewalk he felt so comfortable."

-- Brendon at What Would Tyler Durden Do? on Wanda Sykes's comment tying Tracy Morgan's vicious anti-gay joke to the fact that he was performing in Tennessee when he made it

Listening Post

These guys, and this song, are just awesomely funky and cool.

Here's !!! -- usually pronounced "Chk Chk Chk" -- with AM/FM.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Tracy Words

It's rare that I do this, but I wanted to take a minute to clarify my opinion with regard to Tracy Morgan's recent "anti-gay" comments and the reaction to them. I'm not doing it as a means of backtracking on anything -- I stand firmly behind what I posted yesterday -- but rather because I think that every facet of this ugly miasma has a certain amount of importance and therefore deserves as much thoughtful consideration as possible. Obviously, what Morgan said was pretty vicious and I see how it could be interpreted as cruelly homophobic to the point of earning him a rebuke, or at the very least a conversation that begins with the words, "Dude, did you really mean that stuff?"

Where the angry hordes who've chosen to take up Morgan's statements as a cause lose me, though, is when they demand something more than simply the apology that they've already gotten. I get that forcing someone to say that he's sorry should immediately make the sincerity of that apology suspect, which is why I've never understood why people instinctively make that demand in the first place. But if you receive a very public mea culpa, doesn't that accomplish the goal you're supposedly aiming for, namely to show the world that the offense had a far-reaching negative impact even if there wasn't one intended?

Tracy Morgan made a comment within the context of his stand-up routine and in front of an audience which paid to see him that at least one guy in the crowd was appalled by; my position remains that Morgan is a crazy person and that everyone in the crowd should have understood going into it what they were in for, but this guy decided to take the joke far beyond the confines of the comedy setting for which it was specifically intended. He was offended, and so he told the world about it -- and a bunch of other people who were never supposed to be exposed to the joke in the first place suddenly got to not only hear it but to react indignantly to it, as if Tracy Morgan had come to each of their homes and insulted them personally.

And so now you have groups like PFLAG, concerned celebrities like Nia Vardalos, and average armchair pundits chiming in to demand that Tracy Morgan be made an example of as an object lesson to the rest of society. Because that's really what this is all about: It's not about forcing Morgan to understand that what he said was hurtful and crossed some line in the sand; it's about teaching everyone else that crossing that very subjective line will not be tolerated and will be met with the severest possible punishment short of having you arrested. You say something we deem unacceptable, even in the context of a joke, and we'll take away your livelihood and make you the cultural pariah you deserve to be. Because intolerance will not be tolerated. The desired outcome is nothing less than a chilling effect on what you say and how you say it.

Sorry, but that shouldn't stand.

Tracy Morgan wasn't attacking an audience member, a la Michael Richards, and he wasn't speaking as a representative of NBC or as his character on 30 Rock, so running to his "parents" and commanding them to discipline him -- demanding that NBC fire him outright -- is an abusive overreaction and a slightly underhanded move. As ridiculous as it was that Don Imus was fired by MSNBC for making an ineffectual and hilariously archaic comment about the Rutgers women's basketball team, at least that comment was made while he was on the air at MSNBC so it was within the network's purview to take action. Morgan was doing a comedy bit during his personal stand-up act; his role as an actor on an NBC show, working for a Broadway Video production, had no bearing whatsoever on it and should remain a separate matter. It's, quite frankly, not the network's business what Tracy Morgan does or doesn't do during his gigs. Likewise, there's an argument to be made that it's not really anyone's business who didn't buy a ticket to that show that night what Morgan said or didn't say.

One last thing: You've probably noticed that I tend to defend comedians pretty fiercely. There's a reason for this: they're the vanguard of our right to free speech; they're the ones we count on to be able to push the envelope, challenge our sensibilities, even offend us occasionally because it's necessary for us as a culture. More than that, the interpretation of what they do is entirely subjective, and it simply isn't your right to tell me what is or isn't funny -- just like it isn't my right to tell you or anyone else what's funny. The world would be a much more tedious place without comics willing to truly put themselves out there and take risks -- to make fun of the sacrosanct and vilify the revered if necessary -- and their ability to do that should be protected at all costs. Making them grovel before the altar of political correctness, in the end, damages all of us.

Picture of the Day