Monday, December 31, 2012

The Bantees

My regular pieces for the Daily Banter will resume very soon, but until then, the Banter staff has put together a series of year-end "awards." You know how it works: we run down the best moment, the worst, the most annoying thing about 2012, etc.

It's a fun little read, so by all means take a look and see if you agree with us.

The Daily Banter 2012 Awards

The 25 Best Singles of 2012 (5-1)

5. St. Vincent -- Cheerleader

Annie Clark -- known by the stage name St. Vincent -- regularly churns out fascinating music, but she really hit a new high with this track. Its frank declaration of independence is matched only by its lush, languid instrumentation.

4. Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra -- The Killing Type

The force of nature that is Amanda Palmer returned in 2012 with a record financed through a massive Kickstarter campaign. The result was everything fans could have hoped for: it was fierce, fiery, a true breath of fresh air in the pop music world. The first single from it showcased everything that makes Amanda Amanda.

3. Skrillex -- Bangarang

Nobody came into 2012 with more to prove than Skrillex. He had a lot of hype to live up to but he managed it in spades with this explosive track, one that slammed you in the chest with the monstrous beats he's famous for. With this, he proved handily that he's the king of dubstep and maybe of electronic dance in general.

2. Frank Ocean -- Thinking About You

Frank Ocean made headlines in 2012 when he admitted to having had feelings for a man. Is he gay? Is he bi? Is he just experimental? It hardly matters. The bottom line is that as a musician, few are his equal these days. Channel ORANGE was a benchmark in modern soul and hip-hop, and this song was an absolute knockout.

1. Dead Sara -- Weatherman

Dear God, does this song kick your ass all over the room. With the opening guitar crunch and the Joplin-esque howl of Emily Armstrong, Dead Sara ferociously declared themselves to be the new gods of rock. There simply aren't words to describe what a chill-inducing punch to the gut this song was the first time you heard it -- and I guarantee it hasn't relented every time you've heard it since. It was hands-down the best track of the year, single or otherwise.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The 25 Best Singles of 2012 (10-6)

10. Sky Ferreira -- Everything Is Embarrassing

It would be easy to dismiss Sky Ferreira as another bleach-blonde American Apparel model and object of Terry Richardson's lascivious desires turned wanna-be L.A. singer, but to do so is to miss out on a pretty damn good electro-pop talent. Her Ghost EP was so pitch-perfect that it really did leave you wanting more -- and this single was the ultimate infectious ear candy.

9. Alabama Shakes -- Hold On

Alabama Shakes are everything the Kings of Leon pretend to be. Their debut record deserved every bit of acclaim it received this year -- and this song in particular was just all kinds of growling, gorgeous American perfection.

8. Zedd f/Matthew Koma -- Spectrum

The best electronic dance tracks are the ones that are actually good songs -- that make you want to sing along as well as move your body. With that in mind, German DJ Zedd accomplished the most impressive feat of the year because of songs like this one. Spectrum was bold, beautiful and utterly unforgettable.

7. Tame Impala -- Feels Like We Only Go Backwards

A couple of years back they nailed the late-60s Nazz-style sound in a way that was almost otherworldly. This year, they honed that even further. Yes, Tame Impala only go backwards when it comes to their sound, but the result is something strangely, wonderfully original.

6. The Lumineers -- Ho Hey

Sometimes a simple little folk song is exactly what you need to lift your spirits. This song did it on a worldwide scale.

Tomorrow: 5-1

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The 25 Best Singles of 2012 (15-11)

15. Deadmau5 f/Gerard Way -- Professional Griefers

This was the year that electronic dance music finally achieved its true potential in the states and came to dominate pop music and pop culture, with its stars transcending cult status to become musical icons. Yeah, Joel Zimmerman -- AKA Deadmau5 -- was huge before, but with the first single from his 2012 release, Album Title Goes Here, he struck with the authoritative might of somebody who knew he was on top of the world.

14. The xx -- Angels

It seemed impossible to pare down their late-night, post-coital sound any further, but the kids from the xx did just that, and turned out one of the simplest and most beautiful love songs of this or any other year.

13. fun. -- Some Nights

They were everywhere in 2012 -- and with good reason. This song was just impossible to resist.

12. Japandroids -- The House That Heaven Built

Their album was called Celebration Rock and never has there been a more fitting title. In 2012, this Canadian duo brought the joyous thunder back to alt rock.

11. The Gaslight Anthem -- National Anthem

Simple and stunning, word has it this song was written in less than a half-hour, which would prove that it came right from the place it sounds like: the heart. Melancholy permeates every note and the end result is something as wondrous as it is emotionally devastating.

Tomorrow: 10-6

Friday, December 28, 2012

The 25 Best Singles of 2012 (20-16)

20. Grizzly Bear -- Sleeping Ute

Hailing from Brooklyn, of course, Grizzly Bear had been quietly redefining psychedelic folk rock and transcending their hipster cred for quite some time, but in 2012 they truly hit their stride with this entrancing and mysterious track.

19. Grimes -- Oblivion

24-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter Claire Boucher, who goes by the stage name Grimes, became the queen of electronic quirk with her latest album, Visions. The first single from the record summed up her overall approach: dreamy and a little silly, but thoroughly irresistible.

18. Odd Future -- Oldie

It was a good year for the seemingly endless and undefinable hip-hop collective Odd Future; they dominated more than a few forms of media and rose up out of the underground to create a metric ton of mainstream buzz, and with good reason. Nobody owns the alternative rap genre like these guys and this track was proof positive why.

17. Santigold -- Disparate Youth

The LES couldn't keep Santigold contained -- everyone knew that from the beginning. But in 2012, she truly reached her full potential with songs like this one.

16. Chvrches -- Lies

It takes a special kind of musical authority to come from out of nowhere and release a track that immediately sends millions scrambling to find a place to download it from. Glasgow's Chvrches did it with this. Dancefloor-ready and almost indescribably catchy, it was one of the best pop songs of the year.

Tomorrow: 15-11

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The 25 Best Singles of 2012

25. Muse -- Madness

With a seductive electronic purr, Muse unleashed their best single since the Absolution days.

24. El-P -- The Full Retard

Brooklyn hip-hop savante Jaime Meline, otherwise known as El-P, did what he does best in 2012 -- laying down a barrage of incendiary beats that pretty much shook your eardrums until they broke.

23. Real Estate -- Easy

The title says it all. The first single from Real Estate's Days album, released at the very start of 2012, was a breezy, catchy bit of wonderfulness.

22. DIIV -- Doused

A lot of bands were still doing the propulsive 80s indie thing in 2012, but DIIV (pronounced "dive") did it better than just about anybody else. This single proves it.

21. Cat Power -- Cherokee

God bless Cat Power. That is all.

Tomorrow: 20-16

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

While You Were Out

Just a quick heads-up that I'm still out of town and will remain there until the middle of next week. That said, even though I'm having a really nice time with my daughter, family and girlfriend in Florida, the list of the 25 Best Singles of 2012 will begin here tomorrow morning and run pretty much up until the first of the new year.

Until then, talk amongst yourselves.

Here's a topic: some big changes coming around here beginning as soon as I get back -- namely, things should get not only back to normal but infinitely busier in the coming weeks. A few things are moving around work-wise, so I'll likely have more time during the day to concentrate on writing. Not less work -- just less time-consuming work.

Monday, December 24, 2012

...And To All a Good Night

Merry Christmas, everybody.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Listening Post: End of the World Edition

Well, folks, this is it -- it's all over. Finally. Mercifully.

Been good knowing all of you.

If the Mayans were wrong, I'll be around a little next week -- but I'm flying all day today, taking Inara to Florida to visit her grandparents and so that I can see the friends and family I haven't seen in a year, since I made the road trip out to L.A. and decided to stay.

Anyway, here's to the end.

It's Oingo Boingo's Goodbye, Goodbye.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Listening Post

This is a holiday tradition around these parts and one of my favorite Christmas songs. Whatever joy we can muster is a pretty nice thing right about now.

Here's Billy Joel's She's Right On Time.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Quote of the Day

"I’d also like us to encourage people to gang rush shooters, rather than following their instincts to hide; if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly, because even a guy with a very powerful weapon can be brought down by 8-12 unarmed bodies piling on him at once."

-- Megan McArdle writing at The Daily Beast

I've tried my best to completely ignore politics and the often idiotic rantings of those who make a living proffering right-wing political opinions since last Friday. I honestly feel like that kind of pettiness should have been put to shame for at least a little while. I don't know, I guess it just seems like it's beneath all of us right now.

But this was unavoidable because Megan McArdle is apparently a very special brand of idiot. It's already been well established that her views are the worst kind of insipid libertarian drivel and that they come from an intellectual featherweight -- why anyone actually pays her to try to think is one of the universe's great mysteries -- but her most recent column crosses the line from dumb into unthinkably offensive.

For most of its painful 4,000 words, it's standard McArdle -- a lot of the-government-can't-do-anything nonsense backed up by arguments a 5th grader would be able to knock holes through -- but then comes the above quote. I never thought I'd be one of those parents, but I guess I am: There's no fucking way humanly possible that Megan McArdle has a child (and if she does, the state she dislikes so much should step in and take him or her away immediately). If you can come up with a worse idea, a more jaw-dropping disaster of a response to the Sandy Hook shooting, than to suggest to your six year old and his or her friends that they should say "let's roll," get into attack formation, and undertake a kamikaze run at a guy armed with an assault rifle, I'm open to hearing it -- although you'd probably be too high to talk.

Ben wrote a really good piece on this today over at Banter and my favorite part about it is that he acknowledges what I kind of alluded to about McArdle, namely that she's such a joke that she barely deserves being mentioned and only gets the honor today because rarely has she herself proven it so spectacularly.

No More

Today's column for the Daily Banter hesitantly wonders if we may finally be on the verge of meaningful change in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting.

No excerpt for this one -- just feel free to read if you'd like.

The Daily Banter: Nothing Should Ever Be the Same/12.18.12

Listening Post

Still my favorite Christmas song.

I really do wish I were feeling more upbeat right now, but given how busy I am trying to get everything done before heading out for the holidays with Inara and how bad the news has been lately, I'm a bit out of it.

Again, though -- there's Inara soon. So that's really, really good.

Here's Joni Mitchell's River.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Quote of the Day

"I knew that day that the ideologies of my past career were no longer relevant to the future that I want, that I demand for my children. Friday changed everything. It must change everything. We all must begin anew and demand that Washington's old way of doing business is no longer acceptable. Entertainment moguls don't have an absolute right to glorify murder while spreading mayhem in young minds across America. And our Bill of Rights does not guarantee gun manufacturers the absolute right to sell military-style, high-caliber, semi-automatic combat assault rifles with high-capacity magazines to whoever the hell they want. It is time for Congress to put children before deadly dogmas. It's time for politicians to start focusing more on protecting our schoolyards than putting together their next fundraiser. It's time for Washington to stop trying to win endless wars overseas when we're losing the war at home ... For the sake of my four children and yours, I choose life and I choose change."

-- Joe Scarborough

This. Exactly.

In one form or another, I've covered news for two decades -- and I've never experienced an event that's shaken me to my very core like the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. Never. I've never had something so swiftly and assuredly challenge almost everything I believe in and force me to question my own views and the ferocity with which I hold and defend them. Like a lot of people, I've never looked at the images on my TV, read the stories in print, and felt so utterly lost -- and so positive that the risk of taking action is worth the potential reward. No, you can't child-proof the world, but you can fight with everything inside you to at least make it as safe as possible for our kids.

I understand that time will pass and, as with 9/11, things will eventually go back to "normal" -- but they shouldn't. It's such a tired cliché, but we can never forget what happened last Friday because if we do, we'll be betraying all we purport to stand for as a nation and as those with an obligation to be the guardians of the most innocent and trusting among us. If we can't at least try to keep them safe from living nightmares like this, what good are we?

Scarborough's right. How many others stand with him?

Listening Post

A very nice reader named Mary put up a link to this song in the comment section of Friday's post, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't cry while listening to it. I cried a lot this past weekend and I seriously doubt it's going to stop anytime soon.

Here's Pink -- Beam Me Up.

Friday, December 14, 2012


There have been times when I've felt like I'm at a loss for words. When I've sat here staring at this computer screen practically in tears, maybe even overcome with rage, because I simply can't find a way to translate the chaos and emotion in my head into actual human language. It's happened before -- but it's never happened like this.

I just keep thinking about my four-year-old daughter, Inara. I can't get her out of my head. Her blonde curls. Her smile. The way she opens her bedroom door and shuffles hesitantly over in her little Hello Kitty pajamas to where I'm working early in the morning -- her purple blanket clutched in both hands and pulled up to her face, her eyes still glossy with receding sleep -- and silently rests her head against me. The sound of her laughing uncontrollably whenever she tells a joke, no matter how often she's told the same joke before. She's like life itself to me. She's my heart and soul. My sine qua non.

I think about that, all of that, and then I try to reconcile those overwhelming feelings with the words and images that have played out all day on my TV. Parents screaming. Tiny children marching in a line to safety as they're led by police armed with automatic weapons. Ambulances lining the streets and police tape strewn throughout a bucolic suburban neighborhood in New England. "27 People Killed in Elementary School Massacre." It goes beyond surreal into the realm of unimaginable. How can our feeble minds even be expected to process it, our frail psyches to make sense of it? How can we ever come to terms with the notion that this is us -- that our society is capable of playing host to something so utterly inhuman? Who are we at this point?

Less than 48-hours after the attacks of 9/11, I was at Ground Zero, standing with a mask over my face next to a still-burning pile of wreckage ten stories high. It was one of the most horrific experiences imaginable. And yet even then, overcome by the sheer magnitude of what had happened and the searing pain it caused, I could at least see some kind of twisted reasoning at work. While the beliefs of those who had attacked us and killed so many may have been insane and misguided, they were at least easy to explain; the men who brought terror to our shores honestly considered themselves warriors, and we were their enemy. We weren't completely helpless then; we knew who had devastated us, why, and what we had to do about it.

But this: an elementary school, a 20-year-old man armed to the teeth, 20 children shot to death while they cowered in class. No matter how hard I try I just can't understand it. Dear God, why? They were just kids. And teachers. Why?

How do we go on from this? How do so many families return home to presents still under the Christmas tree for children who will now never open them -- how do they survive the unsurvivable? How do we as a nation dare to continue calling ourselves human when we tolerate such virulent madness, allowing our leaders to refuse to acknowledge that something has to be done about our obscene and grievously negligent lust for firepower and the right to supposedly wield it as we please? When does it fucking stop?

Now. It stops now. Because it has to.

Enough is enough.

There are admittedly no easy answers, but there have to be answers, because we can't have another one of these. Not like this. This is too much for us to take.

Listening Post

Nobody enjoys being naked quite like Amanda Palmer, but even putting that aside, this is easily one of the best videos of the year.

Here's Want It Back.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Bubble Genius Bob & Chez Show, 12.13.12

The American Gun Fetish; Susan Rice Withdraws From Consideration; Why John Kerry is a Bad Choice; Speculating About the Fiscal Cliff Negotiations; Reactions to Last Week’s Show; Ted Nugent; The Oregon Shooting; Jovan Belcher; Mark Halperin and the Sequel to Game change; and much more. Brought to you by Bubble Genius.

Listen and subscribe for free on iTunes

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Labor Pains

Today's column for the Daily Banter focuses on Michigan governor Rick Snyder's fast-tracking of legislation that just turned the cradle of organized labor into a "right-to-work" state.

My take on it is personal -- and will probably draw at least a small amount of criticism from the hard-left -- while I hope being reasonable.

Here's an excerpt:

"My biggest issue when it came to the unions at KCBS was always this: workers weren’t really given a choice as to whether or not they wanted to be a part of them. I had been hired on as a 'senior producer,' a muscular-sounding title which belied the fact that the KCBS brain trust had basically just pulled it out of their asses. What they’d done, see, is label me a manager without actually giving me any of the authority of a manager — and they’d done it for no other reason than to ensure that, as a manager-in-name, I wouldn’t be obligated to join the Writers Guild of America, the union that oversaw the station’s producer corps. They likely considered the idea a stroke of inspired genius, but, as expected, the Guild saw through this bit of juvenile misdirection and filed grievance upon grievance against the station for attempting to game the system while simultaneously trying to pressure me to join up and pay them the required union dues. The station management ignored the Guild’s complaints; I threw the angry bi-weekly letters I got from it in the garbage.

Here’s what it came down to: I didn’t want to be forced into paying out part of my salary to a third-party. I had been hired by KCBS and as far as I was concerned, as shitty as it was, it was the only entity I had personally made an agreement with. I wanted the choice to not have any association whatsoever with the union.

I do, in fact, question the fairness of making workers submit, en masse, to the authority of a labor union... The counter-argument against a willingness to debate this is generally of the “well, no one’s forcing you to join, only to pay a diminished due” variety. Sorry, but that isn’t much of a salve for those who literally want nothing at all to do with the union where he or she works or is going to work. "

Read the Rest Here

Quote of the Day

"$60 billion? In this time when we’re trying to solve the deficit problem?"

-- Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, scoffing at the Obama administration's request for $60.4-billion in disaster relief for the states affected by Superstorm Sandy

I love this one simple statement because it perfectly sums up the ridiculousness of the current Republican party and why it doesn't deserve to be taken the least bit seriously. It's got it all: the phony outrage, the logic-defying implication that a future crisis should be dealt with before one that's affecting Americans right now, the shameless partisan obstructionism disguised as a principled stand.

Kyl really has constructed a thing of beauty. Please take a moment out of your day to appreciate it.

Listening Post

It doesn't take much to cause "controversy" -- as defined by gossip websites and E! -- in the world of pop music these days. But occasionally somebody can slip something into the mix that may count as genuinely subversive and it's entertaining to see the reaction to it.

And so it is with the new single from Skylar Grey. I've been a fan of hers for a while because she seemed to be deftly traversing the waters of pop and hip-hop while displaying quite a bit of honest-to-God songwriting talent and an unusual amount of class. When I talked to her briefly at a party several months ago, she was dressed like a Swiss Air flight attendant, wrapped in a tight, high-necked gray jacket with sharp shoulders and a matching gray knee-length skirt; in other words, she looked like the furthest thing from a recording industry sex-kitten. That's why I wasn't sure what to make of this new song and video when I first saw and heard it -- and apparently neither was anybody else because she's caught a lot of flak for it from those who've never really heard of Skylar Grey but who now see her as the ultimate dumb pop music slut-bomb whose stuff is nothing more than a series of over-the-top sexual innuendos strung together.

Except that that's the point. The entire song is satire. Grey knows this. Eminem, who appears on the track and who's been one of her biggest champions, knows this. The controversy, then, comes from the age old pop culture Mobius loop that leaves people wondering how far one can go in parodying something before he or she actually becomes that thing. In this case: Skylar Grey really is a knockout and she really is showing off her body here and she really is singing about sex, even if she's mocking those who do it without tongue firmly in cheek.

Whatever the answer is, I have to admit that while the song itself is kind of silly -- apparently by design -- it's shockingly catchy. And maybe that's the most subversive thing of all.

Here's C'mon Let Me Ride.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

New Rules

My issue when it comes to the recent round of Republican soul-searching has mostly been that it seems focused more on "rebranding," meaning selling a bad product in a way that makes it appear more enticing, than actually presenting new ideas.

Well, even though this little soliloquy casts itself as a series of tips on how to rebrand the GOP, it actually offers some damn good advice -- good advice that would benefit the entire country.

And believe it or not, much to her credit, it comes from the normally groan-inducing S.E. Cupp.

Good for her.

Low Recoil

Today's column for the Daily Banter deals with yesterday's mall shooting in Portland, Oregon -- and how chances are nothing will change in the wake of it.

Here's the opening shot:

"So here we are again.

By now you probably know the drill so well you can follow the steps in your sleep: guy goes into a public place and shoots it up, killing and injuring innocent people; the police descend and the local news stations and networks begin splashing horrifying images of the armed response and frightened bystanders all over your TV; details begin to trickle out, as well as stories of terror and heroism from average people who witnessed the shooting and got out alive; the gunman is either caught, killed or takes his own life; the futile debate over gun control begins and the right immediately begins decrying the use of a tragedy to supposedly score political points; the NRA or one of its supporters in the conservative press or Congress makes the staggeringly offensive and stupid claim that if everyone in our country were carrying a concealed weapon, somebody else would’ve been able to open fire in a crowded public place and take the initial gunman — the one not using his arsenal in a responsible manner — down with a couple of well-placed shots to the head, Black Ops 2-style.

We’re so used to this crap by now that this afternoon there’s not really a whole lot of screaming, front-page coverage of the latest outbreak of indiscriminate violence that captured the attention of the country for a few minutes last night. Yes, there are updates, but for the national press life has just about gone back to normal."

Read the Rest Here

Listening Post

Yeah, a lot of bands do the 80s indie-goth sound, but few songs capture the true aesthetic of that time and that music as flawlessly as this one.

From the Horrors, this is Still Life.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

It's All Downhill from Here

Today's column for the Daily Banter takes a look at the ways in which Jeff Zucker may already be working his magic at CNN.

Here's the opening shot:

"First there was the news that may have come as a surprise to most reasonable people, but which honestly was all-but-assured to those who understand how the corporate world works: the hiring of Jeff Zucker as the new head of CNN Worldwide. Sure, pretty much everyone with a pair of eyes knew that Zucker had almost singlehandedly ruined NBC and by all accounts should’ve been radioactive for the next century or so, yet anybody experienced in dealing with modern American corporatism knows that there’s a mob-style 'blood in, blood out' thing that happens at the upper echelons of power and once you’ve been accepted into the club, with a few exceptions, you’re there to stay. Zucker has name-recognition and an adeptness at personal PR that borders on sorcery when you consider everything he manages to get people to conveniently forget about him, so the thoroughly offensive decision to give him another shot at running a television network was a punch telegraphed from a mile away."

Read the Rest Here

Listening Post

I'm 43 today.

Dear God, how did this happen?

Here's Concrete Blonde's Happy Birthday.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Die Laughing

Today's column for the Daily Banter takes a look at the pretty shocking suicide of a nurse and receptionist in London who was unwittingly involved in a prank by two Australian DJs.

Here's a quick excerpt:

"It almost goes without saying that the two DJs, Christian and Grieg, are now the targets of global outrage — because of course it was their fault that what was intended to be a harmless joke happened to inadvertently fall into the hands of someone who I have no doubt was a really terrific person but who had to be at least mildly unbalanced. Jesus, the nurse who took the call and who inexplicably didn’t catch on to the fact that the ridiculously exaggerated caricatures she was speaking to for five minutes weren’t, in fact, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles — this woman is still alive. The person who connected the call, however, kills herself. I’d ask if that makes sense at all but it would be a laughable conceit since none of this makes any sense."

Read the Rest Here

The Bob & Chez Show After Party, 12.7.12

Join the After Party.

This week: Elf; We Preview a Big Show Event; The Hopelessness of the Climate Crisis; Blogging and the Middleton Conundrum; Working from Home; the New PPP Poll, Secession and ACORN; Ann Coulter Sounds Sane; Chris Christie Sounds Crazy; Bob’s Car Problems; the New Star Trek Trailer; The Hobbit and 48fps; Bob’s Questions about The Godfather Part 2; The Death Penalty; Don’t Rape; Jovan Belcher; The Rudolph Story Sucks; and much more.

Listening Post

Two nights ago, a mysterious tweet appeared from Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance. Attached was a song from a band called DannytheStreet -- the name swiped from a Grant Morrison comic -- which featured Gerard on vocals.

Is it a one-off thing? A new side project? Nobody knows.

The song's pretty damn cool, though.

Here's Zero Zero.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

The Bubble Genius Bob & Chez Show, 12.6.12

We spend the whole hour vigorously debating whether MSNBC has a so-called pro-Obama bias. Bob says no, I say yes, and we definitely go at it. Brought to you by Bubble Genius.

There’s political talk and much more in this week’s After Party -- Friday at Noon eastern time.

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Define "Self-Evident"

Today's column for the Daily Banter pegs off of a piece Cesca wrote on Tuesday.

Here's a small excerpt and you can probably get where I'm going with it:

"The headline for Bob Cesca’s column from a couple of days ago really caught my eye, which I have to assume it was designed to. It read, “There Is No Pro-Obama Bias at MSNBC.” At first I figured... that Bob was just going for the attention-grab. But once I started reading the piece I quickly realized that, no, he really did intend to make the argument that MSNBC isn’t biased in favor of President Obama; he wasn’t just trying to get me to spend a few minutes cleaning coffee off the screen of my laptop."

Read the Rest Here (and be sure to listen to Bob and I almost certainly go at it over this on today's podcast)

Q & A

If it's Thursday, it must be time for me to hit you up for questions for this week's Daily Banter mailbag. You know the drill -- I ask you nice people for questions about politics, pop culture, the media, drugs, guns, consent laws, etc. and Bob, Ben and I try to keep a straight face while we answer them.

Submit your questions via the comment section of this post, Facebook, Twitter DM or e-mail -- the address is to the right -- and maybe you'll see yourself on the pages of the Daily Banter tomorrow morning.

Go ahead, kids. Do your worst.

Darkness Falls

J.J. Abrams's Star Trek reboot is one of my favorite movies of the last five years or so, mostly because it's just so damn entertaining. It managed to get pretty much everything right, which means that I've been waiting for our first real glimpse of the sequel like a kid waiting for Christmas.

Well, Christmas is here early -- and I'm having a very nice little nerdgasm.

Listening Post

Over the Thanksgiving holiday I was in San Francisco and my girlfriend and I were wandering the temple of incredible food that is the Ferry Building, right on the bay. This song came over the speakers and I kind of jokingly started singing it to her, which of course brought out her finest Scrooge impression.

Yes, I love this time of year and yes, while I may be a cynical prick a lot of the time, I love this song. If this version of it doesn't make you smile even a little, your heart really is two sizes too small.

Here's Mariah Carey, Jimmy Fallon, the Roots and a bunch of kids doing All I Want for Christmas.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Quote of the Day

"There is no scientific debate on the age of the earth. I mean, it’s established pretty definitively, it’s at least 4.5 billion years old. I was referring to a theological debate, which is a pretty health debate. And the theological debate is ... how do you reconcile with what science has definitively established with what you may think your faith teaches. Now for me, actually, when it comes to the age of the earth, there is no conflict. I believe that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And I think that scientific advances have given us insight into when he did it and how he did it, but I still believe God did it... I just think in America we should have the freedom to teach our children whatever it is we believe. And that means teaching them science, they have to know the science, but also parents have the right to teach them the theology and to reconcile the two things."

-- Marco Rubio, "clarifying" his earlier position that because he's not a scientist, man, he couldn't tell you the age of the Earth

Here's the pertinent part of the quote: "I just think in America we should have the freedom to teach our children whatever it is we believe." Let me see if I can translate that for you: We should be able to teach our kids, and believe for ourselves, whatever the hell nonsense pops into our heads, no matter how utterly divorced from provable fact it is and expect to be taken seriously and have our beliefs deferred to. Sure, there may be science, math and hard evidence that contradicts the magical stories we've been told by a 2,000-year-old book written by people who for the most part believed that the world was no more than a couple of million square miles wide, but so what?

This is what I mean when I talk about taking issue with faith as a general concept and why I think its acceptance is dangerous. If I told you that I was teaching my four-year-old daughter that she should ignore science and instead believe that the world was created by a giant insect that rides a comet across the night sky, you'd not only think I was nuts, you'd discount the belief system entirely and wonder what the hell I was doing to my kid. There's no way in hell you'd show my belief, no matter how understanding you might be, any kind of respect whatsoever. And rightfully so. Yet if I tell you that I'm teaching my child that the world was created in six days, 6,000 years ago -- there are those out there, like Marco Rubio, who would tell me not only that it was acceptable but that it was my right as an American. It's my right, in other words, to be wrong.

This is why I can love and respect people of faith, but I have a very hard time respecting the faith itself.

By the way, in looking over a few things for this post and others on faith-based religion, I came across this -- and it is so jaw-dropping in its hilarious insanity that I'm pretty sure it could represent the event horizon of pure irony.

Take Five

One of my favorite memories of being a kid is of riding around in the car with my dad on a Sunday afternoon, listening to his favorite jazz tapes. He loved Oscar Peterson, Coltrane, and Monk -- but above all, he loved Dave Brubeck. And he taught me, at a very young age, a love for Brubeck as well -- one that would last my entire life.

That's the importance of Brubeck for me personally. As it turns out, his importance in the lives of others and to music in general, likewise, can't really be overstated. Not only did he record one of the most landmark albums of the last century, the near-flawless 1959 masterpiece of jazz and style Time Out, he continued making incredible music throughout his many years -- right up until the very end.

I can't even begin to express how heartbroken I am that Dave Brubeck died this morning, just two days shy of his 92nd birthday. But I can't help but rejoice in the decades of musical brilliance he's left us with. The guy seriously changed my life for the better and gave me moments with my father that I'll never forget -- and for that I can't thank him enough.

Here's Blue Rondo à la Turk.

Third Rail

Today's column for the Daily Banter focuses on the New York Post's instantly notorious "dead man" cover from yesterday and the question of journalistic ethics.

Here's the opening shot:

"Denis Leary used to do an amusing bit years ago where he said that one of the best things about living in New York City is that there are so many interesting ways to die. It isn't simply a matter of the usual daily trials of living in a big city -- the potential to be shot, mugged, hassled by roving gangs of brown youths of indeterminate Latin American lineage, etc. -- it's the almost unimaginable and constantly evolving urban landmines that are indigenous to New York and that present an everyday threat, whether you choose to deny their existence for the sake of your own sanity or not. You can be killed by a block of ice falling off the top of a skyscraper. You can step on an inadvertently electrified manhole cover. You can fall through a storm grate on a sidewalk.

You can get pushed in front of a subway train."

Read the Rest Here

Listening Post

This won't come as a shock to anyone, but San Diego ska-reggae-rap outfit Slightly Stoopid are associated with Sublime. They were actually signed by Brad Nowell years before his untimely death.

You can hear the Sublime sound all over this song.

Here's Top of the World.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Time (and God) Served

Today's column for the Daily Banter takes a look at a judge's ruling in a DUI manslaughter case in Oklahoma that's, to put it bluntly, illegal. The thing is, does it shine a bright light on a larger problem when it comes to what courts often order in drug and alcohol cases?

Here's a small excerpt:

"A couple of days ago the ACLU, an organization whose work I at turns appreciate and abhor, filed a formal complaint with the state of Oklahoma in the wake of a local judge’s startling ruling in a DUI vehicular manslaughter case. Back in December of last year, 17-year-old Tyler Alred crashed his pick-up into a tree while drunk, killing the passenger, a 16-year-old friend of his. In August of this year, Judge Mike Norman made Alred an offer he couldn’t refuse: go to prison for at least four years or accept a ten-year deferred sentence, meaning no jail time, in exchange for community service, submitting to regular drug and alcohol screenings — and going to church every Sunday for ten years. Needless to say, Norman’s sentence is unconstitutional. Not only is it unconstitutional, maybe most perniciously, Norman knows it’s unconstitutional...

An incidental question we’re left with in the wake of this ridiculous ruling, though, involves... the subtle proselytization at the heart of the 12-Step program which many courts have no problem ordering defendants accused in alcohol and drug-related crimes to undergo. Is it legal? Is it constitutional?"

Read the Rest Here

Listening Post

Australian band Tame Impala went from doing 70s-era fuzz-rock to psychedelic 60s-style stuff in the span of two albums. Next time around I guess we'll be getting 50s doo-wop.

Here's Feels Like We Only Go Backwards.

I'm up to my ass in a TV project right now, the deadline for which is rapidly approaching. Sorry for the relative quiet, but I'll still be posting my usual columns over at the Daily Banter and linking here. There seriously aren't enough hours in the day.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Listening Post

The Epilogues are a Denver band whose stuff I happen to like quite a bit. From their recent album, this is The Fallout.

Happy Monday, kids.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Sunday Sacrilege

As a perfect little Sunday Sacrilege entry, here's the full text of the piece posted this past Thursday at the Daily Banter on Pastor Rick Warren and his attempt to "logically" argue against homosexuality. It sums up pretty nicely my entire view of faith and why I feel the way I do about it.

Some of the most entertaining columns written for this site, I think, come from the times when Bob Cesca and I decide to get into a back-and-forth over subjects we're passionate about. While we both write here and host a podcast together, we obviously don't agree on everything nor should we; what the hell fun would that be? A couple of weeks back, Bob posted a piece that suggested that progressives need to stop demonizing people of faith and criticizing religion in general as being, essentially, a crutch for those not as evolved as, I guess, the liberal intelligentsia (who are generally insufferable anyway). From a purely PR perspective, he's absolutely right. I'm always one for acknowledging political reality, and it clearly dictates that contemptuously mocking someone's beliefs from on-high is the wrong way to win that person over to your cause. Bob's right on the money about this.

Then today he wrote a really nice little piece about everyone's favorite smug-prick-of-God Rick Warren -- pastor of California's Saddleback Mega-Church and cultivator, along with Chuck Todd, of the majestically sentient ginger goatee -- and his ongoing crusade to become America's most seemingly unthreatening homophobe and bigot. Basically, Warren went on Piers Morgan a couple of nights ago -- which speaks volumes about his judgment right there -- and claimed that being gay is just one of those natural impulses in some people that simply needs to be denied. His point is that you can have gay urges, but to act on them is dangerous and destructive. Examples of destructive urges that he, Rick Warren, personally experiences and denies include the desire to punch someone in the face and to cheat on his wife (thankfully, not the other way around, although it would've made for a much more revealing interview). Arsenic is found in nature, Warren says, but you wouldn't swallow it, silly.

So far, so predictably awful.

It's a waste to argue with Warren's logic because there isn't any there, which is kind of the point of what I'm about to say.

In his piece, Bob asks what exactly the "danger" is in being gay and where in the Bible it's justified that being gay is wrong and an affront to God. Here's the salient quote:

"If the Bible believes homosexuality is a criminally immoral act, where’s the victim? God? Why? How? No one can answer this question even though it’s the centerpiece of homophobic religious dogma."

This is a completely fair statement to make, but it betrays the problem with faith-based religion and, as a question, basically answers itself. The reality is that Rick Warren believes that being gay is wrong, dangerous and a sin against God because the Bible says so, in Leviticus 20:13. And here's the thing: that's good enough for Warren and many, many Christians. An outsider, one who believes in such quaint notions as asking for proof or demanding rational explanations for things, will come up against bulletproof obstinacy: the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it. There's no reasoning to be found there and no need to debate it any further, since the Bible is a holy book, the word of God, and we know this because it tells us it is. See how you can't get around that?

Bob, since he's sane, is attempting to apply things like logic, the burden of proof, etc. to a belief system based on none of these things. And that's the problem, the reason why people like myself are staunchly against not simply those who pervert faith but the concept of faith itself: because if something can't be subjected to the parameters that govern every other thing on the planet, every other discussion and debate, every part of our accepted reality, then that notion can be almost entirely dismissed as potentially fraudulent. The truth -- supported by empirical evidence -- is the yardstick by which we measure reality. If you don't have an at least functionally common yardstick as a society, everything descends into chaos. Anyone can make up any story he or she wants and call it the truth. And that's basically what faith-based religion is.

What's more, taking issue with someone's beliefs isn't necessarily off limits because it's our beliefs that inspire our actions. Being absolutely sure that you'll go on to another life will certainly influence your behavior in this one. Being 100% certain that the path you've chosen to God is the right one and that your savior demands that you educate as many people as you can while warning others about the impending doom they're facing should they continue on their own path will influence you as well. A specific set of beliefs is what makes you you. If these beliefs can stand up to the burden of proof we demand in all other areas of our lives, no problem. If they can't, there's a word for that, and it isn't faith -- it's delusion.

While I know a great many people who are religious whom I love dearly -- they're wonderful, good people -- I can respect them personally without respecting the belief they've chosen to embrace. I also think they'd be the same good people they are now irrespective of their faith in a deity. Faith doesn't make a bad person good or an inherently immoral person moral. I have no doubt that faith can play a positive role in people's lives, but ask yourself this: Is it really, say, God who gives the faithful comfort -- or is it the faith itself? The unshakable belief that someone is there watching out for them? The self-assurance that no matter what goes wrong, it's all part of a grand and magnificent plan to which you're not privy nor should you be?

There's an argument to be made that, hey, whatever gets you through the day. But that argument isn't, in and of itself, proof of that thing that gets you through the day. Santa Claus keeps kids excited and maybe even on their best behavior year-round, under penalty of getting a big lump of coal; it doesn't make him real.

Rick Warren believes homosexuality is dangerous and that God hates it because he believes it. Simple as that. No point at all in arguing with him. He's immune to contradictory theories or evidence because in his mind you can't theorize against God and there's no evidence that could possibly tear a belief system that's as flawlessly self-reinforcing as his asunder. If it's not based on proof anyway, how can it be disproven with contrary proof?

Again, I agree with Bob that beating up on people of faith is a terrible idea for those who espouse progressive politics -- although it should be mentioned that when I talk about religion, despite its insidious insinuation into our political discourse, I'm generally not approaching it from the perspective of a liberal or a conservative -- but that doesn't mean anyone should turn a blind eye to the problems too much religious adherence has created in our global society.

Because Rick Warren isn't a disease -- he's merely the symptom of one.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Bob & Chez Show After Party, 11.30.12

Join the After Party. Only $6 per month.

This week: Our Thanksgivings; Google Hangout; The Star Wars Holiday Special; Latest Star Wars Episode 7 News; The Life of Pi; The Greatest Movie Season Ever; Skyfall; Pacific Rim; Mustard Capellini; Jeff Zucker to CNN; Food Network’s Sweet Genius; The Biggest Television News of the Year; Confirmation that Republicans Are Deliberately Suppressing Minority Voters; Blowing Up the Moon; The Popular Vote and 47 Percent; and much more.

The Bubble Genius Bob & Chez Show, 11.29.12

Back from a Week Off; Fox News Nailed by Thomas Ricks; Benghazi Gate Continues; MSNBC and the Alleged Pro Obama Bias; Fox News and Hard News; Rick Warren and His Latest Homophobic Remarks; Religion and Bigotry; Bob Loves the Christmas Season. Brought to you by Bubble Genius.

Listen and subscribe for free on iTunes

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Listening Post

The Shins have always been hit or miss for me; they've released some truly great stuff and quite a bit of filler. This song, though, definitely falls into the former category.

Here's The Rifle's Spiral.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Quote of the Day

"I think our competition today is anybody that competes for eyeballs and attention and produces non-fiction programming. News is about more than politics and war, we need to broaden that definition of what news is, while maintaining the standards of CNN’s journalistic excellence."

-- Jeff Zucker on his plans for the network now that he's been named chief of CNN Worldwide

And there you have it -- your first indication of what's almost certainly to come.

You know what counts as "non-fiction programming?" in cable?

TLC, E! and Bravo.

Notice he saves the "journalistic excellence" thing for last.

That's right, baby -- Jeff's back on top.

What a Fool Believes

Today's column for the Daily Banter pegs off of two recent Cesca pieces, one regarding Pastor Rick Warren's latest tirade against gays and gay impulses and the other dealing with religion in general and how progressives ought to approach it.

Yes, it's one of those kinds of religion pieces for me.

Here's the opening shot:

"Some of the most entertaining columns written for this site, I think, come from the times when Bob Cesca and I decide to get into a back-and-forth over subjects we’re passionate about. While we both write here and host a podcast together, we obviously don’t agree on everything nor should we; what the hell fun would that be? A couple of weeks back, Bob posted a piece that suggested that progressives need to stop demonizing people of faith and criticizing religion in general as being, essentially, a crutch for those not as evolved as, I guess, the liberal intelligentsia (who are generally insufferable anyway). From a purely PR perspective, he’s absolutely right. I’m always one for acknowledging political reality, and it clearly dictates that contemptuously mocking someone’s beliefs from on-high is the wrong way to win that person over to your cause. Bob’s right on the money about this."

Read the Rest Here

Q & A

If it's Thursday, it must be time for me to hit you up for questions for this week's Daily Banter mailbag. You know the drill -- I ask you nice people for questions about politics, pop culture, the media, that weird thing you want to do in bed but your spouse is worried about the consent laws in your state, etc. and Bob, Ben and I try to keep a straight face while we answer them.

Submit your questions via the comment section of this post, Facebook, Twitter DM or e-mail -- the address is to the right -- and maybe you'll see yourself on the pages of the Daily Banter tomorrow morning.

Bring it.

Like a Boss

Yes, I know -- Jeff Zucker was just named president of CNN worldwide.

The thing is, there's no sense in my banging out anything new on this subject because I actually wrote about it a few months ago, when Zucker's name first came up as a possible replacement for the departing Jim Walton. It was then that I made all the points you'd probably expect, the ones that if you have even a cursory understanding of network television and news in particular you're probably making yourself right about now.

So with that in mind, I think the only thing left to do before reposting that column from this past June is to introduce you to the one person who not only thinks that Zucker's latest "fail upward" will be good for CNN, he thinks it's a stroke of pure Five Diamond brilliance that will align the stars and bring the favor of the gods down upon Atlanta. Because Zucker is, you know, a genius.

In his regular column today, long-time Baltimore Sun TV critic David Zurawik calls the hiring of Zucker a "wise and winning" move right off the bat -- and then gets more and more detached from the reality you and I exist in as he goes along.

A few choice excerpts:

"Of all the major executive, talent and programming moves that CNN has made in the last few years, the expected announcement of Jeff Zucker as the president of CNN Worldwide looks like one of the best."

"Zucker's record, from his long and winning stint at NBC's Today, to the sound and classy syndicated production he built for Katie Couric, shows that he knows how to make money without shredding standards."

"Zucker is also steady, credible and tough. CNN needs all that right now in a president. You can bet Zucker, who is hardly press-shy, won't let the PR departments at other cable channels shape media reporters' perceptions of CNN as they do now without hitting back."

Okay, so was Zurawik a guest of honor at Zucker's kid's bar mitzvah or something? That little assessment of Zucker's abilities and history goes beyond glowing into the realm of hagiographically hallucinatory. I don't need to remind you of what really happened at NBC under Zucker's now infamous stewardship because I've done so many, many times and besides you can read about it anywhere.

A few choice details just for the hell of it: Zucker took NBC from #1 to a dismal #4 and made it a global punchline. He gave us Ben Silverman and Donald Trump. He lost NBC a billion dollars in ad revenue in one year. He was personally behind one of the most embarrassing prime-time clusterfucks in broadcast television history, that being the Jay Leno-Conan O'Brien debacle. He was unceremoniously fired in the wake of the multi-million-dollar merger he almost singlehandedly scuttled. Four words: To Catch a Predator.

The one thing Zucker's good at, as Zurawik alluded to, is creating his own mythology through a relentless personal PR campaign to other outlets -- and it's served him very well. I'd love to believe that Zucker will do right by CNN and finally bring the network back to life. Unfortunately, there's just one problem: his proven record so far.

Adding: This ringing endorsement...

I rest my case.

"Welcome Back Zucker" (Originally Published, 6.12.12)

Here’s a little something just about everyone in the television business knows: Once you become a high-powered executive, it’s almost impossible to fuck yourself and your reputation so badly that you’ll never work again.

Let’s say you’re some poor mid-level schmuck, doing whatever it is you do right now for a living, and you almost single-handedly make, let’s say, some gargantuan mistake that turns your company into a worldwide laughingstock and threatens to crater an upcoming multi-million dollar merger that’s going to make it the most powerful organization of its kind in the world — there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be radioactive for about the next hundred or so years. Not in television, though — and not if you’re an executive.

Case in point: Jeff Zucker, the former boy wonder of NBC Universal whose breathtaking arrogance and bottomless reservoir of short-sighted quick fixes and dumb-ass gimmickry turned the once-mighty NBC into a perennial last-place loser and whose name became synonymous with epic failure. It was Zucker who was personally responsible for the now legendary clusterfuck that turned NBC’s prime time inside out, led to an affiliate rebellion and eventually culminated in the ugly public departure of Conan O’Brien, all in the name of keeping Jay Leno fat, happy and, most importantly, safely in place at the network. Zucker ultimately left NBC in disgrace, but the important thing to remember is that disgrace is a stench that washes off damn quickly in the amoral world of the television suit.

Zucker’s got name recognition. And he’s got a reputation for putting clever ways of bringing in revenue above actually putting decent programming on the air — and that’s really all anybody cares about anymore in TV. Which is why his name is apparently now being bandied about as a possible candidate for not one but two stratospheric television news positions. Turner President Phil Kent is reportedly considering Zucker as a replacement for CNN Worldwide CEO Jim Walton, whose contract is up in December; Walton’s renewal is on very shaky ground in the wake of an almost staggering drought of ratings, with CNN pulling in record low numbers for months now. Meanwhile, Tribune Co. might also be considering Zucker to help lead the company out of its own wasteland, one brought on by a 2008 Chapter 11 filing that it’s now trying to emerge from.

Actually, the Tribune job would at least make a minor amount of sense given that Zucker’s forte is conjuring short-lived financial success out of thin air through the implementation of all kinds of silly schemes, cheap on-air trickery and relentless cross-pollination. But when it comes to CNN, here’s the thing: The network is already making money. In fact — it’s still turning an impressive profit even as its ratings tank. CNN could easily not worry one bit about how many people are watching it because it’s feeding off plenty of healthy revenue streams besides the traditional ones cultivated by good ratings. Obviously, though, CNN has a reputation to uphold and being the number three cable news network doesn’t exactly jibe with how it’s been perceived in the past and how it would like to be perceived now and going forward — but bringing somebody like Zucker on board to try to bring in those ratings seems more than a little misguided.

Either way, it looks like we haven’t seen the last of Jeff Zucker. You could’ve predicted from the beginning that there would always be somebody willing to put his special brand of spoiled milk back in the refrigerator in the hope that it’d taste better later. That’s just how things work in corporate television.

Listening Post

With the success of the Black Keys, it's been a good couple of years for powerful, blues-driven rock outfits. These guys fit very nicely into that category.

Here's Kill It Kid -- Pray on Me.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

White Man's Burden

Today's column for the Daily Banter is all about the apparently fading mojo of white guys of a certain age. At the center of it: Bill O'Reilly and the Washington Post's Richard Cohen.

Here's the opening shot:

"I’m sure you probably already know this, but it’s a really tough time to be a white guy of a certain age right now. Everything’s just so upside-down and nothing’s how it used to be, with white guys of a certain age lumbering across the face of the earth like mighty dinosaurs, perfectly, languorously content in their dominion over all creatures. There was the re-election of the weirdly named multi-cultural black man Barack Obama — along with the denial of the whitest, most of-a-certain-age man alive, Mitt Romney — and its heralding of the demographic shift that’s wresting power from their hands and giving to welfare queens and leaf-blowers. At the same time, there was the backlash against the attempt by a popular and official collective of über-white men — the GOP — to restrict the reproductive freedom of women on the grounds that not having proper babies from white guys of a certain age constitutes indefensible promiscuity anyway.

But that’s politics. The real battlefield for white guys of a certain age these days seems to be pop culture, which is telling them that they can’t just 'show up' and still be the subject of adoration, as they once were, while simultaneously reminding them at every turn that the various peoples of the globe have other interests besides their lengthy, fascinating tales of their own heroic exploits that involve the experience of just being white guys of a certain age."

Read the Rest Here

Quote of the Day

"We're not nuts, are we? There is a war on Christmas.

-- Fox News's Gretchen Carlson

No, you aren't -- what you are is cynically opportunistic because you know your audience is nuts.

And no, there isn't.

Listening Post

Directed by John Hillcoat, the new video from Trent Reznor's side project with his wife, How To Destroy Angels, is appropriately dark and spare -- and it actually features a beach that looks quite a bit like the one from The Road.

The music, though, perfectly fits Hillcoat's aesthetic.

Here's Ice Age.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Bad Men

Today's column for the Daily Banter takes a look at Angus T. Jones of Two and a Half Men, and his decision -- or rather Christ's -- to bite the hand that feeds him.

Here's the opening shot:

"Angus T. Jones has something in common with many, many Americans: he thinks 'Two and a Half Men' is crap. He’s right about this. He’s also correct when he says that many, many other Americans — I have yet to meet any of them, but I’m not gonna go all Pauline Kael here — watch Two and a Half Men with something bordering on infatuation. It’s not one of the top-rated comedies on television for nothing."

Read the Rest Here

Quote of the Day

"When Mr. Ricks ignored the anchor's question, it became clear that his goal was to bring attention to himself -- and his book. He apologized in our offices afterward but doesn't have the strength of character to do that publicly."

-- Fox News Executive Vice President Michael Clemente on the network's decision to abruptly end an interview yesterday with Pulitzer Prize-winning defense reporter and author Thomas Ricks

I've got to give it to whoever in the media relations department wrote this response and handed it off to Clemente: Never before has the entire Fox News philosophy been so flawlessly distilled down to two short sentences.

First of all, there's the snide, petty insult directed at the source of a perceived attack. People like David Carr of the Times and I have practically made a cottage industry out of documenting the myriad ways that Fox News has brought the knives out publicly against anyone who dares to challenge it.

Then, of course, there's the real headline here: the fact that Clemente may very well be lying. Ricks is already responding to this comment and he says he offered no such apology to anyone, nor would he. Given Fox's long, impressive history of making things up out of whole cloth, I'm inclined to believe Ricks over an FNC news executive who doubles as a passive-aggressive part-time PR flack.

But it doesn't matter in the end because Clemente doesn't expect anyone outside the conservative media bubble to believe him. He's doing minor damage control that probably wasn't really necessary anyway, given that Fox's audience doesn't care about a thing Tom Ricks has to say now that he's proven himself to be the enemy. The minute he crossed the line and dared to say something negative about Fox News is the same minute he lost all credibility with the network's viewers. Nobody not a Fox News regular believes a word coming out of Clemente's mouth. Everybody already a devoted Fox Fan didn't need the reassurance that Ricks isn't to be trusted.

Comment of the Week

In response to the "Open Letter to Texas" that I posted a couple of weeks back.


Jealous, much? I wonder why your family left you to come to DALLAS? You're a whining b*tch, who believes everything he sees on CNN or reads in ... the daily banter. You appear to be full of knowledge and support... because you surround yourself with like minded individuals, and you are in useless California! CA would LOVE to be like Texas, however... your state leadership and economy couldn't support your national independence.

With all your quoted figures and numbers, why did you leave your sources out? ... evidently you do not know how to write... and 'TEXAS' has low education scores? Also, another observation of information you conveniently ommitted? Perhaps you should mention that; Texas would be the 15th largest economy in the world?, or that Texas has operated within a balanced physical budget while the majority of the other states have failed to accomplish this? By the way, how's the CA bankruptcy talks going? You guys still need some money, huh? ...

Since you brought up the United States Armed Forces, the state of Texas supplies the MOST recruits to the armed forces, AND has accrued the most casualties as a result ...


~ Texas

-- Anonymous"

Let's give a big round of applause for Governor Rick Perry, everybody. A few seriously questionable punctuation choices and quite a bit of confusing grammar, but not one misspelled word.*

Really, it's the addition of the website address at the end that really takes this from mildly funny to flat-out transcendent.

(Actually, "ommitted" is misspelled and as somebody pointed out, he probably means "fiscal" budget rather than "physical" -- I read through this very early and my brain doesn't work before before maybe 9:30AM -- all of which makes this little comment the gift that keeps on giving and a glowing testament to the might of Texas's education system.)

Listening Post

My Chemical Romance continues to release their formerly unreleased, Brendan O'Brien-produced 4th album two songs at a time. Here's the second "single" from Conventional Weapons.

This is Ambulance.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The First Rule of Fox News Is, You Do Not Talk About Fox News

Today's admittedly late piece for the Daily Banter takes a look at Fox News's comically sudden shut down of an interview with a guest who called the network out for being exactly what it is.

Here's the opening shot:

"Despite the grotesquely incestuous nature of TV news, I’ve known only a few people throughout my career who’ve worked at Fox News at one time or another. When it comes to talent, particularly high-profile talent, the place is generally a final destination: Plenty of people have made the decision to jump over to Fox News from other places but very few do the opposite, moving on from Fox to the warm embrace of more traditional news outlets. There’s the occasional stunt-casting, like the hiring of Fox News regular S.E. Cupp over at MSNBC, but for the most part it really does feel like once you’ve got the stink of relentlessly shilling for Roger Ailes’s political views on you, it’s tough to wash off completely. Truly making a name for yourself at Fox is a zero-sum game: Unless you’re Shep Smith, who’s become famous for being a tiny island of reason in a vast sea of nonsense, you can’t do it without assuring that nobody else will take you seriously ever again."

Read the Rest Here

Listening Post

The Sword come to us from Austin, Texas and they do heavy metal the old-fashioned way -- albeit with trucker-hatted scruffy hair and horn-rimmed glasses that make you immediately wonder if they're serious or are just doing an ironic hipster homage.

Either way, the music's pretty good -- and no one can deny that it's heavy as hell.

Here's The Veil of Isis.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Edible Complex

Our cavalcade of holiday reruns continues with a piece that -- along with the "Poor Kiwi" short -- has become something of a Thanksgiving tradition around here.

"Feast of Burden" (Originally Published, 11.25.09)

Last month while in Washington D.C., I ate at a place downtown called Founding Farmers. If you live in the D.C. Metro area you're probably, at the very least, familiar with the restaurant and if you'd like I can give you a minute to stop salivating. Yeah, it's that good.

Founding Farmers's claim to fame is that it's a certified "green" restaurant, which means that in addition to closely monitoring its carbon output in an effort to reduce the strain on the environment, the food it buys and serves comes only from family farms, ranches and fisheries. Self-proclaimed foodies will recognize this distinction given that the green-market trend has been all the rage over the past couple of years; a lot of America's most famous chefs have jumped on top of the nearest tables to shout to the masses about their decision to forgo large farms in favor of nothing but locally grown product.

So do all those steps taken to promote sustainability make a difference in the taste of the food at at place like, say, Founding Farmers? Honestly, I have no idea. The meal I had was spectacular and it's always nice to know that while I'm enjoying it I'm also behaving responsibly -- given that I'm probably having a couple of drinks and will almost surely not be behaving responsibly later in the evening. But considering the fact that high-end restaurants almost always seek out the best and freshest ingredients anyway -- whether they're locally farmed or not -- does the extra flair of going green-market really show on the plate? I'm not talking overall quality or various health considerations here -- just taste.

I bring this up because with Thanksgiving here, I want to throw a question out there: Do you really care where your food comes from?

Before you answer, know that I don't mean would you just shrug it off if you knew that Upton Sinclair's severed right leg had been hefted into a meat grinder somewhere and then sprinkled over your Campbell's Minestrone. I mean, if you know that the food you buy at the grocery store or order at the local TGI Friday's has passed USDA inspection -- and it tastes good to you -- do you spend a lot of time worrying about the conditions in which it was grown, farmed or raised?

Be honest.

In case you haven't heard, the "publicity sluts" at PETA -- the words of the group's, ahem, "controversial" leader Ingrid Newkirk, not mine -- are once again at war with NBC. You may remember that earlier this year the network refused to air an ad during the Super Bowl that featured girls in lingerie nearly pleasuring themselves with vegetables; the tag line of the thing was "Studies Show Vegetarians Have Better Sex." (For the record, I haven't seen these studies myself.) Now PETA's been shot down again by the NBC suits, this time over an ad the group had hoped to air during -- wait for it -- the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. The commercial opens with a family gathering for Thanksgiving dinner, but when the little girl at the table is asked to say grace, she thanks God for the turkey, which came from a farm "where they pack turkeys into dark little sheds for their whole lives, where they burn their feathers off while they're still alive," and where the turkeys "get kicked around like a football by people who think it's fun to stomp on their little turkey heads." The girl then gives special thanks "for all the chemicals and dirt and poop that's in the turkey we're about to eat."

What a precocious little scamp, that kid. I know somebody who won't mind being sent to her room without supper.

Obviously, NBC standards and practices brought the ax down on the ad like it was the soft flesh of a turkey's neck. Even more obviously, it doesn't matter one bit -- PETA never really intended to get the thing on the air anyway. As far as the group is concerned, the controversy over once again having a commercial banned from network television is as valuable in pushing its message as actually getting it broadcast. Although it admittedly would've been entertaining to watch the fireworks had an unsuspecting America suddenly seen its parade -- and its Thanksgiving preparations -- interrupted by Little Miss Turkey Shop of Horrors.

Was NBC right to shoot down the ad? Yeah, actually -- it was. It's rare that I choose decorum over a little good-natured subversion, but even I'm capable of accepting that there really is a time and a place for everything. You don't beat the viewers of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, many of whom are children, over the head with incendiary political messages -- particularly not ones that deal in turkey feces. First of all, if your supposed goal is to stop people from eating turkey on Thanksgiving then the ad's completely ineffective anyway, given that there isn't a soul out there who's going to throw out his or her entire meal at 10am on Thanksgiving morning -- even if the kids are now crying at the thought of little turkey heads being crushed underfoot. If PETA's intention were really to make a difference on Thanksgiving day, the ad would've been running for weeks now.

Beyond that, though, the ad itself is somewhat disingenuous -- which isn't a surprise if you know anything at all about PETA. It ends with the tagline "Go Vegan," which essentially means that entreaties made to viewers to consider their own health when they sit down for dinner -- you know, all those chemicals and dirt and poop -- are nothing but, pardon the pun, red herrings. Vegans generally don't choose not to eat animal products out of a concern for their own well-being; they do it out of a concern for the animal's. It would've been one thing if PETA had been pushing vegetarianism; an argument can be made there that eating vegetables is, for the most part, less dangerous in the long run than eating red meat, or even chicken or turkey, these days. But the reality is that PETA doesn't really give a crap about you, or your family for that matter -- all it cares about is the animal you want to have for dinner. PETA doesn't want your Thanksgiving turkey to be treated more humanely in the days and months leading up to you eating it -- it doesn't want you eating it at all.

There's been a lot of debate recently over a new book called, pointedly, Eating Animals, by entirely too pretentious best-selling author Jonathan Safran Foer. In it, Foer retreads ground already well-broken-in by guys like Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser, and Michael Pollan, who wrote The Omnivore's Dilemma. The main gist of Eating Animals is that the industrial agribusiness system in this country -- the big "factory farm" as we know it -- is slowly poisoning both us and the environment. Foer makes plenty of points worth giving serious consideration to -- admittedly, it's a daunting notion to entirely trust a profit-based leviathan like the American factory farm industry with the food we put into our bodies -- but it should surprise no one that he approached the material with a conclusion already well in mind and is hamstrung by his own sanctimony and desire to push a personal agenda. Still, that's not stopping some of the usual suspects within the always delightful liberal intelligentsia from glomming onto Foer and his findings; after all, if you happen to agree with his agenda, why wouldn't you?

Environmental activist Laurie David, who produced Al Gore's Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth, took to the pages of the Huffington Post a few days ago to slam a write-up of Eating Animals (a book she calls a "game-changer") by the New York Times. David was furious that the author of the book review had the temerity to ask a question that rightly gets leveled at PETA and animal rights activists quite a bit -- namely, why when there are people who are starving around the world, people who could ostensibly be fed by large farms, should anyone really worry about the plight of an animal stuck in a cage that's too small? David's evisceration of the writer was based around an argument that really caught my attention. Her point: Caring is not a zero-sum game. According to David, there's room to care for both the humans suffering from hunger -- and other various tragedies and crises for that matter -- and the animals suffering in factory farms.

Except there isn't -- not for everyone.

And here's where I answer my own question from earlier: No, I just don't have the time or the inclination to concern myself with how the animals I eat are treated.

I of course don't want to see animals tortured needlessly, but as heartless as this may sound I think I'm like a lot of Americans when I say that I actually do have only a limited reservoir of empathy and compassion and I've learned to personally prioritize the way in which it's dispensed. The reason for this isn't so much that I honestly just don't give a damn, it's that I understand that if you let every injustice claw at your insides you eventually lose the ability to function. Call this a cop-out or a defense mechanism or what have you, I simply have more pressing issues to concern myself with than whether the bacon I ate for breakfast was comfortable up until its untimely death. Once again this will sound awful, but as long as you're not slaughtering the thing in my front yard, I'm good. I eat meat -- and turkey and chicken and fish and just about anything else -- because I enjoy it. I'm an adventurous eater and always have been. As Anthony Bourdain famously said, "My body isn't a temple, it's an amusement park."

This way of thinking is also very likely the reason that I don't spend too much time dwelling on just what might be in the food that I eat. I actually do eat quite healthy these days, but not healthy to the point where I pick apart every little thing to ensure that it's never been near a chemical or pumped with an occasional preservative. Admittedly, both Jayne and I are much more careful about what we feed Inara, but she still eats animal products and neither of us lets it paralyze us with fear or make us run screaming into the streets at the horror of a cow being bled out.

Why? Because I believe that a person's wants and needs are more important than the well-being of cattle. Call me a savage -- that's just the way it is.

But that's obviously not the way PETA thinks. In the eyes of PETA and Ingrid Newkirk -- who's been called everything from a demagogic militant to a full-on sociopath, with good reason -- the safety of an animal, any animal, is not only as valuable as the wants and needs of a human being, it's just as important as the very life of that human being. Newkirk after all is the same woman who once wrote Yassir Arafat to plead with him to stop using donkeys in suicide bombing attacks (while ignoring the people he was killing); she's the same person who backs the terrorist Animal Liberation Front in its campaign to free research animals that save human lives every single day; the same woman who wants to ban seeing-eye dogs; the person who wrote to Al Gore to lecture him on the fact that he eats meat, which she claims is antithetical to caring for the environment; the one who says fish should be called "sea kittens."

The woman who believes, "The smallest form of life, even an ant or a clam, is equal to a human being."

This is the kind of lunacy Ingrid Newkirk espouses and acts on day after day after day.

But here's the thing: Ingrid Newkirk may be completely off her rocker, but she's by no means stupid. She has to know that her methods, tactics and beliefs will do little more than rally millions to stand not simply against her cause but vehemently against it. Newkirk and PETA don't just antagonize those you would think they're hoping to win over -- they create an army of people who out-and-out hate them. Trying to hit America in the face with turkey torture during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is not what you'd call a good P.R. strategy. It's a great way to make people despise you and your cause -- which doesn't save one single animal. All it does is feed your gargantuan ego and your need to, literally and figuratively, stir the pot. It seems as if these people aren't activists so much as narcissists -- as if theirs is at times an entirely self-indulgent endeavor.

That's too bad, because you would think that the plight of defenseless animals would be an easy sell -- and, yes, a necessary one.

Although I've already admitted that I have the ability to put that plight out of my mind and just enjoy my meal, which I'm sure is why PETA is hoping to force me and millions of others to confront the realities of the modern American food chain.

The thing is, it still won't change my mind about my Thanksgiving dinner or anything else I choose to eat.

And I doubt I'm the only one who feels that way.