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CBS goes Soviet

On CBS's The Early Show this morning there was a piece on Bush's uncharacteristic trip to Capitol Hill to promote his new terror bill, which was billed by CBS as "giving President Bush the tools he needs to fight the War on Terror." There followed a video-tour of Guantanamo interrogation chambers, complete with reclining la-Z-boys for prisoners. Then it was reiterated that the bill would give prisoners "more rights."

This shit is straight out of the Soviet propaganda playbook. The la-Z-boy was the touch I appreciated most, because it was so-o-o-o-o ridiculously OTT it gave the whole report an in-your-face, tongue-in-cheek feel. This is how truly contemptuous the government and the media are of the public. That the military could show the media to a room with a plush la-Z-boy, claim prisoner's are wined and dines during their casual Q-n-A's, and the media would present it as fact. It's the Daily Showization of "real" news. It would be comical if not for the fact that the continued atrocity of Gitmo is one of the best recruiting tools terrorists have got.

The truth is, the Bush administration needs no help with this sort of thing. The GOP has proven deft at pushing through legislation at the eleventh hour and using opposition to it against Democrats in tight races. That's why Bush is making so much noise right now, instead of clearing brush at Crawford. The media wouldn't even bother to cover the vote if he wasn't pointing the way for them.

Now they're helping him whitewash the bill as a tool against terror, instead of a future tool for terrorists. And any Democrats who oppose it will risk being seen as soft on terror. You've just got to wonder how many times the GOP can pull this off.


CBS: Rush Limbaugh afraid Islamo-fascists are going to take away his Viagra, etc.

I'm not too impressed by CBS's retooled Evening News with Katie Couric. There are many reasons not to be impressed, in fact. Chief among them is probably Couric herself. That CBS is blowing its own horn for hiring the first female nightly news host on Network TV, when Cable News has been completely overrun by them for years, doesn't seem forward-thinking at all, but sadly retrograde.

And it shows what a heaping load Americans are dishing out and tucking into these days. I mean, Africa is more forward-thinking than we are when it comes to female heads of state. We haven't even had but one President who wasn't a frickin WASP. And we like to think of ourselves as the most advanced democracy on the planet, where anyone can come out of nowhere and end up in the oval office someday. Yeah, right.

One of the more depressing new features CBS Evening News is touting is their "Free Speech" segment, which has so far been a nightly iteration of various national cliches. That they are giving time to Rush Limbaugh in some attempt to seem balanced is ... I don't know what to call it, really. I mean, Limbaugh already has a venue to spout his nonsense. You know what he's going to say before he says it.

But like I said, that's what the high-speed "Free Speech" segment is really about. It's a little like the Bush administration placing enemies of good government in high government posts in the hopes that they will utterly destroy our faith that the government can do good by not trying to. You know, "heck of a job, Brownie!"-style. And Bush meant it. When your goal is to destroy people's hope and faith in the very possibility of good government, FEMA's utter failure in the wake of Katrina was a rip-snorting success!

Same logic applies to CBS's version of "free speech." If speech like this is free, I might be willing to fork out for speech in the future. Pay-per-Speech can't be far off.

Another thing that cracked me up on Monday -- Katie's big debut -- was the lead story by Lara Logan, about her travels with the Taliban. It was downright burlesque. Here she's traveling with the Taliban and griping that they're making her wear a veil. At one point she tells us, snearingly, "they made me cover everything but my eyes." And then she snaps at one of them, "Well, am I allowed to smile?" NO! BITCH! It's THE TALIBAN! That's WHY they're the freakin Taliban! And what is there to smile about anyway? I mean, WHAT IS YOUR POINT? CBS should have sent Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie. It would not have been much different in the end, but at least it would have been more amusing.

Then she reaches the end of her journey into the heart of darkness, they show these ragtag Taliban "brazenly showing off their weapons." It seriously could have been something from The Daily Show.

Then -- and this is the last thing I'll say about CBS Evening News -- they showed part of a speech of Bush's from earlier that day where he parrotted his evil overlords' WWII analogies by comparing Bin Laden & Co. with Hitler and Stalin. And CBS took it upon themselves to helpfully illustrate the point by splitting the screen in three, showing Bush still giving his speech on the left of the screen, and Hitler and Stalin on the right. I'm not sure I see any kind of statement being made with it, but I could be wrong.


Is it a coincidence that as elections near Mr. Bush is hammering home his be-very-afraid message again? He has been quoting Osama so often lately you'd be forgiven for thinking the two were in league -- running mates, even.

We can now see very plainly why Osama was allowed to slip away at Tora Bora. He was extremely useful to Mr. Bush in the last election, with a well-timed video, and you can see how Mr. Bush is relying heavily on him to win elections for the GOP this time around, too.

And I'm not just talking about endless speeches where Bush is unabashedly using Bin Laden as a bogeyman. Instead of seeing the fact that America's arch-nemesis slipped away as a point of shame, the President is very nearly taunting Americans with his supposed enemy's continued existence. Given this administration's penchant for fear-mongering at pivotal moments, it would almost seem strange if there weren't a "new" video released to coincide with Mr. Bush's latest terror blitz.

Indeed, now we have the release of a "new" video -- from FIVE YEARS AGO -- showing Bin Laden and his troops training for terror attacks. Yawn. Reruns AGAIN? The message here is clearly "don't forget, you're supposed to BE VERY AFRAID."

It resonates with a lot of people, no doubt about it. But it's such an unimaginative solution to the problems of an open society. There is a threat. It's real. That's not the issue here, though. The issue is to what degree it is being exploited for political and financial gain by those in positions to exploit it for such. And it's perfectly clear that it is being pretty shamelessly exploited by Mr. Bush and his cohorts.

I'm not saying anything everybody doesn't know. It's a formula. When the Communist bugaboo disappeared -- poof -- just like that, America was like the Red Sox after The Curse was reversed. We didn't know what to do with ourselves. Someone said it was The End of History. Nothing left to do but sit and twiddle our thumbs.

Terror is terror. You can't "win" a "War on Terror" by actively perpetuating terror, as this administration has done, and continues to do. But are we really terrified? The President seems a little desparate, doesn't he? I suspect we are not terrified enough for him.


Flakes on a Plane

I had to comment on a couple stories I saw on TV this morning.

One was on The Early Show on CBS, where Harry Smith interviewed a woman who sat several rows in front of John Mark Karr, the sad clown in the never-ending JonBenet Ramsey circus, on his flight back to the US.

(I think Karr's real motive is to finally get his sex-change operation--he's hoping, like foxy Michelle Kosilek, formerly Robert Kosilek, who's serving a life-sentence for killing his wife, that once in prison the taxpayers will foot the bill for it.)

The somehow aptly-named Natasha Fagel (who looked like she'd fenagled her share of bagels), that random passenger who happened to be on the same flight as Karr and looks nothing like a six year old beauty queen (except maybe for the teased hair, rouge, and tiara she was sporting for the interview), says she didn't know who he was until after she deboarded, but when she found out... she was terrified. Sort of retro-terrified, I guess you'd call it.

Could this be any more pathetic? Not only is she retro-terrified, but she is retro-terrified of John Mark Karr. People. Please. Unless you're six, you have nothing to fear.

The other story was on the hipper, always acronymized GMA. They played a YouTube video ("Fireman in a Spin") of a fireman who had climbed into a frontloading clothes drier and had his buddies turn it on.

You couldn't even see what was going on in the video, really, but all four hosts were sitting on their big ugly couch snickering at it, for some reason. I could not for the life of me figure it out. I mean, morning shows are only minimally informative--so it's not like I was expecting hard news during the segment--but this was not even remotely entertaining. I mean, you want to see something really funny? Check out this hilarious YouTube video! Now, that's entertainment!

The funny thing about YouTube is it actually just struck a joint-marketing deal with NBC. According to CNET, "NBC has plans to upload promotional video clips of some of its TV shows, including 'Saturday Night Live' and 'The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.' The entertainment company, owned by General Electric, will advertise on YouTube and promote the site on some of its TV shows. Financial details were not disclosed."

But thank goodness we can look forward to more quality content like "Man Thinks He's a Cat" and "Fireman in a Spin"! (By the way, only as an afterthought did the giggling hosts at GMA caution, "kids: don't try this at home!"--I see a future tragedy unfolding.)

As for NBC. They couldn't compete with the business class passenger sitting three rows in front of the cross-dressing pedophile, and they certainly could not match a fireman in a drier. In desperation Today did a piece on "female sex-drive," and how it "plummets" after marriage.

Of sex in marriage, one woman said, "after awhile it gets a little boring."

Ladies. I want to clear something up. Just for the record. Guys don't do it because its particularly interesting. I mean, the average duration of coitus is 7.9 minutes with 100 to 500 thrusts per encounter. There's really not much time, what with all that thrusting, to make it all that interesting for you. Sorry. Look at it like this: eight minutes of friction, and you're free for the rest of the day!


Jill Carroll redux

I was channel-surfing last night and stopped at Inside Edition, which had a short promotional piece on Jill Carroll, who's publishing her hostage memoir in serial form in the CSM. First of all, Jill, what's with the henna hair?

But aside from the bad hair, the thing that struck me was when the voiceover was listing Carroll's various ordeals, and came to this one: She reportedly had to "redo" a video "when she didn't cry hard enough."

Now, I would like to refer you to my observation of February 1st, 2006, when the video in question was released: "[S]omething about her hysterical plea seemed contrived. I'm sorry, but I could picture her captors, off-stage, directing her: 'emote! No, No! Cut! Jill, Jill, Jill, reach deep down, find the emotion! Let's do it again! Quiet on the set! Take 27, and... action!'"

Just so you know.


"Ooga Ooga," part 2

You gotta love Craig's List. I check it every once in a while, though I've never gotten anything out of it. I used to do it in earnest. I do it now for mild amusement.

As a casual freelancer, it never ceases to amaze me the number of people out there who want something for nothing when it comes to "content." I've seen this as a freelance language instructor, too. The one who actually delivers the product always seems to be at the bottom of the food chain.

Here are a couple of typical ads under "writing jobs" (all typos faithfully preserved):

Freelance Writers Wanted for Men focused publication
Basically I am starting a Men's online publication, and I need writers. I have yet to generate an income for this project, so I will first state that you will not be compensated right away. If however we are sucessful, then we will all be able to get something out of this. Basically I need weekly articles along the lines of what you might encounter in Stuff, FHM, Maxium, ect. Music, food, sex, cars, sports, anything you can think of. I do need them weekly though, so it's important you keep to that deadline. I also ask that all the writers be from Boston. Your articles can be less formal, and you're more than welcome to consider them more of a blog. If you are interested email some writing samples, a resume, and I will send you the full detail on what I'm trying to do.
Start up
I am thinking about starting a new publication based on one of the best things about Boston...college life. I am looking for some help developing this idea. I do not have a writing/editing backround and would need one key person to help me get this crazy idea going. Everything is new to me so you must be willing to fly by the seat of your pants. I will be deveoping this idea with you...so be creative. College writers are welcome to "apply"...if you call it "apply" Hit me with an email, I will give you more details.
You can't take it seriously, of course, but it shows a kind of pervasive mentality about the value placed on the creative process, which has been downgraded these days to "producing content," as if it were an industrial process. There's already a name for that, people: hackery.

The thing that tickles me is that neither of these guys who've placed these ads brings anything at all to the table that I can see. Not even capital. No talent, no expertise, no money. Not even a respectable hack would be suckered into that.

I happen to have gotten roped into writing for a "network" of blogs several months ago. It wasn't a bad deal, actually, and I haven't lost anything by it. I was minding my own business, writing my T-rage blog at blogspot.com, when a twenty-something computer guy with a vision of a network of Boston-based blogs approached me (I mean, of course, that he e-approached me--no one approaches anyone in real life in Boston, unless they're a tourist or a mugger)--so he approached me with the promise of riches, and, as I was willing to do it for free on my own, I said, well, what the hell? If I can make a little something on the side, why not?

I did not have particularly high hopes for the site, as for generating capital. I think of it as a public service. But my new overlord assured me I would be making a cool grand a month "once the network got off the ground" (that was supposed to be by April of this year). I thought, hey, that's not just chump change. Plus he offered to build the site, host it, and promote it. I was thinking, who's the chump now?

Well, for his services he was going to take a cut, of course. Fair enough. But fifty percent of whatever profits might come from ads? Fifty percent? When I'm the one providing all the content? I thought, well, if he's really gonna promote it, then it'll be worth it. Five humdred bucks is nothing to turn up your nose at, after all.

In the early days of the network, he brought a few people like me in--people who'd already had sites up and going, and had gotten some press (T-rage! is in the Sunday Globe's "blog roll" regularly, and garnered a front page story with pics in the Herald soon after its debut), and he built some sites on themes that would round out the network nicely, and tried to recruit bloggers for them. But that has not worked out so well. At present count, there are sixteen blogs in the network, but only nine are active (two of which are mine), and several of those are only nominally active (two or three posts a month).

We tried cross-promotion, but quite honestly, there were sites in the network mine didn't jibe with or that didn't jibe with mine, somehow (like, for example, the painfully earnest Muslim Bostonian, which has been derelict since May). And anyway, when no one is reading any of the blogs to begin with, promoting each other is like a circle jerk. There were other sites I actively did not want to be associated with. For my own "brand integrity." I mean, he who lies down with dogs wakes up with fleas, right? Or, you could look at it like the old wine barrel riddle SHERMAN H. GROSSMAN of Needham wrote about in letters to the editor in the Globe yesterday:

Question one: If a barrel contains all manure but for one drop of wine, what it is? Answer: A barrel of manure. Question two: If a barrel contains all wine but for one drop of manure, what is it? Answer: A barrel of manure.
Know what I'm sayin'?

The extent of advertising in the network seems to be Google Ads, which are, of course, available to blogspot bloggers, too. I am unaware of any promotional work aside from a couple of press releases that didn't seem to generate much buzz. This has been disappointing. You'd think a local network would be able to hustle up some local advertisers.

So what happened here? Well, someone had an idea, and it was not a bad one, but it turned out to be more demanding in execution than someone thought it would be.

But getting back to "Ooga Ooga." What makes blogs popular is content. Good writing is what makes a good blog. And good writing has a number of components to it. Astute observations. Rendered with wit. Posted with some regularity. And spell-checked. And don't underestimate the last of these.

It's more than just throwing some crap out and seeing what sticks. Which brings me back to both of these very typical craig's list ads. These guys are sitting in front of their computers, scratching their balls, thinking, "I could do that! I could do that!" But, no, you couldn't. Basically, what you're looking at is being editor-in-chief, coordinating all this content you're advertising for. Which--even if you have only a handful of writers--is a full-time job.

Haven't heard from the guy who was building the blog network I'm a part of for at least a month. Late June it was, and that was in a comment to a post. When I have contacted him about admin issues--"business," no reply. He posted to his blog (which is sort of the network's anchor) just three times in July, and has yet to post at all this month. Granted, it's summer. But, it just goes to show.


a scanner darkly

This is an ostensibly anti-drug movie you should do drugs before, during, and after seeing, if possible. Otherwise you'll get nothing out of it but a few laughs, a numb bum, and a pounding headache. It's trying for something dark (thus the title), but in the end it's a cartoon: the medium itself defies the message. The best moments are the most cartoonish ones, which are straight-up, old-school, three-stooges-style slapstick, not the maudlin, emotional bits that try to tug at your heart-strings.

That said, I enjoyed all the performances here, except for the bland Winona Ryder's (she may be an old hand at stealing sweaters from Saks, but she can't steal a scene to save her life). She is reunited in "A Scanner Darkly" with the bland Keanu Reeves, of course, but although I have generally been as unimpressed by him as her, I had a revelation about him in this role: he is his generation's Clint Eastwood. But rather than become a denizen of spaghetti westerns he's carved out his own specific subgenre of surreal kung-fu-inflected martyrological IT-guy sci-fi.

Also, as an animated character here he is more animated than in any of his live-action roles.

Robert Downey, Jr., who chews up the scenery as a motor-mouthed stool pigeon , and Woody Harrelson as an old-school stoner, are both terrific, too, but the real gem is Rory Cochrane, whom you'd never know was cute as a button in real life, since here he's twitching and foaming at the mouth most of the time.

That's because, like I said, the movie is about drugs. More specifically, about those addicted to them. The problem with this is that addicts are boring. The only people who can stand hanging out with people on drugs are other people on drugs (which is why I recommend taking some beforehand).

The addicts are only half the story, but you have to get to the other half through them, and, again, I think drugs are the only way. According to the press kit, “‘A Scanner Darkly’ tells the darkly comedic, caustic, but deeply tragic tale of drug use in the modern world.’ I would omit “deeply tragic,” myself, as I think it vastly overstates the case. The characters here are not tragic. They're comic. Yet another case of have-your-cake-and-eat-it-to-ism. You cannot have darkly comedic and deeply tragic. You have to choose. A vague sense of existential dread in someone with two synapses in his fried brain firing hardly makes an Oedipus Rex. Sorry.

But the movie is also about “America’s endless and futile war on drugs.” OK. Fine. But this is another thing you sort of need to take drugs to get too exercised over. I remember caring about it a good deal when I was in college, but not so much anymore.

The problem for the rest of us, those who aren’t currently on drugs, is that, storywise, once you take the plunge into that paranoid demimonde of drugs, you no longer have sympathetic, and more importantly, reliable characters or a sympathetic, or more importantly, reliable narrator. One of the things that most drugs eventually do is radically isolate people in their own subjectivities, precisely through the promise (and sometimes even the delivery) of a radical objectivity. They are emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually unreachable, and it is futile to try to get there from here.

Don't get me wrong, we are all more or less emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually in our own locked rooms. Some have been locked in by someone else, some have locked themselves in, some have merely misplaced the key, others have swallowed it. But occasionally we escape, or venture out when the weather's nice, and find others who have ventured out as well. On drugs, it's hopeless. You can't remember where you are, would need a map to find the door, and all your energy to get to it, have pissed yourself and have nothing else to wear if you did go out, and anyway you're face down in your own puke and and can't seem to recall which way is up, or even that there is an up. You can't even remember how to roll over, never mind that key in your hip pocket.

So the second half of “A Scanner Darkly”s equation—the big conspiracy theory—could as easily be a paranoid fantasy as a reality, which doesn’t make it less engrossing, if that’s your thing, but isn’t all that ominous and scary, either. You pretty much know where the whole thing’s going anyway.

There are some neat things to muse over, though. Could evil scientists develop a drug that is universally, instantly addictive, even to those without the “addict gene”? And then could the evil government co-opt it and start fucking with everyone for no reason?

Break out the bong, dude, and let's talk about it!