Tuesday, January 27, 2009

You know there's something wrong in the world

When an appeal for humanity is labeled political by the BBC (emphasis mine):

Britain's public service broadcaster, the BBC, is facing unprecedented criticism for refusing to broadcast an emergency fundraising appeal for people living in the Gaza Strip.

Long used to winning plaudits for the quality of its journalism, staff at the 97-year-old institution have become accustomed to allegations of left- or right-wing bias.

However, even many BBC journalists are furious at a decision by senior management not to air the appeal this week by an umbrella grouping of 13 charity organizations including the British Red Cross and Save the Children.

The appeal to help Palestinians facing homelessness and hunger following the Israeli onslaught in the Gaza Strip was broadcast Monday night by three rival broadcasters – Channel 4, ITV, and Five – although not by Sky News, which is owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.

Mark Thompson, BBC's director general, said he could not permit the BBC to endanger its impartiality by appearing to endorse an appeal for the victims on one side of a complicated conflict.

"For us to broadcast such a thing would in my view be out of keeping with our strict duty to be impartial," he told one of the BBC's radio channels.

The two-minute appeal, which went out on Monday night, began with images of child victims from Gaza.

A narrator said: "The children of Gaza are suffering. Many are struggling to survive, homeless, and in need of food and water. ... Today, this is not about the rights and wrongs of the conflict. These people simply need your help."

Latest Palestinian death toll: around 1,400. Israeli death toll: 13.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The State of my heart

Tomorrow I'm going to see a live reunion tribute show to The State, a sketch comedy program that had quite an impact on my teenage drama nerd days of the mid-90s, and I'm incredibly excited.

I would describe the show as a hybrid of Monty Python and Kids in the Hall--but it was so very original, so brilliant in essence. We used to reenact key sketches and impersonate the characters all the time in my high school drama class. (To this day I get one of those "I'm not so sure I trust or could ever really like you on a personal level" kind of feelings about people whenever they badmouth the show, or the best comedy movie in the world, Wet Hot American Summer).

It was the tail end of the "grunge era," and MTV was still relevant. Liquid Television and all things "indie" were embraced without seeming exploitative. It was fertile soil for an absurd, experimental sketch comedy show like The State to come around. It would never be given a chance in today's jaded, reality-television obsessed youth market, but I do find comfort in the fact that cast members have cropped up in some of the best, most original tv and movie projects available over the past decade: Wet Hot American Summer, Stella, Reno 911, The Ten, et al--all of these were written, directed and/or starring members of The State.

And although, in my own little teenage world, the show went leaps and bounds beyond all predictable, mainstream shows like SNL, the humor never seemed to break into the mainstream. After two years, The State went off the air. I just assumed the humor didn't resonate with the humorless masses and it was canceled. But apparently, as I later discovered, they actually sold out to CBS, where they created a Halloween special featuring Sonic Youth, but then weren't opted for further episodes.

While it's upsetting that the original 11 cast members couldn't keep on performing as a unit, the ways in which they manage to crop up in various projects is always a surprise and pure joy for me. And as a testament to their timeless originality and cult appeal, they are working on a State movie for Comedy Central. There is also a DVD of all the of the episodes that may be released one day, however, MTV shelved it for unknown reasons and won't release it--yet.

Here's one of my favorite sketches, one that me and some friends recreated in drama class (ah the good old days, when everyone thought they were going to grow up to be a movie star):

Michael Ian Black and Thomas Lennon performing "Monkey Torture"

Rolling Stone
recently interviewed a few of the cast members about their upcoming reunion in my fair city:

What does the Great Recession of '09 mean to comedy and the State?

Black: It's good for comedy. I mean, people are miserable, they want to laugh.

Lennon: We actually have a really wonderful sketch in the SF show called "The Great Depression" and it's really sort of a charming, Hallmark Hall of Fame scene about a family that's trying to decide whether or not they should eat their baby.


Nine members of the cast did a dress rehearsal of this new show in March 2008. How has time affected your writing and delivery?

Marino: I'm happy to say that our material has not matured at all. It's the same stupid fun stuff I hope.

Black: It really comes down to "are we making each other laugh?" and if we are doing that, then it goes on the show. To me it's just a really personal voice, in the way that retarded monkeys are personal.

Well, retarded monkeys are hilarious.

Black: I agree. I've made my career on that very premise.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I just thought of a good snap

I have decided to add a new section to this blog, one that I shall entitle "I just thought of a good snap." As in, a really good comeback to some issue or person that really chaps my hide. Today, on the 36th anniversary of the Roe v Wade decision, I would like to address the anti-women's rights/anti-civil liberties/anti-reproductive freedom demonstrators that are flooding D.C.:

Hey idiots, count your blessings that the media for some strange reason chooses to give you the microphone and positions you at the top of the news priority list for the entire day even though your crazed evangelistic, backwards folkloric ways only represent a minority of the many belief systems practiced in this country. Your opinions, however impassioned and however entitled you are to them under this great nation, are also things you should count your blessings for--these basic human rights of expression. Because if it were up to you and your oppressively barbaric ways, you would strip very similar human rights from women who are not anti-life, but rather, are placed in very dire situations that involve their bodies and hearts and minds completely. And you want hand over the very basic right to be in control of one's body to the government? Because you have a definition of what it is to be human? Well I've got my own definition of what it means to be human: respecting the rights of people to control their own bodies. Here, I've got another: respecting the idea that every person that is born into this world should be given the opportunity to an equal shot at a basic quality of life. That every person born should not be birthed from a woman who was raped, a woman who was molested or a victim of incest, a woman in a third world country that cannot provide for a child and will end up dying or enduring the pain of watching a child starve because they cannot provide for them, a woman with a severe mental or physical condition that is not capable of raising a child, a young and/or underage woman who's chance at going to college or providing for herself will be shot to hell...YOU anti-choice bible thumpers demean and cheapen human life. YOU ARE NOT PRO-LIFE.
P.S.: if men could get pregnant, abortion would be legal. AND YOU KNOW IT!

Oh snap.
Words and action

Obama signing off on orders to close all secret prisons and detention camps, and to close Guantanamo within the year. (NYT)

This image made me teary-eyed. President Obama's speech the other day did not, however. Words can be beautiful things, but words put to action are something magical.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

JFK's Speechwriter on Obama today

Ted Sorensen, of "Ask not what your country can do for you" fame, gives his interpretation of today's inauguration and speech to the Guardian:

My experience is that great speeches are frequently in the eye of the beholder: Obama is so respected, even beloved, around the world that I think the speech will be hailed.

I have been speaking for two years of the parallels between Obama and Kennedy: two young senators, Kennedy even younger than Obama, two men committed to peace. Two men with progressive domestic policies and a multilateral foreign policy. Two men who reached out to young people and brought them into the campaign, and now, in Obama's case, bringing them into government.

President Kennedy, I am sure, would be beside himself with joy at today's events, having turned our country around in its attitudes towards our black citizens, with his speech to the nation, and then his legislation to Congress in June 1963.

The very idea of a black man being elected president, when in those days blacks could not be elected to almost any office, including the House of Representatives; he would think it was a wonderful day for America

Monday, January 19, 2009

Happy MLKJr Day of Service Inauguration Eve!

So I decided to do some gardening at the Island of Alcatraz for this fine volunteer day (i.e. national "Day of Service"). That is, since my employers are not racists and understand the importance of taking an entire day off in reverence of the great King. Anyways. Working through the Golden Gate Parks service, I joined about 60 volunteers in vegetation management duties. After four groups were sent to various spots (I would later kick myself for failing to join the Agave Trail group, who got to work on one of the most recently renovated areas to the south, facing the city) I was assigned to weeding ye 'ole rose garden on the shady east side of the compound. Shady as in there was a lack of sun, not as in, there were rastafarians trying to sell us ecstacy. While the flower bed I worked on did not contain roses, there were a few areas with rose bushes where, for seasonal reasons, the flowers had yet to bloom. My team leader said that no one has seen the roses bloom since the Penitentiary closed in '63. The island, or "Rock," became a park in 1972, yet no one has seen the roses bloom since there hadn't been enough money to revitalize the gardens until more recently. By the summer, park service men and women will finally see them bloom--which, according to my team leader, is going to be a real treat since they will probably be of some outdated 50s variety that you just don't see nowadays.

I leaned over the bed, reflective in my silence for a while as I ripped clovers and dandelion leaves from rich dark soil. I later began picking my team leader's brain. I found out that she lived in London around the same time as me, working at Kew Gardens. I also found out that she has found molded spoons in other gardens on Alcatraz, and that a maintenance man found a shiv in a drain pipe once. A few minutes later, someone found a rusty old oyster fork buried in the dirt. I frantically began ripping the little green buddies harder and digging deeper. I really wanted to find a shiv. 'By god if only I could find a shiv' I thought. It's probably best that I didn't find one, because I would probably keep it for myself and forget about it and find it hidden under a pile of post-it notes and collages and half-finished greetings cards in a desk drawer a few years later, forget what it was, and toss it out. I am like the anti-Indiana Jones. "This doesn't belong in a musem! It belongs with me!"

After about three hours of gardening, it was time to call it quits and we were all satisfied, having weeded and ripped it up so nicely that a massive flower bed looked barren and brown, dirt brown. It looked really ugly, but somehow made us all feel real good.

Unbeknownst to me and my fellow volunteers, we would soon be greeted by a park ranger that wanted to take us all on a special guided tour. He took us into the Pen, where we were able to walk near the cell blocks on the second floor, in caged corridors and to the prison's mini-chapel, guard's recreation room, and later up to the rooftop. It was a great tour, filled with anecdotes about the Indian occupation from '69-'71. I took a picture of some graffiti in the chapel and asked what it was; he told me it was probably from the wild parties that were held during the occupation. The IWW, the Hells' Angels, Jane Fonda--it could have been anybody. It was in blood red and I spotted a soviet symbol and a swastika. Jane Fonda probably did it.

Towards the end of our tour, our friendly park ranger guide said it was his great pleasure to give us this tour, and that he was very excited today. And the way he said it was so funny--he used almost the same exact words that our volunteer organizer from the beginning of the morning had used: "I'm not getting political...but...this is an exciting time for us. This is and exciting time for America."

Friday, January 16, 2009

Bush: a "good person"

According to a Fox News poll:

A 72 percent majority of Americans believe Bush is a good person, including an overwhelming majority of Republicans (93 percent) as well as majorities of Democrats (56 percent) and independents (74 percent).

--and by "a good person" the pollsters must mean "will smile and pat you on the back (massage your neck if a female European leader) and offer you a beer while he strips away your civil liberties, deregulates markets until--in the blink of an eye--you have lost your job and are homeless, keeps your son/daughter/husband/wife/mother or father of your child/neighbor/friend in the desert until they come back (if they do not die) with PTSD or missing limbs and no programs to support their recovery, rapes and pillages the environment to pad the pockets of said buddies yet again, denies the validity of modern science, common sense and just plain rational thought.

Funny how the mouthpiece of the administration has become just as lame as the lame duck itself.
I live in California. Hallelujah.

In Minneapolis, Minnesota, it felt like 40 below because of the wind chill, CNN meteorologist Rob Marciano said. It was 48 below in Fargo, North Dakota, where unprotected fingers could suffer frostbite in 60 seconds.

This morning, my mom checks in from northern Indiana, takes a picture of her street sign:

Isn't it ironic, donchaknow?

Part three of a youtube series on Minnesota weather hell:

Thursday, January 15, 2009

An idea to save our economy

Using the new Los Angeles model of prosecuting gang members--which involves confiscating the assets of gangs and investing that money back into the community--I think the new administration should prosecute all the private military corporations like Halliburton, Bechtel, Blackwater, DynCorp et al on war crimes, bankrupt the hell out of them, and give all our local municipalities community economic packages from the billion dollar settlements. It's our taxes being wasted on this Iraq and Afghanistan reconstruction scam, and I think we have every right to reclaim them.

From the CSM:

The gang capital of the world is taking a new tack against them: cash damages.

The city of Los Angeles, plagued by 23,000 violent gang crimes since 2004, including 784 murders and 12,000 felony assaults, announced Tuesday that it had won its first civil judgment, for $5 million, against a criminal gang that had dominated the heroin trade downtown for decades.

The verdict could bode well for another first-of-its-kind lawsuit the city filed last month that goes after all assets of gang leaders, not just those associated with their criminal activity. Both suits seek to plow the money back into improving the neighborhoods affected by the gangs through a fund.

"By giving prosecutors more tools to fight gang activity at the local level, we are protecting our communities at the same time [that] we're able to strengthen our statewide anti-gang efforts," said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in a statement released with the announcement of the $5 million verdict against the 5th and Hill gang in L.A.

From CNN:

Five former Blackwater Worldwide security guards pleaded not guilty Tuesday to voluntary manslaughter charges and other crimes stemming from a shooting incident in Baghdad that left 17 Iraqis dead.

Each of the former guards has been charged with 14 counts of manslaughter, 20 counts of attempted manslaughter and one count of using a firearm in the commission of a violent crime.

...The Baghdad incident, which occurred September 16, 2007, exacerbated the feelings of many Iraqis that private American security contractors have operated since 2003 with little regard for Iraqi law or life. It also created an extremely delicate political situation for the Bush administration and the Iraqi government.

...The company of Blackwater Worldwide does not face any charges.


1. Read the article about the LA model and then read about Blackwater. Notice the similarities in gang members and military corporations--they're both thugs, terrorizing, killing, and injuring innocent bystanders. Replace all phrases such as "criminal gang" "gang leaders" "gang members" etc with "private contractors" "military corporations" "war profiteers" etc etc.

2. Read this Amnesty International report.

3. Get real mad.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

For those about to rock, I salute you

From CSM:

(JAPAN)The latest sensation on the baseball diamond here is a five-foot-tall, 114-pound, dimpled high school girl who throws a nasty knuckle ball.

Eri Yoshida, who left a line of male batters hitless in tryouts in November, recently signed on to become the first woman to play in professional baseball in Japan. Her drafting into pro ball has catapulted her from little-known high school jock to media darling, with camera crews following her daily rounds from calligraphy class to the dugout. Clips of her quirky side-armed pitch seem to be stock footage on nightly sports and news programs.

Yoshida’s spot on the bench of the new team, the Kobe 9 Cruise in the Kansai Independent League, which launches its inaugural season in April, has many women here hoping that she is more pioneer than token.

“She is a symbol of the changing status of women in Japan,” says Machiko Osawa, an economist at Japan Women’s University and an expert on women in the workplace. “She’s been accepted in sports, a very conservative world.”

Indeed, the United Nations’ Development Fund consistently ranks Japan as the most unequal of the world’s richest countries when it comes to gender equality. Women are not only barred from participating in Japan’s national sport, sumo wrestling, they can’t even step foot into the sumo ring, which is considered sacred and, therefore, off limits. Japan’s other national pastime, Kabuki theater, also remains an exclusively male domain.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Barack in the day

From Time photos, "Obama: The College Years"
Greetings from the O.C., China

45 min outside of Beijing, right next to Vancouver Forest
...when I ask a resident, Tong Xiaobo, about the appeal of the development, he explains that the American lifestyle represents health and freedom. What about it, exactly, is healthy, I ask. In America, after all, we associate suburban sprawl with the sedentary lifestyle that has led to our national obesity epidemic. The healthy aspect of the design that stood out, Tong explains, was having a bathroom next to the bedroom. Traditional Chinese homes have only one bathroom, shared by all the residents. Orange County’s homes boast lavish bathrooms adjoining the master bedroom complete with his-and-hers sinks and a Jacuzzi. Tong extolled the additional bathroom as “an innovation in construction and design [that] represents modern health.” He then lit up a cigarette. Having explained what he meant by “health,” I pressed him to explain what he meant by “freedom.” He simply ignored the question.

--from "Welcome to the O.C." (Good magazine)

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Frank Rich's Bush Farewell

Rich is a poetical columnist/propaganda fighter unleashing hyperlinks that burst like cannons through the hot air of the cyber ether. I took the time to reconnect all of the links to the right places at the last sentence of this excerpt. This week's column is a real gem; worth reading the whole thing to see the meticulous placement of links in the piece's entirety.

From "A President Forgotten but Not Gone":

The joke was on us. Iraq burned, New Orleans flooded, and Bush remained oblivious to each and every pratfall on his watch. Americans essentially stopped listening to him after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, but he still doesn’t grasp the finality of their defection. Lately he’s promised not to steal the spotlight from Barack Obama once he’s in retirement — as if he could do so by any act short of running naked through downtown Dallas. The latest CNN poll finds that only one-third of his fellow citizens want him to play a post-presidency role in public life.

Bush is equally blind to the collapse of his propaganda machinery. Almost poignantly, he keeps trying to hawk his goods in these final days, like a salesman who hasn’t been told by the home office that his product has been discontinued. Though no one is listening, he has given more exit interviews than either Clinton or Reagan did. Along with old cronies like Karl Rove and Karen Hughes, he has also embarked on a Bush “legacy project,” as Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard described it on CNN.

To this end, Rove has repeated a stunt he first fed to the press two years ago: he is once again claiming that he and Bush have an annual book-reading contest, with Bush chalking up as many as 95 books a year, by authors as hifalutin as Camus. This hagiographic portrait of Bush the Egghead might be easier to buy were the former national security official Richard Clarke not quoted in the new Vanity Fair saying that both Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley, had instructed him early on to keep his memos short because the president is “not a big reader.”

Another, far more elaborate example of legacy spin can be downloaded from the White House Web site: a booklet recounting “highlights” of the administration’s “accomplishments and results.” With big type, much white space, children’s-book-like trivia boxes titled “Did You Know?” and lots of color photos of the Bushes posing with blacks and troops, its 52 pages require a reading level closer to “My Pet Goat” than “The Stranger.”

This document is the literary correlative to “Mission Accomplished.” Bush kept America safe (provided his presidency began Sept. 12, 2001). He gave America record economic growth (provided his presidency ended December 2007). He vanquished all the leading Qaeda terrorists (if you don’t count the leaders bin Laden and al-Zawahri). He gave Afghanistan a thriving “market economy” (if you count its skyrocketing opium trade) and a “democratically elected president” (presiding over one of the world’s most corrupt governments). He supported elections in Pakistan (after propping up Pervez Musharraf past the point of no return). He “led the world in providing food aid and natural disaster relief” (if you leave out Brownie and Katrina).

If this is the best case that even Bush and his handlers can make for his achievements, you wonder why they bothered. Desperate for padding, they devote four risible pages to portraying our dear leader as a zealous environmentalist.

But the brazenness of Bush’s alternative-reality history is itself revelatory. The audacity of its hype helps clear up the mystery of how someone so slight could inflict so much damage. So do his many print and television exit interviews.