Archive for January, 2011

My wife has been addicted to the show “Jersey Shore” on MTV since she caught the first season in reruns on the Web. From the very first sight of Snooki getting slapped, to the very second sight of Snooki getting slapped, to the boys’ search for women who aren’t “grenades,” to every drunken brawl, Stephanie has been hooked.

She’s so hooked, that she’s been keeping up with the regular reviews written by our friend Bill Cammack. Not to be outdone, I’ve decided to review the show myself so that I can take more interest in my wife’s hobbies.

So to recap, here’s my review of last week’s episode:

It sucked. This show fucking blows chunks. This show is like watching monkeys throw feces at each other. Every time I watch it, I feel my soul degraded in the way John Milton did when he described dogs eating Satan’s bowels on the lake of fire at the beginning of “Paradise Lost.” Last week, one of the drama queens hit another one in the face. The week before that, one of the drama queens hit another one in the face. The big guy who I will call after his dictionary name, “The Position With Respect To Conditions and Circumstances,” made a face and invented some new acronym for his activities. These include DTF, which means a girl who’s “down to fuck.” And GTL, for the boys’ favorite hobby of “gym, tan laundry.” I submit a new acronym: GIAR, or “give it a rest.” For the woman known as JWoww, I proffer the more fitting sobriquet “J Duh.”

The plot is as follows: the seven main roommates and their annual swing position roommate sit and gossip about something that might have been said on the phone and that might have been said about them. The roommates, having no self-esteem, assume something bad was said about them behind their backs because none of them have any worthwhile qualities and it’s easier for them to project their self-hatred on the other limited, brutish people in the room. One girl has a big rack.

One guy is the nice guy. I have not figured out why he’s earned this title yet except that maybe it’s because he doesn’t come up with acronyms. Whenever anybody is in doubt, he or she reveals sinews and breasts, a gesture now as anticipated and customary as a curtsy in court or the lighting of the Olympic torch.

My review of last week’s episode: It sucked. The one before that? It blew. Before that? Rim worthy. Before that? Sewer scummy. Before that? Bathypelagic in its utter depths of depravity.

I hope that summary provides a suitable reason to keep breath bated among my wife and other people who for some reason can’t afford a trip to the Bronx Zoo to see things of more interest.

Look out for season 4. They’re going to Rome!

(Check out Bill Cammack’s site, too! He’s a renaissance man: dating guru, musician, film editor and man about town.)

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Friends of a man accused of shooting dozens at a convenience store in Friarsburg, North Dakota saw it coming a mile away, they said Thursday.

Brad James Cheltenham, a part-time janitor and full-time Illuminati and CIA history buff, was arrested last Wednesday after shooting at 36 customers at the Wiggle Pig bodega, a rampage that ended in the parking lot after police disabled Cheltenham with a shot to the leg.

“No surprise here,” says Cheltenham’s best friend Stu Ryerson. “Brad’s a friggin’ nut. He used to stand in my driveway and yell word salad at me–that I was a devil pinko with a bifurcated tail. I put up with it because he was good at basketball.”

Cheltenham’s one-time possible girlfriend also had long anticipated the day that she would see the man she dated for five hours at a Sonic drive-in being dragged across America’s TV screens and accused of a mass shooting as cops sprayed grapeshot at him and gas spewed all over the ground.

“File this under ‘Totally expected,'” she said. “I remember when I first met him at the airport. He had screamed at the desk clerk that he was going to miss his connecting flight, and what should have been grumbling turned into something like a grand mal seizure and he took a swing at the poor woman and pretty soon he was in the anti-terrorist holding tank. Dunno why I agreed to go on a date with him. He knew a lot about Dostoevsky.”

Cheltenham grew up in a suburb of Minneapolis and tried to attend community college there but was thrown out because “everybody knew the kid was going to go postal someday,” said the college’s vice provost, Derek Jamesian. “We got our new security cameras just for him.”

Cheltenham’s mother ran a small book store in Fargo and his father was a retired doctor who sold medical supplies.

“Yep, we knew he’d do this someday,” his now remarried mother Iris Flotsky said. “I love my son, but when you look in his eyes for two seconds, you just realize he was born without a soul. I wish you could find that out on an amniocentesis, but you can’t.”

His father, Joe P. Cheltenham, agreed: “I’d like to tell you it was his upbringing, but really the kid was sui generis, neither fish nor fowl, straight from the depths of hell Belial and Molloch wrapped into one. I think after talking to Brad for a few minutes, you might let us off the hook.”

The alleged shooter says he went on his rampage to alert people to the control government has on sans serif fonts in textbooks and also because a store clerk disrespected him a long time ago.

Friend Blake McNulty remembers going to a theme park with Cheltenham once and turned in shock when his friend started screaming at a funfair employee over how much each dart cost at the “Balloon and Dart” game.

“Brad started screeching that the game ‘was rig’ and then stuff started coming out of his mouth, and I think a bit of pus from his ears. Later he said he was fine, he was just in a bad mood right then.”

Cheltenham himself said after the shooting, “You are all very into yourselves and everything is about you. I will show you how things are also about me. Bozzle bozzle bozzle bozzle.”

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Well, there goes my trip to the pyramids. So now we are all living in De Nile.

As protests rage across Egypt, the United States has found itself in a bizarre position of having to defend a 30-year dictatorship in the person of Hosni Mubarak. As people like Hillary Clinton walk to the mic to come up with a plan, she knows careful phrasing here is key, as the U.S. State Department and Barack Obama have to strike the right note of balance with a longtime ally and supporter of Israel and yet somehow embrace an uprising that seems to be thoroughly democratic in nature, not Islamist or any other horrible “ist.” The inspiration of this uprising is not Allah but Mark Zuckerberg. So much is the power of Facebook in the revolt that it has been banned. It should also give us all pause that a few well-directed phone calls by the government there shut down Egypt’s Internet entirely. Who knew?

The United States has the opportunity here to look like a beacon of freedom or a total hypocritical world power that serves its own interests first, protecting a corrupt ruler of a country that regularly imprisons political opposition. If you have paid no attention to history, I would ask you to remember that the United States has a truly horrible track record at this kind of thing. We often protect the horrible dictator for so long and embrace the revolutionaries so late that they come to hate the U.S. as much as their detested ruler. If you have ever gotten confused about the reasons that people around the world march in the streets shouting “Down with America” in Iran, in Nicaragua, in Pakistan and many other places, then you have to look no further than Egypt to understand–and to know that it might happen again if we fuck this up.

My guess is that President Obama and Hillary Clinton are smart enough to know this and that there are already secret talks going on with high level opposition leaders to make friends. If you do it too late, then you have people like the Sandinistas come in, guys who actually called United States “the enemy of humanity,” in their national anthem.

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The big entertainment news this week was that “True Grit,” a film largely shunned at the Golden Globe awards, suddenly leapfrogged over the competition to become the second-most-nominated film at this year’s Oscars. Why, you wonder? I submit this answer: Because it was one of the best films of last year! A work that somehow managed to be visually superb, verbally dense (no contractions!) and formalistic, spare, violent, exciting, misanthropic and warmhearted all at the same time. Stuff that was lost on the star fuckers at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, who call their show the “Golden” Globes, but barely offer a hedge against inflation. Especially star inflation.

No, the real surprise is no surprise at all–that the Golden Globes don’t count. But you’re likely to see a proliferation of more award shows anyway, because unlike the S&P 500 in the last decade, they’ve actually created some wealth. Especially for Ryan Seacrest.

Another scandal erupted this week when critics in Britain decried the the questionable historical accuracy of “The King’s Speech.” Evidently, according to the movie, England is ruled by a royal dynasty. But it turns out they have no political legitimacy whatsoever. Whoops! Call the gaffe squad!

If you have seen “The Social Network,” you likely admire it as much as I do. Indeed, it is very, very hard to make an exciting movie about typing, mouse clicking and legal arbitration hearings. But those qualities in and of themselves don’t make the movie better than “True Grit.” Try speaking without contractions all day today and still make yourself sound interesting. That’s even HARDER.

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The Mr. Banana Grabber T-Shirt

I was going to blog about the Israel-Palestinian conflict today, but instead I thought I’d make you jealous with my cool Mr. Banana Grabber t-shirt, given to me by my sister for Christmas. Not only do I get to show off my love for the long-dormant TV show “Arrested Development,” but I get to do it with an achingly obscure sub-reference.

Meanwhile, in Israel, Palestinian negotiators were embarrassed by a series of leaks to television station Al Jazeera suggesting they have all along been making huge concessions to Israel, including the right of the Jewish state to annex parts of contested East Jerusalem. Protests have erupted among the Palestinians accusing the papers of being lies and propaganda, and now both sides in the conflict, to prove themselves sufficiently strong, will likely have to backtrack and return to anachronistic negotiating strategies and arguments.

So I hope I’ve kept you up to date on all this fun / patently horrible news.

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How Cool Is That?

I’m watching a television show on NBC about a woman who has opened up a Coney Island kitsch store full of furry hula hoops, leopard print roller skates, Hello Kitty t-shirts and unicorns. “How cool it that?” asked the host of the show.

I’ve also read that Verizon has finally come to an agreement with Apple to offer its services on the iPhone. The deal will make the device available to millions of new potential subscribers. How cool is that?

My wife and I are having a baby. How cool is that? As we prepare, we’ve been watching online videos about maternity wards and the steps they have to take to keep grungy, matronly baby-nappers from making off with your infant–by attaching fobs to the baby’s feet and putting the wards on lockdown like a prison if the baby is suddenly moved. It’s called “Code Pink.” How cool is that?

I once knew a girl who gave up her job as a business reporter so she could make jam. Ironically, she made it big and began to get interviewed by people who do what she used to. How cool is that?

I keep seeing people on TV who seem to have absolutely no job other than to keep asking “How cool is that?” when somebody else accomplishes something. Actually, all you need these days is a sex tape or a criminal record and you can get your own reality show and bump people off the programming schedule who might actually have real talents, who have cured diseases or who have solved impossible mathematical proofs for sub-manifolds. The very Zen message here is–if you want to be famous badly enough, you can be, no matter who you are. It helps if you are willing to kill somebody or appear naked. How cool is that?

I just got through my blog for today simply by repeating a catch phrase, the type that makes you feel a sense of belonging with your social group and yet ironically also stops all conversation as a rhetorical question. How cool is that?

But at the same time, we don’t care, because we’re Americans and we answer anyway. As an Australian woman I know likes to ask, “Are Americans crazy when they answer a rhetorical question?”

If you answered that question, you’re one of the crazy Americans!

How cool is that?

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I’m feeling all sorts of hope this week, not to mention paranoia, sadness, devotion and maybe just a dash of hypochondria, too. These are the kinds of things you too might expect if you, like me, are expecting a child and just said goodbye to the nervous first trimester.

My wife and I have known for a couple of months, obviously, about our baby, but had to keep it to ourselves for obvious reasons. But as I was keeping the news away from family and friends, I also realized that I was still, until very recently, keeping the news from myself in a way, too. As the baby grows from abstract concept to person, I’m going to fall in love with it, and I feel like I’m starting to already. Like your first romantic love, it makes you feel powerful but also fragile. I forgot how hard it is to open your heart up to that kind of love when there are still dangers and risks. I lost my mother and stepfather last year when they died in a car wreck, which has made this a very bittersweet occasion. I’m not only terribly sad that my mother is not going to be here to meet my son or daughter, but worry and grieve over the idea that my own relationship with my baby could ever be cut short. I could get ill or my heart could give out as my father’s did several years ago. I’m healthier than he was, but it’s my paranoia working. It doesn’t have a medical degree.

So keeping in mind my fear and my hope, I finished a new song which, if I can’t quite yet dedicate it to the baby who is here, I can at least dedicate it to the generic love for all babies … or maybe even to falling in love with anything. I hope maybe to sing it to my child someday.

“First Comes Daddy”*

By Eric Rasmussen

First there’s daddy
Stand behind his Mustang
Who can know what strategy he’s making?

Two there’s mommy
Standing on the playground
Laughing at the rules the girls are breaking

What kind of game do you think we two can play?

Third there’s baby
Peeking through the blanket
With all the fussy babies who fight sleeping

After we wake up
And take our nap like thieves
Who’s that No. 3 so quietly creeping?

What kind of game do you think we three can play?

Can you play with pots and pans
Or get lost behind your hands?
Tell me where did mommy go?
Where do you start and where do I?
And why do you cry when I cry?
There’s too much to ever know

Moses basket, drifting through the reeds
I want to stand so close to where you’re standing
World is full of so many big bodies
If I fall will you give me safe landing?

What kind of game do you think we three can play?

Put baby’s feet into the sea; just like my mother did to me
Hold on tight and don’t let go
Bear me up into your arms; keep me safe from every harm
And other things I’ll have to know

Teach me all the things you know until I have the strength to go
It takes so much courage just to love

*I’m sorry to my wife for the patriarchal sounding title.

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I love Keith Olbermann, but I don’t have to work with him. As of last night, neither do the staff at MSNBC, who abruptly cut the tether with their basso profundo heir to Edward R. Murrow. Olbermann reminded us in his closing program notes of “Network” and Peter Finch’s famous “Mad as hell” catch phrase as he signed off for the last time and contemplated his departure, using the spare elegant Occam’s Razor-worthy prose for which he’s known. His life would have been easier if he used that trombone-like voice to sell commemorative plates and soap sculptures and gold coins. Instead he used it to civilize us.

So goes the man who finally carved out a space for liberalism in the liberal media. When I think of Olbermann and the way he situated himself in the nightly pundit game, I think of a Josef Albers painting in which shades of whites are contrasted with other whites or a greens with greens. If the media is really so “liberal,” shouldn’t liberal Olbermann have gotten lost in the green screen background like so many Costa Rican macaws in their almendro trees? He didn’t. Instead, he came about as a trenchant and refreshing rhetorical answer to CNN, at a time when that supposedly liberal network was regularly offering up Iraq War coverage under the rubric “War on Terror”–reinforcing the central fiction of the war for less astute viewers and playing right into the hands of the folksy Mr. Haney who operated our country at the time.

Liberals in this country are a bit like Canadians–we’re always apologizing for something we didn’t do wrong. (Sorry, Canadian friends, but I’m quoting one of your fellow Canucks here.) Perhaps libs don’t like to win, as some introspective pundits like to say. Or perhaps we see more sides of an issue, and thus seem ready to yield to people who take pride in knowing one thing so well. Perhaps we’re just all impressed by ruddy faced conviction. Red-staters are so, so, so emotional about the wrong things they believe. That’s why we lie down when the debate turns silly. Anybody who would seriously debate the question “Is America going socialist” is already being suckered and making medicine with quacks. America has been “socialist,” as the right defines it, since long before 99% of Americans were born (and before we were, children worked 12 hours a day in indentured servitude and many workers were locked into their offices). The real question is why is America going down the road of plutocracy. You might see meretricious rules of rhetoric in that, but that’s because the game has been defined by the crazy people in the tricorn hats and those selling gold on late night television to poor conservative suckers. Are they, we ought to ask, plutocrats or anarchists or have they managed to find a horrifying nexus of both as they finally get around to learning only half what they couldn’t bother with in high school civics?”

Across the discursive gap strode Mr. Olbermann eight years ago, with his arrogant “Yes, I’m liberal and I know what I’m talking about so fuck you,” right into prime time television. It’s like what happens when a great new restaurant opens on a block that used to be full of closed-down warehouses. The block has now been spruced up a bit for newcomers, and I doubt Keith Olbermann’s termination will make that much difference. Salon even suggested that his colleague Rachel Maddow, with her cool Vulcan nerve pinches on stupidity, has stolen the march on her pal in liberal popularity. Nobody seems to be worried about a chill in political dissent so much as speculating about how much of an ungrateful and arrogant prick Olbermann was to his bosses. I guess we could roast him for that, but then you might also have to agree that a lot of polite people are ineffective hypocrites who run you down behind your back. Keith is dealing with you in front, where you cause all the trouble.

“Wouldn’t it be funny if Olbermann went to Fox News?” That’s what I thought at first, and it seemed stupid, but now I hear other people saying the same thing. Roger Ailes seems to have a soft spot for house lefties. He gets to co-opt them and further shield his franchise from its image as being more insulated, weepy-eyed, deluded and prima donna-ish than the cast of Glee. And at Fox there seems to be no real problem with “reporters” contributing a bit to politicians, the activity that got Olbermann in trouble at MSNBC a few months ago. Maybe that would be attractive, maybe not. Maybe Keith Olbermann can just start to enjoy his celebrity and sell out at Fox News. Others have done it.

When Olbermann referenced Network and “I’m mad as hell …” , he dropped the reference with such winning self-deprecation I think people missed the satiric undercurrent in that too-much-abused movie reference. Because Keith Olbermann is better compared to Shane, and it’s Glenn Beck who is actually the Peter Finch character, Howard Beale, a man who capably finds an audience that doesn’t know the difference between discourse and showmanship, snake oil and antibiotics. Even when Beck gets around to coming up with an actual fact, he’s usually quick to move beyond it to the real attraction–exorcism. He’s giving his viewers the nightly purging they need when they feel alienated from the political process, powerless to stop forces beyond their control like money and power and recession and unemployment and foreclosure and failure. When there’s blood in the streets, people need a crazy man like Beck to reflect the perversity of their spirit. Maybe Keith Olbermann hates a bit too much too. He even said as much after Gabrielle Giffords was shot and he asked for a tone of civility.

It’s awfully hard to keep calling for civility, of course, when you’ve just been unceremoniously shit-canned. But Keith Olbermann somehow did it with his elegance and basso profundo. Maybe that’s good for an exorcism too.

Come back, Shane. Come back.

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Season 10 of American Idol launched tonight, and call me a pollyanna, but I have much optimism that this will be the most technologically advanced season of AI ever. From the Botox injections, to the Autotuned music of the guests, to the amazing graphics to the phenomenal cutting edge film editing technology, this year’s show has everything to provide you with the best entertainment that machines and not humans can offer.

You cannot argue that we are still celebrating an incredible century of scientific achievement when we saw breakthroughs in mathematics, chemistry, particle physics, computing, biology, industrial science, etc., and I believe these breakthroughs have naturally brought us here, to a new dawn of American potential that is Season 10 of American Idol. As the judges traveled through the heart of American commerce and industry–East Rutherford, N.J.– looking for the next person whose face will grace the Prospectus of a large military-industrial company’s media subsidiary, we were reminded again that America is built on innovation and ineluctable technological advance. From the opening graphics to the Terminator robot voice responsible for Miley Cyrus’ “Party In the USA,” American Idol is a revolutionary creation right up there with Rene Descartes’ automatons, the combustion engine, the atom smasher and recombinant bovine hormone. The show even uses very professional demographic studies based on statistical analysis to know exactly who to put in the front row to show the most preconceived excitement. Capable professionals who master in film editing techniques will be on hand to make sure that we feel human drama at right times, as well as moments of comic respite.

I cannot help but think that this is what Hegel meant when he laid out his dialectical method of scientific progress, and that we are synthesizing new and better things every day. We envy the machines we create, because they reveal our idealism, our enlightenment responsibility to reason. As we saw tonight, when people gathered together to sing the hit Miley Cyrus song, people are enamored of robots and this bodes very well for our country’s technical schools, engineering programs and computer science departments. They want to perfect themselves with Botox. Like Steven Tyler very likely does. They want to lose weight like Randy Jackson through gastric bypass.  They want to efficiently condense their names into useful portmanteau words like “Benifer.” Even the show’s public relations effort has been pursued by highly trained professionals who know exactly the right moment to claim the show is a hit just in case the ratings prove otherwise.

Even British mathematical genius Alan Turing could not have come up with a Turing machine as self-perfecting as the American Idol juggernaut, and my guess is that this show will leave us with a legacy of new technologies as World War II did when it brought us rocket fuels, helicopters, new plastics, metallurgy, medicine and Jane Russell.

I can’t wait to watch it again next week to see how this show will inevitably improve me. See you there, fans.

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As Americans stopped today to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King and ponder his message of freedom for all regardless of race or creed, they soon afterward began using him to score cheap points against each other on all sorts of matters Dr. King likely had no opinions about.

“Americans have to move on from a spirit of racism, which is why I want to end the alternative minimum tax,” said Jesse Stamford of Columbia, S.C. “I know that’s what Dr. King would have thought of as equality.”

“Dr. King fought for the rights of common people, which means the protection of unions and that’s why we at United Auto Workers will not budge in our upcoming talks with Ford,” said union leader Ray Johnstone.

African-American leaders led the way in arguing over the legacy of this great civil rights leader. Al Sharpton said that Dr. King would have found today’s Tea Party a travesty, while others said Dr. King would have certainly agreed with them that no matter what you think of the Tea Party, Al Sharpton is “a showboating political fringe dweller and an embarrassment to all of us,” in the words of Washington, D.C. resident Kim Watkins.

President Barack Obama, weeks after political violence erupted in Arizona, tried to use the occasion to strike a conciliatory tone.

“Dr. Martin Luther King showed what this nation could be if it had more community organizers,” said Obama. “Like me.”

But it wasn’t only politicians piling on. Democrats were quick to say Dr. King would have wanted better health care, while others said Dr. King would want “absolutely no government health care whatsoever.” Gays pointed out King’s history of tolerance while Jesse Jackson said King would have wanted him to be president.

“Also, he showed it’s not that big a deal having a girlfriend on the side,” said Jackson.

Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush said that Dr. King would likely want to give to their charity, while Iranian President Mahmoud Ahjadinejad said that Dr. King would have wanted Iran to have nuclear power.

Dr. King’s message was one of using civil disobedience to achieve the goals of equality and peace. Americans said that message was needed now more than ever as they raised fresh petty political arguments and showed the dissent and discord that is evidently part of human nature.

“I want ice cream!” screamed 8-year-old Beth Marshton of Bryn Mawr, Pa. in the back seat of her parents’ Lexus. “Dr. King would have given me ice cream!”

Dr. King was assassinated in 1968 by a limited, brutish man with some sort of personal agenda of his own.

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