Saturday, September 30, 2006

Surreal Clip of the Week

President Parvez Musharraf of Pakistan, acquitting himself quite admirably on The Daily Show.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Iraq by the Numbers

I mentioned yesterday about the "black is white/white is black" propensities so often exhibited by Team Bush in their constant snowjobbing (or, I suppose, Snow-jobbing) of the American public.

Though there're plenty of examples to go around, nowhere is this more clearly and more often on display than in the increasingly desperate rhetoric being employed by the Administration (and its appendages) when discussing the situation in Iraq.

Tom Engelhardt has compiled a list of facts and figures that have pretty much flown under the radar for most of us, but really drive home what a staggering abortion of a military campaign this whole thing has been. Says he:
This week, the count of American war dead in Iraq passed 2,700. The Iraqi dead are literally uncountable. Iraq is the tragedy of our times, an event that has brought out, and will continue to bring out, the worst in us all. It is carnage incarnate. Every time the President mentions "victory" these days, the word "loss" should come to our minds. A few more victories like this one and the world will be an unimaginable place. Back in 2004, the head of the Arab League, Amr Mussa, warned, "The gates of hell are open in Iraq." Then it was just an image. Remarkably enough, it has taken barely two more years for us to arrive at those gates on which, it is said, is inscribed the phrase, "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."
Read the entirety of Engelhardt's post at the link above.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

First we saw the release (or "leak" in Administration-talk) of the NIE report which gave a grave assessment indeed of America's conduct, progress, and prospects in this "War on Terror" we're currently embroiled in. Of course, this was greeted with the usual "black-is-white/white-is-black" response from Team Bush and their political and press parrots.

Now journalist Bob Woodward is joining the chorus of those crying foul at the conduct being exhibited by the Figurehead and his henchmen. Now that he has a brand-new book to flog (the aptly-titled State of Denial), Woodward is making the news-circuit rounds and pulling no punches, with a perspective that could only have been gained from unfettered "behind the velvet rope" access (which is itself a sad comment when the man who famously brought down Nixon becomes the ultimate insider).

Here's a bit from Woodward's 60 Minutes interview with Mike Wallace (father, by the way of Chris Wallace, who got the presidential smackdown from Bill Clinton earlier this week):
According to Woodward, insurgent attacks against coalition troops occur, on average, every 15 minutes, a shocking fact the administration has kept secret. "It’s getting to the point now where there are eight-, nine-hundred attacks a week. That's more than 100 a day. That is four an hour attacking our forces," says Woodward.

The situation is getting much worse, says Woodward, despite what the White House and the Pentagon are saying in public. "The truth is that the assessment by intelligence experts is that next year, 2007, is going to get worse and, in public, you have the president and you have the Pentagon [saying], 'Oh, no, things are going to get better,'" he tells Wallace. "Now there’s public, and then there’s private. But what did they do with the private? They stamp it secret. No one is supposed to know," says Woodward.

"The insurgents know what they are doing. They know the level of violence and how effective they are. Who doesn't know? The American public," Woodward tells Wallace.
Meanwhile today, the Junta ramrodded the "Detainee Interrogation Bill" (a.k.a. Bush's Torture Bill) through the Senate, while the House legalized their "warrantless wiretapping" program. No doubt both these developments engendered much backslapping and high-fiving among those on the Lunatic Right, and, as usual, the impotent Democratic wing stood by and did nothing (as has been their M.O. for the past five years).

Makes you wonder what the heck else has to happen before people start actually giving a darn about these things.

Cool Exec (with a Heart of Steel)

The Jon Favreau-directed Marvel epic Iron Man has been gestating in the pre-production pipeline for some time now, with a planned release date of Summer '08. Ever since early word that hoped-for choice Tom Cruise was not going to suit up as alcoholic billionaire-turned-superhero Tony Stark, there's been nary a nugget dropped as to who the movie's producers were eying to fill ol' Shellhead's red-and-gold duds.

Now, pretty much out of the clear blue sky, comes word from Ain't It Cool News that none other than Academy Award-nominee Robert Downey Jr. has been tapped to head up Marvel's next big screen franchise (and the first that's financed entirely from the Marvel coffers). I think I pretty much agree with Moriarty's assessment over at AICN that it's a gutsy, interesting choice on the part of Favreau and the movie's honchos. Hard to say much else 'till we know what direction the flick is going to take.

Here's the word straight from Favreau himself via MySpace:
It is true. Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark. I am about as excited as I can be. I saw what he can do and he is extremely enthusiastic about playing Stark. I can say with absolute certainty that there is no better choice. The humor and emotional dimension he brings truly raises the bar on this project. Get ready.
Works for me!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

And lastly...

One more reaction to the whole Clinton thing before we put this sucker to bed, this time from Jon Stewart and The Daily Show, looking at the lockstep (goosestep?) media reaction to the story.

"The 'free pass' has been withdrawn, Mr. Bush."

Well, I may have decided not to editorialize on the Clinton-Fox showdown, but that sure didn't stop Keith Olbermann from doing just that in another searing special comment that takes a broadside at not only the Administration but their lackeys at Fox for attempting, yet again, to dodge any and all accountability on the subject of 9/11 and its aftermath for the past five years. Good stuff, as always.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Clinton Defensive

I first heard about Chris Wallace's...uh, eventful interview with President Clinton this past Saturday, though it didn't air until yesterday morning on Fox News Sunday. Most of the media heat on this story has taken a "Clinton on the Rampage" approach, or some such variation thereof, playing a select few soundbites here and there of Clinton ragging on Wallace for performing a "Conservative hitjob" while robbing us of any and all context.

Hey, they're the Left Wing Media. It's what they do, remember?

Anyway, the blogosphere has been its usual divided (or is that divisive) self in response to this story, with those on the left proudly trumpeting Their Boy Bill triumphing over the Gathered Hordes of Rupert Murdoch's evil empire, while those on the right are touting this as proof positive that Clinton is one step removed from Crazytown.

Frankly, I think there's enough there to galvanize those on both sides, and I don't think Clinton (or Wallace, for that matter) said or did anything that's going to change anyone's mind who isn't inclined in their direction already. Nevertheless, the interview makes for some fascinating viewing for, if nothing else, giving us a president who dares to go off script. It's like a window into a parallel world.

No real editorializing from me, but you can watch the interview here, and/or read the transcript here.

This Day in History

All day now people have been asking me what I have planned for my birthday, and all day I've been dropping my standard answer: Grading papers and sleeping (though not necessarily in that order).

I'm not sure when it is exactly that your birthday stops being this momentous occasion when you get all kinds of stuff and everyone's nice to you and just becomes...the day after yesterday. For me, I think it happened when I was six.

Anyway, here it is. Twenty-seven years. Happy birthday to me.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Recommended Reading's been one of those weeks, and it doesn't appear likely to ease up anytime soon.

Still, lest you think I've dropped off the Earth completely, here's the latest from Frank Rich, this time discussing last week's Path to 9/11 telefilm on ABC, to tide you over 'till I can post something more in-depth (God knows there's enough going on right now to warrant it...)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

"We have not forgotten, Mr. President."

Keith Olbermann on 9/11, five years later. Watch the video or read the transcript, but either way, take it in. Highly recommended.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Four Decades in the Final Frontier

It was forty years ago today that an odd curio entitled "The Man Trap", the debut installment of a brand-new science-fiction series, aired on NBC to little acclaim and even fewer viewers. I wasn't due to arrive on this plane of existence for another decade-and-change, so I can only begin to imagine how the thing was received at the time.

No doubt the mix of futuristic spacemen and forbidding monsters seemed to be pointing the way towards something in the mold of recent sci-fi pic Forbidden Planet, while borrowing liberally from the monster-of-the-week formula employed by TV's The Outer Limits which itself had aired (and ended) not too long before.

Those who even bothered to tune in probably thought it would air for a few short weeks before being consigned to the bin where all cancelled series eventually wind up. After all, this thing couldn't possibly last.

The show was Star Trek, and as we all know, things didn't quite turn out that way.

These days, of course, it's impossible to discuss Star Trek as merely a TV series without the words "classic" and "phenomenon" popping up at some point or other. Back then, though, it was just this strange, cult thing that somehow hung in there juuuust long enough to make the requisite number of episodes to put into syndication. The rest, as they say...

To date, Star Trek (the TV show and the phenomenon) has spawned five subsequent series (including an animated show in the early '70s -- coming very soon to DVD after too long in limbo), not to mention ten feature films (with another in the pipeline), and mountains of licensing rivalled, perhaps, only by that other cult fave beginning with the word "Star".

While Trek is lying fallow at the moment following the cancellation of Star Trek: Enterprise last year (which remains bitterly disappointing to me considering how good it had gotten towards the end), I don't think anyone really doubts the staying power of the franchise, nor its ability to come back blazing. Like the Bond series discussed earlier today, Trek has proven itself a dozen times over, and has more than earned a hallowed place in the pop culture firmament for its next four decades.

Anyway, with the anniversary sure to prompt many fans, lapsed and otherwise, to cast a nostalgic eye to the early adventures of Captain Kirk, Mister Spock, Dr. McCoy, and Co. it seems appropriate enough that the honchos at CBS Corp. (which owns the franchise in the wake of the big Viacom split last year) have chosen the occasion to announce plans to release newly remastered, newly CG'd versions of the 79 original series episodes for syndication (and, down the pike, DVD and HD release, I'm sure).

While the initial news of this last week may have left many a fan with visions of George Lucas' "everything but the kitchen sink" Star Wars Special Editions dancing through their heads, all indications point to a much more archival, much more reserved approach. In addition to the Enterprise pictured up top, check out these comparison shots to get a sense of what the folks in charge are planning:

In an article documenting the extensive plans, the Star Trek official site runs down these and other changes we can expect to the original show:
  • Space ship exteriors – The Enterprise, as well as other starships, will be replaced with state of the art CGI-created ships. The new computer-generated Enterprise is based on the exact measurements of the original model, which now rests in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
  • Show opening – The Enterprise and planets seen in the main title sequence will be redone, giving them depth and dimension for the first time.
  • Galaxy shots – All the graphics of the galaxy, so frequently seen through the viewscreen on the Enterprise's bridge, will be redone.
  • Exteriors – The battle scenes, planets and ships from other cultures (notably the Romulan Bird of Prey and Klingon Battle Cruisers) will be updated.
  • Background scenes – Some of the iconic, yet flat, matte paintings used as backdrops for the strange, new worlds explored by the Enterprise crew will get a CGI face-lift, adding atmosphere and lighting.
These spiffed-up Star Trek episodes will be making their syndicated debuts starting next week (the 16th), so it won't be too long before we see if the efforts of longtime Trek-tech guru Michael Okuda and his team will bear fruit and make this truly timeless artifact palatable to a whole new generation (...and the next).

Countdown to 007

By the time Casino Royale makes its theatrical debut on November 17th, it will have been four long years since James Bond last graced the big screen (in 2002's Die Another Day). In the interim, it seems like the zeitgeist has sort of left agent 007 by the wayside, what with all the Bauers and Bournes out there showing how secret agents "really" act. Given that, the timing seemed ripe for a reinvention of the hallowed franchise, now in its fourth decade and its 21st official entry.
Last night saw the release of the full trailer for Royale, and it gives us a pretty good sense of how director Martin Campbell (who last visited Bond Country in 1995's GoldenEye) is going to switch things up tonally and stylistically. It seems that the new film will focus much more on the character bits and matters of the heart than is usual for these movies. We also get a sense, for the first time, really, of what Daniel Craig will bring to the part. I've been on board with Craig from the beginning, and there's nothing here that sets off any warning blinkers. Looking good.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Full Court PRESS

For the past several years, my good friend Ray Nowosielski and his team at Banded Artists Productions have been busting their collective humps putting together an expansive documentary digging into 9/11 and its aftermath. The completed doco, 9/11: Press for Truth, had its local premiere tonight in Oakland, a screening which I was regrettably unable to attend, and it makes its LA premiere on Monday (9/11). In honor of Ray's mammoth effort, and to encourage one-and-all to give his movie a look-see, here's the trailer, and here's the Amazon link so you can pre-order your copy.

"Planet of the Arabs"

...or, "How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Hate Muslims".

This faux-trailer was an official selection at the Sundance Film Festival back in '05. Inspired at least partly by Jack Shaheen's Reel Bad Arabs (a fantastic, invaluable read, by the way), it gives a small insight into the way Hollywood has vilified and dehumanized Arab and Muslim characters pretty consistently for the past hundred years or so.

It's sad indeed when one considers that, out of a thousand-some filmic portrayals from 1896 to 2000, about 12 could be considered positive. Now, that number may well have risen a few notches here and there in the past six years, but in the face of those overwhelming numbers, it starts to feel uncomfortably like swimming against the tide.

Anyway, just watch the clip. There's not much else that I need to say.



Sometimes you have to remind yourself that The Onion is satirical...
Bush: 'History Cannot Judge Me If I End It Soon'

WASHINGTON, DC—Despite, or perhaps because of, rising fuel prices, the unpopularity of the U.S. presence in Iraq, and mounting legal problems surrounding his administration, President Bush informed his Cabinet Monday that he is unworried about his place in history, White House sources said. "I'm telling you, pretty soon some things are going to develop so that I won't have history to worry about any longer," Bush said. "History may be written by the winners, but it doesn't get written at all if all of human language is lost in, say, fire storms, right? So I can still get off the hook." Although troubles faced by his presidency have been relatively recent, sources said they believed Bush's plan had been put into motion long before he had even taken office.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Olbermann to Bush: "Have you no sense of decency, sir?"

With the trifecta of the fifth anniversary of 9/11, an unpopular war in Iraq, and midterm elections which threaten to shift the balance of power in Congress (not that such an occurence would change things worth a darn), the Administration (as well as its tentacle-like appendages in the Lunatic Right) have been trotting out the chestnut of Nazism, Fascism, and some good old fashioned Booga-Booga with alarming regularity, no doubt in hopes that the corn-fed faithful will be sufficiently keyed-up that they'll put their brains on standby come election day and put these people back in the driver's seat.

It goes without saying this is a disgusting, shameful rhetorical ploy that frankly says far more about those using it than the ones they're railing against (in this case, anyone who dares to disagree with 'em). Thankfully, Keith Olbermann is at the forefront once again, with a withering commentary aimed at BushCo in general, and the Figurehead in particular.

(Read the transcript here.)


Summer movie season '06 has barely been over for three days, and already it's time to start up the hype train for 2007. First up, the clearest shots yet of Autobot leader Optimus Prime, as seen in Michael Bay's upcoming Transformers. Doesn't look too bad from where I sit. Jump on over to Ain't It Cool News for some alternate angles (not to mention the usual vitriolic garbage from the AICN talkbackers).

Sunday, September 03, 2006

More Recommended Reading

The ever-reliable Frank Rich dissects Rumsfeld's now-infamous "moral confusion/Nazi appeasers" speech from earlier this week.

Recommended Reading

Howard Zinn, writing for the Boston Globe:
The repeated excuse, given by both Pentagon spokespersons and Israeli officials, for dropping bombs where ordinary people live is that terrorists hide among civilians. Therefore the killing of innocent people (in Iraq, in Lebanon) is called accidental, whereas the deaths caused by terrorists (on 9/11, by Hezbollah rockets) are deliberate.

This is a false distinction, quickly refuted with a bit of thought. If a bomb is deliberately dropped on a house or a vehicle on the grounds that a ``suspected terrorist" is inside (note the frequent use of the word suspected as evidence of the uncertainty surrounding targets), the resulting deaths of women and children may not be intentional. But neither are they accidental. The proper description is ``inevitable."