Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Book Learnin'

It feels like just yesterday that I typed up my reflections of my first day as a teacher, but believe it or not that was nearly six years and several hundred students ago. All these years later, the one thing I can say -- even in the face of the endless uncertainty about whether I'll have enough classes from term to term, and whether I'm making enough to get by -- is that I love my job. I love going to class, I love engaging with my students, and I love sharing with and learning from them. That said, I also consider myself blessed that I'm able to teach at the college level, because I know that there are plenty of public school instructors who got into it because of their love of the profession, but as this story from former NYC literature teachers John Owens demonstrates, they quickly lost the will after being ground underfoot by a Kafka-esque system that seems indentured more to stats and scores than actual learning. In this age where teachers, tenure, and unions have become such easy targets for politicos looking to score quick and easy points, this makes for a sobering read.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Recommended Reading

Slate's Dave Weigel picks apart the Democrats' new plan to make congressional Republicans look bad by calling for an extension of the current payroll tax cuts -- which the GOP once supported but are now against (because Democrats are for it, natch). The hope, they hope, is that it'll be hard to square their obstinacy against any and all tax hikes with opposition to a tax cut. However, as Weigel explains, it'd be one thing if there's a measurable benefit from the cuts that would provide some moral lift to the Dems' "shame 'em and blame 'em" calculus, but instead it looks like more of the same tit-for-tat political brinksmanship that's characterized our politics for the last several years. If you had any doubts about how completely broken our system of governance has become, read this and have it confirmed.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Conan the Underwhelming (Too)

And speaking of Conans underperforming relative to expectations, there's also the sad story of Conan O'Brien, whose very public split with his former network and subsequent feud with Tonight Show hosting predecessor/successor Jay Leno birthed the online "I'm With Coco" movement and held the promise of elevating the ratings fortunes of whichever net he ended up at. Well, it's been nearly a year since Conan O'Brien's TBS talker Conan debuted, and things haven't quite panned out as well as they (and he) no doubt hoped, with a fast start followed quickly by a fizzle that's already led to his fellow TBS host George Lopez's late night show getting axed -- a possible portent of what may happen to his own show before too long.

Speaking as a longtime fan, the one thing I can say about Conan's current skein is that he's out there every night trying his best, and can always be counted on to bring the funny, but his lack of access (either because of personal choice or threat of litigation) to some of his funniest, most signature bits ("In the Year 3000," to name one) has really hamstrung him, and for whatever reason the new show just doesn't have the spark that either Late Night or Tonight did during his tenure. As The Week breaks down TBS' Conan O'Brien experiment by the numbers, you start wondering if the decision to bolt NBC rather than let them push his Tonight Show back to accomodate a half hour of Leno was a smart move in the long run.

Looking at those financial and ratings figures, I'm not so sure.

Conan the Underwhelming

I was all set to review Marcus Nispel's Conan the Barbarian reboot, which opened last Friday, but it flamed out so spectacularly in its debut frame -- opening in a dismal fourth place with a lousy $10 mil -- that I figured by the time I got my write-up posted the movie itself would already be forgotten. I'll hold off on the full analysis for now and may come back to it at some point, but the short version is that I'm not especially surprised the movie disappointed, though I am a bit surprised at how badly it belly-flopped.

All told, it's a reasonably competent effort that's probably a cut above most recent sword-and-sorcery flicks, though that may be less a recommendation for Conan than it is a condemnation of the genre it occupies. Star Jason Momoa (whose selection I approved of from the beginning) made for a better fit in the role than the iconic Arnold Schwarzenegger take, and I wouldn't have minded seeing him revisit it down the line. Unfortunately, there were just too many pieces around him that didn't work the way they should have, from the direction to some of the supporting cast, and yep, Tyler Bates' musical score is every bit as bad as I'd feared.

We'll see if I can be bothered to say more about the flick when the home video window rolls around (which, based on the box office, might happen in like a week-and-a-half), but one interesting thing to come out of it falling so far short of its mark at the turnstile is this reflection by screenwriter Sean Hood on what it's like to see the project you've slaved over for months and months die so ignominiously right in front of your eyes. I can't imagine it's an easy thing to go through, but Hood's essay provides a welcome insight into the experience, which he describes as being akin to a political campaign. Well worth a read!

Ghostbusters 3 "Officially Happening"? Not So Fast.

Last time we talked about the long-threatened third Ghostbusters movie was back in January, things were pretty much exactly the same as they've been for awhile now, with series star Bill Murray noncommittal about another entry, series co-star Dan Aykroyd extremely commital, and everyone else in kind of a holding pattern. Since then, not one element in the calculus has changed, but you wouldn't know it from looking at the big HuffPo declaration that the movie was "officially happening." Clearly, they're using a far more elastic definition of "officially" than is common in the parlance. So what prompted this sudden rush of excitement? Very little, in fact.

In a radio interview with Dennis Miller, Aykroyd predicted a 2012 shoot, and in the closest thing to news, claimed that they'll go ahead with or without Murray: "What we have to remember is that Ghostbusters is bigger than any one component." Now, bear in mind that Aykroyd has tried to mount a third installment for decades now, with Murray (who, for some perspective, wanted to call Ghostbusters 2 in '89 "The Last of the Ghostbusters") the one holdout. And while the property may indeed be more important than the person, there's also a potentially fatal credibility issue if everyone else comes back except the show's star. I'm sure Sony is fully aware of this, which is why they'll withhold a green light until Murray is signed, sealed, and delivered. And if history is a guide, that's sort of like herding cats.

Beyond that, there's also the question of whether they should even try to do a new Ghostbusters flick, especially one that, as Aykroyd promises, will pass the torch onto a new, younger generation of paranormal investigators. Does anyone want that? Do we really want the Ghostbusters where Ray is blind in one eye, Egon is too fat, and Peter is MIA? If the post-Star Wars, post-Indiana Jones world has taught us anything, it's that at some point, maybe it's okay to just have our memories of characters and stories we loved and be happy with them. At this point, I'm starting to feel like another Ghostbusters is like revisiting Back to the Future. Could they figure out a way to make it happen? Yeah, sure. Probably. But should they? Definitely no for the former, and I'm not so sure about the latter.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

From The Onion...

The problem with any party is the clean-up afterwards...
Voice Inside Cheering Libyan Rebel's Head: 'Oh, F---, Now What?'
TRIPOLI—An uneasy voice inside the head of cheering Libyan rebel Ahmed Jibril reportedly said, "Oh, f---, now what?" Wednesday as the jubilant fighter celebrated the downfall of Muammar Qaddafi. "Uh-oh, what happens now? Seriously, what the f--- happens now?" said the interior monologue of the smiling man who stood atop the roof of Qaddafi's former compound screaming "Freedom is ours!" and pumping his fist. "There's a massive power vacuum, and looking around, I don't really see anyone who's going to fill it. It's certainly not going to be me, I'll tell you that much. Is this country going to descend into chaos? Please, please, please don't let that happen. Someone just needs to tell me what our next step is right now or I'm seriously going to flip the f--- out." The voice inside the head of the man who exultantly fired three machine gun bursts into the air quickly added, "Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, oh my God."

CK OK

I discovered the standup stylings of comedian Louis CK relatively recently, and have found his work to be nearly unmatched for its ability to not only make a worthwhile point, but also elicit ache-inducing bouts of laughter in the process. Check this out for just one example. Salon's Matt Zoller Seitz explains why FX's Louie, the comedian's experimental sitcom, now in its second year, is one of the best shows on TV -- not necessarily because it always succeeds, but because at least it's always trying to do something different. I agree.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The DC Reboot and the Death Spiral

Back in June when I first discussed the impending reboot of DC Comics' entire superhero lineup, with each and every one of their titles being cancelled and relaunched with a new first issue, I mentioned that it was reflective of how bad the state of the comics industry is that the company, home to superhero stalwarts like Superman, Batman, and the Justice League, felt that this was the only option left to goose sales out of the freefall they currently find themselves trapped in.

This is a sentiment that's echoed by no less an authority than superstar writer Grant Morrison, whose brilliant All-Star Superman I discussed here and who's now been tasked by DC editorial with relaunching Superman from ground up with the relaunched Action Comics (cover by Rags Morales to the right). Interviewed by Rolling Stone to promote his new nonfiction tome Supergods -- which I can't recommend enough, whether you're a comic fan or not -- Morrison pulls no punches when asked what the reboot says about the industry, encapsulating both its current travails and also what its loss would mean:
DC is relaunching its entire line – is there some desperation there?

There's always going to be a bit of that because comics sales are so low, people are willing to try anything these days. It's just plummeting. It's really bad from month to month. May was the first time in a long time that no comic sold over 100,000 copies, so there's a decline.

Do you think this is the death spiral?

Yeah. I kind of do, but again, you can always be wrong. There's a real feeling of things just going off the rails, to be honest. Superhero comics. The concept is quite a ruthless concept, and it's moved on, and it's kind of abandoned, the first-stage rocket.

Abandoning comics?

And moving on to movies, where it can be more powerful, more effective. The definition of a meme is an idea that wants to replicate, and it's found a better medium through which to replicate, games, movies. It would be a shame, because as I said in the book, one of the most amazing things about those universes is that they exist, there's a paper continuum that reflects the history, but people don't die, it's like the Simpsons, people don't age, they just change.
I never fail to be impressed by the erudite and intelligent Morrison in interviews. His ability to take the long view of the industry, evincing a preternatural understanding that perpetuating this popular mythology can function as a means of societal renewal, is unmatched by most comic pros -- which may go some way toward explaining the current troubles. Much more from him at the link, including his thoughts on why he hates the use of the word "geek" as an honorific (something that my recent pursuits would indicate disagreement with).

Monday, August 22, 2011

Mouse Crap (Or: My Vendetta Against Disney)

Part of becoming a parent is that your life ends up delving into areas that you didn't even realize existed when you were living unencumbered just a few years previously. One example of this is the personal hell I go through several times a day when attempting to change my two-year-old's pull-up diapers (one that's above-and-beyond the hell of, y'know, having to change diapers). This is a hell that I lay squarely at the doorstep of the Disney company. Allow me to elucidate.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Complete Law & Order

Ho. Lee. Crap.

Coming soon to DVD. 

Now you know what to get me for my birthday. You're welcome.

Go Read It!

My friend Wajahat Ali (whose play The Domestic Crusaders will be mounting a production in New York on the weekend of 9/11), recently spoke to the San Jose Mercury News about his upcoming report on Islamophobia, being called a "stealth jihadist" by Pam Gellar, and the portrayal of Muslim-Americans on television. He also demonstrates why we're friends by managing to work in a Rocky IV reference when describing Muslims fasting during Ramadan.

What Our Taxes Pay For

Whenever someone like Warren Buffett, as he did earlier in the week, says something to the effect of "Raise my taxes, I'm paying too little," there's the inevitable chorus of, "Well, if he wants to, he can just write the government a check" that arises in response. The problem, of course, is that ignores the larger, systemic problem of how our tax dollars are utilized in favor of a pat dismissal -- one that's reflective of the current model GOP's ongoing extreme vendetta against taxes (under the auspices of anti-tax Svengali Grover Norquist, whose stated goal is to get government "down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub").

Now, certain moneyed and vested interests do everything they can to preserve their last dollar and help others only of their own volition. It's the Gordon Gekko thing. I totally get it. But the problem is that we can't always rely on people's better angels to help them do the right thing. That's why we create systems to institutionalize "the right thing." That's how Social Security happens. That's how Medicare happens. That's how unemployment insurance happens. We do what we can so everyone can benefit. I suppose, if you have a flare for overblown rhetoric, you could call that Socialism. I just call it being a human being.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Planet of the Apes: Lexicons and Conspiracies

With all the Planet of the Apes festivities around these parts lately, from my retro review series to my thumbs-up of the new flick to my Q&A with the screenwriters, I figure now is as good a time as any to give a big shout-out and hearty recommendation to two tomes that any dyed-in-the-wood Apes-o-phile would do well to add to their collection.

First up is From Aldo to Zira: Lexicon of the Planet of the Apes, written by Rich Handley and published earlier this year by Hasslein Books (get it? Hasslein? Love it.). This mammoth encyclopedia -- unauthorized, but authoritative all the same -- compiles every person, place, and thing in every iteration of Apes (the Pierre Boulle novel, the original movies, the TV shows, the comic books, the '01 remake, etc.) into a simple A-Z listing. The kind folks at Hasslein helped me get ahold of a copy last month, and it was hugely useful to me as a way to quickly cross-check facts and make sure I'd gotten my info straight as I set out on the laborious task of analyzing and reviewing each of the films.

Monday, August 15, 2011

From The Onion...

Apropos of her winning the Iowa straw poll this past Saturday and suddenly becoming an actual contender for the Republican presidential nomination, here's Congresswoman Michele Bachmann making the case for herself in an op-ed for America's Finest News Source:
Look at it logically for a minute. Of the 300 million people in the United States, who stands out as the one most capable of uniting a divided country and fixing a fractured Congress? Talk about a no-brainer. With my track record of urging white people to take back America, attending a church that believes the pope is the Antichrist, and advocating "conversion therapy" as a means to cure homosexuality, I'm clearly the only legitimate choice to become the next leader of the free world.  
You know it and I know it. 
So much more at the link.

Recommended Reading

Multi-billionaire Warren Buffett has a simple solution to the country's crises of budgets and deficits: raise his taxes, and those of others like him.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Roache Returns to Law & Order (Briefly)

With Special Victims Unit now the last remaining vestige of NBC's once-sprawling Law & Order empire, it's become the only place to see some of our old favorites from Dick Wolf's procedural universe make return visits. According to TV Guide, one such return visit is in the offing for the show's 13th season premiere (a ripped-from-the-headlines take on the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case), with one of my all-time fave Law & Order regulars, Linus Roache, a.k.a. fightin' DA Mike Cutter of the late, lamented Mothership, turning up in his new role as a bureau chief for the New York District Attorney's office. While SVU is going through some pretty big changes this season, with longtime lead Christopher Meloni departing the show and being replaced by two new cast members, it's an open question just how much life the skein still has in it, but while it's around, I sure wouldn't mind if Roache's presence became a semi-regular one.

Friday, August 12, 2011

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Rise of the Planet of the Apes Writers Amanda Silver & Rick Jaffa

After the weeklong build-up of my mega-Apes reviewing jam session last week, I was gratified to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes not only measure up to its lineage, but also open to an impressive total that exceeded even the most optimistic expectations, in the process giving the legendary franchise cultural currency of a kind it hasn't enjoyed in a very, very long time. Earlier this week, I was lucky enough to speak with Rise screenwriters Amanda Silver & Rick Jaffa, the married couple who sparked the initial idea for the revival five years ago, and nurtured that idea from concept to completion.

In my lengthy and in-depth chat with the pair, we talked about the project's genesis, some of the narrative roads they chose not to explore, and also where they see Planet of the Apes going from here now that it's gotten a second lease on life. While we didn't delve too heavily into spoiler territory, there are a few in there, so if you haven't watched the movie yet (for shame), you should probably think twice before reading past the jump.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Secrets & Lies

With the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks coming up in exactly one month, my good friend Ray Nowosielski, who made the documentary 9/11: Press For Truth a few years ago (which I highly recommend if you haven't seen it already) now has a new project underway aimed at piercing the veil of secrecy surrounding the attacks. In an exclusive interview for the doco, he got former Bush White House official Richard Clarke to go on record with some pretty major charges about the CIA that sure put those events and their aftermath in a whole different light. Here's the full scoop via Philip Shenon at The Daily Beast, and here's another piece from Truthout's Jason Leopold that includes some clips from the upcoming film.

Geek Wisdom on the Radio!

With Geek Wisdom hitting store shelves last week, the book has started to make the promo rounds, as have those of us who happened to work on it, including yours truly. Last night I appeared with two of my fellow travelers on the geek highway, Stephen Segal and Genevieve Valentine, on Jim Freund's "Hour of the Wolf" radio show on WBAI out of New York. It was ninety minutes of wall-to-wall nerdery and introspection, with everything from each of us reading selections from the book, to a spirited discussion on the relative merits of the Star Wars movies, to me explaining precisely how big a disappointment the Green Lantern movie was for me (hint: a big one). I had a great time chatting it up with my co-authors for the first time, and I appreciated that Jim was able to rope me in from across the country. You can listen to it all right here (as well as download it to your handy-dandy portable device for a listen at your convenience later on).

Also, if you haven't already, make sure you order your copy of Geek Wisdom!

Monday, August 08, 2011

Zaki's Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Perhaps the most brilliant narrative move in a host of brilliant narrative moves executed by Rise of the Planet of the Apes is that it's an "end of the world" movie that manages to make us forget it's an "end of the world" movie.

So effectively does director Rupert Wyatt's prequel/reboot of the legendary Apes brand (after Tim Burton's much-ballyhooed "re-imagining" flamed out ten years ago) draw us into the story of ape revolutionary Caesar, tracking his journey from childhood to Che-hood, that by the time we arrive at the promised inevitability of the title, it comes as a genuine surprise. Unlike the misguided Burton venture, Rise proves that a Hollywood blockbuster doesn't always have to have its eyes on the franchise. And ironically enough, by keeping its focus on telling the story at hand as completely as possible, Fox may just have given Apes the second life it's long been searching for.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Zaki's Retro Review: Planet of the Apes (2001)

When Roger Ebert reviewed Tim Burton's remake of Planet of the Apes (dubbed a "re-imagining" by the director) upon its release in 2001, he said, somewhat prophetically, "Ten years from now, it will be the 1968 version that people are still renting." Well, it's ten years later, and even though the Burton Apes debuted to a record opening weekend and left theaters with a very healthy domestic tally of $175 million, I think the ultimate measure of Ebert's words can be found in the fact that the franchise is being revived yet again with an entry that's steeped in homage to the Franklin Schaffner original, while entirely sidestepping Burton's brief, ignominious Apes interlude. So, what happened?

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Zaki's Retro Review: Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)

By 1973, the end was very nearly in sight for the Planet of the Apes movie series, and it showed. The premise had begun to seem tired, and so did the filmmakers. Having already conquered the world in their last cinematic escapade, there was really nowhere for the titular hominids to go from there but down. And down they went with Battle for the Planet of the Apes, an altogether unsatisfactory fin de si├Ęcle that has some solid ideas at its center expounding on the series' omnipresent themes of race relations and destiny vs. free will, but is hobbled by its too-apparent dime-store budget and a singular lack of ambition.

FIRST LOOK - Henry Cavill as Superman

With yesterday's Perry White news spelling the end of a monthlong Man of Steel dry spell around here, Warner Bros. has dropped a pretty big doozy today, providing us our first look at star Henry Cavill all duded up in his Krypton finest for the Zack Snyder's project. Honestly, given the newly-elongated wait time for this flick, I wasn't expecting anything in the way of promo shots this far out, so this is a surprise. And a pleasant one at that. 

While I'm not crazy about the pitting all over the suit, which just add a needless level of detail in my opinion, it's still a marked step-up from the Bryan Singer/Brandon Routh Superman Returns model, which looked fine from a distance, but upon closer examination got enough little things wrong in terms of color and style choices (the blue was too light, the red was too maroon, the "S" was too small, etc.) to make it seem somehow "off." 

I don't know how much synergy there is between the different WB divisions, but it sure looks like this owes at least a little bit to the new Jim Lee-designed Superman suit (described as Kryptonian ceremonial armor) for the DC Comics reboot (or maybe it's vice versa), including what appears to be an absence of the traditional red trunks, and a very dark navy blue. Overall, I like the suit, especially the larger chest emblem and the flowing cape, and I think Cavill looks good. So far, so good!

(For a super-embiggened version of this pic, click over here, courtesy of Newsarama.)

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Larry is Perry

The last time we talked about Man of Steel, director Zack Snyder Superman reboot produced by Christopher Nolan, Christopher Meloni, late of NBC's Law & Order: SVU, had just signed on for an unspecified role (which has since been specified as a general of some sort). Now he's being joined in the project by another star who recently parted ways with a long-running procedural. Lawrence Fishburne, the lead on CBS stalwart CSI for the last two-and-a-half seasons, has signed up for "Great Caesar's Ghost!" duty as Daily Planet editor-in-chief Perry White.

This is another coup for the production (recently moved from its Christmas '12 berth to summer 2013), which has built up quite the stocking full of big name talents to fill out the supporting roles, including Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, and Russell Crowe. Perry White is a nearly indispensable part of Superman lore who's showed up in almost every incarnation of the mythos at some point, with the late Jackie Cooper memorably playing him in the '70s-'80s Superman movies, and the late Lane Smith playing him on TV's Lois & Clark. The role was most recently filled by Frank Langella in 2006's Superman Returns, and Michael McKean on Smallville.

Having briefly glanced at the interwebs after this news broke, I saw plenty of bloviating from both comic nerds and, I dunno, racists (already up in arms over the news of a new, black Spider-Man), upset that the traditionally Caucasian White is now being inhabited by an African-American. And while there are times when color-blind casting legitimately doesn't work (three words: Wild. Wild. West), I can't think of a better "who cares" than this. Fishburne is a great actor who brings a lot of credibility with him, and I have no doubt he'll be excellent in the part. I only hope they give him dialogue as memorable as that of the top panel on the right.

Zaki's Retro Review: Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

When it came time for Planet of the Apes' fourth swing on the vine, unlike the previous two sequels, there was no struggle to find a story or figure out how best to continue on. After the tragic ending of Escape, writer Paul Dehn knew exactly where he wanted to go and what he wanted to show: the pivot point where man loses dominance over the planet and the beasts take over. The result, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (the thematic blueprint for this year's Rise of the Planet of the Apes), is the darkest and most violent chapter in a series that had fairly distinguished itself already with its dark subject matter and disturbing imagery.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Heartbreaking.

In the aftermath of this week's resolution of the debt limit debate, many are perceiving it as a pretty big defeat for the progressive side of things. Here's Jon Stewart from yesterday's Daily Show, nicely summing up what I think a lot of us are feeling, not only towards the Tea Party Republicans for largely instigating this mess, but also toward the president for (again!) acquiescing to their demands.


Zaki's Retro Review: Escape From the Planet of the Apes (1971)

For the Planet of the Apes series, the end of the world turned out to be just the beginning. A whole new beginning, really.

Tasked by producer Arthur Jacobs with somehow furthering the franchise even in the wake of the last go-round's post-apocalyptic apocalypse, screenwriter Paul Dehn (newly-anointed overseer of all-things Apes) managed to fashion a time-tripping, paradox-inducing loophole for himself almost entirely from a whole cloth. This in turn provided him with enough thread to spin three more yarns and in the process shift the entire Apes paradigm by turning its own evolution upside down.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Zaki's Retro Review: Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

(Read my retro review of the first Planet of the Apes here)

Following its meteoric reception from audiences and critics alike, the notion of sequelizing Planet of the Apes very quickly gained traction. But when it came time to put said sequel together, producer Arthur P. Jacobs and home studio Twentieth Century Fox found themselves with a problem. Several problems, actually. With the first film having come to a fairly natural, definitive conclusion, they had no story. And with Franklin Schaffner off prepping Patton (also for Fox), they had no director. Most worrying of all though, with Chuck Heston categorically uninterested in returning, they had no star.

From THE ONION...

*sigh* So true.
Democrats, Republicans Celebrate Pitiful Excuse For Common Ground 
WASHINGTON—Following Sunday’s pathetic excuse for an agreement on raising the government’s borrowing limit, Democrats and Republicans took time to celebrate the meager, ineffective deal, calling it “a testament to the not-so-great things that can happen in Washington when both parties barely come together and agree to not really accomplish anything.” “It took months of phone calls, negotiations, and meetings, but finally we created a pretty sad version of a framework that, we’re happy to say, none of us is really proud of, and that doesn’t really do much to solve our country’s fiscal problems at all,” said House Speaker John Boehner, who gave a cheerful thumbs up and added that the sorry piece of legislation was expected to pass both houses of Congress with a really pitiful display of bipartisan support. “Once again, Democrats and Republicans have demonstrated why our mangled, fractured, barely functioning democracy is the greatest in the world.” At press time, members of both parties were trying to explain to their supporters how the budget agreement could in any possible way be construed as a victory for them