Thursday, March 26, 2015

Rite of Spring

Sean Hannity just can't resist running "exposes" on Spring Break.  It has become an obsession for him, probably because all those lewd clips help boost his ratings.  Each year, the Fox News pundit assembles a panel to "discuss" the raunchy behavior that has come to be identified with this rite of passage.



Kids flock to the warm beaches of the Gulf Coast for a week of debauchery that has been chronicled as far back as 1958, when Glendon Swarthout penned Where the Boys Are, which was quickly made into a movie starring George Hamilton, Dolores Hart, Yvette Mimieux and Paula Prentiss.  A couple years ago, Harmonie Korine turned this particular story on its head in Spring Breakers, making Hamilton's suave Ivy-leaguer into a two-bit drug dealer, played by James Franco, in a darkly amusing romp that left parents flabbergasted.

Fact of the matter, Spring Break hasn't changed much in all those years.  It has always been about sex, focusing on the male perspective with young women the object of their carnal desires.  But, to portray women as "weak victims," as Hannity does, is to do a disservice.  Neither Swarthout nor Korine did that.

Millions of kids partake in this annual ritual.  The vast majority see it for what it is -- a chance to blow off some steam before bearing down for final exams.  States and local governments have tried to curb activities over the years by raising drinking ages and applying other restrictions, but the kids still come, still drink, still have sex, still trash hotel rooms and beaches; and the local hotels and bars love it.  Spring Break took a once dead calendar period and made it into a cash cow.

From a historical perspective, it more or less coincides with the religious calendar leading up to Lent, and is seen pretty much in the same light.  However, Sean and his religious conservative brood don't believe "kids" should be exposed to such public debauchery, and that cities like Panama City Beach, Florida, which I know all too well, should rein in activities.  He is very proud of the fact that his past exposes have resulted in bars closing at 2 am instead of 4 am, but as he notes that doesn't stop the kids from keeping the party going on the beach or in the hotel rooms.

What is most absurd is the double standard that applies to young women and men.  The male panelists seem to think it is OK for "boys" to let off steam, but in their mind, "girls" should wear chastity belts, not skimpy little bikinis.  As a recent situation on the beaches of Panama City illustrated, cops were understandably worried when a video of a young woman, "totally naked," surrounded by a group of bare-chested young men, went viral.  The young woman was eventually located and everything was fine, but alarm bells sounded off all around the conservative blogosphere.

This represented any parent's worst fear, and Fox and other news networks quickly capitalized on the juicy story.  We all know Dolores Hart would never have put herself in a position like that!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Talking Temperance




Sheldon Adelson apparently has a hole burning in his pocket and is determined to buy an election.  He was successful in Israel, where the electorate amounts to less than 6 million, but it is decidedly tougher in the US where over 120 million votes were cast in 2012.  You would think if you were Uncle Sheldon you'd put your money behind a horse that has a reasonable chance of winning, but in 2012, Adelson backed Newt Gingrich in the primaries.  Now, he is putting his money behind Lindsey Graham, assuming the dodgy South Carolina Senator runs for office.

Lindsey is certainly sounding Presidential these days, chastising Ted Cruz for his extremist views, saying "you can't govern the country based on being angry."  This would also rule out Ben Carson, who wears his anger on his sleeve.  But, the GOP appears to embrace anger and extremism these days, sounding more like the Taliban than a party of reconciliation.

Many conservative US Representatives and Senators rode the Tea Party band wagon into Congress by adamantly stating they would brook no compromise.  Lindsey likes to talk compromise, but when push comes to shove he generally backs out of any bipartisan agreement that would hurt his approval rating back home in South Carolina.  After all, he had to fend off six challengers in the GOP Senate primary last year.

You certainly won't hear him talk of his effort to reach out to Obama and the Democrats on an energy bill on the campaign trail.  Not that it went anywhere, because as soon as his Republican peers caught wind of it, he backed away quicker than Olympia Snowe and Chuck Grassley did on the health care bill.  No Republican wanted to be seen as embracing Obama's "socialist" agenda with the Teabaggers biting at their heels.

Jeb Bush finds himself in a similar situation, as he stood behind Obama on education.  It didn't go as far as the notorious hug that cost Florida Governor Charile Crist his Senate bid, but there is enough agreement here to seriously damage his presidential run, should he choose to enter.

Neither have declared yet, still feeling around the edges of the Republican tent to see just how many Bible-thumpers there are and if they can win the nomination without them.  But, if they both enter and Chris Christie does too, it would split the neo-conservative vote and make it virtually anyone's race in 2016.  Last time around, Mitt Romney stood alone as the only "moderate" voice in the pack with a huge "war chest" to rout his challengers, including Newt, who for a brief moment appeared to threaten Mitt.

Uncle Sheldon can get Lindsey started, as he did Newt Gingrich, but Lindsey will have to reach well beyond his small base of support in South Carolina to have any chance in the initial primaries.  His "temperance" message isn't going to resonate in the early stages of the campaign, where a disgruntled GOP electorate is looking for someone to do battle with the socialist dark forces  they believe prevail in Washington.

This is a conservative electorate that wants meat, red meat, and only after their favorite candidates have torn themselves apart will they consider a compromise candidate, and then only begrudgingly as they did with Mitt Romney in 2012.  Once again, Uncle Sheldon has picked the wrong horse, as Lindsey simply doesn't have the stomach for this type of campaigning.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Destiny's Child




If attention was what Ted Cruz was after, he is getting it in bucket loads after announcing his candidacy for President before a mandatory filled auditorium at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. That's right, students faced fines if they didn't attend.  Others pitched up in T-shirts proudly proclaiming that they "Stand with Rand."

Unfazed, Ted delivered a sanctimonious speech, telling of his origins, which Donald Trump questions; promoting small business, replete with a "Kenyan girl" coming to America (Obama's niece maybe?); telling us that "American Exceptionalism" is all about that "Shining City on a Hill" that St. Ronnie so often evoked; giving us a brief history lesson Tea Party style; lambasting "Obamacare" and the IRS while defending Hobby Lobby (thunderous applause); telling us what a great guy Benjamin Netanyahu is; and that if he was President it would be America first at the UN.  You can read the full transcript here.

We all knew it was coming.  Ted has been running for President ever since he swept Texas to become its Senator in Congress in 2012. Since then, he has regaled us with tales from Dr. Seuss to keep filibusters going into the wee hours of the morning, long past children's bed times.  New York GOP Rep. Peter King lambasts Ted Cruz for trying to shutdown government, considering him nothing more than a "carnival barker."

Cruz is getting hit from all quarters.  A veritable human punching bag, and he seems to be loving it.  Battered and bruised, he presents himself as Rocky overcoming insurmountable odds to get a shot at the title.  Obama is Apollo Creed, all flash no substance.  It's just unfortunate Obama is retiring before facing him in the political ring, but no matter Ted can still use Obama as his foil as virtually every other Republican would-be contender is doing.

2016 will still be about Obama because Obama will still be in the White House.  Dr. Ben Carson even opined that Obama might call off elections all together and declare himself "El Comandante," if anarchy were to break out.  In addition to Lost, Carson seems to be watching too much The Walking Dead.

You get the feeling that these candidates live in a world of television, not much unlike the town of Pleasantville.  The reality we know doesn't even enter their heads.  It's understandable given that Americans prefer fictional presidents, even Kevin Spacey's notoriously duplicitous Frank Underwood, to Obama.

You can run as a "fictional" President in the primaries, but what happens if you are lucky enough to assume office?  All presidents have faced this conundrum.  As low as Obama's approval ratings are, they are still far higher than were Bush's or even Clinton's approval ratings in their last two years of office.   We recently had Monica Lewinsky remind us of Bill's notorious affair, which led to his impeachment by the US House.  Americans seem to prefer fantasies to reality, even when everyday events are made into a "reality show," as is the case with network news today.

Ted plays on those fantasies.  He is a populist candidate in the mold of Lonesome Rhodes from the movie Face in the Crowd.  He seems to have even shaped the same smirk that Andy Griffith gave his loathsome character.  The amazing thing about Ted is that he can go totally unplugged and his base of supporters still loves him. Like Rhodes, you will never forget Ted's face either.  Guys like Scott Walker, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Rick Santorum are all interchangeable.  Ted stands out in the crowd.  Love him or hate him, you won't be able to shake that image of him.

Most likely he will tear the Republican Party apart, assuming he stays in the race.  It may be nothing more than a cheap ploy, like the filibuster he pulled at the end of 2013 to stall the joint Congressional appropriations bill.  Ted might not see his time as now, but rather is using this election to put his name out for consideration in the future.  After all, he is a young man, only 44.  He will still be as lively in 2020 or 2024.  This is a good way to project a sense of national support and drop out before any actual votes are counted.

Ted may say the most outlandish things but he is not stupid.  He knows that all the condemnation he is receiving won't affect his base of support, because the harsh criticism is coming from the sources the Tea Party loathes.  Ted will always play his base, knowing that his supporters will keep him a Texas Senator as long as he wants to be, biding his time not much unlike Martin Sheen's character in The Dead Zone, who oddly enough became President in The West Wing.  We can only hope Ted doesn't have this in mind for the country.


Monday, March 23, 2015

Social Branding 101




Starbucks took it on the chin in its latest attempt to attach a social statement to its cafe lattes.  I suppose Howard Schultz had the best intentions in mind, but let's face it this was nothing more than a coffee promo meant to garner media attention, which it did.  However, Schultz isn't the only one to blame.  Plenty of other companies use social messages to boost sales.  In fact, studies show consumers favor this form of advertising to conventional methods.

American Apparel is probably the most racy in doing so with its anti-airbrushing campaigns and "normal" models designed to make their clothes feel real, but it too started feeling the heat and the new CEO vows to "clean up" the company, which saw many of its ads banned due to their explicit sexual nature.

Schultz would never go that far, which is why he was no doubt flabbergasted his "race together" theme received such adverse reaction.  It was the timing more than anything else that turned critics off, as it seemed he was trying to capitalize on the race riots in Ferguson, Missouri.  To be honest, I had no idea what this ad campaign was about.  I thought Starbucks was promoting running to get people in shape after indulging in latte grandes and cranberry-orange scones.  I didn't know Schultz was actually trying to promote racial tolerance.

These kinds of "white bread" social messages have always rung hollow.  I remember the Ben & Jerry's Peace Pops from a few years back with two percent of sales going to world peace.  You already paid twice what you would normally pay for a popsicle, and here they were giving a whopping two cents on the dollar to promote peace around the world.

Nike tried to cash in on the Beatles' Revolution, and Mercedes Benz actually used Janis Joplin's classic song at one time to promote its cars, both of which met with harsh criticism.  However, this doesn't deter the advertising industry, which has long tried to give social relevance to the products it peddles.

The worst thing about Starbucks is how it has completely overtaken the country and now can be found in many of the coffee capitals of Europe, including Vienna, where coffee was first introduced to a Western audience quite by accident.  It is pretty tough to compete with this kind of branding, although the "democratic" nature of these casual bistros has resulted in a number of copycat brands worldwide.

The coffee house first came to the American colonies in the 17th century.  It was hugely popular in London and was an active place to catch up on news, as papers weren't generally delivered to your home.  I'm sure there were many political ideas that were roughed out over a cup of joe, but I don't think any revolutions started in the coffee house.

Schultz sees his coffee houses as social gathering places -- sharing ideas, music and what have you over a cafe latte.  You can choose to go alone if you like, plugging your laptop into an electrical outlet and catching up on events or quietly swaying to Youtube videos.  All well in good, but don't try to make anything more out of it than there actually is.

When victory is not enough




It is apparently not enough that Netanyahu won the special election, Republicans are now seizing on the opportunity to link Obama to non-profit organizations that campaigned against the Israeli prime minister and tried to get Arab-Israelis out to vote.  At the heart of these allegations is a Republican strategist, John McLaughin, who worked on Bibi's campaign.

I suppose this is an attempt to counter the heat John Boehner got for inviting Bibi to Washington and now going to Israel to personally congratulate the blustery PM on his victory.  Of course, all this is done on the up and up.  It is our Communist-leader-in-chief, who mobilized his ACORN-like forces to oust Bibi and bring his brand of socialism to Israel, in large part to empower the Arabs, that is to blame.

You really have to marvel at all these conspiracy theories, but then they are really nothing more than a smokescreen to divert media attention away from more serious issues, like our unquestioning support of Israel despite the fact that Netanyahu ignores virtually all UN resolutions regarding the Palestinian territories, and continues to threaten neighbor states.

Israelis don't need Obama to teach them about social equality or anything else for that matter.  The country has been a socialist work in progress since its inception in 1948.  For decades the country was ruled by the Labor Party until the conservatives first won control of the Knesset in the late 70s.  The Likud Party seemed all but dead when Ariel Sharon broke away from it to establish the Kadima Party in 2005, but his successor, Ehud Olmert, made such a mess of things that Likud regained its strength in 2009.


One of the big issues in this election was soaring housing prices, which is a direct outgrowth of conservative policies.  Under previous Labor governments, such prices were controlled to some degree to help create stability, but Likud and Kadima adopted supply-side economics and prices soared through the roof, not much unlike the situation in the US in the early 2000s, resulting in tent cities for those who can no longer afford housing.

However, this election has become a means in which to besmirch Obama.  The Republicans realize they no longer have any traction on Benghazi, and with the economy steadily improving, despite Obama's "socialist" policies, the GOP needs something to keep the President off guard.  So, the Republican-led Senate will now "investigate" ties between American and Israeli non-profit groups and see if Obama had any hand in this himself.  John McLaughlin is certainly not a reliable source, but that's all the GOP has to go on at the moment.

In any other scenario, such allegations would be laughable.  Unfortunately, Samantha Power and Susan Rice made such a big stink about Netanyahu's Congressional visit that they provided a small measure of sustenance for such conspiracy theories.

Obama has since reached out to Bibi, congratulating him on his victory, but also expressed his reservations in the fierce rhetoric he used to rally conservative voters.  However, this wasn't good enough for conservative pundits, who felt Obama took too long to call Bibi and that he should have expressed his unequivocal support of Israel as they do.  One pundit even went so far as to equate Netanyahu's word to that of God.

Like most political storms, this one will blow over.  Obama obviously didn't like the outcome of this election, but isn't going to do anything to undermine the special relationship the US has with Israel.  He will deal with Netanyahu on his own terms, as he has done the adversarial Republican leadership in Congress.  What should be investigated is the symbiotic relationship between the Republican Party and Likud, with "strategists" like McLaughlin working between them.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Are you ready for Dr. Ben?




The big problem we face today is the media time spent on conservative ideologues like Ben Carson, who rose to political prominence largely for ripping President Obama at a National Prayer Breakfast in 2013.  Here is the New York Times devoting a huge chunk of copy to the guy, telling us little we hadn't heard a hundred times before.  The only part that was interesting was the intro in which the reporter had access to Carson interviewing a potential campaign press secretary, Deana Bass.

One can forgive Jon Stewart for going after these conservative ideologues because they provide great comic material, but do we really need to take them seriously, as the NY Times apparently does?  It takes a special effort to read the long article, as it does anything about the Republican wannabes in 2016, because it is hard to imagine any of them as president, including Jeb Bush.  Would the Republicans actually nominate a third Bush?  Sadly, when you look at the alternatives that seems like an all too real possibility.

The Republican National Committee is looking like a bunch of RINO's these days, as it tries to clean up the mess it created in 2010 when it opened up the primary process to allow political neophytes an opportunity to compete with the establishment candidates.  As it turned out, no one wanted Romney, but the Republican electorate was too split to offer a serious challenger, so we were treated to a veritable "clown car" of possibilities ranging from Michelle Bachmann to Rick Santorum with a disgruntled Newt Gringich throw in the boot, who for one brief shining moment appeared to have Mitt Romney on the ropes after trouncing him in the South Carolina primary.  The RNC desperately wants a big name to compete against presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who everyone seems to think will get the nomination by acclimation.

I guess Jim Rutenberg, who followed the famed pediatric neurosurgeon for one day, decided to ask, Why not Ben Carson?  Only to answer his own question in the negative.  Dr. Ben, like Rick Perry and Herman Cain and countless others before, has that nasty habit of sticking his foot in his mouth at every turn, which is why he needs a press secretary like Deana Bass to deal with the media backlash when he "misspeaks," as he did on homosexuality being a lifestyle choice, or more recently his ignorance of NATO.

The news media seems to love guys like Dr. Ben,  in part because they come with a "built-in" audience that they hope to reach.  However, does the New York Times actually think it can reach religious fundamentalists, who provide the base of support for Carson, a fervid Seventh Day Adventist?

If anything, an article like this helps legitimize Ben Carson, who has no business running for President in the first place.  Not only has he demonstrated an incredibly weak grasp of domestic and foreign policy, but has shown the same kind of xenophobia that would normally push persons like him to the fringe of politics, not the mainstream.  He dated back ISIS to the time of Jacob and Esau, His analogy probably came from the final season of Lost, which was quite popular among religious fundamentalists, rather than the Old Testament, which he misspoke.

I suppose to some Dr. Ben Carson comes across as the "real deal."  Even Kid Rock is singing his praises, after his long spiel on introducing "cheap seats" at his concerts, his love for Mitt Romney and palling around with Sean Penn in a jolly conversation with Megyn Kelly.  Yep, it looks like we are in for another Republican primary season that resembles a reality show more so than a presidential nominating process, a kind of "celebrity apprentice" where even the Donald is mulling another run at the White House for no other reason than to help boost ratings for his sagging television show.  The RNC can put Kid Rock in charge of refreshments.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

It's Back!




Disco is like one of those songs you can't shake out of your head no matter how hard you try, and just when you thought it was safe to go back to the night club ... it's back!  Of course, if you package Chic's latest release in what appears to be a Victoria's Secret ad it becomes quite appealing.   For those of us who lived through that era, we hoped bands like these would never return.

The Disco Demolition Rally at Comiskey Park, in June, 1979, was widely regarded to be the death of the genre after it had dominated the air waves throughout the late 70s.  The beat lingered into the "very early 80s" as Wilt Stillman made fun of in The Last Days of Disco, giving way to Madonna and electronic music, which wasn't any better.  No more Donna Summer, Bee Gees or Gloria Gaynor.  But, like Gaynor's famous anthem, the music appears to have survived.

Looking back in retrospect, it doesn't sound all that bad, especially in comparison to the pop music one hears today.  For many of these young singers, it is an easy segue into disco and funk, as Bruno Mars has shown in Uptown Funk, a kind of Billy Joel meets Michael Jackson vid.  You've got Georgio Moroder remixes of all sorts taking place, although it is hard to imagine a rational conversation regarding the music.  Instead, we will see a lot more litigation, as today's pop icons mine the era for infectious rhythms to bolster their so-called music.  After all, many of these Disco icons are still alive and well, notably Chic, who gave us the classic Le Freak, and is still singing it to sold out crowds.

Today there is a seamless blend of music and fashion, as demonstrated in the annual Victoria Secret Christmas specials, in which world famous pop stars brush bare shoulders with supermodels.  So, why not use one of these supermodels to help launch your new album, as Nile Rodgers has done.  Disco was mostly about fashion anyway, as John Travolta illustrated in the ultimate disco movie, Saturday Night Fever.  The quintessential polyester suit became the standard of night clubs, along with gauzy dresses, which appeared like one spike heel would unravel them at a moment's notice.

Of course, few of us could shake it like Travolta, so we ended up looking more like Rick Dees on the dance floor trying out John's signature moves.  Something we would prefer to forget because all it took was a few drinks to start dancing to Disco Duck.  Do we really need to go through all that again!

Politics, Las Vegas Style



It seems we have two governments now as "shadow president' John Boehner plans to travel to Israel to meet with re-elected Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu.  I suppose this kind of back channel "diplomacy" isn't unprecedented, but the bald-faced way that the Republicans have chosen to directly engage in Foreign Policy, openly undermining the sitting Commander-in-Chief, is new and very unsettling.

One of the dark figures behind all this subversive politicking is Sheldon Adelson, who contributes heavily to conservative groups in the US and Israel.  He has become the new media mogul of Israel, buying up tabloids that cater to the country's religious right, much like Rupert Murdoch's vast "info-tainment" network in America.  Adelson used it effectively to aid Netanyahu in his re-election bid.  This is a guy with money to burn and has an agenda that includes bringing American and Israeli conservatives together to fight what he sees as the scourge of liberalism around the world, especially those who would aid and abet a Palestinian free state.

I suppose in this era of globalization there is nothing inherently wrong with Uncle Sheldon diversifying his interests, but more and more he looks like one of those James Bond villains hell bent on world domination.  Of course, the world is a pretty big place and it would take a cabal of such nefarious figures to reshape the geo-political world as we know it.  However, this doesn't it make it any less scary the way Adelson and Murdoch and others are using the media to shape public opinion to suit their interests.

Many Americans seem to have a very high opinion of Bibi Netanyahu, thanks to all the favorable press he receives in Adelson's and Murdoch's dailies, not to mention Fox News, the most watched "news" network in the United States.  Of course, the core of his support is quite conservative, but judging by the decibel level of applause during his speech to the join session of Congress, Bibi has his Democratic supporters as well, notably New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, who helped escort the Israeli PM to Congress that day.

There are enough Democrats to help the Republicans set the Foreign Policy in regard to Iran, forcing the President to comply with their hard line position.  Apparently, the only thing keeping them from doing so are the Republicans' heavy handed tactics which have drawn international condemnation.  However, you have to think that Netanyahu's surprise victory has emboldened them as well.

The White House is standing tough.  The President plans to go ahead with his nuclear agreement with Iran, regardless of Congressional opposition, and will now explore other ways to deal with the ongoing Palestinian crisis, as Netanyahu has made it clear he has no plans to address the issue as long as he is in power, which could be up to four more years.

So, we have Boehner using his "vacation time" to explore a few options of his own with Bibi, as obviously the President isn't willing to play along.  Unlike the titular President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, the US President carries far more weight, so he is not so easy to bypass.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Bibi Almighty




I'm left scratching my head after Bibi Netanyahu's election victory in Israel.  I always thought Israelis saw through cheap political stunts, but apparently they are as bad as Americans at falling for xenophobic cries of more security.  The current Prime Minister appeared to have no reason to call this election in the fist place.  It may have undercut his "majority" in the Knesset by resorting to what can only be described as American style campaigning, underwritten in large part by American citizens.  Yet, it is the Obama administration that is being taken to task for purportedly "funding" the Victory15 political coordinating group in the election, which was committed to ousting Bibi.

I would like to think the US Senate would similarly probe Boehner's motivations for inviting Bibi to Congress only two weeks before the election, although the highly publicized state visit didn't give him much of a boost.  Many thought Netanyahu would lose to the coalition party led by Herzog, but in the end he prevailed by resorting to the type of tactics all too familiar to American voters, making one wonder who was actively supporting who here?

We might as well make Israel our 51st state, if we are going to take such an active involvement in their politics and see the outcome of these elections to our advantage, which the Republicans seem to think.  With Bibi at the helm there will be no talk of a Palestinian state anytime soon, not that there has been for quite a while.

Still, the Palestinians will continue to press their case, no longer relying on the US to act as their intermediary.  They will "internationalise" their independence drive, although unfortunately the US holds veto power in the UN, which it has exercised repeatedly under the past two presidential administrations.

I'm sure Israel will survive these elections, as it has these past 67 years.  The security issues were grossly overplayed.  There is no threat to Israel, but unfortunately that didn't stop Bibi from playing on deep-seated fears that still reside among many Israeli voters.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Blurred Lines




I've long abhorred the derivative nature of pop music, but the recent jury award against the song Blurred Lines seems to have gone too far.  There is no question that Pharrell Williams, who we eventually found out wrote the song, took the spirit of the song from Marvin Gaye's classic Got To Give It Up but to say he plagiarized the song opens the door for numerous other law suits, as one can say the same for many pop songs past and present.

Pop music has long relied on a relatively limited vocabulary, and many musicians have lifted chords and lyrics directly from other songs without offering any compensation to the original composers, much less credit.  Bob Dylan got into some hot water for not crediting Henry Timrod, an obscure Civil War poet, in his album Modern Times, but the family of Timrod wasn't around to challenge him.   Poets familiar with Timrod's work did.  Dylan kept copious notebooks filled with such uncredited verses he lifted from obscure sources, but he wove them together in his own unique way, so most critics accepted it as part of his creative process, if they could locate the verses.

Marvin Gaye probably wasn't above lifting a few chords or verses himself, after all he was part of the Motown machine that churned out hit after hit, many of them variations of previous hit songs.  Of course, Motown owned the rights to all these songs, so the record label could spin out these hybrids to its heart's content.  Pharrell, who has become an immensely popular songwriter and singer today, probably figured he was just paying a homage to the Motown great, as so many R&B singers do, by tapping into his groove.

The case would have probably been settled out of court, as so many of these cases are, had not Robin Thicke's monstrous ego got in the way.  At first, he claimed on Oprah to have written the song himself, only to be forced to admit it came from the hand of Williams during the court case.  The Marvin Gaye family smelled blood and went after him tooth and nail, receiving one of the largest awards ever in such cases.  The Gaye family is now suing to have the song banned from radio playlists, due to all the acrimony surrounding the case.

Few will shed a tear for Robin, who has been virtually unheard of since his twerking episode with Miley Cyrus at the MTV video music awards.  Robin comes in at about the three minute mark of the video, for those who want to skip the long teddy bear intro.  However, this is a bad precedent for the music industry.



What's to say the family of Randy California had any less a case against Led Zeppelin for the opening of Stairway to Heaven, which the California family claimed was lifted from Taurus by Spirit, written by Randy?  Led Zeppelin opened for Spirit when they first came to America, and Robert Plant and Jimmy Page wrote the song shortly thereafter.  However, a judge ultimately threw out the case, as outside of the opening nothing else could be attributed to Taurus.

Pharrell does stick with pretty much the same base rift from Got To Give It Up throughout Blurred Lines, but it isn't a direct copy as was the case with Vanilla Ice some years back, when he lost a similar court case over Ice Ice Baby, which borrowed liberally from Queen's Under Pressure.  Stevie Wonder and others have come to the defense of Pharrell Williams.  

Not surprisingly, Pharell and Thicke are appealing the decision, which is likely to be overturned.  After all, this is a music "industry," not an artistic collaborative or even much of a creative process, as guys like Kanye West would like us to think.  Certain riffs work, as Motown proved long ago, and R&B today still heavily relies on them for their hits today.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Just Bully!




Meet the latest Bully Boy of the Republicans.  Tom Cotton has made an instant impact in the Senate with the letter he crafted to Iran, "warning" the government of signing any nuclear agreement with the President.  He had quite a track record from the House, where he previously served as US Representative of Arkansas.

At 37, he is much younger than the other leading lights of the GOP: Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Ben Sasse, and has the potential to be around a long, long time.  He is part of a new generation of religious conservatives, schooled in the ivy-covered halls of the Northeast, yet espousing the same religious conservative agenda of their less educated colleagues.  I suppose the Harvard, Yale and Columbia degrees give these Young Turks legitimacy, but the stunts they pull in Congress defy all credulity.

I'm not sure why the Republican establishment is so willing to cast its lot behind these young senators.  I suppose it is a way of reaching out to the so-called Millennials who are coming of age politically.  However, by most accounts the newest "me generation" doesn't share the same religious conservative values.   They seem to be more in line with Libertarians like Paul Rand, if they vote conservative.


I guess you can't blame the Republicans for trying, which is more than what the Democrats seem to be doing these days.  The Dems either take this vote for granted or assume these kids won't vote at all, as you see little outreach.  The leading figures in the Democratic Party are for the most part over 50, with few young voices emerging from the ranks at the national level.  Not so for the Republicans, who are making a big effort to cultivate national figures under 50, even if they all too often end up sticking their feet in their mouths.

After losing the last two Presidential elections with senior citizens, you can bet the next Republican nominee won't be eligible for Social Security.  Jeb Bush and Chris Christie are having a hard time gaining traction in straw polls.  Christie is just 52 but even he seems like an old man in today's GOP.  It just depends on who Sheldon Adelson, the Koch Brothers and other conservative billionaires decide to put their money behind.

The Republicans let their so-called election mandate slip away in the wake of the President's executive actions and have been trying hard to counter him in recent weeks.  The "open letter" to Iran was just the latest show of defiance, with Lindsey Graham proclaiming there will soon be a "veto-proof" majority to send their bill proposing new sanctions on Iran through Congress.   It seems to me the Republicans are using the Iran sanctions bill to sidestep the war powers act Obama wants to fight IS, which hardly gets any news these days.  The GOP is very good at deflecting issues.

However, Foreign Policy is still the primary prerogative of the White House, and Obama can choose to enforce the sanctions or not.  Of course, I'm sure there will be a law suit to try to make him enforce this bill, should it become law, just as Boehner has tried to sue the president on enforcing immigration policies.  Sadly, it seems it is going to be a very adversarial two years, with little compromise between the executive and legislative branches.  It would be nice, however, if the Democrats would stick together in Congress, instead of joining the Republicans on this pointless sanctions bill.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Monkey Wrench Gang


How Republicans still see Iran

Whether emboldened by Netanyahu or upset that Obama got to bask in all that sunshine in Selma, 47 Republican legislators took it upon themselves to "remind" Iran who controls Washington.  Their open letter has caused ripples in foreign diplomacy but hardly the tsunami they imagined.  Iran's foreign minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif, who studied in the United States, called the letter nothing more than a propaganda ploy and used the opportunity to "remind" Republican Congressmen that a nation is obligated to international agreements signed by its predecessors.  So, who schooled who here?

President Obama didn't have any opportunity to enjoy his moment in Selma, where he gave one of his most stirring speeches on the progress of Civil Rights in America, touching on so many issues, notably renewing the Voting Rights Act, that it probably gave the Republicans delirium tremens.  It seems it has been very difficult for the GOP to adjust to the first Black President, using every opportunity to undermine his authority as a state would a black governor.  They act like Obama was forced upon us rather than democratically elected.

What made this open letter particularly appalling is that it was signed by 47 out of 55 Republican US Senators, including the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell and ranking members, John McCain and Lindsey Graham.  They should know better.  These are senior senators who represent the highest law in the land.  Instead, they acted like complete fools, embarrassing themselves and to some degree the nation in making this monumental blunder of foreign diplomacy.  It just makes you realize how badly the GOP has descended in FP.

Meanwhile back in Israel, Bibi Netanyahu got no "bounce" at all from his Congressional speech.  A huge rally was held in Tel Aviv protesting his policies, notably in regard to Palestine, as public confidence has eroded tremendously.  Unfortunately, Israeli politics is so fractured that Bibi could still pull together a ruling coalition in government even if his party lost the election, which is what he did last time.

The whole thing is like some episode of House of Cards.  You expect Putin to step in with some brash move to further upset the fragile balance in diplomacy taking place, but even he knows better than to get involved.

These US Senators acted like a juvenile gang of thugs, led by freshman Tea Party Senator Tom Cotton, who penned this missive, which was translated into Farsi no less.  It was nothing more than a attempt to throw a monkey wrench into the diplomatic accord the US has been working with Iran on ever since the new administration was elected in 2013.  Fortunately, it seems Zarif knows the Republicans in the United States all too well and isn't falling prey to this kind of bluster.  If anything, it seems to have helped him in being more forceful in the negotiations and appeasing the hard line element in Iran.

More than ever, it makes you realize that the worst thing that could happen to the United States right now is a Republican President, especially someone like Ted Cruz or Rand Paul, who both signed that letter.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

House of Cards

Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none



Another season of House of Cards is upon us.  I'm still working my way through the first two seasons, which have been translated into Lithuanian for television.  I find myself having to explain the American political system at the office, as it is quite different from what it is over here.  However, this show isn't so much about the political system as it is how to subvert the process for your own political gain. Surprisingly, the writers made little effort to adapt the British television series from a few years back, which similarly had a parliamentary whip rise to the top of the party.  Even the names are remarkably similar, Francis Underwood and Francis Urquhart.  In fact the writers could have kept Urquhart too, as there are plenty of old Scottish families in South Carolina, but I suppose it is a bit difficult to pronounce.

The show is fun in its Machiavellian sort of way, but the idea of a White Democratic Majority Whip from South Carolina having this much influence in American politics is quite a stretch.   Beau Willimon is a bright young writer, who worked as a volunteer and intern on the campaigns of Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton, Bill Bradley and Howard Dean, parlaying this experience into the screenplay for Ides of March.

It surprises me that he didn't do more to rework the old BBC television series, as the political systems of Great Britain and the United States are pretty far apart.  Instead, he chose to give the characters distinctive American color.  Maybe that was part of the agreement in rebooting the series, but the writers of Homeland, taken from an Israeli television series, rebuilt the show from the ground up, with only passing references to Prisoners of War.   No matter because the star of the show is Kevin Spacey, who breathes new life into the character, and an impressive list of directors, led by James Foley, give the series a cinematic feel.

Still, I'm surprised Willimon didn't make more of an effort to shape the series to suit the nature of American politics.  Spacey joked on The Colbert Report that as House Representative, his character accomplished more than the current do-nothing Congress, which is pretty impressive from the point of view of a House whip.  Why not have made Underwood a Democratic Blue Dog Senator from a Southern state, which is more what he resembles in this series than a Democratic US Representative from a state that has long gone Republican, with the sole remaining Democratic member in Congress being the veteran legislator Jim Clyburn.

What we have here instead is a morality tale told in Shakespearean fashion, with Rep. Underwood often addressing the audience directly as he makes his assault on the White House, determined to topple a weak president, who overlooked him when it came to cabinet positions.  Here again, the President is modeled more on PM John Major than he is any American President, presented as a virtuous man in way over his head in Washington.



House of Cards was originally written by Michael Dobbs, who served in the British parliament.  He clearly referenced Thatcher and Major.  His Machiavellian parliamentarian is Conservative and thinks Major has to go, as he doesn't carry the legacy of Thatcher forward, much less pay proper deference to him.   So, if you are going to take the story and set in the halls of Congress, why not a Republican legislator looking to restore the legacy of Reagan?

I suppose that was just too obvious for Willimon, or having served in Democratic Senatorial and Presidential campaigns, he had collected enough dirt to give him the material he needed.  The most compelling part of the show is not the Congressional policy making but the relationship between Underwood and the Washington press.  This is obviously what Willimon knows best.  Here, Underwood uses the media to shape the message he wants to unseat the President, much like in the original series.

You can't argue with success though.  The show has become such a big hit worldwide, that pirate copies can be found everywhere.  Spacey was particularly upset that illegal torrents had surfaced in India, where the show is quite popular.  Just one more reason for Netflix to expand worldwide, not just in select countries.  I suppose Netflix wants the revenue it gets from foreign countries that pick up its series for local television.

The show is immensely fun to watch, not just for Spacey, but for Robin Wright, as his ice cold wife, and Kate Mara, as the cub reporter who becomes Underwood's conduit to the press, thanks to a blog she started.   The writing is rather juvenile but the acting and directing is first rate.


Friday, March 6, 2015

Wierd Science




Recently, we have seen several attempts by Republicans to take on science.  The most amusing was the snowball fight Sen. James Inhofe tried to start in Congress over climate change.  I guess he like many other Republicans feels that if you can't see it, it doesn't exist, other than God of course.  Maybe the Senator meant it as a joke to break up the monotony of the session, but this isn't the first time he has resorted to such stunts to drive one of his pathetic points home.  Sen. Inhofe is the Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee.

Not to be outdone, Dr. Ben Carson believes that homosexuality is learned, basing his empirical studies on prisoners.  This is a world famous neurosurgeon mind you, who also doesn't believe in evolution.  For him it is a matter of faith, being  a Seventh-Day Adventist.  None of it would matter if he wasn't being regarded as a serious contender for the US presidency.  Not surprisingly, it is his remarks on gays that are gaining the most attention, which forced him to issue an apology of sorts.

What had formerly been consigned to the fringe of the Republican Party is now front and center, thanks to the latest religious awakening that occurred in the GOP.  Conservatives not only regard science as "murky" (Dr. Ben's words) but take the Bible as the final word on everything, with Sen. Inhofe quoting chapter and verse on why climate change is a conspiracy, and that only God controls the weather.

You have to go pretty far back in American History to find such a blatant condemnation of science.  Even the Founding Fathers were active practitioners of science, notably Benjamin Franklin, whose experiments and observations on electricity were published by the Royal Society of London.  These are the same Founding Fathers many  religious conservatives believe were practicing evangelicals spreading religion to the masses.

It is really hard to fathom this depth of ignorance, because it is not only science but just about everything associated with Academia that these religious conservatives abhor.  In their addled minds, Academia is ruled by secular liberals determined to divorce God from everything, and so they have mounted a religious crusade to put God back in Academia, which David Barton felt Thomas Jefferson originally envisioned at the University of Virginia.

It doesn't matter that religious-based universities like Oral Roberts University, where Barton studied, not only teach science but have some of the best scientific programs in the country.  These modern-day zealots see science as a direct contradiction of everything they believe in.  There is no more favorite target than Darwin, resulting in a humorous fish battle of automobile decals.  Religious conservatives ignore the fact that Darwin studied Anglican theology and never fully discounted the role of God in the shaping of the world.

Of course, scientists can be their own worst enemies, as Randy Olson pointed out, not finding the humor in this so-called debate currently taking place.  You have to play the game to some degree, engage in friendly exchanges, and most of all make science fun.  This is what Carl Sagan long extolled, and what Neil DeGrasse Tyson demonstrated in last year's reboot of Sagan's famous science television series, Cosmos.

Religious conservatives jumped all over National Geographic for not giving them a chance to rebut Tyson's "claims."  It's not like NatGeo doesn't cater to this religious audience, as seen in Lost Faces of the Bible, where forensic anthropologists literally reconstruct the faces of the Bible.  Apparently, it isn't the same.  The Religious right wing wants the Bible to be seen as an indisputable text, from which all "scientific" inquiries should be taken.  This is why you have Christian anthropologists and flood geologists actively searching for tangible evidence of the events that took place in the Bible, firmly believing they have God on their side.

With this growing religious segment of American society, climate change or evolution or any scientific theory that challenges their view of the Bible literally has a snow ball's chance in hell (or Congress) of being accepted.  God's word is absolute.  I suppose this is why Republican lawmakers only want to fund science that is of "national interest," with guys like Lamar Smith determining what is good science.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Mr. Netanyahu Goes to Washington


Bibi Almighty
Having failed to make a stirring rebuttal to the President's State of the Union address, the Republicans opt for their "nuclear option," Benjamin Netanyahu.  The long anticipated speech before a joint session of Congress finally came to pass, and like the big Creationism v. Evolution debate last year was a bit of a dud.  Bibi tried to play down the notion that his visit was politically motivated when everyone knew it was, particularly the Republicans who were determined to rub dirt in Obama's eye.

Democrats would have been wise to ignore this pathetic political posturing, but instead they made their feelings known with some 40 Congresspersons choosing not to attend the speech.  The White House expressed its disapproval, with Susan Rice and Samantha Power both condemning the speech.

Bibi has been struggling to gain leverage in the upcoming Israeli parliamentary elections, as he finds his coalition falling apart.  He crashed the Paris March earlier this year and issued an open invitation for all European Jews to come to Israel in the wake of the terrorist attack in Copenhagen, which also tangentially targeted Jews.  Not like Jews are any safer in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, but Bibi likes to play these emotional cards for his political gain.  He even took time out to visit the Wailing Wall before coming to Washington.  So, to say this speech wasn't political on his part is disingenuous to say the least.

In Congress, Republicans and quite a few Democrats have made it known they love Israel unequivocally.  It doesn't matter who the head of state is, even though Netanyahu has basically sabotaged any attempt at a lasting peace in the Middle East with continued expansion into the West Bank of the Palestinian Territory.

This isn't the first time Bibi has ruffled feathers in Washington.  He loved to show up unannounced when he was first Prime Minister from 1996-1998.  The Clinton administration had made major inroads into a Peace deal with the previous Israeli governments of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, but Netanyahu brought all those efforts to a grinding halt for two years, greatly increasing settlements in the West Bank, and refusing to budge on any of the sticking points that had thwarted the previous efforts.  His tenure was short lived as a result, and the US rebooted Israel-Palestinian negotiations with Ehud Barak, who succeeded Netanyahu.  Then came the Second Intifada and the War in Iraq and any attempt at negotiating a settlement was over.

This is pretty much how conservatives in the US and Israel want it.  George W. Bush made some feeble efforts to restart negotiations, but it didn't go anywhere because his administration was too preoccupied with Iraq and Afghanistan.  Israel no longer felt any pressure from the US to accommodate Palestine, and chose to start erecting its infamous wall, claiming more disputed land for itself in the process.

The Obama administration has likewise not pressed the issue, similarly preoccupied with the two wars and the Arab Spring that broke out across North Africa.  Palestine has become the forgotten corner of the Arab world, at least in the American mind, as it is now 15 years since serious attempts were made to forge a two-state solution, which Netanyahu is on record as opposing.  Under his administration, Palestine will remain an isolated ward of Israel, for security reasons of course.

Once again, we hear American conservatives claiming there are no such things as Palestinians.  So said Mike Huckabee, after his tour of the Holy Land, hoping to create some semblance of foreign policy credentials.  These are the persons Bibi is appealing to -- Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists, who believe that the state of Israel "protects" its spiritual homeland, when most of the Christian "Holy Lands" are within the Palestinian territories and administered by the Palestinian Authority, notably Bethlehem.  Huckabee couldn't get to Jesus' birthplace without going to Palestine, but then it is an "Old Testament" Christianity that these religious conservatives extol, not a New Testament one, with Huck spending most of his time visiting historical Jewish sites like the Masada.

Boehner and Bibi
A symbiotic relationship has formed between the American conservative right wing and the Israeli conservative right wing over the years that is quite surprising given the anti-Semitism that long ran through the conservative right wing of American politics.  It's nice that conservatives overcame this bigotry, which they now place on the Democrats, but their zealous and unquestioning support of the state of the Israel is the main reason we find ourselves at odds with the Muslim world.

This brings us to the point of Bibi's visit, to pressure wayward American Congresspersons and the President to further isolate Iran, which has long served as the Muslim "bogeyman" in American and Israeli politics.  Iran is regarded as the principal sponsor of radical Islamism around the world, when much of the terrorism we see today is Sunni, not Shi'a, driven.  Iran is a Shi'a state, but no matter.  For Bibi and Republicans it is all one in the same and the very thought of Iran developing a nuclear weapons program is enough to make these conservatives go ballistic.

The GOP doesn't want Obama to establish diplomatic ties with Iran, still nursing the wound from 1979, when Iran held over 50 Americans hostage for more than 400 days, giving the US one of its worst black eyes in Foreign Policy.  For Bibi, it was the outlandish comments of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former President of Iran, that helped propel him to a second tenure as Prime Minister of Israel.  Iran is a convenient foil for their political ambitions.  To remove it would mean they would have to look for a new "bogeyman."

If Bibi's speech was meant to rally a few Democrats in support of the new sanctions, it seems to have failed.  There are plenty of Democrats who don't agree with Obama's diplomatic attempt to bring Iran to the nuclear negotiation table, but they don't like to be bullied into supporting a bill that undercuts his authority in the matter.

After 6 years of playing the Iran card, Bibi's time appears up in Israel.  It will take a mighty heroic effort to salvage a ruling coalition in the Knesset, given that this great existential threat has failed to materialize.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Scott Walker v. the World

"If I can take on 1000 protesters, I can do the same across the world." -- Scott Walker, CPAC 2015




Scott Walker just may end up with one of the shortest presidential campaigns ever.  Mark Salter called Walker "kind of a dumb ass" for equating his anti-union crusade in Wisconsin with his approach to ISIS.  Even Rick Perry thought Walker had crossed the line, noting that the union workers "are Americans."  This was criticism from within his ranks, imagine how well such sentiments will play across the nation.

The governor of Wisconsin was one of many presidential wannabes trying to light a fire at what has become the Republican super event of the season, the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC for short.  It brings out the best and the worst in the Grand Old Party, vying for corporate sponsorship as well as the hearts and minds of the conservative electorate.

Sean Hannity vowed to give every presidential hopeful access to his show, but apparently Chris Christie said no thanks. This befuddled Sean Boy, who went on The Five to tell everyone in the Fox viewing audience what a poor sport Governor Christie is.  It seems everyone wants to be a "king maker" these days, and Sean likes to gloat over how much influence his show has on the conservative electorate.  Even Jeb Bush agreed to sit down with him for a worthless Q&A segment.  Poor Jeb was booed for the most part by the deeply conservative crowd that had no time for immigration reform or the common core curriculum, both of which Jeb stands behind.

Meanwhile, the Republicans were forced to eat crow as their attempt to attach riders to the Homeland Security funding bill failed miserably, with John Boehner looking more ineffectual than ever.  Boehner has a week to gather the remains of his party and join with the Democrats to pass full funding after narrowly avoiding a last minute shutdown of government.

One of the reasons the Republicans get into these messes is because Ted Cruz enjoys nothing more than torpedoing any spending bill with a filibuster.  His attempts to thwart Congress have ended in failure each time, but no matter, the conservative electorate loves him.  He's "a fighter, not a talker."   However, Teddie had to answer some questions about his citizenship, raised by none other than Donald Trump, who wondered out loud how a guy born in Canada to a Cuban father can be a "natural born" American.

This early campaigning might all go for not as Dr. Ben Carson thinks the Obama administration may very well call off the 2016 election.  I found this gem posted by one of my conservative friends on facebook.  Wouldn't that be a hoot.  Four more years of Obama by executive decree!

Yep, when all else fails raise the spectre of an Obama dictatorship.  This will no doubt mobilize the right wing conservative base, who long ago abandoned reason for fear.  This is why Walker brings up ISIS, and tries to equate his anti-union policies with that of fighting radical Islam.  For him, like many conservatives, it has become a matter of us vs. them, and them has become an ever broader group that includes everyone outside their conservative "bubble."

The only problem is that there are a lot more of "them" than there is of "us" in this scenario and this kind of talk only further pushes the GOP to the fringe of the political spectrum.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Long Goodbye



After 16 years of giving us the best faux news in the business, Jon Stewart has decided to sign off.  It seems he has had it with the real news networks, Fox in particular, unleashing a torrent of less than truthful clips after Megyn Kelly questioned his "dishonest editing."  The funny thing is that Fox and other conservative outlets seem to be treating Stewart's imminent departure as a kind of victory, as if he was the only formidable opponent the liberal vanguard had in its assault on the conservative establishment's "fair and balanced" reporting.

Of course, attacking Stewart for his "journalistic integrity" helps take some of the heat off Baba O'Reilly, who has been hit right and left on his reporting claims over the last 3 decades.  I was surprised to learn that Big Bill actually worked at CBS at one time, and reported from Argentina on the Falklands War way back in 1982.   He sure was a handsome devil.   Baba stretched the truth a little bit in his accounts of that time, but apparently is not held to the same scrutiny as Jon Stewart.

This has long been the most amusing part in Fox's love-hate relationship with Jon Stewart.  The Daily Show is a comedy news program,  Yet, Fox pundits spend as much time deriding Jon Stewart as he does them.  Not so long ago, Sean Hannity seemed to have a personal vendetta against Jon, after Sean got "bitch-slapped" by Stewart over his unquestioning support of Cliven Bundy.  Sean devoted several segments in response, further digging a hole for himself.

But, Jon has his friends at Fox, notably Judge Napolitano, who has appeared on The Daily Show numerous times, relishing these experiences.  One of the best pieces was The Weakest Lincoln with Jessica Williams dressed in drag for the occasion.  Napolitano has long been an outspoken Lincoln critic.

It is tough losing Stephen Colbert and now Jon Stewart.  These guys along with their impressive supporting casts have turned the news media on its ear.  I first tuned into Jon in 2004, when he was covering the presidential election that year.  It was the best coverage of a campaign since Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72.   Colbert was Stewart's sideman at the time.

However, the time had to come.  It is amazing these two kept their programs so fresh after so many seasons, but then there seems no shortage of material.  I'm surprised Jon didn't stick around to do one more election year, as this one is shaping up to be a real doozy, judging by what we saw at the Freedom Summit in Iowa.


John Oliver and Larry Wilmore will have to carry the mantle, as there seems no one willing to replace Jon Stewart, although I imagine the Comedy Channel will create some program to fill the slot.  Jessica Williams would be my choice.  She has been wonderful on The Daily Show these past three years.   I don't want to have to wait ten years to see her in the role.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Birdman Triumphs



Between Emma Stone's crotch shot and Sean Penn's green card joke, there was the stuporous event we have come to call the Oscars.  Every year, the Academy deems it necessary to bore everyone with a 3+ hour award ceremony, but everyone who is anyone always shows up for the annual fashion show.  Neil Patrick Harris did his best to keep the show rolling.  He strolled out in his underwear, a la the title character of Birdman, to the amusement of everyone, and made the yearly poke at Oprah.

Lady Gaga paid a tribute to The Sound of Music.  Why not Pink Martini, who teamed up with the Von Trapp family, and did a beautiful tribute album in Dream a Little Dream this year?  Anyway, I heard she put on a good show.

John Legend and Common joined forces for a rousing rendition of Glory, from Selma.  The song won the only Oscar for the movie about Martin Luther King, Jr's key march during the Civil Rights movement.  It had to be the high point of this otherwise banal evening.

There were complaints going into the Oscars that none of the actors from Selma were nominated for awards.  I thought David Oyelowo gave a wonderful performance.  Otherwise, I thought Selma a bit too earnest, presenting a heroic MLK, when Ava DuVernay could have stripped away some of the layers of history and given us a more intimate portrait of the man.  I was pleased to see that the film touched my daughter deeply, who couldn't understand how people could do that to each other.

Ten movies were nominated for Best Picture.  It came down to four however: American Sniper, Birdman, Boyhood and Selma. Each had its vocal supporters.  I was quietly rooting for Grand Hotel Budapest but was happy to see Birdman come away with the top prize.  It may have been an "actors movie" but was so well done that Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu took best director and best original screenplay as well, much to the chagrin of the American Sniper contingent, which made its displeasure known.

I didn't see anything wrong with Sean Penn's green card joke, but in 2005 he got teed off at Chris Rock's jab at Jude Law and felt the need to defend his buddy.  I guess he too has to be more careful what he says in public, although Inarritu was not offended, having directed Penn in 21 Grams.

I was glad to see Inarritu take a lighter approach in Birdman.  His movies have been so deathly serious that it was great to see his comic side, albeit dark comic side.  I thought the acting was superb and was hoping Emma Stone would win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, but alas she got beat out by Patricia Arquette in Boyhood.   She's my least favorite of the Arquette siblings.


Julianne Moore finally got her Oscar.  I guess you have to play someone with a disability to have any shot at the award these days.  Meryl Streep literally jumped out of her seat when Moore was announced.  I did too as Julianne was long, long overdue.

This year's Oscars may not have had the diversity some persons were looking for, but for the most part the best talents won.  If Inarritu doesn't have a green card, he should get one now, as I imagine he will be in very hot demand in Hollywood.




Monday, February 23, 2015

The Shame Game

Or much ado about nothing


OK, Lindsey, these are our talking points

John McCain expressed his "shame" in the way Obama is leading the country, part of what appears to be the renewed Republican gambit that the President has failed America.  Lindsey Graham wouldn't go as far as Mackie and Rudy, but he too expressed his dismay with Obama's policies.  Mackie, being a tireless Cold Warrior, is mostly upset with the way things are playing out in Europe in the battle over Ukraine.  Lindsey is upset that not enough is being done to stem the great "Islamic" threat.

Yep, it seems if you aren't leading this country into war with full battle armor then you are not a leader.  Mackie would have us do battle with Putin, or at least supply Ukraine with much needed military ordnance.  He condemns France and Germany for appeasing Russia, and Obama for sitting idly by while this is taking place.  However, it wasn't that long ago that we advocated carving up a country, the former Yugoslavia, and have been facing the recriminations from it ever since.

Meanwhile, Lindsey seems mostly upset that Obama won't call IS for what it is, the Islamic State, believing that this rebellious movement is intent in establishing a "worldwide caliphate" determined "to convert or kill every Christian and Jew and vegetarian in their way."  I didn't know the would-be "caliphate" is against vegetarianism.  It doesn't seem to matter that virtually the entire Muslim world condemns the actions of IS, Lindsey sees the rebels as part and parcel of the same religion.  He wants a perpetual war against this "extremism" much like we fought against the Soviet Union and the spread of communism during the Cold War.

The shame of it is these two used to represent voices of moderation in the Republican party and showed a willingness to work across the aisle on compromise bills.  Today they offer the same bellicose responses as anyone in the Tea-Party-infused GOP, unable to distinguish from hyperbole and reality.  If they did, they would be responding to Obama's policies, which have been very harsh toward Russia, and recognize IS as a clear and present danger.  The President currently has a war powers resolution sitting before Congress that would allow him to use force against IS, and the administration is now considering arming Ukraine, given the continued encroachment of Russian-backed rebels in the Eastern half of the state.  As it is, the US and NATO have mobilized forces into the region.

Rather than express all this shame and dismay, maybe the Republicans should try working with the President these next two years.  It has grown very tiresome seeing the GOP continually negating his policies, which more often than not are in line with their stated positions.  Unfortunately, they prefer to play to a conservative base informed almost entirely by rabid right-wing talk radio and television.