Thursday, March 16, 2006

Irony and Inevitability

As the clock makes its push to midnight and to the arrival of another St. Patrick's Day and another birthday, I'm back here, sporting an Old Navy St. Patrick's Day 2003 t-shirt, a slight chill in the apartment and the sounds of Donald Fagen's newest solo album, "Morph The Cat."

These facts, as I've laid them out, are indisputable, but their relation to one another is, clearly, open to interpretation.

As my 36th birthday is mere minutes away, however, it struck me as oddly poetic that I got this album, this new set of cryptic puzzles and mysteries to unlock, set to icy-cool jazz-rock beats. It's highly recommended, by the way; it's not representative of the singular genius that made Steely Dan one of my favorite musical acts, but it's got that elusive feel that sort of captures the gritty-uberkewl that is New York, sort of like one huge blue neon light, replete with the occasional flicker and a lot of ancillary buzz.

Meanwhile, another aspect of the solo, pre-birthday listening party that hit me is the whole notion of how Mr. Fagen, now approaching 60, wrestled with quite a few varied themes on this latest release. Most notably, there's the track "Brite Nitegown," which is a euphemism for the Grim Reaper. In the lyrics, it's clear -- as much as can be said of any Fagen lyrics -- that he's facing his own mortality. Granted, turning 36 isn't quite 60, but it's definitely a time to mark and acknowledge the passage of time within my own life.

The last few years have moved at once excruciatingly slowly and with incredible speed. It's almost as if I've watched the periods of my life, at least since 2004, move from one crisis to another. And yet, here I sit, amazed and extremely grateful how things are and have turned out. With all that we've faced as a family, and all that I've accomplished with Kaia, I, sadly, cannot hope or regret things didn't occur differently. I think, at some point, I realized that life is a journey which is interwoven into your being in pieces. Some you wish you didn't accrue, but all are part of the overall fabric of who you are and what you are -- and as we get older, I think we learn to appreciate the good with the bad. And, again, I am happy to say that I've been fortunate -- believe it or not -- to know enough to appreciate all of it, and especially the good.

The only aspect of my incoming birthday that doesn't jazz me is Kaia being in Cali. Since we've both been inundated with work, we agreed she'd postpone her trip to NYC until next week. She sent me a big care package to go with a bunch of cards and e-mails I've got waiting for me tomorrow morning, but I think the only thing I really want -- and that which I won't get for another week -- is her here with me. Still, I'm counting the days like a giddy student awaiting summer vacation, and even if our visits are reality-based -- hours and days between work schedules, projects and external committments -- I continue to be amazed at how she manages to keep a smile on my face, no matter what emergency is upcoming or what whirlwind we've just endured. So this semi-subdued celebration -- which will include hanging with friends and my family over the weekend -- will not quite be complete until she and I are together. So as much as I am quietly and tiredly anticipating my birthday, I'm holding out for her and what I really want this year, and from now on.


The first day of the rest of my life...or something like that :)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Religious Fanaticism: A Follow-Up

In response to my post last week entitled "Religious Fanaticism: Where To Begin," I got an e-mail advising me that the Patriot Guard Riders have created their own website, I've linked them at left as well but wanted to make sure people know they now have their own site, and since I respect and admire this group for their dedication and their honor-based mission, I hope they get lots of visits from here. Again, the link is

Set It And Fuggedabout It

In an effort to jump-start the next couple of days prior to my deadline, my brain decided to keep me awake as much as possible, so I managed a few hours' sleep last night, then another few hours this morning, until finally, I just gave up and opted for a shower. However, in between, I managed a few nascent nuggets of nocturnal nuance: I finally realized why Ron Popeil is The Devil, and why he should be offed.

Now before anyone goes apeshit and either calls Big Vinnie and Guido for a Colombian Necktie special, have no fear -- I don't actually want The Ron dead. However, I wonder how many people who have purchased his products are FDAU (Face Down, Ass Up) and hoping for that very fate for Mr. Popeil.

It started when the introduction to his latest infomercial appeared. In a teary tribute, the announcer -- a pudgy man who appeared to have the mental capacity of a manager of a Blockbuster Video store -- detailed all of Ron's recent accomplishments. And one by one, they ran down the list -- the head-spray, the "pocket" fisherman (every time I see that one I wonder if it's for guys that play pocket pool), the 432-piece cutlery collection, the pasta maker, and the Showtime Rotisserie BBQ.

The first item on that list -- the "head spray" -- is a spray that lets balding guys (ie guys with a bald spot) cover it up by spraying some colored material onto their head. If you've never seen nor heard about this phenomenon, I shit you not -- it's a spray that lets one make their bald spot disappear. I've never seen this in action -- it's sort of like walking into a friend's house and finding a lot of empty bottles of Viagra or Rogaine -- but I had some questions about this head spray. What happens if you are caught in the rain? Does colored dye conspicuously leak from your head? And does the dye flake out of your coiff should you fall asleep before showering it out? Is it for guys who want to go to a singles' bar and get lucky, or is it merely for self-conscious aging post-baby boomers who are too cheap to staple a rug onto their noggins? Basically, if you're looking for my opinion on this particular invention, I say it's got disaster written all over it -- anything that has the potential to be a topic centerpiece on a Seinfeld episode -- even as a mistake or a goof or a "Not Quite Good Enough to Be A Topic On Seinfeld" -- is something which you'd best avoid. Think about it: "Kramer uses Ron Popeil Head-Spray and leaks all over J. Peterman's Antique Louis VVI Chair during an Interview." You know it could happen, I know it could happen -- so don't let the Vette-drivin', chest-toupee-wearing, Mr. T jewelry-sporting friend in your life let it happen.

There's not much I can say about The Pocket Fisherman. As indicated above, each time I hear the ad on my television, I imagine some guy masturbating through his pockets. And no, that's not a very good association -- this is one of those times when negative PR is definitely not preferable.

Either way, this device looks sort of like a small iron -- you know, the things your mother used to fill up with water and then de-wrinkle your shirts before the Koreans invaded and made self-shirt-dewrinkling obsolete. It's got a little handle, and apparently, a plastic doo-hickey, and apparently there's a place that releases fishing line.

The pocket part, presumably, indicates that it's small and portable, and can be taken anywhere with little or no fuss. And god knows, I've been in loads of places where I've thought to myself, "Shit, if only I'd brought my fishing pole, my lines, a tackle box, my galoshes and a six-pack of Milwaukee's Best." Weddings, bar-mitzvahs, Scott Baio appearances at malls in the midwest and even antique car auto shows can be preludes to sudden fishing excursions with The Pocket Fisherman. What a pain in the ass that you actually need a body of water to go fishing.

Back to reality: I enjoy fishing, but if I'm going to actually make my way to a body of water with the requisite tools to actually engage in the practice of fishing, having something that reminds one of a self-pleasurer is not the solution. Feh.

The Popeil cutlery ad is like everything else awful -- it pulls you in and hyonotizes you with its awfulness. Before long you care about his tomato-slicing Uncle Morty and don't even question as to why he's filleting a canteloupe or cutting a block of frozen spinach in two or why any normal human being would need 632 crappy knives that were made by some sweatshop in Mai Ling. By my last count, the knife set featured 632 pieces of "cutlery" and costs $7.95. That means it approximately costs about $0.79 a piece. Except of course, there's that $64 dollars in shipping and handling that you'll need to contend with. I love how a "free" or cheap item on TV ends up costing more in "shipping and handling" than a typical postal employee earns in a week.

Can anything suck more than the Popeil Pasta Maker? Let's put it this way -- if I made my way into a friend's home, it'd be just as awkward seeing the Popeil Pasta Maker on the kitchen counter as the Popeil Head Spray in his bafroom. And I can affirm that, after watching this appliance in action -- and seeing thick bands of chocolate ooze extrude from the machine (chocolate pasta my ass), I think I'd rather eat the Head Spray. By the way, for anyone who's actually seen this product on infomercial, is it me or is it odd that a $150 machine that's supposed to be so well-made has a little plastic doo-hickey that winds down to cut the bands of pasta oozing from the machine? And have you noticed that Mr. Popeil's stuff has a lot of doo-hickeys, thing-a-mah-jigs and useless, unexplained knobs and levers that don't seem to do anything? Personally, I think it's the devil's work.

Finally we reach the pinnacle of the Popeil Product Portfolio: the Showtime Rotisserie Barbecue. This is the "Set It And Forget It" device that is "as wide as a toaster oven." I'll be brief -- anything that weird-looking is not something you want to invite into your home. Soon your husband will be levitating, your children will be wearing all black and practicing witchcraft, and the refrigerator will begin to bleed. The toilet will explode, the walls will moan and the roof will fly off into space during a dry lightening storm.

Okay, maybe it's not THAT bad, but some things that I have noticed about it are pretty obvious. Every time Mr. Popeil suggests that this monstrosity is the width of a toaster oven, he doesn't mention that it's three times the height of a toaster oven and will barely fit under most kitchen cabinets. When he mentions it uses less electricity than a hair dryer, he doesn't mention that most people use a hairdryer for about ten minutes a day, whereas this thing takes like thirty hours to cook a turkey. And the plastic trays that top this gargantuan Yugo Of The Kitchen are supposed to be filled with items like rice, vegetables, mashed potatoes or gravy. Except since there's so much heat coming out of the top of this thing, the plastic trays either get completely water-logged (due to steam) or they're just gonna melt all over the place, sending your brussel sprouts into the vents of this beast.

And what really, really, REALLY frightens me is that "Flavor Injector" thing that lets you inject solid flavors -- like garlic cloves, etc. -- into the heart of a side of beef, a hunk of lamb, or some other type of meat. $50 says that within a few years, the Popeil Flavor Injector winds up being part of a bad guy's arsenal in some heroin-fueled Tarantino movie. I'll let your imagination guide you, but keep in mind that I've already thought this through and I cringe each time I see it on TV.

In essence, I'm not anti-Ron Popeil; he's not a bad guy, I am sure, and I'm sure he isn't an arrogant, self-centered prick who drives his Porsche convertible and thinks he's still The Man. However, for anyone considering any of these useful inventions, just remember that "As Seen On TV" is a warning, not a plus. And if and when the shipping and handling -- aka "S&H" -- costs more than the actual device, think it through. Next thing we know we'll be seeing Jerry Springer selling law degrees.

After head spray and the pocket fisherman, can we be that far behind?

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

A lot’s been happening in my world, and as much as I wish I had been more diligent about reporting it as it was happening, sometimes it just doesn’t happen that way.

In a nutshell, the goodies are and have been the premiere last night of The Sopranos’ sixth – and what is rumored to be final – season, the last week or two of the NFL’s conflict over their Collective Bargaining Agreement and the death of Maureen Stapleton (aka “Ma” from “Johnny Dangerously”). Except since I had one deadline (March 1) fold right into another (March 15), my head is nowhere to be found.

The Sopranos premiere, for my money, was among the best hours of television I’ve seen in awhile. Kaia and I started pairing up TV-wise, meaning that she and I have been following the same shows, albeit in three-hour differentials. We’ve been watching “Most Haunted” on the Travel Channel and “Project Runway” on Bravo, so I am assuming “The Sopranos” will make it to our mutual list. I wish she was on the couch next to me when “the Florida guy” hung himself; I predicted he’d come to a quick end after Silvio, aka Little Steven, told him Florida was a no-go, but I thought he’d at least last another episode. On top of that, I like the triangulation between Phil (Frank Vincent, aka “Billy Batts” from “Goodfellas”), Tony and Christopher. $50 says Phil doesn’t last the season – whether or not it’s his eyebrows that ultimately dooms him, he’s going back in a hole.*

The last ten or so days has seen the NFL consider life without a salary cap; for those of you who just groaned something akin to “Aw shit, now he’s going into sports” – this has little, if anything, to do with sports. The “salary cap” – free agency, revenue sharing, Plan B, etc. – are a factor in modern sports but have nothing to do with the actual sport. Since I understand little, if any, of it, I can basically break it down thusly: in an effort to even things out (so shitty teams can compete – sort of – with good ones) the NFL devised a way for the ‘rich’ – financially and personnel-wise – to help the lesser teams and share the wealth – and the players. The problem is, you need an abacus, a roomful of calculators, pocket protectors, a protractor and an engineering degree to actually understand all the ins and outs that preclude or invite NFL Free Agent Signings. There’s Plan B, there’s the Franchise Player, there’s the roster exception, there’s the conditional pick – give me a fucking break. The game of football is complicated; the business, however, is exponentially moreso. There are 22 men playing the game on the field at any given time, and a bunch of umpires (line judges, referees, etc.). But it seems that, between agents, coaches, doctors, guys holding down signs, guys standing around on the sidelines, cheerleaders, cup-holders (guys walking around holding filled cups of Gatorade), journalists, VIP’s and the ball-holders (guys whose sole job is to provide the umpires with footballs), there are more people off the field than on. That doesn’t even take into account the other guys upstairs – more coaches, the owner and his family (don’t forget the owner’s nephew picking his nose on camera), the agents, the non-football athletes and celebrities – it’s getting out of hand. It’s been complicated for awhile, and there are no modern athletes in today’s NFL that likely understand the newly-formulated Collective Bargaining Agreement. But when you need a team of mathematicians to figure out who is on whose team, that just reeks of something being out of sorts.

I understand the NFL wants to keep all teams on a somewhat even playing field. I understand the logic behind that – and I also understand that by doing so, the NFL has made it so each player is more associated with a position than a team. When I think of Roger Staubach or Tony Dorsett, I think the Dallas Cowboys; similarly, I think of the Steelers when the names Jack Lambert and Franco Harris hit the grey matter. Jack Tatum, aka “The Assassin,” is more known for being a member of the silver and black than he was a cornerback – or was he a safety – or was he a defensive back?

The point is, parity is nice for leagues whose membership has inflated to a bloated, heaving mess. With “parity,” dynasties like the Edmonton Oilers (Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Paul Koffey, Grant Fuhr) would have been dissolved. The New York Giants would have waved (and waived) goodbye to Lawrence Taylor, who might have wound up on the Oilers. The aforementioned Jack Lambert, who comprised a large chunk of the infamous Steel Curtain defense, would have ended up in Miami. And we’d all remember Larry Csonka as a card-carrying member of the San Francisco 49’ers.

Enough with the free agent bullshit – as much as I want the games to be fair whose outcome is always in question, I like knowing the names of the players on my team. I like knowing the Yankees have #2 at shortstop, I am happy knowing Mike Richter’s #31 was the last line of defense for the Rangers, and I am glad Lawrence Taylor’s #56 was only worn on a Giants uniform. I wonder how much interest I would have in my team if Lynn Swann had been a member of the Giants, replacing Ed McKonkey, or if Dwight Evans was a Giant instead of #89, Mark Bavaro. This isn’t a diatribe against player movement, it’s simply a suggestion that the League stop encouraging it. There’s nothing wrong with keeping a bunch of guys together for a year or two and seeing how much they can accomplish; the last time a core of players stayed together was in 1996 to 2000, when the Yankees won a few World Series. Sure, one team’s dominance – even if it’s the team closest to my heart – isn’t ideal. But it sure beats the hell out of going to a baseball game to see Derek Jeter play – for the Devil Rays when they’re 17 1/2 games out of first, and he’s the only one on the team hitting over .200. I understand there is/are extremes; I’d just hope we move toward the center, to achieve some balance – some parity, if you will – rather than watch teams whose headquarters are conspicuously adorned with revolving doors as entrances and exits.

But I digress.

Maureen Stapleton, the 80-year-old actress whose career spanned six decades, died today in Lenox, Massachusetts. Stapleton had an illustrious career and portrayed all kinds of characters in all manner of films, stage shows and television programs from the time she was 24. She was a good person and I am sad that she died, even though she had a full life and accomplished a lot. In tribute, I hereby recall that fateful line, in which she advises her newly-married daughter-in-law, “Now that we’re family, I have a confession: I go both ways.”

RIP, Ms. Stapleton.

March 15th. Tick tick tick...

* David Chase, the creater/head writer for The Sopranos, is a rabid Goodfellas fan, and so anytime an actor from the show appears on The Sopranos, it’s a good bet that he’ll have a high-profile role but burn out quickly. The exception is Michael Imperiole, aka Christopher – he played “Spider” in Goodfellas (and was dispatched by Joe Pesci), but has – thus far – managed to achieve that same fate in The Sopranos.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Religious Fanaticism: Where To Begin

There have been two very odd developments I've been reviewing and researching for inclusion here, and neither, unfortunately, make any more sense to me now that I've reached the point of addressing them in these pages. Maybe, perhaps, you, the reader, will have a somewhat different reaction to each or both of them than I did.

The first of these two topics is the recent phenomenon of the Phelps family. Led by Fred Phelps, the pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, this group comprises approximately 13 of Mr. Phelps' children, 54 grandchildren and 7 great-grandchildren. Their unique hobby: going around to the funerals of soldiers who have been killed in action in Iraq and disrupting, heckling and otherwise making a mockery of the funerals. Their goal: to spread the word about how these soldiers are fighting an unjust war because they believe homosexuals have caused the destruction of America and, therefore, any soldier fighting for the US Army is contributing, apparently, to that destruction.

A pair of signs that Phelps and his family frequently break out at these protests are "God Loves Dead Soldiers" and "Thank God for IED's."

Not to be outdone, a group of men hearing about these frequent funeral protests opted to take matters into their own hands. Since there were no state or federal laws prohibiting people from making political statements at funerals, this other group assembled itself and became known as the "Patriot Guard Riders." They're a bunch of guys on motorcycles whose sole purpose was to buffer the protesters and the funeral(s).

What kind of pastor -- a man who professes to preach the word of God -- would even consider mocking the funeral of a man who was killed for his country? What disturbs me is that Mr. Phelps and his family deem this as a righteous, proper way to share their political and/or religious beliefs. As Mr. Phelps himself was quoted in an article at, "You can't preach the Bible without preaching the hatred of God." Somehow, I don't think he's aware that his actions are more hateful, repulsive and disgusting than anything and anyone against which or whom he's protesting.

The other, equally disturbing piece of news comes courtesy of of the UNC campus at Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where a 22-year-old Iranian graduate student named Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar decided to demonstrate the will of Allah by driving an SUV into a crowded pedestrian area and through a crowded campus meeting spot, sending nine students to the hospital and himself to prison. Taheri-azar, who authorities suspect has lived in the US for most of his life, graduated from UNC in December. When asked why he did it afterwards, he said his goal was to "avenge the deaths of Muslims around the world." I'm not sure where Mr. Taheri-azar's family is from, I don't know where they're living, and I don't know if they supported his actions. However, my response to this incident is to deport his entire family and lock him up for 18 years in a North Carolina prison and then deport him to wherever and whatever place will have him.

Later, Taheri-azar said he was "thankful for the opportunity to spread the will of Allah." Perhaps it's just me, but it seems to me that either modern Muslims are, for the most part, really angry, unhappy, disgusting human beings, or they are correctly interpreting the teachings of Allah and are simply carrying out the suicidal, violent desires of an angry, repulsive entity. My guess, based on what I've read and what I see, is that the former is true. The Muslim community -- including teachers, scholars and spiritual leaders -- have taken a generation or two of impressionable, angry young Muslim men and formed them into weapons. A young man of 22 who will spend at least the next 15-20 years in prison -- if he lives that long -- is what they have created. I'm not sure whether this hate will die out or only intensify, but it seems to me that the short and long of it is that we ought to expect more of the same, whether or not the teaching, the sloganeering, the finger-pointing and the hate continue.


Despite the fact that these two individuals -- Fred Phelps and Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar -- are seemingly as different as two members of the same species can be, it's fairly clear that both represent simple-minded, hate-filled morons. Whether desecrating the funeral services of a fellow American, or simply trying to kill people around him in a blunt, empty gesture of stupidity, it seems to me that both of these men have allowed religion to replace common sense and free thought as their respective guides. I'm not sure what will happen to either of these individuals, but I hope both -- with their selfish, holier-than-thou mentalities and foolish, self-serving beliefs about what God wants or thinks -- demonstrate to others that extremist hate, even in the vapid, empty support of God -- is as bad if not moreso than the causes which they have forsworn themselves against.

Ed. Note: The image problems have been cleared up; all relevant images courtesy Patriot Guard Riders. Sorry for the issue.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Another Golden Night

In almost every annual opportunity, the Oscar telecast serves as a valiant, if somewhat tarnished, reminder as to how we all wish we were and – on some level – what we hope we could be.

Since last night’s 78th annual showing of the Academy Awards, I’ve been mulling some of what transpired and what it might mean. Incidentally, there have been some awful movies that have received recognition, and some people have won Oscars whose victories seem, if not tainted, at least somewhat dubious (Julia Roberts, Marisa Tomei). However, in most cases, the Academy does get it right.

Last night, the first real shock was the 360 Mafia being awarded an Oscar for their song “It’s Hard To Be A Pimp.” I assume I’m in the majority of viewers who laughed along with Jon Stewart as he returned to the podium after the 360 Mafia’s performance. And upon them winning the Oscar, it dawned on me that the performance of each of the nominees for best original song ought to be omitted from next year’s telecast. My reason has very little to do with the 360 Mafia’s performance; it was laughable and completely out of place, as was the song “In Too Deep” from the movie Crash (more on this later). The whole point of most movies is to establish a specific location, whether realistic or completely fantastic, and original songs – more often than not – serve to help establish that particular scene/setting. So removing the song and performing it in front of the Hollywood glitterati in a theater – live – is somewhat of an antithesis of how the song was intended. Two great examples of how music works in film are “God Only Knows” from Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights” and the Godfather theme running through the killing of the heads of the so-called Five Families in The Godfather. When a piece of music – original or otherwise – becomes so indelibly linked to a scene or a character or a movie in general, that’s when it ceases to be just a song and evolves into a part of the film. To wit, I can’t hear “God Only Knows” and not be transported to the scene in Boogie Nights where all the characters are facing some sort of reckoning. And when I hear the seven notes that comprise the beginning of "The Godfather Theme," I think back to Clemenza, Michael, Sonny and The Don without fail.

Incidentally, I watched “Crash” less than 48 hours prior to watching the Oscars, and I was heavily impressed with the performances top to bottom. It reminded me -- heavily -- of Grand Canyon and Magnolia, which, in my opinion, is a high compliment. It wasn't merely that these films are all ensemble pieces. In Crash, each character and each actor’s portrayal thereof was impressive, and the story – while a bit top-heavy on the racism angle – was very believable and an interesting take on race. I expected Paul Haggis to win Best Original Screenplay because not only was his screenplay excellent, but also that he was shut out of last year’s Oscar sweep for “Million Dollar Baby.” But to be honest, I was a bit disappointed that his film portrayed race and racism with such sharp focus but failed on almost all levels to say anything about it or provide some sort of resolution or glimmer of hope. There was one point in the movie – Ryan Phillipe and Terence Howard on a cul-de-sac in some random suburb – that perhaps approaches this notion of resolution. But with so much commentary and so little solution, I was left wanting more. In addition, the fact that a song from Crash – “In Too Deep” – was performed onstage at the Oscars was interesting, because – despite having seen the film less than a day before the Oscars, I didn’t really have any recollection of the song at all.

I didn’t see “Brokeback Mountain” so I can’t say one way or the other that Ang Lee’s film was robbed. But it seems to me that his direction – award-winning and, from what I gather, stellar – was phenomenal but a movie about a gay couple was not sufficient in transforming awkwardness to impression. I’m glad Ang Lee won an Oscar because I’ve been watching his films for years and he’s always – except for The Hulk – impressed me. And I am not shocked that Phillip Seymour Hoffman – an excellent character actor who brings professionalism to a new level in every role he approaches – won for Capote. I am, however, a bit surprised that Hoffman didn’t bother to acknowledge his long-time girlfriend or Truman Capote for giving him such a worthwhile palette on which to portray his craft. Conversely, Reese Witherspoon – who I’ve long associated with “Legally Blonde” and similar fare – graduated last night. Not only was her acceptance speech one of the most gracious and warm speeches I’ve ever heard from a mainstream actor on that stage, it showed that she respected her craft and her colleagues but remembered it was her family that helped her get to that non-podium. And the fact that she had the class to praise her “Walk The Line” co-star, Joaquin Phoenix, as well as June Carter and Johnny Cash, really impressed the hell out of me.

Other than that, I think the night progressed with very little shock value – as per usual. What I also liked was the fact that whoever set last night’s agenda – aside from just handing out Oscar trophies – made sure we knew that George Clooney gets laid – a lot – and there’s nothing wrong with gay and lesbian people and that there’s nothing like seeing a movie on a big, white screen. I understand piracy is an issue, and Hollywood isn’t a way of life, it’s a business – but after awhile I found that the “Save Hollywood” speeches, comments and suggestions were a bit ridiculous, especially when Jon Stewart quipped that “Some of the women are wearing dresses that don’t even cover their breasts.” I understand their concern, but I wonder how differently The Powers That Be would feel about watching movies on large white screens versus little screens – even those found on portable DVD players – if DVD’s weren’t copyable and shareable online. It served to remind us that Hollywood isn’t a fanciful land of make-believe and good wishes and honey and golden blossoms – it’s a dog-eat-dog, cut-throat business where people screw each other over because they can and because it will seemingly make their lives the better for it. It’s hypocrisy, and while it plays well onstage and on the screen, it’s best to watch it from the front without knowing exactly what’s happening in the back.

And if nothing else, now that the telecast and the dispersal of Oscar statuettes is behind us, we won’t have to read another headline proclaiming “A Mountain Fell With A Crash.”

Oops...sorry ;)

Friday, March 03, 2006

Now That Teri Schiavo's Dead, The Chasm Widens

Thirteen months ago -- to the day -- I posted something herein about how the community of Salem, South Dakota, was staging a pretty vigorous (but nonetheless futile) attempt at putting a recently-created topless juice bar there out of business. It seems that those Puritanical freaks from the lesser Dakota cannot keep themselves out of the Constitutional journals: apparently, now they've passed a statewide law banning all sorts of abortions, despite the protection incurred and rendered by Roe v. Wade.

Normally, a newly-passed state law has no real national relevance; granted, if a state -- say, Nevada -- decided to pass a law saying any guy shorter than 5'10 can be castrated publicly and without any real warning or provocation on its streets, I'm guessing that -- until everything got straightened out -- many height-challenged male tourists heading to Vegas might rethink things a bit. But when a state outlaws abortion in virtually all its guises, well, that's something that kinda-sorta should make us all sit up and take notice.

It's no coincidence, of course, that the timing of this law being passed is so close on the heels of the second confirmation for a new Bush-appointed justice to the Supreme Court. Between Roberts and Alito, it's pretty clear the swing vote that was once a given thanks to Sandra Day O'Connor is now completely turned around, and the newly-aimed conservative bent on the Court is now clearly filtering into state legislatures across the red states.

Now before I go any further, I am not "in favor" of abortion; however, I am in favor of not dictating to a woman what she can and cannot do regarding her own biology. I understand the societal need to restrict people's use of drugs and alcohol to maintain public safety; but forcing a woman who conceived a child -- whether by consensual sex, rape, incest or something akin thereto -- to carry that child to term and then give the child up for adoption if she so decides is ridiculous. An abortion, ie a scientific procedure which can safely terminate a woman's pregnancy if for some reason she decides she does not want to carry that child, is a reasonably-priced, safe procedure that should not be deprived of any woman. The rub, of course, is that despite an abortion being of a reasonable cost is all relative. For me, a $200 procedure is not expensive. For someone who makes $31,500 and lives in the middle of Alabama, however, that $200 might mean a lot. Abortion should be available to any woman who wants one; but should it be state-provided or covered by insurance? Nope, and it never will be. I'll deal with the dollars in another post; at this point, the question regarding abortion isn't one of cost but of legality.

Dollars aside, if a state can pass a law criminalizing abortion, that means that -- should the Supreme Court deem that law to be constitutional -- that all other states who are anti-abortion will do the same. That means, in theory, should the Supreme Court review one state law outlawing abortion and deem it to be constitutional, all the dominoes fall and, one by one, each state can -- at will -- deny women a legal abortion. The threat, unfortunately, is real, because there are legions of "pro-life" people who endlessly lobby and target legislators and other politicians. And while it's now only South Dakota, what happens if and/or when a block of southern states criminalize abortion? That means we'll return to the days of when a woman could get an abortion in only large cities like New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston and Washington, DC. That begins to appear more and more like an infringement of freedom. Then again, this might be nothing; but even if this South Dakota law is struck down, which is likely to happen, it's more than likely that another state will take its shot at overturning Roe v. Wade. Considering half this country seems to be motivated in part by the Christian Right, that means the Supreme Court is going to be very busy.

Kaia linked me to an article entitled S. Dakota Slaps Up Its Women by SF Gate columnist Mark Morford in which he addresses the new law. He suggests that it's unlikely but possible that this law will be enough to overturn Roe v. Wade. I disagree; I think it will take another few iterations of a state-level anti-abortion law to be pushed before the Court gives serious consideration to overturning Roe v. Wade. But either way, the concern is palpable -- it doesn't matter if none of these laws overturn Roe v. Wade. What is clearly cause for alarm is that these laws are being passed without referendums and without fanfare; so today, abortion rights are slowly being rescinded. What's next? Privacy? Free speech? Religion?

It seems sort of silly to compare a state like South Dakota passing a law which is sure to be struck down with the erosion of the Bill of Rights, but in a political climate like ours, and with people guided by their religious beliefs rather than respect for the separation of Church and State -- not to mention the Constitution -- any crack in the ice could lead to the whole slabgoing under.

If it's overly melodramatic, I apologize in advance. I'd much rather be dismissed as a kook than be writing an "I Told You So" entry herein.

Incidentally, I never thought I'd see the day when a "Pro-Lifer" found it necessary to kill an abortion doctor save lives, neither.

This is the first shot in what we can expect to be a long, drawn-out war.


Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Fight The Power

Yesterday I was making my way west on 57th Street when I saw a box truck of medium size that had been covered in black aside from a small cartoon fist in white and the words "Moving? So is Howard." The ad copy below touted Howard Stern's move to Sirius Satellite Radio and advertised Moshe's Moving Services.

At the time, I acknowledged that it had been a decade or longer that I'd thought of myself as a Howard Stern listener. When I was in high school, I listened to Howard Stern during my morning commute, but since then, I found I could survive -- and perhaps thrive -- without listening to he and his morning entourage playing Lesbian Dial-A-Date, going off on some troll-esque caller, his bitching and/or ranting, and his generally pedantic, whiny shtick. I bristled a bit when Stern publicized his fight against the FCC and thereafter signed on with Sirius. I can understand his use of the First Amendment to protect speech and opinion; but his interest in interviewing porn stars at 7:30 each weekday morning, to me, ran outside the bounds of good taste and failed my personal test, which is, essentially, would I want my kids listening to him each morning before they reached 13?

This morning, CNN is reporting that Mr. Stern is being sued by CBS for fraud, contending that at some point after he'd signed with Sirius to while he was still on air and employed by Infinity/CBS, (CBS owns Infinity, and Stern left CBS/Infinity at the end of calendar year 2005) he began promoting Sirius. This, CBS contends in their suit, is fraud.

The whole Howard Stern-to-Sirius move did very little to blow my skirt up, so to speak, but this, I assume, will be somewhat interesting. Given Mr. Stern's apparent complete lack of discretion and his prediliction to saying what is on his mind -- even if it doesn't involve T&A or lesbians -- ought to make for some real entertainment. Essentially, he discussed the entire situation in his view with the press, and suggested CBS chief Les Moonves had a personal vendetta against him, as well as an interest in publicly going after Stern in order to deflect attention away from the fact that his successor, former Van Halen front-man David Lee Roth, was tanking in the ratings department (who didn't see that one coming?). To be sure, this suit will be settled out of court, but the one thing I found interesting was that Stern asked the same question I did when CBS contended his on-air behavior in December, 2005, hurt CBS: "If his behavior was so damaging to CBS after he began publicizing his move to Sirius radio, why was he allowed to continue doing so on the air?" According to Stern, "Les said, 'I knew I could sue you later,' Stern said."

The suit seeks $500 million, which, coincidentally, is the amount of the five-year deal Stern signed with Sirius. Again, as I indicated above, I am certain this will get settled -- quietly and out of the spotlight -- but the whole thing reeks of stupidity. The best part of the entire conflict, of course, is that while CBS in theory hopes to recoup monies to which they say they are entitled, their attack on Stern will perpetuate his "Us Against Them" campaign which originated with his massive FCC fines, and which propelled him to satellite radio in the first place. In other words, it's pretty clear that Stern will once again profit from a bunch of stuffed shirts going after him, and while I have no interest in him or his blunt sense of humor, I do -- after learning about this suit -- have a different respect for him, and I genuinely hope that he sticks it to CBS once more before he is finally done with them once and for all. It might not be about free speech, and it might not be about right and wrong; but, as it always seems to be, it appears that it is all about money, and I hope he manages to squash CBS and leave them behind in his wake, as he seems to be poised to do.

So to answer the mobile billboard from yesterday, I'm not moving just yet...but from this day forward, I am in the fight, if only as a spectator.