Saturday, October 13, 2007

Stupid, Full of Shit and Fucking Nuts

There's an old George Carlin routine about realizing, mid-conversation, that you're speaking with some clueless asshole that's not worth your time.

"You'll be talking with someone and suddenly you'll go, 'This fucking stupid!' Other times, they're not stupid. You're thinking, 'Well, he makes some interesting points, perhaps...OH, he's full of shit!' Then, occasionally, you're listening to someone, they're not stupid, they're not full of shit...they're fucking nuts!. Dan Quayle is all three, stupid, full of shit AND fucking nuts."

That's kind of how I feel after watching this Mitt Romney ad. He's been campaigning for a while now, and at first, I was just thinking "this guy is fucking stupid." I think this about pretty much all Republican politicians who aren't blatantly, openly evil - they must simply be stupid.

Then, it became clear Romney was the worst, most flagrant sort of political opportunist, latching himself on to any position based on his current reading of its acceptability, beholden only to polls and financiers. Also, he's quite obviously a liar, and not in the general way of most politicians. All politicians will tell you one thing and then vote another way. That's how the game is played. But Romney buys into all of the leading, most significant lies of our time. The ones about how we need to torture people and suspend habeas corpus and read everyone's e-mail and stare at their naked bodies under x-ray in exchange for the privilege of boarding a domestic flight in order to keep America safe.

Now, he debuts this TV ad, and I'm realizing that he's stupid, he's full of shit and he's fucking nuts.

Scary. This fringe whackjob wants to be president and he's ranting on national television about the impending Caliphate.

Seriously. He's afraid of radical Muslims declaring dominion over the entire world. Did I sleep through some sort of interruption of the space-time continuum? Are we holding this election in the Middle Ages? Because, last I checked, the Moors had left Spain and The Crusades were fodder for Ridley Scott action movies and the Ottoman Empire had collapsed.

I mean, this would be funny if this guy weren't dominating the news by running for the highest office in the land. His stature as a leading candidate, even though he has no chance of winning, allows him to interject these noxious, sub-moronic ideas into the debate. It's just horrifying that anyone might actually take Romney seriously about any of these issues. He's making absolutely no sense in this commercial whatsoever; it's so disconnected from reality, he may as well be discussing a trade dispute between Gondor, Hyrule and Narnia.

Here's how it starts. Mitt ambling towards the camera:

"It's this century's nightmare..."

Snakes on a plane?


For some reason, I picture that word streaking across the screen in a 1980's movie poster, in one of those "bloody" fonts.

"Only Mitt Romney can save you from the spine-tingling terror of 'Jihadism!,' a film so horrifying it gave Dick Cheney a four-hour erection. A nurse and a member of the Heritage Foundation are on-call in the lobby in case anyone can't deal with the surreal, mind-bending horror of 'Jihadism.' Three bearded men, their minds twisted by a delusional and baseless hatred of goodness and decency, concoct a plan so vile, so far beyond the boundaries of civilized society, it could only be called 'Jihadism'! No mercy for the unbelievers. Now playing at the Marina Fourplex."

Back to Romney:

"Violent Radical Islamic Fundamentalism."

Oh, yes, VRIF. Gotcha.

"Their goal is to unite the world under a single jihadist caliphate. To do that, they must collapse freedom-loving nations. Like us."

Hang on...hang on...hang on...Who is "they"? All citizens of the Middle East? Arabs around the world? Al Qaeda? The Iraqi al Qaeda that has nothing to do with the Osama bin Laden group? Iran?

Cause, I mean, maybe that's al Qaeda's goal (a big maybe...), but if so, it's not gonna happen any time soon. This seems to be a major stumbling block for the Republican Party. You don't fight your enemy based on what he or she wants to do. You determine what they can do and then base your strategy on that.

When we fought WWII, we didn't start planning for an assault by flying atomic robot Nazi supermen. We figured out the Axis' strengths and weaknesses and then tried to exploit that information. Romney seems to suggest here that we begin with determining the group's highest, loftiest, most distant ambitions and then begin fighting those, ignoring what's actually happening now, at this moment. It's...insane.

And don't ever refer to me as "us," Mitt Romney. I don't want to be in any group that includes you.

Then he says he's going to increase our military by 100,000 without explaining how he's going to do this. America is not a game of "Civilization," motherfucker. You don't push a button and auto-conscript 100,000 citizens. Are we talking a draft here? Taxes to pay for more soldiers? I mean, shouldn't he have to give us something?

"...and monitor the calls al Qaeda makes into America."

Just...that the Republicans have made spying on Americans a central part of their platform...that makes me really depressed. It means their market research indicates a lot of Americans not only don't have a problem with the government tapping their phones. They think it's a good idea. They're that afraid of brown people. That just sucks.

Then, again, he says that we will stop Iran from getting nukes. Again, he doesn't say how we will do this. But we will. Trust me. Dude...seriously...we will. Even if we have to quadruple Guantanamo.

Friday, October 12, 2007


For whatever reason, I've never been all that into Kings of Leon. They're okay. I don't dislike the band. But I'd only heard a few songs, and they never made any sort of lasting impression. So I'd just never bothered to really give them a decent.

But this song, "Fans," from their latest, "Because of the Times," totally floored me today.


So, two questions from anyone reading who's in the know...Have Kings of Leon always been this good? And if so, what album should I check out?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Widow City

Two days, two ridiculously great new CD's. 2007 has already been a terrific year for new music - Panda Bear, Bat for Lashes, Patrick Wolf, White Rabbits, and even a few bands that aren't named for animals.

Yesterday, I raved about the new Radiohead (despite the complaints of high-strung audiophiles everywhere). Today, I'm on the new Fiery Furnaces, Widow City. It rules. I'm a huge fan of this band - who put on one of the best live shows I've seen, maybe ever, a few years ago at the Echo - but their last two albums have been really frustrating.

2005's Rehearsing My Choir could have been great, but the frankly bizarre idea of having the brother-and-sister duo's grandmother speak-sing over all of the songs just ruined the experience. Honestly, this was kind of interesting the first time I listened to it, but the thing has absolutely zero re-listen value. I'm rarely in the kind of mood where I feel like listening to someone's grandmother blather over a 70 minute rock album. Listen for yourself:


I'm all for experimentation, but come on...that's just not going to work for the entire length of a CD. It's certainly not very musical...

2006's Bitter Tea was somewhat improved, but again, a single wacky decision prevented me from ever wanting to actually listen to the thing. Eleanor and Matt decided to loop much of the music and vocals backwards, and to fill up every spare inch of space in each of the songs with loud, overwhelming synths. It's just way way way too much, and only a few songs (like "Police Sweater Blood Vow" and "Benton Harbor Blues") come out unscathed.

Widow City sounds like a total return to form, like a slightly more reigned-in Blueberry Boat. It's the Furnaces' least cutesy CD to date, I think, ditching a lot of the playful ditties for more grungy, robust guitar rock. It still sounds definitely like the Fiery Furnaces, and is thus extremely weird, but more approachable and immediate than anything they've done since their debut, Gallowbird's Bark.

Here's a sample...


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

In Rainbows

I'm loving this new Radiohead album. The music's great, of course. That's pretty much a given. Pablo Honey aside (hey, it was their debut!), every Radiohead album's been stellar (though I'm still don't feel enamored of Hail to the Thief the way I should).

But I just admire the band setting this kind of an example for their industry. Thom Yorke & Co. have mouthed off for years about the evils of massive international media conglomerates. (I have a bootleg concert in which each song is snidely introduced by Thom with corporate sponsorships. "This next song is brought to you by the good people of AT&T and the Walt Disney Corporation...")

But being such an epically-huge, massively popular band (Kid A debuted at #1 in the US! Think about that! Kid fucking A. Is that the strangest record to debut at #1 in America in my lifetime?), Radiohead's had no choice but to work in tandem with some of these very corporations they've spent years fearing and despising via rock music. Now, finally, technology has allowed them to side-step the entire system and bring the songs to the fans with maximum ease and convenience.

I have no idea if this project will work. After all, it's theoretically possible to pay about $1 in transaction fees (.45 pounds, to be exact) and download the album. I'm sure many, many individuals would make that choice. I paid 4 pounds, and happily, because I want to see Radiohead succeed and inspire more bands to release albums this way. (Nine Inch Nails and Madonna, of course, will both attempt similar feats for their next album.)

Also, I just really appreciate the level of respect for their audience this move demonstrates. Not only trusting people to pay them for their work when it could be obtained, legally, for free, but actually delivering a complete, kickass album. I can see other bands, even major labels, pulling this kind of stunt for an EP or a live album or some kind of B-side/oddities collection...but 10 songs of this caliber?

These are great songs. Every Radiohead album has that one brooding, mellow, creepy, near-perfect song that gets in my head and never leaves. The Bends: "Street Spirit (Fade Out)." On OK, it was "Exit Music (for a Film)." On Kid A, "How to Disappear Completely." On Amnesiac, "Like Spinning Plates." Hail to the Thief doesn't really have a song that fits ideally in this category ("I Will" is close, but I don't like it as much as those other ones.) In Rainbows' "Nude" alone, a variation on live Radiohead staple "Big Ideas (Don't Get Any)," is worth way more than 4 pounds (which hopefully comes to about $8.50, unless I got my conversion rates screwed up...)

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Michael Clayton

Everything about Michael Clayton is as boring as that title. I guess all the really good, generic legal thriller names - Witness for the Prosecution, Class Action, The Firm, Wetness for the Prosecution - were already taken. (As was Good Time Slim, Uncle Doobie and the Great San Francisco Freakout.)

Jason Bourne Trilogy screenwriter Tony Gilroy's directorial debut would have to do a trailer full of meth just to be considered somnambulant - it's dirge-like from the first moment to the last. This is a standard-issue, by-the-numbers bit of Hollywood lawyerism masquerading as a radical Statement of Principles, like an early version of the Port Huron Statement drafted by John Grisham. It's just...odd. And did I mention, boring?

I'm reminded in many ways of Fernando Meirelles' overblown spy vehicle The Constant Gardener, though at least that film had a pulse. Obvious observations ("Corporations are greedy!") pass for probing insight, trite cliches pass by unquestioned, and even the basics of the narrative are eventually discarded in favor of overwrought platitudes. I mean, seriously, I know the film wants to make some kind of an actual, relevant point, but does this necessarily mean that the plotting must be so half-assed and haphazard? Some of the events in the final third of Michael Clayton just make no sense, which would hurt the film even if it actually had something to say.

The titular Clayton, played by George Clooney at his square-jawed blankest, is a "fixer" for a large, respected Manhattan law firm. The details are not spelled out, but he seems to largely deal in problems clients would prefer to keep entirely outside of the legal system - hit and run accidents, mistress troubles, that sort of thing.

One of Clayton's close friends, actual lawyer Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), suffers what looks like some kind of mental break in the midst of a deposition. While defending Agro-conglomerate U/North against an ongoing $3 billion class action suit, he interrupts sworn testimony, undresses and professes his undying devotion to the plaintiff, a young farm girl.

In the course of "cleaning up" Edens' collapse, by special request of partner Marty Bach (Sydney Pollack, reprising his charming Society sleazeball character from Eyes Wide Shut), Michael ends up with some information that could bring down a whole lot of trouble on U/North. So the company's head legal counsel, Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton), sends a couple of goons to keep and eye on him.

If Clayton were a brash Southern attorney rather than a Yankee legal burnout, Grisham could sue Gilroy and win. The film doesn't just echo, occasionally, J.G.'s trademark style, it seems to intentionally ape his sensibilities at every single goddamn turn. The very basics of the plot itself - the put-upon farm family suffering the consequences of corporate greed, the blasé seen-it-all corporate cog suddenly growing a conscience, the shrill harpy female executive with bigger balls than all the guys in the room...there's nothing new to see here, folks.

What's surprising is the ego on display, the sense that this movie is groundbreaking, goddammit, even if it's working directly out of Joel Schumacher's mid-'90s playbook. There's minimal-to-no flourish, even though it's theoretically a thriller about a lawyer on the run from all manner of suspicious, lethal characters. Gilroy's direction is stately throughout. Colors are washed out and cold. It's like he wants us to be bored, like he's testing our resolve. There's something deeply wrong, almost comically incorrect, about a movie this familiar with such a pretentious tone.

The film opens with its best-written scene - Wilkinson' s Arthur reciting a monologue in voice-over. He's leaving a message on Michael's answering machine. At first, it sounds like some kind of an insane rant punctuated by overly-obvious, somewhat theatrical symbolism - an anecdote in which he's crossing the street and is suddenly overcome with the feeling of being coated in amniotic fluid, then feces. As the story progresses, a theme emerges from the yammerings - Arthur feels as if he has wasted his life, selling his time to corporate villains, and now the stench of their misdeeds has tainted him forever.

Gilroy's film seems to sympathize with these sentiments (who wouldn't?) and, in many ways, Michael's journey throughout the rest of the film mirrors Arthur's in these opening moments. And yet, the portrayal of Arthur as either a man-child or a delusional crazy person, depending on the scene, makes it impossible to relate to the character on an intellectual level. (We're repeatedly told throughout the film that Arthur Edens is a brilliant man - a genius - and yet, every time he's on screen, he's babbling incoherently or grinning like an idiot.

Wilkinson seems to be drawing inspiration from Peter Finch's classic performance from Network as the lunatic newsman Howard Beale, but Beale was really a mad prophet who blurted out harsh truths. Edens is just a simpleton, enthralled by young adult fantasy novels, prone to gabbing on the phone while lying in the fetal position and passionately in love with a Midwestern adolescent whom he hardly knows. Gilroy thus robs this early, fevered monologue - as I said, the best part of the whole film - of any sort of genuine impact. These words become merely the rantings of a deranged mind.

It's a stumble, one of many. (An elongated and utterly pointless subplot about Michael's strained relationship with his alcoholic brother was another). I know it's Gilroy's first movie as a director, so perhaps I should cut him some slack, but honestly, the posturing of this movie really got on my nerves. There's nothing wrong with making a bold, strident first movie, of announcing one's arrival as a major filmmaker. But doing so when working with such warmed-over, drab and uninteresting material, giving a genre exercise such a drab and lifeless demeanor, isn't doing your audience or your reputation any favors.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Enough Already...

I'll vote for him in November if that's what it comes down to, but I've got to tell you...I'm really getting annoyed with Barack Obama. At this point, I may dislike him more than I dislike Hillary.

White House hopeful Barack Obama stood in front of a pulpit Sunday and told worshippers that his faith "plays every role" in his life.

"It's what keeps me grounded. It's what keeps my eyes set on the greatest of heights," Obama told members of the Redemption World Outreach Center, whose 4,200-seat sanctuary was mostly full.

Oh, cut me a break. Even though I'm aware that this sort of thing is just phony pandering and Obama clearly feels like he must express these kinds of mock-pious homilies when visiting churches, it still gets on my nerves.

As a sentiment, it just doesn't make sense. Faith plays every role in his life? Every single one? Faith is his bathroom attendant? Faith provides him with the occasional orgasm? Faith bakes his morning bran muffins?

I mean, it isn't sufficiently sanctimonious to just say that faith plays a role in your life? You now have to claim that it dominates your every thought and action, that your single-minded obsession with all things godly rivals Ahab's devotion to catching the White Whale and far outdistances Jim Carrey's fixation on the number 23? Really?

Will they just keep one-upping one another in ecstatic religious fervor forever, beyond even this point of absurdity? Candidates self-flagellating on the pulpit? Holding political rallies wherever the Virgin Mary has most recently been sighted in a tortilla? Urgently phoning WaPo scribes at 2 a.m. reporting strange, otherworldly visions in which unicorn-riding seraphim proclaim the divinely-inspired correctness of the flat tax?

Faith, he said, is "what propels me to do what I do and when I am down it's what lifts me up."

This just strikes me as fundamentally incorrect, a blatant misstatement about the American political system. A president should absolutely not be moved into action by his religion. That's what priests and pastors do. If you're a rabbi or a minister, yes, you should be motivated by your faith. Presidents need to act based on the best interests of the nation, the faithful and heathen parts alike.

I honestly don't know why this is so difficult to understand. It doesn't threaten religion at all. Why does the guy in charge of taxes, starting wars, treaties and solving large-scale problems have to believe in the same origin story as you? We don't expect the President to have the same opinions about the big summer movies (though I'm sure Bush was all about Transformers) or the best place for sushi in Kennebunkport.

The Democratic presidential candidate said God "is with us and he wants us to do the right thing," including breaking down the divisions between Democrats and Republicans and among religions.

When people work together, he said, there is "nothing that can stop us because that's God's intention."

What a wild coincidence! God and Barack Obama have the same political agenda!

Seriously, though, does he have no shame at all? This is James Dobson's exact schtick.

First, assume for no good reason that God agrees with you about everything, then go out and spread the word that you must be right because God approves of your plan. Repeat as necessary.

(Maybe God's a Libertarian! Or an Objectivist! Or even a Lyndon LaRouche fan! Perhaps she's Wicca! How the fuck do you know?)

His campaign is in the midst of what it calls "40 Days of Faith & Family" — an effort to introduce early voting South Carolina to how Obama's family life and faith have shaped his values.

In an interview with The Associated Press last week, Obama was asked about walking the line where politics and the pulpit meet.

"There are no set guidelines or play book. When I go to church, I go there to worship. I am perfectly content to sit and listen to the music and pray and listen to the sermon," Obama said after last weekend's church services.

Other times — such as this Sunday — Obama takes to the pulpit.

In those instances, he said, "my job is to try to draw a connection between the values that I express to the church and the challenges and issues that we face in politics. ... I don't think there's anything wrong with expressing faith in the public square and I think there's nothing wrong public servants expressing religiously rooted values."

Shameless, that's the only word for this kind of phony bullshit pandering. Just to clarify, I don't have any objection to politicians discussing the nature of their faith in the public square (though I think it's an obfuscating cop-out to use such talk as the centerpiece of a political campaign). I don't object to Obama saying that he's religious and that it's part of his life and part of what guides him in decision-making. But to come out and say that your faith guides everything you do at all times, and then to further claim God's political agenda as your own, essentially claiming to have received God's endorsement and seal of approval, is not only ridiculous but outright un-American.

No matter how we feel about God, I think almost all of us can agree that he's not a member of either American political party, that he doesn't really have a solid opinion about petty partisan squabbling and rhetoric that dominates our newspapers and Sunday TV shows. I mean...please...

Tell Them You Want Them to Wait...That's an Order...

I'd love to embed the execrable new abstinence PSA that my tax dollars are sponsoring (during football games, no less!) here on the blog, so you all could see what I'm about to discuss conveniently. But, alas, the geniuses at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have yet to discover this newfangledy technology called the YouTube what might allow them to disseminate their message of ignorance and Victorian sexual panic to the masses more speedily. So you'll have to go over to their website to watch it and then come back.

The ad features children addressing the camera as if they were speaking bluntly to their parents. "Talk to me about sex," they plead. "Otherwise, I'll learn everything from the Internet, which will likely result in a life-long diaper fetish."

It's a little weird, but there's nothing so horrifying about most of this content. The kids in the commercial are uniformly to young to be having sex...only a real creep would object to parents instructing an 8-year-old to reconsider before trying out his first Hot Karl. As Bob Saget might say 100,000 per hour without getting a single laugh, "That's just wrong!"

But the last little section of the commercial really rubbed me the wrong way, no pun intended. A disembodied but stern voices pipes up and instructs you to "Tell your children to wait until marriage to have sex."

Um...what? Why should I do that? I mean, I don't even have any children, but if I did, I think I'd be okay with them having pre-marital sex. I'm 28 years old and I've never been married. If I had taken this advice to heart as a young man, I'd pretty much be a Judd Apatow movie at this point.

Did we have some kind of vote making this society's Accepted Carnal Standard that I missed out on? Cause the last time I checked, the only people who made a moral commitment to abstaining completely until marriage were religious weirdos. Granted, I'm getting an inaccurate sample because I've spent my entire adult life in Los Angeles, but I'm not certain I've ever known any single, celibate individuals my own age, at least since high school. (And back then, celibacy amongst my peers was not so much a personal choice as an unfortunate state of affairs.)

That's not to say it's a bad choice. If no sex until marriage works for you...hey, best of luck. Seems kind of irresponsible to me, like making a major purchase without shopping around for the best deal first, but I try not to judge. But why is our government buying up air time with my money to peddle this notion?

It's a rhetorical question, of course...I know why...Because these bureaus have all been stocked by lifelong conservative fundie whackjobs and Bush cronies, and thus they no longer represent the majority of Americans, but a small sliver of extremely vocal crazy people who want to enforce their own narrow, theocratic agenda on the rest of us.

Still, all the blog posts and books and newspaper articles laying out exactly how this cabal took hold of and exercised power over every level of our national leadership doesn't prepare you for actually witnessing their handiwork on television. What a disgrace...

[Hat tip: Yglesias]

Viewer Voices

Hilarious segment from the Onion News Network.

[Found via Techcrunch]