Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Hello! Um, the President admitted to criminal behavior

I know that all of the liberal blogs have picked up on this, but I'm amazed at the reaction to the admission that Bush has been spying on Americans. Folks. Let me put this to you in the most simple terms that I can:

  • The New York Times caught the President illegally wiretapping Americans without a warrant. A crime under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. It also proves that in addition to committing a criminal act, he lied to the American people.
  • The President went on national television several times and said the equivalent of "Hell yeah, I did it, and I'll do it again!" He even managed to accuse the people who brought his crime to light of treason.
  • Bush claimed that by giving him the authority to go to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, Congress apparently absolved him of the submitting to the rule of law--which they cannot do, implictly or explicitly, because it's in the Constitution that the President must follow the rule of law (Article II: Section 3).

Hmm, this time, it doesn't seem that anyone "can't recall" a la Reagan, and it sure as hell doesn't depend on what the meaning of "is" is. The President of the the United States went on national television, repeatedly, and said that he committed a crime, and will continue to do so. To put this in perspective it's like:

  • Nixon saying "I AM a crook--deal with it"
  • Reagan saying "Well (pause) I did ignore Congress and ship arms to Iran to fund the Contras. Kiss my ass!"
  • Clinton saying--"I DID have sex with that woman. I liked it. And I'd do it again!"

This is truly the lowest point of a LOW LOW LOW time. Bush claims that the illegal wiretaps are "effective." This is the stupidist thing I've ever heard! Of course you'll get more information if you can place everyone under surveillence. Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany had EFFECTIVE secret police--that doesn't make it right--or American.

--Tinfoil Out

Monday, December 19, 2005

More new technology

So, we went to the Microsoft Tent Sale a while ago, and accidentally bought a wireless network adapter for our Xbox. We also accidentally bought a 12 month membership to Xbox Live (and we accidentally bought 4 games too, but that's hardly surprising). Everything was about 80%-off retail, so who could resist.

This created an interesting problem . . . we don't have wireless Internet in our house.

Hmmm . . .

So I went to Fry's and accidentally bought a wireless router. Well I was there, I also accidentally put a wireless mp3 bridge into my cart. I also, accidentally brought home my laptop from work, and now we magically have many wireless devices, and music in our living room. It's a bit fun.

I'm happy with our new acquisitions, but I will say one thing about Xbox Live. It's a great online gaming service, and the membership comes with a little headset that allows you to talk to your opponent while you play. This sounds like a great concept, unless you don't know anyone else who has Xbox Live. In my case, it was something akin to making random long distance phone calls and having to talk to someone for 45 minutes while playing them in football or basketball. Once, I was greeted with the statement "whooo. That was a big drink of Bacardi!" and then got to hear badly sung sexually explicit lyrics and conversations with people off mic about who was sleeping with whom. I also encountered many little children (who, of course, kicked my ass), which made me think . . . Xbox live may be the best tool for child endangerment ever invented. Mercifully, many people play without speaking--as you can turn your mic off. I have to say, though, that I prefer the suspension of disbelief that comes from thinking that I am playing some sort of uber-gamer, instead of a 12 year old or a drunken teenager.

--Tinfoil Out

Friday, December 16, 2005


Sparky died tonight. He couldn't walk without a wobble, he'd lost 8 of his 15 pounds, and he didn't want to do anything but eat (a little), be held, and lie on the heating pad that we bought for him. It was time. The cancer had spread pretty much everywhere, and there wasn't anything that we could do to make him better.

Sparky moved in in 2003, and the only thing we had in common is that we were both total losers. I had just lost my job, and he was a 12 year-old cat who was about to be put down because he was a nusiance to a cranky hypochondriac neighbor in his native Salt Lake City. He'd already survived being crushed in a garage door when he was 4 years old, and he seemed like a great candidate for a second chance. Mikelle offered to take in the crusty ol' cat, whom she had acquired from a shelter in her 20's saying that "he wanted to get out of that cage more than anyone else." Mikelle's parents brought him up to us, and, orignally we were going to keep him in the garage and let him have access to the outside, as he was primarily an outdoor cat in Utah.

Apparently, this was not the arrangement that he had in mind. Within a few days, he was very happy indoors thank you very much (we have the torn up weatherstripping on the door to the garage to prove it), and every day, for the eleven months I was unemployed, he was my constant companion: Sitting on my lap through back-to-back episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and sitting quietly on the floor of the home office while I sent out resumes until he decided to alert me that I needed a break by jumping up on the keyboard. When Mikelle would get home, he'd sit on my lap as we watched TV, at night, he'd sleep at the foot of the bed, or on particularly cold nights, under the covers.

Sometimes, when he was hungry, he'd employ the vicious "cold cat nose" technique, where he'd climb on top of me while I was sleeping and stand nose-to-nose, purring constantly, until I woke up to a widescreen view of Sparky's face. I eventually learned to anticipate these attacks, and would put a pillow on my face, thus leading him to attack Mikelle instead. If there was no nose available to attack, he'd generally lie quietly at the foot of the bed and try again in a few minutes.
Despite my love for Sparky, we did one incredibly cruel thing to him. We bought a rotten dog named Fergus. Fergus and Sparky got along "OK." Sparky was an old vetrean when it came to dogs, and he completely understood the pug thing. Still--he now had an energetic challenger for lap time, and a really annoying, un-asked-for playmate. Still, he was a good sport and played along.

If he had frustrations about Fergus, he definitely took them out on the neighbor cats. We live in a neighborhood with many, many outdoor cats, and every so often, one of them would make the mistake of venturing into Sparky's territory. Let's just say that Tony Soprano has nothing on Sparky. One time I stepped out of the back door to see Sparky, with a cute fluffy grey kitty that he'd cornered. They were just staring at each other, but I knew Sparky's rep, so I started over there. This apparently spooked the poor grey Kitty so much that it bolted over the fence, with Sparky in hot pursuit. The next things I heard were the "cat fight" noises from the Warner Bros. cartoons. Sparky came back later, unharmed, but with lots of grey hair under his claws. Later, one late night, the cat came within view of our back door, stepped into the light, and I could see that he was shaved on one side with lots of stitches. It was a ghostly image, like Jacob Marley, warning other cats not to be like him . . .

His crowning moment as a combat kitty came two summers ago, when a 2 year old semi-ferral cat that we called "black nose" (for obvious reasons) came onto the landscaping bridge in our back yard (seen here patrolled by the Fergus and Sparky brigade). You could almost hear the gunslinger music, and watch the tumbleweeds fly across the lawn. Although Blacknose outweighed Sparky by at least 5 pounds (and Sparky was a big cat) and was at least 10 years younger, Sparky sent his sorry ass in to the pond. Blacknose never attempted that kind of incursion, ever again.

As my father-in-law pointed out, even in Sparky's golden years, he could "still kick ass." And he could. As recently as this summer, I saw Sparky in "that pose" out the front window. I couldn't see the poor cat that he had cornered, but I could see, that when the claws started flying, tufts if grey hair flew in the air, and a different grey kitty took off across the street.

In the last few months, he'd lost a lot of weight. We thought it was because we'd changed his food, but it wasn't. Eventually, I had to let my best friend go. We buried him tonight in the place that he loved to sit in the sunshine, away from annoying pugs. He loved the sun, and always found a way to find the last rays. Many times, he'd find a patch of warm grass and make a day of it (pictured here). He just couldn't get enough. And if you walked anywhere near him, he'd roll over an shamelessly ask for a belly-rub. Mikelle has often told me that I "ruined a perfectly good tomcat." But I think that Sparky was always comfortable with his "feminine side", and he enjoyed people, frankly, more than I do. I remember a friend asking "does he scratch?" before petting him, and I thought that this was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard. Sparky LOVED people. Reportedly, the only time he every bit or scratched anyone was before my time, when he was stuck in that garage door 10 years ago.

Sparky was a great cat. He saved my life when I felt most alone and afraid and my life was out of control. He was my best friend and I will miss him. And I think, that I can say without reservations that there is a wife and a rotten pug who feel the same way. Sparky--Thank you.

--Tinfoil Out

Thursday, December 01, 2005

"Lost" on demand

I reached an important media milestone last night. Mikelle and I realized that we had missed last week's episode of Lost becasue we were travelling for Thanksgiving, so we downloaded last week's episode for $1.99 from iTunes and watched it on our computer (we don't have a video iPod). All in all, I would say that it was a very satisfying experience. The quality was good, there were no commercials, and I felt like two bucks was a fair price.

There are lots of shows that I would consider downloading if I missed an episode. Lost, 24, Battlestar Galactica, etc. I know that I could just buy a Tivo and record all of them, but I like this option better. If all tv shows were available for $2.00 a pop, I might download, say 10 in a year. $20 seems like a small price to pay to not have to wait for the re-run or the DVD.

When ABC announced that it would release its shows on iTunes, Mark Cuban had some great insights. He pointed out that the economics of TV could change fundamentally if consumers paid for the shows that they wanted to watch, and that for some shows, especially those that are early in their run, they might make more money and build more of a fan base through downloads. It also gives fans of a show a more tangible way to show their appreciation that ratings or ad dollars.

Obviously, this all becomes more appealing if I can download a show to my (not yet acquired) HDTV in my living room, and watch it whenever I want. We're a few steps away from that, but gettting closer.

--Tinfoil Out

Monday, November 28, 2005

End of the world spam

Need to send an automated email to your non-believing heathen friends when the end of the world is nigh?

Well, here's the service for you. After the rapture, your drug using, blood drinking, non-Christian friends will get a convenient (and just in time!) message telling them to repent while you sit comfortably in heaven.

Spam from the great beyond!

Sheesh. Make sure that you read the sample letter. It's hilarious.

These people are either bat-shit crazy or incurably stupid. The problem is that they're also running the country and picking our Supreme Court justices.

--Tinfoil out

Monday, November 21, 2005

I've started a new blog with wifey . . .

Mikelle and I have started a new spin-off blog called "A Displaced Hipster's Guide to Renton, Wa." Not that we were hipsters in any way, but we thought it might be funny and maybe useful for people who move to Renton. We'll catalog the good, the bad, and the ugly about our fair river city. We could definitely expand the scope it to a broader territory if others want to group-blog about restaurants, events, and fun stuff throughout the King County area. Just let me know, and I'll invite you as an author on the blog.

--Tinfoil Out

Chickenhawks beware . . .

It seems like the Democrats have finally gotten the message about how to fight back when the White House "swift-boats" you. Korean War vet Rep. Charlie Rangel responded to Republican accusations that Rep. John Murtha (a decorated Vietnam vet) was a coward because of his plan to withdraw from Iraq. Rangel took aim at Cheney, saying that he was a draft dodger who found it, "easy to fight [a war] with other people's children."

It seems like the Dems have been reading this article by David Mamet, about political strategy:

A possible response to the Swift boat veterans would have been: "I served. He didn't. I didn't bring up the subject, but, if all George Bush has to show for his time in the Guard is a scrap of paper with some doodling on it, I say the man was a deserter."

Mamet says that to win in politics (or poker), you've got to raise the stakes when someone comes after you. Coincidently, this advice is similar some offered in Mamet's script for the The Untouchables:

He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That's the Chicago way. And that's how you get Capone.

Seems like an apt comparison--Capone and Bush--they both killed a lot of people and headed up criminal organizations, so we probably should treat them the same way. Come to think of it, Pat Fitzgerald does have a bit of an Elliot Ness vibe. All the more reason for the Dems to heed Mamet's advice an strike back hard at the chickenhawk White House.

--Tinfoil Out

Friday, November 18, 2005

Oh, this is clever . . .

In a surprise move, House Majority Leader Roy Blount has decided to allow a vote on John Murtha's resolution demanding the withdrawl of troops from Iraq. I think he's thinking that this will force Democrats to go on record saying that they want to "cut and run" if they support it, and that they "have no plan of their own" if they reject it. A rejection also would be a slap in the face to Murtha. It might work, but for the Republicans it's kind of like going "all in" in poker and bluffing with a pair of twos. The Democrats have the better hand here, but the Republicans are betting that they'll fold and reject the resolution--taking the wind out of recent "war was a mistake" talking points.

Not sure what the best strategy is here . . . personally, I hope that they all support an immediate withdrawl of the troops (because that's what I want), but if even if they do, the resolution won't pass and it'll generate campaign ads for 2006 that say, "Rep. So and So didn't support the mission of our troops, and voted to cut and run from Iraq before the mission was finished." The opposite vote generates the "Rep. So an So voted to keep the troops in Iraq, but now he's saying that the war was a mistake."

In retrospect it was probably a mistake for Murtha to introduce it, but either way, a united front will look better that a split decision. The only really good outcome politically would be for the Resolution to pass with bi-partisan support--that would REALLY make Bush look bad--but Blount wouldn't let it come to a vote if he expected any Republican defectors.

How do you think Dems should vote?

--Tinfoil Out

Update: I misread the article. Murtha didn't propose the resolution. Still, the choices for the Dems remain the same.

"Homicide Bombers"

Fox News--the cornerstone of the liberal media establishment--insists on calling suicide bombers "homicide bombers." They've been doing this for years, but it stuck in my craw again when I saw it today, so I thought I write about it.

Their reasons are, I suppose, political. I don't know if they think that calling someone a suicide bomber evokes some sort of sympathy for them or dimishes the deaths and injuries of the victims. Whatever. The problem that I have is that "homicide bomber" is not a good description of what happened.

Anyone with a bomb can be a "homicide bomber," even if they detonate the bomb remotely from a few blocks away or halfway around the world. "Homicide bomber" just tells me that said bomber killed people with the bomb. The term "suicide bomber" tells me that the bomber intentionally blew him/herself up in the process of killing others.

Fox would have been better off to simply say "bomber." Actually, given their "fair and balanced" editorial policy, they could have just gone with "evil doer," "terrorist," "Islamofacist," or combine them all as"evil terrorist Islamofacist." Somehow, though, they need to capture the idea that the bomber is also dead. Here are some suggestions:
  • A bomber who killed some people, and, oh yeah, is kinda dead too.
  • An exploding bomber
  • A "self-centered" bomber
  • A now-facing-the-terrible-wrath-of-the-Christian-God-and-burning-in-a-lake-of-fire bomber

Any other suggestions?

--Tinfoil Out

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Woodward and Libby

I don't fault Libby's lawyers for trying anything and everything to get him off the hook. That's what they do for a living. I do fault the media for falling for it in preposterous ways.

The Washington Post and most other media outlets are regurgitating Libby's talking point that Bob Woodward's admission that he heard about Plame's CIA affilliation from a different source a month before Libby's leaked it to Judith Miller.
The Libby legal team seized on Woodward's testimony, calling it a "bombshell" with the potential to upend Fitzgerald's case. After spending yesterday at the courthouse reviewing documents for the case, Libby emerged with one of this lawyers, Theodore V. Wells Jr., by his side. Wells said Libby is "very grateful to Bob Woodward for coming forward and telling the truth.

First, Libby isn't charged with leaking the name (yet) or with being the first to do so. He is charged with obstruction of justice and making false statements. These are crimes that have less to do with the actual leak, and more to do with the cover-up. Libby lied and Fitzgerald caught him. That's what he's being prosecuted for.

Second, this revelation seems to fuel speculation about a conspiracy to "out" Valerie Plame. It's starting to get a bit suspicious when Libby, Rove, and another "high ranking official" leaked the same information to at least five seperate reporters (Russert, Novak, Miller, Cooper, and Woodward) in a two-month period. Especially, if the current speculation is correct, and the mystery official is Stephen Hadley, the current National Security Advisor (maybe he should advise himself not to leak anymore classified info--that would improve national security).

I think that the Woodward revelation is a disaster for Libby and the White House. Yay.

--Tinfoil Out

Update: This USA Today article offers a theory about ways that Woodward's admission could help Libby. I still think that they're pretty thin, but in the interest of full disclosure, here they are:
  • He could say that Fitzgerald is incompetent. After a two-year investigation, he didn't uncover the Woodward leak. For me, this actually lends credence to the obstruction charge--Fitzgerald didn't know, because Libby wouldn't cooperate.
  • The fact that Woodward knew about Plame a month before Libby talked to Judy Miller shows that her identity could have been common knowledge and Libby could have been telling the truth about hearing it from a reporter. Unless there are hundreds more reporters out there waiting to come forward who also knew (again--this beefs up the conspiracy argument) the fact that Woodward knew and didn't tell anyone except fellow reporter Walter Pincus has no bearing on the Libby case.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Revising history

"Some of our elected leaders have opposed this war all along. I disagreed with them, but I respect their willingness to take a consistent stand. Yet some Democrats who voted to authorize the use of force are now rewriting the past. They are playing politics with this issue and they are sending mixed signals to our troops and the enemy. And that's irresponsible."

--George Bush
November 15th, 2005

This is Bush's current counter-attack to allegations that he lied to the country and rushed us to war. The "we didn't lie, we were incompetent--and so was everyone else" defense is pretty weak, and, surprise surprise, it's also a LIE. To characterize all of the Senators who voted "to authorize the use of force" as pro-war is absurd. The resolution that the Senate passed authorized the President to use force (a power he already had under the War Powers Act) if no diplomatic solution could be reached, and urged the President to work with the UN to find a peaceful solution. While some democrats certainly were unequivocally for the war (Leiberman, I'm looking at you), most emphasized that:

  • The use of force should be on the table, so as to not limit the President's options, but the war should be a last resort.
  • All diplomatic channels should be exhausted before the war started.
  • Going to war would be costly, and the rebuilding of Iraq would be expensive and would require a huge effort akin to the Marshall Plan.
  • We'd need a tremendous number of allies to make the war legitimate and successful.
  • UN support is vital to the success of any plan.
  • This is NOT an authorization for a "go it alone" pre-emptive strike.

None of these conditions were ever met.

Here's what Hillary Clinton and John Kerry said about the resolution (both voted for it).

"So it is with conviction that I support this resolution as being in the best interests of our nation. A vote for it is not a vote to rush to war; it is a vote that puts awesome responsibility in the hands of our President and we say to him - use these powers wisely and as a last resort."

--Hillary Clinton
October 10, 2002

"The argument for going to war against Iraq is rooted in enforcement of the international community's demand that he disarm. It is not rooted in the doctrine of preemption. Nor is the grant of authority in this resolution an acknowledgment that Congress accepts or agrees with the President's new strategic doctrine of preemption. Just the opposite. This resolution clearly limits the authority given to the President to use force in Iraq, and Iraq only, and for the specific purpose of defending the United States against the threat posed by Iraq and enforcing relevant Security Council resolutions. "

--John Kerry
October 10, 2002

In Bush's speech, he said "They spoke the truth then, and they're speaking politics now." I disagree completely. The reality of the situation is that this vote took place when Bush's approval ratings were sky-high and democrats were hedging their bets on whether the war would be successful. The country was supportive of military action, and democrats were afraid of having their patriotism challenged. They were "speaking politics" then to save their political asses. I was mad at them at the time for wimping out--and I'm still mad. But I think they're speaking the truth now (which, finally can help them politically). Still, if you read the Clinton and Kerry speeches, it's clear that even at the time, both only wanted war as a last resort.

It is well within the rights of anyone who authorized the use of force to say that:
  • They were lied to or intelligence was withheld.
  • The war has been managed incompetently and with insufficient resources.
  • They made a mistake (a la John Edwards).

--Tinfoil out

Friday, November 11, 2005

I *HAD* to post about this

It seems that some enterprising your grad students at MIT have just proven that tinfoil hats actually ENHANCE (secret government) radio signals. That explains a lot. I guess I should have known that--when I was growing up, my parents were always putting balls of tinfoil on our "rabbit ear" antenna to get better TV reception.

It seems that I've been getting amplified versions of the government signal--maybe that's why Bush makes me so mad.

--Tinfoil out

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Halloween Pics

I am late in adding to the collection of pictures from joygantic's halloween party. In any event--here's my few pics . . .

Great party!!!!!

--Tinfoil Out

Friday, October 28, 2005

Interesting background on the "Yellow Cake" info

Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum linked to a blogger's translation of this 3 part story that ran in the Italian newspaper LA REPUBBLICA. It's a fascinating read. It describes the sordid tale of how the forged documents that started this whole Plame-gate affair came to be in the hands of the US government, and eventually, how they led to the war in Iraq. Read it yourself, but here's a quick abstract:

In 1999, three low level functionaries who served as informants for the Italian intelligence agency wanted to make some money (isn't that how all these things start), but they were short on information to sell--none of them had had any good contacts since the 1980s. At the time, the French were concerned that someone was pulling left-over uranium out of abandoned mines in Niger. This gave the three informats an idea. They got possession of some documents from the 1980s that indicated Iraq's past interest in buying uranium from Niger. They then conspired to break into the Niger embassy in Rome and steal some envelopes and letterhead so that they could forge additional documents to bring authenticity to their "old news." They sell the documents to the French, who quickly conclude (mostly because of obvious errors in the documents) that they are forgeries and worthless as intelligence.

The scam should have ended there. But after 9/11, the US government made it known that it needed proof that Saddam was still working on a nuclear program. One of the flunkies who made the forged documents, Rocco Martino, starts shopping them around again. This time, the Italian intelligence agency decides that, though they know that the documents are fake, it might improve relations with the US if they hand them over. They dispatch Martino to London to give the documents to MI-6. Later, Martino leaks the information to the Italian press, and they call the US Embassy to confirm (interestingly, even the Italian press has too many doubts about the documents and they decline to run a story). Now that the US is aware of the documents, George Tennet, director of the CIA, meets with representatives from Italian intelligence, and gets briefed on the documents. He concludes that they are probably fakes, the State department has doubts as well--especially since the story keeps changing--Now it's 500 tons of uranium that Saddam bought. And it wasn't from abandoned mines--one of which was flooded at this time, and another controlled by the French--it was stolen from a Russian facility . . . very suspicious.

Luckily for the Italians, Dick Cheney has started an "Iraq Group" that is operating independently from the CIA, and they are very interested in the Niger documents. Italian officials meet with representatives of Iraq group member Condalezza Rice, and the US decides that the documents are real. They also latch on to Saddam's purchase of aluminum tubes that they say could be used for a centrifuge to enrich uranium (even though US scientists say that they would be unsuitable). The US and Italian governments decide to leak this information to the press to build enthusiasm for the war. In the US, this leak is provided to Judith Miller of the NYT. In England, Tony Blair includes these "facts" in a speech. US officals now start using talking points that include the term "mushroom cloud"as a justification for war.

At the CIA, they are skeptical of these claims and send ambassador Joseph Wilson on a fact finding mission to Niger. He concludes that the documents are inept forgeries. Other governments chime in as well--The French tell the US that they recieved the documents in 1999 and that they concluded that they were forgeries. Italy mysteriously remains silent on the issue, though it was one of their own that created the docs in the first place. The CIA recommends that the President should avoid mentioning the Niger evidence, but Bush includes it in his state of the union anyway.

4 years later, when questioned about it, Rocco Martino admits his role in creating and disseminating the forgeries.

Here's where the article ends, but you know the rest:

We go to war. No centrifuges--No yellow cake. Joesph Wilson writes an editorial that says that the US government knew the documents were forged. Rove, Libby, and God knows who else, "out" Valerie Plame as a CIA agent to discredit Wilson. The "Downing Street Memo" confirms that the US was trying to "fix" intelligence around the war. To this day, the US claims it got the intel from Britain and Britain claims that they based it on "other evidence," not the "Italian dossier" as it has come to be called. The rationale for war shifts from 9/11 to WMD, to terrorism, and (currently) "freedom." 2,000 Americans dead. 15,000 wounded. Tens of thousands of Iraqis dead.

Interestingly enough, "Plame-gate" Prosecutor Fitzgerald has apparently asked for and received the forged documents as part of his investigation. This is all starting to fit together in ways that should scare the war-mongers. Maybe the time for truth and justice is at hand.

This story is getting traction too. Here's a summary in Slate.

--Tinfoil Out

Don't mess with the Onion

You may have heard that earlier this week, the Bush administration sent a letter to the Onion, telling them to stop using the Presidential seal inappropriately. Advice for the Bushies--in a week where your approval rating is around 40%, you've been forced to withdraw your crony-Supreme Court nominee, and high ranking members of your administration are faced with indictment (Update: Scooter was indicted and resigned this morning)--Well, it's not the best time to mess with a satirical paper.

Check out the Onion's "response." It seems that the gloves are off now.

Hee Hee

(I found this via americablog)

--Tinfoil Out

Thursday, October 27, 2005

iRobot domination?

I was struck by two related blog posts today that give a pretty clear idea of when this whole "humans in charge" thing might come to an end:

It seems that the robots are not only running the show, but we may unwittingly be supplying them with a technology that will compel us do their evil bidding. I'm worried, because we've got some serious payback coming for the humilating uses that we're developing for robots, and the way that the military is shamelessly abducting Furbies and forcing them to travel the world wearing strange outfits.

At least the robots will probably run the country better than the current administration. Artificial intelligence is at least . . . well . . . intelligence.

--Tinfoil Out

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Colbert Report

So we've had a full week of The Colbert Report (pronounced "Colbere Repore") on Comedy Central, and it is really funny. I think we've finally found a worthy partner for the Daily Show. I laughed hysterically at the following moments:
  • Every time the openning credits play. If you haven't seen it, watching Colbert in all seriousness wave an American flag back and forth while standing on a red-white-and-blue representation of the US while eagles fly around--well, that's just funny.
  • His "brand" is also hilarious. He has his name everywhere on the set--His desk is even in the shape of a giant "C."Leslie Stahl reported to him that Tim Russert now wanted a desk shaped like a "T" and Colbert suggested that he choose an "R" instead, and sit in the "R hole."
  • Having "real" newscasters on has been great. He and Stone Phillips had a headline reading contest (Stone was actually better, but it was close).
  • When Leslie Stahl told him that 60-minutes would be largely commercial free this Sunday, he asked her where Centrum Silver and Ensure would find ad time on TV this week.

In all very funny. You can see clips of episode 1 here, episode 2 here, and episode 3 here.

Still, since I am a former medicore actor with a couple of degrees in the Drama (promounced Draaaam-uh), I do have some notes for Mr. Colbert:

  • He seems to be trying to maintain a character throughout the show. It is the smug, self-satisfied, Bill O'Reilly type who is self-obsessed, opinionated, and loud. This works in the opening segments pretty well--when it's just him--but it doen't work as well when he's doing an interview. He seems to both want to ask probing questions and appear bored and stupid at the same time. Sometimes the guests don't get it--they try to answer his questions legitimately or they try to make jokes, but they keep getting interupted by his manufactured persona--and not in a funny way.
    • What to do? Colbert can go one of two ways: If he wants to maintain the persona (like Ali-G does with his "guests") he'd do better to interview less experienced, less serious people. O'Reilly doesn't ususally have Colin Powell on his show, he ususally has someone on the lunatic fringe of the news that he wants to insult and confront. This is what Colbert needs to do--Much as they did in the Daily Show segments he worked in. I want to see more Mary Carey--less Fareed Zakaria. More "the white guy who wants to distribute toy guns in Harlem" than John Kerry. The other way he can go is to do the "serious interview." But if this is the case, he should just do it, ask serious questions, and zing people in the context of the conversation with his dry wit on display from time to time.
  • I think he needs a "foil." Someone else who is doing a persona that can come on the show and work with him while he's "in character" for the first few minutes of the show. So far, he's looked a little uncomfortable reading the telepromter by himself--He ought to have a recurring character that sits with him while he reads the news, and to which he can comment. This could be the character of the the "legitimate" Comedy Central news reporter, who feeds stories to him and lets him comment on them. Or, he can Imus-style, have some "cheerleader" characters who help him discuss and insult people. Right now Colbert, who has a knack for playing off of other people, is trying to do a one man show for half the program.
  • I'm not sure that the studio audience works for this show. I'm pretty sure that O'Reilly, Chris Mathews, etc. have them, but they are mostly silent. In a show where he's trying to pull off pompous and arrogant in an "intimate" enviroment, pausing for laughs doesn't really work. He's going for laughs because his character says stupid things, when he pauses to acknowledge the laughs, it's kind of like winking at the audience to show that he's in character. It he wants to keep the audience, he should be cruel to them when they laugh "inappropriately" Scream for them to "pipe down" like O'Reilly did on the Daily Show the other night, or coach them to applaud and side with him a' la Jerry Springer. He could also use the "What's so funny?" line with them from time to time. The laughs keep reminiding me that it's a joke rather than letting me enjoy the joke.

Still, very funny and a good beginning. Comedy Central at 11:30pm (re-run the next day at 8:30pm).

--Tinfoil Out

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Roller Derby Finals--DLF! DLF! DLF!

The Rat City Rollergirls final was tonight, and I am pleased to announce that my beloved Derby Liberation Front claimed the title of league champions. I'd like to say that the result was not surprising, but honestly, I didn't know if the DLF could overthrow the mighty Throttle Rockets. In a strange twist of fate, I was watching The Godfather Part II on AMC today, which, in part, dramatizes the overthrow of the Cuban government by Castro's Marxist revolution. Michael Corleone sees a Cuban revoutionary on the street blow himself up and take a military officer with him. When he witnesses this dedication to the cause, he decides not to invest in Cuba, and that even though everyone thinks that the revolutionaries are hopelessly overmatched, he now thinks that they can win.

That's how I felt watching the girls of DLF tonight. Down by as much as 13 and down six at the half--everyone thought it was over. Throttle Rockets fans were looking smug, and even my own wife began taunting me for backing the wrong horse. Then the DLF pulled the equivalent of taking Havana.

Let me 'splain:

Early on in the bout, the Throttle Rockets were both kicking ass and taking names. Darth Skater pulled off a nice jam, as did Valtron. DLF couldn't seem to get out of the gates. Kim Reaper's first Jam looked great, but when the score was tallied, she got a whopping 1 point (you get points subtracted for team penalties--that's the only reason I could think of). The Throttle Rockets weren't really running away with it--DLF's defense was good, especially Kitty Kamikaze who was actually penalized for making some good hits--but the DLF just couldn't score. They barely used Burnett Down in the first half, and when she did jam, she, like Kim, looked good, but scored low.

At the half, things looked pretty desperate for my guerilla gals. They managed to chip away at the 13 point lead, bringing it down to six (largely due to the consistent jamming of Hideous Braxley), but the DLF--which is not exactly an offense powerhouse, was stuck with a meager 18 points at the half.

I tried to relax. I got a beer. I watched with some surprise as Grave Danger smacked down the Sockit Wenches by more than 20 points in the consolation game. I'm harsh on GD, but they really did play and excellent bout. Femme Fatale is still their brightest star (and she kicked ass on Saturday at both jammer and pivot) but I was also impressed with Basket Casey as a defender. I'm not sure where the scrappy, crazy Sockit Wenches jammers went (Miss Fortune only jammed once in the second half by my count), but hats off to GD for simply wanting it more and being the better team. Also, they ended the bout with an all out "brawl" where all of the skaters lovingly tackled each other and then hugged and shook hands. Now that's sportsmanship!

Finally--the main event. 14 minutes for all the marbles. Or some trophy. I actually don't think that there were any actual marbles involved. Anyway . . .

Un-F-ing believable. Hideous Braxley closed the gap a bit more with a nice jam. The DLF was chipping away at the lead, and then . . .

THE JAM OF THE YEAR. Hands down. The best.

We were all speculating about why Burnett Down was on the bench so much in the first half. She was out there in practically every jam of the semis. She absolutely carried the DLF in the semis. I'll admit to being a little pissed at the half when I thought that they were under-using her. We tossed around the "maybe they're saving her for the second half" excuse. All I can say is that if that was the plan, whoever came up with it should get the Nobel Prize for roller derby.

Burnett Down stepped onto the track and delivered the most amazing performance of the year. She jammed through the Throttle Rockets like they weren't even there. She went through the pack cleanly and was lead Jammer before anybody even knew what was happening. She then proceeded to lap the pack THREE TIMES--with no penalties, and staying in bounds. 15 points in one Jam. Burnett got some excellent help from her blockers, and some great whips, but it was like watching some ballerina in body armor dance around the track. Everyone who hit her bounced off, and I'm pretty sure that she couldn't have gone any faster if she were alone out there.

And it was a team effort, too, with excellent defense. How many did the Throttle Rockets score in this jam?--I've got to do some math . . . carry the one . . . square root of . . . OH YEAH, ZERO!The DLF defense was stifling. I think it was Astroglide who was jamming--I could be wrong, since I couldn't look away from the apotheosis that was Burnett Down--but whoever the poor Throttle Rocket was, she was getting nowhere fast, and was probably getting dizzy watching Burnett skate circles around her.

An amazing 15 point swing in one jam. Honestly, I don't remember a 15 point jam since the second or third bout when defense wasn't . . . um . . . such a priority. Certainly not in the finals. Certainly not against the Throttle Rockets. Certainly not a 15-0 jam.

How do you respond to that if you're the Throttle Rockets? Inexplicably, they responded with Strobe Lightning at jammer. Nothing against her, but when your season is slipping away, and you've got a bench that features Darth Skater, Valtron 3000, Dirty Little Secret, and a host of other super-jammers, why spread the wealth? The results were predictable with DLF widening their lead (I think it was Hideous Braxley or Sybil Unrest at jammer).

Finally, the Throttle Rockets, now down by double digits, finally brought out Darth Skater to try and close the gap a little. In my opinion, she should have been out there right after Burnett's mega-jam, but better late than never. Darth got off to a good start, but she ran into a pretty tough cookie at pivot for DLF--that's right ladies and gentlemen--say it with me, "Burnett Down." It looked like the DLF strategy was something like this:

DLF Coach: Burnett, do you see Darth over there?
Burnett: Yes.
DLF Coach: Get her!
And "get her" Burnett did, with a combination of great blocking moves, a few illegal grabs and take downs, and one unbelievable wallop that was actually kind of scary (perhaps foreshadowed by the above picture of the the two of them). Darth was down for a few minutes and had to be helped off. When they picked her up right in front of where we were sitting, there was pain in her eyes---Some of it was undoubtedly physical, but mostly, she knew that she might have to leave the big bout with her team on the ropes, and that really, really sucked. It happened right in front of me, and I and most of the Throttle Rocket fans that I was sitting with thought it was a clean hit. Still, no one wanted it to happen that way--you watch sports to see the best take on the best, not to watch the best limp off.

But without Darth's scoring ability (and she's a hell of a blocker/pivot too), the next few minutes were painful for TR fans. The DLF ran up the lead, and frustrated TR jammers couldn't break through DLF's big blockers. Darth did heroically return for the last 2 minutes, but she was at about 3/4 speed, and didn't have the time or the energy to make a dent in the lead.

DLF won, and won big. Burnett Down continues to be my overall choice for MVP of the world. She is the ONLY skater in the RCRGs that can change the game singlehandedly. She always comes through when DLF needs her, and tonight, in the biggest event in the short history of this young league, she ran the table and pitched a perfect game. Hats off to this towering Amazon. The program tonight said that her "day job" is as a bartender. I'm sure she pours a mean drink, but she was clearly made to skate, and it's a pleasure to watch her in her true calling--kicking ass and skating fast.

What a ride! Thanks RCRGs. You're all my heroes. I don't know what I'll do to amuse myself until March, but you have at least one EXTREMELY satisfied fan. See you in 2006!

--Tinfoil Out.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Roller Derby Finals Preview

Here we go . . .

This should be fun. My beloved DLF will square off against the Throttle Rockets in the big damn bout this weekend. This one's for all the marbles.

I do think that this will be an uphill climb for Burnett, Diva, Kim and the rollergirls of DLF. The Throttle Rockets have the fastest team in the league and they have the size to mix it up with anyone--and, let's face it, if they had an all-star game in the RCRG world, at least half of the Throttle Rockets' roster would have a good argument for showing up. Darth Skater and Valtron 3000 are clearly among the elite in the league, and Astroglide and Dirty Little Secret are not far behind.

So what can the DLF do to continue the "revolution?" First of all, they can publish instructions so that fans can make their own "Molatov Cocktails" (this is usually frowned upon at sporting events). But secondly, they can focus on what got them where they are--grit, strength, and size. The DLF has the advantage of having the biggest, strongest group of blockers in the league. That's how they beat the Throttle Rockets earlier in the year--by slowing the game down and keeping the scores low.

This bout is a classic example of a high scoring team going up against a defensive powerhouse. For the uninitiated let me offer a few analogies:

Football: The Throttle Rockets are like the St. Louis Rams in their Superbowl days. Fast, Fast, Fast. The DLF is more like the Joe Gibbs Redskins of the 80s--Gritty gutty big and scary.

Basketball: TR--The "showtime" Lakers. DLF--The "bad boys" Pistons.

Here's what I see as the keys to a DLF victory:

  • I have it on good authority that Kim Reaper will be back(she said so in the comments from my last post :)—She's the key for DLF's scoring opportunities. She needs to score big every time she jams.
  • I think that the best lineup for maximum offensive/defensive punch for the DLF is Diva State, Lorna Boom, and Kitty Kamakazie at blocker and Burnett Down @ pivot (Punchin Judy is a very good Pivot too, as is Diva) with Kim jamming. I'd try to get this package in as often as possible--especially when Valtron or Darth are jamming.
  • Even with Kim back, I think DLF would be wise to use Burnett at jammer as much as possible. Although, as I said above, it's tempting to use her at pivot given the speed of the TR jammers--still, I think that for DLF to win, Burnett will have to jam at least 1/3 of the time. With Kim taking a 1/3 and the remainder picked up by Hideous Braxley and Diva.
  • Astroglide was outstanding in the semis for TR, but I don't think that she's as much of a threat vs. DLF's defense. Key jammers to stop are Darth, Valtron, and Dirty Little Secret.

I'm really excited for this one. I think that if DLF can keep the score in the 40s, they'll win. If it gets up much higher, it probably means that the Throttle Rocket's outstanding jammers are skating rings around my beloved revolutionaries.

--Tinfoil Out

Friday, October 07, 2005

Words of wisdom from the General

Jesus' General is definitely one of the funniest, most insightful fake-conservative blogs out there. Today, he had a pithy quote in a letter to Michael Chertoff, Director of Homeland Security:

We know better. Bin Laden sees this as an opportunity to strike while our attention is diverted elsewhere. That shouldn't surprise us. He tried to do the same thing during the runup to the presidential election. Thank God we were able to thwart him by exposing his plots whenever Our Leader fell behind in the polls. Bin Laden isn't stupid (after all, he's been able to avoid capture since 9/11 by cleverly disposing of his nail clippers before entering airports).

Hee Hee

-Tinfoil Out

Thursday, October 06, 2005

First nine minutes of Serenity available online!

As far as I know, this is a first. Universal has just released the first nine minutes of Serenity on the Web in high quality full-screen streaming format (if your Internet connection is up to the task). They assume (correctly I think) that if you see the beginning, you'll want to see what happens later in the film. Clearly they want this film to succeed. I've never heard of a studio releasing a portion of a film online just 7 days after its release! Watch it here.

Keep in mind that this sequence is a lot of serious exposition/action. There's a whole lot that's funny about Serenity as well. (In fact, the "funny" starts right after this clip ends).

Hopefully this will pay dividends at the box office this weekend.

--Tinfoil out

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Serenity--big damn reaction piece

To put it bluntly--Serenity is a great film. Not just a good film--a great film. No, it's not Citizen Kane or The Godfather but, comparing it to other films in its genre (sci-fi and action), it ranks right up there with Star Wars, The Matrix, Star Trek II, Aliens, Terminator 2, and E.T.

Many will scoff. Many will roll their eyes at this comparison (many, many more will never read it . . .) but I tell you, that Serenity is a first. It's the first time that a TV sci-fi franchise--if you can call a colossal failure after 14 episodes a "franchise"--was brought to the big screen without making it a "feel good" fan movie. This movie is HARSH on fans, and only gives the most cursory of background to newbies and critics. That is why it is so great.

It's as if Joss Whedon said, "Great, I get to make a movie! I'll tell the story I always wanted to tell." rather than "How can I make everybody happy and keep this franchise alive?" This is not Star Trek: The Motion Picture or X-Files: Fight the Future--Watered down for non-believers, with lame homage moments for the major characters, and a few fan-tingling moments. This gives up a glimpse of where Joss would have gone with a series, if given the chance. This is like Firefly concentrate. 2-hours that are equivalent to 5 seasons. There are some shocks and most of the secrets from the series are revealed. It's all here.

I also have to say, that despite hopeful pronouncements by Universal executives and Joss himself, a $10 mil openning weekend for a $40 mil film probably means no sequel. I am, therefore operating on the assumption that this is last we'll see of our beloved crew. You never know--It could become My Big Fat Greek Wedding or Pulp Fiction and see its audience grow instead of shrink--or crazy good DVD sales could make the suits think it's worth their while to make another. But I doubt it.

I won't give a synopsis of the film (except the parts I'm highlighting, of course). Most critics have already done that for you. You may have seen me savaging some of the critics who didn't like it. The vast majority did, though, although most didn't understand the characters or the 'verse (short for "universe" in Firefly speak) in the movie. A tie for the award of best review for "getting it" goes to Stephanie Zacharek at Salon.com (free pass required) and Peter Hartlaub at the San Francisco Chronicle. Read their reviews and the reviews of others. I think you'll find that a disproportionate number of critics thought that this was one of the best sci-fi movies in recent memory.

One note I'd like to clarify--In my earlier post I said that I would recommend that you see the series on DVD before watching it in the theatre. I will amend that to say that that's the way I did it, and I got a lot more out of the movie. As you can see, though, dozens of critics who had never seen an episode loved it. So go see it already, while you have the chance to see it on the big screen. If you want a taste before you go, there is a very funny episode this Friday on the Sci-fi channel @7:00PM. Mal plans a big heist with the woman who, on an earlier episode, tricked him into marrying her and tried to take over the ship. It will give you a good idea of who all of the characters are--since they all have a fairly large part in the action and play their "roles" really well.

Warning for those who haven't seen it yet: (What the hell are you waiting for?). Spoliers abound in the text below. Continue reading--all ye who have seen it or can stand to be spolied (or sit if you want--I don't care :) . . . If you haven't seen it yet, you probably don't want to read on:

So, what's my reaction? Well, I thought it was just about as perfect a film as I've seen in a long while. Granted, I'm a true believer--but I like to think that I can think critically about a film's failings. I've cringed through moments in the Matrix films, or thought that James Cameron or Steven Speilberg went way too cheesy--George Lucas . . . don't even get me started! In short, I have always been able to love, obsess over, and root for a film if I wanted it to be good, but still see the flaws. Not this time. My inner critc shut off 10 minutes in, and I was GLUED to the screen. Why? Because this was the anti-scfi-action movie without all of the comfortable conventions we've grown to expect: that the good guys win, major characters don't die--or if they do they get a grand death scene a la Spock in Star Trek II, that good guys act . . . well . . . good, and that we leave the theatre happy.

When the movie opens, we see a different side of the beloved Captian Malcom Reynolds. He could have remained his old wisecracking, confident self, but Joss decides to make him grow and develop. Mal had some dark moments in the series, but we meet him now at "rock bottom. " It's been six months since we saw him in the last episode and in the first twenty minutes he:
  • Kicks a man to the savage "Reavers" to save his crew.
  • We find out that he ran his love interest Inara off the ship (according to Kaylee)
  • Ever loyal Zoe is questioning his decisions (when have you EVER seen that?)
  • Kaylee complains that the captain will run off the whole crew when he runs River and Simon off. (When have you heard Kaylee complain about Mal?--except when he insults her.)
Mal is in crisis--the "Just stay alive, and make no trouble" code he's tried to live with isn't working. He's a hero, plain and simple, but he's convinced himself that he's really not. Remember that at the beginning of the series, Mal and Zoe started this journey--they were left to die in Serenity valley for three days while a "peace treaty" was negotiated. They were big damn heroes then, but it didn't mean a goddamn thing. The way that they picked themselves up was to stop believing in anything except protecting "them and theres" (does that make sense--It's the best I could do with the plural of "me and mine"). The series is all about Mal and Zoe's real struggle to transition from fighters who believed in something to "outlaws" just trying to stay alive--a role that never really fit for either of them.

Of course, the "Big Damn Spoliers" of the movie is the fact that two major characters die. The first is Shepard Book (played by Barney Miller alum Ron Glass). In the six months since we've seen him last he's left Serenity and started his own colony on a world called, appropriately enough, Haven. It's sort of a ramshakle missionary camp with lots of kids running around, and a pleasant atmosphere. Mal and the others go to Haven to hide from the Operative sent by the Alliance to kill River Tam.

Book spends the majority of his scant screen time trying to tell Mal that he is, at heart, a good and noble person, and that he needs to believe in something again. Mal recoils at this, saying that he doesn't have any need to believe in God--and Book says, "Why is it that when I talk about belief, you always think that I'm talking about God?" (a "shepard" is a Christian minister in the Firefly world). Book and all of his colony are killed by the Operative as he searches for River, but Mal and the crew of Serenity arrive in time to hear Book's last words. He tells Mal again to believe in something. This is a fairly typical "hollywood death" where the character gets to speak his peace and die heroically while trying to pass on his wisdom to the hero.

Shepard Book helped Mal (slowly in the series, but more explicitly in the movie) rediscover his beliefs. In the movie, he tells Mal that he has a "way." Book has always believed that Mal is a man of principle, and that he was just playing the bad guy. Mal would like to believe that too. Book was always Mal's conscience, because, we can see that he has made a similar journey--In his past, he was a high ranking member of the alliance, and he gave it all up to join the Shepard order.

Although we don't know the details, we know that Book was a bad man, who didn't believe in anything, but that he, unlike Mal at this point, has found "serenity." He's happy in his beliefs and putting the past behind him. When Book dies and begs Mal to believe in "something"--Mal seriously doubts that there is good in himself. He almost loses his humanity--He modifies his "boat" to look like a Reaver ship, and threatens to kill his beloved crew as well if they don't obey him. He almost becomes a Reaver, at least metaphorically, and when the Operative tells Mal, "Of course you care--You're a human being, you're not a reaver." But I'm not sure Mal believes that.

When Book dies, Mal loses his soul (for a while), and he's back again in Serenity Valley with all he's lost. Book had to die to force Mal to confront his true beliefs. The Operative had to kill innocents (I'm not condoning) to force Mal out of the "how will I get out of this" mentality, into the "what's right?" mentality. As a character (I think it was Jayne) says a little later in the movie--"If you can't do something smart, at least do something right."

So why does Wash have to die? Zoe was at Serenity Valley too, but unlike Mal, she found a way out of the horror of what happened to them--a wonderful, quirky, lovable dingbat (who she "didn't like" with a mustache)--Wash. As long as she had him, that was enough. Wash had to die, so that Josh could really make us understand what the battle of Serenity Valley was all about. Back then, they lost it all for nothing--and that's why Mal can't find anything to believe in, and Zoe still follows him and clings to Wash. They couldn't hold the valley, and everybody died for nothing--or so they believe. When Wash dies--Zoe truly believes that "the signal" is all that's important. She's back in Serenity Valley, too, with a cause to fight for. Zoe and Mal finally find something to believe in (the truth about Miranda) in the BDM, and for the first time, it's worth dying for--remember, the whole crew--Simon, Jayne, Wash---everyone agrees that getting the signal out is worth risking everything. I love Wash and Book too--but don't say they died for nothing or it was random. If that were true, you wouldn't feel a thing. They died to save Mal and Zoe, and to get the signal out--to reclaim everything the Browncoats lost at Serenity Valley. I know you'll miss them. I will too.

Like all of you, I'm blown away by Wash's abrupt end. Many have written that Joss could have teased it all out over several seasons on Fox if given the chance, and that may be true. But we all have to play the cards we're dealt. Joss had to tell this story as if it was his last chance. This movie was Mal's movie, and I thought it beautifully showed his character--who opens the movie a good deal meaner, sadder, and detacted than when we saw him last--go from an empty shell of a man who throws people to the reavers to a soldier who remembers why he fought the Alliance in the first place. I was sad to see Book go, but I think that the reason that Joss put him on that boat in the first place was to save Mal's soul--not to make him Christian--but to make him believe in something again.

When Mal sees Miranda, and he sees the tape--He has a purpose again. The reason that the Browncoats fought for independence is that they don't like people being "messed with." And to any Browncoat, especially a true believer like Mal (watch the opening sequence of the first episode again) the truth about Miranda is intollerable. This, finally, is something to believe in, and a cause worth fighting for--and dying for ("although, that's not exactly plan A!"). Mal foreshadows this in an earlier conversation with Inara--"When I go to war, you'll see something different." (I'm paraphrasing the quotes).

Once it's a war, people die. Mal spent the entire series keeping his crew safe. Simon tried to keep River safe. Jayne spent the series trying to save his own ass. But once they saw Miranda, they all agreed that this was more important than them--More important than their safety. This is a long winded way of saying--Joss had to kill Wash. And it had to be Wash. Everyone who wrote in to say that they felt for Zoe--that they were too emotional to pay attention afterwards--that they thought that the whole crew would die--How else could Joss have gotten you there? Once it's a war, people are going to die. When an idea is more important than saving the people you love--that's what happens. It had to be Wash, because Zoe's grief captures this perfectly. She's a soldier, she lost everything that she holds dear, but if there's a chance Mal can get that signal out--it's worth it.

I was shocked when Wash died--but the most emotional reaction I had was right afterwards when Zoe told Mal--"This is the place, this is where we make our stand" and when Mal said "You've got to hold" (again, paraphrasing). Go back to episode 1--If they had only held the valley, they wouldn't have lost everything. For Zoe, and for Mal, this is Serenity Valley all over again. This time, they have to hold.

Mal started this movie a broken shell of a man who was alienating his whole crew, and alienating the woman he loves--until he takes Book's dying words to heart and believes in something. Wash didn't die in vain. His death was about making a stand, and fighting for what you believe instead of hiding all the time and barely living. Sorry to be so long winded--I hated seeing Wash and Book go too, but they died for something. Mal may be able to find serenity after this. He was always an idealistic "good guy" trying to convince himself he was a "bad guy" until he almost believed it. He thought he lost everything in Serenity Valley, but thanks to the sacrifice of Book and Wash, he may have gotten it back. Believe me, if they hadn't died, you wouldn't have felt this so strongly. Bless you Joss, for not taking the easy way out. You and I loved these characters, but I guarantee that Joss feels their loss more. He didn't wanna kill them--but in the end he gave them a reason to live. That's what drama's all about. That's why this is such an outstanding movie.

--Tinfoil out

Saturday, October 01, 2005

I have found Serenity

Saw the Big Damn Movie tonight. I wrote a big damn reaction piece, but I'll hold that for a few days, since I can't talk around the spoilers with any satisfaction. Briefly:
  • It's better than I ever could have hoped for. Joss Whedon tells this story as if this is his last chance. I hope that's not true, but if it is, this was a hell of way to go out.
  • Much darker, much deeper than Firefly. It kinda had to be.
  • My advice: don't see it until you've watched the entire series on DVD. So much of what makes this film great relies on you loving these characters. If you're seeing it for the first time, it's a whizbang, funny, touching, sci-fi adventure--But you won't understand.

More later--don't want to give too much away. Fair warning, though--If you don't see it by Sunday night, all bets are off, and spoliers will float through my blog like a leaf in the wind . . .

--Tinfoil out

Friday, September 30, 2005

Ok . . . I have to make fun of one more critic

So, the good reviews for Serenity keep rolling in. There was one gentleman from the NY Post who didn't care for it, though. His name is Kyle Smith. His RottenTomatoes profile gives us a good idea of his unique critical take on movies, while hinting of a problem with narcolepsy.

He says of Serenity--currently the best reviewed wide-release action film of 2005:

The acting is terrible, the characters have no personality and the dialogue is stuck in the setup/punchline/setup/punchline rut.

To understand the weight that we should give this scathing review, let's, well, review some of Kyle's other 2005 reviews:

He liked Batman Begins a great deal (as did I), but in the review, he admits to some unusual viewing habits for a critic: "I fell asleep in 'X-Men.' I fell asleep in 'Spider-Man.' 'Batman Begins' blew me away . . ." Maybe it's just me, but should a critic admit that he sleeps through his job? At least Serenity managed to keep him awake.

Of the Gweneth Paltrow drama Proof, based on the Pulitzer-prize winning play, he says: "'PROOF" will put a lot of viewers right back where they left off in 12th-grade calculus: asleep." Again, with the sleeping . . .

Of the well recieved Jim Jarmusch film Broken Flowers starring Bill Murray he quips: "Audiences will laugh, mainly to prove they're awake, but the humor is pretty thin." Refering, perhaps, to a defense mechanism that he uses from time to time. This review also contains the precious jem: "The film has an eye for kitschy Americana (always big in Europe, which is why the film won the Cannes Film Festival's Grand Prix — French for second prize)." It is the second-highest award given at Cannes, yes . . . and I only took two years of French, but I even I know that "Grand Prix" means "Grand Prize."

And lest you think that that last statement might have been a joke of some sort. I want to present into the evidence that our dear sweet, sleepy critic gave the Dukes of Hazzard and The Island three stars, saying that the latter was: ""[Michael Bay's] best film since The Rock."

I rest my case.

Poor guy--he just can't stay awake . . . and he has no taste. I want to be a movie critic--lots of naps, and you get to be mindlessly catty for no reason. The best thing that I can say for him is that at least he didn't like Stealth.

--Tinfoil Out

Thursday, September 29, 2005

While I don't approve of gloating . . .

I do approve of hypocriscy exposed. Actually, I'm all for gloating--DailyKos does an admirable job of adminstering the smackdown to "Bloggers for Bush" who think that we're being too hard on the "Hammer." You reap what you sow, assholes.

--Tinfoil Out

Big Damn Movie a critical success

So I've been watching Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes with baited breath (baited with . . . chicken?) and the Big Damn Movie (um, Serenity--for all the non-Browncoats out there) is doing pretty well with the critics. The New York Times, Roger Ebert, and other influential critics have great things to say. There have been a couple of bad reviews that call into question the reviewers' drinking habits, grasp of the English language, and whether or not they've actually seen the movie, most notably Claudia Puig from USA Today. Her scant, 271-word review smacks of a phone in. Without discussing the the plot to any degree, she surmises, "Still, when films based on successful and beloved TV series have fallen flat over the years (like The Avengers or Twin Peaks) isn't it asking for trouble to make a movie version of a TV flop?" Not to dwell on the negative, but feel free to contact Ms. Puig and ask to see her ticket stub, or at least to check her blood alcohol level. If you miss a screening, Ms. Puig, don't write a review. A high school English teacher would have given you a "D" for this review, and that's only if you were blowing him in the janitor's closet every day.

So, Ms. Puig not withstanding, Serentiy is a critical success. Now, we need to shoot for a $20mil opening weekend. GO SEE THIS FILM.

--Tinfoil Out.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Nothing changes.

This morning, Crooks and Liars led me to an excerpt from an H.L. Mencken column that he wrote during the Scopes "Monkey" trial in 1925. With "Intelligent Design" gaining momentum in Kansas and Pennsylvania, it seemed particularly relevant. His theory in the article, written 80 years ago, is that it's not so much religion per se that causes the Christian right in America to hate evolution so much, but the rampant anti-intellectualism that fuels the movement.

The so-called religious organizations which now lead the war against the teaching of evolution are nothing more, at bottom, than conspiracies of the inferior man against his betters. They mirror very accurately his congenital hatred of knowledge, his bitter enmity to the man who knows more than he does, and so gets more out of life. Certainly it cannot have gone unnoticed that their membership is recruited, in the overwhelming main, from the lower orders -- that no man of any education or other human dignity belongs to them. What they propose to do, at bottom and in brief, is to make the superior man infamous -- by mere abuse if it is sufficient, and if it is not, then by law

The inferior man's reasons for hating knowledge are not hard to discern. He hates it because it is complex -- because it puts an unbearable burden upon his meager capacity for taking in ideas. Thus his search is always for short cuts. All superstitions are such short cuts. Their aim is to make the unintelligible simple, and even obvious.

I've seen first-hand, as a former university professor, that there are some students who feel very uncomfortable at the thought that they will have to discuss homosexuality, evolution, existential philosophy, and feminism. When they told me this, I would tell them that college was a place where your beliefs would be challenged, and that their role was not to pre-judge the subjects that they were exposed to, but rather to understand them thoroughly, and offer a reasoned response when they had digested the information. I know that there are institutions like BYU or Bob Jones University where religion is used to sheild students from ideas, but, in these religious institutions notwitshanding, college is supposed to be a place to learn. ( I attended a Catholic college in the midwest, and had a religion professor who started a class with "So you think Mary was a virgin? I've got some swampland to sell you . . .")

Which leads me back to Mencken's observation--Keep in mind, that he is not calling the poor, or the religious, or a certain racial group "inferior" people. He's reserved that label for those who refuse to learn, and hate the people who know more than them. I think that this is a perfect description for the current crop of religious wingnuts. They've seen that, though they are often complete morally bankrupt failures in life (see Pat Robertson as the cowardly syphillis infected "liquor officer" in his Korean War battalion), they gain tremendous power over others who are thoughtful and intelligent by convincing the "masses" that things are a great deal simpler than they really are. God is in charge--he hates homosexuals, and abortion. He sends hurricanes and terrorists to punish the wicked. Send God's representative some money, and fight the evil-doers. Pray, and there will be no more problems in America.

Some things never change. Mencken was up against William Jennings Bryan--We've got our Pat Robertsons and Jomes Dobsons to deal with. Mencken summed it up brilliantly when he said:

. . .[E]nlightenment, among mankind, is very narrowly dispersed. It is common to assume that human progress affects everyone -- that even the dullest man, in these bright days, knows more than any man of, say, the Eighteenth Century, and is far more civilized. This assumption is quite erroneous. The men of the educated minority, no doubt, know more than their predecessors, and of some of them, perhaps, it may be said that they are more civilized -- though I should not like to be put to giving names -- but the great masses of men, even in this inspired republic, are precisely where the mob was at the dawn of history.

Instead of quietly and rationally explaining evolution to these fools, we should be taking every media opportunity to call them willfully ignorant idiots and opportunists. There is no debate here. They are wrong. They are trying to teach in our schools that the world is flat, and 2 + 2 = God. I feel sorry for someone who has no access to education, but I have utter contempt for those who willfully refuse to learn. They are fools of the highest order, and deserve to be ridiculed. Where is our H.L. Mencken today?

--Tin Foil Out

Monday, September 26, 2005


Another break from politics for a movie recommend:

Serenity (aka "Firefly" the movie) takes off this Friday at a theatre near you. I haven't seen the film yet (10:20pm on Friday!!!), but I have become addicted to the 14 episodes that Joss Whedon (Buffy, Angel) shot for Fox in 2001. Fox, in their infinite wisdom, gave Joss Whedon a budget of $2 million an episode (a lot for a weekly sci-fi show), and let him shoot half a season. They then proceeded to show the episodes out of order and continually preempted the show and changed it's time slot, before cancelling it. After I'd spent $26 million on a project, I might, well, promote it, instead of killing it after 1/2 a season. But that's just me.

The happy re-beginning came after sales of Firefly's DVD set went through the roof, and Universal, thinking they had something here, bought the movie rights from Fox. The movie "Serenity" (the name of the space ship in Firefly), was made for $40 million, cheap by sci-fi standards, and the cast is signed on for two more sequels if Serenity can pull in the crowds (most analysts think it would have to make $70-$80 million worldwide to warrant a sequel.)

So, go see it already! If you haven't seen the DVDs of the series--beg, borrow, or steal them. Everyone describes Firefly as a "space western"--which is fair, given the costumes, props, and well, cattle, that inhabit this world. I think a more elegant way of describing it is as a group of misfits trying to survive on a frontier (the outer planets) while escaping a totalitarian government. It's the ultimate libertarian fairy tale. And it's damn funny too. Even if you don't like Sci-fi, give Serenity a try. If you doubt me, rent the DVDs from the TV series.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

National Debt and Katrina

Today, a group of House Republicans put forth a noble plan to cut "wasteful" government spending to blunt the effect of Katrina (and possibly Rita) of the budget. These noble men (and women?) immediately offered to let the President's tax cuts expire, and to give back the money that had been allocated to their districts in the massive pork-laden highway bill . . .

I'm sorry, I can't do this with a straight face.

Of course they didn't offer to sacrifice anything that they support. They nobly offered to cut medicaid , the National Endowments for the arts and humanities, foriegn aid, and to delay the perscription drug benefit for seniors for a year. It's nice to know that in times of crisis, this country can run a costly war, give tax cuts to the rich, and spend $225 billion on largely unneccesary pork-barrel projects, while heroically offering to screw the poor out of health care, cut funding to arts organizations, keep seniors from affordable perscriptions, and piss off the rest of the world by cutting aid. Believe me, if this had been prompted by anything other than a natural disaster, FEMA would have gotten the axe too.

The truth is, these morons will introduce bills for all of these cuts, and precious few will be enacted, even though they'll lick their chops at the chance to eliminate all these social programs. Everyone knows that we'll just end up borrowing the money.

I think it's time to put all of this in perspective. Let's think of the US government as if it were an average American--the Joe Smith of Middle America. Joe makes only $23,000.00/yr, but for the last few years, he has decided to give $2,000 of his salary out as gifts to his rich friends--you know, beacuse he likes them. This is ok, because he somehow managed to convince the bank to lend him $800,000.00 over the years, so he can afford to be generous. He's starting to run into problems, though. His interest payments for this year will be $3,300.00, leaving him with only $17,700 to spend on everything else, right? Not so. Joe decides that he must live in the lifestyle to which he has become accustomed, so he needs to go deeper in debt. He borrows an additional $3,400. Smart move for any American, right? He probably should invest the money, or spend it fixing up his home, but what fun would that be! He buys a flashy new car, expensive suits, and a brand new entertainment center. He gives more money to his rich friends--so that they can fix up other people's houses. Everything is just wonderful.

Oh, no. Joe's car is in an accident, and it will cost at least $2,000 to fix it. It's too bad that he didn't spend $32 a few years ago to replace the part that eventually broke, but didn't think it was worth it. Now he needs a whole new engine, and he's already spent all the money. Does he ask his rich friends for the gifts back? Does he consider not giving them gifts next year? Does he sell his new purchases to get the money?

No, Joe promises to scrimp and save, mostly by refusing to pay bills. He then decides to borrow and additional $2,000 to fix the car, and doesn't get rid of anything. In the end, after threatening to not pay his bills, he pays them anyway. Next year, he plans to borrow an additional $4,000 on top of his salary, while giving even more to his rich friends. In ten years, he will owe $110,000.oo to the bank! He'll just keep piling on the debt until the bank refuses to give him more. Good plan, Joe!

Multiply the numbers in the story above by a million, and replace "Joe" with "George W." and you have a pretty good idea of the fix we're in this year:

Revenues from taxes = $2.143 Trillion
Spending = $2.483 Trillion
Deficit = -$340 Billion
Interest due on debt= -$335 Billion


This year, before Katrina, we were planning to spend about $340 billion more than we take in in taxes, or about 16% of the total budget. This is the deficit. Where will we get this money? We will borrow it from foreign governments and other sources. We've already borrowed $7.9 trillion. Half of which, we borrowed since Bush has been in office.

That's great, isn't it, we can just keep borrowing the money right? It's good for the economy to have this extra money floating around, right? Well, the drawback for the country is the same as for you if you have a lot of credit card debt, the minimum payments keep going up. You eventually are spending so much on the interest, that it eliminates any advantage you gained by borrowing the money in the first place. We're actually paying interest this year that is roughly equilavent to the amount we're borrowing. Any loan shark would love that racket.

The obvious conclusion is that we're passing the point of diminshing returns on our borrowed money. If we didn't have such an enormous national debt, we could almost balance the budget and maintain current spending levels. But, alas, we have to spend 15% of our budget just on interest and we have to borrow that much each year to cover it--putting us deeper in debt and increasing our interest payments, which means we'll have to borrow more, which means that our interest payments go up . . . you get the idea. There's also the danger, that if we get too deep in debt, they won't lend to us any more if it looks like we won't be able to pay ever pay it back.

On top of that, we now have a $200 billion hurricane dropped in our laps.

Well, what can we do to fix the situation?

Well, we could raise taxes back to pre-Bush levels, but that really wouldn't help, right? Wrong. In fact, we could have paid for nearly the entire reconstruction of New Orleans with the revenue lost to Bush's tax cuts JUST THIS YEAR.

REVENUE LOST TO TAX CUTS (2005) = -$191 Billion

Still, we'd rather eliminate health care for the poor and funding for the arts, right?

I know what you're thinking. Tax cuts are Bush's baby. He can't cut those, besides, Bush didn't create this problem, did he? He inherited the debt from previous presidents, including Clinton, right? Yes, but the original deficit spender who got us into this mess was Reagan. Clinton inherited a huge and growing national debt, but by the end of his second term, he finally got the deficit eliminated, and stabilized the national debt. He even managed a $31 billion surplus.

NATIONAL DEBT on 1/1/2000 $4.5 Trillion.
DEFICIT on 1/1/2000 NONE! $31 Billion SURPLUS!

So what has Bush done in the last 5 years? Well, he's nearly doubled the national debt, by running deficits of between $100 billion and $300 billion every year. These deficits are created by a combination of increased spending and nearly a trillion dollars in tax cuts, of which, nearly half went to people who make more than $250,000/yr.

BUSH has borrowed, to date, $3.4 Trillion (for a total of $7.9 Trillion)
TAX CUTS SINCE 2001: $894 Billion
TAX CUTS FOR THE TOP 5% (over $250,000/yr income): $361.8 Billion

So, what can we do about Katrina? The tax cuts, which are actually set to expire, are the low-hanging fruit here. If Congress does nothing, and lets them expire, that'll save us $191 billion this year--Problem solved--and that leaves us in the fine position of overspending by the original, reasonable total of $340 billion. Phew. We're still headed for financial ruin, but at least we can pay for the hurricane.

Tickets for Rat City Rollergirls finals on sale now!

Tickets for the finals are on sale now. It's your last chance to see the Rollergirls this season, and it's gonna be a war in the finals--With Darth Skater and Burnett Down facing off for all the marbles. As you can see from this advertisement on the Rat City Rollergirls' site:

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Roller Derby Semis

Best. Bout. Ever.

Tonight, the Roller Girls faced off in their first playoff games. As I predicted, the DLF v. Sockit Wenches matchup was intense, and the Throttle Rockets v. Grave Danger was a bit of a snoozer. The new venue (Hangar 27 @ Sandpoint) was outstanding. It is a HUGE hangar, at least twice the size of the last one, and the larger space and more distant walls definitely improve the audio. The best new feautre is the beer garden seating!

The first bout was low scoring, violent and tense. The DLF came out short-handed, with a number of injuries and a conspicuously absent Kim Reaper (where are you Kim?). Lorna Boom was apparently recovering from a serious car accident, and was supposed to see limited duty, but she was out there in most jams, filling in for the fallen. From the beginning, the Sockit Wenches had more energy, more drive, and better strategy. Surprisingly enough, it was not Miss Fortune, the Sockit Wenches' heart and soul, but Pia Mess who gave the DLF fits. With most of their good jammers injured or absent, the DLF turned to Burnett Down (pictured above--courtesy of joygantic) to jam for them every other jam. She did a remarkable job after a shaky start, but at the half, it was within 2 points. Everyone wondered if DLF had enough in the tank to win. To make matters worse, DLF had more players go down in the second half--Momma Cherry left with an injury along with Punchin' Judy. Both would return, but DLF played all night long as the skating wounded.

It was tied @ 36 all with 3:00 to go, when the DLF pulled off a number of smart moves. They may have been tired, but they executed some strategic coups and strong individual efforts. First, underrated jammer Hideous Braxley skated through the pack, became lead jammer, and scored 4 quick points. She wisely called off the jam before the Sockit Wenches could score any points. Then, Burnett Down faced off against Sockit Wenches ace jammer Miss Fortune, and absolutely leveled her at the start of the jam. I haven't seen a hit like that since Lawerence Talyor knocked out Joe Montana. With the lead secured, DLF went on defense, inserting Diva State and Kitty Kamikase at blocker. Getting past these two tall, powerful ladies is nearly impossible, and with Pia Mess and Miss Fortune on the bench exhausted, it fell to poor Juliet Bravo to try and salvage the game. She could not get past the wall. Hideous Braxely scored a few extra points, while Juliet went down hard, injuring her elbow, and trying valiantly to skate the last few seconds in a losing cause. I have to wonder why Pia Mess was not out there for the last jam. With 1:15 left in your season, why not have your best jammer out there?

In the end, Burnett Down, who had jammed for the DLF nearly half of the jams, still seemed like a bundle of energy--Juliet Bravo, on the other hand, sat on the ground, holding her elbow, comforted by her teammates. The Sockit Wenches almost pulled off the massive upset, but they fell just short 45-36 (it was closer than it sounds). The MVP of the world has to go to Burnett Down. She carried her team, and seemed to get stonger as the match went on. When she JACKED Miss Fortune (and you really had to see it to believe it) , she not only stopped the Sockit Wenches' momentum, she took the heart out of them. This is the second or third time this season that the DLF needed Burnett Down to come up with a great jam to put them comfortably ahead. She can singlehandedly change the game like no one else. She's not the biggest, or the fastest rollergirl out there (although she'd be in the top 5 in both categories), but she's a big game player with an attitude a mile wide. Go DLF!

DLF will face the Throttle Rockets in the finals. TR got there with their usual combination of strength and speed. Darth Skater and Valtron 3000 were their usual dominant selves, but, surprisingly, most of the points were scored by Astroglide. Femme Fatale did play for Grave Danger, but she is shaping up as the Barry Sanders of the Roller Derby world, a great player who's incredibly fun to watch on a mediocre team. Also, inexplicably, they used her at pivot for most of the game, not jammer. She is a good pivot, but she's too small to have much effect on the taller, stronger girls who try to pass her. She laid a great hit on Darth Skater at one point, and pretty much bounced off. It would have been closer if they had used her as jammer as often as the DLF did with Burnett Down, but I think the outcome would have been the same.

The finals will be epic. The DLF beat the Throttle Rockets pretty soundly in their last meeting, but you can throw that result out the window. If the DLF doesn't have Kim Reaper back , they may not have the offense to win. The Throttle Rockets have a strong cast of interchangable jammers who can all score, and they're bigger and stronger than the Sockit Wenches, so they should match up better with the DLF. The matchup that I most want to see, of course, is Darth Skater v. Burnett Down. They're both outstanding, but Darth's fast, tough, and low to the ground, while Burnett's tall, unhittable, and cagey. The Throttle Rockets apparently wanted to see this too, when the Sockit Wenches tied the DLF late, the Throttle Rockets stood up and chanted "D-L-F." I guess your season isn't complete until you've beaten the best. Now they'll get a chance.

The finals will be CRAZY! Mark your calendars now. October 15th.

Friday, September 16, 2005

No one is conservative . . .when they hold the purse strings.

I've noticed that there've been some "conservative" rumblings coming from some in the Republican party who are a bit miffed over the "blank check" that Bush seems to be giving to rebuilding the gulf coast after Katrina. Tom Coburn, the "can't we all just get along" gay-bashing senator from Oklahoma (see Crooks and Liars for a wonderful summation), called for "sacrifices" to be made in the federal government by way of spending cuts--Not, of course, by raising taxes (or even cancelling the planned tax cuts for the wealthy).

Just guess which programs Mr. Coburn would like to cut. He didn't give a list, but he sure as hell isn't going to start railing against corporate welfare, pork barrel projects, and defense spending. Which brings up a point that I've touched on before, but which seems so obvious in the face of Katrina:

There are no liberals or conservatives.

Not really. The traditional definitions of these terms in American politics have gone all topsy-turvy since (at least) Reagan decided that "liberal" was a dirty word. My understanding of what the terms used to mean is:

A conservative: In favor of a small federal government, supports states rights, a strong military, law and order, a free market economy, and private-sector solutions for problems. Strong examples: Barry Goldwater, Dwight Eisenhower.

A liberal: believes that the government should intervene to provide for the health and welfare of its citizens. Since states do not provide uniform solutions to all citizens, the federal goverment should usurp this authority. Strong believers in civil rights at the expense of law and order. Strong examples: FDR, Lyndon Johnson.

What we have are two parties who both love to spend money, but which have different priorities. They are both bastardized versions of their natural tendancies. This owes, mostly, to the strong influence that corporate interests play in politics. They've morphed into the party that wants to give corporations handouts and kinda help the poor (Democrats), and the party that REALLY wants to give corporations handouts and help the rich.

The current Congress has embraced these conservative values, without embracing the central tenant of a small, weak, federal government. Coburn, who voted for the largest, pork laden highway bill in Congressional history, is complaining, not about the spending per se, but who will benefit from the money. It's okay to spend money if it's to benefit the wealthy, but not okay to give a "handout."

How did we get here? Well, it's been a long time coming. I think the place to start is the Great Depression, when America, like the rest of the world, was a mess. Unemployment was through the roof, banks closed in droves, and people were getting restless. FDR had a desperate plan to keep the country from rebelling and turning "red." Through the "New Deal" he would raise taxes on people's already meager incomes dramatically--through the income tax (I think the rate was 90% on wealthy!) and a new program called "Social Security." How do you sell the biggest tax increase of all time to people who are miserably poor? Use that revenue to give them jobs! With the new taxes, the government is flush with money, The WPA and programs like it managed to take this money from those who had it, and give jobs to those who had nothing. Social Security was a particularly brilliant gambit, because FDR could collect a lot of money in the short term while defering the payments to later generations (hence the current crisis).

The economy recovered, and the government continued spending on a massive scale through WWII--this time, on the war effort. At the end of the war, a united country embarked on some remarkable (and expensive) projects that helped America flourish. We built a first-class transportaion system by constructing interstate highways, we educated our populace by paying the college tuition of millions of returning soldiers through the GI bill. We rebuilt Europe and Japan through the Marshall Plan. We spent freely and got tremendous returns on our investments.

Civil rights battles in the 50s and 60s led to legislation that was undoubtably "liberal." President Johnson was able to declare "war" on poverty and expand FDRs New Deal. The government would now help the poor, giving them money in the form of "welfare" and medical care through "medicaid." The federal government grew and grew under the rule of the Democrats towards Johnson's "Great Society."

Nixon expanded, not the size, but the power of the federal government. He expanded federal police powers, started the "War on Drugs" which itself demonstrates what happens when two conservative principles--small government and law and order--come into conflict. He took steps to improve relations with foreign governments, including mortal enemies of the US--the USSR and China. But, his biggest contribution to the current political climate was, of course Watergate. This is where the extreme, public, and hate-filled differences between the two parties started. There would have to be payback for Watergate, and later payback for the payback, and so on.

Through the Carter administration (I'm skipping Ford), the country focused on enegry conservation, and creating jobs (to be fair--mostly becasue of the crises in each area). While the courts issued startling new rulings on individual rights, and the right to privacy. It was the height of what Reagan would later call "The Welfare State." High taxes, out of control spending, and expansive social programs, the supreme court reduced police powers, and expanded a woman's right to choose. This, coupled with a sagging economy, made a segment of the population angry. Maybe things were so bad, not becasue of OPEC, foriegn car manufacturers, or hostages in Iran. Maybe they were bad because of these expanded social programs and civil liberties . . .

When Reagan came to office, he played on this theme, and started a "conservative" revolution tied tightly to partiotism, a strong defense, and christian values. He managed to gather votes from people who were fed up with the disappointment over Nixon, the economic malaise in the Carter administration, and the failed war in Vietnam. He made it "fun" to be an American again, while cautioning that we had lost our way. He, like FDR, stimulated the economy and created jobs by vast increases in government spending, especially on defense. Unlike FDR, however, he cut taxes, rather than raise them. He talked the talk of a "conservative" eliminating many 'pesky' social programs and talking about smaller government, while all while running record budget deficits. Reagan provided the Republicans with a blueprint for long-term success:

  1. Focus on American's patriotism. Give voters strong symbols of leadership, and the sense (which was sorely lacking at the time) that America is the best nation on earth.
  2. Cut taxes, cut taxes, cut taxes. Nobody likes paying taxes. Don't worry about paying for the cuts, run a defecit. You can run in an election saying "I'm going to cut your taxes and that guy won't." You'll be popular.
  3. Build up the "enemy." The Soviet Union was, of course, an actual threat. But Reagan made them into the "evil empire."
  4. Focus on the theme of self-reliance as a way to curtail social programs and give tax breaks to the wealthy. Teach Americans to "pull themselves up by their own bootstraps." Invoke frontier themes.
  5. Court the Christian vote. Reagan, while not a big church-goer, was able to convince Christian Americans that Republicans, not Democrats, had their best interests at heart. His alliances with the Moral Majority and his strong opposition to abortion cemented a voting block that had historically largely gone to the Democrats. The Democrats lost the South, and politics was changed forever.
  6. Under the guise of a "free market" economy, you can give tremendous amounts of money to corporate interests. Corportate lobbyists, who had begun to grow in power since the mid 1970s now had a President who would deliver their agenda.

As corporate interests grew in power, the deficit kept growing, and spending continued unabated on defense. Reagan was not able to roll back the New Deal and Great Society reforms of FDR and LBJ, but he laid the groundwork, and he got Republicans thinking that there would be plenty of money for their priorities--mostly giving away money to corporations--if the very expensive social programs would go away.

Reagan also had his share of scandals that made the "Watergate payback" urge even greater. Iran-Contra was arguably the greatest breach of public trust in history, as Reagan (yes, he knew) covertly sold missles to Iran (IRAN, PEOPLE!) to finance the Contras in Nicaragua--against the express wishes of Congress. This scandal exacerbated the tension between the two parties, and set the precident (that I think we'll see for the foreseeable future) of the "second term scandal" for all modern Presidents. Bush may avoid it with a strong majority in the House and Senate, but let's just say that since Watergate, we've had a lot of job security for "Independent Counsels."

GHW Bush continued the tax cutting/deficit expanding habits of his predecessor, but he actually paid for Reagan's policies in the form of a recession in 1991 that sank his Presidency. Also, like his son later, he failed to respond promptly and compassionately to a hurricane (Andrew). Still and all, he would have won re-election, except for one tiny problem--Ross Perot, whose Texas millionaire swagger co-opted Reagan's "self-reliance" theme and won 19% of the vote. Still, Clinton was a clever choice by the Democrats. He was a southern Christian who knew how to quote the bible when necessary. He also managed to steal the patriotism card from the Republicans and focused on the good times ahead (remember "Don't stop thinkin about tomorrow" and "It's the ecomony stupid!"). The Republicans had lost their long-fought-for stranglehold on the presidency and were determined to get it back.

To make matters worse, when Clinton was in office, he embarked on a social program that even FDR and LBJ never tried--national health care. The insurance and pharmaceutical industries went on the offensive and derailed the plan. Meanwhile, the Republicans distilled Reagan's lessons above into a "Contract with America " that promised to cut "wasteful" federal spending, i.e. social programs like Social Security. This led to an unprecendented "Republican Revolution" and doomed Clinton's social agenda forever. Clinton ultimately outmanuvered the Republican Congress during the "Government Shutdown" and the New Deal programs were left intact. Clinton moved to the center, maintaining, but not expanding social programs, while establishing better ties with corporate interests. He was forced to curtail Welfare, but he managed to cut spending and the deficit dramatically and preside over a period of economic growth unmatched since WWII. The Republicans would not rest, though. They hunted Clinton throughout his presidency, determined to provide a suitable scandal as payback for Watergate and Iran-Contra. They did, of course, but ultimately failed to remove Clinton from office, because the public, while fascinated by the scandal, really didn't think it was that bad. On the day of his impeachment trial, Clinton had a 60% approval rating. Maybe it is the economy, stupid.

The Bush-Gore election was a snoozer. The common theme was that "It doesn't matter who wins." Prosperity had made the electorate disinterested, and Clinton's move to the center had made it difficult to see the differences between the two parties. It was clear the the priority of both parties had become corporate interests--Ralph Nader based his campaign on this. No one could see that Clinton had only managed to hold the line against the Republican cause to eliminate social programs. He was actually a liberal who played a reluctant moderate out of necessity. Al Gore ran a miserable campaign, and refused to use his greatest asset, Clinton, because of the lingering scandal. Meanwhile, the Republicans crafted a candidate based on all of the Reagan principles listed above, a frontier-themed, tax cutting cowboy who was a born-again Christian. The only wrinkle was that this guy was playing a "moderate" a "compassionate conservative." Clinton had stolen so many themes from the Republican playbook that they had to co-opt one from the Democrats. And they still lost (well, not officially)--Let's just say that the election had low voter turnout and was very, very close.

For a year, America really didn't care who the president was. Bush pushed his dramatic tax cuts through Congress and stood next to Ted Kennedy and introduced "No child left behind." The Bush gameplan was clear--his majority in the senate was small (then, later, non-existent) and he wasn't particularly popular. So, he would push the corporate-giveaway, tax cuts for the rich angle quietly while hiding behind "compassion." Remember when Bush sent every American taxpayer $300? A great PR stunt to show people what "tax cuts" mean. And a great way to make unequal tax cuts seem fair. Bush was headed for a lackluster presidency and few small gains for Republicans in the tax codes . . .

Then it all changed. 9/11. The whole country stood behind Bush, transforming a weak and unpopular President into "leader" with a mandate. Suddenly, the "enemy" that was missing from Reagan's formula above showed itself. Modest goals for the Bush administration were replaced with lofty goals. After a pre-functory war in Afghanistan (you sort of have to go after the acutal enemy), Bush unveiled the Republican wet dream, modelled on Reagan:

  • Focus on American's patriotism. The Patriot Act stripped freedoms from Americans that had been won in the court battles of the 1970s. Long held rules of war like the Geneva Convention were "quaint." Torture was acceptable, all in the name of Patriotism. Any dissent in the Democrats, or in the media was treason.
  • Cut taxes, cut taxes, cut taxes. Do you have to finance a major war and reconstruction effort? No need to raise taxes. Just run deficits! In fact, make the tax cuts "permanent."
  • Build up the "enemy." Axis of evil anyone? Ever notice that Afghanistan and Al Qaeda are never mentioned? There are "no good targets" in Afghanistan, but Iraq holds considerable wealth for US corporate interests . . . Also, the creation of Department of Homeland Security (which Bush initially opposed) provides an opportunity to spend wildly on the defense industry while curtailing spending on FEMA and other vital "big government" programs.
  • Focus on the theme of self-reliance as a way to curtail social programs. Social Security needs to be "reformed." Headstart might need to be cancelled. We're going to create an "ownership society." While we're at it, let's make it harder to declare bankruptcy and to sue corporations.
  • Court the Christian vote. Need I say more?
  • Under the guise of a "free market" economy, you can give tremendous amounts of money to corporate interests. Bush presided over the largest giveaways to corporations ever and the rolling back of almost all environmental regulations.

Today, we see the partisan headhunting by the left swinging into high gear (as a payback for Clinton), and the stakes have been raised dramatically by Iraq and Katrina. So what we are left with is not a useful liberal/conservative distinction, but two parties that hate each other with different goals:

Republican: Destroy the New Deal and the Great Society, reward corporate donors and other interests. Dismantle the Federal "safety net" and consolidate power in the executive.

Democrat: ???--No seriously, what is their goal, except weak attempts to stop this? For the Democrats, having achieved all of their desires in the 1970s, they struggle to find a theme. Hopefully Katrina will help them to focus on poverty, jobs, and health care--Bush has handed them their mandate back, by rolling back all of their gains. And hopefully distance from 9/11 and a disasterous Iraq war will focus the Dems on rebuilding America's reputation and restoring personal liberties. John
Kerry weakly stood behind these issues, the Democrats need to stand forcefully behind them.

For the Republicans, the chickens may finally be coming home to roost. They have now played the "strong leader," 9/11, and WMD cards to death, and after Katrina blew the first two away, they're left with a President with strong majorities in Congress, but a 40% approval rating. Who knows what the political future holds? I am certain that Bush will continue to push his legislative agenda as if nothing had happened, but will Republicans in Congress who are facing re-election stay in lock-step with him? I think that they'll wait a few months to give more tax cuts to the rich, and I think that Social Security reform is on life support, but if they keep their majorities in 2006, it will be business as usual.

I actually don't know of any liberals or conservatives in either party. If Hillary is the candidate, she is much more likely to run as a moderate--like her husband in his last term, than an FDR style liberal. Still, I think the liberals would support her, or anyone, after Bush. The Republicans have the tough task of holding together a coalition of Christian wingnuts, wealthy people, and true conservatives in the face of an increasingly disasterous second term for Bush. If Bush's luck continues to fade, the next Republican candidate might look more like Gerald Ford after Watergate than Bush Sr. after Reagan. I can only hope. I can say with certainty that the days of civility between the two parties are over and that the corporate giveaways and Watergate paybacks will continue, leaving liberals like me and true conservatives longing for politician we can believe in.

--Tinfoil out