Thursday, September 30, 2004

There's a lot of excitement about the debates this evening, and I wanted to get my two cents in.

I think that Bush is going to have to look "presidential" -- he can't get flustered or irritated. His base just wants to see him "in control."

In contrast, I think that Kerry is going to have to kick Bush in the nuts, force him to his knees, and make him drink his urine, all while screaming "DRINK MY PEE! DRINK IT!" If he can do that, the media coverage will say the candidates seem "equally strong on terror."

Oh, but Kerry has to not use proper English when he screams "DRINK MY PEE!" He should say "DRAYNK" or something like that. People don't want a president who knows how to pronounce things. Especially not "Genghis Khan."

 1:22 PM

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Quick Shout-Out

I'm working late at the office, which means that I'm listening to music at a reasonably loud volume. The empty office gets too creepy without some tunes to keep me going. Oh, I'm sorry. It's not "empty." There's the cleaning guy with the 150 db vacuum cleaner that is persistently trying to vacuum the carpet next to my office. I think he's trying to write his name using the vacuum cleaner "marks" on the carpet.

I've been listening to The Eels' "Shootenanny!," which has to be one of the best albums of the past couple of years. It makes for good working-late-at-night, seething-with-resentment-at-the-folks-at-the-baseball-stadium, wishing-I-was-anywhere-else music. Though I could do without "Restraining Order Blues" when I'm in this sort of mood.

Mix it with MC Honky for some really good bitter-bouncy tunes.

That's all. Nothing about Bush's spectacularly inane press conference today. Nothing about the fact that the polls favoring Bush are all based on the assumption by the pollster that the voting public will be predominantly Republican. I got no time for that. I'm getting sick of it all. Politics is like drinking mercury or taking radiation -- it never leaves your body, so it just poisons you more and more until even the slightest exposure will leave you doubled over in the hall, vomiting your brains out onto the floor and praying for the cool embrace of death.

 9:15 PM

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The New Star Wars DVDs

A lot of people are wondering about how the new "Star Wars" DVDs stack up, what sort of extras are included, and what Luca$ has done to the films this time. So this is a handy guide to the three films and the changes made by Luca$:

Star Wars

1. In the 1997 "Special Edition," Luca$ changed the Han-Greedo scene so that Greedo shot first, which apparently causes Han to have some sort of digital spasm and then leisurely fire back. Fans objected that Solo had been made too "nice." In the DVD, the scene is "cleaned up" so that Han again ducks the shot, then ties Greedo to the chair and cuts off his ear while "Stuck in the Middle With You" is played by Sy Snootle and the Cantina Band.

2. All references to "Star Wars" are replaced with the words "Star Wars IV: A New Hope." This is to apply to all media in all countries. Thus, the Upright Citizens Brigade sketch about the guy who claims he had the "titular line" in Star Wars has been re-dubbed so that he supposedly says, "Man, I sure am sick of all these Star Wars IV: A New Hope." There has never been a time when the movie was simply named "Star Wars." We have always been at war with Eastasia.

3. To harmonize the movie with the three films that "precede it," all the good plot and characters are removed and replaced with drool-inducing crap.

Empire Strikes Back

1. The Colt .45 bottle digitally added to Billy Dee Williams's hand in 1997 has been changed to a Schlitz Malt Liquor bottle, to represent his changing sponsorships. Similarly, the Millenium Falcon now has a Nike "swoosh."

2. Moral ambiguity of film replaced with computer-animated weasel that sounds like Stepin Fetchit, who urges Luke to "stay the course."

3. Vader has a digitally-added pet Ewok that shows his "tender" side. New dialogue recorded: "Oh, Bobo. Only you know that deep inside this hideous armor, I yearn for the love I once knew while frolicking with my beloved in a digital meadow with weird pig-beasts."

Return of the Jedi

1. Leia's flowing bikini replaced with spangly Sean John hot pants.

2. The "celebration" music, which was originally a dippy Ewok song, and then was changed to a generic Braveheart ripoff in 1997, has been changed to a new song specially recorded for the disc by Justin Timberlake, Chingy and Michael Jackson, called "Let's Get This Ewok Started."

3. Attack on Death Star deleted, because there have already been too many damn Death Star attacks. Same with the chopped-off hands. Instead, film ends with wire-work swordfight lifted straight from "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon."

4. Ewoks now 32% cuter, 19% less annoying.

A Final Thought

You may be wondering, why now? I mean, for years, Lucas swore that he would never release the films on home video until he could release them as one set of six films.

Do not at all consider the fact that Lucasfilm is already preparing a six-video set in high definition, so that this release was clearly timed to have its impact before HD-DVD enters the marketplace next year. Do not remember the fact that he did the exact same thing with VHS and laserdisc.

And most of all, do not consider the fact that Lucasfilm still has deleted scenes from these movies -- the deleted scenes that fans have known about for years, including the one where Lando dies in the Death Star. Do not consider the fact that Luca$ has not included them in this version. Do not jump to the conclusion that those deleted scenes will be used to persuade people to buy yet another damn version of the films when they come out on HD-DVD.

Do not buy this crap.

Do not let Luca$ exploit your childhood memories of a fun set of movies that ended 20 years ago.

Do not go see Episode III.

Do not encourage this nimrod.

Do get a life.

 10:29 AM

Thursday, September 16, 2004

More on the Back Door Draft

You will recall from earlier postings that the military has been doing everything possible to keep its numbers up despite the Iraq debacle -- including (1) issuing "stop loss" orders so that people are forced to spend a year in Iraq even if they were due to muster out, (2) withdrawing huge numbers of troops from Korea and the European theater for redeployment in "hot spots," and (3) calling up the "individual ready reserve," which is the reservists whose active enlistment is up.

Technique (4) has just been announced:

"Soldiers from a Fort Carson combat unit say they have been issued an ultimatum - re-enlist for three more years or be transferred to other units expected to deploy to Iraq. "

Remember: if you get designated for Iraq, you have to spend 15 months in the Army from that day forward, including a full year in Iraq itself. No matter that you were set to muster out, say, next week -- it's a full fifteen-month commitment. "Stop loss." As in, "we have to stop the loss of all the people that are fleeing the military for good reason."

The Army's response is that they never actually said that the soldiers would be sent to Iraq. Rather, they said that the soldiers would be reassigned to other units, and it was possible they could be sent to Iraq. The soldiers claim it was made much more blatant than that.

Here's the kicker, at the end of the article:

But some soldiers presented with the re-enlistment message last week believe they've already done their duty and should not be penalized for choosing to leave. They deployed to Iraq for a year with the 3rd Brigade last April.

"I don't want to go back to Iraq," said the sergeant. "I went through a lot of things for the Army that weren't necessary and were risky. Iraq has changed a lot of people.''

And that is why Edwards got a standing ovation when he promised that the Democrats would not reinstitute the draft.

That's what's at stake. Four more years of Bush and there will be a military draft. Mark my words.

 3:25 PM

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Thought For The Day

It is very hard to look dignified and professional when you have the Black Eyed Peas' "Let's Get Retarded" stuck in your head.

FOLLOW UP, 6:26 p.m.

I've had two folks write comments that imply that I was complaining that I couldn't get the song out of my head. That's not what I meant at all. I like the song; it's really a propriety thing.

Here I am, at the office, in a nice suit, meeting with a client on a very sensitive matter. Things need to stay on an even keel, because I give people advice for a living.

Yet it's all I can do not to bop my head as the voice in my head sings "Let's get retarded in here... let's get retarded..." I would much rather give in to the song than listen to the problems.

 11:16 AM

Saturday, September 11, 2004

The Virus

Some thoughts are a virus. I'm not talking about the thought experiment about "don't think of a white elephant," nor am I spouting the (largely true) neo-conservative line about democracy and capitalism being like viruses that will grow and thrive if permitted a free society in which to do so.

No, I'm saying there are some thoughts that are infectious and hurtful. Information that creates a self-perpetuating wound, like an abcess. Not a philosophy, not a religion, data.

When you have an infected wound, you have to cut out a lot of flesh to remove the virus from your body. But at least there is that option! What do you do when the virus is a thought? You can't remove it from your brain, no matter how hard you try, because it's too damn hard to get past the cranium -- even if you knew what part of your brain to cut out. You just have to live with the fact that you are now hopelessly infected, and that the rest of your life will be completely different. Like waking up from a car wreck with no legs. All the regret and wishing and hoping in the world won't change that.

I know this sounds like the plot of The Ring, and don't think I haven't thought about it. You watch a videotape and then BOOM -- you can never go back again. Some information is like that. You can't ever "un-know" it, no matter how hard you try.

I caught one of those viruses last week, from a website that gathers weird news and funny sites from around the web. It was clearly labeled "the saddest thing you will ever read," but being a frickin' idiot, I read it anyway. At the time it seemed shocking and sad, even unnerving. But not unforgettable or anything like that.

But it is. It gets worse with time. I can't get it out of my mind. Like the theme song from "Star Trek," only a million times worse. It's stuck. It's burrowing in my brain.

The best comparison comes from the very first episode of "Upright Citizens Brigade," which features a "Bucket of Truth." You look into it, you see "absolute truth," and you go stark raving mad, screaming at the top of your lungs. (At the end of the episode, the parody of Mel Gibson's outrageously-depressed "Lethal Weapon" character looks in and says "You think I didn't know that?") It was funny, but --- yeah. I looked into the Bucket of Truth and I can't stop screaming.

This is not a dare. This is a warning. There is information out there that will burrow its way into your soul and build a black, festering wound. Slowly. So be careful. Life has its own way of forcing you to take hard information, but don't go looking for it. Put up filters. Turn off the computer. Be careful what you choose to expose yourself to.

But even now, there is always some a--hole out there who thinks this is a dare.

Okay, tough guy. Here's the virus. Don't say I didn't warn you. And no, I'm not posting the link because I want The Ring to spare me. Let me suffer. Don't click it. Don't hurt yourself.

And don't be the next human to prove the continuing relevance of the myth of Pandora.

For those of you too human to resist temptation, let me say this. The story of Pandora may be the cure. After all the evil of the world was released, there was only Hope to make it bearable. I am reminded of "The Diary of Anne Frank," which contains both a brutal information-virus (the Holocaust) and the seeds of a cure ("I still believe in spite of everything that people are really good at heart."). Or "The Hiding Place." Maybe those books are the cure.

Or maybe they make it worse.

 11:12 AM

Thursday, September 09, 2004

McClellan Does It Again

Fans of the blog (Hi, Mom!) will remember that a few days ago I celebrated Scott McClellan's amazing new advance in speech and rhetoric, in which he managed to deliver an oral footnote while answering a reporter's question. It was all there in the White House transcript -- McClellan gave an answer that was demonstrably false, but he managed to add on a footnote that changed his answer. It was still wrong, but it was wrong in a different way than before, and I'm sure that all the reporters present were impressed by his amazing feat.

My man McClellan's on a tear. He has now successfully delivered an "oral footnote" to someone else's question.

The issue was this:

Q Why did the President defy a direct order to get a physical in 1972?

After some yada yada, the question is posed again:

Q This was a direct order he defied, right? I mean, he did have a direct order that he defied?*

MR. McCLELLAN: John, these issues have come up every year. This was all part of the records -- that he was seeking to transfer to a unit in Alabama because he was going there to work in a civilian capacity. And he was granted permission to do so. And he was proud of his service and he was honorably discharged in October '73, after meeting his obligations.

*The memos that were released, in fact, show the President was working with his commanders to comply with the order.

Of course, as the document itself shows, Bush was indeed "working with his commanders" after being given a direct order to submit himself to a physical. Usually, trying to "work with" a commanding officer will get you sent to the stockade. But what the liberals don't understand -- or are trying to hide -- is that it was entirely appropriate for W to "work with" this guy because W is the President. I mean, who does that Lt. Colonel think he is? Where does he get off saying:

Staudt has obviously pressured Hodges more about Bush. I'm having trouble running interference and doing my job. Harris gave me a message today from Grp regarding Bush's OETR and Staudt is pushing to sugar coat it. Bush wasn't here during rating period and I don't have any feedback from 187th in Alabama. I will not rate. Austin is not happy today either.

Good gravy! This is insubordination against the Commander-in-Chief! If you're not willing to "work with" your own commanding officer, Mr. Lt. Colonel, then you have no place in This Man's Air Force.

Stop for a moment and think about this, folks. You know George W. Bush. He wouldn't do anything like this, would he? Are you going to follow your heart, or your lyin' eyes?

But the real champion here is McClellan. We already knew he could deliver a footnote to his own words, but what must have been amazing -- I'd love to see the footage -- is that he was able to answer a reporter's question through a footnote. God knows, it would have been far less interesting for McClellan to actually answer the question through normal means. His actual "answer" -- the one he delivered in his own voice -- was just a smoke screen. The real answer is the footnote. The reporters must have been stunned by it, because they didn't ask any follow-up questions to the footnote.

America. Breaking new ground in oratory.

 4:16 PM

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

There's No Damn Reason to Make A Big Deal About This One

There's no damn reason to make a big deal about this one. Why should people stand up and take notice of this particular soldier, who fell at noon today, Baghdad time (3:00 a.m. here in the Central time zone)? Strange to think that I was fast asleep then. I was snoring while this man met his maker and made "history."

No name released yet, no rank. His family may not even know yet. I may be talking about a man whose wife is crying at this very instant.

He fell at high noon during an attack in Baghdad. We like to think of High Noon as being distinctly American -- like Gary Cooper's stand against the forces of corruption. But this guy was just a guy. Not a white hat, a guy. Not a number, a guy.

He's no different than Petty Officer 3rd Class Eric L. Knott, or Staff Sgt. Gary A. Vaillant, either of whom nearly hit the "jackpot" and made the news. They're all the same, regardless of the order of their passing. All of them deserve our respect and our thanks. All of them deserve to be noted at their passing. More importantly, all of them deserve a country that will take seriously its obligations to our soldiers. They are all dying in a war that we did not have to fight, that we did not plan for, that we did not treat with respect, and that has no end in sight. Each and every one of them is more than a number, yet reduced to a number. Why is his number different than any other?

He's just a guy. He deserved better.

He's a guy from Arizona. He grew up in the barrio, and the Army sounded like a good way to pull himself up the ladder toward college and the American dream.

He's a guy from Tennessee. He's idolized the Marines since he was a little kid.

He's a guy from North Dakota. After 9/11, he wanted to be part of the solution.

Now he's number 1,000. He will be flown secretly into Dover Air Field under cover of darkness, hidden from the cameras. There's no damn reason to make a big deal about this particular hidden, flag-draped coffin. After all, it only took nineteen minutes for his landmark to be superseded.

It's no big deal.

Now, this is a big deal: what are you going to do about it?

 8:07 PM
Sometimes there is great value in a simple list. Graydon Carter has assembled a simple list of numbers regarding the Bush administration, and it's highly worth your while. It's hard to pick any particular section to highlight, but try this one:

$3m Amount the White House was willing to grant the 9/11 Commission to investigate the 11 September attacks.

$0 Amount approved by George Bush to hire more INS special agents.

$10m Amount Bush cut from the INS's existing terrorism budget.

$50m Amount granted to the commission that looked into the Columbia space shuttle crash.

$5m Amount a 1996 federal commission was given to study legalised gambling.

7 Number of Arabic linguists fired by the US army between mid-August and mid-October 2002 for being gay.

After listing America's litany of ignorance of world places and events, Carter has a chilling conclusion:

5 Number of states that do not use the word "evolution" in public school science courses.

 1:34 PM

Friday, September 03, 2004

Friday in America

It's Friday in America. There are a lot of things to talk about -- the President's speech last night, which was so filled with falsities and innuendo that it has been debunked by that rampaging group of liberal pundits The AP -- but I think we all know that there' s something more important. The "war" on "terror"? The war in Iraq?

No, I'm thinking about our economy. There have been a lot of bellwether reports lately that there are problems with the economy, like today's jobs report that gets played by some as "144,000 new jobs created" and by others as "economy fails to break even on jobs this month; net loss of over 6,000 jobs." Businesses are failing, apparently because of those damn trial lawyers and their "frivolous" lawsuits against companies that "kill" people without "giving a damn about the consequences."

But I have been greatly moved by a development yesterday that has powerful repercussions for the rest of the economy.

"Successories" no longer advertises in the "Sky Mall" catalog.

You can imagine my shock on the flight to Dallas yesterday. I was feeling a little blue, a little unfocused. I knew I wasn't bringing my "A game," I wasn't "playing on the varsity," I wasn't "giving 110%." I wasn't "shaking hands with Patton." So I naturally turned to the #1 source for inspiration and success: Successories. In times of trouble, I have found comfort in the four-page Successories portion of the Sky Mall catalog, squinting to read the motivational slogans in the photos of the products.

Who can forget classics like:

DREAM. A sunny beach. "Resolve to succeed. The greatest discovery one can make is that nothing is impossible."

DARE TO SOAR. A soaring American eagle. "Your attitude, almost always determines your altitude in life."

POTENTIAL. Photo of french fries. "Not everybody gets to be an astronaut when they grow up."

When I was looking to buy a house in Austin in 1998, I toured a small house north of town that was currently owned by an MBA student. I know that he was an MBA student because he had Successories posters on every vertical surface -- a total of about eight or nine. Not one of the best decorating themes I've ever seen, from a taste point of view, but one thing was for certain: this guy was a success. He was on his way to the top. And his schlong was long and thick.

I didn't buy the house. I knew that real winners -- the guys who have "excellence" deep in their souls -- owned the print of Vince Lombardi with his "lies exhausted on the field of battle" speech. I chose not to bid on his house, and then I shorted his stock.

What happened to Successories? How could this reflection of the American dream suddenly slip off the radar? Have we lost our excellence somewhere? Did someone start spelling "t-e-a-m" with an "I" in it?

Sure, Successories had been doing dismally during this hangover from the go-go '90s. They went public in 1990, and went private in 2003 to avoid reporting yet another crippling loss. Shares went for 30 cents. But I don't think any of us expected that Successories would ever abandon the critical centerpiece of their marketing strategy: a cheaply-produced catalog shilling overpriced crap to a captive audience of beleaguered middle managers. It was the perfect marriage of product and marketplace.

What does this mean for our country? What does this mean for our economy? It means that it's Friday in America. The weekend is coming, and we frankly don't want to work that hard. Time to go to Applebee's for a long lunch. Time to go talk to Donna in Accounting instead of making those extra cold-calls. Time to ignore the boss's mandatory "motivational" meetings because actions speak louder than words, and health care costs just went up again.

It means that there is just not the same market for shiny posters of shallow words, meant to spur shallow people to work themselves into a lather.

If shiny, happy sloganeering doesn't motivate Americans like it used to, then...

...well, then somebody had better tell George W. Bush, because he's in a world of trouble.

GEORGE W. BUSH. Resolute photo. "I can't think of any mistakes that I have made while president. That's why I can get teary-eyed talking about the sacrifices of military families."

 9:39 AM

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

This is the sound of bombing, of something being ill-advised in every possible way. (Full video courtesy of the Washington Post)

This is the sound of the Bush twins making fun of Barbara Bush for believing that "Sex in the City" is "something married people do... (pause) and never talk about."

During that pause, the convention center was deathly silent -- because THE BASE believes that "Sex in the City" is something that "married people do." And even when Jenna added the "never talk about" part, the reaction was still muted.

Amazing. One wonders how all this got past Puppetmaster Rove. Rove has been spending millions on "shoring up the base," and this sort of thing explains why.

 8:50 AM

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