Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Bible Summarized by a Smartass, Part Twenty-One: Psalms, Proverbes, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon

Starting with Job, the Bible has basically become a collection of what they call wisdom literature. These books are meant to teach lessons about God and how to pray to him and whatnot. Job, at least, had a narrative that could be summarized, but the next four books are a little different. They’re not stories so much as a collection of songs, prayers, and sayings. So I’m just going to run through them as briefly as possible.

Psalms
Psalms is basically a hymnbook for Israel. God is praised in songs about the entire history of the Jews, real or imagined, and it would be pointless to summarize them in any way. Some of them are actually nicely poetic, but they mostly blur together; the enemies of the Jews are animals or plagues or something catastrophic and dumb, God is a rock or a fortress or some other hard geological structure, the protagonist is always lost in the wind. Bland; these aren’t exactly Shakespearean sonnets here. I could go through them and find the few I liked and pick them out, but I’m not going to bother. Too much supplication makes my brain hurt.

Proverbs
This is basically a collection of oral teachings that have been recorded. It’s no more complex than reading a book of Aesop’s Fables or a collection of mythical stories intended to impart a lesson, but it is a lot less fun. The best thing about this book is that it’s the only part of the Old Testament where women are allowed to be strong, assertive, and (to a degree) independent. It’s within the framework of male-dominated society, but it’s a nice change from what we’ve had so far. But Proverbs also says that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,” which is horseshit. Self-awareness is the beginning of knowledge. Fear of the Lord is the surrender of it. A lot of this book is stuff that you see on greeting cards all the time.

Ecclesiastes
Proverbs II: Even More Proverbial. The narrator just calls himself Teacher, says he’s a King of Israel and son of David, and then speaks in verse. There’s been a lot of verse lately, hasn’t there? Psalms and Proverbs are in verse, too. As was Job. The Teacher is very typical of religious leaders: he drinks, whores, gets rich, buys property, becomes powerful, and then says that doing those things is empty and no one else should do them. He goes on at length to speak against gluttony, love of money, and—ironically—excessive talking. He calls for moderation in everything, and then keeps repeating himself. First it’s just eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. Then it’s all there is in life is time and chance. Then it’s enjoy life to the fullest and embrace the unknown, because life is only temporary. And, of course, in the end the Teacher comes out against wisdom, telling us not to pay attention to wise sayings, as though because the search for wisdom never ends it’s somehow meaningless. Oh, and, of course, the only important thing in life is to fear God and obey his laws. The Bible is never one to emphasize smarts, is it?

Song of Solomon
This is the one part of the Bible that’s worth a damn as art. This should be printed as its own book (and lavishly illustrated at that). Although the poem holds itself back from crossing over too far into the erotic (God hates fucking, after all), it’s basically one of those Persian poems about the pleasures of sex and sexuality, the sensual connection with the natural world, and how the state of lovers can be reflected (figuratively) in the state of the world around them. It’s stunningly beautiful, and I’m almost not sure how the thing even made it into the Bible, considering how much it revels in life and human interaction. It’s a good feeling to end on this week.

Next week: Isaiah. Lots more verse, full of prophecies, prognostications, and peril. And probably other things that start with "p."

Nigger

When I heard that New York City was going to attempt to ban the word nigger from being used, all I could do was roll my eyes. They're going to ban a word? A word? How are they going to enforce that one?

And the truth is, they're not. There's a moratorium on the word, but there's no penalty attached. So basically it's meaningless. It's the City Council basically saying "We don't like the n-word."

(Can you imagine: "the n-word"? One of the news stories I read this morning said it like that: "New York City bans the n-word." That's a sentance no adult should ever write. Oh, and stop saying "poo-poo" while you're at it.)

Anyway, most Americans consider the word nigger to be the most offensive word in the English language. I think there are much more offensive words out there that you can be called, like liar or coward or child-molester, but that's apparently just me. Hell, I remember when Archie Bunker used to say it on TV, before everyone began to quake in fear of its power. Or rather, the power they gave it.

That's my problem with this stupid move on the part of a city that should be sophisticated enough to know better. Nigger is just a word. That's all it is. What's important is the context. In fact, the first thing I thought of is this George Carlin bit from the album Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics. After ticking off an almost heroic amount of racial slurs, Carlin says:

"There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of those words in and of themselves. They're only words. It's the context that counts. It's the user. It's the intention behind the words that makes them good or bad. The words are completely neutral. The words are innocent. I get tired of people talking about bad words and bad language. Bullshit! It's the context that makes them good or bad. The context. That makes them good or bad. For instance, you take the word "Nigger." There is absolutely nothing wrong with the word "Nigger" in and of itself. It's the racist asshole who's using it that you ought to be concerned about. We don't mind when Richard Pryer or Eddie Murphy say it. Why? Because we know they're not racist. They're Niggers! Context. Context. We don't mind their context because we know they're black."

But apparently that's a very hard and tenuous concept for America to grasp. Now we want anyone who says nigger to be labeled a hatemonger. We want anyone who says faggot to go to rehab and learn how to think "correctly." Doesn't anyone else see the natural outcome of this? If we label everything as hate speech, if we start saying that there is a right way to think and a wrong way to think, then we might as well just institute George Orwell's 1984 right now. Because nigger and faggot and kike and spic won't be enough. Soon it'll be just negative words of any kind, and like the people of 1984, we'll all be saying ungood instead of bad because we don't want to hurt anyone's feelings.

The sad fact is this: there are racists. There are people who are hateful. There are even people who will use words out of anger when they don't really mean them. Mel Gibson is an asshole for being a racist and then blaming it on alcohol. Michael Richards is an asshole for being a racist and then claiming he didn't mean it. Isaiah Washington is an asshole for calling someone a faggot. But that doesn't mean Isaiah Washington needs to go to an institution to be forced into my way of thinking. That's going too far. The New York state assembly is going too far when they ask the Recording Academy not to nominate musicians for Grammys if they use the word nigger, because they're saying that only certain subjects are suitable for art. Which is a way of saying that only certain subjects are suitable for thought. It is going too far for them to ask Black Entertainment Television to ban the word. What they're doing is fighting intolerance with another kind of intolerance.

We do that often enough. For instance, on an episode of Penn & Teller: Bullshit, they talked to a woman who was trying to get people to stop swearing. Or rather, to stop saying swears. Instead of taking the Lord's name in vain, she suggested using the names of, well, other people's gods--she herself suggested Allah and Buddha. Instead of using curse words, we should substitute them with other, non-curse words. But, as Penn & Teller pointed out, all that does is replace words. It doesn't replace the intention. And that's what gives words their meaning: the intention. People stupidly using offensive words are not the problem; the sentiments and the ignorance that leads to their use are.

I'm as annoyed as anyone that people have given this much power the word nigger. Do you know where the word comes from? Niger is a Latin word that means, simply, black. In Spanish, the same word is Negro. That's all it used to mean: black. Over the centuries, of course, it's taken on terrible connotations because of the history of slavery and discrimination in the United States. But the fact is this: it's still a word. A mere word. Words are all we have to communicate with, and if we start saying that some words are good and some are bad, and we start banning the "bad" ones from everyday usage, we are no longer on solid ground. If your mother raised you right, or if you're just a thoughtful person, you know that you shouldn't say nigger or faggot or kike or spic. You shouldn't have to be told.

Chris Rock commented on the lunacy to Reuters, saying "Enough real bad things happen in this city to worry about how I am going to use the word."

That's pretty much the whole point, isn't it?

And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going

Just for the fun of comparison, someone here presents Jennifer Holliday's rendition of the song from Dreamgirls at the 1982 Tony Awards, as well as Jennifer Hudson's version from the film soundtrack (audio only, but incredible). They both knock it out of the park, frankly, and if J Hud won her Oscar for a single moment in the film, this is it. This song just breaks my heart and impresses me, captivates me all at the same time. I'm in tears by the end of it.


Damn, I really need to get an original cast version of this.

Pussycat Dolls

When Tom the Dog says that you're worthy of hate if you watch The Search for a New Pussycat Doll, he's absolutely right.
What is it about the Pussycat Dolls that people find compelling? Are people so hard up for hot chicks to gawk at these days that these weird extraterrestrial drag queens are what femininity has going for it these days? I remember a time, not so very long ago, when the Pussycat Dolls were sexy and classy. Before they became a shitty cookie-cutter pop group, they were a throwback to the honest-to-goodness burlesque act. They danced and sang, did little stripteases and sexy costume acts. They were like Dita Von Teese, only there was a group of them that sometimes included Carmen Electra or Christina Applegate or Christina Aguilera or Scarlett Johansson. They were sexy, but there was a certain level of classy artistry to it. It was sophisticated and adult.

Now, it's pandering and lame. It's aimed, like everything in this world, at children who don't know anything about what sexy is or what artistry means. And it sucks to see something that was once sophisticated be turned into...well, shit. But since someone just had to come along and turn them into by-the-numbers commercial pop, we lost yet another thing that was actually good. But hey, at least some asshole record exec is making more money. No one ever lost any by underestimating the level of taste of the American audience.

And what about that, um, music, anyway? Seriously, why appropriate the Pussycat Dolls name and image when it's really only one person, anyway:Nicole Scherzinger was from a group you probably don't remember called Eden's Crush. No, not a Destiny's Child parody, but the group that was the end result of that WB series Pop Stars, their rip-off of Making the Band. Eden's Crush was such a non-entity that when they had a guest appearance performing on an episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, they were referred to as the Pop Stars.

Anyway, Nicole Scherzinger's voice is not unskilled, I'll give you that. In fact, she's skilled enough that she actually sings lead for the Dolls. And back-up. Yes, she sings every single vocal part on the album. The other girls are just glorified back-up dancers. Fuck, they couldn't have just gone with Scherzinger and left the Pussycat Dolls alone? And it's not like Scherzinger carries the whole album, since almost every single I've heard has the help of William or Busta Rhymes or Snoop Dogg or Timbaland. So what is the point?

Well, to sell, records of course. To idiots.

Yes, I do hate to make blanket statements. But if you're watching their show or buying their album, you're an idiot. And you deserve my hate and probably shouldn't be allowed to read my blog anymore.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Throwdown 3/2

15 random thoughts, questions, and observations for the week.

1. Apparently, Katherine Heigl is leaving Grey’s Anatomy over a salary dispute, giving me one less reason to consider watching the show. Come to think, I’ve never seen the show, and Heigl’s the only reason I might have watched it. Then again, I never watched Roswell, either… Anyway, already there’s a cry of “another Suzanne Somers who thinks she’s worth more than she is!” But the fact is she makes less money than some of the other stars. And really, I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s using this as a cover and really wants to leave the show because of the decision to keep Isaiah Washington on board. She was one of the most vocal people about that whole situation. And if that’s true, good for her for taking a stand. And if that’s not true, good for her for knowing her value and trying to get what she deserves.

2. Pride and Prejudice was the top choice in a poll of Britain’s favorite books. Seriously? That silly, irrelevant thing took first place? In all of the annals of the tremendous tradition of English literature, the book most people found was their heart’s favorite was Pride and Prejudice? I mean, I knew it wasn’t going to be the English language’s greatest achievement (Moby Dick…also Hamlet), but seriously…

3. Marky Mark, desperate to keep his brief moment of credibility going, claims that he was one of Ang Lee’s original choices for Brokeback Mountain, but didn’t want to do it because the gay scenes “creeped me out.” Yeah, I can see where Marky Mark would have a problem being perceived that way… Dude, I had to look at his underwear for years, fuck him being creeped out.

4. Tyra Banks just can’t win with the women of America. After attempting to fool them all into thinking she was some sort of a hero for basically saying she hated being associated with fat people, the residents of Santa Monica, California, forced a bus company to take down ads promoting America’s Next Top Model on the grounds that the show is “disrespectful to women.” It might almost be worth watching this season, though, just to see if Tyra takes it out on the skinnier girls. Jesus, that woman has self-esteem problems.

5. Here’s some really depressing TV news: the series premiere of Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? was not only the highest-rated premiere of the new season, but 26.5 million people made it the highest-rated premiere in the history of the FOX “network.” So, obviously the answer to the question posed by the title is “no.”

6. Okay, this has to be called off right now. Christian Bale is just too ridiculously good-looking, and besides that, he’s Batman. I’m calling for a stop to this Christian Bale until I can get my bitter jealousy under control… By the way, does anyone know if Christian Bale is seeing anyone?

7. The Reaping? I don’t think we need any. If you caught that reference, I love you.

8. Is Jenna Jameson actually caving in on herself?

9. Wow, who knew Dominic Monaghan was so curvy without his shirt on? I don't know why he felt the need to cover his pecs, though.

10. John Travolta speaks, and to everyone’s surprise says something incredibly stupid. He’s apparently decided that the way to exploit Anna Nicole Smith’s death is to use it as an opportunity to publicize Narconon, the “church” of scientology’s rehab program. “It’s so sad. We could have helped her with Narconon but didn’t get a chance to. I wish we had, I swear.” Okay, I added that last part. Narconon is, of course, a front used to recruit vulnerable people and troubled teenagers to the “church” of alien-worshipping cretins. Everyone needs to shut the fuck up now and stop talking about Anna Nicole Smith. And scientology. Especially scientology.

11. Seemingly everyone male attached to American Idol has sounded off on the “controversy” with the Antonella Barba photos, but the gist is that Antonella gets to stay and, because she’s hot, take the place of someone much more talented than she is (which, at this point, is everyone). Hugh Hefner summed it all up by saying that this controversy is “hypocritical and dumb.” That’s funny, that’s what I said four years ago when Idol kicked off Frenchie Davis because there were similar pictures of her on the internet. Making Frenchie leave and letting the New Jersey Skank stay just because she’s hot-ish seems very hypocritical and dumb. Huh… I wonder what makes the two of them different… seems like there should be some sort of black and white answer, doesn’t it?

12. Some idiot in Indiana tried to cash a check the other day that was “signed” by Jesus. $50,000, and he tried to cash it at Chase Bank. I honestly have no joke that can do that any justice.

13. Paul Hellyer, an 83 year-old former Canadian defense minister, is asking governments to reveal their alien technologies and what they can do to stop global warming. Seriously. He says: “I would like to see what [alien] technology there might be that could eliminate the burning of fossil fuels within a generation.” Is that an admission that Canada knows something, or just insanely wishful thinking? “We need to persuade governments to come clean on what they know,” he went on to say. “Some of us suspect they know quite a lot, and it might be enough to save our planet if applied quickly enough.” I’m going to say a couple of things here. First, the existence of alien life seems highly probable, but whether they’ve actually visited our planet seems fantastic in the least. Second, everybody I’ve ever known who worked in the US Army or the FBI just smiles and says they can’t say anything when I’ve asked if there’s a shred of truth to this alien garbage. Third… this is just such a crackpot thing to believe. Can’t we save ourselves on our own? Turning to aliens seems as misguidedly hopeful as turning to God; it would be nice if they really existed, but it’s not something to bank on.

14. So, if we need strong leadership to get Iraq organized, why don’t we just send the Mafia to take over the whole place? I’m serious. They’re way more organized than the Bush administration is, and they’re willing to play as dirty as the so-called insurgents are. If you want business taken care of, call in the right people. They already know the score.


15. You’re never too old or, hopefully, too unwilling to learn from the experiences of others. This is Craig Ferguson talking about Britney Spears and his own alcoholism on his show a while back. These are good words to listen to.

I'm a Soft Link Expert

Starting with cheesecake once again, MediaBom has a shitload of pictures of Stacy Keibler on one post. Wow.

ModFab continues his blogging of American Idol, with analysis of this week's guys, this week's girls, and this week's losers.

RetroCRUSH finishes off Black History Month with a look at the greatest black pop culture characters.

Sick of the Academy Awards yet? In case you're not, here's some fun and interesting analysis by ModFab, Nathaniel, and Nick.

Here Comes Johnny Yen Again with a look at another sad conservative attack on Al Gore. He just scares the shit out of the cons, doesn't he? Must be right about something...

Deus Ex Malcontent tells Judge Larry Seidlin what he can go do with himself. He also has a bit for Jesus fans and the hard-ons they immediately sprouted at news of a tomb being found.

No Smoking in the Skull Cave finishes her picture tour of our home with a look at the bedroom. She also adds another classic to her Overlooked Movies series, Mothra vs. Godzilla.

Occasional Superheroine brings up all of the fears I have about the misogyny of Black Snake Moan.

Man vs. Clown! talks about the Van Halen reunion that won't be.

I have some cartoon links this week. Jim Hill Media talks about the plot for Pixar's next next movie, WALL E, that sounds wonderful. Variety has an article on what's going on between Pixar and Disney with John Lasseter and Ed Catmull in charge of animation. John K has a saddening look inside the mind of the animation executive at All Kinds of Stuff. And Smithappens has a great video of 80s cartoon openings; a half-hour of them!

Postmodern Barney laments the homophobia of DC Comics and how it manifests itself among fans. He also dissects the lies of Archie Comics.

I Against Comics brings us back to reality on Stephen King writing for comic books. And I want to live in his version of the DC Universe.

Byzantium's Shores has an interesting post about what's going on in this, the final stages of For Better or Worse's inexplicably long comic strip run.

The Syndicate has a preview of the new Dustbowl Cavaliers album, which is all bluegrass versions of Tenacious D songs. I know that wasn't the point of this post, but if you listen to any of the previews, it becomes clear why this bluegrass cover thing is overblown. In lesser hands (lesser than, say, the BossHoss or Hayseed Dixie), it all comes out bland and sounding the same.

I hate MySpace, but there is some cool stuff at the official MySpace page for Rob Zombie's Halloween.

Things I Will Program My LoveBot to Say. You know that's going to be funny. Especially since Dan Carlson wrote it.

The Bottle Gang salute's some of Hollywood's biggest drunks.

Cap'n Scurvy's Treasure Chest has one of the most bizzarely funny video clips I've seen this week.

McSweeney's has the hilarious journal of Ziggy Stardust's assistant.

John Waters makes me think there might be a reason to start watching Court TV.

Culture Kills knows better than NBC who should replace Conan O'Brien on Late Night.

I know it might seem otherwise, but I'm generally not a fan of video tributes people make by setting clips to a song. However, I like this one immensely, a tribute to one of my all time favorite TV characters, Hal from Malcolm in the Middle.

Zaius Nation looks inside FOX's attempts to smear Barack Obama.

The Rude Pundit talks about what Laura Bush should have said to Larry King.

Ned Lamont wants Joseph Lieberman to keep something about Iraq in mind.

The Last Visible Blog points out something that the news outlets should be covering a little more: George W. Bush likes to torture people. Didn't we fight a war to stop someone from doing that?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

TV Report: Heroes vs. Lost

This is supposed to be the year when serialized dramas were proven to be a failure. But, of course, one new program that became a ratings hit has been Heroes on NBC. And this week's episodes of Heroes and Lost demonstrate the strengths and weakness of both series.

I've been a fan of Lost since I saw the first series on DVD. And it's not going out on a limb to say that this third series has been a bit of a trial. Really, the second half of the second series was a little trial of its own. A lot of people point to the whining of the characters as the problem, but I don't think that's it. I think the major problems are fourfold. First, there's the overlaying mystery, of which we've only received the barest bits of information. And yes, it's getting frustrating. I compare the show to The Prisoner; it's weird and it's hard to figure out what's going on. But when Patrick McGoohan was producing The Prisoner, he was smart enough to know not to stretch it past 17 episodes (frankly, it would have been fine at around 12). The show was hard to grasp, but the intellectual contest was very stimulating and the characters were interesting. I think that show had a lot to say and I was actually very satisfied with the larger implications of the ending. Like the best science fiction, there were societal concerns being addressed, albeit in metaphorical ways. Meanwhile, Lost has had 58 episodes as of last night to move even the slightest bit forward, and it hasn't. It's barely moved at all. The first series, with its glimpses of a larger purpose, was exciting. The second series, which only frustrated where it promised answers, was decidedly less so. Somehow, Lost has put itself into this rut where every tiny bit of information that's revealed every few episodes answers nothing, but raises six more questions. And that would be fine if they threw us a bone every once in a while. But it doesn't.

And that leads into the second problem I have with Lost, which is that it's pace is so glacial that none of the storylines are advanced. Last night, it was "revealed" that Alex, the girl with the Others who helped Kate and Sawyer escape, might be Danielle Rousseau's long lost daughter. Who were the last four people in the audience who hadn't figured that out over a year ago? I had honestly thought they just dropped that storyline. What's this smoke monster? What's with the numbers? Is Hurley cursed? How was Locke crippled? Where are Walt and Michael? What was the deal with Claire's baby being so special? How was Rose's cancer cured? Is that woman still looking for Desmond? What was that hatch all about? What happened when the hatch imploded? Seriously, if they could wrap up one single plot point, I would be happy. People tell me that if any of these things were answered, there would be no show. That's total bullshit; a well-written show with creative talents (which, I'm sorry, Lost certainly is not, whatever its virtues) would be able to answer one mystery while creating more and finding other plotlines to grab onto, advancing forward instead of what's happening now, which is dragging it out in an attempt to sell more Sprite. This is what happens when you go to war without a plan; the writers have no direction to move in, so there's no momentum at all. Don't look for the mystery of Charlie's impending death or Desmond's ability to see the future to be solved any time soon.

The third problem with Lost, as I see it, has been the switch from a genuine ensemble to only having three main characters. Don't bother telling me that Jack, Kate, and Sawyer have always been the main characters. I know that. But there was a lot more in the first two series about Locke, Sayid, Sun, Jin, Hurley, Charlie, Claire. Everyone had screen time, every character was developed. Now, they've chosen to focus on the three most boring, cliched characters on the show. Besides which, Matthew Fox (with his three facial expressions) and Evangeline Lilly are just absolutely terrible actors. We are now 10 episodes into this third series; the majority of those episodes have revolved around the main three and their increasingly tiresome and meaningless adventures with the Others. And what have we learned about them? Jack is drunk and angry. Already knew that. Kate is mysterious and can't make relationships work. Knew that, too. Sawyer is a shit, but he has a heart of gold. Still nothing new. In fact, we haven't learned anything new about any single character, not even the ones who are still interesting.

Here's another character problem: Why go to all the trouble of introducing the characters who were in the tail section, only to kill them all off? And what happened to Rose and Bernard?

You know the only actor I really like on the show right now? MC Gainey as Mr. Friendly. I like the way he keeps trying to be, well, friendly, and seems genuinely hurt when Jack brushes him off. I don't know why he seems hurt, and that's intriguing. Everyone else...blah.

My final Lost frustration is the genre confusion; the show thinks it's science fiction, but it isn't. It doesn't understand the genre at all, and can't tell a story within it. The stuff that used to be most interesting to me--the electromagnetic experiment, the possible time travel, the larger sense that people have been chosen and called to the island, the weird numerology--all of that is just arbitrary, as though it adds some kind of larger background, but it doesn't make any sense. It's completely random, and on a show like Lost, that's fatal to any storytelling credibility. I know that Carlton Cuse wanted to just run on and on telling stories about redemption and whatnot, and those can still fit into the larger framework, but they can't be the main focus. Making them the main focus is silly and fatuous. This show takes itself so seriously that it's impossible to have fun with it anymore. I enjoyed pieces of last night's episode, but all of that pretentious intonation about "Always have hope" sank the whole thing with its artless obviousness. And how much further did that episode advance the understanding of anything? Not at all. The fact that most viewers care more about which guy Kate will choose than what's actually going on (according to at least one poll I've seen) is just indicative of the problems with the storytelling on this show.

Now, I don't want to hear "If you don't like it anymore, don't watch it." I know I don't have to watch it. In fact, I've yet to feel like I "have" to watch it. I'm not one of those people (and I know several of them) who feel like if they don't watch it they're missing something vital to American culture. I just want to know where it's going. I don't expect anything out of it anymore, I've just stuck with it for long enough that I want to see how it ends. Seriously, if someone told me tomorrow that Lost was going away and would never come back again, I wouldn't even miss it. And I'm not sitting there in the vain hope that it's going to get better. I just want to see where it goes. It's just too bad it's become so, so sucky.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Heroes is (for now at least) everything that people thought Lost was when it started. It's a serial, but it's a serial with a direction. It feels like it's going somewhere. If this were Lost, Peter would still be trying to figure out what his powers were. Isaac would still be pondering his destiny. Hiro would still be trying to decide if he wanted to go to New York. Heroes has interesting, sometimes fun characters, and the mystery aspect builds on itself. That's what creative storytelling does; it solves problems, then builds on those solutions with new problems. We're finding out things about the characters. We're slowly (but surely) discovering how the characters all fit together. It rewards careful viewing with answers, even as it teases with more questions. It's not the most well-written show on TV (there's quite a comic book silliness to it), but it sure knows its plot structure. Heroes is still exciting. And I hope they don't drag it on for year after year. I don't want it to last forever. I just want it to be good.

So far, it is. And if Heroes were to disappear tomorrow, I'd genuinely miss it.

One more fact: I think it's interesting that Jeph Loeb, the comics writer, actually left Lost to work on Heroes. Not bad.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (2006)
This is one of the few movies I’ve responded to the way Roger Ebert responded to Ghost World; I wanted to hug it. I loved this movie so much. It’s a very simple story about a dysfunctional family who go on a road trip to take a young girl to the Little Miss Sunshine contest. They are the girl’s pressured father, her put-upon mother, her silent stepbrother, her foul-mouthed grandfather, and her suicidal uncle. The characters barely seem to fit together, but for one common thread: they all love her and want what’s best for her. Along the way, they lose every dream they’re holding onto, but instead of becoming more jaded and cynical, it brings them closer together. They don’t find themselves so much as they find each other and find that life can still be worth living, even if you have to defer your dream. I loved it. Every performance was wonderful. What more can I say? **** stars.

BABEL (2006)
I knew this was going to be bad going in, but this surpassed my every expectation. As others have pointed out, calling this movie an international version of Crash is an insult to Crash—and that movie fucking sucks. Working in broad overgeneralizations and lame stereotypes, this movie has nothing more complex to say than Americans are entitled and unhappy, Mexicans are simple and proud, Arabs are misunderstood and struggling, and Japanese are stressed out. And I don’t know about you, but I find that kind of simplistic worldview offensive. Not one single actor has a real character to play; the filmmakers here aren’t interested in people, they’re interested in vague ramblings about things that are apparently too important to name. The actors embody…something, but certainly not recognizable people. Everything is drawn so grandly, so self-importantly, that it turns into one over-the-top blur of pomposity. How this movie could mean anything to anyone is beyond me. No stars.

HOW WILLIAM SHATNER CHANGED THE WORLD (2005)
A fun, quirky documentary hosted by William Shatner about the way Star Trek has inspired scientists to make strides in personal and exploration technology. A bit esoteric for the History Channel, but it’s energetic. *** stars.

THE VIRGIN SUICIDES (2000)
This was a second viewing. The first time I saw this movie, I hated it, but after loving Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette, I decided to give this movie a second shot. I’m glad I did. Sofia Coppola’s first directorial work isn’t quite as assured as her other two, but it’s a strong film in itself. Maybe I didn’t catch the satire the first time around, but I see now how this fits into Coppola’s themes of being a girl in a male world that enforces a sense of purposelessness on women and then lashes out at them for it. As much as the boys around the five Lisbon sisters care for them and want to help, they have no idea how to. In fact, they miss the entire point. It’s a beautiful, impressionistic film right up until the clunky ending, which tries too hard to be pat. The ending goes on just a smidge too long. It’s a problem Coppola has yet to repeat. ***1/2 stars. Kirsten Dunst is very good.

THE ADVENTURE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES’ SMARTER BROTHER (1975)
I think Gene Wilder’s mistake was probably ditching Mel Brooks to direct his own scripts; it only held both of them back. This is Wilder’s debut as a director, starring as Sigerson Holmes, the bitter brother of Sherlock Holmes. It’s actually a fun movie, if a little loose and not quite as funny as it hopes it is. A lot of that is to do with the supporting cast: Madeline Kahn is as sexy and funny as she always is, Leo McKern is a brilliantly funny Moriarty, Dom DeLuise is actually pretty damn hilarious (I usually don’t like him), and Marty Feldman is, as always, a comedy genius. But I would be remiss not to mention Roy Kinnear, one of my all time favorite comic actors, who has one utterly hilarious scene with a giant glove that made me laugh so hard I nearly spit out my drink. *** stars.

SOMETHING NEW (2006)
I don’t know what it is that held me back from enjoying this film. It’s about an interracial romance between a professional black woman (Sanaa Lathan, very good in this movie) and her white landscaper (Simon Baker). The film touches on a lot of social aspects, a couple of which I think I’m never really going to understand. For example, the response among Lathan’s friends to her dating a white guy, calling into question whether or not she’s “black enough.” I still don’t know what that means, and I kind of hate that reaction. Maybe I just don’t think that way; certainly I don’t care about being “white enough.” But maybe that’s just how I think; I don’t have the same problems with discrimination and being constantly undermined as a black person does. At the same time, Lathan being a woman, the discrimination is only doubled; as she says in the film, she has to work three times as hard to prove herself in the professional world. I felt bad for her, not because she was deserving of sympathy (she was strong and, at least in her professional life, very competent and assured), but because I always feel bad that anyone has to work so hard to be taken seriously. I did, however, sympathize with Simon Baker’s character, who was being scrutinized not only because he was white, but because he was poor and seemed unambitious (he gave up a fast-paced job as an ad exec to become a landscaper). I would love to have a girlfriend like Lathan’s character—smart, successful, absolutely gorgeous—but her layers of protection were so hard to get through (even him asking her to remove her weave was a major issue). I don’t know. This is the third time I’ve decided not to give a rating to a movie, because I’m not through considering it yet.

RIDE WITH THE DEVIL (1999)
Wow, even for Tobey Maguire that’s some bad acting. Any potential for interest is just totally undone by the shitty actors in this movie. And it’s Ang Lee, too. No stars.

TENACIOUS D: THE PICK OF DESTINY (2006)
Well, this is really only for fans of the D. I think the D rock hard, and for me, the movie was pure awesomeness from beginning to end. ***1/2 stars.

POPI (1969)
Alan Arkin gives a wonderful performance as a man who worries that his two sons are going to be dragged down in Spanish Harlem. He goes as far as to set his kids adrift in Miami in a boat so that they can float to Cuba; anything to get them out of the ghetto. The movie never really took off like I was hoping it would, and Arthur Hiller’s take on the material is typically breezy, but it’s a pleasant movie elevated by Arkin’s acting as a concerned father who goes to extremes. *** stars.

You are Not the Person of the Year

In the March 2007 issue of Discover, Douglas Rushkoff, in his column Peer Review, nicely dissects the total disingenuousness of Time magazine's decision to claim that "you" were the Person of the Year. After dismissing it as a lack of editorial fortitude--and attempt to curb the criticism of bloggers and/or the ire of picking someone too red state or blue state--Rushkoff smartly delineates what he calls the "perverse logic to this abdication of responsibility."

For example, he quotes from the Time article itself: "For seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game, Time's Person of the Year for 2006 is you." To which Rushkoff responds: "Gee, thanks. But there's something pandering about all this false modesty. It only betrays how seriously the editors still take their role as opinion makers: Our liberation from top-down media isn't real until the top-down media pronounce it so."

And then Rushkoff gets down to something that I've been thinking about for a long time: are we liberated from top-down media or not? We do have things right now--downloadable MP3s, TiVo, OnDemand, the ability to watch television online, DVDs, Netflix, YouTube, MySpace, Blogger, iTunes--that allow us to choose to some extent the content that we see and just how we are advertised to. But Rushkoff points out one nagging thing: "It's simply a shift in the way entertainment hours are billed to consumers." And smart companies are making shifts in the way they do business to profit off of the differences in content production.

Is this, as Time attests, a revolution? It could be, but it's not. Right now it's about who has what iPod and how well it goes with their outfit. For people the age of my youngest sister, it's a status thing; it's more important than having a cell phone...unless, of course, the cell phone plays MP3s on it. Rushkoff says that this so-called revolution and Time's hawking of it is really "corporate America's confidence that it has finally weathered the storm." It's proof that corporate America doesn't really take it at all seriously; that it's a trifle that's not any sort of threat to their bottom line--or worse, their place atop the power structure. After all, they've bought all of our outlets, anyway. News Corp owns MySpace, Google owns seemingly everything else, TimeWarner itself owns AOL.

Of course, the bastard in me wonders how the BBC would feel if they new that I had watched the entire second series of Spaced on YouTube, or last year's Doctor Who Christmas special, "The Runaway Bride," on iFilm. Hell, I still have plans to finally watch Torchwood online; I know right where the bootlegs are.

But still, Rushkoff is right when he says that "all of us anointed persons of the year are really just customers." That all we're doing now is using the same media in different ways. I wonder if there's some use we could really make of all this to try and make this place a real community again. But as yet, I've got no answers.

Grimlock

Two awesome things: dinosaurs and robots. Those things are combined in Grimlock.

There were a few years as a kid when I was really into Transformers. My favorite character of all was Grimlock, the leader of the Dinobots. As a kid who was into dinosaurs, the very idea of the Dinobots--robots who transformed into dinosaur robots--was just too majorly cool. And though it seems ridiculous now (hell, the entirety of Transformers seems ridiculous now), Grimlock's speech pattern ("Me Grimlock am king!") was just endearing to an eight-year-old boy.

A lot of kids must've liked the Dinobots, because they spent very little time on the show in their robot forms. They were nearly always dinosaurs. And they were neat.

Anyway, I just thought about this because I was at Wal-Mart looking at the toys last week, because I still like to look at toys. I noticed they're doing yet another reinvention of the original Transformers figures. Only this time, they're not just repackaging the old toys, they're actually trying to make them look exactly the way they did on the TV show (always the frustration of the toys when I was a kid). I was marveling that Optimus Prime and Megatron looked really, really cool, and thinking that maybe I needed to make some new additions to my action figure collection. (And lamenting that they didn't seem to make a new Soundwave or Starscream, but that's a whole other fanboy post.)

And then I saw that they had made a new Grimlock. And that's completely the one I have to own. That needs to be a part of my action figure collection. Because I'm that kind of fanboy.


On Criticism

One of my favorite blogs right now is The Absorbascon. It's the best and funniest comics blog I've ever read. Which is why I was saddened to find this post, which says, in large part:

It seems that it is no longer possible for me to post on this blog without some commenter, often an anonymous one, telling me "that's not funny" or "I used to like you better when". [. . .] That's very emotionally draining to me. Unless you have spent the kind of time and effort that a blogger does to post daily (or nearly so), you can't imagine how unmotivating it is to be heckled nearly daily. Some may be clapping for you, but it still stings just as hard when the tomato hits you.

I'm not sure why people do this. If I don't care for a blog or it no longer interests me, I simply stop reading it. If you wish bloggers to post particular types of things, praise them lavishly when they do. Dissing them when what they post doesn't tickle your particular fancy that day serves only to move them one step closer to quitting.

Which I am. I am walking away from this blog for one month. I'll return in one month at which point I'll decide whether I want to start it up again or not. That should give those who don't like what I post time to break the habit of showing up daily to tell me so; they can move on to ruin someone else's enjoyment of another blog. Perhaps they can also ponder why there are fewer and fewer blogs left for them to criticize.

I know exactly how Scipio feels. It is unmotivating. Most of us who do blogs just want an outlet to talk about things that interest us, to bring things to the attention of other people, to share things, to vent. And every once in a while, you get a worthy debate (like I did yesterday with my post about Britney Spears). But a lot of times it's just people being snarky because they don't like the woman you put up pictures of (and then judging your entire sense of aesthetics based on that) or because they think their taste in movies is so much better than yours. And that's how people are; it would be unrealistic to think that opening myself up in a forum like this isn't going to bring me some of that. What's annoying is that a lot of people don't ever seem to feel the need to comment unless they completely disagree with you about something. If it leads to something interesting, that's great. If it's just some snarky quip, it's incredibly irritating. If it's open hostility, that's completely disheartening.

On the other side, I do get a lot of compliments and an incredible amount of support. Most of the people who come here don't seem to be under the incredibly mistaken impression that I write my blog so that they can approve what I post. Those are my favorites. A lot of my readers are friendly and supportive and a blast to have comment. No one wants to do their blog in a void, uncertain of whether or not anyone is even looking. But I always think of a post Angela put up several months ago, in which she said "I don't write my blog for you."

A lot of people seem to be going through this. Rudeness is tiresome. I hate that it's affecting bloggers that I like.

The blogosphere is going to be a lonely place one day.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Health Report: Week 11

The good news is, I don't feel like Mr. Creosote anymore. I'm still fat, of course, but the weight is still going. All of that hard fat is gone, which makes me both happy and a little frustrated; I'm glad that any fat is gone, but that makes my body a little... well, looser, I guess. I can feel my body moving more when I walk. That has to go. But I know it will.

I'm not despairing this week. In fact, I'm in a much better mood. I think there was just something that needed to come out, to get out of my system. And now it's gone. I'm making an effort to make it gone. There has been one suggestion that I should go on some kind of mood-altering drug, but I really don't want to do that to myself (unless someone has some pot? Anyone?). I'd rather learn to control this myself instead of having to take yet another pill in addition to the four that I already take every day.

I'm still unemployed, I'm just more hopeful. I'm making sure to catch up on my exercise and not let it go. I'm following through more. And a lot of people don't want me to go to Korea. Which is nice.

I can visualize it again. I can see myself getting smaller. In fact, last Thursday was the first time I caught my reflection and realized I really am losing weight. People have told me it really looks like I am, but this was the first time I really saw it for myself. I want to keep going; I want to get smaller.

And I'm not sick anymore. Everything's going well again. Except for the job thing, but I'm not letting that get me so frustrated anymore.

Thank you everyone for putting up with me for the last couple of weeks. There has been an outpouring of sympathetic encouragement which honestly surprised me. Thanks, everyone, for everything that was said; you all gave me a lot to think about. Thanks especially to Becca, to my parents, to my Personal Trainer, and to the Pop Culture Nerdette who took it upon herself to extend her personal friendship to me when I was in my darkest moments. I value the hell out of you all.

Now, I don't believe in horoscopes, but I see my luck is supposed to change in this, the Year of the Pig. My luck is going to change, because I'm going to change it.

We're all changing our luck these days, I think. I have to say, I'm really proud of Becca. She finally got her model to come in and pose for her. She's wanted to get serious about doing pin-up photography, and she find a model to hire for it. I wasn't here (I didn't want anyone getting nervous, especially since Becca and this girl had never actually met before, so I went to the library for the day), but I'm told it went well. Certainly some great pictures came out of it. I'm very proud of her for taking her opportunity where she could find it, despite some of the setbacks she's come up against in the past.

Anyway...it's time for me to slip into something more comfortable.
Ah, that'll do...

UPDATE 2/28: I apologize for the ugly personal attack I made on this week's Health Report (which, obviously, I removed). There is some kind of idiotic situation of anger and hurt feelings going on, and apparently my attack was directed at the wrong people, and not the person who has been anonymously attacking me in my comments section. Yes, it irks me that that person knows way too much about me to be just a casual bystander (as they've claimed), and that they've decided to make personal comments about a situation which they are not even involved in, but some people just can't leave well enough alone and whatever that anonymous catamite says, fuck him anyway.

Science As a Candle in the Dark

A Collection of Carl Sagan Quotes

"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

"For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love."

"You can't convince a believer of anything; for their belief is not based on evidence, it's based on a deep seated need to believe."

"Modern science has been a voyage into the unknown, with a lesson in humility waiting at every stop. Many passengers would rather have stayed home."

"If we crave some cosmic purpose, then let us find ourselves a worthy goal."

"I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But as much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking."

"If we long to believe that the stars rise and set for us, that we are the reason there is a Universe, does science do us a disservice in deflating our conceits?"

"It is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring."

"Credulity kills."

"All of the books in the world contain no more information than is broadcast as video in a single large American city in a single year. Not all bits have equal value."

"Anything else you're interested in is not going to happen if you can't breathe the air and drink the water. Don't sit this one out. Do something."

"Arguments from authority simply do not count; too many authorities have been mistaken too often."

"It seems to me what is called for is an exquisite balance between two conflicting needs: the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us and at the same time a great openness to new ideas … If you are only skeptical, then no new ideas make it through to you … On the other hand, if you are open to the point of gullibility and have not an ounce of skeptical sense in you, then you cannot distinguish the useful ideas from the worthless ones."

"The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what's true. We have a method, and that method helps us to reach not absolute truth, only asymptotic approaches to the truth — never there, just closer and closer, always finding vast new oceans of undiscovered possibilities. Cleverly designed experiments are the key."

"Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere."

"If we long for our planet to be important, there is something we can do about it. We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and by the depth of our answers."

"We are made of star stuff...We embarked on our cosmic voyage with a question first framed in the childhood of our species and in each generation asked anew with undiminished wonder: What are the stars? Exploration is in our nature. We began as wanderers, and we are wanderers still. We have lingered long enough on the shores of the cosmic ocean. We are ready at last to set sail for the stars."

"Books permit us to voyage through time, to tap the wisdom of our ancestors. The library connects us with the insights and knowledge, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, with the best teachers, drawn from the entire planet and from all of our history, to instruct us without tiring, and to inspire us to make our own contribution to the collective knowledge of the human species. Public libraries depend on voluntary contributions. I think the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support our libraries."

"In our tenure of this planet we've accumulated dangerous evolutionary baggage — propensities for aggression and ritual, submission to leaders, hostility to outsiders — all of which puts our survival in some doubt. But we've also acquired compassion for others, love for our children and desire to learn from history and experience, and a great soaring passionate intelligence — the clear tools for our continued survival and prosperity. Which aspects of our nature will prevail is uncertain, particularly when our visions and prospects are bound to one small part of the small planet Earth. But up there in the cosmos, an inescapable perspective awaits. National boundaries are not evident when we view the Earth from space. Fanatic ethnic or religious or national identifications are a little difficult to support when we see our planet as a fragile blue crescent fading to become an inconspicuous point of light against the bastion and citadel of the stars. There are not yet obvious signs of extraterrestial intelligence, and this makes us wonder whether civilizations like ours rush inevitably headlong to self-destruction. I dream about it, and sometimes they're bad dreams."

"Those afraid of the universe as it really is, those who pretend to nonexistent knowledge and envision a Cosmos centered on human beings will prefer the fleeting comforts of superstition. They avoid rather than confront the world. But those with the courage to explore the weave and structure of the Cosmos, even where it differs profoundly from their wishes and prejudices, will penetrate its deepest mysteries."

"If we are to survive, our loyalties must be broadened further, to include the whole human community, the entire planet Earth. Many of those who run the nations will find this idea unpleasant. They will fear the loss of power. We will hear much about treason and disloyalty. Rich nation-states will have to share their wealth with poor ones. But the choice, as H. G. Wells once said in a different context, is clearly the universe or nothing."

"In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe. How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, 'This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed'? Instead they say, 'No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.'"

"We are right to rejoice in our accomplishments, to be proud that our species has been able to see so far, and to judge our merit in part by the very science that has so deflated our pretensions."

"It is sometimes said that scientists are unromantic, that their passion to figure out robs the world of beauty and mystery. But is it not stirring to understand how the world actually works — that white light is made of colors, that color is the way we perceive the wavelengths of light, that transparent air reflects light, that in so doing it discriminates among the waves, and that the sky is blue for the same reason that the sunset is red? It does no harm to the romance of the sunset to know a little bit about it."

"Those who are skeptical about carbon dioxide greenhouse warming might profitably note the massive greenhouse effect on Venus. No one proposes that Venus's greenhouse effect derives from imprudent Venusians who burned too much coal, drove fuel-inefficient autos, and cut down their forests. My point is different. The climatological history of our planetary neighbor, an otherwise Earthlike planet on which the surface became hot enough to melt tin or lead, is worth considering — especially by those who say that the increasing greenhouse effect on Earth will be self-correcting, that we don't really have to worry about it, or (you can see this in the publications of some groups that call themselves conservative) that the greenhouse effect is a 'hoax.'"

"Since, in the long run, every planetary society will be endangered by impacts from space, every surviving civilization is obliged to become spacefaring — not because of exploratory or romantic zeal, but for the most practical reason imaginable: staying alive."

"A religion old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge.The vast distances that separate the stars are providential. Beings and worlds are quarantined from one another. The quarantine is lifted only for those with sufficient self-knowledge and judgement to have safely traveled from star to star."

"If we can't think for ourselves, if we're unwilling to question authority, then we're just putty in the hands of those in power. But if the citizens are educated and form their own opinions, then those in power work for us. In every country, we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for a Bill of Rights. With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit. In the demon-haunted world that we inhabit by virtue of being human, this may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness."

"A central lesson of science is that to understand complex issues (or even simple ones), we must try to free our minds of dogma and to guarantee the freedom to publish, to contradict, and to experiment. Arguments from authority are unacceptable."

"The world is so exquisite, with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there's little good evidence. Far better, it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look Death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides."

"Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."

"Atheism is more than just the knowledge that gods do not exist, and that religion is either a mistake or a fraud. Atheism is an attitude, a frame of mind that looks at the world objectively, fearlessly, always trying to understand all things as a part of nature."

"I maintain there is much more wonder in science than in pseudoscience. And in addition, to whatever measure this term has any meaning, science has the additional virtue, and it is not an inconsiderable one, of being true."

"In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion."

"Our species needs, and deserves, a citizenry with minds wide awake and a basic understanding of how the world works."

"Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge."

"The fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown."

"The Universe forces those who live in it to understand it. Those creatures who find everyday experience a muddled jumble of events with no predictability, no regularity, are in grave peril. The Universe belongs to those who, at least to some degree, have figured it out."

"The universe seems neither benign nor hostile, merely indifferent."

"The well-meaning contention that all ideas have equal merit seems to me little different from the disastrous contention that no ideas have any merit. There are many hypotheses in science which are wrong. That's perfectly all right; they're the aperture to finding out what's right. Science is a self-correcting process. To be accepted, new ideas must survive the most rigorous standards of evidence and scrutiny."

"We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it's forever."

"We have designed our civilization based on science and technology and at the same time arranged things so that almost no one understands anything at all about science and technology. This is a clear prescription for disaster."

"Science is a way to not fool ourselves."

"At the heart of science is an essential tension between two seemingly contradictory attitudes — an openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counterintuitive they may be, and the most ruthless skeptical scrutiny of all ideas, old and new. This is how deep truths are winnowed from deep nonsense."

"Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known."

We've Destroyed Britney Spears

Staffers found a list Britney Spears made of people she wishes were dead (it included K-Fed and a whole lot of paparazzi).

Anonymous source at Promises: "She's now such a broken woman. She has dark fantasies about terrible things happening to her enemies."

She's being described as "increasingly paranoid." She checks her room constantly for recording devices. She's afraid her thoughts are being recorded.

A bed has been reserved for her at the University of California's psych ward.

A friend: "She's convinced that everyone is out to get her...And the smallest thing can set off a fully-blown panic attack. She gets this fearful look in her eyes and starts trembling all over, dripping with sweat and gasping for breath and she looks like she's going to faint at any time. It's absolutely terrifying to see. It is the behavior of someone who has completely lost their mind."

Jason Alexander, Britney's still-bitter and still-publicity-seeking ex-husband, says she used cocaine, Vicodin, Ecstasy, and Valium. He claims Britney once almost overdosed on MDMA (the narcotic ingrediant in Ecstasy). He says when it happened he thought, in a moment of unabashed sympathy, "This bitch is going to fucking die right here in front of me."

I know a lot of people who read this blog think that pop culture is shallow and irrelevant (why you're reading a pop culture blog, then, I have no idea). But it's not. Pop culture is much more important and relevant than all the plays of Shakespeare, the literature of Melville, and the Classical Athenian art. Because those things are exceptions. Those are glorious indications of what we can do if we strive. But pop culture is indicative of reality. Of the everyday. What people choose to laud as great, what they choose to place above everything else, what they watch on TV, whom they follow the slightest movement of, how reverently they approach sports... these things tell you about the health of a society. They tell you what's wrong with it. The things that take us away for a few hours from our apparently unfulfilling lives are so important to keep track of. Because they tell us where we are, where we're going, how we feel, and why we're doomed.

And Britney Spears is doomed. And we have done it to her. We have cursed her to ignorance, and that ignorance has become mental instability. We have made things available to her, and then railed against her for taking advantage of that availability. We have championed her for her sexiness, as though that itself were an achievement, and then spat on her when she had nothing to say. Everyone has exploited her; now they've abandoned her, and only the vultures remain, picking at the last bits of Britney that are left. Another girl who has become grist for the mill. And we'll all talk about how tragic it was, or how she got what she deserved because we're all jealous. Another girl eaten up and used. Another girl that didn't want to play the game of being the good, available, sexy little chick--which is all our society still asks of women, all we expect, all we really want of them--and who didn't know how to do anything else outside of it.

We are all pigs. And all we do is destroy.

Britney Spears is not long for this world. And there's no reason for this.

We're all to blame.

More Religious Stupidity from Christ Enthusiasts

Of course this is the most popular story on Yahoo! News right now...

So James Cameron and a bunch of other people are claiming that they've found a 2000 year-old tomb in Jerusalem that was the tomb of Jesus, his wife Mary Magdalene, and their son.

Whatever.

Cameron is making a documentary about this specious claim, saying (of all things) that DNA evidence "suggests" this is Jesus's tomb. DNA evidence? Do we actually have the DNA of Christ to compare this to? Or is he just talking out of his ass? I think about the only thing DNA evidence could prove is that the tomb once had human remains in it.

I am so fucking tired of people using science to try and prove the existence of fairy tale figures. First off, don't you fundamentalist idiots realize that the whole point of your cult is strength through faith in things that can't be proven? Yeah, it makes you look really, really stupid, but that doesn't change the fact that you're supposed to have faith, not proof. Secondly, if you assholes are going to scientifically "prove" the Creation, stop picking and choosing what you will and won't allow science to "prove."

I heard some fuckwit "doctor of theology" (which is a little like having a doctor of research into practical application of magic--it's fun in a Warren Ellis comic, but it does fuck all in real life) on the radio last week, talking about how believing some invisible man ordered the universe into being is much more of a "rational belief" than believing the scientific explanation for the birth of the universe and the development of the planet. Believing that some guy pulled the universe out of his ass and made everything from nothing is more believable than the compounding of elements? HOW?

That same asshole also said that it was foolish to believe that God didn't create the brain, because man could never make a supercomputer as complex as the brain (WTF?), and that Genesis could be proven because of some specious story where scientists found fresh water in a deposit under the earth in Scandanavia, or something? Apparently it proves the line in Genesis about the flood waters from inside the planet being released.

You cannot say that science proves one passage, and then disregard the scientific evidence for the evolution of life on planet Earth. Science is not selective, and you don't get to pick and choose. Either you accept science and reason, or you keep your head up your own ass where it's been and shut the fuck up.

So, back to the tomb. Apparently this tomb was discovered in 1980, but Cameron's just getting to this "important" documentary right now. The thinking behind this project is the same lame ass thinking that leads to something like The Da Vinci Code, where dumb people get to feel smart because they can put together imaginary dots and make any flight of fancy they want. That this kind of fan fiction version of history can resonate with so many people shows something profoundly wrong with the world.

Basically the reasoning goes like this: This tomb is in Jerusalem, it's 2000 years old, and there's the remains of a family in it. Therefore, it must be the tomb of Jesus and he must have had a family!

What?

Well, one of them is named Maria, obviously that has to be Mary.

Because...why? Because no one else in 1st century Judea was named Mary?

Is there no other news today that this is being reported on? I wish the media of this country would stop taking anything any religious asshole says seriously. Quit reporting on Easter as "the Holiest Day of the Year." I don't want to be bothered with your Jesus-based douchebaggery.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Last Night in Hollywood

Some random post-Oscar observations.

* Like I always say, the Oscars are a big industry party and circle jerk for people patting themselves on the back. So let's not treat them like they're important. They're just fun to watch and critique.

* How does Nicole Kidman keep getting thinner and thinner? And does she really think that her overly Botoxed head looks remotely attractive? Man, I am so sick of having to look at her. And what was with her fried, fake-looking hair? Fess up, is she really some kind of robot or something? Gwyneth Paltrow had the same hair, but hers looked less frazzled and she almost, almost pulled it off. And I am so damn sick of listening to Nicole Kidman fake her Australian accent; just admit it, honey, living in America so long has flattened your accent. It's okay. Portia de Rossi doesn't do that Paul Hogan-sounding shit anymore, because she knows it sounds fake. Naomi Watts's accent is flattening, too, but she doesn't embarrass herself with the clipped affectation. How is it that Madonna's fake British accent sounds more natural than Kidman's supposedly natural Aussie accent? "Dreamgwirls," indeed, Nicole.

* I am so glad that Jennifer Hudson ditched the tinfoil on her otherwise pretty dress.

* Anne Hathaway is always so poised, and Emily Blunt is fantastic. I loved watching them present together, giggling and holding hands like a couple of sisters. Could Emily be the woman that Annie supposedly has a "secret" lesbian relationship with? God, I hope so. That would be too cute for words. And how great was Meryl Streep, nailing them with that killer stare. That was a fun moment.

* Eddie Murphy actually managed to come off as a decent, humble guy. He's had his monumental ego knocked around over the years. I thought he was great being interviewed on the red carpet: "I even like Pluto Nash!" Not bad.

* The rest of the red carpet... can't they get people who actually watch movies to interview these people? Chris Connelly made a big surprised deal about Cate Blanchett playing Bob Dylan in a movie. Cate playing a man? Feh, Cate Blanchett can play anything. I think she should play David Bowie. She has in my dreams before. Meanwhile, Marky Mark came across like a smarmy, entitled ass. As if he really deserves to be on the A list. And Lisa Ling made a big deal about Kate Winslet being nude in Little Children, as if this was even the ninth time Winslet's been nude in a movie. Give me a break. Does nudity still have to be a huge thing?

* Why is the Oscar ceremony always so rushed and badly timed? They've had 78 previous practice runs for this, you'd think they'd have it by now. Ellen DeGeneres was an absolutely wonderful host, my favorite in a decade, and I want to see her host it again. She accepted the fact that it was going to run over, and she only made a joke about the length of the show once, and it was funny. Nothing makes the show seem slower than making jokes all night about how long the show is; if you think it's too long, don't watch it, and if you're going to, don't whine about it. Ellen was graceful, warm, personable, a little sexy, extremely likable (as always) and very funny. I wonder how the reaction will be today; I always seem to like the ones that people don't (Chris Rock, David Letterman, most of Steve Martin) and hate the ones people go all crazy over (come on, Jon Stewart sucked).

* It occured to me that Ellen DeGeneres and Sarah Silverman are similar performers, except Sarah Silverman isn't that funny and is way too in love with herself to be likable.

* The opening reel of nominees was a funny twist that I enjoyed. Some of it was a little precious, but I'm a fan of reels as long as they're energetic and keep the show moving (like this one, by Errol Morris).

* I know a lot of people are going to disagree with this today, but I thought the Will Ferrell/Jack Black/John C. Reilly musical number was funny. I thought it was a lot more entertaining than hearing more people fob off about how important Babel supposedly was (but wasn't).

* Jaden Smith lapping Abigail Breslin to the microphone wasn't very gentlemanly, given who his father is (Will Smith is a pretty classy guy). He'll learn. Poor kid seems pretty damn nervous, anyway. I hope my own daughter is as confident as Abigail Breslin is here, though.

* You know, it seems to me that someone should take Letters from Iwo Jima and Flags of Our Fathers and combine them into one movie. I've not seen Iwo Jima, but Flags of Our Fathers could've had a LOT of dead weight trimmed from it. I mean, if you want a full picture, why not make them one movie? Just a thought. I also think the Matrix trilogy should be one movie, incidentally.

* I'm willing to bet the Sound Effects Orchestra is the one thing everyone's bitching about as being lame this morning.

* I was pleased with the acting winners. I'm not sure Alan Arkin deserved the win, and I think that if his character in Little Miss Sunshine hadn't died, he wouldn't have gotten the nomination. He was funny, but otherwise... But Alan Arkin is a great actor, one of my favorites, and he was just so grateful for the win, so I'm glad he did. Jennifer Hudson was appropriately emotional, and I'm glad she won. It's a vindication for not winning American Idol and her incredible singing voice (as I've said before, I thought she was so obviously the most talented person on American Idol's third season that I stopped watching it after she got cut). Helen Mirren, as I said in an earlier post, deserved to win just for being Helen Mirren. And Forest Whitaker's win was a surprise. It's weird to think that the director of such mediocre fare as Waiting to Exhale, Hope Floats, and First Daughter is now an Oscar-winning actor. I've yet to see The Last King of Scotland, but I really want to. He was emotional, too, and it felt good to see him win. He's a terrific actor, always has been. Another thing I liked; two black actors won and no one made a big deal out of it. In 2001, the Oscars made a big deal about Denzel Washington and Halle Berry (two of the least deserved Oscar wins in history), with the condescending "See, we like darkies, they're almost like real people" smugness expected of Hollywood. Even Jamie Foxx's win had the same air around it. Just because Hollywood was 50 years too late on the civil rights movement doesn't mean they get to congratulate themselves for being on top of it now. George Clooney's extremely smug acceptance speech last year about Hollywood being ahead of the curve, indeed. This year felt like the first time black actors won Oscars because they were good actors, not good black actors.

* Am I the only person left who doesn't think Jerry Seinfeld is remotely funny? You know what's fun, listen to him say anything, then say "Yes, and?" His humor isn't even about observation, it's about noticing something and then pointing it out. Much like a child. What the fuck was with him rolling his eyes while Al Gore was talking? And then having to present an award to him later, what an asshole. Someone tell him (and Ben Stiller and Dane Cook) that barely concealed simmering rage and blatant hostility is not funny in and of itself. Seinfeld's like Chevy Chase, being a dick and then pretending he's not one because he's a comedian, and he's supposed to be sarcastic, ha-ha! Fuck them all; just because you get laughs pretending you're an asshole doesn't mean you're not one.

* Incidentally, Al Gore was brilliant and personable, funny and self-depricating. How is this man not our president? I hope he announces he's going to run. Then Hillary's head will really explode.

* I don't know why, but I just want to slap Cameron Diaz in the mouth. She's one of only many actors proving this year that they're crap under the pressure of having to prove they've the ability to read.

* It still hurts my head to hear the words "Academy Award-winning screenwriter" paired with the words "Ben Affleck." I wonder how all of those script doctors are doing these days? Probably better; they don't have to be Ben Affleck.

* Catherine Denueve is still so beautiful. How is she still this beautiful? And you know who else is beautiful? Ken Watanabe. That is one beautiful man right there.

* Wow, is it just me, or do Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst just absolutely hate each other? Frozen smiles, looking down at the ground--she bumped him and he looked at her like he wanted to break her neck. So...no Spider-Man 4, then?

* Why did they work so hard trying to convince us there were any "surprises" last night? What was the big surprise?

* The Dreamgirls song presentation... Did Beyonce have to sit down and rest afterward after nearly blowing a lung out trying to keep up with Jennifer Hudson? Seriously, no one doubts that Beyonce can sing, she doesn't need to prove it. Jennifer Hudson's just, you know, better. She's effortless. Beyonce looked ridiculous singing up and down the scale and failing miserably to match (much less outshine) J Hud's pipes. Anika Noni Rose did the same thing. This is going to sound mean, but what the fuck is it with black women? Can't they just sing? Stop trying to prove the versatility you believe your voice has, and just sing the fucking song.

* In case I didn't mention it, I want Helen Mirren so bad.

* Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Guillermo del Toro, and Alfonso Cuaron have a fun thing going with their whole "Three Amigos" thing. Which is why it seemed shitty to take it away from them by announcing Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas as "The Original Three Amigos." Fuck all three of you for that one. I wonder how John Milius, Brian De Palma, and the other Movie Brats feel about that appelation, by the way. Still, George Lucas had a rare sense of humor about himself last night.

* Thank you , gods, Martin Scorsese FINALLY won that Oscar!

Oscar Honeys 2007

Predictably enough, here are the women I thought looked lovely last night.

I can't get enough of Kate Winslet, frankly. She's a beautiful woman and one of the best actresses of my generation. She didn't win last night, but all that means is that she doesn't have an Oscar yet. She will.

Zhang Ziyi is so beautiful.

Jennifer Lopez is still so radiant to me. No matter how bitchy or diva-like she gets, I still love her. I liked this picture of her the best because she looked like a normal person in it. I don't know if that makes sense, but I do. She's beautiful.

It occured to me last night just how much Penelope Cruz reminds me of Sophia Loren. That's a neat dress, but I wish she would stop pulling her hair back like that all the time. She's got pretty hair that I wish she'd show off more often. Pasted to the head is not the way to go.

Portia de Rossi is always hot.

Queen Latifah... oh, man, one day, please...

Rachel Weisz looked absolutely stunning, especially that bouncy walk across the stage. Holy socks, is she gorgeous.

Rinko Kikuchi looked pretty as heck.

Jodie Foster. I always think about how sexy her hair looks.

Kirsten Dunst. I usually don't like the way she dresses, but I thought this was cute.

Lisa Ray. I'm not sure why she's there, but frankly, if the Oscars wanted to invite more Bollywood stars, that would be perfectly fine with me. That should be actively encouraged.

I go back and forth on Maggie Gyllenhaal. She seems more like a simulacrum of human behavior with no real emotions... I guess it's appropriate she married fellow robot Peter Sarsgaard. Anyway, I thought she looked cute last night.

I'm still not attracted to Naomi Watts, but here I am again. You know how much I like preggos.

Emily Blunt was more gorgeous than I've ever seen her, She looks good in blue; that shade is just perfect. I don't know how many other people will think it's a compliment, but she looks like a formal, sexy Betty Rubble.

I don't know about the hair, but Gwyneth Paltrow is hot. Her dresses are usually terrible, and I'm sure a lot of people won't like this one, but I did.

Helen Mirren is my queen, and much like the song said, I want her to come home with me.

Isla Fisher's a little honey.

Jennifer Hudson looked even better after she took that horrible half-jacket cape collar Flash Gordon thing off.

Anne Hathaway. What more can I say about her than I already have? Luminous, she.

Beyonce looked gorgeous. Girl knows how to work an evening gown, I'll say that.

Jessica Biel. I guess she's this year's It Girl invite (like Jennifer Garner last year). The hair could've used some work, but what do I know? She's Jessica Biel and she's fucking sexy.

Cate Blanchett. Thank you for some of the dreams I've been having lately, by the way.

The Oscars are a horny night for me. Look, I even lusted after Celine Dion for a minute. I think it's because she gained a little weight, grew her hair out, and kind of looks like she could be Arianna Huffington's sister.

Mmm, Arianna Huffington... *droooool*

Never have I wanted to be an Oscar so bad until it saw it against Jennifer Hudson's sexy lips.