Saturday, December 19, 2009

What I Really Want for Christmas

Garrison Keillor wrote a rant about how nonbelievers, Jews, and anyone who doesn't celebrate Christmas as the birth of Christ should just "buzz off" and leave Christmas alone and stop ruining it because Christmas is a Christian holiday.

It was incredibly short-sighted and ridiculous for a number of reasons. Here are few of them:

Because Christmas is also a secular holiday in the United States.

It discounts the idea that some families celebrate the season simply to give gifts and be together and have a big family meal without needing to worship any kind of deity.

Because, once again, we have another Christian, ignorant of the history of his own religion which he holds so dear, and who therefore doesn't understand that, if you want to get technical, Christmas is another co-opted pagan holiday and Jesus' birthdate is completely made up.

Because it's possible to love Christmas without believing in Jesus.

But the reason I found it most ridiculous is that many of us who aren't believers but who still enjoy Christmas can't get through a single Christmas season without some overreacting Christians who still don't understand after 200+ years that they live in a secular republic and who won't leave us alone screaming at us that because we love Santa Claus and Christmas cartoons and singing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" we're ruining their important holiday by taking the focus off of their Christ. By telling us, over and over, every year, that we've declared some kind of "war on Christmas," a mythical war that only part-time Christians are fighting because of their violent reactions to anything secular and who can't stand being reminded that some of us just don't care about religion.

We don't love Santa Claus and Coke commercials because we hate you or your religion. We don't think about you or your religion. We're doing it because we love this time of year, too, and we want to have our own celebrations. If you can't deal with that, maybe you're the ones who should buzz off. We don't begrudge you your celebrations and traditions. Stop begrudging us ours. They don't hurt you.

Leave Christmas alone and stop ruining it? Hey, right back at ya.

So what I really want for Christmas is for Garrison Keillor and the 95 year-olds who think he's funny to come to some kind of understanding that Christians never had a monopoly on Christmas, and that that fact shouldn't cheapen his Christmas any more than his grumpy, grinchlike attempt at making me feel bad for not being a Christian will cheapen mine.

Christmas Meme

I can't remember where I got this, it was a long time ago...

Favorite Christmas…
01. Non-Jesus-related song?
"Good King Wenceslas"

02. Jesus-related song?
"O Holy Night" is my favorite Christmas song.

03. Santa-related song?
"Here Comes Santa Claus," specifically the Gene Autry version.

04. Fictional character?
Ebeneezer Scrooge. I read A Christmas Carol every year.

05. Dinner’s main course?
As long as I eat, I'm not particular. Because one year, we didn't.

06. Dinner’s dessert?
Pumpkin pie is a necessity for me this time of year.

07. Scent (pine, gingerbread, candles…)?
Pine.

08. Animated movie?
I can't think of a Christmas-related animated movie I need to see every year. But there are shorter cartoons and TV specials that I love to watch every year, like The Snowman, Mickey's Christmas Carol, The Brave One, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and A Charlie Brown Christmas.

09. Non-animated movie?
It's a tie between the Patrick Stewart version of A Christmas Carol and The Muppet Christmas Carol.

10. Personal memory?
The Christmas where Becca and I tried to go to my dad's and couldn't make it because it was so icy. We went back to my mom's (where I was living at the time) and no one was home; my sister was already at my dad's for the week, and my mom was out at a Christmas party. So Becca and I just stayed in, ordered pizza, and watched The Man Who Would Be King on video for the first time. Warmed my hermit's soul.

11. Story/Fairy Tale?
If it weren't obvious, I love A Christmas Carol.

This or That
12. Candy cane or peppermint patties?
Neither. I don't like either one. I also don't like Christmas cookies. But I do like chocolate. And my late grandma used to make the best fudge every year.

13. Sugar or gingerbread cookies?
Neither. See previous question.

14. Tinsel or beaded strands?
I don't really care. I don't like having to clean up static-electricity, Christmas-morning-fire-causing tinsel. Becca likes beaded strands, and we have some on the tree. They're okay.

15. Multi-colored or same-colored lights?
Multi-colored. One of the things I like about Christmas is that it reminds me of being a carefree kid, so I've got a lot of cartoon characters, DC superheroes, etc on the tree, and the multi-colored lights really add to that.

16. Flashing or still lights?
Still.

17. Wreaths or mistletoe/holly?
Wreaths.

18. Rudolph or Frosty?
Frosty, if I have to choose one, but I don't really care for either of them or their accompanying TV specials. I do, however, like the version of "Frosty the Snowman" by the Ronettes.

19. Sledding or snowball fights?
I loved both when I was a kid. Now I don't care. If I had kids, I'd probably be into both again. I used to especially love when my sister Jayne and I would have these elaborate snow fort fights with my dad.

20. Snow or ice/icicles?
I despise snow and ice.

21. Snow hat or earmuffs?
I've had both, but I wear a hat now.

22. Getting or giving?
Neither, honestly. I'm so poor the last couple of years that I can't afford to give gifts, and I love to give gifts. And I feel guilty getting them because I can't give them. I don't ask for anything anymore, and my dad's been hounding me for the last couple of weeks about what I want. He says not to worry about being able to get anything, because everyone knows my situation, but it's just more stress for the holidays to me.

23. Snow days or plow trucks?
Plows. My wife needs to get to work (retail, so she's doing 60 hours a week right now, poor thing), and I'd love for her to do it without getting in an accident.

24. Stockings or presents?
Stockings, because my stocking was made by my grandma and is therefore awesome. She used to make a wonderful stocking for everyone. Christmas especially makes me think about her. She died in 2000.

25. Cookies & milk or letter to Santa?
Cookies and milk, but that's true any day.

26. Christmas Eve or Christmas Day?
I like the dark and quiet of Christmas Eve. But really, I especially love the day after Christmas.

27. Log Burning Channel or real thing?
I've never lived anywhere where we had the real thing.

28. Cards or emails?
Cards are really nice, but emails are nice too. Just knowing that someone took the time to wish you a happy holiday is the real gift.

29. Shoveling or cleaning off the car?
Well, they both suck, but if I have to pick one, cleaning off the car beats having to shovel any day. However, since I'm in a parking lot, there are times when I've had to do both. I never hated snow this damn much until I had to spend 30 or 50 minutes digging my car out of a parking lot that never gets plowed.

30. The Inn’s manger or the animals?
I don't care.

31. Mary & Joseph or The Wise Men?
I don't care as long as I never have to see The Nativity Story again. Boring and terribly made.

32. Hot cocoa or eggnog?
Cocoa, but eggnog is good, especially for making French toast.

33. Jack Frost or Little Drummer Boy?
Don't care.

Here I cut out a bunch of stuff, and I'm too lazy to re-number it all.

First Thought That Comes To Mind When You Hear…
67. Snowflake!
Baby. I don't know why.

68. Pinecones!
Home. There were pine trees in back of the house I grew up in.

69. Elves!
The Lord of the Rings. Sorry.

70. Sleigh!
Jingle bells.

71. Presents!
Wrapping paper.

72. Cookies!
Warmth.

73. Misletoe!
In this case, misspelling.

74. Rudolph!
Valentino.

75. Blizzard!
Potential car accidents, because I know my wife won't stay home from work.

76. School’s Canceled!
Staying indoors.

77. Ice Skating!
My Aunt Amy. Boy, she was bad at that. And she kept thinking the ice was going to break on the pond. But it never did.

78. Santa’s Lap!
A Christmas Story

79. Black Friday!
Work. I used to be retail, too.

80. God’s Son!
Thor

81. Melting Snow!
Relief.

82. Lumps of Coal!
You probably deserve it.

83. Nutcracker!
Fantasia

84. Ho Ho Ho!
Santa Claus

85. North Pole!
Global warming and starving polar bears.

What’s a Winter Activity YOU Do…
86. …In the snow by yourself?
I try not to go out in the snow by myself. I try to stay indoors as much as possible.

87. …Inside by yourself?
Put my annual Christmas playlist back together. It's always changing, but there are a lot of Christmas songs I just need to hear. It makes great background music.

88. …In a public place (with/alone)?
Again, I don't go out and do Christmas stuff if I can help it.

89. …With friends/family in the snow at home?
Look, I'm not going out in the snow, god damn it.

90. …With friends/family inside at home?
Watch TV. Christmas episodes, Christmas movies, Christmas specials, Christmas cartoons. It's a pop culture Christmas every year for me, and that's the way I like it.

Grade/Rate Holiday Movies A – F
91. A Christmas Story. A+
92. How The Grinch Stole Christmas? A+ if we're talking Chuck Jones. C if we're talking Ron Howard.
93. The Santa Clause? D+, but a B+ for The Santa Clause 2. It's cute and a lot less whiny.
94. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer? B-, but certainly an A for the line about how Rudolph "knew the important thing was to get the women back to the cabin." Ah, 1960s sexism, how you make me laugh.
95. Frosty The Snowman? C
96. Home Alone? B-, I guess. My mom loves this movie. And, like George Costanza, I admit I cry because the old man gets to me.
97. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation? F. I do not get how this suddenly because a Christmas classic in the last few years.
98. Elf? B+.
99. Miracle on 34th Street? A+. A must see for me every year. The remake isn't so good, although I thought Richard Attenborough was a great Santa Claus.
100. A Charlie Brown Christmas? A+

I cut some more stuff out here, too. Man, this is a long one.

Christmas At My House…(one or the other)
111. Tree is fake/real?
Fake. And pre-lit, too. We have a nice-sized apartment, and we actually have three trees, but the one we usually put up is a pre-lit tree that's about three feet tall. I don't have the time or energy to fuss with a real tree, nor do I have the time and energy to put up with those people who think having a real tree makes them somehow better than everyone else. If you prefer a real tree, that's cool, I just personally don't.

112. Tree is under/above 4′?
This one is under. The other one we have is six feet, and Becca has an aluminum tree (which is very Becca, isn't it?) that's also six feet.

113. Open presents Christmas Eve/Day?
Christmas Day, since I have to go to two different homes. When we were kids, Jayne and I used to be allowed to open one present each on Christmas Eve.

114. House/entire yard is decorated?
We usually decorate more inside than we did this year. We don't decorate the outside.

115. Amount of presents under the tree?
Right now, Thumper is the only thing under the tree. I think he loves having it out; it gives him something to get under and he sleeps on the tree skirt. Now that we've got him trained not to pull on the tree or knock it over, it's really nice and homey to let my bunny sleep under the tree.

116. Snowman is a male/female?
We don't have a snowman here.

117. Go for Santa/Jesus?
I'm not sure what that means. I love Santa Claus, and I'm an atheist, so there you go. My tree topper is a Santa Claus holding gifts and robe in white and gold instead of red and white. He reminds me of Odin, which is perfect for a fir tree, since that's got nothing to do with Jesus, anyway, so get over yourselves, Xians.

118. Homemade/delivered/takeout Christmas dinner?
Let me tell you, a Little Caesar's pizza beats everything for me. But Christmas dinner isn't an event for me, either. My favorite food on Christmas? My dad always makes pancakes and eggs and bacon in the morning as we're opening presents, and my dad makes the best pancakes and eggs and bacon that anyone in the history of time ever has. That's a real treat for me.

119. Bedtime is before/after midnight?
I'm a tired old man. I usually go to bed around 10 or 11, Christmas or no. I'm especially tired now, since two nights ago my neighbors downstairs had a very, very loud party that started around 10:30 at night and continued on, no shit, until about 8:00 the next morning. I think I got about two hours of sleep, and I'm still exhausted.

120. Wake-up is before/after 7am?
My whole life, I've usually woken up between 5 and 7, depending on the time of year. When I was a little kid, of course, I'd get up for Christmas morning around 3. Way, way too excited.

121. Go/don’t go to church on Christmas?
Again, I'm an atheist. I was raised Lutheran, and we used to go to church on Christmas Eve. My mom likes to go early on Christmas morning, to the 6am service, which is far less crowded. I used to hate when church was crowded on Christmas and Easter, because the casual Christians would only show up on those days. Something about that just seemed hypocritical to me when I was a kid. Now I just don't care.

122. Pray & sing Happy Birthday/do nothing before bed?
"Happy Birthday"? Do Christians actually sing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus, because that is adorably hysterical. Again, an atheist, so I don't pray. Sometimes I have sex with my wife, which is much more spiritual than apologizing for being human to an invisible friend. Again, you have your beliefs, I have mine.

123. Do shopping before/after Thanksgiving?
When I can shop, I usually do it after. I'm not a fan of Christmas shopping, except that I like to look at the new ornaments. I haven't even seen them this year.

124. Low-key/over the top decorations (inside and out)?
I don't even think about that. I don't pride myself on how my decorations look, because they're for me, not to impress anyone.

Have You Ever?
125. Built a snowman?
Of course. If you haven't built a snowman, go do it now. I'll wait.

126. Heard Santa’s sleigh?
127. Seen Santa & Rudolph in the sky?
I'm not three, okay?

128. Sat on Santa’s lap?
I know I have. There's even a picture somewhere. But I don't really have any memories of it.

129. Shoveled the driveway/sidewalk?
Ugh, yes.

130. Made snow angels?
Yes.

131. Built a fort/igloo?
Yep. One year, my dad got the great idea to use a planter as a snow brick maker. It was awesome.

132. Wrote a Christmas list?
Yes, but in the past 10 years, only when forced to.

133. Wrote a letter to Santa?
Yes. That's how I discovered there wasn't a real Santa. I found where my mom had stashed mine and Jayne's letters to use for Christmas shopping. My mom told me not to tell my sister.

134. Left cookies/milk for Santa & reindeer?
Yes, and we left carrots for the reindeer, too. My dad always did his fatherly duty and ate them, but left some behind half-eaten and the glass only half-full for the complete Christmas effect.

135. Caught a snowflake on your tongue?
Of course.

136. Went caroling?
Never, but I still love to sing Christmas songs.

137. Got hurt during the winter season?
No, but my dad sure did. Jayne and I still tease him about the year he "invented snowboarding" by trying to surf down the hillside on one of those crappy sleds that rolls up. He went down hard and sprained his neck. But he drove himself to the emergency room. That's very Davis--I'd do the same thing myself.

138. Gone ice skating/sledding?
Yes, both. Pond skating and rink skating.

139. Kissed under a mistletoe?
No.

140. Experienced/saw a miracle happen?
I don't think so. I've had eerie coincidences, like anyone.

141. Get everything you wanted for Christmas?
No, but who does? And what does it matter?

142. Cooked/baked?
Yes, many days in my life. We actually did make Christmas cookies last year, because Becca likes to do it, and I like Becca to do what she likes.

I cut out some more things here. Man, this is long. I'm mostly cutting out quiz-type stuff.

True Or False
181. You prefer to stay inside where it’s warm?
Truer words were never spoken.

182. You’ve given something (or $) to charity?
True.

183. You spent more than what people spent on you?
I don't think that's ever happened, which makes me a little sad.

184. You like to take your time opening presents?
I feel so guilty these days that I don't even like to open them anymore.

185. The thing you want most this year costs $100+?
Yes, but only because I most want new tires for the car. I'm not asking anyone for that, it's just what I want.

186. You expect to get more than 10 presents this year?
Man, I hope not.

187. You’re a Scrooge/Grinch?
I don't think so.

188. Christmas = snow?
Falsch.

189. You know the lyrics to more than 25 Christmas songs?
Oh, indeed. I love Christmas music.

Grab Bag
190. Three best things about Christmas?
The music, if it's done right (none of this Rod Stewart or Michael Buble crap). The imagery. And how quiet and still it gets here when all of the college brats have gone home to their parents.

191. Worst Christmas song?
I especially hate "Last Christmas" and "The Christmas Shoes." For as much as I love Christmas music, there's a ton of shitty Christmas music out there.

192. If you were a Christmas character, who would you be?
Never thought about it. Santa Claus, I guess.

193. What type of decoration should stop being made?
Dunno. I'm sure there's something that irritates me (there always is), but I can't think of anything right now.

194. Tastiest holiday treat?
I love Hershey's Kisses. Not strictly Christmas, but there are always some in my stocking.

195. Favorite pop culture Christmas icon?
I like Charlie Brown and his little tree.

196. Know how to make cookies/brownies/cake from scratch?
Of course.

197. Ever cut your mouth on a candy cane/candy?
No.

198. What other culture would you like to experience Christmas with?
I've never thought about that, either. I wonder what Jayne's doing in Australia for Christmas. Really, it would be interesting anywhere. I always used to read or see specials about Christmas around the world when I was a kid and think they were very interesting.

199. What kind of pattern/pictures do you like on your wrapping paper?
Nothing specific; I've had all kinds. A traditional looking Santa, snowmen, abstract designs, wreaths, Disney characters. Just whatever I see that strikes me.

200. Will you make a Christmas picture for your blog/website/profile? I do a new banner every year. So there's that.

The Caturday Before Christmas

Friday, December 18, 2009

Alaina Reed 1946-2009

And now it turns out, sadly, that Alaina Reed, who played Olivia on Sesame Street from 1976 to 1988, passed away yesterday. She was one of my favorite people on the show when I was a little kid. She just seemed so warm and loving. I always wanted her and Gordon to be my parents. I know they were supposed to be brother and sister, but still. There was something about those two that just seemed like perfect parental material to me and my sister.

A couple of videos. First, Olivia, Big Bird, and Snuffleupagus singing "One Little Star" in the movie Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird:


And Olivia and Linda and their rendition of the classic "Sing":


Thank you, Alaina Reed. And goodbye, Olivia.

Sleigh Ride, Star Wars Style

Jaquandor posted this bit of Christmas whimsy. It's "Sleigh Ride" as reimagined by Meco's Christmas in the Stars: The Star Wars Christmas Album, which is a Christmas staple in my home. So bad it's good? No, man. So good it's good.


Apparently George Lucas and Meco wanted to make this a perennial release, but Lucas quashed that idea just as he did the Star Wars Holiday Special. Unlike that piece of trash, though, this one's actually worth tracking down. I've got four songs from it on my iPod right now. Seriously, it's Christmas, and in my house, Christmas comes with Star Wars.

Worst Lyric Ever

I dig Britney Spears' new single "3." It's catchy. But there's one lyric that just bugs the shit out of me.

In a song about threesomes, this lyric pops up a few times:

"1, 2, 3
Peter, Paul & Mary
Gettin' down with 3P"

(3P is Japanese slang for a three-way. I didn't know that.)

Really, songwriters? Because now all I can picture is...

... the day that Peter, Paul & Mary decided it was time to cross boundaries that they thought they'd never cross.

And it creeps me the fuck out.

Cynical Me

ME: Look, just because Obama said during his candidacy that he was going to escalate the war in Afghanistan doesn't mean that I have to like that he's doing it. We're never going to win anything there, or in Iraq. We should never have even been in Iraq in the first place.

FRIEND: So you don't think that America is a safer place with Saddam Hussein dead?

ME: No, I don't. I do, however, think America would be a safer place if Joe Lieberman were dead. Not that I wish death upon him, of course. I'd just celebrate it if it happened.

Dan O'Bannon 1946-2009

I woke up this morning to find out that Dan O'Bannon, the screenwriter of Alien and Total Recall, the writer-director of The Return of the Living Dead, and the writer, editor, production designer and star of John Carpenter's first film, Dark Star, has died. I'm sorry to hear it. I always thought of him as one of the key figures in popularizing the kind of cinematic science fiction that I grew up with.

If you ever want to read some trippy 70s skiffy, see if you can track down any of the stuff he wrote for Alejandro Jodorowsky's attempt to make Dune into a movie. O'Bannon tried so hard with that screenplay that he actually had a nervous breakdown and checked himself into an asylum for a while.

Goodnight and thank you, Dan.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tool-Using Octopus

My friend John from the UK emailed me about this film of an octopus with coconut shells displaying sophisticated tool-using behavior. What do we not know about the octopus? This is pretty astounding and awesome.

Sounds Good to Me

Still not feeling the spirit.

Wizards of Uncreative Writing

This is the problem you run into on a show like Wizards of Waverly Place: when your series deals in magic as part of its premise, you've got to work a lot harder to make a dramatic crisis believable.

Some backstory for anyone interested: Justin Russo is a wizard in training who is doing independent study as a monster hunter. His girlfriend, Juliet, is a vampire. Now, on a recent episode, these two were separated when Justin was hunting a mummy. They got trapped inside the mummy's diorama and, rather than have Juliet fry in the sunlight when it came through the skylight the next morning, Justin told her to go with the mummy (whose mere gaze hypnotizes a person to become one of his army of minions) so that he can track her down again and save her.

Now, Disney Channel can be downright irritating when it comes to continuity--how many times have we seen Miley end up with the perfect boyfriend only to never see or hear of that boyfriend again?--so I was surprised they brought Juliet back in the third season at all. But the fact is that the actress who plays her, Bridgit Claire Mendler, is going to be starring on a new Disney Channel program called Good Luck Charlie and the producers seemed to think it would be better to separate Justin and Juliet instead of just never having her appear again.

But the way it was done was just so annoying that it's hard to watch this episode in reruns.

Let's go back here: Justin and Juliet are trapped in the diorama, and in the morning, the sun will flood in through the skylight, turning vampire Juliet to ashes.

But here's what the show manages to forget completely: Justin is a wizard.

I don't know how they manage to forget this, since it's in the title of the damn show, but let's go on.

Justin tries to use magic to open the window, but it's apparently plastic, and plastic is apparently "the natural enemy of magic." Which is kind of a funny line, but really only there to provide the tension.

Back to the whole wizard premise. This is why it's a badly written episode. Just a couple of episodes earlier, we were told that Justin had finished his wizard training by mastering over 5000 spells. He can't think of a single other one? I mean, magic can do anything, right?

Why not give yourself super strength and smash through the plastic?

Or turn the walls to steam and step through them?

Or turn Juliet into a pair of socks, put her in your pocket, and walk home? Hell, a character gets turned into a pair of socks in this very episode!

You could use magic to create a shade and pull it down over the window so the sun doesn't get through.

You could transport yourself into another world, like the wizard world you're always talking about.

You want to go low tech? Okay, let's go without the magic for a minute.

Did you look for a back door in the diorama?

The archaeologist mannequin has a pack. Your girlfriend can turn herself into a bat. Why not carry the bat home in the pack?

Seriously, these are all more believable than trying one spell and giving up. It's just bad writing. The difficulty in a show about wizards is that, if you make them too good at magic, they can resolve any situation with a simple spell. You need to find ways to put them in situations where their magic can't really help them. The recent Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie did that splendidly. This episode bullshitted its way through it by pretending there was nothing that could be done, when there are a number of alternative scenarios that would've worked just fine.

I know there had to be a way to get Bridgit Mendler off the show, but this just isn't believable.

Oh, and telling Juliet that you're going to find her no matter what it takes is pretty lame, since in the next couple of episodes it was just business as usual. It makes Justin look like a jerk to sacrifice his girlfriend like that and then go about trying to sell his old toys online or preparing for a marathon. Hell, it seems like Alex arrived to rescue Justin with enough time to simply run after the mummy and catch up with him.

You guys won an Emmy. Step it up, huh?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Roy E. Disney 1930-2009

I'm very sad to hear that Roy E. Disney has passed away. He's credited as being the guy who kept animation at the Walt Disney Company alive in the 1970s and 1980s, when Ron Miller was trying to kill it.

Roy died 43 years and one day after his Uncle Walt. He will be missed.

A Couple More Observations About the Health Reform Clusterfuck

:: Joe Lieberman's pledge to vote against the health bill without getting his way was unsurprising. I already feel like I'm living in a country that's run by this schmuck anyway.

:: Susan G. Komen for the Cure has no credibility. They're paying a salary to Lieberman's wife, Hadassah Leiberman, to be a "Global Ambassador." Mrs. Lieberman is a former employee of the insurance and pharma lobbying complex. It's an unethical relationship, and it's sickening that she travels the world representing this organization and speaking about our inadequate health care system while her husband is trying to kill an attempt to reform that system. She's tied to the same corporations who are trying to block the bill. Have fun racing for the cure with that knowledge.

I hear that Lieberman is pissed off when people bring this connection up, too. I guess the people who are pissed off at this breast cancer advocate's ties to an industry that is fighting against generic versions of life-saving drugs have no right to be angry, huh?

:: Even though I knew the Democrats would cave to Lieberman, I'm surprised by how quickly it happened. I'm even more surprised that Lieberman then didn't start asking for more and more like the petulant asshole child he is. He just loves being the center of attention. He's like that kid in the bed in The Secret Garden.

:: Not that we needed any, but how's this for proof that Harry Reid is a gutless turd? Caved right in because, as we know, if we don't coddle Lieberman the country will collapse in on itself.

I don't care that the orders to give in came from the White House. Reid still did it. Reid's incompetence and unwillingness to stand up for anything is directly responsible for this mess.

:: Rahm Emmanuel can suck my fat cock for this.

:: I liked Firedoglake's suggestion that this bill be called the "Lieberman Health Care Industry Profit Protection Act of 2009." That's exactly what it is. I wish the media would use that language and call a spade a spade. But they won't. Another Tiger Woods mistress might pop up so, you know, they've got real news to worry about.

:: Side tangent: Roman Polanski is under house arrest now. I promise you he will never be extradited to the US. He's served his purpose as a distraction to whip everyone up into a frenzy, and now no one cares. We've got Tiger Woods now. As long as you're not demanding your health care reform, nothing matters, because silly little things like human life and well-being do not matter to the government or the corporations which own it. Between the economy, the food supply, and our shitty health care, we are going to be so fucked within the next decade. I hope you enjoyed being a super power while it lasted, America.

:: As much as the Republicans whined about bipartisanship, every compromise on this came from the liberals. Like always. This is why the right thinks liberals are spineless; because they're willing to cave in on everything in order to get... well, in this case, nothing. And you know what? They're right. Liberals are spineless. This bill is great proof of that.

:: Senator Reid announced that the bill would pass the Senate, but didn't say what was in it. That should scare you. It means we're going to be really, really unhappy with it.

Not that Lieberman has to worry. He's already got government-run health care.

:: This whole thing is like being a victim of extortion. Because guess who pays for all of this? The government at this point is nothing more than a protection racket for industry.

And they kill 15 times more people per year than were killed on 9/11. That's how many people die every year for want of better access to health care.

:: I was holding out a little bit of hope that Obama would just veto this thing when it gets to his desk--no reform would be better than this mockery of the concept--but I know he won't. He had this to say about the bill: "You talk to every health care economist out there, they will tell you that what ever ideas exist in terms of bending the cost curve and starting to reduce cost for families, businesses, and government, those elements are in this bill."

Congratulations on your 100% bald-faced lie, Mr. President. The bill doesn't even have most of the cost-reducing ideas you were pushing during your campaign last year. Not that we should be surprised, since you've backed away from every principle you claimed to have held during the race for the presidency. You worked to kill Dorgan's drug reimportation amendment, which you previously claimed to support. You are actively trying to ensure that Americans won't be able to save $100 billion on health care costs over the next decade because you're owned by the drug industry. And you're lying about it.

I won't be voting for you in 2012, you ineffectual liar.

:: Obama also lied when urging the passage of the bill by saying it fulfilled all of the promises he made in his September speech before a joint session of Congress. Untrue. He's lying, and he knows it. He just doesn't care.

:: Did you know there's a loophole in the Senate bill that would let insurers place annual dollar limits on medical spending for people struggling with costly illnesses? Hope you've got that short-term kind of cancer.

:: Doesn't the fact that Time named, of all people, Ben Bernanke its Person of the Year show you where the media's loyalties lie?

:: The White House is apparently pissed off at Howard Dean for supporting the House bill. They seem to love Lieberman, though. And why not? Let's be honest, what Lieberman delivered for them is the Senate Finance Committee bill the White House wanted. I mean, I hate Lieberman, but the blame for this is shared by Obama. He could have pushed for better legislation. He didn't. Because this is what he wanted.

:: The Senate "health reform" bill is nothing more than another corporate giveaway. It will not do any good for people who need health care, and in fact, it worsens the quality of current coverage. Dramatically. You will be forced by the government to buy very expensive, poorly regulated insurance that will be insufficiently subsidized. It does not ban annual limits, and there is a loophole which makes it possible for your out-of-pocket costs to not even be capped. Insurance regulations are meaningless with this bill.

And this is mandated. It would basically be illegal to be without insurance coverage, so this is your only option. It will not stop you from being bankrupted by medical debt any more than the splurge stopped you from being kicked out of your home. It all comes at our expense, as we are kept serfs forever and our country rots.

And it will rot. It will wither and die as our shitty banking system puts more people on the streets, and our shitty insurance coverage does nothing to help people who get sick, and our shitty lack of food regulations makes more and more people sick.

Make no mistake, this bill is designed to do what Washington does best: to give the illusion of change while quietly making things worse for the middle and lower classes. This is what's supposed to happen. It's meant to force your employer to cut your benefits, to reduce your coverage, and to increase your costs. Even the Congressional Budget Office admits this will happen.

It makes things worse.

It's supposed to.

Congratulations, Mr. President, on finally bringing feudalism to America.

Princess Annie

It's things like this that make me glad Photoshop was invented.

I Got Farked

My latest Hobo Trashcan column, in which I whine about what ABC did to A Charlie Brown Christmas this year, got linked on Fark. Ah, there's all that anonymous verbal abuse I've been missing on the internet for months and months.

Seriously, though, I think it's cool that that many people read something I wrote, whether they agreed with it or hated it or whatever. Getting linked on Fark is something I can check off my list of internet rites of passage I never thought I'd go through. It's a list that doesn't actually exist and is really more allegorical than anything else and which I just made up, but since I got linked by both Fark and The Daily What in the last couple of months, I'm a little too pleased with myself.

Film Week

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

FOOD, INC. (2008)
It's a damn shame that something as essential to human survival as how our food is made has been politicized and framed as a conservative vs. liberal debate. There needs to be more discussion about where our food comes from, how it's processed, and who stands to gain by making food cheaper and more dangerous. What's great about Food, Inc. is that it really doesn't politicize too much (although it notes, rather importantly, that a lot of Monsanto workers were part of the Bush administration and still work for the EPA and the FDA). Instead, it shows an America that is being weakened and slowly killed by a food supply that can't really be sustained. We see how bacteria is becoming more and more resistant to antibiotics because meat suppliers have wanted to grow chickens with bodies so big that they are literally crushing hens to death. It's easy to see looming health crises in the future as we find out more and more about how badly our food is handled, and without being smartassed or gimmicky, this movie implies (and quite rightly, I think) how little the government cares about you, and how corporations have no problem killing people as long as they can make a little extra money. This transcends politics: this is about something much more basic, which is that we can't survive if all we eat is poison, but poison is what's being fed to us. If you think it's an accident that the cheapest food on the market is the worst food for your health, you've got a surprise coming. See this movie. It's important. **** stars.

ORDET (1955)
Carl Theodor Dreyer's film about faith. It's slow-moving, but it's also an interesting meditation on the nature and power of faith. It takes some shots at religious practices for being hypocritical, but ultimately it comes down too firmly on the side of faith being able to do anything for me to buy it completely. It's about a Christian farmer with three sons, two of whom are having crises of faith, and one of whom has gone mad and thinks he's Jesus. Nice cinematography, but stagey. *** stars.

TINKER BELL AND THE LOST TREASURE (2009)
I'm surprised by how entertaining these Tinker Bell movies actually are. Not tremendous, but I have to admit, I like spending time in this world they've created, and I like that the computer models still retain Disney's cartoonish designs. The first movie had a nice message about finding your talents that I found pragmatic and more rewarding than "you can do anything as long as you really want it," which is too much of what children's films push these days. This film has some good messages about loyalty and friendship, also. Of course, as I said the first time, it's too bad that we all know that eventually Tink will forget what she's learned and fly off with a boy who treats her like dirt, but, well... *** stars.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I Read That Kristen Bell Is Single Again

Hmm, she must have gotten my mental messages... I am so in! I've never heard her say "I don't love SamuraiFrog," so I'm going to assume this is go time.

Or not, but, you know, a man can dream.

Santa Packs Are Coming

I can't quite say why, but I've always liked this commercial. It's part of my Christmas routine, I guess. There are a number of Christmas-themed commercials that I've always loved, and this is one of them.

I could almost make a list of all the Christmas commercials I liked. I wish they'd still show that old McDonald's commercial with Ronald and that kid ice skating and the cartoon animals. I also loved the old Folger's commercial that made my mom cry (and which they remade this year, but not very well).

(Video via The Retroist)

Something Something Something Dark Side

I caught the new Family Guy parody of The Empire Strikes Back, and I have to say, even for Family Guy, I was disappointed.

Against all odds, I actually thought their Star Wars parody, "Blue Harvest," was funny. "Something Something Something Dark Side" is just another great example of everything that's wrong with Family Guy (except they did tone down their usually over-the-top number of jokes about rape).

So we get lots more gutless jokes involving racism and misogyny (Seth MacFarlane seems to have never imagined a scenario where a woman getting punched in the face by a man isn't funny) that are neatly calculated to never offend the Family Guy audience, but might offend an imaginary person who wouldn't watch Family Guy in the first place.

And we get the repetition of the same inexplicably popular gags over and over again, like Cleveland slowly falling from an incline or someone (or something) falling and grabbing their shin or that gay dude saying "Oh no, I know." And, of course, there's more of Seth MacFarlane's mistaken belief that the longer something is delayed or repeated, the funnier it is. And the chicken shows up playing Boba Fett; I was surprised we didn't get the obligatory "hilarious" 10 minute fight sequence lazily added in to ease off the pressure of having to write a story for half a script-length. They must be saving that for the inevitable Return of the Jedi parody.

And what would Family Guy be without a multitude of references to old cartoons and stuff from the eighties (besides eight minutes long), which are only "funny" because they're recognizable, not because they're actually funny. It's a dead spot when an old Doublemint commercial suddenly breaks out on Hoth, because it's just not funny, or surreal, or creative.

And this episode gives a few particularly good examples of how empty the characters on Family Guy are. The convenience store guy as Yoda falls flat and provides zero laughs because there's no character to begin with; there's no humor to play off of because the guy has no personality. The same goes for Mort Goldman, who is thrown into the mix as Lando Calrissian simply because there are no other characters left to play Lando. It's such a bad concept with no room at all for humor that Lando is given almost nothing whatsoever to do. Even MacFarlane and his writers know there's just nothing to play off of in that mix. (Though it doesn't help that the first half is so meticulously set up, and the second half is just rushed right through.)

And I know there are people who will excuse this because it's a parody, but there are long sequences (as there were in "Blue Harvest") where the animation is nothing more than an exact replica of scenes from The Empire Strikes Back. It's hard to excuse because, honestly, Family Guy does this constantly. Every episode features scenes like that, where the poor animators have to spend their time copying exactly something like the Sesame Street pinball sequence, only putting Stewie inside the ball because, apparently, it's funny enough that the scene is being replicated and referenced. It's just so damn lazy. (Though laziness is a hallmark of MacFarlane's television).

Oh, and one last gripe: swearing isn't funny in and of itself. I saw the uncensored version, and a couple of times the word "fuck" was used to funny effect, but MacFarlane's big joke when Han Solo is frozen in carbonite (Peter's response to Lois' "I love you") falls with a giant, unfunny thud.

To be fair, there were some aspects I liked. Family Guy's animation is always terrible (mostly it's just people standing still and talking to each other, like a Hanna-Barbera cartoon), but the computer models were very good. And I did laugh a couple of times. Big laughs, too. But the best humor comes from areas that Seth MacFarlane is not prepared to go into too deeply.

First, there's a great moment, when Vader and Luke are having their lightsaber battle, when Vader sets out the rules of the fight. Then they stop fighting as a car drives by. It's a great moment because that was part of the childhood of so many of us; getting our sticks, pretending we were Jedi, setting out the rules of what you could do, and then stopping in the middle to let neighborhood cars go by. That's humor that comes out of a shared touchstone, a common childhood memory. It's funny because there's truth and experience in it, as opposed to MacFarlane's usual humor, which is all about making its audience feel smarter than people who don't watch or reminding them of the Maude theme song.

Second, there's some good humor at the expense of Star Wars, which is sort of the whole point of parody. See, I guess that's another problem I had with "Something Something Something Dark Side," which is that it's not really a parody at all, but just sort of a (would-be) funny version of the same story where the humor generally doesn't work. You might as well have put the camera on MacFarlane and his people and had them talk about why they liked The Empire Strikes Back. Maybe it's not as funny as "Blue Harvest" because they revered the film too much to parody it as effectively as Star Wars.

But there's one great moment in particular that sends a shot right to George Lucas and his inability to think of outer space in a scientific (or realistic) way. I love the Star Wars movies, but I've always said that the science in these things is pretty silly (it's why I think of them as fantasy films and not science fiction). When the Rebels are planning their escape from Hoth, there's a line about how they could escape in literally any direction, but instead ("for some inexplicable reason") they're going to escape by flying straight towards the Imperial fleet. That made me laugh my ass off. If only there had been more moments like that.

I like Star Wars parody and humor, but this just falls flat. Too bad, because I really wanted to like it as much as I liked "Blue Harvest." It doesn't help that Adult Swim just aired Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode 2.5, and their Star Wars specials are just much funnier. And since, frankly, Robot Chicken has been on autopilot for the last season or two, that's saying a lot.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Dark Knight Makes No Sense

Not even to Batman.

Thanks for this video, guys. Tired of feeling like the only one.

Happy 65th Birthday, Jane Birkin

One of my all time favorite sex symbols.

80s Revisited: Annie

Annie (1982)
Directed by John Huston; screenplay by Carol Sobieski based on the musical by Thomas Meehan; produced by Ray Stark.

I saw this movie many times as a kid, but I never had any good memories of it. What is it about seeing movies as a kid? Sometimes you just build up such a negative attitude towards something based on things you've heard and read about it, especially something you only half-remember. I don't think I've seen this movie in over 25 years, to be honest, and I had just sort of come to think of this as being one of the lamest movies I'd ever seen.

So, I sat down with this last night for reasons I'm not really clear on and decided to give this a chance. And it turns out it's not really a terrible movie at all. Not necessarily a great one, either, but there's a lot to like about this film. I'm not sure where its reputation as a bad movie (including a Razzie Award) really comes from.

I'm going to assume you're fairly familiar with the story, as the popularity of the musical itself shows no signs of slowing. Instead, I'm just going to talk specifics: what I liked.

* The casting is nearly perfect. Anne Reinking, Geoffrey Holder, Tim Curry, and Bernadette Peters are all spot-on for their roles. Albert Finney hits every note perfectly as Daddy Warbucks--well, he can't necessarily sing in a pleasing voice, but let's face it, would Daddy Warbucks have a perfect baritone? His performance is a constant delight, and I was especially drawn to him as a character. I felt moved by a man who never gave much thought to family and discovers--nearly too late--that he really does want to love and be loved. Aileen Quinn, in the role of Annie, is much better than I remember. She's a little stagey, sure, but she can sing the songs and projects a sense of earnestness that comes across as more sincere than precious. For that, I especially credit John Huston's direction.

Towering above every other performer, though, is Carol Burnett. She plays Miss Hannigan as a perpetual drunk, and her comic timing is (of course) exact. But she also gives nuance to the character rather than playing the same note over and over. There's a sort of dignity under the surface that is constantly wounded. She's a classic comic villain, but one you love rather than fear.

* The production itself. Obviously a lot of money went into this, and it really pays off in the look of the film. The 1930s cars, Radio City Music Hall, the opulent mansion with priceless art treasures, the realistic street settings; all of it provides a great backdrop to the story.

* The pacing. The movie doesn't rush to get to the ending, but it doesn't really plod along, either. It's a musical of the old-fashioned variety, with long narrative scenes and character moments that move the story along just as much as the musical scenes do. And Huston takes his time in letting the story unfold instead of flying past everything.

* The dancing is actually dancing. See, when I was a little boy, dance was an art. At some point, after several years of music videos, dancing became this sort of rhythmic spasming. Even with all of the popularity of dance shows on TV, dancing in musicals still looks like posing with occasional arm movements to me (with the exception of Another Cinderella Story, in which a lot of the dancing seems inspired by ballet and jazz, and features actual leg movements--big ones). Here, watching the dancers in the "I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here" number or the surprisingly well-choreographed children during "It's the Hard Knock Life," I felt the thrill of seeing a musical where the dancing says just as much about the mood as the song.

There's also a neat little bit where the characters Grace Farrell (Reinking) and Warbucks' bodyguards Punjab and the Asp are dancing in celebration of Warbucks' decision to adopt Annie, and I like the way the styles are matched to the characters themselves. Maybe it's a little racially stereotyped, but I liked the big, sweeping movements of the Asp, the delicate-but-bold movements of Punjab, and the jazzy, celebratory movements of the normally reserved Miss Farrell. Which brings me to...

* Punjab and the Asp. Great characters in a classic comic strip who restored for the movie (but don't actually appear in the stage version).

* The music. Most of it's good. I got as sick of "Tomorrow" as anybody back in the eighties, but I've always liked "It's the Hard Knock Life." And, come on, it's Tim Curry, Bernadette Peters, and Carol Burnett in a musical.

* There's a sort of dark side to the whole thing, and I liked that the movie didn't shy away from it.

I don't know, maybe it's too cute for some. But I enjoyed it. I can't lie.

Although, honestly, there's still part of me that looks at it and says "If this is Little Orphan Annie, where are the Soviet spies, the treasure caves, and the pirate coves"? But you can't have everything.

Kristen Bell Mondays


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Song of the Week: "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning"

All this time I've been doing Song of the Week, and I've never had a Sinatra song. Since yesterday was his birthday (born 1915), I decided to remedy that by putting up my favorite Frank Sinatra song, which is also the title song from my favorite Frank Sinatra album. It's one of those perfect songs that just comes out of the dark and wraps you up in it. The greatest thing about Frank was his utter sincerity, and this song really benefits from that. It's about lost love, and it puts its arm around you and shares feelings you've had, and even makes you feel better about having had them.

Twilight Summarized by a Smartass, Chapter 23

And we're back to Bella being a passive character whom things just happen to. She blacks out, she dreams about an angel, and the angel is really Edward, come to save her. She's dazed, but she can hear Edward, Alice, and Carlisle talking, while Carlisle tends to her wounds and realizes that James has bitten Bella and somehow the wound is venomous. So Edward sucks out the poison, Stephenie Meyer uses more embarrassing metaphors and similes about how godlike and musical-voiced Edward is, and then Bella passes out.

Whatever.

Sunday Hottie 254

ALICE GOODWIN