Saturday, April 12, 2008

The New Disney Slate

A couple of years ago, I had a post up talking about some of the Disney projects in development. The one that sounded most interesting to me was called American Dog. It was about a dog who starred on a popular TV series, who was pampered and self-centered, and who one day is shipped to the opposite end of the country and has to make his own way back to LA, discovering America and the world beyond himself in the process. Chris Sanders, co-director of Lilo & Stich and a fine sketch artist, was going to direct. And then, one day, Sanders left Disney and the project, citing creative differences. I had posted these bits of very appealing concept art.
The project will now see the light of day as Bolt, a film with basically the same concept, except the design is less appealing and the dog now thinks he actually has the superpowers his character has on TV.And he's got sidekicks now, including a sassy housecat (because what's a Disney movie without unneccesary sass?) and a hamster. The plot they have for this movie basically sounds the same as Toy Story, and even though I know I'll see it, I'm not exactly excited about it. I really wish Chris Sanders had been able to make his version.

I also think Disney is making a big mistake with its upcoming series of direct-to-DVD Tinkerbell movies. They've been promoting the damn thing for a few years now, and part of that has been a series of CG-animated shorts on Disney Channel featuring either Tink or one of the new Faerie characters. They're just little shorts about the faeries in nature doing whatever they do, and they're utterly charming and kind of brilliant. I love to watch them, and part of the reason they're so good is that the faeries never speak. The shorts are completely without dialogue. And you know the movies are going to fuck that up entirely, take all the charm out of it, and make Tinkerbell and the other faeries act like self-centered American high school students. Huzzah. Every time Disney makes a big deal about trying new things, they just re-dress the same old thing.

Anyway, the announcement of the new Disney/Pixar slate is here. The Pixar ones sound the most interesting, with the exceptions of yet another Toy Story and Cars 2, the sequel to the weakest Pixar movie without Bug's Life in the title.

Most especially interesting is the announcement that Disney's Christmas 2012 release is King of the Elves. As in Philip K. Dick's King of the Elves. This could either be very interesting or, given the success rate of Hollywood's Dick adaptations, very, very bad.

Eva Mendes as Sand Saref

More of The Spirit.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Health Report Update: So Very Tired

Today's an institute day, so the subs don't need to come in. I've got the day off, which means a three day weekend for me. It's nice and springy, cool and rainy, with thunderstorms on the horizon. There have been the sound of birds and a refreshing breeze.

I don't know what I had planned for today, but here's the result of this crappy eating I've been doing on a nice day like today: I'm tired. I can't be arsed to do anything. I just want to lay on the couch and watch TV and drift off to sleep. My feet hurt and my back hurts and I'm just so damn wiped out from the mental fatigue of children and the general annoyance with the shape I'm in. Somehow, everything has been sapped.

I don't know how people get out of bed and work four three-hour days in a row anymore!

Throwdown 4/11

Random thoughts, questions, and observations for the week.

1. Mariah Carey now has more number one singles than Elvis Presley? But can anyone tell them apart? Seriously, I love Mariah Carey and I love her music videos, but I don’t own a single piece of music that’s hers and I can’t tell you the tune of any one of her songs. Every one is virtually indistinguishable from the other. But I sure hope she keeps making videos!

2. According to a new poll, the bible is America’s favorite book. I take that result with a grain of salt; this is America, after all, land of illiteracy and fundamental Christianity: people who can’t read always say their favorite book is the bible. It’s not like it’s being judged on its literary quality, of which there is none. The bible hasn’t sounded literary to the ear since the King James version.

3. Latest remake we don’t need: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. What is the point of Hollywood anymore? By the way, have you watched either of the Bill & Ted movies lately? They hold up surprisingly well. If you haven’t seen the first one in several years, it’s kind of delightful to go back to it.

4. Now a woman in Detroit attempted to rob a bank but killed time beforehand by filling out an account application with her real information (including her address) and leaving it behind. Who says this nations are dumbening?

5. The Brisbane Times is reporting that half of Australia’s pregnant teenagers continue to smoke through their pregnancy. Can you imagine? Teenagers too stupid to use birth control are also too stupid to stop smoking while pregnant. Well, at least my generation is looking better and better as parents, considering how magnificently they’ve failed. Our children are turning out to be even dumber about sex, pregnancy, and children.

6. Paul McCartney wrote a tribute to his late wife Linda for the Sunday Times. She died 10 years ago this month. One passage in particular caught my eye: “She didn't go on TV and say, 'This is who I am - hello,' and try to ingratiate herself. We didn't need to do that - it was our life, not theirs. We were too busy living it.” Gee, I wonder if he’s contrasting Linda to someone else…? Love it.

7. I’m just going to link to this story, in which a reporter visits one of the McGhost-Towns that banks and the government keep insisting don’t exist. The reporter talks to some of the few residents left in the neighborhood, including one family who has decided they’re just not going to pay their mortgage until the rates come down. Squatting in your own home; inspiring and sad all at once. Ah, Bush’s America: a place of ruin and collapse.

8. Big Pharma is now using the pre-emption doctrine to shield itself from lawsuits, shifting the blame for poisoning or killing you away from the manufacturers of drugs and onto the FDA. Can’t they both be held responsible?

9. Have you been keeping up with the Olympic torch? It’s making its journey to Beijing now, but human rights protestors along the way keep attacking the runners and the torch has already been put out a number of times. I know my idealism can be almost laughably na├»ve sometimes, but why aren’t more governments boycotting the Olympics? The spirit of the Olympics is supposed to be that people put aside their differences to participate in international competition. Now it’s just being treated like a gigantic marketing opportunity, and all it really means this year is that China is a major economic power, and since that’s the only thing the American government respects, Bush is acting like it would be wrong not to support it. This world’s priorities are so fucked, and not enough people really give a damn.

10. John McCain: “No one has supported President Bush on Iraq more than I have.” Are there enough people who hear that and really, really want four to eight more years of this nonsense? Especially when it’s come out this week that Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condaleezza Rice, John Ashcroft, and Colin Powell all knew about the decision to claim torture as legal when the president orders it?

11. Lots and lots of stories this week about violence, stupidity, sexual assault…there’s just too much for me. I’m overwhelmed by it, and I can’t really take the idea of picking out some of the dumbest and highlighting them right now. I just… who cares? So instead, I’m pulling this out: the one story this week that just sums up all of the stupidity of the world. And of course, it’s noted child abductor Madonna. With her usual clear sense of judgment, she compared Britney’s “fight” with the paparazzi (the same paparazzi she’s always actively courted and continues to court, and is now using as her fuck buddy pool) to the widespread problems of starvation, civil war, and, um, “witchcraft” in Africa. She said: "When you think about the way people treat each other in Africa, about witchcraft and people inflicting cruelty and pain on each other, then come back here and, you know, people taking pictures of people when they’re in their homes, being taken to hospitals, or suffering, and selling them, getting energy from them, that’s a terrible infliction of cruelty. So who’s worse off?" That about says it all. I’m going to go hang myself now.

Zoe Lucker

Zoe Lucker played Tanya Turner on the funny, silly, trashy, sexy, awesome Footballers' Wives on ITV. I love that show in all of its glorious over-the-top lunacy. And I just found out this week that they actually cancelled the show quite some time ago. So after the last season aired on BBC America last summer, I've been looking forward to seeing a new season this summer that, it turns out, does not and will not exist. Bummer, man. I'm disappointed.

Thankfully, we had a few really fun seasons together, Zoe. And I look forward to whatever you do next. Happy 34th birthday!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Brief Presidential History of the United States, Part II

Part I here.

With Grant’s presidency, America entered a whole new phase of imperialism. It was under his presidency that the giants of American industry—Carnegie, Morgan, Gould, Vanderbilt, Rockefeller—began their rise and essentially took over America. Railroads extended west to unite the country, yes, but Grant’s cabinet was the most corrupt yet, and the railroad companies were beneficiaries of that corruption, using their power to influence legislation and make deals with small towns in the West to divert the railroads through their towns, ignoring sound construction in the name of profit. Thousands died to complete the railroads. The Credit Mobilier scandal over insider trading, the Whiskey Ring scandal diverting tax money, the Bureau of Indian Affairs designed to steal more land from the Indians; this is the legacy of President Ulysses S. Grant.

Elected 1876 in a rigged election, the only election ever determined by a congressional commission (he won by a single electoral vote). Republican; vetoed most attempts to overturn civil rights enforcement through a constitutional amendment, but did compromise on the civil rights issue. The first president to authorize federal troops to fire on striking workers; during the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, 70 strikers were killed. Workers feared the government had turned against them permanently; the industrialists feared revolution.

Elected 1880; he had little time to make any decisions, as he was assassinated a few months after taking office by Charles J. Guiteau. Alexander Graham Bell had to invent a metal detector just to find the bullets lodged in his body.

Vice-president of Garfield; a Stalwart Republican (“traditional” Republicans who opposed Hayes’s civil service reform; in opposition were the Half-Breeds), but broke away from them as president to show the country he was opposed to factionalism. Replaced nearly every member of Garfield’s cabinet; reformed civil service by passing the Pendleton Act, which provided for a written examination to protect employees from being removed for political reasons. Enraged the South and the West by lowering tariff rates, which became a major political issue. Enacted the first federal immigration law excluding paupers, criminals, and the mentally ill from entering America, then went on to sign the Chinese Exclusion Act, restricting Chinese immigration. Hosted the International Meridian Conference to establish the Greenwich Meridian. Secretly suffered from a fatal kidney disease; the last incumbent president to submit his name for renomination to be denied. The Republicans chose another candidate.

Elected 1884, a Democrat who attempted reforms, but only for show. Like many presidents of the time, he was essentially owned by big business. Appointed a man who had married into the Standard Oil fortune as Secretary of the Navy; this man made a deal with Carnegie to make steel ships. The corruption continued to flower.

Elected 1888; passed the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890 in an effort to protect trade against “unlawful restraints.” It was a weak law. Under Harrison, the Supreme Court rules that a company owning 98% of America’s sugar refining industry was a manufacturing monopoly, not a commerce monopoly, and therefore not illegal. The Court also ruled that the antitrust law could be used against striking railway workers who were “restraining trade,” and further that the Fourteenth Amendment was in effect to protect corporations, which were “persons deserving the law’s due process.” The Supreme Court, in other words, ruled that corporations were legally a person. Boss Tweed happened under Harrison; so did Haymarket. He was defeated for re-election when the Democrats attacked him on the “Billion Dollar Congress” which had, indeed, spent a billion dollars in two years.

Elected again in 1892, though the Populist Party had made inroads as a legitimate third party; they were comprised mostly of poor blacks and working white farmers who had started to realize they had a common enemy in the corporations which ran the government. The Populist Party reached out to city workers and called for the nationalization of railroads, the telegraph, and the telephone, and a graduated income tax, which was an attractive idea due to the Panic of 1893, another depression. They brought up real issues of great importance, but the Democrats undermined them by heightening racial fears and Congress pushed them aside to focus on a debate over whether American currency should remain on the gold standard or switch to silver coins. In 1896, the federal gold reserves fell near bankruptcy levels, and J.P. Morgan bailed out the government; Cleveland lost all credibility after that. Though a fierce advocate of extending American naval power and influence into the Pacific, he did not annex Hawaii in 1893, which also lost him some support.

Elected 1896; the Republican nomination was essentially purchased for him by industrialist Mark Hanna, who was basically appointed to the Senate in return. The Populist Party just faded away. During McKinley’s presidency, the Supreme Court established “separate but equal” in Plessy v. Ferguson, making a segregation legal that had already existed, though now nearly every former Confederate state enacted Jim Crow laws. The South was also using technical tricks to keep blacks from voting and exercising an institutionalized racism due to their major fears of black sexual contact with white women and blacks having economic or electoral power; lynchings became so common that they were promotionally advertised in the papers. McKinley also presided during the Spanish-American War, a fight that neither he nor Spain wanted but which was agitated by the newspapers and planned by powerful industrialists who wanted an economic war boom. Expansionism was still rampant, and many Americans lusted for more land (and to show Old Europe the force of America’s military). The war was supposedly fought to liberate Cuba from Spain, but it was also partially fought to keep Cuba from becoming the second black Caribbean republic (after Haiti). After the explosion of the Maine in the harbor at Havana—which may have been staged by America pro-war forces—McKinley simply gave in. Eight months of fighting in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines followed; most of the deaths were from yellow fever and malaria. In the end, America won Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, Wake Island, and the Philippines from Spain, but didn’t really know what to do with them. The Filipinos certainly didn’t want to exchange Spanish domination for American domination, and fought a guerilla war that was unlike any of America’s wars with Europe in its brutality and its bloodshed. 5000 Americans died fighting in the Philippine incursion. America would have to fight to have its imperialism; McKinley also annexed Hawaii at gunpoint in 1898 at the behest of sugar plantation owners who wanted to overthrow Hawaii’s queen. Re-elected in 1900, but assassinated in 1901 by anarchist Leon Czolgosz.

The second vice-president of McKinley and, at 42, the youngest president; rattled industrialists and fellow Republicans by talking about reforms; hero of the Spanish-American War. One of his first actions as president was to invite Booker T. Washington to the White House; the South never forgave him for that. Sent the US military to Panama to bolster a revolt against Colombia that had only been agitated and fought so America could cheaply take the land needed to build a canal; Panamanian “independence” was essentially American fiefdom. Instead of sending troops to fire on striking workers, as other presidents had done, he threatened to staff coal mines with military labor in 1902 “in the public interest” (i.e. for no money under government control) if J.P. Morgan didn’t reach an agreement with striking miners. Strengthened the Interstate Commerce Commission, created the cabinet-level Department of Labor and Commerce, and passed the Pure Food and Drug Act after journalists exposed the disgusting conditions in American food processing. Let some monopolies stand, but went after others, such as Swift & Co. and American Tobacco. Re-elected 1904. Explicated the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, which declared US “internal police power” regarding its “sphere of influence,” treating nations he viewed as racially inferior in a cavalier fashion. In 1904, he sent troops to the Dominican Republic to take charge of revenues until it repaid its debts to Great Britain; reduced Latin America to a collection of vassal states. Won a Nobel Peace Prize for mediating an end to the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, but dealt highhandedly with Japan and made an enemy out of them, “giving” them Korea but forcing them to guarantee non-interference in the Philippines. A voracious reader with incredible recall who loved to quote; in particular enjoyed the muckrackers of the time, who exposed crime, urban squalor, slums, corruption, fraud, and the immigrant experience; the workers of his time really started to become attracted to socialism. Agreed to follow Washington’s example and not seek a third term, despite the fact that he could easily have won through his immense popularity. He almost immediately regretted his decision.

Elected 1908, the handpicked successor to Teddy Roosevelt (a joke at the time said “Taft” stood for “Took Advice From Teddy”). The NAACP was founded in 1909 while he was president. He brought even more antitrust suits than Roosevelt, most famously against Standard Oil in 1911, breaking their monopoly. In the 1912 campaign, Teddy Roosevelt tried to get the nomination away from Taft, but the Republicans stuck with him and Roosevelt became the candidate for the Progressive Party, formed by Roosevelt and other dissatisfied Republicans. Taft threw in the towel and stayed out of the campaign, more interested in the Supreme Court. The campaign was about who appeared the most progressive, and Democrat Woodrow Wilson won a huge electoral victory; he came in third in the popular vote, however, winning less votes than Roosevelt and Taft combined. Socialist Party candidate Eugene V. Debs won nearly a million votes.

Elected 1912; reduced duties on foreign goods; ratified the Sixteenth Amendment (income tax) and Seventeenth Amendment (Senators elected by a popular vote); passed the Federal Reserve Act and the Clayton Antitrust Act, and created the Federal Trade Commission. Made Jim Crow federal policy, segregating federal offices and kicking blacks out of many government jobs. Left American troops to control Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic, ostensibly to protect the building of the Panama Canal. Raised an enormous amount of tension between America and Mexico by sending troops led by Blackjack Pershing and George S. Patton deep into Mexico to chase Pancho Villa (they never caught him). Pledged American neutrality when World War I broke out in Europe in 1914, which was mostly a war over who controlled the vast, rich resources of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Isolationism was a strong force in America, and historically the US had always steered clear of alliances. Even when the Lusitania was sunk in 1915, Wilson remained neutral. Re-elected in 1916 under the slogan “He Kept Us Out of War,” but won by a thin margin. Broke relations with Germany in 1917 when the Germans began an unlimited campaign of submarine warfare against all merchant ships. British agents uncovered the Zimmerman Telegram, in which Germany pledged to support Mexico in a war with the US, and a public outcry for war with Germany began. Still Wilson tried to mediate, but powerful forces in industry and banking wanted a crack at the rich spoils to be had and pushed for war, which the US finally entered. Passed the Selective Service Act in 1918; also passed the Espionage Act which was used to silence critics of the war. Explicated Fourteen Points for Peace and asked for the creation of the League of Nations to promote the peaceful resolution of conflicts (met with tepid response by America’s allies; French PM Clemenceau openly professed to being bored with the idea). After the war, the Republican-controlled Congress refused to ratify the League of Nations in revenge for being left out of the Treaty of Versailles negotiations, rendering the League pointless without US involvement. Before the war was over, secretly sent 10,000 American troops to aid the White Russians against the Bolshevik revolution. Wilson suffered a stroke in 1919, but did not relinquish the government to the vice-president, instead letting his wife Edith make presidential decisions for him, during which time the Republican Senate refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles. World War I left nearly 30 million dead. Created the General Intelligence Division in 1919 and appointed J. Edgar Hoover to head it. The first wave of Red Scare hit in 1920, and attorney general A. Mitchell Palmer and Hoover arrest and deport 556 people as America begins to fear any sort of foreign influence. Hoover, through his career, would equate “wrong” beliefs such as anarchism, socialism, and communism with criminal conduct. During this time period, the Ku Klux Klan underwent a massive revival and expanded their hatred to Jews, Catholics, and any foreigners. Immigration was sharply limited. In 1919, Wilson ratified the Eighteenth Amendment prohibiting liquor, an unenforceable and completely unsuccessful prohibition that gives rise to organized crime in America’s major cities. It was also during Wilson’s presidency that women finally won the right to vote, after a long suffrage campaign led by Alice Paul which included demonstrations, protests, and hunger strikes. When Jeanette Rankin became the first woman elected to Congress in 1918, she immediately introduced a constitutional suffrage amendment, which was ratified in 1920 as the Nineteenth, extending voting rights to women. Wilson was firmly against the woman’s right to vote, partially to keep the South, but in 1920, when passage was imminent and fearful of women’s future voting power, began to publicly support the Nineteenth Amendment.

Elected 1920 under a campaign promise of “a return to normalcy” (i.e. to letting business run the government). Cut taxes, raised stiff tariffs, rejected the League of Nations, had an America-first foreign policy, and doled out corporate welfare. Was president during two massacres of black towns; Tulsa in 1921 and Rosewood in 1923. He had been elected because he was a non-controversial Republican; ironically, his presidency was riddled by scandal, including the siphoning of millions allocated for a VA hospital, fraud related to the return of German assets, and the Teapot Dome scandal, in which lands meant for Navy use were sold off to private developers for drilling. As this scandal was being uncovered in 1923, Harding died of a heart attack that had been misdiagnosed by his incompetent surgeon general as indigestion.

VP under Harding who famously said “the business of America is business” and “the man who builds a factory builds a temple, and the man who works there worships there.” Another passive president who let business interests rule the country while staying out of world politics. Re-elected 1924. Was president during a time of unlimited potential and the championing of individualism, both of which were justifications for making as much money as possible at the expense of everyone else.

Elected by a wide margin in 1928 against Democratic candidate Al Smith, a Catholic anti-prohibitionist (the anti-Smith announcement was “Rum, Romanism, and Ruin”). Oversaw a credit boom and a NYSE boom, in which many fortunes were made by unscrupulous means and the economy was dominated by groups of speculators who would run up stock prices by artificial methods. America’s wealth was all on paper; there was high unemployment, housing values began to fall, agricultural prices collapsed, high production was met with low demand, and wealth was distributed unevenly. At the time, investors only had to put up 10 to 20% of the cash to buy stock, and Republicans were artificially lowering credit rates, so banks lost millions on credit. There was an enormous debt to this theoretical wealth. European investors predicted there would be a problem and began to withdraw their interests, leading nervous American bankers to call in their debts, causing American investors to sell their stocks to raise cash for the payments, which led to a panic and a cycle that resulted in a stock market crash; $30 billion vanished from the economy in a few weeks. Stock values fell to their true worth; the prices had been artificially inflated by as much as 96%. The Great Depression was the result of American urbanization and prosperity; previous depressions had been weathered because many people lived on farms and could produce what they needed to survive. Hoover continued to voice optimism and believed depressions were part of the business cycle (a common economic belief of the time). Passed the Hawley-Smoot Tariff Bill to protect American trade; it deepened the problem, causing the Depression to spread to Europe as everyone raised their tariffs in response. Refused to allow government relief, which he saw as socialism and communism. Did not set up a public works program to replace building projects until 1931; it was woefully inadequate. Created the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in 1932 to loan money to railroads and banks, which millions of Americans saw ad Hoover choosing to aid corporations over the poor. Breadlines formed; Hoovervilles went up. Hoover continued to live regally with servants, believing that keeping up the appearance of prosperity was good for American morale; Americans didn’t care. In 1932, the Bonus Army—made up of 25,000 World War I veterans and their wives and children—squatted along Pennsylvania Avenue and the Anacostia River to ask Congress for the bonus they’d been promised in 1924 (which was not to be paid until 1945). Hoover and Congress both saw them as Red agitators and refused to meet with them; instead, Hoover sent troops and tanks under Patton, MacArthur and Eisenhower to run them out. 200 were killed, including two infants. Their camp was burned down. Amazingly, Hoover sought re-election in 1932 on a platform of repealing Prohibition, balancing the budgets, and keeping tariffs high.

Elected 1932, a year when any Democrat could have won against Hoover, even though many felt that he was the weakest and most inexperienced candidate. Promised a “new deal” for America and the repeal of Prohibition. Democrats also swept both houses of Congress. The Bonus Army returned; Eleanor Roosevelt brought them coffee and listened to their grievances. Began a series of “fireside chats” on American radio to instill optimism and confidence in America. Called Congress for an emergency session and closed banks for four days, creating new federal agencies and passing legislative measures without even reading them willing to try anything and, if it failed, try something else to find a solution to America’s Depression. Utilizing a nation of vast human resources, he created the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, and the National Recovery Act, which created a minimum wage, maximum work hours, and a legal price fixing in order to stop inflation; the NRA was unanimously killed by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional (especially in accordance with the earlier Harrison-era ruling that the Fourteenth Amendment was meant to protect corporations). There was widespread abuse in the New Deal programs. Unions grew. The Dust Bowl created an agricultural nightmare. FDR was revolutionizing the government, for better or for worse making it much more powerful and far-reaching in American daily life. Replaced the NRA with the Works Projects Administration to build roads, hospitals, courthouses, schools, ports, water supply systems, the Lincoln Tunnel, the FTC building, the Boulder Dam (later renamed the Hoover Dam by a Republican Congress in 1946), and many other public works; it also funded many creative projects. The Republicans hated FDR and accused him of communism, but the American people practically deified him. Black people began to leave the Republican Party for the Democrats; the Republicans retaliated by starting nasty sexual and anti-Semitic rumors about the Roosevelts, but FDR was only interested in results and didn’t care about the rumors. Overwhelmingly re-elected in 1936, carrying every state except Maine and Vermont. The Supreme Court killed 10 other New Deal programs, so FDR tried to pack the Supreme Court with New Deal supporters, losing ground in the 1938 midterm election as a result. Pledged neutrality in World War II, but did everything he could legally (in most cases) do to aid Britain, including the Lend-Lease program which was almost unanimously passed in Congress despite America’s strong isolationist sensibility. Began selling weapons to the Allies in 1939 outright. Re-elected in 1940 even after changing America’s war status from neutral to non-belligerent. Declared war on Japan in 1941 after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Passed the Alien Registration Act, requiring aliens to register and making it illegal to advocate the violent overthrow of the US government; passed the Selective Training and Service Act; finally killed the Great Depression completely through massive war production; put 10,000 Japanese-Americans in internment camps. Kept the Armed Forces segregated; the Allied call for self-determination free from outside influence did not extend to Allied colonial holdings. Froze wages, prices, and salaries to stem inflation. Issued an executive order forbidding racial discrimination by government contractors (which led to an anti-black riot in Detroit). Over six million women entered the industrial workforce. FDR passed the GI Bill to provide housing and education after the war for returning soldiers. Re-elected in 1944; called for the creation of a United Nations. Forced to bargain with the Soviet Union in a way that left Eastern Europe open for Soviet takeover. Eleanor Roosevelt called for social equality of blacks, but FDR did not make strides in that direction. Died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage in 1945; he had been the first president since Lincoln to hold near-dictatorial powers in the United States.

Vice President Harry S. Truman was promoted on the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt; he oversaw the end of World War II by dropping two atomic bombs on Japan in a still-controversial decision. More than 50 million died in battle; perhaps that many or more civilians were killed. There is no official death toll.

In the third and probably final post, I'll talk about the Truman presidency and continue onward with the presidents who oversaw modern America in the Cold War and out of it, and onwards to today.

You Think So, Professor?

That douchetard who runs Egotastic made this educated guess about the "celebrity" value of Kim Kardashian this morning or last night or something: "I'm not 100% what it is people like about Kim Kardashian, but I'm guessing it probably has more to do with her giant boobs and ass, than with her many talents or winning personality."

I guess a supposition that educated and well thought-out can only be answered in the vernacular of the internet:

The New GoPhone Commercial: A Record of My Thoughts

Hey, Meat Loaf!

Dear God! Meat Loaf is singing alternate lyrics to "Paradise by the Dashboard Light"!

Holy socks! TIFFANY! Childhood crush, object of long term fantasy, awesome babe, yes-I-own-all-of-her-albums-and-her-non-album-singles, looking juicier than ever before TIFFANY singing alternate lyrics to "Paradise by the Dashboard Light"!

Oh my cats, there's a 90-second extended version on YouTube! With MORE Tiffany!

I could care less about a GoPhone, but THAT, my friends, is an advertisement. God in heaven, I love Meat Loaf.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Film Week

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

Marcel Carne's two-part masterpiece about a theatre mime in love with an actress. It's on the long side, perhaps, but the story of unrequited love among the economic realities of life is quite a beautiful and moving film. I don't want to say much about it if you've never seen it, but it is exquisite. **** stars.

A surprising film; the first half is nothing more than a conversation about love, art, and American life between wandering, penniless artist Leslie Howard and trapped waitress Bette Davis. Then Humphrey Bogart comes in after committing a robbery and proceeds to take everyone hostage, resulting in... another long conversation about America, motivation, economic depression, even racism. But it's highly engrossing and, for its time, something very different. It doesn't purport to offer any answers, but the questions it raises are important. Davis is quite good; Leslie Howard isn't very sympathetic, but he's such a good actor and the dialogue makes its points without being obnoxious. **** stars.

I'm not even sure how I know about Andy Warhol's Factory anymore. Watching this film, characters would come in and out, and I'd just sort of know who these people were. "Oh, that's Richie Berlin," I'd say. Or "That's Ingrid Superstar." How do I know these people? What is it an outcropping of, exactly? Why am I intrinsically fascinated and yet repulsed by the people who surrounded Andy Warhol and the entire life-as-art movement? I can't really answer that, but it leads me to see these movies about Andy and his Factory, so I knew I'd get to Factory Girl sooner or later. I thought this was an excellent movie about Edie Sedgwick, probably the most compelling of Andy's stars, if only because she seemed so sort of all-American and normal and was then destroyed by the environment she thrust herself into. I've always thought of Andy Warhol as something of a sham, a guy who convinced the world that not getting a job and throwing American pop culture back at America to show its shallowness was some kind of genius. As time goes by, I see his true genius was in manipulating the media and the people around him, controlling them subtly the way a child does. The film doesn't really conclude, I think, that Edie was destroyed by Andy's machinations (intentionally or unintentionally); in fact, Edie was pretty self-destructive on her own. I'm finding this a hard film to define, as you can tell. It presents Bob Dylan as the other side of Edie's world, the alternative, a sort of pragmatic attention to reality and art instead of the hollowness of Andy's statements. But I've always considered Dylan something of a sham too. A gifted poet, yes, but living his own affectation and projecting a created image and then acting like it was meaningless when people looked too closely. This is, in its way, a battle between two kinds of emptiness; things that seem meaningful but really aren't. Is that the tragedy of Edie? That she was searching for some kind of meaning and encountered movements that were essentially meaningless? That were about themselves rather than change? I'm not really sure. But I did think the film was excellent, and the fact that it gives me so much to think about puts it above a lot of other movies for me. With this movie, Sienna Miller finally crosses onto the list of great current actresses for me. She's kind of fearless, and I respect that a hell of a lot; she seems to put more thought into her performance than into her career and how to safeguard it. She's a real actor, and she's excellent in this movie. So is Guy Pearce as Andy, probably my favorite screen Andy; he tries to reveal a confused humanity behind the blank, asexual exterior. **** stars.

I was shocked by this movie. Not because of the big controversial scene that led many to condemn this movie, but because it was so emotionally involving and, in the end, so affirming and powerful. It's about a boy in Afghanistan who is forced to flee to America when the Soviets invade; years later, after the Taliban takes control of his home, he has to return to carry out a personal mission. That it manages to accomplish this without seeming overlong and overdramatic is really something. Thematically, it's a movie about finding the strength to stand up to injustice, even when you know you can't change an unjust system on your own. And I like that message. An excellent film that seems overlooked to me. **** stars.

Bette Davis deservedly won an Oscar for her performance as a washed-up stage star who falls in love with an engaged architect. She spends most of the movie being so manipulative and unpleasant that the later scenes in the movie (including a twist I won't reveal) were a surprise. She's touching, powerful, and direct, and she gives one of the best performances I've seen. **** stars.

Excellent documentary by filmmakers Ernest B. Schoedsack and Merian C. Cooper (who would go on to make Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness and King Kong) depicting the journey of a nomadic Persian tribe (the Baktyari) up snow-covered mountains to get to grazing land. A remarkable piece of filmmaking from a time when many in America hadn't seen (and had no other way of seeing) other cultures on film. Beautifully done, beautifully shot film of an era which seems long gone by. Of course, there are still nomads herding camels in the desert, but this is the past. This is the past and it's gone. **** stars.

Is Jessica Trying to Get Me Back?

I don't think she'd want me anymore. I think I need another couple of photoshoots, though.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

TV Report: Three Seasons of Lost

My sentiments exactly.

The Health Report, Year 2: Week 17

The coughing still lingers, but the whole cold/flu/whatever is mostly gone. The fat still remains, too, damn it. I'm trying to get back to healthier eating, but it just hasn't made a dent with me. I'm making small changes, switching over to multigrain everything and, since I have a craving for Coke again, drinking the occasional Diet Coke and Coke Zero instead (at least they don't have HFCS and are lower in sodium).

What's happening with my health regime is what happens to a lot of people: I go to work, I'm on my feet all day, and when I get home I'm mentally fatigued and weary and I just want to relax on the couch and eat some Pop-Tarts. Multigrain Pop-Tarts, but still Pop-Tarts. I don't go out walking anymore and I don't think about what I'm eating overly much. Right now, I'm not sure how to break it.

I've only been doing half-days, too; afternoons working in an instructional program at an elementary school. The woman I'm subbing for is pregnant and can only work in the mornings, so I've kind of fallen into a job that, for a change, is several days in a row. In fact, some of the people at the school are intimating that this might go on until the end of the school year. As it is, I'm only there until the 17th, because a substitute position can only be listed for 14 days, but this lady I'm subbing for is due sometime this month or in May or something. I would love to stay on until the end of the year, because I'm enjoying my time at this school. I'm getting to know the kids and they're getting used to me and my presence is starting to carry some credibility there. And it's not the same class all day, which is kind of cool--I'm spread between students from three classes over the day, which I rather like, for reasons I'm really not sure about, honestly.

Still, being at this school is giving me a firsthand education about, well, education. The system really doesn't work too well anymore. This is an old building that's overcrowded (the only elementary school I've seen yet with portable classrooms), in a low income area (read: trailer park), and I can't believe how much attitude there is floating around with some of these kids. I'm dealing with third-graders and fifth-graders, and some of them just have such an attitude to cover up the fact that they're frustrated with their own inabilities or inadequacies. One girl actually said to me on Thursday: "Do you even know who you're talking to?" I wanted to answer: "Some fifth-grader who doesn't know anything." I even wanted to answer with: "Do me a favor, go home and tell your mom to shut her fat mouth, because her attitude of entitlement has rubbed off on you." I just ignored the question.

I'm also seeing just how the Bush administration and No Child Left Behind has made it too much of a financial risk to properly educate children. For example, I've got two third grade girls, I'll call them Pixie and Dixie, who seem like perfectly wonderful girls. I'm supposed to pull them out of their class to give them special attention. On Thursday, we worked on some math. The problem they have really seems to be in terms of focus. They try to do the math problem--and they both do problems in a methodical way, following directions a little too closely, a little lost when it comes to creative thinking--and when they get the answer wrong, they get excited and redo the problem several times, until they get to the point where they're just guessing. They're smart enough to do it, I think; it's all there, they just lose the focus and get on a tangent. I'm trying to teach them to slow down and think out the problem first. But, to the surprise of their teacher, I did manage to help them complete the assignment they were working on and assigned them their homework, which they then finished. On Friday, the classroom had recess instead.

This is something I see a lot of and it kind of bugs me a little. This room has, I'd estimate, about 30 kids. There's one teacher, a student teacher (humorless but very hot), an assistant, an individual assistant who's assigned to one girl, and for nearly an hour in the afternoon, me. I figured I'd be taking Pixie and Dixie out of the class again, but apparently teachers are allowed, even encouraged, to break for a recess when the kids get so overwhelmed that they can't concentrate anymore. And I'm not sure that's a good idea. I'm only there for three hours a day, man, and on Friday I saw at least four classes take recess. I stayed behind in the classroom with the kids who were being punished (or disciplined or whatever the hell they call it now) by having to stay behind for a set period of time. One of my girls, Dixie, had to stay behind to finish an assignment; I was a little proud of her, because when she finished I told her she could go outside, but instead she pulled out some paper and said "I want to do my homework now so I won't have any this weekend."

One of the other girls who was being made to stay behind for eight minutes nearly had a freak out. She had pulled all of her books out of her desk and left them in a pile on the floor. (This is the girl with her own assistant.) She put them away, but wouldn't--couldn't--sit still. She would stamp her feet and a couple of times she took some of the books on her desk, picked them up, and slammed them back down in a huff. Eight minutes and she just wanted to tear her hair out and hurt somebody. It's as heartbreaking as it is maddening.

The fifth-graders aren't always much better. I have four specific fifth-graders I work with, and they were all little jerks on Thursday. On Friday, they were a little better, because I was determined not to let them give me their little routine. Plus, instead of meeting with my group, they had a frigging recess on Friday. When I came in yesterday the woman in charge of the instructional program had left me a note that she'd gone home sick, so I was with my fifth-graders a little early, monitoring their computer time. One girl, let's continue the Hanna-Barbera references and call her Melody, was so impatient with the whole process, using the mouse to click everything over and over and over and over and over again and crashing two computers in the process. The only boy in the group, Alan M, is actually mellowing out a bit. He saw me yesterday and asked, "How's everything going with you, Mr. Frog?" That was pretty neat. And Josie asked me for help with her spelling and vocabulary during our study hall. She was doing contrasts, and it was hard because I won't just give kids the answer, I want them to find it on their own. So I had to explain the words she already had; I explained the concept of distance and that led her to find the contrast word, closeness. There were a number of words that she didn't know at all.

It just made me think about Pixie and Dixie and about how they are honestly behind in third grade math, and when they get to fourth grade they will already be behind, and one day, hopefully nine years from now, they're going to graduate high school without completing high school math. I wonder how Josie is in math. I wonder how Melody is in math, for that matter, since her only interests in fifth grade seem to be, I hate myself for saying this, flirting, dancing provocatively, wearing more makeup than she needs, and figuring out how to get out of doing any work. I touched on this a few days ago (and again in the comments of another blog), but shame on manufacturers for putting parents in the position of only making low rise jeans for girls of any age. Just because women in their twenties like the feel of their pants falling down and the cool throb of a belt buckle directly on their clits does not mean that they're appropriate for every age group of kids. Fifth grade? Give me a fucking break. I see it in the third grade, too. If I had a third-grader, I'd be explaining to her that it's not cool or preferable to look like everyone else as I drove her to thrift shops to get some vintage bell bottoms (and, frankly, the kind where the waist goes all the way up to the rib cage). Melody wears skirts that are far too short and pulls them up so they're higher. Parents, trending up your kids is the least of your problems. How about making sure they're learning? How about--like my parents did and as I'm finding out is a revolutionary concept--actually helping your kids to learn by teaching them things???

Okay, enough of that. You all know (hopefully) how I feel about the way girls that young are being sexualized. And the fact that their parents are participating in it... Fuck.

Anyway, it's not all frustrating. In fact, not even most of it is frustrating. I'm enjoying having somewhere to divert my energies. I also had a great moment with a student teacher on Friday. I was supposed to help one kid, Elroy, with his math, but this student teacher, Mr. Cool (all the kids think so), switched it on me and put me with Augie Doggie instead. Augie needed help with his writing (he did on Thursday, too), and Mr. Cool found out I had an English degree and we traded kids. Which was fine, because I graduated without completing high school math, too. Anyway, after school, when we were waiting with the kids for the bus, we have this exchange.

MR. COOL: Sorry for dropping Augie on you that way. It's just, you're an English major, and I'm bad with that, and he needed help on his writing. Really he just needs someone to sit there with him to get him to do it. Did he write today?

ME: Only a little bit.

MR. COOL: If you got three or four words out of him, that's really something.

ME: Really?

MR. COOL: Yeah.

ME: Damn, okay. Because I got five sentences out of him yesterday and thought I was doing something wrong today.

MR. COOL: Really? You need to write down what you did because I've never even heard of him writing five sentences!

I'm not being smug about that. I'm just surprised that I have a way with kids enough to get the work out of them. I worked with Augie again yesterday on the same story, and he actually finished it. I just ask him "Well, what happens next?" and he writes it down. I tell him when he has spelling errors and then let him find the words himself. Sometimes he writes the first and last letter of a word and asks me what I think the word is, so of course I pick something outlandish. He wrote the letters m and n and said "That's a long word. What do you think it is?" "Marzipan," I answered. He laughed and shook his head. I did a few more like that--muffin, Michigan, Mustaffarian--and he wrote down mansion. Hey, if he thinks he's outsmarted me and it makes him feel good about his work, so be it. I was proud that he finished his story.

Anyway, I guess I got off on all of that school stuff. Sorry there. I have to be there in an hour and a half, and I'm actually looking forward to it. I'll be tired when I get home, though, and probably have some multigrain Pop-Tarts and not move much. I need to find a way to change that part of my day, because it feels like I'm not doing anything about my health anymore.

It's a push.

Happy Birthday, Patricia Arquette

She turns 40 today. I have to confess, I haven't seen her in anything in years, but I used to have it pretty bad for her and she was in a couple of movies I really loved. And when I say I had it pretty bad for her, I mean really, really bad. Enough for me to celebrate her birthday even though I haven't seen her in anything for years. Gosh, that's backhanded. But screw it, happy birthday, Patricia. Love you!


Bjork's new video is astoundingly, astonishingly good. I've never been a fan of hers, but this new video really blew me away, and it has some incredibly good animation in it. If you have any interest in great animation, take a look at this gorgeous hi-res Quicktime version. The video was made by Encyclopedia Pictura.

I got the link from this Cartoon Brew post, which also has a video about the making of the video, if you're interested.

Blimey, that's a good video. No one ever comes up with something this original anymore.

New to Science

Are there three more exciting words when it comes to the natural world? How about these, then: "giant and unknown." That gets me going, at any rate. Check out these National Geographic pictures of creatures newly discovered in the seas of Antarctica.

Night on Planet Earth

Enlarge this and really have a look at it. That's our world. That tiny thing is our world. Look at the distribution of city lights. Look at how much of Africa is on fire. This is what all the wars in history have been fought over. Really, most of them have only been fought over pieces of this.