Monday, December 22, 2014

Five Crazy Developments with Sony's "The Interview"

Yep, a "buddy-movie...turkey...with a slob aesthetic" has become the most notorious film of the decade. Here are five recent developments with this Seth Rogen / James Franco farce elevating this film to ironically weird heights.

Hustler is remaking The Interview into a porn parody.

Taiwanese animators have reenacted "The Interview" scandal as a series of weird animations.

Treehouse Theater in New York is planning a live script reading of The Interview on December 27th.

A Congressman wants to arrange a special screening of "The Interview" for the Capitol.

and after all this Hallabalo, Kim Jong-un is still planning to watch "The Interview."

Wow. In a year with Whiplash, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Birdman, and Interstellar, this is the film getting all the attention?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Defensive Poetry

I was reading some kind of publishing industry research brief today and found the authors quoting Donald Rumsfeld - or what they called a "Rumsfeldian phrase" - that is, stating that they felt there were "known unknowns" and "unknown unknowns." It was a bit startling to see that after less than a decade the great Rumsfeld has already been entered into the cannon of American poetry.

Yes, practically a decade has gone by since an American defense secretary became the most lauded accidental post-modern poet who ever lived, but it inspired me to think again of Rumsfeld's great poem, "The Unknown":

The Unknown
As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know
We don't know.
—Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

Those of you who would like to peruse more Defense Department post-modern poetry can do so here.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Generation X = Generation Screwed

While the Democrats and Republicans debate the draconian Medicare cuts in Paul Ryan's budget plan the point that has gotten overlooked is exactly for whom all these benefits would be eliminated: people under 55.

It's a telling number.

Ryan is the first politician to begin to put on the table what so far politician's have yet to discuss: what is going to happen to the retirement planning safety net that most of us have relied on as we struggle to fund our 401K's and figure out how we'll survive in retirement.But believe me, this is just the opening of the conversation.

The age that he picks is certainly no accident. Fifty-five: after the biggest swell of baby boomers have safely secured their government-guaranteed retirement.

Assuming all these negotiations pass next year, then for the rest of us louts born after 1957, it's sorry, sucker.

Or as comedian Bill Maher said on "Real Time" last night (in reference to the Charlie Sheen comedy tour travesty), "already got your f***ing money, dude."

That's what the big mass of Baby Boomers and elderly voters running government are going to be saying to us smaller proportion of Generation X'er as they debate this issue. Sorry there's nothing left for your retirements. Already got your money, dudes.

Ryan's proposal is just the first of the great big screwing us Generation X'ers have coming.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Deconstructing Palin's Rhetoric Against Anti-Rhetoric Rhetoric

In terms of twisted logic, the speech on Wednesday from Palin posted throughout the internet surely is a mind-bender, but let's unpack what she is saying just the slightest bit.

"“We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker,” Ms. Palin said. “It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.”"

But Palin's accusers aren't blaming society - they are specifically blaming her. They are saying what she is saying, that Palin should be accountable for her actions of "inciting" hate against people such as Gabrielle Giffords (i.e., creating exaggerated claims such as "death panels" and rhetorically suggesting the death of political enemies). "Because this was your doing," says William Rivers Pitt in one of the most direct connections between Palin and the shootings. "You put the cross-hairs on her, and someone finally pulled the trigger. Run from it all you like, Lady MacBeth, but this blood will never be washed from your hands."

So here is the difference - while those on the left are saying that incitement is an "action" that bloggers and politicians should be held accountable for (as if they had pulled the trigger themselves), those on the right are claiming a right to incitement. Incitement is mere discourse. However, when the left begins to act like the right - when they use the same tactics of casting blame, exaggerating ('this was your doing') and pointing fingers, the right calls this "blood libel."

"Pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence that they purport to condemn," says Palin, in yet another turn of phrase seemingly designed to provoke controversy. In other words, if anyone accuses Palin's rhetoric of having any effect in the real world, they are inciting violence.

Ok. So Palin's point is, you can only be responsible for inciting violence if you disagree with her. If you agree with her, you are merely using rhetoric that is not responsible for anything.

This is logic that the right uses to reinforce its groupthink. It makes little sense to most people, but if you look at it carefully, Palin's speech is calibrated to capture the minds of only one audience: her followers. With its twisted, unpackable logic and code words, it's explicitly designed to keep them in line and prevent them from, in a moment of tragedy, waking up from the closed in cocoon of isolated derangement she is trying to keep them in.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Will Obama Finally Take the Gloves Off?

The big question is, if health care wins, will Obama finally take the gloves off - finally discard this mistaken attempt at "bipartisan" negotiations with a party whose only goal is to make the President fail at all costs?

The Republicans have gotten Obama to waste a year on these dalliances. But passage of health care reform may prove that such attempts can be a trap: the more aggressive Obama will seem more Presidential (and also possibly more prescient), and thus see his popularity rise, along with the popularity of his programs. That will give him the wind behind him to make the other needed and hard-fought changes, such as banking reform.

It's a paradox, isn't it? The more Obama tries to be reasonable and reach across the aisle in that negotiable, Senatorial style he has, the weaker he seems, and the more his popularity slips with moderates. In a weird way, then, the best way for Obama to bring the middle of the country along may simply be to be more definite about pushing for his ideas.

We shall see. But I have to say, this new, feisty Obama is more appealing than the one we've had to date.

Pass Healthcare for Spite?

There are all sorts of good reasons the healthcare bill should pass - but could the degeneration of the Tea Party movement into an ugly, angry mob be the final straw that kicks it over the goal line?

There are a lot of things one might criticize the bill for - though at this point, after a year of tinkering, it's hard to imagine coming up with anything else that would nearly come close to creating real health insurance while also controlling costs. If nothing else, perhaps these demonstration may open people's eyes to just how much the whole issue has become a proxy for something else: the last gasp of American know-nothingingism. And perhaps that will convince that last few wavering senators that the opposition to the bill has nothing whatsoever to do with health care at all.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

JK Lassser - Tax Tip of the Day

Here's a nifty widget giving you a new tax tip every day until April 15th.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Lessons from the Coakley Loss

Is the Dem's loss of 60 seats in the house today in the Massachusetts special election really a "wake up call" that the Obama agenda is really too far left, as even moderate Dems like Evan Bayh are suggesting?

Or is it, as I might suggest, more a sign that our country has - like California - become completely ungovernable?

The healthcare legislation - massive and weighted with legislative favors as it is - is already a massive compromise that attempts to steer through a forest of self-interested lobbyists and contingencies to make some progress addressing just one issue that threatens to collapse our continued existence as a country. Clearly no one is happy with the result - and from what I'm reading on comment boards, the discontent with it is as much from the left not getting a public plan as it is from the right having anything happen at all. But how could anyone in their right mind possibly think we could get anything better? Or that the current situation is sustainable?

I should add, the Democrats are clearly deluded if they try to rationalize this vote than anything other than a backlash. Unlike Virginia or New Jersey - two races where there were other circumstances where Democrats might rationalize the loss - this vote is a clear signal that Dems have lost the public on the issues. Unfortunately, it seems to me that the two parties are so far apart now that there's not even consensus on what our basic reality is. Independents, meanwhile, don't really want to try new ideas - they just want to punish whoever is in power.

Attempting change means pissing some people off. And voters are clearly pissed off. The message that Massachusetts voters have sent, it seems to me, is f* you, America. I'm sure it feels good to say. Too bad it just leads us all to the brink of the abyss even faster.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Top Ten Conspiracies for 2009: Did Vampire Squids Cause Swine Flu?

It's that time of year again - time to list the top conspiracy theories from the year that's past.

For those of you new to this annual feature, the full rules are here, but the gist is basically this: every December, I list the conspiracy theories that made the biggest headlines during the past year. To qualify, they need to have an air of the bizarre, and not be the kind of thing proven true (as in an actual criminal conspiracy - of which, this year, thanks to the financial crisis, we certainly have plenty). Rather, these are the fanciful stories that have captured acclaim and started rumors, with no real basis of fact in evidence.

Naturally, as one might expect, with a new party taking office this year, most of the top conspiracies for 2009 now come from the right (as opposed to from the left, as they have for the past several years).

And now, without further ado, let's have a drum roll....and get to our list.

10. The mob killed JFK. Perhaps one of the most enduring conspiracies of all time, this one breathed new life this year with new books and a TV show on Frontline resurrecting one of Oliver Stone's favorite memes.

9. Sarah Palin's "dollar coin" conspiracy was perhaps notable not as much for its wide attention as for it's laughably typical Palin foible: the grand conspiracy plot she refers to (moving "In God We Trust" to the side of the coin) was actually approved in 2005 by George Bush.

8. Did you know that the CIA is following you on Twitter? So that explains all those annoying DM's.

7. Call the fake Obama birth certificate the conspiracy that wouldn't die. Though we reported this one last year, this year even a District Judge was tempted to side with the conspiracy theorists.

6. ACORN this year became the organization that conservatives loved to hate...and so the nutty conspiracy theories flourished. We have the campaign finance law violation conspiracies, the growing "I lost my local election because of ACORN" conspiracies, the tax evasion conspiracy, the ACORN/Obama federal grants conspiracy, the ACORN hooker conspiracy, a lovely little ACORN gun conspiracy, the ACORN stole the Presidential election conspiracy (what else?), and perhaps my favorite, that ACORN caused the financial crisis. At least no one's blamed them yet for the weather.

5. Speaking of conspiracies no one would have expected, who would have expected a swine flu conspiracy this year? So many villains to go around that really, the whole list of them deserve to be condensed into one.

4. Naturally, one would not expect a review of 2009 conspiracies to end without some kind of communist plot making the top of the list. So I nominate Glenn Beck's Apollo Alliance Manchurian Candidate White Board Conspiracy to take the spot.

3. I love the writings and assorted ramblings of Matt Taibbi. And I think his Goldman Sachs vampire squid conspiracy really has to take the cake as the second runner-up for this year's top conspiracy. After all, who didn't want to take a swing at the fat cats at Goldman this year?

2. Coming in second for this year's top conspiracy: global warming has been faked by scientists. Even the UN is investigating this hot conspiracy. I tell you, when a conspiracy is breaking news at the UN, you'd better pay attention.

1. But even that didn't surpass this year's top conspiracy: The Obama Health Care Death Panel conspiracy. When the U.S. Congress gets into the business of spinning conspiracy theories, even the President has to respond.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Moral Hazard Rears Its Ugly Head: What To Do

With Goldman Sachs now left as a de-facto monopoly supported by the government, there's good reason for public anger - even from conservative financial institutions like the Financial Times - at what are now record breaking bonuses funded by taxpayer money: bonuses that are eye-popping even by the standards of Wall Street.

The Goldman bonuses are perhaps the biggest example of what people mean by "moral hazard." That is, the problems created when governments step in and rescue companies, even companies deemed critical to the economic health of the country.

The problem with Goldman is, there's no longer any downside for the bankers making these obscene bonuses. The company is now "too big to fail," so there's no real risk involved: the traders at Goldman know that taxpayers will step in to support the company if it gets in too much trouble. Thus, traders at Goldman are now able to take insane amounts of risk with what amounts to other people's money - our taxpayer money - but taxpayer's get none of the upside of that risk, only the Goldman traders do.

In essence, then, the bailout has created the biggest sucking sound the world has ever heard: the sound of about a hundred fortunate few sucking the remaining lifeblood out of the world economy.

We knew moral hazard would be an issue when we went into the bailout. And certainly, all the bank regulation in the world, and all the limits on executive pay, ain't going to do a thing to stop the sucking from Goldman, which has already given the TARP money back and thus has escaped any regulation or pay cap talk - and even if they hadn't are so entrenched in the government that they'd find another way to make off with our cash.

Certainly, no good capitalist wants to get into sweeping regulations about pay....and passing a law to tax Goldman Sachs specifically will just create the biggest loophole ever known, when Goldman - which has all the ins in the government it needs to avoid such a fate anyway - simply renames itself. So there seems like there's no good solution, right?

But there is. The solution - which is so obvious, I'm surprised I haven't seen anyone else suggesting it - is to raise the top tax rates. At least for people making obscene money in the heart of the recession - let's say, anyone making $1M a year or more. Call it a "windfall tax" and raise the rate to 55%. After all, isn't that the least that the rich bastards can do for our depleted country? That would recapture some of the oomph from Goldman, as well as anyone else making out in our depressed environment (no doubt due to the largess of the government in the first place).

The solution is so obvious, the fact that no one in the Obama administration has suggested it makes me wonder: just how different is this administration from Bush's anyway? On the issue of Goldman managing the economy, it seems: not much.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Barney Against the Rabble

Joe Klein says the Republican party has gone insane.

I watched a good hour and a half of Barney Frank holding his own against the wailing rabble. Captivating TV, like cage knuckle brawling. Give 'em Hell, Barney.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

20 Rules For the Twenty-First Century

As we really start to dig into this new century, I've been thinking lately about the lessons learned from the past 100 years, and how they so intimately apply to our lives now. Things that have changed our way of being in the world but have also become new insights into the nature of our existence and what it all means. I've been thinking that there seem to be roughly twenty insights for our new times that will underpin how we live in this new century.

1. That a well-functioning society is a complex thing that can easily be quickly unwoven (Katrina) or repaired (the West Bank) by a change in just a few key parameters.

2. That democracies unleash both powerful creative forces (crowdsourcing) and intractable political paralysis (global warming).

3. That all work is about being social, even if it's done at a computer at home alone in your underwear.

4. That compression of the human compound into smaller and more crowded spaces turns us into our basic elements: flesh, sound, and stink.

5. That every generation is a Moses to the next: they can lead us through the desert, but they will never enter the landscape we're destined to inherit.

6. That love is what provides meaning, but not fulfillment. Work is what provides fulfillment, but not meaning.

7. Companies are just big brands that contain and manage smaller brands (products) that are created by assembling contributions from even smaller brands (other products and people). All of these assemblages work best as flexible systems that can easily adjust to constantly changing markets.

8. Rather than right or left or conservative and liberal, a better way of describe competing political forces would be "defensive" and "offensive." And yes, offensive is the old "liberal."

9. That the new meritocracy now most values creative talent, rather than managerial politics.

10. That our educational system now requires rebellion, skepticism, and incredulousness as key personality traits for success.

11. That raising people from poverty requires lowering people from wealth - which can happen both gradually and all at once.

12. That there is nothing more poisonous than a bad idea that seems true.

13. That the more removed we become from physical labor, the more nostalgia we have for the raw dynamics of the earth: pets, gardens, parks, and extreme sports.

14. That sometimes inefficient, low-tech, unhealthy, and complex can have more value than fast, efficient and healthy, if it's emotionally meaningful.

15. That in addition to the four traditional types of labor - making things, destroying things, distracting people, and caring for them - we now have a major new type: managing information. That the United States is really good at three of these: destroying things, distracting people, and managing information - and not so good at the other two; probably due to the natural character of Americans.

16. That the source of celebrity is notoriety, and that celebrity is the source of political power. Ergo, political leadership is the art of being notorious.

17. That all resources are limited, even seemingly unlimited resources like the sun, hope, desire, or lust.

18. That we pay too much attention to avoiding death and not enough to managing it well.

19. That the last unexplored country is the 1/3 of our lives we spend asleep.

and finally

20. That Wall-E is really a movie about how a nerd wins the heart of a sexy girl.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

POLL: Is Gay Marriage The New Swing Issue?

Since his election, Obama has been silent on gay issues - despite his campaign promises. And now, after first offending with the selection of Rick Warren at the inauguration, then his refusal to issue stop loss orders preventing the discharge of gay soldiers, and now most recently, with his DOJ legal team issuing an offensive report supporting DOMA (the law that discriminates against married gay couples with federal benefits), Obama seems to have finally struck out with the gay community.

Interestingly, however, some influential Republicans have started coming out IN FAVOR of gay marriage; even Dick Cheney has voiced his limited support.

So here's an interesting question. If a Republican presidential candidate in 2012 supported gay marriage, would gays support him or her? Could this be the swing constituency that can lead conservatives back to the White House? Take our poll and say your mind.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

What's the Matter with Obama?

or - why are gays becoming increasingly disillusioned with the President?

Quite obviously, Republicans have been quite successful over the past eight years turning gay rights issues into a wedge, and encouraging state-wide initiatives banning gay marriage to help drive conservative voters to the polls. Aside from some stalwart holdouts over at the Log Cabin club, few gays and lesbians are lauding Republicans for these efforts. Yet all evidence suggests that Republican leaders have used the issue as cynically merely to drive their base - few of them seem to really have the heart to push an inimical initiative like, say, a Constitutional Amendment to ban gay marriage.

The question then comes to, are the Democrats really that much better? Two of the most destructive laws over the past twenty years - Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT), which requires the expulsion of service members found to be gay, and the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA), which denies federal benefits or recognition to gay couples - were proffered by a Democratic president. While Democrats see gays and lesbians as their base - and therefore pander to them as much as Republicans pander to the homophobes - when the rubber hits the road, the real question gays must ask politicians in both parties is: what have you done for (or to) me lately?

One might argue - and count me in this camp - that it is much better to under promise and over deliver, that to make promises you don't intend to keep (or worse, that set things back, as Clinton did). When Hillary Clinton, in her campaign against Obama, promised to repeal DADT but only to "promote marriage rights" rather than strive for a full repeal of DOMA (as Obama said he would do), she was criticized for "triangulating" - putting politics above principal. Obama, meanwhile, clearly promised action on both DADT and DOMA - to essentially undo the wrong done by the last Democratic president. Whatever his intentions, many took him at his word.

Starting with his inauguration, however, Obama's delivery has become more and more suspicious. While his invitation of Rick Warren angered many in the gay community (who felt that it undercut the optimism of his inauguration), others argued to put aside that emotion for the sake of the long-term benefits that Obama would bring when he fulfilled his campaign promises. While intellectually that argument made sense, however smart it was for Obama politically, emotionally it was difficult to see the new President promoting the same anti-gay speakers that the last President did. Gays and lesbians have become very used to being used as the first group to be "thrown over the bus" for political expediency. The question was raised: would Obama do the same? Would he really be able to deliver on his promises.

This is why gays are so carefully reading Obama's messages. Obviously, the President has learned from Clinton's mistakes, and doesn't want to create a political backlash. But times have changed - a clear majority of Americans now support partner benefits for gay partners, and more and more support full marriage equality. Obama needn't be as careful as Clinton needed to in 1992. Yet still Obama seems to be backtracking on his promises - changing campaign language on his website to "change" rather than "repeal" DODT, and pushing back the deadline for introducing legislation. Worse, while even Dick Cheney can make public pronouncements supporting marriage rights, the White House has remained silent while states enact full marriage rights and in the face of defeats such as the Prop 8 decision in California. Where is Obama's vocal support for full marriage rights? He still claims to only support civil unions: Obama is willing to let Dick Cheney outflank him on the left on this issue, which only gives political ammunition to anti-gay crusaders who use Obama's position against equal marriage an argument to sway voters in individual states. Surely Obama realizes that his lack of support is actively hurting gays as they fight these battles from state to state. Perhaps even more telling, Obama has continued Bush administration policies of dismissing gay service members - not even taking the least of actions to put a hold on dismissals, and not even starting the legislation process that would result in repeal.

Even some of Obama's staunches supporters have noticed that the backtracking on his campaign rhetoric: Andrew Sullivan writes compellingly that Obama is once again falling into the trap of "equal rights can wait," as he uses the economy as an excuse to put off action. Next year the excuse will be mid-term elections, and the year after that the excuse will be that he has to campaign for re-election. There is no convenient time for equal rights, yet every day that goes by without action is a disaster on a million different levels for individuals and their families all across the country. It takes very little courage to say you support doing something for gays ten years from now - or even two. Tell that to Dan Choi, or couples like Laurel Hester and Stacy Andree, for whom even tomorrow is too late. What disappoints gays and lesbians and their families most is that Obama's "fierce urgency of now" seems to exclude us. Gays can wait - and those who lose out in the meantime are expendable - says Obama through his silence.

No one expects Obama to tackle every issue at once. Yet clearly he is able to discuss legislation about every other campaign issue except this one. Obama raised expectations with his very clear promises, and gays supported Obama over Clinton because Obama promised more direct action with less political calculation. Given how things worked out with the last Democratic President, gays have real reason to be suspicious. Now we find an Obama who calculates politics, who hems and haws and delays, just as much as any other politician. It may not be surprising, but don't tell us not to be disappointed.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

California's Prop 8 Ruling Exemplifies California's Problems

Today's ruling by the California Supreme Court upholding Proposition 8 (which bans gay marriages) while also preserving the marriages that took place during the window in which it was legal, was certainly expected. The suit to begin with was a long shot, even though it was based on a solid argument about how the court found the right to begin with.

However, more than anything this ruling illustrates a few lessons we've learned today about that quirky state called California - for this ruling says more about the peculiarities of California than about anything else.

First, it illustrates just why California is in the financial mess its in. It's a state where any law - no matter how crazy - can be voted in by fifty percent of the population. The Supreme Court has just validated that there is nothing that the voters can't vote into law, even if it deprives groups of their "inalienable rights." Naturally, Californian's will vote in unfunded mandates - cake and ice cream and no bedtime. It is a mob-rule Democracy, completely unable to govern itself or rectify its financial problems, let alone protect minorities.

Secondly, just how will California enforce this new ruling, in which some gay people can be married and some cannot? Will everyone be required to carry around their marriage certificates now? How will gyms, health care companies, hospitals, etc. be able to distinguish between couples married during the California "window" and those married elsewhere in other states at other times? And what about couples who married in Massachusetts when marriage was legal in California? Are those couples "married"? The possibility for legal suits are mind boggling.

But finally, perhaps most interestingly, the ruling - in which six of seven judges who a year ago ENCOURAGED gay people to get married saying it was an "inalienable right," now agree the right is in fact alienable - indicates just how much the court makes its decisions based on comfortable politics, rather than readings of the law. While it was comfortable to grant the right before the Amendment passed, it wasn't quite so comfortable to uphold it afterwards, especially when voters could simply go right back to the ballot box until they got the outcome they wanted. While this ruling may seem like a sage compromise, in fact the one thing its not is courageous - it simply punts the issue back to the voters, and creates an even bigger legal mess in the process.

Welcome to California. Just don't make any legal plans while you're there.