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Friday, February 29, 2008

DVD Review: Across the Universe

On the plus side, the music is far better than the film. Sadly, the music is tremendously uneven.

The movie (that is, the characters, the plot, and the dialog) is a mess that suffers hugely from Julie Taymor’s need to distort the story so dramatically to fit the many re-interpretations of the Beatles’ classics that make up the film’s soundtrack. Peopled almost exclusively, it seems, with names drawn from the Beatles’ catalog of characters--Jude and Lucy, the main characters, Maxwell, whose hammer is hardly silver nor terribly relevant, dear Prudence the slyly lesbian cheerleader, Sadie, who provides many of the musical highlights, and JoJo, Sadie’s Hendrix-esque boyfriend--the story never lets these characters grown into much other than cutouts of 60’s cliches. Worse, their stories are strung together so haphazardly that the disconnect from scene to scene left me caring little for what little character had grown.

It’s mushy, stupid fare for people who will be wowed by the visuals and who don’t understand the violence done to classic Beatles songs by Evan Rachel Wood who makes every song sound like a high school musical production. Jim Sturgess, the British actor who plays Jude, does better with his songs, although even he falls down in spots--most especially on “Revolution” which distracts from what might otherwise have been an interesting dramatic point in the movie. And maybe that’s the point: with the focus so heavily on the songs (and the songs so uneven in execution), they take away from the drama of the film.

This isn’t surprising to me. Taymor’s Titus was a shockingly gorgeous movie, but not a particularly well-directed film. I felt the same about Frida, although both of those movies put Across the Universe to shame.

But there are some charming bits. Dana Fuchs’ Janis Joplin impression works surprisingly well on most of her songs. “Do it in the Road” and “Helter Skelter” are rocking gems. I found myself wishing that Martin Luther McCoy had a few more opportunities to sing, too, as his voice provided some much needed warmth and charisma. “Let it Be” fulfills its gospel roots sung by a full choir to beautiful effect--one of a handful of flawless musical moments.

Bono shows up both to sing and to play a cameo as an LSD evangelist--and, while funny, his crazy tone is at odds with the irritatingly over-earnest feeling of the rest of the cast. If there had been a little more self-aware wackiness, it might actually have helped the movie along quite a bit. Of course, Eddie Izzard’s lunacy just bugged me while he gave a skewed take on “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite.” At least when Bono sings the songs are nice.

The best musical moment is given by Joe Cocker on a dirty, buzzing “Come Together.” Shame he didn’t do a few more of the songs.

According to darling girl, the movie was at least 12 hours long. I corrected her, of course: the movie was only a bit over two hours. It only felt like it took as long as the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Question of the Day

So, why can’t Prince Charles be more like his son Prince Harry?

Just sayin’.

I should note that I had this thought, too, when I saw the story this morning.

And, good Lord, does this mean I have to start taking Angelina Jolie seriously now?

As for the question of whether the surge is working, I can only state what I witnessed: U.N. staff and those of non-governmental organizations seem to feel they have the right set of circumstances to attempt to scale up their programs. And when I asked the troops if they wanted to go home as soon as possible, they said that they miss home but feel invested in Iraq. They have lost many friends and want to be a part of the humanitarian progress they now feel is possible.

Because that won’t be easy.

American Idol Update: Goodbye, Jason Yeager (whose name I screwed up two nights ago). Poor bastard.

You know, on another subject entirely, I always liked the M16A2. Of course, to be fair, I’ve never gone insurgent hunting with either the 16 or an AK-47. But I do like an accurate weapon that is utterly reliable when well-maintained.

American Idol Update: Amanda is safe and Alexandrea is going home. I"m surprised; yesterday I picked Amanda as the girl who would get the un-golden ticket. Amanda’s performance was worse by far. I’m struggling to find a polite way to emphasize just how much worse Amanda’s singing was, and I’m not coming up with anything. I’ve said nice things about Amanda in the past, but America made the wrong choice.

And then there goes Alaina Whitaker--who I thought would stay. Not that she was particularly good last night, but I didn’t think she was one of the worst two. Poor kid isn’t taking it well, either.

Damn, I mangled some of those names over the last couple nights, didn’t I?

I always liked Ted Bronson.

American Idol Update: Robbie Carrico is the last one to go home tonight and, probably, the best choice. I said this about his most recent performance: “Bad. Worst of the night? “ I stand by that.

Still Scratching My Head

I’ve been mulling this over since I saw it yesterday, and I still can’t quite make sense of it.

Director Ridley Scott is making a film about the 1986 summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, between President Ronald Reagan and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

The yet-unnamed film could be wrapped by the end of the year and released in early 2009.

“These are fascinating historical characters, larger-than-life figures, but I want to show who they were and why they did what they did,” Scott told the Hollywood Reporter. “Their actions helped shape history, paving the way for the end of the Cold War.”

It’s an odd topic for a director like Ridley Scott to have attached him self to--and, although I have loved some of his work, I’m not sure he was the right guy to tell this story. Although I can at least expect a little more nuance than I would have seen if his brother, Tony, had done the job.

The whole thing is just a little surprising.

Read the story.

The Perils of “Replace All”

Commenter Aidan Kehoe at Languagehat pointed out this story at Bluegrass World.

Important safety tip: Always reread your story after doing a search and replace and before hitting the big, red Publish button.

Sample:

While many fans of Bluegrbutt music date the genre back to 1939, when Monroe formed his first Blue Grbutt Boys band, most believe that the clbuttic bluegrbutt sound came of age in 1946, shortly after Earl Scruggs joined the band. Equally influential in the clbuttic 1946 line-up of the Blue Grbutt Boys were Lester Flatt on guitar and lead vocals, Chubby Wise on fiddle and Howard Watts on the doghouse bbutt.

Obligatory snark: It’s a good thing they have editors (unlike hoi polloi).

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

American Idol: The Heavily Relying on the Extended Entry Edition (Updated)

Given that I want people to see the other two posts from today, this post will be contained almost entirely in the extended entry. Cool, huh?

Read the Rest...

A Very Sad Day for Conservatives

I was a little behind on my reading for the morning, so this is likely not news for the majority of you. For me, though, the impact is just settling in: William F. Buckley Jr. has passed away.

I’ve been a reader of National Review since I was just out of high school. It was the first magazine that I ever read--a remarkable discovery--that gave a voice and shape to the political beliefs that I had felt but not completely understood. From all of these influences--my parents, my peers, my friend Chick Eastman, Heinlein, and, to an extant, Ayn Rand--I had begun to find a kind of political framework building in my mind. National Review strengthened that framework and gave me the words to express my political thoughts. And, through the magazine and without even knowing of my existence, Buckley and his writers pushed me toward modern conservatism.

I doubt that I’m unique in that.

He was a brilliant mind, an inspiration for conservatives for generations, and probably responsible for my political beliefs as much as any other figure. Buckley was something special, and--like Ronald Reagan, whose spirit is not only remembered, but coveted by politicians--it is unlikely that I’ll ever see another like him. History simply doesn’t gift us with an overabundance of figures like these, figures who truly change the course of the world.

There is no doubt in my mind that Buckley’s influence on America (and, because of America’s unique position, the world) was greater than most politicians and statesmen. He was as important to winning the Cold War, in his way, as Reagan and Thatcher. In fact, I’m not sure that there would have been a Reagan without the influence of Buckley on the conservative movement. The people that Buckley inspired were the people that supported Reagan, who believed in the power of conservatism as an intellectual and political movement; it was Buckley’s preparation that helped create Reagan’s base.

We on the right will miss him through this election cycle and much of the world will never even realize their loss.

Rest in peace.

Update: Newt Gingrich’s response can be read here.

Before there was Goldwater or Reagan, there was Bill Buckley.

From writing books, to creating, leading and sustaining National Review Magazine, to his 33-year run as the host of Firing Line on television, Bill Buckley became the indispensable intellectual advocate from whose energy, intelligence, wit, and enthusiasm the best of modern conservatism drew its inspiration and encouragement.

Christopher Drew has some links and a funny story. I still vote Republican--largely because I don’t feel that I have much choice--but Joan is asking a good question. Roger Fraley says that the “average American IQ just went down a measurable amount.” Which might be overstating the case, but not by much.

My friend Bob Hayes has a wonderful post remembering Buckley. “For the remainder of Western history, there will be no conservative accomplishment or success that does not in some fashion benefit from the work that William F. Buckley, Jr., performed in his tenure on this planet.”

Michelle Malkin remembers Buckley’s place in her own life and has some great links--including to video of the famous exchange with Gore Vidal. That’s still a bracing little bit of video.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Now for Something More Important

Now, for something more important. Andy alerts us all to the kind of credit card fraud that often goes undetected--it’s something that you should definitely take a look at if you’ve seen a charge from PicturesJungle.com (and a few other sites that he tags as being a little suspicious).

I know I’m going to be going through my own card statements (especially the Chase card statements).

American Idol: The I’m Eating Yellow Curry Edition. Yumm.

Update: A somewhat different point of view. Especially when it comes to David Archuleta. We were also very kindly linked by Deb. Thanks!

Thai Flavor yellow curry with chicken is one of my favorite things in the whole wide world--there is at least one place with curry that’s a little better on the other side of town, but Thai Flavor is damned good and relatively close.

So, while Paula Abdul celebrates her return to a recording career, I’ll be going, “Yummm, dawg. That was very brave curry.”

It’s guy night again--which, last week, was mostly painful. Hopefully tonight will be better. Michael Johns, the new love of my darling’s life, is up first and singing Fleetwood Mac. Not really a great choice and not a particularly good performance. I’d much rather be listening to Lindsey Buckingham sing this with all the emotion that he invested in those lyrics. He’s slipped to karaokeville, which is okay. His beauty will carry him through to next week.

Randy is nice and says that he’s a good singer. Paula says that he’s consistent. “Charismatic, you’re a seasoned performance...” Paula is high. Simon says it was okay, bad song choice, and that he was sort of coasting along. Amen, Simon, speak truth to Paula!

I still say that Jason Castro was pretty close to the top last week, and he’s decent this week, too. Not a great vocal performance--which is to say, not my personal taste--but I think he does what he does very well. What he does is sensitive neo-hippy with politically progressive dreads.

Randy sort of agrees that the vocals aren’t that strong, but that the act was “cute” and “charming”, but that it sounded a little karaoke. Which, what the hell? He thought that MJ was better? Fool. Paula wants him to be more vulnerable as an artist. He wants him to be brave. Simon slammed it big and hard. Heheh. Simon: Big and Hard. “You didn’t do yourself any favors tonight.”

Read the Rest...

Colorado Avalanche: It’s Like a Freakin’ Reunion

Coming up on the trade deadline, the Avs traded away Skrastins (a solid player who has done well for the Avs in his tenure here) in exchange for Salei. A bit of a surprise to me, and I’m sort of sad to see Skrastins go, but hopefully Salei will give the Avs a good, disruptive defensive player.

More surprising than that is the return of Adam Foote, acquired from Columbus for a draft pick or two (Columbus will get a first round pick and might get a fourth round pick). No complaints from me; Foote, at 36, is still a top notch player and seeing him come back is a thrill. He will be much more immediately valuable than Forsberg and, barring injury, a solid player from his first shift on the ice.

The Avs have loaded up for their playoff run and given themselves a wild card in Forsberg that could dramatically impact their Stanley Cup chances.

This is a pretty exciting development.

So, There Was This Post…

It was a post with links to Steve Green, Michael Totten, and some creative fiction. It was a post with a shout out to Publicola, who, sadly, doesn’t blog anymore. It was a post with a warning to watch tonight for updated info on the Mini Blogger Bash.

And then it went away.

Damnit.

I need a do-over.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Welcome Home, Forsberg! We Missed You.

Peter Forsberg--one of the most exciting and skilled players to ever wear the Avalanche jersey will be coming back to Denver. He may be the spark that the Avs need while they mount a playoff run, or he may be a sentimental favorite who is too far past his prime to make much of a difference.

I’m voting for option one.

“We’re proud to announce to our fans that Peter Forsberg has decided to come back and play with our franchise where he’s enjoyed so much success early in his career,” Giguere said. “His addition should complement our roster and will bring our team to an even higher competitive level.”

Forsberg, 34, spent nine seasons with the Avalanche and won two Stanley Cups, an NHL scoring championship and the Hart Trophy as league’s most valuable player along the way.

But the oft-injured center has been battling foot, ankle and skate problems, and as recently as a week ago advised teams through his agent, Don Baizley, that he was unlikely to return to the NHL this season.

“Over the last several months, I have worked extremely hard in order for this to be possible,” said Forsberg, who has been skating with his former Modo team in Sweden. “I am looking forward to putting this jersey on again.

“I have so many great memories of my playing days in Denver. I’m excited about helping my new teammates and former teammates in the coming weeks, and hopefully I am able to do that in the very near future.”

The truth is that he hasn’t played much over the last few years and his injury problems are well-documented. But coming in at the tail end of the season, playing in essence a shortened season, might work well for an Avs who have struggled this year and for Forsberg to get a better idea of what he can expect from his surgically repaired ankles next year. As experiments go, this one might not pay big dividends for either party.

On the other hand, there are few players that had the strength, speed, puck handling skills, and aggressiveness of Forsberg. Paired earlier in his career with the great Joe Sakic, Forsberg was about as fun to watch as any player in the league.

With Joe Sakic coming back from injury (along with the young, brilliant Stasny), Jose Theodore playing well, and the return of Forsberg, the rest of the Avs season is sure to be interesting.

Read the story.

Thank You, Hillary

Hillary and Bill seem intent on doing something that no Republican has ever been able to do: kill off the odd nostalgia for the Clinton White House.

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe accused the Clinton campaign Monday of “shameful offensive fear-mongering” by circulating a photo as an attempted smear.

Plouffe was reacting to a banner headline on the Drudge Report saying that aides to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) had e-mailed a photo calling attention to the African roots of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

“The photo, taken in 2006, shows the Democrat front-runner dressed as a Somali Elder, during his visit to Wajir, a rural area in northeastern Kenya,” the Drudge Report said. The photo created huge buzz in political circles and immediately became known as “the ‘dressed’ photo,” reflecting the Drudge terminology.

And, yes, I do believe that it was Clinton staffers who pushed the photo; and, yes, I do believe that they would have done so intent on taking advantage of fears from some Americans that Obama is more African than American or secretly Muslim. While finding ways to maintain deniability, that is exactly the kind of thing that typified Clinton political maneuvers during those presidential years.

After this kind of thing, you’d have to believe that people are starting to remember the divisiveness and nasty politics that came with the Clinton machine--and realize that the machine was a function of Bill and Hillary, not merely Bill acting alone. I had thought of pimping a bit for Hillary over the coming weeks, still believing (regardless of what my good friend, Jerry, has said) that Hillary would be an easier target for McCain. And I still believe that if a Democrat should be in the White House, a Clinton presidency would be less damaging than an Obama presidency.

But here’s the rub: he’s the better person. I can’t spend energy pushing the candidacy of a woman who I find increasingly abhorrent even though I think her policies will be closer to my own (by a fairly small margin in most cases) than her opponent.

I don’t want to see Obama in the White House, but I really don’t want another four years of the Clintons, either. This isn’t about the extra-changiness of Obama; it’s about the complete ethical bankruptcy of the Clintons. I have a feeling that more and more people will defect from the Clinton camp as they remember the reality of 1992 - 2000.

Obama is a decent man and he’s run a clean campaign. I’ll fight tooth-and-nail against his policies, but at least he would be a dignified force in the White House. I doubt that he would be a candidate for impeachment or special bimbo eruption squads of handlers designated to quell news of his indiscretions or assassinate the character of his opponents. I’m sure that he’ll play hardball--anyone who makes it to the White House has to know how to play politics a little rough--but not in the scheming, ruthless manner of the Clintons.

Read the story.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Academy Awards: Drive by Impressions (Updated Again and Again and Again)

I stumbled across the awards in a fruitless search to watch something else just in time to see Brad Bird has won the Oscar for Ratatouille--a well-deserved win. It’s brilliantly funny, touching, and gorgeously rendered--and it kind of solidified my belief that Bird is one of America’s best directors. Tomorrow night I’ll be watching both Iron Giant and Ratatouille to celebrate.

While I realize they want to keep the show short, I also think that they’ve been a little rude about the cut off for some of the speeches. When a person has only been up for a few seconds, find it in your hearts to give them a few more than usual. It’s probably the biggest night of their professional lives and they deserve to enjoy it with a little unrushed dignity.

The chick from Enchanted is hot. Ultra mega stoopid hot. The musical number is pretty fun, too, in an extreme take on Disney music. Fun stuff. Hubba hubba.

Jon Stewart irritates me, but he’s a solid host.

Watching the visual effects awards goes far in showcasing just how unreal movies are these days. Which isn’t horrible--see my love of Ratatouille and other animated movies for an example of how much I enjoy the artistic rendering that comes purely from the artists--but is a problem when those effects become more important than the heart of the story. See the latter two Pirates movies as a good example. Still, the technology is amazing.

The Art Direction award is more interesting to me, really. The capacity to create entire worlds and then translate them to film--whether those worlds are imaginings of other planets or visions of the past is irrelevant--to support the mood and feel of the movie is amazing. I haven’t seen Sweeney Todd, but I’m not surprised that a Tim Burton directed film would win the award. Regardless of other merits, Tim Burton movies are always visually arresting.

Re-watching Cuba Gooding, Jr.’s Oscar win was a reminder of the pure expression of joy that he expressed that night. I had forgotten. I wish he would make more movies worthy of a nod because there aren’t too many more likable people in Hollywood. He seems so genuine and unassuming in the middle of the self-consciousness and arrogance of so many of the other actors.

Javier Bardem deserved his Best Supporting Actor nod for No Country for Old Men. I saw that movie a few months back and I’m still digesting it--his performance is a large part of why.

Oscar’s Salute to Binoculars and Periscopes was a high point for me. Mostly because I’m pretty sure i noticed a clip from Top Secret in there. Could be wrong, though, since I wasn’t paying all that much attention.

Did anyone actually see August Rush? The song that they featured was fine--perhaps a little generic, but certainly not bad. I just could count the number of people that I know who saw the movie on the fingers of no hands. So, if you’ve seen the movie, raise your hand, because I’m pretty sure they released it in the new Nearly Straight to Video format.

Hey, Owen Wilson. I wonder how he’s doing? He looked like he needs glasses to read the Teleprompter, was as wooden as a presenter can be, and skipped right over any fluffy stuff, so yeah…

Best Supporting Actress goes to Tilda Swinton (who looked tremendously surprised). I saw only one of the movies--and Michael Clayton wasn’t one of htem, so I don’t have any commentary. I love Tilda Swinton, although I couldn’t necessarily explain why. She’s certainly a wonderful actress, though.

So, yeah, looks like the Coen brothers are going to have a good night.

I wouldn’t have picked Bourne Ultimatum for either of those sound awards. No Country and 3:10 to Yuma would have been my choices.

Best Actress (the award was given by the phenomenally talented Forest Whitaker) goes to Marion Cotillard--hopefully I’ve spelled that right. Again, another movie I haven’t seen, so I won’t comment on the performance, but her acceptance speech in broken and confused English was all sorts of endearing.

I’m so bored by this thing right now…

Wait, what the hell? Bourne Ultimatum won yet another of those little techie awards? Weird.

Nice entrance, Mr. Travolta.

Hey, Big O, whaddya got there, fella?

I’m not stopping yet. I don’t want to.

Best Cinematography went to Robert Elswit for There Will be Blood. Which is nice for him. I would have given it to that guy from The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. But what do I know?

Dead montage. One of those faces stands out as particularly sad, of course--a too short life with a useless ending--and some of them are simply personal reminders that, damn, I’m getting old.

Oscar for Best Documentary (Short Subject) was given by soldiers in Iraq. Nice treat for the troops who got to participate. Some of the audience just looked a bit confused, though. Here’s to the winner, Freeheld, for receiving the award in a unique way. And, of course, just for winning the award. I suppose it makes up (just a touch) for Hollywood’s political bias, which might have been a bit more obvious in the nominations for Best Documentary Feature.

The award went to Taxi to the Dark Side. I think it should have gone to Fistful of Quarters--which wasn’t, you know, actually nominated. Because political statements are far more interesting than entertainment and good film making. Let’s hope that we can move away from the Dark Side, folks. Because Darth really has us in his hold…

With the Best Actor going to Daniel Day-Lewis, let’s just say that there are no surprises here. Also nothing unreasonable--he’s great. Best Directory and Best Motion Picture going to Coen brothers same-same. And, regardless of what people might think of the ending, they directed a near-perfect film there. Big congratulations to them as they’ve made some of my favorite modern films.

Denzel is looking mighty fit and trim. If I were making a movie today and needed a strong, male lead, he would probably be number one on my list. Russel Crowe would be number two.

Good Morning, Ralph

Ralph Nader is making one of the funniest--as in, almost as funny as any mention of the trilateral commission during nationally televised debates--decisions of the 2008 election cycle. He’s coming back to be a disruptive influence on the political process one more time.

I’m betting that most his natural constituency won’t be hopping on this particular bandwagon again. In a different era they might be singing “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

Ralph Nader said Sunday he will run for president as a third-party candidate, criticizing the top White House contenders as too close to big business and pledging to repeat a bid that will “shift the power from the few to the many.”

Nader, 73, said most people are disenchanted with the Democratic and Republican parties due to a prolonged Iraq war and a shaky economy. The consumer advocate also blamed tax and other corporate-friendly policies under the Bush administration that he said have left many lower- and middle-class people in debt.

He has no chance of winning, little chance of moving any of the entrenched positions of the current candidates, and probably won’t gather up much of the vote. Ron Paul’s place in the process--Quixotic, to say the least--made far more sense and pulled in far more support than I imagine Nader will find.

But at least we’ll all get a good laugh out of it, right?

Read the rest.

High Noon Has A New Life

This is hilarious.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Zombyboy: Fortuneteller extraordinaire

I look deep into the future by reading the cards, poking about in the tea leaves, and discussing my findings with that head in Pee Wee Herman’s playhouse. Would you like to know what I’ve found?

Congressman Renzi is going to be spending some time enjoying (with apologies to Office Space) Federal pound ‘em in the ass prison.

A federal grand jury in Arizona has indicted three-term Republican Congressman Rick Renzi and two of his business associates on charges that include wire fraud, money laundering, insurance fraud and extortion.

The 35-count indictment alleges that between December 2001 and March 2002, Renzi embezzled $400,000 in insurance premiums from a company that he owned and transferred the money to his congressional campaign.

Renzi transferred ownership of the company, called Patriot Insurance Agency Inc., to his wife in 2004.

The lawmaker is also accused of enriching himself by compelling a copper mining interest, referred to as “Company A” in the indictment, to buy a parcel of land from his associate James Sandlin in exchange for his sponsorship of legislation sought by Company A.

When negotiations for the sale were stalled, Renzi allegedly told Company A “no Sandlin Property, no bill.”

And, unless he can prove himself innocent of these charges, he’ll deserve that prison sentence richly. I applaud and agree with House Majority Leader Boehner’s encouraging Renzi to step down. He’s not only an embarrassment to Republicans, he will also be completely ineffective in his role as an elected official. Fight these charges on your own time and, if you can clear your name, make your political comeback later. Until that time, you aren’t welcome.

Read the story.

Friday, February 22, 2008

I Wish You Could Share this Moment with Me

Sitting in the office, enjoying a warm day, and listening to Metallica’s brilliant instrumental “Orion.”

Oh, Metallica, why have you forsaken the True Path of Metal? Why do you give us St. Anger instead of a worthy follow up to Master of Puppets? Repent and return to the Path and we will forgive your wrongs. Yea, verily, though it will be hard, we will even forgive Load and Reload (although, perhaps not “Unforgiven II” which, at best, we can pretend didn’t happen). 

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Nasty Little Slap

In a Politico piece this morning, Jonathan Martin and Mike Allen) take a little swipe at the “commentators on the right” in reference to the McCain/New York Times story. Their contention seems to be that McCain killed the potential damage from the NYT piece by “sophisticated 24-hour counterattack” against the story and was aided by right leaning journalists, bloggers, radio personalities (who all, I suppose, make up the commentariat of the right) and their aversion to all things Gray Lady.

While I do tend to view much of what comes out of the NYT with a little more cynicism than many newspapers, it’s just as true that I went to read the story worried heavily about the damage that it would cause. I went assuming that it would be a well-researched, well-written, and campaign-derailing article; else why was it published in the Times?

See, my actually assumption was that there would be some substance to the story and some accusations made. There weren’t. It was very simply one of the worst pieces of investigative journalism that I’ve read from the Times--although it would have been a high water mark for something like Denver’s Westword. Apparently, that isn’t how Martin and Allen see things.

Few commentators on the right—including some who regularly denounce ethical lapses or weaknesses of the flesh among Democrats—paused to assess seriously whether the Times’s suggestions of conflict of interest were well-founded.

Instead, many swallowed past misgivings about McCain to rally to his defense, on the apparent theory that anyone under assault by the most powerful institution in the mainstream media could not be all bad.

If that article had contained anything reliable, anything substantial, I think that the conservative call would not have been to circle the wagons; the call would have been to get McCain to bow out and figure out how to get Romney back in the game. Conservatives aren’t as suicidal as recent buzz words might indicate, and what saved McCain from an already skeptical base wasn’t a rallying instinct, but a story that never should have run. Outside of the insinuation that McCain was cheating on his wife, there wasn’t much new in the story--with the oldest allegations dating back to the Keating 5 scandal. Honestly, people have already made up their minds on these things and it was the sex angle that was being used to lead and sell the story.

Martin and Allen, though, seemed to have seen more substance in the story than most people, suggesting that if the Times had been more aggressive in its defense, people might have been persuaded that there was more to the story than McCain’s denials of wrongdoing.

Not long after the network and cable morning news shows led with the story, top McCain supporters appeared on the same programs to chastise the Times and denigrate the story. Conservative publications including The American Spectator and Human Events weighed in to defend McCain. By late morning, Shirley’s firm had lined up a half-dozen conservative leaders to attack the Times, and booked guests on dozens of radio and cable television shows. In addition, Black, Bennett and Davis all made the rounds.

Also on in the morning and for the rest of the day was Todd Harris, a top aide in Fred Thompson’s campaign who had previously worked for McCain in 2000.

The Times did not immediately defend itself, letting the story speak for itself until Executive Editor Bill Keller issued a statement Thursday morning saying the account was “nailed down to our satisfaction.”

With silence from the paper, the McCain campaign was free to frame the debate.

What debate? The Times ran a story that was undeniably inflammatory in purpose, but never got around to making any real allegations. It never said that McCain did anything inappropriate. It said that McCain might have appeared to do something inappropriate, but we’re really not sure and there’s no real evidence (at least none on offer in the article) to support full blown allegations.

There was no debate to frame: without an accusation to defend, without named sources to rely on, without a smoking gun (or a stained blue dress), there was only McCain saying, “I didn’t do anything” and journalists saying “what was this story about?”

Honestly, if you look at some of the staff of NRO, I would imagine that there were a few writers who would have been damned near giddy to jump on a McCain-killing story.

But even if you’re skeptical of the right wing reaction, other outlets said essentially the same thing. John Friedman at Marketwatch, who I wouldn’t categorize as one of the “commentators on the right” had this to say in his article:

The Times violated a basic tenet of journalism: Either you have the story, or you don’t. If you have the goods, put the story on page one and shout about it from rooftops. If you don’t, delete the flimsy, unsupported stuff. Like my professors at the Medill School of Journalism used to preach: When in doubt, leave it out.

No newspaper should feel a need to swing at every pitch, especially one with the reputation of The New York Times.

Absolutely right, and I think quite a few publications of less stature than the Times would have passed on that article. The Boston Globe, for example, chose not to run its parent paper’s story in favor of running the WaPo’s stripped down version which “focused almost exclusively on the pervasive presence of lobbyists in McCain’s campaign.”

The Huffington Post, no friend of the right, had a story by Jay Rosen that posed its own questions and concerns:

Lots of people will be asking: did the Times have the goods, enough facts to even run this story? (National Review’s Rich Lowry says no, and many others will be saying the same thing today.) I notice that the Washington Post essentially ran the same story today, minus the innuendo about an affair. It leads with the strongest fact to emerge from the Times account: that former McCain aide John Weaver had met with the women in question to ask her to stay away, a meeting--and an agenda--that Weaver confirmed to the Times and the Post. If there’s any “hard” news in these accounts to support the appearance of ethical taint, that is it. But the Post left out the, “Convinced the relationship had become romantic, some of his top advisers intervened...” part, which makes the Times story far more explosive, and more of an event within the 08 campaign. Which makes me wonder why the Times didn’t run a G-rated version scrupulously free of tabloid stuff.

For a good overview of the questions raised--by the left and by the right--over the Times article, check out Howard Kurtz’s WaPo piece.

The New York Times shouldn’t have run unsubstantiated gossip--and that is, in the final analysis, what they did with reference to the insinuation that McCain had a sexual relationship with Iseman. It isn’t blind partisanship to suggest that this was a piece unworthy of the Times or any other reputable news outlet, and the Politico’s suggestion to the contrary is offensive. My opinion on the piece wasn’t framed by the McCain machine--or by anything other than seeing the link on Drudge--it was framed by reading the actual article and finding myself baffled by its lack of substance. I doubt that I’m alone in that.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

American Idol: The Results Are In

Wow. The boom falls fast tonight and Garrett is gone. Poor bastard. What I said a few nights ago: “He is the most mediocre of the mediocre...”

I didn’t see last night’s performances, but from the clips that they are showing tonight, it really seems that the talent has pooled largely on the girl’s side of the fence. Which is okay: I like looking at the girls more anyway.

The view won’t be any better without Amy Davis, though. But what the hell was Paula talking about? Useless woman. For the record, though, if her performance last night was as bad as the one tonight, she deserved to go home. Weak vocals, no control, very little presence. That doesn’t even rise to the level of bad karaoke.

Jeez.

Shut up and sing, Paula. Oh, wait, that doesn’t really work in this situation, does it?

Joanne Borgella is going home, too. She wasn’t one of my early favorites, so, frankly, no loss to me. She was, however, remarkably gracious to the end.

For the record, the Girl says I’m mean. When the camera cut to the weeping women, I started giggling--this wasn’t about Joanne, it was about how I don’t get the extra crying of the competitors. C’mon, man up, folks. You survived another round and you’re closer to your goal. It would be inappropriate to gloat, I admit, but the tears are a step too far in the other direction.

Simon’s advice to Colton, who is going home tonight, is despised by the rest of the AI crew, but I think there’s a lot to it: get a good job and content yourself with just enjoying singing. I think that would be great advice for the majority of the hopefuls. Most of them won’t have long careers in the field and most of them who do get a record contract will still never making a living doing this.

Put your faith in hard work, education, and keeping your nose clean, kids. That’s the best path to success in the end. Everything else is closer to putting your money and your retirement plans into the lottery: the return on the investment is pretty disappointing.

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