Sunday, December 15, 2013

Truest statement of the week I

Now, let me just say, I take everything too far. (You should see my kids' birthday cakes.) But having comprehensive data on how female characters are depicted in Hollywood has proved to be extremely valuable. Obviously, because I'm a colleague, I can go directly to content creators and decision makers and share what we found. (The research was conducted by Dr. Stacy Smith at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.)
The basics are that for every one female-speaking character in family-rated films (G, PG and PG-13), there are roughly three male characters; that crowd and group scenes in these films — live-action and animated — contain only 17 percent female characters; and that the ratio of male-female characters has been exactly the same since 1946. Throw in the hypersexualization of many of the female characters that are there, even in G-rated movies, and their lack of occupations and aspirations and you get the picture.
It wasn't the lack of female lead characters that first struck me about family films. We all know that's been the case for ages, and we love when movies like The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Frozen hit it big. It was the dearth of female characters in the worlds of the stories — the fact that the fictitious villages and jungles and kingdoms and interplanetary civilizations were nearly bereft of female population — that hit me over the head. This being the case, we are in effect enculturating kids from the very beginning to see women and girls as not taking up half of the space. Couldn't it be that the percentage of women in leadership positions in many areas of society — Congress, law partners, Fortune 500 board members, military officers, tenured professors and many more — stall out at around 17 percent because that's the ratio we've come to see as the norm?

--  Geena Davis' "Two Easy Steps To Make Hollywood Less Sexist (Guest Column)" (Hollywood Reporter):

Truest statement of the week II

Henry Louis Gates and Peniel Joseph are the best examples of black establishment historians, spinning tales of black history whose happy ending is always the election of Barack Obama in 2008, omitting, bending and distorting inconvenient facts as needed along the way, and swapping marketing constructs for explanations of social forces to achieve their happy ending. In the final chapter of Gates' PBS series, Many Rivers To Cross, they ascribed the success of the Black Panther Party mostly due to the romantic appeal of big naturals and black people with guns.

-- Bruce A. Dixon, "From the Bullet to the Ballot: An Unfavorable Review of a Work on the Black Panther Party" (Black Agenda Report).

A note to our readers

Hey --

Yet another Sunday.

First up, we thank all who participated this edition which includes Dallas and the following:

The Third Estate Sunday Review's Jim, Dona, Ty, Jess and Ava,
Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude,
Betty of Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man,
C.I. of The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review,
Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills),
Mike of Mikey Likes It!,
Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz),
Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix,
Ruth of Ruth's Report,
Wally of The Daily Jot,
Trina of Trina's Kitchen,
Stan of Oh Boy It Never Ends,
Isaiah of The World Today Just Nuts,
and Ann of Ann's Mega Dub.

And what did we come up with:

Geena Davis and her institute get the spotlight.
Bruce Dixon gets another truest.
This was a feature idea C.I. pitched.  We liked it so much, we made it our editorial.
Ava and C.I. weren't planning on cover Kelly Clarkson's TV special until Ty told them that readers had hoped they'd do a review of it since they usually review holiday specials.  This was a very sloppy special.  
We do two film classics this week.  This is on Christmas in Connecticut which is one of my two favorite Christmas films.  
Ava and C.I. weigh in on three Thursday night sitcoms.  I'm not happy with the headline for this piece but it's all I (Jim) could think of, sorry.  The piece is much better than the headline.  (On Ava and C.I.'s other TV article, I took their last line and turned a phrase in it into the title.)

Short feature!
Have we really not done a mailbag -- billed as "Mailbag" -- in 2013?  We're taking a reader's word on that because we really don't know.  We certainly didn't mean to drop the feature.

We tried to bring in a different voice when we decided to go looking for something on The Drone War.

Desk Set.  Elaine, C.I. and Rebecca consider this their Christmas movie.  Wally and Cedric are big fans as well.  Stan's not very familiar with it and plans to do a review at his site this week.  We did two.  Why?  Christmas.  Next Sunday we'll be the last edition before Christmas.  We plan to cover one more film classic with a Christmas background next week.  (No, it's not It's A Wonderful Life.)  We wanted to knock two out. this weekend.  
A press release from Senator Patty Murray's office. 
A repost from Great Britain's Socialist Worker.

A repost from Workers World.

Mike and the gang  wrote this and we thank them for it.

That's what we've got to share this week.


-- Jim, Dona, Ty, Jess, Ava and C.I.

Editorial: Who do you think you're fooling?

Just in time for Christmas, from eToys!!!!, The Jalal!!!


What child doesn't want The Jalal?

As real as it gets, the 300 pounds-plus non-action figure can be posed in various seated positions.


Just think of all the time you can waste do nothing with The Jalal.  Real articulation and real detail!

You can glam up The Jalal and style his hair -- curling wand and hair product not included.

First produced in 1933, The Jalal comes with a unique body.  Fashion accessories can be bought separately allowing you to dress him in Country Comfortable, La Plume, Lime Lite, Sun Kissed, Peasant Lady, Flying Skateboard Adventure Outfit, and more.
By altering the hair and the fashions, players can create from tens and tens of different Jalals to make their own custom character.

The Talabani can also be decorative -- brightening up any room -- for collectors.

Each figure comes disassembled and randomly packaged in a small foil bag.

Figure not sold in Iraq.

TV: Cloaked In Stupid

If you're not watching Comedy Central and a Christmas TV special opens with a "TV PG L" warning, it's not a good sign.  For those not familiar with the TV rating system, that alphabet soup is supposed to give a heads up that the program will contain "infrequent coarse language."


Kelly Clarkson's Cautionary Christmas Music Tale got that rating.  It shouldn't have.  It should have been rated NW and we'll get to that.  But first, the special opened with a little girl in pigtails, offering narration as she read from a picture book.

Little Girl:  Once upon a time, there was a singer named Kelly Clarkson who was the envy of every girl in the world.  She had a successful career, a wonderful husband and a record contract that was very generous by industry standards 

Kelly Clarkson:  Don't make me out to sound like a princess, come on.

Little Girl:  Anyway, all of her dreams were coming true -- until one day Kelly's manager asked her and her loyal assistant Chad to a very important meeting. 

Following that set-up, the next scene takes place.  Chad is played by Jai Rodriguez (the best thing about the awful Malibu Country) and her manager is played by Ken Jeong (Chang on Community). The joke is that Kelly's not trending in social media, she's way behind other Kellys, Chad's Tweets in her name are not going over and her manager wants her to consider rehab or going on The Voice to compete in order to raise her profile.  Kelly offers that she was hoping to do a TV special.  And then we move to Kelly in a red dress, on stage, performing "Run, Run Ruldolph."

This was a TV special with precious little that qualified as 'special.'

The little girl narrator might have been a good idea, a way to keep this special moving and provide a transition from scene to scene.  But it's a bad idea when the little girl reads a line of narration and the next scene, with William Shatner playing an NBC exec, opens with Shatner repeating the same line.  That's not creative, it's just redundant (and bad writing).  Since the line is about demographics and income distribution, it really needs to be clever otherwise it's not an inside industry joke, it's just an embarrassment.

It's also bad when the little girl is speaking beyond her years and about the industry. If that's the way to go, then you steal from the best.  In this case, that would be Laraine Newman and her amazing Paula Kirsch character (the little girl movie mogul) from Saturday Night Live.  (We are not commenting on the child actress who played the little girl in the Christmas special.  We are commenting on a poorly written character that the child actress portrayed.) Little Paula Kirsch could have offered all the industry slang and also had a tantrum which would have been hilarious.

But there wasn't much funny.

In fact, if you take away Blake Shelton's good sport charm, there really wasn't much funny at all.

What there was that worked was Kelly Clarkson singing.

There's no doubt that she can sing and she did amazing work with "My Favorite Things" but we were more impressed with "Wrapped In Red" -- which is the title track of her certified platinum Christmas album which came out at the end of October.

Not all the numbers worked.  Reba McEntire and Trisha Yearwood joined her for "Silent Night" -- for a pointless "Silent Night."  First off, Kelly and Trisha's voices are similar enough that they should never be dueting to begin with.  We're not fans of Reba's but when she was singing, you knew it was Reba.  The number was overdone and fussy, in a lower key than it should have been considering the range of the three singers, and completely missing the point of the lyrics.  Clarkson did a much better job (solo) on the Judy Garland classic "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas."

The non-singing moments were embarrassing throughout.  Again, it should have been rated "NW" -- no writers.

Kelly needs a cause, William Shatner insists at the start of the show.

 Can't do animal rights, that's Sarah Mclachlan.  Yeah, we saw Joan Rivers' 2012 tour.  Joan was hilarious.  If you missed it, you can rent or stream the concert film Don't Start With Me.  You can't, however, get anything but a weak retread out of William Shatner's dialogue.  Again, Joan was hilarious.  She might be flattered that NBC is ripping her off or she might feel (rightly) that NBC should give her a special.  In fact, why doesn't NBC do comedy concert specials?

But the really big question is why won't NBC pay for good writing?

They're using a public domain work (Dickens' A Christmas Carol) and they don't even credit anyone for writing on this special -- did everyone improvise?  If so, they sure aren't The Groundlings.

The scenes were so bad they made the writing on The Donny & Marie Show look like Masterpiece Theater.

Kelly Clarkson never seemed to have the right rhythm for the lines but when they're, for example, about  Trisha Yearwood being topless, we have to wonder if anything could save them?

We also had to wonder if Kelly Clarkson would go into the recording studio with no lyrics written?

That's what she did going into this special and in the end she's to blame.

No one else.

Her name's on the thing and she's responsible.

Next time she might try being less cheap and hiring actual writers.  It might mean less pennies in her pocket but it also should mean she's not looking like an idiot. It's rare you see a singing star in her prime embarrass herself so badly.

Few hosts have ever looked as stupid on TV as she did last week and while her album might be entitled Wrapped In Red, her NBC special should have been called Cloaked In Stupid.

Film Classics of the 20th Century

So far in this series, we've looked at, When Harry Met Sally . . .,  Who Done It?,  That Darn Cat!,  Cactus Flower,  Family Plot, House Sitter,  and Outrageous Fortune.   Film classics are the films that grab you, even on repeat viewings, especially on repeat viewings.

movie montage

In a voice over, Barbara Stanwyck declares, "From my living room window as I write, I can look out across the broad front lawns of our farm, like a lovely picture postcard of winterey New England.  In my fire place, the good cedar logs are burning and crackling.  I just stopped to go into my gleaming kitchen to test the crumbling brown goodness of the veal cutlets a la Connecticut in my oven.  Cook these slowly . . ."

And while she's describing what she sees, the camera's showing that she's in a small, NYC apartment.  But that's not how it starts.

It starts with a German U-boat attacking an American ship.


Sailor Jeffrey Jones (Dennis Morgan), stranded for 18 days on a raft, dreams of food.


In the Navy hospital, nurse Mary Lee (Joyce Compton) reads him the food columns of Elizabeth Lane and then gets the idea to arrange for Jeff to have Christmas with the Lanes.  Mary Lee knows Lane's boss because she nursed his granddaughter when the child had measels.


The boss is publishing magnate Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet -- a long, long way from the heavies he played in the film noir classics The Maltese Falcon and Flamingo Road).


He calls Elizabeth's editor Dudley (Robert Shayne) to insist that he and Lane meet him at 4:00 p.m. to discuss her entertaining the war hero Jones.


Dudley needs to warn Elizabeth.


But she's already bought an expensive mink and it's been delivered.  She can't lose her job now or risk Dudley losing his.


She can't cook, she has no farm, she has no child, she has no husband.

But she has Felix (S.Z. Sakall).


Her friend who can cook and will pose as Uncle Felix.

So what can go wrong?

Besides, her sometimes beau John Sloan, who's been proposing to her for some time, is willing to marry her right away and that will take care of the marriage and the Connecticut farm since he owns one.

This is their first (failed) attempt at immediately marrying.


This is a baby she'll pass off as her own.


And this is Macushla, the cow.


There will be singing and tree decorating.




And walks in the snow.





Sleigh rides.


And spying too.


And though she's supposed to be marrying the stuff-shirt Sloan . . .


It's Jeffrey Jones she can't stop thinking of.


She comes clean with her publisher.


But Mary Lee arrives to see her fiancee Jeff.  Elizabeth realizes she's lost the man that was never hers to begin with.  She tells him,  "In case I don't see you again, Mr. Jones.  Goodbye it was certainly an experience knowing you."

But he doesn't want Mary Lee and, it turns out, Mary Lee arrived to tell him she'd just married his shipmate.

So it can all end happy.


Directed by Peter Godfrey, this 1945 film was written by Aileen Hamilton, Adele Comandini and Lionel Houser. It contains some of the best chemistry in any Barbara Stanwyck film, she and Dennis Morgan make a great team.

TV: Thursday's Problem Child

Thursday night sitcoms raise a number of uncomfortable questions so naturally The Water Cooler Set moves the water cooler directly in front of the elephant in the room in an attempt to prevent anyone from noticing the elephant.


Take the issue of lesbians.  It's the 21st century so in what world is acceptable to present a lesbian as "half man"?  For those who missed it (more than you might think judging by the ratings), Angus T. Jones -- who played Jake Harper for the first ten seasons -- is no longer the 'half man' for Two and a Half Men.  After an outburst last season about the quality of the series, Jones now does the occasional cameo.  Alan Harper's sex-obsessed son has been replaced this season with Amber Tamblyn as Charlie Harper's daughter Jenny.  Jenny is a lesbian and Chuck Lorre thought it was hilarious that the "Half Man" was no longer a growing boy but an adult lesbian.

As bad as the supposed TV critics of The Water Cooler Set staying silent, there is worse.

Yes, there is GLAAD.

Before the character premiered, GLAAD issued a statement proclaiming, "We applaud CBS' steps toward making their network reflect the world around them -- a world where 90% of Americans say they personally know someone who is gay, lesbian or bisexual.  Two and a Half Men's new season premieres September 26 on CBS."

Well at least they got the last sentence right.

In what world should GLAAD be praising a lesbian being presented a "half man."

Maybe in the same world where Lorre's actions are presented as the actions of the network?

All CBS 'decides' at this point is whether the show gets another season or not.

Show runner and creator Lorre is the one calling the shots.

To be clear, provided Tamblyn's Jenny doesn't fall for Ashton Kutcher's Walden (as originally planned but supposedly now off because even Lorre grasps that would be found offensive), are only problem is the presentation of the character being half-a-man.

The smutty show allows her to be as smutty as all the male characters and she's hitting on as many women as her father Charlie (played by Charlie Sheen until Loree and Sheen has their melt-down and Sheen left the show).  The only really magical moment for her character was when Lynda Carter guest-starred as herself on the show ("Justice in Star-Spangled Hot Pants," written by Jon Cryer, Tim Kelleher, Jeff Lowell, Susan McMartin, Jim Patterson and Don Reo), had to endure Alan's open mouthed drooling and Wonder Woman obsession, was shot down by Walden and ended up spending the night with Jenny.  It had the zip and energy of a 60s French roundelay, a mood the show had only touched on once before (in the 2004 episode "No Sniffing, No Wowing" written by Lorre, Don Foster, Lee Aronsohn and Susan Beavers and guest starring Heather Locklear).

While 'critics' (and GLAAD) avoid the implications of promoting a lesbian as "half man," they ignore a great deal more.

Take NBC's new offerings.

They've treated The Michael J. Fox Show as a hit and Sean Saves The World as a bomb.

They couldn't be more wrong.

In terms of quality, The Michael J. Fox Show is a wretched show that plays like an old anthology series in that no episodes seem really connected to one another.  Most importantly, it's never funny.

As we (repeatedly) told you years ago, when The Water Cooler Set was celebrating the death of the sitcom, the sitcom wasn't dead and, most importantly, The Water Cooler Set doesn't know and doesn't like funny.  That's why they pimped My Name Is Earl, for example, as an excellent sitcom.

It wasn't even an okay sitcom.

A sitcom is supposed to deliver laughs.  That is its most basic function.

My Name Is Earl delivered whimsy, reminding us of  "But Seriously, Folks," written by Ed Weinberger, from season three of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, where Mary's trying to get Wes (Jerry Van Dyke) hired to do a 'lighter side' spot on the newscast and Lou (Ed Asner) resists.

Mary: Well you got to admit it was funny.

Lou Grant makes a grimace and moves his head back and forth.

Mary: Well, alright, I mean it wasn't funny HA!HA! but it was certainly funny -- You -- Sort of --

Lou: Whimsical?

Mary:  Right! Whimsical!

Lou:  I hate that.

As do many people which is why My Names Is Earl premiered to over 15 million viewers and quickly bled them out like a stuck pig falling to four million as its final season played out.

And, to be clear, The Michael J. Fox Show does not have the quality that My Name Is Earl did.  Even when it lost all the humor completely (around the time Earl was in a coma), it failed as a comedy but succeeded as a light drama.  The Michael J. Fox is bad TV all around.  It's not funny, it's badly acted, it's badly written, no one on the show involves you, it's pretty much unwatchable.

And the audiences agree.

Though The Water Cooler Set can only trash Sean Saves The World, it's delivering more viewers than The Michael J. Fox Show.  Last Thursday, for example, the show delivered 3.4 million viewers and, airing right after it, The Michael J. Fox Show delivered 3 million.

No one wants to watch the awful -- but heavily praised by critics -- show.

It cannot get better.  It's basically Apple's Way without appealing performers like Vince Van Patten and Kristy McNichol or convincing scripts and that dramedy couldn't pull in viewers either.

By contrast, Sean Saves The World is actually funny.

It was funny in the first episode.

It was also very bad in the first episode.

Fortunately, Vik Sahay and his character of Howard were dropped after that episode.  He was far from the only problem.

Thomas Lennon had his character of Max down but his timing -- and the writing -- were off.  He seemed to be trying much to hard in the role.  He quickly found his rhythm.  Megan Hilty  also came off spotty as Sean's friend and co-worker Liz.  That had more to do with a poorly written character (which is why the original actress was let go and Hilty brought in).  Linda Lavin, like Hayes, was sure footed from the start.

For eight episodes, the problem has remained Echo Kellum whose performance a friend, an African-American director, has derided as "CBS Black male" -- in reference to all the awful Black male characters CBS has offered -- on Becker, on Gary Unmarried, etc.

Thursday's "Best Friends for Never" focused on a split between Sean and Liz (Hilty) and they ran with it, as did Lavin, resulting in a hilarious episode.  The minor storyline featured Max and Kellum's Hunter wearing chain mal pants.  It wasn't much.  But it was where Kellum found his footing.  He's had funnier on paper lines than in this episode, but this is where he pulled it all together and Hunter truly came to life.

Back in November, we noted of the series, "Almost everything about the show is finally starting to gel (if you've watched, you know which actor is not working)."

'How dare you insult Megan Hilty!'

Ty counted a number of e-mails coming in with that accusation.

We have to wonder why they'd go there since Megan Hilty is delightful in her role?

We didn't name the performer because sitcoms take time to develop.  Very few of them, in their first episode, have everything perfect.  They're fine tuned as they go along -- or, they are if they have a studio audience.  That allows the show runner and writers to see what's working and what's not and to make adjustments.

Echo Kellum has been promising in other projects and we had hopes that he would improve in the role.

He finally has.  He's found the character and now all the cast is doing amazing work.

Also the scripts are getting better and the show is getting funnier.  And while Lavin hit the show running, she's getting so good in her withering glances and body movements, that it's really time to stop referring to her as "TV's Alice" because Lorna is now her finest sitcom acting to date and one that should bring the Tony winner her first Emmy.

The Water Cooler Set repeatedly gets funny wrong because they don't know funny and they don't want to.

They didn't just announce "The Death of the Sitcom" in the '00s -- so stupid were they, they were unaware the same false prophecy had been made at the start of the '80s -- but they also slammed recorded before a live audience.

They thought they were so wise and so new.

They were so stupid and so behind the times.

Even as they were making those false claims, CBS' hit comedies (Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory, etc) were bringing in the big ratings -- sitcoms recorded before a live audience.

You need that energy.

Without it, you've got actors wondering if the line went over or not?

That energy charges performances.

It can also prevent sap.

Modern Family ruins so many episodes by offering 'deep insights' in the final minutes of the show -- lousy narration that's supposed to uplift but does nothing for the funny bone.  Were the show taped before a live audience, those voice overs would have gotten cat calls and been dropped long ago.

The Water Cooler Set doesn't know funny.

They know how to hop on trends and, in the '00s, the two big trends about sitcoms were (a) they're dead and (b) single-camera is the way!

Everyone seems to think they're smarter than Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball.

Everyone is wrong.

Desi and Lucy used the multi-camera set-up and filmed before a live audience on I Love Lucy, the set-up was pioneered on that show.  Others did it differently. Others are not still on the air all this time later.  Not only does I Love Lucy continue to air non-stop over sixty years after it first premiered on CBS, millions and millions continue to watch the show -- loyal fans of many years and generations just discovering it.

The Water Cooler Set would never champion I Love Lucy.  It's before a live audience, it's funny and, possibly worst of all, Lucy is a woman.  In sixty years, many sitcoms have matched I Love Lucy but it's hard to argue any has surpassed it.

If you can't appreciate, you're never going to appreciate sitcoms.

Barack gets caught cheating

7 up 2
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

Barack, Barack, we all know the rules: It's heads down, thumbs up.

If you only win 7-Up by cheating, it's not really a win.



A very detailed e-mail came in noting all the times we've done "Mailbag" and how we had basically abandoned it this year.  A lot of times, this feature is actually addressed in a "Ty's Corner."  But we do take the point and are doing a "Mailbag" now to get one in before the end of the year.  First though, our e-mail address is now for those who've missed our change.

Last week, we added When Harry Met Sally . . .  to  Who Done It?,  That Darn Cat!,  Cactus Flower,  Family Plot, House Sitter,  and Outrageous Fortune in our feature on Film Classics of the 20th Century.  Lisa wants to know if we're taking nominees?

You can make a suggestion but, to be frank, we've got more than enough suggestions among us.  This is a feature that we started this year and that we plan to continue next year. There are probably 20 films we've already decided to do.

Don't send your suggestions of films if they're 'prestige' films that no one's going to watch more than once.  Film Classics of the 20th Century are about films you can really savor and enjoy over and over.  If you have a suggestion for a film classic, however, you can e-mail to note it.  But, again, we've already got a long list we're working through.  If your suggestion is already on our list, it might have the effect of pushing it to be the one we do next (not this month, we've already got this month planned out).

Mitch e-mails to complain that we have "no appreciation at all for action films" in our Film Classics of the 20th Century.  Okay, there's a montage that we did which runs with each selection.

movie montage

Everything on there we hope to do an article on.  Terminator 2, for example is an action film and we consider it a film classic.  It's far from the only one we plan to include.

We've noted since 2005 that our favorite film genre is comedy so comedies will be on the list.

Genie notes that That Darn Cat is a Disney film and hopes we will include more Disney films.  There will be at least one more live action Disney film -- Dona says two.

JR likes the series but wishes we would do the same with music.

JR, Rebecca hoped that as well and we actually did do one album this year.  We just quickly lost interest in the topic.  Maybe we'll pick it up next year.

Kevin wants us to do the same but with TV shows.  That's also an interesting suggestion and we will discuss it but can't promise anything.

Pamela worries we're getting "farther and father away from real issues."

It's the holiday season, we're really more into that, to be honest.  And we're aware of it.  A few weeks back, Dona raised that exact issue.  When she pointed it out, we agreed that we were focusing more on entertainment but agreed we were fine with that.

XELR@[. . .] was among those who e-mailed to note we had stopped noting Workers World every week.  That was beyond our control.  Workers World stopped publishing for a period of time in November.  If they don't have new articles, we can't repost them.

Kassidy e-mailed wondering why we bother to repost Workers World or Great Britain's Socialist Worker?  They are left sites.  They are also left sites that allow you to repost provided you include the link to them.  That's two reasons.  Another reason is that we don't consider Socialism a dirty word or something that must be hidden.  A fourth reason is that it gives readers of this site another left perspective so that you're not just hearing our voices.  We could go on.  But we're happy to repost the articles and wish WSWS, among others, had a similar policy of allowing people to repost their articles.

Long term reader Beverly e-mailed to note that she preferred our "Highlights" feature more "back when you reposted them in full."  Originally, we would pick a highlight from community sites and repost it in full.  When we did that, there were fewer community sites.  Today, there are 14 community sites besides our own:

It was C.I., Rebecca, Kat, Betty, Mike and Wally back when we were reposting in full.

George notes he likes the short features "especially the ones that are just a photo."  Credit goes to Dona who (a) championed short features as a way to break up the look of the weekly edition and to Dona who has repeatedly pushed for visuals and then for more visuals.  If you go back to our first year, our first months, you'll see that we had no visuals at all, were strictly text-based.  Credit also goes to Jess who, early on, designed a series of visuals to be the illustrations for Ava and C.I.'s TV articles, to Isaiah whose comics we've been able to use here, and to Betty's kids who've worked on so many illustrations we've used.

Again, our e-mail address is

Tweet of the Week

Barack Obama's Drone War is not just murdering people indiscriminately, it's breeding hatred -- justifable -- towards the United States.  Abukar Al-Shamahi breaks it down.

  • Dozens of armed men in set up roadblock after their deadline for the Yemeni government runs out

  • Anger from relatives of wedding victims - say that they must avenge deaths & that Hadi & Obama are partners in crime
  • Relatives of victims of Rada' strike deny presence in wedding convoy, but say they've now entered Rada' to exploit anger

  • Tribesmen in Rada' today blocked roads in anger at attack that hit a wedding convoy on Thursday

  • Film Classics of the 20th Century

    So far in this series, we've looked at When Harry Met Sally . . .,  Who Done It?,  That Darn Cat!,  Cactus Flower,  Family Plot, House Sitter,  and Outrageous Fortune.   Film classics are the films that grab you, even on repeat viewings, especially on repeat viewings.

    movie montage

    Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy?  The best acting there may have been Hepburn's post-spinning after Tracy's death of their alleged love affair.

    Onscreen, they rarely had chemistry.

    Adam's Rib is annoying and overpraised.  It exists as an antidote to the rank sexism of Woman of the Year but it's a polemic posing as a picture.  Their last film together, Guess Who's Coming To Dinner, was marred by the fact that Katharine Hepburn was unbelievable as Tracy's wife or even a human (she repeats that non--performance in On Golden Pond when she comes off as a cranky camp counselor and not Henry Fonda's wife or Jane Fonda's mother).  Sea of Grass is a long yawn.  State of the Union has some promise but there are only two films with this team that stand up and that's Pat and Mike and Desk Set.

    1957's Desk Set was the first color film they made together.  Walter Lang directed the Henry and Phoebe Ephron script about the computerization of the Federal Broadcasting Network.


    Bunny Watson (Katharine Hepburn) runs the reference department and supervises Sylvia (Dina Merrill), Ruthie (Sue Randall) and Peg (Joan Blondell).  Joan Blondell gives one of her especially strong performances in this film and the friendship of Peg and Bunny is one of the reasons this film works.  In most Hepburn films, she's a pathetic loser without any friends -- all the more easier for her to be swept away by whatever guy pops into her orbit?


    The scene where Bunny and Peg get drunk at the Christmas party and evaluate whether the man who drove around the block three times was scoping out Peg or looking for a place to park is a mini-classic.  As is the scene where Hepburn begins singing "Night and Day."


    Gig Young plays Mike Cutler who has been dating Bunny for seven years with Bunny waiting for a proposal that Peg fears is never coming.


    Richard Sumner (Tracy) shows up at the reference department one day.


    He measures the space for a computer.  Bunny and her workers fear they're about to be replaced by a computer.

    But first you've got scenes of Hepburn and Tracy teasing out sexual tension and chemistry.



    As the network computerizes various departments, the computer in payroll sends out pink slips.


    But it was a mistake, a computer error.

    And with that straightened out, what's there to do but kiss?


    This is a film classic.  Desk Set was down graded in real time as people pretended that Woman of the Year wasn't sexist and that Adam's Rib was worth repeat viewings. Desk Set should be must viewing this time of year.  It's a warm hearted film with a Christmas background deriving comedic value from office politics. Hepburn plays a functioning woman -- not a lonely old maid spinster which had become her hallmark (see Summertime, The Rainmaker, The African Queen, etc.).  Hepburn's Bunny has worked at the network for eleven years, she's got her best friend Peg and Mike's interested in her all before Tracy shows up.

    That's not a minor point when you consider all the humiliation heaped on her characters in her post-RKO periods.

    Senator Murray Presses VA Officials on Claims Backlog


    Senator Patty Murray serves on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and is the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee.  Her office issued the following regarding Wednesday's Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing.

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                            CONTACT: Murray Press Office
    Wednesday, December 11, 2013                                                                           (202) 224-2834
    Senator Murray Presses VA Officials on Claims Backlog
    Recent report shows government shutdown forced furloughs of thousands of Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) employees, jeopardized October benefits for millions of veterans and their families, and slowed the VA’s progress on eliminating the claims backlog.
    WATCH hearing.
    (Washington, D.C.) – Today, during a hearing examining the Department of Veterans Affairs claims processing system, senior Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee member Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) expressed her frustration with the progress in reducing the claims backlog and stressed the importance of passing her budget agreement with Chairman Paul Ryan.
    “Ending the claims backlog and building a timely, accurate claims processing system is one of the absolute top priorities for our veterans,” said Senator Murray during the hearing. “So as VA continues to work to bring down the backlog, we can’t prevent them from doing their jobs.  That means keeping the government open.  As you know, Chairman Ryan and I announced our budget agreement last night. I cannot stress enough how important it is for everyone to support this agreement so that we can get away from governing by crisis, prevent another government shutdown in January, and protect our veterans from the serious harm that we saw in October.”
    According to VA testimony, the government shutdown in October forced VA to furlough 7,800 VBA employees, ended mandatory overtime for claims processors, and decreased claims production by an average of 1,400 claims per day.
    Sen. Murray has been a vocal critic of the claims backlog issues facing Seattle Regional Office over the years and continues to hear from veterans frustrated with the timeliness and accuracy problems with their claims. While the latest information seems to be improving, Sen. Murray will continue to push VA to address the underlying issues with staffing and processing at the regional office so Washington state veterans can count on long-term improvement.
    Senator Murray’s full remarks:
    “Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, I appreciate you holding this hearing.  Ending the claims backlog and building a timely, accurate claims processing system is one of the absolute top priorities for our veterans. 
    “And I continue to hear frequently from veterans in my home state of Washington that they are still waiting far too long for their claims to be completed.
    “I know getting this right is a top priority for the Department.  And I understand this is a complex problem that has no single easy solution. 
    “So I am encouraged by the steps VA has taken so far, but we still have a long way to go.
    “For example, VA’s initiative to expedite the oldest claims was a good step.  However, I have heard repeatedly from veterans that they were confused and frustrated with the provisional rating process. 
    “Some believed their claims had been flat-out rejected and others did understand they have a year to submit additional evidence. 
    “Secretary Hickey, we need to hear more from you today about how VA will improve outreach and communication with veterans so that future initiatives do not cause more confusion.
    “And while the numbers are moving in the right direction, we need to know the necessary structural changes are being made as well. 
    “This is especially important in handling the more complex claims.  The recent testimony by the Office of Inspector General shows some examples of these problems. 
    “Though it is not surprising these claims take longer to rate, these are also claims for veterans who need their benefits the most. 
    “So as VA continues to work to bring down the backlog, we can’t prevent them from doing their jobs.  That means keeping the government open. 
    “The entirely unnecessary shutdown a handful of Republican Members forced us into earlier this year: forced VA to furlough 7,800 V.B.A. employees, ended mandatory overtime for claims processors, and as Secretary Shinseki testified, it decreased claims production by an average of 1,400 claims per day.
    “As you know, Chairman Ryan and I announced our budget agreement last night. I cannot stress enough how important it is for everyone to support this agreement so that we can get away from governing by crisis, prevent another government shutdown in January, and protect our veterans from the serious harm that we saw in October.
    “So I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues and with you, Secretary Hickey, towards meeting these challenges and seeing that each and every veteran receives the benefits that they have earned.”
    Meghan Roh
    Press Secretary | New Media Director
    Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
    Mobile: (202) 365-1235
    Office: (202) 224-2834

    Kill Your Darlings (Great Britain's Socialist Worker)

    Repost from Great Britain's Socialist Worker:

    Kill Your Darlings - a tragic Beats biopic that reveals a love worth howling about

    A new film looks at Allen Ginsberg’s relationship with Lucien Carr, which inspired some of the last century’s most radical poetry, writes?Emma Davis

    Daniel RaDcliffe as Allen Ginsberg and Dane DeHaan as Lucien Carr in Kill Your Darlings
    Daniel RaDcliffe as Allen Ginsberg and Dane DeHaan as Lucien Carr in Kill Your Darlings

    Kill Your Darlings is a daring project which attempts to bring to life the early years of three of the founding Beat authors, Allen Ginsberg and his contemporaries William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac.

    For many, the Beats helped to define a generation of defiance against the status quo of consumerism, sexual repression and conservatism associated with the post-war boom years.

    Any attempt to bring their story to life is a steep challenge.

    The plot centres on the murder of David Kammerer by Lucien Carr, that shaped the future of all three writers.

    The two men were part of the underground Beat scene in Manhattan, and close friends of all three writers.
    It was Ginsberg’s relationship with Lucien Carr that inspired him to later write his famous poem Howl, which lashed out against the pressure to conform within capitalist society.

    The film follows young Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) from his impoverished home in Paterson, New Jersey to his first year at Columbia University on a scholarship.


    Here he meets Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), a wealthy, hedonistic and temperamental young man who has already been expelled from two Ivy League universities.

    Ginsberg is swept up in Carr’s whirl-wind life of downtown parties, jazz, drink, smoke—and, once he’s introduced to Burroughs, the amphetamine benzedrine.

    Some scenes take on a scattered, jazz-like rhythm appropriate for the film’s Beat Generation theme. It also has moments of thriller-like suspension and others of high impact dramatic tension.

    But it is all being painted too pretty and fantastical.

    While the acting includes outstanding performances, at times the actors come across as if playing iconic characters from history rather than real people.

    The closest it gets to grappling with the struggle which shaped Ginsberg’s poetry and made him such an iconic radical artist is its depiction of his relationship with Carr.

    There is a strong connecton between the two. The film shows their love as part of a mutual quest for new beginnings, within a society intolerant of homosexuality.

    The most redeeming feature of the film is the way it portrays Ginsberg awakening to his sexuality and the pain of realising not only that his love is unaccepted in society, but his lover has murdered a friend, which will separate them permanently.

    In this it begins to grasp the contradiction of the Beats: their hedonistic rejection of society could only go as far as they could will it to.

    Kill Your Darlings is on general release

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