Sunday, October 16, 2005

TV Review: CBS' Monday Night Line Up

The death of the sitcom? We've seen the headlines before. But CBS seems pretty keen to kill it.
You get that feeling watching Monday nights. No we're not referring to the dull attempts at "gross out" comedy provided by "I'm off the drugs!" & "I'm not gay!" We're not even ragging on King of Queens here. (Note to two friends, we watched Monday's show. Bryan Callen was wonderful. It was the best show the series has done; however, one guest spot does not save your show. There's a reason he worked so well. The fact that he did should have encouraged you to pull for him to be a regular or to create a regular character like Jared.)

No, we're talking about How I Met Your Mother and Out of Practice, two shows that should be a breeze to watch but aren't.

How I Met Your Mother. Have you ever gone to a friend's house for dinner and then they pull out photos, slides, reels or other stuff? Okay, fine, we'll look or watch. Could be fun to discuss, right? Wrong. There's no conversation, you're just getting, "Uh-huh, now watch this."

That's How I Met Your Mother. The show has many things going for it. Alyson Hannigan and Josh Radnor are sitcom naturals -- networks should take note. The writers actually manage to write some funny scenes. (Amazing in this day and age.) But to enjoy those aspects, you have to suffer.

Radnor plays Ted. Ted hangs with Hannigan and two other friends. He's single. But here's the "twist," he will get married. This show is about how he will meet his wife. Okay, we can accept that premise. It gives the writers something to work toward, no problem.

Here's where the problem is, we don't get to enjoy the show. Future "Ted" keeps interrupting. Sometimes it's with a voice over to tell us what we just saw or are about to see, other times he's lecturing his two kids (apparently he will have two kids) in the future. The scenes fall flat and remove you from the action. They add nothing, they take away so much.

Apparently, Monday night, they existed to give us the "latest" in yucks -- Ted's son keeps repeating that Dad got beat up by a girl! Oh, that's so funny. To someone. (Probably the same someone who thought Future Ted's voice should be voiced by Bob Saget.)

To us, we would have preferred to have stayed with that date and seen it or the after effects.
Instead, just as the scene starts flowing, Future Ted's doing a voice over.

It's as though we were saying, "Wow, what an amazing chalet. Tell us, did you --" and the response was, "No, no, no! We've got to get to the next slide!"

It's a chore to watch this show. That's too bad. Hannigan and Radnor should have future sitcom successes ahead of them. (Hannigan proved her abilities in Buffy and the American Pie film series.) Two supporting players don't really register except as weak copies of Coupling (the British version, not NBC's). Someone who should have no future ahead of him is Neil Patrick Harris.

We missed the whole Doogie Houser "phenomonon." We're told it was quite popular for a second rated show, second rated for most of its life. We know Harris in the flesh but have fortunately been spared onscreen Harris until he popped up on Will & Grace. Here he does exactly what he did on Will & Grace . . . only louder. Watching him, you find yourself backing away from the TV and feeling as though you'd been seated at a table close to the stage for a really bad dinner theater revival of Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?

The show borrows a lot from a lot of places. Coupling, to be sure. But also Neil LaBute's Your Friends & Neighbors. Harris is trying to play the sleeze that Jason Patric did in that film. He's got the sleeze down, he just lacks a smolder. Without the sexual quality, you're left with a wet blanket geek carrying on about breasts and porn starts as you slowly realize that someone told Harris he was attractive. He has a face of many angles (the pointy chin, the sloped forehead, the nose) -- all of them wrong. But people who don't look like models can be sexy. They can tap into a quality. That quality eludes Harris repeatedly. He's as convincing in this role as Peter Bonerz would be as the lead in American Gigolo.

So you're left rolling your eyes as the guy who can't score even at "Last call!" acts as though he's getting some. The shouting ("This friendship is over!" or some such nonsense) would send the few who could ignore his actual looks running. Want to clear a room fast? Present Harris as sexy.

How I Met Your Mother is a perfect example of all that's wrong with sitcoms. Bad casting, bad concept and never letting the audience enjoy the moment. But watch for Hannigan and Radnor in other things. Both should have long careers. (Radnor needs to make sure he doesn't become addicted to his own "cuteness." That can kill a career -- check out Scrubs.)

While the writers at How I Met Your Mother can write scenes that are funny (provided you ignore the voice overs -- ignore them, you won't miss anything), Out of Practice is another story. The writing is hideous. The cast is incredible.

Stockard Channing can deliver a weak line and make it funny. As she demonstrated in First Wives' Club, she's not dependent upon what's on the written page. Already she's defined her character (while the writers continue to flail around). Henry Winkler is also amazing.

Now if you've watched the show, you may be screaming, "Ava and C.I., you two are insane!"

Read the scripts (we have). Winkler's got writers who don't know what they're writing. Some scripts he's supposed to be Fraiser Crane, some he's supposed to be Ray Barone. Never do you get the impression that the writers know what Winkler can do. Read a script and then watch the same episode and you'll realize how hard Winkler's working.

Paula Marshall and Ty Burrell largely ignore the text. That's working for them. They're adding physical bits that provide laughs. But they can only do that for so long. At some point, there has to be more to the characters than their movements. If the writers worked as hard (or were even half as inventive) as Marshall and Burrell, this would be the comedy everyone watches.

How do you get really bad writers at this show? CBS played it safe. They went with "proven." They never stopped to think that Fraiser, for instance, and Out of Practice have nothing in common. They never stopped to realize that Marshall and Burrell aren't playing Roz and Bull.

Out of Practice revolves around one family. The parents (Channing and Winkler) have split up. The youngest son has just gotten a divorce. Marshall and Burrell have no significant others. So this is a "get back into life" show. Considering that Fraiser dealt with that (for one episode -- usually an hour long one) every few years and not every episode, we're not seeing how Fraiser writers are fit for this show. Considering that Everybody Loves Raymond had nothing similar, we're lost there too. But both were hits and CBS thinks the writers can write anything. They can't.

The youngest son is played by Christopher Gorham who set a few hearts a flutter as the lead in the Six Million Dollar Man retread Jake 2.0. Gorham is attractive. But after casting him, no one seems to know what to do with him. Possibly, he's to be the cruise director of the show. "Crazies on the lido deck to your right. More yucks on the lower promenade." But the writers don't give him that, they don't give him anything.

As a young man recently divorced in a show called Out of Practice, he should have some storyline. This isn't trying to be a "family show" the way CBS thinks How I Met Your Mother is. (Note to CBS, talk of "nipples," dating porn stars, women spanking themselves, don't usually provide fodder for the family unless the target family audience is the Osbornes.) Gorham's not posing. He's acting and he's actually managed to create (with no help from the writers) a full blown character. If the writers could provide him with something to actually do (a storyline that doesn't provoke the light chuckles Fraiser tended to inspire), this show could be everything it should be.

With one show, How I Met Your Mother, CBS took a "premise" to be a show. The concept needs to be dropped. The writers of that show demonstrate enough talent that they might be able to write a laugh out loud episode if they weren't saddled with the "concept." With Out of Practice, the concept should have been riffed on but you've got bad writers. CBS is airing two hours of sitcoms on Monday and can't provide viewers with one solid show.

That's too bad because How I Met Your Mother and Out of Practice are "fixable." You'd have to get rid of Bob Saget and trust the viewers to laugh at what's happening onscreen, but the scenes are funny without the voice overs. Eliminating the voice overs and the opening and closing shots of the future children might offend the "creators" but if they're married to those two concepts that are destroying the show, the show's never going to work. The "concept" of The Wonder Years sexed up belongs on the second tier networks they hail from.

With Out of Practice, there is a show. No one needs to be fired from the cast. And no major changes need to happen to the characters (which the actors have created and developed without any help from the writers). The show just needs better writers. When hiring, here's a hint, if the writer's claim to understanding female characters rests on Marie Barone, don't hire them. Stockard Channing isn't Doris Roberts. Here's another tip, if "whimsy" is what the writer's known for, wish them good luck with their novel and move on quickly to the next interview. CBS has two very physical comedians in Ty Burrell and Paula Marshall. Whimsy doesn't serve them.

CDs: Dolly Parton and the Cowboy Junkies

We'd already intended to note Dolly Parton's Those Were The Days after noting last week that the promotional single for it qualified as the worst single of the year. Then Kat filled in for C.I. at The Common Ills and noted that The Laura Flanders Show would have the Cowboy Junkies on Saturday night to discuss their new anti-war CD Early 21st Century Blues. So we figured we'd take a crack at both of them. We includes Jim, Dona, Ty, Jess and Ava of The Third Estate Sunday Review, Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz, Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix, Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude, Betty of Thomas Friedman is a Great Man, Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills), Mike of Mikey Likes It!, and C.I. of both The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review as well as, for the first time helping us out, Wally of the brand new The Daily Jot. We're not doing this in transcript form. The reason being that this took place in two discussions. Cedric and Betty participated in the first but had to bail to get sleep before heading to church and Wally joined for the second.

We'll start off with Parton. We said last week that we expected to enjoy the album (despite dubbing the CD single the worst of the year) and our hunch was right. Kat noted that Parton appeared to be framing the album as a flashback by opening with "Those Were The Days." The standout tracks for us were many. "Both Sides Now" is done much faster than most are prepared for but C.I. noted that on the first "that I recall" Parton's one of the few performers who's done the song since Judy Collins and Joni Mitchell (Mitchell wrote it, Collins had the hit with it) that gets the notes right on that phrase. Joining Parton on this song is, in fact, Judy Collins. (Along with Rhonda Vincent.) Betty noted "Imagine" and how much she enjoyed the call and response in the last third of the song. With that song, along with the rest, Parton puts her own individual stamp on the recordings. This isn't a carbon copy, watered down imitation.
This is Parton taking songs that are famous (many that are in the popular music canon) and making them her own. "Me and Bobby McGee" (sung with writer Kris Kristofferson) is a perfect example. Parton's not trying to be Janis Joplin, she's trying to find her own way into the song and succeeds wonderfully. This may be one of the standout tracks for Parton fans because she (and the muscians) get to cut loose on this song. "Crimson & Clover" is another song that will please due to the high energy.

Part of the reason she succeeds in these cover versions is because she's not trying to imitate the original recordings. Instead, she's giving them the blue grass treatment. Others may be familiar with that sort of treatment of the twelve songs on this album. We weren't and we found it revolutionary. Another reason she succeeds is because Parton knows how to sing. She knows when to get soft, she knows when to get loud, she knows when to tweak a line with good humor and when to shade it. She's one of the best singers because she serves the song.

As a much covered songwriter herself, she's no doubt heard her own songs damaged by others. That may account for why she's always working to find what the song is saying and what makes it special as opposed to bowling you over with her high notes or how long she can hold a note. Or maybe it's because, as she notes in linear notes, it's because these songs are songs she's enjoyed for a long time and ones that have touched her.

Regardless of why, she does a beautiful job of recasting the songs and bringing to them new insight. Last Sunday, Kat told us that she bet Dolly would sing "harmonica" and not "harp" in her cover of "Me and Bobby McGee" and Dolly does use "harmonica." Kat's reason for guessing that was that Dolly Parton wants to communicate and move people. Kat was right about harmonica and listening to the CD we'd say she was right about Parton wanting to communicate and move. There are no bad cuts here. There's no reason to grab the remote and skip a track or to program the player to avoid one. This is an artist at work, moving you with her gift and commenting not just on songs that moved her but on the world we're living in. With Christmas just around the corner, we'd suggest you buy yourself a copy and listen to see if it doesn't make for a strong gift.

The Cowboy Junkies? Betty and Cedric both complained about their version of "I Don't Want To Be A Solider" by John Lennon. Betty's not a big fan of rap, Cedric is. But both felt Rebel's rap hurt the song more than it helped it. The song has a quiet hypnotic feel as done by the Junkies then Rebel stomps in. Cedric questioned why, after countless bedroom whisper raps by L.L. Cool Jay, Rebel didn't choose a similar approach? The song's a strange mix and some will enjoy it, other's won't.

That's the only complaint that we had regarding the album. When Wally joined us, he'd just finished listening to the CD. He enjoyed "I Don't Want To Be A Solider" but hadn't heard Betty & Cedric's criticsm. Having heard it, he said he could see their point but that the track remains one of his favorites and that he feels Rebel's rap adds to the album.

If you ever enjoyed the Cowboy Junkies, this is the album to get. Kicking off with Dylan's "License To Kill," the Junkies find the groove and don't let go. The rich textures of their strongest tracks are evident throughout the entire album. Rebecca says if there was a Rock 'n Roll Church to go with the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame, the Cowboy Junkies would perform early morning services with this lineup. When Kat sent out the cry for everyone to try to grab up a copy of this CD (sent out the cry Saturday afternoon) there were some grumblings. Elaine felt that she'd been burned by the Junkies in the past with albums that featured four or five key songs and then seemed to run out of steam. Early 21st Century Blues won her over and she feels it's like sitting at a table up front in a small club while the Junkies are on fire and hitting all the right notes.

Jess noted the guitar work (Michael Timmins) on "Two Soldiers" as a stand out with "You're Missing" as a close runner up. Bruce Springsteen fan Mike felt that the Junkies actually improved on Springsteen's version of "You're Missing." One thing that stood out to him was the conversational style of Margo Timmins singing. On The Laura Flanders Show Saturday night, Margo Timmins spoke of the shock it must be getting the news that someone you loved had just died in Iraq and how, if it were, she might be thinking that morning before the news came in, how he always left his shoes lying in the hall. Her singing on this song perfectly captures the quiet moments that emerge in the face of shocking news.

Dona and Ava, who've been on their own music education experience for about a year now, were especially impressed with the cover of Richie Havens "Handouts In The Rain." They feel that it's rare someone manages to match the ache in one of Havens' mournful vocals but that it's done here. We all agreed that at a time when Bono seems determined to write off U2 and music, the Cowboy Junkies bring new life to "One." It provides the perfect note for the CD to go out on.

The Cowboy Junkies would prefer that if you order online, you order the album through their website. (You can also purchase Dolly Parton's Those Were The Days online at Sugar Hill Records.) Possibly, like us, you'll prefer to rush out and get them both.

We think that they make a great companion set. We also are glad to see artists who are willing to do more than go around blathering about the fun in washing out Lance Armstrong's dirty briefs while offering banal crap like "Where Has All The Love Gone" (the ", man" -- as C.I. noted -- is implied). These are strong statements from artists who are trying to create something a little deeper than "Good Is Good" ("and bad is bad"). As this country approaches the third year anniversary of the invasion in March, we're still amazed by how so few "artists" seem to have been effected in any way, shape or form. (Maybe they're trying, like Carole King with the altering of the lyrics to "Sweet Seasons," not to offend the politicians?)

Art is supposed to reflect life, it's supposed to comment on the world around us. So it's more than surprising to us that so few have cared to even dip a toe in the water of current events. Lot of Petulia Clarks cautioning "Don't Sleep In The Subway" but not a lot of people asking "What's Going On?" One song is enjoyable kitsch while the other is art. History and legacies aren't made, people aren't remembered, by standing quietly on the sidelines. That's a lesson that's lost on too many of "artists" today. Fortunately, Dolly Parton and the Cowboy Junkies aren't afraid to weigh in.

Both do it via albums of covers (Michael Timmins wrote "December Skies" and "This World Dreams Of" on Early 21st Century Blues, the other nine tracks are covers). If someone feels they can't write something strong (the Rolling Stones wrote two strongs commenting on the occupation on A Bigger Bang), than they shouldn't. But instead of putting the listener to sleep with bad rhymes and really obvious imagery ("rolling thunder"), they can find a song written by someone else. The Junkies and Parton are weighing in on the world around them. That alone should peek your interest. The fact that these are also two solid CDs should make you think about purchasing them.

The barber has been captured! Rest easy, America!

Elaine and Isaiah spoke about the latest capture on the phone Saturday night. We like both their takes on it.

At the top of this post is Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts take on it. Here's Elaine's take (from the news review):

But good news for Bully Boy. They've yet to capture Osama bin Laden, some five years later, but when he faces the cameras next, he can trumpet the fact that they have allegedly caught the barber of Al Qaeda. Sleep easy, America, terrorists remain at large, but we've nailed the coiffeur! No one's on the run but senior al Qaeda militants will be looking pretty ragged.

Note from Jim, Dona, Jess, Ava and Ty

We don't think it's a coincidence. We don't think it's a coincidence that C.I. says on Saturday morning to think about January 2004, wait, let's go to that entry:

On Plamegate, to make up for these morning entries, I'll note this question needs to be asked: Where did Miller find the notes re: earlier conversation with Scoots? January 2004 may hold part of the answer. (It's a puzzle, like a jumble. Put on your thinking caps.)

C.I. heard rumors about that awhile back and had shared them with Ava who'd passed them on to Dona who passed them on to Jim. Then on Friday morning, C.I. heard more rumors including that the report on Miller (as opposed to the one she wrote) might address the issue of the notes.
We knew about it, Jim, Dona and Ava.

We think it's interesting that someone who's never thought to explore the emergence of new notes suddenly (later that day, much later) has an article that suddenly is interested in those notes. C.I. says it could be synchronicity. C.I. says maybe some people at The Times spoke to ____.

Maybe. But this makes for the third time ____ has suddenly "found" a lead after it's gone up at The Common Ills.

We think that's defying the odds. Especially since _____ hasn't had the leads that C.I. has had.
C.I.'s coverage of the Miller matter at The Times is echoed in the paper today. If you followed The Common Ills you really had no surprises. In the entry Rebecca did (based on and credited to a conversation she had with C.I.) about how the paper could argue for Miller, it was even noted that Abramson might not want to be a part of the fight for Miller. It's no surprise to community members that Abramson publicly states she wishes the whole thing had never happened.

While ____ tried to figure out The Times strategy, it was up there at The Common Ills. Remedial posts when people would write, "She had the release!" So our point is that ____ doesn't seem to have a strong line to the paper.

How strong was C.I.'s? Remember when Scoots was named by Miller? Check out Ava's post at The Common Ills that day where she links to Rudith Miller (the day the press was reporting on Scoots being the source). Why? Well who's named as a Miller source (the only one named) in that Judith Miller parody? Scoots.

That's what Ty's referring to in the news review when he says, "I just got that." to C.I.'s comments about "to slam and slam freely." That's the section right before Scoots gets mentioned. (Rudith Miller was written on Januaray 9, 2004.) Again, ___'s information line to the paper appears nowhere as strong as C.I.'s so forgive us for being skeptical when suddenly ____ is all over where-did-the-notes-come-from! hours after C.I. has already posted on it.

____ is a jerk prone to fighting with others. If ___ wants to identify their own self by e-mailing us we'll print the e-mail. (Or the parts of it we find most humorous.)

Otherwise ___ gets no mention here or at any other community site. We were all in agreement on that. We believe ____ took from The Common Ills without giving credit. Not one, not twice, but three times that we know of. We're not going to help advance ____'s name.

_____ could uncover proof that Bully Boy was an alien and we wouldn't link to or mention ____.

We will, however, offer ____ a tip now that the Miller story may be reaching a climax. Ava and C.I. know all about the high profile firing that no one wants to talk about but prefers to act as if it was work related when in fact it was the by product of "a lost weekend." C.I. toyed with writing about that but in the end decided not to. Ava and C.I. addressed it here in roundtables but would both pull it before posting. (Over Jim's strenuous objections.) But if ____ needs a scoop ____ can look into the real reason for the firing, as opposed to the press reason, and ____ can start by speaking to guests and employees of the hotel the fired stayed at the weekend of the big no-no.

-- Jim, Dona, Jess, Ava and Ty

The Third Estate Sunday Review News Review 10-16-05

[Note: This should be read as a rough transcript.]

C.I.: Welcome to The Third Estate Sunday Review News Review 10-16-2004. We'll have reports on the world of nature, the world of entertainment and much more than just the election in Iarq yesterday. We'll start off with Jess, of The Third Estate Sunday Review, giving us a peace update. Jess?

Jess: Last Sunday saw 3,000 people turn out in Los Angeles' MacArthur Park to protest the war by taking part in a peace march led by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. LA Indymedia reports: "Buddhist monks and nuns, progressive left and religious peace organizations and other seekers after knowledge met yesterday in MacArthur Park for a meditation with Buddhist master Thich Naht Hanh that was intended to creat a peaceful state that will eventually translate into an end to war." Democracy Now! noted that the leader of the peace march, Thich Nhat Hanh, "was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967 by Martin Luther King Jr." The 79 year-old Thich Nhat Hanh, as reported by KPFA's Evening News, is "a 79 year old Vietnemese Zen master" whose opposition to the Vietnam conflict led to exile in a French monastery. Among those present was Cindy Sheehan. From her "I Have Arrived; I Am Home" at Common Dreams:

We must all do one thing for peace each day. I now know that is not enough. We
must live peace and embody peace if we want peace on earth. Our entire lives
must be for peace. Not just one activity a day. Every step is peace.

Jess (con't): Thanks to Elaine who's covered this at Like Maria Said Paz last week. Also at LA Indymedia, an Iraq war veteran writes of rashes and boils that have developed since he returned home and notes:

But I can't show them the deepest scars -- the scars that come from killing innocents, the scars that come from being a guinea pig for untested vaccinations and chemical weapons. I can't show America the nightmares that they have inflicted upon me while calling me "hero". America will never know that their yellow ribbons give me flashbacks to a time that I only want to forget, that their fervent "patriotism" is serving only to create more "heroes" like me.

Jess (con't): While some may be taken in by Colin Powell's performance opposite Barbara Walters in The Way It Was remake, others aren't so taken with the spin. LA Indymedia notes details for a protest in honor of Colin Powell's October 17th visit to Pasadena. The summer of protests and activism continues into the fall as we saw in September and as we're seeing now.

C.I.: Thank you, Jess. We now go to Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix with a report on the Iraqi constitution.

Cedric: C.I., the Iraqi constitution will give every Iraqi their own iPod, their own swimming pool and streets of gold.

C.I.: Really?

Cedric: Well, it will enshrine the rights of all.

C.I.: Really?

Cedric: The honest truth is that with various versions, most voters had little idea of what they were voting for. The charter continued to change days before the election and this after the "official version" had several versions. Electricity was out Saturday morning in Baghdad. Riverbend of Baghdad Burning reported Saturday morning that: "The referendum is only hours away and the final version of the constitution still hasn’t reached many people." Many people have no idea what they're being asked to vote on and Riverbend makes the point Elaine made which is that suddenly this isn't the Constitution, it's open to more revisions and alterations. Riverbend compares it to the phoney elections of January and notes:

Areas with a Sunni majority are complaining that there aren’t polling stations for kilometers around- many of these people don’t have cars and even if they did, what good would it do while there’s a curfew until Sunday? Polling stations should be easily accessible in every area.

Cedric (con't): We'll no doubt hear that it was another triumph for "democracy" and that there was a huge turnout but the reality is people weren't provided with the Constitution in time to read it and that the voting places aren't accessible to all. We've got a new spin cycle for the adminstration to launch another wave of Operation Happy Talk. The Iraqis have gotten screwed again.

C.I.: Thank you, Cedric. And we'll note that on The Laura Flanders Show Saturday night, we were all reminded that the January elections featured a lot of photo ops of purple stained fingers and only after the spin was in place was it noted that all the photos came from the same polling stations. We now go to Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz and Mike of Mikey Likes It! for a joint report on Iraq. Elaine, I'm guessing, you have the fatalities figure, so how about we start with you?

Elaine: Yes, I do. For the month of October, the fatality count for US troops is 37, this on the 16th day of October. The 37 fatalities bring the total number of US troops who have died in Iraq, by the official count, to 1970. US troops wounded in action? Here's a shocking official number that the press isn't rushing into the headlines: 14,641. When Bully Boy trumpets the election as a "success" will he mention those numbers? It is doubtful. It's also doubtufl that he'll mention 26,521 which is the minimum number of Iraqis killed since the invasion/occupation as noted by Iraq Body Count. The AP estimates that in the last six months alone "at least 3,663 Iraqis have been killed." But good news for Bully Boy. They've yet to capture Osama bin Laden, some five years later, but when he faces the cameras next, he can trumpet the fact that they have allegedly caught the barber of Al Qaeda. Sleep easy, America, terrorists remain at large, but we've nailed the coiffeur! No one's on the run but senior al Qaeda militants will be looking pretty ragged.

C.I.: Indeed. Mike, you were looking into a number of things having to do with the polling places themselves?

Mike: Correct. In Haditha, a Sunni stronghold, they had a whopping two polling places! Two for a city that houses an estimated 60,000 people. Lee Keath of the Associated Press reports that turnout is high in some Sunni areas due to a healthy number of people wanting to vote "no" to the proposed Constitution. Vote counting in Baghdad, as Cedric noted they've had electricity problems throughout Saturday, was done by laterns. In Ramadi, Saturday's election began with gunfire.

C.I.: Not quite fitting the 'flowers in our path' picture that we were so long ago promised or the 'liberation' and 'peace' promised the Iraqis. The basics are that Iraq is divided into 18 provinces. If any three of those provinces have 2/3 of the voters saying no, three of the 18, then the constitution is defeated. Which would then mean that the constitution would be written by their parliment that's due to be elected in December.

Mike: Press reports say the al-Anbar province is likely to reach that 2/3 no vote. But a story not being picked up widely in the US media is that, from KUNA, "The Iraqi Independent Electoral Commission declared Saturday that about 70 ballot stations have not opened in Anbar, western Iraq for security reasons." No one knows what the ballot count's going to be and, though I'm Irish, I won't play Tim Russert and waste everyone's time with predictions.

C.I.: Thank you for that, Mike.

Elaine: Mike quoted "70 ballot stations" and that is what KUNA reports but they headline that story with "60." 60 is also the number Aljazeera's going with. Aljazeera also reports that:
"Ten people working for the independent Iraqi electoral commission have been abducted during the constitutional referendum in the restive Sunni al-Anbar province, the commission said." Abducted apparently by armed gunmen.

C.I.: How many polling stations are there in al-Anbar?

Elaine: 207. So if you go with 60, that's a little less than a third of polling stations not open. Mike mentioned the gunfire in Ramadi and Aljazeera notes that people are staying away from the polls due to the violence while US war planes circle at a low altitude. In non-polling news, reports:

A United Nations human rights advocate accused US-led coalition forces in Iraq of breaching international law by cutting off food and water to civilians to force them to flee cities earmarked for attacks on insurgent strongholds.
Jean Ziegler, a UN expert on food rights, said that coalition forces had restricted food and water to civilians in Fallujah, Tal Afar and Samarra in an effort to encourage them to flee before attacks took place.
"This is a flagrant violation of international law," Ziegler told reporters.

Elaine (con't): Aljazeera also reports that Second Lieutenant Erick Anderson, who was cleared in the killing of an Iraqi teenager in January, is now facing charges again for the same death.

Mike: And I'll note that measures have been taken for the polling but that they are also increasing measures to get into the country. Brian Conley, of Boston Indymedia, reports at his site Alive In Baghdad that an American who'd entered the country many times, with CPT, was prevented from returning recently due to new form regulations.

C.I.: Christian Peacemaker Teams?

Mike: Correct. The man had already made four previous trips to Iraq since the occupation began but a few weeks ago, a new form was added on to the requirements for entering the country.

C.I.: Thank you, Mike and Elaine. One thing that should be remember, actually two. First, Dona's whispering "blue finger" and I'm guessing she means that in the western media it's usually referred to as "purple" ink fingers but in other areas it is referred to as "blue." Yes, that's what she meant. She's monitoring several Iraqi blogs and the bloggers in Iraq are using "blue." So that's something to remember. The other thing to note is that, according to Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker, the United States government used "off the book" techniques to influence the January elections. We now go to Ty who'll catch us up to speed with the antics at The New York Times. Ty of The Third Estate Sunday Review.

Ty: It's been a busy time for The New York Times' Judith Miller. Saturday, Judy Miller presented an award to Mark Felt, Deep Throat and opponent of civil liberties who should be remembered for enjoying the theft of Jennifer Dohrn's panties. But most surprising was that
Jill Abramson has said what "The entire thing" in reply to what she regretted about the Miller episode that led to Miller's jailing for refusing to name sources.

C.I.: Abramson did her part, talking t,o I believe, NPR, but she was never "on board" with the public defense of Miller. Two people at The Times judged her to be reluctant when she was enlisted to participate. So you're saying that now she's going public?

Ty: She's going public with being displeased with "The entire thing."

C.I.: Ty, you've read the Times pieces online?

Ty: Yes.

C.I.: Okay, I haven't. You're walking us through the story that Miller didn't write, the one Adam Liptak and others did, correct?

Ty: Yes. The one written by Don Van Natta, Jr., Clifford J. Levy, and, as you noted, Adam Liptak.

C.I.: So Arthur Sulzberger Jr. says that the paper stood behind her? Is that in the article?

Ty: Yes.

C.I.: And Bill Keller plays the "we supported her but we had no information" card?

Ty: Correct. The official story, from this article, is that in 2002, her editor leaves and she can do what she wants, as she tells one person describing the nickname she's given herself, "Miss Run Amok."

C.I.: Which, my understanding, Miller claims was a joke?

Ty: Yes, that's noted in the article. Bill Keller replaces Howell Raines as the executive editor of the paper and within weeks tells Miller that she is off the WMD and Iraq beat.

C.I.: And to clarify, Keller takes over, in that post, in July of 2003, after the United States is occupying Iraq.

Ty: July of 2003, before Keller assumes his post, I believe, she meets with Lewis Libby.

C.I.: Correct. Scoots, the "source" that allowed her to slam and slam freely for much of her infamous work.

Ty: I just got it. Okay, so she and Libby begin meeting, in terms of Joseph Wilson whose wife Valerie Plame was outed, on June 23, 2003. At that meeting, according to the report by the three Times' reporters, Libby's in defense mode of Cheney and attacking Wilson. The next time they meet, according to the article, is July 8, 2003. In her notebook, Miller wrote "Valerie Flame" but says she doesn't believe that the name came from Libby.

C.I.: She's a little young for the Ronald Reagan defense, but go on.

Ty: On July 12th, Miller speaks on the phone with Libby. The notes of that call have "Valerie Wilson" listed -- which is Valerie Plame's married name. Robert Novak would out Plame on July 14th. Miller told the reporters she had wanted to write about Wilson's past trip to Niger, presumably in relation to what Libby had told her, but she was told no by her editor. Jill Abramson denies that.

C.I.: And Abramson was the bureau chief at that time.

Ty: The new chief, Philip Taubman comes in during the fall of 2003, as press attention was mounting and asks if anyone at the paper was among the "six" the press was reporting Valerie Plame's identity had been disclosed to. Miller denied it then.

C.I.: Ty, I'm going to jump in and if I sound frustrated, I am, it's not you, it's the paper's reporting. Ty's doing a wonderful job walking us through but we've covered the Times' version at The Common Ills and explained it when others didn't have a grasp on it. Such as nonsense about slamming a reporter when he said he didn't know why Miller was in jail with a silly remark of "She won't testify" or some such nonsense. So let me run down the Times' version and Ty can correct me if I'm wrong. Miller went to jail to avoid testifying because she did not feel that the signed statement was a release since the White House instructed people to sign it.
She wanted additional clarification that Scooter was releasing her from her pledge of confidentiality. That didn't come until after she was in jail for some time. He wrote a letter to her that appeared to encourage her to testify but a close reading of the letter could imply that she was supposed to testify that he was not involved. After a phone conversation between her, Scooter and their attornies, she felt she did have the release and she testified. Throughout it all, Sulzberger supported her, Keller scratched his head and Abramson did her job -- as she understood her job. Is there anything else in the article?

Ty: Not really. Shall I walk through Miller?

C.I.: Miller writes that the release wasn't a release until she had additional confirmation?

Ty: Yes.

C.I.: No mention of January 2004?

Ty: None.

C.I.: Miller's case took place in D.C., not New York. Some find it strange that she couldn't find her notes until after she was released, notes on a June 2003 meeting with Scooter. She lost her desk in D.C. in January 2004. Presumably, and this is the opinion of two at the paper, she had all her belongings in New York. The Times needs to explain where the notes were found and why she was unaware of those notes until after her release. If they're going to cover the story at length, which supposedly they've done, they need to explain the mysterious reappearance of the notebook. Some rumors say Miller was aware of the notebook all along. Some rumors say it was brought to her attention by someone at the paper. A reporter like Miller can't seriously be expected to have not reviewed her own notes before deciding whether or not to go to jail. Did she have the notes before she went to jail? If they were discovered after she was released, who discovered them? That's the speculation wafting through the halls of the paper. Ty, I know I ate into your time and I'm sorry for that.

Ty: No, it's a good point. She did claim to suddenly have notebooks and that's an aspect of the story that's not in any of the reporting by the paper on this story. I don't know anyone at The Times but if I were going to speculate, I'd guess that a number of things could have happened. Should I speculate?

C.I.: Please do since the paper doesn't touch on it.

Ty: She could have intended not to mention the earlier meeting and changed her mind. Her notes could have been found by someone at the paper who confronted her on them at which point she changed her mind. But she did testify to the grand jury and then say, "Wait a minute, I've got something more" afterward. That needs to be explained. And since she knew her source, it's very doubtful that she didn't review every note she had on him before going to jail.

C.I.: Thank you, Ty. And my apologies because we've gone over on this segment and it was no one's fault but my own.

Ava: Actually, Jim's asked me to step out here and make a statement before anything moves on. C.I. noted the January date Saturday morning in an entry. Not surpisingly someone's all over it right now as we do this entry and there's no mention of the entry. Despite having covered this story at length, the person just now figures out January 2004 after it's noted at The Common Ills. This is actually the second time something from Plamegate has 'suddenly occured' to this writer after it goes up on a Saturday at The Common Ills.

C.I.: Noted. That was Ava of The Third Estate Sunday Review. And note that was Ava's statement, so take it up with her or The Third Estate Sunday Review. I can guess who the person was but I haven't read the piece so I've made no statement on it. For myself, I'll state that I didn't do any "reporting," I merely listened to friends at The Times. Let's move on. Rebecca, of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude.

Rebecca: In Japan, they're entertaining a plan to put microchips in "dangerous animals" such as crocodiles. AFP reports that in Australia, plans are in place to bring back the extinct Tasmanian tiger by using bones and teeth for cloning. The Irish Examiner reports that nine people in Turkey have been tested and released after no sign of bird flu was found in their systems. The nine lived in the area where Turkey's bird flu outbreak occurred. In Jefferson, Texas, almost four hundred people gathered for a conference on Big Foot. Australia's ABC reports that a German team believes that they have found a brain belonging to a Hobbit. United States researchers disagree. The Independent of London, on the same topic, reports that"at least nine more "hobbits" - a miniature species of human discovered two years ago - have been unearthed by scientists excavating the floor of a cave on a remote Indonesian island. "

C.I.: Rebecca, The Independent has a story on the measures England will take if they have a bird flu outbreak.

Rebecca: Right. Let me first note this from Geoffrey Lean and Severin Carrell in The Independent:

The likeliest scenario is that the mutation will take place in China and South-east Asia, and be carried to Britain by a passenger on a commercial flight. Professor Oxford warns it could arrive here just a day after beginning to spread widely in Asia.
No fully effective vaccine will be ready in Britain in time for the first wave. Instead, the Government is relying on building up stocks of anti-virals, like Tamiflu, which may blunt its effects. But Britain dithered last March in ordering the drug, which means that it will not have enough if the pandemic arrives in the next year.

Rebecca (con't): The article you're referring to is also by Geoffrey Lean, "Schools to close and sport banned if bird flu hits." From that article:

The plans allow for: closing schools, theatres and public buildings; cancelling mass gatherings such as sporting fixtures; suspending international flights from infected countries; deploying police to deal with public disorder; setting up special centres to dispense the anti-viral drug Tamiflu; and encouraging people to observe basic hygiene.

Rebecca (con't): Here in the United States, Bully Boy continues to push the "turn it over to the military!" nonsense and we don't appear to be any closer to a plan of response.

C.I.: Thank you, Rebecca. Due to the time we used on The Times, we're running short so Betty of Thomas Friedman is a Great Man and Kat of Kat's Corner will do a joint entertainment report. Betty, why don't you start.

Betty: Joal Ryan summarizes the TV season thus far and notes that Chris O'Donnell's show was one of the first casualties. Wonder if "Lisel" still holds "deep affection" for O'Donnell's alleged "adorableness"? In other non-entertaining news, I'll join with Laura Flanders in expressing my disappointment that the Millions More March promised a lot, talked a great deal about inclusion, but, as noted on The Laura Flanders Show, when it came time to put their money where their mouth's were, they elected to uninvite the sole openly gay speaker. They put on a good show ahead of time. At a time when one of the issues the black community needs to address includes AIDS rate, this black woman is highly offended that a promised spot to an openly gay speaker was denied at the last minute. The promoters were happy to push this speaker as a sign of how they'd changed, grown and were going to be more inclusive. But in the end, they demonstrated that was only talk. That's an editorial statment from me and may or may not reflect the opinions of others particiapting. Now I'll hand off to Kat.

Kat: I've got your back, Betty. I agree one hundred percent. And I've got three things. Dona told me to take my time but I know we're all tired, and many of us angry, so I'll stick with three things. First, to correct the statement earlier, this is actually the third time that the same writer ripped off The Common Ills. This summer, at The Common Ills, you, C.I., noted, in an apology format, that you had neglected to cite BuzzFlash for their work in pressing the Plame issue. Shortly after you posted that entry giving them the credit, the same writer suddenly remembered to give credit to BuzzFlash. That's one. Two. On Labor Day, The New York Times falsely announced the release of Greg Dulli, formerly of the Afghan Whigs, album Amber Highlights. The CD had previously been sold only at concerts. The CD is now being sold, not Labor Day week as The Times announced would be the case, online at Dulli's own site and at Dulli has only manufactured 5,000 copies of the CD. For those of us, like myself, who read that the album was coming out the Tuesday after Labor Day in the paper of record and went to Tower, et al to find this new CD, The New York Times owes not only a correction but an apology. It won't happen. But it needs to be noted that before they do their next "upcoming releases" they need to check their facts. They also need to ask why an album with only 5,000 copies manufactured was even noted since they don't cover independent releases as a general rule? Third Bono's got problems. Currently, as noted at the BBC, he's slamming politicians for attempting to profit off U2. Named are Hillary Clinton and Rick Santorum, who are using their suites at concerts as fundraisers. Bono's offended. A spokesperson for the group tells the BBC: "U2 concerts are categorically not fundraisers for any politician . . . They are rock concerts for U2 fans." Of course, it's perfectly okay to give seats out to Bully Boy twins or to Hatchet face from the Senate. If a line's been crossed, it was crossed when Bono put himself in service of the Bully Boy and Tony Blair. Bono's also, as reported by The New York Times, on the good end of tax breaks in Ireland and fighting to keep it that way. Man of the people, Bono.
After the phoniness of Live 8, Bono's karma appears to be out to get him.

C.I.: Kat, you read Z-Net religously. Would you like to comment on the article in it re: Bono?

Kat: "How Rock Stars Betrayed The Poor" should be required reading to anyone still thinking investment guru Bono is a man of the people. The article addresses the Live 8 concerts and makes it clear that Geldof, Bob Geldof, knew ahead of time that the whole aid talk was a sham. He was warned ahead of time. Still he and Bono pushed it as historic. Only to act surprised later on when it was obvious that the aid package was nothing to cheer about.

C.I.: Thank you, Kat and thank you, Betty. That wraps up another Third Estate Sunday Review News Review. We thank Dallas, always, for hunting down links. We thank Jess' parents for all their help in hunting down topics. We thank Jim and Dona of The Third Estate Sunday Review for being the online "producers" of this and making sure that everything flows. Hopefully, they did such a great job that you won't even be able to tell where we stopped to take a one and a half hour break. Thanks also to Ava who got stuck with a statement and put her own report on hold. The statement was the statement of The Third Estate Sunday Review minus myself because I'm the only one who didn't read the article in question. Nor do I intend to. But with The Third Estate Sunday Review claiming me, I need to clarify that the statement wasn't made by me and I don't intend to make a statement other than it's nice to be read. We'll note that community member Wally has just started his own site, The Daily Jot. We'll see you next week.

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