Sunday, December 03, 2006

A Note to Our Readers

Hey --
8:56 am as we start this. We haven't been almost done this early in forever.

Let's note who wrote the pieces this edition:

The Third Estate Sunday Review's Dona, Jess, Ty, Ava and, me, Jim;
Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude;
Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills);
Betty of Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man;
C.I. of The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review;
Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix;
Mike of Mikey Likes It!;
Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz;
and Wally of The Daily Jot

We thank all of the above and we thank Dallas for helping with links and being a soundboard. We thank Rebecca for photo shopping our illustrations.

New content? We got it.

Editorial: Return of the Toad, Robert Gates -- Gates, the toad, jumps back in. He destroyed before, he'll destroy again -- and you know we're tired if we're rhyming.

TV: Big Rip Off -- Ava and C.I. review Big Day and take on sitcoms, the Water Cooler Set and a great deal more.

What happened in Amman? -- What did happen in Amman? We think we know, but do we? The administration that staged the 'rescue' of Jessica Lynch and practices Extreme Press Management knows a thing or two about manipulation.

The One About The Nation -- This wasn't a go until we listened to Laura Flanders last night. This becoming a "go" meant postpoing a planned feature (read on to the end). It's not a war, if we were at "war," we wouldn't be biting our tongue.

Yes, RadioNation with Laura Flanders did air -- Flanders is unflappable. Even when a guest repeatedly takes an attitude with her, questions her knowledge of news and terms and just makes an all around ass out of himself. He's the reason the feature about The Nation became a "go."

Worst Video Collection -- Sandra e-mailed to tell us she'd checked this out from her local library because she likes Dave Matthews Band (we do as well) and, after viewing it, was less than thrilled with the band. She didn't offer examples so we watched ourselves. Sandra, we know just what you mean.

NYT: Wednesday Repeats -- They work so hard at the paper of record that some days they need to kick back and rerun a four month old piece. It's a daily paper. Except on days when it isn't.

Highlights -- Our picks for best of the week. Ty's already read one e-mail complaining that we didn't highlight Elaine's "Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Kim Gandy, Bay Fang." To be honest, we all forgot about it. If the hour hadn't been so late/early, we probably would have remembered it. We'll note it here. It was a very strong post.

Iraq Study Group Calls for All US Troops to Leave ... -- Thursday, when the gas bags couldn't shut up about the James Baker Circle Jerk, C.I. phoned Mike with a request -- get his Iraq Study Group to post their own recommendations so it could go into that day's snapshot. We prefer Mike, Nina and Tony's suggestions as well. When we read the snapshot Thursday, we were thrown thinking, "That's not what the press is reporting." Then we read on and saw it was Mike's group. The people's group, the one actually trying to end the war.

Okay, we were going to do a piece on Danny Schechter, or rather, on a section of one of his books. That was planned and got bumped due to The Nation. We're going to pick it up next week and are brainstorming on building a theme around it. (Ava and C.I.'s TV review does not have to fit the theme.)

Check back next Sunday and see if we can pull it off.

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

Editorial: Return of the Toad, Robert Gates

"War planning should be done with the understanding that postmajor-combat phase of operations can be crucial. If confirmed, I intend to improve the department's capabilities in that area."

David S. Cloud reported ("In Statement, Defense Pick Is Critical of Iraq Planning," A24, November 29th, New York Times) Robert Gates answered his Senate questionnaire thusly. He also added that knowing what he knows now, "I might have done some things differently" had he been Defense Secretary. He might have?

The gas bagging and feel good crap over the election appears to be finally winding down but it may be too late as Gates' confirmation hearing arrives this week. (Pacifica will carry it live and KPFA is one of the stations that will be broadcasting it, start to finish.) [Jess note: info on the broadcast at the end of this editorial.]

Who is Robert Gates? Well, as far as anyone knows, he wasn't involved in ABSCAM so possibly that's why so much of independent media has taken a pass on him.

We heard one reporter say that Gates had an image now and his being confirmed would be fine because he wouldn't do anything to jeporadize that image.

Now being key. Now he wouldn't, the reporter offered.

Not much time to dwell on what had happened before because, as we were informed, " Look, you can spend a lot of time going over the past. . . Bob Gates was certainly in the middle of this, but I'll tell you right now, the issue for Gates, if you want to worry about the past, worry about the past. The issue for Gates now is, is he going to throw -- President of a major University, he's written a memoir, he's come out of it with his reputation pretty much intact, is he going to throw it away, by going into the tank?"

Heaven forbid we should worry about the past. It's not like it has any connection to today, right?

Wrong. Robert Parry's owned this story and that's partly due to the fact that he knows it better than any other reporter but it's also due to the fact that so little have bothered to weigh in. (Ray McGovern and Mel Goodman, whom we don't think of as reporters or journalists and doubt they do either, have addressed it seriously. Amy Goodman hosted a segment on this with Mel Goodman and Robert Parry as guests, click here.)

If you've been awake any in the last six years and are even slightly aware of Iran-Contra, you've no doubt noticed that the same players pop up in Bully Boy's circle. So wouldn't Robert Gates' actions during Iran-Contra be worth exploring?

Robert Parry thinks so (we agree) and has pretty much focused solely on the issue (at Consortium News) since the announcement. Parry's most recent piece, "Bob Gates & Locking You Up Forever," begins:

As the next Defense Secretary, Robert M. Gates will be in charge of a new star-chamber legal system that can lock up indefinitely "unlawful enemy combatants" and "any person" accused of aiding them. Yet, despite these extraordinary new powers, his confirmation is being treated more like a coronation than a time for tough questions.
Not since 2003 when Secretary of State Colin Powell wowed Official Washington with his United Nations speech on Iraq's WMD has there been such an awed consensus about any public figure as there has been for former CIA Director Gates, who is almost universally praised for his intelligence, experience and down-to-earth style.
But there are serious unresolved questions about Gates's past that the American people might want resolved before he is entrusted with the awesome new powers that the Military Commissions Act of 2006 puts in the hands of the Defense Secretary.

These American people would like to see them addressed. We'd also like someone to explain to us why CIA is heading to the Defense Department with little outrage over that since, during Vietnam and prior, the Defense Department was illegally spying as much as the CIA and FBI.

Now what's the popular, conventional wisdom that the administration pushes and many lap up on how the illegal war with Iraq started? Faulty intel. It was all the fault of faulty intell. If that's the excuse they're going to push, should they really be pushing Gates for Secretary of Defense when he politicized the CIA under the leadership of William J. Casey? [See Robert Parry's Lost History, pages 273-277.] Is the person who shut down discussions on the USSR and wanted only the worst (least verifable) info to go through the pipeline really someone who should be trusted as the new Secretary of Defense?

The idea that someone wouldn't risk their image ('throw it in the tank") depends upon many things including whether they fear being caught? Since Gates walked away with little damage from Iran-Contra and other events, it's not as though he's the child who's learned not to touch fire. In fact, it's very likely that the lesson he internalized from his previous era is that he can get away with pretty much anything?

Maybe, like one reporter, history's just not your bag? Read over the statements at the top of this entry.

Three years after the illegal war, he thinks he might, knowing how it all turned out, do some things differently if he were the Secretary of Defense. He might. David S. Cloud uses the term "obliquely." That's a nice way to putting it.

Donald the Rumsfled is gone for a reason. The way the mainstream press works is that new appointees get a honeymoon. Since Gates is already a DC insider, it could be a very lengthy one if confirmed. If confirmed, by his statements, we'll have someone who might, maybe, possibly, with three years of hindsight, do some things a little differently than Rumsfeld did . . . maybe. That's cause for members of Congress to roll over and fall asleep on the job?

As Robert Parry's noted, Gates has never been forced to answer certain questions and the hearing should be about him answering questions and being confronted with past responses and evidence that refutes his past responses.

In Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs and the Press, Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair write, "Bush's choise to head the [Central Intelligence] Agency was Casey's deputy Robert Gates, who barely survived a contentious confirmation hearing after senators were told by Iran/Contra prosecutor Lawrence Walsh's investigators that Gates probably lied to Congress about his knowledge of the Iran/Contra arms deals. Gates stood by as CIA-trained thugs overthrew the government of Haitian president Jean Baptiste Aristide and replaced him with a gang of military officers headed by Gen. Raoul Cedras. Gates called Cedras one of the most promising 'Haitian leaders to emerge since the Duvalier family dictatorship was overthrown in 1986.' Cedras and his colleagues proceeded to slaughter their political enemies and make millions from the drug trade" (p. 109).

So to put this into perspective, he "probably lied to Congress" before. And he's being considered for a position where Congress will need to depend upon his testimony and some people think this is a good thing?

Gates doesn't need to be confirmed and shouldn't be. He's a newer Rumsfeld and there's a reason Rumsfeld is finally gone. It their plate hadn't been full already with gas bagging about the elections and launching an assassination on Jack Murtha, independent media might have been able to address this. When independent media drops the ball, we all suffer.
Added by Jess. Community member Zach passed this announcement on to C.I. regarding KPFA's Tuesday broadcast and the time is PST:
Tuesday, December 5th, 06:00am
Live, gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Robert Gates Secretary of Defense confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill. With Larry Bensky, Aaron Glantz and our guest experts.
You can listen over the airwaves or you can listen online. No registration and no fee to listen online. Nor any "word from our sponsors."

TV: Big Rip Off

The chief requirement to be a critic of the Water Cooler Set is either to be born brainless or to be willing to perform a self-lobotomy upon being hired. Never was that more clear than when some of the Water Cooler Set rushed to weigh in and prop up Big Day aka Big Rip Off.

Like the writers of the shows they praise, the Water Cooler Set has a highly limited frame of reference. Anything more than five years in the past, they have trouble remembering. Which must be why they rush to push the lie that Big Rip Off is a 'real time' 'sitcom' along the lines of 24 with 'laughs.'

We don't think the Water Cooler Set is lying, we just think they're stupid.

And, boy, did they choose the perfect time to flaunt their stupidity.

Big Rip Off rips off a film and there's nothing 'real time' about the film or the 'sitcom.' The film came out in the 70s so chances are In Style hasn't written of it; therefore, their editors might be willing to excuse the huge gap in knowledge. However, the director just passed away and got some front page headlines as a result.

So even the Water Cooler Critics (light readers all) don't have an excuse for missing the obvious. Big Rip Off rips off Robert Altman's A Wedding. Now there's no reason an Altman film can't become a TV show, in fact, M*A*S*H dominated 70s TV. But M*A*S*H didn't try to sell itself as part of a (bad) trend. Nor did the TV show deny its roots.

But Big Rip Off wants you to swallow the myth that it's 'real time' (and Water Cooler Critics know how to swallow). It's not flying. (Nor is the show going to be around for long.) Like most Altman films, it has a large cast and the setting is as much a character as any breathing object. Since Altman's not helming this, however, viewers just watch as the camera hop-scotches around in Big Rip Off with bad cross cutting which is one reason the show was a bomb long before it aired.

The high point is Wendie Malick who, once again, gives a strong performance that no one will ever see. She's, mother of the bride, Jane. Josh Cooke, who like Malick seems to be on a really bad career streak of late, finds some spots in the quirk he's playing. There are no "characters" only "quirks." Malick, flooding the one-note role with all her nervous energy, manages to fool for a bit; however, even she can't overcome the bad writing. Cooke's flooding his "quirk" (Danny, the groom) as well and provides a contrast to Malick.

That's really the only way to portray the "quirks," flood them with high energy or low key energy. Just don't attempt to make sense of what got scribbled on paper. Marla Sokoloff tries to make sense of Alice, the bride, and she embarrasses herself repeatedly. It's not Sokoloff's fault, there's no character on paper, there's no 'tone' to the show, it doesn't know from one moment to the next what it is, and by trying to be true to the script, Sokoloff ends up looking like one of the worst actresses on TV (she's not).

Stephanie Weir (Mad TV fame) shows up playing the Lauren Hutton character in A Wedding. The creators have dubbed the character Lorna which must have taxed them heavily. Five seconds of watching Weir try to keep the wedding on track and you grasp why the show goes off the rails immediately, there are no laughs. There's a moment where Weir should have a laugh but, pay attention Water Cooler Critics, it's stomped on as Alice storms off to her bedroom.

See 'real time' doesn't work in comedy. Comedy is, by its very nature, its own time. It can't be 'real-timed.' It needs to flow and it needs to flow around laughs. Many a film that bombed in the theaters has found a happy home on network TV where commercial breaks gave it the pacing that directors couldn't. Pacing is one of the biggest fatalities of sitcoms this year. 'Til Death Do Us Part (Water Cooler Critic, it's not a funny show) suffers from slow pacing because the male lead seems to think Doris Roberts and Peter Boyle are still around to milk the laughs. They aren't. So there's just slow death in scene after scene. Another sitcom (which we haven't reviewed yet -- a character is based upon a friend and the friend is offended) tries to throw every laugh they can think of onscreen and it doesn't work, even the few times when a joke is funny, because the viewer is left feeling as though they've been pelted.

It's timing. And without it, you're not a successful sitcom. Comedy needs to breathe. Not all that long ago, writers (and 'writers') thought they'd stumbled upon the 'fix' (a sort of Syd Field version for sitcom writers): triplets!

Triplets would save everything! The Haiku of comedy flopped repeatedly when utilized on Suddenly Susan, The Single Guy, Union Square and assorted other non-funny sitcoms. So the bad writers are in search of some new quick fix (apparently honing your craft is of little interest to them) and the 'brains' behind Big Rip Off think they've found it, cover the fact that they can't write funny by claiming it's 'real time.'

That's the excuse for dumping the laugh track. It's not innovative. (And wasn't in the sixties or when Barbara Eden starred in Harper Valley PTA.) But when you can't write funny, you need a lie to cover up that flaw.

Big Rip Off is not funny. Malick and Cooke bring their own sense of timing to their 'quirks' and you wait for them to grab onto a moment but they never do. None have been created by the writers because, not only do they not know funny, they don't know people.

Talk to anyone who's been married and chances are they have a wedding story. With a little work, most of those stories could play funny. A little shaping, a little creative rewrite, a wedding day can be hilarious (as an observer).

There's nothing on screen that's relatable. The 'quirks' ensure that.

Danny has a 'theme song.' The other characters all note (repeatedly) that most people don't have a 'theme song' and, apparently, that's supposed to have viewers at home nodding even though they know no one like Danny. Danny's theme song is the theme song to What's Happening!! and he needs it performed at the wedding.

See, someone thought that was, in and of itself, brilliant, hilarious. It's not. And 'quirks' don't make characters. We're also, apparently, supposed to roll on the floor that Jane only becomes merry when she's getting stoned. (Get it? Mary Jane?) When that's the level of thought that goes into the writing it's probably no surprise that a Hispanic with a thick accent (and very little English in her vocabulary) wonders around talking about 'plucking' the bride. We're all supposed to be rolling at that -- let's all laugh at the woman who can't speak English.

At the heart, the viewers should give a damn whether or not Danny and Alice will get married. They can want it to happen or they can pray that it doesn't, but they have to feel something.
No one will.

Cooke's low key energy makes Danny likeable but there's no avoiding that Alice and Danny do not know a damn thing about each other. For some reason (possibly because the writers saw Shirley MacLaine do it in Terms of Endearment?), father of the bride Steve (Kurt Fuller) decides to unload on Alice how wrong Danny is for. (Aurora did it the night before, Steve does it the day of.) If Steve feels that strongly (and Fuller appears to think he's performing in a drama), it's highly likely that he would have said something a lot sooner. What is known is that in the real world either Alice or Danny would have noticed that Steve hated the groom long before the wedding day. They don't. Even Steve's wife Jane appears unaware of how her husband felt.

That makes no sense in the real world but someone thought "We need a plot point!" and suddenly it was on the page. When not ripping off Terms of Endearment and A Wedding, they steal from Say Anything. As this sort of thing happens repeatedly, you realize the 'quirks' were never rooted in reality, they were created around characters in films the writers saw.

There's a lot of crap trying to pass for the 'new' sitcom that's neither funny nor new. But the fact that they've pulled the wool over many eyes allows others to feel emboldened and is why the sitcom genre continues to struggle.

When sitcoms 'died' before, Kate & Allie and The Cosby Show came along to breathe life into the format. What's not often remembered is that even while supposedly 'dead,' Nell Carter was still able to bring in an audience with Gimmie' A Break! That tired show managed to provide laughs because Nell Carter was funny. The lines were dead about ten years before they were filmed, but Carter had timing. What's most disturbing about the current 'death' is that you quickly realize even a Nell Carter couldn't breathe any life into today's tired proceedings because there's no room for timing into today's 'one camera' sitcoms.

That's obvious with Malick and Cooke but even more so with Weir who has stronger timing than either and is completely lost onscreen (even the camera seems to have trouble finding her). See, in the earlier 'death,' a Weir could have driving a sub-standard vehicle and brought in some laughs. Nell Carter did and that allowed the creeky show to last six seasons. Big Rip Off will be lucky to air six episodes (based on scuttle butt at ABC).

Writers and Water Cooler Set critics seem to believe the problem is you for not showing interest in an unfunny show. It's 'trendy,' it's 'real time,' what do viewers want!!!!

Viewers want to laugh. They want to recognize their own lives on screen. That's what the best sitcoms did. They gave them situations they could relate to. Big Rip Off seems to have fogotten that 'sitcom' stands for situational comedy. They think that grabbing this and that from a film is somehow going to provide laughs. Take Steve's Aurora moment.

In Terms of Enderment, that bit was funny. For a number of reasons including the fact that Aurora was a control freak, including the fact that before she gave her speech to Emma (Debra Winger), you saw Aurora outside the door debating whether or not to knock. This was all part of the set up. Big Rip Off wants to dispense with set up, they want to use the laughable lie that they're 'real time' as their excuse (and Water Cooler Critics bought that crap -- we're seriously considering naming this set in future reviews because we're sick of the damage they're doing).

Shirley MacLaine is a gifted comedy performer. But even she can't make a scene funny all by herself. If there's no room for her to breathe, if there's no room for her to draw the audience in, there aren't going to be any laughs. The funniest joke in the world (which the writers of Big Rip Off wouldn't know if it kicked them in the groin) is only funny if it's given the time to be funny. You can't rush a punch line, you can't skip the set up and go immediately to the laugh. It doesn't work that way.

And though that's not a new lesson, it is one that many writers and Water Cooler Critics might try learning. They might also try grasping that if they're looking for a 'real time' sitcom, they don't need to wax it on about Jake In Progress (aka No Sex in the City), they only need cite the first ten episode of Watching Ellie. Julia Louis-Dreyfus Lousie couldn't save that dog. Returning to true sitcom form in The New Adventures of Old Christine, she's got an audience and an Emmy. There's a lesson there though don't expect TV to grasp it when the Water Cooler Set provides excuses to prop up the likes of Big Rip Off.

What happened in Amman?

So last week, in Amman, Jordan, Bully Boy is all set to meet with his puppet, Nouri al-Maliki, for in depth discussions on Iraq. But things play out a little differently.

Wednesday, Bully Boy waits for his prom date who never comes. (See Isaiah's "Bully Parker.") Thursday, there's a Brief Encounter. So the puppet's pulling the strings now, eh?

Or is he? From last Thursday's "Iraq snapshot:"

Did no one read the memo yesterday? The memo was published (online) by the New York Times. Did anyone bother to read it? What did Stephen Hadley write about ways that the puppet could look strong? Handing him "additional control over Iraq forces, although we must recognize that in the immediate time frame, we would likely be able to give him more authority over existing forces, not more forces."
Apparently there was no point in the Times publishing that memo, even those who read it appear to act as though they hadn't.

Oh yeah, the Hadley memo. Written November 8th and filled with ideas to make the puppet look strong. Was that all the Wednesday response was?

There were problems in Iraq, the Sadr bloc did follow through on their statement that they would walk out of Parliament if the puppet met with the Bully Boy. They announced that the Friday before the visit. Does al-Maliki see the Sadr bloc as bluffers? Was it a surprise to him that they followed up on their word?

It shouldn't have been. So what prompted the last minute decision not to meet with the Bully Boy?

It could be any number of reasons. The memo should be read, not reports on it. al-Maliki showed spine once before in calling an end to the (daytime) checkpoints in the Sadr City section of Baghdad. Was this spine and, if so, why did it come so late? The memo concludes of the puppet:

The information he receives is undoubtedly skewed by his small circle of Dawa advisers, coloring his actions and interpretation of reality. His intentions seem good when he talks with Americans, and sensitive reporting suggests he is trying to stand up to the Shia hierarchy and force positive change. But the reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action.

Hadley tried to downplay that any critical judgement had been passed on al-Maliki but it's clear, in the above excerpt, that he was judged to be questionable (at best).

If it wasn't staged and al-Maliki was showing some spine, it may be too little at this late date. Already in the Parliament new groups are being discussed. Hadley acknowledges the possibility of a different prime minister in the memo. Thursday, on KPFA's Flashpoints, Dahr Jamail told Nora Barrows-Friedman the question of replacing al-Maliki isn't a question of 'if" but "when."

If Wednesday's out in the cold actually resulted from spine and not an attempt to manipulate people into believing he was less of a puppet, he picked a bad time to exhibit that.

The One About The Nation

As we noted in another feature, The Nation has some problems. Kat and C.I. were on the road last week speaking about the illegal war and they're both used to hearing complaints about the magazine (all of us who have spoken to students have heard the complaints).

What happened Thursday, with one group, wasn't a few complaints. The way the speaking gigs work is that C.I. talks for a bit and then anyone else along speaks. After that, it's an open discussion on Iraq. This group of very active, very political students (all were poli sci majors) wanted to identify one problem, one reason they felt the illegal war continues: The Nation magazine.

They could offer specific examples. (Kat wrote about this on Thursday.*) This included failure to cover topics and it included presentation of topics. Shortly after they returned Friday night, a friend of C.I.'s came over to gripe about the writers for other magazines that are being given space in the print issue. What had him so outraged?

A dumb ass in the December 4th issue. C.I. no longer reads the magazine the dumb ass works for (few people do -- our parody focusing solely on it will be written when it announces it's gone belly up). Dumb Ass plugs Thomas Frank ("Oh, Ellen Willis, you are missed especially now," says C.I.) and writes, "There was more than a whiff of demagoguery in John Kerry's nomination acceptance speech about 'closing firehouses in America' while opening them in Baghdad (why shouldn't Iraqis have firehouses?)."

The whiff's coming off Dumb Ass' crack and we'd suggest he wipe on toilet paper and not the pages of The Nation. If Dumb Ass can't grasp it, let's put it real simply, before you purchase groceries for someone else, you need to be sure your own family's fed. Bully Boy wanted his illegal war and got it.

But possibly Dumb Ass can't grasp that. Can The Nation grasp that Dumb Ass not only doesn't deserve a grant, he shouldn't be published without serious vetting of everything he cites. Dumb Ass, in his own crap magazine he writes for, got giddy as a school girl over Moronic Mars and declared it to be about the 'haves' and the 'have nots' and Moronic was the story of the class war. As Ava and C.I. replied to that idiotic, non-fact based claim, "Yes, it is -- if you believe that the class war will be costumed by Nordstrom Brass Plum and Neiman Marcus." As they noted, it took only one phone call to find out where Moronic's wardrobe came from (and came from for both seasons he was addressing before Dumb Ass attempts to weasle out).

That matters, when you're reviewing a show and claiming Moronic is about the class struggle, if she's wearing duds from high price boutiques, you're obviously talking out of your ass. Dumb Ass does it again (does it quite often actually) when he says John Kerry's firehouse remark came in the acceptance speech. The Washington Post has the speech posted here. Find the remark.

"And we shouldn't be opening firehouses in Baghdad and shutting them in the United States of America." That's what Kerry said in the acceptance speech. Not "closing." That line, that Dumb Ass is referring to, is from the ads broadcasting in Iowa in November of 2003, "We shouldn't be cutting education and closing firehouses in America while we're opening them in Iraq."

Does it matter? Yeah, it does. You can't put something in quotes and say it was said somewhere when it wasn't. It's sloppy, it's bad journalism and it may be in keeping with the rag Dumb Ass works at but it shouldn't appear in The Nation.

Where's the correction? (Probably in the que right behind the correction to the 'facts' offered in the Courtney Love CD review -- and we're not talking about the 'let me repeat rumors' heavy review, we're talking about what the writer stated factually about the album -- including song lengths -- that was incorrect.)

Long before Little Lee Lee went down in flames, C.I. and Jess addressed him here and why The Nation shouldn't be publishing him. At The New Republic(an), you can apparently both Be All That You Can Be and Be As Many As You Can Pretend To Be. (Which is how Little Lee Lee became his own fan base in comments he posted to his pieces under phoney i.d.s)

If there's not a damn bit of difference between The Nation and other magazines for the left, exactly why should anyone go with The Nation? At a recent event in California, a person on the editorial board of another magazine appeared and promoted themselves as being with The Nation. That doesn't cut it. In fact, though we love Tom Hayden, we skipped the event because of the person in question. We had no use for her talk of Iraq -- she was one of the first out of the gate post-2004 election trying to clamp down on the anti-war sentiment. We don't care for her for a number of reasons but we're not going to sit through some event where she poses as staff at The Nation when she's on the masthead of another rag no one buys (for good reason).

The Nation nees to get it together pretty damn quick. They just lost a dedicated subscriber in Oregon. We mention him because we were surprised he'd decided not to renew. He was one of the magazine's chief supporters. Early on when this site started, he'd e-mail and ask us to note the magazine more, state that The Nation was the only magazine he trusted. He just walked away from it. His reasons for walking away were similar to the complaints that Kat and C.I. heard on Thursday.

People are tired of the magazine's inability to address Iraq. They're angry that a blog post was written about the peace movement (one of the few times the magazine's ever noted the peace movement since the illegal war began) and it exists just to slam the peace movement. They're outraged that a new article (which we haven't read -- subscribers have to wait) read as though, as one woman put it, "It was written by George Packer." That's the one by "Mr. Bill," which is how he's addressed by Iraqis. "Mr. Bill," "Miss Daisy," not a long drive to make. But apparently one that no one picked up on at The Nation which can't cover the war resisters but it happy to put up a "I'm doing my job in Iraq" piece by a major. Is it a class issue like Ruth wondered?

It's something because the magazine has yet to print one damn article on the war resisters of this summer. Now the AP has filed piece after piece. The Nation?

Here's the problem the magazine's not grasping, it's the reason the students were outraged and it's the reason they just lost a long term subscriber in Oregon, what cut it in 2003, isn't bravery in 2006. By 2005, the shift away from supporting the war was there for anyone who bothered to look. It's only increased in 2006.

The tag line in the ads, "Nobody owns The Nation," is becoming a joke as 'addressing the war' means hiding behind ex-generals and refusal to cover the peace movement or war resisters. (Yes, Dumb Ass is writing or has written an article on the man who burned himself in protest of the war. Our flesh is crawling just picturing the 'thought' that's gone into that non-thought piece.) It's not cutting it. We've all heard the complaints when we've visited campuses including the ignoring of student activists to focus on, as a student in Iowa dubbed it, "Eisenhower Democrats."

Kat just listened when the students were ripping the magazine apart. ("I wasn't getting into that, they were like a lynch mob and I didn't want to be caught in the crossfire.") After they'd all shared their examples, C.I. asked what sort of statements they'd like to read in The Nation (The Nation wasn't a topic C.I. brought up, the students brought it up noting they were "disgusted" with the magazine). As they offered their thoughts on that, C.I. said, "Well, you've just described Alexander Cockburn." While they agreed they had, they also noted that they can read Cockburn via CounterPunch and avoid The Nation all together.

Kat took notes during most of the examples. We could go item by item but we're not sure at what point C.I. would then say, "Take my name off the piece." We'll note there were no complaints about David Corn (or, obviously Alexander Cockburn). Others? Everybody else? A long list of complaints.

We'll give one example (okayed by C.I.), Katha Pollit (whom we like). She was brought up. They wondered how she can write a feminist beat column and never note Abeer? They were very offended by that. And they were very disappointed. Raped, murdered, her family murdered, and one of the US soliders involved confessed in court to his actions and testified to the actions of the others involved. That doesn't rate a column?

In terms of the rest of the writers (whom we won't name because it was much harsher than noting that Pollitt hadn't covered Abeer), they're sick of the 'profiles' of Democrats. One man pulled out a story he'd clipped from Tuesday's New York Times. A new member of Congress, just elected, served on Douglas Feith's 'intelligence' unit in charge of tasking Iraq. Shouldn't The Nation have covered that during the election, especially since, here's the kicker, he's a Democrat. [Added: He is Chris Carney of Pennsylvania. We're adding that and apologize to the readers who have e-mailed "What!!!!!" James Risen writes about it in the November 28, 2006 edition of The New York Times, page A18, "A New House Democrat With an Insiders' View of Iraq."]

This was followed by a woman asking, "What the f--k was the point of that 'We won't endorse any candidate who supports the war' editorial if they refused to cover the candidates, of all parties, that were opposed to the war?" The woman noted that the last issue out before the elections contained the puff piece on Harold Ford Jr and stated, "Puff pieces are an endorsement. Coverage is an endorsement."

Which is when the topic shifted to war resisters that don't get covered by the magazine (two pieces on Ehren Watada ran at the website, they did not run in the magazine -- Watada is the only war resister to make headlines since June that they've covered -- he's "Lt. Watada" so possibly that helps).

"'Kid Today, Oy Vey,' they have time for, even giving out prizes for that bulls--t, but honest to God activists on campus, where the hell are they?" wondered a man leaping into the conversation. (At which point, it got very loud and Kat says it continued at a fast pace and a loud volume for over fifteen minutes.)

And what did we get last night on RadioNation with Laura Flanders? No, we're not talking about Flanders. We're talking about the guest who wanted to argue the James Baker Circle Jerk with her. "You didn't list the Democrats!" he whined, when in fact, she had, when in fact, she'd listed names of some of the Democrats and some of the Republicans. He wanted to argue that it was a centrist group when, as Flanders pointed out, it's a center-right group.

Now we're confused, how does a LaRouche supporter (that may not be how his name is spelled and we honestly don't give a damn) infamous for tales of "Zionist plots" end up at The Nation?

Or for that matter, when we're supposed to appalled by Mark Foley's behavior with sixteen-year-old males (online sex play), how does a writer who the mainstream press has reported was arrested twice in recent times for solicity sexual hook ups with FBI agents he thought were fourteen-year-old girls get published in the magazine?

What are the standards because factual doesn't appear to be one and behavior that's criminal (such as soliciting 14-year-old girls for sex) doesn't appear to be one and, there's last night's guest.

He couldn't shut up about "the establishment" and, possibly, when your own past actions are such that you should blackballed, you especially need to cowtow to "the establishment"?

We're fully aware someone (we can guess who) will e-mail about our supposed war with The Nation. This isn't a war. We enjoy the writing of many of the people at the magazine. We've noted many here (Pollitt, Patricia J. Williamson, David Corn, Alexander Cockburn, Richard Goldstein, etc.). We've all backed away from The Progressive. Even the community's tired of that magazine ("Truth" will sap a person's strength and goodwill). Those of us still subscribing will let that lapse. (Elaine will continue to purchase issues with Howard Zinn's writing in them. C.I.'s weighing the "Am I part of the problem if I continue to subscribe" issue and hasn't decided yet.) We'd prefer not to walk away from The Nation.

We're fully aware that a sizeable portion of the Iraq coverage came from Naomi Klein and she's been on leave finishing her book. But there seems to have been no effort to pick up the slack on Iraq while she was gone. (Cockburn and Corn continued -- continued -- to address it. They weren't picking up slack, they were already writing about it.) We've done features here like "Hint, Hint." We've done features where we've bit our tonuge (and we're biting it now, there's a hysterical remark that a student made on Thursday but we know if we put it in, C.I. walks from this feature with a "Take my name off it" comment). We've done features urging that the peace movement be covered. What was this summer but one long plea to independent media (and supposed independent media) to cover the war resisters?

We're tired of it. When C.I. was confronted with Dumb Ass' article on Friday we were all surprised to hear, "Give me a minute to read it." The friend was surprised as well because C.I. had previously read every issue, from the letter page on through. But there's little point in reading it cover to cover these days. (We were and are surprised that C.I. had agreed with our opinion on that.)

We've tried parodies, we've tried pleas (and please). The Nation's the becoming the non-comic version of Saturday Night Live where, because they're supposed to be left, we're all supposed to be thrilled that they weigh in on this and that and a lot of stuff that quite frankly doesn't matter. And if we wanted to read certain writers, we'd still be reading the rags we stopped when they decided they wanted to be a 'fun' and 'cultural' magazine (cheap topics covered on cheap stock). (And we love the survey question they're asking that one reader e-mailed us: "Would you like shorter articles?" As the reader noted, "They must mean one paragraph articles because there's so little writing in there as it is.")

In terms of the magazine (The Nation), we think it's alienating the audience its built up and we base that on what we've heard on campuses across the country. We think featuring writers from other 'left' publications is destroying the brand. In terms of influencing the national debate, that won't come about by feather kisses to centrists and worse. And it won't happen by avoiding the topic of the war. We read the coverage, what little makes it into print, and it's not 2003 so this timid approach isn't cutting it. We do wonder if those who came of age after Vietnam have internalized the revisionist myths and that's why they won't cover the peace movement or war resisters?

Students are tired of the 'inspirational and motivational' pieces on candidates. If they wanted that, they'd read The American Prospect. The Nation didn't pull ahead of every other political magazine (not just the ones on the left) in circulation because of its election coverage. It pulled ahead because it had something to say about the war. It'd be a real shame if two years on down the line, when circulation is tanking, if the magazine suddenly realized it had blown its moment.

So if someone wants to see this as a "war," distort how ever it makes you able to justify the current state of the magazine. But the reality is someone needs to speak up before it gets worse.

[*When Kat wrote her post, she identified the magazine as "The Nation." Before posting it, she went back and changed it to "The Elector" -- the name of our parody of three magazines last week. She did that because she didn't want to hurt C.I.'s feelings -- C.I.'s a big supporter of the magazine. When C.I. finished speaking and came back to the hotel, Kat had skipped the last speaking gig, she was surprised when C.I. told her, "You should have the left the title in." And before the Cindy Brady of the faux left curses again, let's note that we don't even have a war with him. We think of him as our new whipping boy and look forward to much hilarity as he continues to perform his tired act that should play in Vegas -- in the lounge, not the main room. Lastly, the illustration is inspired by the paintings of William H. Johnson, in particular, Children Playing London Bridge. What does that have to do with the magazine? Our nation includes miniorities and it would be nice to see that reflected in more than just the occassional Brown v. Board of Education anniversary story.)

Yes, RadioNation with Laura Flanders did air

The Nation has problems. (And you know it's serious when C.I. doesn't even raise an objection to that sentence.) They were on full display during RadioNation with Laura Flanders. Laura Flanders wasn't the problem.

The way it was supposed to go was that she interviewed a Nation writer about a dopey piece he wrote and the mag got a plug and listeners got to hear about a serious issue.

Writers of dopey pieces rarely make good guests.

So we weren't shocked when the guest huffed at Flanders that he didn't know where she got her news. We were a bit surprised that a guest on the show to promote the magazine would be so rude to the host.

Apparently, Flanders, like most people who follow the news (and Flanders follows it -- as anyone who's listened to the show can attest), gets her news from the real world which is why she didn't falsely believe that John Abizaid had requested more troops when he appeared before Congress. Abizaid requested no such thing. In fact, his remarks were noted for saying nothing. More troops? Less troops? He wasn't going to commit. (CBS News was the only outlet to grasp one thing he did reveal: the US doesn't have enough troops, in Abizaid's opinion, to go 'full out' in Iraq.)

But the guest knew best. He knew best (or thought he did) and was combative and confrontational. Flanders' isn't a hostile host. She'll go out of her way with callers from the right to hear their point of view.

It wasn't enough to go after Flanders, the guest demonstrated, he also needed to go after the audience, "I just totally disagree with you and your caller."

Thanks for sharing, Robert Dreyfuss.

He also attacked Flanders for her understanding of neocon. In Dreyfuss' limited understanding, a neocon is only someone who wanted war with Iraq. It has no finanical aspects. That sort of tunnel vision may explain why he also insisted repeatedly that the James Baker Circle Jerk was a panel that was making strong recommendations, a panel that we should apparently all be bowing and scraping before.

We'd say, "You first, Dreyfuss" -- but he was already bowing and scraping.

Insta-expert Dreyfuss also felt the need to 'explain' that the James Baker Circle Jerk was created because Congress was "so frustrated." No, it was created, as Gary Younge (Guardian of London; The Nation) observed to Steve Rendall on last week's CounterSpin, because Congress shirked its duties and outsourced them to a panel.

Not content with abusing the host, the audience and comprehension, Dreyfuss then climbed out on a limb to present Lee Hamilton and Vernon Jordan as people who had opposed the war in Iraq. Why? Because he damn well said so.

Oh, well, in that case . . .

Let us disagree quite strongly. Let us note that his background is such that he shouldn't be writing for The Nation (and we'll deal with that in another feature), his manner is such that he shouldn't go another broadcast until he gets some rage counseling, and we have to wonder if he would have been so dismissive of the host if she weren't a woman?

That was actually the second area that was a problem for Saturday's show. Ty was reading the e-mails (trying to catch up) right before we started the session of writing this edition and there were 15 e-mails complaining about not being able to hear Flanders. When they tried to listen via Air America Radio they got, "Please tune back later." Air America Radio needs to gets it act together. Dona, Jim and Jess attempted to find a station to suggest to the readers who were complaining. Foolishly, they went to the AAR web site which lists stations, but it doesn't tell you whether or not they broadcast online (or if they carry all the AAR programs).

C.I. pulled out the rolodex, dialed friends in radio, and found a station broadcasting AAR that also broadcasts online. As a thank you, C.I. offered to link to that station at The Common Ills as a backup for AAR. (We would have followed suit here at this site.) The friend appreciated the offer but the station's about to pull AAR. This has nothing to do with politics, it has to do with lousy ratings.

It started off fairly good but then came the complaints (about things like AEI guests, yes, Baby Cries a Lot continues to harm the network by putting on his friends). The morning shows "are boring and we're getting killed." No argument from us with that finding.

As of right now, Ty reports 45 e-mails came in from readers who attempted to listen to the show and heard "Please tune back later." Fifteen we were able to steer to another station but, guess what? That's Air America Radio's job.
As usual, they're doing a half-assed job of it. If you know a station that broadcasts Flanders show over the web, please e-mail us and we'll add it as a back up to our links. We're also aware that a number of you listen to Randi Rhodes as well. C.I.'s going to add a Florida station that broadcasts Rhodes and we will as well. Rhodes and Flanders, who are natural broadcasters, will continue in radio regardless of what happens to Air America Radio. But when the website to AAR can't even get their webcast to work, we have serious doubts about the network. Listeners shouldn't have to hunt down a way to hear the programming when it's supposed to webcast from the site. It's past time they got their act together.

Worst Video Collection

Dave Matthews Band: The Videos 1994-2001 offers 12 music videos and a bit more.

First up, thanks to the intense close ups, is grasping how quickly a hairline can recede in seven years.

The second thing you'll probably notice is that they aren't video artists. Few today are.
Ourselves, we'd pick Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" as the best video. It doesn't depend upon gimmicks or star turns, it just tells a story that is in keeping with the lyrics of the songs. In fact, it may be one of the few videos that actually enhanced a song.

Most didn't then and most don't now.

Dave Mattews Band started making videos a decade later. Watching the DVD you may wonder why anyone bothered to collect them in the first place?

Bonus features to the DVD? Forget it. You don't want to watch the 'behind the scenes' for "Don't Drink The Water." (Unless you enjoy someone discussing swollen balls.) If you're thinking you'll see the process by which the video is made, well, they went another way.

The 'videos' usually rely on a concert footage. So, since the band can't seem to mark Christmas without foisting off a live multi-disc set off on consumers, the videos may seem more than a bit redundant. Pay attention to "Stay Wasting Time" which is all concert footage that is out of synch with the music. (Dean Karr directed.)

What is Dave Matthews Band visually? A lot like there Ben & Jerry's flavor, Magic Brownie which will turn you off brownies and ice cream rather quick. That grab bag 'flavor' is composed of vanilla ice cream, chocolate brownies and (wait, it's coming) raspberries. Some see it as an attempt to ape their forebearer (musical and dairy) and that the raspberries are supposed to enliven the flavor the way cherries do Cherry Garcia. The reality is it tastes like they threw whatever they could think of in a container.

Whatever they could think of gets tossed in front of the camera as well.

"What Would You Say" is a bit more upfront about using nudity to sell the video than anything U2's ever done. (We're all aware that there's a nude breast in "With Or Without You," right? Use the freeze frame or you may miss it.) David Hogan surveyed the band and decided models were the way to go which we don't think is fair. The band could have an interesting look. And Dave Matthews himself was actually sexy on the cover of Spin in the 90s showing a tiny bit of a pudgy belly.

Hogan didn't seem to know what to do with the follow up, "Ants Marching," so he dropped the American Gothic lite and went with a concert performance (and another models -- male and female). "Satellite" comes next and Wayne Isham's love of Tom Petty videos is all over that one which opens with a shot of a satellite (well, videos are quite often obvious) and then a female model blowing bubbles (less obvious, but got to get the sex in) while, watching it all, is a young male model in a trailer out in the middle of nowhere. One idea Isham did have, a good one, was that David Matthews could be handsome.

That depends on lighting, angles and Dave Matthews.

Matthews' looks can make him come off like the perv on this week's perp walk such as in "Stay (Wasting Time)" or, when he's feeling particularly animated such as in "I Did It," as though he's attempting to wrestle the crown for Frat Boy funny from Huey Lewis.

Throughout it all you wonder why he doesn't pull a Jack Johnson and just wear a t-shirt. He has no fashion sense and the bulky shirts and sweaters he favors (that all hang low) look more like smocks. After "Satellites," he never had a director who knew how to make him look attractive. Or to stand fairly still. Watching "Too Much" (directed by Ken Fox) is to think the title's supposed to describe Matthews' incessant mugging and knee manuevers that appear to owe a huge debt to Madonna's Live Aid performance of "Into The Groove." (Both appear to mistake the stage for a treadmill.)

"So Much To Say" continues the portrayal of Dave Matthews as rock's resident spaz as he eye pops, raises eyebrows, poses and preens, appears to have borrowed all the left over lipstick from Home Alone and generally jerks around in a manner that would lead some to prescribe Ritalin.

"Crash Into Me" (directed by Dean Karr) tries to go arty. Matthews put into a white shirt and formal clothes but can't lay off the goofy eye movements. Did he think it was a comical song?

Who knows what Karr thought because he's working with pastels, blurry focus and, for some reason that no sane person should be able to figure out, a geisha motif and a a tribal male. The look on Matthews face as he lip synchs "Hike up your skirt a little more" is so creepy, you're better off not seeing it.

"Don't Drink the Water" was another opportunity for Karr to play art school and it also provides Matthews with the chance to salute the video work of Adam Ant. Who knew? Why are indegenous people in the video? To give the band 'soul' or to reflect the lyrics. If it's to reflect the lyrics, Matthews swinging around from a chandelier with bemused looks undermines the lyrics.

"Crush" (also directed by Karr) is in black & white and mainly serves to demonstrate that Matthews can't even sit still as he bounces around in his chair while smoking a cigarette. He's like a toddler that bounces frantically. (He is aware, isn't he, that you don't have to move on every beat?) The band plays on stage while Matthews sings at the bar. Every now and then you get "art shots" of things like urinals.

Dave Meyers directs the last two videos (the videos play in order of release), "The Space Between" and "I Did It," the latter of which is the more ambitious. At the end, you learn Matthews is a sanitation worker and you have to wade through a lot of crap to get to that point -- including 'kung fu' moves, Matthews floating through trash, flying, attacking an apparent rock star, getting beaten with his own left leg, and so much more, most of all Matthews bugging and batting his eyes repeatedly as he comes off like Pee Wee Herman's chunky older brother.

As musical artists, Dave Matthews Band is a group we enjoy. As video artists, they demonstrate repeatedly that they have no visual sense, have no vision and allow their videos to settle for the most obvious of the esoteric images -- every one could appear in a commercial for bath salts.

The collection doesn't offer one video that enhances a song. It does show that the band has no idea who they are visually and nothing worth saying visually. More importantly, the non-stop mugging doesn't just detract from the lyrics, it takes serious lines, even sexy lines, and turns it all into a joke.

Maybe it is? Matthews can't stop writing and singing about Woman as Nature as though he o.d.ed on the works of Frederick Nietzsche or at least "Mysterious Ways." Instead of enhancing your love of the band, the video collection makes you question your enjoyment of the band.

NYT: Wednesday Repeats

It's hard work putting out a daily paper. And apparently Grey Lady wasn't up to the task last week which is why B4 of The Arts section contained a retread (Wednesday, November 29th).

The shout out in the illustration reads:

A 1930s Comedy Takes Off, Both Feet on the Accelerator

"Room Service," which ran at the Bank Street Theater in July, reopened yesterday at the SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street, near Avenue of the Americas, South Village; (212) 691-1555, Following are excerpts from the review, which appeared in The New York Times on July 13; the full text is online at

What follows the above is five lengthy paragraphs. In November, The Times is re-running 'excerpts' of a review from July?

Did someone's dog eat their homework?

Or is the paper implementing a new Wednesday feature? They could call it "Repeats Wednesdays."

Why stop there? Instead of offering all new film reviews on Fridays, they could pull one or two and note that a film was now showing in a new location and run 'excerpts' of their previous review.

Seems like the paper owes everyone who paid for last Wednesday's edition an apology. Maybe they could just rerun the Iraq mea culpa?


Our picks for the best of last week.

Elaine's "Gore Vidal, Janet Coleman, Madonna, Iraq" -- we wished we'd heard Gore Vidal interviewed by Janet Coleman. If you missed it (you can hear an archived broadcast) be sure to check out Elaine's post.

C.I.'s "NYT: 'Having Pinned Little Hopes on Talks, Many Iraqis Appear to Be Beyond Disappointment' (Kirk Semple)" -- a blistering critique of the 'coverage' of Iraq by the mainstream.

Cedric's "Bully Boy's mystery date goes bust" and Wally's "THIS JUST IN! BULLY BOY GETS STOOD UP BY A "DUD"!" -- a joint post with the wacky Condi Rice making an appearance.

Rebecca's "robert parry, iraq, pacifica radio" -- explains the importance of the Pacifica Archives. (The fundraiser, for those wondering, surpassed the goal.)

Mike's "Law and Disorder, The Third Estate Sunday Review" -- covers Anthony Arnove's interview on Law and Disorder (the topic is Iraq).

Betty's latest chapter "Decking the Friedman" -- as Betinna might say, "It was bad enough when Thomas Friedman wanted to dress up as White Woman, but Diana Ross? Has he no shame?"

And Trina's "Waldorf Salad in the Kitchen" -- which was one of the items we fixed and ate during the all night session.

Iraq Study Group Calls for All US Troops to Leave Iraq

The real Iraq Study Group, not the James Baker Circle Jerk, issued recommendations last Thursday.

"Iraq Study Group Calls for All US Troops to Leave Iraq Immediately"

The Iraq Study Group has issued the following recommendations:

1) All US troops should be brought home immediately.

*a) "Brought home immediately" does not mean "pull back" or "redeploy." It means all US troops serving in Iraq shall be returned to the US.

*b) This can be read as an endorsement of the the July 2006 editorial "Time to Head On Home."

2) Reparations shall be paid by the US government to Iraq through the United Nations.

3) The US Congress should immediately begin impeachments hearings.

4) A War Crimes Tribunal should hear testimony into the destruction of Falluja.

5) Dexter Filkins shall be charged with crimes against humanity for his 'reporting' on Falluja and, in fact, all of his reporting on or from Iraq.

These are the recommendations of and from the Iraq Study Group, the original one, the people's Iraq Study Group.

Chairs: Mike, Nina and Tony
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