Hey, Mr. Spaceman ...
We've got a new Think Again column called "There They Go Again: The 'Pro-military' Conservatives" here .
My, that Bill O'Reilly has thin skin. Howard Kurtz's scoop  in the Washington Post this week is that, after regular ridicule at the hands of Keith Olbermann, Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes called NBC chief executive Jeff Zucker and "warned that if Olbermann didn't stop such attacks against Fox, he would unleash O'Reilly against NBC and would use the New York Post as well... The high-level appeals failed, and O'Reilly has escalated his criticism of GE in recent weeks, declaring, 'If my child were killed in Iraq, I would blame the likes of [General Electric CEO] Jeffrey Immelt.' " (O'Reilly's position is that, since GE holds some contracts in Iran for oil, gas, and health care products, and since Iran is supposedly training insurgents in Iraq, ipso facto ...)
O'Reilly also began attacking NBC reporter Richard Engel, who he repeatedly claimed was taking an anti-war, anti-administration position. Note that incidentally (?) the White House, via Counselor to the President Ed Gillespie, also attacked  Engel this week. On White House stationery, Gillespie challenged Engel about his interview with President Bush over the editing of a question that, even if you accept the White House's charge of unfairness (which I don't), is fairly innocuous. Gillespie also went out of his way to attack NBC news as a whole, re-raising the antiquated issue of NBC characterizing Iraq as a civil war, and disputing the network's declaration of a recession.
This episode raises a few obvious points. (1) It's clear that when you have nothing left to defend, your only choice is to attack the messenger. (2) Under fire from Olbermann, why not just either ignore him, or point out why he's wrong? Why try to basically extort network officials into shutting him up? (3) For such practiced experts in propaganda and media manipulation, one wonders why Fox officials couldn't see that an all-out assault on NBC News, joined by the least popular White House in history, can only boost their ratings and standing with most viewers.
So a good scoop by Kurtz. (Just one bone to pick -- the line "What began four years ago as a colorful feud between rival commentators, instigated by Olbermann as a way of drawing attention..." Now, one might argue that, conversely, Olbermann began picking on O'Reilly because of incredibly irresponsible "journalism" of The O'Reilly Factor. I don't know Olbermann's real reason for targeting O'Reilly, but I suspect Kurtz doesn't either, since he included no quote or backup for the charge that it was simply a gambit to draw attention.)
McCain Suck-up Watch: "Reporting on the $4 million loan Sen. John McCain's campaign obtained in November 2007, neither The New York Times nor ABCNews.com's Political Radar blog noted that the loan is at the center of a dispute between McCain's campaign and the FEC, whose chairman has cited the loan in taking the position that McCain cannot opt out of public financing in the primary without FEC approval." More here .
(Note that this list is largely contemporary. It's no judgment on the older movies, which probably are better than what I have below. But for better or worse my frame of reference, as I suspect is true with many young'uns, just doesn't include most of those films).
In no particular order:
The Big Lebowski
Requiem for a Dream
Roger & Me
City of God
No Country for Old Men
Elvis Costello "Momofuku," (Lost Highway) by Sal:
Less than a year after Elvis Costello vowed to never record new music again, Lost Highway releases Momofuku, the new record from Costello and The Imposters. And just two weeks after Lost Highway vowed to only release Momofuku on vinyl, we get a CD release. Now, before I get to the review, I'd like to point out that Elvis Costello has said in interviews that if the fans wanted to hear new songs, they would have come see him live. In 2007, Costello toured as the opening act for Bob Dylan. It was during those performances that Costello debuted almost a dozen new songs. Yet Momofuku features only 3 of those songs (or at least the only three I could find from scouring the bootlegs from the solo 2007 Dylan stint.) I mention this because even though I really like this record, it sounds hurried, like a glorified demo tape. At one point, you can hear Costello shout out, "Here comes the bridge." (Maybe Mrs. Krall-Costello demanded he get his butt into the studio, ready or not. They do have two boys to feed.)
After one listen, my immediate reaction, like other reviewers', was its similarities to the 1986 masterpiece Blood & Chocolate. Loud, crunchy guitars over short pop-rockers with Costello's patented wordplay. How can you go wrong? Well ... you can't. Songs like the opener "No Hiding Place," with its big chorus and backing vocal "Ooohs," feel like Elvis in his prime, and Costello's voice has never sounded better. The second half of the record is much stronger than the first half. Songs like "Turpentine," and "Harry Worth," while certainly not bad, suffer from kitchen sink production that just bogs them down. And "Stella Hurt," has both a tired riff and melody. But the last five songs- the McCartney-esque "Mr. Feathers," the simple but beautiful tribute to Costello's children "My Three Sons," my personal fave "Song With Rose," a gorgeous mid-tempo ballad written with Miss Rosanne Cash, "Pardon Me Madam, My Name Is Eve," written with Loretta Lynn, and the closer "Go Away," stand out as some of Costello's finest work. Packaging is minimal with no real details or liner notes, and most disappointing, no lyrics. I had to "google" "Song With Rose," to read along. That kitchen sink production I mentioned earlier drowns out Costello's vocal on that track, which seems unfair to Miss Cash, whose lyrics need to be heard.
Whatever the motivation (I sincerely doubt it's record sales), I'm glad Elvis went back on his word and we all got to hear Momofuku. As a whole, it doesn't smack you in the face right out of the box. It slowly creeps up on you and remains in your head, just like great songs should.
One last note to Ms. Cash and Mr. C --I have an idea. How about releasing that amazing numbers-themed performance from the Rubin Museum some months back? You can press a limited run with barebones packaging, charge $100, and donate all proceeds to your favorite charity. I'll take three, please.
The surprise hit in my household this year is the release from She & Him. "She" is actress Zooey Deschanel, and "he" is singer-songwriter M. Ward. Ward's records haven't done much for me. I've tried, but nothing has ever hit home. I must be missing something. Both critics and fans feel otherwise. As for Deschanel, I've had a minor crush on her since her shower performance of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" from the movie Elf. This woman can sing. And on Volume One, both Ward and Deschanel really deliver the goods.
The record is short and sweet, with songs that evoke so many of my faves from the past. The Mamas & The Papas, The Shangri-Las, Patsy Cline, and Dusty Springfield to name a few, all show up in some sound or another. The slightly quirky production could have hurt this album, turning some truly wonderful songs into little spurts of novelty. But Deschanel's vocals, at times sexy, and other times moving, make this record the real thing. Standout tracks include the upbeat and hook-filled "This Is Not A Test," a unique Hawaiian-island take on the Beatles' "I Should Have Known Better," and the absolutely heartbreaking "Change Is Hard," a torch song that would have made legendary producer Owen Bradley proud. Can't wait for "Volume Two."
Name: Brian Geving
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN
The NY Times should have a dedicated feature just for the corrections of Bill Kristol's op-ed columns. Again, they are forced to correct  the blatant errors in his column.
How many errors does a NY Times columnist have to make before he loses the confidence of the editor, or is that a rhetorical question?
I think TomDispatch and Nick Turse  are missing the point on Iron Man. That waterboarding was done by a terrorist and not the US military didn't make it okay -- I saw it as evidence of their brutality and a demonstration to the audience of the same (and an indirect indictment of the US use of waterboarding). They also seem to miss the larger message of the movie -- Tony Stark, upon seeing the devastation his weapons have created, vows to never sell again to the military and instead work to protect people against abuses of power (such as torturers). The villain of the movie is the one who want to militarize the Iron Man suit and Tony Stark risks his life to stop that from happening.
But the larger point, I think, is that it's a popcorn flick meant to entertain. Anyone who sees it as some type of military propoganda isn't watching very closely.
Nick Turse notes, "It is a particular strangeness of our moment, for instance, that the signature torture of the Bush administration -- waterboarding -- is, in Iron Man, performed not by American Tony Stark, but on him (something reviewers have somehow managed to largely ignore)."
Yeah, but did Turse miss the rest of the movie? Tony Stark returns from that trip and halts his corporation's weapons manufacturing (it's this action that infuriates the villain and helps set the rest of the plot in motion). It's pretty much the point of the film that Stark begins as a careless neoconservative jerk and, after experiencing the actual horrors of war, both on being the victim of torture firsthand and seeing the terrible damage his company's weapons inflict, dramatically changes his perspective. There's lots of charming Stan Lee type heavy metaphor about Stark literally getting a new heart as he becomes Iron Man (and note that once Stark becomes Iron Man, his actions are in direct response to actual threats, unlike the preemptive weapons Stark ostentatiously promotes in the first reel).
In the context of the full story, the villains using waterboarding on Stark is, if anything, representing the exact argument many anti-torture activists have stressed: if we give these kinds of methods our approval then what prevents our enemies from using them against us? The bombast we see from Stark in the first few minutes of the movie is violently turned against him.
The movie represents Stark as obviously in the neoconservative "do whatever it takes" column at the beginning of the movie, but, after his experiences with real war, Stark has a moral awakening. If only the Bush administration had done the same.
Several comments on today's posting...
Mark McKinnon : He's from Austin, the liberal heart of the conservative state of Texas. That should explain everything because Austinites, as a whole, are people who stand up for what they believe in.
Bernard Avishai's  thoughtful commentary not only hits it on the head, but succinctly relates WHY it's important to dialogue with enemies, and not just try to bomb them to death. It's not the crazies in Iran who would use nukes first, knowing that Israel and the US would retaliate (goodbye Tehran!), it's the crazies in our country (Cheney and McCain, etc.) who will bomb Iran first, because they mistakenly believe we (the Western World) would "survive" a nuclear shootout with the Arab world.
Iron Man - Turse has some valid points, however, the overall "double-dealing" message regarding the military-industrial complex is, in my opinion, the more important message to take from Iron Man, not the ironic fact that the American businessman is tortured. America is the world's largest supplier of arms, and we provide them to pretty much every tinpot dictatorship we can find that has oil underneath it's territory. (Don't forget we recently sold arms to the Saudis at the same time we sold MORE arms to the Israelis...and Saddam's entire war with Iran was fought with US armaments.) In Iron Man, the true "villain" of the piece is the American corporate mogul who describes himself as "an iron monger" in the film (not to get too geeky, but the name of the villain in the big iron suit is The Iron Monger). The al-Qaeda surrogate in the film is simply a pawn to be manipulated (and eventually murdered), which makes one wonder about the Bush/bin Laden ties ... but I conspiratorially digress. In the real world, it's naive to believe that al-Qaeda doesn't already have American armament and is using it against our soldiers. One can only hope that people seeing the movie are waking up to the fact that we really DO have a military-industrial complex that believes war is profitable.
David Macrary's  point on the letters of transit gambit is spot on -- especially since they were signed by General DeGaulle. One wonders why the Vichy French, not to mention the Nazis, would honor such a document.
What I've always thought makes Casablanca so great is something I've never heard mentioned by any reviewer or fan. Namely, the whole movie turns on Rick giving up his love for Ilsa, and she for him, so that Viktor Laszlo can get to America to convince the U.S. to enter the war against fascism. But, as Rick notes to Sam while drinking after Ilsa shows up in his life again, "It's December 1941 in Casablanca. I wonder what time it is in New York."
In other words, Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entry into the war are just days -- who knows, perhaps just hours -- away. Laszlo doesn't have to go to America. Ilsa doesn't have to go to support him. Rick doesn't have to give her up. It makes their sacrifice all the more poignant to the viewer, knowing that it's an unnecessary one.
I liked "Operation Bullshit" as well, but the Big Media will hesitate to use that appellation for the "younger or more sensitive" audience. (Of course, endless debates about killing innocent Iranians or ads for the latest gore-drenched video game or penis enhancement pill doesn't ruffle their prudish piety in the least.)
How about "Top Brass Off" for the misfiring Washington generals?
As far as a sub-title for Eric Alterman's book, my suggestion would be the succinct and attention-grabbing:
"Why We're Liberals: Because We Kick Ass, Pal!"
Why We're Liberals: Good Ideas Still Matter
Why We're Liberals: Winning Ideas for a 21st Century America
Why We're Liberals: Reasoning Our Way to a Better America