Saturday, September 29, 2007

It's Fall: Line up.

Well, it’s that time again. The candidates are making their best pitch. Can the lure of change and something new lure people away from the familiar? Everywhere there is buzz and spin. The debates are proliferating, and in the morning around the water cooler and amongst the cubicles, the best moments, the merits and flaws are all picked over with passion and detail.

Campaign ’08? No, the new fall TV season in America.

No living American who is ambulatory and taking nourishment can escape the networks’ promotional onslaught.


Last year, for instance, CBS invaded refrigerators to use “egg-vertising, “ a process by which eggs can be laser-printed. (“CSI: Crack the Case!”) The saying used to be, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.” Now it’s, “You can’t make an omelet without checking some TV time slots.” Advertising on your food. Sounds like a kitchen nightmare. Oh, wait -- that’s an actual new show this season on Fox. (Wednesdays at 9pm.)

There’s even news amidst the new programming. Or promotion masquerading as news. It’s hard to tell anymore.

Surely you’ve caught some of the uproar over CBS’s controversial new series, “Kid Nation,” a reality show in which 40 children (ages 8-15) struggle to govern themselves and create order in a desert town. Actually, sounds a lot like Baghdad.

But these are kids! Away from home, no parents, being cruelly separated into rude social classes. Are they being exploited? Are we reaching a new low? Are CBS network execs pinching themselves right now with all this free publicity? Yes, yes, and yes.

And if you think some of those Kid Nation kids’ parents made a pact with the devil to allow their children to be used like that, there is actually a new show this fall that is even more hellish in its premise. “Reaper” (which airs on something called a “CW”) is about a young man whose parents actually sold his soul to the devil before he was born.

As opposed to those “Kid Nation” parents, who sold their own souls for $20,000.

And speaking of money, some returning shows need to be updated. Who can afford to merely be a millionaire anymore? According to Federal Reserve figures, if you bought $1 million dollars worth of goods in 1957, you would need $7.3 million to buy the same goods today. “Who Wants to be a Billionaire?” would be more like it. Or perhaps, “Who Wants Free Healthcare?” Or, “Who Wants to Sell their Home for even Close to what you Bought it for?” Those are program changes that the average viewer could relate to.

Being a man, I am continually struck at how many new shows each season are centered around men acting like cavemen. From “My Name is Earl” (who spends every waking day working his way through a list of people he’s wronged), to “King of the Hill”, “Big Shots”, and “Two And a Half Men,” there is never any shortage of shows where men look and act like Troglodytes. In fact, this season the transformation back to knuckle-dragging Neanderthal is complete with the premiere of “Cavemen.” (ABC.)

“Cavemen” was inspired (not sure if that word can apply here) by a series of TV commercials for a car insurance company. Now that is some kind of successful promotion. Be prepared next year for, “Dancing with the Charmin Squeezers.”

And sometimes the shows mimic real-life in other ways. This season, “Survivor” goes to China where contestants will gut it out and rat each other out. A “Survivor” press release states that the show “had a government overseer with us at all times to make sure we didn’t desecrate the country’s image.” Presumably, the Chinese would prefer to do that themselves with killer toys, food, political repression, totalitarian censorship and environmental disaster.

But, its Fall, it’s a new TV season, and it’s all about escape and entertainment, after all.
For the networks, needless to say, it’s all about the “Numbers” (CBS), and making as much of that “Dirty, Sexy Money” (ABC) as they possibly can. But watching some shows, you can’t help but wonder -- “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” (FOX)

“Back to You.” (FOX)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Win, Or I'll Jump!

I didn't want it to get to this point. Leaving a note from high up here on the Tobin Bridge. Funny, I can even see Fenway Park from here. Funny? What am I saying? Maddening, is more like it.

Not that I don't have plenty of company up here. It seems like half of Red Sox Nation is trooping up here. We'll have to jump in shifts.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. Back in the balmy days of May and June, the Sox were cruising, safely in first place and up by as many as 14-1/2 games over the hated Yankees. Life was sweet. It was even sweeter watching Joe Torre's face turn more and more sour night after night. Ha! Even signing Roger "the Retro Rocket" Clemens wasn't the silver bullet the pin-pricked pinstripes were looking for.

Then came late summer. And early fall. And suddenly the Yankees were winning night and after night and the Sox are folding like a cheap chair under Pavarotti, may he rest in peace.

Why do I feel like I have seen this particular horror film before? Because I have. Almost exactly 30 years ago to be exact. That was the year (1978) that the Sox also blew a 14-game lead to the Yanks, then, in a fateful one-game playoff, disappeared entirely thanks to the immortal Bucky "bleeping" Dent's homerun.

The Sox' lead has once again all but vanished. (A mere game-and-a-half, as of this writing.) A key difference now, as opposed to then, is that the Sox are already assured of a playoff spot thanks to the perverted wrinkle of the wild card. Shouldn't that be good enough? Frankly, no. The Sox have finished second to the Yankees 8 of the last 9 seasons. Enough is enough.

We thought, naively, it seems to have turned out, that we had banished and fully exorcized the ghosts and curses in that magical year of 2004. Turns out that curse, or whatever it was, may be as hardy as a New England winter, with the shelf life of a Twinkie. It lives.

So, here I am, up on the Tobin. There are those who counsel restraint; why not wait for this last week of the season to play out before doing anything this drastic? Great--just when I had finally secured a primo spot right on the railing.

Win. Or I'll jump.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Saluting Hypocrisy

Let's get it out of the way right up front and move on to the meat of the matter. In this case, that means dealing with before moving on. Its 9/10 full page ad in the New York Times was beyond stupid. The word play on Gen. David Petraeus' name ("Petraeus/Betray us") was the stuff of sophmoric idiocy. And it handed conservatives and Republicans in Congress not merely a life preserver, but a full-fledged cruise ship with which to repair to and now comfortably wait out Democratic attempts to curtail Bush's Iraq policy. Yeah, brilliant.

Republicans have had a field day excoriating, not to mention reveling in calling on virtually every prominent Democrat to condemn the ad and the organization as well for disparaging an honorable military man. If you're a Republican, pressuring Democrats to distance themselves from the Left sure beats being pressured by the Left to distance yourself from your president.

And most leading Democrats did themselves no favors (or honor) by failing to immediately and forthrightly call the ad for what it was--stupid.

Naturally, the ad sideshow sadly (but happily for Republicans) obscures the bigger issues.

There is in fact an entire shipload of shitheads, liars and neocon crazies who deserve full-page and full-force villification for their various roles in paving the way into, and perpetuating the present fiasco that is Iraq.

David Petraeus isn't one of them.

But ask yourself this: where was all that conservative outrage three short years ago when another honorable military officer was similarly slimed? And five years ago when an honorable military man in his wheelchair was attacked?

In the presidential campaign of 2004, Democrat John Kerry was set upon by the so-called "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth," a group formed, bought, and paid for by right-wing money. Kerry, a highly-decorated Naval Lieutenant in Vietnam (including a Purple Heart) had his
integrity, his war record--his war wounds themselves--called into question. With only one notable exception (Arizona Sen. John McCain) Republicans were uniformly silent.

Just as they were in the mid-term elections of 2002, when Georgia Democratic Senator (and former head of Veterans Affairs) Max Cleland was defeated by Congressman Saxby Chambliss.
All Chambliss did was question Cleland's patriotism by running ads juxtaposing Cleland with the likes of Saddam and Osama. All Cleland ever did that was patriotic was fight for his country in Vietnam. Chambliss didn't; he got out on account of a bad knee. Bad knees are not something Max Cleland ever has to worry about, having lost an arm and both legs in Vietnam.

And from Republicans in response to what many consider the single-most nasty political attack (Chambliss') ad in recent American history? Not a word.

And now Republicans are outraged over an ad impugning an honorable military man.
Unlike them, at least David Petraeus has some honor.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Here's Trouble

News Item: In her will, which was recently made public,
the late Leona Helmsley leaves $12 million to her dog,
Trouble. Two of her four grandchildren were left nothing.

Like I needed this.

Like living with “the Queen of Mean” most of my life was not punishment enough. It’s not like I was a big, loping Lab or something. I’m a tiny white Maltese. There are cats in New York bigger than me. There are babies with louder voices than my bark.

(Although I am not a complete push-over: let the record show I bit a hotel housekeeper once. Hey, tiny doesn’t mean toothless, you know.)

And like children, dogs do not get to choose their owners any more than kids get to choose their parents. You think I liked being cooped up in a fancy big house all day? Does that look like a happy pooch punim in all the photos of me and Madam?

Not that my doggie digs were that bad, don’t get me wrong.
After all, when your owner is ranked by Forbes as the 369th richest person in the world, you don’t expect to be slurping spaghetti out of a dirty dish in the alley like the Little Tramp. No, for a little pocket pooch, I did alright for myself, no question.

But that doesn’t mean I was happy.

Look at that picture. Look at those doleful eyes and that hangdog look.
It looks like a very put-out pooch, is what it looks like. How would you like that
face of hers pressed up against yours twenty times a day all slobbering and saying things like, “How’s my tweety, tweety Twubble today?”

Frankly, it was often enough to make me want to toss my Alpo.

Not that I actually ever ate Alpo. Good heavens. As Madam might have said, “Only the little people serve Alpo.” She actually did say something quite like that in 1988 (after her indictment on tax evasion): “Only the little people pay taxes.” I’m surprised that’s not on her gravestone. (Is it? I can’t read, you know.)

Oh, she hated taxes. Probably as much as President Bush. In fact, if that dog of his, Barney, and I ever got together, we would have some stories to tell. (Okay, bark about.)

And speaking of Barney, does anyone complain about that equally small mutt living at one of the world’s most famous addresses? No. Kids can write to him at the White House and get a letter back from him. (Like he’s fooling anyone.) He even stars in a corny Christmas video every year and everyone thinks it’s a riot.
Hey, Barn -- I starred in TV commercials for the Helmsley Hotels. I know my way around a camera, too, pal. (And my owner may have started plenty of fights, but at least she never started a war.)

So I was left $12 million. What can I say? Sue me.

Yes, it’s a lot of money for a dog. But it’s not like she didn’t leave a dime for anyone else. Her brother gets $10 million. (That has to hurt, though, beaten by a pooch.) Two of her four grandchildren get $5 million each. Okay, it’s true, the other two get zilch. “I have not made any provisions in this will” for them, she said, “for reasons which are known to them.”

Yikes. I don’t know what they did or said to piss her off right into the afterlife, but it must have been something good. Not that it took that much, come to think of it. Over the years, she had people fired for just about anything. You don’t get “Queen of Mean” crown by being a peachy boss, that’s for sure.

But she certainly liked me. Personally, I think it was just other humans she had trouble with. (Get it?) So yeah, I am pretty much all set. And when I go, I get my own spot in the Helmsley mausoleum. ‘Course, it’s also right next to her.
Oh, well.

But for now, it’s a dog’s life for me. Woof.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

"Don't Cry For Me, Condoleeza..."

He cries. He really, really cries. A lot.

"I do tears," Bush told journalist Robert Draper, author of a new book on Bush's presidency, "Dead Certain," which went on sale this week.

Now, "Dead Certain" joins other already-published accounts of Bush's presidency, such as "Fiasco," "State of Denial," and "Hubris."

Oh, wait--those three books were about the Iraq war.

Bush tells Draper that he has "God's shoulder to cry on. And I cry a lot."
Who knows? Perhaps Laura's shoulder is no longer being made available for the torrents.

In fact, if Bush were to do unto himself as he as done unto so many others, and give himself a nickname, perhaps the most apt one would be "Weepy."

"I do a lot of crying in this job," Bush told Draper. "I'll bet I've shed more tears than you can count, as president. I'll shed some tomorrow."

I'm getting all ferklempt today.

The nation might have already seen some the president's countless tears if he had bothered to attend a single funeral of those he sent to die in Iraq. That number, by the way, is not countless. It only feels that way. The exact number--as of this writing, as of this moment, that is--is 3,753. (And that's only U.S. military deaths.)

Have you shed 3,753 tears, Mr. President?

Bush also shared with Draper some musings about his former life as an alchoholic.
"I wouldn't be president if I kept drinking. You get sloppy, can't make decisions, it clouds your reason, absolutely."

Sloppy? Clouded reason? Wait, that sounds like sober Bush.

I think I need a drink now. And I don't even drink. Well, hardly. Not sloppy-like, anyway.

Yeah, I do tears, too, Mr. President.
Every time I think about the last eight years.