RIP: Dave Brubeck, Jazz great...
Alan Simpson spins Jon Stewart
Alan Simpson, half of Washington's favorite austerity team, hits "The Daily Show" and receives a sloppy wet kiss VIDEO
THURSDAY, DEC 6, 2012
Crusty old Alan Simpson is on a crusade to get today’s youth to care about the deficit as much as he does. It isn’t easy, because the kids today are all too busy playing Mario Kart on their XBoxes and listening to Ke$ha on their Zunes and “dropping ecstasy” at their “rainbow parties” and Icing Bros and “ghostriding the whip” and cyberbullying to concern themselves with matters as grave as our national debt. But Simpson is determined to get them to care, and to prove he’s “with it,” he’s recently done the two things today’s “Millennials” love best: the Gangnam Style dance and appearing on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.”
The Gangnam dance thing was done on behalf of a transparently phony Pete Peterson-funded “youth organization” operated by old rich people, and you really don’t need to see the stupid video. The “Daily Show” interview aired last night, and it was depressing.
Jon Stewart was at his fawning and obsequious worst. Stewart even gave him the extended online-only interview that he does for his Most Important and Serious Guests. It’s practically painful to watch.
Stewart’s very first question is a mess. After a brief and mostly true account of the disaster that was the Simpson-Bowles committee, Stewart reveals that he thinks Simpson’s sudden post-election omnipresence is the result of an organic growth of support for his plan and widespread reverence for his wisdom. It’s actually just the most visible arm of a massive lobbying and P.R. campaign spearheaded and funded by Wall Street CEOs and crazy old Peterson. Stewart seems to think the people are running to Alan Simpson because his plan will help us avert the supposed “fiscal cliff.” The problem with the “fiscal cliff” — the reason we want to avoid it — is that it is deficit-reducing austerity, and that would harm our struggling economy. The Simpson-Bowles Plan is, similarly, deficit-reducing austerity. (Though unlike the “sequestration” spending cuts and expiration of the Bush tax cuts that make up the “cliff,” it never actually passed Congress.)
Stewart does at least challenge Simpson on raising the Social Security retirement age, an entirely regressive move that ignores the fact that the less wealthy have on average shorter lifespans than former senators (and talk show hosts), but Simpson was easily able to spin the rest of his reforms to the program that Washington is desperate to “reform,” including the benefit cut euphemistically referred to as a minor “tweak” to the inflation measure. (A “tweak” that means … less money, for old people.)
When Stewart asks, indirectly, if austerity is really better right now than stimulus, Simpson just invokes the imaginary market debt vigilantes who will destroy America in their wisdom if we attempt to rebuild our bridges and schools and things before we’ve gutted entitlements (and lowered the corporate tax rate, to fix the deficit). Then comes inflation! Stewart moves on.
Simpson’s salty humor helps everything he says sound ever so common-sensical and he’s got a gift for sounding like he’s speaking important, hard truths that only he has the guts to say aloud, but his common sense and hard truths are dubious political preferences based on a conservative philosophy. He is selling a stingier America that does less for its citizens. The only thing you actually need to know about Simpson-Bowles is that no one in Washington supports it — usually with good reason — but it’s so reverently covered that everyone constantly has to pretend they support it, and the two men who affixed their names on it.
Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @pareene
5 favorite Bill Murray performances
AP Movie Critic / December 6, 2012
This week, with the opening of the historical romance ‘‘Hyde Park on Hudson,’’ I finally get to do a Five Most list I've been thinking about for a while now: my favorite Bill Murray performances.
His take on President Franklin Delano Roosevelt may not be some of his best work, but it’s an unexpected bit of casting, and it provides a great opportunity to reflect on the fantastically eclectic career he’s put together over the past three-plus decades.
So here are my picks in chronological order. Honorable mention goes to his supporting turn as trash-talking bowling champ Ernie McCracken in the underappreciated Farrelly brothers comedy Kingpin (1996), for the sweet hairpiece, if nothing else.
- Caddyshack (1980): Murray was at the height of his ‘‘Saturday Night Live’’ cult stardom when he gave his enduring portrayal of oddball golf course greenskeeper Carl Spackler in this all-time-great raunchy ‘80s comedy. The character is a little grungy and a little dangerous and more than a little off, but also strangely sweet and the source of endlessly quotable lines. Murray has said that people shout Carl dialogue to him all the time as he’s playing golf in real life — ‘‘It’s in the hole!’’ — hoping he'll recite the words back. That’s how much this movie and this character still matter in our crowded pop-culture universe.
- Stripes (1981): Murray is at his subversively charming best here in an early starring role as John Winger, a loser who decides to join the Army to be all he can be. He’s silly and sarcastic, confident and quick-witted, so naturally he has a little trouble respecting the authority of Warren Oates’ Sgt. Hulka, the platoon’s ‘‘big toe.’’ But he earns a loyal following, becomes an inadvertent leader and even gets the girl in the end. Murray plays beautifully off old friend Harold Ramis as his straight man, and the whole anarchic vibe from Ivan Reitman, directing one of his best films, is an excellent fit for the comic’s persona during this period.
- Rushmore (1998): The beginning of a shift in Murray’s screen presence toward melancholy, introspective characters. The humor is still there but it comes from a different place: one of loss, regret and self-destruction. Wes Anderson’s sweet and cleverly meticulous comedy is one of my favorite movies of all time, and Murray just broke my heart in it. He’s wealthy but he has nothing. He has a family but he constantly feels alone. In Jason Schwartzman’s precocious high schooler Max Fischer, he finds an unlikely soul mate. And in Olivia Williams’ first-grade teacher Miss Cross, he finds unexpected romance.
- Lost in Translation (2003): Murray earned an Oscar nomination for best actor for his portrayal of Bob Harris, an aging American actor who has schlepped to Tokyo to shoot a whiskey commercial that will pay him $2 million. He strikes a beautiful balance between lighthearted sarcasm and self-loathing as he forms an undefinable friendship with Scarlett Johansson, playing the bored, young wife of a celebrity photographer. To this day, I can’t listen to ‘‘More Than This’’ by Roxy Music without thinking of Murray’s delicate karaoke rendition in this lovely Sofia Coppola film.
- Broken Flowers (2005): He'd already appeared with deadpan hilarity in perhaps the best segment of Jim Jarmusch’s ‘‘Coffee and Cigarettes.’’ Here, Murray stars for Jarmusch as a middle-aged lothario on a half-hearted quest to visit old lovers in hopes of finding the teenage son he never knew he had. We learn about him — and he learns about himself — through his varied and unpredictable reunions with various ex-girlfriends. It’s yet another world-weary performance from Murray, but each incarnation of this persona reveals richness and shadings; his dramatic work in the later years of his career is just as strong in its own way as the wild comedy was in the beginning.
If you cannot find the book that you are looking for, then you're obviously in the Wong Fook Hing Book Store...
Rushdie: Mo Yan is a “patsy of the regime”
The Chinese laureate won't sign a petition calling for Liu Xiabo's freedom, earning a withering rebuke from Rushdie
THURSDAY, DEC 6, 2012
Nobel Prize laureate Mo Yan — who has compared censorship to something as necessary as an airport security check and earned scorn from other writers for not being a staunch advocate of freedom of expression — came under criticism Thursday from Salman Rushdie.
Rushdie, who spent nearly a decade in hiding after Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini called for his death upon the publication of “The Satanic Verses,” expressed frustration on Facebook that Yan would not support fellow writers and free speech activists in calling for the freedom of Liu Xiabo, the 2010 Nobel Peace laureate. More than 130 other Nobel laureates have signed the petition, inclding Desmond Tutu.
“This really is too bad,” Rushdie wrote. “He defends censorship and won’t sign the petition asking for the freedom of his fellow Nobelist Liu Xiaobo. Hard to avoid the conclusion that Mo Yan is the Chinese equivalent of the Soviet Russian apparatchik writer Mikhail Sholokhov: a patsy of the régime.”
In a press conference in Stockholm on Thursday, according to press reports, Yan said censorship in China was not much different from the security checks he passed through on his way to Sweden.
“When I was taking my flight, going through the customs … they also wanted to check me – even taking off my belt and shoes,” he said, through a translator. “But I think these checks are necessary.”
He dodged questions about Xiabo, sentenced to 11 years in prison back in 2009 for criticizing the Chinese government and calling for greater openness. But he said he would not sign the petition because “I have always been independent. I like it that way. When someone forces me to do something I don’t do it.”
David Daley is the executive editor of Salon.
Washington state lights up as smoking marijuana becomes legal
Washington state has become the first in America to allow the recreational use of cannabis, setting up a potential showdown with the US federal government.
06 Dec 2012
In the city of Seattle pro-cannabis campaigners celebrated in a haze at the foot of the Space Needle tower at one minute past midnight, the moment the state's new law came into effect.
Vivian McPeak, director of Seattle's annual Hempfest, said: "This is a big day because all our lives we've been living under the iron curtain of prohibition. The whole world sees that prohibition just took a body blow."
The new law only allows cannabis to be smoked inside, and doing so in public is still subject to a $100 fine.
However, the Seattle Police Department told its 1,300 officers that until further notice they shall not issue tickets, and no officers were present at the Space Needle event.
On the city's police website, spokesman Jonah Spangenthal-Lee said: "The department's going to give you a generous grace period to help you adjust to this brave, new, and maybe kinda stoned world we live in."
He added: "The police department believes that, under state law, you may responsibly get baked, order some pizzas and enjoy a Lord of the Rings marathon in the privacy of your own home, if you want to."
The department also posted a picture of actor Jeff Bridges as the cannabis-smoking character "The Dude" from the comedy film "The Big Lebowski".
Encouraging indoor cannabis smoking, it carried the caption: "The Dude abides, and says, 'take it inside!"
Washington and Colorado became the first two states decriminalise and regulate the possession of cannabis in ballots held alongside the US presidential election on Nov 6. The Colorado law takes effect on Jan 5.
In Washington it is now legal for adults over the age of 21 to possess an ounce of the drug, or up to 16 ounces of cannabis-infused goods like brownies or cookies, or up to 72 ounces in liquid form.
Growers and processors of cannabis will be regulated and the drug will be sold in licensed shops.
It will be subject to a 25 per cent tax at each stage of that process. The move is expected to bring hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue for spending in areas including schools and health care. The establishment of the regulation and tax system will take another year.
However, with cannabis still illegal under United States law, through the Controlled Substances Act, Washington could face a crackdown by federal agents from the FBI and Drug Enforcement Agency.
The drug remains banned from federal property in the state, including military bases and national parks.
Washington's stance comes in the wake of an already escalating conflict between the federal government and states over the burgeoning medical cannabis industry.
The US Attorney's Office has previously launched crackdowns in states, including California, where dispensaries selling cannabis for medical use have proliferated. It has taken legal action to shut down many it believes were operating illegally.
On Wednesday the federal US Attorney's Office in Seattle said that, effectively, nothing had changed. It said: "The department's responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged. Neither states nor the executive branch can nullify a statute passed by Congress."
The US Justice Department has yet to announce whether it will sue in the courts to try to block regulation and taxation of the cannabis industry in Washington and Colorado, which would set up a legal showdown over states' rights.
At the Space Needle, the mostly middle-aged group of cannabis smokers listened to reggae music from loudspeakers.
They included Mike Momany, 61, who said he intended to form a Washington State Cannabis Tourism Association.
Another smoker, calling himself "Professor Gizmo," 50, said: "Victory for hemp. If our forefathers could see us now."
Prosecutors in several areas of Washington said last month that they were dismissing scores of existing cannabis possession cases.
Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said: "All we've achieved by prohibition is to fill our jails and make drug dealers quite rich." He added: "We're in uncharted water here."
Video of the Week:
Skinwalker - The Top Secret UFO - Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura
Steven Spielberg's Slavery Obsession Is Bigger Than 'Lincoln'
DEC 6 2012
Most historians are suspicious of counterfactuals as a matter of professional principle, and film critics have their own version of that bias, which is a preference for looking at movies that were actually made rather than speculating about movies that might have been made. In other words, it doesn't make much sense to me to fault Lincoln for not being a film about Frederick Douglass or Lincoln's political evolution over the course of his career. It's not as if there is a platonic shelf of possible motion pictures from which Kushner and Spielberg plucked this particular two-and-a-half-hour epic. Nor is there any guarantee that their Douglass or early-Lincoln movies would have been any good, or that this one would have been any better as a movie if the source material had been Eric Foner or James MacPherson instead of Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Spielberg has always been interested in—even obsessed by—the relationship between the human and the other, a category that includes classes of people defined as less than human. I guess I'm saying that it's my job to look at the film for what it is, and for all its flaws I think Lincoln is a pretty formidable piece of work. The passage of the 13th Amendment strikes me as an intrinsically interesting story (and one I didn't know much about), and making the legislative process cinematically and dramatically exciting is no small feat, as the people at C-SPAN might tell you.
Yes, "better than Birth of a Nation" is a low bar to clear from our ideological perspective, but formalist critics would most likely render a judgment of "not remotely as great as Birth of a Nation," since Griffith's film invented much of the vocabulary of modern narrative cinema, including the cross-cutting that Spielberg loves so much. But the tension between formal and ideological approaches to film is a topic for another time and place.
The unhappy fact is that, for all its supposed liberalism, Hollywood has historically been laggard and timid on matters of race. The Production Code, in effect from the 1930s to the mid-'60s, forbade any depiction of "miscegenation," and studios were terrified of losing bookings in the South if they offended Jim Crow sensitivities. Guess Who's Coming to Dinner may look square to us now—it looked pretty square in 1968, for that matter—but it remains a watershed. A quarter-century later Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts still had to keep their Pelican Brief relationship professional and platonic. And in general, Hollywood depictions of American history have tended to be more about wishful thinking than scholarship. Consensus historiography may be a thing of the past in the academy, but the American movie industry continues to chase after a unified audience, which means airbrushing real conflict in favor of false harmony.
Lincoln is hardly immune to the imperatives of mass entertainment—it's a Spielberg movie, distributed by Disney!—which makes its refusal to falsify or dumb down the material all the more impressive. But I don't want to defend it just for not being as bad as it might have been. I think it's great!
And part of the reason is that slavery is connected to themes that have preoccupied Spielberg for much of his career. (It is also, more obviously, linked to the themes of social inclusion and historical change that you find in Kushner's plays). This is the second movie he has made explicitly on the topic of American slavery and the fight to abolish it. The first was Amistad, a clumsy movie in some ways but one that places a great deal of agency (and ferocious dignity) in the person of Cinque, the African slave played by Djimon Honsou. The Color Purple was not about slavery as such, but about African-American life under the heel of white supremacy, and it is worth noting that Spielberg came in for some grief for presuming, as a white male filmmaker, to tell a story about black women's lives.
One of the more facile slaps at Lincoln is that it's a movie about abolition that focuses on a white man, just as Schindler's List was a Holocaust movie with a German (a Nazi, for that matter) at its center. To isolate those two movies is to miss the deeper chord that connects them with other films. Spielberg has always been interested in—even obsessed by—the relationship between the human and the other, a category that includes classes of people defined as less than human. Sometimes, as in Schindler and Lincoln, he explores this relationship mainly from the perspective of a member of the empowered, fully "human" caste whose conscience is engaged by the plight of the other. The Righteous Gentile, or the Great Emancipator. But at other times he has gone the other way, most notably in A.I., which is a movie about the existential agony of being condemned to a state of servitude and social death very much like slavery.
The world of A.I. is divided into humans and sentient robots known as mecha. There is intimacy between the two groups, but also absolute domination. Humans live with mecha servants and surrogate children, have sex with mecha prostitutes, and depend on mecha labor, but mecha can be sold, discarded, or killed at any time, and "free" mecha are hunted down and rounded up by slave-catchers. The movie's hero, a young boy named David, refuses to accept this arrangement, and his journey is both a search for his lost origins and an assertion of his humanity in a society that is based on the denial of it. In effect, he is asking a version of the fundamental abolitionist question: Am I Not a Man and Brother? It takes him 2000 years to get the answer he deserves.