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April 2007 Archives

April 27, 2007

Buy a remote round

buy your friend a drink

Wired features a web service called Buy Your Friend a Drink that lets you get a round for your friends without actually having to spend time with them.

Sounds like a great service for generous but absent friends, or for people who would have loved to attend their work colleague's birthday party if it were not being held at Calico Jack's on 42nd St (which unfortunately is one of the relatively few bars that is currently participating in this service) but still want to buy them a cocktail.

It's currently operating in New York. And Hoboken, which I guess makes sense, since what else is there to do in Hoboken but find novels ways to drink. Wired says they plan to expand the number of bars where you can redeem the drink credits that your friends buy for you, and also start up on the west coast. It sounds like the kind of neat and easy gift idea that I hope I would remember to give people (and sort of hope people would give me) but that I wonder how many people will actually think to use. But if you have to start hanging out at Senor Swanky's to get some free drinks from your suddenly altruistic and considerate friends, it's a small price to pay.

April 25, 2007

CBS News: Admit it. You blew it.

Katie Couric on CBS Evening News

It's been almost eight months since Katie Couric started anchoring CBS Evening News, and I think now we can confidently say that hiring her for this job was a huge misjudgment.

She was probably the most successful and beloved daytime TV host ever when she was on Today, but it appears that people do not want to watch Katie Couric host the news. The ratings are bad. CBS averages 2 million fewer viewers than NBC and ABC every night, and the week of March 26, when the ratings hit bottom, CBS had lost 900,000 viewers since Couric took over for Bob Schieffer.*

But there could be a silver lining: today we found out that a certain popular morning TV show has an opening coming up, which might be a position better suited to Katie Couric's celebrity interviewing and homewares pitching skills.

And best of all, the ideal candidate can finally come forward and take her rightful place in the CBS News anchor seat: self-promotion machine and erstwhile "The View"-er (and one-time actual journalist!) Star Jones. Haven't the American people waited long enough for our 21st century Walter Cronkite?

[*tx ADM]

April 24, 2007

Roger Ebert is unstoppable

Roger Ebert post-surgery

"I ain’t a pretty boy no more," Roger Ebert says about his current appearance. Yeah, he was never much of a looker, but he's right. He's been through multiple surgeries over the past several months for cancer in his salivary gland and jaw, and other complications resulting from the surgeries have put him out of commission since last summer. But his 9th annual Overlooked Film Festival starts tomorrow at the University of Illinois at Urbana, and by golly, he's gonna be there.

The column he wrote about his determination to get back to work and out into the world again is fantastic. A few excerpts:

I have received a lot of advice that I should not attend the festival. I’m told that paparazzi will take unflattering pictures, people will be unkind, etc.

Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. As a journalist I can take it as well as dish it out.

For the time being, I cannot speak. I make do with written notes and a lot of hand waving and eye-rolling. The doctors now plan an approach that does not involve the risk of unplanned bleeding. If all goes well, my speech will be restored.

So when I turn up in Urbana, I will be wearing a gauze bandage around my neck, and my mouth will be seen to droop. So it goes.

I was told photos of me in this condition would attract the gossip papers. So what? I have been very sick, am getting better and this is how it looks. I still have my brain and my typing fingers.

Why do I want to go? Above all, to see the movies. Then to meet old friends and great directors and personally thank all the loyal audience members who continue to support the festival.

At least, not being able to speak, I am spared the need to explain why every film is “overlooked,” or why I wrote Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.

Ha! You tell 'em, Roger Ebert.

Some of the movies featured at the Festival include Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, which I had zero interest in seeing until I found out it was directed by Tom Tykwer, who also did Run Lola Run; Gattaca, which is awesome; and Holes, which I only heard of last week in connection to rising megastar Shia LaBeouf. And it closes with Ebert-scripted X-rated classic Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, a nice touch.

[tx Cushie]

April 23, 2007

What happens to couples who propose via Jumbotron?

Real Wedding Crashers on NBC

They decide to get a free honeymoon by sabotaging their own wedding and broadcasting it all on national television.

NBC's new unfunny show "The Real Wedding Crashers" starts tonight, and follows the wedding preparations and ceremony of Jonnie and Derek, who got engaged on the scoreboard at a University of Las Vegas basketball game. These people apparently have such hatred for their families and friends that they not only make them go through all the hassle and expense of a conventional mass-produced wedding, but also sign on with a television production company and a group of actors who cause unsuspecting members of the wedding party to ruin dresses, drop cakes, and generally be mortified.

Professional television loather Tom Shales at the Washington Post really goes to town on this one: "Right off, one wonders how the producers found enough couples willing to spoil their weddings for the sake of a cheap television show's even cheaper gags. The idea is that for years they'll sit back and laugh at all the carefully engineered mayhem and shocked looks on the faces of guests and members of the wedding party. More likely, if the marriage lasts longer than a few months, both parties will come to regret the fact that they turned what is supposed to be a romantic and momentous event into a vulgar farce."

Alessandra Stanley points out that couples' attempts to liven up a cookie-cutter wedding by playing pranks on their friends only emphasizes how bland and impersonal most weddings actually are. She says, "For many guests a wedding is less a joy than an ordeal, something to get through, like PBS pledge drives or Lyme disease." Most of the people I know, when talking about the upcoming wedding season, talk about it as something to be suffered through, and in terms of how much vacation time and money all those weddings will eat up. The last thing you want to deal with is some damn actor-cop threatening to arrest you for smoking an illegal Cuban cigar at the bachelor party.

By the way, shouldn't this show be on Fox or the CW or something? Tom Shales notes that NBC recently got its worst week of primetime ratings ever. Shows like this are not going to improve anything. If everybody would start watching "30 Rock", we'd all be better off.

April 20, 2007


Sometimes, when a celebrity that you have seen one billion times over the course of many years suddenly stops being a part of your world, you totally forget that they ever existed. It's weird.

To play today's edition of Who'dat?™, look at the celebrity below and try to guess who it is. Click on the picture to see if you are right.


I still can't decide if it's nice to see her again or not (no clicking until you've guessed!)

April 19, 2007

McCain: all washed up


Remember how John McCain used to command respect, even from Democrats? Well, I think those days are over. A painful anecdote from a campaign stop in South Carolina yesterday:

In response to an audience question about military action against Iran, the Arizona senator briefly sang the chorus of the surf-rocker classic "Barbara Ann."

"That old, eh, that old Beach Boys song, Bomb Iran," he said in jest Wednesday, chuckling with the crowd. Then, he softly sang to the melody: "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, anyway, ah ..."

Agghh. Wonkette has video.

Earlier this week, Slate had an article called "McCain Self-Destructs" about his recent statements about having "no Plan B" for Iraq. A few days after saying that, he said that he would withdraw our troops from Iraq if it became clear that we were losing. Slate refers to an "appalling" NY Times interview in which McCain said that his unwavering support for the war has cost him some of his former popularity, but that "Americans will not continue to support an overseas engagement involving the loss of American lives for an unlimited period of time unless they see some success," he added. "And then, when they run out of patience, they will demand that we get out."

So basically, he'll condemn the Democrats' plans for withdrawing our troops, until later, when he's President, when he'll withdraw our troops.

He's currently 12 points behind Giuliani in polls. I think he'll become a more distant second soon. As ADM says, McCain represents the worst dropoff since the transition from the second to the third season of Lost.

April 17, 2007

The inevitable post-tragedy gun control debate

Bush at VA Tech Convocation

You might think that the days immediately after a horrible shooting spree seems like the most strategic time to raise the issue of gun control and try to make some real policy changes. Advocates for greater gun control have tried in the past, and generally failed (with the notable exception of Jim Brady.)

At today's convocation at Virginia Tech, President Bush spoke mostly about the raw emotions everybody is feeling: "On this terrible day of mourning, it's hard to imagine a time will come when life at Virginia Tech will return to normal, but such a day will come. And when it does, you will always remember the friends and teachers who were lost yesterday, and the time you shared with them, and the lives that they hoped to lead."

But his staff are already fending off suggestions that a different gun policy might prevent shootings like this from happening in the first place. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino says, "We understand that there's going to be and there has been an ongoing national discussion, conversation and debate about gun control policy. Of course we are going to be participants in that conversation. Today, however, is a day that is time to focus on the families, the school, the community."

And you can bet that Second Amendment advocates are going to use this shooting as an example of why we'd all be more secure with greater access to guns, not less. After all, the reasoning goes, if some of the students in those classrooms had guns on them, they might have been able to take the shooter out before he killed so many people.

Boing Boing has coverage of the predictable debate. And as they point out, "No matter which side of the gun debate you're on, one thing is obvious: anyone who is capable of and intent on killing 32 innocent fellow human beings will do so regardless of law. Homicidal maniacs can always be counted on to violate the boundaries set forth by others who want to promote a civil, peaceful society."

April 16, 2007

IRS suddenly seems like the most reasonable office in our government


It's tax time! The season when even those who truly believe in a strong social safety net start thinking how those kooky Libertarians might actually make some sense. Or, if you got a refund, a flutter of benevolent gratitude for that most generous of government institutions, the Department of the Treasury.

The Times has a piece today about how more and more undocumented immigrants are filing their tax returns. The number of returns that had an individual taxpayer number issued by the IRS to people who don't have social security numbers, known as an ITIN, went up 30% from 2004 to 2005, and new ITINs were issued to more people in 2006 than ever before. In 2005, people submitting their returns with an ITIN paid a total of $5 billion in taxes.

Which explains why the IRS doesn't ask about immigration status, and has created an identification system for people who are living and working illegally in the country--they pay. The pragmatic Commissioner of the IRS Mark Everson said, "We want your money whether you are here legally or not and whether you earned it legally or not."

If only the rest of our government took such a practical approach to how to deal with people who immigrate here to work, right? Commissioner Everson probably would love to see drugs legalized too, since it would increase his agency's revenue by at least one hundred million percent.

Despite the growing tax dollars that undocumented workers pay, people who think immigrants come here to rob convenience stores and go on welfare still assume the worst. Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies says, "First of all, almost all the people filing tax returns are doing it because they’re going to get tax refunds. It’s a bad thing, because they’re not obeying the law — they’re deciding which laws they prefer to obey."

This doesn't seem to be true, at least not in New York. A nonprofit in Jackson Heights that helps low-income people prepare their tax returns, Food Change, says that two-thirds of the 1,700 ITIN returns they've done this year end up owing more taxes, not getting refunds. The average income of these returns was $9,400--further demonstrating that undocumented workers aren't exactly living the high life in this city.

One immigrant in the article, Elsa Forero, is from Colombia. She works as a baby sitter and gets paid in cash. Now I don't know about you, but I wonder how many teenagers in wealthy suburbs are declaring their babysitting income to the IRS. Elsa had to pay the federal government $579, and expected a state tax credit of $115. "I want to pay taxes because I live in this country and I like to follow the rules," she said.

Paying taxes will probably be a step toward legalization in whatever immigration reform bill finally gets passed in Congress. Maybe the IRS should act like any other industry and start running some PSAs and making campaign contributions to key Senators if they want to keep seeing their revenues rise.

April 12, 2007

The nicest thing I will ever say about Paul Wolfowitz


A few things about Wolfowitz. He is: universally hated at the World Bank, wears socks full of holes (warning: gross), is apparently still married, but got his girl on the side a job at the State Department that is still paid by the Bank, to the tune of $193,500 ($10,000 more than Condoleezza Rice makes!), and is just generally a misguided corrupt ghoul. And I'll never get over that comb video.

But I will give him this: when the man decides to apologize for something, he actually gets around to apologizing, and does it in a way that at least sounds sincere.

"I made a mistake, for which I am sorry." He says that he will accept any remedies the World Bank's board proposes.

See how easy that is, politicians and talk show hosts across the land?

April 10, 2007

Who's Older?™: Seniors Circuit

Elisabeth ShueSteffi Graf

Today we learned that actress Elisabeth Shue has been training hard for her dream second career as a professional tennis player. "I don't think I'll be playing at the US Open, but, by September, I'd like to be competing professionally, even at the lowest level," she says.

We've been big fans of Elisabeth Shue for what seems like forever--from way back in the Karate Kid/Adventures in Babysitting days, and she was still totally hot in The Saint and Deconstructing Harry. She hasn't always had the most impressive film career, but she's been in enough huge hits to be recognizable for generations to come--so if she now wants to be a tennis pro, no matter how old she's getting to be... sure, why not?

In today's edition of Who's Older?™, please consider still-gorgeous '80's teen movie star Elisabeth Shue, and Olympic gold medalist and multi-year Grand Slam champion Steffi Graf, who retired from professional tennis in 1999.