Sarah Palin's greatest hits
Waiting for Guffman
Catch of the Day
Catch of the Day
Happy Birthday, John McCain! On your 72nd birthday, you can celebrate by announcing your VP pick, a gift to political commentators who are still light-headed and hoarse from Obama's acceptance speech last night, and are ready to start tearing into something fresh. Especially if you picked that Alaska governor no one's ever heard of. (oh crap, you actually did. Oh jeez. Way to pander, dude*. Let the savaging begin!)
Happy Birthday, Michael Jackson! In an interview today with Chris Connelly on Good Morning America, he said, "I feel very wise and sage, but at the same time very young." Which is maybe even creepier than if McCain had said he feels young.
Happy Birthday, Katrina! The storm hit three years ago, and another one might be coming. On a recent tour of New Orleans, McCain said he still hasn't figured out whether he thinks the Lower Ninth Ward should be rebuilt or not. "I really don't know," he said. "That's why I am going ... We need to go back to have a conversation about what to do: rebuild it, tear it down, you know, whatever it is."
The photo above is from McCain's 69th birthday in 2005, when the storm hit. Newsweek on the birthday cake photo op:
It was Aug. 29, McCain's 69th birthday, and on the tarmac, Bush presented his old political rival with a cake. The two posed, holding the cake up for cameras, and within seconds, went their separate ways. The cake, melting in the 110-degree Arizona heat, was left behind, uneaten."
* OK, a lot is going to be said about this Sarah Palin thing, but I bet no one is going to be madder than die-hard Hillary supporters. McCain sees what went on during the primaries, says, "Oh, hey, people like women this year!" and picks some 2-year governor no one's ever heard of (maybe she's well known among conservative Christians?) sort of implying that she's the equivalent of someone like Hillary Clinton. He is going to get destroyed on this. Can you imagine the VP debates?
Please enjoy Palin's wikipedia entry. There's so much fun information there. Runner up for Miss Alaska! Tried marijuana but didn't like it! Fun ethics scandal (maybe)! Opposes gay marriage but has gay friends! Was known as Sarah Barracuda in high school! Kids are named Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper and Trig! And much, much more.
Every four years, I'm psyched about watching the summer Olympics again. But the conventions? I remember watching the 2004 DNC and getting excited about all the speakers, crushing on Barack Obama with the rest of the world, and feeling hopeful about the upcoming election. I don't know how professional news people go to these things every four years, because that old political enthusiasm isn't exactly bubbling up in my heart this time.
This year, even just the nightly one-hour network broadcasts are, in the words of Jack Shafer, "unfolding with all the drama of the formation of a stalactite." He advocates adding some actual decision-making to the conventions, or at least shortening the conventions from four days to three or two.
How about one day? A one day convention, with speeches by Michelle Obama, Joe Biden, one party leader (like Ted Kennedy or Kathleen Sebelius) and one random inspirational person who works at a hospital or something. Then Obama. Then that's it.
At least one of these people would ideally point out how exciting and historic it is that the nominee is black--a point that no speaker has mentioned yet, as Alessandra Stanley writes in today's Times. So far, we've heard an awful lot about how much the Obamas are like everyone else in America, when some of the things that make Obama such an inspiring candidate are that he's relatively young, has spent time working directly with poor people, and that he's from a mixed-race family.
Also, is anyone else a little nervous about Bill Clinton's speech tonight? Especially after his remark about candidate X and candidate Y yesterday?
"This has nothing to do with what's going on now," he added after a momentary pause.
As long as he sticks to a charming yet blistering and occasionally funny assault on John McCain and George Bush, he'll be OK.
But right after Clinton tonight [full schedule], we get to hear from your old favorite mealy-mouthed political disappointment, John Kerry, reporting for duty. Ugh. After 2004, you thought at least you'd never have to listen to him again, right?
So far, the photos of Obama watching the convention on TV are the best thing to come out of it. Here's my favorite:
UPDATE: I don't know if he sincerely meant any of it, but Bill Clinton certainly said the right things in his speech last night. Though I would have liked a stronger attack on McCain and a better reasoned argument about why Obama is ready to be President than just a statement assuring us that he is. Here's the video.
We already knew that Amy Poehler loves Bon Jovi (see above, and SNL video), but it turns out she's an indie rock fan, too.
For its 20th anniversary, Merge Records has asked a bunch of famous people--some musicians, some not--to curate a series of compilations of their favorite Merge tracks. So far, they've got Peter Buck and the guy who directed Junebug and some Superchunk videos to curate the first two, then later in 2009 will come volumes by Jonathan Lethem (who's a big music fan), David Byrne, Amy Poehler, and the chef at Momofuku, David Chang, who I guess is a celebrity now (here he is on Charlie Rose.)
The only way to get these CDs is to subscribe to the whole series of 14 compilations, called SCORE!, which you can do starting September 8. Proceeds from sales will go to the charitable organizations picked by each curator. Neat!
Pitchfork has some more details about the series.
Two movies come out today that I've been waiting to see: Hamlet 2 and The House Bunny. Both of them got pretty lukewarm reviews, but hey, so did Pineapple Express and Tropic Thunder, and those were still worth seeing. These two new ones have at least a few things going for them.
Critics are saying that Hamlet 2 is badly structured, uneven, and a lot of the jokes fall flat. But OK, look: it's got Steve Coogan, Catherine Keener, David Arquette, and Amy Poehler as an ACLU lawyer named Cricket Feldstein. And my old favorite Elisabeth Shue. It can't be all bad, right?
A.O. Scott would have been the best Times reviewer, but instead we got Stephen Holden, who as usual spends most of his review recounting the plot. David Edelstein doesn't love it, but says Steve Coogan is riveting, and the movie "gets points for weirdness." Kenneth Turan over at the LA Times says "the hits are so dead-on that the misses don't seem to matter." Good enough for me.
It looks like there's only one reason to see The House Bunny: Anna Faris. The intensity of critical love she gets for this movie is almost at post-Lost in Translation Bill Murray levels. Sure, the movie is a rehashed Legally Blonde (same writers and everything) but she's got the knack for playing the goofy smart-dumb hot girl who will do anything for a laugh. "All hail, Anna Faris, fake bimbo par excellence", from the Times. And the folks at IFC wrote a gushing piece about how great she is. Thank God this role went to someone really funny and not Kirsten Dunst.
Dana Stevens at Slate stresses that the movie is about as empowering to women as "My Super Sweet 16", but is glad to see enough funny material for Faris to "hint at a well of anarchic, defiantly ungirly humor that her career thus far has barely begun to tap." And, for what it's worth, Kurt Loder loves it, and swears it's hilarious even though it's formulaic. There have already been a few letdowns in this year's big summer comedies, so we need it.
Anna Faris co-stars with Seth Rogen in a comedy called Observe and Report next year, so it looks like the big time is about to be hit.
I think we should just start assuming that every aspect of China's Olympics is, to use Wonkette's phrase, an elaborate fake.
We were already taken in by the fake fireworks, the fake little singing girl, and the fake gymnasts' passports. But today's revelation is the best one yet: the Chinese government is allowing protesters to demonstrate in designated "protest zones" during the Olympics, as long as they apply for permits.
So 77 people obediently went and applied for protest permits. How many got them? Zero! And what happened to at least 6 of the applicants when they went to the Public Security office to try to apply? They got arrested! And sent off for "re-education through labor". Shooting fish in a barrel, people.
This clever plan to make the government look like it allows civil dissent while using the fake permit system to detain would-be dissenters hit the press today when two elderly women were sentenced to a year of re-education for applying for protest permits. These ladies probably won't be sent off to break rocks, but could be detained and, as the Times says, "forced to confess their transgressions."
In better news, there are two great sets of photos from today's games in the Times, especially this one of the US men's volleyball team after they beat Serbia, and the one below of Canadian synchronized swimmers.
photo by Joe Shlabotnik
Today's Times asks tourists visiting New York from the US and around the world what aspects of the city surprise them the most. I don't know if it's because of how the question was asked, but most tourists took the opportunity to make little subtly bitchy comments about how day to day life in New York seems different from how things are where they're from. Because for many people, especially when they're far from home, "different" means "I hate it".
Actually, there are a few positive comments about the city from visitors, such as Michael McIsaac from London who loves our outstanding unlimited coffee refills, and Rhona Ciolek from California who marveled at our impressively gigantic piles of trashbags on curbs. An enthusiastic Spanish women notes, "There are a lot of men here that are really muscular!" And I completely agree with some valid complaints, like a Swede who points out that our waterfronts are in shambles.
But most things that surprise tourists seem to be things they don't much like. And some of their comments say more about their home countries than anything else.
So here you go: Helpful clues about what life is like in tourists' home countries, as revealed by their complaints:
Comment from a Spanish tourist: "In Spain we drink coffee in little cups."
Translation: Spanish cafes may be stingy.
Comment from a London tourist: "[New Yorkers] will not tolerate bad service."
Translation: British people suffer in silence.
Comment from a German tourist: "In the ladies' toilets you can see people's feet. Where I'm from we have full doors on the bathrooms."
Translation: It may be harder to solicit anonymous sex in public bathrooms in Germany, a la Larry Craig, but it's probably easier to actually have anonymous sex or engage in any other illicit activities.
Comment from a French tourist: "You are always served very quickly here, even in a nice restaurant. Here it's quicker, you don’t have time. In Paris you get a lot of time before your food comes."
Translation: French service is slow. Also, wow: this guy actually found a way to be snotty about New York restaurants having good service.
Comment from a Saudi tourist, looking at the lights of Times Square: "I thought it would be more realistic."
Translation: Saudis have interesting, sort of postmodern ideas about what reality is and what it should look like when it's actually in front of you in three-dimensional space.
I've been wanting to see British teen soap "Skins" since I heard about it last year--and it's finally airing on BBC America. The series was a big hit in the UK since it premiered in early 2007 and had pretty much the same reception as "Gossip Girl" did over here last year: total media saturation, obsessive devotion among the kids and adults interested in pop culture phenomena, early reviews showing mild confusion and disdain among critics who think it's too dependent on easy stereotypes. Then dawning realization that it's great.
The show deals with a group of teens in Bristol and features lots of sex, drugs, drinking, eating disorders, and absent parents, just like our teen dramas. But since it's British, it will be funnier, some of the actors will be merely average-looking, they'll smoke (does "Gossip Girl" still mysteriously ban cigarettes but allow every other conceivable vice?), some characters will be middle class or even (maybe) almost poor, and there will be main characters who aren't white. Plus more nudity (probably) and harder drugs (definitely). Yep, it's better.
For some background, here's the Guardian review from the show's debut, a video preview, character profiles on the E4 site, and the BBC America site. Also an Urban Dictionary definition of "skins party".
I don't recognize any of the cast apart from the kid who played Marcus in About a Boy, who's all grown up and plays the hunky popular guy. Highlights from the soundtrack include the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Gossip, DJ Shadow, and The Fall.
The show started last night on BBC America and will air two episodes in a row on Sunday nights at 9 and 10. Here's the show's full schedule.
UPDATE: I finally watched it. Decent characters, nonstop funny swearing, hookers, drugs, and naked people. And dick jokes! Everything you'd want in a TV show. If you miss it on BBC America, it looks like you can watch the entire series on YouTube.
It turns out that the little pig-tailed Chinese girl who sang "Ode to the Motherland" at the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony on Friday was actually lip-syncing [news report with video]. The real singer, Yang Peiyi (on the left), has a better voice, but was deemed "not as cute" as the lip-syncing girl by the Communist Party, which thinks nothing of driving talented but insufficiently cute little girls into bitterness and self-doubt by the age of 7.
"The child on camera should be flawless in image, internal feeling and expression," explained the music director.
Well, Yang Peiyi, join the club. I'm sure this girl with killer pipes and crooked teeth would get a lot of sympathy from American singers who have been through the same thing. Legendary vocalist Martha Wash actually sued C+C Music Factory in 1990 after a skinnier woman, Zelma Davis, lip synced to Martha belting out "Everybody dance now!" in the video for "Gonna Make You Sweat" and during live (or "live") performances. [UPDATE: Zelma says she didn't lip sync live. See below] [you have definitely already seen this video, but here it is]
And here's another one: LeShaun, the rapper who did the sexy female vocals for LL Cool J's "Doin' It" in 1996 [video]. She got upset that she was not asked to appear in that video--a few skinny girls were cast instead, which LL claimed was due to LeShaun's pregnancy at the time, "rather than any other of her physical features", according to her Wikipedia entry. Here's a 1993 video of LeShaun talking about her own videos being censored because of a double standard applied to women perpetrating violence in rap videos.
But both Martha and LeShaun got over it, and both went on to record more songs with the groups that cut them out of videos.
Little Yang Peiyi has a pretty mature attitude about her own experience with getting screwed out of a live performance that was rightfully hers because of her looks. "I’m OK with it," she said in an interview on the state TV network. "My voice was used in the performance. I think that’s enough."
"I love my country and am eternally loyal to the Communist Party," she continued, eyes wide with terror. "Please don't hurt my family."
UPDATE: Zelma Davis herself wrote in with a clarification about her vocals in "Gonna Make You Sweat". She writes:
I've performed "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everbody Dance Now)" on Saturday Night Live, Oprah, Live with Regis & Kathie Lee, hundreds of concerts around the world, and I have never lip-synched to Martha's vocals."
Thanks for setting the record straight, Zelma!
Isaac Hayes was unexpectedly killed by a treadmill yesterday, after having some recent health problems. The NY Times obituary says his music "defined the glories and excesses of soul" through his early years as a songwriter and musician at Stax Records in Memphis.
Cushie and I happened to visit the Stax Museum of American Soul Music in Memphis a few months ago, and it was one of the best music history experiences of my life. Before he did "Theme from Shaft" and became a celebrity in his own right, Isaac Hayes wrote around 200 songs from the Stax catalog with his partner David Porter, including Sam and Dave's "Hold on, I'm Comin'" and "Soul Man", and played keyboards with Otis Redding , Booker T and the MG's, and pretty much everybody else on Stax as a session musician.
Also in the Stax Museum is Isaac Hayes' car, a blue 1972 Cadillac Eldorado, which was lined with fur, had a bar that popped out of the dashboard, and because he was a man undaunted by the technological limitations of his time, he had a small black and white TV sort of wedged awkwardly into the area below the radio between the two front seats. The car was taken by the IRS in 1977 when Hayes had some financial problems.
In a good VH1 interview from a few years ago he talked about his fearless and distinctive sense of style, which sounds more like a celebrity from this decade with an army of personal stylists on staff than a southern black man starting out in the early 60's:
"A guy sold me a chain necklace and a chain belt to match. I started wearing that onstage, then I switched to wearing tights. I thought if a belly dancer can wear them, then I can wear them too. Eventually a guy named Charles Rubin said, "I'm going to make you a chain vest." I realized, Wait a minute, I'm wearing chains! Chains once represented slavery to a black man in this country. I said, I'm going to turn it around -- these chains are a symbol of strength and power. So I kept wearing them."
Here's a video clip of Isaac Hayes making his dramatic entrance at the Wattstax concert in LA in 1972. Pink tights, black and white fur boots, and gold chains. He is so awesome:
Hayes seemed to move effortlessly from one important moment in pop culture to another for his entire life. After helping to create soul music in the 60's and defining himself as a symbol of black pride during the 70's, he moved onto TV and movies in the 80's. He was in Escape From New York, I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, and showed up on "The A-Team" and "Miami Vice". In the 90's came "South Park" and, of course, Scientology. It would have been only a matter of time before he did a song with Kanye.
Incredibly, Hayes had just finished making a movie called Soul Men with Samuel L. Jackson and good old Bernie Mac, who also died this weekend. Hang in there, Samuel L.
LA Times also has a very lengthy and in-depth obituary. Reports of the number of kids he has varies from "several" in the LA Times to 6 on IMDb to 12 in the NY Times. There's a good, if not very well organized bio on his website.
Pineapple Express comes out today. Just like Superbad came out a few months after Knocked Up last summer, this one looks like it's going to be the weirder follow-up to the mainstream hit (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) that came out in the spring. Dirtier jokes, fewer female characters, and a lot more weed.
Most reviews say the same thing: it's great when it's just James Franco and Seth Rogen sitting around talking smack, then goes off track when it turns into a big heavy action movie in the last half hour. Here's Manohla's NY Times review, the Slate review, Edelstein at NY Mag (he calls it "empty and formulaic" but likes it anyway.) The Daily News reviewer recommends you just go back and watch old episodes of "Freaks and Geeks". Roger Ebert stands apart--he pretty much loves the whole thing. But he gave 3 stars to The Mummy 3, so.
Seth Rogen was the big revelation from The 40 Year Old Virgin two years ago--I think the major discovery of Pineapple Express is going to be Danny McBride, the third guy in the movie posters. The director, David Gordon Green, brought him along from an earlier smaller movie he did, All the Real Girls, and the critics like him a lot. Dana Stevens says "he should be commanding his own goofy franchise in a matter of months," and Manohla says he "steals the show".
McBride is also in Tropic Thunder, which comes out in a week and is going to be huuuge. This guy will be hosting SNL by this time next year. Here are two interviews with him about each movie and an upcoming HBO show that he wrote and stars in. He's beside himself with excitement over his growing fame--he says the two new movies are "both so fucking awesome". Heh. I think I'm convinced.
The weirdest story in the news is the unfolding drama of Dr. Bruce Ivins, the government scientist suspected of being behind the anthrax letters of 2001. The FBI's investigation for the last 7 years has mostly been a mess, and they still haven't released real evidence that links Dr. Ivins with the anthrax letters.
Ivins killed himself last week with an overdose of Tylenol with codeine, which is a really bizarre way for a scientist who deal with deadly chemicals all the time to opt to poison himself. It's a really slow, painful death, taking days to destroy your liver.
The case has already generated lots of negative publicity for every organization that Ivins had a connection to. Without any real evidence to point to, the media is reporting random bits of information about him that have nothing to do with the anthrax case. Among them:
And how about the details of the FBI's investigation? They interrogated his two kids using highly suspect methods. In the Times: "They had even coercively questioned his adopted children, Andrew and Amanda, now both 24, with the authorities telling his son that he might be able to collect the $2.5 million reward for solving the case and buy a sports car, and showing his daughter gruesome photographs of victims of the anthrax letters and telling her, 'Your father did this,' according to the account Dr. Ivins gave a close friend."
The FBI also searched his house last fall, and "bureau surveillance vehicles openly followed the scientist for about a year." He was escorted out of his lab last year, which a colleague said was "so humiliating. It's hard to believe."
Dr. Ivins was reportedly suicidal for the last month and was hospitalized for 2 weeks in July, claiming that the FBI was going to arrest him for 5 murders. Which, of course, they would have done, if they had gotten credible evidence against him. The FBI had already admitted botching their misguided 2002 investigation against another scientist in Ivins' facility, Dr. Steven Hatfill, who just got a $4 million settlement.
So he ended up killing himself. Ivins' suicide is probably going to become a part of the FBI's case against him, but look: I've seen The Long Goodbye. Just because a suspect kills himself doesn't mean he did it. In a way, his suicide is going to let the FBI off the hook for a sloppy investigation that never found convincing evidence of Ivins' guilt.
But if he actually did do it (and there's some evidence, mostly circumstantial), the best motivation for mailing those anthrax letters that I've seen is that he wanted to focus attention on the threat of biological warfare. In the Times' article from the weekend: "To some anthrax experts, while reserving judgment on Dr. Ivins’s case, his identification as a suspect fit a pattern they had suspected might explain the crime: an insider wanting to draw attention to biodefense." He also held patents for anthrax vaccines.
Pretty ironic that the US's only deadly biological attack ever might have come from one of our own government employees, who had been honored for exceptional civilian service in 2003 for his work in anthrax.
Now that we're in August, the Totally Ubiquitous Summer Hit, or TUSH, of this summer should be clear by now. At this time last year, you couldn't go more than a day or two without hearing Rihanna's "Umbrella". When she performed the song on the Today show last July in Rockefeller Center [video], she drew a huge swarm of fans, there were umbrellas bobbing through the crowd, and her gigantic stardom was solidified.
This summer, we got Rihanna on the Today show, again, and she performed "Umbrella", again, along with two new songs ("Don't Stop the Music" and "Take a Bow"), neither of which were that great [video]. The best part of this year's performance was the rockier version of "Umbrella" [video], which only emphasized that her good song is old, and her newer songs are dull.
It seemed like Rihanna was out of the running for this year's TUSH--until "Disturbia" came along. This song was released at the end of June, and it's gotten as far as #4 on the singles chart. At first I didn't think this song could be a TUSH because it's associated with Rihanna's 2007 album Good Girl Gone Bad, but it's actually part of the "Reloaded" re-release of that album that came out two months ago with some new songs. Plus, can the same artist have two TUSHs in a row? Highly unconventional.
"Disturbia" also lacks the sunny, breezy qualities of a solid TUSH--it's not goofy like "Hollaback Girl" and doesn't have the irresistible appeal of "Crazy In Love". It's actually pretty dark, which is enhanced by the sinister video, which looks like the Nine Inch Nails "Closer" video if it were set in Jame Gumb's basement, and features lots of orgiastic bondage freaks humping their chains. Not exactly MTV Beach House material.
But the song is catchy, and most important, I hear it a lot. It was played a few times at a recent minor league baseball game I attended, along with the standard "Song 2" by Blur and "Gasolina" by Daddy Yankee, it's on the radio when my alarm goes off, it's playing on car stereos on 7th Avenue at 2 am. It's not especially memorable, and not very hooky, but seems to appeal to enough people that it's starting to create some airwave saturation. Plus, that spiderweb bodysuit that she wears in the video is super hot.
The only other serious contender that I can identify is Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl" [video]. This song is seriously popular: it's been at #1 on the charts for 6 weeks now, and Reuters just called it "the song of the summer".
But this song drives me up the f'ing wall. Its production is totally bland and flat, it's not the least bit funky or danceable (which all good TUSHs are) and the theme seems to be the same giggly, "bi-curious" Lesbian Chic that was popular when it was on the cover of Newsweek in 1993. Plus, Jill Sobule did a song with the same title about the same thing [video] in 1995.
The Katy Perry video is mostly not bad--she frolics with a room full of hot girls in their underwear, jamming to her cruddy song and reveling in how totally radical and experimental she is by kissing a girl, then wakes up in bed next to her boyfriend, and sighs with the relief of unshakable heterosexuality. I sort of hate it. And did you know that Katy Perry's first album was Christian pop? Yep. Maybe that's why she thinks kissing a girl is a notable thing to do.
Plus, I don't think I've heard "I Kissed a Girl" even once at a beach snack bar or in the Walgreens. As far as I can tell, Rihanna has just squeaked in with an unprecedented 2nd TUSH.
But I'm not that convinced. I may be off-base here. There may be another song out there that meets the Total Ubiquity criteria for TUSHdom, so let me know if there is. But I have to have heard this song tons of times this summer without trying to seek it out, and it has to be good (e.g. maybe it's "Lollipop").
Here's a good feature from WNYC on identifying this year's song of the summer, where you can vote on any of about 30 contenders (many of which are bogus. Sigur Ros?!) The videos they feature include "Disturbia", "I Kissed a Girl", and "Lollipop".