Who Calls Him a Critic?

Joe Williams, of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, wrecks his brain on Farenheit 9/11:

I wracked my brain for a clever way to introduce this fiercely entertaining documentary. But instead I’ll begin with a straightforward appeal to see this film – and do it quickly.

Before most Americans get a chance to judge the film for themselves, they will be overwhelmed by counterspin and noisy attacks against Michael Moore, the director of this openly partisan document. But the smart-alecky fellow, who has often offended his own supporters by wielding his camera like a squirt gun, has his own ammunition ready.

Because the consumer will be overwhelmed by counterspin to the “documentary” before he or she can see the movie, Williams launches some preemptive spin. Because the message of the movie is more important than its artistry, beauty, or truth.

Everybody’s a critic, except for Joe Williams.

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Naughty Headline of the Day

Economy slows to a 3.9 percent pace in first quarter

Economic growth in the first quarter was slower than first reported — at an annual rate of 3.9 percent — a pace that was solid but lacking the momentum exhibited as the calendar turned to 2004.

Economic growth was less than the preceding quarter but was growth nevertheless. AP reporters apparently have the same mentality that afflicts equities traders: that growth, not financial strength or profit, determines the state of the economy.

An unfortunate, but probably meditated, mischaracterization. Each quarter, the same amount of gain in absolute dollars represents a smaller growth in the relative percentage measurement because each quarter, the whole gets bigger. So an addition of 3 to a total of 100 is 3% growth in the first quarter, but an addition of 3 in the second quarter (where the total is 103), the economy “slows” to 2.9%, the second seal is broken, and apparently the only way to prevent the end of the world is to elect John Kerry, who will Robin Hood money from the rich and corporations to increase the economy!

Or maybe I am reading too much into it.

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A Novel Idea

Hey, Oprahzenry, E.J. Dionne mentions Barack Obama, the guy running for Senate who didn’t ask Seven of Nine to have sex in public (that we know of), and Dionne thinks this guy could be president.

Swell. Here’s Dionne’s ringing endorsement summary:

Obama is interested in people who are hurting and problems that are serious. That, even more than his biography, is why he’ll hit the big time.

We need a yet another president worried about hurting.

Personal note to Illinois voters: Please vote for Obama, elect him to the Senate, and make it near impossible for him to become president.

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As I was at the gym tonight, staring in fascination at these things they call “music videos” which display on screens throughout the gym during time I should have been doing this thing they call “working out,” an “accidental” juxtaposition led me to an insight more startling than the insight that those little stickers which say “Keep away when machine is in use” might prevent pinching-to-the-point-of-near-amputation. Where was I? Oh, yeah, the insight:

Celine Dion is the result of a partially-successful French-Canadian attempt to clone Cher.

Come on, deep in the bowels of the Canadian health system, you know they looked southward sometime in 1968 and said, “What is best of American culture?” and, since there’s French in French-Canadian, they looked to the most, um, flamboyant of music coupled with the most dowdy spouse (which is undoubtedly how Quebec thinks of the other provinces). So they sent their crack secret agents to get a mouth swab from Cher, to ensure her beat goes on, so to speak.

Unfortunately, their cloning technology was limited due to budget constraints and bureaucratic infighting. So the clone, “Celine” (French for Cher), was of smaller stature, and due to limitations in the maintenance budget, underfed. Also, due to the unfortunate accident of her French Canadianosity, she speaks French.

But look how it all adds up. She marries her “manager,” which is to say the lead scientist in the secret project that produced her. Come on, this explains why someone that the French Canadians would consider marginally hot (especially since the basis of comparison would be Alanis Morissette) would marry someone over forty years her senior and would bear his genetically-enhanced children (undoubtedly, clones of David Bowie and Iggy Pop).

Just ask the Canadian prime minister about it if you get the chance. He’ll deny everything, of course, and that will be all the proof you need.

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Book Review: Tales Too Ticklish to Tell by Berke Breathed (1988)

Unfortunately, I read this book immediately upon the heels of The Authoritative Calvin and Hobbes, and this volume suffers by comparison.

It’s been sixteen years since this book came out, and it’s already not much more than a time capsule into the last two years of Reagan’s presidency. Whereas Calvin and Hobbes touched on broader human themes that sometimes touched on daily topics, but Bloom County’s storylines are completely wed to the period in which they were written. I mean, who remembers the Jim and Tammy Faye enough to find a penguin’s take on them amusing? The cover of the book depicts George (H.W., as he would later be known) Bush with Opus on his lap; it refers to the photo of Gary Hart with Donna Rice on his lap that spoiled his bid for the Democratic nomination in 1988. See how the topics fade to irrelevance and obscurity?

Bloom County, like Calvin and Hobbes, became iconic in that Opus was on everything in the late 1980s; apparel, plush toys, lunchboxes. However, unlike Calvin and Hobbes, which is fresh and funny twenty years later and probably will for a number of years yet, Bloom County’s as relevant and contemporary as Snuffy Smith. Unlike Watterson, who quit while he was popular (like Gary Larsen) to avoid a strip depicting Calvin in his little red wagon flying over a pool with a shark in it, Breathed has continued trying to breathed life into these characters through Bloom County and then Outland and now Opus whenever a Republican president needed a public lambasting by a penguin. (Read James Lileks on Opus last week.)

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Blast from the Past

James Lileks, as a Minnesotan, is an honorary homie. Today, he mentions Green Goddess salad dressing. That’s one of those telling details of the upper Midwest. You don’t think about it for a number of years, and then suddenly you remember salads drenched in cucumber ichor.

Green Goddess is not quite the phenomenon here in Missouri as in Wisconsin. Hence, I haven’t seen it for decades. I assume you could buy it in the grocery store, but amid the ranks of other dressings and smiling visages of Paul Newman, I’ve not seen it. Of course, I don’t use salad dressing, so I wander down that aisle typically with my eyes ahead, counting aisles until the beer aisle.

But during my boyhood in Wisconsin, every family gathering proffered Green Goddess. Right next to the cannibal sandwiches.

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John Kass is the Best Columnist in Chicago

There, I have said it. Read his column today, entitled Terrorists take us to the real ring of hell (worth the registration required). Real meat:

Avoiding the Berg video, or the pictures of what happened to Johnson, or the images of the next American they grab, won’t dull the knives of those who want us all dead. They want to drive Americans from where we want to stand in the world and send us quivering home.

Avoiding won’t make us safer here, either. It actually may do us all a disservice, since it allows us to keep an emotional distance.

The flat of the killing knives is only an inch or two wide. It is much shorter than the distance between today and Sept. 11, 2001. We’ve achieved separation from each, and that is dangerous.

I don’t know why Kass isn’t a blogosphere superstar like Lileks, Appelbaum, or Steyn.

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Joke of the Day

UN slams US over spending Iraq funds. It goes like this:

United Nations-mandated auditors have sharply criticised the US occupation authority for the way it has spent more than $11bn in Iraqi oil revenues and say they have faced “resistance” from coalition officials.

In an interim report, obtained by the Financial Times, KPMG says the Development Fund for Iraq, which is managed by the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority and channels oil revenue into reconstruction projects, is “open to fraudulent acts”.

Ha ha ha ha! Hooo. And then the UN says, “the CPA is open to fraudulent acts.” Ha ha ha ha haa!

Sorry, it’s hard to type with the tears from the laughter in my eyes. That Matt Drudge, who told me this one, is a stitch, ainna?

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Somebody Save Me

Our wonderful realtors Jim and Gale Beardsley provided us with a complimentary subscription to Home by Design. I like to browse through each issue, but the Editor’s Letter in the latest issue made me cringe. First sentence:

I am so excited for this issue of Home By Design magazine because it is my first, as the new Editor!

As it was a magazine, it didn’t hurt when I slammed my head into it repeatedly, so I had to step outside and lean into, repeatedly, the exposed foundation of my home.

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Is That All?

For months, people watching the Illinois Senate race have wondered what was sealed in Jack Ryan’s divorce papers. Opponents sniffed at the locked documents and speculated that they contained something dark and evil, such as the mark of the beast on Jack Ryan’s, um, well, something, anyway. Now, the papers are a-coming out, and they contain some dudshells:

Republican Senate candidate Jack Ryan pressured his wife, actress Jeri Lynn Ryan, to have sex in clubs while others watched, she charged in divorce documents released Monday.

The “Boston Public” and “Star Trek: Voyager” actress said she angered Ryan by refusing. She did acknowledge infidelity on her part, which she said took place after their marriage was irretrievably broken.

See the difference? Sex in public with your spouse, bad. Adulterous sex in private, okay. Well, I am not here to cast aspersions on either, hem, alternate lifestyle (although I will acknowledge that one is immoral and the other inaesthetic), I will ask:

Is that it?

Perhaps I am just a product of Generation X, who grew up with Kevin Smith films and with vampire movies mainstreaming the S&M club into tomorrow’s kitsch. I’m not shocked, and I’m not sure how his particular pecadillos would impact his governing ability. He’s not violated any law, and as far as I know, he would not want to have sex with her in the Senate (although it would certainly boost CSPAN ratings). Heck, it just might be the crossover appeal needed to get Democrats to vote for him.

(Link seen on Drudge.)

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You know, on weekends and, well, weekdays, I don’t catch much television coverage of the news and I dodge radio coverage when I can.

That must explain why I haven’t heard the stories covering declining gas prices. You know, the video that depicts the jubilant American street dancing under the gas station canopy, with gushing men and women on the street thanking government inappropriately for the partially-free market working and explaining that since gas prices have fallen thirty cents, they can afford to feed their children (expensive preprocessed food) and can once again afford to commute ninety minutes to work.

Because undoubtedly the media covered the what comes down portion of the cycle with the same alack!rity that they covered the what goes up story.

I just must have missed it.

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That’s Just Precious

Instapundit links to an AP story about John Kerry’s campaign receiving a bothersome campaign contribution:

John Kerry’s campaign collected a maximum $2,000 check from the recently arrested son of South Korea’s disgraced former president, and some of its fund-raisers met several times with a South Korean government official who was trying to organize a Korean-American political group.

Kerry’s going to give it back, of course, since it’s now public.

But the ad dished up with the story is amusing:

John Kerry wants your illegal campaign contribution

Click for full size

Click to send your own questionable campaign contribution.

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Book Review: The Authoritative Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson (1990)

I bought this book at a garage sale some time ago to sell on eBay. It didn’t sell, so I read it. The hardback edition came out in 1990, 14 years ago. You want to feel old? Calvin would be in his early 20s today. No doubt he’d have given up Hobbes by now, unless he were a developer or a cartoonist and he kept Hobbes around to decorate his workspace.

I like Calvin and Hobbes, the cartoon. I liked this collection. Calvin and Hobbes were pretty popular in their day (Watterson, the cartoonist, discontinued the strip in the 1990s). Actually, they became so culturally iconic that even today, ten years later, you can go into an auto parts store and by unlicensed and unofficial decals depicting Calvin urinating on an automotive logo of your choice (Ford seems rather popular). Have you noticed that the last of the iconic cartoons, Dilbert, stems from the 1980s. Remember the 1980s, when iconic cartoons abounded? You couldn’t help but bump into The Far Side, Bloom County, Garfield, or Calvin and Hobbes apparel or pop-cultural references. Heck, even Cathy was touted as some zeitgeist for single women. Can you think of any cartoon created in the last decade that has captured that wide of an appeal? I couldn’t. I guess it’s the same thing television suffers; the fragmentation of the audience. Or perhaps it’s the decline of the newspaper. Or maybe they just don’t make them like they used to.

So what about Calvin and Hobbes made it successful? I reckon the use of an imaginative six-year-old gave Watterson the opportunity to take on very adult themes and to make them simple. When cutting through the normal nuance and adult-thinking, Calvin could mutter a throw-away punchline that would clarify an issue the way no six hundred word editorial column or two hundred page political book could. Watterson also built in great latitude when he made Calvin an imaginitive six-year-old; his incarnations as Spaceman Spiff, Stupendous Man, and Calvinosaurus keep the material fresh and interesting for the reader, and they probably kept the cartoon fresh for the artist.

By all means, enjoy the book if you’re a Calvin and Hobbes fan. If you’ve never read them, you damn kid, check it out. The material’s not dated and will last a couple of decades. By 2060, though, it will be as accessible as Andy Capp or Snuffy Smith.

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Guest Blogger Introduction

To keep up with all the cool blogs, I am going to have a guest blogger fill in for those days when I can’t think of anything snarky-but-ultimately-forgettable to say. I mean, when I am too busy with a real life to blog.

Ladies, well, okay, Heather and her mom, and gentlemen, which is to say El Guapo, Cagey, Darbo, and that one dude from BellSouth.net, here is your new guest blogger, Ajax:

The New Guest Blogger

Click for super size

Expect a lot of hard-hitting posts regarding the infrequency of Fancy Feast, the immaturity of those mean birds who tauntingly flit around outside the window but don’t dare come in the house, and the inadequacies of the other cats.

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Saturday Morning Musings

As it’s the beginning of the first weekend of a vacation, and a warm, clear summer day, a young man’s thoughts and stirrings within his heart naturally awaken his yearning to embrace his most sacred love: beer.

Cripes, I am sleeping on the couch tonight for that intro, I know.

So think upon these things, friends:

  • While discussing free trade or something important in the New York Times, Virginia Postrel points out:

    “The U.S. used to import coffee from around 25 countries,” says David E. Weinstein, an economist at Columbia University. “Now we import it from 52 countries. Beer we import from three times more countries than we used to.

    Viva laissez-faire, if you can still pronounce it this late in the day.

  • Via Fark, we see this little story: Ain’t the beer classy:

    At Detroit’s four-star Opus One last month, eager diners paid $55 apiece for an evening of fine food with fine libations. Six bulbous wineglasses stood by their plates. Waiters waltzed by and poured from . . . pitchers of beer? Indeed, dinner began with a cold shrimp and crab crostini, served with an English mild ale, and ended with caramel cappuccino cheesecake, accompanied by a British favorite, dry stout.

    Beer wants to be the next wine. Not the boys at Budweiser but local brewers. These beer artisans will never be able to compete with Bud at football games. But they might stand a chance as an alternative to wine with dinner.

Call me a traditionalist, but beer really only truly augments three meals: wings, pizza, and chicken. Granted, it goes well with anything, or nothing, but if you were to ask me, “Brian, what beer goes best with brined chicken with cilantro garnish?” I would answer, “Lots.”

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Hey, everyone’s a loser in this story:

Attorney General Jay Nixon said Friday that Schnucks and Dierbergs stores had been adding a surcharge onto video rental bills that looked like a sales tax but wasn’t. He said the companies had kept some of the money.

Nixon said the two supermarket chains had agreed to stop the practice and pay $110,000 each in penalties to the state.

Salient points:

  • Business, since Dierberg’s and Schnucks saw fit to levy a 7% surcharge on video rentals and labeling it a “tax/surcharge” even though the State of Missouri does not levy a sales tax in these situations. By breaking out the extra portion of the price, these supermarket chains do the same thing telephone companies, utilities, and mechanics do: they hide, deceive, and trick customers with extra line items on the invoice to generate extra revenue. Listen, you damn creative business types: mark one price that includes all of your costs of business and tell me up front.

    P.S. Thanks for the statements that you didn’t do anything wrong here. Smeg off, you stooges. Even the laissez-faire amongst us recognize you’re not victims here.

  • The consumers, who have paid extra seven cents per $1.00 rental for who knows how long. $1.07 isn’t so bad for a video rental, but getting institutionally suckered is.
  • The attorney general, who had to conduct a year-long investigation to net $220,000 in fines. Certainly not cost effective, and certainly not where I would allocate assets, but unquestionably, the wrong doers were doing wrong.
  • The taxpayers, who had to underwrite an investigation costing more than $220,000.

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