Monthly Archives: June 2010

The Three Stooges: Digitally Remastered Delirium

Reviews by ROBERT SMITH

A few months back, my esteemed colleague, Steve Ricci, noted how The Three Stooges were influential in his life. I now happily report that last month, a significant moment in Stooge history was logged. It was in early June that the eighth and last in Columbia’s lovingly digitally remastered box sets of complete, uncensored, and restored Three Stooges films, The Three Stooges Collection, was issued on DVD; these 190 films have never been completely released on DVD before this. Combined with AMC’s recent decision to return Stooges shorts to its regular lineup of classic films, there is – as seems to happen every decade or so – a serious case of Stoogemania going on. It couldn’t have happened at a better time.

For serious Stooge aficionados, these DVD collections are truly an answered prayer. The Stooge shorts have not only been released in chronological order, but many of these films have never looked so clear, and in some cases, new. The remastering job isn’t without its pitfalls; a couple of packages come with 3D glasses for films released originally in that format, but they still look awful. As well, the overall remastering job is actually so good it reveals everything in pristine black and white – including pies being pulled from ceilings with strings, and what used to look like flying Stooge heads in the opening of Spooks! now show Moe, Shemp, and Larry in black cloaks, running around as if they’d lost their minds (as if that’s anything unusual). It’s actually fun to see the old-time movie magic exposed.

So let us sing the praises of these master comedians, who have been underrated since their heyday, but answer me this: Are television stations still showing Charlie Chaplin? The Marx Brothers? Laurel & Hardy? Yet, times come and go, and Stooge shorts are still being shown on national networks, some films being a whopping 76 years old. It is testament to The Three Stooges’ knockabout, zany comedy that it can still be appreciated and loved by audiences after such a passage of time. The reason? The Stooges are damn hilarious, that’s why.

A look at the sets: Volume One, which covers 1934 to 1936, begins with the first Stooges short, Woman Haters, a musical number so stilted it’s a wonder the team ever got a second go. But things pick up with the boxing-themed Punch Drunks, and the hospital parody Men In Black, which was actually nominated for an Academy Award. Indeed, “Dr. Howard! Dr. Fine! Dr. Howard!” is quoted to this day, and few Stooge efforts were ever funnier.

Volume 2, 1937-1939: The Stooges, Larry Fine and Moe and Curly Howard, find the formula, and it works like gangbusters. Highlights here are Playing The Ponies, where the trio leads a nag called Thunderbolt to racing glory; Healthy, Wealthy, and Dumb, where the three idiots win a radio contest and rent a snazzy hotel room only to discover that after taxes they’re as broke as ever; and Violent Is The Word For Curly, which features the famous “bickey-bye” song that everyone still knows but can’t remember where it came from.

Volume 3, 1940-1942: The team is getting more popular, the slapstick is getting more violent thanks to the burgeoning presence of director Jules White, and this just might the Stooges’ prime. The best here include the classic Nazi era satires I’ll Never Heil Again and You Nazty Spy!, All The World’s A Stooge, where Curly delivers one of his most manic and inspired performances impersonating a little kid (and Larry never looked more beautiful), and A Plumbing We Will Go, which might be the high point of the team’s career; it’s the classic “running from the law” Stooge short, complete with wacky pratfalls, high society torn asunder, and the best plumbers who ever plumbed a plum.

Volume 4, 1943-1945: Something’s wrong; Curly is slurring his words and the pace is starting to slow down. Around this period, the hard-partying rotund comedian began to fall into ill health – so much so that an impending stroke would not only end his career, but eventually his life as well. However, there’s still a lot of comic gold in this set, including Micro-Phonies, featuring Curly impersonating the golden-voiced Senorita Cucaracha; Dizzy Pilots, where The Wrong Brothers take to the sky; and If A Body Meets A Body, which features some hilarious haunted house gags. However, Curly really starts to fade during this set; White’s They Stooge To Conga is nothing but garishly filmed violence including Moe getting his eyes and ears poked with climbing spikes; and shorts such as Booby Dupes and I Can Hardly Wait, finally, start to miss their mark.

Volume 5, 1946-1948: With the film Half-Wits’ Holiday in 1946, exit a very weak and tired Curly, enter Shemp. The floppy-haired comic surely had his critics, most of whom claimed he wasn’t the comic genius Curly was. That’s true, but Shemp brought his own manic energy and pretty much brought the trio back to life for the next couple of years. Included here are his debut with the team, Fight Night, which is nothing but laughs, and Hold That Lion, featuring a cameo by Curly and yet another hysterical two minutes from frequent Stooge regular Dudley Dickerson.

Volume 6, 1949-1951: Just as the TV era starts to heat up, the Stooges begin to slow down. Film studios aren’t making many shorts by this point, with Stooge studio Columbia being among the last holdouts. It’s easy to see the budgets going downwards short by short here; rekindled footage is sprouting up regularly. There are finally films that just aren’t funny at all, and they’re becoming disturbingly common; wit is being replaced with violence and repeated gags and phrases. The Tooth Will Out and Baby Sitters Jitters are poorly directed and mirthless, but, thankfully, there are still gems: Hula La La breaks the code and is one of the most original of all the Stooge shorts (a rare one of this period that doesn’t go by the book), and Malice In The Palace ranks with the best Stooges offerings of all time. Try not to crack up when the restaurant-owning Stooges supposedly serve up some “sliced dog and cat” to a pair of Arabian aristocrats.

Volume 7, 1952-1954: Bigger trouble in Stoogeland. Even more budget cuts forced the team to remake shorts from both the Curly and Shemp eras, and a lot of them are pretty much a waste of time. For instance, Rip Sew & Stitch is an almost note-for-note remake of the earlier, funnier Sing A Song Of Six Pants with just a couple of scenes re-shot. Few film fans or distributors noticed the cost cutting at the time – most theaters, at this point, were showing fewer and fewer shorts to begin with. There are laughs here with the western spoof Shot In The Frontier and in Shemp trying to install a TV antenna in Goof On The Roof, but things are getting sloppy and sad. The witless Pardon My Backfire is all new, but all unfunny, and Shemp and Moe are starting to look very old. Saddest of all, Shemp’s starting to look very, very tired.

Volume 8, 1955-1959: It’s all over but the slapping for the troupe; Shemp (the first 16 shorts here, again mostly remakes) suddenly dies, and is replaced by veteran comic Joe Besser for the trio’s final 16 efforts, after which Columbia shuts down its shorts division forever. Even the supporting players aren’t good; long gone are Stooge legends Duke York, Dickerson, Symona Boniface, Vernon Dent, and Christine McIntyre. Hardy and versatile player Emil Sitka helps, but other roles are filled by actors like the insipid Frank Sully, who delivers astoundingly awful performances. During the Besser shorts, Moe and Larry seem to be trying too hard, gesturing and overacting like madmen, probably realizing their new fat foil wasn’t up to the task. Besser, to his credit, was much more likable and funny working with Joey Bishop and Abbott & Costello; he simply seems out of place here. Still, two horse-themed shorts bring a few laughs, but Quiz Whizz, Outer Space Jitters, and the final Stooge short, Sappy Bullfighters, are as bad as any movies ever released by a major motion picture studio. As a Stooge fan that wanted to complete his collection, I purchased this set, but of the eight, this is the hardest to recommend.

Perhaps it’s nostalgia for my youth, waking up to watch a single Popeye cartoon and a Stooge short before heading off to school. Maybe it’s longing for a simpler time. Maybe, secretly, there’s a desire to bop my employer over the head with a lead pipe just to hear the beautiful steely “KONK!” sound. Whatever the reason, these lovingly remastered, low-priced collections are perfect for anyone who ever loved The Three Stooges. And how I do dearly love them.

I believe that after all these years, I’ve figured out the reasons why. Moe, Curly, and Shemp Howard, as well as Larry Fine, Joe Besser, and Joe DeRita (the last Curly replacement), never became millionaires from acting as most of today’s film stars do. However, even as an old man before his death in 1975, Moe always was trying to find ways to keep the Stooges going. He reportedly was going to team with DeRita and Sitka even after Larry could no longer go on. One gets the feeling that if Moe were alive today at 113 years old, he’d still be a member of The Three Stooges. From all accounts, Moe Howard, the brains of the group in real life as well as on-screen, loved what he did, every moment, every poke, every pie fight, and every slap. A magazine article printed just before Moe’s death reported that the elderly comedian saw a child in a store, and at that moment, he became a Stooge again, delighting the kid with impromptu, crazy antics. Moe Howard was born to be a Stooge. If someone loves what he does that much, he’s got soul and heart, and those are attributes too few of today’s entertainers possess.

But I think it all really boils down to this: When a Stooges scene shifts to a hotel, and to let you know, a sign is shown with the name “Hotel Costa Plente,” I still laugh like a hyena. Yeah, those corny old men still crack me up.

May their heirs be richly blessed, every one of them. Dare I say, few people on this earth have given this writer more pure joy than The Three Stooges. May they poke, slap, gouge, and woo-woo-woo till the end of time. And if you don’t get to the store to pick up these beautiful DVD collections, well, you’re just a knucklehead.

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Filed under Celebrities, Entertainment, Humor, Posts by Robert Smith, Television, Uncategorized

The Greatest True Statements Ever Bein’ Gave

A few months back, we favored you with a bunch of words and phrases that we believe have never and will never be uttered by human beings. In this edition, we bring you a collection of statements and phrases that – scout’s honor – have actually been either overheard, reported, said to us, or written and actually printed. There’s some real song lyrics and other oddities reported here for lilt as well. WARNING: There is some “adult” language here, so if you’re easily offended, now’s the time to bail.

“You know, that son of a bitch…you try to teach the god damn kids right from wrong, and this is what happens, god damn it.”
– A frustrated Little League father complaining about an umpire’s bad call

“I wanted to quit smoking, so every time I get the urge for a cigarette, I reach for some coke. Helps me lose weight, too.”
– A very bad female date of one of ours

Now offered for sale at places like CafePress.com and GulfCoastBands.com, perfect for the debonair ladies’ man in your life: T-shirts with statements such as “Bitch – It Won’t Suck Itself” (see photo).

“None of your business. I will kill you.”
– A trucker to this writer, asking why he was delivering milk and dairy products in an un-refrigerated delivery truck

“We’re going to have the greatest concerts ever bein’ gave.”
– A crackpot concert promoter on a phone answering machine in an infamous underground comedy tape

“If you wanna talk to me, then shut your fuckin’ mouth.”
– Raymond to Peter in another infamous underground comedy CD culled from actually sticking a tape recorder microphone through a screaming alcoholic neighbor’s wall, “Shut Up Little Man!”

“Get fucked, Texas slut!”
– A chant directed at a blonde woman being jeered by an entire section of fans at Yankee Stadium for wearing a Texas Rangers cap during a playoff game (when the woman complained to a security officer, he joined in the chant)

“You’re nothing but a big bullshit. I want my god damn tape recorder!”
– Woman complaining to a Long Island Radio Shack employee that her tape recorder didn’t work

“You stupid instable.”
– God bless him, a relative of one of ours

“The Beatles ruined this country and all the kids in it.”
– Man buying an Ernest Tubb cassette in a Poughkeepsie, New York Record World store, 1981

“Jesus Christ, everywhere you look nowadays.”
– A vending machine rack jobber, filling a gumball machine; the brand of gum on the machine featured a photo of an African-American woman

“Where’s all the douche bags at?”
– An actual female customer in an upstate New York drug store

“To our seniors, I have a message for you: You’re going to die sooner.”
– Sen. Tom Coburn (R- Okla.), scaring old people before health care reform passed

“Hey, this kid could be the Mets’ center fielder for the next 10 years.”
– Former baseball player – and former baseball commentator – Fran Healy, summing up New York Mets rookie Jason Tyner. To date, Tyner has been up-and-down from the minors to the majors, and played 440 games for four teams over eight seasons, and has been released or waived several times

“The rule states that if your team is here and ready to play, and the other team isn’t here and not ready to play, there should be a forfeit, and we believe there should be a forfeit.”
– Classy New York Yankees president Randy Levine, upset that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays weren’t in New York for a baseball game – the day after devastating hurricanes in Florida in 2004

“That mines? That MINES?”
– A refined apparently homeless gentleman lunging for a shopping bag dropped in Times Square in 1991

“Tar baby! Tar baby!”
– Professional wrestling manager Lou Albano, shouting at African-American wrestler S.D. Jones – during a televised match, no less, circa 1974

More T-shirts we’ve actually seen people wear:
“I Fucked Your Girlfriend” (seen at a baseball game)
“I Made Linda Lovelace Choke”
“Ho” (worn by a teenaged girl)

Real Statements That Have Been Printed On Panties:
Baby, This Is As Far As You Go
Never On Sunday
Heaven (with an arrow pointing toward the crotch)
Sweet As Honey
Juicy
Fuck Time
Here Comes The Bride
You Wish
Yummy Mummy

“What sizes does this medium fit?”
– Buyer at a country music concert T-shirt concession

“Standing in line marking time–
Waiting for the welfare dime
‘Cause they can’t buy a job
The man in the silk suit hurries by
As he catches the poor old ladies’ eyes
Just for fun he says “Get a job”
– “The Way It Is,” the 1986 hit by Bruce Hornsby, which, in a pop songwriting first, rhymes “job” with “job”

“Next time I fall in love
I’ll know better what to do
Next time I fall in love
Ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo”
– Peter Cetera’s “The Next Time I Fall,” which rhymes “do” and “ooo,” which makes Hornsby’s songwriting prowess seem like Shakespeare

“I don’t want you reading those books. They give you ideas.”
– Numerous husbands to wives since, say, 1940, in Greene County, NY

“The only good Latin is a dead Latin.”
– Professional wrestling manager, the aptly named “Classy” Freddie Blassie, in a statement actually said on television

“If I wore pink ferrets for slippers, I would never – ever – want to clean another ashtray.”
– From the Survey Central website (surveycentral.org)

“What are your dogs’ names again … Kierkegaarde and Ed Asner?”
– Said by Robert Smith after he met his eventual wife’s dogs, which were actually named Kodi and Spooky

“Ooh! I tooted.”
– Said by a very large female convenience store clerk after she let go of a very pronounced fart, Norfolk, Virginia, 2007

JUST ADDED!

“Warning: Driver Masturbating”

– Bumper sticker spotted on a car in Westbury, NY, June 28

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Filed under Current events, Entertainment, Humor, Posts by Robert Smith, Uncategorized

Dear Joe Barton: I’m sorry you’re scum

by Jon Pine

Representative Joe Barton (R-Texas) apologized this week – on behalf of you and me and all the rest of the American people – to British Petroleum for President Obama’s $20 billion “shakedown,” otherwise known as partial restitution for the laid-off oil workers and others who have been financially devastated by the Gulf oil well disaster.

Jon Pine

The apology, which came during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the disaster, might have made a tiny bit of sense, except for Barton’s dirty little secret: It turns out that his top campaign contributor is a company that owned 25 percent of the Deepwater Horizon drilling project – the very well that is still gushing viscous crude into the once-pristine waterway. The company is Anadarko Petroleum, whose PAC and employees have contributed a total of $146,500 to Barton since 1989.

Later the same day, Barton came back and apologized for his apology. Sort of. What he did was apologize that people “may have misconstrued” his use of the word “shakedown” to mean, well, a shakedown. How foolish of us!

All the apologies this week have put me in an apologetic mood myself, so here goes:

To Rep. Barton: I’m so sorry that you care more for the third largest corporation in the world than you do for the Texans in your own constituency who are now out of work because BP made multiple errors in judgment, and may have even broken several laws, resulting in the largest environmental disaster in American history.

I’m sorry that you’re sorry that BP was asked to set aside some money so that people whose careers have been destroyed by BP’s carelessness and possible criminal negligence will get some help with their bills now, not months or years from now after a protracted legal battle.

And I’m sorry that your desire for some sort of twisted political victory, and your Obama hate, caused you to open your fat mouth and say something so stupid, so insensitive, so wrong on many levels, that the leaders of your own party nearly soiled their three-piece suits when they heard what you said.

To BP’s Tony Hayward: I’m terribly sorry that your comfy country club life has been upset by this “small leak” all the way across the pond, as you described it in the first days following the conflagration that incinerated 11 rig workers. I’m sorry, but no, you can’t “have your life back” because there are 11 families who won’t ever get their lives back, thanks to your company’s actions.

I’m sorry that you lied and obfuscated and lied some more about the actual rate of the leak, so much so that our government did not respond as quickly and as mightily as it should have. I’m sorry that you’re still lying about the flow rate, and that your private security forces are perpetuating even more lies and obfuscation by preventing the media from seeing and reporting on the devastation up close.

And I’m sorry that our president had to ask you to do the right thing and set up a $20 billion emergency fund and that you didn’t do it yourself weeks ago. Hell, BP will make more than that in profits this year alone.

To Glenn Beck: I’m sorry that you are so myopic and deluded that you think President Obama didn’t rush to meet with BP’s executives because they are white. Are you that paranoid, Glenn? Did some black boys beat you up on the playground when you were little? If so, I’m sorry about that, too.

Next, Beck said that Obama was going to politicize the Gulf oil disaster and use it to push for his green energy initiatives. Well, duh! Of course. This is a perfect real-life lesson in what is wrong with our oil-addicted culture – that we would rather take phenomenal risks and stay on oil than to invest in safer, cleaner forms of energy. Even a third-grader sees the wisdom in using this tragedy as a real-life object lesson.

Sorry, Glenn!

To Sarah Palin: I’m sorry, Sarah, that you still don’t get it – nobody really believes that your chants of “Drill, baby, drill!” during the last few years were really only about onshore drilling. There’s a little invention called videotape, perhaps you should look into it. They show dozens of instances where you had the opportunity to clarify things, but you didn’t. For some strange reason your 15 minutes of fame keeps getting an extension, but your credibility ran out long ago. Sorry!

And finally…

To the birds, sea life and the human life that will be poisoned or killed: I’m sorry that BP’s executives consider us “the little people” and actually had the gall to say, “The Gulf of Mexico isn’t the only place with shrimp.” I’m sorry that money and power is what matters most to these cretins, and that they are too self-absorbed to understand that centuries-old livelihoods of tens of thousands of people are being snuffed out while they fret and fritter over their precious corporate image.

I’m sorry that BP felt it necessary to first pay dividends to their shareholders before setting up disaster relief for devastated Americans.

But most of all, I’m sorry that we all allowed previous administrations to permit other deepwater wells in environmentally sensitive areas, and that we all failed to do a better job of curbing our oil addiction.

So, so sorry.

© 2010 Jon Pine

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What if you could (fill in the blank)?

by Jon Pine

I’ve come to realize that some of my favorite movies might all fall into the category of “What-If” Films – films with highly conceptual themes, usually comedies, that generally turn reality on its head. They explore philosophical and spiritual ambiguities, with a liberal dose of irony, but do so with a light hand, thus avoiding one of the cardinal rules of comedy: Thou shalt not be overly preachy.

Jon Pine

“Groundhog Day” is one of those films. What if a shallow, arrogant and cynical weatherman found himself stuck in a podunk town, forced to live the same day again and again, covering the same podunk “human interest story” over and over until he learns that the true meaning of love and life is to be selfless?

Then there’s “Sliding Doors,” an overlooked gem of a film in which the story of a fired PR professional literally diverges into two wildly different scenarios – each showing what might have happened to her depending on how she reacted to a split-second circumstance of fate.

In one of my favorite Woody Allen films, “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” a dashing depression-era movie character literally comes off the screen to rescue a young audience member from her miserable life and abusive husband. But then the actor, concerned that his come-to-life character might ruin his career, comes to town with a tough lesson: Real life ain’t like it is in the movies.

More recently there is “The Invention of Lying,” a fable set in a world where lying simply does not exist – until one man tells his dying mother a small fib just to ease her suffering a little. One lie leads to another and another until we, the audience, realize that our entire existence relies upon the little lies we tell ourselves all the time.

And then there are the bizarre, darker fantasies imagined by screenwriter Charlie Kaufman: In “Being John Malkovich” he explores what it might be like to actually get inside the mind of another human being, if only for 15 minutes at a time – after which you are unceremoniously dumped in a ditch on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike. In “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” Kaufman exposes a fantasy we’ve probably all had at one time or another: What if you could completely erase the memory of an ex-lover who has caused you deep pain?

Paul Giamatti as Paul Giamatti in "Cold Souls."

Falling somewhere in the middle is a wonderful bit of existential (or is it anti-existential?) escapism called “Cold Souls,” written and directed by first-time filmmaker Sophie Barthes. It is now available on DVD, but not yet on Bluray. The idea, Barthes says, was sparked by a dream she had in which she was standing in line at a doctor’s office, right behind Woody Allen, each of them holding containers with their souls inside, to be examined by the doctor.

Initially, she intended to expand the dream into a screenplay for Allen – no stranger to “What-If” comedies himself – but a chance meeting with actor Paul Giamatti convinced her to write the script with him in mind instead – not only as the lead actor, but also as the lead character. Hence, “Cold Souls” opens on Paul Giamatti, the actor, playing a character named Paul Giamatti, also an actor, rehearsing a scene from Anton Chekhov’s play, “Uncle Vanya.”

But something is impeding Giamatti’s ability to nail the part. No matter how deep he reaches, he can’t summon enough of the character to breathe life into his stage performance. To a writer, this would be called writer’s block; to an actor, it is equally as crippling.

After struggling for a while with this dilemma, Giamatti’s agent tells him about a ground-breaking doctor who has discovered a way to actually extract the soul from the human body, thus freeing the person from the encumbrances of, well, you know – pesky little annoyances like conscience and feelings. This might be just what he needs, the agent says, so he can be free to concentrate on his acting.

Giamatti is the perfect choice for this character, and of course, for the actor. His droopy, hangdog look and edgy, forlorn demeanor encapsulate the very essence of one who is – dare I say it? – soul-weary. Not just on stage, but in his home life with his wife (Emily Watson), and out with friends –  not quite sad, but certainly not as happy as he would like to be. He seeks a change, but he’s not sure what sort of change he’s after.

Dr. Flinstein (David Strathairn) shows Paul Giamatti a freshly extracted soul.

It is here that the story really takes off. Without giving too much away, Giamatti reluctantly makes an appointment to see David Flinstein, the soul-extracting doctor, played by Daniel Strathairn. After the extraction Giamatti finds that perhaps having no soul, while it is certainly freeing, may be worse than having a sick soul. But when he goes back to the institute to reverse the extraction, he learns that his soul is missing – “We probably shipped it to our New Jersey warehouse by mistake.” (Poor New Jersey seems to be the butt of jokes in several of my favorite “What-If” films!)

The plot twists and turns around an array of quirky characters: The members of an international “soul trafficking ring”; a Russian “mule” who has transported so many black market souls she no longer has the capacity for one of her own; a factory worker with the soul of a Russian poet; and a vacuous soap opera star who believes acquiring the soul of American actor Al Pacino will make her a better actress.

The laughs, while they don’t come fast and furious, are deeply satisfying nonetheless – some running gags with chickpeas, a confrontation with the Russian leader of the soul-trafficking ring, and even just the sight of Giamatti in a big furry Russian hat will make you laugh.

But beyond the laughs are the deeper questions that haunt all of us. What is a soul, and where does it really reside – in the heart, the head, or somewhere else? How much of our happiness depends on the health of our souls? And the question that has challenged scholars and theologians for centuries: What happens to our souls when we die?

While it’s fun to fantasize about ditching your soul for a more exciting model, there are always consequences in these “What If” stories.  In “Groundhog Day,” Bill Murray reveled in an alternate universe where he could eat, drink and womanize with no consequences. But he also realized he was powerless to prevent the pain and death of those around him.

In “Purple Rose,” Mia Farrow chooses real life over fantasy, and finds crushing disappointment in both.

In “Being John Malkovich,” John Cusack learns he can inhabit Malkovich’s mind long enough to get the girl – but since the girl really doesn’t love him, he is doomed to an eternal prison from which he is forced to stare at the object of his affection – just out of reach – for eternity.

And in “Cold Souls,” Paul Giamatti learns pretty quickly that the soul on the other side of the fence is not necessarily greener. But more importantly, he learns, as we all eventually do, that happiness is a stacked emotion, the result not of taking something the other guy seems to have, but of, little by little, layer by layer, making something out of what you have.

And that’s just about as preachy as I’m going to get with this review.

© 2010 Jon Pine

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Die, Newspapers, Die

By ROBERT SMITH

They’re at it again.

In yet another attempt at cheap heat directed toward the dumbest of sports fans, the once-great Chicago Tribune – founded in 1847 and the place where Roger Ebert has penned some of the best film reviews ever written – printed this photo as a full-page poster, ostensibly to get local fans riled up for an upcoming Chicago Blackhawks versus Philadelphia Flyers NHL Stanley Cup Finals game.

This, of course, is a blatant rip-off and complete steal from last fall’s now-infamous New York Post cover that lampooned the Philadelphia Phillies, who had the unmitigated nerve to serve as the National League opponents of the New York Yankees in the World Series. Wait a moment: Aren’t there female baseball and hockey fans?

Journalism, we hardly knew you, particularly in the sports section.

Years ago, there was a weathercaster named Tim Welch, who worked at a television station in Albany, New York, who gave the shortest and most profound summation of his job as a TV journalist: “We’re not here to hurt, we’re not here to help. We’re here to report.”

Unfortunately, it’s easy to assume that Welch is in another line of work by now. Today’s newspapers, even in large markets such as New York and Chicago, have decided to become pom-pom waving cheerleaders for their area’s sports teams, but that’s only part of the problem. Instead of printing “Let’s Go Whoever” color posters in their papers, they’re printing name-calling, bullying war cries instead. This, of course, is right up the alley for today’s beered-up louts that make attending a major sporting event akin to walking into Mugsy’s Pub in the worst part of town and calling the proprietor “you old fart.” Today, it’s not enough to root for your team – one must vilify the other squad, as if simply singing a contract with an out of town team makes a person evil beyond human redemption. Gee, we thought that’s what a .226 batting average did, but we’re old school.

Fox News is ruining television news, broadcast by broadcast, and now other newspapers are whiffing Rupert Murdoch’s fart stench and deciding it smells like roses. It’s easy to remember the days when periodicals like the Post would write the headline “Mets Nip Cubs 3-2” on the back of the dailies the morning after a game. Gee, somehow that would tell us all we needed to know, wouldn’t it? Now, headline writers come up with pith and pandering and jibes and insults, as if the punniest headline wins the tabloid booby prize. Whatever happened to simply letting readers know what the heck happened?

Currently, a bunch of tabloid newspapers in New York are having a field day with Debralee Lorenzana, who is reportedly suing Citigroup for allegedly firing her just for being too attractive and dressing in a manner some deemed inappropriate for the workplace. There have been editorial cartoons mocking and editorials ripping the beautiful brunette – and, of course, at the same time those same papers are printing as many sexy photos of her as they can get their exploitive mitts on.

As someone who tried to learn journalism, who yearned to learn style and syntax and skill, who tried, no matter what size publication I’ve worked for, to adhere to the highest standards that I could, I now say this to the newspaper industry: Go to blazes. Day after day, newspaper after tabloid, more publications are yellower than a canary’s butt, rife with factual errors and typos and pure hype. Columnists take sides instead of reporting; gossip lowers the human experience; sports pages, where there once were agate columns of batting averages and box scores, are now filled with name-calling and sordid locker room mongering. Small town newspapers are just as bad, but in a different way; they print only what their advertisers dictate. Trust me, I’ve been there.

It’s all over. As someone who used to pick up four newspapers a day and seek them out in any city I’ve traveled to, I’ve had enough. Editors are now just salesman, pandering to the dumbest of the dumb, scrounging for loose quarters like hobos on street corners. They’ll print anything at all as long as it creates self-promoting “news” about their own publications, instead of having faith in their readerships to covet, as Joe Friday once uttered on “Dragnet,” just the facts.

Years ago, the Yankees’ Chuck Knoblauch made an error during the World Series. The next day, a local New York paper’s headline was “Blauchhead.”

Nope, that was I – for continuing to support an industry that no longer boasts even the lowest standards; they’re only in it for the money. And it’s not working; papers are closing up week by week, day by day.

May the printing presses slow and stop, one by one.

Robert Smith has been an editor and writer for … ahh, go look it up. Why should we print facts when no one else does?

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How is a raven like a writing desk?

by Jon Pine

In Tim Burton’s version of the Lewis Carroll classic “Alice in Wonderland,” Johnny Depp, as the orange-haired, googly-eyed Mad Hatter, asks, “How is a raven like a writing desk?” The answer to the question is of no consequence – rather, it’s the Hatter’s obsession with the question itself that makes him mad.

Jon Pine

I can’t help but compare supporters of the Tea Party movement to Mad Hatters, obsessed with bombastic questions, unconcerned with the answers, displaying a comical detachment from reality.

Some of their favorite nonsensical queries: “How is a centrist President like a Socialist dictator?” Or “How are the lowest taxes in 50 years like being ‘taxed to death’?” And, of course, the lulu of them all, “How are decades of deregulation, tax breaks for the mega-rich and tax loopholes for corporations like ‘big government’ running out of control?”

I’ve long ago stopped wasting my breath trying to talk the Mad Hatters down from their hallucinations. You can’t. Never mind that when the government was in their hands it underwent the largest expansion in recent history. Now that it’s in the hands of the Democrats and our first African American president, it is seen as a bloated, treacherous, treasonous Jabberwocky, and there’s only one solution – “Off with its head!”

Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter (c) Walt Disney Productions

Like all delusional paranoids, they have no idea what they’re saying. Abolish the IRS? Really? Turn corporations loose in a deregulated “free market”? Deep-six the Environmental Protection Agency? The Department of Education? Reverse portions of the Civil Rights Amendment?

Let’s slow down a bit and try to imagine what America would look like as One Nation Under the Tea Party, shall we?

Abolish the IRS. Well, for starters they don’t really mean abolishing the IRS – just the progressive tax. We’d still need a federal agency to collect taxes. Most Tea Party adherents say they prefer a so-called flat tax. But do they really understand what that would mean? It would mean that taxes for the majority of those in the middle class would go up. No more deductions for children, for charitable donations, healthcare expenses, college tuition, mortgage interest.

Over the past three decades or so, the tax burden has already, slowly but steadily, shifted away from the rich and toward the middle class. A flat tax would finish the shift, creating huge tax reductions for the rich and mega-rich. The theory, of course, is that rich people will then create jobs for the rest of us. But history has proven that to be a false premise. Job growth was actually higher during the Clinton years when taxes for the middle class went down and the taxes on the rich went up; during the Bush years, when the tax burden was reversed, job growth actually slowed.

Deregulate, baby, deregulate. Hmmm… If only there were some recent examples of deregulation gone awry. If only mass deregulation of, say, the financial and banking industries turned out to be not such a good idea. Or if, maybe, a huge industry like the oil, gas or coal industry flaunted environmental or safety regulations to a disastrous end. If only…

I lay awake at night fretting about the coming of the slick, which satellite photos now confirm has entered the “loop current” and may very well show up on the beautiful beaches here in Vero Beach, Florida. It could conceivably continue northward in the Gulf Stream and befoul beaches and fragile estuaries all along the Atlantic coast. And the more we learn about this catastrophe, the more we learn it should have been prevented.

Even the minimal regulations in place weren’t adhered to properly, and the small government blowhards want to deregulate further? Are you freakin’ kidding me? With nearly 4,000 oil and gas rigs in the Gulf of Mexico already, we don’t need one single more. Not there, nor anywhere else offshore. Yet, the Palins, the Pauls, the Becks and the other Mad Hatters are screaming again to “drill, baby, drill!”

Their justification? We need to “get off foreign oil,” and by that, what they really mean is get off of oil from the Middle East. I’ve got news for you – we can do that without drilling a single new well.

Consider that more than half the oil we consume comes from domestic sources. Of the rest, 80 percent is from foreign sources here in the Western Hemisphere – countries with whom we have no serious beefs. With just a little effort, we could eliminate the remaining 20 percent of imports (10 percent of total consumption) that come from the Eastern Hemisphere.

Start by temporarily increasing imports from our friends in the West. Then raise CAFE standards for new vehicles over the next 5-10 years, while also raising the price of gasoline with a federal tax, the way that it was done in the 1970s under President Carter. Now, as then, consumption will decrease more than 10 percent; the gas tax can be used to fund development of alternative energy sources – just like it was used in the ‘70s.

Deep-six the EPA. This is perhaps the most foolish idea of them all. The Environmental Protection Agency was initiated by Richard Nixon – no tree-hugger, he. Why? Because unregulated – there’s that word again – chemical companies had been spraying DDT, dioxins, and all sorts of nasty pollutants directly into the environment, making millions of people sick. For a conservative guy like Nixon to take such an action, it had to be really, really bad.

During the eight years of the Bush II Administration, hundreds of EPA actions and regulations had been weakened or abolished altogether. But don’t take my word for it; just read Robert F. Kennedy’s excellent account, “Crimes Against Nature.” You’ll find a synopsis of the book here: http://www.commondreams.org/views03/1120-01.htm

And now the Tea Party folks want to do away with the EPA altogether? They truly are Mad Hatters!

Close the Department of Education. Another puzzling idea, which was championed by Ronald Reagan almost immediately after Jimmy Carter established it in 1979. “Established” is really not an accurate description of what Carter did, however – previously, education was part of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and Carter merely separated the education office so that it was its own cabinet-level department.

Most people erroneously assume the Department of Education oversees curriculum development, regulates education quality standards, or makes other intrusions into the education system, but this isn’t so. Rather, it oversees federal funding for education, and makes sure that schools honor citizens’ privacy and civil rights. Important stuff, right? Not to Tea Party Mad Hatters, apparently. Rand Paul wants to give businesses the right to refuse service to minorities; apparently he feels that schools should also have that same right. Say hello to segregated schools! Thank you, Tea Party!

Ironically, the one instance in which the Department of Education did set standards for education was George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind Act” – an abject failure by most people’s accounts.

Are you beginning to get a vision of what a Tea Party Laissez-Faire Utopia might look like? All kinds of new “freedoms” – including the freedom of corporations to do and say pretty much whatever they like. The freedom to pay more taxes so rich people and corporations can pay less! Woohoo! More taxes, less benefits – sounds good, right? Bring it on!

Freedom from government interference – if you’re black or Hispanic, you can consider yourself free to leave my store now, thank you very much, and the government can’t do a thing about it. You’ll also be free to study with other minorities, but not alongside my white kids – sorry! The government can’t help you there, either.

Or maybe you’ll want to put your kids to work – there will be no federal child labor laws to stop you. And none of those pesky OSHA standards to guarantee safe working conditions for the little buggers – or for you, for that matter. Just don’t expect fair wages – the “free market” means the government can no longer regulate utilities, so the company will make it up by cutting wages, and the government can’t stop them. No such thing as a minimum wage anymore! Isn’t that grand? And don’t try to unionize – that won’t be legal anymore, either.

This is just a glimpse of what you can expect. You can say goodbye to 10 percent unemployment – and hello to 20 or even 25 percent unemployment. We’ve just shit-canned millions of federal employees, remember? They’re all out there scratching and clawing for your job now – only there won’t be any guarantee of access to healthcare. The Mad Hatters have overturned healthcare reform, and they’re coming after Medicare and Social Security next.

We live in a huge, complex country, growing larger and more complex every day. We need more government, not less; more regulations, not fewer. The Wall Street debacle and the oil that is still oozing in the Gulf of Mexico demonstrate that our problems are growing larger and more complex, too – and that corporations and the free market, left to their own devices, will not protect us. But they will do all they can to protect their own profits.

The goal here should not be smaller government, but rather more efficient government. Instead of “Off with his head!” we should be calling for “Tame the Jabberwocky!” Government is not the enemy. Why would we listen to anything the Mad Hatters say?

A raven is like a writing desk – indeed!

© 2010 Jon Pine

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Filed under Current events, Journalism, Politics, Posts by Jon Pine