Monday, November 30, 2015

Put a Bork in it

I have to be very careful about how many new shows I start to follow.  Once I like a show, I have to see every episode, which can lead to difficulty once hockey season starts and there are 2-3 Penguins games on each week.  I have to be sure to leave some empty spaces in my schedule, where I can catch up on stuff I’ve DVRed.

But there was one show I felt warranted an instant place in my weekly lineup immediately.  It’s a new version of an old show I used to enjoy, back in The Day.

I think I was a sophomore in high school when the original Muppet Show came out, but I didn’t start to watch until I was a senior, I think.  I probably dismissed it as a kid’s show for the first couple years, before I actually saw an episode and learned that it wasn’t a kid’s show at all.  I’m not saying the humor was sophisticated, but it was definitely for the grown ups. 

One of the first articles I ever wrote for my high school paper was a (very positive) review of the Muppet Show.  I had a Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem poster up in my room for ages.  And I remember I used to sit beside the TV speaker with my portable tape recorder and record the audio for every Swedish Chef segment.  (The Chef is still my favorite Muppet, bar none.)  We never got a VCR until years later, so I had to make do.

You probably remember the show; the premise was that the Muppets were putting on a weekly vaudeville-style variety show, each with a special human guest. 

In the new adaptation, the Muppets are still putting on a show, but now it’s a late night talk show, starring the temperamental Miss Piggy.  She and Kermie are no longer an item; they broke up and he’s seeing a new pig.  (No, that wasn’t an insult. She’s a pig and her name is Denise.) 

In this world, humans still interact with the Muppets, but in an entirely new way.  They’re not just on the show but involved with the Muppets’ lives.  In fact, Fozzie Bear has a new human girlfriend.  In the funniest scene of the premiere episode, as Fozzie is heading out to meet her parents, he explains how they met through a personals ad.  He said, “When your online profile says you're a 'passionate bear looking for love,' you get a lot of wrong responses.”

I almost fell off the couch laughing.  Nope, this isn’t the Muppet Show of my youth, and I love the newer, hipper, more culturally aware vibe. 

Not all agree with me, however.  That same line garnered online petitions and outragist offense-taking on the part of the usual busybodies on the Christian Right, (the group “One Million Moms”) who seemed to think the Muppets were synonymous with Sesame Street.  But as I said, this isn’t a show for kids.  And anything that’s been remotely daring has been addressed in terms that would go over a kid’s head.  (Like that “bear” joke.)

Someone needs to tell the “One Million Moms” that there are a corresponding One Million Channel Changing Buttons, and that they can use them as they see fit.  And to each, her own.

I was relieved to find that the Swedish Chef still has a prominent role in the show.  He may not get his own 2-minute segment anymore, but he’s a regular presence. 

I think it was in the third episode when the cast was tired of Miss Piggy being such a pain in the ass, so they decided to get her a man.  (Yes, really.)  So they got Kermit to book crooner Josh Groban on the show, knowing Miss Piggy would take to him nicely.  At one point, everyone is huddled around her dressing room door, wondering what she and Groban were doing in there.  The door opens, everyone looks shocked, and then the Chef says, (imagine the Swedish Chef voice) “Der piggen da gropin’ da Groben.”

Later Groban is giving Piggy a hot stone treatment on her back.  Chef ambles by, takes a sniff, and asks Kermit, “Soombody cooken der piggen?

I’ve always loved the Chef’s mumbo-jumbo.  It’s completely nonsensical, but never fails to kill me.  And they totally use it, too.  I mean, they had an episode where the cast went to a karaoke bar after the show, and the Chef takes on the 70s classic, “Rapper’s Delight.”

Apparently you can get that as a ringtone now.  I’ll have to look into that.  In the meantime, I found this:

My newest t-shirt.

I must say, considering Jim Henson has been dead for more than 20 years, it’s amazing that all the characters he used to do still have the same voice.

I also like Beaker, who’s still getting tossed around, pummeled and electrocuted, working as the lab assistant for Dr. Bunsen Honeydew.  He still doesn’t have much in the way of language skills, though.  If I didn’t get that Chef t-shirt, I was going to get this one.

In tomorrow night’s episode, I heard that former Nirvana drummer, Dave Grohl, is going to have a drum battle with Animal.  He’s already done a drum battle with legendary jazz drummer, Buddy Rich.  I can’t wait to see how this one turns out. 

I also read that the executives at ABC aren’t happy with the way the show is performing, and are having them overhaul the style and tone of the show.  Great, leave it to TV executives to ruin a perfectly good show.  As it stands now, the show is smart, hip, and funny.  If any of that changes, it’s one more nail in the coffin that is network television.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Playground Politics for a Grade School Candidate

In his next misapplication of logic, common sense and decency, Donald Trump suggested that he would bring back waterboarding because ISIS does worse things.  He went on to cite examples of Daniel Foley and other hostages being publicly beheaded.

In straight logical analysis, this is another apples to oranges comparison.  The beheadings were meant to kill and terrorize, period.  They were brutal, lethal, public disservice announcements, meant to cause fear and unrest in their target audience.  And I agree, that’s bad.  (And it was with great pleasure I read about the successful drone bombing of the ringmaster of that particular circus.  For a closeted “Muslim,” Obama sure has a lot of them blown up.)

Waterboarding, on the other hand, is an interrogation method, meant to elicit actionable intel from a captive.  It’s brutal, which conservatives seem to like, but it doesn’t really work, which conservatives don’t really care about as long as they’re kicking some ass.  It’s basically revenge, meant to make a primitive segment of our nation feel better about themselves.

It comes down to grade-school level foreign policy, the I Know You Are But What Am I Doctrine.  There are reasons that America is a great country and one of them is that we don’t stoop down to the level of our enemies.  At least we didn’t use to.  I don’t see how our becoming as reprehensible as these ISIS animals helps us or our allies in any way.  Take away the moral high ground, and we’re same bunch of savages, only with better weapons.

It’s always funny to me when people like Trump want to throw out all this bluster and bravado about torture and killings.  I mean, the most discomfort Trump’s ever felt was getting a splinter from the silver spoon in his mouth.  It’s easy for him to talk tough because he has no inkling of what it means to be tortured.  Maybe John McCain can show him.

When you condemn the enemy for his tactics and then adopt a set that are just as brutal, there ceases to be a difference between sides.

I’ll give Trump credit for this, though… when he’s wrong, he stays wrong.  Did you hear him talking about the Muslims in New Jersey he said he saw, cheering the collapse of the Towers?  Oh yeah, thousands of them, he said, right here in America.  Only problem is that it never happened.

And when it was pointed out to him that it never happened, he doubled down, insisting he saw thousands of despicable Muslims cheering “on the other side of New Jersey, where you have large Arab populations.”

Never happened.  There is not a single frame of that kind of “celebration,” to be verified anywhere.  (Remember, that’s “verified.”  That means when the inevitable xenophobe apologist repurposes demonstration footage from elsewhere and posts it on Facebook, it doesn’t count.) 

Snopes had a good analysis of the whole thing, even going as far as to probe the incidence of “false memories” in studies. 

I don’t know if Trump has a false memory, or he’s just full of shit.  I suspect he heard about something at the time and over the years has convinced himself that he’s seen it.  He probably does believe it was real.  Maybe he saw a couple of people in footage from other countries, then mixed in his usual dose of exaggeration to come up with the “thousands.”

But when confronted with evidence that there were zero news reports (still) to be found and denials from both police and Muslim leaders that any such celebration took place, you’d think he might go, “Well, OK, maybe not.”

But this is a modern conservative we’re talking about.  They don’t apologize and they never back down, regardless of how wrong they’re proven to be.

And isn’t that just the thing we would want in a world leader?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Bumper Sticker Politics

This morning, (Friday 11/13) I heard Donald Trump on the radio with his next Overly Simplistic Big Idea.

After claiming that ISIS oil wells are earning them millions of dollars per week, Trump said that as president,I would bomb the shit out of them.  I would just bomb those suckers. And that's right: I'd blow up the pipes, I'd blow up the refineries. I would blow up every single inch. There would be nothing left.”

He went on to say that our oil companies are very good at rebuilding, so he would send them in to rebuild, and then take the oil.

The article I linked didn’t mention that last part about taking the oil, but I heard a clip of him saying it this morning, and I’m paraphrasing to the best of my recollection.  Plus, none of this is new; he’s been using this idea in his stump speeches all summer. 

In Iowa, like it has on the stump, the idea of blowing up ISIS-held oilfields and taking the oil was met with raucous applause.  Because of course it was.  It’s a “feel-good” idea for the guys at the bar, that makes them feel powerful and in control.  “Yeah, we’ll just blow’em up real gooooood.” 

But as with most bumper sticker ideas, if you give a few minutes’ worth of thought on the matter, the whole thing unravels.

So I heard his quote on the radio this morning as I got up, and by the time I got out of the shower, I had this analysis.

The biggest problem isn’t necessarily the blowing up of the oil fields.  Hell, we’re doing that now.  The problem is rebuilding and taking the oil, and what it would require.  You think ISIS is going to just let some Exxon engineers waltz in and rebuild the facility?  Hell no.  So it would require a constant US military presence to clear the area and ensure the builder’s safety.

It’s the same with operation; once the facilities have been rebuilt.  ISIS would be relentless in trying to retake the area and resume reaping the glut of oil money.  So our military would have to remain there, indefinitely, to maintain operations.

It’s the same with transporting the oil.  The oil has to get to a refinery, or to a tanker ship (not necessarily in that order), and the transport avenues would be vulnerable to attack.  We’d have to provide military escort until the product was out of the region.  Indefinitely.

Now, add in the surrounding players in the oil business, in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the rest.  Do you think they’ll be happy with an American oil-producing outpost smack in their back yard?  (Putin will be pissed he didn’t do it first.)  There will be a lot of international hell to pay over our blatant resource-grab.  I’m thinking UN condemnation, trade sanctions, export tariffs, and whatnot.  Regardless of whether we “care” or not, it will make the job a lot harder and more costly.  

Wrap it all together and we now have a permanent American military presence in the middle east, the equivalent of a 3rd Gulf War.  And for what?  We can’t even kid ourselves that we’re sending our troops over there for national security.  They’ll be there for the oil, plain and simple.  Our soldiers will be fighting and dying so that the oil companies can line their pockets. 

If you believe what you see on Facebook, conservatives lay claim to being the most fervently supportive of the military.  Yet judging from the popularity of Trump’s statement, they show no hesitation to send them into a war-for-profit.

Maybe I’m “un-American,” but in addition to providing education, employment opportunities and health care for veterans, I say we should support the troops by not sending them into wars of choice.  The Department of Defense should be about defending, not the forced acquisitions of foreign resources, for the exclusive benefit of a select few.

If the oil companies want to commandeer mid-east oil fields, let them purchase security directly through the defense contractors like Halliburton, and leave our troops and the taxpayers out of it.

But you can’t put all that on a bumper sticker.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Praying for Deliverance from the Religious Litmus Test

Ted Cruz thinks a president should begin every day with a prayer.  I agree with him.  And that prayer should go, “Please deliver me from the hurtful things the religious right is going to do in God’s name.  Please give me the strength to keep from strangling Ted Cruz where he stands.  And let there be pecan pie for dessert.  Amen.”

While attending the National Religious Liberties Conference in Iowa, the emcee asked Ted Cruz how important it was for presidential candidates submit to Jesus Christ as “the king of the President of the United States.”  (Apparently that’s the kind of softball question Republicans really want teed up from debate moderators.)

Anyway, Cruz responded, “Any president who doesn't begin every day on his knees isn't fit to be commander-in-chief of this country.”

That leaves a lot of room for interpretation, doesn’t it, especially for those of us with our minds in the gutter?  However, this isn’t that kind of post.

But yeah, we get it.  The President must claim to be a religious man.  Judging from the religious Republican politicians, he obviously doesn’t have to govern by any meaningful religious principles… he doesn’t have to provide for the poor, or take up for the sick or weak, or love his neighbors. 

No, according to Ted Cruz and the rest of the political hypocrites, a president needs to pay lip service to religious ideals and then go out and make sure that Defense spending is increased, border walls are put up, tax cuts for the wealthiest citizens are enacted and breaks on health care are removed.  Oh, and also defund the one organization that is doing the most to lower the abortion rate in this country.

I’m uncomfortable with any kind of religious litmus test for presidential candidates.  And apparently so were the Founding Fathers, who wrote “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States,” in Article 6 of the Constitution.

So there’s not “technically” a prohibition against the non-religious seeking office, but oh yeah, there certainly is a practical one.  People can vote for whomever they choose, and if they choose not to vote for the Godless heathen, that’s the way it goes.  An atheist has zero chance of being elected president, or to any other higher office.  (Luckily, I’m not inclined to run, although the campaign would be one for the ages.)

I don’t think religion has any place in government, and to tell the truth, I don’t think Republicans do either.  They just use it as a means to procure votes from people they’re about to screw.  And while doing so, they use propaganda services like Fox “News” to convince people that Jesus didn’t really mean it is easier for a rich man to pass through the eye of a needle than it is to get into heaven.  And what He really meant was that the rich are “the meek” and as so, the ones to inherit the earth.  Or at least get the taxes lowered on their chunk of it.

It makes me laugh when I keep seeing in the news and on the Internet, the tales of “religious persecution” claimed by Christians in this country… the Christians who, by the way, make up about 70% of the US population.  Since when does the 30% persecute the 70%?  I’m pretty sure it’s not religious freedom they’re fighting for; it’s the freedom for everyone to abide by Christian dogma.  I don’t see any of the religious rights people fighting for Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, or any other flavor.

They claim injury any time they’re not allowed to buffalo their faith into the public realm and then call it “persecution.”  I call it pushing back when people assume that theirs is the only valid faith; the national default religion, if you will. 

Sometimes I sit back in wonder, amazed at all the strife, the world over, caused by the conflict over which invisible man in the sky we pray to and how and when we do it.

Being a heathen makes things so much simpler, even if I don’t get to be president.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Debate and Switch

I’m not surprised that the Republicans are orchestrating an organized campaign to push back against CNBC’s tough debate questions.

Sure, on one hand, they appear to be a bunch of spoiled children complaining to their parents because their teachers’ tests are too hard, when in fact, they didn’t study up.  What the presidential contestants refuse to understand is that the job of the debate moderators is to ask tough questions; ones that the candidates may not want to answer.  They are not there to lob softball questions designed provide opportunities for the candidates to repeat well-worn segments from their stump speeches.  And if a candidate dodges or tap-dances around a question, the moderators should call him on it, right then and there.

The moderators are supposed to be the stand-ins for We, the skeptical People.

Their complaining is especially galling to me because CNBC asked many of the exact same kind of questions that the Fox moderators did.  But no one (except Donald Trump) complained about them

I’m not saying they ran the most professional debate… I’m not fond of asking a candidate to comment on something an opponent said while he's standing right beside him.  (Which Fox also did.)  It just strikes me a bit too much like a schoolyard bully getting two lesser bullies to fight each other, for his own amusement.  And I think they should have done a better job in citing their sources when the candidates pushed back.

But I don’t buy the whole “unfair” thing.  They were executing the very definition of their job… asking hard questions of people who want to lead the country.  The GOP complaints seem to me like protesting that your job interviewer didn’t just let you read aloud from your resume. 

Now, on the other hand, I see the debate pushback as part of an overall strategy to discredit anyone or anything that dares to contradict the GOP party line.  It’s just like what a lawyer does when the other side’s witness provides damning testimony.  What do you do?  You discredit, you impugn character, you call them biased and untrustworthy.

In other words, you create labels like, “the liberal media.”

While the Republicans have always complained about the alleged “liberal media,” they’ve ramped it up in recent years.  And now they’ve begun to smear fact-checking sites like Snopes and PolitiFact.  It’s just another way of stacking the deck.

When there’s an entity researching their claims and pointing out the falsehoods, exaggerations, half-truths and out-of-context assertions, all they have left to do is claim “bias.”  You know, since they can’t defund them.

Or, of course, they could stop making claims they can’t support.  But that won’t win many elections.  America would rather hear a pretty lie than an ugly truth.  And unless one is versed in critical thinking and analysis, (which the GOP led the charge against being taught in Texas high schools in 2012), it’s difficult to tell the lies from the truth.

The GOP knows that they can make any claim they want, and a large number of people will believe it because it plays to their existing prejudices.  (Like, “I’m going to cut taxes, deport all the illegal aliens, build a wall, cut regulations, win the war in the Middle East and still lower the deficit.”)  So when the press or a fact-checking website run the numbers and say it’s not so, they get smeared as having anti-conservative bias.

In fact, if there’s a bias from these institutions, it’s a bias against bullshit, which I think should be celebrated rather than castigated.  I say let the truth be told on all sides.

That’s another myth, that the fact-checking sites are inherently liberal.  Anyone that looks can plainly see that they hold both parties’ feet to the fire.  Democrats get called on misinformation as well.  I just don’t hear any of them complaining that the sites are biased against them. 

And if there is more debunked material on one political side than another, maybe it’s because that side puts out so much more stuff that’s in need of debunking.

But going back to the original subject of debates, I think the moderators should take an even more aggressive approach to both party debates.  I think they should have a team of researchers looking up every specious claim that’s made, with a line to one moderator’s ear, whose only job is to be the referee.  Then they can “fact check” the debate in real time before the public is left with the permanent stain of misinformation.  In addition, I would put a running total up in the corner, like they do for football games.

If the presidential wannabees don’t want to get rung up, then tell the truth, in context, without exaggeration.  If they can’t tell the truth when campaigning, what makes us think they’ll tell the truth during their presidencies?