Saturday, November 22, 2008

Blog #63: A little of this and that . . .

Last week we told all of you Monty Python fans out there the possible origin of their Dead Parrot routine, which turned out to be a joke found in an ancient Greek joke book about a man trying to return a dead slave. This week we are going one better, and bring you Monty Python itself. The boys, a bit older and puffier, but still cheeky after all these years, have decided to fight the mass of their videos which have been posted by their fans on YouTube, by joining them opening their very own YouTube channel. They have posted 24 videos to start with, and promise more to come. Below we post their introductory video, in which they explain their move. How are they going to pay for their venture, when the videos they post are free? They hope you will click on the links that lead to their dvd's and other offerings, of course.

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Speaking of comedy, Kevin O'Donnell of Rolling Stone, reports on his interview with the touring Cheech and Chong. The original stoner duo, Cheech & Chong, squashed their long-running feud to reunite for the Light Up America/Canada Tour — their first in 25 years. The tour kicked off last Friday in Ottawa and runs through late December, with one more gig in New York at Radio City Music Hall at the end of January. Rolling Stone got the pair on the phone for a conversation. There follows a few excerpts from the interview:

What are the shows like? What kind of stuff are you guys performing?
• Tommy Chong: We've basically revised our live show from 30 years ago, and it seems to work. We just went from Nixon to Bush, and that's about all that's changed. Personally I like the stand-up bits I get to do in between the acts, because I've been working on my stand up for a few years. The first bit, The Low Rider, is also probably the best, funniest piece of comedy ever in the history of mankind.

How do you guys do that live?
• Chong: We did it live before, but the only thing is we don't light up the joint now. We just pretend to light up the joint. But the crowd's totally with us. Every anal guy in the world always wanted to see Cheech & Chong together. Like, they go into a restaurant and the salt and pepper shakers are sitting apart, and you know how they gotta go and put them together? Well, that's the same as Cheech & Chong. It just bothered everybody that Cheech and Chong weren't working together, and now that we are just seems like certain people can die happy now. It was always my ultimate dream that we'd get back together while we're not drooling too much.

You guys have kind of had some differences over the past couple of years. How were you guys able to get beyond that to reunite?
• Chong: We drove over to the alley and we fought it out. We said, "Fuck it, man. Let's get it on." We're so old, Cheech couldn't see me and I couldn't hear him. No, actually, we put our managers in a room and had them duke it out.

Do you guys bring a lot of weed with you on the road?
• Chong: No. None. Never. You know, nine months in jail teaches you something. Plus, it's like bringing coal to Newcastle. We're in Canada now, and even in the States, if you need weed, you can get weed faster than you can get a pizza almost anywhere.

What's different about your approach to comedy now versus 25 years ago?
• Chong: Twenty-five years ago we didn't have to try to remember what the show was. Our approach now is, "How does that bit go?"
• Cheech: And there's music in the show now. I mean, we're actually playing in the show a lot more.
• Chong: And we look a lot older than we did before.
• Cheech: Yeah, we're like the pedophile age.

You said that there's a sing-along at the end of your show. To what song?
• Chong: "Up in Smoke."
• Cheech: And then we sing "Kumbaya," you know, for world peace. It's for the kids. The kids are our future.

I'm wondering if you have any thoughts about the re-emergence of stoner culture in the mainstream with movies like Pineapple Express.
• Chong: We feel responsible, so we're demanding 10 percent from all those movies. Pineapple Express, I thought, was really funny.
• Cheech: For white guys, [Seth Rogen and James Franco] aren't half bad.

How do you think your movies hold up?
• Cheech: I look at the residual check I get every year. It's a huge check, every year for 30 years. So, obviously it holds up. It's an American classic, no doubt.
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Ever wonder if any of the people responsible for George W. Bush's attaining the presidency in 2000 suffer any guilt or regret? Does James Baker III, who presented Bush's case before the Supreme Court have any misgivings over that which he hath wrought? Are his nights filled with sweet dreams, or are they filled with disturbing images of what might have been, had he not presented his case so convincingly. Of course, Mr. Baker isn't saying a damn thing one way or the other, and what person in his most exalted position would ever admit to such a major gaffe?

One member of the team which helped engineer 2000's Supreme Court's Supreme Fiat is self-admitted GOP hit man, Roger Stone. Stone has had a hand in everything from Nixon's dirty tricks to Eliot Spitzer's resignation to spreading discredited rumors of a Michelle Obama “whitey” tape during the 2008 Democratic primaries. You might call Stone the Forrest Gump of scandal, popping up to play a bit part in the most notorious negative campaigns in recent history.

The capstone of Stone’s career, at least in terms of results, was the “Brooks Brothers riot” of the 2000 election recount. This was when a Stone-led squad of pro-Bush protesters stormed the Miami-Dade County election board, stopping the recount and advancing then-Governor George W. Bush one step closer to the White House. Though he is quick to rebut GOP operatives who seek to minimize his role in the recount, Stone lately has been having second thoughts about what happened in Florida.

"There have been many times I've regretted it,” Stone told The Daily Beast blogger Benjamin Sarlin over pizza at Grand Central Station. “When I look at those double-page New York Times spreads of all the individual pictures of people who have been killed [in Iraq], I got to thinking, 'Maybe there wouldn't have been a war if I hadn't gone to Miami-Dade. Maybe there hadn't have been, in my view, an unjustified war if Bush hadn't become president.' It's very disturbing to me."

Stone voted for Bush in 2004 as well (“John Kerry was an elitist buffoon”) but he pulled no punches in his assessment of the last eight years. Stone's own political philosophy is libertarian, and he says it conflicts with Bush's penchant for expanded executive power.

“I think across the board he's led the party to its current position, which means losing both houses of congress and now the White House,” Stone said. “How can you be conservative and justify wiretapping people without a warrant? We're supposed to be the party of personal freedom and civil liberties. Big brother listening in on your phone calls — I got a problem with that.”

That Stone joins Matthew Dowd, Scott McClellan, and Colin Powell in the group of disaffected ex-Bushies shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. According to Stone, he didn't even want to get involved in the 2000 race at all until the GOP's recount head, James Baker III, called him up and asked him for his help. Stone said that Baker had helped him out in 1981 by getting Reagan and Bush to lend support to New Jersey Governor Tom Kean, whose campaign Stone ran. He owed him a favor.

“In this business, if you don't pay your debts you're finished,” Stone said. Nor does Stone regret dirty politicking. Stone still offers his services as a no-holds-barred strategist to domestic and foreign politicians alike, and claims his client list is full. Ironically one Florida race this year even hinged on his role in the 2000 recount. In a hard-fought campaign for Broward County sheriff, the Democratic candidate, Scott Israel, flooded the airwaves with over-the-top ads attacking his Republican incumbent Al Lamberti for utilizing "the same Bush hatchet man who tried to steal the 2000 election." Obama carried Broward County by 243,567 votes, the biggest margin of any county in Florida, but incredibly, Israel lost to Lamberti by 15,400 votes, a rare Republican upset in an overwhelmingly Democratic year. Stone may be paying a price for the 2000 recount in his conscience, but he didn't pay one at the ballot box.
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It is beginning to look more and more like one of our major problems in this country, and the one that threatens to bring down our economy with a deafening thud, is the ever spiraling cost of health care. General Motors has announced that it has to add approximately $1,600 to the cost of each automobile they sell in order to cover the health care costs of its employees and retirees. (Back when they litigated these employment benefits the company was the largest auto builder in the world, and its future was bright indeed. However, the intervening years have seen foreign automakers pop up like weeds in a tilled field, and suddenly GM is not only no longer top dog, but is staring a bankruptcy court in the face.) Medicare is standing right alongside the auto industry, bracing itself for the eminent retirement of millions of Baby Boomers which will surely tax the present system to the breaking point as it relies on the present day ever shrinking current work force to pay the benefits of the retirees. In short, our society seems to have brought all of this on itself by having our technology extend our lives until suddenly there are way too many of us who are retired and attempting to live on an ever shrinking dole.

Back in 2000 this country had the atrocious luck of having had a president arbitrarily installed by Supreme Court fiat, a president who once enthroned first excused the very rich from their tax obligations, after which he invaded a nation which was doing nothing at all to us at the time and which posed no threat, but whose continual occupation has cost our taxpayers 10 billion big ones a month for the past five years. And with that sized monkey on our backs no way can we run our country and war machine on a pay as you go basis, and so our predicament has meant having to borrow huge amounts of money from our so-called friends in China and the Arab nations. And this extravagance means that our children and their children will be paying off our debt in the decades to come.

Meantime our society frowns upon and makes illegal some of those very things which just might have helped us cure this over population problem by thinning our ranks, from things like addictive drugs (the likes of heroin and cocaine), to the right of persons who are hopelessly ill to bring his or her suffering to an end by committing doctor assisted suicide. I'm not advocating either of those two propositions, I might add. I'm simply pointing out the irony of frenetically pursuing factors which might have a long term effect of decreasing our bulging population.

What is the solution to the growing health care mess? Well, for one thing how about some kind of limitation on the profit made off of health care and prescription drugs? It seems unconscionable to me that Americans should have to spend substantially more for drugs than citizens of other nations. It seems to me this will have to change if we are to get any kind of handle on health care. However, most probably we will need divine intervention if we are going to be able to muddle our way through this myriad of apparently unsolvable situations. Good luck, Barack Obama. A hell of a lot is riding on your being a cross between Superman and an all knowing deity. If anybody can do it you can, we feel sure.
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Creationist is the term affixed to those that take the Bible's words at face value, individuals who believe that the earth was created in six literal days, and on the seventh He rested, and presumably probably went to church. The only problem with this is: which church? Of course, it varies as to who you ask, but it is most likely the church which the creationist you are talking to attends.

One thing about people who sincerely live their religion; they take that familiar Boy Scout credo very seriously, which means they want to share their beliefs with others. Make that read, force it down other's throats. The famous Scopes trial in Tennessee attempted to prevent the theory of evolution from being taught as fact in the public schools. Creationism lost that court fight, and that epic contest is enshrined in our nation's folklore, not to mention in several compelling dramatic offerings. However, creationists have not faded away into the twilight. Like mushrooms on an autumn evening they pop up after each rain in places where you least expect them.

Their latest attempt here in Texas is for conservatives on the State Educational Board to attempt to bully the education community into teaching our children that the theory of evolution is flawed, not perfect, and thereby presumably without merit. In the eye of the true believer, evolution is stained, as it conflicts with Biblical teaching. Sarah Palin evidently belongs in this group, though fortunately she lives all the way up in Alaska, where she is no threat to the children who live in Texas. But as we write conservative members of our state's commission on education are deftly attempting to sow seeds of doubt into the curriculum of evolution. So what does the academic community do in self defense? Why they do a study, of course.

According to Gary Sharrer, writing in the Houston Chronicle, “the verdict from Texas scientists is nearly unanimous: 98 percent favor the unadulterated teaching of evolution in public school classrooms, according to a report released Monday as the State Board of Education prepares to weigh in on the controversy. A vast majority of the scientists say students would be harmed if the state requires the teaching of the "weaknesses" of the theory of evolution, according to the survey conducted for the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, an organization that works on issues involving religious freedom, civil liberties and public education.

"With 94 percent of Texas faculty ... telling me it (teaching the weaknesses) shouldn't be there, I tend to believe them," said Raymond Eve, a sociologist at the University of Texas at Arlington who did the study. "More than 450 biology or biological anthropology professors at 50 Texas colleges and universities participated in a 59-question survey. Many of those faculty members help determine admission of students into Texas' colleges and universities,” Eve said. "Their responses should send parents a clear message that those who want to play politics with science education are putting our kids at risk," he said.

The handling of evolution is the most contentious part in the state's rewrite of the science curriculum standards for public schools. The State Board will have a public hearing on Wednesday and vote on the new science standards early next year. The new guidelines are formally known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS. Social conservatives on the 15-member State Board of Education are likely to push for those standards to include a requirement that high school science teachers teach the weaknesses of evolution.

The "intelligent design" concept holds that the universe and living organisms are so complicated that their origins are best explained by an intelligent cause. READ GOD. That idea also is intended to circumvent court rulings that prohibit the teaching of creationism as science. We would remind these nay sayers that scientific knowledge consists of principles which can be proven, and proven repeatedly. Science represents the best conjectures of learned minds, and states principles the results of which can be repeated time and time again. Creationism, as in all religion, is a concept which is not provable. It exists only because of the faith of the believer. And where it is certainly the right of every individual to believe in whatever he or she wishes to believe in in our free society, what is not cool is for one person or group of people, to try to foist their own personal, unprovable theories upon our school children and pass them off as science.

The requirement that teachers teach the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolutionary theory is the result of a compromise offered by a Democratic board member 20 years ago, Bradley said. The State Board of Education is in charge of setting curriculum standards and preparing children for college and jobs in the modern economy and that requires "sound science, not watered down, politicized science," said Kathy Miller, president of the Austin-based Texas Freedom Network. "Teach evolution and don't water it down with creationism, intelligent design or phony weaknesses," Miller said.

We might add to that, if you're going to teach the weaknesses of the theory of evolution, why stop there? Let’s revert to the medieval catholic theory that the sun, the planets and the stars all revolve around the earth. After all, in our God's eyes we are the center of the universe. And how about that revelation that Eve was created from Adam's rib? That was sure as hell some intelligent design. And while we’re about it let’s ground all airplanes. After all if the Lord wanted men to fly wouldn't he have outfitted us with wings? Perhaps while we’re about it, we could teach the fallacy of Einstein’s theory, which of course would mean that the US collection of atomic bombs would no longer work, since the theory they were based on was wrong. And maybe, if our ideas catch on, we can revert to that quaint old custom of our ancestors, burning witches and infidels at the stake. After all, people who think different probably own Apple computers which are the real threats to all we hold sacred. Right?
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According to legend the creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, truly love controversy, and it's a damn good thing they do, too. It seems they're once again stirring the pot, this time forgoing television for Broadway, as in Broadway Musical. And it is not just any musical the are creating, but a musical based on the lives and loves of Mormons! That'll show the church what can happen when they come out of the closet and heavily fund the Proposition 8 in California which attempts to rescind the legal right to marry that the California courts had extended to gays and lesbians recently. Religions supposedly earn that bye on taxation that the rest of us are forced to pay by refraining from meddling in partisan politics. But that seems to be going out of fashion these days. The evangelical right has appropriated the Republican Party, and both Catholics and Mormons ganged up to deprive gays of the same rights the rest of us freely enjoy, the right to legally wed the person of our choice.

There is some precedent for Parker and Stone's foray into music. They got their lyrical feet wet with an Oscar-nominated song from 1999's "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut." Trey & Matt - along with Robert Lopez, the co-writer of "Avenue Q" - have finally settled on a script and are workshopping their new production aptly titled, "Mormon Musical." One of Broadway's most beloved actors, Cheyenne Jackson, is the star of this potentially polarizing show? "It's hilarious,” Cheyenne opined, “very acerbic and biting. It offends everybody but does what 'South Park' does best, which is by the end it comes around and has something great to say," Cheyenne said. "I play the main missionary, Elder something," he went on, straining to recall the name of his character. But the biggest unknown still is who else will be joining the cast. When asked Cheyenne which other actors would be co-starring, all he would say (through the world's largest grin) is, "a lot of people – all amazing." That naturally leads us to speculate that "Mormon Musical" is about to become one of the most star-studded shows to hit Broadway in years! The show starts rehearsals in December, so expect to see it on the Great White Way sometime in 2009!
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Ana Marie Cox in Saturday's Daily Beast reports on a really odd phenomenon, Republicans for Hillary as Secretary of State:

"Hillary Clinton has found some unlikely allies and supporters in her journey to becoming Secretary of State: neoconservatives, contributors to the National Review, even a former manager of her husband's impeachment proceedings. You might call it a vast right-wing conspiracy.

"How to explain the generally positive take Republicans have on Clinton's nomination? Her willingness to veer right in international policy. While she all but — all but — apologized for her pro-war vote in the Democratic primaries, Republicans are counting on her toughness in the days ahead. As one consultant put it: "We all know that secretly, she's a hawk." Writing in The Weekly Standard's blog, Michael Goldfarb wrote hopefully about Clinton "even present[ing] the case for war with Iran to an insubordinate United Nations in the event that Obama's personal diplomacy somehow fails to deter the mullahs from their present course." His editor, Bill Kristol, responded to the news with a giddy email: "I look forward to working with her!"

"Reached this afternoon as word of an official offer was spreading, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) — he's the former Clinton impeachment manager — had nothing but praise about the selection. "She's got the right skill set for the job," he said, "There's no country in the world she can't go to. I mean, she's Hillary! Not many people in the world are known by their first name like that." Graham said her confirmation in the Senate should be "no problem," thanks to her knack for personal diplomacy. "She's good at giving credit to others, which works well in the Senate." As for diplomacy abroad, Graham emphasized her less warm and fuzzy side, "She's gotta pretty good view of how the Russians are drifting in the wrong direction." By "good,” Graham means a view NOT shared by all of her Democratic colleagues. Echoing Goldfarb, he added, "in the primaries, she had a tougher view on Iran than Obama."

My take: What's the old saying about politics making strange bedfellows? What goes around comes around? Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of Republicans and neocons. The Shadow Knows! But damn, he talks only in whispers.

The Real Little Eddy

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