Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Case Closed?

President Obama has released his long-form birth certificate from Hawaii, hopefully bringing an end to what has become an unbelievably silly distraction.

This morning, he said:
And I have to say that over the last two and a half years I have watched with bemusement, I've been puzzled at the degree to which this thing just kept on going. We've had every official in Hawaii, Democrat and Republican, every news outlet that has investigated this, confirm that, yes, in fact, I was born in Hawaii, August 4, 1961, in Kapiolani Hospital.
What puzzles me is why the White House just didn't release the long form in the first place and end the nonsense. Then again, the president has better things to do than be goaded by Donald Trump. He shouldn't have to cowtow to those who looking for an excuse -- any excuse -- to get him booted out of office.

Really, now, will this make a difference among those grabbing at a bunch of rotten straws? Methinks not.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Katie Begins The End

Katie Couric has officially confirmed TV news' worst-kept secret, telling People she's stepping down from the CBS Evening News. No last day has been announced yet, nor does she reveal her next career move, although it's widely believed she'll helm a syndicated talk show.

This ends an experiment in TV news that went beyond Couric's title as the first female solo anchor of a nightly network newscast. When Couric joined CBS in 2006, the network rebuilt the entire evening news around her, adding an interview segment and a series of outside editorials called "FreeSpeech." Then CBS discovered network news viewers can be a very stodgy bunch. The editorial segment disappeared. So did the in-studio interview segments.

Couric continued to do several big interviews in the field, including that sit-down with Sarah Palin which revealed the 2008 veep candidate wasn't quite ready for prime time. It also salvaged Couric's career at the network, which I and others said was circling the drain, given her inability to get the network out of the third-place spot in the evening news ratings race.

I've talked before
about the reasons Katie hasn't turned things around. I still think her biggest strength is interviewing and not news-reading, and network brass misjudged that in the glow of Couric's star power. She has never looked comfortable delivering scripts from a prompter, even five years after her debut.

But moreover, it's not about Katie. It's about a nightly news broadcast that has still not escaped the long shadow of Dan Rather and weak lead-ins from its affiliate stations. No one person is going to change that and not in five years.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Dear ABC, We Don't Need Another Talk Show...

...let alone two. But ABC's daytime topper decided to kill off classic soaps All My Children and One Life To Life, replacing them with a cooking show and a makeover show.

My question is, why not a game show? I'd love to see two half hour games somewhere in the mix. ABC has been out of the daytime game show business since 1990, when it axed a revival of Match Game. However, I can think of several titles that are screaming for revivals.

Split Second. This is the show that made Tom Kennedy's career. It's a smart, lightning-fast hard quiz, but it needs to be done exactly the way Kennedy did it in 1974, when ABC hosted its first incarnation. Split has the challenge of multiple-part questions where you don't just want to be right, you want to be first, as demonstrated in these clips from an exciting 1974 episode. Watch and see if defending champ Marvin Shinkman can pull off a come-from-behind win:

Press Your Luck. This show was the highest-rated rerun on GSN, and it still has life in it, especially among Gen-X'ers like me who watched this show when were home from school. CBS let it die. ABC can bring it back.

The $100,000 Pyramid. It started on ABC, albeit for a lot less money. Bring it back with a lot more.

Password. Another ABC standard during the 70's. Allen Ludden may be long gone, but the original format is still strong, despite misfires with Password All-Stars and Million Dollar Password. And hey, you can almost count on getting Betty White -- Ludden's widow -- to play it again.

Tic Tac Dough. The Patrick Wayne 1990 version (and for that matter, the 1986 Jim Caldwell run) left a bad taste in a lot of mouths, but I think it's time to give this quizzer another go, if you can find the right host. This is another show with a lot of Gen-X love.

Now You See It. CBS ran two versions of this word-search game in the 1970's and late 1980's. It can be revived with some decent pacing and a return to the original 1970's format. The theme, "Chump Change" by Quincy Jones, is also one of the best game show themes ever, if not the funkiest.

Tattletales. It ran as a celebrity-gossip show, but it could easily be retooled as a game where dating couples see how much they really know about each other's personalities. Don't make it into another Newlywed Game clone with "whoopee" questions, and you'll have a game.

Governor Brewer Draws The Line

I can say without hesitation that not all of Arizona's Republican delegation has gone into the Twilight Zone. Yet I didn't think I'd be saying that about Governor Jan Brewer until she wielded the veto stamp on SB1467, which would have allowed guns on college campuses; and HB2177, the so-called "Birther Bill," which would have forced presidential candidates to prove their citizenship before getting on the Arizona ballot -- a thinly-disguised swipe at President Obama.

Governor Brewer's actions are surely going to put her in the doghouse with her conservative buddies, but given that she signed SB1070, I think she has more than enough right-wing street cred to endure. If that isn't enough, let's consider the reasoning behind her veto statements.

On the gun bill, she writes:

"Today I vetoed Senate Bill 1467 because it is so poorly written. Bills impacting our Second Amendment rights have to be crystal clear so that gun owners don't become lawbreakers by accident. Two examples of this lack of clarity in the bill are: (1) the failure to define the key phrase "public right-of-way" where weapons can be carried, and (2) the inclusion of K-12 schools where federal and state laws generally prohibit weapons on K-12 school grounds.

"First, Senate Bill 1467 would prohibit educational institutions from banning weapons on a "public-right-of-way." However, legislators inexplicably decided not to define "public right-of-way" in the bill. There are four differing definitions currently found in Arizona statues but none apply to this bill. What is really puzzling is that this error was pointed-out during the legislative process. One proponent of the bill stated that a court will have to be the final arbiter in deciding what constitutes a "public right-of-way." We don't need the courts to write our gun laws. That is the job of the legislature."

With SB1070 and Arizona's employer sanctions law already getting the court treatment, you can't blame Gov. Brewer for wanting to avoid just a little bit of litigation fatigue. And with conservatives consistently complaining about "activist judges" making laws, why give them a gift? Unless, of course, you are thinking that's exactly the plan, to give conservatives more reasons to hate on judges.

As for HB2177, you can nearly see Governor Brewer rolling her eyes in the veto letter:

"I never imagined being presented with a bill that could require candidates for President of the greatest and most powerful nation on earth to submit their 'early baptismal or circumcision certificates' among other records to the Arizona Secretary of State. This is a bridge too far."
She adds, for an extra swipe...
"This measure creates significant new problems while failing to do anything constructive for Arizona."
I can hear the critics of the governor's veto saying, "What? You afraid of a little more paperwork?"

Anybody setting odds on who'll be the first to call for the governor's impeachment?

Hey, this is Arizona. It can happen.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Reel To Reel: The Conspirator

Law And Order: Civil War

Going Rate: Worth full price.
Starring: Robin Wright Penn, James McAvoy, Evan Rachel Wood, Tom Wilkinson, Kevin Kline, Alexis Bledel
Rated: PG-13 (misleading -- should be fine for mature children under that age)
Red Flags: One sequence of a Civil War battle aftermath, depiction of the assassination of President Lincoln, mild language

Mary Surratt hanged for her role in the conspiracy that led to the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the attempted assassination of Vice President Andrew Johnson, and the botched hit on Secretary of State William Seward. She owned the boarding house where the plotters met, and she was an unrepentant supporter of the Confederacy. Beyond that, was she guilty of a crime or just guilty by association? That's the central question of The Conspirator, a beautifully-filmed historical procedural directed by Robert Redford which makes a strong case for the rights of the accused and the presumption of innocence against a backdrop of fear and revenge.

As the film opens, the Confederate States of America is on borrowed time, fighting only to prolong its inevitable defeat. Despite President Lincoln's call for a fractured nation to heal, the lost Southern dream dies hard. A cabal forms to take out the nation's beloved president and those standing in the way of Confederate victory. As popular history tells us, President Lincoln died from the bullet fired by John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theatre the night of April 14, 1865 during a performance of Our American Cousin. The Conspirator begins where my public-school history book left off.

The conspirators are tried by a military tribunal, due to Washington D.C. being under martial law at the time of the assassination. The tribunal system weighs heavily against the defendants, requiring only a majority -- not a unanimous -- verdict for conviction, among other things. Worse, the military jury is stacked with Union commanders. Surratt (Wright) hires Senator Reverendy Johnson (Wilkinson) to defend her, but Johnson backs out when he senses it will be impossible for his client to get a fair trial.

Johnson's second chair, Frederick Aiken (McAvoy) picks up the case. Even though he is a veteran of the Union Army, he believes that in the pursuit of justice there is no North or South. Aiken is not convinced of Surratt's innocence, but he is also not confident she is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. His efforts to mount a competent defense lead him back to Surratt's boarding house, where he begins to unravel holes in the government's case with the reluctant help of Surratt's daughter Anna (Wood).

Aiken also gets insight from Surratt herself, ill and refusing to eat in a stone-cold military cell. The movie doesn't portray her as a saintly fall-girl but a principled, GOD-fearing Confederate loyalist who draws the line at murder. She is not allowed to testify in her own defense, however, so Aiken's hope of acquitting her demands she made a heartbreaking choice.

I admired McAvoy's charisma as Aiken and his unwavering devotion to Constitutional principles where others are willing to suspend them. His adversaries argue the nation is in too great a state of shock and sadness to give the accused conspirators protections under the civilian justice system. Somebody's gotta go to prison, goshdarnit, and they gotta go quickly. More than a few of you will draw comparisons to today's War on Terror.

The Conspirator almost plays like a historical episode of Law And Order without the "cha-chunk" sound over the black and white title cards. It's richly costumed and set with beards, belles, and a ball scene. The dusty arsenal where the trial takes place is beautifully lit and filmed. It is compelling history, well written and accurately told, even if some facts seem, well, un-American.

The Conspirator is the first release from The American Film Company, which aims to produce compelling and yet accurate historical dramas. I'm delighted to see they're developing a movie around Paul Revere's famous ride. No timetable is set for release, but I can guarantee you I will be one of the first in line to see it... perhaps in uniform. HUZZAH!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Reel To Reel: Hanna

The most dangerous father-educated daughter you'll ever meet.

Going Rate: Worth full price.
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Action violence, mild language, naughtiness suggested by a rocking trailer

In a sentence, if you liked last year's Salt, you'll like this picture: girl chased by spooks, girl runs around like crazy getting away from spooks, girl can kill anything that walks with just her bare hands.

Quite an accomplishment, given the title character (Ronan) has been raised in a snow-covered forest by her rogue CIA agent father (Bana) for the purpose of taking out Marissa (Blanchett), the agent who brought tragedy upon their family, a woman so diabolical she has an penchant for stilettos and spotless teeth. I guess she has no last name, either, but that Southern accent is a charmer.

Hanna knows little about the world except what her father reads to her from an old encyclopedia. He fills her head with facts as if he is defining her cover, which he is. Her childhood life is confined to a book of fairy tales. Even then, she shows a detachment. Hanna knows her life will have no storybook ending or chance for her to find her prince. No, Hanna is going out there to kill Marissa. That's her happily ever after, if she can accomplish it.

Notice I don't refer to her as "home-schooled." The home-schooling families I know don't raise heavily sequestered killing machines, despite some stereotypes floating around. One of those is best expressed in a t-shirt I recently saw for home-schooling parents: "Oh... I forgot to socialize my children!" Hanna's socialization comes on the job, as she sets out with her father to get Marissa before the ops get her.

Her trek takes her through Morocco, Spain and Germany, as she links up with a free-spirited British family on what I gather is a perpetual holiday. It's here where she's exposed to some semblance of joy in the form of a girls night out. Even then, she can only allow herself so much diversion when her senses react with a hair trigger. Something as innocent as a fluorescent light comes with an aura of suspicion. Hanna is not ignorant of everyday life as much as she is defensive of it, where a potential threat could lie around every corner. Even a simple friendship to the Brits' chatty daughter Sophie (Jessica Barden) comes with thick strings.

Marissa is drawn as an icily bureaucratic terminator. She is allowed no sympathy, no empathy, no moral compass. Just get rid of the girl and Dad. Eliminate the loose ends. Clean up the mess. She's just as roguish as the rogues she's tracking, if not worse. Of course, trying to take out Hanna proves to be more than a simple job, and you have to wonder how her CIA bosses would overlook a rising body count.

Hanna is an independent action thriller with a brain. I like how it doesn't drive the protagonist to a choice of her mission or her life beyond throwing in a few hints here and there. It also resists the temptation to throw in a love interest. Hanna doesn't have the time to get sucked into a Twilight-type teen heartthrob dilemma suitable for airing on the CW.

You know, maybe this film can kick off a new genre: the high-concept teen spy thriller. Hanna isn't James Bond, but I'm sure we can find someone who can cut it.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Being Beck

As you've probably heard by now, Glenn Beck is ending his Fox News show. The parting is amicable, we're told, and it won't be the last we see of him.

Before I go any further, I will tell you openly that I didn't watch Beck's show, despite the "try it, you may like it" coaxing or scoldings of my conservative friends. Well, I did. When I did, I felt like I was 1) watching or listening to somebody on the verge of a breakdown or 2) getting a lecture from a fringe professor in a mild nightmare from my MU days. I did watch his rally in Washington last year and gave it a mixed review.

The new parlor game is whether he jumped or slipped. Beck is leaving Fox with solid numbers, even with ratings declines, the shadow of 400 Fox advertisers boycotting his show, and a stream of criticism.

Could he have spun way too many doomsday theories? Could he be too fringed for even Fox's outspoken lineup? Do people have an aversion to chalkboards?

Or perhaps the reason is a basic showbiz flaw: the act is getting stale. People aren't tuning into Beck perhaps because they know him too well. They know his politics and peeves and push-buttons. Nothing surprises them anymore. Nothing gives them motivation to keep tuning in, especially when the star of the show gives them little to hope for in America.

It is my thesis that political talk-show hosts intentionally stir the pot to keep their shows on the air. Polite talk makes great dinner table conversation but lousy Arbitron figures. Rush Limbaugh has figured out how to keep from falling into a rut after more than two decades on the national airwaves. I'm not sure Beck has learned the secret.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Averting Eyes

A friend recently pointed me to this mini-teaching about ladies and modesty, and how men struggle with lustful urges:

This is perspective I don't often hear: modest dress is not only honorable to GOD, and good for your self-respect, but it's also better for men who are trying to live for GOD but still struggle with sinful desires.

I gather I'm in the minority among my male peers because I find a lady in an 18th Century dress a beautiful sight to behold. Bikinis, nah. Short shorts, nope. But still, I'm having to avert my eyes a lot.

On Friday evening I was grabbing a burger at the brand-new In-N-Out near the Tucson Mall. Some teenagers with a church group were sitting behind me in T-shirts and jeans, nothing provocative... until one of the ladies suddenly bent over to grab something off the floor and I realized -- to my shock and horror -- that her pants and her shirt weren't coming together like they should. I re-directed my eyes out the window to the darkness of Oracle Road.

I'm not immune from lustful thoughts, either; I'm still a guy and I don't have the gift of celibacy, although sometimes I wish I did. But I can tell you this: I pray for GOD to help me be a light in this world, and in answering those prayers, HE is helping make temptation less of a threat (Romans 12:2, 1 Cor. 10:13). You draw nearer to GOD, and HE will draw nearer to you (James 4:7-8).

I am so thankful for young ladies who cherish their modesty, not only for the aforementioned reasons, but also because they realize they have a choice in this world, and they don't have to choose what the world is telling them to do. They can be what GOD made them to be, without shame, without guilt, without feeling like they're not a real woman because they wear something that falls below the knee.

Thank you GOD, for helping me to be a gentleman beyond that person in breeches and a three-cornered hat.