Thursday, April 29, 2010

SomethingAwful: DEATH PANEL

Friends, if you're anything like me, you spend your days hoarding ammunition in expectation of the day that the liberal-socialist occupation government rounds you up in the dead of night, blindfolds you with a hood made out of pulped copies of the second amendment and takes you off to die in a FEMA Health Camp. I don't think we as Americans can sit idly by as this specter of totalitiarianism threatens our way of life with math and atheism. That's why I ask you now to view this very important message at outlining the dangers facing all right-thinking people. Please take action before it's too late!

John Boehner
A Bunker, 2010

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Restoration of Stephen Baldwin

Remember Stephen Baldwin? Want to give him money? Cool, so you're the one.

Stephen's fallen on some tough times. From the dizzying highs of Bio-Dome, he plunged to the amazing lows of Sharks in Venice, a movie that as far as I can tell only I have watched. Stephen's star rose in July of last year as he coupled his christian evangelism with the interests of the tea party movement. Stephen believes in fiscal responsibility and government living within its means. Naturally, later in the month, he filed for bankruptcy, revealing debts of $1.2 million for two mortgages and over $1 million in back taxes he had failed to pay, over the course of ten years.

The sad saga of Stephen Baldwin is reminiscent in scope to the sufferings of Job. Or so apparently someone thinks. Watch:

Field of Schemes II: Obama's Not a Natural-Born Man

The other week, while talking to a friend of mine, I extolled the awesomeness of the multiple baseball games I could watch on Opening Day with MLB Extra Innings, and expressed dismay that my backlog of article ideas seemed to be all book reviews. At this moment, President Obama threw out the first pitch at the Washington Nationals' home opener, and I thought, "Hel-lo, let's see what's happening at the National Review."

A little over a month ago, Mr. Awesome had this idea about Newsweek: "I bet I could go to, like, right now, and the first story I'd see would be a complete puff piece with no information or insight." He's right, and to a certain extent, this is always true of the National Review and the Weekly Standard. Only instead of puff pieces without information, the daily fare is venomous attack propped up by fraudulent claims to research, baseless appeals to history or the rich chutzpah of either lies "linked" to sourced material or spun from whole cloth. It's just as vacuous as Newsweek, but the vacuity is tinged with contempt and malevolence. It's like the difference between staring at an empty cardboard box or at an empty shipping crate studded with rusted nails and graffitied with death's heads and a picture of someone having sex with your mother.

Anybody could write two articles per day, forever, just refreshing the Weekly Standard or National Review and breaking down the current iteration of craven dishonesty. The trouble is that it's exhausting. American conservatives are on to a sweet deal, here: making shit up is not a time-intensive gig. And somehow the burden of proof always falls on the people who note the absence of credibility. Forthright people are probably already busy reading difficult books with facts in them, so merely trying to course-correct the national dialogue involves doubling their workload. For the most part, this is why I don't bother. I have shit to do, like write about Amish pornography.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

'Amish Grace': All the Amish You Need, None of the Explicit Amish Pornography You Crave

MARGE SIMPSON: Is it true that we should wait at least an hour after eating before we go in?
POOL SALESMAN: Look, Question Lady, this job is not what I really do. I play keyboards.
The Simpsons, "Bart of Darkness"
About a month ago, with my computer in the shop being fixed, I wrote a hasty recommendation that readers check out the Lifetime Original Movie Amish Grace. I did this for a few reasons. One, a "hey, watch this" recommendation was much easier to type on an iPhone than a 3,000-word response to bad journalism. Two, I'd already written most of it elsewhere and could copy-and-paste the core joke. Three, something about the movie felt compelling.

Ever since I turned old enough to care about things without having to apologize anymore, I also noticed a concomitant decrease in my interest in subjecting myself to art that I knew ahead of time would be terrible. I have gray hair; my remaining days decrease each midnight; yes, I will watch Gymkata, but no I will not watch Mama's Family with you.

Still there was something about this movie that made me spend minutes trying to find the channel it was on and then press RECORD on the TiVo. While it didn't look like it would be good, it didn't look like it would be a disaster either. If anything, it seemed reliably mediocre. The whole thing came with a glaze of tremendously earnest yet engaging schlockiness. With some terrible movies, you can blame a lack of budget, casting demands, cynical cash-in motivations or leaden ideological framing for why they're bad. It's happenstance, or greed or tendentiousness. This movie, on the other hand, appeared instantly to be the kind of project that tripped over its own sincerity, one that invested each scene with so much genuineness that it would make every incidental shortcoming seem watchably weird.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Opening Daze #2: First Games with the Rays... and with the Rays, Joe Buck and Tim McCarver

I realize after a while it might seem tiresome to target announcers when talking about baseball, but I think three things lend this space to that kind of attention. One, I like words, and, despite announcers having no more important tool than language, they manage to abuse it consistently. Sometimes just the act of lazily listening to a game is so disheartening and frankly weird that it provokes a sensation like the one I imagine I'd feel if I came upon a fire truck equipped only with colanders.

Two, nobody needs my play-by-play recap. There are some very good sports journalists out there and plenty more tolerable crafstman. Since it's in terms of broad opinion or player evaluation where these guys usually put a foot wrong, you're safe with recaps. Just check a local paper for a relevant game, and you'll find the thrills, setbacks, substitutions and dingers you need to know about. Granted, I can try to talk about an amazing baseball game I attended, but there's always the chance that you don't care about the teams that were there.

That brings up point number three: the announcer experience is universal. We all have to deal with them, and a few notable exceptions aside, we all have things we hate about them. While I think everyone in America loves the Dodgers' Vin Scully, I don't know a single Yankee fan who likes anyone who calls games for the Yankees. Even more universally, when it comes to FOX Saturday Baseball or ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, we all have to deal with the same people, regardless of where we live. And they are all horrible.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Opening Daze #1: ESPN's Enduring Failure

When Josh Beckett throws his first pitch, on April 4th, to officially begin the baseball season, I emit one of those involuntary ahhhhhh sounds that you occasionally hear when you walk out the front door of an airport and are surrounded by smokers lighting up for the first time in five hours.

I'm sure that I have a sincere and elaborate opinion somewhere in me explaining why baseball is the greatest game, but at this moment, only three explanations come to mind:

1. It's back, and football isn't. Also, the World Cup hasn't started yet.

2. You really don't have to pay too much attention. I mean, yeah, there's all that poetry in what doesn't happen — or so say people like George Will, who claim that social justice occurs when you don't do anything either. Basically, you can glean as much or as little from a baseball game as you like. If you want to observe defensive shifts and whether a pitcher is banging the outside of the plate against somebody, great. If you've got work to do, great. You can hook up the radio, worry away at something on the computer, do the dishes, make a dinner or tinker in the garage. Baseball is the most rewarding auditory game. Vin Scully proves this. Most people who get all uptight about how you have to watch everything are usually annoying, even if they aren't statistics wonks or bad gamblers. Most of them are probably dishonest, too. Practically everyone I know grew up with as much baseball on the radio as on the TV. And we grew up into having MLB cable packages.

3. It's a long season, so missed games and losses don't matter that much. Football is so immediate and so statistically compacted that everything seems pressing. With football, most of the games each week happen at the same time on the same day. If you're busy then, you miss out. Worse, it's on for less than half the year (20 weeks, counting the postseason), and most of those weeks feature so much head-to-head stuff that you can't see it all. Baseball happens for most of the year. Many of those days, there are games on at 1 pm, 4 pm, 7pm and then 10 pm (Eastern). Best of all, even if your team is absolutely amazing, they're still going to lose 60 times. You can afford to not sweat the small stuff — while in the garage, trying to fix your stupid lawnmower.

Cheap Video Link Wednesday

A director friend of mine just sent me this via an editor friend of his. I assume this will be all over Gawker in the next few days, and since I have a miserable track record on betting that I can "hold off" on linking something until I can come up with a unique or behind-the-scenes comment on it, I'm just gonna pull the cord, link it and bail out now.


Also, I always had a crush on the barmaid at the Folie-Bergère.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

'BZZTMONDO: Latest Tech Newzzt'

I meant to put up a link to it last week and then kept forgetting, but I contributed a gag to this piece on Anyone who's spent any amount of time reading Gawker Media probably recognizes the format, and frequent readers of Gizmodo or Kotaku are probably groaning in recognition. It's one of those things that probably works better the more steeped you are in tech news.

Friday, April 9, 2010

'The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama'

There's an old saying about journalism that it's the first draft of history. It's still sometimes true. In the past, columnists like Walter Lippman graduated to the level of historian or political philosopher. William Manchester went from the Baltimore Sun to The Killing of a President to a three-part biography of Churchill. Neil Sheehan and David Halberstam's first drafts for the New York Times helped form the backbones for A Bright Shining Lie and The Best and the Brightest, two Pulitzer Prize winners so fundamental to our understanding of Vietnam that their names have practically become metonym.

While there are still journalists out there like Dexter Filkins and George Packer, whose outstanding The Forever War and The Assassin's Gate (respectively) both present something like a first draft of the conflict in Iraq, journalism as a whole loses its privilege to this distinction with each passing year. The first draft of history might now be an anthology called Missing the Boat, a concatenation of Newsweeks and their ilk capitulating whenever confronted with the choice of accountability or access. Our famous first drafts are Judith Miller at the New York Times parroting administration talking points in exchange for high-level access, and the majority of the media during the HCR debate uncritically repeating words like "communism" while spinning the same culture-war narrative the Republican party has relied on for 20 years to obscure the fact that they have no political philosophy outside of "tax cuts."

Obviously, New Yorker editor-in-chief and Pulitzer Prize-winner David Remnick had his work cut out for him with The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama.What's most interesting about the book is that he might have succeeded in creating a first draft of history — except at a remove. He's presented the rarely seen credible attempt at objective history, but he's done so with so little showmanship that it may take a long time for people to notice.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Reporting the Controversy: Why Health Insurance Is More Important Than Nothingness


After I went after Robert Samuelson for his smug unwillingness to report on health care reform, I figured I'd further explore his academic failure by doing what he wouldn't.

There's a lot going on in this legislation. There is a world of content that anyone with the least interest and training could dig into — there's economic, legal, policy, moral and ethical stuff. This is just signature, life-altering legislation. This doesn't happen often. Graduate students will learn this reform for decades, just as the academics who teach them will make and break careers upon it. Professionals and policy wonks will be able to dine out on knowing this bill. It's extraordinarily important.

This is why "experts" like Robert Samuelson amaze me. The legislature hands him a massive, rich piece of subject matter upon which a real academic could base signature work, and he responds with total disregard. This bill is neither wonderful nor terrible, but it is great, as a matter of magnitude. It deserves more — and the audience deserves more — than D-game bloviating that ought to be reserved for dead news days and "whether Bush pere and Bush fils 'had a catch' at a Kennebunkport getaway." Washington inside-baseball nonsense is thoroughly inadequate.

Many people aren't interested in this stuff, but it's not unreasonable to expect a self-described economics and policy expert like Samuelson to care. It's not like he lacks for naked self-interest: this reform directly affects even rich pundit dorks. They have health insurance, presumably. This legislation will change that health insurance. This bill will benefit people with health insurance, even people with "good" health insurance, by current standards.

I wrote more than I anticipated, and I've barely scratched the surface of this legislation. I realize my lack of comprehensiveness might open me to the same cop-out charge I level at Samuelson, but the situations are unequal. He's not even the sole guilty party. Literally hundreds or thousands of people get paid to tell you the facts of HCR for a living, and chances are you're learning a lot of these facts for the first time on a blog run by a dead African tyrant. I don't think I'm remiss for not doubling down with another thousand words.

Primarily, I want to describe a specific legal situation, and point out how this legislation changes the health insurance landscape. This reform creates security where none existed before. But this reform exists in a context we haven't really changed or improved as much as we could. These are things someone should have told you about already, and they probably haven't. So here they are.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Soft-Bigotry of No Self-Expectations

Note: unlike many guest pieces on Et tu, Mr. Destructo? today's article comes from a real, live person: the mysterious Mr. Awesome, a law student who is not a pundit and fears nothing. He previously paid us a visit to describe how Newsweek Sucks Really Bad. Robert J. Samuelson is a contributing editor to Newsweek and an op-ed writer for the Washington Post.

Robert Samuelson Uncovers the Sinister Threat of Giving a Shit

You cannot rely on American journalism to explain the Health Care Reform Bill. Doing so will leave you disgusted and uninformed. Our news media, by and large, has little or no interest in explaining what the HCR bill actually does and doesn’t do. Perhaps editorial boards don’t believe this makes for exciting copy. The statutory text is boring, dense and complex; spitting slack-jaws harassing congresspeople is exciting culture-clash American-identity stuff. That’s rich and compelling. That begs questions about the role of government and the character of American society. There are novels in that. Sure, writing a novel is hard, but invoking the conceits of novels is pretty easy, and journalists love the easy part of writing.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Dan Brown, I'm Putting You on Notice

It's been a full six months since Mr. Destructo last heard from its far-flung correspondent, international best-selling author Dan Brown. He filed a top-notch story from the murder scene where police found a census worker dead with the word "FED" carved into his body, then seemed to disappear.

We didn't worry about his being tracked by the real killers; Dan's too smart for that. We assumed he had gone deep undercover, immersing himself in his topic and preparing to bust a story wide open, determined to shock the world. Instead, he seems to have been determined to slip between the covers with a totally different journalistic organ.

Today, an excerpt from Dan's latest soon-to-be blockbuster novel appeared on Barnes & Noble's website. Under the title, "Barnes and Noble EXCLUSIVE - Dan Brown's New Novel, The Mysterium Artifact," he writes: