Monday, December 29, 2008

You can never let them win...

Milgram Revisited - Decades Later, Still Asking, Would I Pull That Switch? - The linked story tell us people haven't changed. Just as they did in the early sixties, psychologists can still pluck someone from off the street and persuade them to administer lethal doses of electric shock to experimental subjects who are obviously in agony. Two keys to turning John Doe into Torquemada: 1) a strong authority figure - Hitler for example, or just a guy in a white lab coat who says he's running an experiment; 2) up the torture ante gradually - almost no one will flip the switch on a 190 volt shock, unless they start at ten volts and work their way up.

Does this explain Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, extraordinary rendition? Is all of major league baseball a twisted experiment, existing solely for the purpose of determining how much torture the Chicago Cubs are willing to inflict upon their obviously suffering fans? First you finish last, then 500, then make the playoffs - but you can never win, even when the fans, I mean subjects, are writhing in agony in the aisles of Wrigley.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Christmas Tale - Thanks for the Bailouts times 3

Dear Uncle Sam,
Thank you for the trillion dollar gift certificate. We haven't actually used any of the money yet to make loans or renegotiate mortgages or do anything else to help the economy. In fact we fired a few hundred thousand employees just to be on the safe side and really cut back on the old Christmas bonus pool (sorry Santa). Look on the bright side. We still have jobs and we didn't have to give back the huge bonuses we made by reporting income from buying and selling worthless mortgages and writing credit default swaps that nearly sucked the entire country into a black hole.

Next year I want an X-Box 360 and a buyer for some (just a few Trillion $) toxic debt.

Yours truly,
Wall Street

ps - thanks a lot for the coal Uncle Sam, and screw you too Santa. Sincerely, Lehman Bros

Dear Uncle Sam,

Thanks for the $17 Billion. Really, thanks a lot. I knew you always liked Wall Street better. Well, at least you gave me a chance. Not like when you sat around and watched big steel and big rubber disappear. Okay, so I'm not the fair haired boy - at least I'm not a red-headed stepchild.

Wait a minute, you said something about a bigger gift next year when this $17 Billion runs out. But you'll supervise me, you'll tell me how to restructure for a new, green future. Ouch. I'll paint the cars any color you want, but if you think you can do a better job making and selling cars than me, well, just kill me now. Maybe it's better for you if I don't fail while we're all on the cusp of a depression, but for me the pain will be unbearable. Managed by committee, a committee picked by a Congress - is this $17 Billion really a gift or just the first step in a slow, expensive torture that ends in my death as soon as the economy has a pulse again?

If you really want to help, start now. I can't wait for next Christmas. Help me now even if it takes a bankruptcy (a bankruptcy planned in secret and in detail, a Chapter 11 where I never stop operating and never tell my customers until the entire long-term plan, including more bailout money, is in place). Help me consolidate into a Big Two before I'm a Big Zero. Help me get access to PBGC money (or just bailout money if you prefer) to get out from under some of my legacy pension obligations without stiffing my retirees. Help me get out from under the most expensive work rules in my union contracts (I must have been having a very bad day when I signed).

If you want to see me around for a few decades instead of a few years, forget about management by politician. Didn't you read Animal Farm. Just get me on the same footing as those damn Toyota, Honda, BMW and Mercedes operations that seem to do OK in the South.

Your loving middle child,

Dear NY Yankees,

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! If we had you guys in charge of the TARP we would have blown through the first $700 Billion by now, no sweat, and we would known exactly where every penny was spent - on veterans who failed to bring championships to New York.

After two decades of frustration you built a dynasty in the late nineties around young stars from your own farm system, players like Jeter, Williams, Pettitte, Rivera and Posada. Sure veteran acquisitions like O'Neill and Brosius were critical, but they didn't break the bank. Then came that fatal first taste, wins with names like Boggs and - yech - Clemens, and you were addicted.
Giambi, Johnson, Mussina, Rodriguez, Damon, Pavano like any addict you needed to keep spending more just to stay alive, even when you stopped getting high, I mean winning titles. Now your not even making the playoffs so, of course, you need to spend even more.

Now it's On Burnett (despite the suspiciously Pavano like history),
On Sabathia,
On Teixeira
On to the playoffs, the series, the ring
The win is the story,
Cashman's (aptly named) praises we sing,
The bucks are forgotten,
Signing duds was no sin.

But wait, in October there arises a clatter,
it's young teams with young arms,
Rays, Phillies, Sox that matter,
and Yanks with their checkbook so quick
spend another long winter
cursing Saint Nick (or, in the stand-up comedy version - pulling their .....)

Thanks Again,
MLB Players Association

ps - Yankee morons, we did a freakin press release announcing Boras was asking too much for Teixeira. I'd call you up and explain, but that whole collusion business is really a problem. Wake up and smell the coffee. You can't buy a championship but you make it too expensive for the people who actually know what they are doing. Theo

pss - Love you guys. Can't wait to start the season. Thank God there's no twelve step program for baseball executives. Mark, CC and AJ.

psss - Even I thought I was bluffing, thanks for bailing me out. Merry Christmas. Scott Boras

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Dear Barack - How to handle a crisis, your pal W

President Bush has almost become a sympathetic character as he prepares to leave office with "favorable" ratings near historic lows. Almost.

Bush Prepares Crisis Briefings to Aid Obama -

Dear Barack:

Enclosed are some scenarios my team put together for you just in case you get bombed, or computer wormed or sarin gassed on your first day. I sincerely hope you never have to use any of this stuff. Anyway, now that you are about to be the decider, I wanted to go beyond the details and pass along the general principles that helped me handle crises like 9/11, Katrina and the recent shoe attack in Iraq.

1. There's always time for vacation;
2. Your public speaking really needs work. Too egghead, way egghead. Fumble around, butcher a few pronunciations - quit showing off, it's all about what America needs. In a crisis, nothing says macho like an incomplete sentence;
3. When making appointments, loyalty is all, competence nothing. The government that governs least governs best and nothing governs least like a bunch of twenty somethings from bible college;
4. When in doubt, pray. If still in doubt, leave it to a higher authority - the Vice President;
5. Always go with your gut (and make sure your entire team knows you've already made an unofficial snap decision - you don't want them bothering you with any inconvenient facts);
6. Don't worry about international law, anything America does is the right thing and the rest of the world will eventually see the truth (although I never thought it would take so long);
7. Never tell the media anything, that's what national security is really all about;
8. Congress Schmongress, keep those squabbling pissants you call a party in line and you'll never even have to take a phone call from a Republican - bipartisan is just another word for loser;
9. Talk a lot about fiscal responsibility but never forget - the budget deficit is really the next guy's problem -oops, sorry, maybe I shouldn't have mentioned that one.

Good luck. Call my secretary if you need anything. By the way, sorry I had Blair house booked for my nephew's third cousin, but there's a really terrific Day's Inn not far from DuPont Circle.

Very truly yours,
George W. Bush

Monday, December 15, 2008

Movie Season Is Over - Let's Get Serious About Football

Diagnosis Steelers - Paging Dr. House. After months of media grumbling about the Steeler's running game, the offensive line and Ben holding the ball for too long, the real problem is finally clear (assuming an 11-3 team has a real problem). With the Steeler defense, the running game and offensive line are more than good enough to win a Superbowl. The real problem is the kicking game. Net punt average of 27? Kick-offs and returns leaving every Steeler drive starting inside the twenty-five and every Raven drive starting beyond the thirty five? Even a decent running game won't work when everyone in the stadium expects run because you start three drives inside your own ten yard line. Fix the kicking game and the running game will work. Get the running game working and Ben will start looking like a great quarterback all game long instead of just on the last drive. Get Ben looking great and the running game will suddenly look even better. If the Steelers can just get kick-offs, punts and returns up to the level of the league average, watch for the Steelers to win a sixth Superbowl.

Lifetime Movie of the Week - Chad Pennington has the head, the heart and maybe even the arm of a champion. He finds early success in NY, leading the Jets to the playoffs. Then a series of injuries and regime change leave Chad out in the cold, well the warm really - Bill Parcells finds room for Chad in Miami while the Jets spend billions to sign the beloved but aging Bret Favre. An early season Jets - Dolphins game looks like the heartwarming climax to the Chad Pennington story, but the underdog Fish comeback falls short on the final drive. It turns out that was just another twist in the Chad Pennington storyline, which is now speeding like a locomotive toward a final game showdown between the Jets and the Dolphins with the AFC East title on the line. There are no easy games for the Dolphins, but with the whole roster contributing - like two sacks against San Francisco from Nate Jones - anything can happen. Jones is pictured above sacking San Francisco QB Shaun Hill, not really part of the Chad Pennington story, As Good As News just needed something to counter balance the Plaxico Burress photo recently published here.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Plaxico - An Open Letter

Dear family, teammates and anyone else out there who can stop laughing at me for a minute and really think about this mess - Plex knows there must be one or two of you:

I am sick of being a running joke and it's long past time to ignore my lawyer's advice, and my wife's advice (which, Tiffany being a lawyer, is really just a second opinion), spit out the gag and tell people what is really happening. Maybe Plex made a little mistake or two, but look at the facts. What would you have done?

Why did Plex need a gun? One word - Richard Collier. That man did nothing but mind his own business and now he's missing a leg. I'm six foot five with a goatee that looks like I stole it from an actual goat. Any thug can spot me in a crowd. The fact that I'm making millions of dollars is all over the tube. I might as well have a target on my back.

Why didn't Plex get a license? Plex bought that gun legally. I even got a permit to carry a concealed weapon in Florida. OK, I let the permit expire, but I would have revived it if I went back to Florida. I asked around about getting a carry permit in New Jersey or New York. No way, it takes years, you need to hire the right law firm to advise on your application - a law firm where all the lawyers just happen to be ex-cops. Even then, there's no guarantees, especially for a guy like me. I need protection today, not a maybe after a year of pay-offs to the cop's buddies.

Why did I have to go out to the Latin Quarter that night? A man can't stay home every night. Really. Especially when I'm hurt. If I'm around the house for too long, Tiffany gets so she can't stand the sight of me. She tells me to get my sorry butt off the couch and out of the house before she goes after my sore hamstring with the broom handle. Besides, I felt bad that I couldn't play that week because of the hamstring. That little visit to the Latin Quarter was not just for me, it was a chance to build solidarity with my teammates, especially Antonio - he doesn't hang with just any wide receiver you know.

Why not use a bodyguard instead of carrying a gun that night? Even if I could get someone on short notice, how could I trust him. I mean the guards that show up with the rappers look more like mercenaries, little gangs of soldiers prowling for a battleground. Look what happened to Pac-man, I mean Adam, Jones, his own guard squared off with the man. A rent-a-bodyguard would do more harm than good, some of those hulking dudes give me the creeps.

Why did you wear sweat pants, wouldn't something with pockets make it easier to carry a gun? Like I said, I made mistakes. I was getting treatments on the hammy, it was easier to deal with sweat pants - I just never bothered to change. Anyway, it's not like someone else got shot, Plex knows how to keep it in his pants, when necessary.

What about the three and a half year minimum sentence - Who knew? That is some crazy stuff. I wasn't planning a hit or a robbery, the plan was just to keep the gun in my pants, unless somebody messed with me. Worst case, I take it out and show the ladies. A little joke you know, like with Mae West. Maybe I am glad to see you but, look - it really is a gun in my pants. Now the Mayor's already got me convicted and sentenced. Somebody ought to just cap that guy, that would limit his term. This whole mandatory minimum thing has to be unconstitutional - cruel and unusual punishment, right to bear arms, results in racially discriminatory enforcement, vests judicial power in the legislature, whatever. There is no way I can get three and a half years just because I did not change out of my sweat pants. How can the taxpayers afford to put good people in prison for three and a half years for nothing? I mean won't prison be taking the good guys and turning them into real criminals? What happens to their families while they are doing time? This is a first offense, I mean maybe I was late for a few team meetings, but that was just to remind people I was special - I was never convicted of anything. Shouldn't we use the jails for the criminals? Give extra time to people who use guns in a crime, maybe even to repeat gun licensing offenders, but three and a half years on a first offense when I wasn't even doing anything with the gun; who does that help?

So anyway, I'm sorry this whole thing caused so many problems, but really - what was Plex supposed to do?


PS - Tiffany helped me a little, especially with the part on the minimum sentence, but this whole letter is my own idea.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Two Lovers - Can I choose All of the Above

To love or be loved? Leonard Kraditor (Joaquin Phoenix) becomes infatuated with his unstable neighbor Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow) just as Sandra (Vinessa Shaw), the daughter of the dry cleaning mogul who is acquiring his parent's business, is falling for him. Michelle drives Leonard nuts, pulling him close - then turning him into a confidant - without benefits. Actually, Leonard is already nuts, or, at least a manic depressive. Leonard opens the film with a plunge off a Sheepshead Bay pier, a feeble suicide attempt that atually establishes Leonard's will to live, and possibly reveals a secret desire to join the Polar Bear Club - a family favorite. Leonard is living with his parents, working as a gofer in their dry cleaning business, recovering from a broken engagement, taking his medication and working hard at staying normal. The attractive Sandra offers unconditional love, plus a support system, a shot at a real job in the business that will soon belong to her father - a chance to lead the good life in a conventional way. Michelle might as well have a"Dangerous Curves" sign hung around her neck. She's taking pills on more than a recreational basis. She's fully invested in a relationship with Ronald Blatt, a married lawyer who rents her an apartment, takes her to the opera, buys her brandy alexanders and promises to leave his wife. When Michelle seems ready to give up on Blatt, Leonard finally has his chance.

Michelle or Sandra? Leonard is driven by chemistry and circumstance, with absolutely no visible, conscious decision-making process until he's reduced to accepting his single remaining choice or abandoning life. Although Michelle and Blatt also face the love or be loved dilemma, Two Lovers doesn't shed much new light on this theme. It does create a compelling atmosphere and combine a detailed character study with a resolution that feels tidy but not false. Several elements stood out. The apartment Ronald shares with his parents seems like a place every New Yorker has visited, particularly when Sandra begins to seduce Ronald in the hallway with the family photo gallery staring on from the background. The sound is unusual, often exceptional - the thud inside Leonard's head as he trods down the pier to his opening plunge is reminiscent of the prisoners stomping as Phoenix waits offstage at the beginning of Walk The Line. The wind whistles a constant warning as Ronald tries to connect with Michelle in their rooftop hideaway. The supporting roles were well cast and well played without exception. Isabella Rossellini had one extraordinary moment as Leonard's mother, radiating conflicting emotions as he sneaks off on a perilous journey.

If you are a manic depressive living in your parent's apartment, you must see this film immediately and see it often. Let's face it, the flic is a "how-to" manual, where else will you get pointers on how to end up choosing between lovers like Paltrow and Shaw. If you are a middle-aged, married lawyer trying to start a sleezy affair with a young assistant at your own firm, you must see this movie immediately -another how to tip - watch Paltrow's face in the opera scene, As Good As News is not sure if that was acting. For all others, the film is worth renting and might be worth seeing in the theater if you need something to do on a date.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Where God Left His Shoes - But Not His Screenplay

Most of Where God Left His Shoes is a grim slog into ever deepening poverty with Frank Diaz (John Leguizamo) and his family. Frank is a boxer who loses his shot at the big time when he fails to answer the bell. The family is evicted from public housing and moves to a homeless shelter. Frank works as a day laborer who can't fight back when cheated by his boss (Jerry Ferrara - in nasty Turtle mode). A chance for a new apartment is lost when Frank needs to prove he's employed. He can't get a job "on the books" because he's an illiterate, convicted felon. Frank is evicted from the homeless shelter...Starting to get the idea?
Just when the audience begins to suspect it's a focus group for an obscure torture developed by laid off Gitmo contractors, the film begins to find itself. A Christmas Eve father-son job hunt ends with a few genuine, and very moving, moments in which Frank's relationship with his sometimes smart mouthed step son Justin (David Castro) crystallizes into an extraordinary bond. This single golden strand is quickly woven into a confrontation with Justin's biological father and then a warm family scene on the subway, which features the film's only humor. (As Good As News will gladly spoil a bad plot, but we will not give away the only funny thing that happens in this movie, just keep your eye on the candy bar with the peanuts). Finally (understatement is our watchword), the film ends abruptly, locking into the family uber alles theme it has developed in a last minute rush. A merciful ending, because something had to be done to stop this film, but one slightly less satisfactory than a power failure at the theater.

What went wrong? For starters, too much unleavened bad news. Only disaster befalls Frank, who makes Job look like a lottery winner. Even Frank's hopes (new apartment, job with the City) are false. Only a family food tossing contest, staged by Frank to raise morale, penetrates the gloom that pervades the first two thirds of this movie. A disaster or two, or six - no problem in the service of a good story, but please, mix it up a little. Then, let's get real. Where's Aid to Families With Dependent Children? Why is the patriarch of the construction business that employs Frank so slow to follow his own instincts, overrule his creepy and callow son and give Frank a break? Why can't Frank's wife Angela (Leonor Varela -who is presumably not an illiterate convicted felon) work while Frank watches the kids, or at least take a job for long enough to get the family into City housing again? Where do you find homeless shelters that mingle families with single men? An unrelenting stream of bad news is risky. An unrealistic, unrelenting stream of bad news is a bad movie.

This film had a chance to work. A restrained Mr. Leguizamo chews no scenery here, doing yeoman work in a lost cause. He and David Castro, a kid with adult chops, provide some extraordinary scenes together. The final scene on the subway captures real warmth with humor, but it's too little, too late. Don't even rent this one.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Four the Holiday

Wal-Mart Employee Trampled to Death - After a sleepless night, As Good As News has decided to address this topic, a quick-sand of potential bad taste. First, our belief that the Internet was created by God to eliminate in-person shopping is affirmed. Second, if you are overwhelmed by an irresistible impulse to wake up at 3AM on Black Friday, a name that works on just so many levels, do not, repeat, do not under any circumstances, select a shopping destination which leaves outdoor crowd control to local police using bullhorns and allows the patrons awaiting entry to organize themselves by fighting toward the head of the line - a destination marked only by the hand made sign "Blitz line starts here".

Disguised Mother Woos Juror in Bid to Free Son - Three years ago John Giuca and another man were convicted of killing Mark Fisher in a case celebrated partly because the victim was a popular college athlete and partly because he had no prior connection to his killers, showing up at their party as a friend of a friend. Giuca hosted the party, but no physical evidence linked him to the crime. He was convicted based on the inconsistent testimony of four witnesses, none of whom was a paragon of integrity. Giuca's mother, Doreen Giuliano, campaigned to free her son, but got nowhere. Finally she took matters into her own hands. Ms Giuliano hit the gym, found the perfect push-up bra and became a golden blonde, transforming herself into Dee Quinn (her maiden name) - a modern day Mata Harri. After false starts with two other jurors (false start, stalking - just semantics really), she established a relationship with James Allo, a juror in her son's case. Eventually, she claims, Allo admitted that he had a prior acquaintance with some of the witnesses, an acquaintance he lied about during jury selection. Allo now denies this, although Dee Quinn taped all.

First, Ms Giuliano/Quinn may be disappointed. It's extremely difficult to overturn a jury verdict, as today's follow-up story notes.

Second, Mr. Giuliano wants to know why it took a son's murder conviction for his wife to turn herself into a hotty. The couple also seems to have some fundamental disagreement over just how far she would go to get the goods on the jurors. Her own story on the relationship with Allo seems a little confused on this point - but it was all in a worthy cause (at least from a mother's perspective) so As Good As News won't pick at that scab any further.

Third, read Christopher Ketcham in Vanity Fair on-line. This is the new, new journalism, let's call it Lifetime Journalism - a made for TV movie, written from the perspective of an insider, who had a completed screenplay ready to roll when the story broke. As Good As News suspects Mr. Ketcham helped Ms Giuliano select the latest taping equipment and the push-up bra to hide it. He probably consulted on her hair color and he may even have sat in as her personal trainer. Mr. Ketcham seems to be the Henry Higgins to Giuliano/Quinn's Liza Doolittle, not just covering the story after the fact, but helping to plot the action in real time.

Corzine Pays $362,500 To End A Dispute - Not quite. The New Jersey Governor has paid millions to his exgirlfriend, labor lobbyist Carla Katz. He's waged war to keep their e-mails secret, even though she dealt with the State as a lobbyist and not just as the first squeeze. Now he's paying $362,500 to "end a dispute." Think about this. You tell your girl friend's brother-in-law that you will try to find a job for him. You make a few calls, but it doesn't work out. He grumbles so you pay him $362,500 to "end the dispute". This smells like hush money. It makes the $millions paid to Carla and the e-mail disclosure war even smellier by association. What are you hiding Gov? By the way, it's good you noticed early on that NJ has a budget crisis and it's good you are inventively trying to come up with funds. Now stop pay to play and its variations, many run by your closest supporters and pals. The grease of political contributions and favors for favors that seems to lubricate every government operation in NJ makes everything twice as expensive as it should be. You can't fix it unless and until you are willing to get ugly with the Democratic leadership, or maybe just give out some nice retirement packages to the party's leading fixers (using your personal funds) to "end a dispute" before it begins.

You're Leaving a Digital Trail. What About Privacy? - 100 MIT students agree to participate in a study. Researchers will track their every move. The up-side? The students get a free smart phone and assurances that data will be treated confidentially. Why not, says freshman Harrison Brown, with Facebook, e-mail and blogs this extra intrusion is just "a drop in the bucket." Makes sense to As Good As News. The data might be helpful to the school and ultimately the students. So what? The story reminded me of an interesting fact, where else, but MIT, would a dormitory be named Random Hall.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Rain on The New Year Parade

The New Year Parade does several things right, especially for a film that began life as a documentary and was converted forcibly to a narrative despite grudging resistance from the footage. It takes a sometimes interesting look at separation/divorce in a blue collar South Philadelphia family, particularly from the perspective of daughter Kat (age 16 turning 17) and son Jack (approximately 23). It features strong performances from Jennifer-Lynn Welsh and Greg Lyons (pictured) as Kat and Jack, extraordinary performances considering neither has acted before. It explains a subculture of heretofore alien life forms - the seeming crazies who choose to theme decorate, march and play music in the freezing cold every New Years Day in the Philadelphia Mummer's Parade. Most importantly, the film shows us that the banjo was critical to ancient Egyptian culture.

The New Year Parade is a slice of life, but one with limited organization, some false notes and an ending that resolves almost nothing. The mother's first major scene is an argument with Kat in which mom's lines emerge as stiff and artificial - something lifted straight from a psychology textbook. When Jack considers leaving his father's Mummer's club he gets an extended story about family loyalty from an older friend at a rival club in a scene that sounds great, but rings false. How many 23 year old males will sit silently through a three minute sermon which hits a raw nerve with every sentence -even the most patient will react somehow in the moment and absorb the lesson later.

I've seen too many indie flicks lately. I need automatic weapons, a car chase and a happy ending very, very badly. Where's one of those cynical, cater to the lowest common denominator studio executives when you really need one? Despite my pathetic individual circumstances, I don't think the problem is all me. Director/writer/cinematographer Tom Quinn's debut shows much promise, but As Good As News recommends this film only for those with a driving need to learn about the Mummers or divorce, South Philly style.

Hillary on Midnight Plane to Georgia

Two Presidents Say They Encountered Gunfire - This has nothing to do with Darth Cheney, who has actually been demoted to Vice President for the past year. With regular medication Darth has adjusted nicely to his new role. He didn't shoot at anyone recently, not even Barack Obama, not even by accident.

No, today's story is about a shooting incident in that other Georgia. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and Polish President Lech Kaczynski heard gunfire as they disembarked from their limo for a photo op at a check point manned by Russian "peacekeepers" near the border of South Ossetia. The two Presidents were quick to say, "Look Europe, Look USA, see how crazy these Russians are, now that's what we're talking about." The Russians denied shooting anything, particularly in the direction of Georgia, and branded the whole incident a publicity stunt.

Secretary Designate Hillary Clinton immediately fired off her first diplomatic protest, demanding to know why she had not been invited to the shooting. "I've had plenty of experience with this type of incident in Bosnia", said America's soon to be top diplomat, "not only can I duck and cover, but I know just how to handle the press during the after shoot interviews. It's a shame Mikheil didn't think to get me involved, but I've packed my camo pantsuit and I'm leaving on the midnight plane to Georgia. I'll soon be in his world, because I can't live without this story in mine."

Everyone's A Critic: China Blasts "Chinese Democracy" - Guns N' Roses takes 14 years to release its new album, Chinese Democracy. When the group finally does, music critics greet it as the death of a genre. Just as Guns N' Roses is about to slide unnoticed back into oblivion, the Chinese Communist party comes to the group's rescue, denouncing the album as "venomously attacking China" and as part of a larger Western conspiracy to "grasp and control the world using democracy as a pawn". What did Axl Rose offer Hu Jintao to get this kind of publicity? A diligent search has produced nothing on this, but do not be surprised if you see an elderly Chinese man getting a lap dance in the first video cut from Chinese Democracy.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Today revisited on November 20, 2009

Bill Clinton Said to Accept Terms of Obama Team - One year after accepting a detailed set of conditions to facilitate his wife's appointment as Secretary of State, the former President nearly came to blows with Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

"Don't take any speaking fees or gifts to my foundation from foreign states or lobbyists, don't take any new public policy positions on my own, I absolutely get all that", said the former President. "I even tried my best to live up to the secret condition - don't embarrass the administration with any extramarital sexual escapades - I mean, I took every possible precaution to avoid embarrassing the administration - I used a Days Inn in the middle of nowhere, signed in as William Smith, paid cash, how could I know there was FBI surveillance on the room next door. I really don't see what more I could have done, I can't understand why Rahm is so upset."

When asked to respond, Mr. Emanuel emitted a series of stifled, yet still feral, shrieks and assumed a martial arts position.

Regenerating a Mammoth for $10 Million -, a consortium of the Museum of Natural History, Bronx Zoo, Penn State University and Mt. Sinai Hospital, announced today that an elephant and a leopard had been successfully reimpregnated with their own embryos, now genetically modified into a woolly mammoth and a saber tooth tiger, respectively. The consortium was created a year ago to combine opportunities for genetic research and fundraising by capitalizing on prehistoric DNA supplies and new capabilities in genetic modification . The four institutions have incurred over $15 Million in expenses to date, but a StoneAgeDreams representative was optimistic that the program would more than pay for itself:

"First, just wait for these big mamas to give birth. Imagine the excitement, people will forget all about those cute Pandas - heck people will forget all about Brangelina. Then picture the lines at the Zoo. And what about movies? Hollywood spent hundreds of millions of dollars on Jurassic Park, come on, Hollywood spent hundreds of millions on Heaven's Gate, what do you think the chance to shoot a movie with a real Woolly Mammoth and Saber Tooth Tiger will be worth? Tar Pits I, II, III, IV and V here we come. Maybe we can even get someone funny to play Ben Stiller and remake A Night At The Museum."

Iran Said To Have Nuclear Fuel for one Weapon -Iran announced the conclusions of the targeting committee formed a year ago when leaders realized the country had enough enriched uranium for only one nuclear weapon. Although some technical obstacles remain before the device is completed, the final target priorities have been set and they include a major surprise. Actual targeting will naturally depend on conditions at time of use, including available delivery systems and target security, but the country's current strategic objectives produced the following priorities: 4) Baghdad 3) New York 2) Tel Aviv 1) Crawford, Texas.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

To What Comes America?

Ted Stevens is a big fat loser (to quote a well known author). 538 has pretty much called this one, so it's more than official - it's absolutely certain. How did this happen. One measly felony conviction and the loyal citizens of Alaska turned on Ted like he was a week old salmon, thus depriving the comedy world of much needed post-election fodder.

Hope on, America. Topbunk Teddy is out, but Al Franken still has a shot. 538 has explained that the pro-Franken demographic includes more of the ballot challenged (people who can't figure out how to use the voting machine), so the hand recount will give Mr. Franken a fighting chance at becoming Senator Franken. Franken trailed by less than 3oo votes in the original count. It's poetic justice, 300 Vikings who were probably confused by the fact that the voting machine looked vaguely like a motel ice dispenser could now bring the Senate its first comedy writer. This is exactly what America needs. If you have ever seen the Senate, you know the comic material is already there, someone just has to punch it up a little.

Mr. Franken went to Harvard, which prepared him to create ringing, yet ironic, titles like "...Big Fat Loser". As Good As News is cleaning up its act before his arrival. The title of this post began life as "What's America Coming To"- straight from the Archie Bunker school of blogging. That kind of slop just won't make it when Senator Franken comes to town. We are already moving those prepositions away from the ends of our sentences (although we are not always sure where we should move them to --oops, make that-- we are not always sure to where we should move them) --and eliminating superfluous verbiage left and right and what the heck, independent too. Too's not a preposition, is it?

Australia Score - TV Trailer Pirates Pirates

Australia, the outback epic with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, is doing a lot of advertising. Check out the snippet of the score in those TV ads, remind anyone else of Pirates of The Caribbean? And that closing line - Nicole is channelling Daniel Day Lewis, straight from Last of the Mohicans.

Wendy and Lucy - Car Chase Wanted

Wendy and Lucy - Wendy (Michelle Williams) and Lucy (Lucy the dog, as herself) may be acting at an Oscar level here, but the film is a sleeper, in the worst sense of the term. Three car chases (at least one of which could be a dog chasing a car), two Bond girls and a train derailment would not be enough to wake up this movie, or its audience. Wendy is travelling from Indiana to Alaska on a shoestring with her dog Lucy. Things go bad, then worse, then still worse in Oregon and Wendy has no cushion, no little bit extra, she can use to turn things around. There's no Hollywood rescue here, just a bittersweet choice of an ending. Relax, Wendy does not eat Lucy. I said bittersweet - not canine noir.

Williams does much with little. The film is foreboding from the first scene and Wendy's life matches the mood. Wendy is relatively calm and slow to ask for help, even as her situation deteriorates, but Williams produces some very memorable scenes with limited dialog and no false histrionics. Two moments stood out for me - a sudden shift from brazen to pleading with the grocery manager deciding her fate after she's caught shoplifting and a convincing display of sheer terror (somehow conveyed while wrapped in a blanket with her face showing for only a few moments) after a long overdue sleep is interrupted by a deranged hobo.

Despite Williams, and Lucy, few will enjoy this movie. Director Kelly Reichardt is getting festival kudos for a film with no wasted motion, but there is just not enough story here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Sperm Crisis Rocks Brits

Shortage of Sperm Donors in Britain Prompts Calls for Change - Yes, the linked article has a self explanatory title, but what to do? Elect Barack Obama - relax that was not racial stereotype humor, just could not resist overwrought "Calls for Change" headline. Seriously, there isn't enough sperm in Britain. Why? Can't get enough donors. Why? Because the donors aren't allowed to remain anonymous, at least not when the resulting child reaches age 18 and looks for his or her father. Also because each donor is allowed to spawn only 10 progeny - a number selected somewhat arbitrarily (it's 25 in the Netherlands) - to avoid inadvertent inbreeding.

In the days before Margaret Thatcher, that shrinking group of Brit sperm donors would have known exactly what to do. Form a union, get the fees up, offer pensions, improve working conditions, attract new donors. See the (secretly) related story on unionized Air Traffic Controllers bouncing back from the Reagan axe with a new local at Gitmo - Ronnie would no doubt have taken advantage of the conveniently located severe interrogation facilities to head this off at the pass. While you're digressing on unions, see today's editorial from Thomas Friedman preempting what otherwise might have been a funny post here on management and union at GM producing a financial black hole rivalled only by the mysterious astrofinancial marvel AIG.

So, maybe a new union's not the way to go, but there must be some way to deal with Great Britain's Great Sperm crisis. New York would know exactly what to do. Disguise the donation center as a slightly seedy (ouch) Days Inn, allow all the politicians, sorry, donors, to register repeatedly under the name Smith, upgrade every room to include free movie service and hand out passes for complimentary lap dances at that gentleman's club next door - problem solved.

Google Knows First

Google Uses Searches to Track Flu's Spread -The linked story reports Google's ability to spot flu outbreaks quickly, 10 days faster than the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, by tracking search queries like "flu symptoms" and "muscle ache". As MIT professor Thomas Malone notes, this is only the beginning.

Disease/Condition/Problem-------- Early Warning Search Keywords

Childhood Obesity------------------ Where is McDonald's
Early Onset Diabetes--------------- Snickers, McDonald's
Ozone Layer Depletion------------- SPF 48, Quantity Discount
Severe Ozone Depletion------------ Melanoma
Global Warming------------------- AC, sale
Severe Global Warming------------ Refrigeration Unit, room size
Extreme Global Warming---------- Lifeboats wanted
Iraq War-------------------------- Weapons of Mass Destruction
Iraq War-------------------------- Mission Accomplished
Iraq War-------------------------- Wikipedia Sunni, Shiite
Iraq War---------------------------Names of the Dead, 4188

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Herb and Dorothy Collect

Herb and Dorothy - Over forty years ago, Herb Vogel, a postal worker, honeymooned with his new bride Dorothy, a librarian, at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. Last year they were back, inspecting part of their own collection of minimalist and conceptual art, valued in the millions of dollars, with their names etched in stone at the top of the Gallery's wall of donors. The first feature-length film from director Megumi Sasaki, this documentary captures an extraordinary story. The couple is totally dedicated to art. They have no children. They lived in a one bedroom apartment so stuffed with art that just seeing it on screen induces an irresistible urge to shout the words "get out, fire trap" repeatedly. As their sister notes from her comfortable suburban home, Herb and Dorothy could sell one or two pieces and "live like us". Instead they donate all, overwhelming the National Gallery with over 5,000 pieces, some 2,500 of which will now be parceled out to one selected museum in each state (a fifty-fifty program - fifty pieces to each of the select museums in the fifty states). Their apartment purged, Herb and Dorothy have started collecting anew.
Herb has a strong, visual personality. He captures the film as the camera captures him. Herb is a self taught amateur artist who liked to hang out at the Cedar Tavern in the early 1960's with some of the young stars of the art world. Herb speaks rarely and briefly, but he is a man obsessed in a very visible way. When Herb spots a piece he covets he hunches suddenly forward with a rapt gaze - a hungry toad ready to capture a very tasty fly with a swift flick of the tongue. Herb clearly had an eye for what he wanted, an eye aided by his own training and his constant contact with the New York modern art scene.

Dorothy speaks freely, adding detail on the couple's history. She also talks about why the couple collects art and how they select specific artists and pieces, but on these subjects, one picture of the rapacious Herb says more than a thousand words from Dorothy.

The film marvels at the couples ability to build their collection on a modest income without ever selling a single piece, but it captures only part of how they did it. They started by collecting minimalists because that's what they could afford, the school was new and unpopular when the Vogels began to collect. They dealt directly with the artists, in fact the film includes one dealer complaining that he was cut out, despite his exclusive contract with the artist. The Vogels maintained long-term relationships with the artists, communicating regularly and buying multiple pieces. Negotiations are strictly off camera, but As Good As News is guessing Herb cut some truly extraordinary deals, especially after the Vogels had established their reputation as collectors. For an artist, a sale to the Vogels was validation and free advertising, all with the promise that no one would know the terms of a special deal and no work would ever be resold.

The story is intriguing, the film worth seeing, with one caveat. Ms Sasaki is preparing a shorter version for broadcast on PBS. With the right edits, this might actually be a superior product, and even Herb would like that PBS price.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sleepwalk With Mike Birbiglia

Sleepwalk With Me at the Bleecker Street Theater is a one man show, the one man being Mike Birbiglia. Mr. Birbiglia is an extremely funny guy, not to be confused with Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, the former dentist who is now President of Turkmenistan. Just to make sure you understand it's a one man show, the program lists the cast both alphabetically and in order of appearance. Most As Good As News readers already know that Mr. Birbiglia is a successful stand-up comic, and he's sleepwalking in top form. He's even funny when he asks the audience to turn off their cell phones, an exercise that takes about 5 minutes and establishes the Birbiglian variation on the Marxist dialectic - mention a topic, detour drolly on some very humorous, usually self-effacing tangents, then return to the topic - with a deadly honest point that is sometimes, but not always, deadly funny.

There's more going on here than a typical stand-up act (OK, I got the subtle signal - it's an off-broadway show produced by Nathan Lane instead of a Comedy Central special). This is a memoir centered around Mr. Birbiglia's real life problem with sleepwalking. The story meanders through his relationships with his father, the medical community, his first fiance, his wife, a La Quinta Inn, a pair of asymmetrical boobs and a climactic moment in Walla Walla, Washington- a moment that's circled for most of the show in the ultimate display of the Birbiglian dialectic.

The humor alone more than justifies the price of a ticket. Often, the story within the humor is told with compelling honesty. At times Mr. Birbiglia is cutting open an artery and spurting blood on the stage, but those comic tangents eliminate the cringe factor, the surgery is painless for the audience. I left the theater wondering about Mr. Birbiglia's life, a sure sign that the story worked on some level, but something is missing.

Beginning, middle, end - you can change the order, you can mix them together in the whirlpool of the Birbiglian dialectic, but the character needs motive to get from beginning to end. If the story is how did Mike Birbiglia get to that moment in Walla Walla, then some of the why never reached the stage.

The show does establish an inner conflict. Mr. Birbiglia has an intimidating doctor father who wants to keep everything secret, a history as a high school nerd (big deal, join the crowd), a touching story of falling in love with his first girl friend before he was ready to make a life-time commitment, a run-in with cancer. All part of what makes him funny, all part of the beginning and the middle, but not quite enough. This may be a conflicted guy who both desires and fears getting personal stuff out in the open and does not relish taking bad news head on, but he's not a paralyzed basket case. Before undertaking this show Mr. Birbiglia graduated from Georgetown and spent years successfully turning chunks of his autobiography into comedy. Why didn't he seek treatment for a sleepwalking problem so serious that he knew it endangered his own life and the lives of those closest to him? I don't know, but there is a little more to this story and Mr. Burbiglia's mother is conspicuous by her near absence.

See the show. Laughs are guaranteed. Maybe you'll spot the piece of the story I thought was missing. In any event, you will have something to ponder as your split sides are recovering.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Alaska First

This is a great moment in history. Why? Because equality of opportunity suddenly feels like a promise America can keep? Because in a difficult time that calls for real leadership, Barack Obama is smart, decisive and confident enough to listen, one of those rare leaders who actually knows what he doesn't know and is willing and able to learn quickly but with some real depth? Because change might be more than a campaign slogan thanks to some technically savvy organizing and fundraising that allowed the President-elect to keep one foot out of the special interest quagmire of quid pro quo contributions and cronyism that kills fresh ideas still born?

No (hey As Good As News is still a comedy blog), this is a great moment because Alaska, home to the Anchorage Anchor - Sarah Palin - has become the first State to elect a convicted felon to the United States Senate. (OK, we know the early ballots are still being counted and FiveThirtyEight is leaning blue - all the more reason to seize the moment, no other felon has come this close.) Alaska is remarkably low on qualified candidates for high office, explaining both Sarah Palin and Senator Teddy Topbunk Stevens. Steven's re-election raises some exciting questions. Will the Senate overturn the will of the Alaskan people (and caribou, reindeer and whatever else is voting in this Northern nuthouse) and refuse to seat Stevens even though he was re-elected after he was found guilty - guilty of accepting, and not reporting as a gift, home improvements for which he paid only a fraction of the cost? Will Stevens become the first Senator to vote via video phone, or maybe get prison leave so he can hit the Senate floor sporting the latest in wrist and ankle wear accompanied by a heavily armed posse of correctional officers?
In Steven's defense - if my own home improvement contractor had given me a bill for one-third of the actual price (which was stupendous in comparison not only to the estimate we received but to the gross national product of Turkmenistan), I would surely have paid it without even realizing I was getting a discount. If only Stevens had presented the jury with the "contractor run amok - who knew" defense, he would be a free man today.

Maybe Todd Palin has a point. This Alaska secession thing could work for everybody. Just remember, Todd, the oil is on Federal land, all bought and paid for by us, the American taxpayers, as part of Seward's folly. So take Alaska out of the Union, make your wife Prime Minister -she'll feel like she's on an equal footing when she's hobnobbing with her neighbor Putin and the real Sarkozy and all the other Prime Ministers are wearing those chic outfits from Neiman Marcus. Just don't forget to send the royalty checks for the oil and gas.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Yonkers Joe -

Yonkers Joe - seems to have it all. Start with a name cast performing well - Chazz Palminteri in the title role, Christine Lahti as his girlfriend Janice and Tom Guiry as his son Joe, almost twenty-one years old with Down Syndrome. Add a background where mechanics, hustlers who use their hands instead of their mouths to cheat in poker and craps, reveal some tricks of the trade - real sleight of hand that is more impressive than a slew of special effects. Finish with a bang - Yonkers Joe risks all to build a real relationship with a son he has kept at a distance, just as he's risking all to run a pair of doctored dice into a Vegas craps game as he tries to pull off the score of his life.

So why didn't I like this picture more? The early pacing is slow, but the interesting background on cheating makes this tolerable and the story ultimately gathers speed and some pleasant unpredictability. The real problem lies elsewhere. Palminteri is too good at being bad. Yonkers Joe is adept at cheating rubes out of their paychecks, not just casinos. Joe has no relationship with his son, he just wants to rush him back into another institution so he won't have to put up with him, even for a few months. Lahti's Janice is fiercely realistic about herself, but what does she see in Yonkers Joe? Joe is so thoroughly repellent for the first two thirds of this film that by the time he finally shows some interest in his son it's a little hard to swallow. The story ultimately forces you to root for Yonkers Joe, but the early scenes just don't plant the seeds that would explain his conversion or make you want to like him. There's enough here to recommend a rental, but not a trip to the theater at full price.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Slingshot Hip Hop

Slingshot - the preferred weapon of the Intifada and young King David in his faceoff with Goliath. Director/ producer/editor Jackie Reem Salloum sees Palestinian rap as a political weapon, giving voice to a people, creating unity across checkpoints and walls. Her documentary traces Palestinian rap from its origins in the nineties through to the near present, capturing the stutters and stumbles of flawed efforts to imitate US hitmakers, the excitement as a political message emerges with "Who's The Terrorist" by DAM (pictured) in Lyd, Israel and the efforts of young rappers in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel to spread the rap gospel and communicate with one another. She captures the movement from the rappers' view point with realism and flair.

Slingshot is a little heavy handed at times, with soliloquy after soliloquy on the despair of living under an occupying force cutting to a new rhyme or concert, but on the whole the spirit and the excitement of the young rappers comes through. This is Salloum's first full length film, and she trained in fine arts, not movie making, so her effort as a producer and director is remarkable. As an editor she still needs some practice - this movie would have far more impact if the length was cut dramatically. Every point could be made in two thirds the time. It is worth watching, but not at the cost of a full price theater ticket. Wait for a rental and be prepared to do some fast forwarding.

One footnote, the film adopts the view of the Palestinian rappers. Although the language is restrained (for a film about rap) and they don't directly promote violence (at least not in the subtitles of this movie), the Palestinian rappers' list of things they like about Israel is remarkably short. Some of the Mountainside, NJ audience was clearly offended that Israel was portrayed in a negative light, with little effort at balance and no ray of hope via a reconciliation ending. Chuck Rose deserves credit for showing a film that might cost him some customers and defending the proposition that the filmmaker can tell her own story from her own perspective.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Preview Review Catch Up

Let The Right One In - Swedish vampire flick gets massive MSM kudos because it's a tweener love story instead of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre. True, as far as it goes. Now read Dracula, the original novel. watch Mighty Joe Young. Horror works best with characters, story and suspense - the gore is always just a sideshow. Nothing really that new here, and a romance between 12 year olds is pretty creepy, even if one of them is centuries old. This is not a bad film, but it's overrated, worth a rental at best.

Moscow, Belgium - A character study of Matty, a 40 year old postal clerk choosing between A) her art teacher husband, who has moved out in a trial separation so he can have a fling with one of his 19 year old students but keeps telling Matty he is undecided about coming back, B) Johnny, a persistent truck driver who is violent when drunk, and C) throwing herself under a train. Matty is capably played by Barbara Sarafian - she's the customer at the car dealer who keeps stubbornly repeating that she just wants basic transportation but walks out with a fully loaded Vette because a good salesman knows no sometimes means yes. It's easy to understand why Matty might not want her husband back, in fact it's hard to understand why she doesn't just shoot him. Johnny and the train are running a pretty close race but we won't spoil the ending. Not enough here to justify a full price seat, once again a rental contender.

Gitmo Repurposed

Bush Decides to Keep Guantanamo Open - Calm down, this is not an anti-W rant. Let's face it, the guy has a legitimate problem. No other country will accept the Gitmo inmates (Gitmates), regardless of where they were born or captured. The Gitmates are the political version of a credit default swap. Transfer to the US mainland, where even W sometimes concedes that US law actually applies, is W's worst nightmare. The Gitmates and their lawyers, a swarm of pesky, white shoe, pro bono punks, would sue the pants off him. Every time W brings a Gitmate to trial in Gitmo before one of his new military tribunals, another headline grabbing whiner assigned to prosecute resigns his commission. Apparently these wusses are too honorable to participate in a conviction based on confessions coerced with torture and evidence that's too secret to reveal to a military court. Even the Uighars, basically victims of Chinese repression who even W doesn't think are really terrorists, are a PR pitfall. Sure W could just release them to willing host families in the US, but that would be like admitting it was a mistake to arrest them and hold them in a black hole for six years.

What to do? The MBA President should be smelling opportunity here. Location - Gitmo is in exotic and sunny Cuba, a tourist mecca just waiting to happen. Facilities - a secure gated community (aka heavily armed camp) is exactly what it takes to start a four star resort in this part of the Caribbean, check out Haiti if you have any questions. Special Attractions - Year after year the torture chambers in the Tower of London are the hottest attraction in Europe, need we say more. Affordable Labor - Let's start with the kitchen and waitstaff - Mr. President did you know that Uighar cuisine is prized throughout Central Asia? Security staff - already on site, just a few stop loss orders to keep the GIs in place while we retrain some of the Gitmates. Best of all, it's free. No law in Gitmo means we can just keep the Gitmates there forever, no minimum wage, no tips, just the room and board W was spending anyway. Management? VP "Happy Dick" Cheney will soon be available to fill the key position, Social Director. With this ultra low cost structure Gitmo is perfectly positioned as the resort of Joe Six Pack, the Red State Club Med.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Baylor Sacked by Its Own Faculty

Baylor Faculty Members Condemn SAT Retaking - In response to yesterday's post by As Good As News, Baylor's Faculty Senate passed a resolution criticizing the school's practice of paying freshmen to retake the SATs. "This practice is academically dishonest and should be discontinued", read the faculty motion.

Dr. Phillip Ballinger, Director of Admissions at the University of Washington, served on a panel studying use and misuse of the SATs for a national admissions counseling organization. Ballinger's reaction to the Baylor SAT scheme: "..people removed their brains and went to Mars."

Sounds like fighting words to As Good As News. Sensing an opportunity to turn a typically overheated academic spat into a shooting war that might become the Bunker Hill, or at least the Boston Massacre, of Texas secession, we arranged a second exclusive interview with John Barry, Baylor's Vice President of BS, who brought along Reagan Ramsower, Baylor's Dean of Dollars.

AGAN - Dr. Ramsower, you approved the plan as win-win, higher SATs for the school, more aid for the students. Why couldn't you just give out more aid - period. How does raising SAT scores for students who are already in college help the student? How does it do anything other than help Baylor game the US News rankings?

D$ - Gaming the rankings helps everyone in the Baylor community. More high school seniors apply and attend. Alumni give more. The whole campus just feels better about itself.

AGAN - OK, but won't US News and other college rankers just take steps to put Baylor back on an equal footing with other schools - for example, insist on SATs taken before high school graduation for any data used in college rankings? Isn't there some chance that somebody will get pissed and just throw Baylor out of the rankings?

VPBS - Calm down son, no one is throwin Baylor out of anything. We are followin all the rules, maybe we just got a little chalk on our cleats on this one. If the rules change, we'll go along. We can play some defense and just keep lookin for another opportunity for the Bears to push one across the goal line.

AGAN -What do you think of the resolution by Baylor's own Faculty Senate branding the SAT scheme "academically dishonest"?

D$ - We prefer "financial aid plan" to "SAT scheme". Waco is part of the USA, at least for the moment, and everyone is entitled to their own opinion, even those Trotskyite whiners in the Faculty Senate.

AGAN - What about Dr. Ballinger's comment, did you remove your brains and go to Mars? The fallout from the publicity on this thing has to outweigh any benefit Baylor got from sliding up a few notches in the US News rankings? And what do you mean "for the moment"?

D? - It's easy for Ballinger to talk, he works at a state school. Those guys don't understand what it takes to keep a 14,000 student university afloat without standing on the taxpayers' shoulders.

VPBS - Nothin is backfirin here. Our core constituency, thats alumni with check books, appreciate good old Baptist ingenuity when they see it. This whole thing will be forgotten by the time you post.

AGAN - And "for the moment"?

D$ - Huh?

AGAN - You said Waco was part of the USA "for the moment".

D$ - No I didn't.
VPBS - (glaring maniacally at D$) We need a little break now.

AGAN - Messrs. Barry and Ramsower never returned from the little break and we have been unable to reestablish contact. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Baylor's Game Plan

Baylor Rewards Freshmen Who Retake SATs - Baylor University pays its freshmen $300 per head to retake the SATs. That's right, the same SATs they took to gain admission. John Barry, Baylor's VP of BS explained that the purpose of encouraging the already admitted students to take the SATs again was so that more would qualify for financial aid. As Good As News arranged a follow-up interview with Mr. Barry:

AGAN - Mr. Barry, couldn't you just give out more financial aid by lowering the qualifying scores without paying freshmen to retake the SATs?

VPBS - No Comment.

AGAN - Is there any real reason for Baylor to do this - other than gaming the ranking system at US News & World Report by reporting scores from SATs taken by Baylor freshmen (who test in a relaxed atmosphere knowing they are already admitted), when other colleges are ranked based on scores from SATs taken by high school juniors and seniors competing under tremendous pressure?

VPBS - Well as I said, everybody at Baylor is very pleased with the higher scores.

AGAN - Why not have your grad students retake SATs and report them to US News, wouldn't they score higher than the freshmen?

VPBS - Thank you, we'll look into that.

AGAN - Baylor has over 3,000 freshmen but only 861 retook the SATs, despite the $300 reward. Does this mean A) the average Baylor student is wealthy, B) the average Baylor freshman paid someone to take their SATs for them in high school and can't risk exposure now or C) all of the above?

VPBS - Can I go to the bathroom now?

AGAN - Is Baylor still affiliated with the Baptist Church?

VPBS - Very much so, and Baptists all over the country are very pleased with the higher scores.

AGAN - Where does Baylor stand on Texas secession?

VPBS - The University hasn't taken any official position, but unofficially the administration is solidly pro Lone Star Republic. For us, it would be the good old days, we were chartered by the Republic of Texas and we'd love to go back. The way we see it, life would be a lot easier if we were just competing with Aggies, Horn Frogs and Mustangs. OK, let's face it. Off the record, (spoiler alert - do not read on if you feel constrained by any journalistic scruples - obviously not an issue for As Good As News, we report, you decide) the SAT thing is a gimmick to make us look better. But we are desperate. Have you ever seen Baylor, ever been to Waco? Pretty bleak, right? A lot of people around here think those Branch Davidians weren't so much crazy as just really desperate to leave. The closest thing we've got to excitement is W's ranch, and that was down to four visitors last year. Now add in the tiny little problem that Baylor is dry. That's right. We're trying to recruit students to attend a school in Waco, a school in Waco that bans alcohol. A school with a football team that went 0-8 in conference last year. Now if you think we're cheating a little in the US News rankings, well that's like saying a blind man is cheating when he uses a cane. So write your snotty little blog, we're stickin with our game plan, and if US News doesn't like it they can change the rules.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Black Balloon Soars

The Black Balloon - Thomas (Rhys Wakefield) is a teenager moving into a new home and a new school - life would be so much easier if he could just fit in, but his autistic brother Charlie (Luke Ford) makes the whole family different. Their mother Maggie (Toni Collette) is tough enough to hold everyone together, but her difficult pregnancy adds to the pressure on Thomas. Thomas finds romance with Jackie (Gemma Ward), a beautiful classmate who 's drawn to Thomas partly because she sees his caring relationship with Charlie. When Charlie startles Jackie with some surprising behavior at a family birthday dinner, Thomas finally explodes, then picks up the pieces and begins to accept the fact that Charlie can never change, only he can.

Director and co-writer Elissa Downs captures the love, resentment, humor and resolve inside this family with exceptional authenticity based on her experience with autistic siblings. Like Canvas, The Black Balloon stays squirm in your seat real from start to finish with no sacharine added, but Black Balloon does a better job of mixing in lighter moments. Downs draws on some of the zaniness within her own family (apparently considerable, including the liberal use of teddy bears to lubricate intra family communication) to make this movie funny and sometimes uplifting without a hint of artificiality.

The Black Balloon is worth the price of a theater seat (opens in November in New York) and certainly more than worthy of a rental. Best of all, if you have a chance to see this movie at a festival where Elissa Downs will appear, don't miss it. Think Hamptons this weekend if you can make it. Her post-screening Q&A is a stand-up act that is ready for prime time on Comedy Central.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Suicide Net?

Golden Gate Managers Vote to Build Suicide Net - The suicide net will hang twenty feet below the Golden Gate's walkway, extending out twenty feet on either side. Some questions the management needs to consider:

- Won't the serious suicides just take their business elsewhere? Unless the Golden Gate Bridge itself is causing people to commit suicide, the number of suicides prevented by the net will be approximately zero. Those truly intent on death will just pick another bridge. NIMBY managers of the Golden Gate, aren't you just sending your problems to the Oakland Bay Bridge?

- Will there be many customers for the net? Maybe one or two serious suicides who don't know about the net and jump at night without seeing it, but certainly scores of thrill seekers with no interest in suicide who can't resist a dare and scores of troubled people attracted by the opportunity to commit a dramatic near suicide - so much more exciting than taking just enough aspirin to pass out after calling 911. The net will be filled with people, far more than the number now jumping off the Golden Gate.

-What will you do with the people caught in the net, the fortunate exemplars of reverse Darwinism? Maybe you should just empty the net once a day onto a very tall boat with a very big, very soft mattress laid out as a landing area. Imagine dozens of people tumbling from the suicide net onto a giant mattress every day at Noon. The daily rescue itself would become a tourist attraction and the Golden Gate Net might eventually rival the Bridge as a San Francisco Icon.

- Can you build this thing fast enough to help the many people who just lost their life savings in the financial crisis and are about to lose their jobs in the recession? Will the headlines about the net actually create a flurry of suicides, people eager to dive from the Golden Gate before it's too late? Maybe you should stop making announcements and just put this thing up quietly.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Headline Crawl 5

Markets Plunge / 3 Physicists Share Nobel Prize - How do we stop the Dow from plunging? The winning physicists theorized that CP violations (changes in in charge and parity leading to unexpectedly asymmetrical outcomes) would support a model of the universe in which only 3 generations of quarks exist. Got that? Well the new Large Hadron Collider will soon be testing the theory, and one of the predicted results is measurable anti-matter. And the connection to the markets? Financial analysts are optimistic that bringing the Collider on line will finally end the plunge in the Dow. If the Fed can't stop the market from crashing then the destruction of the universe in a chain reaction between matter and anti-matter should do the trick.

Nepal: Goddess is Appointed - The new Kumari is a three year old selected by a panel of judges who conducted a series of ancient ceremonies to choose the living goddess from several 2-4 year olds. Ancient Ceremonies? It would be nice to get some real reporting here - exactly what ceremonies do you use to pick a goddess? Senator McCain, why are you settling for a former Miss Wasilla, with the right ancient ceremonies you could have done so much better.

Gay Couples Rush to the Altar in California Ahead of November Vote - The rush is on, as gay couples get married now just in case California voters outlaw gay marriage by passing Proposition 8 in November. With apologies, As Good As News will take the low road (also known as Jay Leno Boulevard) - are these people nuts? If Prop 8 eliminates gay marriage, won't it knock out gay divorce? Til death do us part - and we mean it.

For Air Traffic Trainees, Games With a Serious Purpose - The FAA will need to hire and train 1700 air traffic controllers each year for the next decade, up from a few hundred a year thanks to the impending retirement of the many controllers hired following Ronald Regan's mass dismissal of strikers in the early 1980s. Video games simulating traffic control allow training for more new controllers with less supervision. The FAA is worried about finding enough hires, but this economy is about to produce several years worth of graduating seniors with few job opportunities and extensive video game experience. As Good As News thinks the problem will be too many applicants, not too few. The solution? A video game tournament, winners get the jobs.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Pray The Devil Back To Hell

Pray The Devil Back To Hell - This is the inspiring story of a network of Liberian women, regular women from all walks of life, who became fed up. Fed up with the constant struggle for power and wealth between dictators and war lords that turned young boys into rapists and murderers and turned the country into hell. The women begin by establishing an interfaith group that prays for peace, then courageously establish a peace vigil outside the presidential palace. When Ghana sponsors peace talks between Liberia's warring factions, some of the women travel to Accra to demonstrate for peace and monitor the talks. The war lords enjoy the good life and talk in circles, until the women get their attention with a sit-in that traps them in the the negotiating room until they promise to get serious. After a peace agreement is signed the women stay organized, supporting disarmament, voter registration and the election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as Liberia's President.

The story is genuinely fascinating and inspiring, but the film is flawed. It's built around interviews with six of the women, and each is terrific, but something is missing: News stories that captured the concerns and the courage of the women that first stood up to the murderous dictator Charles Taylor by demanding peace outside his window; News stories of the sit -in by mothers and grandmothers at the peace talks in Ghana that trapped the macho warlords at the peace table. It's not director Gini Reticker's fault that the mainstream news coverage was limited mostly to atrocities. She uses what she can find and there is some archival footage, just not enough.

Pray The Devil Back To Hell is worth seeing just for the story, but wait for a video rental or PBS showing, don't spend $10 on a theater seat. There is a great movie in here somewhere, but this one spends a little too much time on talking heads. A full blown fictionalized epic with an exploration of Liberia's fascinating history could be a hit. A documentary that somehow captures the real tension of the story's highlights could do well, but this one needs at least a few more ingredients.