Monday, December 28, 2009

Books I've Read This Year

Given various exigencies in the career path this year, I've had magnificent opportunity to work through my "to read" list in 2009. Here is a list of books I've read this year:

The Big Sky
Neverwhere
Downtown Owl
The Collaborator of Bethlehem
Eating The Dinosaur
High Fidelity
Tales of Beedle the Bard
Thank You For Smoking
Swords Against Deviltry
Sandman Series (reread; all “graphic novels”)
Scott Pilgrim series (all “graphic novels”)
Master and Commander (on tape)
And Then There Were None (on tape)
The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Klay (gave up after 200 pages, sorry)

I also made lots of progress on the Discworld front, reading the following:

Pyramids
Sourcery
Eric
Men At Arms
Feet of Clay
Jingo
The Fifth Elephant
Night Watch
Thud!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Phantastic Phantom Menace Review

I recognize that saying "The Phantom Menace" sucked would not have been insightful 10 years ago when the film was in theaters, but I found this YouTube video this week detailing in masterful detail how it sucked compared to the masterpiece of the original trilogy.



I highly recommend it. I have watched it or listened to it five times because his commentary on effective story-telling is so compelling. There are seven videos of 10 minutes each, so you don't have to watch the whole thing, certainly, but the final two are fantastic. So at least check those out.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Low-down On the Mt. Vernon Mid-singles Institute

Tonight I attended the Mt. Vernon mid-singles institute where President Nixon announced the forthcoming creation of a mid-singles ward. The charter for this mid-singles ward had to be approved “personally” by the First Presidency, which has approved only one other mid-singles ward in the last 10 years. Several years ago, the stake presidency petitioned to create this ward and it was rejected by the First Presidency.

Here are the vital statistics:


Name: Potomac Singles Ward

Bishopric: Lew Larsen, Jeff Simmons, Rob Griffin

Location: Mt. Vernon ward until the Crystal City building is up and running

Boundaries: Mt. Vernon stake (though mid-singles from outside the stake are welcome)

Age range: 31 to 55 (he said “What I don’t want is grandfathers hitting on 31 year old sisters”)

Projected population: 260, though the total mid-singles population in Mt. Vernon is 800

Time: 3 p.m.

Start date: Jan. 10, 2010


He said the goal was to create an “environment for courtship, but not be obsessive about it.” He said that mid-singles are welcome to stay in the family wards where they currently worship and that the ward is “not going to draft like the NFL,” and added, “What we don’t want is for you to be lost in the family ward.” Someone asked if there would be a primary for those mid-singles with children (from previous marriages); the answer was no.


Bishop Larsen spoke as well, and said that “singles need more options, not less.”

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

10th Day of Thanksgiving

I am grateful that in this article for Utah Policy, they included my embedded video of Tina Fey from "30 Rock." Whoo hoo!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

11th Day of Thanksgiving...

Today I am thankful for YouTube videos of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" with the "Seinfeld" cast. Whoo hoo!

Monday, November 23, 2009

The 12 Days of Thanksgiving

So I received a text message from a friend of mine yesterday about Thanksgiving-related posts. And it occurred to me that I didn't have anything planned for the big day. So I present to you "The 12 Days Of Thanksgiving!" (Note: 12 days will more accurately be four or five days.)

Today I am grateful for Utah Policy, the website I freelance blog for as their Washington correspondent. The article I have today is relatively awesome; it is about the five Utah members' Facebook pages.

On the first day of Thanksgiving, the Internet sent to me ... one Utah Policy article ...

TO BE CONTINUED

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Office post...

So "The Office" has been outperforming "30 Rock" this season. I would not have thought it possible.

Here's this clever web exclusive they did:



I love the term "Nard Dog."

...

Anyway, I have a job interview tomorrow so I should go to bed.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Jared in the D News again...

The Deseret News interviewed me for an article in today's paper about Facebook and Internet addiction and whatnot.

I should have sent them a picture of me or something.

Given this whole meta-reporting business, I thought I'd include the transcript of my entire interview, for folks who really want to "peel back the curtain."

1. What kind of technology do you use? Internet? Cell phone? How often do you use it? Can you go a day without checking your e-mail or other things?

I use a cell phone and wireless Internet from my laptop. I recently terminated Internet access to my cell phone because I was primarily just using it to cheat on crosswords or look up pointless minutiae on Wikipedia that I didn't really need to know. I do have a GPS on my phone, without which I would be intractably lost driving around the Washington area.

2. Do you think it's easy for people to become too dependent on technology? Why or why not? What's the ideal amount of time spent online?

For the last four years, I have not had a television in my house, and have not missed it because of the Internet. When I have to really get work done on the computer, I go into the one room in my house that cannot get a wireless signal, so I'm not tempted to perpetually check my email or Facebook or the Drudge Report or whatever. I think if there's a purpose behind your use of technology, then there's no problem. Since there are so many different ways for the Internet to entertain, inform, and connect an individual, anyone can drown in this great ocean called the Internet.
Some people, who for example become addicted to MMORPGs, end up spending entirely too much time online.


3. Some people argue that social networking sites actually tend to isolate people and make them lonelier. Do you think that's true? Or, do you find you're better able to connect with people and maintain contact with friends? Why do you use social media like Facebook?


It could, but I am inclined to disagree with knee-jerk rejections of technology. I find, for example, with my church friends that I have much more to talk about with the active Facebook users on Sunday than otherwise. "Oh, your trip to Boston looked cool!" or "Hey, great job with that marathon." I'm able to maintain contact with friends from high school on the other side of the continent whom I'd never talk to otherwise.

Facebook is incalculably valuable to me both personally and professionally. Since I'm in political communication, it's important for me to understand how people use this technology and to network with colleagues, not just in Washington, but back home in Utah as well. Moreover, if you're Facebook friends with someone, you don't need to keep track of their contact information when it changes (cell phone number, email), because they're so easy to contact via that platform.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Jared Snubbed In MUSS Article

Article in the D News about the "MUSS" at the U of U today.

No props given to yours truly, who came up with the name. Curse you D News!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Bruce Campbell's meaty role in S4

MTV's Splashpage is reporting that veteran character actor and dude with a big chin Bruce Campbell is boasting about the "meaty role" he'll play in Spider-man 4.

...

The answer is, obviously, that Campbell is going to play PETER PARKER'S BUTCHER. The dude's making a pun. Seriously. Mark my words.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Speech-Less

Holy frak - I was in meetings with this guy when I worked at the White House.



I didn't really know him ... but this seems pretty repellent to me. There's a sacred trust between an elected official and his staffer. Violating it like this - when there's no legitimate "whistle-blower" issue - for just a couple bucks is slimy.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Obama Tariff War

Here's an article I wrote for UPD about Obama's midnight announcement of tariffs against Chinese tires. We all hope it won't escalate, but some people are afraid it will.

My favorite part about the blog post is where I quote a fact sheet on Bush's trade policy which I wrote last year. Ha! (This is known as "meta-blogging.")

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Get It Together, "Glee"-chers!

OK so the season of "Glee" started this week. As loyal followers of this blog remember, I weighed in on the show when its pilot first aired a few months ago. It's clever in an ordinary, non-threatening way. The actors all have great chemistry and seem to own their characters pretty well. (Cool photo gallery here.)

Jane Lynch leads the predictably, yet delightfully, evil "Cheerios"

The show has all the ingredients of a great chapter in our shared television heritage, but it's a bit (ahem) "off tune." It would work better as a half-hour than a full-hour format. Brevity being the soul of wit, and all that.

Here's the episode on Hulu.



The acting good, and so's the music, but I really don't think it has steam to continue for more than a season or 2. They're already rehashing some of the same jokes from the pilot (jocks agree to let openly gay kid set aside designer article of clothing before tossing him into the dumpster).

There's still some appeal to the sexual tension between the

1) song teacher and the cute guidance counselor, and
2) lead female Glee Club member and lead male Glee Club member

but they're both too over the top. The reason "The Office" was so good its first three seasons is because it was so subtle. Just as soon as you started hating Roy, they threw in something to make his relationship with Pam make sense, leaving our poor Jim feeling all the more despondent. Neither "Glee"-lationship is even in the same solar system as Jim and Pam, and I'm just not patient enough to wait more than a couple episodes for these two lovable "Glee"-chers to get together, especially since we found out (which we already all suspected) that whats-his-name's wife had hysterical pregnancy.

Just the right amount of bland handsomeness make this guy a perfect TV show hero...

...and this woman's saucer-sized eyes make her look like an Anime heroine

Also, I'm not a prude, but the show was too coarse for what it's trying to be. All in one episode, it was too much to have

1) The "Push It" video,
2) the guidance counselor making an oral sex joke to a girl with bulimia,
3) the depiction of premature ejaculation as part of teen dry-humping, and
4) a rather bigoted demonization of Christian abstinence efforts

You can do a _bit_ of raunchy humor, but all at once makes you look like you don't really have any substantive writing, and you're just taking the lowest common denominator, and we don't need any more of that kind of mindless pablum masquerading as wit on TV.

As "Seinfeld" demonstrated in "The Contest" episode, the best way to do dirty humor is _not_ do dirty humor. Euphemisms allow the viewer to fill in the punchline with their own imagination. It's like how Howard Stern was more popular when the FCC was bleeping him on terrestrial radio than he ever will be on satellite.

Anyway. USA Today says essentially the same stuff as me here. I hope they can keep it together, if only for more stuff like this Journey song...

Friday, September 4, 2009

MUSS Article

So I wrote an article in 2002 for the Chrony that caused the Utah football fan club to rename the student section the "MUSS." Truly twas great journalism. Utah Policy ran an article "chronicling" it here. Finally: I'm on record with the credit I deserve.

Self-aggrandizing? Perhaps.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Hatch Speech On Kennedy

Senator Hatch, my old boss and a great American leader, cites the story about himself/Kennedy/and the temple. It's great. (It's at about 1:30.)

MS Paper Cites Kennedy Story

Really wasn't expecting this. A newspaper in Massachusetts, the Belmont Citizen-Herald, cited my Utah Policy post on the Hatch/Kennedy/Mormon temple issue (which I never thought would be an issue; I thought it was just a clever aside, but there you have it).

Monday, August 31, 2009

Warchol Cites Kennedy Story!

So the bread and butter of blogging is individual page views, and the meat in the blogosphere sandwich is links from more successful blogs.

Here the Tribune's Glen Warchol cites my Kennedy story from Utah Policy. He wrote that my Hatch/Kennedy tribute was better than Hatch's Hatch/Kennedy tribute in Politico. Sorry, OGH.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

UK Version Of The Office? Come On.

OK I think we can all agree that "The Office" has pretty much jumped the shark, right? I mean, the show got 10 Emmy nominations, which seems pretty strong, but "30 Rock" got more than double that, and the show crackles with a sense of potential and momentum that "The Office" alas does not. (It's hard to maintain excitement about boredom, I suppose.)


However, the show's still generally above average and I still watch episodes of it on Hulu when they come out.

"The Office" was (oh man, already using past tense) a gentler, warmer version of Mike Judge's minimalist opus "Office Space," sympathetically portraying the ennui of a life without meaningful challenges and comfortable tedium. The show is broadly popular with critics and a mainstream audience. Its ratings have increased every year, and it's the only non-NFL-related show on NBC in the Nielsen Top 20, which suggests it's going to be on air for a while to come, even though everybody knows it'll never be as good as when the Pam-Jim sexual tension was at its peak. (Dare I say "climax"?)



"The Office" is a pioneer of online content for TV shows.

But the one thing that bugs me about "The Office" is people who say they only like the U.K. version. "Oh 'The Office' is good, but the British one is much better." or "Yeah I like 'The Office' -- you mean the original one, right?" (Here Entertainment Weekly says that the British version is the 17th best TV show of the last 25 years, but the US version is only the 61st best --- so erudite!)

People who take television seriously like feeling elitist about it. They like to feel like they've found something rare and precious, and that's an indication of their intelligence. This is one reason hard core Star Trek fans will say they prefer the original series to "Next Generation" -- "Next Gen" was more popular, ergo, they cannot be elitist about it.

People who say they prefer the British "Office" are doing the same thing. They're trying to say "I'm trendy, but in a non-conformist way."

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Kennedy Memory

Here's a funny Kennedy-related story of mine that they ran on UPD. Here it is for the Whitleypedia reading public.

With the passing of Senator Edward Kennedy this week, I wanted to share my one Kennedy anecdote from when I worked in the U.S. Senate.

In December 2006, I got called in to photograph a meeting between Sen. Orrin Hatch and Sen. Kennedy from Massachusetts. The two were discussing health care policy, and Hatch complimented Massachusetts for trying to come up with a health care reform proposal, and commented that Mitt Romney was doing a good job as Governor.

Kennedy kind of rolled his eyes, and Hatch joked, "Just be sure you don't start up with that anti-Mormonism stuff against Romney again!" Kennedy scoffed and said, "Anti-Mormonism! You call Mitt and ask him who got the spire put on your Boston Temple. Thanks to me, half of Western Massachusetts can see the archangel Gabriel all lit up at night."

Hatch replied, "It's angel Moroni, Ted, how many times do I have to tell you?" And one of Kennedy's staff members joked, "Oh no, Senator, you're going to get another Book of Mormon for Christmas."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Ask Tina

So as everyone knows, I am a fan of the "30 Rock." I have recently been turned on to the "Ask Tina" web feature-ette, which - incidentally - features the HTML code to embed the video in your blog. So I yielded to peer pressure and have done so:

Monday, August 10, 2009

"Iron Man 2" footage leaked online!!!

Ever year I lament that I am unable to go to the San Diego Comi-Con, the greatest nerd mecca this side of GenCon. However, thanks to the Internet, those that don't go can still enjoy some of the SDCC's savory treats.

Check out this leaked footage of "Iron Man 2" over at Gizmodo. The sound is lousy, but you can hear Nick Fury/Sam Jackson talking trash and Tony Stark/Robert Downey Jr. putting the proverbial, parliamentary smack-down at a Senate hearing.


Tis awesome!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Seriously?

So Family Guy got an Emmy nomination for Best Series? Seriously? A show whose inspiration feels like little more than stolen jokes from waste-baskets in "The Simpsons" writing room becomes the first cartoon in 50 years to get such an honor? Have the people nominating this never seen the show? Wiser men than I have lambasted the show's shortcomings plenty, so much so, in fact, that there is a Wikipedia page specifically devoted to criticism of the show.



Oh my -- a puking joke ... how urbane and witty!

Obviously I recognize that the Emmys are a business, and they want to throw enough token nominations out to popular shows that its fans will tune in to watch the awards show, which will increase its ratings and - accordingly - the amount they can ask for advertising next year.

But --- seriously? They couldn't give a nod to something more deserving, like "The Simpsons" or "South Park" ... or 30 minutes of television static?

(OK, that last one may have gone too far; in keeping up with my self-contradictory nature, I am - regardless - excited about "Family Guy's" forthcoming "Something, Something, Something Dark Side.")


---

Note: in the Emmys' defense, they did give "30 Rock" - the best comedy since "Arrested Development" - a record-breaking 22 noms. Whoo hoo!



Makes up for the fact that those losers didn't give "Battlestar Galactica" a nomination in its final year.


Frakkers!


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Literary Managers and Dramaturges of the Americas

I am participating in this discussion tomorrow.

Out of Bounds: Dramaturging Politics, followed by reception
We ask the question: Who is shaping the stories that the public receives about politics? What part does theatre or theatricality play in this process? Join us for a large-group conversation about political narratives. Moderator: Michele Volansky (Washington College). Panelists: Mark Keida (Senior Analyst, Lake Research Associates), Jocelyn Prince (Freelance Dramaturg / Political Organizer), Jared Whitley (former White House Communications Associate Director).

Should be good. As it'll be a roomful of academics, I'm sure I'll be the only Republican. The odds won't be even, so maybe I'll tie one hand behind my back.

More info here.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Chaffetz Facebook UPD

So this may be a lazy entry, but here's a story I wrote for Utah Policy Daily. I thought of it when I saw one of Rep. Chaffetz's posts on Facebook. I'm not gonna post it here, so check it out over there if you are of a mind to do so.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Fourth

I had to work the evening of the Fourth, but it was at an apartment complex with a stunning view across the Potomac of downtown DC. It was really cool, all things considered, and I didn't have to deal with any crowds.

video

And here's some more pics. Note the Capitol, the Washington, and the Lincoln.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Blog-versation with Utah Policy Daily

Hey, so I'm branching out behind Whitleypedia ... I have the honor of blogging for Utah Policy Daily, which I've been a fan of for the last five or six years. It's the best resource for daily scoops on the Utah political scene, managed by the inimitable LaVarr Webb, who alas does not have a Wikipedia entry that I can link to (yet).

Here's my first entry. It's on Salt Lake Tribune ace reporter Tommy Burr. My favorite part is my use of the term "blog-versation."

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Detective Comics Can't Sleuth Its Way Back On Top?

In the summer of 2008, I looked forward to both Iron Man and The Dark Knight with rapt anticipation. Iron Man was a good-sized hit, Dark Knight was super-sized. I preferred the simpler, more cohesive story of Iron Man, and Robert Downey's charismatic Tony Stark certainly eclipsed the more reduced role that Christian Bale was forced to take behind Heath Ledger's jaw-dropping Joker. But Ledger's Joker defined cinema in 2008, and made Jack Nicholson look like Caesar Romero.


But still ... it delights me when a comic book movie can capture both critical and financial success: these films (as well as Hancock, Incredible Hulk, and Hellboy 2) did both last year. It was one of those "it's good to be a geek" years. Ledger quite rightly won the Oscar for best supporting actor, but the Academy (surprise surprise) snubbed Dark Knight with the best picture and best director categories - not even nominating the film in either. (Though TDK did get 8 noms all told, and Downey Jr's nomination for Tropic Thunder had at least as much to do with Iron Man as with Tropic Thunder.)

So it is with sadness in my heart that I read that Batman 3 might not happen at all. It baffles me that a sequel to the second-most successful film _of all time_ is not being hot-lined.

The DC movie war machine is floundering (with a sequel to Superman Returns off the books, nothing for a Wonder Woman film but idle speculation, and Green Lantern shedding light only with fan-made trailers). Detective Comics can't sleuth its way back to the top of the movie heap.




By contrast, the Avengers franchise, which Iron Man kicked off, is plugging along with a momentum it can barely contain. Kenneth Branagh is waxing Nordic on Thor. Samuel L. Jackson, who appeared as Nick Fury for just 15 seconds in Iron Man, has been signed to a NINE PICTURE DEAL with Marvel, and director John Favreau is already appearing on late night TV shows to talk about Iron Man 2 and Tweeting like it's going out of style (which as a Facebook snob, alas, I can say Tweeting has not yet done).

What will turn this around? DC has historically flown circles around Marvel when it comes to multi-media adaptions of its material. Compare, for example, the legacy of the 1960s Batman TV with the legacy of the 1960s Spider-man show. Compare, for further example, the success of the Superman film franchise in the 1970s and 80s, and the Batman franchise of the 1980s and 90s, with Marvel's ... not having any film franchise of note until X-men in 2000.

With a hit like TDK, that made Spider-man wet his tights, how can DC now now drob the web ball?


Riddle me that, Boy Wonder.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Axis of Evil? Hrm....

Hey, so I've noticed in the news lately that Iran is violating any kind of pretense of democracy, and abusing people for standing up for their basic human rights.

Here's a BBC article about it. Here's an Aljazeera one, which says "Hundreds of protesters, politicians and activists have been detained in Iran after mass protests over the disputed re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president."

Hrm. Seems pretty darned evil.

Otherwise in the news I see that North Korea is imprisoning journalists. There's an article on Slate about it here. The two reporters have been sentenced to 12 years of hard labor because of their efforts to paint the regime as abusive to human rights. (So to protect their sterling-silver reputation, the North Koreans, y'know, abuse their human rights.)

Hrm. Seems pretty darned evil.

Now if only someone had warned us about these evil countries a few years ago, perhaps labeling them across some kind of, oh I don't know, axis. You know. An axis of evil.

Monday, June 15, 2009

White Snow

This is a video clip of my nephew and me sparring with light sabers while my niece sings Coldplay's "Violet Hill." I think it could be a perfect C- or D-grade Internet meme, along with other flash in the pans like the "I like turtles!" boy. Its assets:

  1. it is only 20 seconds long
  2. it pays tribute to three disparate pop culture figures (Star Wars, Coldplay, and The Simpsons - gold coin to whomever can figure where the reference is), expanding the number of people who could be attracted to it
  3. these kids are pretty dang cute
But enough of my yakking, let's boogie:

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Deadpool movie? WTF?

So - OK - after a lackluster response to "Xmen Origins: Wolverine," both critically and financially (only $165,354,000 in the US), they're doing a Deadpool movie?!?!

MTV's Splash Page has the story here...

Now, I know that chicks really dig Ryan Reynolds, and doing a boys movie that girls will want to also go see can be a formula for success, but - I'm sorry - can they please just go back to making good movies about the Xmen?

Please?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Domo arigato Sotomayor-o?

OK so in recent weeks/months, I've eschewed blogging about politics in favor of doing more pop culture stuff ... for which I think I can be forgiven, given that we've entered the summer movie season.

But I wanted to at least mention two things about the current Supreme Court nominee fooforaw:

Judge Sotomayor and President Obama

1) The AP (God bless them for the work they do keeping the American public informed) is reporting that "Gingrich backs off 'racist' label for Sotomayor" -- the essential bit is:

"In a letter to supporters, the Georgia Republican said that his words had been "perhaps too strong and direct" last week when he called Sotomayor a reverse "racist," based on a 2001 speech in which she said she hoped the rulings of a "wise Latina" would be better than those of a white male without similar experiences."

Of course our illustrious former Speaker was going to catch hell for opposing any nominee of Obama's, particularly a Latino. (I don't think anyone is pulling punches because she's a woman, though -- both Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin got so beaten up so much last year that they proved we are equal opportunity bashers where female politicians are concerned.)

So why is the Speaker backing off of this label? Well ... probably because it's not working particularly well, because he risks coming off as the bad guy, and she as the innocent victim. The slanderous attacks on Judge Alito during his confirmation process only increased his favorability ratings because said attacks were perceived as so ludicrous (which, incidentally, they were). By backing off the "you are a racist" label Gingrich demonstrates humility enough to apologize without really doing so.

Is Judge Sotomayor a racist? Well ... probably. I mean, everybody's at least a little bit racist if they're honest with themselves. It's like a great philosopher said once:

"We humanoids are a product of millions of years of evolution. Our ancestors learned the hard way that what you don't know might kill you. They wouldn't have survived if they hadn't jumped back when they encountered a snake coiled in the muck; and now, millions of years later, that instinct is still there. It's genetic."

I think this video from "Avenue Q" sums it up pretty well:



More than that - culturally - our country, particularly the political left, is pretty tolerant of anti-white sentiment, especially when it is perceived as mostly harmless. (Example: Mayor Nagin's "chocolate city" speech, for review here.)

2) If this Sotomayor's nomination is going to be about identity politics, why do I hear so little mention of religion? She is Catholic -- not that there's anything wrong with that, some of my favorite people are or used to be Catholic -- but her approval would make her the SIXTH Catholic on the bench: Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito are all disciples of the Holy Father. Ginsburg and Breyer are Jewish, and only Stevens is Protestant.

Granted, Catholicism is the largest individual religion in the US -- estimated 24% of the population -- but more than half the country is some kind of Protestant. (The Boston Globe did an interesting article on religion in the US here that you could check out.) How about some more Protestants on the bench? How about a Mormon? (1.7% of the population btw) How about (gasp!) an agnostic?

Obviously judicial temperament, intelligence, and experience are more important than identity politics ... but I'm baffled that the religion issue hasn't played out more in the press. USA Today posted an article about it ... shortly after I started writing this blog entry.

Anyway ... there's my 2 cents, which in today's economy is only worth about half a farthing.

For someone whose opinion carries considerably more value, here's what my old boss, Senator Hatch is saying about Judge Sotomayor, fyi.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Glee


So there's this new TV show on Fox about a high school glee club named (appropriately) "Glee."

The pilot episode is available on Hulu here. It's reasonably clever, and the acting is great, especially the teen stars, and Jane Lynch has a prominent role (whom I love from her work in the Christopher Guest mockumentaries - she's on the left in the picture). There's a good review of it on the NYT here, where the writer says it's "blissfully unoriginal in a witty, imaginative way."


The highlight is this cover of Journey's "Don't Stop Believing," the greatest song of all time.



However, I don't know how much we can expect from the series as, even in the pilot, it is unable to avoid Hollywood high school cliches (i.e. jocks are evil). "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" hit a (pun intended) high in televised high school drama (side note: before it jumped the shark when they went to college), but that was against the backdrop of adolescence as a metaphor for demonic invasion of the Earth. Will "Glee"be able to do the same? Will it be as clever as "Mean Girls", or will it be as trite as "The Breakfast Club"?



I will be "gleeful" if the former is true. (Ha ha.)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Star Trek Boldly Kicks More Butt Than All Three Star Wars Prequel Movies Combined

As a science fiction fan, the question is often posed: which does one prefer – Star Trek or Star Wars? For most science fiction fans, I’m sanguine that the answer would be Trek, given that it’s more thoughtful, intelligent, and science-based. For those exact reasons, though, Star Wars is more popular with mainstream audiences. It’s OK to like Star Wars and still be considered a normal person – I don’t know why there’s this distinction, but the reason for that (I would guess) is evenly split between Ronald Reagan and Kevin Smith.


With such greater mass-appeal, Star Wars, accordingly, is much more profitable – drastically outselling Star Trek in merchandise and box office receipts, and existing in the collective conscious of the American psyche despite having produced (really) only six movies, whereas Star Trek had released 10 films and more than 500 televised episodes.
  • There's a mildly cool (albeit lazily un-updated) comparison on the business side of Trek v. Wars on Forbes.com here.
So for these reasons it’s delightful to be able to report that this summer’s “Star Trek” – the latest (but not the last!) entry into the film franchise is light years (note the clever, completely original metaphor) ahead of the competition, and more than that: this movie boldly kicks more butt than all three of the Star Wars prequel movies combined.

Financially, Star Wars has so much muscle, this year’s “Trek” probably won’t overtake any of them (even “Attack of the Clones,” the lowest-performing of the three crossed the $300 million mark), but critically “Trek’s” phasers were definitely set on kill: its Rotten Tomatoes score is a breath-taking 96 percent, whereas the prequels got, respectively 64, 67, and 80 percent.

The most remarkable thing about “Star Trek” is that it (finally) has been able to thread the needle between die-hard fans and mass audiences. The action, humor, and real-world human drama can appeal to anyone, and the copious insider references reward the stalwart viewer.

Playing from their strengths, the film makes copious references to “Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan” and “Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home” – generally regarded as the franchises two best outings. Noting that such a list has not yet been compiled on the Wikipedia entry for the new Star Trek movie, I’ll try to assemble my own of the allusions within the film to previous incarnations of Trek: (This is from memory, and I’ve only seen it once, so let me know if I missed any.)

1) The whole Kobayashi Maru business (“Star Trek 2”) When Kirk is recounting on the Genesis Planet how he reprogrammed the simulator, he is eating an apple. When young Kirk in this film is defeating the program, he is likewise eating an apple.

2) Spock saying “You have been my friend, I always shall be yours” (also “ST2”)

3) Older Spock counseling younger Spock to “have faith” (“Star Trek 6” – Spock said it to Lt. Valeris)

4) Sulu’s fencing (Episode “The Naked Time”)

5) Scotty saying “I canna give it any more power!” (any one of a dozen episodes)

6) Chekov’s struggling with Vs (notably “Star Trek 4,” though I was disappointed they didn’t work in a place for him to say “wessels” – maybe in the next one)



7) The Vulcan testing scenario (“ST 4”)

8) When Amanda Grayson asks Spock if he’s fine, it’s echoing when the computer asks the resurrected Spock “how do you feel?” (“ST 4” too)

9) The Vulcan bullies (Episode “Journey to Babel”)

10) Sarek saying marrying Amanda was seemed a most “logical decision” at the time (also “Babel”)

11) Spock serving as an ambassador on Romulus (Next Generation “Unification” episodes)

12) Captain Pike in a wheelchair (“The Menagerie”)

13) The green Orion female Kirk gets it on with (“The Cage,” others)

14) McCoy referencing his ex-wife (“The Man Trap”)

15) Spock’s hesitation about the Kolhinar ritual (“ST 1”)

16) Spock’s rejection of the Vulcan Science Academy (“Babel” again, I think)

17) Kirk coming from Iowa (first mentioned in “ST4”)

18) Kirk has to get Spock mad to complete his mission (“This Side Of Paradise”)

19) The red-shirt who bites it on Vulcan (any episode you want to name)

20) The Ceti eels that Nero uses on Captain Pike are the same (albeit much more fancily animated) that Khan uses on Chekov and Terrell ("ST2")

I could keep going, but I don’t think y’alls need me to. They did a great job. I was happy. And nothing is harder for the creators of Star Trek than making Star Trek fans happy, so – mission accomplished, guys.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Great Politico story - Brother, can you spare a job?

Yesterday I was on Capitol Hill for an interview and some networking as I search for my next gig. I met with a friend from the White House who said, "Have you seen today's Politico?"

They story, available here, is about how the trifecta of the 1) slow economy, 2) loss of Congressional seats, and 3) loss of the White House, is making it difficult for ex-Bushies (such as myself) to land jobs in Washington, particularly political ones. The money quote is...

"The economic implosion that was largely an intellectual policy challenge inside the White House has abruptly become a harsh reality for Bush administration officials cast out of the bubble and back into the real world. To survive, they’re taking pay cuts, stepping down to state government work and even renting out their own homes to the ascendant Democrats."

Check it out...

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Bubble Bubble Boyle And Trouble?

If, like me, you have spent at least 1.5 minutes at your computer in the last week, you are doubtless familiar with Susan Boyle (pictured), who is kicking all kinds of bum in "Britain's Got Talent," the ur-"American Idol" show where Simon Cowell worked his way into the homes and brains of the worldwide viewing public.

This woman is taking the world by the proverbial storm. She is unstoppable. She is the classic underdog who makes everyone believe in hope.

In USA Today, the quote of the day is...

"Susan Boyle is a Disney movie waiting to happen," says church worker Janelle Gregory, 34, of Olathe, Kan.

This could be true. It could also be, kind of, false. A product from the mind of Simon Cowell, who gave us the ultra-engineered, though still lovable, Spice Girls, Ms. Boyle's underdog-cum-victor could be a fabrication, and this video, which is on YouTube's most watched for the week, has been the means of selling that fabrication to the world.

(Sorry I can't embed the video into the blog post; they disabled it for some reason. Hrm. Makes the construction of this homely Scottish siren look even more suspicious, frankly.)

There's a fantastic op-ed about this phenom in today's NY Post. My favorite quote from it is:

"There is the classic David vs. Goliath subplot, the primal satisfaction of seeing the bully (Cowell) slain by such a seemingly inferior force. And there is the profound desire for this entire thing to be authentic, which in and of itself suggests that it probably isn't."

Whilst I've been on the job search in this post-Bush Administration world of mine, every interview has involved talking about "new media" (re: Internet) communication. The wonder of YouTube, Facebook, and everything else that would have been labeled "Web 2.0" two years ago (before the term became moot) is that we can have this powerful medium for eliminating the middle man and connecting people authentically and sincerely with one another.

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The challenge to marketers is finding out how to dupe the American consumer, so oversaturated with advertising that he/she has become virtually immune to it, into believing something is sincere which is, technically, a bit made up.

This Susan Boyle mini-meme seems to fit into that category. But who cares? As Jimmy James would say, she makes good Internet.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tax Policy Forum

So what with yesterday being Tax Day, I thought it might be good to start off the "new year" so to speak with a link to my favorite tax-related website: taxpolicyforum.com.

It's run by my friend, Ike Brannon, the butt-kicking-est economist in all of Washington.

I invite, encourage, and exhort y'alls to check it out. And today: Celebrate! Enjoy! You never have a longer period of time before you have to worry about your taxes than on April 16th!

...


Unless you, like me, still haven't filed your state taxes (which in Virginia are not due for another two weeks -- lousy commonwealth!).

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

SCOOP: Finally Sarah Palin on "30 Rock"!

The funniest show on television right now is "30 Rock." (Or at least I assume it is, in that it's the only TV comedy I watch now that "The Office" isn't funny anymore.)

"30R" is not in the same league as "Seinfeld" or glory day "Simpsons," but it easily has the charm, wit, and - most importantly - potential that we haven't seen since "Arrested Development." But well beyond that, "30 Rock" has a momentum that "Arrested Development" didn't have, thanks to one woman: Sarah Palin.

To anyone who did not spend 2008 in a cave in Mars with their eyes shut and their ears plugged, Tina Fey changed the scope of the 2008 Presidential election with her impersonation of Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin.

Some of the highlights are on Hulu here, here, and here.

The phenomenal amount of attention Ms. Fey generated for her Palin-spiring performance has trickled down to her show, but at no point has there been reference to Gov. Palin on "30R."

Until last Thursday's episode. Check out this screenshot.

Note the picture of Alec Baldwin's character, Jack Donaghy - a big time Repub - standing next to the hottest governor from the coolest state. No doubt someone had the foresight to knips this picture when Sarah Palin guest starred on "Saturday Night Live" on October 18, 2008. (Watch that clip here.)

Anyway. I thought this was cool as I am a fan of both Republicanism and "30 Rock," and I was wondering when they'd finally pay homage to Tina Fey's stellar impersonation.

I also thought I'd scooped the Internet until I found this article just now. Frak! (I will point out, though, that my circling of the Palin picture is done much more attractively than the hack who wrote that entry for AOL news.)

Monday, March 30, 2009

Family Guy: The Next Generation

So two Star Trek-related posts in a row here. Did you catch last night's Family Guy episode? Here's the full episode on Hulu. It got a lot of buzz because it reunited the entire cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation.


While this clip has some funny lines, the whole installment was weak and pathetic. Here they have EVERYONE from TNG, and they basically just tell the same joke over and over again (Stewie bossing them around while they're in a humorously mundane setting i.e. a bowling alley). And they just made it filler for this lame diatribe about Seth McFarlane's atheism wrapped around some tired, predicatble Christian-bashing. Further proof that while Family Guy is capable of moments of hilarity:


... when it comes to generating an ACTUAL story with ACTUAL jokes, they fall flat. Very flat.

Contrast this episode to the one Futurama did a few years ago where they reunited all the original series cast, which thing was a masterpiece of perfect beauty. Here's a link to the video. And yet Futurama died a pre-mature death while Family Guy has, somehow, lived long and prospered. Alas.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Star Trek 11?

So I've gotten a lot of complaints that I haven't yet blogged about the new Star Trek movie. But we have a pretty good news hook to do so now, in that they launched this new trailer a couple days ago before "Watchmen," so here goes:



(Waits patiently for readers to watch the trailer.)

I have two main points.

1) The Star Trek franchise, while it has created some quality work in the interim, has failed to genuinely rouse the interest of its fans, or a wider audience, since First Contact (which was in 1996 - THIRTEEN frakking years ago).



2) If STXI cannot perform well - which means not only box office revenue but also boost sagging interest in conventions, merchandise, and previous incarnations of the show - it will spell the final end of the Star Trek machine. (Note: I predicted this after the humiliating final entry of the Next Generation movies; while that was (obviously) not true, the gap between STX and STXI is six years, larger than any other in Star Trek history, representing a significant drop in ST momentum.)

As with all ST movies, it will live or die by how well it can attract a broader audience while drawing repeat viewings from die-hard fans. Can you make the fans happy without dumbing the film down for some bone-head mass audience?

The reason Voyage Home is the most successful, both critically and commercially, movie in Star Trek history is because they got non-Star Trek fans to come and see it. (I remember at a party a while ago, a girl tried to impress me by telling me "They are not the hell your whales." People know that film; it's a good film.) STIV's creators were able to get non-Trekkers into the theaters because 1) they based it in a modern, easily relatable setting, and 2) they used a lot of humor.



(STIV is also, incidentally, the first film where Shatner earned a 7 figure salary.)

In trying to shoot the gap between a mass audience and hard-core fans, the film's creators have made a couple really good decisions, namely tapping JJ Abrams to direct and casting Zachary Quinto as Spock. Both represent two very successful science fiction TV shows ("Lost" and "Heroes") that are able to get non-sci-fi folks interested. The powers that be at Star Trek are acknowleding that they are no longer the big kid on the block. For 30 years, except for a little hiccup between 1977 and 1983, Star Trek was the end-all, be-all of science fiction. But this has not been the case for a long time (starting, probably, with the rise of the X-Files).

On the TV side, one of the reasons that Star Trek Enterprise failed to generate any interest, beyond its first season, is it had to compete with the phenomenally well-received reboot of Battlestar Galactica. (Note: I am so disinterested in Enterprise that I didn't even hyperlink to its Wikipedia article.)

On the film side, while no one looked at the Star Wars prequel trilogy and said, "Hey, that's the future of science fiction!", the special effects of said trilogy blew anything Star Trek has done out of the proverbial space water. All of the Next Gen films (except for First Contact) felt like their creators were just doing extra-long episodes rather than movies. STXI's budget is $150 million, about 2.5 times that of Star Trek Nemesis, so one hopes that the battle scenes will look more like this (the intro scene of Revenge of the Sith)...



... than this (the horribly bland "climactic" battle from Star Trek Nemesis):



They are boldly going where they've already been, and as we saw with last year's Indiana Jones movie, nostalgia pieces can fall flat on their faces if they don't appeal to nostalgia. I don't know if they can generate the same kind of reverent fervor created by the Star Trek Phase II project, and they have a cameo of Leonard Nimoy playing an older Spock, which counts for a lot.


They will draw some non-Trekkers into the theaters, but this film will live or die by the Star Trek fans. I believe that this film will make them happy.

...

That is if you
can make Star Trek fans happy. As all true Star Trek fans know, the best part about loving Star Trek is hating Star Trek.


Friday, February 27, 2009

The Future of American Pre-eminence?

When I was a reporter and we wanted to write a clever, engaging headline - or at least one that appeared clever and engaging - we always wrote it as a question. "SAT shows show Summit County on the decline?", "Gender inequities show women dominate higher education?", and so forth. Sometimes the question headline was posing a legitimate question, such as "Was man shot near Kamas?" about a guy who may or may not have been shot. We kind of stole it from the Deseret News, which wrote so many question headlines as to completely depreciate whatever value a question mark may have had.

And so we come to it: The Future of American Pre-eminence? Is there such an thing?

I am inspired to ask this following two key, formative moments in the last week. One was catching up with an expat friend of mine from China whom I am visiting here in the Aloha State.

Jared examines a pineapple at the Dole Plantation. Sadly, Bob Dole was not there for a visit. :(

As a DC-based former Bush Administration appointee (known colloquially to some as a "Bushie"), I am currently on the job market -- not a particularly great time to be doing so as 1) the town is now run by Democrats, and 2) the economy is otherwise in a less than ideal place. There are critics of President Bush who would say this might be just reward for helping him. (I am not one of such critics, obviously.)

In dicussing this, my Chinese friend had a very simple answer, he said, "Jared, when you are looking for a job, don't pull out a map of DC: pull out a map of the world." Essentially, he was suggesting that I cut and run on the good ol' USA and find employ for my post-White House media skills in a booming market such as Shanghai where the cost of living is (relatively) low, the salaries are high, and small-nosed Asian women are plentiful.

Shanghai, Pearl of the Orient

He continued that through time, different nations had had "their turn" - the Romans, the Spanish, the French, the English have all been top dog. The Americans have had their turn, he said, but now things are winding down for us.

The economic downturn threatens to be more than just temporary, we discussed. The Great Depression was staggering, but never really destroyed America's economic bedrock: its manufacturing base. In essence, the fundamentals of our economy were still strong back then, regardless of the profundity of the slowdown.

However, even though this economic situation is comparatively much, much smaller (7 percent unemployment vs. 20 percent in the Great Depression), there is much about our fundamentals to indicate that pulling ourselves out of this slump might not be possible, such as inexorable problems with our:
  • Education. China and India produce millions more scientists and engineers every year than we possibly can.
  • Health care. We spent $2.4 trillion on health care last year, far more than we can possibly afford, and our nation is wracked with an epidemic of obesity, perhaps the single largest (pun intended) indicator of a person's poor health.
  • Investor confidence. New York is losing its cachet as the world's premiere financial market. We can deride investment bankers for exorbitant salaries, but when they EARN those salaries and bring billions of dollars fround around the world into our economy, frankly we all benefit. But with the loss of confidence in those IB jag-offs, international investors are increasingly looking to places like London or Hong Kong or Dubai or Shanghai to send their money.
  • Public commitments. The nation is now in $10 TRILLION in debt, with record-shattering, back-to-back deficits from both Republican and Democrat Administrations. Not only that put our commitments to Medicare and Social Security will be ruthlessly unaffordable once the Baby Boomers retire (and not only start drawing from the public treasury but stop contributing to it).
  • Collapse of the newspaper industry. There is no reason to believe that government and corporate leaders will start behaving more responsibly in the absence of the intelligent, persistent watch-dogging of a robust fourth estate.
It was a reasonably depressing conversation. One doesn't want to be all doom and gloom, but one also wants to have a realistic plan for the rest of one's life.

But then the second, key formative moment this week was reading this Friedman article in today's NYT. A friend of mine in my ward put it up as her G-chat sig and I give full props to her. My favorite line was:

“No other country can substitute for the U.S.,” a senior Korean official remarked to me. “The U.S. is still No. 1 in military, No. 1 in economy, No. 1 in promoting human rights and No. 1 in idealism. Only the U.S. can lead the world. No other country can. China can’t. The E.U. is too divided, and Europe is militarily far behind the U.S. So it is only the United States ... We have never had a more unipolar world than we have today.”

The rest of the article is great too. Essentially the message is no other nation is as qualified to lead the world as the United States, and coming from an America-hating organization like the NYT, that's a pretty good endorsement indeed.

So I guess I'll stay in America ... unless some media mogul in Shanghai sees this and wants to give me a job......

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