Friday, July 15, 2011

Fustigating "Slams"

Slams sucks, almost as much as Martin Van Buren. Slams (verb), via freedictionary, means:
  • To shut with force and loud noise
  • To put, throw, or otherwise forcefully move so as to produce a loud noise.
  • To hit or strike with great force.
  • Slang To criticize harshly; censure forcefully.
I hate "slams" in news headlines. The bible of the industry is an editor's stylebook, yet when it comes to headlines, use of the slang "slams" (not in the stylebook) is AOK. "Slams" is harsh and unreasonable, even when you agree with the substance behind it. "Slams" can even ruin a person's intention, as the headline Ex-senator Danforth slams harsh rhetoric hillariously proves. The most aggregious user of "slams" is CNN and its political ticker. Some examples:

Obama slams health insurance companies
Palin slams Fox's 'Family Guy'
GOP 'survey' slams Obama
Schwarzenegger slams Palin
Biden slams Palin comment
RNC slams Obama award
GOP slams Obama in Keystone state
Ex-aide slams Palin in leaked book
Davis acknowledges faults, slams GOP
Obama promises new jobs initiatives, slams GOP
Carney slams GOP budge
Al Qaeda No. 2 slams Obama's first months in office
Foxx slams Obama, gets autograph
Republican slams Obama administration on terrorism
GOP senator slams Obama over Libya
Kaine marks start of traditional fall campaign season, slams GOP
RNC slams Obama in first TV ad
RNC slams Obama on his 49th birthday
Palin slams 'bored, anonymous, pathetic bloggers who lie'
Left slams Obama over safety net
Fidel Castro slams 'assassination' of unarmed bin Laden

"Slams" itself tells you nothing about reasoning or motives. There was a tremendous force, but it's origin and it's trajectory is unknown. No reasoning. No motives. Just an attack. Why is the attack more important than the substance and reasoning behind it?

Even if you're okay with knowing about "slams", the headlines rarely tell you the accuracy or success of the political attack. In the case of a few of those headlines, like "Schwarzenegger slams Palin" gives you only a glimmer of an idea of the article's newsworthiness. The article says Arnold is suspicious Palin's anti-environmental statements are all political theater to win the Republican nomination in 2012. Who's right? Any response? At the very minimum, is this a shift in the political winds? By focusing on the fight and not the substance, we get nothing. All we get is boring political theater. Maybe "slams" is a keyword to let the reader know "this article contains useless political posturing".

I guess this isn't all about "slams." This might me my bigger distaste with political theatrics. Let's compromise. Let's start a scale of political attack. Low, Medium, High, Super-high, and Doug Benson. Let's leave "slams" for Doug Benson-sized criticism. For low critical attacks, how about "appraises" or "evaluates". For medium, I like "scrutinizes". For high, the thesaurus has plenty of options, but my favorite is "fustigates". And don't forget the most important part of reporting, finding the truth within the posturing.

So let's reduce or remove "slams" from our political discourse. It's the most essential movement of our lifetime. If there are to be political slams, let it be:

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Van Buren. You Suck.

Martin Van Buren and his muttonchops
Truman gets a bad rap. He dropped the atomic bombs, he failed to reign in Stalin, and led America into the Korean War. Nevertheless, he led America out of World War II and depression, saved Western Europe from Stalin, and promoted a wise domestic policy. There was little Truman did that FDR would have disapproved of. When Truman left office he had few supporters. Historians and octogenarians agree FDR is one of the greatest presidents. The Truman fan club is much smaller.

The same situation goes for Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren. Van Buren kept many of Jackson's cabinet and continued most of his policies. Yet, Andrew Jackson is on the ten dollar bill, and the best you can say for Van Buren is he was mentioned on Seinfeld. Has Van Buren's legacy been as unjustly maligned as Truman?


I have never hid my total hatred for Martin Van Buren. In elementary school, each student was given a president to report on. Unlike some classmates who got "awesome" presidents like Lincoln, Jefferson, Washington and the Roosevelts, my assignment was the eighth president of the United States. I combed his story for amazing details but was left with sadness. As a young student in 1991, I knew there was a bad president. His name was Richard Nixon and he was a mean man who almost ruined America. I also knew America did bad things in the past. Slavery wasn't a good thing. Also we weren't too nice to the "Indians" (excuse me for the pre-1992 lingo). With my introduction to Martin Van Buren, my childhood innocence (presidents-wise) was lost. This man was awful.

"Martin Van Buren was the Vice President under Andrew Jackson, and he oversaw the Trail of Tears. In conclusion, Martin Van Buren was the eighth president of the United States. The End."

B+. How dare you ruin my perfect grade in social studies.

Andrew Jackson started two major policies which ruined Van Buren in the short and long-term. The short term disaster was the elimination of the second national bank. Jackson entrusted the states with handing finances. In Van Buren's first year in office, banks closed, inflation and unemployment grew, and the president did nothing to assuage the crisis. Another panic occurred two years later, leaving America (and Van Buren) in further ruin. The crisis was relatively temporary, but cost Van Buren any chance of reelection.

The long term disaster set-up by Jackson was the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The law allowed the United States, as they saw fit, to remove Native Americans from their land. During Van Buren's presidency, the Treaty of New Echota was ratified, leading to the forced removal of the Cherokee. The Chickasaw were also kicked off their land at the start of his term.

In Florida, Van Buren fought Seminoles who refused to leave their land. In his 1838 State of the Union speech, Van Buren said action of the Seminoles left "no alternative but to continue the military operations against them until they are totally expelled from Florida." This was a costly and bloody success.

In the same speech, Van Buren summed up the Trail of Tears.
"The recent emigrants, although they have in some instances removed reluctantly, have readily acquiesced in their unavoidable destiny."

Unavoidable destiny? You're awful! I have not seen a more vile statement by any other American president (prove me wrong). For more awful Van Buren quotes, visit this site. If you don't hate Van Buren yet, reread that statement again.

Although he was vocally against slavery later in life, as president he did nothing of importance to affect this critical issue. In fact, Van Buren opposed the mutinying slaves in the Amistad case. Not cool, Martin.

Van Buren was the first in a long line of terrible presidents. He was followed by William Henry Harrison (died a month in), John Tyler (hated by both parties, later joined the Confederacy), James Polk (started land-grab war against Mexico), Zachary Taylor (slave-owner but otherwise okay), Millard Fillmore (know-nothing loser), Franklin Pierce (terrible president, Confederate sympathizer), and James Buchanan (do-nothing apathetic loser). Quite simply, these eight incompetent presidents presided over the worst bit of American History. The mediocrity began with Martin Van Buren, with the help of his mentor and predecessor, Andrew Jackson.

Van Buren. You suck.

You too Jackson.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Script Doctor: USA vs. Brazil

On July 10, 2011, USA played Brazil in the Women's World Cup quarterfinals. After an exciting first 90 minutes (including a few controversial calls), the score was tied 1-1. After scoring within two minutes of overtime by Marta (don't forget to yell her name loud, reach to the sky and roll the "R"), Brazil holds on until the man-down USA team scores the tying goal with seconds remaining. USA wins in penalty kicks, and celebrations continue today. I must admit, their win still makes me smile.

As the game ended, and the commentators, coaches, fans, and players made their statements, everyone agreed: it would make a great script. Hero of the match, Abby Wambach, said "I don't know if you can write a better script." Many many many others agreed. So I sent it to my local script doctor, and here is his take:

I admit. It was a very good script, especially for an unscripted event. Good script, but not the perfect script. Good job team. But let me make a few suggestions:

1. The back-story needs some fixing. In the script it says the USA team beat Brazil in four of the last six tournaments. That stat should read "zero". Brazil should be seen as an unstoppable force. Brazil is also listed as third in the world, while the USA team is first. That should be switched.

2. I like the Marta character. Can you make her more evil?

3. I'm not a fan of Brazil's own goal in the beginning. Please nix. Plus the woman who made the mistake, Daiane, also missed a penalty kick at the end of the game. This would lead the audience to sympathize with her. Please replace her with Marta. Marta missing the kick is much more exciting. Make it the last kick. And make the final score 5-4. Perfect.

4. Make the match the final game, not a quarterfinal match. We need to see a trophy hoisted, otherwise what was the fight for? Bragging rights?

5. There are two characters with similar names: Christie Rampone and Megan Rapinoe. This will confuse the audience, please change Rapinoe to Megan Rogers.

6. I like how the crowd came to USA's defense as they battled back, but wouldn't it be even more fantastic if the game took place in Brazil? Just saying. Well okay, maybe Germany works. Or Iraq. Just throwing that out there.

7. If it has to take place in Dresden, change the coach of the USA team, Pia Sundhage, from Sweedish to German. As a child in World War II, she survived the allied bombing of Dresden. Adds another layer. She could have flashbacks throughout the match.

8. After the event, there needs to be at least one of these scenes:
  • proposal(s) of marriage
  • unexpected birth(s)
  • dance sequence
  • team returning 50 years later to the ruins of the stadium.
  • meeting with the president
  • settling the alien/predator conflict
9. Okay, one last thing: can one of the players be a man in drag? Maybe Megan Rogers.

Good luck with the script, "you're almost there."

-Pete the Script Doctor

If you got any other script changes needed, let me know in the comments section.

Check out:
-Greg Cote's match thoughts, and love for the "unscripted possibility of ... anything" in sports.
-ESPN asking women sportswriters their thoughts on USA's victory and its importance.
-The replay of the game on ESPN3.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Spielberg's Dueling Movies

Steven Spielberg will be releasing two directorial efforts this December. One, "War Horse," looks like a standard Spielberg drama. The trailer is filled with filled some jaw-dropping images, including a shot of a woman opening a door reflected on a horse's eye (reminds me of a similar scene from "Citizen Kane" involving a snow globe). The trailer doesn't say much, in fact, it plays more like a silent film, with only one character giving any dialogue over John Williams' always-cinematic score.

Five days earlier, Spielberg's "The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn" will come to theaters. Spielberg's first animated film, it looks to be a twenty-year labor of love, though we'll see how he and Janusz Kamiński deal in a new medium.

Two movies in one year (actually one week) might seem like a rare accomplishment, but it is not without precedent for Spielberg. Let's look at the director's previous bi-annual-release track-record, and maybe get an idea of how 2011 will fair.

1989: "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" and "Always"

Always is one of the few Spielberg films I have yet to see, and I have yet to find someone to encourage me to do so. So I'll take the advice of Roger Ebert (who didn't like it) and the American public (who did not see it) and continue to avoid this one. The "Last Crusade", conversely, was the #1 movie in the world in 1989, and a favorite of my childhood.

1993: "Jurassic Park" and "Schindler's List"

What's there to say. These were two of the biggest movies of the 1990s, released within six-months of each other, by a single director. Take that James Cameron. "Jurassic Park" was Spielberg's most successful film, a landmark for computer-generated imagery, and the highest-earning film of 1993. "Schindler's List" won Spielberg his first Oscar, and is considered one of the top ten American films of all time by AFI.

1997:  "The Lost World" and "Amistad".

Okay, a poor comeback for the director after a four year hiatus. Don't get me wrong, I really like "Amistad" and I am a fan of the last third of "Lost World", but following his most successful year, it's a disapointment. These two films do continue a trend for Spielberg. Just like in 1993, he released a blockbuster in the summer, then a quality drama in December. He returns to form six months after "Amistad" with "Saving Private Ryan".

2002: "Catch Me if You Can" and "Minority Report"

"Catch Me" was an enjoyable caper film, known best for its opening credits. "Minority Report" is a grand piece of film-making, one of my favorite science-fiction films, and what "AI" should have been.

2005: "War of the Worlds" and "Munich"

Again, a blockbuster summer release followed by a winter prestige film. "War of the Worlds" I have yet to see (it has been in my Netflix Queue for the last six years) but was the forth most popular film that year. "Munich" was another incredible work, one of my top 10 films of the decade.

So what makes this year different than the last bi-annual years? First of all, both movies will be released in the same week. If I had to guess, War Horse looks more like the prestige picture, though Tintin has a talented writing team. If Spielberg's past record is any clue, odds are at least one of these movies will be worth seeing in theaters. My guess is War Horse will be the better film, but people will go see Tintin instead. If Spielberg can pull of two concurrent-running critically-acclaimed blockbusters, it will be unprecedented. Unlikely, but unprecedented. Here's to trying.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Cohan vs. Cohan

In 1904, George M. Cohan wrote the patriotic "Yankee Doodle Boy." In 1906 he followed up with "You're a Grand Old Flag." For July 4th, I decided to review the eight-line choruses of each, comparing and contrasting.

Line 1
I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy,
You're a grand old flag, you're a high flying flag,
A good introduction for both topics. I like the stand alone description for Mr. Doodle, but "high flying flag" wins out here. It gives us a little bit more to savior with the spicy words grand, high, flying, and old. I don't know if I'd want to hang out with a "Doodle Dandy" on July 4th.

Line 2
A Yankee Doodle, do or die;
And forever in peace may you wave.
We get it, you're a Yankee Doodle! I do like the "do or die". A hard line tough America. Cue Chevy commercial. The flag knocks the Yankee out of the park with "forever in peace," a nice hope and goal of our country. We're still on track with the "forever" part, at least. Adding wave is perfect. All we know about Yankee Doodle is that he's a do or die dandy. The flag on the other hand is old, wavy, and high-flying.

Line 3
A real live nephew of my Uncle Sam,
You're the emblem of the land I love.
I really enjoy the rhyming of of with love. Emblem I'm a little less a fan of, though I can't think of a better synonym. Symbol?  Nah. I also like Cohan's use of real live instead of real life. These two lines are very patriotic, but I think Yankee Doodle Boy wins this round, as its lyric is simply more imaginative.

Line 4
Born on the Fourth of July.
The home of the free and the brave.
Dang, more greatness from the songs. For rhyming, I do like wave and brave, die and July not as much. For the substance of the lyric itself, Yankee Doodle Boy gives us a decent backstory for the character (Depending on who you believe, Cohan was born on July 3 or 4). I'll give it to the Yankee for the more personal and memorable line.

Line 5
I've got a Yankee Doodle sweetheart,
Ev'ry heart beats true 'neath the Red, White and Blue,
Now we are introduced to secondary characters, the soul-mate and the American public. I like them both. I want to be around my wife and my nation on July 4th, and I ain't gonna pick one over the other. I can be a fan of clippin' words to fit songs, but 'neath is an iffy choice. Would it have been that hard to say beneath? Otherwise, if the tie goes to the more imaginative, "Grand Old Flag" wins out here.

Line 6
She's my Yankee Doodle joy.
Where there's never a boast or brag.
Joy is a nice word, I like it's simplicity. As for never boasting or bragging, the lyrics have already described Americans as brave, free, true-hearted people. So the added compliments ring hollow. The Yankee wins round six.

Line 7
Yankee Doodle came to London, just to ride the ponies;
But should auld acquaintance be forgot,
George M. Cohan might have been the first sampler. "Yankee Doodle Boy" samples the first line of "Yankee Doodle", while "It's a Grand Old Flag" samples the first line of "Auld Lang Syne". Dandy loses points for using London instead of town. It made sense for the play, but not for the song on its own. Otherwise, it's a perfect sample. "Grand Old Flag" earns points for sampling another sing-along tune, but "Auld Lang Syne" was a Scottish folk song! We're talking America here, why is Cohan referencing London and Scotland? Yankee wins round 7.

Line 8
I am the Yankee Doodle Boy.
Keep your eye on the grand old flag.
"Grand Old Flag" wins this one. This is the sixth use of "Yankee Doodle" and I've had enough! I'd rather stare longingly at the grand old flag, who's majesty we've come to regard over the first seven lines, than hear Yankee Doodle remind us he's a Yankee Doodle. Last round goes to the flag.

Line for line, they tie for quality. "Yankee Doodle Boy" gets extra points for arriving first and being autobiographical, while "It's a Grand Old Flag" is a better stand-alone song, as well as a more patriotic. Either way, USA USA et cetera. Take it Cagney!