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37 posts categorized "Television"

February 05, 2009

Laura Flanders, Janeane Garofalo, and me on GRITtv

On Monday, I was a guest on the Laura Flanders Show on GRITtv along with comedian and activist Janeane Garafalo, and journalist Danny Schecter.

Our discussion was about what separates out-and-out frauds like Bernie Madoff from the architects of the subprime crisis and other Wall Street miscreants who managed to get rich by recklessly gambling away other people's money.

Morally, I'd say there's not much difference between Madoff and the folks who hyped liar loans so they could sell the debt out the back door, knowing they'd have made their quick buck before anyone realized that the people who bought the houses and the people who bought that debt were totally fucked when the former inevitably failed to pay the latter. Legally, some of these hucksters may have been on firmer ground than Madoff, but that in itself doesn't make them more ethical.

Nor is there much difference between Madoff and the credit raters who misrepresented bad securities as sound investments because they wanted the rating commission from the crooks who created the securities. Both were motivated by greed, but the corrupt credit raters ultimately ruined far more innocent people.

The irony that I was getting at in the segment was that Bernie Madoff managed to get away with the financial equivalent of a chain letter by falsely claiming to be part of the ostensibly legitimate but virtually unregulated world of hedge funds.

In reality, Madoff wasn't managing a hedge fund or investing in anything, he was running a classic Ponzi scheme. But when Madoff intimated he was making astonishing returns by trading billions of dollars worth of over-the-counter derivatives, few could contradict him because the trades he was alluding to would have been private and unregulated anyway.

We now know that Madoff's apparent financial wizardry was just a front. His methods were old fashioned Ponzi tactics: recruit new marks and divide up their money amongst your existing investors. As long as you can keep up the recruiting rate and your existing investors don't cash out en masse, you can appear to generate amazing rates of return without actually investing in anything.

I was pretty nervous being on TV with Janeane, but I guess I didn't screw up too badly because I got invited back to the Laura Flanders show.

June 25, 2008

Premiere: TechGrrl Tips with Deanna Zandt

The fabulous Deanna Zandt kicks off her new series, TechGrrl Tips on GRITtv.

In this installment, Deanna catches up with Democratic tech consultant Tracy Russo at the Personal Democracy Forum in New York City.

Speaking on a panel, Tracy got into a testy exchange with one of John McCain's campaign staffers who tried to argue that McCain didn't need to know how to use a computer in order to govern an increasingly computer-dependent nation.

June 21, 2008

Food porn recommendation: In Search of Perfection

Ezra Klein discusses the Top Chef finale as food porn. Top Chef isn't food porn, it's a soap opera! Ugh. Who wants to eat soap?

The best food porn TV is Heston Blumenthal's In Search of Perfection. Blumenthal is the chef proprietor of the Fat Duck, a critically-acclaimed UK restaurant. In the TV series, he uses food science to adapt classic recipes for the home kitchen. Heston is inspired by Harold McGee's classic study of food science and cookery, On Food and Cooking. Blumenthal calls McGee's book his Bible.

Cook's Illustrated takes a similar, empirically-minded approach to adapting recipes for the home cook. If CI is softcore food porn, ISOP is hardcore fetish.

Both CI and ISOP have successfully grappled with a classic porn problem: The story. On the one hand, you don't want a lot of complicated narrative cluttering up your porn. Otherwise it devolves into erotica. But without some kind of narrative structure, the merely explicit can seem clinical.

The successful foodporn formula, these innovators have discovered, is the narrative of scientific discovery: We set out to perfect the strawberry shortcake, we did this, and this, and that, and finally after much grunting and sweating, we hit upon PERFECTION!!!

In the ISOP Steak & Salad episode, he shows us how to achieve a steakhouse-like result with a puny home stove and oven. The secret, he maintains, is to sterilize the surface of a rib-eye roast with a blow torch, roast it for 24 hours at fifty degrees Celsius, cut of the outer crust, slice it into steaks, sear the steaks in a very hot pan, and brush them with butter that has been stored near blue cheese (to simulate the nutty taste of dry-aged beef). I haven't tried it yet, but I intend to.

I can attest that Blumenthal's homemade pizza tips work very well. He suggests preheating a cast iron skillet on the stove, inverting it, and slipping it under the broiler to use as a baking stone. The pizza cooks fast from both sides, like in a commercial wood-fired oven. (Smitten Kitchen discusses the broiler method and other helpful pizza tips here.)

Blumenthal's ultimate prescription for perfect pizza requires a charcoal barbecue and a fan. I haven't taken it that far out yet, but if patient friends invite me to a BBQ this summer, mmmboy.

My favorite episode is in season 2 where Heston recreates Peking Duck by inflating the duck with a gas station air hose, removing the now-loosened skin, and upholstering it to a cooking rack with kitchen twine before dousing it in oil to crisp. If I ever attempt this recipe, I will blog it.

The most bizarre recipe is the sequence in the German Chocolate Cake episode where Heston demonstrates how to make an aerated chocolate layer (a fancy Aero bar) using a space bag and a vacuum cleaner. Not my kink.

May 16, 2008

O'Reilly compares Kos to Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan

Last night, talk show host and noted crank Bill O'Reilly likened blogger Markos Moulitsas to David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and felon:

And Newsweek magazine, by the way, has legitimized [Moulitsas] by giving him a columnist position. I talked to the editor by email, and I said I can’t believe that you’re — that’s like hiring David Duke. Again, I use Duke too much, but I have to — the level of hatred coming out of that website is unprecedented. Isn’t it?

This is the second time in as many years that O'Reilly has compared the popular liberal blogger to David Duke.

May 12, 2008

Bill O'Reilly's teleprompter temper tantrum (video)

ThinkProgress discovered an outtake from Bill O'Reilly's stint as host of the tabloid TV news magazine Inside Edition (1989-1995). Update: The video got pulled from YouTube, but Crooks and Liars has it.

April 27, 2008

Gay smooch on Birmingham bench prompts 911 call

As a social experiment, ABC's 20/20 dispatched same-sex couples to kiss in public in various US cities.

The sight of two men nuzzling each other on a park bench in Birmingham, Alabama prompted one concerned citizen to call the police:

Operator: “Birmingham Police operator 9283″

Caller: “We have a couple of men sitting out on the bench that have been kissing and drooling all over each other for the past hour or so. It’s not against the law, right?”

Operator: “Not to the best of my knowledge it’s not.”

Caller: “So there’s no complaint I could make or have?”

Operator: “I imagine you could complain if you like ma’am. We can always send an officer down there.”

An officer was actually dispatched to investigate the situation.

As Pam Spaulding points out, the "experiment" itself was kind of a silly exercise, even if it did succeed in eliciting some outrageously homophobic behavior and making some bigots look really stupid.

Journalists aren't social psychologists. These kinds of staged events are basically publicity stunts masquerading as research.

Tolerance and nonchalance don't make good TV. So, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that the 20/20 segment was going to be about the biggest homophobe that ABC could catch on tape. I agree with Pam that it's not really fair to the people of Birmingham to set up a performance art piece like this and call it news.

That said, "To Catch a Bigot" is a much better premise for a reality TV show than "To Catch a Predator."

April 05, 2008

"Beholden to no human cocksucker": A new gold rush

ELLSWORTH:  I tell you what -- I may have fucked my life up flatter'n hammered shit, but I stand before you today beholden to no human cocksucker and working a paying fucking gold claim.

Life imitates Deadwood.

Panning for gold is back in vogue, the New York Times reports. It's an odd little story--half leisure, half business.

Many of the self-styled prospectors profiled in the piece are clearly hobbyists having a bit of retro fun in their local creek beds and river washes.

When I was growing up, my mom and granddad were active in the Port Moody Rock and Gem Club--so I know how much fun it can be to go out into the wilderness and find pretty rocks. Sure, you can probably buy better specimens from a dealer for less than the gas money you'd spend getting out there, but that's beside the point.

The rock hounding hobby skews old, so our club had hundreds of years of combined amateur and professional geological experience. Nobody had any illusions about making money. In fact, a good way to piss off a rockhound who brings home a nice piece of jade or a fire opal is to ask him how much it's worth.

But, according to the Times, there's a growing subculture approaching small-time gold panning as a money-making opportunity:

Long the province of crusty hobbyists and bored retirees, prospecting has also recently drawn some younger converts, partly from their exposure to two prospecting shows on the Outdoor Channel.

Not everyone, of course, is just in it for the fresh air. Rob Goreham, a miner and equipment salesman from Columbia, Calif., in the heart of the Mother Lode, says hundreds of full-time prospectors in California make a living at the often bone-chilling profession. How much of a living?

“No one’s going to tell you that,” said Mr. Goreham, like the veteran gold man he is. “We do O.K., how about that?” [NYT]

Yeah, how about that?

Mining shops say they cannot keep equipment on the shelves. “We had a lady in here on crutches, not a young lady either, saying, ‘I want to buy this $3,200 metal detector and a $1,000 power sluice,’ ” said Steve Herschbach, an owner of Alaska Mining and Diving, a supply shop in Anchorage. “We tried to talk her down a bit, but she was dead set.” [NYT]

Suppliers are selling thousands of dollars worth of power sluices, metal detectors, and riffled "modern" gold pans to customers who fully expect to make a handsome profit. "A thimble full of gold can more than pay for this machine," proclaim the manufacturers of the Desert Fox spiral panning contraption, "And the Desert Fox can process a thimble full of gold in one minute." 

US Geological Survey issued some sobering guidance for would-be prospectors in a 1991 pamphlet called Prospecting for Gold in the United States:

Many believe that it is possible to make wages or better by panning gold in the streams of the West, particularly in regions where placer mining formerly flourished.  However, most placer deposits have been thoroughly reworked at least twice--first by Chinese laborers, who arrived soon after the initial boom periods and recovered gold from the lower grade deposits and tailings left by the first miners, and later by itinerant miners during the 1930's. Geologists and engineers who systematically investigate remote parts of the country find small placer diggings and old prospect pits whose number and wide distribution imply few, if any, recognizable surface indications of metal-bearing deposits were overlooked by the earlier miners and prospectors.

It's a fascinating essay, which explains in dismal detail why small-time prospecting on public lands isn't even the marginally viable enterprise it was a hundred and fifty years ago. Expensive metal detectors won't change the economic and geological facts on (or in) the ground.

The Times lead is that record high gold prices are drawing Americans back to gold prospecting. But the real story is that scam artists are preying on people's fantasies.

Doesn't everyone want their own paying fucking gold claim? Ellsworth's little barroom speech captures the central appeal. He left a good job to prospect in Deadwood--he's not getting rich, but at least he gets to feel like his own boss.

As a series, Deadwood is about what a racket the gold rush was for the average prospector, even in its heyday. The miners barely survive on the flecks they pull out of the streams. The local merchants just laugh and sell them more axes and whiskey.

Heavy metals build up in the fish at the top of the food chain, because they so many little fish. Same principle with the gold rush. "Hoopleheads," the merchants call the prospectors, who freeze in the creek all day and still don't make enough to sleep indoors.

The hooples don't realize that they'd be the last ones to get rich, even if they found gold.

The prospectors think they've escaped to the frontier, they don't realize the establishment is expanding faster than they can. Even the luckiest gold-seekers end up selling out for a relative pittance to those with enough capital to get the ore out of the ground.

Ellsworth has a paying gold claim, i.e., he's collecting enough flakes to pay his bar tab and take the occasional bath at the Gem Saloon. He thinks he has finally broken free of the ruthless mining company he used to work for, but his sense of liberation turns out to be entirely illusory.

March 20, 2008

Judge says "Law & Order" lawsuit can contintine

A judge has ruled that shady New York lawyer Ravi Batra can continue his defamation suit against the producers of the TV drama Law & Order:

Batra applauded the ruling, saying the long-running crime drama known for its ripped-from-the-headlines stories had "recklessly undermined public confidence in the rule of law and the noble judiciary." [AP]

Batra is a well-connected Brooklyn attorney with a reputation for sucking up to judges for fun and profit. He sees a disconcerting resemblance between his own career and that of a character in a recent episode of L&O:

In the episode, "Floater," an attorney named "Ravi Patel" bribes a judge. Like Batra, the character is Indian-American and sports a bald head and facial hair.

The episode aired around the same time former state Assemblyman Clarence Norman, Batra's former law firm associate was indicted on charges of pressuring judges to hire favored consultants. Norman was found guilty last year of grand larceny in a plot to shake down a judicial candidate and is serving a two-to-six-year prison term. [AP]

He's suing for $15 million.

February 18, 2008

Dominic West on the end of The Wire

Dominic West talks to the LA Times about the final season of The Wire.

West plays the smart but erratic Officer Jimmy McNulty in David Simon's long-running series about the drug trade in Baltimore.

The interviewer writes:

With only three episodes to go in "The Wire's" final run, the biggest question remaining is simple: Are you in, or are you out?

Because much of the show's final season -- the believability-straining fake serial killer, the ax-grinding and thinly drawn newsroom story, an overall feeling of the whole season being rushed -- has added up to a somewhat disappointing swan song so far, at least when compared with the last four seasons. [LAT]

The Wire definitely feels rushed, and not just because the writers have fewer episodes to work with. Simon seems to want season 5 to provide a suitably grand finale for the entire show. He has set himself a thankless task. Whatever dramatic flourishes the writers tack on at the end are trivialized by the overall message of the series.

The basic fact about Wire-world is that the machine grinds on according to its own internal logic, oblivious to anyone's attempts to influence it.

We all know Baltimore isn't going to close up shop because one self-involved but basically decent cop finally went too far.

Season 5 feels rushed because the writers bent the show's internal rules to fast-track to Jimmy McNulty's self-immolation. 

Simon has said that each season is supposed to be self-contained, like a novel. Seasons 2, 3, and 4 didn't try to sum up everything that came before earlier. They had their own beginnings, middles, and ends. Viewers were more than satisfied. Season 5 could have followed the same modular pattern.

For whatever reason, the writers think we have to see McNulty's Big Flameout before the closing credits, as if that were the payoff we were all waiting for.

In earlier seasons, the writers made every effort to contrast McNulty's overwrought internal narrative with reality. McNulty's psychodrama was never the point. 

This season's sustained focus on McNulty's work/life adjustment issues is beginning to seem silly, especially in light of the many truly tragic plot twists we've already seen.

Simon likes to say that Baltimore is a character in The Wire. Arguably, it's the main character. The city is defined by the shifting alliances among its major institutions: the drug cartels, police, unions, politicians, civil servants, courts, schools, neighborhood associations, developers, and media outlets.

To me, the charm of The Wire was that it faithfully reproduces the ways in which the status quo perpetuates itself.

The Wire has many compelling characters, but the show is really about how little impact anyone can have, for better or worse, on the system as a whole. Players will come and go, but above all, The Game continues.

[HT: Commenter, Lesley.]

February 15, 2008

The Wire season 5

There's a good discussion of the final season of HBO's The Wire over at TAPPED.

Here's the official episode list with synopses, for your reference. There are many spoilers ahead, so proceed at your own risk.

Continue reading "The Wire season 5" »