Friday, March 28, 2003

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?™: Associated Press reporter Naomi Koppel writes:

GENEVA (AP)—More than half a million traumatized Iraqi children could need psychological counseling by the time the war ends, the U.N. Children's Fund representative in Iraq said Friday.

"There are 5.7 million primary school age children in Iraq, and we estimate that a minimum of 10 percent of those would need support," said Carel de Rooy. He cited the case of an Iraqi colleague, whose 9-year-old son became hysterical and had to be sedated after a missile fell close to their home.

Missing from this report was a statistic describing the estimated number of Iraqi children who would likely be traumatized by an emboldened Saddam being allowed to continue his reign of terror for another twenty years by a complacent United Nations bureacracy — or, for that matter, the estimated number of Iraqi adults who would opt to for the comforting familiarity of the status quo over the trauma of liberation and freedom.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Late this evening, I'm hearing this information fourth-hand with no further details yet, but here's what we've got right now:

WABC's Batchelor & Alexander radio program is reporting that Fox New's infocrawl is reporting that the Iraqi resistance has been given the order to use chemical weapons against our troops as they approach Baghdad.

Our troops expected this. They trained for it. They're prepared and well-equipped to get through this crisis, hopefully with extremely light casualities.

The greater potential tragedy is that the Iraqi civilian population is wholly unprepared and — as far as Saddam's generals are concerned — inconveniently in the way. This last desperate strategy will only add to the enormous death toll that Saddam has already caused among his own people.

And yet, ironically, if chemical weapons do come into play, there will be a a number of unintended positive consequences:

• France's Chirac has already laid the groundwork for an astonishing feat of acrobatic backflipping, having suggested that he would belatedly support an 18th United Nations Resolution against Iraq if the regime does unleash any sort of WMD's — completely missing the whole point of this exercise, which was to pre-empt their use. If he does fulfill this promise to join the coalition in the last minute of the last hour of the last day of the war, Chirac will be finally, fully discredited as an international joke, and the French will have to seriously reconsider which side of their croissants they'd prefer to have buttered.

• Meanwhile, Putin will clumsily attempt to put Russia back on the right side of history, but Germany's Schroeder will have little choice but to start planning his retirement. The EU's position as a counterweight to American interests will be delayed indefinitely. And that sinkhole of Third World thugs and bureaucrats, the United Nations General Assembly, will be permanently marginalized (if not mortally wounded).

• As a bonus, the abject fraud of Hans Blix's inspection racket having been laid bare, no similar delaying tactic will be given any serious consideration when it comes time to deal with North Korea.

• And while the core organizers of the so-called "anti-war" movement — which still hasn't given up hope of sending Eugene McCarthy to the White House in 1968 — may never reexamine the basic tenets of their core ideology, perhaps some of their fringe-followers will drop their placards as they come to the stark realization that war is not always the greater of any two evils, and that some moral principles are worth fighting for — even at the risk of sacrificing one's own life.

• Best of all: Michael Moore's favorite comforting narrative — that the unelected, selected Cowboy-In-Chief has unnecessarily put our young men and women in harm's way, unilaterally engaging us in an immoral war that pits our Special Forces automatons against helpless civilian Iraqi babies, in a $200 billion carefully-orchestrated public relations campaign for the hearts and minds of gullible American swing voters — will finally be revealed for the malicious self-serving fiction it truly is.

All in all, not an altogther bad trade-off for Saddam's final, most spectacular, single worst error in judgment.

UPDATE: British intelligence has reportedly intercepted a "frantic plea" for Russia to send their best neurosurgeon to Baghdad immediately. With any luck, this foreshadows that yet another prevailing fiction — that Saddam or any of his heirs are still alive and well — will also fall by the wayside before week's end, and that the regime's designated deputies will stand down before they exercise their own version of the "Samson Option."

Monday, March 24, 2003

WE GET LETTERS: My old buddy and logorrheic mentor Harry Broertjes weighs in:

... Like you, I think war was the last resort, and I reluctantly concluded that the last resort had been reached. Enough dots accumulated over the years that, when connected, produced a low-rez but credible picture of what was likely to happen in the absence of disarming and deposing Saddam Hussein.

As Tony Blair put it last week, “What was shocking about 11 September was not just the slaughter of the innocent, but the knowledge that had the terrorists been able to, there would have been not 3,000 innocent dead, but 30,000 or 300,000, and the more the suffering, the greater the terrorists’ rejoicing.” I don’t doubt that allowed the opportunity, Saddam would have given the terrorists that ability.

On the nose, Harry. It was never necessary that the Bush administration prove a direct, demonstrable link between Saddam and al Qaeda -- and it was a significant strategic error that his team kept trying to sell the American public on that tenous connection, providing, as it did, mostly grist for the opposition.

...The most frequently cited reason in opposition to the war, however, tells me that some of the marchers are either bubbleheads or people with other agendas. It’s the notion that this is a war about oil.

Let’s see now. If the United States wanted to grab someone’s oil, what would be the easiest way to go about it? Send a quarter-million troops halfway around the world, spend billions of dollars to unleash weapons of mass destruction on a country that presumably still has a few of its own, and piss off much of the rest of the world in the process? Or maybe just ship 10,000 or 15,000 troops into our own backyard and steal Venezuela’s oil fields, which produce more than either Iraq’s or Kuwait’s? Or, hell, why not just take Canada’s oil? (That’d teach ‘em to boo The Star-Spangled Banner at hockey games.)

Besides which, presumably until just a few weeks ago, the United States got eight percent of its oil imports from Iraq, or about four percent of its total consumption. We were already getting Iraq’s oil the old-fashioned way -- by paying for it -- and both the Iraqis and the Americans didn’t seem too put out by that particular bit of reality.

So when people carry signs or shout “No blood for oil,” my reaction is pretty much the same as it would be if they used the N-word in conversation, or started spouting biblical prophecy as the cornerstone of their worldview: I tune them out. No reasonable discussion is possible.

I can't come up with the link on short notice, but it was very likely a post on Asymmetrical Information which laid bare the economic idiocy of the "no blood for oil" meme. The Cliff Notes version is essentially this:

If it were truly "all about oil" -- if Bush really wanted to reward his oil-industry buddies and party donors -- then flooding the worldwide petroleum market with cheap Iraqi oil is the absolute last thing he'd want to do.

Oh, sure -- theoretically, Bush could try to throw a few new consulting gigs to Cheney's pals at Halliburton -- but that's awfully petty stuff in the scheme of things.

What the American oil industry really craves is short supply and high demand -- in other words, conditions which maintain stable high prices. And here's the conundrum: Once the Iraqi oil fields are producing at anything near full capacity again, the worldwide oil market will collapse. In fact, oil futures are already dropping precipitously, in anticipation of the inevitable.

(I'd love to hear one no-blood-for-oiler make a rational case that the chairman of ExxonMobil is looking forward to the next annual stockholders' meeting, when market conditions may not even be able to sustain a price of $20 per barrel by the end of April.)

Harry concludes:

Meanwhile, over on Earth-3, Jay Zilber’s poll went something like this:

A gigantic oil spill has inundated Crawford, Texas, bringing certain death to 1,000 people along with Bush, who is vacationing there. An anti-war protester wearing a “No blood for oil” button is the only person who can save them, by flipping a switch at the gushing wellhead. What should he do?

• Let them all drown in oil. A thousand lives is a small price to pay to get rid of Bush.

• Throw Bush a pretzel so he’ll choke to death before the oil gets him.

Yipe. You really gotta start your own blog, Harry. I wouldn't touch that one with a 300-foot oil derrick.

Friday, March 21, 2003


Sources: Saddam Injured - Witnesses Reportedly Saw Saddam Carried Out on a Stretcher After U.S. Airstrike.

So the question remains: Was that really a wounded and barely coherent Saddam reading off that notepad, propped up against a hospital wall backdrop? Or, if it was one if his stand-ins doing a little freelancing, then the question remains: On whose authority?

Steven Den Beste's theory: "He's dead, or he's wounded, or he's on the run; no matter which it is, he doesn't seem to be commanding, and it may be that no one is."

Either way -- this is surely unprecedented in modern or historical warefare -- that either side's Commander In Chief might be sidelined or eliminated in the first hour of the first battle. Comparisons to a Mike Tyson 15-second knockout punch leap to mind. And you've got to know that even Kim Jong Il must be seriously rethinking whether he wants to be the next guy in the ring.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

IN THE FUTURE, Everyone Will Direct Superman for Fifteen Minutes:

From Zentertainment -- it's official -- Brett Ratner has been dropped as the director of SUPERMAN V.

"I have chosen to withdraw as director of SUPERMAN," Ratner said. "The difficulty of casting the role of Superman has contributed to my decision. I appreciate the efforts of Warner Bros. and the entire production team during this process." The move comes shortly after all actors that screen test for the lead role were nixed from contention or left the project.

Ratner joins his colleagues Tim Burton, Wolfgang Petersen and "McG" on the Phantom Zone back bench. Next up -- the rumor mills keep mentioning Michael Bay.

WAS HE A LOOKALIKE? Jake Tapper weighs in:

The individual who spoke in a videotaped appearance on Iraqi state television looked like Saddam Hussein. But he also looked a tad different - with a puffier face, more gray in his hair. Using bulky reading glasses the actual Iraqi dictator does not sport very often, the man on the tape could have been Saddam Hussein after a long, sleepless night - or someone else entirely. For a man known to have several look-alikes, the videotape posed more questions than it answered...

One also has to ask: Why didn't this "Saddam" actor specifically reference the attempt on his life? Why did he make only the most general, abstract accusations about "the reckless criminal little Bush" -- comments which might have applied to any first strike? Why didn't he describe last night's events in a way that would prove the contemporaneous origin of his own remarks?

I suppose it may have been a lookalike -- but just as easily, it could have been the real Saddam, recorded days or weeks in advance!

So what I want to know is this: If Saddam was rendered into toothpaste by our first surgical strike, on whose authority was this tape hauled out the vault and broadcast last night?

UPDATE: Rantburg notes that "Saddam" did mention today's date as he read from the notepad -- and also, that consensus is forming around the notion that it was most likely young Uday who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.


The original web page is in Japanese, but it's also -- apparently -- very much for real. The cup draws power from the USB port to keep the coffee warm.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

WHY ARE THESE MEN SMILING? In this screen-grab from Fox News, Iraqi citizens are seen stocking up on emergency household provisions -- from what I could see, not so much foodstuffs, but heavy on the duct tape and batteries -- in anticipation of the coming hostilities.

Now, maybe they're just instinctively mugging for the camera. But for a couple of guys who are about to become live targets in our racist war for cheap oil, I've never seen anyone so jubilant.

Could it be that -- rather than hating the cowboy American imperialist war machine with every fiber of their being -- they're actually anticipating that tomorrow will be the happiest day of their lives?

In contrast, consider the message of these uncommon criminals who now face up to five years in prison for defacing the Sydney Opera House:

Sorry, children -- but when your best argument against the liberation of Iraq is to throw a public tantrum and commit spectacular vandalism, there isn't enough precious time in my day to give your ideology a second thought.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Indeed, my dear Prof. Spencer, I do fear for the Republic when I hear stories like this:
A St. John’s College Library visit by a former public defender was abruptly interrupted February 13 when city police officers arrested him about 9 p.m. at the computer terminal he was using, handcuffed him, and brought him to the Santa Fe, New Mexico, police station for questioning by Secret Service agents from Albuquerque.

Andrew J. O’Conner, 40, who was released about five hours later, said in the February 16 Santa Fe New Mexican, “I’m going to sue the Secret Service, Santa Fe Police, St. John’s, and everybody involved in this whole thing.”

According to O’Connor, the agents accused him of making threatening remarks about President George W. Bush in an Internet chat room.

Admitting he talked politics face-to-face in the library with a woman who was wearing a "No war with Iraq" button, O’Connor recalled saying that Bush is “out of control,” but that “I’m allowed to say all that. There is this thing called freedom of speech.”

He also speculated that the FBI might have been observing him because of his one-time involvement in a pro-Palestinian group in Boulder, Colorado.

Whether I agree or disagree with O'Connor about Bush or Iraq is immaterial. Unless some salient fact was omitted from the coverage of this story -- such as the documented utterance of an actual threat, or evidence of covert funding for Palestinian terrorism -- what happned here was a law-enforcement overreach and a judicial outrage.

Monday, March 10, 2003


Me: And what would you like to drink today?

Cust: Do you wanna know my weight and shoe size too? Jesus, I don't know...

More where that came from...

Saturday, March 08, 2003

ANATOMY OF A DUMB JOKE: There seem to be five schools of thought here:

(1) The joke was cruelly insensitive to the plight of millions of innocent French citizens who might be killed by an Act of God.

(2) The joke was unbelievable; No matter how much we disagree with the policies of the French government, America would never turn its back on the French people and refuse to provide aid and resources in time of crisis.

(3) The joke was offensive because it could be interpreted as a racist slur against the French people, whose sole offense was to inhabit France. I may as well have just called the lot of 'em "frogs" and be done with it.

(4) The joke was out-of-date. Surely by now, The White House has TiVo and no longer depends on obsolete videotape for time-shifting.

(5) The joke was wasn't scientifically grounded; a meteor that could wipe out France would pretty much take out the rest of the human race as well.

No kidding. One reader cared enough to e-mail:

"Well, I don't really care about your politics, but as a joke the poll was not even mildly amusing (and not just because I don't find wiping out France funny). By the way, I'm not a scientist, but if there were actually a meteor that wiped out France, I very much doubt that W or anyone else would be around to watch the tape.

Dunno, folks. It's not that I was planning a second career as a stand-up comedian, but I am frankly flabbergasted by the extent to which this joke has rubbed so many people the wrong way. Between the comments left by my own readers and those of Ted Barlow, sentiment is running against me by about 4 to 1.

(Even my Merry Christmas, Saddam cartoon-- which, at this moment, you can still see by scrolling down a ways -- didn't generate nearly so much vitriol, though it could conceivably have been criticized for many of the same reasons. In fact, it received only one single such comment -- from a certain troll who was simply looking for an excuse to get himself banned from my comments board.)

Look, I know these are tense times, and certainly I know we're not all going find humor from the same jokes. But, people -- really -- get a grip here. When David Letterman or Jay Leno singles out an easy target for their wisecracks, they're not revealing anything to you about their personal politics or their philosophy of life. They're just trying to entertain. Some jokes work better than others. Some wind up laying there like a lox. But I've never seen any bloggers take such grave offense at one of Dave's forgettable flopperoos that they feel compelled to rag on it obsessively.

For that matter, when the Cartoon Network airs an episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, they don't run it past a scientific advisory panel to make sure that they're on solid ground when they depict the antics of a talking, floating milkshake, either.

And does anyone really imagine that Woody Allen's semi-autobiographical Annie Hall would have been funnier if it had been filmed in the style of a cinema verite documentary on his own, real-life relationship with Diane Keaton? Was it less funny because he repeatedly -- unrealistically -- stepped out of character and addressed the audience, or turned into a animated drawing of himself for a few seconds?

Comedy is a dangerous business. You only have so much time to establish your setups, execute your payoffs, and get off the stage. You simply haven't the luxury of defining your entire universe up-front. You have to assume that we share a common culture, with common culutral reference points.

When a comedian makes obervations about airline food, the jokes don't work unless we can all start from a general agreement that airline food is usually bad, and that flying coach is often an uncomfortable experience.

Sure, there's always the possibility that an airline employee will be in the audience -- and she may well become resentful over a wisecrack about those good, hard-working men and women who are just doing their jobs to the best of their ability, trying to make your flight safe and comfortable.

But if you're going to dabble in comedy, you've got to take your lumps from time to time. Jokes about lousy airline food -- likewise, jokes about French stereotypes -- may not be the zenith of humor. But there simply isn't time to proceed all jokes with an explanation of the whole political-cultural zeitgeist, or boilerplate apologies to everyone who might take offense.

Once we go down that road -- once we agree not to risk offending anyone -- then we dare not tell any jokes at all.

(Which is -- in case you didn't get it, Professor Spencer -- the oblique, unstated punchline of the Puppies & Kittens poll.)

WE GET LETTERS: Should have posted this awhile ago, but I've been preoccupied...

Date: Thu, 23 Jan 2003
Subject: Things I learn while Googling myself
From: Daniel Radosh

Apparently, like, a year ago, you pegged me as "a guy who should be blogging daily." I'm deeply flattered. And now blogging, well, two or three days a week. A very informal mix of lite politics and other nonsense, as well as self-promotional items galore, but perhaps it will suffice.

For my part, I am enjoying Mind Over...



Some readers may recall Daniel Radosh's tenure at New York Press, where he wrote the venerable "Eight Days' column for a number of years. More recently, his byline has been spotted in The New Yorker, Esquire and other A-list publications. Needless to say, I couldn't be more flattered!

Meanwhile, check out the man's blog, why don'tcha?

Friday, March 07, 2003

Well, well, -- the tip jar may be empty, but it seems I've finally won an award for my efforts here:

That's right -- it's the "Roy Blunt Inappropriate and Moronic French-Bashing Joke of the Day" Award -- given by Thomas M. Spencer, Assistant Professor of History at Northwest Missouri State University. He chastises:

"Isn't it astonishing how insensitive the pro-war crowd is to those who disagree with them? They pretend to understand the other side and then make jokes about millions of frenchmen being killed by natural disasters."

Sorry if I'm starting to get impatient with my lesser critics, but -- is there anyone else in the room who actually imagined that the language of the joke was intended to be interpreted literally?

Have you never heard of subtext, Assistant Professor Spencer? How about irony? Just deserts? Getting one's sweet comeuppance? Have you ever read a fable? Did you curse that insensitive Voltaire for wishing so much rotten luck upon Candide? And damn that Aesop for all the grief he visited upon those poor, cuddly little animals, too? It's fiction, babe. Deal with it.

And by the way -- what's with this "pro-war" crowd you're lumping me in with? If you're going to be so presumptuous as to pigeonhole a total stranger with a simplistic ideological label, I go by "pro-liberty," thank you very much.

But let me return the favor. I bestow upon you the Marshall McLuhan "You know nothing of my work...How you ever got to teach a course in anything is totally amazing" Award. And if you ask me nicely, I'll make a custom banner for your website, too.

Finally -- credit where credit is due. I blush to admit, at this late date, that I am not the actual author of the joke poll that has caused such consternation here. It was forwarded by my Mom -- depicted below -- who is obviously not part of anyone's monolithic "pro-war crowd," but nonetheless managed to find humor in the ironic punchline without spitting up hairballs all over the front porch.

Hi, Mom. Hope you're as proud of me as I am of you...

Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo) is credited with this one:
Q. Do you know how many Frenchmen it takes to defend Paris?
A. It's not known. It's never been tried.

UPDATE II: Jeff Jarvis has a lot more where that came from....

UPDATE III: Asst. Prof Spencer is still trying to find an appropriate label for me. Isn't it cute how all the self-important academic types can't address anyone's arguments until they've been pigeonholed with a one-size-fits-all ideological label? Guess again, Professor. I'm a registered Democrat, and I have also thoroughly lambasted "Herr Ashcroft" on this page when it has seemed appropriate to do so. But obviously you can't be bothered to look into my blog archives or do any research before you shoot off your mouth. Research? That's hardly what academia is all about, now, is it? No -- just paint everyone with a broad brush, jump to an easy conclusion, and say whatever pops into your head. At this rate you'll have tenure in no time flat!

Dish it out but can't take it, you say?
Bring it onnnnnnnnnn!!!!!!!

CALL AND RAISE: My little joke poll seems to have ruffled a few feathers yesterday. Over at Ted Barlow's excellent blog, one of his readers took offense: risk of taking this discussion way off into la-la land, let us apply a semantic test that I saw used on Fark recently. This experiment may reveal whether our cap-wearing friend is being funny, such that we should laugh at and/or with him -- or whether he's being a bigot, such that somebody should beat him about the head and neck.


AMORAL DILEMMA: Scientists have discovered a meteor on a collision-course with Planet Earth. They have calculated that it will strike Africa in 48 hours, at approximately 2:30 A.M. Eastern Standard Time. The meteor is large enough to completely wipe niggers from the face of the earth forever.

Africa and the United Nations have requested that the United States help evacuate the niggers. That would mean diverting American ships and planes that are being used to fight the war on terror overseas.

You are George W. Bush, President of the United States. What should you do?
Watch the impact on live TV
Tape it & watch in the morning

You make the call.
Isaac in Cambridge

Okay, Isaac. I'll make the call. In fact, I'll call your bluff and raise you 20:

Surely one can draw a distinction between a satirical editorial cartoon which makes a political point with techniques such as misdirection and hyperbole -- and a racist caricature which makes no point and serves no purpose, except to offend and enrage.

The original piece, as it appears below, is in keeping with the manner of a political cartoon -- or more accurately, a short-form satirical essay in the Swiftian tradition.

Now, you don't have to agree that the French have lately behaved like shameful poseurs, less concerned with preserving the peace than with the preservation of their own oil contracts in Iraq, not to mention propping up their rapidly-diminishing status as a world class mover-and-shaker opinion-maker within the EU.

But surely you are aware that a fair percentage of thoughtful Americans believe this to be true of the French -- and not without cause. In fact, we're pretty pissed off about it. That -- in case the subtlety went over your head -- was the point of this little joke poll.

Obviously, you can rewrite the piece, insert racist language and remove it from the original context. No surprise that it then ceases to be either satirical or funny.

But then, to make the leap and infer that I actually made a thoughtless racial slur because you wrote an altered version that sounds racist on the face of it -- well, sir, there's a term for that particular logical fallacy:

The Straw Man Fallacy is committed when a person simply ignores a person's actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position.

Isn't that a fair description of the fallacy you're engaging in here, Isaac in Cambridge?

Now you make the call.

UPDATE: In the continuing saga of The Lame Joke That Will Not Die, another one of Ted's readers chimes in:

Substitute Israel for France then and Israelis for the French.
Still laughing?
Martin Wisse

Martin, of course we all want to live in a world of brotherhood and hamony between all nationalities, races, religions and creeds. But for the sake of peace and better understanding within the blogosphere, please reread and attempt to comprehend the meaning of the Straw Man Fallacy.

In any intellectually honest debate, one may not arbitrarily, casually propose to make these little substitutions -- as though every nationality or demographic is interchangable with any other, in every imaginable context.

There is simply no equivalence to be had here. The African nations are not attempting to bully the members of the EU into towing the African line with talk of American cowboy arrogance. Nor is Israel covertly supplying Iraq with spare parts and equipment for their fighter jets and military helicopters -- as, we learn today, a French company has apparently been doing for years.

If either Africa or Israel were aggressively subverting American security interests at every turn -- then, yes, I actually could substitute Africa or Israel in place of France with a clear conscience, and the "joke" would still be a veritable knee-slapper.

But the fact is, neither of those postulations are true, and it makes absolutely no sense to "revise" my language as if they were, or might be, true.

Satire depends wholly on context. Change the context, and it doesn't "reveal" my original sentiments as being fundamentally offensive or insensitive. It merely serves to create a brand-new, wholly offensive non sequitor.

Thursday, March 06, 2003

FREE MOVIE TICKETS! No kidding! But you have to act fast! There's a preview screening TONIGHT AT MIDNIGHT on the evening of Thursday, March 6 -- at a conveniently located theater in lower Manhattan, which I will not reveal here. The film is "Spun" -- and the stellar cast includes Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore), Mena Suvari (American Beauty), Patrick Fugit (Almost Famous), Peter Stormare (Fargo), Brittany Murphy (8 Mile), Blondie's Deborah Harry, John Leguizamo, Eric Roberts, and Mickey Rourke "in a startling, long-anticipated comeback performance."

The synopsis: When college drop-out Ross (Schwartzman) becomes local crystal-meth dealer The Cook's (Rourke) personal driver in exchange for free drugs, he has no idea what he's in for as he ricochets between the hilarious and the bizarre, descending into the insomniac, anarchic world of speed freaks. The feature-film debut of Grammy Award-winning music-video director Jonas Akerlund.

Through a promotional e-mail lottery, The Onion gave away 50 pairs of tickets to this screening -- and I was one of the lucky winners. And if the weather weren't so generally godawful today -- or if I still lived within walking distance to this theater, which I did at one time -- I'd have surely taken advantage of opportunity to see what sounds like a really fun flick. But -- sadly -- the timing and circumstances couldn't be worse.

So if anyone reading this is interested -- or if you know anyone who might be -- then contact me IMMEDIATELY at, and I'll give you the fake name under which the tickets are reserved, and the location of the theater. But hurry -- this is a limited time offer!

(UPDATE: If you read this message between 2:00 and 3:30 pm today, you may have seen the date listed alternately as Thursday midnight, and then briefly -- and incorrectly -- as Saturday, March 8. The Onion seems to be having a little trouble nailing the date, but we are now being assured that the screening is definitely THURSDAY (tonight) at midnight, NOT on Saturday.)

(FOLLOW-UP: No takers. Not a one. Sorry, but if anyone at The Onion is listening, it sure didn't help matters that you kept fluffing the date. I hope it didn't play to an empty house.)

AMORAL DILEMMA: Scientists have discovered a meteor on a collision-course with Planet Earth. They have calculated that it will strike France in 48 hours, at approximately 2:30 A.M. Eastern Standard Time. The meteor is large enough to completely wipe France from the face of the earth forever.

France and the United Nations have requested that the United States help evacuate the country. That would mean diverting American ships and planes that are being used to fight the war on terror overseas.

UPDATE: I Would you believe this silly joke poll has generated more traffic from InstaPundit than anything Glenn has ever deigned to link here?

UPDATE II: It's been SlashDotted, too!

UPDATE III: Take it easy, Ted. It's just a joke! (And besides, I wear my baseball cap forward, not backward.)

UPDATE IV: Isaac takes offense. I respond here.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

IN THE FUTURE, Everyone Will Play Superman for Fifteen Minutes: As script after script has been commissioned and trashed over the past several years -- as director after director (Tim Burton, Wolfgang Petersen, McG) has been brought on board and pushed overboard -- Warner Bros. is finally preparing to relaunch its Superman film franchise with Brett Ratner directing, and a screenplay by "Alias" creator J.J. Abrams. So far, so good. But the big open question is, as always: Who will don the cape?

For years, Nicholas Cage lobbied for the role. At various times, high-profile stars like Jude Law, David Boreanaz, Josh Hartnett, Ashton Kutcher, Brendan Fraser, Colin Farrell, Christian Bale, Paul Walker ("Joy Ride," "The Fast and the Furious") and soap-opera actor Matthew Bomer ("The Guiding Light," "All My Children") have all had their names bandied about. Evan "Joe Millionaire" Marriott claims to have read for the part. Hartnett, reportedly the studio's first choice, passed on a 3-picture $30 million deal.

Now, the rumor mills are starting to settle on relative unknown 30-year-old Victor Webster, nominally recognizable from the syndicated science-fiction series "Mutant X." (Of which, the kindest User Comment on IMDb is: "If you're into guys, then this show might be worth watching for the occasional shot of star Victor Webster without a shirt.")

I've somehow managed to miss Mutant X, so I've never seen Webster in action -- and that's exactly as it should be. Superman must be played by a relative unknown, someone who won't burden us with the task of disgorging his resume from our collective subconscious.

I'm old enough to recall the casting rumors that hovered around the orginal 1978 Superman, as every A-list name from Peter Falk to Robert Redford was floated in both the fan and mainstream press. Imagine, if you can, the debacle of golden-boy Redford trading quips with Lex Luthor, or Falk's anguished scream as he pulls the lifeless body of Lois Lane out of her buried car...

Well, actually, I can imagine it. I can also imagine the audience's nervous, inappropriate laughter at all the wrong moments, and a big-budget picture doing less than break-even box office. Fortunately, history took a turn for the better, and we have one great, epic Superman film to show for it. (Plus one near-great sequel, and two more lame ones, but such is life.)

The first rule of casting is: First, do no harm. The Superman franchise's relaunch will probably be successful in any case. The question is, will it do Spider-Man box-office (upwards of $400 million), or Daredevil box-office (likely, a tad over $100 mil)? Superman is about many things -- chiefly truth, justice, the American way, and tons of spectacular special-effects. With a good script, Superman V will sell itself on its own merits. No one will be lining up on opening night because Josh Hartnett can open a picture -- and in the long run, his star-quality baggage would likely do more harm than good.

I can only assume that Victor Webster is a decent, hard-working journeyman-actor -- and without knowing another blessed thing about him, I'd say it's time to settle on Webster and move on to the supporting cast, where all such stunt-casting properly belongs.

And, by the way, here's one guy who agrees:

Christopher Reeve, the movies' original Man of Steel, backs up Webster. "Probably seven or eight months ago," says Reeve, talking on the set of ABC's "The Practice," where he is doing a guest role, "I got a call from ['Superman' producer] Jon Peters. He said he had been following the course of my recovery and had seen a documentary made by my son."

"He said he felt inspired by that and decided not to do 'Superman vs. Batman,' which was in the works with Wolfgang Petersen. He said, 'Why should we have two superheroes fighting each other when the world needs heroes?'"

"As I understand it, he dropped that idea and pitched the idea of retelling the essentials of the 'Superman' legend, with Anthony Hopkins playing Jor-El. He was talking about casting, and I said, 'If you want my two cents, you should definitely cast an unknown, as Dick Donner did 25 years ago, and find a Superman for the 21st Century.

"There has always been, since 1938, a Superman for each generation that reflects the times."

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Breaking news (Via Drudge -- and therefore, subject to immediate contradiction elsewhere): France will NOT use its veto to block a U.N. Security Council resolution paving the way for war on Iraq.

Le Canard ... quoted President Jacques Chirac as telling a small private gathering on Feb. 26 that a veto would be pointless because it would not stop U.S. President George W. Bush from launching military action.

"France is doing everything it can, but the problem is that it is impossible to stop Bush from pursuing his logic of war to the end," Chirac was quoted as saying by Le Canard, a satirical newspaper that is known to have well-informed sources.

The question is -- does this "satirical newsaper," Le Canard, model itself after The Onion or Spy Magazine? The distinction makes for a monde of difference.

UPDATE: Did Le Canard offer up a canard, or did Drudge imagine the whole thing? This morning, France says non! to war. (Oh well -- to reiterate Mickey Kaus's memorable summation of Drudge's reliability: "80% True? Good Enough!")