You Should be Able to Refinance Your Student Loan Debt

It took me a while to figure this out, so bear with me. Megan McArdle tries to pooh-pooh a very good question asked by Bernie Sanders:

The day after Christmas, Bernie Sanders asked a question on Twitter: “You have families out there paying 6, 8, 10 percent on student debt but you can refinance your homes at 3 percent. What sense is that?”

Finance types may snicker. But I’ve seen this question asked fairly often, and it seems worth answering, respectfully, for people whose expertise and interest lie outside the realm of economics.

The short answer is: “Loans are not priced in real life the way they are in Sunday School stories.” In a Sunday School story, the cheapest loans would go to the nicest people with the noblest use for the money: single mothers who need money to buy their kids a Christmas present, say.

That’s splendid for the recipient. But what about the lender? Let’s say you had $150 that you really needed to have at the end of the month, say to pay your rent. Would you want to lend it to the single mother whose income is stretched so tight that she needs to borrow money for Christmas presents, or would you want to lend it to some heartless leech of a securities litigator with an 800 credit rating who happens to have left his wallet at home? C’mon. You know the answer; you just don’t want to say it. If you really need the money -- if you cannot afford to turn your loan into a gift -- then you lend it to the better credit risk with the higher income, not the person who may find themselves too short to pay you when the loan comes due.

In aggregate, most of the money in your savings account is loaned out using this cold calculus, and unless you could afford to have that contents of that account suddenly vanish, you want it to be. That’s why poor people, on top of all the other unfairness heaped upon them, pay higher interest rates. And that is why secured loans, like mortgages, get lower interest rates than unsecured loans, like credit card balances and student loans.

Student loans are two-for-one in terms of risk: They are frequently made to people with no income, no credit history, and somewhat imperfect prospects; and they carry no guarantee of payment other than the borrower’s signature. If someone fails to pay their auto loan, you can take their car away. This ensures repayment in two ways: first, you can auction the car and recover some of the money that you lent out; and second, people need their car, and will scrimp on other things in order to keep it from losing it. The immediate personal costs of failing to pay your student loans, on the other hand, are pretty minimal, and people are going to take that into account when they decide whether to pay you or the auto finance company. That’s why the government has to guarantee these loans; the low-fixed-rate, take-any-course-of-study-you-want-at-any-accredited-institution, interest-deferred-in-school is probably not a financial product that would exist in the wild.

Secured loans have thus always carried lower interest rates than unsecured loans, and will do so until the heat death of the universe renders moot such questions.

And so on, and so forth. McArdle tries to demonstrate competence and knowledge here, but let's go back to the question that kicked off this discussion:

Bernie Sanders asked a question on Twitter: “You have families out there paying 6, 8, 10 percent on student debt but you can refinance your homes at 3 percent. What sense is that?”

Let's ignore McArdle and really answer the question. Let's say a family, who refinances their home, takes a look at their student debt and makes an honest effort to refinance that debt. They can't! And that's why the question needs to be answered from the viewpoint of a family with student loan debt as opposed to a recently graduated student with student loan debt.

McArdle is basically right about why a student who just gets out of college is charged a higher interest rate--they're a riskier proposition. But the family, with their home as an asset, is a much lower risk. Why wouldn't you allow them to use their home as collateral so that they could refinance their existing student loan debt?

That's the part that makes no sense. You have two people who are married and, if they're at a point where they own a home and refinance it, let's say they're also ten years into the thirty year process of paying back their student loans. They've been making ten years of payments on that debt at 7 or 8 percent while their home is financed at 3 percent. You could say that the only reason why they own their own home is because of the degrees they earned. 

As a condition of refinancing their student loan debt, you could minimize the risk and reduce the interest rate on their student loan debt by using the equity in their home as collateral. You're telling me that someone who has paid off a third of their mortgage is the same risk as a kid just out of college? Hell, no. They're a damned good risk and they deserve an interest rate cut. That would mean huge savings for the family and bring them greater financial stability in the long run, making it more likely that not only would they pay back their mortgage but that they would pay back their student loan debt.

And wouldn't that help bring down interest rates? Or am I being an idiot on purpose?

These are the kinds of scenarios that Sanders is really pushing--common sense changes to how we do things so that Americans can get out from under crushing levels of debt. And no one currently self-identifying as a Republican would even dream of such a thing--it runs against the economic self-interest of their primary voters as well as their donors.

The Lost Art of Competent Film Projection

Honestly, who knew we had lost the ability to show films in public?

Screening problems are reportedly plaguing Quentin Tarantino's latest film, The Hateful Eight, since its release on Christmas Day in the USA – allegedly due to its unusual 70mm film format.

Set in Wyoming shortly after the Civil War, the film revolves around eight strangers seeking shelter at a stagecoach passover called Minnie's Haberdashery during a blizzard, and stars Samuel L Jackson, Kurt Russell, and Jennifer Jason Leigh.

The unusual screening style has forced some cinemas to retrofit hired equipment and bring on experienced projectionists to manage the reels of film, which reportedly weigh over 90kg in total. The Hateful Eight's 70mm screenings include a 12-minute intermission.

Technology has run wild over the last thirty years or so. There used to be an entire radio broadcasting industry! There used to be a thing called a travel agency! Where did Blockbuster go and why am I not sorry those assholes has to go find other jobs? We used to brag about not being forced to take a phone call. Good times.

Quentin Tarantino does something nice for people (remember when this film wasn't even going to be made at all?) and all they can do is crap all over it because someone forgot how to handle a 70mm film projector. First world problems being what they are, how can anyone get so worked up about this?

Tell the Libtards that Obama Still Sucks

Jobs? What jobs?

Look, here's how the modern American economy works. If a Republican is in office, the deficit doesn't matter.

If a Democrat is in office, the deficit is the ONLY thing that matters.

Here's proof, via Paul Krugman, that Obama has been a far better president than we're being told.

It's hard to argue with the proof at hand, but that's all they have--an argument. The fact that it doesn't hold water is a feature, not a bug.

Food Snobbery

I was flipping through posts, and this caught my eye:

I must be the only media person to say something nice about Guy Fieri in years, because one of his representatives contacted me wondering whether I'd like to talk to him about all the restaurants he thinks he's helped saved. (I mentioned that he's done more for small businesses than any small-business-friendly-GOP-enthusiast in my lede.) So, um, there's that!

FTR: This is now officially on.

The outrage against Fieri is driven by the Gawker community, and by food snobs. His most vocal critic is Anthony Bourdain, who uses Fieri the same way music snobs used to use John Denver in the 1970s. After a while, you come to realize that food snobbery is a real thing that is too ridiculous to care about. I don't care what you like to eat, and you shouldn't care about what other people like to eat. Guy Fieri isn't just a guy on television who's trying to get you to eat something. He goes out and tries to help restaurants stay afloat.

I believe that Fieri and a very similar type of television host named Jon Taffer (Bar Rescue) have done more to save small businesses than anyone on television. 

If you think about all of the wage earners that they have kept employed, and all of the small businesses that they have helped, you can't help but wonder why people hate the guy. If they both keep twenty or so businesses afloat each year, that's a lot of wage earners that are keeping their jobs. This is an underserved market because there are restaurants, bars, and retail businesses out there that need a lot of help. Their success has a huge impact on lives and communities. And they're small businesses--who wouldn't want to help a small business? It's a no-brainer.

I love Taffer--clean this place up! is the best advice anyone running a dive bar ever got. Taffer is no-nonsense and he uses business analytics. Fieri is cut from the same cloth. 

He's got a California car culture look and working class culinary skills-so what?

And Rachael Ray will always be one of my favorites.

Microagressions Suck

Just by writing this, Emily Shire committed a microagression!

Before 2015, playing beer pong and pulling all-nighters were the activities most associated with the college experience. That all changed this year.

From large public universities in America’s heartland, like the University of Missouri, to small private colleges along the coasts, like Claremont McKenna College in California, student outrage spread like mono at a frat party.

A new lexicon to cover hot-button campus issues—“microaggressions,” “safe spaces,” “yes means yes”—entered the mainstream as college protests earned increasing national interest, far beyond the academic bubble.

Student outrage doesn't bother me and it shouldn't bother you, either. Let them get spun up about these things--it's not like there aren't people being shot and it's not like women just stopped being raped. Let them have their moment within the safe environment of college to learn how the world really works, and, oh by the way, let them change society for the better by redefining what we can and cannot talk about. Deriding someone's opposition to racism or gender inequality means you're getting a taste of what's around the corner. Eventually, we'll all stop offending one another, even if it means giving up a banh mi sandwich, whatever the hell that is.

Pardon Me?

Lovable scamp Robert Downey Jr. received a full pardon today:

California's governor has pardoned Robert Downey Jr. for a 1996 drug conviction that sent the actor to prison.

Gov. Jerry Brown's office announced Thursday that Downey was among 91 people receiving pardons.

Downey was convicted of felony drug possession after he was arrested on a Los Angeles County highway and authorities found heroin, cocaine and a pistol in his vehicle.

In 1999, he was sent to prison for nearly a year after he acknowledged violating his probation.

Does Downey Jr. deserve a pardon? Not in my opinion, but he's always been given a pass for crimes that would have sent a poor person of color to jail for a decade or more. He basically spent about four years completely out of control and was given numerous "second chances" that, again, would never have gone to someone else.

And that's the real problem here because you want to give people a break. You want to take a non-violent offender and give them an opportunity to turn their life around and get help. The problem is, our system takes people of color and throws them in prison. Downey Jr. was supposed to serve three years in prison for what he did, but he only served a year, got out, got a job, got high numerous times, and didn't have to go back to prison and serve those extra two years. How many people of color have even had a remotely similar experience with the California penal system? This same system gives Robert Downey Jr. seventeen or eighteen chances, turns a blind eye to felony possession of narcotics and gives him a pardon. When you go back through his records, you come away with the sense that, as soon as someone recognized him, they tried to give him a pass. That's shameful.

If he didn't have the money, he'd have never gotten a pardon today. That's what's broken with our system.

So Much For That Scandal

How much do you want to bet that there will be a "scandalous" revelation about the Clinton Foundation in the weeks ahead?

One of the nation's largest charity watchdog groups has removed the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation from its watch list that is supposed to alert donors to potential issues of interest when they are making philanthropic decisions.

The foundation was placed on the watch list in April after a slew of news stories about foreign governments and donors giving to the foundation who were also lobbying the Obama administration while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state.

The Clinton Foundation responded to the label with a lengthy memo in May.
"There has been no indication, accusation or evidence in any of these stories of any wrongdoing," the memo read. "Our supporters donate to the Clinton Foundation because they want to see lives improved; they want better opportunity across the globe; and they want to see communities, businesses and governments working together to address problems that, when working together, we have the solutions and resources to fix."

The way it works is, someone makes a barely-sourced accusation against the Clintons, and, under the Clinton Rules, every minor malfeasance that emerges in the fevered imagination of someone who won't put their name on anything becomes a huge scandal that normally wouldn't affect a Republican with similar issues. Everything is blown sky-high and out of proportion so that, eventually, we get to read about the vindication the Clintons when the information is dumped on a major holiday or on a late Friday afternoon.


I'm not sure why they went with the whole failure angle here. If this young man had been a moderately successful writer, it would still be irrelevant. He's a dangerous psychopath and his skills in the arts don't change that fact:

An aspiring author who brutally attacked a teenager after she left a bad review of his book online has been jailed.

Richard Brittain smashed Paige Rolland, 18, over the head with a wine bottle in an assault which could have killed her.

The failed writer, 28, has now been sentenced to 30 months in prison and banned from contacting his victim, reported Mirror Online.

Brittain’s defence counsel Michael Meehan pleaded for his client to avoid jail, saying he was either suffering from paranoid schizophrenia or a personality disorder.

But Sheriff Martin Jones QC insisted “the only disposal in this case is a custodial one” and ordered Brittain to be monitored for one year after his release.

In October 2014, Brittain traveled 500 miles from his home in England to the supermarket where Rolland worked in Scotland to confront her after she criticized his book "The World Rose" online.

Now, the bad review that triggered the incident should be considered separately. Everyone gets them. You have to deal with them. But, for a bad review to trigger a 500 mile trip so that the man could stalk and attack his victim suggests that he shouldn't be allowed in polite society. Jail is one thing. Where's the treatment for mental illness? If someone is writing on their personal blog that they are schizophrenic, I think you should take them at their word.

In case you're wondering, yeah, he gets some really bad reviews:

People have savaged Brittain on his Amazon account for a long time. They hate his writing! It must be all of those adverbs and the passive aggressive tone. And every review I saw cleverly adds details about his wine bottle attack--a sure sign that the review is designed to destroy the commercial appeal of his work.

I don't know whether that's brave or piling on, but someone should get this man the help he needs.

Your Kids Belong in the Car, Not on the Roof

This is a story about parents who have lost control of their common sense:

LEAGUE CITY, TX (KTRK) -- One League City neighborhood attracts people from all over with its homes decorated for the holidays.

But Tuesday night, as Jeremy Barron was headed home, he saw something he had never seen before.

"As I passed by them I saw the kids sitting on the roof and it just blew my mind,"said Barron.

Barron says he saw as many as three children riding on top of a minivan as it cruised through the neighborhood. He couldn't tell if they were restrained in any way. There were two adults inside. Barron has no idea who they are.

Now, this was Texas, not Florida. Based on my super scientific application of incompetent Photoshop, there was an older kid holding on to a smaller kid. They may have been tied to the luggage rack.

Bad parenting. Bad, bad, bad. And worse Photoshopping, too. Well, at least I don't use Photoshop on the kids.

Whoring at the Smithsonian

Yeah, I hate this kind of thing:

I don't have a problem with catering to kids. I don't have a problem exposing kids to food-based exhibits and things that are purely for fun or entertainment. You don't have to learn all the time. But I am rather surprised that the Smithsonian is the go-to place for corporate whores and overpriced supermarket chains that cater to the wealthy. If you want to do a mutually beneficial exhibit, why target kids? Sounds vaguely evil to me.

Does Wegman's do good in your community? I hope so. And I'm probably just cranky today. But who the hell thought sticking an advertisement for Wegman's in the middle of the Smithsonian was a good idea?

Cheap Oil

A barrel of oil goes for about $39 right now:

Oil fell below $37 a barrel on Thursday, after new data showed OPEC is still pumping like there is no tomorrow.

The mighty oil cartel produced 31.7 million barrels a day in November, its latest monthly report shows. That is the highest output in over three years and 1.7 million barrels a day over its former production ceiling.

Oil hasn't been this cheap in a long time. About a year and a half ago, it was $108 a barrel.

The implications of this probably aren't well understood. There are a number of countries--Iran, Venezuela, Mexico, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia that face unique circumstances at home. They have restive, unhappy populations that are trying to live in struggling economies. The governments of those nations (only Mexico is a non-OPEC state) are forced to chase revenue and produce oil in abundance, working against their common interests in the name of maintaining a revenue stream that is drying up.

If those countries come apart at the seams because of cheap oil, we'll have interruptions in supply and the possible intervention on the US military as a result. Sure, I like paying less than $2 for a gallon of gas, and I laugh about it all the time because what else could be more hilarious, but there are some really difficult choices here. Do we continue to live like this and hope the oil producing states can remain stable or do we welcome a modest price hike? It would seem to me that someone has to figure out how to cut production, bring the price up, and do this quietly.

Sometimes the Bear Eats You

How awful.

Setting aside the tastelessness of using any form of rape as a joke, someone must really want The Revenant to fail:

20th Century Fox has dismissed reports that Leonardo DiCaprio's character is "raped by a bear" in his latest film The Revenant.

There's the whole thing about the politician (Lyndon Baines Johnson?) who told his staff to put out a rumor that his opponent was a pig fucker. The idea was, just getting him to deny that he was a pigfucker was good enough. But to extend this kind of cruelty to the release of a feature film is beyond the pale. Serious economic damage could be done here, and for what? To embarrass Leonardo DiCaprio?

You've really got to be disturbed to use a tactic like this.

Legacies and Film Franchises

I have to confess that I have almost no interest in seeing a James Bond film unless it's for free and unless I have nothing else to do. I feel that way about a lot of things and I suppose I can work up enough concern to talk about this:

Pierce Brosnan has likened his departure from the Bond franchise to being "kicked to the kerb".

The Irish actor starred as 007 in four films released between 1995 and 2002, beginning with Goldeneye and culminating with Die Another Day, then the highest-grossing Bond film ever.

Though Brosnan was keen to return for a fifth outing, the franchise's longtime producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli ultimately decided to take Bond in a new, edgier direction.

Pierce Brosnan is correct when he expresses outrage as to how the owners of the James Bond franchise treated him. It was shabby, but predictable. Virtually all of the actors were hired because of money and not much else. Hollywood's A-list of actors--Carey Grant and Richard Burton among many--would have required more money than Albert Broccoli was willing to spend.

And that's the thing of it--you're never going to get the actor you want. You're going to see the actor who agrees to do it for the money they're willing to spend.

That's Love

With 29 days to go, the Kickstarter campaign to bring back Mystery Science Theater 3000 has already amassed a ridiculous amount of money.

We've seen successful Kickstarter campaigns in the past, but, really, have we really seen something like this? The show will be resurrected somehow, some way, and it is almost a foregone conclusion that the $2 million mark will be met and that there will be at least three new episodes if not more produced and released in the next year or so.


Mystery Science Theater 3000 is Back From the Dead

Another sad prop comic returns from the 1980s and hurls chum into the fan:

We’ve got movie sign, MSTies: Joel Hodgson, a.k.a. “Joel,” has officially launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring back Mystery Science Theater 3000 after 16 years. (It was canceled in 1999.) The campaign quietly appeared on the MST3K official website earlier this morning, confirming suspicions raised by vague promises of “big news coming soon” on the Rifftrax and MST3K social-media channels. The campaign has the rather lofty goal of $2 million, which Hodgson says will enable him to make three full-length episodes of MST3K to shop around to TV networks and streaming platforms. With three additional episodes per $1.1 million raised over the original goal, that’s $5.5 million for a full 12-episode season. But if Zach Braff can do it, so can Joel and the bots.

Speaking about the campaign to EW, Hodgson says he hopes the campaign will not only raise the needed funds to produce new episodes of the show, but to serve as a sort of MST3K Signal to lure the old gang back onto the Satellite Of Love. But they won’t be on screen: Hodgson also wants to cast a new host and new mad-scientist adversary for the new season, as well new voices for Crow and Tom Servo. “Mystery Science Theater has already refreshed itself once with a completely new cast, so I think it deserves to do that again,” Hodgson says. “The original cast is going to be invited back to write, produce, and do cameos as their mad science characters, and then there’s a new cast with new talent.”

It depends a great deal on where they'll shoot the show and host it; the original show was created and staged in warehouse space southwest of Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the Kickstarter indicated that it will be done in Los Angeles. Someone is going to have to move a lot of props from one place to another to make this happen because there's no way they're going to be able to do this without borrowing heavily from the visual feel of the original show.

A let-it-rip version, suitable for pay cable or FX, would be preferable to a return to Comedy Central, which destroyed the show when it was very, very popular because the network didn't want to program itself in two hour blocks (IIRC).

Anyway, yeah--who wouldn't watch this?

Ben Carson Can't Defend the Book He Wrote

Ben Carson wrote about things in his book that no one can verify or prove:

Ben Carson slammed CNN's reporting into his past as a "bunch of lies" in a combative interview on Friday, strengthening his defense of his violent past that the media have thus far been unable to corroborate.

"This is a bunch of lies, that is what it is," Carson said on CNN's "New Day" when Alisyn Camerota asked about the report by Scott Glover and Maeve Reston in which they spoke to people Carson grew up with. "This is a bunch of lies attempting to say I'm lying about my history, I think it's pathetic, and basically what the media does is they try to get you distracted."

Camerota pushed back on Carson's argument that the reporters on the story did not talk to people who knew him earlier than high school, but Carson rejected that and launched into an aggressive attack on the media. He also accused the media of not doing the same with Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama.

"The vetting that you all did with President Obama doesn't even come close, doesn't even come close to what you guys are trying to do in my case, and you're just going to keep going back, 'He said this 12 years ago' -- it is just garbage," Carson said. "Give me a break."

 Basically, Carson believes that anyone who tries to corroborate anything he's ever written is a liar. That's a pretty good indication that virtually anyone can now run for President and any attempt to perform a perfunctory background check on them will elicit howls of outrage.

They didn't write the lies. He did. And it's their fault for catching him. Unbelievable.


Photographed at the Linderhof Palace in Germany...

Don't Let Your Dog Make a Mess Here

This is a shot of the signage found at an old Roman fort in Southern Germany. Basically, they would prefer it if you would not allow your dog to take a dump where the Romans lived back in the day.

A reasonable request, I would imagine.

There Are No New Ideas

Basically, this is what the new Star Wars movie poster looks like. And when you make the fatal mistake of judging a film based on the movie poster, you come away with one of two possibilities--good film or meh film. It looks to me like this is going to be a rehash of all of the ideas found in the original trilogy. There are new faces and all that, but, essentially, the whole thing will boil down to a new Darth Vader and a new planet-killing "death star" weapon that everyone has to stop. At some point, it'll looks like it will be about daddy issues and a countdown to destruction.

Talk about risk averse. Nope, we're not getting anything more than a Star Wars version of the second Star Trek film--the Wrath of Cumberbatch.

Yay! They ressurected a billion dollar franchise and then just recycled old ideas in order to hoover money out of the pockets of gullible people. If someone thought that they were going to be daring and go off on wild tangents and come up with a new way to tell this story, they would be wrong. This is exactly what they did with the first and second Star Trek films--they retold a story everyone already knew.

I hope I'm wrong, of course, because ruining things is no fun. 

First Season Ratings for Fear the Walking Dead

I didn't think it was going to be this huge:

Fear the Walking Dead just had the best first season of any show in cable history.

With live-plus-three day ratings in for all six episodes, each of which also did gangbusters among live viewers, the AMC spinoff averaged 11.2 million viewers. 7.3 million of those were adults 18-49. That means that the cable network heads into the last months of 2015 with the No. 1 (Walking Dead), No. 2 (Fear the Walking Dead) and No. 3 (Better Call Saul) shows on basic cable.

AMC, which had renewed the series before its debut, is also going to give it a weekly post-show treatment upon its 2016 return. Chris Hardwick's The Talking Dead, a popular companion to the parent series, will air after every episode of Fear's second season.

I did recaps for every episode, which is something I haven't done before. I went through a lot of other recaps, looking for signs that I had gotten something wrong or had made a factual error and, no matter where I went, the reaction was always the same: boring!

Comment after comment rained down--this is a boring show, nothing is happening, blah blah blah. And that tells you one of two things--people are starved for action and they're starved for attention. 

FTWD isn't an action show. It doesn't feature mindless car chases and fight scenes (although it probably will end up having them soon). It's a drama disguised as a horror genre television show. And it's one steeped in the Humanities and elevated by the life or death aspect of the choices put in front of the characters. I guess I'm not surprised by the fact that the show has been marketed as a horror and action show rather than a drama. There's nothing procedural about it other than scratching out some way to survive. To me it's a story of humanity that operates within a framework of asking "how would you survive?"

Well, we already know that you won't survive without people and people are the reason why you probably won't survive for very long. That's the thing that keeps people coming back. They want to see who makes it and who doesn't and that wouldn't happen with flat, phony characters in a horror or action show. It wouldn't happen if there wasn't a struggle with conscience and morality over the simplest of choices.

If you look at this first season as a slow-moving drama, it works on a number of levels. You get the blended family dynamic. You get a slice of Central American history. You get inter-generational conflict. And you get a pretty good idea of where we're at as a society when it comes to treating people addicted to drugs.

Yeah, boring stuff.

These ratings reflect the need for people to connect to an alternate history of the United States. We're talking about events that happened in 2010. We're looking at the context of a global pandemic that mysteriously affects every human brain on the planet. If you succumb to a serious fever, somewhat akin to meningitis or influenza (which look very similar when identified in victims), you die and reanimate and consume human or living flesh. If you survive this, you will reanimate when you die or when you are bitten or scratched by a person who has succumbed to the reanimation process. This basic set of rules affects all of civilization in that it then causes everything to break down. Now, how do you survive?

That's not horror--that's drama. That's life. It's very powerful and the interest in this show reflects that.

Sunday night, I'll start issuing recaps for Season Six of The Walking Dead.

Moonbeam City Season One Episode 3

Now, this is more like it.

The third episode of Moonbeam City's first season dropped like a bomb last week and I am just now getting around to reviewing it. The rapid jokes, crudity, and overall incompetence of Dazzle Novak is there but so is the development of more characters and better situations.

I liked this episode more than last week's and that's primarily because the sheer nuttiness of the premise worked.

Last week, it was about babies and raves--a Nineties theme that has no business in a show that satirizes the Eighties. This episode, called "The Strike Visualizer Strikes Again" goes after a more obscure theme. 

Remember those cheesy cartoons that play on screens in bowling alleys that depict in cartoon format the success or failure of a bowler? That's the whole episode, set against the backdrop of Moonbeam City's neon trash and decay. There's a maniac on the loose and the police are powerless to stop him--a premise that this show is going to use again and again because it works.

What also works, at least for me, is referencing the superficiality of the Eighties and making something like bowling so important in the life of Dazzle Novak. The day-glo bowling alleys are superbly imagined and the trick is to make something so seriously important, no matter how ridiculous it is, so that the characters can get all bent out of shape over nothing. That's what works in this episode--they rode the bowling alley theme all the way to a massive, gory, violent payoff. 

Kate Mara's Chrysalis has more to do in this episode and Elizabeth Banks needs her own storylines. The whole show should be about Pizazz. Rob Lowe is killing it as Dazzle and Will Forte is keeping his character, Rad, in a permanent state of desperate envy. The writing is clicking and so is the show--it's working on a lot of different levels that should keep it around for a while. I'm hoping the show continues to hit a stride because it's still, visually, at least, one of the most inventive shows out there.

Reading Books in America

This is an interesting development for people who think there is still a market for the printed word, and I don't think much has changed since I first published this piece over a year ago.

In my opinion, the rise in the number of people who don't read books does not mean that people are not reading. I think it is more a case where what they read has evolved to the point where the book is an irrelevant item in their lives.

Have you ever walked into someone's house and noticed whether or not they have books? An absence of books means one of two things--either they don't read them or they have a robust E-reader or tablet and have no further use for books. They have de-cluttered their life and adopted the digital library as a way of managing their space.  I can sympathize with that--I have books that are in Rubbermaid containers precisely because there isn't room for them. Should I chuck them out or should I save them?

The E-reader market has tanked in some ways because of the flood of mediocre material (people trying to cash in) and because the devices are not profitable enough when marketed against tablets that do more than one thing. When you think back about all of the people who are holding e-reader devices (hey, that's me!), there's almost no solution that looks like an upside. How do you carry around a library full of books on a device that is rendered obsolete in mere months? How many people are going to create a fully digitized library that has to be stored in the cloud or ported around or copied and re-copied? People are more likely to do that with the music they care about. Books, like old albums or songs that are tiresome, can fall away.

And, yes, I thought of this as well. Literacy isn't an issue:

The percentage of people who are not educated but can read? Is that increasing? I have no idea. I suspect that it is.

Complex, inaccessible, and pretentious literary offerings don't actually kill off readership--they simply turn people away from writers but not the medium itself. Stephen King is widely read because he delivers; being able to deliver isn't the same as being good or bad, but there's no way King could be considered a bad writer.

I don't know if people stop reading so much as they stop trying to engage written forms of entertainment. The human need remains. What fills those needs has evolved and changed with the technology, but the technology itself went straight past simple reading into the world of multi-media entertainment options. How many people use a Kindle Paperwhite as opposed to a tablet? And which one do you think is better for you?

Moonbeam City Season One Episode 2

Historical mistakes are easy to spot, but you're usually being a dick when you point them out. Episode 2 of Moonbeam City's first season opens with a rave, and this was ruined for me when I started to think about the origins of rave parties and things like that.

Moonbeam City was definitely not the home of rave music, and the DJ decks are more 2000s than Eighties. This was something I would have expected in Manchester, England but I'm no fun and I suck. The juvenile delinquency of Moonbeam City is a subplot here but it shouldn't have been the home of a rave. We need to keep the Nineties out of the Eighties if we're going to satirize things, but that didn't stop the episode from being weird, violent, crude and very, very funny. I'm going to turn a negative into a positive and stop complaining at some point, I swear.

As in the pilot episode, the jokes are rapid-fire and moderately crude (if you can handle South Park or Archer, you can handle Moonbeam City). The plot is nonsensical, and so it dredges up the best and the worst of the Eighties all at once. 

The strength of the show is when it plays up the delusional self-importance of the characters and that's not a bad place to start as far as creating multiple story lines. That's why it's disappointing when they deviate from what was cheesy about the Eighties. 

For example, do you remember the film Buckaroo Banzai? There was so much about that film to like when it was released, but I'll bet you haven't thought about it ages (I know I haven't). What I remember was the superficiality and the insane plot that ended up being secondary to the style and the "inside joke" mentality that ran through the film. Oh, and the fact that Buckaroo Banzai was a rock musician and a neurosurgeon--exactly what the Eighties needed.

I'd like to see more of that and less of the Nineties in Moonbeam City, but I probably won't get my way. In fact, put me down as saying that Clancy Brown should do some voice work on MC--that would bring it all full circle.

Episode 2 went further in explaining Dazzle's self-evident delusions of grandeur and Rad's resentment of everything successful that comes Dazzle's way. He is hell-bent on destroying anything good in Dazzle's life, so he's just like a good Eighties villain. He has little motivation beyond envy and no hope of achieving his goals. I would like to see more of Chrysalis--being the only competent person in a show can get tiresome. 

Am I going to give up on this show? Hell, I can't figure out when it's on and finding time to put out a review is hard enough. I like everyone in it and the visual design is extremely well done. I am pulling for more Eighties satire, but, because I'm old and don't spend as much as someone fifteen years younger, I doubt the show will move in that direction. That's okay--I like what I'm seeing and I think it will get better.

Robert DeNiro is Tired of Your Nonsense

Piers Morgan is a name you probably haven't thought about in years, if at all. He's one of the many fools that Robert De Niro has avoided dealing with:

Piers Morgan has called on journalists to impose a "ban" on Robert De Niro after he walked out of a recent interview with a British journalist.

The legendary actor was promoting his latest film The Intern, a generation gap comedy in which he stars opposite Anne Hathaway, when he apparently became aggravated by Emma Brockes' questions about how he avoids slipping into autopilot during shooting and the growing number of bankers living in his New York neighbourhood.

Brockes reports in this week's issue of the Radio Times that De Niro asked her to pause her tape recorder and informed her that was halting the interview because of what he called a "negative inference" in her questions. An awkward exchange between Brockes and De Niro followed, in which the actor told the journalist on several occasions: "I'm not doing this, darling."

Sharing his views on the incident in the Daily Mail, Morgan writes that De Niro was a "bloody nightmare" when he interviewed him on CNN several years ago and criticises the actor's conduct towards journalists generally, saying: "It's as if he prides himself on being a total douchebag."

Later in the article, Morgan proposes that "it's time the world's media fought back" against De Niro's reportedly bad-tempered behaviour in interviews, suggesting: "Let's ban him. Every journalist in the world should agree, with immediate effect, never to interview him again."

If you're going to get back at someone, at least have a platform from which to do so. Morgan is circling the drain, hoping you'll pay attention to him and his grievances against celebrities. Maybe he should have hacked into De Niro's phone in order to get something on him, I don't know. 

The interview in question featured De Niro not putting up with a line of questioning that implied that he was phoning it in with his performance in a very specific kind of movie called The Intern. This is not a Scorsese film; this is a fish out of water story about transferring intergenerational wisdom and learning how to accept a massage at work. De Niro was right to walk out on the interview--it generated a lot of publicity and that's all that matters. You would think Morgan would be smart enough to know that.

Moonbeam City Season One Episode 1

Pizazz, Rad, Dazzle, Chrysalis

Pizazz, Rad, Dazzle, Chrysalis

I have to tell you that an old fart like me loves to see anything that satirizes the Eighties. Moonbeam City is a show that will never run out of plot lines if they keep making fun of the most plastic decade that ever was.

Everything about this show begins with the art of Patrick Nagel. If you click over, I have to warn you--his gallery works are not safe for work but they should be. The aesthetic of his prints forms the visual basis of MC, right down to the use of shadowy blinds whenever Pizazz Miller is dressing down Dazzle Novak. This is not a knock against Nagel--it is homage, if you want to get right down to it.

There are four main cast members. Dazzle is voiced by Rob Lowe and he does an admirable job of being clueless (think of a hyped, oversexed version of his character from Parks and Recreation). Elizabeth Banks steals the melodrama as Pizazz. Will Forte plays the nemesis as Rad and Kate Mara plays Chrysalis, the brainy girl with glasses who props everyone else up.

I think this is where we're really going to hear how far Banks is willing to go to portray crazy--she's the best thing in this show and she knows how to live in this world. They need to add three or four more regulars to this cast or really work the guest spots because there's a lot of talent and subject matter to play with here.

Episode One is full of jokes--the come in rapid fire succession and I have to go back and watch it because I know I probably missed a third of what's in this thing. Everyone seems to get it coming and going, right down to the naming of shopping malls (an Eighties thing for me was how they named the malls in Minneapolis after something-Dale) and the subject of new age musical pieces (can't wait for Music From the Hearts of Space). It's violent and there's a lot of sexual content--think Archer and then add the Eighties sensibility of everything being super serious and earnest instead of smartassed and detached.

At some point, someone has to add some INXS and some Wham! to this show or it's going to explode under the weight of a missed opportunity. 

Dazzle is a little too much like Archer in that his incompetence and irresponsibility is what makes him a good cop, the #1 Cop, as it were. That's an aspect that's been done to death but it makes for tension because his Lana is Chrysalis. Pizazz is more like his Malory Archer and Rad is a combination of everyone who ever tried to destroy him. But, really, we can look past this and find a lot to like about Moonbeam City because the design and the presentation are pretty stunning. The writing is good enough to get past comparisons and, hey. It's not the Simpsons and it's definitely not Family Guy, so there you go.

What I like is the satirization of Eighties culture. Superficiality reigns supreme--the more fake a person is, the more they are central to what's happening. If you hear anything insincere, you're watching the wrong show or misunderstanding the whole thing. The show satirizes the way cops use guns and how cars seem to exist solely for chasing other cars. The only thing missing is the cocaine--wait.

This show probably has more cocaine on it than Season 5 of Archer, and that's saying something. But, really--it's worth watching once you get past the fact that Comedy Central probably needs to send Adam Reed a few checks.

The Sweethearts of Late Night Television

In particular, in an interview with TV Insider, Leno took time to praise Seth Meyers, Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert (“a truly nice guy and decent human being”) before taking aim at Jimmy Kimmel, who has been a vicious and relentless critic of Leno over the years.

“The most [important] element you can have in doing a late night show is kindness,” Leno said. “Because the show makes you arrogant. I think that’s Jimmy Kimmel’s problem. I think he’s a talented guy, I think he’s funny. But he has a mean streak, and it comes across. He does this thing where he takes Halloween candy from kids and the kids cry. What am I missing here? It is funny I guess, but it’s mean-based. I think that’s why he’s not higher in the ratings.”

So, the most successful person in the history of late night television--Johnny Carson--was "nice?" 

Bushkin, who didn't return calls, says age didn't mellow Carson, who retired from "Tonight" in 1992. On a honeymoon cruise, his fourth wife, Alexis, made an innocent remark, prompting Carson to snap, "If you say something like that again, this marriage won't last another three weeks."

Though Carson's 20-year friendship with Bushkin ended around 1987, when Bushkin began to see Johnny's "cruel side" more often, Alex stayed married to the talk deity till his death in 2005.

You're Doing it Wrong

If this is the sum total of your criticism of a television show, you should probably try to learn to like television again:

And therein lies the rub: Colbert’s entire television career has been as a political satirist. He knows nothing else, which is why it’s no surprise four more presidential candidates will be joining The Late Show in the coming days (Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul). Outside of Biden and a possible announcement, is a political late-night program the right course? Because outside of a very select few, most politicans are packaged, tedious, boring to the masses.

As for Colbert’s standing in the late night race, I’m sticking to my original bet from back in April of 2014 (when it first announced he would replace Letterman) on where he’ll ultimately end up when everything settles in and the curiosity factor fades: Third place, just like his predecessor in the final years of his career. No magical analysis or detail really needed here: Kimmel and Fallon are simply more talented, more experienced (in playing themselves), possess more range, connect with younger viewers better and are decidedly more apolitical than the 51-year-old Colbert, who was signed by CBS more because of cost-effectiveness than anything else after Jon Stewart was deemed too expensive to sign.

Maybe things can change and improve from a rookie debut (although doing this every night is far different than having almost a year to prepare). But it’s already clear that Stephen Colbert the person isn’t very different from Stephen Colbert the character, save for the sarcasm and edginess missing. And as a result, the new late-night host for the Tiffany Network better get used to seeing not gold, not silver, but plenty of bronze when the ratings books come out after the dust settles a few months from now.

Joe Concha goes on to highlight Laura Ingraham's quote from Twitter. Now, I don't want to indict someone based on a tweet or a citation, but if this is any indication of actual criticism, you're going to be let down when you realize Ingraham is a long-time partisan hack who doesn't read and has little or no talent or ability.

Given what we've seen after the first week of Colbert, I just don't think you can say that Kimmel or Fallon are better at interviewing people or making news. This goes back to the reason why Phil Donahue ended up getting canned from television--there is no legitimate reason why he was fired, other than the fact that he was "partisan" and "the most popular show on MSNBC," which coincided with him being against the Iraq War in 2003.

If there's one prediction I'd like to make, it's this--Colbert will be attacked, endlessly, if he shows any partisan slant because it is incredibly dangerous to be popular and liberal on television unless you act goofy once in a while and present to threat to anyone in power. This is how the media handled his speech at the White House Correspondent's Dinner:

Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts write in The Washington Post's gossip column: "The reviews from the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner are in, and the consensus is that President Bush and Bush impersonator Steve Bridges stole Saturday's show -- and Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert's cutting satire fell flat because he ignored the cardinal rule of Washington humor: Make fun of yourself, not the other guy.

" 'You have to have a great deal of confidence to do self-deprecating humor, especially when you're being attacked day in and day out,' said Landon Parvin, who helped Bush and Bridges write the jokes contrasting Bush's public voice with his supposed inner thoughts."

It's not entirely clear from whom, besides Bush's own joke-writer, Argetsinger and Roberts divined what they described as the consensus view. But it's a safe bet that, at a minimum, they were speaking for The Washington Post newsroom.

Paul Bedard writes for U.S. News: "Comedy Central star Stephen Colbert's biting routine at the White House Correspondents Association dinner won a rare silent protest from Bush aides and supporters Saturday when several independently left before he finished.

" 'Colbert crossed the line,' said one top Bush aide, who rushed out of the hotel as soon as Colbert finished. Another said that the president was visibly angered by the sharp lines that kept coming.

" 'I've been there before, and I can see that he is [angry],' said a former top aide. 'He's got that look that he's ready to blow.'

That was almost ten years ago and no one's getting over it any time soon. What is now considered one of the greatest examples of speaking truth to power (never mind being right about everything) was once considered rude and ill-mannered. Colbert not only brings actual danger and excitement to everything he does, he also represents a serious threat to the continuation of a media status quo that favors ignorant centrism and glib conservatives pretending to be fair.

Yeah, no one ever said anything like that about either Jimmy ever.

A Revolution in Late Night Television

What you are witnessing is the beginning of a new era in Late Night television--an era where bullshit and sarcasm and snark are no longer the currency of the medium:

Vice President Joe Biden gave a moving interview to comedian Stephen Colbert on "The Late Show" on Thursday, expressing his uncertainty about whether he's emotionally prepared to run for president after the death of his son this past year. "I'd be lying if I said that I knew I was there," he told Colbert. "I'm being completely honest." Biden, still reeling from the death of his eldest son, told Colbert any man or woman running for president should be able "to give 110 percent of who they are," but that he wasn't sure he could make the commitment just yet.

That's the news of what happened--the part that will get reported on by the diligent stenographers of the working press in Washington D.C. What you won't hear is enough about the context of how Stephen Colbert got Vice President Joe Biden to make news today.

Colbert brought out his guest after making fun of the Republicans running for president, and he threw in a Hillary Clinton joke to make it fair. But, really, he mocked the hell out of Donald Trump once again. And once that was over, Colbert went into another segment and separated himself from the entirety of late night television as a medium. He demonstrated that not only is he there because of what he can do but how he is going to do things differently. This is nothing short of a transitional moment if not a cultural shift away from smartassery and insincerity.

Colbert made small talk for a few moments and then went right to the Beau Biden question. He stopped the comedy and he stopped the laughter in order to get Joe Biden to talk about his late son. There's no getting around it--Biden knew that they were going to get serious and there's no question of an agreement to talk at length about suffering and loss. But this is the first guest segment on a late night talk show. A show that is on its third episode. This is where you get a big laugh or throw it to a pre-recorded snippet designed to promote a movie or a show. You go for momentum and rollicking fun, right?

Nope. This is not where you talk about how the Vice President of the United States of America is dealing with the loss of his son and the continuing heartache over losing his wife and daughter in the early 1970s. The downshift may have thrown people off, but there's no getting around the fact that Biden made news and Colbert conducted a near flawless interview with someone over a serious subject. It's impossible to know how many people will be reached by this interview, and I suspect it will play a huge role in Biden's evolving story. It will signify for many the direction in which Colbert has planned to take his show.

And, what's more, there was a concerted effort to reach out to people in the audience and at home. It was an attempt to recognize loss and deal with that in a cathartic way. When's the last time you saw someone on television do something cathartic that didn't involve shooting bullets into a corpse? 

Who does this? Can you see Jimmy Kimmel or Jimmy Fallon doing this? I can't. Sorry, they are both very talented men. I think Kimmel has a great take on Johnny Carson's skepticism and I think Fallon is ten times better than Jay Leno. But Colbert is fifty times better than all of them put together and at least eight times better than David Letterman. Do the math! I can't.

I can't stress this enough--no one does this anymore. This is where Colbert bonded with the Vice President over the loss of his own father and brothers. This is where you saw that the game is about to change and where people are going to bond with Colbert and follow his show for a long time to come. He brought his audience with him, and he's going to add people right and left. It's not enough to entertain anymore--you have to reach people and show them that you're in tune with how the world works. It was a powerful interview and if you have a chance to see the whole thing, you'll see laughter and tears in one place, a rarity nowadays.

And to see such an open and frank discussion about faith--religion--on television without it being used as a weapon against gay people or against minorities is the revolution at work. I mean, you gotta watch this for yourself [no direct link yet, but this is the Colbert site] to see what I mean and you can probably explain the cultural importance of this better than I could, but, wow.

Just, wow.

The Late Show With Stephen Colbert


I will spoil a few things here for you--the Late Show With Stephen Colbert premiered tonight and it starts off strong. It's worth watching if you're thinking about looking at what's on your DVR or online. This is the debut of one of the most important cultural programs this year and I'm just as excited as anyone else. The long wait for this show was difficult, to say the least, but there was no point in putting it out there until now. The audience for this show is going to skew a lot younger than people realize, and I feel like it's going to be difficult to keep up.

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

Having said that, I will note that the cold open was nicely done. The ideas that flow out of this show are going to challenge people to keep up, and there are visual cues that will keep you from missing The Colbert Report. The first bit Colbert did hearkened back to the visual format of the old show and played to a strength he has with the language. This is important because Colbert has not abandoned the skills or abilities that got him the job in the first place.

The Ed Sullivan Theater looks amazing. The set was flipped around specifically to avoid comparisons to the Letterman version. There is an awkwardness, though, when guests appear center stage and cross in front of Colbert to get to their seat--you'll see this and it will throw you off because you have long been accustomed to an entrance from left to right.

Visually, though, this is a show that celebrates the past of the host and the power of New York City. Colbert doesn't make the "Leno mistake" of failing to acknowledge the previous host of the show he inherits. Jay Leno debuted his own show with a screaming harpy (look it up) as a producer who refused to allow him to pay tribute to Johnny Carson. This is one of the greatest gaffes in late night television history, and Colbert is too smart to do it. Think also of how Jimmy Fallon had Joan Rivers on his show--all the curses are going away with style.

Colbert gets weird, and for that you will have to ride it out. If weird humor isn't your thing, you're going to make comparisons in your sleep to Conan O'Brien. And then you're going to wake up with the fossil of an extinct species of bird hanging out of your mouth--don't say I didn't warn you.

Clooney was good, and Jeb Bush was able to speak once Colbert realized that he was really giving the guy a hard time--you could really see the fear Bush had when it was apparent that no one is ever going to forget the family name. What you'll see in the Clooney part was inspired fun; what you'll see when Colbert gives Bush the full force of his intellect will give every politician in this country pause. If you're not fast, Colbert will bury you. Consultants everywhere who have some measure of control over their candidates will not let them do Colbert, no matter what. And it was no wonder that Hillary Clinton wasn't there tonight--far too risky. She'll have to do this show and she'll have to be absolutely perfect.

Musically, John Batiste is the anti-Paul Shaffer. Here's an actual jazz musician on an American stage for what seems to be the first time in ages. He doesn't have a pop or rock sensibility--he is an entertainer with a strong musical vocabulary and a great band behind him, bringing the sound of New Orleans with them. They have him untethered and wandering the stage--a great visual to begin with as he settles in and starts to really find the music this show needs to present. 

Will it last? Will CBS support this show if there is a struggle for ratings? I can't imagine a scenario where they wouldn't, but this is the unforgiving world of late night television. Nobody phones it in anymore, and this is the beginning of a new era. Who will fall? Will they finally pull the plug on Conan? Will ABC realize that Jimmy Kimmel can't compete? Will Jimmy Fallon hold on and find a place once Colbert starts to eat into everyone's ratings?

Why am I hungry for Sabra hummus?