Monday, May 25, 2015

An Open Letter to a Newtown Conspiracy Theorist

The following is a transcription of my response to a Youtube user who vigorously took me to task for criticizing conspiracy theorist John B. Wells' claims that the Newtown massacre was a "false flag" operation calculated to justify a government plot to declare martial law and seize everybody's guns.

You are right, ***** (username redacted), people do have rights to their opinions, and the right to express them. Much as I may disagree with you, I would defend your right to express yours as well. The purpose of the first amendment was not to protect speech that I agree with, but to protect speech that I disagree with.

It's important to challenge authority, and to question those in power, regardless of whether that power is a government or a private corporation. Lord knows, history is full of examples of bad behavior by both. We are living at a time when people are more mistrustful than ever of the rich and powerful, and that's as it should be. Dissent is healthy, and at the end of the day, it's probably good to have the Alex Joneses of the world out there, railing at the powers that be, even if sometimes he's completely wrong.

I should say, by the way, that I'm willing to admit that I could be perfectly wrong. However, the preponderance of empirical evidence suggests otherwise.

When it comes to controversial claims of unusual behavior or phenomena, I'm not on one "side" or the other. I'm only interested in the truth. There's an old saying in the skeptic community that says "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof." That's a good rule of thumb for anyone.

If you tell me there's an ant crawling up the outside wall, I will probably believe you without requiring much in the way of proof. Why? Because it's not an extraordinary claim. Ants climb up walls all the time. It's a very common occurrence that I've seen with my own eyes. Moreover, you have nothing to gain by telling me about it. So I'm likely to believe you. And there's also not a lot at stake. An ant crawling up the wall is not going to affect the structural integrity of the house, so even if I don't believe you, the consequences will be minimal.

On the other hand, if you tell me there's a widening crack snaking up the outside wall, I will immediately check it out. Why? Because it's an extraordinary claim, with potentially extraordinary consequences. Based on what I know about walls and cracks (and what causes them), the cost of ignoring your warning could be catastrophic.  The house might be on the verge of collapsing. There's a lot at stake. Lives and property, etc.

In any case, it's easy enough to verify. I'll simply go outside and and look at the wall. If I see a widening crack, I'll immediately evacuate the house and call 911. If there is no crack, I'll assume that you were hallucinating or playing a prank on me.

The point is, before evacuating the house and calling 911, I want to see the crack for myself, to verify what you're saying is true. I'm not going to call Aunt Joan in Chattanooga and ask her if she thinks there's a crack in my wall, or even neighbor Bob down the street. I'll want to see it for myself. And if you knock on the door of any house in America and tell the homeowner there's a crack moving up their wall, he or she will do exactly the same thing. They will want to see it for themselves, to verify that it's true. Why? Because extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. This is the essence of skepticism and critical thinking: verification.

Suppose there's a guy in Indiana who claims to be a master engineer. You've never met him, and as far as you know, he's never even been in your state. But a lot of your friends say that he's really brilliant. And one day, he sends you an email saying that your house is about to collapse into a sinkhole. He includes impressive drawings, and graphics, and animations, along with links to videos and articles by other "sinkhole experts" just like him, about the history of sinkhole activity in your area, with a dire warning that your house is sitting directly on top of a giant sinkhole that's about to collapse. He ends the email with a urgent plea to immediately sign over your house to him or one of his colleagues, so that they can do what needs to be done to prevent the disaster.

I'm only guessing here, but I suspect that no matter how convincing his argument (or the arguments of his various "colleagues"), the last thing you'll probably do is sign your house over to him. Why? Because it is an extraordinary claim, and therefore requires extraordinary proof. Before signing over your house, you're going to investigate the claim. You'll go on the Internet to learn everything you can about sinkholes. You'll contact your state geologist, or local engineers, who have the skill, knowledge, experience and equipment to determine with a reasonable degree of certainty whether there really is a giant sinkhole under your house. But what you won't do is accept the Indiana "engineer's" word as gospel. On the contrary, you'll do everything within your power to find out the truth, one way or another. Terrified as you may be of sinkholes, the last thing you're likely to do is to sign your house over to some guy in another state, sight unseen, simply because he made a frightening and persuasive argument.

Let's say the family next door goes missing, and your neighbor Cecil claims they were abducted by aliens, while the police say that it looks like a home invasion and kidnapping. Knowing that lives are at stake, which line of inquiry should the police pursue: alien abduction or criminal kidnapping?

I'm not saying that aliens couldn't exist, or that if they did, they couldn't kidnap people. But in my entire life, neither I nor anyone I know has ever seen an alien, nor has a single alien abduction ever been reported by a credible agency. On the other hand, home invasions happen all the time. Experience tells us that the missing family was mostly likely kidnapped by terrestrial criminals, not alien interlopers.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.

Question everything, regardless of whether it comes from the Pentagon or John B. Wells. And especially John B. Wells. Challenge his sources. Contact people in Newtown. But don't accept someone else's claims just because they sound good, or happen to reinforce your mistrust of officialdom. Get rid of the confirmation bias and check it out for yourself, objectively and with an open mind. If you're really, honestly seeking the truth, you will find it. And it may surprise you.

Finally, let's suppose, just for the sake of argument, that you're absolutely right about the parents of Newtown. Let's say they're making great piles of cash from speaking engagements, and book deals, etc. And let's further assume that, instead of funneling that money into their efforts to stop gun violence against kids (which they're actually doing), they're putting that money into their bank accounts. To that I would say, "so what?" Jesus said, "Judge not, lest ye be judged," and "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."

I've never lost a child to gun violence, but I can imagine that it must be devastating. So I'm not going to try and read the hearts and minds of the parents of Newtown, and I'm certainly not going to sit in judgment of them, or what they do with their money. If we condemn the parents of Newtown for exploiting the Sandy Hook shootings in order to stop gun violence, we must also condemn the NRA--the most powerful corporate lobby in America--for exploiting those very same deaths in order to raise money and boost gun sales. Trust me, the NRA has made far more money from the Sandy Hook shootings than those poor parents ever did.

If you're really looking for a worthwhile cause to champion, get involved with the effort to to stop Congress from renewing the Patriot Act, or the urgent struggle going on right now to stop President Obama's Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, which he's trying to "fast track" through the Congress as fast as he can.

These are far more noble and worthwhile pursuits than attacking the parents of a bunch of dead kids...

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


Presidential candidate Senator Lindsey "I will drone you" Graham has given a slobbery wet kiss of approval to another giant legislative "screw you" to U.S. servicemen and women. It's not the first time, and I doubt it will be the last under the South Carolina Republican's tenure on the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee.

As reported by Brendan McGarry in, the SASC's nine-member Subcommitte on Personnel, which Graham chairs, recently approved a disastrous plan to privatize military pensions while gutting a modest pay increase for active duty personnel--a plan that had already received almost unanimous bipartisan support in the House of Representatives.

What a shock--not! Once again, the Senate Armed Services Committee gives a giant hosing to the people they're supposed to be  looking out for. This has become such a common occurrence, I'm beginning to wonder whether they're secretly on Alex Jones's payroll.

Not long ago, Graham and his Republican cronies killed the $1 billion Veterans Job Corps Act, which would have helped returning vets retrain for civilian employment. (Veterans currently have the highest rate of unemployment and suicide of any demographic in the U.S.) Instead, they chose to give that $1 billion to BAE and General Dynamics to develop the useless, doomed GCV (Ground Combat Vehicle) program, which the Army eventually got sick of and cancelled due to budget overruns and technical failures. (Why waste $1 billion helping returning vets find jobs when we can use that money to enrich defense contractors with projects that never even make it off the ground?)

Now, the SASC is offering what amounts to a slap in the face by suggesting a measly 1.3% pay raise (I use "pay raise" in its loosest possible sense)--a downgrade from the slightly more reasonable 2.3% already approved by the House--which they justify by saying their "hands are tied" due to things like budget cuts and sequestration. Blah, blah, blah.

I've often wondered how they can walk, with balls that big. When I was married as a young submariner, the first thing my chief told me was how to apply for foodstamps and WIC, because it was impossible to support a family on what I was making at that time, even with sub pay and hazardous duty pay. That was 20 years ago. Nothing has changed. Much as the bureaucrats in Washington love to spend billions on defense contracts, and much as they like to send us in harm's way, they're still notorious cheapskates when it comes to pay.

According to the Pentagon and the SASC, the lower 1.3% pay raise will save taxpayers $4 billion over the next five years compared with the 2.3% pay raise. They say this with a perfectly straight face and a furrowed brow, as if we're supposed to take them seriously after they spent $9 billion on the Navy's fleet of lightly-armed puddle skippers called "littoral combat ships" that look cool, but are essentially useless in a heavy engagement.

Perhaps they need that extra $4 billion to help defray the cost of the F-35, which is still lethally unreliable, and which is expected to exceed $300 billion, or over half of the entire national defense budget. Or the $22 billion we spent on the killer goose--sorry, V-22 Osprey--which also killed 30 perfectly good marine pilots. (31 if you count the marine who was just killed in Hawaii.)

I love military hardware as much as the next guy, but it's immoral and unconscionable to spend billions on bloated, sketchy (translate: failed) defense projects while nickel and diming our people to death.

As if that isn't enough, Graham and his bureaucrats are deep-sixing the old government-guaranteed retirement and insurance plans in favor of privatized programs, like 401Ks. Not that there's anything wrong with that if you're a Wall Street hedge fund manager, but our men and women in uniform deserve better; if the economy craps itself again the way it did in 2008--or worse--our veterans will be screwed.

Not that that's anything new...

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

eSkeptic: "Why is Critical Thinking so Hard to Teach?"

Christopher Hitchens
There's an interesting article by Kevin Mccaffree & Anondah Saide in this month's eSkeptic, called Why is Critical Thinking so Hard to Teach?, which vindicates my long-held dismay over the observation that a belief in some sort of mumbo-jumbo is hardly confined to the superstitious primitive, and that even ostensibly highly intelligent people are sometimes capable of believing the most preposterous nonsense, and often stubbornly so. Between 67 and 73 percent of adults in the U.S. still subscribe to at least one paranormal belief (UFOs, bigfoot, ghosts, Satan, talking snakes, God, etc.)

According to sociologist Erich Goode, author of The Paranormal: Who Believes, Why They Believe, and Why It Matters, contrary to conventional wisdom, one's educational level doesn't preclude a belief in demonstrably false "supra-empirical ideas," but rather appears to moderate it. College educated people are likelier to believe in psychic healing and déjà vu, for example, while those with only a high school education are likelier to believe in astrology and traditional religion. It seems that educated people still believe in nonsense, they just believe in different sorts of nonsense. Mccaffree & Saide's article suggests that our resistance to critical thinking has far less to do with willful stupidity than a desire for social acceptance. (you can read the article here)

The good news is that Americans appear to be gradually abandoning the old religious superstitions that have been handed down to us from what Christopher Hitchens called the "bawling infancy" of humanity. According to a Harris survey, the number of adults in the U.S. who professed to believe in God dropped from 82 to 74 percent between 2009 to 2013. It's a start.

Monday, July 28, 2014

"Black Jesus" Looks Righteously, Wickedly Funny

As if in response to Megyn Kelly's smugly nonsensical reaction to the very idea of a black Santa Claus ("For all you kids at home, he just is white"), Aaron McGruder, subversive genius behind The Boondocks, ups the ante with an irreverent new comedy called Black Jesus, premiering Thursday, Aug. 7 at 11/10C on Adult Swim. The new show stars Gerald "Slink" Johnson (Grand Theft Auto V) as an African-American Jesus--or at least somebody who thinks he's Jesus--who strolls into modern-day Compton in sandals and robes to spread his gospel of love and compassion. It is, as the tagline says, "the most anticipated comeback in history," albeit one that is robustly infused with hilariously inappropriate ghetto profanity, much of it courtesy of "Jesus" himself.

McGruder's outrageous new show promises to be the most devastatingly funny religious satire since Monty Python's The Life of Brian. As far as Megyn Kelly and Fox News are concerned, Black Jesus will likely amount to a virtual carpet bombing in the secular media's relentless war on Christmas; one can only hope that Bill O'Reilly remembers to take his blood pressure medication before seeing the trailer. Or not, depending on how one feels about Mr. O'Reilly.

There is a scene in the trailer where one of the new "apostles" complains to Black Jesus, "You smoked all the motherf---in' weed!", to which Jesus replies, "You do know I died for your motherf---in' sins, right?" To which another of Jesus's homeboys replies, "That shit's getting old! That was two thousand fourteen years ago!"

In another hilarious moment, an older follower becomes disgruntled when Jesus refuses to tell him the winning lottery numbers: "He is Jesus Christ, God's only begotten son, sent down here to save our mortal souls from eternal damnation. But you know what? That negro ain't done shit for me!"

"...McGruder's outrageous new show promises to
be the most devastatingly funny religious satire
since Monty Python's The Life of Brian."

It is that level of outrageousness--some would say blasphemy--that has sparked a volcanic reaction from conservatives, who are now giving Black Jesus the kind of international publicity it could never otherwise afford, by calling for a massive boycott of the show before it has even aired. Based on the ugly tenor of some of the more racist Youtube comments--which I won't dignify by repeating--the white Christian right seems to be more furious over the fact that Jesus is black than whether he uses the word "motherfucker." I only pray that Adult Swim and its parent company, Sony Pictures Television, will have the nuts to stand up to the ideologues when they launch their inevitable campaign to stop the rest of us from exercising our constitutional right to watch the show. (Funny, how conservative "freedoms" usually demand restrictions on the freedoms of others: the Orwellian irony is inescapable.)  

Aaron McGruder was not involved with the latest season of The Boondocks due to irreconcilable differences with Sony. I suspect it was difficult to have a large corporation like Sony calling the shots for a show that McGruder had created. Nevertheless, Black Jesus is already attracting massive attention, and if the show is as funny as it looks, it's a safe bet that McGruder will have the last laugh.

Personally? I can't wait. 


"'Boondocks' Creator Brings 'Black Jesus' to Adult Swim," Lesley Goldberg, The Hollywood Reporter 
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"Black Jesus" episodes at Adult Swim
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"Black Jesus" Facebook Page
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Aaron McGruder's Twitter Account
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Adult Swim
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The Boondocks
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Thursday, June 12, 2014


South Florida has one of the highest densities of exotic animals in the country, with hundreds of zoos, breeders, and private collectors licensed to own everything from baboons and tigers to cobras and crocodiles. Most of these animals are safely contained and pose no threat to the public. But sometimes they escape.

When Hurricane Andrew slammed into Dade County in 1992, nearly 16,000 non-indigenous animals were released into the wilds of South Florida. Of these, 3,000 were never seen again.

Bonecrusher is a screenplay in progress about a wildlife officer whose love for the outdoors is tested when an escaped Saltwater crocodile--the world's largest living reptile, and a notorious maneater--stakes out the waters around a sleepy Florida tourist town and begins hunting humans.

Naturally, carnage ensues.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Telefone - Walter Wanderley Trio

The iconic "Telefone" song, with a high energy arrangement by the legendary Walter Wanderley Trio...

The Bossa Nova Genius of Sylvia Telles

Probably nobody did more in the 1950s and 60s to popularize samba and bossa nova music than the Brazilian singer Sylvia Telles, who was already a star on the Latin American music scene, and was on the verge of international stardom when she was tragically killed in a car accident at the age of 32, after recording her fifth album. Though many people aren't familiar with her name, she was a brilliant singer and performer who had an enormous influence on other Latin American singers, such as Astrud Gilberto.

The legendary singer/musician/songwriter Antonio Carlos Jobim wrote one of his most famous songs, "Dindi" specifically for Sylvia, because that was her nickname in Portuguese. (The word is pronounced "Jin-Jee.") The song has been recorded many times over the years, however the best version is still the plaintive and heartfelt version that Sylvia herself recorded before she was killed.

Above is a very rare film clip of a live 1967 concert with Slyvia singing two iconic Samba songs, "Samba Torto" and "One Note Samba," accompanied by Rosinha de Valenca, who was considered one of the greatest acoustic guitarists in Brazilian music.

Below is Sylvia singing "Dindi," the song that was written specifically for her by Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Guitarist Rosinha de Valenca went on to record with such music heavyweights as Sergio Mendes, Stan Getz, Sarah Vaughan, and Henry Mancini, making records well into the late 1970s. She eventually had to stop performing due to health problems, and in 1992 suffered a major heart attack that left her severely brain damaged. She lived for 12 more years in a vegetative state, finally dying of respiratory failure in 2004.

Here's to Sylvia Telles and Rosinha de Valenca, two of the amazing women of music who've made our world a better place for having been a part of it.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Charlie Bronson is still fighting


A Letter From Charlie Bronson to his Supporters on
the Occasion of His Latest Parole Denial, 5 May 2013
Charlie Bronson
Well, that's it, parole over for another two years. All that's expected. It's a complete farce. A joke. Another 2 years, for what? Behaving myself! Doing a Violence Reduction Programme. But where's it all got me? That was 7 months ago, I passed the course. All this system does is drag up the past. They never let it lie. It's no big deal to me, I actually expect it. I actually expect it--and always will. Now it's all systems go for this 3rd appeal. It's time to get real and face reality. I either walk out of court a free man or it's really over for me. That's how it is. They won't free me on parole until I am on a walker. They can let out sex killers and tag Islamic terrorists but they refuse to let me have a chance. So it's time to wake up and for my supporters to get their voices heard for me, please. We need to expose this evil Penal System for not allowing me a chance.

Bear in mind I have not committed a serious offence since 2000. I am now 11 years over my tariff. I am now being unlawfully detained, with no access to progression or courses--THAT is illegal, as was recently ruled by the Court of Human Rights. IPP prisoners must be allowed access to courses to progress. I am being denied this.

   "They can let out sex killers and tag
Islamic terrorists but they refuse
to let me have a chance."
 - Charlie Bronson

The fact is my life, my world, has been cages and boxes for years and years and years, and the truth is that they would like me to be forgotten and die an old man to make an example of me. I am shortly due a move back to Woodhilll. Obviously, I am excited at being moved out of this concrete coffin, but it is a move that is badly planned, and I believe it's being done in the hope that I will kick off. Woodhill to me has a bad history. I've taken a hostage there, attacked the No. 1 governor, taken over the wing and even had a rumble with an Alsatian. I've had so much trouble there, and it's where they will be sending me back to progress! Have I not earned better than that? But sadly, that's how it worked, test after test, hurdle after hurdle, stitch-up after stitch-up. It pisses me off. Even the screws here say it's a crazy move and the governor here agrees it's a silly move. It's as if they want me to fuck up. It's like sending me back to Broadmoor and expecting me to forget the treatment they gave me there. How do you forget torture? It's ok for the authorities to keep going on about the past, but as soon as I do it, I'm bitter and hateful.

We all have a past, and this system's past is full of shame and brutality. They've actually destroyed men, with violence, with drug control and decades of solitary with psychological games. Don't forget, I am going back decades to an era when young offenders hung themselves to escape the bullying from screws, in places like Armley and Risley and Wandsworth. I was there and I saw it for myself. The despair, the misery, the fear. And the ones they couln't bully and intimidate, they would send to Broadmoor for a dosh of the liquid cosh. I've got a horrible past, a tortured memory. How do I forget when these clowns at prison Headquarters won't allow me? I'm serving a life sentence...for what?

I see the news every single day. Kids getting hurt and killed and chopped up. Look at the Woolwich incident...a soldier getting his head cut off by two Muslim nutters. The world's gone nuts, and it's Charlie in a coffin who's considered too dangerous to walk our streets! It seems to me that the worse your crime is today, and particularly if you're a foreigner or a Muslim, this government are too scared to come down hard on them. So how am I considered so dangerous they are allowed to suck my life away? Why can't I be tagged and allowed a chance? My days of violence and crime ended well over a decade ago. I could make a good living out of my art. I would be one of the first to help the youth of today from turning to a life of crime. How can I be so bad that I cannot be let out? What am I going to do that's so bad? Eat your kids? Or chop up your granny for a curry? This government is letting killers out every day. Some have served HALF my time. Some kill again. They're letting out pedophiles, rapists and terrorists, they are out there living amongst you good people.

It is time to really have your say, NOW. Because after my appeal, it will be too late if I lose. Now is the time to get the petition to 10,000 signatures so it can go to Downing Street and the Ministry of Justice. And get writing letters of protest to the Home Secretary. It's time the British public know what's going on with my case. You are all being put at risk with the real scum hitting the streets, living alongside you. There's no logic to keeping me in, it's just pure evil vindictiveness. To make an example of me.

I can't win any longer. They will do everything in their power to fuck me up. I know this. Only through the Appeal Court can I get real justice (the only reason I am moving from Wakefield is because they can no longer legally justify holding me here without progression). They'd love me to kick off at Woodhill and come back so they can say 'we told you so!'

Well, it's not gonna happen. I've come too far to fall into their trap. I also owe it to my partner Lorraine, my family and my fantastic supporters to keep up my good behaviour.

I personally do predict a victory this time around. Third time lucky? Well, my legal team are ready so it's on, it will be a good fight. To lose, well, it would then go to the House of Lords, and then on to the European Court of Human Rights. The Bronson fight will never go away. But sadly, it can and will take years. Probably another decade. Sure, I can survive it, but where's the justification for this? Where's my human rights? I've never had any.

I keep reading about victims with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Well, an independent psychologist has just assessed that I was suffering from it when I took the art teacher hostage, as well as a paranoid personality disorder. But I'm still caged up. There's no justice for a man like me, not yet...but hopefully it's coming. And when it does, I hope the media will give me as much coverage and headlines as they have covering my past. THIS needs exposing, and it's not about compensation. I don't want a penny from these hypocrites, I just want my life back. That's all I want. And to prove to people that I AM a changed man. I have earned my freedom. I should never have gotten a life sentence.

Anyway, a massive thanks and my deepest respects to all of you who still believe in me. It means a lot. With your support we can win the appeal and change things around. Just ask yourself one question...why won't they tag me and give me a chance? There's a lot worse than I EVER was in your community on a tag, on parole, on home leave. It's time to crack this case open, because it's just one big piss-take.

20th May 2013

P.S. - It's Charles BRONSON, not Charles Manson!


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Santa Claus is a Black Man

The spectacle of Megyn Kelly, with her staccato machine-gun delivery--she always seems to be channeling Jane Curtin's 'Saturday Night Live' impression of Tom Snyder's mom--publicly arguing the ethnicity of a pair of mythic characters the likes of Santa Claus and Jesus was a little like listening to a butthurt 10 year-old explaining how Jar Jar Binks ruined Star Wars, or a pair of Comic Con attendees arguing over who has the best super powers, Superman or Thor. (Or, in this case, the mighty Son-o'-God.)

If, by "white," Kelly meant Palestinian Jew and Turkish Greek, she would be correct regarding the original Jesus and Santa's respective ethnicities, however I expect her image of Santa Claus was more of the Coca-Cola variety, and that there's probably far more of Ted Neely than Semite in her fantasy image of Jesus.

Had Kelly's comments been tongue-in-cheek she'd have won points for cleverness, however there wasn't an atom of subtlety or irony about them. Which should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Fox News, where the closest approximation of irony are those bizarre moments when Bill O'Reilly pretends to be reasonable. The aggressive witlessness of Kelly's nonsensical jeremiad about Jesus and Santa being white because it "just is," typifies both the network she works for and Kelly's tenure as the most obnoxious of all the obnoxious, sexed-up, big-boobed women at Fox News, next to Gretchen Carlson--and that's up against some pretty stiff competition.

Below is a 1973 Christmas song just for Megyn Kelly, called Santa Claus is a Black Man, from music producer Teddy Vann, sung by his daughter Akim:

Monday, November 11, 2013

Jacqi Bowe Encore Performance Nov. 13 at Flappers

The vivacious, perpetually busy Jacqi Bowe is gearing up for an encore presentation of her hilarious one-woman show November 13th at Flappers Comedy Club in Burbank. As with her previous shows in Burbank, North Hollywood and Culver City, Jacqi will be sharing the stage with at least five other distinct personalities--all played by herself, of course. (Hence the show's title, Not Quite Herself.) Among them will be: a French chanteuse named Collette; a lovably daft retiree named Ida; a wannabe country singer named Dixie Lee; and an irreverent nun with some very unusual ideas about religion. A sort of Irish Whoopi Goldberg, Jacqi slips seamlessly between accents and personas--all part of her signature brand of character-driven social satire. The curtain will go up on Wednesday, Nov. 13 at 7:30 PM in the Yoo Hoo Room at Flappers Comedy Club in Burbank. Tickets are $10 at the door.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Hot Coffee: The Case of Stella Liebeck

Stella Liebeck
For the last few years of her life, Stella Liebeck, who died in 2004 at the age of 91, was the target of constant jokes and detractions in the popular media due to her notoriety as the little old lady who sued McDonald's for "millions" after spilling a cup of hot coffee in her lap. Over the years, every wiseass with a mouth, from Rush Limbaugh to Jay Leno, to Craig Ferguson, attempted to portray her as stupid, clumsy, evil, selfish, and lazy, or all of the above. That an Albuquerque jury initially awarded $2.9 million dollars in punitive damages provoked a frenzy of indignation from those who held the case up as an example of everything that was wrong with the legal system, a perfect example of what happens when a "bleeding heart jury" meets a "frivolous lawsuit."

A Colorado "humorist" named Randy Cassingham even created an award named after Liebeck, called "The Stella Awards," which he routinely awards to the most "outrageous and frivolous lawsuits."

Never mind that the final award levied against McDonald's was actually far less than reported---between $500,000 and $640,000--or that certain material facts of the case were very different from what we had been told. Unfortunately, we never got the whole story from the media. From sources who should have known better--such as George Will, and ABC News--we even got lies and untruths.

One of the bitterest ironies of the case is that, for legal reasons, Stella Liebeck was prohibited from telling her side of the story, leaving an irresponsible media to weave an alternate narrative that exploited a gullible public for the sake of easy publicity and a cheap laugh. It's a case that perfectly illustrates not so much what's wrong with our legal system, but what's wrong with our corporate commercial media and the terrible power of lies.  


Photos of Stella Liebeck's injuries (WARNING: Graphic images)

Hot Coffee (HBO Documentary)

Monday, October 21, 2013

All in the Family

Norman Lear's classic sitcom reimagined with Rush Limbaugh as "Archie," Ted Cruz as "Edith," Paul Ryan as "Meathead," and Sarah Palin as "Gloria."

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Unholy Three

Left to right: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Edmond Hawkins: Fixing Breaking Bad

Edmond Hawkins (
Edmond Hawkins is a filmmaker and visual effects artist who, when he isn't engineering eye-popping animations and graphics for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and Saturday Night Live, uses his considerable skills to create whimsical claymation fantasies. He's also the pranksterish mastermind behind a series of clever Youtube videos called Fixing Breaking Bad, in which collaborator Joe Bonacci plays an obsessive Breaking Bad effects artist named "Joe Hawkins," who wants the world to know how great the show could've been if Vince Gilligan hadn't nixed most of his ideas.

"Unfortunately, Vince and I didn't agree on my improvements for the show," says Joe, in a perfect deadpan. "Fixing Breaking Bad is showing you guys how much better the show could be when everyone else just gets out of my way."

Magnificent obsession: Joe Bonacci as "Joe Hawkins"

Dean Norris (AMC)

To prove his point, the obsessive Joe presents a series of videos illustrating what the show might've looked like had he been allowed freer reign with his digital effects. The results are unanimously hilarious.  In one clip, Joe expresses his frustration at the lack of dialogue during key reveals, such as when Hank learns the truth about Walter while using the toilet.

"Hank exits the bathroom with this look on his face, and I'm like, what is going through his head? We have nothing to work off of. Is he looking for his keys? Did he clog the toilet? If I work on the show and I don't know what he's thinking, there's no way the audience is going to know..."

Joe's not-so-subtle solution? To telegraph Hank's epiphany by having lights inexplicably blaze to life in the room behind him--a technique that he uses to great profusion in other scenes as well. (In another clip, a giant lightbulb literally flares to life above Aaron Paul's head.)

In one of the funniest segments, (Fixing Breaking Bad 5), Joe uses his peculiar brand of digital magic to show several possible reasons why so few people are injured during a spectacular shootout, one of which involves an improbable vision impairment, another of which implies that Walter White (Bryan Cranston) may actually be Magneto from The X-Men. (The video of Walt levitating in his Magneto helmet is deliriously funny.)

To date, Hawkins has created six episodes of Fixing Breaking Bad, each one funnier than the last. There are also two other stand-alone spoofs, Walter White is Doing Just Fine, in which Hawkins seamlessly blends a moment from Breaking Bad with Malcolm in the Middle; and Walt Tries the Neighbor Trick Again, a twisted spoof of the scene in which Walt asks his neighbor, Becky, to check on the house. Only this time, things end a little differently.

One thing that makes Fixing Breaking Bad so good are the brilliant digital effects, which Hawkins created with the assistance of a team of digital artists: Immanuel Morales, Hugo Marmugi, David Eber, Randy Krueger, Matt Gaston, and Chris Scales. The other thing is Bonacci, who plays the fictional Joe Hawkins with the kind of delusional certitude that could only have come from having dealt firsthand with a few real-life crackpots.

I don't want to spoil the fun by saying too much. Just go watch the videos. They're funny as hell. (And if you haven't yet seen season five of Breaking Bad, be forewarned: there may be spoilers!)




Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Dukes of Heisenberg

Breaking Bad: Hazzard County?
According to the Multiverse theory, there are an infinite number of parallel universes, containing every possible permutation of what is and what could be. In one of these worlds, the dinosaurs didn't go extinct. In another, Hitler became a painter. And in yet another, people are clicking over to AMC every Sunday night for a weekly fix of their favorite comedy, The Dukes of Heisenberg.

Ah, the eighties! It was a great time for redneck buffoonery, the most popular exponent of which was the The Dukes of Hazzard, which ran from 1979-1985 on CBS. Now, a clever Youtuber named Citizen Schwartz has decided to show us what Breaking Bad might've looked like had Walt and Jesse been the protagonists of a 1980s action/comedy. The result is a perfectly authentic "title sequence" that imbues television's most intense dramatic series with the joyful witlessness of a Smokey and the Bandit movie. I don't know who "Citizen Schwartz" is, but I hope we'll be hearing more from him. This is hilarious.

Monday, September 30, 2013

14 Best "Breaking Bad" Parodies

The blazing comet that was Breaking Bad has finally passed out of our orbit. The dreaded final episode has come and gone, and we have survived. For some, the show's ending was akin to the death of a loved one. It was certainly wrenching for the actors, as evidenced in this video of the great Jonathan Banks's final day on the set.

It may seem silly to get emotional over a TV show, but Breaking Bad was special. It achieved a rare level of greatness that made us forget we were watching a TV show. It was to television what Conrad was to literature, and what Chinatown was to cinema: a dark gem of elliptical brilliance, stunning and unforgettable.

 "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened."
- Vince Gilligan, quoting Dr. Seuss

In keeping with the tradition of an Irish wake, often celebrated with laughter as much as tears, I offer the following collection of the 14 best Breaking Bad parodies on the Interwebs. That few shows have been so frequently or lovingly lampooned is a measure of its impact on our popular culture, and of the size of the hole it will leave in our hearts.


The Sitcom that ought to be: Huell's Rules (Image: Funny or Die)

One of the great things about Breaking Bad is that it doesn't have a single superfluous or disposable character. Each character serves a vital emotional or structural function in Vince Gilligan's diabolical coiled-rattler scripts, and they are all so authentically written and acted, we feel as if we know them. One of the most memorably amusing characters is the laconic, unflappable Huell Babineaux (Lavell Crawford), hulking bodyguard to the series' affable, morally bankrupt comic relief, attorney Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk). Huell's Rules is a faux teaser for a non-existent sitcom that appears to take place entirely within the safe house where Huell has been permanently ensconced for his own protection by DEA agents Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) and Steven Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada). In this short, blazingly brilliant spoof, Crawford--a former standup comedian--reprises his role as the hapless Huell to hilarious comic effect. This is my favorite of all the Breaking Bad parodies not only because it's the funniest, but because it could actually work as a real sitcom! If Crawford doesn't get his own comedy series after this, there is no God.

If it's a popular movie or TV show, The Simpsons have probably lampooned it. From Cape Fear to Breaking Bad, few exponents of American popular culture have escaped an affectionate ribbing by way of America's most surreally dysfunctional family. The above couch gag, from The Simpsons episode "What Animated Women Want," spoofs a montage from episode 8 of the 5th season of Breaking Bad, "Gliding Over All," in which ex-chemistry teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and his former student, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), cook up a batch of their legendary 99% pure blue crystal meth to the song Crystal Blue Persuasion by Tommy James and the Shondells. Only here, the "blue" refers to Marge's blue cupcakes!

Sacha Proctor is a criminally brilliant editor and filmmaker who has worked the lunatic treason of turning the world's darkest and most intense television series into a goofy 90s sitcom. From the cheery, oversaturated color to the surgically-precise laughtrack, Proctor has created a subversive comedy masterpiece. AMC should include all nine episodes of this with its Special Edition boxed set.

Edmond Hawkins is a filmmaker and digital artist who, when he isn't engineering eye-popping animations and graphics for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and Saturday Night Live, creates whimsical claymation fantasies and does impossibly clever spoofs. His Youtube series, Fixing Breaking Bad, isn't technically a parody of the show, but it is brilliant. The series stars co-writer Joe Bonacci as "Joe Hawkins," a frustrated Breaking Bad digital effects artist who is convinced that the show would be much better if everyone would just get out of his way. To this end, he demonstrates how certain scenes would've looked had he been allowed to work his special brand of magic. The crackpot results are unanimously hilarious. To date, Hawkins and Bonacci have created six episodes of Fixing Breaking Bad, each one funnier than the last. 

The ingenious Edmond Hawkins (Fixing Breaking Bad) clearly loves the iconic AMC series, otherwise he wouldn't expend so much of his considerable skill creating perfect parodies such as Walter White is Doing Just Fine. This short spoof makes delirious sport of a scene from season 5, episode 15, "Granite State," in which our favorite sleazy lawyer, Saul Goodman, inquires about Walter White's state of mind. What follows is a moment of sublime comic genius, thanks to a smidgeon of clever post work.

Ah, the eighties! On television, it was a great time for redneck buffoonery, the most popular exponent of which was the CBS action/comedy, The Dukes of Hazzard (1979-1985). A clever Youtuber named Citizen Schwartz decided to show us how differently Breaking Bad might've turned out had it been created as a comic spinoff of that show. The result is a brilliantly authentic "title sequence" that imbues television's most intense dramatic series with the joyful witlessness of a Smokey and the Bandit movie.

I like Conan O'Brien. When TBS offered him his current show, he initially turned it down because it would mean bumping George Lopez to a later time slot, and he didn't want to do to Lopez what NBC had previously done to him. Conan only took the gig after a personal intervention by Lopez himself on behalf of the network. So yeah, Conan's a standup guy. He's also very funny. The only problem with Conan is that his bigger-than-life stage presence and merciless, self-imposed geekiness sometimes obscures the fact that he's one of the best comedy writers in the business. A perfect example is the hilarious video spot he recently ran during a special "Breaking Bad" episode of Conan. It's a fake commercial for a new fitness system called the Barrelflex, because "rolling a heavy barrel through the hot New Mexico desert is the fastest way to achieve a sculpted, sexy look!"

We can thank Youtuber Jim Muntisov for this devilishly funny spoof of Breaking Bad episode "Confessions" (season 5, episode 11), in which the true brilliance of Walt's dark genius is revealed in a stunning "confession" video that has the effect of a tactical carpet-bombing. (If you've seen the episode, you'll know what I mean.) In Muntisov's version, Walt seems to have given Hank and Marie the wrong disc, which explains their benumbed expressions in the video above. Painfully funny.

The ingenious Edmond Hawkins is at it again, this time creating a droll, Seinfeld-esque opening with the "green bean" dinner scene from "Buyout" (season 5, episode 6). The laugh track and the goofy musical cues amplify Skyler's utter contempt--and Jesse's excruciating awkwardness--in what is arguably the funniest scene in Breaking Bad.

Another startling, painfully funny spoof from the twisted mind of Edmond Hawkins. Remember season 4, episode 13 ("Face Off"), when the ever-wary Walter, worried that Gus's goons might be lying in wait for him, calls his innocent neighbor, Becky, and asks her to check the stove? This scene is very similar, though the outcome is slightly different.

Jimmy Fallon's epic 13-minute homage to Breaking Bad features cameo appearances by several of the original cast members...

There is a moment near the end of "Hazard Pay" (season 5, episode 3) where Sklyer White (Anna Gunn) finally blows a gasket at her nagging, nattering sister, Marie (Betsy Brandt), and repeatedly screams for her to "SHUT UP!" It is a cathartic moment for both Skyler and the audience, and has become famous enough that fans have begun using the "Skyler scream" as a ringtone. A Youtuber named "nunobits" has taken the phenomenon to the next level of cult fandom by creating a three-hour video of Skyler's rant set to a dance remix of "Blue Monday," by the 80s British group New Order. Looks like Skyler White's "SHUT UP!" has become an iconic element of a post-Breaking Bad world. The video above has an almost hypnotic effect; the shocked expression on Marie's face seems to get funnier with each repetition.

Female improv group The Katydids have created a hilarious video in which they play a group of suburban housewives having a "Breaking Bad"-themed party that goes horribly awry when one of the women shows up with a bag of crystal meth. What follows is a giddy, pony-smacking descent into utter madness and mayhem.

The duo of Eddie King and Tyler Marshall--collectively known as Teddiefilms--specialize in music video parodies, the latest of which is an homage to Breaking Bad by way of a Taylor Swift parody. I know, it's hard to wrap your mind around, but it actually works!