Monday, December 27, 2010

MORNING HEADLINES: 400 pounds of cocaine seized... not a very White Christmas

Posted on Mon, Dec 27, 2010 at 10:17 AM

Not a White Christmas — Two Canadian nationals were formally charged today with drug possession. Earlier this month, the two were arrested with 400 pounds of cocaine in Bellingham. So if you're stocking was bare this year, at least you know what that special someone wanted to get you. (SR)

But, still a White Christmas — Snow is on its way. Again. Forecasters are calling for up to three inches in the lowlands. And, to top it off, subzero temperatures are expected on New Year's Eve. (KREM) 

Jon Stewart the next Murrow, Cronkite? That's what the New York Times argues. Your moment of Zen. (NYT)

The holidays are done, get over it — And put your tree on the curb. The City of Spokane will pick it up for free this week. (SR)

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

MORNING HEADLINES: Take the bear rug and run

Posted By on Thu, Dec 23, 2010 at 9:34 AM

Final five It’s not everyday that “five people got fired” is considered good news. But when 71 city employees were told they would lose their job in September, not-nearly-as-bad-as-it-could-have-been is a major success story. (SR)

Steal this bear There are many things that are tempting to steal form a pawn shop. But thieves at Northwest Christian Thrift Store decided the bear skin rug was their path to material satisfaction. Apparently the Siberian tiger rug was being watched too closely. (KXLY)

Make a wish (for your parents) One of the most fun parts of Christmas, of course, is the buying of gifts for others, instead of getting gifts yourself (unless you get LEGOs.) A program called “Santa’s Workshop” lets sick kids at Sacred Heart Medical Center shop for their siblings. (KREM)

Look, a lot of lake Your polar bear plunge run is that much shorter. Lake Coeur d’Alene is at its highest level since 1995, due to high levels of snowfalls in June. (CDAP)

I hear Las Vegas’s recession is nice this time of year The state of Nevada grew by a startling 35 percent this year. That, of course, is one of the reasons why the housing market in this country collapsed. People surefire-bet big, and busted. Thanks, Nevada. (NYT)

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

SEEN IN SPOKANE: Aftermath of a fire

Posted on Wed, Dec 22, 2010 at 7:51 PM

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In addition to the snow, downtown traffic is currently snarled by a large contingent of fire trucks responding to a residential fire at 123 N. Bernard. Spokane Fire Chief Bobbie Williams told KHQ that at least one person is dead in the apartment complex, though it will take an autopsy to determine if the fire was the cause.

As an aside, an SUV from a news team that broadcasts on channel 6 (who shall remain nameless) almost ran over a certain Inlander correspondent, but we're fairly confident that was due more to bad driving than any professional rivalry.

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Jabba the Huh?

Posted By on Wed, Dec 22, 2010 at 2:55 PM

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Somebody in town decided to make a snow creature with the likeness of Jabba the Hut. This picture of Jabba the Snow Creature, who was apparently created in a Spokane yard, has been all over Facebook and has now been picked up by buzzfeed.com.

We're wondering who made the original creature and where exactly you saw him.

Any information on this please send to joels[at]inlander[dot]com. 

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Hump Day happy hour specials

Posted By on Wed, Dec 22, 2010 at 2:44 PM

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Each Wednesday on Bloglander, we give you a taste of happy hours going on at bars around town that night. (Read previous posts.)

 At Ugly Bettie's downtown, everything's a buck cheaper. That beer you ordered, vodka cranberry or margarita — everything's minus one dollar until 7 pm. 

The Swinging Doors on the north side has wells and domestic beers for three bucks, until 5:30 pm.

Spitfire Grill, in the Spokane Valley, has domestic bottles for (you guessed it) a buck.

Coeur d'Alene's O'Shay's is offering 50 cents off drafts from 4-7 pm.

The Onion downtown has pints of Bud Light for two bucks. House wine is $6 per glass, and you can get chips and salsa for a buck from 3-6 pm or 9 pm-midnight.

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The case against cynical Christmas episodes

Posted By on Wed, Dec 22, 2010 at 1:17 PM

Since South Park began with a clumsy animation of a knock-down brawl between Santa and Jesus, it’s not surprising that it would have memorable Christmas episodes.

In South Park’s “Red Sleigh Down,” Santa’s sleigh is shot down over Iraq, he's brutally tortured and he's only rescued by a gun-toting Jesus. South Park’s “Woodland Critter Christmas” episode is perhaps even darker: adorable singing woodland critters turn out to be preparing for a blood orgy to summon the Antichrist.

Funny when it first aired. But by now, the dark, twisted, cynical episode is as cliched as the It's a Wonderful Life or Christmas Carol parody episode.

There’s Futurama, which imagines Santa as a killer robot singing Christmas songs about death. Or this year’s American Dad episode, in which Steve Smith accidentally kills Santa Claus, who comes back to life and vows to slaughter the entire Smith family with his army of murderous elves. And then there’s Family Guy, which this year aired an hour-long Christmas special featuring Santa as an overworked sweatshop owner full of inbred elves and carnivorous reindeer with a hunger for elfin flesh. (Oh, and Stewie and Brian accidentally murder an entire family while trying to play Santa Claus.)

But here’s the problem: Dark, twisted Christmas is one joke. And by now, it’s a creaky one.

Christmas is a challenging time to be a snarky, cynical television show ... and still be original. Sneering at Christmas is as lazy as complaining at Valentine’s Day when you’re single. A cynical Christmas episode is a bit like those kids in middle school who refused to smile for their school picture, because acting joyful is so, like, mainstream, man.

It’s not hard to find elements of irony, contradiction, hypocrisy, or darkness in Christmas. It doesn’t take any courage or wit to point those things out.

“Christmas comes with enough irony built in,” Community showrunner Dan Harmon writes on Twitter, explaining why he can’t stand nudge-nudge songs like "Santa Baby" and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus." “Coldness and Warmth. Ta da.”

That’s probably why the stop-motion animated Community Christmas special aimed to be more sentimental than purely funny.

Doing sentimental without being too ham-handed — that’s what great Christmas episodes strive for. West Wing, for example, won an Emmy for a Christmas episode in which a staffer spends the episode trying to get a military funeral for a homeless Korean War veteran. So, clearly, avoiding cynicism doesn’t necessarily mean it’s all joy and candy canes and dancing sugar plums. In fact (It's a Wonderful Life may be the best example), showing a bit of despair may be necessary for a television episode to understand Christmas.

In a rare genuinely meaningful moment from the Glee Christmas episode, Glee Club teacher Will Schuester explains this: 

The first Christmas you remember having is the greatest day of your life. Your family’s all together. There’s loads of presents, cookies.  The magic is alive and well. But before you know it, you grow up. Work and school and girlfriends take over and Christmas becomes more of an obligation. A reminder of what’s lost instead of what’s possible. Then, when you get to my age, you’re so desperate to get that magic back, to do anything to feel the way you did that first Christmas.

The rest of the episode, of course, falls prey to unearned sentiment and tries to make us hope a high-school girl will continue to believe in Santa Claus.

Classic Christmas specials are set against the background of depression: You’re a blockhead who can’t even find a decent Christmas tree, you’re a reindeer social outcast or a misfit toy, all your presents were stolen by a Christmas-hating creep.

Then, they’re about finding a scrap of hope or joy amid the crappy circumstances — togetherness, a use for your unique talents and passion, a simple song.

The best Christmas episodes aren’t entirely about the crappy side of Christmas. And the best Christmas episodes are not about Santa — evil or otherwise. Christmas isn’t about pretending to believe in something despite your common sense. It’s about finding elements of redemption within the cold, bitter winter.

Good TV can illuminate that theme in a way that’s sweet, without ever being too sugary.

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MORNING HEADLINES: Gays, Trains, and Automobiles

Posted By on Wed, Dec 22, 2010 at 9:22 AM

Holes in the budget, streets Good news for Spokane Potholes, the anthropomorphic Facebook representation of the gaping holes in Spokane’s streets. Since the union that deals with street maintenance failed to reach an agreement with the city, there will be an elimination of 13 positions in the street department. That could mean cutbacks in both pothole fixing and snow plowing. (KREM)

The Mystery of the Car Creeps “There’s got to be some way to catch these car thieves, Frank Hardy!” “If only there was some sort of clue, my detective brother, Joe Hardy!” “What about these footprints in the snow, leading away from the vehicle!?“ “Keen thinking, swell chum!” Spokane police were able to arrest two car prowlers by following footprints leading away from a suspect car. (KXLY)

Let there be snow For Coeur D’Alene residents dreaming of a white Christmas, you may get your wish. It will likely snow by Saturday. For those dreaming of different sort of white Christmas, however, there probably won’t be enough snow to build a Ku Klux Klan snowman.  (CDAP)

Rails and Water Traditionally, the Burlington Northern Sante Fe Railway company pays about $100,000 to help keep the Spokane Valley/Rathdrum Praire aquifer clean, pay for inspections, and to educate schoolchildren about the aquifer. But after 2013, it wants to stop paying that cost, claiming that the money paid is mostly unrelated to the refueling of the depot. Kootenai County commissioners, however, want that funding to continue, arguing the money is necessary for inspections. (SR)

Tell all you want After a delay of almost two years, Obama has fulfilled his promise to sign into law a repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military. Gay men and women can now serve openly in all branches of military service. And by “now,” we mean, “whenever the creaking cogs of military bureaucracy grind their way to an official implementation policy.” For now, the military recommends lying about who you are a little bit longer, just until all the complicated details can all be sorted out. (WP)

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cats! Inspired by cats!

Posted By on Tue, Dec 21, 2010 at 3:54 PM

Because it's Tuesday and I always feel a little wonky on deadline day, I give you the latest installment of hilarious online cat photos: Catstackers.com. I know I have stacked stuff on my cat (mostly cat toys, dirty laundry or the other cat), but an entire nativity scene? Brilliant. Here are some of my favorites. 

A whole nativity scene!
  • A whole nativity scene!
Connect Four!
  • Connect Four!
Buns!
  • Buns!
Heavy metal stuff and a human skull!
  • Heavy metal stuff and a human skull!

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THIS JUST OUT: Jamie-Foxx's-best-night-gets-an-Easy-A edition

Posted on Tue, Dec 21, 2010 at 11:07 AM

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MUSIC
Best Night of My Life,* by Jamie Foxx

These are lean times, friends. It's too late for any famous artists to release some crap in order to cash in on holiday sales, and too early for big artists to come out with fully fleshed releases because launching at a time like this means putting out a whole lot of advertising dollars when everybody's already shot their (cash) wad.

Thus we are relegated to the truly dedicated/talented (Ghostface Killah), the artists we haven't heard from in awhile (Keyshia Cole) and the celebrity crossover (Jamie Foxx). Now, some might be predisposed to dismissing Foxx's rapping abilities because he used to be an actor. I, on the other hand, am more noble: I'm willing to dismiss his rapping abilities because he used to be a comedian, then he used to be an actor.

The multi-media crossover is becoming more common (or at least, more pronounced), and arguably easier — no one would argue this point less than Bruce Willis, aka Bruno, aka the original white rapper (though the Hoff might have a few choice words, but his value in any given artistic field is largely kitsch). This is actually Foxx's fourth album, and it seems more concerned with mentioning Patron and using AutoTune than it does actually having good songs. Despite having more cameos than your average Will Ferrell movie (including short stints by T.I. and Justin Timberlake), this probably deservers a place right next to your Eddie Murphy albums.

  • Apollo Kids, Ghostface Killah — Though he doesn't go all out in calling himself the Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City (like his last album), GK's latest album seems to be pleasing fans. Everyone who misses the '80s can just set their turntables to "Starkology" and put it on repeat. If turntables had a repeat function. ('80s burn!)
  • Allura, Hex Hector — Hex Hector, who we can only assume is the half-brother of Lex Luthor, is back after a five-year hiatus, nine years after his first (and only) Grammy win. Actually, they discontinued the Grammy he won the year after he won it. That's either a really good thing, or a really bad thing. We'll let you decide which it is.
  • Yule Tidings, The Gorillaz — Okay, technically this holiday album doesn't come out until Dec. 25, but we're putting it on the list anyway. It's notable for the fact that Damon Albern claimed he made the entire thing on an iPad. Because the most important of enjoying music is knowing how difficult it was to make, right? Maybe that explains why he's giving it away free.
  • "Christmas Trololo", Some Middle School Choir** — What's creepier about this? That the kids are wearing masks? That the audience is just singing along, like a) this is a song they know or b) it's totally expected? Or that a Christmas holiday Decembermas concert features a 30-year-old Russian song from YouTube that's only popular because of how freakishly Frankensteinian the singer looked? This is what happens when you put Millenials in charge of things. And you thought nobody could be worse than Gen Xers. ---

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DVDs
Easy A

There's a certain amount of suspension of disbelief required in almost every movie. Usually this has to do with believing someone like Emma Stone (or Tina Fey, or Drew Barrymore, or Lindsay Lohan) being relegated to "unpopular" status because of their plain, woebegotten looks. This, despite the fact that no matter how tightly you bind their hair in a bun, they still look hotter than 98 percent of the people you'll ever meet in your entire lifetime.

But we forgive them for this, because after 30 years of the exact same trick it's not llikely Hollywood's going to give it up anytime soon. But Easy A requires us to take the suspension of belief one step further, to the point that the "high school" in the movie might as well be set on Mars in the 1970s: Sex is a stigma among teenagers.

Recent studies have shown 46 percent of Americans 15-19 have had sex, and that number climbs to 60 percent if you're just counting 18-year-olds. But of course, in the world of Easy A, if you have sex, everyone's going to think you're weird and you'll start sewing elaborately adorned letters on your clothing because you just read The Scarlet Letter. After all, everybody wishes they lived in a Nathaniel Hawthorne novel.

Who is this movie's audience supposed to be? People who went to high school in the '50s, when this might have been plausible? Puritans? Anyway, Emma Stone. I'll probably buy it anyway.---

  • Devil — You can (and Lord knows I have) mock M. Night Shamalamadingdong for all his awful movies since The Sixth Sense. But it's possible, one supposes, for a studio to argue that the failure of his movies came not from the writing, but from his directing his movies. Ergo, why they would be willing to spend millions of dollars on a movie about five people trapped in an elevator with the devil. But you cannot excuse the fact that lots of people hate the guy, which is why the decision to market Devil as an "M. Night Shylamalan movie" makes absolutely zero sense. Unless they're doing some sort of wildly inventive The Producers-style scam. Which, come to think of it, is more believable than someone being dumb enough to market a movie as an M. Night film.
  • Step Up 3 — Street dancers are pitted against the world's best hip-hoppers in a downhill ski race in order to save the ski lodge before the popular/rich kids' parents tear it down to build a new top-of-the-line Aspen-esque lodge. Or something.
  • Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps — Shia LaBeouf is a toadying sycophant who cares only about money and not about anyone else or his interpersonal relationships. Oh, and in this movie, he plays a Wall Street analyst in a plot so ridiculous I can't even figure out how to condense it into a joke.
  • Salt — Angelina Jolie runs around shooting guns in tight clothes. Also, I think there's a plot or something.

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VIDEOGAMES

Rock Band 3: Midi PRO Adapter (PS3, X360, Wii)

Hoo boy. If you thought there weren't any releases in music, videogames are almost nonexistent. In fact, the only thing that's not a downloadable game for the PS3 isn't a game at all. It's a Rock Band peripheral that allows you to hook up your MIDI keyboard or drums and use them to play the game with. Finally, they've come up with a way to shut up all those music nerds who complained, "If you're going to do that much work, why not just learn how to play to a real intstrument?" while sneering at you over their horn-rimmed glasses. Now, if only there was a way to get them to stop kvetching about AutoTune …

  • Strong Bad's Cool Game For Attractive People Episode 1: Homestar Runner (PSN) — You guys remember Strong Bad, right? Back when the internet was still a vast wasteland with cattle grazing lazily? (I don't remember things all that well.) Well now you can pay a mere $15 for the first episode on the PSN! Or, you can buy it for $9 for the PC, or spend $30 and get all five episodes on PC. PSN: Ripping you off, whenever they can.
  • A Space Shooter for Two Bucks! (PSN) — There's nothing I don't like about this game.
  • Back to the Future: The Game (PSN, Mac, PC, iPad) — This is another episodic series of games (i.e. We can make you pay more by dribbiling out levels one at a time), and servers as a sequel to the third BTTF movie. The DeLorean pops up back in 1985, and Doc has been missing for a while. He's trapped in an old-tyme jail, and you have to adventure-game his way out. Gameplay mechanics haven't been revealed yet, which is never a good sign. Still, at least they got Christopher Lloyd to do the voice of Doc Brown.

* It's probably a total coincidence that the title of his album sounds almost exactly the same as the immensely popular Black Eyed Peas song, right? Right.
** Seriously, this is how devoid of releases we are this week.

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For those who missed last night's eclipse

Posted on Tue, Dec 21, 2010 at 10:46 AM

Here's a video of what was happening behind the clouds last night.

Winter Solstice Lunar Eclipse from William Castleman on Vimeo.

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