Monday, July 25, 2011

SEEN IN SPOKANE: Sport Utility Racism!

Posted By on Mon, Jul 25, 2011 at 2:40 PM

To the point of view that we have entered a post-racial society, we provide a vehicular rebuttal. Seen this morning in a parking garage downtown:

photoracism.jpg

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MORNING HEADLINES -- Bus to the future

Posted By on Mon, Jul 25, 2011 at 8:06 AM

The fickle hand of the law -- Medical marijuana is legal. Sorta. With conflicting federal and state laws, some users – including a grandmother from Soap Lake – continue to find themselves prosecuted, despite believing they were following the law. (KREM)

Hello, trolley – An electronic trolley bus, approved unanimously by the Spokane Transit Authority, will carry passengers from Browne’s Addition to the University District. If, that is, the $36 million price tag is approved by the city council. (KXLY)

Party disloyalty? Two North Idaho republicans got a no-confidence vote from the central committee for their proposals in the redistricting process. While Idaho state Sens. Shawn Keough of Sandpoint and Joyce Broadsword of Sagle claim they were trying to keep small towns together, but the Boundary County Republican Central Committee accuses them of trying to further a progressive agenda by causing runoffs between incumbents. (Idaho Statesman)

Massacre in Norway – Friday, a 32-year-old man – claiming he needed to save Europe from “cultural Marxism and Muslim domination” killed over 80 people, first with a large bomb in central Oslo, then with an armed rampage at a political summer camp on Utoya island. (NYT)

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Friday, July 22, 2011

TRAILER FRIDAY: First Avenger First Grader edition

Posted By on Fri, Jul 22, 2011 at 3:14 PM

A BETTER LIFE
A gardener in East LA tries to give his son … well, check the title. What gets in the way? Gangs, la migra, and beachfront homeowners who think of their gardeners as utensils. Reviews generally suggest that director Chris Weitz avoids predictability and sentiment by keeping the story simple — and they give much credit to Weitz (American Pie, About a Boy, The Golden Compass) for trying the kind of movie that, for him at least, is something entirely new. (MB) Rated PG-13 | SHOWTIMES

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER
Good thing he has a patriotic costume and a shield that he can fling like a lethal Frisbee, because otherwise, we would have lost to the Nazi menace despite our development of stealth-bomber technology a half-century ahead of time. Got all that? Critics didn’t: Paramount hid this movie. Will Steve Rogers have enough muscle to fight off bad reviews? (MB) Rated PG-13 | SHOWTIMES

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CERTIFIED COPY
A quiet film that carries the impact of any number of Armageddon-bent robots. Two people walk and they talk. They philosophize and coo and plead and scream. They behave affectionately and monstrously toward each other. We spend most of the film trying to figure out what their connection to one another is. We realize, at the end, that they've been asking themselves that same question for some time. This is a powerfully small film, and one that carries more power to devastate than a certain evil reptilian-looking wizard. (LB) Unrated; at Magic Lantern | SHOWTIMES

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THE FIRST GRADER
An aging, illiterate Kenyan farmer who was tortured as a Mau Mau freedom fighter in the 1950s now takes up his government’s offer of a free education — an offer that’s really meant for kids. But a tireless teacher champions his cause, even though it produces a publicity nightmare. The film is well-meaning but weakly written, and it suffers from feeling too precious. There is no way you won’t know how this ends, at least an hour before it actually does end. (ES) Rated PG-13; at Magic Lantern | SHOWTIMES

FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS
Remember January’s No Strings Attached (Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher try to keep their relationship purely physical)? Its working title was “Friends With Benefits.” You know what movie Rooney Mara (The Social Network, the upcoming Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) made just two years ago? Friends (With Benefits). Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis populate this retread. (MB) Rated R | SHOWTIMES

TRUE LEGEND
A Qing-dynasty general is done very wrong by his own brother. This being a Chinese martial-arts movie, the remedy involves mastering the ancient art of “drunken boxing.” Not to mention some vicious uppercuts. (MB) Rated R; at Magic Lantern | SHOWTIMES

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MORNING HEADLINES: Swords make a comeback

Posted on Fri, Jul 22, 2011 at 10:02 AM

Burglars beat swordsman — Two people burgling a Mead home were interrupted by a sword-wielding neighbor. Before the neighbor could re-enact the scene from "Kill Bill Vol. 1" where Uma Thurman chops up a room full of people, the burglars hit him over the head with a bat. The suspects remain at large. (KREM)

A Superlative for Sandpoint — Sandpoint has been judged the most beautiful small town in America by USA Today and Rand McNally. Soon, the town will be the subject of an issue of USA Today and a page in the Rand McNally Atlas. (CDA Press)

Oslo bombed — Two people have died after a bomb ripped through government buildings in Oslo, Norway. Meanwhile, a man opened fire on a youth meeting on an island outside of Oslo. (SR)

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CdA Summer Theatre in 2012

Posted on Fri, Jul 22, 2011 at 9:01 AM

Ragtime. Ring of Fire. Spamalot.

Those are three of the musicals that Coeur d'Alene Summer Theatre will produce a year from now, as announced last night by Artistic Director Roger Welch. (Next summer's fourth slot is TBA.)

The musical version of Ragtime, based on E.L. Doctorow's 1975 novel about wealthy WASPs, impoverished Eastern European immigrants, political activists and persecuted African-Americans in the years leading up to (and including) World War I, appeared on Broadway in both 1998 and 2009. The book is by Terrence McNally, with lyrics and music by the songwriting team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. (Milos Forman's film premiered 30 years ago this November, starring the likes of Elizabeth McGovern, Howard E. Rollins Jr., Mary Steenburgen, Debbie Allen, Mandy Patinkin and many more.) A glance at the number of historical and fictional characters in Ragtime, the narrative (which is crowded with incident), and the show's three dozen musical numbers indicates that the CdA company is taking on a very ambitious show.

Ring of Fire is a Johnny Cash musical, with three dozen songs arranged by Richard Maltby Jr. into a sketch of three couples' lives — falling in love, growing old. It ran for a month on Broadway in the spring of 2006. Read Playbill's advance article about the show.

Spamalot, of course, is the Arthurian spoof musical. (It also finds its inspiration in 1975 — the year of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The musical is mostly Eric Idle's fault — he wrote the book and lyrics and collaborated on most of the music.) The original production of Spamalot ran for nearly four years (2005-09) and 1,600 performances on Broadway. Best of Broadway Spokane has scheduled a single performance of Spamalot for Nov. 11 at the INB Center. (The show's second, non-Equity national tour ended last month.)

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

MORNING HEADLINES: Are you good without pot?

Posted on Thu, Jul 21, 2011 at 8:49 AM

Atheists take to advertising — Spokane Transit Authority has agreed to allow a local atheist group to run ads on busses asking if people are "good without God." Depending on who you ask, it's either an example of free speech, or a sign of the end times. (KHQ)

Chronic crackdown — Federal charges have been filed against five Spokane men accused of manufacturing and distributing marijuana. Though medical marijuana is legal under Washington law, it is not legal under federal law, hence the charges. (KREM)

Knockoff Apple Stores proliferate in China — In the country that manufacturers iPhones, iPods and other popular Apple products, phony Apple stores have been popping up in one city. Even the employees think the stores are the real deal, but they're not. (Seattle Times)

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Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, and Gang of Six member, tells The Inlander he's no moderate

Posted By on Thu, Jul 21, 2011 at 8:26 AM

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The countdown to financial calamity continues — and that may not be hyperbole. Financial experts estimate that if an agreement to raise the debt ceiling (the amount the United States is allowed to owe) is not reached by the Aug. 2 deadline, and the U.S. defaults, the results could be unpredictably catastrophic (as the Economist points out).

Now, with Republicans unwilling to raise taxes and Democrats unwilling to touch America's entitlement programs, the chance of compromise looked as grim as it was vital.

But now, as if summoned by a “$” spotlight in the night sky at the hour of greatest need, the Senate's “Gang of Six” has returned after disbanding last spring. Fiscal wonks remember them as the deficit commission, comprised of both conservatives like Sen. Tom Coburn and liberals like Sen. Dick Durbin. They submitted a proposal last year to simplify the tax code, cut spending and raise revenue. It didn’t get out of committee.

At this "last hour," however, the Gang's proposal has resurfaced as a possible solution to the budgetary mess. Yesterday, President Obama praised their plan as a key compromise featuring both spending reforms and "revenue increases."

Republican Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho, one of the most conservative states in the union, is one of the six behind it.

The plan would attach stricter spending caps, cut billions across the full spectrum of government, eliminate the complicated Alternative Minimum Tax, reduce the number of tax brackets and eliminate many tax breaks.

But if Crapo was expecting across-the-board praise from red-meat conservatives, he sure didn’t get it. He got tepid reaction from some House leaders, and blunt opposition from Republican representatives. The praise from Obama made the sales pitch all the more difficult.

The conservative magazine National Review calls it the “The Worst Plan So Far,” saying, “It will hand the president a huge strategic victory and deliver nothing that the GOP should be seeking in this fight. It’s far, far worse than anything we have seen thus far, and certainly much worse than the [Senate Minority Leader Mitch] McConnell plan. … [T]hey should make it absolutely clear that no version of the Gang of Six plan will be acceptable.”

The accusation: The Gang of Six plan would amount to a massive tax hike.

So we called Crapo. Had he gone moderate on us? Had he abandoned his deeply conservative constituency? ---

“Well, I would remind people of my record. I have as conservative a record as you can get in Congress,” Crapo says. “The bottom line is the conservative principles of tax reform and tax relief, along with the principles of reforming our Social Security system, is at the heart of our [proposal].”

In fact, he says, he’d oppose any debt ceiling proposal that would raise taxes.

“I don’t think that’s an acceptable option,” Crapo says. “Raising taxes depresses economic growth.” For him, it’s an immutable law of economics.

He presents two arguments: First, the Gang of Six proposal wasn’t originally developed as a compromise to raise the debt ceiling. It was developed to comprehensively address structural problems with the budget deficit. To raise the debt ceiling, Crapo prefers the “Cut, Cap, and Balance Act” which would require Congress to pass a Balanced Budget Amendment, making it even harder to raise taxes.

Second, he argues the Gang of Six Proposal wouldn’t raise taxes. It would raise revenue by reducing many tax rates and flattening the tax codes, he says.

“I’m aware of the attack that this raises taxes,” Crapo says. “If you do the calculations, the total amount of tax relief exceeds the tax revenue. It’s a very big step toward a three-tiered, much flatter tax.”

But this flatter tax means losing many exemptions.

“Some will pay more taxes,” Crapo says.

So, wait, would it be a tax hike or a tax cut? Depends on how you look at it, says an analysis by CNN Money. It would blow away a whole lot of tax breaks, in order to pay for reduced taxes across the board. So some would pay more taxes, others would pay less. Without specifics — and the plan is still basking in generalities — there’s no way to know who would pay more, who would pay less.

Meanwhile, the debt ceiling crisis is still paramount.

“There’s no question we have to raise the debt ceiling,” Crapo says.

But will they do it in time?

“That’s a hard question to answer," Crapo says. "My estimate, right now, I would give it 50-50.”

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Robber's escape done in by dye

Posted on Wed, Jul 20, 2011 at 2:32 PM

The escape of a bank robbery suspect from a Spokane bank was foiled by a hidden dye pack, police say.

After drawing a firearm and forcing employees of the Wells Fargo branch at 6228 N. Monroe St. to hand over an undisclosed amount of money, 43-year-old Lawrence Wideman allegedly fled the premises on foot. 

Besides cash, the suspect also picked up a hidden pack of orange dye that was intended to alert citizens to fleeing robbery suspects, Spokane Police spokeswoman Teresa Fuller says. Fuller says Wideman may not have realized that orange powder was billowing from his backpack, but she would not elaborate further as to how the suspect might have acquired the device.

A passing motorist noticed the billowing dye and followed Wideman until he got into a car, whereupon she called police, who continued to pursue the suspect.

After noticing his followers, Wideman drove through a fence at the military cemetery on Government Way, jumped out of his car, and was eventually arrested near the Spokane River. 

"It doesn't always come together like this," Fuller says.

Wideman is in custody on suspicion of first-degree robbery. 

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WSU faces restructuring after tough budget, president says

Posted By on Wed, Jul 20, 2011 at 1:42 PM

A preliminary announcement of budget reductions at Washington State University was made this morning on President Elson Floyd’s “Perspectives” blog.

Tuition will increase by 16 percent for the fall semester, but that only covers about 60 percent of the $107.8 million shortfall created by the 2011-13 biennium budget created by state lawmakers.

“I have never encountered the succession of budget reductions that we are experiencing as a higher education sector and as a state,” Floyd writes.

The primary source of further budget reduction will occur through restructuring of university departments and the combination of administrative offices within those departments. For example, the College of Sciences and the College of Liberal Arts will be combined.

“If you consolidate two colleges you literally have the opportunity to see if there are redundancies,” Joan King, chief budget officer at WSU, tells The Inlander. “Do you need two deans? Do you need two dean’s offices?”

The Department of Theatre and Dance was officially ended earlier this year, and word has spread around campus that some departments and majors will be cut. But, so far, no undergraduate academic programs have been done away with, and King says she doesn’t expect any will be.

“I think the president’s been really clear that he wants to see additional work done on the side of the house that doesn’t impact the students,” she says. “I think he is focused on not continuing to limit what our students can study while they’re here. I would be surprised if we saw large scale program reduction.”

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Five quick ways to ruin a superhero TV show

Posted By on Wed, Jul 20, 2011 at 12:53 PM

the_greatest_american_hero_show.jpg

Stop me if you’ve heard this TV premise: A team of quirky individuals with strange but powerful supernatural abilities fight evil on a weekly basis through feats of wit, strength, and daring-do.

Of course you have. Alphas, a new Syfy show with moments of brilliance in a mostly solid show, is just the newest superhero show to attempt to succeed on television. A bold move, considering its horde of canceled brethren.

But, at its core, the concept seems a perfect fit for television: Classic superhero comic books match the modern format of television almost exactly — an episodic adventure against an evildoer, with occasional breaks to deal with the recurring villain who’s cropped up all season.

Yet despite such an easy template, superhero shows have been making the same mistakes again and again. Potential turns to critical snark turns to cancellation.

Here, true believers, are five ways to quickly destroy your superhero show. Excelsior!

1. Make the superpowers too super

Comics book nerds have spilled terabytes of Internet forum text discussing the flaw of the most iconic superhero. Superman is too powerful. He can do too much. Once Superman can fly really fast around the world to go back in time and solve everything, you’ve got a problem. Why doesn’t he always fly around the world to go back in time and solve everything?

(Here’s a free tip: Time travel is almost always a bad ability to give a superhero. Either he can’t influence the past, so it’s useless, or he can, and any action in the present is useless. From day one, Hiro in Heroes was always a bad idea.)

Abilities need a specific cap (not just a weakness that removes the power, but a cap) to keep the drama in it. Remember Die Hard? Remember the early Indiana Jones movies? Drama comes from seeing our bloodied and battered and beaten heroes just barely eke out a victory using their last scraps of moxie and grit. Where comic books and movies can get away with overpowered on pure spectacle, most TV shows just can’t afford that. Big superpowers are especially difficult to film in reliable action scenes with outside the X-Men: First Class budget. 

Heroes, at its worse, became a mess of overpowered capricious gods who, because of limitations of budget and animation, fought off-screen or anticlimactically.

Alphas begins with promising superpowers: Someone who can calculate incredible perfect trajectories, someone who can scan radio and cellphone frequencies with his mind. But it also features a hero who can persuade people to do anything with just a simple suggestion — a power that’s far too powerful and far too easy, and one that that eliminates the wit and drama necessary for a procedural show. They’d do well to kill her, or turn her evil.

2. Make everyone miserable

“Man, it’s such a drag being able to fly, shoot fire out of my hands, and do whatever a spider can,” the superhero whines on nearly every show,from Heroes to No Ordinary Family to the late run of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. No, you don’t have to hide your power because you’re worried that it makes you a “freak.” Talented people are generally respected, even in high school. And no, the viewing audience doesn’t want to come home from 9-5 drudgery to hear the superhero complain about how hard it is to fight crime. Brooding and whining is almost never fun to watch. In an escapist fantasy, it’s even less so.

There is one big bat-shaped exception to the no-brooding superheroes rule, of course. But notice how Batman doesn’t complain that dressing like a bat will make him unpopular with the cheer squad. He complains that his parents were shot in front of him. Grief and anger and frustration can come from actual tragedy, not super-job dissatisfaction. Otherwise, it’s like watching a beautiful woman complaining about how hard it is to be pretty.

3. Focus all the dialogue on your premise

Even on The West Wing, the dialogue wasn’t entirely about the White House. Television, by its very nature, is dialogue-heavy, but great dialogue doesn't have to mean hours of didactic, vague, and self-absorbed discussion about what it means to be a superhero, have powers, need to fight evil. But so many writers, caught up with such an exciting premise, end up writing just that.

4. Fail to populate your rogues gallery

The best heroes need villains to match. Superman needs Lex Luthor, Batman needs the Joker. On television, this is ever more true. Truly interesting, season-long villains pushed Buffy the Vampire Slayer from guilty pleasure to critical sensation. But Heroes kept resurrecting its one good villain — something that works in comic books but fails on TV. No Ordinary Family mostly wasted time on petty crime and the biggest villain of all: lack of quality family time.

What most shows miss is that you need both epic season-long baddies (without dragging them out) and compelling “monsters of the week” that the hero can battle while the big bad guy is back scheming in his evil lair. And all of them have to have an actual personality, not just be a collection of abilities.

Also, here’s a good rule of thumb: If a villain ever mentions “chess,” the show has failed.

5. Get stuck on origin story

There’s something enjoy able about watching an individual gradually discover their own talents, their own potential. But, honestly, this is something that should be dispensed with within three episodes. If, half-way through the first season, the heroes are still fretting about whether it's OK to use their powers (or giving “what is …. happening to me" monologues), your show’s in trouble. If superhero shows don't learn to fly quickly, they inevitably plummet in the ratings.


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