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Monday, March 31, 2008

Posted By on Mon, Mar 31, 2008 at 3:49 PM

Spring! The time of year when a Republican legislator's thoughts turn to love.

Sinful, filthy, homosexual love.

Yes, once again, Harrisburg Republicans are trying to enact a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in Pennsylvania. It's an old election-season ritual -- like a dance around the Maypole, except with a more rigorous attempt to sublimate the sexual tension. This blog, like many others in the area, is marking the occasion with a special online post, witness the seal below:

State law already bars same-sex couples from receiving the legal protections and privileges married couples enjoy. You'd think that would be enough, but the GOP insists a gay-marriage ban must be enshrined in the state's Constitution. That way, they reason, it will prevent the law from being easily changed in the future. (Plus, enshrining bigotry in your Constitution gives it some class: Just ask the slaveowners.) 

So earlier this month, the Senate's judiciary committee voted in favor of an anti-gay-marriage amendment. If history is any guide, the measure will pass the full Senate as well; that august body is controlled by Republicans. But that's the easy part: The amendment also must pass the state House and a referendum by voters. And even the Republicans have to know that won't be easy.

If you check out the Senate GOP's web site, in fact, you'll find nary a word about the committee's amazing legislative achievement. No press release, nothing. Even another committee's decision to "examine deer managment issues" got more attention than the gay-marriage ban.

Could it be that state Republicans would rather talk about deers than queers? Could it be that voters see more need to regulate the sexual activity of wildlife -- which after all can ruin the shrubbery -- than to police consenting adults acting in the privacy of their own homes?

Perhaps. Compare the GOP's silence now to 2006, the last time a version of this measure sailed through a Senate committee. Back then, State Senator Bob Regola, a Hampton Republican who has consponsored this year's amendment as well, issued a statement praising the committee. And himself: "I made a committment to the people of the 39th Senatorial District to uphold the sanctity of marriage in Pennsylvania," he boasted. 

(If only Regola had committed to upholding the sanctity of gun safety, one of his constituents might not have lost a son. A 14-year-old boy who lived next door to Regola used a handgun taken from the senator's home to kill himself. This was in July 2006 -- one month after Regola issued his stirring defense of marriage. No matter what happens in the gay-marriage debate, thanks to Bob Regola, there's at least one Pennsylvania family whose child will never be able to marry another man!)

Back in 2006, the anti-gay-marriage ban died in the House, even though it was GOP-controlled at the time, and even though it had previously supported the measure. Democrats control the House today, so the bill seems at least as likely to flounder time around. But even when the bill seemed likely to pass, it felt like ther GOP's heart wasn't in it. As I wrote in a column at the time, many Republicans were defending the bill "by claiming it won't take away things like domestic-partner benefits -- benefits that were unthinkable a few years ago."

Many in the LGBT community suspected the GOP was lying about what the bill would do, of course. But if GOP actually NEEDED to be duplicitous about the measure, that seemed like a good sign to me.

I don't want to underestimate the threat, which other blogs will speak to. I don't want to counsel complacence in the face of Republican homophobia, which seems to crop up periodically like an especially dangerous flu virus. But let's take heart that each time the virus appears, our resistance to it seems to increase. Each time the measure comes up, GOP support seems more desultory, as if it's a habit they can't quit but no longer take pleasure from. 

When you think of it, the fact that the GOP has to try amending the constitution is a victory in itself. Amendment supporters say openly that they are trying to head off FUTURE trends -- municipalities allowing gay marriage, for example, or judges deciding the law governing same-sex couples is patently unfair. In other words, Republicans are assuming that a serious challenge to their bigotry, one with the force of law behind it, is on the way. 

This prospect is what motivates them; it should motivate us as well ... to act not in fear but in hope. Which in the long run is the much more powerful force.  

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Friday, March 28, 2008

Posted By on Fri, Mar 28, 2008 at 4:57 PM

It seems like we're always hearing about benefit concerts for some working musician or other who got caught without health insurance and ran up a mountain of bills. Perhaps it's questing after artistic immortality that leads musicians to think they're actually immortal themselves ... or, you know, they're just thinking about riffs and lyrics rather than the infinitely less-exciting world of premiums and deductibles.

While there are options available for self-employed musicians -- songwriters' organizations like BMI offer plans to their members -- they're not available to anyone, not widely known, and ain't free.

Pittsburgh artists have more options now, thanks to The Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, which has just announced HM Care Advantage, a new health care plan "for local individual artists and part-time and seasonal employees of local cultural organizations," a limited benefits plan that starts at under $60/month. You do need to be a member of the Arts Council (probably not a bad idea anyway).

As I'm basically an idiot myself on such matters, I'll just say that the coverage starts on July 1, 2008, and if you want to know more about it, the GPAC is holding an informational meeting at 6:15 p.m. Mon., March 31 at the New Hazlett Theater on the North Side. The meeting is part of the organization's "Last Days Café" monthly networking happy hour, which goes from 5:30-8:30 p.m.

For more information, visit the GPAC website or contact 412.391.2060 x 234 or rfreytag@pittsburghartscouncil.org.

Hopefully the GPAC plan will help put an end to those endless benefit concerts for uninsured musicians. 'Cause there are plenty of more fun ways to blow your cash than having to check in to Presby.

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Posted By on Fri, Mar 28, 2008 at 12:12 PM

I don't want to blame Barack Obama for the fact that his appearance at Soldiers and Sailors today was a SLIGHT letdown for me. The expectations have been raised so high that  it's unfair to judge a Presidential candidate by them. A certain disappointment would have been inevitable for me unless he'd reattached a Roman soldier's ear, or raised Lazarus from the tomb.

Besides, the crowd was FAR more enthusiastic than it had been for a Clinton appearance at Soldiers & Sailors two weeks before. 

On one level, that's kind of strange. While Obama is a gifted speaker, his appearance wasn't THAT much better than Clinton's. And as almost everyone knows, there isn't much difference between Obama and Clinton on a policy level. Early on, Obama joked that the campaign has gone on so long that he and Clinton could take each other's debate lines and not miss a beat. The truth is they could do it without changing their platforms much, either. 

The rest of his speech reflected that: Like Clinton, Obama promised to give us a healthcare plan similar to the one they have in Congress, and decried the treatment of veterans returning from Iraq. There wasn't a hell of a lot of substance in his speech, but then there wasn't much in Clinton's either. (You can see footage of Obama's speech -- in two parts -- by clicking here.) 

No, the real diference between Obama and Clinton was in the crowd itself. It wasn't just that it was more diverse in terms of age and ethnicity, or that the room was somewhat more crowded. It wasn't just that there were more reporters there. (Even local colleges sent TV crews -- something they didn't do for Clinton. Some of the more veteran local camera guys were grousing over how crowded the risers were getting, thanks to the arrival of minor media players. Like, um, City Paper.) The real difference was in the enthusiasm of the crowd: There were rousing cheers even for some of Obama's more cliched lines, and a give-and-take with the crowd that was totally absent from Clinton's appearance. And after the event, the atmosphere was much more festive than Clinton's more sedate following. There wasa lot more merchandising, for one thing.

Every politician does what Obama does -- pledge to change the Beltway culture and remake the country from the ground up. And it's not that I saw Obama do anything special to make people believe it. From what I could see, the people in that room were believers already. The measure of Obama's success is not the energy he brought to the room, but the energy the crowd carried with it ... energy which has now reached the level where it sustains itself. 

I'm not saying Obama is an empty suit or a cipher. I'm saying that ALL candidates -- or at least all the successful ones -- get where they are by virtue of the emotional associations that get attached to them. At some point, the old politician's cliche becomes true: The race really ISN'T about them. It's about an excitement they spark, but that soon begins to feed on itself. And if their appearances in Oakland are any indication, Obama has a decided advantage on that score.

In fact, the big news from today's rally will be that Obama receieved the endorsement of Sen. Robert Casey. This is not EXACTLY a surprise; the Casey family's antipathy for the Clintons is well known. (You may recall that Casey's father was not given a chance to speak at the 1992 convention, when Bill Clinton became the nominee.) But Hillary Clinton's campaign is counting on winning big in Pennsylvania, on the strength of the state's "Casey Democrats" -- union-friendly, economically liberal but socially conservative voters. Now the biggest Casey Democrat of all is throwing his support behind Obama.

Ironically, later in his speech, Obama derided those doubters who once  thought he needed  the support of party insiders in order to win. More than a few Obama supporters, I'll wager, thought Bob Casey was just such an insider as recently as 24 hours ago. (And they would STILL have thought so had Casey backed Clinton.) But Obama has reached that heady point where he can have it both ways -- scooping up the support of party insiders, while at the same time pledging to take those insiders on. You can't even call that hypocrisy at a certain point: It's the inevitable result of what happens when a campaign becomes large enough to be self-sustaining, large enough to win.

Most polls still suggest a Clinton whomping in Pennsyvlania -- she's up by 15 or 20 points.  But I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest a much tighter margin. I'm guessing Clinton by a margin of half the expected size ... partly because of the recent surge in voter registration across the state, partly because of the Casey backing, partly because of the contrasting levels of enthusiasm at the two Oakland rallies.

Clinton too, suffers from high expectations about her performance here. But if SHE fails to live up to those hopes, the cost will be much higher. 

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Posted By on Wed, Mar 26, 2008 at 5:01 PM

Following-up the 2007 debut EP, Elude the Suits (see review) local indie-pop powerhouse Triggers is releasing a slick full-length, called Smoke Show. The band spent the better part of last year making the album, chronicling their progress along the way in a three-part series of short YouTube videos, “Triggers Make a Record.” Through the surprisingly entertaining videos, you get to follow the band from a musty practice space, borrowed from School of Athens, to the palatial Mr. Small’s Studio, and finally to the more down-home Machine Age Studios for the finishing touches, such as the whole gang pitching in on backup vocals.

You can take a listen to a few tracks from Smoke Show on their MySpace page, or tune in to the WDVE Morning Show at 9 a.m. Fri., March 28 for their live on-air performance. The CD release show will be later that night at 31st Street Pub.

 

Triggers CD Release with Br’er Fox and Cobra Collective. 10 p.m. Fri., March 28. 31st Street Pub, 3101 Penn Ave., Strip District. $5. 21 and over. 412-391-8334 or www.31stpub.com

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Citay reps their city by the bay

Posted By on Tue, Mar 25, 2008 at 2:10 PM

Their name might feel a little funny rolling off the tongue, but San Francisco's Citay is a band that's getting some attention in spite of it. They're a pretty big ensemble and feature one of The Fucking Champs, but exhibit a more chill vibe and more complicated orchestration (that's what happens when you have three times as many people playing, though, I suppose).

In addition to your rock ensemble instruments and some pretty vocal harmonies, there's some major mandolin action going on in Citay, lending that sort of "Goin' to California" psychey vibe, plus the lead guitars sometimes sail off like a '70s prog jam.

Citay's on the roster of Dead Oceans (cf. Jagjaguwar and Secretly Canadian) and their vinyl release was put out by Important (cf. a lot of, well, important acts), and they recently got some love on NPR. They're playing at Belvedere's in Lawrenceville tomorrow (Wednesday) evening, and it's likely to be worth checking out. That's with Tusk Lord and In the Belly of the Whale, and starts around 9:00.

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Posted By on Sun, Mar 23, 2008 at 6:38 PM

It seems crazy now, but as recently as a few months ago, local bloggers I knew would sometimes mutter darkly about the all-powerful MSM -- those consent-manufacturing media gatekeepers who, the bloggers worried, were hell-bent on suppressing the voice of the digitized masses.

Hasn't quite worked out that way, has it?

This morning, for example, I opened up my Post-Gazette to the Forum section's "Cutting Edge" feature. Cutting Edge offers a weekly wrap-up of the posts from the wonderfully diverse world of Pittsburgh blogging. But I wasn't exactly surprised to see, yet again, an excerpt from a post by the Burgh Blog's ubiquitious "PittGirl" -- who's been mentioned in the weekly column three times the last month, and who has been the subject of a P-G profile.

PittGirl is a fun read, and while we here at CP prefer our prose to be jingoistic and shrill -- it's an old lefty tradition -- I certainly don't begrudge her success. If anything, I hope she's billing the P-G for providing them with so much copy. Maybe there's a PG/KDKA-style "media partnership" in the offing. The paper's Bill Toland was just featured on her site ... proving yet again that the "Burghosphere" is just like the Burgh itself: Everybody seems to know everybody else.

Even if PittGirl doesn't get paid, I can't complain. City Paper has been running a "best of the blogs" feature for awhile, as has the Tribune-Review. So while I might question just how cutting-edge "Cutting Edge" really is, I certainly couldn't fault its treatment of contributors.

But the P-G has now taken this whole open-source journalism thing a step further. The paper recently announced a new feature called "Voxpop." When last I checked, that was the name of a City Paper column, but apparently it is NOW a paradigm-shifting technology that will allow you, the citizen, to furnish election coverage this year!

Voxpop, we're told, is a cellphone-based effort "to enlist large numbers of citizens in providing news, observations and opinions about the important Pennsylvania presidential primary." You can provide audio of campaign events or text-message your thoughts about the campaign, and the P-G will put post 'em online! At no expense to its publishers! Thanks, Post-Gazette! Back in the old days, if I had observations I wanted to share with a newspaper, I'd just ... write a letter to the editor. But this is much better because it's, um, on the Web! Where no one will see it!

Do I sound cynical about what the P-G calls "a bold step in providing a forum for our readers and Web visitors"? I guess, but since "voxpop" appears to have recruited a whopping eight contributors in its first couple weeks, perhaps I'm not the only one. And some of the Mr.-Smith-buys-an-iPhone rhetoric sounds a little shopworn when you read the fine print. The Voxpop guidelines note that "[a]ny content you provide becomes the property of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which has sole discretion over its use, which could include use in advertisements for the newspaper [or] Web site." Nothing there about getting paid, so I guess your reward is that of any good citizen: knowing your democratic participation has enriched your community … and maybe sold a few newspaper subscriptions.

Some time ago, the Pittsburgh Women's Blogging Society asked whether bloggers were being exploited by the commercial media. I took part in that debate at the time, and I won't reprise it here except to say I think the answer is different for different bloggers. And anyway, half the time a print publication tries to reach out to online readers, I end up feeling sorry not for exploited bloggers, but for the newspaper itself.

I probably don't have much right to make fun of the P-G's online strategy. They have resources superior to CP's, and they've used them much more aggressively online. Your CP may be the last paper in the free world (and probably much of the not-so-free world) to add blogs to its Web site. But still, the daily's embrace of new media has been awkward at best. Until recently, it broadcast a wince-inducing online-video version of the day's headlines, and when Myron Cope died, its site offered a musical homage set to the tune of U2's "Pride." ("In the na-a-a-a-a-a-a-me of Cope / One more in the name of Cope.")

More tellingly, the paper can't seem to let go of its need to be in control. The P-G site has blogs, sure, but you can't post comments on them -- let alone on the stories themselves. The paper will let citizens furnish content, but they must abandon their rights to it. And yet one still detects an almost plaintive desire to be loved in their shout-outs to the Burghosphere. The P-G's obsessive attention to PittGirl, for example, comes across not as an effort to introduce newspaper readers to her blog … but as an attempt to introduce her blog's readers to the newspaper.

And hey, I sympathize -- almost enough to hope this blog post helps sign up more voxpoppers than the P-G's print ads have done. (Note to P-G: The people who are going to file reports by cell phone probably ain't reading your print edition.) Anyone in the fishwrap business can't help but worry about where the next generation of readers are coming from, and the long-term economic trends of the business. How are we going to pay our writers a decent wage as the 21st century rolls on?

So in the name of economic justice, I'm happy to announce that, effective today, if you capture an election-year scoop on your cell phone, City Paper will be happy to publish it on our Web site instead. And if we use it, we'll pay you TWICE what the P-G is offering.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Posted By on Thu, Mar 20, 2008 at 10:08 PM

"Ah, ladies and gentlemen, I don't know if you realize it, but tonight you're in for a special treat," says Jim Morrison. He's greeted with loud applause from the crowd gathered in Pittsburgh's Civic Arena on May 2, 1970. "No, not that -- you only get that treat on full moons. Besides that, I know there are a lot of young people out there, and I wouldn't want anyone to faint," he says. "The last time it happened, grown men were weeping. Policemen were turning in their badges." More applause. "Well just remember, their motto is ‘Protect and Serve.'"

Someone in the crowd shouts, "Fuck 'em!"

The recently released Live in Pittsburgh 1970 captures one night on The Doors' last tour, packaged to look like a miniature gatefold LP, complete with a slip case for the CD. Plenty of hits, plenty of covers, plenty of cover songs.

Not being a Doors fancier myself -- at least, not since maybe the 9th grade -- I'm reluctant to speak to the relative value of what's essentially a memento for true believers. But perhaps some of CP's readers were at this concert, and if so, feel free to tell us all about it in the comments below.

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Posted By on Thu, Mar 20, 2008 at 10:05 PM

When I was a kid my dad used to watch pro bowling on ABC every Saturday or Sunday afternoon. I remember as a kid thinking nothing could be more of a waste of my time than watching some guy named Earl Anthony do on TV what my dad and his buddies used to do every Thursday night.

But now, thanks to the glut of poker on television, I now know the joy my dad felt watching professionals compete in a completely un-athletic contest that he could also compete in. I admit it: I love that the poker boom that hit about five years ago is still alive and well.

I learned to play the game when I was 11 or 12 from Chuck, my crazy cousin's psychotic husband. He taught me the basics -- 7-card stud and five-card draw -- as well as crazy games like Midnight Baseball and "Chase the Bitch." I'm sure in whatever penitentiary Chuck presently resides in, the game "Chase the Bitch" has taken on a whole new meaning.

Anyway, for years, the only place outside of Las Vegas and Atlantic City to play was in your home and the only way to watch it on TV was on ESPN once a year at 2 in the morning. But now, thanks to the movie Rounders and college kids spending their tuition in online poker games, I can now drive less than an hour to find a legal game.

Better than that -- I can now find a poker game to watch on television every night of the week. NBC's Poker After Dark comes on at 2:05 a.m. nightly, after that robotic hipster Carson Daly does whatever the hell he does in the middle of the night.

The show -- which has to be viewed via your Tivo-like device of choice thanks to its late start time -- is not for everyone. It's not like coverage of the World Series of Poker or the World Poker Tour, where you have an announcer calling every bit of the action.

This is basically six people -- usually well-known pros -- sitting around, talking and playing winner-takes-all poker for $120,000. There is an announcer who occasionally interjects something less-than witty and the ceremonial, meaningless "hot girl" interviewer to talk to the players as they get eliminated, but by and large, it's just six guys (and/or girls) playing cards and talking shit.

In between bluffing and raising, they tell stories about a bad beat they took at the table 15 years ago, or great stories about the "good old days" of high-stakes poker. They talk about playing golf at several thousands of dollars a hole, and strange bets they've won and lost over the years.

The casual poker fan probably won't get or enjoy this program. But if you love the game and the personalities like Phil Hellmuth, Doyle Brunson, Mike Matusow and my personal favorite Scotty Nguyen, then this is the perfect show for you and well worth an hour of space on your recorder.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Posted By on Wed, Mar 19, 2008 at 3:01 PM

Time for a much needed update on American Idol, though it was only through my own procrastination that I missed out on all the male-stripper-who-worked-at-Dick's jokes. Daniel Hernandez has taken his song-and-thong act back to obscurity.

We're still at a two-hour show, which with 11 contestants, means lots of padding. (For the record, I refuse to sit through the hour-long results show, and fast-forward right to the final 3 minutes for the hugs and tears.)

But I trudge through the singing shows, and last night got a second history lesson on The Beatles, whose songs once again the Idols would be brutalizing. (I wouldn't have said this was necessarily either week, but the number of Idols who copped to not knowing any Beatles songs may signal that the long, rose-tinted-granny-glasses days of Boomer-dom are drawing nigh.)

Naughty nurse Amanda kicked it off with "Back in the USSR." (And speaking of time fleeing by, I noted that just about everything namechecked in the song doesn't exist anymore: BOAC, USSR, comrades, air-sickness bags ...). I wasn't convinced that Amanda's biker-bar bluesy bellowing fit the sardonic tune, and like the judges, I'm getting kinda bored with this shtick. During judging, the previously shy Amanda got her oats back ... or maybe, just got her Jack on.

And speaking of oats, farm girl Kristy Lee blind-picked "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," a downer of a Lennon tune. She didn't massacre it as bad as last week's Hee Haw-version of "8 Days a Week," but it wasn't good. In tone, her rendition reminded me when they use a random song for a low-budget commercial ("Visit New Hampshire!"). Paula said, "You've never looked better," which we all know is Paula-speak for "that sucked." Hilariously, Kristy Lee responded with contestant-code for "I know," and replied, "I had fun with it."

A nation of tweens and grannies died a little last week when the indescribably adorable David Archuleta choked on "We Can Work It Out." (His Pat Boone take on last week's mortification on national TV: "Dang it.") But his fans must have swooned into a sugar coma this week with his sweet-voiced "Long and Winding Road." Judges' ravings were barely heard amid the Beatles-take-Shea-Stadium shrieking from the studio audience. Achuleta-mania continues apace.

Then there was an imbedded ad for iPhone. Note to producers: Mocking imbedded ads doesn't make them any less awful.

I wasn't down with Michael John's "A Day in the Life." For me, that song is too much of its own sound to bear any re-workings. And dude messed up the words. Judges were not into it, but in an evening of feisty contestants, Johns hit back by claiming he sang it for a dead friend. (I have to say: Wouldn't your friend prefer that you just pick the right song?)

I'm not sure why, but Brooke White just makes my skin crawl. It might be her aw-shucks routine. Needless to say, she got nowhere with me last night: I find "Here Comes the Sun" a dull song, and Brooke's Sunny D-Light version with twirling and swaying was extra irritating.

The world's youngest comb-over David Cook did Whitesnake's "Daytripper" (who knew?), and no ... oh no ... he isn't ... ohmigod, he did. A vocoder?! Do you feel like I do -- that it was awkward, indulgent, badly done and yet, props for nuttiness. I sure didn't see that coming. Followed by uncomfortable moment where Ryan Seacrest wouldn't put his lips to the vocoder mike, but then, inexplicably remained caressing the mike stand.

Next up, Carly. (Every week I ponder: Is that a tattoo of Amy Winehouse on her arm?) I can't stand the song she picked -- "Blackbird." And that outfit was doing her do favors: It looked like a maternity smock with a craft-project fabric lei attached to it. Add Miz C to last night's roster of uppity contestants, as she gave an impassioned defense of why she picked the song, causing a rare moment of panic for Simon who worried that the contestants were "all broken birds."

Mister Easy-Listening-Dread beamed and giggled through "Michelle," or as he had it: MEE-shell. It was sappy, and swinging his arms about like a great ape didn't help. This is another guy with potential to go far on the show, but who hasn't quite found his groove.

Syesha is another one -- she can sing, she's good-looking, seems lively but she just can't connect. When she started on "Yesterday," I immediately tuned out, mostly due to the song, a quintessential elevator-music classic. In this super-quiet number, there was some audience screaming, which made me wonder what was happening off camera, because this performance sure wasn't worth hollering over.

So last week, Chikezie rocked the house with his nutty upbeat take on "She's a Woman." I'm sure I'm not the only one who groaned to see him apply the same sort of "surprise arrangement" on "I've Just Seen a Face." I love Chikezie's soul voice, which was how the song started -- but plotzed when he suddenly teleported to the Country Music Awards and segued into a steel-guitar cheese-o-country groove. I'm just sayin' dawg -- you're the only one with a decent R&B flavor, so bring it.

And poor lil Ramiele wrapped it up. She was wearing a corset and a hat she won at Six Flags (and girl needs to get some walking-in-high-heels lessons from ATNM's Miss Jay). Her uptempo version of "I Should Have Known Better" was teen-pop all the way, and made me want to go to the mall. Another contestant with a decent voice, but lacking a personality hook and the right song choices; last night, she seemed very young, as in needs a lot more experience putting it all together.

For the bottom two, I predict a three-way girl-fest: Syesha, Ramiele and Kristy Lee, with Kristy Lee must likely to return to her horse.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Posted By on Tue, Mar 18, 2008 at 12:34 PM

I'm not sure why I tuned it to this weight-loss show, I Can Make You Thin, on TLC, but I know why I kept watching. I was hooked when host and British self-help guru Paul McKenna looked straight into the camera and said, "I'm talking to you through your television."

I'm a sucker for that kind of retro hucksterism, and sure miss the days when TV preachers would holler at you to lay your hands on the television screen so they could transmit blessings and healings. (And, not surprisingly, while this show isn't an infomercial, McKenna has plenty to sell at his Web site, where I also learned that the dude is a hypnotist.)

McKenna's bitten off quite possibly a bigger task than eternal salvation: getting Americans to trim down. Not by dieting -- "This is not a diet," he said helpfully, adding "diets don't work," to a cheering studio crowd of folks-for-whom-diets-have-not-worked.

His gimmick is to -- in just FIVE SHORT WEEKS (step right up!) -- retrain us all to think differently about food and eating. 

Fair enough -- good eating starts with the mind, for sure -- but I wish Mr. McKenna the best of British luck. He's clearly underestimated Americans' astonishing capacity for selective information.

For instance, one of the Four Golden Rules we learned on episode one was "Eat what you like." Now, that comes in tandem other restrictions like portion control, method of eating, and, in a later episode, exercise. But like the dog that only hears its name in your stream of babble, I'm wagering folks just heard "eat what you like ... and lose weight."

McKenna, who has a smooth delivery further enhanced by his vocal similarity to dreamy Battlestar Galactica villain Gaius Baltar, gave us all "homework." Needless to say, except for the "eating what you like" part, I blew it off.

I was also supposed to empty my cupboards of foods I had bought out of earnest but don't want to really eat (rye crisps, butternut squash); not eat while reading or watching TV (unthinkable: TV is my primary dining companion); and put my fork down after each bite (I'm already eating on the couch while watching TV and have nowhere to realistically lay my dirty silverware).

I'm as self-selecting in my self-improvement as anybody.

But, I'll tune back in, because there's something goofily compelling about this show. (I might have been hypnotized.) 

In the coming weeks, through my TV, McKenna is going to help me with cravings (yup), emotional eating (sure), "supercharging" my metabolism (why not?) and most cultishly, a "unique visualization technique to help [me] gain confidence and self-esteem." Bring it on.

Plus, like all weight-loss shows, we get to follow along with selected participants, who, because they are on a TV, tend to do remarkably well. Though, McKenna took the most bizarre "starting weight" -- the total of the studio audience. How meaningless is that!? 

Of course, in fine print during the credits we get: "This show is for entertainment purposes only." Or, as I preach in my new plan, I Can Make You Smart -- "watch what you like."

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