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Fri11272020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Given the year we are all having, it’s a fantastic time to watch a movie in which a deranged reporter from Kazakhstan offers up his young daughter as a gift to Mike Pence while wearing a Trump costume.

Why? It’s a shitshow that encapsulates the madness we continue to endure deep into 2020.

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is a fine continuation of the madness Sacha Baron Cohen unleashed on the world with his original film 14 years ago. (That’s right … 14 YEARS AGO. Can you believe it?) This time out, instead of driving an ice cream truck with a big hairy guy and a bear, Borat is trekking across the country with his 15-year-old daughter (a very funny Maria Bakalova) in tow.

This, of course, presents an entirely different dynamic. Borat doesn’t know his “not a son” well, and he has difficulty treating her with respect—like allowing her to live outside of a cage, for example. Somehow, Cohen and director Jason Woliner manage to make their antics not only hilarious, but awkwardly heartwarming. Shit, this might just be the feel-good movie of the year.

As in the first film, Borat exposes the ugly, racist underbelly of America. While the previous film’s big moment was a staged (and hilarious) sequence with Pamela Anderson, the sequel’s big moments are unrehearsed and unbelievably pulled off.

The previously mentioned encounter with Pence is just a warmup for the big kahuna—and that would be Rudy Giuliani seemingly thinking he is going to get sexy time with Borat’s daughter during a hotel-room interview. (Note to all public figures: NEVER ACCEPT A HOTEL ROOM AS A SETTING FOR AN INTERVIEW, YOU DUMB ASSES!) Giuliani is gross, touchy-feely and patronizing during the fake interview with Bakalova—and then he walks straight into the hotel bedroom. His excuse for touching his thang in her presence—to be clear, the actress is in her 20s and never states her make-believe age—is that he was tucking in his shirt.

When did touching your dick become synonymous with tucking in your shirt? Rudy’s a lawyer; maybe he knows more about it. Maybe there’s some statute or writ or whatever somewhere that declares dick-touching as essential to tucking in one’s shirt on film.

All of the film’s setups work to varying degrees of success, and Cohen has delivered his best work since Borat’s first film venture. It’ll be interesting to see who will be governing this great land when a possible second sequel lands. Hopefully, it will be somebody with a better sense of humor than Mike Pence. Come, on you stick-in-the-mud … laugh a little. You got punked, and it’s funny.

As for Rudy … he should make sure interviews take place in Grand Central Station during rush hour.

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

On this week's Dodger-blue weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorensen ponders Donald Trump's election power plays; The K Chronicles admires lower Canadian drug prices; This Modern World shudders at the Trump Tower of Terror; Apoca Clips learns why Mike Pence doesn't need to worry about COVID-19; and Red Meat plays a fun game with the kids.

Published in Comics

On this week's town-hall-style weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World brings us a special virus-themed episode of Donald J. Trump, Detective-in-Chief; Jen Sorensen wonders why Democrats want to "pack the courts"; The K Chronicles makes a pitch for Trump fans to vote for someone else; Red Meat recovers from a medical procedure; and Apoca Clips takes multiple coronavirus tests.

Published in Comics

It’s common practice for media organizations to prepare coverage of certain events before said events have actually happened.

Take obituaries, for example. The Associated Press, The New York Times and other large media organizations have files upon files of pre-written obituaries for prominent people. (Reporters once worked on them on what used to be called “slow news days,” a concept that the year 2020 has completely and totally obliterated.) This way, when a death does occur, all editors need to do is pull out the pre-written obit, add in a date and a cause of death, and perhaps update a few details before quickly publishing. This practice is sometimes called “preparedness.”

Sometimes, this preparedness can cause weirdness. The New York Times, for example, has a long and storied history of publishing bylined obituaries penned by writers who themselves have been dead for years.

Then there’s the problem of obituaries making their way to the wire or the internet before the subject has actually died. My favorite example of this happened back in 1998, when someone working for the AP hit the wrong button, more or less, and sent out Bob Hope’s obituary. The obit was clearly not complete—a bunch of x’s were in the places where Hope’s cause of death and his age would have been—but the story got the attention of an aide to then-House Majority Leader Dick Armey, which led to Hope’s death being announced on the House floor. Which led Reuters to report Hope’s death. Which led ABC Radio to report Hope’s death. And so on.

Hope would live five more years.

Today, in an effort to get things published online quickly after they happen, some news websites will pre-write stories, just in case something, which may or may not happen, actually happens. And this brings us to the big mistake Deadline made yesterday.

The background: Vice President Mike Pence cancelled an event scheduled for today in his home state. Even though a Pence spokesman said at the time that COVID-19 was NOT the reason for the change, the fact that the White House is now confirmed to have been the site of a super-spreader event led to all sorts of speculation—and apparently led Deadline to write up a piece announcing that Pence had tested positive for COVID-19, so it was ready to go in case that actually happened.

But then someone at Deadline actually published the piece. And then the piece was shared on Deadline’s Twitter page.

As with the AP’s premature Bob Hope obit, it was clear to anyone paying attention that the Deadline piece was published prematurely, given “PREP. DO NOT PUBLISH UNTIL THE NEWS CROSSES” was in the headline before the actual headline. But that didn’t stop people from jumping to erroneous conclusions —even though as of this writing, the vice president appears to be COVID-free.

Sigh. I miss slow news days.

Please, if you can, become a Supporter of the Independent by clicking here; we need help to continue producing quality local journalism.

Today’s news:

The second presidential debate is officially cancelled. The Commission on Presidential Debates wanted to make the scheduled Oct. 15 debate a virtual event, because one of the two participants was recently diagnosed with COVID-19. However, that participant refused to participate in a virtual event, so the debate was cancelled. As of now, the Oct. 22 debate remains on the schedule, but who in the hell knows what the 13 days between now and then will bring.

And then there’s this headline from The New York Times: “Trump plans to hold a rally for thousands on the White House lawn Saturday, raising new concerns over possible virus spread.” He also has a rally planned in Florida on Monday. Yes, really.

Related, from Reuters: “U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, one of President Donald Trump’s most powerful allies in Washington, has avoided visiting the White House for more than two months because of its handling of the coronavirus, he told reporters on Thursday.” Holy cow!

• Oh, and the White House last month blocked the CDC from requiring masks on all forms of public and commercial transportation, according to the Times. My god.

• Hey, who needs a drink? We’re only the intro plus three stories into this Digest, but I sure do … and a Manhattan sounds amazing! But did you know the sweet vermouth you use in a Manhattan is just as important as the whiskey? So here’s a Thrillist piece on some good sweet vermouths.

• Before we get to more despair, let’s share some good news on the COVID-19 battle. First: Two drug-makers have requested emergency-use authorizations for antibody therapies to battle SARS-CoV-2—including the one the president received. Per NBC News: “The announcements from drug manufacturers Regeneron and Eli Lilly came within hours of Trump making public pleas to drum up support and enthusiasm for the medicines—referring to the antibodies as a ‘cure,’ despite a lack of evidence backing up such a claim.” Still, the therapies show promise.

Fingers crossed regarding this CNBC lede: “Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Thursday the U.S. could have enough COVID-19 vaccine doses for every American as early as March, a more optimistic estimate than President Donald Trump has publicly said.”

Also from CNBC comes the news that the FDA has granted emergency authorization for a rapid test that can screen patients for both the flu and COVID-19—plus other viruses and bugs.

• Hey, another silver lining! COVID-19 is making us filthy Americans wash our disgusting hands more frequently.

The New York Times today published yet another piece regarding portions of President Trump’s taxes where the numbers don’t really add up. This story involves a mysterious $21 million in payments to Trump in 2016 that largely “went through a company called Trump Las Vegas Sales and Marketing that had little previous income, no clear business purpose and no employees.”

Yet another NFL team was in limbo today after a positive COVID-19 test. (It turned out that the test was apparently a false positive.) As CNBC points out, the NFL is likely to keep playing, no matter what—because too much money is at stake.

• Did you know that the rich have access to private firefighting crews? The Los Angeles Times points out that not only does this raise serious questions about societal inequities; “when private, for-profit groups come in and don’t follow protocol, they can confuse residents, get in the way of firefighting activities or even require assistance themselves.”

• Why in the world are rolling blackouts still a thing in 2020? According to our partners at CalMatters, the preliminary results of an investigation into the blackouts earlier this year show the state did a bad job at planning and preparing.

Also from CalMatters, via the Independent: Proposition 24 is one of the most confusing questions on the ballot this year. It’s supposed to protect citizens’ privacy on the internet … but leading privacy advocates disagree on whether the proposition would actually do that.

Happy Friday, everyone. We made it through another crazy week! Be safe, and have a great weekend. The Digest will return Monday.

Published in Daily Digest

It’s been yet another busy news day—in fact, there are links to more than 20 interesting stories below. But before we get into the news of the day, I wanted to share a link to my editor’s note (tweaked ever so slightly for online publication) from the Independent’s May print edition.

It covers all sorts of stuff I’ve already covered in this space (our coloring book, our Facebook grant, etc.), but if you want a recap of how things are going with your local independent newspaper, here’s a good place to start.

I’ll discuss the May print edition a little more tomorrow. But in the meantime … here are today’s links:

• The big news of the day: Preliminary study results now show that Gilead Sciences’ drug remdesivir can help a statistically significant number of people battling COVID-19. Dr. Anthony Fauci said this is a big deal—because it shows drugs can indeed fight this thing.

• I found this piece 1) gross, 2) fascinating and 3) oddly reassuring: Wanna know how scientists are watching for signs of an uptick in coronavirus infections? By studying sewage.

• This is evil and awful: You know how some states are starting the reopening process—even though the vast majority of the experts say that’s a terrible, terrible idea? Well, one “benefit” for the states is it forces people to go back to work—and gets them off of unemployment. But what if you work at a business that’s reopening, and you feel that it’s unsafe to go back? Well, in Iowa, at least, you have no choice.

• This is now the worst economy, like, ever (or at least since the government has been keeping track). So says Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell.

• Here’s a long read that is, for the most part, a good read, from The Atlantic, covering what we do and do not know about SARS-CoV-2.

• Good for Costco: Starting Monday, store hours are going back to normal—and masks will be mandatory.

• Keep your fingers crossed again: If all goes well (and a LOT will have to go well, but …) another vaccine candidate could be ready for emergency use by the fall.

• The vice president continues to receive criticism for his maskless trip to the Mayo Clinic. And the clinic’s getting flak for letting him get away with it.

The Bay Area is loosening restrictions on some businesses and industries juuust a little bit.

• Did Donald Trump suggest this? (Kidding!) (At least we think we are!) The first graph from this BBC News piece: “Authorities in a Spanish coastal resort have apologised after spraying a beach with bleach in an attempt to protect children from coronavirus.”

• Contact tracing is often cited as being a key element in helping us reopen before we have a vaccine. NPR recently surveyed all 50 states regarding their current contact-tracing capacity. Spoiler alert: Unless you live in North Dakota, your state doesn’t have enough.

• Well, Elon Musk is being an ass again.

• Late last week, we mentioned that the governor had announced a plan for the state to help pay for restaurants to prepare food for seniors and high-risk people in need. Well, Riverside County has started the signup process for both interested restaurants and people who may want to get food deliveries.

• Oh, great. Rashes and other weird skin issues can be a symptom of this damned virus, too.

AMC Theaters has banned Universal Pictures from its screens—and Regal Cinemas is threatening to take similar action—after the studio moved Trolls World Tour to a digital-exclusive release.

• You know times are weird when The Wall Street Journal, of all publications, publishes a piece on how to negotiate with creditors to lower or delay payments on bills.

• As long as they don’t become artificially intelligent and take over, robots may be able help prevent the spread of the coronavirus by cleaning places with UV light.

• The Los Angeles Times brings us yet another piece on the devastating effects the shutdown is having on the work of scientists who aren’t directly involved with the battle against COVID-19.

• Miss the museum? Check out the Palm Springs Art Museum’s online exhibit of the photography of Stephen H. Willard (1894-1966).

• Pro tip: If you’re going to do a news report from your home, and you decide to eschew pants, make sure that viewers can’t see that.

That’s all for today. Wash your hands. Buy our amazing Coloring Book. And if you can spare a few bucks, please consider becoming a supporter of the Independent; it costs a lot of money to do quality journalism and make it available for free to all. Thanks again for reading. More tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

There was sooooo much interesting news today—from more on California’s reopening plans to the hubbub over Tupac Shakur’s unemployment (not joking!)—we shan’t delay in getting to the links:

• Today’s big news: Gov. Newsom today laid out more specifics on the reopening of California, in a four-stage process. Right now, we’re in Stage 1. (But you knew that already.) He also suggested that the state’s schools could open earlier than normal summer

• From the Independent: Kevin Allman talked to the owners of Dringk, Bongo Johnny’s and Eight4Nine, as well as the executive director of the Rancho Mirage Chamber of Commerce, about the tough decisions restaurants have had to make during the pandemic.

• From the Independent: Matt King is a student at College of the Desert who comes from a family full of teachers—so he decided to talk to several of his teachers, current and past, about the challenges of being a teacher at a time when in-person classes cannot be.

• Two related stories: The Conversation brings us this piece, posted yesterday from a business-law expert, on one reason why meat plants may be closing—a concern over being prosecuted if they get blamed for spreading the virus. And then today comes the news that the president plans on ordering the plants to remain open—and possibly protecting them from liability—in an effort to keep the meat supply chain up and running.

A sad stats day: The U.S. crossed the 1 million line in terms of coronavirus cases—and the virus has now killed more Americans than the Vietnam War.

• Yet another piece of evidence showing that we’re living in the worst timeline: The feds are preparing to loan big business billions—with almost no strings whatsoever.

• NPR’s headline says it all: “Leaving Off Mask at Mayo Clinic, Pence Said He Wanted To Look Workers ‘in the Eye.’” Sigh.

• The Wall Street Journal yesterday posted this piece: “The Secret Group of Scientists and Billionaires Pushing a Manhattan Project for COVID-19.” While the story itself is interesting, I recommend skipping straight to the PDF report from the group

• For this one year only, films will not need to be released theatrically in order to be eligible for the Oscars.

• Best Buy today announced that it was allowing the Geek Squad to enter people’s homes again.

• Well, this is depressing: Some stores are running out of sympathy cards because of this damned virus.

The nation’s hotels, large and small, are getting ready to do things rather differently when travel again becomes a thing.

• As the great Dave Barry would say, we are not making this up: Scientists are examining the possibility that nicotine may keep COVID-19 at bay. Yes, really.

• I repeat, we are not making this up: If you’re having problems checking the status of your stimulus check on the IRS website, try typing things in all caps. Yes, really, again.

• Meanwhile, out of Kentucky comes this headline: “Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear apologizes to Tupac Shakur over coronavirus unemployment claim.” Yes, this headline is accurate, and no, we’re not smelling toast.

• Aaaand in the ever-weird and cutthroat world of British media, a newspaper has suspended a journalist after he allegedly snuck into a rival newspaper’s Zoom meeting.

• This is not directly related to the virus, but we need all the good news we can get, so here’s a just-released trailer for the Kimmy Schmidt special coming to Netflix in May.

That’s all for today. Buy our coloring book, dang it! Let us know if you want a copy of our May print edition sent to you. And if you can afford to support our journalism, please do so, because times are tough. We’ll be back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

On this week's self-quarantined weekly Independent comics page: Apoca Clips asks Li'l Trumpy how containment is going; Red Meat gets a new job; Jen Sorensen wonders whether Dems are rooting for the coronavirus; The K Chronicles visits some bald eagles in Canada; and This Modern World looks yet again at Life in the Stupidverse.

Published in Comics

In September 1918, hundreds of men stationed at an overcrowded U.S. Army base 30 miles west of Boston began showing up at the hospital. Their faces, the director of the surgeon general’s Office of Communicable Diseases would report, “wore a bluish cast; a cough brought up the bloodstained sputum.”

Experts recommended that no one from that base—Camp Devens—be transferred. Doing so, Army doctors warned, would lead to “thousands of cases of the disease, with many deaths.” They were overruled. The war was too important. On the trans-Atlantic voyage to the front, thousands got sick, and many died.

The so-called Spanish flu killed many more Americans than did World War I: 675,000 to 117,000. The disease infected up to 40 percent of the world’s population and killed between 50 million and 100 million people, about two-thirds of them in a 10-week span between September and December of 1918; the war itself killed about 20 million people.

Though its origin is unknown, the first reported case was in Kansas in March 1918. Other early cases surfaced in France and China. But the U.S., France and China were at war, and their governments restricted what newspapers could publish. Only when the king, prime minister and cabinet officials of the neutral Spain caught the virus did news of its spread get broadcast worldwide—hence, the misnomer “Spanish flu.”

The Woodrow Wilson administration urged Americans not to take it too seriously. In mid-October, the surgeon general finger-wagged: “The present generation has been spoiled by having had expert medical and nursing care readily available.”

Even as the body count rose to unfathomable levels—in New York City, the flu killed 20,000 in 10 weeks; in Philadelphia, priests drove carts through the streets asking people to bring out their dead—the government suppressed the scope of the crisis, fearing that panic would undermine the war effort. That led to still more deaths. For example, Philadelphia scheduled a march to promote war bonds for late September. Doctors warned the city to cancel. The city’s newspapers declined to publish the warnings. The march was a huge success.

Within four weeks, 47,000 Philadelphians came down with the flu; 12,000 of them died.

The coronavirus pandemic 102 years later doesn’t appear to be nearly as deadly. As I write this, the virus has infected 90,000 people, mostly in China, and has caused more than 3,000 deaths. While the rate of growth in China appears to be declining, it is spreading rapidly elsewhere, particularly in Europe and across Asia.

In the United Kingdom, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has warned that up to 80 percent of the UK’s population could become infected, and a half-million Britons could die. He hasn’t ruled out taking drastic measures, including locking down entire cities, to contain the virus.

But like Wilson, President Trump doesn’t want you to take it too seriously. A fearmongering backseat driver during the Ebola outbreak of 2014, the world’s most famous germaphobe will face voters in the midst of his own public health crisis—and with little public credibility as currency to spend. Further complicating things, his go-to solution—travel bans from afflicted countries—won’t stave off the spread. Trump’s immediate concern is that the stock market had its worst week since the 2008 crash; some economists are starting to toss around the R-word, which could be fatal in November.

Trump’s priority is to calm markets by projecting control amid dysfunction. As always, there’s a lot of dysfunction.

Last month, the State Department overruled the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and brought back 14 infected cruise-ship passengers from Japan on the same plane as non-infected people. The CDC’s restrictive criteria for identifying potential coronavirus cases and faulty diagnostic tests have likely led to a deceptively low number of positive results. According to a Department of Health and Human Services whistleblower, a dozen DHHS employees were sent to meet the first Americans evacuated from Wuhan, China, without protective gear or training. And over HHS Secretary Alex Azar’s objections, the administration asked Congress for a paltry $2.5 billion in emergency funds—it didn’t want to signal a real crisis.

The optics-focused Trump, meanwhile, was reportedly enraged that a CDC official—Rod Rosenstein’s sister, so cue the conspiracy theories—said the virus’s spread across the U.S. was inevitable.

At a press conference last week, Trump announced that he was appointing Vice President Mike Pence the head of his coronavirus task force—evidently because he feared that an outside czar might be disloyal. Pence, as governor of Indiana, badly botched his state’s handling of an AIDS flare-up. His first order of business was a mandate that that no one comment on the coronavirus without his office’s approval.

Minutes before that press conference, Trump learned that the CDC had uncovered the first U.S. case of coronavirus not tied to foreign travel, the sign of its impending spread. He didn’t mention that, though. Instead, he assured the American people that it would all be over soon and praised his administration’s response.

“And again, when you have 15 people—and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero—that’s a pretty good job we’ve done,” he said.

The next night, he offered a self-contradictory take: “It’s going to disappear. One day—it’s like a miracle—it will disappear. And from our shores, we—you know, it could get worse before it gets better. It could maybe go away. We’ll see what happens. Nobody really knows.” The night after that, in South Carolina, he told his supporters that Democrats had politicized the pandemic and that “this is their new hoax.”

The next day, the first American died from coronavirus. The day after that, the second one did. As of this morning (March 4), the U.S. had at least 129 known coronavirus cases.

Contact Jeffrey C. Billman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in National/International

On this week's weekly Independent comics page, which is best read while sipping a beverage by a pool: Apoca Clips watches as Li'l Trumpy conjures up Lev; Red Meat wants a new pet; Jen Sorensen ponders the future of school lunches; (Th)ink pays tribute to the Year of the Rat; and This Modern World listens to the latest blatherings from The Unbelievable Trump.

Published in Comics

On this week's extra-unhinged weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorenson wonders what some Democrats are thinking when it comes to Brett Kavanaugh; The K Chronicles honors Colin Kaepernick; This Modern World watches some Fox News with the president; Apoca Clips gets a cut from Geoffrey Owens; and Red Meat is encouraged to have a healthier diet.

Published in Comics

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