The Nightly Show Is Very Promising

The Nightly Show

I watched the first episode of The Nightly Show. I’ve been looking forward to it, because I think that Larry Wilmore is brilliant. Just the same, it is replacing The Colbert Report so I was concerned that it mightn’t live up to my expectations. There is the issue that Wilmore’s character on The Daily Show was just as limited as Colbert had been. But given that Colbert was a parody of the self-parody Bill O’Reilly, I thought that Wilmore’s subtle and intelligent satire mightn’t translate to a half hour show.

There was nothing to worry about. The Nightly Show seems to be patterned on Politically Incorrect. The show opens with Wilmore doing a monologue. But unlike it was with Bill Maher, it isn’t a stand-up comedy kind of thing. As far as I know, Wilmore is not and never has been a stand-up comedian (again, like Colbert). It was more a humorous essay. And it was strong and very funny. I know that people think that a first episode ought to be really good because all the writers get weeks to work on it. But this is not my experience. Shows normally get better over time.

The B and C blocks were panels. Last night’s was made up Shenaz Treasury, Cory Booker, Talib Kweli, and Bill Burr as “the white guy.” It is a shame that these shows feel the need to include actual politicians like Booker. As politicians go, he isn’t terrible. But the truth is that politicians in this day are so media polished that they literally never say anything that is interesting. And Booker got far too much time to talk. Treasury got little time to talk, although she did bring up the canard about black-on-black crime, noting that roughly 84% of crime is white-on-white. Bill Burr was funny and at least a little provocative in suggesting that the only way that society really changes is when psychopaths get in charge. That was meant to over the top, but his notion that protests now seem to be illegal was dead on.

The best moment in panel discussion was when Booker said that we can’t reduce everything to a binary situation: police officers against the civilians. But Kweli, in his understand way, shot back against this whole kind of “blue lives matter” narrative. He pointed out that protest movements are about solidarity, “You don’t go to a rally to beat cancer and say, ‘All diseases matter!'” That’s a great observation and it gets to the underlying problem with Booker’s point, which is that it is really all about shutting down conversation. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough of this kind of (even polite) conflict in the discussion. But I expect that to improve over time.

The C block involved something called, “Keeping it 100.” In it, Wilmore asked a question of each of the guests where they were supposed to be absolutely honest. If they were, they got a “I Kept It 100” sticker and if not they got a tea bag — “weak tea.” The segment itself was weak tea. The only interesting question was for Talib Kweli about whether hip hop helps or hurts images of African Americans. Clearly, Kweli could write a book on the subject and he tried to provide a nuanced answer but was not given the time. Ultimately, he just said what everyone should know: hip hop is a symptom of society, not a cause. I’m not at all sure this segment is going to stand the test of time.

However, in the short D block, “Keeping it 100” was applied directly Wilmore. They plan to take questions from social media and have Wilmore hear them for the first time live. The question last night was, “What’s the last racist thought you had?” I think this could work pretty well as long as the staff really test Wilmore.

Overall, for a first episode, I thought The Nightly Show was excellent. I think it has a lot of potential. The question is whether Comedy Central will give it enough time to mature. The Daily Show took years to reach its stride. I think the format of The Nightly Show will make it easier to do that. But we’ll see. I’ll definitely be watching.

Kiriakou on Bush, Cheney, and Torture

John KiriakouThey knew about it all the way up to the top. I remember sitting at a meeting with one of the top three officials at the CIA when the program was approved. And throughout the conversation, he kept on saying, “I can’t believe the president signed off on that program. I can’t believe it.” He kept saying it. Because it was so radical and violent that even internally we didn’t think there would be permission forthcoming. And there was. And it got out of hand, and it was a slippery slope and the ball kept rolling down the hill. And the next thing you know, we’re killing people…

When their obituaries are written, their obituaries are going to be about torture and their role in it. And they’re desperately trying to spin the story to make it seem like they were patriots and not criminals. It’s utterly nonpartisan. The Senate Committee on Intelligence used primary source information. They used the original CIA cables to come up with this report. Those cables are not partisan, those cables don’t tell one side of the story. The cables are the actual information written as it was happening. So to call it partisan is just simply untrue. It’s not partisan. What’s partisan is that a certain group of political leaders doesn’t want the organization, the agency, to take responsibility for their actions.

—John Kiriakou
Prison Dispatches From the War on Terror

Southern Pride Rotting Our Republic

Robert E Lee Day?Martin Luther King Jr was born and raised in Georgia. Yet I’ve never seen anyone wearing a t-shirt with his image as an act of “southern pride.” No. “Southern pride” is always expressed with the Confederate flag, Stonewall Jackson, or Robert E Lee.

I came upon this photo over at Hullabaloo, Now Why Would They Do This? I was stunned when I saw it. It isn’t like I’m not aware that many in the south continue to fetishize Lee and pretend that somehow the Confederacy was the true American cause — the “war of northern aggression” and all that ahistorical garbage. But it boggles my mind that a state would combine a celebration of the civil rights struggle with the celebration of the man who led the war to keep racially defined slavery.

Jamelle Bouie explained the whole thing yesterday at Slate, Happy Robert E Lee Day! In the image above, the state is Arkansas. But Alabama and Mississippi (Of course!) do the same thing. In addition, three other states — Georgia, Florida, and Virginia — also celebrate Lee, but they don’t combine him with Martin Luther King. So there’s that.

In Bouie’s telling of it, this is not really a political statement. It just is the case that Lee and King have birthdays that are close together. “As a concept, it was a poor pairing. As a bureaucratic solution, it worked.” But I think Bouie is being too fair or at least non-judgmental. This is racist pandering. It is a signal to the bigots that the state is just doing the whole Martin Luther King thing for the sake of political correctness and that we all know Lee is what the south really stands for. (In that regard, they might have a point.)

There is something more to this, however. Robert E Lee was a traitor. I discussed this in, No More Confederate General Bases! Lee was specifically given the chance to lead the union army. He declined. He chose instead to not only take up arms against his own country in a war started by the southern states, he chose to lead that army. I don’t really care that he was an honorable man. Erwin Rommel was an honorable man, but we don’t have state holidays for him! And when Rommel turned traitor against his nation, it was in the name of something good. When Lee did, it was in the name of one of the worst things this country ever did.

It’s weird, I think. Conservatives are all about how liberalism coddles minority groups — especially African Americans. That’s not true, of course — we are simply trying to create a fair nation — but that’s what conservatives think. Meanwhile, their political power is based upon coddling southern bigots. But when it comes to the southern bigots, the whole nation gets into the game. That’s why no one rises up in disgust at the south’s continued use of an American traitor as a hero and the continued use of the Confederate flag as though it were a symbol of anything other than treason.

The south will never grow up unless we force it to put away its childish illusions that the Civil War was anything but a treasonous act in defense of one of the vilest of human behaviors. There are a lot of ways that people could show their “southern pride,” if they think it necessary. As I noted a few days ago, they could lionize William Faulkner. But somehow, showing “southern pride” is always about hearkening back to the good ol’ days when blacks knew their place. I’m not keen on the whole idea of regional pride to begin with. But “southern pride” has a special smell of rot. It is a disease that is hobbling our republic.

Farhad Mehrad

Farhad MehradOn this day in 1944, the great Iranian singer-songwriter Farhad Mehrad was born. I don’t really know that much about him — and I’m not sure how reliable Wikipedia is regarding him. And even though I’ve listened to a lot of his music, I have no idea what the lyrics are. The music speaks for itself, I think. And the emotion comes through very clearly in his singing.

He was very successful before the Iranian revolution. And he supported the revolution — even writing a song, “Vahdat” — that was kind of an anthem for it. But as often happens in revolutions, the most reactionary factions take control. After the revolution, the theocratic government refused to allow him to release any of his music. So for roughly 14 years, he didn’t do music publicly. Then, in 1993, he started releasing music and performing. Sadly, he died less than a decade later of Hepatitis C at the age of 58.

Here is the song “Marde Tanha,” which first brought him to fame:

And here is a short set of songs performed later in his life:

Happy birthday Farhad Mehrad!