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Pop culture, entertainment & all things Fresno

Break a leg, Arthur

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The scene: Thursday ArtHop at the bustling Ryan C. Jones Photography office in the Iron Bird complex. People throng the sidewalk outside — some straying over from the show at Fulton 55, others browsing the outdoor booths, another group wandering in and out of the multiple ArtHop locales checking out the art.

The sighting: ArtHop is a time when I bump into people. Lots of people. And many of them I haven’t seen in a while. I turn the corner and run into Arthur Koster, a talented young local actor with whom I shared the stage when I wrote my “I Wanna Be a Producer” blog series almost three years ago. Whenever I see Arthur I always think of his line in the song “Springtime for Hitler” when he chirped, “”I was born in Dusseldorf and that is why they call me Rolf!”

The news: We chat for a few moments. He asks how I’m doing, and I ask how he doing, and that’s when it slips out. “Tomorrow I’m moving to New York,” he says.

His plan: It’s the classic. He’ll stay with friends in Brooklyn for a while, go to a bunch of auditions, learn the city. Plus, he already has a gig: a role in a yet-to-be-titled independent film. Yes, he admits he’s a little anxious. But who wouldn’t be?

The rite of passage: I’m not one of those Fresnans who gnashes teeth when a promising young person heads off for big things in the world. To me, it’s inspiring. (And, many times, they come back years later, making the city a richer place.) I’m excited for Arthur and his dreams. That his revelation comes in the middle of such bustling action in downtown Fresno only seems to add to the expansive artistic possibilities of the moment.

The farewell: I tell him he’s going to do great, to keep in touch, to have fun. All the expected things. But I really mean them. As we part, I have an extra bounce in my own step. I’m energized by his enthusiasm. By now, Arthur is probably in the air on his way to the Big Apple. And thus another adventure begins.

Free Comic Book Day is Saturday

Green Lantern_STK435692.JPG Don’t forget Saturday is Free Comic Book Day.

If you haven’t planned on getting to the local participating shops, change your plans.

One of the comics being handed out is a Green Lantern special edition that includes the first preview of “Flashpoint,” this summer’s anticipated mini-series where DC Comics promises “everything you know will change in a Flash.”

Information on the series has been top secret and Saturday will be the first time fans will get a look at it.

Please remember that the comic may not be available at all stores. And, the stores that have it will only have limited copies. So get to the local comic book stories early.

Talking points: an atheist billboard

UPDATE 1:30 p.m. 5/6: The billboard has been vandalized and tagged:

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ORIGINAL ENTRY: The Central Valley Coalition of Reason, a collection of three Valley atheist groups, put the billboard up at the corner of Blackstone and Saginaw avenues.

Paula Lloyd writes about it on Page A3 of today’s Bee.

I was interested to learn from the story (and subsequent reader comments) that a preacher named Harold Camping has predicted the Rapure for May 21, just weeks away, and the end of the world for October. (I don’t know if this is just one guy preaching this or a significant movement.)

I’m so used to religious-themed billboards in the Valley that seeing this atheist version is like a jolt. I think that fact alone makes it news, though there are several readers who are expressing strongly worded opinions otherwise on the story’s comment thread.

What do you think? Was this worth a story? And are you planning on having to pay June rent?

Meanwhile, in a Talking Points update: Fresno State’s student government decided Wednesday to dismiss allegations that President Pedro Ramirez — who came under fierce criticism from peers after outing himself as an illegal immigrant last year — had violated student government bylaws.

Bee photo/Craig Kohlruss

Donald’s weekend picks

I’ve already told you about some of this weekend’s happenings, from Fresno State’s “The Glass Menagerie” and Good Company’s just-reviewed “Born Yesterday” to “City Dance Spring Concert 2011″ at Fresno City College.

Some more picks:

ORGAN MANIA
Here’s your chance to play the spectacular Morton pipe organ at Warnors Theatre — and to ride up and down with it on its elevator.

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Here’s an idea for Mother’s Day: Take mom purse shopping

OK, I’m a sucker for a good handbag. So I love the idea of this event – maybe even enough to be up at 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning.

DAV Thrift Stores is having a designer purse sale tomorrow from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Stock includes designs such as Coach, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Dooney and Bourke. Nice.

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The best part, buying one of these purses or handbags helps out veterans.

Fresno State loses Summer Arts

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Fresno State has lost its bid to keep the California State University Summer Arts program.

Starting in 2012 the annual month-long festival will be held at CSU Monterey Bay, program staffer Jackie Doumanian tells me. An official announcement is being drafted in the CSU Chancellor’s Office.

This summer’s program, which runs June 26-July 26, will still be in Fresno. It will be the 13th time the festival has been in Fresno out of the program’s 26-year history.

The decision to move to CSU Monterey Bay was made by a five-person committee made up of arts faculty from campuses not bidding for the Summer Arts contract, says program director Jim Spalding.

After Fresno State won the bid to host Summer Arts in 1998, it received a number of extensions over the years — the latest being a one-year extension to help celebrate Fresno State’s centennial. The biggest factor in the university’s continuing hold on the program (besides its convenient central location) was a deep reservoir of community goodwill in terms of attendance, media attention and financial support for scholarships.

But a mission of the program is to serve all the campuses in the CSU system, and Fresno’s lock on Summer Arts — which brought in tens of thousands of talented arts students and hundreds of prestigious artists and ensembles over the years for low-cost public performances — finally slipped this time.

“It’s a system-wide program and we’re meant to move,” Spalding says. “But we leave with a heavy heart.”

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Viewers not mad about Paul Reiser

reiser2.JPG The interview I did with Paul Reiser came between the first and second episode of his new NBC series “The Paul Reiser Show.”

Don’t go looking for it. There was no third episode because it debuted to the lowest ratings ever for a new comedy on NBC.

His new show wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t that good. Maybe it got pulled so quickly because Reiser didn’t have that hunger that producers have when they are desperate to get on the air. Since “Mad About You” ended, Reiser’s been living a very quiet life.

“I wasn’t thinking of looking to do a show. Then about a year or two ago, the nice people at Warner Bros. invited me and said, ‘Well, why don’t you come up with an idea to be in.’ And I said, ‘I don’t know what it would be.’ And as I thought about it, I just started really culling my life, and this came to me,” Reiser says. He pauses and adds, “Is that the least interesting answer anybody’s ever given?”

Yes. It’s also a clue as to why Reiser’s back living the quiet life.

Entertainment this weekend

Flashpoint.JPG The weather’s going to be so nice this weekend it’s hard to imagine that anyone will be staying indoors. If you do, here are some quality viewing suggestions.

TELEVISION
“Flashpoint,” 8 p.m. tonight, KGPE (Channel 47.1): The Canadian import is a fast-paced action series about an elite group of police officers who handle only the toughest cases. Enrico Colantoni and Hugh Dillon star.

MOVIES
“Thor”: This is one of the better comic book inspired movies because of the solid direction by Kenneth Branagh and strong performances by Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins. The film will make a star out of Chris Hemsworth.

DVD
“Drop Dead Diva: The Complete Second Season”: This Lifetime offering continues to be one of television’s best kept secrets. Brooke Elliott turns in a masterful performance in this series about a superficial beauty who dies and gets sent back to Earth to inhabit the plus-size body of female attorney Jane Bingum.

More on ‘The Glass Menagerie’

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Fresno State and Tennessee Williams share 100th birthdays this year, and the university’s theater department decided to celebrate the occasion with a production of “The Glass Menagerie.” (It opens Friday and continues through May 14.) I caught up with director Kathleen McKinley, who’s directed such Williams classics as “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “A Streetcar Named Desire” at Fresno State, for a chat via email. There’s a condensed version of the interview in Friday’s 7 section; see below for the extended version.

Question: Besides the centenaries, any special reason for doing the show?

On a personal note, the domineering mother in “Glass Menagerie,” Amanda Wingfield, says, “My devotion has made me a witch and so I make myself hateful to my children,” which I certainly hope is not the case with my own two children who are currently transitioning out of the nest under the wing of their devoted mother. My daughter, who played a “no-neck monster” [a child] in a 2001 University Theatre production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” graduates from high school this month.

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Sir Anthony Hopkins has earned respect

People Anthony Hopkins.JPG I know we fought a war with England so we don’t have to play attention to all of the official royal trappings. But, I still wasn’t certain whether or not to use “sir” when talking to Anthony Hopkins. It’s not so much that the star of “Thor” has been knighted but more his body of work that makes him deserving the deepest of respect.

Get this. He prefers to be called Tony. Well, I prefer to be called Pulitzer winner but that’s going to happen about as quickly as me calling him Tony.

It only takes a few moments with Hopkins to realize he’s anything but pretentious. When asked why he agreed to play Thor, Hopkins says he’s often said that he would read the phone book if paid enough money.

There’s no hint of how much he was paid to be in “Thor” but there’s another – more serious – lure. Hopkins wanted to work with director Kenneth Branagh.

“He said, ‘Would you like to play Odin?’ I said, ‘Yeah, okay.’ He gave me the script and I read it. And I thought, ‘Yeah, I’d love to work with him’ because I’ve always been a fan of Ken’s, ” Hopkins says. “I think I’d gone through a patch where I was getting very indifferent to everything and I could care less about anything. And then to work with Ken, he just pushed the right buttons to get me to give my best. And I really value that in him because I’d gotten lazy.”

Hopkins pauses, smiles and adds, “Hey, I wanted the work. Gotta pay the rent, you know.”

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MOVIE REVIEWS: “Thor”

I saw “Thor” Tuesday night along with some lucky Beehive winners, and I really liked it. It doesn’t hurt that Thor actor Chris Hemsworth is easy on the eyes. There’s one scene where he’s shirtless that’s seared into my mind forever. I can definitely handle more of this, please!

I’m not the only one who liked it. Rick has raves too. Here’s his one-minute video review:

Remember to post your review of the movie here, which gives you a chance to win some cool movie swag.

Angela Bassett brings star power

bassett.JPG Ever since Marlon Brando was cast to play Jor-El in the 1978 film “Superman,” comic book-inspired films have included big name stars in supporting roles. The idea with Brando was that he would be a box office draw because then unknown star Christopher Reeve had little pull.

Sir Anthony Hopkins plays Odin in the new “Thor” movie while Jack Nicholson popped up to play The Joker in “Batman” more than 20 years ago.

Producers of the new “Green Lantern” movie – opening in June – have turned to Oscar-nominee Angela Bassett to play Dr. Amanda Waller.

After an interview for her work in “Jumping the Broom,” Bassett makes it very clear her Waller won’t exactly be like the one in the comic books.

“Well, I’m not 300 pounds. That’s how she’s drawn,” Bassett jokes. “I hope they will develop her into sequels. She’s not heavily involved in the first movie but she’s intellectual, bright, means business, gets it done, in there in the trenches and nothing fazes her. It was pretty awesome.”

With her star power, you can bet she’ll be around for any future “Green Lantern” offerings.

On TV tonight: ‘Community’

Thumbnail image for community.JPG “Community” 8 p.m. KSEE (Channel 24.1): I know I’ve said it before, but the second season of the NBC comedy has certainly found its comedy footing. The first year was good but this year’s episodes shows why the series has been given a third season order.

Tonight’s episode is the first of a two-parter that finishes off the year. Look for a colorful episode as the community college students end up in a heated paintball match.

For those of you still upset about the cancelation of “Lost,” Josh Holloway makes a guest appearance as a many of mystery on “Community.”

To-Do Tonight: ArtHop, City Dance, ‘Marriage Material’

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If if it’s the first Thursday in Fresno, that means there’s a lot on the agenda. Here are three options:

ARTHOP
I have a roundup of picks in Thursday’s Life section that includes a soul-food exhibition (and sweet potato pie tasting!) at the African American Historical & Cultural Museum of the San Joaquin Valley with artist/chef Charla Franklin (photo above by The Bee’s Mark Crosse); a raucous “Cinco de Mayo” exhibition and celebration at Fresno City Hall; and an intriguing group show at Corridor 2122 titled “Recreation” that includes an aluminum-clad, self-designed and hand-built RV by Karen Johnston on display outside the gallery (below).

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Win tickets to ‘Marriage Material’ starring T-Boz

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UPDATE: Our winners are Terry Rodriguez and Anna. Congratulations.

ORIGINAL POST: Playwright Je’Caryous Johnson has carved out a happy theatrical niche. He writes romantic comedies that tour the country featuring casts of well-known black actors/entertainers. When his show “Cheaper to Keep Her” came to Fresno in September, I wrote:

The experience blended different elements of theater and performance into a boisterous package. It was part stand-up-comedy, part musical, part sitcom, part revival church service, part R&B dance party and part cultural commentary.

Now Johnson’s company, I’m Ready Productions, is bringing a new title to town: “Marriage Material,” which plays 7 p.m. Thursday at the Saroyan Theatre. Leading the cast is singer/actor T-Boz, a member of the group TLC. Here’s how the producers describe the plot:

Esteemed lawyer Koren Lyles has been known to slay hearts, but what happens when each of her past romantic casualties, end up at a premarital weekend retreat all together? It’s a date with disaster!

Tickets to the show are $37.50 (plus $11.95 fees) for a total of $49.45. But there’s a way to go for free: I’m giving away two pairs of tickets to Beehive readers.

To enter just leave a comment below. Deadline is 5 p.m. today (Wednesday). I’ll draw two winners at random and notify them by email. Please leave a real e-mail address, and please check it late this afternoon, because if I can’t connect with the winner within a reasonable period of time, I’ll draw again. Your tickets will be available at Will Call. You’re ineligible if you’ve won something in the past 30 days. Complete rules on the jump.

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Um, about those Smart Meters …

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We’ve talked about PG&E’s Smart Meters on the Beehive before, so I figure this not-so-surprising update is in order. Bee reporter Paula Lloyd writes:

Nearly 700 Pacific Gas & Electric Co. customers in Fresno, Madera, Kings and Tulare counties are getting new SmartMeters to replace faulty ones the utility said have caused some inaccurate bills. PG&E’s announcement that it would replace around 1,600 SmartMeters statewide was an admission of problems, which the utility adamantly denied when complaints first surfaced in 2009.

Wouldn’t it be nice to take a chunk of outgoing PG&E CEO Peter Darbee’s $35 million retirement package and give even bigger rebates?

What I’m curious about is this: If the meters were/are defective, how does PG&E know how much to refund? Isn’t the very definition of a defective meter that you can’t trust its readings?

On TV tonight: Mother’s Day comedies

modern.JPG ABC comedies, 8, 8:30 and 9 p.m., KFSN (Channel 30.1): All three of the series feature Mother’s Day storylines. Not only does this set up the potential for funny moments, the programs should be a reminder to all of you who need to do some shopping before Sunday.

Here’s what you’ll see.

“The Middle”: You know things won’t go as planned when Mike and the kids decide to give Frankie a day without the family as a Mother’s Day gift.

“Better With You”: Joel tries to get Mia the baby stroller of her dreams.

Modern Family”: Gloria and Claire plan a Mother’s Day hike with the kids while Phil catches Jay in a moment of weakness.

Happy early Mother’s Day.

THEATER REVIEW: ‘Born Yesterday’

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How much does it cost to buy a U.S. senator?

Way back in 1946, when Garson Kanin wrote the classic script for “Born Yesterday,” the tab was $80,000. Or at least that’s the figure tossed around in this hard-charging political-satire-meets-romantic-comedy . Today, of course, that amount doesn’t even come close to what politicians have to raise each and every day just to run the obscenely expensive campaigns that keep them in office.

But even when the details are old-fashioned in this cheery and (ever so slightly) menacing romp, they don’t blunt the overall impact. Thanks to a fresh and vibrant production from Good Company Players, which continues through June 12 at the 2nd Space Theatre, the impact of “Born Yesterday” is in many ways comparable to when it first opened.

Maybe even more so.

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The Beehive Asks: Will ‘The Book of Mormon’ ever play in Fresno?

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If you hadn’t heard of the new Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon” before today, the announcement this morning of this year’s Tony nominees probably upped the odds. This irreverent title from “Southpark” creators Matt Parker and Trey Stone and “Avenue Q’s” Robert Lopez scored a stellar 14 nominations, just one shy of record-breakers “The Producers” and “Billy Elliot.”

With rave reviews and lots of buzz, “The Book of Mormon” would seem a front-runner for best musical. (Especially considering that the nominee with the next highest number of nominations, “The Scottsboro Boys, isn’t playing anymore.) Most such blockbusters make their way to Fresno eventually after following a leisurely path: playing first for a few years in New York, then going out on an A-list-city national tour, then revamping with a smaller secondary national tour, and finally, finally, being made available to local theaters.

From what I’ve read about the show, it has a “comic field day with Mormonism” but actually makes a strong case for the right of everyone to follow any faith they choose. (Or invent.) The Hollywood Reporter writes: “What makes the musical irresistible, however, is its panache in making naughty mockery of a whole string of untouchable subjects, without an ounce of spite.”

But it’s a controversial topic. Especially in a place with lots of Mormons.

Which brings us to today’s question: Do you think “The Book of Mormon” will ever play in Fresno, either as a national tour or — can you imagine? — a local production? And how long will it take? Could you see a scrappy local company such as StageWorks Fresno tackling it? Or, God forbid (pun intended) Good Company Players? Or would the title alone doom its local box office?

Beehive guide to Cinco de Mayo

If you’re looking for something to do Thursday night to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, here are some of the things that have come across my desk. Feel free to add other things to do in the comments.

Rome Nightclub

Hosts a fiesta hosted by DJ Efren Ramirez, aka Pedro. Expect drink specials and a taco bar starting at 5 p.m. Event goes to 2 a.m.

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On TV tonight: ‘The Looney Tunes Show’

Thumbnail image for LT_icons_YosemiteSam_96x96.jpgThumbnail image for LT_icons_Bugs_96x96.jpg “The Looney Tunes Show,” 8 p.m. Cartoon Network: KMPH (Channel 26.1): If you have watched all of the Bugs Bunny cartoons to the point you know all the lines, help is on the way.

This new series takes an updated look at Bugs and the gang. The most noticeable difference is that instead of being packaged as a 7-minute short, these stories will play out over 22 minutes. That gives the producers the opportunity to tell bigger stories.

Jessica Borutski, character designer on “The Looney Tunes Show,” says the look of the characters won’t be that different.

“I just think that when you see the new Bugs Bunny and Daffy, you know who they are, but they just seem a little bit more fresh for today,” says Borutski. “What I did was I took elements of the character designs throughout all of the ages of Looney Tunes like just things from different directors that I really, really liked.

“I made their heads a bit bigger because I kind of didn’t like near the end, kind of in the ’60s, ’70s, Bugs Bunny’s head started to get really small and his body really long, and he started to look like a weird guy in a bunny suit.”

You can see her new designs tonight.

Listening with Theodore Kuchar

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I got a kick out of my Sunday column. I know it’s a writing experience I won’t soon forget. I knocked at the door of Ted Kuchar’s Sunnyside home (well, he knew I was coming), and we sat down and listened to a difficult and meaningful piece by the German composer Paul Hindemith that the Fresno Philharmonic played this past weekend:

Many times before a Philharmonic concert, I talk with Kuchar about music featured on the upcoming program. But talking and music are activities that always seem a little awkward together. You lose something in the process. This time, I decided to do something different — and set up an opportunity to listen with the conductor instead.

Kuchar, the music director of the orchestra, is an eloquent, enthusiastic teacher. He told me he doesn’t always have time in the strictly structured Philharmonic rehearsals to talk as much as he’d like to the musicians about what the music means to him — but I could tell he relishes the chance to do so whenever he gets the chance.

His little tutorial sure made a big difference for me at Saturday night’s performance. Learning about the background of this piece (it was based on a famous altar piece by the German Renaissance painter Matthias Grünewald) and the subtext involved (which included snubbing Nazi ideology) made the experience of listening to it performed by the orchestra more meaningful. I told friends on Facebook during intermission: “The last movement, with the orchestra ascending from the twisted chords of hell to the brassy brilliance of heaven, was astounding.”

I don’t always have time (or the desire) to read the program when I go to a classical music concert. But I’m always very, very glad when I do.

Above: For those who read my column and were curious about Grünewald’s altar piece, here’s a look.

Remembering Manzanar

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The California Opera Association and the local chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League combined for a notable local event Sunday at the Warnors Theatre. The topic: the forced internment during World War II of U.S. citizens of Japanese origin. Funds raised went toward a memorial at the Fresno Fairgrounds, which was used as an assembly center to round up internees.

Actor/activist George Takei said it best in a rousing keynote speech when he noted that bad decisions can be made in democracies — but only by learning from those decisions can we make sure they’re never repeated.

Takei’s speech — delivered without notes and with passion — touched upon his young childhood spent in the camps. (He remembers as a 5-year-old the day soldiers came to take his family away to an assembly center in Los Angeles, and he recalls with a shudder the “vultures” — neighbors waiting to loot the house — standing by.) But while his personal memories were powerful, it was his eloquent musings on the nature of U.S. democracy that were most stirring. It’s all about change, from the abolition of slavery to the advancement of women, he said. Democracies are only as good as the people who comprise them. In that regard, we’re all agents of change. What struck me most about his address was the lack of bitterness. Instead, Takei said, Japanese-Americans have helped make this country great instead of turning their backs on it.

All in all, the afternoon was a rousing mix of art and history — and one that should make organizers proud.

On the jump: My thoughts on the opera “The Sisters of Manzanar,” which received its world premiere.

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Talking points: Sarah Palin in Lemoore

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Stop us if you’ve heard this storyline before: Valley institution of higher learning taps Sarah Palin to speak for a huge fee. Supporters are ecstatic. Opponents are really ticked off.

That’s been the general reaction to Sarah Palin’s speech on Sunday at West Hills College. (Bee photo at right by John Walker.) Palin was paid $115,000 by the college for the appearance, which marked the reopening of the school’s Golden Eagle Arena. Event organizers said they sold 1,661 tickets for the speech in an arena that could accommodate 2,500 people. However, a VIP dinner following the speech — 27 tables for eight at $5,000 each — sold out weeks ago.

Would you pay almost $700 for a chance to eat with Sarah Palin?

Reporter Tracy Correa’s story must have gotten linked to some Palin fan sites, because it’s been flooded with comments (more than 350 at last count), many from out of the area.

Interesting development: The Palin coverage certainly got eclipsed by the Osama bin Laden story. In fact, some readers are ticked off that she made the front page at all:

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Osama Bin Laden’s death: most stupid Facebook reaction

Say what you want about Facebook and its big, messy, instantaneous, unedited plunge into what a nation is saying and thinking — but you certainly get a whole bunch of opinions. That some of those opinions are odd, eccentric, scary or downright nauseating is a great reminder that it takes all kinds to make up a country.

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Here’s a compilation of more “incredibly stupid” Facebook reactions from buzzfeed.com.

Beyond the downright weird stuff, it’s interesting to read the range of opinions — most celebratory, some (but a distinct minority) tiresomely political, a few provocative. Consider this reminder by a Fresnobee.com Facebook commenter who plays the Bible card:

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Gives one pause for thought, eh?

For me, I’m glad they got Osama Bin Laden, but I’m not going to join a jubilant street demonstration to celebrate the death of a human being, not even him. (But I’m also not going to criticize those who do.)