Saturday, November 29, 2014


Stephen Merchant is best known as Ricky Gervais' collaborator, creating such popular short-run shows as The Office and Extras. (Merchant was also excellent as a low-rent agent in the latter.)  He went out on his own with Hello Ladies, an HBO mini-series that wasn't renewed after one season, but was recently allowed a 90-minute goodbye episode.

I didn't think much of the first and only season, but good or bad, I knew exactly what the finale would offer.  Merchant's done this before.  Both The Office and Extras had special finales after their regular runs, and in both cases sold out the lead character's essence to offer him a moment of grace.  In The Office, David Brent acquires self-knowledge that had been denied him earlier (though his lack of self-knowledge was the whole point of the series) so he gets a happy ending.  In Extras, Andy Millman suddenly loses his shallowness (once again, the whole point of the series), and decides fame doesn't really matter.

Hello Ladies features Merchant as software designer Stuart Pritchard, an Englishman living in Los Angeles who spends most of his time in fruitless pursuit of hot women. But it's not just that he fails--he also doesn't get how empty his goal is.  After all, his housemate Jessica is a lovely woman who's also lost, and while they're friends, they don't try to connect on a deeper level.

I assume if the show were allowed another season they would have developed this relationship, but since this was it, it's rushed into.  The finale gives us Stuart's backstory explaining why he does what he does (who cares?), then allows him to pick up a hot model, have a fling with Jessica, lose her, and finally reconnect once he (and Jessica) realize what's actually important.

I can understand Merchant showing some mercy to his characters, and the audience is probably pleased to get a happy ending. But it doesn't necessarily make for good television.


Happy birthday, Felix Cavaliere.  He was a singer and songwriter with the Young Rascals.

Friday, November 28, 2014


Sen. Fiorina is considering gracing us with her candidacy.

If she can just get President Portman's endorsement, she's a lock.

Chuck It

Is there a politician who reminds me more of why I hate politicians than Chuck Schumer?  He never says anything except what will help him or his party, but pretends to be speaking hard truths.  (Okay, all politicians do that, but he does it the most egregiously.)

For instance, his latest statements on passing Obamacare.  The way it's been played you'd expect a mea culpa on the law, but it's the opposite, filled with Schumer-speak, guaranteeing not a speck of truth.

"After passing the stimulus, Democrats should have continued to propose middle-class-oriented programs and built on the partial success of the stimulus, but unfortunately Democrats blew the opportunity the American people gave them. We took their mandate and put all of our focus on the wrong problem—health care reform...

"...[Only 5% of voters lacked health insurance at the time, so to concentrate on the issue] made no political sense....

"...[If they'd dealt more with the economy first] the middle class would have been more receptive to the idea that President Obama wanted to help them...

"...When Democrats focused on health care, the average middle-class person thought, 'The Democrats aren't paying enough attention to me.'...

"...People thought—and I understand this—lots of people thought this was the only time to do this, it's very important to do. And we should have done it. We just shouldn't have done it first. We were in the middle of a recession. People were hurting and saying, 'What about me? I'm losing my job. It's not health care that bothers me. What about me?' … About 85 percent of all Americans were fine with their health care in 2009, mainly because it was paid for by either the government or their employer, private sector. So they weren't clamoring. The average middle-class voter, they weren't opposed to doing health care when it started out, but it wasn't at the top of the agenda."

So here we've got the senior Senator from New York looking at the complete wreckage of his party--they went from a filibuster-proof majority to a minority in both houses in the past four years.  And here's his explanation: it's because the Democrats are so wonderful and great at solving all our problems.

First he claims the Stimulus worked.  If it did, the public sure didn't notice, according to polls (and according to actual numbers, I'd say).  So Schumer's excuse is Of course it worked, but the public was too dumb to get it, so we should have kept passing more and more laws until they got it, but we just didn't care to.  We counted too much on the public getting how much we were helping them as we moved on to health care, so they were much stupider than even we figured.

The most laughable part is not that the public was too dumb to get how the Dems saved the economy, but his belief that the Dem-controlled Congress could have helped the economy even more if they kept passing big government laws. They'd already passed some of the most expensive ever on the economy, so you'd think that'd be enough, but the idea that they were sitting there thinking "Well obviously we can help the economy even more but we have better things to do" is an insult to even the Americans so stupid that they didn't get how much the Dems were already helping.

Then he says the party had a mandate. I don't believe in mandates in general, unless you run on a very specific plan.  We've only got two parties and one always seems to be winning, and once elected they just try to pass whatever they can.  We were in the odd position of having (by hook and a fair amount of crook) far more Democrats in office than we wanted, so they had a golden opportunity to go to their wish list.  Number one was health care.  They didn't run on it, but nothing would have stopped them from doing it.  And even then, in a watered-down version, it was much more radical than the people wanted and the Dems had to pray when they shoved it down the public's throat that there'd be a good reaction. Didn't happen, but the idea that somehow they could have held back is absurd.

Also funny is the idea if they'd only helped the economy more then the public would have liked their health care law.  Even if they'd done a superb job on the economy everyone would have said "thanks for that, but why are you now wrecking our health care system?" But that can never be said--obviously everything they did was wonderful, especially Obamacare, so Schumer has to give a political reason for the negative reaction.

Which leads to the claim that the law has been a great success--and, once again, the people are too stupid to understand that.

So he manages to say--in a speech mistakenly seen as attacking Democrats--that the Democrats were right about everything, and did everything right, and have constantly helped the American public, and will continue to help the American public, and everyone knows this, and the only reason the party has fallen apart were a few minor political timing errors, done mostly because they care so much about helping people.

PS  Here's an old post from QueensGuy from 2010 about jamming through health care.  Note this semi-prescient line in the comments:

The funniest line in the article is this one: "a bill-signing ceremony in the Rose Garden would provide at least a short-term boost to a beleaguered president." It wouldn't even provide a short-term boost. His signature would be sealing the doom for his party, and perhaps his own presidency.

Lully Bye

Hard to think of too many major composers before Jean-Baptiste Lully, born this day in 1632.  He was a master of French baroque.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


For your dining and digesting pleasure, background music for Thanksgiving.

Norman's View

Today is my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving.  And what is the most famous vision of Thanksgiving?  I think it's Norman Rockwell's iconic painting:

It's entitled "Freedom From Want" and is one of his "Four Freedoms" paintings.  But the closer we look, the odder it gets.

It's been condemned as a depiction of Americans stuffing themselves while so much of the world starves. But look at that spread.  Not much, is it.  Yeah, grandma is putting down a nice turkey, but there's not too much else on the table.  You've got a bowl of fruit, though for all we know they're plastic. There's a mound of cranberry sauce, or maybe aspic, though whatever it is it doesn't look too appetizing.  Some wilted stalks of celery and behind them some pickles or something?  A covered bowl that may or may not hold any food.  A salt and pepper shaker.  Then there's a cup of something yellow--couldn't be mustard, could it?  And what's everyone drinking?  Water. That's the best they could manage?

But what makes the painting is that immaculate, white table, and the faces of the people.  Notice no one seems much concerned with the turkey.  They're all looking at each other and smiling. Maybe someone told a dirty joke, and they figure as long as grandpa doesn't have his hearing aid in we're okay. Or maybe they're saying "wow, some actual food--and I'm afraid to raise the lid on the bowl because if that's not mashed potatoes I may go crazy."

Finally, there's the masterstroke--that guy in the bottom right-hand corner looking at us.  He breaks through the painting and makes it a different experience.  He's completely in on the joke, whatever it is. Maybe he's telling Norman to finish the painting already--it looks good enough, no need to put more chow on the table.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Giving thanks

"What financial tool are you most thankful for?"

Tony, obviously.

You Don't Say

America is an English-speaking country, but we've got tens of millions who speak Spanish as well.  The interesting question is what's the third-most popular tongue.

Here's a map that shows the most common language in each state after English and Spanish, and there are some surprises.

A few I could guess pretty easily.  Polish in Illinois (I've lived in Chicago and seen all the Polish delis), Italian in New Jersey, Portuguese in Massachusetts, even Arabic in Michigan doesn't surprise me.

And while I knew French would be the language in Louisiana, and I'm not shocked it also shows up in the northeastern states bordering Quebec, I wouldn't have guessed it's also spoken so widely in West Virginia, the Carolinas, Alabama, Maryland, Delaware and Connecticut.  (And Florida has French Creole.)

And what's Russian doing in Oregon?

Then there are the surprising pockets of Asian languages.  Vietnamese in Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Washington?  Tagalog in California, Nevada and Hawaii? Korean in Virginia and Georgia? Hmong in Minnesota?

There are also a few native tongues still playing big.  Navajo in Arizona and New Mexico, Yupik in Alaska, and Dakota in South (but not North) Dakota.

And the winner with the most states--German, which dominates the middle of our nation.  

PS  The page linked above starts with this sentence.

Despite growing efforts to make English the official language of the U.S., America's linguistic landscape is only becoming more multifaceted and diverse every year.

1) What evidence do they have the effort is growing?  It's been around for quite a while. Seems to me the effort has been getting smaller for some time.

2) Multifaceted and diverse?  Are they getting paid by the syllable?

3)  That there's a movement to make English official is a tangential point at best.  Why start with an unnecessarily argumentative introduction?

4)  They seem to think it's odd that the languages people speak grow more diverse while there's an effort to make English the official language.  Sounds perfectly logical to me.

Mac In The Back

Happy birthday, John McVie, the Mac in Fleetwood Mac.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

I'm Really Screwed

Got a scam call yesterday.  It was a guy claiming he's from the IRS.  He had a heavy accent--sounded like he was from India--and didn't act like a government official (not that the IRS would call me directly--they'd probably send a notice first) and I was ready to hang up on him immediately, but the one in a thousand chance it was real kept me on the line a while. (That's why the government is so scary.  Say what you want about big corporations, only the government can come and arrest you.)

The guy verified my address--because, after all, how could anyone find out my phone number and address unless they're in the IRS?--and said I was being charged with something.  I honestly had trouble understanding what he was saying, his accent was so thick.  Then he connected me with his supervisor.

The new guy was quite hostile.  He said he worked for the IRS and I'd committed a crime. I'd defrauded the government and owed money, and might be facing jail time.  For the record, the regulation I broke was #7869126532-RER.  I asked him who he was and he said he already told me.  Then he said--I couldn't understand it all clearly--that I better act quickly since my assets would be frozen, my employer would be notified, my passport would be taken and I could be deported. (Aha!  They discovered I was an immigrant.  Sure, I've been in America almost all my life, but I was born in Canada.  These scams often involve preying on this fear.)

Then he said I would be arrested within the hour.  I think he was about to make a deal when I'd finally had enough--I said I'd call my lawyer and they could talk to him. I don't have a lawyer, but I wouldn't have called him anyway.  I considered calling the government hotline to report what happened, but what could I tell them except it was another scam call. I don't have caller ID and even if I did I'm sure they've got a way to cover it up and make it look like it's from a government office.  I thought the scamsters might call back, but I guess I made it clear by my demeanor that I wasn't buying it, and they went on to the next name on the list.

Or maybe the Feds will be showing up soon and this will be the last post I put up for a while.

Ready Eddie

It's the centennial of Eddie Boyd, the blues pianist.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Cross Words

I just read The Crossword Century by Alan Connor.  Crosswords were invented in 1913, thus the celebration.  Connor is a British writer who has a weekly column on crosswords in The Guardian, so you think he's be the perfect person for this project, but I found it disappointing.

It's a short book--under 200 pages--made up of short chapters, about five pages per.  They jump all over the place and never coalesce into a satisfying whole.  It makes me wonder if this isn't just a rewritten collection of short pieces.

Connor divides the book into two parts, Across and Down, though I can't see the distinction.  He does say that, like a crossword puzzle, each chapter could be read separately, but even if each chapter were delightful (and few are), that's not enough.  He starts with a chapter on the history of the game, but after that it's one unrelated piece after another.  Also, being British, he discusses the cryptic-style puzzle more than the regular crossword Americans are used to.

PS  I did like how he gave clues for the title of each chapter.  Some samples:

1.  All the rage, but beginning to fade? (3)
2.  The writer's craft? (10)
3.  Who wrote words for sharks to sing? (8)
4.  Crazy to be seen in Georgia, twice? (4)
5.  Break this with some eggs? (4)
6.  The sound of Webster's, up to a point? (9)
7.  Sounds like a fight, for two people? (4)
8.  As seen on TV--or on a laptop? (7)
9.  What dumb spies seek? (12)
10.  A detective with sticky feet? (7)

I'll add in a little illustration here so you can avoid peeking at the solutions.


1. FAD

Yes, We Know

Happy 69th, Lee Michaels.  He only had one major hit, but I think it's worth a spin.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Wife Vs. Secretary Vs. Critics

I recently watched Wife Vs. Secretary on TV.  It's a 1936 film featuring the kind of star power only MGM could provide, with Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Myrna Loy and up-and-comer Jimmy Stewart.  It was a big hit in its day--almost everything Gable and Harlow made in the 30s were hits--but time hasn't been kind.

The story is about Van Stanhope (Gable), a successful businessman and a wonderful husband.  He's in love with wife Linda (Loy) and dependent on secretary Whitey (Harlow).  Linda trusts her husband, but when events conspire to make it appear Van and Whitey are having an affair, she plans to leave him.  Meanwhile, Whitey's fiancé Dave (Stewart) isn't too thrilled either and leaves Whitey.  By the end, all are wised up, with both couples back in each others' arms.

The performances are all fine, and it's got the usual first-class (if not always exciting) MGM gloss.  The problem is we're right in the middle of the screwball era, and we've got great comic performers (Loy and Harlow starred in a classic MGM screwball earlier that year, Libeled Lady), yet the film, directed by Clarence Brown, is muted.  It's often described as a comedy, but I'd call it a drama.

They should have gone one way or another.  There are plenty of farcical complications, and it could have been wild fun.  Or they could have gone the drama route, with Gable and Harlow not only attracted to each other--they've got the real chemistry in the film, not Gable and Loy--but actually having an affair.  But whether it was the Code, or Louis B. Mayer, everyone in this film is so decent that no one does anything wrong.

A missed opportunity.

Brazilian Wax Tracks

Happy birthday Brazilian composer Claudio Santoro.

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