Thursday, November 15, 2018

Post-Parietal

Fifty years ago, Yale announced it would go coed.  About time, I guess, but could anyone guess how relations between the sexes would evolve over the decades?

For so many years, students didn't want the university to serve in loco parentis.  The young people wanted to be in charge of their own lives--and love lives.

But things have changed so much that the progressives who used to demand more freedom are now demanding stricter rules about how men and women (or any couples) can interact.

And the government is giving it to them.  Who thought they'd make a federal case out of it?  Using questionable statistics to back up their argument, they're demanding not only that campuses keep a close eye on relationships, but that they also don't have what would normally be considered basic due process is figuring out what to do when someone is charged with a transgression.

Has anyone yet argued that, in fact, young men and women can't live in close proximity, and it's time to go back to the old days of sexual segregation?

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Excelsior!

So Stan Lee has died. He's getting a lot of tributes, but he deserves them.  He's probably the most important man in the comic book industry (superhero division) on the second half of the 20th century.

He helped created most of the great Marvel characters who are still making billions at the box office. (Not that it matter they're movie hits.  They were great just being in comic books.)

He did good work most of his long adult life, but it's the Marvel revolution starting in the late 50s that changed everything.  DC Comics were the leaders then, and Marvel the underdog. But they let Lee experiment, and he realized kids wanted to relate to their heroes.

Thus you get the bickering Fantastic Four, the confused, even self-hating Hulk, and, best of all, the troubled Spider-Man.  These and many other characters put Marvel on top.  But writer and editor Lee did more than that.  He also wrote stuff like Bullpen Bulletins, a slangy, down-to-earth feature which directly addressed the reader, and made them feel they were part of Marvel (and Marvel was a fun place to be).

By the way, I read Lee's autobiography a couple years ago. If you're curious, here's what I said about it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Down To The Wire

The second season of The Deuce is over. It was okay, but not the kind of show you wait all week for.  At least it's better than David Simon's previous show, Treme.  Neither are the quality I hoped for from the creator of The Wire.

In fact, I started wondering if The Wire was as good as I remembered. So I recently rewatched the first season. Yep, still holds up.  A whole bunch of great characters, portrayed by fine actors, in a compelling story.  It's like a 19th century novel, where numerous characters come together to give you a picture of a society--in this case, Baltimore.  As a former police reporter, Simon knew his stuff.

The first season, you may recall, is about the creation of a special police detail to investigate Avon Barksdale, a major drug dealer who's had a lot of people killed to stay on top.  So a bunch of cops, some from murder, some from narcotics, some talented, some hopeless, get together.

The main cop is homicide detective McNulty, passionate about his job though a screw-up in regular life.  He's played by Dominic West (who, along with a few other cast members, is actually British and so was putting on an accent--I had no idea first time around).  West is fine, but it's a true ensemble, and he doesn't particularly stand out.

A lot of the show is about politics in the police department--most people move up by knowing how to cover themselves, kissing up to the right people and offending as few as possible.  The special detail, in fact, angers McNulty's superiors, who see it as rocking the boat.

Then there's the detail itself, which gives the show its name.  A lot of the show is a procedural, as we see the cops wiretapping phones, cloning beepers, following leads and so on.

We also go into the streets and meet the Barksdale gang, who've got their own stories--the top guys and the street operators.  Plus the crooks trying to steal from them--particularly Omar, played by Michael Kenneth Williams, who may be the most popular character in the show.  Also, there are the addicts, one of whom becomes a major snitch.

Later seasons reach out further, showing the docks where the drugs come in, the political system and how it deals with crime, the educational system that's often just a place to park the kids till they move out onto the streets and the journalists who cover the story.

But you don't need to watch those later seasons to know how good The Wire is.  The first season is enough.  The plot is riveting and the characters vivid. It was fun to meet them all again--Daniels, Stringer Bell, D'Angelo, Bunk, Major Rawls, Kima, Lester, Poot, Wallace, Prez, Herc, Carver, Bodie, Landsman and the rest.  Think I'll watch the rest now.

Monday, November 12, 2018

War Is Over

Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.  Germany signed an armistice with the Allies.  Sorry I forgot about it--didn't even attend any of the huge rallies and parades commemorating the event.

Remembering the Armistice used to be a big deal.  Now it's Veteran's Day.  I'm not complaining, but it shows you how even the biggest events fade. (Maybe someone should make a new movie about it, like they did with 300--though Spartans holding off Persians is more exciting than signing an agreement, I suppose.)

There had never been anything like the Great War. Its toll, and its effect, was tremendous.  All the people who lived through it wouldn't forget it. Nor would their children.  But their children's children?  And their children's children's children?

Besides, a generation later we were involved in World War II, and that's the sort of thing that puts World War I into perspective.

So have a happy (or solemn) Veteran's Day, and Armistice Day as well.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

MC

Marshall Crenshaw turns 65 today, but I don't think he's retired.  He's had a decent career, but never really gotten the success he deserved as one of the best songwriters and performers around.









Saturday, November 10, 2018

Phoning It In

On this day in 1951, the first call ever in North America was made using an area code. I have this on not hopelessly bad authority, though the link (to another site) suggests otherwise. The call, by the way, was between the mayors of Englewood, New Jersey and Alameda, California.

So many things about phones we take for granted.  But there were so many steps along the way, most of them not obvious.  Sure, someone came up with this great invention where people can speak to each other across great distances. But how do they contact the other? Do they lift up the mouthpiece and talk direct to a central authority who'll plug your call into the right slot?  And how does the other party know there's a call--does a light turn on, do you just pick up your receiver randomly, or at a preset time?

Dialing numbers was a great innovation (as was adding a ring to let you know there's a call).  And then, when more and more people had phones, they needed to add more numbers to specify the location.

I've heard stories that the earliest area code plans gave the lowest numbers to the most populated areas, because with a rotary phone, the higher the numbers, the longer it takes to call.  This makes sense on the surface, even though I haven't been able to verify it. (Just as I haven't been able to verify the anniversary I'm claiming for today at the top of the post.) For instance, look at the area codes of four places I've lived (or lived right next to):  New York is 212, Detroit is 313, Chicago is 312 and Los Angeles is 213.  So I've decided to believe it.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Not What The Doctor Ordered

I recently saw Love & Other Drugs on TV. Well, not all of it, but enough.  I remember seeing it when it came out in theatres in 2010.

It's about a drug rep for Pfizer who has a relationship with a patient with early-onset Parkinson's.  It's a fun, lively cast--starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway and featuring Oliver Platt, Josh Gad, Hank Azaria, Judy Greer and George Segal, among others.  But there's an obvious problem.

The film almost starts as a frolic.  The life of a drug rep, even before Viagra changes the game, is fairly new to the screen, and amusing.  And the first half of the film is essentially plays as romantic comedy.

But then Hathaway starts to suffer more and more.  Okay, we were warned--she's got a degenerative disease, after all.  But the tone changes so much that it feels like it's not what we bargained for.

And I think the studio knew this was a problem. I just checked out the original trailer and it's what I expected.  There's no indication of the misery Hathaway will go through--it's sold as straight romantic comedy.  They knew where their bread was buttered. (And yet I wouldn't be surprised if it was the suffering that convinced a lot of people to make the film.)

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