Monday, January 31, 2005

Rag Tag Is Too Nice

Yesterday was a great day for anyone who loves freedom and democracy. No one knows what the future will bring, but let's at least savor such a milestone.

There's been a lot of talk about the strength of the so-called insurgents, and I think we finally saw the extent of their power. The Iraqi elections were D-Day for them. If they could, they would have shut them down completely, bombed every polling place, killed everyone trying to vote. Instead, there were only scattered attacks.

I don't wish to make light of the deaths that occurred, but is that all they got? For all their vaunted power, and how they've allegedly destroyed security in (important portions of) Iraq, they really can't do much. Most of what they've done, and the best they can continue to do (it would seem), is threaten and intimidate from the shadows, not actually hold any public power.

Sure, if you've got thousands of people who can blend into the citizenry, it's not hard to make a lot of mischief. Just one unknown sniper can destroy a whole community's sense of security. But seriously, if they had any sort of army, rather than a bunch of scattered troublemakers, couldn't they at least take over some land? They can't even take over a building. If you can't show your face in public without being killed or captured, how exactly do you take over a country?

Let's not forget, along with the coalition soldiers, how brave the Kurds and Shias are. Not only because they were willing to go out and vote with threats against them, but because these groups actually have far more power than all the Sunnis (not merely the minority of Sunni troublemakers), but have decided to orderly move toward freedom, rather than take revenge on the group that killed and tortured them for decades, and who now openly wish to deny them democracy. Being able to destroy your enemy but not doing it--sometimes that shows the most strength of all.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

It Wasn't That Great

Daniel Gross's latest piece in Slate, mostly on the Great Depression, repeats a lot of conventional wisdom. I may be imagining this, but I sense a tone of desperation, as if he realizes his arguments are getting less conventional and not considered so wise anymore.

Gross claims FDR was handed an economy in shambles from 12 years of Republican laissez-faire rule, and he saved it through greater regulation. (12 years? Shouldn't he at least give the system credit for 8 good years before the crash?)

We'd had panics before, so the question is why did this one turn into a depression? In fact, the Hoover years were not laissez-faire--he tried all sorts of things--taxes, tariffs, make-work programs--which helped turn the panic into a lengthy and deep recession. Then Roosevelt took over and was able to turn a depression into a double-dip depression.

Gross apparently thinks he's made an important point when he notes that gross domestic product grew 90% from 1933 to 1941. Exactly how hard is it to grow at such a rate when you start from the historically lowest point imaginable? The GDP had been dropping from 1929 to 1933, and had nowhere to go but up. To put it another way, GDP from 1929 to 1936 had no growth, but simply dug a hole then climbed out. (And the GDP dropped again from 1937 to 1938. Thanks, Franklin.)

Gross mocks those who think "new taxes and regulation...inevitably hamper economic growth." Leaving aside the strawman "inevitably" and the specific regulation involved, I don't see how he's shown this generally isn't true. The trouble is there are thousands of things acting on the economy at any time. New taxes and regulations only play a part--often a small one--in the overall picture. Business cycles normally work their way out of recession, so anything anyone in charge does at the time can then be given credit for what would have happened anyway.

Gross will go on upholding the conventional wisdom, but I think he's attending the wrong convention.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Bits and Pieces

A reader asks if I can really do "hundreds of Carson lines and bits? 200 hundred would be astounding." (See my squib on Carson below.)

What I'm talking about are moments, not just lines or gags. (Actually, some moments include several lines or gags, so that might be easier).

First, of course, there are quite a few famous bits that were regularly shown on clip shows and recent tributes: Ed Ames, Johnny eating dog food, Johnny jumping into Ed's arms, animals climbing on Johnny, George Gobel's brown shoes, the potato chip lady, doing magic tricks for a kid, the kid who watched Johnny's show when he was up vomiting, Art Fern, Dean Martin's cigarette, Dragnet, Carnac, breaking the desk, Rickles pushed into the water, burning the bad material, knock this battery off my shoulder, diarrhea, ring around the collar, Johnny flashing young women, etc.

Then you can think of all the ritual bits and lines he'd do: the multi-colored curtain and the big entrance, the golf swing, "how cold (or hot) was it?", Burbank jokes, pollution jokes, everything you'd want is on this paper, you are wrong bar rag breath, may the bird of paradise nest in your sister's bidet, Ed's drinking, the band's drug use, Doc's flamboyant outfits, Tommy Newsom's boring life, Johnny's "look" into the camera, kids' impressions sent to him from schoolteachers, "Tea For Two" dance when material failed, Stump The Band, fork in the road, Slauson cut-off, "...and Rex The Wonder Horse," Aunt Blabby, don't say terminal to an old person, Floyd R. Turbo, his Reagan, surreptitious smoking, doing Kingfish, Mayor Yorty on vacation, "well here we are at the...", etc.

Then there are the regulars. Almost every major comedian of the past 50 years (pardon me if I don't list them), as well as favorites like Tony Randall, Burt Reynolds, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner (who always hoped his appearances would make the Best of Carson), Jim Fowler, Joan Embery, Stan Kann, Monte Rock III, Joe Williams, Pete Barbutti, Carol Wayne and so many others.

Then there are specific things that happened along the way: his fiftieth birthday, his two final shows (one with guests--Robin Williams and Bette Midler, the other by himself), Uri Geller stymied by Carson using magician's controls, the Jim Garrison interview, breaking the cigarette box, jokes about every major scandal, ever-lengthening and greying hair, Johnny warning he'd sing "Rhinestone Cowboy" and finally coming out on a horse to do it, helping out on "Our Love Is Here To Stay," his favorite New Yorker cartoon (two hippos in the jungle who can't for the life of them believe it's Wednesday), show me your niblets, all sorts of stunts (especially when younger), sports exhibitions, cooking exhibitions, and many others.

I even remember all the guest hosts, like Joan Rivers, Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and others before he settled on Leno.

What I'm trying to say is, when you think about it, remembering hundreds of moments isn't that hard.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Pajama Guy Calls It!

Earlier this month, I made some predictions about 2005, and already one has come (partly) true. If you'll scroll back a few weeks, you'll see this:
The Passion Of The Christ will not win an Oscar. This will be
misinterpreted by many prominent right-wing Christians as a snub.
Though the film received three Oscar nominations, for cinematography, makeup and music, already one prominent conservative (okay, he's not exactly a Christian, but let's call him an honorary one) is complaining about the "snub." In a USA Today editorial, film critic Michael Medved argues that Hollywood owes The Passion a best film nomination, but is afraid to embrace traditional religion (while the refusal to give Fahrenheit 9/11 any nominations is explained away as merely the Academy's fear of offending Republicans).

PS We can add Fred Barnes to the list of prominent conservatives who feel the Academy owes them something. As he put it on The Beltway Boys, Hollywood showed its "anti-religious bias by not nominating The Passion Of The Christ which obviously deserved to be nominated as one of the best movies."

PPS And now Don Feder adds his name to this list.

Heeeeeeere's More Johnny

Hopefully highbrow critic Terry Teachout, on his website, has a fairly unobservant piece on Johnny Carson. He wasn't too impressed with Johnny. (Teachout, like many critics, often goes against the mainstream--readers can decide if it's natural or he's pushed a bit by a belief that highbrow means opposition to the mainstream). He claims that just about no one nowadays can quote anything Carson said, and claims Steve Allen and Jack Paar were greater personalities.

Latter point first. I'm not going to rate the personalities of Allen, Paar and Carson. All were different and successful in their own ways. My parents thought Paar superior to Carson, but that's probably because they imprinted on him at the right time. (I recently bought a Paar DVD to see what the fuss was about. What stands out most is how the talk in talk shows has changed--it's much more chopped up and joke-oriented than it used to be.) But Paar is far less remembered than Carson, at least partly because he's been off the air much longer. (Allen did so many more things than host the Tonight Show that any comparison is pointless.) But to believe, as Teachout does, that Johnny, who reigned as king of late night for three decades, was somehow lesser known as a personality is silly. (Which of these three did the Beach Boys write a crappy song about, after all?)

As to no one remembering what Johnny did, I could list hundreds of lines and routines and moments. But maybe that's just me. The bigger point is if Carson is mostly forgotten a decade or so after leaving his post, it's due to the ephemeral nature of the show, not the failure of his work. Everything gets forgotten if it's out of the public eye. Even Shakespeare would disappear if his plays weren't published and performed. Talk shows are shown once or twice and that's it. (Carson's earliest New York shows, in fact, were wiped by the network, so little was thought of them.) Meanwhile, because of revival houses and DVDs and television, old movies are still well-remembered. And because of reruns and DVDs, people are still holding Star Trek trivia contests, and can quote hundreds of lines from The Simpsons and many other shows that might otherwise seem, to critics like Teachout, pop ephemera.

Reason magazine's blog, Hit & Run, ran a squib on Johnny, mentioning Teachout. A number of replies quoted bits Johnny did, mostly old Carnac. Here's one from "Jens" (please ignore the misspellings):

Carnak: "Ghotzbadegh"

Ed: "Ghotzbadegh"

Carnak: "What does an Iranian farmer do when he can't get women at night?"

Sorry, Jens, that was a Franken & Davis Iranian/Carson parody on Saturday Night Live.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

MIA

Looks like I'll be away from the keyboard for a few days, so I hope Pajama Guy can come up with something while I'm gone.

I won't be here when they announce the Oscar nominations (in a few hours), but I'll be back before the election in Iraq.

When I get back, I promise I'll finally put out my long-awaited "Film Year in Review--2004."

Monday, January 24, 2005

Johnny

I don't have too much to add to all the obits of Johnny Carson. He simply was the unparalleled king of late night. I think his two greatest talents, greater than his work as a monologist, was his ability to establish a connection with his audience (both in the studio and at home) and his way of putting guests at ease, thus showing them to their best advantage.

A few personal memories. I remember being in bed, not quite asleep, hearing my parents laugh at Johnny's jokes. I think I associated watching The Tonight Show with being an adult.

Though just a kid, I got to stay up late to watch 1970 come in. While the adults upstairs were having a party, I was in the basement watching Johnny. I even remember a joke he made, something along the lines "we've got about ten minutes to make up for the silliest ten years in history." Not a great joke, but it stuck with me.

As I got older, Johnny was still there and I became a regular viewer. My favorite guest was Don Rickles. Johnny would let Rickles do his bit and then top him by slipping in some line about how poorly his TV career had gone. One of Johnny's most famous moments was when he returned from vacation (he took lots of vacations) and found Rickles had broken his cigarette box. Johnny walked straight to where Rickles was shooting his own show (C.P.O. Sharkey) and stopped the taping to reproach him. I think this was all spontaneous. (I remember Rickles guest-hosting the show earlier and breaking the box, or is my imagination filling in the blanks?)

Another popular guest was Burt Reynolds, who's self-mocking style endeared him to the audience and helped make him one of the biggest stars of the 70s and 80s. I think many stars of today grew up watching this and patterned their appearances on Reynolds' casual style.

Johnny also had certain regulars you didn't see anywhere else. For instance, the flamboyant Monte Rock III--I'm still not sure what he did outside appearing on The Tonight Show. Then there was Stan Kann, who would demonstrate gadgets that never seemed to work.

I remember seeing new comedians, like Drew Carey or Roseanne Barr or Gary Shandling. No one could break a comedian like Carson. I've actually talked to some who have been on the show. They generally say it was the most important moment in their career. Interestingly, Jay Leno did well in his debut but was asked back so many times his material got too thin. His career was in trouble and it was David Letterman's show that saved him.

Carson was good with animals, of course. I often feel Leno and Letterman work with animals because Johnny established the precedent, not because it's what they like to do.

If there was one thing I didn't like, it was that Johnny didn't have much use for rock and roll. It would take Letterman to correct that.

Both Letterman and Leno know how much they owe Carson. I have no doubt both will start their shows tonight with heartfelt tributes. In Leno's case, he'll be righting a wrong, since, on bad advice, he decided not to mention Johnny when he premiered in the slot.

I don't want to sound ghoulish, but lately former hosts of The Tonight Show have been dying, and in order. Steve Allen left us in 2000 and last year saw the passing of Jack Paar. Jay Leno is set to retire in 2009, and he can't be comfortable with this trend.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Fine Line

Recently, I've been talking to some friends who were extremely disappointed by the election. (My friends mostly range from somewhat to extremely disappointed.) They were blowing off steam, mocking Bush and all his talk about freedom and democracy. I suppose if Kerry won, Bush supporters would mock whatever was in his inaugural.

But I was worried a few had gone over to the dark side. They've received emails about how the election was stolen (not some minor mistakes and corruption, a stolen election) and think these arguments have merit. While I'm all for healthy partisanship, I'm not for crackpotism. (I'm also not for thinking up the proper word as I write this late at night.)

If anyone reading this honestly thinks the Bush people pulled off the biggest election fraud in American history (and that's saying something), please try to check non-partisan sources and you'll find there's nothing to it. A good place to begin is a website that discusses polling at a fairly high level, Mystery Pollster. The guy who runs it is a Democrat, but he does a pretty good job keeping it impartial.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Lost Cause

I was just reading the LA Weekly, southern California's leading alternative paper. This week's cover is about what the Democrats should do over the next four years. They've lost all three branches of government and need a way out.

I have a suggestion. There's a cause I know about that's right up their alley. It might not only excite the base, it could even reach out to the rest of America.

It seems there's this nation of almost 25 million that suffered for decades through one of the worst dictatorships in history. Now, for the first time ever, they have a chance of becoming a democracy. Polls show that the vast majority of the populace want a free, democratic country.

Unfortunately, there's a faction--really a minority within a minority--that wants to prevent this transition and hopes to return to a brutal dictatorship. While nowhere big enough to fight an actual war (they'd be slaughtered), they hide behind masks and behead the people they capture, or blow them up on suicide missions. Though they don't have the people on their side, they are getting help from nearby dictatorships who fear that freedom will spread to their own countries.

This issue is a natural for Democrats. Everything they've been saying for the past few decades fits in perfectly with this sort of thing.

I know you may find this difficult to believe, but many Democrats are ignoring the issue or even attacking the hard work the United States has done to bring this wonderful thing about. Many go so far as to openly favor the murderous thugs fighting against freedom.

All I can say is the cause is there, time to get aboard. It'll do wonders for you and, maybe, for the world.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Put Me Down, Coach

I recently saw Coach Carter. It's about an adult who comes into an inner-city school and through strict discipline, mixed with a little taunting, teaches the kids that hard work, and not goofing around or complaining, will help them make it in the real world. A good lesson, no denying it. But I sure felt like I'd seen it before.

It's the story of Dangerous Minds (1995),Lean On Me (1989), Stand And Deliver (1988) and The Principal (1987), to name a few. The genre was even parodied in High School High (1996). (There's also the related genre of a coach whipping a bunch of misfits into shape, but that doesn't have to take place in a tough neighborhood.)

I bet if I were a kid in an inner-city school (with a reasonable knowledge of film history) I'd be getting tired of being a stand-in for someone who doesn't get it. Okay, okay, hard work, gotcha--easier said than done. And hey, no one told Ferris Bueller to work hard, he's gonna do fine anyway. Why is it someone's always gotta come into my school to teach me a lesson? Am I that hopeless?

Thursday, January 20, 2005

American Eyeful

Desperate people doing outrageous things is not my idea of entertainment. Hence, I don't like how reality shows have taken over network TV. (Though if I got a job working on one, I'm sure I'd change my tune.)

But there is one reality show I watch, American Idol. The format is entertaining and the talent shown--singing--is an actual talent the contestants can use. (Very few people make a living searching for food on an island, or sitting in a tube having snakes dumped on them.)

Yet, as enjoyable as I find the show, I still feel a bit queasy the first few weeks. This is where the show winnows out the vast majority of applicants. If you lose on later episodes, at least you have some talent, but in the early shows, the focus is on the hopelessly bad. And not just bad, but those who've fooled themselves into believing they have talent. After they get cut, the show likes nothing better than seeing them complain, or cry. I realize sooner or later these people need to find out they don't have it, but there's something unseemly about 30 million tuning in to watch dreams be crushed.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

All They Are Saying

In last Friday's New York Times, there was a full-page ad (how much does that cost, by the way--wouldn't that money be better spent on tsunami relief, to use the anti-inaugural reasoning so common today?) entitled A CALL FOR PEACEMAKING. I thought great, I'm for that.

So I read their statement. It was from a multi-religious group, full of compassion. Let me quote a pertinent paragraph regarding the "forms of violence" they "condemn":
"That violence has included terrorist attacks on and kidnappings of Americans,Iraqis, Europeans, and others by various Palestinians and Iraqi groups and by Al Qaeda; the occupation of Palestinian lands by Israel and of Iraq by the United States; and the torture of prisoners by several different police forces,military forces and governments in the region."
No distinction is being made among very different forms of violence (and, to my mind, some thing that aren't violence). Warm hearts have led to fuzzy thinking.

The solution this groups suggests is we all get together and talk. Everyone's in favor of talking. But you can set all the timetables you like, and pretend that no matter who uses force, it's bad. If you're incapable of making judgment as to which side is worse, or even completely wrong (even though you'll make mistakes), you're essentially ensuring continued suffering. Compassion is a start, not an end.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Ben 'n' Denby

It's nice to be back. I hope I wasn't missed too much.

Anyway, I just read a curious piece on Ben Stiller in The New Yorker. It certainly was Ben's year and critic David Denby takes notice. In 2004, Stiller starred in no less than four hits (Along Came Polly, Starsky & Hutch, Dodgeball and Meet The Fockers) not to mention a flop (Envy) and a cameo in another hit (Anchorman).

Few would have predicted this short, not exactly handsome actor who never quite made it on television would go on to be one of the top comic stars of his generation. But I think Denby misses the boat. He thinks the fumbling, mortified heterosexual character Stiller has made famous is popular because it appeals to teenagers. I think the appeal is far wider than that. Also, the comedies that made Stiller, such as Flirting With Disaster (1996)(which Denby likes) and There's Something About Mary (1998) will live on, and even weaker work shows a bit more than mere gross-out comedy. And he has some range, even when he resorts to caricature; Denby claims Vince Vaughn stole Dodgeball from Stiller, but that's because he had the lead, while Stiller supplied laughs as the comic villain.

A few oddities. In discussing Stiller's TV career, Denby, mentions his work on Saturday Night Live and MTV, but not his best-known work, the 1992 Fox series The Ben Stiller Show.

Then Denby claims Bill Murray and Steve Martin have had longer careers than Dan Aykroyd and Martin Short because they learned to give more nuanced performances. I doubt it. Steve Martin, for instance, has almost disappeared as a star a few times, only to return when he got a film that, while it appealed to the audience, showed less talent than he actually has (e.g., Father Of The Bride, Bringing Down The House). Meanwhile, Short and Aykroyd had (and have) decent careers, but fell off the star list for the same reason so many others do--too many weak scripts. (I wonder what Denby thinks of Chevy Chase? Mike Myers? Adam Sandler?)

The strangest part comes near the end:
"Americans today can't abide even the suspicion that they're being outclassed, and Stiller doesn't outclass anyone. Such handsome smart guys as Alec Baldwin and George Clooney bring a touch of cynical awareness to everything they do; they aren't comics, of course, but it can't be a coincidence that Baldwin and Clooney haven't quite become stars. The intellectual bite they bring to their roles may make people uneasy."
It's true Americans like regular guys, Jimmy Stewart, Tom Hanks, et al. But to claim George Clooney, who's been in huge hits such as The Perfect Storm and Ocean's Eleven, is not a star, is just weird.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Pajama Guy: Right again?

NY Times says 60 Minutes Wednesday may get cancelled, clouding Rather's future.

Important legal opinion

Regular readers of Pajama Guy must pardon me as I will be incommunicado for a few days. However, I'm sure Pajama Guy himself and (chortle) ChicagoGuy will pick up the slack.

I was asked to give my expert opinion regarding constitutional challenges to moving violations. It's not that I'm a legal expert, but I am pretty knowledgeable about traffic tickets.

First we must ask if someone who gets a ticket has any constitutional rights at all. Thankfully, yes--for instance, you're still presumed innocent and the state must makes its case. However, traffic tickets are considered petty offenses, which, because of the relative insignificance of the crime and punishment, means you don't get all the rights anyone accused of a misdemeanor or felony expects. (Petty offenses are actually a sub-group of misdemeanors but for our purposes can be treated as a separate category). Generally speaking, a summary proceeding is considered sufficient to take care of your case.

I actually remember when I first moved to Los Angeles the Libertarian Party had found some loophole in the ticketing system. I don't remember what their argument was--maybe some sort of lack of due process. Anyway, if you sent them a fee, they'd have the offense wiped off your record. Eventually, however, the local government got wise and closed this loophole.

Have other attempts been made to challenge the constitutionality of tickets? Yes, but just about all fail. In fact, unless you get a helpful judge, most probably you'll get laughed out of court. If you troll around the internet I'm sure you'll find some websites where people believe the whole system is unconstitutional, but their arguments, like those saying the income tax is illegal, are generally the work of those who are not properly versed in law and, sometimes, out and out crackpots.

A reader brought up some potential objections.

1. Federal versus state jurisdiction: No good. Even if highways were created by the federal government, I'm sure the police already know where they're allowed to make traffic stops. (And if you're running from state cops, you'll find you can't duck into a federal building and declare sanctuary.)

2. Due process: "Due Process" is a vague term that you can always fling at the prosecution. However, because, as noted above, petty offenses don't receive complete due process other crimes get, this is a very weak claim. As to the inconvenience of traffic court in another state (I've faced this problem too), this is not a due process problem. If you're accused of committing a crime in foreign state, they can try you there, and yes, it is very inconvenient. Sorry. Even if you think the cops were unfair, your recourse is to fight it in court. I suppose you can call the court and see if you can make a deal.

3. Interstate commerce clause: This is a non-starter. Even if states have "speed traps" to get out-of-staters, I don't think it matters to Commerce Clause jurisprudence.

4. Unequal enforcement: There's actually something here. If you can show that the states prosecute infractions at grossly disproportionate levels, you might have a case. (I believe some civil rights groups have looked into disproportionate rates at which African-Americans are pulled over.) However, the research would be so costly and time-consuming, I can't imagine anyone would undertake it rather than pay a ticket.

Anyway, don't let me rain on your parade. It's just my opinion. But, basically, the system is set up to keep the roads safe and the revenue streaming. Neither the state courts, nor the legislatures, are likely to dismantle it. However, it's not hard to fight a ticket and win. That's your best bet. Or, just pay it.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

What independent panel?

Tony Blankley skewers the Rathergate report.

Lesson learned

The worst cliche a critic can use about an old work is "it's more relevant than ever." What sounds like a (mindless) compliment to the author is actually a self-satisfied statement that the problems of our era are more significant than previous era's.

I've always enjoyed the film criticism of David Edelstein. I often disagree, but he's a lively writer who expresses his outlook well. I was pleased to see in his review of the Al Pacino film version of Merchant Of Venice that he avoided tying it to today's world. Art doesn't need the excuse of relevance.

Of course, a lot of it may be the play. More than any other work by Shakespeare, even Taming Of The Shrew, it's the hardest to make work with today's sensibilities. (And may it continue to be.) Shylock the Jew, while more than a cardboard villain, is a villain nevertheless, and the Christians--who to our eyes are practically persecuting him--are the heroes. If anything, here's a case where the critics should say "it's less relevant than ever."

But Edelstein can't completely control himself:
"Shylock is handed his head, as people with an enraged sense of entitlement often are: the lesson, perhaps, with the most contemporary relevance."

Hmm, I wonder if he's referring to anyone we know? My guess is it's John Kerry or Howard Dean.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

CBS News v. Broadcast News

An interesting bit of dialogue from Broadcast News (1987):

National Anchor (Jack Nicholson): This is a brutal layoff. And all because they couldn't program Wednesday nights.

News Director: You can make it less brutal by knocking a million or so off your salary... Bad joke, I'm sorry.

Rather's statement

Not exactly noble. No direct reference to his own role in the scandal. No sense that he understands that at least three of those "good people" who lost their jobs did so because they took a bullet for him. Indeed he may very well have been able to save their jobs by arguing to the panel and Moonves that they made their mistakes because they were paying him the deference he commands (and demands?) at the network. Because Rather does not say otherwise, we also must assume that still operable are his prior statements that he thinks the documents may be authentic, and that he still believes his story is true.

Prediction: Moonves will cancel 60 Minutes Wednesday for next season, and Rather will never report again for CBS after he steps down in March.

Rather would be doing a lot more for his legacy if he announced that he could not keep cashing a paycheck while the people who helped him do his job for years and years lost theirs. And that he can't really take responsibility for this scandal without himself stepping down.

Perspectives

I'm not blogging from my PC, so you'll have to pardon me if I don't link anything.

I've been checking out the reception of the CBS Report. The Right-leaning blogs tend to feel the panel didn't go far enough. The main complaints, as noted below, are the failure to call the documents frauds and the failure to call the participants politically motivated. Some of the blogs go so far as to call the report a whitewash. Most feel Andrew Heyward shouldn't get off scot free.

The Left-leaning blogs tend to downplay the whole story, some not even mentioning it. They seem more excited by Armstrong Williams. And there is a line from some that, as opposed to the Bush Administration, at least CBS fires incompetents. At least I didn't see (not that I looked hard) anyone claiming the story was "fake but accurate."

The mainstream media, correctly I'd say, is uniformly playing it as a devastating attack on CBS. The Los Angeles Times had particularly good coverage, going into great detail, and even giving plenty of space to those who feel the problem goes deeper.

Pajama Guy adds: I'm blogging without my contact lenses in, so pardon my typos.

Yes, the MSM is correctly playing it as devastating. So devastating, in my opinion, that I find it hard to accept that the two main culprits in the worst journalistic sin -- the dishonest 10-day defense of the story -- were the two guys who didn't lose their jobs.

One more thought: By revealing in minute detail how this piece went from a twinkle in Mapes' eye to a heavily promoted 60 Minutes broadcast, Boccardi and Thornburgh expose as myth "the multiple layers of checks and balances" that Jonathan Klein spoke about (see quote at the top of this page) when he disparaged the guys in their pajamas blogging in their living room.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Condit, under oath, denies "romantic" relationship with Chandra Levy

This story is nutty to me. If the law enforcement sources in the WP article above got it right -- and Condit did once admit to police he had a thing going on with Ms. Levy -- isn't he opening himself up to perjury charges? If so, to what end? Does he think anyone ever believed his denials in the first place?

Or maybe I'm missing something. Is there a Clintonesque linguistic defense at work here? (It ain't romantic if it's purely recreational sex?) If so, will it work? Lawyers, help me out!

Partial reaction

Like most people, I have not read the whole CBS Report. But, as a pundit, I must not allow this to prevent me from commenting.

I concur in part and dissent in part from Pajama Guy's findings (see below).

I disagree that Boccardi and Thornburgh are now the story. Their part is over. They've shown CBS was seriously deficient and now the question is how CBS reacts. Since blood has been spilled, most people will say CBS has taken action and it's time to Move On. Furthermore, the Panel's suggestions (more bureaucracy and oversight) are so predictable no one will care if they're followed.

I agree with Pajama Guy that the worst thing about the Report is a failure of nerve. Anyone who reads the section about the documents has to believe they're fraudulent (even if you can't prove a negative). By essentially showing something without concluding it, they give enough wiggle room for individuals in the scandal to claim they did their best and their hands are clean. And PJ Guy also has a good point that now no one will be looking for the forger.

However, I understand why Boccardi and Thornburgh did not conclude there was political bias. For one thing, to properly find this, they'd have to investigate a larger pattern of activity, which they weren't asked to do. Otherwise, those involved would claim they were just fighting for a great story, politics had nothing to do with it. More important, such a finding would have overshadowed everything else in the report. Rather than sticking to provable malfeasance, we'd have arguments over metaphysics. Mapes and Rather and their backers would stand as one, indignant, stating it's not enough Dick Thornburgh investigates facts, now he can read minds (and they'd believe it, too).

Finally, I don't care who was or wasn't fired. That's private business. What I would like to see are honest apologies. Yet, Mapes hasn't given an inch--she insists she did everything right and is being attacked unfairly. And higher-ups like Heyward can claim they've taken care of the problem by cleaning house. No one seems chastened.

Pajama Guy adds: The Mapes response is interesting. On one hand she may still be in denial about the story -- and genuinely convinced the documents are real. On the other, she may be doing exactly what CNN investigative producers April Oliver and Jack Smith did after their Tailwind story went up in flames. In that case, after CNN's outside review panel savaged their reporting, they kept insisting their story was correct and hired a team of lawyers to defend their honor and reputations. In the end, it's been reported at least, they actually got multi-million settlements. Think about it: They're at the center of one of the top two or three scandals in the history of TV news -- a scandal that inflicted huge damage on their employer. But in the end CNN ends up writing them checks that make them rich!

Who could blame Mapes' lawyer for thinking her incompetence may yet make her rich too?

And now come to think of it, who could blame the lawyers who reviewed the Boccardi and Thornburgh report for being very careful to not make definitive conclusions about forgeries or political bias -- out of fear that Mapes could sue them or CBS?

LAGuy adds: I think Pajama Guy has a point. After watching B and T discuss their report, I think they decided to be as forceful as they could within certain cautious parameters. In other words, they see what they've done as a stern rebuke. However, they figured as long as they could sternly rebuke CBS without (amazingly, when you think about it) claiming outright the documents were fraudulent or anyone's motives were politically questionable, that would be the safest way to play it.

Pajama Guy adds: Exactly. The problem with this approach is that it suggests that this story was potentially air-able had CBS taken a little more time to authenticate the documents. It also suggests CBS' decision to staunchly defend the segment was excusable, because the suits were simply relying on the plausible assurances of their producers and their producers' experts. In reality, of course, the 10-day defense was indefensible because the documents were obviously frauds. Anyone could see that, and Heyward and Rather did the dishonest, Clintonesque thing: deny, deny, deny in hopes of riding out the storm.

The question for me is why Boccardi and Thornburgh left this loophole for Moonves to save Rather and Heyward. Did Boccardi, himself a former news manager, sympathize with Heyward, knowing that every news exec can have his career and professional reputation destroyed by some rogue reporter? Did Thornburgh -- the former (and future?) politician -- see a chance to do a favor and earn a favor? Or were B&T just scrupulously reporting only absolutely provable facts -- assuming, perhaps, Moonves would do the honorable thing by firing Heyward and Rather too?

Monday, January 10, 2005

Boccardi on the rocks

Boccardi and Thornburgh now become the story. Anyone with half a brain who has spent more than an hour examining the documents realizes it is all but a metaphysical certainty that they are forgeries. Boccardi and Thornburgh had months to study them, and all the resources that they needed to get to the truth. By not having the moral courage to call a fake a fake, they give Rather and Heyward a pass. I don't blame Heyward for airing the original story, but by allowing his anchor and network to defend those documents for 10 days, Heyward was either trying to pull one over on his viewers or proving he is too stupid to keep his job. Ditto for Rather.

Boccardi and Thornburgh give Heyward, Rather and Les Moonves cover to continue to insist that the docs may be real. They're making idiots of themselves, but it also means nobody is looking for the real forger -- the person who tried to throw a US Presidential election.

A second reason why this looks like a whitewash: The refusal of Boccardi and Thornburgh to seriously consider the role of political bias. It's not just Mapes' call to Joe Lockhart. Isn't it curious that Mapes worked this story in 1999, then put it aside until the next presidential cycle -- in 2004? Couldn't that suggest that Mapes' and CBS' main interest in doing the story was to damage Bush? Especially after one of Mapes' associate producers floats the idea of a book contract for Burkett based on documents that will "change the course of an election"? Oh, and for all that talk that Mapes was a superstar producer, Boccardi and Thornburgh didn't seem to notice that the black hats in her major stories (Abu Ghraib, Strom's daughter) all tend to be... Republicans.

Finally there are those couple of occasions in the Boccardi and Thornburgh report when Mapes expresses concern that maybe the documents were a political dirty trick. Who would do such a thing -- forge and release documents damaging to President Bush just before an election? Could it be, maybe, Bush's opponents, the Democrats? No! Don't be so stupid! The most logical suspect would have to be the Bushies themselves!

Laugh, and the world doesn't laugh with you.

I was just watching Ebert & Roeper. Ebert's probably the best-paid film critic in the world, but he clearly loves movies and you get the feeling he'd be working just as hard if he'd never made it on TV. Roeper, a fellow columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, is luckier--not really a film critic, he fell into this plum job.

But a word of advice for both. When your partner makes a little "joke," don't laugh. You two are yokking it up way too much. I guarantee you're far more amused by each other than your audience is.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Enough Already

It's January 9, 2005, and, as far as I'm concerned, the new Simpsons season hasn't started yet. This is getting ridiculous.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Depression

I was watching TV last night (the show is immaterial) and this character was a bit depressed. REM's anti-suicide "Everybody Hurts" started playing on the soundtrack. This is probably the worst song in the world to cheer up someone.

REM's Automatic For The People, released in 1992, is a moody, atmospheric album, with fine numbers like "Man On The Moon" and "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite." I remember feeling depressed about something around then (the cause is immaterial) and "Everybody Hurts" was the one song I could not bear to hear.

It's unpleasant enough even if you don't understand English. But the lyric, where Michael Stipe keeps whining how "everybody hurts," makes you want to jump off a roof. Think about it. When you feel low, do you want to be reminded there's lots of other misery around? "I just lost my lover--oh, other people feel bad, too--how's that supposed to help me?" Now if the song was "Everyone Gets Better" then you got something.

The popularity of this song is beyond me. It's maybe of the worst thing REM ever did. Now excuse me while I put on "Shiny Happy People."

Friday, January 07, 2005

Rathergate report out today?

Jim Geraghty says it is. Ratherbiased.com predicts it isn't.

LAGuy adds: There's no good time to put this out, even a late Friday dump. The blogosphere is ready 24/7. Assuming it's done, just release it.

Park it here

I didn't follow the Andrea Yates case closely. But when I read her murder convictions were overturned due to false information given by expert witness Park Dietz, that caught my eye.

Dr. Dietz is maybe the most famous forensic pyschiatrists in the U.S. He's worked on such cases as John Hinckley, Jeffrey Dahmer, John DuPont, Susan Smith and the Unabomber. I'm not a fan. Looking at his career, it strikes me he doesn't much like the insanity plea, and is more likely to declare the accused legally guilty than a more independent psychiatrist might.

Now maybe the insanity defense is too easy to plead (though it doesn't seem so to me) or needs to be fixed, but the solution then is to change the law, not get around it. I'm not saying Dietz is simply a hired gun for the prosecution, but perhaps, let's say, he's just a bit too set in his ways.

Update: In today's LA Times, the Yates' defense mocks Dietz as a gun for hire. The question now is will his reputation as the top guy to get any crazy convicted be damaged.

Early Results

With the announcement of award nominees from the Producers Guild and Directors Guild, it's becoming clear what the Oscar nominations will be. Though actors make up the biggest bloc of Academy voters, they rarely stray far from these early choices.

So, if you're entering a pool, four of the five likely nominees for Best Picture are the four these two groups have in common: The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Million Dollar Baby and Sideways.

Now for the word on the street (I live just off Melrose, which is as good a street as any out here). If one of these doesn't make it, it'll be Finding Neverland. The big question is The Aviator--it's the "big" sort of picture Oscar usually loves, but the feeling this year is lukewarm. Still, some think it's time to give recognition to Scorsese. (Best Director but not Best Picture?) The main combatants, then, look to be Million Dollar Baby and Sideways. The latter gets the edge, being fresher, having more actors' moments and besides, Clint's already got his. More as this develops.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Investigate This

On NBC's live New Year's Eve broadcast, Motley Crue's Vince Neil apparently used the F-word. (By the time it was shown out here in LA, it had been bleeped.) The FCC said it's beginning an investigation. Exactly what is there to investigate? You watch the tape, boom, investigation over.

There was purportedly a complaint or two, while the millions of others who watched either approved or said nothing. But a complaint or two is enough these days. I think it's long overdue we drop the legal fiction that "the public" owns the airwaves. The government owns the airwaves, and regulates them through the FCC. I think this is unconstitutional but, alas, the Supreme Court disagrees.

Harry Shearer, Humorist, RIP

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I used to listen to Harry Shearer's radio hour Le Show. It was a tour de force for Shearer, who did an amazing job of vocal mimicry, political satire and comedy in general. But the time of the show changed and I stopped listening regularly.

I've now heard Le Show several times in the past few months and I'm sad to report that Shearer has voluntarily given up his old humor program and replaced it with obsessively reported anti-war propaganda. Here's hoping the old Harry returns in 2005.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

A Puzzlement

The final numbers are in. Over at Mystery Pollster, with all the counting done, Bush got a bit over 62 million votes, Kerry a bit over 59 million, and about 1.2 million for everyone else.

Two months ago, it looked like Bush won by 3.5 million votes, with a 3% lead. Now it's been knocked down to 3 million votes and a 2.5% lead. I recall four years ago all the post-election counting extended Gore's lead by a few extra hundred thousand.

So I have to ask, is there a reason the final counts favor Democrats by a fair amount more than the initial counts? Is this a rule, or a fluke? Any ideas?

Gonzalez gone?

I can't understand why, if the rumors are true, the Democrats wish to oppose Alberto Gonzalez for Attorney General. The purported reason--Gonzalez's (alleged) support for torture--is not credible. No rational DC insider thinks the pick of Attorney General will make one whit of difference in the Bush Administration's detainee policy.

Furthermore, there are several negatives to this fight.

1) The Bush people could spin the Dems as being anti-Latino, so the Dems are playing with fire.

2) The more the Dems play up how we treat the prisoners we've captured, the more the Bush people can claim the Dems are soft on terror.

3) It's silly not to give the President the cabinet he wants. He can always talk to whomever he pleases, anyway. The Bush people can try to spin the Dems' actions as obstructionist.

4) Gonzalez is as good as they'll get. The guy is essentially a liberal, supporting affirmative action and abortion rights. They should help him out, try to get him on the Supreme Court where he'll be another Souter.

So I admit I'm confused, since I don't think the Dems believe they've got a popular takedown here. Here are the counter-arguments I've heard.

1) This is a warning shot. The Dems are saying "this is what we do to a guy we like--wait till you nominate someone we hate." It's also a dry run for a serious fight.

2) This is a symbolic gesture as a sop to part of their base. It's easier than actually doing something, such as passing actual laws against torture, which they'd do if they really cared.

3) They smell Bush is weak and losing support even within his party, and want to keep the pressure on.

Still, I think they're making a mistake.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Hyperspace

Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner argues for increased spending on Asteroid defense in the Wall Street Journal today (subscription required). Bush should nominate him for the Supreme Court. The confirmation hearings would be great.

Backlash

Out here in Hollywood, Academy members will soon be voting for Oscar nominees. The most critically acclaimed film is Sideways. That might explain recent attacks in The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.

Critic A. O. Scott claims the film is overpraised because the main character, a middle-aged, paunchy, balding, insecure writer (who still gets the girl) reminds the critics of themselves. TV writer Burt Prelutsky makes a true TV writer's complaint--the lead is unsympathetic.

I can't say I agree with either, and hope to make my reasons clearer in my Films of 2004 review, coming up soon. The question is will these pieces effect the Academy voters. My guess is, as unusual as Sideways is for an Oscar film (low-budget, no names, not a huge hit), the bandwagon is too strong and the competition is too weak to deny it a passel of nominations.

Monday, January 03, 2005

The More The Merrier

According to John Kerry's first big interview since the election, it looks like he may run for President again. I say why not? He's got the organization, the recognition, and he received more votes than anyone who ever ran for the office (with one exception).

It's silly to be talking about 2008 as 2005 starts. But it's also silly to assume Hillary Clinton is a lock. The way I see it, 2008 should be a free-for-all. With no clear Republican candidate, let all the Big Swinging Democrats get out there and prove their worth.

Not just Hillary. Not just Kerry. I want to see everyone. John Edwards should have a little more gravitas by then. Al Gore a little less facial hair. Howard Dean, if his vocal cords can take it. Al Sharpton--if his party can stand him, so can I. Tom Daschle, he's not busy. Barack Obama--why wait for the inevitable? Ted Kennedy--you know you wanna. Mario Cuomo--let's see what you got, it's been 21 years since that Keynote address. Jimmy Carter--you're allowed one more.

I don't want another boring primary season, I want a struggle to see who'll be the head of the Justice League of America.

Pajama Guy responds: Republicans will have a free-for-all, the Democrats a coronation. Edwards is finished. No losing VP candidate has subsequently been elected President since FDR. And no Dem today is saying, "Dang. We put the wrong guy at the top of the ticket." Kerry has less of a chance to get re-nominated than Gore did in '04. After all, he only backed into the nomination after Dean imploded, and couldn't even win the popular vote. Obama's clearly got potential -- for VP -- but Democrats would win more net votes by nominating a Hispanic. In the end, though, nobody denies HRC the nomination. Unless Rudy beats her in 2006.

LAGuy Rejoins: A coronation for HRC (Her Royal Clinton)? The Dems love her, but they also want to win. The only thing that turns off more people than a New England liberal is a New York liberal. And you think Kerry "backed into" his success? He ferociously sought the nomination as few candidates have, was the front-runner from the beginning (interrupted only by a summer romance with Dean) and, once the primaries started, did nothing but win win win.

Pajama Guy objects! Whoa, little buddy! Dean a summer fling? He had already picked up serious steam when he cracked at the Feb '03 DNC meeting, "I'm Howard Dean. I'm here to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.'' His opposition to Bush's plans for war in Iraq that winter pulled everybody leftward, and caused Kerry to vote against the $87 billion after he voted for it. By June Dean had raised $9 million -- far more than any other Democrat. By September he was clearly ahead in Iowa and New Hampshire, and stayed the front runner until at least the week before the caucus. Then he started unraveling before live TV audiences.

Kerry, meanwhile, was dropping like a brick in the polls by as early as March '03. And as late as December 2003, Mickey Kaus was launching as Kerry Withdrawal Contest, predicting the "once proclaimed frontrunner... faces not just defeat but utter humiliation in the New Hampshire primary."

LAGuy notes: Hmm. Dean, the "front runner" who won no primaries (except his own state). I think you've discovered the sound of one hand voting.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

SNL (Same News Line)

Please see our predictions below. If you have any yourself, feel free to add them in the comment section.

When pop culture writers run out of ideas, they do a piece on how Saturday Night Live isn't what it once was. Hence, today's rather lengthy piece in The New York Times with new quotes and old ideas. At least it's not entitled "Saturdady Night Dead."

By the way, the cheerleaders were Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri, not Ferrell and Molly Shannon.

Pajama Guy responds: Was Saturday Night Live ever the SNL "it once was"? Other than Weekend Update, the show always seemed to me 90-minutes of drunk or stoned actors performing one-joke skits that went on way too long. The type of show a drunk or stoned audience might especially like, to be sure. But I guess over the past 30 years whenever I was out partying on Saturday night, I seldom stopped to turn on the TV. I have, however, watched enough re-runs on cable to confirm my recollection that SNL was never that funny.

That's Rich

Frank Rich's latest Sunday think piece in The New York Times features an odd complaint. It seems no one mentioned the Iraq war at the latest "Kennedy Center Honors." Apparently, when our country decides to honor lengthy careers of top artists, it's important we be reminded of current events.

Odder, Rich is troubled that things aren't like the era of WWII, when the whole country felt the deprivation and devastation of the war. Well, Frank, it's like this. WWII required a much huger army, cost us over 100% of our yearly GDP and required huge efforts from industry. The War on Terror--a war I feel is as important as WWII--has so far cost us about 1% or 2% of our annual GDP, requires fewer soldiers and has far fewer casualties.

Most people, seems to me, would call this a good thing. Furthermore, the reason we're fighting, right or wrong, is to prevent greater pain on our shores. Does Frank Rich need so badly to criticize Bush and the War in Iraq that he's reduced to this sort of argument? Couldn't he take a week off?

Saturday, January 01, 2005

More Predictions

Generally speaking, I don't like predictions. I believe in chaos theory: we don't have enough information at present to see more than a few seconds ahead. But Pajama Guy apparently likes them so I'm responding. We'll also have 2004 Awards up pretty soon.

War On Terror: Murderous thugs will continue causing trouble in Iraq for years to come, not realizing they've already lost their country and there's nothing they can do about it. Bin Laden will have yet another lousy year.

World Politics: "Old Europe" and the United States will continue to be mutually distrustful. Only token efforts at rapprochement will be made. There will be little or no cessation of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Kofi Annan will serve out the two years left in his term as UN Secretary-General.

American Politics: The Michael Moore wing of the Democratic Party will not be chastened in the slightest by the 2004 election, and will continue to demonize Bush and make ridiculous claims about the war on terror. Right wing cultural mavens will continue to fight phantom threats against religion. Donald Rumsfeld will continue to serve. The meaning of "neocon" will continue spreading outward until it simply means someone who isn't a Democrat.

Law: Michael Jackson will be in trouble because, the way the laws are interpreted, almost no evidence will be needed to convict him. Robert Blake is in even bigger trouble. The Democrats will not be able to prevent any Supreme Court choice President Bush makes.

Pop Culture: The Passion Of The Christ will not win an Oscar. This will be misinterpreted by many prominent right-wing Christians as a snub. The top Oscar winner will be a smaller grosser than usual. Super Size Me will win best documentary. Sitcoms will make a comeback (I don't predict this, I just pray it's true.)

Sports: People will realize they don't need hockey. So will the NHL. The Cubs will teach the Red Sox a lesson by not winning the World Series.

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