Saturday, April 30, 2005

Kill Him, But Be Fair

Ron Rosenbaum's essay on Kill Bill (and other cinematic exercises in style) makes some good points, but still misses the boat. His argument is allusions to other films don't create deeper meaning. As he puts it, "referentiality itself is not an intrinsic aesthetic value."

Well, duh. Every single fan of Kill Bill I know (and I'm not one) likes it because of exciting action, cool dialogue, interesting plot--you know, the stuff one assumes Rosenbaum likes. Sure, some are into catching all the references, which make it that much more fun, but no one I know thinks mere references make a movie--otherwise experts playing the silver screen edition of Trivial Pursuit would be a great film.

When Tarantino made the Kill Bill duo, certainly he was saluting many of the films he'd loved. Why not? Filmmakers from Kurosawa to Godard have been doing it since there was a film history to salute. The trick is to do it in a way that's original and entertaining. If Rosenbaum thinks Tarantino's failed, fine, but don't accuse him of a crime he didn't commit.

Speaking of criticism that's a bit off, let's turn to Slate. In particular, Clive Thompson, who writes about "gaming and technology." He apparently needs to brush up a bit on film.

His latest piece puts forward the thesis that Star Wars fans make better films than George Lucas does. It's a cheap shot, but sounds like it could be fun. However, while discussing one fan's film, Revelations, he states it "retains the funky vibe of the original Star Wars, down to the kitschy, '70s-style wipes...."

The kitschy, '70s-style wipes? Back in 1977, when fans first saw what is now Episode IV of Star Wars, their reaction was "wow, isn't it cool that Lucas has revived those wipes that you never see anymore--he's wedded classic-style adventure with state of the art stuff. And hey, look at that great vertical wipe when they're lifting someone and it helps them along."

Okay, maybe they didn't verbalize it, but that's how they felt. Far from being '70's style, wipes were extremely old-fashioned by then and Lucas made them cool again.

View Askew

(No, this is not about Kevin Smith's rave for Revenge Of The Sith. We'll get to that film eventually.)

A recent survey on media bias showed 48% of the public think the news is too liberal, 30% too conservative and 12% too liberal and conservative(?). Nevertheless, the same survey, from the Missouri School of Journalism, says 67% find TV and print journalism "credible" and more than half find it "trusthworthy."

I found the whole survey suspect. Lately, it seems you can't trust polls until you find out the actual wording of the questions. It'd be a shame if a bias study had to be thrown out for bias.

Friday, April 29, 2005

They Say It's My Birthday

Duh duh duh de duh duh de duh. Duh duh duh de duh duh de duh. Duh duh duh de duh duh de duh. Duh duh duh de duh duh de duh. Duh duh duh de duh duh de duh. Duh duh duh de duh duh de duh.

Other b'days today: Duke Ellington. Jerry Seinfeld. Uma Thurman. Michelle Pfeiffer. Luis Aparicio. Zubin Mehta. Celeste Holm. William Randolph Hearst. Dale Earnhardt. Daniel Day-Lewis. Kate Mulgrew. Master P. Andre Agassi. Sir Thomas Beecham. Emperor Hirohito. Nora Dunn. Tommy James. Irvin Kershner. Rod McKuen. Philip Noyce. Eve Plumb. Otis Rush. Lane Smith. April Stevens. Carnie Wilson. Klaus Voorman. Lonnie Donnegan. Tommy Noonan. Tammi Terrell. Harold Urey. Fred Zinneman. Henri Poincare. George Allen. Richard Kline. Tsar Alexander II.

As LAGuy, my biggest birthday memory is celebrating with friends at dinner as the Rodney King riots broke out around us.

Bait and Switch

After silence all week, the "Daily"Detritus finally gives us one paltry entry. Not so easy, is it?

Thursday, April 28, 2005

American Idol Shocker

I'm still stunned that the fans of American Idol kicked off Constantine last night. I felt sure he was safe. I'm not saying it was a bad decision--he gave the worst performance on Tuesday--just that it was shocking.

There were six contestants left, and only two had never been in the bottom three, Carrie Underwood and Constantine Maroulis. Both gave weak performances and I figured at least one would be in trouble, but they'd still come through. I thought the loser would be the unprepossessing Scott, who's already had a few close shaves, but he wasn't even in trouble. (It'd be a lot easier to predict these things if the show would release the vote totals, but they're top secret.)

Constantine, in fact, had the weakest voice of the finalists, but the best stage presence, and I didn't think his fans would let him down. In fact, he was so popular, his old rock group was just signed to a label. (Will they find some clause to cut them now?) I'll miss the spark he added--I was hoping he'd make it to the finals.

What's interesting about Idol is as they toss people off, the voting patterns change. It seemed only a matter of time before one of the two rockers, Constantine or Bo Bice, lost--the show couldn't support both indefinitely. (It's never even had one before.) It appears no one is such a favorite that he can survive a bad performance.

Those left are the most diverse final five in Idol's short history. There's rocker Bo, country lass Carrie, Whitneyesque Vonzell Solomon, blue-eyed soul singer Scott, and Clay Aiken-style balladeer Anthony Federov.

It's hard to predict who will get to the finals from such a varied group, but let me try. I think Federov, who has the best pure voice of the five (during original tryouts I said that guy will win), but the worst stage presence, will not last long--he's been a mainstay of the bottom three and can't last forever. Same for Scott.

Though Vonzell has a popular style to herself, and is also the only African-American left, I don't think she'll make it all the way. I think Bo will get the rocker vote and Carrie the surprisingly large countrified vote. I find Carrie the least interesting singer in the bunch, but she's never been anywhere near the bottom, so it's hard to bet against that. The only way she won't make the finals is if the soul vote goes to whoever's left of Vonzell and Scott--then we'll see if rock and soul can take down country.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Look-alikes

I'm a big fan of the new pope. The more I hear from him, the more I like him. And as a church-going Roman Catholic, I mean no disrespect by this post.

But does anyone else see a resemblance between Benedict and Underdog's Simon Bar Sinister?

Michael Jackson family law question

Fox News' Roger Friedman is reporting today that Jackson's ex-wife Debbie Rowe may testify that Jackson is not the biological father of their children. Jackson and Rowe were married in November 1996 -- three months before Rowe gave birth to Prince. Rowe was a nurse working for Jackson's plastic surgeon, and the marriage has been dismissed in some quarters as a sham.

My question: can a suspected serial child molester actually become the legal father of a child by buying sperm, hiring a surrogate mother to supply the egg and womb, then carting the baby off after its born?

Bloggers Rule, Papers Drool

I just got back from the classy downtown LA Athletic Club, which hosted an evening on blogs. I thought we might hear a history of the subject. Instead, Hugh Hewitt, blogger, writer, radio host, spoke on how blogs are the wave of the future and the mainstream media is yesterday's news.

If there was a single message of the night, it was "LA Times sucks." Others, including Roger L. Simon and Armed Liberal, helped piled on. It's an oppressive, stagnant monopoly that ill-serves its city (or so they said--often to applause). Mickey Kaus, who was not expecting to give a speech, simply noted it would be tragic if the mainstream media disappeared, but it would not be tragic if the LA Times did. Ah, brevity.

LA Times editor and good sport Bob Sipchen admitted he was there as a pinata, and did his best to defend his employer. He was smart enough to compliment the blogs for putting the MSM to the test, but also noted there's still no replacement for original reporting. (Though Roger Simon thought the blogs might horn in on that before too soon.)

There was a lot of mingling before and after. I met Rene of Rene's Ramblings. He seemed to be taking notes, so perhaps you could check him out for a more factual report of the evening.

Amy Alkon helped set up the event. She said a recent hot-button item for her is men forced to pay child support who turn out not to be biological fathers. (Matt Welch has written on this in the past. He was supposed to be at the event, along with his beauteous wife, Emmanuelle, but for whatever reason they were no-shows.)

I saw Moxie for the first time in a year. A friend I'd brought along started arguing with her about abortion (friend pro, Moxie con) but the conversation broke up before they were able to settle their differences.

I tried to talk to Mickey Kaus about his theory on filibusters (scroll down to Monday) but he said he was over all that. He apparently got a lot of emails about his stance and doesn't care if he ever hears the word filibuster again.

I did get to meet Mr. Hewitt, who was quite charming. We talked for a few minutes and he said he'd look up my blog if he could remember the name. Hi, Hugh. Feel free to mention Pajama Guy to your millions of listeners any time.

Also attending, to name but a few, were Rob Long, Cathy Seipp and Jill Stewart.

Whether this was the start of something big, or just a lot of hot air, only time will tell.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

They'll Never Learn Dept.

As I've stated before, Thomas Frank is that rare public intellectual who, no matter what he writes about, always manages to get it wrong.

Still, his latest in The New York Review Of Books, "What's the Matter with Liberals?," is breathtaking. The piece is another thumbsucker on why liberals are out of power. As you can predict from the title, echoing Frank's book What's the Matter with Kansas?, it's once again the fault of the common people for just not getting how much better liberals are than conservatives. By the way, Frank spends a bit of time in West Virginia to answer the titular question, proving he's capable of misunderstanding other states.

There's hardly any nonsense liberals tell themselves that Frank leaves out. (I could be wrong, but he even seems to believe the National Guard documents CBS used as ("as" Tom, not "for"--the documents WERE the piece) a story against Bush might not be fraudulent.)

It's all here. The assumption that liberals are obviously better for the economy than conservatives; that "moral" issues are purely symbolic and mostly a matter of posturing; that conservatives control the debate which is why average people are too dumb to vote their interests; and (most sickening of all) that liberals are just too darn nice and refuse to attack.

I can imagine the Democrats regaining power. I can even imagine them doing it by telling the people things that aren't so. But can it really be helpful when they regularly lie to themselves?

Crime Does Not Pay Very Well

The LA Times had an interesting editorial over the weekend, "Why Drug Dealers Live With Their Moms." Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner analyze the work of Sudhir Venkatesh, who was "embedded" in a street gang for 6 years.

He studied the economics of crack and discovered a pyramidal structure where a few live well at the top, branch leaders do alright, and the rest do passably at best. If broken down to hourly wages, most in the vast rank and file don't even make minimum wage.

Of course, we see the pyramidal structure everywhere--in a corporation, the armed forced, government, society as a whole. But in these places, there are better chances for advancement, plenty of room in the middle and, even in the army, a pretty good chance of surviving. The reason people join gangs, then, aside from a perceived lack of choice, is the glamour at the top, not unlike what one sees in Hollywood or professional sports.

Venkatesh does a fine job of giving us specifics, but the general truth of his claims has long been known. There's a bizarre Fritz Lang film, You And Me (1938), a flop when released, that I've always liked. It's (partly) a gangster film and the highlight comes when Sylvia Sidney gets the "boys" together and actually crunches the numbers on a blackboard, showing how the guys at the bottom get nothing. The message: Stop being a sucker for the man!

Monday, April 25, 2005

Once More, With Feeling

I've already blogged a few times on the Senate filibuster. For newcomers, I'm agin' it. But what surprises me is the argument I consider the weakest defense seems to be popular. I first heard it from Hendrick Hertzberg in The New Yorker and assumed he made it out of desperate partisanship. But then Jacob Weisberg and, more recently, Mickey Kaus, not only took this argument seriously, but added to it. So I'm going to try to collect my claims into one place and see if they hold up. By the way, I'm no legal expert, but since I believe this is a purely political debate, I don't think that matters.

Flawed Tactic:

Unlike, say, majority vote, the filibuster is not commanded by the Constitution. It's merely a procedural rule that can be changed at any time. (I believe the House long ago got rid of its filibuster.) Its purpose, in theory and practice, is to stymie the majority--it has nothing to do with unlimited debate (it actually prevents debate) nor is it a building block of our Democracy, or any other of those things progressives are now claiming after decades of saying the opposite.

In other words, it's a shameful tactic that denies the public the representation it voted for, both in the legislative and executive branches. (I think there are reasonable arguments that it's unconstitutional, but since neither side is arguing that, I'll leave it alone.) I don't even think I need to go into the unfortunate purposes for which it's historically been used.

Without it, there are still plenty of things the Senate minority (without a President in the White House) can do, and has done. It can attempt reasoned debate, of course. It can make alliances with moderates from the other side. It can horse trade. It can appeal to the people. Then there's the ultimate solution--if what the majority does is unpopular, the people can vote them out. (If what they do is popular, that's good, isn't it?) The minority has a right to be heard, but it has no right to prevail.

So these are all reasonable measures. The filibuster is an unreasonable one that prevents the Senate from acting as contemplated by the Constitution. It is a flawed, improper tactic that is wrong REGARDLESS OF WHY IT IS USED. Making distinctions as to when it should be used are pointless. (Republicans want to ban the filibuster only for judicial nominations. While I see this as colorable (see my next argument), I find the claim extremely weak.)

Executive Power:

If there is any constitutional difference between voting on legislation and voting on judges, it cuts in favor of the filibuster being used only against legislation.

Why? Article I of the Constitution makes it clear that the Congress holds all legislative power, and lays out what that entails. The central purpose of the House and Senate is to legislate.

The right to name judges, however, is given to the President in Article II. It is an executive power, not a legislative one. The Senate is to give its "Advice and Consent." (It is widely accepted this means majority approval, since other things, such as treaties, explicitly require more.)

Now it's one thing for the Senate to screw over the majority through their procedural rules--presumably, if it gets too bothersome, they could change the rules. In other words, lawmaking is their domain, they can call the shots.

But it's another thing for a legislative body to stymie an executive power through its procedural rules. Through these rules, they effectively avoid the role the Constitution requires them to play.

What's Worse:

Now we get to the weird heart of the argument: you see, filibusters are bad in a general way, but they're okay to stop judges (turning history on its head) because, well, because bad judges are just so much worse than bad laws.

Sez who?

Kaus argues that federal judges serve for life and can't be repealed like laws. Furthermore, judges (nowadays) have super-legislative powers and are not accountable to anyone.

I don't see it. First, Kaus et al sure treat legislation, especially major legislation, as if it's pretty unimportant. Laws can effect hundreds of millions of citizens, change how we live, cost trillions of dollars and last well beyond our lifetimes. Look at the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which was filibustered (unsuccessfully, ultimately). It arguably changed the entire character of our nation, and certainly got involved intimately in millions of lives. And it's still the law, while I'd guess the vast majority of judges nominated back then are retired and/or dead.

Big laws are the kind of laws you want to filibuster. Though I guess, using Kausian logic, we need to measure how important the law is before we decide if it's acceptable to filibuster or not.

As to the power of federal judges, let's separate them into the Supreme Court and lower courts.

Lower court judges (who, by the way, are what the filibuster fight at present are about) are, in fact, quite constrained. They are not only constrained by the laws (as they are supposed to be), they are constrained by precedent, and by the threat of being overturned. Furthermore, one judge, even an appellate judge, has little power in the overall scheme. She is one of hundreds. She won't be hearing most significant cases, and when she does, she will only be one vote in three (or more).

As to the whole lower court federal judiciary, even if Bush were nominating nothing but radicals, he could only change so much for so long. There's a regular turnover, and the next President will get to name plenty more judges, as will the next.

Regarding the Supreme Court, as much power as they may seem to have, they are still constrained quite a bit by the law. (Compare this to the legislature, who can create something out of nothing.) Lay people might not know this, but unanimous decisions are common on the high court, so right and left can agree when the law is clear. (By the way, a radical court such as we've never had and won't be getting any time soon, that all but ignores the law, might soon find out that the Congress has all sorts of ways to get around them.) They're also constrained by precedent, at least a bit--most judges would prefer not to overturn past decisions.

Then let's remember we're talking about one judge at a time. If this judge is a wild-eyed radical, he'd still need to convince four others to vote with him. If five judges vote a certain way, in a controversial case, with plenty of people rooting for both sides, just how radical can they be? (And if the first nominee replaces Rehnquist, how much more "conservative" do you expect him to be--at worst you'll have a wash.)

By the way, though we may have forgotten it, Supreme Court justices do leave. It actually happens on a fairly regular basis, honest.

Furthermore, because the Supreme Court gets so much scrutiny, it'll be easier for the Senate opposition, even if in the minority, to make a case against a "radical" nominee.

Another thing about judges is it's hard to predict how they will act. Republicans have nominated 7 of the 9 judges on the Court today, but they regularly come down with decisions, even on "big" issues (school prayer, abortion, affirmative action, campaign finance reform), that frustrate the party that put them in.

Can the President change the character of the judiciary? Sure, a bit. That's one of the reasons we vote for him. But if he goes too far, the biggest protection is still democracy--running against judges, in fact, has been a successful Republican strategy for decades. If the Bush judges are half as radical as their opponents make them out to be, this'll give the Democrats years of chances to take back the Congress and the White House.

The people have voted in Republicans. In the past, they've voted in Democrats. No one knows what the future holds. But even with a politicized court, is it that bad to let the Constitution work as designed?

Arianna Blogorama

The New York Times has never even mentioned Pajama Guy, but they're rolling out the red carpet for Arianna Huffington's new blog. I can see why. She promises it'll be written by 250 of "the most creative minds" in the country. Only one in three of us here at Pajama Guy is creative, and I'm not saying which.

Among these minds will be Walter Cronkite, who believes Karl Rove is behind everything, and Maggie Gyllenhaal, who thinks we got what we deserved on 9/11. (I apologize for simplifying their views--I'm just trying to be creative.)

The lineup will include journalists, politicians, movie stars--oh, who cares what else, they got movie stars! I only hope they allow comments, since it'll be the first time in years anyone's disagreed with them.

Arianna has hired Andrew Breitbart, Matt Drudge's second-in-command, to run things. I've met Breitbart. He's best known for writing Hollywood, Interrupted, a book that slams celebrities, so clearly he's a whore. I don't mean this as an insult. I'd sell out too, if anyone were buying.

So best of luck, Arianna. I'll link if you will.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

What Do Capitalists Want?

Critic Andrew Sarris reviews Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room, a documentary, this week. (For those of you who have forgotten about Enron, it was a major corporation that committed all sorts of financial shenanigans during the Clinton Administration and was caught and prosecuted by the Bush Administration.) In his piece, I ran across this intriguing sentiment:
"...this very entertaining piece of muckraking...should be required viewing for anyone who voted for George W. Bush, or who thinks private accounts are a great idea for Social Security, or who still believes in the eternal beneficence of capitalism and the free market in general and the stock market in particular."
Leaving aside the hyperbole, I have to say if Andrew Sarris wants to be a leftist he doesn't seem to understand what he's supposed to believe.

Those who support capitalism are no fans of fraud. In fact, they're the leaders in making it illegal. Capitalists hate cheaters. The way you make money in a free market is by providing buyers with value for their money, not by fooling them. Capitalism works best when everyone can routinely count on the soundness of a contract (plus a solid system to resolve disputes). Dishonesty is anti-capitalism; truth is, the one thing that could bring the system down would be too much corruption.

No, Andrew, the real leftist critique of capitalism is not that you have cheaters, but that its very nature is ruthless and exploitative. Looking at a pathological case and saying private accounts are a bad idea is like saying don't put your money in a bank since there have been robberies, or don't fly in a plane since there have been crashes. Or to put it in a way you'll understand, never see a movie since there have been some real dogs.

Andrew Sarris may not realize this, but a world without corporations is not one he wants to live in. Maybe it's time someone made a documentary to explain that. I'd love to read his review.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Giving Them The Finger

It made the news everywhere. Letterman and Leno outdid each other every day. Everyone was talking about it. Only trouble was, it wasn't true.

I'm talking about the finger in the chili hoax. A month ago, Anna Ayala claimed she found a severed (I guess it would have to be severed) finger in her Wendy's chili, and was suing the franchise.

Over the past few weeks, I've been tempted to make jokes like everyone else, except I just didn't believe it. It seemed unlikely that a finger could get into the chili without someone noticing. First, where they grind everything up, the meat and mixings would be too fine for a recognizable finger to get through. Then, where they prepare it, Wendy's employees generally use hand coverings. Finally, when anyone actually loses a finger, it's a pretty big deal--business as usual stops while everyone figures out what happened and where it went. A hoax seemed far more likely. (These kind of hoaxes, in fact, are legendary. Wasn't there something about a mouse in a Coke bottle? Or was that real? Back then I'm sure the Lettermen equivalents were joking about the paws that refresh.)

Then, after a few weeks, when Wendy's couldn't find anyone in the chili chain missing a digit, it seemed obvious we were had. It appears Ayala has a history of bringing claims, and that there were eyewitnesses who saw her put the finger in.

The whole thing would be funny except for all the damage caused. Ayala may go to jail, but I doubt she can pay for the millions in lost sales and jobs. In fact, I bet even after this is cleared up, the image of the finger will linger, and Wendy's chili may never fully recover.

Friday, April 22, 2005

The Voice Of America

People judge politicians for a lot of reasons. (See earlier discussion on character.) I've often wondered, among these reasons, how important a candidate's voice is. I don't mean the wisdom behind the voice, I mean the voice itself.

Perhaps it shouldn't matter, but as Al Gore droned on and on, in his monotonous, condescending tone, I have to ask if a certain number of people didn't say "I'm not going to listen to that for four years." Ditto, oddly, for Kerry. (Not that Bush was any great shakes, but his voice, as opposed to his speaking style, was passable, I guess.)

One of the best political voices in recent times, Bill Clinton, is married to one of the worst. The junior Senator from New York has a flat, nasal voice that gets shriller as it gets louder. It's not pretty. I think I'd prefer Al Gore. (I thought someone else had noticed and written a book, The Unique Voice Of Hillary Clinton, but that turned out to be about something else.)

Hillary has a couple years before the race begins in earnest. Maybe when she's not busy moving toward the center, she can take voice lessons.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Lord Ha Ha

Whenever he's not busy making one of his rotten little films that people mistake for class (Midnight Express, The Killing Fields, Chariots Of Fire), producer David Puttnam is shooting off his mouth about how bad everyone else's films are.

In his latest jag, he claims Hollywood is "fueling a culture of bullying in British schools." (Maybe that's so across the pond--in America, the general trend over the past 15 years has been less violence among teens, less drug use and less STDs.)

Lord Puttnam (personally I think titles of nobility help support bullying) goes on to urge filmmakers to "think far more deeply about the impact of their work on broader society."

Please don't.

It's my experience that most filmmakers are barely qualified to entertain me. Don't screw up everything by trying to morally instruct me on top of that.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Gone Fishin'

Guess what? Pajama Guy has just flown into LA, and his arms aren't tired.

Looks like we'll be painting the town red for a few days, so sorry if our daily service is discontinued until the end of the week.

Unless ChicagoGuy wants to get active again.

PS While you're waiting for fresh PJ Guy copy, you can check out the newbie DailyDetritus, created by one of our readers.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Professor No-Name's Extravagant Claims

Years ago I had lunch with an academic friend who'd recently put out a book. He gave me a copy and said I probably wouldn't agree with it. I said it's okay, I wasn't planning on reviewing it.

Now this same academic has written an editorial. I'm going to publicly disagree, but to keep up with the principle above, I'll withhold his name. (Is that the principle above?)

He states there's been three different stages of conservative criticism of the federal courts in the last fifty years. Already I can see his views are more nuanced than mine, since, as far as I can tell, there's been a fairly steady drumbeat of criticism for decades, with ebbs and flows. (Is that ebbs and floes? Okay, no more questions in parantheses.) He believes the latest criticisms represent the worst attack yet. I don't know--seems to me the high point of the fight was when leading Republicans were planning to impeach Justice Douglas decades ago.

Anyway, he considers the latest criticism the most serious of all. Why? Well, here's his parade of horribles if they get their way:
"[The conservatives feel] federal judges should strike down affirmative action programs, protect commerical advertising, invalidate environmental regulations, allow the president to do whatever he likes in the war on terrorism, use the Constitution to produce tort reform, invalidate gun control regulation, [and] invalidate campaign finance laws and much more--regardless of whether they can find solid justification for these steps in our founding document."
Hmm. If I were a federal judge, I'd certainly strike down many affirmative action programs. "Solid" is too light a word for the legal justification--affirmative action as generally practiced has been forced on an unwilling public, especially by judges who wrote decisions that flew in the face of clearly written laws.

Commercial advertising would get more protection, and the constitutional justification seems clear cut to me.

As for environmental, or indeed, any other widespread regulations, it would depend on the law. The Constitution, without question, contains limits on the powers of Congress, and just because the courts started pretending it didn't in the late 30s doesn't mean we should continue to ignore our founding text. (Even if we judged the regulations' alleged rational justifications a bit more clearly, we might still find many to strike down.)

As far as the president's powers in the war on terror, this is a highly tricky Constitutional question. There's certainly clear textual support that the president, once he's operating in a war, has tremendous leeway. Once again, I'd have to see the particular set of facts. (By the way, limiting the president's power, along with allowing affirmative action programs, strike me as both very anti-democratic.)

Tort reform? Haven't really heard the argument being made, so I don't know how to respond.

As to invalidating gun control regulation, it will come as a shock to many lay people that the Second Amendment has rarely been invoked by the courts. (Many state constitutions also have their version of the Second Amendment, by the way). But it's still there. If the high court actually wants to start interpreting it, rather than ignoring it, I can't say they're obviously wrong.

As to one of the most egregious anti-free speech opinions ever (that allowed POLITICIANS TO REGULATE POLITICAL SPEECH DURING ELECTIONS), the faster anti-First Amendment campaign laws are invalidated, the better.

Professor No-Name believes such decisions would represent "a fundamental challenge to the rule of law itself." This is hysteria. It's simply a collection of different legal interpretations he doesn't approve of.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Lost And Found

I've had dreams where I discover some new piece of art--it could be lost Shaw or a missing film by the Marx Brothers (from their Paramount period). But sometimes these things happen in real life.

For instance, a new chapter to the Alice books, a new work from Mark Twain, a new song from the Beatles (recorded in the 60s)--all these things became available in the last decade. While these can be exciting discoveries, they generally aren't as good as what we already have. There's often a reason something's survived.

Still, there's some stuff that's been lost or destroyed and can stand up to what made it through, and its recovery should be a cause of celebration. For years it was assumed many silent Buster Keaton shorts and even some features were gone forever. They've since almost all been found, restored, and shown to appreciative audiences around the world.

But what's been lost in the last few centuries is nothing next to what we've lost from the ancient world. Sure, some of the greatest work has come down to us, but there's so much missing that much research into that world--a world that helped form us--isn't much better than guesswork.

For instance, when it comes to Greek tragedy we have only 33 extant plays (and some fragments), including only one complete trilogy (the plays were presented as trilogies) and only one Satyr play (an amusing, shorter play that accompanied the tragedies). Imagine if the only Shakespeare to survive were Othello, As You Like It and Henry V. As important as we'd find these works, how we'd hunger for what's missing.

Now there's an article about new scientific techniques that will allow us to read heretofore unreadable ancient texts. I'm trying to control my excitement. Can this possibly be true? (On a much smaller scale, I was recently burned when I heard someone had recovered the actual silent version of Harold Lloyd's feature, Welcome Danger, when apparently it's just a silent version cobbled from his talkie.) Next to a time machine, nothing could open up the ancient world more. New Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and who knows what else?

If it's true, I can hardly wait. If not, curse you, online edition of The Independent. One note: the article claims some of the documents to be discovered include "a series of Christian gospels which have been lost for up to 2,000 years." My guess is there aren't any 2000-year-old Christian gospels.

PS Here's a more complete article about the potential discoveries.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

I Get The Picture

The New York Times Magazine has an informative, if alarmist, feature on the "Constitution In Exile" movement. I liked the piece, though author Jeffrey Rosen does seem to treat those who lean libertarian in their Constitutional interpretation as if they're from another planet. (For some specific criticisms, including the fact the disparate people in this movement rarely call it a "Constitution in exile"--that's how their enemies describe it--check out the Volokh Conspiracy, which has several posts on the subject.)

But what really caught my eye is the Rogues Gallery. The Times displays ominous photos of the leading members of the "movement." There they are, in glorious black and white, looking like nothing so much as Alfred Hitchcock about to introduce another tale of murder and mayhem. In particular, Richard Epstein, movement guru, doesn't appear to be the Richard Epstein I know. If you want to see what he looks like when he's at home, go to his page of the U of C Law School.

Ironically, when I first saw his new photo, I thought it was his colleague, R. H. Helmholz.

Roger Feels For Us

I don't mean to pile on Roger Ebert, but after noting a week ago that he makes obvious errors on a regular basis, we will now turn to his politics. It's been clear for quite a while he's a big D Democrat, and sometimes inserts politics into his reviews, but that's par for the course for quite a few critics.

This week, however, in his review of Turtles Can Fly, about Kurds just before the Iraq war, I think he oversteps the boundaries. The Kurds in the movie (and in reality, too) hated Saddam and supported the invasion. In fact, they have been our biggest supporters since the war started, and the biggest backers of free elections.

So what does Ebert have to say about this?:
"But what will the Americans do for them? The plight of the Kurdish people is that no one seems to want to do much for them. Even though a Kurd has recently been elected to high office in Iraq, we get the sense he was a compromise candidate -- chosen precisely because his people are powerless."
I'm not saying we've always done right by the Kurds (though we did more than most, seems to me), but we did put something on the line for them, even when many (such as Ebert) strongly disapproved. I realize we did what we did for ourselves as well--it's an odd politics that believes a nation's foreign policy can only do good when it has no self-interest.

But worse, see what Ebert does. Pauline Kael used to say "we feel" or "we think" in her film reviews. Even then it was a cheat, but at least she was referring to the films! Here, Ebert has done a sleight of hand, and is no longer talking about the film--he's referring to the actual political situation today, and telling us what we should think.

Roger, your "sense" of the situation is not mine. Not only was the election (the first of many, one hopes) a wonderful thing, but seeing a Kurd--a man from a group that was despised and slaughtered by the dictator we removed--now one of the official leaders of Iraq is a heartening development. Going from nothing to a well-functioning democracy takes a lot of work, and we should be thrilled at amazing advances in such a short time, hoping they will continue. But all Ebert can do, since the wrong President fought the war, is dump all over these achievements.

By the way, Roger, if you think the Kurds are powerless compared to how it used to be, I suggest you ask them. Or at least wait three years until someone makes a follow-up film, so you can tell us how to feel again.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Sham filibuster argument

I was going to write about the ridiculous arguments we're hearing about filibusters, now that the issue is out front. That "progressive" groups like the NAACP and People For The American Way now favor the filibuster--traditionally the greatest anti-progressive tactic around--is hilariously hypocritical. And hearing Senate Democrats defend the filibuster as a building block of our democracy (a procedural rule that stymies the majority) and as needed for "unlimited debate" (filibusters prevent real debate) was even worse.

On the other side, a number of Republicans seem to only want to stop filibusters for the "untraditional" purpose of preventing votes on federal judges. There is a barely colorable Constitutional argument for this (rather than being the day-to-day legislative give and take that Congress was created for, naming judges is an executive power and the role of the Senate is "advice and consent," pretty clearly by majority, since treaties specifically require two-thirds). Still, the idea that the majority-thwarting procedural rule of the filibuster is bad for judges but okay, for historical reasons, for legislation, is appallingly weak.

But I don't need to write this article, since Jonathan Chait just wrote it for me in Friday's LA Times. Alas, after making sense through 80% of the editorial, he goes for the silliest argument of all, one I first heard when discussing a Hendrick Hertzberg piece in The New Yorker. Hertzberg actually claims because judges can thwart the will of the people and have life tenure, filibustering judges, as opposed to filibustering legislation, is okey-dokey. Astonishingly, Jonathan Chait takes this argument seriously, as does the usually sensible Mickey Kaus.

I find this claim so bizarre that it's almost degrading to refute it. As if a dishonest, improper tactic is made acceptable because it gets you what you want (at present). And as if major legislation that may last our lifetimes and effect hundreds of millions of citizens and costs trillions of dollars couldn't possibly be as significant as a federal judge who's one of hundreds, can't decide a case on his own, is constrained by law and by precedent, will eventually quit or die and is historically unpredictable enough that he may even vote the filibusterer's way.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Like Ringin' A Bell

It's somewhat ironic that Chuck Berry, the man who made guitar THE instrument of rock and roll, would have one of the greatest rock pianists playing behind him.

Johnnie Johnson, who played keyboards on just about every great Berry track, has died at age 80. "Maybellene," "Roll Over Beethoven," "School Days"--he's there. In fact, "Johnny B. Goode" is a tribute to him.

Johnnie had a lively, rollicking style, full of glissandos and staccato notes on the high keys. Nevertheless, he wasn't a show-off, and always played to make the band sound good.

(His last reported words were "I feel good." Either he was feeling okay, or hallucinating that he played in a different band.)

So pull out that Chuck Berry album and play "Sweet Little Sixteen." Listen for Johnnie. If you're not already familiar with him, you might be amazed.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

What makes a hit?

What makes a TV (non-reality) hit? Why ask me? I don't know. Indeed, before the fact, no one knows. After the fact, it seems obvious. Solid premise, good writing, intriguing plots, fascinating characters, top-notch acting, that sort of stuff.

I was just thinking about this while watching Futurama. It had a 72-episode run on Fox, but never quite was a hit. I've been watching reruns on the Cartoon Network and I think I have a clue as to why.

Creator Matt Groening (also a creator of The Simpsons) complained Fox never got behind the series. Considering it had several years to find its audience, this is silly. (Besides, Groening should get on his knees every day and thank heaven for how well Fox has treated him.)

Futurama is actually a pretty good show. The animation is great, the joke-writing is solid and the plots are extremely imaginative. So what is missing?

It's the characters. The main three are Fry, Leela and Bender. Fry is too stupid, Leela is too colorless and Bender (a robot) is essentially a jerk. None of them are lovable. None of them are even sympathetic.

Rules are meant to be broken, but when you go against a central rule--that characters should be sympathetic, that you should root for them--you're asking for trouble.

Next week I'll explain why The Sopranos works so well.

De Mortuis Nihil Nisi Bonum

Recently, a fairly well-known figure died. Someone whom I have strong opinions about. In fact, I thought this was one of the most despicable characters around.

A friend recently asked if I would write anything on this person's passing. No, I won't. I'm keeping my mouth shut. The only thing I'll say, looking at a number of obits, is I'm disgusted at the grudging respect and even occasional admiration this person received.

Detour

If you want to continue reading or partaking in the "character" debate, it's now moved over to Skap James' I'm So Glad blog.

Don't let the look fool you

Pajama Guy picked out the "look" for this blog. Basically, it's supposed to remind you of pajamas.

I never saw another blog that had the same template until now: say hello to GayandRight!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

More Character

I just wrote something, posted it, then erased it by mistake, so I'm gonna do it again, but much shorter this time.

Skip James replied to my "Character" post. Scroll down to see his comments. He feels, by the way, that character counts a lot. (Sorry Skip, last time I quoted you at length in the body of the post, but don't have time to now.)

Actually, I agree with most of what Skip says. I just think he misses the point. Let's say you're a liberal in 1996, and think Clinton has less character than Dole. You may even think Clinton has sold out his party a few times. You will still vote for Clinton since he's far more likely to give you what you want than Dole.

Which candidate had the most character in 2004? Was it Dennis Kucinich? Ralph Nader? Michael Badnarik? Some guy I never heard of? I don't know--it's never easy to tell. But who cares. If a guy says he'll fight for programs I hate, and fight against programs I like, then the more "character" he has, the more reason I have to vote against him. That's how little character matters.

I'll get back to you on that

Perhaps you've seen the article where Salman Rushdie says Bush isn't handling the war on terror well; that he's alienating his allies. There's nothing remarkable about Rushdie's argument--it's just the same mindless claim we hear over and over from his social set: closing their minds to serious discussion while whining that Bush won't "listen" when they really mean "obey."

The only reason I bother to mention is it this. Where does Rushdie get off telling anyone how to deal with radical Islam?

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The Politics of Personal Destruction

From its toughest brass-knuckles practioner.

Conventional Wisdom

You'd think The New York Times would have found a place in this article to slip in a short paragraph reminding readers that Al Qaeda -- fresh off its success in throwing Spain's elections its way -- threatened to hit the U.S. before the election. Under those circumstances, it seems to me that the cops did a darn good job.

LAGuy notes: First, let me welcome Pajama Guy back after a long absence. Maybe he can try to rouse ChicagoGuy.

Regarding the linked story, no one denies the need for tight security during the Convention. Nevertheless, if police or prosecutors, months later, are editing videotapes to make defendants look bad, that is scandalous.

A Memory Of Two Mondays

The biggest surprise following Arthur Miller's death was the ferociousness of the attacks from the right. You might think they'd either praise him for the quality of his work, or lay off for a while. Instead, it was as if his demise were a chance to settle old scores.

Miller's political critics treated his plays as shabby hate letters to America. Now it's true that Miller was a leftist whose plots often had his country and the people in it coming up short. But that has little or nothing to do with his artistic worth.

The last two weeks my book group has been reading, aloud, Death Of A Salesman. I admit Miller has flaws, but there's an undeniable power. Times may have changed, but scene after scene hits home.

Maybe the play does take on the American Dream, but no country is above criticism. The question should be is it an artistic success. Will Miller's work still be produced a century from now? I don't know. But I think his work is large enough to withstand cheap attacks that attempt to simplify it into mere political propaganda.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Character

If I hire someone to paint my house, I'd be concerned about his character. Will he try to overcharge me, might he try to steal something? But when I "hire" politicians, character is pretty low on the list. I just want them to support programs I support, or do nothing. Character hardly enters enter into it.

I was thinking about this when I read the latest scoop over at Drudge. "Liberal Ed Klein" is putting out a book this September on Hillary Clinton that will deal with her personal life in heretofore unknown (and unpleasant) detail. Hillary Clinton has been a public figure for a while now--we have enough of a record to at least guess at what kind of President she'd be. Furthermore, I can't imagine what personal revelations could matter to me as much as what I believe she'd do in office. Perhaps The Truth About Hillary will be a blockbuster, but I bet I won't care.

Drudge (or someone Drudge is quoting) suggests "Just as the swift boat veterans convinced millions of voters that John Kerry lacked the character to be president, Klein’s book will influence everyone who is sizing up the character of Hillary Clinton." This makes me wonder, just how important were the swift boat veterans. Everyone assumes they made a big difference, but did they? Were there people convinced Kerry was a great war hero and thus would make a good President, but then decided he wasn't so brave, and turned against him?

Kerry figured he needed to show he could be a tough military leader (without angering his anti-war base) so he presented himself as a war hero. Then he was attacked by a few hundred other war heroes over his record. Why should either side have made any difference? Kerry was never an Eisenhower or Washington--he served his country on a tour of duty that, regardless of how well he performed, told us very little about how he'd run the country today. And it sure told us a lot less about how he'd run the country than his decades in public service.

I would have preferred Vietnam didn't come up at all in the 2004 election, since I think it told us nothing (maybe less than nothing, since it could obscure more important facts) about what sort of President Bush or Kerry would be. Oddly, it seemed to be the Democrats who couldn't stop talking about it, though I don't think it served them well.

In any case, I hope we don't see national office as a reward for being a good person (that should be its own reward), but as a position we're trying to fill with the person who'll do the best job.

Pajama Guy responds: The fuss over Kerry's war record showed he would say or do whatever was expedient at any given moment, even on issues of war and peace. That's why the Swift Boat Vets and his votes on the $87 billion hurt him. The contrast was especially sharp with President Bush, who has been stunningly honest about his intentions, and steadfast in his convictions. Unlike President Clinton, no White House spokesman ever had to "parse" President Bush's words.

As for Hillary -- are you sure you know what kind of President she would be? Is would she govern as the life-long liberal, or is her relatively recent tack to the right on foreign policy and social issues evidence of an evolution in her thinking? Are we seeing a conversion, or a bait and switch?

LAGuy ripostes: In response to Skip James comments (check out below), I'm quite serious about character not counting much. A national political figure makes huge decisions that effect hundreds of millions of people and trillions of dollars. That's what counts to me, not whether he sleeps around or drives like a maniac. Even if he hires family or takes a bribe, it's a small matter compared to someone of high character who supports bad policies. And don't forget what he does on his job is public knowledge, so whenever his "bad character" affects his judgment in a bad way, we can know about it and do something.

That's why it's more important to know the character of a guy you hire to paint your house. A closer comparison, actually, would be there are two men, A and B. A is of the highest character and is an accountant who refuses to ever paint anything, B is a personal mystery but a great housepainter. Who would you rather hire paint your house? What matters foremost, so much that character should rarely enter into it, is what a politician will do, not how he acts in private moments.

As to Pajama Guy's point, it seems you go for the conservative slant against Kerry, even though there's no question the guy did serve and did win medals. (It does matter that he couldn't get straight what he'd do in the war on terror--that wasn't a matter of character, that was a matter of policy.) If you were a liberal, you'd probably feel even more certain that Bush was an AWOL draft-dodger whose dad was protecting him while Kerry was risking his life. You'd also claim you not only have to "parse" Bush's words (calling him "stunningly honest about his intentions" would get you laughed out of a Democratic household), but you'd have hundreds of hundreds of pages of lies and idiotic things he said. The truth is NEITHER WHAT KERRY NOR BUSH DID DURING VIETNAM TELLS US ANYTHING ABOUT WHAT KIND OF PRESIDENT THEY'D MAKE (ESPECIALLY COMPARED TO THEIR LAST TEN YEARS)--IN FACT, WHAT THEY DID BACK THEN TELLS US ALMOST NOTHING ABOUT THEIR CHARACTER. The character-happy types (say, Rush Limbaugh, though they exist on both sides) are rarely serious about the issue, if you look at it impartially, but simply like to slime the other side, since when you disagree with someone, it's easy to feel they're not acting in good faith.

You may be right that it's hard to read Hillary Clinton. That may even be what she wants. But any knowledge of her personal character will not help me decide whether or not to vote for her.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Kee-ritics

As a kid, I thought critics knew something average people didn't. I wasn't aware there weren't any special qualifications for the job.

Let's do a quick survey of some statements by film critics this weekend.

Over at Jeffrey Wells' website, he's his usual silly self. He's just seen Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven and seems miffed this film about the Crusades isn't more about our war in Iraq. Even stranger, he pulls out a quote from a piece he wrote last year: "Can anyone think of another occupying Anglo force that went into a Middle Eastern country for bogus reasons and is probably fated to leave with its tail between its legs?" When you write something that stupid and ugly, you think you'd try to bury it. (You can't blame him though--his life has been about film, and he seems to have picked up his reflexive politics along the way.)

Weirder though is Wells' obsessions with certain actors. Last year, he simply couldn't get over Gwen Stefani having about two minutes screen time in The Aviator as Jean Harlow. He thought she looked wrong for the part and mentioned it over and over, as if he were Howard Hughes. Even if she were wrong (seemed fine to me) who could possibly care.

Now he's back to his "thing" about Amanda Peet. He calls her "intensely dislikable," with the vibe of a "born conniver" and eyes that are "shrewd and predatory." Huh? I've always found Amanda Peet a breath of fresh air, even if she's been saddled with plenty of weak parts in so-so films. I consider her fairly talented, and a classic beauty, but even if I didn't like her, I can't imagine raining down insults like Wells does. He says "for all I know I'm the only one who feels this way about Peet. But I doubt it." Doubt it, Jeffrey, doubt it.

Over at the Chicago Reader, their second-stringer, J.R. Jones, gives a thumbs down to the Farrelly Brothers' change of pace, Fever Pitch. Fair enough, but then I read the Brothers "raised the raunch level of Hollywood comedies in the late 90s, but like Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker of Airplane! fame in the 80s, they also honored the gag-a-minute ethic of 30s comedy teams like the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges." This won't do. (I'll ignore that he put the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges in the same sentence.) Clowns base their work on their characters, whom they insert into plots that allow them to get laughs. The Farrelly's start with a story and hire actors to fulfill the plot demands (except perhaps when they build something around Jim Carrey). The ZAZ boys in Airplane!, meanwhile, did the exact opposite of comedy teams--they hired actors not known for comedy and had them play absurd gags absolutely straight. It may seem I'm making too much of an inapt comparison, but there's something fundamentally wrong about it that bothers me. (By the way, Jones claims "Randy Quaid mistakenly hooks a bull to a milking machine"--one of the more memorable gags in the Farrelly's Kingpin--when it's Woody Harrelson.)

Then there's Roger Ebert, the most famous and perhaps richest film critic around. I like Roger. I may often disagree with him, but his love of movies, after four decades of writing about them, always shines through. Still, lately he seems tired. He makes easy mistakes.

For instance, when he reviewed Kill Bill Vol. 2, he claimed that Uma Thurman reads notes on how dangerous the snake that kills Michael Madsen is, when it's Daryl Hannah (I know they're both tall blondes, but one had an eye-patch). When he reviewed Be Cool he stated The Rock is Cedric The Entertainer's bodyguard, when it couldn't be clearer The Rock is Vince Vaughn's bodyguard.

Now this in his review of Fever Pitch:
"Think how [Jimmy Fallon] feels. The Sox are down 0-3 to the Yankees in the AL playoffs and behind 7-0 in the fourth and apparently final game. He's at a party she wanted him to attend. He has a great time at the party, until he finds out the Red Sox won 8-7 with eight runs in the bottom of the ninth! That will be a moment that he will always, always, regret missing."(Italics his.)
Roger, alas, is confusing two very different games here. The Red Sox do make a comeback that Fallon misses due to a party, but it is definitely not the fourth game of the AL playoffs, which leads to a distinctly different comic climax.

Perhaps the editors at his paper, the Chicago Sun-Times, can assign him a special helper to avoid these embarrassing errors.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Warning: Grammatical Change

Many think grammar is a set of fixed rules. Actually, it's whatever people think is acceptable. Proper grammar is what people who grade English papers think is acceptable.

In Leiter Reports, a potential law student writes: "I am a top candidate....my GPA [is] 3.82, and [I] scored 178 on the LSAT. I have been accepted at NYU, Stanford, and Harvard; did not apply to Columbia; and am still waiting on a decision from Yale."

Wow. A generation or so ago, anyone (much less at "top candidate") who used "waiting on" instead of "waiting for" would sound like a hick. I still can't bring myself to say "waiting on" unless I'm referring to a waiter.

I suppose we'll know this phrase has completely turned the corner when the latest edition of Beckett's En Attendant Godot is translated Waitin' On Godot.

Friday, April 08, 2005

We are experiencing technical difficulties...

...here at Pajama Guy. I'll be thrilled if this message gets through.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Mr. Wright

Neil LaBute's latest play, This Is How It Goes, has not gotten great reviews. It's a three-character work featuring Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Peet and, after a lengthy hiatus from the stage, Ben Stiller. Not having seen it, I can't comment.

Stiller is the big name here, and most reviews have focused on his performance. But The New Yorker critic, Hilton Als, concentrates on Jeffrey Wright.

Als believes Wright is a great actor, and I agree. While I haven't seen him in all the stagework Als has, Wright has done superb, protean work in films such as Angels In America (the TV version where he reprised his stage role), Shaft and Basquiat, to name a few. But Als wonders why Wright isn't a bigger star, and suggests it's because he's black.

Wright is a major name in theatre and has a successful film career. That's already better than 99% of his competitors. However, he's not (yet) among the handful of people we'd call movie stars. Guess what? Most people don't get to be movie stars. Do we really need Als to be insulted on Wright's behalf? I think we'd be better served by a review of the work at hand, rather than such pointless speculation.

Als notes the play
"...marks Wright’s ninth collaboration with [director George C.] Wolfe....It’s a partnership that equals that of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, early in their careers. That Wright and Wolfe are not as lauded says much about the limitations that race places on us, and, by extension, on our ideas about entertainment."
Nah, I'd say it's a lot more about Scorsese and De Niro working in movies that have been seen by hundreds of millions across the world, whereas Wright and Wolfe have mostly worked in a medium that has an audience of thousands mostly drawn from the New York metro area.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Trend or Blip?

John Fund has a piece in the Wall Street Journal on the Bush vote in 2004. In heavy turnout, Bush won 51% to 48%--not bad, but not so overwhelming that Republicans can be complacent. So which blocs of voters are secure, and which might be chipped away? The biggest question mark is probably Latinos.

While Democrats have a death grip on the African-American vote, Latinos showed a major move toward Republicans. Fund says Bush gained 9% more than in 2000, to finish with 44% of the overall vote. He calls this "worrisome" for Democrats. Is it?

First, even if the Republicans continue to get 44% of the Latino vote, this means Democrats are still winning a solid majority of a growing minority. More important, was this a one-time bounce due to security/morality issues, and an appealing candidate (and not-so-appealing Democrat)? If so, then this unusually high number, seems to me, is more worrisome to Republicans.

Biggest Disappointment of 2005

Last year I got really excited. You see, the great clown, Harold Lloyd, made his first talkie in 1929, Welcome Danger. It was his biggest grosser, no doubt due to the novelty of hearing him speak. Each successive talkie he produced made less money, until he finally quit the movie game.

Anyway, he had actually filmed a full-length silent called Welcome Danger before he realized sound was in. Never one to stint, he scrapped the entire movie, reconceived it, reshot it, and out came the talkie version. While some of Lloyd's talkies aren't half bad, Welcome Danger is considered an oddity of mostly historical interest.

I always wondered if that silent version was available anywhere. In 1929, Lloyd was still at the height of his powers, and even an average silent feature would be a major find. Then, last year, I heard the silent version of Welcome Danger has been found and would be released. I could hardly wait.

A few days ago Turner Classic Movies showed Welcome Danger, the sound version. The host explained when the film was released, many theatres, especially overseas, still only showed silents. So Lloyd took his film, recut it without sound, added titles, and that was shown in many theatres instead of the talkie.

Alas, if TCM is to be believed, this is the "silent" version everyone's been talking about. The original silent version simply doesn't exist any more. Or does it? Lloyd owned his work and took pretty good care of it. Maybe someday it'll be found. (I can dream, can't I?)

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Space Race

The story going around is there are 8 million blogs. I find this number hard to believe. Are we talking "real" blogs, or including every little webpage that someone set up and left alone?

Regardless, there are a huge number of blogs out there. Like any market, a small percentage get most of the readers and a large percentage very few. (I can't say exactly where in this range Pajama Guy falls, but now would be a nice time to take a station break and remind you that we (usually) provide daily content and cost nothing, so why not spread the word to your friends about this great deal.)

Unpopular blogs take up just as much storage room as popular ones. This is why the internet is so amazing. Imagine if everyone kept old-style journals instead of blogs. Forget how they'd find others to read them--the space required for storage alone would be bigger than most libraries. But because we're talking pixels, or electrons, or whatever (don't ask me, I just turn the key and it goes), we need virtually no storage space at all.

Virtually none, but that means, of course, some. Even an electron takes up space. Are there any physicists or engineers out there who can tell me how much physical space a novel's worth of blogging takes up? I'm not talking about the display on a computer, but the actual storage that the blog host handles. How much space is needed to store War And Peace or The Bible? An encyclopedia? All blogs combined?

PS After I wrote the above, I recalled there was a great thinker who asked the same sort of question before I was born. He even gave some answers. While he didn't have the technology then, he did have the imagination. Here's a link to Richard Feynman's speech "There's Plenty Of Room At The Bottom."

Monday, April 04, 2005

Picking Popes

A friend asked me if I was going to write about John Paul II. I said I wasn't planning to. Pajama Guy is not a newspaper--I write about one or two things a day and often miss major events. But now that the Pope has died, there is one thing that intrigues me.

A lot of people are, understandably, discussing who the new Pope will be. Some want another Italian, some say it's time for a Latin American Pope, others say it's time for an African Pope. So this got me thinking, just how is a Pope chosen?

Sure, I know the College of Cardinals vote on it, but their decision is made behind closed doors. Do they argue about it? What reasons do they give? Do they just vote? Do they take into account the popularity of the last Pope? What sort of pressures do they respond to? What sort of compromises do they make? How much does it matter these days where the candidate is from?

Perhaps the secrecy involved is so the Catholic Church can present official unity to the public. Still, it would be interesting to know just how this process works.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

It was 200 years ago today...

Hans Christian Andersen was born April 2, 1805. Denmark is celebrating his bicentennial, but he belongs to the world.

He wrote novels and plays, but is remembered for his fairy tales. He created 168, most with original plots. While they teach moral lessons to children, they are told with such imagination that they stand as literature for all ages. Some are funny, some are eerily beautiful, some are surprisingly sad.

Among his better-known works are "The Emperor's New Clothes," "The Princess And The Pea," "The Red Shoes," "The Ugly Duckling," "The Brave Tin Soldier" and "The Little Matchstick Girl." Many of his tales, however, come down to us in simplified versions. It would be a nice tribute to return to the originals.

For instance, "The Little Mermaid." The Disney version, though entertaining, is quite different from Andersen's. In the original, the Little Mermaid is in love with a prince who lives above the water. She finds out if he can love her, she will gain a human soul.

The Mermaid goes to the sea witch to make her look human. As a price, the Mermaid, who has the sweetest voice in the sea, must give up her tongue--if she can win the prince, it must be done without speaking to him. Moreover, she has to drink a potion that will feel as if she is being sliced in two, to create her legs. And each step she takes will feel as if she's walking on sharp knives.

She meets the Prince, and he is taken with her. However, events work out that he will marry a princess. The Mermaid has lost everything, and will die. But her mermaid sisters give her a knife they purchased from the witch. If the Little Mermaid will plunge it into the Prince's heart, she will become a mermaid again and return to her sea life.

What happens? If you don't know the story, not what you expect. Read it and find out.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

The Drought Is Over?

Speaking of movies, it's been a pretty weak year so far. But April shows some promise, even amongst the major releases. This weekend has Sin City, which, if nothing else, will be a striking thing to see. (I've read the comic version, but I'm not sure if too straight a translation to the screen will work.)

Next week has Fever Pitch, Kung Fu Hustle and Sahara, all possibilities. Fever Pitch is based on a novel by Nick Hornsby, has a screenplay by Ganz and Mandel, and is directed by the Farrelly Brothers--all names that have done good work. Alas, the star is Jimmy Fallon, but who knows? Kung Fu Hustle is the latest by Stephen Chow, the biggest star in Asia. Much of his comedy has left me cold, but many are saying this is his best. Sahara is hoping to recapture the Indiana Jones feeling, though it may be closer to The Mummy.

The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy will be released late this month. I enjoyed the radio version, the books and the TV version--is it that much to ask that they make a good film?

I sometimes think no one makes movies for me anymore. Hollywood, prove me wrong.

Get Your Story Straight

I just saw a trailer for The Amityville Horror remake. It says the movie is "based on a true story." Shouldn't that be "based on an actual hoax"?

Friday, April 01, 2005

I'll take that bet

One Muslim scholar claims that analysis of the Koran shows the US will be destroyed by a huge flood from both the Atlantic and Pacific in 2007.

I love when religious people make testable claims. So here's what we've got to do. Before 2007, I want everyone who believes in this prediction to go on record--put your money where your faith is.

If you're right, you're right. Good work. Everyone should go over to your side. But if you're wrong, admit it. No weaseling out. No claiming some normal, annual-type disaster--earthquake, hurricane, drought, even a minor flood--is the same thing. No claiming you misread a number and the date is actually 2017. No claiming Allah changed his mind and decided to be merciful.

No, just admit you were wrong, and you don't understand how things are, and it's time to consider other ideas.

R.I.P.

Mitch Hedberg has died. He was 37. While the official word says the cause is unclear, the unofficial word say overdose. Considering his rep, the latter is quite believable. (I talked to a friend who saw him perform in Ann Arbor--then saw him in the bathroom at the club doing drugs.)

Hedberg was perhaps my favorite under-40 comedian. I only saw him a few times on TV, but I always felt his take on things, along with his semi-stoner delivery, made him unique.

He didn't actually do a lot of drug humor. If anything, he seemed more obsessed with food. The druggie persona was more of a springboard for his odd observations. Let me quote a few of his lines:

"I think foosball is a combination of soccer and shishkabob."

"My friend asked me if I wanted a frozen banana, I said 'No, but I want a regular banana later, so, yeah.' "

"A waffle is like a pancake with a syrup trap."

"Why are there no during pictures?"

"I'm against picketing, but I don't know how to show it."

Perhaps his signature bit is about buying a doughnut:

"I bought a doughnut and they gave me a receipt for the doughnut... I don't need a receipt for the doughnut. I give you money and you give me the doughnut, end of transaction. We don't need to bring ink and paper into this. I can't imagine a scenario that I would have to prove that I bought a doughnut. To some skeptical friend, Don't even act like I didn't buy a doughnut, I've got the documentation right here... It's in my file at home. ...Under D."

It would have been interesting to see how he developed.

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