Sunday, July 31, 2005

Must love dogs

This must be one of those self-identifying titles producers kick themselves for using. Lord, this movie is awful. ColumbusGal and I both love Cusack, and I love Lane-what man wouldn't?-but awful, awful, awful. I laughed out loud when they did a Timmie-calling-for-Lassie head shot of Lane in the big wrap-up scene. This movie is worth seeing just to see how badly something can fail to connect. It's got to be a tough business; just when do you know you've got a dog? Could editing have saved this thing? I don't see how, unless they left all the good stuff on the floor and kept everything else.

LAGuy adds: Very impressive--you're now going out to see movies that are in theatres.

Columbus Guy says: Yes, but we only paid $3.50 for the matinee.

Judging The Media

Interesting essay on the media by Judge Posner in The New York Times Book Review, though I doubt it will please too many.

I think he mostly gets it right, though I have some quibbles. (I don't discuss quibbles on the weekend.) His best point may be that people don't keep up on events merely to be well-informed (those who keep up on events to begin with), but also to have their point of view justified.

Update: For an attack on Posner, see Jack Shafer's piece in Slate. I wonder if it proves too much--shouldn't he be asking why is anybody, not just Posner, writing about this issue now?

All the news that fits

During some recent alone time I perused a 2004 Time almanac. The cover includes seven photos in a Saturn-like ring around "the world." I, a reader, get the gist of all seven photos and know specifically what five of them are.

One is a woman holding an award, a large silver plate, obviously after a sporting event. Others include the Columbia launching, the Saddam statue having a U.S. flag tied around its neck, a sunset silhouette photo of a soldier, and Asian women wearing masks, obviously due to SARS.

That leaves two photos, both black and whites, head shots. Any longshot guessers out there?

One is Bob Hope, the other is Katharine Hepburn. I mean, come on, two of seven photos covering 2003's world events are, not merely Hollywood, but 1940's Hollywood? I know LAGuy's industry is important, and I know we like nostalgia better than thinking up something new, but, come on.

Is There Anything The Times Doesn't Know?

In a recent talkback I mentioned I'd heard about Mormon-based films while in Utah but haven't seen anything about them since being back in LA. Where are they?

The New York Times Magazine has answered that question.

It's A Plot

It's said there are only seven basic plots. Perhaps, but if so, then it's the variations that count. I just saw Hustle & Flow, the story of a pimp who wants to make it as a rapper. If all that matters is basic plot, once you get beyond the sex, violence and language, it's basically just another Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland musical about amateurs trying to make it big.

The film was a favorite at Sundance, though I think now that it's out in the regular world, it'll find the going a bit tougher. I don't see it crossing over to a wide audience. (It's a bit unfair to write this now, since the film's been out for a week--you'll just have to take my word I thought this before it was released, and watching it confirmed my suspicion.)

The film features a powerful lead performance by Terrence Howard as Djay the pimp, all the more impressive after you've seen him play the opposite type as the integrated TV director earlier this year in Crash. For that matter, Ludacris, also in Crash, does a fine turn as the malevolent Skinny Black in Hustle & Flow.

(Actually, I'm often surprised at how well rappers acquit themselves on screen. Perhaps the best these days is Mos Def. I'm rarely so impressed by rock stars.)

Saturday, July 30, 2005

What a Dick (get it?)

The feud is over. Moby's got newfound respect for Eminem. Why? Because in the rapper's latest album, he opposes the war in Iraq.

I see. Being a revolutionary performer in a relatively new art form leaves Moby cold. But being a hack and playing it safe impresses him. Okay.

Friday, July 29, 2005

I Thought I Was Joking, or After CAFTA

A couple days ago I discussed the new split in labor. While labor leaders may have different approaches, I didn't think it would make much difference to American politics. (Even though SEUI President Andrew Stern is aware of the new economy and has criticized Big Labor for being an "appendage of the Democratic Party.")

I somewhat jokingly said the Dems own the labor vote and the labor vote owns the Dems. Well, after the CAFTA vote, it's not a joke any more.

It wasn't that long ago the Democratic Leadership Council was modernizing their party. The Dems had certain weaknesses in the public's eye, including fiscal irresponsibility, and the DLC was gonna fix that. They got Clinton into the White House. And on perhaps his biggest economic initiative, NAFTA, he got 40% of the Dems in the House to go along.

This week, however, the Dems ran away from the Central America Free Trade Agreement. Only 7% in the House supported the bill, which passed, after a tremendous amount of behind-the-scenes work, 217-215.

What has happened to the Democrats? Why are they throwing away a strategy which seemed to work. Being pro-labor doesn't have to mean you should punish the economy.

I'm still amazed at how often I hear people condemn NAFTA, as if it were a failure. Taking effect in 1994, it provided a zone of free trade (or at least moved in that direction) between the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Many predicted disaster, but let's look at the record.

The U.S. economy had been improving for about three years, and some thought it had peaked. Instead, we got 6 straight years of some of the strongest growth in our history. (And even today, after downturns, we still have one of the most resilient economies in the world.) Exports grew. Inflation stayed low. Earning increased. And millions of jobs were created--the unemployment rate went from a decent 6% to a great 4% (and has mostly stayed under 6% since.) The Mexican and Canadian economies improved as well. Meanwhile, more "protected" countries, such as in Europe, were relatively stagnant, creating almost no jobs.

While it's hard to isolate any single factor in a huge economy, it's also hard to claim NAFTA wasn't helpful, and certainly all the dire predictions didn't come true. (That giant sucking sound you hear is the foolishness of those who thought we could get richer by fighting free trade.)

So now we have a chance to do the same thing with Central America. I don't expect every Democrat to jump on board, but if we can't even get a decent level of support, how can we count on this party to run our economy?

Columbus Guy says: Can't run the war, can't run the economy, but they can run Oprah and Hillary will be president.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Seeing red

Who the bleep does the Vatican think it is?

Everything-plus

Kudos to Alan Korwin for "Gun Laws of America" and to Dave Kopel and Volokh Conspiracy for bringing it to light. Kopel writes, "The book contains the full text of every gun-related federal statute, along with plain English explanations."

That's quite a project. Now if only someone would write "Felony Laws of America" so we could have those in one spot, we'd be in business.

Nanoo Nanoo

Two interesting items today on nanotechnology. NPR Morning Edition reported on microdots put onto paper by printers. It allows anyone to tell whether a document has been forged, since documents may appear identical to the eye but sufficiently sensitive scanners can distinguish them at a microscopic level (nanoscopic level?).

So don't go using the work copier to send your threatening letters to Karl Rove and Gary Trudeau. Use the neighbor's.

The other item, courtesy Free Republic and Nature magazine, is a little happier: Nanotechnology used to kill cancer cells while leaving healthy cells whole.

Elementary

My book group is reading a bit of Sherlock Holmes this week. We could use something light after Othello. While perusing "The Speckled Band," something hit me that was so obvious I was embarrassed I hadn't noticed before.

This is why the TV show House is so popular--the title character, Dr. Gregory House, is a modern Sherlock Holmes. They're both bachelors. They're both hooked on drugs. They both have no talent or use for normal social intercourse. And only one thing truly animates them--the chance to solve puzzles, in one case the solution to crimes, in the other, the cure for diseases.

What really made me smack my foreheard was when the writers' clue sank in. His name. "Gregory House" and "Sherlock Holmes" share a lot of vowels, but that's not it. "House" is practically a synonym for "Holmes."

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Bend Down And Pick Up The Money

You gotta admire the doggedness of Michael Medved. He keeps making the same argument, whether it fits or not. The latest iteration of his main meme--that the movies' lack of mainstream morality is hurting the bottom line--is found in yesterday's USA TODAY editorial.

It's true this year has seen a slump in Hollywood's domestic theatrical revenues. Conventional--and correct--wisdom blames two reasons above all:

1) 2004 had three huge hits--Shrek 2, Spider-Man 2 and The Passion Of The Christ--each one making the all-time top ten list, while no other year places more than one. (One huge hit alone is a significant part of the annual gross. Futhermore, 2004 started out enjoying a large portion of the gross of another top ten hit--The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King) In particular, Passion was an independent film coming out of nowhere early in the year, so it's been hard for this year's grosses to match it. In fact, if you just look at the grosses of the big studios so far, and ignore independents, I believe they're higher this year than last.

2) Second, and more worrisome, since it's a longterm trend, is that people are getting more and more used to waiting for films to be available in a different format, particularly DVDs. It's cheaper and more convenient to watch a movie at home, so the theatrical audience is dwindling. This trend has, if anything, been speeding up lately, though higher ticket prices help camouflage it. (Some claim making films that appeal to an older audience, and less to the 12 - 24 crowd, would help--perhaps, though it's hard to say if going after the people abandoning you is worthwhile.)

To Michael Medved, of course, the cause of the slump is obvious. Say it with me: Hollywood has not learned its lesson and is ignoring the values of the common folk. Now the trouble is, Medved claims Hollywood has had this problem every year since the late '60s! So how can he say this perennial is causing something new in 2005? His answer to this challenge is so lame it's hard to believe.

Medved says "Something clearly changed between 2004 and 2005." What could it be? The election! We voted in Bush (again). In other words, decades of Hollywood giving regular folks the finger didn't do it, but making fun of a President trying to get re-elected, that was just too much, time to stop seeing movies in theatres.

I will now say what I say to every person who believes he's found a multi-billlion dollar innefficiency in the market: Bend down and pick up the money! If the solution is so obvious, and people are panting for Medved's values on the silver screen, there will be plenty of conservative venture capitalists who will be glad to front some money--a chance to make a profit while enriching our national culture! In fact, I bet you could find backing from rich liberals who like making money more than they hate family values. Go to it, man. You'll become super-rich while improving the country's moral tone--you'd be crazy not to!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

This is news?

The whole (interested) world knows that Hillary was in Columbus this week with the DLC. I happened to hear one reporter who had attended and listened to her speech speak to another who had not, saying, "It was remarkably lacking in substance."

That was such an obvious laugh line, delivered deadpan, that I looked up at the speaker to make sure whether he was joking. He was not.

A better reason to have attended would have been to meet the LA Time's Ron Brownstein, who writes the occasional interesting column. His news story is interesting, if thankless. I'm a little worried by this line, though: "All this suggests that strains could develop between Clinton's desire to write a plan popular with as wide an array of Democrats as possible and the DLC's hope of crafting a sharply focused centrist road map — even if that means continued conflict with liberals that Clinton may be reluctant to antagonize. "

Yeah, maybe so, Ron. But where's the attribution? Why include this at all? This is a news story, isn't it, instead of an opinion piece?

LAGuy adds: I look at Brownstein now and then and it's my impression he does "analysis." That means he can include as much or as little news as he wants. His greatest value is he's pretty good at presenting conventional wisdom, particularly among the Democrats.

Columbus Guy says: Mickey Kaus joins in, also finding Hillary less than titillating

Labor Pains

The Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union are pulling out of the AFL-CIO. They feel that John Sweeney, head of the AFL-CIO, isn't doing enough for the rank and file.

This is a big story, but it's hard to know how it'll play out. Are these hotheads who don't know how to play the game, or revolutionaries showing the way? Regardless, I think the biggest problems of labor in the last 50 years were not due to any particular failure of leadership, but rather, created by historical change in the economy that organized labor could not prevent. (It's not unlike farmers who became a smaller and smaller percentage of all workers--this is the kind of creative destruction which is good overall but can cause tremendous dislocation.)

Will this hurt the Democrats, as some predict? I doubt it. They own labor (and vice versa) and internecine fights won't change that. It's the overall trend that has to be, and in fact, already has, been dealth with, inasumch as Labor is only one part, if a significant one, in the Democrat's coalition.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Another One On The List

I admit I haven't been keeping up on my Vanity Fair. I only read it and look at the colorful spreads when I'm in the library, and have missed the last few issues.

Anyway, I checked out the latest, with Marth Stewart on the cover. In the letters section, several writers commented positively on a Graydon Carter piece that called Iraq the forgotten war.

You know what this means. That we must add Editor Carter to the ever-growing list of leftists WHO HAVE NOT READ A NEWSPAPER OR WATCHED A TELEVISION IN THE LAST TWO YEARS.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Lake George VII

We're back from Lake George (Loon Lake, actually). Here's what every development director in every city from Fort Lee to Oakland can say about development: If you don't build it, they won't come.

The great thing about the Adirondacks is shown on any map. There is a huge expanse of land without significant roads. You can find decent wilderness if you're able and willing to walk for it.

And I don't know what their zoning situation is, but, while you do see the occasional Walmart or McDonald's, they're occasional. By far most of the businesses we saw and dealt with were mom and pops, except for Stewart's, which had a nice mom and pop feel.

Is it right to preclude homogeneous American culture from creeping in? I don't know, but it sure felt good. (BTW, "Lake George VII" is what the exit sign said off I-87. I didn't understand how that could be, until once I finally looked at it closely enough while I was near enough to see that it was "Lake George Vil," presumably for "village," which happens to be the most, and perhaps only, hideous spot in the area. One who is aging is always thankful for signs.)

Signifying Nothing

This year's Faulkner write-alike contest was won by a parody of The Sound And The Fury where--get this--the idiot, Benjy, turns out to be--can you believe it?!--George W. Bush.

There's a flap because United Airlines magazine didn't print the parody except on its website. The magazine claims it was only planning to publish it online.

I don't know what's really going on, but, based on the excerpt in the linked article, the parody is pretty bad. The title alone, "The Administration and the Fury," feels like the writer's not trying. The only reason I can imagine the judges chose it, despite what they claim, is that it takes on the Bush administration (in a highly unoriginal way). Somehow, I can't see them happily proclaiming the piece if it insulted an actual sacred cow, like the NAACP or Islam.

(If the judges are big Bush fans who simply couldn't deny the wit behind the piece, then I humbly apologize. Any takers? I'll give odds.)

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Seconds

Why redo a film that was done right the first time? Especially comedies. Many films that made us laugh require a certain actor, a certain director, and a certain time. It's hard, perhaps impossible, to recapture what was magic in the original, so why not try something new?

I'm a big fan of the 1976 Bad News Bears (but not the sequels--I guess that's a different post). The new version, though it hews fairly closely to the original, seems to just be going through the motions. Where the first one had bite, the new one produces empty laughter, where there are laughs at all.

Why do it? Simple. Check out the grosses of The Longest Yard.

Next question?

Friday, July 22, 2005

Newhart and Numbers

American Masters just had a fine tribute to Bob Newhart. It may be repeated soon, so keep an eye out. A solid overview of his career, I don't have much to add. But there were a few interesting stats mentioned that I'd like to discuss.

First, they showed some TV ratings on the special. It's not said when they're from, or if it's weekly or yearly ratings, but it's got to be around 1974:

1. All In The Family
2. The Waltons
3. Sanford And Son
4. M*A*S*H
5. Hawaii Five-O
6. Maude
7. Kojak
The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour
9. The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Cannon
11. The Six Million Dollar Man
12. The Bob Newhart Show
The Wonderful World of Disney
The NBC Sunday Mystery Movie

Even more interesting are the ratings. Ratings are percentages of all television households, not to be confused with shares, which are percentages of all televisions in use. The top-rated show, All In The Family, had a 31.2 rating. Number 14, The NBC Sunday Mystery Movie (which inclued Columbo) was 22.2 How things have changed in this age of cable. Now, if you manage a 10 rating, you're a hit, while anything over 15 makes you a huge hit. 22.2 on a regular basis might not be reachable any more.

Second, the special made an extravagant claim about his first LP, The Button-Down Mind Of Bob Newhart. It was a major hit, true, but they claim the "album outperformed every album made by Elvis Presley except Presley's Blue Hawaii album; it also outperformed, on the charts, every album made by the Beatles in the decade of the 1960s."

First, a little context. The album market wasn't nearly as big as it got with the growth of rock (thanks considerably to the Beatles). So an album could sell well for weeks and weeks and still not go gold (500,000 copies sold).

While rock music started taking over in the 50s, it sold mostly as singles until the Beatles came along. With the exception of Elvis, few rock acts were #1 on the album charts until 1964. What sold? Mitch Miller, the Kingston Trio, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis and lots of MOR stuff. Original cast albums and soundtracks were huge--the South Pacific soundtrack was #1 for 31 weeks and the West Side Story soundtrack was #1 for 54 weeks! Before the Beatles, even Frank Fontaine, better known as Crazy Guggenhiem, the drunk, on The Jackie Gleason Show, was at #1 for 5 weeks.

Yet when it comes to sales, the Beatles and other rock acts opened up the album market. More units were sold more quickly. When a Beatles' album came out, it was an event and would sell intensely the first week, unlike most previous #1 LPs.

But even if we don't take this into account, let's look at the chart numbers. In 1960, Newhart's first album was #1 for 14 weeks. Impressive, though not the best charting album of the year--that was the original cast recording of The Sound Of Music, #1 for 16 weeks. Newhart's next album in 1961 was #1 for a single week, and he never topped the charts again. (The next big charting comedy act was Allan Sherman, who had three #1 albums before The Beatles came along.)

It's true the only Elvis abum to chart better (not sell better) than Newhart's was the Blue Hawaii soundtrack, #1 for 20 weeks. But Elvis was primarily a singles artist, and there he dominated as no one else. Because people bought soundtracks in those days (when you're not otherwise inclined to buy albums, the free publicity a movie garners sure can help), his other two biggest charting albums, both #1 for 10 weeks, were the soundtracks to Loving You and G. I. Blues.

Now for the Beatles. They ruled the U.S. charts from '64 to '70, ushering in an era of rock dominance. In 1964 alone they were #1 for 30 weeks. (By the way, this was the first full year the mono and stereo album charts were combined.) Meet The Beatles was #1 for 11 consecutive weeks, followed by The Beatle's Second Album at #1 for 5 weeks. That's 16 weeks straight, more than Newhart held #1 for everything he did.

Then, later that year, with a soundtrack that wasn't even all Beatles--A Hard Day's Night--they were #1 for 14 consecutive weeks. It appears this Beatles' album was not outperformed by Newhart's. However, while they were at #1 an equal amount, the Newhart album was on the charts considerably longer--108 weeks to 51. So let's hold off for a while.

In 1965, the Beatles were #1 for 24 weeks. In 1966, 17 weeks. (From late '66 through '67, the Monkees' first two albums were #1 for 31 straight weeks.) In 1967, 15 weeks. In 1968, 17 weeks. In 1969, 11 weeks. In 1970, when they broke up, 4 weeks.

Were there any albums released during this time that charted better than Newhart's? Well, Abbey Road was on the charts 116 weeks, longer than Newhart's 108. But it was only #1 11 weeks, so maybe Newhart still wins. The Beatles (better known as "The White Album") was on the charts 144 weeks. But it was only #1 for 9 weeks, so maybe it loses, too. (I'm ignoring that the Beatles' albums continued to sell well in the 35 years since they split up.)

So is that it? Nope, there's one more: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was #1 for 15 straight weeks and on the charts for 168. So by any standard, the Newhart claim is simply wrong. (Sorry I wasted so much time getting to this paragraph.)

By the way, if you want to talk chart domination, starting in mid-1963 all the way to 1968, on the British charts, every #1 album was either The Sound Of Music soundtrack, or something by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan or the Monkees.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Great Scott

James Doohan is dead. Though he appeared in numerous movies and TV shows, he'll always be remembered as Montgomery Scott, chief Engineer of the Starship Enterprise.

Because the series soon became the adventures of Kirk, Spock and sometimes McCoy, Scotty only shines in a handful of episodes. For instance, in "Who Mourns For Adonais?" he (and his stuntman) gets beaten up pretty bad by Apollo. In "The Trouble With Tribbles" he gets into a barroom brawl and has an even better scene trying to explain it to Captain Kirk. In "Wolf In The Fold" he gets to ogle Orgellian belly-dancers before being accused of stabbing one to death. (It turns out to be John Fiedler, who died last month--sorry for giving it away.) Scotty's wide smile from this episode is the shot being used most on TV obits.

His best moment altogether may be in the movie Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, where he gives away important 23rd century technology to the 20th century and then laughs it off.

Ultimately, it's not the moments we'll remember, it's the character. Because of Scotty, we know people in the future will speak English, but some with heavy accents. Because of Scotty, we know guys in the future will still be proud of how much they can drink. Above all, we'll remember him for being reliable as well as reliably whiny. In about every other episode, the ship is broken, Kirk commands Scotty fix it and Scotty complains he doesn't have the time and/or power. But he always comes through.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Mister Roberts

After a head-fake or two, President Bush has nominated John Roberts to the Supreme Court. It's a bit of a surprise--he was on the short list, but not the short short list. It also shows that, whatever else, Bush didn't feel this was a "woman's" seat, nor did he feel an overwhelming need to put in a Latino. Perhaps he'll take care of this next time. (I still suspect Rehnquist might leave soon.)

Roberts is a well-known Washington figure with a reputation as a brilliant advocate. He's also served as a federal judge, though only since 2003. By pre-Bork standards, he'd sail through. However, he is, as far as can be guessed, a solid conservative replacing a not-so-solid conservative, so the fight from the Democrats should be ferocious. A second "however," however--the Republicans have 55 votes (56 if you count the Veep) and a candidate who will probably come across just fine. If the Republicans can't get him through, it'll be their fault, not the Dems.

A few other notes. It's one thing to be an advocate, another to be a judge. While Bush has probably chosen someone who's a perfect candidate for the Right, some people change once they get on the Court. Stay tuned. Second, even if he's opposed to Roe V. Wade, there still won't be enough votes to overturn it, though there might be the votes to allow change around the edges (e.g., parental notification laws).

PS Roberts looks like a cross between Larry Hagman and Bill Daily.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Let's Agree To Agree

An old friend, Cass Sunstein, has temporarily taken over the Lessig Blog. If you have any comment on the following discussion, I suggest you go there and let him hear it.

For years he's been researching how people make decisions. His belief, which he thinks is backed up by solid evidence, is when you deliberate with like-minded people, your opinions will become even more polarized--if the group is conservative, it'll become more conservative, if liberal, more liberal. On the other hand, if you hear more diverse opinion, you're more likely to temper your beliefs.

This sounds reasonable, at least. The question then becomes, if it's true, what's to be done? Does this mean we should have "balance" in a jury or on a panel of judges? I don't know. Maybe. Or maybe it just moves the argument--about what's right--one level up.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Stella!

I'm a bit surprised to report that, so far, I've been enjoying the new comedy (I don't know if I'd call it a sitcom) Stella, on Comedy Central. It's on Tuesday nights and repeats through the week.

The show is about three roommates who wear suits and do weird things. It's hard to be more specific, since the show is essentially absurdist humor. Shows where anything can happen can get tiresome, but so far, after three episodes, I'm still with them.

It stars Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter and David Wain. They were founding members a The State, a comedy troupe that had a show on MTV which I found highly unfunny. That's part of the reason why I'm surprised to be enjoying Stella.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Last Licks

After a few days I usually stop checking to see if there have been any more comments. And while I try to reply to questions, I certainly don't mind letting a reader have the last word. In fact, nothing would please me more than having so many comments I could let the reader argue with each other.

However, I just noticed a comment I'd missed on my Bork post almost a week ago. Let me respond.

First, the reader uses the old line, along with Bork, taking the stance that judges should interpret the law, not legislate from the bench. Well, guess what? Pretty much everyone agrees with this. The question is what is interpretation and what is more than that. Unfortunately, Bork simplistically claims that it's an easy distinction--he knows how to do it while judges who come to different outcomes don't. His "examples," then, are actually differences of interpretation which Bork avoids discussing by claiming other arguments are out of bounds--as if these judges know what the proper outcome is, but blithely decide to legislate instead.

(The reader doesn't like the phrase "mindless dogma." I think it makes useful distinction--some dogma can be useful, even penetrating. And claiming that conservatives judges, or originalists, interpret the law while liberals, or activists, legislate is part of mindless dogma that prevents serious discussion of the courts.)

It's a judge's job to defer, in general, to legislatures (and administrative bodies). However, there are certain other considerations. Foremost, I suppose, is that there are higher laws (in particular the Constitution) which must take precedence. Second, there are conflicting laws and it's not easy to make them all work together, or decide which is to be followed. Finally, and inevitably, there are confusing statutes, and it's the court's job to decide what the legislature meant, especially since language is naturally vague and legislators can't figure every possible case that might arise under a law. If they are unhappy with a court's interpretation, they can pass new laws, and often do.

In a Democracy, the people hold sway, but there are certain areas, many distinctly enunciated in the Constitution, that are essentially off-limits. In other words, our Founding Fathers favored democracy but didn't trust the people to decide everything. (Actually, if you read the Constitution, you'll discover they had certain fears about democracy and put up buffers--direct voting was only for only one-half of one of the three branches of government) They understood that in any given era, there will be certain majorities, with certain passions, who will try to push their advantage too far--the courts are the greatest bulwark against this usurpation of freedom, and if they have to trash hundreds of laws to do their duty, so be it.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Midnight Queue

Saw Wedding Crashers last night, which I enjoyed quite a bit. It certainly earned its R rating. (Maybe some other day I'll write about how, even though it artificially limits your audience, some films need to be rated R.)

The cinema was in a mall and the movie got out at midnight. All the stores were closed, but as I turned the corner I saw a huge group around the bookstore. It took me a moment to figure why they were there--to pick up Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the sixth book in the series, just released.

I've read the first two books and thought they were decent literature for kids. (My main complaint was quidditch made no sense, and could only have been created by someone who doesn't get team sports. A friend blogged on this--scroll down to June 4--and got more response than anything else he ever did.) I guess it's good they get just as excited about a book as a movie or videogame, but I get the impression a lot of adults can't wait either. There really are better things they can read. Yet, somehow, I can't see the day when people line up for the latest Philip Roth.

Friday, July 15, 2005

And the horse you rode in on

Okay. One more before we go. A man had an unfortunate incident with a horse--and died (not, apparently, laughing). Key graph:

Deputies don't believe a crime occurred because bestiality is not illegal in Washington state and the horse was uninjured, said Urquhart.

Calling Pajama Guy

ColumbusGuy is sending out the Bat Signal: We're off to Lake George for the week, where probably there is no Internet, phone service or even a steam engine ferry. So, Pajama Guy or ChicagoGuy, if you have a kind or less kind remark or two to help keep LAGuy in line, please make it on my behalf. ColumbusGal, ColumbusDaugher, ColumbusDog and I all look forward to catching up next Saturday.

Smokin' em out

Dan Schorr demonstrates the primary value of the First Amendment. First, a set up courtesy of mrc.org:

Newsweek’s Evan Thomas: “Is this attack [on public broadcasting’s budget] going to make NPR a little less liberal?”
NPR legal correspondent Nina Totenberg: “I don’t think we’re liberal to begin with and I think if you would listen, Evan, you would know that.”
Thomas: “I do listen to you and you’re not that liberal, but you’re a little bit liberal.”
Totenberg: “No, I don’t think so. I don’t think that’s a fair criticism, I really don’t — any more than, any more than you would say that Newsweek is liberal.”
Thomas: “I think Newsweek is a little liberal.” — Exchange on the June 26 Inside Washington.

And now, courtesy of Free Republic, Dan Schorr's take on the vital importance of Karl Rove:

Rove leak is just part of larger scandal
Let me remind you that the underlying issue in the Karl Rove controversy is not a leak, but a war and how America was misled into that war.
In 2002 President Bush, having decided to invade Iraq, was casting about for a casus belli. The weapons of mass destruction theme was not yielding very much until a dubious Italian intelligence report, based partly on forged documents (it later turned out), provided reason to speculate that Iraq might be trying to buy so-called yellowcake uranium from the African country of Niger. It did not seem to matter that the CIA advised that the Italian information was "fragmentary and lacked detail."
Prodded by Vice President Dick Cheney and in the hope of getting more conclusive information, the CIA sent Joseph Wilson, an old Africa hand, to Niger to investigate. Mr. Wilson spent eight days talking to everyone in Niger possibly involved and came back to report no sign of an Iraqi bid for uranium and, anyway, Niger's uranium was committed to other countries for many years to come.
No news is bad news for an administration gearing up for war. Ignoring Wilson's report, Cheney talked on TV about Iraq's nuclear potential. And the president himself, in his 2003 State of the Union address no less, pronounced: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
Wilson declined to maintain a discreet silence. He told various people that the president was at least mistaken, at most telling an untruth. Finally Wilson directly challenged the administration with a July 6, 2003 New York Times op-ed headlined, "What I didn't find in Africa," and making clear his belief that the president deliberately manipulated intelligence in order to justify an invasion.
One can imagine the fury in the White House. We now know from the e-mail traffic of Time's correspondent Matt Cooper that five days after the op-ed appeared, he advised his bureau chief of a supersecret conversation with Karl Rove who alerted him to the fact that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA and may have recommended him for the Niger assignment. Three days later, Bob Novak's column appeared giving Wilson's wife's name, Valerie Plame, and the fact she was an undercover CIA officer. Mr. Novak has yet to say, in public, whether Mr. Rove was his source. Enough is known to surmise that the leaks of Rove, or others deputized by him, amounted to retaliation against someone who had the temerity to challenge the president of the United States when he was striving to find some plausible reason for invading Iraq.
The role of Rove and associates added up to a small incident in a very large scandal - the effort to delude America into thinking it faced a threat dire enough to justify a war.
• Daniel Schorr is the senior news analyst at National Public Radio.


Dan, beautifully said. Crystal clear. Logical. Just one problem: No one agrees with you except your colleagues at NPR, Janeane Garofalo, and, give or take, 25 percent of the American population (the other 22 percent or so who would vote for Kerry don't agree with Dan, either, but they hate Republicans enough that they'll go with it). Anyway, cheers, you liberal, you.

Meanwhile, for any adults in the room, here's nice discussion from Douglas Feith, also courtesy Free Republic. (Don't get suckered by the AP's biased headline. Read the whole article, which is an excellent statement of support for the war and a fair criticism of Bush.)

The People And The Polls

The Muslim poll ColumbusGuy quoted showed some interesting stats, but here's what I want to know: When everyone in a society hates Jews, what's a moderate? Someone who believes in the Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion but not Holocaust denial?

There was another interesting poll, recently, in USA Today. The people think Sandra Day O'Connor's replacement should be a Latino woman who won't overturn Roe V. Wade. Vox populi vox Dei.

This reminds me of a poll that was taken some years ago about what people wanted to see in a painting. The answers were something like nature, blue, a patriotic theme, etc. So someone did a painting fitting all the specs--George Washington walking through a forest with a huge sky above. It was dreadful, of course.

By the way, I'm not sure what Rehnquist is up to, but it's time to go. His friends should let him know.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

A theory of everything II

I've always wondered about these international polls that hold themselves out as telling us the opinions of "much of the Muslim world," all "according to a multicountry poll." And if you have any questions about the polling process, well, it was "released on Thursday." (What? No margin of error?)

Whoever attached their names to this are clowns. In this case, the clowns are Pew Research Center, and they interviewed 17,000 people, "either by telephone of face-to-face." (I think they meant "or face to face," but who the hell knows what they meant.) In any case, "much of the Muslim world" means "public opinion in six predominantly Muslim nations: Morocco, Pakistan, Turkey, Indonesia, Jordan and Lebanon. It also examined views in nine North American and European countries as well as in India and China."

Yes. Well.

What do we know from all of this? Well, for one thing, they don't like Jews: "In Lebanon, 100 percent of Muslims and 99 percent of Christians said they had a very unfavorable view of Jews, while 99 percent of Jordanians also viewed Jews very unfavorably." (Wow. Those are some numbers: 100 percent to 99 percent, eh? Sounds like an election for Saddam Hussein.)

And the other thing is, no more than 2 percent support suicide bombers in this country and no more than 57 percent in that one.

Ack. Look, this is indeed something worth knowing--if, in fact, we know it. And if these numbers have any validity at all this is largely a good thing, as a distinct minority favor the tactics so widespread in Iraq and the Palestinian territories (and Israel when they can manage it).

But this all has the stink of ripe garbage. How do you pose valid questions? How do you pose reliable questions? And how do you find representative random samples? Nice sentiment, this is, but call me back when you have some news. (And if 100 percent have a "very unfavorable view of Jews," why not ask how many believe in UFO's, too?)

LAGuy nails it

Looking behind the curtain, ColumbusGuy, as a Pajama Guy insider, can now disclose that LAGuy albomized his Emmy entry several days ago. Pretty impressive. He nailed everything except Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Mickey's unfair to Ollie

Mickey Kause correctly notes that Oliver Stone is a lunatic. But when he tags Stone for saying the U.S. responded foolishly with the Patriot Act, he's being a mite unfair: "He's against spending "billions of dollars to defend our homeland"? That's not even the liberal position. It's ... cracked. ... "

No doubt that much of our spending to protect the "homeland" is pure boondoggle.

All They Do Is Give Out Awards

I'd pretty much stopped watching the Emmys. The drama awards would ping-pong between West Wing and The Sopranos while Fraser would always win best comedy. (Incidentally, I've always felt that once an actor wins an Emmy, she shouldn't be nominated for that role again--it would help the turnover.) Now, for the first time in years, I'm actually intrigued to see who the nominees, announced today, will be.

In comedy, former stalwarts such as Fraser and Sex And The City are gone. Will this give room for oddball nominees like Family Guy or Entourage? (Probably not.) Will The Simpsons--as great a show as TV's ever had--finally break out of the animation ghetto? At least Curb Your Enthusiasm will have a more open field, though the final season of Everybody Loves Raymond will be hard to beat for sentiment. Or will low-rated but funny Arrested Development win again?

The drama outlook is even more intriguing. With The Sopranos MIA and West Wing in transition, anything's possible. In fact, so many new hourlongs were hits last season, the whole category may be rewritten. For instance, how many nominations will TV's biggest new hit, Desperate Housewives, get? Will Hugh Laurie in House become the man to beat for Best Actor? And my favorite new show (which I originally gave a thumbs down to), Lost, has a huge ensemble--which, if any, will be nominated, and in what category?

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Top 100

Just watched My Cousin Vinny for what must be the third or fourth time. How can it not be in the top 100 comedies of all time? (It did, at least, make the 500 nominees.)

The jury knows best

David Frum writes a sensible peice that says Muslims at large must accept Israel and stop playing terrorism both ways: "Terrible . . . but . . ."

Fine. Not a bad piece. But here's what we really need to do: Start prosecuting for incitement, widely. The prosecutions will have to be higher than the normal quality (a sad thing to say, but errors are more costly in this context, because the education function is more important), but we cannot both pretend that Islamicists are unsupported in their community, and we cannot let false political correctness deter us from three pillars: the war, criminal prosecutions and the strength of the market (which is to say, freedom). Start throwing "respectable" inciters in jail and let the pretty girls wear jeans, and the war will be over soon enough.

Mayer May Not Be The Guy

There's a new biography of Louis B. Mayer by Scott Eyman. While Mayer's often struck me as the most boring of the studio era Hollywood potentates, I'm sure there's still an interesting story behind his rise (and fall).

The trouble with Mayer is that so many other moguls, such as Darryl Zanuck or David O. Selznick or MGM's own Irving Thalberg, were storytellers first. But Mayer? I always got the impression (from what little I know) that while Mayer knew how to run a studio, and how to build up stars, his type of movie featured cheap sentiment and stultifyingly good taste.

The New York Times has a review by Manohla Dargis. She writes:
When Mayer died, the Hollywood he helped build -- the Hollywood of A Night at the Opera, The Wizard of Oz, Singin' in the Rain and The Shop Around the Corner -- died alongside him.
But that's the trouble--these films, while put out by MGM, were not really classic MGM product, but creations of idiosyncratic entertainers. For example, Mayer didn't like the Marx Brothers, and it was Irving Thalberg who brought them to MGM (and, alas, tamed them) to make A Night at The Opera; Singin' in the Rain, from the Freed unit, owed a lot to the vision of Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen; The Shop Around The Corner is an example of the exquisite talents of Ernst Lubitsch and Samson Raphaelson, who had developed elsewhere, and owed little to the MGM house style.

The MGM of Mayer is something else. At its best, it's a respectable adaptation of a semi-classic like Captains Courageous, filled with solid production value and a handful of MGM names such as Freddie Bartholomew, Spencer Tracy, Mickey Rooney, Lionel Barrymore and Melvyn Douglas. But mostly it's hundreds of little-remembered films, with glamorous stars, nice sets and costumes, and a story with the edges smoothed off. The epitome of what Mayer believed in, I'd say, are not those films Dargis lists, but the Andy Hardy series--crowd-pleasing in their day, but enjoyable now mostly in an old-fashioned sense.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Good guy, bad words

I've said before how much I like Thomas Sowell but not his writing. Here's a great example why:

During the first two decades after African nations gained their independence in the 1960s, one sub-Saharan nation that stood out with its economic prosperity and political stability amid economic disasters and social catastrophes among its neighbors was the Ivory Coast under President Felix Houphouet-Boigny.

"During amid among was under." C'mon, Tom. Hire an editor.

Potter's Yield

I've seen a few films by Sally Potter and I can't say I'm much of a fan. Now Jonathan Rosenbaum in the Chicago Reader calls her latest, Yes, a masterpiece. Should I check it out?

The film is her response to 9/11. The plot is about an affair between an Irish-American (Joan Allen) and a Lebanese cook (Simon Abkarian). But it's done in rhyming iambic pentameter. I'm not saying this is necessarily bad, but it sounds like a stunt.

Here's how Rosenbaum sees it (or hears it):

Differences in class parallel and overlap differences in culture, but her rhyming lines are clarifying, not vilifying. Consider these lines from three different parts of the film:

She (to He): You cannot look me in the face / And say I am your fall from grace.

He (wearily): From Elvis to Eminem, Warhol's art, / I know your stories, know your songs by heart. / But do you know mine? No, every time, / I make the effort, and I learn to rhyme / In your English. And do you know a word / Of my language, even one? Have you heard / That 'al-gebra' was an Arabic man? / You've read the Bible. Have you read the Koran?

Aunt: A great big dream that's fallen pretty flat / In all the other countries where they tried / It. They'll regret it. Communism died, / But what came in its place? A load of greed. / A life spent longing for things you don't need.

Now it's always tricky to read dialogue separated from the movie--the performance and context can change everything--but wow, this stuff looks bad. Forget the rhyming, the thought is pretty shallow.

The first line doesn't tell you much--it feels like an outtake from Jesus Christ Superstar. (Note, by the way, this isn't pentameter, but tetrameter.)

The second quotation is an all too common argument. Sure, someone from, say, Syria, is likely to know more about America than an American knows about Syria. (I'll ignore all the lies they're taught about us.) It's called partaking in world culture, and it mostly makes your life better. I know about French wines, Japanese toys, Hong Kong films, Mexican food, etc., because such cross-pollenization makes a culture more vibrant--it's no burden. Yes, one needs to know about who has power as well, but note all this talk about cultural imperialism is made by people who, while enjoying the best the world has to offer (including Sally Potter films), want people in little villages everywhere to stay ignorant. Right now, learning English is a great way to get around, both physically and via TV and the internet. Those who learn two or more languages growing up are doing what is only natural. Mostly you know about your own area, but knowing what's useful to you makes sense. Americans come from all over the world, and many know quite a bit about their original homelands, but are we expected to be expert on all? The day the average Syrian knows a lot more about, say, Finland than the average American does, that's the day this argument will impress me.

The last line, by the aunt, is the kind of thing Rosenbaum goes for, I guess, but it's an embarrassment. Not just that the argument is so bad--I'll take a system that offers copious goods and freedom, and as for creating meaning in my life, that's my job, not the job of a cultural commissar, thank you very much--but that it's so banal.

I think I'll give Yes a pass (unless I get a pass).

Monday, July 11, 2005

Arby's Latest

If I had been Borked, I probably would be bitter. If I were a highly qualified judge who'd lost out on the best job in the world due to a political mud fight, I might spend a few years spewing bile. But Robert Bork has been doing it for so long I think he's abusing the privilege.

The latest exhibit: Bork's piece in the Wall Street Journal, "Their Will Be Done." As usual, the subject of his sermon is America's going to hell. And helping it along is the Supreme Court, which keeps insisting on giving citizens too much damn freedom. Don't they realize we live in a country where believing there's a Constitutional commitment to think for yourself will destroy us?

Bork makes it more than clear if he were a justice, he'd take a jaundiced view of any attempt to expand our liberty.

I'm not saying he's always wrong, legally speaking, but whenever I read his stuff, I always think "whew, that was a close call."

Columbus Guy says: At least he's willing to address what may be the most difficult of all questions in law: What business does morality have in legislation? Perhaps LAGuy's answer is none, which would have the delight of principle and consistency, but I'm doubtful that anyone, including LAGuy, really would answer the problem that way. And as soon as we stop answering "none," it's difficult to know what to answer, or how or why.

LAGuy ripostes: Actually, he's not particularly willing to address this issue. What he does is make sweeping statements and crowd-pleasing, echo-chamber raspberres. His legal analysis is rudimentary (that's giving him the best of it) and he avoids many arguments and questions that anyone writing about this stuff must deal with.

This is a man so bitter when the Berlin Wall fell he wondered if the East Germans were getting a good deal. He doesn't want to be a judge, he wants to be a legislator, since he condemns anyone who gives the people too much freedom. The only serious defense I've seen of his post-Borked writing is that being treated so harshly bent him out of shape, and if he had become a Justice, he would have examined these issues with the seriousness they deserve.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Not The Same

Every July I enjoy the Mods And Rockers festival at the Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. They offer cool movies from the 60s, both hits and misses.

Today, there's a showing of two films that are often coupled, The Loved One and Lord Love A Duck. I've never understood the pairing. Sure, there are surface similarities: black and white satirical comedies about Los Angeles in the mid-60s featuring Roddy McDowall. But in feeling and accomplishment, they're night and day.

I consider Lord Love A Duck an almost-great film that doesn't quite work. There are some brilliant scenes, and performances of surprising power from McDowall and Tuesday Weld. Its problem, though, is a serious one--it blows hot and cold, and quite a few bits don't come off as they should. Yet, overall, it fascinates me, and I always try to catch it when it plays in a theatre.

It also has a theme by Neal Hefti that's a cool Beatles' parody. He also wrote the themes for Batman and The Odd Couple.

Count me out when it comes to The Loved One. A forced, overlong comedy with a lot of stunt performances adding up to nothing. The film tries to shock you into laughing, and creep you out into laughing, but it's never as funny as it seems to think it is. I'm always looking longingly at the exit well before the film is over.

UPDATE: I just got back from the double feature. No change in how I feel.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

William Rehnquist, Lawyer for Children

Did the chief justice really say, "That's for me to know and you to find out"? It's time to go. (And is Tom the Dancing Bug really being featured out as a movie?)

UPDATE: Anonymous writes that the chief justice was offended by my post and has responded, "I'm rubber, you're glue..."

The Other Shoe

Looks like Chief Justice Rehnquist is ready to resign. Good for him. He's had a nice run and it's time to let loose the grip on power.

This is also good news for Democrats. Replacing Justice O'Connor, who could go either way, gave Bush and the Republicans a solid chance to move the Court toward the right. But if Bush is gonna replace both, the odds that the combo will turn out to be as or more conservative than the originals is only so-so.

More important, having two slots to fill gives Bush cover to appoint his pal, Alberto "Souter" Gonzalez, if he wants. He can match him with a solid conservative and figure the average between them will keep his own side mollified.

In any case, things are likely to get ugly. The Dems are up against it--they'd like to deny Bush anyone he really wants, but the Repubs have 55 votes which, under normal circumstances, should make it all academic. Thus it's up to the Dems to make sure the circumstances aren't normal.

Bonus question: Will Bush also try to appoint a new CJ from within, specifically Scalia or Thomas? If he does, I think it'd be lunacy for the Dems to resist, since 1) they will have one or two much bigger fights on their hands, 2) it's a loser since the Repubs can safely vote for it and 3) as I've stated before, I don't think the CJ, primus inter pares, has that much influence--if anything, being appointed to run things might make Scalia or Thomas more moderate.

Friday, July 08, 2005

What A Noble Man

Pardon me for not posting about the terrorism in London. I've always seen this blog as a chance to write about things that interest me, but not necessarily about the most important items in the news. Blogs that have hourly updates are the places to catch how people feel about the latest. I've written about terrorism in the past, and no doubt will again. Just not today.

But I will write about the war in Iraq. Over at The Huffington Post, Harry Shearer discusses the Judith Miller case. Like David Edelstein, be believes she helped get Americans and Iraqis killed with her reporting. Let's review the facts.

We invaded Iraq and kicked out Saddam Hussein. We were there for several reasons, but certainly weren't going to leave until Iraq was stable. (If there had been a lot of WMD, we might have had more death, but that's irrelevant to the hatred of Shearer and Edelstein.) We searched for WMD and didn't find too many, though Miller mistakenly reported we had. Her mistakes were a huge embarrassment to the pro-war side, and helped turn many people who didn't understand the WMD thing (Saddam hadn't followed the UN rules about WMD to begin with which was a casus belli if the UN had ever been serious; Iraq was ready and able to make WMD in almost no time and was actively seeking nuclear weapons; Iraq was waiting for the heat to die down since it knew it had friends who would double-cross the US in the UN) against the war. Even if she temporarily (and unintentionally) fooled anyone, there's no way it lengthened the war, since we were in the middle of things anyway.

Yet Shearer and his ilk continue to mock a woman now serving time in jail for sticking to her beliefs. I say this every time I discuss Shearer: What a noble man! He has voluntarily given up humor just to broadcast anti-war propaganda.

(If you want to read something about London, check out what Tom Hayden has to say in the Post. It is so mindbogglingly stupid it will make people retroactively support the war in Vietnam.)

PS Before posting, I often run the entry through the spellchecker provided by Blogspot. One word it didn't know? "Blog."

Columbus Guy says: There's a spellchecker?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

If you can keep it III

Six bombs go off in the Tube and only two people are killed? It's incredible how ineffective bombings seem to be. Of course, bombings in Israel indicate there's a learning curve, so we can probably expect worse.

It's been remarkable that there have not been such bombings here in the U.S. Remember when terrorists took a Russian school hostage? How easy it must be for people willing to die to do such things.

That it hasn't happened in the U.S. must be more testament that the terrorists are making a rational calculation that American public reaction will be directed at them and their interests instead of against their enemies, which is to say, an administration that will attack their interests. So now, we join the question: Can the Manhattan media turn the tide? How will the American people react? By fighting killers, or by fighting those who would stop killers? Watch the Democrats: If they openly attack Bush, they've lost their fear of being found on the wrong side of the war on terrorism; if they call for strong responses, they're still too weak to openly admit what they want: Bush to fail, even at the cost of America failing.

UPDATE: As anonymous notes, the numbers are up. Standaing at 37 now, no suprise if it goes higher. But it's not likely to reach Madrid's nearly 200 dead, and of course, order of magnitude-wise, it's about 1 percent of Sept. 11.

So far, the Dems are holding their powder. That's a good sign for the country. To be sure, the cycle time until they return to out-and-out Bush bashing at any cost will be short, measured in days, I would say, maybe even hours. But the fact that they felt the need to hold themselves in check at all is a sign that the Republic lives.

As for the terrorists, this isn't good for them. It's increasingly harder to be spectacular, and every attack shows weakness as well as strength. Perhaps these things are mere probing actions, to be tried every so often on the mere hope that, like a roll of the dice, this may be the time that you give the Fifth Columnists enough of a boost to prevail. But they also have the effect of hardening resolve. There simply isn't enough here to cause a loss of will, or to overcome the human desire for freedom that Iraqis are demonstrating every day.

Kansas couldn't keep it II

The Kansas Supreme Court ordered the legislature to spend an extra $150-million or so on schools, of a budget approximating $3-billion.

The legislature responded by failing to pass a ballot issue amending the constitution to say that the spending power resided with the legislature only. What's more shocking, that an amendment was necessary, or that it failed to pass? After that, they tried again, hoping only for an amendment that the court could not order the schools to be closed. And they failed in that, too.

So, absent some for of self-help, such as simply ignoring the court, which, as LAGuy has noted, is troublesome (though one questions how much more so than abandoning separation of powers), Kansas no longer has a traditionally American government that has a three-part separation of powers. The court, apparently, decides all, including what had been the bedrock of the legislative power, the spending authority.

All for 5 percent of an education budget. Isn't that about what teachers get in raises every year, on average?

The True Taste Of Success

Ernest Lehman just died. Because he wrote movies, rather than directed them, his name isn't well known outside Hollywood. He was one of the most successful screenwriters of our time, mostly through adaptations of stage hits (such as The King And I, West Side Story, The Sound Of Music, Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf and Hello, Dolly!). But he'll be remembered for two great screenplays, one notable for action, the other for dialogue.

The action film is North By Northwest. The critics may give credit to Hitchcock, and the people may have turned out for Cary Grant, but the solid storytelling and brilliant set pieces that make this film a delight couldn't have happened without Lehman's typewriter.

Then there's Sweet Smell Of Success. I watch this whenever its on TV because it has the coolest dialogue of any film ever. The story behind the film isn't bad, either.

In the 40s, Lehman worked as an assistant to a Broadway publicist. This was back before TV, when New York had a nightlife and millions read the columns to see what was hot. Lehman based his short novel, Sweet Smell Of Success, on this world. It's a seamy story, and was seen as an attack on gossip-monger Walter Winchell. (Winchell could be a powerful enemy, and he fought against the film, but was weakened by it more than the other way around.)

Burt Lancaster, a major producer as well as star, thought the book would make a good movie. Lehman would write the screenplay and also direct. However, there was so much tension and acrimony in getting the screenplay done that Lehman suffered physically--from a spastic colon--and had to bow out. Playwright Clifford Odetts was brought aboard. He'd seen better days, however, and they pretty much had to lock him in a room to get any pages.

This, of course, is one reason screenwriters aren't remembered like directors--because there are so often more than one on any project, and it's hard to know who did what. There's no question Odets helped make the dialogue sparkle, but I've always thought (though it's a guess) that Lehman was the main man here, since a contemporaneous work from Odets in a similar vein--behind-the-scenes Hollywood in The Big Knife--doesn't strike me as nearly so clever or enjoyable, or even glib, as Success.

In any case, the dialogue is the glory of the film. It also has a great jazzy score by Elmer Bernstein, sharp black and white cinematography (shot on location) by James Wong Howe, taut direction by Ealing Studio master Alexander ("Sandy") Mackendrick, and two career-topping performances by Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster. The film flopped.

Essentially, no one wanted to see a story about New York's underside, and they definitely didn't want to see pin-up boys Curtis and Lancaster as bad guys. Curtis fought to get the role, yet both he and Lancaster should have figured no one would show up. Trapeze from the year before, that's the kind of colorful romance-melodrama the people wanted.

Here's the set-up: Sidney Falco (Curtis), a low-rent Broadway press agent, has been shut out of the column of powerful J. J. Hunsecker (Lancaster). To get back in his good graces, Falco tries to break up the romance of Hunsecker's 19-year-old sister with an up-and-coming jazz guitarist. There's a moral spiral downward as the plot gets more convoluted and the men get more unscrupulous.

The film isn't perfect. The ending doesn't really work, and the two sappy lovers are mostly annoying. Yet the film's reputation kept growing. Once you accepted the ugliness--in fact, once you start enjoying it (as J.J. Hunsecker puts it, "I love this dirty town!")--you see the brilliance.

There are probably more great lines from this film than any other, even Casablanca: "Watch me run a fifty-yard dash with both legs cut off." "From now on, the best of everything is good enough for me." "You're dead son, get yourself buried." "Match me, Sidney." "Why is it that everything you say sounds like a threat?" "The cats in the bag and the bag's in the river." "I'd hate to take a bite out of you. You're a cookie full of arsenic." "You've got more twists than a barrel of pretzels." "I don't relish shooting mosquitoes with an elephant gun." "That's fish four days old. I won't buy it." "Come back, Sidney. I want to chastise you."

If you haven't seen the film, or haven't seen it in a while, as a tribute to Lehman, check it out.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Pigs fly, congressman makes cogent argument

I don't know whether I agree with her--should companies be allowed to price discriminate? Why not? And should they have the help of government border controls to do it? Why?--but give Kentucky congressman Anne Northup credit for writing something thoughtful on prescription drugs. I don't think I've ever seen a piece like it before; it's usefully nuanced, factual and takes a reasonable position. She should fire her public relations people straightaway.

Two types of bad taste

First, David Edelstein at Slate. He's sponsoring a contest for films that will help educate Judith Miller during her time in the slammer. As you may recall, Miller is a New York Times reporter who could soon be spending some time in stir for refusing to give up a source. Normally this would get her the undying respect of a liberal like Edelstein, but because she's involved in l'affaire Plame and, worse, mistakenly reported WMD had been found in Iraq (which ended up helping those against the war in the long run, as far as I can see), Edelstein and many readers are lining up to mock a real woman who's about to serve time in a real prison.

Now we can't expect too much from Edelstein. He knows movies, but not much else. He actually believes, for instance, that Plame's husband Joseph Wilson is a truth-teller, and not a proven liar (as anyone who reads, say, the Washington Post knows).

Yet, when he was reminded by a reader this whole thing is in bad taste, his response (I'm not making this up) was that bad taste is irrelevant when people were dying in Iraq every day.

I have a suggestion for his next contest. Since (as I've recently been informed) there's serious malnourishment in Africa, let's have people suggest films, like Big Night and Babette's Feast, that we can send them to show how delectable food can be. It might be in bad taste, but since people are starving to death, there's no reason to worry about that.

Meanwhile, over at Reason's Hit & Run blog, Tim Cavanaugh (scroll down to the bottom--it's from July 1) is thrilled by George Romero's latest, Land Of The Dead. I saw it on opening night with a packed crowd of fanboys--and it died a miserable death. If Cavanaugh wants to argue this is a classic, good luck.

But then he makes the amateur's mistake of claiming it's underperforming because the bigwigs at the studio screwed up. Considering its budget and names, this film opened wide enough and got plenty of coverage. It even got decent (in fact, way too kind) reviews. If it had connected as a moviegoing experience, it would have gone through the roof.

The sad truth that Cavanaugh won't face up to is the audience rejected this film. Horror addicts were drooling, and their cult came out in force, but there was no word-of-mouth to get the crossover crowd. That the film did a belly flop into an empty pool in its second weekend, dropping an awful 74% in a Friday-Sunday comparison, pretty much proves this. That's the sound of an audience shouting NO!

Maybe--though I doubt it--the film will gain stature over time. And since the budget was reasonable, it'll eventually show a profit. But don't whine it didn't get a chance. It was weighed and found wanting.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Why capitalized medicine is best

If I were a brave man, I'd ask ColumbusGal whether there were any non-medical applications for this.

Behave, or I'll knock your block off

Delaware County Sheriff Al Myers is happy to have received a federal Homeland Security grant of $187,000 to purchase an armored vehicle, a "BearCat." It's their second, but this one's cooler.

The adjacent, more populous Franklin County declined to buy one of these things, considering it a waste of money. What the hell were they thinking?

My favorite part of the story is the line quoting the director of Ohio State University's "program for International and Homeland Security" (one wonders, not too much, where they get *their* money), who "said the purchase is not outlandish."

That should have been the headline: Not outlandish.

Stop calling me names, you jerk!

The Sunday LA Times features a lead article in the (soon to be overhauled) Opinion section, "True Patriots Act," by Professor Richard Kaye of Hunter College. It's about the hundredth piece I've read where someone on the left says he's tired of being called unpatriotic for opposing the war in Iraq.

Now I have no doubt some conservatives are calling anti-war liberals unpatriotic, perhaps as much as liberals are calling pro-war conservatives unpatriotic. It is easy to slip into questioning people's motives rather than answering their arguments.

So what does Kaye think is true patriotism?:
Patriotism consists of multiple, positive actions on behalf of the United States — registering voters, working in an AIDS hospice, volunteering at a disadvantaged school [you wouldn't want to volunteer at a regular school since that would just give them more advantage over the disadvantaged] or raising questions about the Bush administration's full-throttle militarism.
I see. Questioning anything Bush does, even calling him names--those are positive acts of patriotism. But daring to criticize those against the war--that's just wrong.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Fireworks

We at Pajama Guy wish all our readers a wonderful Fourth Of July. Even if it seems we often criticize what's going on, I think we see this blog, at least in part, as a celebration of America.

To help you get into the holiday spirit, we bring you fireworks! Go here and have a great time.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

A good 4th of July to all

As LAGuy and I exorcise our passions, the ColumbusGuy clan is off to Indiana to visit relatives for the Fourth, leaving me offline for a few days. Enjoy a great holiday. If you can, spend it as (the liberal) ColumbusGal and I often do: celebrating our Second Amendment rights at the local powder room.

The Worst Argument About Dred Scott

ColumbusGuy is correct when he posts that people mindlessly compare Supreme Court cases they don't like to the Dred Scott decision. But he's wrong when he writes:
Dred Scott is predictable; as easy as it is to take potshots at it, the fault lies with the Constitution and the society that defined, implicitly, anyway, humans as property. Scott may or may not have been rightly decided given the assumption that humans are property, but to pretend that it was wrongly decided because humans cannot be property is to evaluate it according to a fantasy world that never existed.
The decision is not predictable, unless one looks at the revolting motives of Chief Justice Taney. You don't have to make the historical fallacy of judging people by today's standards to realize this is a rotten opinion. I think "self-inflicted wound," as Charles Evans Hughes calls it, fits.

ColumbusGuy writes as if Taney's hands were tied ("It's...an abomination that humans can be property, but that's the proposition Taney was given at the outset"), and he could hardly have done any different, or better. Nonsense. If this were true, how were there two lengthy dissents, taking apart Taney's logic step by step? (Plessy, the case ColumbusGuy thinks is worse, had only one dissent.) If it was slam dunk, why was it so controversial that even the pro-slavery justices who agreed with Taney needed to make their positions clear?--the seven-vote majority opinion included six concurrences.

Without going into the long history of the case, Dred Scott was a former slave suing for freedom. His proceedings had gone through state courts and later transferred to the federal system. The Supreme Court decided, I believe against what every other court had said to that point, that Scott, as a black man, had no standing to sue. While this is bad enough, Taney could have stopped there and dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction, but he was just getting warmed up.

He went on to rule that no black person--even a free one--could ever be a citizen of this country, that a slave who'd been freed didn't necessarily stay free (some felt once free always free) and, above all, that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional. According to Taney, Congress could not declare that a citizen would lose his property (i.e., slaves) just because he traveled to a new state. This overreaching had the Supreme Court not only trying to force slavery on new territories, but even suggested, logically, that northern states might not be immune.

Essentially, Taney was giving the finger to the North, as well as other anti-Slavery forces. He was saying "perhaps you thought slavery could wither away--perhaps you even had the nerve to believe you could vote it away--sorry, but our Constitution doesn't merely allow slavery, it commands it be favored, allowed to exist unfettered--our Constitution makes the US a nation of slavery so long as one person favors it, and makes the Supreme Court the final arbiter of that--and it also commands that never, ever, will a black be a human."

Predictably, Republicans were outraged, and condemned the opinion. (The Democrats generally defended it, of course, and many tried to vilify the Republicans for being so openly against the Constitution.)

Needless to say, Taney did not get the last word, nor did he decide the issue once and for all, as he'd hoped. And even after we'd fought a bloody war to refute him, the Republicans were still in no mood to let it rest. In 1865, the Republican-controlled Congress refused to have Taney's bust put alongside all the other Chief Justices'. As Charles Sumner put it at the time,
....the opinion of the Chief Justice in the case of Dred Scott was more thoroughly abominable than anything of the kind in the history of courts. Judicial baseness reached its lowest point on that occasion. You have not forgotten that terrible decision where a most unrighteous judgment was sustained by a falsification of history. Of course, the Constitution of the United States and every principle of Liberty was falsified, but historical truth was falsified also. . . .
I'd give Taney the bust, but Sumner's got it right.

Columbus Guy says: Er, I appreciate LAGuy's passion, nay, bravery, in saying Dred Scott is an abomination and Taney was a racist. I'm not sure he's broken any new ground there, but, hey, give it to him.

This does, I think, demonstrate exactly the point I made: He delves right into the passions of slavery and even the Civil War, without quite acknoweldging the legal reality of the time: Humans could be property. If that's the proposition you start with, I'm not sure there's any value in complaining that the supreme court is the final arbiter (a position I in fact challenge, but so far as I know is absolute law among the vast majority of poitical and legal commentators, so far as I know including LAGuy) or even LAGuy's hyyperbolic "[the Constitution] also commands that never, ever, will a black be a human."

Felix Frankfurter, in his book "The Commerce Clause" (written in 1936 and 1937, more than 60 years after the Sumner quote LAGuy offers as evidence of his position) holds Taney up as the greatest chief justice in history to that point after Marshall. I happen to disagree with Frankfurter's main thesis in the book, but it does offer a more, shall we say, dispassionate view of Taney than LAGuy's caricature. Taney was a racist pig? Yes, well, so were nearly all Americans of the time, including those who adopted the Constituion itself and all the laws that followed, and for that matter even including those Americans who opposed slavery. If you factor that in to your analysis, I'm even more skeptical after reading LAGuy's attempted justification than I was before that Dred Scott is any worse than any number of supreme court cases; it merely looks worse because we so hate the principle it stands for and the consequences of the war so large. But, hey, LAGuy, you ought not be so hard on yourself; your post was merely unorginal, not the worse argument about Dred Scott. If you want to write that slavery, racism and poor legal analysis are bad, knock yourself out.

UPDATE: LAGuy's passion is so strong that I had hardly even posted before his lengthy response below. I decline the invitation to "respond" to his argument until he makes one, and stops pretending I was defending Dred Scott. [LAGuy: Of course you're defending it. You're saying, given the times and given the Constitution, it's a perfectly reasonable opinion. I've explained why it's not, and that's the debate you don't want to join.] I'll respond if you, LAGUy, can explain how saying a decision "may or may not have been rightly decided" equates to saying it's a "slam dunk", in your words imputed rather gracelessly to me. [LAGuy: You're the one who called the decision "predictable." You keep harping on how important it is that humans could be property then. I'm saying we all know that, but it doesn't excuse Taney's opinion, which goes much further.] But you might want to take a cold shower first, focusing the spray on the head. Meanwhile, any readers wanting to see a poor quality high school paper [LAGuy: Nonsense, this would get an A in many high schools] arguing that Dred Scott was bad [LAGuy: you keep using this smokescreen--that my argument is about morality, and that I'm calling Taney a racist and trying to prove slavery is wrong. It reminds me of the way Democrats claimed the Clinton impeachment was all about sex. The argument is about how the opinion was poorly reasoned and a major case of overreaching.] may continue reading below.

LAGuy responds: ColumbusGuy, rather than repeating your argument, how about responding to mine?

When I quoted Sumner, did you see the word racist? I quoted him to show--at the time--that people were quite aware that Taney made a rotten argument--that he was a falsifier of both the Constitution and history. He wrote his own pro-slavery views into our law. Please show me where the 1850s Constitution says Congress can't create new territories with no slavery? Please show me where in the Constitution it says blacks can never become completely free? Please show me where in the Constitution it says under no circumstances can blacks be considered citizens of the United States? All these things were being done, and Taney created his phantom, pro-slavery Constitution, to strike them down.

The Founding Fathers knew slavery was a problem and decided to put it off (till 1808) to get a nation started. Taney twisted their (at best) neutrality into a "slavery, now and forever" platform. You keep hiding behind the fact that humans "could" be property. So what? Taney went far beyond that and declared (in an opinion that overreached, just so he could make his personal preferences law) that they must be property, so long as one white person wishes it. He ignored the laws of the people, the history of our nation, and the words of the Constitution, and for that reason it's a horrible decision.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

A good one

Science magazine asks, "What is the biological basis of consciousness?"

DeWine doubts

Sen. Mike DeWine, "Republican"-Ohio, "highly doubts" he'll be named to the supreme court, as Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., has suggested.

Yes. Well.

You probably don't know who DeWine is. Think of a weepy version of George Voinovich, without the sense of principles, but more practiced in proclaiming them.

P.S. Look for George to get more front-page NYTimes action soon; he'll be opposing whoever Bush nominates, before he supports whoever it is.

The Great Taranto follows Pajama Guy's lead

WSJ's opinionjournal, produced by the excellent James Taranto, examines the Fourth Estate's literal incompetence. He must have literally stolen the idea, but we're proud to call him a reader.

Roger Simon is working I

Via His Virtualness, WindsOfChange has a piece on the nature of argument. Most of it isn't worth the time (because of the subject, Brian Leiter, not the blog), but scroll down a bit and there's an excellent snippet about "wicked problems" and 10 characteristics of them. Add that to Roger Simon's "What is fair and balanced?" and even Nina Totenberg might be able to learn something about broadcasting news and argument instead of one-sided opinion. (Well, okay, that last was a bit of hyperbole. Let's say someone who's outside of or has worked for the Manhattan media for less than three years could learn something about it.)

A Souter-and-a-half

Nina Totenberg was just having a friendly chat with fellow reporter Scott Simon. Someone left the microphone on and they called it a news program.

Standard stuff about O'Connor's retirement, but Totenberg's wind included this nice clause: "The president is very committed to racial and gender diversity on the court, though not ideological diversity." (I know, it looks like a sentence, but since interviews tend to resolve into continual run-ons, it's a clause.)

Quick. Somebody get her together with Jeff Dvorkin, so they can count Republicans on NPR staff. (Then they could count conservatives among those Republicans, but I'll give the answer matrix for both questions now: It's _ _ _ _ and _ _ _ _.)

P.S. It was also cute when she said President Bush was going to have an opportunity to remake the supreme court in much the way that President Roosevelt did. Yeah, except that Roosevelt ended up not only appointing seven justices, but so firmly established the New Deal revolution that Truman easily finished job, giving the pro-nationalists all nine seats. It'd be great if Bush got four; it's possible, in the sense it's possible I'll get hit by a bus, that he'll get more; it's highly likely he'll get less; and for every Thomas Republicans appoint there's a Souter-and-a-half.

The Man On The Clock

This really should be an entry by ChicagoGuy, but since he seems to be retired, I'll bring it up. If you're in the Chicago area this week, The Music Box Theatre is featuring great double features by silent comedian Harold Lloyd. The following is an email I sent a friend:

I'm sure you're aware that the Music Box is screening a whole bunch of Harold Lloyd features this week, starting today (Friday). I know it from 2000 miles away, so I doubt it's escaped your notice since it's in your neighborhood.

My suggestion is to catch as many as reasonably possible. ("Reasonably possible" means different things to different people, I realize.) As you know, there's nothing like seeing great silent comedy on the big screen, especially with a good crowd and live accompaniment. And these films are perfect for kids, too. Also, Lloyd owned his movies so most of them are in great condition.

I know you've seen at least some of his stuff, though I don't know how what. It took him longer than Chaplin or Keaton to start producing classics, but by the time of his first true feature, Grandma's Boy in 1922, he had it down. He made 10 silent features in the 20s, and they're all worth watching. Okay, he didn't have the genius of Chaplin or Keaton, but who did? He ended up turning out the slickest, most consistent, crowd-pleasing work of the three and there's nothing wrong with that.

He divided his films into "gag comedies" like Safety Last and "character comedies" like The Freshman, but the truth is even his character films were packed with gags. All the shows are double bills. A few comments:

The first bill is Speedy and The Freshman. Speedy is well worth checking out. It was Lloyd's last silent, though by no means his best. The Freshman was his biggest silent hit and I can see why--it's got maximum sentiment but also brilliant gags. Highly recommended in the unlikely case you haven't seen it. (For years, it was the only Lloyd you could see, along with Safety Last.)

The second double bill is Girl Shy and Safety Last. Girl Shy is one of his best, and deserves to be better known. It's interesting that it's doubled with Safety Last, since both are known for their rousing climaxes (making it the best bill for kids). But even before the big chase at the end, Girl Shy has a delightful and hilarious story. It has, perhaps, his best developed romance. Safety Last is so famous, and has the most famous shot from the silent era (the subtitle of the event is "The man on the clock"), that it's hard to add much. But it's worth noting you've got a classic comedy even before the climax. And many forget how well-motivated, comedically, the climb is--Lloyd doesn't want to do it but is forced to, floor by floor.

Next there's a sound double feature. Actually, Lloyd's talkies aren't bad. The trouble is Lloyd didn't have the greatest screen voice and his character often came off as more abrasive than aggressive. Nevertheless, if you've got the time, they're worth looking at. Movie Crazy has some pretty good sight gags and a good performance from his female lead. The plot wobbles a bit but it may be his best sound work. (It's been years since I saw it, but I recall it's the classic Merton Of The Movies type plot.) And just as in Feet First, where he tried to recreate his silent building climb (in a much weaker and longer version), here he recreates his embarrassment-at-a-party sequence from The Freshman, and it's pretty good. Movie Crazy was his third and best talkie up to that point, yet it made less than the previous two. (The novelty was wearing off.) So Lloyd took a chance and decided to make a "character" comedy, The Cat's Paw. It's no classic, but it's pretty well done, and has a climax that has to be seen to be believed.

Back to silents in the next double feature, Why Worry? and The Kid Brother. Why Worry? is a gag comedy. Many think his glasses character was always an up-and-comer, but he could be anything. Here he's a rich hypochondriac. While the plot may not compare to his best silents, the gags are as good as anything he did. I especially like the stuff when he first lands at his ideal vacation spot while a revolution is going on. I don't know if you've seen The Kid Brother, but if you haven't, and can only catch one film in the series, this is it. Kid Brother has become accepted, I think, as his masterpiece. It's got a classic story structure, is very well-shot, and has brilliant set pieces throughout. When I first saw it about 15 years ago, it gave me a new respect for Lloyd. If someone asked me to show an example of his work, I would probably take a fifteen or twenty-minute section from the middle of this film when he takes the girl home and has to deal with his brothers--there are at least three comedy sequences (bringing the girl in at night while the brothers are out to get him, pretending to be the girl in the morning, and being chased by the brothers), one on top of another, brilliantly designed and shot, that are all comic gems. And there's other stuff just as good, including the funniest monkey in silent films.

The final double feature is Welcome Danger and Dr. Jack. Dr. Jack isn't bad, even if it is arguably his weakest feature (I would say For Heaven's Sake). The big event is the premier of the "silent" Welcome Danger. It's gonna play in LA later this year. I was pretty excited when I first heard about it, since I thought it was the actual silent film he shot back then, but it's not. This is the long talkie version, rejiggered (itself already rejiggered and reshot from the original silent) for the silent theatres that still existed in 1929. The film was his biggest grosser ever, though mostly due to the novelty of hearing Harold. While it has some decent gags, I think this version is worth seeing mostly for historical purposes. (I've seen the talkie version, and I believe this "silent" version tracks pretty closely with it). As far as quality, this is definitely the weakest of the silent double features in the retrospective.

It's only a mile away, yet it'd be worth going out of your way for. Have fun.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Brian Williams is an idiot II

Nancy Pelosi (==Brian Williams) is, as His Virtualness says, unclear on the concept. (This is laugh out loud hilarious; go see what Ramesh Ponnuru has excerpted. One can only say, "True morons are so rare." (Sorry, the quote isn't precise, it's improved, by my good friend, Rondal Ellifritt; search for Carol or moron.))

Brian Williams is an idiot I

George Washington is a terrorist? Treasonous, yes, terrorist, no.

The worst decision since Dred Scott

When phrases and ideas become popular, they also become mindless. I suppose there is no way to avoid this. It's a logical offshoot of an essential human, conservative concept: If something works, you keep using it. A secondary offshoot is that it's often easier to just keep using it until it doesn't work rather than figure out beforehand when it does not apply.

The "Nazi" slur is an obvious and trivial example. One of my favorites is "the worst case since Dred Scott." The last time I remember this being used commonly was Bush v. Gore, but some fool Congress critter will raise it whenever there's a court decision they don't like.

What's fabulous about it is that Plessy v. Ferguson is a much worse case. Dred Scott is predictable; as easy as it is to take potshots at it, the fault lies with the Constitution and the society that defined, implicitly, anyway, humans as property. Scott may or may not have been rightly decided given the assumption that humans are property, but to pretend that it was wrongly decided because humans cannot be property is to evaluate it according to a fantasy world that never existed.

Plessy, on the other hand, was the product of pure prejudice. Understandable, perhaps--judges are the product of their time and all--but there could be no doubt at that time that all humans were citizens entitled to equal protection, and yet the government allowed its laws to be applied differently for different classes of citizens. That's an abomination, and it's contained within the case. It's also an abomination that humans can be property, but that's the proposition Taney was given at the outset.

What Scott did do, of course, is help crystallize national general and political sentiment against slavery. In that sense (although I doubt it), it's possible that something similar has happened with the Kelo decision to which LAGuy has already linked. For those who don't know, Kelo is the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 decision allowing eminent domain for private development. It's the logical outcome of New Deal, Sunstein jurisprudence: There is no property; there is only good government planning. We should be thankful it was 5-4 and not 6-3 or 9-0.

This issue has hit the commentariot, both liberal and conservative, but of course that's not such a big deal. Most of those people (most of us?) are talking to each other. But people in general care about local property rights. They show up at public meetings, to screw their neighbors and to get screwed, to be sure, but they show up.

Everything depends upon the future, and which way eminent domain is used, but it's reasonably possible that the supreme court's 70-year socialist bent might have gone one bridge-to-the-future too far. People in general, and then their political leaders (which is to say, political followers) might then begin to fight for their property rights. If so, then it finally might be true that we've seen the worst case since Dred Scott.

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