Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Recognizing good work when we see it

Cheers to Donald Sensing for a nice piece of work on when the military may, and may not, be used for civil relief. It's not so much that he's done any work himself one way or the other, but he went to basic source materials to clearly lay out some rather complex and interesting constraints. The orginal material is here. Whether it is "right" or not (that is, whether it reflects what the law is and should be) I surely don't know, but it seems perfectly reasonable and plausible. (Tip to His Virtualness)

All the news that fits II

National Review tags Elisabeth Bumiller. She wrote:

Mr. Bush has been careful not to go on a direct attack against a publicly grieving mother like Ms. Sheehan . . .. Still, he said last week that protesters like her were weakening the United States and emboldening terrorists

Just one problem. What Bush actually said was, "[T]hose who advocate immediate withdrawal from not only Iraq but the Middle East would be — are advocating a policy that would weaken the United States."

What I wonder is, if that's good enough for Bumiller, and obviously it is, since she wrote it, is it also good enough for Bumiller that those who relentlessly repeat bad news to the exclusion of good news, when the perception of whether things are going well or badly influences the creation of that good or bad news, are calling for the bad news to prevail? Somehow I think she'd object to that, and so would the New York Times, and that's why she and the New York Times are liberal hacks not believed by anyone other than liberals.

Must See? We'll See.

It wasn't a great season for NBC. CBS continued at #1 with its CSI shows, Survivor (I've never watched an episode, but it just keeps rolling on) and, the last big sitcoms, Everybody Loves Raymond (last season) and Two & A Half Men. ABC climbed out of the cellar with the hourlongs Desperate Housewives, Lost and Grey's Anatomy. Fox continues ever upward with the biggest show of all, American Idol, and a new hit to follow, House. But the Peacock Network has mostly disappointments--even hits like ER and The Apprentice are on a downward arc.

So with the new season about to start, you'd figure NBC would clean house. Not so. There are 22 hours in its prime time schedule, and NBC only has 5 and a half new hours of shows.

Amidst all the Law & Orders, NBC is also keeping the low-rated Office. It's keeping The Apprentice, of course, and adding a new Apprentice--with Martha Stewart. It's keeping the failing Joey and the ailing Will & Grace. It's keeping the tired West Wing.

It's adding only one sitcom, My Name Is Earl. I'd like to see a resurgence of this genre, but it remains to be seen if this is the show to do it.

Aside from a reality show where wishes are granted, the rest of the new shows are dramas. Surface seems to be yet another Lost knockoff (every network's got at least one), E-Ring a Jerry Bruckheimer production set in the Pentagon, Inconceivable a medical show about a fertility clinic.

In the 80s and 90s, NBC ruled TV with its powerhouse Thursday night lineup, featuring shows such as Cosby, Cheers, Seinfeld and Friends. It was "appointment" TV. How far away it all seems. I wouldn't be surprised if I didn't tune into NBC during prime time at all this season.

Columbus Guy says: Screen writer Mark Treitel asks for help. Never let it be said we at PajamaGuy are unresponsive to our readers. Besides, now I get to say I've given to a sperm donor, which, if you don't listen closely, probably leads you to conclude I'm a sperm donor. (And, possibly, that I don't have the facilities with the language, which is true enough.)

He'd like your vote for "Sperm Donor" at http://aol.com/situationcomedy

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

I always lie

Most scientific papers are probably wrong, scientific paper concludes.

Being Counters

According the GLAAD, only 16 out of 710 characters on network television in the upcoming season are gay. I have one question. How do they know?

Buchanan Rides Alone

Some people listen to what Pat Buchanan says. I certainly don't. Even when he was a mucky-muck in Republican circles, I thought he was milky in the filbert. Now that he's bolted the mainstream, I'm surprised anyone takes him seriously.

So I'm going to do you few who still listen a favor. Skip his latest column. Like millions of Americans at any given time in our history, he declares immigration a national emergency. Fine, that's his choice. But then, he calls for Bush's impeachment. His "legal" claim: the Constitution promises the states the U.S. will protect them from invasion, which Bush (who apparently is the one with the duty to protect the states, and in a way that Buchanan sees fit, though not the one with the power to decide if they're being invaded) has failed to do.

This is the argument of a crackpot. It is one thing to disagree with a President's policies, it's another to pretend the Constitution criminalizes them.

If Pat ever wants to be taken seriously again, he could start by toning down the rhetoric, and toning up his arguments.

Monday, August 29, 2005

I am big. It's the pictures that got small.

Mark Ruffalo is one of the hottest actors in town. Since his breakout role in You Can Count On Me (2000), he's had sizable parts in several major films. He's important enough to be listed above the title in his latest--Just Like Heaven, a romantic comedy starring Reese Witherspoon. Sure, her name is first, but his is right after, in letters just as large.

There is one problem. No one's heard of him. At least, not like they've heard of Reese Witherspoon. So while his contract may guarantee near-equal billing, the promotional people know better. Hence, his whole body is barely larger than Reese's nose in the official poster.

Your Captioner At Work

I just watched Entourage with the closed captioning on. (I forgot to turn it off from earlier.)

There were several references to Brian's Song (1971) in the episode. Now Brian's Song may be somewhat old, but it's one of the best-loved made-for-TV movies ever. It was nominated for a bunch of Emmys and won "Outstanding Single Program, Drama or Comedy" that year. In fact, it was so popular it was released theatrically.

So what's the deal with the captioning company? Every time it was referenced, the person in charge wrote Ryan's Song.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Your Government At Work

There was an interesting piece in the LA Times about potential liberalization of our National Park rules. They'll allow for more use of the parks, which conservationists oppose.

The Times noted some of the specific changes in policy language. One in particular, regarding BASE jumping, caught my eye. BASE jumping was originally described as an activity "also known as fixed object jumping." In the revised rule, they struck out the word "fixed" and replaced it with the word "fixed."

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Less than Fein

It's worse than it first appeared with Fein, the man for whom property is, apparently, a nuisance:

Insipid minds incline toward major constitutional blunders. Justice Henry Brown pronounced the "separate but equal" doctrine in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896); Justice Rufus Peckham embraced free enterprise and Herbert Spencer's Social Statics as constitutional mandates in Lochner v. New York (1905);

Yikes. The entire free enterprise system is a matter of congressional grace. How about that. They could socialize everything tomorrow and adopt communism the day after; Fein doubtless would think it an unwise policy choice (I'm giving him an unearned benefit of the doubt), but he'd see courts as powerless to do a thing about it. At least, it would make Takings law much easier to adjudicate.

And as Anonymous predicted, conservatives like Fein see property rights to be as unjustifiable, constitutionally, anyway, as privacy (which of course means only some favored people's privacy, but that's not a fight with Fein, so save it for another time.)

Left-handed praise

Eugene Volokh is a hero, but talk about your backhanded complements:

Thanks to WorldNetDaily for the link, but I've checked it myself.

So, do you normally not check links that are important to you? And if you do, do you always qualify them thusly? "Thanks to Instapundit for the link, but I've checked it myself." This is a slap at Farah. He may be a bit tabloidy, but then we all have our chinks, don't we? Credit him or don't, but don't insult him unless you're going to stand up and insult him directly and on the merits.

Cover Story

Pop culture magazines get a large portion of their sales from newsstand purchases. We're talking impulse buys. Thus putting hot celebrities on the cover is standard practice. Maybe you've gotten tired of seeing Brad and Jen and Angelina's faces, but the public hasn't (yet).

That's why I have to admire the nerve of Entertainment Weekly. This week's cover features Terrence Howard. Who? Exactly.

EW is calling him the summer's #1 breakout. He must have a good publicist. While he was impressive in Hustle & Flow, and the film did good business for a festival hit, it hardly crossed over into the big money, and he's far from a household name.

My prediction: the Terrence Howard cover will be EW's worst-selling issue this year, certainly in the bottom five.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Et tu, Bruce?

What is it with Lochner and conservatives? Is it some fear of Brown v. Board driving them? It's not just Rich Lowry who can't get some basics right. Now Bruce Fein joins in with mindless throw aways.

During the so-called Lochner era, the Court manufactured a right to "freedom of contract" to topple economic regulatory statutes like ten pins, for example, minimum wage or maximum hours laws. Devastating dissents by renowned Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes, Louis D. Brandeis and Harlan Fiske Stone were impotent against the majority, consisting of mediocrities who slavishly echoed public orthodoxies. And mediocrities will inescapably dominate any collective body. Only when President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal and Keynesian economics displaced Adam Smith and Herbert Spencer's Social Statics as conventional wisdom did the Supreme Court repudiate Lochner.

Uh, Bruce, property is a pretty damned important right. Pretty much, I'd say, more important than habeas corpus, which is pretty much the most important right in any constitution, even the right to a jury. Why the rampant, easy Lochner bashing? Are all of these would be conservatives really just arguing that all-powerful government is fine, so long as it does what they want?

UPDATE: Anonymous weighs in with true and good insight:

[Conservatives saying they want judges who follow the law and not legislate] makes them say things like Judge Bork's infamous statement that the Ninth Amendment should essentially be blotted out, since it can't really mean anything. . . . it forces conservatives to say that a judge can't do anything unless the Constitution says it nice and clear.
There can be no "right to privacy" even though there are lots and lots of hints at it in the Constitution (the Fourth Amendment being the most obvious) because you've got to talk about penumbras and such stuff to make it happen. Well, the same applies to the Right To Property. Sure, there's the Takings Clause (mostly dormant through much of our history) and we can guess that the Founding Fathers thought government should protect property by upholding contracts, but one you're beyond that you're in penumbra-land. At that point, either you let the legislature decide the limits of property, or you let the courts go hog-wild. It would be too hypocritical for conservatives to allow the latter.

Columbus Guy says: The Ninth and 10th amendments are indeed a problem, as they could be exceptions that swallow the Constitution and create total license in judges. But they don't have to be interpreted this way; it's easy enough to imagine a slowly moving common law of rights reserved to the people. It might, indeed, end up not that much different than what we've experienced under the Warren Court (which, I understand, these Lochner-bashing types abhore). But there is no reason I can see for conservatives to continually bash Lochner (or to hype the New Deal, amounting to much the same thing). It's not going to gain them anything, and it is going to cost them.

As far as property itself goes, its infused throughout the Constitution. You can't even have taxes if you don't have property, the thing is full of contract clauses for this, that and the other (how can you have bankrupcty or patents without property?). These communists, socialists and law professors who argue otherwise are either fools or mendacious or both, even if they are sometimes smart fools. Clever sayings about Herbert Spencer's Social Statics aside, our entire national existence is built around property, trade and, yes, contract. No free society can be otherwise.

(ANd I have to quibble; the Takings Cluase has not been dormant. Property rights have been dwindling as government power has expanded, but that's not quite the same thing.)

The End

I just caught the final episode of Six Feet Under. Since I hadn't watched any before, it was about as pointless as swimming out to an ocean liner as it's docking. I didn't know any of the characters, and their problems meant nothing to me. Skip this post if you're looking for a review.

I'm a big fan of The Sopranos, and since they take so long between seasons you figure I'd hook up with some other HBO drama, but it hasn't happened so far.

From what I understand, Six Feet Under starts each episode with a death. Didn't they do that on Police Squad!? It ended its final episode showing how each character would die. Didn't John Irving do that in The World According To Garp?

Anyway, thanks to DVDs, maybe some day I'll give Six Feet Under an actual chance. Until then, RIP.

This is what I expected

When I wrote about Richard Posner's review/essay on today's media, I expected complaints, but more from the Right than the Left. I finally got what I expected. Ann Coulter believes Posner misunderstands both what's happening in the media and how the market works.

Columbus Guy says: And what's the matter with my girl Ann? Her column is as good as the judge's.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Same planet, different worlds

The Washington Times is running a column from a former Democrat spokesman quoting Tom Wicker's version of the oft-stated role of journalism, comfort the afflicted, afflict the powerful.

Our commenter, Terry Michael, believes the anti-war debate has been suppressed. But he's hopeful journalists will remember their mission and start to get the word out soon.

UPDATE: Katherine Kersten takes what Mr. Wicker must see as an extreme and unworthy, but nonetheless different view. (Tip to Powerline.)

The public interest

Columnist Armstrong Williams is moving up the Pulitzer list:

You’re a Cop. You respond to a domestic abuse call. You bang on the door. The door opens. Standing before you, like a sight of ineffable grandeur, is a bored housewife. Her body rocks big time. She isn’t wearing anything. What do you do?

Williams said a source told him this is common. His response? We decided to investigate.

Well, what journalist wouldn't?

Our sources on the police force say it’s a fairly recent phenomenon, occurring pretty much over the past ten years.

Maybe so, but I can recall plenty of jokes from my childhood about children resembling the milk man, and this was after there were no more milk men. Somehow, I don't think this is a recent phenomenon. But if you want to help Armstrong with his research, he's looking for your help: Send me your thoughts. Email me at arightside at aol.com and let me know if placing fake calls to police officers is a sign of sexual liberation, or a sad sign that the feminist movement has betrayed women by encouraging them to go about things as a male would.

P.S. I'm also calling Armstrong out on the "her body rocks big time." I'm guessing that these women's bodies pretty much follow the normal bell curve. Look for AW to start a new web site soon, and a more profitable one at that.

New Math From The New York Times

Sharon Waxman of The New York Times adds her two cents to the discussion of Hollywood's disappointing summer. Sales are down 9% and attendance 11.5% from a year ago. Why?

There's finger-pointing everywhere (DVDs, bad movies, too much action, outside competition, savvier audience, etc.), but the truth is it's hard to tell too much about wider trends from yearly fluctuations.

If I had to guess, it would seem to me the size of success of the top films, more than the failure at the bottom (which by definition involves less money), helps determine overall ticket sales more than any other direct factor.

Waxman gives the back of her hand to this theory:
The blockbuster hits of last summer, including Spider-Man 2, Shrek and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban performed more or less on the same level as this year's hits, including Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, Batman Begins and War Of the Worlds. But too many big-budget movies, including The Island and Stealth, flopped entirely, while other films, from Bad News Bears to Herbie: Fully Loaded to The Great Raid, were disappointing.
"More or less." Let's look at the numbers, shall we? (All grosses domestic, since that's what this is all about.)

2005: Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith: $379 million. War Of The Worlds: $231 million. Batman Begins: $202 million. Total for 2005's top three summer films (at present): $812 million. Since they're not completely played out, let's charitably raise the total to $822 million.

2004: Shrek 2: $441 million. Spider-Man 2: $374 million. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: $250 million. Total for 2004's top three summer films: $1,065 million.

So last year's three top summer film alone grossed $243 million more than this year's. Seems to me that goes a long way--most of the way--in explaining this year's "underperformance."

P.S. Let me pile on. So "Bad News Bears, to Herbie: Fully Loaded, to The Great Raid, were disappointing"? Bears (gross - $32 million), maybe, but Herbie (gross $64 million) had decent legs and might be called a minor hit, while Raid (gross - $7 million, and plenty expensive) was a complete disaster.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The funniest thing since a late term abortion procedure

Clarence Page is upset that capons, aka Democrats, have let Republicans define the national debate. If the Democrats would just stand up and use the language themselves, their ideas would win in a cakewalk. And in the middle of this, Page says, without irony:

By dictating the terms of national debate, conservatives have put progressives firmly on the defensive.

(Psst. Clarence? You're a liberal. Go ahead. You can say it. Take control of the debate, man.)

LAGuy adds a note of historical interest: Plenty of smart liberals I know are convinced the public prefers their ideas--they just don't know it yet. Ditto for conservatives. (Hence the post ColumbusGuy linked to above). It's always touching to see yet another article out of thousands explaining to the converted that the problem is cosmetic.

Anyway, someone should do an historical study on the world "liberal." A hundred years ago, a "liberal" was someone who'd be considered a conservative today--or, perhaps more likely, a libertarian (who are considered "right" these days anyway). A "liberal" was someone who believed in the individual, which not only meant freedom of speech and conscience, but also a hands-off approach from government to let you run your business and make contracts.

Liberals split off into other directions (just like parties do) and it's funny, now that the word has been so damaged, that much of the Left in the 60s considered liberals the wishy-washy types who believe in working within the system--they're bigger enemies to genuine change than anyone. (You still get this from radicals.)

But it wasn't merely clever Republcan maneuvering that made the word persona non grata--in fact, there used to be plenty of Republicans who didn't mind being called liberal. It was "liberal" programs themselves, especially starting with Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, that helped things turn the corner. (A JFK Democrat is, in many ways, more conservative than a Nixonian Republican.) The word, with some fairness, became associated with high taxes, massive social engineering, and, above all, sympathy for criminals. (Popular liberal ideas, on the other hand, have been embraced by both parties--liberalism is a victim of its own success as much as anything.) To this day, these issues help identify the Democratic party, and prevent many "mainstream" Americans from voting for them--it's not just the word, it's the substance.

A lot of Dems seem to have settled on "progressive" to take away the stink of "liberal." This always cracks me up. When I was in college (in the 80s), "progressive" meant "far to the left of liberal"--essentially it meant communist.

Your slip is showing

(Six Feet Under spoiler alert.)

I love the obituary for Claire: "Claire began teaching photography as a faculty member at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts in 2018, earning tenure in 2028. "

I realize earning tenure is a big deal, but does it really show up in obituaries? Especially when the rest of the obituary is curing cancer, discovering lost continents and creating art that even Dewey never dreamed of.

Welcome To Hollywood

Here's a good description of what it's like to be a screenwriter, by Josh Friedman. After fighting for credit on War Of The Worlds (and it's not about ego, it's about money), he decides to attend the premiere, where he's treated with, at best, indifference.

I remember when I first hit town a friend gave me a ticket to a Westwood premiere. I won't mention the film because it really could be any film. I walked down the red carpet (for a second the photographers look at you--once they determine you're a nobody they move on), went inside and took my seat. Eventually, the director got up and started talking about the movie, and what a great team he had working with him. He mentioned the actors, the cinematographer, the editor, the composer, the sound people, just about everyone. The lights started going down. The director said "wait a second." He'd spotted the writer sitting halfway up the aisle and thanked him too.

Hey, if you want to be treated with respect (while you starve), be a playwright.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Hagel Haggle

Very few pieces on Chuck Hagel fail to mention how well he served his country in Vietnam. While this means he deserves our respect, I don't necessarily see how it makes him any sort of expert on Iraq.

Hagel recently compared the Iraq war to Vietnam. Now in the abstract, any war can be like Vietnam--people get killed and you can get bogged down. But in almost every particular, Iraq has been and continues to be different. The politics inside the country are different, the people of the country are different, the politics surrounding the situation is different, our armed forces are different, the approach to the war was different, the successes (and failures) within the war are different, the enemy army is different, the enemy's support is different, the (very clear) exit strategy is different, etc., etc.

A number of our politicians served in Vietnam. For this we should honor them. Perhaps, however, some were so effected by this time in their life that they have trouble seeing beyond it. It used to be the generals who were always fighting the last war, but now it's the politicians and the pundits. It's time to move on. Iraq, good or bad, is not Vietnam.

Columbus Guy says: Due respect, but you don't get the Vietnam analogy. It is precisely the same policy as sexual harassment laws and indeed, even the court system: They are all policies devoid of substance that are available only to one of two primary competing ideologies, the one that is shared by the Manhattan Media. "Vietnam" means nothing more than "We want our guy in, and your guy out." (I'll give you, in the Vietnam case, there must be an army involved.)

Monday, August 22, 2005

Reviews We Never Finished Reading

From this week's New Yorker:

"For many of the artists and musicians who came of age in a post-Beatles, post-John Lennon late-nineteen-eighties New York, it was Yoko Ono, and not her martyred husband, who had greater cultural resonance...."

There May Be Trouble Ahead...

For the Republicans in the Senate, that is. Because we're not in an election year, and the Senate spots are staggered anyway, the GOP doesn't have to worry just yet. Nevertheless, as a party, they seem weaker right now than the Dems.

My evidence? Tracking polls. Looking at approval ratings, Senate Republicans are nowhere near as secure as Senate Democrats. A seated Senator should enjoy a 50% or more popularity rating to feel safe. At present, there are 29 Senators polling at 49% or less, and 21 are Republican. Seven of the eight least popular Senators (including both from Ohio) are Republican. In fact, the bottom four, the only Senators with actual negative net popularity-- opponents poll higher--are Republican.

So let this be a wake-up call to both parties. Just a reminder--there are no guarantees in politics.


ColumbusGuy says: Oh, I wish. I took a look at these numbers a few days ago and was delighted to see Mike DeWine at negative one, and Cryin' George Voinovich at plus one. These guys win with more than 60 percent of the vote, probably close to 70. They're not going anywhere, damn it. Why, I don't know; in their case even I would vote Democrat, and that doesn't come easily.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Feedback Frenzy

Note: Regular readers of this blog likely know that Judge Richard Posner is a friend of mine. I thought I'd mention it again just in case anyone thinks I'm biased. I doubt it makes much difference, though, since, knowing the Judge, I also know that he doesn't mind honest criticism. However, in the present case, I admit I'm generally on his side.

Yesterday (scroll down) I discussed Bill Keller's complaints about Richard Posner's essay on the media. The funny thing is when I first reviewed Posner's review a month ago, I personally thought it would anger the right more than the left. Perhaps it did. But the letters The New York Times Book Review published seem to indicate the opposite--I wonder why?

Anyway, the letters are interesting in that they're all pretty much arguing past Posner. Let's ignore Keller this time, and also Eric Alterman who simply makes the same (bad) arguments he always makes that media bias favors the right.

That leaves letters by a certain Bob Hoffman, a certain Bill Holm, and Bill Moyers, who needs no introduction.

Let me reproduce Hoffman in full:
The photos selected to accompany Richard Posner's essay say far more about media bias than the words do. The conservatives — Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge and Trent Lott — look like clowns. The liberals — Dan Rather and Bill Moyers — look serious and intelligent.
This is the NYT's sole representative from the right. Perhaps no one from the right wrote anything lengthy worth quoting. We'll never know.

Meanwhile, Holm is angered at Posner's belief that average citizens are not well-informed regarding political issues. Holm's says he is and I don't doubt him. But Holm's asserts his neighbors, near and far, are just as smart. I wish he could believe him, but the evidence seems better on Posner's side. (There are economic reasons for this in any free democracy, by the way--Posner doesn't have to condescend to the public by buttering them up, but he also doesn't have to feel he's insulting them by telling the truth.)

Finally, let's look at what Moyers has to say, and it's plenty:
Over the past three years, on the PBS series ''Now With Bill Moyers,'' my colleagues and I....laid bare one abuse of power after another — corporate, political and governmental. We reported on the misrepresentation and distortions leading up to the invasion of Iraq. We reported on troops sent to war with inadequate armor, while billions are spent on exotic and expensive Pentagon weapons that don't work. We reported on wounded veterans poorly treated upon their return, on conflicts of interest in the Department of the Interior, on the evisceration of the Freedom of Information Act and on offshore tax havens that enable wealthy interests to avoid their fair share of national security and the social contract. We reported on campaign contributions that skew legislation to deprive regular workers and taxpayers of their livelihood and security. We reported on overpricing at Halliburton, chicanery on K Street and the heavy, if divinely guided, hand of Tom DeLay. And — because what people know depends on who owns the press — we reported time and again on how megamedia companies are driving journalism down the hierarchy of corporate values, silencing critics while shutting communities off from essential information, and secretly lobbying the F.C.C. for deals that could not survive public scrutiny.
So Moyers took the money given him for an informational show on the people's airwaves and made sure it was all-left, all the time. Thanks for the admission, Bill.

ColumbusGuy says: LAGuy, you're becoming a positive fiend on this press bias stuff.

LAGuy: That's the irony--this isn't really about press bias, but that's how everyone responds to it.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Counting ceiling tiles (aka, "Living on the edge of your seat")

Well, ColumbusGal thinks Broken Flowers is perfection. My only hope is that Jarmusch is busy elsewhere.

Myself, I think watching Jarmusch is like watching a highwire act. BF is so close to losing traction and devolving into self-indulgence that you just keep waiting for it to happen. I haven't had that much suspense since Hitchcock. But it never does. Which must mean Jarmusch is in control the whole time. Damn him.

Battle Royale

Looks like we may have a slugfest on our hands. As I predicted, not too many who make a point of following the media enjoyed Judge Posner's dissection in the New York Times Book Review. They're used to thinking of themselves and their subject as special, so to be treated like any other market phenomenon tastes bitter.

Now, NYT editor and loose cannon Bill Keller openly attacks Posner's review. He accuses Posner of being (actually, he simply assumes Posner is) hostile to the First Amendment rights of journalists as a judge. He also can't bear what he sees as Posner's "market determinism"--the idea that the living, breathing humans he's sees every day at the office could actually be subject overall to market demands regardless of their individual beliefs and actions is beyond Keller's understanding.

I enjoyed Posner's original review, finding its approach bracing. I must admit, however, on certain points I found him weak and vague. (In some ways this was inevitable since he took on a large subject, and quite a few books as well.) Overall, though, I thought he scored some useful point. But until Keller's harrumphing, I didn't realize how useful they were.

Posner may not understand a lot of things about the media, but Keller seems to understand nothing about Posner's views. I'm sure Posner can take care of himself--his career is filled with full-frontal assaults. In fact, he's written that in the world of ideas, criticism is like oxygen. Furthermore, I don't think Posner minds (unlike, say, certain Justices) having The New York Times mad at him. So the ball's in your court, Judge.


ColumbusGuy says: These people aren't playing in the same pool. It does Posner no good whatever to respond to them and every bit of good to let them flail. Powerline notes the contrast between Keller's silliness here and his earlier memo as noted by Tapscott.

Second-best alternative

The New York Times is at its best in its story to day about the Vioxx verdict in Texas ($253 million jury award for a man in his late 50's who died who had taken the drug). As the Times writes, the damages were $25 million, the punitive damages were $225 million, and Texas law will reduce punitive damages to $1.5 million (I am rounding freely these numbers).

Powerline objects to this as a bad jury verdict and suggests it does much to undermine the jury system.

Perhaps, but the cure here is partly already enacted: Texas has already reduced the damages amount.

Juries are more important and, I strongly suspect, as reliable as judges would be. (Note, that leaves them a great deal of room to be imperfect). What we really need is to fully accept these sorts of verdicts, get rid of statutes that arbitrarily reduce punitive damages, and then massively tighten the judicial control over punitive damages. They should be massive when merited -- that's the very point of "punitive" -- but they should be imposed far less often than they seem to be. Unless something major is going on that hasn't been reported, this just isn't a punitive damages case. But the way to cure that is to have responsible trial judges administer the jury instructions and claims in the case, and to have responsible trial and appellate judges review the jury verdict when it's over. (And was this guy really worth $25 million in damages? That's quite a chunk itself.)

News flash: AP prints the news

Kudos to AP (and our local paper) for printing some actual Iraq news; I could hardly believe it. It is, unfortunately, buried in the paper when it should be page one (along with all the here's-another-dead-body page one's they've been running for, how long now?).

Robert Reid nicely covers the story of three men dragged from their cars, taken to a nearby Mosque to ensure an audience, and killed. They were Sunnis, and their crime was putting up fliers supporting the Iraqi Constitution. (Which goes to show that delaying the constitution, as the Nets will push to do because the Bush administration wants it put in place now, is the wrong thing to do.) This is real news that gets to the heart of what's going on. Good job. Now let's start giving it the context it merits: Front page and center.

Joe Ranft

You probably never heard of Joe Ranft. Only 45, he died in a car accident earlier this week, and while his obituary notice wasn't as big as a major star or director's, he was one of the most important creative people in Hollywood.

Ranft was head of story at Pixar Animation. Starting with Toy Story, Pixar has had a string of blockbusters: A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. There's a reason why Pixar has the biggest hits, and it's not primarily because they have the best computer animation (though they do)--it's because they're the best at creating compelling stories.

All you have to do is look at comparable offerings, such as this year's Madagascar or Robots. They may make money, but they don't have the zing that Pixar offers. In fact, Pixar does the job so well, they make it look easy. It's not. Story is the hardest thing to get right. And Joe Ranft was one of the few people who seemed to understand it.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Memorium to John D., Part I

Now that I've endeared myself to the wimmin with my post on comparable worth, let's lock in the outright misogynists. I've recently rediscovered a delight first enjoyed 20 years ago: The Travis McGee series by John D. MacDonald, who wrote them over 20 years himself, from about 1964's The Deep Blue Good-by to 1984's The Lonely Silver Rain.

These are the playmate years, and they are demostrably fraudulent. The scene is reputed to be acrawl with adorably amoral bunnies to whom sex is a pleasant social favor. The new culture. And they are indeed present and available, in exhausting quantity, but there is a curious tastelessness about them. A woman who does not guard and treasure herself cannot be of very much value to anyone else. They become a pretty little convenience, like a guest towel.

Ah, John D. God rest your troubled and I hope wealthy soul.

Blast from the past

I got a kick from hearing about recent coverage of Roberts memos that include "comparable worth."

Comparable worth was this idea that you could set up some rubric, for a court or an agency, to determine, say, that teachers, mostly women, should be paid a different amount than they earned relative to say, truckdrivers. It's so hilariously idiotic that it simply couldn't ever gain traction, not that the press and the Dems didn't try.

Comparable worth is quite easy to understand. Let's compare something real simple, so there's absolutely no doubt that the job is indeed the same: excavating 1000 cubic yards of dirt. Let's say we have a teacher do it, and let's say we have Rush Limbaugh do it. If one does the job in a Columbus suburb on a housing site, it's worth, I'm guessing, $2000. If you do that on the White House lawn, it's worth, five to 10 in Leavenworth (if not a few final bullets). You can choose which one you want to do which. That's comparable worth.

Just Patty

There's a story flying around that Supreme Court nominee John Roberts portrayed Peppermint Patty in an all-boys high school production of You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown. I believe it was first reported in the Washington Times. The claim is almost certainly false.

In fact, there is no Peppermint Patty in You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown. There is part for Patty, who was an earlier Peanuts character--a precursor to Lucy, who, with pal Violet, could be pretty cruel. The highly successful off-Broadway production opened in March 1967, while Peppermint Patty herself didn't appear in the Peanuts comic strip until late 1966--she was hardly known to the public when the show opened, much less when it was being written.

Patty is probably the dullest character in the show (and wasn't much better in the strip--that's why she disappeared). In the 1999 Broadway revival, the part was replaced by Charlie Brown's kid sister, Sally. Kristin Chenoweth played that role and received the best notices in the show.

P.S. I have rewritten the Wikipedia entry on Peppermint Patty to reflect this.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

That political speech thing

Here at PajamaGuy we're always glad when His Virtualness catches up with us.

What have the real threats to speech in America been? Nat Hentoff is a likely source, but I would say all wars, which I don't find overly troubling (including the current one), Alien & Sedition, of course, and McCain Feingold is a huge, and perhaps fatal one. Other than that, what are we talking? The Red Scare? I expect LAGuy and a great number of others to leap to McCarthyism, but I'm a bit less sympathetic to that argument.

LAGuy responds: I can list plenty of threats, including the ones above, without having to resort to McCarthyism. You leave off, for instance, the widening of harassment laws so that soon everyone anywhere will have to watch what they're saying. Then there's the FCC forever trying to broaden its power by limiting ours. Of course there's the category of "hate" speech, where society decides that certain ideas are so popular, and certain people so powerful, that speaking out against them is breaking the law itself. In general, a lot of people seem to think they have a right not to be offended. Even when they don't claim it's illegal, you can see this in how some anti-war people go nuts when, after years of condemning everyone and everything they don't like, someone has the nerve to criticize them back because it actually seems to matter now.

How disappointing

His Virtualness has let me down. Here Gov. Bob Taft pleads to four misdemeanor ethics charges, makes the national news for it, and not a word from HV. As the author of a tome on the senseless "appearance of impropriety", he ought to have something to say. Perhaps he's waiting for actual details -- Gov. Bob isn't exactly a tip of the tongue celebrity -- but raising this sort of cautionary flag is precisely what Reynodsl is good at.

The heart of it all

Clipping cartoons quickly becomes a fool's game that will fill your shoebox to the hilt. But today's Frank and Ernest rises above the crowd. No doubt it's intended mostly or even strictly for a laugh or sardonic comment, but it gets the free market exactly right.



UPDATE: Hey, I wonder if I can make Taranto's Metaphor Alert? "a fool's game . . . to the hilt . . . rises above the crowd . . . I probably need at least one more. How about, "I have something up my sleeve, but it hasn't quite jelled yet."

LAGuy Notes: How'd you get the picture in so clean?

Anyway, speaking of mixed metaphors, I'm reminded of an old friend who used to talk about (ironically) "the far-reaching tentacles of the capitalists pig-dogs."

ColumbusGuy Tech Support: It's quite easy. Blogger supports images now (I think this was added after your Piss Christ adventure--indeed, why don't we just assume in response to it?). In my case, I saved the image so I knew precisely where it was, then you click the picture icon in the dashboard, just the way you would click the link icon. It gives you a window to guide the image upload, and the choice of doing so by browsing (presumably on your machine) for the image or by providing the direct url.

Unfortunately, blogger does not yet support pdf files. Their tech support did provide a nice suggested workaround, although I haven't pursued it yet (does anyone know an easy and cheap way to generate pdf files from scanned images and from text documents? Am I bound to buy an expensive Acrobat program?)

Study The Study

Here's an interesting study that suggests Fox News does not have much effect on how people vote. I wouldn't be surprised if this is true. The bigger question, though, is can one extrapolate from this to believe that no news source bias (or even unbiased news) has much effect on how we vote.

I've never been much for blaming things on media bias. Our Mainstream Media doesn't seem to me to lean that strongly Dem or Repub (though things might vary by political issue), nor do I necessarily believe the bias we do have isn't countered elsewhere. But this doesn't mean there isn't any bias or it can't have any effect.

My friends on the right will probably not be too impressed with this study. They may claim Fox News is a drop in the sea against the MSM. Plus, those who seek it out are strong-willed enough to know what they want. On the other hand, the general media puts out the very air we breathe--and it's the Dem's air.

Well, maybe, though I'm pretty sure both right and left believe if the issues were calmly and rationally explained, almost everyone would vote for their side. If nothing else, it's getting unseemly for the Republicans to keep whining when they're winning as never before in our lifetimes.

Columbus Guy says: Not knowing LAGuy's political views, I can't say if he perceives me on the right or the left. But I can say that I don't believe everyone would vote my way if things could be explained. I suspect it's rather a close call and even that things are stacked against me. On my Mencken days, I think most people would rather be coddled, even at immense cost, than have to decide things themselves. I admit, other days I'm Reagan.

BTW, let's get it right. It's Manhattan Media, not Mainstream Media.

UPDATE: Just in case LAGuy's heart is too broken to go back to comments: Graduate teaching assistant Ookami Snow, preparing to end the Best Summer Ever, writes:

Ookami Snow said...
This study is flawed beyond belief. Seriously the *best* that can be concluded from this study is that more people voted for Kerry than Gore. There was no repetition, no direct link, flimsy control, bad assumptions... this was a craptacular job of using statistics.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Easy listening

Back in 2003, Bill Clinton spoke at some sort of fundraiser in Toronto, blathering on about Israel-Palestinian peace -- fill in your own blanks, you know the drill -- and made the following statement, ludicrous on its Clintonian face, about what he would do if Israel were attacked:

"I would personally get in a ditch, grab a rifle, and fight and die."

The quote was initially reported in a larger story about the event itself, which of course was primarily of only local interest. But it was picked up widely reported, although with some variations that lend useful insight into the accuracy of quotes in the press.

I remarked to friends that, if there were the slightest chance it were true, I would attack Israel myself. One responded, "ColumbusGuy, your noble sacrifice is only going to subject the rest of us to a monologue about what was meant by 'personally.'"

Remember this golden oldie today, when Mr. Clinton is reportedly saying, "I always thought that Bin Laden was a bigger threat than the Bush administration did." Boy howdy, Clinton would have solved that problem, you betcha.

Going to war with the army you have

Speaking of barking, His Virtualness gets a bit snippy with those who snap at him for favoring marginal adjustments to public policy, rather than rooting the thing out whole:

People who want every discussion of current events to go back to first principles are tiresome and I find discussion with them is seldom profitable. Plus, people avoid them at parties.

When Will The Dog Bark?

Inspector Gregory: "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"

Sherlock Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."

"The dog did nothing in the night-time"

"That was the curious incident."

What may be most remarkable about the Bush Presidency is that in five years he hasn't vetoed anything.

Part of the explanation is he's had a very agreeable Republican Congress. But that can't be all.

The main reason is, as steel-eyed as Bush's foreign policy may be, when it comes to the domestic side, he's Santa Claus. It's just so much easier if you give anyone anything they ask for. Maybe he figured it would help him get re-elected. Well, that's over, so perhaps it's time to pull out the pen--not every program is worth the money.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Gems

I was surprised to see an appreciation of the Astaire/Rogers films in the LA Times. Not that they don't deserve it, just that it was on the editorial page. The piece was by David Gelernter, who's usually more political.

He calls the films the "crown jewels of American film, arguably of all American culture" and it's hard to disagree. I've been watching the nine black and white movies Fred and Ginger made at RKO for decades and I don't think I'll ever tire of them.

While the glorious dancing is the centerpiece of this series, just as amazing are the songs, written by the greatest tunesmiths of the era--especially Berlin, Gershwin and Kern. For the most part, the songs were written specifically for the series, and the composers seem to be reaching higher than usual. The hits includes "Cheek To Cheek," "The Way You Look Tonight," "Let's Face The Music And Dance," "They Can't Take That Away From Me," "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off," and "Change Partners." Even relatively lesser known numbers, like "No Strings" or "Let Yourself Go," are delights.

Astaire went on to make plenty of other fine musicals, but few compared to the magic he had with Rogers. Ginger may not have been the best dancer he worked with, but she was the best partner--she added the spice that made him come alive on screen.

While the songs and dances were perfection, there were flaws in the series. Most of the stories were weak. Though Fred and Ginger--and the talented farceurs they surrounded themselves with--played with verve, outside The Gay Divorcee and Top Hat, it's pretty hard to ignore how dopey most of the plots are. But then, few people watch the films for plot.

Oddly, Gelernter's highlight of the series is the "Bojangles Of Harlem" number in Swing Time (1936). It is wonderful, no doubt. But apparently Gelernter picks it for political reasons--a white dancer from Nebraska singing a song by a Jewish composer about a great black entertainer. (Astaire does the number in blackface, but it's such a heartfelt tribute it doesn't feel offensive--though the lyric by Dorothy Fields is a bit much.) I wouldn't even call it the best number in the movie. That would either be the exuberant "Pick Yourself Up" or the touching "Never Gonna Dance." And I'm not even mentioning the comic "A Fine Romance" or the Oscar winner "The Way You Look Tonight."

Gelernter also wonders if Ginger ever said she did everything Fred did, but backwards and in heels. Well, no, not really. In her autobiography, she explains she first saw the line in a Frank and Ernest comic in 1982, and was amused. She knew Fred was the superior dancer, and he probably knew she was the better actor. What mattered most was the whole was greater than the sum of their parts.

Astaire came out to Hollywood in 1933 a Broadway star, while Ginger played plenty of smaller parts in film before she hit it big. (They'd actually dated back in their New York days.) They were teamed by chance as supporting players in Flying Down To Rio (1933) and, while they hardly danced, were so refreshing a team that the audience demanded more. By 1935, they had one of the biggest hits of the decade with Top Hat. All the films in the series were popular, but the costs kept going up after the grosses peaked, so RKO stopped teaming them after The Story Of Vernon And Irene Castle (1939). They had a cinematic reunion a decade later with The Barkleys Of Broadway (their only color film), and though it's perfectly enjoyable, the magic is mostly gone.

But the magic still exists, on DVD, to be enjoyed over and over. And, if you get a chance, maybe you can see them on the big screen. That's still the best way.

Monday, August 15, 2005

'Splain, Lucy

So the IAEA has firmly said Iran should not proceed with its nuclear program, and Iran has said, "No." Without even offering a "No, thank you."

I'd like for all the professors to explain international law for me, one more time.

PS Now, Body To Follow

Tomorrow I will post an appreciation of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Still, it's better to see them than read about them. So, if you get TCM, watch it today, as they're playing a whole bunch of their films.

Backlash Backlash

Good piece in the LA Times by my friend Matt Welch on the reaction to Kelo. (Much better piece than what I'm about to write--in fact, just read his thing and forget mine.) What's been most fascinating to me is the general opposition. For decades, the courts have been treating Constitutional property rights as a delusion. Finally, a case comes down where the government overreaches and the public is disgusted. I've had three very left friends tell me that this decision makes them realize it's too easy for the government to kick around (and kick out) the little guy. (They didn't talk much about property rights when they thought they served the rich.)

Will the backlash make any difference? I dont know if the courts will change--too many variables. (Roberts couldn't be more anti-Kelo than O'Connor--no one could.) In the short run, laws will be passed limiting eminent domain, but they can be changed back (or ignored) if the government wants it badly enough. The big question is where will the Democrats stand? As Matt points out, while the rank and file may not like the decision, most establishment Dems pretty much have to back it. (Though they don't have to go as far as the bird-brained reaction of Nancy Pelosi.) After all, they must be saying to themselves, we're the party of central planning and big government--stronger property rights will greatly hamper us. As long as the Dems (and many Repubs) are sure they can spend your money better than you, it's hard to imagine there'll be any big change.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The more things change

Have been reading a collection of letters of E.B. White. Here's the first paragraph of his response to a Carrie Wilson, May 1, 1951:

Dear Mrs. Wilson: I find the world very perplexing, just as you do, although I don't think our armies are simply serving Standard Oil. THat is too thin a story of so great an effort.

Actually Bruce Willis is dead the whole time.

Most reviews of the new horror film The Skeleton Key note it has a surprise ending. I'm sorry, but I like my surprise endings to be surprises. Saying something has a surprise ending is about as bad as revealing the surprise ending. If you don't want to give away anything, don't give away there's something to give away.

Columbus Guy says: This is true enough. Just the knowledge that there was a surprise allowed me to recognize immediately that Bruce wasn't interacting with any living person. (BTW, Bruce was alive for the first five minutes of the movie.)

We saw Skeleton Key in a theater full of 14 year old girls who took every opportunity to scream. It was delightful.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Andrew Sarris's Projections

Andrew Sarris reviews Broken Flowers in the latest New York Observer. In the film, Bill Murray plays a rich, retired, middle-aged white guy. His main (only?) friend appears to be Winston (Jeffrey Wright), his Ethiopian-American next-door neighbor. What does Sarris have to say about this? "I wish that rich Americans were as enlightened as Don on racial matters."

I don't know that many rich Americans--probably less than Sarris--but it doesn't exactly stretch my imagination to think they could be on good terms with a black neighbor. In fact, I'm hard-pressed to think of a single rich acquaintance who would reject Winston out of hand, much less take action against him. (I know a few poor Americans who might, but I hope they've mended their ways.)

PS Here's Sarris on the film's cinematography: "[It is] beautifully photographed by Frederick Elmes with an appropriately grayish eloquence that, as much as anything else, conveys Mr. Jarmusch’s bleak view of the American landscape and of the possibilities of American life in general."

I say don't be fooled by Jarmusch's deadpan style. His America, including the underside, is filled with both beauty and possibility.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Greener Grass

Co-guest-hosting for His Virtualness, Megan McArdle writes:

Most people who get married will continue to do so for the good, old fashioned purpose of having frequent sexual intercourse. God bless 'em.

I take it Ms. McArdle is single.

LAGuy cautions: She better not be married--that would break a lot of hearts. She's the pin-up girl of the blogosphere.

Three Weeks And A Day

I don't write much about sports. One reason is that I'm a Detroit Tigers fan and they haven't been a contender since the late 80s. But one team I support is always in it, the Michigan Wolverines.

They're expected to win the Big Ten this year, but Ohio State and Iowa don't care what everyone expects. College teams have a lot of turnover (and turnovers), and it can be hard to tell how a team is working until they actually play. Michigan wins more than anyone else, but they've also been on the losing end of some spectacular games, as any fan can tell you.

So it's only about three weeks till kickoff. (The link has a countdown.) The game is against Northern Illinois, which some consider a "warm-up," but I don't believe in taking anything for granted. In any case, the week after, it's Notre Dame, our arch-enemy--after MSU and Ohio State. (Arch, archer, archest.)

Hasn't been much of a summer. Let's make the fall special.

Columbus Guy says: Will we be playing under the welcoming arms of Touchdown Jesus, or in the Snakepit Up North?

LAGuy: Snakepit. The schedule is in the link.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Ho-hum. Just another accurate prediction from PajamaGuy

Okay. Now Batman Begins is breaking $200 million.

Fark Yeah

Powerline is in a tizzy because Alec Baldwin is leading FAG:

The tide of anti-American, anti-military, anti-Bush, anti-conservative, anti-Israel movies--Apuzzo describes ten, but notes that his list is incomplete--is simply numbing. It is hard to see how such a massive assault on American and conservative values, not to mention truth and history, can fail to have a devastating impact.
Apuzzo's solution is for conservatives to abandon Hollywood and its studios, raise their own money and make their own movies. I don't have a better idea. Once again, it seems that the liberals have succeeded in capturing a key component of our culture, leaving conservatives to fight a guerrilla campaign from the outside.


There is certainly such a thing as the culture war. But I'm unconvinced that George Clooney and Matt Damon ("Matt Damon!") are its primary warriors.

Man About Town

I just got back from a reception for writer-director Paul Feig at The Grafton on Sunset. Paul is the creator of the much-missed Freaks And Geeks. He read from his book, Superstud : Or How I Became a 24-Year-Old Virgin--funny and personal stuff that you might want to check out.

We talked later and compared notes--not about being superstuds but about growing up in the suburbs of Detroit. For instance, we both remember seeing President Gerald Ford speak at the Macomb Mall.

There were quite a few blogger in attendance, including Cathy Seipp, Emmanuelle Richard, Amy Alkon ("The Advice Goddess"), all of whom helped set up the event, as well as Moxie and Mickey Kaus. (Mickey had recently suggested Bush's low poll numbers are simply where they'd naturally be. I told him that my friends who believe the MSM is a branch of the Democratic Party would claim that unless there's something truly buoyant going on, they naturally brings down the numbers of any Republican.)

Other people included old media friends like Matt Welch, Sara Rimensnyder and international correspondent Marc Lavine. (Marc determines how the world views us. I heard him speaking French so I jumped in with "Honi soit qui mal y pense.")

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Giddy with the Democracy thing

I've always been a bit jealous of the careless, guilt-free ease with which His Virtualness addresses --look at me, clenching up just to say it--porn. He's such a naughty boy.

But Reuters offers perhaps the best sign yet, even better than that Chrenkoff guy, that Iraq is indeed a success: Iraqi porn dealers. This is better than the Levi's jeans that brought down the Berlin Wall.

Quick Cuts

I just watched Weeds. It's a comedy about a widowed suburban housewife who sells marijuana to make ends meet. While the reviews have been fairly positive, I doubt I'll come back for seconds. The show seemed so thrilled to be provocative that it forgot to be funny.

On the other hand, after a recommendation from Virginia Postrel, I've started to watch Battlestar Galactica, now entering its second season. I like it--especially the political intrigue--but I'm still a little lost. If it doesn't clear up soon, I'll have to find a friend who's got the first season on DVD.

There are some new comedies on FX, but, to be honest, if I get that channel, I'm not sure where it is.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Et tu, Lowry?

It's not just George Bow-Tie who doesn't get the New Deal revolution. Rich Lowry, doubtless thinking he can score look-how-good-faith-I-am points by a throwaway to liberals, tosses off this little gem:

The court has created rights from nothing before. As George and Tubbs point out, from 1890 to 1937, it struck down social-welfare legislation because it supposedly violated a right to "liberty of contract" that had no constitutional basis. It reversed course in 1937 and admitted it had been imposing its own policy preferences.

The court created this right from nothing, eh? Now, I don't read everything Lowry writes, so I don't know the answer to this, but I'm thinking he didn't like Kelo. And Kelo decided issues of what, again? Oh, that's right. Property. So which is it? Lowry can't find property in the Constitution? Or is it that he thinks that property is just fine, it's only that you have no right to buy or sell it? Perhaps I'm wrong and he thinks Kelo is the keys to the kingdom.

If conservatives can't get the New Deal right, what hope is there?

UPDATE: Yeah, it turns out Lowry doesn't like Kelo: "[A] crucial insight — the right to property is the most important check on governmental power and abuse, especially for the poor and vulnerable." Sounds like just the thing that would be in the Constitution, doesn't it? But I guess they have no right to contract it, which, I don't know, would seem to affect its value, wouldn't it?

One Man's Meat II

A day or two ago I bragged on our local NPR folks. One of the highlights is Fred Anderle, who hosts "Open Line." I mean, it is talk radio, and it is NPR, so if you're looking to punish your teenager, you take away their iPod and make them listen to this.

But if you're interested in good talk radio and in the topic at hand, Anderle is as fair a person as you're going to get. Today he had two excellent guests (on separate hours).

Probably the more interesting of the two was Roger Ekirch, author of a book about human behavior at night from 1500 to 1750 (I'm not quite sure of the dates, but thereabouts). His tone was radio (and one imagines lecture hall) death, but he was well informed and quite interesting. Turns out a lot of our nightmares are valid ones.

The other guest was the University of Chicago's Robert Pape, writing about "suicide terrorism." While my sense was Pape would clearly be opposed to fighting terrorism by, you know, fighting it, he nonetheless presented an interesting and worthwhile study.

Improve

One of the better moments in The Aristocrats, an enjoyable study in scatology, is when a mime acts out the title joke. I haven't seen it mentioned in any reviews.

Perhaps this is due to the mindless anti-mime prejudice which has been alive in the country for at least two decades. I really don't understand it. Well-done mime is quite enjoyable. (Bad mime is bad, but bad anything is bad.) It can be funny, it can be moving. And it's not so widespread that you have to try to avoid it.

On the other hand, what people should be annoyed by, but seem to love, is improv. I find it, for the most part, excruciating. I'm mystified that others enjoy watching a bunch of people sweating and straining to come up with something that would be considered mediocre at best if it were written material.

Columbus Guy says: Is it my imagination, or was this originally posted with the title "Improv"? Or did my brain just drop the "e" because I thought "Improv" was a better title? Where's Orwell when you need him?

LAGuy: As much as I hate to overexplain, this post has always been entitled "Improve" since that's what I want both society--since it values the wrong art--and improvisationists (improvisors?) to do.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Peter Jennings, RIP

The odd thing is I have nothing to say. I presume others on this blog will speak out. Perhaps Pajama Guy himself will come out of hiding. But the truth is I have almost no opinion, and hardly any memories, regarding Peter Jennings.

He was the most popular news anchor of the last 20 years, but the truth is, by the time I got interested in current events, I had pretty much stopped watching TV except for sports and a few shows. Later, when I got back into TV, I had cable, and so decided I'd watch the news when I felt like it, not when the networks decreed. So, essentially, outside elections and other special events, I haven't watched a second of Jennings, or Brokaw, or Rather. I read about what they said and did, but I never saw them first-hand. It says nothing against Jennings that no longer can an anchor, or even three, control the agenda. (Or do I speak too soon?)

Anyway, from one PJ Guy to another, bye.

Are We Still Arguing About This? Part I

Last weekend being the 60th anniversary of Hiroshima's bombing, there've been a number of editorials, pro and con, in the papers.

The LA Times recently featured one by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin. They accept many of the revisionist anti-bomb arguments. Some of their claims seem based on selective sifting of the evidence. When they state Truman "quite plainly" droppped the bomb to send the Soviets a message, I'd call this conjecture at best.

To me, a central question is what could and did we expect from the Japanese back then. It's very hard to put our minds back into that period, but I think that's what must be done to properly judge what happened.

Bird and Sherwin quote J. Robert Oppenheimer who said, after the fact, the Japanese were "an essentially defeated enemy." Okay, I have a suggestion. If you are essentially defeated, SURRENDER IMMEDIATELY! It's not the duty of the other side to read your damn mind. Every second you wait you're asking for trouble. Once you know you've lost, it's your duty to make it clear--otherwise, don't be surprised if the war continues.

Are We Still Arguing About This? Part II

A certain John S. Koppel writes a letter to The New York Times Sunday Book Review opposing the war in Iraq. Ho hum. What is interesting is why he's opposed. Not because he thinks it's turned out badly (I guess that's just a given to him) but because BUSH LIED! He then gives the whole laundry list of why we didn't go in to bring Democracy to Iraq; most of his arguments are either meaningless or long-disproven, and he doesn't address the nagging point that Bush et al argued for Democracy by name many times before the war started.

Are we still gonna argue this? Imagine if I said that only reason John S. Koppel writes letters is when he's published in The New York Times, he can lay the Book Review on his coffee table, open to the appropriate page, and impress women he invites over. Would this mean because he writes letters for the wrong reason that their content can't possibly be any good? No, you actually have to read them to refute them (or, more likely, understand they refute themselves).

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Keller kudos

Tapscott has it right. The Keller memo is no silver bullet, but it's a well written and thoughtful work. Assuming it's more than a public relations piece meant more for external consumption than internal use, it's pretty good.

There's no for-sure false note in it, although there's a little Keller cutesy sprinkled throughout ("This is not the end of the conversation. But it is, you will be relieved to learn, the end of this manifesto.") This is no crime.

It's interesting that they did disclose it publicly. Perhaps they had no choice, with leaks.

The most important part is the "news/opinion divide" section. The one thing that Keller could have added, to good effect, is explicit discussion of one-word judgments. It's dealt with implicitly, but recognizing and then eliminating one-word judgments is both a relatively easy skill to learn and a powerful bias-reducer. It also makes stories better.

There are a couple of giveaways or near giveaways. There is just a hint of resentment of bloggers and the dread Fox news ("proliferation of critics") that belies Keller's pronouncement of what ought to be every newsman's creed: good news stories. Just do that and let the other stuff take care of itself.

More interestingly, in the "diversity" section, he talks an awful lot about religion. Eight references in two pages. This tracks awfully closely with Hillary's revelation immediately after the Kerry fiasco. I do not say that this is by nefarious design; only that these lefties seem to think awfully similarly.

This focus on the religion bogeyman causes Keller to not quite get to the real issue, although, to his credit, he does at least acknowledge it: If you're going to be a national newspaper, Bill, then you need to understand the range of the national dialogue. That means you need people who don't smirk when they hear viewpoints outside of the "predominantly urban, culturally liberal orientation" of your paper. That isn't "pandering to conservatives," as you put it. It's acknowledging that the views that inform your news room are fatally narrow.

Even so, this memo is an awfully good start. The trick, of course, will be in the execution. Good luck to them.

Amen

A good editorial earlier this week in the Los Angeles Times by Hanif Kureishi, author of My Beatiful Launderette. Entitled "Arguing with the Islamic 'truth'," it encapsulates the problem of trying to reason with true believers. If someone believes he has direct contact with the truth, he can be fairly invulnerable to rational argument (though, perhaps, not to emotion appeals, or threats, for that matter).

If you have faith in a higher power, and believe you must submit to it, it can lead to distrust in reason. Or perhaps I should say that logic is to be chained to the limits of your faith--reason is not to be used to question it.

Kureishi quotes a Muslim scholar who puts the problem quite well (though he doesn't think it's a problem): "Allah is the subject of faith and loving obedience, not of rational inquiry or purely discursive thought. Unaided human reason is inferior in status to the gift of faith."

This kind of belief is fine if you're lucky enough to pick the one faith that gives you the full truth. Otherwise, you're stuck in a hole that's hard to climb out of, since the kind of questioning that can help is what you will fight against. How do you know you've got the truth to begin with? Because your teacher told you? Because it "feels" true? Probably not through reasoning, since faith and obedience are more important.

Update: Salman Rushdie speaks out on this issue. I don't think it'll help much, however, for the reasons listed above. True believers tend to feel their faith comes from revelation that transcends time or place.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Too good not to list

Browsed a new blog that complains about Bulwer Lytton and says Lyttle Lytton does much better, offering this as proof:

“I raped your sister,” cruelly he sneered, “and now she is no problem,” and my friends that is the day my heart tore a sunder.

Had me laughing for a good minute, anyway.

Credit where credit is due

Kudos to Mark Tapscott of the Heritage Foundation. His plea for a bit of recognition for the New York Times for finally recognizing that they are liberal hacks is persuasive. Due to some odd behavior (whether my own or my browser's I can't yet say) I'm unable to properly link the site, so here it is in copy-and-paste form: http://www.townhall.com/columnists/marktapscott/mt20050806.shtml

UPDATE: Here's the link.

Time warp

Columbus has excellent public radio. Three stations, varying content, good local production in addition to the national stuff, it's just great. When I'm not listening to Rush, I'm listening to NPR.

So about 7 a.m. I'm dragging myself out of bed and I hear, "This is Bob Edwards, host of NPR's morning edition . . ." He's doing a promo for the local station. Or rather, the station is still running the promo they've used for lord knows how long.

NPR fans all know Edwards was clumsily dumped from Morning Edition more than a year ago, for no good reason. There was no format change and the show certainly isn't any better (nor is it any worse). I'm guessing there were some cousins intermarrying among the staff. Or maybe the Republicans did it.

Anyway, Edwards is now hosting on XM. I've not heard the show and I'm sure the ratings are tiny, probably no more than twice NPR's, but lots of NPR fans still love Bob. Apparently including the local folks. Good for them.

Darling Nikki

Can't say I'm a big fan of Nikki Finke or her LA Weekly column on the local scene. Yet, I have to admire how her rather silly piece on Michael Kinsley got such a rise out of him. Kinsley, outgoing editor of the LA Times, has the lead letter in the latest Weekly. In it, he calls Finke a "fuddy-duddy" and an "idiot." And that's just the first sentence.

This is almost as much fun as his feud with Susan Estrich. I'm sorry to see him go.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Could I have a mulligan?

So a man kills his wife with a hammer after sex, which is the tag that raises the thing out of ordinary murder and puts it into the media. Here's what the judge reportedly said:

"Her desire to cuddle after sex does not justify the extremely violent, brutal response of the defendant."

Maybe these judges don't make enough money.

Who's at fault here? It's a remarkably stupid thing to write, but doubtless in context of trials, which are boring and slow as molasses, it didn't stand out. And you can easily imagine that if the judge sees this, he or she would say, "Well, come on now." Still, it's a remarkably stupid thing to write.

What about AP? It's catchy, of course, but is that enough? Is this really what the judge meant? Does this capture the "truth" of the murder? Does it really reflect that the judge is incompetent? If it means anything, it means that the man's mental state is in question. We don't need a judge to tell us that cuddling, while repulsive, does not justify extremely violent, brutal responses. Extremely violent or brutal, maybe, but not both together.

Dear Me, I've Become Popular

Selling a lot of tickets doesn't mean your film is good. But having limited appeal doesn't mean it, either. Unfortunately, some artists act as if acceptance by the public at large means they've failed. Woody Allen is a member of this club.

Another member, apparently, is Jim Jarmusch. Not a popular filmmaker in the mold of James Cameron or Steven Spielberg, he's certainly a major figure among indies. His latest, Broken Flowers, starring Bill Murray, comes out today. In interviews, he's been playing the artist who has something approaching contempt for popularity.

I'm looking forward to the film and hope it does well. But Jim, what'll happen if you have an honest-to-goodness mainstream hit? Will it mean you've lost your edge? Will you get the vapors? Will you quit?

When an artist like Jarmusch looks at his lack of popularity for validation, I want to remind him there are countless filmmakers who consider Jarmusch monstrously popular. Your films make millions, Jim; their films don't even get released. Does this mean they're so pure in their vision, so uncompromising, that they're better than you?

Columbus Guy says: This has the ring of truth. I myself have a film, and I can't get even my wife to inquire about it.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Uh-oh

There's trouble here in River City. First, Gloria Borger writes something smart from a Dem point of view, "How to lose smart."

Then, someone with whom I'm not familiar, Joan Vennochi, does the same, "Democrats change your ways."

This is disturbing. The Republicans, while they have indeed been working hard, have also been winning partly because Democrats have been leaving change on the table.

(BTW, could someone explain the "When Harry Met Sally" reference in the Powerline speculation on Ms. Coulter and Mr. Roberts? His Virtualness piles on, too. It smacks of sexual innuendo suffered too often by leggy blondes, if you ask me, and it enrages me when I don't get it.)

Anonymous helps out: These people are claiming Ann Coulter is only pretending to oppose John Roberts. The most famous scene in When Harry Met Sally is when Meg Ryan fakes an orgasm. Anything else you need explained?

Columbus Guy says: Quite a lot, actually, but give me some time to come up with it. I was missing the orgasm link (old story, I know).

LAGuy adds: I don't think she's faking. (Ann, that is, not Sally.)

The Lure Of Cliche

I was just re-watching Searching For Bobby Fischer, a 1993 film written and directed by Steve Zaillian, based on the book by Fred Waitzkin about his son Josh, a chess prodigy. It reminded me of the lure of cliches in Hollywood.

The movie was well-reviewed, and does have plenty to recommend it, including fine cinematography by Conrad Hall and an excellent cast, including Joe Mantegna, Joan Allen, Laurence Fishburne, Max Pomeranc (as Josh) and especially Ben Kingsley. Furthermore, while it's not a big-budget item, I'm sure it was tricky for Zaillian and his producers to get any money to make a film about chess.

Still, to turn it into a story that works as a movie, Zaillian had to take what was an exciting real life tale and, essentially, falsify it.

I'm not trying to single out Zaillian. There's a reason for cliches. They work. The final battle has to be the toughest, or your climax will fail. And it has to be won by the protagonist, not his helper, or we'll wonder why we were wasting our time following the wrong character. But it all becomes tiresome formula unless you can do it differently, rather than repeating what we've seen countless times.

Here are a couple examples of Hollywood Screenwriting versus real life:

Hollywood: Josh combines the agressive "street" moves he learned from Laurence Fishburne, with the stricter, conservatory style he learned from his instructor Ben Kingsley, to become a better, more-rounded player.

Real Life: There's no replacement for serious study (especially with someone like Bruce Pandolfini, Josh's real-life instructor, who is nothing like Ben Kingsley), and shortcut tricks that may go over playing speed chess in the park will ruin you in real competition.

Hollywood: In the climactic game, Josh sees a tricky combination and realizes he will win. He gallantly offers a draw--a shared championship--which is turned down. This demonstrates not only external growth in Josh as a player, but internal growth as a human being.

Real Life: Josh screws up and barely holds on for a draw, which wins him the championship. If he had seen a winning combination, he would have grabbed at it.

This got me thinking of the low-budget Hustle & Flow, out now. The basic story has problems (without even getting into the misogyny)--beneath the grit, it's got one of the hoariest of all movie plots, about trying to make it in show biz. And it seemed to me that everyone surrounding the pimp (who wants to be a rapper)--the producer, the musician, even his pregnant whore who sings on one of the tracks--has more talent than he does.

But I'll give it points for one thing--maybe the toughest thing--the ending. The story leads up to a showdown: will DJay the pimp meet Skinny Black and sell him on his demo tape? To the film's credit, they resolve it in a way that is neither obvious nor ridiculous.

It's Too Graphic

Carol A. Wells, founder and executive director of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics in Los Angeles, reviews The Design Of Dissent, a collection of protest graphics. Well, it's not really a review, it's closer to boosterism. Looking over the many examples in the book, she concludes it "shows the...continuing need for protest graphics." How? She discusses the material, and the LA Times Book Review reprints some of it, but has anyone proved a need, much less a continuing one?

Furthermore, she says "Some works are beautiful, others horrific. Some are clever, others manage to elicit humor in the midst of death and dying." The one thing she avoids saying is all these graphics are propaganda. (I'm guessing it's because she agrees with much of the propaganda, though that shouldn't matter). These pieces are designed to make quick, sharp statements that bypass complex thought and get you in the gut. They can be effective, of course, but that doesn't mean they lead toward the truth.

Wells claims the book "will challenge preconceptions and assumptions." Okay, but will it help us think more clearly, or will it help us believe lies and nonsense. To pick an example, there's a poster (reprinted in the Times--sorry I can't find a link) trying to spook you out over genetically modified foods (a strangely big deal in Europe) showing a hairy lemon. This intellectually amounts to pseudo-scientific hysteria which, if believed, could lead to millions starving--but hey, at least we've been challenged.

She believes the most challenging section is on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, at least for Americans, who "if they rely on the mainstream media, rarely hear about or read about Israelis opposed to their government's politicies--not unlike the lack of dissenting views presented in our own country."

I'm afraid this mixture of smugness and detachment from reality does not make for a reliable review or reviewer.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Beating ColumbusGuy to the Punch

In a heavily watched special Congressional election in Cincinnati, Republican Jean Schmidt held on to defeat Democrat Paul Hackett, 52% to 48%. Let's ignore what everyone else is saying--I bet ColumbusGuy can tell us the true meaning of the outcome. After all, this used to be a heavily Republican seat, and Hackett was an Iraqi war veteran who strongly criticized Bush. Furthermore, a lot of money came in from outside.

So the Republican wins--net gain or loss for both parties: Zero. But what did it really mean?

Columbus Guy says: Sorry. You'll need CincinnatiGuy for that one, or maybe OhioGuy. I heard one of the commercials broadcast for the guy and it played Bush entirely sympathetically, with no hint of disagreement. It was all rah-rah for the troops, and I'm a troop.

Usually you're pretty pragmatic, LAGuy, with pithy sayings such as the best way to win elections is to win them, not to lose them today in the hope it sets you up real good for later.

The implicit question is whether this indicates overall Republican weakness. Maybe, but I have to think that when Hillary is running moderate and an Iraq war veteran is running as an Iraq war veteran, that's more or less a sign that the values Republicans hold close are still appealing to the folks.

The more interesting question is the governor's race, with Democrat Ted Strickland. He'll get lots of Hillary cash and frankly he stands a pretty good shot. Ohio Republicans, despite dominating everything since 1994, are a disgusting bunch. The only true Republican in the group is Ken Blackwell, and as far as the state party is concerned, he may as well not exist. Ohio could very well be the chink in the national Republican's armor.

Odetiquette

In my tribute to Ernest Lehman, I guessed he was the main writer behind Sweet Smell Of Success. But according to Peter Bogdanovich, on page 13 of Who The Hell's In It, the glorious dialogue is by Clifford Odets. Even though he was a friend of Odets, I consider Bogdanovich a reliable source.

Still, the plot and setting are pretty original, so Ernest isn't completely left out in the cold. And nothing can take North By Northwest away.

My Album

Just saw the Violent Femmes perform at the local Amoeba record store up the block on Sunset. They still got it.

I should have brought my vinyl version of their first album for them to sign, but they probably would have demanded I finally buy the CD.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Cruel design

His Virtualness seems to have been taken in by the "Bush supports teaching intelligent design" line. I read the story it was based on and it doesn't support the headline or the conclusion. Neither does it refute it; but it's such a juicy line, it gives every appearance of the reporter and editor wanting it to be true so badly that they went with it before they had it.

Nonetheless, if Bush does support teaching in science class "intelligent design," might I suggest the more factual, true-to-experience concept, "cruel design"? As in, "He's a cruel God, but fair."

Behind The Scenes At SNL

In LA, a bit after the regular SNL rerun, they have "classic" SNL rerun--the full 90 minute shows. In the last two weeks, I've seen two episodes that are of historical interest.

This week, I saw a 1970s episode hosted by Kate Jackson. The conceit of the episode was, at the behest of Fred Silverman (who was then running NBC, which wasn't doing well, and had previously programmed ABC), "Angel" Jackson was going undercover as part of Silverman's plan to sabotage NBC.

John Belushi portrayed Silverman. Allegedly, Belushi was so sick (due to fever and, again, allegedly, drug use) that he couldn't go on, and producer Lorne Michaels had to push him out. I believe it. Belushi's voice is hoarse, almost a whisper. He's less energetic than usual. At least he makes it through the show. The rest of the episode features some decent sketches (why not--they still have a healthy Aykroyd, Murray and Radner, among others) and there's a nice appearance by Andy Kaufman.

Last week, I saw a mid-80s episode with host Griffin Dunne. In the "Mr. Monopoly" sketch, Jon Lovitz plays the character on the Monopoly cards (whom they call--incorrectly--Mr. Monopoly) and Griffin Dunne is his criminal client. Mr. Monopoly gets Dunne out of police clutches via a "get out of jail free" card.

What is interesting about this sketch is Damon Wayans as Cop #2. It's not much of a part and Wayans decided, at the last second, to make him gay. It doesn't really make any sense and gets in the way of the sketch. Apparently, producer Michaels was so angry that he fired Wayans, which may have been what Wayans wanted.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Piffle

AP's Tom Raum has an "AP Analysis" piece on the Bolton nomination. There is news, there is editorial opinion and there is analysis. The Raum piece is editorial opinion gussied up as analysis. It's full of Bush-is-stubborn-won't-back-down, and has not a jot that either Democrats or other world figures are stubborn and might consider backing down. As a Democrat opinion piece or Democrat talking points, it's middling: nothing we haven't seen umpteen times before. As "analysis," it's piffle.

Blogrolling

If you get Showtime, you might want to watch the Penn and Teller show tonight. It's usually worth watching anyway, but this week it features my old friend Virginia Postrel. (I'm not sure if P&T are on her side or not.)

And, of course, you can always check out Virginia's blog any time.

Columbus Guy says: Sounds fishy. All of them are essentially libertarians. Are you sure she's not featured as an expert on a topic other than herself? Unless they're doing an expose of the Libertarian Party, of which an apt description of its political prospects is indeed "Bullshit." Or maybe they're ticked off by the implicit competition of her "dynamism."

LAGuy responds: I've never seen Viriginia featured as an expert on herself (how would that work? "I'm blonde, 5' 6" and weigh....") Watch for yourself--if you don't get Showtime see if a friend'll tape it, or wait for the DVD release.

Tonight's season-ending episode is about how people want the best. Now there's an argument that more and more material wealth doesn't make you happier, and it's not a bad one. On the other hand, Virginia has written against the Jeremiah's who complain that capitalism gives us too much choice. Could be interesting.

Columbus Guy rejoins: I don't have any friends. Will you tape it for me?

LAGuy replies: I've taped it. Now drop by some time this week or I'll have to tape over it.

Actually, it wasn't much. It was about how some people must have "the best" and how chasing that is no fun. Virginia was her eminently sensible self, saying some linear things may be the best, but it can also be a subjective standard.

Tell Me What You Think

As faithful readers of Pajama Guy know, I enjoyed Wedding Crashers. In fact, I thought it would be another There's Something About Mary, in that it was a raunchy comedy with heart that would have better legs than any other film this summer. (I still prefer Mary, by the way.)

The numbers are in and I've been proved correct. In its third week, after dropping only 20% or so, Wedding Crashers was the highest grosser of the weekend. In a time when even popular movies regularly drop 40% if not more, this film is an old-fashioned word-of-mouth hit.

Not that it required any great prescience. I saw it on opening day and could tell it was really connecting.

Not all critics loved it. (Mind you, if does have flaws--it's about 20 minutes too long and has a weak third act.) The most famous reviewer giving it the thumbs down was Roger Ebert. I recall reading his review thinking "this guy just didn't get it." Okay, fine, that's how comedy works--not everyone think's the same things are funny. But Ebert did something a lot of critics do that drives me up the wall. He took his own (false) view of the film and attributed it to the audience. For instance:
"The ads will fill the theaters on opening weekend, but people will trail out thinking, gee, I dunno ... why all the soppy sentiment and whose idea was the potty-mouthed grandmother? And don't they know that in a comedy the villain is supposed to be funny, and not a hateful, sadistic, egotistical monster who when he hits people really wants to hurt them, and who kicks them when they're down?"
No Roger, here's what they were thinking, if grosses are any indication: "That's the funniest movie I've seen in years--I'm gonna tell my friends and maybe I'll see it again myself." Stop projecting, Roger. Tell us if you don't like it, but don't tell us that we don't like it.

Columbus Guy says: Cool. Batman Begins is going to break $200 million.

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