Saturday, December 31, 2005

Last Year's Model

Soon (maybe tomorrow) some of the other Guys and I will be posting our awards for 2005 and predictions for 2006. First, let's look at what Pajama Guy (remember him?) wrote last year, as well as what I did.

Comparing us, you can see the different between cold-eyed analysis (me) and a conservative wish list. Let me quote PJ Guy on the War on Terror:
By June both Zarqawi and bin Laden are captured or killed, and Iraq is being called an even bigger success story than Afghanistan. The Democrats move on [ha!]. By August they are making their dire predictions about Iran, which is now getting squeezed by a U.S.-led naval blockade. With President Bush making good on his promise to stop the Mullahs from getting the bomb, regime change is in the air.
On Politics:
By the end of 2005 it will be clear that Indiana Senator Evan Bayh [who?] will run in 2008, to the delight of Democratic moderates who hope someone will deny Hillary Rodham Clinton the nomination.
Pop Culture:
Martha Stewart is bigger than ever. Tapped by NBC to star in and executive produce a second edition of "The Apprentice," she crushes Trump in the Nielsens.
Law:
Michael Jackson is convicted under an avalanche of evidence and Clarence Thomas is elevated to Chief Justice.
And finally, sports:
Curse-busting mania continues as the Chicago Cubs jump out to a big lead before the All-Star break, fade in July, manage to hang on to a wild card spot, but fall to the Mets in the playoffs.
No wonder Pajama Guy hasn't been writing for a while--he's too embarrassed.

Meanwhile, my predictions mostly make sense. On Terror:
Murderous thugs will continue causing trouble in Iraq for years to come, not realizing they've already lost their country and there's nothing they can do about it.
World politics:
"Old Europe" and the United States will continue to be mutually distrustful. Only token efforts at rapprochement will be made.
American Politics:
The Michael Moore wing of the Democratic Party will not be chastened in the slightest by the 2004 election, and will continue to demonize Bush and make ridiculous claims about the war on terror. Right wing cultural mavens will continue to fight phantom threats against religion. Donald Rumsfeld will continue to serve.
Law:
The Democrats will not be able to prevent any Supreme Court choice President Bush makes. [I think this is correct--Miers fell due to pressure from the Right.]
Pop Culture:
The Passion Of The Christ will not win an Oscar. This will be misinterpreted by many prominent right-wing Christians as a snub.
Sports:
The Cubs will teach the Red Sox a lesson by not winning the World Series.
So there you have it. Between me and PJ Guy, we're right about 50% of the time.

Columbus Guy says: Yes. On our recent trip to Hudson Bay, ColumbusGal and I split the driving 50-50. She did the U.S., I did Canada.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Comments

I've gotten a number of comments on the Elvis post below. Thanks, but please, why not leave them in the "comments" section where everyone can enjoy them?

Columbus Guy says: I don't understand. Does this mean your secret identity has been pierced? Or are you back-sliding and using your telepathic powers again? We told you not to do that.

Elvis Is Still King

I just read Graeme Thomson's Complicated Shadows: The Life and Music of Elvis Costello. Not a bad book, as these things go. Like many such works, where an artist isn't through with his career, the earlier chapters--where his story is most settled--are the best.

I also don't agree with Thomson's taste. He seems to think Elvis's greatest albums are Get Happy!!, Imperial Bedroom and King Of America. To me, his first three--My Aim Is True, This Year's Model and Armed Forces--are still his greatest; if I had to name his top 25 songs (and he's got the depth to make that worthwhile), about 15 would come from this trio. Meanwhile, "middle" work, like Imperial Bedroom and King Of America may still stand up, but don't seem that much better than other albums of that era, such as Punch The Clock (and intentionally slick album which Costello doesn't have much use for) or Blood & Chocolate. And Thomson thinks less of later stuff, such as Spike (Elvis's best after 1980) and Brutal Youth, than I do.

It can be intriguing, in looking back at a major artist, how not just his work, but our vision of his work, changes through time. Back when he was putting out albums every year, each new song was another exciting provocation--was it a new direction, or a dead end? A few decades (!) down the road, however, it's easier to see how each work fits into an ever-growing portrait.

For instance, the first three albums, all released in the late 70s, even though they show change and growth (the second adds his band, the Attractions, and the third is much more heavily produced), now seem the rock--the punk rock--on which he built his early rep, and also against which everything else would be compared. The book demonstrates, though, that he was hardly a punk by nature--he just was in the right place at the right time; he could easily have been a softer, "melodic" songwriter of an earlier era, but punk allowed him to rock up his stuff--a good deal--and concentrate on his "bitter" side. It took him some time to get past the rep, but it's hard to imagine him making the same splash as Declan MacManus.

Then, looking at his next couple albums, the step toward the soulful and stripped down, Get Happy!!, still sounds (to my ears) part of his earlier work, while his next, Trust, is a halting step in new directions which would be more fully explored in the rest of the 80s.

The future of rock and pop seems to be singles, with people dowloading numbers on iPods and MP3s. For that matter, my main way of listening to music since the 80s has been mixed tapes, so some Costello numbers I've heard countless times, others rarely. One good effect such a book can have is to make you pull out old albums (sometimes on vinyl) and give stuff another shot.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Pathetic

The worst game of the season by far from the Wolverines. I don't know what they thought--that they could play listlessly for four quarters and outclass themselves into a victory?

Now that they're 7-5, there's no question, for all the close games, this has been one of the sorriest seasons in decades. Sure, you can make excuses, especially about injuries. But let's face it, neither our offense nor defense was as sharp as it should have been. At no time in the season did you think--even after a streak of victories--they've finally settled into what they can be.

Up until now, I've never seriously listened to those who thought Lloyd should go. (On the other hand, I was an early member of those wishing to extract Moeller.) But one more season like this, and maybe we do need someone to revitalize the team.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

A moment of bliss

Well, when ColumbusGuy last posted, the clan was off on a lark to see the Aurora Borealis, 1,500 miles away, out of season, in the snow, at Hudson Bay, or James, anyway.

ColumbusGal has always loved Alaska, a gift from her father, and during the past few years she's had a few life-scale events that have put her to thinking. And one of the things she was thinking that, when she turned 40, she wanted to mark the occasion by seeing the Northen Lights.

But how does one do that? And on no budget? We had let it slide, unspoken, until a few days before, she said she wanted to see the Northern Lights when she turned 40.

By God, she did.

Over 72 hours, nearly exactly, we drove 3,000 miles, nearly exactly.

We left Columbus Dec. 20, for northwest Ohio, where we planned to celebrated Christmas Dec. 23 with my family. After dropping our presents there, about 4:30 p.m., we drove our sub-polar explorer to Windsor, thence to Toronto, thence north past Algonquin Provincial Park, about eight hours' worth. After that it was all two lane roads, with us filling up at every gas station, since we never quite knew when we'd reach the last one. By about 7 a.m., we were having breakfast in French at a diner south of Amos. By 9:30 a.m., we were in Matagami, where the weather was overcast, we were wiped out, the tourist center was closed, and it looked like another eight hours to Chisasibi, our destination, where the Hudson Bay meets the James Bay.

670 kilomters. One gas station, half way. Cold. Nothing but trees, and they're skinny, dinky, Charlie Brown Christmas, approaching the tree line trees. So we went.

At the gas station (which so resembles an arctic compound we drove right past it, even though we knew it was the only thing around for miles) they warn us about the caribou. 30 was the most we saw at once. Usually we saw them a dozen or so at a time. The road is plowed regularly and salted, and the caribou love the salt, so they stand on the road. I'm good at seeing cars and mechanical things, but I'd starve in the wilds because camouflage works on me. You haven't felt your heart pump until you're heading at a caribou at 40 mph on an icy road. Fortunately, ColumbusGal has nature eyes and got through safely.

For a good part of the way, you see a car each 15 minutes. Sometimes it's 30 minutes, or 45.

By 7:30 p.m. we've reached Chisasibi, where I proceed to get us stuck in the snow. Even so, we make it to the restaurant just as they prepare to close, and they agree to serve us. We're hoping for some unusual native fare, but end up having the worst fried fish, frozen vegetables meal we've ever eaten.

By this point, we're pretty well worn out. It's a solid 32 hours since we'd left, and for whatever reason, we can't find the security guard who is supposed to let us into the hotel. We understand; it's not like they ave a lot of visitors this time of year. Plus, it's in a community center that is the picture of poverty and inspires no security or even hygiene.

So we bail, and drive to Radisson, an hour or so away, and the night is clear, clear , clear and the stars are bright bright bright. Before long, ColumbusDaughter says, "Look out the window," as much question as statement. ColumbusGal looks.

"There they are," she says in a voice rich with satisfaction, speaking to herself as she begins the sentence and to us as she ends it. For 45 minutes we watched as the band faded, intensified, broke into separate blobs, rejoined, shot tendrils upward. It was so cold we could stay outside the car for only a few minutes before needing to warm up again. Silent. Clear. Subtle. Brilliant. A life event.

And then we went to Radisson, and found the hotel, trailers assembled into a building, and went to sleep. Breakfast early next morning, and on the road by 9:30 a.m. 27 hours back, 20 hours of it on icy roads.

It worked. We did it. The Northern Lights, on our schedule, against odds, with difficulties and with opportunities to turn back. As ColumbusGal said, "It was as if they came out just for us."

Wasn't This Supposed To Be About Movies?

For a few years now, Slate has offered a year-end colloquy of critics to discuss the year in film. Sounds like a good idea--critics rarely talk to each other directly, and it's good to see them challenged. Needless to say, the whole thing too often turns into a shouting match about politics (with all parties playing on the same side of the net). This year, I don't even think there was a feint toward film talk before host David Edelstein started in.

This is too bad, since this sort of mindless talk is already widely available on the net. Don't these people realize no one cares to hear their political opinions--that they're lucky enough to get paid to talk about film as it is?

I won't go over every little line--what's the point, you've heard it before. But Jonathan Rosenbaum (a critic I respect) really goes overboard in trying to explain the usefulness of politics in the movies:
...serious questions about the assassination of John F. Kennedy were allowed to become front-page news the moment Oliver Stone decided to make a movie about them, and not a moment before.
This is insane.

For decades Americans had been openly questioning the facts behind JFK's death--well after it ceased being news, in fact. In truth, the Warren Commission did an honest and fairly successful job, essentially getting it right. (If it weren't for Jack Ruby's intervention, most of the mystery would have disappeared as the overwhelming evidence against Oswald was released in court.) There were many well-meaning but misinformed people (including a later Congressional investigation--so much for some official news blackout), and a large complement of crackpots (one of whom Oliver Stone decided to make a film about) who kept trying to claim something else happened, and they did an excellent job of fooling the American public.

But let's forget that lying crackpots essentially won the day. No matter what you believe, the idea that the whole thing was hidden from the public until Oliver Stone decided to make his delirious JFK (1991) is a crazy notion no matter how blinkered your worldview is.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Ignorance Is Funny

During much of the the final act of Peter Jackson's King Kong, I enjoyed a running commentary by two teenagers sitting directly behind me. Jackson spends considerable time making Kong sympathetic, so when the airplanes try to knock him off the Empire State Building, they kept going "that's just wrong."

Jackson decided to re-use the original's classic curtain line, "it wasn't the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast" (#84 on the AFI greatest movie quotes list). I don't think the teenagers were aware of its fame. When Jack Black as Carl Denham says these words, and the credits start, one of the teens said "no way is he gonna end the film with a line like that!"

Monday, December 26, 2005

Sarris Surprises Again

A few weeks ago I noted the surprising (i.e., non-obvious, politically speaking) way film critic Andrew Sarris discussed Syriana. He does it again in his review of Munich.

I haven't seen the film, so I'll report how I feel on it later. But check out how Sarris sums up his piece:
I am also reminded of another Munich in 1938 when English Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, French Premier Edouard Daladier and German Chancellor Adolf Hitler negotiated an agreement that, as Chamberlain told the cheering British crowds, would bring “peace in our time.” I bring up this other Munich because I think that Mr. Spielberg is presumptuous to preach peace and nonviolence to Israelis and the rest of us in the contemporary Munich, when the first Munich inexorably produced the Holocaust.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah!

For my family, Christmas was wonderful. We celebrated with my wife's family today and my side on Friday. Vigil Mass last night was beautiful. The kids had a great time playing with their cousins. Least importantly they had a good time with their toys. I played hold 'em poker for the first time and won. (Nephew got a poker set up.) Had a good time playing Guess Where and blasting my son with a nerf atom blaster. Good to see all my sibs (in laws and out laws). Good conversations. I count my blessings. I hope your holidays are going well, too.

Odd Odds

I'm usually involved in a football bowl pool by now, but I missed the cutoff date (there are so many games) so I'll just have to watch for fun. What an idea.

The only match-up beyond the Rose Bowl that really interests me is the (embarrassed pause) Alamo Bowl. This is because my team, #20 Michigan, faces the fearful Cornhuskers.

The latest line I've seen has Michigan as a 12-point favorite. The line-guys are pretty smart, and there's no question the Wolverines are a better team, but Michigan tends to play up or down to their opponents. Beating anyone decent by two touchdowns on, at best, neutral ground is a lot to ask.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

2005 - - What happened

The year had a lot of action. 2005 arrived in the wake of the big tsunami and had enough acts of God to make some people think that it was 1999. We lost some great ones: JP2, and another Johnny. Rosa Parks went out peacefully and Terri Schiavo in the middle of a family feud. In odd years the political usually takes a less prominent spot in our consciousness. That is good because, politics seem to get uglier every year. I am curious to see what it will be that we remember about 2005. Nothing stands out for me in the big world. In my narrow view it was the year my oldest went to school. And I do mean school, as a kid who was homeschooled from the start, college has been his first official school experience. What a transition for parents!

That Was The Year That Was

A highly underwhelming selection for "Persons Of The Year" over at Time. Apparently, it was Good Samaritans who impressed the magazine most--Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono make the cover.

2005 wasn't particularly notable for personal charity, so they pretty much threw the award away this year. I guess this was just some sort of placeholder choice when Time couldn't figure out who should really get it (or didn't want to give it to Purple Fingers).

And even then, what dumb choices! In fact, Bill and Bono aren't really famous for charity. They both made it to the top in another field--that's where they deserve any reward--and have been able to parlay that into a less interesting and probably less important charitable endeavor. (Is it even charity in Bono's case? Getting rich countries to forgive poor countries' debts--is that charity or dubious financial policy? While we figure that out, I do assume Bono will let poor people in free at his concerts.)

Friday, December 23, 2005

What's Wrong With Kong

Some people are wondering why King Kong seems to be underperforming at the box office. I think I'll wait until after the holiday season to tackle that one.

I liked the movie, though I hardly loved it. I prefer it to director Peter Jackson's hugely successful, but stuffy, Lord Of The Rings trilogy.

One thing got to me, though. Before the gang boards the ship, Captain Englehorn says he's "waiting on" something when he means "waiting for." I don't know when "waiting on" became the same thing as "waiting for," but certainly it's been in the last few decades, not during the Depression.

Jackson spent a lot of money to recreate a period. Is it that hard to make sure the Captain talks like he's living then?

Premature hiatus

My hiatus post was precipitous. Take it away, AnnArborGuy. (And if I don't return, be kind to the heirs of Woody).

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Night Shift

In keeping with the theme that the world is made for the early riser. I have worked primarily the night shift for about 5 years now. When I go home some people say Good night, some say good day. I just want to get some rest. They say us night owls will take a few years off our lives.

I find that there are several keys to making it work. One, I always sleep before starting the first shift. Two, I try to work a few in a row. Three, when I sleep during the day, I try to make the room as dark as possible.

12 hour shifts are good, because if you schedule it right you can regularly have a few days off. I like working at night cause there's less 'politics' and I have more reponsibility. There is a time at about 3:30 when many people get downright giddy. I seem to be able to handle the change better than many others who are miserable doing nights. Never have to worry about rush hour traffic either. All in all it is not a bad way to go.

Unclear On The Concept

The world is made for those who wake early. Everyone from Ben Franklin on down believes that. It's never clearer to me than when I travel.

I often stay at the cheaper motels (the ones with numbers on them) where checkout time is usually 11 a.m., or noon, whereas I like to sleep in late into the morning and have a luxurious shower before checking out. In fact, if I had my choice, checkout would be exactly 24 or 48 or 72 hours from the time you check in, but no go.

So sometimes I call the front desk and ask if I can get a late checkout. Usually they're helpful, sometimes not, but hey, it's they're motel, they make the rules.

So recently I called in the afternoon and asked for a late checkout the next day. The guy said he wouldn't know if it was available until tomorrow, so could I please call early next morning and ask again. I paused. Does he not get it? The whole reason I want late checkout is so I don't have to wake up earlier in the morning.

So pardon me if I've been grumpy all day.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Bless you, Boys!

Love to watch those Pistons! Our beloved Pistons are quickly allowing us to forget the terrible Lions season. They are on a tear that reminds me as much of the '84 Tigers as the BadBoys. They continue to win with their excellent defense, but surprisingly have become an amazing offensive threat. And I don't mean just Rip running a post up off the screen. Word is that Larry Brown did not like the three ball and now it has been unleashed. Chauncey Billups has about the most beautiful arc on his 3 pointer that anyone would want to see. 20 and 3. Looking for 35 and 5. These Pistons are goin' to work.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Lurkers Welcome

We know you are out there. Please come in and take off your coat. Place a comment even. Here -let me get you some warm cocoa. Now isn't that better. Let me tell you a little about ourselves. We are several Guys who disagree on lots of things but are still good friends. We talk showbiz, politics, and culture mostly. We had a big 'fight' several years ago about media bias. (This was through email, so don't bother looking for it in the archives.) PajamaGuy ostensibly started the blog but he has gone missing. LAGuy is our king of all media. (Though he was wrong about that press bias thing.) ColumbusGuy has an eye for journalistic (un)professionalism. And AnnArborGuy is here to fill in with the occassional odd comment. We enjoy having you, so come back real soon.

Cold . . . so cold

How cold is it in Matagami? So cold that ColumbusDaughter bought a pair of boots and is leaving the flip flops at home.

Monday, December 19, 2005

End of Year Pledge Drive

It is at this time that the PajamaGuy bloggers look over the financial condition of this blog and realize that it takes more than spit, string and mud to turn out a daily blog. We ask that each of you look into your wallets and send along some of your hard earned dough. Please send to: Pajamaguy
Ethernet Dr
LA CA 20006

This was just a test, it was only a test. If this had been a real pledge drive we would have asked for your credit card number and that little verification number on the back. Pajamaguy is still FREE!
(What other mischief can I get into while the big boys are gone?)

Mail Merge

I volunteer a few hours a week and I am working on a mailing. Mail merge is a concept that I can readily accept, but my printer seems to have problems with. The doggone thing cannot seem to handle more than 10 envelopes at a time. Frustrating!! We usually try to reach higher here at PajamaGuy, but then I am all you got this week.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Narnia

My first exposure to Narnia was a very 70's sounding Christian rock/vocal group called the 2nd Chapter of Acts. They apparently had an album of Narnia related music, which I am sure is selling better than it ever did. I never got too far in the Narnia series until this year. This year is different. I have two emerging readers who have chosen to make "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe" their first 'big' book. The rule in our house is, if you want to see the movie, you must have first read the book. So, tonight I went to see the first Narnia movie. I thought it did the job adequately but I was not really enchanted by it. The allegory for me was too naked and then not quite true enough either. Many people say the same about the books and I hear the movie is true to them. And here is the other thing, the story seemed so small. Now this would be okay if it were not the story upon which countless people have lived and died. C.S. Lewis (and the moviemakers in their faithful adaptation) seems to have shrunk the Gospel, like one of those miniature Bibles that are so small as to be without utility. Tolkien's story told more about the Gospel by having it missing, than Lewis did by practically doing the passion story. Now I prepare for the onslaught from people who disagree with me.

A little bit spin, a little bit substance

Interesting study. Conclusions obviously correct, methodology, eh. But I got a chuckle out of this bit in the rather nice press release that accompanies the release: "[THe]UCLA-led study . . . is believed to be the first successful attempt at objectively quantifying bias in a range of media outlets and ranking them accordingly."

Well, maybe it is, maybe it isn't. Let's ask Billy C what you mean by "successful." In any case, there was another study released a few months ago that did something quite similar, using references to several think tanks (rather than scores created by just one) as a proxy for bias. In any case, keep working boys. It never hurts to document conventional wisdom, even if it's accurate conventional wisdom.

Sitting in the tank

The linked article takes a look at political shark jumps. I haven't heard the phrase in quite a few months. Someone suggested that for politicians the decline should be a marked by a scream or a ride in a tank with a helmet that doesn't quite fit. These are both mentioned as political jumps. I guess you know the phrase has made it into the public consciousness, when it makes the Pittsburgh Trib, but they still feel they have to explain it.

A few days' hiatus

With the possible exception or two (please scroll down), Pajama Guy is on hiatus for five days, from Dec. 18 until the greatest birthday of all time. (For you math majors out there, that would be mine.) Merry Christmas to all.

(Meanwhile, the ColumbusGuy clan is headed to a place named variously Ft. George or Chisasibi, smack dab on the Hudson Bay. We don't swear to make it, but we certainly hope to make it back. 21 degrees C below, last check.)

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Po(n)dering

I have nearly 7000 songs (would have more, but I also carry around a whole Spanish course and some pictures) on my ipod.  My massive music storage device in tiny box tm (this is what I would have called the ipod had I invented it) has a nifty little feature which allows you to play all 7000 randomly.
  This morning very early as I waited for the train with our great AnnArborAunt, I was in a groove of great music that I have hardly felt since my home taping days.  We used to exquisitely craft tapes with songs from our collections to set (or change) the mood just right.  The right combination of wide mixture of genre, still similar theme, and all great music makes for an incredible experience.
  Even better would (will) be a player that plays almost entirely your own music but every once in awhile throws in a song that it 'thinks' you oughta like.  Several years ago while listening to a radio show in A2, I heard some great django-esque guitar from Lang and Kress.  More recently I was introduced to Western Swing.  There is certainly some style or artist yet undiscovered and I welcome those opportunities.  So, Mr. Jobs if you are listening, make a player that steals just enough music to encourage us to buy more. 

Christmas success

Props to His Virtualness. This thing works great. The ColumbusNephews will love it.

See You Next Wednesday

We've been counting you and it's good to know that we have hundreds, maybe thousands of readers out there, and from all over. Just the past few days we've had visitors from Canada, Spain, the Russian Federation, Finland, Turkey, France, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Mexico. And within the US, there have been readers from Ohio, Texas, Massachusetts, Kansas, California and many more--let's just say from all the major regions.

I will be taking a small, pre-holiday vacation from blogging. But don't despair. As always, I assume there'll be ColumbusGuy posting, and perhaps AnnArbor Guy. So keep dropping in, and tell your friends. I'll be back before you know it.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Are you Sirius?

Howard Stern, about whom LAGuy wrote earlier, is reportedly making 500 million bucks over 5 years. This is what I heard on the radio today, and despite the enormous power of the computer in front of me, have not fully checked out. How many subscribers does Sirius radio have anyway? It would take a lot of movement for Howard to bring that many people with him to pay radio. Is this destined to failure? Now granted I have a completely different perception of Mr. Stern from having only briefly been exposed to his "honesty" when his show played on local cable TV. But regardless of whether you love him or hate him, it seems noone can bring 500 million dollars worth of listeners into pay radioin 5 years. It will be interesting to see how this experiment in capitalism works out. (I'm sure Howard with a half a bil-, will be doing fine regardless.)

College Memories

AnnArborDude is home from college tonight. My own memories of college life are still fresh enough that it seems impossible to have a kid going. Still it does sink in when you have a 20 year med school reunion. Good to know that college is still college. Good also that I did not spend the last week studying for and taking finals. Surely not every school has steam tunnels or Michigamua, but they all have late night conversations about deep subjects (or are they all just putting that on their blog?), mediocre food (but lots of it), and the development of good frinedships. Welcome home son.

Trouble here in Pajama City

So LAGuy's hitting the road. Is it a coinkydink that Kong is tanking right at the time he's heading out of town? You say so.

We may have us a problem, however. ColumbusGal wants to see the northern lights. So we're hopping in the Scooby-mobile and heading north, which, oddly, takes us through Toronto, to the James Bay, hoping for some clear skies. Anybody know anything about seeing these things for real? Does Canada exist 25 miles north of the border? Are we doomed to spend the night in a class B hotel in Buffalo?

Anyway, AnnArborGuy, it may be down to you. (But it's a few days before we're highway bound.)

Zero risk? Try batting zero.

Be wary of LAGuy's investment advice. Rudely refuting my insightful commentary on Stanley Willaims, LAGuy says the Governator had zero political risk (an assertion that was oddly off point, but give it to him). Anyway, to the contrary, not even a week goes by and Arnold suffers a body blow.

LAGuy astutely notes: Yes, Ahnold would definitely have taken the clemency request more seriously if he were running for Governor of Austria.

A Sad Day

Yesterday was a great day for democracy.

Today is a bad day for the airwaves. It's the last show Howard Stern will be doing on free radio. Next year, he'll be on Sirius.

Stern has been radio's most popular morning DJ for over a decade. He conquered New York in the 80s and has been syndicating outward ever since. A lot of experts thought people wanted local shows in the morning, and he proved them wrong. A lot of experts thought radio was about playing music, and he proved them wrong. He's probably the most influential on-air talent of the past 25 years (even more than Rush, whom he preceded).

Yet, for all his influence, he's unique. I can't stand his imitators. Stern is known as a shock jock, but no one is popular for over twenty years if all he can do is shock. Sure, he and his gang are willing to go pretty far for laughs, but what strikes me most about the show is its honesty. It's not the forced jollity of so many "Morning Zoos." It's about people digging deep down and saying what they really think. Of all the things he and his crew do--from celebrity interviews to discussions about sex--what they're best at is simply talking about how they feel, often regarding each other. Hearing such honesty over the airwaves, when so much else is just surface polish, turns out the be the best entertainment of all.

His popularity, mixed with his willingness to say what's on his mind, has made him a lightning rod for self-appointed guardians of morality. And because the Supreme Court has refused to allow full First Amendment freedoms over the airwaves (after all, they reasoned in a 5-4 decision, you can always get freedom elsewhere), he's been in constant trouble with the FCC. For some reason, they think it's in the "public interest" to fine the man the public's most interested in. To make matters worse, his employers have paid, rather than fight in court. So (according to Howard, with some justification), he's being chased off the air onto a pay service where (presumably) the government's tentacles can't reach.

I wish him luck. But I won't be following. I've been listening to him since I stumbled across his afternoon show on WNBC when I lived in New Jersey in the 80s. (He actually was on Detroit radio when I was a kid there, but I didn't know.) Still, as much a mainstray as he's been in my life, I can't justify the money, since I don't spend that much time in my car, and free radio (among other things) is still available.

I'm not sure what I'll do. I can't see listening to another "funny" morning DJ. Maybe someday. Just not now.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Giving W the finger

So for $2.49 twice and a trip to Utrecht I spent the day with a purple finger. I left a bottle at reception at the newsroom, and another at my old newsroom, but I don't think there were any takers.

Here's the old George W we know and love

Ah, this is the George Will I'm familar with. Apparently George wants holes drilled in ANWR, which is fine and good, and apparently he thinks environmentalists are watermelons, which might be true (I maintain some distance from it yet). But wrap 'em all together and all George has is a whine (it doesn't have quite enough energy to be a rant).

You're Pulling My Quote

Giving the President's remarks on Iraq their normal prominence (short piece on page A22 last Tuesday), The New York Times nevertheless had an intriguing pull quote: "The president defends the linking of 9-11 attacks to Saddam Hussein."

Wow! That sounds like front page news, since as far as I can recall, Bush never said Saddam Hussein had anything to do with 9-11. Yet a lot of people believe the Bush people have made this unproven connection. This could be a breakthrough!

So I read the piece, and it turns out the Saddam comment was more a mild P.S. After delivering prepared remarks, the President took questions. An unnamed audience member asked why Bush invoked 9-11 as justification for the invasion of Iraq since "no respected journalist or other Middle Eastern experts confirm that such a link exists." (I love the arrogance behind this question--its false assumption has been countered numerous times, but the questioner really thinks he's got the President.)

Bush simply replied that Hussein was a serious threat and that the threat was more serious (or taken more seriously) after 9-11.

So the Times got me all excited over nothing.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A moment of national truth

A nice little piece. How can Mr. Murtha hold his head up in public? How can the Manhattan media?

You just knew this had to come, didn't you?

So Kofi Annan gives some moral support to the Iraqis. Typical blather, the sort of statement that even George Bush might be compelled to utter, including this line, "Ultimately, only you as a people can move Iraq forward."

Okay, so be it. Until he gets to this line:

"I am pleased that the United Nations was able to support you at every step of this process, including through our assistance throughout the year to the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq."

Kofi, you did everything you could to sell those people out, and you'd still do it today if you could. Say, how's Claudia Rosett, anyway?

Somebody knows something

Has LAGuy been rendered obsolete? Contrary to his oft-quoted "nobody knows anything," it turns out all you need is a computer.

Munich

I haven't seen Steven Spielberg's Munich yet, but I'll check it out. Early word that it's a masterpiece has been followed by (a backlash?) critics saying it's not all that great.

I'm not sure if it's the best subject for a non-documentary. The situation was both too serious and depressing to be easily fictionalized, and films so often trivialize their subjects.

In any case, thumbs up or down, I doubt much good can come of it. (Of course, you should also understand I rarely think a film can do much bad either.) And it's not because Spielberg had Tony Kushner contribute to the screenplay to give it a (likely false) sense of balance.

While art can put you in the mind of the "other" and help you understand him, I feel the real-life situation in the Middle East, particularly the central problem--the intense hatred Israel creates in the minds of its enemies--will not be nudged even by the most moving film.

A few weeks ago, the Los Angeles Times Magazine had a cover piece on the popularity of Hollywood films in the Arab world. It wasn't particularly memorable, but one thing stood out. Many are awaiting Munich, but apparently they weren't big fans of Schindler's List. Yeah, who'd want to see how much the Jews suffered? How could that teach you anything?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Golden oldies

It's easy to forget how much Clinton moved this country toward being a banana republic. Use of the IRS to harass enemies? SOP. The remarkable thing is that the intrepid Manhattan media can't get its hands on this report (anyone want to be a dozen copies of it are floating around the three broadcast networks, the WP and the NYT?)

Must be sweeps week

Ho-hum. Another student sex survey. My God, these things are so common now, and you don't need to read it to know what it says--SEX!SEX EVERYWHERE! CHILDREN HAVING SEX!.

Frankly, I'm bored. Let's push the very-important-news bar and find out what the sexual practices of elementary students are. Until, then, where's my picture of Jon Benet Ramsey?

Superlegislators on the job

Congress investigating something or other, and ABC "news" reporting on it. Sound suspicious from the get-go. In this case, it's six people a year vanishing while on cruise ships. Frankly, that doesn't sound all that high. Between accidents, drunks, suicides, spousal murders, and flight risks, you might predict more. But it sounds sufficiently salacious. Let's see what Cryin' George Voinovich can do about it, for his grandchildren, of course.

That's all?

This article about the woes of Hollywood offhandedly refers to the "nine-billion dollar a year industry."

In Ohio, the major medical insurance market is $9-billion. Presumably this corresponds to the amount of medical spending for families of employed workers (e.g., not Medicare or Medicaid). I suppose that makes sense. Still, for a relatively small amount of economic activity, Hollywood sure gets a lot of attention. I suppose if your product is attention to begin with . . .

They Don't Make 'em Like That Anymore

I just watched The Citadel (1938) on TCM. A pretty good drama, directed by King Vidor, starring Robert Donat and Rosalind Russell, about the rise of a doctor in the British medical profession.

Still, one thing stuck out. In scene after scene, our hero is smoking. Even better, his speciality is lung disease.

RIP, RP

Half a century ago, most comedians told jokes. Some told long jokes (Danny Thomas). Some told medium-sized jokes (Myron Cohen). Some told mini-jokes (Henny Youngman). Then a new movement swept comedy where comedians started talking about their lives. They were funny, but not everything was a simple set-up punchline. A good example of this observational style is Robert Klein--his line goes directly to Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld and hundreds of others.

Another comedian went down this path, but was a lot dirtier. That's Richard Pryor, who may be the most influential comedian of our time. Def Comedy Jam, and countless comedians of all colors are unimaginable without his influence. (The trouble is most of his imitators can copy the filth, but not the talent or depth.) Pryor died on Saturday. He was only 65, but he'd lived a wild life and had been sick for quite a while.

While reasonably popular in the 60s, he shot up to be a top star in the late 70s and early 80s. His movies, especially those with Gene Wilder (such as Silver Streak and Stir Crazy), were big hits. However, a mix of bad choices and multiple sclerosis had him spend his last 20 years making fewer and fewer films.

As big as he was, he wasn't at his best as a film actor, comic or otherwise. Few fictional roles truly explored his talent. He could enliven the comedy (Bingo Long or a bigger part like Silver Streak) or even pull off relatively straight roles (Blue Collar) but a Richard Pryor film festival would likely create more a sense of boredom than discovery.

He also wasn't at his best on TV, except perhaps his groundbreaking Saturday Night Live. TV reined him in too much.

Where he was an unquestioned master was behind a microphone. Luckily for us, he made three stand-up films, especially his first, Richard Pryor Live In Concert (1979). This is the film that turned me from indifferent to a fanatic. I saw it five times. Here was a guy who could do anything. He could be hilarious one second, touching the next. He could turn street language into poetry. He could sound like any sort of person, black or white, male or female. He could even imitate animals. When all else is forgotten, this is what he'll be remembered for.

I saw him live once. It was a tribute at the Director's Guild about 10 years ago. He was already so sick he couldn't peform. They screened some of his TV show which had been too hot for the networks to handle. Most memorable was a sketch where he was the first black President at a press conference and the media taunted him with questions like "will your mother do my windows?" I must admit, though, that after a while, the praise became fulsome. In a Q and A session, one audience member after another stated how proud they were to be on the same planet as such a genius. When it came my turn, I almost asked him if his mother would do my windows just to break the monotony.

Let's just round that to the nearest . . .


Courtesy opinionatedbastard (via His Virtualness)

Monday, December 12, 2005

A man to respect

I would not have bet a nickel on it, but solemn kudos to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who denied clemency for convicted murderer Stanley Williams. (via His Virtualness)

"After studying the evidence, searching the history, listening to the arguments and wrestling with the profound consequences, I could find no justification for granting clemency. The facts do not justify overturning the jury's verdict or the decisions of the courts in this case."

How easy it would have been to appeal to Manhattan media bias and the like. This is the most sacred duty a governor, and a government carries out, and they do it in the name of the dead.

That the governor did this with all the celebrity support of Williams is all the more important. There is no doubt that the death penalty is arbitrary -- California, pathetically, has executed 12 people since 1977, a disgusting record by its paucity -- but if clemency can become a function of popular appeal, then the death penalty becomes a thing of evil.

By standing up to this, the governor upheld the very idea of law. It's unlikely any elected official will perform a more important duty this year anywhere.

LAGuy Interrupts: I'm not going to get into whether or not the Guv did the right thing. I just want to note that the political courage it took to not stop the execution was zero. We now return you to ColumbusGuy.

Columbus Guy shoves it in anyway: You can tell by his concept of zero that LAGuy was neither an engineer nor a mathematician. Anyway, he can tell it to George Ryan.

Related note: NPR Morning Edition today had a story on this exploring the theme of redemption. Showing incredible irresponsibility and incompetence, the reporter noted that in the 1950's the death penalty clemency rate was on the order of 20 percent, whereas today it is negligible.

Now, first of all, the basic fact of today's rate is grossly wrong, because Illinois' corrupt former governor commuted that state's entire death row before he left office. That skews the numbers incredibly toward clemency, probably so far as to an absolute majority as compared to actual executions, but in any case something far above negligible.

But secondly, the reporter did not mention what the gross (or per capita) rate of executions was in the 1950's. Guaranteed, it was more than 12 per nearly 30 years.

If you are executing a significant percentage of convicted murderers -- 5 percent? 3 percent? 15 percent? -- then granting clemency to 20 percent of them makes sense. When you execute a negligible percent of them, far less than 1 percent, then clemency becomes an entirely different thing, and ought be granted only in the most extreme of circumstances. Of course, if your line of thought cannot proceed beyond, "Death pentalty, bad," then your mind will never be able to consider such context.

Condolences to Stanley Williams, who may well be a better man today than he was more than 20 years ago, to his family and his supporters, and condolences too to the families and supporters of his victims.

Compare And Contrast

After suffering through people who believe movies, more than everything else combined, determine if kids smoke, it's such a delight to see a serious dicussion of a similar issue without the knee-jerk assumptions of so many do-gooders. I'm referring to Becker and Posner on advertising and childhood obesity. Even if you don't agree, the debate itself is a breath of fresh air.

Times Versus Reality

The New York Times seems to think it's a big deal that statements made by a guy while a prisoner in Egypt connecting Iraq and Al Qaeda were false. They claim the Bush administration based its intelligence pre-war on the faulty information.

Huh?

1) Any ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda were, at best, a very small part of the argument for war. In fact, when Congress voted to give the President the power to make his move, it wasn't based on the connection.

2) Some say the connection was made in the minds of the public. If it was, it was mostly accomplished pre-Bush. Looking at the statements Clinton and the Democrats made in the 1990s against Iraq (most of them quite correct), it's understandable Americans looked to Iraq immediately after 9/11. Bush didn't need to (nor did he) make a case for the connection.

3) Since the war, we have, in fact, found that they were many connections between Iraq and terrorism, and Iraq and Al Qaeda. The only question left is how important are these connections (and how much benefit of the doubt do you want to give to Saddam Hussein). Unfortunately, anti-war groups seem to have frozen their intelligence a few years ago and are not accepting any new information these days.

So, here's a story that casts doubt on a small part of an unimportant argument, and one that ultimately leads us in the wrong direction. Nevetheless, thanks for keeping us informed.

Plain Jane

Interesting Kinsley piece in Slate about how today's Jane Austens are the HBO shows about show biz. The argument is strained, but fascinating. (He also puts down The Sopranos, which I didn't see coming.)

But I want to talk about Kinsley on Jane Austen, not on HBO. At least Kinsley seems to like her (compared to others). Nevertheless, here's what he says about the opening line of her masterpiece, Pride And Prejudice:
Jane Austen's famous opening sentence ("It is a truth universally acknowledged... [, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife]") is intended to flatter the reader with feelings of worldly superiority to the claustrophobic society she writes about.
I'm no Austen expert, but that's not how I read it. I think Kinsley is missing the irony and humor. The "universal truth" has nothing to do with what is being openly stated, nor are we supposed to feel too superior.

The next sentence makes the joke even clearer:
"However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters."
Austen's point is not that rich single men all want a wife, but that young women and the familes that can't wait to marry them off feel it's their duty to convince every rich bachelor that he must get married, usually to someone in particular, and before he knows what hit him. And I'm not so sure, as Kinsley is, that times have changed so much.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Christmas Music

This time of the year we hear a lot of Christmas music. Whether this is treat or torture is rarely debated. Still, I find there are a few treats to be found amid the torture. Three categories of good Christmas music. One. The song that is owned by a given artist. White Christmas-Bing Crosby. Silver bells. Andy Williams. Holly Jolly Christmas. Burl Ives. Unlikely you will outdo the classic version. So why bother to do the cover . . . because of number Two. The refreshing cover that rivals or makes new the classic. The Drifters-White Christmas. Bruce Springsteen- Santa Claus is Comin' to Town. Three. The rare original song that captures the spirit of the times and of the season. There aren't many of these. Can you think of one? Most in fact are so sappy or crappy that I cringe when I see an artist even try. Here in the Metro Detroit area, there is a station that plays Christmas music 24/7 from before Thanksgiving.

LAGuy adds: Earlier today I did my yearly caroling (at old peoples' homes) with my group the Sunday Sound. I'm a big fan of quite a few of these tunes, and doing them live helps you appreciate how well-written some are. One thing that's interesting is here are songs written in all eras that are still sung--it's the only time of year that happens. Another fact that jumps out at you is how many songs are about snow--"White Christmas," "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!," "Winter Wonderland," etc.--since we sing these songs even though there's no snow out here. And since we often work from sheet music, you learn interesting things. For instance, the original verse to "White Christmas" (which first became big while soldiers were overseas in WWII) is about someone stuck in Beverly Hills who wishes for snow.

(I've never done it, but I always have the urge, after the verse of "Rudolph,"--"...but do you recall/the most famous reindeer of all?"--to go into "Frosty The Snowman.")

Missing The Point

Jonathan Alter reviewed Mary Mapes' book a few weeks ago in The New York Times. I don't remember the review too well, but I do remember it was useless, since Alter seemed to leave open the question as to whether the documents in the Bush National Guard story were fraudulent or not. I'm sorry, but any serious discussion of Mapes' book has to start with the obvious conclusion the documents are fake. After that, sure, you can note even if they were real, the story they represented was pretty minor, and perhaps not worth going after. But to pretend there's still a debate about the forgeries wastes everyone's time.

A couple of time-wasters, predictably, write in this week to complain. One says:
Alter refuses to address the author's arguments, reiterating instead the shopworn objections of the Republican spin doctors. This serves no one, and only further obscures the truth.
The other writes (it's so good I'll quote the entire letter):
Jonathan Alter finds it "almost beside the point" that the documents that got Mary Mapes fired by CBS for being phony were probably genuine after all. Alter doesn't dispute the fact that a lynch mob led by right-wing bloggers and pundits went after Mapes armed with bogus evidence about the documents, but he figures, oh, well, even if she's innocent, let's string her up anyway.
Don't these dodos understand that far from being cruel, Alter's empty-headed openness on the issue is the greatest kindness possible to Mapes.

Ssssssssssssssmokinnnn!

Stanton Glantz of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education stands by his claim, based on a study in The Lancet, that 52% of 10 to14-year-olds start smoking due to smoking they see in the movies. (That's not a typo--52%, more than half.)

There are a lot of ways to criticize the methodology of The Lancet piece, but why bother? The results are absurd on their face.

Here's my advice. If you're gonna do junk science, and you get a result that makes no sense, go back and do it again until you get something that comports with the real world. You'll still be wrong, but at least you won't embarrass yourself.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

P.G. Wodehouse?

Possibly the best blog name ever: "Tinkerty Tonk. And I meant it to sting."

While we're on the subject, the last few lines of Charlotte's Web: "It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both."

Do you suppose they read those lines at his funeral?

LAGuy wonders: "His" funeral? Whose funeral?

Columbus Guy says: Why, E.B. White's, of course, who else? What sense would it make to read them at Wodehouse's? Clearly, in that case you'd say, "Isn't it pretty to think so?"

Ridin' the tobaggon

Eugene Volokh does a nice job poking his finger in the eye of the anti-gunners who say, "Don't worry, this tiny lil' law don' mean nothin' 'bout confiscatin' no guns, you wascal. Go on and hunt your ducks."

I think my favorite Walter Williams line is, I paraphrase, but I think closely, "When you hear Williams' guns are gone, you'll know Williams is dead."

No Class

I wrote about Harold Pinter when he won the Nobel Prize for Literature earlier this year. I doubted he was worthy, but I didn't speculate if he got it due to his politics. Well, if that's why they picked him, he sure delivered.

His acceptance speech was a classic of deranged, anti-American mania. He pinned everything on the US this side of the Lindbergh kidnaping.

Missing was any significant discussion of, you know, literature.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The UN does this? Call Ramsey Clark

Some things you just want to say are not believable. But there's the photo. It's one thing if radical Muslims want to do this, but where does the UN get off? Do they insist on abetting evil?

Let's give him the senate

"If we had just one house of Congress, this man would be impeached."

Refusing To Take Debate

A really weird piece by Carlos Alberto Montaner about Darwin. He starts claiming there's some sort of debate among the intelligentsia about evolution versus creationism. Not in the world of science, there isn't. Evolution won that battle a long time ago. The real battle is can evolution and religion live together in peace? I have no strong opinion here, though most people on both sides think the answer is yes.

Back to the "debate." Montaner is on the side of creatonism, but his argument (as it must) avoids discussing the evidence. Instead of explaining any science, he goes over the history of philosophy, religion and natural rights.

Without getting into particulars, Montaner maintains you can't have natural rights and believe in evolution at the same time. (Wrong, but we'll move on.) He asserts a theory of natural rights is what protects us against slavery, torture and discrimination. (Wrong, but we'll move on.)

Alas, the one thing Montaner never does is explain why these natural rights (and thus, somehow, a belief in a supernatural force behind life) must exist. In other words, he's not even bothering to make an argument. All he's got is the claim "do it my way or you'll have anarchy."

Some people believe in the "noble lie." Tell the unwashed public things you (the smart people) don't necessarily believe to keep them in line. But if that's the best you can do, why bother? Even if you're a total cynic, you can't keep people ignorant--sooner or later someone's going to tell them the truth. They may even figure it out themselves if you give them enough freedom. And then you're worse off than before, since no one will believe anything you say.

Columbus Guy says: I suppose I have to admit I'm likely to agree with your views on the noble lie. In my case, though, I think it's driven by iconoclasm (how's that for an irony? The iconoclastic populist). Regardless, I do have one question about this "sooner or later" idea of yours. What if you're wrong? What if keeping people ignorant really works (that seems to the the Times' business model)? That knowledge isn't a continual climb upward, but rather the mere occasional leap into sufficiency, followed by the inevitable drag of ignorance? What if it's like ballet, the mere illusion of flight, not flight itself?

Happy Holidays.

(BTW, A2Guy, you owe us here, work and child be damned. Natural law seems like your field.)

LAGuy replies: I'd rather not turn this post into a debate about the "noble lie." (By the way, I'd guess AnnArborGuy is the only one here who is sure to be against it, officially.) I recognized even as I wrote the last paragraph that it wasn't the best ending, because 1) it's not really the main point I'm trying to make and 2) perhaps the noble lie could work--there's a long history of philosophers, from Plato to the Straussians, who think so, and it's sure tried by most leaders.

My main point is actually about a debating technique one sees quite often, especially regarding religion, which, when analysed, is wholly insufficient. I don't know if there's a technical term for it, but it's the argument from bad consequences. It's the argument that doesn't even bother to prove its side, or disprove the opposing side, but simply says "if we do it your way, bad things will happen."

Thursday, December 08, 2005

In cold blood

Rarely have I read a news headline that's given me such a chill. (Second version here.)

When, and under what conditions, will Democrats begin making such arguments? (Not merely an occasional lunatic, but with sufficient emphasis, prominence and frequency that it, somehow, has to be considered part "the discussion"?)

It wouldn't surprise me if there is already such a cohort in Europe.

This is worse than Communists shouting "We will bury you" or Kim Jong Il shouting whatever it is he shouts. This is the kind of thing, that if it's allowed to enter any serious discourse anywhere--and here it is, AFP--could, would unless stopped lead to Armageddon, figuratively at least, and maybe literally.

It can never happen. Never. The Jews can never allow it. Whose word should they take on good faith?

It's not just. The Palestinians aren't the first people to be displaced permanently, nor is their cause the most just. (For that matter, I'm not quite so sure the Palestinians even exist as a people, except as the negative, "not Israeli." But let's pass on that, for the sake of argumentativeness.)

The bottom line is, Israel needed to be a place, and this is a reasonable place and perhaps even (no; almost certainly) the best.

And of course, no sensible person can possibly believe things would somehow resolve if this were done. (And yet, Europe and the Democrats will someday argue it would.)

This is evil, more than the evil of Sept. 11, and as much evil as I will see in my lifetime. At least, I hope it is. It cannot be allowed to enter the discourse. Yet, has it already? My blood chills.

Small Surprise, Big Surprise

You get used to the political beliefs of certain writers, and so are rarely surprised when reading them. (Except for the writers on this blog, whose posts are filled with delightful unpredictability.) Rarely.

Dahlia Lithwick is a fine reporter on the Supreme Court at Slate, but knowing her politics, I must admit I was surprised by her coverage of the debate over the Solomon Amendment. This is a law that requires colleges to give military recruiters open access to their campuses or lose government funding. I don't support the law, but do find it constitutional--after decades of denying funds to colleges for not dotting every i and crossing every t of anti-discrimination law (with the full-throated support of the same law schools who now oppose the Solomon Amendment), it's hard to claim the government doesn't have the same power in this situation.

The Amendment was struck down by the Third Circuit Court Of Appeals. Lithwick recognizes the Supreme Court has taken the case to put the Third Circuit in its place. What surprised me, though, was how even Lithwick admits, after reviewing the argument, "the law schools have no case."

A much bigger surprise is Andew Sarris in the New York Observer. Love him or hate him, there's no denying Sarris is one of the most influential film critics of the past half-century. Far less important are his New York cosmopolitan politics. They're not that relevant to his aesthetic, but occasionally surface in a side-comment here and there.

Still, his review of Stephen Gaghan's Syriana knocked me out. Gaghan and company pride themselves on how important and complex their film is, when it's the opposite--silly and simplistic. (Mind you, it's not the politics that ultimately disappointed me, it's that the film is all set-up and no punchline.)

Most critics have been bowing in Gaghan's direction, but Sarris calls him on it! Now remember, it's nothing for Sarris to condemn Bush and his policies, but get how he ends his review:
If anything, Syriana tends to oversimplify a mind-bogglingly multifaceted problem that cannot so easily be resolved by a diatribe against the supposedly all-powerful “Americans.” I happen to be an American too, and I believe what Walter Huston (in John Huston’s 1949 film, Treasure of the Sierra Madre) told a querulous Humphrey Bogart, who was worried about someone stealing his gold if he took it to town with him from the mining camp: “If you’re unlucky enough to run into bandits, they’ll kill you for the shoes on your feet.” The world is too full of people who’d kill us for the shoes on our feet.
You could have knocked me over with a feather.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Short Memories

Joe Dante, a cool director who regularly puts satire into his genre films (e.g., Small Soldiers, Gremlins), is getting a lot of publicity for his anti-war (zzzzzz) zombie movie for Showtime, Homecoming. The LA Times Calendar section just had a big piece on it.

The article laughably says Hollywood's afraid to go against Bush. Let's leave aside the neverending flow of high profile anti-War, anti-Bush documentaries. There have been a number of films that, often explicitly, attack him (George Lucas turned a whole epic's message upside-down to get a cheap crack in), but none I'm aware of that even metaphorically praise our war against Islamofascism--if anything, Hollywood pointedly won't make Muslim terrorists the enemy.

Who cares--let them say what they want. It's just when they pretend to be brave that it gets tiresome. Even more tiresome, though, is when they pretend to be original. The coverage of Homecoming heralds Dante for really using his imagination, but this is a very old story. And I don't just mean the cliche of zombies rising up against their creator. I'm talking about the idea of soldiers rising from the dead the fight against war. This is the precise plot of Irwin Shaw's 1936 Broadway hit Bury The Dead.

By the way, if Dante truly wanted to be brave and original, he would have had his zombie soldiers march on Washington and reelect Bush. Now that would be must-see TV.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

He's a cruel man, but fair

Day by Day seems a bit harsh today. Maybe LAGuy can give us an on-the-ground report.

News judgment

"Snort" is the only reasonable reaction to this story. It seems French lesbians are having an easier time with insemination in Belgium than in France so they're crossing the border.

Note the photo that goes with the story: two hot blondes doin' the open-mouth smooch thing. The tension's enough to kill me. If I had ever seen porn, I would compare it to the photo, but since I haven't, I won't. (The photo also has a useful "click to enlarge" link.)

I don't think it's an insult to lesbians to say lesbians don't look like this. Heck, women don't look like this. NOt even hot blondes do.

All of which is to say, I approve.

Morita Mort

A slightly belated tribute to Noriyuki "Pat" Morita, a funny guy and fine actor.

Pat Morita worked in TV and movies regularly from the mid-60s to his death a few weeks ago on November 25. He started as a stand-up comedian, aka the Hip Nip. Soon, whenever a TV show needed an Asian, they called Pat. He made memorable appearances in shows such as Green Acres, M*A*S*H and The Odd Couple before landing the role that made him famous, Arnold in Happy Days.

Arnold was the owner and proprietor of--what else--Arnold's, a hamburger joint. The food was only so-so, but the often befuddled Arnold put up with the crazy schemes of Richie, Potsy, Ralph and Fonzie, which is maybe why they made the place their hangout. Morita's original stint was only for a year (he left to star in the ill-fated Mr. T And Tina), but I think it was the best year the show had.

Morita went on to greater fame in 1984, when he landed the role of Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid. The film was a surprise hit, and it's mostly because of Morita's character. The part allowed him to not only be funny, but also to show a depth never seen before. He received a well-deserved Oscar nomination.

The Karate Kid unveils Morita's character slowly. At first he's a quiet, somewhat forbidding handyman at a cheap apartment building. Eventually he's revealed as a karate master with an odd technique for teaching martial arts, and a sad history of his own. While Ralph Macchio plays the lead, I don't think it's too much to say Pat Morita makes the film.

The sequel, The Karate Kid II, where the duo go the Japan, was a weaker film, but an even bigger hit. The Karate Kid III was worse yet, and did not perform well. An attempt to revive the series, with a female "kid" played by future double Oscar-winner Hilary Swank, put a stake through the franchise. Nevertheless, thoughout the series, Morita was always good--often the only watchable thing onscreen.

It is interesting to see the inflation of Miyagi's prowess as the films progress. In the original, he's just an excellent fighter--a black belt from the original school. By the second film, he could beat a room full of Bruce Lee's. By the third, he'd give Superman a run for his money.

The last time I saw Pat Morita was earlier this year when he showed up at the end of a Happy Days TV reunion. In a way, it's fitting, since that's how I'll best remember him.

Technical Problems

Pajama Guy was down a few hours yesterday. The problem was beyond our control, but seems to have been solved.

I hope it didn't cause any inconvenience to our readers around the world. If, in the future, you have trouble reaching us, don't give up, we'll be back online before you know it.

Monday, December 05, 2005

And he calls himself a libertarian?

"I think I'll let the drugs leave my system for a while longer before doing any serious blogging."

Will again, again

George Will is another of those columnists whom I'm not so much a fan of (how's my echo chamber, Anonymous?), but every so often he hits on something: Like some ancient society or another, Will wants a congressional rule that we throttle every legislator who proposes a bill that does not become law.

I like the spirit, but even for pro-Second Amendment ColumbusGuy (it's not about huntin' ducks; it's about rogue government), that's a bit much. Come on, George, let's temper it a bit, and cut off just a finger.

Odd Mentality

I read Hollywood Elsewhere regularly. Sure, the guy who writes it, Jeffrey Wells, has pretty weird taste, and when it comes to politics, let's just say he's not much of a thinker. But it's a lively site that keeps you up on the latest in the movie world.

But the lack of thought can get to you sometimes. In his most recent post, Wells interviews Rachel Weisz, who has brightened more than a few weak films.

Apparently, Wells thought highly of the silly feature Entertainment Weekly did on recent political movies. Weisz (with Wells nodding in the background) sees corporations as the new, natural enemy in these post-9/11 films. Hmm. First, corporations have been convenient bad guys for quite a few years now on the silver screen. Second, in the real world, corporations are mostly a useful ways to organize businesses for a more efficient economy, not dens of psychopathic behavior. (And not all that powerful, as I noted few days ago.) Third, maybe Weisz and Wells missed this, but 9/11 was committed by vicious religious-fascist fanatics who were attacking corporations, if anything--shouldn't they be the enemy in post 9/11 films?

An interesting if weird idea at the end of the piece:
[Weisz] told me that [husband and filmmaker Darren] Aronofsky, like myself, hates the mentality behind the Jane Austen books and has said to Rachel that "you couldn't pay me" to see Pride and Prejudice. Well spoken, good man.
Now precisely what mentality behind Jane Austen's books do they find so objectionable? I guess they mean that articulate, witty and deeply observant voice--who can stand that?

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Telling us what they think

Powerline links to a great, snide remark by the editor of Columbia Journalism Review responding to someone who complained that the Manhattan media covered the snot out of Murtha whining about the war but ignored Lieberman defending it:

You think the New York Times and Washington Post should write a story every time a neocon hawk pens an essay for the Wall Street Journal's editorial page?

Somehow, I don't see that happening...



What a hoot. Compare:

You think the New York Times and Washington Post should write a story every time a liberal bedwetter pens an essay for the Nation's editorial page?

Well, duh, what do you think they're doing now...

Another brick in the wall II

Redefining the universe: all in a day's work.

(But who writes these headlines? "Nanotech discovery could have radical implications." Yeah, pretty good. Wait! I've got it! "Nanotech discovery could have subtle implications" No, no. "Nanotech effort could be wasted step in clumsy march of progress" . . .)

Letters, We Read Letters

In the New York Times Book Review letters to the editor, a certain Tom Rubey of Woodbury, Minnesota (I usually don't discuss otherwise unknown letter-writers, but presumably this guy is proud of what he's done) notes that a photo of George Bush playing rugby at Yale shows him committing an improper tackle. Rubey goes on to explain:
Although rugby is considered a rough game, the laws on foul play are written to protect someone from unnecessarily getting hurt. Perhaps George W. Bush's experiences at Yale provided the framework for his presidency.
I'm willing to assume the tackle in this old photo was illegal. Let's even pretend Bush played under the precise rugby rules Rubey mentions, and the photo is a fair representation of Bush as a rugby player. Isn't it still incredibly childish to use this photo as a pretext for a cheap swipe at the President?

My question is, does the NYT print such letters because they want to embarrass Rubey, or do they honestly think somehow, somewhere, there's a point in there?

Meanwhile, in the letters to the editor of the Sunday LA Times, "Current" section, Thomas Bliss of Sherman Oaks says he doesn't care if Bill Clinton claimed Saddam had WMDs since, unlike Bush, he didn't start a war without reason. Mr. Bliss might be surprised to discover that Clinton, in fact, used our military to attack several countries (including--what's that name again--oh yeah, Iraq), without giving months of warning and last chances, without seeking and receiving condemnation of the enemy in the UN, and without getting permission from the Congress. Moreover, Clinton's actions, it turns out, were sometimes based on faulty intelligence! Furthermore, Osama Bin Laden is on record as being quite heartened when Clinton bugged out from one of his missions, convinced America was a paper tiger.

Ah, ignorance is Bliss.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

A Sad Day For Radio

I was going to write about the disappearance of Howard Stern from free radio. Only ten more shows and he's gone to satellite. But I heard something today that fits the title above better.

This American Life is a treasure--one of those shows that proves radio is as powerful a medium as any other. The (loosely followed) theme this week was David and Goliath. They told three interesting stories. So far so good. But then, in the last five minutes or so, the show turned into a raw political broadcast.

Suddenly, the host, Ira Glass, started complaining about how the Bush administration claims it did not hype the evidence leading up to the Iraq war. Then Glass gave evidence that "proved" the Bush people weren't honest. The best you could say about Glass's points were that they were heavily in dispute (as they relate to the overall claim of lying or hyping). Some of them, as far as I'm concerned, have long been disproved; my goodness, Glass is still relying on Joe Wilson, who's not only been proven wrong, but whose "evidence"--even if correct as Wilson misinterprets it--is irrelevant to the claim that Bush was making regarding Iraq's intent.

To make it worse, Glass was casting himself in the role of poor David, fighting against the Goliath of a Bush administration that's got everyone snowed. In fact, Glass is merely part of a huge, incredibly powerful establishment of bullies and partisans who have succeeded in convincing the American public (for reasons that have little to do with facts) of complete nonsense.

Columbus Guy says: This is typical NPR behavior. Probably half the NPR shows do this in one form or another. Keillor's show is typical. He does his little monologue and throws in jokes that may or may not be good, but they're clearly one-sided. It's as if he's talking to an audience of Michigan fans telling Ohio-State-sucks jokes: They're dumb enough and fairly lazy, but they meet expectations and you get the laugh. But when you go to Ohio State, you have to reverse your material. If you've got both crowds in your audience, either you've got to do it both ways or drop it, but you can't just pick one side's material -- unless of course you really mean it, and that's the rub. The NPR folks mean it. That makes the funniest things NPR people say their silly little denials of Democrat bias.

BTW, LAGuy, you've become quite the press bias avatar. Hoo-da-thunk.

Friday, December 02, 2005

BBC's SC to A-J

Stephen Cole, former senior anchor at BBC World news, has just signed with al-Jazeera to head up its English-language network. I hear it was touch and go for a while, but Cole finally agreed not to be so hopelessly biased against the Iraq war.

Lost Weekend Comment

Two actors from Lost were arrested for DUI within 15 minutes of each other. They were Michelle Rodriguez and Cynthia Watros, both new to the cast this season.

I knew I didn't trust those tailies.

Star Trek: OId Versus New

I was having a discussion recently with a Star Trek fan. I'm a fan, too, if not a Trekkie (or Trekker).

The big question, I guess, is what do you prefer, the original series or The New Generation. (Some prefer other spinoffs, but this is the central query.) I go with the original.

The comparison I use is the original is adults acting like they're kids, while the latter show is kids acting like they're adults. In the first series, they deal with deep issues of life and death, duty, freedom and so on, but they do it with a lustiness and excitement that seems like they're having fun with all that swashbuckling. But TNG has characters and issues who seem much smaller to me, but who try to act seriously to convince themselves how important everything is.

Plus, Kirk and Spock were such significant characters, it took FIVE actors to take their place in TNG: Picard and Riker for Kirk, Data, Worf and Troi for Spock.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Woodman

It's hard to believe, but comic genius Woody Allen turns 70 today.

I call him comic genius for two reasons. First, he really is the towering comic mind of our time (there are a few who might challenge him--say, Neil Simon--but Woody's certainly at or near the top), even if he hasn't always been hugely popular. And, second, his great talent is in comedy, even if he's often turned his back on it, or done slapdash work. Many critics think he's created great things outside comedy, but I don't see it. While they would consider Annie Hall (1977) his first masterpiece, I think it's his last. The more "serious" stuff he's made since then, at its best, amounts to minor art films, seems to me.

His latest (and he sure churns them out) is the drama Match Point, which is getting great reviews. I'll go to see it--I've been catching his stuff almost as long as he's been making it--but what I wouldn't give for another Love And Death (1975). (I'll even take Bullets Over Broadway (1994).)

I could write a book on the Woodman. Maybe some day I will.

House Break

There was some question when Fox would schedule its blockbuster hit American Idol. They've decided to keep it where it was (if it ain't broke...). If nothing else, this is good news for House, which had been in a battle with Commander In Chief for top ratings at that hour.

House had more than held its own, but now with a lead-in from a top show each Tuesday, it may get enough of a boost to make the top ten regularly.

A bigger question is how will Idol's results show on Wednesdays at 9 effect ABC's hit Lost. Lost is certainly popular, with a lot of die hard fans, but if Idol takes away enough of its audience, it could knock it out of the top ten. This is why they created TiVo.

Desperation

The cover of the latest Entertainment Weekly is about "the new politics of Hollywood." It's the sort of trendmongering you expect when they don't have a real story. The article pretends the fairly safe (implicitly anti-Bush and anti-Iraq) politics one sees in some recent Hollywood product is brave. (How do we know it's brave? Because George Clooney says it is.)

Is this a meaningful trend? Is it even a trend? I doubt it. But this is a cover feature, so the writer better try to make the case:
Hollywood now believes there's money to be made from making serious and thoughtful films about politics. And they may be right. Good Night, and Good Luck, which cost only $7 million, has so far grossed more than $16 million.
If EW wants to rest its case on one small film that makes a meager, if decent amount, they really are desperate.

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